[A.N.] Here it is! The next to the last chapter in our twisted tale! Thank you all so much for reading and for your reviews! This has been more than a two-year project and we are currently plotting out the sequel! I hope you will join us for our final chapter and for the continuing story of Serene and Thiana as they move on to the next stages of their lives including, politics, Preventers, and most diffcult of all, falling in love! Until then, read this chapter and i hope you will enjoy it as much as we have!


Completing the Puzzle: Ch. 14

It was a cold, steady rain that continued to fall on the umbrella-covered onlookers as the priest said the final words over the grave. Mariemaia was concealed under a portable awning with Lady Une by her side. There were few people actually in attendance for the funeral but not many would miss the man that was to be buried that day. Serene and Kit-Kat stood off, watching from afar as the casket was lowered and the last shovel of dirt was emptied. The funeral had been a small private affair; surprisingly it was an open casket with medical make-up doing a good job concealing his tell-tale injury.

It helped though as they'd had to see for themselves, had to make sure that he was, in fact, dead and gone. The two of them had sat in the back of the cathedral wearing subtle disguises to keep from being noticed. The ability at being able to have seen his body lying there with their own eyes lifted a weight off of their shoulder. Father Creeper was dead. He could never hurt them ever again. Serene could hardly understand what she was feeling. Never again would his boot kick her or his cruel words assail her ears in an abusive string of "disciplinary" measures. The man who had ordered her mother killed, who had ruined their lives and taken from them the natural happiness and innocence that all children deserve, was gone and he could never again ruin anyone's life with his self-serving ambition. However, a different heaviness settled.

The cold wind swirled up under her umbrella reminding her where she was. This was really happening. He was really gone. They were safe. Time had passed and they were alone in the cemetery as the burial truck rolled out of sight, Kit-Kat slowly walked forward. Serene followed. It all seemed so unreal. She should have been happy, overjoyed really, but she wasn't. For some strange reason all she felt was an emptiness akin to peace of mind. Peace; that was something she had never really had any concept of. There was very little she felt at the moment. While she felt a peace there was also hollowness, a chill that settled deep inside of her. She wasn't cold, not really. She and Kit-Kat could easily withstand the normal cold of such a dreary winter day. It was more then that.

They stood in front of the gravestone, the freshly upturned earth was moist and muddy under their feet, but that mattered little. They stared at the inscription carved into the heavy black granite slab. Under the usual information such as the name, the dates of birth and death lay another inscription listing his achievements in the world:

Leader

Father

No words such as "loving" or "Devoted" were seen anywhere on the cold, shiny surface. Rain drops slid in multitudes around the engraving as if in echo of the tears shed by the numerous people whose lives he ruined.

Serene walked forward slowly, and-as if on their own-her fingers traced slowly over the word father. She had never known her father; never had a fatherly influence in her life until Treize and Daniel came into it. Dekim and the doctors had been the only male influence in her life. All the men that had been part of her "growing year" had treated her more as a possession and a weapon than a little girl. Yet, for all the pain, for all the unshed tears, the blood, and sweat, on thing was true: he hadn't been loving or good to her in anyway, but he had created her, raised her, and been the only father she had ever known.

"I know." Kit-Kat said, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. Indeed she would know. Kit-Kat had been with Dekim's organization from infancy for all she knew. He had been a part of her life before she'd ever really started living. Surely Kit-Kat was feeling the same, out of place remorse.

"Why aren't I happy? He's dead."

"Because he was our creator. He didn't father us, physically or emotionally, but he was, our father in that sense. It's only natural to be confused." Serene turned to the older girl, her sister in spirit, comrade and oldest friend. "I feel it too."

"What do we do now?" Kit-Kat would understand her question. So much of their last few years had been looking for an opportunity to revenge themselves. To kill the man that ruined their lives and prevent him from causing the devastation he was all-too sure to start.

"Now, we continue living. We go out and capture the happiness he never intended us to find and make the most of life with the freedom we've finally found." Serene took in her words as her gaze returned to the tombstone. The cold black slab looked to her a shadow of the heart of the man that lay below it. Cold, Black, and lifeless and, like the corpse, completely harmless. She turned her back on it then, never looking back.

