For Nothing, For Everything
December
2007

 

Beyond the rocky foothills laced with frost, past the caverns of dark crystal, and within the jungle of wide leaves and thick vines laid the infamous Shumi village.  Contrary to the folklore that spoke of shelters built with dried bones and bloody mud, the village was simple in nature with numerous commonplace huts surrounding a huge domed structure.  The shrine honoring Ifrit had been built in the long past from a collection of lofty trees that were twisted and tied with their own vines, the trees then growing over time to form the living structure cherished by the Shumi.  Set far apart from that respected shrine and the large huts of white wood stood a single stone building, its dark color giving it the appearance of a misplaced cave instead of the home it served on rare occasion.

Seated inside that blemish within the peaceful jungle, Squall watched the stirring village beyond the window and dully wondered if the Shumi resented the magically created structure that couldn't be harmed by any normal weapon.  Dzieden had denied it once, claiming that the Shumi could feel the spirit of Shiva residing in the rock and they were pleased that she could rest near the shrine dedicated to her lover.  Squall knew it was a lie, but at the time, he could also recognized the effort by the Shumi clan to help him feel safe and to give him time to heal, time he had greatly needed after the unwanted pregnancy and leaving his child behind.

With an abrupt kick, the child within him stirred to life and encouraged Squall to adjust his position on a wide chair covered with soft furs and feather-stuffed pillows.  The piece of furniture was the latest addition to the small home, everything donated by the females of the village who had been horrified to learn of the sparse living conditions for the sorcerer burdened with life.  The bits and pieces of furniture made the place feel more like a true home, but Squall had only to touch the dark walls to know the truth.  Magic burned within the stone, his own energy that plainly reflected his state of mind from the time when he had created the small building.  It wasn't a pleasant reminder of the past and Squall feared the remembered emotions that had been buried deep in his soul.

"Mommy...?"

Squall looked at the thick rug separating the two rooms and smiled softly at the appearance of his son, Leander rubbing his eye with a fisted hand.  Choosing to ignore the boy's use of the hated parental term, Squall asked him gently, "Did you sleep well?"

Leander grumbled an irritated, "Yeah," as he stepped toward the seated brunet.  Without asking permission, he proceeded to climb onto the chair that wasn't quite big enough to seat the two of them.  With an amused sigh, Squall helped to move the boy such that Leander rested his legs on the sorcerer's lap, space that was beginning to decrease after almost four months of pregnancy.

Jade-colored eyes still moist after his lengthy nap, Leander complained, "My chest still hurts."

"It will fade," Squall replied with a knowing smile.  The lesson for the day had involved the movement of fire, an important concept required for numerous spells that included those to freeze a man in place and to destroy any obstacle, magical or otherwise.  Leander had attempted to control the fire with the intention to encase a small stone in frost, but the unstable element had rebelled and chilled the boy's lungs instead.  "Moving fire is a difficult skill and nearly every sorcerer is scorned by the element the first time they try.  But you're quite lucky, cub.  My father once told me that he nearly lost his hand to frostbite when he first attempted it."

His smile tentative, Leander asked, "What about you?"

"... I'm a rare sorcerer whose primary element is fire.  It has never fought against my desires."

"Oh," Leander said with a disappointed frown, and then fished the silver necklace out from beneath his rumbled shirt.  Thumbing the image of the roaring lion, the boy asked, "Did Grandfather become a great sorcerer?"

Squall breathed a laugh at the concept of Laguna Loire being a 'great sorcerer'.  "No one could compare to your grandfather.  But don't let this worry you, Leander.  You will grow stronger in time, I promise you."

Appearing far from assured, Leander rested his head against a narrow shoulder.  "But it's so hard and I want to help Father keep you safe."

Momentarily surprised by the admission, Squall didn't reply as he stared down at the young boy.  It was a strange reversal to be cared for and protected by the child he had guarded in secret for too many years, and though a part of him bristled at the idea that he needed protection, Squall felt an unrealized weight lift from his chest.  His blue-gray eyes shining soft silver, the brunet brushed his lips against Leander's worried brow and whispered his thanks to the small boy.

Interrupting the quiet moment, the heavy rug at the entrance of their home fluttered open without warning.  Seifer took one step inside before noticing the eyes focused on him, and with pale lips settling into a deep scowl, the lord commented, "I thought Dez told you to rest in bed, not on a wooden chair."

Squall shook his head at the lord's use of 'Dez' instead of the Shumi's true name.  "It was a suggestion, one you forced out from Dzieden when you didn't believe his word that I'm fine."

"You fainted."

"I tripped, you idiot.  Only you think I fainted."

Seifer opened his mouth in further argument, but instead surrendered with a growled insult toward sorcerers and their pets.  An unnoticed basket was set onto a nearby table, the sight promptly drawing the attention of the seated brunet.  "Kasir mentioned that the ceremony is taking place shortly before sunset.  We should probably get going."

Hardly hearing the man's words, Squall continued to stare at the basket covered by a gray cloth.  A faint fragrance teased his senses and stole away his focus until he realized what could be hidden within the basket.  "Treranja?"

"Hn?  Oh, you mean this weird fruit Sekre made me pick?" Seifer asked, referring to Kasir's second son.  He then removed a large red citrus from the basket and glared at it while grumbling, "I climbed a fucking thirty-foot tree for these things, so they better be as good as he swears."

Promptly averting his gaze from the sight of strong fingers digging into the fruit, Squall placed a hand on Leander's shoulder and encouraged the drowsy boy to move.  Freed from the heavy weight, the sorcerer pushed himself up from the wide chair.  "And what exactly did Sekre say when he described this fruit?"

"I don't know," the blond replied distractedly while pealing away the rind of the fruit and revealing the sweet pulp inside.  "Something about it being so good that even a wild beast would eat it out of your hand."

"Obviously Sekre needs to work on his vocabulary."

Confused, Seifer glanced up from his attempt to open the fruit, only then noticing the dark-haired sorcerer who had moved directly in front of him.  Before Seifer could voice a questioning word, Squall wrapped a firm hand around the lord's wrist and stole the Treranja from the loose hold.  Pale eyes were then drawn to the sight of thick crimson juice that coated callused fingers.  Only able to endure a moment of resistance, Squall leaned forward and used the very tip of his tongue to lap at the bittersweet juice.  Seifer inhaled sharply at the caress of the dexterous tongue, that turning into a low groan when a finger was drawn into the sorcerer's warm mouth.

"Shit, I guess that the kid meant 'lion' instead of 'beast'?"

Instead of a vocal reply, Squall chose to move onto the other two fingers covered in juice, unable to remember if the crimson fruit had always tasted so amazing.

"Father, Father, can I try some?"

Startled by his son's innocent request, Squall jerked back from his tasting and released his hold on Seifer's wrist, much to the disappointment of the large blond.  Heat burned within the sorcerer's chest, but Squall managed a normal expression when he tore apart a section of the Treranja and handed it to the curious youth.  Leander stuck out a careful tongue to taste the red citrus, and once discovering the flavor to his liking, he bit deeply into the juicy fruit.

Returning his attention to the lord, Squall hid a wince at the man's overly interested expression.  "We should go.  It would be rude to be late."

"And Hyne forbid we're rude to our hosts," Seifer agreed with a broad smirk.  "Though perhaps we should leave the fruit here for later, hmm?"

"That would be best," Squall commented as he placed the opened fruit back into the basket, and then hesitated before tearing apart a small section of the Treranja.  Avoiding the gaze of intense emerald, Squall slipped past the large man and exited the home without waiting for the others to follow.

They walked at a languid pace toward the heart of the village, Seifer using the opportunity to question his son about the day's lesson.  Once hearing how the fire element had rebelled and attacked the inexperienced sorcerer, Seifer voiced deep concern to Squall about pushing the boy too hard.  Squall didn't respond to the slight against his teaching methods, but instead finished the simple taste of the crimson citrus that he had craved during his first pregnancy, a small detail that Squall never expected Sekre to remember after so many years.  The additional fact that the Moomba had shared the information with Seifer was a both relieving and worrisome idea.  Kasir's family and Dzieden knew many things about the dark-haired sorcerer, things Squall had assumed would remain a secret within the village hidden away in dark mountains, but that assumption had never accounted for the existence of Seifer Almasy.

It took little time to reach the living structure that honored Ifrit, the shrine already surrounded by a large collection of grey-skinned Shumi and scarlet-colored Moomba.  Squall paused momentarily before choosing an empty place near an old hut that had seen many years of hot sunlight and unforgiving storms.  In an awkward slump, Squall managed to sit down on the mossy ground without soliciting Seifer's help, the action making the blond huff in annoyance.

Leander frowned as he looked over the crowd.  "Why are we back so far?"

"This isn't our ceremony to celebrate," Squall replied softly as he leaned back against the wall of straw and dried mud.  "Our human eyes may watch this event only because Kasir allows it.  In respect of his trust, we shouldn't interfere."

"Oh," Leander said in a child's response that he didn't truly understand what was happening around him, but he would still act as he was told.  "Can we still see everything from here?"

"Everything of importance, yes," Squall replied with a slight smile as he watched Leander lift up onto tiptoes, straining to see something that wasn't there.

With a low groan, Seifer sat next to his dark-haired lover.  "As long as we're invited to the feast afterward, I don't give a shit where we have to sit.  Hyne, you wouldn't believe the things they put me through while collecting food for tonight."

