Reverand Maynard
Warnings: 13+6; mommy Khushrenada; mild angst; PG
Disclaimer: I claim only the original storylines and characters. Everything else belongs to someone with a lot more money.

NOTES: This jumps backward in the SS timeline by almost 10 years. Zechs is 10. Treize is 14. While it is not entirely necessary you read these in the order I have chosen, I feel it creates a certain... something... I dunno... but it's the way I'd rather they be read.

THANKS to Marilyn for her unending wonderfulness! . . . and her beta efforts. ^ ^
Thanks to Dimmie for hers.
Thanks to Wystii for being Wystii.

SS: Yes, Please

"My poor dears."

A sorrowful woman gazed from a second story window upon a site that tugged at her deepest heartstrings. Two boys in black winter coats, one considerably younger, the other her only son, sat side by side in the rose garden beneath the window where she stood. Of course, there were no roses this time of year, and the grey, bloomless vines lent the somber scene its proper setting.

The older looked forlorn, his hands in his lap, tenuously holding a folded sheet of parchment paper, his gaze fixed beyond that, upon the damp winter ground. The younger seemed maudlin as well, but perhaps it was not so starkly evident on one who was already so accustom to its sting. His gaze was kept faithfully on the boy beside him.

"Madam Khushrenada, are you well?" a soft voice asked and the woman started a little.

"I'm sorry, Madam, I didn't mean to fright!" It was Baxter, a relative on her husband's side, whose gentle character, no matter the exclamation, would not likely frighten a kit. She had not seen him at the funeral but knew he was there from the black suit he wore and tell-tale puffiness that ran beneath his eyes. He was young, hardly a man, but his sensitivities, like his frail voice, were far younger than his years.

"Oh no, Baxter, I'm alright." She did her best to smile graciously, her sorrow showing only in the glitter of her eyes. "I'm glad you could come."

"Yes, Madam. Great Uncle Laurel was mother's favorite uncle . . ." at the mention of his mother his cheeks flushed, tears threatened again, "sh--she would have wanted to be here."

"Baxter, my dear," Madam Khushrenada cooed as she took him into an embrace. Had he been any other boy she might have thought him weepy, but this one reminded her too well of another orphan she longed to comfort. "All my dears . . ."

"Forgive me, Madam," he appealed to her gently as he pulled away after a few moments of respite. "My wounds have not yet healed from this summer. I fear they may never."

As he bowed to take his leave, offering his condolences to her and her husband and son before withdrawing as silently as he'd appeared, she turned back to the window, the garden, and whispered to the two still forms below.

"Ah . . . but they might yet."

+

Outside the great house, in that very same garden so recently ravaged by winter, the two boys had been sitting silently, solemnly, for more than a quarter hour. For the youngest, the silence was beginning to become unsettling. It wasn't the normal "unsettled" that had a tendency to saddle a ten-year-old boy with too little to occupy the circus of his mind and led, inevitably, to trouble. This was more the kind felt by a too-old spirit with a great deal of time and silence to think.

"I'm sorry," he finally said. He'd been watching the boy beside him for some time, and the profile, even then, did not change.

Treize watched the ground. "I don't know what you have to be sorry for, Zechs," he replied, a little distant and quieter than usual. "You've done nothing wrong."

Zechs finally looked away from Treize's face, suddenly finding interest in his hands. They sat in his lap, still, mittenless, and a little pink from the chill. He had his mittens. They were in his coat pocket, but he didn't like them. Children wore mittens.

"I've only now realized how selfish I've been." He glanced at Treize's black leather gloves and then back to his own pale hands, two lines of thought running through his head at once. Treize always wore gloves.

"Speak plain, Zechs," Treize said in the tones of one who would rather not be bothered but would like even less to be alone. "I am not at my wittiest today."

Zechs stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets. It really was cold enough for mittens. He was sure the roses would have worn mittens if they had had them. If any of the flowers held any resemblance to the brilliant, sanguine blossoms of that summer instead of lying black and crisp about the ground, he might have offered his own.

