For Nothing, For Everything
February 2005

 

With a groan on the tip of his tongue and the bashing of drums in his head, Seifer Almasy dangled uncomfortably on the edge of his wide four-poster bed.  Dressed in the same garments as the night before, the man of short golden blond hair and sea green eyes glared weakly at the opened window across his room, the light of the morning sun waking him moments earlier from his deaden sleep.  Eventually his muddled mind recognized his undignified position, but even though one of his hands hung off the side of the mattress and his fingertips were dangerously close to the foul mess of vomit below, he hadn't the energy nor the desire to move.  And so, he continued to lie on his bed while halfheartedly reflecting on the night previous.  He remembered something about drinking shots with the aid of a pair of large breasts, but beyond that was a mystery, just like many other blurry nights in his past.

After some time, the rapping of knuckles against wood added to the painful rhythm of phantom drums in his head, encouraging Seifer to move as he grabbed a pillow and hid beneath the large cushion.  The person beyond the door, however, chose to knock harder such that the pillow didn't protect the blond from the groan-inducing noise.

Pulling the cushion away from his face long enough to yell, "G'away!", Seifer quickly retreated back underneath the soft barrier, instantly regretting his choice to open his mouth.  And at the sound of a soft click, the blond realized that his command was worthless in the end, his supposed servant never one to obey a simple straightforward order. 

"Young Master, there is a situation which needs your attention."

While tempted to ignore the baritone voice, Seifer couldn't detect the typical hint of humor in his steward's tone.  Reluctantly, the blond man pulled aside his pillow and glared at his intruder.  The man dressed in loose black clothing appeared anything but a servant as his broad and muscular frame filled most of the open doorway.  His cropped black hair suggested that the large man was once a soldier, this assumption supported by a deep scar on his face which cut down from his hairline and curved beneath his strong chin.  But Seifer was unthreatened by the giant of a man as he continued to glower at his steward.

"What is so important that it can't wait?"

Ward Zabac smirked, the lengthy scar on his face twisting in an overly familiar fashion.  "It's not everyday you become a father, so I thought you'd want to know as soon as possible."

Staring with uncomprehending eyes, the nobleman wondered if he heard incorrectly.  "What was that about Father?"

"No, I said that you have become a father.  Congratulations."

There was a time of silence as the words seeped into the stressed mind of the blond man.  Once the meaning of the words registered, Seifer sat up sharply and yelled, "What?!", but a split second later, the green-eyed man remembered why sitting up wasn't the best plan of action.  And so, explanations were made to wait until after Seifer could rid the last of his stomach's contents onto the floor below.

~ > < ~

Sitting with a cup of cold tea in hand, Seifer stared at the basket resting on the floor only three feet away.  It was a wreck of a basket, the wood broken in all areas and dark mold growing in shadowed corners.  The blanket inside was in far better condition, most likely newly bought, but horribly cheap material.  And wrapped within the coarse fabric...

Tearing his eyes away from the basket, Seifer leaned back in his chair and rubbed his fingers against his temple to ease the ongoing pounding from within his skull.  He then sipped at his tea, and though displeased with the taste of the cold liquid, he finished off the last of the drink with faith that the herbs in the special brew would remove his headache as Edea Kramer, the head of the kitchens, had promised.  But at the sound of a soft sigh, Seifer felt his headache grow tenfold as his blue-green eyes traveled back to the sight of the basket and a tiny hand which had escaped the confines of the light brown material.

A quiet knock abruptly sounded, and without moving the direction of his gaze, Seifer spoke a muted, "Enter."

The moment after being allowed entrance, the single person walked into the study.  With a lighthearted voice, the man asked, "And what trouble are you in today, lord and master?  Do you have another crack in your skull for me to heal?  A set of bruised knuckles?  You know our deal about hangovers."

Not taking the bait with the typical taunts, the nobleman simply pointed in the direction of the basket.

Following the silent instruction, a slim young man in his late teens stepped into view.  Dressed in a traveling cloak of dark gray, the man brushed aside strands of auburn hair from his face before he focused his unusual violet eyes onto the seated blond.  Once recognizing that he would receive no vocal explanation from Seifer, the lanky man shrugged with indifference and stepped to the basket.  Adjusting his cloak to reveal a plain uniform of white and pale gray beneath the heavy fabric, he knelt to the rugged floor and reached for the corner of the blanket before noticing the small hand clutching onto the coarse material.  After a pause of disbelief, the long-haired man continued to remove the blanket and stared at the contents within.

