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For Nothing, For Everything

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[Epilogue - Seven Year Later]

Steps echoing on stone and a humid breeze ruffling his hair, Squall was nearly overwhelmed by the memories brought back to life by the smell of the ocean air and the sights of the lost palace he once called home.  No ash remained from the fires of the Massacre, but the crimson fires had feasted upon everything not made of rock, leaving the numerous rooms open without doors and empty of furniture.  Seagulls along with other animals had taken over residence of the deserted palace, nests and debris littering the corners of the once majestic building.

At the sound of laughter, blue-gray eyes shifted to gaze at his amused son who wasn't threatened by the glare of his father.  At fourteen, Leander was a gangly young man who stood a few inches short of Squall's height and had a lean build that didn't match his intake of Edea's excellent cooking.  While his eyes had hardened with age and experience, the soft gray haze to his green eyes hid that intelligence from the rest of the world.  In all manners, Leander Almasy appeared the typical young nobleman with his dark hair held in a ponytail per the latest fashion, his body clothed in expensive fabric from foreign lands beyond the ocean, and his well used sword hidden within a sheath decorated in silver and gems.  He wielded a flamboyant and arrogant personality as well as his father, but his true nature reflected the calm and observant air of a philosopher.

"Hey now," Seifer scolded at the still chuckling youth, "You're taking Squall's side again.  I thought you were my boy."

"It's not my fault that Faer is right when you're an idiot," Leander said with a bright grin, silver light dancing in his eyes when he dodged the lazy punch Seifer directed at him.

Listening to the discussion to which he had no intention of contributing, Squall wondered at his son's easy use of 'Faer', a term Leander and Seifer had created together when the boy turned eight and vehemently refused to continue calling his birth father by name.  'Mommy' was out of the question, but Squall eventually surrendered to the use of 'Faer', an oddly shortened version of 'Father' that wouldn't attract obvious attention from outsiders.  He had never anticipated it becoming Verena's first word, if such a thing could be considered a word.

At the thought of his daughter, Squall glanced down at the young girl who held tightly on his hand and walked so close to her birth father that she occasionally tripped when her small leg would hit Squall's in mid-stride.  Just as Leander would always be his 'lion cub', Verena had gained the nickname of 'princess', a designation that well suited the girl dressed in a frilly thing that had more lace than fabric and a fat bow that rested against her lower back.  Bright honey-brown hair was held in place with a small silk scarf that framed her cherub face, a style Squall felt was beyond her seven years, but Edea assured otherwise.  The young girl's most striking feature, however, were deep blue eyes that held the same color of the sky before nightfall.  Since infancy, Verena had the worrisome habit of looking at things that weren't there, and with age, had grown skilled at hiding the unexplainable quirk that made people consider her flighty and unintelligent, dangerous assumptions when it came to the openly curious girl.

Watching her at that moment, Squall frowned as Verena stared wonderingly into empty rooms and her vibrant eyes started to moisten with tears.  "Is something wrong, princess?"

Startled, the young girl looked up sharply and stared for a long moment before fully focusing on the sorcerer.  "No, I'm fine... But Faer, did you really live here?"

"Many years ago, before everything was destroyed during the Massacre.  There was a lot more furniture back then," Squall commented lightly, gaining a quiet smile from his daughter.

"I know that, Faer, but it's so big here.  Didn't you get lonely?"

Squeezing her small hand, Squall admitted, "Sometimes.  But I'm not lonely anymore."

Her smile widening into a replica of Seifer's free smile, Verena sped up her walk and tugged on Squall's arm.  "Come on, I want to go there."

Looking in the direction of her pointed finger, Squall couldn't prevent his reaction to stop midstep and freeze completely while staring at the wide archway that once held doors of polished red wood and were crafted with imagery of roaring lions.  The sorcerer hardly noticed Verena ceasing her attempts to pull on his hand, but the strength of a heavy arm wrapping around his shoulders couldn't be ignored.  Squall glanced into concerned green eyes and felt wholly pathetic for his reaction, but when he attempted to state just that, Seifer hushed his unspoken words.

