Chapter Fourteen:
Confessions and Omissions…


Did he miss Seifer? A loaded question if ever he'd heard one. Still, Squall had sworn to uphold the bureau's ethics - integrity was the second word in their motto after all.

"No." The word fell from his mouth with firm disgust.

Seifer feigned acting hurt. Mister super-serious still had the personality of wooden spoon. "Aww, come on? How about taking some time to answer? Compile a list of pros and cons or make spreadsheets…whatever you suits do for fun. I need a new best friend and this could be the start of an epic bromance."

"Hell no."

Again, Squall found the truth liberating. However, if Squall opted for full disclosure, he'd have to admit that spreadsheets and listing pros-and-cons were his idea of fun. Recently, that's how he'd spent his vacation but, contrary to other's beliefs, he wasn't a masochist – and admitting that would've been used purely as ammunition.

"Seriously Leonhart, I bring offerings of food and presents and I still get attitude? Whatever man, pride cometh before a fall…so after you get knocked off that pedestal, I'll be down here mingling with the other mere mortals. Give me a call and we'll hit the bars. I need a decent wingman, girls dig that good-cop, boring-ass cop thing."

"Just get inside," Squall demanded gruffly.

Agent Leonhart came to one glaring conclusion: the detective was a jackass. Still, whatever negativity he felt, he separated the personal from the professional. Rinoa's safety was more important than bruised pride and deflated egos. It was the same ability that allowed him to admit the (rather painful) truth: seeing Seifer gave him the slightest amount of relief. Again, a "slight" amount - as in too small to officially gauge - like a sliver of a shred of a piece.

Plus Squall had to admit that the idea of bringing pizza wasn't a completely-horrible one. Seifer seemed to understand situations where your hands were tied – figuratively that is, not literally…although there'd be absolutely no shock about the latter. None. Squall certainly wasn't going to judge the detective's recreational activities unless they involved his witness. Some things were off limits and Rinoa Heartilly was chief among them. Feeling ill, he blamed the bottled coffee for that entire line of thinking. He wished it all could be scrubbed from his mind although, as far as he knew, there was no such thing as brain bleach. However, if it existed, there'd be a fairly-decent chance the inventor had crossed paths with Seifer Almasy.

"…By the way, I know you missed me." Seifer snorted a reply, stepping inside. "Maybe I should've clarified – my greeting wasn't a question, it was a statement. Everyone misses me, it's my infectious personality."

Clenching his jaw, Squall refused to be baited. As Seifer walked by, the agent noticed a plastic bag hanging around his wrist and something clenched in his free hand.

Seifer read the agent's mind as he continued to taunt him. Balancing the pizza in one hand, he shoved the unknown item into Squall's chest. "Here you go, something else you don't deserve."

Squall glanced down, but closed the door before continuing. Again, he had to remind himself that this wasn't personal and there were positives about Seifer's arrival. First and foremost, Squall hoped that the detective would be able to talk some sense into Heartilly as for some inexplicable reason, they had a rapport. Secondly, not-so-important but still semi-pressing, after his second drink, Squall really needed to use restroom. Mentioning it to her would prove fruitless and asking wouldn't win him any favors. Honestly, he'd gone far longer on missions but, by the same token, he'd also planned ahead in those instances.

Once the door was secured, Seifer turned back to face his annoying counterpart. "See, Fed-Boy, don't say I never got you anything, well besides that conversation-starter on your forehead. See with me it's always give, give, give… However, this present actually serves a purpose, unlike the other one, although it does vastly improve that thing you call a face." By the look on the agent's face, Seifer knew he'd better ease up on the pot-shots. He actually felt bad, but he'd deal with that later. "Geesh, whatever man, learn to loosen up or you're going to crash-and-burn at your wingman gig. Anyway, that's a disposable phone with a none-traceable number. I got one for myself too. Think of it as a present from all us lowly, little boys in blue hoping one day to grow up and be a big, bad Fed like yourself. I'm sure you can fast track my name to be a suit."

