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Promises
By Ken Hidaka

 

Promises
by Team Bonet
1997

Part One A.C. 186

"That is a very impressive picture. He must have been a great man."

The young boy had thought himself alone among the dusty ruins. He had managed to sidestep the
watchful eyes of his elderly caretaker long enough for him to steal away and come to this place. He
supposed it wasn't fair, somehow, that he had been found. Thinning his lips, his hands clenched at his
sides, he turned slowly. He was prepared to face his caretaker, and explain, if possible, why he had
dissapeared for all those hours. Why he was standing among this ruins, staring up, enthralled, at a
worn portrait of a kindly old man with flowing beard. He was more than prepared to humbly excuse
himself. Turning, he began to bow respectfuly.

He started nerveously when he looked up from his bow and discovered that his silent audience was
not his caretaker at all. His apologies died in his lips, replaced by an embarassed stamer. Leaning
casually against a pillar was a young man, clear blue eyes quizical and slightly amused. He gave the
young boy the whisper of a smile and, stepping forward, executed an elaborate bow.

"Forgive me.", the young man said, "I did not mean to interrupt your meditations. Pray, continue. I
am merely a passerby." So saying, he turned and began to walk away, brushing at the dust from the
pillar that had stained his coat. Each measured step he took rung hollowly on the cracked corridor.

The young boy watched him walk away in silence, uncertain as to what he should do then. For a
while, he just stood there, still half bowing, listening to the stranger's footsteps die away. He was
feeling foolish for having been found by a stranger. Bitting his lip in embarassment, he turned his gaze
once again to the portrait hanging, a silent sentinel, on the wall. The old man's eyes stared out at him
in tired benevolance. They seemed too bright. Much too bright.

"Wait", he called. For a moment, the young boy thought, logicaly, he pressumed, that the other boy
was probably already gone, or beyond hearing range. He sighed. How unworthy of him to call out
like that. He was just acting all jumpy out of guilt. And it was all his fault, anyway, for having come to
the ruins in the first place.

To his surprise, though, the footsteps sounded again a while after he'd called out. The young boy
turned around, more than a little perplexed, as the young man walked casually up to the pillar again
and leaned against it. He gave the younger boy a mischiveous smile. "Yes ?", he asked, his tone
mocking. The young boy set his lips in a thin line and bowed stiffly.

"You can stay if you want to.", he said. The young man stood away from the pillar and bowed again.
"If you insist", he remarqued. "But only if you are completely sure that you do not mind."

"No. I do not mind. Please, stay." Smiling, the other boy walked towards him. He stood beside the
younger boy and gave him the wry grin of someone who is about to break some inherent,
unquestionable rules of society, and does not care. "In all cases", he said, "I should be the one
ordering you to come or go, young sir. But you look like a fine young man in need of company. And
one simply does not imposse one's company, regardless of how pleasant it may be, on fine young
men in need of it." He laughed then, and his laughter echoed across the halls, sounding like many
silver bells. The young boy looked up at him and sighed.

"I'm Zechs Marquise", he said. The name sounded plain and hollow to his ears, and he almost
regreted having said it. His words echoed briefly across the hall, mingling momentarily with the young
man's laughter. Sighing, he turned his face towards the portrait again.

The man staring down at him from the portrait seemed sad, and the young boy's brows came
together in melancholic shame. It had been five years already. Five years of introducing himself
simply as Zechs Marquise. But he never felt any closer to being Zechs. There was always a mirror,
an old history book, some photographic journal of the tragedy of five years past, reminding him
exactly of who he had been. And who he was now. Mirialdo Peacecraft.

Hanging his head, he sighed softly. The name Mirialdo saddened him as much as Zechs. It stood for
all that he had been, what he could have been. And now it was just a guilty secret that gave him no
comfort. Something to lie about, afraid that one day someone would grab his wrist and turn him
around, flinging that name into his face. Taking him back to the nightmare of five years past. Would
they kill me, if they ever knew ? He had no doubt that they would. He was, in a sense, a political
blunder on behalf of the Federation. If he were ever to show himself, he would only be courting
death. The Federatives would not doubt for a moment that his motives for ever reappearing would
be vengance, regardless of whether they would be right or not.

No. He had to become Zechs, whoever that was. To survive. For what, he did not know. Perhaps
just survive for the mere sake of survival. Perhaps for something else.

Mirialdo clenched his hands tightly, feeling a familiar anger well inside of him. He could not
understand why his family had died. It seemed worthless. What good did it do to murder so many
people ? Clenching his hands tighter, he felt his fingers bite painfuly into his flesh. He looked up at the
silent portrait, a quiet rage burning his eyes. Father. Why did they have to kill my Father ? His
heart was beating much too fast. And he could not afford to let that happen. The strange boy was
most likely looking down at him, trying to read him.