"Let's go home." Kit-Kat followed silently. The rain was finally stopping, the last few drop plopping defiantly on their closing umbrellas. As they reached the car, the cold wind made a small part in the clouds allowing for the sun to shine through.


It was quite late when they returned to the villa. Snow still thickly covered their part of the country, a fact which was even more prominent by the snowman that still stood welcoming them. There had been a comfortable silence all the way to the villa and it continued even as they pulled into the garage. They quietly entered through the back door to try not to wake anyone. They crossed into the kitchen peeling off their winter layers as they went making sure to carefully store them in the proper place for fear of Constance's reprimand.

As they entered the living room, Toby predictably sat up from his place in Kit-Kat's chair and gave a lazy stretch before jumping down to eagerly greet her. The Christmas decorations were still up though it was now passed the New Year. Constance had told her when she'd asked why they were still up that they couldn't celebrate when the family wasn't all home. She could never explain how that sentence had meant so much to her.

The warm glow from the tree illuminated the room casting light on a plate of Constance's special cookies which sat next to two mugs pre-filled with their favorite cinnamon cocoa with a note that said: "Santa had his fill. Eat up! " The two exchanged glances and smiled.

A pile of pillows and blankets lay next to the tree. Kit-Kat walked forward and touched the soft pallet on the ground, smiling.

"Treize." Serene looked at the older girl questioningly. "At Christmas, Treize would make a place for me by the tree with blankets and pillows. I would curl up and fall asleep by their light.

Serene studied the tree and the decorations really for the first time, taking it all in. She couldn't remember the last time she'd celebrated Christmas. She knew it was with her mother; that they must have celebrated together but try as she might the memories would not come. As if sensing her sadness, Kit-Kat threw a pillow at her and smiled.

"Come on; let's go get changed into our pajamas and wait for morning." The look in Kit-Kat's eyes was strange to Serene. She'd never seen such a youthful look of pure joy in those dark blue orbs in their entire time together. Even during the moments when it was just Kit-Kat, Boy, and herself, she'd never seen that light. It was contagious, spreading that same childlike enthusiasm into her.

"Race you!" Serene suddenly said and took off running. With the silence and grace only they possessed they made their way to their rooms and changed as fast as possible before ending in a tie at the tree. They grabbed the mugs and proceeded to the kitchen where they promptly boiled water and made their cups of cocoa to be enjoyed with that plate of fresh cookies.

As the two snuggled into the warmth of the blankets, Serene hugged her pillow close and Kit-Kat passed her a few cookies. The two enjoyed the chocolaty, cinnamon-y goodness of the cocoa, allowing it to mix with the smooth chocolate chips from the cookies. For those few minutes they weren't former soldiers or orphans lost to time. For tonight they were just two little girls enjoying the feeling of laying under the Christmas tree.

Their conversation varied, consisting of everything from Treize's bad habits to Constance's superb cooking skills. It wasn't long before the conversation though traveled to deeper topics.

"Really… what do we do now?" Serene knew she'd asked this same question earlier but she'd never been in a situation like this. The knowledge that anything could happened, that all the choices that lay a head were hers to make was a daunting feeling.

"Well, I'm going to be stepping back out into the world. I've been hiding away for too long. Treize left me the whole of the Khushrenada fortune and holdings. She might not be who I truly am but I have an opportunity to do a lot of good for the world and space as Thiana Khushrenada."

"I think you're wrong. I think she is you. She is who you made her, afterall."

"Thiana Khushrenada was created as a cover; a mask to help conceal the true intentions of myself and of Treize."

"That doesn't mean you can't use her to do what you really want to. You can help so many more people."

"That's true. The ALPHA Corps was created to help soldiers and their families. However, I think it can be so much more. I have been thinking about it and I want to make ALPHA a universal name. I want everyone who needs us to know where they can go to get help."

"Great! And I'll be there to help you every step of the way."

"I know you will. As my ward and the Vice President of ALPHA I'd expect nothing less."

