Choices
July 2008

 

[Timing - Between 'To the Winner' #1 and 2]

[Squall]

Shielding my eyes from the midday sun, I stare up at an immense structure of metal frames and few walls, the partial sphere looking like a Garden that had been attacked by missiles and its remaining hardware stolen by scavengers.  It's incredible to imagine that this mess of metal will eventually become Esthar Garden, similar to Balamb Garden in shape, but upgraded with Estharian technology.  That extra expense came with the decision to save costs and make this an immobile Garden, something that suits me just fine.  I'd rather fight within a defendable base than flee in something that attracts attention like a bloated whale soaring through the sky.

"... Sir?  Sir Leonhart?"

Reluctantly shifting my gaze, I place my full attention on the foreman of this construction event.  Younger than I expected, the thirty-something man has a dusty appearance that proves he's more than just talk and constantly walks the site to manage the variety of workers under his direction.  Highly recommended from Fisherman's Horizon, he knows his craft in great detail and has the rare skill to explain the more complex concepts of Garden function such that even a soldier like myself can easily understand.  He's a good man and it makes me feel less reluctant about becoming the Headmaster of this chunk of metal.

The foreman fidgets with the brim of his safety helmet before asking, "Did you understand everything I pointed out to you?"

In other words, he wants to know if I've heard a single word he said.  "As much as I could.  It was good information about the lockdown features and backup power sources, but I'm afraid I'll have to trust your word about the new designs for the shield.  If your plans increase the safety for our students, then it'll be worth the extra cost."

The foreman relaxes at my reply, pleased that he isn't dealing with a simpleton.  "Speaking of extra cost, the designers added a feature that isn't included in any Garden to my knowledge, but they say it was per your request, which must be a joke--"

"Are you speaking of the full kitchen in the Headmaster's quarters?"

At my interruption, the foreman stiffens again.  "Then it was your request?"

"Is there a problem with it?"

"Ah, well, truthfully, it's a frivolous expense and I honestly don't understand the benefit--"

"Then I'll make up the difference from my own funds," I state just before my cell phone goes off.  While the foreman continues to argue with statements that it'll be more expensive than I think or can afford, I glance at the phone.  Without saying anything to the foreman, I step aside to answer Seifer's call.

"What is it?"

The man's chuckle carries over the phone.  <"Now, now, lover, does it always have to be something?  Maybe I just want to hear your voice.">

"You're not stupid enough to interrupt a meeting for that," I state with confidence.  While a pain in my ass, Seifer understands the proper place and time for his games.  "Is something wrong with Isan?"

<"Nah, the brat is fine, but...">  After a pause, Seifer sighs and asks in a quieter voice, <"Is there any chance you can get your ass back here sooner?  We've got a situation that needs your touch.">

"What did you do this time?"

<"For once, it has nothing to with me... at least I don't think it does.  Tilmitt showed up out of the blue and she's a fucking mess.  It's pretty obvious that she's been crying, but right now, she's just sitting on the couch and playing with one of Isan's stuffed toys.  She hasn't said 'boo' to me, which gives me the feeling that I'm not the one she wants to talk to.">

I frown at the odd description of the typically upbeat woman.  "I'm leaving now."

A half-formed reply sounds from Seifer, something I don't catch while snapping my phone closed.

During the phone conversation, it was hard to miss the discussion between the foreman's assistants behind me, the construction men completely unsubtle with their debate about why I'm demanding for a kitchen.  Rumors about the infamous Sorcerer Knight falling under my custody have already spread, mostly propagated by the media and their concerns about the lack of proper punishment for Seifer's actions.  Along with those rumors are the more crude assumptions as to why Seifer was saved from execution, namely giving me daily blowjobs and serving as my slave.  Feeding off those particular rumors, these construction idiots think they're hilarious to describe Seifer wearing a lacy pink apron while making my meals.

I turn sharply on the desert sand, startling the men from their talk as they cough to cover up any laughter.  The foreman glares at them for angering an important customer, but it means nothing to me.  Let them talk.  I know the truth that, with or without the apron, Seifer could gut the entire lot of idiots in seconds.  Hell, he'd probably appreciate the apron for keeping his clothes clean of their worthless blood.

"A problem arose and I can't stay.  Are there any questions that can't wait until our next meeting?"

The foreman glances at his plans.  "I don't see anything urgent, just more confirmations about certain options.  If I find something, I'll give you a call.  Otherwise, same time next week?"

"I appreciate it," I say sincerely and reach out a gloved hand.  The foreman hesitates before accepting the handshake, his expression clearly showing his reluctance to soil me with the dirt on his hand.  One day I need to figure out how being Laguna Loire's son makes people completely oblivious to the fact that I'm an experienced mercenary who has been drenched in blood on more than one occasion.

Leaving the foreman and his crew to their work, I step away from the looming skeleton of Esthar Garden that should be finished by next year.  I'm way over my head to think that I can handle being the Headmaster of this mass of metal, but I couldn't refuse Cid when the old man shamelessly reminded me of the one favor I owe him.  With his connections in high places, Cid kept Seifer safe from the retaliation of other Gardens and countries, convincing them that Ultimecia had enchanted those around her.

Seifer would be dead if it weren't for the old bastard and I'll be repaying Cid for his protection until my last breath.

My rental in view, I pull the keys from a belt loop and begin to mentally prepare myself for Selphie's tears.  I don't do well against tears, more often than not surrendering to that person's needs if only to stop that open sign of emotion.  It's one of the many things that got me involved with Rinoa, and more recently, it almost made me promise to Seifer that I would never again say that I love him.  Tears are weapons and no one will ever be able to convince me otherwise.

~ > < ~

I reach the house in decent time, but it still took longer than I would have liked.  I may have to seriously consider my father's attempts to gift me an Estharian vehicle that is better able to handle the elements of the desert.  While it wasn't necessary before, I now have a child who is bound to get into trouble sooner or later and I don't want to waste time with a rental that sputters while cresting the larger sand dunes.

Parking at the side of the house next to another rental that is assumedly Selphie's, I'm barely given the opportunity to turn off the engine before Seifer appears out of nowhere and opens the truck's door for me.

"Thank Hyne you're here," Seifer says in a relieved breath.  "I can't handle this anymore."

"That bad?" I ask, somewhat amused at the gunblader being defeated by an emotional woman.

"You have no idea.  She got her hands on Isan and, I've got to tell ya, he isn't that happy about it."

Something stirs in my chest at the idea of Isan's displeasure, and without another word to Seifer, I head for the entrance to our temporary home.  The door left open by Seifer, I step inside to find Selphie seated on the couch with my nearly one-year-old son held in her lap.  As warned by Seifer, the young woman is a mess - her cheeks are blotchy red from spent tears, her eyes are swollen and misted, and her smile is a weak imitation to her typical bright expression.  Uncomfortable with her upset state, Isan squirms and whines in her lap as he cries his own tears of displeasure, something Selphie seems oblivious to while she coos and rocks the infant.

Hyne, why didn't Seifer figure out this bright-as-day situation before I got involved?

At my sigh, Selphie glances up and almost smiles.  "Squall, welcome home."

