Crimson Lies Chapter 22
Where would you rather be?
Anywhere but here
When will the time be right?
Anytime but now
The doubt and the fear I know
Would all disappear
Anywhere but here.
Walking the distance between the harbor and the Dollet communication tower seemed the journey of a lifetime. Never had Rinoa remembered such a long trek. Every step of the way, she dreaded the immanent confrontation. The voyage felt more like that of a prisoner being escorted from death row to execution. Each stride took her closer to the past, recalling every painful memory of the betrayal.
Her salvation, Allison. And Squall, but she would not admit the latter, to anyone but herself.
The Commander led the way, taking obscure alleyways and wooded shortcuts to avoid detection. Training had served him well and never had Squall felt the stakes so high.
He too realized the complexity of the situation. Rinoa had been in complete silence since last night, yet he did not push her. Normally silence would have been a welcome friend, but in this instance, each passing moment tore a dagger in his heart. Each moment reminding him of her pain, moreover, his unfaithfulness.
In spirit and body.
As the tower became visible through the dense vegetation, her heart rate quickened with anticipation. She found herself lost within her own mind, something picked up from years with Squall and even more from years without Squall. When they reached the top, he stepped the uneven distance from the brush onto the pavement. Turning around, the knight silently offered his gloved hand in assistance.
Within her daydreams, his gesture was invisible; it wasn't that she purposely was denying his aid, truly she did not notice. Reaching the summit, she lost her footing, causing her to fall forward. Reaching down to catch herself, Rinoa unintentionally released the object secretly being grasped within her palm. The platinum ring skipped across the brick road.
Squall watched as it rolled and finally landing near one of his boots. A tiny metallic clink sounded when the two surfaces met. By this time, Rinoa had regained composure and was standing across from him; both found themselves eyeing the silver band. As if they sensed the other, each looked up simultaneously. Eye's locking.
With earthen eyes full what almost appeared to be embarrassment, Rinoa began to speak, "I "
"Its fine," he cut her off with a slight gesture of his hand. Allowing her simply to get out of the explanation of why she was carrying it within her hand. Honestly, he didn't need to hear it. To see that she had the ring, to see that she was holding it, to see it within her very possession was all he needed.
Rubbing her worn shoes against the cobblestone, Rinoa finally spoke again. "Well ?"
"Well what?" he said slightly bewildered.
"Well," she began softly, "can I have it back?"
Dear Hyne did he want nothing more than to grab her, never to let go. The mixture of innocents and maturity warmed his very soul. Instead of holding her, he settled for simply being within her presence. Crouching down, he picked up the band. As he rose, both stood in deafening silence once again.
Finally, he extended his hand, offering Griever. Instinctively she reached, and then paused. Making a fist, then a hesitation before placing her hand palm upwards. Slightly confused at the gesture, he looked at her with a bemused expression; one she remembered from years past. One from their first meetings, one of boyish innocence that was lost, in fact, that he maybe he truly never possessed.
For the first time since the woods, an almost mischievous smile appeared, ever so slightly.
"What now?" he asked recalling how much her actions confused him.
"Do you remember what you said in the cabin when I gave it back to you?"
Scratching his head, the words echoed in his mind. "Someday that you would have Griever back and I would be the one to give it to you," he paraphrased.
"I don't think leaving it on a fallen tree in Trabia really counts as officially giving it to me."
Holding the ring, he began to set it in her palm, and then stopped mirroring her actions of a few moments ago. Switching the ring, his dark gloves moved the band into his left hand. Rinoa eyed him with concern and slightest tinge of hurt she was trying desperately to conceal. To her surprise, he reached his right hand out to hers. The leathery feel of his gloves contrasted greatly to her soft skin.
"Rinoa Heartilly, I know this is going to be one of the most difficult moments in your entire life. I can't pretend to understand anything you are going through. I can only offer you the comfort that I will be here waiting for you. Remember through everything that has happened, and that is about to happen, never doubt my feelings for you. Rinoa you are the only one that can complete me. No matter how much time I swear I will be here. Physically and in spirit. Always."
Walking a step closer to her, he moved his left hand to join his right. Both uniting in her single hand. Within the movement, he placed the ring back into her trembling palm, before letting go with both hands. Taking a step back, he watched as a peaceful, tranquil expression passed over her face. She looked at the ring with such an intense glare; he would have sworn she had never seen it before.
In her mind, she hadn't. This was the first time she possessed the ring; this time it was truly a gift.
A wonderful, magnificent gift.
"Hey," a voice startled them out of the private world they had built.
