Crimson Lies Chapter 23
shall not hurt you
Nor the battle storms dismay;
Tho the sun in heaven desert you
"Love will find out the way."
Rinoa looked at her friend with apology in her eyes, before she turned away in embarrassment. Resting her head gently on the child, she searched for words. Explanations not even she could understand. Yet an attempt to vocalize the ideas would come across as immature or spiteful. Realizing the stress this was causing, Alex decided to approach the matter from an entirely new perspective:
Understand Rinoa's reasoning behind the omission.
"Okay, before we talk about what hasn't occurred, let's talk about what has," replied Alex sitting on the edge of the bed.
"Yeah," Rinoa spoke softly. "Then maybe I'll understand it a little more too."
"Alex, I love him,"
"I never doubted that Rinoa. Not even when you tried to convince me and yourself otherwise. Just because you say the words doesn't make them true."
"I'm scared I know that we can never be truly happy a family. Maybe I feel like I'm protecting him from the loss maybe I'm protecting myself from the guilt."
"But Rinoa, he told you about Quistis right? You forgave him for that."
"No," exclaimed Rinoa a little too loud, causing Ally to stir. She carefully laid her hand on the child's head, who seemed comforted by the touch. "He told me he was married not to who. I found that out on the radio broadcast, he conveniently left that part out. So I conveniently left out the part about Allison's father."
"Rinoa that isn't you talking, you're allowing the anger to cloud your thinking. I know you wouldn't do that."
"Yes, you're right Do you want to know the ironic thing? Even though Quistis was the one who lied I'm still angrier at Squall. Maybe on some level I expected it out of Quistis or anyone for that matter. But not Squall. Anyone but Squall. I thought we always had this deeper connection, that he would never betray me. Alex he really believed that I killed Ellone he so much as said it to me," explained Rinoa voice cracking as each word became harder to speak. As the tears started down her face, Allison looked up with childlike innocence and curiosity. "When I saw him in Deling, I knew he believed that I Why Alex why didn't he believe in me?"
"Rinoa, I think you are taking this all wrong. Have you ever thought that maybe he didn't believe in himself he didn't fail you - he failed himself. That he couldn't live with so it became easier to blame you. Only now, is he facing his failures and trying to make amends. Do I think it was right? No. However, I dont know him, but I know you. I'm going to say something that might seem out of place right now all I ask is that sometime soon you will think about it."
Alex stood to look her friend in the eye, placing one hand gently on her shoulder. "Rinoa, maybe just maybe, what happened is for the best." Rinoa gasped at the mere thought of the last two years being anything but a living hell.
"How Alex? You know what Richard did to me you saw what he put me through. How can you even stand here and say that to me?"
"Rin I know what happened. Remember, I lived within the nightmare too. I'm saying think about what you learned how you grew, became stronger. Don't answer me now just consider it."
"Whatever," she dryly retorted.
"Rinoa, tell him soon. There is a room full of people out there who know. If you don't tell him, somebody is going to whether it slips out by accident or not. Just because you found out about Quistis on the radio, doesn't mean Squall should hear it from someone else. This is Allison you're talking about; you owe it to her if nothing else."
"I will just give me a little time right now. I promise I'll talk to him before the days end."
"Thank you," stated Alex rubbing Rin's shoulder in comfort. After giving her friend a quick smile, she started to walk out the door. Before it opened, Rinoa brought up a subject she would have rather avoided.
"Alexandra tell me the truth, did you know Squall was married?"
The look in eyes answered the question, but Alex knew after everything, truth was the only option.
"You just had Allison Rinoa I was worried; wasn't sure how you would handle the news. After that, things with Richard got worse and what spirit you had was slowly being broken I knew it would only hurt you; I made sure that any newspapers you had well I made sure you didn't find out. It wasn't important. Only Allison was."
Rinoa nodded in acceptance without words. Slowly she lay down on the bed, holding Allison close. Shutting her eyes thousands of images and memories flooded inner thoughts. Each one only adding to the confusion she felt; the years of guilt and anger seemed to run together. Yet, for the first time in two years, she was able to clear her mind, only concentrating on the rhythmic sounds of the Ally's breathing. In that moment, she was at peace and joined her daughter in exhausted, content slumber.
"This is it. From now on there will be no turning back." The commander's face showed little emotion as he spoke to Irvine and Zell.
"So what is Garden's position on the sorceress?" The martial artist spoke out of habit.
"Balamb Garden, well Cid, is with us. He is giving the individual students and SeeD's an opportunity to leave if they don't stand behind the decision. And Zell call her Rinoa."
