Crimson Lies Chapter 12
What if everything you trained for, everything you spent your life achieving
lead up to one defining moment. A cumulative riddle of everything you have
ever done; one significant instant, one opportunity for the correct decision.
Pieces of a puzzle without a diagram; a road map drawn, but not understood.
Zell stood at a crossroad, but would the answer be achieved in time? Bits
and pieces of images, of events playing through his subconscious mind over
the last few months. Somehow, he was a key.
Zell saw the infant sleeping soundly in Alexandra's arms. He felt the soldiers gaining on him and heard their yells to stand back; he heard their warnings and an unreal feeling enveloped his body. One of the Galbadian militia held his weapon as the other continued forward. They too were searching for Alexandra, and for the child, for Allison. He watched as the woman's brown eyes turned with a look of sorrow, of remorse. Zell was close to reuniting the child with his rightful parents, he could taste the bitterness in his mouth. How could a human steal a child? That was not the act of compassion.
Without hesitation, the martial artist grabbed the sleeping infant from the woman; he vowed no more harm to the innocent baby. The abductor was not expecting the apprehension and with the current situation, Alexandra was in no situation to run. She could not fight; she knew the risks and was more then willing to take the chance. She collapsed to the pavement in defeat, as Zell took several steps back. Irvine walked to his partners' side, watching the drama unfold. The advancing guard walked up kicking the woman, hard. She looked toward the now awake child and whispered, "I'm sorry Allison."
Zell looked at the child in his arms, and then hugged her tight. The abductor did not show any signs of remorse, only of failure. If Zell had wanted this to turn out this way, why was he so distressed? Then he noticed the second soldier still pointing arms, nodding to the first man. The man grabbed Alexandra by the hair, pulling her to a standing position. The second guard signaled back, an unspoken understanding passed between the two Galbadian men.
Zell wondered why the soldier was not lowering his weapon, if the assailant was already in custody. Then he saw it. Something not visible the first he ran into her. Something amazing. A small golden chain had dislodged from her blouse, during the pulling from the gray station pavement. These men were not there to retrieve the child; they were there to kill Alexandra. Zell quickly handed the infant to Irvine, who stood confused at the sudden movement by the martial artist.
Zell watched in slow motion as the soldier cocked his gun, ready to execute the woman. He jumped across in front of Irvine kicking the weapon out of the man's hand, and watched as the weapon sailed under the parked train. He managed to knock the soldier down as he ran to aid the woman, still in shock. Irvine felt helpless holding the child, trying to keep it protected from the drama.
The other soldier turned his weapon toward Zell as he leapt forward; Zell could feel the sting of the bullet in his shoulder, but adrenaline alone kept him on the attack. He knocked the second guard down dislodging his weapon. Alex quickly grabbed the gun pointing it at the soldier.
"We have to get out of here!" she screamed. "Get Allison!"
Irvine still held the child and grabbed a bag that the woman had been carrying previously. Zell continued to ignore the deadening pain in his chest, grabbing the Alexandra's hand with is good arm. They continued out of the train station, ending up in a small alley.
Irvine handed the child back to the woman as he checked his comrade's wound, finally able to question, "What the hell are you doing Zell, don't you know what you just did! This woman kidnapped a child, and we just helped her."
"No Irvine," he gasped out of breath, "This woman saved the child and we helped her."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
Zell smiled slightly, through his agony, pointing to the chain on the woman, "look."
Irvine turned to see the chain, on the chain hung a small ring. Irvine leaned closer in the dark passageway, "Oh Hyne." The only words he was capable of verbalizing when, he too, saw the delicate golden copy of Griever.
"You wanted to see me?"
Squall tossed the cigarette overboard as he turned to her, "I wanted to let you know that there are going to be several officials arriving in Trabia the next few days. Renee Bennett's funeral will be this coming Friday. I thought that maybe Seifer should be cautious, but I didn't know at the time he was under your personal protection."