"Are you all right ?" Mirialdo jumped at the words, his paranoic thoughts making him swing around
anxiously, eyes wide. When he saw the look in the other boy's face, he blushed. There was no sort
of recognition in his eyes, only worry. He drew back as the older boy reached out for his shoulder,
and this made the other boy laugh. "Easy now, I don't bite. You looked a little pale there for a
moment. Are you sure you would like me to stay ?"

"Yes. Please, stay." The other boy looked at Mirialdo quietly for a moment, something unfathomable
in his eyes. Mirialdo tried to hold his gaze steadily, striving to seem as relaxed as possible. He did
not want to be alone, even if his company had to be this boy. Because he did not want to leave the
portrait. He had waited such a long time for the right moment to leave his caretaker and come here.
He would just have to wait patiently for the other boy to accept his veneer of calm. He almost
sagged in relief when the other boy grinned and turned away.

Mirialdo looked at him closely then, as he stood before his father's portrait, hands cassualy folded
behind his back. He was considerably taller than Mirialdo, and he must have been about 15, judging
from his lean build. And he was obviously rich. Mirialdo sighed and tuned once again to look at his
father's portrait in silence. He would have to be careful around this strange boy, regardless of how
unwilling he was to part his company

"He must have been a great man," the older boy said suddenly. His voice was oddly quiet, almost
respectful. Mirialdo gave him a weary look from the corner of his eye. The boy was looking at the
picture as if enthralled, the shadow of a smile playing across the corners of his mouth. It perplexed
Mirialdo. Why is he smiling like that at the picture of my Father ? It made no clear sense to him.
And being unable to read the strange boy made him nerveous.

He turned his face back to his father's calm countenance, hoping to find some comfort there.
However slight. He supposed it was just as well that the strange boy had appeared. If it had not
been so, he would have probably broken down eventually. Even now, looking up into his father's
clear, blue eyes, long since paled and worn out with dust and grime, he could feel a familiar, empty
pull at his heart. His anger spent in fruitless indignation, he had little left now but a defeated
melancholy. Images came unbidden to him. His father leaning over the breakfast table, urging
him to eat more, kissing the boy's mother good morning, reading the evening paper and
looking up, smiling, as his young son came towards him. He could see his own hands, the tiny
hands of a five year old, rise up before his sight, reaching out for his father's soft beard. He could
hear his mother's laughter. It had all been there, in those rooms they stood in now, in those empty
shells of war. And there were too many memories, too many images flooding into his mind. It was
too much for him to bear.

Closing his eyes, he turned away from the picture. He could feel the eyes of the older boy following
him, and he wished suddenly that the boy would leave him alone. Alone, so that he could cry. But.

No. He couldn't cry. Not there, not in front of that stranger. Slowly, he looked up at the cracked
plaster of the ceiling, following the criss-crossing scars of the split foundation. Trying not to
remember anything of that ceiling. It was somewhat of a surprise for him to realize that, although his
heart ached, the ceiling did not really remind him of anything. Stripped of it's familiar possesions, it
was just like any other plaster ceiling he had ever seen. It was just knowing that it had once been his
ceiling that saddened him. Sighing, he dug his hands into the pockets of his overcoat.

The older boy chuckled, and Mirialdo turned to look at him. The boy had his eyes fixed on the
portrait again, his smile wider now. It made Mirialdo even wearier. It was almost as if the older boy
had discovered his guilty secret. Almost...

"Marquise ?," the boy said casually, one hand rising to rub his chin thoughtfuly. "That's odd. You
seem so well bred. Still, I do not recollect ever having met any family with the name of Marquise."
Turning his head slightly, the boy gave Mirialdo a brilliant smile, his zaphyre eyes sparkling
mischiveously. "Where did you say you were from ?"

Mirialdo clenched his hands inside his coat pockets, his lips thinning. His mind was desperately trying
to work out some good cover up lie, his heart racing. Another part of him was mocking him for even
daring to fear that that boy would know every single wealthy family in the world. And a little,
frightened voice was whispering to him to just let the whole truth come out. What would that boy
care ? Would he even believe him ?

The boy laughed. "You look so guilty," he said, smiling. "Please, relax. I was just curious. You're
obviously foreign." Tapping his lips with his finger, he looked up at the picture again. Mirialdo bit his
lip in frustration. He must have looked so incredibly foolish. It must have been painfuly obvious that
he had been about to lie. Just as it must have been painfuly obvious that he had lied about his name.
He kicked at the debris at his feet, watching as the dust rose momentarily, some of it settling over his
boots. He should just leave. Yes. He would leave.

Looking up at the older boy, he set his lips in a thin line and bowed stiffly. "Forgive me," he said, his
voice sounding strained to his ears, "but I must be leaving you now. My caretaker will be wondering
where I went. Please excuse--" Mirialdo stopped then, his eyes widening in startled surprise as the
boy before him began to laugh, loud and clear, his head flung back in uncontrolled mirth. Mirialdo
frowned slightly. "What's so funny ?," he asked quietly.

