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Chapter Thirteen:
Silence on the Lam

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8:36 pm, October 10th

There was something to be said for indifference; a once-familiar ally now replaced by uncertainty.

Squall may have inadvertently said something downstairs that couldn't be fixed. As hard as it would have been to believe, it hadn't been his intention to hurt her, just to quiet her down. He didn't like her prying, albeit indirectly, and he didn't want Seifer to turn his own life against him. That's why he always kept so much close to the chest; he tried to pass it off like things didn't bother him, but certain things had – acknowledging them gave them power. And just because he found himself in the precarious position of being forced to trust Almasy, it didn't mean that he had to like him. At all. It was also difficult to understand why Miss Heartilly had confided in the detective or whatever bond they shared. That wasn't his business, unless it interfered with his job – then it damn well became his business.

Still as he stood at the door, he had no idea what he was doing here; maybe he believed that she'd break down and say more than 'fine.' If he went back and sat down, it would just be annoying to get back up, so he figured that he might as well wait until the inevitable verbal explosion erupted from her like a volcano.

Seriously, he knew her answer of 'fine' was an outright lie. This eruption was going to happen, followed by a long tirade about why she was, in fact, anything but fine. From there she'd elaborate on how most of her 'un-fineness' had been his fault.

She'd been through a lot, so he'd accept the blame. He wasn't good at comforting, but he was rather used to being verbally-berated in his line of work. Truthfully, it was usually by a suspect who he'd collared on an active murder charge – though he'd admit that the verbal insults varied greatly between a cold-blooded killer and a woman who ended her rants by proclaiming him a 'meanie.'

But while a rant was what he expected, it was not what he received.

Unfortunately, while standing here, he'd also passed a very important threshold – the morally-acceptable time allotted to stand outside a bathroom door as dictated by social norms. Well… if there was some sort guideline somewhere, he wasn't sure. Okay, so not the point. Still, if he waited by said door any longer, while she was taking a bath, he'd officially make that plunge into the realm of creepy. A sexual deviancy charge wasn't exactly what he needed added in his file, especially after the bevy of charges that Captain Martine was sure to file after today.

Thinking back, that man was truly an ass and, while he was on the subject of difficult people, this woman was very stubborn.

He'd give her credit – she proved to be a quick-study when it came to the silent treatment, but that was solely her decision. He wasn't going to stand her and play the part of friend; his foray into acting ended at the police station.

Walking back to the table, he reached for his drink. Unfortunately, downing the remainder didn't even begin to get him back up to a proper caffeine–to-blood ratio. For what he'd paid for the bottle, he should've been savoring it like an important wine.

He eyed the refrigerator angrily as a low, guttural growl escaped his lips. Fine. Whatever. His first born, his soul, a mortgage - whatever the price, Odine won this round. Making a quick detour back to the refrigerator, he angrily snatched a second coffee drink.

On the way back, reached into his pants' pocket to grab his mobile. Just as he was about to dial Quistis' number, something Heartilly said downstairs clicked; it was her rather ambiguous statement about jealousy and her heart being right. She was obviously upset and probably speaking from experience – that was a hypothesis at least, but he'd noticed a rather palpable change to her tone.

Looking back now, it sounded as if she'd been jealous – trusting someone her gut was warning her against. Something in that exchange was the key – the problem was Heartilly didn't seem to grasp that it was only a one-way conversation.

Profiling and profiler weren't terms the FBI used, although movies and television didn't seem to grasp that. Maybe, Heartilly had a similar thought, thinking that 'profiler and therapist' were two interchangeable terms. He wasn't about to sit and listen to her go into awkward details about a failed relationship - she obviously didn't learn her lesson. If she had, then she would have been certainly wise enough to stay away from someone like Almasy. He didn't have to be psychic to see how that would end – badly.

He shouldn't care. He didn't care. He'd become angry because of her asking pointed questions. Still, he hadn't meant to hurt her, but if that was the only way to have her keep her distance, so be it. Men are human. Women are human. The sooner she learned not to depend on others, the sooner she'd learn the root of her mistake.

In his line of work, mistakes were often permanent, sometimes deadly. Those were extremes, and he wasn't exactly applying to her but, to be frank, she needed to accept past mistakes and then move on. Simple. Ha, he snidely thought, offering dating advice along the lines of "deal with it" seemed appropriately-fitting. The fact that he'd wasted any time thinking about this was puzzling. It was the preverbal a rock and a hard place - Heartilly's faux dating advice and Trepe's lectures were both equally as nauseating.

