Crimson Lies Part Five
~ Chapter Twenty-Nine: Duel ~
Time takes it all,
Whether you want it to or not.
Time takes it all,
Time bears it away,
And in the end, there is only darkness.
Sometimes we find others in that darkness,
And sometimes we lose them again.
If every thing in life has a place, then every thing has a life…one of its own, something to hold dear. Rinoa Caraway-Heartilly-Bennett or whatever physical name she went by was no more than a pawn within a deadly game. From the moment she inherited her powers, until her dying breath. The unfortunate thing was she knew nothing of the contest, too lost to understand the rules. However, others did, others not named…others that carried no designations. Living as shadows in their world, as doppelgangers to all those around.
The room was barely lit, as most seemed to be at Garden these days. Maybe it was a sign of the times, that conservation and energy was not a fallible resource…or maybe it just paralleled the atmosphere of those around. For some reason she felt nervous, although she had no idea why. It was simple…a reunion she should be happy about, one she was sure that under other circumstances, would be considered joyous. Now, it just filled her heart with sorrow. Yet, her knight was there, by her side. He was so much more than he could ever know.
Slowly he reached his hand to the door, giving her one last apathetic look.
"I'm going to be all right Squall." She timidly reiterated.
"Sure you don't want me with you?"
Reaching over she brushed her palm to his cheek. "You know, I'm not sure of anything these days. But, I need to do this alone." She looked with apprehension once more at the doorway. "I have to Squall, just be in my heart, and that will be the only support I need."
"Always," his answer short but poignant. She reached down to his hand, turning the knob with him. When it opened, she could only see the silhouette of the stern figure standing in the room. She looked back to Squall, who said not a word. His eyes spoke more than any language. She gave him one last diminutive smile, although he could tell it was forced.
Rinoa walked into the darkened room, "Father…"
He made it no more than ten paces from the conference room, before his pager went off. With disgust, he looked at the annoying thing attached to his belt. "Damn it," he inwardly cursed. His plan was to stay outside the door on a nearby bench, but this was coded as an emergency. Something told him that Rinoa would be all right for a few minutes, and he could call Zell to stand sentry.
Reluctantly he looked at the door and once again at his beeper. He took of the pager, turning the signal to off. He lost her once, now she was his only emergency. Garden would no longer be under his control, they could live without him. Hell, they always could.
Minutes passed as he sat scrutinizing the door. Every heartbeat echoed through his body, and with every passing second, he worried more about her well-being. A voice scared him out of his daydreams, the ones that were closer to his reality than the truth was.
"Squall…" He turned to look at Selphie standing there. He remembered a time when she was cheerful, but that time was nothing more than a season in the sun. The past. For a moment, he stopped to think what all the lies had cost everybody. Not just the obvious players, but also the supporting cast in his life, the people he tossed aside for too many years.
"Hey, um…we were trying to page you. Something important came up, and we really need to go over it."
"I'm waiting on Rinoa and Caraway now. When I'm done, you can inform both of us then."
"No Squall…what we have to say can't be said in front of her."
"Why?" His voice grew in irritation. This little game wasn't going to bode well with him. He was tired of petty games.
"Because Squall it's about her…something that happened over two years ago. Plus it relates to the Richard Bennett murder. We think that she…"
"Don't!" his voice screamed. It was a show of emotion that she wasn't used to. Taking a few steps forward, he put his finger into her face, "If you are even going to tell me she had anything to do with it, get the hell away from us."
"Squall, I didn't say that she did, but there are a few things that point to the…." She stopped as the clipboard she was holding was yanked out of her hands. With all his force he through the clipboard against the wall, all of its contents rained down.
"Shut up, Selphie." He immediately threw his hands into his face. "God I'm sorry…I'm so sorry."
"It's okay Squall, I know," the younger girl tried to relay her empathy, although she was sure it fell on deaf ears. "If it's any conciliation to you, I don't think she did it either." Selphie started picking up the scattered contents of the clipboard. "But, this is something much deeper than one lie, I think it's many."
"What a fucking shock," he retorted as he bent down picking up the papers which lay in front of him. "Can you just ask me, without it being some Garden gossip in two hours…please we owe Rinoa that much."
She stopped gathering the notes, and sat on her knees. "Squall I know this is a very difficult question…but do you remember when there were reports that she had also made Jefferson Mitchell her knight… Why did you ever believe that?"
He wanted to scream, he wanted to cry. The memories swirled in his head like a hurricane. Actually, he had blocked that out until now, asking Rinoa seemed unimportant. Yet that was a question unanswered to even him, but he trusted her, God he trusted her. Together they shared what no other couple possibly could, but the answer seemed more difficult than he expected. He turned his head, unable to face Selphie.
"Because…I was sent photographic evidence of Rinoa, of Mitchell…in bed…oh Hyne." He had put those memories out of his mind, as they stung him deeply. He remembered the pictures all too well the one with Rinoa holding Mitchell. Damn she looked beautiful in it, and happy…he remembered her being very content in that picture. The next ones were a series of photographs that would be better displayed on a pornographic magazine….
