Hearts Unchanged
February 2004

 

[Seifer]

As I hurried to put on my robe, there was the rather satisfying sound of fleeing footsteps down the corridor away from the chambers I shared with Squall.  Even so, the anger burning within me wasn't close to being sated, and so I rushed after the fool woman.  I wasn't certain what I would do if I caught up to her, but having the chance to act out my anger for once wasn't a freedom I was going to waste.

With my long, quick stride, I soon reached the open entrance hall of the mansion.  It was a simple case to follow the sounds of loud sobbing and whining from there, which then led me to the main sitting room.  Once I stepped through the open doors, a squeal sounded from the small woman, but I was forced to stop in place and simply glare at her as she clung onto to Laguna in fear.

"Please, my Lord.  Protect me from that... that monster."

The longhaired man frowned at her in confusion, and then glanced up at me with only question in his eyes.  It was almost strange that he didn't automatically accuse me.  I was accustomed to my word meaning shit compared to others, but I should have known that no one in the Loire household considered me a slave.  Then again, I wasn't really rational at that moment.

When I did nothing but glared at the dark haired woman, a cool hand was placed on my arm, and my heated anger began to falter at that calming presence.

"What's wrong?" Squall asked in his soft, neutral fashion.

"That fucking bitch offered me a potion to get rid of the 'demon' within me," I growled out, using my rage to will away the tears that threatened to flow.

Directly after my words, the midwife yelled shrilly, "He attacked me."

"If you think a slap is something terrible, just wait until I--"

"Seifer," Squall interrupted quietly.  "Come sit down."

"I don't want to sit," I hissed out while still glaring at the woman, wishing that I could advance on her, but I knew the brunet's hold on me would hold me back.

With a deep sigh, Squall stepped in front of me and forced me to look down into his eyes.  Gazing into the pale blue orbs may always be my undoing, and unfortunately the dark-haired man knew how to abuse my weaknesses.  With little effort on his part, he led me to a nearby sofa and I was soon seated stiffly next to him with my arm wrapped tight around his waist.

Clearing his throat, Laguna gently pried the midwife away from him.  "Now, what is this 'demon' business?  I thought you were familiar with pregnancies of shifters, as well as other nonhumans."

"I am," the woman stated with pride.  "But I thought, given the father..."

"What about the father?" Laguna asked, sincerely curious.

In a hushed whispered which still reached across the room, the woman said, "You must have heard the rumors, my Lord.  That... that devil is a plague on this world.  I've heard that he has been seen drinking the blood of innocents to increase his strength.  There's no telling what type of unnatural offspring he would sire."

The old man stiffened at the words, his typically warm eyes taking on a pained gleam.  "I see.  Well, thank you for coming, but I don't think your services will be required again.  You can collect your fee from Evans."

"But my Lord--"

"Leave, and don't speak of this to anyone," Laguna said sharply, the underlining threat a surprising one to me.

With widened eyes, the midwife stepped away with a quiet, "Yes, my Lord.  Thank you."

Once the woman had left, the longhaired man sighed before looking to his son.  "Squall..."

The brunet smiled softly at the worried voice.  "Do you think that I haven't heard the rumors associated with me?"

Shaking his head, Laguna said, "No, but I thought... I always believed that once you had completed your mission, that when you had returned home, you would be able to live apart from that other life."

"It's what I am," Squall said quietly.

"It's what you were," I corrected with annoyance.  "Anyway, I don't see why I need a fucking midwife.  I know I'm pregnant and I think I can figure out if I feel like shit without someone else telling me.  Heaven knows that I would have been better off without that bitch ruining my day."

With a familiar fond smile at me, the old man said, "I'm only looking out for your health, as well as the health of my first grandchild.  Given your background, we can't be certain..."

Though Laguna continued to ramble on, the man's voice faded out to my hearing as I sensed... something which made my skin itch.  The pace of my heartbeats and breaths quickened before I could identify the source of my instinctual fear - an aura of magic was approaching.  A strong one, but not exactly the same as I remembered it.

"Seifer...?"

"She's coming," I whispered in disbelief before I moved my arms to cover my stomach.

Instantly Squall was standing and a long dagger was drawn such that it was held in front of me.  Some of my fear left me as I glanced up his lean body to his face, but seeing his determined expression, shame quickly replaced my fear.  I hated being this weak when the smaller human was always so strong.  Frowning at my mental whining, I forced myself to stand up tall at Squall's side.  He glanced over at me briefly, a slight smile appearing on his lips before he faced the entrance once more.

Soon after, a woman of long black hair strode into the room, her elegant gown flowing as she walked with the unnatural grace of a sorceress.  At first sight, I swore my fallen Mistress had come back to life, and my mind simply blanked on what I could do to protect the child within me.  Filling that void, numerous scenarios of my coming punishment flooded out any other possible thoughts.

"Edea, I didn't realize that you were coming."

I blinked as Laguna happily approached the fair skinned woman.  Meanwhile, Squall exhaled softly in relief before he relaxed and placed his dagger back into its leather scabbard.  I wanted to yell at him for being so foolish, but eventually my logical side remembered the name my Mistress once cursed from evening until dawn without pause.  Even so, I couldn't relax until Squall moved such that his arm pressed discreetly against mine.

Oblivious to the previous tension, the sorceress smiled at being hugged tightly by Laguna.  "Forgive me for not sending word first, but with the current state of things, I thought secrecy was best."

"You know that you are always welcomed here," Laguna said before stepping back.  "How have you been?"

"I'm doing well.  While there is still much to be done, my heart feels light once more with the end to this meaningless war."  The sorceress then glanced over to Squall.  "I have been eager to thank you for handling Adel."

The brunet offered no reply, not even a nod to the woman.

Confused and somewhat hurt by his silence, the woman softly cleared her throat before looking to me with golden brown eyes.  "Oh my, are you a shifter?"

"What does that matter to you?" I asked sharply, my confidence returned with Squall's relaxed stance in the presence of this sorceress.

Before the dark-haired woman voiced a reply, she was interrupted by the hurried entrance of a lovely young woman with golden hair tied back in a painfully tight bun and blue eyes hidden behind small, unnecessary glasses.  I couldn't hold back my smile at the sight of the long forgotten friend who apparently hadn't lost her serious nature over the years.

"Quisty."

Startled by her name being called, the blonde first looked to Squall, but then glanced my way with widened blue eyes.  "Seifer...?"

With four long strides, I had the woman tight in my hold.  "Shit, Quisty, I thought you were dead when that one greasy bastard never brought you around again."

Quistis pulled back slightly to look at me with moist eyes.  "Edea saved me along with a few others.  But you... how did you survive that horrid witch all of these years?  And what are you doing here?"

I ignored her first question, truly not knowing how I lived through years of torment.  "Quisty, I'm pregnant."

She blinked, and then covered her mouth in shock.  "Not by one of those..."

"Thank the Gods, no.  I actually want this parasite living within me."  I glanced over to Squall and was momentarily stunned by the icy eyes focused on us.  "The truth is that the child belongs to that moody guy standing right there."

"Oh... That's good," Quistis replied while slipping out of my hold.  The sincerity in her voice was severely lacking, but I didn't have the chance to question her before Laguna spoke up.

"That reminds me.  Edea, you have an excellent relationship with shifters.  Do you happen to know any experienced midwives who we could call upon?  I'm worried--"

"No," I interrupted before the dense idiot could continue.  "I don't want any other person to come near me and talk shit about Squall and our child."

The sorceress frowned slightly.  "But it would be wise to have someone nearby in the case there are complications.  Especially with this being a male pregnancy."

"I don't give a shit.  I'm fine."

"Seifer..."

I turned sharply to face Squall.  "Don't you start, too.  I'm perfectly healthy, damn it."

He smiled softly.  "I know, but it's time for your snack."

Holding back a growl, I glared at him for the patronizing comment.  "I'm not hungry."

"And I want to keep it that way.  You know you'll end up sick for the rest of the day if I let you get hungry."

I hesitated in thought, surprised and annoyed to discover that he was right.  "When did you noticed this?"

Squall didn't reply, and instead placed his hand on my arm.  "Mrs K got in fresh peaches earlier this afternoon."

The mention of peaches instantly made me think of my childhood, that being the last time I was able to enjoy ripe peaches which my mother would slice and feed me by hand.  Remembering those peaceful times and the taste of sweet nectar, I was skillfully distracted to the point that Squall was able to drag me out of the room without effort.  I didn't even notice the change in scenery until I heard the door close and the sound of muffled voices restarting a discussion behind me.

Stopping in place, I scowled at the smaller man.  "Stop playing around with my fucked up mind, Squall.  They're going to try to decide something without me, and I'm serious, I don't want another person touching my body."

He sighed quietly before meeting my gaze.  "Laguna only wants to help... and I don't won't this pregnancy to harm you."

"It won't," I told him as my lips formed a smile at the concern clear in his voice.  "And I guess... if you really want this, I might be able to tolerate it."

"Thank you," he whispered with relief.

"I want a kiss in payment, though," I added quickly.

Something akin to horror shown in the pale blue eyes, but I knew it wasn't directed at me.  Though I had been sharing his bed for two months, Squall was still afraid to touch me.  At first it was endearing that he thought I was someone who could be tainted by his bloodstained hands, but then it became frustrating to me both mentally and physically.  While he wouldn't knock away my touch, he also never thought that I wanted him to touch me back.  In truth, I wanted so much - his hands and lips on my skin, his body firm against mine... I wanted to be fucked as much as I wanted to fuck him, but unfortunately, I was trained to keep my deepest desires a secret for fear of them being used against me.  It was a hard habit to break.

For long moments, Squall simply stared at me, almost pleading me to tell him that I was joking.  I, of course, offered no such assurance to the smaller man when I bent down a bit to make it easier for him to reach me.

Eventually he surrendered with a drawn-out breath.  He leaned up to gently brush his lips against mine, then retreated slightly with the vague hope to see if that would satisfy me, but he knew better than that.  His softer lips were against mine once more with added pressure as he kneaded the sensitive flesh together.  I wanted to reach out and pull him closer to me, but I kept my hands to myself as I forced Squall to continue his clumsy lead.  It didn't take long for my patience to win out as a cool hand settled at my neck and began to massage gently as he became more daring with the kiss by adding a soft bite to my lower lip.

I couldn't stop the sudden rumbling from my throat, the sound of my purr mortifying me for the first time in months.  Squall broke the kiss, but he didn't move back far as I could still feel his breath against my heated skin.  And then he laughed.  It wasn't loud or hurtful as most laughter can be, but instead it was a heartfelt laugh which few have heard from the dark knight.

Without warning, Squall then resumed the kiss, but he didn't hold the same reserve as before.  When his other hand moved to the back of my head, I had achieved my goal of getting him to touch me first, and thus I was able to grab onto the lithe man with one of my hands buried deep into his thick hair and my other pressed against the small of his back to bring him closer.  For once, Squall didn't resist my attempt to move him.  Instead he groaned softly before he nudged his tongue against mine in a silent demand to deepen the kiss.  He tasted amazing, his touch was maddening... and then he somehow slipped out of my hold.

"We should go... to the kitchen," he stated lamely while glancing to the side.

"Can't something be delivered to our rooms?" I asked roughly, resisting the need to grab onto the smaller man again.

Sighing, Squall looked up at me, the gray of his eyes glowing like silver with their inner heat.  "My father will be looking for us soon."

And that was all he said before he walked in the direction of the kitchen.  No promise for something later, no word about the shared moment, no fucking apology for getting me aroused... And sadly I voiced none of that frustration as I followed his lead.  Instead, my thoughts were already trailing off to the idea of fresh peaches and the desire to lick sweet nectar from the skin of the dark knight.

~ > < ~

In the secluded section of the private study, I tried to find a seated position on the couch which would be both comfortable and respectable.  But in the end, I conceded to the pathetic reality that I would look ridiculous with my small rounded stomach no matter the position, so I settled with my sprawled out way of sitting.  Funny how I enjoyed the idea of pregnancy much more before my body began to change against my will.

In short time, the old man appeared from behind the bookshelves and flashed a warm smile at me before he took his usual seat.  "Sorry to keep you waiting, but my talk with Edea lasted longer than I thought it would."

I smirked, accustomed to Laguna forgetting the flow of time while in the middle of his talks.  "It's fine.  This should be quick if you need to get back to her."

He waved a hand at the comment.  "We haven't covered much new ground in the past couple months, and with her watching over your pregnancy, we will have plenty more opportunities to speak about politics in the future.  For now, my time is yours, so there is no need to rush.  And I must admit, I'm curious about what you wanted to discuss with me in such secrecy."

It took some effort to not move my eyes from his overly interested gaze.  "I... have a favor to ask."

"Of course.  Anything you need, dear boy."

"It's not something I need, really, but... I wanted to get a particular necklace..."

Laguna's expression shifted to something thoughtful, but he didn't reply.  And silence from that man was something I figured had to be a bad sign.

"I know I have no money, but I'll do anything--"

"You wish to marry my son," the old man said, his tone eerily calm and confident.  His guess might have surprised me if I hadn't already known about the great interest he took in any books concerning my kind ever since I arrived at the Loire Manor.

"It's not really marriage..." I corrected him as my eyes drifted downward to stare at my arm wrapped loosely around my swollen midsection.

"Hmmm, and what metal did you want for this choker?"

"Silver," I replied without hesitation.

Laguna laughed in his carefree manner as he stood up from his chair.  "It might as well be considered marriage if that's your choice."

Feeling insulted for no real reason, I scowled and refused to meet the old man's gaze until he forced the point by placing his hand under my chin.  The dark green eyes held such warmth whenever I dared to meet his open expression.  It was disturbing.

"I'll get you the choker, but only if you promise me something in return."

"And what's that?" I asked, briefly remembering the types of services I was accustomed to doing in return for 'favors'.

"Continue to bring some happiness into Squall's life," he stated seriously despite the ridiculous message.

"As if I need to promise that," I muttered angrily as I knocked away his hand.  I then pushed up from the couch and forced the shorter man to move out of my way.  "I better go.  Squall is probably having a fit since I missed lunch.  Just let me know when you get the damned thing."

Laguna smiled.  "Remind my son that you're both supposed to join us for dinner.  Liles wasn't happy that the two of you didn't show last night."

"Right, right," I said while making my way to the exit.  "I'll try to refrain from puking all over Squall today, even though it was so much fun yesterday."

There was quiet laughter behind me as I escaped the study and headed directly for the chambers I shared with Squall.  The hallways were blissfully quiet as I walked with unhurried steps through the wide corridors.  After so much of my life trapped in the castle, it was reviving to travel through these halls filled with light.

Abruptly that peace was broken by the sounds of high-pitched squealing and loud footsteps on stone.  Knowing what was coming, I wisely stopped in place before the small mass of whiteness could trip me by attaching onto my legs.  Unable to hide a smile even in mock anger, I glanced down at the young girl and placed my hand on top of her head.

"And what game are you playing this time, little one?"

Green eyes bright, Paige placed a finger to her redden lips.  "Shhh, a tiger is coming."

A young boy then jumped out from an adjoining hallway and proceeded to roar as best he could.  The smaller girl squealed in mock fear and quickly ran around me and headed off in the direction of the entrance hall.  Laughing, Liles winked at me before he roared again and ran after his younger sister.