"Squall don't," she implored.
"Quistis, I really don't care," he spoke back, ostensibly emotionless about the subject.
"Thanks, it just kinda happened."
"Yeah, that kinda happened thing can get you in trouble sometimes."
"I'll be careful; I'm a big girl, I don't need protecting," she countered.
"Never said you did. I wanted you to be the first to know that I have made the decision to leave Garden. No matter how this turns out, no matter if she is alive or dead; I cannot be one of them anymore. No more games, no more lies."
Quistis strolled over to the railing, chills running down her spine from the night air. "I would tell you not to, but honestly I see no need for me to remain either. Where are you going?"
"I guess that depends on how this plays out; I have to stay in command long as possible. What little information I do get, could be fundamental."
"Squall do you think she is dead?"
"No. I believe I honestly would know if she was. Seems outlandish, but actually, I feel that she is close, closer then the last two years. Hope she knows I am looking for her. I hope she finds me."
"I'm sure she will Squall."
The night came and went; such was the cycle of life. The subsequent morning
was clear, but a possible storm had arisen off the western coast. Trabia
appeared like any other day, nothing special, and nothing unusually. The
death of Renee Bennett, wife of the most powerful man in Trabia, had only
been yesterday. Hopefully they would have a full day of investigation before
unwanted company arrived on the frozen continent.
Squall scanned the horizon as the boat slowed to dock. The internal gears vibrated the entire vessel as the engines halted operation. The city had its charm, if one could find it under the layers of bitter snow. He was not much one for the piercing cold, not much one for the isolated town.
The re-growth of Trabia Garden brought commerce to the small mining town; also, the accidental discovery of underlying petroleum weighed heavily to recent developments. In five years time the small town had tripled its population ten fold, labor the main attraction to most, the prospect of wealth to others. Richard Bennett was the latter. Squall had recognized him from council meetings, but never taken the time to know the man, if Squall ever took time to know anyone.
Actually, he was quite surprised that the dignitary had a wife and child, very little was spoken about that subject. The SeeD's first order of business would be going to his home, offering the required diplomatic condolences.
"How do I look? Always wondered what one of these things would feel like. Lemme tell you, I'm not impressed." Seifer chided walking up from below the wooden deck. He made a gesture at the SeeD uniform he was presently adorning, blending amongst the other three.
"I never thought I'd live to see the day you would be wearing a SeeD uniform Seifer Almasy. I think this is truly a sign of the end of the world," Squall snarled back.
"Oh Commander Leonhart, I do believe that was a joke. A bad one at that, but I still give you credit for trying. Hello, let me introduce myself, according to my identification tag call me Nicolas Jackson; not to much on the creative name side are you Squall?"
"What the hell you want anyhow Nicolas?"
"Well, here to tell you that Quistis and Lauren are ready to go ashore. Lauren will be heading the questioning on the kidnapping front, so that will leave us free for other research."
"Bennett lives close, not much more then a block."
"Squall, I'm not chancing the meeting with him. Lauren agreed to go with you; Quistis and I are going to check out that antique shop where she purchased the rings. Oh, for what its worth, don't trust Bennett."
"Why do you say that? Seems to me that he is going through a grueling situation right now, my sympathies are with him."
"Your sympathies are ill placed then. I know snakes, I slither among them; just telling you that man isn't what he appears. I don't trust him."
"This coming from you? I didn't believe there would be anyone lower then you to look down on Mr. Almasy."
The four assembled at the Trabian waterfront, going over last minutes directives. Squall felt the inexplicable need to reach the home of Richard Bennett. He said scarcely a word to his partner, but the commander was not known for small talk anyhow.
The residence was considerable in size, equivalent to Caraway's mansion. The home was newly built not more then four years old, which would co-inside with his election to the council. For a humble town, such a home seemed out of place with its ornate rod iron gates and security alarms. As Squall neared, he took notice of the stables on the east side of the property with a vast wooded area surrounding the buildings. Several thoroughbred chocobos stood outside; no doubt, this man had dabbled in breeding.
