Maybe it was strange to, but Cécile genuinely cared for Lelouch Lamperouge. It was difficult for her not to; she had once been engaged too, and, like him, had also been spurned by her fiancé. Even with all of the stories that had eventually reached her eyes, she still hoped the best for him. She supposed in a way she was trying to live vicariously through him; maybe if he was able to be with his love, all wouldn’t be lost for her too. While she had escaped the horrors he had willingly dove into to numb his pain, the trauma and pain they had suffered through had been one and the same, and for that, she invested herself into his life. For that, she remained fixated on his progress while her partner was otherwise distracted by the news of their newfound rival: the Weiss König’s second research team; the one who had been responsible for the development of the FLEIJA, a weapon like none other than humanity had ever seen.
She knew it was never a good idea to project her wishes onto someone else. It was unfair to both her and to him, but every time she saw him, she couldn’t help but hope a little more. He had come so far since their first meeting; now, not only was the antidote healing him and pulling him away from the precipice he had been clinging to for the past few months, but he had also begun healing beyond his body. Certainly there were parts and memories that were beyond any help, but for the most part, he was coming along very nicely. The last time they had been at Camelot had been with Master Leopold, had it not? He had been so adorable. She had been the one to patch up his scratches, and she had been the one to take him to Lelouch, both of which he had thanked her for even with his fear and bewilderment of the situation. It had been a brief encounter but a memorable one, and as he tottered around, his hand safe in hers as they walked through the halls of the facility, she could very easily see how and why it was that Lelouch was so warm and open to the child. She could understand why he had held him and dried his tears and comforted him like any father would to his son, and she could see how there really was potential for Lelouch Lamperouge to have everything that she herself had wanted.
He may not be aware of it, but upon his shoulders did he carry her lifelong dreams, and he may not be aware of it, but he was fulfilling those dreams with every endearing word he spoke to his son and every gentle thought of his love, and it was for that that Cécile Croomy dedicated herself to the continual survival of Lelouch Lamperouge.
. . .
Kanon lay still as he ran his eyes up the broad back facing him before settling on the cellphone pressed against Schneizel’s ear. Quietly listening to the faint hum of the voice on the other end, he shifted onto his side and flattened the pillow that had been lazily thrown onto the bed. He blearily took note of the time before slowly closing his eyes. Underneath him the mattress sprung up, and he heard soft footfalls and then a door closing shut as he was left alone.
Shielding his eyes with his arm, Kanon lay still and silent out of respect for the lives that had been lost. Camelot had fallen. Two more lives had been snuffed out.
God was dead.
. . .
C.C. woke to find him already up. Glancing at the clock – it was early, but not so early that he hadn’t gotten up much before than he usually did; even so the suspicion that he had never really fallen asleep remained – she leaned against him, pressing her lips against his bare shoulder, as she reached for his hand. When he turned, she saw that her suspicion had been for good reason; he looked as he had when they had first met for the second time.
Worried, she touched his face. He leaned into her hand and closed his eyes wearily, and she brushed his cheek as if to ask what was wrong. He only sat still, absorbed in the warmth and softness of her palm as it gently held him.
He opened his eyes. She directed his gaze towards her so disoriented did he look. Shifting closer, she let her hand fall to his hand. Holding it tight, she waited as he regained his bearings.
“What’s wrong, Lelouch?”
It was then that he broke the early morning silence that even the war hadn’t yet touched out of fear. Looking her straight in the eyes, the slightest crinkle appeared between his brows as he softly told her what he’d been thinking of since 2AM that same morning.
“…I’m going to kill Schneizel.”
. . .
“The first order of business is: do you plan on remaining with the Weiss Ritter?”
Sayoko carefully watched Jeremiah’s face from the shade of his wide-brimmed hat. A warm breeze rifled through the garden, picking up random leaves and petals. She moved her hair away from her face as he pushed his weight on the shovel and dug it into the black soil.
“My loyalty was never to them.”
She dropped her guard. She had suspected as much, but you could never really know. Even now her instincts told her not to trust him completely, but she had worked with Jeremiah long enough to know that his sentiments towards the Madame and Master Leopold were genuine. Bringing her hands out from behind, she folded them in front.
“The Madame sent me to ask if you would be interested in escaping to Orpheil with myself and Master Leopold. You would be provided passage and guaranteed freedom to do as you please and go where you wish unless, of course, you would prefer to remain employed under the Madame.”