I nod my hello while stepping to the couch and sitting next to her.  Once spotting me, Isan whimpers something that sounds like 'Mommy' and he reaches out in an instinctive plea for salvation.  Unable to leave him in his misery, I gently take the infant from Selphie's slightly clinging hold and brace Isan as he grabs onto my shirt and rests his head on my shoulder.

"He's so beautiful," she says with a tearful smile.  "And such a good boy."

"Why are you here, Selphie?" I ask, offering her an opening to tell me what I've already figured out.

She scoffs a bit too loudly at my question.  "Can't I visit every now and again?  You said that I could see your baby whenever I wanted, and... And you know what, I've got a great idea!  Why don't I baby-sit for you and Seifer?  Surely you'd like the free time."

Her words come too fast and too shaky for me to believe a lick of it, and at this point, I have no patience to approach this matter tactfully.  In the end, the result will be the same, so there's no reason to pussyfoot around the minefield.  "Selphie, don't lie to me - are you pregnant?"

Her expression seems to shatter at my question and a shaky hand goes to her mouth while her other hand goes to her still flat stomach.  "Is... Is it that obvious?"

"No," I assure her, and then motion in Seifer's direction.  "Does it look like he had a clue?"

Selphie glances at the blond, the corner of her lips twitching at the sight of the slacked jaw and unblinking man.  "Well, this is Seifer we're--"  Her attempt of humor fails to a sudden sob, and unable to control her tears, Selphie presses her face against my unoccupied shoulder.  "Oh Squall, what... am I going... to do?"

Knowing that Selphie isn't truly looking for advice at this moment, I wrap an arm around her back in silent support.  While she exhausts her emotions, I look to Seifer and nod at Isan in a request for him to take the infant.  Jerking out of his startled state, Seifer steps to the couch and lifts Isan from my hold, the boy once again showing a red-faced and upset expression at Selphie's overt emotions.  Seifer shushes Isan quietly and moves toward the other end of the room where he leans back against the counter that separates the kitchen and living room.

In time, Selphie manages to collect herself enough to sit up straight and wipe the tears from her face.  "I'm so sorry.  It must seem silly for me to come here when I have Quistis and Rinoa I could talk to, but... they haven't gone through this."

Where as I have, more or less.  "It's fine that you came here, but I'm not certain what I can do for you."

"Talk?" she suggests with a shrug of shoulders.  "Help me make some choices?"

"Only you can make those choices, Selph."  Raking gloved fingers back through my hair, I sigh at the memories of facing these same decisions a lifetime ago.  "What are your plans?"

"I came here.  I couldn't think of anything beyond that," Selphie admits with a nervous smile.

"And how long have you know about your condition?"

"I... suspected last month, but I didn't take the test until a week ago."

My fingers curling tight in frustration, I resist the urge to pull at my hair.  "You've had a month and you're telling me that you haven't made any choices about your pregnancy?"

"Don't scold me like that.  I didn't know until last week and... I thought you'd be more sympathetic."

Seifer scoffs quietly in the background, matching my opinion that no one should come to me with a problem and assume that I'd be sympathetic in any way, shape, or form.  If she wanted sympathy in this situation, she should have cried on Rinoa's shoulder and done everything in her power to avoid me, a man with the well-suited nickname of 'Shiva's Lover'.

"Selphie, I have to be honest - with you evading the issue, it sounds like you don't want this to happen."

"Well, of course I didn't want this to happen," she declares with a hurt frown.  "I wanted to be married and in love before having children."

"But that isn't what happened and now you're pregnant.  Can you tell me that you honestly want this baby?"

"I... That's why I'm here.  To figure that out."

"You've had enough time, Selph.  I think you've already made the decision."

Her eyebrows furrow at my statement, but she doesn't voice her thoughts as her hands shakily fold and unfold in her lap.

"Listen, I know people call pregnancy a miracle of life and other shit, but frankly, it isn't fun.  And then you're stuck with a child who demands everything from you and won't give you any 'love' in return.  Looking at you now, I can tell that you aren't prepared for how this pregnancy will change your life."  I pause to give Selphie a chance to say anything in return, but she just leans forward such that her hair hides her face.  Deciding to give Selphie all of her options, I continue to say, "It's still early in the pregnancy and the procedures for an abortion at this stage are simple.  From what I've read, the doctor uses suction, basically a vacuum to remove the fetus--"

Not recognizing the woman's movement as threatening until a moment too late, my head snaps to the side when the flat of Selphie's hand connects with my cheek.  Directly after slapping me, she launches up from the couch with the single purpose to have height over me when she yells accusingly.

"How dare you, Squall Leonhart!  A vacuum?  How could you... You, of all people... You have a baby, and you want me to get rid of mine in a vacuum?"

My face aching at the force of her slap, I calmly push up from the couch and step nearly chest to chest with her.  "This isn't about me.  This is about you and if you want a bastard child to mess up the life you've made for yourself."

Green eyes flare with deadly anger.  "Don't call my baby a 'bastard'.  Irvine would take responsibility if he knew."

"Then why are you talking to me instead of him?  Or is it because you know that he'd sooner give you money for an abortion than help support a child he never wanted?"

The punch was easy to anticipate, but I don't dodge the blow.  Instead, I shift such that the damage will be minimal and Selphie can gain some satisfaction at causing me pain.  Unfortunately, she doesn't seem to want to limit this venting of her frustrations into a single punch, but into a barrage of attacks that all land with the strength expected of an experienced mercenary.  I block the strikes that come too close to my face and groin, but I otherwise let Selphie hit me all she needs.  A month is a long time to pretend that she could ignore the fears of impending motherhood.

After about ten minutes of heavy hits, one of her punches glances off my shoulder, but Selphie doesn't pull back her hand.  Instead, she wraps her arm around my neck and hangs onto me while panting from more than physical exertion.  I place a steadying hand at her back and use my other hand to brush the hair from her face.

"Damn it," she says while jerking away from my hand.  "Why do you have to be so mean?"

"Because the truth is rarely kind."

Selphie pouts at my reply, but continues to cling onto to me.

Since I have yet to really hear if she wants the baby, I continue to say, "No one would blame you if you terminated this pregnancy.  You're a good person who grew up as a mercenary.  You learned how to wield a weapon and kill monsters ten times your size; meanwhile, every other girl in this world baked cookies and thought about creating a happy family.  Hell, you're an orphan who never saw for herself what a mother actually does.  Matron did her best, but it's not the same."

"It didn't matter to you," Selphie says petulantly.

"But I considered all of the reasons why it would be insane to have a child.  I'm still completely out of my element, but despite all of that, I made my choice to have my boy.  It's the same choice you have to make and you can't continue to evade it."

The slight woman says nothing for a long time, just leans heavily against my chest with her eyes closed.  Eventually, her free arm wraps around her waist and she opens her eyes to stare at a point across the room.  "I remember being kids at the orphanage and playing house.  You'd always run off once the rest of us would get into arguments, it usually starting with Seifer against me and Quistis.  He was always adamant that you should be his wife."

Remembering those times, I glance at Seifer to see his smug grin, and while that is something I expected, he also has a large hand held up in front of Isan's face.  Though curious, I can't divert my attention from Selphie at this moment.

Selphie sighs at the nostalgic memories.  "I had plans to make a family back then, a family that I wouldn't let go.  And look at me now, terrified of having that family I would dream about night after night."

