For Nothing, For Everything

Part 7

By Sukunami

For the first time in over a decade, Seifer was alone in the music room that he had long ago put out of his mind.  Staring at shelves filled with dusty instruments, the green-eyed lord wondered why he didn't have any thoughts of his deceased mother at that moment when, after all, the room had belonged to the lovely woman of bright golden hair.  But instead, his gaze settled on a single instrument, a tarnished flute that rested innocently on wood, and his thoughts lingered on the image of the difficult brunet.

In the complete silence of the room, Seifer swore he could still hear the echoes of the haunting song the sorcerer had created over a week previous.  And with the enchanting music filling his mind, he reached out for the flute, his hand hesitating just before his fingers caressed chilled metal.  There was no flash of fire, no sting of lightning at the cautious touch, and Seifer frowned at the lacking sign that the flute had been surrounded by the magic of the sorcerer.  There was nothing and he had wanted so much to know...

The sound of a click and an opening door made Seifer jerk back from the flute and promptly lower his arm to his side.  Turning to the door, he watched as his young son walked backward into the room, his wide green eyes focused on the person following him while he asked about the day's lesson.  Squall pushed the door further, smiling as he only did for Leander, but before he answered the child, the sorcerer looked up sharply at the silent lord.  Blue-gray eyes harsh and cold, Squall hardened in a reflex that pained the nobleman.

"Don't let me interrupt," Seifer stated hoarsely, unable to hide his increasing disappointment.  "I'll just watch from my usual place."

Squall relaxed some at the words, and then nodded vaguely.

Their conversation limited to that, Seifer moved to the collection of chairs next to the piano and took a seat at the single uncovered chair.  Leaning back against old wood, Seifer turned his attention to the two dark-haired sorcerers across the room.  With Squall already kneeling to be eyelevel with Leander, the blond lord was struck by the subtle similarities between the two.  They shared the same small and delicate body frame, and joined with their pale complexions, there was an air of unnatural refinement about the sorcerers.  To add to the likeness, Leander had asked for his shoulder length hair to be cut short earlier in the week, something the boy had adamantly refused to do in the previous years.  The new style gave a thicker appearance to the wavy brown, reminding Seifer of the elder sorcerer's messed hair.  Musing to himself, Seifer wondered if the two were distant cousins or otherwise related, something that wouldn't have been surprising given their shared heritage.

Quickly setting aside his distracted thoughts, the nobleman watched as Squall continued the lesson with quiet instructions to the boy.  It was the fourth session for Leander, and like every lesson previous, Squall wanted him to reveal his core.  The youth continued to struggle with the task, unable to produce the pale wood without the aid of the elder sorcerer, but Squall remained confident that Leander was progressing as expected.

Despite that assurance, the impatient boy eventually scowled accusingly at his small twig of a staff.

"Don't frustrate yourself at this point," Squall scolded as he stood from his kneeling position.  "You'll only make your magic more hesitant to reveal itself."

"But... but it's so hard."

"And everything from this point forward will be even harder.  Are you going to quit now?"

"No.  But..."  His pout softening into a worried expression, Leander gazed up at his mentor.  "Will it be too hard for me?"

"Of course not."

It was a simple answer, one that shouldn't have been able to satisfy the child in Seifer's opinion, but Leander smiled brightly in relief.  "Then can I learn something else?  I don't feel tired this time."

A dark eyebrow raised, Squall posed a silent question of doubt to the youth.

"Really, my head doesn't hurt."

After a continued moment of examination, the elder sorcerer sighed out a surrendering breath.  "Very well."

While Leander smiled at his easy victory, Squall summoned his staff with an effortless display of experience.  Seifer unconsciously straightened at the sight, his green eyes drawn immediately to the red wood covered by dark carvings.  It wasn't the first time he had seen the weapon, but knowing more about the sorcerer's character and recognizing that the staff was an important part of the man, Seifer had the overwhelming desire to closely examine the brunet's so-called 'core'.  But as the staff was taken protectively into two hands, Seifer knew that he would never be allowed the same privileges that had been granted to his son.

"The next step in your training is to change your core," Squall stated softly as he lifted his staff to eyelevel.  In a fast move, the sorcerer jerked his hands in an up-and-down motion, the silent command causing the dark wood to abruptly melt into a bright amber liquid that flowed to the sorcerer's feet.  The sudden display made Seifer jump to his feet, but once the glow of magic had disappeared, the blond lord stared at the created length of beige silk that was held in the sorcerer's raised hands.  Dark lettering covered the shiny material, spells written in a language unknown to the nobleman, but it wasn't the strange markings which attracted Seifer's eyes.  Instead, there were faded shadows of brownish-red that covered the length of the sheet, reminding Seifer of his discarded uniforms which couldn't be cleansed of spilt blood.

Waking from his moment of awe, Leander asked reverently, "Can I touch it?"

Squall's stance stiffened vaguely, the blond lord immediately recognizing the reaction of silent terror that was unfortunately commonplace in his presence.  Though curious what the man had to fear from the young boy, Seifer asked nothing as the elder sorcerer nodded almost reluctantly and Leander was allowed to gently hold the sheet.

With widened eyes, Leander declared, "It feels really soft.  Really, really soft."

Squall managed a small smile, though his tenseness had yet to fade.  "Perhaps, but that's not the purpose changing our cores into this form."

"Does it hurt to do it?"

"No more than exposing your core in the first place."

"Then why is there blood?" Leander asked with a sad frown, his small hand moving to caress a particularly large stain that wasn't nearly as faded as the others.

"It's nothing to concern yourself with."


In a sudden action to interrupt the youth, the length of silky material shot up into Squall's hold and vanished into the nothingness from which it had come.  "Stop being distracted, cub.  You need to focus on your training and this is an extremely important step.  You won't be able to learn spells and imprint them onto your core without changing its form first."

His frown deepening into one of anger, Leander asked peevishly, "But why do I haveta change it?  I can't make it appear by myself anyway.  I can't do anything like you."

Calm eyes met the boy's frustrated glare.  "You will.  And someday, you will be better than me."

The statement of praise caught Leander off guard as he stepped back and held his small staff close to his chest.  Looking down at the floor in embarrassment, he argued, "But you're so strong..."

Squall placed a reassuring hand on dark hair.  "Have faith in your powers and they will never fail you."

Leander glanced up, but the movement made the youth sway vaguely as the pale wood disappeared from his hold.  Staring blankly at his empty hands, Leander seemed near tears.

Recognizing the clear signs of the child overtaxing himself, Seifer moved from his overseer position and stepped close to the pair.  "I think that's enough for today, Ander.  You're more tired than you realize."