"Seifer... this is a baby."

The green-eyed man scoffed.  "A bit obvious, isn't it, Kinneas?"

Irvine Kinneas ignored the insult while pulling down the blanket further.  "This... This boy is hardly a month or two old.  Where did he come from?"

"From the back entrance, but beyond that, no one seems to know."

"Very well," the long-haired man said slowly, his eyes still examining the tiny boy.  "But why was I summoned?  The babe seems healthy enough.  Maybe a touch on the lean side..."

"I need you to prove that he isn't mine."

Irvine straightened at the demand, his full lips curling into an impish smirk.  "And why are you so certain that your blood doesn't run through this child?"

"Because he isn't mine," Seifer stated harshly, but then breathed deeply to regain a sense of calm before continuing to say, "Even so, I want a healer's certification to corroborate that this boy has no right to the Almasy estate."

"That's not an answer to my question," Irvine pointed out while removing a small knife of white crystal from his belt.  "But it's never easy becoming a new father, so I'll support you in your state of denial."

Seifer growled at the man before holding out his hand at the healer's silent beckoning.  A clean cut was made on the offered palm, and after the opaque crystal blade was covered in fresh blood, Irvine quickly turned to the babe and drew a simple red triangle on the rounded stomach.  Eyes closed, the man held a steady hand over the mark of blood and all was silent for several long moments.  In the mean time, emerald eyes stayed focused on the sleeping child's face while Seifer's thoughts mulled over the words of the letter which had been placed within the folds of the blanket, a letter which had promptly been burned to ash.

"Seifer..."

Startled by the cautious call of his name, the nobleman straightened in an abrupt motion.  "If you are planning to play a joke on me, Kinneas, this isn't the time."

Serious violet eyes were revealed, but they remained focused on the sleeping babe.  "When you say that this child couldn't be yours... You can't mean..."

"If you have something to say, then just say it."

Shifting his gaze to the tense blond, Irvine smiled softly.  "I didn't know you preferred men."

"... what...?"

"I said that I didn't know that you enjoyed the company of men.  With the way you flirt--"

The healer wasn't allowed to finish his words as he was unexpectedly hauled from the ground by the front of his shirt.  With a strong hand clenched onto the fabric of the uniform, Seifer glared into the violet gaze of the healer, and after no words passed through sneering lips, the nobleman shoved Irvine away with a disgusted grunt.  The long-haired man stumbled several steps before finding his balance, and then casually rubbed a hand around his assaulted throat.  But despite that unspoken threat to hold his tongue, Irvine simply smiled his lazy grin while watching his childhood friend.

"As I was about to say, I always assumed you only cared for women, especially the large breasted kind.  Like that one wench from last night, whatever her name was."

"I suggest you stop playing this game, Kinneas, and tell me the truth."

His smile softening into a sympathetic curl, Irvine said, "I'm afraid that I am telling the truth.  That boy has Almasy blood, your blood to be precise, running through his veins."

"That isn't poss--"

"It's very possible, Seifer," the healer interrupted sharply before he knelt next to the babe once more and placed his finger within the grasp of a tiny hand.  "This is what happens when you have relations with a sorcerer."

The large blond was struck speechless by the simply spoken words, the several impossibilities of the statement causing the nobleman to back up until a cushioned chair impeded his retreat and he sat heavily on the piece of furniture.  And yet, sitting there while watching the healer coo at the babe, Seifer considered the words of the destroyed letter and suddenly the cryptic message made sense, but only if the blond wanted to believe the nonsense that his so-called friend was spouting.

"There are no sorcerers left," Seifer stated, his ability to speak returned, but he couldn't prevent the shaky undertone to his voice.

Irvine smiled at the words, but his violet-eyed gaze never left the young child.  "Certainly their numbers were reduced during that massacre three years ago, but if they were truly as powerful as the Emperor wants us to believe, then I imagine that many sorcerers have survived over the years while hiding their true heritage."  Once removing his finger from the miniature hand, the healer pulled the blanket over the babe, and then fixed his gaze onto the nobleman.  "However it happened, I know what my magic tells me, and it screams out that this boy has the energy of a sorcerer."

