The Path of Blood

by V0ID

With help from Salaeren and 4braxas

The village of Kodoku—silent, serene, and relatively crime-free. This held true for the rest of the world, due to the Zero Requiem.

All those years ago...what was it, thirty? Fifty? Lelouch had laughed at C.C when she suggested they move to the charming town. The final dregs of Emperor Lelouch's memory had been reduced to shadows, and finally they were able to come out of hiding and leave their secluded orange farm. After they had discussed the matter thoroughly, the pair had packed up their meager possessions and settled in this tiny house. It was quite modest, but with clothes in the drawers and a fire giving it's last breath in the soot-stained hearth, they had no complaints. Much like the dying fire, smoldering regrets of their separate paths crackled and shone brightly, refusing to vanish entirely.

Yes, it had mostly been my idea.

His witch had been angry at the suggestion, but eventually relented. The fragile and unsure love born during his completed revolution had withered, turning sour for them both. He refused to think of her like a toy he could just put down and forget about once it got boring, and he was less tired of her than the past she reminded him of.

This house marked that age of togetherness and held many cherished memories. He always put off selling it, perhaps soothed by these past occurrences. Perhaps he had grown accustomed to those hints of melancholy. Those sun-drenched days of the past played over and over in Lelouch's mind as rain pattered on his bedroom window. Gusts of autumn wind shrieked down the chimney, an unwelcome interruption in the usual midnight silence. When sleep evaded him on nights like these, it never failed to resurrect old worries; intense feelings of guilt and horror that refused to die or disappear. The passage of time had failed to erase the memories of those he killed, along with the faces that still swam below the surface.

Though their voices were long forgotten, they all had one thing in common...they all belonged to the mountain of bodies he created when walking this path. His own body should have formed the peak, the climax to his global massacre. But this was not to be, as Lelouch once again suffered the sting of defeat...along with the bitter cold that accompanied immortality. Lelouch shivered under the worn sheets that covered the bed he and C.C. once shared. Whether from chill or the glassy eyes of the many dead, the shivering persisted. Her encircling arms and gentle teasing always beat back those troublesome thoughts. Even though it had been just a few weeks since her departure, he could still hear the sigh. That little sigh she gave whenever settling into a hot bath of water, or when he repaid her with an embrace of his own. He could even see the smiles; those long-awaited, genuine smiles he had been able to spark. With the burden of insomnia weighing heavily on his shoulders, the former emperor padded across the dreadfully cold floorboards and lifted another log, tossing it unceremoniously into the dying fire. But as the new log was ignited, Lelouch was deftly reminded of something with horrifying clarity; the alien hand of Charles' Geass smothering his mind, and wondering why the hell he was in this casino basement. The innocents around him had just been shot. The smoke seemed devoid of its homey aura, and now oozed the sickly-sweet odor of burning flesh as his mind gripped the picture of so many who had just been thoughtlessly murdered...

A lungful of smoke and a spout of coughing wiped those images away, and feeling overheated he doused the flames; Lelouch was brought back to reality as they gave an audible sizzle. He felt his cheeks burn red, the thought of being caught like this...reminiscing like an old man.

Immortality is a fair excuse for thinking and behaving as an old man would, I suppose.

Lelouch raised the unwrinkled hands before his eyes for inspection.

These hands have destroyed the world, and many lives in the process. There you go again, Lelouch, chasing your tail in this pathetic cycle of unfounded guilt you thought yourself exempt from.

But whenever Suzaku's haunting words began to sound credible, he simply had to look out the window and gaze upon the generations who only kmew the path of the Japanese. At this point in time, they wouldn't be desperate enough to put blind faith in a faceless man promising freedom.

The freedom Zero had promised so long ago had already been delivered.

Eventually surrendering to his body's limitations, Lelouch returned to his bed and was blessed with the closest thing to death he would ever experience; sleep.

Though the morning sun shone cheerily, Lelouch didn't feel its warmth. He sat by the marketplace cafe stall with an untouched cup of tea, idly gazing at passerby. Perched on nothing more than a few scattered crates, he had full view of the villagers as they haggled over groceries in the same way humans had for centuries. He didn't really expect to catch a flash of green hair or a wink of golden eyes, but still derived a simple kind of happiness from watching these ordinary proceedings. Dogs were chased by children, who were in turn chased by their own parents...Lelouch felt his eyes drooping shut as a sleepless night came back to him. He was living a sedated kind of life, marred by the past and consumed by a sense of pointlessness; a stark contrast to his former ambition and undiluted fury.

A few older men he didn't recognize bustled through the square, a sense of urgency about them. Upon closer examination, Lelouch saw they wore gold-plated watches and designer shirts. This rustic location had become a tourist attraction as of late.

Perhaps a sign that we...I...should move on.

The eloped couple he and C.C had pretended to be couldn't stay this young forever.