"It has been many years since my own . . . tragedies," he began, " . . . and yet I still wander about as if they'd happened yesterday." He looked back at Treize who had still not turned to him. "To be honest, I was growing tired of being told how sad I look or how melancholy I shouldn't be . . . Now I understand that this was not just a way to tell me how I should or shouldn't act, rather it was out of concern . . . for me."

Treize turned and looked down at him then, his cheeks pink from the chill, eyes bright and wet from the same. The last stubborn traces of a child's freckles danced about his nose, their color having faded from the once vibrant shade that matched his cinnamon hair until they were now only noticeable to those who expected to see them. They would be gone by his fifteenth year.

Zechs basked in that blue gaze as if it were sunlight. Indeed, it was warm.

"Of course. It was always out of concern," Treize said, seeming to forget why he had been so pensive a moment before. "Surely you know that, Zechs."

"Yes, I suppose. I'd just never realized . . ."

"What?"

" . . . how much it hurts."

Treize seemed bewildered. "How what hurts? To be sad?"

"No, of course not," Zechs said, his voice sterner than intended.

"I'm afraid I don't follow."

"You know . . ." he insisted, as if Treize did indeed know, "to be concerned."

If Treize understood him immediately, it wasn't apparent to Zechs. The older boy opened his mouth as if to speak, shut it and, gradually, began to understand.

"Ah."

+

It wasn't until another gentleman came to stand at her side that Madam Khushrenada looked away from her boys again. This time the man was not frail or weepy or anything else Baxter had been. This one was tall and broad, boasting the stature of one who bore much more weight about his shoulders than that of his head, and did so with ease. Even a casual observer would have confidently declared him military, a better-informed one would have called him General. He was also her husband.

"Anna." He spoke gently to her as he slid an arm about her waist and peered out the window to see what she had been watching. His voice was deep and richly cultured, but even in milder tones it held the sort of authority that changes nations, perhaps because it had.

"Anna," he said again, giving her a light squeeze, "they're going to grieve whether you are witness or not . . . Best not to make it harder on yourself, don't you think?"

"Yes, I know. Only Treize has never seemed so melancholy . . . and he tries so hard to hide it." She looked at her husband, son of the so recently deceased, who did not share the signs of mourning that were apparent on nearly every other face she had seen that day. "Much like his father."

"Much like his father," he replied, leaning in to speak softly, "he needs only time and solitude. I'll have my time alone . . . once I am alone," at that he made a face that spoke volumes of his opinion on crowded funerals, "and then I shall find solace and counsel in my wife. That is . . . should she be available."

The lady in question touched his face as she had a thousand times, and kissed him. It would seem to any casual observer to be a perfect marriage, an ideal life, and in a way, it was. People in crystal palaces, however, often have fogged windows. An observer cannot always see how prominence and responsibility can strain a marriage, and for the moment, it did not.

"Of course," she said finally, eyes tearful once again, "of course."

He held her for a while, ignoring momentarily the fact that he had come simply to tell her that their guests were leaving and perhaps she should see them out. They were all of them competent in their faculties and capable of finding the front door. He watched the garden.

"Do you think," he began, "that those two spend too much time together?"

The lady lifted her head where it had rested on his chest (as he was well over a head taller), and looked out the window. The boys were talking, leaning in toward each other.

"No, not particularly. Why?"

"It just seems a little odd, that's all," the General remarked, "what with the age difference. What can they possibly have in common?"

She laughed very softly. "You've not spoken with Zechs often, have you? That is not your average child."

"We've spoken sufficiently that I know that well enough. He's got a lot of anger, that one, even if it's not always apparent. He'll make a good soldier if he keeps it in check."

The lady turned to him and eyed him speculatively. "Soldier? What do you mean?"

"I've spoken with Lord Havish. It seems young Zechs can be unruly at times. They are sending him to military school at the start of the new year." He relayed this with the air of one who thought it a sound decision.

"But they can't possibly . . ." Madam Khushrenada objected. "Laurie . . . his father wouldn't hear of such nonsense!"

"His father is not alive to hear of anything. It's a wise move, if you ask me."

"You who would send me to war if you thought it might advance your campaign." Her voice was not unpleasant but she stood rigid in his arms. "That child should be opposing your principles, not embracing them."