Leander turned to his father, ready to argue, but bit his lower lip instead as he pressed a fisted hand against his forehead.  Looking up with disappointed eyes, the dark-haired boy said, "I really didn't think I was tired."

"Hn, well, you were the one who woke up too damn early this morning to go see the new pups in the kennel.  The sun wasn't even over the horizon when you dragged me out of bed."

With a sheepish smile, Leander murmured, "Oh yeah.  I forgot."

Seifer grinned at his son and ruffled dark hair.  "Damn brat.  One of these days, I'm going to wake you up nice and early and see how you like it."

The young boy grabbed onto the large hand and pulled it aside, laughing at his father's annoyance.  It was a happy laugh that only a child could produce, an infectious noise that made Seifer smile brightly in return.  But then movement attracted the lord's eyes, interrupting the moment as Seifer frowned at the sorcerer attempting a subtle exit.  "And where do you think you're going?"

Squall paused at the closed door, his hand resting on the handle.  "Isn't that obvious, my lord?"

"But the lesson hasn't ended just yet."

The sorcerer turned to look over his shoulder, pale eyes narrowed in a confused expression.

"Ander may be too tired for that 'core' business, but he is still able to listen.  And, unfortunately, his other tutors have been slack in teaching him about the country and culture of the sorcerers."

With a vague scowl, Squall declared, "My country and people are dead."

"All the more reason for you to tell Ander about his heritage.  He's not going to learn it from anyone else, and I'm certain Ander has plenty of questions about sorcerers, too, don't you, kid?"

Leaning against his father's leg, Leander stared wide-eyed at the servant and asked, "Were all the sorcerers strong like you?  Could they kill those wuffs, too?"

A pained look crossed Squall's face before he leaned back against the door and shook his head.  "No, not everyone was strong enough to survive against those monsters."

Seifer placed a hand at his son's shoulder, knowing that the young boy wouldn't recognize the sore subject he had brought up and would continue with difficult questions if he wasn't stopped.  "Why don't we sit down and let Squall tell you everything from the beginning.  You can ask more questions later."

Leander nodded and allowed his father to guide him to the padded piano bench.  But once seated, Leander moved to the very edge of the bench in an attentive pose, his green eyes bright with unasked questions.  The obvious interest of the young sorcerer eventually pulled Squall away from his position at the door.  With a sulking air, the brunet moved to the piano and leaned back against the large instrument, his arms tightly crossed and his head bent low.

After a time of silence, Seifer smirked and asked, "Well, aren't you going to start?"

"And what exactly should I say, my lord?"

"There's plenty to say, but I suppose you could start with a description of your homeland."

Squall frowned at the suggestion, but said nothing.

Growling out a sigh at the frustrating man, Seifer said, "Fine, then I'll start and you can correct me as I go along.  But I'm warning you now - my head has been filled with the Emperor's propaganda.  Most of the things I know as truth are probably lies."

The dark-haired servant shrugged, never raising his head.

Refusing to let himself be baited by the indifferent attitude, Seifer turned to his son.  "I've never told you this, Ander, but I once set foot in the country that was controlled by sorcerers.  It was a small and narrow country, mostly formed of dangerous mountains and immense cliffs that would make the bravest man watch his step.  I don't believe that I'll ever again experience such harsh lands like that place."

Squall scoffed quietly and muttered, "It was stupid place for a country."

Though surprised by the comment, Seifer agreed with a chuckle.  "That's for certain, but there was a great seaside view."

"You were near the ocean?" Leander asked with wide eyes, the child only hearing about the immense bodies of waters in his studies.  "Did you swim all the time?  Is it really salty and cold?  Are the waves big?  Did you ever see a shark?"

The string of questions caused the sorcerer to smile softly.  "The water was too cold and the beaches too rocky to enjoy like you think, but I suppose I spent plenty of time near the water.  It was a lot quieter than the palace."

"You lived in a palace?" Leander asked in surprise.  "Was it bigger than here?  Did you ever meet the king?"

"Ander," Seifer scolded quietly, upset with himself for choosing a topic that had too quickly led to uncomfortable questions.

"No, he has the right to ask questions," Squall countered as he turned somber gray eyes to the boy.  "I knew Laguna Loire, but he was only considered a king by his people.  Our country was insignificant in the eyes of the world, and given our recluse nature, we were partially forgotten except for the countries with which we had trade pacts."

Frowning in thought, Leander asked, "But if he owned a palace, didn't that still make him a king?"

Squall smiled at the boy's naivety.  "He was a beloved king to his people, and that's all that mattered to him.  But to the rest of the world, he was nothing more than a leader of lepers."

Seifer tensed at the wording, wishing to argue against the harshness of the statement, but quickly realized that the sorcerer was speaking the simple truth.  Few countries dared to barter with the nation ruled by sorcerers, as if their amazing powers would eventually bring a curse upon those who mingled with such magicks.  It was a ridiculous notion, especially in a world that relied on the skill of healers, but it was a commonplace belief that would never be corrected.

"Loire was the king of a lifeless land," Squall stated after eyeing the blond lord, expectant of an interruption that hadn't come.  "As your father mentioned, Leander, it was a harsh country with few spots of fertile soil.  That's why we were mostly a culture of artisans and merchants, using our wares to gain food from other nations."

"The land may have been worthless, but I haven't mentioned the capitol yet," Seifer interrupted on an excited note.  "It was amazing, Ander.  They had built their entire city along these huge white cliffs, and their palace was built directly into the stone.  No one but the sorcerers could have managed such a ridiculous task and achieved perfection.  The first time I saw the capitol, it was in the dead of night and starlight was reflecting off the ocean.  It gave the white stone an ethereal glow that stole away my breath.  For a moment, I though we had stumbled upon Heaven."

Feeling a chill along his spine, Seifer glanced to the side and met the eyes of the sorcerer, the pale orbs bright with accusation and fury.  Shame instantly burned through the nobleman's chest, reminding him that the night he had first seen the city was the same night fire had torn through the capitol.  With a hint of sadness, Seifer knew the dark-haired man would never believe his words that he wished he hadn't taken part in the destruction of sorcerers.  In the end, actions meant more to the serious man, and Seifer's hands would forever be stained with innocent blood.

Somewhat lamely, the blond lord murmured, "It was an incredible city, Ander, and I wish you could have seen it."

"What happened to it?" Leander asked, his soft voice suggesting that he already knew, but wanted to be told differently.

"It was destroyed during the Massacre, when the Emperor had us all fooled that the sorcerers and their followers were dangerous people out to enslave the world."

"Why didn't you tell them he was lying?"

