Won't Let You Go
"Papa, what's that?"
With a chuckle at the question that had been voiced perhaps twenty times that afternoon, I followed the pointed finger of my daughter and found the merchant table that had caught her interest. "You know what those are. They're birds."
Tania pouted in deep thought, the three-year-old of light brown hair and soft blue eyes apparently not believing my word. "Nah-uh, those are red and blue. Birds are brown and black."
"Well, the birds that live here are brown and black, but those are different types of birds from other countries."
"O-oh..." she said with some understanding, but I knew she would ask her other father about the truth of my answer once he returned from his latest mission. Her distrust wasn't particularly insulting since I had the habit of indulging in creative replies to her numerous questions, so it was my own fault that my daughter had learned by such a youthful age to not believe my word without confirmation.
I lifted the young girl from the ground and gave her a better view of the caged parrots so that she could confirm for herself of the feathers and beak that identified the bird for what it was. Watching her intense study, I found myself thinking of the past several years and the strangeness of my life to that point. While I had some memories of my youth, most of those were overshadowed by the majority of my life spent imprisoned under the thumb of Adel, a sadistic sorceress with no other purpose in life beyond destroying the lives of everyone around her. Her downfall came at the hand of her own 'Storm of Death', a dark knight who was the only one since my childhood who has treated me like a creature of worth. It was no wonder that my heart fell in love with Squall Leonhart.
"I'm done, Papa," Tania informed me, a suggestion that something else had caught her eye.
Once her feet touched the ground, her small hand clutched onto mine and she pulled in the direction of a different merchant stall full of wooden toys. A keen eye for a child, indeed. Indulging in her excitement, I followed her lead and moved deeper into the marketplace that once terrified me. For over a year after Tania's birth, I found myself, a slave finally granted his freedom, unable to leave the Loire Manor. At first, I had the excuse of pregnancy to avoid confronting those fears, but I couldn't stay hidden behind comforting stone walls forever. Ultimately, it wasn't the open air I feared, but the crowds made me sick to my stomach and caused my back to ache with memories of old punishments. I saw the faces of Adel's hunters everywhere I went, cruel men who had taken pleasure in my body and pain, and if Adel was somehow alive, I knew they would be the ones to retrieve me. It was stupid and thoughtless when I had witnessed her death, but I couldn't escape my fear.
She trained me well, my Mistress, and though I hated her with everything I had, a piece of me believed for a long time that I still belonged to her.
Squall, however, wouldn't let me be a coward. With the patience of someone who breaks wild stallions, he lured me into the city with promises of toys for Tania, foreign desserts I had never tasted, and street performers with indescribable acts. He planned each trip such that I was able to ease into the crowds, and gradually, I was able to see the people of Esthar and not the hunters I feared.
Unfortunately, that also meant witnessing the hatred held for the man I had claimed as my first love. The leader of these lands, Laguna Loire, attempted on many occasions to convince his people that Adel was dead due to Squall's hand, but few were willing to forgive the deadly knight who had served under the sorceress' command. Desperate, Laguna wanted to reveal Squall's true lineage, but his lost son immediately refused. He didn't want the people to lose faith in the Loire name, especially when his half-brother, Liles, had already been named heir. And so, Squall remained a political prisoner of sorts, and I struggled to contain myself when people would spit and curse at the dark knight, though no one has been brave enough challenge the skilled swordsman directly.
"Papa, Papa! Can we see the baby horses?"
Pulled out of old thoughts, I glanced down at my young daughter and smiled at her ability to live in innocence of the world around her. "Lead the way, Tangerine."
Tania grinned brightly at the permission, but in her excitement she released my hand and bolted into the crowd. It wasn't the first time she had disobeyed the rule to always stay close, but in the past Squall was there and had the reflexes to grab Tania before she could get too far. Trying to remain calm, I walked with a quick step after the sight of pigtails that would pop into view, and after several meters, the crowd thinned to the point that Tania was in plain sight. With a muttered promise to put a leash on her, I slowed my pace and watched the young girl take a beeline path toward a pen of several adult horses and a couple of foals.
And in my moment of false security, I watched from a distance as a man grabbed my small daughter and placed his filthy hand against her mouth to prevent a scream.
Disbelief followed by rage made me blind to my surroundings, and before I understood what was happening, two sets of strong hands grabbed me from behind and I was shoved in the same direction as my daughter was taken. Not wanting to lose sight of Tania, I allowed myself to be guided into an alleyway between stone buildings and out of view of the main street. The caress of a knife at my back helped in that particular decision. Tania, however, was born with too much of her other father in her blood and didn't appreciate being manhandled by strangers.
