by Laura Fox
based on the anime
Allison & Lillia
** * One * **
Treize saw Lillia waving at him from under a tree in the schoolyard, and he ran to her and let himself tumble to a seat beside her. For a moment the exertion broke him free from the dizzy weight that the last day of high school left behind it, and it still felt good just to fall off his feet and not worry how he would get up.
It had been a little over a year since the first day he’d come to school here, with both legs and his right arm broken after a nearly-successful assassination attempt sent him over a cliff atop a runaway train. Since then, he had diligently worked for and eagerly seized on every bit of strength and independence he could regain --- too eagerly once, and a careless rush down a stairway late for class had put him back on a crutch for several weeks --- but now, finally, he had felt back to normal long enough to trust it, though still not long enough to take it for granted. His right thigh would have metal in it permanently and ached sometimes, but the worst complaint left was that he was too young to be predicting weather with his bones.
By the time he had reached this point and was no longer living here in the capital to be close to the National Hospital’s physical therapy services, his parents had agreed that it would be a shame not to let him graduate with his class. After only private tutors up to that point, school had required its own adjustments --- to the rigid structure, to winters that felt like summers back home in Ixtova, to being part of such a large crowd of people his own age for the first time --- but he had soon come to love the place and his new friends. Now that it was all but over, he felt as if he had come to a dizzying black gap, a tear in the earth like the famous chasm back home, and no matter what kind of stone he tossed into it, only a tiny echo came back.
The echo sounded a little like “All right, you’ve had your fun.”
“Ahh! I can barely believe it!” Lillia exulted, stretching her arms. “No more tests, no more classes, just one night’s sleep and then graduation!”
“Yeah...” Treize sighed. “Do you know what you’re doing after that?”
“Well, I’ve got a few weeks until the entrance exam for the Army Academy, so I’ll have to keep studying a little longer. Mama might want to do something together after that, before I go in.”
Treize couldn’t help noticing that she didn’t mention him. He knew what she was aiming for; after a class field trip to the Army air show with its precise and daring maneuvers that even her mother and Treize’s father had never performed, Lillia had declared that she would fly one of those planes one day, and he didn’t want to stand in her way, but...
“You should take it, too,” she said.
“Take the exam and go in the Army!”
“No, I don’t think I could,” he said hurriedly.
“Why not? You’d be great! If they knew you were a prince, they’d put you right into officer training, and you really are a good shot. Being in the top ten here is as good as a medal anywhere else.”
“That’s different, though.” The fact was that he had joined the target-shooting team --- placing third in the school and ninth in the city --- because it was the only physical sport someone barely off crutches could play. His impulse was to tell her that that was for wolves and foxes, not people, but that would be too harsh on her and too easy on himself.
No, he had considered the army. He had considered his own love of flying planes, but of every piloting career he could imagine, none of them seemed right. He had tried thinking of what he most loved to do, but coasting along on a motorcycle was hardly a plan...
“Well, I guess you don’t have to worry about stuff like that, anyway,” Lillia shrugged.
She hadn’t said it with any note of reproach, and it was true that as a prince, even a secret one, he was not required to worry about such things, but he wasn’t willing to let himself just rest on that. Maybe a year of high school had changed everything; graduation was supposed to lead someone into the next stage, and he couldn’t imagine letting himself fall back to earth while his classmates all around him flew on toward adult lives.
However, if he was going to move forward, something still had to be decided. The marriage offer from Queen Mathilda of Sou-Beil was still waiting for him. It was one possible path, and if it was the one he would take, looking beyond it was pointless. Since their ill-fated face-to-face visit, he had gotten to know Mathilda somewhat through letters, and he couldn’t pretend it was what he really wanted, but she was a kind and gracious lady, certainly no villain. The least he could do for a graduation milestone was have an answer for her, and the question it rested on had waited long enough...
Lillia noticed his silence and poked at him. “Are you giving me the cold shoulder?”
He turned and was caught by her sharp eyes, brown with just a touch of fire. She cocked her head teasingly, and that rebellious lock of hair that always made her self-conscious --- but that Treize found adorable --- fell across her cheek.
“I was... I was just thinking,” he said, and untwisted away from her only with effort. It wasn’t something he could think about looking into those eyes...