"Are you ever serious?" Squall said curtly, not elaborating in the name of peace. He also hated to admit the phone was useful…too bad the voice on the other end would be Almasy's.

"You wouldn't like me when I'm serious."

Squall wondered exactly what meeting 'serious Seifer' entailed; unfortunately, he'd probably find out shortly – once the detective got wind of Rinoa's whereabouts.

…Which wouldn't be long. Seifer noticed the small mountain of snacks anchored by a folded blanket and pillow. "Mommy and daddy letting you have your first big-boy sleepover or something?"

And as predicted, it all crashed into him like a deranged Grendel. Squall physically witnessed the smugness transform into anger - both the pizza and the bag were angrily tossed onto the nearest bed.

Obliterating all personal bounties, Seifer got into his face. "Where is she…and what the fuck did you do!?"

Squall's façade remained firm. Outwardly, he matched Seifer's intensity but, inside he knew that he was guilty as hell. Still, he'd be damned to admit that. It could be exploited as a weakness; so it was better to take the verbal berating and react indifferently. However, before either of them managed another word, the bathroom door opened.

"I'm here." Her voice had been so hoarse, they barely sounded like words.

None too gently, Seifer pushed past Squall, but the way he treated Rinoa remained a direct contrast. Lightly placing his hands on either side of her shoulders, he watched her reaction. "What did he do?"

"Nothing. I needed time alone." The redness in her face and puffy eyes betrayed everything she said.

"You're lying."

"See-" she stopped as a distinctive sob escaped her lips. Yes, she'd known what he'd done for her, but seeing his efforts gave it new meaning. He really had tried. She turned back to Seifer. "He tried to make me comfortable, but I couldn't…you know, it's over. It doesn't matter." With a wistful smile, she changed the subject after looking over to the bed. "Pizza? I'm starving."

"I knew you'd be." Seifer eyes narrowed as he looked at the agent cockily. It was obvious that his food offering trumped Squall's measly little showing. No, it wasn't a contest…but he'd still won. "Deep-dish Dollet style, your favorite."

"…Pepperoni and black olives?" she asked, a noticeable change in her tone.

"Of course. And the other half is…" he drew it out, leading her to answer.

"Everything under the sun but black olives." She laughed at his 'fill-in-the-blank' type statement. Ironically enough, she'd been thinking something similar. That's why she knew neither man would understand her next words, but a bit of mystery never hurt, "She said sexily."

"Rin, you're talking about yourself in third person…very oddly in third person. Besides that, you guessed it," Seifer proudly announced, reaching over to grab the bag he'd brought with him. "Plates, napkins, and even an orange soda. Had to go to an all-night gas station, pay triple price, but as your knight in shining trench coat, had to go that extra step, milady."

Squall froze. Briefly, he contemplated the possibility of being sucked into a black hole, then being spit out as the third-wheel to someone's date. Had it not been for the fact that Heartilly was still clad only in a bathrobe and the lack of distorted space-and-time, he'd have bought into that theory. Instead, he had no idea what the hell he'd just witnessed and he'd worked on several top-secret assignments. Simply put, he was very confused.

Not only confused - betrayed. There was one very logical explanation here – he was being played.

"You two know each other," Squall accused. He never raised his voice, but his tone was laced with malice, equally holding the two parties at fault. "You set me up."

Seifer scoffed. Leonhart was some agent; the black olives on the pizza had better people skills.

"Stuff a breadstick in it, Fed-Boy. I've never met Rinoa, but apparently buying her pizza requires federal clearance. Sorry, didn't get that memo. Maybe if you'd ask nicely, she'll share. Then again, she locked herself in a bathroom to get away from you so….you're probably wise to stick with your assorted junk food."

"Don't you dare to talk down to me." Squall refused to be played. "If you two didn't have a previous relationship, how in the hell would you know what shit she likes on her pizza? I'm not an idiot, favorite pizza toppings aren't listed in a file. It also explains this thing you two have going on." This time he stared pointedly at Rinoa; he expected this from Almasy, but not her. She battered her brown eyes and he'd foolishly fallen for her innocent act.

