Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, disclaimer

Two Halves + Chapter 8
Treize was...

Seven years passed since the link between them was severed. The boys were known as the two princes of Sanq. Or sometimes 'those two', after one of the minor disasters that punctuated the lives of any growing boy.

When the link between them was snapped, they'd flown so far apart that most people seemed to have forgotten they'd once been considered identical twins. No one was suspicious of their origins anymore, the royal spy reported. The princes were accepted as one of the treasures of the newly flourishing kingdom, and watched with pride by its citizens.

Zechs watched his sons with pride as well.

He wished he could also forget their origins.

Heero was fencing with Odin; Zechs watched them from the shadows of the small back entrance. It was a fine day, spring quickening the air, and Odin had just started taking his practices outside on the thin strip of sandy ground between the castle and the closest wall. In the city street beyond, a market was in full swing, sounds echoing; merchants hawking their wares, animals braying, women laughing and shouting, kids playing. In the practice ground there was only silence punctuated by the crash of bokken on bokken, and the grunts of the duellers.

Heero suddenly froze, a startled Odin nearly catching his head with his swing. The prince had turned slightly towards the outer wall. Zechs and Odin both looked at him in surprise, then noticed a change in the noises in the street beyond. Laughter was spreading up the street like ripples in a pond, people shouting encouraging noises, and further back, someone was hollering.

"Come back here, you- you brat! You can't cover for those- hey!"

The shouting and laughter were level with the three in the palace grounds, and people were gasping and shouting, cries of "Watch out!", "No, come down!", and "Nah, he's alright!" rang out. Odin lowered his bokken and Heero sighed testily.

Scrabbling almost covered by the crowd's noise below heralded two grimy hands thrown over the top of the wall. One heave and a thin young teen was pulling himself up. He immediately jumped to his feet and turned like a dancer -Zechs felt his heart go to his mouth and tremble there- his long hair flying out like a banner as he bent in a bow.

"Better luck next time, Sergeant!" The gleeful shout rang out and the unseen crowd below laughed in appreciation, knowing that the city sergeant wouldn't dare enter the palace grounds to hunt further for this truant. The child spun around once more without seeming to look and dropped off the wall like a rock - Zechs' heart dropped from his mouth to his boots with similar speed - landing like a cat on the roof of the hut in which outdoor practice equipment was kept. He rolled and dropped from there to the ground in a practiced movement and straightened up with a casual flip of his long hair.

To see Odin and Heero glowering at him.

"Oops!" he chuckled, only slightly abashed.

"Duo." Heero's calm voice held a tinge of disapproval, but that only made his cousin's grin wider.

"Out hanging with that gang of ne'er-do-wells, your highness?" Odin stressed the last word a bit, not that he needed to; he didn't normally use the boys' titles except when he thought it necessary to remind them of their position.

Duo grinned. Punishment, in the form of gruelling physical workouts with Odin, was now a certainty but this didn't dent his humour. "Oh well, you know, the guys are kinda fun. Not like Mr Perfect here."

"Duo." Heero snapped, glowering.

"Heero." Duo mimicked. "Oh come on, admit it, buddy, the day you actually have any fun you'd probably curl up and die in sho- ack!"

He tried to dodge but his other half was too fast for him this time. And once those steel arms held him, he wasn't going anywhere. The boys fell in a flurry of arms and legs, in one of their usual bloodless tussles, Heero silent and Duo laughing helplessly, as always. Most of the times Duo was quicker and managed to dodge that first lunge by a hair. Then they would tear through the palace like twin hurricanes, leaving a trail of disruption behind them. So different from the two quiet shadows who spoke with one voice and shrank from strangers. Life had certainly returned to the palace in the last few years, and had become very interesting for its staff.

Zechs watched his sons as Heero managed to pin a squirming Duo in an arm lock. Odin, deciding to make the best of the situation, was calmly giving both of them pointers in the art of infighting.

Heero... he was slightly taller than Duo, his hair -which he insisted on keeping soldier-short- had darkened dramatically in the past few years, though his eyes had remained the startling dark blue of his mother. His face was handsome and regular, and he was as beautiful as a god when he smiled, not that that happened very often.

Duo... slighter than Heero, his hair had gotten much longer and lighter, burned by the sun that always saw him running around outside. His eyes had changed as well as he grew, had become the most fascinating shade of blue, almost violet. His face was rounder than Heero's and always ready to split into that wide cheesy grin that was fast becoming his trademark.

"And they're both princes, too. In a year or two I'll have to start beating the girls off of them with a stick." Zechs smiled, but as usual something else lingered in his thoughts.

Which one... which one...

They knew they were not brothers, though this was not a subject anyone had ever discussed with them. They never questioned that they were both his sons, though, which showed the unquestioning faith of children in the face of logic and other small details.

One day they certainly would question the facts, he knew, and he would have to tell them... oh gods, he wasn't looking forward to that conversation. For now, they knew they were cousins -half cousins actually- and that they were friends that were as close as brothers if not closer, despite their constant bickering and very different characters. He'd managed to impress upon them that their real relation was a secret; no-one but their father and tutors knew that they were not twins. The boys had been careful and had never blurted it out, never corrected people who called them brothers to their face, but they knew.

Which one...

The question might have driven another man insane, but Zechs had a strong mind. The fact that he had chosen both of them with his eyes open and accepting the consequences, shored his resolve. He behaved as their father, treated them strictly but with love, watched over them and planned for their futures...

Which one...

And only occasionally allowed the question to haunt him.

Heero? Even though he was only twelve, people seemed nervous around Heero when they met him for the first time. He was a serious and unsmiling young man, seeming older than his years, and Odin assured him he was unbelievingly strong. A lot of people -soldiers, men scarred by the war, nobles- were hoping Zechs would designate Heero as successor, because his skill with the sword was already considerable for one so young, and they appreciated his strength and serious attitude. He would make a good general, lead the armies when needed to, and keep the kingdom safe.

Duo? The teen had unlimited charm, and a quick wit that made him Father Maxwell's favourite. He was light and fast on his feet, and almost as quick with his tongue. He annoyed a lot of people, but once he turned on that charm they would still eat out of his hand. He had limitless acceptance for those around him. He liked to chat with the servants and the people in the city. He even hung out with a band of ragged street urchins that the capital's sergeant at arms was always trying to run down and stop. The people loved Duo, considering the minor thefts and pranks he and his gang pulled to be a show of spirits, and loving his derisive sense of humour. They would like Zechs to designate Duo as his heir, hoping that his kind humour and charm would insure the continuing peace and prosperity of the kingdom with its neighbours through diplomacy.

Which one...

Heero? Would the child of Zechs and Lucrezia have such dark colouring, such a strong build? Heero had Zechs' handiness with a sword, people were always commenting on it. Sometimes though, that serious intensity bordered on something frightening and even the king watched him carefully.

Duo? No one in Zechs' family had such strange eye colour. His easy relaxed attitude was completely unlike the intense ambitious sorcerer king of Lin, Treize. But Duo was developing an almost uncanny ability for magic -white magic of course, the only kind taught in Sanq- that was truly astounding for someone his age.

Heero? Duo? Which one?...

If it had only been the matter of one of them being the son of his enemy, Zechs would have probably given the matter less thought. He had raised them into fine young men, they would both do him proud. But education might not be enough. There was madness and ugly powerful magic in the blood running through one of their veins. The kings of Lin were all powerful sorcerers and also pretty crazy. Treize was the one that had managed to turn that burning power and madness into cunning ambition and become a true threat, but Sanq had always kept a careful eye on its neighbour to the North.

Which one of his sons might be carrying that threat once more?

***Flashback***

"Father? What was Treize like?"

Zechs' glass landed on his armrest with a clunk. He'd been nodding off over a book on ancient war tactics (the only kind of book that could hold his interest, it seemed he would be a soldier-king to the end of his days, he reflected glumly). The fire crackled as it took up the fight against the autumn's chill and the evening's fading light. His hunting dog and his nine-year old sons were at his feet. Heero was propped up against the chimney's mantel, reading a scroll on defensive white magic; Father Maxwell had given him extra work, as he lacked the interest to fully apply his mind to it unless pushed. Heero always preferred more practical studies and fencing to magical matters. In fact he avoided magic with that fierce intensity he applied to most things. It was one of the rare areas in which he was almost disobedient to his tutor and his father; Zechs disliked magic as well but insisted it was important to know the enemy's tactics as well as your own.

Duo had long finished the work Father Maxwell had assigned him and was lounging on the throw rug near the fire, trying to tease the old greyhound at his father's feet. The hunter barely flicked its eyelids at the boy, ignoring him from long habit. Growing tired of the lack of reaction and the silence, Duo had dropped the innocent question on his father, who took it like a magical bolt to the chest.

Treize glanced from one son to the other. Duo didn't seem to be hanging on his words, he was still pulling the dog's ears, but Heero had looked up from his scroll and was watching his father with intense eyes.

"Why do you ask?" Zechs was trying to gain time, get his thoughts and feelings in order.

"Just curious. Did he really sacrifice people to perform his magic?" Duo had a cheerful blood-thirsty grin on his face. He was at an age where a story of human sacrifice for the powers of hell was really exciting stuff.

"Don't be stupid." Heero sniffed. He was still looking at his father. "Odin told me he was a brilliant general. He could get his troops to do incredible things, even though he didn't have many. He went right over our northern defences in a week." His voice was calm and collected -damn, the kid spent way too much time with Odin, Zechs thought- but his eyes were challenging.

"Yeah, and Father Max said he was a very strong sorcerer, he could level city walls with a single blast. White magic shields didn't much slow him down. He was the Heir of Lin when he was barely sixteen." Duo sat up, looking serious all of a sudden.

"Well, you know most of it already then." Zechs sipped his wine dismissively.

"Yeah, we've always heard a lot about him, right?" Duo glanced at his brother.

"He torched the town of Maseng to the ground just to stop your advance across the river." Heero's voice was unemotional, but his eyes looked sad. That town no longer existed.

"He managed to trick some of his enemies in Lin into murdering his other enemies, just to be able to get rid of them all together." Duo sounded awed.

"Odin told me he was always there to lead every armed effort against you, Father, and his men would fight to the death for him." Heero had a faint tinge of approval in his voice.

"They were probably afraid of him." Duo said, nodding thoughtfully. "I didn't believe the guys in the gang when they said he did human sacrifices and all that. But I heard he was so angry at the thought of someone being as strong as he was that he killed his wife and baby son to avoid-"

"That is a lie!" Zechs' book slammed shut in his hand. Duo's head shot up and his eyes widened.

The silence in the library was stirred by a log breaking in the fireplace and falling through the gridiron with a crackle.

"You shouldn't listen to old wives' tales." Zechs continued more calmly. "It's easy to demonize the man now, especially after what he's done to our land. But neither of you should-" say things like that about your father "-you should always prefer facts to legends, especially when it concerns an enemy. Listen to Odin and Maxwell, they knew the man, fought against him, and will not tell you fairy tales and ghost stories." He opened his book again, avoiding his sons' eyes.

"We did." Zechs glanced up at Heero in surprise. Duo looked a bit cowed but his cousin's eyes had not left the king's face.

"We wanted to know about him. We don't remember the war, but there are still traces of it in the city. I saw how the south wall was half-melted, until you fixed it last year. And there's that area near the river where things won't grow and people don't build anything anymore. And when we talk about him, people look very scared, even though he's dead." The nine-year old's eyes were demanding. "I asked Odin and he told me about his armies and the way he attacked us-"

"- and Father Maxwell told us about his sorcery and the demons he had that obeyed him." Duo's voice was soft, but he was also watching his father's face. "But we want to know what he was like-"

"- and Father Maxwell said to ask you-"

"-since you actually knew him."