He dug in his pockets for the last of his dwindling money and slapped it on the table, suddenly eager to leave. As he walked away, Lelouch really had no clue where he was going even though this had been his refuge for decades. A derailed train of thought can do that to most people, even immortals. A few shabby stores lined the marketplace and he picked one at random. Inside it was full of outdated clothes that were only fashionable many years ago, yet it was still bustling with customers. C.C was not there, of course. A handful of the villagers called a greeting to the eloquent young man, but fearing the burden of conversation, he pretended to not hear them and ducked out of the shop.

Wandering about the dusty street he suddenly found himself pushing open the door to the tiny bookshop, a bell tinkling cheerfully and signaling his arrival. Closely-packed volumes lined each shelf, just waiting to reveal their secrets to nearby readers. Jamming his hands into his pockets, Lelouch suddenly felt foolish, even childish; he had expected to actually find her if he just wandered around randomly. He stared at the books without reading their titles, feeling pensive—until someone tapped him on the shoulder. A beautiful young woman, a shopkeeper, had noticed his lack of direction or purpose.

"Do you need help finding anything?" she asked, her laugh-lined face glowing with curiosity.

"No, thank you." he said as he tried to match her smile. He failed to do so, and settled with his usual air of neutrality. "Just browsing."

The pleasant clatter of bells announced the entrance of another shopper and, instinctively drawn to the noise, Lelouch's eyes snapped to door.

"Hello, Jeanette," the woman called as she entered, her green braid smacking the doorway as she walked through it. "Sorry I'm late..." The instant she met Lelouch's eyes, her brilliant gold ones flooded with instant recognition; he wasn't sure whether the slight blush forming over her cheeks was there before, but he was certain that The incline of her brow and icy stare were meant for him, and him alone. "Lelouch," was all she said, and he was surprised to hear a note of reproach in the statement.

Not wanting to disrupt the bitter aura, he decided to compliment it with a simple "C2."

"I'm surprised to see you." C.C. said, and her fake smile soured as her eyes misted over with what he guessed was hurt.

"I felt like seeing something familiar," he replied smoothly.

When no more words were spoken Jeanette broke the hostile atmosphere with an annoyingly chipper statement. "If you're not here for anyhthing in particular, mister, then you should look over at the green shelf over there..." She trailed off and became fascinated with her hands.

The witch seasoned her words with a tiny hint of defensive venom. "What are you doing here?"

"Buying books." He replied lamely, strangely pleased that he was still such a big deal to her. " have you been C2?"

She tossed her head and slunk over to a cluttered shelf, yanking down volumes like they had personally wronged her. "How have I been...after getting kicked out of my own home, you just-!" She shook herself. "Same as ever, I suppose," she smiled frustratingly, as if that paroxysm had not just occured.

Their banter was light on the surface but tense underneath. As a silence ensued, Lelouch decided to move the conversation (or lack therof) somewhere more private.

"It has been a while, hasn't it?" Lelouch said, his demeanor changing and becoming more calculating. "Don't you think we ought to catch up?"

"If that's what you'd like."

Lelouch tried to keep himself from sounding desperate. "How about'll be pizza." And failed miserably.

"If that's what you'd like." C.C answered again, though she didn't sound like she cared what he liked or not.

Driven by the desire to show how well he could function on his own Lelouch went on a cleaning frenzy and changed the bedsheets just in case. He had a particular pizza recipe in mind that's not her favorite, so she won't think I'm trying too hard. His romantic experiences outside C.C being so few and long ago he didn't know what to expect.

As he checked his meticulously ironed shirt for the millionth time he heard the front door open.

Knowing exactly who it was he came to the front room and found C.C sitting in one of the threadbare armchairs as if nothing were amiss. her hair was in an intricate braided top-knot and she wore a long-sleeved black dress with a plunging neckline, and around her neck was a small diamond necklace he had given to her so long ago.

Not wanting to start on this uncomfortable note Lelouch couldn't help but be amused by her antics. "C2, don't just walk in."

"Why not? It still is my house in some respect. Are we leaving now?"

"Leaving..? I was thinking that we'd... there's a pizza in the oven-"

"Good. I've always wanted to try out Balvino's, that new place next to the post office."

The Italian eatery boasted a chef who was fresh off a reality cooking show and a regionally famous dish called The Pepperoni Pile-Up. The only things that kept Lelouch from going was the low lighting, and high prices.

She could read the 'No' on his face and decided to bait him. "If you can't spare the money for a nice dinner date then you should have just told me-"

Lelouch inhaled sharply. "Let's go then." Of course she knows that I kept almost all of the money.

"Great!"The witch took his hand and practically pirouetted out the door. Her short heels clacked on the sidewalk as they made the short walk and though the night air was cooling Lelouch sweated in his thin shirt. Her eyes were firmly trained on the quaint yet elegant building that had people lining out the door. Reaching it, he held the door for the witch and got her to laugh. "Really?"

Continuing the theme of silence he gave nothing but a nod. They were given a cozy table that was tucked away from the few screaming infants and jabbering children, and the hostess shot a few more scathing looks at C.C once the witch's back was turned. With ladylike delicacy the witch swirled the ice in her glass.

"So why do you want me back now, of all times?" She smirked, but it was pained. "Is it even possible for a demon to be lonely?"