He was so much better than any of this.

Squall was mad at himself for showing weakness; he was mad at her for using him. It was rare that he allowed anything to bother him on a personal level, but he was done. He wouldn't allow this case, or anyone involved, to get under his skin. "It's my fault. I should've been more thorough earlier - after I asked about sleeping with Zone, I should've expanded the question to include members of the Timber PD."

Rinoa's mouth fell open, but she refused to shed a tear over Leonhart's self-hatred. She turned away and walked to the bed, sitting before her legs collapsed beneath her. She had no idea why she was being attacked like that. Apparently, trying to cover for him earlier didn't mean a damn thing. He was a fucking ass…an ass who got to her like nobody else she'd ever known. She hated that. And, in this moment, she wanted to hate him.

Seifer felt the same – and more.

"Oh, that's fucking rich Leonhart. How about another scar? This time it won't be accidental." Seifer did his best not to yell. He wasn't stupid enough to blow their cover, although this asshole made it a challenge. "You. Me. Bathroom…now," he said through gritted teeth.

"That's officially the worst offer I had today. I'll pass."

Thankfully, Seifer remained calm, laughing it off. "Don't fuckin' flatter yourself. I know junkies, dealers, and crack whores who'd make me less ill… But whatever, I was trying to save you some embarrassment, but screw you."

"I didn't know Seifer," a voice said forcefully from the bed, cutting between the two men. She didn't want to hear them argue about her alleged promiscuity, plus having Seifer as backup was a mental boost. In all honestly, having someone believe in her was all she ever wanted.

"…But again, thank you Agent Leonhart for jumping to conclusions about my character. I don't know why I'm explaining anything to you, but the pizza thing came up at the crime scene. Before you got there, Seifer was trying to keep me…sane. It was normal conversation stuff; he was just talking anything to help keep me focused. A pizza delivery truck drove by…he was desperate, so he talked about his favorite pizza places."

"She was going into shock – I was trying to keep her present. So, I latched onto pizza… everyone loves pizza, right? I asked her about toppings. Yes, it was random, but life doesn't follow guidelines. Like I said, way to jump to conclusions. You know, it takes some amazing skill to come off as the world's largest prick in such a short amount of time." For a second time, Seifer forcefully pushed past Leonhart - this time the impact was enough to knock him off balance.

Carefully, he placed his hand on Rinoa's shoulder, flashing her a lopsided grin. "You okay?"

"Thanks." She smiled back, biting her lower lip.

He then looked toward Squall. "Now, since you feel like a royal idiot – at least you should. It's time for our little convo in the bathroom… But first, how about an apology to the lady?"

Shaking her head, Rinoa knew the man better than that. "No, it's all right, Seifer. From his perspective, I can see why he was suspicious…he was just doing his job."

"Are you serious?" Seifer stepped away in disbelief. There was being 'nice,' and then there was being taken in by this buffoon. It pained him to see that she was falling for his cold, aloof persona that was as healthy as gorging on 'snack mountain' over there. Yes, she was likely to be emotionally-vulnerable after today, but this joker wasn't the answer – unless the question was, "what suit-wearing asshole just reached puberty?"

Seifer needed to talk sense into her. "Look, I get why you want to defend the guy. On the outside you can see the whole fed with authority thing but a badge doesn't make him a decent human being. You locked yourself in a bathroom because of him and yet you're giving him another free pass? No, Rinoa, he owes you a helluva lot more than an apology, but it's at least a start. I know his type; he's not even man enough to do that."

"Seifer, he doesn't. I wasn't locked in a bathroom because of him," she said quietly. Her hand trembled as she ran it across the duvet. She found it increasingly difficult to look at either man as her composure waned. "I needed to be alone…so I took a bath to relax. No one here is to blame…if you're so focused on blame - blame the person who murdered my friends. They owe me an apology….they owe me so much more than can ever be repaid."

