For Nothing, For Everything
February 2005

 

Stretching several miles in all directions, the Almasy Estate was an expansive plot of land of both gardens and wild landscape which was only rivaled by the Emperor's private property.  Bordering to the north was a moderately sized lake that was fed by the cold rivers from the mountains, and from the lake, a deep river formed the west border of the estate.  The opposite corner of the property was covered in a forest thick with leafy trees and large bushes, a welcoming home for all sorts of game.  To better protect the land from intruders, a wall of lightly colored stone had been built closer to the large mansion, and in that south-east section of the fenced-in-land, the forest was far thinner, providing only spotted shading over numerous bushes which grew an assortment of berries.  Located there was a simply decorated gate, Seifer's favorite spot to take his young son riding given both the easy terrain and beautiful landscape.

But hard emerald eyes focused on nothing of those tranquil surroundings as Seifer continued to envision the sight of his son injured and bloody, something that had happened within the supposed safety of his estate.  The panicked pleads for Seifer to help the servant left behind were secondary, but yet another distraction for the blond as he considered the unlikelihood of wolves appearing on his property.  It hadn't been a particularly bad summer which would have driven a full pack of animals in search of food, and in all of his memories, the blond nobleman couldn't remember more than a single scrawny wolf which had found its way into their chicken coop years past.  It didn't make sense.

A yelping cry interrupted further thoughts on the matter, the pained noise prompting Seifer to hurry his pace into an easy run.  But once moving past a clump of raspberry bushes, the blond slowed down to a hesitant walk, his eyes widening with disbelief.  From behind, the huffing Raijin nearly ran into his boss, but stopped just short of the nobleman to bend over and pant heavily after the fast pace.  But once his eyes glanced away from the ground at his feet, the dark-haired man jerked up straight at sight before them.

"What the fuck are Ravages doing here?  And what the Hell did that to them?"

Seifer didn't answer the man's questions, and instead stepped forward while cautiously avoiding the splattering of gore on the ground.  Three unusually large dogs, each at least five feet long, laid dead with various bits and pieces missing from their bodies.  One dog in particular had a gruesome appearance as grayish material mixed with blood leaked from its empty eye sockets and opened mouth.  Before Seifer could pull his gaze from the nauseating sight, something caught his eye from between monstrous paws.  Knocking aside the limp leg with his blade, the nobleman stared at the revealed shoe and wondered dazedly why he hadn't noticed earlier that Leander was walking around with a bare foot.  But confusion and shock soon transformed into heated rage as Seifer kicked the beast in the side such that it flew a short distance to land on top of another corpse.

Paying no attention to Raijin's blatant staring, the blond nobleman ran in the direction from where the previous yelping noise had come.  But moving pass another large clump of bushes, Seifer slowed once more to gaze at the additional number of killed dogs.  Ravages weren't natural canines, each dog looking much like a wolf with their gray fur and lengthy snouts, but the large bodies had the form which oddly appeared more like that of a mountain lion than any dog.  Glaring at the beasts, Seifer knew that the Ravages couldn't have simply wandered onto his property, and as his pale lips curled into a malicious smirk, he began to toy with ideas of murder.

"Fucking Hell, is he still alive?"

Dangerous thoughts bushed aside for the meantime, Seifer frowned as he tried to understand the breathy question of his subordinate and glanced over the large bodies of dead canines.  Green eyes soon settled on the sight of a pale arm sticking out from beneath the large mass of a black Ravage.  Startled, Seifer rushed to remove the heavy corpse from the trapped person, and in the process, injured the man further as lengthy claws were reluctant to release their hold on a narrow shoulder.  Hissing loudly, the revealed man curled onto his side and clutched desperately onto the fresh wound.  Tattered clothing hung onto the lean body, every tear displaying bites and claw marks which bled freely onto the hard ground.  The injuries were too many to count, and yet the servant, the man named 'Squall' was still conscious as he stared back at the blond with a gaze of pale blue, one of his eyes squinted due to blood seeping from a deep cut across the bridge of his nose.

