For Nothing, For Everything
June 2005

 

"You aren't lying to me?" Leander asked, his typically smooth brow furrowed in distrust.

From his seated position on the bed, Squall smiled fondly at the youth, amused that he couldn't convince the boy that he felt fine.  There was still some soreness from deeper wounds which had been healed too rapidly, but the dark-haired man had suffered from much worse pains in his past.  And although Squall was reluctant to admit it, the healer who was brought to him by the blond lord was more skilled than most.  But the real question remained in the trustworthiness of Lord Kinneas.

The child's expression changing to one of guilt, Leander crawled closer to the bedridden man.  "I'm sorry you got hurt because of me."

"Enough, lion cub.  You aren't at fault."

"But--"

"But nothing.  I don't want to hear another word about it."

Leander pouted, his green eyes filled with the vibrant emotions of children.

Sighing in frustration, Squall placed a hand onto dark brown hair.  "You are safe.  That is all that matters to me.  Words said in anger aren't important."

"I don't hate you," the boy murmured.

"I know," the stormy-eyed man stated firmly, thinking to himself that it was more his fault than the child's that Leander had gotten upset the afternoon previous.  Squall had been tired of hearing the boy's complaints about his tutoring session, and with a coldness he rarely showed to the child, he had told Leander to quit whining about a privilege few children were granted.  Leander had reacted poorly, and with an angry cry that he hated the servant, the boy had sprinted away from Squall and ran directly into the pack of Ravages.

Thinking of long fangs buried deep into the boy's shoulder, Squall begged in a hoarse whisper, "Forgive me."

Confused, Leander leaned even closer, but before he could question the plead, soft knocking interrupted him.

Though hesitant to cut his time short with the green-eyed boy, Squall composed himself and called for the person to enter.  Instantly, he stiffened at the appearance of the lanky healer.  Lord Kinneas smiled warmly as he stepped inside and moved to the bed, but there was a sharpness to the violet eyes that made Squall wary and alert.

"Enjoying your company?" the man asked brightly as he ruffled the dark hair of the youth.

"Irvine," Leander whined as he escaped the teasing touch and promptly began to fix his ruined ponytail.

His grin widening, Kinneas turned to the bedridden man.  "And how are you feeling this morning?"

"I'm fine," Squall replied stiffly, but then added a muttered, "Because of your healing."

His violet eyes narrowed in soft humor, the long-haired man said, "Leander, would you mind giving us some time alone?  I need to examine our patient here."

The boy nodded before turning to Squall.  "Irvine is really nice and he'll make you all better."

Unsurprised that the child could feel his apprehension, the stormy-eyed man smiled faintly, the silent reply being enough for Leander as he left the room with only a slight drag to the small feet.

"He's worried about you."

Squall saw no need in replying to the obvious as he faced the healer.  "You were thorough enough yesterday.  There's no need for you to examine me now."

Kinneas chuckled while taking a seat at the edge of the mattress.  "While I do have ulterior motives, my vows as a healer force me to make certain that my patients are as healthy as they like to think they are."

"Vows of a healer?  Don't make me laugh."

Ignoring the insult, Kinneas studied the man before him, taking his time until eventually asking, "Are you his father?"

Stunned by the question, Squall could only whisper a startled, "What...?"

"Don't try to lie, sorcerer.  My clothes from yesterday are stained with your blood and Leander trusts me enough to grant me a sample of his.  It would be simple for me to discover the truth, but I'd rather give you the chance to be honest."

Meeting the gaze of piercing amethyst eyes, the dark-haired man stated, "Lord Almasy is his father."

"And what, you think I don't know that another man helped to create the boy?"

Eyes widening, Squall asked, "How...?"

"I knew a sorcerer once.  He told me all about your kind, even about..."  Slowly, the healer's face went slack in surprise as he stared at the brunet.  "Hyne on a stick, you're Squall Leonhart, aren't you?"

Confused about how the lord was able to make that connection, Squall didn't have the mind to deny his background.