If anyone had asked him why it was Lillia he loved, enough to spurn the queen of literally half the world for her, it would have been difficult to answer. He couldn’t say that Lillia was the prettiest, or the kindest, but he felt a unique energy when they were together; if he had to put it into one of those corny phrases, it would be that she made him feel alive. In the past year, being with Lillia more constantly over more time than ever before, he had gotten used to that feeling but not inured to it; it hadn’t changed. He had come to this city for the medical facilities, but she was the real reason he had come to this school, and the one thing he had known then about his future was that he wanted to spend it with her, that he wanted to marry her; that also hadn’t changed.
But there were other things that hadn’t changed. When the graduation ball had been held the previous weekend, the fact that Lillia didn’t need to ask him to escort her or wait to be asked didn’t quite erase the fact that she hadn’t bothered to; she had simply said “we’ll go” as if it were nothing romantic or worth remarking on. If he leaned in to kiss her, she offered him her cheek, just as on the rare occasions that she offered a kiss herself she placed it on his cheek or his forehead, and Treize had seen enough of his own parents to know that that wasn’t how people who married each other would tend to behave. She was making her own plans without regard to him; if he stopped here, she would just fly past...
If he was going to keep that from happening, he had to tell her he wanted something different, ask her to be a part of it, but the difficulty of doing that hadn’t changed, either --- or maybe it had. When the man who nearly murdered him had held Lillia hostage and backed him into a corner, in hindsight he should have blurted out “I love you!” or “Will you marry me?” not “I’m the prince of Ixtova;” now it was in the wrong order. Although he didn’t really believe that Lillia would let herself be bullied or bribed by his royal blood, somehow the extra resistance was still there, and with that added to the old barrier, even in a year of daily contact and noble intentions, he hadn’t been able to get past it.
But now, like on that train, he was out of time; it had to be done. Again and again he opened his mouth, only to shut it again in defeat. He vowed that his next breath would form the confession or the question and drew it in deep, but even with that pressure building behind them, the words wouldn’t move, and in the end he had to abandon the attempt as more likely to make him pass out than succeed.
Lillia eased around toward him as he puffed to get his breath. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he panted. A new tactic suddenly seized him, and he turned to her. “Lillia!”
“Hm?” She blinked curiously.
Now he had committed to saying something, and he would just have to do the best he could. “Would you---” No, couldn’t get through that way... “Ah... How would you... really feel if... if I got married?”
She recoiled her head a little.
“---I mean to someone else,” he hastily added.
“Well, obviously you wouldn’t be marrying yourself,” she remarked.
It struck him in the throat and dropped down into his chest. It dropped down into that black chasm, and sent the now-louder echo back to him... He had to lean back against the tree for a few moments before his mind caught up to put words to it. Apparently his marrying her didn’t even rise to the level of a joke...
“What is this all of a sudden?” Lillia demanded. “Who would you be marrying?”
“Well, my parents got the offer a long time ago. You know how it is,” he said softly.
“Oh, so it really is like in books, where they’re always making princes and princesses marry somebody...? If you don’t like her, you should say no or run away or something.”
He shook his head. “No, she’s okay.” Without someone to run away with, or to...
“You could have told me sooner,” Lillia grumped. “This time, do I get an ‘I didn’t mean to keep it from you,’ or...?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I did. Probably.” He was too stunned to lie. Another realization caught at him; one last thing to have it all taken care of... “Um, Lillia... If I do get married... I won’t be able to get you the pendant.”
He felt the royal necklace that only members of his family could wear laying against his chest under his shirt; its weight seemed to widen and press in on him, and his shoulders curled around it. “The pendant like mine that I said I’d give you. Is it really okay... if I can’t get it after all?”
Lillia turned oddly quiet and stared at him for a long moment. Finally she rubbed his shoulder. “Yeah, it’s okay; you don’t have to feel bad about something like that. I mean, it was kind of a silly thing to ask you for, anyway...”
Treize mustered a nod, but words were beyond him. He closed his eyes and tipped his head back; a cool breeze would have felt very good, but in the capital this close to summer, no such thing existed.
Lillia sat beside him in awkward silence for awhile, then suddenly drew herself up. “She’d better not be the jealous type,” she announced.
“Hm...?” He knew she was offering him something important, but making a sound and cracking his eyes open felt like struggling back from very far away.
“You know, the ones who go off if their boyfriend even says hi to another girl; she’d better not be like that. If I don’t get to visit you and stay friends, I don’t care if she is a princess, I’ll--- I’ll...”
