title: Cry For Him
fandom: Trinity Blood
characters/pairings: Ion/Radu, one-sided Süleyman/Radu, Seth, Dietrich, Esther
rating: Teen/Mature
warnings: nonconsensual sex
summary: Ion finally slips out of denial... and deals with what is real.
notes: based on the anime continuity, since I know not of the manga or novels. And Radu needs more love, desperately.

Denial was a strange thing. For the past few weeks, he'd been thinking about Radu on and off, but never for very long. There was so much going on, so much to do. Esther. It was hard when he had thought that Radu had betrayed him.

It was harder, knowing that Radu had been controlled.

He sat on the grass at the edge of the lake, and watched the water. The Vatican messengers had left over an hour ago. There wasn't anything he needed to be doing, which left him with too many thoughts. Too many feelings.

He could sense her presence, like the presence of the sun above him. She was behind him, watching him. Watching over him. He should probably feel ashamed, because when he thought she was just a Terran, just a tea seller, he had treated her badly. Intellectually, he felt ashamed, but his heart was aching.

"You remember the first day you met him, right?" she said softly, and it hurt, to think that she knew him so well.

But she was the Empress. She knew all of her children.

"You gave him to me," Ion sighed.

Süleyman picked at each individual strand of his friend's hair, pulling them out of the dozing man's eyes. He smiled affectionately at the younger man, since his eyes were closed. It had been a while since he'd felt this way about anyone. It... restored his faith, in some ways.

"Stop that," Radu complained, but his lips were twisted in a repressed smile.

"No," Süleyman replied, cheeky. "Since you won't talk to me while we wait..."

"It's too hot," Radu yawned. "You're making me hotter."

"I make you hot?" he leered, leaning in closer over Radu. He'd yet to taste Radu's blood, but in the summer heat, he could almost smell it. It made his mouth water. "That's good to know."

Radu opened one eye, and grinned. "You're a child."

Süleyman chuckled deeply. "It's your fault. You're the one who makes me behave like this." He leaned down further, and brushed his lips over Radu's cheek. Closer, to the corner of his mouth. This was another place he needed to taste. He needed all of Radu. To be swallowed up in his blue flames...

"No," Radu countered, turning his face so Süleyman's lips were on his cheek again. "It's the heat. And the sun. And all this waiting. I thought we came at the right time?"

"The Empress is a busy woman," Süleyman purred. He brushed his fingertips over Radu's throat. He just needed to press his nails in there, break the skin... "It could be hours before you get called before her. You've never been summoned before, have you? It's a good thing I'm here with you. It can get awfully boring... all on your own..."

"Tsk, you're trying to seduce me again, Duke of Tigris. How shameless," Radu teased, but he wasn't resisting.

All Süleyman had to do was press his nails in...

The door flew open, and a soldier saluted them. "The Empress now invites the Baron of Luxor's audience!"

Smoothly, Radu stood up, and bowed. "Thank you."

Süleyman couldn't help sulking a bit as he trailed after Radu. The Empress could have taken a little bit more time. But it didn't matter. There was always plenty of time for Methuselah. Perhaps he'd drink that precious blood tonight, perhaps in a week's time. He was no longer Süleyman's student, and that was good. He'd been more pleased with Radu than he had of any student in his whole career. Radu was... coquettish, but he wasn't unwilling.

If it was only a matter of time, then Süleyman could wait.

In the Empress' throne room, Radu went down to one knee at the respectful distance back from Empress. As always, she was hidden behind a shield, and far away. Süleyman stayed a distance back from Radu, but he did not kneel. He was only there as Radu's sponsor, after a fashion. It would be the first time that the Baron of Luxor would be given a task by his Empress.

"Baron of Luxor," the Empress' mechanical voice boomed out. "Are you prepared to give yourself to my service?"

"I am," Radu replied confidently. "It is my pleasure to serve."

"Very good. As you might well be aware, my Head of the Imperial Secret Council has a grandson. He is to be inducted as the Count of Memphis this weekend. He has been schooled by his grandmother, but he requires... guidance in addition to that. You shall be installed as the Count's personal aide. Do you understand?"