"Wait, what?"

"Did I stutter?"

"What do you mean you're ward? And the VP? I don't understand."

"Again, did I stutter?"

"No, but-"

"As my ward I will be your legal guardian until you come of age. As for becoming the VP, you will be consulted on all matters deemed under your jurisdiction as well as to manage things in the event that your assistance is needed."

"But why me? Don't you think it will be hard to get people to listen to a 'child'."

"The world didn't seem to have a problem appointing a sixteen year old to the position of Vice Foreign Minister. I'm sure you'll be fine." She smiled. Serene looked at the tree. "Besides. If in the event I overstep my bounds, I know you'll have what it takes to intervene."

"Does this mean I'll have to act like a lady?"
"Only when the occasion calls for it. For the most part, I want you to focus on just being yourself."

"That's a relief. Frilly dresses and proper manners are so boring." The two laughed for a brief moment enjoying their cocoa again.

"In all seriousness, though," Kit-Kat said, "I think I'm going to reintroduce myself in style. I'll have the ALPHA Corps throw a ball and invite anyone who's everyone to help me decide who I can and cannot depend on where politics are concerned."

"A ball, huh?" Serene paused for a moment, scratching Toby behind the ear as he gave a sleepy yawn. "You should make it a masked ball. Who knows, you might even meet your Prince charming and dance the night away… Like Cinderella."

"Yeah, right, this Cinderella will be leaving as soon as I find out what I need to know."

"But don't you want your true love's kiss?" Serene teased.

"Very funny. Kissing isn't at all what the stories make it seem."

"How would you know?" The silence settled between them and Serene looked over at Kit-Kat her eyes widening slightly "You've kissed a boy! I thought we promised we'd never kiss a boy because-"

"Boys are gross…" Kit-Kat finished in a softer voice. "I remember."

"Then why did you do it? When? How?"

"Slow down! One question at a time. Sheesh."

"Well…?" Serene prodded impatiently.

"It was a long time ago. It just sort of happened all of a sudden like an accident, then it was deliberate, and then wonderful yet completely heart-breaking at the same time."

"You mean you've kissed more than once?"

"…Yes."

"How many men?"

"Well two, but only the one really counted…"

"Who?"

"It doesn't matter."

"Tell me!"

"No."

"Come on!"

"Fine! It was Zechs, okay?"

"Zechs? As in my brother…? You kissed my brother?! EW!"

"Technically he kissed me, although it doesn't matter anymore." Serene paused for a moment as she picked up on the sad tone in her friend's voice. There was pain in the older girl's eyes.

"Why was it heartbreaking?"

"Well, he had a choice to make, and he chose the option that didn't include me."

"What do you mean?"

"Did you notice the truck outside?" Serene nodded. "He promised he would return to pick it up when the battle was over. He said he needed to tell me something."

"And it's still here…"

"Yes, it is."

"He could still come…"

"Let's just say I have very reliable information that he's no longer in this atmosphere."

"I'm sorry." Another uncomfortable silence settled over the two before Serene got an idea. "At least you have the ball, Cinderella." Serene joked, trying to lighten the mood with a cheesy grin.

"Call me that again and it's on."

"Bring it, Cinderella!"

"You asked for it!"

"Pillow fight!" The pillows began to fly as their giggles filled the room. Awakened by the ruckus, Toby jumped up and proceeded to jump up and down before tackling the two laughing females and assaulting their faces, licking them with slobbery accuracy.

"Down you blasted mutt! Down!" Kit-Kat giggled out but the dog refused to budge.

"Toby! Down boy! Down Toby!" Serene's command, broken by laughter, still had the desired effect as the dog slowly backed off. He sat patiently wagging his tail, waiting for further instruction.

"Well, that was fun."

"Yeah… not unless you consider dog slobber fun…"

"He only wanted to play too." Toby curled up next to her, yawning.

"Yeah, tell that to my germ-covered face."

"Nothing a little soap and water won't cure."

"It's still disgusting." She said again, wiping her face with the blanket.

"So, about the ball: when are you planning on having it?"