"Fucking bitch!" the man cursed as he dropped the young girl, her head hitting the graveled ground with a sickening thud. I tried to shift my form and break free of my captors at that point, but the sharp stab of metal into my shoulder stole away my breath and landed me to my knees.
"You're not supposed to hurt them, Zone!" a raven-haired woman yelled as she ran from the other side of the alleyway.
"She fucking bit me, Rinoa. It's her own fault. And the target was about to shift."
Already kneeling next to my daughter, the woman scoffed at his weak excuse and placed a hand against light brown hair. Tania whimpered at the touch and curled into a tight ball.
"Don't touch her," I wheezed out, but I could already feel the taint of silver in my blood, introduced by some kind of nail driven into my shoulder. Someone must have done the research necessary to incapacitate me and the faces of Adel's hunters immediately came to mind.
The woman, supposedly named Rinoa, looked at me for the command and offered a pitying smile. "I'm sorry for the use of force, but I promise, we're here to help you and your daughter."
My breath stalled at the ridiculous claim. "You're here... to help me?"
"We're the Forest Owls," she announced with unwarranted pride. "We formed the group to protect the helpless, and we've seen how that despicable man keeps you like a pet. We begged Lord Loire to release you from Leonhart's hold, but he claims that you are free to come and go as you please. It's sad to see Lord Loire protecting that demon when you are the one suffering. And to force you to bear his child... It's inexcusable."
"You clueless morons," I snarled at the woman, wondering if there was an ounce of sense behind her doe-brown eyes. "Squall saved me from the most sadistic woman in the world, and you think that you're doing me some favor to steal me away from him?"
"No, you see, you're confused. We know you're a shifter and that Adel was responsible for enslaving your kind. He took you from Adel to keep you as a slave and he's lied to you about your freedom. Some say that Leonhart killed Adel to claim her favorite slave for himself!"
And that made me laugh, though admittedly my silver-infected mind could have contributed to the outburst. "Squall never wanted me, not even when Adel threw me at him. He was burdened with me when I had no other refuge."
"And that's why we're here to save you! We'll take you some place safe and teach you what it means to be free."
I shook my head, unable to follow her failed logic. And then I felt a moment of despair that maybe those idiots could actually succeed and somehow keep me from Squall. Worse, with enough time, maybe they could convince Tania that there was something evil and dark about her other father. Compared to the idiots of the city, Tania held no fear toward Squall and often begged him to read stories from the vast library in the Loire Manor. It was a terrible thought to imagine her obvious love for her father being stripped away from her young eyes.
At first surprised by Tania's tear-thickened cry, I smiled at her belief that Squall would come to save her. While I would have given anything to be that role in her life, I wasn't the one who was trained to wield a sword like Death's Scythe, nor did I survive a decade of war to reach the rank of general. Hell, even after three years of Squall's instruction, I wasn't comfortable wearing the sword he gifted to me, and thus my foolish decision to leave it in our rooms. Squall wouldn't have let anyone touch our daughter and I had a long way to go before matching that same strength.
Lost in self-berating thoughts, I didn't notice the sound of boots that were different than the traffic of the marketplace, but the sharp gasp from Rinoa certainly gained my attention. From the corner of my eye, I just barely caught a glimpse of a dark shadow before it slipped behind me. The next moment, a low grunt of a man being choked could be heard, quickly followed by the harsh sound of bone rammed against unforgiving stone of the alley wall. Before I had the thought to act, the other pair of hands restraining me abruptly released their hold and the man made a pathetic whimpering sound when bolting down the length of the side street.
"Watts, you coward!" Zone screamed at the deserter.
Uncaring of the lost prey, a leather glove caressed my wounded shoulder. "Is that silver?"
Dumbfounded, I twisted and looked up at the man who wasn't supposed to be there. And when my eyes met stormy-blue, I knew in an instant that it was my dark knight standing behind me and not the stoic man I had convinced to be my lover.
"This will hurt," Squall offered as a vague warning before his fingers dug for the nail and jerked it out.
The force of the extraction drew a hiss to my lips, but I was able to hide the deeper pain it caused me to have the silver sliding against already injured flesh.
Squall sneered at the removed metal, and then turned his anger at the women kneeling over our daughter. Tania saw her father that moment, and with tears and dirt smeared across her face, she hurriedly pushed up from the ground with the clear intent to run to Squall
Doe-eyes wide, Rinoa stupidly grabbed the arm of the young girl, causing Tania to scream out in frustration. "No, she's just a child. We won't let you ruin her life!"