"Retrieving snared animals from thistle bushes, catching water snakes from a muddy pond, and of course, climbing very tall trees for a few pieces of fruit."

With open surprise, the nobleman stared speechlessly at the smaller man.

"Need I remind you that I trained here for five years when I was younger?  Though I suppose that I should have warned you - the Moomba are quite creative when it comes to tormenting newcomers."

Seifer blinked dumbly before shaking his head and muttering something about 'only eight-fucking-years-old', referring to the sorcerer's age when first introduced to the Shumi.

A quiet whistle sounded amongst the crowds, the barely audible noise catching on within the crowd as the Shumi breathed out whistling tones and the Moomba howled without reserve, the two sounds combining into a complex harmony that rang throughout the valley and returned with a complementary echo.  Seifer tensed at the unexpected nose while Leander watched the display with a slightly opened mouth, neither daring to ask what was happening.  Squall simply straightened and looked toward the entrance of the shrine, humming under his breath to add his additional blessing to the ceremony about to take place.

Thick vines decorated with beads and sticks parted in a clatter, the sight encouraging the crowd to increase their voices as Dzieden appeared from within the shrine.  Dressed in a bright purple robe, he smiled with a slight lift of his enormous chin before stepping aside and holding back the dark vines.  A pair of Shumi stepped out into the afternoon light, both at least half the size of the Shumi elder.  Their appearance caused a few whooping calls from the crowd, Squall easily assuming that Kasir and his sons were announcing their pleasure of the youngest son's choice in becoming a Moomba.

"Which one is that kitten's son?" Seifer murmured into Squall's ear, using the opportunity to slip an arm around the brunet's waist.

The sorcerer couldn't fault the man for his question - male or female, the Shumi had no identifying features to easily separate the two genders.  "The one in red is Kehrei. It symbolizes his choice to transform into a Moomba.  His partner, Peirra is dressed in brown to show her chosen role to become his earth and everything that supports him."

Seifer hummed lightly in a show of understanding, but his lingering hand at the brunet's waist made Squall suspicious about the lord's true intentions in asking the question.

The pair stepped in front of the crowd, shortly followed by Dzieden and another Shumi who held a collection of brightly colored vials within a dark wooden bowl.  Dzieden glanced across the crowd, his dark eyes briefly meeting the sorcerer's gaze in quiet acknowledgement, before he waved a large hand of tentacle-like fingers.  The high-pitched whistles and excited howls died down such that only echoes could be heard for many seconds.

Dzieden began the ritual with a version of the traditional speech Squall had heard several times before.  It was spoken in the Shumi's tongue, a language neither Seifer nor Leander could understand, but Squall knew it would be disrespectful and bad luck to translate for them after the elder had silenced his people's call.  In addition to that understanding, the sorcerer didn't believe the words held much importance in the ceremony and wasn't motivated to repeat the sugarcoated passages about trust, faith, and love.

Barely listening to the Shumi Elder, Squall instead watched as Kehrei was given the wooden bowl.  With the help of his partner, large fingers removed stoppers from the numerous vials and the contents only known by the elders were added to the bowl.  Every vial emptied, Kehrei waited until Dzieden's signal before he reached to his side and removed a polished dagger that Squall recognized from the transformation ceremonies of Kasir's older sons.  Kehrei placed the knife across the rim of the bowl and slowly lowered to his knees before presenting them to his chosen mate.  Peirra smiled a Shumi's smile as she took the knife without hesitation and proceeded to lift the sleeve of her robe to reveal the relatively small palm of her long-fingered hand.  First pressing the flat of the blade between her eyes, she whispered a short prayer to Ifrit, a prayer Kehrei echoed as he lifted the bowl higher.

Expecting the addition of blood, Squall smiled as Leander gasped in surprise when Peirra cut her hand and allowed the nearly black blood to flow freely.  Dzieden continued to speak as the thick blood dripped onto the mixture of powders, a mist of smoke appearing over the rim of the bowl.  Eventually Peirra's hand began to shake, but she wasn't required to suffer much longer as Dzieden stepped close and wrapped the sliced hand in a silken cloth that matched her robes.

Still kneeling, Kehrei pressed the bowl against his forehead and then against his chest before lifting the bowl to his mouth.  Squall detected only the barest hesitation from the Shumi, one for which the other Moomba wouldn't later mock him, and Kehrei drank the concoction in a rapid string of gulps.  Then there was a delay, as there was always a delay, before the potion took its effect.

A mere wisp of smoke from the Shumi's mouth was the only warning before Kehrei burst into flames.

As the Shumi's entire body was obscured by unnaturally crimson fire, the observing Moomba broke out into mournful howls, each remembering their own experience while torment by Ifrit's unforgiving touch.  Squall was thankful for that covering noise as Seifer cursed loudly and Leander cried out in shock, the outbursts typically frowned upon during the important ceremony.  The young boy then looked pleadingly at Squall, his moist green eyes worried for the life of the Shumi.  The sorcerer placed a silencing finger at his lips and nodded toward the shrine, encouraging Leander to keep watching.  Far from soothed, Leander bit his lower lip and reluctantly returned his attention to the ceremony.

Quickly losing its initial strength, the vibrant fire twisted and curled within itself, eventually revealing a dark form within the flames.  A high-pitched howl joined the others, a young voice that called out in pain and loneliness.  Unafraid of the flames, Peirra hurried forward and wrapped her arms around the burning figure, her presence acting much like dousing water as the fire twitched stubbornly before disappearing into the crimson fur of the newly born Moomba.

Nearly half the size of his original form, Kehrei stared with large amber eyes at the crowd of creatures he didn't know.  Large paws clung onto his mate, his vie'taos, and Peirra whispered gentle words to her frightened kri'sange despite the claws digging into her defenseless skin.  Dzieden concluded the ceremony with a blessing to Ifrit, and as everyone present understood the fear of the reborn child, the crowd dispersed quietly to a different location where the feast was to take place.  Only Kehrei's and Peirra's direct families remained to reintroduce themselves to the confused Moomba.

While Leander continued to stare with amazement at Kehrei's new form, Squall glanced down at the arm squeezing a touch too tightly around his waist.  He glared at Seifer with the intent to complain, but something in the man's stunned gaze kept Squall silent.  It was a familiar expression of fearful comprehension, an expression that Squall recognized well from the night when Ultimecia had visited the Almasy Estate and Seifer stumbled upon the sorcerer and Leander hidden within the dark shadows of death.  The concept of sorcerers and magic had been something innocent until that night, and though Seifer had experienced the magic involved with the Massacre, it meant something completely different to have that same magic threaten those he loved most, especially when he was powerless to fight against it.

Seeing that troubled expression for a second time, Squall wasn't certain what words could be said.

"Is that your idea of love?"

Startled, Squall drew back slightly.  "What?"

Continuing to watch the Moomba and his vie'taos, Seifer clarified, "That you must sacrifice everything you know, everything you are to be with the one person you trust more than any other... Is that what love means to you?"

"... No," Squall replied with small laugh.  "While I respect everything that the Shumi endure for love, I don't believe humans are capable of that same love."

Seifer turned to stare at the sorcerer, the nobleman's eyes dark green with an unnamed emotion.

"Be realistic, Seifer.  We can never experience this ritual, so how can we claim to experience their love?"  Shaking his head, Squall continued in a softer voice, "No, it's the same as someone claiming they know what it means to love a child, but you don't realize the intensity of that love until your own child is threatened."

Thinking through those words, Seifer eventually released a surrendering breath as he leaned forward and pressed his forehead against dark chestnut hair.  He placed his free hand at a smooth cheek and rubbed callused fingers across soft skin.  "I love you, but I fear you will never believe me."

Unable to see anything more than the lord's thick neck and a broad shoulder, Squall remained completely still within the heated hold.  At first confused by his shaken state, the sorcerer abruptly realized that he had never heard the direct words of love from Seifer.  The flirtatious lord always asked, 'have I earned your love,' or similar questions and never particularly commented on his own emotions toward the dark-haired man.  But while the words were never spoken, Squall didn't doubt the man's obsession and desire.  It was plain to see in the green-eyed gaze, and yet Squall was still surprised by the deeply toned voice telling him what he already knew.

Seifer exhaled softly and began to pull away with a barely audible apology.

Squall promptly grabbed the retreating hand and kept it in place at his cheek, but the reflexive action didn't provide the sorcerer with any words.  So he simply met the lord's confused gaze and continued to hold onto the sword-roughened hand.

Green eyes shifted as Seifer studied the face before him.  "Squall... I don't want to assume--"

"Daddy, Squall, everyone left and I'm hungry.  Can we go now?"

The interruption seemed to steal away the nobleman's strength and Seifer slumped forward while laughing bitterly under his breath.  "Hyne, who was supposed to teach him to be silent until spoken to?"

Squall commented lightly, "Leander trained hard this morning, so of course he's hungry."

"It doesn't help that you always take his side."  Sitting up straight, Seifer brushed dark hair away from blue-gray eyes.  "Will I ever get an answer from you?"

"... Not today."

Seifer gazed at the sorcerer, and despite what Squall expected at his reply, the lord smiled softly.  "Tomorrow, then."