Squall had been silent, contemplating her words. "Almasy, I'll meet you in the bathroom. Give me a minute."

Seifer glanced to Rinoa - arguing against her would be moot. He didn't like this, but it wasn't his call. She even nodded her consent knowing that Seifer would make doubly-sure before leaving her alone. The ironic part was that Leonhart accused them of being in some sort of relationship, but it wasn't him that was in the picture here. He saw it, he sensed it at the crime scene, but he hoped they wouldn't figure it out – for their sake. It wouldn't end well, hell, it didn't even start well.

"Whatever, but I swear-" He paused, getting into the agent's face and giving a warning, "One wrong move asshole and…well, you know what - just don't fucking make a wrong move. I don't like mistakes. Got it?"

The truth was, Squall had already felt bad - Seifer just reinforced it. Honestly, he had no excuse for his behavior or what made him snap, but that seemed to be a reoccurring theme; this entire day had been an anomaly. If he was this shitty at his job all the time, he'd lost his job long ago. He wasn't used to making such erroneous lapses in judgment and, if he did, he lived by the philosophy that admitting them was a weakness.

…Yet, how many times could he hurt her?

He tried to deny it, but it actually bothered him how naturally it came to him. Just like it bothered him that jumping to conclusions and branding the victim as a liar, was the easier than talking to her. Earlier, he was upset that she hadn't given the chance to explain, but if she hadn't been placed in that position or he hadn't said the lies to Quistis the first place – his words wouldn't have needed explanations. The more he tried with her, the more he seemed to make mistakes. He tensed involuntarily the more 'he tried.'

Why was he trying? Why did he almost care?

He shouldn't overthink this. It was simple - he felt bad…and Caraway was her father. He kept telling himself that like it would make a difference, like it would somehow explain everything.

As he looked down to her, she couldn't even look at him. Almasy really did have a way with people, not that he was jealous of the detective, but sometimes wished he'd gained more of a tolerance over the years. Squall knew he needed to venture into uncharted territory and step out of his comfort zone – and interacting with people was as uncomfortable as it got for him. Glancing over his shoulder, he made sure that Almasy was safely in the bathroom before he began.

He'd started to open his mouth, but for a man who carefully planned his words, his mind was a blank slate. The first thing he saw, besides her, was the pizza box. "Go ahead, eat. I know you're starving. I'll take a seat. I can…wait."

Way to go. That was smooth. His keen observation skills were astounding. The university would be proud as he just demonstrated why he was in the top percentile of class. Really.

Knowing that standing was often about asserting dominance, he deliberately sat on the other bed leveling the playing field – in theory. It felt uncomfortable, which probably indicated that he was on the right track. Whatever his instincts were, he'd opt for the opposite. Maybe for 'fun,' he'd make a spreadsheet of all his mistakes later…that was if the government's computer had enough memory.

Looking over, she'd already grabbed a piece of pizza and a plate. There was something interesting about her eating; he tried to act as if he wasn't watching, but he could already tell she was nervous – another instance he chalked up to being interested about the study of humans and their cultural habits. Actually, she reminded him of a little chipmunk nibbling on her food, overly-chewing each bite. But to be fair, having people stare at him, even briefly, while he ate was a huge pet peeve. For that reason alone, he avoided eating at social functions. Truthfully, he purposely avoided eating in front of others altogether. That's why felt utterly hypocritical as he tried not to glance over at her.

She was hungry, that much was obvious. Even so, she managed only two bites before placing her food on the nightstand. He felt responsible – another line item to add to his spreadsheet of mistakes. He needed to finish this so they could go about their separate lives - because in his gut he knew their encounter was coming to an end. No doubt Almasy had been in contact with his supervisor - given their circumstance, it was only logical. Squall wasn't a 'hands on' agent when it came to witnesses, so he'd most likely be reassigned. There was at least some consolation in the fact that she was more at ease around Detective Almasy, maybe she'd even be able to eat.

