Living Life

Part 8

By Sukunami


I refuse to be sick.  I refuse to be sick.  I refuse to be sick...

A hand settles on top of mine, preventing me from raising the fork full of eggs to my lips.  Glancing up, I stare into hard green eyes that seem to look right through me.

"Stop forcing yourself.  I don't need you puking on my kitchen table."

I place the fork back onto my plate.  "Sorry, sir.  It's not that it isn't good..."

His expression softens into an easy smirk.  "Fuck, I know that.  Everything I make is worthy of awards."

Isan snickers at that.  "Everything?"

His father snorts.  "Everything your mother doesn't try to help me to cook.  You'd think my skill would've rubbed off on him after all this time."

"Maybe I just like being served."

At the soft voice, everyone at the table shifts to look at Squall's entrance.  While the family members smile warmly at him, I can't manage the same feat.  He looks so tired, the stress over the past week obviously taking its toll on the brunette, not to mention how that tension led to the premature birth of his daughter.  He slides into his seat between the Estharian President and Sir Almasy, the large man then wrapping an arm around Squall to pull him in closer for a tender kiss.

"How's the kitten?"


"Thank Hyne for small miracles.  Eat up all you can, and then it's back to bed with you, mommy."

Squall grumbles something intelligible before stabbing his fork into the omelet on his plate.

The President chuckles.  "Well, I must have missed it last night, but what name did you finally decide on for my granddaughter?"

There's a vague hesitation before Squall replies, "Azura.  Azura Raine Almasy."

For some reason, the answer startles the Estharian President as he nearly drops a half-full glass of orange juice onto the floor.  With exaggerated carefulness, he places the glass back onto the table and stares at it before he smiles softly.  "She would've loved it.  Thank you, Squall."

There's only a shrug in reply, the brunette trying to appear focused on his breakfast.

Interrupting whatever the President was about to add, the front door abruptly opens as a darkly skinned man, an advisor to the President that I vaguely remember, strides inside to then take a seat next to the longhaired man.  "The shield fell," he states without preamble.

Isan stands up immediately at the news, but his father cuts him short.  "Sit and finish your damn breakfast.  The world can wait twenty minutes."

They glare at each other for a good minute before the youth sits back into his chair with a huff and retakes his fork.

The advisor clears his throat to regain the attention of the President.  "They seem to be focusing on the Garden for the moment, probably afraid of being attacked from behind before they could potentially take secure control over the capitol.  It was a good thing you were here, though.  The president's building has been bombed."

"What?  How?  Were there any casualties?"

"At the moment we are assuming an insider placed an explosive in your office.  Thankfully, with the room rather isolated in the building, only the two men guarding the office were lost in the blast.  Everyone else was able to escape before the fire spread."

I've never seen such a pained expression on the President's face, as if hundreds of lives were lost and not the two men who held the duty to protect the Estharian leader with their lives.  In a choked voice he asks, "What other news?"

"Nothing else that I was informed of.  For your safety, Ward and I think it's best for you to remain here."

"And since when have I done anything for the sake of my safety?"

Sighing, the advisor shakes his head.  "I figured as much.  The ship engine is warming up and we will be able to leave within the hour."

"Before you leave, Dad, there maybe something you need to listen to."  Steel blue eyes focus on me, his meaning clear.

I can feel Isan look in my direction, carefully examining me to decide whether I'm ready for this or not.  For a brief moment, I'm tempted to let him shelter me from this, but I know that it would be a pointless delay.  I have to face the past eventually.  Hugging arms around my waist, I nod my assent to be questioned.

It's the ex-Commander to speak first.  "First things first.  Why the fuck is Esthar under attack if your alter ego is supposedly dead and gone?"

Before Isan can think to scold his father for the harsh tone, I reply, "While Ashur was in control, there's another leader to the group.  That man, Romieu, is the one commanding the Esthar takeover."

"Perhaps," Squall says in order to interrupt another question by the blonde, "it would be better to start from where this all began."

The words make me shiver slightly, unwanted memories suddenly overwhelming me.  A warm hand settles gently at the base of my neck, fingers massaging carefully near the scar that probably remains there.  The gentle touch soothes me quickly, and after a deep breath, I stare directly at Squall, too afraid to think of Isan's reactions and too nervous to focus on the three other people sitting around the table.  The brunette's neutral expression helps to relax me further, to make me realize that he doesn't directly blame me for any of this.