"Squall, are you sure it was Rinoa?"
"Yeah…I saw her with Mitchell, there is no denying that. Then the others…her dress, I remember that laying there…and him, that bastard."
Selphie felt sorrow toward the man, just as he had one ray of happiness, his world crashed around him yet again. However, in her mind, everything was too coincidental, too planned. Something didn't fit and she was determined to find out the truth. She did something she would have dared not do, only a week ago. Reaching out her hand, she touched his arm.
"Squall, if you believe in your heart, that she never cheated on you…then you are right. Rinoa loves you, she always has. Mitchell is no more a knight than Irvine is…trust your heart not your eyes."
He didn't say anything, he hated the memories. But he believed in her. For the first time in two years he wanted to see the pictures again, maybe there was some small thing he missed before, in his anger, in his haste. Something so obvious yet overlooked…
"Selphie can you please stand here for a little while? Rinoa is in with her father, trying to make amends. They just need time. I really need to go to my office for a bit."
"Tell everyone to meet in my office at 18:00 hours. Together we are going to figure this out, Rinoa included."
She smiled slightly, "Okay." Before he walked out, Selphie had to ask one last question. "Hey Squall, do you remember when Rinoa helped in the infirmary?"
Slightly bemused he thought back, to before, when life was normal. "She only worked in there one day officially. They had an exchange program with Galbadia Garden. Rinoa then did a lot of the filing of papers and admittance work. Actually, working in there? Just one day when Dr. Kadowaki was short staffed. All other office assistant duties and work was done remotely from the administrative wing. She used the office next to mine for a long time."
"So would Rinoa have handled anything…samples, tests…blood?"
"I don't see how she could from an office three floors away. That would have been left up the nurse that was assisting on the medical end, not the paperwork end. Plus, Rinoa hates the sight of blood."
"Didn't she fight with us? How could she be afraid of blood?"
"I didn't say afraid, I said hate…a carryover from her mother. The only thing she remembers about the crash was her mother's body lying in the crimson blood."
"Yeah," she whispered softly. "I guess that would stick with you."
"Don't mention this to her now, she has far more important things to worry about than history that cannot be changed."
"No, Squall…I don't think I'll have to." Selphie looked down at the paper once more.
When the door finally opened, Selphie could see the young sorceress emerge. Her eyes stained and with a puffiness to them. It was obvious that the girl had been crying. Selphie's heart reached out to her, although she wasn't sure if Rinoa understood everything yet. Walking up to the dark-haired girl, Selphie tried to act her energetic self, although thoughts clouded her perception right now.
"Rinoa, you okay? Squall had something he needed to take care of, I'm going to escort you back to your dorm."
"Sure Selphie, I understand." She looked around the Garden, did she really understand? Right now she needed him, things had gone all right with her father, but 'all right' had many interpretations depending on who was saying it. She was glad to see him, know that he was alive and well. Nevertheless, embarrassed enough about her actions of running, and for the first time, realized how it reflected on her father. The World Council was not one too easily to overlook such things; it was a miracle at all the Jefferson Mitchell let him keep his position.
Yet somehow, when she walked out of that room, she needed Squall's support. She counted on him to be there if only in her heart. With all the emotion flowing through her, she had to ask the obvious. "Selphie, where did he go?"
Smiling kindly at her friend, Selphie tried her best to come up with an explanation. When all else failed she asked a question that shocked even her. "Rinoa…before you left Garden there were reports of you sleeping with President Mitchell…do you happen to know anything about that?"
"What!? You're not telling me that Squall is believing that again?" Selphie could tell that the girl was starting to panic to a certain degree.
"No Rinoa, of course not… Just he was sent pictures of you and Mitchell in bed together…"
"He what!?" She was now absolutely upset. "Selphie…I never…Hyne no…God I love Squall… please don't tell me he believes…"
"No," Selphie quickly interrupted. "He doesn't believe it. However, honestly he did at one point. I think it was easier for him to accept. It turned you into the enemy, but things were different then.
Rinoa looked at her old friend before almost collapsing, holding the balcony railing next to her. "Selphie I swear on my life…on my family's name…that I never slept with him. I only met him a few times. Mainly at a couple of fundraisers with my father. If I ever saw him, it was only in passing at events."
"Yeah," Selphie looked at her clipboard. "Okay, can you do me a favor? Can you sign your name for me?"
"Sure…I can…is it going to help?"
Rinoa took the clipboard and a pen that Selphie handed her, signing her name on the back of a paper.
"Rin, can you do it a few more times?" The sorceress' seemed baffled. She gave her a strange look, but quickly abided by the request. In a matter of seconds, Rinoa had signed her name five different times. Not sure where this was going, but having enough faith in her friend to believe in her.
"Thank you Rin," she smiled. Selphie looked around the corridors, searching for something.
"Selphie? Um…can I help you with anything?"
"Well, I called Zell to escort you back to your guest room. He should have been here by now."
Rinoa smiled softly, "Go ahead, I can go down an elevator by myself. My dorm isn't far away. I'm a big girl, not to mention a sorceress. I think I can handle a few meters walk."