Squall turned to the unknown person standing in front of him. On instinct alone, he pulled out small handgun, which had been concealed in his jacket. Borrowed from the unfortunate SeeD trapped in the woodlands of Trabia. He would protect Rinoa at any cost.
The woman jumped in shock. "Shit," she replied quickly raising both hands in the air, surprise apparent on her face.
"Who the hell are you?" he demanded.
"Squall," Rinoa spoke forcefully putting her hand on his forearm. "Lower your weapon. Now."
"Rin " he tried to speak, but was hastily cut off.
"It's Alex!" Rinoa yelled.
With weapon still raised, he finally took his eyes of the stranger, turning toward Rinoa. She met his stare, nodding in confirmation. "Alexandra Williams," she restated firmly.
Lowering the gun, Squall looked at the lady in front of him, who looked less than amused at the incident.
Alex continuing to walk up to the couple. "Wow Rinoa, how ever did you let this one go?" she shot back in obvious sarcasm.
Squall stood with stone-like features watching as the two girls drew closer to one another.
"Ally?" the darker haired girl pleadingly asked.
Nodding her head in acknowledgement, Alex smiled. "Inside. She missed you."
Rinoa couldn't keep the tears from rolling down her face. She tried to wipe away the stray drops that traced her delicate skin. Reaching for Alex, she pulled the girl into a tight embrace.
"Thank you," Rinoa managed between sobs. "Thank you."
Alex smoothed the younger girls' hair, calming her down. "He's gone now Rin. He won't hurt you anymore."
Squall stood watching the scene with mixed emotions. Part of him was glad that they returned to their friends and to Allison. Part of him was sad; the closeness they shared for the last two days would be gone. Now they would be part of a group a group of friends, family, and strangers.
More than anything, he found himself with a slight jealousy toward the woman comforting Rinoa now. The one who guided her through unspeakable times. The one, who for the most part. Replaced him. In every essence, the woman before him had done the job of a knight, not on a physical level, but by protecting the sorceress' spirit.
The two broke apart; Alex pulled dampened hair strands gently behind her friends' ears. "We made it through just like you knew we would." Rinoa smiled at the comments.
"Alex, I really want to see Allison," Rinoa spoke with an almost begging quality within her voice.
Shifting her weight back and forth, Alex darted her eyes between Rinoa and Squall. She wasn't exactly sure how to bring up the touchy subject. "Um, Rinoa Squall Quistis is here. I just thought you should know."
"I know," Rinoa spoke softly looking at her friend. "Don't worry Alex, I know."
"I am worried," the older girl whispered back. "Do you want me to go with you?" For a moment, Rinoa glanced back to Squall. His eyes seemed emotionless. She knew he silently wanted to be there, but better judgment told her this is something she would have to face alone. This was her reality.
"Walk me to the door," she requested, afraid to examine Squall's expression. Alex nodded and wordlessly they closed the distance to the small house. Knight followed behind sorceress, always within arms reach if need be, but still allowing her freedom. Right now, that meant - freedom from him. He accepted that.
Alex guided them toward the smaller house, almost hidden with over-growth. Rinoa turned to her friend, with a sadden expression. In return she offered her comfort with a simple word, "Allison."
The single thought made confrontation worth it. Holding her breath, the brunette-haired girl slowly turned the knob. Alex once again gave her a small, reassuring smile before turning her gaze toward Squall. He was in his own world, lost in the pure simplicity of watching Rinoa; silently lending her all the strength that flowed through is body.
When Rinoa finally walked over the threshold, the knight moved his glance to Alex. For the first time, the two shared the same apprehension. For the first time, the two attempted to understand their connection to the sorceress.
Quistis silently sat on the couch. Leaning forward, she worked on the laptop as if every second was the last. Over the course of the morning, she managed to get several encrypted messages to Selphie.
Selphie, for her part, had been acting as liaison between the 'wanted Seed's' and Cid. After the two arrived last night, Quistis Trepe faced one of the most difficult obstacles to date. She sent a letter of explanation to Cid not only on their disappearance but also the truth on Ellone.
Part of her was glad to have it over with, part of her was afraid of the reactions she would receive. Telling Zell and Irvine was hard enough neither had really said anything to her since then. Not that they were angry or yelling, such as Squall's reaction days before, but their responses were internal. The looks she received were answer enough pain, hurt, and betrayal shown within their eyes.
However, they didn't hate her. She knew that.
What was most disturbing, guilt the two males shared both believing Rinoa guilty. Zell had taken the news harder, walking out the door without a word. Quistis had known he needed to work out his anger, which was his nature. That's what made him Zell.