"You've read the files concerning how I came about my powers, so I can skip that," I say with a somewhat questioning tone, relieved when the man nods.  "While you know the how, you don't know the why.  Ultimecia knew that she could easily rule the world with increased magical abilities, but she was one woman and the world is a large place.  Because of that, she wanted to have caretakers to protect her claim over key cities.  Though Ultimecia was defeated, others took over her plans for controllable sorcerers.  Being the first success within the sorcerer program, I was the first to be implanted with a controlling device.  Basically, 'Ashur' was created through a glitch."

"And why do you know all this now?" the blonde man asks, his suspicion understandable.

"The device somehow blocked out memories from me, and being somewhat based within that controller, Ashur could take advantage of its functions to alter my thoughts to some extent.  With the device removed, those memories are now available to me."

Squall nods.  "And what about this army you've warned us about?"

"As I said, I was to be a type of place holder.  More specifically, my city was to be Esthar.  Directly after the device was activated and magic twisted the controller's program, Ashur slowly took over my body and mind.  He destroyed the labs and everyone who was there.  In time, he managed to hunt down and kill those who funded the program.  With that part of his revenge accomplished, he turned his focus toward the city that he blamed for the...  for what I went through.  I think he also saw Esthar as something that belonged to him."

"Wait a second," Sir Almasy says while leaning forward.  "How old were you when this all this shit happened?"

I shrug.  "Ten?  But remember, most of what Ashur was didn't depend on me.  He was a malfunctioning program mixed with potent magic.  But because of his appearance, he needed a front man to be the visible leader of the army that he decided to form.  An organization of soldiers who believed in the right of sorceresses to rule over normal men."

Green eyes narrow, the one time Sorceress Knight recognizing those I'm referring to.  "Such fanatics still exist?"

"More than you'd want to believe.  It was almost too simple for him to locate Romieu and his small force, that group being the base of expansion for the army that exists today.  Only Romieu and a few other high ranked officers knew Ashur was the true leader, but they had future plans to declare his sorcerer status when the timing was right.  Over the years, Ashur learned how switch between the two of us, and eventually used me to get into Garden.  He wanted to observe everything about SeeD since they would be the potential force to fight against him.  He was also curious about the potential of using Esthar Garden as a permanent base in the future."

The President sighs.  "So this is another meaningless battle for power."

"I'm sorry," I say quietly, shame making my nausea increase.

"Enough of that," Squall says sharply.  "Would you be able to give us details about the plan of attack?"

I shake my head.  "Romieu was in charge of the specific operation procedures.  Ashur planned to be busy with... with a side project.  But I do know that both the capitol and Garden hold various insiders."  I manage a weak smile while looking at Isan's parents.  "You know, he really hated you both."

A dark eyebrow arches at that.  "Us?"

"You never let their spies get promoted to influential positions.  That's not to mention destroying two of their bases within the year before you retired."

"Where we found the references to the MAGES project, those were his bases?"

I nod.  "He blamed you for mishandling Isan as well."

Sir Almasy smirks at that.  "Well, damn, it's no fun pissing off people if you can't laugh in their face.  Wish I knew about that earlier.  So, was that why we were taken?"

Hesitating, I look to Isan who has been silent all this time while proving his support with his hand firm at my neck.  When he nods, I face his parents once again before starting.  "It was for his side project.  He only wanted Squall, but he knew Sir Almasy would--"

I'm interrupted by laughter, the President clamping a hand to his mouth while his advisor can't seem to hold back a broad smile.  Once controlling himself, the longhaired man asks, "'Sir Almasy'?  This guy?"

"Well, he isn't the commander anymore..." I mumble, feeling embarrassed.  What else am I supposed to call the man who was once one of the strongest and most feared leaders in the world?

"But, 'Sir Almasy'?"

"Hey there, old man.  Saying I don't deserve some respect every now and again?" the blonde asks with a playful sneer.

"Oh, come now, Seifer.  And boy, sorry, Seveyn wasn't it?  Why not give the same honor to my son?"

"He got mad at me when I did..."

The President slips into a new fit of laughter, earning an annoyed glance from Squall.  "Enough, Dad."  Looking at me, he says, "You were saying?"

"Um, that he knew Sir Almasy could eventually cause problems when hunting for both you and your son, so it was safer to imprison him from the beginning.  But Ashur only wanted you specifically for the pregnancy spell while it was still active within your body.  He wouldn't have been able to reproduce it in the dormant state."

Blue-gray eyes narrow.  "Why did he want it?"

I can't continue to look into those eyes.  "He desired a hand trained knight."

His gaze narrows even further.  "And?"

I somehow manage to say, "And he succeeded with the first part of the project."