"Squall would kill me."
"Then we don't tell him, do we? You need to go right?"
The young girl nodded. "Yeah something has come up that may be very important to finding out about the truth."
"Well then Selphie, what is more important than the truth? Please, trust me…I can manage the walk. There is hardly anyone in the halls, and the time alone will do me some good."
"He's going to kill me," she whispered. "But, he's going to kill me if I don't figure this out before we have our meeting."
"Figure what out Selphie?"
"Oh, nothing important." She lied. "You go directly to your room okay?"
"Yes, I will. Trust me."
Rinoa wasn't sure of what she was expecting, nor why she pushed so hard to be on her own. Mind over matter, she repeated to herself. It wasn't as she was in the heat of battle, only going from one hallway to another…by herself. God, if Squall knew he would be so enraged. The thought almost tickled her, the fact that someone cared that much about her. After all that had happened, she was sure nobody would care again. Zell was lost in Garden somewhere, doing Hyne knows what. A lead was a lead, and Selphie had more important things to do than baby-sit a twenty-two-year-old.
"Look who the commander let off his leash, you think she has a dog tag on? We wouldn't want her to be considered a stray," a disdainful voice spoke out. Rinoa continued to walk, trying to avoid any eye contact, but the closer she got the more boisterous they became.
"Hey be quiet Nicole," another girl teased. "I'm sure she has an important date with whichever man she's screwing this hour."
"Are you kidding Kris?" The third mocked, as she blocked Rinoa's path. "She doesn't screw just any man…she isn't a common whore, she's a first class one. Only goes after men with power, and money."
"Dia, don't forget wives. That seems to be a high priority on her list."
Rinoa's heart raced. She wanted nothing more than to get away. The last thing she needed right now was a confrontation. "Please," her voice shakily rasped. "I don't want to do this, I understand how it looks…but please, I just want to get back to my room, back to my daughter."
The cadet got right up into her face. "What are you going to do? Stab us as you did Ellone Loire? Or are you going to fuck Instructor Leonhart's husband?"
"Are you kidding," joked Nicole. The other two girls surrounded Rinoa, pinning her in the center. "This is the sorceress you are talking about…she is going to run. Hell, she is good at that."
"Oh, don't forget her illegitimate child." Kris laid one hand on Rinoa's shoulder, causing a chill to run down the sorceress' spine. "Poor kid doesn't even know which trick is her father. She would be better off dead than having you for a mother."
There was a fine line for a sorceress, one many dare not cross. You could say anything you wanted to about her and Squall…but not Allison. She could feel her blood coursing through her veins. Each heartbeat drew her closer to becoming someone she didn't want to…someone that would make their assessments look valid.
She pleaded with them, "Leave now." It wasn't a request, as much as a demand.
"What we finally hit a nerve? Finally the almighty bitch shows us what she is made of?"
"Ah…Dia…I don't think…" Nicole tried to warn her friend slowly backing away. Rinoa could feel the emotion taking control. She didn't want to be like this, she had put up with so much…but that was her choice. These girls weren't. Being back at Garden, all the emotions shed within the last four days. Her body was tired, and her mind was weak. The girls suddenly noticed the change in appearance as her eyes began swirling with opaque clouds.
It wasn't as if she was in control of her own actions anymore. Slowly she raised her hand, shaking fighting with her own conscience. Tears were forming at the fight within her soul, these girls were not the enemy and she knew that. Suddenly she retracted her own hand toward her chest. Clutching her hand into a fist, she could feel the pain of each nail going into her palm. At that moment, she was grabbed vigorously from behind.
Immediately she knew who it was, as he spun her toward him, holding her tightly.
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine Squall. I just want to get back to the room."
Checking she was physically unharmed, he moved her to the side standing in front of the three girls.
"What in the hell were you doing? Who do you think you are!?"
"We're SeeDs," Kris spoke up. "We are trained to defeat the sorceress. What the hell are you?"
Squall raised his hand; he wanted nothing more than to strike her. Strike them all. They were the ones that caused this; they were the ones who tormented her. And they were the ones up until four days ago…he would have sided with.
"Damn you girls, get away from here! Don't let me see you again!" He roared, lowering his arm.
The girls were not quick to depart, as they didn't show much fear of the commander. At one point, they had respected him, but now he was just someone that bitch wrapped around her little finger. Quistis was still well respected among the student body, and any betrayal to her, was a betrayal to them. They would never know the entire story, only that which was bequeathed to them. Garden was facing war, and only pertinent information was reiterated to students. Up until yesterday, they spent all their time hunting her, now they were defending her…
"What in the hell were you doing on your own without proper escort?" his tone reprimanded.
"Squall, I'm sorry… Irvine needed to see Selphie right away. Alex was in the dorm with Allison, and I thought I could make it back to my room without an incident."
"You should know better by now. Has history taught you nothing? And what was 'that' back there?"
"I…I don't know. It just started taking over again…that feeling. Three years and nothing, three days around you and it's my third time. Okay…okay once back in Trabia… I lost my temper with Richard, almost killed him."
