Pairing: Past Treize/Zechs (made present-tense via flashbacks)
Spoliers: Series, EW
Warnings: Death themes, male/male sexual situations, foul language, grief, angst, cynicism, debatable instances of sap. Depictions of violence in this chapter. Little kid-ness. Flashbacks throughout. Rated M for swears and darkness
Disclaimer: I don't own any part of GW. No monies have been or will be made off of this thing.
Please don't hate too much on my verb tenses, if you find mistakes. I've had a huge problem with them in this chapter. I don't know why. Nothing looks right to me.
Please see Limbo 1 for very important notes!
This chapter is more or less an interlude. With cake. There's some
flashback-within- flashback action, so the guide's as follows:
xxxx: separates main story from flashbacks
xoxo: separates flashback segments
Special thanks to Karina and TB for the reviews! I am so deeply
appreciative. I wish I knew more words for being thankful, because I
sound like a broken record, but that's how I feel - thankful. Thank
Hope you enjoy.
Limbo 9: Cause and Effect
I bought a suit. Should I have been especially proud of this? Probably
not. Most adult men have at least one suit, something they wear to
weddings and funerals and retirement parties, et cetera, ad nauseum,
normal things that one does in life. The suit I ordered in France was
grey. Black seemed too pallbearer, brown too muddy, and blue too
reminiscent or tacky, depending on the shade. White was simply
inappropriate, and red was so passé, so I settled with grey.
"My neighbor's wife is a seamstress. I'll have her over and she can
fix you up," Vadimas told me when he saw the look on my face as I
realized that the pants and coat were unhemmed. Of course they weren't
hemmed. I should have know as much, having been fitted countless times
for suits both in Sanc and Russia, but in France many practicalities
from earlier life had escaped me.
"You think she won't have a problem hemming my pants?"
"Why would she?"
I looked at him and blinked a couple of times.
"Oh! Oh, she won't know you from Adam." He pointed one gnarled finger
at his own head.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"They say it's Alzheimer's, but she doesn't respond to the treatment.
I think she's faking it."
Aggravated but not surprised by my own lack of foresight in the
matter, I crammed the suit back into the box, heedless of the wrinkles
I was risking. "Why would she do that?"
"Why? To fool everybody else, that's why. We oldsters deserve to have
a little bit of fun, don't we?"
I remembered certain old ladies who'd had more than their share of fun
fooling people, disseminating hellishly devious and patently untrue
gossip just for the sake of entertainment. Although, not all of it was
untrue. They'd caught onto Treize and me before anybody else, and I'm
inclined to think it was because they were bored, overly-imaginative,
and liked the look of us together...
"What are you thinking about?" Vadimas asked.
"What? What do you mean?" I shot back. "I'm not thinking about anything."
"You're smiling!" He tilted his head to the side inquisitively.
"What's going through that head of yours?"
Smiling? I'd been thinking of Treize. I wondered when those two things
had begun coinciding.
I tossed the box onto Vadimas' kitchen table and muttered "Nothing" as
I wandered to his living room to wait for the neighbor's wife, the
first person besides Vadimas who I would see in ten months.
I'd been thinking about the salty old Lady Westwick catching Treize
and me in a compromising position after a clipped argument about God
knows what in the library of the Romefeller headquarters building
during one tear-wringingly boring party or another. Who could possibly
remember the specifics of all the arguments we had, the ridiculous,
inconsequential, ludicrous disagreements? I'd turned and was ready to
walk away from it, figuring that he wouldn't pursue or yell in my
wake, but he did both in reverse order, stormed behind me, grabbed my
wrist and spat some more jibes in my face. I shut him up by kissing
him, which outraged him even further until I kissed him again and
pushed him back into one of the library's alcoves, right up against
the shelves, right next to a marble bust of The Bard, and we made out
in an angry, pent-up sort of way until the slow clacking of heels on
marble made us pull back and strain to halt the heaving of our
intermingling breaths. Treize, looking over my shoulder, said he saw
nobody and heard the clicks receding. And as we waited for our bodies
to return to a state that wouldn't scandalize everybody who dared
lower their eyes, we determined that we hadn't been discovered --
-- until we walked out, back to the party, and passed the desiccated
husk of the ancient Widow Westwick sitting on a stuffed settee in the
hall, chuckling, no, cackling at us and patting her paper-skin,
wrinkled hand on her bony knee. Nothing came of it except a little fun
for her and the other harmless biddies she shared juicy stories with.
They weren't cruel, and their years had made them unflappable. In many
ways, they were more liberal than their grandchildren, probably
because they considered themselves too old to waste time moralizing.
Treize and I used to joke about aging. It was such an absurd notion to
us, eternally young and brimming with vitality - almost as absurd as
having any real life together beyond the hastily basted patchwork
called Us. But we laughed it up, pretended we'd be lucky (or, we
debated, unlucky) enough to see each other grow old. We'd always
shared a similar sense of humor, one marked by a fondness of satire
but one not unmoved displays of immaturity and, occasionally,
slapstick. We nearly had twin aneurisms trying to hold back our
laughter once after watching Engineer Tsubarov take a tumble on a
patch of black ice, which was funny only because of the curious rush
of expletives that accompanied his Homeric struggle to regain sure
Never before had we heard the phrase "Bastard shit-fucking ice, God
damn it!" Treize and I devoted upwards of a (drunken) hour of our
lives to deciding if it was 'Bastard, shit, fucking ice' or 'Bastard
shit-fucking ice,' choosing the latter after careful (drunken)
consideration. I would later revive this obscenity with impressive
accuracy when I wiped out on a slick winter walkway that had yet to be
salted. Fortunately, we were at home, and the only other person who
heard it besides Treize was the old-as-dirt, should-be-retired
housekeeper who was weakly shaking a rug out of an open window. Her
mole-covered jowls shook when she yelled to me that I ought to be more
careful and that my gutter mouth made my face look ugly.
