To This One Night
January 2003

 

Lying on a collection of thick fabrics that served as his bed in the large wagon, Squall rested with his eyelids partially open - too tired to move, and yet too anxious to sleep.  From the length of their current stopping point, he assumed that they had arrived to their destination, a place he had sworn to never see a second time.  But it's not like a slave has much choice in such a matter.  Over two months past they had left this castle and kingdom, Cid obviously angry at the absence of payment from the blonde prince, but due to issues with a couple other dancers, a quick flight from the area was necessary.  Squall hadn't known at the time that it would only be a momentary escape from these realms.

A sudden wave of nausea flowed through Squall, and he glared at a nearby pail with annoyance.  He didn't have the energy to want to empty and clean the container after another episode, so he tried to force his body to calm itself.  Nearly a month after first leaving this area, the odd illness had taken a hold of Squall.  General annoyances aside, it made performing impossible at times and brought about several punishments for 'playing ill'.

Logically he couldn't blame Seifer given the timeline, but at first he had spoken quiet curses at the absent prince.  Anymore, Squall didn't hold hot anger against the man and his actions.  With time and reason, the dancer came to the conclusion that he was more so upset at himself for ever believing that the loud man could be more than the arrogant noble that he was.  At least the larger man didn't take him forcefully to bed, but to use such a poison... Squall felt it was levels beneath the man, or rather the man he thought he had started to understand.

Curling further into the blankets for comfort, he smiled tightly at the idea that the blonde wouldn't want him now, so it didn't matter that they had returned to the castle for a performance at some celebration.  Why was it that nobles seemed to find more events to celebrate than the common man?

Without warning, the backdoor of the wagon opened wide to interrupt his muddled thoughts, the harsh light of day making Squall squint as he carefully sat up to face the intruder.

"Gods, you look like shit."

"Good day to you as well, my prince.  Now leave."

Shock at the sight of the sickly dancer quickly faded from Seifer, the man's expression softening.  He walked the few strides inside, then knelt by the still sitting man.  "Is there anything here you can't live without?"

"...What?"

"What do you hold precious in this mockery of living conditions?"

Confusion mixed with fatigue, Squall wasn't able to check himself before glancing briefly over at an old jewel box, the cheery wood scratched and scuffed throughout the years of living on the road.  Apparently the larger man caught the quick shift of eyes since he took the box in hand, and then gently placed in on the dancer's lap.

"Now I'll leave, but with you," Seifer stated just before lifting the lean man into his arms and standing.

The sudden movement was too much for Squall, and being held tightly by the blonde, the dancer barely avoided vomiting on them both.  Instead, it was the prince who had his back covered in vomit.  It was deathly silent for a time, Squall wondering how many people survived the day after soiling royalty in this way.  He was surprised at the sound of a chuckle.

"Well, I suppose I deserved that.  Ready to go?"

Unable to do much else while exhausted and held so close, Squall rested his head on the broad chest and clutched tightly at the jewel box in his hands as he was carried outside.  It was then he realized that the illness must have spread to his very spirit for him to not be too bothered at being held by the prince he was supposed to hate.  No, not hate.  To hate him would mean the dancer held some kind of care about the man.

"Hey, what's this now?"  Cid waddled up from another part of the forming camp, a longhaired man close behind him.  Squall had barely the chance to recognize the second man as someone who was always near Seifer, before the fat man smiled tightly at the two men.  "My prince, no offense intended to--"

"How much for this man?"

Squall's breath hitched at the growled question.  Even wasted away as he was at the moment, the prince still held desires for him.

"Well, for the night--"

"No, I mean his contract and person.  How much do you desire?"

Stormy eyes stared up at Seifer in shock, immediately afraid of questioning the blonde's motives.

"Ah, but my prince, this one is my lead dancer.  Without him--"

"Answer my question," Seifer bit out, his anger clear under the surface.

Cid cleared his throat.  "Ten thousand gold."

Before Squall could argue about the insane amount, Seifer spoke first.  "Done.  Irvine, give him two of the purses."

The longhaired man shook his head with an amused grin before placing the small leather pouches in a sweaty hand, the sound of numerous jewels inside clear to Squall's ears.  Once again sold for a price like any animal, the dancer felt a forgotten ache in his chest.

"You're paid, so get this fucking collar off of his neck."

After happily eyeing the quality of the jewels, Cid quickly placed the pouches in his coat.  "If you desire, my prince, I can sell the collar to you as well.  He'd more than likely run--"  He was interrupted by a hand placed gently on his shoulder.

"If you wish to live, just follow the man's orders without speaking."

As if suddenly noticing something at the longhaired man's words, the dark eyes went wider at viewing Seifer's face.  "Y, yes.  I understand."

The collar was easily removed in a mocking way, only the owner of the collar able to undo the enslaving circlet.  Though there was no reason for the difference, Squall felt like he could breathe easier without the thing around his neck.  The moment after the item was removed, Seifer turned for the castle, his stride long and firm despite the weight he still carried.

"...You paid too much."

The blonde scoffed at the comment.  "No price would have been too much.  I was planning to do this last time, but your troupe was gone before I awoke the next morning."

"And what do you desire of your new slave?"

"First, for this illness of yours to be treated.  Then you can do whatever the hell you want with your freedom."

"Don't lie," Squall spoke quietly.

A voice called behind them before a reply was formed.  "Hey, now, Seifer.  No need to rush off with your birthing day gift like a spoiled child."

The dancer scowled at hearing the words that seemed to prove his suspicions correct - he belonged to the prince.

"Irvine," Seifer growled out.  "You know very well that this is my own money I'm spending.  Don't cause more trouble than you're worth."