One of the servants opened the large door, seeing their uniforms he immediately offered them entrance to the mansion.
"Commander Squall Leonhart of Balamb Garden here to see Richard Bennett," he spoke in the most dignified voice possible. The servant was about to pronounce the arrival, when a sudden boisterous voice, roared from the stairway.
"What the hell are you doing here Commander Leonhart?"
Squall recognized Lord Bennett immediately, a title bequeathed upon his family by the last reigning royalty of Trabia; now an all but forgotten lineage. The man was easily ten years older then Squall, dark hair and threatening eyes. The man unquestionably did not seem pleased to see the commander, which was a conundrum onto itself when his child was missing.
Squall recalled the statement Seifer made earlier, it abruptly flashed through his mind. He concurred that there was something odd about the situation, about this man's attitude. The commander was surprised how quickly he changed to a defensive position on his question, instead of the offensive one that would have been the norm for interrogations.
"Delegate Bennett, I was sent by President Jefferson Mitchell to oversee the search for your daughter."
"My wife passed away yesterday; I have no time for questions," the man countered.
"Sir, we are well aware of that; the World Council and the Republic of Galbadia offer their deepest sympathies. I will not keep you long; we just were here to inquire about your former employee Alexandra Williams."
The older man walked toward Squall, who was still bewildered at the elder's actions, "You want to hear about the bitch and my daughter? Ask your fucking SeeD's."
"Excuse me sir, with all due respect don't ever talk to me like that. I don't understand where your hostility is coming from, but do not take the anger out on me or my men."
"Then tell me why your fucking men were seen with her yesterday in the Dollet Empire? Not only did they see her, they hindered the rescue of Allison, my daughter." He spat in Squall's face.
"Sir, I'm sure your information is inaccurate; none of my men are currently located in the Dollet region."
The older man opened a file, handing the baffled commander a photograph, visibly taken by a security camera. Squall found himself immobilized. On the print, unmistakably as black and white, were both his investigating team members, Zell and Irvine, the latter holding what appeared to be a child. Zell was seemingly dragging a brown haired woman through the multitude of the train depot patrons.
"Now get the fuck out of my house Mr. Leonhart, you nor SeeD are no longer welcome here," he threatened ferociously.
"Lauren," stated Squall diffidently. "We are leaving now." He turned toward the door, holding the surveillance photograph within his hand. Nothing seemed logical; Zell and Irvine might have been reckless, but aiding and abiding a criminal was well beyond their means. If they were in fact protecting this woman, they had a damn good reason; that truth he knew. Opening the door, the servant motioned for Squall to leave the premises. Squall attempted to exit the mansion, but was caught off guard when Richard came up behind him, grabbing his arm forcefully.
"You touch my daughter and I will kill you personally. When I find your two men, let me ensure you, they are already dead."
Squall Leonhart, no matter the situation, did not take kindly to intimidation, nor did he like being grasped in such a manner. Particularly by a man in such a psychotic state, one he thought he would be aiding. He instinctively seized Bennett's arm, spinning him around and pinning his it securely to his back.
Successfully the man had been immobilized; Richard Bennett was no match for the strength Squall possessed, especially when extremely infuriated. "Touch me again and I will kill you where you stand; touch my men and they will identify your corpse with only the aid of dental records." He released the man with such force, such vigor; Richard Bennett lost his footing crashing hard upon the marble floor.
Squall never felt such rage before, as he did in the present moment. This man, this monster was pure evil, if ever a death was justified, this would be the instance. He had faced foes before, yet somehow this man was different. Something about him made skin crawl made his soul twist in agony. Why would such a simple encounter unleash such odious emotion? Squall never felt such hate before, not even towards himself or from the loss of Rinoa. Rinoa?
