by Lara
October 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: None in particular.

Pairings: None yet, they're still too young.

The story is set in AC189. Zechs is 13, Treize is 18.

Thanks for beta reading, as usual, go to CC. I don't know what I'd do without her.


"And when Peter stops by, don't forget to give him the folder on my desk. He's been asking for two weeks now."

"Of course," Treize assured his father, carefully maintaining an attentive expression. He had been listening to similar instructions for the last ten minutes, and it was starting to bore him. Especially because his father had started to repeat himself and was beginning to mix things up.

"Also, your mother has said to remind you that you still haven't written the report on the action at Sri Lanka. She sounded a little impatient about it..."

"I am already half done, and I will certainly finish before my leave is over," Treize returned, stressing the word 'leave' a little. In fact he had not even started with the report yet, but he knew quite well how long it took to write one of those things. He'd easily finish before the deadline set by his mother.

"Good, good... have I told you already about those books that must be sent to Luis?"

"You have, don't worry." Smiling a little, Treize took a step towards the door. "I will handle those things, don't concern yourself about that. But you should leave, or you will miss your plane."

"True..." his father murmured, reaching for his coat. "Where is Zechs? There are a few things I ought to tell him."

"He is out riding. But I can pass them on to him if you would like," Treize offered, holding out his father's umbrella.

"No, it's not so important. Just a few things concerning his marks, but that can wait anyway."

"His marks?" That anyone would have to speak to Zechs about that was a surprise for Treize. As far as he knew, Zechs was heading for a new Academy record, or would at least come close to the current one.

Treize's father nodded. "Luis wants to see him about those. But it's not urgent, so I'll talk to the boy when I am back."

"As you wish..." If the General was personally going to speak to Zechs, then it would hopefully not be a bad thing. "Do you know yet when you will return?"

"No. Probably on the weekend, but you know how stubborn those people sometimes can be. Still, I hope the Foundation is going to tire of the topic quickly."

"Steel taxes should not interest them for too long," Treize agreed, opening the door and letting his father pas first. "I hope at least the weather will be better in Luxembourg," he remarked after a glance at the towering gray clouds that covered the sky.

"We'll see. The garden could use some rain anyway, so there is no reason to complain about the weather."

Treize didn't have a reply ready for that, so he just remained quiet and followed his father down the stairs to the car. He had at first wanted to attend the meeting of the Romafeller Foundation too - it concerned weapons manufacture, and as a soldier Treize figured that it would be logical for him to be present too. But the prospect of sitting for days in a stuffy room and listening to mostly boring speeches had deterred him. The true decisions would be made in smaller meetings anyway, and so far Treize was not nearly important enough to take part in them. His father and grandfather were already representing the family, and that was more than enough in most people's eyes. It was a fact that did not sit overly well with Treize, but he had to admit that he simply did not have the necessary connections yet.

On the other hand the idea of spending a few days at home and being lazy had its merits. For the last six months Treize had almost continuously been on missions, and a break from that routine would do him good. Zechs was at home too, supposedly resting before the last round of finals started. In fact, the blond boy was studying as much as he could, and only sometimes left his books to get out and vent off some energy.

"And remember, the files on the windowsill must go to Lady Alexandra," Treize's father said as he got into the car.

"Lady Alexandra," Treize repeated, smiling. "Have a nice flight, Father."

A flock of sparrows hastily flew up from the narrow path where they had been picking for food. After a few moments of excited fluttering they settled down on the branches of the nearby beech trees, waiting until the disturbing movements had passed so they could return to their food.

The small hooves of the horse whirled up clouds of dust as the animal thundered along the path, enjoying the freedom the rider had granted it for now. It was a handsome mare, with light gray, almost white fur that sharply contrasted with the dark mane and tail. She was built for running, and rig ht now she just gave in to nature and to the energy she felt now that her rider had finally loosened the reins and given her the signal to gallop.

Zechs enjoyed the feeling of the powerful body beneath him as she raced along the path. It was a sense of freedom that was rare to him; there was nothing artificial about this situation. It all was real and true. The wind that stung in his eyes and caused tears to well up, the black strands of the horse's mane that whipped his face as he ducked low above her neck. He felt a rush of speed that was familiar to the moment of firing the thrusters of a Mobile Suit, but this was natural, the sheer power of muscles and sinews that worked together so well.

The mare had been a gift from Treize's parents for Zechs' last birthday. They had said that the horse Zechs had used to ride until then was getting too small, and that the mare was just the right mount for someone who could handle a fast horse. Zechs agreed with that completely; he loved these moments of galloping across the meadows when they were going so fast that it almost seemed like flying. To go for a ride had turned into his way to escape trouble and stress; he could forget all these problems when he sat in t he saddle and felt the horse move beneath him.

After consulting with Treize's father, he had named her Feodora to match both the breeding rules that required a name starting with the same letter as her sire's, as well as his own preferences. He had looked through that particular race's history and had found a reference to a mare called Feodora, which was still holding several long-distance records after almost two centuries. It had impressed him, and in his eyes the name matched his mare too. She was the first horse that was really his own; the two mounts he had previously ridden had belonged to the Duke, and though Zechs had been the only one to ride them, he had always felt some distance. This mare now belonged to him, and it was pleasant to think that he was the one responsible, even though it was a small duty compared to that of avenging his parents and his homeland.

That duty was turning into a burden for Zechs at the moment. He had worked hard over the previous years to gain a position from where he could strike at the Alliance and retaliate for that unprovoked attack on Sank. But he had also caught himself enjoying the life he now held, and he did not think that as a Prince of Sank he was supposed to find pleasure in piloting Mobile Suits and straining as hard as he could to be good at it. For his purpose it would have been enough to simply have the means of getting at the Alliance when the time was right. It was not necessary to work as hard at it as he did. But still he could not bring himself to make a smaller effort. Deep inside he wanted to be good, wanted to prove to himself and to the world that even though he had failed his father's ideals, he at last was worthy to avenge them.

He had spoken to Treize about this once. The older boy had always been the one to whom Zechs had turned to talk when something bothered him, and he usually could provide a different point of view from which things looked less bleak. It had been so this time as well; Treize had argued that it was only reasonable for Zechs to try and be as good as a soldier as possible, since it would only be easier then to fulfill his duty. He had also said that it was only to be expected that Zechs would come to like the piloting. It was not the fighting and killing that they enjoyed after all, but the control over such a powerful and fast machine. Treize had likened it to riding a horse too, which had put Zechs at ease. He almost always found it comforting when he and Treize shared a point of view, especially when it concerned such important things.