Seifer didn't bother to ask if the man was alright, able to tell by plain sight alone that the brunet needed the skills of a healer.  Instead, he placed a steady hand onto the thick hair matted with blood and leaves.  "I'm going to carry you inside.  A healer should be--"

"No healer." Squall demanded through clenched teeth.

"Nonsense.  If you are worried about any cost--"

The brunet groaned as he proceeded to roll onto his hands and knees, and then attempted to stand despite his injuries.  Amazingly, he lifted up onto his feet for an entire three seconds before his body failed him.  Catching Squall before he could reach the ground, Seifer took advantage of the situation and positioned his arms at the man's back and beneath his knees.  The blond stood up quickly, the abrupt motion drawing a stifled cry from his burden.

"Don't touch me..."

Staring down at the face half-covered in blood, Seifer frowned with concern.  "I'm sorry that this is painful for you, but we need to get you inside."

After vaguely shaking his head, Squall looked in Raijin's direction with a pleading expression, as if the large man would somehow understand his plight and come to his rescue.

Feeling offended, the nobleman adjusted his hold on the brunet, the movement painful judging by pale eyes snapping tightly shut.  Appeased at his petty revenge, Seifer looked up at his subordinate.  "Raijin, look around for anymore Ravages, and then enlist however many servants you need to haul these carcasses to the empty stables.  Cid will know which ones I'm talking about."

The dark-haired man nodded, and after a final curious glance at Squall, Raijin turned with his spear in hand and began muttering a quiet 'Here, puppy, puppy, puppy...' as he walked toward the back fence.

The return trip across his property seemed much longer to Seifer, his body no longer accustomed to the demand of strength which was required for carrying an injured man, especially when said man made occasional struggles to escape.  But eventually Squall wasted the last of his strength and dropped into a semi-conscious state, his eyes half-open, although not appearing to see much of the world around him.  Worried by the feel of blood slipping along his arms, Seifer attempted to hurry his steps despite the argument from his muscles.  Cursing under his breath, the nobleman swore to renew his long forgotten habit of morning exercises.  It was pathetic to be that weak at twenty-five.

Reaching the back entrance to the kitchens, Seifer kicked the door open with enough strength that the old wood slammed hard against the wall and its top hinge broke apart, thereby stopping the door from making a return swing.  The event caused several of the servant women to scream in shock and numerous dishes met their end on the hard floor, but then a murmuring quiet came over the kitchens when people saw the nobleman and his burden.

"Oh dear, Squall," an older woman gasped before rushing to the two men.  Wearing a dress and apron covered in flour, Edea Kramer focused light brown eyes on the severely injured man as she wiped her hands beneath the apron before settling an unsteady hand at the brunet's cheek.  "Sweet child, what happened to you?"

"Some animals decided that he looked like dinner," Seifer answered for the unresponsive man.  "Kinneas is already on his way, but I'll need some help to clean up this idiot beforehand."

Her lips tight with seriousness, the woman of long raven hair turned to address the closest servant.  "Go fetch some buckets of warm water and plenty of cloths.  Meet us at his bed."

"No, we're taking him to one of the guest rooms in the south wing," Seifer corrected while glaring at the servants who had already begun to whisper in gossiping tones.  "There will be fewer spying eyes, not to mention it will give Kinneas more room to work with."

"As you desire, my Lord," Edea replied with a gleam of warmth to her golden eyes.

Not waiting for the older woman, Seifer proceeded to the chambers he had in mind.  Not meant for important guests, each of the accommodations in the south wing included two rooms - one long room, which served as both a sitting room and a bedroom without a dividing wall, and attached was a small bathroom, which in its entirety was barely the size of the single bath that was located in Seifer's chambers.  The accommodations would have been pathetic to those of nobility, but to the mercenary sort who were accustomed to sleeping on the ground and bathing in a lake, the rooms were better than the suites offered at the finest inns.