"It's okay to be afraid," I assure.

Selphie laughs weakly.  "Right, because having a baby ranks right up there with facing an angry T-rexaus."

"You'd be surprised."

Managing a smile, she says, "Y'know, I wanted you tell me that babies are easier than I thought and that being pregnant was a breeze and not frightening in the least.  You weren't supposed to tell me the truth...  But is it crazy that I'm more terrified to lose this baby?  I don't want to lose him or her, I really don't, but I'm so scared."

I sigh at the words that had gone through my own mind on more than one occasion.  "It's not crazy.  It's the answer you were looking for."

Somewhat startled at first, Selphie exhales a long breath as she glances at her stomach.  "I suppose it is."

The weight around my neck gradually increases and I consider how many nights this poor woman has stayed awake while trying to avoid all thoughts about her pregnancy.  "You'll stay here."

She glances up at me in confusion.

"I don't know how much Seifer and I can help, but you should stay here where there are fewer people around to stick their noses into your business."

Selphie smiles at the offer, almost showing her typical impish curl of lips.  "You'd do that for me?"

"In a minute."

"Doesn't your wife get a say in the matter?"

I scoff.  "Does he seem like the type of guy to refuse a responsible roommate who could baby-sit at odd times?"

She giggles at the thought.  "As long as you two aren't too loud, I'd be happy to watch over Isan whenever you want."

I purposefully ignore her implication that I'd ever be too busy having sex to keep track of my own son.  "The guestroom is already made up for whenever my father drops by.  Why don't you go lie down for awhile?  Seifer should have dinner made in another couple of hours."

Selphie abruptly lifts up onto tiptoes and places a kiss at my swollen cheek.  "It's no wonder Rinoa fell for you.  Just don't break my heart like you did hers."

Startled, I watch the slight woman walk to the other end of the room, Selphie kissing and whispering her thanks to both Isan and Seifer before she leaves for the guestroom.

When she's out of sight, I look to Seifer and ask, "Did I hurt Rinoa?"

Seifer smiles, eager to flaunt his greater knowledge in my face.  "It wasn't the breakup that upset her, but rather seeing your expression when you're actually in love.  She wanted to be the one to make you happy, but she now knows that she'll never beat me."

Huffing at his confident tone, I step to him and retrieve Isan.  "So, what was the deal with you covering his face earlier?"

"Are you kidding?  I couldn't let Isan watch his mommy get his ass kicked by a girl.  It'd be traumatizing!" Seifer replies in his typical flare for the dramatic.  And people think I'm the obviously gay one.  Before I can walk away, Seifer wraps a strong arm around my shoulders and knocks his forehead against mine.  "How are you doing?"

"Just some bruises.  Nothing serious."

"That's not what I mean, Squally-boy, and you know it."  Leaning back, he gazes at me with serious jade eyes.  "I'm sorry that you had to face all of those choices without me.  If I had known--"

"It wouldn't have mattered," I interrupt.  "I had to make those choices for myself and be ready to raise this child on my own."

Hurt flashes in his eyes, but he skillfully hides that pain.  "Then, is that why you waited to offer our help until after Tilmitt admitted she wants that spawn within her?"

I nod at his question.  "Irvine won't help and something could happen to us at any moment.  She has to be ready for the possibility of raising her child by herself."

"Whoa, wait a moment - what makes you think that Kinneas won't step up and be a man?"

"Because he's a coward at heart," I say with no intention of being cruel.  It's simply the truth.  "He does what he wants at the moment, but he can't bring himself to change the future.  You should've heard the shit I had to tell him to take a shot at Edea during that parade.  He was terrified of that one action which could have changed everything, and what affects the future more than raising a child?"

"That's bullshit.  He gets off and Tilmitt has to pay the price?"

"Such is the gamble of sex outside of marriage," I say reasonably, but the message is completely lost judging by Seifer's angered stare.  Sighing, I warn the man, "Selphie should be the one to tell Irvine that he's a father.  This is her business and you're not allowed to interfere unless she asks."

"Oh, don't you worry, Headmaster.  I'll make certain to have permission before making him bleed."

"Right, because that won't make him run," I mutter while turning around, but Seifer grabs me in a hug before I get far.  I shift my hold on Isan to account for the arms braced at my stomach.  "Was there something else you wanted, Seifer?"

"... Were you going to keep it from me?  That you were pregnant?"

"It wasn't my intention.  You simply weren't around."

Seifer hums at the truth of the matter, and then places a series of kisses at the base of my neck.  "I'm here now."

"Yes, you are."

He breathes a laugh at my dry response.  "So, there wasn't a chance to ask earlier - how did the meeting go?  Did you get me the kitchen of my dreams?"

"They complained about the budget, so I offered to cover the cost.  It's coming out of your allowance."

"Allowance?  What allowance?  I thought you were just paying me for services rendered in bed."

I scoff at his constant arrogance.  "If that's the case, then I'm being ripped off."

"Ouch, why must you always hurt me like that?"

"If you need to ask, then you obviously haven't learned anything."

Seifer just chuckles in response as his kisses take on a biting edge against my vulnerable neck.  All the while, Isan stares up at me with innocent eyes as one of his hands clutches onto the thick chain of my necklace.  Hyne, I'm going to raise a corrupt child.  With Seifer around, there's no way around it and I'll be damned to Hell for the crime of surrendering to temptation.  I just hope Isan can forgive me for wanting and needing his bastard father in our lives.


[Seifer]

Cutting off the engine to the rental, I stare up at the bright red sign glowing in the night sky and declaring 'Ifrit's Harem' along with the image of a scantly clad woman with devil horns and tail.  Hyne, leave it to the cowboy to find a shady place like this to forget his worries.  As of last week, Kinneas was informed of his impending fatherhood, and as Squall predicted, the ass said that he wanted nothing to do with it.  According to the prick, they weren't even in a serious relationship and it should have been Selphie's responsibility to take the pills to prevent that sort of thing.  Though Selphie had been in tears for days, she didn't give me permission to show the bastard his place, saying that she still loved the guy... until today.  A-ah, the miracle of morning sickness and a woman's scorn.

I leave the truck and step toward the strip club that I recall from back in my 'there's no way I can be fucking gay' days.  I had even found a pretty thing with blue eyes and full lips who went by the name of 'Shiva', but I had quickly learned that nothing was the same as having my lion whimper out my name.

I enter the dingy club and take a moment to let my eyes adjust to the poor lighting of the place.  It doesn't take long to spot the only cowboy hat in the joint, and after a quick crack of my knuckles, I step to the left side of the stage where Kinneas sits with a beer in hand and his eyes focused on a topless stripper who has a mean slap if my memory serves me right.  The idiot doesn't notice my approach, giving me the opportunity to kick the seat out from under his ass.

"Hey, what do you think--"  Violet eyes go wide at the sight of me, Kinneas rightly fearing the reason for my presence.  "Almasy."

"Kinneas.  We need to talk."

Gathering his wits, the cowboy stands up from the ground and brushes the dust and spilt beer from his pants.  "Fine.  Let me order some fresh drinks for the both of us."

