Crimson Lies Chapter 20
Love is an act of endless forgiveness,
a tender look which becomes a habit.
For two years that is all she ever did now, reliving every painful moment. Rinoa ran into the forest, into the brush. Limbs scratched her face, leaving reddened and bloody streaks like scratches from an enraged cat. The pain would have registered, had she not been numb inside. So she ran. She was good at that.
The newly fallen snow was loose on the mountains side. A large section started a lesser avalanche. Her tired legs gave way as she tumbled with the snow, landing on the trunk of a fallen tree. Rinoa hit the tree with great force, momentary causing her to lose focus on surroundings. The tears did not come this time, her state of mind beyond that.
The cold snow only numbed her exposed skin more, as she gasped to fill her lungs with the bitter air. The sound did not register, but the feeling did. Before she could run any further, she was restrained from behind. Arms forming a prison from which she could not escape
"Damn it, Rinoa you're not leaving me again."
She was released slightly from her confides, as he spun her around so they were face to face. His arms still locked tight around her, but now he could see the hurt in her eyes. It killed him.
"Be strong," he whispered aloud. It was not meant for her to hear, but only to serve as a reminder to himself. For once in their relationship, he would be the stronger one both physically and mentally.
"Rinoa, I should have told you. But so much you had been through so much, I just wanted to give you time. It never meant anything damn you for doing the one thing nobody else ever could. Rinoa, I love you."
In those words, her head stopped spinning. Maybe it didn't help pull her out of the water, but it was a life preserver. Not even last night had he directly said those words. Very rarely before she left did he say them hell should count the times on both hands. Three years they were together, but each time those words said, etched into her mind like yesterday. The anger was not gone, but somehow was manageable to her.
"Quistis Leonhart," she stammered. "How, how could you she knew about Ellone. She won didn't she she won."
"No Rinoa," his voice loud in anger. "Nobody won." Rinoa's legs gave out and she fell to the ground, Squall gave in to gravity, never letting his grip on her loosen. They sat buried deep in snow, but the cold did not register only the pain.
"Rinoa, nobody won. We were all miserable I died the day you left, and I'm not going through it again. Hell or high water, I will be here. I promise."
"Promise," she malevolently laughed. The laugh that had exhibited itself yesterday when her sorceress side had taken over at the sheer idea of him married. Squall noticed as her eyes started to slightly glaze; this time he recognized the signs, he even was waiting for them. Now, the knight just hoped that he could stop the anger from manifesting.
"Rinoa, stop it. Listen to me I love you. Don't let it take over. Yesterday you couldn't help it, today you can. I'm here; I'm not leaving you. No matter what, I'm going to be your knight. I broke your spirit but together we can stop this. Try Rinoa; don't let it take over. You don't have to forgive me now just hold to what we can have together hold on to our love."
She could feel the battle within her soul, to let the darker part of herself take control. But that was the difference she could feel it. For the first time, she was able to isolate it, aware what was happening. Even though it lay battered, her spirit was still with her. Because, he was there, the knight protected her spirit. This time, he was doing his job.
Squall watched as all traces of sorceress powers once again became dormant within her. Now, the only thing that remained on her face was the pain he caused. It was a small victory, even he realized that. He was capable of driving back the darker power, which only meant one thing she still believed in him. And that made all the difference.
"Squall, why? Why Quistis?" her shaking voice asked.
"Rinoa, remember I had to keep on searching for you. The council wanted to take my Commander position away, sighting that I was ineffective and too personally involved. I needed to find someone to marry me I knew how she felt. Damn it, she honestly was the easiest person around. It wasn't fair to either of you. I know you don't want to hear it right now but she feels horrible about what happened, it haunts her to this very day. I know she is sorry."
She freed he right hand, reaching up and slapping him with all the force she could gather. He felt the sting of her palm, as it met his chapped flesh. Moreover, he heard the chilling sound. Grabbing her arms tighter, regaining his control, he brought her close to his chest as he could hear, and feel, her tearless sobs.
"I told you," she gasped. "Don't ever tell me you're sorry. Not you, not her. I will not take that from either of you, and especially after the lies. Just let me go just let me go please. I can't take this anymore. I can't be with you anymore Squall the pain, it's always here. It always has been. From the beginning, I was just a burden to you. Don't stay with me out of duty. All I ask of you is to let me go, this is my choice; this is my life. As of this moment you don't have to be my knight you are no longer obligated to me. I release you from duty, and will suffer any consequences on my own. Just let me go. If you truly love me you will just let me go."