Despite their usual lack of deployment from his lips, Treize knew a
children's treasury of ways to describe in Russian how he would fuck
your mother, which I'm fairly certain is the most degrading insult in
the culture. He'd fuck your mother while whistling, he'd fuck her on a
steamboat, and he'd fuck her while whistling, on a steamboat, through
the Seven Gates of Hell. It all sounded as beautiful as poetry to me,
and sometimes Treize would humor me by rattling off an epic string of
embarrassingly crude insults with a sultriness that would make my eyes
glaze over. When I speak it, of course, I sound like an fat-tongued
idiot, but I always like to listen. Sometimes I'll log on to one of
the Russian news stations and leave it playing in the background while
I work, which seems a bit infantile when I think of it, like some sort
of gently whooshing uterine metronome that I need to stay content.
Treize wasn't often propelled to real anger, tending towards
irritation and unkindness. He was more often known to lapse into
phases of pensive dejection that made him quiet and standoffish. To
cope, he'd bury himself in serious pursuits, problem-solving, planning
and scheming his way back to normalcy. Some of his most brilliant and
audacious work was produced in these pockets of sullenness. I remember
the first time I saw him like that, the first time he was comfortable
enough to let that aspect of his humanity show. It'd been a difficult
lesson, but I'd coped quite well, I'd say.
"It looks terrible."
Irina Khushrenada set two white shopping bags down on the long, wooden
console table near the entryway. Her twelve-year- old son, trailing
lugubriously behind her, shut the front door harder than necessary,
causing the painting on the wall to slant just slightly out alignment.
I watched them from a small sitting area just off the side of one of
the two grand, sweeping staircases that merged in a high arch above
me. I'd kept to my book the whole time they'd been gone, my typical
daily occupation. I'd read 1/32 of the books Treize kept in his room,
one fourth of one of the eight vertical shelves that covered two of
his four walls. So many of them were in Russian, but he'd been kind
enough to rearrange them for me one weekend so that all of the
Standard editions were collected on shelves low enough for my easy
access. Peering over the top of my book, one about Russian folklore, I
could see that Treize was in an uncharacteristicall y foul mood. He
didn't even acknowledge my presence as his legs swept him past me to
mirror mounted on the wall. He bared his teeth like an animal growling
at itself and scowled.
"They're terrible," he repeated, glaring at his mother, who was idly
unpacking her purchases. A silken blouse, a pair of slacks, two pairs
of shoes. Whenever she went to the city, she came back with clothes.
She gave him a mild smile, one that spoke both of her rigid bearing
and her fondness for her only child. "You can barely see them. They're
supposed to be invisible."
"Well, they're not. They look stupid. My teeth are practically
"The orthodontist said that they will only get worse in the next
couple of years. You don't want crooked teeth at the academy, do you?"
He snorted. I hadn't known him very long at that point, but I knew
that the answer was a definitive "No." He might have been the vainest
boy I'd ever known, and he had every intention of making a stellar,
flawless name for himself as a plebe.
Irina spotted me spying on her and her smile broadened. Her hair, the
same color as Treize's, was down, framing the feminine curves her
heart-shaped face. She dressed in the latest fashion when she went to
Moscow, a 20 minute flight from the small airport located in the
nearest town, which was thirty minutes away by car. Irina flew her own
single-engine prop plane, favoring a slow, scenic ride over the harsh,
screaming thrust of a jet aircraft. Oftentimes she would let Treize
take the controls, even without lessons, even at such a young age,
trusting his dexterity, his seriousness, and his unerring desire to
impress. The estate was close enough that she still considered herself
a Muscovite, and I sensed that she tolerated the placidity of rural
life only because she could so easily "return to civilization, " as she
"Don't mind him," she said to me. "He's unhappy."
My gaze shifted back to my friend, who was fake-grinning at himself in
the mirror, his eyebrows knitted together in scorn.
"I'm standing right here, Mother. You don't need to talk about me like
"Watch your mouth," she warned, no longer smiling.
Treize didn't apologize, but he didn't venture any more complaints
just then. He continued examining himself in the mirror, running his
tongue along the contours of the clear plastic.
His mother laughed very quietly, so softly that I could barely hear
it, as she climbed the stairway. "You'll thank me when you're older,
Treize," which was such a cliché thing to say, but she was right. He
would one day look back on his behavior with shaking head and rueful,
"We'll see about that," he grumbled after she was out of earshot. In
the mirror, he caught me looking at his reflection.
"Hello, Zechs," he greeted half-heartedly. His mouth settled into a
displeased frown. "Can you see them from where you're sitting?"
I shook my head.
He sighed, shrugged off his jacket, and hung it in the closet. "I'm
going to go to my room. I'll see you later." With that, he bypassed
me once more and walked slowly up the stairs, leaving me alone in the
After that, he was inconsolable. He completely stopped smiling and
began mumbling as he spoke to avoid showing even the barest hint of
his orthodontia. His father scolded him over the vidphone and told him
he was being juvenile, that he didn't have his priorities straight, to
which Treize replied, "And what priorities do you think I should
have?" That started an argument between them that ended with Pyotr
saying in a low voice that he was sorry for not being home, but that
Treize was going to have to learn when to expend his energies and when
to let go. Treize didn't like that answer and made the highly unusual
decision to hang up without saying goodbye.