Squall pushes back his chair and stands calmly.  "Come with me."

Biting my lower lip, I look to Isan once more.  He attempts an assuring smile, but he's obviously just as uncertain about all of this as I am.  We had barely the chance to speak about our situation last night, Isan feeling his exhaustion directly after a rather large dinner.  Before falling asleep though, he swore to support me no matter my decision, and that he didn't feel it was his right to push me in either direction.  We were thinking to speak to his parents about this later, after the Esthar situation could be handled.  Because of that, I haven't had the chance to prepare myself for a potential one-on-one with his mother.

But I end up following the man anyway, letting myself be directed into the master bedroom where I'm instructed to sit on the mattress.  He closes the door for privacy, then leans against it for a long moment while staring at me with his cool gaze.  For the life of me, I can't tell if he is displeased or simply disgusted about this news.

Wrapping arms around my waist, I say yet again, "I'm sorry."


"What are you sorry about?"

"I didn't mean for this to happen."  The boy holds himself tighter, as if afraid I'll punish him somehow.

"Enough.  I don't want hear another pointless apology from you.  Understood?"

He winces at my words and nods vaguely.  I hate to be sharp with him, but I don't have the energy to deal with this type of guilt trip where the blame isn't his to take.  I got my fill of that crap when Seifer first returned to me after the third sorceress war.  Anyhow, I'm somewhat surprised that this boy didn't take any pleasure in the things his alter ego has done in the past.  Seveyn sounded almost horrified when he mentioned that 'Ashur' had killed the people who ran the MAGES project, as if those bastards deserved to live.  Or perhaps he mourned for the other lab subjects who lost their lives, but more likely than not, they should have welcomed death as an alternative to that type of life.

I wait for his reddish eyes to meet mine, then ask, "Are you going to keep this child?"

"I... I don't know."

"Then don't bother."

His eyes widen in shock, obviously not expecting such blunt words.  "What?"

"If you're uncertain, then you're not ready.  It's best to abort a fetus early on."

He moves further back onto the bed while shaking his head.  "But..."

"But nothing.  Do you think you actually have a reason to keep this child?"

Eyes tightly shut, he says, "It's Isan's..."

"Isan isn't even seventeen, basically a child himself.  He isn't ready for such a responsibility."

"He's good with children.  He loves them."

A snort of laughter escapes me.  "Helping at the orphanage hardly compares to having your own child.  Edea has been the one to stay up all night with an infant or a sick child, meanwhile Isan would wake up late and play on the beach with the other kids during the day."

"Still..."  He reopens his eyes and looks at me pleadingly.  "This child is a part of Isan."

I sigh, easily reminded of my own thoughts years ago.  I was a fool back then to even consider that I could destroy something that was partly Seifer's.  "He isn't going to give up the blade for you, so what if Isan were to die in the next couple of days?  Months?  Years?  Could you handle caring for a living reminder of what you lost?"

He smiles faintly.  "Yes.  It'd hurt, but it would be worse to have nothing."

"Hyne, you two haven't even known each other for a year.  Do you think this will tie him to you?

Redden eyes narrow.  "No.  I wouldn't use a child for something like that.  He can leave me whenever he wants."

"And if he wants to take his son or daughter with him?"

That brings a flash pain to his expression before he looks down at the floor.  "Whatever he desires."

He's too dependent on Isan, that is for certain.  Though I can understand him latching onto the person who clearly cares for him, who isn't afraid of him.  Wasn't that Seifer for me in a way?  Him being the first person who wasn't afraid of getting frostbite in my presence.  But we also had years of history together.  I knew Seifer before I loved him.  It just seems too fast between these two boys, and now to throw a child into the equation...

I push up from the door and walk to the sitting youth.  Placing fingers under his chin, I force eye contact.  "How did this happen?"

While his eyes narrow in ache, he doesn't look away.  "While Ashur had the spell affecting his... our body, Isan was given an aphrodisiac.  He was raped to create this child."

Again, Isan first.  "Weren't you raped as well?"

He shakes his head vaguely, and I can tell that he seriously doesn't see himself as an equal victim in this matter.  How can a person think so little of his own worth?  No.  He was raised to think such things, that he means nothing to society beyond a lab rat purpose.

"Could you love a child that was created from such an event?"

A weak smile forms.  "At least he would be something good from all of this."


"Ashur wanted a knight, not a sorceress that could become a rival."

I nod at what I should've guessed already.  "Very well, but that didn't answer my question."

"I... I want to love him, but I'm not certain how."

