The High Price of Love
January 2007



Today is going to be a great day.

That was my first thought upon waking about twenty minutes ago and I have no reason to question that certainty.  Resting on my back with an arm bent behind my head, I have the perfect view of the unattainable kitten curled against my bare chest.  It was a surprise, really, to find Squall still comfortable in the position that I had forced him into last night after returning from the rehearsal dinner.  He had been angry at me over... well, there are plenty of things I could choose as I wasn't on my best behavior last night, but I imagine that the public licking of chocolate from his lips ranked highest on his list.  In any case, I had used the excuse that he shouldn't go to sleep angry and gave him a hug of apology.  Of course I then refused to release the trapped princess, but sadly, Squall had stopped squirming the moment he realized that I was enjoying it a little bit too much.

With a smile at those thoughts, I can't help being curious as to why the brunet hadn't escaped the moment I fell asleep.  A small, pitiful piece of me wants to believe that he's responding to what I told him last night, but I know the truth.  I know that he can't let himself trust me, not when the last boyfriend he loved had abused his blind trust and nearly cost Squall his life.  And God in Heaven, if that cock-sucking bastard wasn't already dead...


The sleepy voice makes me grin.  "Yes, princess?"

"Stop growling," he demands as he curls a little tighter against my body, his cold feet slipping between my legs.

Though I try my damnedest to hold back laughter, a deep chuckle still leaves me.  That subtle shake of my body is the final disturbance necessary to wake Squall fully from light sleep.  Lifting his head enough to direct pale eyes up at my face, the dark-haired beauty simply stares at me for a long moment.  While my overly smug expression brings a small frown to his lips, he surprisingly doesn't react with any amount of violence.  Instead, he returns to his previous position with his head resting on my chest and a quiet 'dumbass' whispered against my skin.

"Well, good morning to you, too," I say while I stroke my fingers along his side left exposed from his bunched shirt and debate the consequences of sliding my hand beneath his boxers.  "Did you have pleasant dreams of Prince Charming rescuing you from your idiot step-mother?"

In a light growl of displeasure, Squall asks, "What time is it?"

"A little after six.  You still have plenty of time to go prancing in the streets if that's what has you irritated."

Squall scoffs.  "That's the least of my worries right now."

"Well, you can't be too concerned if you haven't moved yet," I state with a pleased smile, enjoying the brunet's docile behavior this morning.

"Whatever," he mumbles while shifting slightly in order to stare down the length of the bed.  "You don't have an erection for once."

"Don't sound so surprised.  Haven't I been telling you for days that you're the cure to everything that ails me?"

"... Is that so?"

Those words that flow in a subtle purr brings a deep chill to my spine, making me smile in delight that Squall isn't rejecting the idea that I'm sincerely interested in him.  Perhaps a few of my words from last night did seep through the thick skin of this lion.

With a quiet sigh, Squall makes the decision to sit up from my side, a most disappointing action until the slim brunet turns and places a hand at the other side of my body.  The unfortunately clothed beauty positioned directly above me, I grin at the sign that he isn't going to escape just yet.  Dark chestnut hair hangs over pale eyes, his deep black lashes adding a touch of cold light to the blue-gray irises.  Challenged by that frozen gleam, I want to grab onto his hair and kiss him until he feels like the flames of Hell are burning through his body, but I know nothing is that simple with this man.

"What do you think you can gain from whoring yourself to me?"

I blink at the question, surprise coming well before anger as I stare beyond dark strands of hair and focus on stormy eyes.  I grit my teeth in readiness to snap back with my own comment, but then those entrancing eyes cross just slightly and the man's true thoughts are revealed to me.  Sighing out the last of my anger, I mutter to myself, "Damn it, I've fucked this up, haven't I?"

An eyebrow lowers in confusion, but Squall doesn't move from his rather intimate position.

"I've been doing the escort thing for too many years if I can't show my interest in another person without seeming like a prostitute hungry for a meal."

With a breath of disbelief, Squall argues, "You aren't interested in me.  You're playing a role--"

Grabbing onto the teasing strands of chestnut, I pull the man down to my level.  "This isn't a role I'm playing, Squall.  I've been the devoted boyfriend and insatiable boytoy many times before and I've never gotten confused about the matter.  Admittedly this was a game with you at first, but the moment you ousted me as an escort and said that you didn't care..."  I smirk and I'm certain that my hunger shows through to the brunet.  "At that instant, I knew that someone very interesting had fallen into my lap."

"That's all it was?" Squall states in soft surprise.  "You haven't been acting since..."

At his hesitance, I supply, "Since that day?  Nah, I wouldn't go that far.  I recognized your potential, but I've been fooled one too many times to believe in that 'love at first sight' crap you think exists.  And so I waited patiently, I watched your every move, and I gained an addiction without realizing it."

Soft lips part, but no words are spoken as Squall gazes down at me.

"Listen, I know you have no reason to trust me, but--"

"Don't say anything else," Squall demands in a low tone that instantly steals away my voice.

He leans in closer to me, the feel of his loose shirt against my skin causing all sort of interesting sensations.  For a long moment, I stare dumbly into his stony gaze, unable to imagine what the brunet has planned for me since he doesn't share my lustful and wholly lecherous instincts.  Then full lips curl just slightly, almost unnoticeably, before Squall bends down in a quick motion.  I can't hold back a groan at the unexpected feel of those lips caressing the side of my neck.  I think to stop the apparently hungry kitten, but a flick of a tongue and the brush of teeth quickly ends that line of noble consideration.

The press of lips travels lower, following the line of my collarbone to the center of my chest.  It doesn't take too much thought to guess his eventual destination, but it's a lovely surprise when Squall drifts to the right instead of left.  A deft tongue flicks at the golden loop pierced through my nipple, my inevitable groan bringing a sly curl to his full lips.  The moment his teeth take hold of the piercing, my hand moves instantly to the portion of his back left bare from his raised shirt, and with a testing touch, I slip my fingers beneath his boxers and follow the line of his spine.

"No tail..." I murmur with some surprise.

The golden loop still trapped between white teeth, Squall lifts his head to direct a questioning gaze in my direction.

With a pleased smile, I state, "No tail means that there's a good chance that I'm not dreaming right now."

The brunet stares at me for a moment, his blue-gray eyes critical and harsh at the explanation which probably sounds like complete nonsense to him.  Is it my fault that he doesn't believe me when I say that he is a real sex kitten in my dreams?

After releasing an ever-suffering sigh at being unable to understand me, Squall returns to his apparent seduction as I leave my hand in place.  I could tell him that it isn't necessary to place such focused attention on me, that he already has my body completely and utterly under his spell, but it's an intoxicating sight to watch his careful placement of each kiss and bite.  I never imagined that there could be a methodical approach to sex, passion and emotion typically outweighing anything remotely logical in my experience.  It makes me curious how far this beauty can be pushed before he'd lose this obsessive control over his emotions.

With leisurely grace, Squall crawls backward to give himself a more comfortable position to reach the lower areas of my body.  He eventually lifts up onto hands and knees, his gaze drifting to the bulge of my boxers as he smiles with satisfaction.  "Now that's something I've seen before."

"Don't say that you're surprised," I reply with a hoarse purr and a slight lift of my hips.

Squall shrugs.  "Not surprised, but I thought it'd take a little more effort to get you this aroused."

"Well, now you know."

Stormy eyes glance up, a glint of interest highlighting the icy orbs before he nods slightly.  "Now I know."

A finger slips down the silk of my boxers, the elegant digit applying pressure at the perfect spot to draw a growled groan from my lips.  But that moan of pleasure quickly turns into one of question when Squall abruptly slides off the bed and steps in the direction of the far wall.

"Fucking Hell, don't go back into the closet on me," I state with both irritation and curiosity while leaning up onto bent elbows.

Squall scoffs as he quickly grabs a set of clean clothes from the open closet.  "Remember, don't jack off on my bed."

"Huh?" is my intelligent retort, confusion overwhelming me as I wonder why I would do the five-finger-tango when I had a playful kitten around.  It's not until Squall places a hand on the door leading outside that I realize he isn't planning to continue what he started.  And as dark hair disappears behind the door, I'm motivated by heated anger to jump off the mattress and chase after the cock-tease bastard despite the complaint of my unsatisfied dick.  Across the hall, the bathroom door nearly closes before I slam a heavy hand against the painted wood.  While the hit wasn't hard enough to create an opening for my large frame, I still manage to keep the door open.  Squall glares at me from beyond the door, his eyes cold and unforgiving as they tell me to go the fuck away.

"Don't play games with me, Squally-boy," I warn in low tones.  "Let me in."

"... ..."

"If you don't open this door in the next three seconds, I'll go find your Daddy-dearest and make a scene about you being a sadist."

Squall hesitates out of pure stubbornness, but then realizes that I'm not someone who threatens lightly and it visibly worries him that I've chosen his father as my pray.  Unfortunate for Squall, I had figured out on my first day here that there are few things which Squall holds as a high priority in his life.  And since his dear adoptive sister and precious niece don't arrive until later today, that leaves Laguna as my prime target for the meantime.

The moment Squall steps back from the door, I place my full weight against the painted wood and force the smaller man aside as I barge into the bathroom.  Closing the door with a light touch to ensure that no one is wakened at the sound, I tower over the undaunted man.  "Now, what the fuck did you think you were doing back there?"

His lips twist into a slight scowl.  "You deserve it."

"I deserve...?"  The reality of the situation suddenly hits me, and with anger evaporating into surprise, I stare at the dark-haired beauty.  "Holy shit, you were punishing me just now?"

Squall averts his gaze, his stance tense and ready to strike at any wrong move.

Despite his edgy appearance, I can't prevent deep laughter at the knowledge that this seemingly prudish man had just used my attraction for him against me.  "Good Lord, I keep calling you sadist in my head, but I never really thought you had those tendencies.  Just how long have you wanted a pet chained to your side, hmm?"

"... ..."

I lean in close to the beauty and unintentionally back him against the bathroom wall when he retreats from my invasion of his personal space.  In a mostly teasing, but somewhat serious tone, I ask him, "Are you going to tell me what I've done to deserve the wrath of my master?"

"... You know what you did last night."

"I did about twenty things last night that made you glare at me.  Care to narrow it down a little bit?"

Eyes of cold fire focus in my direction.  "You humiliated me."

"And that's supposed to reduce the possibilities?" I ask with a grin.

With a whispered curse at my apparent idiocy, Squall crosses his arms and moves his attention to the shower curtain adorned with neon cartoon fish.

My patience slowly wearing thin and my cock sore from neglect, I place a hand beneath his chin and stroke his pale skin.  "Tell me what I've done to offend you, princess, and I swear to make things better."

"You can't," Squall bites out, but oddly doesn't knock aside my touch.  "You made me look like a slut."

"A slut?  When did I... oh... wait, don't tell me..."  It's an impossible task to hold back my laughter once I realize that this serious man is referring to the 'zipper incident', otherwise known as me dragging Squall inside from the hotel balcony with his pants left undone from my failed attempt at molesting the dark-haired beauty.  Truth be told, I didn't mean to embarrass him like that, but the moment Squall had promised to think about my place in his life, I had completely forgotten about his vaguely indecent state.  And really, it was an unzipped pair of pants - it's not like people haven't seen that one before.

"It's not funny, you bastard.  Everyone saw it and they thought..."  Lips tight in frustration, Squall continues to glare at the brightly colored curtain.

I grin smugly at the unintentional, but very satisfying effect I had caused.  "What, they thought I had my wicked way with you on the balcony?  That's classic, but everyone should know that fiction is a lot more fun than the truth."

"You can laugh, but my father was the one to hear about their... disapproval."

My smile fades at the tightly spoken argument, realizing that we had finally gotten to the heart of the matter.  It seemed strange for Squall to give a fuck about what others thought about his lifestyle, but I never considered the passive cruelty of families.  I wonder what they had said to Laguna after seeing Squall reenter the hotel dining hall with his pants unzipped and me close at his side.  Damn it to Hell, I'm supposed to be the whore around here, not this straight-laced beauty.

"Squall," I whisper as I guiltily lower my hand from his chin.  "I'm sorry."

He closes his eyes briefly, his inner pain obvious in that moment before blue-gray orbs peer at me through dark lashes.  "You're an idiot."

"I know, but I swear I never meant--"

He raises a hand to silence me.  "Don't bother.  If I had been anyone else, no one would have noticed.  It's not your fault that they were looking for something scandalous to pin on me, real or imaginary."

With a disbelieving look at the brunet, I ask, "But if it wasn't my fault, then why did I have to be punished?"

"Because you never consider that there are consequences to your actions," Squall states plainly.

"Consequences, huh?"  Sliding a leg forward, I place my bent knee against ratty boxers and the prize hidden beneath.  At the brunet's quiet hiss, I chuckle and taunt, "Well, it feels like I'm not the only one who doesn't consider the backlash of hasty actions."

Glaring at me through narrowed eyes, Squall argues, "Of course I got aroused - I'm not dead, you dumbass."

"No need to tell me how alive you are, princess," I say while rocking my leg against his arousal in small circles, ensuring that my own erection is felt against his thigh.  "So what should we do about our mutual problem, hmmm?"

"... Nothing."

"Sorry, but I don't believe that's an option at this point."

"Then make it an option," Squall demands hoarsely, his body responding in a most contrary fashion compared to his words.

"Now, now, didn't you watch those sex education movies back in school?  You can become sterile if you don't give your equipment the release it needs."

"There's no such movie," he argues pitifully, then adding under his breath, "And what do I care if I'm sterile?"

With a chuckle at his overly logical response, I brush my lips against his cheek before resting my chin on his shoulder.  The increased tenseness to his body would have been impossible to miss, and if I didn't know better, I would think that Squall wanted nothing to do with me.  Unfortunate for him, I know that he doesn't fear me, but lives in terror of the disease that supposedly exists within him.

"We don't have to do anything risky," I offer with caution and hopefulness.  "I just want to make you feel good, even if it's only my hand doing the work."

After a long moment of thought, Squall asks, "And in return?"

I smile at the careful reply, myself wondering how long its been since this man allowed himself to enjoy another's company.  "How about we feel good at the same time?"

Again silence reigns as Squall considers his options.  Meanwhile, I struggle with the desire to fully embrace this beauty and make him mine.  It almost makes me laugh since I was certain it would be a woman who would entrance me like this, a good assumption since I've never fallen in love with a man before.  It's not a matter of attraction since sex with men has never been an issue, but love doesn't typically spark between two horny guys looking for a fuck.

"My hands are cold."

I lean back at the dryly spoken statement that failed in the attempt to dissuade me.  "You say that like I haven't noticed it," I comment in a low tone, adoring the way his eyes cross just slightly whenever he lets down his guards like this.  "I don't mind, Squall.  I want you and everything that is you."

His full lips part slightly as if to say something, but he then shakes his head at the unspoken thought.  As stormy eyes gaze defiantly into mine, a bold hand slips beneath the waistband of my boxers and his fingers get directly to the point of the matter.  Squall certainly wasn't kidding about cold fingers, but the ecstasy of moving a step further with this man makes the sting of frost something unexpectedly pleasurable.  Groaning with a light buck of my hips, I place one hand deep into dark hair and brush my other hand down his clothed backside.  Squall arches back against my touch, his blue-gray eyes shining with a harsh edge as if to remind me that I'm not supposed to do anything invasive.

With a grin at the chilling glare, I bend down to lay claim on inviting lips, and with the hope that the kiss is suitably distracting, I maneuver my hand past his loose shirt and lower into his plain cotton shorts.  I squeeze a tight ass cheek, earning myself a bite to my venturous tongue and an unfriendly grasp around my cock.  Chuckling into our kiss despite the pain, I steal another quick grope before moving my hand to where I had been given permission to molest.  Somewhat surprisingly, Squall presses his hips forward into my touch and breathes a sigh in quiet relief before taking a more active role in our kiss.  God, if only I knew the secret to make him always this receptive.

Not yet certain of what Squall prefers, I stick to the normal routine while testing the additional touches that cause various reactions ranging from threat-filled growls to hard pants of breath between needy kisses.  Meanwhile, harmful bites are apparently reserved for the times my fingers drift too far back.  But interestingly enough, Squall mimics my various techniques, something that could be attributed to either inexperience or to him thinking that I favor these type of touches.  Whatever the reason, the dark-haired beauty proves to be a quick learner with a pair of hands that warm given the proper amount of friction.

"Damnit..." Squall bites out as he breaks away from a particularly hard kiss, his lower lip bearing a shine of fresh blood.

Licking at the cut the kitten had given me, I press forward into the rocking motions of his hips, somewhat impressed by the strength of the slim body.  It's disappointing when Squall closes his eyes with a strained whine, but I don't argue for fear of ruining the tense moment.  His hand then abruptly constricts around my dick, stealing my breath for the split second before I feel the splatter of hot fluid on my skin.

"Fucking damn it," Squall curses for a second time, and then glares at me with an icy ring of blue surrounding enlarged pupils.  "What are you?"

"A high-priced whore," I answer succinctly, though it's confusing why he appears so frustrated at his release.  Not wanting to think about it too hard, I move my focus to pouting lips and lean in despite his odd displeasure.  With a lick against soft flesh to taste my blood mixed with his addictive flavor, I say encouragingly, "Don't stop now, princess.  I'm almost there."

It takes a quiet moment and a thrust of my hips to further my point, but Squall renews the stroking of my cock.  Amusingly, his angered expression doesn't fade, something that is reflected in the strength of his grip.

Purring at the rough touch, I decide to hold my questions until I have a slightly clearer mind.  I rest my head against his shoulder as I enjoy the free service and lose myself in the heavy scent of the recently satisfied beauty.  The man just wakened and faintly sweaty from our activities, Squall is probably dying for a cleansing shower, but I personally like this scent which speaks of sex and desire.  But while I could stand here forever, I know that this kitten's attention won't last that long, so I lift my head high enough to swipe a taste of his earlobe before making a demand.

"Bite me."

Squall tenses at the command.  "Excuse me?"

"You feel great, princess, but it's not enough for me.  A touch of pain does wonders in a situation like this."

He says nothing in response as he continues to fist my cock.  In that silence, I worry that he'll end this act here and now, my request taking things too far for his prudish sensibilities.  It's a shame, but there's no avoiding the truth that his hand alone won't be enough when I'm fixated on taking more from this beauty.

Those thoughts are quickly forgotten when a heavy tongue laps at my shoulder, a momentary warning that the kitten had chosen his attack point just before teeth meet skin.  The deep groan pulled from my throat was embarrassing in its volume and how it ended on a quiet whine that I haven't heard since my first time with a professional.  But the firm bite of pain had done its job and I rest my head on his shoulder in fleeting disorientation.

"About time," Squall mutters, the breath felt at my ear causing a deep shiver down my spine and a final jerk into his hand.

"What can I say - I'm easy to excite and hard to please."

A soft noise of realization sounds from the brunet, something that prompts me to angle my head such that I can see his face without leaving my perch at his shoulder.  Noting the absence of his previous irritation, I grin in disbelief.

"Don't tell me that you were upset about coming first?"

Squall doesn't react to the question, but his lack of denial says enough for me.  Damn, and I thought it was too easy to get him to bite me.  He must have enjoyed inflicting that small amount of pain in petty revenge.

Chuckling to myself, I straighten and meet his guarded gaze of blue-gray.  "I do this for a living, Squally-boy.  What did you expect?"

He blinks once before looking in his favorite direction of the shower curtain.  "... I thought stuff like this cost extra."

"It does," I state while silently examining the smaller man, uncertain if I imagined that hint of jealously in the quiet tone.  "But this isn't a matter of business."

His eyes shift slightly without looking in my direction.  "If not business, then what is it?"

"If you have to ask, princess, then I haven't a clue how I could explain it to you."

"... ..."

With a sigh at his unwillingness to take my feelings at face value, I step back from the smaller man and proceed to remove my stained boxers.

"What do you think you're doing?" Squall demands as he visibly tries not to glance downward.

"Getting ready to take a shower.  I have things to do before we leave for lunch."

"... ...?"

"We're having lunch together before the wedding.  Yesterday was a disaster and I don't like having a failed date on my record.  It's bad for business."

Squall exhales a long breath.  "And I've already told you that it doesn't matter."

"Maybe to you, but I'm talking about my pride here, so I won't hear any argument.  We're going to have a perfect lunch even if it requires me getting on my knees and helping you to experience Heaven again."

"Don't be crude."

"It's who I am, lovely.  Don't change me and I won't try to change you."  Moving to the shower, I twist on the water flow such that it'll be nice and hot.  "Now, are you going to strip and join me, or are you just going to watch?"

With a critical eye focused on me, Squall asks, "Why should I trust you?"

"Because I only have two objectives right now - to get clean and to see you naked.  Everything else is going to have to wait until we're back in New York and I've seduced you into my well-stocked apartment."

A dark eyebrow arches in the silent question of 'how is that supposed to convince me to trust you?'.

"Strip, Squally-boy.  You're safe."

Blue-gray eyes drift into a vaguely cross-eyed expression before the brunet shakes his head.  "Sorry, not this time."

"If not this time, princess, then you better be prepared for next time."

"... I will be."

I stare after the dark-haired beauty as he leaves, the man unexpectedly muttering that he'll get me some clean clothes.  I suppose that I should feel disappointed, me standing here alone with cum on my hand and no verification of what Squall looks like fully naked, but I find myself smiling instead.  And with a glance to the mirror, I realize that it's a fool's smile planted on my face.  Fucking Hell, a little sex play and a few choice words and suddenly I feel like a virgin teen looking for his first lay.  What in the world have I gotten myself into?

"I thought that you preferred my full attention."

I grin at the quiet voice, those being the first words spoken by the dark-haired beauty since the moment he had parked the car and asked me if I was certain I had mapped the right location.  When I revealed the picnic basket that I had hidden in the trunk of the car, Squall simply shook his head, and from then on, he had only replied in distracted grunts to my various questions.  I wasn't bothered by that neglect, the situation entirely expected given the closeness of the ocean and the conclusion of our private lunch.  As I had hoped, the beach is too rocky and the waves are too harsh for the typical tourist, so we've been blessed with nearly an hour of alone time without the scream of playing children.  The only downfall has been the collection of surfers playing in the ocean while Squall watched on.  Damn beach bums.

"Well?" he prods while tilting his head in my direction.

"It depends on my mood, princess.  And right now, I'm perfectly content lying here while you get a moment to relax away from the family."

Blue-gray eyes study me with a suspicious gleam before Squall returns his attention to the never-ending waves.  "You're staring."

My smile widens at the accusation, something I'm not about to deny.  Resting on my side with my head propped on a bent arm, I've been given a good twenty minutes to gaze at this beauty.  There's something addictive about his pensive stare and the way his eyes take on a deep, ageless look.  I'd give anything to know his thoughts during those minutes, but I know that Squall isn't a man to share his life's burdens.  He'll carry his cross until his last suffering breath and that will be his gift to those he loves most.

"Why me?"

"Why not you?" I ask in mock reply, amused by the slight frown I had caused.

"That's not an answer."

"It's enough of an answer when you aren't going to believe anything else I tell you."  With a groaning sigh, I sit up from the blanket and reach for the forgotten basket.  "Listen, I didn't drag you here so that we could have a heart-to-heart.  You've had a lot of stress to deal with and your father mentioned that you liked driving to the ocean to calm down.  While it's something I could've guessed on my own, Laguna seemed rather insistent about it and I decided to take the hint.  Now, do you want some dessert before we have to leave or what?"

Squall looks at the basket as I remove a plastic container from the folds of cloth.  "Is that...?"

"Yup, our wedding cake," I state with a playful grin.

"That was supposed to be Raine's wedding cake for Rinoa," he reminds with irritating logic.

"Details, details.  Do you want some or not?"

Squall watches me place a square piece of the cake onto a small plate before he holds out his hand in acceptance of the dessert.  Deciding to be lazy, I keep the second slice in the plastic container for myself and grab a pair of forks, one of which I hand to Squall.  We say nothing while enjoying the white cake, the careful kitten especially taking his sweet time as he licks his fork clean of frosting after every bite.  It's a torturous sight for my neglected libido, but I still watch on, unable to look away.

With a final bite remaining while I had finished a while ago, Squall frowns lightly and looks in my direction.  "Did you want more?"

"It's not the cake I want," I say with a small laugh, but then I quickly snag that piece of cake from his plate and lift it in a silent offering to the brunet.  "You did a good job of baking this."

Squall eyes me with clear frustration before he surprisingly takes the dessert into his mouth and licks away the spot of blue frosting from my thumb.  "Hn, it wasn't bad, though a touch too much frosting for my tastes."

The brunet hardly finishes his statement before I have my lips pressed against his, my sudden hunger for the man impossible to resist.  Squall flinches at the demanding kiss, but he doesn't retreat from me.  Rather, with the passing surprise of my bold attack, he holds his ground and contributes to the joining with a sugar-coated tongue.  I don't think to question his cooperation, my arms wrapping around his shoulders and waist in tight holds that ensure he can't retreat from me with ease.

Squall doesn't argue against the restraints, but relaxes within my arms and grabs my shirt with a fisted hand when I flick the underside of his upper lip.  It was an intoxicating kiss, and similar to an alcohol-induced state, time is completely lost to me as I further the connection while playing with ideas for more.  But in the end, that decision isn't mine to make.  Squall pushes at my chest to reform some distance between us, not an easy task as we had somehow ended up lying on the blanket, me resting on top of the smaller man.

"The wedding won't wait for us."

I scowl at that dose of reality, no matter how much it pleases me to see pale cheeks displaying a slight flush.  "Can't you call in sick?"

Squall gazes up at me with the unspoken belittlement that I was being childish.

I sigh at the ruined moment and slowly lift up from the lithe brunet.  Not looking at him, I move directly into the task of packing up the picnic basket, an easy chore as I hadn't done anything overly complex for the meal.  Mostly sandwiches made from the leftovers from our previous attempt at a lunch, but it tasted good enough.  I'll be the first to remind anyone that I'm a damned whore, not a gourmet chef.

A cold hand brushes against my neck, the touch startling me into looking up at the standing brunet.

"How's your shoulder?"

I blink in momentary confusion before a broad smirk takes over my expression.  "You have a good set of teeth, princess," I state while pulling my shirt collar down to proudly display the set of red marks.  "It still stings a bit and I'll bet there will be a bruise by tomorrow, so when we get frisky tonight, you may want to consider attacking my other shoulder."

Squall scoffs at my words, but there's still a pleased gleam to his eyes when he views the damage.

While I can tell that the brunet had wanted to discuss something other than the marring of my shoulder, I decide to play oblivious and finish packing the basket before lifting the blanket from clinging sand.  Squall sighs at my hasty 'folding' of the blanket, but he doesn't make any vocal comment before turning around and heading in the direction of his father's car.  Lord, it's a good thing he is an impatient soul, always giving me a great view of his ass whenever he hurries ahead of me.  Now if only he'd wear that lovely leather number he has hiding away in his suitcase...

"Are you coming?" Squall asks from a fair distance away, his lengthy bangs falling over his eyes as he looks over his shoulder at me.

At that seductive sight, I mutter to myself a longing, "Not yet, princess, but hopefully tonight," before I smile at the beauty and wave that I had heard him.

His eyes narrow in suspicion at my delayed response, but he then shrugs a silent 'whatever' before continuing on his previous path in shifting sand, once again taunting me with ideas of hiding away all of his pants except for that pair of leather beauties.  And as I follow behind, I consider that it might not be such a bad idea and I begin vague plans which could potentially leave me blameless in the theft of Squall's pants.

Strolling through the hallways of the hotel, I resist the urge to run my fingers through my hair, knowing that the gel won't survive the assault of my current frustration.  Squall had gone missing, and after playing usher during his unexpected absence for the past fifteen minutes, I finally came to the decision that I had suffered long enough under the torture of old ladies and their surprisingly nimble fingers.  If nothing else, I deserve some kind of thanks from Squall before returning to No Man's Land in his place, which might not be the worst of ideas.  God knows that the pretty boy would receive a friendlier reception than I would and I don't think I exactly care for others doting on him like that.

