Reverand Maynard
Warnings: implied 13+/x6; implied homosexuality; a little dark; a smidge of blood; not what you might expect from this series.
Disclaimer: Still not mine.

Author's Notes: Set after Zechs is nearly killed during a Tallgeese test run. (The famous "I can no longer be your friend"/mask-breaking battle).

Also set after "No Matter".

FOR MARILYN.

SS: More than That

His excellency had told her not make a move. The intruder was harmless, he had said. It was in their best interest to talk, not murder. The intruder should be allowed to do that thing for which he was named, and do so unharmed yet with no little resistance. After all, they didn't want him to know he was expected, though she thought he certainly already did.

It still surprised her, even as she watched the shadows press in upon her general, impotent to any action for fear of disobeying His Excellency's wishes, that the intrusion had come so stealthily. Even knowing the intruder would come hadn't made them wise enough to guess or detect when. Of course, His Excellency had told her more than once that she would not see him until he wished to be seen. He was right. His Excellency was always right.

The video monitor flickered a little as she watched the action in the next room via a hidden camera. She supposed it was wrong of her to spy on His Excellency as she did, but it really was in his best interest. She knew he wouldn't complain when, at that most dire of moments when His Excellency needed her, she could make her presence known, save the life of her General, and put to rest that miserable excuse for a soldier. Indeed, he simply couldn't.

+

He knew he would come in the dark. That's why he'd kept the lights low as he worked, one miserable lamp shedding little light over his workspace, its yellow glow tenuous at best and so reflective of his mood that he'd nearly forgotten why he'd kept it so dark. Then, a moment before retiring, he felt a cool sting about his throat, and he remembered.

"I'd kill you now except that I have questions." The voice at his ear purred and he became all at once aware of the hand gripping his left arm, the warm breath at his ear, the cold blade below his chin and, of most importance, the too familiar growl of his Second In Command.

"No doubt--" he chanced to say, and felt the blade bite his skin. He tried to back away but it followed him closely until the back of the chair prevented escape.

"I'm asking now. When I've asked, you may answer. If I don't like your answers, I'll do the earth and colonies the favor of opening your jugular."

"And if y--" this time the bite was hard.

"Then I do it for my own sake."

"Mill-"

"No! You'll not say it this time." The words came not as a shout but an urgent whisper, coupled with the pain at his neck as he felt the first drops of fluid running in a thin line down his throat, the red stuff soaking into the scarf there. Something had changed in his young friend. Something he hadn't quite expected.

"Milliardo Peacecraft would not threaten your life, General. As a fellow man he would respect your life, however reptilian your existence might seem. In fact, I believe he'd prefer to kiss your throat rather than cut it. Or, perhaps, remove your tunic rather than see it sullied with your blood, which I must say is not so blue as one might think."

The General remained quiet and still. Sometimes the best action was inaction. Milliardo-- no, Zechs held his place and continued, quieter now but with no less vehemence than before.

"I am not Milliardo Peacecraft, but I knew him well as a child . . . do you have time for a story, General?" The intruder asked and gave no time for a response before he continued. "We grew up together, Milliardo and I. I watched his father die. I saw his mother raped and hanged. I cowered with him from one stranger's home to another, from one orphanage to another. Here he was too skinny, there he was too pretty, and even farther, too snobbish. But he was a prince, snobbery was the norm . . . but you know that.

"Later, as he grew to a man, I was with him still. We enlisted together, climbed rank together, commanded armies together, and once, even once, we bedded a General together. Not too long ago, in fact, was it, Sir?"

"Zec--"

"And now, just as I thought we were beginning to find our place, I cannot seem to find him anywhere. It's been nigh on a week, General, and the bastard hasn't shown his face . . ." here, finally, the shadows in the General's periphery shifted and a face appeared before him. It was unhindered by the metal mask he was so accustom to seeing there, white hair glowing yellow in that same light that he had found so sickly moments before (a death angel), and, as usual, even with the hate he saw there, the beauty in that blue gaze took his breath as Zechs continued, " . . . what about you, General, have you seen him?"

Treize's face held steady, looking as if he might have been doing little more than playing a hand of poker . . . in fact, in a way, he was.

"No? Certainly not. You've been much too busy, haven't you, General?" the blade was suddenly tighter against his throat and Zechs leaned in close to his face. Only now, in the dim light, could Treize see the wetness of Zechs' eyes despite his calm resolve. "He wants to know why you tried to have him murdered, General. He wants to know why, if you want him dead, you couldn't do it yourself, and . . . General . . . if you didn't then . . ." Zechs trailed off and Treize was surprised when the pressure of the blade was removed, only to find the handle thrust into his palm, his fingers forced into a grip, arm extended toward Zechs's breast as the younger moved to stand in front of him, " . . . then why not do it now?"

+

The Colonel watched in rapt attention. It had surprised her when those pale hands had first appeared from the darkness, even more the glint of the blade. But it was not until the patch of gray began to blossom at His Excellency's throat ( a gray that, despite the monochrome screen on which she watched it grow, she knew was a bright vermilion) that she nearly sprung into action. Something, however, seemed to hold her back for a moment, the last stubborn thread of reluctance to disobey a direct command, and that was when the scene changed abruptly. Now His Excellency held the weapon. All was not lost.

Merquise, knowing himself to be defeated, she reasoned, sat still upon His Excellency's desk, begging for mercy, no doubt. Even when he removed his hand from the blade, her General's hand remained, poised at Merquise's heart. Strike! She pleaded silently, biting her lip, bidding that His Excellency do what she would and bring that shameless man to his knees in one easy pierce.

