Crimson Lies Chapter 8
Final Fantasy and all its characters belong to Square.
As dawn's light crept across the office floor, Squall slowly awoke from his tentative slumber. The office had become more a home to him then his apartment; many memories remained within these four walls. He reached out to caress the smooth mahogany of his desk; like a silent colleague, the furniture had always been there, in both the best and worst of times.
For an ephemeral moment, he was mentally transported back to a more tranquil time. Remembering Rinoa sitting at the edge of his desk smiling at him, and Rinoa on his desk, the thought of that almost wanted to make him smile, almost. They had spent many hours there together, several of which he probably would have lost his job over.
Rinoa had never seen his new quarters, those added after the reconstruction. The memories there were only with Quistis. He closed his eyes in hurt at the sheer notion of that name. What a position they had both been forced into. Maybe he had been too hard on her last night; maybe he had not been hard enough. Time was running out. After two years of this living hell, he could feel the conclusion drawing near. Why now, why after these years did he feel the extraordinary urgency again? It was a renewed passion to seek the truth; yes, that was the reason, truth. Squall now knew the truth. Maybe he could not save the sorceress this time, but playing these political games wasn't working. In addition, Seifer, why after two years to the day Ellone dies, does he show up claiming he wants to help Rinoa? The commanding officer tried to search for clandestine motives for the ex-knights sudden re-emergence. Squall could think of several individual and political motivations, yet on instinct alone, he believed the knights request for deliverance. Squall also sought after salvation. They were equals once again.
A light knock on the door interrupted his line of contemplating. Squall sighed as he smoothed his brown hair back, attempting to hide the fact that he had spent the night sleeping in his oversized chair. Hiding from whom he did not know, everyone in Garden knew of his sleeping habits. Somehow, now that his charade of a marriage was officially going to be over, he felt the need to conceal his actions from the students and instructors alike.
"Come in," he replied, sleep not being able to disguise itself within his husky voice.
The commander's administrative assistant stuck her head in the office, "Sir we will be arriving in Deling within the hour. The staff you requested is waiting in the small meeting room. Also, President Loire has been by twice this morning looking for you."
Great, top the last twenty-four hours off with Laguna and call his wretched existence complete. Somebody up there really did have it out for him. "Lauren, please tell President Loire that I will be attending meetings this morning. If opportunity allows before we go ashore, I will meet with him briefly."
The young SeeD promptly saluted, turning to leave the door. Lauren had been with him thirteen months, and truth being told he could not even recall her last name. Nor did he care. What disturbed him the most was her striking resemblance to Rinoa, particularly the dark flowing hair. More the once, he had caught sight with his peripheral vision; momentary believing it was the sorceress, hoping it was. When Lauren first started her employment with him, he started the process of transfer to Galbadia Garden; then decided the constant reminder would be a deserving anguish in life.
As an after thought, he called for the young SeeD to return to the room, "Lauren when is the last time you have been on a mission?"
She stared at the commander with slight apprehension; it was unlike him to say anymore then essential. "Sir, I was on my quarterly assessment about a month ago."
"No, I mean an operation not requiring evaluation," he replied evading direct eye contact.
"Sir since becoming a SeeD I've been doing primarily administrative work, only going on assignments when guidelines regulated. My instructor decided that I was more qualified in my organizational skills then my fighting abilities."
"Well who is your instructor? I will talk to them. You will be joining on this mission," he acknowledged standing from behind his desk.
"Sir it's your wife, Instructor Leonhart," Lauren answered faintly surprised the commander was not aware. "Quistis assigned you to me," Squall's voice escalating in slight anger.
"Yes sir," she replied not understanding where this conversation was going.
Squall pushed in the chair to his desk, finally looking at Lauren. He wore a stern face, one the SeeD knew better then attempt to question. "Lauren, I will be in charge of your missions from now on, Quistis Tre Leonhart is no longer an instructor at Garden. As of today, she is on indefinite teaching suspension and on a four-week suspension from all SeeD related duties. Until I can find suitable replacement, all her SeeD's may report to me as their mission counselor. Please join the others in the small meeting room, I shall be there momentarily."