"Guess someone else finished the job for you. Not that it was a major loss to society."
"You were close then weren't you?" The realization dawned on her.
"I'm not sure where I was when you left, anywhere between Deling and Trabia. I was actually upset when they put me on the Bennett kidnapping case."
"Ironic isn't it?"
"Yes, I've had enough of that in my lifetime."
"So it must have something to do with you, or your presence I mean. When I am near you, I tend to be stronger. The powers laid dormant for almost three years…no matter what that beast did to me."
"God, Rinoa I'm so sorry."
"Damn it Squall!" her head shot up at him. "I told you never to say that to me, no matter what." She took off quickly walking down the hall, not looking back at him.
Standing in a momentary confusion, he raced to keep up with her pace. "Rinoa, what is your problem? I didn't mean anything by it."
"No Squall, you didn't and neither did he."
She turned around standing in the hallway atrium to the dorms. "Richard Bennett! Every time he hit me for sadistic enjoyment, crushed me until my rib cracked, or raped me…it was always I'm sorry. Sorry doesn't mean anything to me Squall. Not a damn thing. But you do…so please, don't cheapen yourself with an I'm sorry. Show me by actions, not by words. Just…just be there for me…"
The words hit him like a dagger, every one pierced his skin and only reminded him of his failures. Was he ever who he should have been? Or had fate decided on his destiny from the moment of birth? He would not stand for this; he was in control of his life now. He knew what he wanted, and would stop at nothing to obtain his goal. His family.
The four walls were closing in like a dungeon, again. Seifer Almasy hated this, being trapped like an animal. Yes, in all reality he could easily walk out, into the halls freely. But at what cost? He had betrayed them many years ago, and everyone in that place had reason to hate him. And they were correct. He tossed and turned in his bed, as the afternoon sun pierced the floors. The shadows gently crept the tiles like a sundial, each showing another hour of his life wasting away in this place.
Closing his eyes, he tried to think. If he got up and ran, ran as far as he could…is it possible to ever stop? Was his life one giant failure like his father's before, was that linage the only thing passed from father to son?
He looked over to the dresser and saw the reflection of his gunblade in the mirror. Maybe he could go unnoticed in the training center. Yeah, right. He so badly wanted…no needed to fight. The adrenaline coursed through his veins, it gave him life. It was natural as blood. But no, now he laid in the room…walls closing in.
Why wasn't she there? All right, maybe not the best solution, but at least with Quistis there he could find other things to concentrate on…like her. Maybe the last evening still weighed heavily on his mind. Maybe he didn't know what to make of this new life all of a sudden. When he first found out about Rinoa, his intention completely selfless, now he had to admit that he looked on it for personal gain.
He was a man of his word, even if few valued it. Fighting to the bitter end was not a choice; it was a promise. However, when he came to Balamb that evening to speak to Squall, never once did he think they could find the sorceress, let alone bring her back. He liked to think that every deed was noble and maybe it was…but somewhere along the way, the line had been blurred. Now, not only did he think of the future of the one he tried to sacrifice, but also the one who shared his bed last night.
He closed his eyes and darkness prevailed upon his dreams. He could not sleep; his mind was far beyond that. But he could daydream, and he was in control of the most personal of thoughts. At least he thought… A sudden chill raced through his body. If they say that you get a chill when someone walks over your grave, then somebody was digging his. It was almost unearthly, and scared him for a moment. Then a solitary image flashed through is eyes. And even when he opened them, it was like a negative, the silhouette of the beast that plagued his dreams…the dragon. The unknown creature that for some reason haunted him.
He looked down at his watch. Quistis had left him no more than two hours ago. He needed to see her now. There was something going on there, which nobody could see. Not him, not the commander, not even the sorceress. Something about this simple dragon image held the key…and the answers that they searched.
Answers far worse than any could imagine.
~ Chapter Thirty: Belligerency ~
In the attitude of silence the soul
Finds the path in an clearer light,
And what is elusive and deceptive
Resolves itself into crystal clearness.
Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth.
From the beginning of recorded history, it has always been a fight between good and evil, each holding their own. If one power grows too strong, a chaos will erupt that no mortal, nor God, could ever save us from. It is a balance like dark and light, the sun and moon, or love and hate. There is always a fine line, which one dare not cross. However, if one being or entity dare defy it, then the universe would be forever lost.
A descendent of Hyne was unique. The embodiment of a sorceress meant so much more than the history books ever told, more than they could ever know. Not only did they keep balance in this life, they kept balance in the hereafter. Serving Hyne, or forever being banished into another realm. The one of either mortal souls, or those condemned to eternal damnation. For in the realm, it was a triad of power. A balance equal between three. Unlike most religious beliefs, that only focused on two…the power of good and evil. But for Hyne, there was a kingdom separate for her descendants. One where they could govern and rule. The mortal realm was just that…a place for the rest of society to lay at rest.
Or eternal damnation…there is always an evil. Always.
Sometimes the evil is obvious, comes riding in cloaked on a dark horse, with sickle in hand. At other times, it lays in wait, finding our weakness, learning…watching every moment. And that is the worst evil, the one that stays hidden, not among the shadows, but in the light of day.