Then, at what should have been a moment of pain for some, satisfaction for others, and consequence for all, the very pixels of the screen began to defy all logic. Why, it must have been a trick of the light, or some mechanical error. The wiring was loose, a connection crossed here or there, something perverse and muddy smeared across the lens . . . for there was no rhyme or reason to what she saw on that screen. It simply couldn't be happening. Yes. A mechanical error. A trick of the light. It wasn't happening. And, indeed, for the Colonel, it wasn't.

The Lady, however, continued to watch in sedate silence.

+

It was all wrong. Their kisses were always so sweet, so languorous. This one was forced, salty and felt a little like murder, a hint of the tragic. Treize broke the kiss abruptly but kept close to Zechs's body. He had already dropped the blade and now held the other man by the arms, pinning him at the legs against his desk, almost as near to him as when they'd kissed.

"What's wrong, Zechs? You once liked my kisses."

"And you once liked me alive . . . or is that only when I'm alive to serve your greater interest?"

"Oh, but I always find you interesting, Zechs. Men with sharp knives and a vengeful streak are rarely dull."

"Then why? Why kill me?" There were no longer tears in Zechs's eyes, nor did he fight Treize's grip.

"This is war, Zechs. I'm not in the practice of killing my soldiers, particularly those I take to my bed.. There are certain casualties. Accidents--"

At last, the coil sprung and Zechs pushed Treize away from him, "In your wars, Treize, there are no accidents! I became a problem, didn't I? I was suddenly the errant brat that needed discipline, only you needed another martyr and I would have made the perfect dead prince."

"If you're so certain," Treize asked, "then why are you asking me?"

Zechs had turned away from the General at some point, and as he turned back to face him he held an ivory-handled pistol, ornately gilded and unwavering. It was a weapon he had owned for many years though he had only ever peered down its golden site on one other occasion. That time, another General had been on the other end.

His voice was steady as he took aim, "Because I was hoping you would tell me I was wrong."

Treize was calm, unbelievably so, actually. Even he marveled at his own composure as, for the first time since Zechs's arrival, he slowed the moment and noticed several things. Foremost of these was that Zechs was in plain clothes: dark pants and a black shirt. It was one of a very few times since their boyhood that he had seen him out of uniform, the most recent occasion being a dinner party almost a month ago, and then . . . and then just a couple of weeks later . . . no, he wouldn't think of that now.

"And you would believe me if I said so? If I told you it was all a lie?"

Zechs stepped closer to his target, the barrel of his pistol a mere foot from Treize's chest. Treize watched that too familiar frown and longed to caress the gentle corners of that mouth until the tension there eased.

"Yes. I would believe you. I would have believed you even then," Zechs's aim did not waver but his eyes, a little raw and clouded pink, told the tale of his true ache, "had you told me it was my time to die I might have happily slit my own throat."

The room grew heavy with unbroken silence until Treize slowly raised his hand toward Zechs's pistol and easily pushed the weapon aside. He stepped closer to the other man and, like so many precious times before, kissed him. This time it was right. He could feel the relief and sadness in Zechs's posture, the quivering of his lips that gave away both his grief and happiness. He moved his arms around Zechs's solid frame, holding tight as if this embrace might be their last. And indeed, he knew it might.

When they parted he lay his head on Zechs's shoulder, feeling how relaxed the other man was, and began to speak.

"It's all a lie, Zechs. All of it. Every kiss, every touch, every utterance of devotion and love . . . I felt you slipping away from me, away from Oz. When it became clear you would stray it became necessary to deal with you. I thought a soldier's death might be more dignified than public execution for treason."

The quiet in the room was palpable. He hadn't noticed a change in the other man's posture, not so much as a tremble, a quiver.

"So, you see, Zechs, I did lie," he began again as he stepped away from him to see the effect his words might have had, "but it was nothing you did not want to believe."

Zechs stood quietly, the steely gaze regarding his General, hard and beautiful as ever. "You always were a good liar, Treize. It's part of being a good strategist, I know." The hand that held the gun raised again, "It was never something I envied, mind you, but you have taught me the benefits of deception," he took aim, "and another lesson I'll not likely forget . . ." and cocked the hammer, " . . . a man can die more than once."

Six hollow shots sounded in the large room.

+

The Lady watched him quietly as he stood in front of the fireplace. Now that the intruder was gone a little extra light was welcome and it flickered across his face eerily. He did not seem to notice her until she stood just beside him and spoke.

"He won't be back?"

His Excellency watched the fire dance for a while as if it held the answer to her question, and then, softly, "No."

She looked up at the large painting above the fireplace. A remarkable likeness of His Excellency smiled cryptically down at her, six small holes burned into the canvas at his forehead.

"I'll have that repaired tomorrow, Your Excellency."

"No . . . don't. It will be a reminder."

"Of?" She was curious.

Just then he looked up to regard his own gigantic face, "Of my mortality, Lady. I sometimes forget I am, indeed, only human."

She, too, watched his face, only this one was neither cryptic nor marred with bullet holes, but sad and dancing in the firelight.

"You love him?"

He looked at her then, almost as if he didn't recognize her. Indeed, she did strike a different picture without her glasses, but no, it was not her he did not recognize.

"More than life itself, Lady," he paused and thought, once again finding his answers in the fire light, "no . . . more than that."

end

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