“Oh, she’s not like that,” he said. Mathilda would even ask after Lillia in letters and enjoyed hearing about her, although Treize had never admitted to her that they were dating. Knowing, as Lillia herself did not, that she was the daughter “Major Travas” had left behind to serve the queen’s country, Mathilda felt a certain responsibility to her and concern for her happiness, too much to stand between her and a close friend.
And it seemed that having Treize as a friend was what would make Lillia happy. He should have read the signs long ago that that was what she wanted from him, and now that he had, deferring to it gracefully was the gentlemanly thing, wasn’t it?
“Well... I hope you’ll be happy...” she said.
“Yeah...” He managed a smile. “I hope you’ll be in the air show.”
She smiled back at him, although it seemed she was also forcing it. There was no denying the day’s heavy, bittersweet taste. When Treize looked back at the school building, standing tall with its glittering jewel-like windows, it already felt like looking at a movie backdrop; the other side of its facade was another world and not quite real...
A familiar car rolled up in the nearby circle drive, the pavement gently popping under its wheels with a sound almost like peeling an orange. When it stopped, it was Emma from the Ixtovan Royal Guard who got out, then Major Travas --- in his current alias as “Mr. Fox” --- from the driver’s seat.
Treize hurriedly picked himself up before Emma could get close enough to help him; Travas had told him privately that the Royal Guard was much improved in the past year and no longer leaving unsecured dynamite lying around, but those old friends could still be too officious for Treize’s taste. Even a sigh and a hand braced on the tree were enough to set off Emma’s protective instincts. “Are you all right, ‘Young Master’?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just thinking, ‘It’s over’...” He had to stop there; “It’s over” took him by surprise with how it stuck in his throat, and if he admitted that it made him dizzy, she might take it too literally.
What he did say was enough for her to fall back on a gentle smile. “Your parents called, and they’ll be arriving in just a few hours.”
“Oh. I probably should try to get some rest before they get here. ---If that’s okay, Lillia?” She was still sitting on the ground under the tree, and he had to look down at her.
“Yeah. That’s okay.”
Travas had caught up to them. “Would you like us to drive you home?” he asked Lillia.
“No, I think I’ll stay awhile longer,” she said dully.
It seemed to Treize that the Major always had an unusual warmth in his expression when he looked at Lillia or talked to her; apparently she didn’t notice it, or else ascribed it simply to him being her mother’s ‘boyfriend,’ but then, maybe he was trying to see it...
“I’ll see you tomorrow, then?” Treize asked.
Lillia didn’t even look up at him. “Sure. See you.”
** * * **
Lillia remained sitting under the tree as she watched Treize and the others go, heard the car doors slam... She didn’t have a reason, but she knew certainly that she didn’t want to get up from the spot until the car was out of sight. Once it had disappeared, however, she knew just as certainly that she didn’t want to stay there under the tree, or even out here on the grass, anymore. Not quite ready to leave yet, either, she took the obvious remaining option and went back inside.
There, it was hardly any better. Standing nearly empty gave the familiar school hallways an almost threatening air of melancholy as they turned her footsteps into sharp, breathy echoes. Even an hour ago, she hadn’t really understood what some of her classmates were saying about “bittersweet” and how they would “miss it.” She knew she would stay in touch with her friends, class reunions would surely be enough nostalgiac attention for a building, and it was a proud achievement, a huge step toward a bigger life, bigger dreams... What was to regret? An hour ago she had barely thought of it enough to wonder, but now...
It was Treize’s fault. To think that after more than a year, he was still springing things like that on her...
Unthinkingly, Lillia gravitated toward the sound of human voices and found herself walking down the hall toward the music room, where the chorus club was still practicing to perform at the ceremony tomorrow. Lillia could pick out Meg’s voice. Of course her friend would be there, so she could wait and they could walk home together --- but no; Seron was already sitting there waiting, and Lillia didn’t want to limp away from her last day of high school as a third wheel. She would just stop and say hello to him and then go home.
Seron looked up from his book and waved, then glanced to either side of her. “Where’s Treize?”
Lillia slowed for one step but didn’t stop; she set her chin defiantly. “How should I know??” she snapped, quickening her pace to march past him.
** * * **
When his bodyguards got him back to the apartment, Treize asked for some time alone in his room to rest, but it wasn’t a nap that he wanted. The plan was for him to leave the city with his parents the day after the ceremony, so he had already packed almost everything that he intended to keep into a pleasingly-yet-humblingly small pile of luggage, leaving the room with the same half-haunted feeling as the school and sending him to one of the bags for what he wanted.