“The young master is well and unharmed?”
When she nodded, Jeremiah exhaled slowly. A huge weight had been taken off from his shoulders at the simplest of replies. He had been afraid of the worst; he had watched the newscast day and night just so that he could hear of the revelation that would surely come once the news of the existence of an heir to the Weiss throne was made known to the public, at which he probably would have gone to the city, whether he had the prerogative or not, to protect the young master from the threats that would surely be made on his life. But now with the news that Sayoko bore, he could sleep a little more peacefully knowing that it wouldn’t be much longer until the young master was in the very least an ocean away from the carnage of his birthplace.
“As for the Madame?” He mopped the sweat dripping down his neck. “When will she be relocating?”
“Upon the completion of their business, she as well as Mr. Lamperouge will be joining us.”
“As well as Mr. Lamperouge?”
Sayoko looked at him. He knew just as well as she did what Orpheil had meant and what it would lead to. Even without the war, they’d have eventually fled. He had known this the moment he had seen them together just as she had; he shouldn’t be so surprised. Still, his disbelief worried her. It couldn’t be that he was against Mr. Lamperouge coming with them, could it? If he really was so opposed to him, he would have long reported the affair to his mistress’s husband, though she supposed there might have been a conflict of interest within that course of action.
“Is there a problem?”
“…No,” he replied. Returning to his garden, he shook his head. “There’s no problem at all.”
“Then I’ll notify the Madame as such. We leave in two days.”
Sayoko didn’t know much about the relationship between Jeremiah Gottwald and Lelouch Lamperouge, but if she were to guess from that look Jeremiah had worn, she would have to say that it wasn’t one that could readily support conspiracy against their brethren. Perhaps she had been too hasty in letting her guard down. She liked Jeremiah and had worked with him for a long time, but war could so easily change a man; she would have to watch him carefully. Should he so much as hint at threatening Master Leopold’s happiness in any way, shape, or form, he would have to be cut down. She knew he would do as much to her so long as it was in the name of their young master.
She grimaced as she turned onto the highway leading back home. They may be escaping the war, but it seemed as if the war wasn’t escaping them and their dark minds. She supposed the best they could really do was pretend until they could uphold the farce no longer and then take care of the business far and away from any innocent eyes who so adored his ice cream and parents.
. . .
The footsteps echoed throughout the room, bouncing off the corundum walls of the vault. With little but high-ceiling lamps to light the windowless, underground room, the man carefully made his way past rows and rows of gleaming, silver strongboxes before turning smartly at exactly the 11th row on his left and coming to a stop before #1185.
Blinking from the iris scan, he waited quietly until there was a faint click. Opening the box, he carefully slid out the compartment before reaching inside with a gloved hand and delicately collecting the solitary valuable.
Closing it shut, the man moved on to the next box – #2001 – when the shrill ring of his cellphone reverberated throughout the room. He answered the phone as he opened #2001.
“Nina Einstein?” Pause. “I understand. I’ll be there in five minutes.” A second pause. “Yes, my lord.”
Lelouch held the ring up as he slipped his phone into his pocket. The diamonds twinkled at him even in the dim of the lamps as if to prove their worth and stellar. It had been a long time since he’d seen it as had she. He could still remember the ring, so brilliant was it, loosely sitting around her mother’s bony finger as she lay bedridden and barely breathing, and the tears she had wept as her mother had bequeathed upon her the ring that her father had given her all those years ago long before she had been born.
To the innocent passer-by, neither collection may seem so important as they were to him, but an innocent passer-by would have been just that: innocent. They wouldn’t have known of the history embedded within those diamonds, and they wouldn’t have known of the files and files and incriminating files on that small piece of metal and plastic or of the freedom that it would grant. But he knew. And soon enough so would some very important people.
. . .
“Leopold, my love.”
“Yes?” He absentmindedly drew out his reply as he tried to decide which crayon to use for the clouds. Blue was nice, but it was really boring. He used blue all the time. It was time for some change.
“Sweetheart, there’s something very important Maman needs to tell you.”
“Okay.” Ah, ha! What if he used red? That was the opposite of blue, and he could make it a sunset! Brilliant! Humming to himself and swinging his legs, he carefully colored inside of the lines. Sakiko may do it differently, but that was okay. He thought it looked better when everything was inside the lines.
