Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, disclaimer

Two Halves + Chapter 5
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It didn't get much better, though the hysterics of the fist day never reoccurred. The boys weren't able to explain their panic, and Zechs found that he couldn't reason them out of it. They were a bit young for that, Father Maxwell reminded him gently. They decided to let time give them a little help, and use more subtle methods.

Maxwell took personal charge of many aspects of their lives at that point, helping Zechs who all but dismissed the curious servants from the boys' lives. This wasn't a bad thing in itself. It kept rumours to a minimum and besides, the boys were still very nervous and shy around most people they met. Until this problem was sorted, Zechs decided that he, his two friends and mentors and Nancy were the only ones who would come into contact with the boys. This let him and Maxwell manage them closely; although they didn't talk about it much, they were getting more and more worried about the damage to the boys' minds.

The boys were never dressed in different colours again, but their clothes were always just a bit different; a vest contrasting with a shirt, or pants instead of jerkins, or a coat and a cloak for outdoors. For awhile this seemed to meet with success. Father Maxwell and Zechs started memorising outfits to go with one or the other name for the boys. They hoped that by getting the boys used to having their own names, their own identities, they could slowly dissolve the steel bond between them.

They made it as subtle as they could to avoid upsetting the children. That and the fact that both of them were also busy rebuilding a kingdom explained why a whole two months went by before they realised it just wasn't working. Despite their efforts the boys would not respond to their names. They would both look up each time either name was mentioned.

It was Odin who told his friends why. The burly warrior, always affecting quiet control and distant emotions even to those closest to him, had been holding himself apart from all this domestic confusion. He would have ignored it entirely if the heir to the kingdom wasn't implicated (it would have taken red hot irons to get him to admit that the pain and confusion of his king, a man he had trained and now respected and loved like a brother, had more to do with it then feudal obligation). His cold analytical gaze saw the flaw in their plan.

"You guys can spare yourself the effort." He snapped, walking in on Zechs and Maxwell dressing the twins (as they were beginning to call them, to keep up with the rumours and their future cover stories). Zechs had been dressing Craft - who they distinguished by sleeping clothes with folded and buttoned down collar- while Father Maxwell had been struggling to get a squirming Darlian - sleeping clothes with a v-neck- away from his breakfast and out of his bedtime attire. Both men had been respecting their clothing conventions; the boys would be in brown today, but Craft would be wearing a vest and Darlian a long shirt, as previously agreed. Both men looked up at a scowling Odin in surprise, he normally didn't interfere.

"What did you say, my friend?" Maxwell sighed as he wiped honey off of Darlian's hands, face, hair, elbows and a few other spots.

"You can stop dressing them up in your carefully arranged codes." Odin grunted, ignoring Zechs' warning glance. "I'm surprised you haven't caught on."

"Caught on to what?"

"They're swapping."

Both men stared at him in shock Odin sighed. "I noticed it when I pick them up for their afternoon walk." It had gone without question that any physical training the boys would have would be given by Odin, as it went without saying that their studies would be supervised by Father Maxwell. "They both run off and out of sight regularly, as long as I can hear them I don't mind. But I kept wondering why they're always coming back with shirts and pants half undone. They've been switching, several times a day I'd say. They're too young to do up laces and buttons or I might not have noticed-"

Maxwell suddenly swore, something he rarely did even in the heat of a magical battle. He was remembering a few instances himself where he'd left the boys to study alone for a few minutes while he went into the library. He'd wondered if they fought when no one was looking because their clothes were always out of array when he returned.

"I bet they're swapping nightgowns on you as well." Odin continued dourly. "Those buttons of Craft's are often undone in the morning. Not always, but often."

Zechs turned Craft -was it Craft? A sudden flash of near panic made him flex his fingers into the boy's shoulder and the child looked up at him in surprise. We should have known. A month now, and I was berating myself that I still couldn't tell my sons apart. Parents are supposed to know, to be able to recognize twins. But I've only known them for a little while, and half the time they've been borrowing the other's identity...

"Craft... " he said gently. The child he was holding was already looking at him, the other boy, licking honey off of a finger Maxwell had neglected, glanced up with the same light of recognition at the name. Zechs felt his heart squeezed.

"Craft, are you and your brother exchanging clothes?"

Both boys looked at him in blank incomprehension. Zechs tried to formulate it in a way that the boys could understand, get them to explain, but he gave up even before he saw Father Maxwell shake his head sadly.

Now that they were looking more critically, the bond between the two boys was appearing in all its hideous complexity. Zechs knew that twins often started and finished each other's sentences, but the boys did it all the time, and without the slightest trace of hesitation, it was unnerving. They couldn't be separated. That had been apparent on the second night, at the time that two cots had been placed in the king's quarters. Both boys had ended up in the same one, that had not been too surprising but after that... reactions to separation varied. Sometimes the boys would kick up a fuss when they were taken apart, nothing as dramatic as the hysterics they'd had when first dressed differently, but still distressing. But that was almost the better reaction. More worrying was the way they would just shut down sometimes; become unresponsive, silent, unsmiling, blank, almost motionless. Until the other reappeared, and they would be normal five year olds again.

Their fear of others was not diminishing either. They accepted Zechs unconditionally and called him Father now, much to his pleasure. They called Maxwell 'Father Maxell' (occasionally even getting the 'w' in there) and Odin they called 'Sir', but with shy smiles. Nancy was Nancy. And they wouldn't talk to anyone else, just curl up into little shy balls, drop their eyes and wait for them to go away.

And despite the fact that they seemed happy and well-fed, despite smiles and laughter, there was still very little that resembled normal five-year old behaviour. No fighting amongst themselves, no naughty tricks, no tempers, no roughhousing or tickle fights. The old woman had dealt them one last blow, Zechs thought. The damage was not only because of the disciplinarian way she'd raised them. With that single term 'boy' for them, the lack of identity had marked them. It was as if they couldn't quite function now without the other present. They'd become joined, not at the hip but at the mind. They didn't misbehave because when one of them got that naughty little sparkle in his eye, the other would automatically calm him down, hold him back. Zechs had seen this many times. He'd been puzzled that it had not always been the same one looking for trouble and the same one holding back, but of course if they'd been switching names on him... but maybe they could switch personalities as well. The thought chilled him to the bone.

In a few years the problem would be sorted. There were minute differences already in the children's faces and bodies. Not enough to tell them apart yet, not when they went out of their way to apparently confuse the situation by swapping places all the time. But eventually their faces would firm into the first planes of what would be their adult faces, and they probably would grow to be different. But Zechs didn't think they could afford to wait that long for the separation to take place. No, that would not be wise at all...

[chap. 4] [chap. 6] [back to Maldoror's fic]