Revamp notice: There is nothing new about this story, I've just gone through and begun to edit it a bit. Hopefully, it's a bit more polished.

Disclaimer: Fanfiction is by fans for fans. I do not financially profit from this story, nor do I own the characters or any copyrights to Final Fantasy VIII.

Warning: This is meant for adult audiences. Protecting the Lion contains sexual themes and scenes ranging from mildly graphic to very graphic descriptions of a homosexual pairing. This is a Seifer/Squall fanfiction. For anyone unaware of the general rule of thumb regarding top and bottom summary pairings (top/bottom, topXbottom), Seifer is top and Squall is bottom.

Author's Notes: I hope you enjoy this story. Protecting the Lion is fifty chapters long. The story arc continues on in the sequel Strings Attached, which has thirty-seven chapters. Both Protecting the Lion and Strings Attached are complete and up for full viewing.

Chapter One

Visitors From the Past

Dull chatter sounded through the dimly lit bar in Timber. Still early in the day, a handful of denizens were scattered about, breaking the five o'clock drinking rule and keeping the proprietor in business.

No one in the bar had woken up with the intention of flitting the day away while carrying a light buzz, but since no one had halted the press to inform the citizens that the celebration was over, rejoicing with friends and a six pack continued to be the favored pass time. The war was over. Ultimecia was dead. Calling off of work and throwing back a few shots was the only logical course of action.

The same stories were told over and over, passing from one ear to the next, each time altering slightly. Everyone knew the key facts regarding the war, even if those facts were buried beneath the grand adjectives of wild storytelling. There had been a handful of elite fighters, which many forgot to label 'mercenaries' since 'defenders of the free world' was so much more heartwarming. Sometimes, the rumors depicted a single fighter who was the incarnation of the lost guardian force Griever. Whether it was a group of ten or six or four, one name was never left out; Squall Leonhart was not a variable to be switched in and out, no matter how the drunk the loudmouthed bard might be.

Squall Leonhart was a real life superhero, catapulted into stardom by millions of grateful and love struck fans. Balamb Garden's commander was an enigma, and even the most outrageous rumors of the teenager's abilities were not very from the mark. While Commander Leonhart had not called upon the power of Hyne, mystic beings with powerful magic had been involved. Guardian forces were commonplace for SeeD, but civilians weren't as desensitized to the nature of fighting and magic.

At the tender age of seventeen, merely a kid on many accounts, Commander Leonhart had saved the world. His strength was unmatchable.

Gulping down a warming drink of whiskey, a young blond haired man let his eyes skim over the latest news article written about the world's savior. Jade-green eyes narrowed as they fell lower on the page and saw a black and white photo, slightly blurred and definitely not consensual. Dark hair, that he knew to be a rich brown in color, framed the head of the commander, while a gloved hand pinched the bridge of a delicately cut nose. From what the picture captured, the subject's brows were furrowed in anger or frustration, he didn't know which since the eyes and rest of the face were obscured. Squall seemed to be turning away, obviously not wanting his photo taken.

The article was one of many that had given a poor account of the most recent sorceress war and Leonhart's role in it. Worse still was the author's speculative insight into the mind of the young commander. It was a pathetic attempt to make rumors into facts, an attempt to make it seem like the writer actually knew Leonhart personally.

The blond haired man scoffed and tossed the paper aside, downing the last of his glass. Standing up, he grabbed a long folded trench coat from the barstool beside him. After retrieving some gil from his pocket, he set the coins on the counter with a clank and left.

The moment the door was opened, his ears were flooded with the noise from the crowded streets. Timber was unusually crowded; a tourist season he supposed.

The wind was frigid, though the air itself wasn't cold enough to make his breath visible. Holding out the long black trench coat, he slid into the worn material with practiced ease. Standing out in a crowd was not a smart move for Seifer Almasy to make, but he had little choice. Whether he wore unremarkable clothes or blinding sequence sewn into every inch of fabric, his six foot two inch frame and golden blond hair didn't give him much of an option. He could dye his hair, walk with a hunch, and never let a person meet his bright green-eyed gaze, but his overpowering presence would never go unnoticed. As a result of his inability to successfully remain disguised, he'd become nomadic. As much as Squally-boy was a hero, he was twice the villain.

