~ Crimson Lies ~
Final Fantasy VIII and all the characters belong to Square.
~ Chapter 1: Conflict ~
Fate will bring together those a thousand miles apart;
without fate they will miss each other,
though they come face to face.
Politics…if there ever was a second coming of Hyne, I'm sure the only creatures to survive would be cockroaches and politicians. Unfortunately, that means I'd live. I do not want to.
Squall, Squall Leonhart, Commander Leonhart, I cannot even stand the sound of my own name. Before I became a SeeD, I never even felt this bitter toward life; things change over time. It's been five years since we defeated Ultimecia. That was truly the beginning of my downfall. Sometimes I wish I had died quickly. I don't think it would hurt as much as living.
He stood on the balcony, alone. It was always easier alone. The crimson sunset seemed to reflect the anger in his heart, if not the hatred in his soul. Throwing the butt of his cigarette into the wind, he watched the hot embers as they made contact with the metallic side of Garden. "There goes another day off my worthless life," he mused to himself. That alone kept him smoking…it was a gradual, hopefully painful, death. He deserved it.
The sliding glass door slowly creaked open. Squall knew who it was, who it always was.
"What?" he asked, not turning around. Not with spite his voice, just emotionless.
The figure slowly walked up to him, with hesitation she spoke softly, "There was a supposed sighting of the sorceress in Deling. A couple of SeeD..."
He interrupted coldly, "I don't need details. I'm sure the fucking council has already ordered the change of course on Garden. As usual, I'll be the last to officially know. Glad I'm the Commander, if in title only. What a wonderful democratic society I run."
Squall lit another cigarette without turning toward her, as he put his free hand on the balcony rail. The sky now had turned charcoal gray, almost mimicking his mood. She could not stand to see him like this. She tried to put her hand on his; he just moved it away quickly.
"Squall, please. I know it's hard, but we made a commitment to each other, don't let it be in vain. The day we exchanged vows..."
He only shook his head and interrupted her again, "I remember the day. Something the GF's would never make me forget."
A few moments of silence stood between them before he spoke again. "It's getting cold, go inside before you get sick. I need to go to my office and make some calls. We don't know if the information is to mislead us, it's not out of her power."
"Are you coming back tonight?"
"Fine," she answered irritably. Again, moments of awkward silence passed. "It will be two years tomorrow."
"I know," he continued inhaling the cigarette and staring into the vast horizon.
"Squall, do you miss her?"
"Who?" he spat back, almost bitterly.
"Ellone, who else would...?" She didn't even finish the statement, she knew.
"Of course I do."
"Zell, Irvine, Selphie and I are planning a small service in the chapel tomorrow. Please find the time to come. I know it still hurts. It hurts all of us."
She tried to take a step closer.
"I'll try." Squall threw the second cigarette over the side. He turned and brushed by his spouse, like a stranger. Without saying another word, he picked up his uniform jacket and walked out the door.
She was his wife, for almost a year now, and yet he avoided her. The anguish inside was growing; the guilt was starting to eat away at her soul. Every day she found herself crying, alone. He sure as hell wasn't there. Incredible how little time Squall actually spent with her; it was an art he had mastered. If this was what she always wanted, why was she so goddamned miserable?
A single tear rolled down Quistis' cheek.
~ Chapter 2: Dissension ~
He is the lion,
that I am proud to hunt.
Garden remained quiet as Squall reached his office and opened the large mahogany door. It was chilly inside, and he left it that way. He found the colder he kept the temperature, the less time people would stay. Call it a lesson in human behavior, or just an unspoken way of saying, "get the hell out." Psychology was not his major, but it was a learned trait in military strategy.
The room was dark, and he had no desire to turn on the lights. Walking over to the computer, Squall grabbed the ashtray that lay on a small entrance table. It was, by all means, going to be a long night. For a moment, the only sound in the room was his footsteps walking across the carpet to his desk. He sighed inwardly, and then turned on the main computer. The low hum of the machine gave him a certain type of comfort, one not given by humans.
Yes indeed, the council had already changed course. Astonishing how a bunch of corrupt politicians could run things from so far away in Deling City. Currently they were almost 200 kilometers southwest of Trabia, now headed due south…so much for checking in on Trabia Garden.
"Damn them." Squall slammed his fist on the wooden desk. He had to play their little games, and over the last two years, he had become good at games. He didn’t like them. Politics wasn’t something he preferred to deal with, but now he was a sitting member of the World Council. This remarkably was made up of ninety percent Galbadian officials, five percent Estharian officials, and five percent ‘world’.
He noticed the red light blinking on his phone. An incoming call at this hour was a rarity, and he debated letting it go into voice-mail. Figuring it had to be an important message this time of night, and thanks to the emergency answering and paging systems, it would be rerouted to him within five minutes. Delaying answering would be just putting off the inevitable.
"Commander Leonhart speaking."
A voice came from the other end of the receiver. No introduction was necessary; it was Jefferson Mitchell, President of Deling and head of the World Council. Surprise.
"Commander, good to hear you’re still working this late, it is greatly appreciated. Your work ethic is to be commended."
"Thank you, sir. I have been notified of the recent events, Garden is now on its way to Deling. At present speed, we shall arrive in two days' time. A brief stop tomorrow in Balamb for provisions is unavoidable."
"I know, Mr. Leonhart. Your prompt return is what the council requests. We received reports, from a reliable source, that the sorceress was spotted in downtown Deling. We cannot be too careful, she is considered a war criminal and will be treated accordingly."
"With all due respect Mr. President, I know that. It has been two years since she initiated the attack on Garden. I know she is to face trial on murder, and my previous personal relationship with her will not affect my judgment on the situation."
"Yes, Commander…tomorrow is the anniversary of your sister's tragic death. Time is fast becoming the issue at hand."
"Ellone was no true blood relation, but a sister still the same." Even after two years, the next words cut like a knife every time they were spoken, "Sorceress Rinoa Heartilly should be held responsible for the death of Ellone Loire. I will find her for immediate trial."
"I know. You have proven yourself on this matter in the past. Be careful."
"Yes sir, always." Squall hung up the phone hastily, not even sure if the conversation was truly over, nor truly caring.
He sat staring at the hypnotic light of computer monitor for a few minutes, lost in an endless world of doubt. Picking up the phone again, he dialed an all too familiar number.
"It’s Leonhart, we have received news she’s in Deling. Garden won’t arrive until Tuesday, I want our man there tomorrow to investigate, and I’ll triple his pay if he finds her first. The council is getting concerned about the time it’s taking SeeD…I have no idea how much longer I can stall. If you find anything, call me on my private line, don’t go through the Garden switchboard."
Squall hung up the phone, without saying another word, or allowing any type of reply from the other end. This was going to rip him apart yet.
"Sounds like someone isn't playing fair," a voice spoke from the dark abyss of the room.
Squall immediately grabbed his gunblade and raised it, ready for the confrontation. Something about the voice was familiar, yet he knew it couldn't be anyone presently at Garden.
"Who is there!?" Squall shouted, "You are trespassing, and will be treated as a threat to SeeD."
"Come on Puberty Boy, I’m already a threat to SeeD." Seifer Almasy quipped as he flipped on the lights, blinding Squall momentarily.
The Commander quickly jumped over the desk and pointed the blade of Lionheart to Seifer’s neck, "One move you bastard, and you’re dead."
"You know, this isn't the welcome I was hoping for. Where are the flowers and wine?"
Squall was in no mood for mind games, "What the hell do you want?"
It had been five years since last they met, when Seifer decided to sacrifice the sorceress, to Adel. The blonde ex-knight looked almost the same, maybe a little worse for wear. It was obvious he had been through a few scuffles, but that was to be expected. He had all but fallen off the face of the planet, and for Squall’s sake, that was a good thing. The last distraction he needed right now in his life was Seifer. The Commander was a bit taken back at the emotion he felt, for although it was pure hate, it was the only true emotion he had experienced in ages.
"What do I want? I want you to stop pointing your little toy sword at my jugular for one."
"How do I know you’re not going to try to kill me? You are still wanted by Garden for acts of betrayal five years ago. There is no statute of limitation on treason, Mr. Almasy."
"Make no mistake, there would be no try. I’m not going to kill you Leonhart, what fun would that be? We just were reacquainted. Then again, it was upsetting that I wasn’t best man at the wedding. I didn’t even get an invitation, suppose it was lost in the mail Commander Puberty."
"Shut up, Seifer."
For some unknown reason, the Commander believed the man did not want to kill him. Visually confirming that Seifer wasn’t carrying his weapon, Squall took the risk that he wouldn’t pull a smaller, concealed one. Slowly, without breaking eye contact, he lowered his gunblade, keeping it out to silently emphasize his lingering distrust. That begged only the question, why was he there?
"So, married Quistis…never saw that one coming. How is dear Instructor Leonhart?"
"Fine. Now answer my question. Why the hell are you here?"
Seifer was the first to look away from their locked glare. Turning his back to Squall, he took a few steps and nonchalantly sat on the couch. The Commander was growing more impatient by the second, mentally considering whether to raise arms and get this over with…once and for all.
"You’re not going to believe me, even if I decide to tell you… Tomorrow’s the anniversary of the invasion, that fact should be obvious to even you," Seifer paused waiting for a response, yet he didn't receive one, only one that was nonverbal. Squall continued his intent watch, never once taking his eyes off his life-long adversary, never once trusting him for a moment.
The cold, almost heartless stare, made Seifer surprisingly uncomfortable…before there had always been a hidden passion within his eyes, but now they just held an empty gaze. He decided to continue before Squall’s patience gave way. "Information…I’ve been spending a few years underground in Deling, hanging out in places not listed with the visitor’s bureau. Mitchell is stepping up the hunt for Rinoa, going on his own outside the council. But then again, from the phone call, so are you."
"I don’t know what you’re getting at, Mr. Almasy. Garden is the military force leading the hunt for the sorceress. That is my official and only position."
"Right...you're Mitchell’s lapdog. No offense."
"Is that what you came to do? Inform me of my job?"
Seifer stood up from the leather sofa and dared to take a step closer to Squall. "I’m here to help you find her before they do. Did you know Galbadian forces have been secretly ordered to shoot to kill first, and ask questions later?"
Seifer took yet another step closer, almost tauntingly, towards Squall. "You’re running your own little investigation, I have my sources. In fact, there are currently four separate investigations I'm aware of for our little princess…the 'official' World Council's, President Mitchell’s, and yours."
"You said four."
"Glad to see you can still count…I haven’t figured out the fourth yet, or at least who is running the show. My first thoughts were Caraway or even Esthar… I have no concrete evidence on either, so thought maybe I’d ask the world hero Leonhart…get it straight from the horse’s mouth."
"Sorceress Heartilly is an enemy of all Gardens and the world, held responsible for the death of Ellone Loire. She is to be considered dangerous. If she shows any sign of resistance, shoot to kill," Squall recited verbatim as if reading a script, with no emotion.
"Shoot to kill!? Listen to yourself, Commander. Shit. Look me in the eyes and tell me that’s what you believe, that she murdered Ellone in cold blood!?"
Squall remained silent. For the first time since the unwanted encounter, he turned his back, breaking the eye contact. "Leave now," he stated vehemently. He put Lionheart back into the sheath and reached for the remaining cigarette of the pack. Before he had a chance to ignite, Seifer walked up behind him and grabbed it from his fingers. Squall quickly turned, as Seifer crushed it in his right hand. As he opened his fist, bits of smashed tobacco leaves trickled to the ground like brown snow.
"Don’t you know those things will kill you?"
Seifer turned and headed toward the door; Squall still stood motionless in front of his desk. Before the wanted man reached the doorknob, Squall only spoke one word.
Without facing the Commander, Seifer replied, "Because I’m a Sorceress's Knight, because I’ve already made mistakes, because I must know the truth, and because I still care about what happens to her." He abruptly spun and reinitiated eye contact with Squall.
After a moment of silence, a small smirk appeared on Seifer’s face. "I thought so. By the way, put Fujin in a long dark wig, sunglasses, and then yell sorceress in front of two SeeD’s. Amazing how reliable sources are born. I needed time."
Squall inhaled deeply, it was almost a relief. Walking around to the chair, he sat down and picked up a pile of papers. Tossing them to the side, he spoke without looking up, "Garden is docking at Balamb tomorrow for supplies. I might take an evening walk on the pier around six."
Seifer said nothing else, nor did Squall acknowledge his existence any further.
The Commander sat at the oversized desk for what had to have been hours, without accomplishing any real tasks. All he had managed to do was shuffle documents from pile to pile, pretending to read memos. He was actually just skimming through the paperwork, and signing his name to hell knows what. The events of the evening kept replaying in his head. The only person he had to trust now…was the person he trusted least. Irony was a fickle creature. He paused to look at a picture of Ellone, realizing it was after midnight. It was the anniversary of her death and, in a way, also his.
Quistis lay alone in bed; she was always alone. When Squall did sleep with her, he always managed to turn away. She again found herself silently crying. Long blonde hair was sticking to her face, yet she didn’t care. He was slowly pulling her down and she was starting to drown. Would he even notice? So much had happened in the last two years. Sometimes, she lay there trying to fit together pieces of the giant puzzle that was Squall Leonhart into place, but nothing ever fit. Only one thing seemed evident, she didn’t seem to be part of it.
The day he asked for her hand in marriage should have been the happiest day of her life. Don’t get it wrong, she was happy, but most of the emotion manufactured for the benefit of those around. Why did he even ask…if he never wanted her? Maybe she was just a second-rate substitute for what he really desired. She knew, who the hell around there didn’t?
Being the ever-patient optimist, she accepted the proposal. Proposal? That term was truly stretching the happy event. Squall walked into the classroom with a sullen, even for him, expression covering his face. They had talked before that evening several times. Well she did, he only pretended to listen. At least she was not told to talkto a wall; although looking back now, there didn’t seem to be much difference. No official dating before the offer, only one kiss, she initiated that. Maybe that’s why the puzzle never fit. All Squall did was set a diamond ring on the desk. No words. In her heart, she knew he really didn’t want this, but over time... Yes, time would solve everything. He would grow to show her the same passion, the same respect, as her.
Thinking of her, bile began to rise to her mouth. Guilt. Guilt sometimes consumed Quistis Trepe-Leonhart. Now on this second anniversary of her disappearance, the emotions were eating away at the instructor. Their problems weren’t all Squall's fault, she admitted that to no one but herself. What would he mourn more today, the loss of Ellone or the loss of Rinoa? It was now his job, his duty to find her and carry out the execution. The World Council, even she knew, decided this fate long ago and there would be no trial of guilt or innocence. The torment Squall must go through every day, hunting her down like common prey, had to be slowly eating away at his soul. He too was drowning, she realized.
But, he would not accept the life preserver.
Note: For the sake of the story, I have made Trabia not only a Garden but also a city. It’s about fifty kilometers from T-Garden - equal in size to Dollet. I know it wasn’t in the game, but I needed a more secluded setting for later events.
~ Chapter 3: Contention ~
He that lacks time to mourn,
lacks time to mend.
--Sir Henry Taylor
The snow whipped around her face, bobbed hair not wanting to stay tucked behind almost frozen ears. It was the kind of cold that could kill you in minutes, if not properly dressed. Every breath felt like daggers in her lungs. Who ever said hell was hot? If one place on this planet came close, it was a snow-filled night in Trabia. Time passed slowly in the frigid temperatures. Judging by the wait, it had to be way past midnight now. Sneaking around in the unforgiving night could get her killed, or worse. The thought quickly slipped out of her mind as someone called out.
"Mrs. Bennett? Is that you?" A soft voice tried to whisper over the pounding wind.
"Alex. Stables. Now."
It was a small reply, but it was the only one her mind could muster as pellets of ice hit her face. The two figures wordlessly slipped into the stables. The building was dark, except for the reflection of the outside lights on the snow that shined through the window. It was warmer, if only by a little, yet the old structure offered an unfound feeling of security.
She took down the hood that did its best to protect her head from the elements. Short dark hair fell into her face. She quickly placed it behind her ears again.
"He’s coming home tonight. This is all I have managed to get."
Alex took the tiny black pouch full of Gil and nodded her head in understanding.
"Mrs. Bennett, Renee…please you're sure about this?"
"Yes, if you don’t leave tonight, it might never be possible."
Renee undid the warm robe that covered her body. She had to be strong for both of them, yet her hands trembled in unspoken fear. Alex could slip into the world unnoticed, safe…hopefully. It had to be this way.
"He will kill you when he finds out. Richard Bennett is the worst son-of-a-bitch I've ever met. Wife or not, you’re dead."
Renee closed her eyes and felt the cold take hold, "I know. This way she may live."
The shadowy figure finally lifted up the dark robe. There, a sleeping baby was beginning to stir.
"Alex, he is never going to rest until he finds his daughter and I'm sure the World Council will be at his disposal. You’ll have to stay one-step ahead of them. Hyne be with you two."
Renee carefully handed the little girl over to Alex. With a loving kiss to the sleeping child, she disappeared into the stormy night.
Alex carefully covered the baby and headed out into the dark, into the unknown.
Morning came to Garden as any other day. Time somehow had little meaning anymore. He woke up at his desk, after falling asleep in his chair again. Squall figured that he spent more nights here than in his bed. Suddenly, a knock woke him from what lingering sleep may have remained.
"Squall?" He knew the voice, and was not in the mood for any type of lecture.
