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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."

    

 

    

    

    

    

Chapter Text

  Alex flung the door to the main hall open, casting a quick glance around as she stepped inside. She was relieved to find it relatively empty save for its usual three occupants, one of whom had risen from behind his desk and smiled broadly when she entered.

    "Alex, my dear! You have-" Haurchefant came out from behind the desk and spread his arms wide. He broke off and his smile fell as he noticed the expression on her face. "Something is amiss."

    She rushed forward and threw herself into his open arms, then buried her face against his chainmail which she knew was unusual for her. However, she did not care at the moment as Corentiaux and Yaelle had witnessed such behavior before. Truth be told, she would have acted the same if the room had been full of garrison personnel for she needed to be close to him, she needed Haurchefant. Although they were both well aware of the fact that their relationship was the worst kept secret in Camp Dragonhead and that everyone knew they were romantically involved - and had been for nearly a year and a half now - they still tried to be discreet about it for the most part.

    "Full well you know I very much love and admire your strength, my heart," he grunted when her arms tightened around him. "However, I fear you may break a rib or two if you do not loosen your grip."

    "Forgive me." She released him and stepped back, her eyes downcast.

    Haurchefant gently raised her chin with his thumb and forefinger to meet his gaze. His concerned ocean blue eyes searched hers. "Pray tell me what has upset you so."

     Not here, Alex silently conveyed with just a look.

   But of course, his eyes answered. He took her hand, then headed for the door. "Corentiaux, you have command until I return."

    "Aye, Lord Haurchefant."

    Alex walked beside him to the outside stairs leading to his personal quarters and the guest rooms above the main hall. As soon as they were ensconced in his chambers, she began to pace agitatedly while this morning's events replayed through her mind. She noted that Haurchefant watched quietly by the bed to allow her space to do so, his handsome face etched with concern. Guilt at arriving in such a state and causing him to fret immediately overwhelmed her, as he worried overmuch about her as it was and she need not give him anymore reason to do so.

    She ceased pacing, closed her eyes and inhaled deeply through her nose as Y'shtola had taught her, but her frustration remained then grew as it transformed with each breath she took. His scent was only adding fuel to the fire which blazed within her and she struggled to control and contain her tumultuous emotions.

    "Alex," he whispered tenderly. "Pray, let me help."

    She turned to look at him and when she met his beautiful blue eyes, her willpower shattered. The reins which had partially subdued the storm within slipped from her hand unleashing the tempest and she was overcome with want, with need. She wanted him now, moreover she needed him now, needed to be close to him, needed to feel him and have him soothe her like no other could. Her expression turned predatory as she stared hungrily at him. Without warning a low, feral growl tore from her throat, and she pounced on Haurchefant, who was not the least bit surprised.

    He had, in fact, expected it when he had seen which "upset" it was for "upset" was a broad term in general and even more so when it applied to his beloved. After being with her for nearly a year and a half he knew her inside and out, therefore he was well aware that this state required an outlet to allow her to vent some of her intense pent-up emotions before she could speak of what troubled her - one where she could channel, then physically release them. One he was always more than happy to provide whether it was sparring with her or some other rigorous activity, such as now. While he would gladly do either, he very much preferred the latter.

    Alex landed on him with such force he stumbled and fell as the back of his legs collided with the edge of the bed. The arm not holding her shot out behind him and prevented him from landing flat on his back. She immediately placed her knees on the mattress, effectively trapping him between her thighs and grasped his broad shoulders, then rose up to bring her face ilms from his. The longing and desire that smouldered in his bright blue eyes, which she glimpsed a split second before Haurchefant crushed his lips to hers, matched her own. She fumbled with the buttons on her shirt but for a moment, then just ripped it open instead. He slid it off and relieved her of her bra as she growled and tugged impatiently at his haubergeon. He tore his lips from hers only long enough to remove it and the undershirt he wore beneath it, then claimed her mouth once more, lifting her with one arm and expertly divesting her of her leggings and smallclothes in one swift move with his other. He let go of her to gently push her trembling hands away, unfastened his chausses and pushed them past his knees for her comfort, then untied the laces on his breeches and groaned when she lightly stroked him after freeing his throbbing erection.

    The next she knew Haurchefant held her hips and was slowly guiding her onto his rather large member for no matter how feverish it became between them, he was always acutely aware of their size difference. Though Alex loved him for it, his sweet, gentle, considerate, tender nature, now was not the time for she needed him. As soon as she felt the tip enter her, she distracted him by nibbling on his ear then grabbed his shoulders and plunged herself down on him, taking all of him inside her in one fluid motion. The long, delicious moan that issued from Haurchefant's parted lips and his glazed eyes were well worth the slight discomfort she had felt. She covered his mouth with her own and as she began to move her hips, he pulled her flush against him. He had one hand pressed to the small of her back with the other between her shoulder blades and held her captive against his bare chest as he met each thrust with equal fervor.

    The turmoil Alex had been in when she had arrived was now gone as she had completely surrendered herself to her senses and was now consumed by Haurchefant - the feel of his skin against hers, the hard muscles of his arms, back and shoulders beneath her hands, the sensation of him inside her, utterly and thoroughly filling her. His scent, the smell of chocolate, fresh mountain air, woodsmoke, sweat and straw. The taste of hot cocoa, the sight of his beautiful face and his blissful expression. The world narrowed to the sound of his heavy breathing, his heart beating rapidly, his soft moans, her name reverently whispered and their fevered and passionate lovemaking.

    Alex felt the tension begin to build in her core and gripped his shoulders as she moved with increased urgency, or attempted to. She felt his arm as he encircled her waist and held her still. She whined in protest, then whimpered, "Do not tease-"

    Haurchefant's lips upon hers silenced her pleas while his hands clamped down on her hips and made her his prisoner. His thrusts became harder and faster as he ground her against him and she tore her mouth from his to kiss his neck, shoulders, throat, any part of him she could reach, her body tight as a bowstring for he had driven her beyond the point of madness. She knew she was at his mercy and all she could do was lavish attention upon him until he granted her release.

    "Haurchefant, please," she gasped and tossed her head back when he hit a particularly sweet spot.

    "Look at me." She obeyed his softly spoken command and as she gazed into his intense blue eyes, Haurchefant sent her soaring off that pinnacle he had kept her on and into oblivion.

    Alex saw stars and exploded in a million pieces only to come back together when Haurchefant stifled the cry of his name on her lips by claiming them once more. She felt him tense, then hold her tighter and as he joined her, his climax pushed her over the edge again. He reduced his pace and gradually brought her down.

    He relinquished her lips then and Alex covered every ilm of his bare, sweat sheened skin, from shoulder to shoulder, with kisses before moving to his neck and finally his face. He chuckled, captured her cheeks between his large, calloused hands and kissed her tenderly.

    "I love you so very much," Alex murmured softly against his lips. "I do not know what I would ever do without you."

    "And I love you. That is something you need never worry about, dearheart. I am not going anywhere. I will not leave you," he grinned then. "I daresay you are much calmer now, Hope. Can you pray tell me why you arrived in such a state?"

    She sighed as she wound her arms around his neck and laid her head upon his broad shoulder then recounted the events that had occurred at the Rising Stones.

    Haurchefant kissed her temple, then nuzzled her neck while he asked with quiet wonder, "My stalwart defender, my steadfast champion, my greatest hero, what have I ever done to have been blessed with a gift such as you?"

    "You have only been yourself, Rho. Your kind, gentle, loving, beautiful self. That was all that was ever needed for me to love you so," she trailed butterfly kisses from his shoulder to his cheek then along his sharp jaw. "I must say I do disagree with your choice of words though," she playfully nipped his ear. "I am certainly no grand gift, good Ser. More akin to a small, worn and battered trinket one would find at a second-hand shop."

    "Hmm," he replied thoughtfully. "Aye, I suppose when you put it that way, I am left with no choice but to arrive at the same conclusion." He laughed at her expression, then caught her hand before she could smack the side of his head. He flopped onto his back and rolled her beneath him then kissed the tip of her nose while she pretended to be angry with him. "That said, I have never been fond of new, extravagant presents. I much prefer the unique and beautiful treasures one would find in such an establishment for they are quite rare indeed," he whispered with loving reverence, his lips an ilm away from her own and released her hands then claimed her mouth for a long, sweet kiss before he finished, "and are, in fact, priceless."