I should take a moment to mention that Treize was beloved and coddled
by the entire house staff. They loved Pyotr immensely and found his
wife mostly agreeable, and when Irina had a complicated pregnancy and
was told she could have no more children, the staff swept down upon
Treize like he was humanity's last hope for survival, the last boy on
Earth. This is, at least, until I arrived and siphoned off a share of
the attention by being the solemn, tragically orphaned Princeling who
was - my goodness - they'd never seen a more beautiful boy... except
for Treize, they'd hasten to add when he was around, though he was
smart enough to know when he'd been beaten in the good looks
department, even if only by the barest of highly subjective measures.
Lara, the young cook and Ukrainian immigrant, adored Treize
especially. She took her job seriously, knowing exactly what foods to
prepare for what mood, season, and occasion. She'd taken a sisterly
liking to me and was eager to learn what foods I might have eaten in
Sanc so she could prepare them for me. When she first started pursuing
the matter, I was less than forthcoming, so she pulled out pictures of
several popular dishes and pointed to them and asked, "Did you eat
this one? How about this? Does this look familiar?" I shook my head or
nodded accordingly while she took diligent notes on my responses. Then
one day, the day of my seventh birthday, she made a Sancian
banquet-style meal that even Pyotr came home to enjoy. I remember
having to leave the table half way through because I couldn't stop
crying. She followed me, also crying, apologizing profusely, and she
held me while she explained that she only wanted to make me feel at
home. I favored her above the rest of the household staff, and,
actually, I liked her more than I liked either of Treize's parents.
She was soft and affectionate and shamelessly emotional.
I remember one of the few times Lara asked me to join her in the
kitchen, a day about three weeks into Treize's orthodontic crisis. She
told me years later that she would have invited me more often except
that Madame didn't consider such a hobby especially appropriate for
me, finding it a little too -- oh, let me guess -- queer for her tastes.
(I am not displeased by the irony.) It was a cold and rainy day, which
had compelled me to sit at my desk and watch the raindrops cascade in
long, trickling paths down the window. She knocked softly on the open
door to get my attention, and when I turned to look at her, she was
holding a child-sized apron and smiling sadly. She said that Treize
was in the library studying for entrance exams, which I already
"So," she asked, "wouldn't you like to help me bake a special surprise
to help bring around our grouchy Mr. Hyde?"
I agreed, even though I didn't yet know who Mr. Hyde was.
"Treize loves Kirschtorte, " she said as I followed her to the kitchen.
She'd had one of the other women make my apron the week before, a
request that had probably made them coo and twitter at the thought of
how I'd look in it. On the counter was a thick book opened to a
picture with a caption that read "Black Forest Gateau." She pointed to
the picture and raised her eyebrows at me. Her blonde, Slavic beauty
was stereotypical but no less remarkable for being so. "Will you help
me make it?"
"I don't know how," I eked out.
Lara bent down and gently held my head in her slender hands. "Don't
worry, darling. I'll show you. We'll do it together. Wouldn't you like
We collected ingredients from a pantry that was as big as my bedroom
and laid them all out on a large island in the middle of the kitchen.
She pulled up a high stool so that I could work comfortably next to
her, and, like two children emptying a toy box, we pulled out so many
measuring cups and spoons and utensils that I couldn't believe that
we'd use all of them, even though we did.
"Good cake," she said, "means good work. If you don't measure
everything perfectly, your cake will fail."
Those were terms that I could relate to, since I've always been a
stickler for exactness. When she said that 200 grams meant 200 grams
and not 210 or 190, I understood completely. I even agreed, though I
knew as much about baking at that time as I did about engineering. It
was the principle that I was confident in.
She was a patient teacher, taking the time to show me the proper way
to measure out flour and the right technique for cracking an egg. She
wasn't condescending, and she even let me use the hand mixer. We ate
cherries as we went along, and she poured me a few naughty milliliters
of Kirschwasser so that I knew what it tasted like. She instructed me
in the Russian words for each item, each process, and encouraged me to
speak the language as much as I could. She would occasionally take
pause to give me a Ukrainian translation, but only to make a point
about how different the languages could be, and she would comment
about how undesirable the Russian language assimilation efforts had
been, how it was left to the rural communities to keep the language
alive while the government and corporations pushed for more imported
broadcasts and publications. She explained these things in terms I
could verbally understand, though conceptually I couldn't comprehend
why a government would do that. I believe that Lara's lesson about
Russo-Ukrainian strain was my first intentional instruction on the
topic of politics.
We worked for over two hours, taking our time with the decoration,
filling and emptying the piping bag, giving our best effort to make it
look exactly like the picture. And she gave small words of
encouragement, never to excess, always with a bright glimmer in her
hazel eyes. "Oh, Zechs, that looks lovely!" "Oh, Zechs, that's
perfectly like the photograph!" Her kind praise helped me come to
accept the sound of my new name, something I thought would never
happen, something I wonder if she realized she was doing.
"One more to go," she said, gesturing to the small bowl of dark, ripe
cherries. "I think you should have this one."
I could feel the faintest of smiles creeping onto my lips as I placed
the cherry upon the last of the small mounds of frosting that formed a
circle around the top of the cake. It was a glorious cake, and it was
the first thing I'd been proud of in a very long time. If I could go
back, I would take a picture of it so I could have something to look
at on those days where I couldn't remember a single thing I'd ever
"If this doesn't make him smile, I don't know what will," Lara said as
she led me from the kitchen and to a small table in what I suppose
might be described as a breakfast nook. She set the cake stand in the
middle and pulled together two place settings using dishes and
utensils from the hutch in the corner of the room.
"Do you want to go get him, or do you want me to?"
"I'll do it," I replied, growing excited at the thought of how much
he'd appreciate what we'd made for him. I wanted so badly to please
him, to make a permanent mark on him. I wanted to show him that I was
grateful for the friend he'd always been, even when I was pathetic and
Lara grinned and tucked my hair behind my ears. "Let me know how it goes."
I found him in the library sitting in an overstuffed chair, his legs
draped over one of the arms and a heavy physics textbook in his hands.
He had blown through three math books since I'd arrived at the
household and was already dabbling with calculus. He loved physics,
taking great pleasure in learning the technicalities of the universe,
deconstructing the simplest of cosmic expressions -- a breeze, a fire,
a vacuum, a whisper. It was all wondrous and worth learning, made
exponentially more important by its relevance to his career choice.
The study of it was where his natural gravitation towards inquiry
merged with the notion that he had to do something important, be
someone more, reach for something beyond cold actuality, far beyond
Russia, the Earth, the galaxy, all the way to infinity. He wanted to
reach into it and pull out something magical and immortal, something
he could give, something that would fill a void in the world that he
couldn't define at that age. It was so nebulous, but the longing was
there. That was the real reason he went to Lake Victoria -- to hurl
himself into the unknown with hopes of maybe finding what he sought, a
salve, a cure, a bandage to tend a damaged history of bloody
It started the day I got there, the inability to sleep, the inability
to close my eyes without seeing things that would make me tense so
hard that I thought I'd snap, a tension that I thought I might be able
to release if only I could scream. But I didn't, couldn't, because I
was somewhere else then. Everything I'd had was gone, scattered,
engulfed, smeared, ruined, and all I had left was an enormous, drafty
house in a country I'd never visited with people I barely knew. From
the day I arrived, a day I don't even remember, Treize regarded me
with the hushed attentiveness of a scientific researcher, always
observing me, no longer effusing with cheerful eloquence as he'd been
before in Sanc. He was quiet and continuous. For a while I didn't know
if he knew what had happened, why exactly I was there beyond the
obvious fact that my parents were dead and his mother had been my
mother's closest friend. During the day he went wherever I went, which
was usually nowhere, and watched me with a small, perpetual smile on
his lips that somehow always seemed fresh.
He never asked me about it. He didn't ask me much of anything but just
sat with me in the room they gave me, the one across the hall from his
that had a neutral color palette, reserved for a second baby that
never came. We would go hours without speaking, ensconced in a silence
too dense to hold anything, not even discomfort. I had no comments for
him, no jutted-chin challenges, no claims to stake, no contentious
jabs, no questions. At that time I didn't care about unraveling his
mystery, punching through his armor, because there wasn't anything
mysterious or guarded about the way he was with me then. He was as
open as I've ever known him, sensitive on a level far beyond his years
to what I needed from him, something undemanding, a warm space, a
person who wanted nothing and offered everything without provision.
Eventually, the darkness of my room would fade seamlessly into a state
of dreamless, death-like sleep, something I would only be aware of
after I woke up to the sun soaking the room in a gauzy light that felt
fluffy and surreal until I remembered where I was and why. Soon after
I awoke, Treize would knock softly on my door, peek his head in, smile
with a softness that radiated mostly from his eyes, tell me that it
was time for breakfast and that if I wanted anything special to eat I
should tell him, to which I always shook my head. I could have set a
watch by the exchange if I'd cared at all about time. The household
ran like the military even when Pyotr was gone, the kitchen like a
DFAC serving on a schedule. It left little room for whim, an odd
choice for a family rich enough to afford plenty. It was a routine
that kept me afloat but one that also made every day seem an unvarying
repetition of the one prior.
I was too young then to wonder whether Treize's father had known the
Federation's plans, considering his position in the MI branch and, if
he did, why he didn't warn anybody. The truth, I'd discover later, was
that the branch had been purposefully left out of the loop; Onegell
had relied on old reports and a handpicked team from Signals to carry
out the intel for the operation. The attack was something so risky and
unenlightened that it wasn't revealed to the eggheads at the branch
because they would have protested it into nonexistence on cultural and
political grounds, if not philosophical ones. Treize's father had been
an intellectual, had studied at the finest institutions in Europe, a
dark-haired, darkly handsome, brooding man who looked like a
poorly-cast actor in a costume when he wore his uniform, too
professorial to play the role of trained killer convincingly. He was
also a man, they said, who took pills because he was depressed, though
I could never confirm this.
Pyotr earned his high rank by being the smartest son-of-a-bitch in
every room he ever walked into and a man who knew a few things about
upward mobility and closed-door diplomacy. He understood the most
delicate and complex of domestic and international dynamics and had
very little patience for the frivolities of his social class. He was
the kind of man who would have laughed mockingly if a Sancian invasion
had been seriously suggested to him, if only because he'd done a
semester in New Port as an undergraduate and, even as a Russian, had
been impressed with the hard, unsmiling sensibility and devout
nationalism of the country's citizens. MI knew exactly what my father
meant to the country, the region, the continent, the rest of the
world, and the colonies, and they correctly predicted that any
Federation aggression against him would send shockwaves around the
Earth Sphere for decades.
They understood cause and effect, knew that Sancians were tough,
unrelenting people who would never let the occupying forces rest, who
would compel others to turn their backs on the Federation and its
mysterious backers like Romefeller. Resistance cells had the
Federation infiltrated at all levels, either through direct,
fraudulent enlistments or by manipulations of underpaid, over-hassled,
scarred and paranoid occupation forces with bribes, exchanges, and
blackmail. They rigged docked mobile suits with explosives, hacked
into defense nets from remote ghost servers in Lithuania, Poland, and
Russia, and held Sancian mistresses and unspeakable acts of violent
suppression over the heads of men and women who masqueraded around the
global stage as respectable, honorable leaders. They had wide webs of
contacts in the largest news corporations in the world and routinely
flooded the nets with raw footage exposing the Federation as every bit
the cruel, totalitarian terror-machine it was. The invasion had been a
blind, ferocious, ill-advised offensive, and while the initial strike
had been exceedingly well calculated in the tactical sense, the cost
in Sancian and international resistance over the years would later
warrant its classification as a catastrophic failure.
The night I discovered Treize's secret was only two weeks after the
invasion. I know because the moon was full, severe as a searchlight
through my window. It had been pitch black the night Sanc fell, the
new moon, predictable if we'd ever suspected the Federation would do
something so brutal to us. Nights in the Khushrenada house weren't
silent. The place creaked, groaned, and sometimes it squeaked when the
wind blew. But as I lay there that particular night, soaking up the
sounds with a mind as blank as the expression on my face, I heard
something different from shifting wood and scraping branches. The
sound was dampened, the sound of a human voice on top of the sound of
quick, rhythmic thwaps and atonal rumbles, and, between them, splices
of high-pitched sounds that were screams, no doubting it. That was a
sound I would never again mistake for anything else, the sound of a
woman screaming, women screaming as they knelt over the bodies of
their loved ones, writhed on the ground, shot or full of shrapnel... I'd
seen it all, heard it all in a blur as I ran faster than I ever had,
each gruesome encounter making me run harder if only to get away from
The sounds made my chest feel so heavy that I thought it might crush
me, if such things were possible, so I grabbed the thickness of the
down duvet and pulled myself to sit up. My hair stuck to my cheeks and
neck, my too-large nightshirt to my back, and I had to get out of that
hot casserole of a bed or else I was sure that I really would scream
and wake up everybody in the house.
All the upstairs rooms were covered by thick carpet, the kind you
could lie down on and easily fall asleep. Between my bare toes, it
felt almost as soft as grass after all the dew had evaporated away. I
made no sound as I turned the knob on my door and began to pull. I
knew where the scrape in it was, had heard it every morning when
Treize came in to get me for breakfast, and I discovered that if I
pulled through it quickly, the scrape would be indiscernible from the
various other noises the house produced. When I stepped out into the
hall, I saw a light from beneath the door directly across from mine,
flickering light, and the sounds were clearly coming from the same
source. It was past midnight. I wondered why his parents let him stay
up watching movies, remembering detachedly that my parents wouldn't
even let me have a computer in my room because they knew I'd be up all
night on it, too.
I stood there in front of his door and stared at it. I swayed, my
knees locked because whatever he was watching was churning my blood
through my body at breakneck speed, and I knew that holding still was
the only way to keep my head from exploding due to the pressure. The
one part of me that moved was my hand as I reached out and put it on
the round knob in front of me. I held the cold brass, got a feel for
it, moved it incrementally to the right and left to see where it
caught. I don't know why I turned it, why I thought that cracking open
Treize's door was the right thing to do just then. I wasn't sure how I
felt about him then, whether or not I considered him my friend
anymore. The concept of friendship seemed superfluous in the face of
what I'd seen two weeks prior, just as pointless as eating, bathing,
sleeping, and crying. These things all seemed to have little use,
because what were they outside the framework of the love and security
I'd based my entire life upon? I had nothing to lose by opening that
door, by spying on him, by looking into his world for a few minutes.
There were no scrapes in Treize's door. I was able to turn the knob
and push it open wide enough to see inside without offering any
indication of my doing so. He sat at his desk in front of his
computer, his semi-profile perfectly in my line of sight. The room was
dark except for the brightness emitting from his monitor, bathing him
and the wall behind him in electric techni-white...
And the movie he was watching, a war movie, I'd thought, wasn't a
movie. It was the news. It was shaky, shoulder-mounted footage from a
network-quality camera, shuddering and moving down the long stretch of
a street littered with cars that appeared to have been abandoned only
after desperately trying to wedge around the gutted, burning carcass
of a city bus. There was a sharp jerk as the camera spun around, down
a cross-street littered with stones from a wide strip of cobbled road
that had been torn up and thrown about by artillery fire. Some of the
mess was from the shops lining the street, buildings which had been
shelled out, most barely holding their structure. And through the
chaotic veil of shaking, I could make out one of the signs: "Sunday
Morning." A bakery. I knew because I'd been there once. I'd had an
apple tart, one made especially for me by the nonchalantly racist fat
lady who owned it, because it was the new year and because she'd
always prayed for my father to have a son, and what a handsome son, so
much like his father when he was younger, but, oh, she supposed (with
a note of disappointment) that he had more of his mother's face, when
she got a better look at him, yes, he looks like he's from The North,
that boy, untamed and reckless except for his eyes, those Peacecraft
eyes that are undeniably Southern in their cold sophistication...