"I don't think so.  I don't drink and you don't need anything more to blame your poor judgment on."  I glance to the stage and smirk at the half-naked woman still dancing as if nothing was happening.  Knowing the types of people that visit these places, I'm certain that a little pushing around is nothing compared to what they usually get around here.

Kinneas recovers his chair and slumps down into his previous relaxed pose.  "Listen, Almasy, I don't know what story Selphie gave you, but we weren't an exclusive couple.  For all I know, that kid isn't mine, and even if it is, it's not my fault she forgot to take her birth control pills while we were out on a mission."

"And that's all it is?  Her fault?"

His lips twisting into a scowl, he lowers his hat to hide his eyes.  "Yeah, that's all it is."

Normally, I'd punch the man for being a heartless prick, but his tone of voice catches me by surprise.  "Fucking Hyne, I should've known better than to doubt Leonhart's word."  At Kinneas' sidelong glance, I happily inform him, "You're a coward."

Hiding back under his hat, the cowboy argues, "Sorry to be the one to remind you, blondie, but I was one of the people who kicked your ass back during the war."

"You've got that right.  You were one person in an entire group of kids who decided to save the world.  Or was it Leonhart who made the decision and everyone else just kind of fell into line?"  Kinneas says nothing to my taunt, but the twitch of his trigger finger is obvious enough.  "Now look at you.  When there's something for you to face by your lonesome, you freeze up and hide in a hole like this.  Pathetic."

"You don't know what you're talking about, so leave me the fuck alone and go rape Squall again.  I'm sure he'd love that."

I was going to try to be civil, Hyne help me, I was, but I never expected Kinneas to cross that line.  With my hand fisted in his shirt, I haul the cowboy to his feet and drag him in the direction of the nearest exit.  Kinneas attempts to use a beer bottle against me to free himself, but I grab the worthless excuse for a weapon.  A bouncer eyes us for the disturbance, but he doesn't act when it becomes obvious that I intend to finish this outside and not destroy any club property.

Out in the cooler air of the back lot, I jerk the cowboy in front of me and punch him in the face before he thinks to defend himself.  The sound of my fist against flesh is a satisfying one and I grin at the beautiful sight of Kinneas stumbling backward until crashing to the asphalt.  He moves into a seated position with the clear purpose to yell at me, but I get to him first.

My booted foot jammed between his legs, I lean down and grin at the trapped man.  "Now, tell me that cute little story again about where I raped my very hot and extremely deadly lover."

Kinneas shifts to test his situation and quickly discovers that he isn't going anywhere without losing something.  Even so, he glares up at me with a bit of fire to his violet eyes.  "You know what, Almasy, I thought you'd actually get my side of story.  Hell, most of the woman I've fucked said that they learned their tricks from you."

"And that changed when I got my hands on Squall."

"Not from the stories I've heard," Kinneas taunts with a strange look to his eyes, as if he wants me to punch him again.

I briefly consider giving him what he wants, but instead limit myself to leaning in a little closer and place more pressure on my front foot.  "What is this really about, Kinneas?"

The cowboy hisses at the additional pain.  "A girl I fucked is pregnant and you think I have something else to worry about?"

"Not particularly, but something is up and I'm happy to stand here all night until you talk."

Kinneas sneers at me, his fingers twitching for the rifle he left at the front of the club.  When that lasts for a good minute, I start to get bored and decide to up the ante.  Bending down, I reach into my boot and retrieve an old switchblade I keep there by habit.  The blade opens with a sharp snap in the night air and Kinneas' eyes widen at the sight of the polished metal.

"You're fucking insane, Almasy!"

I grin at the obvious statement.  "Just trying to help you out, cowboy.  You seem so worried about getting a girl pregnant, and I figure that there's a nice and easy solution to that problem."

Kinneas tries to grab my arm, but I'm too fast for something like that.  He curses at the situation before crumbling before my eyes, the lanky man falling backward to the asphalt and an arm covering his face.  "It has nothing to do with Selphie, all right?  It's that kid... I can't raise a kid.  They depend on you to raise them right and what the fuck do I know?  I'm a sharpshooter who kills people for money, not to mention a bastard who sleeps around because I'm too terrified that this amazing girl is going to see me for what I am.  And she wants me to help raise a kid?  I can't..."

I scoff at his pathetic excuses, but I shouldn't have expected more from this waste of space.  Snapping my knife closed, I step back from the grounded man.  "I have to agree with you there, bucko.  Tilmitt deserves a lot better than your sort, but she wants you around.  And really, that's half the magic of being a father - you just have to be there and love the kid.  Shit like ethics, grammar, and all that, well, Tilmitt is a smart girl and there are schools around to teach the kid what she doesn't know.  It's not as impossible as you'd like to believe."

Still lying on the ground, Kinneas moves his arm enough to look at me, but he says nothing in reply.

"What you've got to understand, cowboy, is that this isn't just about a kid.  It's about your girl going through something pretty damn scary, but she's a brave little thing who's excited about that spawn within her because it's a kid she's having with you, whether you're actually there or not.  I know it's a hard concept to wrap around that puny brain of yours, but that's how it is.  The only question that remains is if you're man enough to take part in that miracle of hers, or are you're going continue playing the 'lonely sharpshooter' for the rest of your pathetic life."

I don't bother waiting for a reply, but instead walk past him and childishly kick gravel and broken glass at his body.  He winces at the bits that land on his face, but holds his tongue while lying there.  I really need to grill Selphie about why she wants to bother with this guy.

Leaving the idiot behind, I round the corner to the front of the building and walk to my parked rental.  Once slipping inside, I pull out my cell, and with a few button presses, I have a call going out to Squall's phone instead of the mainline, hopefully letting Selphie sleep in peace.

After a single ring, Squall answers in his typical bored tone, <"Is Irvine still breathing?">

I grin at the question, something about hearing my lover's voice soothing the fire within me.  "Tilmitt would hate me if I did that and you know I wouldn't do anything to upset a pregnant woman.  I think I learned my lesson during your pregnancy and after the third time you punched me for being an insensitive bastard."

<"It should have taken only once.">

"I have a thick head," I retort while starting the engine to the car.  "Listen, I'm just now heading to downtown Balamb to hopefully catch the last shuttle to Esthar.  That means I won't be in until late, so I can just stay at a hotel or something--"

<"I'll pick you up.  Isan likes sleeping in the truck, so it shouldn't be a problem.">

"Miss me that much, love?"

Squall scoffs over the phone.  <"Just get moving so you don't miss the train.">

"Yes, Mommy.  I'll call..."  The phone clicks as Squall hangs up on me.  "...when I get there and hopefully you'll still want to pick me up."

Replacing the cell to my back pocket, I glance at the strip club and recall my onetime fear of being considered gay by the meager population of Balamb and its Garden.  It's ironic that I'm now faced with the entire world knowing about my relationship with another man and I couldn't be prouder to have them see what I am - the one person who has the honor to stand by Squall Leonhart.  Of course, few people will understand the true love between us that has survived more than any other relationship, but it's not for them to understand.  As long as Squall knows that I would give my life for him or Isan, that's all that matters.  It was a hard lesson to learn which took more than a few punches, but I think I'm there.

