Enduring Life
May 2004

 

[Azura]

Brushing aside ticklish strands of hair from my face, I smile faintly before looking to the side at the approaching teen... Who am I kidding.  Kalen has certainly become a man at some unidentifiable moment.  He has my mother's stride, stiff with purpose and yet somehow graceful at the same moment.  His hair is far darker than mine, but the tips are highlighted in the modern fashion which really suits him.  Of course I had to get him drunk that first time, the foolish boy not trusting me that he needed the new look.  At least he has decent fashion sense unlike half the members of our family, but I guess he doesn't have the same worry as the Almasy swordsmen who constantly ruin their clothes in sparring matches.

Kalen stops a few steps away, his deep blue eyes giving away none of his thoughts.  "You've been missed."

I chuckle at that, and then lean back against the tree I have been sitting under for the past thirty minutes or so.  "Perhaps I should be offended that it took them this long to notice, especially with it being my engagement party and all."

The tall, lean youth says nothing to that, but when I also remain silent, he sighs before sitting on the other side of tree.  "How many months are you?"

I gag on my breath at the question, the resulting attack of coughs already ruining my chance at lying to my little nephew, but it's not like I could ever fool Kalen for long.  "Um, what do you mean?"

He breathes a laugh.  "You always said that the day you got married would be the day you were pregnant."

"And do you realize how damn annoying it is that you remember everything that I tell you?"  I sigh at being found out and press a hand against my stomach.  "I'm guessing six weeks."

"Then you haven't seen a doctor yet."

"No, I haven't made an appointment to see the attractive and single Dr Takamura yet," I say with a smirk, hoping for a response that doesn't come.  "But I will.  I promise."

"Before or after Granddad finds out?"

I pout at the idea of telling my parents about this.  "Don't you mean both Mom and Dad?"

Kalen huffs.  "Nothing gets past Grandmom.  He was the one to send me out to check on you.  In fact, he suggested that I should look for you in the bathroom first."

"Fucking shit.  He can't know!  I only found out a few weeks ago.  And poor Jael just found out last night..."

"Did he take it well?"

"Jael?  Well, aside from him being unable to sleep all night from worry about my parents hunting him down, he's taking it really well.  I think he has already fallen in love with whatever I have inside of me.  I'm kind of jealous, actually.  It took the bastard a whole year to figure out that he liked me, but he falls in love with this unborn stranger in under an hour.  It's unfair."

There's a quiet chuckle before Kalen stands up.  "We should go, that is, if you're feeling well enough."

"Oh, no, don't you start this 'pamper the fat and grumpy pregnant woman' act already.  I'm feeling perfectly healthy, thank you very much.  I just needed some fresh air."

He smiles softly as he offers a hand to help me to my feet.  Reluctantly I accept the aid, but only because I need the contact, even if for a brief moment.  And it annoys me that Kalen knows when I need this.  As we walk hand-in-hand back to the engagement party, I realize how much I missed this guy.  I wish I could have tricked him into moving to Timber, but I know that his life is here with family and his training to become a doctor.  Nothing short of my life being threatened would have dragged him away from that.  And with that thought in mind, I lean against the man easily half a foot taller than me and momentarily savor in the protective presence of my knight.


"You have to be my knight."

With wide blue eyes, the dark-haired boy looked up at the taller girl.  "But I'm not big enough."

The six-year-old pouted.  "But I want you as my knight.  Auntie Rinoa has Mommy, and Veyn has my brother, and they got to pick their knights.  Why can't I pick you?"

"But I'm too little."

"So?"

Kalen frowned in thought.  "But Grandma and Daddy are really, really, really strong.  They fight dragons 'n' stuff."

"Soooo?" Azura replied with clear frustration.

Before the younger child could think of a reply, a deep voice called out from behind the trees.  "Kay!  Rainy!  Where are you?"

A twin call of "Daddy" and "Isan" answered, soon followed by the appearance of the young man.  Towering over the two children, Isan smirked at them before asking, "And what kind of trouble are you two trying to get into now?"

"Isan, Isan.  Kalen is gonna be my knight!"

A dark eyebrow rose as amusement lit the soft green eyes.  "Is that so?"

"Nuh-uh," Kalen said as he gripped onto his father's pants.  "I'm too little."

Humming as if the boy made a profound argument, Isan bent down and lifted him up to be eye-to-eye with the child.  "But do you want to protect Azura?"

Shyly, the boy nodded, earning a wide smile from his young aunt.

"Then how about we make a deal.  You can be her knight, but her parents and I will help you watch over Azura until you're big enough to protect her all by yourself.  Does that sound like a plan?"

Kalen smiled and hugged his father's neck tightly.  "Thank you, Daddy!"