A disbelieving laugh escaped Kinneas as he pressed a hand to his face.  "Seifer got fucking Squall Leonhart pregnant?  The Sorcerer Prince?  I know he's an amazing flirt, but damn, how did he manage that?"

Unforgotten pain and anger swelled in Squall's chest as he clutched onto the bed sheets and glared at the healer.

Eventually, the lord collected himself.  "Forgive me, but the sorcerer I knew, his name was 'Leander'.  He spoke of you often and, well, am I wrong to assume that Seifer wasn't the one who named our Leander?"

Surprised beyond words, the brunet stared into violet eyes.  "You... knew my uncle?"  Only after the question was spoken did Squall realize that he had stupidly answered every one of the healer's previous inquiries.

But the man didn't gloat at getting what he wanted.  Instead, he smiled with a fond curl to his lips.  "I knew him briefly while he was traveling about fifteen years ago.  He was the one to recognize my abilities as a healer.  At first, I was horribly disappointed to discover that I had inherited such pathetic powers.  I mean, what healer could ever match a skilled sorcerer?  But Leander scolded me, and then explained that he actually envied my future because I would be able to help people while he could only cause harm."

"Sounds like him," Squall murmured, lost in his own memories as he wrapped an arm tight around his waist.

"It's nice to know that our Leander was named after a good man."

After a time of silence, the sorcerer looked to Kinneas and asked, "Will you tell Lord Almasy?"

Violet eyes studied the man before him, and after a moment of thought, the healer smiled.  "No, I don't think I will.  He obviously doesn't recognize you, so that's his own fault.  Though, I won't lie for you if Seifer begins to ask questions, which he probably will now that you've gotten his attention.  There aren't many people who could survive the claws of a single Ravage, let alone seven of them."

Squall exhaled a shaky breath, knowing that it was his own fault for using his powers too boldly, but he hadn't expected the overwhelming fear that had embraced his heart when he first saw one of the creatures attacking Leander.  From that point on, it had been pure instinct and rage which had led the sorcerer's actions, and a large part of him was proud of what he had accomplished.

"Lucky for you," Kinneas continued, "Seifer is an idiot with the memory of a flea, so your secret should remain safe for a while longer.  Though I'm curious - does Leander know?"

Squall shook his head.  "He's drawn to me, but he doesn't know why."

"A-ah, the bond of birth parent and child."

Not appreciating the mocking tone of the healer, Squall declared, "Lord Almasy has decided to be rid of me, so none of this matters now."

"Hmmm?  Oh, you're referring to that ridiculous tirade of his, are you?  He's already changed his mind.  Seifer is weak when it comes to the desires of his only child, and Leander would be heartbroken if his father sent you away."

Though surprised that he'd be allowed to stay, the sorcerer ignored the ache in his chest and said, "I shouldn't be here."

"Where else do you have to go?"

"... ..."

"You were once a prince to your kind, your father a near equal to our Emperor.  But now, you are a servant in the kitchens, hiding away from those of the Imperial Army while secretly watching over your bastard son.  You've fallen far, sorcerer, and I imagine that this is the safest place you'll find since the Emperor fears the power of the Almasy name."

Though the words were harsh, Squall felt like the healer didn't mean to be hurtful.  Everything mention was the simple truth of his current life, an unavoidable truth that no longer hurt him like it once did.  "What do you care?"

Kinneas grinned at the question.  "You're an interesting man.  And as long as you don't intend any harm toward Seifer, I think that you would be a great benefit to this household."

Scowling, the sorcerer replied, "I would rather if that man didn't know I existed."

The healer straightened at the cool words and hesitantly asked, "Do you really hate the man that much?"

"... ..."

"What about when... I mean, he must have enticed you back then."

Squall breathed a sharp laugh of disgust.

Violet eyes widened in surprise.  "But if he... How--"

The question was cut short by the sound of loud knocking, the door then opening without the person being given permission to enter.  The sight of the broad shouldered blond made Squall reflexively tense in anger, but quickly, the mask of the submissive servant overcame his features as he lowered his eyes and relaxed his pose.