I shook my head as I watched the energetic kids disappear around the turn.  It was hard to believe that they were half-brother and sister to the dour man I've found myself attached to.  With the winter season ended weeks ago, Laguna's second wife returned to the Loire mansion with their two children eager to see their father once more.  To my surprise, Liles knew about his older brother and he was ecstatic when he was told that Squall was staying for good.  After much prodding, I learned from Squall that he saved his little brother from a dangerous kidnapping situation several years back.  Though only five at the time, Liles still remembered the whole event and he obviously worshipped his savior.  While hating such devote attention, Squall had gentle hand when it came to his siblings.  And by their mother's expression, I had a feeling few others had his same ability to calm the duo.

Placing a hand at my rounded stomach, I felt lighthearted as I continued my journey to the comfort of the small suite.  It didn't take me long to travel the rest of the distance, though my lower back was starting to ache from walking around too much.  A vague smile came to my lips as I wondered how much coaxing it'd take to get Squall to give me a much deserved massage.

Reaching the room, I paused in front of the closed doors when I heard someone speaking from within.  The deep voice was familiar, though I couldn't identify it directly.  More so, I was confused by someone talking to Squall in our private rooms.  Before I had time to think about it, there were sounds of struggles from inside.  Startled, I opened the door without thought of how I could help Squall in my current state, but that became a moot point when I saw the scene inside.

"What the hell...?"

At my bewildered voice, Squall looked up sharply as wide, panic-stricken eyes met mine.  His lips parted in surprise, but nothing was said to explain the situation at hand.  Meanwhile, the man trapped beneath the dark knight didn't move an inch for fear of the long dagger pressed against his throat.  As I stared dumbly at the prone man of short blond hair and green eyes, I frowned at the realization that I looked worse than I thought with my potbellied stomach.  I then shook my head to get rid of the distracting thoughts.

"What the fuck is going on here?" I growled out, mostly at the person who dared to take my form.

"Seifer...?  You're..."

Though the wary tone of the brunet concerned me, I managed a confident front.  "Yeah, it's me.  I was just talking with your father."

Blue-gray eyes turned to ice before Squall looked down at his captive.  Pressing the tip of the dark blade against the exposed throat, the dark knight spoke in a soft but threatening voice.  "Change."

With a careful swallow, the man spoke in my voice.  "But Squall--"

Squall stopped him with a press of the blade.  "No more lies."

A pained expression crossed the man's face before his body shifted forms.  I suppose it shouldn't have been a surprise to see the young woman taking shape within the clothing too big for her, but still... it wasn't like her to do something so stupid.  Recognizing the woman beneath him, Squall quickly pushed himself off the ground and staggered back several steps.

In a growled tone, I spoke to the woman.  "Quisty... what are you doing?"

Attempting to maintain her dignity, the blonde stood up gracefully from the ground.  After a glance at Squall, she turned and approached me with an unreadable expression.

I never saw the slap coming.

"How dare you ask me what I'm doing," she said as tears began to slide down her face.  "I knew Squall first.  I knew about his pain long before you ever saw him.  Why are you using him like this?"

After a stunned moment, I laughed.  "What, you think I got myself pregnant to force Squall to take me in?"

"Don't mock me, Seifer!"

"Gods, and that's what you were trying to do, weren't you?  You wanted Squall to get you pregnant and force him to decide between us.  You poor little slut.  He's not an easy one to seduce, is he?"

The second slap was easily anticipated as I grabbed the offending hand and yanked the blonde close.  Clutching onto her long strands of hair, I forced her to meet my eyes when I spoke to her in a low, casual voice.

"If you ever touch Squall again, I will rip out your heart.  Understood?"

Her tear reddened eyes narrowed in anger, but I could see the message had gotten across crystal clear.  Not waiting for a verbal reply, I proceeded to toss the woman out of the room and then slammed the door shut before locking it tight.  Sighing, I turned and faced the silent man who had yet to move from his position.

"Squall..."

The brunet jumped at my voice and promptly dropped his dagger to the ground.  Raking a shaky hand back through his hair, he stared at the fallen blade and slowly retreated from it until he was pressed against the wall.

"Hey, are you all right?  Did the bitch do something to you?"

Pale blue eyes didn't look up from the dagger.  "I attacked you..."

With a quiet sigh, I carefully approached him.  "No, she accosted you in my form.  She deserved what she got."

He shook his head.  "I hurt you..."

Stopping in place, I said, "Look at me, Squall.  Tell me if you see any cuts or bruises on me."

Hesitantly, he moved his gaze from the floor to examine the length of my body, pausing once at the swell of my stomach.  In time he focused on my eyes, but doubt was still clear in his expression.

"It wasn't me with you earlier.  You knew that despite what your eyes told you, and you reacted.  How can you blame yourself for that?"

Shields appeared in the blue-gray eyes before Squall took a step forward with renewed steadiness.  I didn't move as he closed the remaining space between us.  His cooler gaze focused on my face, he placed a hand at my cheek.  After carefully rubbing something from my eye, he moved his hand down such that calloused fingertips ran along my jawbone.  The hand then dropped went further such that his long fingers wrapped around my throat with his thumb pressed against my Adam's apple.