Before Squall could argue, the large blond moved sharply to grab Leander in strong hold, the boy squealing in surprise while Seifer threatened to throw him into the closest pond if he ever interrupted an important conversation again.  By the boy's laughter, Squall was fairly certain that Leander wasn't learning his lesson at that moment, but he wasn't about to stop their play.  However, it was somewhat disconcerting when Seifer held Leander upside-down by the ankles and the boy could only giggle out his complaint.

With a tired sigh, the sorcerer used the wall to lift himself off the ground, and once standing, he placed a hand at his curved midsection.  In a faint murmur, he warned the unborn child, "It had better not be your fault that I'm losing to this fool."


Blond hair spiked with sweat and his face streaked with mud, Seifer licked the bloodied backside of his hand and grumbled at his sparring partner, "Hyne-damned kitten, stop using your fucking claws."

<"Stop moving and I won't have to grab you, sunshine,"> Kasir retorted in his natural language.

Squall smiled softly at the growled reply that Seifer wouldn't understand without a translator, but it didn't seem to matter to the blond lord.  The man's shirt removed and his hands balled into loose fists, Seifer was a mess of bloody cuts and sweat that shone in the late morning sun, an unsurprising outcome given the weaponless nature of their spar.  Kasir appeared to be in a far better state than his opponent, but Squall knew that the H'rugur was rarely driven to the point of heavy pants and matted fur.  It was an impressive display of skill that the unarmed human was giving the Moomba some trouble and Squall doubted that Seifer was aware what it meant to be standing after nearly an hour of fighting with Kasir.

Seated on a warm patch of grass, Squall watched the exchange of punches and words while he lazily toyed with the dark brown hair of his resting son.  Exhausted from both lessons and hard play, Leander dozed with half of his body curled on the lap of the sorcerer.  Meanwhile, at the boy's feet was a small and equally tired Kehrei, the Moomba only able to sway his tail while purring softly.  The ceremony taking place a week earlier, the reborn Moomba was clumsy on his feet and could only speak a few select words, but his bright amber eyes spoke of rare intelligence for a recently transformed Shumi.

<"My, my, how lovely.  I haven't seen our H'rugur this excited in years.">

With a slight smile at the whispered language of the Shumi, Squall replied in kind, <"Seifer appears to be enjoying himself as well.">

Dzieden chortled lightly as he stepped close and stood beside the seated man.  <"And what of you?  It's hard to imagine that you would be satisfied while watching others battle.">

<"I have learned that there are more battles in this life than those dealing with fists and weapons.">

<"A hard lesson, indeed,"> the Shumi commented as he glanced down and smiled at the sight of the new Moomba resting on top of Leander's feet.  <"So this is where young Kehrei has vanished to.  His vie'taos only mentioned that he went off to play.">

<"They literally ran into each other this morning, and after tending to their bumps and bruises, they haven't separated since,"> Squall explained with his own pleased smile.  The stress of traveling and their first meeting with the Shumi had left Leander on edge over the past weeks, but one afternoon of play with the curious Moomba had helped Leander to regain his excited smiles and free laughter.  And though Seifer had shown vocal concern over the young Moomba's claws, the blond lord was defeated the moment Leander began to laugh while wrestling with the feline.  Neither Seifer or Squall had realized that it had grown increasing rare to hear the carefree laughter from their son.

<"How interesting.  A newly born Moomba rarely wants to leave the side of his vie'taos.  Perhaps this is another play of destiny for these two to meet and form the same kinship you and Kasir share.">

<"Your old age has gotten the better of you, Dzieden.  Kasir hated me when I first came to this village.">

<"A hatred you returned in full, if I remember correctly, but obviously your sons are far wiser and simply decided to move directly into kinship.">

Squall chose not to argue, unable to deny that his initial rivalry with Kasir had been a little bit more than foolish.

<"But I'm afraid that I didn't come here to speak about the past,"> the Shumi Elder stated softly.  <"It has been many days since your arrival and I thought that you would like to have some insight about our discussions concerning your request to grant Seifer-Almasy the aid of the Shumi.">

The dark-haired sorcerer straightened at the offer of information.  <"The Elders still haven't reached a decision?">

<"Frankly, there is some confusion about your connection to this golden-haired human.">

Squall gazed at his sweating and bleeding lover, surprised when shame didn't fill his senses at their relationship being questioned by the Shumi he deeply respected.  <"Is it because we are both males?">

<"While that is the source of some curiosity, it is your son and coming child that is most bewildering to our people.  For our kind, the bond between vie'taos and kri'sange is an absolute necessity before a child can be born, but you and Seifer-Almasy do not share a bond despite him smelling of your blood.  In addition to that confusion, there is the question about what role this human played in shattering your soul.">

<"Seifer was not to blame for that,"> Squall argued lowly, hating the necessity in repeating himself time and time again.

<"Perhaps not, but you are quite loved here.  And do not argue with me,"> Dzieden warned with a whistling breath when pale lips parted in mid-retort.  <"You may not speak much, but we all appreciate your knack of proving your worth without filling our ears with meaningless talk.  It's a rare and precious trait.">

Squall breathed out a defeated sigh, unable to understand why people continued to place him on an unreachable pedestal.  Looking down at his son, the sorcerer brushed a fallen leaf from rumbled and dirtied clothing.  <"It was chance that brought me to Seifer.  And even if I were to blame him for that single night, then I would also have to blame Leander for the months of sickness and shame he caused me.  Neither of them meant to cause me harm, but I was ruined all the same.">

<"... I believe I understand,"> the Shumi commented in a somber tone.  <"But that still does not answer the question concerning your... unusual connection with this Seifer-Almasy.  You seem enraptured by him, and yet you have not chained his soul to yours.  Why?">

Squall had no desire to answer the question, one he had asked himself numerous times since he had mysteriously landed in the lord's bed.  But Dzieden was a respected voice amongst the Elders and Squall knew that the ultimate decision to aid Seifer would come from Dzieden's understanding and support.  Eyes closed and a hand pressed against his chest, Squall explained, <"Even if we were to assume that Shiva would allow me to join with another man... My heart is full of holes, Dzieden - first my mother, and then my father and uncle were ripped from me.  There have been too many broken bonds and I fear that if I join with Seifer and he fails in front of Ultimecia... My heart doesn't have the chance to survive.">

A throaty hum of consideration left the Shumi.  <"I hear your words, but have you considered that Seifer-Almasy may fail because you refuse to bond with him?">

<"... You don't know that.">

<"I don't know many things, child, but even I can sense that Ifurit favors that human.">

Startled by the claim, Squall looked up and focused stormy eyes on the sparring blond.  "Ifrit...?  Why would he care about Seifer?"

Dzieden didn't comment on the sorcerer slipping back into the language of humans.  <"No mortal can know the intent of the gods.  However, amongst the Eahler, we find it interesting that you, who is loved by Shezva, has found someone who has gained the attention of our guardian spirit.  And between you both, a son and daughter have been created.  That cannot be a trick of Faet alone.">

Eyes wide but unseeing, Squall couldn't find the breath for anything more than a hoarse whisper.  "... a daughter...?"

<"Of course.  Have you not felt her energy for yourself?">

Hardly hearing the response to his half-formed question, the sorcerer could no longer recognize the warm rays of sunlight or the grunts of a spar for what they were.  Instead, he felt the burn of fire and heard the groans of fatally injured guardsmen as his eyes saw images of the past.  A woman of immortal beauty strode down the length of the Grand Chamber, her dress of pure white radiating a subtle glow as she stepped over headless bodies and severed limbs.  Darkly painted lips settled into a mockery of smile as she neared three men and a single woman.  There were words, but Squall couldn't understand them in the moment before the man of long hair and forest green eyes was torn apart by howling winds.  The two guards were instantly sealed in diamond-like ice, leaving a single man of spiky chocolate-brown hair and iron-gray eyes that shone with inner torment.  The woman stepped directly to the lone man, visibly unconcerned about any retaliation from her final prey.  A pale hand stroked his stubble-roughened cheek, her lengthy fingernails then trailing down his neck and to his vulnerable chest.  There was a purring whisper of 'Thank you, Daddy' before--

"Squall!"

Light tinged with gold flooded the sorcerer's vision, freeing him from sights of the past as he blinked confusedly and eventually focused on the face directly in from of him.  "...Seifer...?"

The blond lord breathed out a relieved, "Thank Hyne," but didn't hold the sorcerer's attention for long when Squall heard the pitiful cries for 'Mommy'.  Recognizing that there was a heavy weight at his arm, Squall glanced to his side to find Leander clutching his forearm with unforgiving strength.  Though inwardly troubled by the fearful emotions radiating from the dark-haired boy, Squall couldn't make himself comfort his son, not when the Griever pendant Leander always wore hung outside of winter clothes in plain sight.  He could feel every hole in his heart and every crack in his battered soul, and with the knowledge that he was on the edge of ruins, Squall held onto his frozen facade that was his last shield against a complete breakdown.

"What in Hyne's name happened. Squall?  You weren't breathing and your eyes were completely gray... Fucking Hell, I thought you were dying.  You aren't supposed to do that me."

"... Do that to you?" Squall muttered numbly, his pale eyes shifting to the lord kneeling directly in front of him.  "Muro-kas soaler'ke, you're the one who did this to me."

With an uncertain breath of laughter, Seifer met the cold gaze and asked, "Is that so?  Then what crimes have I committed this time, princeling?"

