The Small Hours Of The Night
by Lara
December 2001

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 in AC 192, which makes Treize 21 and Zechs 16.

Merry Christmas CC!

Warnings: Don't like the thought of boys having feelings for other boys? Don't like them kissing? Then you shouldn't read this story.


 

"Shouldn't you be in bed by now?" Treize asked, looking down at his niece and raising an eyebrow disapprovingly.

The gesture was mirrored immediately. "I was in bed. But I could still hear the party, and nobody ever said that I'm not allowed to get up again." Dorothy waited for a moment to see how the reaction to her statement was, and only continued when Treize failed to comment on it. "And I am old enough to stay awake for as long as I want."

"Hardly," Treize said calmly. "And unless you have been sleeping in your dress, there is no chance that you were in bed already. Besides, wouldn't it ruin your hairstyle if you lay your head on a pillow?" He distinctly remembered the complaints of several female acquaintances on that matter, and Dorothy's hair was still put up in an artfully braided bun that had to contain quite a lot of pins to stay so firmly in place.

This earned him the hint of a pout, but it disappeared within moments. "Why would you care about it anyway?"

"Because your father told me to send you off to bed if you happen to cross my path. You see, I'm merely following orders." Treize was beginning to get a bit impatient with her; the last guests of the party were leaving by now, and he was really, really looking forward to getting some sleep. He had traveled around half of the globe to get to Kiev in time for his parents' anniversary, and the jet lag that came with it was making itself known rather forcefully by now. This simply was not the time to argue with annoying twelve-year-old girls.

Dorothy had to have noticed the slight undertone of annoyance in his voice. "Alright. But the next time I want a room to my own," she stated, then turned around and stalked up the stairs, raising the hem of her ankle-length black dress a little so she wouldn't trip.

Treize watched her until she had disappeared from sight, wondering a little whether he should go upstairs too and ascertain whether she really had gone to her room. It could be interpreted as not trusting her word... but on the other hand it was simply unrealistic that Dorothy would do as she was told. She hadn't protested nearly enough for Treize to feel comfortable.

He was about to follow her when one of the last swarms of guests came past him, some of them readying themselves for leaving while the others departed for their rooms. Patiently Treize listened to a few remarks on how proud he ought to be of his parents, and how nice the party had been, then he saw the guests to the door and breathed a sigh of relief when the last car had driven away. As entertaining as the evening had been, he was glad that things would calm down a little now.

After quickly checking on his parents and finding them engaged in conversation with his grandfather, Treize bade them all a good night and walked up the stairs. Not quite running, but he did move faster than usual to lower the risk of being spotted and delayed.

It was not really a surprise to find Dorothy standing in the middle of the hallway, apparently lost in studying a painting. For a moment Treize contemplated telling her once more to go to her room, then dismissed the thought. He had tried once, and he knew a lost battle when he saw one. Better to let her father take care of this, he would come soon enough anyway. Carefully keeping his eyes away from Dorothy, Treize tried to inconspicuously walk past her and not get noticed.

No such luck, though. "Uncle Treize, did you know that Lieutenant Une talks in her sleep?" she said, turning away from the drawing to face him.

He blinked in surprise, not entirely sure what to make of this statement.

"She does. Just how am I supposed to sleep when she keeps murmuring things?" Dorothy was looking at him with a mournful expression, very obviously unhappy about the rooming arrangements. But the house was crowded with guests; it was simply impossible to put Dorothy into a room on her own.

Although it might have been better in the long run, Treize reflected. Both Lady Une and Lieutenant Noin had complained about her within an hour of finding out that they would be sharing. Very polite complaints, but complaints nevertheless. And considering that Treize had expected them to complain about each other, it had been quite a surprise to see them unite against a twelve-year-old who right now was doing her best to look pitiful.

"I don't understand why you had to bring them anyway," Dorothy said. "If they weren't here, I could sleep in peace."

"Tell your father then, he insisted that they come," Treize answered. General Catalonia had indeed ordered that some of the, as he had put it, 'young Academy brats', should be present, since one of the persons celebrating the anniversary was an OZ Colonel. Otherwise Treize would never have gotten the idea of bringing the two female Lieutenants here.

Dorothy looked at him for a moment, apparently contemplating her answer, then nodded. "I'll do that. And if Une keeps talking..."

"Are you sure you are not exaggerating?" Treize asked, reminding himself to stay calm. "I don't think she really speaks in her sleep."

Wildly forked eyebrows rose. "And just how would you know, Uncle Treize? You sound so sure of it." Dorothy sounded far too gleeful for this time of the night. "Maybe we can switch? You share with Une, and I go and share with Milliard instead..."