Mentally noting that he needed to ask Assistant Director Kramer for hazard pay, he dialed a once-familiar number. He knew it would be answered before the first full ring; it wasn't as if he was some type of expert Quistis observer, she was just a creature of habit. That's why he could already feel the approaching lecture, much like the electrical charge filling the air before a storm.

As predicted, Agent Trepe answered before the first full ring - a skill that was equal parts awe and fear-inspiring. After that, she didn't hold back, lecturing him from word one. It felt like time was dragging on forever but, in this case, 'forever' spanned the length of five minutes – five excruciatingly long minutes. It was his job to listen and he ended up saying less than five words total. It was best to let her tirade go on (and on) - back at Garden, her lectures were infamous among students and facility alike. As respected as she was, that was the one issue that even her fan club conceded to. There were even underground betting pools on how long certain speeches lasted. Squall wasn't proud but, under a pseudonym, he'd taken actually won a few, even taken the semester's grand champion title.

Sadly, there was no wagering on this call. To stay occupied, he'd even taken a few necessary trips to the refrigerator. Now, he looked down to his shame as four empty bottles of fake coffee taunted him.

The call started as he'd expected – a candid lecture on responsibility, followed by a bonus lesson in humility. She could twist her words all she'd like, he saw through her ploy. It was obvious that her only goal was to have him grovel at Martine's feet.

Like hell that would happen; not in this lifetime, not in the next.

Once Agent Trepe got the sermon portion of the call out of her system, she'd moved onto far more important things. It turned out that after he left, the station immediately went into lockdown. Timber PD then initiated a grid-search in a ten-block radius, going car-by-car and searching nearby buildings.

Squall called it a win as it confirmed that his and Seifer's plan had worked perfectly.

Honestly, he'd had his concerns. Quistis tended to be more procedure-orientated than others, especially if she was on some kick to subconsciously impress him. Back at the station, Squall had hoped that he'd be able to coordinate in person with Seifer, but this was Quistis here. She wasted no time in calling for the lockdown.

There was no way she could allow them to search, so he and Seifer went with their backup plan. Instead of doing this the simple way, they'd had to opt for something a little more… physical. Not only that, it had to be a big enough distraction that the entire station watched on in shock but, most importantly, it had to stop Quistis dead in her tracks. It also preyed on her sympathies; her concern for Squall was far greater than her concern for Rinoa. He wasn't proud of exploiting those emotions, but he wasn't losing sleep over it either. Besides for that unfortunate detail, the rest went according to plan. Once the federal agent was kicked out, nobody gave his car a second glance, even as he exited the parking lot.

Before that, his main concern had been Seifer not making it back inside before Quistis called out the dogs. Seifer had mentioned that it would take him and Miss Heartilly precisely four minutes, provided that there weren't any distractions, to get from the building's side door to his car. For some ungodly reason, Detective Almasy had the security cameras avoidance pattern down perfectly; it seemed that Seifer was quite the prankster so avoiding visual evidence was a tad important.

Needless to say, Detective Almasy proved to be a man of his word – a fact that Squall strangely never doubted. After getting Heartilly to the car, Seifer was running later, so when he re-entered the building, coming in through an access hallway, her purposely made sure to grab everyone's attention. Regrettably, many 'World's Greatest Dad' and 'Life's a Beach' mugs were unceremoniously knocked to the floor, making the ultimate sacrifice in the name of performance art. Of course, then the play went a little… off script. They were supposed to make a scene, maybe getting a little physical if necessary, but not the knock-out-drag-out exhibition that it turned into. Just because he and Detective Almasy found common ground in protecting Miss Heartilly didn't mean they had to like one another. Hell, they didn't even have to stomach each other's presence in the least.

"…Again, Squall, Martine has assigned Detective Almasy as lead. The guy's an ass, but he has skills… unfortunately, for the rest of humanity, Seifer's overly-aware of this and makes sure that everyone else knows it too. Seriously… don't even get me started, he's so infuriating. Still, if he helps find her, so be it."

Squall blinked a few times. Had the whole world gone mad, putting Almasy up on some pedestal? He sensed that the detective had wormed his way into Quistis' good graces; maybe her newfound fascination would keep her momentarily distracted. Thank god he could board a train tomorrow and get out of this city. Otherwise, he might have wondered what in the hell someone had put in the town's water.

"…which coincided with the information on file. Squall, that's exactly why you need to speak to Martine. Because when Seifer found out that he was correct, he stood up, did a two-decade old dance move, and then proclaimed he was 'getting jiggy with it.' How am I supposed to work with someone so unprofessional? Worse yet, it's aggravating that he still gives her benefit of the doubt. But don't worry - I've already put the request into legal that we hit her up on everything. After the trouble she's caused, I'll be there every step of the way to make sure she never sees the light of day. Also, I contacted Caraway's people - he's supposed to call back tomorrow."

