Crimson Lies Chapter 28
The mountain throws a shadow,
Thin is the moon's horn;
What did we remember
Under the ragged thorn?
Dread has followed longing,
And our hearts are torn.
-William Butler Yeats
Looking back now, it's easy to see what an ass I was, at least to those around me. Maybe I was scared to let them in, but hid it well. Leonhart was always the one they adored, his loneliness worn on his sleeve. But not me, I hid behind anger and smart remarks. Some part of me wanted to yell out, cry for help. But I was too strong, too proud. And nobody heard me.
But she saw that. Ultimecia. She saw behind the façade, she saw the child I was. And in return, she gave me illusion, the reality where I was important, where I was loved. Is that what we search for love? Such another trivial word, one syllable, and commonly over-used. Maybe that is what scares me about Leonhart, he and I are opposites but we are the same. I never saw him as the rival defined by traditional terms, but as something far beyond. As a brother, not by blood, but by our nature.
I know. I don't sound like the teenager from so many years ago. Growing up can do that to a person; make one see the world around them. The good, the bad, and all the gray area in between. For the last few years, I have lived life from the outside, under rocks the filth of society. Never knowing where my next meal would come from, but always knowing I could get one if I wanted. Depending on how far I would go for it.
What makes a person wake up one day wanting to change? Maybe it is the person looking back in the mirror or maybe our 'little friend' regret is stronger in the mind than defined in a dictionary. Nightmares that haunt you, dreams that destroyed you all stemmed from regret. Only thinking of what could have been; not the reality we chose.
Would she have loved me? To even think her name seems to be difficult now; after all that has happened between us the last week. No, I didn't care for her back then, but they say there is a fine line between love and hate. How fine a line, only the two individuals teetering between would know. Would the instructor of yesterday ever taken the blinders off to anyone but Leonhart? Did it take her getting what she always wanted, to find out it wasn't worth the price? I know that lesson well. Too fucking well.
Was last night something she, in turn, will regret? Will regret and guilt walk hand in hand? Did she think of me or think of him? Is this another illusion I chose to create? The chance someone like her could truly want anything to do with me I have been delusional before.
Rinoa. I believed she cared, and in her own way, she did. But, love was never on the menu; both of us knew that. Call me the parental rebellion, that's all I was to her. Something that dear daddy did not approve of a stepping-stone in her life, one easily cast away. Nothing, and I mean nothing, that she ever did to me was worth the price she paid. She was not dumped and cast aside by Leonhart; she was denied and betrayed. A fate far worse, left to a world that she did not create, a lie that she didn't perpetuate.
And what is irony? Irony is the one person who tried to sacrifice her to Adel, was the only person who believed her innocent. What a fucking joke. In another ironic turn, I have fallen for the one person who started the chain. Do I blame her? No. I have been weak, we are all human even Quistis Trepe. Unlike me, she tried damn it, I know she did. Even in weakness, our dear friend guilt tried to take care of it in time Quistis endeavored to make amends.
But it was too late.
That fucking bastard Mitchell stole so much. He took lives of children goddamn him. Innocents, not warriors, nor soldiers, but elementary students with life ahead of them; those with the chance to succeed where we all failed. What she fails to realize, is that had she not spoken mistruths that day, had Ellone never died Rinoa would be the one lying in her place. They were there to get her that day; Mitchell was going to sacrifice her. She is nothing but a pawn to him all human life is.
In a twisted way, Quistis lie gave Rinoa life. I could never tell them that, they would never see it. One act started it all, and by god, one act will finish it all. Quistis and Rinoa are as different as Squall and I. Nevertheless, they are also the same. Both faced torment and anguish, neither money nor notoriety can change what is in their hearts. The loneliness each feels and regret. Fuck you regret.
We once stood as enemies, but now we stand as allies, against President Mitchell, against loneliness, and against regret. Let's just hope that we can stand together for this one time, before our lives go back to how they should be written to when I am again alone and away from her damn it what happened to me? Who have I become, maybe when I wake up in the morning tomorrow, I'll see someone new. Someone without regret, somebody that has prevailed and succeeded in the redemption of my sins of all of our sins.
For our sakes, let us hope that redemption is more than a three-syllable word.
The rooms seemed smaller than when he attended Garden. However, perspective seemed to change with age. The white ceiling tiles remained untouched. Standard, non-frilled, squares. Seifer Almasy had spent many hours searching them, for what he didn't know. But each one seemed like a chart, like an astronomers map. When he was younger, he would connect the indentations with his mind, now he could only see plain, white tiles.