Such a simple admission with an impossible answer, especially when I'm speaking to someone who has never known family.  "I'll ask once more - are you going to keep this child?"

Seveyn briefly closes his eyes in thought before looking directly into my cooler gaze.  "Yes.  I want to."

"You're as stupid as I was," I unintentionally say out loud.

The youth somehow hears beyond my words, a small but true smile forming on his lips.

"You won't go through this alone.  I promise this to you, not through my son.  Understood?"

With wide eyes, he says, "You don't--"

"It's none of your concern whether or not I have to.  I only asked if you understood."

His smile returns as his whole body seems to relax in relief.  "Thank you, Sir Leonhart."

"I thought I threatened that you weren't to say that again."

"You did."

Shaking my head, I can only hope he can be broken of that habit of honorary titles, especially before it raises Seifer's ego to even more insane levels.  "I think I forgot to thank you for your help yesterday.  It was appreciated."

"But it was my fault..."  Seveyn stops himself before I can.  "It was an honor to be able to help in some way.  I should have congratulated you.  Azura is a lovely baby girl."

I scoff.  "Only when she sleeps."

As if knowing she was being talked about, a small cry gradually increases in strength from beyond the doorway.  With a sigh, I turn to leave the room, but pause before opening the door.  "For better or worse, you should know that Isan is too much like his father.  When he latches onto something, he rarely wants to let go."  I look back at longhaired youth.  "He's young, but a good kid.  He'll do his best to help you."

A hand pressed against his stomach, Seveyn nods once.  "I know."


As Squall leads the lab rat to most likely our bedroom for some privacy, I stare at Isan with a hopefully neutral expression.  Fuck, why do I have to talk to him alone about this?  I always expected Isan to be smarter and luckier than Squall and I.  That one day he'd come with his pretty little wife and make the announcement during some sap moment, like at Christmas dinner.  I should've known better.  Considering his bloodline, it's not a surprise that this cub got our crap luck.  When I hear a door close in the background, I lean back in my seat and place a hand to my face.

"Kiddo, I thought I told you to wait before getting someone pregnant."

That causes a weak smile.  "I believe it was don't get a woman pregnant.  You never warned me about this possibility."

I snort at that.  "Because this wasn't supposed to be possible.  So, what's your plan?"

"We haven't really talked about it yet, but in the end, it's up to Seveyn.  It's not his fault it happened, and I can understand him wanting to end the pregnancy."

"But you don't want him to."

He hesitates for a moment, perhaps wondering if he could really fool me, but then sighs.  "I don't know.  I mean, it would be amazing to have a child with him, but it's scary as hell, too.  And then I think about how Mom didn't have to have me, and it makes me wonder if we'd lose someone special."  He shakes his head.  "How could you and Mom make this decision?"

"Are you kidding?  It was all your mother since I was MIA and clueless about his situation.  When I showed up, all the big decisions had already been made months previous.  The only decision I influenced was to use lemon meringue yellow instead of plain white to paint the nursery."

Isan glances to the hallway.  "What do you think Mom is telling him?"

"Probably to avoid pregnancy at all costs."

Soft green eyes pop wide at that and the poor cub looks about ready to bolt down the hallway to stop his mother.  "Why?  Why would he say that?"

Laguna and I have a good laugh over that before I answer, "Squall hates pregnancy.  He'd never wish that same curse on anyone else.  You should've heard the shit he told Selphie all those years ago with her first kid.  He actually told her to get an abortion while it would still be a simple procedure.  I've never seen that girl slap someone so hard in my life.  Damn good thing she wasn't carrying her nunchaku."

"But... But I thought he, both of you, really helped her out."

"Oh, we did, but not until Squall got a straight answer out of her if she really wanted to have the baby or not.  You know, back then she and Irvine weren't married and she was afraid that the cowboy would run at the mention of diapers.  He nearly did, but that's another story.  Squall only cared if Selphie herself thought she could handle a child on her own, and he got his answer alright, as well as some nasty bruises."

That got a decent smile out of the kid.  "Did Mom let her beat him up?"

I just grin in response, but I've always wondered the same myself.  I'm rather certain the first slap had come by surprise, but the string of punches afterwards...  Selphie really needed to work out her stress and frustration at that point, and Squall has always had that masochistic side he likes to try and hide.  What are bruises among friends anyway?

After a time of silence, Isan then asks, "How was he so certain?  Mom, I mean.  How did he know he could raise a baby by himself when he was that age?"

