The Art Of Making Arrangements
This is a work of amateur fiction and does not intend to infringe on the rights of Sunrise, Sotsu Agency, Asahi TV, and Bandai Visuals. No profit is being made.
The story is set the day after the attack on Sank. Technically it will make sense, but it might be helpful if you read Paradigms before, since the two are rather closely connected and set within a few hours.
Many thanks to my beta reader CC!
"...so much for that. I wonder how they'll explain that the Specials were not notified."
"The Alliance simply doesn't take us serious yet."
"Or maybe they thought that you'd change sides. Did Catalonia say anything yet on the matter?"
"No, he's waiting for the decision of the Foundation first. But if he has to make an official statement, I'm sure that he'll make it look like all the Specials were on another mission at the time."
"The best thing he can do. I have to meet with Father to see where the Romafeller stands on this matter. I doubt they'll simply accept that the Alliance eliminates someone as high-ranking as the Peacecrafts."
Listening to his parents' conversation, Treize came into the dining room, successfully suppressing a yawn. The maid had woken him an hour earlier than usual today, and he hadn't gotten much sleep during the night either. He didn't regret staying up for hours with their strange little guest, but still he wished that he'd feel more awake now.
"Good morning," he told his parents as he settled down on his seat at the breakfast table.
His mother smiled at him. "Good morning Treize," she said, her words almost immediately seconded by his father.
It was somewhat unusual to see them both for breakfast for once; normally they rarely managed to be in the same country. That they had both come home yesterday evening had been surprising enough. But considering that his mother was already in uniform again, the normal state of affairs would probably soon be re-established. Treize vaguely wondered whether she would return to New Edwards or to Brussels instead. He wasn't entirely certain what had happened yesterday, but he knew that there had been an attack on the Sank Kingdom. It would be logical for the Specials to gather their top officers at their headquarters; at least that was what happened every time there was any military action by the Alliance.
"Why are you awake already?" Treize asked, helping himself to some toast. "It's early..."
"We have to settle some things," came the answer from his father. "We have a guest, and there is a lot you need to know about him. And I want to discuss this with you before he is awake."
"Besides," his mother interjected, "I'm leaving for the Luxembourg base today, and I probably won't get away from there for a while. So we thought that a last family breakfast together would be nice."
Nodding in agreement, Treize quietly buttered his toast and tried to be inconspicuous. It was something his father had told him to practice, and he was beginning to see the benefits of it. There was much information to be gained by simply listening to the conversations all around, and it prevented him from having to ask a lot of questions.
"Did the embassy close down yet?" his mother was asking, idly twirling a strand of ginger hair around her finger.
"Officially yes. We've evacuated all the personnel yesterday, it simply would have been too risky to stay there. Diplomatic immunity doesn't help against bullets. I'll be meeting with most of the European ambassadors today to discuss the next steps. Still..."
A knock at the doorframe kept Treize's father from saying more on the matter. Treize did not really regret it; the diplomatic intricacies that came with his father's occupation as Germany's ambassador to Sank were sometimes hard for him to understand. Usually Treize would find them interesting to some extent, but right now he had too much on his mind. He itched to find out more about Zechs, or rather, to confirm some of the suspicions he had about the younger boy.
The interruption turned out to be a young Specials soldier with pretty auburn hair and a somewhat timid look on his face. Treize hid a smile behind his teacup; to him it was fascinating that most soldiers appeared to be somewhat scared of his mother. They ought to see her in private sometimes...
"Colonel Khushrenada, Your Excellency." The young man saluted crisply. "I apologize for interrupting, Colonel, but General Catalonia requested your presence in Moscow."
"Moscow?" she asked a little irritated, raising the forked eyebrows that Treize had inherited from her, along with most of his looks. "As if it wouldn't be cold enough in Brussels already. And he sent you to accompany me?"
"Yes. He said that I am to make sure you leave immediately." The young soldier blushed a little as he reported this, not seeming at all comfortable with his current situation.
She sighed softly. "Can't leave the General waiting, can we?" she said, standing up from the table. "I will call as soon as I am there," she told her husband as she bent to fasten the clasps of her boots more tightly. "Don't forget to call your father, and tell me what he says."
Treize watched with amusement as the young soldier blushed lightly when his parents exchanged a quick kiss. Then he straightened up in his chair to accept the same treatment from his mother before she left the room, the young man hurrying to keep up with her quick stride.
Once they heard the sound of the front door being closed, Treize's father got up from his seat to shut the door to the dining room, then proceeded to close the windows as well. Treize watched with some confusion, not entirely certain what to make of this. The only time he could remember one of his parents behave in a similar fashion had been when his mother had instructed him not to talk about the non-existence of Father Christmas in front of some younger cousins. But right now such secretiveness did not make sense...
But of course. Zechs.
Treize frowned at himself for not making the obvious connection, especially after his father had already said they needed to talk about the younger boy. This sudden secrecy only served to confirm the suspicions he had about Zechs. The boy had to be someone important, or he wouldn't have brought here under such circumstances. And during the night Treize had heard a rather confusing and disturbing account on the attack on Sank, or rather, the attack on the royal palace. Zechs had spoken about all he could remember of the day, and Treize had listened, too unsettled by it all to make the younger boy stop. He still found it hard to imagine that those things had really happened.
"Did you watch the news yesterday evening, Treize?" his father asked, returning to the table and sitting down again.
Nodding, Treize swallowed the last bit of toast before answering. "You mean about Sank? Yes."
"Good. Then you know that the country has been laid to waste."
Once again Treize nodded; the news had been full of grainy images that showed explosions. And Zechs' tale had only added to this.
"I don't quite understand why, though," Treize admitted. There hadn't been any information on that.
His father sighed softly, looking tired for a moment. "It's a complicated issue. We can discuss it later if you want, but right now there are more important things we have to speak about. It's not on the official newscasts yet, but King Peacecraft was killed in the attack. The entire royal family is supposedly dead."
This statement undermined some of Treize's theories on Zechs, but it also confirmed the young boy's words.
"This brings me to the main point. Treize, it is absolutely necessary that you keep this a secret." His father was fixing him with a firm stare for a second for emphasis. "You must not talk to anyone about it. In this house your mother and I are the only persons who know, and it is imperative that we keep the number of people aware of this to an absolute minimum."
Treize suppressed the urge to tell his father that he had understood him perfectly the first time, and that there was no need to linger on the issue. But he knew just too well that if he did this, all he could achieve would be a comment on the fact that sometimes things were repeated too often and that it was best to simply nod and smile. Which he did now, also putting up an expectant look in the hopes that this would accelerate things a bit.
"When I left Sank yesterday night, I brought a boy here." Treize's father paused for a moment, appearing to hesitate a bit before he continued. "He is the Prince of Sank."
So the suspicions Treize had been harboring were true; he hadn't been entirely certain since the last time he had seen the prince had been two years ago, and little children changed quickly. But something had been familiar about the boy, and now Treize knew why.
There were some things that did not make sense, though.
"But isn't his name Milliard and not Zechs?" Treize asked the question that was first on his mind. The boy had introduced himself as Zechs after all.
"And how would you know about this?" His father looked at him sternly, and Treize cursed himself for this slip. Stupid mistake... he shouldn't have let his curiosity get the better of him.
"Well..." he tried, feverishly thinking of an excuse.
"You have not been sneaking through the house again by any chance, have you?" It wasn't really a question; his father knew exactly that Treize had not been in bed, where he was supposed to be. There simply was no use in denying it; the only reasonable thing to do was come up with a good explanation for it.
"I was in the library and lost track of time," Treize ventured, sticking to the truth for now but wisely refraining from mentioning just what he had been doing there. He doubted that his father would see the need of reading the Never-ending Story at two in the morning. But the book had just been too interesting to put it down, and reading in his room was simply not the same as in the library with the scent of all those books around and with the overstuffed armchairs.
Treize's father gave him a mildly curious look. "And may I ask what you found so capturing?"
"Ah... I was reading up on our family history." Always a safe excuse, and Treize felt proud of himself that he had thought of it. There were giant volumes filled with accounts of the lives of past Dukes of Kiev; mostly dates of when they had gone where, whom they had met and what kind of gruesome death they had encountered. Sometimes Treize got the feeling that his ancestors had tried to achieve some sort of award for creatively murdering each other. Fortunately the custom had lessened somewhat during the latest few generations, although most of the family was still immensely proud of it out of some weird reason.
"Family history... I see..." It was his father's soft spot, and Treize began to cautiously hope that he would get away with it this time. "Well, in that case it is alright. The next time you should better read in the morning, rather than staying up so late. Just don't tell your mother that I let you get away with it."
Treize nodded; his father might fall for that excuse, but unfortunately his mother was somewhat ignorant to her ancestors. She found it convenient that she had inherited a title and the money that came with it, but she didn't get any nostalgic feelings about it. And she certainly would not understand why Treize should have sleepless nights because of it.