The room was quiet, save for the toddler pretending to fly. Allison twirled around, arms widespread. Spinning in circles, her wings reached the imaginary clouds that covered the room. Rinoa sat quietly on the couch, taking in every moment of the performance. She heard a sound coming out of the bedroom, but never looked back. She felt a hand on her shoulder, as the figure sat. But, still she did not look. She only closed her eyes, and rested her head against his chest.
"She has your imagination."
"Squall, I don't think you ever had one." It was sarcastic; they both knew it.
"Maybe, maybe not." He pushed her short hair behind her ears. Watching the way it cascaded against her face. Her ear so perfect…so many things he never stopped to enjoy.
"She has your eyes."
"She has your heart," he whispered faintly back. Rinoa smiled.
Trying not to let the tears come again, she turned. Looking at him one more time, every feature, and every fault. With a single finger, she traced over his scar, eventually letting it trace down to his mouth. She kept it over his lips, as he closed his eyes on the sensation of the contact.
His eyes flew open, and his mouth suddenly fell agape. No words came. It was too much of a shock. He started to speak, but she once again put slight pressure on his lips with her finger, scolding with her eyes.
"Squall…please…just remember me. Remember the last few days. Hold on to them in your heart. She will need that. If something happens, go on. Don't ever look back."
He pushed her finger aside with his hand, a little more forceful than he had meant to. "Rinoa, don't talk like that!" His eyes almost seemed metallic, like steel. He was so serious, so passionate. "We are leaving for Esthar tonight…there we will be safe."
"Safe," she echoed softly. "Squall, they won't stop until they find me. I can never have a normal life."
"Yes you can. We can…damn it. I never cared about your powers, it was you."
"You might not care about power, but others do. They always will for that, I will never be at rest. You and Allison do not deserve this, to run like rats in a maze. You deserve to be free, run along the ocean shores. Back at the cabin, you promised to take us to the water's edge. I beg of you Squall…please, please do that if something happens."
He turned away from her, only to watch his daughter still flying around the living area. So innocent, so young…just like they had been once before fate had been cruel. He watched every movement the girl made, the way her hair flowed as the air swept through it, just like her mother's had so many seasons ago. He ran his hand through his own locks, although it was short, it still was a nervous habit from many years past.
"Rinoa, why are you so sure something is going to happen? Within two hours, we will be on a transport to Esthar, yet you act as if it's not going to happen. Or if it does, you won't make it. Why…why do you keep doing this? From the moment I saw you again, why have you acted as if these are your final days? Goddamn it Rinoa, stop talking like that."
"Squall," she could no longer forge a smile. "I just know…I can't explain it. All of this has lead up to this one thing, them finding me. They will not rest, they will not stop, and they shall continue to hunt me until I am found. I am the animal and they are the hunters…I am nothing more than prey. I could have never dreamed that I would be given the opportunity to see you again…that is more than I could ever ask. I…love…you. I had the chance to say the words again."
"Come on," he stood up, almost angrily. Offering his hand, he pulled her up with him. "We are getting our things, and leaving now. They can have their battles, I will not lose mine."
"Squall, they need you."
"Damn it, no they don't. They never did. I have been gone from here for two years. My only obsession was finding you and the truth. I've done both. My job is done. Garden is a memory."
Their eyes met, neither seeming to back down in their resolve. His so serious yet so scared, even she could see it. He wasn't hiding it well anymore…or she could just read him better. Whichever it was, she couldn't compete with his decision.
"Fine Squall, just give me about twenty minutes here."
"I'm not leaving until…" A knock at the door made them both turn. Allison stopped being an airplane, and ran toward the sound.
"No…no it isn't," she couldn't even look at Squall. Her guilt consumed her every time she heard Allison call that man, Richard Bennett, Dada.
"I'll get it." Rinoa could hear the hurt in his voice.
"No, wait a second Squall." Bending down on her knees, Rinoa stared at her daughter eye-level looking into the same steel blue eyes she had early seen in her true father.
"Ally…Mommy needs to tell you something. I know you won't understand, but I need to be the one to tell you. Squall…this man right here." Rinoa reached up grabbing him by the uniform sleeve, pulling him down to their level. "This is your…Dad. We won't call him daddy or dada, we will call him Dad. Can you say that for me?"
"Yes, Ally it is…but he is also your real father. He is your Dad." She pointed to herself and then to Squall, "Mom and Dad."
The sound of the door echoed once more through the room. Allison seemed more concerned about the door, than what her mother was trying to tell her. "Mama door, Dud Skall door."
Rinoa stood up, along with Squall. "I think she is getting closer there Dud Skall. Now go open the door before she gets mad."
He looked down at the girl, who was no feverishly pointing to the door. "Come here," Squall reached down grabbing Ally in his arms. "Let's see who it is, okay?"
Watching them carefully, Rinoa couldn't believe how well he was handling this. She wasn't sure what she thought would happen, but this wasn't it. This was far better than any dream. This was her reality.