He knew this question would come up sometime or another but wasn't ever going to disclose his inner musings to anyone. Feeling careless he took a lengthy sip of his pungent red wine. "You keep the ghosts away."

By the end of their meal, even though he had filled up on carb-laden pasta he felt almost completely hollow. As if someone had carved out his inner anxieties with an ice cream scoop and nothing but contentment remained. My glass is almost full so it's not the alcohol. After downing four of the Pepperoni Pile-Ups C.C's stomach protruded slightly from under the tight black fabric of her dress and with a sound of resignation she leaned back in the polished wood chair.

"It wasn't spicy enough." She remarked, wiping her mouth with her hand. "After this, could we stop at a gas station and get some Cheetos?"

He made a sound of amusement and poked at the gloppy remains of his food. Where is that terrible, clueless waiter? This is coming out of his tip.

The frazzled man that had even serving them strode up to their table and began piling their plates upon an already teetering stack. "Did you enjoy your meal, sir?" He asked at the sight of Lelouch's half-eaten plate.

"It was fine, thank you." Lelouch curtly replied.

"Your bill." The waiter slapped a thin leather folder near Lelouch's hand and departed to service the other ravenous customers that hadn't stopped coming all night. One glance at the printed paper almost made him drop it. This is what I get for being too scared to glance at the menu prices. As he rummaged in his anorexic wallet for the little money he had brought C.C watched him closely.

A sly smile spread over her sauce-smeared lips. "Lelouch, I forgot something in the car."

"We didn't-" the realization of what she was suggesting dawned upon him."-get here in a car." He felt a uneasy about doing this, for staying low-profile was the whole reason they had moved to the countryside and the last thing they needed was to be arrested for skipping out on the bill.

Making his decision he didn't take his eyes off the bill. "Well then why don't you go get it while I pay?"

She nodded and got to her feet, looking as natural as possible as she calmly left through the front door. Lelouch noticed that it was a different hostess so she wouldn't know that C.C had come with someone else. He waited for a painfully long three minutes and then toppled out of his chair, clutching at his throat.

The buzzing atmosphere stopped and dozens of frightened eyes jumped to him. Not the most subtle idea, I guess. "Peanuts!" He gasped to the waiter who kneeled down beside him. For good measure he made a few shaky attempts to stand but drunkenly wobbled to the floor again.

"We'vecallednineoneonesir." The man rushed, and someone was yelled for everyone to stay calm. "Do you have an EpiPen or need help using one?"

Lelouch frantically patted his pockets. "My...i-it's gone. In my car..." He spluttered, finally succeeding to stand almost upright. Bent over and wheezing he trudged towards the door.

The hostess protested. "You shouldn't-"

"Let him through!" Someone barked, and she held the door open. He continued his shuffling gait until he was away from the pools of light cast by the illuminated restaurant front and then realized that he and C.C hadn't agreed on a rendezvous. There was the clicking of high heels and C.C was beside him. "Admit it, you still love making a scene."

This got a crooked smile from him. "I can't help it." The gloom that had festered between them in the bookshop was completely gone, their spirits lifted by this unexpected adventure. They were brought out of their reverie by the whine of a siren as the town's only ambulance puttered into the parking lot.

"Where should we go?" C.C asked, astonishingly calm. A dark alley beside the restaurant beckoned and Lelouch thought it would be a sufficient escape route, so they clung to the shadows and entered the garlic-scented tunnel of darkness. C.C made a sound of disgust as her shoes sank into the squishy ground, and their progress was slowed as she tried not to ruin them.

"We've covered a few blocks and should be safe by now." Lelouch said, grateful for the starlight to see by. The wonderful night sky was something about the country he would never get tired of.

As if just to contradict his last statement the hard shape of a gun was jabbed into his back. "Turn around." A voice ordered, and Lelouch had no choice but to comply. Could it be the police? No, they wouldn't... Holding his hands by his side he positioned himself on front of C.C to protect her from the sole threat. Though it was night the man's face was covered with a peaked cap and he wore dark, smelly clothes.

"Empty your pockets or I'll empty this gun." He growled.

Lelouch couldn't help but scoff. "On a couple of unarmed-"

He didn't finish, as the bullets punched into his chest with the force of a sledge hammer and drove all words from his mind and crumpled lungs. Lights exploded on front of his eyes then fizzled into darkness as he felt like he was being submerged in ice water, yes... the sound rushing of water filled his ears as he sank to the icy depths of black.

The curdled taste of stale wine was the next thing Lelouch was able to register. With a momentous effort he forced open his eyes to see his bedroom, the plain interior striped with moonlight. He lay sans shirt on top of the sheets and a stained rag was neatly folded by his feet. Picking it up confirmed his suspicions; the originally blue fabric was stained a dull red and he counted three crusty holes. C.C must have carried me back here.

Something in another room sounded a grinding thump, making his heart leap. She must be getting into the pizza.

Despite suspecting that it was just the house making sounds he weakly called to her from his bed. "C2."

He half expected for her to bumble into the room and rush to his side but once again realized that those joyful days were over, lost on a path that was slick with blood.