The first drops of rain hitting his face ripped him out of the dream-like state he often fell into when riding. Zechs glanced up at the sky quickly and noticed with some dismay that the rainstorm that had been approaching during the morning had come faster than he had expected. He should have paid more attention to the sky, then he surely would have been aware of the change in weather. Too careless, and that after having promised today before leaving that he would make sure to be back before the rain started. He would disappoint them all... Frowning at himself, Zechs looked down at the ground to gauge whether going faster was an option. It looked dry enough still, but he knew that it could be treacherous. And he would risk the horse.

With a sigh he made Feodora slow down to a trot as the rain started to fall more heavily She was showing the first signs of tiredness after the long gallop, and Zechs wanted to give her a little break. They would get wet anyway, so it hardly mattered whether they got to the stable ten minutes later. Just a little further along this path, through the light forest, then across the brook, and the buildings would already be in sight.

Now that the rain had started, the wind too was picking up significantly. The branches of the trees were moving along with it, and the sound of rustling leaves was becoming louder than before. Hopefully they would get out of the forest before the storm really hit; there was always the danger of falling branches.

If anything happened, Zechs knew that he would be held fully responsible. He was old enough to know when it got dangerous, and he had even been reminded that a thunderstorm was threatening. He was only causing trouble...

A cracking from above made him look up, and he saw a large oak branch start to break off near the trunk of the tree. Before he had time to react, Feodora had shied away, jumping with fright as the branch hit the ground behind her. She pranced nervously for a moment, trying to get away, and Zechs could barely keep her from running off in a mad rush.

He should have been more careful...

Perhaps, if he took the short cut across the southern fields, it would be safer; they would at least get out from beneath the trees more quickly. They would have to cross the brook without a bridge, but that was a jump which even Zechs' pony had managed. It shouldn't present a problem to his mare.

Deciding for this, Zechs turned his horse around and directed her along the smaller, barely visible path of the shortcut.

They got out of the forest without any further problems, though Feodora was becoming more and more nervous when the thunder started. She had always been wary of those sounds, and Zechs knew it, but before it had never been a problem. He had to admit, though, that he had never been out with her in a really bad storm before. The rain was pouring heavily by now, and so loudly that it drowned out almost all other noises as it hit the ground and the leaves of trees. Only the thunder could be heard still, deafening cracks that accompanied the flashes of lightning that turned the sky white for the blink of an eye before they hit the ground.

Just some more minutes, then they would reach the stable. The path from here was good ground for galloping, and it did not get very slippery during rain either. A straight run from here to the brook, and then slightly to the left towards the manor. Even if the rain got worse now, the worst danger was over. He really should have paid enough attention to not get caught in the wood in a storm.

Zechs did not think that anyone would reproach him for being so careless. The old Duke was not at home, and neither were Treize's parents. Those three occasionally reprimanded him, though usually only when he had done something that they viewed as an unnecessary and dangerous risk. This time would be a reason for being asked to come into the study for a talk, but since they all were not home right now, the worst that could happen was a talk over the commlink with Treize's mother. She could be scary if she wanted, but it was always more effective if she was there in person. That left only Treize, and Zechs knew his friend well enough to be certain that he would not say anything. But he would know, and he would think that Zechs had not paid enough attention to both the warnings and the weather. And that in itself was enough to make Zechs feel bad about it. They all had been so helpful and kind to him, and they had taken great risks to keep him safe. And he was giving them even more reasons to worry.

Raising his hand, he wiped the water away from his face and spurred Feodora to a slow gallop. He didn't dare to just let her run; she was nervous enough by now to dash off at such a chance.

The brook was coming into view now; the banks still looked solid enough for a safe jump, and the ground too was firm. Just a small leap, a little more than one meter. And Feodora knew it quite well anyway, since Zechs regularly took this path.

When they got close, he saw the horse's ears perk up a little as she recognized the place. Zechs held the reins more tightly, then urged her towards it. She wasn't shying away at all, just raising her head eagerly as she too measured the distance. They were drawing closer, and Zechs shifted his position to aid with the leap.

And just before Feodora jumped, lightning flashed, accompanied by the loudest crack of thunder so far. Zechs was aware that the horse beneath him suddenly tried to get to the side instead of clearing the brook. And then they were slipping and falling. Something hit his head, and he wasn't aware of anything else anymore.

The raindrops were pounding against the window, driven by the storm that had picked up significantly during the last few minutes. Clearly the rain that had been predicted for today had arrived, and it looked as if it would get worse than the weather forecast had mentioned.

Treize didn't really mind the rain. He liked it to look outside and watch the downpour while being pleasantly warm and sheltered inside the house. This was nature's most powerful and uninhibited side, and it always impressed him to see the sheer energy that was released in a storm like this. Of course he was also aware of the dangers it always brought with it. But floods and storms were natural, and mankind had had a lot of time to learn to deal with them. Random forces of nature were part of life, and they forced men to be alert and to construct devices to conquer and control this vast source of hazards and resources.

It was one of the reasons why he did not like the colonies overly much. There everything was controlled and predictable. Exactly measured amounts of rain at firmly regulated intervals, regulated temperatures, even artificial seasons. Nothing there seemed to be real. Whenever Treize had to travel to the colonies, he felt like entering a giant terrarium where even the air was filtered and enriched with more oxygen than it would normally contain, in order to enable the colonists to be more productive. They were constructed and planned worlds that were adjusted to the needs of men. There no longer was the need to struggle and adapt to an ever-changing nature. Mankind no longer had to make the effort to fit in. It was all getting too easy.

But right now those thoughts did not trouble Treize. He was resting on the couch in the drawing room, a book on ancient Scandinavia in his hands which he was reading while listening to the sound of the rain. Days like this were pleasant, and he had come to treasure them more ever since his position within OZ and the Specials had become more demanding. While being on duty and on missions, there rarely was time to rest and let go of all the tension. The Specials had earned their reputation and their name thanks to their endurance and their abilities in battle, but being able to deal with situations that were too difficult for the standard army divisions of the Alliance had its price. They all were strained, and breaks were absolutely necessary to keep them from burning out. The small luxuries the Specials had secured for themselves were often criticized by the Alliance soldiers, who thought that there was no reason for such treatment. But considering the hard work the Specials performed on a regular basis, longer leaves and better accommodation were justified in their eyes.

Treize had just finished the chapter on the early settlements in southern Finland when Dimitry came into the room, carrying a tray with the tea Treize had requested before.

"There has been a call from Countess Catalonia," the old butler informed him quietly as he poured the tea. "She wishes to spend a few days here before His Excellency's birthday."

