Crimson Lies Chapter 9
I cannot stand this place, everything I see reminds me of you. It always
has. For two years, I have lived with the guilt that I would ultimately end
your life. I thought that would be the greatest agony in my wretched existence.
I never knew I could be so mistaken... The greatest torture shall always
be that I doubted you; I doubted your integrity. For too many seasons, I
have lain awake in bed struggling to figure how you could betray me; now
I discover it was I who betrayed you.
I listened to the sound of another breath; allowing myself to imagine it was you lying peacefully next to me. At this moment, I find that I did not even deserve that right. I gave up my rights where you are concerned. You told me once that nobody could see the future; I sure as hell would not have envisioned this. I opened myself to you, and now have paid the ultimate price. I look back on the three years together with both love and hatred. Love for the time we spent as one, the sensations we shared, and for emotions I felt back then. Hatred for the feeling I am experiencing now. The sense of abandonment is overpowering; it fills oneself to the point of self-destruction.
Someone said it was better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all. He was a fool. Maybe I was quiet back then; maybe I was shy. Nevertheless, that was my world, my existence, the life that I decided upon. Would I be worse now had I not met you? Maybe. Hyne knows had you never chanced upon me, your life would have been better. You never deserved someone pathetic like me. Rinoa, you should have the fairy-tale life, the prince to sweep you off your feet. I am solely to blame for you not experiencing the life that should have been yours; the husband, the children you dreamed of, the family you so desired.
When I was a teenager, I did not believe in destiny. Now I cannot deny it, for its merciless plan has been cruel to us. Had we not met, I would have never known this inner pain, this anguish. We both would have been better off, had our lives we never crossed paths. As I say those words to myself, even I do not believe them. I am nothing without you. For a few brief years I was complete, I cherish every one of them. I know you are out there somewhere. I have nothing left to give here. I know the truth now, and I must find you. Forgive me Garden for leaving you, deserting my post. Forgive me Quistis for emotional abuse suffered by my hand. I was heartless. Forgive me Hyne for what ever I do next.
Squall sat has desk taking one last look around. Fate had led him to this moment, to this resolution. Garden would run smoothly with Xu in charge, it always had. Opening his desk drawer, he removed a washed out picture, almost five years old. Petty items like photographs never seemed important before she left. After she vanished, it was his only physical proof of her existence. A single picture of them together, was all that remained. He had no personal possessions in his office, never felt the need. Such things seemed unprofessional and trivial at best.
The assembly in Deling City would be starting soon, as the World Council convened monthly. He vowed this to be the last public betrayal to Rinoa Heartilly. More importantly, his last betrayal to everyone he cared about. He finally could admit to himself, as much as he tried not to, he still cared about others, about her.
"Do you know what this implies," questioned Quistis. "I will be charged for
concealing evidence, for crimes that were never committed."
"How did you get this?" demanded Seifer. "This alone could get you killed, if not by the council then by Squall."
She clasped the cloth napkin and its contents within her delicate hands, "I I bought it."
"Bought it! What kind of answer is that? You will have to come up with something more convincing then that! Squall will want a believable answer for this. Where could you have purchased this? Why the hell didn't you tell anybody?"
"Seifer," she fought back the tears forming in her eyes, "Would you believe I was trying to help her?"
Irvine entered Zell's dorm, the martial artist was busy packing his duffle
bag. Being on a mission with Zell was a welcome relief. It was almost unheard
of to assign top SeeD's as partners. Actually, SeeD never sent two
ranking officers together.
"Why do I have to go to Fisherman's Horizon," grumbled Zell. "That place is creepy, I don't think they like SeeD very much."
"You're very observant," countered Irvine. "I think the fact they don't like us, and told us so, gives it away."
"Yes, but I wanted to talk to Matron before I left about well about some personal stuff. Now I'm going on some wild goose chase for someone who probably won't be there in the first place. Don't get me wrong I want to help find the kid, but I'm just more into fighting then investigating."
"Investigating," repeated Irvine. "You're right, why would they send us to investigate? Why wouldn't local officials handle this? Why SeeD unless "
"Unless their expecting a fight," Zell grasped after listening to the gunman. "They are expecting some sort of conflict over this child. This is more then a nanny running off with a kid if they think it could lead to some kind of armed conflict."
Irvine sat down on the edge of the bed, "You wanted to talk to Edea about the visions."
"Dreams!" Zell fired back. "They are dreams, nothing more."
"Sorry Zell didn't mean to touch on a sore subject. Selphie told me what she could about it, said you would fill me in on the rest."
"Yeah, I guess we'll have plenty of time on the train to Timber."
The main chamber of the World Council was full of international delegates,
men and women fictitiously putting on the pretense of aiding their nations.
Each emissary wore attire native to their countries, formality required at
meetings. The only common motive among the politicians was now, and ever
shall be, power. Power was absolute.
The Garden Commander had methodically become the right hand of Lucifer, himself. Squall Leonhart sat next to President Mitchell, the bastard was the mortal equivalent to the devil. Squall had never trusted the man. Instinct alone taught him to understand people's ulterior motives. The thought Rinoa knighted the deceptive leader, weighed heavily into his unadulterated hatred of the man.
This was the first time the alleged indiscretion entered his mind. Hyne, he actually believed she had been intimate with that man. Even Seifer did not believe the accusations, yet Squall had. Believing the lie made it easier to pursue Rinoa, the betrayal gave him cause to hate. It is easier to kill persons we hate, then ones we are afraid to love, especially when we deny our emotions. Never had the old adage keep your friends close, your enemies closer echoed so true. Jefferson Mitchell was an enemy; this man sacrificed many innocent victims, all in the quest for absolute power.
As the council secretary recited the minutes from the previous meeting, Squall's attention drifted. He was the devil's right hand, a puppet from the first gory battle. In his dress uniform he looked the part of Commander, in his mind he resigned the position last night. The council could not know, if not for him or Rinoa, then for Quistis. She too was a marionette in this tragedy, nothing more then a pawn to both sides. Listening to bits and pieces of the summary, Squall paid careful attention to matters dealing with the sorceress. Last month he believed every word of the carefully orchestrated lies. Now his life had become the ultimate paradox, his purpose was different. He would give his life to protect her, willing to die for her, as he promised a lifetime ago.
The floor was now open to new motions, as officials vied for the right to speak, only one granted the privilege. President Mitchell spoke, "Council leader yields the floor to the prominent gentleman from the Galbadian delegate General Caraway."
The Galbadian General had not changed much over the years. In fact, much as Squall, he withdrew from most society activities, attending a minimum number of events, required by the council. Squall noticed the visible stress on his face, mirrored the inner turmoil. If there were one person who could understand the madness, it would be him. Yet they were different.
Caraway rose from his chair, walking toward the main podium. "I wish to speak of the latest sighting of the sorceress. It seems to me, someone is purposely misleading us. I believe the individual knows the truth of my daughter whereabouts and is outright lying."
Squall jumped to his feet in anger, "General Caraway I don't like what you are implying. I suggest you actually ask a question or yield the floor."
"You are quick to assume that I speak of you, when in fact I did not name anyone."
"Don't take me for a fool Caraway. Your intent was clear," retorted Squall.
"I'm not the one who took you for a fool; my daughter did a sufficient job of that. Am I correct Knight Leonhart," Caraway smugly countered.
President Mitchell could feel the loss of control of the situation. He ordered both the General and the Commander to take their seats. Unfortunately, for him only the latter fielded his request.
"Maybe she used me Caraway, but she learned from the best. I believe that your wife Julia only considered you a poor substitute for my father." Squall believed the outburst to be over, relaxing slightly. Much to his surprise, Caraway walked toward him without a word. Unexpectedly the general punched Squall in the jaw, briefly disorientating him. Security apprehended the General, quickly escorting him out of the building.
Squall sat in shock, holding a tissue to his bloody lip. The last thing he expected was Caraway punching him in front of the council. For such actions, Caraway would be expelled; even disciplinary actions within the Galbadian Army could be taken.
The balance of the session remained uneventfully. Squall thought only of leaving Deling City, getting far away from bureaucrats. Honestly, he had no idea of where to start the impending search, nor if he would succeed. Nevertheless, Squall had to try. Seifer may have the knowledge of where to start, a beginning was far better then an ending. Maybe the man had some detail overlooked before. Again, he winced at the concept of relying on his long-standing adversary.