"I do, your Majesty," Radu replied, bowing his head down.

Süleyman took a step forward. "Empress. Pardon me, but isn't this task somewhat... demeaning? Babysitting the Duchess' grandson... I believe I have expressed to you my desire to have the Baron in my office..."

"Is that what you want, Baron of Luxor?" the Empress asked, her voice piercing.

"I am content to be at your disposal, your Majesty," Radu replied quickly. "I will serve the Count of Memphis to the best of my ability."

"Thank you. You should all know, all of my children, that no one will know you as well as I do, and I will always select the best positions for my children." It was clear that she was rebuking him, not Radu, but it was Radu who bowed his head and murmured an apology.

Süleyman narrowed his eyes. Even if she did take Radu away from him and give him to that child...

There was no way a child could steal Radu's heart.

"Ion!" Radu called out, getting exasperated. He put his hands on his hips, and sighed. The Duchess had assured him that Ion was an exemplary student, but as far as Radu could see, the child was a complete brat.

It was too damned hot for this. How long would summer last, anyway?

He took a moment to stop and think. Where might Ion be hiding? The grounds were huge, and there were far too many places for Ion to be hiding. Plus, he knew the grounds far better than Radu did. He'd want to go someplace cool, however. And shady. So, probably near the water. With some trees. He would want to be found, so...

Radu went to the most likely places, and was eventually rewarded. Ion was there, resting on the bank of the small lake. Radu sighed. "Ion. I've been calling you and calling you. If you can't keep track of time..."

"Shut up!" Ion sat up and scowled, hugging his knees to his chest. "I already finished all my homework for today! Anyway, it's stupid. When am I going to get assignments from the Empress?"

"Perhaps when you can control that tongue of yours so you aren't always mouthing off to everyone around you," Radu shot back, sitting down next to Ion. "We are supposed to be sparring now, you know."

Ion put his chin on his knees. "Of course I know that. How could I not know that? But it's too hot to spar. Even you are sweating. There's no point in working so hard when it's like this."

"Oh?" Radu asked archly. "Does that mean that the Terrans would never do anything to threaten us when it is hot? That's convenient! Maybe summer should last forever!"

Ion blushed cutely, and ducked his head down further to hide himself. "Don't make fun of me!"

Radu chuckled lightly, and leaned back, settling in. "I'm sorry, Ion. Forgive me?"

"Do we have to spar today, Radu?" Ion asked sullenly.

Watching him closely, Radu smiled. "No. It's all right. It is hot." He looked out over the lake. The water wasn't even moving. It was such a close, still day, so that remaining motionless seemed preferable to just about anything else. "You know, I've been to this house before. I was your mother's student when you were just born, and while you were a child, I was invited to come by here a few times. You probably don't remember, though. It was a long time ago."

He wasn't aware, at first, but then a sense of tension permeated his sense, and he looked over at Ion, whose back was stiff. "I remembered. I thought you'd forgotten."

Blinking, Radu looked at Ion in surprise. "You... remember...?"

"You read to me," Ion muttered quietly. "Y-you put me to bed, and you read me a story, and then you told me about hunting Terrans, and you stayed with me until I fell asleep."

"You remember all that?" Radu asked, impressed. He remembered it, too. Ion was the cutest child he'd ever seen, and Radu truly liked his mother. He was pleased that he had been trusted enough to put Ion to bed, and he would have been willing to stay as long as Ion wanted him. "That was a long time ago."

"I know you'd rather be working for the Duke of Tigris!" Ion burst out, surging forward to stick his face in Radu's. "I'm not holding you back! I-If you want to leave, you should just leave! It's not like I asked for you or anything!"

Even as Ion was practically begging for him to go, his eyes were desperate, and on the verge of tearing up. Radu felt his stomach churn a bit. It was only because Ion was so cute. Radu wanted to hold him, and protect him. He wanted... to always be able to serve him. He'd wanted to be close to Ion, even before this assignment. That damned Süleyman... "Ion. I don't consider this an assignment. It's my pleasure to serve, both the Empress... and you." He smiled softly, and reached up to caress Ion's cheek. Like a kitten, Ion leaned into the touch.