Quistis sat staring at the official communication in hand. This had been
the second time reading the contents within the short document. It should
not have surprised her, she was aware it was coming. Lying under oath was
perjury, immediate termination from SeeD. When the Garden Masters had revoked
her teaching license before, it hurt. However, nothing prepared her from
the sting that seeing Squall Leonhart's signature would cause. Originally,
she was supposed to be in a meeting right now. Presently, she had no idea
of what to do, today or with her life in general. The normal demeanor of
the instructor was gone, and in its place was more the scared little girl
then the valiant SeeD. This had been her life from such an early age, what
else was she capable of doing?
The slight trembling of Garden floor, announced arrival in Deling. As the breaks applied, the motors churning sound echoed within the silent apartment. Reaching the city would give the instructor a much-needed break from this place, yet her uneasiness grew because of the close proximity to President Mitchell. Quistis sat motionless on the couch studying each word on the letter, committing it to memory. A slight rattling at the door startled her. The only person, other than herself, with keys was Squall. Would he really come back to this place? Experience on his actions taught that Squall would want to stay as far away as humanly possible.
Quistis continued to watch as the door opened. "What the hell are you doing here?" she found herself blaring to the man.
"Actually I was checking on you Instructor," he smirked.
"You are like a maggot that thrives on the carcass of road kill," she answered while her body trembled.
"Wow I believe that is a compliment coming from you," he smugly countered.
Tossing the letter to the side table, she stood up backing the man into a corner, "How in Hades did you get in here Seifer?"
"Us maggots have our trade secrets," he ducked to the side avoiding her reach as he sauntered into the living area. "So this is where you and Squall live? My guess is he didn't have anything to do with decorating. I don't see the heads of his victims stuffed and mounted on the wall or the shrine to Rinoa anywhere around."
Quistis turned to the man, "Seriously how do you get in and walk freely through Garden? What happened to our security, to keep people like you out?"
"Or people like you in?" he retorted. "I was worried about you and the dear commander, so thought I just drop by and check in on my favorite couple."
No longer wishing to argue, in an odd way glad for someone removed from the situation to talk with, she answered him.
Seifer tensed at that statement that would explain her lackluster appearance. Had she been crying all night? "Quistis, sorry I didn't know. Are you okay?"
"What do you mean am I okay? I just lost my husband, my job, and my place to live all in one day," she screamed back.
"You lost your job? That bastard, he can't fire you because your marriage is over," Seifer had a tinge of concern within his voice.
"No, Seifer he can't. But he is well within his rights to fire me for lying, filing false reports, and in general being a weak person."
"Instructor, you are not a weak person, not on any account. No matter what you did," Seifer rebuked, surprised at his own compliment to the woman.
"Don't call me an instructor anymore. It's just Quistis Trepe," she responded coolly.
"No matter what you did I'm sure you have some form of recourse. Squall is just being a fucking bastard; some things never change. Do you want to talk about it? I know you can't stand the sight of me, but I can still listen."
A surprised look crossed the woman's face, "Yes, Seifer for some reason I would like to talk to somebody. Hyne knows why I'm telling you this, but I don't know who else would or could understand beside someone who has been through it themselves."
Walking toward her he motioned to the couch, "I'm not sure whether to be flattered or hurt by that, Instr Quistis." They both sat on the couch. Seifer turned facing Quistis while she chose to face forward, ignoring his gaze. "Please I do want to listen, maybe I can help."
The strange thing is Quistis really did believe his desire to help. This is not how she would have envisioned the start of a new day
The meeting room was barely big enough for six people; in fact, Squall actually
considered it a large storage closet more then a functional room. When Squall
arrived Lauren, Selphie, Zell, and Irvine sat around the table; turning their
full attention toward the leader, as he entered the room. They stood and
saluted in customary SeeD fashion, then returned to their seats.
Squall did not acknowledge them, just started handing each case folders. "We have been asked to take over the investigation of a kidnapping in Trabia."
"Trabia," Irvine question, "Seems to me that we spent a couple years working on their Garden so they could handle things like this."
"Yes, Irvine, Trabia is handling the preliminary investigations on this. Unfortunately for me, it was the daughter of a World Council member so my assistance has been requested."
"You mean demanded," stated Zell.
"Whatever," Squall chastised the martial artist. "Now if everyone would shut up and act like SeeD's I could give you the details." Nobody spoke back to him: each knew that would be pushing his or her luck. "Two nights ago Richard and Renee Bennett had their fifteen month daughter kidnapped sometime during the night. Richard is a top council member from Trabia; this case will be personally over-seen by the council leader. We currently believe that Mr. Bennett's assistant is responsible for the abduction. Her name is Alexandra Williams; she had not only served as a work assistant but also a part-time nanny to the child. Renee Bennett is very ill, and not expected to survive much longer. The council fears that the concern for her child's welfare might be too much on her health. When we docked in Balamb, I sent two SeeD's to Fisherman's Horizon where Ms. Williams is believed to have an aunt. After I reported to the council, they were not pleased with the selections and wish me to send two "A" rank SeeDs. Zell and Irvine you will be leaving for FH this afternoon to replace the others. Selphie and Lauren you will be going to Trabia to aid in the investigation from that end, any questions?"
Zell looked through the case folder, noticing that any photographs were missing. "Yes Commander, do we have any pictures of Ms. Williams or the child Allison Elizabeth?"
Lauren grabbed a nearby file, "Sir this came for you I made copies for everyone." She handed some papers to Squall; he quickly glanced at them before handing them to the others. Zell sat looking at the picture with a strange since of déjà vu, yet he could not place the little girls face.
"Oh! She is so cute!" cried Selphie. "How could anyone want to hurt such a sweet looking child?"
Zell sat memorized at the picture, "Guys I have a strange question for you. Does this baby look familiar to you in any way?"
Irvine looked at the picture of the child, "Zell, let's face it all babies look the same, but the nanny carries herself very well."
Squall held the photograph of the two in his hand. Something about Zell's statement seemed correct, but impossible knowing that none of them had ever seen the child in question. "Zell, Irvine is correct most children look the same at this age. This child is no different from anyone else; the key is going to be finding Alexandra Williams. I have to go to a council meeting and report what progress we do not have in either this or the search for the sorceress. Dismissed."
Selphie looked around the room and proclaimed to nobody in particular, "Where is Quistis, wasn't she supposed to be on this mission?"
Squall did not even bother turning around, "She is no longer an Instructor and is currently on suspension from all duties." Nobody moved as they all sat confused, that being evident in their individual expressions.
As Quistis finished recalling the last detail of events to Seifer, from two
years ago to last night, a sigh of relief escaped her lips. He had actually
listened to her, how many nights had she dreamed Squall doing the
same, now just faded hopes of a life slipped by. Now the two remained seated
silently, remarkably Seifer didn't jump up and condemn Squall's action.
Ironically, he almost agreed with them, yet with a much higher degree of
compassion. Reaching over he looked at the officially stamped letter, "Quistis
he didn't fire you from SeeD. According to this letter, you are on a month
suspension. I believe he technically had the right to dismiss you permanently."
"So what? He might as well have kicked me out. What am I going to do around here afterwards? The two of us can never work together again," she replied spitefully.
"Actually Quistis, I think this is his way of understanding or asking for forgiveness for his betrayals," Seifer tried to explain. As Quistis turned her head glaring directly into the ex-knights eyes, he could sense her uneasiness about the statements.
"Now just hear me out. Had he wanted never to speak to you again, you would be gone. This is one of the better courses he could've taken. I think that you two should try to talk, maybe not today but soon. I know you've come to the realization the marriage is over, for both of your sakes that is the best decision. Quistis your twenty-three years old, and your acting like life is over. The best thing you can do now is show him that you're not weak; pick up the pieces and be the best SeeD you can. Some of us will never have that opportunity."
Quistis thought for a moment, Seifer essentially had a point. Outlandish and as earth shaking as it maybe, Seifer actually made sense. Suddenly she tensed, feeling a hand on her cheek, wiping away the tears. Quistis wasn't sure if the surprise came from the fact that the sensation of comfort was foreign, or the fact she actually took comfort in it. Many nights she wished for some form of human contact, now he was there, where another should have been. No that was not right, Squall should not have been there; he should have been comforting someone else, someone who needed him more. For a moment, she looked into Seifer's eyes attempting to read his motivations. Sympathy, concern, and something else was present. This was not the man she remembered from five years ago.
"Seifer," she spoke softly. "There is another reason I need to talk to Squall." She walked over to a dresser drawer and lifted some tablecloths clasping something tight in her hands.
Seifer took a step closer to her; curious of what else Quistis could be upset about. When he saw what she held in her hands all he could say was, "Oh my God."
Sometimes life goes the way we plan, most time fate has something else
designed for us. When I was five, I lost my mother. When I was fourteen,
I lost my father; not in a physical sense, just emotional, sometimes that
can be more devastating. When I was seventeen, I helped saved the world;
and when I was twenty I lost the very world I helped save only years before.
Yes, fate can be spiteful creature. A few fragments of that celebrated world
remain some good, some bad. Most are daydreams and memories, but one very
special piece of it survived. She does not know how lucky she is and according
to fates wicked plan, she never will. However, I do. I would have given up
long before had it not been for the one part of sanity from an otherwise
insane life. Allison Raine survived, and Hyne willing, she will live to see
We are not fortunate enough to choose our enemies; especially if they are the ones we hold dear. They will never know the impact they had on my life. In fact, fate has determined they were not meant to know. We hold our faith in others hands, and want to believe all they tell us. Is this the lie, the deceit that has caused great nations to go to war? No, this is humanity at its best and at its worst. Faith is a wonderful thing to have; one never knows how important it is until the day it is lost. I remember that day; I remember watching him. His eyes were all I ever needed to watch.
Two years earlier, the hunt for the sorceress begins
In the congested capital of Deling, Rinoa Heartilly sat within the dark recesses of an abandoned alleyway, clothes torn and tattered. It had been three days now since the attack on Garden, three days that lasted an eternity. Yes, like a frightened child, she ran; but then again Ellone told her to do so. It was decided by fate that she would have died in battle, ironic how she truly died either way. Now the dominant world powers had gathered politicians and SeeD alike, to announce the search for the sorceress. Had they ever once turned around to look within their own city streets, the sorceress lay broken within arms reach. Watching, attempting to understand the charges against her.
Then it happened like a surreal dream one desires to wake up from, Squall Leonhart declared her guilty of the murder of Ellone Loire. Rinoa witnessed Ellone die. Yes by all rights, she was present. However, so was another that could have cleared her, should have cleared her. Fate was all too apparent now; the very people she loved had turned against her. Moreover, the very person she would sacrifice her life for just slaughtered her name and reputation in front of millions.
She watched as the Garden Commander solemnly took the podium, his words echoed the suffering and anguish upon his face, "The Sorceress Rinoa Heartilly has been found guilty of the murder of Ellone Loire, and is to be considered an enemy of the state, for such crimes are punishable by death. When located, if she shows any sign of resistance, you have authority to shoot on sight." His eyes, if nothing else about that day, would be engraved within her mind for eternity, the detached glassy stare, and most of all, the absence of faith. His faith in her had been taken away three days ago, now hers in the knight had also vanished. Rinoa had come to Deling in attempt to make contact with him; she now saw this was not possible. If she knew one thing, Squall Leonhart honestly believed her guilty.
Normally she might have risked the chance of contact, but it was not just her safety anymore. Ellone had warned of this, had warned to leave Garden without one word to anyone. Above all, she warned if Rinoa did not listen, the life of the innocent baby would be lost. Fate had been vicious today.
While the citizens gathered outside their shops and restaurants to watch the events unfolding on the streets, Rinoa knew this would be her last chance to escape from Deling and the commander of SeeD. The sorceress accepted this would be the last time she would see him. Her brown eyes now filled with tears yet to fall, memorized his features for the last time. From the dark ally she whispered her goodbyes to a man surrounded by thousands of soldiers, presidential hopefuls, and ironically General Caraway. Those two men had never got along during Rinoa's three years at Garden. It was a paradox onto itself how the one thing that would unite them would be the demise of her life.
The older woman, who ran the corner pharmacy, was outside taking in the awe of the troops, paying little attention to her shop. Rinoa held her breath as she walked out from the veiled ally hoping not to draw much attention from pedestrians. Whether it was fate, or some unknown sorceress ability she managed to make it into the small store without detection. Hastily proceeding toward the back aisle, Rinoa found the hair care products. Her highlighted hairstreaks made her easily recognizable; those would have to be covered. Finding a dark shade of brown, she tore open a box of hair color, stuffing the small tube into her overcoat pockets. On the way out, she also grabbed a large pair of scissors from the stationary aisle.
Not only to cut her hair, but they were the closest item in the store that resembled a weapon. If need be, they could be used in self-defense. Before departing, she stuffed the rest of her pockets with granola bars and grabbed a few juice bottles she carried visible in her hands. Rinoa had never stolen before, and even in the present circumstances, the guilt was eating away at her. Nevertheless, she had escaped without incident, taking it as a sign that fate held the slightest bit of compassion. Silently assuring someday she would repay the debts to the store, if circumstances allowed.
Just as covertly as she slipped in, she managed to elude all eyes on the way out. Immediately she returned to the ally, grateful for the stealth cover of darkness. Using the hair color would not be wise right now, but cutting her hair off might throw people off, if even for a moment. Inhaling deeply she took the shears and watched as long strands of brunette hair fell into the shadows of the ally. When it was over her hair was short and bobbed, ironically almost the same style as Ellone, maybe a tad shorter. She gathered up all the clumps on the ground and buried the deeply in a trash container nearby.
Rinoa Heartilly took one last breath, glancing back over her shoulder to the crowds still chanting for her death. Reaching up to embrace the two hanging rings around her filth covered neck; she started to walk away from the enormous crowd. The sorceress walked deeper into the passageway, taking the back streets to reach the Deling trucking yards. Many shipping vehicles gathered here daily exporting and importing items from far off lands. Her strategy was simple, make it to a truck, hide inside the cargo hold until it reached its destination, and then continue making it as far away from the Galbadian and Estharian territories as possible.
When Rinoa vanished into the darkness of night, a lone shadowy outline walked to where she had stood. Bending down he reached for something on the dirty alleyway pavement. When he stood, he held a stray clump of long brown hair; the top contained a small lighter streak. Walking over to the waste container he carefully place the hair deep within the trash. Evidence can be damning, especially on charges such as murder. He closed the lid and walked out into the crowd. His eyes stopped when he saw the SeeD Commander. Even he could read the pain and betrayal on his face; he did not feel the least bit of remorse toward the man seated on the platform. The only person he felt repentance for just vanished into the shadows, and out of everyone's life.
And so it began, two years and a lifetime ago. Sometimes I look in the mirror and try to pretend I cut my former life, when I cut my hair. That day I stopped believing in other people and only started believing in me. Survival has its price. Hyne knows I paid it. When I find myself, upset or worried I reach up to grasp the metallic rings. But like the sinister phantoms that haunt me in this world, they are now figments of my imagination. Material possessions I gave up long ago in the name of survival. I can still feel them though; feel them when I move, when I sleep. The comfort they gave me shall be with me for eternity. I can feel the cold platinum upon my bare chest, in ones dreams you can feel anything.
Now I sit and watch the dancing flames, the cabin offers me more then required shelter. As the nightfall breaks and gives way to another winter's day, I feel a strange sense of serenity. For the first time in two years, I am alone. It offers me the solitude and peace I forgot existed in this universe.
Ironic now how I am depending on another again, especially with the one thing I treasure most, my daughter. I trust in Alexandra, she was there with me from the beginning, never questioning, always offering assistance. She would have left her job long ago had it not been for the compassion she felt toward me. Working for Richard could almost be as appalling as being married to him. I do not know what she had to endure being an 'assistant' for that bastard, I never asked. I know what he did to me; I pray she had better fortune. Alex is out there, I know. She is the guardian angel I wished for and Hyne help her, she knows the truth Well most of it.
Aiding the sorceress is also a crime punishable by death, yet Alex choose to help; risk her own life for that of a child, not of her own flesh and blood. I find myself questioning if Squall would have helped, had he known about Ally. I knew him more than anyone should know another living soul; strangely, it was through actions more then words. His eyes always spoke louder then his voice ever could. I talk about faith and of losing it, yet something deep down inside still holds out hope for him. Maybe my faith in him is not completely gone, just buried beneath the layers of lies. Therefore, if I truthfully had to answer my own question, yes, I do believe Squall would have helped, if not for me, then for his daughter.
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