"Zechs," Treize corrected firmly, quickly looking around to see whether someone might have heard Dorothy's slip. He still was not sure how she had found out about Zechs' real identity, but somehow she had managed to do it. "And no, thank you. I believe we will leave things just as they are."

"Such a pity." The girl shrugged, then walked the few steps to the room she shared with Une and Noin. "But if that woman keeps talking, I'll come over to you and Zechs," she said, slipping inside and closing the door again, leaving Treize to stand alone in the hallway, wondering whether she might make good on her threat or not. He certainly wouldn't put it past her.

Treize waited a few minutes to see whether Dorothy would really stay put this time. He was half expecting to see either Noin or Une flee the room, but everything remained quiet. The only audible noises were coming from downstairs, soft tones of music intermingling with the occasional laughter or exclamation. It would probably take a while still until the last guests went to sleep, but Treize felt not responsible to play host for them any longer. His parents were downstairs still; they would take care of it from now on.

After checking once more that everything was in order, Treize finally made his way along the hallway to the room he was sharing with Zechs. It was a rather comfortable arrangement since it gave them the opportunity to talk a lot in private, something that Treize had missed desperately during the last two years. Ever since quitting the position as instructor in favor of going into combat piloting, he had almost constantly been on the move. Normal for this stage of his career, but that did not mean that Treize had to like it.

Zechs, on the other hand, had been posted at both Luxembourg and Moscow, alternatively under the command of General Catalonia and Treize's mother. It had made Treize suspect strongly that the two of them had agreed to keep an eye on the former Prince of Sank, but he could hardly protest against it, since it meant excellent prospects for Zechs. He just wished that he'd have gotten the chance to spend more time with his closest friend.

He quietly entered the room they were sharing for the duration of their stay, carefully trying not to make any noises. But the lamp on the small nightstand next to Zechs' bed was still on, casting a warm circle of light that gradually dissolved into the shadows of the room. Zechs' arms were crossed, barely resting on a book that lay on the bed, and it seemed that he was lost in reading, lying on his stomach and comfortably snuggled beneath the sheets.

Treize was about to make some comment, but then swallowed any words he had wanted to say when he noticed that Zechs' head was pillowed not just on his crossed arms but also on the book itself, and that the so expressive azure eyes were closed. Apparently the bed had proved to be too comfortable for him to stay awake, though it was not really surprising at this hour.

With a small smile of amusement at the sight in front of him, Treize gathered his pajamas and left for the bathroom. A shower was definitely in order, he decided; the smell of cigarette smoke was clinging to him, something he detested. But the majority of the guests had been smokers, so it had been unavoidable to allow them to stay inside to follow their addiction.

It was a relief to finally get out of the uniform; it might have been designed also for comfortable wear, but that did not matter anymore after a certain amount of time had passed. Treize quickly dumped the clothes in the laundry basket, then stepped into the shower and turned on the water. For a moment he luxuriated in the warmth of it, before setting out to get that horrid smell away.

After washing his hair for the third time, Treize finally deemed it to be enough and tugged one of the warm towels off the rack. The comfort of being at home... though he had to admit that the life of an OZ officer was not all that much of a hardship either. The Alliance treated even its generals far worse, something that Treize did not really understand. In his eyes it simply did not make sense to keep the leading men unhappy, because such feelings had a nasty tendency to spread. And it wasn't as if there were a danger that they would go soft, with the amount of missions they were facing at the moment.

Once in his pajamas and ready for a few peaceful hours of sleep, Treize returned to the bedroom. Zechs had not stirred at all, he was still lying on his belly, head pillowed on the book in front of him. 'Handbook of Mobile Suit Engineering', Treize noticed, reading the header of the pages as he walked over to Zechs' bed to switch off the light.

When they had come here, Zechs had mentioned that he was about to take a few of the exams obligatory for the higher rank and file within the military. OZ recruited its soldiers at an age where they couldn't possibly have finished with their education, so they were required to keep studying even after they had graduated from the Academy if they ever wanted to get promoted beyond Lieutenant. And Zechs had made it clear from the beginning that he was planning to do so. He'd need to do so if he ever wanted to see his long-term plans become a reality.

Treize knew about his younger friend's real reasons for being with OZ, and it had not really been a surprise when Zechs had informed him five years ago that he would study at Lake Victoria. Revenge could be a strong motivation, and so far Zechs had seemed positively driven by it, although Treize strongly suspected that it was also pride and the wish for perfection that had pushed his friend. It wasn't logical that Zechs would strain as hard as he did if all he wanted to do was eliminate those responsible for the death of his family and the destruction of his homeland. He already was in a position where he would be able to have his revenge for that; or rather, he would be there once the Romafeller Foundation decided to proceed with its plans for OZ.