The innocent question cut through Seifer, making him choke slightly before he answered.  "I didn't understand a lot of things back then.  My father, your grandfather tried to tell me that I shouldn't believe everything I heard from the city, but I didn't listen to him.  Instead, I joined the Imperial Army with the dream to rid the world of evil.  Stupid me, I didn't know where the real evil lied, and so I..."  Seifer glanced to the sorcerer, not in search of strength, but because he didn't want to appear a coward in front of the onetime prince.  "I took part in the destruction of that capitol and its people.  It's not something I'm proud of, but I won't lie about the role I played."

Squall offered nothing in reply, but the unnatural glow to the blue-gray eyes had dimmed to a softer shine.  The sorcerer then glanced downward with an odd expression, making Seifer turn and stare at the heavy tears that were falling despite Leander's attempts to wipe away the moisture with shaky hands.  Seifer reached out for his son, but Leander flinched back and bumped his elbow against the piano keys, causing a loud clang of discordant notes.

"Don't," the boy spat out, moving further back on the bench.  "You killed people like me... you killed sorcerers, just like you killed the other people in your stories, didn't you?"

"... Yes, I did."

"Why?"  When there was no immediate answer from his father, Leander asked, "Did you hate them?"

"No.  I feared them, perhaps, but I never hated sorcerers."

Leander sniffed loudly as he continued to wipe at his tears.  "Then why did you haveta kill them?"

Speechless in the face of the simple question, Seifer never imaged that his savior would be the quiet servant who had every right to let him suffer.  Not seeing the man move, Squall was suddenly at his side, kneeling in front of the piano bench as he rested a hand on the boy's leg.

"It wasn't his fault."

The statement of certainty made Seifer straighten in disbelief.  Equal confusion was apparent in Leander's widened eyes, still flooded with tears, but hope lit the green beneath.

Realizing that he'd have to explain his words, Squall sighed out a long breath.  "The world has never cared for our kind.  Healers were forgiven for their abnormal powers, people assuming that they were blessed with the touch of angels.  But sorcerers... we are destroyers according to common legends.  For a long time, people were happy to forget our existence as long as we were quiet, but we knew it wouldn't last forever.  This isn't the first time we've been wiped out to near destruction, nor will it be the last.  And for you to blame your father for the idiocy of the world, well, it's a bit unfair."

Leander looked to his father, uncertainty clear in the young eyes.  "But..."

Seifer held the child's gaze as he said, "I'm not perfect, Ander.  Hyne in Heaven, I wish I was, but I'm just human.  If there was something, anything that I could to make amends for the past, I would.  But things so terrible can't be settled that easily."

Still wary, Leander inched closer to the large blond and quietly stated, "I'm a sorcerer."

Action before thought, Seifer had the small boy trapped in his arms in a potentially hurtful hold, but the nobleman didn't care as he pressed his cheek against dark hair.  "You're my son.  I would protect you with my very life and never regret that choice."

Though careful and light, Seifer still felt the eventual touch of small arms trying to wrap around his waist.  He loosened his hold at the returned hug, and with a kiss to dark hair, Seifer leaned back to look down at his son.  Pale green still moist with tears met his gaze, but Leander managed an embarrassed smile for his father.

"I love you, Daddy."

"Not more than me, kid," Seifer muttered while ruffling shortened hair.

His smile widening, Leander slumped against the larger man's body, allowing the touch that he typically hated.

After a time of watching his son, Seifer looked over to the silent servant with the intent to thank the surprising man, but that thought vanished as saw the downcast expression of the brunet.  Blue-gray eyes were purposefully directed away from both father and son, but Seifer could still see the pained edge to the pale eyes.  Not understanding how the man could defend him at one moment and then suppress his obvious hatred at the next, Seifer focused solely on the kneeling servant.


The sorcerer didn't move at the call of his name.  And before the nobleman took another breath, a loud knock prevented him from gaining Squall's attention.  Seifer glared at the offending person behind the door and growled out, "What is it?"

Entering at the demanding question, Ward stepped inside and used his bulk to screen the room from wandering eyes in the hallway.  "Forgive me for the interruption, but the tailor has arrived to fit Master Leander for his new clothing."

"Oh, is it already that late?" Seifer muttered to himself as he continued to stroke dark hair with his thumb.  "Well, kid, do you feel steady enough to handle a fitting?"

Leander nodded slightly, though didn't move from his position against his father.

"Come on, brat.  If you want join the party later this week, you need new formal wear.  You've grown too much since last year."

"Alright," Leander muttered halfheartedly as he pushed up into a sitting position.  "But can we talk more later?"

"Of course.  In fact, I'll join you shortly.  I just need a few words with Squall first."  Once noticing a protective glint to the reddened eyes, Seifer added, "I need to speak with him alone."

Though frowning in displeasure, Leander nodded his understanding.  He then turned to his mentor and whispered his thanks.  Squall smiled vaguely in a silent reply as he stood and allowed the young boy to move past him.  Blue-gray eyes followed the child as Leander stepped to the scarred steward and reached out for a large hand.  Ward showed his surprise at the wordless request, but still grasped onto the hand as he led the boy outside.

"I don't deserve that kid," Seifer said softly.  He was somewhat impressed that the sorcerer didn't offer his opinion about the matter, but the lord was beginning to understand that the attractive man would always hold more surprises for him.  "Why did you defend me like that?"

Squall said nothing as he moved to the piano and leaned back against the instrument in a familiar pose.

"I know you don't care for me, but I always thought the reason you hated me was for my role in the Massacre.  Did you really mean what you just told Leander or were you lying to him for my sake?"

Pale eyes narrowed as the sorcerer pinned the nobleman with an icy glare.  "I won't lie to Leander, especially not for you."

"Then, you don't blame me for the Massacre?"

Squall snorted as he pushed off from the piano and stepped in the direction of the closed door.

Jumping after the man, Seifer grabbed tightly onto a slim wrist before the brunet could escape.  "I hate it when you do this.  Am I so horrible that you can't finish a damned conversation with me?"

"... ..."

"Just wonderful.  Well, for your information, I wanted to tell you that I won't be joining you and Ander for the next tutoring session.  The party Rinoa tricked me into hosting is going to take up my time for the rest of the week, so you'll have Leander to yourself."

Somewhat cautiously, Squall glanced back at the news.

"Don't look at me like that.  I'm not sitting in on these lessons because I don't trust you.  I just want to know the things Ander is learning, and... well, is it that strange for me to want to learn more about sorcerers, too?"

Blue-gray eyes widened vaguely before softening in an uncertain expression.

