WARNING: I don't really know why I'm sticking a warning on this chapter; it's all plot background stuff. There's no naughty words and maybe two allusions to homosexuality - nothing higher than PG-13. But the story is definitely going to be rerated for plot-related yaoi sex scenes in a couple of chapters' time, and there will be graphic violence later on.

DISCLAIMER: It's all lies! They belong to me! I've no idea who these little men in white ganging up on me are!

Darkened Sunrise

Chapter Four - Of Marriage and Children

By Persephone

Laguna threw yet another report into one of the six OUT trays on his desk. He groaned as he picked up the next sheaf of paper, absently taking down his black ponytail, now lightly dusted with silver strands. Failed operations, broken codes, tapped telephone lines...the Hyne-forsaken Intelligence leak was the last thing he wanted to think about now. It was too late and he was too tired. On top of that, he didn't want to have to run over everything twice when Squall arrived. And the boy was half an hour late getting in. Surely there was nothing wrong...

He grimaced. Squall was a grown man and the Ragnarok couldn't crash without its computer sending a warning message to Garden. He'd probably run into bad weather, or a gate guard who didn't recognise him. There were a million logical explanations. That didn't stop Laguna worrying on reflex. He wasn't sure why he'd started fretting over Squall so much more. Maybe it was something to do with having to deal with an enthusiastic two-year-old who found it perfectly easy to get into trouble without being paid to kill things.

He heard purposeful footsteps outside the door. Squall walked in almost on cue. Laguna searched his son's expression for some sign he wanted to be here: finding nothing, he fell back on, "Did you have a good trip?"

"Until I got into Esthar." Squall didn't elaborate. "Can we talk in confidence here or do we have to write each other notes?"

"I already wrote down most things you need to know," and he passed Squall the folder. "If you've got questions, we'd better go home to talk." He pointed at the little speaker nestling against a picture. Squall nodded without changing expression and settled down to read the folder. Laguna waited for a minute or two to see if he needed anything. When he still didn't get a response he went back to work.

Half an hour later he finally heard a rustle of paper from Squall's direction. Laguna looked up from a redevelopment proposal and asked, "Is it all OK?"

"Almost. You can't spell."

"It's a whole nother language!" he complained. "It's difficult!"

"I have a couple of questions," Squall went on like he hadn't heard. "Are you busy, or can we talk now?"

"I can stop being busy. Nothing in this country's as important as that is." Laguna shut the file he'd been working on and stood up. "Besides, Elle'd be upset if you didn't say hi to her this evening." Squall didn't smile, but he seemed to relax just a little. Of course, Laguna told himself, he might have been imagining it.

To say Squall had been upset when he'd heard that his sister and his father had started sharing quarters would be an understatement. It might be more accurate to say he'd been flaming mad. He'd had a yelling match down the phone with Laguna - stringing a record number of words together - and had stopped talking to him for well over a year. Elle got forgiven a little earlier, mainly because she had the guts to travel to Balamb and shout him into submission. She'd managed to persuade him to get back on speaking terms with Laguna just before Storm's first birthday.

Soon afterwards, Squall was assigned to Esthar, a contract that had so far been extended by seventeen months. Most of the time he didn't seem too unhappy about it either. But he still had problems somewhere with Laguna and Elle's marriage. And whenever he looked like he'd finally grown up enough to accept it, he would always surprise everyone with an outburst sooner or later. Like when he'd thrown a hissy fit in the middle of a peacekeeping mission ten months ago. It had been really embarrassing when he and Laguna had temporarily stopped being on speaking terms while they were supposed to be working together. He'd taken forever to get over it.

The hypocrite, Laguna thought without much anger as he and Squall walked through the Palace to the presidential quarters. I didn't even blink when he told me Rinoa had dumped him because she couldn't handle his bisexuality. Why can't he let me have my choice?

Ellone was in the sitting room of Laguna's suite when he and Squall arrived, trying to hush her fretful son to a state where he would let her put him to bed. She looked like she'd been stressed out for at least half an hour. Storm was in a bad mood. He had one chubby arm wrapped around Elle's neck and the other wrapped round the stuffed toy lion Squall had given him for his second birthday. He was alternately sniffling, using the lion's ear as a pacifier and repeatedly saying "No, no, no!" while Elle talked to him in an over-cheerful voice, smoothing back his black hair and kissing the tear-streaks on his face. Both of them visibly brightened as soon as Laguna came through the door.

"Look who's here to see us!" Elle addressed Storm: 'Help,' she mouthed at Squall and Laguna.

"Daddy," Storm observed. He let go of Ellone and reached out for Laguna, who took him, being careful not to let him drop his toy. Storm cuddled him immediately; he was as tactile as Squall was standoffish. Acting on a sudden wicked impulse, Laguna turned right round and handed his younger son to his elder one. Squall was so startled he almost dropped his half-brother. "Squa'!" Storm squeaked, smiling and flinging both arms round Squall's neck, thwacking him with the lion in the process.

Squall coloured, threw a murderous look at Laguna and managed to recover enough to half-smile at Storm before the little boy could get upset. "Hello," he said gravely to his brother. "Isn't it bedtime?"

"Don't wanna go to bed," Storm grumbled.

"Don't you want Mummy to tell you a story?"

"Yes! Story!"

"I'm sure she'll tell you a story when you're in bed," and he handed Storm to Elle with a glare that said he'd fulfilled his fraternal duties for the evening. She didn't look too upset, probably because Storm cheered up and didn't start crying when she carried him off to the nursery.

"Thanks," Laguna said awkwardly to Squall once the other two were out of the way. "He's been impossible lately."

"That's all right," Squall growled, his expression indicating he didn't mean a word of it. "Can we talk in here, or do we have to go hide in the bathroom?"

"Here's fine." He sank down onto the sofa, and Squall took Elle's rocking chair. "What do you want to know?"

"How long have you known?" Squall asked without preamble.

"We guessed a month ago. That ambush I mentioned in the records I gave you. All the earlier stuff, we worked out afterwards."

"How much help do I get?"

"Officially, none. Officially you aren't doing this."

He frowned. "So why am I here?"

"Kiros concocted the old death threat excuse. There's a twist in it this time; he made it out like someone threatened to snatch Storm. It makes it easier for you to spend a lot of time out of the way working on things."

"Babysitting?" Squall said sceptically. "I'm not good with children."

"He likes you!" Laguna protested. "And I didn't say you have to spend the whole time minding him." He rushed on, "Anyway. Helping you. Yes. Well, we asked you in because the only person in Intelligence who we can completely rule out is the head, Kasha Meiroth. And she isn't able to do anything without involving someone from her department, who might be the leak or a friend of the leak. So it's you, me, Kiros, Ward and Elle, unless you ask another couple of SeeDs over to help you."

"I might. Contract details?"

"Same as yours but only valid till this gets sorted out. And you have to trust them absolutely one hundred and ten percent."

He was frowning again. Laguna was almost glad to see that; it was the only time his face held any expression at all, that he knew of. "I trust them all but -"

"But this isn't like trusting them to back you up in battle. This isn't a normal mission. Be honest, Squall. How many SeeDs are there in the whole of Garden who you know well enough to be certain that they have no links to anyone who might be a threat to us?"

He was silent for a few minutes. Then he said, "Three and a half."

"A half?"

"I trust him. But he's excitable sometimes and he has a busy mouth. It's never let him down yet, but I'd rather be safe than sorry." He looked absolutely disgusted. He couldn't like having to question the loyalties of his friends. Laguna sympathised; he hated it himself. "And one of the others is busy for the next month, unless she gets invalided out. So I can be sure of only two."

"Get them, if you think you'll need help."

He snorted. "I know I'll need it. This is way too big to handle alone."

"Whatever you think best. Do I know them?"

He nodded. "Selphie Tilmitt and Seifer Almasy."

Selphie he could handle, hyper attitude and all, but... "Almasy as in Ultimecia's knight?"

"That was years ago."

"Yeah, but - I don't know. People might not like it. Are you really sure we can trust him?"

Squall gave him the look he normally aimed at disobedient cadets. "He's my boyfriend."

Laguna stared at him. "I can't have heard you right -"

"You did, unless your hearing's going."

"But I thought you hated each other!" he protested.

"We were kids. We were stupid. We've grown up."

"That's an understatement, if you're dating." Laguna told himself to stop looking at Squall like he'd grown another head. Squall and men he could cope with. Squall and a former worst enemy? "Shall I get two more rooms set up or one?"

Squall coloured. "Don't know. I'll ask him when he gets here. Is there a secure phone?"

Laguna handed him his own mobile. "How soon can they be here?"

"Four hours. Two for me to go back to Garden, another two to return."

"Squall, you can't fly back at this hour. You'll be too tired. You might have an accident."

Squall frowned at him. "The Garden's been in Timber's waters for a week. As far as I'm concerned it's early evening."

"If you're sure." Squall didn't even bother answering, just turned to the mobile like Laguna wasn't even in the room. Laguna tried not to groan. Squall made it really hard for him sometimes.

He heard a footstep behind him half a second before Ellone wrapped her arms round his shoulders. "He's off already," she said, softly but jubilantly. "I'll have to use the story excuse some other time. Who's Squall ringing?"

"He's calling Garden for backup."

"Wouldn't it have been easier to ask for several SeeDs in the first place?"

"Well, it would, but I didn't know he couldn't handle it on his own, did I?" Laguna stared at Squall, who was talking to someone and apparently paying no attention to anything but his phonecall. "He's so self-sufficient that it never struck my mind..."

Elle dropped her head to his shoulder, with her lips pressed against his ear. "Squall. Later," she breathed. He knew better than to ask her what she meant.

Squall rang off and turned to Laguna and Ellone. "I'm going. We'll be back before three a.m. Esthar time. Nine tomorrow suit you?"

"Ten. It's the weekend."

Squall rolled his eyes. "Whatever."

"And tell the guards you'll be back late, or they might not let you in," Elle advised him, going over to him as she spoke. Surprisingly enough he let her kiss him before he left the room.

Laguna waited till Squall's footsteps had died away along the corridor before asking his wife, "What did you mean?"

She slowly made her way back to him, sat down on his knee. "He worries me sometimes."

"He worries me all the time," Laguna snorted.

"That's just you," she said absently. "You assume people are meant to be happy. What I mean is, he used to be kind of - not happy but indifferent. Now, every time I see him I get the feeling he's desperately upset somewhere."

Laguna studied her face. He sometimes got the feeling that he must have a thing for incredibly small women; Elle, like Raine, was barely over five feet tall and very slender. She looked so sweet and childlike when she was concentrating. "Have you tried to use your power on him?"

"He'd be angry."

"Might it be best to know what's wrong anyway?"

"Not if it's hang-over teenage angst. If it's serious...I don't know." She sighed and shook her head. "I feel things about people's thoughts without trying sometimes," she confided. "Only when they're pronounced. He's been fixed in depression for a few months now. This time he feels different. Like it's somehow very much worse and very much better at the same time. His moods are oscillating wildly and that's not good."

"He said he's got a boyfriend."

"That could explain it, if he's feeling insecure about a new relationship." She slid down beside Laguna and tucked herself round him. "Overnight sometime I'll go into his mind. If he asks I'll tell him I did it in my sleep again and couldn't control it. Then he won't be cross."

"I hope not," Laguna muttered. "I feel - I don't know what I feel sometimes. He makes me so angry. It's like he's expecting something from me, but I don't know what because the silly boy won't tell me...Hyne!"

"Keep your voice down, you'll wake the baby. I know what you mean. He's so secretive. I sometimes think he feels people don't take him seriously when he says what he really wants or believes. So he keeps things back. Even when it's hurting him to do so."

"Well, he'd better snap out of it. This is real serious, Elle. He's got to find out who's behind all this."

She looked up at him. "Are you afraid of a coup?"

"I don't know. That, or a war. I've no idea who with. I'm hoping Squall'll be able to tell us."

"I'll drink to that anytime."


(to be continued...)

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