Great, now he was forced to play devil's advocate for someone who wasn't even speaking to him. But there was something unusual about how Quistis had gone about this; she'd taken the Rinoa's deception personally. Yes, she'd 'escaped' on her watch, but it went deeper. Squall had no doubt that she'd charge Heartilly with everything in her legal arsenal and then some. But if Zone and Watts' situation had been as Squall feared, then she wasn't going to be safe anywhere in Timber. True, it was speculation, not to mention that her continued well-being wasn't his problem but, no matter how annoying she was, he wouldn't send her off to her death.

"Quistis… out of curiosity, what if she had information and ran because she's scared? I don't trust her either, but that was genuine fear that we saw today. If we can find her, what do you think of the possibilities are of getting her on-going protection?"

"Protection? As in a new identity? I think you're putting the cart before the Chocobo because her act is probably smoke and mirrors. She could be just as guilty as her boyfriend."

Great. Now he had this unexplained desire to correct her as Zone wasn't her boyfriend. But he knew that Quistis would take personal offence to anything said in Rinoa's defense – her behavior had been off. It was his job to notice that too. He trusted her years ago, but life can change in a day, let alone over a half of decade. He also believed that the problem was within the DEA and that's why it was hard to believe in her fully; then again, any issues about time were negated when he'd known the person he ended up trusting for mere hours. Not to mention, the spilt-second he trusted Seifer over Quistis, a lot of doors closed – so possibly did a friendship.

He hated the thought, but nobody was above suspicion. That's why he was good at his job; he was able to separate the personal and the professional. That's why he'd try logic one last time – Quistis was always the first person willing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt; she believed in others to a fault.

This was a drastic step, but Squall needed to feel her out and see if her interest in bringing Rinoa in was about justice or silence. This also wasn't the first act he'd fooled her with today. Plus, if she was innocent like he hoped, then this gave her plausible deniability. Quistis had 'witnessed' Rinoa's escape firsthand and there shouldn't be a person at the DEA that would question the female agent's passion or dedication. Unfortunately, he knew that he was also using her – again, even if she had no idea, someone else would be reading her reports - someone who wanted to hurt Rinoa. He had to use her to communicate to the people that were guilty.

"Quistis, look it's a hypothetical," he reassured, making sure to use her name for familiarity; it garnered security or at least that's what they were taught. Using information that she'd once taught him against her felt wrong. "Say in this scenario we find her before whoever else is looking for her does and she has information that proves useful. Wouldn't relocation seem like a viable option?"

She was extremely quiet, an effect he apparently had over women today. Finally, she spoke, albeit softly. "You sound like you already believe her. When have you ever put yourself on the line for a witness? A few hours ago, you looked me in the eyes and stated that she was the local PD's problem."

"Look, I don't care what happens to her," he spat out defensively, grabbing a nearby empty bottle. His first instinct had been to throw it, but now it had become a matter of restraint. He didn't like being called out, nor did he like having another plan that had backfired unexpectedly. Without noticing, he'd begun to tap the glass against the table, shifting his irritation onto the object. It hadn't been intentional, but she'd given him with the perfect lead-in for his plan.

"I care about who her father is – you should too. I know you'd like to transfer back to Deling City. It's home. It's where you should be. Seriously, your friends would like you back, I'd like you back… And it's because of that that I can't overlook the possibility that if she dies later because we trusted the wrong person, we'll be held accountable. Caraway made sure I worked the case so she doesn't end up with a bullet in the brain. That's exactly what I'm doing. Just remember that no matter what name she tries to hide behind, she's still a Caraway - daddy's little princess. It doesn't matter how badly she and her boyfriend fucked up her personal lives - our job is to keep her alive and the blame off of us. If we can get her into a program, she's their problem."

He knew this next line was key – selling it to her or her superiors, whichever one took the bait. At that point, he'd stopped tapping the bottle, holding it in his hand. "…Unless there's a reason why you don't think that would work, that is. Take it to your superiors. Think about it."

When he stopped talking, he thought he heard the sound of breathing. He hoped to god it was Quistis on the phone, although that was acoustically impossible. Glancing across the room was a formality – there was no doubt. Though he couldn't say how long she'd been listening. But it didn't matter – any amount was too long.

He blamed being caught off guard on the caffeine drink; the foreign substance was the only feasible explanation.