Irvine actually questioned for a few moments, trying to understand her reasoning. No matter how hard she tried, the words seemed to fall flat. Even as she was speaking, the words were difficult for her to comprehend. Seifer had been near, for support. Yet kept his distance he knew this was her road to cross her battle. Her steps to redemption.
But telling Cid and Edea the two people who believed in her. The parents she never had, the only authority she knew. Telling them of her treachery was far worse than confronting the others, save Rinoa. Ellone was their child. Their reason to become who they were today. And Quistis lied to them. Betrayed the honor of the only sister she ever knew. In one brief moment of time one second she changed the course of hundreds of lives. Now was her time to face the consequences to start over whatever life she may have left.
To be for the first time, Quistis Trepe.
No longer in the shadow of others and her own emotions. For the first time she was doing what she wanted from her heart. The heart that led her down this path was now slowly going to save her. From Squall, from President Mitchell from herself.
Seifer sat quietly next to her. He was feeling less than comfortable about being around everyone again. For once, he decided that not speaking was the best policy. Maybe Squall had stumbled upon something after all, with the silent persona.
The only sound in the room were the deep-uneasy breaths of the inhabitants and the strokes of the keyboard. Until the door opened. Irvine, being the closest, immediately took a semi-defensive position, although both Alex and Zell were expected to return shortly.
After the martial artist disappeared for a while, Alex decided to go in search of him. Even though she knew, he needed to be alone, something inside made her want to verify he was doing all right. Maybe it was the same feelings Ellone had shared with the younger children at the orphanage. Maybe deep inside she felt included with this group Maybe somehow they were her new family.
No matter how much she psychologically prepared when the door opened time froze and there were only two people in the room.
Sorceress Rinoa Heartilly and Quistis Trepe-Leonhart.
When their eyes met, nothing else existed in that time Not Squall, not Seifer. Two people thrown into the battlefield of life, now left without an army, without a platoon, only in solitude of their own minds and hearts. The rest of the world faded away.
For Quistis only Rinoa stood within sight. The very person she deceived two years ago the very lie she lived.
For Rinoa only Quistis stood within sight. The person she once called friend much more than friend, family. The one person who caused the pain with a simple answer. The one person who now dreamed of redemption from that very act the person who married her soul mate and left her to raise her unborn child in circumstances way beyond comprehension.
Yet, Rinoa did not hate her.
She could not hate her.
There was something in Quistis, try as she might, that held back the darkest feelings. Maybe some kind of loyalty, some kind of distant friendship, or maybe even the slightest bit of understanding though the thought truly never crossed her mind.
Both girls stared at one another as Rinoa walked cautiously toward the center of the room Irvine and Seifer did not notice the figures of both Squall and Alex also emerging from the doorframe. All eyes were focused on the two. Nobody truly dared to envision how the two would react.
Looking at the instructor on a physical level, not much changed her hair longer and maturity added to her features. But the difference was evident in the unsaid words. Her eyes held the emotions that her heart was afraid of admitting. The fear, the hurt, and mainly, the sorrow.
If one thing Rinoa could tell, was the sorrow in her eyes. Not something forced upon her, but something from deep within. As she walked toward her, the rays of sun caught the reflection of the Griever pendant that adorned the ex-instructors neck.
The only true gift from Squall Not as a husband, but as a friend.
Rinoa refocused her eyes on the medallion, unaware of the others presence. The mate to the ring she held tightly in her palm unseen to everyone else. The ring that gave her the strength to venture into the room. The ring that was an extension of her knight.
Watching as her eyes drifted toward the pendant, Quistis noticed the ever so slight gasp that escaped her lips. Maybe it was the shock of seeing something that Squall gave on his free will that was the most painful part. For the first time, the blonde woman had guilt feelings about having the heirloom.
Yet, Rinoa said nothing.
Closing the distance, Rinoa reached out her slightly trembling hand toward the metallic lion. She felt each crevasse of the mold, along with each imperfection. Flashbacks of the chain around Squall's neck flooded her memories
Quistis let out her breath, which up until this moment; she didn't know she had been holding. The sound brought Rinoa out of her thoughts, until the two girls stood looking directly into the others eyes.
After a brief uncomfortable silence, Quistis started to speak, "I I "
Yet the words did not come. She realized that nothing she could possible say could take back the damage. The years escaped. From the corners of her eyes, tears started streaming down her face, but refused to yield.
For that, Rinoa was grateful.
The one thing that would have truly upset her as she had vehemently stated to Squall, was hearing the words, "I'm sorry." Two small words that would only intensify the situation instead Quistis said nothing.
For that she was grateful.
