Larsa handed the letter to Basch, unspeaking. He kept his face carefully neutral; it was an expression he had practiced, of late, and it appeared in public more than his smile these days. Basch frowned at him, to see it now, when they were alone.
The young emperor watched for a moment as Basch read Penelo's words, until he could bear it no longer. He turned away, on the pretense of granting privacy to read. Really, it was to keep his own feelings in check. What would he do, if Basch were to leave him now? He knew Penelo had not meant to hurt him with those words, but…
He was a boy-king, who had lost everything to gain nothing. He had lost his father to his brother's madness. He had lost Drace and Gabranth (or was it Noah?) to his brother's madness. He had lost Vayne himself to that madness. He had gained tentative friendship with the soon-to-be-queen of Dalmasca, yes. He had gained peace talks with the leaders of Rozarria, though in many of their eyes, he was just a child figurehead. He had gained a broken empire, that threatened daily to fall around him. The Senate had been re-elected. Zargabaath was the only Judge from his childhood that remained, though Larsa himself was the only one that knew that the man wearing Gabranth's armor was not the original. There were new Judges now. He knew all their names, their faces, their family histories, but he did not know them personally.
Penelo's lamentation that Ashe needed Basch had hurt the young emperor. Basch was the only person in Archadia that he could actually trust entirely, at present. Zargabaath was more or less trustworthy, he supposed, but he did not really like the man overmuch, and he could not be himself with him. Basch was someone he had come to know, through travel and hardship, and the loss of someone they had both loved.
If he were to leave now, where would Larsa find the strength to keep the Empire going at all? He was, in the end, only human, and still very young. He had already resolved himself, however; if Basch chose to return to Ashe, he would not stop him. He would never beg him to stay. He would let him go, and carry on the best he could.
Larsa had noticed straightaway that Basch fon Ronsenburg had a face in common with Judge Magister Gabranth. Gabranth had been there since Larsa was too young to remember. Drace had come later; Gabranth was the constant. He had seen the Judge Magister more often than he had seen his own brother, when he was very young, though Gabranth was always cordial with him, always and ever at a distance. Still, he was a familiar face - masked or otherwise - and Larsa recognized that face on another man.
Vayne had never seemed to like Gabranth; he had tolerated him, yes, and used him to whatever ends he saw fit to, but he had always looked on Gabranth as someone beneath him. Larsa had seen this, too, though it confused him. Gabranth was a respected man, a Judge Magister. He was loyal, as far as Larsa had seen, and did what was asked of him. Why would his brother dislike the man so?
He had asked, once, if Vayne disliked Gabranth. Vayne had not answered directly, which was unsurprising. He had said something about "a hound's loyalty" and that there were very few people in the world who were truly trustworthy. In the end, he had steered the conversation away from Gabranth, and Larsa had not pressed him. He adored his brother, after all, and making him angry wasn't something he usually did on purpose. Vayne could be cold and distant, but Larsa saw him through different eyes than the others who knew them.
Whether Vayne approved or not, Larsa saw Gabranth through the same eyes. As he got old enough to actually hold conversations with adults (which was rather early; he was a precocious child, as usually ran in his family), he started cornering the Judge when he was alone and talking to him. Gabranth was resistant to that, at first, but eventually he softened. When Drace became a Judge, he softened even further, and the three of them would have conversations. Larsa was always curious about everything. He learned what questions to ask to get answers without being too forward; forwardness was not only rude, it wasn't a good tactic to use with Judges. Even so, Gabranth never revealed much of himself. There was always some invisible gap between them that Larsa could not seem to close, or to understand. At first, he thought it was their ages, but later, he thought it had something to do with the subtle differences in Gabranth's accent (different from standard Archadian, though only noticeable to ears that listened for such), or with the way he would stare off and his eyebrows would furrow and his jaw would set. Those spells were never long lasting, but they were the truest glimpse of the real man under the mask that Larsa could ever find.
Being used to intrigue, even at his young age, and having more secrets than anyone else in the group, he did not let on that he recognized Basch's face. He had not known that Gabranth had a twin, and he did not know who to ask about it anyway, so it was something he would have to keep to himself. At the time he joined up with Ashe's group, there was so much he had to keep secret and hidden, it was just one more thing. He wondered if the twins each knew the other lived. He hoped so; he would have felt awful if his beloved brother had died, after all. Surely they would feel the same? He wished he could bring it up, though he knew he could not.
Basch read the letter twice over, then set it down, and came to stand behind his young charge. A year had passed, and it had aged them both more than either let on. He put a hand on Larsa's shoulder, and Larsa looked up at him.
Neither of them spoke, for a moment, and they stood and stared off at the Archadian skyline together.
They were both thinking along similar lines, though neither knew the other's mind.
It was only when Gabranth lay dying that Larsa learned his true name. He wondered that he had never heard it; surely someone in Archadia had known? But then, perhaps the only people who had known had been members of House Solidor, and they, too, were now dead. Larsa had not heard Basch utter the name "Noah" in the Draklor Laboratories, so on the Bahamut was the first time he heard it.
"Lord Larsa," Gabranth said, weakly.
"Please, Gabranth, do not speak. I have not the power to aid you fully. Hold on a bit longer, and-"
Gabranth waved a hand at the boy, almost as if impatient. "Do not…call me that. I shall use that name no longer. I have…repaid my debt. Perhaps there is honor regained in such, after all. Basch was right."
Larsa stared down at him, worried and uncomprehending. The battle outside was loud, but he could not pay attention to it. His brother had taken to madness, and now they were all in danger because of it. He knew that he stood to lose either his only remaining family member or the only friends he had ever known in his short life; he did not know who to root for, so he focused on the wounded Judge and let the battle rage on outside.
"I have…another name. The one I was born with. Noah. My name is Noah," the Judge said.
"Noah…" Larsa said, tasting the name like a fruit he had never had before. To think that all this time, there were still so many secrets he did not know. He had a feeling, now, that he could never learn them. He could not see all of the wound, because of the Judge's armor, but the dark pool around him had not yet stopped spreading. A mere potion had not been enough to heal it, and Larsa feared this would be their last conversation.
He was a little wrong on that front. Their last conversation took place on board the Strahl, with Basch there, as well.
As Gabranth's - Noah's - eyes closed for the last time, Basch leaned over and kissed his twin's forehead. Larsa was still holding Noah's other hand, and he watched them with a heart that was nearly broken. His own brother had not left a body to bury, or to kiss goodbye. He watched Basch give a farewell that he could not, and went to make an announcement that would end the war.
In the end, perhaps Vayne had been right, in a way. The fighting had been necessary, because he had made it so. But Larsa refused to believe that it had to continue that way. He did not want anyone else to lose their family as he had lost his. It was with that in mind that he would take the reigns of the Empire, and lead them ever onward to peace.
"Gabranth," Larsa answered, cordially, though they were alone and there was no need for it. He had already steeled himself, however, to lose the second man to bear that name.
"I shall not leave you," Gabranth said, plainly, ignoring the matter of names for the moment.
Larsa chanced a look up at the impostor Judge.
"I made a promise," the man explained, as his eyes met the boy's. "I would not break it. I would not leave you to do this alone. Her Majesty has many she can trust, now. Dalmasca will not fall while she holds the throne. This, I do believe. Now, it is my task to ensure that Archadia does not fall while you hold the throne. And to ensure that you are not alone. I will protect you."
It was more than Gabranth - Basch - usually said at one time, and Larsa's practiced mask of neutrality cracked as his eyebrows knitted together.
"I would not have you stay merely for a promise you made to the dead," he said, not daring to really hope.
"And I would not stay merely for such. You do not deserve to be so isolated. I would stay with you of my own accord, if you would have me. My lord."
The mask dropped away, then, and Larsa all but threw himself into Basch's arms. So he was not, yet, to lose the last person he could pretend to call family. True, Basch was not really Gabranth, though he bore his armor, name, and face. But he had learned to be, in public, while in private they learned to know each other as people. Perhaps, still as friends, for Larsa had considered Ashe's band such for a long time now.
Basch hesitated, but at length, he returned the embrace. It was probably improper, he knew, but the Emperor was still a child, and still so good at heart. He would protect him.
They stayed like that a long time, until a lesser Judge came to summon Gabranth for a meeting with the Senate.
Basch let go of the boy, though he let one hand linger on his shoulder for a moment.
There were no further words spoken between them as Larsa watched him go.
He had not really known Noah, the man under the mask of Judge Magister. But now, he would know his brother; that, he vowed.