Unfortunately it's nothing I could explain to Kinneas, but hopefully he's bright enough to figure it out himself.  If not, well, then Selphie is better off without the fucker and we'll take good care of her in his stead.


[Selphie]

"Ooooh, this is so cute!" I announce for maybe the tenth time in as many minutes, but it's impossible to restrain myself when faced with an adorable pink dress meant for a toddler.  Picking it off the rack, I turn around and show it to my overly quiet shopping partner.  "Lookie, Squall!  Isn't it so incredibly adorable?"

With a quiet smile, Squall says, "That's the fourth dress you've shown me, Selph.  What are you going to do if you have a son?"

I pout at the man's habit of ruining my good time.  "Then he'll just have to take after his Uncle Squall and be a drag queen."

Squall shakes his head at my attempt to sting him, his eyes shining with good humor.  Indulging in my excitement, he reaches out and fiddles with a sleeve decorated with small white fish.  His smile changes slightly at that moment, a tender smile I recognize as the one he shows Isan whenever the boy asks for 'Mommy'.

"Are you going to have a girl next?" I ask before I realize what I'm saying.  When Squall's expression immediately goes blank, I picture myself in my head stomping and chanting 'stupid, stupid, stupid'.  "Oh, Squall, I'm so sorry.  Don't listen to me and my silly questions."

"It's all right," he says softly, his hand releasing the soft fabric.  "It would be a normal thing to ask anyone else."

"Don't say that!  You're the one who handled being pregnant without anyone knowing, and Isan is so sweet and adorable, and you've been so good to me in the past few weeks, and... and... you're making a pregnant girl cry."

Squall sighs at my reaction and fishes for the handkerchief he's already let me borrow once today.  "Are you going to be okay?"

Snatching the folded fabric from his hand, I dab at my eyes.  "Mo-oh, I'm really not like this.  And I bet you were the same boring guy as you always are when this happened to you.  It's so unfair."

"Hn, you should ask Seifer."

I blink away the last of my tears and stare at Squall, surprised at the suggestion that Balamb's Lion could be anything less than perfect.  "Don't tell me he made you cry.  I'll punch him if he did."

His secretive smile returned, Squall says nothing as he walks further into the store and toward the maternity wear section, forcing me to chase after him.  I have to give the man credit for accompanying me to this store and helping me to find the proper clothes for the future months.  I'm still too embarrassed to face Rinoa and Quistis with my situation, which has made me empathize with Squall's choice to hide from everyone for a good seven months.  Even if I had my girl friends, no one can beat Squall with his straightforward opinions and I'm so lucky to have him around.

Just when I catch up to Squall, he points me in the direction of a rack filled with overalls and I squeal at the sight that some have the brightly colored flower prints I was hoping to find.  Leave it to a gay man to find exactly what I want.

"Excuse me..."

My hands on a purple pair of overalls with yellow flowers, I look up to see a saleswoman addressing Squall.  If I didn't know better, I would swear that the mercenary looked afraid of the woman and her friendly smile.

"I'm so sorry, but do you have a twin sister by any chance?"

"... ..."  The typical Squall answer to anyone he doesn't know.

Unable to pass up the chance, I chime in, "Is there a problem?"

The saleswoman waves a dismissive hand.  "No, no, I was just surprised that your friend here looks a lot like a pregnant woman I helped, well, it must have been over a year now.  I normally wouldn't remember, but her husband and father were so adorable.  They were fighting tooth and nail over the theme for the baby room.  I believe the father wanted a dragon theme and the husband wanted the chocobos.  It got to the point where the woman kicked them out of the store."

I laugh at the too clear image of Squall being frustrated with Seifer's and Laguna's antics, and glancing over at the man in question, an excited snort escapes me at the sight of him pressing a horrified hand to his face.  "Oh, that's too funny!  It must have been quite the show."

"It was.  I've never seen two men so much more excited than the mother-to-be," the saleswoman says with an amused smile.  "But forgive me, I've interrupted your shopping.  If you need anything, just ask for Sheri," she says with a tap of her name tag.

As Sheri walks off, I'm still snickering while I move closer to Squall.  "Did they drive you crazy?"

"Don't they always?" he asks while massaging between his eyes.

"Was Sir Laguna mad that you chose Seifer's chocobos over his dragons?"

Squall huffs at the thought.  "Not in the least.  My moronic father was so relieved that I was happy with Seifer and his opinions that he completely supported Seifer's decision to paint the study yellow."

"But you have to admit, the nursery looks amazing and Isan has a lot of fun in that room."

"It's yellow," Squall mutters before moving to the clearance rack.

I grin at the amount of effort Squall goes through to be difficult when everyone knows that it's just a front.  He's a softie through and through who would look for a lost puppy with the same seriousness as hunting down a terrorist.  It's no wonder Seifer fell in love with him.

"Selph," Squall says as he holds up a white dress with bright yellow flowers.

"Oooooh, it's perfect!  I knew I was right to take you instead of Seifer."

~ > < ~

After a long afternoon of shopping, Squall places several bags of clothes for me and a few irresistible toys for Isan onto the backseat of his brand new truck.  The vehicle was a present from Laguna last week, the Runner being an incredibly smooth ride across the mostly desert land of this huge country.  Though Squall hated being spoiled by his father, it was obvious that he appreciated the gesture that will make trips to the capital so much quicker in the event Isan ever needs the specialized help of a major hospital.  Seifer, on the other hand, was just happy to turn in their beat up rental in exchange for something shiny and new, not to mention theirs.

The drive back to Squall's place is a silent one, which isn't a big surprise given the driver, but instead of filling that silence with my own talk, I simply enjoy the quiet moment while thinking about nothing important.  I save the big thoughts about medical costs and diapers for when I go to bed since that seems to be when they like to attack me anyway.  In contrast, the days are spent on fun thoughts about baby games and being called 'Mommy'.  I don't understand why Squall hates it so much - I think it's endearing and Seifer should be praised for his bravery to teach Isan that word.

When the lovely summer house comes into view, I smile at the thought of enjoying one of Seifer's fine dinners, but that moment of wishful thinking vanishes at the sight of an old army motorcycle that has seen better days.  Dang it, so much for this being a good day.

"Should I assume that belongs to Irvine?"

I turn at Squall's question and notice the spot between his eyes wrinkled in worry.  Answering his question, I say, "Yeah, I'm surprised they let him take the piece of crap onto the shuttle."

"Do I need to turn around?"

I sigh at the idea, something that would be better than me kicking the bastard in the nuts, but since Seifer already did that for me, maybe Irvine learned his lesson.  At the least, I should listen to the guy even if I don't want to.  Love sucks sometimes.  "Nah, I'm fine.  And really, aren't you curious what he has to say?"

Squall stares at me with that blank expression of his, but something darker shines in his eyes.  It'd be sweet to know that he worries so much about me, but I have a sinking feeling that this deeper anger of his has nothing to do with my situation.  Even so, Squall pulls up to the house and takes his time with fetching the bags from the backseat.  We walk to the front door together and Squall opens the door for me like a true gentleman, revealing the sight inside that I never expected to see - Irvine Kinneas, playboy extraordinaire, changing a diaper.