Laguna chuckles at that.  "He only thought he was certain about his decision.  Oh, sorry, Seifer.  Didn't mean to interrupt."

"Go ahead, old man.  I wasn't around back then, so you might as well tell it."

Dark green eyes narrow in amusement while that certain gleam appears as he goes into storytelling mood.  "Well, I think this might just be one story you haven't heard everything about, Isan.  You know about how your mother avoided me directly after the war.  Then out of nowhere he calls and offers to visit for a time.  About a month later, I picked Squall up from the station, and frankly, he looked awful.  Worse than when he had called me.  I wasn't certain if it was because of me or if something else was wrong, but I remember being excited that he still came.

"Of course, it would've been too easy for him to accept me right away.  After about two weeks, we were no closer than before, really.  Around that time, Squall asks permission to have a woman come into the building.  I gave the okay to the guards, thinking that this person was a girl he wanted me to meet.  But when he didn't appear at my office with the woman, I decided to look for him in his room.  By chance, I overheard him arguing with his doctor about anti-nausea pills to help his morning sickness.  Poor guy, those things never did work on him.  Needless to say, the cat was out of the bag."

I smile, thinking of Squall's version of this story.  Laguna conveniently passed over the tidbit of not finding Squall in his room, then deciding to search the building for him.  As the old man's way, he got lost on a lower floor he supposedly hadn't been on since its renovation.  At that point, he had started to randomly open doors without knocking, eventually entering the room Squall chose for the single purpose of avoiding his father.  At that moment of entry, Dr K was in the middle of her rant about taking his pills properly and eating better if he wanted the baby to be healthy.

Momentarily forgetting his own worries, Isan smirks at his grandfather's ability of being at the right place at the right time.  "How'd he tell you anyway?"

"Squall?  You know your mother doesn't like to bother with explanations or too many details.  He told me straight out that he was pregnant due to a spell Ultimecia placed on him and that was that.  I offered any support he wanted, but at that point he refused to be fussed over.  With that big secret out of the way, we got a little closer maybe, but not the father-son relationship I was still hoping for.  Then one night I'm wakened late into the night, and I open the door to find Squall standing there, him unable to meet my eyes.  Out of nowhere he asked me if he was making the right choice.  That led to a couple hours of talking, a few reluctant tears, and then the most amazing thing happened - he fell asleep in my arms when I was trying to calm him down from a rare panic attack.  It wasn't until nearly lunch when he woke, annoyed as could be that he let me see that side of him," Laguna says with a grin.

The kid seems a bit bewildered by that being such an incredible event, but I know exactly what the old man means.  Squall could only drop to sleep like that if he really trusted the person, and even then he tends to be an extremely light sleeper.  Hell, I still can't sneak into bed these days without waking my lion.

"It's selfish of me, but I'm happy that everything happen as it had.  I don't think I would have a true son at this point if it weren't for his pregnancy and Seifer's absence.  Many things seem to happen for a reason, and while Squall went through some rough times, so much good came out of it.  Most of all, a son he loves dearly."

Gray-green eyes shift once more to the hallway while the cub asks, "What did you tell Mom that one night?"

"Oh, I don't remember, really.  It's been too many years, but mostly...  Isan, did you know that there really isn't a single logical reason to have children?  They are a huge responsibility, a drain on resources, and the major cause of headaches in the world.  There are plenty of reasons to not have a child, and yet nothing compares to the pride you can feel for a son or daughter.  It is a difficult choice to decide if that is worth the sacrifices you have to make for an addition to your life."

Almost on cue, I hear a high-pitched cry from the nursery.  "Speaking of sacrifices, I better take care of that.  And don't worry, kiddo.  No matter what happens, your mother and I will help you with whatever you need."

"Same here.  Anything for my grandson."

A small smile forms.  "Thanks, Dad.  Granddad.  I really appreciate it."

I stand up from my chair, and after ruffling dark hair until I get an annoyed 'Dad' out of the cub, I head down the hallway to where the cries have already calmed down.  Passing the master bedroom, I nearly run into the lab rat, the kid looking dazed after his match with Squall.  But there's also a vague smile on his face, which tells me everything I need to know.  Shit.  I'm too young to be a fucking grandfather.  After flashing him a smirk, I move past the kid and walk into the nursery further down.  Unsurprisingly, I find Squall in there with our kitten held close to his body as he hums a quiet lullaby into a tiny ear.  It feels so natural to take my place behind him and wrap arms around his waist while following the easy sway.  I kiss the fuzzy head of thin hair before resting my chin on Squall's other shoulder, then closing my eyes in the utter peacefulness of the situation.

