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15th-May-2009 01:10 am - Gundam Wing: The Old Lie (Treize, Zechs)
♥ to [info]voksen for being my enabler and beta! First Gundam Wing fic! I'm only, y'know, about a decade late to this fandom, that's all! :D :D :D Second in the Honourable Men triple bill.

The Old Lie

Fandom: Gundam Wing
Characters: Treize, Zechs (13, 6)
Rating: PG
Summary: All men graduate from one history to another.

1984 (ha!) words and past-fic everywhere!

Of all the institutions of the world, Zechs thinks, the military should have less occasion for pomp and circumstance, and more for honour and glory. The thought makes him turn his lips, a sword's slow curve of resignation as he stands in line awaiting epaulettes and salutations. It's an old lie, after all: dulce et decorum est. The old standards of pride and chivalry are born differently now. Die for your country, and the brass will gladly wrap you and your coffin in army reds and colonialist flags.

So the military is full of pomp and circumstance. The academy hall is as well dressed as its attendees: an ageing general there, watchful politicians everywhere, and a generous and approving nobility come to see the finished products of their sponsorship. Zechs feels less like he's graduating and more like he's being paraded. Towards the stage, another cadet goes up to receive his orders and some scrutiny.

Beneath his mask, Zechs breathes steady and patient. He waits for his turn to come; he has waited a very long time for it now. Another, and another. The announcer finishes up the last of the alphabetical list of recruits, organised to be egalitarian, and moves on to the list of honours, which is organised to be anything but.

When his name is called, Zechs goes up the steps to receive his license for future violence. He does not smile when he shakes the officer's hand, or when he salutes. There comes applause from off stage. Zechs does not wince at that, either. Afterwards, it doesn't take very much time before the first part of the ceremony cedes to socialisation. It's an important part of every Romafeller tradition: a time for the paupers to meet their liege lords, and for lordlings to grow into men. There's still half the ceremony to go, but nobility gets impatient without conversation. Nobility excels, after all, at conversation -

Which makes it perfectly natural that the first thing that Treize says to him happens to be, 'You're going to look incredibly dour in your graduation photograph, you know.'

Zechs turns from where he's been speaking with his instructor, a dour middle-aged man who has only as much respect for a student as the number of miles in his or her logbook. The old man spots Colonel Khushrenada, the leader of Oz so well-renowned for his superiority of flight, and slinks – defeated – off to lecture some other poor candidate.

Treize extends a flute of champagne to him, and Zechs has to fight to keep his expression neutral. 'Sir,' he says by means of an answer, lifting the flute to his lips to block off his smile. He spies Treize's expression through a tint of glass and alcohol as he sips: simple acceptance and profound amusement, but no irritation, no discomfort. Rank is something bred into Treize; and Treize is a rare breed.

They have not seen each other for years.

'Come talk with me, Zechs,' Treize says, ignoring the yawning space of three-hundred-and-sixty days in duplicate. He still has the complete assurance that Zechs knows him for; the force of focus and enormity of personality that allows Treize to stand, loose and obliquely comfortable, next to any man. All men have consequence to Treize, empyrean or prole. He probably remembers every name, even the ones that by all rights should have been forgotten.

'I doubt that cadets speak to officers poised for promotion to the rank of general,' Zechs murmurs, glancing around. 'It doesn't fit protocol.'

Treize's smile only widens for the whole hall to see. 'And what does protocol say about very old friends?'

'Zechs Merquise,' says Milliardo Peacecraft, 'could barely be a friend of very much consequence to you, sir Khushrenada.'

'Well,' says Treize very genially to Zechs Merquise, 'If rich men talk to their friends, then poor men can talk to their patrons.' He turns to make for the open balcony attached to the side of the ballroom; the words he throws over his shoulder are: 'Come along, corporal.'

Ducking his head, Zechs follows after.

With the barely noticeable directness of a born tactician, Treize picks the far right corner of the balcony, where the railing provides them both with something to lean on and the distance gives them both some buffer from the crowd. Polite company can't find sufficient reason to come close enough to eavesdrop (his instructor manages only a sidelong glance his way), and the rabble will gossip no matter the case (Lord Dorlene already smiling a shard too sharply), so Zechs breathes a little more freely there.

'Satisfied?' Treize plucks the thoughts out of his head.

Zechs leans on the balcony and looks out on the open, silent parade square, dimly lit along its sides, instead of at his friend, his old, old friend. The two of them are far from being even a third of a century old, but the age is heavy in Zech's bones. 'It's good to see you again.' His tongue is fat and clumsy in his mouth. The army's helped Zechs forget how to speak. 'Though I suppose we would have met, inevitably.'

Treize falls in next to him and reaches over to take Zechs' diploma from him. 'Yes, Oz,' he agrees, voice deep and very light. 'With grades like these it should've been beyond even your grand capability to doubt that you'd join the Special Forces upon graduation.'

'It wasn't my grades I was doubting, Treize,' Zechs replies. 'I worked for those.'

Treize shrugs. 'I knew you would, and I look forward to inducting you into the Forces later.'

Zechs raises an eyebrow and turns to face him. The mask hides nothing from Treize. 'And what if I hadn't worked for them? Would things still have been inevitable then?'

