She knew without having to do any more than note the time,
where her husband was. Where else would a man be at midnight if he wasn’t
in bed with his wife? Why, in the den, of course… staring at that
freaking creepy painting… again.
She sighed with loud, pointed, dramatic exasperation since there was no
one there to hear it anyway, and then watched the numbers on the clock
change from 12:01 to 12:02 and then 12:03. She’d rolled over and
ignored it for over two weeks now, and while there was a part of her (the
sleepy, disgruntled part) that would be more than happy to pull the pillow
over her head and do just that, there was a another part that was starting
to realize this behavior wasn’t going to just go away on its own
like she’d hoped.
Silly Noin… thinking he’d get over it like a toddler growing
out of a stage.
She sighed again as the clock flicked through 12:05 and 12:06.
Somewhere deep down inside she was annoyed at Duo Maxwell. Not the rational
part. Not the practical part. And not with any real rancor. Just… the
juvenile part that wanted to roll over, pick up her phone and call the
man. Wanted to maybe… blow a raspberry and hang up. Just so she’d
know that somebody else in the world was awake and confused at… 12:08
in the middle of the night.
Well… somebody else besides the man downstairs.
Though, in all fairness, she supposed there wasn’t anybody involved
that was really all that confused.
It was 12:15 when she finally got out of bed.
The first time she’d caught him doing this… probably the first
time he’d done it, since it had only been a few days after that damn
painting had found its way into their home, she’d slipped away without
him ever knowing she’d been there. Had left him to his brooding,
because… as much as she loved him, nobody could brood quite like
Zechs Merquise. She’d just figured it was something he needed to
work out for himself.
But two weeks was getting to be a bit much.
She found him right where she knew he’d be, and announced her presence
with a sigh only slightly less exaggerated than the one she’d allowed
herself upstairs. ‘Should I be jealous?’ she asked, leaning
against the doorframe of the room, waiting to see if his mood was likely
to welcome her company. She was a little surprised to see him jump; testament
to how deep inside his own head he’d been.
He tried to cover it up, turning it into a funny little shrug, but she
saw the color tinge the tops of his ears… the place his blushes would
always start. ‘I’m sorry Luca… I didn’t mean to
Disturb; such a formal sound somehow. It sort of let her know that he’d
just as soon she went away, at the same time it let her know she wasn’t
about to. She debated letting him know that he’d been disturbing
her every night since this had become a habit, but decided that would only
put him on the defensive. ‘I was up hunting for my husband anyway,’ she
quipped but didn’t get the laugh. In fact, he just turned back to
the painting where it sat on the easel that had been bought for it, and
went back to the staring. She was just opening her mouth to try another
tact when she saw him begin to gnaw on his lower lip and knew he was working
on something, so let him be.
‘I pulled some strings with the Preventers,’ he finally said,
his tone so confessional she wanted to laugh. Like string pulling was a
foreign idea for the Peacecraft family in general. Oh no; never seen that
happen before. But she knew better than to interrupt. ‘I had them
pull Jensen’s records. We traced his duty history… all his
reassignmentss… and then we matched the time-line up against the
unsolved murder database.’
Oh. Oh my. Now why did she think that was probably a thing that should
maybe have been left alone? At least… for Zechs’ peace of mind.
And judging from the look on his face… what they’d found hadn’t
been at all what he’d been hoping.
She wanted to ask him why, because she was curious if it had just been
his stubbornness wanting to prove Duo and Quatre had been wrong. But… yeah… she
really didn’t need to know. She just waited and eventually he sighed
and gave her a funny little look, maybe judging her reaction.
‘We narrowed it down by the MO, but…’ he hesitated,
like he didn’t quite want to voice it out-loud, ‘we think he
was very likely responsible for over twenty civilian deaths.’
So clinical… so careful. And the emphasis on that ‘civilian’.
Because that mattered so much to him when it came to the blood and the
death part. She straightened away from the doorframe and went to stand
in front of the painting, looking again at the man Quatre Winner had called
a rapist and murderer. She wished she could pin-point just what it was
about the painting that gave her the creeps so bad. Was it just the man
himself? Was it knowing what she was looking at? She didn’t think
so; she vaguely remembered it unsettling her from the first time she’d
laid eyes on it… before she’d been told what the subject was.
There was just something… off putting about it. A demonstration,
she supposed, of Duo Maxwell’s talent.
She wondered if that creep factor was what made Zechs lie awake at night
until he had to come down and stare some more.
After a moment, he stood from where he’d been sitting and came to
join her, slipping an arm around her waist and standing close… almost
as though he felt he needed to protect her from the man striding toward
them out of the skirling snow of the past.
‘It wasn’t your fault,’ she said firmly. ‘Despite
what Quatre Winner said.’
She heard him sigh; a sigh not nearly as dramatic as her own, but one
that spoke of deep weariness. ‘Don’t be angry with him,’ he
chided and it took a moment for her to admit to herself that there had
been a touch of resentment in her tone. ‘He only spoke the truth… we
did enable Jensen. All of us who ever had him under our command.’
She couldn’t help thinking about all the ones that she’d had
under her own command and had to admit that, while she’d had many
sleepless nights worrying over the loses… she’d never had to
lie awake thinking about… well; evil. She couldn’t think of
a single one of her young men and women that she hadn’t been proud
of. She might have gotten exasperated with them sometimes, like errant
little children, she might have sighed over some of them, and grieved over
some of them, but… what would it have been like to have one of her
own turn out to be… Jensen?
She wondered what the man’s full name had been, but didn’t
care enough to ask.
‘We had our hands full,’ she soothed, but… they were
hollow words, and they both knew it.
Behind her, he made a funny little sound that kind of seemed like an appreciation
for the effort, at the same time that it was denial. He went ahead and
put his other arm around her and pulled her against his chest. There was
another heavy sigh and it might have been a duet.
‘Am I a horrible man, Luca?’ he asked after a moment, and
she turned in his arms to give him a hug.
‘No,’ she said, and left it at that. He settled his chin on
the top of her head but she knew he was still looking at the painting.
She could see it out of the corner of her eye, and it came to her all at
once that those figures in the background were… dead. She could see
through them. Ghosts. The victims.
She wondered if it was Jensen that Zechs spent his nights staring at,
or if it were those long dead souls. She shivered and he kissed the top
of her head, holding her closer, perhaps thinking she was cold.
‘I… did some horrible things,’ he whispered and she
knew he wasn’t just talking about not doing his duty over one psychopath.
But what was she to say to that? He had done some horrible things. Most
of them, as far as she was concerned, things that could be traced right
back to the actions of one Treize Khushrenada. There had been such rage,
and such grieving and such confusion within Zechs after what Treize had
done. But… she knew better than to give voice to those opinions.
And God… they’d all been so young.
Like it had been a hundred years ago. Because they were just oh so very
Maybe if she was a hundred, she’d be wise enough to know what to
say to such midnight musings. But she wasn’t, so she just held on
tight. Held on like she’d always held on.
Against the top of her head, he murmured, ‘I… love you,’ and
she blinked, wondering if he’d ever said that out loud before. It
had sort of been implied in the whole ‘marry me’ thing, but
Zechs wasn’t a man who wore his heart on his sleeve. It made her
wonder just where his brooding had been taking him these past few weeks.
Made her wonder if maybe he was finally ready to take a look at just how
messed up Treize had left him.
In her head she took those duty rosters and she took those unclosed cases
and she ran them all down and she interviewed and she looked for dna samples
and she gave all those families closure and got accurate counts and tied
it all up with a bow and laid it at his feet.
But she’d come to terms with her own issues some time ago, and knew
that she couldn’t fix the world for him no matter how hard she tried.
Sometimes she had to let him struggle his way through on his own, and this
was very much one of those times.
So she just lifted her head, rose up on her toes, and kissed him. ‘I
love you too.’
She couldn’t fix it, but she could hold on through the storm. Hold
on through anything and not ever let him down the way Treize Khushrenada
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