"Hmm, and just who was the one to ensure this troupe would return today?  And your mother certainly wasn't pleased with you running off this morning without a mention of why.  By the by, she wishes to have a talk with you later.  More so, you even forgot to take along the payment for our fair dancer with you."

"Alright, alright.  I owe you.  Happy?"

As they passed through the main entrance, Squall looked half-heartedly at the grinning man who seemed completely at ease with the blonde's threatening aura.  Slowly it came to mind that Irvine was the name of another prince in the same family.  Even after a close examination, the dancer couldn't see anything that could claim these two men as brothers.

"Take your nymph to his room.  Judging by his looks and the stain on your shirt, I think a visit by Kiros is in order.  I'll fetch him."

After a grunt of thanks from Seifer, they parted ways in opposite directions.  Squall remained quiet as they traveled upstairs, every now and again taking deep breaths in the attempt to drive away the nausea that continually threatened to peak.  In time Seifer managed to open a door that lead into a large room that reminded the dancer of the prince's quarters, but a mirror image with slightly different furniture.

He was carried directly to a large bed, and Seifer carefully placed him on the cool sheets before stepping back.  Green eyes examined the thin form in the bright light of open windows, worry clear in his expression.

"I... I'm going to change my clothes, and then bring you some water.  Kiros should be here by that point."

"Wait.  I need... in case..."  Squall eyed the sheets he was sitting on, wondering how much further in debt he would go if he ruined the soft fabric.

"Ah, of course."  The man left the room briefly before returning with a water basin that was placed on the small nightstand.  "I won't be long.  Try to get comfortable."

Confused, he watched as Seifer went to a shadowed corner of the room instead of the bedroom entrance.  A hanging rug was pulled aside and a hidden door opened without a creak, the bare view around the blonde's body enough to tell Squall that this room was connected directly to Seifer's bedroom.  With the sound of the closed door, the dancer had the immediate instinct to escape these chambers and castle, but he knew this day was worse than most and he'd be lucky to reach the door before someone noticed him.  And in the chance that this 'Kiros' was a healer, perhaps he could find relief from the illness that might be slowly killing him.  Closing his eyes with the decision to stay made, Squall let himself rest briefly against the headboard while assuring himself that he didn't trust the blonde prince.  He was only too tired to care at the moment.

A short while later, the sound of an opening door forced the dancer back into awareness, blue-gray eyes widening fractionally at the sight of Seifer's changed clothing of a loose black shirt and dark parts.  His green eyes were bright in contrast to the material, and a smirk never too far from his pale lips.

He sat on the edge of the bed opposite of Squall, then held out a glass of water.  "Here."

The dancer took the glass with a quiet thanks, and then drank deeply until most of the warm liquid was gone.  Feeling partly refreshed and the nausea momentarily driven away, he silently eyed the prince, recognizing the effort the man was making to keep distance between them.  It bewildered Squall how the man could still be obsessing over him, his body much too thin and his illness possibly dangerous.  And it wasn't like the prince hadn't already gotten what he desired most.

Abruptly there was sharp knocking from the outer room, a door opening without a call to enter.  Three men soon walked into the bedroom, Squall only recognizing the one named Irvine.  The second longhaired man held back while a darkly skinned man approached the bed and sat next to the dancer.

Seifer spoke, pointing to each man in turn.  "Squall, let me introduce you to Kiros, the head healer of the castle.  The man next to Irvine is Laguna, our magus."

An elegant but firm hand grasped Squall's chin, angling his face better into the light.  "I've only heard that you're ill.  Care to describe your symptoms with a little more detail for me?"

Looking deep into the black eyes, the dancer found calming strength and wisdom there.  Something he could find reluctant trust in.  "Almost daily nausea for over a month now.  Weakness.  And I've been sleeping too much."

Releasing his hold, Kiros smiled softly.  "Next you'll be telling me your chest hurts."

"I guess, I little."

Blinking once, the dark man straightened.  "Do you mean you're having difficulty breathing?"

"No..."  He looked to the side to avoid the gazes of the other men.  "My nipples have darkened somewhat, as well."

After a tense silence, Kiros slowly turned to face the magus.  "Laguna.  What did you feed this boy?"

"Eh?  Ah, that's right.  This is the one the love potion was used for those months back.  It was nothing complex.  An old elven concoction, in fact."

"And what are the side effects, exactly?"

"Nothing more serious than a possible headache for humans, making it a lovely potion to use for such situations."  The grin was far too innocent for the matter at hand.

"And what do you mean, 'for humans'?"  The healer's tone had grown with faint frustration.

"Well, like I said, it's an old elven recipe meant... for... oh dear..."  Straight away he started to search through various hidden pockets of his robes, mumbling under his breath.  Finally he found what he was looking for - a small crystalline sphere set upon a metal base - and then hurried to the dancer's side.  "Do me favor, and see this small needle at the top here?  I need a drop of blood from you, so if you'd just press a finger lightly there..."

Uncertainty was foremost in Squall's thoughts, but a brief glance at the healer who gave an assuring nod persuaded him to follow the directions.  Instantly the ball turned pale green.

"Oh dear..." Laguna stated, biting his lower lip.

"Damn it!" Seifer growled out.  "Would one of you two tell us what the hell is happening here?"

"If my guess is right, it seems your... guest here is pregnant," Kiros said in a nonchalant tone.

"What the... Kiros, in case you haven't noticed, Squall can't be pregnant."

The magus corrected him.  "No, no.  I'm ashamed to say it's true.  I never considered the chance you'd find a person of mixed blood."

Green eyes narrowed dangerously at the man, silently demanding an explanation.