“My love, you’re going to Orpheil.”
The red crayon froze half an inch outside of the black line. Shocked, Leopold stared at the crimson streak, looking but not quite seeing. Orpheil?!
“Are you listening?”
“Really?” Looking up, he wondered if Sayoko had told his mother about his dream and that was why he was going. But wait… If this was because of his dream, wouldn’t Sakiko come too? He asked his mother.
“I would be more than happy to send Sakiko with you, but it’s ultimately up to her maman.”
“Oh. Then I’ll just go ask her and she can come with me.” Sliding off his chair, he turned to head for the girl next door when his mother gently grabbed his arm. Twisting around, he quizzically raised his brows. What was wrong? He was just going to ask if she could come with him.
“There’s something more you need to know, sweetheart.”
“Oh, but I’m just going to go and ask really quick. You can tell me when I come back, I promise.”
She shook her head. “You can ask her, but it has to be after Maman finishes.”
Impatience taking him by storm, he bounced up and down as she ever so slowly folded her hands in her lap and then decided to wait for forever for no good reason. Groaning, he lay down on the cool ground.
“Maman and Papa won’t be going with you. Sayoko and Jeremiah will be instead, and then Maman and Papa will come right after we take care of a few things.”
His head popped up to show off his indignation. “What? Why? For how long?”
“Only a few days.”
“Then why can’t I just stay with you and then we can all go together?”
She hated lying to him, but how could she tell him what his beloved papa was going to do once he was safe from the city and the tendrils of her husband’s acolytes? He had already taken the truth of Papa’s work once – and horribly too; there was no way she was going to let it slip by her twice. So she lied to him.
“Because Jeremiah is scared of flying, and he needs your help. You’re the only one who can help him; he said he doesn’t want anyone else but you to help him feel safe during the flight. You’ll help him, won’t you?”
Leopold was skeptical at best. Jeremiah didn’t seem like the type to be scared of anything. One time he had been playing in the garden by himself (it had been one of those times when Papa had been asleep for forever) when he had stumbled upon a snake. Screaming, he had run into the house before bumping into Jeremiah, who had, upon being told what had happened, had put him up on his shoulders (at his own request, of course) before going to the garden, grabbing the snake with his bare hands, and then throwing it over the stone walls of the garden. He didn’t believe a man who could so fearlessly grab a snake with his bare hands could be scared of anything, but he ignored it. His mother was clearly going to stick to her story as crazy as it was. He’d ask again another time; for now, he just settled for whether or not he could finally go ask Sakiko.
. . .
“Why weren’t you there at her funeral?”
It was the first time she had spoken of her own accord. Lelouch glanced into the rearview mirror but gave no more reaction than that. Nina narrowed her eyes as her voice grew serrated.
“The least you could have done after playing around with her and abandoning her is give her the respect of saying goodbye to her. Shirley loved you, you know, and she died. Because of you. You killed her, and yet, you couldn’t even have the decency to—”
She immediately fell silent as he suddenly pulled the car over and braked. Thrown forward, she gingerly dabbed at where the seatbelt had cut into her skin but remained mute. Though it hadn’t been too long ago when Schneizel had approached her with questions of her little pet project, she had still heard enough about Lelouch Lamperouge to realize just how dangerous a man Shirley had entangled herself with. But, admittedly, after hearing all of those rumors, she couldn’t help but feel that things now made sense. Sure Shirley might have annoyed her on more than one occasion, but overall she had been sweet and kind to not just her but to everyone. This monster included, which had been her fatal mistake, she realized. As she watched him get out and open the door on her side, she wondered if Shirley had ever known the truth or if this lowlife had fed her lies until the end.
She tried to resist when he dragged her out, but he was too strong for her to fight. Still, she dug her heels into the ground as he led her to the back of the car. What was he planning on doing to her? Or rather, what wouldn’t he do to her? It seemed like nothing was beyond him. No act was too immoral for him; that much she had learned over the past few weeks. She winced as his grip tried to snap her wrist.
“I’ve killed a lot of people.”
He opened the trunk. Inside lay two adult-sized bags, each with names scribbled on them. Squinting, she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose when she realized that she was staring at the very people she had replaced as resident researcher and developer.
“But so have you. But you don’t really care, do you? It doesn’t really keep you up at night, does it? How many people you’ve killed.”