But right now those faraway goals were probably the last thing on Zechs' mind. More likely the young man was occupied with output ratios and vernier data. Treize vividly remembered the exam on Engineering; it was the one that still regularly appeared in his nightmares. He had fared quite well, but Engineering was infamous for its high failure quote. And it required a very good understanding of mathematics, a subject that really had never been among Treize's favorites. Strategy, history, languages, those he had never minded, but numbers and the countless procedures of combining them into outcomes had always been something that had to be learned for the sake of exams, and then avoided if possible. Good memory had come in handy during those times.

Zechs was probably doing better at understanding it, Treize thought as he slowly reached for the book and tried to get it out from beneath Zechs' chin and hands without waking him. Treize knew from personal experience that sleeping on books tended to result in an aching face and neck the next day, and he wanted to spare Zechs this particular experience.

A low, incomprehensible mumble could be heard as Zechs shifted a little, but he did not wake when Treize finally tugged the book free and set it down on the nightstand. For a moment he hesitated before he carefully drew up the blanket a little bit more so it covered Zechs' shoulders and kept him warm. White blond hair brushed against his fingers as he did so, and Treize marveled at its softness for a moment before withdrawing his hand. He wanted to stroke the pale strands again, but it would be the wrong thing to do, with Zechs being unaware and unconsenting.

Treize was about to switch off the lamp on the nightstand when Zechs stirred once again, more forcefully this time, and then raised his head sleepily.

"No need to wake," Treize whispered, hoping to keep him from waking up completely. "Go back to sleep, Milliard, it's late..."

"Mhm?" Azure eyes blinked tiredly as Zechs turned to look towards the light of the lamp. "Can't sleep... must finish with 'draulics..." The slim body tensed visibly beneath the blanket, and Zechs suddenly pushed himself up on his elbows. "I fell asleep?" he asked, looking at Treize with wide eyes. Quickly he raised a hand to tuck his bangs back behind his ears, then made to reach for the book on the nightstand. "I have to finish at least one more chapter tonight!"

"It's almost four in the morning, Milliard," Treize said, trying to sound reasonable and adding his friend's real name for emphasis. At this time of the night, in a room with a locked door, it was safe to call him this, and Treize knew about the calming effect it usually had on Zechs.

Zechs glanced at the small alarm clock. "You are right, sorry... I'll go downstairs so I don't keep you awake." He made to leave the bed, but Treize pushed him down gently.

"That's not what I meant," he said. "Please, you can't have slept more than three hours, and you know your body needs more rest than that. When do you have to take that exam?" Treize would have understood if Zechs would have to take the test the next day - he'd done night-time learning sessions too when the time pressure was high enough - but surely Zechs had a little more time than that still.

"Friday," came the reply, with enough nervousness in Zechs' voice to make Treize feel a rush of sympathy.

"That's only in six days, and if you already have reached Hydraulics, you won't have any trouble covering all the chapters and repeat them by that time," Treize tried to calm him. "Besides, they never ask Hydraulics anyway."

Pale eyebrows rose. "How would you know that?" Zechs asked, a hint of hopeful suspicion in his words.

"I have been an instructor too for a while, remember?" Treize smiled a little. "And I know that none of the current examiners like Hydraulics at all." It was as much hinting as he could give Zechs; Treize had actually seen the exam papers a few days ago, and if he had thought that Zechs would accept them, he might have arranged a copy for his younger friend. But Zechs would never have agreed to that, something that inwardly pleased Treize to no end. Fairness was something he valued highly, as did Zechs.

For a moment Zechs looked contrite. "Forgive me," he said quietly, "but I think I will study that chapter nevertheless. The others have to learn it too, after all..."

Treize gestured dismissively. "No need to apologize. It's you who has to spend time with it, not me." Although Zechs could otherwise spend that time with him and not with that book...

"Would you mind then if I go and study a little more?" the younger boy asked, peeking at him through long bangs that had slipped free from their place behind his ears. He made to leave the bed, and this time Treize did not stop him.

Sighing softly, Treize motioned for him to go ahead, knowing that he had to try a different approach. "I won't stop you. But I really meant it when I said that your body needs the rest. You wouldn't have fallen asleep in the first place if it were different. And tomorrow is going to be a rather exhausting day too." Mostly packed with entertaining the guests that were staying here still. And Catalonia had mentioned something about having Zechs make sure that Dorothy would not get into trouble. The young man would need all his energy for that assignment.

Zechs raised his head to look at him, guilt mirrored clearly in his eyes. "I'm sorry. But I just can't sleep right now."

This made Treize blink with puzzlement. "You can't? You were managing quite fine two minutes ago." Something was going on here, something that wasn't only about that exam. Treize was sure that Zechs had nothing to worry about, considering his results so far. Nobody with that sort of academic record had any reason to be concerned. So there had to be another explanation for it, that much was for certain. "Are you not feeling well?" Treize asked carefully, praying that this was not the case. He remembered only too well the last time Zechs had fallen sick, and what a scary week that had been. Nobody had expected the sort of reaction to the medications that Zechs had shown... at least this time the doctors would be prepared for it.

He therefore breathed a small sigh of relief when Zechs shook his head.

"You don't have to worry," the young man assured him. "It's nothing like that..." He trailed off, an expression of quiet contemplation on his face as if he were pondering whether to say more or not.

Treize remained quiet, knowing that he stood a rather good chance of being told just what was going on. Zechs had never been very talkative about personal things, but if he did talk, then it usually was to Treize. It was mostly a matter of having known each other for so long, of having been friends despite their age difference, which was fortunately mattering less and less over the years. Not that it really had made a difference in the first place; Zechs had always been far more mature than it could be expected considering his age.

Exhaling softly, Zechs sat down on his bed again, slowly laying the book back onto the nightstand. "Today would be my sister's birthday. It brings back so many memories to think of it... and I have the feeling that I have to remember." He paused for a moment, looking at Treize, who was not entirely certain what to make of this. "I am the only one left who remembers, and I don't do it nearly as often as I should." He shook his head, and a few long blond strands slipped into his face. Impatiently Zechs raised a hand to tuck them back behind his ears, the movement a little too forceful. "My thoughts should be with her, if only this one day... Do you understand?"

Nodding silently, Treize sat down next to Zechs on the bed, offering his closeness as a small comfort. His friend's voice had sounded shaky and trembling enough already with his last words, and Treize was secretly amazed that he was holding up so well. But inwardly he knew that it was not much more than a facade, and that Zechs would probably be reacting differently if he were alone. And Treize was equally sure that his younger friend had had no plans at all to go and study right now; it probably had only served as an explanation why he would still be awake. Though just why Zechs would rather lie than say that he wanted to take the time and remember his sister was something that puzzled Treize a bit. Zechs normally tended to stick to the truth, after all.

"Sometimes I am afraid I will forget them," Zechs said quietly, drawing up his legs and hugging his knees, looking far younger than he usually did.

Turning his head to look at him, Treize studied his sharply outlined profile. "Nobody expects you to constantly be thinking of them, Milliard," he replied gently.

"But I should do it." The blond sighed softly. "I really should."

"Why?" Treize asked. "I would like to understand." Hopefully he could coax Zechs into talking about what it really was that bothered him; Treize was beginning to feel worried about this.

"I don't understand it myself... it is almost like I am losing my reasons for what I am doing here." Zechs paused a moment, running a hand through his hair quickly. "Things are getting so blurred."

"Blurred?"

"Well..." The younger boy gestured somewhat vaguely. "I remember my family, but somehow... I don't know how to say it. The details are slipping, and I can't bring them back anymore."

"That's a normal thing to happen," Treize ventured carefully. "It is not your fault."

Zechs turned to look at him, azure eyes a little brighter than they usually were. "But I can't let it happen. Do you have any idea how it feels when you see a photograph of your mother and suddenly notice that you remembered her eye color in a completely different shade?" Shaking his head lightly, Zechs rested his chin on his knees. "I know that it is normal to forget, but that does not make it easier to accept."

Hoping to be supportive, Treize cautiously rested a hand on his younger friend's shoulder, careful not to surprise him with it. Zechs' reaction to touches tended to be rather unpredictable, as Lady Une had found out when she had poked him to get his attention, startled him, and had found herself on her back and on the floor a second later. There was a small initial flinch this time too, but after a moment Treize felt Zechs shift into the touch the slightest bit, accepting it.

"I am scared of the day when I wake up and find that I can't remember their faces anymore," Zechs said softly, so much sadness in his voice now. "I will be completely alone then..."

"Don't say that," Treize gently told him in return. "It is not true."

Wide azure eyes studied his face for a moment before turning away again. "I know you and your family are watching over me, and I am grateful for that. But it just is not the same." Zechs closed his eyes for a moment. "Please, don't think I am not thankful for all you are doing for me. It is just..." Slim hands gestured helplessly before folding themselves around the young man's knees again.

'It's just what?' Treize wanted to ask, but it seemed wrong to be pressing Zechs about that answer right now. If he had felt like telling Treize, he would probably have done so, now that they were talking.

But wasn't it logical anyway? What family could give, but what was hard to find with other people so often...

Treize wished he were feeling more awake right now, because he had just realized that Zechs' last comment had plunged him into a somewhat awkward situation. Though maybe awkward was not the best word for it; difficult was probably better. Zechs was missing his parents, missed the love they had given him. That was not the unexpected bit; if Zechs had not been missing them, Treize would have worried about him. But he was understanding for the first time just how lonely and lost this was making Zechs feel.

And that was where Treize encountered difficulties. Zechs certainly would feel better if he knew that he was being loved. The question that remained, though, was how he would feel about knowing that he was being loved by Treize.

Until now things between them had worked rather well. Treize had been aware of his feelings for his younger friend for a while, though he couldn't pinpoint the moment when affection and friendship had grown into something more. But it had never seemed wise to mention it so far, since Zechs simply was too young in his eyes. Besides, there also was the not too small possibility that the blond was not interested in men, and would eventually get involved with a girl. There definitely was not a lack of opportunities for that; one would have to be blind to not notice the looks a lot of the young female soldiers shot Zechs.

So Treize had kept quiet about things, figuring that it would be best to remain just Zechs' friend. It was already a closer position than anyone else held, and Treize was content to know that he had Zechs' trust, which was something that was not given freely. Understandable, of course, that the young boy would be wary, considering the events in his past.

But right now Treize was faced with the choice of either risking this closeness with Zechs in order to make him feel better, or to try and offer comfort by just being there, without really going into depth about being in love with Zechs.

The decision was an easy one when Treize looked at his friend and saw him fiercely wipe away a tear that had been flowing down his cheek. So lost... protectiveness kicked in, bundling all thoughts of possible risks of being regarded differently by his friend off into a distant corner of his mind.

"It's not true that you would be alone," Treize said, keeping his tone carefully neutral for now.

Zechs turned to face him, sadness mingling with puzzlement in his expression. He didn't say anything, but the question was clear in the wide azure eyes.

Gathering all his bravery, Treize went ahead, wishing he weren't feeling so horribly insecure right now. "There are people in this world who love you, Milliard."

Shaking his head, Zechs rested his chin on his knees again and stared straight ahead. "My parents are dead, and my sister..." He trailed off, remaining silent for a moment. "But it is kind of you to try and reassure me."

"That's not..." Treize broke off, trying to sort the jumbled thoughts in his head for a second before continuing. "That's not what I meant with what I said. I mean..." He wished he knew how exactly to phrase this. Just why had it never been so much trouble when talking to girls?

Because the few girlfriends he'd had were in no way comparable to Zechs, Treize's mind supplied helpfully. Because they had been nice, and he had cared about them, but the line had been drawn at that. Because Zechs was special, and the last thing Treize wanted to do was startle him.

When Treize turned to look at Zechs, he found himself being scrutinized. "I think this is the first time I am seeing you nervous," Zechs said slowly, almost carefully. "I am sorry for making you uncomfortable..."

For a moment Treize frowned at the statement. "You have nothing to apologize for," he told Zechs firmly. "I am feeling a little uneasy, but that is not your fault."

Although you are the reason for it, but let's not bother you with that...

Zechs nodded slightly. "Alright," he said, but did not seem all that convinced. Treize suppressed a sigh; Zechs was far too prone sometimes to blaming things on himself.

"What I was trying to say," Treize continued his previous attempt at breaking the news to Zechs, "was that I would like you to believe me when I say that you are not alone in this world. I can only begin to imagine how you must feel, but you are wrong if you think that there is nobody who cares about you."

"Nobody has any reasons to care for me," came the quiet reply. "I am a source of trouble, and I am dangerous."

This time Treize did sigh. "How can you beat yourself down like this?" he asked.

Slim shoulders rose in a shrug. "You cannot deny that it is true. I know that your family had to do quite a lot to keep me hidden from the Alliance. And that you have all taken risks to do it. I have never given anything back..."

Treize shook his head. "So maybe there were risks. But it would have been dishonorable to abandon you and expect you to deal with everything on your own."

"I would have had to do it somehow," Zechs insisted firmly.

"Oh, I am sure of that." And Treize meant it; he had learned over the years just how determined and single-minded Zechs could get if he really wanted to achieve something. "But still it was easier this way, and you could use your energy for other things. Maybe more effectively."

"In becoming a soldier and betraying my family." Zechs' voice was bitter as he said this.

"Revenging them," Treize corrected calmly, shifting into a position that mirrored Zechs'. "And someone needs to make sure that the massacre in Sank will not be repeated. You have been there, you know what it means if a country is destroyed," he went on, hoping that he was not bringing up too many bad memories, but nevertheless needing to say this. "You know about the importance of preventing it. You know how important it is to make sure that the desire of committing such crimes for the sake of power has to be eradicated. And you can make others see it too." Treize fell silent, watching Zechs for any sign that he had overdone it.

"You see too much in me." Once more azure eyes were peeking at him from beneath unruly blond bangs. "I cannot fulfill that role."

Treize smiled briefly. "You can," he said, putting all his conviction into it. He really had no doubts that if Zechs wanted it, he could make others follow him, could make them believe in the importance of his ways. "You can do it. And I will help you with it."

"Why?"

Truth, or white lie?

"Because I love the Earth. And because what happened in Sank was an atrocity."

Draw the line at this, and things will continue like they did until now.

"And because I love you."

In the end, the truth was always better.

A startled little gasp could be heard from Zechs, but Treize did not look at him. Instead he let his gaze linger on the carpet, tracing the patterns with his eyes while he tried not to expect a certain kind of reaction from Zechs. No expectations, then there could be no disappointments...

Still he couldn't help the fear sneak its way into his heart, the icy feeling that with those few words he might have ruined his friendship with Zechs. The chance was there that this would put Zechs at a distance, and Treize certainly couldn't blame him for that. Although it would hurt to think that their relationship could end because of something like this. Treize knew that if necessary, he would never again say a word of it, and that he would make sure that he did not treat Zechs in any different way. Wearing masks was something he was getting good at, and he had managed to keep his feelings private so far. There was no reason why it should not work in the future too.

But of course those words would always hang between them. There was no way that Treize could take them back, and Zechs would not forget either. Maybe it had not been such a good idea to say them. But Zechs had seemed so sad, had seemed to need to hear that someone cared about him.

"Treize?" Zechs sounded very hesitant, but not really shocked... Treize decided to take this as a positive sign.

"Yes?"

"Why did you say this?"

Still looking down at the carpet, Treize drew a deep breath. "Because it is true. And because I thought that it might make you feel better." He really prayed that this hadn't been a wrong assumption.

Silence filled the air, thick with tension, and Treize had to concentrate hard on not releasing energy with some little nervous gesture. It was something his father had always told him to avoid, and he normally tried to follow that advice. It hardly ever was as difficult as now, though.

And then he suddenly felt slim arms come around his waist, and the soft pressure of a head being tentatively rested against his shoulder. Treize froze with surprise, then turned his head to look into azure eyes.

"Thank you," Zechs said quietly.

For once Treize found himself at a complete loss of words. His mind was still struggling to understand just what was going on, that Zechs was hugging him, that Zechs had actually thanked him for what he had said. Comprehension was slowly dawning on Treize; things were looking good, there was no reason to angst about it all. It was almost frightening, in a positive way.

"Treize?" Zechs withdrew a bit. "Am I... am I making you uncomfortable?"

"Ah... no!" Treize managed, wondering just why he was feeling far more unsettled by this than Zechs seemed to be. This wasn't how things were supposed to be, was it? "No. Don't worry... I was just a little surprised." Pale eyebrows rose in response to this, and Treize smiled a little. "I know it should not be me who is startled. But I was not sure how you would react."

Zechs shyly returned the smile. "To think that you can love someone like me..." A shadow suddenly crossed the handsome face. "Please say that you did not tell me this just to make me feel better," came the hesitant request, and Treize could see a hint of fear in Zechs' wide-eyed gaze.

"I meant it, Milliard," Treize assured him before he cautiously placed an arm around slim shoulders, waiting to see his reaction to it. A barely perceptible shift in the younger boy's body that brought him closer to Treize was the answer.

"Please, can you... say it again?"

"Of course." Treize bowed his head a little to brush his lips against soft platinum hair. "I love you, Milliard," he whispered, absolutely delighted when he felt Zechs carefully snuggle closer.

It was so astonishing to see that Zechs was not withdrawing from him because of this, that the admission had brought them together so much more closely. Maybe Treize should have said something much sooner... but that could have been too early. Zechs was young, and there was so much danger of overwhelming him still.

"I thought you would find a girlfriend one of these days and that you wouldn't have time for me anymore. To think that you love me..." Zechs trailed off, then looked up, his expression so vulnerably open that Treize felt a fierce rush of protectiveness for the younger boy. It was so easy to hurt him...

He kissed the top of Zechs' head once more, relishing the fact that it came more natural already. "Milliard, I will always have time for you. I promised, remember?" He had done so years ago, when he had left for the Academy. Zechs had looked so lonely that day, and when Treize had asked him what was wrong, the blond boy had just murmured that everything was alright. But after some coaxing, Zechs had admitted that he was scared of not having Treize around. That had been just a year after the devastation of Sank...

"Yes, I remember. I never really doubted it, but still..." Treize felt Zechs shrug lightly. "This is so hard to believe."

"That I love you?" Treize inquired.

Zechs nodded briefly, some more blond strands getting shaken loose and falling into his face. Without really thinking about it, Treize reached out to tuck them back behind Zechs' ears.

"You are just so..." Zechs waved his hand a little vaguely. "I know that I can trust you, and that is so much already. To think that you care about me like that..." Azure eyes looked at him, a little brighter than usual. "It is a bit overwhelming."

Treize smiled a little. "Maybe you should sleep, and we will talk in the morning?" he offered. His own head was still spinning from Zechs' reaction to his words, and that feeling of pleased confusion had to be far stronger for the younger boy.

Zechs tensed, then shook his head. "I told you that I can't sleep... but I don't want to keep you awake." A soft sigh, then Zechs disentangled himself from Treize's arms. "You are tired..."

"Yes. And you are too." Slowly, not wanting to startle Zechs, Treize reached for his friend and made him lie down on his bed. Getting up from his sitting spot on the bed, Treize drew up the blanket to tuck Zechs in, a little amazed at the lack of resistance. Maybe Zechs was realizing that he indeed was exhausted and needed to rest... Wishful thinking, of course. Treize knew very well that once Zechs had decided to do something, he would go through with it.

"I can't sleep," Zechs repeated, looking up at him.

"You don't have to, but if you need to stay awake, you can as well be comfortable and warm," Treize returned. And maybe being comfortably lying in bed would prove to be too much of a temptation in the end.

"You are right..." Zechs gave in, and Treize saw the hint of a suppressed yawn. "Treize?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you."

"You are welcome, Milliard." Going down into a crouch next to the bed, Treize leaned over the blond boy. The desire to kiss him was so strong, but Treize fought the temptation; Zechs had said that he was feeling overwhelmed, and he didn't want to add to it. Better to go slow and be careful; the last thing he wanted was to scare Zechs.

But maybe giving in just a little... yes, that seemed acceptable, so Treize brushed his lips against Zechs' forehead lightly. The simple gesture seemed to be so much already, just because he was finally able to do it, and because Zechs had not flinched away from the touch at all.

"I love you, Milliard," he repeated once again, then got back to his feet and switched off the lamp on the nightstand. Treize almost added 'sleep well', but caught himself in time. Zechs had said that he would not sleep, so better not to mention it.

Treize found his own bed without trouble in the darkness and lay down. He tugged up the blanket, then shifted to lie on his side, facing the direction of Zechs.

"Tell me about your sister?" he said softly, almost in a whisper. The darkness seemed to demand it. Talking aloud after the light was out simply did not feel right.

He thought that he heard a small startled gasp. "What do you mean?" came the question, Zechs' voice sounding a little wary. It made Treize wonder whether he had said something wrong; but there was no reason why his request should make Zechs cautious. Sadness he would have understood, but wariness?

"You said you want to stay awake and think about her, so you could as well tell me," he explained his intention. "Then we can remember her together."

For long moments there was no sound to be heard, and Treize was beginning to convince himself that he had gone too far with this. He should have known that Zechs did not take it well when someone intruded in his privacy. No matter the revelations of tonight, some things simply did not change so quickly.

"She always liked to play with a teddy bear. It belonged to me, but she always wanted to have it, and she always looked so happy with it so I used to give it to her. I don't know why she liked it better than her stuffed animals... She did not even let go of it when we had to hide from the soldiers..."

Oh no, Treize thought. Don't go in that direction, Milliard, please... He knew what remembering that day did to Zechs, and how much it hurt the blond boy. And Treize hated to see him so distressed, had always tried to prevent it from happening ever since he had first met Zechs. When they had been younger it had more or less been an instinct to protect the younger boy, and it had turned into more conscious efforts later.

Silence reigned for endless moments, and Treize tried to hear any sound from Zechs, anything that would tell him that the younger boy was alright. But all he could catch was the soft rustling of sheets as Zechs moved, and nothing else.

"Milliard?" he whispered, hoping to get some sort of response that would give him at least a hint of what he was supposed to do now. He loathed moments like this, when everything seemed to wait for his reaction while he could not figure out just what it should be. Going over to Zechs seemed the most logical choice, but things were never so simple...

Suddenly something made Treize tense, though he did not really know why, until he recognized the feeling of someone being close.