Stormy eyes darkened at the claim, but Squall said nothing to the idiots. It was plain to see that he believed the ridiculous claim that his existence was a stain in Tania's life... And even so, he continued to stand there with silent intensity, unwilling to desert the daughter people claimed he didn't deserve.
Unnerved by that stare, Zone snapped under the pressure and placed a rough hand on Tania's small shoulder. Rinoa watched with open surprise when the man jerked the small girl out of her hold and placed a knife at Tania's neck. "We're out of here, Rinoa."
"Zone, what are you doing? You could hurt her."
Hissing with annoyance, the man replied, "It's us or her, and I'm not looking to lose my head."
Fine eyebrows knitted at the claim, but Rinoa didn't continue her argument as she stood up from the ground and took a position behind her cohort.
With strength born from fear, Zone looked directly at Squall and demanded, "Stay back and she stays alive, not that we'll let you keep her."
Squall didn't acknowledge the threat, but eyed Tania instead, our daughter struggling to regain her freedom, and ultimately, whimpered when the blade cut into her pale skin due to her unpredictable actions. At the sight of bright blood, Squall stepped forward at a casual pace. "Close your eyes, Tania."
Stilling with the confidence she held for her father, the young girl closed her eyes and lifted her chin, as if daring Zone to do something stupid with Squall around.
Zone flinched at the calm tone of the soldier. "Stay back! Stay back!" he commanded while moving backward himself, showing his reluctance to purposefully harm a child.
Ignoring that order, Squall placed a gloved hand on his sword, and in a flash of movement I have only seen from my dark knight, he dashed forward. His blade was a blur when it moved, and in the next moment, blood colored the air and a dull thud sounded as the man's removed arm and the knife still in its hand dropped to the ground. Zone's agonizing scream came a silent second later.
Squall maneuvered his body such that little of the blood reached our daughter, and, his sword already sheathed, he lifted her to his chest and carried her back toward me with the same calm step as his initial approach. I pushed up to my feet, and though not incredibly balanced, I reached for Tania. Squall indulged me with a shadow of a smile, and with our little girl safe in my arms, he turned to face the man writhing on the ground and the woman hovering over him.
"You beast!" Rinoa yelled at the brunet, tears brightening her eyes. "You've killed him!"
Squall snorted in disgust that she blamed him for the situation. "He's not dead yet," he reminded her, and removing one of his belts, he tossed it at the hopeless woman. "Stop the bleeding and he may live. But if I ever see your face or hear your voice anywhere near Seifer or my daughter again, I will slaughter you, your family, whether they are child or ancient, and anyone else with connections to the Forest Owls. And I will not stop until every body falls."
Shaking as she held onto the offered belt, Rinoa bowed her head in defeat.
A gloved hand pressed at my back and Squall ushered me out of the alleyway where a gathering of people stood in our path. It was no surprise that Zone's scream had drawn attention, and there may have been watchers before that, but none of the bystanders attempted to stop us. They did study our exit, however, perhaps noticing Tania's sliced throat and my injured shoulder, though the greater effect came when Tania begged for Squall to hold her. The dark knight lifted her from my arms and braced her against his chest in a protective manner, an action that made at least one woman press a hand to her mouth in surprise.
I glared at the other bystanders for their overt gazes, and while I couldn't guess their thoughts, I wanted one thing to be very clear - I was no slave. I placed my good arm around Squall's waist, and in a voice everyone could hear, I told him, "Take me home."
Arms crossed over my chest, I stood at the entryway to the physician's workroom and watched on as Seifer held Tania in his lap and soothed away her tears while the old man did his work. The cut to her throat wasn't serious, but she was still the granddaughter of Laguna Loire. The fact was silent knowledge within the manor, and something that guaranteed Tania the dutiful attention of Laguna's personal physician. While I worried for my daughter, I was more concerned by Seifer's injury, which was still seeping dark blood that ran down his arm left bare from a sleeveless shirt.
The clatter of running feet echoed within the hallway, eventually revealing Laguna's panicked approach from the other end of the manor. "Squall...! Kiros said that... Tania and Seifer were hurt..."
"They are fine," I assured while Laguna struggled to regain his breath.
"Thank Hyne," he exhaled in relief. "I feared..." He waved his hand, apparently not wanting to voice the worse things he had imagined.
"Grandpa!" Tania yelled happily before running out of the physician's room and jumping into opened arms. Lifted with a grunt by Laguna, she wrapped small arms around his neck. "Grandpa, did you hear? I was brave!"
"You were?" he asked in surprise, and then directed a worried glance at me to ask why Tania needed to be brave in the first place.