So cute...

He took a deep breath, and then he put his head down on Radu's thigh. "I don't want you to leave. If you're going to be with me... I don't want you to ever leave!"

"I can accept those terms," Radu replied amicably.

There were worse things.

"Ion, you have a bad habit of hiding when you're supposed to be working," Radu reprimanded gently, smiling. When he was smiling, Ion could hardly feel like he was being reprimanded at all.

"I know you always find me," Ion said, reaching out for Radu's hand so he could pull him down to sit next to him. "It's too cold. We should stay close to the fire." Ion smiled happily, wrapping Radu's arm around his shoulder, and he looked into the crackling flames. It was perfect.

Radu sighed dramatically. "In the summer, you complain about the heat, and in the winter, you complain about the cold. You really are a brat, Ion."

"Don't say that," Ion pouted, curling up next to Radu. Radu wasn't really mad at him. Ion knew by now... Radu was almost never mad at him. "Aren't you cold, Radu?"

"I'm a brave Methuselah, in service to the Empress. I will not be undone by a little cold," he swore, and he pressed his lips softly to Ion's temple.

Ion blushed. Radu's kisses were always so hot. He loved them. He always wanted more. He slipped his arm around Radu's waist, and he nuzzled closer, until his nose was pressed to Radu's neck. Radu smelled good, a musky scent that Ion couldn't describe. He wondered if it was Radu's blood that gave off that odor. He wondered... what Radu's blood... He opened his mouth, and licked Radu's skin.

"Oy, oy, Ion, have you actually morphed into a kitten now?" Radu chuckled. He didn't sound upset, and he wasn't pulling away.

"Radu. You're so warm. I want. I want... to be warmer. Can I? Please?" He scrambled up until he was practically in Radu's lap, and he tugged at Radu's collar.

Damn these formal uniforms...

Radu started to laugh. "Ion. Ion! You really are just like a cat." He sighed, but he was smiling, and he ruffled Ion's hair affectionately.

"I can't, then?" Ion asked sadly.

Radu opened his mouth to speak, and Ion grabbed a hold of Radu's lapels, griping them tightly. He wasn't sure just why he was so insistent. He'd never thought about taking Radu's blood before, and he knew that there were... implications... But it was him and Radu, and it was cold, and Radu smelled good, and he leaned forward, his lips parted, wanting...

Radu sighed, and tilted his head to one side. "It's all right. Go ahead."

Ion squeaked with delight, and thanked Radu in a hushed voice. His mouth was watering with anticipation. He wondered if anyone else had ever tasted Radu's blood. Perhaps that Süleyman. Perhaps not. He wondered if he was doing it right.

He pressed his teeth to Radu's neck, and pierced his skin. A rush, like electricity, jangled through him. The first gush of blood was both unexpected and amazing, the taste of Radu on his tongue like nothing he had ever experienced before. His head swam, and he pushed down harder, sucking harder, needing more, so much more.

This was Radu!

At first, he thought the moan was his, but it was of a deeper timbre than he could produce. He pulled back reluctantly, suckling at the wound as he did. He looked into Radu's eyes, worried. "Did I hurt you?"

Radu smiled, and blinked dazedly. He reached up, and caressed Ion's cheek. "Hurt? No. No. No, that didn't hurt."

Ion leaned into Radu's touch, still reeling from the taste of Radu's blood. His heart was pounding, and Radu was smiling at him. He liked it when Radu touched him like that, gently, lovingly. He liked the way that Radu looked at him.

He liked the way Radu tasted.

He curled up against Radu's chest, and listened to Radu's heart. "See? This is warmer, right?"

Radu chuckled breathlessly. "Yes, Yes. Brat."

"Hey!" Ion complained, but he didn't have his heart in it.

He wondered when he could taste Radu again.

He heard the door opening, and he felt sure that he could hear Ion shuffling back and forth from foot to foot. It was late. Ion should be in bed. He should be asleep, but Süleyman had come over that evening, and it had taken a long time to get rid of him. He'd been tiresome, and he'd forced his hand into Radu's clothes. Radu didn't think that the Duchess of Moldova would appreciate finding her grandson's valet fornicating in the front hall.