At the sound of the opened door, Irvine looks away from his place kneeling on the floor where Isan lies half dressed on a changing mat.  Irvine stares dumbly at my entrance, his mouth moving slightly without a single voiced word.  That moment doesn't last long, however, when he abruptly jerks back as a stream of urine hits his chest.

"Holy shit, didn't he just piss in his last diaper?  Where is this coming from?"

Seifer chuckles from his place at the couch.  "That's why I told you rule number one while changing a diaper.  Repeat it for me."

Violet eyes glance at me, embarrassment brightening their color before Irvine reluctantly says, "Keep the pee-pee covered unless you want pee-pee in your face."

"Good boy," Seifer announces as he claps the man's shoulder, the strength of which nearly pitching Irvine forward.  "And I should warn you, even I don't get away with cursing too much in front of my boy, so watch yourself when Squall's around."

Squall huffs behind me, not amused by the suggestion that cursing is allowed when he isn't around to hear it.

As for me, I'm still too stunned to react properly to Irvine's humiliation.  I never imagined him willingly touching a baby, let alone soiled diapers, but there he is, dutifully finishing the task with Isan squirming at the inexperienced touch.  Sweet Hyne, I don't think I've been so attracted to him before and that really isn't going to help my ability to resist him.

When he finally finishes, Irvine hands off Isan to Seifer for inspection before cleaning off his shirt and hands with one of the baby wipes.  After a nod of approval from Seifer, Irvine stands up and steps close to me.  "Hey, Selph."

"Irvine."

He smiles, probably relieved that I didn't greet him with a punch to the face.  "You look amazing."

"And you look like the man who broke my heart."

Irvine winces and automatically reaches for the cowboy hat he isn't wearing for once.  Trying to recover from the awkward move, he lowers his hand to the back of his neck and rubs nervously.  "You're right, sweet pea, and I don't deserve anything from you, but... You see, Almasy and I had a talk, which I'm certain you knew about, and he gave me some things to think about.  Mostly, he made me think about you and what it'd be like to not have you around.  These last few weeks with you in Esthar gave me a taste of it, and I have to say, darlin', I don't like it.  Not one bit."

"Well, I have been fine without you," I state coolly, when in actuality, it takes all of my willpower to not break down and give into this playboy I've loved since I was a little girl.  I always knew he wasn't loyal, but I thought it was a passing phase and that he'd support me in the end.  It hurt for him to abandon me when I needed him, and it's even worse for him to come back and ask for forgiveness.

"I know," Irvine says with a proud smile.  "You've always been stronger than me and that's what I love about you, among other things.  Your only fault is to love a bastard like me."

I bite my lower lip to prevent the lie that I don't love him anymore.  Stupid, stupid heart that doesn't know any better.

His smile widening into a coyish thing I can rarely resist, Irvine abruptly lowers to one knee and pulls a jewelry box from his pocket.

Before he can open it or say a word, I smack the idiot with a fisted hand on top of his head.  "What're you doing!"

Wincing while rubbing the spot I had hit, he shoots back, "I thought I was proposing!"

"You can't do that!  Three weeks ago, you said," I lower my voice to imitate his, "'I'm a lonely sharpshooter, darlin'.  I don't do the family thing.'  And now you think you can just get down on one knee and propose to me?  What kind of idiot do you take me for?"

"I don't... You're not..."  Irvine abruptly turns around to glare at Seifer, the blond snickering at the gunslinger's dilemma.  "This is your fault, bastard."

"Leave him out of this," I warn with another hit to his head.  "So tell me, what made you think this was a good idea, hmm?"

"Because I love you and Almasy made it sound like... I mean, I thought you still loved me," he contests with a lost expression, as if he never expected me to say no to him.  "I know I should've taken responsibility from the beginning, but you see, I want to now.  Nobody is forcing me and I really want to be with you and our kid.  It just took me awhile to figure it out."

Staring down at the miserable man, I know he just gave me a lot of words with no action to back them up, but I can't help wanting to believe him.  I glance back at Squall, our stoic leader meeting my gaze for a long moment before he lifts a single finger.  Given our past late night talks, I get his message plain and clear and I fight against a smile at the suggestion.  Looking back at my clueless boyfriend, I bend down and steal the jewelry box from his limp hand.

Before too much hope reenters violet eyes, I inform Irvine, "I'm giving you a month to prove yourself.  No looking at another girl, no running off in the middle of the night, and no shirking the chores either Squall or I decide to give you."  I purposely leave out Seifer, knowing that he'd try every dirty stunt in the book to get Irvine to run away screaming.  "If you show that you can be a good man for me, then I might agree to marry you."

"Might?" Irvine asks concernedly.  At my nod, he sighs at the recognition that he dug this grave for himself.  "I deserve less, I suppose.  But at least tell me that you'll keep the ring.  I got it specially for you."

Curious, I open the velvet box and can't prevent a soft gasp at the ring.  Not the boring old diamond I was expecting, it's one of the new Estharian jewelry lines with a small sphere containing a stunning golden crystal that glows softly in its containment.  Though smaller than the available space in the sphere, the gimmick of the crystal is that it'll slowly grow over the years, a physical representation of the time a couple stays together.  I remember window shopping with Rinoa and Quistis one afternoon and swooning with them over the romantic idea.  If Irvine bought this ring without their input, I'll be very impressed.

Forced to close the box before Seifer makes fun of me, I glance over at Irvine and his hopeful gaze.  Smirking, I tell him, "You earned yourself one point.  Try not to lose it over the month."

With a defeated smile, Irvine quickly stands up and graces a kiss against my cheek.  "I'm hooked on you, darlin'.  Just wait and see."

Our loving moment ends short when Squall asks, "Are you done?"

Though confused by his interruption, I turn to him and nod.  "For now, I guess.  Why?"

Instead of saying anything, Squall moves from his position leaning against the door and steps directly in front of Irvine.  With incredible speed I've only seen during battles, Squall grabs the taller man's shoulder and lands a hard punch to Irvine's stomach that actually lifts the gunslinger off his feet.  His breath lost from the attack, Irvine slumps against Squall and wheezes in pain from the single hit.

In a voice rivaling Shiva's icy attacks, Squall says lowly, "If you ever again say the lie that Seifer raped me, you'll wish that Seifer had used a sharpened blade on your dick because I'm going to tear it off with my bare hands.  Understood?"

Irvine chokes out his 'yes', a reply that hardly sounds before Squall abruptly sweeps his leg behind Irvine's, driving the taller man to the ground where his head lands on the changing mat that had been used moments earlier and I don't remember it being wiped down properly.

Leaving the gunslinger to his misery, Squall steps toward the kitchen where Seifer joins him with Isan in his strong hold.  Though moving out of sight, Seifer's deep voice carries back to me when he makes a comment about plenty of chocolate frosting remaining in the fridge for his hero.  It's an easy assumption to figure out that they have no intention of simply eating the chocolaty goodness.

Left alone with my boyfriend, I kneel down at his side.  "Did you really say that about Seifer?"

Groaning, Irvine says, "I was angry and a bit drunk at the time, but yes, I vaguely recall saying it."

"You stupid thing," I say while patting his cheek.  "It's going to take a lot of groveling to get your point back now."

Irvine curses under his breath and tries to grab me for a hug, but I'm still too fast for that sort of thing, pregnancy or not.