Stepping away from the picture, the older boy folded his arms across his chest. He cocked his head
to the left, his eyes glittering with an almost scientific interest. "You're really very polite, Messire
Zechs Marquise. That's more than I'm willing to give half of the aristocratic brats I know, myself
humbly included," he added, spreading his arms wide in a sweeping bow of self ridicule. Mirialdo
didn't know what to make of the sight.

"What are you doing ?," he asked, perplexed. The other boy sighed and rubbed his head. "I'll be
damned if I know. I'm complimenting you. I'm politely insulting you. I'm asking you, if I'm not being
too rude," and as he said that, he smiled, and it seemed to Mirialdo that the smile was even slightly
kind, "can you fence ?"

Mirialdo took an involuntary step backwards, blinking. Could he fence ? He looked at the other
boy's face, expecting to find a mocking smile there. He found none. The boy's smile was open and
frank. He wanted Mirialdo to be able to fence. And Mirialdo could not understand the boy's need
for that at all.

The older boy walked past him, and Mirialdo, still perplexed, followed him with his eyes. "What do
you mean ?," he asked. His voice sounded small and pety. He cursed himself silently for it. Should he
allow himself to be cowed by this upstart ? Straightening, he repeated his question. This time, more
clearly, his voice stronger, almost authorative.

He saw the older boy stop and look over his shoulder at him. "That's good," he murmured, "a strong,
clear voice." Mirialdo gritted his teeth. "Surely deserving of an answer, if I am not mistaken." The
boy grinned. "Most assuredly, young Marquise. And that answer is, simply, that I asked you to
fence. Meaning, have they taught you, this illustrious Marquise, how to handle a sword ?"

Mirialdo frowned. The boy had come to a stop before a high, white plaster wall. It was taller than
the rest in the room, rising to the vaulted ceiling in a semi-arch. A tapestry had hung there once,
bearing the insignia of the royal family, but nothing had remained of it from the attack of five years
past. Two swords still hung on the wall, though. Crossed over each other in silent, dignant old age.
The boy stood beneath the swords, one hand rising to idly caress the anterior one.

"I was taught to fence," he said, his smile cold, "as soon as I could walk. I am yet to discover why.
Still," raising his chin slightly, he regarded Mirialdo in friendly disdain, "it is a sport that I enjoy
thoroughly. And," here, he nodded, smiling, "since I like you, I wish therefore to engage in a friendly
duel with you." The boy bowed then, his eyes cold and daring. "That is, if you know how to. I think
that perhaps you do."

Holding his chin up in dignant defiance, Mirialdo held the older boy's slightly mocking gaze. "You are
right. I was also taught to fence since I was a child. Forgive me, though," he added, bowing formaly,
"if my skills are not as polished as yours, being that you are older, sir."

The boy laughed, and Mirialdo clenched his fists at his sides. The older boy could be quite annoying.
But fencing would perhaps give him a chance to beat some of that smugness from his face. Although.

Bitting his lip, he watched as the boy reached up to lower the swords. All of his movements were
meassured, graceful. His body was lean, like a dancer's. He had the build of an athlete, and the easy
strength of youth. Mirialdo wasn't all that confident of his skills as a fencer. And he cetainly wasn't
confident in his probabilities of beating this boy. Still, to turn him down would be dishonorable for
him, and, as much as he hated to have to concede to such a notion, dishonorable for the older boy
as well, since he had requested the duel. He would just have to accept and strive to give this boy his
best performance.

He took the sword the boy held out to him silently. Their eyes met briefly as his hand closed over the
rusted hilt. Stepping back, the older boy hefted his sword expertly in his hand, rapidly attuning
himself to its alien weight. He ran a finger slowly down its edge and smiled as he discovered that it
was virtually harmless. Mirialdo set his lips in a grim line as he hefted his own sword carefuly in his
hand, feeling it no lighter than when he had taken it from the other boy.

Turning, the older boy tapped his sword to the palm of his hand slowly. "Take your time. I want this
to be fair."

Mirialdo tightened his grip on the sword and flicked his wrist helplessly. The sword seemed much
too heavy, too ackward in his hand. He tightened his grip, hoping. There Lowering his head, he
allowed his bangs to come forward and obscure his face. Safe under his platinium canopy, he
allowed himself a tight little smile. He had found his balance. Looking up, he nodded, once, to the
older boy.

He startled slightly as his oponnent suddenly swung his sword before his face, its hilt coming to rest
before Mirialdo's eyes, but he never flinched, and his eyes never lost their hold on the older boy's.
The boy gazed at him silently for a moment, his blue eyes cold and impassive, before he smiled
slowly and brought his sword up. Mirialdo did not return his smile, but held his gaze silently. He
watched as the other boy executed the fencer's salute gracefuly. Mirialdo executed his own salute as
coldly as possible.

