Reverand Maynard
Warnings: Very Mild WAFF; 13+6; Skewed Timeline
Disclaimer: Not Mine.
Notes: Special thanks to Dim Genesis and Olympia for reading the first draft of this so long ago.

SS: That Depends

Black. White. White. Black. Not a speck of red or blue or even gray to be seen. How very perfect. And all of it--each and every dancing couple, every single semi-drunken aristocrat, the whole and consummate gathering of every person who ever had or ever would matter to her coalescing into one black and white blur--was her doing. As the hostess to such an (in her mind at least) important gathering of enemies and friends and those which would soon change from one to the other, she sat at the head of the longest, most crowded table in the hall, and smiled.

It still amused her, the amount of power she held over these people. Her husband, long dead, was the real power behind it of course, but it pleased her to no end that tradition could be so staunchly held as to allow an old, powerless woman to dictate clothing and etiquette. Or perhaps it was simply her charity toward their respective organizations that they sought. No matter, it amused her nonetheless.

"Mrs. Marat, how ravishing you look." It was the Khushrenada boy, or perhaps 'man' best suited him now. She had known him since . . . well since before he was born, had helped his mother choose a christening gown. She had kept up with him too, finding that he, even at the tender age of seven, had a strange sense of fairness. Waging war against an anthill in the estate gardens, he'd refused to use pesticides and instead fed them ground corn, saying that gluttony would be their downfall. Chemical warfare was an ignoble tactic. He had been victorious.

Now he was a General, though she would never allow him to be called that in her presence. That was the reason for the black and white. War, armies, enemies or allies, would not enter her house. They were all equals here. Still, the man bowing easily at her side, politely lying about her beauty (she was practically his great-grandmother!), was a force in himself. He was tall and broad, built like his father, but unmistakably, especially with the handsome grace of his face, his mother's son. Power and elegance in one fetchingly neat package, and despite the same sense of fairness she knew he still held, she struggled to see the grinning boy of her too-old memories. She did not entirely fail.

"Treize," her rickety voice called sweetly and the young man lifted her gloved hand to kiss the back.

"Madam."

"Dearest Treize, you are dashing! But I must say it's been far too long since you've had the good graces to visit me. Are you well?"

Treize smiled. "Yes madam, though I know how you loathe the uniforms and, much to my dismay, it has of late become a constant in my wardrobe."

"Yes, yes," she conceded with a nod and a flurry of her wrists, lace as delicate as her aged skin ruffling at her movement, "all this business of war going about, and you at the helm. It's a wonder you don't look as old as me."

"Madam, I-"

"No, no." She chided, noticing the ease with which he took the command. She was probably the first person to tell him that in a very long time, "No more fibbing from the likes of you, young man. I am old," the last word was drawn out and heavily emphasized, "and every crease carved into my old skin is a day, a year, a memory of my age. I wear them as proudly as you wear your medals, only mine will pass with me."

Treize was still bending over her, "Forgive me then, madam."

"Oh pah!" She exclaimed, reaching out to him, beckoning with her thin and wrinkled fingers that he embrace her. He did.

"You are still the sweet boy I always knew," she said quietly as she held him warmly. It must have been uncomfortable for him, she knew, but she enjoyed her children's company, even if they were hers only in familiarity.

"I'm afraid you are a bit partial, Madam."

She laughed at him then and let him stand once more but taking his hand to keep him near, "Perhaps you are right, child, though I daresay I wouldn't mind having another of you running about . . . or even two."

Treize smiled warmly, bent forward again to whisper something to her that, a moment later, made her eyes light with something akin to glee. He kissed her cheek, bowed and excused himself, melding back into the crowd.

She watched him go, a smile on her thin lips. On any other occasion, had their conversation been so brief, she might have been mournful, sad at the short visit with one of her cherished young ones. Now, however, with his last soft words playing over in her head, and the possibility of their meaning warming her beyond the comfort of her lace and satin gown, she was only saddened at one thought: that she might not live to see his promise kept.

Still, she played it again in her mind, thinking that perhaps her happiness at the prospect might lengthen her years. Sadness was counter productive.

"Madam," Treize had said once he'd leaned close enough to her ear, "perhaps you will not be disappointed."

+

Zechs walked stiffly beside the Lady. He felt awkward out of uniform (though his mask had been allowed), and even more awkward that the Lady was out of hers. If her beauty was not deceptive of her violent nature enough, seeing her in a delicate and slim-fitting, black sequined gown was. He had thought when he had first seen her that evening that perhaps she was not always the hard-hitting, unyielding Colonel. Then again, perhaps he was wrong.

"You look lovely, Colonel." He had told her when she approached him. She narrowed her eyes and seemed none too pleased.

"His Excellency is on the balcony and wishes to speak with you," she said in a tone that evidenced her disapproval.

"Certainly," he replied, excusing himself from some half-idle company, and turned to follow the Lady who was already heading away from him.

