Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, disclaimer

Two Halves + Chapter 11
Sundered, First Half

Smoke rose from the scorched grass, cloying in the air, shifting in the slight breeze. The smell of burnt human flesh lurked beneath it. It was a smell that Zechs knew too well, and it was tearing his mind apart as he burst into the clearing.

"Heero, Duo!" And then he stopped, seeing the charred bodies, the bottom dropping out from the world and leaving him hanging alone in the cold of space.

Before the whimper of horror and disbelief could pass his lips he felt movement. He spun towards the lodge, sword and shield lifting. A small figure was sitting on a fallen beam, holding a sword. He was covered in soot from head to toe and had sat so still he'd melded right into the singed woodwork.

"Heero!" Relief exploding in his chest, Zechs tripped over burnt sod and smoking grass. His hands were rough as he brushed his son up and down looking for serious burns or injury. Heero had a tender lump on the back that was starting to swell, courtesy of the fiend, and the skin on his hands and neck was starting to blister. His hair, which he always insisted on keeping short and in a military cut, was singed even shorter. His eyes were wide but focused. He didn't respond when Zechs finally concluded he was alright and pulled him into a bear hug.

"Where's your brother? What happened?" Zechs asked, both questions trying to get out at once.

"... not my brother."

Zechs stiffened and slowly leaned back to look at his son. The blue eyes caught his. They were flat and void of emotion.

"A sorcerer of Lin attacked us. He was sent to assassinate the Sanq prince. He set a fiend on us." The phrases were short and clipped, like a status report. "It was Treize's brother. Septim, Odin called him. He was also looking for Treize's heir." Zechs jumped so badly he nearly jerked Heero off the beam. Heero paid no attention. "The fiend caught me. Duo retaliated with a black magic blast. Odin and Father Max intervened. Odin was k-killed. Duo tried to kill Septim. The spell bounced off his wards. It hit me and Father Maxwell. Father used up all his strength to shield me. When I came to, Father Maxwell was dead. Septim had taken Duo. I guess they went back to Lin. You should have told us."

The last was said in the same tone, as part of the report, so that Zechs, reeling from the repeated blows, almost missed it. "Heero- I-"

"I know why you didn't. But you should have." The tone was not judgemental. It wasn't anything really. He's in shock, Zechs thought. Or at least he hoped that was the case.

"Son-" he started again.

"Who is that?"

The sword Heero was holding swung up, pointing to a spot behind the king. It was Odin's mage-tempered blade, Zechs realised. Heero's dagger was lying on the beam at his side, slightly twisted and dulled by the heat. The sword, designed to resist magical blasts, was shining like a shard of light as it's point centered on the figure that had followed Zechs into the clearing.

"My name is Jay. Which one are you?"

Heero gave the man the same blank stare as he had Zechs. The man was of average height and square build. He had a moustache hanging down his face, greying chestnut, and long grey hair pulled back over a large forehead. He was wearing little round glasses so thick you could barely see his eyes. He was wearing a dusty beige leather long-coat, and functional brown pants and shirt beneath. He didn't appear to be armed.

"Heero." The youth finally said. His eyes looked suddenly guarded as the flash of the glasses caught his eyes and held them.

"Hmmm. Ok. How long ago did Septim and Duo teleport out of here?"

"About ten minutes."

"Damn. OK. I think I can squeeze a teleport out myself. I don't want the castle guards to go all squirrelly on us when we come back with you in this state."

A minute later they were back in the study where Jay had found Zechs. Five minutes after that, they had made a discreet way to the princes' chambers, where Zechs washed his son down with water from a cold basin, double-checking he didn't have any serious burns. The soldier's ritual stopped his mind from spinning out of control, though his heart was groaning Duo with every beat of his pulse.

"Well now we're in a bit of a bind." Jay said without preamble. The king and the prince looked at him as he wandered around the room, glancing at scrolls and straightening weapons, clothes and knick-knacks.

"Who are you?" Heero asked again. His cleaned face was pale and set.

"This is Master Jay. He's a very powerful sorcerer who lives in the wastes east of us, on the frontier with Kespar. You've heard of him." Zechs voice was quiet. "He helped us during the war with Treize. Sent us some sorcerers who could actually counter black magic actively. It helped us retake the capital without too much bloodshed."

"That sums it up." Jay grunted. "Now your boy can return the favour, if he chooses."

"What?" Zechs asked, startled.

"The forces of Lin will be moving again. This time, things will be even worse. I can't give you any more information, not to someone who isn't working hand in hand with me. I've got my own work, you've got yours, we go our own ways. Heero here however has a choice.