He took out a portfolio and sat down at the now-bare desk with it; inside were all the letters from Mathilda, stuffed in in the order received, so that now, after a little shuffling, he took out the entire stack and flipped it over, the better to re-read them from the start. There had never been anything romantic about keeping them, only that throwing them away would have seemed hasty and ingracious, and now he was glad he had them.
All this time he had wished that Lillia would just realize from how he looked and acted, when all along he had been the one not taking a hint... It would dull the sting of what a fool he’d been, to have some reassurance that the way it was turning out now out wasn’t so very bad.
The letters were written with a fine pen and richly-shaded brown ink, in a small, well-trained hand. I write first to offer you my deepest apology, the earliest one began. It was a desperate shock to me when you were put in danger, and I remain deeply affected by the injuries you suffered. However indirect the responsibility may be, this was a result of my proposal to you, and perhaps you have suffered for my recklessness. I have tried to the best of my ability to make amends, and if there is anything further that I can do in this regard, please do not hesistate to request it. In such a case, it is too great a thing to be earned or expected, but I hope that you will be able to forgive me.
I hope also for your understanding. Although my proposal has caused you such suffering, I will not withdraw it. My simplest reason is that I would still be delighted if you would accept, but to withdraw it now would also give the appearance of capitulation in the face of this outrage. I cannot countenance that, and I ask that you not do so, either. You must not feel pressured to accept for this reason; I am depending on you in faith to reply with the honest wish of your heart. If you must decline, however, please delay doing so for at least a year if possible.
It was true that Treize had been targeted because of Mathilda’s marriage offer --- the reason her country’s covert agents, including Major Travas, were still guarding him as part of their Queen’s effort to “make amends” --- but he had never blamed her, and he agreed with her logic in letting the proposal stand. Those things would have required a polite response, but they were not what had turned the letter into a correspondence and made him tediously peck out a lengthy reply on a typewriter, because his right arm had still been in a brace and his left-handed script too embarrassing. At the time, me might not even have known what that was, but now, reading over the letter for the first time in over a year, it jumped right out at him:
“I realize that you were nervous.”
I realize that you were nervous when we spoke, the letter continued. I said nothing at the time because I did not wish to embarrass you, and I hope that I do not embarrass you by writing it now. To the contrary, it was quite a natural way to feel under the circumstances, and I appreciate that you did not hide it from me.
He had been embarrassed when he read it the first time, but now that had faded --- or perhaps been overshadowed --- and he could see that there was something below that ruffled surface. Someone actually had realized from his looks and actions how he felt; it seemed unfair, too strict and too generous both at once, but it was enough to feel a connection draw comfortably snug.
So he had written back more than a polite “I don’t blame you; I appreciate your help; I think you’re right not to call it off now” and continued to exchange letters --- only in a casual way, but by now it added up to enough to spend hours re-reading what he’d received. As the pages went on, Mathilda’s formal tone relaxed somewhat, and she asked him about Lillia, about school and his other friends, and even about such trifles as what kinds of restaurants and shops were nearby. It had taken him some time to realize that there was genuine curiosity behind queries like that; Mathilda had spent her entire life in a high royal court, so to her, the tea-and-sandwich shop on the corner with the inexplicable case of knickknacks and cheap jewelry by the register could seem exotic, and she had reacted to the bracelet of plastic faux-tortoise rosebuds he sent just to prove how quirky it was as if she had gotten rare shells from a tropical seaside. Treize, on the other hand, had at times been guilty of feigning interest, intentionally coming up with something to ask Mathilda about her life to keep a letter from seeming too perfunctory, but when the thoughtful and detailed answers came back, they were always pleasant after all.
He was also struck by what she had not written; after the first letter, she never mentioned the marriage proposal again. Once when she wrote about a visit with Merielle it had taken visible effort to avoid the topic, and once she expressed a wish to meet him again in person, but that was as close as she came. Perhaps she thought anything more direct would be ill-mannered --- and the more remarkable thing was that she didn’t need it. Even the occasional “I always look forward to your letters” seemed superfluous. Her warm responses and interested questions were enough to keep the declaration in that first letter from ever falling out of memory --- “I would still be delighted if you would accept.” If he wrote to her, “How would you feel if I married someone else?” he could imagine the answer for himself: “I must admit disappointment for my own sake, but I wish you the best . . .”