Two hours had passed, the council meeting should have concluded. Caraway
sat in his study painstakingly going over stacks of documents. When revered
amid the armed forces, Galbadian security can be effortless. Many soldiers
actually commended him on today's actions; Squall Leonhart was not amongst
the popular of Deling. Past events not easily forgotten among the enlisted
men, the Second Sorceress War was still fresh in their minds.
Now the General found himself carefully studying financial requests, remarkably unbothered by earlier events. The mansion was quiet which allowed him clearly to hear the intruder in the study.
"You hit me."
The general did not take his eyes of the file he was evaluating, "Yes I did. Thought I would add a little realism. Not expecting that were you? It's a known strategy for military counter-intelligence."
"Don't ever do that again Caraway," lectured Squall.
"I'll do whatever the hell I want Commander. Last time I checked I was the elder, and you need me."
Squall reached in his jacket for a pack of cigarettes. As he was about to light one, the general reprimanded him, "Don't smoke in my house Leonhart."
Squall continued to ignite the cigarette, inhaling deeply, "I'll do whatever the hell I want General. Last time I checked, I was stronger and your daughter needs my help."
The General did not press the issue, "I don't appreciate when my calls are not answered, especially on your private line."
"I understand Caraway. Personal it was unavoidable. I apologize for sending your man back to Deling, on erroneous information. Did he uncover anything new?"
"No, just there are four different investigations that continue. He's not worth the Gil we're paying him. Duplicated the encrypted telegram that you sent, find it peculiar a new informant shows up, after two years. Do enlighten me on the matter; I am not one who likes to be kept in the dark. Is the guy trustworthy?"
"For some reason I believe his intentions are honorable. The man needs redemption as much as I do."
"When am I going to be introduced, if I have to front the cash?"
"There will be no money needed. He is doing it for Rinoa. As far as meeting him, he informed me yesterday in Balamb that he would be here."
"Who the hell would do this for Rinoa? Nobody she knew would actually be capable of gathering information without capture or having a stomach aliment."
"Nice to see you too General Caraway," Seifer smirked. The ex-knight stood leaning smugly against the entranceway door.
The older man stood up with astonishment, "What in the fucking hell is he doing here!?"
Squall made a corporeal attempt to stand between the irate men, a symbolic attempt to keep them from aggression. Looking directly at the general Squall endeavored to dispel the tension, "Caraway this is our new informant, listen to him. I understand how you feel. I'd like to beat the living shit out of him too." Squall looked away almost ashamed of his defense of his dark counterpart. "But we are the same now; we both need salvation, at any cost."
Seifer walked into the room, shaking his head at the older man. "I thought you might be happy to see me General. We did get close a few years ago, you could have been my father in law, had fate allowed."
"Never. Telling you to stay the hell away from my daughter does not count as close Mr. Almasy. The closest I ever came to you was watching security heave your sorry ass out to the street. Filling her head with dreams, illusions, and ideals never achievable by a proletarian fraction, she could have ended up dead because of your influence. Even worse, she could have ended up like you."
"I think I'm flattered," sarcastically riposted Seifer. "I suppose this means you don't want my help?"
The General stepped to the large picture window. The streets of Deling were full of residents freely going on with everyday lives. Happiness is an illusion for those too ignorant to see the truth. Fine. He would listen to this deplorable excuse for a human. Maybe he would have something valuable, before spending the rest of his life in Galbadian custody. "I loathe you, but loathe Mitchell more. Talk now, but no promises."
"I wasn't asking for promises Caraway," Seifer snidely retorted. "But, I have information that will help."
Squall appeared puzzled. Something about the posture of the man was confident, more then his usual self-righteous arrogance. Seifer might actually have substantial information. The egotistical man had given him a note in the boathouse; requesting the audience at Caraway's. Yet the day before he acted, as he did not know Squall and Caraway were working together. "Seifer, do enlighten us."
"Sure Commander Puberty. Man I miss our little heat to hearts." Seifer could feel the tension in the air; he wondered which one would assault first, neither the poster child of self-restraint. "Fine, we all knew there was someone else running a personal investigation on the sorceress's disappearance. I uncovered the source. More importantly, that person would like to consolidate resources."
"Who the else would have an interest in Rinoa?" Squall challenged. Seifer held his breath, as an individual appeared in the doorway.
"The person who feels responsible for her disappearance," a voice softly replied.
All three men looked toward the informer. Only Squall reacted visible troubled, "Quistis what the hell are you doing here?"
She continued into the room, disregarding looks from Squall and Caraway. "When I was young I believed that people were morally decent. After joining SeeD, I had a new outlook on humanity. I watched men kill, sometimes for pride, sometimes for sadistic pleasure. I have seen the worst of humanity. Somewhere along the line, I lost myself, no one particular moment, no one particular incident. Time takes away caring, and leaves in its place an empty void. The challenge we face is the realization that humanity is flawed. Admitting past mistakes, and begging forgiveness from those we wronged. Squall I know how you feel about me, I feel the same way about myself. I was weak I was human."
He did not move, he did not breathe. This was his wife standing before him, yet she was the stranger she had always been. They both had sinned; they both carried the burden of guilt. Last night he felt he could have killed her with his bare hands. His calloused hands stained of blood too many times; what difference did one insignificant life make. Today she seemed helpless, she seamed exhausted. Quistis was slowly dieing before him, if not in body, then spirit. They shared the culpability; they should share rectification.
"Quistis it was you?" his ruff voice with an element of sorrow. "You continued a search for the sorceress?"
"Yes," she replied remorsefully. "I diverted personal funds, trying to leads. A year and half ago I I found somebody who had seen her, but she passed away before I could gather more information. I had a creditable lead at one point."
"What kind of lead, where?" he asked. She did not reply. If she could have cried she would have, but tears escaped for too long. She held a delicate cloth napkin in her hand, trembling she walked to the man, once her husband. Placing the soft fabric within his rough hands, her slim fingers lingered over his, unsure.
"I'm so sorry Squall. Please forgive me; keeping this from you was wrong." She quietly said, regretfully releasing her dainty fingers from his. "Please."
He looked down and slowly undid the fabric. His heart stopped at what the implications of this could be. He could not look at Quistis; he could not breathe. Holding the metallic objects tightly he managed to choke out, "Is she dead?"
"No." Quistis charged firmly. "Not that I'm aware. I I have had this for over a year. I just was afraid "
"A fucking year!" he screamed. "You kept this from me? How in the hell could you, what gives you the right?"
Seifer stood glancing at Caraway. The ex-knight made a slight head gesture toward the door. The General eyed Squall and then Quistis. They did need time to talk, but he too wanted to know how Instructor Leonhart acquired the memento, far too many memories to keep from emotional ties. "We'll leave you two alone, but I want to know too how you ended up with Rinoa's My daughter never removed that ring from her neck; she never parted with it since the presentation during Julia's memorial service."
Quistis did not acknowledge him. Nothing would break her commitment to the truth. Squall had to understand, she was only trying to help at least in her mind. The two men left the room, stillness filled the mansion, an eerie heaviness in the air. "Squall, I don't have any right. I just wanted to help; I knew you wouldn't believe my intentions."
"You're right. So how did you get these? It's it's been too long." Unclasping his tight hand, he revealed the shiny platinum objects. Just as remembered from long ago, a time when he held the person who wore them, when they lay majestically upon her chest. The sight of Griever practically made him ill. Too many years he adorned the ring, for many years, it gave him comfort that people could not. Rinoa would have easily parted with Griever after what he had done, yet what of the other? No amount of hate, or disgust would cause Rinoa to part with her mothers' band. Something had happened; Rinoa was desperate or harmed. It was that simple.
"I spent a few months in Trabia," Quistis started. "About two months after the attack on Balamb Garden, remember? I asked to spend sometime teaching up there. I I could not face you or others yet. There was a small antique shop in the historic district, I used to window shop often. The owner was a lovely older woman whom I would speak too quite often. Before I left she passed away of heart failure. The day I was schedule to leave, I received a phone call from her son, telling me to stop by the shop. I was genuinely surprised; I didn't even know this woman knew my name, or the slightest thing about me."
Squall still did not speak, he did not move. The only visible motion was his forefingers encircling the sterling ring, the one worn by Julia. "She would have never let this go, no matter how much she hated me. Her mothers ring was too sentimental, her mother never betrayed her as I did," he spoke firmly.