"Soon, however, there's just one thing I have to do first."

"What's that?"

"I have an old friend that I need to apologize to and the sooner the better."

"I see. When do we leave?"

"We?"

"You weren't going to take me with you?" Serene put on a fake pout.

"Not this time." Kit-Kat shook her head.

"Come on! I've been trapped in this villa long enough!"

"You just returned."

"That doesn't count! I… I wasn't myself." She looked down.

"Well who were you then?" Kit-Kat asked, jokingly. Serene's mind going back to that moment in the bunker, that dark secret voice telling her what to do. She shivered.

"I don't know." She said softly. Minutes passed in silence while both girls' thoughts traveled down different roads.

"I have an idea." Kit-Kat said, breaking the silence. "Treize used to let me open one present on Christmas Eve. I know it's a little past that but I think tonight counts." She smiled and Serene found herself smiling in response. "Wait here." Kit-Kat rose and walked to the far corner of the tree where she pulled out a box wrapped in silver paper with blue ribbon. "Here."

Serene took the box and stared at Kit-Kat for a moment before carefully peeling off the tape and pulling apart the ribbons. She couldn't remember the last Christmas present she'd opened. It had been so long since anyone had given her anything not counting the necessities Kit-Kat had purchased for her. She wanted to remember every moment. As she pulled out the box she studied the weight of it, trying to guess its contents but to no avail. Finally, she lifted the lid and almost gasped at what lay before her. Smiling up at her from behind a pane of glass was a picture of her mother. The frame that enclosed it was intricately carved wood with gold and silver inlay to accent the designs. She picked it up and gently traced her fingers over her mother's features.

"How?" Serene asked. She had thought her past to be lost in time.

"With the information I received from Dr. A about you long ago and some inferences I made myself from your own memories I was able to do some digging and find a file of information about your mother. It's behind the frame." Kit-Kat said, smiling. Serene found herself speechless.

"All I got for you was a pair of Prada's Treize helped me pick out." She said as she laughed softly, wiping a few tears from her cheeks.

"I'm fine with that."

"You and your fascination with shoes."

"A girl's gotta have a hobby." The two began to laugh again, this time a warm, liht laughter.

"Well, well, having a party beneath the tree?" Treize's voice came from down the hall as he entered the room.

"You knew we would."

"Indeed." He walked to the liquor cabinet; a fancy wooden cabinet intricately carved and designed to fit his more elegant tastes.

"Drinking before noon?" Kit-Kat teased.

"There is nothing wrong with a hearty glass of wine before breakfast on Christmas morning."

"Except that it isn't Christmas." Serene pointed out with a smile.

"It is today." He said as he poured himself a generous amount. "And I see I got what I asked for after all."

"The wine?"

"Perhaps." His smile told another story as he stood and studied them for a moment.

"Oh, go sit down, you wine-o." Kit-Kat joked. Treize made his way over to his chair, and took a seat looking the picture perfect version of a man of leisure. His chestnut hair was impeccably combed, his deep purple robe and dark crimson slippers keeping his feet warm and his satin pajamas covered. He looked a bit like an old millionaire on vacation. Serene giggled at the thought.

"Do I hear giggling?" Constance's voice drifted in as she entered the room, her sleepy daughter on her hip. Tommy ran into the room excited.

"Yay! They're here! They're here! Present time!" Tommy yelled, dashing towards the tree launching himself onto Serene and Kit-Kat.

"Tommy, slow down!" Daniel said as he joined his wife wrapping him around her and his daughter and the whole room couldn't look more like the perfect family.

"Tommy the sun's not even up." Kit-Kat said letting a small whine enter her voice, but had to quickly control the laughter upon seeing Tommy's look as he sat back giving them a stern glare.

"That just means you haven't slept yet and that's not our fault." He even wagged his finger at them like Constance was known to do when she was trying to reprimand.

"It's her fault." Kit-Kat declared.

"IS NOT!" Serene looked wounded back at Kit-Kat, but for the first time everyone around noticed a sparkle in her eyes. "You threw the first pillow."

"Well you called me Cinderella."