The General tried to soothe her, running a hand along her back. "As ever, my dear, you are right. But I think he will find that, unlike his father, war suits him. Except for the remarkable resemblance, which he may find troublesome as he grows, that boy is nothing like the former King of Cinq." The General spoke quietly throughout this, knowing the sensitive nature of his words, but grew even quieter at the last. "He is suffused with vengeance. It is his lifeblood, and he will have it one day, mark me."

Madam Khushrenada looked stricken. "Zechs . . .? Why, I can't imagine . . ." She watched the small, pale-haired boy who sat so somberly next to her own. The Zechs she knew was well mannered and polite, a little sad but never troublesome, certainly not unruly or . . . vengeful.

"Lord Havish remarked upon how settled he seemed here," the General said. "Perhaps that's Treize's influence. It is why I find their familiarity troublesome. I wonder if he doesn't depend too much upon him."

"Yes, and I wondered the same about Treize."

"Indeed."

"Will he go far? Is the academy far, I mean?"

The General petted his wife's auburn hair in another attempt to soothe the concern on her face. She had been beautiful when he had first met her so many years ago, and seemed to only grow comelier as the years passed. It was the reason his son was a little spoiled. He found it hard to say no to such a lovely face.

This time, he wished he could have.

"Yes, far enough. Lake Victoria in Africa."

The Lady looked out the window once more, her voice filled with certainty. "Treize will be devastated. And Zechs . . . I don't suppose Lord Havish would hear my protest . . ." she looked at her husband again, searching his face, "nor yours?"

"Anna . . . you can't think that. Treize will be fine. He will be busy at his studies and with his own training. He's advancing beyond even my expectations. It will be good for both of them. Likely, best for them."

"Yes," she said after some time, "I suppose."

"Come now, everyone's leaving and I'll handle them better with you at my side."

She hesitated, took a breath and, with effort, smiled the smile of a General's wife. She let herself be gathered into familiar arms. "He commands armies but cannot manage a few weepy women?"

"I've more patience with those who are obliged to obey me and aren't sniveling on my lapel," General Khushrenada said almost playfully, then gave the lady a squeeze and caught her gaze as they walked. This time he spoke in earnest. "Everything is easier with you beside me."

The smile the lady gave then came without effort.

+

"What is that?" Zechs asked him, eying the paper Treize had been holding since they had been in the garden . . . no, in fact, the entire day.

Treize looked down at it, fingering it more, turning it in his grasp, reluctant to open it and read his own handwriting. "It's a letter I wrote to my grandfather the day before he passed. I meant to give it to him today . . . to leave it in his coffin. It somehow slipped my mind once I saw him."

The boy beside him was quiet. Treize felt the unease in him, the eagerness to comfort and the inability to do so. It seemed curious to him that someone so familiar with loss could have such trouble expressing sympathy, but he knew it was there.

"It was nothing important, really," Treize continued, "nothing earth-shattering or strikingly prophetic. I mean . . . how could I have known . . . But he always insisted on letters. Telephones and video screens were too insubstantial for him. 'They're for nothing but gossip and petty business,' he'd say," Treize stopped and smiled at his memories. " 'Anything worth saying is worth writing down' . . . The moment he told me that, I wrote it down."

"I only met him once," Zechs offered. "He seemed like a nice man."

"He was."

The wind had been picking up, growing colder as the day grew later. It blew through the garden continuously, gentle at times, wrapping about the two boys as if sent to embrace them. At other times it would gust in rudely, raking its cold fingers through their hair, sweeping away dead petals from the ground and carrying them a distance.

"Treize?"

"Yes?"

"Do you mind if I ask . . ." Zechs stopped. He seemed very reluctant to ask the question and just as reluctant to meet Treize's gaze. Treize understood this. He had questions too, but it was not reluctance that held his tongue. Those questions were not just difficult they were unthinkable.

"Anything," Treize said. "Ask me anything you like."