Part of him wanted to leave the room, a larger part of him wanted to stay. There was a time he would have walked the halls with no remorse. Now, he was no longer the class bully, he was nothing short of the enemy. The one who turned against Garden, against the only family he ever knew. Now regret and shame kept him in the four walls, a prison. The prison he created on his own, no bars, no warden. But something far worse. For the first time in his life, he wanted to scream. Not out of pain, not of anger, but for what could have been. A tapping on the door was a welcome relief, no matter who stood behind it.
"Yeah, I'm coming." The soft knock echoed again. "Hold your horses."
Somehow, he wasn't sure of who would be standing there. He knew Quistis, Squall, and the other SeeD's were meeting in the small conference room. Maybe if he had been thinking that way, it wouldn't have been such a shock.
She looked at him with a mixture of sympathy and regret yes he could spot his dear friend regret just about anywhere.
"Seifer," she paused looking at the ground. "May I come in for a moment?"
"Sure you want to? I mean who knows what I may do; I could possible sacrifice you to that really large Grat that runs the training area."
"I'll take my chances." He stepped aside, motioning her to walk in.
"I I don't know where to start." Her eyes looked tired, although she still hadn't looked at him directly.
"Well I suppose you are here for an apology."
"No," she cut him off.
"I wanted to ask you something. I I can't believe what I am going to do."
"Hey sorry Rinny but I don't think your boyfriend would appreciate that too much. And I, for one, don't want to end up as Grat fodder." He knew she could read him; something's never changed. So much he wanted to speak, tell her how sorry he was, but again the walls went up and the sarcasm flowed.
"Don't flatter yourself Seifer." He detect the little bit of laughter in her voice. It made her feel at ease for some odd reason with him. It always had.
"So seriously Rinoa, what are you doing here? I kinda figured I would be on that long list of people to avoid at all costs."
"You're not. In fact, just the opposite. I I want to thank you."
"You're shittin' me right? Thank me for what?"
"For believing in me. Talking to Alex and what I heard from the others no matter how much they thought I was guilty you didn't."
"Nah, never saw in what you'd gain by killing Ellone. You already had Squall wrapped around your little finger, and I never saw you the type to rule a country. To throw a big dinner party for it yes, to rule it no."
"You never change do you?" Rinoa finally made eye contact with him, forming the smallest of smiles.
"You'd be surprised hell I am."
"I suppose you're right. Well first of all, Squall was hardly wrapped around my finger. More like wrapped around his work. Second of all, that would be way too much food; I would prefer a small intimate gathering." She stood silent for a moment, before gathering the courage to speak again. "Why, why did you believe me and he didn't?"
He walked across knowing the seriousness of the question. Could he really answer this for her? This was something that she needed to hear from Squall, but even Seifer knew that would never happen.
"Rinoa deep inside, he believed in you. Even if he didn't know it. I knew that from the very first night I talked with him. They wanted your blood, he didn't. In reality, he could never come to terms with the relationship. In his mind, he was waiting for something you leaving him, you cheating on him whatever. Everyone in his life had betrayed him somehow; he learned to expect the worst."
"But I loved him he knew I loved him. I would never hurt him."
"I know. Rinoa, in his mind you ran, not from Garden, but from him. The day you left, his worst fears were realized. So to rationalize it, he turned you into the enemy. He wanted to blame you, he needed that to get through each morning, to go to bed every night. But the fact that you weren't guilty kept him breathing. Without that fact, he would have been dead along time ago."
"Squall wouldn't kill himself."
"No Rinoa, not physically. But in any given battle, one has two choices, to live or die. He chose life for you. Don't for one moment think he didn't love you. If there is one thing, I can tell you for certain is that man loves you, more than life, more than death. He would do anything for you."
"Thank you Seifer."
"For what now?"
"Er um yeah. Rinoa, you must always know that even through everything that happened with Ultimecia, I did care for you. You will always be special."
"Why?" she questioned grabbing the chain around her neck.
"You were the first person to believe in me, to see me for more then the failure I had become. You saw through that back then; I think that is why the betrayal was so hard for me live with I betrayed the one person who had believed in me."
"We were always better friends then lovers werent we? I still think about the nights we sat talking on the pier. Those memories will always be special to me."