Releasing his hold on the man, Seifer said, "That's all I had to tell you, though I would appreciate meeting with you the day after the party.  I want to know everything about his progress and what he learns.  If you don't mind, of course."

Squall met the lord's gaze for a long moment, and then turned his back to the larger man.  "The Massacre happened because there was a group of people who believed something and acted upon it.  I can't blame a single idiot for something like that."

Seifer frowned, tempted to grab onto the brunet once more, but fisted his hands instead.  "Then why?  Why do you hate me so much?"

With a quiet scoff, the sorcerer stepped to the door and to his escape.

The blond lord thought to stop Squall, to force the man to say more than the few cryptic words, but Seifer couldn't move as he watched the sorcerer move with a subtle grace.  Once again left alone in the music room, the nobleman considered what he had been told.  For a brief moment, Seifer felt heartened at the idea that he wasn't despised for a situation that had been out of his control, but that respite ended quickly once the lord realized the meaning behind the sorcerer's words.

A frostlike coldness crept through his chest as Seifer moved to a shelf of instruments and he rested a shaky hand on silver.  He breathed a laugh at his blindness, a part of him knowing all along that Squall was the type to hate a man who had done something unforgivable by his own choice and method.  And since it was the lies of the Emperor and the general fear of unstable times that had caused the horrors of the Massacre, it meant that there was something else that had happened between the lord and servant, something Seifer had done through his own stupidity.

Stroking the flute with numb fingers, he asked out loud, "What in Hyne's name did I do to you?"

Seated in his favored chair of his study, Seifer leaned back with an arm over his eyes and an unread book in his lap.  It had been a day since he had last spoken with Squall, and since then, he wasn't able to get decent rest as he continually thought about the past in search of a single memory, even a fragment of a memory, that would help him understand why the sorcerer despised him.  But Seifer couldn't recall anything beyond the recent past where Squall only smiled in the presence of Leander and blue-gray eyes were constantly guarded with shields of ice.

The sound of knocking startled Seifer, waking him from near sleep and waiting dreams of his obsession.  Irritated at being denied his rest, he ignored the call and slumped further into the cushions of his chair.  The person beyond the door, however, didn't appreciate the lord's desire to sleep and continued to knock in a longer string of loud rapping.

Growling as he straightened in his chair, Seifer called out, "What is it?"

The door opened to reveal Ward, the steward appearing vaguely apologetic as he said, "Forgive me, Master Seifer, but Lady Heartilly--"

At her name, Rinoa slipped past the large man and walked into the study.  "Seifer!  It's been so long and... Oh, Seifer, you look horrible.  Have you been up late drinking again?"

Pressing a hand to his face, Seifer wondered how many times he would have to explain to the woman that he no longer had a taste for alcohol.  After dismissing Ward with the wave of his hand, the blond looked at his guest.  "Rinoa... I thought you were arriving tomorrow."

"Well, that was the original plan, but..."  The raven haired beauty moved directly in front of the seated lord and placed a soft hand at the man's stubble-roughened cheek.  "I thought I could be useful to you if I came early."

"I appreciate your kindness, but I have able people within my staff to plan every little detail of the party.  There was no need for you to come today."

"But surely I could help you otherwise."

Hearing the suggestive tone to the melodic voice, Seifer smirked and chose to ignore her offer.  "Don't play innocent.  It's your fault I'm hosting this party in the first place."

Rinoa pouted at the implied refusal and removed her hand.  "So, you are only doing this because of the favor you owed me?"

"You shouldn't be so surprised.  I hate these sort of engagements, something you know all too well."

Dark eyes soft with hurt, Rinoa forced a smile.  "Yes, I know, but you shouldn't be so adverse to the idea.  People won't trust you unless you open your home to them."

"If you say so, my Lady."

Before the noblewoman could say something else, a soft knock sounded from door, a distinctive knock that was light and short as if the person didn't want to be heard.  Seifer smiled gently at the tentative knock and told the man to enter.

After a second of hesitation, the door slowly opened to reveal the dark haired servant.  Squall stepped inside as far as the width of the door, his hand tight on the handle.  "Matron wanted me to inform you... Oh, forgive me, my lord.  I didn't know you had a guest.  I can come back--"

"Nonsense, you and Lady Heartilly know each other well enough," Seifer said as he stood from his chair and approached the servant before the man could manage a fast escape.  "Now, what did Matron want me to know?"

After briefly eyeing the noblewoman, Squall moved his icy gaze to the lord.  "She read over your list and agreed with your suggestions about the dinner for the party.  Everything will be prepared as you wanted."

"That is good news," Seifer said as he stopped in front of the smaller man.  "Matron is a difficult woman when it comes to changing her menus."

A noncommittal noise came from the brunet as he shifted his stance.

"... Is that all?"

Squall frowned at the question, but his continued presence suggested to the blond that there was indeed an additional comment the man wanted to make.

Smiling at the man's indecision, Seifer leaned in close to the sorcerer and asked quietly, "Do I need to get rid of her?"

Blue-gray eyes widened at the offer, the servant's surprise soon passing as he shook his head and reached inside the folds of his shirt.  "That's not necessary.  Leander's tutor wanted me to give this to you.  It concerns his lesson for tomorrow."

Curious, Seifer took the offered piece of crumpled paper.  At first not recognizing the complex letters, the lord then noticed the tiny words listed beneath each symbol.  His head snapping up, Seifer stared at the brunet, but couldn't find the words to question the man's trust.  That Squall had decided to translate some of the sorcerers' secret language for him... Seifer was bewildered and honored.

Lips set in a small frown, Squall said, "The tutor mentioned you wanted to learn whatever was taught to your son.  Was he mistaken?"

Still suffering from shock, Seifer couldn't reply directly as he carefully folded the paper before smiling softly.  "Give my thanks to the 'tutor'.  I didn't imagine that he would go this far to keep me informed."

Shifting back a small step, Squall nodded.  "As you wish, my lord.  I'll also inform Matron that you'll be entertaining the Lady tonight."

"Are you trying to escape already?"  At the servant's vaguely pleading gaze, Seifer breathed a disappointed sigh.  "Very well, you may leave.  But tell the tutor that I still expect to speak with him later this week."

After a slight bow, Squall turned his back to the blond and closed the door behind him.

"My, was that really the same Leon I took in months ago?"

Seifer held his tongue, not certain if the former Sorcerer Prince wanted others to know his true name.

"He seems healthier than I remember.  He has certainly gained some needed weight, though he is still far too thin in my opinion."

The blond lord had no reply for the comment, his thoughts instead distracted by the recent surprise of the sorcerer.  Thumbing the folded paper in his hold, Seifer wanted to read over the listed translations, wondering if he'd recognize any of the symbols as the ones which were displayed on the brunet's staff.