The boys rarely did that anymore, complete each other's sentences. Zechs realised he'd made them nervous. He sighed.

"Treize was a great man."

Both boys stared at him, not expecting that at all.

"You know that Lin isn't actually a kingdom... " Zechs said softly, staring into the fire.

"Yes, it's an-" Duo hesitated an instant "an oli-garchy."

"That's right, son. That means that several people control it, and though they do choose one man to lead them, that leader's son does not automatically inherit the throne." Zechs explained, as Heero looked puzzled.

"You should listen to Father Max more instead of sharpening your dagger in class." Duo whispered at his cousin with a grin. Heero scowled at him.

"Lin has several noble families that have very strong magical powers. A leader rules for twenty five years, with the help of a council formed from those families. Five years before the end of his reign the children of the houses of Lin are tested against each other and the most powerful leader and mage is designated as the next king. This makes their kings very strong, powerful leaders. Unfortunately, those families have-" he glanced at his sons, they might be a big young for the concept of inbreeding "-they produce very strong sorcerers but they tend to be, erm, unstable. It's the price they're willing to pay for power.

"Treize and I met when I was your age. Our families... " he sighed, they were probably too young for the concept of political expediency and alliance marriages as well "Our families are quite close, we were second cousins I think, I forget. A lot of records and heraldry were lost when the palace was taken." And I for one was glad they burned.

"He was five years older than I was. We met several times as we both grew up, the last time was at my sixteenth birthday, when I was confirmed as the king of Sanq. He was... "

Firelight danced against the warm wooden walls, the hound snoozed at his feet. Zechs cast his mind back to two young men who were as different as, well, as his sons appeared to be. He could barely remember what he was like then. Probably a lot like Duo. That young man, Milliardo, heir Peacecraft, had died. As had that other young man he'd known back then...

"He was intense, burning with passion, though he was good at hiding it behind a cool, urbane exterior. He was amazingly charismatic; I've never wondered why his men would die for him without a second thought. I... liked him, when he was younger. I actually admired him very much. He did take over the leadership of his kingdom at a young age; he was intelligent, powerful and very ambitious. He was heir designate when we met last, at my sixteenth birthday. He became king of Lin the next year, murdered any who would oppose him, schemed with other kingdoms to isolate us -they feared him, and with good reason- and then he fell upon us and tore us apart."

"Because he was an evil bastard... " Duo muttered, creeping up against the chimney to lean against Heero, something else they rarely did these days. Zechs hesitated.

"Was he evil?" Heero's eyes were pools of darkness, shadowed by the light from the fire behind him. Zechs shook his head.

"No. I don't think so. He was desperate. He knew that his kingdom was dying, you see. It's a small landlocked mountainous country, rich with violent natural magic that causes it to have a low birth-rate, and... children are often born with... problems. It's hard to grow food in the mountains, and sustain their population. The powerful families were having fewer and fewer children, despite marriages to other noble families from Sanq and other countries. Treize wanted to do what was best for his people. He knew that they needed more room, they needed away from the mountains that had given them their power but were slowly chocking them.

"Unfortunately, he got so... caught up in this that he... went insane. I guess. It's hard to tell genius from insanity for someone so bright, so strong and powerful. We were very lucky to beat him. In the end, sorcery failed against manpower and organized resistance. And I think the madness, his passions, they finally consumed him, and made him careless. Still, we were lucky.

"I will tell you more one day. About Treize, Lin and your-your mother. But not tonight." He tried to smile at the two children squeezed together against the warm stone of the chimney. "Not tonight..."

****end flashback*****

One day, Zechs would have to tell them the whole story. But, watching the twelve-year old boys laughing and rough-housing under a pale spring sun, he decided to put it off once more, another few months, another year. He had plenty of time, he thought...

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