"Yes Quistis, it’s open."
She appeared in the room wearing her formal SeeD uniform.
"We’re going to the chapel at half past the hour, please come." She walked over to the desk and sat quietly on the corner. "Laguna is joining us for dinner this evening. He would really like to see you again."
"Yes, I’m sure he would. Tell him I already have plans."
"Squall, what could be more important than trying to work things out with your only remaining relative?"
He looked coldly in her eyes. "Quistis, this is not the time. I have a prior engagement that cannot be changed. Send him my regards."
"Sure…I’ll tell him."
She slid off the desk and walked quickly toward the exit. Turning around after reaching the door, she looked at Squall wishing he would at least think about the words that had been spoken. He didn’t notice her, his attention engrossed in the computer. Quistis slammed the heavy door to the best of her ability.
The chapel was modest. Selphie had originally planned on large, beautiful roses filling the room. Then, after thinking of Ellone, she decided to make it simple. Ellone was never much for material possessions, simple yet elegant. Instead of vases everywhere, there was only a single red rose on the altar. Later in the day, they would be planting a tree in the Quad, dedicating it in her honor. It would be something that lived on and brought joy to others, that’s what Ellone would want.
Selphie stood next to Irvine, his long hair now giving way to a short, trimmed look. It was one of the regulations Squall imposed as Commander…stricter codes and guidelines: no long hair, no earrings, and no street-clothes in class. He truly had turned Garden into a military institution. Irvine was somewhat comforted by the fact Squall had cut his hair, and abstained from wearing his earring. Although he guessed, the Commander couldn't have cared less about anything but war…fighting was all he lived for anymore. Thankfully, Irvine had passed the SeeD exam before the incident. That was when most of the requirements had changed, and the sharpshooter doubted he could make it under Squall’s newer, stricter rules.
Irvine put his arm around Selphie, knowing very well that it broke one of the Commander's cardinal rules about contact with the opposite sex. Rules made, in his opinion, to keep Squall from seeing people being happy. That was one thing that changed that day.
Selphie, herself, tried to keep the mood upbeat. She noticed Zell in the corner, lost within the beauty of the rose. Smiling, she remembered the first day they met. Times had changed, not for the better. She patted Irvine on the shoulder and then walked toward the lone figure. She had aged well, in fact almost too well. Little had changed with Selphie - a slight bit older, but still a youthful look well below her twenty-two years.
"Zell, want to come over and join us?" she asked as perky as possible.
"Selphie, why...Rinoa...why did…?" Zell questioned still staring at the flower.
"I don’t know. But when we find her, maybe she can tell us."
"Why don’t I hate her like I should?"
"Maybe because she was one of us, nobody knew what her powers would be capable of making her do."
"I suppose. Something just bothers me about this. I don’t know what."
"It’s been two years. Why are you questioning things now, Zell?"
"I don’t know. I've been having these dreams about Rinoa...."
"The Sorceress," everyone turned around to see Squall standing at the chapel door. "Zell, she is to be referred to as the Sorceress. The other person you spoke of is dead to Garden." He walked to the altar and looked at the rose.
"I’m here to show my respect for Ellone, not to talk about anything or anyone else, understood?"
Zell stood straight up and acknowledged his superior. Heels clicked on the tile floor as the group, save for Squall, turned to watch Quistis enter the room. Irvine strolled over to the Commander’s wife, offering his arm. Together, they walked down the aisle to the front pews.
The service, if called that, was very short and very informal. The four just talked, or listened to stories of Ellone. Reliving tales each had heard before, yet never seeming to get tired of. Squall sat lost in his own world, until a younger SeeD interrupted Zell’s story.
"Commander, I apologize for bothering you in this personal time. I have President Mitchell on the phone. He states that it’s urgent."
"Understood." Squall stood up and excused himself from the memorial.
Arriving in his office, he quickly grabbed the phone. The idea that these fools might actually find the sorceress was unsettling. "Commander Leonhart speaking."
"Squall, I am sorry for bothering you during the service, but the council has urgent need for qualified SeeDs."
"No, not this time. One of the council members, a Trabian delegate, had his daughter kidnapped last night. Normally, I really wouldn’t worry too much about such a trivial thing, but we need his support. You see Commander, the exporting of petroleum from his country is very important to the upper-members of Galbadia. It could mean millions of Gil for the exclusive rights."
"What a bastard," Squall thought while trying to mask his anger. This guy is worried about oil when a child had just been abducted. This is slowly what he was turning into, one of them.
"Mr. President, what information do you have on the girl?"
"I guess that when Bennett and his wife woke up this morning the baby was missing. Suspiciously enough, his personal assistant didn’t show up for work today. She had been employed by him for just over two years, and never missed a day."
"Mr. President, why don’t you notify the Trabian Garden? They could get SeeDs there much quicker than Balamb."
"I have. They are doing the initial investigation until your SeeDs show up. We want to show Mr. Bennett that his daughter deserves the best…everyone knows that is Balamb."
Squall sighed inwardly. First, dealing with the sorceress, and now sending his SeeD personnel to look for a baby, when Trabia was more than capable.
"What further information do you have on this case?"
"The assistant's name is Alexandra Williams, twenty-six, no children. Only known family member lives in Fisherman’s Horizon, an aunt I believe."
"Fine, I will have two of my top SeeDs start searching FH. We will be nearing Balamb in approximately an hour. I will send them on from there. What information do you have on the child?"
"Just that she is fourteen months old, her name is Allison - goes by Ally."
"Yes Squall. Are you all right?"
"Sorry, just lost my train of thought reading a memo. Allison."
Renee stood looking out of her window to the frozen trees, watching as hunks of snow fell from the weight on the limbs, never doubting her decision. Allison would have a better chance with Alexandra and the cold, rather than with the wolves in here. How she continued living with this animal for years she couldn’t imagine… Richard Bennett was possibly the most evil person she had ever met, and she knew quite a few.
What was so criminal about him was the way he took control. When she first met him outside a restaurant, he seemed to be the answer to her prayers: kind, sweet, and almost a loving someone who would make a good father. He was a sly one. If it hadn’t been for Ally, she would have given up on life way before now, but now…Ally was gone. Before long, she would be too. Richard would find out of her involvement, one way or another…she was dead. It was just a matter of time. It had always been a matter of time.
She looked into the mirror as tears started rolling down her pale face. She tried not to hate the world around her, but it was so damn hard. A few years ago, nobody would have controlled her as Richard had. She let him, if only for basic survival. If he knew the truth…Ally would just be a pawn, dispensable to him, a device for keeping her under control. Now she would be in control again. Who the hell was Renee Bennett anyhow? She vowed to herself never to be weak again...even if it meant being strong enough to die.
Garden had reached Balamb on schedule. Squall excused himself from the building, giving some false excuse about personally checking on supplies. The idea of meeting with the old rival still seemed unsettling, and yet now the notion had become a reality. Trusting the one that had thrown her to Adel was surreal, but in his mind, he had been just as guilty as Seifer. He had been the one who allowed her to tag along, when all better judgment was telling him not to. Looking back, it was all for selfish reasons, as he had been attracted to her from the start, even if he wouldn’t admit it at the time. So attracted in fact that he had allowed her to get in harms way, and that was only part of the torment he lived with. If he had just had the strength to say no, she would be living a happy, normal life right now and not fearing the world or trying to take it over - Squall didn’t know which was happening. Tortured by memories, he continued down to the path to the Balamb coast.
"Yo, Commander Puberty, over here!" Squall recognized the voice this time.
"Cut the shit, what do you know?" spat the Commander, obviously aggravated. Seifer motioned to a building in the distance. The two walked to a small, abandoned fishing shack.
"I know that if you don’t want Rinoa’s head on a stick, you better find her first."
"You’re not helping," he growled.
"Sorry… Look, I have to know exactly what happened that day. Tell me your side of the story, it may be important," Seifer replied with seeming sympathy.
Squall shook his head. He had tried so long to forget everything that had happened two years ago... This would be the first time he had actually spoken of it since giving his official report. He knew it was time. He found a corner wall and leaned against it, closing his eyes.
~ Chapter 4: Engagement ~
I embrace my rival,
but only to strangle him.
Squall stared at his old nemesis, with a look Seifer could not construe. The expression, the best the ex-knight could decipher, was a mix of disgust, contempt, and betrayal. The Commander took out his cigarettes, retrieved one from the pack, slowly lit the tip and inhaled deeply.
"The day started normally, that morning the sorceress and I had been arguing. She had been in a dreadful mood since the prior week, and we had fought the evening before. She was bitching about the amount of time I spent at work, and I told her that my job was vital to the interests of the world, and I couldn’t shop all day spending daddy’s money. Hyne was she pissed, the little princess didn’t say one damn word to my face…just stormed away. The last words I ever heard her express were 'go to hell Squall'. Her wish came true."
"Around nine that morning, Quistis came storming in…slamming her hand on my desk and complaining about Rinoa. It seems that the two had an argument just before she arrived in my office. From what I heard later, they were pretty close to making it physical. Rinoa backed down, ending up saying a few 'choice' words to the instructor, warning her to stay away from me. Quistis wanted her brought up on charges by the disciplinary committee. I dismissed the complaints, although, at that moment, there would've been nothing better than to put Rinoa in her place."
Seifer found a rusty chair and moved it closer, as Squall continued to lean on the rotting wall. Never interrupting the Commander’s train of thought, he listened to every syllable that his companion uttered, like an eager child.
"Believe it or not, that was the last normal conversation I remember having. As Quistis left the office, I head screams echo throughout the hallways. I reached for my gunblade, ready for anything. When I neared the emergency stairs, there was a large flash of red, grenades. Several detonated at once, causing massive structural damage. The explosion knocked me down half a flight of stairs, rendering me unconscious. I estimate being out for around two minutes. Two minutes I wish were never stolen from my life."
"I regained consciousness, and continued down the stairwell until I reached the bottom. As I opened the fire door, I was greeted by Galbadian soldiers far as the eye could see. The blue and silver armor was blinding from the sun reflecting off the metal uniforms. They were good – damn good, and not the inexperienced ones from Vinzer Deling’s reign. These men were trained under General Mitchell, a true military man who studied war techniques in his sleep. After a long battle with one of the soldiers, I noticed several people gathered off to the side. There was Quistis, kneeling beside a limp figure. I barely recognized her through the blood…it covered her entire body. When I got closer, I could tell the body on the ground was Ellone."
Squall eyes glazed over as he spoke of the incident, refusing to cry or show any undue emotion. He spoke in an informative, monotone voice. Pausing for a moment, he tossed the cigarette butt to the grime-covered floor. He then balled his right hand into a tight fist, as he continued reliving the horrible day that he had spent so long trying to forget.
"A SeeD, a cadet I believe, was the first to speak aloud."
"Commander we will avenge her death in the name of SeeD, Sorceress Heartilly shall pay with her life."
"Her life, the words just echoed through my head with the force of a hurricane. He saw the confusion on my face and continued his explanation."
"Ellone was murdered in cold blood by the sorceress, these soldiers are her men. Galbadia and the sorceress joined forces, like in years past."
"I watched Quistis as she sat gently rocking Elle's lifeless corpse. The tears were rolling down her face, mixing with the dark hues of blood that covered the person we knew as our 'Sis'. So much blood from Ellone...so much fucking blood."
"I had to get confirmation, I looked at Quistis again…she nodded slightly, returning her gaze to Ellone. For the first time in minutes, surroundings made their presence known to me. SeeD’s continued fighting for their lives, for the survival of Balamb Garden. I assessed the situation, and knew I had to continue to fight. I didn’t want to…I had to. Details would be sorted out later, I just had to live to hear them."
"Fifty-four SeeD’s perished that day. The Galbadian troops withdrew for an unknown reason, leaving us to fully see the damage to Garden. One fourth of the building had to be rebuilt after the battle, millions of Gil in damage. But Gil will never replace those who died. She planned it, waited for the perfect moment to strike. Absolute power corrupts…even the most innocent can’t ignore its call for long."
Squall paused, noticing his fists. His palms were bloody from the tips of his nails piercing his flesh, not realizing the harm he was causing his own body. Over the years, he learned to thrive on pain.
Seifer tried to hold back the wetness forming in the folds of his eyes. "How Squall? How was Ellone killed?"
"Stabbed…stabbed through the chest with a dagger. The sorceress needed the power that Ellone possessed. It had been an obsession with the others before her. How one not a descendent of Hyne could posses such abilities. They feared her."
Seifer was barely audible, his voice unsure and hoarse, "Why? Why would Rinoa wait three years then attack? What time did she have to train armies while attending classes at Garden?"
"She stayed here and relayed messages via computer or other means, we're not sure. She knew Garden's routines and learned our weaknesses, what better way of studying your enemy – live among them. General Mitchell was later able to break the spell Sorceress Heartilly had put him under. He was the first Knight able to do that without his sorceress being slain."
Seifer questioned the last statements, now they were getting into a territory in which he had experience. "Mitchell was her Knight? What did that make you?"
"A fool," Squall riposted without hesitation. "A damned fool. Mitchell was able to break the enchantment and rally troops against her. It came out later she had a prior relationship with him, though she was twenty years his junior. Guess her weekend trips to Galbadia weren’t all to see dear-old daddy," Squall spat with more than a trace of bitterness.
"Jefferson Mitchell? Squall, you want me to believe that Rinoa and Mitchell were sexually involved? The same man who is now President, leader of the World Council? Is this what you truly believe? She used you for no more than a pawn to rule with your so-called absolute power?"
Squall closed his eyes, and in a voice unlike anything Seifer had heard before from his rival, he pleadingly answered.
"I don’t want to believe it… Quistis, herself, witnessed the sorceress stab Ellone. I would have never believed her capable…Rinoa was supposed to be the innocent one. I was sworn to protect her. I should have been there to protect people from her. She had all but warned me with her recent actions, I didn’t get the connection until after the attack. We haven’t seen or heard from her since that day; she vanished without a trace. Mitchell has personally sworn to kill her, for all she tricked him into doing, and the lives she is responsible for taking."
Seifer was silently taking in all the information. No matter how he tried to calculate in his head, some unknown factor didn’t add up.
"So, Squall if you 'do' side with the all-knowing President, why are you searching her out on your own?"
"Answers, I want answers. Did she act alone or was someone controlling her mind? Was it her will that brought devastation to Garden? They will kill her without so much as a single question. For what insignificant peace of mind it may offer: I need to know why."
Seifer pulled out a manila folder from his filth-covered trench coat. He opened up the dossier and shuffled through the paperwork that lay inside.
"Here, I have a present for you. These are both the official and unofficial reports that I located in Mitchell’s office."
Squall raised an eyebrow, reaching for the folder.
"In his office?"
The flaxen haired man smiled, tilted two legs of the chair off the floorboards, leaned back, and smirked.
"Covert operations are my specialty, thanks to Garden and the teaching of your lovely wife. By the way, will you ever tell me how that one worked out? I’m sure there is an enthralling story in there somewhere."
Squall appeared displeased the arrogance, but still answered his rival's inquiry, "I married her, what else is there to tell?"
"Oh just the fact that you couldn't have cared less for Quistis romantically for the last twenty-two years. Then conveniently, Rinoa vanishes and you marry the instructor. Did you ever notice her beauty or were you just trying to find a decent substitute to conquer? Remarkable how fast the callous, heartless Mr. Leonhart falls in love. You do love her, don’t you Squall?"
"Seifer that is none of your concern, you’re crossing the line now." Squall countered with a tone increasing in volume.
"I know we have had our differences in the past. Hell, I would've sold your soul for a measly couple of Gil. Believe me, five years is a long time to think about one's mistakes, events, emotions playing repeatedly in your mind… The last thing you feel at night and the first thing you feel at dawn, but I don’t have to tell you that Commander Leonhart, do I? You live with the same pain and anguish I suffer everyday. I know you. We are the same, just taken different paths to reach the same destination. You're no better than I am, you hide behind titles and politics, but I feel pain the same as you, Squall. We don’t allow ourselves to be happy; it’s not our nature. Unfortunately, on our way down the self-destructive path we walked upon, we decided to drag innocents along. Quistis and Rinoa are casualties of this war we waged in our minds; they are in fact our collateral damage. The best we can do…is to not totally obliterate them in the process, which we have failed to prevent on both accounts. Again Mr. Leonhart, I’m asking the question, do you or have you ever loved your wife?"
Squall said nothing. Seifer was getting too close on a touchy subject, and no matter the answer he said aloud, his rival already knew the answer that materialized in Squall’s heart. The Commander decided that silence would be his best option.
"Squall, you haven’t answered Seifer’s question?" A troubled voice inquired.
Both men turned to face the door quickly, as Quistis silhouette was visible through the broken doorframe.
Renee sat on her bed, knees to her chest. She was anxiously awaiting any word from Alexandra, although she knew that none would ever come. Contact would be excessively risky, especially with all the police and officials snooping around the house. She held a picture of Ally to in her lap; memories would be all she had from then on. Fragments of memories were already the only thing she had left on so many different accounts.
Richard had been no less the bastard today. She tried to cry but the pain was too intense for her newly bruised ribs – Richard was nobody’s fool. Members of his staff had seen her leaving the house last night, he could add two plus two. The only thing she couldn’t figure out is 'why' he hadn't turned her in already. No mention of this was made to police, only the fact that Alex absconded with his daughter. In private, however, it was a different story. He, in fact, went out of the way to keep her from the authorities, flatly refusing to let her be questioned.