"You know, he was a terrible mess when I first found him.  It's good to see a touch of light in those eyes of his."

Schooling his expression, Seifer turned and returned to his seat.  "Enough about my servants.  Since you're already here, you might as well be useful and tell me what I need to know about our guests.  I haven't been keeping up-to-date with the latest gossip."

Dark brown eyes brightened at the suggestion, her painted lips curling into a conspiratorial smile.  "But there's so much to tell since you last showed interest.  Let's see, did I tell you the full story about Lady Briere's affair with her cousin?  I can hardly believe it myself, but I heard from..."

Seifer listened to the woman talk, only paying attention enough to respond with the required expression of offense or surprise.  The rest of his thoughts, however, were focused on his obsession and the time they would spend together later in the week.  While there were serious questions the lord had for the sorcerer, Seifer couldn't stop his imagination from diverging into less likely scenarios with the slim man draped across the couch, the brunet's clothing mysteriously absent.  And with the noblewoman clueless about the reason for his mischievous smile, Seifer silently wished for the quick passing of the next few days.

Lit by the flames of numerous lamps and candles, the expansive ballroom of the Almasy Estate glowed brightly in a golden light that best displayed the art pieces of the room, as well as the gaudy jewelry worn by the visiting ladies.  At the center of the room, the younger men and women of nobility were enjoying the night as they danced to the music of the small orchestra.  Surrounding them were the older Lord and Ladies who took part in a completely different type of dance, finding their own enjoyment in attempting to outwit each other with never ending word games.

And as he watched over the people he hardly knew, Lord Almasy found himself incredibly bored.

"You have such a lovely home, Seifer.  It's a shame that you let this gorgeous ballroom go to waste."

Growling under his breath, the green-eyed nobleman forced a smile.  "Rinoa, my Lady, don't force me to remind you again how much I hate these functions.  I only agreed to host this party because I owed you a favor."

The fair skinned woman laughed gently at the terse reply.  "Speaking of which, I haven't seen Leon amongst the rest of the serving staff.  Is he not well?"

"Of course he is well.  He doesn't care for these crowded situations, so I imagine he's hiding away in the kitchens."  After a time of quiet, Seifer glanced down at the petite woman and found an incredulous gaze focused on him.  "What?"

"How do you know that he doesn't like... No, why do you know?  It's not like you to be concerned with servants like that."

Seifer had no immediate response, his thoughts instead distracted by the insight that the noblewoman had more intelligence than he had ever truly considered.  Then the blond lord suddenly realized that his silence would give the woman ample time to answer her own dangerous question.  And as dark eyes lit up with a mischievous glow and full lips formed a slow smile, Seifer knew he was too late.

"The other day, I was surprised when he allowed you to stand so close to him.  The last I saw you both, he didn't seem to care for you much.  Even so, you still managed to steal him away from me.  But I must know - what is it about the man that has caught your fancy?  Certainly he's attractive--"

"Rinoa, don't suggest things you understand nothing about."

"Oh, I may understand more than you realize," Rinoa countered as she moved her eyes to the assortment of finely dressed men and women.  "Eight years I've known you, and not once have you shown anything more than a passing glance at the available ladies of good blood.  Something that has offended me greatly, just so you know.  You even have a child, but no woman to raise him.  It leads to scandalous assumptions, my love."

"And only assumptions, I might add."

Rinoa hummed softly in disbelief while she continued to watch the crowd, and after a bare sip from her wine glass, her dark eyes widened with surprise.  "My, my, it appears you were wrong.  Leon has decided to show his face after all."

Seifer looked sharply in the direction the noblewoman was facing, and once setting eyes on the unexpected servant, he stepped toward the man, but was stopped by a hard grip on his wrist.  Glancing back, Seifer scowled at the interfering woman.  "Forgive me, Rinoa, but--"

"How cruel," the noblewoman interrupted, her eyes downcast and shadowed.  "I spend years trying to gain your attention, and the mere mention of that... that servant has you running to him.  You are a horrible man."

Hearing the shakiness to the woman's voice, Seifer managed a small smile before placing his free hand at her cheek.  "Haven't I said before that you could far better than me?"

"I never wanted to."

"I know, I know, but... Well, you're the one making assumptions about my tastes."

"That doesn't mean I want to believe it," she announced in a fearful voice.

The nobleman glanced back over his shoulder, relieved that Squall had yet to disappear.  "I'm sorry, Rinoa, but even though I didn't make this choice, I can't stop myself."

"Even now, saying those terrible words to me, your attention is on him."  Releasing her desperate grip, the raven haired beauty turned her back to the blond lord.  "Go to him, then.  At least I have the comfort knowing that I didn't lose to a woman."

Seifer spoke a quiet apology, certain to speak at length with the lady at another time.  Meanwhile, his eyes remained focused on Squall, the servant appearing more serious than usual as he weaved through the crowd at the far side of the room.  Seifer hardly recognized when he had started walking himself, but a sick feeling gnawed at his stomach as he attempted to reach the brunet.  It wasn't until he was halfway across the room that Seifer saw the reason Squall had left the kitchens, and watching Leander being led away by the sorcerer made the nobleman quicken his stride.  But to his surprise, Squall slowed in spot empty of people and turned to face the green-eyed lord as if expecting him.

"What is happening here?" Seifer asked in a loud whisper, not wanting others to hear, but unable to control his anxiousness.

"Don't you trust me in the least?" Squall asked in return, his soft voice just barely heard above the murmur of the crowd.

Feeling the answer was obvious, the lord instead took a moment to glance over the servant.  The man was composed as always, but looking between the brunet and the boy at his side, Seifer focused on their joined hands - long fingers were pale in their tight hold on the small hand, and though Leander said nothing, his face showed the pain he was feeling.

Confused and somewhat frightened, Seifer asked a second time, "What is happening here?"

"If you care in the least for your son's life, let me protect him."

Though somewhat offended by the implication that he may not care about Leander, Seifer instead breathed a steadying breath and turned to his son.  With a louder voice intended to draw attention, the lord forced a disapproving tone, "Leander, I thought I told you to stay away from the wine."

Green eyes wide, the dark-haired boy shook his head.  "I didn't--"

"Don't make this worse with lies.  Squall will escort you to your room and you'll remain there until I have the chance to think of an appropriate punishment."

Leander pouted at being falsely accused, but nodded as he leaned closer to the servant.  The nobleman could only hope that his child also sensed the apparent danger and wouldn't be angry at him for the undeserved treatment.

"Go," Seifer stated with a sharp wave of his hand, "And Squall, make certain that he doesn't leave his room."

The sorcerer seemed surprised at the cooperation of the blond, but with a hint of relief to his blue-gray eyes, Squall bowed and spoke a quiet, "As you command, my lord."

While the servant and boy made their way through the crowd, Seifer watched them closely until a gentle hand was placed at his arm and he glanced down at the noblewoman he had left behind.

"That seemed a bit harsh," Rinoa commented, her lighthearted smile already returned given the eyes of curious others upon them.  "My father let me have wine when I was younger than little Leander.  What's the harm?"

"The harm, my Lady, comes when one underestimates the dangers of intoxicating drinks," Seifer replied, continuing the ruse that would allow Squall do whatever was necessary to protect Leander.

Scoffing playfully, the raven haired woman said, "It's hard to believe that you're the same man who saved my life and celebrated with three bottles of my father's favorite whiskey."

"A lot has happened since then," Seifer murmured, uncaring about the past.

But with Rinoa's offhanded comment, the other guests promptly began to ask questions, encouraging the noblewoman to tell the story of her kidnapping.  Though abhorring the tale that had been told too many times, Seifer chose to endure his torture at Rinoa's side, a decision prompted by her hand still wrapped around his forearm.  Hardly hearing the words spoken and the occasional gasps of the noblewomen, the blond lord thought about the odd state of the servant and wondered what was endangering his son's life at that moment.  Stranger still, Seifer considered his lack of serious concern, his anxiousness held back with the certainty that Squall would do anything to protect the child sorcerer.

An elbow prodded his side, and as Seifer noticed the interested gazes focused on him, he realized that he had missed a question that had been directed at him.  Plastering on a charming smile, the blond lord prepared himself to ask Rinoa to repeat the undoubtedly inane question, but was instead saved by the blaring sound of a horn as a late comer was about to be announced to the crowd.  Only a few curious people turned to face the entrance of the ballroom, but with the eventual introduction of the latest guests, loud murmurs of surprise flooded the room as everyone looked to the open doorway.

"Presenting the honorable Emperor and Empress of Galbadia."

Seifer forced a neutral expression on his face, as if he had known all along that Emperor Deling would appear at his home.  Meanwhile, his heart was beating in a wild rhythm of hatred and fear as his emerald eyed gaze narrowed on the plump form of the Emperor.  Several of the nearby nobility began asking rapid questions, only the women sounding offended that they weren't warned to prepare for a meeting with the Empire's rulers.

Ignoring the voices around him, Seifer placed a hand on the fingers wrapped at his elbow.  "Why is the Emperor here?"

"I... I'm sorry, I never thought he would come."

The nobleman looked down with a hard emerald gaze, silently demanding an explanation.

Rinoa pressed close to him in order to speak quietly.  "Don't get mad, but I sent an invitation to the palace.  It's a basic courtesy that I knew you wouldn't understand.  To not invite the Emperor would have hurt your social status and--"

"Enough," the blond lord interrupted, cursing the noblewoman's well-meaning deception.  "The harm is already done.  Would you care to join me in greeting our guests?"

"Of course," she responded, her typically melodic voice grated with venom.  "I have always wanted to meet the man who killed my father."

After directing a fond smile to the woman, Seifer straightened his posture and led the way to royal couple that had yet to move from the entry as several large men filed inside and took protective stances around them.  The man of thinning dark hair and a heavy build stood proud at the entryway, Emperor Deling wearing a pristine uniform of black and gold with several unearned badges displayed on his broad chest.  Like another undeserved prize, the woman at his arm stood nearly six inches taller than her husband, something that was nearly comical except for the knowledge that the beady eyed man controlled the fate of the entire continent.  More fitting to her royal position, the Empress wore an elegant dress of black that highlighted her flawless beauty and brightened her freely flowing white hair.  The noblewoman was first to chose to recognize the approach of the lord as she focused golden eyes on the tall man and smiled derisively.

Reaching the closest distance the bodyguards would allow, Seifer ignored the growing ache to his chest as he bowed deeply and Rinoa curtsied at his side.  "Welcome to the Almasy Estate, your Highness.  I am honored that you chose to grace my home with your presence."

"You have my dearest to thank for that," Deling stated with boredom.  "She has always wanted to see what was hidden beyond your gates."

"Please rise, child," the Empress added quickly, her voice uniquely musical and calming.  "We haven't seen your face in years."

Straightening, Seifer held back the instinct to growl at being called a child.  "If I may, I would like to introduce Lady Rinoa Heartilly, the daughter of the late General Caraway."

Though the Emperor scowled at the name, his wife smiled with a subtle curl to darkly painted lips.  "My, you are a beauty like the stories say."

Rinoa blushed at the compliment.  "I'm honored, my Empress, especially with those words being said by a stunning woman like yourself."

The Empress tilted her head, acknowledging the praise as if it were to be expected.

Clearing his throat, Deling took hold of the woman's pale arm.  "My dear, we are only here for a brief time and there are others I wish to speak with."

"Yes, my husband, but first..."  The golden eyed woman made a show of glancing around the room before asking, "Is your child around, Lord Almasy?  I have heard about his youthful charm and I had wished to meet him for myself."

"I'm afraid he was sent to bed early as punishment, Empress."

"What a pity.  And what was his name again?  Leonard?  Lionel?"

"His name is Leander, Empress."

"Ah yes, Leander, a man with a lion's heart," she stated distractedly, her eyes focused elsewhere.  "How forgetful of me."

Seifer stared at the woman for her comment, something in her voice suggesting that she had never forgotten the child's name.  Though wanting to question her interest in his son, the lord knew he would never receive a truthful answer.  Saying nothing of his suspicions, Seifer allowed Rinoa to take the role of hostess, the noblewoman born for the role as she proceeded to introduce the Emperor to the people he desired to meet.  Seifer followed and spoke when necessary, but his mind was elsewhere as he thought about Leander, unable to imagine why the Empress desired to meet the young boy.  Hoping the child's constant guardian would have some answers, Seifer tried to focus on the conversation at hand in order to dissect the Emperor's words in search of future weaknesses.  It was an opportunity he couldn't afford to waste, no matter his other worries.

Though the suffocating smell of perfume and smoke had been left far behind, Seifer held a hand to his chest as he hurried down the secluded hallway that led to the family chambers.  The strange heaviness in his chest had yet to disappear and he knew it wouldn't dissipate until he could confirm the safety of his son and the child's protector.  Upon reaching the door to Leander's private rooms, Seifer was surprised to discover it firmly locked, but no door in the Almasy Estate could keep out the blond lord.  Producing a master key, the nobleman stepped inside quickly and automatically relocked the door behind him.