Feeling her hot breath on his chest, made the next move the hardest thing he would ever do he let her go. His arms retracted from her, aching once again to feel her warmth. But he had hurt her deeply; this was going to be her decision like to be with him last night. Like when she made him her knight. He prayed to Hyne he was doing the right thing. Reaching into his pocket, he grabbed the platinum Griever ring. With shaking hands, Squall hung it on a small branch off a fallen limb.
Sitting in the drifting snow, she watched in horror as he moved away from her. He actually let her go; she didn't expect it Hyne it was something she said out of hurt. Not for him to act upon. His gloved hands reached into his coat pocket, she stiffened at the sight of the band. What the hell was he doing? Then her eyes lay transfixed as it gently swayed back in forth off the branch.
He closed his eyes, gathering his strength.
"Rinoa Heartilly I will always be your knight. I can't excuse my transgressions, nor would I ever ask forgiveness from you. The only thing that I can offer you is my love it's the only thing that I have left to give you. If you want to go, let it be your choice. My choice is to go through this together together you, Allison and me.... I cannot promise you a happy ending; I cannot promise either of us won't get hurt. I can only promise you to do my best and I'll die trying. If you ever, ever think you can forgive me maybe not soon but ever let's go to Dollet together. The only things I can give you, that I still have left, is my hope and my love. If you want this to be goodbye I understand. Leave the ring here; I never want to see it again. If this is goodbye then " his voice chocked, as he could no longer speak.
He stood up and started walking up the mountainside, afraid of looking back. When he reached the top, he did the hardest thing in his life. He turned around. Memorizing her form fallen in the snow. Once his angel, now just a lost soul. He didn't know if what he was doing was right, it sure felt like hell. However, if this was going to work, it would be her choice. She was the one who suffered by his hand.
"Goodbye," he whispered to himself. "I'll always love you."
Somehow, her walk turned into more of a desperate run. Not particularly easy on the snow covered streets. But more than anything, Quistis Trepe wanted away from this place, away from all the reporters, and mostly away from President Mitchell. The harbor docks were relatively close to the conference area, and for that, she was thankful. Many citizens stopped and stared and she jogged passed, never changing expression.
She only focused on one objective right now to get the hell out of Trabia. All else could work itself out. This place resembled a grave, one she felt they were trying to bury her alive within. She was still clawing at the dirt, trying to surface for air. As she saw the boat, and the man standing on the bow, she metaphorically broke through the earth the dirt that filled her lungs was subsiding, now she was breathing fresh oxygen.
Not actually sure how it happened, kind of like one of those old movies that played in black and white. Seifer left the boat and meet her dockside. When she reached him, both opened their arms as she jumped into his body. He spun her around, an event that played like slow motion cinema in her mind. Even she realized how corny this must look to bystanders, like a dime store romance novel. But hell, she didn't care. It was a wonderful sensation to have anyone there for her, moreover, anyone who was that thrilled to see her. After a moment, Seifer set her down to the snow covered docks, but never breaking the removing his arms from the embrace.
"You did it," he replied with a grin, leaning his forward against hers, so their faces were only centimeters apart. "I'm so proud. It took real courage to stand up to that bastard. Good going Instructor."
She leaned up kissing him softly on the lips. After breaking apart Quistis teasingly answered, "You keep forgetting that I'm not an instructor anymore."
"Well, seems to me you can still teach me a few things, Ms. Trepe," he slyly answered with a trademark smirk.
Shaking her head and rolling her eyes at the smugness, the 'instructor' grabbed his hand leading him up the gangplank. They untied the boat restraints and within minutes, they were setting sail toward the Dollet Dukedom. Her blond hair flowed in the sea breeze. Seifer walked over offering his arm, and then lead them downstairs to his stateroom.
He opened the door and to her surprise, he had a normal size bed, even with a small couch.
"Hey Seifer," she said imitating anger. "How in the world did you get this room and the rest of us got cabins with quad bunks? Why in the world did we not sleep in here last night? Then maybe my neck wouldn't be so stiff."
Tipping his head to the side, trying his best to play the roll of the innocent, he answered her with a pathetic tone. "Sorry instructor. I won it in a bet with Commander Puberty, but hey, figured he would prefer hanging from the ceiling in a cave like the rest of his kind."