It was obvious that she was doing her damndest to remain composed. Of course, his words sounded bad when taken out of context. Rinoa Heartilly wasn't stupid and if he'd just explained that he was using this opportunity to feel the situation out and see if Quistis was trustworthy, it might've done wonders. Then again, she could've laughed in his face just as easily. Squall had never corrected either Seifer or Rinoa about Quistis not being his girlfriend so it'd be pretty convenient if he mentioned that now.

Here he was trying to convince Quistis that this had simply been a career move by appeasing Caraway. To Squall, that seemed like the most believable excuse on his end to sell to Quistis.

The problem was, he'd also sold it someone else.

"…Going." Pulling the phone away, he muttered into the receiver. It wasn't a traditional valediction, but he wasn't one to stand by tradition. He didn't even allow Quistis to get a word in edgewise – not only did he hang up, but he also powered down the phone.

Standing up, he started to walk over, but found himself hesitate. It was his job to pay attention to the small details. That's why it took a second for everything register. She looked entirely… different.

She was cleaned up and traded in her 'talk to paw' shirt for an entirely-new look, one that left her drowning in hotel's one-size fits all bathrobes. Maybe the 'one-size' wasn't exactly unisex-friendly, because it hung down past her knees. Yes, he'd joked about her being short, she really wasn't - she was… small, petite? He never got those terms right for women, nor was he daring enough to even venture a guess. He'd grown up with a sister – that had been eye-opening enough. Between that and other observations, he knew that an accidentally-misused word didn't bode well for any man.

And given his current situation with Miss Heartilly, it didn't take being on the Dean's list to figure out this wouldn't end in sunshine and bunnies. As it was, he already expected her to turn around, putting as much distance between them as possible. He took another step forward as the tension swirled around him. He couldn't stop thinking that she looked like an entirely-different person. The white terrycloth was a stark contrast to her hair, the fact it was still wet reminded him of wet ink – again, he was never quite certain of the terms. Maybe what he was getting at was that her hair was longer than he'd realized, possibly hitting above her waistline. A few tapered strands rested in front of her shoulders, the rest fanned out around the robe.

He narrowed his eyes at his own observations. They sounded like… well, they sounded like a heaping load of something.

Still, he couldn't get past her hair, not because he was fascinated by or anything - he wasn't - it simply was from a work point-of-view. It was so much longer than he remembered and as someone who needed to be observant, that wasn't a good sign. Yes, she'd worn it pulled into a low ponytail the majority of the time but, unfortunately, that wasn't all that altered the length. It had been extremely matted but, until now, he'd hadn't considered the volume of blood.

Likely, it had been soaked up when she was leaning over or possibly even laying directly in the pools. No wonder she was so quiet in the bathroom; she had come face-to-face with reality. It had to have been a moment of déjà vu when all that came out. It had probably washed off as a steady stream of red going down the drain while she was taking a shower. He realized then what she'd probably done – she'd probably taken the shower first and then, after feeling weak at the sight of blood, she took a bath.

Honestly, he'd stopped thinking about things like that long ago, it was vanity and, on the battlefield, nobody gave a damn - ironic coming from the guy with the newly-acquired scar. But, in that regards, he'd seen far worse, been covered in far worse, but she wasn't a soldier, her mind had not been conditioned that way.

Squall hadn't allowed himself to humanize these situations for a very long time. That was a part of himself that he'd lost a long time ago. In his line of work, disassociation had been the key to his success and yet, as her eyes pierced him, hurt by his words, she became the epitome of his lost humanity. He hated that he'd allowed himself to see her that way, even a second of weakness was too much. If he allowed himself to humanize her, the dam he'd built to keep the demons would break under its weight.

Thankfully, he still had the ability to stop this – cruel and callous, yes, but necessary. All he had to do was stand by his own lies because they weren't entirely wrong. Yes, he may have been overly-blunt on the phone, but it was true that if Caraway was satisfied then everyone's career benefited - even Miss Heartilly couldn't disagree there. For even more justification, those were his initial thoughts when he first read her folder, when why he was chosen for this assignment finally clicked into place.

That led them to this moment – the one where nobody could've predicted her reaction.

The weight of their silence continued to be suffocating; it wasn't something tangible that could be controlled. He wanted her to be angry, to tell him that he was a coldhearted excuse for a human being. He wanted her to point out that his vile-sounding words came off as a betrayal. Instead, all he could think about was how she'd trusted him with her life – he'd even emphasized that mutual trust was a must. Now he'd followed that up by saying he didn't care if she lived or died as long as the blame wasn't on him.