"That leads to the second tower and the throne room, doesn't it?" Seifer asked, making Squall recall that the blond had once stepped inside the palace as an officer of the Imperial army.  "We don't have to go there.  We can turn around right now and no one will ever blame you."

It was a welcomed offer of escape, but as Squall glanced at his worried and curious children, he wanted them to view upon the thrones they were denied because of one woman's cruelty and rage.  More so, he needed Verena to see everything Ultimecia had done when the woman's powers could have been used for better purposes.  Holding tight onto his daughter's hand, Squall slipped free of his lover's hold and walked with Verena at his side toward the archway that led into open air and the bridge between the two towers.  The young girl gasped at their intimidating height, but with her fears tempered while pressed against her birth father, she stared with wonder at the remains of the buildings far below them that had once housed the lesser sorcerer clans.

In contrast, Leander was clearly in his element, the ocean breeze loosening his hair from its restraint as he walked near the edge of the bridge, much like Laguna did in his day.  Both loved by the wind element, both livened by the heights that made common men shuffle their feet when approaching the throne room.  Squall mourned at the thought that the palace should have belonged to Leander, but it was enough to see the pendant of Griever worn proudly outside of his clothing.  After many lectures from both Ward and Kiros, Squall had grown to believe that Laguna would have been proud to see the roaring lion against the young man's chest.

Seifer was the first across the bridge, visibly bothered by the bridge and the lack of rails to keep a person without magical abilities safe from the ocean winds.  He then glared at his son and heir for walking far too close to the edge, earning a roll of the eyes from Leander before he moved closer to lightly bump against his sister and draw a laugh from the girl.

Although those sights helped to lighten the fear in his chest, Squall couldn't share in their good humor while his stormy eyes focused on the empty archway and the throne room beyond.  Lit by overhead windows of broken glass, the grand room felt just as it had in the past, the energy of quiet magic stirring like a breeze in the room that displayed statues and carvings that represented the various sorcerer clans, one of which a seated lion with a mane of white marble and a body of dark stone.

Walking down the immense room, Squall couldn't prevent the memories of blood stains and mutilated bodies that had tainted the length of the throne room.  All of it was lost from fire and time, but the former prince remembered everything with vibrant detail.  His eyes drifted to the image of a snake etched into white stone, the location of the hidden passageway that had concealed him from the eyes of the sorceress and made him a witness to his father's and uncle's deaths.  Needing an escape from those memories, Squall focused on the stretched out snake and abruptly realized that the Almasy crest was also decorated with a winding serpent.  Full lips twitched into a near smile, the sorcerer curious at how many things in his life would trace back to his determined lover.

Respectful silence was abruptly broken by a gasp and Verena released Squall's hand to run toward the a small set of stairs that led to the thrones intended for the rulers of the sorcerers' small country.  The young girl slowed to a stop just before those stairs, her head angled steeply as if staring at something only she could see.  Squall felt his heart constrict when Verena abruptly giggled and smiled at nothing, his mind warning him that her actions could be the first signs of madness in a sorceress, but his instincts screamed that his daughter was good, intelligent, and wholly sane.

"Squall," Seifer began in a careful whisper, his tone suggesting that the lord's thoughts were paralleling the sorcerer's worries.  "What is she doing?"

Squall shook his head, unable to voice his fears and consider Seifer's promise to end their daughter's life if she was about to take the same path as Ultimecia, Adel, and other infamous sorceresses of the past.

"It's not that," Leander abruptly announced, the young man glaring at his parents before stepping to his sister's side and making her turn around.  His callused hands firm on Verena's small shoulders, Leander declared passionately, "Verena is perfectly fine.  She's just... different.  And she's been hiding something from you."

Verena gazed up woefully at her older brother.  "Ander, I'm not supposed to tell."

"You admitting to nothing is making things worse.  They don't understand why you do the things you do."