When I didn't react to added pressure against my throat, his dark eyebrows scrunched in thought.  "Why aren't you afraid of me?"

I smirked at his expression.  "Oh, trust me, I'm terrified of you.  I just happen to love you more than I fear you."

His eyes widened at the simple declaration.

"I know you don't believe that, but... what can I do to prove myself to you?" I asked quietly as I placed my hand on his.  "I would do anything.  Just tell me what you want."

"What I want..." he repeated distractedly while lightly stroking his thumb along my throat.  Eventually his lips twitched into a shadow of a smile before he said tiredly, "I want to lie down."

His answer initially disappointed me as he pulled his hand away from my neck, but then I felt his other hand take a hold of mine.  With an oddly coy gleam to the man's eyes, Squall led me to the back room and the awaiting bed.  I was motioned to lie down on the large mattress first, and once I was comfortable, the smaller man crawled onto the bed to join me.  But to my surprise, he settled lower such that his head rested on the mound of my stomach and his cool hand was placed on the underside of the bulge as his thumb stroked gently at exposed skin.

"Does this hurt you?"

I frowned at his cautious question, then realizing that I had gone tense from the unusual actions of the man.  Relaxing with a chuckle, I placed a hand at the juncture of his neck and shoulder.  "You're good.  Don't move."

There were no more words for a time, and in the lasting silence, I reluctantly closed my eyes when the urge to sleep became harder to resist.  Not wanting to drift off, I focused on the cool skin beneath my hand and decided massage the tight muscles.  Though tensing at first, Squall quickly relaxed under my touch.  It was a peaceful moment as we dozed on our bed and an occasional soft breeze came through an opened window.

"You were supposed to be safe."

I opened my eyes and looked down at the mess of dark hair.  "I am safe.  You've made certain of that."

"You don't understand..."

"Then make me understand."

After a pause, he moved his arm to wrap it around my waist.  "I needed someone who could be safe around me.  You were the one I swore that would never kill or harm, even if Adel ordered it."

I was stunned into momentary silence.  "But... what about your father?"

A bitter laugh sounded.  "Adel despised him, so I've always been prepared to assassinate him, just as he expected to die by my blade."

There was nothing I could say in reply to such words, so instead I brushed my fingers through thick hair...  fingers of the hand Squall prevented from being severed despite the high potential of angering Adel.   "Did I ever thank you for saving my hand?"

Squall huffed.  "You still don't understand.  I promised myself that I wouldn't hurt you, but just now... it was so easy to place a blade at your throat."

I couldn't stop my laugh.  "If it was so easy to do, then why are you killing yourself over this?  For the last time, you knew that it wasn't me.  And for the record, your blade didn't break skin until I walked in and proved to you that something wasn't right."

After a quiet moment, the dark knight sat up and looked down at me with softened eyes.  "How do you that?"

"Hmm?  Do what?"

"Make the guilt go away."

I smiled lazily at the brunet.  "Because I'm smarter than you.  I know that there are few things in this world which are worth worrying about.  You simply angst too much."

Showing me a faint smile, he slowly leaned down and brushed his lips against the corner of my mouth in a gentle kiss.  "Thank you," he whispered against my heated skin.

Before he could move away, I placed my hand at the back of his head and held him in place.  "There are better ways to show your eternal gratitude to me."

Leaning in close once more, Squall spoke such that his lips grazed along the rim of my ear.  "Show me."


[Squall]

Finishing the last line of the chapter, I lowered the book to glance down at the blond resting on my thigh.  I wasn't certain when my hand moved to stroke the recently cut hair, but I couldn't make myself stop touching the golden softness.

"Seifer, I think it's time you went to bed."

Like a child, the large man groaned irritably and pouted without opening his eyes.  "After one more chapter."

"You were practically asleep for the last chapter.  Go to bed.  You'll be more comfortable there."

Seifer shifted to rest more on his back as he rubbed a hand over his heavily pregnant stomach.  "But the little one settles down when you read.  Can't you give me just one more hour of peace?  I mean, since it is your fault and all."

Shaking my head, I closed the book and set it on the end table.  "Bed.  Now."

He growled out a curse before he swung his legs to the edge of the couch in the attempt to sit up.  After I helped him straighten, he settled into a seated sprawl and looked down at the expanse of stomach.  "Do you think I'm ugly?"

"No," I stated simply while placing a hand over his.  While the question had caught me off guard the first time Seifer had uttered it weeks ago, I came to understand that after a life of entertaining people with his various forms, his outer appearance meant a great deal to the shifter.  Especially when in many cases, it was his best way to please someone.

Not appearing comforted by my answer, Seifer bit at his lower lip in obvious distress.

Moving my hand to his cheek, I made him look at me.  "What's wrong?"

Green eyes hesitantly met my gaze.  "It's nothing..."

I hummed at the response I didn't believe for a moment.

"Really, nothing is wrong.  It's just... I have something for you, and... and I'm being stupid."  Sighing loudly, Seifer leaned back to pull something out from his pocket.  Without further words, he held out his hand to display the short necklace made of metal.

Stunned and a little confused, I trailed a finger along the curved plate which had fine etchings engraved into the warm metal.  "How... when did you get this?"

"Your father helped me.  It was finally delivered the other day."

Smiling softly, I said, "So that's why you yelled at me and practically tossed me out of the study when I was looking for you."

"Sorry about that, but you had terrible timing.  Laguna had me all riled up about making this some huge deal, and then you showed up, almost ruining the whole surprise.  And I certainly wasn't going to do this in front of Laguna."

"Wait, 'some huge deal'?" I asked, looking up from the necklace to meet his oddly shy gaze.

After a deep breath, Seifer said, "Don't get upset or anything, but he thinks that this necklace means I want to marry you."

"Marriage...?  Why would he think that?"

"Because he's a romantic idiot," the shifter stated before explaining, "He doesn't understand that we don't have a marriage ritual like yours.  One person for life is an insane arrangement for most of us.  Love shouldn't be constrained like that.  And so we have these items to serve as a type of pledge."  Holding up the choker, he continued to explain, "It's a necklace because I'm the first to declare my love for you, and the silver is a symbol for unchanging love."

I stared at him.  "Unchanging... love?"

"Yeah.  You see, silver is funny for us.  We can wear it just fine, but if it gets into our blood, it temporarily prevents us from changing form.  Thus, 'unchanging love'.  Of the different materials to use, silver is the one with the greatest meaning."

"Seifer... are you certain?"

The shifter smiled broadly.  "I've never doubted which metal you deserved."

I shook my head.  "You haven't had the chance to find someone else."

"Like I tried to explain to your father, this isn't marriage.  While I can't imagine it ever happening, if I do meet someone else and move on, you will always be in my thoughts.  It's just a symbol of that."  Moving in closer, he looked directly into my eyes.  "Will you accept my love for you?"

Unable to think of any worthwhile words, I hesitated before nodding.

His smile widening further, Seifer lifted his hands to place the warm metal around my throat.  Once the chain was fastened, heated hands moved to cup my face.  With amazing gentleness, he kissed my forehead and slowly trailed lower, forcing me to close my eyes.  Overwhelmed, I couldn't open them again as he continued down my flushed cheek, eventually reaching my parted lips.  There was the remaining sweetness of strawberries to the shifter's typical taste, and I moaned softly at the reminder of the blond's creativity with whipped cream.  Seifer responded with a needy noise of his own, but I broke the kiss before it could deepen further.

"What does it feel like?" I asked, surprised by my breathy tone.

With a bright haze highlighting his green eyes, Seifer frowned in confusion.  "What are you talking about?"

"To... love someone.  What is it like?  How do you know?"

The shifter promptly laughed at me, but I couldn't feel offended at the heartfelt tone.  Eventually he calmed down, but his eyes continued to shine with laughter.  "Do you want me, Squall?"

"... I don't deserve to have you."

"That wasn't the question, but I'll make this easier on you."  Lowering his hand to the choker, he fingered the metal.  "You love me.  Maybe in your own confused, instinctual way, but it's still love.  You wouldn't worry about me if you didn't have those feelings."

I frowned slightly.  "I wouldn't have to worry if you didn't give me cause."

Unbothered by my tone, Seifer said, "But it's fun to make you jump whenever I pretend to almost fall down the stairs.  And it's my payback for having our room on the freaking second floor.  Do you know how annoying it is to climb those stairs with this extra weight you've given me?"

"But if you were to fall, you could seriously hurt yourself or endanger the baby's health.  Why would you take such a risk?"

The shifter smiled.  "You mentioned me before the little one.  I like that," he attempted in that sultry tone of his, but it was ruined by a prolonged yawn.

"It's time for bed."

The childish pout made its appearance once more.  "But Squa-all, I want to fuck you."

Standing up from the couch, I offered a hand to the blond.  "I'll be here in the morning.  You need your rest while you can get it."

"Fine, but I want pastries and sweets in the morning.  Nothing that is green or potentially good for me.  Got it?  Oh, and lots of that cream we had this afternoon," he add with a smirk.

I squeezed the hand that had been placed onto mine.  "I'll see if I can convince Mrs K."

~ > < ~

Pulling a thick rag out of the bucket at my feet, I wrung out most of the cold water before I turned my attention to the heavily breathing man.  With firm stokes, I wiped the flushed face free of tears and sweat, and then folded the cloth to place it on his forehead.  After a weak growl, Seifer opened his eyes to glare down at his stomach and my father kneeling before him.  Edea tried to take the customary midwife position earlier, but the shifter wanted none of that and immediately volunteered Laguna to bring his grandchild into the world.  For once, the older man was speechless with the trust Seifer held for him.

"What the fuck is taking so long?!  And is that fucking sunlight at the window?  It better not be.  Why isn't this over yet?!"

While the first yells from the shifter had shaken my father, we were all tired by that point.  Seifer had gone into labor sometime the night before last, but accustomed to pain, the idiot thought he only had a stomachache from bad food.  It wasn't until nearly dawn, now a day past, when he woke me up with the plea to get help.

With the cloth in place, I moved my hand back into his heated grip.  Instantly his hold tighten to painful levels, and his moist gaze shifted to my face.

"How could you do this to me, you bastard.  I give you the fuck of your life and you just had to get me pregnant, didn't you?"  Hissing in pain, he leaned back into the pillows.  "I'm going to die.  After all this time, I'm going to die."

"You won't die," I said for easily the fiftieth time that day.

He huffed, whether not believing me or upset at the idea of staying alive, I couldn't tell.  "This is it.  You better like this kid because I'm not giving you another one."

The statement stunned me, mostly because I wasn't one to think about the future.  Hell, I was living in a future which wasn't supposed to exist, and for that reason, I had never considered the possibility of more than one child in my life.  But after Seifer's comment, I had the image of my siblings and how happy they were playing together.  It was a nice thought, but I wouldn't push the shifter into another pregnancy.  I was blessed enough with his partnership and our one child.

"Oh, no."

Startled out of my thoughts, I stared into green eyes narrowed in distress.  "What is it?"

"Stop that!  Don't look like some wounded animal I just stabbed for the fun of it."

"Seifer..."

"No, damn it!  Don't say anything."  Taking several deep breaths, the shifter nearly crushed my hand in his.  "We'll talk after this demon gets the fuck out of me!"

"Oh, a head, a head!  I think I see a head," Laguna nearly cheered with renewed energy.  "What do I do next, Edea?"

Compared to the rest of the labor, the actual birth process happened much faster than I believed possible.  The poor child was a complete mess upon birth, and there was a precious minute before Edea managed to clear the baby's throat and a healthy cry echoed in the room.  While the sorceress and my father gently cleaned the tiny human, I glanced over to Seifer.  He was barely conscious by the look of him, but he still reached out a hand to the newborn.

"How is he?"

Laguna turned around with the broad smile of a grandfather plastered on his face.  "She's beautiful.  Absolutely beautiful and healthy as can be."

Stunned, I stared at my father.  "A girl...?"

After a sharp nod, he returned to pay attention to his crying granddaughter.

There was then a strong hand at my upper arm, forcing me to look down.  The green eyes were wide with panic as Seifer clutched even harder at my arm.

"Please... I want to keep her.  Please..."

Confused by his plea, I asked, "Why wouldn't we?"

Apparently appeased by the question, Seifer closed his eyes tightly as a final tear slid down his cheek, and with his energy exhausted, he slumped against me with a soft sigh.  Though still concerned about his desperate state beforehand, I didn't attempt to disturb his rest.  Instead, I removed the cloth from his forehead, and after gently wiping away the remaining moisture from his face, I arranged him into a more comfortable position on the bed.

"Will he be all alright?" I asked, unable to move my eyes from Seifer's face.

Walking to my side, Edea spoke quietly.  "He'll be fine.  Just give him the time to rest and his body the time to change back to its natural state.  Meanwhile, I think this one wants the attention of her father."

I faced the sorceress, surprised to see her carrying the wrapped bundle of warm sheets.  The infant within was still crying softly as she waved a fisted hand against her bindings.  I smiled at the sight of new life, but then Edea motioned for me to take the child from her.

Stiffly, I shook my head.  "No, I shouldn't--"

"This is your daughter.  Will she never know your touch for the rest of her life?  Because if you refuse now, it will only get harder to allow yourself to embrace this miracle."

I was terrified at that moment, and it wasn't a feeling that I was accustomed to.  I wanted so much to hold the infant, but my hands felt heavy with the blood I knew was there.  I don't know how long I sat there, debating the right I had to touch my own daughter, but then a needy whimper came from the newborn, something that sounded too much like Seifer when he had gotten ill a few months previous.  Just as the shifter always got his way with such a pathetic noise, I couldn't resist giving in to the tiny girl.

I cradled her with the greatest care that I could manage, but I still felt like I was crushing that fragile life.  Even so, the infant eventually calmed down to sleep, which gave me some confidence that I wasn't hurting her.  She was so small, coming into this world earlier than we expected, but her hand which gripped onto my finger showed her inner strength.  While I stared at newborn, my father and Edea had left the room, but I didn't notice the fact until I moved from my chair and took a seat on the far more comfortable bed.

Seifer didn't wake until long after a heavy tray filled with breakfast food was delivered to our room.  He was sluggish upon waking, as if not recognizing his surroundings at first, but then the hazy green eyes glanced over at the bundle in my arms.  After a moment of thought, the shifter snapped fully awake as his hand shot down to his flattened stomach.

"How do you feel?" I asked, unwilling to speak louder than a whisper with the sleeping babe in my hold.

"Good, actually," Seifer said with some surprise.  Raising his hand, he shifted its color several times before it returned to his natural golden brown tone.  "I almost forgot what it felt like to be in control of my body."

I nodded, relieved that he was fine.  "Then, would you like to hold your daughter?"

The same fearful expression crossed the man's face before he reached out for our child.  Seifer cradled the newborn tight against his chest, so tightly that I was almost worried for the little girl's life.  But the babe only squirmed vaguely before settling in her other father's hold.

"Gods, she's perfect," he whispered roughly as his bright green eyes began to water.

"Seifer, is something wrong?"

He quickly shook his head.  "No, far from wrong."  After placing a soft kiss on the babe's tiny nose, he said, "Sorry for doubting you earlier, but I was exhausted and I wasn't exactly thinking straight."

"What do you mean?"

Green eyes never leaving his daughter's face, Seifer said, "I was supposed to have your heir, a role this little one wouldn't fill.  Adel would've killed her instantly... and I know you were expecting a son as well, and I thought...  Sorry.  I shouldn't have doubted you."

Cautiously I placed an arm around Seifer's shoulder, and instead of the flinch I was expecting, the larger man leaned heavily against me.  Knowing my touch wasn't feared, I pressed my lips against his temple.  "Both you and our daughter are safe.  I will make certain of that."

"I know.  But I still want you to teach me how to wield a blade.  I want to protect this little one with you."

With a soft smile, I said, "Anything you want."


[Epilogue]

[Squall]

"This translation isn't quite right.  Why don't you try it again?"

Though the youth at my side attempted a familiar pout, it quickly faded into a thoughtful frown as she refocused her attention on the text in front of her.  At twelve years old, Tania loved books as much as her grandfather.  Her light brown hair was often tied back so that the long strands wouldn't get in the way of her reading.

"Daddy, Daddy, is this good?"

Glancing to my other side, I looked at the amazingly skilled sketch of a horse by the eight-year-old boy.  "Yes, it's very good, Wyden, but I thought I wanted you to copy that poem five times."

The dark-haired youth smiled at me with his gapped tooth grin.  "But this is more fun."

I placed my hand at the back of his neck.  "I know, but you want to learn how to read and write, don't you."

"Yeah," he answered with annoyance, and then grabbed a new sheet of paper to copy the poem I had pointed out to him earlier.

As I returned to my own book to read, I barely managed a page before the study door was slammed open.  The children jumped at the sound and turned sharply to face the interruption.  Meanwhile, I finished the paragraph before marking my place and then closing the book to set it aside.  By the time I stood and faced the front of the room, Seifer appeared from behind a bookcase with our youngest held tight against his side.  The three-year-old had dried tear tracks staining his cheeks, the sight instantly worrying me.

"Is something wrong?" I asked, my hand instinctively going to the sword hilt at my side.

"Papa's broken!" Alder announced as his light green eyes began to tear up once more.

I couldn't prevent the urge to smile, amused that all three children would describe Seifer's condition in the same manner.  But seeing the shifter's upset expression, I held back my pleasure at our son's unknowing announcement.  Seifer said nothing as he set down the young boy, and after a glare sent in my direction, he turned around sharply before storming off.

I sighed at his dramatics.  "Tania, do you think that you can keep your brothers in place for a little while?"

She nodded with a smile.  "Tell Papa that I want a sister this time."

I returned her smile before I left in search of the shifter.  It wasn't hard to find the large man, him having three main spots which he preferred fleeing to.  With the children in the study and the kitchen most likely busy with making dinner, that left the sitting area in our chambers.  More specifically, the couch in front of the fireplace where he gave me the necklace I have yet to remove.  And that was where I found him, seated in his typical sprawl as he stared at the charcoaled wood left in the large fireplace.

After closing the door, I leaned against the dark wood and waited for a sign from Seifer that I was welcomed in his personal space.  Eventually he sighed and patted the seat next to him.  Upon sitting, my chin was grabbed by a strong hand and I was made to look into his shielded gaze.

"Don't look like that," Seifer said with a frown.  "You have three children.  Isn't that enough?"

I raised an eyebrow at his question.  "I believe you were the one demanding that--"

"You're not supposed to listen to me!"

Though it pained me to even think it, I said, "If this truly bothers you, there are ways to..."  I couldn't finish the suggestion, but by the shifter's scowl, my point had gotten across.

"Of course this bothers me, but...  shit, I still love the brats you've given me, but it's so hard..."

"Tania says she wants a sister."

Seifer straightened at that and soon he was laughing softly.  "She would.  I caught her trying to dress up Alder the other week."

Taking his hand in mine, I asked, "Do you want this?"

He scoffed before resting his forehead on my shoulder.  "No choice now.  I know how much you love this crap.  But I want more massages this time.  And chocolates.  And you have to read to me whenever I want.  Oh, and absolutely, positively, Mrs K can't find out until I'm showing.  Got it?"

"Understood," I said before kissing the tip of his ear.

"And the next time, you get pregnant."

Laughing, I said, "Not likely."

Humming as he lightly bit my neck, he asked, "Would you blame me if I tried again?  And again, and again..."

"Seifer, the children--"

"Laguna will find them before they starve," he stated while efficiently trapping me beneath him as he continued to nibble at my skin.

"Seifer..."

Leaning back, the blond flashed me a lecherous grin.  "Do I already need to remind you that you agreed to give me more massages?"

Recognizing that defeat was inevitable, I relaxed under the large man and wrapped my arms around his neck before I spoke into his ear.  "And what does your lordship desire of me tonight?"

"You know," he murmured against my skin as a soft purr already began to sound from the shifter.  "You know everything I want."

 

{Owari}

 

Author's Whining -- I hope that satisfies people's desire for a sappy Seifer mpreg after I tormented people with the other one-shot. ^_-  And given the line of requests coming up, it looks like I won't be writing another mpreg for a long while, which I'm rather thankful for.  Mpregs can be fun, but they sure get repetitive.  Anywho, there's your request Venusia - I hope you liked it.