She held her knees tighter, rocking back and forth on the bed. Thoughts of the first day she met him circled in her head. He seemed so pleasant, but that façade soon fell apart. It wasn’t like her to sleep with a man on the first night, but desperate times called for desperate measures. She needed him, if only for survival. It wasn’t impossible to get pregnant after one encounter, right? She could tell by his demeanor that he would take care of his responsibility – she betted on it. It truly was the worst day of her life, as she sold everything she had…including her dignity. Now, two years later, everything would end. The ironic thing was…she wasn’t sure if she was pleased or sad with the outcome.
Time was the only factor now. Suddenly, a loud car door slammed causing her to get off the bed. Walking over to the frosted window, she looked down to confirm her worst fear. SeeD. The council had brought them into the investigation. Trabia was no more than a working class oil town, consisting of only two classes of residents - the thousand blue-collar workers who labored hard everyday for their money, and the few that profited off them. Her husband was the latter.
World affairs were almost non-existent here. That was the first thing that drew her to this frozen wasteland. The second was the ship she boarded, hiding within the cargo bay. Now the world would be catching up with them, or more precisely, her. She peered out the window, noticing the vehicle had the markings of Trabia Garden.
That was a comfort; at least it was not Balamb.
~ Chapter 5: Divergence ~
Guilt is the most destructive of all emotions.
It mourns what has been
while playing no part in what may be,
now or in the future.
The Commander and the instructor stared at one another, not as husband and wife, not as friends, not even as casual acquaintances, but as adversaries thrown upon the battlefield of life. Neither Squall nor Quistis was willing to acknowledge the company of another intruding on a far too personal of moment, even if the intruder was Seifer.
Seifer, for his part, was a little more than uncomfortable in his role as third-wheel in the marital problems. Though his former rival, Squall still had gained enough respect to have his personal life remain personal. On the other hand, curiosity always seemed to kill the cat, and Seifer was purring internally. The idea of exiting the shack was fleeting; the show would be far too entertaining.
Quistis entered the room by a few steps, "Squall can you hear me or have you mysteriously lost your comprehension for the English language? Do you love me? Seems like a simple enough question, doesn’t it? Or would you like to go consult your 'cold-blooded friend' slithering there in the corner, on what the correct answer may be?"
She started involuntarily twisting her long hair around her fingers, a habit she had picked up when nervous. Nervous, was that really the correct word? No, she wasn’t nervous about the answer, she subconsciously knew it, she was more nervous that he wouldn’t admit the truth. Lying had become second nature to him.
"Quistis don’t do this here, now. It’s not the time," Squall calmly replied to his wife.
"Oh yeah, sorry," she spat back. "I see how busy you are right now. Let’s see can I pencil you in for next week, let’s say Tuesday…is that good for you? I wouldn’t want to interrupt your little reunion here. Hyne Squall, you do realize that is Seifer don’t you? Remember the guy who tried to kill us, destroy Garden, and end all known life with time-compression. Asshole of the world, that Seifer?"
"You’re looking, and sounding, as well as ever Mrs. Instructor. Glad to see you too," Seifer stood, nodding his head toward her.
"Go to hell Seifer, this is between me and my husband."
Seifer took the moment to study Quistis for the first time in almost five years. Older, yes, but somehow she carried the age well. No longer with awkward teenage mannerisms, she seemed more beautiful then he remembered. Her golden blonde hair had grown in length, no longer pulled up, as wispy strands would cover her face in the light breeze. She looked more the angel than human, the sun behind her giving her a heavenly light. Seifer shook himself from whatever thoughts he was currently having. Noticing the instructor was something he hadn’t expected, and just as quickly, tried to put it out of his mind. Unsure of his sudden realizations, he felt the need to quickly get away from the situation.
"I’m leaving." He stood up and walked passed the Commander, handing him a small yellow piece of paper.
Squall eyed the man as he left the building, and then returned his gaze to the person standing in front of him.
"Quistis, I…I don’t know what you want to hear right now."
"How about the truth Squall, you do remember that?"
"You’re asking if I love you. Sure, I love you." He looked at her hoping that answer would satisfy.
"Damn you Squall. This is just some big game to you, isn’t it!?"
Quistis could no longer hold back the tears she was trying desperately to restrain. They slowly trailed down her ivory skin.
"Tell me the fucking truth for once in your pathetic life."
Squall turned his back. Somehow, it would be less personal if he didn’t have to look her in the eyes. He knew this conversation would be coming, honestly from the day he gave her the ring. Quite frankly, he was surprised it had lasted this long, maybe it was easier living the lie that was his life. Now too much might be said, not only to Quistis but also to himself. The parts of his memories and feelings he tried greatly to repress, to forget, for so long would resurface causing deeper wounds. He walked over to a small window and peered out. Hoping for some clarity on the situation, but like the window, the current state of affairs was just as hazy.
"Quistis, I do love you."
Squall paused trying his best not to make the moment worse.
"No, I’m not in love with you now, nor have I ever been. I’m sorry."
"Well since you’re sorry everything is okay then. The almighty, god-like Squall Leonhart is sorry and that makes everything right. Quistis, I don’t love you. I'm sorry to marry you and everything. It was just a few big misunderstandings - that love, honor, and cherish thing just slipped right over my big head. Guess I was too busy saving the world and playing god to realize what I was saying. Hope you didn’t take your vows seriously or anything, I sure as hell didn’t."
Quistis couldn't stand, falling to her knees. She watched shed tears mix with the years of dust on the floor.
Squall still stood looking out the window. Human nature was telling him to go to his wife. Learned instinct was telling him to give her this time to digest the information. He finally turned and saw her kneeling on the ground. He had to try to explain, Quistis deserved that at the very least.
"Quistis I know you’re not going to understand, hell if I even do, but I have to try. Please let me try."
Squall walked over to the distressed figure, setting the folder on the floor. He went down to his knees, trying to look his wife directly in the eyes.
"Why Squall? Why if you didn’t love me did you marry me, why didn’t you ever love me?" Quistis was pleading with him for hopes of any understanding.
He attentively placed one hand on her shoulder, in aspirations of calming her down.
"If there is only one thing you get from this conversation, let it be that I never wanted to hurt you. Things were out of control after Ellone died, I didn’t even know what or where I was half of the time. I needed to get married and…" The next words would seem so cruel, yet they were the truth and that is exactly what Quistis had wanted. "I needed a wife quickly. I knew you were in love with me. I used those feelings against you. I’m sorry you were just the easiest person to…"
He never had the opportunity to finish the sentence before he felt the sting of her hand across his face.
Quistis stood up and looked down at him, as he held his hand to his now inflamed face. "Go find the bitch, you two deserve each other. Just don’t ever get near me again, you bastard!"
Selphie entered the cafeteria searching for Quistis. Getting frustrated on a quest that so far turned up nothing she decided to rest, taking a lemonade break. At the cash register paying for her drink, she noticed Zell sitting in a lone corner of the sparsely populated cafeteria. Miraculously without any food, a very un-Zell like move. As she quietly approached his table, she glanced to notice several library books scattered about its surface. Extraordinary she mused…she had never actually seen Zell with a book, much less reading a book. Combat King Magazines were the closet he came to the actual art of understanding the written word.
She grabbed the metal frame of a chair occupying the same table. As it scuffed the linoleum tile, Zell realized he was no longer alone. He realized she might have the ability to help, where the research books failed. Selphie actually might be capable of giving him new insight on his dilemma.
"Zell…um you look so stressed. Are you all right? I’ve just never seen you actually studying books, yet alone so intensely. Something about Elle bothering you from earlier?"
"Well, kind of… Hey is Laguna here yet?" He shut the book and laid it face down on his lap.
"No, he got held up in Esthar. Squall didn’t want to see him anyhow, don’t think he’ll be hurrying to arrive. A helicopter should be dropping him off sometime later tonight. He’s just going to stay until we arrive in Deling for the World Council meeting tomorrow."
"Ah yeah…can I talk to you for a few minutes? Please don’t say anything to anybody else."
"Sure Zell anything, is there something wrong? Are you sick?"
"No, no nothing like that. Remember before when I talked about the strange dreams." He lowered his voice to a whisper saying the words like breaking a sacred law, "About Rinoa." Selphie nodded her head, acknowledging her comrade. "I’ve had this dream more than once. I’m just trying to interpret the meaning." He held up his reference book on understanding dreams.
Selphie took a sip of her pink lemonade, "Do you want to tell me about it? Maybe there is something that book wouldn’t relate to our particular situation. I know pretty much everything about your background, maybe I can help."
"Okay Selphie, but it's upsetting to talk about."
Zell lowered his head not looking at her as he began describing the indescribable.
"It starts with a gorgeous…er…view of Balamb Plains, only there is a translucent blue lake in the middle. I find myself walking up to the lake and notice what looks like bones of human fingers sticking out. I want to run from it, yet some unknown force keeps pulling me closer. My eyes are still on the slender fingers, transparent water gives an outline of bones, a now human form. Before I can make out anything else, I feel small raindrops on my skin. My focus turns from the tranquil water to my arm. I see the raindrops as they hit my skin, except there is a slight tint of red to them. I continue watching my arm as the red goes from a faint hue to a darker burgundy. All of a sudden, it starts pouring down blood from the sky."
Selphie sat mesmerized at Zell’s ability to reiterate the nightmare, including the emotion he was undoubtedly reenacting. He continued slowly, "Suddenly the cerulean sky turns to a deep scarlet, giving the plains a kind of surreal feel. I redirect my eyes to the lake. The figure slowly starts rising out of the now bloody water. First, it is only the hand. When it materializes, I notice the ring finger. On it is a smaller, more delicate version of the Griever ring this one of pure gold. Slowly the rest of her body emerges from the thick liquid. Layers of muscles start forming over the bones, followed by layers of skin. It is Rinoa, older by a couple years. She wears a pure white robe that has not one drop of blood on it. She has shorter, darker hair apparent grief and misery shown clearly on her face. She then looks into my eyes and says…help. Not as a demand, but said as a desperate plea. I take a step closer to her and suddenly a bright flash blinds me temporarily. I regain my focus and she is holding what appears to be a baby. Again, I dare to venture closer and then another light flashes, but this one not nearly as bright." Zell closed his eyes trying to fight back the tears.
"What!? Zell, what happened?" Selphie couldn’t help but be drawn into the horrifying events.
"The infant, the infant is dead. It has a knife through its heart, blood dripping into the lake."
"Rinoa, Rinoa killed the baby!?" she demanded.
"No, I never saw who put the dagger through the baby. But, I can tell you it wasn’t Rinoa…the expression of horror on her face as she looks towards me. Her brown eyes plead with me to help, without a word. I then step into the bloody lake; as I get closer, she drops the infant into the dark water. At first, I can't figure out why and then I see the silver sword exit through her stomach. She looks down to the blade, then back to my eyes. We both realize at that moment, it was a gunblade that pierced her frame. For the first time, with all the blood flying around, her white robes become stained with blood, her blood. Rinoa then falls forward into the lake. I race to grab her body, but only manage to capture a hand. I can't hold on for some unknown reason, the wind starts picking up. The thick bloody-rain stings my eyes. Finally, I lose my grasp on her boney white fingers, as they fall through my hand. Yet, I still feel something in my palm. I look down and see a small golden Griever ring. With all my might, I make a fist around it…refusing to lose the one piece I have left. I wade back to the shoreline and sit on the wet grass. Again, another brilliant light appears and I look back at the lake, still blood red but with no rain. This time there is another figure standing in the water…it is Ellone."
Selphie snapped her mind back to her environs, aware that Zell had stopped relaying the gruesome nightmare. "Sis…what happened to her!?" She demanded in a tone heard by many around.
Zell inhaled for a moment, then again hesitantly continued, "Actually she is covered in blood, and at first I don't recognize her, until she smiles."
"Yeah, that is almost the most disturbing part of the dream, she smiles. I couldn’t hear what she says, nor do I believe she actually has the ability to speak. But I can read her lips as she mouths the word - she says the word goodbye. Then a final blinding ashen light and everything returns to normal, it's peaceful. The green fields and crystal blue lake return…not one cloud in the sapphire sky. Yet…I still hold on to the small golden ring."
"Zell, how many times have you had this dream, nightmare?"
"Well over the last two months it has been numerous times, it gets more vivid with every encounter. I wake up feeling scared and anxious right after it ends, amazingly the clock always reads the same time…4:27am."
"Zell I think you might know this, but nothing you discover in those books is going to help. What about talking to Matron concerning the visions?"
"Visions? No, it is a dream, a nightmare at most. Anything but a vision," he stated defensively.
Selphie moved closer, putting her arm around his shoulder. "Zell we both know this is something more. Maybe, just maybe, it can benefit us if we can fully understand."
He nodded in agreement, moving away from Selphie’s caring touch. He gathered the books and notes, giving her a wry smile, "You win Selphie. I will talk to Edea when we reach Deling."
Vivid dreams are a lesser-known curse for any sorceress, yet one that could have explained the fall of those who came before; dreams so real it is hard to distinguish fantasy from reality. Emotions, feelings, and sensations so definite it could drive one to the brink of sanity, which in fact, it almost had.
Times like these one could understand the dissolutions of Ultimecia or Adel, dream worlds where perfection could only survive and seem to be the perfect Eden. Sometime the lines of day or night, asleep or awake, and real or imaginary are completely blurred. Forgetting ones self, ones beliefs…reality is easily twisted and shaped by those around. Dreams always show perfection. More than ever she could understand the need for a Knight, not only to protect her spirit, but also soul and mind.
When she dreamed she could still feel his touch, his skin upon hers, his lips softly caressing all parts of her body, the love that they had shared in so many ways. The dreams felt real, if only in her head. The way that he was holding her now, the closeness she felt when she listened to his heartbeat. The way he was looking at her now, the unbridled passion in his eyes. His beautiful steel blue…wait …his brown eyes looking at her? The way he was holding her… no, hitting her? She grabbed her ribs as the pain started to register, waking her out of the magnificent daydream.
"Where is she you damn bitch, where is my daughter?"
~ Chapter 6: Contradiction ~
Only enemies speak the truth.
Friends and lovers lie endlessly,
Caught in the web of duty.
"Richard?" she gasped in confusion, still holding her tender side.
"Who else would I be, Renee?" Grabbing her arm, he spat back, "Let me put it this way, I don’t care. I don’t honestly care what happens to you. Personally, I don’t even care what happens to Allison, but I need her. I can’t look like the good family man without my dear, sweet little girl. The people of this town, and of course the council, are going to feel sorry for the poor single father after his wife dies. Oh, that’s right, you’ve had your little illness for too long now, seems like it’s going to take a turn for the worse."
"Illness…dies?" she questioned.
"Do you honestly think that I could have made it this far without some kind of cover story? What you want me to tell the public that my wife is a psychotic murderer? You don’t think you can just seduce me one night, get pregnant, and take me for a fool. I’m not like the others living in this god-forsaken town. I actually can read the newspaper. I had to tell those people some reason they never saw you. So you mysteriously became very ill after the wedding. Now they all pity my situation and will do anything I ask. That’s the irony of this little situation, my dear wife…you thought you were playing me when I was the one playing you."
She said nothing, just watched the man in front of her. Man, this was no man. He was just a beast like the rest of them. If ever she had wanted to kill someone in cold-blood, this would be it.
"Cute Renee, very cute – then again you always have been, Renee? As I see it, after I find Ally I’ll have all the power I could possibly want. Because you’ll do anything to keep her from harm…even if that means using your power?"
He grabbed her free arm and threw her down onto the bed.
"You turned yourself into a little whore that first night, one more for old time sake," Richard Bennett spat. He managed to grab her, holding both arms in one hand, while the other ripped at the buttons on her shirt.
For some time the will to fight within her was gone, before it was the safety of Ally in the next room. She remembered that first night with Richard way too well, and the guilt that still tormented her soul to this day. Yes, she had indeed been calculating that night. The one thing she hadn’t thought in all her planning was a name. Of course that was the first thing Richard asked the shy girl outside the restaurant. She had started speaking, "Rin…Renee, Renee Davidson." Sad, the last name she came up with was actually from the billboard advertising the nightly news anchors. She had been running for almost a week at that time, needed food, and shelter badly…badly enough to sell her soul and her body.
Allison, her little Ally, she had to find her before Richard or his men did. Even if that meant risking herself out there, in a world, she hadn’t been a part of for two years, but anything would be better than in here. Everything, every emotion was coming back to her now. She for the first time in so long, remembered who she really was. The cloudiness in her mind was slowly clearing. Richard's attention had now turned, attempting to undo her jeans. Looking at him, she smiled almost callously. He stopped at her sudden change of attitude, fearing the look on her face, and his now sudden loss of control of the situation.
A blinding white light filled the room. Richard felt a sudden tightening in his chest. Releasing the tight grip he held her, he rolled to his back, holding his hand over his heart. She got up and started buttoning her shirt. Looking over the man on the bed, she reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet, stuffing the contents into her pants.
She looked him straight in the eye, "I don’t think we have been properly introduced…my name is Rinoa Heartilly. Guess what, I’m a sorceress, but don’t worry I’m not going to kill you. You’ll just be out of commission for a few days. But if you ever think of touching Allison or me again, you won’t be so lucky. Nice meeting you, thanks for the room and board for the past two years."
Rinoa took a deep breath and walked to the door. SeeD was still downstairs, and being caught really wouldn’t help the situation right now…
Four hours had past since his return, Squall sat leaning back in his desk chair. For the first time in ages even work could not keep him out of his secluded world. His mind kept racing with events, circumstances, and individuals. Some of which he had tried desperately to forget. Earlier actions from the day still plagued his mind; he had never wanted to hurt Quistis, but it was a decision made long ago and one he tried not to reflect upon. If he had it his way, he would have never been married, or touched another woman again. But some decisions were not his to make. Other lives were at stake.
It had happened modestly enough, working in his office one afternoon. Cid had been staying in Deling helping with the establishment of the World Council. Something in Squall’s personal opinion only created to destroy Rinoa. Cid ventured to Garden one day and told of Mitchell’s run for president, and his unfounded desire to chair the council. According to polls, there would no way Mitchell could lose. People loved how he had risen past the control of a sorceress and his intent commitment to locate her. His only other competition would have been General Caraway and circumstances had taken Caraway quickly out of the race.
One of Mitchell’s greatest concerns, according to Cid, was Squall being Commander of the strongest and most well trained Garden. Squall had a personal stake in finding the sorceress, as it was public knowledge they had been involved. Cid suggested, more like ordered, Squall to find someone to ease the conscious of the community, mainly Mitchell. Doing so would imply that he had moved on, leaving his commission intact. Thus, it allowed him to oversee any or all attempts made to find the sorceress.
Looking back on the situation Squall came to the realization he would have done about anything to ensure his position as Commander, moreover to ensure the locating of the sorceress. Even after two years, Rinoa still lay first on his mind, her safety and her well-being. Even though he knew, that she may never have returned those feelings.
Quistis was entirely different situation. He used her love to his advantage, and for that, he felt remorse. Ever since Rinoa moved to Garden, the two girls had their differences. They were, in Squall’s opinion, still acquaintances but only when the issue didn’t include him. Most of the time he thought Rinoa was very protective of their relationship, sometime to a point of aggravation to him and those nearest to them.
Now questions of her true intent entered his mind, dancing like flames on his soul. If the possessiveness of the relationship was not love, what in fact was it? Even after all the information, intelligence, and reports he received about the Sorceress and Mitchell, something didn’t feel right. He had to find the truth. He needed answers. The only person with that ability, to put his conscience at ease, was Rinoa. Even if the answers she gave were not the ones he wanted to hear.
Squall again stared at the reports Seifer had given him earlier that day. The official copy to the World Council and that the Garden had received seemed identical to the human eye. Although the reports themselves were over twenty-five pages, Squall could not see any noticeable difference between the accounts.
There was also a first draft contained in the folder from Seifer, it too seemed no different from the others. Squall reached for the scanner and started to put both copies into the computer. Word for word comparisons would take only a few seconds after the data had been entered. He sat memorized at the flicker of the monitor, for a brief second his thoughts turned back to Quistis and her welfare at this moment. His feelings were interpreted by a knock on the door.
"Commander, may I come in a minute?" The voice sounded hesitant.
Squall knew the voice immediately as that of Zell, this was probably going to be one of those Quistis-related-issues he couldn’t even think of facing right now. Against his better judgment, he instructed the martial artist to enter. Hoping that what ever he had to say would be quickly over, although with Zell that would be a miracle.
The young man entered the room holding what appeared to be, at one time, a meatball sub. Zell walked over to the desk as he was finishing the remains of the sandwich, followed by the traditional wiping-of-the-hands on pants. He took a seat in the chair opposite Squall’s desk and half-heartily started looking at the mess of paper work that was sprawled upon the desk.
"Do you actually want something?" Squall asked his gruff voice augmented with irritation.
Zell picked up a piece of paper from the Commander’s desk and started skimming it, "Yeah, I was just here to inform you Laguna arrived by helicopter. He is being escorted to his room, but of course, he asked to see his son."
Squall glared at the paper in the young operates hand. "You do realize that is confidential, don’t you? I could dismiss you from Garden for even glancing at it." Squall stood up and quickly yanked the dissertation away from Zell. "If that is all you have to say, dismissed."
Zell gave the Commander an annoyed look and stood to leave. At that moment, Squalls computer sounded it had done the cross-comparison between the original document and the second draft. Only three words were different in the entire report.
"Covered with blood?" Zell turned around quickly facing the Commander, as he had started to walk out the door.
Squall stared at him for a moment, "What did you just say?"
Zell took a step closer to the Commander. "Well, yeah I was technically reading that piece of paper that I wasn’t supposed to see. It stated Rinoa ran from Garden, covered in blood."
Squall glared and then turned his attention back to the computer screen, which was at an angle impossible for Zell to read. It also displayed the same three words Zell just said, covered with blood. He could only look at the younger man, unable to form a thought at how bizarre this coincidence was.
Zell started speaking when his Commander didn’t seem to understand the sudden outburst.
"Squall it’s just that I actually saw Rinoa as she was leaving Garden, when the Galbadian troops started chasing after her. She had this look of… Well I don’t know exactly, she looked scared, horrified at the situation. I was on my way to help, when I was cut off by another group of soldiers. I wasn’t that far from her, maybe three meters at best. One thing that I can tell you, she had no blood on her at all. I was looking to verify she hadn’t been injured."
Squall still looked at the computer finally speaking, "That was added on the final copy. It’s not on the original draft."
"Why would anyone add that on the second draft if it wasn’t true? It almost seems like that would make it look like she was hurt or had hurt somebody at close…" Zell stopped at his own comment. "Ah…sorry about that Squall, sure it’s no big deal."
"Zell, I’m asking you as Commander and as a friend, are you positive Rinoa had no blood on her?" Squall demanded intently searching Zell’s eyes for a response.
"Yes, Squall. I would bet my life on it. As my word as a SeeD, Rinoa had no blood on her. Why is this so important anyhow?"
Squall leaned back in his chair trying to figure it out himself, "Because it is a direct quote from a SeeD, which was apparently added later on."
Zell nodded with understanding, not pushing the subject any further. He started to leave the office yet again, and then a flash of lightening struck outside. Zell was hypnotically pulled back to his dream, which had so often plagued him. The vivid image of Rinoa standing on the lake of blood, yet mysteriously without any on her, entered his mind. The words of the report etched into his mind, covered with blood. He seemed to understand something within himself, within the confines of his dream. Before he closed the door to Squall’s office, he turned back to the Commander.
"Squall, don’t ask me how I know anything. I’m not even sure. I feel that statement is very important, whoever said that is lying."
Squall didn’t reply as Zell closed the door. He gathered up the papers in the folder and began the process to shut down the computer.
Quistis had been walking for what had seemed hours, finally ending up on the shores of Balamb. Taking her shoes off, the lonely instructor let the sand play between her naked toes. Irrevocably when she felt she could walk no longer, she collapsed to the sand below. Waves would come and hit her legs, each time seeming to rise. The foam of the water was mesmerizing, little whirlpools would form around her. She wished they were just large enough to drag her under treacherous surf. Occasionally Quistis would attempt to pull her salt-covered hair out of her eyes; mostly she just let it cling to her pale face, feeling the stinging from the salty water, made the pain in her heart not as great. The tears were almost gone now, there does come a point when crying becomes impossible.
"You know if you stay in the water like that you could catch pneumonia," a low voice declared from behind her.
She knew the voice. She had known it most of her life, although the pitch had changed over many a year.
"Seifer, not now, please."
Ignoring the request, he sat beside her drenching himself in the ocean surf.
"I don’t know why I’m here or how I got to this point, either. The last few years have been no more than a blur."
"You don’t understand what I’m going through, Mr. Almasy," she acknowledged, although not telling him to leave this time.
"I bet you would be amazed at how similar our situations are, Instructor. Right now, you’re looking out to the endless ocean contemplating your entire existence. Although, taking your own life is not even crossing your mind. It is a scary thought to be alone, in life and in death. You are wishing right now that you could take the last two years back. I, myself, wish I could take back the last five and half."
"Least you didn’t fall in love with someone who never could love you," she quietly said never taking her eyes of the impending sunset.
"Didn’t I? Seems to me I fell in love with a conception, an idea so mind-boggling to this day…I can’t believe I fell for it. I fell in love with a sorceress, or her power more like it, not even of this time. How well do you think that relationship could work out?" Seifer replied still looking at the soaking wet instructor.
"I married him. The ironic part of the situation is I knew he didn’t love me. I figured if he was with me…that would be good enough."
"We always want what we can’t have, it’s human nature. You saw a chance to make your dreams come true, then when you got what you wanted…it was not what you had dreamed. I know."
"I just pictured us living a happy life. He would eventually forget about her and I would be there when he did."
"Quistis I’m sorry, but he is never going to forget Rinoa. There is a bond there that cannot be broken, no matter how much time has past. It will last beyond this lifetime into the next. The best you can do is count the losses now, show him that you are stronger than he could ever imagine."
Quistis looked toward Seifer for the first time. "Do you think she killed Ellone?"
Seifer curved his gaze from her as if searching for answers from the vista. "No, I don’t. I loved her once and don’t believe she is capable. I also speak as a former Knight…the power of a sorceress can only be corrupted if that was her desire. Rinoa would have nothing to gain by killing Ellone, only everything to lose."
"Where do you think she is right now, Seifer?" Quistis asked with almost a tinge of sorrow in her voice.
"I think she is scared, hiding probably. I mean even I watched Squall…on the television as he announced the hunt for Rinoa. He showed no emotion toward her. He basically gave anyone the right to shoot on sight. She thinks there is nothing here for her."
Quistis looked down and attempted to trace circles in the sand with her index finger, only to have the waves wash all attempts away. "How do you live with what you have done, how do you face the consequences?"
Seifer restored his gaze to her, attempting to figure out exactly what she meant by the statement. It almost seemed out of context. "I haven’t yet. I believe I’m trying to redeem myself now. I just hope it is not too late. Frankly, I don’t trust President Mitchell. I honestly believe Squall might be my last hope for redemption."
Neither said another word and just continued to watch the sun set below the threatening, foreboding waves.
Quistis walked down the halls of Balamb Garden, it was well past midnight now. Hours passed since she left Seifer sitting on the beach, without a word she walked away from him. Not once had she actually thought of arresting him, he essentially had been a strange form of comfort. After she left the waterfront, she continued walking for some time realizing she had actually missed Garden’s departure. For a fleeting moment, she wondered if Squall would wait for her, or if he even showed any concern on her disappearance. When she returned to the dock, it was empty. She had no money on her and tried calling Selphie, collect at that, to wire funds to hire transportation. After all attempts had failed, she noticed by chance an Estharian helicopter and quickly raced toward it.
At that point, she wasn’t sure if it was a blessing or an omen that the helicopter was that of her father-in-law. Her transportation problems would be solved for the moment. It was an awkward trip, Laguna constantly asking about the condition of his son. Quistis just wanted the older man to be quiet. In the end, Laguna took the hint and the rest of the trip was made in silence.
Now she found herself back at her room, her and Squall’s room. When she opened the door, the only light present emitted from the moonlight filtering through the curtains. Taking her jacket off, Quistis walked the span of the living room over to the light switch, flipping it on. She jumped at the sight of a man sitting serenely in a lone chair. Squall looked almost infuriated, a look she was trying to interpret given their current situation.
"Squall, I thought I told you to stay away from me," Quistis spoke not really in resentment.
He got up out of the chair, throwing a thick folder down on the table. His eyes met hers, staring intensely to her soul.
"You lied," was all he could say…
~ Chapter 7: Encounter ~
Love is whatever you can still betray …
Betrayal can only happen if you love.
--John le Carré
Squall rose from the wooden chair, tossing the bulky folder down to the dining room table. His eyes met those of Quistis, burning directly through blue eyes into her actual soul.
"You lied," he mumbled with sheer detest surrounding his statement.
Quistis looked at this man, her husband, in absolute bewilderment. His expression was one of genuine disgust; a look she had never seen before in all her twenty-three years. Subconsciously, she took several small steps away from him, evading his pending advances as she continued entering the small apartment.
"Squall what in the hell are you doing here?"
The instructor found herself slowly backing into the entryway wall. Squall continued, gradually edging closer. Something about the cold obscurity of his eyes scared her, colder than his normal disdainful glare. Contempt, hate, something worse was present. Years of training taught her to look into enemy eyes for a sign of weakness. Right now, Squall Leonhart had none. Nothing had ever set him off like this before, except her… Quistis whispered the words aloud. Not for him to hear the faintly audible plea, just verbalizing her inner thoughts, fearing she was correct about the source of his odd behavior, "Rinoa?"
He said nothing, only stood millimeters from her shaking body. The enraged Commander did not have to answer with words…his actions spoke clearly.
The momentary flashbacks of events two years prior danced within her minds eye. He knew, Squall knew. Too many years of living with the guilt was slowly drowning her, now she deep under water. Hyne only knew Squall was not going to jump in to save her. The life of Quistis Trepe-Leonhart would change from this day forth; mistakes of the past would be revealed. More innocents would die because of her failures. The scar on Squall’s forehead was nothing compared to the scar in her heart, in her soul.
Pictures, images, and sounds came back flooding the instructors mind…too many pictures, too many deaths. He wanted to know the truth; that would cost them all. Quistis folded her arms, grabbed her elbows, and collapsed against the wall. He had to drop this line of questioning…he just had to…
"Please no, no…" Quistis slid her back down the hard surface, tears streaming down an already pasty face. "Squall you don’t understand. God please…no, just drop it."
Squall squatted down to her level, knees cracking as he neared the floor. With lightning fast reflexes, the Commander grabbed her wrist and spat, "You will tell me the whole story right now my darling wife or gods help me, it will be your blood that is shed this time."
"Squall it’s not like you think…I had no choice."
"Everyone has a choice! Look me in the eyes and tell me point blank you saw Rinoa kill Ellone," he demanded with more intensity, his eyes silently pleading for the answer he so longed to hear.
Quistis could not look directly at him. The pain in her wrist was increasing as his gripped tightened around the thin bones. That action alone answered his question.
"You lying bitch, go to hell. You…you..."
Letting go of her, he turned away from the morose form against the wall. The Commander walked to the table placing both arms on the cherry-wood furniture for support. Words escaped him for the moment, what could he say?
"Squall listen you have to know what really happened that week…it is not what you think. I have never asked anything of you during this entire charade of a marriage. All I will ever ask is that you listen now."
With great vehemence, the Commander hit his tight fists onto the table, still not looking in her direction. "I will listen only if you answer me one simple question: did Sorceress Rinoa Heartilly kill Ellone Loire?"
"No…" she stammered, her word was barely audible through winded breath.
With sheer ferocity, Squall Leonhart extended his right arm knocking off the folder from the tabletop. Individual sheets of paper soared up to the air as Squall made contact with the thick folder he had placed on the table. The white paper leafs filled the room like bitter snow reflecting the coldness in Squall’s heart.
"How could you, how could I? Damn it!" he bellowed trying to vocalize his anger. "I ordered her capture and subsequent execution for the crime! Rinoa…oh Hyne Rinoa what have I done to you?"
The emotionally battered woman stood, not with certainty, but only with sheer will power to explain the treachery. "You must listen to me Squall. Too many…too many more lives will be shattered."
"Shattered," he screamed back to her. "I think it’s a little too late for that. You tell me where she is and maybe you will be out of prison in time to enjoy retirement. Making false accusations is a punishable crime in this country. You help me and I will ask the judge for leniency on my poor, foolish wife. Lie to me again…I personally will sentence you to death."
"You don’t understand Squall…I’m dead either way."
This statement distracted his line of thinking. "What do you mean you're dead?"
She walked silently to their glass veranda doors, gazing to the chasm of the night sky. Squall said nothing. Quistis could feel the eyes of her husband piercing the heart beating inside her chest. She heard his heavy breathing, not for one instance daring to glance in his direction.
"You must listen to the whole story Squall. Lives were lost, innocents that I, that we, fought to protect."
"You have five minutes before I call security," he vowed malevolently.
Quistis knew nothing she could say that would ease his hatred. The only hope was making him understand why the deception, the treachery, and the fraud demonstrated toward him, Garden…and Rinoa.
Glacial winds were chilling down to her very bone. Life was easily lost in temperatures, circumstances such as these. Rinoa would become a statistic, a forgotten memory to all who had ever known her. Would that be the worst thing in her pathetic existence in this world? Not really, but no one was going to hurt Allison, especially not that beast, that man, who had mentally, and physically abused her.
She stayed, yes. She stayed in Richard Bennett’s residence of her own free will. Free will, that was a laugh, nothing was free in her life; everything had its price. Two years ago, if somebody told her she would live with such an abusive tyrant Rinoa would have laughed, all but calling him or her a meanie. She had changed, not for the better. Protecting the little girl was all she endeavored the last couple of years. Richard never once hurt Allison. In a strange twist of irony, he was an affectionate father just a wretched excuse for a husband, or for that matter, a human.
It had been long since she had ventured outside her dwelling in Trabia. A prisoner trapped within confines of four walls. Now the fresh Trabian air seemed highly overrated by local papers and news stations alike. The dark night seemed endless. She had been traveling for almost four hours and had no idea of her current location, nor could recall how most of the events had transpired.