Squall felt his lips tighten and curl into a false smile in the moment before his free hand lashed out and grabbed onto damp strands of golden hair, promptly using the hold to jerk Seifer's head into an awkward position.  The lord hissed out a pained complaint, but Squall voiced no concern when he demanded, "Why did you have to tempt Fate?  Why can't you be satisfied with the easy things in life?"

"What?  What are you-- ow, shit!  I got hit there earlier, y'know!"

"So I saw," Squall replied as he twisted blond hair into a tighter hold.  "Tell me, Seifer, when is it enough?  How much further must I be punished for being involved with you?"

"Punished...?"  A faint cerulean hue entered green eyes, the pained and confused expression fading into something more serious when Seifer placed a steady hand on Squall's.  While the brunet refused to release his hold, Seifer was able to relieve enough of the tension to straighten and properly face his lover.  "Is that what you think?  I know that ever since our first meeting, I've been a plague in your life, but... maybe you're right.  Maybe some vindictive god has decided to punish you for being associated to me, and if that's truly the case--"

"No..." Squall interrupted harshly, not wanting to hear the lord's obvious offer to part ways.  "That's not what I meant."

With a failing smile of relief, Seifer asked, "Then say what you mean, princeling."

Squall felt his hand tighten in golden strands, his voice suddenly not wanting to sound.  It was a ridiculous reaction, as if speaking the words was the key to making everything real.  But staring into verdant eyes and seeing the calm arrogance to the lord, Squall was overcome with the need to prove that Seifer was the one at fault yet again.

"Why did you have to say that a daughter would be a daughter?"

The blond stared dumbly at the shorter man, understanding slow to dawn in the mud-smeared face.  In that inevitable moment, Seifer breathed out a shaky laugh and his smile twitched as he attempted to tame his expression.  "Are we... a daughter?"

"Don't sound surprised and don't begin to pretend that you want another sorceress to plague humankind.  If this world comes to ruin, it'll be because you had the arrogant desire to prove me wrong."

Grinning with little restraint, Seifer pried the fingers from his hair and pressed the hand to his chest.  "Trust me, I know that it's a futile effort to prove you wrong.  No, instead I prefer to imagine the grown woman who would inherit your beauty and skill, a near goddess in the world of mortals."

Squall stared at the blond lord, seeing something in the adoring gaze that horrified him.  "You have a name for her."

Startled, Seifer leaned back and eyed the sorcerer.  "I... what?"

"Don't try to play stupid," Squall warned lowly, and then repeated in the same tone of voice, "You have a name for her."

Green eyes narrowed slightly, the blond rightfully wary of his lover's reaction.  "You can't know that."

Done with words, the sorcerer dug his fingernails into the Seifer's bare chest while continuing to focus cold eyes on the dangerous man.

"Ow, shit, I've already been clawed enough today, damn it.  Fine, you're right, but we don't have to decide now.  I was just thinking of ... Verena, for 'sacred wisdom'."

Defeated, Squall closed his eyes at the name spoken with paternal fondness and slumped forward against the broad chest that smelled of sweat and blood.  There was the urge to cry and scream, but Squall refused to show that weakness in front too many curious eyes.  With a cautious touch, a supporting arm wrapped around his shoulders and Squall grudgingly accepted the offer of strength.

After a time of silence, Kasir awkwardly cleared his throat before asking, "Is it a human belief to not like females?"

Seifer tried to hide a laugh at the question, but the shaky movements of his body were still clearly felt by the sorcerer.  Squall sighed out his reluctance to continue speaking about what he feared, but when he attempted to sit up, the arm at his back held him in place while Seifer decided to reply in his stead.

"Squall didn't want to bring another sorceress into the world.  He refuses to believe that she will become something better than that murdering whore of an empress."

With a deep scowl, Squall insisted, "Magic taints the minds of sorceresses.  History has proven it to be true."

"What hissstory do you ssspeak of, Heart of the Lion?"

Surprised by the question from the knowledgeable Shumi Elder, the sorcerer leaned back with more insistence and was relieved when Seifer reluctantly loosened his hold.  Meeting the dark-eyed gaze of the tall creature, Squall said, "You know the history, Dzieden.  In the past millennia, there has been Ultimecia, Jenova, Brahne... and what of Adel?  She attempted to enslave your people in the name of all magic users and created a rift between the Shumi and sorcerers.  Though few have been born, this world has suffered too many times under the control of a sorceress."

"Your wordsss are true, but not complete," Dzieden said softly.  "Have the magic usersss forgotten the sssacrifce of Aerisss?  Or worssse, the human life of Shezva?"

Dark eyebrows furrowed deeply in thought.  "No... Aeris was the daughter of a sorcerer and his wife, a normal human without powers."

Kasir grunted out a deep laugh and asked in his language, <"If that's true, then how did she help to build our temple to Ifurit?  Our legends do not speak of manure that made the trees grow tall.">

Eyes colored dull silver, Squall stared between the Shumi Elder and the Moomba leader, seeing neither as he thought about lessons from his youth.  Aeris Gainsborough was a loved heroine from the long past, a young woman who had saved all life from the destructive powers of Jenova.  The world's energy drained and the elements angry, Aeris had prayed to Hyne and offered her life in exchange for his power to soothe the tormented earth.  That was the story as Squall knew it, but no matter how much he forced his memories, he couldn't recall the identity of her parents even though they should have been honored as well.

"Shiva..." Squall whispered when he couldn't recall additional details about Aeris.  "What did you mean about her 'human life'?"

Dzieden didn't reply directly, his black eyes shining with deep concern.  "I fear there isss much hidden from you, Heart of the Lion.  Isss that why you fear a daughter?"

The sorcerer glanced downward and placed a hand on his vaguely protruding stomach.  "... Ultimecia became insane with her power and murdered my uncle for his role.  Even if what you say is true, I still don't see what may be done to prevent history from repeating itself."

"I won't let that happen," Seifer retorted sharply as he placed rough fingers at Squall's chin and forced pale eyes to meet his determined gaze.  "I will do everything in my power to raise her right and help her control her magic.  But if that isn't enough, if you can see the madness taking her mind... then I swear to kill her by your word."

Squall stared into the depth of poisonous green, unable to see deceit in the lord's eyes.  "You would take the life of your own daughter?"

"I prefer to believe it won't come to that, but if she threatens your life or Leander's, then I will do whatever is necessary."

A small whimper sounded at the promise declared in a rough voice.  Squall glanced at his child, Leander still clinging onto the sorcerer's arm with a determination inherited from his other father.  Eyes of fragile jade met the cooler gaze, the boy clearly worried and confused by the discussion happening around him.

"Why would she try to hurt us?" Leander asked with a shaky voice.

"I don't know," Squall replied softly as he thought of the hatred that shone in Ultimecia's eyes in the moment before she stole the heart of her father.  There had been no questions about his desertion, no hesitation in her decision to kill the man who had given her life.  It made little sense to the single surviving witness to the event.

"Don't pass your prejudice to our son," Seifer half-growled as he leaned down and placed a hand in sleep-messed hair, forcing his son to meet his gaze.  "Listen to me, Leander - this is going to be your little sister, someone who is going to depend on you to protect her and teach her the things big brothers teach their siblings.  Don't think of her as anything else, all right?"

A little wide-eyed, Leander nodded at his father's demand.

"That's my boy," Seifer said with a proud smile.

Squall gazed at the blond and announced in amazement, "You are beyond arrogant."

Cat-like green eyes shifted to the sorcerer and Seifer's smile slipped into a broad smirk.  "It's not arrogance that makes me believe a daughter between us is destined for better things than murder and chaos.  Power can twist anyone's mind, but you will teach her that coaxing a beautiful song from an old flute takes more power, more skill than creating a firestorm to destroy a city."

Stormy eyes widened in subtle surprise before the brunet averted his gaze and scoffed lightly.  "I didn't realize you were actually listening when I said that."

"I've been listening for a long time, my Prince."

When Squall said nothing more, Dzieden spoke out, "I would lisssten to your Ssseifer-Almasssy.  All of the Ealher believe that Ifurit and Shezva have a plan for both your ssson and daughter.  Their livesss may not be the missstakesss you believe."

Squall heard the words of the Shumi Elder, but couldn't think properly with all of the conflicting information and unforgiving emotions battling within his mind.  Returning his gaze to the blond lord, he allowed his eyes to follow the firm lines of Seifer's body while he considered the complete obstinacy of the man who had been both his tormentor and savior in the past years.  No matter what obstacle laid in his path, the nobleman seemed determined to atone for every sin in his past, whether it meant revenging the innocent lives lost in the Massacre or becoming the father he failed to be during Leander's early years.  While Squall found it somewhat tiring, he had to admit it was a rare trait to find someone who refused to surrender in the face of impossible goals.

Reaching out, Squall placed his hand on the solid bicep of the shirtless lord and smiled vaguely when the heated skin jumped at his cold touch.  "Have you ever failed at getting what you wanted?"

"Well, I wouldn't exactly say that it has been easy," Seifer replied with a curious grin.  "But I can't deny having a blessed life."

At the careless comment, Squall found it amazing that their existences were so incredibly different, and yet they had still managed to cross paths while one considered it a blessing and the other had initially considered it a curse.  There was nothing that should have brought them together, and with that thought, Squall began to wonder if the gods truly had a direct role in the creation of their children.

"... I can't do this alone," Squall eventually declared softly, tiredly.

"And you won't," Seifer asserted as he placed a rough hand at the brunet's cheek.  "How many more times do I have to pledge my life to you?"

"It's not your life I want," the sorcerer said bluntly, irritated by the promise that implied death.

"Very well, then what is it that you want?"

Squall didn't reply directly as he glanced downward and placed a hand on the curve of his stomach.  He thought of everything in that moment - the death of his family, the birth of his son, the words of the Shumi Elder - and knew that his soul no longer had the strength to handle everything Fate continued to throw at him.  It wasn't a reality he wanted to face and felt deep exhaustion when he realized there was only one solution that could help him survive the birth of a sorceress.

Squall returned his gaze to searching green eyes and knew everything was going too fast for his peace of mind, but there was no time left to waste.

"Hey, what's happening in that head of yours?" Seifer questioned, unafraid to show his anxiousness.

With no energy left to console the lord, the sorcerer simply said, "I think we should join our souls."

Seifer's quieter "What?" was drowned out by the growled <"With him?!"> from Kasir.

Dzieden attempted to silence the H'rugur, but Kasir had no intention to listen to his Ealher.  <"This is madness, rya prahtr.  If you do this, there is no breaking the chain you forge.  Are you certain this is the one you want in your life for all times?">

Squall didn't look at the Moomba while listening to his argument, and instead continued to lock eyes with the confused lord.  A part of him agreed with Kasir's reasoning, but the sorcerer found it more interesting that when Dzieden had asked why they weren't already bonded, Squall first thought was the outcome of Seifer's death rather than the obvious trouble the blond would be in life.

Ignoring the watchful gaze of onlookers, Squall stretched his body to brush his lips against Seifer's ear and asked in a whisper, "Will you give me what I want?"

Not retreating from that closeness, Seifer responded in a murmur, "Am I allowed to know what it means to 'join souls' before I answer you?"

"It's exactly what it sounds like."

"Then tell me why that kitten over there sounds angry about the idea."

"It's not his decision to make."

Pale lips curled into a disbelieving smirk.  "There is still a reason he's growling like a hungry tiger."

"It makes no difference.  He has yet to witness just how single-minded you can be and that I wouldn't be rid of you whether we joined souls or not."

Seifer hummed out in victory, knowing well that the sorcerer was in his arms only because of his determined nature.  "Even so, if there's one thing I know about you, it's that you hide the details you think no one else needs to know.  Tell me, princeling - what is the downfall to going through with this?"

Squall closed his eyes, not wanting to answer the lord, but also knowing that the man would refuse until given what he wanted.  With a reluctant sigh, the sorcerer said, "If you die, there is a greater chance that I wouldn't survive."

The nobleman glanced down at their son and paused in thought before asking, "Knowing that... knowing that Leander may be left alone if we do this, you still believe that this is something that should be done?"

"... You aren't that easy to kill," Squall replied with a faint light of silver to his eyes.

"Hyne knows you've tried," Seifer said as he leaned forward to kiss the brunet, but the lithe man was a touch too quick as Squall pulled away and used the support of broad shoulders to push up onto his feet.

Holding out both hands, the sorcerer was prepared to summon his staff when long fingers wrapped around his forearm.  Eyes of cold silver focused on the interfering Shumi, but the aged creature didn't release his hold.

<"I apologize, Heart of the Lion, but you know that the entire village should witness this blessed event.  It has been many centuries since the last sorcerer has joined with his cherished one in this valley.">

Squall frowned at the idea of an audience, but Dzieden's use of his own language suggested that there was no room for argument.  Folding his arms across his chest, the sorcerer looked to Kasir and said, "Help Seifer get cleaned up, and I'm trusting you that he will come back to me in one piece."

The Moomba huffed in irritation, but nodded in acceptance as he stepped forward and wrapped a clawed hand around Seifer's arm.

"Wait a moment here," the lord demanded when he was forced into standing.  "What exactly is happening?"

"Dzieden desires a 'proper' bonding ritual, which means you need to be more presentable."

Seifer scowled lightly.  "Since when have you been concerned about appearances?"

His smile soft and secretive, Squall replied, "Go with Kasir.  And I suggest cleaning... thoroughly."

The lord blinked once before catching the man's meaning, but before he could confirm his assumption, he was dragged away by the large feline.

After watching the disappearance of the blond, Squall looked to his son.  "Leander, how would you like to stay with Kehrei and his vie'taos for the next day or two?"

Hearing his name, the young Moomba lifted its long ears and barked, "A'der!"

Leander smiled and ruffled the cat's fluffy crimson fur.  "I don't mind, but why can't I stay with you and Father?"

"It might not be necessary," Squall assured.  "It all depends on what Seifer chooses."

His small nose crinkled in confusion, but the thoughtful moment was ruined when Kehrei attempted to stand and instead flopped onto Leander.  As the two children of different species began to renew their earlier play, Squall felt an odd sense of peace at the sight of something so normal and carefree.  For a brief moment he could envision the same type of play happening between Leander and his younger sister, but shortly after that thought came the vision of the grown sorceress stealing the boy's life.  Squall hated himself for his doubt and biased assumptions about his unborn daughter, but Seifer was different and Squall trusted the man to love her without reserve or second thought.

~ > < ~

There was a dull murmur as Squall stood alone in front of the temple dedicated to Ifrit.  Despite the short notice, all except a few hunters were present to witness the event that the Shumi had only heard in folklore, and as time dragged on, the sorcerer could hear the bits of their ridiculous tales.  One even questioned if Ifrit would grace the ceremony with his presence, a comment deemed possible by the others close by.  Eyes closed and arms crossed, Squall began to count the seconds, curious how far he could go before calling off the entire affair.

Eventually a higher pitch sounded within the crowd, the interested voice triggering a chain of louder whispers.  Squall opened his eyes at the change and immediately focused on the sight of the freshly cleaned lord followed by Kasir and Sekre.  His stride firm and long, Seifer walked with complete confidence despite his only clothing consisting of a loin cloth made of soft leather.  The lightly tanned body was otherwise decorated in metal and leather, the collection of armbands, necklace, and twin knives at his waist chiming softly as he stepped through the crowd.  And while Squall examined his lover, the sorcerer smiled when he recognized the formal dress of a Moomba leaving for his first solo hunt.  Clearly Kasir was having his fun with the clueless lord, but Squall wasn't about to scold the H'rugur for presenting Seifer in such a manner.

Once emerging from the crowd, Seifer stopped to eye the dark-haired sorcerer and immediately frowned in disappointment.  "Why weren't you forced to wear something more revealing?"

Squall shook his head.  "I only asked for you to be clean.  I didn't anticipate Kasir to go further."

His frown deepening, Seifer glared over his shoulder at the Moomba.  Far from innocent, Kasir smiled with a full show of teeth, a sight that made the blond lord grumble under his breath about the best ways to skin a cat.

Dzieden cleared his throat with a light whistle.  "How do we begin, Heart of the Lion?"

Squall breathed out a sigh, and though the words of the ritual came to mind, he knew they didn't matter.  "There are no words.  Just actions."

The Shumi Elder nodded in acceptance of the sorcerer's claim.  He then turned to the crowd and lifted a large hand to silence the various whispers, the sudden quiet in the village signaling the start of the ritual.

Ignoring the eyes upon them, Squall lifted his hands and summoned his reluctant staff onto his open palms.  Soft breaths and purrs of interest echoed through the crowd, many of the Shumi never before seeing the exposed core of the Sorcerer Prince.  Pale fingers curled around the red wood etched with black symbols, and though familiar with his staff, Squall felt a different heat from the solid core.  He glanced up to see bright green eyes focused on the dark wood, a predictable and comforting reaction from the blond lord.

"Do you trust me?"

Seifer jerked up straight at the question, not responding until Dzieden had already translated the words for the other Shumi.  "I suppose I could ask the same of you."

Squall smiled at the reply, pleased that the lord wasn't completely hopeless with his talk of love.  "Kneel down, Seifer, and prove your trust."

Though his eyes shone with momentary defiance, the proud lord smirked as he lowered to his knees and spread out his arms as if to say 'what next?'.

"And now I show my trust in you," Squall said softly while moving his staff to one side and slipping his foot back along loose dirt.  He released a long breath of readiness before, without a word of warning or assurance, the sorcerer darted forward with his speed aided by the wind.  Seifer had no opportunity to react as Squall lowered the tip of the staff to connect with the man's bare chest.  Initially met with the slightest amount of resistance, the sorcerer's core slid smoothly into the warm flesh and melted within Seifer's body, far more easily than Squall had been prepared to experience.  Losing his balance from leaning too far forward, he dropped hard to his knees and nearly fell against the lord's chest, all the while losing his core until only several inches of the physical staff remained.

"Holy... fucking Hyne," Seifer breathed as he wrapped one hand around the brunet's cold fingers and the other around the staff, the contact instantly creating flames of crimson and sapphire.  "Didn't know that... you still... wanted me dead."

"Idiot, it's because I trust you that you weren't injured," Squall said in a quiet voice, not wishing Dzieden to translate his words.  "My core now exists within your body, and to finish this, all you need to do is choose."

"Choose?"  The blond glanced down at his chest and stared at the staff impaled into his chest.  Vibrant fire of calming blue and harsh red danced around his fingers, but no blood flowed across golden skin.  Confusion burned in green eyes, and with a questioning word on his tongue, Seifer abruptly choked on his own breath.  Coughing, he pressed his forehead against Squall's shoulder and groaned in pain.

"Hurry, Seifer.  Choose whatever you want."

With a vague shake of his head, Seifer argued, "Can't think... Is this... this is your soul?"

"Don't waste time.  Please don't..."

A sudden inhale of breath sounded before the blond straightened and faced the dark-haired sorcerer, revealing shameless tears that slipped from verdant eyes softened by a cerulean hue.  "Is this what you feel?  ... Everyday, you feel this pain?"

"...No," Squall whispered, finding it difficult to meet Seifer's eyes.

"Liar... I feel the shards... the poison... everything..."

Angry at his most inner wounds being exposed, Squall demanded lowly, "If you feel that, then you know why I need to join with you."

Seifer blinked slowly, more tears released by the action.  "A-ah, you want... me to love her."

"And for her to know your love with complete certainty."

The lord stared dully at Squall, and after a long moment, he smiled gently.  "You'll love her, too."

"You can't know that," the sorcerer argued, but Seifer didn't seem to hear as he closed his eyes.  Squall felt the sudden shift of his core, the living energy disturbed by the man's clumsy endeavor to grasp onto a piece to make his own.  A part of the sorcerer wanted to retreat, to save himself from the one person who had the ability to ignite merciless emotions in the stoic man, but defying those baser instincts, Squall leaned forward and rested his head against a broad shoulder such that he could easily watch the play of fire between their hands.

Too much time passed, too much time wasted with his soul exposed to Seifer before the sorcerer felt a definite change in his core.  It was a subtle sensation, nothing like the pain of amputation that he had expected, but Squall still jerked backward with a startled gleam of silver to his eyes.  The selection had been made and there was no undoing the damage, and it was for that reason the sorcerer growled, "You conceited ass..."

As Seifer struggled with opening his eyes, Squall moved to the balls of his feet and began the task of retrieving his core and staff.  The blond lord groaned at the rough removal of the overpowering soul, but couldn't prevent the action as his hands fell away from the dark wood.  Unbothered by the sight of the grimacing nobleman, Squall tugged the last foot of the staff free from the man's body and reflexively gave the weapon a twirl before landing an end against the ground with a hard thump.

Immediate whispers and growls sounded at the two revealed sights.  One was the staff adorned with two white symbols amongst the black etchings, the lettering too small for the crowd to read, but a clear sign of the successful transfer of energy.  The other cause for talk took longer to appear, the flames of sapphire and crimson at Seifer's chest slowly fading to expose a fist-sized area of burnt flesh.  Within that dark oval was unharmed skin shaped in the clear design of the same symbols turned white on the sorcerer's staff.

"Sugenti Denynas... Do you have any idea how long it took me to learn that?" Squall demanded lowly, his eyes shining with a metallic edge.

Eyelids partly open, Seifer gazed forward without focusing on anything obvious.  "Su-jen-tee... I should know that one..."

Scoffing at the momentarily exhausted nobleman, Squall looked to Kasir and said, "I'd appreciate your help in getting this idiot home."

Golden-green eyes firm without the typical light of mischief, the H'rugur nodded with the jiggle of numerous beads, the only sound he made while approaching the kneeling blond.  The crowd parted far enough to allow passage for the Moomba and his burden, but no further as curious eyes were rapt on the symbols displayed on Seifer's bare chest.  Not appreciating the growing distance between them, Squall allowed his staff to vanish into non-existence and made to trail after the slowly moving pair.

"Squall...?"

Hearing the cautious call of his name, the sorcerer glanced over at his son and found Leander standing close with small hands folded at his chest and green eyes following his father.  Squall sighed with regret and told his son, "I'm sorry, but you can't be with us tonight.  Peirra will watch over you and Kehrei should enjoy your company."

Leander shook his head and made the physical effort to look away from Seifer.  "I don't mind that, but... Squall, is that really Father?"

"What do you mean?"

Fingers clutching his dirt-stained shirt, Leander explained, "It's like when he touches my core, but I feel it now.  Like how I can feel you."

Stormy eyes widened in brief surprise, the sorcerer not anticipating such immediate effects of his joining with the blond lord.  But once remembering that it was what he wanted for both children, Squall asked his son, "Is it a good feeling?"

"Uh-huh, but it's strange and smells like smoke."

"That should fade," Squall assured.  "But your bond will remain for all times."

His expression full of youthful pleasure, Leander smiled and wrapped his arms around his parent's waist.  "Thank you for making Father stronger."

"Well, we still have to see about that one," the sorcerer said lightly as he offered a brief, one-armed hug.  "Be good tonight and listen to Peirra."

Leander acknowledged the warning without a true word of agreement, but Squall had no chance to consider the potential damage before his son ran off to rejoin Kehrei and his vie'taos.  Though worried about leaving Leander alone, the brunet felt a stronger call as he turned and set eyes on the blond nobleman.  Seifer had gained some energy in the brief time separate, apparent by the lord struggling in Kasir's arms and forcing the large feline to tighten his hold around the uncooperative man.  Observing the display, Squall understood Seifer's need to remove the distance that had formed between them, but the sorcerer was a little disappointed by the man's inelegant attempt to escape the Moomba.

With his first step toward the crowd and the nobleman beyond, Squall watched as Seifer abruptly went limp, the action catching Kasir off his guard for a mere moment, more than enough time for the blond to slip out from arms covered in soft fur.  The sorcerer smiled at the basic trick to evade a captor, one that might have worked if the lord was at full strength.  As it were, Seifer covered four steps before stumbling on his own two feet and falling face first into the dirt.  The groan of embarrassment from the blond was hardly heard above the pleased whisperings of the crowd.  Squall smirked at the praise toward the lord, that it was honorable for Seifer to do anything to return to his bonded, even if meant defying their respected H'rugur.  The brunet could only think of the man as a hopeless idiot.

Leaving the crowd behind, Squall didn't move his eyes from Seifer's form no matter how much the man moved while attempting to escape Kasir's renewed hold on him.  It was somewhat cruel when Squall thought about it - the blond lord had no chance to understand the magic coursing through his body and no experience to help him control the newly formed bond.  But the sorcerer knew better than to get close to Seifer, not until they had the proper amount of privacy.

Kasir half-dragged, half-carried the large man into the stone house while Squall didn't travel further than the doorway.  Watching from there, he told the Moomba to help the blond to the bed.  At the request, Seifer immediately stopped fighting the feline and peered around Kasir's body, looking much like a child who had heard something of great interest and desperately wanted it repeated to verify it was true.

Kasir huffed at the abruptly docile human and used an unfriendly hand to shove the weakened blond onto the mattress of soft animal skins stuffed with feathers.  After directing a toothy smile to the confused man, Kasir grumbled to Squall, <"He had better be worth the trouble you've wasted on him.">

Squall offered a secretive smile in reply and no more.

<"... Hn, don't let him change you too much, rya prahtr,"> Kasir commented while squeezing past the dark-haired man.  <"It's strange to see your smiles.">

The Moomba gone and the twosome finally alone, Squall looked to Seifer and was pleased to find the man still resting on his back.  Strands of golden hair were messed from Seifer's struggles with the Moomba, giving the powerful nobleman a boyish air that Squall felt better suited the uncontrollable man.  Fresh cuts from his earlier spar with Kasir covered the well trained body, overlaying the aged scars obtained after years of serving as an officer in the Imperial army.  While always acknowledging the man's attractiveness and strength, Squall rarely wanted to admit his own desire for that body, but with Seifer momentarily unmoving and silent, the sorcerer decided to take the moment to appreciate what would be forever marked as his.

Seifer rubbed a large hand against his face and lifted it further to run his fingers through short hair.  "What's happening to me, Squall?  I feel sick and hungry, overheated and ice-cold... It's like my body is completely off balance and is about to fall apart."

"From what I've heard, it's common for you to feel those effects."

With a quiet scoff, Seifer turned his head and focused feverish green eyes on the brunet.  "I'm exhausted as shit, but I still feel like I want to grab you, throw you onto the ground, and never let you stand again."

A dark eyebrow lifted into a slight arc, Squall questioned, "And why do you think I arranged for Leander to sleep elsewhere tonight?"

Seifer pushed up onto an elbow, the sharp move causing a jingle of jewelry.  "You knew this would happen?"

"It was a simple assumption," the sorcerer commented as he moved from the doorway.  "That piece of soul within you is lost and fears its new shell.  If you had chosen earth, prolonged contact would have been enough to soothe it.  Air would have only needed conversation and close contact where the breath is exchanged.  But you have always craved fire.  Unlike the other elements, fire isn't easily controlled, let alone pacified, and you stupidly chose the strongest fire spell that I know.  It should take most of the night to appease its desire for heat."

"Shit, don't make it sound like I knew what I was doing," Seifer defended, the pout in his voice not quite reflected in his hungry expression.  "Your soul was alive within me, drowning me in pain, and you kept telling me to choose.... I didn't do anything except to tell that soul of yours to give me whatever it wanted."

Halting one step from the mattress, Squall gazed down at the prone man.  "Is that true?"

"I don't exactly have a reason to lie.  Hell, if I knew I was choosing a spell, I would've tried for Haete nie Tselan.  It's your favorite, after all."