"So, Kinneas, how is our little hero doing?"

"Perfect as can be, thanks to his amazingly skilled healer, of course," the healer replied flippantly, his humored state returned.  "But why don't you ask him directly."

Almasy huffed, the man apparently considering it a burden to speak with the servant.  But when he spoke, his words were hinted with true concern.  "How are you feeling?"

Squall wanted to reply that he felt good enough to leave the property as previously instructed, but at that moment, Leander stepped into view and stood next to his father while his soft green eyes focused on the sorcerer.  It was painful to watch as a large hand settled on the boy's dark hair, the touch wholly welcomed by the child as he leaned against his father's leg.  Unlike times before, Squall couldn't simply turn away and busy himself with a servant's task.  Instead, he was trapped and his eyes morbidly attracted to the connection between father and son.

"Squall."

His name spoken sharply, the brunet automatically looked up and met the emerald eyed gaze that Leander had inherited.  Startled, the sorcerer then recognized that the young lord now knew his name.  Frowning at that realization, Squall glanced away and stated, "I am well, my lord."

"Hn.  Even if that may be the case, I think you need more rest before you return to the kitchens."

"I thought I was relieved of your service, my lord."

With shift of his stance, Almasy said, "Yes, well, I was upset and I directed my anger at you.  After saving my son, I should be rewarding you, not kicking you out onto the streets."

Squall glanced over at the boy who was obviously confused by the information that the servant was to be sent away.  "I have no desire for a reward."

"Don't lie.  Why else would you stupidly face a pack of Ravages?"

As Squall remained silent, Leander pulled on dark slacks.  "Father, you never told me what a Ravage was."

The large blond sighed before looking down at his son.  "Ravages are vicious beasts that came into existence because of a a sick scientist by the name of Odine.  He uses healers to experiment with chimeras, perverted creatures formed from natural animals.  His only success has been the Ravages, a mix of wolf, panther, and Hyne knows what else.  In the end, we got a monster that would kill its own handler if given the chance.  The Emperor was pleased with the outcome and demanded that they would be used in the Massacre against sorcerers."

Soft green eyes went wide as Leander pressed closer to his father.  "They attack sorcerers?"

Quickly, Almasy knelt down and hugged the young boy tightly.  "I won't let anyone or anything else harm you."

"You shouldn't promise the impossible."

The blond lord turned around sharply, his emerald eyes flashing with anger as he glared at the dark-haired servant for his comment.  "How dare you--"

"Those beasts came out of nowhere," Squall interrupted softly, letting some of his fear from that day sound in his voice.  "On your own property, they were lying in wait for someone to come near, to feed their endless hunger.  How can you protect your son when you can't even anticipate the attack?"

Almasy frowned with offense.  "I will protect him now that I know there is a threat to my family.  But the question remains - how were you able to protect him against those beasts?"

"... ..."

"No reply, is it?" the blond asked with a sneer.  "Then what about the Emperor?  Would he have a reply for you?"

"Enough, Seifer," Kinneas demanded as he moved between lord and servant.  His voice lowered in a serious tone, the healer said, "This man saved your son through his own methods.  Don't let your paranoia get the best of you."

Almasy stood tall to face the lanky man.  "We all know that the Emperor has to approve the use of Ravages.  This is obviously a plan of his, but whether to be rid of my son or to fool me with a spy in the guise of a hero, I cannot be certain."

"I would never serve that man," Squall hissed coolly, purposefully keeping his eyes downcast to prevent the lord from seeing any unnatural flash of energy in the stormy depths.

"And why should I believe any word that leaves your mouth?" Almasy demanded.

"Squall doesn't lie!" Leander yelled as he escaped his father and crawled onto the bed next to the dark-haired man.  "And he isn't bad!"

"Ander, you don't understand," the blond lord said as he reached out, but before he could retrieve his son from the mattress, a steady hand settled on his arm and forced him to look into violet eyes.