Quistis could see the hurt in her friends' eyes along with a pain that did not have to be spoken. Something about her innocence was lost, now the woman who stood before was not the same girl from Timber. Time had changed her
When Quistis tried to form the words within her mind, nothing came. Maybe she knew that nothing she could say at this point would help. Yet, having Rinoa not speak was far worse than she could have imagined. She expected yelling, screaming such had been the case before yet she got stillness.
Silence spoke volumes more than any words
Rinoa finally placed the pendant back to Quistis chest. Carefully, cautiously. Treating the medallion with respect. Retracting her hand, Rinoa placed her hand on her forearm still holding the ring in the left hand.
Nobody else said a word. The tension was unlike any battle. This was between friends, not enemies. A cry cut through the silence like a knife as the sound of a child innocents filled the room. Rinoa took her eyes off Quistis and focused them to the small bedroom behind her... Without another word, Rinoa once more made contact with the remorseful blue eyes, before turning to walk toward the source of the cries.
Only Allison could have diffused such a situation only her love and innocence kept the situation within perspective. As Rinoa walked into the smaller room, Alex glanced back at Squall who once again studied every inch that Rinoa walked. Like a protective figure, like a knight. Squall looked up at her, for a brief moment their eyes met, both with concern. Finally, Alex silently headed the same path as Rinoa. Something told her to check on her friend. In all honesty, Alexandra felt uncomfortable around the others right now.
The sense that someone was watching had drawn Squall out of his solitary world. He turned to meet the slightly older woman's eyes. Then, something else caught his eyes for the first time a golden chain she was wearing. Before she started to walk away, he could have sworn, it looked like a smaller golden copy of his platinum ring. For the first time he actually contemplated this stranger's role in their lives. How would she have such a ring and why? His momentary line of thinking changed when the echoed sounds of Allison's crying ceased.
The bedroom door shut, the two women safely away from the rest. Quistis quickly headed out the front door. Never once checking for the others reactions not even her husbands.
She sat staring out into the endless horizon amber hues danced on the surface of the turbulent waters. Quistis reached for some sort of harmony in her life. Like an answer from Hyne, Seifer appeared next to her.
"Well that went better than I thought," he remarked trying to keep upbeat.
"She hates me." Quistis watched the seagulls circling overhead.
"No she doesn't. I don't think it's in her to hate especially you. I think it will take time, but someday somehow you two will reach an understanding."
"She'll never trust me again. I'll never have her as a friend."
"No, probably not. However, she'll respect you. Give her time give them time as a family."
"Time," she whispered back. "Time."
Moments of awkwardness followed as nature sounds made a conversation of its own. There was one question that Quistis dreaded asking yet the time was drawing closer. During the last few days, she had grown to heavily depend on Seifer something she hated admitting. Maybe she drew from his strength. Hell, she might have even drawn from his weakness. Yet she knew whatever it was it came from his soul. It was pure.
"Garden will be here soon. Cid understands the situation well maybe understand is not the correct word, but he is willing to face Mitchell head on It will be war. Everything he wrote back was so official as were Selphie's messages. I don't know if they will ever treat me as equals again."
"Hey," he said trying to lighten her mood. "If it makes you feel any better, I'll always treat you as an equal."
Quistis had to chuckle at the attempt on his part, he was trying so hard. "Not really Seifer but thank you anyhow."
Reaching to her, Seifer pulled her close to him in an embrace. A feeling of security that both had grown used to in the last couple of days; one foreign for so many years.
As much as she dreaded the answer she had to know. Seifer had to know his fate. Pulling back stands of hair, she finally gathered the courage. "They will bring you up on charges of treason if you return. Cid said that if you were among us, you would still face disciplinary measures from Garden and its allies. Seifer if you want your freedom, you will have to leave me us now."
There is a comfort unknown in holding something so small, so innocent. Rinoa held Allison as if every second was going to be the last breath she took. Every feature she tried to memorize every toe, every finger, and every giggle. The infant had been more than happy to see her mother return. The crying stopped immediately when Allison realized who was coming to her rescue.
Intense eyes of blue with and the slightest hints of brown stared straight into her heart.
"Mommy's here," she whispered unable to say anything else through the tears.
The child clung on tight, wrapping small arms around her neck. Finally Allison let her delicate head rest on her mothers shoulder. In that moment Allison found peace, closing her eyes to hear the sounds of her mother's heartbeat.
Alex watched from beside the door, afraid to ruin such a serene moment. Yet, she had to talk to Rinoa so much had happened, so much information known to others.
"You didn't tell him the truth." Alex tone reflected that of an older sister reprimanding the younger sibling.
"When are you telling Squall Leonhart about his daughter?"
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