Crimson Lies Chapter 34
Final Fantasy VIII and all the characters belong to Square.
What are heavy? Sea-sand and sorrow;
What are brief? Today and tomorrow;
What are frail? Spring blossoms and youth;
What are deep? The ocean and truth.
--Christina Georgina Rossetti
Squall Leonhart did not believe in miracles. Chance, fate, luck maybe. He felt the gentle wind hit his skin, letting every sensation register. If this was going to be his last night upon these sands, he would remember everything, the good and the bad. He loved her. Simple. Theirs was a love that could never be described in mere words. A union so strong that he was sure it would survive after their time on this earth passed, one that would transcend both heaven and hell into a realm where they would be together. A place of no hurt, no doubt, and no lies. One where he would have been present at the moment his daughter entered this earth; one where he would have looked into her eyes upon their wedding day. One of the life that should have been, not the morbid shadow he was living within. Maybe in another life that world existed, but not in this one.
Garden held so many memories for him, but nothing could compare to the memories of her. Seven days ago, he stood on this balcony never knowing that a week would change his life so deeply. Even Squall was shocked when he found himself back at his and Quistis' apartment. It wasn't his intention, but right now he didn't know where to go. Moreover, what few possessions he did own he wanted to gather from this residence. On the patio table lay a small box. Nothing extraordinary to an onlooker, but to him it was his life. His complete existence seemed to fit within a meager shoebox, and the thought troubled him deeply.
Never had he thought about his legacy. Legacy? Squall Leonhart? The words were an oxymoron unto themselves. One week ago, he would have been happy fading into the darkness of the oblivion, but now he had a responsibility. One to his daughter. Maybe his one saving grace to her, would be that she wouldn't turn out like him - bitter, angry alone. Maybe if she knew she was conceived in love, born to parents who would give their lives for her, she could live the peace he never could, the doubt would forever remain at bay.
He reached for the silver chain around his neck, and closed his eyes as he felt the single platinum band. He memorized it, he reveled in it, and the feeling became part of him. His mind raced back to that evening at the cabin where Rinoa gave it to him then gave her heart and body back to him. It was a world ago, another lifetime past, but in reality it had only been a few short days. A week ago, he was the Commander and a husband; today he was a Knight and a father.
One week. One eternity.
In a mocking stillness of the breeze, he took off the chain clasping it tightly in his palm. Walking over to the table, he gently placed the chain and ring in a velvety box. Attempting to fight back the tears, his thoughts tried to remain true to the warrior that his body betrayed.
"Feel my heart, you'll see the truth. And my last thoughts will be of forever. With you." The soft words she had read to him that first night at Garden echoed through his memories. Squall didn't realize he spoke the words aloud, shocked to hear another voice speak from the stealth of night.
"Squall, what did you just say?"
He instantaneously froze, before turning to see an all too familiar sight. Quistis his wife by his own lies, standing before him. She looked sad, yet peaceful at the same time. The sorrow that had become commonplace seemed to have disappeared, unless she had hidden it deep within her soul. And Quistis wasn't that good at hiding her true emotions.
"Nothing," he answered not with spite in his voice, just emotionless. "I just was nothing."
He turned back toward the darkening heavens, almost embarrassed that she had caught him. Somehow, when she arrived a defensive barrier once again arose. Instinctively, he pulled out a pack of cigarettes that he kept within his jacket. Squall looked at the cigarettes in his hand without acknowledging her. He clutched them as for dear life as he put his free hand on the balcony rail. The charcoal gray sky caught his attention, as if it were mocking his life.
No matter what had happened between them, she despised seeing him like this. "Squall, please I know it's hard, but we are committed to this, live or die. We will save her "
He only shook his head, wishing for the solitude which he so desired, "Whatever."
Quistis understood, for the first time in so long she understood him. She looked down at the container placed on the patio table. A few scattered pictures, computer disks that were visible and small jewelry box. The chain she wore suddenly seemed a huge weight upon her chest. Reaching up, she felt the outline of the Griever pendant. The one thing that Squall had given her, not in marriage or love, but in understanding. Somehow, she realized now, the strength, that he wanted her to draw from it, was within her all along. The one part of him that she had, she no longer desired. She didn't have the right nor did she ever.
"It's getting cold, and I want to be alone." The emotionless attitude reminded her of so many past nights.
"Are you going to be all right?" The question was dim-witted, even she knew that, but sometimes she spoke without thinking call it a curse.
"No, not until she is with me."
"Squall " Quistis slowly took off her pendant, looking at the detail of the etched metal one last time. She felt the heaviness lift from her body, both physically and mentally. He turned to her, not sure of what she was doing until she offered her closed hand to him. The heavy chain draped over her fist, as the pendant dangled reflecting the moonlight.
"I don't deserve this, it isn't mine. Hell, it never was. I thank you for the one piece of your heart you did offer me, if even it was only in friendship or guilt. This is yours, one of the few possessions that is your past I do not have any right to keep it. It is to go to your own blood Allison Allison is incredible Squall. She is the one that deserves this piece of you, this piece of your life."
He accepted the chain with his free hand, while the other still held the pack of cigarettes. Quistis didn't offer another word as she started toward the sliding glass doors. Squall looked down to the cigarettes in one hand and his chain in the other. In his mind, he could hear Rinoa scolding him for the habit, such as she had also done at the cabin. She detested the addiction so much, but before he didn't care. He had no reason to They were so simple, so small nobody would ever know. Not Rinoa, not anybody. He took one more look at the pack, and it was a battle far greater than anyone could ever know. Finally he closed his eyes, tossing the contents into the ocean, clasping his pendant tightly. He turned around, before the figure vanished from sight.
"Quistis, wait. She didn't want me to go after her. If something happens to me then Allison will be an orphan. Rinoa was scared of that more than anything. Our daughter, growing up alone."
"Squall no matter what, she'll never be alone." Quistis took a step forward into the moonlight, as she looked into his storm-covered eyes. She had seen them emotionless for so long, but was shocked when now they contained so much fear. He looked more like the frightened child she remembered when Ellone had left the orphanage, rather than a twenty-two year old military commander. Flashes of her entire life passed, for the first time she found the desire to console him not as a lover but as a sister. The very sisterly love she claimed so many years ago finally came to pass. She smiled slightly, letting her confidence guide her.
"Let me ask you one question, do you think you can get her back?"
"That is your answer there is no other. Tomorrow we go get her Squall."
"Thank you." The Commander replied as he turned and brushed by Quistis. Without saying another word, he picked up his uniform jacket and the container full of memories. He turned back to her one last time, and nodded before walking out the door.
Now he found himself in his office, he felt that he no longer had a home. Squall glanced at the small clock on his desk, wishing the morning to come. Yet there were other issues at hand, and it was still relatively early in the night. Squall listened to the clock ticking like a metronome, as he became lost in sea of memories.
Slowly he opened up a desk drawer, lifting a few scattered papers until he grabbed an object from below the pile. He looked once more at the tattered picture of Rinoa and him from the celebration dance. The one trace of her existence he had so often looked at, but felt he never had the right. He traced the creased edges with his thumb and forefinger, falling into a trance within her eyes. Even in the photograph, he could read them and the emotion that lay behind. Something deep, enigmatic, and mysterious, yet filled with love, passion, and so many other emotions he wished that he knew how to express to others to her.
It occurred to him, even after their encounter, this remained the only photograph he kept of Rinoa, ergo the only picture Allison would see of her parents together. Maybe she would understand that its scratches and blemishes were battle marks of their love. He only prayed that she would never find out, in truth, it was because he was ashamed for still loving her, and had kept it hidden away in a desk drawer. Hidden where nobody could find out about his lies, his doubts of their love. In a time the he hunted her, he still coveted her. But how would a child understand? Hell, how could an adult understand?
It was almost a welcome relief when a knock sounded on the door. Not that he liked company by any means, but for the fact that if he fell any further, he may never return. He looked at the photograph one last time, before starting to set it back in his drawer as he had done so many times. Then he realized he no longer had to hide his feelings nor would he. Closing his drawer, he stuck the picture in the corner of his computer monitor, no longer worried about who would see it. It would serve as a reminder of what he was fighting for, although his heart never needed such prompting.
"It's open." His voice cracked after all the emotion from the past few minutes. If only for the mental stability, he ordered, "Come in." It was like returning to a role that he had known for so long, a part in a play he wished the final curtain would come down on, so he could live another life. The one he wanted.
Sheepishly, Zell stuck is head in the door. "Did you say 'come in'?"
Squall closed his eyes and didn't answer the man, this he didn't have time for. "If you have something to say, come in, say it, and then leave."
"Well Squall, actually we have to talk to you."
"We?" The man looked less than pleased at the suggestion of more than one of them beleaguering him.
"Er yeah but it's really important." Squall remained silent and slightly gesturing. Zell took this as a sign of entry, before opening the door completely. Selphie, Irvine, Alex, and Zell walked into the office nobody exactly wanted to be there. In fact it would be on their top ten places of where 'not to be' if given the option.
Each took their place in various parts of his office before Zell continued, "We just need to go over the final plan with you for tomorrow."
"I get in, I get her, and I get out," he ardently stated, his look dead serious.
"Yes Squall," countered Irvine. "We are aware of what will happen we just need to go through this. It will be a lot easier if you cooperate with us."
The Commander glanced to the computer monitor and looked at the picture. He self-consciously glided a hand through his hair. "I know, I know. I apologize go ahead."
The three SeeD's exchanged glances at each other. It had been several years since Squall Leonhart had actually taken responsibility for one of his actions, let alone acknowledged his behavior. This normally would have been taken as a good sign, the return to a person they knew five years ago. Yet right now, it seemed as if the stress was getting to him, and emotion was starting to win a mental battle.
Scratching the back of his neck, Zell continued, "We have well Seifer and Quistis came up with a plan. It's so simplistic in nature it might work. We will have the element of surprise with the added bonus of confusion on our side."
"Mitchell confused," Squall snorted at the redundancy of the statement. When had that man ever been anything but confused? A sane man would have never damn it Emotion again, he spent so many years learning how to restrain in battle, in life, now it was consuming him like a cancer.
"Squall we want you to go through the main gates, take Mitchell up on his offer."
"What in the hell?" He slammed his fist on the desk in irritation. "You want me to just walk up and watch them kill her?"
"Damn it Squall, you know that isn't what he meant." Alex jumped up from the sofa, "You need to listen to them before drawing rash conclusions. I understand you aren't going to be running in there, gunblade blazing but that isn't what this is about. This is a mental battle, a battle of wits. Your magic and power can only get you so far if your mind betrays you."
He squinted his eyes, looking at her. " And why exactly are YOU here? It seems to me that this is a SeeD meeting, and you are anything but."
She walked over to him, pointing her finger directly at him. "Don't start with me Leonhart!" Zell grabbed her, attempting to calm her down. Restraint was definitely one trait she and Ellone did not share.
"Alex .Squall " The martial artist was now a referee, between the two most stubborn people he had ever met. Well, except for
"Because we need her," a deep voice spoke from the doorway.
Speak of the devil Zell shook his head realizing irony has a sense of humor after all. In a room with all three of them, in the emotional state they were all in this could be very ugly.
Seifer and Quistis entered the room. The entire group now situated within the office, very much against the desire of Squall, who wordlessly wished he was alone again. He rubbed his temple, wanting all this to be over in twenty-four hours, he either he would have perished or been granted eternal salvation. Either way, they wouldn't be standing in his office
He could hear them talking amongst themselves, or arguing it didn't matter, the words could have been spoken in native Shuminize. Nothing registered in his head, now sleep-depraved and emotionally spent. Fragments, pieces, everything floating around in his mind. He buried his face in his hands, wishing to drown the entire world out. He tried to retreat into the world he created as a teenager, the one he always felt welcome and alone. Yet their insistent quarrelling was stronger than his will to recoil.
The word was possibly only one of two that could have made him rejoin their physical plane. He wasn't sure who spoke it, only that the word was spoken. He moved his hands away from his face, looking into the heart of the group.
"What? What about Allison?" His voice was growing in impatience.
"You weren't listening to a word I said huh, Commander Puberty? And they said that I was incorrigible Okay, what part didn't you hear?"
Squall stared into Seifer's eyes, not saying a word.
"Great," he grumbled, "Not a damn word huh? Listen this time We need Alex to go to Deling with us. Because "
"No!" he interrupted coldly, "There is no way in hell that a civilian is going on a SeeD mission."
"And what am I?" Seifer leaned over Squall's desk daring him to answer. "Expendable?"
"That's not what I am saying and you know it." Squall stood up, walking around, his demeanor never fading from serious. "You've had training, you are prepared for the battle, and you know what may happen. You can accept this, you have lived for it, and you would die for it."
"Great, now if you can spare the SeeD recruitment poster, can I finish saying why we need her?"
"As I said earlier we ran into a slight obstacle with our plan. Turns out that the television crew will be fingerprinted and cross-referenced when they arrive. All of the SeeD prints are on file in Deling, mine also included. We can create a new computer identity to gain entrance, but the only one of us who is not identifiable "
" is me," whispered Alex, closing her eyes at the new development.
"We find someone else," ordered Squall. "We pay a stranger a million Gil, we find another way in, but I will not let the safety of Alexandra be compromised. Ellone would never forgive me, Rinoa would never forgive me I would never forgive me." He stated, his voice trailing at the last sentiments.
"No." Her hand went to the golden chain around her neck, thinking of her promises to Rinoa. Promises she now knew had to be broken. "It has to be me. It was meant to be me."
"Rinoa would never forgive me, Alex." Squall looked her directly in the eyes. "Allison needs you."
"Squall, she needs people who love her. I have been haunted by dreams for so long, visions nightmares, whatever they are. The voices of the dead, the voice of Ellone I never understood it before this week, but I do know this both Zell and I have to be there tomorrow. Don't ask me why, because I sure as hell don't know either. It's our destiny, it can't be changed."
Zell moved closer to Alex, softly circling his fingers around her arm. She looked up at him, and both knew that somehow they had always been the key. Why the responsibility was placed upon them remained the mystery.
"Squall we understand the risks, but Alex is right. We know things, we have seen things things that are at best indescribable to you but it is our reality. My guess is that we might hold an answer that you may never see. Alex may be more important going than staying. She risked her life for Allison, now she wants the chance to do so for her mother."
The Commander downcast his eyes in mental torture, everything they were saying made sense, and it scared him. There was a comfort in knowing that Allison would have Alex in her life, now who would be there if she was gone? Someone would have to stay behind, someone who could take care of their daughter someone that knew her parents for who they truly were.
"Selphie Irvine you two are staying here."
"What!?" The thought echoed by everyone in the room.
Squall solemnly walked over to the couple, now visually distraught. "I am asking you not as a Commander, but a friend to stay behind. If I we fail, the Estharian transport ship will be here to take you to the city. It will be docking with Garden at sunrise. You can raise Ally, she has grown to love you too Selphie..."
A sudden fear took over when a frightening and familiar revelation hit him. "Where is Allison? Who has her?" His voice was in nothing short of a panic, a sense of déjà vu plagued his mind from the day prior, when the same question was asked and ultimately answered.
"Xu is watching her, Ally already took her bottle and is down for the night," promptly answered Zell. It had to be someone they trusted, they weren't making that mistake twice.
The Commander nodded in approval. He took several deep calming breaths before he continued, "I can't lose everybody on this mission. Allison needs a future and you and Irvine would have safe harbor in Esthar. Right now, that is all I have to offer."
Irvine turned to see Selphie, letting the words sink in. He watched her for a second, and at last she turned to him giving the smallest smile. The cowboy walked over, putting his arm protectively around her waist. With his free hand, he faced Squall giving him a SeeD salute.
"As your friends, it would be an honor."
The great plains of Esthar seemed more barren than ever. He looked out the palace window, to the outer reaches of the city. Although it extended for miles, he felt as if he was standing amid the hardened sand. The crystal pillars and florescent lights seemed to fade into nothingness, as he focused only on the austere horizon. Sighing inwardly, he closed his eyes trying desperately to push the overpowering thoughts from his mind. So many mistakes, so many misunderstandings Now it all may be too late. He always thought there would be time, but now time was irrelevant. All those years each one of them nothing but marks of failure.
"President Loire," a familiar voice spoke through the intercom. "You have a call on line one."
"Can you take a message?"
"It's Commander Leonhart sir."
He felt his heart skip in anticipation or fear.
"Squall?" All signs of formality dropped when he picked up the line.
"Laguna." A long awkward pause followed. Neither man spoke, Laguna out of uneasiness, Squall out of awkwardness. Finally, the Commander gathered the courage to ask the man on the other end, for something he had never dared asked before a favor.
"They are going to execute her tomorrow. I have to go to Deling I have to try."
Laguna inhaled deeply, he had heard through political channels but to hear it from Squall directly, made the older man want to reach out to his son. He had been there; he had known the same emotions.
"Yes, I know you do."
"I need I need to ask you something."
"If something happens to me, to Rinoa. Please, make sure that Allison make sure that Allison grows up safe and loved. You are the one link she will have to her grandparents Tell her of Julia, how she played the piano, how you listened. Tell her of how you wrote, how you dreamed, how you ended up in Win-"
Laguna could hear each word Squall was straining to speak, and all the words in between that he did not. How neither had spoken of the past, but each had lived it. The moments that Squall witnessed for himself through Ellone's powers; the ones that were relayed in words later on, even if Squall didn't want to hear it. All the moments that were his past, and now Allison's future.
"I will Squall, I promise."
"Tell her of Raine, of the feelings you two shared. Tell her that even though we couldn't be with her, she was loved. She is more important than she could ever possibly know Tell her that even though her parents had to go away, they only ever thought about her. And hope and hope that she will someday understand the decisions that were made. They were made out of love."
Both knew they were no longer talking about Allison, but had drifted about twenty-two years prior. Squall wasn't sure where the words were coming from, nor why he was saying them. He had never felt such passion as in the last few days, and now it was manifesting itself in a way he couldn't describe. Nevertheless, he had to talk to Laguna he had to. Maybe only through experiencing the past could he understand it. Not through the images that Ellone had given, but through emotion discovered on his own.
Laguna cradled the receiver tight, wishing to Hyne that all three of them would make it through this. They had been through so much in their young lives; no one deserved so much pain and anguish. Then the words he had never said to Squall slipped out, "I love you son "
Maybe it wasn't the response he longed to hear, but it was the best Laguna Loire could ever hope for. It was not out of hate, spite, or any other negative emotion it was out of acceptance. A mutual understanding passed between two men, between two fathers, of one failure.
As he hung up the receiver, the Commander wiped the tears from his eyes. He tried not to think about the worst, always the pessimist. However, he lived in a world filled with blood and death, today was no different.
He prayed that tomorrow would be .
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