"I could have had the daughter of a sorcerer at some point," Seifer muttered unconvincingly.

"Sorry, but as determined by history, only a sorcerer can beget another sorcerer.  That being known, as well as your ordinary blood existing within this child, it leads to one conclusion - you fucked a sorcerer almost a year ago."

Staring at the healer and refusing to accept his crudely worded deduction, Seifer asked, "How in Hell's name does a man get pregnant?"

"Not just a man, but a sorcerer.  A powerful one at that, judging by his offspring here.  But unfortunately, I'm no expert in the matter.  I once read about male pregnancies in the scarce books which concern sorcerers.  It seemed rather... uncomfortable, if you ask me."

Not one to be convinced, the blond then asked, "Let's say I believe you, that this boy is the son of some rogue sorcerer.  Is it possible that he used magic to make this child appear to be mine, ensuring that the Almasy estate would fall into the hands of a sorcerer?"

Irvine frowned in thought for a moment before shaking his head.  "Blood is an amazing thing, something that cannot be changed by a human's will.  No matter how powerful this sorcerer may be, if he had attempted to do what you suggest, he would have killed this child."

After judging the truthfulness of the man's words, Seifer turned his softened gaze of blue-green to the covered babe.  "Then... this boy... he's my son?"

Irvine grinned brightly at the blond's apparent surrender.  "That's what I told you from the beginning.  You should have more faith in my superior abilities."

Ignoring the taunt of the healer, Seifer stood up stiffly from the large chair and stepped toward the basket.  For long indecisive moments, he stared down at the tiny human below him and didn't move until the babe stirred with a silent yawn and a vague stretch.  Squatting down, the blond removed both the infant and blanket from the basket, and then stood straight with his son cradled awkwardly in his arms.  The babe fussed at the handling, and with his petite nose crinkled in annoyance, he turned his face away from his father.

His face absent of emotion, Seifer adjusted his hold such that he could run the fingers of his freed hand through the soft chocolate-brown hair of the babe.  "You say he's healthy?"

Standing up from his kneeling position, Irvine nodded.  "Healthy enough, at least.  He could use some warm food, I wouldn't doubt, but somebody took excellent care of this child, I would assume the birth father.  Speaking of which, do you know who this mysterious sorcerer could be?"

Without showing that he had heard the question, Seifer slipped his hand beneath the blanket to press his fingers again the boy's chest.  "Hyne, his heartbeats seem so fast."

"It's like that with children," the healer stated with a knowing smile, but became serious with his subsequent words.  "Just so you know, Seifer, I would recommend having a second healer attest that this child bears your blood.  It's well known across the continent that we're friends and my word alone may not be enough to convince certain people."

The blond snorted.  "And my father would top that list.  But unless you happen to know of another healer who wouldn't report to the Empire about this boy's background, then I'll have to make do with your shady reputation."

"My reputation is not shady, you bastard.  I'm respected in every realm where I haven't been caught drinking with you."

A small smile broke out on the nobleman's face.  "I don't recall ever forcing you to join me, Kinneas."

Irvine huffed at the truth of the matter.

"Kiros Seagill."

Both men started at the intruding voice, Seifer recovering first as he turned to face the side entrance to his study.  Glaring at the large man standing in the doorway, the blond demanded, "How much have you heard?"

Ward bowed his head in a vague sign of apology and closed the door behind him.  "Kiros Seagill would hold the secret about this child."

"Wait, Seagill?" Irvine asked with clear disbelief.  "The Dark-Eyed Shaman?  Didn't he betray that one sorcerer clan?  Leare... Lion..."

"Loire," Ward supplied, his pale blue eyes still focused on his lord.  "But he didn't betray them."

Seifer met the cold gaze of his valet, then smirked before looking down at his burden.  "This healer is a friend of yours?"

"He was a friend, a close friend, in our past.  Before I became a traitor."

The blond snorted at the declaration.  "Don't start that again, Ward.  I saved your life and claimed what was mine - a manservant.  In the years since then, have I ever forced you to betray those you were once loyal to?"