The corner of his mouth curling into an interested smirk, the sorcerer asked, "And you'd want to steal that from me?"

Perplexed and alarmed, Seifer shifted to better look at the brunet.  "Are you telling me that I stole this Sugenti whatever spell from you?"

"In a sense.  Once we complete this, that piece of soul and the spell engraved onto it will no longer belong to me.  But if you aren't mistaken in your assumption, then it sounds like that I may have offered Sugenti Denynas to you rather than you stealing away that part of me."

Visibly frustrated with the idea that he had stolen yet another thing from the sorcerer, Seifer demanded, "Why did we do this, Squall?  It sounds like the same damned story of me taking advantage of your life and powers."

The dark-haired sorcerer didn't reply as he stared into vibrant green eyes with the slightest hint of blue.  Unmoving from that gaze, Squall lowered his hand and wrapped his fingers around the cloth laces of his pants.  With a gentle pull, the waistline loosened and slipped below the slight bulge that could be hardly seen beneath the brunet's favored large shirt.

Faster than his exhaustion should have allowed, Seifer moved up to his knees and placed his heated hands at the exposed skin.  Rough fingers lifted the edge of shirt, revealing everything for the blond lord as Seifer pressed moist kisses at the small mound of life.  In contrast to that loving attention, Seifer grumbled, "It's cold of you to distract me like this, especially when I'm in such a state."

Squall placed a hand at the man's neck and rubbed a thumb along the edge of his hairline.  "It's too soon right now, but eventually you should be able to feel her spirit."

Ceasing all motion for a long moment, Seifer eventually pulled back to better see the brunet's face.  "Is that the only reason we did this?  For the sake of our daughter, an innocent babe you claim you can't love?"

"For her, so that she knows she is truly wanted," Squall said in a soft voice, hating the necessity to constantly argue his inner thoughts to the persistent lord.  "This is also for Leander, who already cherishes his connection with his father.  And for you, to give you additional strength whenever you face Ultimecia."

"Is that to mean there is no benefit for you?" Seifer prodded as his callused hands slipped across scarred skin and encouraged the downward movement of pants.

"... I haven't decided yet."

Lips drew back into a wolfish smirk and Seifer released his tenuous hold on soft pants, the fabric dropping with a dull thud.  "Perhaps I can help you with that decision."

"I know what you want to do to me tonight and I'd hardly call that 'helpful'."

"Obviously your definition isn't broad enough."

Despite his doubtful scoff, Squall let himself be pulled down by the larger man.  Straddling strong thighs as Seifer sat back onto the mattress, Squall quickly found himself the object of an insistent kiss.  Just shy of being bitten by the sorcerer from surprise, a forceful tongue slipped past his lips and teeth to engage an intimate duel that mimicked the recklessness of their rare spars.  While Squall wanted to believe that he was above cardinal pleasures, it was the one battle he couldn't win against the unrelenting lord.  Worse, he could feel his severed soul within the swordsman's body and the friction of skin against skin only intensified their newly formed bond.  Moving his hand from the man's neck, Squall ran his long fingers down Seifer's chest and purposefully searched for the blackened skin.  With the first brush of fingertips against the edge of the dark oval, Squall smiled as the kiss was broken with Seifer's loud groan of pained pleasure.

"Have you figured it out yet?" Squall asked in a taunting tone, his storm-colored eyes focused completely on the symbols within darkened skin.

Seifer followed the brunet's gaze, obviously fighting other desires.  "The spell?  You called it Sugenti Denynas after you took back your core," he murmured in thought, the correct pronunciation momentarily surprising Squall.  "I recognize 'burning', but Denynas... it doesn't look like the other characters you've shown me."

"It means 'Burning Ocean'.  It's the same fire Ultimecia used to destroy our capitol," Squall said as he traced the lines of flesh with a careful finger.  "I tried to use it in revenge when I infiltrated the Emperor's palace, but the spell wouldn't work.  The madness had already spread too far."

Grasping cold fingers, Seifer held the hand close to his chest, but didn't say anything as he gazed down at the dark marking.

Squall saw the worry cloud green eyes, but he no longer felt that same uncertainty himself.  Bending down, he pressed a reverent kiss at the base of the small oval.  "I have no hatred or fear for this spell.  I only pray that this will help you to succeed where I failed."

"... No," Seifer whispered as he used his free hand to lift the brunet's face.  "If I succeed, it won't have anything to do with a spell."

Lips met in a brief, careful press that didn't last long as heated hands slipped around Squall's shoulders and lower back.  The sorcerer barely recognized the position of strong arms as something dangerous before he was landed onto his back and Seifer loomed over the smaller body.

"Idiot," Squall complained as he punched a shoulder.  "Are you trying to make me sick?"

"I thought you said that those Shumi females gave you something that made you feel better," Seifer commented while nipping lightly at the sorcerer's long neck.

"Better, not cured," Squall reminded as he stretched slightly, giving the lord better access to more sensitive regions.  "Being thrown around by an over-sexed nobleman doesn't help matters."

Seifer chuckled deeply, his teeth felt along soft skin before the blond lifted away and smirked delightfully at his lover.  "Then I shall apologize to the best of my ability."

With a slight smirk of his own, Squall said nothing more as he placed his fingers on the top button of his shirt, but a large hand abruptly covered his and prevented proper motion.  Blue-gray eyes glanced up at the lord, the icy depths showing clear confusion at being stopped from removing the final piece of clothing from his body.

"Leave it," Seifer said as he pried cold fingers from the wooden button.  "Let me do everything."

Interested by the command, Squall held the emerald gaze and let his arms fall casually at his sides.  "As you wish."

Eyes widening at the open-ended permission from the prudish man, Seifer didn't waste a second of the rare opportunity.  A large hand buried deep into lengthy strands of dark chestnut, the soft hairs twining around rough fingers as Seifer bent down and placed a light kiss against the corner of full lips.  Before a proper kiss could be initiated, the blond lord dipped lower and continued his previous taste of the sorcerer's neck.

Squall closed his eyes as the collar of his shirt was pulled aside, the brush of soft fabric followed by the moist press of kisses and a searching tongue.  Callused skin tugged lightly on the shirt as the first button was undone, exposing more skin for the blond.  Unable to remain still as heat was forced into his body, Squall placed a hand at the man's back and took pleasure at the shiver of warm flesh.  Seifer groaned at the icy touch, the pleasure-filled sound lowering a pitch as another button was freed and the soft fabric slipped over a thin shoulder.  It shouldn't have been a surprise when a heavy tongue lapped at discolored skin, forever scarred from the sting of Hyperion, but the light drag of teeth pulled a subtle moan from Squall as his hand clawed into bare flesh.

With a final taste and a loving kiss, Seifer lifted just far enough to move backward while Squall refused to lighten his hold, creating red trails that covered the man's shoulder blade.  The lord cursed under his breath and directed a scolding glare at the brunet, but the expression didn't last when it was obvious that Squall wasn't apologetic in the least.  Smirking in amusement, Seifer pushed up the edge of the large shirt and gazed down at the revealed arousal.  Squall had the fleeting urge to defend his eager response toward the nobleman's touches, but the excuses and lies had begun to taste stale with every repetition.

As a heated hand rested on a bare thigh, Seifer focused his catlike eyes on the brunet's face.  "Tell me what you want, princeling."

Squall frowned at the man's suggestive tone, not understanding why the blond wasn't being more productive with his mouth.

"Tell me that you want this," he insisted, his fingers stroking the sorcerer's vulnerable pelvic region.  "Let me know that you want me."

"Muro-kasre, what else must I do to satisfy you?"

Eyes sharp, Seifer simply stared into blue-gray eyes for a long moment before the corner of his mouth twitched into a smirk.  "Funny, you never used to curse like that before and certainly not in that language."

"Not that you heard," Squall commented as he shifted his body, trying to better position the teasing hand that traced faded stretch marks.  "And if you don't finish this soon, I'll do it myself."

Seifer purred at the comment.  "You shouldn't give me such ideas, my lovely Prince."

With a frustrated scoff, the dark-haired sorcerer pushed up onto one elbow and used his free hand to readjust his shirt to better cover the curve of his stomach.  Then lifting his eyes to meet curious green, Squall dragged the back of his fingernails along the top of his thigh and reached downward to wrap cold fingers around his neglected arousal.  As if he were the one being pleasured, Seifer inhaled sharply and jerked back, the movement of his body causing a quiet jingle of jewelry.  Without showing his satisfaction in that response, Squall stroked at a languid pace, wanting to push himself further into pleasure and heat, but only to the point of taunting the nobleman.

Little time passed before a heated hand rested on his, not restricting the motion of long fingers, but certainly preventing the choice to pull away.  Eyes half-lidded, Squall focused on the thicker fingers that wrapped around his and forcefully slowed in the pumping movement of his hand.  Seifer bent down, and without lifting his gaze, licked at a long finger such that his heavy tongue also stroked the entrapped member.  With every lick, the blond drew in a little bit of penis and finger into his mouth, eventually sucking at the hardening length and twitching finger.

Squall groaned at the warmth he had craved and laid back onto the mattress to more easily raise his hips, offering an additional suggestion to the lord at what other body parts required attention.  Ever the perceptive man when he so desired, Seifer cupped his free hand at a firm ass cheek and groped strongly before moving his hand forward to slip his thumb into the puckered anus.  Squall released a quiet cry at the probing sensation, a sound he wouldn't have dared voiced in the past months.