"When things get really bad, I'll need the help of someone with power, to counter the madness that Lin is going to unleash on us. They're already letting slip their hounds; Septim's attack against your heir was only the first of many small moves which will take years to culminate.

"Heero can hunker down here until Lin decides to try to assassinate him again. He can try to start mobilizing against them and hope that will suffice when the time comes. Or he can come with me and help me from my end."

"Why me?" Heero asked quietly, interrupting Zechs' protests.

"Well, truth be told, I would prefer to work with the son of Treize." The cold glass flickered in the afternoon's dying light. Heero's eyes widened slightly and his jaw tightened. "When it comes down to it, he'll be a powerhouse. Plus, added bonus, if I could actually train him, maybe he wouldn't go crazy like all the other rulers of Lin before him. The amount of power they use burns out their brains sooner or later. He's probably not felt it yet since he's been avoiding using it till now, but that won't be an option in the next few years.

"I was hoping to get both you boys working for me. Now it looks like I might have a stale-mate. Duo might be helping whatever comes out of Lin in a few years time and that means you will have to oppose him, whatever path you choose."

"But Duo-" Heero glanced at Zechs and then stared at the floor, perturbed.

"It's unlikely you will have the power to fight what's coming alone, especially with Duo involved, but as I said, it's your choice." The man smiled like a lizard, without feeling or humour.

"I'll do it."

"What?!" Zechs was on his feet, protesting, but flinched at the blue eyes that fastened on his.

"It's my choice. You can't stop me. If you don't let me go I'll find a way of going on my own." The voice was as cold as deep sea water, powerful currents pulling underneath a still surface. "I know why Jay wants me. There is... something wrong out there. A hole in the world. Something Treize opened during the war, I think. Duo and I... I think we're connected to it as well. It's already started. It's my responsibility to make sure I can stop it when the time comes."

Zechs could feel himself drowning in those deep blue oceans, logic and authority melting in the face of steely determination.

"It won't be easy, boy." Jay almost smirked. "I think you know what my training will entail. It might break you. But I won't have you becoming part of the problem, do you understand?"

"I understand perfectly."

Once more their eyes met. Jay nodded slightly, satisfied. Heero turned towards Zechs.

"You will tell everybody that Duo and I have left for our mother's birthland for a prolonged visit. For our education. F-father Maxwell and Odin will have accompanied us." The steely voice quavered slightly, in pain and in echo of the grief in Zechs' face. Heero visibly knew how alone the king was soon going to be, having lost his two best friends as well as Duo in one day. And Heero as well, for awhile at least; but he couldn't let the king's pain sway him.

"You have to keep the people of Sanq from wondering what happened to us." He continued, trying to control the pain in his voice. "Lin will assume that I have died, and you are trying to hide it until you can find someone to succeed you. This will stop them from trying to kill me again, or even look for me. I'll try to keep in touch with you, I'm sure we can manage something. It will only be for a few years. After that I-"

Suddenly the eyes faltered, and it was a boy who looked at Zechs through wounded eyes, then the control snapped back, faltering only slightly.

"I can't promise- I - I will try my best, but I may have to-... But I promise to do my best, to make sure you-you're not alone after..."

Zechs knew he was going to argue. For hours, until it would get dark enough for Jay and Heero to sneak out of the palace. And he knew he was going to lose. He knew he would soon be alone again. He didn't understand any of this, but what he saw in his son's eyes frightened him, even more than the loneliness that was going to silence the palace around him soon. Heero had seen something, he felt, while the black power of his other half crashed and burned around him, something lurking in their futures. What he was seeing there was making him older than his years.

A few hours later, two figures left through the east gate of the city, unchallenged, the city watch having been suddenly unexplainably distracted away from their post. Heero made a sour mental note to write to Zechs as soon as he arrived in the no-mans-land of Kespar that was Jay's home. The city watch would have to be beefed up with a white mage for every patrol, if it was so easy to break into and out of the city with a bit of mental shenanigans. He was sure Odin would arrange it-

He clutched Odin's sword tightly, bringing the emotion under control. He hadn't lost control of his emotions in the clearing when his mentor had been killed. Maybe it would have been better- no, it was pointless to second guess the past. Now he had to concentrate single-mindedly on the future. He had left it all behind. The only thing he'd kept was Odin's unadorned but mage-charmed sword, and a vest that Zechs had thrust into his arms as he left. It belonged to the king, it was too big but was in the royal colour, green. Heero knew that this was a declaration. You are my heir, so you better come back. Heero didn't know if he could keep that promise as easily as he'd stuffed the vest into his sack. He hoped it wouldn't hurt Zechs too much if he couldn't.

[chap. 10] [chap. 12] [back to Maldoror's fic]