By the time Seifer had reached the chambers of his choosing, Edea caught up to him and quickly opened the door for the hampered blond.  His arms aching, the nobleman was thankful to rest the injured man on top of the wide mattress, but that measure of relief vanished as he gazed down at his arms thickly coated in blood.  Wanting to be rid of that sight, Seifer pulled a bed curtain loose of its ties and promptly began to wipe the darkening fluid from his body.

Eyeing the destruction of the fine material only briefly, Edea turned her concern to the injured man on the bed.  No humiliation spared, she grabbed the collar of the ruined shirt and tore it down the middle, a simple task with the amount of tears in the cheap material.  Squall abruptly wakened at the action, his hands promptly clutching the torn shirt together as he sat up and moved backward until pressing against the headboard.

"Squall dear, we have to clean you up," Edea stated softly as she placed a hand on his arm.

Stormy eyes turbulent with emotion shifted warily before settling on the woman's face.  "Matron...?"

"Yes, dear.  You're safe now, but badly injured.  We need to tend to your wounds."

The pale eyes narrowed with icy clarity.  "I can wash myself."

Seifer scoffed.  "You can't even stand up, and you expect us to leave you alone to clean these injuries?  Do you even realize how much blood you've lost."

"I'll be fine," the brunet hissed without looking at the nobleman.

"You won't be 'fine' until the healer comes, so--"

"No healer," Squall interrupted, his body impossibly more tense than moments before.

Feeling irrational anger toward the stubborn brunet, Seifer hit the headboard with a heavy fist.  "I'm trying to help you, you ungrateful shit!  Why are you being so difficult?!"

"I don't want your help," the man declared viciously.

"Squall," Edea scolded, "Don't be so rude.  This is your lord and master--"

"He is not my master."

Seifer breathed a derisive laugh, interrupting any further words from the concerned woman.  "Have it your way, then.  Once you are able to walk, I want you off of my estate.  And Matron, I don't want any of the better foods wasted on this man.  Understood?"

Though hesitating, the woman nodded.  "As you command, my Lord."

Unable to stand the sight of the brunet any longer, Seifer stormed out of the guest chambers.  Servants rushed down the halls with rags and buckets, but noticing the mood of their lord, they gave the man wide berth while making certain not to spill any of the water in his path.  Seifer paid them little mind, his attention clouded by the rage he felt toward the dark-haired servant.  The gall of the man was inexcusable, even if the brunet had supposedly saved Leander's life.

The unexpected thought of his son made Seifer paused in mid-step before he renewed his fast pace to the family rooms.  Never noticing when he had moved into a near run, the blond nobleman was out of breath when he wrenched open the door to his son's bedroom.  The two people within the room jumped at the unexpected entrance, and neither had the chance to recover before Seifer had his arms tight around his boy, enough sense remaining in the blond to not further aggravate the child's arm injury.

"Daddy...?" Leander asked warily.

Seifer couldn't resist a smile at the call, not remembering the last time before earlier that day when his son had used the casual title.  Unable to speak, he simply held onto his child and vaguely rocked back and forth.

"Daddy, are you hurt?"

Remembering his bloodied state, Seifer shook his head and spoke in a hoarse whisper.  "No, I'm fine.  This blood isn't mine."  Strengthening his hold, he murmured, "Thank Hyne you weren't killed."

The boy promptly wrapped his arms around his father's neck and held on tightly.  "I was so scared, Daddy!  Those wuffs were so big and we didn't see them coming.  And one bit my foot and I couldn't run away!"

"Then how did you get away?"

"Squall saved me.  He kicked the wuff in the head and my shoe came off.  He then picked me up, and told me to run and never look back."  Pulling back, Leander stared into his father's eyes, the soft green depths wet with tears as he continued to speak in a frightened whisper.  "There were noises behind me.  I thought a wuff was going to attack me, but they never did.  I ran and ran, even though my foot really hurt."