Kissing the boy's temple, Isan replied, "Anything for you, kiddo.  Now that that's settled, we better hurry and get our lunch before Uncle Zell eats everything that isn't moving."

Kalen was set back down onto the grassy ground, his hand soon grasped by another small hand.  He looked to his taller aunt and smiled shyly once meeting the bright green eyes of the young girl.

"I told you so.  You'll be the best knight ever," Azura said.


[Squall]

"There's my little kitten," Seifer says with a very slight slur, the champagne starting to affect the large man.  "I bet she thought she could avoid a dance with her old man..." he mutters while walking in her direction.

I can't resist my smile as I watch Seifer steal Azura from her fiancé's hold and move directly into dance to fit the current music.  Of course Moore doesn't dare to argue, the SeeD knowing well about the former commander's strength despite his age.  Only a man with a death wish would step between Seifer and his 'kitten'.

"Are you certain he'll be able to give his girl away at the wedding?"

I look to the direction of the voice and smirk slightly.  "I'll make certain he does.  But I haven't heard yet if you'll be able to attend."

The doctor looks at me with brown eyes full of amusement.  "As if I could pass up such an event.  An Almasy wedding is never one to miss."

I smile, pleased that the family doctor and friend will be there among the mess of other attendees.  Kentaro Takamura has become a part of the family after so many years of new life and near death events.  I'll never regret stealing him away from Esthar Garden and placing him on staff here at the capitol.  And I won't deny that I've needed his optimistic support on occasion, typically when Seifer has been doing his 'diplomatic' thing in other countries.  It's pathetic to terribly miss the idiot after only a week.

"Think the lad can handle our darling Azura?" he asks with a nod in the direction of Moore, the darkly skinned man currently speaking with one of his SeeD friends.

I scoff.  "No one can handle her.  She spent too much time with her aunts and grandfather."

Kentaro chuckles at the truth of the matter.  "Well, she's still a good kid.  You should be proud."

"I am," I say softly while I easy find father and daughter dancing to a slow song.  Seifer leans over to whisper something into her ear, Azura then laughing as she playful slaps the back of his head.

"Grandmom."

I turn to look up at the young man, another damn Almasy who is taller than me.  "Was she okay?"

Kalen smiles.  "How do you know these things?"

I shrug, happy to keep up that convenient all-knowing status of mine.

"Oh, what's this now?"

Unsurprisingly, Kalen stiffens at the sound of the lighthearted voice and he glances over at Kentaro.  "Dr Takamura..."

"Evening, Dr Almasy.  I haven't seen you around lately."

Dark blue eyes shift shyly as he mumbles, "I'm not a doctor yet."

"In due time.  I've spoken with a couple colleagues at the hospital and they are pleased with your performance."  When Kalen refuses to meet brown eyes, Kentaro shrugs and asks me, "But what was this about Azura?"

"She's pregnant," I reply.

A pale eyebrow rises at the answer.  "You never were one for subtlety.  I take it that you aren't surprised?"

I say nothing, not wanting to remind the doctor about our family's habit of having children at a young age.  It's almost sad that at twenty, Azura is already years older than I was when I had Isan, and of course older than when my son fathered Kalen.  Knowing my daughter, once I heard that the free spirit was finally tying herself to Moore, I figured that she must have gotten herself pregnant.

Kentaro laughs with his typical lightness.  "Well, I'd be happy to aid another Almasy into this world, though I'm guessing that the young lady will be returning to Timber once the wedding has taken place?"

"She hasn't told me," I say, pretending that my voice didn't suggest any of my displeasure at Azura living so far from home.  It's been three years now.  Why haven't I gotten over this yet?

Any comments by the grinning doctor are cut short when Kalen suddenly straightens and smiles brightly at a point behind me.  "Mom and Dad.  You made it."

I turn to face the couple, unable to completely hide my smile at the sight of Isan holding his husband close with a protective arm.  Seveyn smiles brightly, the white-haired man no longer shy about my son's habit of clinging onto him within a crowded situation.  Glancing up at the dark-haired man, I easily notice the faint redness to the soft green eyes, but I chose to not comment.  I have already heard from Kalen that they had a rough morning and were thinking about passing on the engagement party, so it is more the surprise that they decided to show.

While Seveyn breaks away to greet his son, Isan approaches me for a powerful hug which rivals my father's death-grips.  The hold lasts longer than necessary, but I let the younger man indulge in his need for comfort.  Eventually Isan steps back with a quiet 'thank you'.

"Azura will be happy you came," I mention, hoping to distract him from darker thoughts.

The dark-haired man smiles his relief, and then glances over the room.  "Where is Rainy, anyway?  We didn't see her on the way inside."

"Her father demanded a dance."