"I think you can pick yourself up, darlin'," I state cheerfully, and then spin around to join my favorite boys in the kitchen.  "Hey, Seify, before you guys have sex, can you make me some dinner first?  I'm starved."


[Squall]

Dressed in my formal SeeD uniform that I haven't worn in years, I stand at the gates of Balamb Garden that overlook the grassy field which Selphie had decided upon for her wedding.  It was no surprise when she finally gave into Irvine's pleas for marriage, but I have to admit that the gunslinger proved something in the last few months.  Of course, months mean nothing once you start counting the years ahead of them, but in the end, Irvine is still a coward and he'll always be more afraid to lose Selphie than his current fear of losing his bachelor life.

After all these years, we're still pitiful little orphans who want more than anything for someone to love us no matter our faults.

"Ooooh, Squall, he looks perfect!  Where did you find that for Isan?"

At Selphie's breathless announcement, I look away from the gathering of people and watch the approach of the blushing bride hurrying toward me with her bridesmaids in tow.  Forgoing the typical white bridal gown, Selphie wears a pale green dress that matches her eyes and flatters her current body shape, eight months pregnant and stunning in her impending motherhood.  In contrast, Rinoa and Quistis wear simple white dresses as if to mock the tradition that only the bride should wear the 'pure' color.  Informed two months ago about Selphie's expecting status, the two women were at first upset about being kept in the dark, but then quickly gave into the harsh realities of being an unwed mother in a mercenary's world.  Like lost sisters, they've spent plenty of time together in the last months, driving both Seifer and me to insanity, but it was worth it to see Selphie's revived smile in such a complex time for her.

Panting as she comes near, Selphie hands Quistis her bouquet to free herself to steal Isan from my arms.  The seventeen-month-old squeals as he's held by his currently favorite aunt, his first show of pleasure since I dressed him in the small formal outfit Seifer purchased the other week.  Though Isan is generally unhappy with the stiff clothes, the small bowtie he isn't wearing was an entirely lost battle, Isan constantly removing it and dropping it to the ground with an angry frown.

"A-aw, he looks cute enough to marry," Selphie coos as she presses her nose against Isan's.  "Can I have him instead of Irvine?"

While the girls laugh, I just smile in return.  "Everyone is waiting for your appearance.  If you're going to change your mind, you better do it now."

"Bah, you men and your schedules.  It takes more than a pretty dress to make me this beautiful," she says while returning Isan to me.

Isan braced in the crook of my arm, I concede, "And you look great, Selph, but the more you wait, the more you'll make your groom worry."

"That's the plan," she states with a wink, but still motions for Rinoa to step out and begin the wedding.  A guitar-solo starts at the appearance of the bridesmaid, Rinoa shortly followed by Quisits.  Watching them go down the aisle, Selphie leans over and whispers to me, "I still say you should've been my maid of honor."

"That's a role meant for woman, thus the term 'maid'."

"It doesn't have to be," Selphie says with a soft pout.  "You've been amazing and I want everyone to know how much you mean to me."

"It's enough of an honor to be the one to give you away," I assure her while squeezing the hand that had wrapped around my free arm.  "But you aren't allowed to blame me later for giving you to Irvine."

She bats me with her bouquet, her smile shining with her unending warmth and love for everyone dear to her.

We walk down the aisle, Irvine proud as a rooster at the sight of his bride.  Handing her to the gunslinger, I decide to break my own rules of conduct and lean in to place a kiss against her temple.  The chaste kiss makes Selphie blush with a soft pink hue to her cheek, her smile tempering to something grateful as she mouths 'thank you' to me.  My role done, I take the empty seat between my father and Seifer, the blond in a formal suit instead of a SeeD uniform as he never officially made SeeD rank and now refuses, in his words, to condemn himself to a straightjacket.

The wedding goes without a problem, only Isan voicing a complaint when the priest of Hyne questioned if anyone opposed the marriage.  Kids, they always have the best timing when it comes to embarrassing their parents.

After their first kiss as husband and wife, Selphie cheerfully announces that catered food and cake is to be served in the cafeteria, which promptly clears out the area and leaves behind over a hundred folding chairs.  Unable to stay for the reception, the Estharian president gives his blessings to the newlywed pair and earns himself a very strong hug from the very pregnant woman who will probably always call him 'Sir Laguna'.  Once released from Selphie, Laguna stumbles my way and says his goodbyes to us, tagging on a warning that we should expect a lengthy visit in the near future.

When Laguna walks off, I abruptly find myself surrounded with Quistis standing behind me and Rinoa seated in the chair Laguna had emptied.  Seifer's large form next to me prevents any reasonable thoughts of escape.  Though Rinoa plays it cool while straightening Isan's jacket, I can hear the question on her mind before it's asked.

"Don't say a word."

Rinoa glances up at me, her dark eyes innocent and warm.  "Squall, I don't know what you're talking about."

When I only glare at the scheming woman, Seifer asks unthinkingly, "Hey, what's up?  You usually save those glares for me and my stupid actions."

Before I can explain anything to my clueless lover, Selphie hurries over while calling out, "No, no, no!  Don't ask without me!"

"We haven't said anything yet," Quistis assures while adjusting her glasses.  "You've already informed us several times that it was your right as the bride to ask."

Selphie sticks out her tongue at the overly poised woman, but once looking at me, she smiles in her always frightening 'I have a plan!' fashion.

Still confused, Seifer leans over and asks me, "Uh, Squall, seriously, what's happening here?"

I love this man, I really do, but why the fuck is he dense about everything in this world that doesn't involve gunblades and sex?  "Now that Selphie is married off, these ladies want to know when we're next."

"Squaaaall, you ruined it," Selphie says with a stomp of her foot.

Meanwhile, Seifer stares at me for a long moment before he inhales sharply with his moment of understanding.  "Wait, you mean, you and me... married?"

Rinoa giggles at his tone.  "You already have a kid together.  In comparison, what's so strange about you guys hitching up?"

"Aside from there being no such thing as marriage between two men?" I comment rationally.

"Oh, poo," Selphie argues, "You know that Sir Laguna would change the laws for you and Seify."

"It's not a game to run a country and I would never ask my father to risk his position in Esthar because you three want Seifer and me to play house."

"Fine," Rinoa submits with a roll of her eyes.  "But after all of these years together, don't you want to do something to prove your love for each other?"

With a harsh smirk, I point between my eyes at the scar that mirrors Seifer's.

"That doesn't count," Selphie complains.  "Wounding each other has nothing to do with love."

At that moment, Isan finally chooses an excellent moment to break down into tears, the obvious smell from his pants leaving no room for argument that I have a diaper to change.  Even so, Selphie makes her reluctance very clear when she takes her time getting out of my way so that I can steal the day bag from beneath Seifer's chair.  As I make my escape, Seifer isn't as lucky when Rinoa pins him down to his chair.

Safely inside a men's room within Garden walls, I go through the same motions that I deal with several times a day.  It's almost scary how natural it has become to deal with piss and shit and still love the source of that mess.  Isan reaches up for me with both hands, and within the privacy of the empty restroom, I kiss the tiny fingers in a manner that makes my son laugh freely.