"Uh-huh! Daddy told me to close my eyes, and I did, and he saved me and Papa." She then pointed at the bandage around her throat. "I got hurt, but I didn't cry much. Liles says I cry too much, but I didn't."
Laguna forced a smile at his granddaughter's pride, but his eyes were cold with the knowledge that someone had attacked the little girl. "Does it still hurt?"
"Not no more," Tania replied as she rested her head at his shoulder. "Will you tell Liles that I didn't cry?"
"Anything you want, dear one," Laguna agreed with a kiss to the top of her head. "Anything."
"Careful, she'll hold you to that promise and you'll lose the entire country to her."
I stiffened at the unnoticed approach of the shifter, and when I turned, I stared at the handsome blond and his teasing grin toward Laguna and Tania. Something about that smile made me itch, and, unable to continue standing there, I pushed up from the wall and began the long walk that would inevitably lead me to the stables, the one place that still offers me peace of mind. But before I could get far, Seifer asked Laguna to watch over Tania, and after the eager agreement from the doting grandfather, Seifer chased after my lead.
Striding at my side, the shifter said softly, "If you're upset with me, I wish you would just say so."
I frowned at the suggestion. "Why would I be upset with you?"
"I wasn't carrying my blade and I let those people get their hands on Tania. Shit, who knows what would've happened if you hadn't shown up."
When those words caused the same itch as before, I suddenly realized the reason for my irritation. "They would have set you free."
Seifer scoffed in reply. "I am free. I don't know what the fuck they were thinking."
Oddly, the claim did nothing to settle my nerves, and with only one thought in mind, I grabbed the front of his shirt and jerked the taller man into an adjoining hallway that led to a series of suites for visiting guests. Ignoring Seifer's questions and vague complaints, I pushed the shifter ahead of me into the first of those suites, and, without releasing my hold on his shirt, I dragged him further into the privacy of the bedroom. His shirt finally tore when I shoved him onto the bed, and with the shifter lying on his back with his legs hanging over the edge of the bed, I pulled off one of my gloves before placing my bared hand at his exposed throat.
"I won't let you go," I said between clenched teeth, hating this darker side of me. "You had your choice years ago, but now, you aren't allowed to leave."
The shifter wordlessly stared up at me, his green eyes revealing a torrent of emotions as they flickered with different colors of light.
My fingers tightened slightly at his neck, and though Seifer deserved a better rationale for the loss of the freedom he thought he held, I didn't know what to tell him. Speaking was never a strength of mine, but that didn't seem to matter to Seifer. He always understood, even when he claimed he didn't, and that made me complacent with avoiding difficult words. And in that moment, when words were most important, I had none to offer.
Then, within the resulting silence of my claim, a low rumble came from the shifter.
Startled by the purr, I tried to pull back my arm, but Seifer easily grabbed my wrist and jerked me closer such that my knee was force to brace against the edge of the mattress before I could land on top of him. "This isn't a game, Seifer," I admonished coolly. "I will rip apart the next person who tries to rescue you."
His purr deepening, the shifter asked, "Is that a promise?"
Confused by his reaction, I had no answer for him as I searched his face for a hidden sign of anger or disgust.
"What's with that look? Do you think there is somewhere else I would rather be?" Seifer taunted as he hooked a finger beneath the silver necklace he had gifted to me years ago. It was a sign of his 'unchanging love' for me, which I had eventually determined to be an impossible concept. Every day with this man, I felt new and strange sensations with something he would say or do, which were a clear signs that my feelings for the shifter were changing all of the time. It made no sense that Seifer could maintain the same type of love for me, especially after seeing the dark side of my soul reappear today. He should be afraid... he should hate me... he should...
Warm lips pressed against my mouth, and when I tried to protest, Seifer deepened the unexpected kiss to slip his tongue against the side of my less prepared tongue. The caress was a great weakness of mine, and with all thoughts momentarily flying from my mind, I lost myself in the taste and heat of Seifer. His hand moved to the back of the necklace and his fingers twisted around the silver links, resulting in the silver plate cutting against my skin and drawing a droplet of blood to glide down my throat. Wanting to mark the shifter in return, my bare hand slid beneath his torn shirt and I clawed my ragged fingernails against his shoulder blade, causing an abrupt end to the kiss when Seifer gasped in pleasure-hinted pain.
"Fucking bastard," Seifer complained with a contradicting smirk. "You're lucky that they didn't have a liquid or more brittle form of silver to keep me down."
At the reminder, I looked down to his injury and found the wound gone, only the mess of old blood proving the injury had been there. Of course, if his eyes could change color, it was reasonable that the silver no longer affected his body and the rest of his body could also shift, but that didn't ease my worry. After taking a closer look of the healed flesh, I lapped my tongue at the blood coloring his shoulder and wished that he had never felt that pain.