She paled as he loomed over her, unable to defend herself from the truth he hissed at her.
“What exactly makes you better than me? I’ve killed as have you. I’ve betrayed as have you. You and I are no different. The only difference we have is that I admit what you deny.”
She flinched as he slammed the trunk shut.
“Get in the fucking car.”
It would be difficult for her to say that she had been Shirley’s friend. Even if they had worked together for a short period of time, they hadn’t really interacted much. The girl had obviously made an effort, but having been so preoccupied with her true passion, Nina hadn’t been very receptive to her advances. All the same, as she climbed into the car, she couldn’t help but feel relieved for her. Perhaps it had been better for her that she had never really seen the truth of the man she had once loved. Who knew how badly it would have destroyed?
. . .
Leopold was extremely careful to sound upset when he told Sakiko that he was leaving. He genuinely was upset – the answer had been a disheartening “No, thank you” – but at the same time, he still couldn’t believe his ears that his dream was coming true, so he did his best to control himself. It didn’t prove to be very effective as his declaration was still quite sunny, but at least the intention had been there. Not that Sakiko knew.
“When are you going to come back?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, but I’ll bring you back a prese—”
The boy flinched as he watched Charlotte fly across the room. Staring at his friend with wide eyes, he could do nothing else but watch as she pointed a finger at him and spat, “Everyone is leaving me, including you.”
Hurt, he shrunk back. How… How could she say that? He wasn’t leaving her, he was just going away for a little bit and then he was going to come back right after. Didn’t she understand? He was going to come back so that they could keep playing together. They hadn’t finished half of the games they had started, and there were about a dozen more he wanted to start with her. Why couldn’t she see that he’d always come back to her? She was his first and best friend, and he’d be stupid to desert her. No, that’s not what he was doing! It wasn’t!
Wanting to avoid anything like the last time, Leopold tried to think of what to do in order to prove her that he was going to come back. Looking around, he dove for the small pouch of marbles and slipped out the big green one. Sliding back to her on his knees, he showed it to her.
“When Papa goes out, he always gives me this one so that he can find his way back. It’s the biggest one out of all the ones that he gave me. See?” and began to lay out a trail of marbles away from her that led to Charlotte before gathering them up one by one until he was in front of her again. But instead of smiling as he had thought she would, Sakiko merely pushed him and yelled, “Stupid!” before running into her room and slamming the door.
Leopold, stunned, lay still for a moment as he tried to process what had just happened. His mind churning, he tried to connect the dots, but try as he might, he couldn’t understand why she had called him stupid. He didn’t think it was stupid. He actually thought it a very good plan; Papa always came home. He had never once gotten lost. Well, maybe once or twice, but those didn’t count since the birds had ruined the trail he had left behind. So why would she say that it was stupid? Or… Or maybe she was calling him stupid? But… But why would she do that? He wasn’t stupid… At least he didn’t think so. But maybe she was right. If he really weren’t stupid, then he’d have figured out a way to bring Sakiko’s papa back by now, and he’d also be allowed to stay with Maman and Papa so that they could leave together, and…and…
He didn’t even notice his tears, so great and sharp was his pain, until his mother had rushed into the room and picked him up from where he lay on the ground. But even then as she held him close and tight, even as she dried his tears and made soothing noises and asked him if he’d like any ice cream, his tears never gave up as he cried over the very first fracture in his young heart.
. . .
Anya sat silently. She didn’t pay much attention to the men speaking to one another in low voices. While their debating and decisions still applied to her and affected her life – perhaps even whether she would live to see the next day – she didn’t really feel much for listening in on them. The two could go on for hours as they clashed over the differences in style and personal objectives. Instead, she meditated on her recent killings.
She had been the one to torch Camelot. She had been the one to hunt down that man and woman and slaughter them in the shadows of that underground maze before leaving it to burn. She wasn’t really sure why their deaths were so necessary, but she did as had been asked of her anyway. Her role was not one of planning. She had agreed to be reborn as a mere instrument for the Weiss Ritter all those years ago when she had made the choice to abandon the life she had been living to make room for one of death and destruction.
Lloyd Asplund and Cécile Croomy were nothing special to her. Their lives extinguished, they amounted to nothing more than ash now and would soon be forgotten given enough time. This she understood, and it was because of this understanding that she had been sent to take care of them in the stead of the capobastone. To her they were no different from the other faceless men, women, and children she had taken. Just more drops in an already overflowing bucket.