Guilt flooded through Seifer, knowing that he had spoken harshly to the man who had saved his son and was severely injured for his deed.  But with the resolve to make amends, the blond was able to smile softly.  "Then I owe this Squall a great deal, don't I?"

"You do?"

"A-ah, I do.  He protected the person most important in my life," Seifer stated with a kiss to the boy's head, for the first time realizing how true those words were.  The child who was only supposed to serve the role as his heir had unexpectedly become his son.  When it could have happened, Seifer had no idea, but six years was a very long time.

"Father... Is Squall alright?"

"He is alive for now, and he will be better once Kinneas arrives."

Nodding, Leander lowered his eyes to the corner of the bed.  "Do I still have to do tutoring today?"

"Of course not.  I can't expect you to concentrate after everything that happened."

Raising his eyes, soft green flashed with renewed energy.  "Thank you, Father!"

"Don't get too spoiled.  Your lessons will be waiting for you next week."

"Un, I know.  But can I see Squall now?"

Frowning, Seifer shook his head.  "Perhaps tomorrow.  He will need plenty of time to recover."

"But... but I really want to see him.  I won't touch him since he's hurt.  And I won't say anything if he's sleeping."

The blond sighed deeply while threading his fingers through his son's unrestrained hair.  "Then perhaps I'll let you see him tonight, but only if you don't argue another word.  Understood?"

Though disappointment was still viewable in his eyes, Leander nodded.

At the sound of a quiet knock, Seifer turned to look at the man standing at the doorway to the large bedroom.  Dressed in the familiar uniform of white and pale gray, Irvine Kinneas hadn't changed much over the years.  His wavy auburn hair was longer, but still tied back in a simple loose ponytail.  His body was slim with lean muscle and his posture was relaxed into a slight hunch.  But although his pale lips were curled into a lazy smirk, the man's violet eyes revealed his true concern for being summoned with such haste.

Moving to sit on the edge of the bed, Seifer said, "Some Ravages appeared this morning.  Leander was bitten in the arm and foot, and who knows how many scratches."

Violet eyes widened, and at the same moment, the thus far silent Ward stood up straight.  In the same disbelieving tone, they asked, "Ravages?"

"If you want, you can examine the bodies later, but at this moment... my son..."

Irvine gave himself a moment to recover from the surprise before he moved to the bedside.  Looking directly into the young boy's eyes, he asked softly, "May I examine your arm?"  At the Leander's nod, the small arm was lifted in gentle hands and the reddened bandage was removed with practiced care.  Irvine tsked lightly at the sight of the deep bite mark.  "This must have really hurt, didn't it?"

"Uh-huh," the boy confirmed with a slight sniffle.

Allowing the healer to do his job, Seifer squeezed an arm around his son and kissed his forehead before standing from the bed.  Emerald eyes glanced at the large steward, and with the silent command given, the two men stepped outside of the bedroom.  After closing the door for privacy, they took their seats on the available chairs.

"What do you know about Squall?" Seifer asked, noticing how the question made the man's lengthy scar twitch.

"He has worked in the kitchens--"

"For the past few years.  Yes, I remember you mentioning that earlier today.  But that doesn't really explain why he'd go to such an extent to risk his life for Leander.  More importantly, it doesn't explain in the least why this servant was with my son in the first place."

Sighing, Ward hunched forward and scratched the back of his head with a large hand.  "This isn't something we wanted to mention to you but... After your father died, when you left for several months to handle the messes you inherited, I returned here to fetch some paperwork for you.  When I arrived alone, Leander was extremely upset that you weren't with me.  Shortly after... We never told you, but... he ran away.  To search for you, imagine."

"What?!  He was three years old!" Seifer hissed angrily, silently terrified that there was another time when he had nearly lost his son.

"You think I didn't know that?  May I remind you that it was partially your fault to hire nannies based on their looks and not their skills."

Flushed, the nobleman glanced away from pale blue eyes.  "There hasn't been a nanny in this house since the last one.  Worthless whore."

"A-ah, and we're all grateful that you realized that after only three months."