After a throaty groan from the shifter, his hand raked deep into my hair and forced me to lean backward until my eyes met with Seifer's. "I didn't want them to take me," he said with quiet certainty. "Those idiots wouldn't listen to me and it made me sick to think about them succeeding in such a stupid plan."
"I would have tracked you down."
Seifer grinned with a smug edge. "I know that now."
Annoyed with his casual acceptance, I grabbed his arm and dug my nails into the healed flesh. "Don't you understand what I've done to you?"
"You've made me free," was his immediate reply, and without leaving me the room to argue, Seifer explained, "I've been a slave, Squall. I have been forced to change my form against my desires, I have endured the cruel hand of a master, and I have begged for death until my voice was lost. But with you, I am myself and I want to live as long as the gods will allow. And that is the freedom you have given me, my dark knight - the desire to live again."
Uncertainty lurking in my mind, I warned him, "I have been cruel during the war and I can become that again."
Seifer chuckled lightly at the suggestion. "You fear that part of yourself too much to let it dominate you."
"It's there nonetheless."
"Oh yes, I know it's there, but I'm not afraid," and with a soft press of his lips against mine, he swore, "I will never be afraid of you."
And not for the first time, I was reminded of Seifer's ability to manipulate me when so many others had failed. Adel had been determined to twist my mind, Edea was reluctant to let me roam free after my contact with Adel, and my father was oblivious of the changes in his lost son. But Seifer, by no apparent plan of his own, took my soul in his hands and somehow made it feel clean within his embrace. Defeated by that knowledge, I pressed my forehead against Seifer's and closed my eyes with memories of the day I had made him mine. I was supposed to die that day long ago, and in a sense, I had died and was reborn into someone I barely understood...
"Squall," Seifer purred as he slid his hands down my body. "Show me how you won't let me escape."
Opening my eyes, I stared down into eager green and wondered about the sense of my lover.
Seifer grinned at my hesitation, and, with quick fingers, he undid the ties to my pants. Large hands slipped under the fabric and slowly pulled down the material, his eyes gauging my reaction with each sliver of new skin revealed. Logic would have encouraged me to consider the time and place for such activities, but Seifer had the skill to make logic appear more troublesome than following his lead. And sensing my reluctance, the shifter placed his lips at my throat where the silver necklace had bitten into my skin, effectively dowsing any remaining flicker of thought from my mind.
His sleeveless shirt already torn, I ripped it open the rest of the way to expose his full torso of smooth skin and defined muscles. Seifer arched at the caress of fresh air and hummed when I pressed my tongue against the center of his chest and traced the area where his heart lay beneath warm skin. I heard the thump of boots when they hit the ground, which was quickly followed by Seifer's bared toes tugging on the bottom of my pants to pull them down and reveal my true interest in this situation.
With a lick of his lips, Seifer rubbed his palm at the underside of my arousal. "You've been gone for too long, my knight."
"It has only been two weeks," I argued while trying to maintain composure. "I returned as quickly as I could."
"No, it has been an entire two weeks," he corrected, "and I hate waiting for you."
Looking up into brilliant eyes, I considered the complaint that I hadn't heard to that point. "Then, why don't you join me next time?"
Seifer stilled at the suggestion, even his eyes quieting to simple green. "Join... you...? On a mission?"
"While you have excelled at sparing, nothing compares to practical experience."
"And you trust me...? Those missions are important to your father."
"Why wouldn't I trust you? I know your ability better than anyone else."
The corner of his lips pulled up into a lopsided smile, and after a moment of thought, he laid back against to mattress with arms bent over his head in a completely submissive pose that I hadn't seen in some time. "First things first, and I believe my pants are in the way."
While his lack of a direct response was curious, there was no immediate need for a reply and I had other interests to keep me distracted. I took my time with undoing the ties of his pants and revealing the rest of his body, particularly when sliding the material over his healthy erection. The shifter groaned when I lapped my tongue at the underside of his penis, the pitch of the sound encouraging me to pay further attention to the responsive flesh. Letting his pants drop the rest of the way to the floor, I used one hand to stroke his hardened length and slid my other hand around his bent knee to tease the sensitive spot beneath.
Compared to my first time with the shifter, I had learned several things from the experienced slave in terms of technique. His lack of reserve was almost worrisome given his history, but it became quickly apparent that Seifer was interested in the difference between doing such things with a stranger and doing them with a chosen partner. More than anything else, Seifer enjoyed the feel of my mouth around his cock and I was happy to indulge the man who was forced to perform fellatio on a frequent basis in his past.