Nothing more, and nothing less.
Just drops. Plain and simple.
. . .
Sakiko leaned against her mother as she wiped away the last of her tears. Her voice thick, she could barely bring herself to look her mother in the eyes.
“…I was bad, wasn’t I?”
She sighed. “Yes, you were, Sakiko. You were wrong to call Leopold a name like that. He was only trying to help you, darling, but you behaved badly. Mama is very disappointed with you.”
“But everyone is leaving and he promised me he wouldn’t, but now he’s leaving! He broke his promise!”
Her lip wobbled. She hadn’t meant to hurt him, but in the moment, she had been so afraid. Papa had promised her that he would never leave, but he had, and now he was gone for good. And now Leopold had made the very same promise and was about to leave. He had said that he would come back, but what if he never came back like Papa never would? The same promise had already been broken once; who was to say it wouldn’t be again?
“…Does Leopold hate me now?”
“I think he’s just sad that his friend is so upset over him leaving. I’m sure he’s not leaving because he wants to, but you shouldn’t have hurt him like that. That’s not what a friend is supposed to be, sweetie.”
She picked at the hem of her skirt. She could see that now, but…Wasn’t it too late to fix things? He was leaving so soon, and they were running out of time so quickly. Covering her face, she bowed her head. If only she could go back and fix everything… She’d give anything if she’d could only just tell him that she’d miss him so much, that him leaving made her so sad, and that she hoped he would come back soon so they could play together again like they used to.
As the first of her tears wet her hands, the crack in her heart splintered until it nearly ran completely through and she could do little to ease the pain in her chest just as she could do little to fix the mistake she regretted so much already.
. . .
The stench of death could be tasted in the air it was so thick. Even through the masks that were passed out the nose couldn’t be spared, but as Nina looked out over the stadium, she paid little attention to the stench. For the past few days, she had been thinking over the words that that man had spat at her, trying to figure out just how much was truth and just how much was exaggeration.
It sounded stupid, but she had never really considered how many she could kill with her creation. When she had been testing it, even when Schneizel had approached her and funded her, all with her knowledge of who he was and what exactly was going on around the city, she hadn’t really thought of what it would be capable of and what it would be used for. She had been so preoccupied and so blinded by the future of siring scientific innovation, of her breakthrough in science, that she hadn’t really considered the real-life consequences. It had all seemed so far away and distant, even make believe at certain points. But as she looked over this arena, and all of the death and grief contained inside it, she realized that not only had she killed a lot of people just as that man had, she had killed more and had done so unwittingly.
But that didn’t mean she was worse than him. From his mannerisms, he hardly seemed guilty for all of the lives he had taken. Even Shirley’s, he had held no regret or grief. But she, Nina Einstein, was different from him. She was better than him; she at least felt guilt. She at least hated herself for the lives she had taken, even if she had taken so many more than he had and had done so much more damage to the city than he had that could never be repaired. There were those who might say that she was no better than those men who killed and enjoyed killing, had made a sport out of it, but they were wrong. They didn’t know how many sleepless nights she had spent, how badly she regretted heading that project. If she could go back, she wouldn’t have seized the opportunity without so much reservation. No matter how proud she was of the breakthroughs in science that she had led, she still would have paused and thought about whether it was actually worth it or not.
Yes, she was infinitely better than that Lelouch Lamperouge, no matter what he said. What good had he done? Had he repented for his sins? Had he felt guilt over all of the lives he had taken? No, of course he hadn’t. Why should he? He hadn’t even felt the faintest flicker of emotion over Shirley’s life. He was the cause for her death, and he had led her on, had abandoned her. He was wrong, and she was right. She was better than him. They weren’t the same. That enough was proven just by her guilt.
That enough was proven by her repent.
. . .
It was 4 in the morning when he came home. Moving silently and quickly, he slipped into their room before kneeling down by the bed and gently waking her. Turning the lamp on, she blearily sat up as she looked at the clock.
“Is everything okay?” Pulling the blanket close around her shoulders, she slowly inched towards the edge of the bed, mindful of her belly. “What’s wrong?”
“Ceci, I…” He tightly held her hand as he sat there on both knees. Something in his eyes – or was it his voice? – woke her up. All drowsiness gone in an instant, she looked down at him, waiting – anticipating – as he held her hands and looked up at her.