Seifer glared at large man from the corner of his eyes.  "I believe you were telling me about how you lost Leander?"

Clearing his throat, Ward paused before saying, "He was gone for over a day.  The staff was fanatic, and I had looked in every one of Leander's usual spots.  It was a sleepless night for us all.  And then, the next morning, he was sitting in the kitchen and shoveling as much food as he could into his mouth.  Squall was there with him.  According to Leander, Squall had followed him, but didn't force him to go back home.  Instead, he talked to Leander, made him want to come home.  Since then, Squall has been playing nanny for the boy, always watching over him.  And Leander lets him."

Blue-green eyes downcast in thought, Seifer commented, "Leander hates it when people hover over him."

"Squall isn't the hovering type, but he keeps that boy of yours safe.  Hyne knows that is trouble enough."

"And Leander likes him."

"Apparently.  He's been worried about Squall this entire time.  I didn't realize how close they've gotten over the past few years."

Pressing fingers to his temple, Seifer asked, "Why haven't I noticed Squall before?"

"Because he doesn't need to watch over Leander when you're with him.  And you never search for the lad, but instead have a servant hunt him down.  And when's the last time you've visited the kitchens for an extended period of time?"

"Enough, I get your point."  Looking at his steward, Seifer thought about the situation at hand, and while still suspicious that Ward was purposefully hiding something, there was another matter that bothered the nobleman more.  "How did he, a mere servant, defeat seven Ravages single-handedly?"

Before Ward had the chance to make a reply, the door to the bedroom swung open and Leander ran outside to leap onto his father's lap.

Grunting in surprise, Seifer laughingly asked, "I suppose you're going to live, then?"

"Un!  It hurt, but Irvine made me all better."

"He was a brave patient," the healer stated as he trailed behind at a slower pace.  "But I understand that I have another person waiting for my attention?"

"A-ah, I'll take you to him."  Standing up with his son in his arms, Seifer placed the boy on the ground.  "I want you stay here with Ward.  I'll be back shortly."

"But--"

"If you are good, you can see Squall later.  But you have to stop harassing me about it."

"Yes, Father," Leander replied with a vague pout.

After messing the boy's lengthy hair to Leander's annoyance, Seifer left the large suite with the violet-eyed healer following close behind.  It was silent for the length of the hallway, the blond nobleman not wanting to speak until certain of their relative privacy.

"I should warn you that this man outright told me that he didn't want a healer.  Hyne knows he'll die without your skills, but that doesn't seem to matter to him."

Humming with little surprise, Irvine said, "It's a shame, but some people are fearful of healers."

"You've got to be kidding me.  What's to fear from a person who wants to heal you?"

"More than you know.  You can pay the price to have a healer, but for those who have no money... Some people would do anything for their loved ones, and the more scrupulous healers in the world ask for everything.  There was one man who had a full harem of indebted mothers and daughters, and the hospital turned a blind eye to the whole affair."

"There 'was' a man, huh?  So what did you do to him?"

Smirking, Irvine glanced at the nobleman.  "My future bride stabbed him in the throat with the knife I gave her."

A pale eyebrow raised, Seifer asked, "This is the refined blonde you introduced me to the last time I was in town?  Keys-something or other?"

"Quistis, yes.  A lovely woman, and an excellent nurse."  After a moment of reflective thought, the healer sighed wistfully and said, "But as I was saying, it's no surprise that one of your servants could be wary about those in my field.  Give me a moment to talk to him, and I should gain his trust."

While not too certain of that, Seifer nodded and continued to lead the way to the south wing where the injured man was located.  Reaching the room, the nobleman didn't bother to knock before entering, and then stood to the side of the doorway while watching Edea tend to the brunet.  The other servants who had brought the water and cloths were absent, but Seifer could easily imagine the difficult man scaring them away.