"As I mentioned, it's an elven design.  Some hundreds of years ago, their numbers were dangerously low and, well, if both men and women can be impregnated...  Anyway, in humans, it only has a type of aphrodisiac effect between interested partners.  The best potion to use, especially for shy lovers.  But apparently our boy here is a rather rare mix of human and elven blood.  At least five or six generations past, so it isn't physically visible.  But I must say that such dilute blood shouldn't have made such a large difference, I mean, for pure bloods it's a slim chance--"

"You're rambling," Kiros interrupted.

"Ah, yes.  Well, it appears you're going to be a father, young wolf."  The magus was beaming at the blonde as if nothing was odd with the statement.

While Seifer stared in a daze, the thus far silent dancer asked, "How do I get rid of it?"

"Oh, no, dear boy," Laguna said sadly.  "That's certain not an option.  This child exists through mostly magic, which means the unborn one is using your life energy to eventually form his or her own.  To abort it could mean death for you.  At best, your life shorten to a mere fraction of what it should be."

"Then, I have to..."

The magus sighed.  "I'm so ashamed of this mistake.  Elven partners understand the risks before such measures are taken for children."

"Laguna.  Kiros.  Leave us for now."  Though the prince's words were soft, the underlining command was clear.

"Ah, right then.  Kiros and I will do research tonight about this.  Don't worry.  It'll all turn out fine."

Shaking his head, the darkly skinned man patted the dancer's knee.  "For now, eat and rest.  Perhaps we'll find something in the books."

Stormy eyes lowered, Squall easily hearing the hidden doubt in the words.  His mind was reeling at the moment, and with disbelief and anger fighting for domination, the brunette was left feeling numb at the sudden and certainly unexpected news.

While the two men left, Seifer turned to his half-brother.  "If you would, tell Father and Mother I'll need a word with them tonight.  And have someone send dinner to this room."

Smiling faintly, Irvine nodded and turned for the outer room before calling over his shoulder, "Take care of him, pup."

With the sound of a closed door, the large blonde sighed loudly and lied down heavily on the bed, causing Squall to jump at the sudden move and the man's closeness.  The green eyes were focused on the canopy above while Seifer spoke.  "I'm not going to apologize for any of this.  The only thing I regret about that night is how I thought I had to trick you, but maybe fate works in mysterious ways.  While you seem to have little choice in the matter, I want you to have this child."

Squall glared at the prone man.  "This doesn't bother you in the least?"

"That you don't want the child, yes.  But I'm hardly one to talk when you're the one carrying."

"I never wanted this," he whispered harshly.

"You don't have much choice at the moment, do you?"  When no reply was given, Seifer continued.  "You hate the debt you now owe me, correct?"

"... You paid too much."

The prince smirked.  "In any case, you think you owe me, so let's deal.  Tomorrow is my birthing day.  In one year you are free to walk away from this place, your debt paid in full with the birth of my heir.  Of course, the child will be left here with me.  Until then, I'll take care of you and our child once born."

Squall scoffed.  "And what other services must I do to pay off that fortune?"

"Nothing, aside from letting me take care of you."

"... ..."  It was too easy, in a way.  As if he was using the child as a substitute for his slavery, but he assumed one of partial royal blood wouldn't be used in that way.  Especially with the stubborn blonde as his father.  But to survive pregnancy and birth... Squall wasn't sure if he could live through that, forget a year trapped within easy reach of the prince.  Then again, there clearly weren't any other choices available to him, especially considering the care he would most likely need to survive.  "Do you really think you can just let me go?"

"If it pains you to be near me..."

Going against every logical thought in his mind, Squall decided to trust the man, but only as far as the verbal contract.  "One year, then."

~<>~

Squall woke up, immediately frowning at the realization that he had fallen asleep on the couch of the entry room.  Fingering the thin blanket covering him, he decided that he must have drifted off when the sorcerer spoke to him and Seifer that morning.  As Laguna had thought the day previous, there wasn't a method to safely abort the growing child, especially considering Squall was already over two months deep into the pregnancy.  The brunette had clearly seen the prince smirk at that bit of news. 

The longhaired magus had then continued to briefly explain the pregnancy, detailing that the lack of energy was common for the first three months or so, with the child's life energy being formed off the base of the bearer's life force.  After would follow a few months of physical discomfort, some severe, as his body would adjust to support the child, and then the final months with the primary growth of the baby.  Considering he couldn't remember anything of the lecture beyond that, Squall concluded he must have gone to sleep then despite Seifer sitting right next to him on the couch.  Massaging the bridge of his nose, the dancer wondered how much of a fool he was to do that.

Squall's thoughts were broken by the sound of loud rapping followed quickly by a muffled, scolding tone from beyond the closed door.  Confused, he called for whomever it was to enter.

The door opened wide, a rather petite blonde woman walking in and Seifer close behind her, his hands occupied by a large tray of food and a pitcher.  Squall eyed the stranger, the youthful woman looking unearthly as long golden hair flowed behind her while she walked with a dancer's grace.  The brunette straightened when the seemly stern woman approached him directly, a soft hand placed gently on his cheek.  Piercing crystalline eyes examined his face thoroughly before her expression softened with a simple smile.

"Absolutely gorgeous.  I can see why my foolish son fell for you."

Stormy eyes narrowed in confusion.  "You aren't old enough to be his mother..." he said unintentionally.

Her smile widened with a melodic chuckle.  "A charmer as well.  He certainly doesn't deserve you."

"Mother--"

Light blue eyes hardened instantly, her tone firm as she addressed Seifer.  "You aren't allowed to speak yet, child.  I'm still furious with you, and don't you dare forget it."

For the first time Squall witnessed the blonde looking rather sheepish as he sat on a cushioned seat in silence.  His attention returning the woman, the dancer suddenly realized what being Seifer's mother meant.  He bowed his head and clutched at the sheet still covering his legs.  "Forgive me, my queen, for being disrespectful."

Tapping a finger under his chin, she forced him to look up.  "None of that.  The one carrying my grandchild shouldn't be so formal.  Please call me by name - Aurel."

"... ..."  Despite the sincerity in her eyes, Squall doubted he could ever bring himself to call the queen of a country by name.  But at least he now knew where the prince got the idea that the slave could simply call a man of royalty 'Seifer' without worry.

Her gentle smile returned, the woman sat next to the dancer on the couch, her hand resting on the man's leg.  "I've heard everything important about this situation including your arrangement with Seifer.  While I can't condone such an agreement, I understand your anger at this unusual occurrence.  Just, you do realize that you won't have to leave in one year.  This is your child as much as Seifer's."

"... ..."

She sighed quietly.  "Very well.  For now, know that we will take care of you.  No need to worry about that."

"No offense, my queen, but I'm not some woman to be pampered."

Her eyes widened slightly in amusement.  "No, you certainly aren't.  But," she held up a warning finger, "I know a thing or two more about being pregnant than you, my dear.  Whether you want it or not, you'll need help."

Squall frowned at the idea.

There was a deep chuckle.  "Give up, Squall.  She'll win eventually, so don't make the process anymore painful."

With an overly sweet smile, Aurel leaned back to promptly smack Seifer in the ear.  "Don't you think I've forgotten that this is all your fault.  This poor boy only did what he thought he had to in order appease an idiot with royal blood.  And if I see for one moment that you aren't worshipping the ground he walks on, I will personally make your life hell."

"I know, I know.  And, damnit, that actually hurt, woman."

"Be glad I don't have my dagger on hand, child.  I could do much worse."

Against his better sense, Squall chuckled at the interaction, ineffectually covering up the sound with some coughs.  The two blondes turned at the sound, both eventually smiling with a similar curl of lips.  But before anyone commented on the crack in composure, there was a knock at the door.

"Ah, he's earlier than I thought.  Come in!" the woman called.

Squall scowled at the sight of a small group of people carrying armfuls of cloth.

Aurel patted his leg.  "Up, up.  The sooner this is over, the sooner you can enjoy some lunch."

Before the dancer could question her, she rose to greet the best dressed man of the small group, both speaking happily in a foreign language.  When she turned and waved a hand in his direction, Squall resisted a flinch at the awed and pleased tone that the stranger spoke in.  Reluctantly he faced Seifer in search of help.

"Don't worry.  Henri isn't dangerous.  He just takes a little getting used to, but at least his clothes are always perfect."

"Clothes?  I don't need--"

Seifer laughed.  "What, you're going to wear those clothes for the next year?  You forget, I whisked you away while most of your possessions were left behind."

"But this is too much for me."

"Nonsense," Aurel chimed in.  "While you are temporarily part of our family, you have as much of an appearance to maintain as the rest of us.  And trust me, you'll appreciate this quality fabric when your skin gets annoyingly sensitive to anything less."

Not liking the words he heard, Squall quickly rose from the couch and walked into the bedroom without a reply to the questions about his retreat.  He wasn't surprised that he was followed, sensing the prince standing quietly at the doorway.

"I refuse to be... displayed for your benefit."

"It would be for your benefit as well, you know.  People need to see with their own eyes that you are important to me, that any action against you would result in immediate punishment of my choosing."

Squall turned and glared at the prince.  "And why exactly am I 'important' to you?"

"You're the last man I'll ever love," he replied without missing a beat.

The scowl deepened.  "Love doesn't exist."

Seifer straightened at the words.  "You actually believe that," he said softly, then shook his head.  "Well, you certainly aren't my slave or whore or whatever else is running through that dense mind of yours.  You are my equal and nothing less."

"Give me one reason to believe you, my prince."

Seifer grinned wryly.  "My loving mother wouldn't hesitate to use that knife of hers on me if I thought anything else."

"Don't mock me."

"He isn't, dear."  Both men turned, a bit startled by Aurel's unheard entrance.  "Sorry to interrupt, but Henri is getting a bit impatient.  You both can argue to your hearts' desire when you aren't taking up someone's time.  Not too mention that the food shouldn't be left out forever.  And I must insist that every bite be eaten.  It's not healthy to be so thin."  Turning with a wave of gold, she returned to the outer room as if certain her implied order would be followed without question.

"Does... she do that often?"

"What, take control of any situation she wishes and expect no one to deny her word?  Daily.  Father just thinks it's adorable."  He motioned Squall forward.  "Come along.  You need these clothes.  On my honor, there's no deeper meaning than that."

"... Fine."


The white mare was being pushed to her limits along the forest path, and still Seifer wished the animal would move faster.  Sharp green eyes scanned the scenery as it blurred past, keeping close watch for the bothersome brunette.  Nearly two months Squall had taken residence in the castle, and he was stubborn as ever.  These unannounced walks away from the safety of stone walls and guards were high on the prince's list of why he should chain the dancer to his bed.

Angry mutterings from the blonde halted abruptly when he spotted a figure to the side of the worn path, it taking a while longer to slow the horse and return to the open area of forest.  Hot jealousy raged in Seifer, finding the dancer sitting on a fallen tree and a woman held loosely in his arms.  His sneer deepened at the realization that she was even wearing Squall's coat, the blonde woman pressed tightly against his dancer.  Resisting a growl, he jumped off his mare with the intention to tear the woman away from what was his.

"Seifer..."  The barely hidden relief in the brunette's voice was enough to make the prince pause.

"Seifer?"  The woman straightened then, turning light blue eyes redden from tears in the direction of the prince.  "Seifer, thank the gods."

"Quisty?"  At her name, the blonde woman got up from the log and rushed into Seifer, burying her face in his chest.  The short distance was enough time for the prince to notice the torn dress barely held in place by a shaky hand.  "What happened, Quisty?  One of your guards made it to the castle, only speaking of an attack.  Irvine has everyone looking for you now."

She shook her head, fresh tears running down her cheek.

Squeezing her shoulder for comfort, Seifer then looked up at Squall in question.  The dancer had one arm hugged tight around him, but his expression was otherwise unreadable.  Without looking in the direction, he nodded to the side of the small clearing.  Green eyes shifted that way, for the first time noticing two fallen bodies.  Though one was partially hidden from view, Seifer clearly recognized the hilt of a small knife that stuck out from the other's neck.  Smiling vaguely, the prince took a breath of relief at the proof that Squall was carrying the throwing knives Seifer had given him.  Knowing he couldn't prevent the brunette from wandering off, Seifer wanted at least for the man to be able to protect himself in case of danger.

The prince turned at the sound of hooves, holding the woman close when she cringed against him.  At the sight of the familiar stallion, Seifer relaxed immediately.  "About time you caught up.  I've already found your missing bride."

Quistis looked up at that, wiping away still flowing tears with her free hand.  "Irvine..."

The longhaired prince jumped off his horse before it had stopped, the woman soon sheltered in his arms.  "Gods, I had feared the worst."

"They tried... they tried to... so scared..." she sobbed.

"Shhh, it's all right.  Don't speak of it until you're ready.  We'll get you home safe."

She thanked him quietly, letting Irvine lead her to his horse and help her mount the animal before pulling himself up behind her.  "We should go quickly, Seifer.  No knowing what dangers there are at the moment."

Nodding once, the blonde man turned to the dancer.  "We're off, Squall."

He frowned.  "I'm not riding that beast."

With a sigh, Seifer surrendered to the argument he knew he couldn't win.  While removing his coat, he walked up to Squall and placed the heavy material around the narrow shoulders.  The blonde smiled when the dancer clutched the piece of clothing tight around him instead of the typical scowl the prince would get in return for such an action.  Deciding to be dangerous, Seifer placed an arm around the hidden waist to lead the dancer forward.  Squall didn't refuse the touch, letting the blonde guide him while gray eyes grew vacant in thought.

It was slow going to the castle, Irvine forcing his horse to maintain a slow pace while Seifer and Squall walked, the prince's mare walking tiredly behind them.  Eventually regaining her calm, Quistis was able to give a vague account of the attack on her small group, herself escaping at the very beginning.  The two men had trailed her, finally capturing her at that spot in the forest.  Before she had understood what was happening, her dress was torn down the middle and hands all over her.  Sometime afterward, her attackers had fallen with barely a sound.

"The sight of a new man frightened me even more, especially after he so easily killed those men.  But he... Squall, was it?... he only tossed me his coat and told me help should be there soon.  Ashamed to say I completely fell apart at that point," Quistis said with a forced laugh.

Seifer looked at the man still held in his hold.  "And how did you know help would come?"

He shrugged.  "You always find me before lunch."

"Reckless fool."

"Forgive my rudeness," Quistis interrupted, "but may I ask who exactly you are?"

"He's the man carrying my child."

"Seifer!"  Squall said in part horror.

"It's fine, my lovely nymph.  She about to be family soon, and you know I keep nothing from family."

"You... you must be joking me.  Like in the old days."

Seifer laughed.  "Oh, there will be plenty of that to come, Quisty.  But this is the truth, with Squall being the fortunate man of fate to be fed the wrong potion."

"Unfortunate," the dancer muttered in correction.

"That just depends who's speaking, now doesn't it."

"I don't understand," Quistis said in a wary tone, unconvinced that the large man wasn't teasing her.

Irvine spoke before his brother could.  "I'll explain it to you once everything has settled some."

They reached the castle in short time, horses sent to the stables to be taken care off.  Barely a step into the main hall and the golden haired queen was upon the small group in a nervous flutter.  She examined the young woman first, and once certain there was no serious damage done, she quickly called for a servant to lead Quistis to her rooms so she could change out of the embarrassingly torn clothing.  Once the woman was out of view, Aurel turned and slapped her son at the back of his head.

"Shit, woman!"

She promptly smacked him again.  "No cursing in front of the baby.  And how dare you let this boy roam around without guard?  Do you know how worried I was?"

"'Let' is hardly the word to use," he stated while rubbing his head.

Hard crystalline eyes shifted to Squall.  "And you.  Don't you realize you could've been killed out there?"

He shrugged.

"Ah, men!  I'm surrounded by them and not a good one in the lot.  If I die of worry, I hope you feel just a bit of shame at your actions."

"I'm certain you'll out live us all, Mother.  Now, if you don't mind, I think Squall will need a nap after all of this."

The dancer frowned at the reference of being frail, but he remained silent, most likely seeing the possibility of escape with the excuse.

"Oh.  Of course.  I'm sorry, dear.  Though I must insist that you join us for dinner tonight.  I'm certain James will want to hear your version of what happened.  Bandits so close to the castle... it might not be a coincidence."

Before Squall could refuse, Seifer turned him to the hallway that would lead to their rooms.  "He'll be there even if I have to carry him."

"Thank you, child."

Walking slowly through the dimly lit corridors, Seifer couldn't hold back a foolish grin.  His arm was still hanging comfortably around the dancer's waist, the touch not yet declared unwanted.  While that should have peaked his curiosity, it was when Squall started to lean against the larger man that Seifer began to worry.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing.  Just tired all of the sudden."

"Oh?  Need a nap after all?"

"Don't patronize me."

"But it's what I do best."

Squall scoffed in reply, but left it there as he let the blonde lead him to his chambers.  There was only a mumbled argument when Seifer continued further to gently push the dancer onto the bed, forcing him to lie down.  In the time it took to remove his shoes and get a thin blanket for the man, Seifer found the dancer fast asleep.  Sitting on the edge of the mattress, he dared placing a hand on the slight rise of midsection.  When only a shiver of skin came and went at his touch, the prince rubbed softly at the area under the barrier of clothes.  He smiled sadly at the feel of life, knowing Squall might never allow this kind of touch willingly.

Abruptly Seifer stood, quickly placing the blanket over the dancer to hide what wasn't really his.  With a whisper of sweet dreams, he quietly left the room to find something to better occupy his mind.

~<>~

That night Seifer woke suddenly, eyes snapping open to quickly scan the room lit rather brightly by moonlight from scattered windows.  Slowly he pushed up on one elbow, the sense of being watched strongly felt.  It was a deep breath that verified someone's presence, but locating the source of the sound, Seifer quickly recognized the lack of danger the intruder presented.

Quietly he got out of bed and padded over to the doorway between the two bedrooms.  Sitting against the frame, thus propping the door open, was Squall, asleep in what Seifer decided was a painful position.  Squatting down, he reached out for a shoulder and gently shook the brunette awake.

"Hey, it's not good for you to sleep like that."

The haziness slowly leaving his eyes, Squall frowned.  "I fell asleep?"

Seifer chuckled lightly.  "Did you need me for something?  You could have just kicked me awake."

Awareness hit the dancer suddenly, a hand moving quickly to cover his stomach.  "No.  No, I just... ..."

"I dare you to come up with a decent lie to explain why you're snoring in my room."

Squall glared icily in reply, then pushed himself off the floor to stand shakily.  However, before he could move back into his own chambers, the dancer cried out painfully, suddenly dropping to his knees.  Seifer was immediately at his side, trying his best to look for an obvious cause of injury.

"Squall, what is it?  What's wrong?"

"... it's... killing me...  it's kill..."  The words stopped with heavy breaths and intermediate groans of pain.

Seifer whispered a curse before deciding to take the risk and carry the fallen dancer to the closest bed.  A dangerous shame it was the prince's bed.  Placing the quaking man onto the mattress without too much effort, Seifer was caught off guard when slim arms wrapped around his neck and held him close.

"...it hurts, don't go, hurts so much..." Squall whispered harshly into his ear.

Uncertain with the situation, the blonde placed his hands at the dancer's back and tried to rub soothingly.  "Shhh, it'll be fine.  Let me go get Kiros for you."

Hands clutched at the skin on his back, nails felt despite the nightshirt barrier.  "...don't go, don't go, don't go..."

"All right, I won't go anywhere.  Just try to relax, Squall.  Try to calm down."

They stayed like that for too long in Seifer's mind, the prince counting every second Squall could be approaching death because he didn't get the healer fast enough.  The worry was too strong for him to even briefly consider what it meant that the dancer was holding him close, unwilling to let Seifer go.  But eventually Squall calmed within their desperate hold, his breathing returning to some kind of normalcy.  Gently the blonde pushed him back onto the messed sheets, then pried the arms from around his neck.

"Squall, I'm going to go get Kiros.  I promise to hurry back."

He nodded sharply, his eyes closed tight as if to fend off the pain.

Seifer ran from his chambers, bare feet echoing loudly in the dark corridors of the castle.  All the way he cursed the fact Kiros slept closer to his parent's bed chambers, ignoring the detail that it was important for the healer to be near the king and queen.  Reaching the locked door, he pounded at the wood, not even pausing for a chance to hear a reply from within.

"What the... Seifer?"

The prince turned at his name, momentarily confused at seeing Kiros behind him, peering out from the doorway across the hall.  He almost questioned the man before remembering it was the magus who slept in those rooms.  Anyhow, the dancer was foremost in his mind.  "Squall is in severe pain.  I don't know why."

The healer straightened from his slack stance.  "Gods, it's weeks before we expected," he muttered before going back into the room, returning shortly with a small jar in hand.  "Let's go, boy."

They jogged back to the prince's chambers, the healer forcing Seifer to calm his worried panic.  Once entering his rooms, the blonde rushed into his bedroom after hearing the loud groans from Squall.  He knelt to the side of the bed, and brushed aside locks of dark hair from the sweaty forehead.

"It's fine now, Squall.  Kiros has something to help you."

Blue-gray looked up at the prince with fear, tears flowing from the watery eyes.

The healer approached then, sitting on the edge of the mattress.  "Seifer, lift his shirt for me, and then get a leather glove."  Once the blonde did as told, Kiros removed the covering of the jar he held.  "Now put on the glove and scoop out some of this cream to spread on his stomach, but don't use any pressure."

"Why don't you do this?"

"Because, dear pup, you'll have to do this on your own for the next few weeks or so.  You can't come running for me every time this happens."

"Weeks?"

"Do you want to help this boy or talk?"

Green eyes shifted to Squall's face, the dancer biting his lip in the vain attempt to stop making noises.  After quickly putting the glove on, Seifer took a hold of the jar and hooked fingers inside to scoop out some of the pinkish cream.  He lightly touched the exposed skin, causing Squall to cry out quietly.  A dark hand grabbed Seifer's wrist before he could pull back.

"The pain is unavoidable.  The faster you spread it on, the sooner the pain will dampen."

Swallowing loudly, Seifer nodded before placing the cream onto sweat moistened skin, Kiros critiquing when needed about too much pressure being applied.  Agonizing minutes later, Squall's body became relaxed as the pain was driven away.  The blonde continued to rub gently until certain all of the cream was gone, and then sat back onto the ground, the relief of lifted stress leaving him exhausted.

"Fuck, what the hell was that all about anyway?"

"As Laguna told you both, there is pain involved with such a pregnancy.  The male body isn't made to carry a child, so the body must adjust to accommodate the growing baby.  I'm just thankful we thought to have some salve on hand even though we hadn't expected this for a couple more weeks at the soonest."

"So, what, just spread some of that stuff on every night?"

"No, I'm afraid not.  This cream serves to loosen muscle and numb out pain.  To use it regularly without reason is too dangerous for both the boy and your child.  It's also why you should wear a glove while rubbing in the salve."

At the words, Squall laughed bitterly.

Seifer had to agree with the sentiment.  "Then I have to fucking wait for him to be yelling out in pain?"

"When the pain begins, yes, you can use the salve.  No need to wait for it to get so bad, though."

"It started off bad, damn it!"

Kiros sighed, undaunted by the prince's anger.  "Hopefully it won't last too long.  Perhaps a month or so.  And it shouldn't occur every day, maybe a few times a week.  He's strong enough to live through it.  Oh, and he shouldn't move directly after receiving the cream.  The boy might injure himself without realizing it."

"... Anything else, Kiros?" Seifer bit out.

"Not at the moment.  I'll make more the salve tomorrow so that you'll always have some on hand."

"Fine.  Then please get the fuck out."

The dark man nodded quietly, rising from the bed unhurriedly.  "I'll inform the queen of everything in the morning, so no need to wake earlier than you wish tomorrow."

While the healer left, Seifer pushed himself up from the floor, and then placed the jar and leather glove onto the nightstand.  For a strained moment he looked down at the prone dancer, wondering just what was going through the man's mind.  "Since you shouldn't move, I'll just use your bed for tonight.  If the pain returns, yell for me.  I'll prop open the door, so I should be able to hear you well enough."

"Or you could stay," Squall offered in a quiet voice.

"I don't think you mean that."

"I've been thinking..."  After a short pause, he sighed and then smiled weakly.  "You wouldn't take advantage of a pregnant man, would you?"

"Heh, not too certain about that myself, actually.  What's with the sudden bout of trust?"

"I've... Tell me first.  Tell me why you think you love me."

Seifer smiled at the dancer's uncertain tone, the man still adamant that there was no such thing as love.  Waiting to answer, the prince first moved around the bed and rolled over onto the mattress to lie on his side next to Squall.  "Do you remember the tournament last month?"

"Yes.  What does that--"

"There was a whole arena filled with people who would've congratulated me for my victory, stroked my ego for being a champion among champions, and all of that crap.  Even my parents applauded me for the hard won fight.  But I turn to face you and find the person I most wanted to impress scowling at me.  'Go see the healer, you dumb ass,' you told me."

"I never called you that."

"Umm, but it was clear enough in your voice.  Anyway, out of all those people, you were probably the only one who noticed my hurt wrist and the gash at my side.  Didn't give a shit that I won, but you were angry that I got myself injured.  I think at that moment I truly loved you."

"That's it?"

"'That's it?' you ask.  My naive nymph, it's everything to me.  I can't begin to explain why."

"... I've been having dreams.  It helps some to look at you when I can't sleep," he said in a hushed voice, as if embarrassed he was admitting it.

Green eyes widened some at the news that Squall coming into his room was a common thing.  He thought it strange how he never woke before this night.  "How long?"

"Couple weeks.  Maybe longer."

"You know, you could have wakened me if you needed someone to talk to."

"... ..."

"Well, care to describe them to me?"

"This, this thing inside of me... it's a demon, isn't it?"

"What?!  No, Squall.  No.  This is a child.  Our child."

He covered his tear stained face with his hands.  "The dreams are so real.  I see how it devours me from the inside out..."

"Dreams are just that.  Just dreams."  Seifer took one of the hands in his, placing it on top of the small mound of midsection.  "This is the reality.  You are helping to create a new life, a child.  Well, being my child, I suppose he or she will have a bit of a demonic side, but in personality only.  And since elves have done this plenty enough in the place, you certainly have nothing to worry about."

"Right, nothing but pain to worry about."

Seifer winced at the sarcastic words, then placed his forehead against the dancer's shoulder.  "I'm sorry.  I wish this could've gone differently, but I still don't regret it.  I'm still thankful that you are the one to bear my child.  I don't know what I could possibly tell you to make this any better."

It was silent for a time before Squall spoke.  "You say you love me."

Seifer squeezed the hand still in his.  "I do."

"Then will you still let me go when the time comes?"

"I'll let you go because I love you."

"That doesn't make any sense."

"Heh, that's how love is most of the time.  Doesn't make a single ounce of rational sense."

Another pause.  "You know, I was impressed with the way you fought."

The prince grinned at the words.  "No, I didn't know."

"Didn't care for most of the tournament, but when you dueled with blades, it was like you were dancing."

"Oh?  Well, I guess some do call it a dance of death."  After some silence, Seifer spoke again.  "Do you like it?  Dancing, I mean."

"I suppose.  Mostly when I don't have to, though."

"Then maybe I'll have to trick you into dancing for me again someday."

"... I'm tired, Seifer."

"Not too surprising.  Go to sleep and try to get some peaceful rest for once.  Don't worry.  I'll be here if you need someone."

Eyes gray from shadows looked over at the man, Seifer meeting his gaze.  The prince couldn't tell if it was a trick of the moonlight or not, but he was rather certain that he witnessed a rare, vaguely pleased smile of his dancer.  By the time Squall was deep asleep, the blonde was still awake, moving his hand to directly feel the rise of stomach.  Smiling, he closed his eyes with the resolution to enjoy this while he could.  No telling when the dancer might kick him out of bed next.


He walked alone through the hallway, trying to decide if he felt up to making the climb of stairs.  It had rained hard that morning, but now the sun was out without a cloud to block the warm rays.  Squall figured the scenery from ruined tower must be beautiful at this moment, but it was annoying to walk up the expanse of stairs to reach that view.  At the intersection which would lead either his chambers or the tower, the dancer paused and drummed fingers on his mound of stomach which, beyond his imagination, should grow even larger in the next few months according to Kiros and Aurel.

"Already forgot where the prince's bed lies?"

Squall turned at the unexpected voice, not recognizing the man of dark brown hair.

"Heh, looks like you're getting plenty fat off of the prince's wealth.  Can he actually handle fucking you like that?"

Stormy eyes narrowed in a threatening glare before he turned, deciding to head for his chambers after all.

The man followed.  "He's going to drop you, you know.  The mighty general hates sticking to one thing.  Even told me himself how that's the reason he loves fighting, since no two battles are the same."

Squall stopped, hands clenched at his sides.  "Why tell me?"

"Because, he's going to need a replacement for you.  And I was curious what this male bride of his was like, but you're the same as the rest of us, aren't you?  A poor kid getting a chance of the high life, even if it means selling your body.  Heh, at least our Golden Wolf is worth it, right?"

Whatever the dancer was planning to say or do was interrupted by an odd cry, making him turn around to face the stranger.  The sight of the man being held with a knife to his throat was an oddly pleasing one.  But blue-gray eyes were then entranced by the look of pure rage on Seifer's face.

"What the fuck are you doing here, Nida?"  His tone was deep and flat when he spoke, as if speaking to a dead person.

'Seifer--"  The man winced when the knife pressed closer against his skin.  "My prince, only to visit you since it's been so long."

"And I told you no more.  I gave you enough gold to be five countries away by now."

"I didn't think--"  With more pressure, the knife started to draw blood.

"No, you don't think.  If I hear that you placed one finger on this man, I swear I won't bother to control myself next time."  Lowering the knife, Seifer stepped to the side.  "Get running."

Still attempting some pride, Nida bowed slightly in a mocking way and then walked off with a rushed pace.

"Fucking piece of shit, thinking he knows me after a couple of nights."

A shadow of a smile crossed the dancer's lips.  "I don't know.  Everyone else says the same."

Seifer turned sharply at the words, anger still clear in the green eyes.  "And just who is 'everyone else'?"

"There seems to be a new one every week at the least.  It's rather boring how they repeat themselves."

Anger drained from the prince's face, replaced with uncertainty.  "Shit.  Squall, I... they were..."

"Don't bother making excuses for what you did.  Do you think I've never seen a sex crazed aristocrat?"

He frowned.  "Personally, I think you've seen too many of them."

"... ..."  The dancer held his tongue at the idea that he had no choice as a slave, not wanting to get into that line of discussion with the blonde.  His ankles and back were starting to ache a bit from just standing around, so time in his rooms sounded like a good option before doing something else.  But at a sudden hit of mild pain, Squall flinched and backed into the wall of the hallway.

"What is it?  Do you need the salve?"

"No.  It's... I don't know what it is.  It doesn't hurt much, just feels odd.  Stronger than usual."

Seifer blinked at the words before a grin slowly formed on his lips.  He leaned in close to the dancer, and then placed a hand against his stomach.  When the odd feel happened again within his body, the prince laughed.  "Oh gods, I'll bet that's a foot."

"Oh," Squall said, looking confused.

"What, think the little one would just stay still within you?"

"I didn't really think about it..."

Suddenly stormy eyes met green, two breaths stalled at what they could see in the clear depths.  Squall watched as the prince moved in slowly, knowing he purposefully did so to give the dancer a chance to refuse.  Instead, the brunette closed the bare distance between them, for the first time in months tasting the sharp flavor that was Seifer.  The prince pressed his body against Squall, his hand sandwiched between them as the child still moved within its bearer.  The kiss deepened further, the dancer wondering exactly how long he must have actually wanted Seifer to make him savor the joining of lips.  Eventually, the prince pulled back, the lopsided grin making him look rather foolish.

Squall spoke first.  "I don't love you."

There was a deep laugh in reply.  "But I certainly love you."

"You don't know me."

"While I may not know the details of your past, I know who you are."

With a sigh, Squall closed his eyes, allowing unknown and strange emotions overwhelm him.  "Don't leave me," he whispered.

"I can't," Seifer replied with an equally quiet tone, then stole another kiss from the willing man.

~<>~

It was cold waking up, something wrong with the noises around him.  Or rather the lack of sounds was bothering Squall the most.  Since about two months previous, he had been sleeping in the prince's bed because of the severe pains that would rack his body, the last episode being a fortnight past.  But only in the last week had the dancer dared to enjoy the heat that would wrap around him and the strong hands that could rub away any ache.  Even to simply lie awake and listen to the slight snores of the large man would help to soothe unnamed worries that kept Squall from sleep.  It was that familiar snore which was missing this morning.

Lifting awkwardly to a partial sitting position, Squall looked over to the other side of the large bed.  No one was there, as expected, but a slip of paper was resting on one of the pillows.  He took it in hand, gray eyes following the sharper curls of writing than he had seen in the books from the library.  Slowly he crumpled the piece of paper into his fist, and looked to the window filled with morning light.

"You said you'd stay..."

 

{Continued}

 

Author's Whining -- Ugh, look how long this turned out!  Never thought the chap would take that much writing, but oh well.  Miss Dincht isn't complaining.  Going to have the next and final part out next week, thereby giving me the chance to finish the other request I've been avoiding.  Shame on me.