“What is it, Lelouch?”
“…It was always you.”
She patiently listened as he softly said to himself, “It was always you that I was looking for. Even before we met, I had been looking for you all my life, and when I finally did, I knew that I’d never want to let you go.”
She smiled. She could remember too: the day they had first met. He had transferred in, an outsider in all and every aspect, and had been assigned the seat next to hers. They hadn’t really talked until she had been assigned the task of showing him the school grounds and helping him until he was able to navigate through the unique process of their school; at the time, she had thought it burdensome and irritating, but now, years later, she was so glad she had been chosen to help him. It had been such an arbitrary decision, but it was one that had led her to the love of her life, and for that, it was one of the greatest arbitrary decisions that had ever been reached.
“Ceci, that was 17 years ago. 204 months. 884 weeks. 6,205 days. 17 years. And every day for the past 6,205, I have loved you more than the day before.”
As she sat there in bed, she felt as if she had been taken back in time to when they had stood on the shores of that lake and he had told her for the first time for years to come that he loved her. With all his heart and being, he was just enamored by her, and though it had been so long ago, as she sat there on the bed, disheveled and having just woken up, it felt as if it had just been yesterday when he had kissed her for the first time on those shores.
“I love you so much, Ceci.” His voice was faint, and she stared, wide-eyed, at first his face and then his hand as it reached into his pocket. “And I can’t go another day more without knowing if you would make me the happiest man in the world by spending the rest of our lives together.”
She hadn’t realized she’d been holding her breath until she saw her mother’s wedding ring and it tried to steal away breath she didn’t have. Her heart hammering in her chest, she looked up, tears in her eyes.
“Will you, Cecaniah Corabelle, marry me?”
Biting her lip, she tried her best not to cry as she barely managed a nod. Her brows furled together, her tears fell anyway as she watched him slip the ring on her finger. Splashing onto the diamonds, they winked at her as they had always done through her childhood and later into her adult years before she had been forced to finally part with the very last memento she had had of her mother for the sake of paying off her inherited debt. His lips leaving hers, he wiped away her tears as he smiled at her.
“I hope those are tears of joy.”
She smiled before a fresh wave of tears overcame her. She didn’t care if it was embarrassing, she didn’t care if it was just the hormones, she was just glad they had finally returned to where they had been before. She hadn’t thought he would propose again, but now that he had, she could see how she’d really just been waiting for him, hoping that they could finish what they had begun so many years ago and what she had been dreaming of for even longer. All those years of loneliness and pain finally came to a close as they were allowed to start the chapter of their lives they had been waiting for, for so long.
He laughed softly, but in his voice, she could hear his own tears. Euphoric, she couldn’t help but giggle as she dried her eyes. Tucking strands of her hair behind her ear carefully, he softly kissed her cheek as she closed her eyes and felt his hands and his lips on her and his arms around her, reveling in even the slightest brush. Her arms winding around his neck, she smiled as she kissed him long and hard, when they heard an explosion.
It was far off and muffled by the city blocks that separated them, but it had still been close enough to make them jump. Lelouch looked out the window of the bedroom and at the horizon beyond.
“I have to go.”
“I could only come momentarily. I had to ask you before anything more happened.” Standing, he looked down at her lovingly as he brushed her cheek. “I’m so glad I have you and Leopold and the twins. You’re the only thing that matters to me, and you’ve made me so happy. Thank you.”
But she stubbornly held onto his hand even after he had leaned down for one last kiss. She knew it was foolish – holding onto him wasn’t going to do anything – but for some reason, fear took hold of her and she tightly held his hand.
“Lelouch, you have to come back.”
He nodded, but she frowned. “You don’t understand; you have to come back. Promise me you will.”
“Come back,” she whispered. “Please.”
“I love you, Ceci.”
She closed her eyes, her tears cooling her warm hands as he kissed her forehead. Trying to swallow past the lump in her throat, she struggled to reply as his fingers slipped away from hers.
“I love you too.”
When he left, the first thing she did was pray. Clasping her hands together, her fingers rubbing against the roughness of the ring’s gold and diamond design, she doubled over and prayed as hell rained down on them, hoping more than anything that God really was as benevolent and as forgiving as people said He was and that He would spare her children from ever having to live without the father who loved them so much, he would do anything for them – including giving away his own life.