Seifer groaned when I kissed the leaking tip of his erection, and I knelt down to the ground between his hanging legs so that I could slowly take his length into my mouth. It was always strange when his penis would change just slightly, the altered shape allowing me to take more into my mouth and almost to the back of my throat. While Seifer had the ability to go further, I could never get past my gag reflex, but Seifer swore time and time again that it didn't matter and that my mouth was almost more than he could handle.
And as if proving it was true, one of his legs kicked against my shoulder and effectively pushed me backward such that the shifter's cock slipped out from my mouth, and unexpectedly, hot semen splashed on my face.
"Shit... fucking shit, I didn't..." Seifer breathed as he tried and failed to sit up.
My surprise didn't last long, and after removing my shirt, I used the material to quickly wipe down my face before I leaned over the satisfied shifter. "You're hopeless."
Seifer huffed at my taunting tone, but didn't deny anything when he instead grabbed my wrist such that I nearly fell on top of him. Jerking my hand close, he spat onto my palm before releasing my wrist. "Make it hard," Seifer demanded in a rough voice. "I want to feel every bit of you."
It wasn't the first time I've had the request from Seifer, and though I preferred the ease of oils and patient preparation, I also understood this other side of my lover who craved the occasional touch of pain. And so, without argument on my part, I added some of my own spit to my palm and coated my erection with the mix of saliva and precum. With one of his legs supported on my shoulder, I positioned myself at his entrance and waited until there was a notable change in his body language. After so many years, Seifer still had the habit of tensing before sex, and while I doubt his previous partners noticed or cared, I learned to wait until Seifer could sort things straight in his mind and remember that he was with me and no other person, never again.
A shaky exhale sounded from the blond, and with that simple sign, I pushed into his body despite the resistance from too little preparation. As always, his natural heat was overwhelming, and it was hard to think clearly when the last thing I wanted to do was to harm the shifter. Seifer, however, made things difficult by using his legs around my body to draw me closer and deeper despite my better intentions. Accustomed to Seifer getting his way, I didn't resist and decided to join in the play with biting kisses at the center of his chest. At the hint of pain, Seifer arched hard against me and moaned out my name in an impatient manner that made me feel like I was about to be burned by his passion.
In search of momentary relief, I retreated a short distance from the shifter, but ultimately pushed back harder and further than before when Seifer rocked his hips into the motion. While the one on the bottom, Seifer knew the subtle ways to take control, and before I recognized my own movements, I was thrusting hard and fast into the larger man. Like every time before and every time since, I lost myself in Seifer. His heated flesh clenching around me, his muscular body allowing my invasion, his hoarse voice calling out my name... It was impossible to get enough of my lover, and even though release was unavoidable, I often prayed that we could remain like that - connected in body and separated from the rest of the world.
Heavy arms reached out and wrapped around my back, and as large hands clawed at my shoulders in search of an anchor beyond the pleasure of sex, I felt the first ripple of impending climax. I fought that inevitability to the last second, but all was lost when Seifer bucked against the set rhythm and whimpered in that desperate moment of release. Heat flashed throughout my body and I came deep into the shifter, and then became lightheaded with the knowledge that I had made my mark on my lover.
His arms still around me, Seifer breathed a laugh against my ear and purred, "Yes, I'm yours... Only yours, my knight."
Embarrassed to have unknowingly worded my thoughts out loud, I carefully retreated from the blond and used my soiled shirt to hastily clean off the sweat and other fluids from our unplanned session. While it didn't matter earlier, I quickly grew anxious with the realization that I had left our daughter in Laguna's hands when Tania had experienced something terrifying for a child. I had let my uncertainty and my untamed emotions for Seifer blind me to everything else and I had failed my daughter.
Seifer grabbed my arm and forced me to stop my hurried cleaning. "What's the rush?"
"Tania... We left when she needs us."
"Technically, you left and I followed." When I scowled at his correction, Seifer smiled lazily without an ounce of concern. "Don't blame yourself. You wouldn't have been able to console her the way you were. It's why I chased after you, to calm you down, but I thought it was because you were mad at me for being worthless."
"You're not worthless," I argued without masking my annoyance.
"I am," he countered, "but that doesn't matter. You'll make me stronger, and one day, I won't need you to rescue me."
Uncertain how to respond, I ultimately said nothing while Seifer pushed up from the mattress and stretched his long body. Lured by the seductive movement, I reached out and placed a hand at his bare waist to trace the red marks caused by the grip of my fingers. "You aren't worthless," I insisted for a second time, needing Seifer to believe me.