"Seifer that's not very nice," she tried to say without laughing.
Walking over to the bed, she took her wet coat off, tossing it to the ground. "You know, I think you genuinely like Squall or you wouldn't be here. Why is it so hard for you two boys to get along?"
"Hyne Quistis when has anyone called us boys? I'm twenty-three you know. Those 'boy' days are long gone. But yeah, the guy rather grows on you in his own annoying way like moss on a stone, but sill grows. Don't ever tell him that I said that, or I will vehemently deny it."
Taking off his trench coat, he tossed it to the floor on top of hers SeeD jacket. She watched as it landed with a thud, she was sure the thing could stand up and walk on its own.
"Seifer, you really should get a new coat. I think it's that one needs a proper burial in the Garden incinerator. When was the last time you washed that thing anyhow?"
"Why instructor, I'm hurt. As far as washing it goes it hasn't had an 'official' wash since I was at Balamb Garden. You know how those rumors get started there last time in the laundry room I was accused of ah never mind. After I left, being a fugitive with a clean coat wasn't a top priority. Anyway it's the only thing I have left of " his facial expressions changed. He stood up and started to the window, his demeanor was completely different from the smugness of earlier. "Never mind it's not important. So the speech went well, I think."
Getting off the bed, she reached carefully for him, gently placing her hand on his shoulder. "Seifer please talk to me. If this is going to work out, I don't want there to be any secrets between us. I tried that once trust me, it doesn't work. I want you to feel like you can tell me anything. Please trust in me."
Nodding in agreement, he reached down grabbing the delicate hand and leading her to the small loveseat.
Almost ashamed of his reluctance he started, "I'm sure you don't want to hear this but it was a gift from Rinoa. She bought it for me in August the year we went out; it was a present for my first attempt at the SeeD exam. She actually thought I was going to make it, even know she was clueless about what SeeD was at the time. It didn't matter to her; she still had faith in me. Maybe that's why I kept it I mean Rajin and Fujin always had faith, but Rinoa was the only outsider to believe I could make something out of my pathetic life. I loved her for that, if nothing else."
"I'll make you a deal," she spoke softly standing up and sitting in his lap. Something the woman was positive she'd never done before; it was the kind of intimacy she only dreamed. He leaned back in the soft cushions encircling both arms around her, enjoying closeness he'd never experienced either. "When we get out of this mess, I will personally take it to a dry cleaner for you. My treat."
"You're to kind to me," he said playfully as she rested her head upon his shoulder. "Throw in a couple pairs of pants and a sweater, then you got yourself a deal."
"No way you'll have to pay for the rest of your laundry buddy. Remember I'll be a divorced unemployed ex-instructor then, so I'll have to watch my budget." She paused looking deep into his eyes. "Seriously Seifer, I don't care where you got it I'm glad someone believed in you back then, even if it was Rinoa. She saw something in you that we I managed to miss or choose to ignore. I'm grateful for that just wish I'd been there for you then like I should have been."
"Quistis, you realize this is going to get difficult from here on out. If they got the message, and trust me I know the Knight of Puberty Boys, he got the message. You're going to have to face her soon. Are you ready for that?"
"No," she answered bluntly. "I don't anybody could be ready given the circumstances. But it's something I have to do it's the next step toward redemption. Glad that I'm not alone anymore this would be so much harder alone. I honestly don't think I would make it."
He kissed the top of her head. "You would Quistis. You under estimate yourself a lot, you're a very special person Oh, Hyne now I'm sounding like you. See what you've done to me. I care now this just sucks."
"Yeah it does I know."
Both sat in silence listening to the hum of the engine and the gently rocking of the boat. Events of the last few days repeated in her mind, one thing he mentioned seemed to stand out above all others. She disliked bringing up the subject again, but if she was to face Rinoa tomorrow, Quistis wanted to be mentally prepared as feasible.
"Hey yesterday you mentioned something about theories on Allison Bennett and her abduction what did you mean?"
"Wow hoping that one would slip by you. I just have overall doubts on the baby thing. Not really the abduction issue. Maybe it's my cynical nature, but there's more to this than meets the eye. Literally"
"What, you don't think Rinoa gave birth to a child? It's adopted or something giving Bennett that whole 'family man image' he needed for elections."
"No, Quistis I don't doubt that Rinoa had a child, it's very rare for a sorceress to give birth but not completely unheard of. I checked that out after I talked to you yesterday. There have only been four other cases in recorded history. Each of the sorceress' received their powers at a very young age, all before the age of eighteen. That would explain how their bodies could handle the transformation and physical side effects from the immense power So yeah, I think it's Rinoa's all right I just doubt that Richard Bennett is the father."
Quistis sat up looking him in the eye, confusion masking her face. "What? What do you mean," she demanded. A sudden fear gripped her body, momentarily she felt immobilized to her own thoughts. "No, no not Squall the little girl is only fourteen months old that wouldn't be physically possible she would've had to conceived two months after she left Garden."
"Mathematically it would be one month after the attack," he said reaching for a group of folders next to the sofa. He opened up a manila folder handing her the child's picture they were given three days ago for identification purposes. "Look at this child and tell me what you see or more, precisely who you see."
For the second time to day, Quistis Trepe-Leonhart felt violently ill. It was staring her right in the face literally.
"Oh my god Seifer those eyes I know those eyes I " she couldn't speak coherently. The only thing she could focus on was the Allison's eyes, the same azure eyes she spent countless years yearning for, dreaming of now staring back at her with an innocent smile. Definitely, Rinoa's smile.
"Yeah, Quistis I know. I spend years hating those eyes I know them all too well. The age can't be right someone is lying somewhere. But around here, that's the norm. What would be strange is if anyone was telling the truth. You even mentioned Rinoa had been a huge bitch before the attack; later people concluded it was from planning the attack Those few other cases of sorceress' giving birth, every one of them was with their knight. Only that bond could be strong enough to break the cycle of infertility. In history, only four other pairs have shared a deep enough love now five."
She couldn't help the trembling. The realization of everything hit her. Everything. In one moment that day two years ago, all made sense. Something Ellone said scared Rinoa she ran not for her protection, but for her unborn child. Damn it. Of coarse, that fit much better up until then, Rinoa was fighting, defending Garden. Beside Quistis. Ellone had been the key and the secret died along with her. Rinoa's behavior it all fit perfectly another piece of the puzzle they all had been trying to solve for two years.
"Seifer I I sent an unarmed pregnant woman out into the world then Squall he and I How are they ever supposed to forgive me, when I can't forgive myself now?" Her body continued to tremble as she fell against Seifer's chest. Concealing her head between his shoulder and neck, trying desperately not to cry. He attempted to comfort her without speaking for there were no words to help right now. She had to come to terms with this on her own. The only thing he could do is simply be there. Let her know that she wasn't alone, no matter how alone she felt.
The pain was too much to bear, as he turned at walked the final distance to the vehicle. Slowly he got in. Squall Leonhart was dead. Never could any feeling compare to this. Maybe his redemption did come, just not in the form he desired. He found her, and learned the answers to the questioned he dare not ask. Now he was no different from her, on the run, nowhere to call home and utterly fucking miserable. He slammed his fist into the dashboard, breaking the Plexiglas that protected the instruments. Black leather gloves ripped at the jagged shards that remained. The crimson blood from his hand dripped slowly onto the floorboards.
And he did not care.
Resting his head on the steering wheel, for the first time he contemplated the end of his life. Not even before had he had these thoughts, images running through his mind. It would be so easy the icy roads the perfect means. The impact of the truck into the ravines would make it relatively painless; that is if he wanted painless. Part of him wanted to suffer as before, but now
So lost in his own purgatory, he didn't notice the door open, nor the chilling cold air that flowed in the vehicle. He only heard the door as it closed, quickly turning his gaze to the passenger seat.
There she sat.
Hair snow covered, wet, and matted. Shaking from head to toe with a combination of emotions and effects from the weather. She wasn't looking at him, only straight ahead. She never made any attempt to acknowledge his presence. For minutes, they sat there, neither wanting to speak. Yet he felt the greatest relief possible. Now, she knew all his secrets, and mistakes and she was willing to forgive him someday. She truly was the strong one.
"Squall, don't speak to me not now. We have two hours before the freighter leaves the harbor we have a boat to catch."
Never looking at him, only keeping her eyes fixated on the road. No words had ever sounded better to him "We have a boat to catch."
Closing his eyes, in his mind came the words, "I love you."
For a brief second, Squall could have sworn, within in mind she reluctantly answered, "Yeah I love you too."
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