I bit my teeth down hard to keep a small sound of recognition from
falling out of my mouth. And then the screen went a furry gray for the
briefest of moments before new footage spooled up, similar in quality
but so much more terrible. Soldiers in assault uniforms bounded
athletically up the stairs leading to the parliament building, a grand
structure that was older than most of the city. From the front
entrance, different soldiers led sloppily-dressed ministers and
cabinet members at gunpoint. These men and women were pushed into a
long, straight line that reminded me of a game we used to play at the
palace when we got enough people and then forced to kneel. Behind the
ministers were soldiers with rifles trained, soldiers who wore
yellow-tinted anti-glare glasses and black uniforms, the pitchest of
black like the night the stormed and crept through. One soldier walked
in front of the line with a vid screen in hand, scrolling through
faces, pointing to the ministers that owned them, at which point a
crack would ring out and the minister would slump forward onto a pile
of his or her own splattered blood and brain matter. Two were
executed, one man and one woman, before another soldier saw the camera
and bounded to it, sidearm in hand. There was a crush of pistol-butt
against bone and the camera reeled and fell to the ground, the
recorder still running as one more minister crumpled, the others
crying and whimpering, pleading for their lives...
Though I was too stunned to be sickened, Treize wasn't, and his hand
rose up to cover his mouth when he saw those people drop, his eyes
wide with the same thing I felt. He sat forward in his chair, fully
engaged, never once taking his eyes off of that screen. He watched
every horrible, nauseating second of it, barely blinking, swallowing
heavily now and again, his lips silently moving in what might have
been an expression of disbelief. I trembled where I stood, distantly
envious of the other boy's relative constitution, and it wasn't long
before I couldn't stand to be in that sickly light anymore with those
terrible, nightmare images that were immeasurably more terrifying
because they were real, because they were of my home. I don't know how
I got out of there without making a sound. I was on auto-pilot as I
backed away from his door and everything behind it, not snapping out
of it until my elbow smacked against the doorframe at the entrance to
my room. I didn't sleep that night, even after Treize gave it up at
The next day, it was as though nothing had happened. Same time as the
day before, he knocked softly, peeked his head in, smiled with a
softness that radiated mostly from his eyes, told me that it was time
for breakfast and that if I wanted anything special to eat I should
tell him, to which I once more shook my head. He didn't look changed,
didn't look as though he'd been up most of the night, didn't seem
moved or haunted. For the duration of that day I wondered if perhaps
I'd dreamed it all.
But it hadn't been a dream. Every night after that, night after night
after night I heard the same thing at the same time, crawled out of
bed in the same way, crossed the hall, opened Treize's door with the
same caution, and watched what he watched. Time slipped by unaccounted
for, the only time existing for me the horrible aftermath of the
invasion. Every night there was new footage, different footage, all of
it Sanc, so much footage that I wondered where it'd come from. Most
wasn't as clear as that first night. Many images were taken on cell
phones, hand-held camcorders, and thrown onto the nets as quickly as
possible before they were discovered, before the reality could be
disproven by the victors. I never grew accustomed to it, always
closing out our sessions with tight fist, sore eyes, and unsteady
legs. Treize no longer covered his mouth but sat curled up, knees
hugged to his chest, chin upon them. Sometimes his eyes teared up,
sometimes he bit his lip, and sometimes an unexpected loud noise
startled him, but he didn't stop.
I remember the exact image that gave me away one night, two weeks
after the first time I'd caught him, judging by the moon. It was an
image taken by a camcorder, the shot filmed from behind a chunk of
rubble not ten meters from where the action was. It showed a girl
about Treize's age crying over the body of her father, who'd minutes
earlier been sniped down while trying to fight back with a hunting
rifle. The man had gotten a shot off on one of the soldiers, an
officer, by the sidearm he was carrying, one who must have been
popular because his buddies were frothing with blood lust. They
grabbed the girl by the back of her coat, dragged her over to the
curb, and told her to bite it. Put your fucking jaws around it, one
explained, and even at that age she must have known what they were
going to do, because she shook her head and started screaming for her
dead father, for anybody to help her. She flailed until one of them
dug his knee into her back and made her bite it while the other one
planted his boot sharply against the back of her head. The camcorder
shook and whoever was holding it began sobbing. Treize flinched and
pressed his face into his knees, the only time I'd ever seen him look
I didn't realize that I was making noise until his head rose sharply
and whipped around. In a lightning-fast stream of movements, he
unfolded, sprang to his feet, glared in my direction, and, with a
quick swipe of his hand, turned his computer off. Only in the black of
his room on that lightless, new moon night did I realize that it had
been one whole month since my parents had died. I couldn't see
anything, and the only sound I heard was loud, asthmatic gasping that
seemed to be coming from me.
"Milliardo?" he whispered.
They told me I had to pick a new name. What the kind of request is
that, I thought, for what name could I possibly have other than the
one my father had given me?
I clutched my hands to my chest as if I could stop my lungs by force.
The lightheadedness I felt dissipated when Treize turned on a small,
soft-bulb lamp next to his bed. He moved quickly to the doorway where
I was standing and coaxed me to come in with a hand on my arm. He shut
the door behind me and walked back to the other side of the room, his
back to me, hands on his hips. A rough, shivering sigh escaped him.
"How long were you there?"
I'd calmed myself enough to speak, to tell him that I'd been there
long enough to see the most horrible thing I'd ever witnessed except
for when some eighteen-year- old boy in uniform put a bullet in my
mother's head, but I was out of words, completely out of energy and
When I didn't say anything, he turned around, the look on his face one
of sorrow, shame, and uncomprehending dismay. He crossed the room with
those long, sure steps that I'd once struggled to keep pace with and
took me by the shoulders.
"Look at me."
I raised my head and saw in his eyes an intensity that I'd never seen
before and would never see again, fire-lancing, staggering intensity
that was greater than lust, hate, and love, intensity beyond what any
grown man could muster, the intensity of a boy who knew he could do
anything in the world, even stop the unstoppable.
"I swear to the mother of God, to everything -- " He clenched his teeth
together and his brow furrowed deeply as he dug his fingers into me to
the point of pain. "I swear to you, I will never let anything like
this happen again. I swear it to you." He pulled me to him and hugged
me tightly, fiercely, and I was limp, hands useless at my sides, face
pressed into his chest.
"No matter what the cost," he breathed.
He was only eleven, but I believed him.
From that pivotal day forward, Treize buried himself in preparation
for the academy, for the career that he thought would allow him to
mold society into a shape less miserable. Propelled by the awfulness
he'd witnessed and by the image he had of his father, who seemed to
Treize to have the power to bend gravity to his liking, he spent hours
a day studying, riding, helping the stable hands, running, and doing
calisthenics routines that seemed insane in their vigor and
creativity. His parents were unaware of his motives, thinking his
decision to enter the military was motivated by tradition and his
interest in science. They didn't realize that he planned on forcing
the world into the greatest paradigm shift of the era. To join him
later would seem only natural to me, for who could turn their back on
intentions so pure, and who could resist taking the journey with a
person so fundamentally good? That I would avenge my parents and
country was an afterthought; Treize and his vision were the real
reasons I became a soldier.
His liquid blue eyes scanned over his text book, absorbing reflected
photons and sending electrical impulses into that magnificently
receptive brain of his. He had enviable information retention
abilities; some would later speculate that he had a photographic
memory. Treize's real talent was that he was always carefully attuned
on the world around him, his perception and concentration
crystal-clear and imperturbable. It was what made him an excellent
pilot, student, and a man to never underestimate, for he did not
forgot the deeds and words of those around him.
"Did you need something?" Treize asked, not even looking up from his book.
I kept a frown at bay by reminding myself that our cake would surely
blow his mind and turn him back into the person I once knew.
"Yes. I have something for you," I said in Russian.
Only then did he lower his book and look me over, discretely looking
for the "something" I supposedly had for him. "Do you? And what might
that be?" he replied in Standard. One of his reddish eyebrows cocked
upward, the only indication of interest he would give me.
"It's a surprise."
He stared at me for a handful of seconds before bookmarking his place
and rising nimbly from his chair. He was taller then, and the
young-adult contours of his body had begun to fill in from all the
work he'd been doing. A broadening of the shoulder. A sharpening of
the jaw and hollowing of the cheek. The growth of firm, lean muscle on
his arms that ever-so-slightly pushed up the larger veins under his
skin. These differences were small in one sense, for Treize would
always be trim, but the contrast with the Treize's I'd first met the
year before was shocking to me.
He closed his eyes, held out his hand, and I took it tentatively after
considering it with some confusion, because I hadn't expected him to
do such a thing. I led him to the nook and guided him to sit at one of
the two settings Lara had prepared.
I stepped back and tried to calm the tingle of excitement that was
stirring in my belly. I was certain, absolutely and beyond all
reservation, that he would love it. And how could he not? It was his
favorite cake -- Lara would know -- prepared by two people whose sole
purpose for baking it was to make him happy. He was so very often a
polite boy, a kind boy, even a sweet boy on the occasion that he
forgot himself. Yes, I had no doubt in my mind that the cake would
alter his entire worldview, make him forget about his braces, and
maybe even oblige him to put a hand on my shoulder and smile his new
plastic-coated smile that didn't seem at all unattractive to me.
Treize did as I asked and stared blankly at the cake as though I'd
presented him with a ham sandwich on that floppy, post-apocalyptic,
hyper-enriched, glaringly white, spongy mush that passes for bread in
some countries. I think he would have been more interested if I'd set
up his physics book to the section on wave dynamics. At least then he
might have uttered a word of gratitude.
"It's Black Forest cake," I clarified. I chewed on my bottom lip and
vehemently hoped that he was joking with me. "Lara and I made it for
There was a dreadfully long pause, and then the reply I'd never
conceived in the various scenarios I'd run through back in the
kitchen: "I'm not really hungry."
All at once, the fledgling happiness and anticipation I'd felt dried
up into a lifeless, gritty powder, the stuff I imagined was left
behind after a cremation. I wondered how that could possibly be his
answer, after all the time we'd spent together, after all the facets
I'd seen of him... how could he say something that countered all the
information I'd collected over the last year - not only countered it,
but brazenly defied it?
I then felt another kind of tingling, one that rose from my fingertips
settled in my jaw.
Did he have any idea how lucky he was? Any idea? For all the sympathy
he so obviously had for me, did he possess the faculties to reflect
back on his life and realize just how extraordinarily fortunate he
was? He had two parents who were alive and who loved him, even if his
father was absent and his mother was at times cold and unfeeling. He
had an old, proud home filled with people who would literally do
anything for him, so deep was their fondness. Like Lara, who had
stolen over two hours away from her real job - which was not showing
idiot seven-year-olds how to bake cake - only because she adored
Treize. She loved him so much that thirteen years later she would name
her first son after him. That was the kind of life Treize had, the
kind I'd once had before it'd been ripped from my small, frantically
It was the first time I'd ever wanted to hurt somebody. I wanted to
grab him by the shirt collar and shake the sulky aloofness out of him.
I wanted to yell at him, tell him to stop being a brat, to stop
spitting in my face by taking all the wonderful things he had for
But I didn't. Instead, I reached over and grabbed a fistful of cake.