"No, and I recognize that now, but to others..."

Seifer frowned at the words not spoken, irritated by the notion of so-called friends who judged a man solely by the people they stood beside.  "If that's the case, then what makes you certain that this man will help us?"

"Not us, but he would protect that child with his life.  That is, if he is truly a sorcerer."

"Hn, the whole lot of you are devoted to the end."  Adjusting the babe in his hold, Seifer examined the face of the sleeping boy.  "What is it about these sorcerers which demands your loyalty?"

"It wasn't a single attribute, my Lord."

Humming with interest, the nobleman came to a quick decision.  "Go and summon this healer.  If he betrays us, then I'll gut you myself."

With a bow of his head and an unthreatened smile, Ward exited the study as silently as he had entered, a mystifying ability for a man of his size.

Still gazing at his unexpected son, Seifer asked softly, "What in Hyne's name am I supposed to do with you?"

"Well, some warm milk wouldn't hurt," Irvine suggested as he adjusted his cloak.  "And while you're in the kitchens, I imagine Matron and the other numerous ladies there will tell you what to do next.  But as for me, I had better leave before my absence is noticed at the hospital."

"You mean, you had better escape before the women go insane over this addition to the household," the green-eyed man huffed.  "Not even a day here, and you're already about to cause me trouble, little one."

"Like father, like son," the healer stated cheerfully as he walked to the exit.  "Good luck, Seifer, and congratulations."

Left alone with his son, Seifer scowled at the innocent babe.  "I'm not going to lie to you, kid - I don't want a son and I hate that I'll have to raise you.  I'm too young for a little shit in my life, let alone one who I'll have to protect against the Emperor himself.  So if you ever talk back to me, I'll dump you outside with the rest of the trash.  Understood?"

The infant boy squirmed at the coolly spoken words, his face scrunching with a hint of red before he relaxed once again in his father's hold.

Gagging at the released smell and wet feel to the blankets, Seifer bit out a creative curse and promptly returned the babe to the old basket.  Taking hold of the handle, the nobleman moved in a fast stride toward the kitchens, all the while muttering to himself about the injustice of bedding a man who had the ability to bear children.  There should have some kind of warning, in his opinion.  Some sort of sign that a single night of sex could ruin his life.  But despite his annoyance over the situation, Seifer had already determined the benefit he would gain from accepting the child, his male heir, into his home.  Pleased that he had the chance to avoid a marriage with the horse of a woman his father had in mind for him, the nobleman smiled smugly to himself and began to mentally script his argument to the elder Almasy.


[Six years later]

Setting aside the stack of correspondents and placing his reading glasses on top of the papers, Seifer stretched out his tall frame in a move that nearly knocked off a small painting from the wall behind him.  Oblivious of the tilted picture, the nobleman stood and walked to one of the large windows that overlooked the expansive gardens his father had built for his wife decades past.  Flowers of white and peach were in full bloom, an inviting sight after a morning spent in the confines of his study.

"It's a lovely day out," a deep voice mentioned from behind, the man's unnoticed entrance not startling the blond in the least.

"It's about time after those weeks of rain."

"Cid mentioned that the horses seemed a touch restless today."

Smirking, Seifer glanced over his shoulder to look at his valet.  "I remember my promise to take Ander out riding once the weather had cleared, if that is what you are suggesting."

The older man smiled, his scar lifting with the curl of lips.  "You are forgetful for a man at such a young age."

Disregarding the taunt, the blond asked, "If you're here to bother me, I assume lunch is ready?"

"Yes, my Lord."

Without further acknowledgement of his steward, Seifer turned his back to the window and stepped in the direction of the hallway.  Ward promptly followed behind, his longer stride easily matching the fast pace of the blond nobleman.  During the long walk, Seifer asked about the household affairs, yet another thing which had been placed onto his lap with the death of his father three years earlier.  It hadn't been an unexpected loss with nearly a year of sickness before the elder Almasy's eventual passing, but taking on responsibility wasn't a strength of the young lord.  He still yearned for the nights of drinking until the world spun and the days of sleeping away the aftereffects of such nights, but after accepting his first major responsibility, when he allowed his son to find a place in his life, Seifer discovered that he couldn't avoid his other duties forever.  It was a depressing realization.

Lost in his thoughts and the conversation with his valet, Seifer never noticed the rushed steps approaching from an opened side entrance.  Impact was unavoidable and was shortly followed by the loud sound of plates falling on top of each other and the metallic clang of silverware.  Startled as he stepped back, Seifer stared down, but didn't see the expected sight of broken dishes scattered everywhere.  Instead, the expensive gold leaf plates were safely present in the servant's hold with stacks of three plates each being held in two steady hands while the four remaining plates were balanced at the crooks of his arms.  A tray of dull metal rested at the man's feet, and though upside-down, a pile of silverware rested on the flat surface without ever reaching the floor.

Surprised and amused by the display, Seifer raised his gaze to examine the man he had run into.  His face downcast, the servant's thick hair of wild dark brown locks efficiently covered his features without being overly long.  Glancing further down, Seifer noted the man's lean frame and immediately wondered if the kitchens were properly feeding the staff.  Discarding that notion quickly with the knowledge that Edea Kramer was kind but ruthless when it came to good eating habits, the nobleman silently watched as the servant moved the plates with distractingly graceful motions.

"Boy, you just ran into your Master.  Where is your apology?"

The young man tensed at the steward's deep baritone voice and paused in his task.  "Forgive me, m'lord."

The soft voice strained with fear instantly intrigued Seifer as he demanded, "Show your face."

The brunet hesitated, but the nobleman's tone wasn't one to be denied.  He angled his face slightly, just enough to reveal cold blue-gray eyes through the mess of his lengthy bangs, but no further.

Staring into the stormy depths darkened by shadows, emerald eyes narrowed with thought.  "Have I seen you before?"

Ward promptly cleared his throat and replied, "Squall has been working in the kitchens for a few years, my Lord.  I imagine you have come across him at some point during that time."

"'Squall'?" Seifer asked while continuing his examination of the silent man who had yet to turn away his gaze.  "Hn, I suppose you are right.  I would have recognized such an unusual name."

"If there is nothing else, my Lord, then I believe your son is waiting for you."

The nobleman grunted out a noise of agreement, but his eyes remained lock onto pale blue.  Despite his earlier detection of fear within the servant, Seifer couldn't imagine that the brunet was truly afraid.  A fearful man did not sport a defiant gaze like the one this 'Squall' held.  Perhaps it was... wariness, instead of fear.

"My Lord," Ward grumbled in his deep voice, interrupting the intense eye contact as the nobleman reflectively turned to his steward.  "Leander is waiting."

Scowling to make his irritation known, Seifer returned his attention to the servant to discover that the man had gone back to collecting the fallen dishes and was near ready to make his escape.  "Very well.  But as a warning to you, 'Squall', I suggest that you learn the proper way to apologize before we meet again."

"Yes, m'lord," the brunet muttered before he lifted the filled tray and deftly stood such that he stepped around the large blond in the same movement.

Watching the retreating form, Seifer was bothered by the fuzzy recognition he held for the young man, the brunet perhaps only a year or two younger than himself.  But someone beside his eternally bothersome valet interrupted his thoughts for a third time.

"Father!"

Turning around with a warm smile crossing his lips, Seifer quickly knelt down to receive a strong hug from his small son.  After a time, the blond pushed back the young boy and gazed into the soft green eyes of the six-year-old.  Spots of freckles caused by too much sun crossed the boy's small nose, his complexion otherwise refusing to darken further than a vague tan.  Thick chocolate brown hair was tied back at his neck, though plenty of the shoulder-length strands had escaped to curl slightly along side his face.

And while he casually examined his son, Seifer thought for the hundredth time that he could only see himself in the boy's eyes.  Everything else about the child was far more delicate in some way.  Certainly Leander had his streaks of foolhardiness which only young boys could survive and talk about later, but the child had a sharp mind as well.  An almost frightening mind considering his age, but the nobleman knew that the boy's unusual heritage had plenty to do with that.

Escaping his father's hold, Leander grabbed onto a large hand and tugged forward.  "Come on, Father.  I'm hungry."

And so, Seifer was dragged into the dining hall to share lunch with his son.  It was a comical affair with the father and child seated at the corner of a large table meant for dozens of guests, but accustomed to that setting, the twosome didn't pay attention to anything else except their conversation and the meal at hand.  Leander spoke about his lessons when prompted, but quickly changed the subject to horses, which then led to stories from Seifer concerning the few years he had spent in the cavalry of the Emperor's army.  It was a frequent topic between father and son, but the dark-haired youth never seemed to tire of the stories, his soft green eyes shining with interest as he listened to every word.

"... And, as you know, noblewomen are the worst to rescue.  Their thoughts are tainted with fairy tales and romance novels which never refer to escaping on muddy roads, sleeping on the hard ground, and eating whatever you can find.  There was this one time when my group was enlisted to save the daughter of a general--"

The main doors to the dining hall abruptly opened, interrupting the nobleman's tale as he turned to glare at the intruders.

"Raijin!  Fuujin!" Leander yelled happily as he ran to the mismatched pair.

Dressed in an opened blue vest and dark pants, the muscular man named 'Raijin' bent down to lift the boy up off the ground as if the child weighed nothing.  Leander laughed at the handling, and then squealed when tossed higher into the air.

"Careful," scolded the woman to the side of the dark-haired man.  Though petite in both height and frame, the woman called 'Fuujin' wore similar blue and black clothing which identified her as a former soldier of the Imperial Army, but in addition there was a small shield strapped to her arm which labeled her as a ranking officer.  Adjusting the band to her eye patch, her single crimson eye watched closely as Raijin gently lowered the young boy to the ground.  With a bright smile and flushed cheeks, Leander turned to give Fuujin a hug, which she accepted with a kiss to dark brown hair.

"Well, well, I wasn't expecting you two for another week," Seifer stated from his seat at the table.

"We're just that good, y'know," Raijin replied, his brown eyes shifting to the boy as he refrained from further explanations.

"Are you staying this time?" Leander asked while still holding onto the white-haired woman.

Raijin chuckled.  "Depends on what your daddy says, but we won't be here tonight.  Fu and I haven't seen our home in months, y'know."

"Ander, come here," Seifer called to his pouting son.  Smirking at the boy, he rested a heavy hand on dark hair.  "Now, I don't remember raising you to be a spoiled child."

His pout deepening, Leander declared, "But they've been gone too long.  They haven't seen me ride a horse yet."

"Spoiled brat," the nobleman teased while ruffling the boy's hair, earning himself an irritated glare as his son pulled away to fix the ruined ponytail.  "Well, for your information, these two aren't going anywhere for at least another month, so they'll have plenty of time to see you ride."

Annoyance lost to excitement, Leander smiled brightly.  "Thank you, Father."

"I'm not doing this for you, kid.  I simply have some business closer to home for them to look into.  And speaking of business..."

His frown returning, the boy asked, "You're still going to take me riding today, right?"

"Just like I promised, but after your tutoring session."

"A-aw, do I haveta have tutoring today?"

"When you talk like that, then yes, you have to endure your lessons.  But Lord Aveno hasn't arrived yet, so you are free to play until then."

"Master Dobe isn't coming again?" Leander asked softly.

"He was very sick, Ander, but I hear that he is slowly recovering.  Anyhow, his apprentice is knowledgeable enough.  You should study hard and make Master Dobe proud with how much you've improved in his absence."

"Yes, Father," the boy surrendered in a weak tone.  "May I go now?"

"Of course, but don't get too filthy before your lessons."

Leander nodded once before turning and running to the side entrance, most likely heading to the kitchens to be pampered by the women of the household.

Chuckling as he approached the table, Raijin asked, "Weren't you the one who used avoid your tutors by locking them in closets?"

"Hn, and torment them otherwise.  But that boy is far smarter than I'll ever be, and that is why I won't let him get away with his tricks or excuses."  Seifer waved his hand toward the empty chairs closest to him.  "Have a seat.  We have other things to discuss which are more important than your amusement at me being a father."

Sitting heavily on the seat once occupied by Leander, Raijin ran a finger through the desert pudding which the boy had left half-eaten.  "Everything went smoothly, boss.  The mayor of Kersy is happy to deal with ya."

Shaking her head as the man licked the pudding from his finger, Fuujin added a muttered, "Greedy fuck."