Lauren quickly walked out behind Squall, never lifting her gaze from the fervent commander. She had worked for him over a year; never had she witnessed such rage, such anger. As Bennett's servant slammed the door behind her, she called to Squall, determined to understand the confrontation.
"Commander Leonhart, what was that explosion about?"
For a brief moment his mind played a malevolent trick upon him, he turned toward Lauren catching sight of her dark matted hair, sticking out from under the winter cap. Whether it was the state of mind, or unconscious foreboding he answered her angrily, "Rinoa please don't ask me questions right now, you know better!" He froze. What the hell did he just call her? He never made that mistake ever.
The female SeeD stood faintly bewildered, yet not interpreting too much into the slip of tongue. More then one student had informed her of their similarities; she shrugged the mistake up to something he said in anger, something misspoke caught up in emotion. Yet, this man showed little emotion up until four days ago, mockingly, the two-year anniversary of the sorceress's disappearance.
He's mind was racing. "Lauren I I," he could not continue, he could not explain. He shook his head looking at her, what a fucking mistake after two years. He closed his eyes tightly, attempting desperately to regain any semblance of order; it failed. Emotions, feelings, all resurfacing after so long, for the first time in years, he couldn't control his own thoughts. His heart was racing, his head spinning. What the hell was wrong? He couldn't think clearly, he had to get away from everybody right now, this girl who looked so much like No!
Lauren watched as her commander grabbed his head, the look of disorientation engulfing him. Against better reasoning, she reached for him trying to give him some reassurance; although, even she knew, it was the last thing he sought after. He recoiled at the gentle touch, reacting as if poison liquefying his flesh.
"Don't," he demanded. "I got I got to - goodbye." He spoke with bemused voice. She watched as he started rushing toward the isolated wooded area. At first, she started after him, afraid for his volatile condition. Squall could out run her. The snow only decelerated her steps, each with more burden then last. She couldn't help him, she couldn't reach him, and even if she did, she had no logical course of action to help him, only Squall Leonhart could help himself.
"Goodbye Commander," she whispered into the bitter Trabian air. Not to anyone particular, just to the arctic wind that stung her face.
Two SeeDs walked the sparsely populated streets of Trabia, each with a mission,
each with purpose. Neither spoke to the other, neither knew what to say.
Tension filled the cold heavy air, as they kept their eyes focused strait
ahead. For blocks this continued, the safe thing was to ignore what had happened,
each was good at pretending, each was good at forgetting.
They walked until Quistis pointed to a small shop; it was not great in size or particularly appealing on the exterior. Yet, the small shop somehow had an aura of invitation, an allure not seen.
Finally, the silence was broken when Quistis spoke in a business like fashion, "This is where I purchased the chain."
"Oh, you decided to speak to me? I'm so honored," he furtively retorted.
"Who said I wasn't speaking to you? I just didn't have anything important to say."
"Alrighty then Mrs. Puberty Boy, sorry to mention it thought maybe you felt a little uncomfortable about last night."
"Why would I feel uncomfortable?" she naively tried to ask, failing miserably at the attempt. "I am not in the least bit uncomfortable about it."
"Good," he replied with an arrogant smirk.
"You should be the one who feels uncomfortable for what you did."
"What I did?! I'm pretty sure it was a mutual thing. I sure as hell didn't hear you complaining."
"I I wasn't complaining. I just was confused at the moment, that's all." "Oh so it was a mistake? Something you didn't mean to do? So it would never happen again, right?"
"Yes," Quistis spoke firmly.
He smiled at her, took a small step toward her, and then tenderly pulled her close to his body. She tried to protest, she tried to fight. In her mind, she was yelling at him to stop; in her heart, she was hoping he would go through with it. Her heart won, as she felt his warm lips touch hers. The cold air was such a contrast to his hot breath, a strange, but beautiful sensation. Although this kiss, not as passionate as last night, was filled with more emotion, more meaning. The realization that she was kissing Seifer Almasy, in public, astonished her.