Slowly, thoughtfully, like an artist working thick paint across a
canvas, I smeared the dessert across his face, moving diagonally from
one corner of his chin, over his nose, up his forehead and into his
I dropped my hand and took a moment to admire my work. The look on
Treize's face was one of absolute indignation, mouth agape, one eye
sealed shut with chocolate frosting, the other wide and with dilated
pupil. His bangs stood at an odd angle, molded by a fluffy layer of
whipped cream dotted with speckles of moist cake. An errant cherry
dropped from his brow and onto his lap.
I stared at him, still angry but growing less so with every passing
second. When his tongue darted out of his mouth to lick the icing from
his upper lip, I burst into tiny childish giggles. It was such a
foreign sound to my ears, and Treize smiled when he heard it. He used
his left hand like a trowel to dig the frosting out of his eye socket
and smeared what he'd gathered across my smirking mouth.
"Good cake, Milliardo."
I licked my lips. It really was excellent.
I eyed my suit over the top of a copy of Nabokov's Russian translation
of "Lolita." I'd hooked the hanger over the short neck of a light
fixture that gave the sitting room of my rental a warm glow, leaving
it in plain sight for me to ponder, distracting me from the trials of
Humbert Humbert. I laid the open book face-down across my chest, the
spine protesting with a crackle, and wondered what exactly I was going
to do with myself.
The fitting had gone well. If Madame Boucher recognized me, she didn't
show it, and she certainly didn't seem to be in the throes of
degenerative brain disease. She'd commented that I had the longest
legs she'd ever measured, marked a few spots in the trousers and
sleeves with short ticks of white tailor's chalk, told me to strip
out, and spent about five minutes on the sewing machine. The result
was as well-crafted as any from the mustachioed tailors in Russia who
fussed and bustled about for hours - oh, the hours of my life wasted
while being fitted for tuxedos and other formal party wear, an
overly-complicated process that always made me feel as though I were
some lopsided giant for whom special arrangements had to be made
instead of a well-proportioned young man of normal dimensions. Jesus.
One would think they'd been paid by the hour.
So, I had a suit. It struck me then that I didn't have a plan for it,
its purchase having been the result of impulse, something that seemed
correct at the time. I figured that I would wear it when I went to
Brussels to approach Anne for a job, which I had roughly planned out
for later that month, maybe after Christmas, when I assumed things
would be quiet. There would be some event, a ceremony of remembrance
that I intended to ignore completely. Whatever the new president had
to say wouldn't mean anything to me. I'd read his biography. He'd
never served in the military and never even been in public office.
He'd been the CEO of a tech company in South Africa, somebody
unsullied by the Old Guard ways, a fresh face with forward-thinking
ideas that would catapult the ESUN into a new future of networking and
space exploration. New colonies! On Mars! Great idea, except for all
the dilapidated pieces of shit already orbiting around Earth, colonies
on their knees shaking their tin cans and practically begging for
money that never came.
Out with the old, in with the new - wasn't that what Vadimas had said?
But I was still stuck in the old, which had me sucked in to the knees,
and for all the struggling I pretended to do, I mostly just wanted to
be completely devoured by it so that I wouldn't feel like I had a
choice in the matter. That suit was my choice, and perhaps some
smarter part of me had bought it and hung it there so that I wouldn't
forget which decision was the correct one. If Treize could have seen
me then, seen what I'd been, seen what I'd become, he would have been
disappointed. More than disappointed.
My God, what I wouldn't have given to hear just how disappointed he
was, to see him standing across the room next to my suit, bitching
about wasting my life like a recluse, to see the false anger that hid
his concern and, even further behind that, a profound longing for my
happiness. "Look at what we've created," he would say, "and for what,
so that you could bar yourself from it?" And then he might cross the
space between us and stand beside where I was lying, look down at me,
and frown. And I suppose then I'd reach up and grab onto his hand,
which he'd probably let me hold for a couple of seconds before pulling
it away and taking a seat on the opposite end of the couch. And I
guess he'd let me rest my feet on his lap, and then he'd finger the
hem of my jeans and explain what it all meant, every intention he ever
had, what regrets he died with, what he hoped for the future, for me,
and he might say that he wanted me to move on, find something I truly
loved to do, find somebody who would give me what he couldn't. And at
that point I'd probably clench my jaw and ask him how he could do this
to me, how he could expect me to move on like he'd been nothing but a
bridge to the future, a horrible future built on the end of his life,
a future where the finality of his death was the only thing
guaranteed, the rest of it a black tunnel that we were expected to
hold hands and march through with our heads held high in triumph over
our basic natures...
I did clench my jaw then and ask those things to an empty room, and I
felt so sad when there was no Treize there to respond. It was the most
basic sad, a flat, lightly-choking constant that made me want to be
dead because maybe then I might feel a bit better. The world didn't
need everlasting bastards like me and Heero Yuy anyway. It needed
brave, dynamic people with high ideals and the will and strength to
lead us to them. People like Treize, people whose deaths we can always
weep over because they are so romantically tragic, blindingly
brilliant people who dazzle us until there's nothing left in them for
fuel, who collapse and explode like a dying star, throwing out waves
and waves and waves of themselves that stretch on forever and ever,
across the entire universe.
When I heard myself begin to sniffle like a child, I growled and threw
my book across the room, because I had to do something, anything,
right that moment - anything except cry. Time to be done with that
shit, I told myself. Time to get a grip. I was a twenty-year- old man
with a suit, God damn it. Time to get a life.
I stared blankly at the splayed, bent pages of "Lolita"... Lo in the
morning, Lola in slacks, Dolly at school, Dolores on the dotted line,
but always... In the arms of Humbert Humbert, she was always Lolita...
See, Relena? I thought. You're not the only one who can grow up.
[part 8] [part 10] [back to Singles a-k]