We don't say anything for that time, Squall continuing to hum as the kitten vainly tries to stay awake.  Hell, I almost feel like going to sleep just like this, but I don't think Squall would appreciate carrying my ass to bed.  Trying to distract myself, I sneak a hand up his shirt to feel the relatively soft stomach and stroke gently from habit.

"Don't even think it." 

I smile broadly, amused at his assumption.  It's a true skill of his to manage to sound threatening with such a quiet voice and an infant drooling on his shoulder.  Well, I guess it looks like I'll have to wait a couple months before I can safely tease him about us having another Almasy spawn.  At least this time I got some footage on video...


I look away from Granddad when Seveyn steps from the hallway, his reddish eyes downcast for a long moment before shyly meeting my gaze.  I'm afraid to assume anything about the decision he seems to have made.  While I love the idea of a child between us, I fully understand that it wouldn't be something simple, especially with us being so young.  But then again, how often are people truly prepared to have children?

Seveyn retakes his seat next to me, a hand then uncertainly being placed on my thigh.  When I take the hand into mine, he closes his eyes tightly and takes a deep breath before asking, "Can we do this?"

"Do you want to?"

He bites his lower lip and hesitates before a slight nod.

Unable to stop my wide smile, I lift his hand so that I can kiss the underside of his wrist.  "Then we'll do this."

Before we can say much else, Granddad is suddenly out of his seat and behind us with an arm around our shoulders.  "Such wonderful news!  I never thought to have a grandson and here I am going to be a great-grandfather.  Anything you need, kids, just come to me.  Unlike those two mercenaries, I'll spoil you rotten."  He first kisses me on the cheek before kissing Seveyn as well, the youth blushing slightly from such attention.  "Congratulations to you both."

Used to my grandfather overreacting to everything he can, I smile in amusement.  "Thanks, Granddad.  We may have to take you up on the offer for a place to stay if Mom and Dad get too busy."

"That isn't a prob..."  He blinks.  "Too busy?  Too busy with what?  They retired from SeeD."

My smile stuck, I curse myself silently, not realizing that Mom still hasn't told Granddad about his decision to run for the presidency after all.  "Um, with caring for the baby?"

He gives me a look that clearly states he doesn't believe it.  Stepping away, he walks to the back rooms with a call of, "Squa-all?"

Laughing, I squeeze the hand still in my hold.  "Though I feel like I should apologize, welcome to our family."

Reddish-purple eyes widen.  "You don't... I mean, it's too much..."

"Sorry, no backing out now."

He looks to the side, his free hand moving to his stomach and clutching the shirt too big for him.  "I'm scared, Isan."

I move closer, brushing aside strands of white to speak softly into his ear.  "This time you won't be scared alone."

Sighing relieved, he leans against me without saying anything more.

We have a brief moment of peace before there's the sound of deep laughter.  Sitting up straight, I watch as my scowling mother is the first to step out from the hallway, Granddad close behind with a confused expression.  Dad lags by several steps, obviously trying to hold in some of his amusement at whatever happened out of our hearing range.  More likely than not, Granddad made a strange guess as to why Mom would be busy in the coming months.  Heaven forbid it be an obvious reason.

Ignoring his father, Mom steps up to the table.  "Your gunblade is in the closet, and if you want this back..."  He holds out his hand, my necklace safe in his palm.

"Oh, thank Hyne.  It was taken from me and I didn't know where it ended up."  I hold the chain link in my hand for a moment to rub a thumb over the words 'adopt our strength', and then I slip the leather strap of the necklace over my head.  "I don't know if you noticed, but when I had to carry the both of you, I managed to take off your necklaces and hide them under the bed."

Gray-blue eyes seem to shine at the words, but his expression doesn't shift with that obvious relief.  "I didn't notice.  Thank you."  He runs a hand through my hair before sighing.  "Be safe while protecting our Garden."

Standing up, I hug the smaller man as Granddad would.  "Will do.  Keep an eye on Seveyn for me."

"I'm going with you."

Releasing my mother, I watch as the longhaired youth stands.  "Sev, you shouldn't join in the fighting."

Redden eyes firm, he glares at me.  "I'm going.  I have to repent."

I open my mouth to argue, but Mom slaps the back of my head to silence me.  "That's your right, Seveyn.  Be safe, and when this is finished, we will have plenty to speak about."

By luck alone I manage to hold back a groan.  I can't believe that my mother is already taking Seveyn's side against me.  You'd think shared blood and seventeen years of life would give me some advantage, but apparently not.  Why do I have a feeling that I'm in for rough times ahead?