Treize only chuckles; he knows better than to lie. 'Have some faith in yourself.'

'Ha,' Zechs laughs, with plenty of irony and what, on any other man, would have been bitterness. 'Well, if you insist.'

At that, Treize suddenly shifts, the air between them changing and going charged. 'I make demands of my friends, but I do not insist,' Treize says, putting his hand on Zechs' forearm. The contact is present and helplessly invasive, but Zechs does not shrug him off. More quietly, Treize says, 'Milliardo,' like the word could be a plea, as if a Khushrenada would beg.

Though he should, Zechs does not correct him. Standing still, he lets Treize do what he wants, and take what he needs. It's the debts between them that make their friendship whole. They could bankrupt each other a thousand times over – morally, financially, theoretically – and they know it well. All they can afford now is to repay old obligations with new ones. They use silence as consent; they've always agreed on that, even as they grew up together watching the wars and the leaders of countries who used neutrality as a shield instead of peacekeeping as a weapon.

So, after all that goes unsaid and undone, Zechs just tilts his head and observes, 'I see that you've kept your eyebrows, against the better judgement of anyone you've ever met.'

Treize twists his lips and moves his hand upwards, yanking at the tip of Zechs' hair where it's begun to brush against his shoulders. 'And I see you've kept your hair.'

Now Zechs does push Treize's hand away. 'Someone told me a long time ago that men need to stay true to their beliefs.' They leave the moment behind them, broken.

'Ah, but don't you think that there is something absurdly dangerous about men who have nothing to believe?' Treize postulates, turning to press the small of his back into the railing. He gestures broadly at the flood of Zechs' fellow cadets in the hall. 'They'll believe in almost anything if it means that they don't have to think hard about it.'

Zechs, still looking out over the abandoned parade grounds, makes a small, sardonic noise. 'That's the foundation of military logic. Sceptical men don't take well to orders.'

'I think you take orders very well,' Treize says magnanimously, with great generosity.

'I'm not sceptical, Treize,' Zechs corrects, with dismissive laugh. 'Cynical, perhaps, but if I were a sceptic I doubt that we'd be friends.'

Treize nods, although Zechs can't see the motion. 'Those men,' he says after a while. His voice is clean and neutral; consideration and contemplation run too deep in Treize for it to show, leaving his surface still, so still. 'All your fellow cadets. They need something more than a mobile suit to pilot and a mission to complete.'

Zechs twists himself to look backwards at Treize. 'Treize,' he says, seriously. 'They'd believe in you, if you asked them to. And when you do, they'll follow you anywhere.'

Treize tilts his head towards his friend, his expression glib and guileless. 'Even to war?'

'Especially to war, sir,' Zechs says, nonchalant as a solider boy. 'Don't all men want a belief that they can fight for?' He holds up his champagne glass.

'Touché,' Treize toasts, touching the lip of his glass to the zip of Zechs'. 'To your unreasonable optimism, Mr. Merquise.'

There's a call back into the hall not long after; a scurrying cadet worries his way next to Treize and makes repeated motions of apology and deference which eventually form themselves into a request for Colonel Khushrenada, if he so pleased, would he possibly by any chance be gracious enough to return to the stage so that he could present the new candidates for promotion to Oz with their marks of office? Sir?

Treize waves the boy on, and he goes, grateful to be out of the man's orbit. Before he returns Zechs to the mongering crowd, Treize murmurs, 'So they'll follow me, will they, my friend?'

'They will, my captain,' Zechs answers blithely. 'I know I did.' They separate, heading towards their respective seats.

Treize's commencement speech to the candidates, when he delivers it, is too powerful to have been scripted. Zechs leans back and watches, letting the words wash over him in a flow of beautiful rhetoric: patriotism, justice, honour, glory, sacrifice, martyrdom and obedience. The men next to him sit straighter, stiffer, and more proudly by the time Treize finishes to move to the centre of the platform.

When Zechs is called – the last once more – on stage to receive the symbols of a newly promoted officer of Oz, Treize holds out his hand, and they shake firmly. It is protocol then for Treize to lean in and say a few words. They are: 'What did believing in me cost you, Lieutenant Zechs Merquise?'

'My history,' Zechs replies, 'and my dignity.'

'Oh?' says Treize, letting go of Zechs' hand.

'When I was in basic training,' Zechs tells him, in that same quiet voice that turns almost conversational, 'the senior cadets hazed me for keeping my hair long. They called me vain, prideful, stupid; they asked me why I kept it, and I didn't have any answers for them – Zechs Merquise doesn't have a history. Afterwards, when they got tired of talking, they held numerical superiority and beat me just within the limits of serious injury. The only way to stop it was to bear it until they got tired of their game, which they did, eight months later – by which time I didn't have any dignity left.'

'And in doing so you kept the peace?' Treize says.

'We were all in the same academy, on the same side.' Zechs looks at Treize. 'So, yes. I did. I kept the peace.'

'Very good, Lieutenant,' Treize pronounces, and into Zechs' open hands he places a sword. 'Welcome to Oz.'

Zechs curls his hand around the hilt, and brings the blade up into a sheathed and silent salute.

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