"I am sure Grandfather will be overjoyed," Treize remarked dryly, rising to accept the cup Dimitry held out to him. "Thank you. I will call her later. Has Zechs come back yet?"

Dimitry shook his head. "I am afraid not, Sir."

Sighing softly, Treize glanced out at the rain. "Better have his room well heated in that case."

"Yes, Sir. Do you also wish to have a bath prepared for him?"

Treize nodded. "An excellent idea, thank you. It might save him from catching a cold." And the rest of the house from temper tantrums. Zechs could be extremely moody when he had to sneeze every two minutes.

Dimitry apparently shared this particular thought. A smile appeared on his face for a moment before he bowed his head in agreement.

"I shall see to it immediately," he said. "Do you have any wishes concerning dinner?"

"Anya said something about cabbage... maybe there still is a chance to prevent that?" Treize asked hopefully. He loathed the taste and smell of that vegetable, and he knew that Zechs was not overly fond of it either, though he would eat it out of politeness.

"I believe it might be possible still to change her mind," Dimitry assured him with a smile.

"Good... And please tell me once Zechs is back."

"Of course, Sir."

"Thank you." Treize waited until the old man had left again before returning his attention to his book. But after a few attempts at continuing reading, he found that concentrating on the topic was getting impossible. It troubled him that Zechs was not back yet; if his younger friend had taken the usual path down to the small lake, he should have returned a while ago. Even in this sort of weather it would be unusual to be delayed like this.

Perhaps Zechs had noticed the rain too late and had headed for the small stable at the far southern meadow that served as a shelter for the horses there? It wouldn't have been a much closer place, though, and the ride there could get difficult when the weather was bad, since it involved a fairly steep climb. For Zechs to choose there would have been unusual. But it was a possible explanation for his absence, one that was by far preferable to the other potential reasons.

Frowning, Treize laid the book aside. He knew that Zechs was an excellent horseman, but accidents could always happen. And he couldn't shake off the feeling that this was the case here. Telling himself not to overreact just yet, he got up and headed upstairs to see whether Zechs' return had just not been noticed. It was possible if the younger boy had entered through the back door.

Zechs was not in his room. Treize sighed as this explanation was eliminated; he had hoped to find his friend here and be able to stop worrying. But Zechs was nowhere to be seen. After checking the bathroom in a last attempt to find him, Treize went to check the stable. Perhaps Zechs had returned by now and was taking care of his horse.

Wondering why he had not thought about this before, Treize quickly walked down the way that led to the side buildings of the manor. The rain was falling fiercely, and even though he had brought an umbrella, it was not much use against this downpour. He was drenched within ten meters of walking; the storm was making the rain come from all directions, regardless of gravity.

"Zechs?" he called when he finally had reached the stable. But there was no answer, just a soft whinny from one of the other horses. Treize patted its nose absent-mindedly as he went to check the stall of Zechs' mare. It was empty, and there were no saddle and bridle in the usual places near the wall. He clearly had not been here yet.

The sudden noise of the gate opening startled him out of his thoughts on Zechs' possible whereabouts. He turned around quickly, hoping to see his friend, but his expression turned into a frown when he saw Alexei, the chauffeur and stable hand, come in. He was slowly leading Zechs' horse, which looked like she was coming back from a battle. The mare was limping badly, and her forelegs were turn and bloodied.

"What happened?" Treize demanded to know, coming over to them immediately. "Where is Zechs?"

Alexei looked at him. "I have no idea. He wasn't there when I saw her. She was trying to make her way back to the stable."

"Where did you find her?" And why hadn't he looked for Zechs first?

"Just a few meters down the way. I was just coming to check on the horses because of the storm, and there she was. I couldn't see the boy anywhere, and I thought I'd bring her inside and then tell you, Sir."

"Alright, alright..." For a moment Treize felt at an absolute loss for what to do now. It was clear that something had happened to Zechs on the way, and that thought alone was frightening. Why wasn't he back yet? The horse couldn't have made it far in that state, so why hadn't he gotten back on foot by now? Why hadn't he been with his mare?

"Shall I call the veterinary, Sir?" Alexei interrupted him.

"Ah, yes..." Treize murmured, forcing himself to focus on what to do now and not panic. "But first tell Anya that we need her to search for Zechs with us. Dimitry should stay in the house in case he gets back on his own..."

Alexei nodded. "I'll be back in a moment. You'd better wait here," he said before leaving at a run.

How could this have happened? And where was Zechs? Hopefully he was all right, and the way had just been too long...

He mechanically led Zechs' horse into her stall and took off the tack. She looked as if she had fallen badly; there was dirt and mud all over her, and her legs looked terrible. A vet was clearly needed; hopefully she would recover completely, or Zechs would be heartbroken. He loved that horse...

Treize spent the next few minutes quickly rubbing the mare down and covering her with a blanket. He needed to keep himself occupied somehow until Alexei came back with Anya so they could start looking or Zechs. The urge was strong to just go out and search for the blond boy on his own, but Treize knew that they had to make a coordinated effort. It was hell to wait for them like this, though.

Time didn't seem to pass at all, and he couldn't have said how long he had been waiting when they finally came. Anya had even brought a raincoat for him, insisting that he put it on before they left. Treize complied, more to speed up their departure than because he thought he really needed it. He didn't care abut the rain; they had to find Zechs, so what did it matter if he got a little wet? But the woman would have insisted, and so he did as she said in order to avoid arguing with her. They quickly arranged the search areas and a later meeting point, then headed out.

Zechs was not really aware of anything. His head hurt, and he was lying in something wet and cold. But everything was like that now, wasn't it? So it didn't matter anyway.

He attempted to move, but immediately regretted it when a sharp pain shot through his arm. Something was wrong there, but he couldn't bring himself to look or even care about it. As long as he lay still, there was only the headache that bothered him.

Briefly he wondered how he had gotten there. He had become aware that he was lying somewhere on the ground, but he couldn't remember why he was there. Not that it really was important.

At that thought he frowned. He shouldn't be thinking like that. They'd be disappointed if they knew. But it was just too difficult to do something. He wanted the pain to be gone, then it all would be fine again. Once his head stopped hurting.

After a while there were voices. He couldn't make out what they were saying, but they were familiar to him, and they sounded worried. Because he didn't want them t o worry, he raised his head a little, trying to ignore the throbbing pain that immediately flashed up. Opening his eyes wasn't a wise thing to do, he knew that by now. He had tried it before, and the nausea that had hit him had almost been unbearable. It was something he didn't want to happen again.