Beneath his heavy coat, he wore faded dark blue jeans and a forest green V-neck sweater. He at least tried to blend in and perhaps buy himself an extra few days without word spreading of his whereabouts. Not all villains were brainless idiots who succumbed to defeat at the end of the story. He was not an idiot. He had kept his head above water for the past six months since the war ended, and he had no intention of giving anyone the satisfaction of punishing him.

His life was somewhat distressing, but he had no recollection of happier times, so he wasn't complaining. There was no rhyme or reason anymore, no point, no worth. He knew this, but it was his life and he wasn't finished living it yet.

Brooding, his gate steadily slowed. Steps finally faltering to a standstill, he raised his head and his eyes left the cobble-stoned sidewalk. Observing his surroundings, passersby on each side, he glanced at a shop window and regarded himself. Handsome features were dour and once vibrant eyes were almost lackluster. His hair was a bit shaggy, falling unnaturally at a length too long to be gelled back. A stern and ever proud jaw was firm with lips drawn thin. He couldn't quite identify with himself anymore.

Sighing, he tore his gaze away and continued walking. He was on his way back to his hotel. He hadn't found what he was looking for in Timber. He suspected his search for the passion he'd lost had very little to do with the world around him and everything to do with his downtrodden spirit. He was a fighter through and through. Currently, there was nothing for him to fight and no future prospect that included anyone allowing him to be the mercenary he'd spent his life training to be.

Having all but given up, he had developed somewhat of an obsession with Leonhart's life. On some level, he was jealous, but too proud to admit it. He followed the stories, every article and gossip column he could get his hands on. He sometimes wondered if Leonhart ever thought about him, whether he was still alive or not. He highly doubted it.

Timber wasn't necessarily a familiar place. The shops and street names were only vaguely engrained in his memory, and that was mostly because of his rival's current girlfriend. Rinoa Heartily had dragged him from place to place, shopping and chatting to her heart's content.

Laughing dryly he wondered if old Squally-boy suffered such a fate. Caraway's princess had been insufferable at times. It was ironic that Rinoa was now with Leonhart. If he weren't aware of how grueling being the commander must be, he'd have felt jilted out of life that should have been his. He had been the promising cadet, regardless of his issues with authority. He had been actively involved in Timber's plight for independence, even if it had only been for the sake of getting laid.

Seifer nearly passed his hotel while lost in reverie. It would seem he'd taken on a bit of Leonhart's habit. Grimacing, he realized how horribly depressing that was.

A newsstand in the lobby held stacks of papers and shelves of magazines. Several caught his eye, covers graced with Commander Leonhart's picture, but he had already read them all. Staring vacantly, he noted how the more recent photos, quickly and greedily snapped during public appearances and speeches, seemed to show a waning young man. There were shadows beneath those grey-blue eyes and that pretty boy face was almost gaunt.

Concern flashed through him, not for the first time, as he wondered whether his rival's new lifestyle was too demanding. Knowing Leonhart, the stubborn ice prince would give no complaint and work until death came knocking. It didn't seem to matter that Leonhart had fought to defeat Ultimecia and headed an entire garden facility. He suspected the amount of responsibility only continued to increase exponentially, playing against every introverted fiber of the younger boy's nature. Leonhart's situation was far more depressing that his own, of that he had little doubt.

Cid should have returned and taken over as headmaster, Seifer concluded.

He was practically counting the days down to when he would spot an article about the emotional breakdown of the world's number one idol.

The whistling choo-choo train sounded from across the lobby, breaking his concentration before he could begin brooding again. Not giving his surroundings a second glance, he walked toward the lobby barrier, the bar separating guests from outsiders, and into a common room.

Weaving through the area scattered with small round tables, he took to the stairs two at a time. Nearing the top, he halted abruptly. His senses were going off. His mind began to race through his entire day thus far, searching for some sign of what was off. No faces in the crowd, no shadows lurking in the alley, no whispered rumors flying about his presence in Timber. Still uncertain as to what he should expect, he proceeded cautiously. It wouldn't be the first time he returned to his hotel room to find unwelcome guests.

An attempt on his life was not uncommon. The only part that didn't sit well was his inability to know if he was simply being paranoid or if something was truly awry. Usually people came at him in public, not behind closed doors. He was careful with keeping his cover and never lingered in one place for too long.

Unarmed, his sword stored in his room, he was reluctant to storm in and face whoever might be in there. Sidling along the wall until he was outside his room, he reached a hand out and turned he knob. It was unlocked, confirming his suspicions. Now the question was how many were inside?

Letting the door swing open a little, he listened intently for any sounds within. It was some moments before he heard anything. A soft rustling of fabric, then couple muffled steps. He continued to wait, not confident he could assume there was only one person.

Seifer wasn't exactly worried, since he could more than hold his own. Nonetheless, he was prudent for safety's sake. With the door ajar, he would be noticed any moment, which meant making a decision quickly. Deciding to rush the person who placed to be just beyond the entryway, he turned and threw the door the rest of the way open. Stalking in, he was about to land a swift blow to a head of silver hair, when his fist faltered in recognition and he nearly toppled over with carried momentum.

"Fucking hell," he growled out as he stumbled to regain his footing and moved past his previous target. Straightening up and self-consciously ruffling his coat, he exhaled in a gruff sigh. "What the hell are you doing here?" His tone was not welcoming, though that was mainly the result of having just tried to knock the silver haired woman out cold.

"TOO RELAXED," her terse voice cried in greeting, just before the chilling sound of sharp metal cut through the air.

Seifer managed to duck the attack, watching the pinwheel swipe narrowly overhead. While he would have liked to ask her why she was attacking, he knew there would be little time to counter before her next assault.

Crouched low, he extended his leg out and swept the butch woman off her feet. She went down with a hard thud, but was hardly down for the count. Not a ruthless person, at least not towards Fujin, Seifer was unwilling to seriously hurt his former comrade. He sat atop her, his weight effectively pinning her down while he remained free to conduct an interrogation. He suspected Raijin was nearby, but he was willing to bet his life that the large brute was too loyal to ever attack him.

Not masking his annoyance at Fujin's less than friendly greeting, Seifer growled, "Whatever happened to 'long time no see'?" A warm smile crossed pale lips and a single red eye lit up in joy. Seifer noted how the body beneath him relaxed, signaling the end of the assault. "Yeah, nice to see you too," he remarked sarcastically as he read her face and stood up. "Where's Raijin?" he asked, knowing the duo were inseparable.

Clunky footsteps thudded behind him, coming from the bedroom.

"That you Seifer?" came the burly man's rough voice. Raijin came out of the bedroom with a smirk on his face. Sheepishly, he his grin widened and he scratched his jet-black hair.

Seifer had the distinct impression that had Fujin not been there to kick the large man's shin, Raijin would have tried to hug him. "I should cut you two up for breaking in here," he bit out angrily, only half as annoyed as he let on.

"Hey now, we had to know you were on your toes now, ya know?" Raijin defended.

Before Seifer could turn and give Raijin an incredulous look Fujin piped in, "AFFIRMATIVE."

Confused, Seifer failed to see why his posse needed to test him. "What's it to you if I'm still as skilled as ever?" he questioned in his usual smarmy and cocky tone.

Fujin spoke, "You've been gone for some time and a lot has changed." Her tone was not the usual hoarse shout, but soft and eloquent.

Raising his eyebrows in response, not sure he could truly express his shock at this sudden change in a woman he'd known for so many years, Seifer almost gaped. Raijin had once told him that Fujin's impediment was intentional, but they'd both been drunk and he hadn't believed it.

Smiling, the silver haired woman raised a hand to adjust her eye patch before taking a seat on the nearby couch. "You're surprised," she said with underlying mirth. "I won't explain myself, there are more important matters at hand."

Glancing at Raijin, Seifer saw the large man leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, obviously acknowledging that Fujin would be the director of this conversation. Giving a slight nod, he resigned himself to hearing out why they had come. "Okay, you've got my attention," he said, taking a seat in the chair across from Fujin.

"You're a difficult man to track down," Fujin began, still smiling like she held some secret.

Scoffing, Seifer returned, "That's the point of not wanting to be found."

"You don't need to hide." Though Fujin's smile faded slightly, her eye still sparkled.

Raijin jumped in. "Yeah, ya know? I mean people understand and stuff. Like, they know how a war is, and at Garden no one seems to even care. Though, I think that's just 'cause-"

Fujin cut him off. "SECRET," she said tersely, silencing Raijin immediately and causing the blond to eye her keenly. Her body had gone stiff at her reversion. After settling and relaxing a bit, her new manner resumed. "The point is you don't need to be in hiding."

Thinking for a moment, Seifer analyzed his actions over the past six months. He wasn't afraid of the general population's anger or wrath. Even if they tried to kill him in return for what he'd done, he was a strong man and wouldn't be taken down easily. The issue keeping him from returning to the one place he belonged wasn't fear of being unwelcome. "I'm not in hiding," he said flatly, still half in thought. In truth, there had only been a few outbursts from scornful survivors, not nearly as many as he would have expected considering his role in the war was no secret.

Fujin gave the ex-knight a critical look before accepting the man's words. Seifer Almasy was not a man to be analyzed. There was often no explanation for his abrasive actions, at least no reasoning that another person could understand. "I suppose we could have found you at any time if we really wanted to." While such a fact remained unproven, she had spoken in jest.

"Naturally," Seifer commented in mock affirmation. "I'm sure you two haven't spent the last three months tracking me down."

"Well, ya know, it's like we knew you needed your space and all, so we like didn't interfere," Raijin supplied almost apologetically.

Raijin's words made Seifer doubt how serious Fujin had been. Perhaps the duo had known his of his whereabouts for some time, not making contact so that he could brood and get over his contempt at losing. Brows furrowing, his lips frowned petulantly. "Nice to know you cared."

"Hey now, we knew you wanted to be alone, ya know," Raijin defended pushing off from against the wall and straightening his large frame.

Chuckling, Seifer replied, "I'm messing with you." While he was truly elated to see his friends again, he wasn't ready to go back anywhere. He didn't exactly feel like catching up on old times either. He was more interested in knowing why Raijin and Fujin had chosen to show up all of a sudden. "Why are you here now?" he asked seriously. He became more curious when he saw Fujin's jaw clench slightly. Now he just had to know what was up.

Walking around the back of the couch, Raijin sat next to Fujin. After slouching and stretching his legs out, he spoke rather quietly, "We came to ask ya back to Garden." The large man flinched as he received a sharp kick to his shin from the cold woman beside him.

"MORON," Fujin cried. "We didn't come here to ask anyone anything," she scolded before turning her focus back to Seifer. "We know you are off doing your own thing. We respect that and didn't want to get involved." Her red eye searched his jade green ones for a moment. "This wasn't what we planned. Raijin and I knew you would come back to us eventually, but there have been some developments and you're the only person we can trust for the job."

The one eyed woman's vague explanation left Seifer with his brows drawn down in confused thought. He couldn't fathom what possible developments Fujin was referring to. He had always had their trust, but couldn't imagine what required his trustworthy assistance.

"We don't want to ask you back." Fujin glanced to the man beside her. "We want to hire you for a job."

Green eyes widened slightly, only to resume an impassive and guarded gaze a moment later. "I'm not a SeeD. If you want a mercenary, you just need to knock on any garden's door."

Fujin's silver hair swayed as she shook her head.

"Heh, guess you don't know that we have more at our disposal than that," Raijin jibed with a nudge to Fujin's side.

Sighing and pinching the bridge of her nose, Fujin shook her head in resigned annoyance. It would seem she was too used to Raijin's dimwitted comments to say anything. When her attention returned to Seifer she was mildly surprised to see him looking down to the floor almost dejectedly.

It was more than odd for Seifer to feel such hollow longing, but the moment he had caught sight of Fujin pinching her nose, he had immediately thought of Squall and how the brunet would always display such similar mannerisms of annoyed frustration. Reminded of his rival, his breathing felt restricted.

When a prolonged silence fell over the three of them, Seifer knew he should say something. "What's at your 'disposal'?" he inquired half-heartedly.

It was another moment before anyone spoke, but Fujin finally decided to forget Seifer's sudden change in demeanor. "We're instructors now. We've been working with the commander."

Raijin rushed to add, "We'll always be your posse though, ya know? It's just, while you've been gone we're sortta workin' with the commander and his crew."

Seifer made a conscious effort not to let his jaw hit the floor.

Seeing the blond's reaction Fujin explained, "Leonhart kept it quiet though. He didn't think the public would take too kindly to it. Most of the locals know and they don't seem to care either way."

Seifer couldn't help the increasing restriction he was feeling in his chest. He didn't want to hear his rival mentioned anymore. "What the hell do you need me to do that you can't get one of your students to do?" he snapped, suddenly losing patience.

Again shaking her head, Fujin tried her best to say it all without running the ex-knight off. "It isn't the type of job we'd give a rookie."

"No, rookies? Then get Chicken-wuss or Trepe," Seifer countered, running a hand through his golden hair.

"It's complicated Seifer." Fujin's voice was almost pleading. "We need someone different, someone stronger. We've come to a general agreement that you'd be the best man for the job."

"I'm not so much stronger than the rest of his highness' merry bunch of followers," Seifer pointed out. He knew he was being unreasonable, rejecting the offer before even knowing what it was.

"It's more than that," was Fujin's only reply.

Humoring the forthright woman, Seifer kept his calm and masked his impatience. Speaking candidly, he muttered, "Fu, just tell me what you want and then fill in the blanks when I ask questions."

Sharing a brief look of apprehension with Raijin, Fujin said, "We want to hire you as Commander Leonhart's bodyguard."

The dead silence that followed was broken only by Seifer's laughter. He seemed so amused that Raijin followed with his own nervous chuckling.

"I'm serious," Fujin remarked, effectively bringing the ex-knight's laughing to a halt.

Green eyes were dubious. "You can't be serious," Seifer refuted. "Leonhart is the last person on this planet who would need my protection. I don't admit this easily, but he beat me."

"Yeah, but like, he had his friends with him, ya know," Raijin said, as if pointing out the obvious.

"He might have had them with him, but in the end it was him who was pulling all the punches." Seifer leaned back into his chair, truly at a loss.

"You know we wouldn't have come if we weren't desperate," Fujin said with true concern.

Somehow, it still didn't seem right that Raijin and Fujin were among the inner circle of SeeDs who worked closely with the world's favorite little hero. Seifer wondered if he would have also been accepted if he had gone back. Would he have been as readily accepted as his posse? More pertinent, what was so distressing in the world of sunshine and rainbows that Leonhart would need his protection? It would certainly be a story worth hearing. "Tell me, why would Leonhart need a caretaker?"

Raijin seemed to stiffen slightly and Fujin gave him a somewhat reprimanding look.

Seifer swore that the burly man had seemed angry at his words. Eyebrows rising, he was incredulous at the influence Leonhart had over his most loyal followers.

Solemn, Fujin showed no sign of her earlier excitement. "We aren't here to beg, but Quistis asked us to at least make the request. She thought that if anyone could sway your mind it would be us," she explained.

"Yeah, like ya know, Trepe is all worried and the like. She was practically in tears when she asked us," Raijin said, waving his hand in emphasis.

"Instructor Trepe was crying over getting me to come back?" Seifer remarked with firm disbelief. Though he would love to hold something over Trepe's head, he doubted the blonde instructor had been crying.

"Almost crying," Fujin corrected. "She was really upset. Everyone is, sort of."

"Sort of?" Seifer queried, acutely aware that there was a lot going on that he didn't know about.

"Well, if you ask me, they're not doing anything themselves because they don't want to handle him like that. Not to mention everyone would rather ignore that anything is wrong."

Seifer stopped trying to read Fujin's body language, he was unable to pick up on anything else. He glanced at his watch. It was a little after five o'clock. He wanted to be gone by six. Sighing, he hinted at his want for haste, "Fujin, just tell me what the hell you want me to do and why." He very nearly growled his words out.

"Same old Seifer," the crimson-eyed woman began, but hurried at the angry glare she was given. "Squall isn't doing well," she blurted out. "His duties are above and beyond the call of what a normal person can handle. He goes everyday without the help of anyone. According to Quistis, he doesn't eat or sleep right, and there is always some emergency whenever he's finally off duty. According to the database, he's somehow clocking at least fifteen hours of fighting time in the training center each week, which probably means he's actually not sleeping at all."

When Fujin had taken a pause from her rant, Seifer thought she was finished and was about to tell her he wasn't a babysitter.

Cutting the blond off, Fujin continued, "That's been the normal routine up until a month ago." She glanced at Raijin. "We didn't return to Garden until a four months ago ourselves, and even then the commander seemed overworked. If anyone actually says something, it's all bark and no bite. Everyone seems to think Kramer is going to return any day now, but it's been 'any day now' for since the war first ended. Frankly, I don't think the old headmaster is ever coming back." She sighed. "Two months ago, Kramer did come by, but left rather quickly for some vacation in Centra."

"Yeah, so like, he's been given the extra work permanently, ya know?" Raijin said with obvious concern. "It ain't right bein' both a headmaster and commander, ya know? Plus there's all this political crap with Galbadia refusing to acknowledge his authority on account of him being too young. He can't take a piss without the press wanting to know about it. It's just all so ridiculous, ya know?"

Though Seifer was far from revealing how he felt, he was oddly moved by what his posse had told him. While he wasn't going to say he was worried or that he even remotely cared, he expressed some interest. "You say Cid left two months ago, but something in Leonhart's routine changed a month ago. What did you mean?"

"It hasn't been officially announced-" the red-eyed woman prompted, but was cut off by the blond.

"Nothing is ever announced unless it's something good. I assume no one knows that an eighteen year old boy isn't heading Balamb Garden on a temporary basis."

Nodding in agreement, Fujin continued, "Rinoa's been missing for over three weeks."

Afraid that his friends might catch on to any sign of his concern, Seifer tried to steer the conversation away from his rival. Though his heart was beating a little faster than he cared for, he appeared as uncaring as always. Rolling his eyes, he asked, "So what's Trepe got her panties in a twist about to try and get me back? In case you didn't know, I'm not exactly her favorite person."

Fujin shrugged. "Neither of us can really say. I mean, we work with the commander in the sense that we take orders. We hang out with the others sometimes, but not Squall. Whatever Quistis wants, she'll have to tell you herself."

Nodding in agreement, Raijin said, "Yeah, ya know. We were just given the condensed version to give you. She, like, wants you to come back, cause she said you're the only one who can be his bodyguard."

"Well, you've told me everything except why he would need a bodyguard to begin with," Seifer stated.

"We don't know why. I just told you what I know from my own observations and the frequent comments Quistis makes."

Frowning, Seifer was disapproving of the unknown circumstances. "Does Trepe really think I'd return after all this time just because she's worried that Leonhart is on the verge of breaking down?" he said, feigning offense.

Smirking, Fujin stood up, causing the dark haired man to look at her in confusion. The big guy wasn't sure what he should do, but eventually settled for following her lead. The two of them walked towards the doorway. It wasn't until Fujin had the door open that she turned back and said, "But, you're coming anyway aren't you." It wasn't a question.

Smirking in return, Seifer ran a hand through his hair and gave her the cockiest look he could. "Wouldn't miss a chance to rub salt in Leonhart's wounds." Taking a moment to consider his choice, he added, "Trepe better have more answers when I get there."

Fujin was nearly out the door when she answered, "AFFIRMATIVE."

TBC… please review…

ATTENTION all grammar savvy readers! The capitalizing of titles has been a matter of uncertainty for me. Following the advice of readers and what I've researched, I am not capitalizing 'commander' when it is not spoken or placed before a specific name. This was the same rule I followed for 'president', but I recently learned that this is incorrect. As ruler of a country, it should be 'the President' since it is obviously referring to a specific person. Granted the positions are not the same, but I'm inclined to thinking 'commander' should also be capitalized under the same rule. However, according to the military titles guide I read, it is not to be capitalized under any circumstance outside of dialogue or preceding a name, even if a specific person is implied. If anyone is absolutelycertain how these titles are supposed to be capitalized, I would greatly appreciate an email.