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 Aymeric's gaze shifted between the two folders that laid upon his desk, one of which had just been handed to him a short while ago by his First Commander and held all the information Lucia had been able to obtain on Alphinaud Leveilleur and the Scions of the Seventh Dawn. He perused the dossier quickly then set it to the side as it contained nothing he had not already known. His eyes were instinctively drawn to the second, much thicker file. The cover was worn and battered due to age and being read quite frequently, every day if he were to be truthful. 'Twas also stained in several spots from when he accidentally dribbled birch syrup and sloshed tea upon it.

    He opened it and was immediately met with the sight of her, the one hailed as the Warrior of Light. The woman whom he had yet to meet, the one that enchanted him like none other ever had nor could before. However, 'twas far beyond mere fascination now for Aymeric was deeply and hopelessly in love with Alexstrasza Ysera.

    He stared at the only sketch he had of her, an artist's rendition that was drawn from the descriptions of people who had met her, or claimed to at least. As such, he was not certain if it was an accurate depiction of her or not. Nor did he care. He had fallen in love with the woman sight unseen through her many deeds, which were rather revealing by themselves as they told him much and more about her, about whom she was as a person for they bespoke of her fearlessness, her bravery, her loyalty, her empathy and her passion. The lesser known tales and facts about her which Haurchefant gladly regaled him with had served to broaden his knowledge of the woman who bore the title Warrior of Light and helped him paint a more, yet far from, complete picture of whom she truly was without the mask she normally wore.

    He could have shown his oldest friend the sketch and simply asked if it was a genuine likeness of her, however, he had not. He did not want Haurchefant to know that he had fallen in love with this woman, with his beloved friend Alex, when Aymeric had not even met her. He felt foolish for how could he possibly begin to explain that there was something altogether different about her and him, about them, and his feelings for her, that Alexstrasza Ysera herself was something else entirely, that she had completely mesmerized him to the point he had actually been contemplating on how he could have a word alone with her to confess. Full well he knew 'twas insanity to profess all to a woman whom he had just met, but what he felt for her was already beyond reason. Falling in love with a woman he had never seen nor spoken to was more than highly irrational and illogical in his opinion, 'twas sheer madness. Although the instant he had realized he loved her was indeed the most glorious, beautiful, epic moment of his life to date, 'twas also the most afraid he had ever been for these feelings that she inspired in him were new as he had never been in love, had never felt this way about anyone else before.

    He had no intention of baring all of his heart and soul, merely enough to show he was interested in friendship, then more after she had gotten to know him better. He felt as if he already knew her, at least some of the most important aspects about her as he fell in love with Alexstrasza Ysera because of her courage, her strength, her selflessness, her compassion, her fiery spirit and her love for all creatures, man and beast alike. Even though he had never given much thought to romance as he had always had more pressing matters that required his attention, he had mused about it and what he wished for in a partner on occasion. When he first discovered she was everything he had ever wanted, had ever hoped for there were times he believed she was not, could not possibly, be real and then others where he wondered if he had dreamed her into life, if his heart and soul had somehow conjured this woman unbeknownst to him while he slept.

    Aymeric was well aware of the fact he was a stranger to her, someone she knew little about. As such, he had no issues with a slowly evolving relationship with her for he was extremely patient and to be truthful, did not live a life conducive to romance anyway, however, for Alexstrasza he was definitely ready, more than willing and most able to make one work. Unfortunately, 'twas also a necessity at this point in time owing to several other factors having to do with Ishgardian policies, views and beliefs involving outsiders and unbelievers, his own position as lord commander and the fine line he was walking by taking this minuscule step towards bridging the gap between his homeland and the rest of Eorzea. The most pressing concern, of course, was the conflict with Dravania.

    He was not too proud to admit that he required her help, needed her strength to assist him in ending this infernal war and bring about the lasting change he had envisioned for years. He could not do this without her for she was his only, and his last, hope. This was not the sole purpose he agreed to this meeting nor why he specifically requested the Warrior of Light's presence at such. He had to meet her, this woman who had bewitched him so for he needed to be absolutely certain what he felt for her was indeed genuine. He would wager all that he possessed and even his life that it was but he longed to see her, to gaze into her green eyes, the same bright hue as a peridot Haurchefant had described them as, for himself and have it confirmed. For his friend had also told him that her eyes were most expressive and likened them to a window which when opened one could see all within clearly, from her thoughts and feelings to her heart and even her very soul, if she allowed it. Which brought the main reason he had not uttered a word regarding how he truly felt about her to his oldest friend to the forefront of his mind.

    He was quite hesitant to mention his feelings for he suspected that Haurchefant loved Alexstrasza Ysera as well. Though the silver haired knight had repeatedly denied it and insisted she was only a much cherished friend whenever Aymeric had tested the waters by jesting about it, he knew his friend well and intuited that the man was not being completely honest. As to why Haurchefant would act this way and keep this from him, he could not be certain. He could only surmise that his reluctance to share this news pertained to his multiple attempts in their younger years at forming a meaningful relationship, all of which were unsuccessful. Therefore he had not uttered a word. 'Twas also because they had made a pact when they had both begun to notice 'girls', which oddly enough had been near the same time as Haurchefant's interest started at an early age, to never jeopardize their friendship by allowing a woman to come between them. After all these years, the "whomever saw and/or expressed interest first" oath they had sworn still applied, even more so now in his opinion.

    Haurchefant was still looked down upon by most nobility owing to his father's indiscretion, as was Aymeric, however, his position and how he attained it granted him a modicum of respect, that of which they unfairly denied his dear friend. As such, 'twas rather difficult for him to find anyone within Ishgard proper who wanted more than brief flings or one night romps. Haurchefant was adamant that it did not bother him in the least anymore and that he was perfectly content with these short affairs as he no longer desired to be shackled to one partner in a lasting relationship. He had not believed a single word of the drivel that Haurchefant spouted when Aymeric had voiced his concerns. Not only did he know his friend much better than that, he and Haurchefant were quite similar in more than a few respects including their beliefs, values and morals and the dalliances they had both had many years prior grew old and tiresome rather quickly. He had been the first to put an end to such behavior as he decided to focus all his attention on his duties and dedicated himself to Ishgard instead. Haurchefant had followed suit shortly after having come to the conclusion that he would prefer one steady partner to bed hopping and wished to try his luck at it, but he had lost hope several failed, and one damn near disastrous, attempts later. His father had made him garrison commander at Camp Dragonhead right before his last horrific experience had ended and finally, thankfully, relieved of that nightmare Haurchefant had somewhat reverted back to the old, familiar ways which he had grown accustomed to when they were younger.

    When Aymeric had joined the Temple Knights and up until he had been promoted to his current rank, he and Haurchefant had been in the same position as many noblewomen had wished to warm his bed at night, or he theirs. The handful of women whose offers he had accepted gladly took him as a lover at night, then either ignored him during the day or maintained their distance in public as if they were concerned for their reputation and did not wish to be seen with someone like him. Which, as far as he was concerned, translated to they were ashamed to be caught with a bastard. Needless to say, he was not as experienced in matters pertaining to the bed chamber as Haurchefant was nor as others assumed him to be for he had not been able to subject himself to such treatment for long.

    After he had been appointed Lord Commander noblewomen flocked to him in droves, the selfsame who had wanted naught to do with him save bed him now shamelessly flung themselves at him as they tried to curry his favor with the hope of someday being his wife. That was not the case for Haurchefant. The "ladies" still spurned him while it was light out, but were damned eager to get him between the sheets under the cover of darkness. Aymeric was, and had been for quite some time, thoroughly disgusted by the whole situation and had sworn off on any sort of romance with Ishgardian "nobility" whatsoever and romance in general to be quite honest for 'twas not worth the headache nor the hassle. Not to mention the time and energy that would be required of him, precious commodities of which he had none to spare, not even for himself or Sebastian, let alone someone else. At least those were his thoughts until he began to hear the whispers about this mysterious woman who seemed to appear out of nowhere and struck down primals single-handedly, the adventurer turned Scion whose life Haurchefant had saved in the Central Highlands that day Aymeric had been drawn to Camp Dragonhead and then forced to leave early because of the deadliest and most massive blizzard ever to hit Coerthas. The one whom shortly thereafter would become known as the Defender of Eorzea, the vaunted champion of the realm and the Warrior of Light.

    Aymeric sighed as he truly believed Haurchefant to be the fortunate one for he need not concern himself with the nobles' much at all anymore. Although he worried about his dear friend as Haurchefant had a tendency to bury his personal troubles and wear a smile no matter what inner turmoil he was in, as did Aymeric for they shared similar doubts, fears and insecurities, his mind was eased somewhat by whom his friend shared brief encounters with. The adventurers' that passed through Camp Dragonhead, whom Haurchefant had developed a great liking for, knew naught about the circumstances of his birth and 'twould not bother them even if he deigned to share this information. They saw Haurchefant for who he truly was, a kind, honorable, caring and compassionate man, one whom had a heart of pure gold and would do aught for anyone. Of course, he was quite certain the fact that Haurchefant was a very attractive man, he had been turning heads for as long as Aymeric could remember, only helped the situation.

    A loud knock on the door startled him from his thoughts. He quickly closed his personal file on Alexstrasza Ysera, placed it the bottom drawer then turned the lock. He hurriedly stuffed the key into an inner breast pocket as he called, "Enter."

    "All is ready, Ser Aymeric," Lucia raised an eyebrow at his flushed face, but did not comment. "We leave on your order."

    "Let us away to Camp Dragonhead," Aymeric stood and found that his palms had begun to sweat while hundreds of butterflies fluttered in his stomach. His heart thudded wildly in his chest for he felt a strange, yet quite pleasant, sensation as it radiated from somewhere deep inside him, spreading throughout his body within a matter of seconds and caused every fiber of his being to sing in anticipation.

                                                                                                   *****

    "Alexstrasza! Wait! Pray do not-" Minfilia called as the spirited Miqo'te stormed out of the Solar after her quarry. Her plea fell on deaf ears and she sighed, "Oh, dear. Not again." She was well aware of the Seeker's feisty temperament and had seen much improvement since they had first met in controlling such. However, Alexstrasza had steadily grown more volatile following her battle with the Ultima Weapon and Gaius van Baelsar and was now akin to a bomb, a very deadly and highly dangerous one at that. She shuddered to think of the devastation and destruction the Warrior of Light would wreak if she were provoked enough to explode and she silently thanked the Twelve that Alexstrasza had yet to recognize her full potential and did not know how powerful she truly was. She needed to figure out what was amiss, what had happened to cause her backward slide, not to mention stop her from killing a fellow Scion and she needed help to do such. The Antecedent brought her index finger to her ear and called the only person she knew of whom Alexstrasza would listen to in her current state, the only one who was capable of calming her down now.

                                                                                                   *****

    As she left the Solar, Alex's cat-like eyes immediately honed in on her prey. She quickly closed in, then roughly seized his upper arm.

    "What do you think you are doing?" Alphinaud issued a surprised, undignified squawk that caused him to turn the color of a Faerie apple. "Unhand me this instant!"

    She ignored him as she dragged him through the common area, past Tataru's desk and into the infirmary where she slammed the door behind her then locked it. His eyes widened as she backed him into the wall. He tried to dart away, but her left hand shot out and gripped his shoulder while she placed her right forearm across his upper chest, several ilms from his clavicle.

    "What is the meaning of this, Alexstrasza?" He demanded hotly.

    "Shut up, you little worm!"

    "Why I have never-"

    "Full well I know you have never! Perhaps if you had you would not be such an uptight, arrogant, spoiled, pretentious, smug little bastard and would know how to treat people!"

    "How dare you! I-"

    "I told you to shut your bloody mouth!" she snapped furiously while she fisted the front of his jacket in her right hand, effortlessly lifted him off the floor as high as she could, then shoved him against the wall and pinned him there. "You will listen to what I have to say for once!"

    Alphinaud only nodded as he stared down at her. She had to steel herself against the guilt that immediately washed over her when she saw the fear in the boy's deep blue eyes for he needed to hear her words as much as she needed to speak them.

    "How dare I? How dare I?" The shame she had felt for frightening the young Elezen quickly disappeared as she recalled his words from moments before. Her anger returned with a vengeance, so much so that the roar of blood that surged through her was deafening as well as blinding. As such, Alex did not hear the lock on the door being picked nor it open then close. Nor did she see the stealthy figure as it crept silently into the room then quietly stood concealed in the shadows while he intently watched and listened. She tightened her grasp upon his jacket and hoisted him higher as she rose onto her tiptoes, then snarled viciously, "How dare you! How dare you say I 'ingratiated' myself to Haurchefant! How dare you even think for a moment that his 'fondness' for me may prove 'useful' to your cause!" Alex had to pause briefly for his words had infuriated her so much she feared she might injure him and it mattered not how angry or wounded she was by his behavior, she could not justify hurting a child. "I will have you know that Haurchefant is a very dear friend! Everything I have ever done for him, for House Fortemps and for Camp Dragonhead has been because I wanted to do so, not because I had to! And 'twas most certainly not to curry his favor so he could be used by you to further your godsdamned agenda!"

    "Furthermore, Haurchefant is one of the kindest, gentlest, most caring and compassionate people I know! He is also honorable, loyal, trustworthy and courageous, has saved my life and not once has he ever requested aught of me that he would not be willing to do himself nor would he ask such a thing of anyone!" Alphinaud flinched at her last comment. The man in the shadows did as well, however, her next caused a wide, shite-eating grin to spread across his face for he knew he had been the first. "He is the second person to view me as more than a weapon, more than the Warrior of Light and actually see me for who I am, see the real Alexstrasza beneath that godsdamned bloody title I am forced to bear! And for you to even suggest that I spend time with him for some other reason besides the fact that I genuinely like the man and then have the audacity to mention that you could use him and our friendship to your advantage, is not only disgusting but 'tis insulting as well, to me and to Haurchefant!"

    "Now, you may insult me all you wish for I do not give wharf rat's arse what you think of me. However, when you insult someone who happens to be a very dear friend whom I care for a great deal, that is where I draw the line," her vivid green eyes flashed fire as she glared at him. "If you ever, ever dare speak aught of the like or utter one derogatory word about Haurchefant again, I swear on all that is good and holy," Alex paused, then growled savagely, "I WILL RIP YOUR TONGUE OUT!" As she inhaled deeply to calm herself she immediately detected a familiar, comforting scent, then wondered when he had snuck in. "Do I make myself clear, Master Leveilleur?"

    "Aye," Alphinaud squeaked, his eyes as round as saucers. Alexstrasza would not truly do such a thing, he thought. She was the Warrior of Light and a fellow Scion after all. Surely, she would not, nay, could not do that to a colleague. Could she?

    "Very good. There is another topic that I must address while I have your undivided attent-"

    "Again, Lex? This is the fourth time within the span of two weeks that my expertise in a certain area has been required, thus my presence urgently requested," Thancred's amused voice interrupted as he emerged from the shadows. " 'Tis a bit over the top, would you not agree, love?"

    She frowned and placed her left hand on her hip as she turned her head to look at him. "What do you mean your expertise has been required? And in what area would that be, Thane?"

    "Why, taming the tiger, of course," he grinned rakishly as he arched an eyebrow. "I do believe 'tis time to resume your lessons, love. We must work on channeling and controlling that temper of yours."

    "I resent that. I do not have a temper."

    "I beg to differ!" Alphinaud braved, which earned him a withering glare from the petite Miqo'te who had held him captive above her head, on her tiptoes no less, pinned to a wall for well over thirty minutes and had not broken a sweat. Nor did she show any signs of even being remotely fatigued. He had heard others tell of her preternatural strength and stamina, but had dismissed it as mere fabrications. Until now, that is. 'Twas not at all normal. "Pray help, Thancred."

    "Has she harmed you?" the rogue asked casually as he moved to stand next to Lex. She was a sensual person for her heightened senses made her extremely susceptible to the multitude of stimuli that affected them. This sensitivity could affect her mood at times and elicited various reactions, such as his scent had a calming effect on her or with touch, she had this one spot on her left side near her hip that when he trailed his lips or his tongue along it she would- Thancred shook himself mentally as he tried to rid his mind of that image and sternly reminded himself that they were not together anymore, Lex was no longer his.

    "Nay, however-"

    "I shall allow her to continue then."

    "What? How-"

    "Lex obviously has something important she needs to get off her chest, something that you must hear and if this is the only way you will actually listen to what she has to say, then so be it. I will not interfere," he smirked at the boy. "My advice is to just let her speak, Alphinaud, that is unless you would rather remain in your current position until she decides to release you. Do not assume that she cannot hold you there all day, or longer even, for you would be mistaken."

    The young Scion nodded as he admitted defeat.

    "Listen very carefully for I do not wish to repeat myself," Alex struggled to retain her anger in the face of Thancred's nearness, but could not. Instead, fury and rage were replaced by a yearning so strong she experienced it in every cell, nerve, muscle, bone and tendon in her body and at that moment she realized 'twas a longing for something which she, in all likeliness, would never have nor ever be. This epiphany was followed by a tempest of mixed and conflicting emotions that created naught but chaos as her mind and her heart warred with each other, engaged in a fierce battle where she knew neither side would emerge victorious. She was angry and frustrated and wanted to rage against aught and everything, against whatever beings set her on this path she did not choose to walk. However, she could not bring herself to direct her anger about this at Alphinaud. He was not to blame for this, and as such, her voice was firm and strong as she asserted, "I am not a godsdamned bloody weapon to be wielded as one sees fit, not by you, the powers that be nor anybody else for that matter and I am fed up with being treated as if I were."

She lowered him to eye level, then said with quiet intensity, "Do you know what happens to weapons that are constantly used again and again without proper care?" he merely shook his head as he chose to remain silent. "Normally, one of two, and most often both, things will occur, the first of which is they begin to misfire, perhaps become deadly even, to the point where one has to decide if using it is actually worth the risks involved. As for the other, which can and does follow the aforementioned if said weapon is not tended to immediately and is still being used, it will break and be damaged, oft times, beyond repair. Being in such a state, it will be tossed to the side, discarded without a thought as it is of no good to anyone anymore, it is, in fact, worthless now," she set Alphinaud on the floor and released him.  "I am tired of feeling this way, that this is all I am to you and nearly everyone else and I am terrified I will end up like that, broken, worthless and thrown away because I am no longer useful."

    "Oh, Lex. Nay. Never would I allow for it," Thancred murmured quietly as he laid a gentle hand upon her shoulder.

    "You cannot do everything by yourself, Thane. You know this," Alex placed her hand atop his and squeezed it, then addressed Alphinaud once more, "I am also tired of being dragged to every corner of Eorzea at your whim for these meetings just because I am known as the Warrior of Light. I am tired of you using me, whether it be my presence or my title, to influence people in your favor, therefore, I am done. Find another who will play your political games for I will not anymore."

    "There is something else which bothers you," the rogue's arms wrapped around her and pulled her close. Her's encircled his waist as she rested her cheek on his chest and listened to the soothing sound of his heart beating. 'Twas one of her most favorite sounds in the world and one which, not too very long ago, she thought she would never hear again. "Pray talk to me, love."

    "Not this day, however, when I return I will. We can speak after my training session. I promise."

    "I shall hold you to your word," he kissed the top of her head, then let his arms fall to the sides.

    "I will not be gone long, perhaps a few days if naught urgent forces me back here," Alex smiled, or tried to at least, and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Now, I must go."

    "Alexstrasza! Pray, wait! Where are you going?"

    "Not that it is any of your concern, but I am spending a few days at Camp Dragonhead to relax and visit Haurchefant."

    "Thank the Twelve! For a moment I thought you were actually serious about not attending this meeting which, as we both know, is important and was extremely difficult to obtain, I might add. I daresay, I believe this Ishgardian official only agreed to it as they very much wished to meet you-"

    Alex would have flown at the boy had Thancred not anticipated her reaction and grabbed her around the waist before she could even make an attempt. She had temporarily forgotten about his reflexes and how quickly he could move. She did not struggle as she was not furious, just pissed off. "Did you not hear aught I said, Alphinaud?" she shook her head, then began calmly, "Let me state, in no uncertain terms, how I feel about this subject." Her eyes narrowed as she nearly shouted, "You can take your precious meeting and after you have removed the millioncorn cob from it, or not as 'tis your choice and I will not judge you for it, shove it up your arse!"

    Alphinaud's jaw hit the floor as he turned Dalamud red.

    Thancred coughed, bit hard on his lower lip and looked away. He did not want the boy to see his reaction as Alphinaud was clearly embarrassed and he did not wish to make him feel worse. Although Lex had valid reasons for being upset and had tolerated the bossy young Scions high-handed, arrogant attitude, which was always directed at her, quite well til recently, she let her mouth get ahead of her mind again and no matter how hurt or angry she might be, she needed to think, at least a little, before she spoke. He would defend her in any and every way possible until he breathed his last breath, however, he was also the first to admit when she was wrong. "That was a bit much, love."

    Alex gazed into his light, golden brown eyes that were filled with concern, then swiftly averted hers for a wave of guilt washed over her at the disappointment she saw in them as well. She was aware that 'twas not intentional on his part and he had not set out to make her feel ashamed as Thancred was one of the least judgmental people she knew because of his past, but he had nevertheless. She felt like she had let him down, with her behavior as of late and backsliding on all the many things he had been helping her with. Most of all, she had failed him horribly by not having faith in him nor his love that day in Eastern Thanalan at the small spring near Camp Drybone for she had actually believed everything he had said to her, truly believed that Thancred, her Thane, could be so cold, so cruel and so heartless. She failed him miserably by not recognizing there was something very, very amiss with his behavior, with him for she loved him so much that he was a part of her now and ever would be. She knew Thancred better than herself most of the time and she was furious for She. Should. Have. Known. Alex should have known from the very beginning that that thing was not her love, she should have known that that Ascian was not her Thancred, she should-

    "Do not, Lex," His soft, gentle whisper caused her to look up at him. The sad, tender smile along with the wistful, loving expression that he wore upon his handsome face almost killed her. Although she had not meant nor wished to she had, in fact, hurt him very badly, so much so that when she had told him she was in love with another it had nearly destroyed him. Alex realized then just how much she utterly and completely hated herself. "Full well I know what you are thinking and you need to stop this instant. 'Twas not your fault, love." She merely nodded against his chest, then held him as tightly as he did her. She felt his lips on her hair first, then his cheek as he rested it on the top of her head. "We most definitely need to talk, again."

    "I know. You are right."

    He kissed her temple, then released her and smiled, "Now, go. Get out here for a while and just relax and enjoy yourself."

    "Thank you," Alex lightly brushed her lips against the corner of his wide grin. "I will see you soon, I promise."

    "Of course."

    She had her hand on the doorknob when she heard Alphinaud.

    "Alexstrasza, pray! I need you to be there for this man specifically requested your presence as he has expressed a great desire to meet you and is expecting to do such! How am I supposed to do this without you?"

    "Frankly Alphinaud, I do not give a damn! Try to ingratiate yourself to the man, mayhap his fondness for you will even prove useful to your cause!" With that, Alex stalked out of the infirmary to grab her bags before she left for the Central Highlands.

    "This is just lovely, simply wonderful!" Alphinaud muttered to himself. "Are all women so temperamental? By gods, I certainly-" He broke off as a hand clamp down on his shoulder and glanced at the Archon. He noticed that his expression was grim, his mouth was set in a hard, thin line and one of his eyebrows was arched, but not in humor nor in question.

    Thancred eyed the boy, then stated shortly, his voice grave and solemn, "You and I need to have a chat."