"You're probably wondering why I'm doing this, aren't you ?" the older boy commented casually as
he fell into the fighting stance, left foot forward, slightly bent, right hand folded comfortably behind his
back, sword held out with ease in his left hand. Mirialdo fell into a fighting stance opposite him,
frowning. "No, I do not need to wonder about it."

The boy smiled. "You're lying, Marquise," he said quietly. Before Mirialdo could tell what he was up
to, he had lunged forward, sword thrusting towards him in a harmless feint. "Your eyes, Marquise,
they give you away."

But Mirialdo had no time to conscider the boy's bitting comment. He could see that he had been
right about this boy. He was an expert at this. It took half his concentration just to keep his balance
long enough to pary his oponnent's forceful blows.

Mirialdo was loosing ground. The battle seemed unreal to him. His oponnent was little more than
flashes of pale grey silk revolving around two bright zaphyre orbs. His sword flashed brilliant silver
before Mirialdo's eyes, clanging hollowly with every expert thrust, every simple pary. Now a full
circle of easy dismissal, now a bitting arch, a swing, a touch. Drawing him back persistantly,
expertly.

Mirialdo bit his lip in frustration. He couldn't loose. Not to this smirking, mocking boy. Not after he
had found him gazing at his father's portrait. Gritting his teeth, he lunged forward in what he knew to
be a painfuly inadequate attack. His thrusts were too careless, too wide. Not enough strength behind
them. He cursed himself as, laughing, the older boy turned away every one of his attacks.

Then, smiling, the other boy feinted a step backwards. Mirialdo hesitated before following through.
Perhaps he could catch him unawares. Bringing his sword forward, he tried to reach for the boy's
sword. With a slight laugh, the other boy moved forward, bringing his sword beneath Mirialdo's.
Straightening, he moved his sword arm in a wide, lazy arch and watched, smiling, as the young boy's
eyes widened in despair and his sword was snatched from his grip.

Stumbling backwards, Mirialdo heard his sword clang worthlessly on the dusty floor. He darted a
look at it, before a sudden, unseen thrust from his oponnent shattered his balance. He fell, heavily,
his head swimming,

And gasped as his oponnent's sword was thrust forward and came to rest sharply before his heart.
Barely touching his chest. He stared at it, his eyes wide, his teeth gritted. Looking up, he saw the
older boy give him a slow smile. Mirialdo frowned. There was something about the look in the boy's
eyes. He looked more than victorious. He was pleased, but not at himself...

The boy's smile widened. He leaned forward, lifting Mirialdo's chin slightly with the edge of his
sword. "You want revenge, don't you ?" he murmured. Mirialdo frowned. "What do you mean ?" he
demanded hotly, hoping to God that nothing more than indignant defeat showed in his face. The boy
leaning over him merely smiled all the more widely. "Marquise. Zechs. You yearn for revenge. But
you do not have the tools to gain it yet. If you continue in this way, you never will. Do you
understand ?"

Drawing back, he threw aside the sword carelessly. Mirialdo glared at him from the floor. "I don't
know what--"

"Oh, yes you do. You know exactly what I mean. You need someone to help you get what you
want. If you do not search out that person, or if you do not perfectionate yourself, your family will
never be avenged." Mirialdo opened his mouth to protest, but the boy held up an authorative hand.
"And do not pretend not to know what I mean anymore. It is foolish, and you know it."

Smiling, he held out his hand to the young boy. Mirialdo looked at it wearily, unsure as to whether he
should trust this boy. Brows knitted together, he looked into the boy's face. What he saw there was
a silent dare, a strange understanding. A silent push forward into the darkness he had never dared to
fully explore. His vengance. His honor. All the things that had kept awake for so many nights. This
boy was coming to him, out of nowhere, driving him towards a path he himself had always
conscidered his own, but, until now, he had never had to courage to face.

Setting his lips in a grim line, he gave his hand to the boy. Their fingers met at the same time their
eyes locked together. And, looking into those eyes, Mirialdo smiled, grimly, accepting defeat, but
never defeated. The older boy grinned.

"I knew you were good at this," he said "I could see it in your eyes."

Mirialdo brushed the dust from his pants. "I suppose you did. Or maybe you just thought you did."
Looking up, he gave the older boy a slow smile. His oponnents own smile never wavered. One
eyebrow rose in silent defiance. Then, laughing softly, he turned away.

"I thank you for the duel," he said. "But now it is time for you to go home. Your parents must be
worried." So saying, he began to walk away, not looking back again. Mirialdo let him walk away this
time. He felt oddly shaken, less frightened that he'd thought he'd be at the truth, strangely peaceful.
Smiling, reassured now that the boy could not see him truly smile, he began to turn away.

But then stopped.

"Wait," he called. The boy paused without turning his face. "Yes ?" Mirialdo hesitated for a moment,
then he raised his head proudly. "What is your name ?"

The older boy chuckled to himself. He began to walk again, but called, over his shoulder: "Treize.
Treize Khushrenada. Try not to forget that, Mirialdo Peacecraft. Let us see if history will bring our
paths together again. I, for one, certainly hope so..."
 

Part 2 A.C.194

The hollow echo of his boots on the metal deck was drowned out by the heavy thud of diligently
marching feet underneath him. He glanced down briefly as the Delta Flight exited the Y07 Hangar,
the shrill voice of their flight commander ringing in their ears. It was one of the exampleary flights,
always on time, always first to execute their drills and march out, faces expresionless and
concentrated, their feet a rumble of steady thunder.

Stopping for a moment on the metal deck suspended above them, he watched the flight exit
completely. He gave them ample time to become a dying rumble in the distance before he leaned on
the cold handrails and allowed himself to smile. They're a good flight.

Turning his back towards the handrails, he gazed up at the silent, vigilant row of towering Mobile
Suits lined up to his right. It would only be a month before graduation, and, as much as he felt proud
of being one of the top wing commanders at the Lake Victoria Military Academy, he knew that the
graduation ceremony would be full of lauds and praises for him. That sort of fame and recognition he
could live without. It was bad enough already.

Sighing, Cadet Colonel Zechs Marquise pushed away from the handrails. He had never really
expected not to gain some sort of reputation at Lake Victoria. From his very first day of enlistment,
already the Federation's highest officials had marked him down as Treize's Boy, a term laced with all
of the contempt and mistrust usually reserved for members of the Federation Armed Forces'
Specials Team. That he would soon become officialy a part of the Specials would only serve to
increment his reputation, in the Federative's eyes, at least, as a no merit upstart who had somehow
managed to slide up to Colonel Treize Khushrenada, the man who had created the Specials. And
whom they also dislike, he thought, a wry smile playing across his lips.

Still, he concluded silently to himself, the sound of his boots on the cold metal ringing steady and full
in his ears, left, right, flank, left, right, his questionable entry to the Academy was by far not the
sole reason for his less than reassuring reputation. Whether the Federative officials would ever admit
it or not, he had managed to prove, over the years, that he was not some aristocratic brat looking to
have life delivered to him on a silver plater. He had worked long, diligently, and hard to become the
first of his class, soon to graduate with full honors and become Liutenant Zechs Marquise. He
hadn't even planned to become first in his class, he mused as he arrived at the elevator terminal.

Hearing the entry doors close behind him, and the elevator's voice panel announce his floor choice,
he smiled, sighing. Lucrezia Noin. By all rights, she should have been first in class. She had the drive
and the skill for it. But she insisted in always letting him get ahead. Perhaps she thought that he would
not notice. She was wrong.

Exiting the elevator on the 3rd floor, Zechs caught a look at himself in the deck's long row of
look-out windows. He thinned his lips. Looking back at him, silent and cold, was his own alien
image. Tall, standing straight, long platinum hair cascading down his back. A silver mask hiding half
his features.

Reaching up, Zechs put his fingers against the cold metal, feeling it bite firmly into his skin. He had
thought, at first, when he had innitialy made the decision to put on the mask, that he would never get
used to the sensation of wearing it. His vision was impaired, the mask itself becoming a barrier to his
full field of view, and he could not count the times when heat, sweat, and cold had clowded the glass
covering his eyes, costing him precious time and precision. And it certainly grabs attention to
yourself, doesn't it, Zechs ? Another good, simple way to build a reputation around here.
Cadet Colonel Zechs Marquise, the man with the mask.

Smiling, Zechs turned away from his reflection. Without a doubt, this would be a graduation the
Lake Victoria Military Academy would find very hard to forget, as unpleasant as he found it to
attune himself to such a fate. A distinguishing reputation was not what he had come to seek here. But
one seemed determined to follow him, no matter what he did.

The doors to the officer's lounge moved aside with a whisper of sound. He was glad to see that only
the bartender and a young officer standing by the phone turned to look at him as he made his way
quietly across the room. There had been a time when all heads would have turned towards him.

He poured himself twenty cents worth of dark coffee, taking a small tube of milk, and, after paying
the bartender, urging to keep the change quietly, just because, he took a corner seat by the
windows. Mixing the milk slowly with a thin coffee straw, he turned to look outside at the expanse of
Lake Victoria in the distance. The blinking lights from the Academy's working Control Tower drew
shimmering patterns across its surface, mingling gently with the cold light of the stars above. Leaning
back in his seat, one hand drapped comfortably around its back, he took a slow, tentative sip of his
coffee. He grimaced. As prestigious a military academy as Lake Victoria was, it certainly could
stand a change of cofee brand. Still, he preffered it to anything else.

Setting down his cup, watching as the steam rose lazily towards the dim, overhead light, he smiled to
himself. He glanzed at the longe's clock. 10:50 p.m. It would only be a matter of time before he
would have to leave again. But he still had some minutes to kill. Leaning his head back, by now
accostumed to the mask pressing against his skin, he closed his eyes, listening to the drowsy sounds
of the officers around him. He caught his name once, before the officer's companion had hastily
whispered for her to turn around, that there he was, sitting in that corner table. His name did not
come up again after that, and he was glad for it.