The packed snow grew deeper with every passing minute; shelter was now the only priority. A small clearing through the crowded woodland appeared. And with it, so did hope. She could make out the silhouette of a building. It appeared to be a hunting cabin in the middle of the forest. The idea of a person vacationing in this snow-filled purgatory astonished her. With newfound energy, she quickly headed toward the shelter.
Night was the best time to make an effort to tell him as blackness cloaked the terror concealed deep within her heart. The Garden continued its route to Deling City, gentle warm breezes played with the few scattered plants placed upon the balcony. It was Quistis futile attempt to make the place feel more the home than a meaningless apartment. She examined one of the foliage, a small olive-colored shrub planted precisely a year ago…on the first anniversary of Ellone’s death. It was now or never. Time was now her enemy.
"Squall that morning…that morning Rinoa and I had the worst fight between us yet. That’s why I had visited your office. She had been such a complete bitch the last two weeks. I personally wondered what the problem really was. In fact I wasn't alone, both Selphie and Zell noticed the dramatic change in her behavior. Almost immediately after I exited your office she was standing there, dark hair reflecting her expression… It didn't even look like her."
"Rinoa stepped toward me, glaring directly to my eyes, spitefulness contained within her words…'Run to Squall when poor, feeble Quistis gets her feelings hurt. That seems to be your answer to everything instructor. Run to him, maybe he'll realize it was actually you he loved, not me. Why don’t you just throw your pitiful self onto his desk and screw his brains out? Hyne knows he and I have done just that many times before, oh that’s right he doesn’t want you.' I only could stare at her."
Quistis continued after a brief pause, "Unsure of how to respond to Rinoa’s outburst, I couldn't make a civilized response. Actually the opportunity never arose, at that moment, Galbadian forces rushed in attacking. Both of us turned to the entrance, she looked just as surprised as I had been. Again we faced each other, this time the look was one of mutual understanding…defend Garden. Personal differences would be solved later. We ran down the stairs toward the main gate. At one point a grenade was heaved in our direction, she pulled me behind a support beam to protect me from the blast."
Squall walked behind her, almost spitting in her ear, "So Rinoa might have saved your life, which is a very good reason to frame her for murder. With friends like you, my enemies are starting to look virtuous. This better get more informative real quick…three minutes until I call security."
Squall's words did not faze her as she continued, "That’s when part of the second floor over-hang collapsed…we'd been protected by the support column. Then we saw her, we saw Ellone. Sis was out of the immediate area of the initial collapse, but lay motionless on the ground. Rinoa had been unarmed and unjunctioned before the attack, my guess is she was going to rely on her slight internal magic ability… I just don’t know. We ran over to her, when I got closer I saw something – a large piece of metal was going through Elle’s chest. Sis was killed with shrapnel caused by the grenade explosion, although at the point she had not passed away."
Squall did not move. "Killed by shrapnel from a grenade explosion how hard is that to say to everybody? I can see how you can get that confused with Rinoa stabbed Ellone with a dagger. Yes, I’m sure the distinction between the two events was very difficult in that little head of yours."
"Squall, listen to the rest of the story please!" begged Quistis. "What I did wasn’t right, but I tried. I tried so damn hard to rectify it!"
"Continue then my beautiful wife, please enlighten me."
"We were still under part of the over-hang, Galbadian troops were making their way closer to our position. Ellone looked at both of us and smiled. 'It’s all right'…she gasped, obviously in pain. I looked at her remembering all that transpired in her life, her past…and visible lack of a future. I wanted to comfort her. I wanted to be there holding her hand through this… I reached for it, but before I could get there Ellone grabbed Rinoa’s hand."
Quistis took a deep breath, looking at Squall for the first time since she had started this horrible retelling of events. "Squall, Hyne knows it was petty, but she was my Sis. Rinoa barely knew her. First, I lost my chance for you, and then I lost the chance to comfort Ellone in her final minutes…to her, both to Rinoa. A quick intense light flashed, my first thought was that Rinoa was attempting to use magic, and then I noticed the aura was emanating from Ellone. Rinoa collapsed on the ground still holding Elle’s hand. It was only for around thirty seconds Rinoa lay unconscious…she woke up startled, looking directly at Ellone. Sis opened her eyes for the last time and glanced toward Rinoa. 'He loves you and always will' she whispered to the confused girl. Then Sis peacefully closed her eyes and took her final breath. Rinoa said not one word, to me or to Ellone. She dropped Elle’s hand, got up, and ran. Not one word of explanation. I watched as Galbadian troops followed her…at first it looked like they were going to attack her, and then they suddenly retreated. She managed to make it to the gate and run."
The mystified Commander looked at Quistis, "She ran, out the door? That would coincide with Zell’s account, but not one word of why she didn’t stay and help fight?"
"No Squall," Quistis continued, "nothing…at least nothing from her. That's when I heard a member of the Galbadian army announcing the attack on behalf of the sorceress. In my mind, that explained why the troops didn't follow. I didn't have much time to think, the creaking of the overhang was getting louder. I had to move from under the unstable structure…the collapse would have killed me too. I grabbed Ellone’s lifeless body dragging it a safe distance. Somewhere in the shuffle, the metal displaced itself from her chest. Crimson blood ran freely down from her open wound. Remarkably, it was the first blood I had seen, the metal had blocked the rush until it dislodged. I found myself covered in it…covered with Elle’s blood."
"I held her in my arms rocking back and forth when a cadet came running to me, followed by two Galbadian soldiers appearing from around the corner. I thought for sure I was dead… Events rushed through my mind. I was making peace with the idea of death. It almost seemed welcomed. Yet the attack never came, instead the soldiers looked at me. One of them asked if the sorceress was responsible… I was either half-lost in my daydreams or half-lost in the resentment toward Rinoa for not staying to defend the Garden sworn to protect her. I don't know why…to this day I wish I'd have that moment back. I looked directly into the soldier’s eyes and said yes. 'Yes, the sorceress killed Ellone'. A minute later, you came rushing up, I could never speak the words to you directly…the cadet did that for me, I just nodded. Even years later, I never told you she did, I just never told you she didn’t. Reports where taken from both my accounts and others, facts and incorrect conclusions were drawn."
Squall looked her directly in the eyes, "It was a simple question Quistis, a yes or no answer. How hard is it to say NO!? Why didn’t you retract your statement? After the battle, there was plenty of time to do the honorable thing."
Quistis attempted to explain, "Yes, there was. Believe me I tried."
"You didn’t try hard enough," the Commander, scolded interrupting the testimony.
"Damn it, I tried! The newly formed World Council was to handle the investigation. I was explicitly instructed not to talk to anyone about the incident. I had gone to General Mitchell trying to rectify the misunderstanding…I was warned clearly not to change the story. No, I was outright threatened. My life was not the issue. Instead, he threatened the safety of the Deling citizens. His last words to me before I left that day: think about what you really want. Think. The next day was far more tragic than the day Ellone died. There was an explosion…there was…" Quistis stretched to the couch, sitting down she hid her face attempting to regain composure.
"What Quistis? What explosion?"
"The next day there was an explosion on an elementary school bus. Two children and the bus driver were killed. General Mitchell announced his candidacy for president that very evening. When making his public speech…" She found it increasingly difficult to continue, "In the speech, he said whoever was responsible for the atrocity better think. We will be watching his or her back, until the time of trial and execution for this horrible deed. Around midnight, someone slipped an envelope under my door. In it was the newspaper article about the bus explosion…in thick red ink, it contained only one word…think. I got the message loud and clear. I knew the kind of man Galbadia was dealing with. President Jefferson Mitchell had innocent children killed to keep the truth from coming out. A man who could overcome a sorceress' spell was a very powerful man, one to the citizens of Deling, would be the clear cut choice for president."
"And like good little infidels they elected him," Squall reproached. "And like the brain-washed Commander, I fell right into the same trap. Why Quistis? Why didn’t you just say no? How hard could have that been? It was a simple yes or no question. How many more lives will be lost to this?"
Quistis not acknowledging the last statement kept reliving the events. "After I agreed not to tell, the World Council mysteriously found a homeless man who was tried and executed for the bombing. The citizens were satisfied the real killer had been brought to justice. I know better. He is out there every day daring me to come forward, watching my every move. That is why you must never tell anybody… Squall no one else can die. Please, I beg of you."
"Quistis…I’m not you. I won’t go yelling to the council that Rinoa didn’t murder Ellone, but I’m not going to sit around and let her suffer alone anymore."
"I know, Squall. I’m sorry."
"It was a simple question, how hard was it to answer truthfully? Yet you got what you always wanted, didn’t you? I am your husband. You got me. Congratulations Quistis Leonhart."
"I’m so sorry. Please if I could change this, I would. I don’t have anything I wanted. I may have you in a physical sense never a mental one. Did you ever once look at me as your wife? Did you ever once not picture her when we were making love? Did you ever kiss me or was it always her in your head?"
"No Quistis, it was never you I looked as my wife. No, it was not you when I felt strained to kiss you. No, it was never you I saw when I forced myself to make love, have sex, or whatever that was with you. No, Quistis it was never you. See how easy saying no is?" Squall roared as he slammed the door behind him.
She knew this was the end. Everything she attempted to build with Squall, based on a lie. He would probably never speak to her again. Yet telling the truth lifted a huge weight from her being. Maybe he could find Rinoa, that is, if she was still alive. Maybe Squall could right her mistakes, much like Seifer, her hopes for redemption laid squarely on Squall’s shoulders.
She picked herself off the couch and wandered like a ghost over to the balcony. Sliding the doors open, the instructor took off her golden wedding band. For just a moment, she watched the beautiful reflection in the full moonlight. Quistis looked at the symbol for the last time, and then effortlessly tossed the wedding ring out to the churning waves below.
~ Chapter 8: Tension ~
If you betray me,
can I take a better revenge
than to love the person you hate?
As dawn's light crept across the office floor, Squall slowly awoke from his tentative slumber. The office had become more a home to him than his apartment; many memories remained within these four walls. He reached out to caress the smooth mahogany of his desk. Like a silent colleague, the furniture had always been there, in both the best and worst of times.
For an ephemeral moment, he was mentally transported back to a more tranquil time. Remembering Rinoa sitting at the edge of his desk smiling at him, and Rinoa on his desk, the thought of that almost wanted to make him smile, almost. They spent many hours there together, several of which he probably would have lost his job over.
Rinoa had never seen his new quarters, those added after the reconstruction. The memories there were only with Quistis. He closed his eyes in pain at the sheer thought of that name. What a position they had both been forced into. Maybe he had been too hard on her last night or maybe he had not been hard enough. Time was running out. After two years of this purgatory, he could feel the conclusion drawing near.
Why now, why after these years did he feel the extraordinary urgency again? It was a renewed passion to seek the truth. Yes, that was the reason, truth. Squall now knew the truth. Maybe he could not save the sorceress this time, but playing these political games wasn't working. In addition there was Seifer, why after two years to the day Ellone dies, does he show up claiming he wants to help Rinoa? The commanding officer tried to search for clandestine motives for the former-knights sudden reappearance. Squall could think of several individual and political motivations, yet on instinct alone, he believed his request for deliverance. Squall also sought after salvation.
They were equals once again.
A light knock on the door interrupted his line of contemplating. Squall sighed as he smoothed his chestnut hair back, attempting to hide the fact that he had spent the night sleeping in his oversized chair. Hiding from whom he did not know, everyone in Garden knew of his sleeping habits. Somehow, now that his travesty of a marriage was officially going to be over, he felt the need to conceal his actions from students and instructors alike.
"Come in," he replied, sleep able to disguise itself within his husky voice.
The Commander's administrative assistant stuck her head in the office, "Sir, we will be arriving in Deling within the hour. The staff you requested is waiting in the small meeting room. Also, President Loire has been by twice this morning looking for you."
Great, top the last twenty-four hours off with Laguna and call his wretched existence complete. Somebody up there really did have it out for him. "Lauren, please tell President Loire that I will be attending meetings this morning. If opportunity allows before we go ashore, I will meet with him briefly."
The young SeeD promptly saluted, turning to leave the door. Lauren had been with him thirteen months, and truth be told, he could not even recall her last name. Nor did he care. What disturbed him most was her striking resemblance to Rinoa, particularly the dark flowing hair. More than once he caught sight of her with his peripheral vision, momentary believing it was the sorceress, hoping it was. When Lauren first started her employment with him, he began the process of transfer to Trabia Garden, but then decided the constant reminder would be a deserving anguish in life.
As an after thought, he called for the young SeeD to return to the room, "Lauren, when is the last time you have been on a field mission?"
She stared at the Commander with slight apprehension. It was unlike him to say anymore then essential. "Sir, I was on my quarterly assessment about a month ago."
"No, I mean an operation not requiring evaluation," he replied evading direct eye contact.
"Since becoming a SeeD, I've been doing primarily administrative work. I only go on assignments when guidelines regulate. My instructor decided that I was more qualified in my organizational skills than my fighting abilities."
"Well who is your instructor? I will talk to them. You will be joining us on this mission," he acknowledged standing from behind his desk.
"Sir…it's your wife, Instructor Leonhart," Lauren answered faintly surprised the Commander was not aware.
"Quistis assigned you to me?" Squall's voice escalating in slight anger.
"Yes sir," she replied not understanding where this conversation was going.
Squall pushed in the chair to his desk, finally looking at Lauren. He wore a stern face, one the SeeD knew better than attempt to question.
"Lauren, I will be in charge of your missions from now on, Quistis Tre…Leonhart is no longer an instructor at Garden. As of today, she is on indefinite teaching suspension and on a four-week suspension from all SeeD related duties. Until I can find suitable replacement, all her SeeD and cadets may report to me as their mission counselor. Please join the others in the small meeting room, I shall be there momentarily."
Quistis sat staring at the official communication in hand. This had been the second time reading the contents within the short document. It should not have surprised her, she was aware it was coming. Lying under oath was perjury, immediate termination from SeeD. When the Garden Masters had revoked her teaching license before, it hurt. However, nothing prepared her from the sting that seeing Squall Leonhart's signature would cause. Originally, she was supposed to be in a meeting right now. Presently, she had no idea of what to do…today or with her life in general. The normal demeanor of the instructor was gone, and in its place was more the scared little girl than the valiant SeeD. This had been her life from such an early age, what else was she capable of doing?
The slight trembling of Garden announced the arrival in Deling. As the breaks applied, the motors churning sound echoed within the silent apartment. Reaching the city would give the instructor a much-needed break from this place, yet her uneasiness grew because of the close proximity to President Mitchell. Quistis sat motionless on the couch studying each word on the letter, committing it to memory. A slight rattling at the door startled her. The only person, besides herself, with keys was Squall. Would he really come back to this place? Experience on his actions taught that Squall would want to stay as far away as humanly possible. Quistis continued to watch as the door opened.
"What are you doing here?" She found herself blaring at the man.
"Actually I was checking on you Instructor," he smirked.
"You are like a maggot that thrives on the carcass of road kill," she answered while her body trembled.
"Wow, I believe that is a compliment coming from you," he smugly countered.
Tossing the letter to the side table, she stood up backing the man into a corner. "How in Diablo did you get in here Seifer?"
"We maggots have our trade secrets." He ducked to the side, avoiding her reach as he sauntered into the living area. "So this is where you and Squall live? My guess is he didn't have anything to do with decorating. I don't see heads of his victims stuffed and mounted on the wall or the shrine to Rinoa anywhere around."
Quistis turned to the man, "Seriously how do you get in and walk freely through Garden? What happened to our security, to keep people like you out?"
"Or people like you in?" he retorted. "I was worried about you and the dear Commander. So thought I would just drop by and check in on my favorite couple."
No longer wishing to argue, in an odd way glad for someone removed from the situation to talk with, she answered him.
Seifer tensed at that statement that would explain her lackluster appearance. Had she been crying all night?
"Quistis, sorry I didn't know. Are you okay?"
"What do you mean am I okay? I just lost my husband, my job, and my place to live all in one day!"
"You lost your job? That bastard, he can't fire you because your marriage is over." Seifer had a tinge of concern within his voice.
"No, Seifer he can't. But he is well within his rights to fire me for lying, filing false reports, and in general being a weak person."
"Instructor, you are not a weak person, not on any account. No matter what you did," Seifer rebuked, surprised at his own compliment to the woman.
"Don't call me instructor anymore. It's just Quistis Trepe."
"No matter what you did, I'm sure you have some form of recourse. Squall is just being a bastard. Some things never change. Do you want to talk about it? I know you can't stand the sight of me, but I can still listen."
A surprised look crossed the woman's face, "Yes, Seifer…for some reason I would like to talk to somebody. Hyne knows why I'm telling you this. But, I don't know who else would or could understand beside someone who has been through it themselves."
Walking toward her he motioned to the couch, "I'm not sure whether to be flattered or hurt by that, Instr…Quistis." They both sat on the sofa. Seifer turned facing Quistis while she chose to look forward, ignoring his gaze. "Please I do want to listen, maybe I can help."
The strange thing is Quistis really did believe his desire to help. This is not how she would have envisioned the start of a new day…
The meeting room was barely big enough for six people. In fact, Squall actually considered it a large storage closet more than a functional room. When he arrived Lauren, Selphie, Zell, and Irvine sat around the table. They turned their full attention toward the leader, as he entered the room and each stood. After saluting in customary SeeD fashion, they returned to their seats.
Squall did not acknowledge them, just started handing each case folders.
"We have been asked to take over the investigation of a kidnapping in Trabia."
"Trabia?" Irvine questioned. "Seems to me that we spent a couple years working on their Garden so they could handle things like this."
"Yes Irvine, Trabia is handling the preliminary investigation on this. Unfortunately for me, it was the daughter of a World Council member so my assistance has been requested."
"You mean demanded," stated Zell.
"Whatever," Squall chastised the martial artist. "Now if everyone would shut up and act like SeeD's I could give you the details." Nobody spoke back to him, each knew that would be pushing his or her luck. "Two nights ago, Richard and Renee Bennett had their fourteen month daughter kidnapped sometime during the night. Richard is a top council member from Trabia. This case will be personally over-seen by the council leader. We currently believe that Mr. Bennett's assistant is responsible for the abduction. Her name is Alexandra Williams. She had not only served as a work assistant, but also a part-time nanny to the child. Renee Bennett is very ill, and not expected to survive much longer. The council fears that the concern for her child's welfare might be too much on her health. When we docked in Balamb, I sent two SeeD's to Fisherman's Horizon where Ms. Williams is believed to have an aunt. After reporting that to the council, they were not pleased with my selections and wish me to send two "A" rank SeeDs. Zell and Irvine, you will be leaving for FH this afternoon to replace the others. Selphie and Lauren, you will be going to Trabia to aid in the investigation from that end, any questions?"
Zell looked through the case folder, noticing that any photographs were missing.
"Yes Commander, do we have any pictures of Ms. Williams or the child…Allison Elizabeth?"
Lauren grabbed a nearby file. "Sir, this came for you. I made copies for everyone."
She handed some papers to Squall. Quickly he glanced at them before handing them to the others. Zell sat looking at the picture with a strange sense of déjà vu, yet he could not place the little girl's face.
"Oh! She is so cute!" cried Selphie. "How could anyone want to hurt such a sweet looking child?"
Zell sat memorized at the picture, "Guys, I have a strange question for you. Does this baby look familiar to you in any way?"
Irvine looked at the photograph of the child. "Zell, let's face it, all babies look the same…but the nanny carries herself very well."
Squall held the picture of the two in his hand. Something about Zell's statement seemed correct, but impossible knowing that none of them had ever seen the child in question.
"Zell, Irvine is right. Most children look the same at this age. This child is no different from anyone else. The key is going to be finding Alexandra Williams. I now have to go to a council meeting and report what progress we do not have in either this or the search for the sorceress. Dismissed."
Selphie looked around the room, proclaiming to nobody in particular, "Where is Quistis, wasn't she supposed to be on this mission?"
Squall did not even bother turning around, "She is no longer an Instructor and is currently on suspension from all duties."
Nobody moved as they all sat confused, which was evident in their individual expressions.
As Quistis finished recalling the last detail of events to Seifer, from two years ago to last night, a sigh of relief escaped her lips. He had actually listened to her, how many nights had she dreamt Squall doing the same? Now they were just faded hopes of a life slipped by. The two remained seated silently; Seifer didn't jump up and condemn Squall's action. Ironically, he almost agreed with them, yet with a much higher degree of compassion.
Reaching over he looked at the officially stamped letter. "Quistis he didn't fire you from SeeD. According to this letter, you are on a month suspension. I believe he technically had the right to dismiss you permanently."
"So what? He might as well have kicked me out. What am I going to do around here afterwards? The two of us can never work together again," she replied spitefully.
"Actually, I think this is his way of understanding or asking for forgiveness for his betrayals," Seifer tried to explain. As Quistis turned her head glaring directly into the ex-knights eyes, he could sense her uneasiness about the statements.
"Now just hear me out. Had he wanted never to speak to you again, you would be gone…this is one of the better courses he could've taken. I think that you two should try to talk, maybe not today, but soon. I know you've come to the realization that the marriage has ended. For both of your sakes, that is the best decision. Quistis, you're twenty-three years old, and you're acting as if life is over. The best thing you can do now is show him that you're not weak, pick up the pieces and be the best SeeD you can be. Some of us will never have that opportunity."
Quistis thought for a moment, Seifer essentially had made a valid point. Outlandish and as earth shaking as it may be, Seifer actually made sense. Suddenly she tensed, feeling a hand on her cheek, wiping away the tears. Quistis wasn't sure if the surprise came from the fact that the sensation of reassurance was foreign, or the fact she actually took comfort in it. Many nights she wished for some form of human contact, now he was there, where another should have been. No that wasn't right. Squall should not have been there…he should have been comforting someone else, someone who needed him more. For a moment, she looked into Seifer's eyes attempting to read his motivations. Sympathy, concern, and something else were present this was not the man she remembered from five years ago.
"Seifer," she spoke softly. "There is another reason I need to talk to Squall." Walking over to the dresser, she opened the drawer and lifted some tablecloths, clasping something tight in her hands.
Seifer took a step closer to her. Curious of what else Quistis could be upset about. When he saw what she held in her hands all he could say was, "Oh my God."
Sometimes life goes the way we plan, most time fate has something else designed for us. When I was five, I lost my mother. When I was fourteen, I lost my father…not in a physical sense, just emotional, sometimes that can be more devastating. When I was seventeen, I helped saved the world and when I was twenty I lost the very world I helped save only years before. Yes, fate can be spiteful creature. A few fragments of that celebrated world remain some good, some bad. Most are daydreams and memories, but one very special piece of it survived. She does not know how lucky she is and according to fates wicked plan, she never will. However, I do. I would have given up long before had it not been for the one part of sanity from an otherwise insane life. Allison Raine Elizabeth survived, and Hyne willing, she will live to see tomorrow.
We are not fortunate enough to choose our enemies, especially if they are the ones we hold dear. They will never know the impact they had on my life. In fact, fate has determined they were not meant to know. We hold our faith in others hands, and want to believe all they tell us. Is this the lie, the deceit that has caused great nations to go to war? No, this is humanity at its best and at its worst. Faith is a wonderful thing to have, one never knows how important it is until the day it is lost. I remember that day. I remember watching him. His eyes were all I ever needed to watch.
Two years earlier, the hunt for the sorceress begins…
In the congested capital of Deling, Rinoa Heartilly sat within the recess of an abandoned alleyway, clothes torn and tattered. It had been three days now since the attack on Garden, three days that lasted an eternity. Yes, like a frightened child, she ran. But then again, Ellone told her to do so. It was decided by fate that she would have died in battle, ironic how she truly died either way. Now the dominant world powers had gathered politicians and SeeD alike, to announce the search for the sorceress. Had they ever once turned around to look within their own city streets, the sorceress lay broken within arms reach. Watching, attempting to understand the charges against her.
Then it happened, like an unreal dream one desires to wake up from, Squall Leonhart declared her guilty of the murder of Ellone Loire. Rinoa witnessed Ellone die. Yes, by all rights, she was present. However, so was another that could have cleared her, should have cleared her. Fate was all too apparent now. The very people she loved turned against her. Moreover, the very person she would sacrifice her life for, just slaughtered her name and reputation in front of millions.
She watched as the Garden Commander solemnly took the podium, his words echoed the suffering and anguish upon his face. "The Sorceress Rinoa Heartilly has been found guilty of the murder of Ellone Loire. She is to be considered an enemy of the state, for such crimes are punishable by death. When located, if she shows any sign of resistance, you have authority to shoot on sight."
His eyes, if nothing else about that day, would be engraved within her mind for eternity…the detached glassy stare and most of all, the absence of faith. His faith in her had been taken away three days ago, now hers in the Knight also vanished. Rinoa had come to Deling in an attempt to make contact with him, she now saw this was not possible. If she knew one thing, Squall Leonhart honestly believed her guilty. She was dead to him.
Normally she might have risked the chance of contact, but it was not just her safety anymore. Ellone warned of this, had warned to leave Garden without a word to anyone. Above all, she warned if Rinoa did not listen, the life of her unborn baby would be lost. Fate had been vicious today.
Citizens gathered outside their shops and restaurants, watching the events unfolding on the streets. Rinoa knew this would be her last chance to escape from Deling and the Commander of SeeD. The sorceress accepted this would be the last time she would see him. Her brown eyes now filled with tears yet to fall, as she memorized his features for the last time. From the dark alley, she whispered her goodbyes to a man surrounded by thousands of soldiers, presidential hopefuls, and ironically General Caraway. Those two men had never gotten along during Rinoa's three years at Garden. It was a paradox onto itself how the one thing that would unite them, would be the demise of her life.
The older woman who ran the corner pharmacy was outside taking in the awe of the troops, paying little attention to her shop. Rinoa held her breath as she walked out from the veiled alley, hoping not to draw much attention from pedestrians. Whether it was fate, or some unknown sorceress ability, she managed to make it into the small store without detection. Hastily proceeding toward the back aisle, Rinoa found the hair care products. Her highlighted hairstreaks made her easily recognizable, those would have to be covered. Finding a dark shade of brown, she tore open a box of color, stuffing the small tube into her overcoat pockets.
On the way out, she also grabbed a large pair of scissors from the stationary aisle. Not only to cut her hair, but they were the closest item in the store, resembling a weapon. If need be, they could be used in self-defense. Before departing, she stuffed the rest of her pockets with granola bars and grabbed a few juice bottles she carried visible in her hands. Rinoa had never stolen before and even in the present circumstances, the guilt was eating away at her conscious. Nevertheless, she escaped without incident, taking it as a sign that fate held the slightest bit of compassion. Silently she assured herself that one day she would repay the debts to the store if circumstances allowed.
Just as covertly as she slipped in, she managed to elude all eyes on the way out. Immediately she returned to the alley, grateful for the stealth cover of night. Using the hair color would not be wise right now, but cutting her hair might throw people off, if even for a moment. Inhaling deeply she took the shears and watched as long strands of brunette hair fell into the shadows of the alley. When it was over her hair was short and bobbed, strangely almost the same style as Ellone, maybe a tad shorter. She gathered up all the clumps on the ground and buried them deeply in a trash container nearby.
Rinoa Heartilly took one last breath, glancing back over her shoulder to the crowds still chanting for her death. Reaching up to embrace the two hanging rings around her filth covered neck. She started to move away from the enormous crowd. The sorceress walked deeper into the passageway, taking the back streets to reach the Deling trucking yards. Many shipping vehicles gathered there daily exporting and importing items from far off lands. Her strategy was simple, make it to a truck, hide inside the cargo hold until it reached its destination, and then continue making it as far away from the Galbadian and Estharian territories as possible.
When Rinoa vanished into the darkness, a lone shadowy outline walked to where she had stood. Bending down he reached for something on the dirty pavement. Standing up, he held a stray clump of long brown hair the top contained a small lighter streak. Walking over to the waste container, he carefully placed the hair deep within the trash. Evidence can be damning, especially on charges such as murder. He closed the lid and walked out into the crowd. His eyes stopped when he saw the SeeD Commander. Even he could read the pain and betrayal on his face; he did not feel the least bit of remorse toward the man seated on the platform. The only person he felt repentance for, just vanished into the shadows, and out of everyone's life.
And so it began, two years and a lifetime ago. Sometimes I look in the mirror and try to pretend I cut my former life, when I cut my hair. That day I stopped believing in other people and only started believing in me. Survival has its price. Hyne knows I paid it. When I find myself, upset or worried I reach up to grasp the metallic rings. But like the sinister phantoms that haunt me in this world, they are now figments of my imagination. Material possessions I gave up long ago in the name of survival. I can still feel them though… feel them when I move, when I sleep. The comfort they gave me shall be with me for eternity. I can feel the cold platinum upon my bare chest, in ones dreams you can feel anything.
Now I sit and watch the dancing flames as the cabin offers me more than required shelter. As the nightfall breaks and gives way to another winter's day, I feel a strange sense of serenity. For the first time in two years, I am alone. It offers me the solitude and peace that I forgot existed in this universe.
Ironic now how I am depending on another again, especially with the one thing I treasure most, my daughter. I trust in Alexandra, she was there with me from the beginning, never questioning, always offering assistance. She would have left her job long ago had it not been for the compassion she felt toward me. Working for Richard could almost be as appalling as being married to him. I do not know what she had to endure being an 'assistant' for that bastard, I never asked. I know what he did to me; I pray she had better fortune. Alex is out there, I know. She is the guardian angel I wished for and Hyne help her, she knows the truth…well most of it.
Aiding the sorceress is also a crime punishable by death, yet Alex decided to help...risk her own life for that of a child, not of her own flesh and blood. I find myself questioning if Squall would have helped, had he known about Ally. I knew him more than anyone should know another living soul. Strangely, it was through actions more than words. His eyes always spoke louder than his voice ever could. I talk about faith and of losing it, yet something deep down inside still holds out hope for him. Maybe my faith in him is not completely gone, just buried beneath the layers of lies. Therefore, if I truthfully had to answer my own question, yes, I do believe Squall would have helped, if not for me… for his daughter.
~ Chapter 9: Variance ~
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
I cannot stand this place, everything I see reminds me of you. It always has. For two years, I have lived with the guilt that I would ultimately end your life. I thought that would be the greatest agony in my wretched existence. I never knew I could be so mistaken... The greatest torture shall always be that I doubted you; I doubted your integrity. For too many seasons, I have lain awake in bed struggling to figure how you could betray me, and now I discover it was I who betrayed you.
I listened to the sound of another breath, allowing myself to imagine it was you lying peacefully next to me. At this moment, I find that I did not even deserve that right. I gave up my rights where you are concerned. You told me once that nobody could see the future. I sure as hell would not have envisioned this. I opened myself to you, and now have paid the ultimate price. I look back on the three years together with both love and hatred. Love for the time we spent as one, the sensations we shared, and for emotions I felt back then. Hatred for the feeling I am experiencing now. The sense of abandonment is overpowering, it fills oneself to the point of self-destruction.
Someone said it was better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all. He was a fool. Maybe I was quiet back then, and maybe I was shy. Nevertheless, that was my world, my existence, the life that I decided upon. Would I be worse now had I not met you? Maybe. Hyne knows had you never chanced upon me, your life would have been better. Rinoa, you never deserved someone pathetic like me. You should have had the fairytale life, the prince to sweep you off your feet. I am solely to blame for you not experiencing the life that should have been yours…the husband, the children you dreamed of, the family you so desired.
When I was a teenager, I did not believe in destiny. Now I cannot deny it, for its merciless plan has been cruel to us. Had we not met, I would have never known this inner pain, this anguish. We both would have been better off, had our lives never crossed paths. As I say those words to myself, even I do not believe them. I am nothing without you. For a few brief years I was complete, I cherish every one of them. I know you are out there somewhere. I have nothing left to give here. I know the truth now and I must find you. Forgive me Garden for leaving, deserting my post. Forgive me Quistis for emotional abuse suffered by my hand. I was heartless. Forgive me Hyne for what ever I do next.
Squall sat at his desk, taking one last look around. Fate had led him to this moment, to this resolution. Garden would run smoothly with Xu in charge, it always had. Opening his desk drawer, he removed a washed out picture almost five years old. Petty items like photographs never seemed important before she left. After she vanished, it was his only physical proof of her existence…or at least the only one he could bear to look at. A single picture of them together, was all that remained. He had no personal possessions in his office, never felt the need. Such things seemed unprofessional and trivial at best.
The assembly in Deling City would be starting soon, as the World Council convened monthly. He vowed this to be the last public betrayal to Rinoa Heartilly. More importantly, his last betrayal to everyone he cared about. He finally could admit to himself, as much as he tried not to, he still cared about others…and about her.
"Do you know what this implies? I will be charged for concealing evidence, for crimes that were never committed."
"How did you get this?" demanded Seifer. "This alone could get you killed, if not by the council, definitely by Squall."
She clasped the cloth napkin and its contents within her delicate hands, "I…I bought it."
"Bought it! What kind of answer is that? You will have to come up with something more convincing than that! Squall will want a believable answer for this. Where could you have purchased this? Why the hell didn't you tell anybody?"
"Seifer," she fought back the tears forming in her eyes. "Would you believe I was trying to help her?"
Irvine entered Zell's dorm, the martial artist was busy packing his duffle bag. Being on a mission with Zell was a welcome relief. It was almost unheard of to assign top SeeD's as partners. Actually, SeeD never sent two ranking officers together.
"Why do I have to go to Fisherman's Horizon," grumbled Zell. "That place is creepy, I don't think they like SeeD very much."
"You're very observant," countered Irvine. "I think the fact they don't like us, and told us so, gives it away."
"Yes, but I wanted to talk to Matron before I left about…well about some personal stuff. Now I'm going on some wild-goose chase for someone who probably won't be there in the first place. Don't get me wrong, I want to help find the kid, but I'm just more into fighting than investigating."
"…Investigating," repeated Irvine. "You're right, why would they send us to investigate? Why wouldn't local officials handle this? Why SeeD unless…"
"Unless their expecting a fight," Zell grasped after listening to the gunman. "They are expecting some sort of conflict over this child. This is more than a nanny running off with a kid, if they think it could lead to some kind of armed battle."
Irvine sat down on the edge of the bed. "You wanted to talk to Edea about the visions?"
"Dreams!" Zell fired back. "They are dreams, nothing more."
"Sorry Zell, didn't mean to touch on a sore subject. Selphie told me what she could about it, said you would fill me in on the rest."
"Yeah, I guess we'll have plenty of time on the train to Timber."