"You will be at your ball." Serene said the line in a teasing voice before giving a small huff when a pillow popped her in the back of her head, and then chaos broke out again.

Serene yelled out "CONSTANCE! She's doing it again" laughing as she tried to get her own pillow to retaliate.

Tommy joined in by tackling Kit-Kat with a war charge "I'll protect you Serene."

Daniel was shouting out warnings, and encouragements to all sides as Constance glared at him trying not to break down into hysterical laughter. Ana on her hip was giving small toddler noises of cheers and clapping her hands in enjoyment. Toby didn't know what do as he ran back and forth giving low level barks not wanting to get in trouble for being loud again. All the while Treize sat back and chuckled at the show slowly sipping his wine.

Kit-Kat finally called 'Uncle' as Serene, Tommy, and Toby all seemed to work together and she was laid out laughing her head off. Tommy was tickling her as Serene and Toby tag teamed her with a pillow hit before a slobbering lick to the face.

"Ok, Ok enough. She forfeited the battle." Constance called moving to the couch and sitting before letting Ana crawl around the floor. Kit-Kat quickly moved to hide behind Ana.

"I know who loves me! The only one not to attack me." She said in a dramatic voice while scooping Ana up onto her lap.

"Ki-Ki-Ki-Ki!" The little girl responded in what everyone believed was her chosen name for Kit-Kat as she clapped her hands on either side of her face. The smile was short lived though as Ana's hands became wet from Toby's slobber.

"Eeww" She removed her hands and gave a small twisted facial expression leading the whole room to fall into laughter again.

"Give me a moment and I'll go clean up." Kit-Kat said.

"You do that, Cinderella" Serene teased one last time as Kit-Kat stuck her tongue out at her.

"Serene, what is that?" Constance asked as she spied the open box that held the picture.

"Kit-Kat got it for me." Serene pulled it out and showed it to her. "It's my mother."

"Oh Serene, she's beautiful." Constance looked over the picture and gave a small smile.

"May I?" Daniel asked knowing that both girls liked privacy he had gotten into the habit of asking before doing many things that others would see as natural.

"Oh course. You can pass it around, if you want." Serene couldn't describe what she was feeling in that moment. Constance moved off of the couch and sat beside her and reached out offering her hand. Serene laid her hand on top and gave a small squeeze before receiving one in return; an action that caused her to relax.

"I see her in you." Constance's gentle words had her eyes widening. She had memorized her mother's face and had studied the picture in the locket long enough to know that couldn't be true. Other than her hair color she looked nothing like her mother, which had always been something she'd hated about herself.

"I see her intelligence in your eyes." Constance gently ran her knuckles on the side of Serene's face next to her eyes.

"And I see her laughter right here." She playfully tapped the side of her Serene's mouth, smiling.

"I might not have known her but I can see her in you."

"Thank you." Serene reached out and for the first time initiated the hug between them.

"You are very welcome." If only Serene knew that Constance had to swallow back the lump that formed in her throat and willed herself not to cry.

"Can we open the presents now?" Tommy pleaded as he bounced in the middle of the brightly wrapped packages. Everyone laughed at his impatient question and it was just the needed thing to lighten the mood back to jovial. No one really noticed Treize leave and return with a decent size present which he stealthily placed under the side table. It was out of the way and with Kit-Kat returning just moments later no one even questioned that there was a present not under the tree.


The next hour was filled with flying multi-colored paper, Tommy and Ana trying to place bows on Toby's head, and more laughter then could be fathomed. The gifts ran from silly to very serious, and by the end of it the room looked like a storm had blown through with two very tired children sleeping wrapped around new presents as the older generations relaxed in the calm that always follows such storms.

Serene was curled up in a chair with Toby, calming him of his new terror of ribbons and bows. Daniel and Constance sat in a contained bubble of unbelievable joy at the peace-not only in the house-but that seemed to have settled across the earth. Thia took it all in as she sat on the floor leaning back against the side of Treize's chair while he finished off the last of his glass of wine. She couldn't believe that they are all survived. She had been raised in hell and yet she now had a haven that she never could have imagined. No matter what was going to be thrown at her or Serene in the coming , for the first time they weren't looking over their shoulders waiting for the other shoe to drop. The future was unknown and every path lay out before them. The past would always be there and it would always affect how they handled things but they weren't dictated by it anymore.