It took several minutes to navigate the length of the hall, the crowds of people, but finally they came to a set of elaborately decorative doors, closed against the din of the hall, their sashes hung heavy, obscuring any view to the outside. With a curtness belying her graceful beauty, Une opened one.

"Thank you," Zechs said as he stepped into the cooler air of the night, and a beat later, the door shut behind him, and a slight clicking sound indicated that it was locked. He knew she would stand guard.

+

Some forty years earlier, Madam Marat thought as she eyed the pretty brunette who had just stepped into the hall from one of the balconies, and she might have giggled.

She had watched Treize go out that door just moments ago, the lady in tow, and now, all too quickly, she had returned. Ah, young love. How fleeting it can be. Still, she hoped, more for her own sake than Treize's, that the young woman would be forgiving for whatever tiff had put that scowl on her face. My . . . she did look stern.

Then, a strange thing happened. Madam Marat was still silently watching the mini opera, glad to have her guests entertain themselves so that she might indulge in her curiosity, when a new player entered the stage.

The young lady from the balcony had found another fellow. Of course, it took the Madam a moment to realize he was of that gender. She frowned. It was that masked man. Now what would that pretty young thing want with such a serious looking young man when she had charm incarnate waiting for her on the balcony? Really!

So she watched as the lady spoke, the man responded and then she led him away from his table. They were heading for the balconies. Just imagine her surprise when he, not the young miss, stepped into the night air, leaving the lady to stand guard.

Oh no, she thought as she formed an impotent fist in the lace of her gown. She knew exactly what this was. The signs were unmistakable and she would not have it. Not in her house.

+

"Good evening, Zechs." A soft, familiar voice called from the shadows of the bench flanking the building, and he regarded it with respect.

"Sir." Silence followed for a moment and Zechs could feel himself being appraised.

"You look even taller out of uniform," the shadows said, the tiny red flare of a cigarette following.

"I'm afraid that tuxedos don't call for the exaggerated shoulders our uniforms do. I'd suspect you look rather changed yourself."

At that, the shadows moved and Treize stood from where he sat on the bench, stepping out of the darkness and into the wan light of the balcony's only lamp. He had shed his coat, gloves and bow-tie. The pristinely white dress shirt was stark against the night and making up for any lack of his usual decorations. His left hand was tucked neatly into his pants pocket, his right held a glowing cigarette, and all about him, that aura of elegance that no absence of clothing or addition of vices could mar.

Zechs smirked, who was he kidding? This was Treize.

"It appears you still have all of your fingers, I trust Lady Une didn't bite too hard."

Zechs reached to his mask before replying. No one could see them from the grounds, it was simply too dark, and Une would not be back until Treize called for her. He started to remove it.

"Do you mind?" He asked, uncertain as to why.

Treize was smiling, "I'd like nothing more."

Mask off, having pointedly ignored Treize's comment, he finally spoke of the Lady, "She doesn't appear to like me very much."

"On the contrary," Treize replied, leaning against the balcony railing next Zechs's side, staring into the velvet blackness of the grounds below "she absolutely loathes you."

"Yes," Zechs agreed, "she does. It's as if we're rivals"

"But you are."

"And how is that? I hardly know her."

Treize took one last drag of his cigarette and turned away to snuff it in a provided receptacle, a tiny mint procured from a tin in his shirt pocket taking its place. He didn't reply until he stood directly before Zechs. "For my affection, Millard. For my affection you and she are the fiercest of rivals--or so she sees it."

"I see . . . but I don't remember fighting for such to begin with."

Treize's smile was back and Zechs could smell the mint in his breath, "And that's precisely what irks her so--that she has worked tirelessly to gain ground, yet has long since lost the battle, whilst you've not tried at all, and won the war."

"Must you always speak in tactics?"

"Must you always ignore me when I'm trying to confess my love for you?"

Zechs's mouth went a little dry and he was suddenly at a loss for actions or words. Treize, who obviously was not, stepped closer to him, placing his hands on the railing to either side of Zechs body, pinning him in place. But this was all so familiar.

"I've asked you not to say that," Zechs said flatly, as if the other man's mouth, the sweet-smelling breath, were not inches from his own.

"And I don't take kindly to being ordered by a soldier. Tell me, Zechs, are you so insolent?" Treize was even closer now and they breathed the same cool air.

"Only when you lie."

Treize stepped back, "Pardon?"

"There are rumors, Treize . . ."

The General sighed in defeat and spun to walk the length of the balcony, "More rumors?"

"Yes. Rumors that I am to be kept in check, and that you are the man to do it, " Zechs's voice was calm. He hadn't intended on telling this to Treize, but one good turn deserved another, "I can understand the higher-ups and their want to monitor my movement, but . . . Treize . . . are you listening to me at all?"

The older man was staring out across the dark lawn.

"I know they're observing you. I've known for some time. They're waiting for Milliard Peacecraft to make his debut." Treize turned back to Zechs then and continued, "Not everyone is as ignorant as you might suspect . . . and I think their timing is not far off."