"I will vouch for him," Kinneas offered sincerely.

Both lord and servant were surprised by the healer's words as they stared at the long-haired man.  Almasy was the first to regain his voice as he demanded, "Why would you do something so foolish?"

"Seifer, have you forgotten that this man didn't wish to see a healer?"

Almasy straightened at the question.  "But you said--"

Kinneas interrupted.  "During his treatment, several aspects of his background were revealed to me.  And before you ask, no, I won't reveal his secrets to you, but I want you to trust me when I say that this man has no desire to obey the Emperor.  And," he added while looking to the sorcerer, "he has suffered enough in this life.  He doesn't need you punishing him for his heroic deed.  Stupid, but heroic."

Squall felt the weight of the amethyst eyes, knowing that the healer was scolding him simply because he could.

After tense silence, Almasy commented, "You are asking a lot of me, Kinneas."

Returning his gaze to the blond, Kinneas smiled warmly.  "I know, but I swear to you that this man... that Squall means you no harm."

Though frowning deeply, the lord nodded and then looked to the bedridden brunet.  "I hope you realize the debt you now owe Lord Kinneas.  There are few people whom I can trust by word alone."

Squall bowed his head, not intending to argue the obvious.

"If that's settled," Kinneas stated in a lighter tone, "Will you both leave me to my patient?  I still haven't had the chance to examine him properly."

With a huff, the blond lord turned to leave, but his dark-haired son remained on the bed as he looked to the seated man.

"Go, cub," Squall said gently, resisting the need to touch the youth.

With the same frown as his father, Leander nodded and reluctantly followed the large blond out of the room.

At the sound of the closed door, Kinneas sighed in relief as he slumped down onto the edge of the mattress.  "That man will be the death of me someday."

"There was no reason for you to fight him over me."

"Seifer is a thick-headed idiot.  Fighting is how you get anything through to him."

Though hating the great debt he owed the healer, Squall placed a fist at his chest.  "With the core of my power, I swear to someday repay you for your generosity."

As if startled, Kinneas looked over sharply at the sorcerer and frowned.  "You don't need to be so dramatic."

Squall scoffed, but didn't speak his thoughts concerning how the healer currently controlled his very existence with the information he held.  With one word, the Imperial Army could execute him for being a sorcerer.  Or else, the blond lord could be informed of his relation to Leander, and there was no telling how the volatile man could react.  It seemed Fate was determined to make the sorcerer's life as difficult as possible.

"We were interrupted earlier," Kinneas stated with serious eyes.  "Tell me, how did it happen that you were with Seifer?"

Scowling, Squall replied, "That is none of your business."

"I know, but..."  With a frustrated scratch to his hair, Kinneas leaned back.  "Is it wrong that I want to know if Seifer hurt you?"

Briefly closing his eyes as past memories assaulted him, the sorcerer glanced at the expression of the violet-eyed man and weakened at the obvious distress of the healer.  "He didn't rape me, if that's what you are asking."

Kinneas exhaled deeply at the response.  "Thank Hyne.  In the past, when he would get overly drunk, I was always afraid that Seifer wouldn't be able to control himself.  And now, with your reaction to his presence... I won't pry any further, but thank you for letting me keep some faith in that idiot friend of mine."

Watching the healer, Squall couldn't help wondering how the blond lord was able to gain the loyalty of such friends.  Ward was the same, willing to follow Almasy without an explanation as to why he held faith in the arrogant man.  And Leander loved his father to the point of worshipping the blond.  His soul hurting from the unintentional betrayal of his son and his father's friend, Squall wanted to know what they saw in Almasy that he could not.

Kinneas fidgeted vaguely, the sudden anxiousness making Squall frown at the healer.  "What?"

With violet eyes wide in a somewhat innocent expression, the man asked, "Could I make a final request?"

Squall glared with the intent to refuse, but deciding that he shouldn't upset his potential ally, he arched a dark eyebrow in a questioning expression.

"May I see that 'big stick' Leander has mentioned?"  At the brunet's confusion, Kinneas smiled and explained, "I believe he meant your staff.  Either way, I've only seen the core of a sorcerer close-up once before and if it wouldn't be too much of a bother..."

Once remembering that the man had known his uncle, the request wasn't a great surprise to Squall.  Not giving a vocal reply, the sorcerer lifted his hands from the mattress with his palms facing the ceiling.  The air above his hands blurred as if from heat, and then came into sharp focus as a long staff of thick gnarled wood appeared from nothing.  First holding onto the important weapon in brief reluctance, Squall offered the staff to Kinneas.

Violet eyes wider than before, Kinneas took the weapon with a reverent touch and examined the burnt etchings along the wood.  The numerous tiny runes covered every inch of the staff, a fact that would have made the length of the weapon appear black from a distance.

"Incredible," Kinneas breathed in true awe.  "Leander, your uncle, he had mentioned that you were powerful, but I didn't know that a single sorcerer could hold the knowledge of so many spells.  And you're so young."

Scoffing, Squall pointed out, "You can't be much older than me."

"And that's why this is so amazing.  Hyne, you must have spent half of your lifetime in the library to learn this number of spells.  Did you ever play as a child?"

The sorcerer scowled in response.

Laughing at the expression, Kinneas returned the staff.  "Thank you.  I know that it takes a lot of trust for you to allow someone else to hold the core of your power like that.  Even old Leander was reluctant to let me examine his, and he knew me for over a month at that point."

With an indifferent shrug, Squall took the weapon in one hand, the dark staff then disappearing as it was restored to his body where it belonged.

Kinneas stood from the bed and smiled as he met cooler eyes.  "Now, shall we see how well you are healing, hmm?"


Seated on damp grass, Squall gazed up at the clear sky that warned of another heated day in the last month of the summer.  It was only a short time after the sun had risen, but the brunet already felt sore and worn.  Edea Kramer had taken pity on the young man in the week previous, allowing him to settle into the hectic pace of the kitchens while the last of his deeper wounds had healed completely.  But that temporary break had ended, forcing Squall to return to his typical duties that involved everything from carrying water, pealing potatoes, and waking lazy servants... basically anything that he was told to do by the strict matron.

The sound of a sharp intake of air made Squall glance down at Leander, the dark-haired youth seated with his legs crossed and his elbows resting on his knees.  The boy was completely involved with watching his father and Ward spar, something that had become more frequent as of late.  Squall didn't care much for the demonstration, but with nothing to do until lunch had to be prepared, he couldn't refuse the invitation to spend some time with his oblivious son.  Though, if Squall had known previously that it would involve watching Almasy swing his blade around...

"Father was a soldier, y'know.  He was an important officer in the army."

Squall grunted in agreement, knowing better than the young boy about what role Almasy played in the Imperial Army.

"He looks so fast, and he's just sparring."  Glancing back to the stormy-eyed man, Leander asked, "Do you think he could've killed those wuffs?"

Unable to lie to his son, Squall instead moved his gaze to seriously examine the blond lord.  In the past weeks of renewed training, Almasy had improved greatly since his first attempt at sparring the large steward.  Strengthened muscle moved with the fluid grace of a natural swordsman, his hands and feet reacting quickly as if the green-eyed man could foresee the coming attack of the veteran fighter.

It wasn't the first time Squall had witnessed the skill of the young lord, and though he hated to say it, he eventually replied the boy's question with a terse, "If he were smart about it."

His small nose wrinkling, Leander asked, "What does that mean?"

"Watch him fight.  He may attack with skill, but he doesn't defend as he should.  Ravages strike in packs.  If you can't strike down one animal while protecting your back from two others, you're dead."

Naive eyes wide, Leander turned and watched his father with a more critical examination.  "But... you think he could've killed them, right?"