When the clock marked 10:57, he stood up. He tapped the table's surface twice, quietly, before
placing a tip near the ashtray. Taking his own hand, he ran his fingers slowly across his knuckles.
Some habits died hard, and it seemed to him that the old habit was fitting tonight. Ochiue. It should
not be that a son should remember his father for having tapped the table after a meal...
Smiling softly, he touched his knuckles to his lips. Ochiue. Gomen nasai.

Turning, grimacing slightly at his habit of flanking everytime, he made his way across the now
crowded lounge. As he made his way across the empty hallways of the 3rd floor, his hand rose,
almost unconsciously, to finger the hilt of the sword he wore at his side. Even with gloves on, he
could feel its quiet shill. It was a decorative thing, hanging uselessly at his side, like his gun. Symbols
of loyalty, if they served any purpose at all. Loyalty to the Specials and to his superior, and loyalty to
a man he thought he no longer knew, buried long ago under a cold, emotionless silver mask. What
he could have been, what he had chosen not to be till his fate here had played itself out. Mirialdo
Peacecraft.

The name sounded strange, dettatched, to him. He looked briefly to his side, at his reflection
hurrying, brisk and efficient, across the glass windows of the deck. Zechs Marquise. He turned
away, trying not to see the platinum hair trailing down his back, lying crushed and silent underneath
his mask, his Zechs. Crushed in with his blue eyes, so much like the eyes of that old man in the
portrait he had last seen eight years ago, before the Federation had once again taken complete
control of the devastated area that had once been the kingdom of Cinq.

Eight years ago. Coming to a stop before the elevator shafts, he wondered briefly at how little that
seemed to mean to him, even now, as he made his way towards the very top floor of the Academy's
west wing, a wing commander, masked. Stronger, wiser, perhaps, than that child who had stolen
away from his caretaker eight years ago. Zechs closed his eyes, leaning against the walls of the
elevator, feeling its quiet rumble run across his bones.

He startled slightly as the voice panel announced that he had reached his destination, and he verided
himself quietly for allowing such a thing to happen.

Stepping out, he smiled grimly at the marked difference between this floor and the remainder of the
base. Truly the victoria of the Academy, it seemed as if he had somehow stepped back in time.
Even the lamps lining the walls were not electrical, but antique oil lamps secured especially for this
quarters.

He made his way quietly across the carpeted floor, stopping before a massive, wooden door. Taking
one deep breath, he lay his palm gently across the cool surface. Thinning his lips, he gave a single,
quiet tap to the door. A fraction of a second passed, caught in his throat, before a hushed, slightly
throaty voice answered.

"Come in."

The door creacked slightly as he pushed it open. The lights in the room were dimmed, and it took
him a while to grow accostumed to the darkness. But he could not miss the one he had come to see.

He was standing by the huge, french windows, one hand casually held behind his back, the other
fingering the pale curtain hung from the windows thoughtfully. The light of the full moon outside drew
his silhoutte across the floor, illuminated his face, shrouding his back in shadows. He did not turn
around as Zechs came into the room, his hand merely ceasing its slow caress of the curtain.

"Good Evening, Zechs."

"Good Evening, sir." Bringing his heels sharply together, Zechs saluted, his lips drawn in a thin line.
He saw the other man turn his head slightly, a smile playing across his lips. "Iie. Treize will do for
tonight, Marquise."

Zechs smiled. "Understood. Treize."

Turning, Treize smiled. Zechs could feel his approval, still mocking, still slightly unnerving, as he
looked him up and down quietly. "You've changed quite a bit," he commented. He walked forward
and stood before Zechs, his eyes glittering mischiveously. "And the eyes are hidden now. Unable to
come to terms with them?"

Zechs smiled softly. "Perhaps."

Treize cocked his head to the side, one finger tapping thoughtfuly at his lips. He looked at Zechs with
the air of an incredulous believer. "Would you like a drink?" he said. Bowing formaly, Zechs
accepted.

Treize turned the lights up, making the room only slightly brighter, before walking over to the small
wine cabinnet by the far wall. He asked many tiny questions as he brought the drinks, how he'd
been, how old Marquise was. Zechs looked around the room as Treize asked his questions, giving
only short answers. Fine. Better now, thank you.

He heard Treize sigh as he took a seat, setting his sword beside him comfortably. Treize smiled in
parental admonition, shaking his head, as he handed Zechs his drink, settling into his own seat
quietly.

"Such an interesting looking man," he said, "and such a bore to invite over for a drink."

Sipping at his wine, Treize closed his eyes. Zechs watched him for a while. He seemed little changed
from eight years ago. He still commanded the same, easy grace. He was taller, broader perhaps. But
his eyes were still as comfident, still as mocking. Zechs turned his face away and stood up going to
the window. He could feel Treize's eyes following him, he could almost feel his smile. He was
surprised to see that, reflected on the windows, Treize was not smiling. His eyes reflected a quiet
expectation. Zechs was both unnerved and strangely excited by that expectation.