Stopping the Runner at the crest of a large dune, I stare out over the distant sight of numerous large vehicles and poorly camouflaged tents that clearly don't belong this far into the desert.  I put the jeep into park before stepping out of the vehicle and walking in front of it.  Seveyn is soon by my side, reddish eyes glaring at the sight of the army's apparent base of operations.

"What should we do?  Go around and get help?"

I smirk.  "Why do that when I have a friend who hasn't forgiven me for stopping his fun a while back?"

While Seveyn glances at me curiously, I focus on the voice of Bahamut and softly call his name.  Clouds form and darken directly above us before the blue dragon appears.  After a wide circle, the large guardian lands a short distance away with a cloud of sand and dust briefly overwhelming Seveyn and me.  Coughing and brushing off dirt, I glare at the GF when he makes a noise resembling a chuckle.

"Cute.  And here I was going to offer you a chance to destroy things that explode, but maybe Cerberus--"

I don't get the chance to finish the threat before Bahamut whips his head around, almost purring at the sight of the army base.  This time I manage to block Seveyn from the gust of sand when large wings lift the guardian into the air.  Even once the sounds of destruction begins, I don't bother releasing my hold on the smaller form, and instead bury my face into the juncture of shoulder and neck.  Seveyn tolerates my moment of possessiveness as he gently combs fingers through my hair to remove some of the dust.

Unfortunately it doesn't take too long before I can feel a familiar lightheadedness that comes from GFs using their more powerful abilities when I summon them.  Apparently a night of dream filled sleep and a couple of large meals weren't enough to build up my stamina.  Sighing, I take a step back and then turn to examine the extent of damage.  Several fires are already reaching high into the air, most likely feeding off of fuel reserves.  Perhaps bored with simple destruction, Bahamut has found amusement in chasing soldiers that stupidly try to attack the blue dragon with low power weapons.  Partly closing my eyes, I call out to the guardian force, telling him that he has done enough for now.  Though he delays with an annoyed glare in my direction that I can feel even from this distance, Bahamut responds to the silent command and lifts into the air.  After a final blast of mega flare into a gathering of tanks, he soars further into the sky and gradually disappears.

"And now we drive around them.  Let's get moving before they decide to hunt down the summoner."

With the most direct route blocked off by that base, it takes longer than I had hoped for before Esthar Garden comes into view.  Seeing trails of smoke in the sky for miles before then didn't help my anxiousness much.  As Uncle Kiros had mentioned this morning, it appears that most of the attack force has gathered against the Garden.  Given a majority of the SeeD soldiers here are Estharian, it wasn't a poor assumption to believe that we would have attacked anyone who dared to touch the capitol that stands a few miles from here.  Better to destroy the main threat from the beginning, and then demand for the city's surrender before bothering to attack the otherwise defenseless capitol.

After leaving the Runner hidden near some cliffs, Seveyn and I move by foot into the battle zone.  Thankfully I know the area extremely well, thus we take several side paths that are almost free of soldiers and keep us protected from random gunfire.  It takes too long for me to get back into the rhythm of using my gunblade, the weapon feeling heavier than I remember, but years of training don't let me down.  I don't bother heading for side passages into the Garden, knowing well that those tunnels have been sealed tight.  However, being the son of the former Headmaster certainly has some perks.  Moving fast, we make it to a low wall in a somewhat hidden corner of the large garden area behind the main building.  After a quick selection of false rocks in the correct sequence, a doorway slides open to show a set of stairs.  I motion Seveyn ahead of me, then after a brief look to make certain we weren't being followed or watched, I follow him inside.

When the door slides shut, I'm momentarily surprised by how quiet it is with the sounds of fights and bombs blocked out.  Resting the tip of my gunblade on the ground, I press a gloved hand against the side of Seveyn's face, his cheeks rosy from the exertion of running.  But the reddish eyes are as firm as they were earlier today, the sight making me smirk.  Not wanting to belittle the strength he wants to show me, I only steal a chaste kiss before moving forward into the tunnel without thought of taking a break.

Further in the passageway, there's a second set of doorways that I have to use a high-level security code for.  Before the door opens fully, a soldier jumps through and fires his weapon at me.  My body already moving since the instant I saw the figure, the shot barely misses my head, but I don't dwell on that before moving in for the counterattack.  Thank Hyne the bastard looks up into my eyes before I almost take off his head, my blade stopping bare millimeters from his exposed throat.

"Shit, Lee, don't you think to look before you attack?"