"Alix…" the little girl cried. "Ma, Ant Alix! And Yell!"
"Oh Aunt Alex and Zell? That's great Allison," she answered to the child.
Squall opened the door, with Ally still resting on his hip. Both Alex and Zell seemed a little taken aback to see Squall holding Allison, as if he were a natural at child rearing. The last thing either thought was he would, or could, be good with kids.
"Hey Squall…um the others really need to see you up in your office, before you leave for Esthar. Selphie thinks she knows what is going on, who killed Bennett."
"I don't care who killed the bastard," he replied irritably. "We're leaving. Now."
"What?" Alex seemed slightly confused. "I thought we still had a few hours."
"Plans changed. If you're going, be ready." His tone reflected that of the commander, one would hardly think he was holding a child. Everything about his demeanor returned to seriousness when the others arrived. Only Rinoa saw the other side, and of course, Allison.
"Squall," her words barely audible. "I know you don't understand. Hell, I don't, but some part of me needs to know, for closure. I was his wife for two years…"
"No," he almost yelled at her. Allison became slightly scared, and reached for the nearest person next to her, which was Alex. Squall relinquished his hold, allowing Ally to crawl over to her godmother. When his arms were free, he quickly turned to Rinoa. "Don't ever say you were his wife. You weren't." He didn't realize how much the words would bother him coming from her mouth. Hell, he was no better being married to Quistis, but theirs was legal…Rinoa's was not. Renee Bennett was as fictitious as one could be.
"Okay Squall, but please…we can go up there right now, hear what they have to say. Then leave. This will give Alex time to pack. I promise we'll leave right after."
"Promise?" He put his hand on her arm. She didn't answer, thinking it was a rhetorical question. His tone a little more stern, "Do you promise me after the meeting, we leave for Esthar?"
"Squall, I promise with all my heart, on my word." Reaching out a hand, he put a palm on her cheek, feeling her silky complexion against his coarse skin.
"I'm holding you to that Ms. Heartilly."
How many times had he seen this place? One could only venture to guess, it was even a mystery to Seifer Almasy. The office that once was Cid's had now been transformed into Leonhart's. He actually was surprised that even the office had little personality, go figure. At least Cid with his collections of…well whatever that shit was. Edea must have had one sardonic sense of humor. There used to be taxidermy monster heads adorning the wall. He hated them. He used to think they were mocking him. He spent a lot of time in here…he even sat and named them one day.
Now it was different. The walls still made with mahogany trim and designed woodworking. The doors still with polished brass handles, and Squall had kept the same leather sofa. Seifer guessed that he spent many nights up here, easier than going home to someone he didn't love…Quistis. It was easier being trapped in an office with someone he didn't love…himself. A few scattered credentials were put up on the walls. One was Leonhart's official SeeD graduation certificate. Yeah, that sucked. The others looked like cheesy thank you gifts from cities and nations after the war. If nobody spoke soon, he was going to go stir crazy.
"Hey look Quistis, you never told me that Squall was an honorary member of Timber Maniac's. Don't they also publish 'Girl Next Door'? Wow, wonder if Commander Puberty Boy has written any letters to the editor…bet he'd have a few good stories."
"Seifer…" It sounded more like a reprimand than it was meant to. Quistis rolled her eyes, walking away from him.
"What? I was just wondering?"
Irvine mumbled something to Selphie under his breath, causing her to give him an annoyed look.
Quistis shook her head. Had so much changed in their lives that nobody could laugh? Once in a while, yes, but to be the carefree spirits they were once upon a time. Then it dawned on her, they were never carefree. Their life was anything but. From planned meals, to planned battles…hell even their funerals were all pre-arranged since the age of fifteen, how wretched was that? Somehow, Seifer managed to hold on to something the others had lost. Maybe to be removed from Garden only made him stronger. Maybe he was a better person for it…maybe they all would be.
"Selphie," a voice spoke away from the other two. "Are you still working on that, I thought you said you had a lead…" Irvine lay on the couch, feet propped up on the coffee table in front of him.
She grabbed the pen, which she was gnawing with her teeth. She had acquired a nervous habit of biting on writing instruments, ever since school and finals. Something she never out grew. "No, Irvine, I don't have it all yet. I can just tell you who didn't do it. But there is something bigger here than one murder, the trail goes back to three years ago, a year before Sis was killed."
As the door creaked open, the four turned their attention toward it. Rinoa carefully walked in first, clearly uncomfortable by reading her demeanor. Squall followed, closing the heavy door behind him. Neither looked pleased, but both tried to act as civil as possible. "We're leaving after this, so make it short." His words were to the point.
Selphie looked up from behind her laptop. "Squall, I hate to ask you this, I know it's very personal, but do you have the pictures of Rinoa and Mitchell?" Rinoa froze in shock, her body tensing up at the mere thought of being with that man.
"What the Hell?" The commander spat back.
Squall looked to Rinoa seeking some kind of answer. She nodded her head, giving her approval. He hated those fucking things, yet for some reason he had kept them. Maybe to remind himself of the purgatory he lived within. The constant torture present between his mind and heart. He walked over to a filing cabinet, and browsed through some folders. Finally emerging with a manila envelope. He took only a few steps toward Selphie, before angrily tossing it at her. "Here."