When they hesitantly parted, he grinned looking directly in her blue eyes, "I thought so."
Quistis remained in the snowy street, endeavoring to catch her breath from the moments before. When reason returned to her mind, she looked at him questionably, almost fearful. She found the courage to ask the question she was afraid of being answered, "Seifer, I want you to tell me the truth. Please, don't lie to me; I can't take it. Who who were you picturing when you kissed me? Whose face was it?"
He wanted to hold her; she looked so vulnerable. He knew what she was asking; he knew the soreness that scarred her very soul. He slowly raised his rough, cold fingers to her warm cheek. Her eyes meet his, a gaze so deep he thought she could see right through him. She could. His thumb traced the outline of her jawbone as he quietly spoke, "Quistis I pictured you, it was always you."
She wanted to weep, she wanted to hold him, but priorities prevailed. She smiled at him wearily, "Thank you, Seifer, thank you."
He returned the smile with genuine emotion, "Come on let's go inside, I don't want you catching pneumonia out here."
Squall Leonhart no longer felt control. For the first time in twenty-two
years, he was lost, not only physically but also spiritually. He felt the
overpowering need to get as far away as possible; yet he could not comprehend
the reason. He had run as far as his legs could take him before the desire
to breakdown in the drifting snow overwhelmed him. The standard issue SeeD
coat was heavy, but nothing could protect him from the freezing wind-chill.
He managed to stagger it to a tree, before collapsing to the earth below him. There was a battle going on within his body. Did he want to live with the hurt or did he want to fall to the bitter snow below, slowly letting excruciating death overtake his body. How far had he wandered from civilization, estimating he had walked for an hour in the frigid weather.
He had to get up; he had to trudge on, if not for him, for her. She deserved it, what kind of fucking knight dies by something so unceremoniously as freezing. He had to get back to town, to shelter. The motion of standing was unbearable; he could barely keep his eyes open; exhaustion was starting to prevail.
"Hyne help me," he rasped at the artic air filled his lungs. "Hyne help her." His arms and fingers were going numb; he had to continue or face certain death. He felt a slight tug at his coat; first believing it was nothing more then a figment of imagination, then the sensation was felt again. He looked toward the source and was shocked to see a single chocobo staring him in the eyes.
The large bird nuzzled against the warrior, like a mother protecting its young from the grueling elements. In a sardonic sense, Squall felt relieved at the companionship, even in the form a bird. He grasped his gloved hands to its feathers, returning the heartfelt gesture as he brushed bits of ice from its wing. Then with a renewed burst of force, he mounted the bird, appreciative for the method of transportation.
Chocobos had a known sense of direction; one could stake their lives on their reliability; in a way, Squall Leonhart was doing just that. The known Chocobo Forest was only a mile from the Trabian borders; he could manage the remaining distance on his own.
"I'll name you Lucky," Squall ruminated to his feathered companion. "For one time in my pathetic life, luck seems to be with me."
The bird carried him over snow-covered plains, and dense forestland at speeds unmatched by all enemies. Somewhere along the journey Squall had fallen asleep on the creature, he awoke with a sudden jolt as the bird stopped abruptly.
"What is it?" he questioned looking around the immediate vicinity. He saw a small cabin as the snow started falling heavily from the graying sky. Shaking his head in utter disgust about not returning to the Chocobo Forest. "Come on," he implored as the bird blatantly refused to budge. "Ignore that comment about being Lucky," he spat to the immobile bird.
When at last he decided the bird would not move, he dismounted pulling his coat over him tightly, avoiding the snow whipping around his frame. Squall looked back at the chocobo that for some unknown reason, decided to make nest in the snow.
She looked at her watch again; time had a way of standing still, waiting a painful game. Still it would be over twenty-four hours until she could return to town and board the cargo vessel. Rinoa grabbed the deck of cards again, shuffling for the hundredth time; it was the only form of entertainment in the cabin. Thank Hyne for small favors, the cabin was well stocked with canned goods and bottled water. Whoever owned this place also was obsessed with beef jerky. The cupboards were full of the preserved strips.
The fired roared, embracing her in a warm hug. There was no life threatening temperatures here, only the comfort of warmth. She started sorting the cards for another round of solitaire, which she would undoubtedly lose, again. As she placed a card on the table she could hear a branch breaking outside, immediately being used to taking on the role as prey, she went on the defensive.
She quietly went over to the small frosted picture window to observe the forest outside. The snow was forming circles in the wind, which resembled that of small dust devils. Through the crystallized pane, she could see a form emerging from the blanket of white. As it grew closer, her worst fears were confirmed, SeeD. She knew that standard issue coat anywhere; fashion not a top priority at Garden.
How the hell did they find her she conjectured, yet the answer was painfully obvious: because they were looking, and unfortunately, they were good at their job. She ran to the small pantry, searching for any form of defense. Then she unsheathed a hunting knife, the blade was only three inches long, but that would do the trick. She never wanted to hurt anyone, ever. On no account, would she wish this situation upon her worst enemy but she had to survive, for Allison, at any cost.
There was a loud knock at the door, maybe they would just give up and leave. However, she knew this was unrealistic thought; there were no buildings within miles. If one ventured this far into the woods, it was defiantly for a reason. She would do her best to immobilize the SeeD, but worse case scenario; she would be forced to kill. She never imagined herself possible of such a traitorous act to kill the ones she once defended. Time had moved on, irony was a fickle creature and now it was up to her.
She stood behind the door, waiting silently for what she knew would come. If only she had a Guardian Force junctioned, if only her powers had not laid dormant for so long. She used most of her strength on that little stunt with Richard, now she desperately wished she had conserved that energy. The lock was being picked; again, standard SeeD protocol. They were still so predictable, even after two years. The door gradually opened as the hooded figure stepped in.
Rinoa stood, back firmly against the wall, waiting for the door to shut. As soon as closed, she took a slight step forward raising the blade. Somehow, the person sensed her presence, attempting to face her. With what strength she could muster through her shaking grip, she plunged the knife downward as the man turned.
She closed her eyes as she felt the blade stab through the coat, and then again, another sensation as the tip reached human flesh. She could hear the sound of knife entering the flesh, the tears formed within the corner of her eyes. She felt the assailant stumbling toward her, as she stepped back toward the false security of the wall. With guilt clouding all logic, she regained the ability to open her eyes. She died at that moment.
As Squall turned to close the door, he saw something move out of his peripheral vision. He saw the flash of silver; training had taught him to protect himself. On instinct, he turned so the blade would enter his upper arm, missing all vital organs. He felt the knife slice through his shoulder, wanting to scream in pain. However, he could not scream as he lost his footing, falling toward the attacker. Then he saw her, at that moment he could no longer feel pain, but felt alive.
He watched as she dropped the bloodied knife, pinning herself to the wall. He saw as the tears rolled along her beautiful cheeks, he saw when she opened her gorgeous eyes, and then he saw her eyes meet with his, for the first time in two years.
A/N: Thank you everyone one who is keeping up with this story! Again, the support means so much to me, you will never know. One of the other authors here, and a wonderful person actually took time to draw a picture about this story so I wanted to pass it along. It's from Optical Goddess who has done some wonderful work at fanfiction.net.
It's from way back in chapter 1, with Squall on the balcony. (Remember chapter one? I don't!)
The picture can be found at:
www.geocities.com/mangacat_fantasy/dorms/4/optical_goddess.html. or at RPGamer http://www.rpgamer.com/games/ff/ff8/fanart/withouther_opticalgoddess.jpg
Another appreciation to the wonderful, magnificent and every other adjective that describes "terrific" friend of mine Wayward Tempest who helps me more then she can ever know! Thank you.
Hoping to have one more chapter out by Christmas!
Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic