Power of Influence
by Lara
March 2002

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.

Warnings: 13x6 implied.

The story is set in AC 193, and deals with Treize becoming the leader of OZ. This is mostly one of my background stories, written because I need to figure out the inner workings of the Foundation in its basics before I can move on to some other stories I have in mind.

The character of Count Mikhail Rostov belongs to me, and I request that you do not borrow him without asking me first. The story idea is mine too. I am not aware of any other fic dealing with this issue as of this date.

Beta reading was done by CC, for which I am grateful. All mistakes that still are in the story come from later editing and are to be blamed solely on myself.

Gatherings of the Romafeller Foundation tended to be a noisy affair, and this time was no exception. What had changed compared to other meetings in the past was the tension that lay in the air and that hardly ever rose to this level. The discussions and talks carried a hurried component, and many of the attending members looked uncomfortable whenever it became too obvious that the crowd that had come here today was significantly smaller than before. The attack on the Specials' meeting a little more than a month ago had claimed victims among the Foundation too, even though the number of casualties was nowhere nearly as high as that of OZ officers who had been killed.

That attack was the reason why the Romafeller Foundation was holding a conference today; many key positions had suddenly become vacant, and the provisional replacements were beginning to show their insufficiency. It was just logical that the Foundation would call for a meeting to solve these problems and restore its stability and strength.

Treize kept reminding himself of this as he slowly crossed the room, carefully staying one step to the right and one behind Colonel Rostov, at the moment the provisional leader of OZ. Keeping the logical reasons for this meeting in mind helped not to think too much about that attack, even though all it took was to notice a missing familiar face to bring it all back. Occasionally someone would approach them to offer condolences, to the Colonel because of his brother and to Treize because of his parents, but mostly they were being left in peace as the Foundation members began to take their seats.

"Done with the final security check?" Rostov asked as he sat down on one of the chairs in the front row, gesturing Treize to take the one to his left.

"There was a minor problem with the radar coordination, but Lieutenant Une has fixed it by now, Sir," Treize said, trying to resist the urge to massage his injured knee. In a way that small accident had saved his life because it had prevented him from attending the fateful Specials' meeting. But the stab of pain that still accompanied every step served as a constant reminder that perhaps, just perhaps, things could have been different if he had been there.

Nodding, Rostov turned his head to watch the entry of some Foundation members. "That Une is a quite efficient girl. Probably worth keeping an eye on her." He briefly paused to wave a greeting at a group of men, then continued. "Would have considered to promote her to my aide if you hadn't been available, boy."

Treize inwardly protested against being called boy, but considering that Rostov was old enough to be his grandfather, the man probably felt justified to use that form of address. "Thank you, Sir."

"Just watch out for her. You'll need a competent adjutant one day."

And he'd prefer by far to have Zechs in that position, Treize thought as he saw Duke Dermail come into the hall with the last attending members. Another provisional filling of a position, but one that would most likely turn permanent if Dermail's supporters had anything to say in the matter.

"I will keep her in mind, Sir."

"Good, good," Rostov said with a nod of appreciation. "Always knew you'd turn out a clever young man."

"You are too kind, Sir," Treize returned almost automatically. In his mind he was going through the security measures once again, trying to find a weak spot that they might have forgotten. He couldn't think of anything that they could have missed, but the uneasiness would not leave him, even though all experts had concluded that a second attack would be highly unlikely.

Rostov was waving his hand, and when Treize returned his attention to his surroundings again he saw that Marquis Weridge was walking towards them, an expression of relief on his face that puzzled Treize a little. Weridge and Rostov normally were not getting along well and did not pretend to be friends either, so this was a rather unusual display. But some of the alliances and factions within the Foundation had shifted in the last month; this might just be another of those changes.

Cautious to not put weight on his injured leg, Treize politely rose from his seat in greeting when Weridge reached them. "Marquis."

Weridge acknowledged him with a nod, then shook hands with Rostov, settling down on the still vacant chair to his right. "Mikhail, it is good to see you here tonight. I was worried that you might not come."

"Should be at an Alliance conference, but this seemed more important," Rostov said, raising his hand to straighten his cravat.

"That is certainly true." With a sigh Weridge glanced at the group with Dermail for a moment before he continued. "He is going to bring it up today."

"What? It has not been on the agenda for any meeting in the next month!"

Treize felt somewhat mystified what 'it' was, but he could hardly interrupt their talk and ask. The only choice he really had was to stay quiet and listen, and hope that there would be enough clues in the conversation to figure out what this was about. It was a tactic that had almost always worked for him in the past.

"I am aware of that, but that will not prevent Dermail from addressing it today."

"Any way to stop him?"

"Hardly. All he needs is a simple majority to include the issue in today's agenda, and I am certain that enough of his supporters are here for him to achieve this." Weridge sighed once again. "I wish there had been more time for us to take appropriate measures."

Rostov nodded, then suddenly glanced at Treize for a moment before he turned back to Weridge. "Made the decision by now anyway. Just need to talk to the boy about it."

Talk about what?

A brief smile crossed Weridge's face as he looked at Treize as well. "I shall leave you to settle the issue. Count, Duke..." With a final nod of farewell the old Marquis got up and slowly went to join another group.

As soon as he was gone, Rostov returned his attention to Treize. "Should have talked about this far sooner. Well, can't be changed now."

Treize raised an eyebrow in puzzlement, then hurried to get his mien back under control. He really was too old by now to let his expression slip. "Sir?"

Shaking his head, Rostov studied his face. "Dermail's going to bring up the question about leadership of OZ today," he said with his normal directness. "Damn it, we should have settled this sooner."

"Settled what sooner, Sir?" Treize couldn't help asking the question. Several possible explanations for this situation were whirling in his mind, but they all sounded a little far-fetched even to him.

"Listen, boy..." But Rostov did not get any further because in this moment Dermail climbed up the stairs to the podium and the last whispers in the hall died down as everybody waited for the meeting to be officially opened

Duke Dermail was very obviously enjoying the fact that he had everyone's attention. Quite different compared to the previous Chief Representative. Treize's grandfather had always given the impression that he regarded the speeches and large assemblies a waste of time, and that truly important things were dealt with in more private meetings. That system had worked, but it had also encouraged the evolution of the cliques and groups that had dominated the Romafeller Foundation ever since the old Duke had died shortly before the attack on OZ. Dermail had not proved to be strong enough yet to control the factions entirely, but most were warily supporting him for now.

"Lords and Ladies, I welcome you to this assembly of the Romafeller Foundation. I am pleased to see that so many of you have come here tonight to decide on important matters regarding our future."

Rostov was watching Dermail with an impatient expression. "Wonderful," he muttered. "Just when we need to talk about important things."

Treize shot him a glance, hoping that he would say more, but Rostov fell silent again. A wise move, considering that anything they said would be picked up by the people around them. Whatever Rostov had been meaning to tell him, it certainly was more than a little bit of information. But now it was too late to share it, and all Treize could do was hope that he found out in some other way, or that it was not too relevant.

On the stage, Dermail had gotten through his introductory lines and was reading out the agenda. All the points concerned fairly unimportant issues, nothing that would explain why both Weridge and Rostov should be so agitated about the topics addressed today. Surely they would not worry about the decision whether the next meeting would be held in Bremen or Luxembourg, and Treize highly doubted that they were all that concerned about the amount of money donated to charity either.

"In addition to the points on our regular agenda, there is one other issue that has been brought to our attention, and we will hold a vote on it." Dermail paused for a few minutes to get the full attention of the assembly. Treize was concentrating too, because this had to be the reason for Rostov and Weridge's anxiety. "We have yet to make a decision concerning the position of Chief Commander of OZ. I put the question to the assembled members of the Foundation: shall this issue be addressed today?"

Immediately quiet discussions welled up and steadily grew louder until the hall was buzzing with noise once more. From the sound of it, nobody had been aware that this issue was going to be brought up, and it was not only a surprise for Rostov and Weridge.

Treize closed his eyes for a moment in an attempt to concentrate. So his uncle wanted to deal with this today... he could not quite discern the reason for the sudden hurry, but most likely they would find out in time. The true question was whether Rostov would be confirmed in his current position, or if he would be replaced with someone else. There was nothing speaking against Rostov though; the Colonel was experienced, he had led OZ as well as possible in the recent chaos, and he also had enough connections within the Foundation and also the Alliance to assure his position. Theoretically there was nothing to worry about.

Yet Weridge and Rostov had been unsettled about the issue, so there had to be something else going on. Hopefully only a minor problem; Treize truly wished that Rostov would keep the post. The man deserved it after all the great services he had rendered the Foundation and the Specials. And there was also the fact that for Treize the position as Rostov's aide de camp offered excellent career prospects.

"They're going to accept it," Rostov muttered. "Perfect, just perfect. Treize, listen."

"Yes, Sir."

Before Rostov could say more, they heard Dermail's voice once again. "Your votes please, Ladies and Gentlemen."

"Just ignore him," Rostov almost growled as hands rose all around them. Treize wisely kept his down, mirroring the other man's attitude towards this. "Damned bastard must have known we are not done yet with preparations."

"Preparations for what?" Treize inquired, feeling more at liberty to ask questions by now. This whole issue was making him nervous.

"Dermail leads the Foundation, so..." Rostov was interrupted by Dermail's voice.

"The vote is in favor of the decision. Are there any objections?"

For a few moments there was an expectant tension, and Treize was hoping that someone would say something so they could win a little more time. But not even the usual critics spoke up for once, and the hall was so completely silent that even a whisper would have been heard and understood easily.

"We shall address the issue immediately, since it will require more time than the other points on the agenda." Dermail again paused to wait for protests, but his expression showed clearly that he was not willing to listen to any of them. "I see that there are no objections, so we shall begin. OZ has suffered a severe blow, and I offer my condolences to all of you. The deaths have been a tragic loss for the Foundation, and shall always be remembered."

Hollow phrases, Treize thought with a certain bitterness as he listened to his uncle's speech. It seemed impossible that anyone should think that these words were sincere, especially after considering the way Dermail had made use of the chaos to promote himself to the Chief Representative of the Foundation.

"As you all certainly are aware, General Catalonia, the former leader of OZ, has perished in the attack. A great soldier and leader, and both OZ and the Romafeller Foundation are keenly feeling the gap that has been left in his wake." Dermail fixed the assembled guests with a stare. "A gap that needs to be filled. And therefore we shall today search for someone who is worthy and suited for this position."

Rostov cleared his throat. "Oh, stop it," he said loudly enough for at least half the hall to hear him, even though he had no microphone to enhance his voice. Sometimes being used to shouting commands at troops came in handy. "This is a military matter, so no need for fancy speeches."

For a moment Dermail seemed flustered, but he quickly regained his control. "I hear your objection, Count Rostov," he said, and Treize saw the brief glare of anger in his eyes that vanished again almost immediately. "But I do think that this matter should be conducted with some measure of formality."

"Formality is fine, but make it short. It's not like anyone here does not know the facts already."

Another glare, then Dermail stepped back from the podium. "I have just finished with what I have wished to say. If you do not mind, Count," the title was stressed, and Treize easily picked up the anger in his uncle's voice as he said this one word. "I would like to ask you to say more on this matter, since it is your field of experience."

Cautious applause came up at Dermail's words. The present members were quite obviously not sure what to think of it, but had decided to go along with the flow for now.

Getting up from his seat, Rostov turned at Treize. "Damned Dermail," he muttered. "Just stay here, boy, and play along." And before Treize could ask with what he was supposed to play along, Rostov marched up the stairs to the podium and took Dermail's place at the microphone.

The applause grew a little louder and sounded more genuine; Rostov was generally well liked, so the Foundation members were showing their support. He did not make speeches often, though, so there was also an expectant tension in the hall. Everybody with some insight into the inner workings of the Foundation knew that Rostov and Dermail did not get along, and that things looked as if they would get interesting today. And out of some reason Treize had the sinking feeling that he was going to get caught in the crossfire.

"As Duke Dermail has been trying to say, OZ needs a regular leader again," Rostov started with his customary directness, and Treize had to struggle to suppress a smile. "Maybe it's for the best that we settle this now."

Dermail raised his hand a little and stepped closer to the microphone again. "And of course, Count Rostov, you will be considered one of the candidates," he said. Treize couldn't help shaking his head at this. Trying to appear as the great benefactor was not going to work, he was certain of that.

"If I wanted to command OZ, I would say so," Rostov replied in the same tone of voice Treize had heard him use for discussions with Alliance officers whom he did not consider worth the time. "I have agreed to become provisional commander because someone with experience was needed," he said, speaking in the direction of the audience again. "OZ has to make a new beginning, and for that they need a new leader. There are only young officers left, so they'll need a commander who comes from their generation."

A disturbing suspicion was beginning to form in Treize's mind.

"I therefore suggest that Lieutenant Colonel Treize Khushrenada is chosen as the new leader of OZ and the Specials."

The first thought that crossed Treize's mind was that he should be glad he did not blush when people looked at him, because he was certain that the entire assembly was focused on him right now.

Why couldn't they have told him before? Why did they have to wait until the meeting to bring this up? They had seemed about to tell him today, so what had kept them from doing it when there had still been time? Things did not make sense to Treize right now. Just what was he supposed to say now? Agree to this?

"Good that I have come here today," he heard a man behind him say. "This is the first time I see Dermail completely speechless."

A woman laughed. "Yes, a priceless sight," she agreed.

Treize looked up at the stage and saw that his uncle indeed looked absolutely confused. So he had not known of this? It would all have made far more sense if Dermail had been backing this plan. After all Treize was his nephew, and family relations were never ignored in the Foundation. But no, Dermail was clearly surprised by this, while Rostov was wearing a smug look.

"Any other nominations?" the old Colonel asked as he looked at the crowd before glancing at Dermail again. Treize listened intently; surely someone had to have another candidate... But maybe everybody had been under the same assumption as Treize himself: that Rostov would stay, and that things would not be changed so quickly. Treize had even been toying with the idea that one day he might succeed Rostov. He only had not thought it could happen so soon.

Dermail, who apparently had gotten a grip on himself again, stepped up to the microphone once more. "If there are no other candidates, then I ask the Romafeller Foundation to cast their votes."

Hands were rising once more. Apparently nobody stopped to consider the possibility that Treize might be having an objection. But if they had asked him right now, he probably would not have known what to answer, because he simply had to grasp the entire situation still. There were so many implications in this decision, surely he could not be expected to make his choice at a moment's notice...

In silence Treize watched as the voting proceeded; he saw Dermail's secretary hand him a small slip of paper with the results. Saw Dermail look surprised for a moment before showing the results to Rostov. Not a result they had expected... but what result was it?

"Lords and Ladies, allow me to inform you of the Foundation's decision." Dermail was speaking again, not sounding angry at all anymore. "The vote is in favor of the appointment of Duke Treize Khushrenada as new leader of OZ and the Specials."

It did not seem real to him. Surely any moment someone would wake him and tell him that this had all been a dream. He would open his eyes and find himself in Zechs' arms, and his lover would assure him that it had just been a dream.

"I am glad that this matter has been resolved so easily," Dermail was saying, and Treize focused on the words almost desperately to get some measure of control back. He couldn't understand how they had managed to catch him so off guard. Maybe he should have been expecting this, perhaps it had been a predictable result and it was his own fault that he had not seen it coming.

Rostov was leaving the podium again while Dermail stayed there, apparently waiting for the crowd to quiet down again. At the bottom of the stairs the old Colonel stopped and said something to Dermail that was not audible over the general background noise. Dermail, however, appeared to have heard it.

"The Romafeller Foundation will now wait for the offered position to be accepted." He paused, laughing for a moment. "Or denied, of course. Treize, we shall be expecting to hear your decision in one hour. You are, of course, excused from this meeting."

"Thank you." At least a small favor, Treize thought as he rose from his chair and crossed the hall as quickly as possible. He desperately needed to think, and hopefully they would leave him in peace long enough to make up his mind about what to think of all this. Dermail's secretary silently opened the heavy door and waited for him to step out into the hallway before closing it again, shutting out all noise and leaving Treize to the silence.

With its broad windows towards the gardens, the Inner Council's meeting room was a far warmer and more inviting place than the great hall used for the general assemblies. The table seemed a little too massive for the relatively small room, but still left enough space to move around comfortably.

Telling himself that he had no time to fret over furniture, Treize looked up when he heard the sound of a knock at the door. He was hoping that this was Lieutenant Une or one of the other soldiers, but by now he knew that it could just as well be one of the Foundation members who wished to have a talk in private with him. The last hour had seen a number of such visits, and Treize suspected that this would not stop so easily.

"Come in," he said loudly, and breathed an inward sigh of relief when he saw that it was Lieutenant Une and not yet another Countess who wanted to invite him to finally meet her daughter. Somehow nobody seemed to think that he might refuse the offered position.

Saluting a little nervously and almost dropping the papers she held in her other hand, Une took a few steps towards him but stopped before she stepped onto the carpet. "Sir?"

"I need you to check the security measures in the dining hall again," he told her. "The guests will move there in about an hour, and we need to be absolutely certain that everything is taken care of." With some surprise he noticed a blush reddening Une's cheeks. "Lieutenant?"

"Sir, I..." Reaching up to straighten her glasses, Une cleared her throat. "I have just performed that check, Sir, and I have scheduled another in forty minutes."

Treize raised an eyebrow. "You did?" He had not been working with Une for long, but the impression he had gotten from her was that she only did what she was ordered to do, but that she performed her tasks as perfectly as possible.

"I thought you would want everything checked again..." she said somewhat timidly, once more raising her hand to her glasses.

"You were right about that." Sitting down on the low windowsill, Treize studied the young woman's face for a moment. She would have been pretty without her glasses that made her features look so sharply edged. And the braids did not help to soften the image either. "Organize a guard schedule please. We have to know when there are vulnerable moments."

Une cautiously took a step forward, onto the carpet, then held out the papers she was carrying. "Sir..."

Fighting a smile, Treize gestured for her to come and give him the papers. "Very efficient thinking," he told her as he accepted them. A quick glance showed him what he was practically expecting by now. The critical times were all dutifully marked already, and at the side suggestions for improvement were written.

"Thank you, Sir." Une had stepped back again into her previous position just off the carpet, almost as if she was afraid that her boots might leave stains on the intricate pattern.

"Take a break until that next security check. I would like to put you in charge of things for the rest of the evening too, so make sure you eat and rest." After all Treize would hardly be able to coordinate safety measures tonight, and so far Une seemed to be competent enough for the task.

The young woman nodded, then saluted once again and headed for the door.

"And have a copy of your file sent to my office," Treize told her just as she was about to leave. For a moment she hesitated, then turned around again.

"Yes, Sir." No question about the reasons for this, as Treize had almost expected. Just accepting an order. Maybe he really should consider her as his adjutant, like Rostov had suggested. He would have liked to have Zechs in that position, but Treize knew that his lover's preferences and also his talents lay in piloting rather than in administrative duties. Zechs would probably take the post if Treize offered it, but it was doubtful whether he would be content to be mostly confined to an office.

Deciding that this had time until later, Treize waited until Une had closed the door behind her before he set the papers aside and looked out of the window again to enjoy the last moments of peace and quiet before he would have to face the Foundation.

Somehow the decision he would make had been clear from the beginning. There was no way to let an opportunity like this pass without regretting it for the rest of his life. Not after all the goals Treize had set for himself. This was his chance to try and realize the ideals that had been forming in his head for so long. And maybe he would be able to leave an impact great enough to make his version of war and peace a reality.

Yes, that choice he had made. The real question he had been pondering for the last hour was the cost of it all. Treize was well aware that Rostov and Weridge were not doing this out of charitable feelings for him, but that they both were hoping to achieve something through it. And he wanted, needed to know what their motives were behind supporting him like this. Everything came with a price, and in this case it probably was going to be a high one.

And things simply did not make sense. Of course he could think of reasons they might have to want him as the new leader of OZ, but the pieces did not fit together.

At first glance it seemed logical that what Weridge and Rostov were trying to do was get someone into that position with whom they were on good terms. They both were part of the Russian faction within the Foundation, just like Treize's family always had been, so it would appear that he could count on the support of that group, a highly valuable asset. The Russians had a strong voice, and had been dominating for the last decade. Now that Treize's grandfather was no longer leading them their power had diminished a little, but they were still a force to be reckoned with.

The problem with that explanation lay in the fact that the Russian faction did not get along with Dermail and his supporters at all. And Dermail was Treize's uncle, and the Foundation tended to think along the rule that blood was thicker than water. There was no way that the Russians would pick someone who might eventually desert them and go over to their political enemy.

Therefore there had to be another explanation for this.

Rostov had been checking on Treize almost immediately after the voting had taken place. The old colonel had not bothered to apologize for not informing him of the plans. Instead he had just repeated that he thought OZ needed a new, younger leader and that he had been keeping an eye on Treize for that reason. Treize was inclined to believe this; Rostov had never taken a very active part in the Romafeller Foundation's politics. He was a soldier to the bone, and perhaps he had really been looking for the best replacement. And Treize was well aware that he could consider himself one of the best officers OZ currently had. Not arrogance, but simple facts.

What also seemed somewhat reasonable was that Dermail had come some minutes later to congratulate Treize. His uncle had seemed surprised during those first moments, but had obviously warmed up to the idea later. Of course, for him it would be pleasant to have a relative in control of the Romafeller's military. Apparently this weighed heavier than the fact that Treize had been suggested by Dermail's political enemies.

Yes, Dermail and Rostov were relatively easy to understand. But still things did not quite fit together. The only thing that Treize could be quite sure of was that nobody had any interest in letting him have any independence. It was all a matter influence, and both Weridge and Dermail probably figured that it would be comparatively easy to manipulate and lead Treize into the direction they wished.

Nobody cared about Treize's own goals.

He probably should not be surprised about that. After all Treize had been involved in the Foundation for years by now, and knew only too well how many things were decided by unofficial agreements and favors. It was all a matter of connections.

But he had those connections too. The question was whether he could put them to good use. And he was determined to at least try to not allow himself to be turned into a marionette that did not even know who pulled the strings. The Foundation wanted to use him for their goals. Well, he would see whether he could not use them to achieve his own.

There was another knock, and the door opened before Treize could say anything.

Dermail came inside, wearing an expectant expression. Treize concentrated on keeping his own face a blank mask. He could guess why his uncle was here.

"Well, Treize, the hour is over. The Foundation is ready to hear your decision."

Treize bowed his head lightly to show that he understood, then slid off the windowsill and stepped up to the older man.

"May I ask what you will tell them?" Dermail was watching him with that same expression still, though when Treize looked into his eyes there was a flicker of uncertainty.

So Dermail was not all that sure about him? Interesting... Treize mentally filed this bit of information away for later contemplation.

"I shall give them the only appropriate answer, of course." Holding the door open, Treize gestured for his uncle to leave the room first, then followed him back into the large hall.

Treize could not recall a moment when the Foundation had been paying more attention to him than now. As he crossed the large hall and walked alongside Dermail to the podium, he could be reasonably certain that every single person present was in some way concentrating on him. Maybe they were speculating about what this change in OZ' leadership would mean for them. Maybe they tried to guess how much he was going to be under the influence of others. Maybe they thought that he should dress differently.

Frowning at himself for that last thought, Treize looked straight ahead and focused on not letting that feeling of nervousness grow stronger. So far he had it under control, but there was always the risk that the anxiety and edginess would become too much for him to concentrate properly on what he had to do and say. It was fortunate that he could at least rely on his expression to remain calm. Practicing for years was beginning to truly become useful.

They finally reached the few steps leading up to the podium, and Treize politely gestured for Dermail to go first, waiting until his uncle reached the top before following him. His knee was hurting again in protest as he ascended the stairs in a quicker manner than he had used to do recently, but Treize forced himself to ignore it.

Dermail waited until Treize came to stand at his side, then cleared his throat and turned towards his audience. "Lords and Ladies! Let us now return again to the most important issue on today's agenda before we continue with the usual affairs." He paused for a moment and waited for the last whispered talks to die down before he continued. "The Romafeller Foundation in the past has always shown very good judgment when faced with the task of choosing persons who are suited and worthy for a position. Today we have made another such choice. The choice to offer the so important task of leading OZ to our esteemed Duke Treize Khushrenada."

Treize inwardly raised an eyebrow. This was the first time that he was labeled esteemed; usually he thought of this word as fitting only for elder people who had achieved much in their life and were retiring from their positions. Well, Dermail appeared to have a different interpretation of the term.

"I put the question to the assembly once more: are there any objections?"

Nobody spoke up. It would have been surprising anyway if someone had voiced doubts after things had progressed so far already. There had been enough time to speak to Dermail in relative private over the last hour, an opportunity that surely had been seized by quite a few Foundation members. But now everybody appeared to approve - or at least not openly disapprove - of the decision.

Nodding with something that probably was satisfaction, Dermail turned towards Treize. "Then in the name of the Romafeller Foundation I ask for your response to the offer we have made." For a second Dermail was studying him, and Treize once more saw that hint of insecurity in his eyes. Then his uncle took a step backwards, away from the microphone, and gestured for Treize to take his place.

After politely smiling at Dermail for a second, Treize looked at the assembled people as he waited for the applause to die down again. They were all watching with expressions of interest and attention, and it felt strange to look back at them and to know that they were all waiting for his answer and that they could not be entirely sure what he would say. Until now, Treize had been keeping a rather low profile in Foundation meetings, since his grandfather and father had been maintaining the family influence. This was the first time he was the focus of attention, and it was a comforting thought that the Foundation members did not know enough about him to predict his moves.

"I would like to voice my thanks to the Romafeller Foundation," Treize began, not quite sure yet what direction he should take. Normally he had no problem with impromptu speeches, but this was not his usual sort of audience. "It makes me feel honored to be given such proof of your trust and faith in my abilities to fulfill this role. This is not an easy decision for all of us. The Foundation has had to decide whom to elect for so many positions, and all the choices that have been made so far have been wise ones. I do hope that the Foundation also considers my nomination a prudent one, and I shall treat the proposition with all the seriousness it deserves. OZ is one of the Romafeller Foundation's most valuable assets. Therefore it is a great honor to be considered worthy enough to be in charge of the well-being and the prosperity of OZ."

He paused for a moment, returning the smile of old Lady Maria Gonzaga, who was sitting in the front row. So far things seemed to go well. They were all still listening - always a good sign with people who sometimes appeared to have the attention span of a humming bird. But still it would be better not to try their patience too much.

"The past leaders of OZ have all been splendid individuals, and all anyone could wish for is to live up to the examples they have set, both as men and as soldiers. And I am proud to be given the opportunity to continue in their footsteps." Once again Treize paused, hesitating one last moment before he went on. "I accept the offer."

The absolute silence seemed to last for endless seconds, and the anxiety Treize was feeling was increasing. They couldn't have expected him to say no, could they? That simply would not make sense at all... He breathed a sigh of relief when the first tentative sounds of applause appeared here and there. And moments later most of the people present were clapping their hands to show their approval.

Treize relished the moment. It still did not feel entirely real to him; this was too big to completely comprehend within such a short time span. An hour ago it would not even have occurred to him that he could be standing here today and be given control of OZ. And now the Foundation was applauding, was showing that they agreed with giving him this chance. It was all a bit too much right now to grasp.

"Well, my congratulations," Dermail said, then switched off the microphone to give them some tiny measure of privacy. With the noisy applause and the buzzing of conversation, nobody would be able to understand a word. "I did not think you would have it in you to convince those old fools to suggest you. But you could have mentioned it to me before, then we could have done this in a more effective way."

"I shall keep this in mind, Uncle." If Dermail wanted to believe that it had all been Treize's idea, it was probably best to neither confirm nor correct his words. After all it did not make much sense to jeopardize Dermail's support by mentioning that his political enemies had been the ones to stage this.

Dermail glanced at the crowd for a moment before returning his attention to Treize. "A very clever move. You realize that I could not suggest you myself, or they'd have accused me of nepotism in the truest sense of the word."

Treize dutifully laughed when his uncle did, but quickly returned to seriousness. "I understand your reasons." He hesitated a little before he proceeded. "And it makes me glad that this has your approval." Hopefully Dermail was not going to correct this assumption; Treize was rather sure of it, but not entirely certain.

"It is good that we are keeping the position in the family. However, this is not the time to discuss the advantages."

"Of course." So Dermail already had ideas about how to exploit this new development. Keep the position in the family... it made Treize wonder just how much of a figurehead Catalonia had been. He had been married to Dermail's daughter, and within the Foundation such connections usually were rated rather highly as implications of cooperation between two persons.

Apparently considering their brief talk to be over, Dermail studied his face one last time before making to leave the podium. Treize hurried to follow him, and as they stepped down the stairs, people were rising from their seats and coming forward to offer their congratulations.

Treize was quickly losing count of how many hands he had shaken and how many people had patted him on the shoulder. The Foundation had apparently decided that the best approach in this matter was to be cordial towards him and treat him like they had always been his best friends. But no matter how many smiles he received, and despite all the kisses placed on his cheek by the women, Treize still felt strangely lonely even in the middle of the crowd. He wished to have Zechs here to talk about all that had happened today. But his lover was not here, was not even on this continent, and it would take a few days until they could see each other again.

Dermail was at his side once again, saying something about dinner tonight, and Treize just nodded to show that he had heard the invitation and that he accepted. He was going to need those private talks over lunch or dinner to confirm his position. And if he managed to fit the invitations of the most important Foundation members into the next few days, then maybe he and Zechs would have at least some hours in which they would not be disturbed.

Yet another group of people approached with those bright smiles on their faces, and Treize sighed inwardly as the handshake procedure began anew. But it would be over soon, and maybe he would find some moments to settle down and think until it all made sense.


The End

La Casa