Selphie started getting of the couch, but before she could Rinoa quickly walked over to them. Without a word to anyone, she opened the folder. A gasp sounded throughout the room, as she saw the first photo. "Oh God," the only thing she could say. She flipped through all of them, before finally landing on the last one. It was Rinoa and Mitchell; she was wearing the same dress that she had in the other photographs. She handed the one picture to Squall.
"This one…this one is me. Please you have to believe me…I was at a fundraiser, attending with my father. It was sometime after Ultimecia…I had asked you to go, but you were too busy. So, I went alone. There was a photographer there. I remember her asking me for a picture with the President."
"Yeah, I think Kimberley…something or other. I don't remember. Honestly…I did have a little too much to drink that evening. I had been upset you didn't come with me…again. I was always alone at those things. I understand you despise any appearance at political events. But, my father was just elected to the council, I had to go."
"I should have been there." Squall continued to stare at the single picture. Rinoa looked so happy then, even if she was hiding the pain of his abandonment. There was still a certain spark of innocence she lost along the way. He reached over, grabbing the other photos out of her hand. The ones that he had dared not think about.
Sometimes when you have distanced yourself from a situation, lies make themselves clearer. He flipped through all the shots again, when he had done so before he was so irate, that he had been ready to believe anything. He truly wanted it to be her in the photographs. Now he noticed that most of the shots seemed to be tangled naked limbs, and the back of her head. Nothing concrete.
"Got it!" Selphie piped up as her computer monitor sounded. "I have the results of the autopsy. Trust me, Trabia didn't exactly make this one a cakewalk… I tried through the mainstream server, but was met with red tape and bureaucracy; so went through the cyber backdoor. Richard Bennett died of a close range shot with a nine-millimeter handgun. The bullet pierced his left ventricle and exited out of his back… The trajectory of the bullet was consistent of that with a shooter between 5'2" and 5'5"…which…"
She frantically shuffled through some papers. "Here! Which goes against the conclusive results that Squall Leonhart murdered him in cold blood. It says here that his blood was found at the scene, and the murder weapon recovered on the boat. However, unless Squall was leaning down, looking up at him, this doesn't fit."
The television was the only sound in the room. Alex sat on the sofa with Allison contently lying in her lap. The little girl had been changed into a sweat outfit with little chocobo designs all over them. Her hair pulled back with two barrettes, as wisps of unruly hair clung to Alex. Next to her, Zell sat silently watching the news program.
A knock startled both of them out of their peace, and woke up the youngest one. Allison tried to hold back the tears, but was too tired. She was desperately trying to get any amount of sleep during this quiet time. The martial artist didn't say anything, just walked over to the door.
"Hey," Lauren spoke quietly. "Oh no, I didn't wake her did I? I tried to be quiet."
"She'll go back to sleep. It'll be okay."
"Good, hey they just sent me down to get you guys… Is this a bad time?"
Zell turned to see Alex had put the toddler on the couch, covering her up with a blanket. "Nah, it's fine. What do they need?"
"I don't know, trust me, it's need to know…and as you know…I don't need to."
Zell chuckled, "Yeah, I guess after a year working for the commander one would learn to shut up."
"Yeah, and when to duck from flying objects," she countered.
"Basically they just had some questions for Alex."
"Me?" she questioned walking to the door. "What are they talking about?"
"Oh ma'am I really have no idea. I just am told to go get people, and I do. I learned a long time ago not to ask questions."
"Yeah, I completely understand." Looking back at Allison, she looked over to the SeeD. "I just got her down. I really don't want to wake her."
"I can watch her for a few minutes. Honestly, I'm not that great with children, but she's asleep…I think my SeeD training can handle it."
"Oh thank you, that will be a great help." Alex walked over to the sleeping baby, giving her a kiss on the forehead before turning to Zell. Then they headed out the door together.
Back in the commander's office, nobody knew what to believe. They were all part of an enigma that nobody could figure. Every time one puzzle was solved, another one took its place.
"I didn't do it," Rinoa quietly said.
"Nobody thinks you did." Squall walked over to the corner of the desk where Rinoa was seated.
"Yes, they do. Nobody is brave enough to say it aloud." She countered tossing her head into her hands. "I fit the description…my height, and I was around…"
"Does anybody here think that she did it?" Nobody looked at the commander; they all turned away with eyes downcast. "Oh God, you do!" Squall slashed with his hand knocking off partial contents of his desk onto the floor.
"No, I don't." Seifer was leaning against a far wall, Quistis at his side. He stood up, taking a step forward. "It's too perfect. If it isn't Squall, then it's Rinoa. That's easy to believe, she killed before and she will kill again. We all know that sorceresses are bloodthirsty tyrants. So commander that is three of us who believe in her. You guys make me sick."
Seifer started out of the room, Quistis looked at the others, but not Rinoa…she couldn't bear to look at the pain in her eyes. "I'm going after him, but for what little it's worth, I know she didn't do it."
The words meant little consolation to Rinoa, even after everything…nobody truly believed her. She looked down at the photos once more and tried not to become ill.
"Seifer, what the hell was that about?" Quistis stormed out of the office. She saw Seifer sitting on the corner of a desk, his eyes looking out the window into the abyss.
"It's about everyone. Everything is so perfect it's sickening. Nothing is out of place; the entire thing was a set up from two years ago. Now they say it goes back further. What do they think Rinoa wanted to live with Bennett? That there was some master plan to get Squall up to Trabia two years later on a false kidnapping charge? This is the most fucking ridiculous story I have…" He froze. A chill as cold as Trabia itself ran down his spine. Leaning back, he had put his hand onto something sharp that had cut him deep. When he turned his head, a fear so dark that it couldn't be described by mortal words, crept upon him.
"Seifer, what's wrong?"
"Oh my God," his voice trembled with fear. "This." He held up a ceramic statue from the desk, the very one he cut his hand on. "What the hell is it?"
"Are you okay? It looks like a statue…nothing special. I think Lauren does ceramics in her spare time."
"Lauren?" His heart racing.
"Yeah, it's her desk…Squall's secretary."
"Come on!" Seifer grabbed Quistis by the hand, dragging her back into the room. She lost her footing as the force was so great. Slamming open the doors, the others looked at the two storming inside.
"This!" he screamed holding up the statue. "This is the answer." Everyone looked at him in utter confusion. Nobody spoke, for nobody understood. "Damn it…fine." Seifer threw the statue against the wall, watching it break into a thousand shards.
"Somebody's losing it," remarked Irvine.
"Um…I would say that happened a long time ago." Selphie countered, neither taking their eyes off Seifer.
The blond man walked over to the debris, searching through it. He came up with a small black piece. "Radio transmitter," he whispered. "Squall, it was here all along."
"What are you talking about?"
"The dragon…It wasn't an actual dragon, it was that statue."
"Of Lauren's family crest?"
"Squall, this is the creature in my dreams, this dragon. This brought me back to Garden. Wait, how do you know it's her family crest?"
"I saw her sketching it the other day in the…" His heart stopped, he looked down at the photographs in his hand. "I called her Rinoa in Trabia…shit. From the back she looked like…" Tossing the pictures, they all floated down to the ground. He closed his eyes, reliving every moment of the last two years, all the pieces that didn't fit. Suddenly did.
"Between 5'2" and 5'5"…" Selphie looked down at the monitor, quickly hitting buttons. "She transferred…"
"From Galbadia," Squall finished the statement. "She was with us in Trabia…had access to my weapon."
"And evidence," Quistis added. "She could have easily switched the blood, copied Rinoa's signature. But why her blood in the place of yours?"
"We will have to ask her." Squall walked over to Rinoa, staring deep into her earthen eyes. How for one minute could he have ever thought that she…? He embraced her, as she laid her head against his chest. "Rinoa, I caused this. They had somebody here the whole time, before the attack and after. How could I have been so foolish?"
"It's okay Squall, nobody knew. I think it was someone named Lauren who worked in the infirmary for a while…she was the exchange student from Galbadia. It just never registered to me."
"But she helped me in Trabia," softened Quistis. "I thought she was helping at Mitchell's address, but she was trying to find Squall and Rinoa for other reasons. What better way than to help me?"
"I…I caught her on the computer," hesitated Selphie. "She said she'd found an encoded communication giving your location in Dollet…I bet if I check, it originated from her terminal. She was actually sending it when I came in… I caught her off guard."
"I wondered why you assigned her to me." Squall continued to hold Rinoa, as he looked at Quistis.
"I…I…she wanted to work for you so much. I never thought about it. Said she wanted to get out of the medical field…she practically begged me everyday. Hyne, what better way for you to still go after Rinoa, if Lauren was there everyday…trying to be her. And I fell into the trap."
"We all did," added Selphie.
A dragon sleeps among the knights, whispered Rinoa, echoing Ellone's warning from last night. She looked up at Squall, and then toward Seifer...both knights at one time or another. And Lauren lived among them, sleeping in their mist.
"Oh, the comparison on the signatures just came in, the one I had Rinoa sign earlier and the one from the lab years ago. The linguistics report came back that it isn't a match. However, it is a very convincing forgery. Every time one signs their name, it changes slightly…but the ones on the papers were exact. Something that is common in forgery. I'm sure finding Rinoa's signature wouldn't be difficult at all."
"Hey guys we got here soon as we could." Alex and Zell walked into the room, slightly confused at everyone's silence. "Yeah…anyway what did you need?" the martial artist continued.
"What?" Squall looked at him in uncertainty.
"Um…yeah…we were told you needed to see us right away," replied Alex.
"Who told you that?" Squall let go of Rinoa walking toward the two, a feeling of foreboding entering his soul.
"Well didn't you just send Lauren down to get us?" Zell looked at the man as if he was insane. "She said we needed to come up here right away."
"Where is Allison?" demanded Rinoa mortally afraid of the answer.
"Lauren is watching her."
And time stopped.