By now the voices were close to him. Someone was there at a sudden, and Zechs could feel a hand against his cheek and then his neck. He wanted to say something and tried to do so, but he wasn't sure if they had understood that he was all right and that they shouldn't worry.

When they lifted him, he couldn't help moaning softly at the pain in his arm. What they were saying sounded reassuring, and he was glad about that. It still hurt to be carried, but he felt safer now. Something warm was wrapped around him. It was wet too, but that did not matter. All his own clothes were drenched anyway. He was not certain why, though, but he believed that he had fallen into something. Just why he had fallen, he did not know.

He was being laid onto something rather hard. He was feeling cold and tried to say so. A hand took his own and held it, and he tried to focus on that touch that was so comforting. They were moving again, and at the same time someone was covering him with a blanket. The hand that had held his was gone at a sudden, and he protested at that, but then he felt a gentle touch against his face, brushing the errant strands of hair away that were sticking to his wet skin. There were people talking again, and suddenly someone touched his arm. Red spots immediately danced in front of Zechs' eyes, and he tried hard to keep his stomach calm and not be sick.

They had to have noticed, though; nobody tried to touch him again. Just the hand against his cheek lingered there, and he did not mind that at all. He turned his head a little despite the pain to lean into the warmth a bit more. It was good to feel this connection to another person, even though Zechs knew that he did not deserve it. What had happened was his fault alone, he was certain of that. Even though he was not sure exactly what had happened. But that he was lying here now was because he had done something wrong. They all had to know, and yet they tried to comfort him. Zechs wondered whether he should remind them that it was he who had to be blamed, but somehow he knew that it wouldn't be effective at all.

He tried nevertheless, murmuring that he was sorry for what he had done and that the guilt for it all was his alone. A friendly, familiar voice told him not to worry about this, that they would talk about it when he was feeling better again. The hand was slowly stroking his cheek, a comforting gesture, and he was told that it had been an accident and that he should not think about it right now.

Frowning, Zechs attempted to obey that voice, but it was difficult to not wonder about what had happened. He couldn't remember how he had come to lie in that place or what he had been doing before. There was a gap in his memories, and now that he was straining for recollection, his headache was getting worse. But he could not stop probing at this black spot to try and see whether there was anything to discover. He wanted to know, but when he asked, he was told to rest and not concern himself with that.

"There is not much reason to worry," the doctor was saying. "Only a broken arm, and he will be somewhat dazed and confused for a few hours until the effects of the concussion lessen again. We are giving him antibiotics right now to keep the fever down, but there are no signs of hypothermia. Most likely he is going to get away with a light attack of flu, but at his age it is unlikely that it will turn into a problem."

"When can we take him home?" Treize asked, trying not to show his weariness. He and Dimitry had been here for hours by now, waiting for news on Zechs' condition. It was a relief to hear that his friend's injuries were not as bad as they had feared at first, but still Treize would feel better once they could take Zechs out of the hospital.

The doctor contemplated this for a moment. "I don't see any reason to keep him here overnight if there is someone who can take care of him at home."

"That will not be a problem," Treize returned. There were enough people at the estate, and he was not going to let Zechs out of his sight anyway until his friend had recovered. He felt responsible for what had happened, even though rationally there had been nothing he could have done. Once his father had left, the responsibility for taking care of things had passed to him. And that included making sure that Zechs did not get into trouble.

"In that case we will release him on one or two hours, once we have the results of the second CT. Just a precaution. You can wait here if you want." With those words the doctor turned around again and headed for the nurse station to leave some orders.

Sighing softly, Treize sat down again on one of the chairs in the waiting room. He didn't want to be here; he wanted Zechs to be fine now so they could leave and forget that this had ever happened. It had scared him to see the blond boy lie in the brook, not moving, his head barely out of the water. For a moment Treize had thought him dead, and only when he had felt a pulse and breathing had he been able to relax at least a tiny bit again.

And now they were at the hospital, and it all had thankfully turned out to be a comparatively harmless accident, considering all that could have happened. Zechs could have broken his neck in the fall, or he could have drowned if he had lost consciousness in a different position.

"Have you been able to reach my father yet?" Treize asked Dimitry, attempting to turn away from those thoughts.

"Not yet. He is still on the plane, and due to the weather the connection keeps collapsing."

"Please continue trying... he has to be told." And Treize was not about to leave the waiting room to make that call. In the ambulance he had promised Zechs to stay as close as possible, and until the nurse allowed him to see his friend, it meant staying in the waiting area.

"I will. Is there anything you need?" Dimitry sounded concerned, and Treize quickly tried to determine whether he had given the old man any reason to worry. They both were on edge, and he really did not need to add to the tension.

"No, but thank you," he said when he had found nothing too unusual. "I am fine." It seemed absurd that Dimitry should be concerned about him when it was Zechs for whom they really had reason to worry.

Nodding, Dimitry let the matter rest and they waited in silence for news.

Time passed slowly; sometimes new people would enter the room and sit down with those expressions typical for anyone sitting in the waiting area of a hospital. An old man in a corner was crying quietly. Two small girls were being soothed by their mother, who wore a stoic look as she watched the door through which the doctors came in to deliver news. Another woman sat comfortably in her chair, reading a book and radiating an air of routine. All of them were the same in a way; they waited for information on whoever they had come with, and none of them knew for certain what was happening.

Treize disliked being part of them. He was used to knowing what was going on and what would happen next. And while the doctors kept him informed, aware just to which family he belonged, there still was nothing concrete. Of course there had been assurances and the confirmation that Zechs would recover, but he knew those words for what they were. A way to keep him calm while enough things were uncertain still. He felt almost like before a battle, when all plans were placed on suspicions on how the enemy would react and what could be the best way to counter an attack.

"Mister Khushrenada? You can see your friend now if you want. A nurse was standing before him, her pencil hitting her clipboard rhythmically.

If he wanted? Such a stupid thing to say.

"Thank you," Treize told her, getting up from his seat and following the woman along a corridor and through a door.

There were two beds in the room, but currently Zechs' was the only one occupied. The blond boy was lying on his back, the pale face wearing a wary expression that quickly changed to one of guilt when he saw Treize.

"I am sorry," he whispered.

"Don't be," Treize returned with a small smile. He found a chair and drew it up to the bed to sit down. "How do you feel?"

"My head hurts, but only a little..."

"And your arm?" Broken bones were painful; Treize knew it from personal experience.

Zechs looked annoyed for a moment at the mention of that particular limb. "It's better. How long are they going to make me stay here?"

Treize shrugged, telling himself not to smile at the impatience in his friend's voice. Being restrained like this had always grated on Zechs' nerves. "Just a little longer. Your doctor said that there is no reason to keep you here over night."

That news seemed to bring great relief to Zechs, since he relaxed visibly. "I really don't want to stay here any longer than necessary," he said.

"Don't worry about that. We will take you home as soon as possible."

"Thank you..." A shadow crossed his face at a sudden. "Treize... I'm really sorry for causing so much trouble... I should have..."

"Never mind that right now," Treize interrupted before Zechs could fully embark on his guilt trip. He knew the blond boy's tendency to blame himself for everything that went wrong, and he was not about to let Zechs hit himself over something like this.


"It was an accident, Zechs. Accidents can happen."

"But I should have been more careful..."

Treize could not quite disagree with that. He had a fairly good theory by now of what had happened, and in his eyes things might have been different if Zechs had chosen another path to return home. But they both had ridden along that way before in the rain, and it had never been particularly dangerous. Most likely something had happened to make the leap across the brook go awry. He would have to ask Zechs in order to be certain, but that could wait.

"We both know that you are a good rider, and that you have crossed the brook before. And I know that you did not take that sort of risk out of purpose." Maybe out of carelessness and because he had let his mind drift, but not because of a conscious decision. Zechs never risked others.

"I am not sure..." Zechs murmured, looking frustrated.

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know what I was thinking when I went there. I can't remember..." Azure eyes looked at him worriedly, asking for an explanation.

"You hit your head. But your doctor believes that your memory will be back eventually." Giving him a smile which he did not really feel, Treize tried to not look worried. "It is going to be fine again. Just like your arm and your head."

Zechs scowled at being reminded of those injuries. "It's just so strange. I have no idea at all what happened. I only know that I was out riding..." A look of sheer shock crossed his face. "Feodora! Is Feodora alright?"

"She came home on her own," Treize said, carefully choosing his words. He hadn't been there when the vet had come, and hadn't called either to ask about the horse yet.

"Is she hurt?"

Treize hesitated for a moment. "Some scrapes and bruises," he answered eventually, trying to ignore the memory of what the mare had looked like. "Alexei is taking care of her, so you don't have to worry."

With a sigh, Zechs closed his eyes. "I've hurt her too..." he whispered.

"You cannot know that, Zechs," Treize said, reaching for his friend's hand to make him listen. "You said yourself that you do not remember."

"A rider... has to take care of the horse..."

"But you are not responsible for accidents. Not when you could not do anything about it."

Zechs smiled weakly. "How would you... know that?" he asked, his voice barely audible.

Something was wrong here. Zechs had been awake a minute ago, and now he seemed to be slipping off into sleep far too rapidly.


He got no answer.

When Zechs woke again, he thought for a moment that he was still lying in the brook and that he had just dreamt about the hospital. His head still hurt the same, and he felt cold and absolutely uncomfortable.

But there was the beeping of machines that hadn't been there out in the rain, and he became aware of a mask on his face. He tried to raise a hand to take the stupid thing off, but a stinging pain convinced him that it might not be such a good idea to do that. Hospital, he thought. Definitely. And the sting had felt just like the IV he had gotten once, when he had been down with a bad flu.

"Zechs? Don't move..."

Treize sounded so relieved that it puzzled him. He had only been asleep, so why would his friend be this concerned? But still Zechs obeyed and did not try to get the mask off again, no matter how much the straps itched behind his ears.

When he opened his eyes, he saw that the room had changed. There were more instruments and devices here, and no other beds. How strange... he couldn't remember having been moved. The only thing that was the same still was Treize sitting next to the bed. Zechs didn't think he had often been that relieved to see his friend. It was beginning to worry him that he had no idea why he was here, or even how he had gotten here.

"Treize?" he tried to say, but his voice was muffled by the mask, and he couldn't open his mouth properly. Zechs sighed in frustration, not sure what to do. He wanted to take the irritating thing off, but he suspected that it would not be a good idea.

Cool fingers were touching his cheek at a sudden. "Stay calm," he heard Treize say. "You mustn't strain yourself."

Zechs looked at him, trying to put as much into his gaze as possible. That he wanted to know what had happened. That he wanted to know why he was here. Why he was wearing this mask. When he could get out again.

And why Treize sounded so concerned.

It simply didn't make sense. Zechs knew that he had hit his head and broken his arm. But that was not enough explanation for the current situation. He had been fine before he had gone to sleep. Everything had been fine, apart from the aches. There simply was no reason why he should be here now.

"They will take the mask off soon," Treize told him. "But for now you need it."

Another look passed between them, and Zechs attempted to will Treize to say just what was going on here. Apparently with some success, since his friend's next words were at least headed in the right direction.

"I am glad that you are awake again," Treize said quietly. There was so much worry in his face, and that was what puzzled Zechs the most. If Treize was visibly unsettled, then things had to be truly wrong. "For a while I was not sure..."

So whatever had happened had been bad... Zechs made a small sound of frustration. He wanted to have his answers, but if Treize continued this tactic of not upsetting him, then they would get nowhere.

"Shh... you must stay calm, Milliard."

That word, that choice of name, made him go silent at once. He was not Milliard. He was Zechs. Everybody knew that name. Everybody knew, and everybody used the right name now. He was Zechs... Only sometimes, when everything was safe and quiet, could he admit that he was Milliard too, that his former self was not gone yet. Treize was the only one who acknowledged this fact, but Zechs could remember only a handful of occasions when his friend had used his old, his true name. It was special, and forbidden at the same time. But mostly it was incredibly soothing and reassuring to hear someone else use the name. It meant that somehow there was hope still and that everything would be all right.

"I know that this must be unpleasant for you. But for now it cannot be helped."

Zechs sighed softly, nodding to show that he had understood Treize and was going to listen to him.

"Do you want to rest a little more?"

He shook his head slightly. Rest was the last thing he wanted. Strangely enough he was feeling tired, but his head was too full right now for him to be able to sleep.

"It might do you well, though."

Once more Zechs attempted looking into those sapphire eyes and asking just why resting would be a good idea and why Treize looked so worried. It was beginning to worry him too, and it was making him nervous.

Treize held his gaze for some moments, then looked down. "I assume that you want to know what happened," he said quietly.

Zechs nodded decisively and tried to look more alert than he felt. It wouldn't be wise right now to give Treize the impression that he was exhausted and needed to rest. Not now that they were finally getting to the important answers.

"I'd rather talk about this later..."

Sighing once again, Zechs closed his eyes and tried to decide what to do. He was tired of being here without even knowing why, and it was making him uneasy that there was even a need for him to lie in this bed. At the same time, the last thing he wanted was making Treize uncomfortable. If only he were feeling better... Zechs suspected that what was making his friend hesitate was that he did not think it proper to talk about it right now. He probably thought that Zechs should not be bothered with such details and better rest. It was a frustrating idea, but Zechs had to admit that it made some sense from Treize's point of view. Still, despite all understanding for the other's reluctance, he wanted to know.

"You do not seem too content with that idea," Treize observed, a small smile on his face. "I should have known."

Zechs hummed encouragingly.

"A brief version, then. I'd really rather not discuss this in detail." The expression on Treize's face was strangely blank, but Zechs had learned to read him over the years, and so he spotted the weariness easily. "Your circulatory system collapsed when we were talking... without any obvious reason. The doctors managed to stabilize you as much as they could." He paused, running a hand through his hair. "The antibiotics they had given you... You are allergic to them. Your blood cells were suddenly dying."

Looking at his friend, Zechs tried to comprehend just what this meant. He was here because of the medication? But why hadn't the doctors known that something like that could happen? They were supposed to be aware of those things. And nevertheless he was lying here now, feeling absurdly weak and tired, just because they hadn't paid attention enough?

"There is nothing to worry about now."

Zechs shot the IV in his hand a meaningful glance.

"Nourishment. The nurse said your stomach wouldn't be able to deal with it right now, and they have to make sure that you do not weaken further. But it is going to be the last one."

So there had been more than one... Zechs didn't like the idea at all. To think that he had been unconscious for long enough to let all these things happen made him uneasy; he didn't like being around doctors, and this experience was certainly not going to improve his opinion of them. Hopefully he would not have to stay here for much longer; a feeling of discomfort was sneaking into his mind at the thought that perhaps someone would think it necessary for him to stay so they could mess with him a little more.

He would have to convince them all that he was fine. Surely that would somehow be possible. Right now he did not feel too bad; there was the headache that had remained, and his arm hurt when he moved it. But as long as Zechs lay still, there was not much that bothered him. And he could as well lie at home in his bed, without this stupid hospital smell and that itchy mask.

The four days Zech had had to stay in hospital after the crisis proved to be one of the most trying experiences Treize had ever gone through.

It wasn't so much the fact that he was supposed to manage this all on his own. He knew how to do that, and after the first talk to his father to discuss what to do, he had felt assured enough to deal with this. After all he was old and experienced enough to lead troops into battle; a hospital stay of Zechs could not be so difficult.

In theory, this reasoning worked fairly well.

In reality, however, there were a few complications. One of the doctors turned out to be a specialist for blood in general and allergies in particular, and she viewed Zechs as a god-sent new case study for a hypothesis she had been trying to prove for a while. Zechs, on the other hand, had after one day taken to attempting to disappear from his room whenever she was on the way to see him. He was claiming that she was doing her tests only to satisfy her own sadistic tendencies.

Altogether it made Treize wish he were religious so he would have someone to pray to and have that deity stop this madness. But since he knew that pleading to a superior being was hardly going to resolve the problems, he attempted it by himself, with some success. The doctor handed Zechs' case to a colleague after some persuading, and she took no more blood samples for her research. All she requested was to be kept updated on Zechs' progress.

The greater problem by far was convincing Zechs that it was necessary for him to stay in the clinic for at least some days. The experience had done nothing for the blond boy's precarious trust in doctors. Before this, he had only disliked them, but now he had decided that they were only going to harass him with their pills and needles. Treize hoped that this would improve again after a while, but he had his doubts. Once Zechs set his mind on something, it was difficult to get him to alter his opinion. He had insisted that he was well enough to go home, that there was no need for him to stay any longer.

At least it had only been four days in the end; at first the doctors had suggested a week, but had then adjusted their initial prediction. According to them, Zechs had improved more quickly than they had believed. Treize suspected that his friend had been driving them crazy and that the nurses had complained once too often.

But whatever the reason, Zechs had been officially released, and the Khushrenadas' private doctor had examined him too and proclaimed him well enough to go home as long as he rested in bed there for some more days.

That suggestion alone had made Treize sigh inwardly. He knew his friend well enough to say with certainty that Zechs was not going to view staying in bed as necessary. Inactivity was something that did not sit well with the blond boy, especially once he felt well enough again to get up. Zechs had promised that he would rest this time, though, and Treize really wanted to believe him. And even if his friend tried to sneak out of bed after a day at home, it was better than having him stay in hospital any longer.

Zechs had willingly agreed to listen to the instructions before they had left. It was clear that he was eager to get away from the doctors and nurses, and that he would have done almost anything at the moment to put some distance between himself and them. He was clearly more at ease once they were in the car back home, and fell asleep after some minutes. At the hospital he had slept badly; it almost seemed as if he hadn't been willing to let himself relax enough there. But now that he was safely away, it was possible to let his guard down a bit.

Treize was happy to let him rest; he was glad that this entire situation had taken a definite turn for the better by now. Seeing Zechs asleep in the back seat was more calming to his nerves than most of what the doctors had said. It was the knowledge that Zechs could come home again, that he was well enough to not need any immediate medical attention any longer. That it was not a question of minutes until his state could turn critical.

The familiar sound of car tires on gravel shook Treize out of his musings. Zechs too had heard it; he was beginning to stir, and blue eyes slowly opened.

"We are home?" he asked, raising his hand to push unruly blond bangs out of his face as he sat up. "Good..."

Treize couldn't help smiling at the relief in his friend's voice. It was comforting to see him at ease again.

The car stopped right in front of the door. Alexei got out first, asking whether Zechs would need assistance to get into the house. Zechs declined with something that sounded like indignation in his voice; apparently the idea that someone might think he was not able to walk on his own was a little offending to him. Alexei had to have sensed this, for he excused himself with a smile and headed for the garage.

Once out of the car, Treize moved to Zechs' side and wrapped an arm around the younger boy's waist. He was not entirely sure whether Zechs would allow it, but offering would only make him refuse the gesture immediately. Stubborn pride could be so difficult to deal with sometimes... But simply going ahead with things had worked at the hospital, and it was working here as well. Zechs leaned against him a little, letting him support some of his weight. The younger boy was not quite up to walking more than a few steps completely on his own just yet, and the day had been exhausting too, with all the final examinations and checkups.

"Can we go to the stable first?" Zechs asked before they could get inside the house. He gave Treize a hopeful look. "I would like to check on Feodora..."

"Better leave that for tomorrow. You are not even supposed to walk." Treize maneuvered them a little closer to the door, and Zechs went along the few steps. Apparently he was tired enough to not put up much of a struggle.

"I just want to see that she is all right."

"She is. You do not need to be worried about her."

"But still... I'd feel better if I see for myself."

Treize sighed softly. There was not much he could say against this; he knew he would feel the same if he were in Zechs' place. Zechs had been blaming himself for what had happened, and the assurances of both Treize and Dimitry had not helped in convincing him that the mare would be fine again in one or two weeks.

He really ought to take Zechs inside and make sure that his friend went to sleep. It would be the sensible thing to do in view of both the doctors' instructions and Zechs' exhaustion. But Treize knew the blond boy too well to think that he would just sleep, now that he had gotten the idea in his head that he should have a look at the mare. The matter would probably not let Zechs' mind rest now.

Glancing at his friend to gauge his condition, Treize found himself the focus of a desperate look. If it truly was so important for Zechs to go right now...

"Just a moment, though," Treize said, smiling when he saw Zechs' expression change to one of relief. "And please promise to tell me if you feel dizzy or need to sit down."

"I promise."

"Thank you."

They went to the left, through the side gate that led down to the stable. Zechs was walking slowly, carefully taking one step after the other, but it was clear that he was determined to get there on his own and not let any weakness show. Hopefully it would not cost him too much energy; Treize was already beginning to have second thoughts about it all. Still, he knew that Zechs would rest easier once he had confirmed for himself that his mare was as well as the circumstances permitted.

The horse was on her feet when they came to her stall. Treize silently blessed her at the sight; it would be easier to convince Zechs now that she really was not too badly hurt.

"It's my fault," the blond boy said quietly as he looked at the bandaged forelegs.

"It is not," Treize countered. They had been having this argument several times over the last few days, usually without a real result. After remembering just what had led to the fall, Zechs had decided that he was responsible and that he should have known better than to attempt the jump. All Treize could say in response was that there had been no way to know that a jump that had been done successfully so often would go wrong this time.

Zechs shook his head, raising a hand to slowly pet the mare's nose. "It is. But it's kind of you to not say so."

Treize sighed. "I am not being kind," he said, trying to think of a way to get it into Zechs' stubborn head that he was not to blame for this. "Do you really believe I would be lying about something like this?"

It was a shaky argument, since Treize was not above bending the truth if it suited his purpose. But he had not lied to Zechs before, as long as one excluded small things like knowing about birthday presents or denying that Dorothy would come to visit.

Apparently Zechs remembered this too. "No... I am sorry for doubting..." He looked a little more at ease at the repeated reassurance. The guilt for what had happened had been weighing heavily on his mind ever since he had remembered it all. It still was not entirely gone, but at least some of the misery was gone from the azure eyes.

"Never mind." Treize gave him a comforting smile, watching as Zechs studied the mare. It was obvious that he would have liked to examine her more closely, but he still kept back, leaning against the wooden wall of the stall for some support. Apparently bending down to have a closer look at the legs was not something he was quite up to just yet.

"Maybe we should go back..." Zechs said after a little while. He looked a bit paler than before; if he hadn't mentioned it by himself, Treize would have suggested going inside within a few minutes anyway. He was glad that he didn't have to do it.

"Will you be able to walk on your own?"

Considering the glare this question earned him, it was maybe not the best of ideas to inquire about this issue. But it was evident that Zechs was tired, and in Treize's eyes there simply was no use in pretending that everything was fine. In a few days he'd be willing to humor Zechs when it came to such issues, but right now pride and stubbornness simply had no place.

"Of course I will be." Pushing away from the wall he had been leaning against, Zechs gave Treize a look that hovered between disbelief and hurt. "You don't have to worry. I'm much better already."

"If you say so..." Treize returned carefully. He'd have to remember the blond boy's tendency to belittle any injuries and illnesses. Once Treize had moved to Zechs' side, trying to inconspicuously be close enough in case his friend needed support, they returned to the house.


"Zechs, you know..." Trailing off, Treize sighed softly as he got up from his seat next to the bed and walked over to the window.

Zechs watched his friend. It was obvious that the whole talk had not been pleasant for him, but Zechs had seen no way around it. He was becoming tired of staying in bed when he felt perfectly fine again. There had been enough rest for him over the last week, and it was maddening to feel all this energy without being able to do anything about it. Lying still was becoming harder and harder, and it did not help at all that outside the weather was far nicer and warmer than it could be expected for early autumn. If only he could go out and feel the sun on his skin...

He had attempted to convince Treize that there was no reason to worry anymore, and that the doctors had certainly been overly cautious. But all this had earned him had been a genuinely sympathetic look from Treize and the reminder that it would only be three more days anyway. In Zechs' opinion, those were three days too many. Being confined to bed was making him nervous because it gave him the impression that something was wrong with him still. He hated the feeling, because bed rest was connected to doctors. And since his stay at the hospital, they were not among his favorite people. Not that they had been before, but Zechs' experiences with the serologist had kept him on edge for the entire stay.

It just wasn't fair that they should be allowed to test him as much as they wanted, after being responsible for the sickness in the first place. Treize had explained that it was a very rare allergy, and that nobody could have expected this particular reaction. But Zechs had seen in his friend's eyes that Treize was not entirely content with this either, and he had taken it as a confirmation that ultimately the doctors were to blame for this extended time in bed. His head had healed just fine and did not bother him anymore, and he was getting used to the broken arm as well. If it weren't for this annoying weakness... and that was due to the mess the antibiotics had created in his body. It was unfair that he was being punished for something the doctors had done.

Even though deep inside Zechs suspected that perhaps it was only just that he should suffer now. If he had not been so careless, then nothing of this would have happened. He maybe deserved to be confined to bed. Maybe he deserved worse.

Treize hadn't really said much on the matter apart from attempting to convince Zechs that it had all been an accident. It sounded almost logical, the way his friend described the situation, and Zechs desperately wanted to believe him. He didn't want to be guilty of hurting another being, he didn't want to be guilty of causing so many problems and worries. It was so ungrateful to be such a nuisance when the Khushrenadas were so kind to help him. They were taking the risks, and all he had done was create trouble.

"Maybe you can sit on the balcony for a little while tomorrow," Treize said as he sat down on the low windowsill. "If the weather is warm enough."

Zechs recognized this for what it was; an attempt to offer him a small consolation after denying his request to be allowed to go out. He felt grateful for it, but at the same time he wished he knew how to convince Treize that he should stop worrying.

"Thank you," he answered quietly, trying to smile a little. He was not quite sure whether he succeeded, though.

"You are welcome." Sighing softly, Treize glanced outside for a moment and then back at Zechs. "Noin has called in the afternoon," he said. "You were asleep, so I asked her to try again later. She sends her best wishes and hopes that you will be better soon."

"Why does she know?" Zechs asked, a little uneasy about the idea that even more people had heard about his folly. Surely she would think him an idiot for being so stupid. Noin was far too sensible to go for rides in that sort of weather.

"Some things never stay secret. Not when they are not so important that they have to be kept from becoming known." Drawing up his legs and leaning against the frame, Treize fully settled on the windowsill and made himself more comfortable. "I've asked her not to tell others."

Murmuring a thanks, Zechs tried not to be too unsettled by this. He hated it when rumors about him were spreading, no matter how little consequence they seemed to have.

"I don't want them to know," he said quietly.

Treize studied his face. "You will need an explanation for your arm. The cast cannot come off before your return to Lake Victoria."

Zechs sighed softly. He hadn't thought about this... If he ran around with a cast arm, everybody would know that he had done something foolish just by looking at him. And they'd wonder just what it had been, and rumors would spread even more.

"You can always stay silent about it," his friend said contemplatively. "Or tell them that it was an accident. Half of the cadets have broken their arm at some point because of riding accidents. It won't be anything extraordinary to them."

He had to agree to this. To them it would not matter much. But it mattered to Zechs because for a month he would have a very constant reminder of the fact that he was trouble. He didn't want it. He wanted to at least be able to pretend that he had not done anything wrong, no matter how often the treacherous little voice in his mind reminded him that it wasn't so and that he was just deceiving himself.

"Do you wish to rest? You seem tired."

Zechs shook his head. "I'm okay," he said quietly. "But you don't have to stay. I know you should be doing other things."

Treize smiled a little at this. "I should, but I would not mind putting them off a little longer. It is not as if the world depends on them. Still, if you want some rest then I will leave for a while."

"I..." Zechs trailed off, not quite sure how to deal with this. He wanted Treize to stay; his friend's company made the time pass faster, and it was so comforting to have him close. It was proof that somebody cared about him. Of course Zechs knew that Treize's family was concerned for his well-being and that they liked him. It would have been hard not to notice something like that after all the years he had spent with them. But at the same time it was soothing to have Treize here and really be convinced that they cared.

But Zechs knew that there were things Treize was supposed to do. After all, they both were not really on holiday but on a leave to spend time in surroundings quiet enough to get important things done. For Zechs it was studying for the finals, something he had been forced to neglect after the accident. And as far as he knew, Treize was supposed to catch up on writing his mission reports. Zechs hoped that his friend would manage to finish them before they both had to leave again; he had seen two of Treize's reports so far, and had found his own views echoed in the arguments Treize had been using to justify his actions and orders. Besides, Zechs was impressed by his use of tactical moves. This was how Mobile Suits really should be used, one of the Academy teachers had said when Zechs' class had reviewed one of the reports. He had felt so proud then that Treize was his friend. Perhaps they could work together one day, if Zechs' marks were good enough when he graduated...


"Ah... Sorry. What were you saying?"

"I was asking whether you want me to stay, or if you would rather rest."

Zechs blushed a little at having been caught daydreaming. "I would like you to stay... but not if you have to do any work."

Treize considered this for a moment. "I could bring it here," he offered a compromise. "There is not much I need to do apart from looking through some things, and that is boring anyway."

"Perhaps I can help?" Zechs asked, shifting into a more upright position. Going through files and looking for facts was not an activity he particularly enjoyed, but right now he was willing to do anything as long as it kept him from being bored and alone. He had attempted to ask Treize for his textbooks so he could study a little, but his friend had denied the request, explaining that Zechs was not supposed to strain his mind just yet. But surely a task as menial as going through fact sheets would hardly count as straining.

"You can if you want to," Treize said as he gracefully got off the windowsill. "It might interest you... most of the material concerns maneuverability and armament of the new Aries suits. I need to compare it with piloting experiences."

The mere mention of the new models made Zechs' eyes widen in curiosity. "Why didn't you say that you have flown them? I thought they're still in development! Are they really as good as everybody says?"

Treize laughed softly. "I see that I have certainly caught your interest. The suits are going into production this summer, so they will be ready for the new pilots in fall. Who knows, maybe you will get to fly one of them..."

"Do you really think so?"

"Of course. You are one of the most talented pilots we have... and I am not the only one who thinks so."

Zechs blushed fiercely, no matter how much he tried to fight it. Compliments concerning his piloting were not so rare, but hearing them from Treize made them precious because he knew how good his friend was at piloting. This was an expert speaking.

"I think the Aries might disappoint you a little, though. But I will fetch the files, then you can see for yourself. I would like to know your opinion on the simulation statistics."

Nodding, Zechs leaned back against the headboard, hoping that his cheeks would cool down again before Treize returned.

It was strange to think that Treize would value his opinion on the matter. After all Zechs had only the experience every Academy student would have, and in his eyes it was nothing special. But it was good to feel appreciated like this; Treize was taking him serious, and it was a pleasant thought to be able to help him. They lived in different worlds right now, with Zechs being a mere student and Treize undergoing intensive combat training after having abandoned his position as an instructor. Zechs had never quite understood this move, and Treize had never been willing to bring up the topic by himself. It had taken away the hopes Zechs had had to learn from Treize. Especially after Noin had spoken so highly of his friend, Zechs had wished to be on missions with Treize, just like she had been. But this opportunity was gone now, and it stung a little to think that Zechs had to obey stupid instructors and their insistence on standard maneuvers when he knew how much better he could do. Treize would have let him try his own way, he was sure of that.

Perhaps at a later time... if he was good enough, then he would maybe be considered suitable for higher command in OZ. Zechs knew that it was not something that was necessary to do what he had promised to himself and to the memory of his parents. But he already was a soldier, so he had already forsaken his heritage and any right to still consider himself a Peacecraft. He could as well continue in his path and become as good at it all as possible. Influence was important, and it was a force which could stop armies. It could stop the fighting.

Treize had chosen that way, and he had mentioned once to Zechs that he did not think it to be easy at all, but that he believed that it might achieve peace. At that time, Zechs had not quite understood his friend's meaning. But now he could see the reason behind it. Whoever was in command could order attacks, and could as well call them off. And perhaps, just perhaps, he and Treize would one day make those decisions.

The End


La Casa