It could seem naïve of her but giddiness seemed to flow through her whole body and she couldn't wait to get back out into the world and live. There was, however, still a pain that had settled deep in her heart and she didn't know if it would ever be removed. Two very important people weren't here. One had made his own choice but the other, Boy, didn't know there was a choice at all. He had lost so much after she left and she hoped that one day he would be able to gain some of it, if not all of it, back. The future was what each of them made it now she just wished they would have been able to make it together. She leaned her head back and it landed against Treize's knee. The memories of nights in front of the fire from years ago, when he would read and she would draw, play cards with Zechs, or read herself came back and the peace settled back into her bones.

A muted rumble came from off to her right and she slowly lifted her head and turned in the noise's direction. Every sense was on high alert and she pushed torn wrapping paper out of the way to see a semi-large box wrapped in black paper, with black ribbon. She went cold as memories of the last time a gift had been wrapped in such a way.

"Treize…" Her voice had everyone freezing and looking towards her. He leaned forward and lightly ran his hand over her head.

"Looks like we forgot a present." His calm voice had her looking up at him over her shoulder confused. He knew what that wrapping meant and yet he was beyond calm. Something didn't make sense, and it was at the moment the box seemed to shake.

"It moved." She couldn't stop herself from stating the obvious.

"Well maybe you should open it." She looked sideways making sure to not let the box completely out of her sight again. The rumble seemed to get louder and it shook again. She got up on her knees and pushed the side table over so she could slide the box to her as whatever was inside become very quiet. She took a deep breath before pulling off the lid that she realized had holes cut through both paper and box. The image that greeted her took a couple moments to register. There was pure black kitten crouched in the corner looking up at her. At the moment her mind called the kitten black she noticed there were darker spots covering the small body. Its ears were large and pointed straight up as it stared back with pale green/grey eyes.

It was so tiny but fierce at the same time. She couldn't help the warmth that burst in her as their eyes held each other. She noticed that it was sitting on a couple of her shirts and she realized that Treize had trained the kitten to know her scent. The next thing that caught her attention was a rhinestone covered collar. Treize also seemed to be spoiling the kitten. He had done some of the same things for Toby but more in the form of bones.

"I don't know what to say…" She held out her hand unable to stop herself from holding her breath waiting to see what the kitten would do. Its face was exotic in a way normal cats weren't and she knew this one was different. However, like every cat once it caught her sent and recognized it, it started to purr and rub its head against her hand.

"It's a Savannah breed, and she was the only one of her coloring in her litter. I knew she would be the perfect companion to my Panther." Treize stated as he watched the two interact. There were so many things about this breed that reminded him of Thiana, but for right now he was happy that she would have a companion at all times. "I've also been working with her and Toby so that there wouldn't be a misunderstanding between them." The first time he had sat the little kitten in front of the large puppy, he knew they would were going to be great companions and the way they seemed to work together in play had him realizing that they were going to be great protection for both Serene, and Thiana.

"Does she have a name?" Thia asked as she lifted her out of the box onto her lap.

"Not yet, I was letting you pick. She needs one soon though. I can't keep calling her cat to make her stop chirping and meowing all night. It's like she knows that's not her real name and won't listen to it." He teased. Yet he was very serious at the same time as the little devil had kept him up all night. That was the main reason for the glass of wine so early in the morning.

"I think I'll call her Leila, do you like that?" Thia asked the small kitten and received what sounded like a happy chirping sound. Leila's tail curved back and forth in a contented manner before curling around on Thia's lap and settling down.

"I think that was a yes." Constance replied and everyone laughed, having known that Treize was planning on giving this kitten to Thia for a while.

After that everyone seemed to settle back as the sun finally started to rise in the distance. Thia looked over at Serene and they both smiled at each other. Everything was good, and they relaxed within the knowledge that they were ready for their chosen future.