Isan chuckles lightly, knowing exactly how controlling Seifer is about his little girl.  "Do you think Moore will ever see his fiancée again?"

"Azura hopes so."

A quiet 'oh, my' sounds just barely louder than the music, and I look over at Seveyn to see him holding a hand against his chest as his redden eyes stare out at the dance floor.  It's no surprise to find him staring at one particular couple.  Before I can say anything, Isan is quickly at his side with a hand steady at the slim waist.

"What's wrong?"

Seveyn turns to lightly glare at his husband.  "I'm fine.  I just... I thought I saw something."

"You did," I state with unintended amusement.  "And we aren't speaking of it."

The white-haired man turns to face me, his lips forming faint smile of understanding.  "Trying to prevent a murder?"

I don't reply, but something must show on my face which makes Seveyn laugh quietly as he looks back to the father and daughter pair, just in time to witness a flamboyant dip.  At least Seifer is using up his desire to dance with Azura and not me.

Dark eyebrows scrunched in confusion, Isan glances between his husband and myself.  "What are you two talking about?  Is there a security issue here?"

The same moment I scoff, Seveyn hits the back of his hand against the broad chest.  "Must it always be business with you?"

With a vague pouting expression, my overly tired son says, "But you mentioned preventing a murder..."

"And nobody here aside from an assassin could murder someone?" Seveyn asks jokingly, and then leans closer to tell his husband, "By the way, I win."

The green-eyed man blinks twice before his lips form a silent 'oh' sound and he glances over to his father and sister.  "Preventing a murder, indeed," he states with some amusement, but I notice his hand clenching into a fist at his side.  Hn, I didn't consider that brotherly instincts would become a problem within the coming chaos.

A hand lightly settles on my shoulder as Kentaro speaks quietly.  "Forgive me, but I just noticed a few old friends of mine.  Good luck protecting the lad from Seifer, and I will hopefully see you all later."

I nod that I heard him, and the doctor promptly leaves for another corner of the large room.

"A-aw, the doc ran away."

At the deep voice, I glance up to see Seifer approaching with his 'kitten' held tightly at his side and a fresh glass of champagne held in his free hand.  The emerald eyes of my daughter focus on me in a silent plea for help, and though I'm tempted to let her suffer for trying to keep secrets from me, I surrender when she mouths a 'please' in my direction.

"Isan, didn't you want a dance with your sister before Moore could monopolize her time?"

My son glances back at me with some confusion before realizing my intention to free Azura from her father.  "Uh, yeah.  Unless Rainy doesn't want to dance with her old brother."

The young girl laughs, relief highlighting the melodic sound.  "It's 'older' brother, not 'old'.  And of course I want to dance with you.  Come on, I love this song."

Though Seifer pouts pitifully, the man of white-gold hair reluctantly releases his daughter, and she promptly rushes to her brother's side and drags him toward the dance floor.  Watching them go, Seifer asks, "Is it just me, or does Azura seem overly tense?  And maybe a little... sickly?"

Kalen pales slightly when the sharp green eyes of his grandfather shift in his direction.  "Uh, Mom?  Feel like dancing with me?"

Seveyn smirks softly at the escape attempt.  "Just one song, and no dipping."

The dark-haired youth smiles with relief as he takes his mother's arm and they walk unhurriedly to the hardwood area, leaving behind the suspicious blond.

"They know something," Seifer mutters before sipping some of his champagne.  "I'll get it out of the youngest, there's no doubt about that."

"Leave Kalen alone," I say while grabbing his arm and pulling him back to some free seats at an empty table.  "And you aren't allowed anything more to drink."

The larger man huffs while plopping down in a seat.  "I'm not drunk."

"You aren't," I agree while sitting next to him, "and I'm making certain that you won't have the chance to get that far."

"When did you stop being fun?"

"I was never any fun," I remind him.

Seifer scoffs, but chooses not to argue the fact while his eyes settle on the dancing couples.  "I thought the cub was going to keep his mate home."

"You know how much Seveyn adores Azura.  He wouldn't miss her engagement party unless it was something serious."

"Hyne, Squall, it is serious.  He shouldn't be straining himself over something like this."

I glance over at the sprawled out man.  "Don't tell me that you're admitting to being worried about him?"

He huffs.  "I'm more worried about Isan.  He doesn't seem to be handling this very well.  Hell, despite our lifestyles, he hasn't had to deal with the possibility of someone close to him dying.  Well, except for that one assassination attempt against you.  Other than that, none of us have met a bullet with our names on it, and his friends have moved on from their mercenary days.  Dad is in his eighties and still kicking strong, not to mention his two partners in crime.  Why did it have to be his 'angel' to get all of the bad luck?"

"Isan is strong, and he has Kalen to rely on."

"I know, I know, but... it's not the same.  I mean, when I almost lost you that one time... well, you know what everyone else told you about me being a complete mess.  I don't like seeing my kid going through the same shit."

There is no response I could offer, and so I only shift closer to the larger man who has kept extremely fit despite his over fifty years of a hard life.  Seifer takes advantage of my closeness and wraps an arm around my back to pull me even closer and rest his head against my shoulder.  We say nothing for that time, our eyes focused on family members and our thoughts lost in the past.


Soft knocking made Squall sigh before he set down his book onto his lap.  "Enter."

After a brief hesitation, the door opened with hardly a sound and a young man of twenty-five peaked his head through the opening.  "I'm sorry.  Am I bothering you?"

"Seveyn," the brunet said with unhidden surprise.  "I wasn't expecting visitors this weekend."

"I know I should've called, but..."  The white-haired man didn't finish his thought, nor stepped further into room as if debating the reasons of why he decided to meet with the Estharian president.

Placing his book on the coffee table, Squall said, "You aren't interrupting anything.  Why don't you have a seat?"

Though his uncertain look didn't fade, Seveyn entered the study and took a seat at the plush couch next to the matching sofa chair which the brunet occupied.  His eyes dark purple in the dim light of the room, the young man stared down at his hands as he fiddled with the end of his lengthy braid.

"Is everything fine with Isan and Kalen?"

The white-haired man nodded.

"Then I suppose that only leaves you."

Startled, Seveyn looked up and stared into the knowing gaze of pale eyes.  Then, with a soft smile he said, "I guess it would be pointless to deny it."

Saying nothing, Squall leaned back in his chair in a silent sign for the man to speak when he was ready.

"I don't really know the best way to say this, but at least with you I can be direct.  I think... I know that there's something wrong with me."

"Wrong with you?"

The young man nodded.  "As long as I can remember, I've suffered through occasional fainting spells.  Only a few times a year at most, but for the past several years, they have been more frequent."

Frowning, Squall asked, "Is there anything else?"

Playing with his braid once again, he replied, "Some days I've been too easy to tire.  And more recently, there have been episodes of pain.  Nothing terrible, but certainly noticeable."

With a deep sigh, the brunet rubbed his fingers against his temple.  "Have you seen a doctor yet?"

"Of course, but Dr Takamura couldn't find anything physically wrong with me.  Though he suggested that it could be something related to my powers, that my body is rejecting my greater use of magic."

"Then, have you spoken with Rinoa?"

Biting his lower lip, Seveyn shook his head.  "I don't want to make a big fuss, especially since I feel like it's nothing that can be treated."

Stormy eyes narrowed suspiciously.  "Have you told my son, your husband about any of this?"

The white-haired man winced.  "No.  He has enough to worry about with becoming the new Headmaster of Esthar Garden, and I don't want him to know.  It's nothing serious--"

"Then why tell me?"

"Because I needed someone to know in case..."  Seveyn took a calming breath before meeting the icy gaze.  "I don't want to be pitied or forced to stop healing people.  I still have so much to repent for."

With an ever-suffering sigh, Squall stood up to look down at the younger man.  "Do you know why you're here?"

"To tell you--"

"No."

Seveyn blinked at the interruption.  "I... there wasn't another reason."

Taking a seat at the man's side on the couch, the brunet said, "You know I will make you tell Isan."

"No, I can't.  Not yet."

"Because you know that he's the only one who could make you stop using your powers, even if you were to learn that your magic is the cause behind your condition."

Lightly biting at his lip again, the young man nodded.

After silently staring into downcast reddish-purple eyes, Squall said, "Seven years ago, I made a promise to you, that you wouldn't go through your pregnancy alone.  Since then, you gave birth to my beautiful grandson and married my son.  While we may not say the words, I hope you realize that by now, both Seifer and I consider you our son as much as Isan."

Seveyn straightened at the words, his eyes no longer afraid to meet the cooler gaze.  "I wasn't certain... but Isan has told me that many times, though he thinks you favor me more," he added with a shy smile.

"Perhaps," the brunet admitted with a small smirk.  "But either way, know that we're here for whatever you need.  While I'll respect your wish for secrecy for now, if I ever witness you fainting or suffering, that's the end of my patience.  I only hope for your sake that Isan forgives you for this deception."

"I hope so, too.  But thank you, Mom."

Squall stiffened instantly at the title, his expression losing all of its previous warmth.

Surprised himself, Seveyn pressed a hand over his reddened face.  "I'm sorry.  Isan always... and I was thinking how you are... I'm so sorry."

"No."  Vaguely amused, the Estharian president shook his head with a resigned smile.  "No, don't be sorry.  I was caught off guard.  One would think I'd be used to that title by now."  Squall took hold of the hand covering the young man's face and pulled it away to reveal the wary gaze beneath.  "If you would like to, you may call me... 'Mom'.  But I know--"

The words were cut off as the white-haired man suddenly launched forward to hug the brunet and press his still-reddened face into the dark cloth of the man's sweater.  Awkwardly, Squall moved his arm around the bent back and rested his cheek against the soft hair.  The eventual feel of hot tears through his sweater didn't come as a surprise to the brunet.

"You won't go through this alone, Seveyn.  I promise you that."


[Isan]

Holding onto a manicured hand in my rougher grasp, I let Azura swing out before I pull her back toward me in a fancy spin.  She laughs happily at the move which our father taught us years ago.  I was never big into dancing back then, but Azura wanted to learn some steps for a major dance at her school and I was somehow tricked into joining those lessons of hers.  Granted, learning those dance moves have come in handy during Garden events, but I wish I had Mom's immunity against the Almasy pout.

Laughing, Azura presses close to my body.  "I'm so happy that you and Veyn could come.  I haven't seen either of you in ages."

"You were here for Father's Day the other month."

"Like I said, it's been ages," she says with a wide grin.

I shake my head, amused that she has our father's sense of time.  "Well, it's not our fault that you had to get a job in Timber."

"I know, but I love writing for Timber Maniacs.  Did I tell you that I got another promotion?  Their female audience has practically doubled in the past year, and they say it's my column which is bringing them in.  They even offered me a new office."

"That's great, Rainy.  Then I guess you're going straight back to Timber after the wedding?"

"Well..."  She glances up into my eyes, and then promptly frowns.  "Kalen told you something."

Smirking lightly, I correct her, "I do have a sorcerer for a husband.  He noticed your condition the moment he set eyes on you."

Azura huffs.  "That I didn't consider.  Damn.  First Mom figures out with that sixth sense of his, and now Veyn... Since Jael doesn't have any broken bones yet, I assume Dad is the only one who doesn't know?"

"In theory, but I'll bet he suspects something by the way Kalen bolted to the dance floor with Seveyn."

Blinking, the brunette glances over her shoulder at the dancing pair.  "Oh no, poor Kalen.  Dad always picks on him for information."

"You could make it easier on your nephew."

With a quiet sigh, Azura rests her head on my shoulder.  "I know I should be the one to tell Dad, but...  I really do love Jael.  I'm not doing this because of the baby.  Everything just kind of happened at the same time, with me deciding that I need to be more of an adult, and Jael did this really sweet thing when I had a bad week last month.  I fell in love with him all over again."

"But you think Dad will only focus on the baby."

"I know he will."

Smiling softly, I hold back a laugh.  "You shouldn't underestimate him like that.  Of course he'll give you a hard time, but in the end, he's the one who got Mom pregnant twice before they finally married.  He knows that marriage isn't everything in a relationship."

Azura looks up at me with bright green eyes.  "But he always told me to be married before I got myself pregnant."

"He told me to wait, too, but life doesn't always go the way you plan it."  With a light squeeze, I add, "You're his daughter, Rainy.  He'll support you no matter what you do."

Frowning, she glances to the corner of the room where her fiancé is talking with his SeeD friends.  "I'm more worried about Jael.  Dad still complains about him not being the gay enough."

I smile widely at the truth that Dad had tried to find a gay bodyguard to protect his 'kitten' in Timber, but Moore turned out to be bisexual instead of strictly homosexual.  Since I knew little about Moore before he became involved with my sister, I've made it a point to learn more about the darkly skinned man in the past year.  He's a softly spoken person, but his skill with daggers is unrivaled and has saved Azura from several anti-sorceress attacks.  But most importantly, I know that he is completely smitten with this young woman despite their rough beginnings over three years past when Azura didn't want a 'babysitter' to follow her around.  They'll be good for each other as long as Moore continues to show his backbone around our unusual family.

"You really think everything will be alright?" Azura asks, a hint of her true concern showing through.

"I'm certain of it.  And worse comes to worse, tell Mom to punch Dad."

She laughs with a relieved smile.  "I'll remember that."

As we sway slowly to the next song, I glance over her shoulder to watch Kalen dancing in a similar manner with his mother as they talk about something.  Most likely about my son's work in medical school.  That kid amazes me every time I see him.  He enrolled in college at sixteen, and then sped through his classes to graduate in three years so that he could enter medical school as soon as he could.  He has spent hours of studying and volunteer work at the Estharian Memorial Hospital, and all of it was done for his mother.  I couldn't be prouder of him.

"You're getting like Dad, you know."

Blinking in surprise, I lean back to look at the brunette.  "Is that an insult or a complement?"

She shrugs, then holds me tighter.  "You're the one who always reminds Mom and Dad that the rest of us are here.  I guess it's going to be my job to remind you the same."

"Rainy..."

"No, Isan.  I'm not exaggerating."  Azura places a soft hand against my cheek.  "Did you look in the mirror before showing up?"

"It's nothing.  I just didn't get much sleep last night."

"Uh huh," she says while her fingers move back into my hair in a vague attempt to straight the mess.  "And that was your excuse the past five times I've seen you.  He'll be okay, brother.  Auntie Rinoa is working with Kalen to figure out a mixture of magic and medicine to figure out what's wrong.  With her powers and his brains, they'll have no problems healing Veyn."  Leaning against me once more, she sighs quietly.  "I just wish I had the same power as Auntie Rinoa."

I don't reply, and instead kiss her light brown hair in a sign that I understand her frustration.  Holding the young woman close, my eyes once again shift to the man of long white hair as he laughs at something my son tells him.  I didn't want to bring Seveyn tonight, but seeing his spirits raised like this, I realize that I was foolish to argue with the man about what he could handle.  I'll have to properly beg for his forgiveness later.

Resting my cheek against soft hair, I think about my sister's words while watching the graceful movements of my husband.  I once faulted my parents for never realizing how deeply bonded they are, but focused on Seveyn, I suddenly realize that I can't imagine a life without him.  It wasn't always like that.  After Kalen's birth, we purposefully waited almost two years before marrying since we wanted to make certain that our relationship was more than teenage hormones.  For the life of me, I can't remember the moment when Seveyn became my everything in the eighteen years since our wedding day.  But watching him, I can easily imagine the feel of my fingers stroking through his hair, the warmth of his breath against my neck, and the sound of his contented sighs...

... Fuck.  I am getting too much like Dad.


"You can't go in there!"

No one listened to the call of the nurse as a dark-haired man carried a small boy of seven in his arms, and behind them followed a young girl of the same age who held tightly onto the hand of a white-haired man.  They rushed down the hallway to the emergency room of the Estharian Palace and entered without announcing themselves.

"Mom?!"

In a fast move, someone reached out and pulled Isan away from the gathering of medical experts.  "They're working on him."

Isan frowned at his father while lifting his young son into a better position at his side.  "We saw the live broadcast and left right after seeing the shooting.  We haven't heard any details..."

Sharp green eyes glared at the bed surrounded by people.  "Two of the shots landed.  One grazed his head and the other pierced his chest."

"Daddy...?"

The serious mood of the blond man instantly shift as he set eyes on his daughter.  Stealing the girl from Seveyn, he lifted her up and held her tightly while shielding her from the sight of the unconscious president.  He murmured quiet assurances to Azura and tenderly kissed her light brown hair.

"I don't understand," Isan said while holding Kalen in the same manner.  "That should be easy to heal, shouldn't it?"

Seifer shook his head.  "There's some kind of poison which is preventing proper healing while also causing mass havoc on his body."  Green eyes shifted to the white-haired man.  "And before you say a damned word, you aren't allowed to do anything.  Squall made me promise that on the way here."

"Why?" Seveyn asked with obvious distress.  "I can help..."

"I don't know why.  All he said was that you aren't allowed to endanger yourself no matter what."

Redden eyes went wide at the words, and then narrowed as he glanced in the direction of the bed.  "I want to help him."

"Tough shit."

"Sev," Isan said with a concerned tone.  "What is going on here?"

Looking at his husband, the white-haired man shook his head.  "Now is not the time.  I promise to explain when Mom is better."

Seifer interrupted whatever the dark-haired man was about to argue.  "Listen, take Azura and get out of here.  The doc already got on my case about being in the way, and having so many people in here isn't helping Squall.  Stay in the waiting room, and stop your grandfather and anybody else who decides to make an appearance."

Azura was returned to Seveyn, the little girl obviously not happy at the tension around her.  Isan lowered his son to the ground as well and asked his husband to take the children for the moment.  Seveyn nodded and led the two youths outside with an experience hand.

"Dad," Isan started as he strongly hugged the larger man.  "Remember we're here, too, alright?"

Seifer wrapped an arm around his son, but his green eyes stayed focus on his unconscious lion.  "It hurts seeing him like this, kiddo.  It hurts a lot."

"I know... I know that, Dad.  Just..."

At the faltered words, Seifer moved back from the hug and placed a hand at his son's shoulder.  "I'm sorry, but you know the Almasy rule - never make a promise which you aren't completely certain that you can keep."

Isan looked away, not hiding his disappointment and frustration.  "If we're not in the waiting room, we'll be in our room upstairs.  Don't worry about Azura, but let us know about any changes."

Seifer nodded, already resuming his place leaning against the wall with his gaze focused on the bed.

Pushing the door open with more force than needed, the dark-haired man left the emergency room and walked toward the waiting room at a slow pace.  Murmuring to himself, Isan said, "I'm not ready yet..."


[Azura]

While I had wasted plenty of time with my dear brother, I know it's only a matter of time before I have to face the music.  After kissing Isan lightly on the cheek and thanking him for the dance, I walk in the direction of my husband-to-be.  Laughing with his friends, it takes Jael a moment before he notices my approach.  He smiles broadly at the sight of me, and after murmuring a parting to his friends, he strides up to meet me halfway.  Only an inch shorter than my father but sporting a leaner build, the darkly skinned man certainly has the body of a trained soldier, but it's his sharp mind and soft voice which I love most about my fiancé.  It's amusing that those were the things I hated most about him when we first met.  Then again, I was rather determined to hate him no matter what for being my personal babysitter.

"Well, hello there, you lovely thing," Jael says with his most charming smile as his arms wrap around my waist.  "I haven't seen my fiancée all evening, so there's plenty of time for a quickie in the presidential bedroom if you're interested..."  His dark eyebrow arches suggestively.

I try to smile at his teasing tone, but I obviously fail judging by his expression.

"What's wrong?"

"Almost everyone knows about our coming angel," I say while resting my head on his shoulder.

"Almost, huh?  Well, since I still have my head and other important body parts, I assume that your father doesn't know.  Your mother as well?

I breath a laugh.  "I think Mom knew before I did.  I warned you that he has a sixth sense about certain things."

He hugs me in strong arms before asking, "Want to get this over with?"

"Want to get punched?" I retort.

Laughing, Jael pushes me back to look directly into my eyes.  "You know, I am pretty damn good at dodging, and your father is over thirty years older than me."

"He killed two red dragons single-handedly last week," I state without exaggeration.

That dims my fiancé's smile.  "And your mother..."

"He killed only one by himself, but then slaughtered some other random monsters with Dad.  They had to release some pent up frustration because of that Galbadian trade agreement.  You wouldn't believe the shit those negotiators wanted."

His eyes shifting warily, he clears his throat.  "I keep forgetting what family I'm dealing with here."

"Then I won't mention what my brother was up to earlier this week," I say teasingly while placing my hand at the back of his neck and play with one of his dreadlocks.  "Are you certain you want to marry me now?"

"Never doubted it," Jael replies promptly before treating me to a soft kiss.

After warning him to let me do the talking, I take his hand into mine and I reluctantly lead the way to the table which my family has claimed as their own.  As we work our way through the crowd, my nervousness evaporates at the unexpected sight of an older man who had joined my parents at some point, the man already started into a hand-waving tale.

"Granddad," I call out while releasing Jael's hand.  Rushing to the seated man, I kiss him fondly on the top of his head.  "I thought you weren't coming in until morning."

"I caught a late train," he states with sparking green eyes, a truly ageless feature of my grandfather.  For eighty-three, he looks incredible for his years.  His dark gray hair is far shorter than in the pictures I've seen of his soldier days and his limp is a permanent feature instead of coming and going with his nervousness, but he still leads a fairly active life while writing his books.  With a youthful smile, he leans back to glance over my body.  "My, you look amazing.  Absolutely radiant."

"Thank you, Granddad," I say with a smile, hiding a wince at the term typically associated with pregnant woman.

"I'm serious!  You look lovely.  Did you do something with your hair?"

"Dad," my mother scolds lightly, his cool gaze then shifting in my direction.  "Was there something you needed?"

Recognizing the opportunity he was giving me, I step back and blindly grab onto Jael's hand for the support he freely gives me.  "Well... there's something I've been meaning to tell everyone..."  Pausing a moment, I notice Mom slip his hand over my father's thigh in a subtle restraining move.  "I... I'm pregnant."

The first to react is my grandfather as he jumps up from his seat with unusual energy for his age.  He wraps an arm around both Jael and me before profusely giving us his good wishes and demands for weekends with his unborn grandchild.  But that comes to an abrupt end when we're all startled by the sound of shattering glass.  As Granddad steps to the side while leaving his arm around my shoulders, I get a clear view of my father holding onto the stem of his champagne glass, its flute snapped off and broken on the floor.

"How did you get pregnant, Azura?" Dad asks in what Isan has always referred to as the Commander voice.

Mom answers for me.  "Probably in the usual way.  She is a young lady in a serious relationship."

A quiet growl leaves my father as he glares at Jael.

"Stop that, Dad.  This happened because of two people who got careless."

The blond man shifts his gaze to me, his expression softening.  "Why couldn't you have waited?"

His disappointed tone cuts right through me, and it must show on my face since Jael steps closer to press his body against mine in silent support.  I squeeze his hand in thanks, but I can't manage much more than that.  I know that Dad wanted me to be the one Almasy who had a 'traditional' family, and while I certainly didn't plan for this to happen, I still feel like I betrayed him with this.

"Enough," Mom states coolly at my father, and then gets up from his chair to stand before me.  "Are you happy?"

I smile weakly.  "Scared as hell, but yes, I'm very happy.  I don't have any regrets about this."

He huffs.  "You obviously haven't had morning sickness yet."

My smile widens at the implied acceptance, and if I have Mom on my side, I know that my father will be soon to follow.  Though I imagine he'll hold a grudge against Jael for years to come.

"Don't mind your father," Granddad says while squeezing his arm around my shoulders.  "You'll always be his little girl and nothing will change his desire to protect you."

"Thanks, Granddad."

With a final squeeze, he releases his hold on me.  "But now I have to find Kiros and Ward to tell them the great news.  They don't show it, but they missed having a little one around as much as I have."  During his exit, my grandfather passes behind Jael and claps a hand against his shoulder.  "Good luck with this one in the coming months.  She's an Almasy through and through."

Jael chuckles at the warning.  "I'm looking forward to it."

Distracted with watching Granddad leave, I'm surprised when strong arms wrap around me, but I instantly relax at the smell and feel of my mother's closeness.  I return the hug with my free arm and clutch onto the back of his shirt.

"We will always love and support you," Mom whispers against my ear.  "Nothing will ever change that."

"I love you, too, Mom.  And I never meant to hurt either of you--"

He promptly shushes me and steps back to look at me with those unreadable eyes of his.  "Why don't you have a seat."

Recognizing the order for what it was, I join my parents at their table with Jael taking the seat next to me.  His hand settles on my thigh and strokes in small, soothing motions.  Hyne, I'm so lucky to end up with someone who can keep a cool head around people who are powerful in both the physical and political senses of the word.

"How far along are you?" my mother asks, straight to the point as usual.

"I'm guessing six weeks, but I haven't checked with Dr Takamura yet."

"You're guessing?" Dad asks angrily, but is promptly smacked in the back of his head by Mom.

"Do I need to remind you how many times you fucked me before I turned twenty?" the brunet asks sharply, startling my fiancé judging by his tightened grip on my leg, but his expression shows little of that shock.

"But you're a guy," my father mutters lamely, but he thankfully quiets after that.

Shaking his head, Mom returns his gaze to me.  "So, you are going to visit Kentaro while you're in town?"

With a held back smile, I say, "Well, I have more news, actually.  I've been talking with my superiors and they have finally considered an idea of mine that I've been pushing for a year now.  They are currently going through plans to expand, and coming this fall, Timber Maniacs will have an office here in Esthar."

A stunned look replaces my mother's typically neutral expression.  "You mean..."

"I'm coming home," I state happily, mostly because I finally stumped the Estharian president.  "And before you say anything, I really do want it this way.  I've miss my family here, and I can't imagine anyone else except Dr Takamura delivering my baby.  And Jael will be able to spend more time with his SeeD friends.  This is something I've been wanting for a long time."

"Azura..." Mom says, clearly overwhelmed for this brief moment.  But that soon passes as he straightens and regains his composure.  "Whatever help you need, just ask."

"Thanks, Mom.  I'll take you up on that offer when we start looking at condos in the area.  Oh, and don't tell anyone else just yet.  I want to get through the wedding without Granddad shoving brochures under my nose at every opportunity."

My mother smiles in his way, completely understanding the overzealous nature of his father.  He then glances briefly at the dance floor before meeting my eyes once more.  "Go enjoy your night.  It seems we'll have plenty of chances to talk at a later time."

With a relieved smile, I nod and promptly stand.  "You know, I haven't seen you two dance tonight."

Mom huffs and waves his hand in a dismissing manner, but I know the damage has been done judging by the look my father gives him.  I'll give Dad two songs before he finally wears down my mother and convinces him that occupying him with a dance would keep him from killing a certain SeeD soldier.

Laughing, I run off with my fiancé and easily slip into his arms for a simple slow dance.  One of these days, I'll have to teach him the fancier moves, but for now, I only crave his closeness.

"That wasn't so bad," Jael states softly.

"I have a feeling it's the calm before the storm, but such is the life of an Almasy.  We can't do anything the easy way."

Chuckling, he holds me tighter.  "Sounds like fun."

"You have no idea."

 

{Continued}

 

Author's Note - And it's the story which won't die. =P  This is what happens when you evil people demand for more of this series - I end up with more characters than I can handle, each with their own little issues to deal with.  No clue how long this sequel will be... most of it is going to be like this chapter with flashbacks of the past to explain about twenty years worth of time.  I hope it doesn't get too confusing for you all. =P