Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, disclaimer

Two Halves + Chapter 2
Revenge

The old woman's voice was a cold rasp, as she relived the past she had never escaped. Her eyes stayed fixed on Zechs, who stood staring at the two small boys. One of whom was his son. The other...

"Une died first. She died screaming, in blood and birth fluids, Treize's child ripping her apart. Not that he really cared. He was far away at the time, planning his next strike against you!" Years of pain were deadening her tone of voice, but the venom was still there. "She died in my arms, pleading for my forgiveness, because her death would mean that I would not only lose her but also Lucrezia. She knew that her death made her sister's execution inevitable. Lucrezia's labour had started. The child would be born before Treize came back and carried through the execution that only Une's constant begging had put off. I knew I couldn't save my precious Lucrezia any more than Une. But I realized I could save their children. I could save Lucrezia's son from Treize by acting quickly. And, since I knew you were likely to win this conflict in the end... I knew I could save Une's son by acting daringly, save him from you!"

Zechs, who'd faced conjured fiends of the thirteen hells without flinching, staggered back before the hate and spite searing the eyes of a frail old woman. "I-I-"

"Don't say it, Marquise, since that is the name you wear now. Don't demean yourself by pretending you would have left Treize's offspring live... "

Zechs was unable to answer. He wasn't a baby killer, whatever this bitter old hag thought, but remembering the hate that had drove him temporarily insane when he'd heard about his wife's death... He stood silent, dropping a look of agony over the two boys. Because now, remembering his hate for his sorcerous rival, he could finally sense the revenge the woman had plotted all this time.

"Treize loved Une, I believe, but he would have killed both children if he'd had any doubt so I had to hide them." She spoke coldly now, eying the two boys as if they were unable to hear or understand her. "My sisters were taking care of both women, it was easy to get them to take both children away, to this place. I personally poisoned that ass of a physician who'd let Une die. I convinced Treize on his return that the man had failed, had been possibly bribed by another one of his other concubines to let his favourite and her child die. He was angry at me, but only because I'd killed the man before he could extract more details of the 'plot'. Otherwise he believed me when I told him the child had died stillborn, and had been buried with Une before his return. I told him Lucrezia's child had died as well. I blame whatever little grief that stone cold madman felt for distracting him enough to buy that; I was lucky. He never inquired about the boy, never doubted me, and he didn't stop me from being with Lucrezia when he oversaw her murder with his own eyes."

Zechs could feel his whole body trembling. He was unable to tear his eyes away from the deep blue eyes of the two boys. Both Une and Lucrezia had had the same eyes, they were quite similar in form and feature, only Une's lighter hair and rounder face distinguishing the two. Behind him he could feel Father Maxwell lay a trembling hand on Odin's sword arm, as the tall warrior gripped it and glared at the madwoman before them.

"As per my instructions both boys were delivered to Boyce here-" the simpleton bobbed and smiled "-and since then she and I have been the only ones to see them; to protect them from Treize, to avoid even a rumour of their presence to leak from this house. Of course, by the time I'd arrived, Boyce had already washed and wrapped them in swaddling clothes, and even I didn't know which was which by then. I will thank you for not torturing Boyce for more information about this matter, she can barely speak. She calls them both 'Baby', when she talks to them at all instead of cooing." The woman's voice was acid.

"And what do you call them?" Father Maxwell asked, as he walked forward, laying a comforting hand on Zechs quivering shoulders.

Her ladyship gave a withering snort though her eyes did not leave the king. "I call them 'Boy'." She answered, in a dead tone of voice.

"Yes, you would." Father Maxwell's voice was so gentle and sad that both the king and the lady found themselves glancing at him, startled. Father Maxwell slowly shook his head. "Well, we will see." He said enigmatically. His eyes on her were sad but stern. And then he turned that same look toward Zechs.

"Milliardo?" He murmured.

Zechs started and stared at him, then at the two boys, then at the woman who had done this to him. He'd been stunned till then. Suddenly a wave of conflicting emotion almost made his knees buckle. But at the same time the instincts that had been honed by almost a decade of war made his hand snap to his sword hilt. He knew what Father Maxwell wanted though, what he wanted Zechs to show him. He was leaving the choice to the king -always on me, always my burden, and now this!- and would support whatever decision Zechs took, but he hoped-...

He hoped the young man he'd raised, the king, the leader, would be better. Better than the sorcerer who had torn their land apart for his ambitions. Better than the warrior-king who had lived for battle after battle, wading through blood to take his kingdom back, despite having lost already everything that might have made him smile again. Better...

Better than that old bitter woman who would do this to him but also to two innocent children -no not innocent Treize, it's Treize's seed- under her protection...

No. Forget the old woman, forget even Father Maxwell, and Treize... Zechs had lost many illusions about himself in the years of war. He didn't know if he would ever be able to use the name Peacecraft again, or become the gentle ruler his ravaged land needed. But one thing he knew for sure, he was no hypocrite. The decision he would take now, this instant, had to be the right one, for the right reasons. It wouldn't be a lie. It was his choice, his burden to bear, his consequences to assume.

His hand on his sword still he walked up to the old woman. She eyed him with pleasure, almost with anticipation. She had nothing left to live for now, if he killed her this instant she would probably consider it a good ending, dying on the high of her elaborate revenge. He drew up to her and said quietly:

"Thank you, your ladyship, for being with Une and Lucrezia when they died."

He turned from her stunned face and knelt near the boys, staring at him with those blue eyes.

"Hello."

The boys started at his voice and fell into each other, clutching together in a gesture of mutual protection that they'd probably used many times before. They looked at him with their big eyes, stared at his hesitant, pained smile.

"What's your name?" He said gently, then caught himself. Boy was all they knew.

"Children... " he said slowly, his eyes resting on each of them in turn, "Don't be afraid. I am your father. And I'm taking you home."

The boys hesitantly reached out for the hands he held out to them. He leaned forward and gently scooped them up, one in each arm, seating them on his strong forearms. Little hands grabbed his brocaded jerkin for balance. He turned from the woman whose jaws were working in anger and surprise. He would let her live here, she was necessary for the running of the convent, which had helped the wounded and consoled the dying from both camps. There was little more she could do to hurt him now. Without a backwards glance he strode out of the dark house, the cold hallways, the dreaded rooms, followed by an angry and puzzled Odin, and a sad but proud Maxwell.

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