Rinoa smiled nervously, motioning to her food. "…I should be polite and wait. Unless you want some, I mean you've got to be hungry too, right?"

"No." He shook his head, "I had a bag of nuts for dinner."

Looking down, she clasped hands together on her lap. Her eyes met his as she nervously began tripping on her own words. "Oh…nuts, I...Sorry, didn't know."

He needed to get this out before he decided the end result would be pointless.

"Miss Heartilly, there's no excuse for my behavior. It was unprofessional, more than that, it's impolite." He took a deep breath as he found himself glancing away.

He could give a deposition in front of a grand jury and not bat an eyelash, yet he couldn't look at her through an entire sentence. Seriously, he was way more tired than he realized or apologizing was way more difficult than he'd anticipated. That's why he pushed himself, to get this over with – to say two words that he believed were usually a sign of weakness.

"I'm sorry. I apologize for my actions."

She found herself studying him, drawing in a deep breath. There was no doubt how foreign those words were to him. If seeing his wallet, his smile, and hearing his laugh wasn't enough, she couldn't have been more in shock.

"What I said before was the truth, you shouldn't have to apologize for doing your job and it's not my place to question your choices." She shrugged her shoulders. "Agent Leonhart, it's your choices that have kept me safe…and difficult as it to accept, what you told Agent Trepe is correct. It's just when you're not ready to accept something, it can be difficult to hear the truth. You've already put your career on the line – that gesture alone means more to me than anything you could say about me… but again, that was more about me not being ready to hear the truth. But most of all, Agent Leonhart, you should never have to apologize for how you really feel."

"Miss Heartilly, I wouldn't apologize for something that I really felt, but that wasn't the case here and again, what I implied about you and Detective Almasy…uncalled for."

"Thank you. You didn't have to apologize, but the fact you did…it's appreciated."

It really was appreciated. It was also appreciated that she'd managed to get through that sounding semi-coherent. How come the only time she sounded as if she had half a brain was when she was talking about his girlfriend or defending his choices? There was part of her that believed he'd opened up to her, not a lot, but more than most people saw. He was guarded and although that might've been work-related or because of Caraway, it was there (…maybe?). Then again, maybe those so-called 'breakthroughs' were simply the imagined byproduct of wishful thinking.

Sometimes, when your only dream is to be needed, one tends to see things that really aren't there.

Maybe it was for that reason, wanting to be different - to be remembered - that she found herself fighting the desire to throw her arms around him and give him a hug, a real tight one, to thank him for all he'd done. Then again, she didn't want to freak him out any more than he already had, plus she was well-aware that Agent Leonhart hadn't crossed the threshold of being anywhere near okay with friendly hugs – maybe a begrudging fist bump, but even that pushed boundaries.

"I know I didn't have to, but I needed to." After admitting that, he looked her in the eyes and had an inexplicable need to clarify, "Actually, Miss Heartilly, I needed to apologize but, more importantly, I wanted to – what I said was really bad. I'm sorry."

"You said that already," she laughed, "but I kinda liked hearing it a second time."

"You're not hearing it a third," he responded irritably. He felt like she was poking fun at his lack of familiarity in these types of social interactions. The ironic thing was that he hadn't figured out that nervous laughter was her way of dealing with the same insecurity.

Looking away, he stared towards the bathroom. "I should go figure out what he wants."

She nodded in understanding; Seifer probably wasn't known for his patience. "Yeah, guess you should."

Standing up, she had this sudden need to keep him here, for just a little longer. She had a feeling that this was goodbye. Before her mind had time to process, she'd reached out and grabbed his wrist. She then realized her mistake, retracting it just as quickly.

He hadn't said anything. Instead, he was looking down at where she'd grabbed his arm. The agent was probably afraid that she'd gotten pizza sauce on it. With her luck, that would've been par for the course, then again, he wasn't fairing much better either. It seemed they'd both caught a break as there didn't appear to be a stain. When he finally looked down to her, she smiled sheepishly.

"Sorry, about that…I um," she stammered.

As if on cue, she'd returned to her tongue-tied ways. That's what she got for patting herself on her back for making it through one speech without falling apart. This was no longer just habit alone - she'd transformed stammering into a highly-evolved art form, sadly it didn't transfer into something marketable on her resume.

Somehow, she muddled forward. "I wanted to know if you're leaving, I mean, for real. I know Timber isn't your favorite place…and you said there are others capable of handling this."

"It's not certain, but it's probable… I may remain on the case, but not in a hands-on capacity." He cursed his choice of words; it was especially ill-timed after she'd touched him - something he still found extremely unsettling. "Most likely, I work as a direct liaison between your father and the involved agencies. In a way, I'll still be responsible, but from behind the scenes. I'm sure someone will keep you informed." Seifer will keep you informed. He didn't say that, then again it went without saying.

"Thanks." She nodded as if she'd accepted his words. In her heart, she knew her father didn't care enough to step in. She wasn't wasting any more time talking about that man. Leonhart still held onto his pre-set notions - the truth would disappoint him soon enough. Still, there was one more thing she needed to clarify; she couldn't say goodbye without clarification.

"Agent Leonhart, I need to say something before you leave. What I said earlier about Quistis… it was entirely overstepping my bounds."

He shifted at the mention of the name, redistributing the weight he'd been carrying. Thankfully, she wasn't able to spot the nuances of body language. He'd allowed the topic of Quistis to remain dormant long but his reasoning would now be in question. That sealed it; nothing could be gained from the truth, possibly the opposite. It wasn't about appeasing her conscience as he wasn't guilty of anything but doing his job.

In hindsight, time proved his next words to be just as damning. Not because they were a lie…because they were the truth.

"It's fine. It was…uncomfortable, but it was some of the kindness words I've ever heard. People always want something from me but…what you said, it came across differently."

"If that's how your life's been, then…" Her words trailed off. Sympathy was what everyone else offered – he didn't want it; he didn't ask for it. So, she took a different track, agreed with it. "I get that...I was raised with certain expectations. My life was predetermined and it seemed that everyone else wanting something from me. I thought I could get out but…there really is no 'out.' No matter who you are, your station in life, people will always find something they want."

Rinoa's laugh was diminutive and timid, anxious and unsure, borne from nervousness and feeling completely out of place. She stood to look him in the eyes, but turned away, suddenly feeling ashamed. No matter how she played it off, she was no better than the others. "I wish I could say I'm different, but I also wanted something from you…to believe me. That's why I hope you find what you're looking for in your career, your life…because believing me isn't worth the price. But, now I'm asking something else – no matter what path you choose, choose for yourself."

For her, lightning always strikes countless times – she managed to say the words, but only when they were laced with goodbyes. It should've been the opposite, goodbyes were supposed to be hard to say. Yet to her, some came naturally, where others didn't but, given her life, it made sense in its own twisted way.

Even though she couldn't look at him, he had no problem looking at her. "…Why would-?"

He stopped abruptly as the bathroom door opened jerked open. The sound startled them both, but only Rinoa visibly flinched. "Yo Leonhart, stop flirting with the witness and get your ass in here."

That was…uncomfortable. Rinoa tensed, crossed her arms, and became awkwardly-aware that she was only wearing a bathrobe – a realization that hadn't fully sunk before. She smiled, playing the distraction off as a joke.

"Ignore him."

"Already am."

She chuckled. "I kinda got that impression. Guess the idea of being BFFs is out of the question."

He tilted his head ever-so-slightly, stupefied that this was the comment she'd chosen to say. "…Yeah."

"You're being summoned by Detective Almasy and I probably should eat…nothing personal. I've just never been comfortable eating in front of others. I'm aware…I make no sense."

No. She made perfect sense to him, but he didn't comment – it was one of those things that didn't need to be said.

There was one more point of contention between them; glancing over her shoulder, she motioned towards 'snack mountain.' In the bathroom, she'd wanted distance between them - like the entire Galbadia continent's worth, but after seeing how much effort he'd actually put forth, she owed him this.

"Thank you. I should've eaten something because I was feeling weak…and being stubborn." She turned back, sucking her bottom lip nervously, "Unfortunately, the stubborn outweighed the weak."

The bathroom door opened wider, as Seifer's head made an appearance this time. "Yo, seriously, this is becoming a little awkward. Next time, put a damn sock on the door if you don't want to be interrupted."

Squall snapped back this time, "Shut up."

"You're such an ass." No matter the intent, both preferred to interpret this as Seifer's polite way of stating, "Take your time, I'll be patiently waiting until you're done."

…Or maybe not.

Squall too had one last thing he wanted to make clear, the phone call. To him, it was ancient history, but others don't let go so easily. No matter his opinion, her life had never been expendable. "About the phone call and how it sounded, I don't blame you for not hearing me out before, but I'd like to clarify…if you're willing."

Her heart sank; she hadn't drawn parallels between their situations until now. He'd tried for hours to get her to listen, but with her then-mindset, she just couldn't. Yet, when the tables had turned, and he'd jumped to a conclusion, she was upset and blamed him for not listening. Yes, the circumstances weren't exactly the same, but they were similar enough. They both believed the worst and while the past couldn't be changed, she wouldn't deny him now.

"Well, you did buy me the most expensive dinner ever…so seems about fair." She'd tried to break the tension with humor, albeit badly. She inwardly winced at her delivery.

He stared at her blankly, but decided to respond anyways. "Miss Heartilly, I know you have no reason to believe this, but the call was mostly an act, similar to the situation at the police station. I have a working theory the lines could have been tapped, especially since she'd used a DEA-issued mobile. It was…hurtful, but for all of our sakes, it had to sound plausible, even the anger and betrayal."

There was more, but he decided against it when he felt another knot in his stomach. It's why he avoided any personal interactions. Guilt, no matter how minute, was bothersome. It seemed that with every action, he had to react by either omitting something or misleading her. Like now, he refused to admit his secondary reason, which was to deceive Quistis until he was sure of her loyalties. That's why the truth was his alone, as it didn't involve Heartilly

Still, his answer must've sufficed as she was able to make direct eye contact. It was actually unnerving because it appeared she was studying him. He hated that. He hated when people tried to read him, but maybe she'd see the truth. She blinked, looking away. There was something in her that seemed like it had been overwhelmed. He almost wanted to ask but it wasn't his business.

"Makes sense. Caraway wasn't above bugging lines. And please…" she hesitated, losing her train of thought, a familiar occurrence. Swallowing, she blinked several times, doing her best to look at him. Try as she might, she nearly spat out the next words. "…And you can call me Rinoa."

"No, I really can't." He saw her disappointment and maybe he should've appeased her by saying 'fine,' but this time, he really couldn't. The timing of her request had actually thrown him a bit, enough that he fell into comfortable patters, causing the next few words to come out robotic. "That's all. That's the position on the phone call. However, because of the on-going investigation, I cannot divulge any further information. Moving forward, Detective Almasy will remain your contact."

He mentally winced – he sounded like he was reciting from a damn textbook. Thankfully, his humanity picked that moment to kick in. "…Plus, you and he…well, it's obvious you've built a special rapport."

He paused a second time, adding the next part with a tinge of sarcasm, "And apparently, he thinks he's your knight."

She forced a laugh. It was better than tears. "I trust him. He actually reminds me of Zone. And yes, the irony isn't lost on me. But believe me, he's certainly not my knight…I stopped believing in fairytales long ago." She leaned in, stage-whispering the next part to keep it from prying ears, "And since I'm being honest, he's more like a trusted court jester…but for the love of everything sane, don't repeat that. He wouldn't let it go."