"I take it that you didn't like Sir Bachman?" Seifer asked with a broad smirk.

Her right eye narrowed, the woman asked simply, "Kill him?"

Laughing, the blond nobleman sat back in his chair.  "If he doesn't resign gracefully when I demand it of him, then I'll let you handle the pig yourself.  But until then, I prefer using less... messy methods."  After ringing the bell resting on the table, Seifer waited until the mostly finished plates of lunch had been cleared away before he focused cold emerald eyes on the woman of white hair.  "Now, tell me everything that happened.  Every action and every word."

Though wrapping an arm around her midsection in an uncomfortable pose, Fuujin spoke at length in a quiet voice which didn't resemble the brash tone she had used previously.  She was interrupted only a few times with questions from the nobleman, her narrative otherwise complete and detailed to Seifer's liking.  Raijin spoke when prompted, but was mostly left to enjoy the pudding he had rescued from the quick hands of the servants.

Once Fuujin completed her extensive report, Seifer sighed deeply.  "It's almost disappointing when these idiots are willing to sell the lives of their people for nothing more than a chunk of gold.  And the fact that he touched you... I won't forgive him for that.  You may get your blood after all, my lady."

Fuujin smiled at the words, but any further comment was interrupted by loud banging on the side doors.  Startled, three heads turned to stare at the double doors just as one opened to reveal a sight which made Seifer's heart pause in panic.  Knocking his seat over as he stood, the blond rushed to his young son who was still holding onto the door handle in support.  His clothes torn and bloodied, Leander merely stared forward with wide green eyes as tears slipped down his pale face.

Seifer knelt before his son and promptly checked the small body for the injuries which could account for the amount of blood staining expensive cloth.  "Holy Hyne, Leander.  What happened?  Are you hurt?"

"My arm..." the boy muttered and winced when a large hand prodded the deep injury hidden beneath torn cloth.

"Shit, is that a bite mark?  And there are scratches everywhere..."  Turning around sharply, Seifer ordered, "Fuujin, go get Kinneas.  Take whatever horse you want, just get him here now."

The white-haired woman didn't waste a moment as she ran out of the dining hall, leaving her sluggish partner behind for any further orders from the blond nobleman.  From the opened doorway, Ward stepped inside with a questioning expression, the previous noise and Fuujin's rushed exit most likely alerting the large man from whatever task he had been attending to.  Pale blue eyes widened at the sight of his young master, but he was silenced by a subtle signal from Seifer.

"Daddy..."

Returning his attention to the injured boy, Seifer placed a comforting hand against messed hair.  "It's alright, Ander.  Kinneas will clean you up just fine."

"No... no!" Leander cried as shock cleared from his soft green eyes.  "Squall's hurt!  You haveta help him!"

"'Squall'...?  Wait, that servant?  What does he--"

"Please, Father!" the boy begged as he took hold of his father's hand and tugged on it frantically.  "Those wuffs will kill him!"

"Wolves?"  When the child didn't answer except to pull even harder, Seifer jerked his son close and used a strong hold to form eye contact.  "Calm down, Ander, and listen to me.  I'll help Squall, but I won't risk getting you hurt again.  Can you tell me where he is?"

"Un, near the back gate.  Where we go riding."

Nodding that he understood, Seifer pushed up from the ground to stare down at his boy.  "You are to go to your room and wait for me there.  Ward will help you clean up, and don't you argue with me, young man," the blond stated as reddened lips parted to speak.  "Raijin, you'll come with me."

Ignoring the calls to hurry from Leander, the nobleman walked to the back entrance with his typical fast stride.  After a brief side trip to retrieve a battered sword from the weapon shed and allowing Raijin to his choosing of a spear, Seifer led the way for the mile long trip to the north gate of his expansive estate.

 

{Continued}

 

Author's Whining -- Why the hell this chapter wouldn't end, I don't know, but I decided to split it into two separate chapters.  Anyway, I've had this idea for a very long time, well over a year, and during that entire time, Miss Dincht continued to harass me about writing this story.  That said, blame her from everything which happens in this story since I would have never written it without her tenacity.  It's probably going to be a fairly long story (I'm guesstimating seven chapters at this vague point), and I hope it isn't going to be too boring for you all.