"A-ah," Squall eventually replied, deciding that the protectiveness of the father over his son would have given Almasy an extra edge against the viciousness of Ravages.

"Un, I think so, too."

While bittersweet, the sorcerer had to feel some relief that the young boy loved the man would took part in his creation.  It was risky in the past to leave the infant at the doorstep of the Almasy Estate, but there were few other choices available to Squall.  At the time, he had partly feared that the child would be placed back outside with the trash.  Instead, beyond his greatest hopes, Leander had been made heir to the estate and, despite the impossibility, he gained a true father in Seifer Almasy.  It was almost unfair that the child had it so easy.

"Father, you were great!" Leander called out, alerting Squall to approach of the sweaty lord.  As the boy stood to properly greet his father, he asked, "When do I get to use a sword?"

"Not for a few more years, kid.  But perhaps we can start some general training once I'm back in shape, hn?"

"Really?!"

Laughing at the energetic reply, Almasy ruffled dark hair.  "It's a promise.  But first, you have to impress me by improving your progress in your studies."

Instantly the boy quieted at the condition, his lips forming an admirable frown.  "I have been working hard."

Almasy smirked.  "I know that, but I won't let you use our time together as an excuse to 'forget' your lessons."

Leander deepened his frown as he jerked away from his father's touch, but the youth didn't argue any further.

Bright green eyes then looked up from his son, the lord's smile fading as he focused on the seated servant.  "Ander, why don't you help Ward clean up."

Confused by the request, Leander looked between his father and Squall, but receiving a gentle push from the blond, he reluctantly jogged in the direction of the large steward.

Meanwhile, Almasy shifted his stance into a more intimidating pose.  "Shouldn't you be working?"

"I'm on break, my lord."

"And you chose to waste your time with a six-year-old child?"

Hearing the accusation in the man's voice, Squall scowled as he stood from the ground.  "He invited me."

"That doesn't matter.  I'll be frank with you - I don't like my son spending so much time with a servant I hardly know.  I would appreciate it if you could... limit your contact with him."

It took an incredible amount of restraint for the sorcerer to school his expression as he stared unbelievingly into emerald eyes.  To be ordered to not see his son... But of course Almasy had no knowledge about their ties, and if he wanted to, Squall could understand why the lord would demand such a thing for Leander's safety.  Still, Squall had no desire to be rational.

Turning his back to the large blond, Squall stated coolly, "I won't turn him away if he comes to me."

"Then I'll make certain that he won't."

With his breath caught in his throat, the sorcerer didn't reply as he stepped in the direction of the overly large mansion.

"That isn't the way a servant should excuse himself."

Stopping in place, Squall closed his eyes in a silent count of three before he turned around with his head bowed.  "Forgive me, my lord, but my break has ended and I'm needed back in the kitchen."

Almasy huffed at the suitably submissive tone.  "Very well, but only because Matron would have my head if I interfered with her domain."

Nodding, the sorcerer returned to his escape.

"But be warned, Squall.  I'm watching you."

The servant continued to walk away, using all of his skill to mask the amount of damage the lord had caused.  Erratic emotions flared within him, distracting Squall as he returned to the kitchens without a word and delved directly into his everyday tasks.  More than ever, the sorcerer was certain that he should have never come to the Almasy Estate, no matter how much his instincts demanded that he should be at his son's side.  But thinking that, he also knew that leaving Leander a second time would be near impossible.

A hand at his shoulder startled Squall, making him drop his partially pealed potato as he looked behind him.  Seeing the scarred face set in a serious expression, the brunet resisted an annoyed frown and returned to his task.

"Why do you do this?" Ward asked in his gruff voice.  When he received no reply from the brunet, he continued, "I told you that Master Almasy wasn't comfortable with Leander's friendship with you.  I warned you about that specifically, and you flaunt that in front of his face?"

Squall didn't explain his actions, hating the need to hold his tongue.  The large man didn't know about the sorcerer's connection to Leander, and though Squall wasn't too certain Ward would be disgusted with his unnatural existence, he couldn't risk losing the respect of his father's friend.  Though young at the time, he remembered the measured gazes that always followed his kindhearted uncle, and Squall didn't think he could survive being the focus of that same offended glare.

Sighing, Ward squeezed the brunet's narrow shoulder.  "I've told you before that we've been lucky to have you around to watch over the young master, but... can't you be more discreet about it?  Especially now with Master Almasy feeling overly protective of his son?"

Focused on the flashes of his moving blade, Squall wanted to argue back, to declare that he had an equal right to hover over the boy he had nearly lost.  Instead, he continued to peal potatoes with a vicious speed, hoping to not lose a finger in process as he finished one potato and reached for another.

"Squall," Ward scolded while grabbing onto the smaller man's wrist, thereby preventing him from continuing his task.  "I'm worried about you.  Do you want to be discovered?"

With a quiet growl, the sorcerer jerked his hand out of the man's hold.  "And what if I don't care anymore?"  When the large man had no immediate response, Squall glanced up and immediately regretted his unthinking words as the steward stared down with a haunted and horrified gaze.

"Tell me that you don't mean that."

Avoiding the man's stare, stormy eyes shifted to the barrel of potatoes.  "Of course I don't.  And... and I promise to hold better judgment in the future when it comes to Leander."

An approving hum rumbled in the large man's throat.  "Thank you.  But Squall... if you need someone to speak with... about anything..."

"I'm fine," the brunet replied, knowing that Ward felt responsible for him, and yet, the steward had always been uncomfortable with playing the fatherly role.  Unable to express his appreciation for the man's concern, Squall smiled softly and repeated, "I'm fine."

Ward frowned with a pained glint to his eyes, and then turned sharply to face the exit.  He muttered a quiet, "I'm sorry," before walking away, leaving the speechless sorcerer behind.

Squall watched the man's broad back until Ward disappeared beyond the doorway.  Exhaling a tired breath, the brunet wasted several moments on useless thoughts as he wondered the numerous 'what ifs' that plagued him daily.  But the hypothetical fantasies did nothing to change his current reality, and so, Squall retrieved a dusty potato from its barrel and proceeded to bury himself in the seemingly endless task.


Seated on the edge of the mattress, Squall held tightly onto the shaking child in his arms and wondered when he became so vulnerable to the desires of his son.  For over two weeks, the sorcerer had obeyed the order to leave Leander alone, and at the same time, Lord Almasy had held his word to keep the boy from the vicinity of the servant.  In that time, Squall found himself exhausted, and yet unable to sleep despite the extra effort he was placing into his work.  It frustrated him to no end, but then a short time earlier, Leander had snuck into the servants' quarters, and Squall recognized the reason for his anxiousness.  The dark-haired boy seemed relieved to find the servant awake, and with a quiet plead, Leander led the older man to his chambers.  Though reluctant, Squall didn't argue and eventually found himself in his current position seated on the bed with the crying child in his arms.

Hiccupping, Leander asked, "Wh, where've you been?  I... I had dreams... and... and you got eaten... and there was b-b-blood!"

With a quiet hush, Squall pressed his cheek against dark hair.  "It was just a dream."

"B, but--"

"Shhh, you need to calm down.  I'm safe and well, so there's no reason to be afraid."

Shoving against the chest in front of him, Leander leaned back to glare at the servant.  "But why aren't you around anymore?"

Squall smiled weakly, but didn't reply.  "You should get more sleep.  Don't you have a busy day tomorrow?"

The boy scowled at not getting an answer.  "Do you hate me now?"

"Never.  But I've told you before, Leander, I'm only a servant.  It's not proper for a young lord to spend too much time with his servants."

"But... but you aren't--"

"It's what I am, and someday you'll understand that.  But for now, it's time for sleep."

Moist green eyes reflected soft candlelight as Leander stared up at the dark-haired man.  "Will you stay?"

"Leander--"

"I don't wanna sleep, but if you stay, it wouldn't be so bad."

"I shouldn't."

"Please?"

Sighing, Squall again questioned what made him so weak to the child before him, but entrapped by the innocence presense in the green eyes, the sorcerer found himself nodding to the boy's request.  Though intending to move to a nearby chair, Squall was jerked downward by the young boy and suddenly found himself lying on the bed with Leander curled against his chest.  Hot tears were once again felt against cold skin, silencing the sorcerer's arguments about the child being left to his bed alone.

Wrapping his arms around the youth, Squall kissed dark hair and whispered, "Go to sleep, young lion, and may the Goddess grant you pleasant dreams."

~ > < ~

It was the sound of yelling and the sensation of being lifted that wrenched Squall from sleep.  The dim lighting of the room made the sorcerer think of fire, the nights of the Massacre never dark with the city and castle engulfed in flames.  Reverting to that time, Squall instinctively drew in the air around him to create a dense shield, the act saving his breath as he was shoved roughly against a wall.  He then felt the approach of a thrown punch before seeing it, and with the shield slowing down the attack, Squall easily grabbed onto the large fist before finally focusing on the man before him.

Stormy eyes widened at the sight of Lord Almasy, the blond not hiding any of his confusion at his punch being blocked by a servant.  But confusion quickly melted into furious anger as the lord growled and shoved the smaller man hard against the wall for a second time, forcing a quiet groan from the brunet.

"I tell you to leave my son alone, and I find you in his bed?" Almasy hissed in a low threatening tone.  "How fucking dare you, you perverted bastard!"

As the hand at his shirt lifted to encircle his throat, Squall was stunned by the realization as to why the blond lord was so adamant that he was to keep his distance from the boy.  It had nothing to do with the heir of the Almasy Estate making friends with a lowly servant, nor something connected to the Ravages and the Emperor who commanded them.  Staring forward with disbelieving eyes, Squall hardly heard the cries of Leander begging for his release.  Others were entering the room, only the large form of Ward recognizable to Squall in his current state, but discretion no longer mattered to the sorcerer as heated rage built up in his chest.

In a fast move, Squall clamped his fingers around the wrist of the hand that was trying to suffocate him.  Locating a pressure point, he loosened the deadly hold and jerked the hand away, giving himself minor scratches from cut fingernails.  With the use of his shield, Squall knocked the large man away, and was silently impressed when Almasy saved himself from falling onto his ass.

Glaring directly into green eyes filled with confusion and anger, Squall found it hard to breathe.  "You know shit about me.  For you to even assume that I would lay a threatening hand on Leander..."  Teeth clenched, the sorcerer battled against the overwhelming desire to tear apart the blond before him.  But then Leander ran into view, the boy latching onto his father's leg with a frightened gleam to the soft green eyes.  Something broke within Squall as he realized that the child was afraid for the life of the father he knew.  Wild power crashed back within the sorcerer as his resolve died, and with his head bowed, Squall said, "I was a fool to ever come here."

Stepping to the doorway, Squall hardly noticed as the random spectators moved aside to allow him passage.  Only Ward attempted to stop him, but the large man was knocked back a pace with a gentle wind attack.  Reaching the hallway, Squall could hear the yelling of the blond lord as he demanded his son to release him, but the sorcerer couldn't take any pride in the fact that Leander was instinctively using his powers to protect the servant.  In the end, the life of Seifer Almasy had come first to the young boy, and Squall didn't know how to deal with that.

Once turning into an empty hallway, Squall summoned his staff.  Grasping the gnarled wood in two hands, the sorcerer spoke a single word as he slammed the weapon into the ground, and with no thought of future plans, Squall vanished from the Almasy Estate.

 

{Continued}

 

Author's Whining -- Stupid story, stupid chapter.  Here again is a chapter that is being split up into two individual chapters.  I apologize for the minor cliffhanger, but this really was a good breaking point for the current storyline.  And just remember, this is all Seifer's fault.  If he wasn't such an utter bastard, then I wouldn't be having these problems. =P