Well, there was no reason to disappoint her now. All the times his sister had demanded that he hurry up and make her friend happy had only created more resistance, but now it seemed he could at least do that. Having gotten to know Mathilda more through her letters, it would be spending his life with someone he liked and respected, even if in a casual way. Surely that could be some kind of happiness.
And Lillia... The moment he thought of her he was back at the black chasm, but it had moved --- no longer in front of him or even below him but inside him, a plunging depth that he could feel in his body. But then, of course it felt bad not to get what he wanted; of course it felt bad to have been an idiot. If he could put that aside and think rationally, Lillia would certainly be happy on her own. He’d been thinking of it the wrong way, that was all. It should have been obvious for a long time that he couldn’t imagine himself and Lillia like his father and mother, but if he thought of his father and her mother... Carr Benedict and Allison Whittington-Schultz had never been in love --- the story of a little flirtation on his father’s part notwithstanding --- but they would always be people who had seen various adventures together, and when Treize had been there for visits between them, he had always known that there was something special there --- quieter, with harder edges, but precious.
Yes, he and Lillia could be like that. Thinking it right now couldn’t possibly fill that hole he felt inside, only paper it over a little, but someday it would be enough; he would hold onto it at least, and not give up until it was enough...
For now, he didn’t want to think about it anymore. His parents would be here soon, and he wanted not only to greet them in a good mood, but to show them a smile when he told them his decision, and he turned back to the comfort of the letters.
Mathilda-on-paper was replying to the letter where he had included a rubbing of his third-place target-shooting medal and effusing warmly over Treize’s skill and thoughtfulness when the knock on the door came. He hastily flipped the portfolio shut on the pile of papers and rushed out to meet his parents; “Mama, Papa---! Ah...”
The sight brought him up short. The guards standing to greet them were beyond normal, and his father was nothing unexpected --- he had shaved his beard and put on fake glasses as he had the previous year, although this time he hadn’t sacrificed a year’s progress growing his hair back out --- but for his mother’s disguise, she had curled her hair, made up her face, and dressed in a boldly fashionable red suit with large black buttons and a tiny hat whose equally tiny veil was barely more than a rosette. Treize was taken aback by the transformation, but a reassuringly familiar joy lit up her face when she saw him.
“Treize!” She swept across the room and embraced him. “Oh, I’m so happy to see you again!”
“I’m glad to see you, too!” Treize returned her squeeze before releasing to arms’ length. “And you look... uh...”
“It doesn’t suit me at all, does it?” she beamed sheepishly.
“Not... not really,” he admitted. In fact it was surprisingly flattering and glamorous --- and that was why it looked so wrong.
“But you, you’re looking so strong now!” she declared. “Oh, you don’t know how happy it makes me to see you so much better...”
“Thanks.” He didn’t know what else to say. As Queen, taking time away was more difficult for her than for his father, and Treize realized that this was the first time she had seen him since last summer, when he could still barely walk. After being apart so long, it also struck him suddenly that he’d grown a little taller than her.
“Well, Fi? Didn’t I tell you not to worry?” Carr lay an arm on each of their shoulders with an affectionate smile. Treize would never have to worry about being taller than his father...
“Merielle didn’t come?” he asked.
“Well, it would have been harder to hide us all together,” Carr explained, “and she’s covering for us.”
“Officially, we’re visiting Sou-Beil right now, and she went ahead to see her friend,” Fiona added. “It wouldn’t be anything strange if we said it was a private visit, but it might be good to make an appearance later --- and it would be nice for us all to have a trip together, don’t you think so?”
Treize felt it squeeze in his chest. Everything really was pointing that way...
“Of course,” his father cautioned, “that would mean Merielle nagging you about the marriage proposal...”
“Yeah, well, about that...”
“Ohh? Do we have some news?” Carr asked, squeezing him conspiratorially closer.
“Yeah, I, ahh...” This was also hard to say, but less so; why so much less? He took a breath. “I’m going to accept.”
A sudden hush fell over the room. His father’s arm went slack on his shoulder. His mother blinked at him vacantly for a moment before recovering herself and putting on a smile. “Oh, I see.”
When he glanced around at the guards, Emma’s face had twisted up as if she were trying not to cry, and Major Travas looked uncharacteristically stunned.
** * to be continued * **