Dark eyes grow the widest I've ever seen them.  "Isan?  You're... You're alive?"

Scoffing, I holster Mor-uial and hold out a hand to help the guy up.  "What, already held my funeral without me?"

He takes a strong hold of my hand, lifting himself up directly into an almost painful hug.  "Hyne, you've been MIA for months.  We were starting to figure the worse, especially since no one gets the better of you.  Well, except for your parents, of course."

I smile at the increasingly hoarse voice.  "We'll talk later, bro.  We have our Garden to protect."

Nodding, he steps back and readjusts his glasses before noticing the silent figure behind me.  "Sev... Man, I never thought I'd see the both of you again.  But you're right, Isan.  We have to get you to the control room before anything else."

I shake my head.  "Just point me in the direction of the main fight and that's fine."

"Torres will want to speak with you first," Berkeley says while turning to walk further into the Garden, Seveyn and I following at his side.

"Ander?  Why would he need to speak with me?"

"The Headmaster was killed this morning, as well as her replacement.  The Commander is gone on a mission in Centra, and our communications have been blocked.  Torres is the Commander's next in command, thus he's currently our leader."

I glance over at Seveyn, him nodding slightly at my unspoken questions.  "There are assassins within Garden."

"We figured that out when someone almost took Torres' head.  The control room is in lockdown, only authorized persons allowed inside via these passageways which many SeeDs don't even know of."  Berkeley looks at me from over his glasses.  "How much do you know about this situation, anyway?"

"Only some whys, but nothing that would actually help in the fight."

He nods, though clearly doesn't understand.  By that time, we reach the elevator that leads directly to the control room.  It's a brief ride up the four floors, and when the doors slide open, we're greeted with a variety of weapons being pointed in our direction.  I don't recognize when I made the move, but my gunblade is suddenly out and Seveyn protected behind me.

"Almasy, is that you?"

I lower my weapon at the sound of the deep voice.  "Hey, Ander."

A large man pushes through the line of anxious SeeD soldiers, ordering them to back the fuck off.  Standing tall in front of me, I'm once again struck with the idea of him appearing a younger version of Uncle Ward, though a few inches taller and a bit darker in skin tone.  Who would've guessed that this man was my occasional babysitter in his student days about a decade back.  Dad sure picked them.

"'Bout time you showed to fight.  Your parents around, too?"

I shake my head.  "They've got other worries at the moment, and they trust SeeDs to take care of their own problems."

He grins.  "Lazy asses, probably enjoying their retirement too much.  Well, guess that leaves the announcement to you."

"Uh, announcement?"

"Y'know, a pep talk or whatever you want to call it.  Morale's low with Sheri and Khim murdered this morning 'fore the shield dropped.  Hearing that the lion cub has returned home to fight should give people something better to focus on."

I really don't like the size of his grin at this idea.  "I don't do speeches, Ander.  Just spread the word or whatever you feel like doing.  And it wouldn't hurt to mention the enemy's base camp is having a fire problem."

Light blue eyes widen at that.  "No shit?  What'd you do, plant a bomb or something?"

"Or something.  Listen, I came to fight--"

A large hand waves at that.  "I getcha.  The quad needs the most help at the moment.  They're too close to securing that as an entrance.  Now, get out of my sight and don't get hurt.  I don't even wanna think of what your father would do to me otherwise."

Smirking, I turn to face Seveyn.  "Ready?"

He shakes his head.  "Go ahead.  I want to help those who have been injured."

For some reason it surprises me that he doesn't want to stick by my side.  It also makes me concerned that I won't be able to protect him directly this way.  But I think I can see how he wants this as his repentance, to heal those harmed because of his so-called mistakes.  I, on the other hand, have the inescapable urge to punish those who have dared to attack my home.

Sighing, I look to Berkeley.  "Can you lead him to wherever people are being treated?"

"No problem.  And Nuala is already there, so she'll look over Sev for us."

I nod my thanks, and then look at my angel once more.  One hand pressed against his stomach and an arm encircling his shoulders, I pull him in close.  "Be safe.  The both of you."




Author's Whining -- Whoo, one more chapter left.  Think I've mentioned this before, but yes, there will be a sequel to this story.  Thus some briefly covered material will be revisited in the third part of the 'Life Series' and given more detail.  But before I get around to that, there will be side stories galore (ie, a prequel, wedding oneshot, etc).  Frankly, I'm currently clueless about how to handle the third part of this series, thus I'm going to be avoiding it until I figure things out.  Hope you are all still enjoying this series.

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