He could handle the angry words; he was used to angry words, but the look she was giving him… that too was different. She seemed vulnerable and hurt, but most importantly – there was no surprise. None.

Had she expected this, believing that it was simply a matter of when than if?

That thought clung to him as he took a few more steps forward so they were a normal distance apart. Standing there, he felt as foolish as he looked. Truthfully, he couldn't remember the last time he'd apologized… or how to even begin. At this point, his silence was most likely interpreted as an insult or, worse, it came off as some sort of dare to challenge him.

"I'm," he started, but stopped just as quickly. A second ago, he reminded himself that he had the ability to stop this. It was better for everyone (for him) if he did. It might seem heartless, but he shouldn't have to 'I'm sorry' for doing his job. He'd offer the truth, but would stop short of apologizing. If she was smart enough to listen and not jump to conclusions, then she'd more than understand what his intent had been. Hell, she should be apologizing to him for questioning his tactics… it was an interesting concept, considering that she hadn't yet spoken. Plus he should get credit for explaining his reasons – that's exactly what she'd asked for in the car, right?

"That was Quistis on the phone. I-"

Rinoa's chest tightened as she listened, completely appalled at his words. She'd been holding her breath from his almost-apology. She was glad that he'd stopped; the only thing the man knew about 'sincerity' was the definition listed in the dictionary. That's why she wasn't about to stand here and listen to any more of his empty explanations. That's why she'd cut him off, refusing to be another victim of his empty words.

She didn't yell, but spoke firmly. "Of course it was and, of course, you were. Just stop." She followed it up by making a low swiping motion with her hand and hoped that he'd take the hint.

He did. Shaking his head, he pinched the bridge of his nose, but outwardly remained indifferent. She was too stubborn to listen – no surprise there. Then the fault lied with her and he was free and clear of accountability. He'd actually hoped that he wouldn't be right, that she'd be smart enough to hear him out, but maybe he should've expected it. He laughed bitterly to himself – he'd expected her stubbornness while she'd expected to be betrayed. They made the perfect dysfunctional team.

Folding her arms, she turned toward the front door, unable to look at him. "You said that Seifer was coming, right? Then it's better I wait in the bathroom until then. Daddy's little princess wants to make it easier for you and Agent Trepe to talk about her." She stifled her tears by biting her lip to a point she tasted the faint taste of blood.

Turning back, she smiled weakly, meeting his eyes as her words softly echoed her regrets. "You were right about one thing - I do keep fucking up my life… I was even naive enough to think you believed all of what I'd said, not just what you chose to believe. It may be a small difference to you between boyfriend and a male friend when I specifically told you that he was my best friend, but that's exactly what your problem is. I... I feel sorry for you, you might seem perfect on paper, but I don't think I'm the only one who's fucked up my life. I wish I could, but I can't be around you anymore."

"Wait, just listen." Reaching forward, he tried to grab her around the wrist. To his surprise, she countered perfectly, twisting away while simultaneously pushing him away. It had been an actual defensive move, although she'd not executed it fully or he'd have been in a lot more pain. Still, she'd caught him off guard… and not for the first time today.

"I listened to you enough. Thank you. I'm assuming that you'll be leaving for Deling City tomorrow; I thank you for your service. I'm sure someone else who's qualified will be assigned to protect me. If there's anything you want to say in the meantime, please inform Seifer. If it's important, the message will be relayed. "

The tone of her voice was telling, soft but extremely meticulous. It was evident that she was purposely choosing her words carefully. He wasn't sure how to fix this, or even if he should, but watching her leave, his mouth agape – some part of his humanity wanted apologize. Then again, he had no assurance that she'd even accept it at this stage but, even if she didn't, he should've made the effort. Yet, as the words balanced on the tip of his tongue, the logical side of him decided it was better for them both to let it be.

To his surprise, it seemed that as she was closing the door, she had one more thing to say. The thing that haunted him the most was the lack of malice in her voice once more. "Agent Leonhart, I don't know what you've been led to believe, but if my father did pull you off a train, it wasn't about me. That means would mean he has to care… Choose to believe what you will, but…"

Rinoa swallowed, thinking back to the car. If there was any hope for him to balance his career and have any semblance of a personal life – the first step remained his to take.

"And Agent Leonhart, I know it's not my place, but since this is probably the last time I'll see you… If you care that much about Agent Trepe and want her to come home to Deling City, don't wait for my father's good graces; you'll only be disappointed. I can see how she feels; it's rather obvious - don't take it for granted. The fact is once you start down this path alone, pride often keeps from you from coming back. I wish someone would've told my father that… then maybe he would've had a daughter and not a burden."

She had no idea why she kept going; she just wanted him to understand – save him from his own fate. If she was wrong, so be it, at least someone cared enough to try. "I had a telescope when I was a child and spent far too many hours gazing into the sky. I wasn't looking for stars… I was looking for worlds that paralleled the one I was living in. My life here could never be changed, but knowing that I was wanted by my father somewhere in one of those worlds was all I ever wanted. Those words weren't real…maybe my dreams wouldn't have been so out of reach if I'd just looked at the stars instead. I learned from a young age that reality can be cold and empty unless you change it. Like I said, it's none of my business but, don't get to a point in life were you can't change it. Save yourself, if you want her to come home, maybe start off by telling her that."

By the time she closed the door, her body had already begun trembling uncontrollably. She wasn't sure what was happening as she pressed her back against the door for support.

"Goodbye Squall Leonhart." The words were so tender that they couldn't be picked up by the human ear - she'd mouthed them all the same. She hated goodbyes, but at least this one was better than the other two she'd been forced to say today.

Alone, there was no need to hold back all the tears that had been threatening to fall. She'd kept her mind off today by replacing the hurt with concern. Now, there was nothing else to do beside be alone with her pain… and humiliation. Why not pile it on?

Still, embarrassment was easier to deal with than grief, so she'd purposely allow herself to fall victim to it. She was the one who'd opened her big mouth in the first place. It sounded like Leonhart and Trepe believed that she was a constant screw-up – that's why her offering life-altering advice was even more ironic. She also reminded herself that this wasn't a moment of weakness, but there was something about him that brought out all those long-buried insecurities. She wasn't angry at Agent Leonhart. That would make as much sense as being upset at the stars in the sky for actually existing, when her parallel words were nothing but a pipedream.

Falling to the floor, she hugged herself, pulling her knees to her chest. In a split-second, her life had deteriorated into nothing, she had nothing – not even the clothes on her back were hers, those belonged to the hotel. What home she had was lost with her friend. There were no insurance policies; they didn't have the resources and they already had day-to-day concerns meeting ends. She couldn't even count the times she'd dug into the couch-cushions, pants' pockets, or her purse for change in hopes of just keeping the water on. Actually, once they'd met Watts, he'd helped them a lot. Well, she thought he had but now…she wasn't quite so sure.

She wouldn't speak ill of the dead… not today.

She was upset, she was embarrassed, and she'd completely stuck her nose into something that was not even close to being her business.

And even though she was at an all-time low, lying on the floor, she could hold her head up about one thing - she'd remained true to herself. When she said those words to Agent Leonhart, she'd spoken from her heart and, just as importantly, she hadn't lied. She wanted what was best for him. It was hard to explain as she'd only met him today but, she was drawn to his spirit… aura, soul?

…And that was a huge red flag. She'd officially jumped over an invisible line and landed directly onto creepy territory. It's just that she… well, she couldn't explain. So some feelings were impossible to put into thoughts, to label with pedestrian words. That might've been because she was on the verge of becoming delirious, but it felt as if she'd known Agent Leonhart much longer.

"…Felt like she's known him longer."

She wanted to laugh. In fact, if she and Zone had heard those thoughts, they would've laughed their asses off. Not to mention her "felt like I've known him for longer" sounded like the hallmark line of every gag-inducing, chick-flick ever made - Zone's pet term for every romantic comedy ever made, not hers. To be fair, she didn't use a dramatic qualifier of time such as "she'd felt like she'd known him forever" or, even worse, "since the beginning of time." So by that, she managed to convince herself that hers wasn't quite as bad.

But she wasn't in a movie, and this wasn't about her story, it was about theirs. Although, she had to laugh at that - Squall and Quistis weren't chick-flick-y at all. Honestly, they were much more classic novel material, one praised by both readers and literary scholars for centuries - even their names alluded to refinement. Her life, well… it wasn't a movie or a book, but rather like a hodgepodge of random thoughts. Actually, she'd say that she was the unsuspecting main character in a Mad Lib.

That thought was so random that, even between tears, she managed her first honest smile in quite some time. Zone and Watts would've loved that comparison too, plus they'd both agree that it described her life perfectly. She wished that she could tell them that. Maybe somewhere in that parallel universe, the one she had to believe existed, she'd be able to laugh along with them. But if that place didn't exist, she had to believe that being dead didn't stop them from watching over her.

That led her to one of the most ridiculous, ill-timed thoughts ever. It was official - her life had to be a Mad Lib. If she had the money, she'd buy Zone a special tombstone - the first ever engraving in the form of a Mad Lib. He'd love it. Even as she sat here, she could imagine how her friends would have fun filling this in. Zone would put every adverb as 'sexily' and there was no doubt he'd use 'beautiful' as an adjective. Watts would insist on using 'train' or 'Balamb fish' as nouns. She actually loved thinking about this; it was simply amazing how random thoughts brought a smile to her face.

She was still crying, but as she sexily sat up and leaned against the Balamb fish, she thought of her beautiful friends and knew they were somewhere together, playing trains.

That was it, the wayward thought that finally allowed her to let go…

She no longer feared letting her emotions show; they had once been a disease festering beneath the surface, but no longer. And after the emotional dam gave way, she was finally able to grasp a few moments of clarity, no matter how brief - even about him. She didn't know how to word her thoughts without coming off as shallow, but there was something innately haunting about him. It was more than his striking looks, piercing eyes, deep laugh, or stunning smile. She laughed to herself, but it came out as a short whimper – to paraphrase the Mad Lib that was her life, he was sexily beautiful. Yet, he was more than that, she'd taken a glimpse of the person he was inside – even he didn't know it himself.

But she'd seen it - something so astounding that it left her tongue-tied and speechless. She wished she had the courage to tell him, but fate had another design. The only time her problem disappeared was when she crossed the line of social boundaries, encouraging him to open up to Quistis. And since she was being honest with herself, she knew that he was right when he'd confronted her in the car. She did have issues of petty jealousy, even with them, but how could she not? She'd seen them together; they were perfect – classic tale.

Today, Rinoa had lost every tangible thing in her life and so she reasoned that was why she'd become focused on helping them. If someone really was intent on killing her, at least she'd leave some sort of positive mark on this world. In ten years, if Squall and Quistis were to reminisce about her, maybe she'd be remembered for more than just having her father's blood. That's why she tried – it was a desperate move to positively be remembered when spoken about in past tense. It likely wouldn't take, but she still hoped that Squall Leonhart could be saved from himself.

Although one thought stood out above all others…

"…Sometimes the people who needed saving the most never see they're the ones in trouble."

…Basically, that was the only thing Squall could think as he stared at the bathroom door. Rinoa had no idea how serious this was.

He couldn't help her if she didn't want it; he couldn't save her even if she was in trouble. It was a lesson he'd learned long ago - some people were too stubborn to see the truth, even if it was written plainly in front of them.

His other thought was equally as disturbing and it was that maybe she'd already made peace with the likelihood that this wouldn't end well. It was equally as difficult to fight alongside someone who'd mentally resigned themselves to the worst. It was a form of weakness… and that was the worst part because he saw strength in her. He'd immediately noticed that from those first few moments on the ambulance, but it was buried underneath her insecurities. He wished he had the words to encourage her, but giving motivational speeches wasn't exactly his forte. He wasn't someone who drew the best in others out and he didn't make a good teacher either.

There was another thing that left him almost impressed and that was the way she'd talked about him and Quistis … It was almost like the words were coming from someone else - someone more positive, someone that radiated confidence. There were also the words that she'd said.

Okay, fine, the subject had always been a curse as, no matter where he went, he found that his personal life always tended to be the hottest topic at hand. All that aside, he believed that she'd been honest as there was something almost desperate in her words. And something in her tone haunted him far more than he'd care admit. Plus, he felt an unfamiliar, and oddly uncomfortable, tinge of guilt about not correcting her in regards to Quistis.

It was just that most of the time… well, there was no way to say this without sounding conceited on some level but, women were far more interested in him than they were about helping him do his job. Because of that, he'd almost been conditioned to mislead people in that regard or, in very rare cases, outright lie. Whatever he needed to say or have them believe, in order to make his job easier was what he found himself doing. He'd often deliberately mention Ellone, often omitting that she was his sister and letting others speculate on their relationship. It wasn't anything he was proud of, but if they thought he was taken, most left him alone – most.

Fine, it was a little creepy and a lot wrong but, if he didn't mention her, women (and on a few occasions, men) would try flirting with him, batting their eyelashes or worse, far worse. Even when they were led to believe that he had a wife or girlfriend, it didn't always stop them. Again, some people didn't believe in the concept of boundaries. Miss Heartilly had also crossed a few with her last-minute advice, but her intent had been genuine – and no matter how wrong she was, it was a welcome change of pace.

His earlier comment in the car held absolutely true - people were curious by nature and alluding to a significant other usually satiated that curiosity. He never understood relationships or why people felt the need to be in one, women were… confusing. That's one of the reasons he'd never had a girlfriend; what physical relationships he had were few and even further in between, yet he never felt as if he was missing out on anything.

Still, as much as he hated the fact - he was human. Sometimes he'd think about it and wasn't above being prone to mistakes. Once. Never again; he hated himself for his stupidity and weakness. As for now, it wasn't as if opportunities never presented themselves - he had plenty of chances. Actually, there were even offers during the seminar and even one in the hotel lobby. Unfortunately, that thought brought him full-circle; he was back to the 'purposely misleading' thing. He'd politely deflected the front desk clerk by saying he was here with his wife. He didn't think Miss Heartilly needed to know that detail, plus he'd technically told her that she didn't have to be his wife. However, her and Josh, that was another story – again he'd taken misleading to a near art form.

It all brought him back to this moment. Yes, misleading her had been partly out of habit and then it was also partly about pride, but beyond that, there had been no reason. It wasn't as if she'd shown interest… in him. She preferred blonds. Not that he noticed.

Maybe that's why her words struck such a chord with him; for once someone had been genuine, without a real ulterior motive. Not a lot of people had talked to him like that – correction – he didn't allow people to talk to him like that outside of Ellone. Quistis would try, but he would've either snapped at her or ignored her, being well aware of her underlying motives.

Still, none of that meant he knew how to fix this now. He couldn't risk getting her more upset - all it would take was one person calling in a complaint to the front desk and everything would be shot to hell. It pained him to admit this but, he hoped that Seifer would get here soon.

He cursed under his breath, walking away. If she was going to stay in the bathroom, more power to her. She was the one who refuted reason. Why should he berate himself over something that only she had the ability to control?


9:51 pm, October 10th

He'd returned to the computer and tried to do some investigating. He then tried to look up information on both Caraway and Heartilly for research. He saw all the pictures of her as a young adult, coming out parties at sixteen, and other prestigious social events that made his stomach crawl just looking at. Then, just like she'd stated, she fell off the social radar – and not only did she fall, she'd vanished. Caraway certainly hadn't. Squall had tried to do a lot of things, including putting the fact that all he ever seemed to do was upset her out of his mind. Tried.

Yeah, so much for trying.

Sometime after the first hour had passed, he'd placed a pillow and blanket outside the bathroom door. He knocked, telling her it was outside… just in case she wanted it.

The only response he received was silence.

He walked away.

After the second hour had passed, he went to the mini-bar and had taken a bunch of snacks from it. Neither of them had eaten lunch or dinner so logic dictated that she had to be hungry. Even if she wasn't, she needed to eat to keep her strength up. He never contemplated the price; in fact, he'd grabbed one of everything that wasn't a liquid. For drinks, he decided on bottled water, an ice tea, and few brands of sodas, grabbing both diet and regular. He knew the inherent risk as taking the 'diet' may backfire greatly. But tonight, it was a gamble he was willing to take.

He'd also grabbed the last of the coffee drinks. She'd been holding coffee during the interrogation so he knew that she liked that. And honestly, after his third bottle, he'd started to enjoy them; apparently, they'd been an acquired taste.

But it wasn't just the coffee-flavored drink that was a shot in the dark, it all was. Unfortunately, her file didn't specifically state which drinks, snacks, and candy bars were her favorites. Maybe as a future failsafe, getting those answers should be mandatory during questioning – right after 'state your name' and 'state your whereabouts….'

Arms full, he'd started to shut the door, but heard his stomach growl, another reminder that he'd all-together skipped several meals today. Reaching back in, he skillfully balanced everything while grabbing an extra bag of mixed nuts for himself and a 'Behemoth' high-energy drink.

Walking back to the bathroom, he placed the mishmash of items on top of the untouched blanket and pillow. He knocked once more, telling her about the food, along with the pillow and blanket – just in case she'd missed it the first time. He knew that she hadn't, but he couldn't help holding out hope.

He'd gotten his wish. She wasn't bothering him with stupid comments or stupid questions, it was just him and silence… it's what he wanted. Right?

Again, his only choice was to walk away.

Instead of being productive, he watched the minutes flip by on the computer monitor. Precisely at midnight, he received a coded email from Seifer – the man had an annoying flare for the dramatic. Squall replied, giving their location, although he honestly had no idea what to expect when the man got here. It actually worried him and that said something. Seifer would either be livid about Rinoa locking herself way or too thankful they'd succeeded to dwell on it. Yeah, right.

Just after one, there was a soft knock on the door. When Squall finally answered, he was met with the sight of the detective casually leaning against the doorframe, all while holding a pizza in his hand.

Seifer smirked before asking, "Miss me, Fed-Boy?"