Leaning against the cool glass of the window panes, he smiled at Treize, who lowered his cup,
holding his gaze. "Restless, Marquise? Don't be. Finish your drink. Please, relax."

"You're much too calm, sir. Overcomfident?"

Treize smiled, running a finger around the rim of his cup. "I can't afford to not be overcomfident,
Zechs. It would mean that I have given up before the battle has even started. Besides," he said,
finishing his drink slowly and setting aside his cup, "you'd like me to be overcomfident, wouldn't you?
The more comfident the enemy, the sweeter the victory. Anything else would be an insult to you.
And I assure you," smiling, he spread his arms wide in a sitting bow, "I have nothing but the highest
admiration for you."

"Should I clap that, sir?"

Treize raised one eyebrow, grinning, and Zechs felt his mouth stretch into a smile of his own, his
hand rising to caress the hilt of his sword. He saw Treize's eyes lower towards it briefly before he
leaned back into his seat, eyes closed, his own hand rising to caress the hilt of the sword at his side.
"No rusted, harmless blades this time, young Marquise," he murmured. His eyes fluttered open then,
and he smiled, his smile almost a perfect echo of the smile he had worn eight years past as he had
asked if he could fence.

Standing, he looked at Zechs. His eyes narrowed briefly before he bowed and, placing his hand
slowly over the hilt of his sword, drew it out with deliberate show. He brought it to rest over the
palm of his hand, waiting silently.

Zechs put down his half-empty cup and, in one swift, graceful gesture, drew out his sword. He
brought it down slowly to meet Treize's, their eyes locking briefly across the blades, their hollow ring
dying quickly in the quiet atmosphere of the room. Neither of them smiled. There was no need.

Dropping easily into the fencing position, Zechs watched Treize do the same. He seemed completely
relaxed, and, for a moment, a bit of the uneasiness he had felt eight years before came back to him.
He had changed much, true. But, deep inside, as hard as he tried to run from that truth, he was still
that boy from eight years ago, still Mirialdo Peacecraft. That truth was still there, staring silently back
at him whenever he was alone and the day had drawn to an end and the lonely nights waited for him
again and the mask would come off. The truth would look at him quietly then, sadly. When? it would
whisper to him, its intense blue eyes reaching deep into his soul.

Zechs thinned his lips, gripping his sword tighter. Concentrate, Zechs. You can't loose this time.
Squaring his shoulders slightly, he lowered his head, closing his eyes. Without waiting for Treize to
begin, he brought his sword back swiftly. He saw Treize blink slightly in surprise, his fingers
tightening imperceptively over the hilt of his sword. His surprise became evident as Zechs swung his
sword rapidly forward again, bringing it inches from Treize's face. Treize looked at the blade silently,
his surprise quickly melting into a slow smile as he brought his gaze up towards Zechs. He laughed
quietly, closing his eyes.

As they fluttered open, he had already brought his own sword forward, catching Zechs' second
thrust. "Impressive," he remarked. Zechs smiled. Thinning his lips, he lunged forward. He felt
strangely dettatched in this fight, he saw his sword thrust and pary as if it were not his own. He could
see Treize beyond him, a strange light in his eyes as he carried out his own attacks and defence.
Zechs gripped his sword tighter, feeling the easy flow of his moves. He had never realized how
simple it could really be. He almost laughed out loud, but he knew better than to grow too
comfident. He had learned, over the years, that the friendlier Treize seemed, the deadlier he was. His
attacks were neither overcomfident nor lazy. He was aware that Zechs was no longer the child he
had been and, if anything, he was even more ruthless in his attacks.

Zechs felt a sting at his cheek, but he had no time to realize what had happened before he saw the
blood sprinkle against the sleeve of his uniform. Looking up, he saw Treize's eyes, cold and
impassive, his smile dazingly kind, as he brought his sword in again. Gritting his teeth, Zechs brought
his hand up in a desperate pary. He felt his body lunge backwards and he cursed. He was loosing
ground. Thinning his lips, he feinted a blow to Treize's own face. Zechs saw Treize frown slightly
before he brought his sword down, then quickly up. He tried not to grin as Treize stepped back,
surprised, his own sword rising rapidly in a quick pary.

Stepping forward, Zechs did not permit him to regain his balance, barraging him with a steady flow
of thrusts. He saw Treize give another step back, his paries growing in intensity, his lips thinning.
Bringing his sword up in a wide arch, Treize turned to offensive, bringing his hand back in a deep
tuck, releasing it in an aim at Zechs' unprotected center. Zechs' eyes widened beneath his mask as he
realized his fatal mistake. He almost stumbled as he brought in a desperate block. He saw Treize's
eyes widen, and Zechs smiled. Cursing, Treize lunged forward, rushing to meet Zechs blows head
on.