Green-blue eyes filled with concern, Seifer frowned at the sight of too much blood - blood pooling on the sheets, blood seeping through fresh bandages, and blood staining the rags scattered on the mattress and floor.  Even so, the man of dark brown hair was unbelievably conscious, his pale blue eyes narrowed to mere slits as he glared at the entrance of the two men.

"No healer," Squall demanded in a voice no louder than a whisper.

Feeling renewed annoyance, Seifer met the brunet's glare with his own cool gaze.  "Do you really think I'd summon someone who would want to hurt you further?  You're bleeding to death, you fucking imbecile!  Let me help you!"

With a shake of his head, the lean man made an attempt to leave the bed, but his body obviously wasn't in any condition to move.  At his pained groan, Edea placed a hand at his arm and tried to coax him into relaxing.

"Seifer," the healer spoke softly.  "Take Matron and let me speak with this man."

Sighing irritably, Seifer looked to his childhood friend.  "Do you really think that you can convince this idiot to trust you?"

Focused on the brunet, amethyst eyes shined with an interested gleam.  "Probably not, but I may convince him to let me heal the worst of his wounds."

Motioning to the older woman that she should leave, the nobleman told the healer, "I'll wait directly outside.  Call for me if you need any help."

"That shouldn't be necessary."

Huffing his disbelief, Seifer allowed the woman of raven hair to exit before him.  The door closed tightly, the tall blond moved to lean against the wall in a relaxed pose with his head bowed.  And while he was perfectly aware of Edea staring at him, he didn't acknowledge her need to speak until she cleared her throat in a fashion that warned of ruined dinners if he didn't listen to what she had to say.  Glancing up at the woman, he raised a pale eyebrow to serve as his question of 'what the hell do you want?'.

"Are you truly going to force that man to leave the moment after he's been healed?"

Sighing, Seifer shook his head.  "I was angry when I said that."

Edea sighed as her body relaxed from its tense pose.  "I was worried... Squall usually isn't like that.  He is such a quiet boy, though a very hard worker.  And he's one of the few I can trust to fetch things from the city and come back with the proper change."

"A regular saint, isn't he," Seifer muttered under his breath, tired of hearing people plead the case of the man he wanted to hate.  It wasn't exactly a rational hate, but seeing the amount of loathing within the chilling eyes of blue-gray, Seifer had the reflexive desire to hate back.  Getting control of his emotions, the nobleman looked directly into golden eyes and assured the woman, "No need to worry, Matron.  After Squall gets the chance to recover, he'll be back in the kitchens under your watch.  But for now, don't you think the staff has missed your presence long enough?"

"Yes, my Lord.  And thank you," Edea replied with an elegant bow of her head.

Left to himself, Seifer waited in the hallway with his green-blue eyes staring dully at the rug covering hard stone.  From within the guest room, he could hear the murmuring of voices, one soft and soothing while the other was short with the few responses.  After a time of listening to the incoherent words, Seifer was surprised when he heard the quiet chanting that the blond easily recognized as the healer getting to work.

Though meeting in their youth and becoming fair friends as children of noblemen did, Seifer hadn't cared much for the lighthearted and flighty youth Irvine had been.  And so, when Irvine had been assigned as a healer to his unit, Seifer had been skeptical of the man's abilities.  While a decent healer, Seifer found a greater respect for the long-haired man when Irvine had overcome his great fears of fighting and dying within a messy war.  That the violet-eyed man was willing to battle with a blade in hand instead of hiding within the infirmary tents made Seifer like him even more.

They had both started at the age of fifteen, and didn't leave the Imperial army until after Seifer's eighteen birthday.  In that expanse of time, the blond nobleman had found several men he could trust with his life.  Of them all, however, Irvine was the only man Seifer could label a true friend.  After the war, they spent several nights a week trying to drink away their fathers' money, enjoying the lives they had escaped with.  But all of that came to an abrupt end with the unexpected arrival of Leander.  Irvine never complained about the lost nights, and instead placed his free time into the healing arts as he should have years previously.  While the long-haired man claimed he only studied more because he was trying to catch the eye of a luscious librarian, it turned out that Irvine had the capability to become a great healer.  Smiling softly to himself, Seifer was pleased that they had both gone their own ways, and yet their friendship remained.