Süleyman never knew when to quit.

He wanted to just sleep, but Ion was still at the door, and he didn't want to continue to pretend to be asleep if Ion needed something. He rolled over, and looked at the door. "Ion? Shouldn't you be in bed?"

Ion took a step back. "I-I didn't want to disturb you..."

Radu chuckled. "Did you come to watch me sleep, then?" Ion melped, and took another step back. Radu sat up in bed. Ion was just... so cute... He held out his hand. "You can't sleep?"

Ion quickly came closer, reaching out for his hand like it was a lifeline. He grabbed a hold of Radu's hand, and clung to it. "I... I had a nightmare. And now I can't go back to sleep. I thought... I thought that if I could see you... I'd calm down... I'm sorry! I didn't mean to wake you."

Radu squeezed Ion's hand. "It's all right. Don't worry about it. Come on, now. It can't be helped. We're both awake." He smiled, letting his fangs show a little. "Might as well make use of the time. How about... we practice some tracking, mm?"

Ion blinked, confused, and Radu smirked. And then, he was off. Out the window, down the tree, across the lawn, and into the woods. He didn't look back to see if Ion was keeping up.

It was unseasonably warm, the type of night that served as a reminder that summer was on its way. He wove his way through the trees, expertly moving so as not to make a sound, so as not to disturb a single leaf on a tree. He could lose himself in the chase, and forget, almost, why he was running. It felt good, to have the wind in his face, and to smell the night air. He felt alive, knowing that he was being pursued.

He was aware that Ion had gotten closer, a lot closer, but he didn't quicken his pace. It wasn't like he was trying to evade Ion. He wasn't entirely sure what he was doing, besides just having fun.

Perhaps that was enough.

Ion tackled him from behind, and they ended up rolling around, until they splashed loudly into the lake. They continued to roll around, but even they needed to get to the surface before too long. They were both gasping, their plain white night clothes clinging to their bodies, soaked to transparency. Ion started to laugh, and he wouldn't let go of Radu's arm, no matter what. He looked so cute, with his hair clinging to his face, and his fangs flashing in the moonlight.

"Radu," Ion giggled. "Your hair is a mess."

"Try looking at yourself," Radu countered, tousling Ion's hair even more.

Ion's laughs were infectious, though. He slipped his arms around Radu's neck to gain better purchase, and tried to pull Radu down to dunk him in the water. His eyes were such a beautiful, blood red, and his smile was so adorable. It felt so clean, and so cool here, the night air rich with just enough humidity to feel sweet, the water so cool all around them, and Ion in his arms, happy. If Süleyman had made him feel dirty, this was enough to make him feel clean again.

He wasn't aware of what he was doing until after he'd done it. Ion's kiss was like clean water and sweet, refreshing fruit. A strawberry kiss, just exactly the right thing as summer was approaching.

Then it occurred to him...

His eyes widened, and he pulled back. His cheeks flamed, and he stuttered. "I-Ion! I'm sorry. I..."

"Don't apologize," Ion said quickly, trying to keep Radu from finishing his thought. "I didn't mind. It's a beautiful night, isn't it? Did you have a nightmare, too, Radu?" He looked up at Radu with shining, innocent eyes, and it was like the kiss hadn't happened at all.

Radu licked his lips. "Not a nightmare, per se. But I'm glad I was awake."

It would be nice if he could always chase away Ion's nightmares.

The Duke of Tigris tapped his finger on the arm of his chair impatiently. It was expected that he would invite his superior to his birthday gala, which was just as well. If he invited her whole family, he could be certain that Radu wouldn't try to get out of coming. Still, besides the formal greeting as they entered, Radu had made no attempt to come and see him, and, worse, he was spending every second at the side of that child, fawning over him like a doting parent.

Not a parent at all, though. Those soft smiles, those warm eyes...

Süleyman grit his teeth, and worked hard to keep from snarling. Unbelievably, despite having him as a suitor, Radu had fallen under the charms of that boy. It was disgusting to think that his former student was a cradle robber, but Süleyman didn't even care about that. The only thing he cared about was taking possession of what he felt was his right.

If only the Empress had given Radu to him instead of that boy...!

"The Duke of Tigris is disturbed on his special day," a sibilant voice sighed. Süleyman looked up, narrowing his eyes. What was a Terran doing here? If he was supposed to be serving the guests... "This is a situation that must be rectified immediately. It's a good thing I'm here. Allow me to introduce myself."

"There's no need for that, Terran," Süleyman said quickly, looking away from the man. Filthy Terran. "What are you doing in my house?"

"I'm offering my services to you, as a gift from My Lord, to you on your birthday," the Terran replied cheerfully.

Süleyman sneered. "And what sort of gift is that, the services of a Terran?"

The man chuckled seductively. "Don't be so hasty, Duke. What I can offer you is... desire."

He simply raised his eyebrow. "Desire? Have I become stone, that I need a Terran to do this for me?"

"I don't know about stone," he laughed, and then he turned his gaze. He turned, and looked rather pointedly at...


"The object of your desire. Is he not?" The Terran leaned down, and slipped his arm around Süleyman's shoulder, and whispered into his ear, "If I could give you him, what would you do in return? Would you help My Lord to set the world on fire?"

Süleyman narrowed his eyes, watching Radu with the Terran. Watching, as Radu laughed at something cute that boy did, and the boy's cheeks flamed red. Radu placated him, though, brushing the back of his fingers over the boy's cheek.

Süleyman fumed.

"You can't give him to me, Terran," Süleyman bitterly spat out.

The Terran just chuckled. "I can't give you his heart. But I can give you his body. I can give you his blood. I can make him submit to you. I can make his lips form the words... I love you. What would that be worth to you? Duke?"

Süleyman's eyes widened as the Terran spoke, and his heart pounded in his chest. Radu was wiping a bit of dip from the corner of the boy's lips. The Terran's lips were uncomfortably close to Süleyman's ear, and his scent was overpowering. Sickening.

"If you could do that, Terran..." He watched Radu smile. He looked over Radu's perfect body, looked at those thin, beautifully curved lips. "If you can give me him, then I would do anything for you." He dug his nails into the arms of his chair, the desire and the need choking him, so he needed to grind his teeth to keep from screaming.

The Terran was enjoying it all too much. "Even if he's just a puppet? Even if... behind his obedience, inside, he'll be writhing in agony because of what he's being made to do?"

He turned to glare at the Terran. "You can either do as you promise, or you can't. If you give him to me, then I will do as you wish."

"Excellent!" The Terran declared, standing up straight. "Give me some time, then. I'll have the Baron of Luxor come to your chambers. Be waiting for him." He winked disrespectfully at Süleyman, and then wandered off, his hips swaying.

Süleyman was consumed with his lust, like he was suffering a famine, and the only balm for his tongue was Radu. He stayed back, out of the way, but he watched. He watched Radu with that boy, and he watched that Terran. At half past eleven, the Duchess of Moldova took her grandson home, but the Terran had good timing. He caught Radu's attention, and took him out to the garden while the Duchess and her sleepy charge were gathering their cloaks. In the garden, Radu was suitably antagonistic to the Terran, who was downright flirting with him.

If Süleyman hadn't been watching very carefully, he would have missed it. It was subtle, and beautifully done. It was just a flick of the Terran's wrist. The strings were barely visible. But Radu, who had been about to walk off, went motionless, rigid.

Süleyman's heart was pounding in his chest. He was truly going to get his Radu... the Empress gave him to someone else, to a child who was entirely unworthy! But this Terran... this Terran was going to correct that error. He was going to make things right.

He hurried up to his chambers, quickly shedding his cape and his long jacket. He pulled off his headdress, and turned down the sheets to his bed. He sprinkled some of his cologne on the sheets, picturing Radu's pale skin being pressed down there...

There was a soft knock on the door, and then Radu slipped inside. He could tell... perhaps because he was alerted to it, perhaps because he just knew Radu that well. It wasn't Radu, exactly. The seductive curl to his lips, the body language that screamed of sex. Radu was more graceful, more elegant than that.

He didn't care. He truly didn't. If the 'real' Radu was in love with that boy, then this Radu was better.

He grinned, and went over to Radu, all of a sudden unable to think of what to do first. He'd imagined so many different scenarios. There were too many places to start.

"Does this please you... my lord?" Radu asked, his voice sinking low, so that it sent chills through Süleyman's belly.

"This?" Süleyman asked, chuckling. "No... but..." He grabbed the collar of Radu's jacket, and ripped it open. He ripped off Radu's jacket, his shirt, everything, ripping off his headdress, until Radu was bare from the waist up, entirely bare. "This..." He sunk his teeth into Radu's shoulder, unable to suck hard enough. The hot, spicy taste of Radu's blood exploded on his tongue, burning through him. Radu's blood was blending with his own blood. Radu was becoming a part of him. "Now, this..."

He tossed Radu onto the bed, and Radu's chuckles weren't Radu's, that wasn't the way that he would be, and Radu wouldn't slither on the silk sheets, lustfully letting his hand run down his chest, and settle on his groin, but Süleyman didn't care, he didn't care, he didn't care at all...

He stripped off Radu's pants, and tasted his blood at his hip, he dug his nails into Radu's stomach, and left long, angry swaths of red blood behind, which he lapped up. Radu's anxious hands helped to divest him of his own clothes, and Radu more than willingly spread his legs, and it wasn't Radu at all, and he didn't care, because this Radu grunted and begged for more, this Radu prepared himself, and licked his lips, looking up into Süleyman's eyes with naked need, this Radu moaned like a Terran whore as Süleyman pushed inside of him, and gasped out his love as Süleyman thrust harder and harder.

This Radu was perfect, and he belonged to Süleyman, and that was more right than anything else.

He let this Radu bite down on his hand, and drink up his blood as he came, and this Radu whimpered and begged for more as Süleyman stroked him. This Radu's hand slipped over his body as they both gasped in the burning pleasure of afterglow, and this Radu promised his love as they kissed; sweaty, dank, messy kisses that tasted of salty blood.

This Radu fell asleep in the shelter of his arms, just where he belonged.

It was the other Radu that woke him in the morning, hurriedly trying to dress as quietly as he could. Süleyman watched him for a few moments, amused by the clumsy way he tried to fasten buttons that Süleyman had nearly ripped off the night before.

"Don't be in such a rush," Süleyman purred. Radu spun around, his eyes wide. Grinning, Süleyman stretched out. "We can have breakfast brought up. Let's spend the morning in bed."

Radu shielded his face from Süleyman's view. "I... I... I have t-to get back, I have to... work... I have..."

Süleyman sneered. This was proof, then. This sniveling, stuttering Radu, this victim, this couldn't be the Radu that was right. It didn't matter if he was under that Terran's control. If he was just a puppet, just a doll, he'd still be a better Methuselah as Süleyman's puppet than he would be as that boy's plaything. He threw back the covers and stretched out, unconcerned about his nudity. "Are you going to rush back to your Ion's side, then? Will you confess to him what you did?" He looked Radu in the eye piercingly, and chuckled.

Radu's eyes widened in fear.

"Will you tell him about how you moaned for more and spread your legs? How you begged for me to take more of your blood? How you spent the night..." he reached out, and brushed Radu's hair behind his ear. "Wrapped up in my arms. How you told me that you loved me..."

"That wasn't me!" Radu hissed desperately, pulling back. "That Terran..."

"It's too late!" Süleyman growled, surging forward to take Radu into his arms. "What's done is done, and you can't take it back. Can you really say that it wasn't you... when it was your legs that were wrapped around me? Your hands... grasping for me... your blood is in my veins now, Radu. In my heart. And I'm... I'm in you. Can you go back to that sweet, innocent child, and play at being his bosom friend, knowing that I'm inside of you. You can't! It's too late now, Radu. My Radu. My darling Baron of Luxor... let's set the world on fire together, my pet..."

Radu moaned softly, and turned his head away, shutting his eyes.

Süleyman just laughed. It was such a beautiful moan!

He looked up the length of the sword. He looked up at Radu's face, twisted as he fought with himself. Radu's broken, shaky voice reached him, down the length of that sword.

It was painful. It was so painful. Radu was begging him to flee. It was Radu, his Radu. And he realized. It was like a curtain was lifted from his eyes. For so long, he'd been deluding himself. It was understandable, perhaps, even if it was cowardly. His heart... could not bear the idea that Radu had betrayed him. That Radu... had never loved him at all, and that he had never known Radu. He couldn't bear it, so he had latched on to anything that allowed him to ignore it.

It was worse, it was a thousand times worse, to think that Radu was always there, that he was present, but unable to control his own body, his actions, his words.

His Radu. The Empress had given him to Ion. And no one could take him away.

Whoever was controlling his Radu regained power over Radu's body, and Ion... was prepared to die.

It hurt. It hurt so much.

He heard Esther's voice, and it shook him. It shook him enough to move. And he realized.

He still needed to get revenge on whoever had done this to his precious Radu. He needed to get Radu back.

"He's... he's really... dead, now, right?" Ion asked, his voice shaking. He'd thought Radu dead so many times. And.

"He's dead," the Empress sighed. "His body... is utterly destroyed."

She spoke with such conviction. He realized. She must have been the one... "That... whoever that was... he said... Radu had died... a long time ago?"

She sighed heavily, and shut her eyes tightly. "I was a fool," she said bitterly. "My own children... that he could do this in my own land..."

Ion blinked, and looked at her. "He?"

She smiled, and touched his cheek gently. Radu used to... "You know, don't you? You know that he loved you? He never stopped loving you, Ion. Whatever he did... whatever he was made to do. He loved you. He always loved you."

He shook his head violently, trying to shake those words away. It hurt. It still hurt. That Radu was in there, and for how long? How much did he see, but was unable to stop? Where was the line drawn? What were his own actions, and what were the actions of his puppet master? But it was all the puppet master, right? His Radu... "I... I... The enemy... Contra Mundi..."

Her strong grip dragged him into her arms, into her embrace. She held him tightly, and kissed his temple. "Let it go, Ion. You've been holding this all in for so long. Let it go. Because... because he's gone. I've lost my precious child, and you've lost your precious friend. No matter how powerful we are, nothing either of us can do can bring him back. Before we can move forward and do what we need to do... we need to grieve for him."

His voice was catching in his throat. He didn't want to do this! He wanted to run away from here! To find the ones that hurt Radu, who did these things to him... to make them pay... "He... he told me. He told me when we were in the Outer World. He said... that summer was his favorite time of year. B-because. He said I was cute in the summer."

She rubbed his back, and chuckled. "Good. Good. Go on, Ion. Please."

"He was picky about food. He always had to check on my meals in the kitchen. He was vain, but he didn't want anyone to know about it. I used to t-tease him, a-all the time. H-he... he liked... flowers..." He was dead. Really dead. His Radu. He would never see his smile again. Or hear him laugh. Or taste his kisses. It wasn't fair. He was supposed to be with Ion forever. They were supposed to go swimming and have picnics in the summer, and in the winter, Radu would hold him and keep him warm, and they were going to be together, always, partners, Radu was his, and he was stolen away...

"There, there. That's it. That's right. He's gone now, and all we can do is cry. But we can keep him in our hearts, forever, Ion. He can live with us forever, in our hearts. And someday... someday, I'm sure of it. You'll be reunited with him."

He hadn't realized he had started to cry until she spoke. He hadn't realized that she was crying, too. He wondered if she cried for each of her children. He didn't care, though. He didn't care about anyone else, except Radu.

He bawled, and buried his face in her neck, and she cried with him, until he became weak with the force of his tears, and she let him rest his head on her lap, her small, gentle hands stroking his hair.

He was still angry. Furious. And he didn't care what it took, he'd find some way to make the ones that hurt Radu pay. He'd spill their blood and break apart their bones.

Hot tears were still spilling down his cheeks, though, and for now, all he could think was... the Empress had said that Radu loved him right until the very end.

He wouldn't doubt it, ever again. He'd never forgive himself for doubting it at all.