With a slight choke, Seifer leaned back and directed vibrant green eyes at the sorcerer's face.  "What was that again?"

"You won't know if you don't keep using that tongue of yours," Squall growled as he moved his hips, needing further sensations from the blond.

"Hyne, I know this is what I wanted, but... Isn't this too much too soon?"

"Worthless idiot," the brunet grumbled as he threw an arm over his eyes.  "Stop questioning my intentions and just do what you always do."

"Princeling," Seifer purred softly, breathing over the wet flesh of his arousal.  "You made the most agreeable sound at my molestations and you think that I can ignore it?"

It was an untimely realization and Squall hated the pulse that drummed throughout his body, a beat that was created by the closeness and touch of the handsome lord.  Forced to consider the question if he wanted Seifer to continue with his ministrations, the sorcerer was surprised by the answer that came directly to mind - "It worked."

"And what worked exactly?"

"Shiva didn't interfere.  She allowed my soul to transfer to your body."  Glancing from under his arm, Squall clarified further, "To your male body."

Straightening vaguely, the nobleman's brief surprise changed to a pleased expression of narrowed green eyes and a satisfied smile.  "That she did.  And now you're mine."

Squall wanted to warn the proud man to not assume too much, that it was the sorcerer's mark visible on bare skin and not the other way around, but Seifer moved sharply to lean over the smaller man.  The appearance of scented oil wasn't a great surprise, but Squall frowned as he tried to figure out where the expensive glass vial could have been hidden near the mattress.  Seifer didn't give the stoic man much opportunity to think, thick fingers slick with oil eagerly entering his anal passage in a manner that caused yet another embarrassing cry.  Seifer smiled in a taunting fashion, but with no words spoken, he proceeded to slide his free hand beneath a strong thigh and encouraged the leg to raise up onto a supportive shoulder.

Once Squall felt well-prepared and bored of the lord's restrained expression, he lifted his arms above his head and grasped onto the edge of the mattress.  With a firm squeeze around invading fingers and a deep purring sigh, Squall easily gained the attention of his lover.

Satisfied by the wordless command to move forward, Seifer positioned himself at the stretched entrance.  While the slow entry was obviously the lord's attempt to prevent pain, Squall felt overwhelmed by the hardness filling him whole and couldn't soften the keening breath that sounded from between clenched teeth.  Seifer whispered an apology and leaned forward to press a soft kiss at the brunet's throat.  The gentle touch provoked a rumbling growl from Squall, the sorcerer tired at being treated like fragile glass, especially by the one man who should have known better.

Chuckling at the threat-filled noise, Seifer tightened his hold on the leg at his shoulder and placed a supporting hand on the mattress just above the brunet's head.  He rocked several times in testing motions, gradually gaining strength and speed as sharp green eyes focused on the face of the sorcerer.  Squall closed his eyes to avoid that observant gaze, not wanting the man to stop if he saw something he didn't like.  While still a confusing situation, the former prince could no longer deny that he enjoyed the nights spent in the lord's arms.  There would always be some pain, but Seifer had the skilled touch to make the subsequent pleasure cloud all thoughts of that initial discomfort.

With every draw back and thrust forward, Squall felt a small spark in his body as if a fire was attempting to ignite and set his entire being ablaze.  He then began to regret the shirt that had never been discarded and was beginning to stick in the wrong places.  Knowing Seifer was at fault for all of it, Squall decided to take some control over situation.  A single hand lifted, the sorcerer blindly pressed long fingers against the darkened skin on the lord's chest, provoking a deep throaty groan from Seifer and forcing him to miss a beat with a hard thrust.

"Hyne's fucking dick," the blond cursed before taking a breath and continuing with smaller thrusts.  "Open your eyes, Squall."

With some effort, Squall forced his eyelids open and stared up into heated green eyes, finding himself surprised once again by the amount of emotion, by the amount of utterly naive love that could shine in the emerald depths.

Grinning brightly, Seifer leaned in closer and said huskily, "Don't close them again.  I want to see the magic dancing in your eyes."

Squall felt his typical irritation at being ordered around by the lord, but he was too close to care about the simple request to keep his eyes open.  The blond gained his previous fast rhythm, grunting and groaning as Squall dug his fingernails into the symbol of Sugenti Denynas.  More than ever before, the sorcerer felt the flames licking at his soul and examining the hole in his core that had been created from the binding ritual.  There was no disgust, no disappointment from the element, just a sense of mild curiosity at the extreme action that Squall had taken.  Breathing a laugh in frustrated confusion, Squall relaxed further into the motions of sex and prayed that he wasn't wrong in the strengthening theory that the gods and elements truly had no revulsion, no real care for a man finding love with another man.

One of too many sparks finally caught and Squall couldn't find his breath as his body went taut in overwhelming heat.  The distinctive fragrance of burning filled his senses and freed a lengthy groan from his throat, one that was echoed by Seifer as his thrusts became erratic and forceful.  Like additional fuel to the fire, Squall felt the large man's release deep within him and the sharp increase of heat that made him wonder if he would ever feel cold again.

In the aftermath, harsh breaths sounded in the confines of the stone house.  Seifer hung low over over the dark-haired man, both unmoving except for the rise and fall of the chests.  "Squall...?"

Squall grunted that he was listening.

"Do you smell something burning?"

Blinking, the sorcerer looked up at Seifer and wondered how the man could detect the presence of the fire element.  And then he saw the wisp of smoke that shouldn't have been present.  With an awkward bend, he glanced up and stared at the supportive hand located mere inches from his head, a hand that had small reddish flames dancing between spread fingers.

Following the brunet's gaze, Seifer abruptly cursed at the sight and jerked back his hand to reflexively and comically attempt to blow out the tiny flames on his fingertips.

"That won't work," Squall said with a small smile, one that was promptly lost to soreness when he slipped his leg from the lord's shoulder.

At first not believing the brunet, Seifer eventually realized that the flames weren't being harmed by his endeavors.  "What is...  No, why is my hand on fire?  It doesn't look like the flames from your core."

"Because that's not what it is," the sorcerer explained while reaching out and placing his hand beneath Seifer's.  "Close your hand and tell the fire to leave.  It might decide to obey you."

A suspicious look crossed the lord's face, but Seifer eventually followed the suggestion and closed his hand in a tight fist.  Teeth clenched, he murmured, "Go the fuck away."

Squall sighed and nearly told the blond that he may want to be more polite to the element that could set him ablaze.  But before the words could be spoken, a flash of crimson fire erupted from the fist, startling both of them in the moment before the flames vanished in a burst of smoke.

Seifer stared at his hand and slowly uncurled his fist to reveal slightly singed fingertips, but no further damage.  "Holy Hyne on a stick, what was that about?"

"A side effect of joining souls," Squall said causally, trusting the blond wasn't feeling overly observant after a bout of intercourse.  "Sometimes, the one bonding with a sorcerer will gain the limited ability to use the spell trapped within them.  I've heard it's most common when fire is involved."

Flexing his hand a few times, Seifer frowned lightly before glancing at the dark-haired man.  "You've 'heard'?  You aren't the type to hear things, princeling.  You either know or you think someone is a fool for believing in legends."

"... ..."

Seifer leaned forward and the shine to his eyes declared he knew full well the discomfort he was causing while still buried in the sorcerer.  "What aren't you telling me?"

Avoiding the man's gaze, Squall glanced downward at his raised stomach and the mess of fluid on pale skin.  "Everything thus far has been one impossibility after another, so why wouldn't this be yet another reality you shattered?  Though I suppose the fire that sparks whenever you touch my core should have been my first warning that this could happen."

"And what, I can do magic now?"

With a small laugh, Squall returned his gaze to interested green and lifted his hand to brush damp gold from the man's forehead.  "Ifrit favors you, and for that reason, fire has graced you with the ability to summon it.  Controlling it, however, will be something entirely different as you can't hear the words of the elements.  So, no, you aren't a sorcerer in any meaning of the word."

Slight disappointment darkened emerald eyes before Seifer shifted backward and removed himself from the smaller man.  Moving to Squall's side, the blond stretched out and placed a hand on the slight mound of life, uncaring of the sticky mess.  "When will I be able to feel her like you can?"

"I don't know.  Nothing happens like it should when you're involved."

The large blond chuckled softly and placed a kiss at the corner of full lips.  "Sorry to make your life difficult, my Prince, but I swear to make everything worth it."

Savoring the heat pressed along his body, Squall felt his lips form a small smile and let that be his only reply to the attention hungry man.  While his divided soul seemed content within the lord's body, the sorcerer knew their night had just begun and he preferred the option of saving his voice for later.  He wanted Seifer to earn the privilege of hearing the words that the blond lord desired with boundless intensity.  It was a reckless love, but as Squall savored the large hand hot against his stomach and deep breaths humid along his skin, the dark-haired sorcerer had to wonder who was more foolish - the man who loved with all of his being or the man who had captured that destructive love as his own.

 

{Continued}

 

Author's Whining -- I'm so predictable, but I just can't help myself.  I have yet to decide if I actually like the name 'Verena', but nothing else I tried looked right.  Why do things have to sound good in my head, but look very odd when written?  Curses!  This must be the reason I prefer SxS having sons.