"Milliard?" he asked once again, a little more hopeful this time as he strained to see the silhouette of his friend in the darkness of the room.

When Zechs answered, his voice was much nearer than Treize had expected, and it made him flinch involuntarily. The new Academy graduates seemed far better at moving without making the slightest noise; or maybe it was just Zechs who had perfected it.

"Do you think that you could just... just hold me for a moment?" the younger boy asked almost shyly.

Treize blinked with surprise; this was the first time that Zechs had reached out and asked for something like this. Normally Treize would offer consolation and support, and Zechs would accept most of the time. So it was already a change that Zechs would take the first step. And all the times before, all Zechs had wanted had been someone who listened when he needed to talk.

"Of course," Treize said, and reached over to switch on the small lamp on his nightstand. Before he could flick it on, though, he felt the mattress give way a little beneath Zechs' weight. A few tugs at the blanket, and then a slender body lay at his side, beneath the covers.

"Treize?" Zechs whispered his name quietly. "Is this really alright with you?" He could practically feel the anxiety in the blond boy's voice.

"Isn't it me who should be asking this question?" Treize returned, a smile on his face as he carefully embraced Zechs, making sure that his hold was not too tight.

Zechs seemed to have ideas on his own, though; he snuggled closer as soon as Treize's arms had come around him, amazing Treize to no end. Here he had been wondering all the time whether Zechs would even accept Treize's feelings for him, and it turned out that apparently it was just what the younger boy had been wishing for.

"Thank you," Zechs said for the third time this night, resting his head against Treize's shoulder as he curled up on his side.

"You are welcome, Milliard," Treize answered, inbred manners taking over when the rest of his mind was still marveling at the fact that he was indeed holding this wonderful creature in his arms. "Very welcome, beloved."

He felt Zechs raise his head at this, felt the azure stare on him that he could not see in the darkness. "You make it sound so real..."

"Because it is real," Treize insisted. "I love you, and I mean those words when I say them." They were on more familiar ground here; Zechs so often had a hard time to accept that anybody could care for him. It was only logical that it would be even more difficult to make him understand that someone could go as far as loving him. Treize was determined to work on it.

"You really mean it..." With a soft sigh, Zechs rested his head on Treize's shoulder again and snuggled even closer. "This is the first time in ten years that anyone really holds me," he said quietly. "I did not think it would feel so good..."

A wave of fierce protectiveness rushed through Treize at those words. To think that Zechs had not had this source of comfort... Treize wished he had offered it more often. But his younger friend had always shied away from touches; even a hand on his shoulder had been able to startle him. Maybe because he simply had not been able to trust anyone enough to let them get close? Treize tried to imagine having to keep people at a distance simply because there was the danger that they could do something harmful. It seemed impossible to even think about it; he had always been a highly tactile person, and he doubted he would have coped well with being deprived of those little contacts. Zechs had been forced to be completely without them, an absolutely horrifying thought. And Treize could not quite understand why he had never noticed.

He would have to make it up to Zechs, Treize decided as he shifted a bit to bring them into a more comfortable position.

"Milliard?" he whispered, running a hand through long silky strands of hair, marveling at the softness of it. "Do you want to stay here for the night? You are welcome if you want to sleep here."

For a moment Zechs tensed against him, but relaxed again almost immediately. "You would let me?" he asked, leaning a little into the slow strokes of Treize's hand.

"I would not offer it if I did not mean it," Treize answered.

"Won't I keep you awake?"

Still set on not sleeping? Zechs seemed quite determined about it, but Treize had his doubts that his friend would be able to really go through with it. Not after a day that had been as exhausting as this one, and when he was comfortably snuggled into bed. No, not even Zechs could manage that.

"You won't, I am sure of that." Treize was feeling tired enough to know that he would sleep deeply enough to blissfully ignore any noises around him for a while. And Zechs would be quiet anyway. Now holding the slim body in his arms was a big incentive to try to stay awake, but Treize was realist enough to know that he needed at least some hours of sleep if he wanted to last through the next day without caffeine pills.

"Then I would like to stay..." came the soft whisper. A hand touched Treize's cheek lightly, and he felt Zechs' body move. But still he was not prepared for the soft lips that touched his own, for the absolute perfection of that moment. Silken strands of hair caressed his face as they kissed, hesitant at first until they both gave into the feelings it brought. Treize tried to commit it all to memory, the taste of Zechs' lips, the ghosting touches of his fingers against Treize's face, but concentrating got so difficult and he just lost himself in the sensations.

"Treize?" Zechs quietly murmured against his lips when they had finally broken the kiss after what had felt like a sweet eternity. "I love you too."


The End


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