Then the restroom door slides open and I realize that I'm a fool to think I'd be safe just because the door has the word 'men' on it.  Not needing to turn around, I ask my visitor, "Don't you have guests to entertain?"

"There's plenty of food, so they'll be happy enough," Selphie says as she steps next to me and plays with Isan's hands.  "So, what's the real reason for you to hate the idea of marriage?"

"I don't hate marriage," I inform her as I fasten the fresh diaper around Isan.

"Okaaaay, then why do you hate the idea of marrying the one true love of your life?"

"I don't..."  I stop myself and take a calming breath before stating, "I'm done talking about this, so leave it alone."

Never one to be defeated by my harsher tones, Selphie places a hand at my face and cups my chin so that I'm encouraged to meet her vibrant gaze.  "I'm sorry, Squall, but this doesn't make any sense to me.  Don't you want to always be with Seifer?"

"Are you suggesting I need a ring to do that?"

Selphie opens her mouth to argue the point, but then abruptly frowns and tilts her head in exaggerated thought.  "Wait, why focus on the ring?"

Cursing my luck that the pregnant woman has decided to be attentive for once, I hurry to get Isan's pants back on.  "It's just words, Selph.  Stop looking for something that isn't there."

She hums in disbelief and taps her foot on tile as she thinks.  Inevitably, the restroom door slides opens for some poor student who needs to use the facilities, but Selphie scares off the male cadet with a shameless, "I'm not leaving, so if you need to whip out your thing, I suggest going elsewhere."

Sighing at her lack of subtly, I manage to snap the last fastener on Isan's pants and naively think that I'm home free, but Selphie grabs my arm in that last moment and stares at me with an overly keen gaze.

"Sweet Hyne, you want Seifer to propose," she says as if it was the strangest idea in the world.

With no recovery from her unfortunate revelation, I finish my clean up while warning her, "Don't you dare tell him."

Giddy with her discovery, Selphie bounces as best she can while eight months pregnant.  "Why not?  Oh, Squall, I'm certain he'd love to propose to you.  He's one of the most romantic people I know."

"I don't care about the proposal," I say in correction, everything cleaned and packed into the day bag.

"But you just admitted that's the reason why you're against the marriage idea."

"You're focused on the wrong element."  Picking up Isan, I brush a hand through his chocolate brown hair in an attempt to control the wild strands.  "You have lived with us for several months, so you more than anyone else should understand the truth behind our relationship."

Pouting at my statement, Selphie asks, "What 'truth'?  It's obvious you love each other."

"I never said we didn't, but..."  I pause while considering the explanation I could give her.  "During the war, Seifer made many radical mistakes, and though Ultimecia pushed him into those choices, that experience tore into his self-confidence.  It's hard to see beyond all of his bravo, but Seifer agonizes over those past mistakes and it makes him question his right to a happy life."

"But... But it wasn't our Seify who did those things."

"Knowing that doesn't help him.  And no matter what I may say to the contrary, Seifer is positive that the wrong action or the wrong word will make me 'remember' that I shouldn't love him anymore."

With a pitying look, Selphie says, "That poor thing, I never knew with that front of his.  But then, wouldn't you marrying him prove that you'll always love him?"

I scoff at her romantic ideals.  "Frankly, I'm the one who's insulted at Seifer's constant assumption that I'm insane to want him.  He needs to realize himself that he's the only one I could possibly want."

"Mo-oh, you're being stubborn."

"No, I know what is needed to make our relationship last."  When I get a skeptical look from the pregnant woman, I explain, "If I married him now, Seifer would believe I did it from pity.  That idea would gnaw at him for years until festering into a hatred where he'll get it into his head that I think I'm better than him.  It'll ruin us in a way that there would be no chance of recovery."

Selphie chews on her lower lip, unable to argue that my assessment is incorrect.  "But if he proposes...?"

"He won't.  He's still messed up from the war and the realities of becoming a father."  I then direct a firm glare at the woman as I inform her, "And I'll know if Seifer proposes to me because someone else encouraged him to do it."

Though visibly disappointed, Selphie nods and places a consoling hand over mine.  "I guess you always know best, but Rinoa and Quistis are also determined to force the marriage issue."

I smile inwardly, confident that the constant badgering will only make Seifer more stubborn to do what he wants.  "I can't control them, but I need you to promise me that you won't tell anyone about this.  If Seifer hears any of it..."

Selphie grins and childishly mimes crossing her heart.  "I won't tell another soul.  It's the least I can do for all of the secrets you've kept for me."

"Thanks, Selph.  You're the only one I've trusted with this."

Touched by my comment, Selphie abruptly leans forward to kiss my cheek.  "Come to me anytime.  But for now, how about cake?"

Pulling the strap of the day bag over my shoulder, I walk with Selphie toward the door, both of us surprised when it slides open and a large figure blocks our way.  Seifer shares that initial surprise at us standing just behind the door, but he recovers quickly to glare Selphie with a touch of fire to his eyes that I've only witnessed in our spars.  Before anyone says a word, he grabs Selphie's arm and jerks her outside of the restroom.  Ignoring her miffed cry, Seifer slips inside and waits for the door to close before punching the lock button.

"What the fuck is wrong with women these days?" Seifer demands while slumping back against the door.  "They get one couple married and they immediately have to work on the next obvious couple?  Hyne forbid that we're happy without all of this wedding crap."

I smile softly despite some of my guilt at leaving Seifer to the wolves.  "So, are we going to spend the rest of the day in a restroom?"

Though Seifer seems to consider the possibility, he instead sighs and requests, "Give me a few minutes to calm down before I hit someone."

Lifting Isan from my side, I give him to his father, Seifer visibly relieved to have an easy distraction while cooling off.  With Isan out of my hands, I move next to Seifer and lean against the door with him.  "It's been a few days since we last sparred.  We could show these Garden cadets what a real gunblade fight looks like."

Seifer glances at me, his green eyes shining brightly.  "I knew I loved you for a reason."

"If you're trying to soften me up, it's not going to work."

With a proud and hungry smirk, Seifer wraps his free arm around my waist.  "I'm going to make you bleed, Leonhart."

"Save it for the spar, Almasy," I return while closing my eyes, enjoying the easy moment between us.  It must be strange to the others that I believe our relationship is stronger without the conflict of marriage to tear at Seifer's already fragile life.  Granted, I wouldn't refuse a proposal from Seifer if he wholly understood that he is my opposite and my equal in all things, but he isn't ready to accept that reality.  Apparently, someone as perfect as me would never succumb to the whims of a sorceress like he did.  It's shit, but I'm not the one who has to be convinced otherwise.

"Say, Squall, you know I would marry you if it's what you wanted, right?"

Though the question tears at my heart, I show none of that in my expression and reply sincerely, "I know."

His smile relieved, Seifer kisses my cheek.  "I would do anything for you."

"Stay with me.  That's all I want."

"You should be careful, Squally-boy.  Sometimes you get exactly what you wish for."

"That's the risk I'll have to take."

 

{Owari}

 

Author's Whining -- And it's the first in a long line of side fic requests coming up.  I hope it's what you've been wanting, Chantry, as you have been waiting a good 2-3 years for this sucker.  If not... well, I guess you'll be waiting another 2-3 years for me to fix it. *laugh*