"Rinoa, I think we were never lovers. We might have had sex, but it was no more than a childish curiosity. When I think back to those days, I realize you were like the sister I never had and in that respect I will always love you."
"I understand. Can I ask you something?"
"Hyne forbid anything would happen to both Squall and I but if that would come to pass. Please, please can you make sure that Allison is safe?"
For a moment, his heart skipped a beat. The mere thought that anyone would trust him, let alone with a child was outright ludicrous.
"Rinoa do you realize who you are talking to me, Seifer. Loser, ex-knight not one to trust with a child!" He pointed to himself to emphasize his argument. Rinoa had to laugh at his over-acting abilities.
"Seifer, first don't call yourself a loser around me you will always be a friend. And yes, I know exactly whom I am speaking with. The one person in Garden that could actively compete with Squall. The one person who believed in me and the one person who I want to protect my daughter when if something happens. I know you can do it, I know you have the desire and the passion. I need that. I can't trust some stranger to do this Alex can only do so much. But she is not a fighter by any means. You can get them to safety Seifer Almasy, for Hyne knows what reason I trust you. I know you can do it, you are the only one who stands a chance."
Rinoa stopped, looking out the pane glass window. "You like her don't you?"
"Who?" He already knew the answer.
"You know," she replied softly.
"Yeah, I do. It surprised the hell out of me, but damn it Rinoa I really do." She nodded not able to face him. "You don't need to hear this right now Rin; you have other things to worry about."
"No, no I don't. Right now I have to worry about Allison and if she is going to be around her well ."
"Rinoa nobody knows what the future will bring." Rinoa almost cried at the satire of the statement from her one-time boyfriend.
"I I can't stand her. I can't forgive what she did, nor can I ever forget. Nevertheless, if there is a small chance in hell, that she would protect Allison, if you needed her well I can understand. I don't like it, but I can accept it."
"Rinoa, you are a stronger person then I could ever be."
"No, I'm not a strong person. I'm a stronger mother and that fact makes the difference. For our children we sacrifice our feelings, our hatred, and even our lives."
"Rinoa don't you think that you are overdoing it a bit? I mean by this evening you will be on a ship to Esthar to live out the good-life in the presidential palace. Heck you can have that party you always wanted."
"It's a dream. The whole thing the happiness, the family. If it was meant to be, it would have found a way by now. But, the stars destine Squall and me, that life is not ours to lead I only hope Allison can. Please Seifer you have lived life underground like I was forced. You know ways, you know people, you have the instinct to survive. I know you can get Allison out of here if it comes down to it trust me, it's a last resort. But I need to know I can count on you."
Seifer walked over, putting his hand on her shoulder. She turned to him, eyes pleading for this request. "You can," he assured. "Rinoa, if it comes down to it, I will protect her. For you, for Squall, and for me. Thank you, Rinoa thank you."
She reached up to hug him, a brother, a sister two people not related by blood but by circumstance. To their shock, the door opened. They both turned, seeing Squall and Quistis standing beside each other, with an expression of confusion. Seifer couldn't help but laugh at their expressions as Rinoa released him. For a moment, the two in the door stood there silent.
"Hey look it's Mr. and Mrs. Leonhart dear," he said acerbically to Rinoa. "I hope they brought the macaroni salad and bunt cake." Nobody else found his comment amusing, save for Rinoa who was trying not to chuckle. She was not elated to see Quistis standing there, especially next to Squall. Nor did she appreciate the Mrs. Leonhart comment but seeing Squall somehow made up for it. It had been so long; she would daydream for many hours the ones she could actually remember in Trabia. She gradually walked toward the door. Quistis fretfully watched her, taking a step into the room. Rinoa continued pass the figure, avoiding eye contact. She focused only on the man positioned in the door.
Wordlessly Rinoa and Squall continued down the corridor. She wasn't sure what to say at that moment or what he was thinking. Her focus was momentary turned to three girls standing outside the library. They had drawn her attention with pointing, followed by loud whispers. Suddenly, she felt uncomfortable, even with Squall standing next to her. She crossed her arms over her chest, trying not to let the gossiping get to her. But it did.
Somehow, sometime, she had turned into the enemy. To be in Trabia and know what others thought, but to stare-the-bull-in-the-eyes was a completely different situation. Squall could sense her change of manner.
"Squall, I hate this. I I the way they talk about me. Not behind my back, but right in front of me like I wasn't even there."
"You are here Rinoa. Don't forget that."