The main chamber of the World Council was full of international delegates, men and women fictitiously putting on the pretense of aiding their nations. Each emissary wore attire native to their countries, formality required at meetings. The only common motive among the politicians was now, and ever shall be, power. Power was absolute.
The Garden Commander had methodically become the right hand of Lucifer, himself. Squall Leonhart sat next to President Mitchell, the bastard was the mortal equivalent to the devil. Squall had never trusted the man. Instinct alone taught him to understand people's ulterior motives. The thought Rinoa knighted the deceptive leader, weighed heavily into his unadulterated hatred of the man.
This was the first time the alleged indiscretion entered his mind. Hyne, he actually believed she had been intimate with that man. Even Seifer did not believe the accusations, yet Squall had. His mind remembered pictures he tried to forget. Believing the lie made it easier to pursue Rinoa, the betrayal gave him cause to hate. It is easier to kill persons we hate, than ones we are afraid to love, especially when we deny our emotions. Never had the old adage keep your friends close, your enemies closer echoed so true. Jefferson Mitchell was an enemy; this man sacrificed many innocent victims, all in the quest for absolute power.
As the council secretary recited the minutes from the previous meeting, Squall's attention drifted. He was the devil's right hand, a puppet from the first gruesome battle. In his dress uniform he looked the part of Commander, in his mind he resigned the position last night. The council could not know, if not for him or Rinoa, but for the sake of Quistis. She too was a marionette in this tragedy, nothing more than a pawn to both sides. Listening to bits and pieces of the summary, Squall paid careful attention to matters dealing with the sorceress. Last month he believed every word of the carefully orchestrated lies. Now his life had become the ultimate paradox, his purpose was different. He would give his life to protect her, willing to die for her, as he promised a lifetime ago.
The floor was now open to new motions, as officials vied for the right to speak, only one was granted the privilege. President Mitchell spoke, "Council leader yields the floor to the prominent gentleman from the Galbadian delegation General Caraway."
The Galbadian General had not changed much over the years. In fact, much as Squall, he withdrew from most society activities, attending a minimum number of events, required by the council. Squall noticed the visible stress on his face, mirrored the inner turmoil. If there were one person who could understand the madness, it would be him. Yet, they were different.
Caraway rose from his chair, walking toward the main podium.
"I wish to speak of the latest sighting of the sorceress. It seems to me, someone is purposely misleading us. I believe the individual knows the truth of my daughter's whereabouts and is outright lying."
Squall jumped to his feet in anger, "General Caraway, I don't like what you are implying. I suggest you actually ask a question or yield the floor."
"You are quick to assume that I speak of you, when in fact, I did not name anyone."
"Don't take me for a fool Caraway. Your intent was clear," retorted Squall.
"I'm not the one who took you for a fool, my daughter did a sufficient job of that. Am I correct Knight Leonhart?" Caraway smugly countered.
President Mitchell could feel the loss of control on the situation. He ordered both the General and the Commander to take their seats. Unfortunately, for him only the latter fielded his request.
"Maybe she used me Caraway, but she learned from the best. I believe that your wife Julia only considered you a poor substitute for my father."
Squall believed the outburst to be over, relaxing slightly. Much to his surprise, Caraway walked toward him without a word. Unexpectedly, the General punched Squall in the jaw, briefly disorientating him. Security apprehended Caraway, quickly escorting him out of the building.
Squall sat in shock, holding a tissue to his bloody lip. The last thing he expected was Caraway punching him in front of the council. For such actions, Caraway would be expelled and even disciplinary actions within the Galbadian Army could be taken.
The balance of the session remained uneventfully. Squall thought only of leaving Deling City, getting far away from bureaucrats. Honestly, he had no idea of where to start the impending search, nor if he would succeed. Yet, Squall had to try. Seifer may have the knowledge of where to start, a beginning was far better than an ending. Maybe the man had some detail overlooked before. Again, he winced at the concept of relying on his long-standing adversary.
Two hours had passed, the council meeting should have concluded. Caraway sat in his study painstakingly going over stacks of documents. When revered amid the armed forces, Galbadian security can be effortless. Many soldiers actually commended him on today's actions, as Squall Leonhart was not amongst the popular of Deling. Past actions not easily forgotten among the enlisted men, the Second Sorceress War was still fresh in their minds.
Now the General found himself carefully studying financial requests, remarkably unbothered by earlier events. The mansion was quiet which allowed him clearly to hear the intruder in the study.
"You hit me."
The General did not take his eyes of the file he was evaluating. "Yes, I did. Thought I would add a little realism. Not expecting that were you? It's a known strategy for military counter-intelligence."
"Don't ever do that again Caraway," lectured Squall.
"I'll do whatever the hell I want Commander. Last time I checked I was the elder, and you need me."
Squall reached in his jacket for a pack of cigarettes. As he was about to light one, the general reprimanded him, "Don't smoke in my house Leonhart."
Squall continued to ignite the cigarette, inhaling deeply. "I'll do whatever the hell I want General. Last time I checked, I was stronger and your daughter needs my help."
The General did not press the issue, "I don't appreciate when my calls are not answered, especially on your private line."
"I understand Caraway. Personal issues…it was unavoidable. I apologize for sending your man back to Deling, on erroneous information. Did he uncover anything new?"
"No, just there are four different investigations that continue. He's not worth the Gil we're paying him. Duplicated the encrypted telegram that you sent, find it peculiar a new informant shows up, after two years. Do enlighten me on the matter. I am not one who likes to be kept in the dark. Is the guy trustworthy?"
"For some reason, I believe his intentions are honorable. The man needs redemption as much as I do."
"When am I going to be introduced, if I have to front the cash?"
"There will be no money needed, he is doing it for Rinoa. As far as meeting him, he informed me yesterday in Balamb that he would be here."
"Who the hell would do this for Rinoa? Nobody she knew would be capable of gathering information without capture or having a stomach aliment."
"Nice to see you too General Caraway," Seifer smirked. The ex-knight stood leaning smugly against the entranceway door.
The older man stood up with astonishment, "What in the hell is he doing here!?"
Squall made a corporeal attempt to stand between the men, a symbolic attempt to keep them from aggression. Looking directly at the elder Squall tried to dispel the tension, "Caraway this is our new informant, listen to him. I understand how you feel. I'd like to beat the living shit out of him too." Squall looked away, almost ashamed of his defense of his dark counterpart. "But we are the same now. We both need salvation, at any cost."
Seifer walked into the room, shaking his head at the older man.
"I thought you might be happy to see me General. We did get close a few years ago, you could have been my father-in-law, had fate allowed."
"Never. Telling you to stay the hell away from my daughter does not count as close Mr. Almasy. The closest I ever came to you was watching security heave your sorry ass out to the street. Filling her head with dreams, illusions, and ideals never achievable by a proletarian fraction…she could have ended up dead because of your influence. Even worse, she could have ended up like you."
"I think I'm flattered," sarcastically retorted Seifer. "I suppose this means you don't want my help?"
The General stepped to the large picture window. The streets of Deling were full of residents freely going on with everyday lives. Happiness is an illusion for those too ignorant to see the truth. Fine…he would listen to this deplorable excuse for a human. Maybe he would have something valuable, before spending the rest of his life in Galbadian custody.
"I loathe you, but loathe Mitchell more. Talk now, but no promises."
"I wasn't asking for promises Caraway," Seifer snidely remarked. "But, I have information that will help."
Squall appeared puzzled. Something about the posture of the man was…confident, more than his usual self-righteous arrogance. Seifer might actually have substantial information. The man had given him a note in the boathouse, requesting the audience at Caraway's. Yet, the day before he acted as he did not know Squall and Caraway were working together.
"Seifer, do enlighten us."
"Sure Commander Puberty…man I miss our little heart-to-hearts." Seifer could feel the tension in the air. He wondered which one would assault him first, neither the poster child of self-restraint. "Fine, we all knew there was someone else running a personal investigation on the sorceress' disappearance. I uncovered the source. More importantly, that person would like to consolidate resources."
"Who else would have an interest in Rinoa?" challenged Squall. Seifer held his breath, as an individual appeared in the doorway.
"The person who feels responsible for her disappearance," a voice softly replied.
All three men looked toward the informer. Only Squall reacted visible troubled, "Quistis what the hell are you doing here?"
She continued into the room, disregarding looks from Squall and Caraway.
"When I was young I believed that people were morally decent. After joining SeeD, I had a new outlook on humanity. I watched men kill, sometimes for pride, sometimes for sadistic pleasure. I have seen the worst of humanity. Somewhere along the line, I lost myself, no one particular moment, no one particular incident. Time takes away caring, and leaves in its place an empty void. The challenge we face is the realization that humanity is flawed. Admitting past mistakes, and begging forgiveness from those we wronged. Squall, I know how you feel about me, I feel the same way about myself. I was weak…I was human."
He did not move, he did not breathe. This was his wife standing before him, yet she was the stranger she had always been. They both had sinned. They both carried the burden of guilt. Last night he felt he could have killed her with his bare hands. His calloused hands stained of blood too many times, what difference did one insignificant life make? Today she seemed helpless, she seamed exhausted. Quistis was slowly dying before him, if not in body than in spirit. They shared the culpability; they should share rectification.
"Quistis it was you?" his rough voice spoke with an element of sorrow. "You continued a search for…the sorceress?"
"Yes," she replied remorsefully. "I diverted personal funds, trying to gain leads. A year and half ago I…I found somebody who had seen her, but she passed away before I could gather more information. I had a creditable lead at one point."
"What kind of lead, where?" he asked. She did not reply. If she could have cried she would have, but tears escaped for too long. She held a delicate cloth napkin in her hand, trembling she walked to the man, once her husband. Placing the soft fabric within his rough hands, her fingers lingered over his…unsure.
"I'm so sorry Squall. Please forgive me. Keeping this from you was wrong," she quietly said. Regretfully she released her fingers from his, "Please."
He looked down and slowly undid the fabric. His heart stopped at what the implications of this could be. He could not look at Quistis, he could not breathe. Holding the metallic objects tightly he managed to choke out, "Is she dead?"
"No." Quistis charged firmly. "Not that I'm aware. I…I've had this for over a year. I just was afraid…"
"A fucking year!" he screamed. "You kept this from me? How in the hell could you, what gives you the right?"
Seifer stood glancing at Caraway. The former-knight made a slight head gesture toward the door. The General eyed Squall and then Quistis. They did need time to talk, but he too wanted to know how Instructor Leonhart acquired the memento, far too many memories to keep from emotional ties.
"We'll leave you two alone, but I want to know too how you ended up with Rinoa's… My daughter never removed that ring from her neck. She never parted with it since the presentation during Julia's memorial service."
Quistis did not acknowledge him. Nothing would break her commitment to the truth. Squall had to understand, she was only trying to help…at least in her mind. The two men left the room, stillness filled the mansion, an eerie heaviness in the air.
"Squall, I don't have any right. I just wanted to help. I knew you wouldn't believe my intentions."
"You're right. So how did you get these? It's…it's been too long."
Unclasping his tight hand, he revealed the shiny platinum objects. Just as he remembered from long ago, a time when he held the person who wore them, when they lay majestically upon her chest. The sight of Griever practically made him ill. Too many years he adorned the ring, for many years it gave him comfort that people never could. Rinoa would have easily parted with Griever after what he had done, yet what of the other? No amount of hate, or disgust would cause Rinoa to part with her mothers' band. Something had happened…Rinoa was desperate or harmed. It was that simple.
"I spent a few months in Trabia," Quistis started. "About two months after the attack on Balamb Garden, remember? I asked to spend sometime teaching up there. I…I could not face you or others yet. There was a small antique shop in the historic district, I used to window shop often. The owner was a lovely older woman, whom I would speak with quite often. Before I left, she passed away of heart failure. The day I was scheduled to leave, I received a phone call from her son, telling me to stop by the shop. I was genuinely surprised. I didn't even know this woman knew my name, or the slightest thing about me."
Squall did not speak, he did not move. The only visible motion was his forefingers encircling the sterling ring, the one worn by Julia.
"She would have never let this go, no matter how much she hated me. Her mothers ring was too sentimental, her mother never betrayed her as I did," he spoke firmly.
"I know Squall. The owner's son alleged he found that while going through his mother's possessions. Along with information about me, my employment, my name, and the implicit directions to give the necklace to me if something happened. The son did not possess the compassion of his mother. Let me have the necklace at a hefty price…almost thirty thousand Gil. The man knew it must have significance. In order to raise the money, I delayed my departure from Trabia. I stayed an extra day, while I secured the funds."
"Did he know how his mother came into possession of the chain?" he hesitated, almost afraid to know. Sitting down in a nearby chair, his legs betrayed his commitment to be strong.
"According to the message from his mother, a young girl had come into sell it a few months before. The woman tried to talk her out of parting with it, aware of the sentimental value they contained. However, the girl insisted, she desperately needed the funds. The woman gave her five hundred Gil for the keepsake; it was all the cash in the register. Told the girl to come back the next day and she would pay more, the girl never returned."
"Was it Rinoa?" a faint glimmer of optimism in his stormy eyes. She may have survived a few months at least on her own, it was more hope than he had in the past two years.
"From the description it sounds probable, just shorter hair. The woman left as much information as she could, based on the idea she would either pay her more, or return the chain to her."
"It was Rinoa."
Squall and Quistis turned to see Seifer standing partially in the study.
"I watched her cut her hair back in a Deling alley. The night Commander Leonhart announced her guilt and ordered the pursuit against her."
Again, Squall found himself unable to verbalize, so much, after so little. Rinoa had witnessed the horrific events of that unbearable evening, that night when Squall Leonhart sold his soul to the devil, in the form of President Mitchell. The Knight abandoned the Sorceress, physically and emotionally. He never could deserve absolution, as he could never be laudable. The one she loved, the one she trusted betrayed her, as she was hiding amid shadows. Someone so full of life and love, forced to hide among wretched lowlifes. Seifer had watched her there in…
"What do you mean you saw her?"
"Look, I know how it sounds. I was in no position to help then, not that I am better off now. Time…time has changed each of us. Over the last two years we have suffered, we have developed through the experience. I didn't know who I was back then, part of me deliberated turning her in for the bounty. I could have bartered her existence for my freedom. However, even I realized their intentions. They were never going to listen to her, they didn't choose to. Officials wanted her dead. Her blood would have been on my hands, if it isn't already."
"Don't say that Seifer," begged Quistis from across the room. Closing the gap, she walked to the wingback chair where Squall was emerged deep in thought. This was a risk, as was everything she did. Kneeling to his level, she looked deep through his eyes into his bare soul. "Look, I don't know what President Mitchell will do if he finds out, but it's time we all stop running. I just cannot do this without help. I swear my life to Rinoa. I will do whatever needed. Squall we have to find her before Mitchell or the World Council does."
Seifer walked over to the couple, unconsciously resting a hand on Quistis shoulder for nonverbal encouragement. She turned at the foreign feeling of physical contact. Staring directly into Seifer's eyes she observed something, a look never seen before, maybe it was determination, or maybe it was reverence. Nevertheless, something present made her smile slightly at the long-standing enemy. After an exchange between the two, Quistis returned attention toward Squall.
"Well," she asked with a newfound confidence.
Squall continued to remain silent as Seifer spoke up, "Trabia right, Commander?"
"Yes," he finally acknowledged the two people in the room. "Quistis, I can't give your teaching license back, but I can rescind the suspension from SeeD duties. Inform Selphie she will not be departing for Trabia tonight. I need someone at Garden that can be trusted. Irvine and Zell have already left for Fisherman's Horizon on this child abduction case. President Mitchell requested the best SeeD's Balamb had to investigate in Trabia. He will get the Commander and his wife. I want Lauren along to do tangible work on the Bennett case, while we are examining other avenues. There is a SeeD transport vessel leaving from Deling to the ocean harbor. Seifer I do not care what means you use, just be on the ship to Trabia. We leave tonight"
~ Chapter 10: Quarrel ~
Fate, Time, Occasion, Chance, and Change?
To these all things are subject but eternal Love.
--Percy Bysshe Shelley
"Yes Commander Sir!" Seifer snapped at Squall's orders. "I need to get some equipment before we go."
Squall agreed as the ex-knight exited Caraway's study. He looked down as the silvery chain interlaced through his fingers. After careful securitization, he placed the chain on a side table, directing his attention to the woman kneeling before him. Almost uncomfortable, he looked into her deep blue eyes, "Quistis, I was never fair to you."
The warrior was not one for neither apologizes, nor words. Slowly his right hand felt for the familiar pendant that was in his uniform jacket pocket. Squall removed the thick silver chain from its locality, holding it up to his wife the familiar large Griever charm swung methodically from his hands. Over the years he kept it close, just as he had promised another, although the sight of the lion only reminded him of his missing ring, of his missing life. Yet keeping it close, out of sight, gave him some security. Rinoa had its mate, the only other memento from his younger days. Somehow, the objects bonded them. Sometimes you have to let go, before you can be free. Now, it was Grievers turn to give security to another, to someone else who endured much anguish.
Quistis Leonhart did not say a word, watching him remove his only other childhood possession from dress uniform. To her surprise, he leaned toward her, placing the chain around her neck. The proud lion now adorned her chest, his coarse fingers lingering on the animal's silhouette.
"Squall?" she questioned.
He did not speak, as he had done so many nights before in their marriage. Yet, this time it was different, they were different. There was an understanding that silently passed between, for the first time she felt his genuine emotion.
She smiled vaguely at the man, reaching for the chain containing the two special bands. Silently she returned the gesture from moments before, placing the platinum chain around his neck. Somehow, a weight lifted from her shoulders, if only in part. They for the first time had a common goal, a purpose. They had undertaken the first steps of forgiveness. She gazed into his azure eyes, placing her hand lightly on his chest.
"We'll find her," she whispered. "We'll find her."
The train to Timber had been uncharacteristically quiet…any trip with Zell, usually not classified as tranquil. This instance he was deep in thought, putting together pieces of a puzzle that would not fit, could not fit. Chance had decided that he would not get the opportunity to speak with Matron, something he genuinely desired to do.
Whether daydreaming or ignorance alone, Zell lead Irvine to the station platform going through the routine motions, never paying attention to what was actually transpiring around him. The trains, the tickets everything was on autopilot.
Irvine, on the other hand, lost deep inside himself. Studying every comprehensible detail of this case, the cowboy spent the last three hours going over files, checking computer records, and making general notes about the Allison Bennett abduction. Never in his life had Irvine put so much effort into a mission, somehow this felt different…no longer searching for armed enemies within a war-torn area, each ready to fight to the death. He found the concept of an innocent child captivating. He was determined to return little girl to the rightful parents, a couple which must be nothing short of hysterical back in Trabia.
The two men sat silently in the SeeD compartment. Unknowingly, each was thinking of different events, in reality, trying to figure out the clues to the same enigma. The conductor announced the departure as the train slowly started moving out of the station, then gradually the wheels gaining speed. After going through the mandatory safety protocol, the conductor announced they would be arriving within Dollet's territory in three hours.
"Dollet!" the realization finally sinking in, "What the hell!?"
Quickly he searched for the rumbled tickets in his jean pockets. Attempting to flatten them out, he looked down at the two train vouchers. "Damn it! I got the wrong tickets, I was supposed to get train #827 to Fisherman's Horizon, but I wrote the wrong train number down on the travel request. This is train #427 to Dollet!"
Irvine rolled his eyes. He was not angry, just perturbed at the normally energetic man. This mistake would cost valuable time. Leads only stayed traceable for so long and they might miss the best opportunity for information. Now instead of rail transportation it would be more time effective to hire a boat to take them to FH. This did give Irvine time to emerge himself deeper to the case file. Zell, on the other hand, decided to take his anger out in the form of a nap. Sleeping usually alleviated his stress… Right now, he was stressed.
The evening air covered the small boat, carrying only four passengers, and the hired navigator. The man ingeniously named Captain. Nonetheless, the boat easily could have accepted more, but inconspicuously was key. Squall procured fake credentials for Seifer, something not usually the Commander's style. For all practical purposes Seifer was, Nicolas Jackson, a SeeD candidate originally from Esthar. With any luck, shaved and dressed in uniform, he could slip by lax Trabian security. It was not a Galbadian occupied nation. Probably nobody there would know his real name; time had been kind on some accounts.
Squall watched as the small waves crashed into the boat. Darkness was fast approaching, its dragon-breath covering everything in sight. Fog made visibility difficult, if not impossible. They would be in Trabia by late morning. A sensation of foreboding filled his body. Had this not been the break he had longed for…so why the apprehension, the fear?
Squall closed his eyes allowing the cold breeze to sting his face, noticing subconsciously he was holding the pendant within his hands, her pendant. She had done this. It was one of Rinoa's little nervous habits, which frankly drove him mad, until they were gone. He would give his life now, just to watch her from across a room, fidgeting with the silver rings. Small sounds of metal colliding, it was a sound he wished to hear once again. Closing your eyes, one can hear anything. The ocean, the birds, or allow the mind to recall another noise, another sound, from a far more peaceful time.
"Did you ever hate me?" A gruff voice asked aloud.
Squall was startled out of his memories, not understanding the intention of the question. "Seifer I hated you for what you did to her." He did not turn to face the man behind him.
"Yeah, well, I hated myself for that too. I was talking about before then, for the summer Rinoa and I spent together."
"I don't know. It was easier to hate her for the last two years. I just chalked it up to the person she really was, not the façade she put on for me, for Garden. It was easier to hate her."
"Don't lie to me. You never hated her, you never could."
Seifer walked next to Squall leaning on the wooden rail.
"No, I never could. I tried," Squall answered back, ashamed of his comment.
"You know I hated you. I don't know if we would have gone out again, had the circumstances been different, but the idea of Rinoa being with you made me sick. From my earliest memories, it was always a war between us. I couldn't see you stand to win one battle, even if the battle was over her. I hoped she would see you for the loser you were and leave, I never fully comprehended your relationship until later."
"I never fully comprehended it at all," replied Squall in almost a whisper.
"My dreams led to my destruction. I lost sight of everything around, blinded by the power, by the pretense. I wanted desperately to be the revered Knight, I didn't care who was hurt in the process." He paused for a moment, waiting for Squall to answer. He didn't speak, Seifer turned toward his childhood rival. "You had everything I wanted. Sad thing is you didn't know what you had."
Squall looked at the man, reading his eyes for truthfulness. They had never had a civilized conversation before, and neither truly knew how to react. After the brief contact, Squall turned back to the dark chasm of the ocean.
"Seifer, did she ever tell you that she was in love with you?"
"I knew you cared," Seifer had a hint of a chuckle in his voice. "She never talked about us much I'm guessing, some memories are easier buried. She was special to me. You know she was my first…"
Squall turned angrily toward the man, "I don't want to hear about that. I am aware of what you two did. I just wanted to know…"
This time Seifer cut him off, "No, okay. Squall you still don't get it do you? Yes, I may have been with physically, but never mentally. She might have lost her virginity to me, but never once did she tell me that she loved me. I know she cared, but it was never love."
"How did I not know the truth then? If we are supposed to have this wonderful sorceress - knight connection, how the fucking hell didn't I know?" Squall yelled, turning around against the railing.
"Squall, I can't give you all the answers you are looking for. Maybe you were scared, maybe confused, maybe something in your perfect life wasn't handed to you on a silver platter. Yes, we all had the same humble beginnings, but that is where the similarities end. Nobody else found out who their parents were and that their father was alive, wanting a relationship. Nobody else was given the responsibility of being Commander at the age of seventeen…still that one gets me. Nobody else was given the chance to be her Knight, to be the one she loved. Maybe you were scared, maybe you relied on people too much, their truths, or at least their versions of it."
Squall could not help but catch the irony of his comment, "I relied too much on others, and didn't think or believe for myself."
Seifer paused for a moment before stepping away from the wooden support, "Squall it's okay to rely on others, don't take it that way. Maybe you found yourself relying too much on Rinoa, yet never telling her. You couldn't commit to her publicly. I heard the rumors around Deling. She wanted to get married didn't she?"
"I would be too dependent on the idea of her being there. I would be sharing my home with another. I didn't want to hurt her when something happened."
"Something happened," Seifer remarked. "Something bad…you always looked at the negative. You were expecting the tragic ending to the story. How do you think Rinoa feels about you married to Quistis, somebody you don't even love?"
"She hates me for it. I hate me for it. Both of them deserve a better life than I could ever provide."
"No Squall. Those two had their differences, but each would agree on one thing, you could have made them happy by just being there. I will never have that chance."
He did not answer for a long time, taking note of how much the person in front of him had matured in a five-year span. "Seifer you have changed, if we get out of this I will see what I can do. Likely, it will be nothing as my position at the council will be revoked, as will my command of Garden. The best I can hope for is still having the title of Knight, actually…that is all I hope for."
"Good," Seifer replied smugly. "At least your priorities are straight Commander Puberty. She might want to kill you if we find her. Trust me, it's a natural reaction to everybody that meets you. Don't make the same mistakes again; I won't save your sorry ass next time."
The Commander nodded, turning to the railing. He listened as steps descended the stairs to the cabin below. Squall once again felt the salt air caress his face, now scarred more than with a physical wound. He thought why he wanted to know about Seifer and Rinoa's relationship. She was never one to bring the subject up, yet looking back, it was always for his sake. Rinoa was aware of the deep-rooted hatred between the men, she protected her Knight the only way she could, by avoidance. Squall had taught her well.
He would not go below, he needed solitude. It had become the faithful friend over the last years. Walking to a single bench on the deck, he rested his tired body. So little sleep the last two nights, so little time to work. He had never been one to convey emotions easily, as past wounds still haunted him. He shut his eyes, calling back a more peaceful time, a more naive time. The day he finally told her his true feelings; no matter how many memories they shared, that day would always be the foremost in his mind. So many nights he recreated the scene, just for a moment to pretend everything was still as it should have been…
One year after the defeat of Ultimecia and the start of their lives together. Every detail, every fact, was still fresh never to be forgotten by either.
Garden had been running low on essentials. The onslaught of new cadets had far exceeded supplies and resources. Basic items for refinery were in high demand. The Commander had considered several people to run and get stones required to produce certain magic, a prerequisite for every second year cadet. Originally, he was just going to pass down the assignment like everything else, but paperwork had been getting the better of him lately. He was desperate to engage in any sort of battle, even if the victims were merely bite bugs.
A chance alone, a chance to enjoy solitude…
"Do you like the name Allison for a girl and Aaron for a boy?" Rinoa calmly stated. She rested her head against the uncomfortable vehicle seat as the emerald lush countryside passed by.
Squall nearly slammed on the breaks. Rinoa had been chatting almost the entire trip. He had effectively learned to drown out most of her talking, a skill he acquired over the last year…always listening, still never with his full attention on her. Sometimes Rinoa had a way of well…being Rinoa. He admired her for it, yet sometimes it even got to him.
"What!" Squall exclaimed taking his eyes off the road to take a quick look her direction.
"Um…well I was just thinking if we…if I ever had a child what a good name might be," she replied without ever looking toward him. She knew Squall, right now he was squirming uneasily in his seat. Some subjects terrified the Commander, marriage and children would top the list.
"Rinoa I don't think about having children, I'm nineteen," responded Squall mentally praying to Hyne she would drop the subject. He knew better.
"Yes, I know Squall but don't you ever think about the future?"
"Sure I do, I'm thinking right now: if I don't get enough wizard stones today that cadets won't have anything to practice refining magic on. I'm thinking this trip would have gone a lot faster had I just gone alone, and I'm thinking that I don't trust anyone who is running for office in Galbadia."
"Oh…yes we wouldn't want to contemplate anything but work now, would we? It would be a shocking thing if the Commander didn't think about something besides work."
"Rinoa even if I was going to think about something besides work, kids definitely would not be it. You shouldn't consider having children." Squall knew that last statement would be hard for Rinoa to take, but she had to learn to face facts eventually, thinking about a future that would never be.
"What!? What do you mean don't consider children, you're telling me that you never want to have kids?"
"Rinoa, I'm saying that you shouldn't think about it. There have only been four cases of a sorceress having a child over the last five-hundred years. The chances of you bearing a child are remote."
She said nothing, for he was right. The Balamb plains were as monotonous and void, as ever, now they even appeared more barren. Rinoa knew the chances of her having a child were faint, but she always held out hope - even if only a little. Tears started rolling down her cheeks as she watched the grasslands pass by. She shielded her face from Squall. Her crying only showed weakness. Squall hated weakness.
Trying to hide the sorrow in her voice, "I know Squall…I just try to think about things positively."
"Rinoa I'm glad you do, but even if you could have children, I don't really want any," Squall struggled to reply as sensitively as possible.
"Fine, whatever. Sorry Squall, to ruin yet another of your precious days," she tried to conceal the anger in her voice.
They continued in silence until Squall reached the isolated area, recent indications of a high bite bug ratio would make this go quickly. Now more than ever, he wanted to return to Garden and have this day over. She sat in the passenger seat as he went to the back of the Garden vehicle, unsheathing his gunblade from the case. Logic dictated for him just to leave her sit and pout, yet when it came to her, nothing he did was logical.
She had rolled her window down, allowing a gentle breeze into the vehicle. The arid temperatures could be described as unseasonably hot at best. Yet it was a dry heat, humidity was not a factor. "Look Rinoa, you are not ruining another one of my days. I knew this was going to happen, if you came along. That's why I mentioned it would be easier to go by myself."
She snapped her head, looking directly in his eyes. "Yes, Rinoa stay behind. That always seems to be your answer for everything Squall."
"Whatever," he turned away from the vehicle starting to walk into the forest.
She finally moved out, slamming the door to emphasize her anger. "Oh…yes, you're right that is your answer for everything!"
He stopped. Deliberating what the correct course of action would be. Squall Leonhart was not in any mood to argue, yet if he continued she would just pout the entire time. Damned if I do, damned if I don't. He inhaled deeply before turning to face her, "Rinoa please don't do this now. I have work that has to be done. You're just going to get in the way if this continues."
"Get in the way!?" Rinoa looked directly into his eyes, neither willing to back down from their territory. Finally, she squinted in defeat, the afternoon sun too much to cope with, "Hyne why do you have to be such a…"
"Meanie," he replied mockingly at her.
"Idiot," she yelled, turning around and heading toward the stationary vehicle.
"Wow…a new word, I'm impressed," he still held his ground firmly.
"Jerk," she spat, never turning around.
"Two in one day!" he yelled even louder.
She finally reached the rear doors and turned back to him. "Try this on for size, you're a bastard!"
"I'm leaving," he announced shaking his head at his infuriated girlfriend.
"Yes, your family has a great history for that, just ask your dad."
Soon as the words left her mouth, she immediately wished them back. That was low, even if she was furious at the man. Squall and Laguna's relationship was nothing she dared mention. His demeanor immediately changed; walking quickly toward her she could see the anger visible in his eyes.
Getting well within her personal space, he looked narrowed his eyes at her, "Don't you ever…ever talk about that." Neither spoke, just glared. Finally he continued, "Our relationship is none of your concern. That's my life, not yours. You seem to forget the difference. There is more to my life than you."
Pain stung her. Yes, she did deserve the anger after mentioning Laguna. But she never realized that he didn't feel her part of his life; his life was work, his life was his duty. "More to my life than you," hell when was she a part of his life? Choking back the tears she demanded, "Go get your precious wizard stones, so you can take them back to your precious Garden, and leave me behind as usual. I'm sorry if I'm in your life."
"Well maybe if you wouldn't always get in the way," he replied.
She did not want to say anything else to hurt him. Childish games had their price and she did not want that to be him, although she never really had him to lose. Gazing at the blades of grass under her feet, she whispered, "Leave Squall."
The intense heat of the sun was glaring directly upon her. Rinoa had moved into the shadow of the vehicle, sitting on one of the metal steps to the cargo area. Checking her watch, he had only been gone twenty minutes, but it seemed an eternity. She played the argument out in her mind, like watching a rerun of a movie. As usual, she felt to blame. Starting the day off talking about children was not the wisest of moves. Even she knew this.
Over the last year, she had gotten to know Squall better than anyone else did, and she hardly knew the man. He was as much a stranger as that evening at the dance, except now she needed him. It was abundantly clear…he did not need her. Today she stepped over a line drawn long ago, now she would have to accept the consequences. Sounds of something approaching drew her out of contemplating. She momentary tensed attempting to see if it was friend or foe. To her surprise it was Squall, she was not sure which he was right now.
She examined his face as he approached; he looked tired. Then she noticed the lack of wizard stones in his possession. Great. This means he had been thinking, not working. She tried to draw attention off her concern, "You're done already?"
He did not reply to that. Rinoa could feel his form standing beside her, still refusing to look up. For once, the mighty lion would have to initiate this conversation. He did.
"Rinoa…we need to talk."
Words dreaded for generations. Past experience taught her that clichéd line could never be good. Somehow, a defensive barrier went up, she would not make this easy for him. "Let me guess, you're not ready for a relationship, you just want to be friends."
"Rinoa, please let me talk first."
"Stand back…Squall talks and the whole world goes silent, the oceans part, and small forest animals gather around."
"I don't need this."
"No Squall, you do need this. If you're going to end this…this supposed relationship. I have plenty of things to say to you."
"Like what?" he questioned, expression not changing since he arrived back at the temporary base.
"Like…" she knew this might be her only chance to say these things. He was a captive audience in the middle of the barren grasslands. "Like…I am not part of your life. You never even showed you cared about my feelings. I might get in the way, but I am trying. That's more than I can say for you. I've been staying at Garden over a year waiting for you to come around, show any emotion! Don't get me wrong, you are a very passionate man…when it comes to anything but me."
"My work is important," he simply stated.
"Yes, it all comes back to work doesn't it? Trapped in a job you hate, becoming everything you fought all your life to avoid. You've been in that job for a year and you're becoming no better than the politicians I grew up despising. You're not out there on the front lines anymore. You sit behind your damn desk until all hours of the goddamn night. When was the last time we ate a meal together?"
"I don't have to answer to you, you're not my wife."
"No, I pity the person who does end up with you. You're right I cannot have children, I know that…but I still can dream. It's not impossible. But see, I have hope for the future. What do you hope for Commander Leonhart?"
"That I could say a word in this conversation," he riposted with complete sarcasm.
"Fine, go for it. Tell me what you discovered on your almighty quest for the bite bugs, what earth shattering news you have quit your precious work to come back and tell me."
Rinoa turned away dreading to hear the words aloud.
"I love you," he replied calmly.