It was dark in the main room of the suite, dark enough for Seifer to stumble upon a low table and yell out a creative curse.  His outburst was followed by a weak call of 'Daddy?', and without another thought concerning his leg, Seifer rushed toward the single spot of light in the room, a line of flickering light that identified the location of the boy's bedroom.

Shoving open the door, Seifer nearly demanded outright to have his questions answered, but the sight inside stilled his tongue as he stared with widened eyes.  Lit by the light of a single fat candle, Squall and Leander knelt in the middle of the wide bed, the elder sorcerer holding the boy close to his body in a sheltering grasp.  Shadows played between the two, and from the darkness, an odd glow of dark blue shone from the narrowed eyes of the servant.  Accustomed to the rare display of soft blue shining in the sorcerer's eyes, Seifer stared into the dual flames of darkness and instinctively feared the light of death that stared back at him.

"Daddy..." Leander whispered from beneath of folds of slim arms, his green eyes just barely viewable from the shadows.

Speechless, Seifer approached the two, but only reached the bedside before an unnatural coldness seeped into his body and warned him to step no farther.

"Is she gone?"

The hoarse voice made Seifer look into the sorcerer's deathly gaze once more.  Just before asking about whom the man was referring, the lord was startled by cold realization.  "The Empress.  Your protecting Leander from her, aren't you?  What does she want with him?"

Frosty eyes narrowing further, Squall repeated, "Is she gone?"

Though irritated that his questions weren't being answered, Seifer recognized the desperation hidden within the angered voice.  Daring to move closer to the pair despite the surrounding chill, the blond lord sat on the edge of the bed and spoke calmingly.  "Yes, she's gone.  I had Ward follow her and the Emperor to the gate just to make certain that they wouldn't leave any more surprises for us.  They're gone."

With a sighed out whisper thanking his goddess, Squall released his hold on the frightened youth and sat back in an uncommonly graceless move.

Before Seifer had the thought to question the sorcerer about his health, he suddenly had an armful of his son, Leander trying his hardest to place as much bodily contact between them as possible.  Wrapping strong arms around his child, Seifer whispered soothing nonsense to the boy as he stroked and kissed dark hair.  Hot tears were eventually felt on the bared skin of his neck, and when Leander began to stutter muffled words against his chest, Seifer was forced to pull back his son for the sake of understanding what the boy was trying to say.

"What happened, Ander?"

"Th, th, there were arms and, and eyes and..."  Fat tears fell from reddened eyes as Leander lunged forward to press his face against the broad chest of his father.  "Don't let them come back!"

Beyond confused, Seifer settled with holding his frightened child close and turned to the more composed sorcerer.  "What is he talking about?"

Stormy eyes hazed to a dull gray, Squall looked up at the darkened ceiling.  "She was searching.  To Leander and myself, the spell she used looked like ghost arms with eyes, ready to recognize, grab, and murder beings of magic."

"What?  How were you not noticed?"

"I shielded us," Squall stated, a gleam of dark blue flashing in his eyes.  "I made us dead to her spell."

Leander shivered in Seifer's arms, making the blond tighten his hold as he dug his fingers into dark hair.  "Why do I doubt that it's as harmless as you make it sound?"

The sorcerer shifted his eyes to the lord, the exhausted gaze revealing the only answer the man was willing to offer.

"Please, Squall, I don't understand anything that has happened tonight.  And from your talk, it almost sounds like the Empress... but I have to be wrong.  How could she have the same powers of a sorcerer?"

"Because she does."

Seifer froze at the statement that had been said in a bland tone.  His first thought was to argue against the ridiculous notion of a female sorcerer, a sorceress who could never exist to the lord's knowledge.  But with his impossible son pressing harder against his chest, Seifer decided to be more opened minded to the servant's words.

"How... How is that possible?  I've only heard of sorcerers..."

Eyes half-lidded, Squall muttered, "Sorceresses are only possible on a rare chance... when wrong blood is allowed to bear children... a sin that shouldn't have..."

The sudden collapse of the brunet caught Seifer by surprise, but burdened with his clinging son, the lord watched helplessly as the sorcerer dropped to his side.  Thankful that the difficult man hadn't thought to stand and attempt to leave the room, Seifer sighed out a breath of relief when Squall cursed softly and tried to push up from the mattress.  Pulling Leander aside, Seifer spoke a quiet instruction to stay put as he moved off the bed and stepped around to the other side. 

Leaning over the mattress, the large blond reached for the weakened man and dragged Squall to the edge of the bed, and from there, into his arms.  Squall protested the handling, but managed nothing more than vocal objections mixed with muttered insults against muscled-brained soldiers.  Seifer smiled as he lifted the smaller man into a standing position that required Squall to use the lord as a support to avoid an equally embarrassing collapse to the floor.  With an arm firm at the brunet's back, Seifer bent over to jerk down the blankets to the mattress and proceeded to help the sorcerer back onto the bed.

Seated on the edge, Squall scowled up at the bane of his life.  "What are you doing?"

"Putting you to bed."

"But..."  Shaking his head, the sorcerer placed a hand at his temple.  "This is Leander's room."

"At least you still know where you are, but that doesn't make you any less exhausted."  When the brunet looked ready to argue further, Seifer pushed him onto the mattress.  "I know exactly what you are trying to say, Squall, but why don't you believe me when I say that I trust you?"

"No, I think... but you... you don't..."

Smirking at the flutter of dark lashes over dazed gray eyes, Seifer commented, "See, now you can't even form a full sentence.  Whatever magic you performed to protect Ander must have been something else to drain you this badly."

The fight seemed to vanish from Squall as he sunk back into the pillows and turned his face away from the blond.

"Sleep here tonight and we'll speak again in the morning."

"... ..."

"You're welcome," Seifer stated with a smile.  Straightening in order to resist the urge to touch pale skin, the lord suddenly noticed the careful crawling approach of his son.  "Did you want something, kid?"

Leander frowned as reddened eyes shifted between his father and the prone sorcerer.  "Can I sleep, too?"

Hesitating, Seifer glanced down at the brunet, noting the subtle way Squall adjusted his position such that he was a touch closer to the small boy.  While reflexively uncomfortable with the situation, Seifer quickly remembered the man's desperate hold on the child, as if Leander would be stolen away at any moment.  Though uncertain how true that might have been, the blond lord decided that Squall had probably felt the same terror as the younger sorcerer, but while the child was free to express his fears with tears and the need to be held, Squall didn't have that same privilege.

Smiling at the pride of grown men, Seifer nodded his consent.  "Just for tonight, though."