"I know Squall. The owner's son alleged he found that while going through his mother's possessions. Along with information about me, my employment, my name, and the implicit directions to give the necklace to me if something happened. The son did not possess the compassion of his mother; let me have the necklace at a hefty price almost thirty thousand Gil. The man knew it must have significance. In order to raise the money, I delayed my departure from Trabia. I stayed an extra day, while I secured the funds."
"Did he know how his mother came into possession of the chain?" he hesitated, almost afraid to know. He sat in a nearby chair, legs betraying his commitment to be strong.
"According to the message from his mother, a young girl had come into sell it a few months before. The woman tried to talk her out of parting with it, aware of the sentimental value they contained. However, the girl insisted, she desperately needed the funds. The woman gave her five hundred Gil for the keepsake; it was all the cash in the register. Told the girl to come back the next day and she would pay more, the girl never revisited."
"Was it Rinoa?" a faint glimmer of optimism in his stormy eyes. She may have survived a few months at least on her own, it was more hope then he had in the past two years.
"From the description it sounds probable, just shorter hair. The women left as much information as she could, based on the idea she would either pay her more, or return the chain to her."
"It was Rinoa." Squall and Quistis turned to see Seifer standing partially in the study. "I watched her cut her hair back in a Deling alley. The night, Commander Leonhart, announced her guilt and ordered the pursuit against her."
Again, Squall found himself unable to verbalize, so much, after so little. Rinoa had witnessed the horrific events of that unbearable evening, that night, when Squall Leonhart sold his soul to the devil, in the form of President Mitchell. The knight abandoned the sorceress, physically and emotionally. He never could deserve absolution; he could never be laudable. The one she loved, the one she trusted betrayed her, hiding amid shadows. Someone so full of life and love, forced to hide among wretched lowlifes. Seifer had watched her there in "What do you mean you saw her?"
"Look, I know how it sounds. I was in no position to help then, not that I am better off now. Time, time has changed each of us. Over the last two years we have suffered, we have developed through the experience. I didn't know who I was back then, part of me deliberated turning her in for the bounty. I could have bartered her existence for my freedom. However, even I realized their intentions, they were never going to listen to her, they didn't choose to. Officials wanted her dead. Her blood would have been on my hands, if it isn't already."
"Don't say that Seifer," begged Quistis from across the room. Closing the gap, she walked to the wingback chair where Squall was emerged deep in thought. This was a risk, as was everything she did. Kneeling to his level, she looked deep through his eyes into his bare soul. "Look I don't know what President Mitchell will do if he finds out, but it's time we all stop running. I just cannot do this without help. I swear my life to Rinoa; I will do what ever demanded. Squall we have to find her before Mitchell or the World Council does."
Seifer walked over to the couple, unconsciously resting a hand on Quistis shoulder for nonverbal encouragement. She turned at the foreign feeling of physical contact. Staring directly into Seifer's eyes she observed something, a look never seen before; maybe it was determination, maybe it was reverence. Nevertheless, something present made her smile slightly at the long-standing enemy. After an exchange between the two, Quistis returned attention toward Squall. "Well," she asked with a newfound confidence.
Squall continued to remain silent as Seifer spoke up, "Trabia right, Commander?"
"Yes," he finally acknowledged the two people in the room. "Quistis, I can't give your teaching license back, but I can rescind the suspension from SeeD duties. Inform Selphie she will not be departing for Trabia tonight. I need someone at Garden that can be trusted. Irvine and Zell have already left for Fisherman's Horizon on this child abduction case. President Mitchell requested the best SeeD's Balamb had to investigate in Trabia. He will get the commander and his wife. I want Lauren along to do tangible work on the Bennett case, while we are examining other avenues. There is a SeeD transport vessel leaving from Deling to the ocean harbor. Seifer I do not care what means you use, just be on the ship to Trabia. We leave tonight"
Author Notes: Okay if anybody out there wanted to be notified and I didnt send them an e-mail, please leave me the address again. Im old and confused. Thats my story and Im sticking to it! If you didnt get a chance to leave it before, feel free to leave it in the review section and I will notify you of updates. Y
I want to thank my friend Wayward Tempest for editing for me; she joined me at chapter 8 and I cant thank her enough. She is a far better writer then me so stop reading my crud and go read her story Tides of Fate. Its wonderful, go Now!
Please, as always, everyone here is wonderful. Thanks so much, you guys keep me writing.
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