Author's Note: Sorry, no excuses. Thank you for the recent reviews and not giving up. ^_^
They were closing in. The moans of the damned who were gaining on Bryce were enough to make him sweat. He pulled his sleeve over the heel of his hand, and wiped the keypad dry, still trying to remember Rinoa's door number. He tried to remember her phone number as well, but if he couldn't remember a simple two-digit number, what was the point? Trying to ignore the hungry figures gradually approaching, he tried to recall the conversation.
Come on, he told himself, there are only twenty-five flats!
As he felt the hot breath of one of the creatures on the back of his neck, heard the menacing, gurgling moan, he remembered! Twenty-five flats! Of course, a penthouse would be right at the top! Bryce cursed himself for puzzling over it for so long. Never mind he had only been racking his brains for three minutes; it was a long time when a group of marauding mindless murderers were creeping up on you steadily.
Rinoa must have been in a desperate hurry to talk to him, or aware of the danger outside, because she buzzed him in without a word. The metal door that Bryce had been pushing frantically on swung open and he stepped swiftly inside, slamming the door behind him. The squelch told him that his attacker had been close enough to administer a bite that Bryce did not yet know was fatal, but that whatever had been trying to take him out had been mortally trapped. He spun round and slammed the security door closed with a final kick, not hanging around to watch the blood and tissue that had once been a head, splattered on the toughened plate glass panel.
Tearing up the stairs in desperation to see the pretty girl, or anxiety to get away from the beings outside, he leapt up the stairs two, maybe three at a time, and arrived at Rinoa's open door, panting and sweating. His dark hair now felt greasy and uncomfortable, despite the fact he had washed it that morning; he swept it away from his wet forehead.
Rinoa had retreated from the door and was now sitting importantly at the dining room table, her eyes wide with concern. "Come in," she said anxiously, as Bryce shut the door behind him. "Thank you for coming so quickly."
Bryce wasn't sure whether Rinoa was being sarcastic; he had lost all track of time on the way here. So many strange events had driven such a straightforward concept out of his mind. He smiled, the sight of Rinoa sweeping away any remaining thoughts about those abnormalities prowling, unbeknownst to Rinoa at least, the building perimeter. "No problem," he said, walking towards the solemn yet beautiful girl.
Rinoa eyed him eagerly. She remembered him from a few days ago, waiting to catch a glimpse of her on the pretence of waiting for his colleague, as well as on that fateful day of Headmaster Cid's death. It seemed Bryce had eyes only for her. "Take a seat," she breathed.
Obediently, Bryce pulled up a chair opposite Rinoa, on the other side of the narrow table, the better to look into her chocolate brown eyes. He cleared his throat, reaching into his jacket for his notebook. "How can I, er... be of service?" he stammered, her beauty making him a little nervous. Fumbling for his pen, he realised it had dropped out of a hole in his jacket pocket, a hole he had been meaning to get fixed for months. "Can I... can I borrow a pen?"
Rinoa passed him a slightly chewed plastic biro. "It's the only spare I have," she said apologetically, with an expression of distaste. "It belonged to my ex..." She broke off, seeing as her accusations were centred around him.
"Shall we begin?" he asked. "So... you think you have an idea as to who murdered Cid Kramer?"
Rinoa looked around the house that she and Squall had once shared. Glancing at a framed photo (one she had forgotten to place face down) of herself and the man she was convinced murdered Headmaster Cid, she pushed her final loyalties to Squall aside. Her eyes fixed upon the handsome officer's curious light brown ones, she took a breath. "Squall Leonhart," she announced. "Squall Leonhart, former commander of Balamb Garden, and his accomplice, Seifer Almasy, former student of the same Garden, both of whom went missing shortly after the news of the death spread."
Bryce nodded, and scribbled some notes into his little black notebook.
"I visited Mr Leonhart in his quarters after I discovered Cid's... Cid's body..." Rinoa continued in a small quavery voice. "He... appeared to have just showered, maybe... to get rid of any evidence, maybe, you know... and when I told him that Cid was dead, he seemed... calm and unsurprised by the news." She sniffed, part of her still unable to comprehend the fact that Squall could be a murderer. "He warned me to get out." Her voice was now a whisper.