Zechs was quieted by that. He leaned back against the railing and watched the floor as he spoke, "I'll be going into outer space next week as an ambassador of Peace for the Sanq kingdom . . . as a Peacecraft."

Treize was beside him again, "I expected as much," and then, "will you return to me?"

Zechs's gaze did not waver, he did not know if he could face Treize and say it, "I'm not certain."

The silence was heavy for a while, only the faint sound of shrubbery quivering in the breeze and muted raucous from inside the palace sullied the quiet night. Then, in a breath, Treize was in front of him again, as close--no closer than before. One hand tangled in Zechs's hair, and Zechs had no choice but to look at him.

The kiss they shared then was not the spontaneous maelstrom that had taken place at the restaurant some months ago. This one was languorous and soft, sweet and deep, and seemed to last a fraction of an eternity until they had to break for air. And then they kissed again. And again, until some ten or fifteen minutes had passed and Zechs was glad he stood against a railing for support. That was when Treize backed off a little and regarded him with that perfectly blue gaze.

"I can order you to come back."

"But I will not be Zechs Merquise or an Oz soldier. I will be an Ambassador of peace," Zechs marveled at how calm and urgent Treize could look simultaneously, while he found himself rather breathless and his cheeks must be pink!

"I'll order you to stay then . . . to remain Zechs Merquise."

"You know I cannot do that."

"You would defy your General?"

"Treize . . ." and in that moment Treize's resolve softened and Zechs could see the truth plain on his face.

"I do not lie, Zechs . . . Milliard . . . ," Treize said, still so close before he leaned in to take one last kiss, this one a bit more chaste, ". . . not to you."

When they parted again it was Treize who spoke first, and with the last thing Zechs might have expected, "Put your mask back on."

Zechs gave a questioning look.

"We're being watched--quickly now."

Zechs did as he was told and then looked around the lawn. How did the man know? He could see nothing.

"That window there," Treize said, pointing to an empty window that had been dark when they had begun their discussion and was now glowing pale with lamp light.

"Who do you think it was?" Zechs asked.

"I don't think," Treize said with certainty. He had moved away entirely and was redressing in his coat, tie and gloves, " . . . I know. You'll have to excuse me." He rapped on the glass door thrice and there was a light 'click' before Une opened it smoothly.

"You won't leave for space without seeing me again, will you?" Treize asked from the half-open door way. Somehow, to Zechs, it seemed as if it were not an easy question for the General to ask.

"I will try."

+

Mrs. Marat sat quietly in her study, the dining hall having become far too noisy for her aged ears. As well, she had come here to gather news from Lucinda about the goings-on on the balcony and had simply decided upon staying. Uprooting one's self too often was also counter productive.

"Madam," a smooth male voice interrupted her rest. She had not entirely expected him but then Lucinda had said she'd been caught.

"Yes, Treize dear, come in."

"I'm afraid that my business is not entirely pleasant, Madam," Treize said as he stepped into the room, noting its excessive warmth, "It seems there are spies in your palace, Madam. You might have them looked after."

Lucinda, who had been standing some five feet behind Ms. Marat, stepped back even farther, hanging her head a little lower.

"I trust your lady-in-waiting saw something she liked?"

"Oh hush now, Treize. I'll not be spoken to so derisively," she sighed heavily, the closest that Treize knew she would come to an apology, "I simply thought that you and your young gentleman friend might have been talking war and battle plans. How was I to know Lucinda would run upon a tryst."

"Perhaps you might have trusted me more than that."

She eyed him speculatively, "And how am I to do that when you fill me with false hope? I have no trouble with your . . . preferences, Treize, but you might have made them clear before you gave an old lady ideas about . . ." Oh heavens! She had gotten so emotional with age!

"Do not cry, Madam," Treize offered from where he knelt beside her, "It was not my intention to be misleading." He stroked her hair and she calmed considerably.

"What I said was true," he began to wonder how many times would he say it in one night.

Mrs. Marat looked at him with confusion, "But . . . Lucinda . . ."

"And what Lucinda saw was true," he explained.

"Yes . . . ?"

"Yes."

Then, remarkably, the Madam began to laugh through her tears and pulled Treize to her, "My dear boy, you are as complicated as ever!"

"Moreso, I would hope."

"Indeed!" She was smiling largely now, wishing she had a drink. Something about the evening smacked of celebration . . . Oh yes! What a silly old fool she was! She was missing the last of her ball! Suddenly she felt like joining it again.

"Well," she began, "with that settled, shall you escort me back into the main hall?"

"Certainly," Treize replied and Lucinda came to assist him in rising her safely.

"And I'll meet this friend of yours . . . what is his name?" Just then they made their way into the main hall, Treize's eyes skimming the crowd for the unmistakable glint he had grown to seek instinctively, and finding the man in question listening in silence to an intimate group. He seemed distracted at once, and then looked their way and graced Treize with a small smile.

"Well, Madam . . . that depends."

end

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