"But to them, I killed Ellone, no matter what Cid explained. You can't tell people something for three years, and then expect them to take it for gospel when you tell them different. Especially when there is no proof to back it up, just circumstantial evidence and my word."
He remained silent, walking to the guest dormitories. Before they went out of sight, Rinoa fought against better judgment, looking back to the contemptuous girls. Facing the reality of being hated was remarkably different from what she'd envisioned.
Together they stood. Friends and lovers, Knight and Sorceress, and most importantly mother and father, supporting each other. Giving hope, giving life. Squall slowly reached out grabbing her hand. She entwined her fingers with his, giving him the reassuring of a slight smile.
"Rinoa, Caraway wants to see you and Allison. I told him that was your decision."
"Yes, I want to see him." Her answer came swiftly. "God, thought you'd never live to hear those words from me, did you?"
"No but so was Squall youre a father. Hell, thought I'd never hear you say 'Squall' again."
Rinoa paused an instant, feeling she owed clarification. "Squall about Seifer I "
"Don't," he stated simply. Squall placed his free hand under her chin, making Rinoa look him in the eye. "You don't owe me an explanation. We all have demons to face."
"Thank you," she sighed. He moved his fingers from her chin, allowing her to rest against his chest. In an infrequent show of public affection, he wrapped his arms securely around her. Resting his chin on her head, he could hear every breath, every gasp of air, and every heartbeat.
"Besides, he and I already had our talk. Only a few nights ago, we stood on the deck of a ship heading to Trabia. Never knowing that with each moment, I was getting closer to finding you. He tried to talk sense into me."
"Did it work?"
"Do I ever listen to anyone?"
"Once " she stopped herself at the slip. Both of them immediately knew what she had meant. Quistis. Whether intentional or not, even she didn't know. He drew Rinoa closer to his chest, trying not let regret cloud his mind.
"Squall, he likes her you know."
"I know. Are you okay about that?"
"I'll live. They don't matter anymore let them have each other." She hesitated, "Do you hate her?"
"I can never forgive Quistis. A day won't go by that I won't think of the betrayal. When this is over, I want nothing further to do with her or with Garden for that matter. But, as much as I hate what she did, I can't hate her." Rinoa swallowed, uncomfortable of the subject that she, herself, had initiated. "None of us are totally innocent. We all are to blame."
"No Squall." Rinoa broke the embrace, looking him in the eyes. A serious, mature aura about her; one he had never seen. "That isn't true. No matter what, one of us was innocent Allison."
Continuing on Quistis, walked into the center of the small dormitory. Somehow, when she did, everything seemed okay. He could forget the war; forget the battles yet to come. Maybe in his life he only needed on battle. One victory he could hold his head up high one victory forged without regret.
"What?" He looked at her, blue eyes glaring back. "Her, Rinoa?"
"No, the tooth fairy." The sarcastic retort he wasn't expecting.
"You've been hanging around me too long, I think Im starting to corrupt you." She only answered with a raised eyebrow, folding her arms across her chest. This look he knew. The instructor-based stance that must have been taught to every one of them; a prerequisite to receiving their teaching certificates.
"Fine," he conceded. "She just wanted to talk to me about wait you you're jealous aren't you?"
She didn't answer, only looked away slightly before refocusing on him. "I am not. Just wanted to know what she was doing in here."
"She was inviting me to a pajama party in the training area?" Quistis was still not amused.
"Why won't you just tell me the truth Seifer!?" she demanded.
He walked over to her standing in front of her. "Why won't you?"
Quistis rolled her eyes turning around, letting him only see her back. Somehow telling his reflection in the mirror wasn't quite the same as telling him. "I don't think jealous is the right word. I don't know I mean, I know that she never intentionally fell for Squall. Not like she walked in and said 'hey I'm going to get this guy because Quistis likes him.' Still, it's hard. I know she isn't to blame for leaving, the marriage, or the pain but still there is this resentment maybe? I know that I have to get over it. But when this started out I wasn't expecting to "
"To what Quistis?"
"Well, to have anyone else to lose Thought I had already lost it all, I guess. But now you know "
"No, I don't know."
Something was holding her back, and he knew it. He could tell it was upsetting her, so he quickly tried to cover. "Rinoa wanted to talk about the past, but that is exactly what is the past. Yes, we were lovers, but we were better friends. Both of us knew it wasn't permanent I didn't love her, and she didn't love me. Well, we were not in love anyway. She will always be special to me, she believed in me. She still does and she still believes in you."
Quistis spun around quickly. Her look a cross between anger and disbelief. "She does not, how could you even say that to me?"
"Well, because she basically said that to me. Give or take a few words No, I don't think you would be her maid of honor um don't even think you would be the person that does the guestbook. However, there is one thing she does believe in your ability and willingness to protect Allison. No matter the difference between you two, she knows if it came down to it you would defend an innocent. Her daughter."
Her eyes welled up with tears. "I would you know Seifer, I would protect her."
"I don't doubt that for one minute."
She fell against him, reliving a few moments of the previous evening as their bodies touched. "It's just when we walked in, and you were hugging her . Well it was like history repeating itself."
"Yeah, but you were in love with Leonhart." He wanted to take that comment back almost immediately. Quistis only silently smiled, pushing back the long hair over her shoulder.
"Yeah was " The thought echoed throughout her mind, "Was."
It was the first time she thought to herself in past tense. Now there was only a present tense. "Seifer"
Selphie lay with her back against the wooden headboard. She had files scattered over the bed, and a laptop by her side. She rummaged through several stacks of papers, fervently searching for one specific report.
"Irvine?" she questioned in her high-pitched voice. "Let me see if I got this straight "
"Darlin' you can ask me anything." She shot him a look. "Right, sorry old habit. Selphie, you can ask me anything."
"Okay, now I have the Trabian police reports here on Richard Bennett's murder."
"Riigghht." Leaning forward in the reclining chair, a nap had been the only thing on his mind; that idea was now shot. Once Selphie got involved in anything, there was no silence.
"So, everything they have is linking the murder to Squall."
"Yes, which is what whoever did it wants us to believe."
"No Irvine, I'm serious look." She handed him the finalized report. "Here is the ballistic report from the lab." He grabbed the paper staring at it. "Irvine the guns match."
"Selphie, there is no way this was done with a gunblade it would be far um messier."
"Oh, I know that. According to Garden records, Squall was also issued a 9mm two years ago. To carry on his person at all times."
"Yeah, I do remember that," agreed Irvine.
"There is no doubt the bullet was fired from his gun; it was recovered in his room aboard the ship, after he went missing. Only his prints were found on the weapon."
"You think the real killer would leave their prints? That really wouldn't make a smart-criminal don't you think?"
"Yes, of course. But according to this, blood, hair and fabric samples were also recovered."
"Yes, it's conclusive."
"Fine, but Squall didn't kill someone in cold blood like that. No matter how pissed he would be."
"Right but someone did. They wanted to frame Squall, leaving no doubt in the authority's minds."
"Okay Selphie I get it. They did a great job of framing him."
"You don't understand. Nobody can get blood like that."
"Well I'm sure with someone like him who bleeds for a living something kind of expected during battle it wouldn't be too hard. Heck they even keep vials like that in the infirmary for DNA identification purposes."
"I know." Her voice was trembling. "Look."
She moved the computer screen to him. Irvine sat forward in the chair, squinting to see the fuzzy monitor. "Selphie according to that they don't match."
"Right this isn't from the crime scene. It's from the infirmary; once the report came in the blood was his, I explained to Dr. Kadowaki I wanted to run tests. Then I cross-matched the lab vial with samples we already had on Garden computers. I found a match, but it wasn't Squall's."
"So whose was it?"
"Hang on Irvine that's not all. I found the last time anyone went to the genetics lab checking this sample She signed it out. It was the same as the switched blood sample."
"Well, fine so whose signature's on it?"
"Three years ago, the vial was last checked by Dr. Kadowaki's office assistant."
She handed him the paper with the signature.
"This can't be right Selphie, why would she be checking out vials?"
"I don't know, why switch a vial of blood with hers?"
"I'm sure there is an explanation for all of this. It's not as if she could have been planning the murder of a man she'd never met And know three years in advance to start framing Squall. Could she have really killed Bennett?"
"Means, motive, and opportunity she had them all to kill Richard Bennett. But there is something we're not seeing here. I know it."
"Selphie, why don't we just ask her about the vials; why she checked it out in the first place. I bet the two events are totally unrelated."
"Fine, I'll contact Squall, having everyone meet in his office. Maybe as a group we can figure this out."
Selphie looked down one more time at the signature and the date on the paper work. "Rinoa Heartilly what were you thinking three years ago?"
Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic