Crimson Lies Part 4
~ Chapter Twenty-Five: Militancy ~
All the wisdom to lead,
All the courage that you need.
You will find when you see,
We are one.
--Simba (Return to Pride Rock)
"Our daughters name." He stood breathless.
Alex closed her eyes turning away. She wanted to leave, but knew Squall would just stop her. For so long, she had been the only person Rinoa had to talk with, now she was the one who betrayed the secret. To tell Irvine and Zell was one thing, to tell Squall quite another. Rinoa should have been the one to tell him, she would have told him…eventually.
Time was an irrelevant factor now, what had to be dealt with was the problem at hand…specifically, the thunderstruck man standing in front of her. Maybe if he had said something…given any kind of reaction further then his initial comments, but it was silence… And silence was killing her.
His mind was racing with a thousand questions a second…how, when, why? How had he not known two years ago at Garden? How could he have not known when he first saw Allison? When did she know? When was she going to tell him? Why….
Why after everything they had gone through in their young lives, had destiny been so cruel? Was Hyne such a malicious god that she could allow this to happen? Why would fate bring them together - just to have them torn apart?
And why, why did Rinoa not tell him…
Was her faith lost and her spirit broken to such a degree that she could no longer trust him? Had their past meant nothing, her love for him in doubt?
She left him.
No matter the cause or outcome, the fact remained the same, she fucking left him. Would doubts of innocence ever been questioned had Rinoa returned after the attack? Did she have such little faith in him? She didn't contact him after running away...
He waited, damn her, he waited…she wasn't there.
"Squall," coaxed Alex. "Please say something."
"Tell me," speaking a growl-like rasp. "Tell me that Allison is my daughter. I want to hear it from you. I want to hear those words."
Although his heart never needed the confirmation, his logical mind did. But it was the answer that Alex gave that sealed the question, or any lingering doubt in his mind….
"Squall, I'm not the one who should be saying that. I can't. Please, talk to Rinoa."
"You're damn right. Believe me…I'm going to talk to her. How could she?"
"How could she?! Don't you even dare say something like that to her. After everything that's happened, what she went through…don't you dare harm her in any way. She'll do anything to protect Allison… If you start acting like that, she will leave. As much as she loves you, and by gods, she does love you, she will leave… Not to hurt you, not because she wants to, just because she has been hurt too many times and she will not let Allison go through the same hell. I know you're angry now, but nothing has changed Squall. She and Allison need you as their knight….mind, body and spirit. Don't say something you would regret. She's still volatile, you don't know what Bennett did to her…you could never imagine. Four days with you cannot undo the two years of torture, remember that."
Alex grabbed the small Griever ring around her neck, pulling slightly on the chain. Squall said nothing, only stared past her, eyes betrayed no emotion.
"Please Squall, if Ellone was here right now she would want you to calm down before talking to Rinoa. Put yourself in her place, and think about what she went through."
"Right…if Ellone where here," he sharply replied. "But she's not. And trust me, you're no Ellone."
"I know," she bitterly stated. "And you're no Laguna, so don't make his mistakes."
As the evening turned to night, Ragnarok docked with Balamb Garden. Alex returned to the crew quarters, without as much as a word to Rinoa about the incident. The truth was they were going to have to deal with this, themselves.
As they always should have.
When she left him, Squall spoke not another word after the last comment. Turning his back, he headed to where Alex originally found him.
Rinoa sat on one of the chairs looking out into the distant horizon. Zell and Allison crawled together on the floor. Irvine had come down from the bridge, and now watching the intense game of hide-and-seek being played by the two 'youngsters' of the group. Alex sat down on a chair next to Rinoa, watching the martial artist maneuver around the seats, but never letting the little girl out of his sight.
"Rinoa, he seems really good with her." Alex acknowledged not meaning anything by it, just for the fact of small talk.
"Yeah, he has always been good with the junior cadets. I just wish Squall…"
"What? Was good with children? Don't even say it Rin. Some people aren't naturally comfortable with kids…nor are they even good around them. However, when it's your own child, you learn…and then you come to appreciate other things you might have missed. Sometimes after you have a child, it changes your outlook...some things aren't natural for everyone… Some things become natural after the fear is gone."
"I know…sorry. I just can't picture Squall down on the floor with Ally like that."
"Rinoa, he has never had the chance. People can surprise you. Squall can surprise you. Maybe he will never crawl on the floor, but being there for the first tooth is just as important."
"Alex, she already has teeth."
"Yeah, fine…being there when she loses her first tooth can be just important. Or…being there for her first day of school, or her first date, or when she gets married…"
"I get it! Please she's just a baby. I don't need to think about her getting married. I can just picture her going on a date and Squall scaring the poor boy to death…"
"Exactly." Alex moved her hand over to Rinoa's. "He loves you. He loves her…maybe he just isn't ready to admit it yet. This is all new to him. Four days ago, you were nothing but a memory. Today you are real."
"He's also married," Rinoa spoke quietly for only Alex to hear.
"Rinoa he is only married on paper. There are more important things…like the bond you two share. Plus, I'm pretty sure that his wife is interested in that other guy."
"Seifer?" Rinoa looked at her friend with bewilderment.
"Um…yeah…him…not that the others like him too much though."
"Well, he kinda was my ex-boyfriend and then he was the one who tried to sacrifice me to Adel."
"Damn Rinoa, you sure pick winners."
"Yeah, I do." She couldn't help the laughter.
The giggles were cut short when a little hand reached to Rinoa's knee. "Ma'ma?"
"Yes, Ally you okay?"
"Ell…my baba." The little girl pointed to the blonde man hiding behind the chair.
"Zell, did you steal her bottle? Don't make me separate you two."
He quickly jumped to his own defense. "She started it!"
"Yes, Zell blame the baby. Now if you guys are good, I'll give you each a gram cracker. But you have to play nice." Rinoa handed her daughter two crackers; Ally waddled over to her new friend sharing the reward.
"Rinoa," Squall spoke in an official manner. "We have been given the all-clear to go aboard Garden. They are expecting you three in the infirmary. Dr. Kadowaki wants to get medical records for Garden’s database. I have an appointment with Cid regarding the current situation… I don't know how long I'll be. Don't expect me back tonight."
"Back where?" Rinoa questioned.
"Back…to wherever you are. I just need to get some things sorted out. I'll be in my office…Zell will be with you and Alex for the evening. You'll be protected by people I can trust at all times."
Alex turned her head away from the two. Zell caught the expression on her face and quickly released that she was hiding something…then he remembered how long Alex had been gone from them. He grabbed the little girl finding a seat and motioned slightly with his head toward Ally. Alexandra nodded in confirmation.
Squall knew about Allison.
"Irvine, you will be coming with me, Cid needs to hear your report also. According to Galbadia, Garden is now housing wanted criminals… We have to get the facts together…funny how things can appear if one doesn't have enough courage to come back and get the facts straight."
Alex bit her lip trying to hold her comments to herself, as she and Zell exchanged quick glances. Luckily, Rinoa was putting Allison's belongs away and only was half-listening to Squall's speech. There was now an awkward silence between everyone, save for Allison.
Squall walked over to Zell looking down at the child in his lap. Staring at her eyes, his eyes…somehow, the truth seemed painfully obvious now. For a moment, he couldn't focus on anything but his daughter…
The little girl held out her gram cracker in an offer to share. "You?" she asked with innocence.
"Me? Um…No that's yours, but thank you."
"You?" The toddler looked at him, crumbs falling onto the floor.
Squall looked confused for a moment; one of the rare occasions where bystanders could tell he was truly caught off guard. Alex turned to Rinoa with a look of "I told you so" as the two continued the jumbled dialog.
"Me?" the commander questioned yet again.
"You?" The child pointed her arm in his direction. "Who?"
"Oh," he finally understood. He bent down to her level, kneeling on the floor. "I'm Squall Leonhart Commander of…um…I'm Squall."
"Yeah…Skall," he repeated. "I'm a friend of your mother's."
"Ma'ma?" The little girl pointed to Rinoa. "Where Dada?"
Nobody in the room could breathe, and Rinoa felt her heart sink and tried to keep from crying in front of everyone. Squall almost wanted to shout out that he was right there standing in front of her…but the only father that she had ever known was Richard Bennett.
Slowly he reached his hand out to touch her cheek. "He um…Dada's not here right now, but he still loves you. He wants Mama and you to stay with me for awhile."
"Skall?" Ally pointed and smiled as she said his name.
"Yeah, Dada wants you to stay with Skall for awhile. He doesn't want anything to happen to you. He wants me to protect you and Mommy."
The little girl nibbled on her cracker until it was nothing but a small piece left. She looked at Squall who seemed to be nervous. Once again, she handed the last bite of her cracker to him. He sighed and reached down for it…and ate the last bite of the cracker.
"Thank you Allison…thank you."
Standing up, he didn't want anyone speaking to him right now. Somehow, the emotion he felt would betray his feelings…in such a short period of time, his life had changed in the most dramatic of ways. Five days ago, he had no reason for living, now he had every reason not to die.
Somehow, the anger of Rinoa's deception kept him from letting his guard down. Right now, he just needed to be by himself; he needed time to think about the latest information. But most of all, he needed to calm down before talking to Rinoa. Alex was right, her state of mind was very fragile. She would tell him the truth…he knew that she would tell him.
She watched as the flashing lights on the control panels formed a memorizing pattern. They had landed almost fifteen minutes ago, but she remained in the cockpit. Selphie had left with a cordial goodbye, but not the same enthusiasm as before… She could tell it was hard for her closest of friends to accept; what would the others at Garden think?
"Gil for your thoughts?" A masculine voice said from behind her.
Smoothing out her clothes, she stood. "Seifer, only you would use a cliché like that."
"Nah, I'm serious." He pretended to show her empty pockets. "I really need a couple Gil. It's late and I need something out of the snack machine."
She smiled slightly. "Cafeteria should still be open. I'm sure you can grab something down there."
"Oh yeah right…send the wanted criminal into a cafeteria full of hungry SeeDs. You might as well put a sign that says 'Kick the Lapdog's Ass' on my back."
"Well," she hesitated. "Honestly I would…but Zell already did that three hours ago."
Offering his hand to her, he took a step closer. "If it makes you feel better Quistis, I don't want to go out there either."
"Think they will notice if we spend the rest of our remaining lives in the Ragnarok?"
"Trust me, I would love to…but Leonhart is making me go see the doctor. I guess they are afraid that I picked up something, maybe give me a rabies test or something."
"Seifer, it is standard procedure for all guests of Garden to give a full medical account…at least anyone staying over a significant period time."
"Yeah, I think ten to twenty qualifies."
"You're worried about that, aren't you?"
"I try not to think about it. I've just never one that looks good in stripes…they make my hips look big."
Quistis looked down to the floor, before gathering her breath. "Seifer, you are doing it again. You're trying to hide feelings with your sarcasm. I just never saw it before…well I saw it... but I chose to ignore it."
"You had other things on your mind…I know. It's ironic how it always comes back to Squall."
Releasing his hand, Quistis sat down in the pilot's chair. "Back to Squall," she repeated. "Seifer, I don't have anywhere to go."
"What?" He scratched his head at the sudden turn of the conversation.
"I don't have a home anymore…not that it was ever a home. The apartment. I just don't have a room at Garden. Been there most of my life, but I don't have a home."
"Now it's my turn to tell you to stop it. Quistis it has always been your home. Maybe right now you don't have a bed to sleep in, but it's a place you feel safe. The people there have always accepted you, always looked up to you. Nobody knows the truth but us, and in time they will learn to forgive. I'm not saying they can forget… Hell, no one will ever forget what I have done…but these are your friends and family. They will love you no matter what and…and…I suck at this nice thing."
"No, you don't. I think you are doing it rather well. Make you a deal, after you are done in the infirmary we go to the cafeteria together. Then I don't have to lend you any Gil…but I'll still tell you my thoughts."
"Ohhh…thoughts? Any involve whip cream?"
"Okay, okay…only kidding. You got yourself a date…in the cafeteria."
The meeting with the Headmaster was the military norm…briefings, debriefings and endless paperwork. Irvine, Lauren, Squall, and Cid sat in the small conference room. While the commander's mind seemed to be focused on the events at hand, his heart was focused on Allison. Somehow the feeling he had been the one betrayed, kept entering his mind. It was a thought he wished to God he could shake, but somehow it held on. He needed to talk to Rinoa, now. He needed to hear the words from her.
"Squall?" Lauren looked at him as the other two men had left for a coffee break.
"What?" He looked around noticing it was just them in the room.
"They dismissed you on break. Can I get you anything?"
"Hey, it's none of my business, but you don't seem to be the most productive member of society in here. I've worked for you for a while now and never have seen you like this. I'm sure anything could wait until tomorrow morning if you want to leave and go talk with…"
"You're right, it's none of your business."
Looking over he could tell Lauren felt very uncomfortable about confronting him like that. She had worked for him and never said anything other then what needed to be said. She pretended to be working, but he could see her sketching on her notepad.
"You could at least pretend to be working." He said motioning to her book.
"Sorry sir, nervous habit I have."
Standing up he walked toward her, looking down at the paper. "Well, I don't want to see you do it again on my time. But…it looks like something you are very good at."
"You're sketches are very good. Is that a GF?"
"No, actually it's my family crest…when I first transferred from Galbadia my father gave me photographs of my grandfather. From what I could tell, this is the creature on the shields."
"Your family is very important to you, aren’t they?"
"Yes Commander Leonhart."
"Can you do me a favor?"
"Tell the others that I have to go, something came up…something more important."
The room was surprisingly dark. Rinoa threw her belongings over the chair. Garden had given her a guest suite, with two bedrooms. Alex had been cleared earlier by the doctor and taken Allison back to the shared room. The nursing staff had a thousand questions for Rinoa, and then a thousand more from Dr. Kadowaki.
When the question would inevitable come up about the fathers name…Rinoa wasn't sure what to say. But she didn't have to, somehow the doctor knew. The question was never asked directly. The information was now in the Garden database, for pretty much anyone to see. Yet, she hadn't told Squall.
Zell had escorted her back to the room; where he remained posted outside until Irvine would take the next watch.
Figuring Alex had already gone to sleep, she desperately wanted to talk with somebody. Rinoa paced the room for a moment, before opening the drapes slightly. The full moon looked ghostly outside as the fog drifted up from the water below, thus giving the illuminated half of the room an ambiance of revelation, while the other remained a shadowed void. A rush of anxiety washed across her, until the gentle sounds of Allison chatting in the background were heard.
It was a language the infant alone could comprehend, but every day Rinoa was breaking the dialog. Deciphering the code of a sixteen-month old child had become second nature. Words and syllables grew more recognizable with every conversation that passed between them. It was something that was theirs, a language shared between two…between mother and daughter.
Allison defiantly had a vocabulary. At last, the word "Squall" would be among it.
Deciding not to turn on the overhead light, Rinoa walked into the kitchenette. The light from above the sink would be more than adequate.
"I waited for you in the flower field."
Rinoa jumped not expecting anyone to be awake, let alone speak. Somehow, the tense feeling did not subside after she recognized the voice. If fact, it increased. Her body was almost parallelized, yet she didn't know why… Why was he here? Turning toward the corner, she could barely recognize the silhouette of the human form.
"Squall, what are you doing here?"
He didn't answer.
"You know, I actually waited in the flower field for you? After Deling. I thought maybe…just maybe…but…no."
The voice. The statement. Something was wrong. From the time they had met up three days ago, he had almost never taken the offensive position on anything. He was now. She didn't need to read his eyes, for once his voice was showing the emotion that he tried hard to conceal.
"How? How was I supposed to get there Squall…and why? You had already branded me a murder," she pleaded trying to remain strong. Though she stood firmly on the position now, in hindsight Rinoa wished she gone to their place. The option never presented itself at the time. "I saw you up there in Deling Squall…don't forget I saw you. As much as I would have wanted to go…I couldn't risk it."
"Why? Why couldn't you risk it Rinoa?" It wasn't truly a question, almost a dare. She immediately took a defensive position. He would not faze her. She was right back then.
He was wrong.
"You would have turned me in…damn it Squall, I saw you."
"Could," he corrected her. "Could have turned you in. I would have listened if you had given me the chance. But you didn't. Again…I'm asking you why."
"Why!? Why in the hell would I risk…my life on a chance Squall? I couldn't risk it." The anger in her voice was beginning to deceive her. After everything he knew about her life…he had no right.
She gasped to keep the tears from coming…she was right damn him. But…he was right too…they had promised. Things changed.
"You broke the promise. You promised to protect me, my knight, you promised to stand by me no matter what. You didn't stand by me. You lied."
"It wasn't worth the risk to talk to me? You chose not to speak to me. I had no other choice but believe you guilty. You ran…you betrayed me."
"What!? I told you Squall, Ellone told me that I would die if I stayed. I had to leave, it wasn't my choice."
"Nobody can predict the future…those were your words. Even you knew that Ellone couldn't see the future. Only what might have been…but you ran. I find it strange that you had been willing to put your life on the line so many times before. Yet, you didn't stay and defend us, your supposed family. Why Rinoa? Why was this time so different?"
"I didn't want to die!" she spat back at him growing more and more frustrated by the tone and line of questioning. She turned from him, no longer looking into the darkened corner. Slowly she walked toward the window trying to regain composure. For the first time she heard him move, the eerie stillness of the corner had been broken. Squall stood from the chair walking slowly toward her, yet keeping his distance.
"Why?" It was a demand. Plain. Simple.
Turning around to face him, she could see his eyes for the first time. The eyes she knew beyond a doubt. They deceived his words. Containing not the tone his voice was speaking, yet they were filled with….
Before Rinoa could think the words she wanted to say, something deep within took over.
"Because it wasn't my life." She could no longer endure the burden of the lie. Sitting on the couch, she held her stomach tight as the tears now freely fell down her face. This time it was a whisper. "Squall, because it wasn't my life."
For a moment, he just looked at her as the moonlight reflected off her tear-stained cheeks. His heart could no longer bear the torture she was putting herself through. That he was putting her through. Sitting down next to her, his voice slowly broke the harsh tones. He reached his trembling hand on hers. The contact gave them both the courage to go on.
"Whose life was it Rinoa?" he whispered. Putting his hand on her cheek, he carefully wiped the tears from her face.
She looked up at him, leaning her face into his gentle touch. Their eyes locked before she finally spoke.
~ Chapter Twenty-Six: Dissonance ~
That's the way things come clear.
All of a sudden. And then you realize
how obvious they've been all along
- Madeleine L'Engle
She wiped her tears and stood up, illuminated only by the soft moonlight. Silently she offered her hand. Squall reached out to meet the gesture, both shivering. Trembling in a nervousness neither could explain…maybe it was the moment, maybe it was the emotion, or maybe it was for the first time they could look at each other with honesty. No more secrets between them; no more lies to separate their souls.
Her dark hair tangled and in knots. The two harsh years were taking their toll on her features, yet she remained the most beautiful angel in his sight. As slim fingers grabbed his hand, she walked him into the dark recesses of the room. He said nothing, letting her lead. She opened a door that had been ajar, allowing his vision to focus on the sleeping child inside.
Allison lay in a portable crib that Garden had for such occasions. Guests and visitors would often travel with children, thus certain provisions were made. Never in his wildest dreams when Squall had made the purchase request years ago had he ever thought his daughter would be using it. Her little hands securely wrapped around the blankets edge. Small fingers were slowly moving back and forth, letting the satin material sooth her to sleep. Breathing rhythmically, her deep even gasps illustrated the sound sleep she had fallen into. Rinoa carefully reached down, wrapping the blanket around the resting infant.
"Squall Leonhart let me officially introduce you to your daughter…Allison Raine Elizabeth."
The commander stood soundless, unsure how of how to express emotion. For so long everything had been buried deep inside and now in such a minuscule period, life had been reborn. Instinctively he reached his arms out as Rinoa placed the sleeping child within his grasp. Ally fidgeted for a moment, opening up one eye she looked at the man holding her, and then quietly returned to slumber.
"Hello Allison," his voice cracked breaking the dark.
Minutes passed as neither wanted to speak, only wanted to enjoy the moments together. A family. For the first time in their lives…they were a family.
"Squall, do you ever think back to the old days?"
"Everyday," he whispered never taking his eyes off his daughter.
"Alex said something in Dollet that bothered me. At first I thought she was completely wrong, but after thinking about what she truly meant…well…"
"Well…what?" He had not meant to sound harsh, yet he couldn't help the tone in his voice.
"The last two years have been a nightmare for both of us. I can't tell you how many times I wanted to give up, but Allison kept me going. Our daughter…" Rinoa reached her hand down to touch the little girl's cheek. At the contact, she snuggled closer to Squall's masculine chest. She wasn't sure how to relate the words she was feeling, but was going to try. Closing her eyes, Rinoa inhaled deeply before she asked the next question. A question she, herself, could barely understand. "Squall, do you ever think that what happened was for the best?"
He instantly froze. His arms tightened slightly around his daughter, she moved at the sudden change of pressure. When Allison settled down again, Squall continued in silence for a moment, trying to keep his anger in check. For the first time he looked up at the woman next to him, her eyes pleading for understanding.
Trying to keep his voice from waking Ally, he could not help the irritation. "How in the hell can you even say that, Rinoa?"
She chucked slightly, "Yeah that was my first reaction also: too angry to reason." Rinoa continued to laugh inaudibly, not that the situation remotely humorous, but for the fact that she had already gone through every conceivable emotion. Humor seemed to be the only thing left.
Narrowing his eyes at her reaction, he demanded, "What is there to reason?"
She smiled softly at him, her features enhanced by the natural moonlight. There was a peaceful, tranquil aura around her, which even calmed his mood. "Okay Squall…think back to two years ago. Not how you are feeling right now, but to the person you were back then. The people we were back then."
"Yeah…so your point is?"
"Don't answer me as Squall Leonhart twenty-two-year-old, but as the person just out of their teens. Remember that Squall Leonhart…okay…say I walked in to your office and told you I was pregnant… How would you have reacted?" She raised her eyebrow at him smiling; he couldn't keep his gaze on her. Somehow, she knew he wouldn't have to think hard to remember that person, as he had never truly lost him.
Glancing back down at Allison, Squall answered the best he could. "I would have been…well shocked."
"Truthfully Squall." Placing a hand on his bare arm, her warm touch reassured him that she was really there. He was going to do his best to understand, even if he didn't like the answer.
"Rinoa…I would have been angry. You hinted more times than I care to remember about getting married… I guess looking back to myself then, the thought you had done it intentionally would have entered my mind. But I know both of us believed you couldn't conceive. The situation would have been…well…overwhelming."
"So, Squall what would you have done? Not as commander, but as my boyfriend."
His mind answered the question before the words came out of his mouth. There was only one thing he would have done. "I would have married you…so…well, it would have been easier in that case if we did marry."
"Right Squall, you would have married me…I have no doubt. But, did you want to get married? Squall don't answer me as you are now…truly think back."
There was only one answer. "No, Rinoa I wasn't ready then…not even for you to be my wife."
"You still would have done the honorable thing by marrying me. Honestly, I would have been thrilled to be Mrs. Leonhart any way possible. My attitude would be that you would grow to the marriage, but…."
"I would have grown to resent it after time." He answered honestly…the same situation he found himself in as a reality today. The resentment toward Quistis…
She was right. Had Rinoa been his wife now, and not Quistis, would the situation have changed for the better? Both marriages would have felt forced, a commitment he wasn't ready to make. No matter the spouse, it was he himself whom was not ready for the act. His heart was too young, and his mind was too lost. It took time to understand what was important, and it took time to admit that to himself. But the pain, the agony…the betrayal, how could it have been worth the price?
Finally he spoke, "That doesn't negate everything horrible that happened."
"Squall…would you want me to be your wife right now? Answer as the person standing in front of me today."
He looked into her soul. "Yes. I love you with all my heart."
"Squall, I love you too, more than you could possibly comprehend. That is why I don't want to be your wife."
"Squall, if given the chance right now…I wouldn't want to be Mrs. Leonhart. Because I have learned something…it doesn't matter what the hell my name is…whether it is Renee Bennett, Rinoa Heartilly, or Rinoa Leonhart. My love for you is beyond marriage, beyond physical bonds. Squall, I just want to be the person you love, with all your heart. And…I am. We are not bonded by martial contract…our souls, our hearts, and our spirits have bonded beyond eternity."
"We will never resent each other. We have learned of loss and betrayal…we have grown stronger because of it. It took the evil to strengthen the good." He whispered aloud looking her in the eyes.
She smiled back, knowing for the first time he understood. "The pain you suffered when you lost Ellone two years ago is not in vein. Everything had to happen this way…maybe just maybe…Ellone knew this too. Maybe she told me to leave…save our unborn child …not from the soldiers, from a physical death…but from the relationship we would have been forced into… The one you didn't want, the resentment that she would have been born into. Now our daughter will know how much her parents meant to each other…the story that we shared. You can always tell her. And it will be the truth, not the lies she would have heard from others."
Only a few students remained roaming the halls. Recent events caused loitering to be a thing of the past. Now they were actually preparing for an all out conflict and that carried over into leisure time. Off time was concentrated on extra training and spending time with loved ones. The halls almost seemed like the streets of a ghost town, with the exception of the stray tumbleweed or coyote. But every story has its heroes and villains, not all is what it first appears.
She played with strands of flaxen hair; Quistis found herself doing this often lately. As she walked the halls, the clicking of her boot heels reminded her of the westerns that she had been forced to watch with Irvine. Sometimes she would picture herself within one of those films, but the hero was always someone else…someone that was never hers. The villains would change, as they had throughout her life, but the one thing she never figured to change was the hero. No longer was the commander the person she pictured on the noble steed, but in a twist of irony, it was one she often pictured as the villain…Seifer Almasy.
Maybe he didn't fit the profile of the ‘typical’ hero, maybe there was something rough around the edges, but maybe that is what drew her to him…imperfection. Something unknown, unseen, but something that she could no longer deny was there. The emotions she felt had been foreign for so long. She caught her reflection in a darkened glass window. Quistis stopped to check her hair…not that she was vain in any sense, but for the first time in years, she actually cared what she looked like.
For an instant, she stopped and stared at the reflection in the mirror, unsure of who was staring back at her. The figure seemed older than she remembered, in her mind she was still eighteen and the world still new. Maybe the thoughts of back then were what kept her going, maybe they helped mask the pain she truly felt. Her eyes locked with the reflection, she felt a paralyzing fear. Where had her life gone? Why was she in her early twenties and feeling this lost? Had she ever truly been found?
"You know staring at the reflection won't make it change."
"Are you sure Seifer?"
"Yes, I am. Trust me I spent many hours looking at myself, trying to figure out where I went wrong. Thinking that maybe, somehow I could turn back time and make it all right again... Then I realized something…if I did that I was no better than Ultimecia."
Both stood staring at their likeness in the window. Together, two people who knew nothing of the world but had forever changed its destiny.
"Do you think Ultimecia felt this way?"
"Yes, I do," he softly replied. "Maybe I did learn something out of my experience with her; it was the pain she felt…the desire to change the past, the chance to live a life that she could never have. But I also learned something that she never did…to accept the past, live in the present, and think of the future."
"Seifer, in a million years I never thought I would be hearing something like that from you."
"Believe it, we are going to get through this and then there is only the future."
"What about you? Did you find out anything about the treason charges?"
"Well, I know that I will have to serve some time, the amount is still what is in question. In all honesty, I don't care. I can't worry about that right now…we have to worry about Mitchell and Galbadia. I can worry about me later, right now I have other people to worry about."
"For one," he said placing his arm around her waist. "I have other people to worry about also. Now how about that dinner you promised me?"
"Dinner?" she asked watching his mirror image. "I think you were going to buy me dinner." His eyes moved off the reflection and on to her.
"Fine," he replied tenderly. "But I'm still not sure about this…you don't know what I have gone through today."
She turned to him. "What?"
"Oh nothing particular…just the whispers and the comments. It's funny that I was the one who would have been doing that years ago, hell I would have been the instigator but now…"
"You're on the other end."
"Exactly. Somehow I actually felt sorry today for the way I treated Squall and Zell when I was here."
"See, I knew there was hope for you…"
Seifer interrupted her, "But mostly I feel sorry for the way I treated you. I never made it easy…I was the one whispering and starting rumors about you. What I know now is that I was always jealous of Squall…because he seemed to have everything…the talent, the respect…you."
"I think half of the reason I started the rumors about you guys was that I was jealous…there I said it…nobody ever saw me for who I was…so I made up a persona of who I thought everyone wanted. Turns out nobody did."
Quistis looked at the hallway leading to the cafeteria, and then back to Seifer. "I um...was given a room down in the student section. It's a single room, so what do you say we get something from the cafeteria and head back there? Then we will be with only people who see us for who we truly are…us."
"Instructor that sounds like the best idea you have ever had."
The warm water danced around her shoulders. Every drop seemed a welcome relief. The simple pleasures, like a hot shower, were all but forgotten in her life. As the steam engulfed her body, she could finally relax. Squall knew the truth, he knew of his daughter. More than that, he accepted her…he would be the father she wasn't sure about years ago.
After their talk, he laid down on the bed, as not to disturb the child. Rinoa slowly dismissed herself to take a shower. The time away almost killed her, but she knew that he needed these moments with Allison. The fact she was asleep was also comforting, his first moments with her would be peaceful ones. He would learn to become more comfortable with the situation.
As she turned the shower knobs, a cold chill ran down her spine. It was a sensation she couldn't comprehend. A fear started taking over and she found herself unable to breathe. Slowly she slid down the shower wall, into a corner. As the last water circled through the drain, she couldn't stop the cold feelings. She didn't cry or call for Squall, but the shivering continued to a point that scared her…she no longer felt in control.
Images entered her mind, ones she couldn't comprehend…memories that were not hers. Flashes, dreams, visions swirling around. For a moment, she found herself back in Dollet standing on a cliff watching the waters below. She couldn't control the movements of her own body…something else was guiding her. With a solemn leap, she dove into the rock-strewn waters below, waiting for the impact that never came. When Rinoa opened her eyes again, she was standing in Winhill watching a man with a gun to his chest. She closed her eyes as the blood splattered all around. Feeling the pain of the host body, she felt the love the person carried for the man…
Again the emotion became too much to bear and she found herself trying to hide within the recesses of her mind. Try as she did, she could not run…the fear and the images caught up with her. Swirling memories clouded her mind, a childhood that was not hers, mixed with memories that were her own. In a darkened room she stood, no windows, no doors. A far off reflection is all that she could see. As her legs struggled through the darkness, she found herself guiding toward the mirror. Suddenly she was standing looking at her own reflection. A bright flash appeared and when she could focus her eyes, she was no longer staring at her reflection. Ellone stood in the mirror looking back.
"You must be strong. It will be your only defense. He loves you and always will."
She reached out her hand to touch the reflection, struggling at the movements. "Ellone?" she rasped.
"Rinoa, beware the dragon sleeps among the knights."
"Dragon? What dragon? Please tell me what you are talking about, I don't understand!"
"You will in time, just don't let it be too late."
"The memories I just had…they were of your childhood? Those were your parents?"
"They were memories of all of us…all that came before you. We are bonded by our gifts and cursed by them. You must learn in order to live, you must live in order to learn…"
"What, what are you talking about Ellone!? What is going to happen!?"
"In two days I will move on, what becomes of my soul is up to fate. What becomes of you is up to destiny."
"Don't leave me! Don't leave me!" Rinoa screamed as the image slowly returned to her own reflection. In anger, she raised her fist to the mirror. As the contact was made, shards of glass rained down into the room. She continued to scream at the mirror, which was no more than a metallic frame. The room was completely dark. Except for the pain in her hand, she felt nothing.
In the shadows, she could feel someone grabbing her body. She tried to fight off the attacker, but found she no longer had the strength. Finally, she gave in and closed her eyes, before hearing the voice that snapped her out of the trance.
When he had heard the screaming coming from the shower, he quickly laid Allison back into the crib. Before he could make it to the bathroom, Squall could here the sound of glass shattering. When he arrived, Rinoa sat in the corner of the shower. Her naked body was covered with shards of the shower doors. Her eyes were open yet she wasn't looking at him, more like through him.
Quickly he jumped in and wrapped her in a towel checking for any serious injuries. Thankfully, most of the scratches were just superficial, except for several deep cuts on her hand.
"Rinoa look at me!" he demanded. "Look at me now!"
Finally, her eyes returned to normal, the glassy orbs now replaced with her natural color. She looked confused for a moment, before grabbing him and holding on.
"Ellone…Squall, I talked to Ellone."
"What?" He looked not in disbelief, but just the opposite. Nothing in his life surprised him anymore, and this was something else he would learn to accept. "You talked to Ellone?"
Both were visibly shaken by the events. She held on tightly not wanting to let go. He pushed the wet strands of hair away from her face. Together they stood in the bathroom, neither wanting to let go. He wouldn't push her; she would talk when ready. For now, they just found the comfort with each other that had escaped them for so long.
It was something Seifer never thought he would see again, the inside of a SeeD dorm. He walked into the room and recollections came flooding back. The resentment that he had over the years had now turned into a deep form of respect. He watched as the former instructor walked silently over to the small storage closet. Quistis emerged with a woolen gray blanket. He watched mesmerized as she spread the blanket onto the floor of the dorm thereby making a picnic area.
Each movement she made seem to fascinate him more, every breath, every sound. Smoothing the corners of the blanket out, she glanced up at him. Noticing that he was staring directly at her, she found herself becoming nervous. She hadn't felt this way in so long, like the shy schoolgirl being caught staring at the head football player. Their eyes locked and Quistis found herself biting her lower lip, not knowing exactly what to say.
Finally, Seifer broke the stillness. "Do you need any help with that?"
"Um…no thanks. I got it," she replied timidly. "Sorry, I don't have a table or anything in here. I'm just happy that I have a place to stay right now."
"Quistis, you will always have a place to stay…you just have to know where to look."
"Uh…thanks…now where is that food we got?"
Seifer held two small brown paper sacks in his hand. He lifted them up, in a slight gesture. Walking over, Quistis took the bags from his hands and proceeded to sit down on the blanket.
"Are you waiting for an engraved invitation?"
He eyed her back, raising one eyebrow. "Maybe."
"Well, if you want food get down here. That is about as formal as I get at two in the morning."
"It's that late already? Gee the day flies by when you are running from Galbadian soldiers."
"We don't want to forget your time in the infirmary with the doctor."
Seifer got a very serious look on his face, "Oh trust me Quistis, we do."
"That bad hmmm?" She opened her sandwich wrapper tossing to the side.
"Worse," he stated simply. She chuckled slightly. "Hey, it's not funny!" He defended his honor. It was a complete physical after all…nothing funny about that.
"I'm not laughing at you…really."
"Oh right, you are laughing with me… Yeah, I get it." Seifer looked down at his container of cottage cheese, wondering what on earth possessed him to pick it up in the first place. Hell, he hated the stuff…but it was between that or strained spinach… He went with the lesser of two evils. The cafeteria selection was at a bare minimum that time of night. Slowly he poked his fork around the cottage cheese, pushing it from one side to another.
Looking up, he noticed Quistis trying to contain her laughter. Her face was turning a light shade of crimson as she was maintaining her proper demeanor. He put some food on his fork with every intention of eating it. But when she broke out into a full-blown laughter, he couldn't help his next action. Without warning, he took the fork and flung the cottage cheese in her direction. Perfectly it landed on her cheek, as curds rolled down her neck.
He sat in shock at his actions for a moment, as the woman stared at him dumbfounded.
"That wasn't funny," she spoke calmly. Grabbing the cottage cheese from his hand, she took the bucket and poured the contents over his head. White chunks slowly slid down his face and hair. "Now, that is funny," she replied innocently. Without saying a word, he grabbed a napkin and wiped the food out of his eyes. Then in the next motion, he grabbed the small container of chocolate pudding next to him…
"Oh no you don't!" Quistis stood up quickly anticipating her former student's next action.
"Do what dear instructor?" He pulled the tab back and smirked at the blonde woman, taking an intimidating step toward her. "I wouldn't do anything to you that you wouldn't do to me."
"Seifer, I'm warning you…I do not look good with chocolate pudding in my hair."
"I'll be the judge of that," he mischievously said. Seifer took the final step, and then abruptly poured the contents over Quistis' head. She said nothing as pudding clumps fell to the ground. He looked at her with the largest grin she had ever seen. "You are so wrong…you look great with pudding in your hair."
Both could no longer contain themselves as they began laughing hysterically. Neither had ever remembered a time in their lives when they felt so free, so full of energy. For a moment, they were just them, two kids that had never had the chance at childhood. Two people forced to grow up, and then forced into a life that neither wanted.
When the laughter subsided, Seifer wiped some of the chocolate off her face. As his skin touched hers, both felt a shock of electricity surge through them. Suddenly, the mood had gone from one of playfulness to one of a very serious nature. He moved his arm around her back and gently pulled her towards him. She did not fight; she moved willingly. At first, their lips touched delicately, but soon it grew into a deeper passion.
He found himself exploring her body more with his hands, and in return, she was doing the same. Somehow, they were experiencing life and love for the first time. Although neither was new to this, each could not compare the emotions and sensations to anything else…or anyone else. It was as if two people who were always meant to be together fought overwhelming odds to reach this point. One moment in their lives where they were free to be themselves…not to be who others wanted.
Slowly he unbuttoned her shirt, never rushing the moment. She allowed him to do this, while their lips never separated for more than a second. When her top finally fell to the floor, he pulled away. Suddenly she felt embarrassed at the way she looked. The chocolate had made its way down her neck and she became self-conscience of her body. He wasn't sure what made him stop; there was just an overwhelming desire to look at her…to see her for who she truly was.
Whether it was her half-naked form or the emotion in his heart…he wanted her. Not just physically, but in a way he had never wanted another living soul. He wanted all of her…her body, her love, her heart. There was something special about Quistis Trepe, something that he had not seen…something he had been blinded to by his ego. Now for the first time he saw…and knew he loved her.
~ Chapter Twenty-Seven: Dispute ~
On the mountains of truth
you can never climb in vain:
either you will reach a point higher up today,
or you will be training your powers
so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.
The last bandage was placed around her hand. Carefully, gently his rough fingers had the touch of feathers against her skin. Rinoa remained silent, lost in her own thoughts as Squall had tended to her wounds. The glass had cut deep, but she declined to visit the infirmary. She refused to give up a second with her family. Each moment was a gift; Rinoa Heartilly knew that. The combination of a cure spell, along with good old-fashioned bandages, was enough to keep her out of pain.