It doesn't take long to reach the dining hall which is being prepared for the reception later tonight.  I'm given no notice as I walk through, the hotel workers lazily assuming I'm a part of the upcoming wedding simply because of my formal attire.  Thankful for that disregard, I focus on the glass double doors which lead outside to the balcony from last night, that being the best hiding place which I can imagine Squall would use.  And when I notice that one of the doors is ajar, I grin at winning this game of hide-and-seek.  But with a hand wrapped around the door handle, I freeze at the voice heard from outside.

"You can stop pretending, Squall.  It's okay to show your true emotions."

The sound of Rinoa's plea brings a sneer to my lips, but I manage not to charge forward since I know that I won't be welcomed in this particular battle.  But there's no one here to tell me that I can't stay, and truth be told, I can't leave Squall alone with the determined girl.  With a gentle press against the door, I give myself a narrow view of Squall resting back against the balcony railing and the bride-to-be standing directly between us.

Arms crossed and his head bowed, Squall asks quietly, "Is this why you wanted to speak with me?"

"Of course.  I've seen how much pain you've been in this week and I had to let you know...  I'm so happy."

My hand tight on the door handle, it's a battle to stay in place and not rescue Squall from the cooing voice and close presence of his admittedly lovely step-sister.  It's hard to believe her gall at this point, the girl dressed in her costly wedding gown and prepared to pledge her life to one man while encouraging Squall to steal her away.  Pity the fools who manage to get wrapped up in this woman's romantic fantasies.

At Squall's silence, Rinoa presses closer to the dark-haired man and places a manicured hand at his cheek.  "Whatever you decide to do today, I'm fine with your choice."

"Why would I do anything?" Squall questions in a harsh tone that causes Rinoa to pull back her hand as if frostbitten, a most delightful sight that calms my irritated state.

"But, you... we're meant..."  Rinoa stutters slightly, obviously not expecting the sharp response from the reserved man.

Squall sighs at the girl's self-made dilemma.  "I don't know what I've done to make you think that anything could be possible between us, but enough is enough.  I've tried to ignore your advances, I've tried to explain that I'm gay, and I've even tried to place an entire country between us.  Nothing has worked to make you see the truth."  With a steady hand, Squall pushes up from the railing and stands tall in front of the raven-haired girl.  "The simple fact is that I don't want you, Rinoa.  I never have and I never will."

A hand clutched to her chest, the bride stares up into unforgiving steal eyes.  "Why...  Why are you saying such things?"

"I think you know."

"Is it because of that so-called boyfriend of yours?"  When Squall doesn't deny her assumption, Rinoa gains some confidence.  "He's an escort, you know.  Kendra recognized him from the clubs in New York.  They say he'd have sex with anyone for the right amount of cash.  He must be playing you for your money."

It's near impossible to stay in place and simply stand here when I have the overwhelming urge to defend myself to Squall.  But just when I consider the consequence of revealing my eavesdropping status, I hear a breath of laughter from the brunet and I watch dumbly as his lips curl into a half-smile.

"Seifer doesn't want my money," he states as his blue-gray eyes shift to surprisingly meet my gaze from beyond the doorway.  "His motives go deeper than that."

"But he can't love you, not like I do.  And he's the type who could never be faithful to you.  He would only hurt you in the end.  And..." Rinoa hesitates before blurting out, "And he can't give you the children you want!"

"While that last part is true, I suppose we could always adopt if we so chose," Squall replies softly before he returns his attention to Rinoa.  "But as for everything else... Tell me, Rinoa, how can I believe that you would be faithful to me when you're betraying Nida at this very moment?"

The raven-haired woman flinches back as if slapped.  "Nida... I... I love him, but when I see you, I feel so much more.  Nida can't compare to you, but you were gone for so long and he was good to me.  I forgot... and he proposed..."

"Then continue to forget.  Live your life with someone who can love you."

"I want you."

"I will never be yours," Squall says in a dead tone that brings a chill to my blood.

A hiccough sounds from the bride, something mixed between a sob and a word of some origin, but she doesn't say anything understandable aside from a harsh apology before turning and running in the direction of the doors.  I nearly don't move out of the way fast enough, the door thrown open as Rinoa rushes past me without ever acknowledging my presence.  Several of the hotel workers pause in their tasks to watch the bride run through the dining hall, their eyes then turning to me to silently question if there was still going to be a wedding today.  I can only shrug, which seems to dampen their moods as they're forced to continue setting tables in the unlikely chance that the wedding would go forward.

Rinoa hardly being my concern, I turn and find Squall with his back to me as he leans over the balcony railing.  I hesitate in that moment, distracted by the beauty of the man dressed in a rented, but nicely fitting tuxedo.  The ocean breeze picks up and causes dark chestnut strands to sway in an enticing manner, revealing pale skin to the late afternoon sun.  I'm nearly overwhelmed by the desire to kiss him without warning, to free his body from the constraints of his tuxedo, and to fuck him until he can't focus on the numerous pains of his life.  But pushing back those possessive desires, I realize that more than anything, I need to stand by his side and be there for the stoic man, even if he doesn't want me there.

That thought foremost in my mind, I finally break out from my watcher's position and step onto the balcony.  My formal shoes click on the hard stone, neither that noise nor my approach startling Squall in any visible fashion.  I walk directly to the concrete railing and lean over in a similar pose to the smaller man.  While he continues to stare out at the distant ocean, I gaze down at his face without any interest to look away.

"That was brave," I eventually state.

His eyes narrow in annoyance, but for once his irritation isn't directed at me.  "Why didn't she understand from the beginning?  Why did I have to hurt her like that?"

"Because people don't want to believe the truth unless it's thrown in their face.  It's a lot easier to pretend that everything is okay and going just as planned rather than admit that you've fucked up.  And for some very special people, they'll believe in their fairy tale dreams until every brick of their castle crumbles and falls from underneath their feet."

"But why?  It doesn't make sense."

"No, it doesn't and there's nothing you can do about it."  A moment of silence passes and I find myself folding and unfolding my hands a few too many times.  In an effort to hide the sudden anxiousness that I feel, I cross my arms and sink lower into my hunch.  "I'm sorry for listening like I did.  That was a little low, even for someone like me."

He shrugs.  "I saw you from the beginning.  If I didn't want you there, I would've said something."

I grin stupidly at the thought that Squall had wanted me around, and though I know he's strong enough to handle himself without me, I wonder if I gave him that extra amount of courage to chase off the idiot bride.  "So, I'm curious - if I don't want your money, then what are those 'deeper motives' of mine that you mentioned?"

Squall doesn't reply immediately, his eyes distant in thought before he says, "It seems that you want everything from me."

My breath catches at the response and I can't help wondering when the kitten finally got a clue about my intentions.  Just this morning, he seemed dense as ever and I was beginning to believe that he'd never be able to connect the bright neon dots.  "Well, that's interesting.  What makes you think that?"

"I know you refunded your contract money this morning."

My teeth setting into a hard sneer, I glare beyond the balcony and at the ground two stories down.  "Fucking shit, I told Kinneas to keep his mouth shut.  I should've known better than to trust a smooth-talker like him to make a promise and keep it."

"Don't blame him.  Whenever you returned the money and he asked why, you apparently replied that I had made up for the difference.  That made him worried that I had somehow convinced you to let me pay for everything, so Irvine approached me about it.  He tried to be subtle, but the idiot hasn't been able to hide anything from me since middle school."

Glancing over to Squall, I stare into pale blue eyes and feel momentary pity for the playboy.  Given the cowboy's overtly heterosexual mentality, it was a surprise to discover that Kinneas is pretty much Squall's bitch.  And sadly, I don't imagine that any woman will be able to control Kinneas with the same tight reins.

An irritated sigh escapes me when I tell Squall, "I didn't want you to know."

"Why not?"

"Would you believe me if I said that I wanted to use it as blackmail for a later date?"

Eyes of piercing blue-gray glare at me, his answer clear that, no, he wouldn't believe such an excuse and he also wouldn't appreciate any more sarcasm or lies until I give him an explanation that would satisfy his need for logic and reason in the world.

I run a hand through my hair, not really caring what damage it'll cause.  "Well, I hate to disappoint you, princess, but there was no deep purpose behind my actions.  With everything that has happened this week, it felt wrong to keep the money, so I returned it.  It's not like I really need it."

Squall continues to stare at me, his unreadable eyes seeming to question my sanity.  But then a soft smile overcomes his features, his entire expression changing into something gentle and exposed before he returns his attention to the view beyond the balcony.  "You know, constantly calling me 'princess' still doesn't make you a prince of any worth."

Though I can feel my lips stretching into a wide and horribly ridiculous smile, I can't tame that open expression anymore than I can stop the rapid rhythm of my heartbeats.  In an effort to shield the brunet from my open desire, I follow his lead and return to a hunched position over the balcony railing.  "I'll have you know that I've been called a prince on many occasions."

"If it was within ten feet of a bed, it doesn't count."

I laugh at the exasperated tone, impressed that Squall had easily guessed that I was referring to the times I had been paid to roleplay a foreign prince during those numerous occasions.  It's quite surprising how many women have fantasies about being kidnapped and ravaged by someone of royal blood.  But I suppose I don't have much room to talk - I'd do just about anything to see Squall dressed up like a princess and crying out for a prince to rescue him.

After a period of quiet thought and reflection, I glance down at my watch and notice the time is later than I thought.  Though I doubt Squall will appreciate it, I have to ask, "Do you think there will be a wedding today?"

Squall doesn't respond immediately, his eyes narrowing in thought before he speaks in a quiet voice, "I don't know and I don't feel like finding out."

"That's fine by me," I reply, perfectly fine with avoiding the wedding if that's what Squall wants.  "We can stay here until your father finds us."

An unexpected laugh sounds at my comment.  "In that case, I hope that you had enough to eat at lunch.  We won't be leaving until after nightfall at the earliest."

I glance at the dark-haired beauty, and though he smiles lightly at whatever inside joke had made him laugh, I can tell his lips are a touch too tight and his eyes don't shine with the same amusement that he had forced into his voice.  Further closing the distance between us, I lean in his direction and warn him, "I wouldn't worry about that, princess.  I'm not going anywhere and you can't get rid of me."

His expression softening into something neutral and tired, Squall hums out his acknowledgement that I won't leave him in this state, at least not alone.  I trust his father and maybe Kinneas to watch over the quiet brunet, but it makes me anxious to consider leaving Squall alone and vulnerable to his all-consuming thoughts.  So I simply lean against the concrete railing while directing my gaze toward the distant ocean, but I see nothing of that coastal view, my awareness completely focused on the man standing at my side.

It's for that reason that I manage to remain still when an elbow presses against mine.  Unable to think, unable to breathe for several moments, I consider what it means to be allowed this contact with Squall when he'd probably rather be left to himself.  Does he trust me?  Does really want me here?  Does he know how much I could potentially love him?

But in the end, I'm not the one who speaks first.

"Even though you returned that money, I still think that your price is too high for me."

I stare at him for the unexpected statement, my surprise eventually fading into curious amusement as I retort, "That's funny.  And here I thought I had given you a blank check to use as you please."

Squall scoffs lightly in argument.  "It may seem that way to you, but..."  With a pause for breath, the brunet looks down at his hands and says, "Right now, I don't think I'm of the right mind to be making choices that could ruin my life."

A bitter laugh escapes me as I ask, "So, you think I'd ruin your life, huh?"

"Hn, most likely," he says with a slight smile, one that fades when he continues, "But it could be worse to lose you before I can understand what you do to me."


"I can't afford your price," Squall says quickly, blue-gray eyes focused intently on his hands.  "I don't know if I can ever afford the price you're asking from me."

Beyond the spoken words, I can hear what the careful man truly wants to say - he's afraid to love again and leaving himself vulnerable to another man.  It's interesting that I share those similar fears, but while Squall has decided to live the life of a monk, I have drowned myself in meaningless relationships that could never hurt me once they inevitably failed.  It's intimidating to have this chance at something real for once.  Intimidating, but reviving.

And though I have a bed feeling that I could end up bleeding and broken if I continue on this path and Squall eventually decides that I'm not worth the chance of pain, I can't give up on this opportunity to have something I've always wanted.  I can't let Squall go without a fight.  "If you can't pay that price now, then what about monthly installments until everything is paid in full?"

Squall turns his head to focus a wholly suspicious expression at me.  "And what would these 'monthly installments' entail?"

"Depends on my mood, I suppose.  But I swear that it wouldn't be something you'd regret."

He continues to study me with piercing eyes, his posture guarded and careful in that moment of silent consideration.  Eventually his decision is made with a drawn out breath, and with his focus returning to his folded hands, Squall comments, "I think I've regretted this since I let Irvine buy you."

I grin at the lacking venom in his voice.  "Don't confuse regret with the disappointment you feel at not meeting me sooner."

Pale lips twitch into an almost smile, but Squall doesn't react otherwise to my open invitation for some healthy and harsh banter.

"Something else on your mind there, princess?"

Squall starts to shake his head in denial, but he stops himself short.  Blue-gray eyes narrow in a sign of pain, and though he hesitates, something makes him decide to trust me this one time.  "I was thinking about this morning," he says distantly.  "When I was with Piet, he would get mad if I touched him too much during sex.  He'd complain that he could lose something important from frostbite.  But you--"

I immediately grab onto a hand and intertwine my fingers with his.  Lifting his chilled hand to my lips, I kiss his knuckles at length before gazing up into gorgeous eyes of blue silver.  "Obviously he wasn't someone who knew how to properly warm a lover."

Squall surprisingly doesn't reject the affectionate words.  Instead, he smiles weakly, and with a squeeze of my fingers, he presses his forehead against our joined hands.  I step close at that point and wrap my free arm around his waist, wanting to add a physical display of my support for this complex and irresistible man.  Squall relaxes into my embrace, and though no tears are meant to fall this day, he freely gives me this fragile piece of his existence.

It's incredible and ridiculous that he can complain that I have a high price, but in the end, I'm the one who has to live up to the amount he is willing to pay.  And frankly, I don't know what it means that Squall has already decided that I have potential to be whatever he needs.  I'm not accustomed to people seeing me for what I am or what I can be, only what I should be for the amount of money they have placed into my hand.  It's relieving, terrifying, and amazing to have this chance held out before me, and though it'll be an incredible trick to not fuck this up, I have a feeling I'm not alone in wanting this to work.  We both have a price to pay, and well...

"It'll be worth the price, Squall.  I'll make certain of that."

Attempting soft steps that won't bring a complaint from the stairs, I move quietly in the direction of the kitchen in search of left over alcohol or something else useful that would help me go to sleep.  It was an unusual occurrence for Squall fall directly asleep while I found myself wide awake and with no hope of joining the difficult man in dreamland.  I don't even know why today's events have left me anxious and full of thoughts while Squall appears untroubled with the current state of affairs.  If he was a good guy, he should have at least let me fuck him before he fell asleep and helped me to burn off some extra energy.  But instead, the bastard had curled into a slight ball and left me behind to stare at him in peaceful slumber.

"What are you doing up at this hour, son?"

I jerk at the unexpected voice and nearly trip on the last step.  A hand reflexively pressed against my chest, I swear quietly, "Holy shit, I wasn't expecting anyone to be down here."

Laguna pops out from the kitchen and chuckles at my reaction.  "Oh, sorry about that.  I heard you coming down the stairs and I thought Squall was joining me for some hot milk.  Are you alright?"

"Yeah, I have a young heart," I mutter as I run a hand through my hair and hope to regain some dignity in front of the older man.

With a pleased smile, Laguna waves for me to come closer and reenters the kitchen area.  "I doubt you're the milk sort of guy, so how about something a little bit harder?  I'm afraid I don't have a great selection, but I have some scotch, brandy, vodka..."  He continues speaking, the words lost to me as he sticks his head into the cabinet and probably reads the labels from the bottles hidden in the back.

"Actually, I haven't had hot milk in years.  It's probably better for me, anyway."

Bumping his head against a shelf on his way out, Laguna stands up and looks over his shoulder while trying to hide the pain he's feeling.  "Oh, milk is it?  Just give me a minute here..."

I watch as the older man moves through the kitchen, his actions clumsy and uncoordinated, but he somehow manages to not make a disruptive sound that would wake everyone else in the house.  Long hair tied back in a way that best shows his profile, I can see the features he passed along to his overly reserved son, even if their personalities are nothing alike.  It makes me curious if Squall will share his father's blessing and keep a youthful appearance throughout the decades to come.  Growing old might not be so bad if I'll have a seemingly young boytoy hanging on my arm, fulfilling my every perverted desire.

Three mugs of milk are placed into the microwave, and with the press of the 'start' button, Laguna turns around and flashes a bright smile at me.  "Hot milk coming in a few minutes."

I breath a laugh at his expression, something utterly unbecoming of a man in his late forties.  "You do realize that there's only two of us here."

"Hmm?  Oh, the three mugs.  Well, I imagine Squall will be down shortly, especially since you've left his side, so it's better to be prepared."

I shake my head as I resist loud laughter, certain that Squall wouldn't appreciate his father's assumption.  "I doubt that one.  He'll probably sleep better without me taking up half of the bed."

"Nonsense.  The last two nights were the first nights in years that Squall has slept through until morning while staying here.  I wish I knew what bothers him about coming home, but I'll admit to being selfish and enjoying our nightly talks.  You've ruined that for me," Laguna jokes with a hard elbow to my stomach.

"Hey, don't blame me," I complain, hoping to hide the fact that I know several reasons as to why Squall would feel anxiety in his childhood home.  "I didn't even know that he wakes up at night.  I thought his issue was getting to sleep."

"As you must have guessed by now, Squall has many issues," Laguna states with lacking humor.  He then hurries to the microwave, stopping the thing before it could beep.  He grabs two mugs and closes the door with his elbow, leaving the third mug for Squall's supposed appearance later.  Handing a hot mug to me, he sips from his own cup and earns a burnt tongue for the idiotic move.  "Whew, that's certainly hot.  Careful with it."

Grinning at his kind-hearted action, I accept the mug and stare down into the white depths.  God, it feels so warm against my hands.

"Well, that's an interesting expression."

I lift my head and look at Laguna, the man bearing a smile that is far too broad for my likes.

He chuckles lightly.  "Sorry, but the whole time you've been here, I have yet to see you look so... boyish.  Did your mother make you hot milk when you couldn't sleep?"

"Nah," I reply while returning my focus to the steaming liquid.  "She wasn't around for that."

"Oh, then your father?"

I smile bitterly.  "Never knew the bastard."

Expected silence follows that statement, Laguna probably considering the proper condolence to give me.  I really shouldn't have said anything, but there's something about the old guy that makes it hard to hold my tongue.  I imagine that's why Squall loves him so much, the dour brunet able to open up in the presence of his doting father when no one else would do.

"So hey, thanks for the milk," I say, wishing that I had stayed upstairs and suffered with a dark-haired beauty wrapped within my arms.  "Hopefully it'll help--"

A hand settles on my shoulder.  "Hey now, don't run away just yet, son."

"It's no big deal," I say sharply, unable to look at the man.  "It was stupid to mention it, so please, just forget I said anything."

"I'll do no such thing.  Obviously it's important to you."

"Not really," I argue with a shrug.  "I've just never had someone heat up some milk for me before and it's... well, kind of strange."

Laguna squeezes my shoulder before removing his hand.  "I suppose that makes sense.  Nothing is quite like having a parent look after you."

I choose a sip of warm milk instead of responding.

The older man sighs wistfully.  "This is going to be interesting to have two boys to watch over instead of the one.  I suppose I should be thankful that both Ellone and Rinoa have found someone to keep them out of trouble."

It's hard to control my expression at the mention of Rinoa and her unbelievable nerve to go through with the wedding.  Probably only her, Squall, and myself know that the 'blessed' event had almost never happened.  Even so, she had looked the part of the blushing bride during the reception, something that had shocked the Hell out of me until Squall said quietly - 'She accepted his proposal for a reason.'

I shake my head slightly, not wanting to think about the confusing woman more than I have to.  "Well, thanks for that vote of confidence, but I'm not quite certain Squall will keep me around long enough for it to matter.  He'll wake up one of these mornings and realize that he's sick of me."

Laguna chuckles.  "Say what you will, young man, but I was the one to find the two of you standing out on that balcony after the wedding.  Neither of you noticed that the reception had started and you both seemed so... comfortable with each other, just standing there.  It reminded me of when Raine had finally agreed to date me.  The dinner was a disaster, the movie was sold out, and my car broke down when I tried driving to another movie theater.  I was devastated, but I convinced her to let me walk her home.  Just by chance, we stumbled upon this park that had a beautiful pond with some fish.  I don't remember how long we stood there on that bridge, but it was long enough for Raine to ask me out on a second date.  God, she was an amazing woman and Squall is just like her."

It's hard not to smile at the man's ramblings, his heart and thoughts exposed with every word he speaks and action he takes.  And something about that honesty makes me want to respond in kind.  "He is something else, and... I think I'm in love with him."

Laguna grins happily, no surprise appearing in his expression.  "Of course you are."

I attempt a sip of the warmed milk before asking, "Don't you find it strange in the least?"

"What, with you being an escort and not really his boyfriend?  It was disappointing at first, but it was a nice surprise to see how things changed once you two spent most of your time together," he says with an oddly sharp gleam to his eyes and his lips set in a vague smile.  "In any case, I've had time to grow accustomed to the idea.  After that second day, Squall first started to complain that you wouldn't stop touching him.  But now it makes sense why you're the type who grabs hold and doesn't let go."

Though somewhat unnerved by impossible thoughts that the old man had played some role in this whole situation, I find myself frowning at his statement for some other reason that I can't place a finger on

"Ah, don't take that the wrong way, son.  Squall may have been complaining, but while it started with his typical 'personal space' reasons, I don't think he realized that his complaints changed to describing how you'd somehow sneak your arm around him without him noticing.  He's been getting comfortable with you and he doesn't understand it."

While somewhat relieved by that answer, I look curiously at the older man while he sips gingerly at his milk.  "Does Squall really talk about this stuff with you?"

"Only when he's exhausted or distracted," Laguna replies with a weak smile.  "I'm afraid he doesn't say much else otherwise, but it's enough when he does."

There's nothing to say to his statement, so I drink more of the warmed milk while thinking about everything this man must have gone through with his impossible son.  I feel a degree of sympathy for him, but that only makes me wonder what the Hell I'm doing to get involved with Squall when I know he's trouble.

Soft steps suddenly sound, then followed by a quiet, "Dad?"

"In here, son," Laguna calls out, a broad smile returning to his face.

Squall appears from around the corner, his thick hair a mess from disruptive sleep and his pale blue-gray eyes not quite focused on the world around him.  "I thought I heard... oh," he says once noticing that I was present.  The brunet then looks at his father with a light glare.  "What have you been telling him?"

Laguna laughs lightly while moving to the microwave and retrieving the warmed cup of milk for his son.  "We're just enjoying a nightcap before trying to get to sleep."

Though doubt was clear in his expression, Squall accepts the mug.  "I don't want you giving him ideas."

"I'm right here, you know," I point out with a raised mug.  "And I already have plenty of ideas of my own, thank you very much."

Scoffing into his milk, Squall surprisingly moves to lean against the same counter as myself.  "I know all about your ideas and I don't need him encouraging you."

I think to mention that it's too late, that Laguna has already offered himself as a father-in-law of sorts, but it's something I don't feel like sharing right away.  Maybe I'm embarrassed about it on some level, or more likely I'm afraid to jinx this new and fragile relationship, but either way, it's something that I want to keep for myself and enjoy for as long as it'll last.

Squall and Laguna exchange a few words, mostly about the timing of the flight tomorrow and when we should arrive at the airport.  It's nothing complex, nothing unusual, but I recognize the truth behind Laguna's previous words that it didn't matter to him how much Squall talked, that the few words were enough.  It's almost sad how dark green eyes shine when Squall mentions that he doesn't think we have to be there as early as the airline recommends.  It'll mean an extra thirty minutes to our stay here tomorrow and Laguna already seems to be counting those seconds.

With a fake yawn that ends up turning into the real thing, Laguna announces, "Well, this old man is ready for bed.  I'll see you both in the morning.  Maybe I'll make waffles.  Waffles sound good."

Hiding a yawn of my own, I watch the man stumble off in the direction of the master bedroom.  "I think he might have a good idea.  This milk thing did better than I thought it would."

"Why did you leave in the first place?"

I glance down at the brunet, somewhat surprised by the question.  "Couldn't sleep.  And since you weren't awake for some physical activity, I decided to look for some alcohol."

"This isn't alcohol," he states as he sets his emptied mug on the counter.

"Yeah, well, your father mentioned it and I couldn't really remember the last time I tried warm milk to get to sleep."

"It's better for you."

I grin at the comment, curious how many times he may have fed that line to Kinneas.  "It seems to have done the trick, too.  I think I'm ready to curl up with my Pookie and fall asleep."

Squall directs a muted glare in my direction, the threat clear that he doesn't appreciate being associated to a childhood blanket.

I don't know if it's something about the faded light in the room or because of my short talk with Laguna, but I find myself staring into blue-gray eyes and unable to look away.  I remember being irritated by these pale eyes and the way they viewed coldly on the rest of the world.  I didn't understand anything in those first minutes and I probably still don't know anything about what makes this man tick, but God help me, I want him.  Whatever it takes, I want to make this work.

"What is it?"

I grin at the harsh question, realizing that I had probably been staring too long if I've made the reserved man speak out in annoyance.  I choose not to respond with words and instead brush aside dark chestnut strands from his forehead to reveal more of his pale skin.  My hand cupped at the side of his face, I press a kiss against his forehead, then just over his eyebrow and continue to the corner of a closed eye.  His skin soft against the brush of my lips, I'm slowly overwhelmed by the sensation of being intoxicated as I drift lower along the gentle curve of his face.  By the time I reach his lips, Squall abruptly lifts up and initiates the imminent kiss with a roughness that nearly knocks me off balance.  I find myself needing to catch up to the eager kitten, our tongues tangling and fighting for dominance in a perfect kiss that I want to last until the lack of breath could make one of us collapse.  But Squall manages a quick escape, the sound of panted breaths and the glaze to his eyes making it sorely difficult to keep the distance between us.

"That... was interesting," Squall says hoarsely, the dark-haired man then adopting a confused expression as if the world had suddenly turned upside-down on him.  "Is this how it should be?"

"How what should be?" I ask as I stroke the corner of his lips with my thumb.

Squall stares at me with narrowed eyes, but the expression quickly fades into something softer.  Whatever had happened in that head of his, I'll never know since he says nothing while instead placing a chilled hand on top of mine and squeezing lightly.

"You're such a tease, princess," I comment while enjoying the cooler touch of his hand, something that helps to ground me and stop me from doing something incredibly stupid.  "What am I supposed to do with you?"

"Whatever you do, save it for New York.  I'm tired."

"Mmm, then shall I carry you to bed?"

"That won't be necessary," Squall states softly, his voice suggesting complete refusal of any other proposal made from this point forward.

"Damn, you're a coldhearted lover."

With a slight grin, Squall informs me, "And now you know."

I stand in place with a stunned, yet pleased smile while Squall pulls away from my touch and turns around to head back upstairs.  I mutter a quick, "Now I know," to myself before I hurry after the escaping brunet. 

With that first step up the stairs, I have a sudden feeling that I'll always be chasing after this difficult man.  I suppose that I should be bitter about it and maybe even give up before I start looking too much like a lovesick fool, but if there's one benefit about this situation, it's that Squall has an ass that is worth following in more ways than one.  I can only hope that he doesn't catch on to this game and realize that he isn't the only one paying a price to subject himself to something that could end in heartache.  But whenever I look into his eyes and lose myself in everything that makes him irresistible, I realize that there's only one truth - no price is too high for love.  All that remains is to convince Squall of that fact.  ... This could be fun. 




Author's Whining -- The epilogue follows and then I'm done, done, done!  While it's always so hard to finish these stories, it's a huge relief as well.  I should apologize that this took as long as it did, especially with how many people were waiting for it, but it's been a busy year.  I hope that I'm forgiven and let's cross our fingers that the next update won't take as long.