    Alex melted at his words. One arm crept around his shoulders and pulled him closer while her other hand delved into his soft, silver hair which felt like silk in her fingers. Haurchefant was just too sweet, too loving, too precious, too good for her. She did not deserve him nor his adoration, not after everything she had done. The lives she had taken, both the guilty and the innocent, and the chaos she created, all done under the guise of justice, in the name of good, of right versus wrong. However, 'twas not as black and white for her as it was for some. 'Twas various shades of grey and that is what she struggled with for she had so much blood on her hands from friend - the people who had died because of her, of who she was - and foe alike that it felt as if no matter where she went she left a path of corpses and destruction in her wake. She was not the "Bringer of Light" nor was she the hope that people declared her to be. She was well aware of what she truly was, the harbinger of death, darkness and devastation, that she was abnormal, she was not like others, even those who also had the Echo, and 'twas not only because she had the Blessing of Light. "There is something more in thee." Ramuh's voice echoed through her mind again as it oft did since the Striking Tree and those words frequently haunted her dreams for he had not explained the meaning behind them.

    This man, whom had the purest heart and soul she had ever seen, loved her despite of all that, what she had done, what she was responsible for, who she was, what she was. She knew she had to protect him, even from herself, especially from herself as she brought death to those around her, and would do whatever she had to, whatever the cost may be she would gladly pay for no price was too high to keep Haurchefant safe. As she vowed silently to do just that, she deepened the kiss with such passionate intensity that he issued a soft moan. His hands captured her face, then slid into her hair while he returned it with equal ardor.

    Haurchefant tore his lips from hers with a tortured groan then buried his face in her neck, "We must dress, my love."

    "I wish to remain here with you," Alex wrapped her arms and legs tightly around him.

    "While I would very much love to lay abed with you, my dearest, we cannot. We have a meeting to attend."

    "What? After what he said? Nay, I will not."

    "Alex, pray keep in mind that though chronologically he may be considered an adult, Master Alphinaud is yet a child, albeit a highly intelligent, resourceful and capable one, but he is still only a boy just the same. One who is struggling to be taken seriously and so very desperately desires to be seen as a man."

    "What he insinuated does not bother you?"

    "Nay, it does not," he chuckled at the face she made. "I have had much worse spoken about and to me, Hope. The words of a boy do not offend me as I am sure he did not mean how it sounded. He most likely misspoke."

    "Alphinaud Leveilleur does not say the wrong thing. He chooses-"

    Haurchefant silenced her with a kiss. "Be that as it may, everyone makes mistakes, my heart. I do not know of anyone who is perfect," he smiled gently. "You must have more patience with the boy, Hope. He is still learning, as are we all, and there is much you can teach him."

    "I will try, however, I am still not going."

    "Alex, pray. This meeting is important to me as well. The Ishgardian official is none other than the man of whom I oft speak, my oldest friend, Ser Aymeric de Borel. I want you to meet him just as much, if not more, than he wishes to meet you." He rested his forehead, then whispered the words that made her resolve crumble each time he uttered them, "Please, for me."

    "That is unfair! You full well know I cannot refuse you, Rho!" Alex shook her head and sighed as she acquiesced, "Very well, I will go, but only for you. Is that clear?"

    Haurchefant kissed her forehead, then grinned enthusiastically as he helped her off the bed, "Perfectly, my love." He adjusted himself, tied the laces on his breeches and pulled his chausses up, then walked to his armoire and removed her favorite shirt of his, "I daresay you are in need of this."

    " 'Twould appear you are right," she smiled as Haurchefant trailed his lips across her shoulders while he fastened her bra. She pulled on her boots, then slipped into his blue tunic and rolled the sleeves up to her elbows. As she buttoned it, she warned, "Only so you are aware, if Alphinaud speaks a single word to me other than an apology, I will put him through the fucking wall instead of just against it!"

    "Hope, you promised me."

    "I promised I would try and I have not used that word in quite a while now." She gathered the sides of his shirt and tied them together at her hips.  

    He arched an eyebrow and sighed as his lips quirked in amusement. "You have the worst foul mouth on you of any lady that I have ever met."

    "How dare you insult me! I will have you know, I am not a lady, Ser Knight!" When Haurchefant laughed Alex grinned mischievously, "As I recall, that is certainly not how you referred to my mouth a few days ago. I do believe the words you used were 'wickedly divine', 'sinfully rapturous', 'exquisitely tortuous' and 'heaven-"

    Haurchefant's lips claimed hers for a searing, fervent kiss which stole her breath away and left her weak in the knees, then softly growled in her ear, "Not only do I remember what I said, I meant every word of it as well, my dearest." His warm breath sent shivers down her spine, "As Halone as my witness, I swear that this very night you shall be in the same position I was in the other night. Pinned to the bed by my arm across your waist, writhing beneath me as you purr my name, your hands grasping the sheets or buried in my hair while I drive you nearly mad with my tongue." He kissed her again, then whispered, "However, if this meeting is delayed by our late arrival, so too shall my plans be. I have arranged for a most romantic evening, my love. First dinner by candlelight, followed by dancing and a stroll underneath the moonlight, then," he paused to nibble her neck, "dessert."

                                                                                                  *****

    They were nearing the western entrance to Camp Dragonhead when Lucia spoke, "A word if I may, Lord Commander."

    Aymeric nodded, then waved the other knights accompanying them forward. "Pray continue to the main hall and warm yourselves by the hearth. We shall be along shortly and will proceed directly to the Intercessory."

    Lucia waited until they were alone to continue speaking. "I am rather concerned, for this behavior is unlike you, Ser Aymeric. Full well I know your expectations of this woman are quite high, but I would strongly caution against having so much faith in her, or placing all your hope within her hands. While I am aware that the Warrior of Light, as she is referred to, may very well be Ishgard's last chance for peace, we truly know naught about her beyond rumors - all of which could be mere fabrications-"

    "Are you implying that what Lord Drillemont and Lord Francel say she accomplished in the Central Highlands was fiction?" Aymeric cut her off. "Are you suggesting that Lord Haurchefant lied to me, First Commander?"

    "Of course not. Her deeds in Coerthas cannot be disputed. I am referring to her achievements in the rest of Eorzea. Forgive me for saying this," Lucia paused, looking pained. "But that one woman could slay every primal in Eorzea, not once but twice, and Gaius van Baelsar as well as survive the utter devastation that followed the destruction of the Ultima Weapon is more than ludicrous, Ser Aymeric. It is impossible!" She shook her head in disbelief. "As for Lord Haurchefant, he seems quite taken with her, therefore would indeed take aught she told him for the truth."

    "Have you forgotten Haurchefant journeyed to Ul'dah to visit her while she recovered from the injuries she received at the Praetorium? He saw her with his own eyes, Lucia."

    "He only-"

    "Enough," Aymeric clenched his jaw and ground out. "Other than on this subject, is there aught more you wish to say?"

    "I do not trust her, Lord Commander, and I would advise you not to either."

    "Duly noted, First Commander."

    They rode the rest of the way in silence. Upon their arrival, they turned their chocobos over to Camp Dragonhead's stable grooms, then walked to the Intercessory where the guard admitted them. As Aymeric swept inside his eyes were immediately drawn to the woman with his oldest friend.

    Alexstrasza Ysera lounged with her back against the wall near the fireplace next to Haurchefant who hovered over her, leaning with his hand pressed to the stone above her head, laughing at something he had said. Alphinaud Leveilleur stood a few fulms away staring uncertainly at her, his brow furrowed as if he wished to speak but was unsure if he should approach her - something Aymeric found intriguing and rather odd.

    He watched her ears and nose twitch before she turned towards him. He had to force himself to maintain his neutral demeanor when he saw her brilliant green eyes. Haurchefant had not exaggerated in the least, for they were the most vivid hue he had ever seen. "Ah! You have arrived!" Haurchefant exclaimed when he noticed them. "Come in, come in!"

    Aymeric regarded her as she pushed herself off the wall with a booted foot, then walked slowly - dare he say reluctantly - to where they gathered. His curiosity was piqued once more when Haurchefant insinuated himself between her and the boy as she stood before him. His heart sank a little as he sized her up. At first glance, he wondered if Lucia had been correct in her assumptions after all for she was tiny, a mere slip of a woman who did not seem like she could best a chinchilla let alone an eikon. Although he knew she would be petite as she was a Miqo'te, he had not expected her to be quite so dainty nor fragile looking. She must have intuited his reaction, for her eyes narrowed slightly as she folded her arms across her chest and shifted her weight from foot to foot.

    He inspected her more carefully this time and realized that though she was small - even with her thick-soled boots she barely came to the middle of his chest - everything he had thought her to be was true. He noticed how her thighs and calves flexed when she moved and definition of well-muscled forearms as she clenched and unclenched her fists. The oversized tunic she wore, which seemed vaguely familiar, covered all else. Her dark blue, silver streaked hair fell around her shoulders and down her back, her full lips curved upward in a trace of a smile and he noted the various scars upon her face.

    Aymeric dared to lift his gaze to hers, and made eye contact with Alexstrasza Ysera for the first time. He felt a jolt of recognition, saw it flash in her eyes as well and knew without a doubt that not only had he known her in another time or place, he had also loved her before. She was so very familiar to him that this indescribable sensation roared to life and caught his soul on fire, then spread throughout him, the flames quickly turning him to naught but ash. As he gazed into her eyes he could feel the rhythm of a song coming from the depths of his soul as if it were singing to hers. It radiated outward from the source, growing louder and stronger until his entire body pulsated with it. When it finally reached a crescendo, he rose from the ashes of his old self like a phoenix.

    Although he did not have any idea what had just occurred nor why, he knew his feelings were indeed genuine for he was unequivocally and irrevocably in love with Alexstrasza Ysera. He was completely and unconditionally hers and would do aught for her as Aymeric realized she was his entire reason for being, his raison d'être.

    The spell was broken when the white-haired boy coughed into his hand and Aymeric was forced to shift his attention. "Commander Leveilleur. It is both an honor and a pleasure to meet you," he said smoothly as he yet gazed at the woman before him. He moved his eyes to the young Elezen then. "I am Aymeric, Lord Commander of the Temple Knights."

    "Alphinaud Leveilleur at your service. Your reputation precedes you, Ser Aymeric. I think we will find that we have much in common."

    Aymeric seized the opportunity the young commander had just created and looked at Alexstrasza Ysera, who stared at him with blatant curiosity and an odd expression on her face. "Speaking of reputations, yours towers over us all. Does it not?"

    He cast his eyes sideways at Lucia, who looked downward and closed her eyes, then reluctantly agreed, "It does indeed, Lord Commander."

    Haurchefant nodded enthusiastically of course, while Alexstrasza's cat-like eyes narrowed just a tad at his First Commander. That she had heard Lucia's patronizing tone as well was not surprising. Haurchefant had mentioned she was accustomed to reading people as she did not speak much, if at all, in situations such as these and would sit quietly, ever alert, while carefully observing the proceedings, people and her surroundings. He had been hoping to coax her out of her silence, at least somewhat, however from the way she glared at Lucia that possibility seemed less and less likely. He decided to try a different approach, "Mistress Ysera, is it not?"

    She blinked, then looked at him as if surprised to be addressed by her name.

    "Aye-" the white-haired Scion began before she cut him off.

    "I am perfectly capable of speaking for myself, Commander Leveilleur." Although her words were uttered in a neutral tone, he detected animosity on her end. She faced him and smiled. His heart skipped a beat as his breath caught in his throat. Halone, help me, he prayed. "I am Alexstrasza Ysera, but please call me Alexstrasza. I abhor formalities." She extended her hand and when he shook it, his body tingled with what felt like millions of tiny levinlight bolts. "It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Ser Aymeric. Haurchefant speaks of you quite often."

    "All of it good, I do hope."

    "Nay, not a word." She replied somberly with a blank expression.

    He was concerned but a moment, then chuckled when he saw the corners of her mouth quirk upward. "I am not too proud to admit that I have followed your activities with an interest bordering on fascination." He smiled and his voice softened, "Full glad was I to learn that you would be joining us."

    She appeared both taken aback and amused by his words. However, from the rather intense way his friend was staring at him, Aymeric could safely say that Haurchefant was neither at present. As such, he added, "Now then, shall we begin?" He truly hoped the other man had not seen that which he had kept hidden from him for so long - for if he had Aymeric knew he and Haurchefant would be having a private conversation soon, and not by his choice.