Warnings: 13+6; Spectator: Make no mistake, there is one; very mild angst;
possibly odd; possibly religious, if you are so inclined.
Disclaimer: As ever, not mine.
THANKS to Marilyn
(was there any doubt?) for her super-dope beta skills, persistence AND
patience, and lots and lots of other very good things.
Thanks to my mom for having a dogwood in our front yard when I was little,
and for telling me this story.
NOTES: This is a follow-up to "Yes, Please". It occurs the evening of
Treize's grandfather's funeral. There are additional notes about the tree
if you would like to read them: Zechs's
Prince of Siam
The tree was older than Treize
by quite a few decades, he was certain. But, as with all dogwoods, it
would not grow to the proportions its ancestors once had, so the boys
had been obliged to kneel beneath it as they worked about its roots, keeping
their heads low to avoid its sweeping limbs. True to form, its blooms
had sprouted early while winter still held its reign over the land, and
the tiny, yellow wonders stirred with the currents of the wind, hanging
about the branches as a heavy, amber mist.
Once finished, they crawled from its shelter.
"Thank you for helping me," Zechs said quietly as he brushed
dirt from the damp patches at his knees with mittened hands. The chill
of it made him shiver.
"I think it was a fine idea, Zechs. I thank you for allowing me to
take part." Even Treize had dirtied his knees, and a few of the flowers
clung diligently to his hair.
A stone bench, cracked a bit and crooked where it sat, was placed opposite
the tree, and the boys made use of it. It was normal, in the far gardens,
for the benches to be broken, for the trees and shrubs to be unkempt.
These grounds were rarely used for entertaining . . . rarely used for
anything except the occasional bout of hide-and-seek, and even those had
grown scarce as late. But this almost forgotten place had one thing that
the other, closer gardens did not, and Zechs had been adamant.
The wind blew fiercely. The dogwood trembled. Yellow peppered the ground.
"I don't feel any different," Zechs admitted. "I thought
"You might yet," Treize offered. "Give it time."
Zechs moved to sit a little closer to his friend. The bench was cold on
his bottom and legs. Treize put a warm arm around him and squeezed his
"How do you feel, Treize?"
"I feel like laughing," Treize answered seriously, and the boy
beside him looked up at him in confusion.
"I find nothing funny."
"That's just it, Zechs. My humor has left me. I don't like being
"It's natural, I suppose," Zechs conceded, returning his head
to rest against Treize, his gaze upon the tree, which, for a tree, looked
quite content in its sway.
"Yes . . . though I've never been given to accept the inevitable
nature of things." A breeze accompanied his words and velvety branches
seemed to whisper in agreement.
"There are some things you have to accept," Zechs said.
"Some things are meant to be changed," Treize replied.
"Some only seem that way."
"Some are that way."
"Some are very obstinate for being so pretty."
Zechs sat up and looked defensive, "I am not."
The smile could not be helped. "By that declaration, I'll assume
you mean to protest being pretty and not being argumentative. But if you
are not pretty, Zechs, then I am the King of Siam."
The boy beside him thought hard, his brows knitting with all the concentration
of his young mind. "I know I must be . . . favorable," he said
the word as if it was the mildest of many unsettling compliments. "I
hear it often enough. But I don't think I like the way you say it."
Treize raised an eyebrow.
"It makes me sound so . . . feminine."
If he had had a mind for the fantastic, Treize might have sworn the tree
chuckled with him as a breeze rustled through it again. "Can I tell
you something, Zechs? You have to promise not to be angry."
Zechs looked suspicious. "You're going to say I do look like
a girl, aren't you?"
"Yes, you will. Go on. It's nothing I haven't heard before."
Treize was surprised at the hurt he sensed in the boy beside him. "Zechs,
I'm not teasing you," he was caught in a knowing glare, "all
right, I am . . . a little. But there is no malice, I assure you."
Silence. The wind was still, the tree the same.
"Do you remember," Treize asked, "when I introduced you
to Ms. Marat this morning?"
"After you left us, she told me I should tell my mother that such
fair little girls, even as our guests, should not be permitted to run
about in trousers."