Putting away the supplies, Squall carefully sat on the bed. Wordlessly he lay back against the headboard. His arms reached around, gently guiding her onto his chest. Neither spoke…silence had become their common ground as of late. But maybe silence said more than words ever could. Emotions spoke louder, the bond was clearer…they were one.
"Ellone's here," she finally said under her breath.
"Rinoa, we both know she died two years ago."
"Yes, she did. But her spirit is still here…she has been watching us." Rinoa sat up slightly, turning to look him in the eyes. Placing her palm on his coarse cheek, she looked deep into his eyes…eyes of which she dreamed every night, eyes that she saw everyday in Allison. "Ellone brought us together again. She's been watching over us all this time…but is trying to warn of the future." A single tear traced down her cheek. "Squall, she didn't have to warn me…I already knew. I knew my life was always at risk, I knew. In two days, Ellone won't be here anymore, her soul will move on. I should've told you about Allison earlier…I'm so ashamed that…"
Sitting up he grabbed her tightly, resting her on his shoulder. Together they sat neither letting go.
"Rinoa…don't. You can never look back on the past…you did what you had to do. I know that now. I will protect you. Nothing will happen…I swear. If you die, then I will be lying lifeless next to you…"
"No!" she chocked out. "Don't…Squall you can't do that!" Rinoa broke apart, looking directly at him into his soul. "Promise me Squall you will go on. Don't let yourself get into a position like that. I'm not the only one here now…I'm secondary. Promise me that you will be there for Allison. She can't lose both parents…she needs you."
"Damn it, Rinoa…I need you." He subconsciously pulled her closer, almost too forcefully.
"Squall, our daughter…she can't be an orphan…we can't do that to her."
"I'm not losing either one of you."
"Some things we cannot control Squall, some we can. If it is my destiny to move on, I can't deny it. You can't deny it. Squall, there are some enemies you can't defeat…death is one. We may have deceived him for a moment, but we cannot hide forever. I've spent the last two years hiding…I can't do it anymore."
"I swear to you Rinoa, we will be a family."
"Squall, we already are…for now, for eternity. Promise me, if you have to choose, don't ever regret it… Allison is everything…she is our future, she is our past. Squall…she is the best of both of us. Give her the life we couldn't have."
He lightly kissed the tears from her cheek. "Rinoa, I promise to protect Allison at any cost…but don't you dare think I will let anything happen to you. I arranged for you, Allison and Alex to go to Esthar. There you will be protected during the war… General Caraway has also been granted political asylum by the Estharian government."
"Yes Rinoa, he's aboard Garden now…arrived earlier this afternoon. He just wanted to give you an adjustment period before approaching."
"He's here? Squall does he know about Allison?"
"I believe he knows you have a child…I don't think he knows details. His first concern was for your safety. The details were not important at that time."
"So we're going to Esthar?"
"I contacted Laguna and he is thrilled to have us stay there. This grandchild is like a second chance for him too…we all made mistakes."
Rinoa tilted her head to one side with a questioning look. "When did you contact him?"
"Earlier this evening, when you were with the doctor."
"You told him about his granddaughter?"
"I hope that is okay."
"Squall, I hadn't told you yet that Allison was… You knew, didn't you? That's what that entire questioning thing was about."
He looked down, slowly releasing her, and ran his fingers across the bedspread. "I found out earlier aboard the Ragnarok…but I had to hear it from you."
Rinoa indicated she understood, by not overreacting. "I should have been the one to tell you…two years ago. Thank you… Thank you, for still making me say it. You don't know how much of a relief it was to speak the words."
"I know." There was a long pause. "Rinoa, even if Allison wasn't mine biologically…she would still be my daughter. She is part of you, and I love her on that alone." She sighed contently, grabbing her arms tightly across her chest.
Squall looked at the digital lights of the clock. "Rinoa, it's late…we need to get some rest." She smiled, giving him a quick kiss on the lips. Getting off the bed, he walked into the bathroom. Rinoa listened as he threw broken glass away. She sat in the subtle light, watching the stars dance eloquently in the night sky.
Reaching over to turn off the lamp, she noticed a book that had been set on her end table. Immediately she realized it was something Alex must have borrowed from the library. Grabbing the book, she thought it might help keep her mind from wandering too much. One thing she knew, there was no way she could sleep until he had returned. There was no way she would want to.
Opening it, she scanned the pages. Poetry, go figure…it was something Alex took pleasure in, yet something Rinoa couldn't comprehend. Maybe it was because she never allowed herself to feel the words, feel the emotion. Maybe the simplicity made it more sorrowful. The elegance refined passion; the ease alluded to something she wouldn't nor couldn't confront. Several titles caught her eye as she flipped through the pages…then she stopped. Without a sound, she read the poem, entranced in its words.
When Squall appeared in the bedroom, she was immersed in the book. He stood mesmerized as the soft light highlighted her exquisite features. Her dark brown hair fell forward, covering her eyes. Her flawless skin illuminated brighter than any star. She was beautiful; she was his everything. Finally, he found the strength to move. Sitting down on the bed, he moved under the silky comforter. Curious, Squall looked over her shoulder. He had to find what had her so entranced. The usual solemn commander found himself, also, examining the words.
Rinoa faintly spoke the last verses aloud.
As the light
Fades to darkness
So goes with it
That my love
Had any end for
The heart so close
With my last
Breath I shall whisper
A promise that is
Feel my heart
You’ll see the truth
And my last thoughts
Will be of forever
Neither spoke. He took the book out of her hands, placing it back on the nightstand. As the light was turned off, only the moonlight flowed onto the bed. Squall listened to the sounds of her breathe, before he could no longer hold himself back. In the shadows, he found her soft lips and slowly she felt herself giving into passion.
"I love you Squall…promise me you will never regret any decision. It's what I want…" He heard the words tacit in his mind.
Suddenly he broke apart in disbelief. "What? How? In the truck, back the Trabian forest…I heard you then too. It wasn't my imagination, was it?"
Although he could not see the grin, he could sense it. "Yes Squall…You can hear me; our minds are connected. I can hear you also, if you wish me to."
Focusing thoughts unto her, his mouth never moved. "I don't understand…before when you lived at Garden, you never tried this."
"I couldn't back then… you had not given yourself to me fully. You gave yourself physically, but never spiritually. Only once you opened me to your fears, could we achieve this level."
He had no word on his own that came to him, so instead he echoed the last lines of the poem. This time he spoke them aloud.
Feel my heart
You’ll see the truth
And my last thoughts
Will be of forever
Reaching for the silver chain around his neck, Rinoa pulled him close. "Forever," she tenderly whispered back.
Small bits of dust floated in the air, every one taking its own path nothing guiding its way, only the still air and destiny. He had been asleep, and in a way, she was glad. Her mind fought of whether to get up or not from the bed they had shared…the bed they had made love in last night.
Had she really wanted it to happen? Or was it only a physical reaction to stress she had been faced with. Never in a million years, hell, in a trillion years would she have pictured this scenario. So much was going on around her, and so many people had been hurt. Yet she took the time to give in to her selfish desires. After all the lies, how did she have any right to be happy?
She forfeited her rights on one fateful day.
Her body tensed as the guilt clouded reasoning. Slowly she moved off the bed, as not to wake Seifer. Gathering scattered articles of clothing from the floor, she quietly got dressed. Again, she caught of herself in the mirror as she straightened her blouse.
Waking up the moment she first attempted to get off the bed, Seifer pretended he was still asleep. He said nothing. Right now, he wasn't sure what to say. Somehow from him, anything he said seemed to come out the wrong way in this situation. The last thing he wanted to do right now was to be thought of as the asshole they had all grown to expect. Instead, he lay quietly allowing her to control the situation. If she wanted to leave and put this behind her, he would understand.
That's not what he wanted, but who was he to decide anything right now?
In the darkness of his eyes, he could see every step she was taking down to her fidgeting with the zipper on her dress. Every rustle of fabric only made him want to get up and take her into his arms. However, he would not. It was not his call.
Last night had been amazing. Simply amazing. He wasn't going to play the part of the innocent, for he was surly not. He had been with more women then he had even cared to remember. Somehow, it was a way to make him forget all his failures, it was a drug. Sex could have been smoking or alcohol, it didn't matter. It was something he did without feeling, an emotionless reaction to fears harbored inside.
Yet this was different, and for the first time in his life, he made love…and in return felt love. Every centimeter of her skin was so soft and pure and his seemed so tainted and stained. In his mind, nothing she did could ever take away from her beauty, for she was only human. He could relate to her dreams, her desires. Dreams had blinded him once, causing him to lose everything and everyone he held dear. Dreams can be a powerful force, unseen and unrealized in others, but controlling your every actions. Hers was Squall.
For a moment, he silently winced at the name. Horrible thoughts crossed his mind, was he only a substitute for him again? Who was she making love to last night…at least in her mind? For the first time in a long while, a tinge of jealously entered his heart. He had come back only to help his rival out of the darkness that covered the commander's life. What he hadn't expected to happen was for the darkness that covered his life to find a small ray of light. But would it truly be enough?
He faced an uncertain future, and for that matter, so did she. He had no right to pull her into his problems, as she had her own to contend with. She had been silent for the last few minutes as he pondered these eternal questions. Part of him wanted her to just leave, keep the memory of last night sacred in his heart. But, the larger part of him wanted her to come over and tell him the things he only dreamed of hearing from another human.
Was it possible to fall in love with someone in such a short time…no. However it wasn't a short time, it was a lifetime. Maybe others could have their love at first sight, but he needed more.
Finally, she walked to the door, thinking of the best way to handle the situation. Funny how one night of feeling human and feeling loved in her mind was a 'situation'. Quistis was already late for a briefing with Cid, one she was not looking forward to. What little respect she felt she still had as a SeeD would probably be lost when the others found out her actions last night. With him, the one that started the chain of events in the first place.
But who the hell cared? Maybe she would have one thing in her life, one night. And that no SeeD Commander or reprimand could take away. She walked back to him, for a moment she hesitated. Then Quistis leaned over and gave him an ever-so-slight kiss on the forehead.
Sunlight replaced the moon, as its rays filtered through the open window. Sitting up, she quickly noticed Squall wasn't with her. Rinoa grabbed the white sheet to her chest, covering her naked body. Looking out into the living area, she noticed the faint sounds of the television council. In all her years, she could not recall a time when Squall purposely watched anything. It was always she who rented movies, forcing him to spend evenings on the couch. Evenings, she was sure, he would have rather been planning battles or learning new Gunblade techniques.
Wiping the sleep out of her eyes, she stood up. A bathrobe that Selphie brought hung by the bathroom door, putting it on she tied it around her waist before stopping to look at her reflection in the mirror. So much had happened, so much yet to come. She tucked astray hairs behind her head before heading toward the living room.
When she walked in, the sight was truly the most beautiful she could have ever imagined… It went far beyond the scope of anything Rinoa could have pictured. Squall lay on the sofa, his bare chest slightly exposed. She could see his feet sticking out of the grey blanket that was covering most of him. His right arm under his head, holding on to a small throw pillow. Next to his chest lay Allison…asleep and snuggling up to his neck. Squall's left arm protectively holding her next to him.
How does one describe such emotion? Events unfolding before her very eyes. Over the course of seven years, her life had dramatically changed. Dreams changed. As a child, her fairytale consisted of a beautiful princess, a prince who won her heart, the dragons that were slain, the castles in the sky, and the happily ever after. Nothing more than Rinoa's childhood dream. Nevertheless, those hopes shaped her future and the person she was today.
As an adult, dreams altered. She replaced the dreams of stone castles with a small home she could call her own. Nothing fancy, nothing spectacular…just a place she could feel content and sheltered. The fire-breathing dragon was replaced with enemies around, both known and unknown. The tasks she accomplished to survive, the dragon was a mere metaphor for every adversity she had ever faced.
But the prince, he never changed.
For he was the only part of equation that came true. She found her prince, her knight, in an ironic turn of events. Together they shared a soul, neither complete without each other.
Maybe the storybook ending wouldn't come true, but she, unlike so many others, could say that she had lived it once… When she was young, she dreamed of fame and fortune. When she was old, she dreamed of anonymity and simplicity. The dreams of youth wasted upon the young, the dreams of today wasted upon fate.
But for a few days, no matter how short in the history of time, Rinoa Heartilly and Squall Leonhart would have what many would dream…life, love, and family. It was something true, something pure.
The television played softly in the background. The program that was on looked like a nature special…nothing Squall would watch with animals and their young. Chuckling to herself, she realized just how much he had been trying. Though it was not cartoons, it was a recognizable attempt to entertain Ally…and for that, she loved him.
It broke her heart as she walked closer, with each step she knew the moment wouldn't last. But she longed to be a part of them and that feeling was now controlling her actions. He started to stir as she grew near. Opening one eye slowly…his expression did not change. She couldn't help but grin back at the picture, so innocent.
Raising an eyebrow, she said, "Good morning you two."
Their eyes locked, but still he didn't move. Rinoa crouched down.
"Morning," he finally said.
"I hope she wasn't too hard on you," Rinoa replied mockingly. "You know how we Heartilly's can be."
"Nothing I can't handle." He spoke matter-of-fact, a small grin appearing.
"Right, I'm sure years of SeeD training taught you well. Dancing and changing diapers are some things taught in your first years."
"You'd be surprised at what SeeD is taught. Hell, I'm surprised at what we're taught."
"I don't even want to know," she countered moving her fingers through his hair. He closed his eyes, allowing himself the simple pleasure of just being. A sudden thought flashed through his mind. One that he had been thinking about since he first learned of Allison, one that he had wondered three years ago.
"Rinoa, why did you name her Allison? You had those names picked out a long time ago…was there a reason?"
She tilted her head slightly to the side, looking with bewilderment. "Squall?"
"What?" He asked shifting into a sitting position. Gently he moved Allison onto his chest as Rinoa sat on the couch next to him.
"You really don't know, do you?"
He didn't answer. She could tell by the stare that he was the slightest bit agitated. Squall Leonhart was never one for guessing games.
"Fine," she said softly. Reaching down to her daughter, Rinoa lightly caressed her chubby arm. "Squall, before Ellone was killed…her and I talked one night. She asked about my ability to have children…or the lack there of. She was concerned how I was dealing with it. I guess at the time family was out of the question. We ended up talking all night. I learned all about her parents and her life before living with Raine."
Squall looked down regretfully. "I never thought of her real parents. She never mentioned them."
"I know. Squall, she did that for a reason. You children had all gone through so much. She was the oldest and truly took the role of sister to heart. At any rate, she didn't want everyone to think about what she had gone through…how she had actually ended up there…the story that you didn't know."
"Her parents…they were murdered by the Estharian government."
"Yes. She only remembered fragments of them. Some of the memories mixed with the lies perpetuated by Adel's army. She didn't know fact from fiction…the same future I feared for Allison. But, she did know her parents loved her that she never doubted. Her parents were named Aaron and Allison…"
"I should have known." He looked solemnly at his daughter, regretting everything he had never learned. Never cared about.
"It's okay Squall, she knew you cared. I made a promise to myself that if I…we…ever had children, they would be named in honor of Ellone's parents. Then when I met Alex, and learned that she was Ellone's half sister…the name Allison was perfect."
"It was both Ellone's and Alexandra's mother."
"Right, Squall it was like fate brought us together…I had already wanted to name my child after the mother of the person who delivered her…a person that none of us had known about. Allison was meant to be, to bring us all together…"
"What do you mean Esthar?" snapped the agitated man.
"I'm sorry…I didn't think they would run." She sounded scared, afraid of his reaction.
"This was never supposed to get this far. She should have been captured by now. I don't care how you do it; get that damn baby if you have to…"
"The sorceress is too well protected, but Squall might let his guard down for the child. If he had to choose…"
"That's what I love about you," he replied. "When this is over we will be together…you know exactly how I feel about you. None of this would have been possible without your help."
"I love you too, more than you could possibly know. I can't wait to officially become the first lady of Galbadia.”
"I can't wait either darling."
He placed the receiver onto the nightstand rolling back over to the person next to him.
"Who was that?" she questioned.
"Nobody important," he answered back. "Just someone in the right place at the right time."
~ Chapter Twenty-Eight: Corrivalry ~
The mountain throws a shadow,
Thin is the moon's horn;
What did we remember
Under the ragged thorn?
Dread has followed longing,
And our hearts are torn.
-William Butler Yeats
Regret. A word so simple…six letters, two syllables. Defined by book scholars as a verb: to remember with loss and sorrow. How pathetic. What do they know? One can sit in a closed room defining words, or one can define them by action; I did the latter. I took a chance so special, so unique and traded it all for foolish pride. Illusions forced upon me by others, illusions I chose as reality.
Looking back now, it's easy to see what an ass I was, at least to those around me. Maybe I was scared to let them in, but hid it well. Leonhart was always the one they adored, his loneliness worn on his sleeve. Not me, I hid behind anger and smart remarks. Some part of me wanted to yell out, cry for help. But I was too strong, too proud. And nobody heard me.
But she saw that…Ultimecia. She saw behind the façade, she saw the child I was. And in return, she gave me illusion, the reality where I was important, where I was loved. Is that what we search for…love? Such another trivial word, one syllable, and commonly over-used. Maybe that is what scares me about Leonhart, he and I are opposites…but we are the same. I never saw him as the rival defined by traditional terms, but as something far beyond. As a brother, not by blood, but by our nature.
I know, I don't sound like the teenager from so many years ago. Growing up can do that to a person, make one see the world around them…the good, the bad, and all the gray areas in between. For the last few years, I have lived life from the outside, under rocks…the filth of society. Never knowing where my next meal would come from, but always knowing I could get one…if I wanted. Depending on how far I would go for it.
What makes a person wake up one day wanting to change? Maybe it is the person looking back in the mirror…or maybe our 'little friend' regret is stronger in the mind than defined in a dictionary. Nightmares that haunt you, dreams that destroyed you…all stemmed from regret. Only thinking of what could have been, and not the reality we chose.
Would she have loved me? To even think her name seems to be difficult now, after all that has happened between us in the last week. No, I didn't care for her back then, but they say there is a fine line between love and hate. How fine a line, only the two individuals teetering between would know. Would the instructor of yesterday ever taken the blinders off to anyone but Leonhart? Did it take her getting what she always wanted, to find out it wasn't worth the price? I know that lesson well. Too fucking well.
Was last night something she, in turn, will regret? Will regret and guilt walk hand in hand? Did she think of me or think of him? Is this another illusion I chose to create? The chance someone like her could truly want anything to do with me… I have been delusional before.
Rinoa. I believed she cared, and in her own way, she did. But, love was never on the menu, and both of us knew that. Call me the parental rebellion, that's all I was to her. Something that dear daddy did not approve of…a stepping-stone in her life, one easily cast away. Nothing, and I mean nothing, that she ever did to me was worth the price she paid. She was not dumped and cast aside by Leonhart…she was defiled and betrayed. A fate far worse, left to a world that she did not create, a lie that she didn't perpetuate.
And what is irony? Irony is the one person who tried to sacrifice her to Adel, was the only person who believed her innocent. What a fucking joke. In another ironic turn, I have fallen for the one person who started the chain. Do I blame her? No. I have been weak, we are all human…even Quistis Trepe. Unlike me, she tried…damn it, I know she did. Even in weakness, our other friend ‘guilt’ tried to take care of it…in time Quistis endeavored to make amends.
But it was too late.
That bastard Mitchell stole so much. He took lives of children…goddamn him. Innocents, not warriors, nor soldiers, but elementary students with life ahead of them… those with the chance to succeed where we all had failed. What she fails to realize is that had she not spoken mistruths that day, had Ellone never died… Rinoa would be the one lying in her place. They were there to get her that day; Mitchell was going to sacrifice her. She is nothing but a pawn to him…all human life is.
In a twisted way, Quistis’ lie gave Rinoa life. I could never tell them that, they would never see it. One act started it all, and by the gods, one act will finish it all. Quistis and Rinoa are as different as Squall and I. Nevertheless, they are also the same. Both faced torment and anguish, which neither money nor notoriety can change what is in their hearts. The loneliness each feels…and regret. Fuck you regret.
We once stood as enemies, but now we stand as allies, against President Mitchell, against loneliness, and against regret. Let's just hope that we can stand together for this one time, before our lives go back to how they should be written…to when I am again alone and away from her… damn it…what happened to me? Who have I become? Maybe when I wake up in the morning tomorrow, I'll see someone new. Someone without regret, somebody that has prevailed and succeeded in the redemption of my sins…of all of our sins.
For our sakes, let us hope that redemption is more than a three-syllable word.
The rooms seemed smaller than when he attended Garden. However, perception seemed to change with age. The white ceiling tiles remained untouched - standard, non-frilled, squares. Seifer Almasy had spent many hours searching them, for what he didn't know. Each one seemed like a chart, like an astronomers map. When he was younger, he would connect the indentations with his mind, now he could only see plain, white tiles.
Part of him wanted to leave the room, a larger part of him wanted to stay. There was a time he would have walked the halls with no remorse. Now, he was no longer the class bully, he was nothing short of the enemy. The one who turned against Garden, against the only family he ever knew. Now regret and shame kept him in the four walls, a prison. The prison he created on his own, no bars, no warden…something far worse. For the first time in his life, he wanted to scream. Not out of pain, not of anger, but for what could have been. A tapping on the door was a welcome relief, no matter who stood behind it.
"Yeah, I'm coming." The soft knock echoed again. "Hold your chocobos."
Somehow, he wasn't sure of who would be standing there. He knew Quistis, Squall, and the other SeeDs were meeting in the small conference room. Maybe if he had been thinking that way, it wouldn't have been such a shock.
She looked at him with a mixture of sympathy and regret…yes he could spot his dear friend regret just about anywhere.
"Seifer," she paused looking at the ground. "May I come in for a moment?"
"Sure you want to? I mean who knows what I may do. I could possibly sacrifice you to that really large Grat that runs the training area."
"I'll take my chances."
He stepped aside, motioning her to walk in.
"I…I don't know where to start." Her eyes looked tired, although she still hadn't looked at him directly.
"Well…I suppose you are here for an apology."
"No," she cut him off.
"I wanted to ask you something. I…I can't believe what I am going to do."
"Hey…sorry Rinny, but I don't think your boyfriend would appreciate that too much. And I, for one, don't want to end up as Grat fodder." He knew she could read him, as some things never changed. So much he wanted to say, tell her how sorry he was, but again the walls went up and the sarcasm flowed.
"Don't flatter yourself Seifer." He detected the little bit of laughter in her voice. It made her feel at ease for some odd reason with him. It always had.
"So seriously Rinoa, what are you doing here? I kinda figured I would be on that long list of people to avoid at all costs."
"You're not. In fact, just the opposite, I…I want to thank you."
"You're shittin' me right? Thank me for what?"
"For believing in me. After talking to Alex and what I heard from the others…no matter how much they thought I was guilty…you didn't."
"Nah, never saw in what you'd gain by killing Ellone. You already had Squall wrapped around your little finger, and I never saw you the type to rule a country. To throw a big dinner party for it yes, to rule it…no."
"You never change, do you?" Rinoa finally made eye contact with him, forming the smallest of smiles.
"You'd be surprised…hell I am."
"I suppose you're right. Well first of all, Squall was hardly ‘wrapped around my finger’…more like wrapped around his work. Second of all, that would be way too much food; I would prefer a small intimate gathering." She stood silent for a moment, before gathering the courage to speak again. "Why, why did you believe me…and he didn't?"
He walked across knowing the seriousness of the question. Could he really answer this for her? This was something that she needed to hear from Squall, but even Seifer knew that would never happen.
"Rinoa, deep inside he believed in you, even if he didn't know it. I knew that from the very first night I talked with him. They wanted your blood, he didn't. In reality, he could never come to terms with the relationship. In his mind, he was waiting for something…you leaving him, you cheating on him…whatever. Everyone in his life had betrayed him somehow, and he learned to expect the worst."
"But I loved him…he knew I loved him. I would never hurt him."
"I know. Rinoa, in his mind you ran, not from Garden, but from him. The day you left, his worst fears were realized. So to rationalize it, he turned you into the enemy. He wanted to blame you, he needed that to get through each morning, to go to bed every night. But the fact that you weren't guilty kept him breathing. Without that fact, he would have been dead along time ago."
"Squall wouldn't kill himself."
"No Rinoa, not physically, but in any given battle one has two choices, to live or die. He chose life for you. Don't for one moment think he didn't love you. If there is one thing I can tell you for certain is that man loves you, more than life, more than death. He would do anything for you."
"Thank you Seifer."
"For what now?"
"Er…um…yeah. Rinoa, you must always know that even through everything that happened with Ultimecia, I did care for you. You will always be special."
"You were the first person to believe in me, to see me for more than the failure that I had become. You saw through that back then. I think that is why the betrayal was so hard for me live with…I betrayed the one person who had believed in me."
"We were always better friends than lovers weren’t we? I still think about the nights we sat talking on the pier. Those memories will always be special to me."
"Rinoa, I think we were never lovers. We might have had sex, but it was no more than a childish curiosity. When I think back to those days, I realize you were like the sister I never had…and in that respect, I will always love you."
"I understand. Can I ask you something?"
"Hyne forbid anything would happen to both Squall and I…but if that would come to pass. Please, please…can you make sure that Allison is safe?"
For a moment, his heart skipped a beat. The mere thought that anyone would trust him, let alone with a child was outright ludicrous.
"Rinoa…do you realize who you are talking to…me, Seifer. Loser, ex-knight…not one to trust with a child!" He pointed to himself to emphasize his argument. Rinoa had to laugh at his overacting abilities.
"Seifer, first don't call yourself a loser around me…you will always be a friend. And yes, I know exactly whom I am speaking with, the one person in Garden that could actively compete with Squall. The one person who believed in me and the one person who I want to protect my daughter when…if…something happens. I know you can do it, I know you have the desire and the passion. I need that. I can't trust some stranger to do this… Alex can only do so much, but she is not a fighter by any means. You can get them to safety… Seifer Almasy, for Hyne knows what reason…I trust you. I know you can do it, you are the only other one who stands a chance."
Rinoa stopped, looking out the pane glass window. "You like her don't you?"
"Who?" He already knew the answer.
"You know," she replied softly.
"Yeah, I do. It surprised the hell out of me, but dammit Rinoa I really do." She nodded not able to face him. "You don't need to hear this right now Rin. You have other things to worry about."
"No, no I don't. Right now I have to worry about Allison…and if she is going to be around her…well…."
"Rinoa nobody knows what the future will bring." Rinoa almost laughed at the satire of the statement…from her one-time boyfriend.
"I…I can't stand her. I can't forgive what she did, nor can I ever forget. Nevertheless, if there is a small chance in hell that she would protect Allison, if you needed her…well, I can understand. I don't like it, but I can accept it."
"Rinoa, you are a stronger person than I could ever be."
"No, I'm not a strong person. I'm a stronger mother…and that fact makes the difference. For our children we sacrifice our feelings, our hatred, and even our lives."
"Rinoa, don't you think that you are overdoing it a bit? I mean by this evening you will be on a ship to Esthar…to live out the good-life in the presidential palace. Heck, you can have that party you always wanted."
"It's a dream, the whole thing…the happiness, the family. If it was meant to be, it would have found a way by now. The stars destine Squall and me, that life is not ours to lead… I only hope Allison can. Please Seifer…you have lived life underground like I was forced. You know ways, you know people, and you have the instinct to survive. I know you can get Allison out of here if it comes down to it…trust me, it's a last resort. But I need to know I can count on you."
Seifer walked over, putting his hand on her shoulder. She turned to him, eyes pleading for this request. "You can," he assured. "Rinoa, if it comes down to it, I will protect her for you, for Squall, and for me. Thank you, Rinoa…thank you."
She reached up to hug him, a brother, a sister…two people not related by blood but by circumstance. To their shock, the door opened. They both turned, seeing Squall and Quistis standing beside each other, with a look of confusion. Seifer couldn't help but laugh at their expressions as Rinoa released him. For a moment, the two in the door stood there silent.
"Hey look it's Mr. and Mrs. Leonhart dear," Seifer said acerbically to Rinoa. "I hope they brought the macaroni salad and bunt cake."
Nobody else found his comment amusing, save for Rinoa who was trying not to chuckle. She was not elated to see Quistis standing there, especially next to Squall. Nor did she appreciate the Mrs. Leonhart comment…but seeing Squall somehow made up for it. It had been so long. She would daydream for many hours…the ones she could actually remember in Trabia. She gradually walked toward the door. Quistis fretfully watched her, taking a step into the room. Rinoa continued pass the figure, avoiding eye contact. She focused only on the man positioned in the door.
Rinoa and Squall continued down the corridor, she wasn't sure what to say at that moment or what he was thinking. Her focus was momentary turned to three girls standing outside the library. They had drawn her attention with pointing, followed by loud whispers. Suddenly, she felt uncomfortable, even with Squall standing next to her. She crossed her arms over her chest, trying not to let the gossiping get to her. But it did.
Somehow, sometime, she had turned into the enemy. To be in Trabia and know what others thought, but to stare-the-bull-in-the-eyes was a completely different situation. Squall could sense her change of manner.
"Squall, I hate this. The way they talk about me, not behind my back but right in front of me…like I wasn't even there."
"You are here Rinoa. Don't forget that."
"But to them, I killed Ellone, no matter what Cid explained. You can't tell people something for two years, and then expect them to take it for gospel when you tell them different. Especially when there is no proof to back it up, just circumstantial evidence…and my word."
He remained silent, walking to the guest dormitories. Before they went out of sight, Rinoa fought against better judgment, looking back to the contemptuous girls. Facing the reality of being hated was remarkably different from what she'd envisioned.
Together they stood. Friends and lovers, knight and sorceress, and most importantly mother and father, supporting each other. Giving hope, giving life. Squall slowly reached out grabbing her hand. She entwined her fingers with his, giving him the reassuring of a slight smile.
"Rinoa, Caraway wants to see you…and Allison. I told him that was your decision."
"Yes, I want to see him." Her answer came swiftly. "God, thought you'd never live to hear those words from me, did you?"
"No…but so was, ‘Squall you’re a father’. Hell, thought I'd never hear you say 'Squall' again."
Rinoa paused an instant, feeling she owed clarification. "Squall…about Seifer I…"
"Don't," he stated simply. Squall placed his free hand under her chin, making Rinoa look him in the eye. "You don't owe me an explanation. We all have demons to face."
"Thank you," she sighed. He moved his fingers from her chin, allowing her to rest against his chest. In an infrequent show of public affection, he wrapped his arms securely around her. Resting his chin on her head, he could hear every breath, every gasp of air, and every heartbeat.
"Besides, he and I already had our talk. Only a few nights ago, we stood on the deck of a ship heading to Trabia. Never knowing that with each moment, I was getting closer to finding you. He tried to talk sense into me."
"Did it work?"
"Do I ever listen to anyone?"
"Once…" she stopped herself at the slip. Both of them immediately knew what she had meant. Quistis. Whether intentional or not, even she didn't know. He drew Rinoa closer to his chest, trying not let regret cloud his mind.
"Squall, he likes her you know."
"I know. Are you okay about that?"
"I'll live. They don't matter anymore…let them have each other." She hesitated, "Do you hate her?"
"I can never forgive Quistis. A day won't go by that I won't think of the betrayal. When this is over, I want nothing further to do with her or with Garden for that matter. But, as much as I hate what she did, I can't hate her." Rinoa swallowed, uncomfortable of the subject that she, herself, had initiated. "None of us are totally innocent. We all are to blame."
"No Squall." Rinoa broke the embrace, looking him in the eyes. A serious, mature aura about her, one he had never seen. "That isn't true. No matter what, one of us was innocent…Allison."
Continuing on, Quistis walked into the center of his small dormitory. Somehow, when she did everything seemed okay. Seifer could forget the war; forget the battles yet to come. Maybe in his life he only needed one battle. One victory that he could hold his head up high…one victory forged without regret.
"What?" He looked at her, blue eyes glaring back. "Her, Rinoa?"
"No, the tooth-fairy." The sarcastic retort he wasn't expecting.
"You've been hanging around me too long, I think I’m starting to corrupt you." She only answered with a raised eyebrow, folding her arms across her chest. This look he knew…the instructor stance that must have been taught to every one of them, a prerequisite to receiving their teaching certificates.
"Fine," he conceded. "She just wanted to talk to me about…wait…you…you're jealous, aren't you?"
She didn't answer, and only looked away slightly before refocusing on him. "I am not. Just wanted to know what she was doing in here."
"She was inviting me to a pajama party in the training area."
Quistis was still not amused. "Why won't you just tell me the truth Seifer!?" she demanded.
He walked over to her standing in front of her. "Why won't you?"
Quistis rolled her eyes turning around, letting him only see her back. Somehow telling his reflection in the mirror wasn't quite the same as telling him. "I don't think jealous is the right word. I don't know…I mean I know that she never intentionally fell for Squall. Not like she walked in and said 'hey I'm going to get this guy because Quistis likes him.' Still, it's hard. I know she isn't to blame for leaving, the marriage, or the pain…but still there is this…resentment maybe? I know that I have to get over it. But when this started out I wasn't expecting to…"
"To what Quistis?"
"Well, to have anyone else to lose… Thought I had already lost it all, I guess. But now you know…"
"No, I don't know."
Something was holding her back, and he knew it. He could tell it was upsetting her, so he quickly tried to cover. "Rinoa wanted to talk about the past, but that is exactly what it is…the past. Yes, we were lovers, but we were better friends. Both of us knew it wasn't permanent… I didn't love her, and she didn't love me. Well, we were not in love anyway. She will always be special to me, she believed in me. She still does…and she still believes in you."
Quistis spun around quickly, her look a cross between anger and disbelief. "She does not, how could you even say that to me?"
"Well, because she basically said that to me. Give or take a few words… No, I don't think you would be her maid of honor…um…don't even think you would be the person that does the guestbook. However, there is one thing she does believe in…your ability and willingness to protect Allison. No matter the difference between you two, she knows if it came down to it…you would defend an innocent. Her daughter."
Her eyes welled up with tears. "I would you know Seifer, I would protect her."
"I don't doubt that for one minute."
She fell against him, reliving a few moments of the previous evening as their bodies touched. "It's just when we walked in and you were hugging her… Well it was like history repeating itself."
"Yeah, but you were in love with Leonhart." He wanted to take that comment back almost immediately. Quistis only silently smiled, pushing back the long hair over her shoulder.
"Yeah…was…" The thought echoed throughout her mind, "Was."
It was the first time she thought to herself in past tense. Now there was only a present tense. "Seifer"
Selphie lay with her back against the wooden headboard. She had files scattered over the bed, and a laptop by her side. She rummaged through several stacks of papers, fervently searching for one specific report.
"Irvine?" she questioned in her high-pitched voice. "Let me see if I got this straight…"
"Darlin' you can ask me anything." She shot him a look. "Right, sorry…old habit. Selphie, you can ask me anything."
"Okay, now I have the Trabian police reports here on Richard Bennett's murder."
"Riigghht." He leaned forward in the reclining chair, a nap had been the only thing on his mind, and that idea was now shot. Once Selphie got involved in anything, there was no silence.
"So, everything they have is linking the murder to Squall."
"Yes, which is what whoever did it wants us to believe."
"No Irvine, I'm serious…look." She handed him the finalized report. "Here is the ballistic report from the lab." He grabbed the paper staring at it. "Irvine the guns match."
"Selphie, there is no way this was done with a gunblade…it would be far um…messier."
"Oh, I know that. According to Garden records, Squall was also issued a 9mm two years ago, to carry on his person at all times."
"Yeah, I do remember that," agreed Irvine.
"There is no doubt the bullet was fired from his gun. It was recovered in his room aboard the ship, after he went missing. Only his prints were found on the weapon."
"You think the real killer would leave their prints? That really wouldn't make a smart-criminal don't you think?"
"Yes, of course. But according to this, blood, hair and fabric samples were also recovered."
"Yes, it's conclusive."
"Fine, but Squall didn't kill someone in cold blood like that. No matter how pissed he would be."
"Right…but someone did. They wanted to frame Squall, leaving no doubt in the authority's minds."
"Okay Selphie, I get it. They did a great job of framing him."
"You don't understand. Nobody can get blood like that."
"Well I'm sure with someone like him who bleeds for a living…something kind of expected during battle… It wouldn't be too hard. Heck, they even keep vials like that in the infirmary for DNA identification purposes."
"I know." Her voice was trembling. "Look."
She moved the computer screen to him. Irvine sat forward in the chair, squinting to see the fuzzy monitor. "Selphie according to that they don't match."
"Right…this isn't from the crime scene. It's from the infirmary; once the report came in the blood was his, I explained to Dr. Kadowaki I wanted her to run tests. Then I cross-matched the lab vial with samples we already had on Garden computers. I found a match, but it wasn't Squall's."
"So whose was it?"
"Hang on Irvine…that's not all. I found the last time anyone went to the genetics lab checking this sample… She signed it out. It was the same as the switched blood sample."
"Well, fine so whose signature's on it?"
"Over two years ago, the vial was last checked by Dr. Kadowaki's office assistant."
She handed him the paper with the signature.
"This can't be right Selphie, why would she be checking out vials?"
"I don't know, why switch a vial of blood with hers?"
"I'm sure there is an explanation for all of this. It's not as if she could have been planning the murder of a man she'd never met…and know two years in advance to start framing Squall. Could she have really killed Bennett?"
"Means, motive, and opportunity…she had them all to kill Richard Bennett, but there is something we're not seeing here. I know it."
"Selphie, why don't we just ask her about the vials, why she checked it out in the first place. I bet the two events are totally unrelated."
"Fine, I'll contact Squall, having everyone meet in his office. Maybe as a group we can figure this out."
Selphie looked down one more time at the signature and the date on the paper work. "Rinoa Heartilly…what were you thinking?"
Author’s Notes: I would like to thank one of my favorite writers, and best friend, for writing the poem included in chapter twenty-seven. Honestly it amazes me that this story would inspire anyone to write anything! I’m including the full version here in case anyone would like to see it. Again Nicole, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You truly are a wonderful person.
Ad Infinitum “Without Limit”
By Wayward Tempest (aka Kupo_22)
With my eyes
I see your face
And I can remember,
With my ears
I hear your sorrow
But I will remember
With my hands
I hold your own
And I can remember
With my lips
I taste your tears
But I will remember,
Though my body
Is filled with pain
I can only feel
Though my soul
Leaves life without you
I will know of
As the light
Fades to darkness
So goes with it
That my love
Had any end for
The heart so close
With my last
Breath I shall whisper
A promise that is
Feel my heart
You’ll see the truth
And my last thoughts
Will be of forever