Their swords locked with a shrill, metallic groan. treize's eyes narrowed as he looked at Zechs, his
breath was coming in short, determined gasps. His fingers tightened on his sword's hilt and Zechs
smiled. His breath was also coming in gasps, his teeth gritted. With a tight flick of his wrist, he put
more weight into his lock, and he could see Treize do the same, his eyes a silent rage. The swords
groaned softly to each other, the hands wrapped around their hilts shacking slightly with the strein of
the unwillingness to back down, to give up. Then Zechs lowered his head, his sword falling back
slightly. Treize frowned, then pulled his own sword slightly back, defensive as well as offensive.

His lips parted in a silent gasp as Zechs brought his sword rapidly to the side. He tried to block
Zechs'intended move, but could only stare, his eyes wide, as Zechs dipped his arm down, below
Treize's sword and upwards. And forward. The thrust caught Treize by surprise, shattering his center
of balance. His eyes never left Zechs' sword as he fell to the ground, the fall shocking him back to
reality.

Zechs stood above him, smiling, his sword held under Treize's chin. He could see the complete
disbelief in the other man's eyes, and something more. Rage, silent rage. Mingled with an inexplicable
what? Zechs wasn't sure. He did not want to read more into his eyes than what was really there. But
it almost seemed as if Treize admired him at that instant, or perhaps he was just pleased. Some quiet,
secret pleasure, as he always seemed to have. The look was lost as Treize closed his eyes, his lips
stretching into a slow smile.

"You've changed quite a bit," he murmured.

Zechs brought his sword up slightly, touching Treize's chin. The older man's smile never wavered,
and now he seemed genuinely pleased. Zechs thinnned his lips.

"As you can see, sir, I am prepared now to start living out my fate, whatever that may be. I am no
longer the unfortunate child from all those years past."

Treize's smile widened. "No, you're not. You have cetainly learned much. I have never been beaten
before. I should be proud to have been beaten by you, Mirialdo Peacecraft."

Zechs lowered his sword, smiling sadly. "Iie, sir. I am Zechs Marquise. Mirialdo must remain dead
for now, perhaps for a long time."

Turning away, he sheathed his sword. He could feel Treize's eyes, heavy upon his back, as he pulled
the man's sword from the carpet where it had fallen. He held it for a while in his hands, feeling its
unfamiliar weight.

"It was my Father's," he heard Treize comment.

Looking back, Zechs couldn't help but smile. Treize was spread out on the floor, his hands folded
comfortably behind his back, one leg drapped casually over the other, tapping at the empty air.

Walking towards him, Zechs held out the sword. Treize looked up at him, smiling. "Zechs," he said.
"You're scaring me. I strongly advice that you stop."

Sitting up, Treize took the sword, and Zechs searched for the rage he had seen before in his eyes.
There was no trace of it left, only the usual, mocking good humor he had grown used to after all
those years.

"Sir," he said, holding out his hand to Treize. The older man looked at it for a while, his eyes a bit
perplexed. Zechs smiled and, for a while, it seemed to Treize that he could catch a glimpse of two,
bright blue eyes from underneath the mask. Determined, quietly heroic, so different from that young
boy's eight years ago. They did not reflect the heroism of an easy victory, but of inevitable, accepted
doom. Accepting all and nothing. Not afraid anymore of facing destiny.

Bringing his hand up slowly, he clasped it with Zechs', allowing himself to be brought up. He grinned
as he sheathed his sword. "Eight years waiting," he said. Zechs closed his eyes briefly, his lips
twitching with a smile he did not want to give.

Turning, Treize walked towards the wine bottle he had left by his empty cup, pouring himself a drink.
Zechs watched him gulp it down quickly, brows drawing together briefly as liquor met parched
throat. Clicking his heels together sharply, Zechs saluted.

"Cadet Colonel Zechs Marquise requesting permission to leave."

Treize poured himself another drink and, craddling it in his hand, looked at Zechs. He shook his
head, smiling softly. "Yes, you're excused, Zechs."

Flanking, Zechs went to the door, but he paused, his hand on the cold handle. "What if I had lost..?"
he asked quietly. He watched as Treize took a slow sip from his drink, smiling at the darkness.

"You are like me, Zechs. Men like you never loose."

"Never, sir ?"

"Yes," Treize murmured, as Zechs felt himself smile, "losing to you took me by surprise, too. But we
have both survived losing now. Once mastered, it can never hurt us again."

"Yes," Zechs said quietly. Treize looked back at him then, their eyes meeting briefly. Treize raised his
glass. "Personal?" Zechs nodded slowly.

"There's never any other real reason, Zechs Marquise," the older man said, draining his cup in one
motion. As he set it down, its sound was like an echo. Across time. Across a war scarred palace.
The first tick of a silent clock. It promised everything. And nothing.
 
 

 

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