This time he was answered by a set jaw that spoke immeasurably of barely
curbed agitation. Had his companion been a little older, Treize might
have been intimidated.
"So I told her that such fair little boys might not agree,"
he continued, watching his friend and pleased to see him relax a bit.
"And you'll never guess what she said to me then."
Hesitantly, Zechs looked at him. "What?"
"She watched you for a while," Treize began, glad to have the
eyes upon him, " . . . a very long while, and then put a hand to
her heart and I feared she might have been ill."
"What did she say?"
"'God in heaven,' she said, and I had to catch her. She nearly fell."
Concern flushed Zechs's cheeks. "What was wrong with her?"
Treize leaned down to him, whispering as a conspirator even as the wind
changed direction and curious branches stretched to be nearer the telling.
"'God in heaven,' she said again after I'd righted her. Then she
looked at me, much as you are looking at me now, and as quietly as I speak
now, 'He lives,' she said to me, ' . . . a painting could not bear more
resemblance . . . I saw him laid to earth myself, and yet he lives.'"
"She . . . she recognized me?" Concern faded fast into distress.
The nervous chatter of branches echoed his apprehension.
"No," Treize smiled. "And I told her nothing except that
such accusations could be harmful to a young man."
Now Zechs was confused. "Then why"
"She did not see you, Zechs . . . she saw your father."
Zechs's only response was to blink. The wind settled and the tree followed
its cue, subsiding to a quiet, constant shivering.
"My . . ."
Not far from where they sat, just beneath the limbs of an amber-misted
dogwood, the earth had recently been disturbed. There was no grass on
the little patch; only a few yellow blossoms had fallen about the spot.
Beneath that, some twelve or more inches, two sheets of parchment lay
damp in their resting place. One was written in expert script and began,
"Dear Grandfather." It told of a long winter, a restful break
from the academy, and a visit from the author's young friend.
The other, the ink barely dry when it had been laid in the earth, was
scrawled in the labored lettering of a meticulous ten-year-old. "Rest
in Peace," it began, and was followed by four names, the last of
which looked to be more familiar to the penman, as if, perhaps, by practice.
The tree trembled, shedding a measure of its flowers for the wind to whirl
around the boys in its next embrace, a few dropping to adorn the unsettled
earth below. The sun had begun to set.
"It is a lovely tree, Zechs." Treize said in a worried attempt
to bring his friend out of his reverie. "I find it hard to imagine
I'd never noticed it. What was that story again?"
Zechs drew a breath. Perhaps . . . perhaps he did feel different.
"You remember it, Treize. You don't forget anything."
"You're right," Treize admitted.
Branches stuttered impatiently.
"I may have to hide my face some day."
"Yes," Treize replied. "You may."
"But . . . not always. One day, no one will recognize me or my father
. . ."
"Only if you live as long as you say you will."
"You doubt me?" Zechs asked, shoulders squared, gaze resolute;
he watched the wind push the tree about while Treize struggled silently
for an answer. The branches seemed to roil, a storm of saffron and grey.
Brilliant light from the setting sun lent ardor to its agitation, making
tiny thunderclaps of its thrashing limbs, turning the yellow blooms to
countless dots of tenacious fire.
Treize was quiet.
"I suppose it's not so awful . . . being pretty," Zechs said
after a while.
Treize nearly started at the boy's words, so rapt was he in thinking how
to tell Zechs that he was uncertain the younger boy could truly live so
long . . . he was uncertain that anyone could live so long. He was glad
to find he would not have to. "It will serve you well, I'm sure."
"Will it? I can't imagine how." Zechs sounded certain.
"And you won't for some time," Treize said. "When you do,
I hope you will think of me."
"And what if I grow to be ugly?"
Treize laughed as the last of the sun sank out of sight, the tree little
more than a churning, dark mass against the purple sky, its din softening
to a murmur. They would have to be back soon. Zechs was shivering against
him. "Then I hope you'll remember me anyway. Siam is a lonely kingdom,
"And I can be a prince again . . . an ugly prince."
Treize gave in to Zechs's fantasies, deluded as they were, with a smile.
"Yes. My obstinate, ugly prince of Siam."
[back to the Reverand's fic]