Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VIII.

Notice: This is kind of a darker fic, elements of Squall's past being rather sad. It also contains alternate realities. I basically just played around with Squall's childhood, saying that Cid first brought him to Garden at age nine, with visits back to the orphanage and what not. Generally, everything turned out the same, but it adds layers to Squall's life that obviously weren't there before.

Warning: There is explicit sexual content, graphic descriptions between Squall and Laguna. Yes, this is incest, and no I don't think it's sick... not for a yaoi fanfic anyway. There is mentioning of pedophilia, which I do find abhorent, but it's nothing in depth or descriptive. There is also mentioning of Squall servicing dignitaries for the benefit of Balamb Garden, which basically boils down to prostitution. Given the experiences I've created for Squall's character, I have still remained true to the over all Squall persona... exceptions allotted at certain moments.

Living With Heart

Act I

Warm summer air filtered in with a clean scent of the sea. It was a celebration party that would be in every newspaper the next day, heralding the end of Ultimecia's threat and the Second Sorceress War. Balamb Garden had never hosted so many officials at once. There was at least one leader from every city, county, country, etc.

White marble floors patterned with a gold leaf design, tall Corinthian pillars rising four stories up, and an outer wall with glass doors leading to a long stretching balcony that overviewed the shores of Balamb created a lavish setting for the event. It was bright in the room, various chandeliers hanging to overlook the festivities.

There were, of course, a handful of people who did not want to be there. Those few were the less social types or anyone who had an early morning they absolutely could not get out of.

Squall Leonhart had both those reasons to loathe being there, instead wishing he could duck out early like on the induction ball when he'd first made SeeD rank. It was all he could do to smile and nod while requesting the servers to bring him one espresso after the other. Exhaustion was deep set, a long time coming, but it was the last problem any of these people wanted to see in him. As their wonder boy, he had to be perfect, which meant not going to bed early because he didn't feel well.

Laguna Loire was one man who usually didn't mind the various functions set up for appearances, but this night was different. While Squall was being badgered and flanked on all sides, he quietly watched from a distance and mused in silence. Thinking alone was not his usual pass time, but he had a few extra matters on his mind. He had to tell Squall about their relation, perhaps even that very night.

It had been the most dramatic and changing few months of his life. He had more grey hairs streaking his long raven tresses now than ever before. In fact, prior to Ultimecia's arrival, he hadn't had any grey hairs. Now he had quite a few, not that he cared. The war was over, and that was all that mattered.

Yes, it was over, but nothing was ever going to be the same. And he didn't necessarily want it to return to the way it had been. The only trouble was that he had mixed feelings about Squall, confusing feelings that he couldn't discern. There might be some confusion, but it wasn't a problem. Once he adjusted to it all, everything would fall into place.

With a sigh, Laguna downed his glass of Champaign. He needed something stronger.

Hazel green eyes stared fixedly across the large room, roving over the one person who probably would have commanded all his attention even if he hadn't recently learned that it was his son.

Looking every bit the prodigy leader, the pale boy stood straight in SeeD uniform, ranks in place at the left breast. That rich chestnut hair had grown over the past four months, nearly brushing against postured shoulders. One other notable difference was the baggy manner in which the uniform clung to the boy's already slender form. The belt around a slim waist didn't quite loop small enough, testimony to a loss of weight.

Commander Leonhart was an idol. Laguna didn't doubt that if it had been someone else, another mercenary to step up to the plate and hit one homerun after another until the game was won, that the room would still have eyes on Squall. Maybe that was just his borderline obsession interfering with his judgment, but he felt certain Squall had an eye-catching aura.

It was a notion nearly too insane to believe. This hero, barely old enough to be considered a young man, was his son. Squall Leonhart was his son. The Balamb Lion was his son. His and Rain's. Sweet Hyne, he looked so much like her too. He should have known at first sight, but denial tended to cloud the eyes. There were other moments when he thought he was looking at himself, as if into a mirror of youth. It was odd how one person could look like two others while at the same time looking wholly unique.

There was Ellone too, the little girl he never thought he'd see again. Now she was all grown up, married to boot. He'd let it all slip away.

Fighting Adel had been one matter, but he could have returned afterwards. Instead, he'd remained in Esthar. Being a ruler, the President, seemed like a fair enough excuse. Yet, when an extra little bit of information was tagged on the end of it, it was simply an excuse. That extra tidbit happened to be that he'd left behind a pregnant woman, a woman he'd loved. He'd stayed away so completely that he'd passed his years without ever knowing of Rain's death until a year after it occurred, not to mention his son's trials and tribulations for seventeen years.

Did that make him a complete bastard? Forget that he was supposedly the biggest softy with a heart of gold, or so Kiros and Ward reminded him when he became too lenient at times. Was he a cruel man? He had a son, a child that shared his blood, and he'd never seen the brunet a day before in his life, never harbored any concerned thoughts, never wondered how he'd been doing, if he'd been well.

It had been so simple to assume any child of his would be better off within the care of Rain's next of kin. He'd never outgrown his air headed tendencies. He would have been a danger to the child.

Any guilt over learning that there had been no next of kin, no godparents, was stomped out by seeing for himself the type of person Squall had grown up to be. He couldn't have raised such a young man, so strong and intelligent. It confirmed his decision that he'd have been a bad father, to see what was made of a potential he might have caused to go to waste.

Still, what would Squall make of it when the truth came to light? Would the Commander, who appeared so strong, yet fragile at the same time, shun him in outrage? What was left for him? At seventeen, Squall was all grown up, what was left for him?

'Have I always been this selfish?' Laguna wondered.

The raven haired man almost felt sick at the idea of it all. It didn't help that he was having the most outrageous and downright nasty thoughts about the young Commander. Initially, he'd written it off as some latent paternal appreciation, noting just how great a boy Squall really was, a father's pride.

But as the months tarried on, he realized that his appreciation was dangerously close to attraction. For now it was simply obsession, the strong desire to watch this person he'd helped create. And watch he did, but always from a safe distance, where nothing would change and he wouldn't do something stupid in a drunken stupor.

He wasn't quite drunk enough though. He didn't know how drunk he was supposed to be getting, but as Squall smiled faintly, however forced it may have been, he realized he would truly need something stronger than Champaign.

"Having fun?" a familiar voice questioned in a smooth tone.

"It's a grand party, why wouldn't I be?" Laguna responded without casting a glance to his new companion. Slouching in defeat, he leaned heavily against an ornate pillar.

Kiros Seagill, long time acquaintance of the former Galbadian soldier, eyed his longhaired friend keenly. Ever since the ordeal with Adel, or rather Ultimecia, and the Lunar Cry, Laguna just didn't seem to be himself. Something was more than off.

Carrying on with the meaningless exchange he'd approached the raven haired man for in the first place, Kiros commented, "Diplomacy, politics, making nice with every well to do prick invited… I never thought you found any of that fun."

"I'm the President, remember. To these people, all of that was what I must have gotten off on as a teen."

Laguna's bitter words caused the presidential advisor greater worry. There was something brewing beneath the surface, and it was something serious. Still unsure what it was, he tried to follow the usually easygoing man's gaze. "You know it doesn't have to be like this. Esthar doesn't have to open its gates."

"Yes it does," Laguna said in defeat. "It's been twenty years coming. Besides, I owe him that much."

Eyebrows raised, the tall advisor stared at Laguna in question. "What do you owe? And to whom do you owe it?"

"We," Laguna began, pointedly gesturing to the entire ballroom area that hosted representatives from every country and nation, "owe him everything." He tried his best to keep the longing out of his voice upon speaking the simple pronoun of 'him'.

Kiros finally spotted the single person that Laguna was staring at and most likely referring to. On the other side of the enormous room, made twice as large by the polished marble flooring that reflected the arcing ceiling above, was a small group of people: Cid Kramer, General Caraway, Commander Martine, and Squall Leonhart. The world's hero was centered, apparently the focus of the conversation, but still talking the least. The boy managed to frown without actually doing so. It was almost amusing.

"I see," Kiros commented absently. As a waiter approached, he none too discretely waved him off.

"I wanted another glass," Laguna whispered as a group of white haired parliament members came within hearing range.

"You're not getting drunk," Kiros affirmed a bit harshly, "You know what this means."

"How inept do you think I am?" Laguna hissed back. He might not have been cut out for politics, but after twenty years of running country right into the sky with prosperity, he'd say he had some experience and know how.

"We'll talk later. I believe the bald one is Dollet's Governor, and the rest are anybody's guess."

"President Loire," Governor Jordan greeted firmly, chest puffed out.

Laguna braced himself. Everyone had their own attitude about Esthar, none of them actually knowing a damn thing. Not knowing about his country was not their fault, but the condescending and sometimes fearful air other leaders had was entirely on them.

Kiros found himself watching and listening for the better part of the next hour as Laguna fell into a more natural manner of socializing. It wasn't long before a small crowd had gathered, listening in on the youthful looking president's history as ruler. It never took much for anyone to realize that Esthar was economically sound, scientifically beyond imagination, and politically stable. With little fault to find, aside from the non-existent trade relations, Governor Jordan was one of many leaders who lost their arrogant attitudes. And Laguna could sure entrance an audience when he got into it, when he really started to fall into pace and the heart of adventurous tales.

Soon enough the twilight waned, the sun falling completely beyond the flat, watery horizon. Clear skies allowed for the first sighting of twinkling stars, many guests taking their leave to the balcony. The orchestra had begun playing soothing ballads, mostly Balamb classics, some with a tune more familiar to Dollet. Though the dance floor had been open all night, only now as many dispersed to the outside, did couples begin.

General Caraway stood at President Loire's side, letting the overall buzz of excited joy wash over him. It had been a long time since his affairs seemed so settled. Deling City's new president was a man he'd nominated himself, finally a competent leader he could support. Laguna Loire was a man he wanted to become friends with, Esthar being the next big target to establish trade relations with.

Somehow the conversation had turned to discuss the conveniently absent Balamb Lion. Laguna was quite amused to hear all the various nicknames for the first time, but the following conversation was one that unsettled him beyond seeing clearly.

"Sorry Martine, but if all SeeD from Balamb look like our boy Leonhart does in leather, then I won't even be considering Galbadia anymore."

It was the governor of Timber who made that comment. Governor Zimmer was a man who had taken leadership over a recently independent Timber. His close relations and lap dog attitude towards Deling City's president ensured no qualms.

Commander Martine laughed, along with everyone else, excluding a shocked president of Esthar and the dark skinned advisor who seemed to have woken from a dulled stated.

"I might just be hiring Leonhart to paint a few fences myself," Martine shot back.

Laguna swallowed thickly, not quite believing his ears.

"Careful now," Caraway soothed, "That might be my future son-in-law you're talking about."

Straightening, Laguna tried his best not to show just how upset that last remark made him, especially since it was the least outrageous.

"Well, if your daughter remains involved in Timber, I'll be all the happier for it. Just see to it that she brings her husband around."

Caraway's eyes gleamed as he prepared to make his next sarcastic retort, "She's got better taste than to hang out with an old sod like you Zimmer, and certainly knows to keep all stable boys away."

This got the group going, making it suddenly noticeable that the raven haired man was unamused.

"What's the matter Loire?"

Kiros was almost afraid to guess which way his friend was going to go on this one. Either laugh it off good-naturedly or go raving mad. Granted Laguna was not close to Squall like a father, but knowing the emotional man, he'd start throwing punches out of some instantaneous bond he'd received upon learning Squall was his son.

"Sorry," Laguna bit out at length, seeing red but too afraid to admit which reason was causing his greatest distress. There was a mixture of defensive protectiveness and jealousy. "I guess I just don't like to ogle young boys."

Chuckling the tension away, Martine assured, "Come now Loire, we're just being glib. I'm a happily married man, but sometimes it's nice to admire a nice ass that isn't my wife's."

Kiros reached a hand out to firmly squeeze Laguna's shoulder. The advisor feared the worst when it was roughly shrugged off.

"Nice ass?" Laguna remarked incredulously, stepping forward. "That's my son you're talking about Commander. I don't generally find any part of him attractive in the nature you men apparently do. He's seventeen for Hyne's sake!"

"And I'll be eighteen this coming August, so I should hope you gentlemen can wait that long for my company. I'm afraid I shall have to hold you to your word Governor Zimmer, Cid would expect no less of me."

"A true diplomat," Caraway cheered as all men in company turned to welcome the approaching young SeeD, looking every bit the stalking lion with a calm stride and subtly swaying hips. "What's this I hear about your father now?"

Storm blue eyes seemed at a loss for moment, studying an enraged Laguna piercingly before regarding the group again. "Estranged father I'm afraid, you all know how kind the Headmaster and his wife were in raising me. President Loire was preoccupied saving a nation. Unfortunately my mother failed to inform him he had a child, and after her passing there really was no call for such a busy man to travel half way around the world."

Laguna couldn't believe his ears. It was one shocking stream of words after the other. First of all, Squall was speaking in full sentences, a surprise on its own. Secondly, what happened to his dearest Matron? Squall made it sound like Cid had adopted him. And, what was this about Rain? She was not the bad guy, so where the hell did Squall get off spinning it in such a manner.

"Duty above all else, is that not right?" Squall questioned in a coy manner, almost seductively casting a gaze to each man.

Swallowing thickly, Laguna balled his fists.

"Father, I'm afraid I require a bit of your time," Squall spoke evenly, never faltering with the previously unused title.

General Caraway amicably threw an arm about the smaller boy's shoulders. "A fine boy to be proud of Loire, my congratulations. Never mind our joking earlier, Leonhart's heard it all before."

"Indeed," the choppy haired brunet agreed wryly, "But you understand I only put up with it because it means no one's looking at Rinoa."

Caraway gave an affectionate squeeze to Squall's shoulders, beaming down proudly as though he were gazing at a favored son. "I couldn't be happier that my daughter has someone like you watching out for her."

Everyone seemed to hold their breath, knowing the General's real meaning.

"I'm more than her knight sir, I care for your daughter deeply. I'd never let anything happen to her."

"Squall!" cried a tearful voice. The rushed clicking of heals sounded as an emotional young woman flung herself against the Commander's chest.

Stepping back, Caraway allowed for the young man to consolingly hold his daughter. It was chaste and warm hearted, not to mention amusing as there seemed an uncertainty in the boy's refined features. That was what made Squall Leonhart the perfect suitor. He was devoted, he'd already proved he would revere Rinoa's life above all else, and he was innocently unpracticed with women. Squall Leonhart was the best thing to ever happen to General Caraway, making his life damn near perfect.

"Do you really care?" Rinoa questioned, regardless of the fact that she'd already overheard his declaration.

"Of course I do," Squall soothed, pausing momentarily before adding, "You know you're my world."

"Oh Squall," the raven haired girl sounded with giddiness, wrapping her arms around his neck.

Kiros watched with rising disgust as Squall spoke lie after lie. The kid was good at it, that was certain, but not good enough to fool someone who wasn't hearing what they wanted to be hearing. The pauses of bitter preparation were obvious. The brunet needed to steel himself before saying something utterly opposing to his true nature. He'd only known the boy for a short few months, but he had a sound idea of how Squall Leonhart was prone to acting. This was a nauseating display of some bullshit scheme to make Squall the ideal hero in every respect.

The dark skinned advisor felt like spitting, there was such a bad taste in his mouth from watching. He didn't even want to think about how confused Laguna must be.

"Laguna," Kiros whispered taking a hold of the man's upper arm.

"Rinoa, you'll have to excuse me for a bit," Squall spoke soothingly with a gentle attempt to pry her off of him. It was sheer luck that she hadn't overheard anything about President Loire.

With a pout, the raven-haired girl pulled back enough to stare intimately into the brunet's grey-blue eyes. Her pout turned into a disapproving frown at the observation that those eyes held a certain sharpness unbefitting the softly spoken words and over all dashing features of her boyfriend's face.

It bothered her immensely that there wasn't some sort of magical connection between them. Even though Squall was her knight, she couldn't read his mind or emotions any better than before. It was the biggest disappointment to becoming a sorceress.

She'd thought mind reading would be a given or something, at least with Squall. It would be so romantic if they could whisper 'I love you' back and forth all day without anyone knowing. She imagined Squall secretly smiling in the middle of an important meeting, then the others would wonder what he was so happy about, none the wiser to her being in his head. Yet, here he was, eyes guarded as ever before.

"Dance with me when you get back," she requested as compensation for his leaving.

"I look forward to it," Squall replied with a chaste kiss to her cheek.

Rinoa beamed at him. She could forgive his still lingering tendencies of reclusion for now, but only because he'd made so much progress. He spoke openly, holding full conversations with her and others. It was mostly boring chitchat with government officials, but at least he was talking. And he stopped being such a hermit, accepting that he was meant to shine out above all others and be in the limelight.

"Gentlemen," the young SeeD bid in departure.

Laguna only managed to follow Squall at the guidance of Kiros. With each step, the young man's stride seemed to increase, belying a want to hurry. Stopping at the large fountain centered in Balamb Garden, the gunbladist whirled around, apparently too impatient to secure greater privacy.

It was dark, the whole of Garden temporarily shut down and off limits to civilians, other than the ballroom. Always illuminated, there was a soft glow of nightlights along the fountains edge.

"You're my father?" Squall questioned evenly, his voice meticulously calm and void of emotion.

Laguna wrenched himself away from his advisor. He was furious, completely unaware that he had just let the cat out of the bag. "What the fuck was that?" he half shouted to the teen.

"Laguna," Kiros hissed in reprimand.

"You let them talk about you like that?" the longhaired president continued.

Heaving a weary sigh, Squall pinched the bridge of his nose before replying, "It's nothing."

"Like hell it's nothing."

"You're upset by it?" the brunet prompted.

"Is it that obvious?" Laguna spat sarcastically.

Between the sarcasm and anger, Squall eyed the man suspiciously. Perhaps he wasn't the only one putting up fronts. Maybe Laguna really wasn't the cheerful man that Ellone had shown them all, or the warmhearted President they'd met in Esthar. Perhaps these emotions were the older man's true colors? Or was this an act and the other personality the truth? Did it matter?

"Calm down," Kiros soothed. Dark eyes cast a disapproving glance to the smaller boy. "I have to agree with Laguna, that was more than inappropriate. I don't see how you find it normal, unless things have changed since we've been in Esthar."

Swallowing dryly, Squall regarded the two men before him. There were two matters on the table and he was out numbered for the one he didn't want to address. Still, he was stubborn. "Perhaps you have been secluded for too long. There has always been a reason for me being here, Cid wouldn't have taken me in so young unless I could be of use to Garden. As a mercenary, it is a trivial matter. Now please, tell me about you being my father."

Laguna's green eyes softened at the slightly desperate tone Squall held. This was not how he'd planned on telling the boy. "You are my son," he admitted heavily. "Rain was your mom and Ell is your adopted sister."

"Sis," Squall mumbled, eyes averted as if in memory.

"You guessed it fairly well in one go," the president remarked with distain. "I went to Esthar before I knew. Rain died giving birth, but rumor of her death never reach me until a year later."

Stormy blue eyes shot up and gazed with a brief flash of hurt before the brunet inquired, "Before you knew?"

There were a million excuses Laguna had used in his head over the past sixteen years. Some of them actually managed to assuage his guilt, but now that he faced this previously faceless and nameless apparition, they fell flat. Nothing could excuse his actions, even if he felt certain they had been for the best.

"I'll leave you," Kiros whispered before walking off, supposedly just a walk around the long bend that would circle back.

"What do I know about raising kids?" Laguna offered as his best excuse, hating how it sounded and even worse how it caused another flash of pain in those bright eyes. It was his simmering bout of anger, a rarity that left him embarrassed and mind boggled, unable to come up with better words. Though, he doubted he'd be able to not sound like a total ass no matter how the subject was broached.

Unnoticeably gritting his teeth, Squall suppressed the swelling of emotion inside himself. After so many years, it was ridiculous to suddenly feel attachment or longing. He'd given up on finding his missing parents by the age of six and given up on the idea of ever being adopted by the age of nine. Family had no meaning in his life, it would be a liability at this point.

Yet, out of nowhere, this man claimed to be his father, someone he'd dreamed of meeting with childish ignorance for the first six years of his life. Secretly, he'd actually held onto those dreams until he was ten, but even he wouldn't admit to having held on that long.

The oddest realization that Squall received from it all was that Laguna Loire was just like everybody else. Everyone lied, everyone made excuses, everyone had a temper and got angry. Prior to that night, the President of Esthar had been this immortalized symbol of strength, justice, perseverance, duty, and most of all kindness.

Estharians had nothing but love for their leader, a man who upheld the same ideals all these years later as from the beginning. A man who was a goofball at times and never seemed to show any negative emotion. A man who'd starred in the corniest knight's tale film ever and still managed to hold his head up high because it had been an amusing experience if nothing else.

"I see," Squall murmured at length. It was obvious enough that Laguna didn't need a child while running a country. His existence had never been convenient for anyone, least of all himself. Besides, he'd seen the type of irresponsible featherbrained soldier the man had been at twenty-seven. He'd been more mature that Laguna by the time he hit thirteen, so what type of father would the older man have turned out to be.

As memories of Laguna and Ellone surfaced, Squall bowed his head slightly, refusing to let any emotion be seen in his eyes. It was always his eyes that gave him away.

Laguna was actually the type of man who would make a great dad, a real father of the year. Seeing the way he'd been with Ellone was proof. But, he wasn't about to say anything.

It wasn't a matter of if Laguna wanted to be his father. It was a fact that they were related, assuming the President had solid proof. Squall could only imagine the possibilities this opened for the President.

Good relations with Balamb Garden were almost guaranteed. Given his own reputation with the public at the moment, it gave Laguna a good opportunity to open Esthar's gates without being spurned by the rest of the world for the years of secret existence.

Laguna stood taller, his stance almost mimicking the Commander's. Head bowed, he scratched the back of his neck in a nervous habit. "I wasn't sure until Ell told me. You look just like your mom, I was shocked when I first saw you. I haven't done any blood work, but I'm positive."


"Anyways, I hadn't planned on telling you like this, it just sort of slipped. I don't usually get angry like that. If it's a problem, with everyone in there finding out, I can vouch that you didn't know either."

"It's fine," Squall muttered, his tightlipped nature taking hold while his mind became a whirlwind of scattered thoughts.

Squall knew he needed to go back to the party, but he also knew that this little revelation was affecting him far greater than he'd ever anticipated. He didn't want to feel the heavy weight in his chest, a telltale sign of some oppressed emotion. But it was there, crushing his lungs all the same.

Hyne, it had been a long night. Actually, it had been a long year. He thought it would have been easier to act the way everyone wanted him to, rather than ignore them all and be the person he preferred. That was not the case.

If he had to schmooze with one more person, he felt like he was going to snap and attack the whole damn room with his gunblade. He needed Shiva desperately, but they'd taken her away temporarily. Above all else, he needed a night of solitude, a night without Rinoa.

He needed Rinoa at the same time he needed to be rid of her. It was the most ironic result of being her knight. Biting the bullet and speaking warmhearted words to every cheesy smiling face he met was something he simply wasn't capable of. But, he was able to do it because it was what his sorceress wanted. Each time he felt his resolve falter, a wave of urging approval washed over him. He doubted she knew this, he'd actually attributed it to being a subconscious use of her powers, the feel of it dallying into the realm of mind control.

But who was he to prefer acting differently? His childhood friends seemed happier for his improved social skills. Weren't their smiles more important than his fake ones? Once the celebratory aftermath settled, he'd be able to fall in line again and regain a little of his isolation. It would never be the same, but he hadn't been much happier before the war either. Maybe he'd become accustomed to smiling and talking, and then it wouldn't be excruciatingly difficult to pull off without suspicion.

"Squall?" Laguna spoke softly, daring to reach a hand out and shake the boy's shoulder. He was surprised at the thickness of the shoulder pad, he'd always imagined that broad shouldered and imposing stance had been natural. The material felt loose, which was discouraging given that Squall was already a fairly slender young man.

"Hey," the older man tried again, giving a firmer shake to the boy's smaller frame.

Abruptly snapping back from lost reverie, Squall jerked away and gazed for a fraction of second with alarm at the longhaired president. Away from his sorceress' urging tendrils of magic, bidding him to stand center stage, Squall came to the decision that he'd love little else but to retire for the night. It was a weak man's desire that he was ashamed to crumble to. Everyone made excuses, even himself.

Tomorrow, when he received hell for leaving unannounced. He'd probably tell Cid it was because of his shock over Laguna's paternal secret.

"Excuse me," he supplied tersely before making his way towards the dormitories. In his old room, no one would find him. It was unoccupied, just waiting for a lower ranking cadet to be assigned it. However, it would once again house him for the night, in sweet blissful darkness and silence.

Frantically, Laguna reached out again. "Where are you going?" he questioned with ill concealed desperation.

Brows furrowed and lips forming a frown, Squall turned back to regard the man. He didn't know exactly what Laguna wanted from him. At the moment, he couldn't give the President anything.

If there were a contract or treaty that the President had in mind, it would have to wait until at least the next day. "I'm sure the Headmaster will be happy to discuss any matter you have in mind, especially given that you're my father. But, I'm no longer the Commander, I really can't help you directly."

Wildly confused Laguna had to rerun the brunet's words in his head several times before realizing which parts confused him the most. "You're not the Commander?"

"It was a temporary post," Squall explained logically, wondering where the other man had been when it was announced.

Laguna's youthful face contorted in an unusual frown of disapproval. "You were the only leader capable of winning this war."

With a shake of choppy locks, Squall reasoned again, "I'm just a regular SeeD. All of our efforts were commendable, but who would hire mercenaries from a Garden run by a seventeen year old?"

'Who indeed,' Laguna's mind raged with the reminder of the type of men in charge of all these other facilities and countries. The world must have changed quite a bit since he'd last been involved in it. Gender and age were of no consequence to these people. 'Who are you to judge?' a smaller voice in the back of his mind spoke up. While gender was certainly not a factor for Estharians, age was. Although, sixteen was the official marker for Estharian adults.

Squall watched with patience as hazel green eyes searched back and forth with incomprehension. He figured the man must have realized that there would be no bargaining with him tonight when those eyes widened with shock.

"I had hoped we could talk," Laguna explained, gazing at his son with dawning understanding.

Brows drawn in confusion, Squall questioned, "About what?"

Laguna mirrored the brunet's confused state. "About us. I don't expect anything, but if we could just talk. I can't tell you how much I wish I had been there. If there is any chance that we could… that you'd let me be in your life, any at all, please tell me."

Squall's mouth parted to answer, but no words came. Grey-blue eyes searched the President's almost pleading expression for a better explanation. "I'm not the one to decide," he said at length. "Cid and Xu will be handling any relations Balamb Garden might have with Esthar."

"No," Laguna shook his head. "I mean, as your dad. Between me and you, if we could get to know each other better," he proposed with his mind recalling half fantasies he'd formed over it all.

"I don't know," Squall replied honestly before he could think any better of it.

Taking the answer like a spike driven into his heart, Laguna became crestfallen. He hadn't realized just how hopeful he'd been, just how much he wanted to become closer to the boy. But, he hadn't been shot down all together. Though, judging by Squall's lack of enthusiasm, he'd say the part where he'd never been around for seventeen years might have created a tiny roadblock.

"It's all so sudden, I know. Will you think on it for a while, the night at least? I'm not asking for you to change your life, just let me be in it."

With a sharp intake of breath, Squall fought to remain impassive. He was going to take the night to think on it, and probably the rest of the week too. His mind was scattered, unable to identify the rising emotions he felt. He'd been so certain that he hadn't held any attachments to an idea that was so unrealistically romantic. A father? He might as well have a mother and little brother thrown into the mix as well.

"Where will you be?" the brunet managed to ask. He was torn between feelings he couldn't even name yet. It was frustrating.

"I'll be here," Laguna answered quickly, almost excitedly. "Tomorrow and the next day, I'll be staying here. I'd planned on going back after that, but I can stay as long as you like."

"I'll see you tomorrow then, not 'til late." Hyne knew he'd be working on overdrive for the next few months, until things settled down.

"That's fine, I'll be available any time. Early, late, whenever." Laguna couldn't help but feel a little foolish at his eagerness. If Squall were a woman he was trying to set a date up with, he'd sound pathetically desperate.

With a curt nod, Squall took his leave. Even though he wanted to reach his old dorm room as quickly as possible, his legs felt like led and his steps didn't seem to quicken at his urging. So, he walked slowly, all the while consumed by President Loire's words.

"Father," he mumbled while slinking closer to the outer wall and away from the dim lights along the fountain. He didn't need someone spotting him and dragging him back to the party.

Why did his chest feel tight? That was indicative of longing or some such feeling, wasn't it? Did he still long for family? Maybe his mind was too clouded. He'd been fairly numb prior to the discovery. He probably just needed time.

Squall was quite startled when a hand reached out and grasped his shoulder. Spinning about, he jerked away from the touch and instinctively began to pull Lionheart out. However, once he recognized the lanky form of Kiros Seagill, he stiffened and sheathed his gunblade.

"Sir," he gave a nod of apology, choppy strands falling to obscure his eyes. Though he felt like reprimanding the dark skinned advisor, he realized it was more his mistake for becoming lost in his mind again.

"Easy," Kiros said with his hands drawn up defenselessly.

"I think President Loire returned to the party," Squall supplied.

"I had hoped to talk with you actually," the taller man stated. His tone didn't seem to leave room for refusal. "I'll walk you to your room."

"That's not necessary-"

"Humor me," Kiros cut in. As he turned to direct the young man to walk along, he muttered, "You're so good at it."

"Sir?" Squall questioned. He'd perfected asking more with in a single word than most thought possible.

"No offense."


"I'm not going to plead Laguna's case," he assured quietly. Aside from being in a silent area, he had a rather uneasy suspicion that any truth he might manage to glean from the SeeD would be fairly hush-hush.

Squall walked along, wondering what the President's advisor wanted to speak with him about. He didn't like to repeat himself, even if it was to a different person. He wasn't the Commander anymore, he had no sway over any negotiations or contracts made with Garden.

"You said something earlier that caught my attention." He hadn't over heard the rest of the conversation after he'd left, but he had a fairly good idea of how it had gone.

Squall remained silent, uncertain of the air Kiros was projecting. He didn't like not being able to read a person. It was a rather welcome distraction from his own thoughts though. By the time they made it to his room, he'd be able to crash and sleep on it all.

"How old were you when you first arrived here?"

Frowning, Squall hesitated while questioning the relevance of such a question. "Nine," he answered softly.

Dark eyes brows shot up in surprise. "Your file says you were twelve."

Squall stopped walking and turned to face the taller man. "What is this about exactly? And why exactly do you feel the need to pry into my personal record?"

"I have the authority to check every person's background if they are going to be in contact with the President."

It was a struggled to keep form rolling his eyes and stalking off angrily. "Then I was twelve," he corrected.

"You said nine," Kiros pointed out suspiciously.

"I guess I was wrong, wasn't I?" Squall hissed a bit angrily. He'd been honest enough the first time, but knowing that other people knew all about him by going behind his back was a pet peeve of his.

"Listen, I'm not trying to start any trouble. I just wanted to know the details about your life as a cadet."

Taking a deep breath, Squall admitted, "I was nine. I was also underage, which is why it says I was twelve."

For a thoughtful moment, Kiros didn't say anything. He gestured politely for the pale brunet to continue walking. They fell in stride once again and he felt inclined to asking more questions. "What exactly does a nine year old do in a Garden?"

With a small smirk, Squall retorted, "I peeled potatoes and learned all about baking. What do you think I did here?"

"You'll have to excuse my bias on the matter. In my day, it was rare to see anyone under the age of sixteen near Galbadia Garden. How is it that you only graduated a few months ago?"

"I wasn't legally able to enroll to become SeeD until I was fourteen, and there were absences that held me back."

"Absences?" Kiros remarked with interest, "Your record shows them as gaps in your time here, no reasons given."

"And it will stay that way," Squall affirmed resolutely.

"You have no family or friends outside of Garden, correct?"

Squall gave a nod.

"So, where exactly did you go for months at a time? It takes two months of missing every single class before instructors are forced to fail you for a course."

Not replying, Squall stared forward. He didn't like to repeat himself. He wasn't going to answer.

"I'm capable of finding out on my own," the advisor spoke deeply.

"That a threat?" the brunet asked with traces of amusement.

"No, it's a certainty. You might as well tell me now. I have my suspicions, what with the secretive manner in which you were raised in this place against regulations, not to mention the psychological issues you have. Where exactly did Headmaster Kramer send you off to?"

Gritting his teeth, Squall asked, "Psychological issues?" That statement stood out to him, pricking him with annoyance.

"You're symptomatic of deeply rooted mental problems. You're withdrawn, unfeeling, skittish, defensive, and you have a powerful need to please everyone around you."

Squall balled his fists and prayed to Hyne for the patience. He'd never had problems with Kiros before. He'd actually grown to respect the man, and perhaps like him from time to time. "No disrespect meant, but I think it's none of your business, doctor."

"You said Cid had a use for you, what was it?" Kiros asked bluntly, ignoring the boy's obvious want to not discuss it.

"I suggest you ask the Headmaster," Squall replied, throwing a glare Kiros' way. Coming to a halt, he gave a curt nod and said, "Goodnight Mr. Seagill."

Quirking a brow at the manner in which the younger man was dismissing him, Kiros replied, "Goodnight Squall, I hope to talk more some other time."