"How is it that . . . I mean . . . well, I haven't seen you cry . . ." Zechs looked up at him then with a face so open and unassuming, eyes that seemed impossibly wide, incredibly perceptive. His white-gold hair reached to his shoulders and curled a bit there. Even at fourteen, Treize knew that faces like Zechs's were few and far between. They were the kind that belonged in fairy tales or magic stories. He had once been certain the boy could read his thoughts before he spoke them, but that was just a child's fantasy.

"Tears aren't necessarily reflective of sorrow, Zechs," Treize explained to him. "For instance, I've not once seen you cry."

Zechs seemed to lose the courage he had gathered to face Treize and looked away. "That's only by chance, I promise. I cried so much when . . . then. I cry still when I'm alone for a very long time. Sometimes it puts me to sleep and I only wake up to cry more." Even as Zechs spoke, Treize watched little, wet drops fall from the down turned face and splatter against crisp leaves below, " . . . sometimes I do it until there's nothing left of me."

This was the most Treize had heard from the younger boy in regards to his parents' passing. It occurred to him, not for the first time, that one so young should not know such grief. His own stung him like needles but he was certain it would pass given time. His grandfather had not died at the hands of treachery-- unless one counted a body's own mutiny as such-- and there was no vengeance to be had except against a merciful God.

"I'm sorry, Zechs," he offered, leaning in toward him and speaking softly, fighting the urge to take the former prince of Cinq into his arms. Zechs had never made an effort to touch or hug him as his younger cousins had during their play. In fact, it seemed to Treize that he avoided it.

"No," the boy's voice choked in a struggle to retain a semblance of composure. "No, Treize. You are stronger than me . . . I envy that . . . and admire it."

"Milliard . . ." Treize gave in to at least part of his urge and rubbed a hand along Zechs's back. Perhaps it was that hand, perhaps the name, perhaps neither, but he regretted one and both as the boy beside him seemed to crumble, more brittle than the once-red remains that cluttered the ground at his feet.

Words tumbled from Treize's mouth as he struggled worriedly to fix whatever he'd broken. "Zechs, you're young yet . . . wise beyond your years but your heart is slow to catch up. You must know how . . . " He stopped when Zechs stood, and let his hand slide from the boy's back. He waited.

Zechs kept his back to Treize, his posture, the fists at his sides, screaming with rebellion. Whether it was against his own tears or the older boy's comforting, Treize was uncertain.

"Will you promise me something, Treize?" He asked after some time. "Promise me . . . you won't ever die."

"I-I'm sorry, Zechs, I don't think that's for me to--"

"Then promise me you will outlive me."

Treize fought to find the words. " Zechs . . . I cannot promise that. And I don't . . . well, I don't think I'd like to."

Zechs seemed to sag but without reading his face there was nothing that Treize could assume about his young friend's thoughts.

"Could you at least try, then . . . could you promise me that?"

"If that's what you truly want, then I suppose I could promise that, yes." Treize thought. "That is . . . if you'll face me, and tell me why."

Hesitantly, Zechs turned. Treize was surprised to see that he had recovered quickly from his tears, though his eyes seemed to shimmer now with something far brighter than sorrow. The gleam of defiance was something Treize had seen a few times before in his young friend, and was never really surprised by its ready surfacing.

"Because I may live a very long time . . . and I'm tired of crying."

"How long is very long?" Treize asked.

"As long as it takes . . . forever if I must."

"No one lives forever, Zechs. You know that."

The willfulness flamed in Zechs's eyes. "I will. I'll outlive them all . . .and I'll be stronger, too."

"Stronger than me?" Treize avoided questioning the "them" Zechs spoke of. He felt certain he knew.

"If it takes that, yes."

"Then how am I to outlive you?"

Zechs looked down and sniffled a little, clearing away the last of his sorrow even as his fierceness quieted. It seemed as if he had decided that he would cry no more that day, and he expected his body to obey. "I don't know," he said quietly, calmly, then returned to his perch near Treize. "I'm sure you will think of something."

Had the day not been so bleak, Treize might have laughed. As it was, he looked upon his companion with a little more understanding, and, at length, asked a question.

"May I hold you, Zechs?"

In Treize's mind, Zechs looked at him as if he were mad and answered with another question. "What on earth for?"

The reality, however, was far more stunning.

"Yes . . . please."

end

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