The Ghost of An Unkissed Kiss
Amber blush tinging the evening sky, dusk crept upon the estate grounds. In the gardens to the east of the palatial manor, at the centre of a vast, spiralling maze of jasmine hedges, sat a girl. She was young, teetering on that edge between innocence and womanhood. Perched on the edge of a carved stone bench, her hands were clasped in her lap and her feet dangled not quite touching the ground.
"Are you lost?" The girl turned her head looking for who had spoken. She shivered in the lengthening shadows, a reaction silently noted by the tall youth stepping out from one of the jasmine lined paths behind her.
Brown hair, styled in loose curls threaded with red ribbon, bounced as she shook her head no. "I'm waiting," she said simply, solemn eyes sliding back to the fountain bubbling in the very centre of the clearing.
"Ah," Treize said. His gleaming black boots crunched on the gravel as he moved to stand at the end of the girl's bench. A daughter of one of the military men being entertained by his great-uncle, he guessed. "May I ask what you're waiting for?"
"Whom," the girl corrected tartly.
"Whom," the young gentleman conceded. He rested his hands in his pockets and admired the gentle music of water trickling down sculpted stone.
"I'm waiting for a boy," the girl said. She fidgeted slightly at the admission, glancing over at the teen to gauge his reaction.
"The hour is growing late," Treize pointed out. "When do you expect your friend to arrive?"
"He's not my friend and I don't know," she answered.
"Would you object if I were to sit with you and keep you company as you wait?"
"I suppose not."
Treize studied the serious faced girl. He shrugged the jacket of his uniform off before taking a seat at the opposite side of the bench. "Here," he said, offering it out to her at arms length. "You must be cold."
"I'm fine," she said stiffly, but an ill-timed shiver betrayed her.
"Take it," he insisted, shaking the jacket once.
"Thank you, sir," the girl mumbled as she acquiesced. A shy smile turned the corners of her mouth as she pulled the garment around her and melted into its warmth.
Treize nodded in satisfaction.
"My mother told me if you get to the center of a hedge maze, the first boy you meet is supposed to be special," the girl said, her feet swinging ever so slightly as she kept a vigilant watch on the tunnels leading from the labyrinthe.
"I see," said Treize, with no hint of mockery. He shifted, swinging around on the bench to face the opposite direction. "I'll watch this side for you."
"I wish he'd show up soon," she whispered, her smile fading and the words sounding as if she hadn't meant for them to be spoken aloud.
"I'm sure you won't be kept waiting long," the young officer said in all sincerity.
"Thanks, mister," the girl said.
"Treize," he told her.
"Thanks, Mister Treize," she said, and out of the corner of his eye, Treize saw her smile again.
The stars were bright in the sky when Treize lifted the sleeping form of the young girl into his arms. She mumbled a feeble protest, shaking an arm free of the too-large jacket draped around her shoulders to push a hand against his chest.
"He's not coming, is he?"
Treize's eyes softened and he prepared to lie, but, as quickly as it had been placed there, the palm pressed flat against his chest lost its strength, fingers curling as sleep reclaimed his charge.
"What are you doing out here?" Treize asked. Morning fog rested low in thick patches that crept between carefully tended flower beds. The world seemed bleached, with the sun a pale yellow disc hidden behind the overcast sky.
"The signal is stronger," Une said simply. Her burgandy uniform stood out sharply against the muted grays and greens of her surroundings.
"Of course," Treize replied. He stood beside her wordlessly, twirling a blossom of jasmine between his fingers. Une's expression was so severe this morning that he wondered if she would smile if he asked her to. He held the tiny star-shaped flower up and smiled gently before releasing it to be picked up by the breeze. Probably not.
Une extended the antenna of her hand-held comm and sat down on a low stone bench. She crossed her legs impatiently and pulled her elbows close to her body, conserving her body heat instinctively.
"Sir?" Une's voice came out in a soft startled squeak as she felt the warmth of Treize's cloak envelop her.
"I don't want you to catch a chill," said Treize. He drew a deep breath as his gaze drifted towards the eastern end of the gardens.
Une felt a flush of nervous shock and fought the urge to pull the cloak tighter around her body and drown in the pleasant scent of the heavy folds.
"Lady Une," he said. "Tell me, how is your mother?"
"Never mind," said Treize, dismissing the question. "I'll be walking for a while still, but I'll be back in my office in a few hours."
"Yes, Lady Une?" Treize slowed his steps to allow the young woman to catch up.
"What are you doing out here? It's twelve o'clock and the Commander of the Space Forces is on the satellite as you requested," Une said.
"Is it that late already?" Treize looked upwards at the brilliant blue of the midday sky. Time seemed to have slipped past him.
"He won't wait forever," Une reminded her commander sharply.
Treize stopped abruptly just before the path crossed another and turned on his heel. Une gasped as she nearly walked straight into him, and her eyes grew wide behind the thin lenses of her glasses as Treize picked up her hand in his. "Of course. Thank you for reminding me of my manners, my dear Lady. I should never have presumed to expect someone to wait on my convenience."
He dipped his head to press his lips against her knuckles gently. As he released her slender fingers, his other hand tucked an errant wisp of hair behind her ear. Treize cradled her cheek for the briefest of moments before he stepped away and affected a courtly bow. "I'll be engaged for the rest of the day, but you're free to do as you wish. Explore the garden if you feel so inclined, but please, take care you don't get lost in the labyrinthe."
Une blinked, body rendered still with shock, as the odd tingle of a half-remembered evening danced at the edge of her memory.
"But, my dear Lady," Treize said, a strange smile touching his lips fleetingly as he walked towards the duty that awaited him, "if you do get lost. Try and find your way to the centre.
"Someone is bound to come along."