"But back to the main topic. Nobody must know that Zechs is really Milliard Peacecraft, because the Alliance soldiers had orders to eliminate the royal family. And they might wonder soon where he has disappeared to, so we must be cautious."
"So you expect them to come here too?" Treize asked, feeling rather mature right now because of this discussion. He was aware that his father was leaving out some of the finer points of it all, but still it was a pleasant thought to be considered old enough to understand those things.
"They might. Which is why you will leave for Kiev today. I want you to be at a safe distance from whatever might happen because of the attack on Sank. It's hard to say yet what developments will follow." Treize's father looked at him, apparently searching for hints of disagreement, and Treize concentrated on putting up a blank expression. He wasn't quite sure what to think of this anyway. The old Khushrenada estate just outside Kiev was a nice place to be, but Treize had not expected to be sent there at all.
But it made sense, didn't it? The estate belonged to Treize's grandfather, the current Duke and also the more or less unofficial leader of the Romafeller. And Treize was very well aware just what sort of social influence this implied; the Foundation might be hidden from view of most of the world, but that did not mean that the aristocracy would not tell their children about it.
"The Alliance would not dare attack Grandfather's place," Treize ventured cautiously. "Because that would make the Romafeller Foundation turn against them... and that would be an absolutely foolish thing to do."
"Exactly." His father gave him a pleased look. "So you understand why it is safer there. Besides, Zechs has to disappear from sight for a while, and neither your mother nor I can spare the time necessary to watch him right now."
"I see..." Treize murmured, pondering this new development. So he was supposed to keep the boy out of trouble? It was not exactly what he had been hoping for when his father had mentioned a trip to Kiev, but it was not that bad either. At least he would have company there, and perhaps some help in fending off Dorothy if the girl happened to come there as well. Or any other of his younger relatives. In Treize's eyes they were mostly sources of endless noise that tended to get dirty and in trouble easily. Yes, it might be nice to have some support against them.
Still, Zechs was going there mainly to stay safe. And that seemed somewhat suspicious; after all the Khushrenadas had no family obligations to the Peacecrafts - despite the boredom that the family history brought, Treize _had_ read them, if only for a supply of handy distracting questions for his father. He'd have remembered if there was any reason for his family to support the Peacecrafts. There had to be another motivation; kindness certainly played a not too small role, but somehow it did not seem quite right that Treize's parents would agree to face the trouble and risks that this brought only to keep Zechs safe. Help came at a price and with certain expectations about getting the favor returned. The question remained just what Zechs had to offer as the prince of a kingdom that had ceased to exist.
But perhaps that Sank had been obliterated did not matter. Just like the descendants of the old Austrian emperors and nobility who did not even have their titles any longer, but who still formed an influential group... just like Zechs would probably have influence later...
"Treize, if the current situation is not the way you want it to be, then I'm sorry, but you will have to come to terms with it."
A little puzzled, Treize realized that he had been frowning as he had been following that line of thought.
"I've just been thinking," he said quickly, not really wanting to share his musings right now. It wasn't that Treize suspected his parents to really have second thoughts about helping Zechs. But if his grandfather was involved in this as well - and Treize could not possibly imagine that the old man didn't know just who his guest was going to be - then there was an additional side to the issue.
"Is there still anything you want to ask?" his father inquired, getting up from his seat when Treize shook his head slightly. "Good. Remember, no word about who Zechs really is. If anybody happens to ask, say he is a distant relative. We still need to fix those details."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"And in case something unexpected should come up, either try to get a hold of your mother or me, or speak to Dimitry, he knows about Zechs."
It was not really surprising to hear that Dimitry had been told; the old man had been a butler with the Khushrenada family long enough to practically be considered a family member as well.
"Good. And now go and see what our guest is doing. He's probably too shy to come downstairs right now." Treize's father walked over to the door and opened it. "I will see you tomorrow, I think, if those discussions go as expected. And don't forget: silence." With that he left the room.
"Yes," Treize murmured, slightly annoyed at constantly being reminded of it. Almost as if they expected him to forget about it. And he never failed to remember instructions like that... well, maybe there was the 'don't sneak around the house in the middle of the night' rule, but that one couldn't compare to keeping Zechs' identity a secret. This was a far more serious issue, and Treize was very well aware of that.
Most likely his father had just kept repeating it to soothe his own nerves, Treize thought as he left the table as well and went upstairs in search of a certain young blond boy.