As time wore on, the light in the hallway dimmed and a servant walked the length of the corridor to light several torches.  Entranced by the flickering lights, Seifer watched the man's slow and careful progress.  At one point, the nobleman realized that he must have missed dinner, but he found himself disgusted at the thought of food.  Why, he wasn't certain.  He didn't care about the man lying on the blood soaked mattress, and the brunet couldn't be in better hands, and yet, Seifer didn't want to leave.  Not until he could assure his son that Squall was alive and fine.

A soft click sounded, the unexpected noise making Seifer straighten and look to the side.  The door was slow to open, then revealing a smiling and obviously exhausted healer.  Letting the door open the rest of the way on its own, Irvine leaned against the doorframe and sighed in a way that made Seifer worried that the man was about to faint.

"Was it really that difficult to stop him from bleeding to death?"

Irvine shook his head.  "The deal was all or nothing, and it's been a while since I've healed so many wounds on one man.  Exactly how many Ravages did he fight?"

Seifer didn't answer as he stared over the man's shoulder, his green eyes wide with disbelief as he gazed at the resting brunet.  While called 'healing', the magical process of mending broken bodies was hardly a benign act.  Irvine had once explained it in general terms, stating that the art of healing involved convincing the body to speed up the processes it would have done given time.  For that reason, the pain which would have been experienced over days and weeks was compacted into mere hours.  Worse, the patient had to be awake for the healing to be most effective, something about the conscious brain knowing best how a body should fix itself.  Aware of that, Seifer couldn't even begin to imagine the amount of pain Squall had just suffered through, and in that time, the blond had heard nothing louder than a stifled cry.

"So, do you have room for a tired friend?"

Still looking at the limp form of the brunet, Seifer asked, "Why did you agree to hurt him more?  I told him that you wouldn't."

"He understood the rules of healing, and I couldn't talk him into doing something less drastic."  Chuckling weakly, Irvine continued to say, "Like I warned you earlier, I wasn't able to gain his trust.  He thought I wouldn't be up for the challenge of such extensive healing, and foolish me, I thought he'd fall unconscious after I treated the back of his neck.  An ugly wound, that one.  But he stayed awake through everything.  He just now dropped off and all that's left are scratches.  I hope he won't mind the scar that'll form between his eyes.  I'm too spent to attempt healing something so minor."

Focused on the resting brunet, Seifer never heard the patter of feet, and only became aware of another's presence when someone brushed against him before running into the dimly lit room.  Never acknowledging his father, Leander went directly to the bedside and leaned up on the bloodstained mattress to stare at the face slack in unconsciousness.  Soft green eyes were moist with tears as the child looked at his savior and white teeth bit uncertainly at his lower lip.

"Squall...?"

"Leander," Seifer hissed quietly, upset that his order had been ignored by his son.  He didn't want the young boy to see the bloody mess of the room, a clear indication of how badly injured Squall had been.  "I told you to wait for me."

The boy glanced at his father and sniffed softly before shifting his eyes back to the servant.  "Squall?  Can you wake up?"

"No, he won't wake up, son.  He's exhausted himself and deserves that rest, so come here and..."

The harsh words trailed off as Seifer watched a pale arm lift from the mattress in a slow and graceful motion.  A hand smeared in dried blood rested on the boy's dark hair and fingertips buried into the thick locks.  Seifer then noticed hardly opened eyes, pale blue peaking beneath dark eyelashes as Squall gazed at the upset child.

"Lion cub..."

The hoarse whisper caused Leander to cry freely before he grabbed the hand and held it in a desperate hold.  "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry!  I didn't know about the wuffs, or I wouldn't've run away.  And I'm sorry I yelled.  I didn't mean it.  I don't hate you.  I was just mad!"

To the blond's amazement, Squall smiled warmly.  "I know."

The simple answer didn't seem to be enough for Leander as he sniffled and asked, "You don't hate me?"

"Never," the brunet replied with a forcefulness that Seifer was beginning to associate with the difficult servant.

Managing to smile despite the tears running down his cheeks, the boy squeezed the hand in his hold and then carefully placed it back onto the mattress.  "You can go back to sleep now."

Squall breathed a laugh.  "Thank you, cub."

Unbalanced by the scene before him, Seifer looked to Irvine for his opinions, but found the healer wide-eyed and his mouth partly open in plain shock.  Not understanding the reason for the display of surprise, Seifer asked, "What's wrong?"

Irvine blinked once and then twice after the question before he replied in an awed tone, "Nothing.  Nothing's wrong."

"And I don't exactly believe you."

Shifting violet eyes to the blond, Irvine smiled his lazy smile.  "You never believe me, but that's beside the point.  I think you were about to offer me a warm bed before we were interrupted."

Seifer frowned, but knew he wouldn't be able to drag anything out of the healer.  "Your room is always available and you know it.  Why do you have to ask every time?"

"With your volatile emotions, it never hurts to make certain that I'm still in your good favor."  Glancing over the blond's shoulder, Irvine smirked.  "Ah, Ward, I was wondering what was taking you so long."

Turning around, Seifer looked at the older man and noticed he was a bit worse for wear.  "Don't tell me you fell for the same window trick again."

The large man said nothing, but his lengthy scar flushed with red openly displayed the steward's restrained anger mixed with embarrassment.

"What's this?"

Seifer looked to the healer and explained, "About a year ago, Leander started a trick where he'll point out the window and make you think something is outside.  While your back is turned, he'll run out of the room and, well, 'play' with the lock," the blond said while wiggling his fingers in a sign that the boy had done magic.  "I imagine we'll have a door to fix in the morning."

Ward grumbled something like an apology as he rubbed his shoulder.

Chuckling, Irvine stepped to the large steward.  "Well, in exchange for helping me to my room, I'll treat that bruised arm of yours."

Pale blue eyes flicked to the nobleman, and after receiving a nod from his master, Ward offered his uninjured arm to the healer.  Noticing the long-haired man leaned heavily on the steward, Seifer wondered how long the healer would decide to stay and be pampered for his troubles.  For days most likely, which was fine by the blond.  It would give him more chances to coax some information out of the devious man.

At a soft tug of his pants, Seifer reflexively placed a hand onto a small head before he glanced down at his son.  Leander smiled weakly at the tall blond before shifting his eyes downward in a guilty fashion.

"Squall went back to sleep."

"Then we had better leave him to his rest, shouldn't we?"

"Un."

Pushing the boy out into the hallway, Seifer stole a final glance at the sleeping servant before remembering a question which had yet to be answered.  After closing the door tightly, the blond knelt down and asked his son, "Ander, when Squall helped you get away, how did he fight all of those Ravages?"

"Ravages?" the boy asked with his nose crinkled in thought.

"Those wolves.  We used to call them Ravages back during the war, but I can tell you more about that later.  How did Squall fight them?"

As soft green eyes stared into hard emerald, Leander stated with child-like innocence, "He had a stick."

A pale eyebrow rose in disbelief.  "A stick?"

"Un.  A really big stick."

 

{Continued}

 

Author's Whining -- And finally, that chapter which became two chapters is done.  Wheeee...  So yeah, hope that these two chapters weren't too boring.  I don't know why I spent so much time on setting up this story, but everything felt like it had to be written.  The next chapter will have more interaction between Squall and Seifer, but not the good kind of interaction which I prefer with the duo.  Damn angsty storyline.  Anyway, it will take me a while before I get to the next chapter.  I want to finish 'Blind Sight' first, and maybe do a random one-shot somewhere in between there, and then I'll get back to this story.  Oh, and don't worry, Seifer wins in the end.  Granted, he'll get plenty of bruises along the way in this fic. ^_-