At first surprised, the shifter smiled fondly and bent down to brush his lips against my forehead. "And you call me hopeless."
While it wasn't the response I wanted from Seifer, I sensed how the events of that day wouldn't allow him to think better of himself. Resigned, I picked up Seifer's pants from the ground and handed them to the blond.
With an amused smirk, Seifer pulled on the rumpled clothing and commented, "We should go to our rooms before finding Tania. Laguna won't know what to do with us walking around the manor without shirts. I don't think he'll believe the 'we've been sparring' excuse this time," he said while pointing out the collection of bite marks on his chest.
Acknowledging his logic, I moved next to the shifter and offered my arm in support for the long walk to our shared rooms. Seifer scoffed at the offer and wrapped his arm around my waist in his preferred method to lean his weight against me. It wasn't the most efficient method, but I wasn't about to deny the man whatever source of comfort he desired. And so we walked at the pace Seifer set and eventually reached the doors to our quarters, surprised to discover them cracked open.
"Daddy! Papa!" was the call when we entered and Tania slid off the couch of the front room to greet us.
Seifer lifted our daughter in a reckless manner that made her squeal with laughter. "Well now, what are you doing here, Tangerine?"
Tania ducked her head under the shifter's chin and curled in close. "I didn't want to go my room."
I frowned at her reasoning and looked to my father, the man just then standing from his own seat with a book in his hand. "Is something wrong?"
"Oh no, no," Laguna said with an awkward smile, confirming Seifer's suspicion that our appearance would befuddle the lord. "I thought Tania would want a nap after her ordeal and I'm afraid that I managed to upset her with the suggestion."
In a loud whisper, the small girl announced, "They'll get me if I close my eyes."
"But they won't get you if you're with Daddy and me, right?" Seifer asked in a similar conspiring tone, to which Tania replied with a nod.
Smiling at his granddaughter, Laguna sighed and handed me the book he had been apparently reading to Tania. "Well, it appears my duty is done for now. Try to be on time for dinner so that Liles and Paige can hear the entire story of today's events from you. They won't be satisfied until they witness with their own eyes that the three of you are safe and well."
I reluctantly nodded at the request, still unaccustomed to being accepted wholly by my half-brother and sister, the pair old enough to know better by that point. They had heard all of the stories about the Leonhart name and had probably been told some interesting rumors from their peers, but they refused to renounce me as a brother. They were as strong-headed as their father when it came to family and they accepted everything it entailed to provide me refuge in the Loire Manor.
While I closed the door behind Laguna, Seifer took our daughter in the direction of the bedroom. I followed after the pair and watched as Seifer practically threw Tania onto the mattress so that she bounced and laughed at the rough handling. He crawled onto the bed after the small girl and pinned her to the mattress to kiss and tickle her stomach until Tania was forced to beg for her release. It was the typical play between father and daughter, and I envied Seifer's ability to do something so normal, something I never learned. My earliest memories involved wooden swords, books, and chessboards and not the toys and simple games which made Tania smile with the identical curl as her birth father. And while I adored those smiles more than anything, I wasn't the one who had the gift to cause such a joyful expression.
"Daddy, Daddy," Tania called from the bed as Seifer drew her into his lap. "Let Papa read the book. He does faces!"
At the demand, I stepped to the other side of the mattress, and after slipping on the robe hanging there, I took my place next to the seated pair. I offered Seifer the book that Laguna had given me, but instead of taking the book directly, Seifer stroked his fingers down my forearm and along the back of my hand. My lips curled into a slight smirk at the shifter's constant games of seduction, and while I was never quite certain if he did it to taunt me or if it was an ingrained habit of his, I allowed it all the same.
Eventually taking the book, Seifer opened it to the page marked by an old ribbon. "Were you at the part about the witch?"
Tania nodded eagerly. "The knight was going home and the mean witch stopped him."
Seifer chuckled at her enthusiasm, and with a finger placed against the page, he started to read the narration portion of the tale. Seifer carefully followed each word with his finger, and with the reading, his words were slow but steady. It was the one skill he had picked up with relative ease, the former slave not given a proper education before coming to the Loire Manor. However, despite his ability read at a standard level, Seifer continued to request to have his books read to him. During his pregnancy, he claimed it was to calm the child inside of him, but in the years since then, I learned that Seifer was ashamed to reveal the selfish desire for what it was.
"Papa, you're not doing it," Tania complained as she pushed down on the book, interrupting part of the dialogue between the knight and witch.
Seifer showed a pathetic expression to the watchful girl. "I'm not?"
Tania scowled deeply, showing her disappointment in her father. "The witch is green with a big nose."
At her initial complaint, I thought to explain to Tania that the silver in Seifer's blood would prevent him from changing form, but I then recalled his healed wound and the other indications of his regained ability. With that certainty in mind, I figured the shifter was simply toying with our young daughter, but as Tania continued to demand for him to do the story 'right', I noticed that Seifer had become tense and was studiously avoiding my gaze.
At the call of his name, Seifer turned to face me, and then winced at his automatic reaction. The impossible became obvious in that moment, and though many questions filled my mind, I didn't have the breath to ask them.
"Daddy," Tania asked worriedly, her hand clutching hard at my robe. "Why won't Papa make the faces? Is he broken?"
The ridiculous question caused a snort of laughter from Seifer. "I guess I am technically broken, but it's only temporary," he quickly added at her shocked expression. "You see, your daddy put a very special seed in me and I can't change or I might squish it."
"A seed...?" Tania asked with the innocence of children.
"Yup, a seed that will grow into a baby with enough time. By next spring, you'll have either a baby sister or a baby brother to play with."
Inhaling in surprise and awe, the young girl stood up on the mattress. "Like Liles and Paige? I can have a sister, too?"
"I'll do my best," Seifer said with a merchant's smile that promised everything, and yet guaranteed nothing.
"Thank you, Papa!" Tania said as she wrapped her arms around her father neck and squeezed tight.
With forced patience, I waited for that initial excitement to pass, and once Seifer decided to face me again, I found that only one question was left in my mind - "Did you want this to happen?"
Seifer sighed while holding Tania close. "It wasn't planned, no, but thinking about it now, I should have known better. You had just rescued me from a group of idiots, and then you went and said that you wouldn't let me go. It was the perfect recipe for my mind and body to decide it was 'safe' to have another baby."
After considering his reply, I reluctantly asked, "Do you want to have this child?"
His lips slowly curled into a smile, and with his free hand, he stroked his fingers against my cheek. "I still remember that face you showed when I said I wouldn't give you another child." Seifer quickly moved his fingers to my mouth, not allowing me to interrupt. "Pregnancy is nothing I enjoy, but it would be nice to have a son this time. He could be someone else to protect Tania."
Pleased by that thought, I lifted my hand to hold his and kissed the back of his fingers.
"Papa," Tania announced irritably as she pushed back from her father. "I want a sister, not a brother."
Seifer laughed at the demand and kissed her forehead. "That's up to the gods, Tangerine, but I'll ask them every night."
Revealing her spoiled nature, Tania pouted at not getting exactly what she desired.
With a grin at the upset child, Seifer picked up the forgotten book. "If you don't behave, I won't want to finish the story for you."
Though hesitating, Tania ultimately grabbed the book and placed it my lap. "Daddy, you read it."
I struggled to hide my amusement at the young girl's purposeful action to snub her other father, and it became that much harder when Seifer decided to look terribly offended at being rejected. Tania eventually took pity on her 'papa', and after plopping down at his side, she grabbed his arm and wrapped it around her in a hug. Seifer smiled at being forgiven so quickly, and while tightening his hold on the girl, he used his other hand to clutch the edges of his torn shirt together. It was an oddly shy action from the blond, as if he were hiding the child within, and something about it made me smile.
"Read the book, Daddy," Tania insisted just before a wide yawn.
"Yeah, read the book, Daddy," Seifer echoed in a tone that was hardly innocent.
After a raised eyebrow at the shifter's tone, I looked down at the open book and found the spot where Seifer had been forced to stop. It was an old legend with the same theme that children seemed to enjoy: a beautiful princess is held captive, the handsome knight faces numerous challenges to save her, and they ultimately live happily ever after. For most of my life, I didn't understand the appeal of the tale that sounded too easy and too perfect, but while reading that tale out loud, I suddenly realized that there were many parallels to my relationship with Seifer. No, it wasn't as beautiful as the events described by a poet's tongue, but it was our life and our story... A story we could one day tell our children as something more than a simple fairy tale.
And as I read to Tania about the witch falling to the knight's sword, I smirked lightly at memory of Adel's death and decided that our story would be much more interesting to tell.
Author's Whining -- So this one was for Kai (littlemanganeko) and Kelli (onempty), who both wanted a request for 'Hearts Unchanged'. Kai was actually the one who had the details of a request with seeing how the rest of the world reacted to 'Leonhart' and how the second child was 'revealed' as it were. Kelli just mentioned that she wanted a 'Hearts Unchanged' request, but I can't remember any details. ^^; Sorry if I missed it! Either way, it was fun to revisit a submissive Seifer who has Squall completely wrapped around his finger. No matter who is on top, Squall just can't win. *grins*