Leander smiled weakly at the given permission and sluggishly grabbed the blankets to crawl under the covers, eventually settling close to Squall, but far from touching.

Seifer watched them for a short time, surprised when the sorcerer fell fast asleep despite his lingering presence.  Leander took longer, the boy tossing and turning under the blankets every so often until he was even closer to his mentor.  With a shake of his head, Seifer moved around the width of the bed and walked to the single lit candle, but once blowing out the weak flame, the lord found no desire to leave the room.

His movements careful in the darkness, Seifer sat down on the bed and leaned back against the padded headboard.  He did nothing for a long time except watch over the two sleeping forms, his irritated thoughts focused on his inability to protect his son.  It wasn't a new frustration for the lord, instead something that had plagued him since the day he had seen Leander covered in blood and torn clothing.  But compared to those months previous, he felt more comfortable with the notion of Squall being the one to act and save his son, being the savior Seifer couldn't be.

His eyes adjusting to the darkness, Seifer smiled as he watched Leander move a final time, his body only a hair's breath away from the elder sorcerer.  At another time, the lord knew he wouldn't have been pleased with the unconscious actions of the boy, but there was a sense of earned peace, that something terrible had been barely avoided.  The innocent need for closeness seemed insignificant in comparison.

A pained whimper sounded in the darkness, the small body under several sheets shivering violently.  Seifer frowned at the apparent nightmare of the boy, the lord not at all happy that there was another terrible thing which had invaded the child's dreams.  Sighing out a breath, Seifer started to lean over to comfort his son, but a quiet, tear-choked call stopped him short.

" momma..."

Staring at Leander, Seifer felt hurt that the boy hadn't asked for him, that he wanted a nonexistent mother to reassure him.  But while he hovered near his son, the lord heard a shifting of sheets.  Glancing up, he watched the slow movements of the sleeping sorcerer, Squall unfolding under the blankets as he placed an arm around the child and pulled him close to his body.  Leander instantly calmed at the contact, though there was a final whine of annoyance as if the child had been made to wait for too long.

Widened green eyes focused on the unmoving pair, Seifer's tired and stress worn mind unable to comprehend the sight before him.  Squall was Leander's protector, a man who was always close to the young child, but thinking back, Seifer realized that he had never received a straight answer as to why the servant was so concerned about the boy.  He had been allowed to assume whatever he wished, the dark haired sorcerer never correcting those views.  It was the same method Squall used to handle Leander's more difficult questions, and Seifer felt betrayed that he had apparently been given the same treatment as a six-year-old child.

Moving closer to the pair, Seifer thought to wake the sorcerer and demand some answers, but a flutter of curtains added light to the room, revealing the pained and exhausted expression of the brunet.  Freezing in place, the lord recalled the last time Squall had exposed similar emotions, when the sorcerer had talked about male pregnancy, about the unnatural pregnancy of his uncle.  Then the voice of the brunet came to his mind, reminding him, 'The man who gave birth to your son has been living a life of shame and misery.'

A pitying whisper of, "Oh, Squall," left dry lips before Seifer consciously realized what secret he had stumbled upon.  Inhaling a sharp breath, Seifer's first thought was that he didn't remember sleeping with the man he currently desired, but that attempt of denial slipped away with the knowledge that he couldn't recall half of his drunken meetings with men.  And as he continued to stare at the unaware brunet, Seifer recognized that his lacking memory had been his only reason to never consider Squall as anything more than a servant protecting his ward or a sorcerer guarding the last of his kind.  He had never considered...

Now, with the thought alive within his head, Seifer couldn't believe his blindness.  Similar features to Leander aside, Squall was a sorcerer, one of the few who had survived the Massacre and was able to keep himself alive.  Given his hatred for the blond lord, there was no good reason for Squall to willingly live the life of a servant within the walls of the Almasy Estate.  And of all things, Squall had freely admitted to having an uncle, a blood relation, who could bear children.

Seifer felt hysterical laughter building up in his chest, but held back to avoid waking the resting sorcerer.  It was beyond his wildest dreams that he could have everything he wanted placed so simply before him - the sorcerer who had given life to his cherished son and the man whom he desired more than any attractive woman from his past.  There was a vague thought of even more for the future, but Seifer quickly set aside the hopeful imagery in fear of losing that unlikely opportunity.  Still, a foolish grin crossed the lord's face as he gazed at the brunet cradling Leander in his pale arms.

Thoughtlessly, Seifer reached out to graze his fingertips along smooth skin, needing to know that Squall was real and truly before him, but with the first contact of skin against skin, the bare arm jerked away from the heated touch as if burned.  His heart turning cold, the blond lord pulled himself away from blissful ignorance and returned to the reality where Squall despised and feared his presence.  However, this time, Seifer's eyes were wide open to the possible reason for that hatred, a likely reason given his current lust and his past abuse of alcohol.

A deep sickness forming in his stomach, Seifer slipped down onto the mattress and curled on his side.  One arm wrapped around his midsection, the nobleman carefully moved close to his son and rested his forehead against soft hair.  Silent pleads rang in his mind, Seifer desperate to know if he had hurt... if had raped the man he had come to respect and crave.  He searched his memories in an attempt to find a sign that it wasn't true, but after months of fantasies, he couldn't set aside his wild imagination from reality.  In the end, only Squall knew the truth and Seifer didn't feel brave enough to ask the candid man.

"... Daddy?"

Seifer started at the meek voice in the silence, unable collect himself fully as he replied somewhat sharply, "I'm here, Ander.  What is it?"

Leander turned in his protector's hold, not noticing or else not caring about the tight arms around his body.  His eyelids barely open, the boy looked at the nearby man.  "You gonna stay...?"

"Only if you want me to."

Closing his sleep hazed eyes, Leander muttered nonsense as he grabbed onto his father's hand and pulled it to his chest.  As if clutching a favorite toy, the child fell fast asleep between the lord and servant.

Seifer found comfort in the boy's hot touch, an innocent reminder that no matter what had happened in the past, the blond couldn't regret the future it had created.  He lightly squeezed the small hand and closed his eyes with the hope to escape into sleep, a task made easier as he listened to the soft breaths of the other two.  Resettling into the covers of the bed, he listened to the soothing sound, and without a plan of how to handle the morning, he soon began to dream of an easier life where Squall welcomed the arms wrapped tightly across his chest as the lord and servant watched their young Leander use his magic safely under the sun.




Author's Whining -- I can only hope this was worth the wait. ^^;  The next chapter should be interesting to write since I'm finally that much closer to getting what I want, which is of course Squall's surrender.  I swear, he is such a difficult muse.  He should just learn to bend over and take it. =P

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