Bryce frowned. "So," he said thoughtfully. "The reason he was so calm about the situation was that he already knew?"
"Might he have found out, from another source?" suggested Bryce, "being Commander of the Garden and all?"
"No," Rinoa, now slightly more composed, shook her head. "I'm certain. I found the body. Apart from the... injuries... he... he was undisturbed, so I am sure I was the first to find out he was dead." It was clear she didn't want to go into details about her mentor's brutal murder. "I told him fresh, from my knowledge, I'm sure of it."
Bryce appeared to write this down. "Did he have any motives for killing Mr... Professor... Headmaster Kramer?"
Rinoa frowned. "Well..." she said, thinking hard. "During the Sorceress Crisis, just before the Battle of the Gardens over Centra... Headmaster Cid left the Garden. Squall always resented Headmaster Cid for such cowardice – an action I know he regretted – and apparently they had words... cross words... upon his return. He told me about that." She paused. "Also, I think his accomplice, Mr Almasy, has killed before..."
Bryce sucked the previously chewed pen, before remembering it had previously been played around another mouth, and promptly withdrew it. "Tell me more about your suspicions, Rinoa," he said, maintaining eye contact; her eyes were hypnotic enough to prevent him taking a glimpse at her breasts. Or perhaps it was her magic; he had heard rumours that Rinoa was a sorceress.
"He was in a relationship with Miss Trepe before she died," Rinoa informed him. "That relationship was breaking down before her death, I could see it. Anyone could see it."
Making a brief note, Bryce eyed Rinoa, still resisting the urge to take a look at her gorgeous curvy body. "He was questioned about this crime," he said. "We believe he is innocent."
"Until proven guilty," said Rinoa challengingly. "Also, Mr Almasy had a grudge against one Zell Dincht, who has since fled in terror. His family were found dead, you know." Rinoa was solemn, unyielding, convinced that Seifer had pressured Squall into the murder of the Dinchts.
"I had heard that," Bryce said. "However, eyewitness reports confirmed they were seen in Balamb High Street a few hours after their alleged death. Pale, listless, but still alive," he finished, trying to sound reassuring.
Rinoa looked tearful. "Squall did mention that," she admitted. Hearing it come from a policeman, a figure of authority, and rather a handsome one at that, did put her at ease a little. The Dinchts were okay, shaken, but Zell had nothing to worry about.
Looking down at his notes, Bryce decided to question Rinoa on an interesting point. "You say he warned you to get out," he asked gently. "Do you know what he meant by that?"
Rinoa shook her head slowly. "He told me that the Garden was no longer safe," she said, recalling that horrible conversation with the uncaring soul she had once adored. "He said... you need to get as far away from Balamb as possible... Then he said that something could reanimate at any time." Her blank expression told of her puzzlement over that statement. "He didn't make sense. He sounded crazy. He even said so himself."
Bryce, equally as lost and baffled, frowned. "Do you think he was referring to himself, his own temper? His own brutality?"
"You mean like a threat?" Rinoa cottoned on quickly. "Maybe... Yes, that makes sense. Terrible sense..." But why would Squall want to hurt her? He was a straightforward, to the point sort of guy, even this post-Selphie's-death Squall who was robotic and hateful. Such cryptic warnings were not his style.
At that moment, Bryce's radio crackled.
"All units, all units," the message spattered. "Unconfirmed reports of several homicides in the Timber area. Please remain vigilant; only enter the town with proper clearance. Do not approach anyone who appears to be dangerous. Over."
Rinoa's pale face turned whiter, and her eyes became rounder. "That's where they headed!" she croaked. "Timber is the only place you can get to from here at the time of night they... Squall and Seifer... they disappeared... escaped to... call it what you want!" She snapped at Bryce's doubting expression. "They would have arrived by now! They're continuing their killing spree!" she squeaked, close to tears. "How... how could they do this...?" Her head in her hands, she began to cry.
Bryce rushed straight to Rinoa's side. Seeing her break down like this... he had come to a decision. He would go on a mission with Rinoa, investigate this for her and her alone, protecting her with his very life all the way. Maybe it was her compelling personality crossed with her supernatural sorceress powers that was driving him to listen to, and be convinced by her (Bryce had heard the rumours), or perhaps, more accurately, he couldn't bear to be parted from her. No way would he leave her alone to be set upon by the vile creatures outside. She was safer on the move, and he would be by her side constantly. Maybe he loved her.
"It's okay," he said. "Listen, I'm going to call my colleague, Sergeant Rawlinson, and we're gonna track down Leonhart and Almasy, and bring 'em to justice! He gave Rinoa a squeeze, which seemed to comfort her; her shuddering sobs stopped. He broke from her, and held her shoulders tenderly, at arm's length, gazing at her sad face, now streaked with mascara-coloured tears. "It's not gonna be easy," he said. "We need to prepare. Pack a few things. I take it you have a weapon?" he asked her, tentatively.
"Y-yes," Rinoa whispered hoarsely. "My... my Blaster Edge..." She glanced down at Bryce's hips, at his holstered weapon. "Nothing compared to your gun," she lamented.
"Still might come in handy," said Bryce, hopefully. He was banking on those beasts outside to flee at the sight of one of their dead, and move on to the next building, trying to fuel their lust for carnage. He hoped Rawlinson would find transit a little easier and quicker than he did; he hoped the trans-continental trains would be running again.
Rinoa rose to pack some belongings, and Bryce watched her disappear into the next room. Pulling his cell from his pocket, he dialled Rawlinson's well-remembered number.
The phone rang and rang, too many times for Bryce's liking. What if... something had happened? What if Rawlinson's involvement in the case of these multiple killings had driven him to become the next target? What if those grey-skinned beings of unknown origin had got to him? What if...?
"Hello?" said a groggy, slightly grumpy, irritated voice through the phone's earpiece. "What is it?"
"Sir," Bryce began. "I have a lead on the Kramer murder case."
"Oh, it's you," said Rawlinson's voice, now intrigued. "New information, eh? What's happened?"
"Rinoa," Bryce's heart fluttered as he said her name. "Uhh... Miss Heartilly, Kramer's secretary, has her suspicions about Squall Leonhart and Seifer Almasy, a pair of fugitives, who could be behind this."
"Okay," Rawlinson willed Bryce to continue.
"We have decided... I suggested following the fugitives so we can apprehend them, and Rinoa can identify them for us," Bryce explained.
"Identify them?" Rawlinson sounded sceptical. "We already know what they look like, Bryce, we've met them in person!"
"There is no need to bring this lady along with us; she would be in danger!" Rawlinson stated incredulously. "Besides, it sounds like you are trying to use her as bait, as she has been linked to both of the gentlemen you speak of."
"Seifer, too?" Bryce sounded taken aback, but refused to be convinced by his senior. "Never mind that, that's neither here nor there, Sir. It just so happens that... well... she could be in danger in her own city, her own home." Bryce was a little insulted. He would never had even dreamed of using Rinoa as bait.
Rawlinson sounded intrigued. "In danger?" he asked. "What do you mean?"
"Come to Balamb as soon as possible," Bryce requested, "and you'll see what I mean. Meet us in the lobby area of Shipyard House. And for God's sake, be careful!"
Rawlinson sighed. "All right!" he relented. "I'll be as quick as I can. I will give you a buzz when I reach you. Don't know how long I'll be there; the trains are still down..."
"Shit," hissed Bryce.
"...but I'll do my best. It might not sound like it, Bryce, since you woke me up from a much needed sleep – haven't slept in days, you know – but I want to get to the bottom of this as much as you do."
"Thank you, sir," Bryce said, gratefully. "Speak to you soon."
Rawlinson rang off.
"I hope..." Bryce whispered to the dead line.
Rinoa appeared at the dining room door, bag slung to her shoulder, her trusty Shooting Star strapped to her right wrist. Her expression showed fierce determination, to thwart Squall Leonhart, the man whom she had once loved, changed beyond recognition since Selphie's death, and bring him to justice.
"Okay," she whispered. "I'm ready."