Shaking his head looked toward his friend. Thinking back to how he was corrected only days before for just the opposite, he mumbled under his breath. "Funny, think I was calling her Rinoa all along."
Squall did not appreciate the comment, nor did he like the implications. But the last thing they needed right now was more tension, inhaling deeply he continued explaining the encrypted communications.
"The last message I was able to pull off the lap-top was not the most reassuring. Esthar and their resources are with us; I'm sure Loire had something to do with that; there is no love loss for President Mitchell on that continent. Trabia is in turmoil due to the death of Richard Bennett and they have no military forces that do not pertain to their local garden. Trabia Garden, for the most part, will stand with us. The Timber militia is small, but one we can count on. Finally, the Dollet Dukedom as of yet has remained a neutral ground, the Galbadian presence is strong here but the civilians might have another idea all together. We'll take our chances with them."
The commander momentarily paused as the bedroom door opened and Alex emerged. He gave her a blank stare, which only made her feel as she was intruding on a top-secret meeting.
"Sorry guys," she sarcastically retorted. "Guess I'll go outside and um sit." She started to leave, as she walked by Zell gently grabbed her arm.
"Squall, Alex is part of us now, whether you like it or not. I know she isn't SeeD, but she has risked her life for Rinoa and Allison. She is one of us now."
Closing his eyes, he wanted to come back with a good 'commander-like' reason that she shouldn't stay knowing the current situation. But as he looked at her all he saw was the person who saved Rinoa, and in return, saved him. More important, for some reason, he couldn't get over the sense of familiarity that surrounded her. Maybe it was the Griever ring she wore around her neck or maybe deep down he could sense the bond with Ellone. He trusted her. Damn it.
"Whatever," he replied sternly. "Don't get in the way."
She rolled her eyes as he turned and once again returned to military demeanor.
"Galbadia Garden is most likely to side with Mitchell. A majority of the students are from Deling and remain bitter about the events of five years ago. Cid managed to get a hold of General Caraway, who was currently traveling to Trabia for Renee Bennett's funeral. He changed the itinerary when Cid stated it was of the up-most urgency. Caraway doesn't know about Rinoa yet but his safety would be in question if he returned to Deling. The troops might respect him, but when they find out the sorceress is alive "
"They will turn against him when she is being harbored at Garden," finished Irvine.
"Exactly. From the information Selphie and Cid have managed to gather, nobody wants to help protect Rinoa not even members of Balamb Garden. They still see her as a murderer, but they were only informed of the truth this morning. Like all things, it will take time to register. The only problem I just don't know what time Rinoa has right now. But more than others dislike her; they despise President Mitchell and the totalitarianism of the council. Garden's and its allies will fight for sovereignty, but not for the sorceress. That has been made crystal clear. Nobody will be there to protect Rinoa from either side... except us."
"If you want your freedom, you will have to leave us now," softly repeated Quistis.
Seifer looked away, watching the seagulls fighting for tiny morsels on the near by ledge. "What authority do you think Squall will have to ask for leniency?"
"After all of this I guess it depends on the outcome. If we go against Mitchell's troops in Galbadia and win, it will devastate the World Council. Government will be in the same chaotic state it was five years ago after Ultimecia. If we lose we'll be facing the same charge of treason. So my guess nobody will be in a position to rule absolute. However, if Garden remains intact he will work in your defense. I know him."
"I didn't say my defense," he said bluntly. "I could care less about what happens to me."
"They didn't deserve this, neither of them did. If I go back to Garden and help take down President Mitchell I want leniency for Raijin and Fujin."
Quistis couldn't help the smile on her face. Even though her fears of Seifer being sentenced to life in prison, or far worse death, the loyalty remained. He was risking his freedoms for his friends, a sign of honor that she truthfully would have never expected from the troubled student so many years ago.
"Their only crime was trusting me. Although it may have been ignorant, it was done with the best intentions. They always say the road to hell is paved with good intentions I guess the person who quoted that was friends with Ultimecia also."
"I'm not promising anything Seifer; you know how much influence I will have when we get back. Hell I'll be lucky if I'm not sharing a cell with you."
"Well," he said turning to her mischievously. "That might not be so bad then. Just don't hog the bed like you did the other night."
"I don't hog the bed," she replied in mock anger. "I woke up several times when you flopped some limb on top of me."
Standing up he smirked offering her a hand, "Don't say you didn't enjoy it. Next time we'll just need a bigger bed."
"Next time," echoed the words through her mind. "Next time." Quistis avoided eye contact as she stood. Brushing her dress of debris, she looked at him and softly replied, "Yeah, next time." He couldn't help but notice the slight fear in her eyes and the slight smile on her face.
Walking down the halls of Balamb Garden, Selphie could feel uneasiness about her. Not sense the original attack five years ago had Garden actually prepared for battle. The assault two years ago was unprovoked but this this scared her.
Training your entire life for battle can never truthfully prepare you for conflict. No matter how much you think you are prepared. Ever war is different; every battle takes on its own personality. This was no different. Before against Galbadia Garden the Balamb Garden stood as one, but now the populous split, much the same fashion as with the supporters of Norg and Headmaster Cid.
Cid had made a public announcement in the morning concerning the crisis and the subsequent return of the sorceress. Selphie had been in the library at the time, searching old microfiche records that could be used against Mitchell. She immediately felt all eyes on her when he announced 'she would be returning and the entire incident with Ellone was a misunderstanding.'
The Headmaster, of course, and been more political about it trying hard to avoid any reference of Quistis wrongdoing. Frankly, Cid was good at politics. The man had managed to transform a simple idea into the best mercenary force in the world.
His downfall, he cared.
He actually cared about the welfare of others. His motives were selfless. But even his great oracle talents couldn't hide the uneasiness in his voice. The students knew. When they sensed the confusion from their leader, they in return multiplied it ten fold. Garden was in an 'organized state of panic' as Selphie liked to refer to it. A term that she coined on several missions with Squall; a man who never showed panic to the team, yet the more they knew the man the more they read him well, until Rinoa left.
Which brought her back to the library and the dozen pairs of eyes upon her. Others knew of the closeness of the group. Yes, they had their differences, but they were family and shared a bond that no other SeeD or cadet had.
Or ever will have.
Suddenly she felt out of place among the students and faculty alike. Yes, she knew the truth, but the others were not as fortunate. Grabbing her books, she continued onward down the hall, deciding to head to Cid's office. After the election, the headmaster surrendered his old office to Squall, settling for a much smaller area. He only stayed at Garden on rare occasion as much of his work was in the capitol of Galbadia.
Cid was now in his office at Garden. After he received the initial e-mail from Quistis, he grabbed what files and computer disks he could from Deling and left promptly. No doubt that his and Edea's safety would now be in question, such as General Caraway.
Selphie forced what smile she could through the hallways, avoiding eye contact as much as possible. She decided to continue her work in Squall's office, using his vacant computer. She knew normally Squall would hate the intrusion of privacy, in fact, it would be a dismissible offensive. Given the circumstances, she knew the commander would stand behind her decision fully.
Arriving at Squall's office, she saw Lauren sitting at her computer terminal in utter disbelief and shock. Selphie looked down at the screen and was immediately horrified.
"I found this encrypted transmittion buried in the hard drive Selphie President Mitchell's troops are aware that everyone is currently still Dollet it will only be a matter of hours before they are located. I already notified Cid we had an emergency situation; he should be here any minute."
"They're going to find them," murmured Selphie. Biting her lower lip, she thought for a moment of Gardens current speed and distance. "We won't make it this way."
"I know," Lauren replied softly. "I don't exactly know where they are staying. Given the land size and general population of Dollet the entire area would be searched door-by-door within four hours time once the troops arrive."
"We have to get there quicker then planned." Selphie pulled gingerly at one of the braids adorning her head. "The Ragnarok!" Her eyes lit up with hope. "I can fly Ragnarok it's been awhile but it should be like riding a bicycle right?"
Lauren chuckled slightly at the older girl. "Sure Selphie, a bike with semi-automatic machine guns, an arsenal of bombs, and the ability of space travel It sounds like the very first bike I ever owned."
"Thank you." Selphie gave her friend a pat on the shoulder. "Thank you for everything you've done. You'll never know how much your support has meant to all of us."
Lauren nodded in a gesture of gratitude. "Go get your friends Selphie, before they do."
Selphie started leaving in a hurry when she heard Lauren call for her to stop.
"I think there is something you should know Selphie this transmittion originated on a Garden terminal. Be careful whom you trust."
He stared at the door for what had to be hours. In reality, only minutes past but time, somehow, seemed irrelevant. To Squall the bedroom door seemed so much more then thin plywood. It was a symbol of the new life he started only four days ago; ironically, it was a return to the life he had lived before. Yet never truly appreciated.
Closing his eyes, he cleared every thought from his head. Every anger, every betrayal, and every hurt. Instead, he looked at the positive and tried to forget his anxiousness about meeting Rinoa's daughter for the first time.
It was a phrase that still did not register clearly. Over the last few days, he had done much soul-searching. For most of his adult life, he vehemently stated he did not want children. Yet, when faced with the reality, it was not the child that scared him. It was unconditional love attached to the innocent life. The idea seemed so foreign, so unknown it send a deep fear into his heart.
Something so fragile, relying on something so burdened and scarred. The notion that a being could love without ulterior motives, with just purity seemed unreal... unnatural. Maybe it was the same fears that caused him to push Rinoa away years before. Two years ago was just a catalyst to the inevitable. Truthfully, he had started pushing her away almost the moment he let her in.
Cautiously he opened the door.
Somehow the apprehension momentary disappeared when he saw the image laid out before him. The sunlight filtered through the closed drapes as dust particles circled the air. Facing him on the bed, he could see Rinoa with a sheet now pulled over her lower body. One arm lay on the pillow, while the other gently rested on the delicate human being next to her.
He had seen Allison pictures days before in the briefing room at Garden. The same picture that Zell had asked about. Even Zell could see where he was blind.
The answer among the group: "All babies look the same."
Never could they be more wrong. For the child in front of him was the image of her mother. Even from the distance he stood, the similarities were unmistakable. Never had a child been more beautiful. He stared at the child and her mother, watching as each one took a breath. Like a sentry on duty, he was there to protect them. It was now his responsibility.
The dark hair, the nose there was just a familiarity about the child he couldn't place. Even her size was surprising. Squall had little experience with kids, in his mind the child would be the size of a newborn. But she was larger and thankfully less frail than he envisioned.
Something kept drawing him nearer the tiny girl. Maybe it was a curiosity of the child within himself. Never had he wanted to even 'look' at a baby, yet right now he wanted to do nothing more than pick her up. Yet, it still scared him. Now he met the being that he was sharing Rinoa with and somehow he didn't mind.
Rinoa let out a soft cry. Tensing up he quietly walked around the foot of the bed. When the expression on her face didn't change, he fought against himself. It was a losing battle, for he hated seeing her in such distress. Softly he touched her shoulder. With the contact, her body tensed even more and her eyes suddenly opened.
He could see the fear, the pain written in her eyes.
Involuntarily when she awoke, she chocked out the word 'no'. When the cloudiness cleared her mind, she remembered where she was; a sudden relief flowed through her body.
The tears that had started to form on her eyes, now actually started to sparkle as a slight smile lit her expression. Trying not to wake Allison, she rolled away from the child and toward Squall. He bent down to face her at eye level, but never removed the hand from her shoulder.
"You okay Rinoa?"
"Yeah " she hesitantly spoke. "I just thought you were someone else for a moment."
"I can never imagine the hell you endured. Rinoa even if I didn't know what happened to you. The look in your eyes when you woke up spoke volumes I "
"Squall, it's over okay. I don't know what I'm going to have to face in the next few days. But Richard Bennett is dead and so is Renee Bennett. It's just me Rinoa Heartilly and Allison " she paused never thinking of her daughter as a 'Heartilly'. "It's just Rinoa and Allison." Correcting her own mental mistake.
"Well you two," he spoke softly. "Garden is on its way here. They should reach us by this evening."
"Garden?" Placing her legs over the side, Rinoa moved into a sitting position. "Garden is coming here? Me?"
"You're coming with us. Both of you," he spoke nodding to the baby. "We will all be with you; Cid prepared the others that you will be boarding in Dollet."
"The others," she repeated. "I um Squall I can't."
"You can. And you will." It wasn't a statement, it was an order. "Alex is coming with us. We have offered her full protection."
"From what the sorceress? Being a traitor against Bennett? A member of The World Council? Who will they be protecting her from?"
"Rinoa, what other choice do we have? President Mitchell is behind this, he has been since the beginning "
"No, that was your wife," she spitefully corrected.
Squall ignored the latter comment continuing, "We have Garden forces and our allies. It's our only hope. If you ever want a normal life if you ever want Allison to have a normal life it's our only option."
Turning away she quietly mumbled, "I'm not meant to have a normal life. Squall I know my time is running out I've known that from the beginning. If it's not one thing, it's another. My only hope is that Allison will have the normal life that I never could."
He winced as she spoke of her time drawing near, but he didn't want to upset her by getting irate. Although, the way she was talking, it was growing more difficult by the second. Squall watched as Rinoa stood, looking out the window before turning her attention back to him.
"I'll go. Not for me, not for you, but for Allison. Maybe, just maybe, she can survive this."
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