Seifer frowned at the exchange.  "What in Hyne's name are you kids talking about?"

Blue eyes bright, Verena glanced at her father before focusing on Squall alone.  In her typical fidget, her hand grabbed onto her grandmother's locket and she twisted the gold chain around her small fingers.  "I... I see people who aren't here anymore."

Eyebrows furrowed, Squall asked for clarification, "Do you mean people who have died?"

"Uh huh, but it's not bad.  I wanted to tell you and Father, but Grandmother told me that I couldn't say anything.  She said you would get the wrong idea and think I was..."  Her eyes glanced upward as if remembering the correct words.  "... not right in the head."

Seifer stared in disbelief at the girl.  "Vera, who are you calling 'Grandmother'?"

Verena frowned, visibly confused with the question.  "Grandmother.  Just like in the painting."

Before Seifer could declare that it was impossible, Squall placed a silencing hand against the lord's chest and asked his daughter, "Who do you see in this room?"

"Grandfather and Uncle Leander and other people.  But y'know, you never said that Ander looks a lot like Uncle Leander."  The young girl smiled with her comment, her cherub face shining in her innocence.

Squall exhaled a harsh breath, sounding something between a laugh and a sob, and then shook his head.  "No, I never did mention that."  Lowering to his knees, he motioned his daughter to come to him, a request Verena was reluctant to follow until Leander pushed her forward.  Once she was in reach, Squall wrapped his arms around the girl and held her close to his chest in a strong embrace.  "You should have told us, princess.  We've been so worried that something was wrong.  I never imagined that you were struggling with something like this."

Verena sniffled quietly, sensing the turmoil of emotions in her birth father.  "I'm sorry, Faer, but Grandmother said that something bad might happen if I told you that I see things no one else sees."

When the sorcerer didn't seem about to reply, Seifer placed a large hand on top of Verena's head and said, "It's alright, baby girl, we're not angry.  But Squall, is this... normal for sorcerers?"

Squall wanted to say that he didn't care, that he was happy enough to have a reason for Verena's odd actions and occasionally shrewd knowledge of things a child shouldn't be able to grasp.  Instead, Squall reluctantly replied, "I haven't heard of it before, but that doesn't mean anything.  It could be a result of male pregnancy, maybe because of the summer house and her exposure to your mother's ghost--"

Seifer's deep laughter interrupted further words from the sorcerer.  "Hyne above, what do you think I'm going to do?  Take her from you?  I just wanted to know if this is something that Vera can learn to control."

Squall briefly closed his eyes, ashamed at his assumption that Seifer would act rashly against their daughter at the first hint of being abnormal.

"When did you die, Faer?"

Surprised at the question spoken in a timid voice, Squall sat back on his heels and placed his hand at Verena's chin to encourage her to meet his gaze.  "Where did you hear that?"

"Uncle Leander says that I see them because you died when I was sleeping inside of you and that Father stopped me from going to Heaven.  Did that really happen?"

Stormy eyes reflexively glanced up to look at his uncle and question the wisdom in telling a child about something so traumatic, but Squall saw nothing of the man who had taught him many hard lessons about life.  Returning his attention to Verena, he gazed at her tear-moistened eyes and knew he had to answer.  "It happened, but it was worth it to make this world safer for you."

The girl flashed a relieved smile before she wrapped her arms around Squall's neck and held on tight.  "I wanted to tell you, I really did.  But Grandmother was really serious about me saying nothing and Leander said I shouldn't neither."

At the declaration, Squall looked at his son with a touch of betrayal to his blue-gray eyes.

Before Leander had an opportunity to respond, Seifer stepped up to the boy and wrapped a muscular arm around bony shoulders.  Leering at his son, the lord demanded, "Now that she mentions it, how is it that you knew about Vera's powers when we were kept in the dark?"

"It was by accident," Leander contested in an offended tone, unafraid of his father's glare.  "She was talking in her room and I walked in thinking that Irvine's girl was visiting, but there was no one else with her in the room.  I eventually got Verena to confess that she speaks to ghosts and she explained how Grandmother's spirit told her to keep it a secret.  And I... I thought Grandmother was right.  After all, I was there when you made your promise to Faer," Leander said, his eyes silver-green while glaring accusingly at Seifer.  "Nothing is wrong with Verena.  It's not her fault that she sees the dead."

"Damn, just like your Faer," Seifer muttered as he changed his restraining hold into a strong hug.  "You kept your word - you became a good big brother."

"Well, of course.  Someone has to make up the difference with you as her father."  Leander's smug grin didn't waver when Seifer smacked him in the back of the head.  "You've got to do better than that, old man."

"Just you wait, kid, and have your blade ready," Seifer warned, his large hand ruffling dark hair into a mess that made Leander groan with irritation at his ruined ponytail.

"Faer?"  At the cautious call, Squall glanced down at his daughter.  "Why couldn't I tell you and Father about what I see?"

The sorcerer fingered her golden-brown hair, considering his response before coming to the inevitable decision that he could never lie to his children.  "I will tell you one day when you're older."

Verena pouted at the answer.  "That's what you always say."

"Because you are still very young," Squall replied in his typical fashion, his vague smile fleeting before he asked, "Verena, these things you see... Do they frighten you?"

Deep blue eyes blinking, Verena answered, "Not really.  There are some bad shadows, but the white people keep them away, like Grandmother at home.  And here, there are lots of nice soldiers to protect us.  When we walked here, they were really excited to see you again, Faer, and some even cheered," she added with a smile.

Squall sighed inwardly, relieved that the young girl wasn't given visions of grisly ghosts.  More so, he didn't want her to know her grandfather and uncle in the way Ultimecia had left them to the all consuming fires.  Before he could ask another question, Verena abruptly looked over her shoulder in the opposite direction of her brother and father.  Her eyes unfocused for a long moment, she frowned at whatever she was told by a voice Squall wished he could hear.

Without moving, Verena relayed, "Grandfather wants you to know that they're happy... They don't want you to worry anymore, and..."  The girl trailed off into an attack of giggles and declared in a laughing voice, "I can't say that about Father, Uncle Leander.  He'll tickle me!"

While Seifer frowned at the apparent insult, Squall fought against a knowing smile.  "I assume he isn't impressed with my choice in a partner?"

"He doesn't like Father, but he says it's good that Father made you happy and that he helped to make me and Ander."  Verena then lifted up onto tiptoes and whispered loudly to Squall, "He tried to punch Father, but it didn't work."

Unable to hold back his smile any further, Squall hid it while pressing a kiss to his daughter's forehead.  "Thank you, princess.  You don't know what this means to me."

Blue eyes sparkling at the words, Verena asked excitedly, "Can we stay and talk to them more?  They can only visit us here and I want to hear more about you and Father."  Before Squall could reply, the girl abruptly pouted and said in a disappointed tone, "Never mind.  Grandfather says it's getting too late and that we shouldn't be here at night.  Some mean shadows walk around when it's dark and they could try to hurt me."

Fear reentered Squall's chest at the idea that his daughter was faced against something dangerous with her hidden powers.  "Is there anything I can do to help you?"

Verena smiled and shook her head.  "Everyone says that I'll get stronger when I'm older.  Until then, they'll help me and tell me how to avoid the mean shadows."

While gazing at the seemingly fearless girl, Squall abruptly realized that his current frustration and worry reflected Seifer's situation of being unable to understand the ways of sorcerers.  When he glanced at the blond lord, Squall thought he saw a shade of sympathy in green eyes, but he wasn't about to detail his fears in front of Verena and Leander.  Concealing that emotion as best he could, Squall pushed up from the ground and automatically held out his hand for the young girl, Verena immediately taking hold before she called out her goodbyes to the shades of the past.

Hardly a step taken toward the exit, Squall was jerked back by a firm grip on his shoulder and his body shifted sideways to maintain balance.  The move left him open to Seifer's whims, and without warning, the lord leaned to claim a kiss from the unsuspecting brunet.  Squall tried to pull away, but Seifer had learned the man's desires in their eight years together.  When teeth lightly nipped at his lower lip and then a tongue slipped up past the sensitized flesh, Squall responded to the affections of his lover before he knew what he was doing.  The kiss lasted longer than proper, never long enough for the blond lord, but Squall was allowed his retreat when he jerked back for a second time.

Seifer grinned at the curious glare from the sorcerer.  "Just proving to your family that I'm the one who owns you these days."

An eyebrow lifted into an incredulous arch, Squall grabbed the front of Seifer's shirt.  "You forget, rya soaler'ke, that you are the one who belongs to me."

"Hn, I don't know.  I think I need to be reminded of that."

Leander groaned at the exchange.  "Not in front of the innocent, Father."

Seifer snorted at the statement, but conceded the point when he glanced down at his daughter and noticed her puzzled expression.  Backing away from the sorcerer, Seifer turned his attention to his son and placed a solid hand at the youth's shoulder.  "And when exactly did you stop being 'innocent'?"

"When there was a blanket separating our two rooms in the Shumi's village and you couldn't keep your hands off Faer," Leander said in a straight forward manner, the gray to his eyes unable to suppress the sharpness of clever jade.  "Thank Hyne for Irvine or I'd never understand what you were up to.  For months I assumed you were somehow hurting Faer."

Mouth slightly gaping, Seifer stared at his son until he demanded in a low voice, "What exactly did Kinneas teach you?"

"He's a healer with plenty of experience and many detailed books.  But don't worry, Father, he was very professional about it," Leander stated with a grin, suggesting that the dots between the technical and the lewd were connected using his own intelligence.

Grumbling under his breath, Seifer raked his fingers through golden strands and glanced in Squall's direction, the lord then wincing at the harsh glare directed at him.  "In hindsight, that may have not been the best of ideas, but it's not like I could restrain myself and I thought he was asleep the entire time."

"And that's why my uncle doesn't care for you," Squall commented as he renewed his exit of the throne room, his daughter in tow.

They walked slowly through the palace, Verena freely relaying the more interesting comments from the ghosts they passed during their departure.  In his mind, Squall knew that he should have be disturbed or at least bothered by her connection to the dead, but after years of worry about his daughter's odd habits, it was a strange relief to hear names from the past, names Verena had no reason to know unless she truly spoke with spirits.  There would be time for long discussions about the girl keeping important secrets from her parents, but Squall was happy in his moment of relief and answered Verena's occasional question about the lost residents of the palace.

By the time they stepped through the grand archway that gave entrance to the immense castle built into the white cliffs, the sun touched the ocean horizon and the lightly overcast sky was turning incredible shades of orange and purple.  Waiting for them in the courtyard were Ward, Kiros, and Sekre, all three sitting at the old benches that once served as a meeting place for daily tutoring sessions.  Verena released Squall's hold to run toward her constant guardians, her choice of the hour being Ward as she tugged on his wrinkled shirt to be lifted up from the ground.

"Well, hello there, Lady Verena," Ward chuckled as he bent down and picked up the girl who seemed so tiny compared to his massive form.  "How was your trip inside?"

"It was so pretty, Ward.  More than what you and Kiros told me in your stories, but you know what, I got to meet Grandfather and Uncle Leander, too.  Grandfather says you have to stop being so hard on yourselves and go live your lives."

Ward stared with confusion at the young girl while Kiros slowly turned to face the approaching sorcerer, his dark eyes concerned by the declaration.

"Apparently, my daughter can speak with the dead," Squall said as his explanation, his voice reflecting his irritation at not having prior knowledge about the information.

"You have finally realized this?"

At the question, Squall looked to the Moomba who had gained several inches in the past seven years, but was still small for the standard Shumi warrior.  It was something short of a miracle that the Shumi hadn't been discovered in the years living on the Almasy Estate, but his reputation as Seifer's bodyguard, a 'man' always dressed in black robes and infamous wolf mask, was legendary in the world of nobles.  The summer home unofficially belonged to Sekre, a place where he didn't have to hide his appearance.  The Shumi enjoyed his unusual life style and would occasionally disappear to explore more of the world that few of his kind would ever see.

His long ears relaxed and his shortened tail swaying with whip-like motions, Sekre met the chilled stare of blue-gray with his typical remoteness.  "Verena has the smell of Heaven to her scent, a sign of vision beyond this life."

Squall scowled at the information.  "If you've known all this time, why didn't you say something?"

"Because I did not know if it was something your kind feared."

The sorcerer shook his head, impressed at how many protectors his daughter had gained in her short life.  "We will talk about this later, in addition to the Shumi beliefs about her ability."

After Sekre's nod, Squall looked to the others and was startled to see a wet trail decorating Kiros' cheek.  The healer wiped it aside before it could be commented on and he reached out to stroke honey-brown hair.  He whispered a 'thank you' to the young girl, her reply being to grab his hand and hug it to her chest in support for his obviously upset state.

"Grandfather said I could always trust you and Ward.  He misses you, but he's happy you're here with me and Ander, so don't be sad."

Breathing a laugh, Kiros said, "I'm not sad, child.  I was just surprised by the memories of Laguna constantly placing us in front of his other worries.  Did he say anything else?"

"No, but Uncle Leander said something I don't understand," Verena said as she closed her eyes to remember the words.  "When Father kissed Faer, Uncle Leander said that he wanted to 'remove his nuts with a rusty knife and a shaky hand'.  But Father doesn't even like nuts, so why would he carry them and why would Uncle Leander 'remove' them with a knife?"

Leander busted out laughing to the point of turning around and stifling his laughter with a fisted hand.  Meanwhile, Kiros and Ward had tight lipped expressions as they glanced at Squall for him to accept the parent's obligation to give a proper reply to the girl's innocent question.  Crossing his arms over his chest, Squall looked to Seifer and arched a dark eyebrow in a silent statement of 'this is your mess to clean up'.  Though the lord looked somewhat pale at the idea of upsetting the ghost of a powerful sorcerer, Seifer smirked confidently at his young daughter.

"He's not talking about the kind of nuts you eat, baby girl.  It's another word for a certain body part, and just for your information, you aren't allowed to become acquainted with that body part for at least another twenty years.  Understood?"

Verena nodded dumbly at the demand, unsuspecting of the promise she had made to her protective father.  "But why doesn't Uncle Leander like you?"

Seifer didn't shy away from the question that implicated him, and instead stepped up to his daughter held in Ward's arms.  "He dislikes me for the same reason that I will hate any man who takes you away from me: no one will ever be good enough for you," he declared with a kiss to her forehead.

Watching father and daughter, Squall smiled softly at the hope that every small kiss and every word of love would keep their 'baby girl' safe from the evils in the world that changed sorceresses into something dark and vengeful.  Feeling a focused gaze on him, he looked to his son and met the soft green eyes that had aged too much for his fourteen years.  Squall briefly wondered if that gaze was the same one he had given his own father and that was why Laguna couldn't handle a child who saw through the words of adults.

"You guys are good at that, giving the half truths that make us feel good inside," Leander commented lightly, no resentment heard in his young voice.  "I think Father likes to forget that I remember things about the past that aren't convenient for either of you."

"... Was there something you wanted to say?" Squall asked, an open offer to the youth.

Standing a little straighter, Leander replied, "I want you to know that I'm ready to hear about why you weren't here for the first few years of my life and why Father didn't know you were my mother for several years after that.  I have assumptions, but I'd rather hear the truth from you and Father."

Squall studied his son for a long moment and was reminded about the young child ten years ago who was determined to be with his father no matter the distance required of his small legs.  The sorcerer stepped to the youth and placed a hand beneath Leander's chin, giving him a better view of the young man's serious eyes.  Reluctantly nodding, Squall said in a quiet voice, "As long as you are ready, then I will tell you what you want to know, but your father may ask that we wait until we return to the manor.  He thinks he has hidden some journals from me and I want to be there to correct some of the details he has written.  The man has the poor habit of changing his memories to suit his purposes."

Leander grinned lightly, thinking about his own experiences with Seifer's ability to ignore past happenings.  "He means well enough."

Squall scoffed at the youth's endless support for his father.

"Hey, kiddo!  Princeling!" Seifer called from his place next to the others.  "It's going to get dark soon.  We should leave for the camp site before it gets dangerous for Vera."

"Alright, Father.  We're coming."

The dark-haired sorcerer watched Leander move to join the group, Seifer thumping the youth's back as he passed by.  While everyone began the walk to the destroyed gates that failed in its purpose to protect the capital, Seifer focused on Squall and raised a beckoning arm to the unmoving brunet.  Squall smirked at the gesture, and though his first instinct was to resist the silent command, he walked up to the taller man and allowed Seifer to place the arm around his shoulders.

"What is happening behind those shields, my Prince?"

"I'm fine, more than I thought I would be."  At the lord's skeptical gaze, Squall elaborated, "This was my life and I will always have fond memories of this place along with the nightmares, but in the end, all of those events shaped this future and I can't regret that.  It's more painful to imagine a life where I never met you."

Seifer's resulting fond smile held a mournful edge.  "Do you really think I want to believe that this love between us is worth the cost of the Massacre?"

"Nonetheless, it happened.  I can't change that past and I've found a better life in this world that seemed determined to destroy me.  Though perhaps I should be blamed for wanting to move beyond those harder memories."

"Never," Seifer asserted as he pressed closer to the shorter man.  "But you lost so much..."

"And I gained even more."  With a soft touch, Squall brushed aside a stray lock of golden blond hair from the lord's forehead and kept his hand at the man's cheek.  "After the Massacre, I descended into madness and I could have easily followed the same path as Ultimecia to the point of bargaining with demons of the Underworld.  Her core reflected the rot and damage to her soul, and yet, I understand that absolute need for power and the willingness to pay any price.  But instead of living in darkness, I have made peace with this world, and it's all due to the determination of the last person I imagined trusting with my soul and life."

"Squall..." Seifer whispered before leaning in to place a light kiss against the corner of full lips.  "I love your soul the way it is.  Promise me that you will do nothing to change its beauty."

Meeting serious green eyes, the sorcerer knew that he was unable to commit to the promise that he wouldn't keep if events required his sacrifice to protect his family.  With the lord waiting for a reply, Squall simply smirked and patted the man's cheek.  "The children are waiting for us.  We should go."

Seifer frowned at the lacking promise, but Squall slipped out from the arm wrapped around his shoulders before the lord could force a pledge from him.  Squall made two steps before the taller man was at his side once again, Seifer's arm moved to the brunet's waist in a possessive hold, but nothing was said as the blond pressed close to his accommodating lover.

As they trailed after the others, Squall looked up at the faded sky and recalled a day from the past when he had prayed to Shiva in search of strength.  Though she had refused Squall what he wanted, she granted him the one thing that he never recognized he needed more than momentary power - an ambitious and tasking love that had revived his life with a fire that should have destroyed him instead.  The sorcerer wasn't certain what that ultimately meant about the goddess, whether she had a benevolent soul or else a sense of humor for presenting him to the arrogant lord.  And yet, with the seemingly careless decision, Shiva had gifted him everything beautiful in his life from the void of nothing that had formed within his soul.

Stormy eyes focused on the ocean horizon and Squall prayed that Verena and Leander would find their own flames to give them strength in a world that had little care for sorcerers.  It was no less than what they deserved and everything they needed, a lesson they had yet to learn in their young lives, but they would.  Squall was certain of it.