Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, disclaimer

Two Halves + Chapter 6
Blleding in Sympathy

A few more desperate solutions were tried to separate the boys and give them their own identity. Zechs had often said he'd cut his son's hair but had never gone through with it. Nancy wouldn't hear of getting rid of those long pretty locks and bangs, and Zechs hadn't particularly wanted to see his sons in a military cut, which was the only one he knew how to do. Anyway, with his own long blond hair flopping all over the place, who was he to say? Now though...

It was only a slight trim to Darlian -he guessed it was Darlian. Bangs and back, just half an inch. Just enough to be able to distinguish them.

An hour later, a panicked Odin came to find him. He'd taken the boys to their daily fencing training. They could be separated from Zechs now, to his relief and a little regret, as long as they were with one of the three other people they knew. The war master had only been away for a few minutes to talk to one of his other older students. The boys had been very subdued but had not given him any other reason to be worried. When he returned they were gone, their wooden bokken on the floor.

He'd found them in his quarters adjoining the training room. Darlian had just finished sawing off Craft's extra length of hair with one of Odin's daggers. Seeing that length of razor-sharp steel waving around a pale white throat would give the old soldier nightmares for many nights to come. Zechs gave them both a stern talk and shake about handling sharp objects, keeping his pounding heart from making his voice tremble with an effort.

The lengths they would go to to keep their shared identity became apparent again a couple of days later. Zechs and Odin had taken them out for a walk before supper, while they discussed strategies to fortify the pass to Lin to the north. The Oligarchy of Lin had also paid a terrible price for the war, but many soldiers and sorcerers had managed to retreat into its vast mountains and defensible passes while Treize held the enemy troops back with the final conflagration that had consumed him. There was little chance the war-weary Sanq could do much to threaten them. Both kingdoms would lick their wounds, but then... This time Zechs intended to be ready if a rematch was required.

The boys were in one of their rare boisterous moods where they would both feel the urge to run around like crazy. Zechs smiled, pleased at seeing them behave like children a little. He was trying to forget the dagger episode. One of them -the adults had temporarily given up on names - stumbled and banged his arm hard on a rock in the ornamental garden. A minor ouch, a bit of a sniffle from both boys -one in pain, the other in sympathy- nothing more. Nancy came to him that night, worry etched on her face, saying she'd found something 'odd' while trying to get them ready for bed.

One boy had a nice bruise forming on one upper arm. The other -Zechs felt like ice cold water was cascading down his spine- had a reddening welt forming at the same spot.

"Cra- Dar-... what happened, where did you get this?"

The boy looked at him in surprise. "I fell."

"What, just now?" From the corner of his eyes he could see Nancy shaking her head vigorously; she'd been with them all during dinner and after and would have heard a fall.

"No, before." The boy kicked his legs unconcerned. His brother -technically they were half-cousins but Zechs was trying to think of them as twins, as well as just paying lip service to the rumour he was running- nodded as well.

"When?" Zechs pressed. Both boys blinked.

"In the garden." They said together.

With numb fingers Zechs gently examined the mark. Tomorrow it would be a bruise quite similar to the other one, but at the moment he could distinguish, with practiced soldier's eyes, the marks of fingers around the edges of the welt. The force applied must have been considerable. Both boys were right handed and the bruises were on their left arm, so he couldn't tell if it had been self-inflicted or not. The fact he had to even ask himself the question made him howl with anguish inside.

The boys had been with him for four months. Things were not getting better. They were just a bit more adept at hiding it from him, when they even bothered to. It wasn't even conscious most of the time, he thought. But slowly it was becoming so. They were starting to ignore the names he'd given them. They could sense this was another wedge in their shared identity and they were having none of it, they were apparently taking a certain dislike to the names even. Zechs felt terrified this dislike could spread to him.

And in the meantime, the time had come and gone for them to announce that his sons had been found. Most people in the palace had guessed by now, a lot of people in the capital were discussing it. People couldn't understand why he wouldn't announce the presence of a crown heir in the palace. New rumours were starting to spread; the boys were ill, there was something wrong with them... Something had to be done and soon, he told Maxwell and Odin, locked into his study while Nancy watched the boys.

"But Sir, what are we going to do?" Odin's anxiety hit Zechs hard. The incident with the dagger had disturbed the older warrior considerably. He hated to hear the tough man, as steady and reliable as a rock, so unsure.

They both became aware that Maxwell had not said anything since the meeting began. The man was looking older than his forty years, worried and... a bit guilty?

"What is it, Father." Zechs asked, dropping his usual 'Maxwell' for something that sounded more formal but wasn't. It was what he had called him during his youth, when 'Father' had been the one to educate him and raise him when his own father had died.

"Milliardo. I... think I know how to help the boys." He said it so hesitantly that Zechs and Odin felt no rush of hope.

"I had an idea, and talked it over with someone who... knows them. Someone who helped me develop the idea, who... will take responsibility. I think it's the only way. I'd do it myself" he added almost to himself "but they cannot have their trust in someone they know shattered at this point, that must not happen, they will need all the help-"

"Maxwell what are you planning?" Odin sounded worried.

"I'm afraid you are not going to like this. You will not like the fact I even spoke to her." Sadness and pain flooded Maxwell's face as he looked at his friend and king. "But I had to do it. I love those boys, Milliardo. And we both know this cannot continue, this link between them must be severed. I know this will help. And I also think that she... may want a measure of forgiveness. Of redemption."

"What makes you think I will ever let her near my sons again?!" Zechs hissed in an unrecognizable voice. He knew who was being discussed. Maxwell didn't flinch from his gaze, he knew that what he would say was inevitable. He started to explain.

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