"Secret's safe." He swallowed, taking a step back. She'd only leaned in for that second, but out of habit, he had the need to retreat, even if it was just a step. "Since you're being honest, I have a question but, if you prefer not to answer, I'll respect that choice."

For a person who spent so much time predicting the negatives in human behavior, it was difficult to accept when actions deviated from what he'd expected on paper. When faced with something positive or something that went beyond the norm, especially when it involved him, people were – she was - unexplainable. For three hours, she'd refused communication; his logical conclusion was that her anger would've re reached a boiling point and the minute she stepped out of the bathroom, she'd explode. She hadn't. Her reaction was the opposite – kindness.

She nodded, encouraging him to ask.

"You avoided me for hours, but the first thing out of your mouth was defending me to Detective Almasy…I don't understand."

"Stop trying to." She shrugged. "Trying to understand will drive you crazy – sometimes people do things that don't make sense. And let's face it, you sort of put a rather large target on your head."

He looked at her with what she could only describe as half-smirk of agreement. "That's a jab at the new addition to my face, isn't it? The one courtesy of your knight…sorry, your jester."

Seifer's decided to throw in a 'friendly' reminder of his presence. "Yo, Fed-Boy, I heard that. Seriously, is this where I tell you two get a hotel room? …Oh wait, never mind, carry on."

"Speak of the devil… Seriously, I think he's the devil," Squall added sharply.

"Be nice," she laughed, giving him a playful slap on the arm. He tensed, but didn't say anything as she continued. "And no, my comment had nothing to do with your cut. See, if I wanted to be mean, I could've said that Seifer was slaying the evil dragon, but since you're not that bad… I'll go with the annoying Bite Bug."

"I should be offended, but since you didn't go with ogre or troll. I'll count my blessings."

He started to smile, but caught himself beginning to relax. He had no idea what the hell that was about. Maybe it was because it was close to two in the morning, he hadn't had any decent food, and with little sleep from the night before, and all those things were taking its toll on him. That said, he was still sharp enough to know that she'd avoided answering his question. If it had been under different circumstances, he would've been upset, but this time he couldn't be. He'd said from the start that responding was a choice. Then again, he was a firm believer that people should answer in a straightforward manner. He would rather have her decline to answer outright than do a song and dance.

Knitting his eyebrows, he looked at her. "If you didn't feel comfortable answering, just say so."

Rinoa blinked a few times, talk about irony. If she understood correctly – he was upset because she hadn't answered a question about why she wasn't upset with him. It was official - this was the Squall Leonhart way of dividing by zero.

"You make no sense," she began, hugging her arms around her midsection. Not that she would have known but, her body language suggested that she was closing herself off – something he found interesting.

"You want an answer? All right, I'll give you one. You are irritating, brash, rude – strike that – inappropriately rude, the list could go on, but for the entire list of negatives - you're a good person. In this world, that trait goes a long way with me. Of course, not everyone's going to feel that way. I can be upset with the way you handle things, but I can't be upset at what you're trying to do."

Awkwardly, she choked out a laugh, unable to gage his response. He just stared at her and rendered her thoughts incoherent. She felt her body tense as his eyes seemed to look through her – talk about an inopportune to be spellbound. It might've been cliché, but she'd never forget them. Ever.

"All right." His voice sounded…empty.

Had she done something wrong? She wasn't used to putting herself out there, but he made her want to open up. He turned to walk away, but she made the ill-advised decision to go for broke. Lunging forward, she grabbed his arm. He did an about-face so quickly, she instantly regretted her choice. It was obvious that being touched wasn't something he was comfortable with, yet she kept somehow finding a way to do just that.

She quickly decided this wasn't a good idea, at all, but had frozen to the spot. His scowl spoke volumes, but he didn't jerk away, he didn't yell, he stood straight, more confused by her actions than she was. He quickly composed himself, staring down at her. That snapped her back to reality, finally detaching from his arm.

"Saying wait would've been just as effective."

"Yes, but not as fun…wait. What I meant, was I used to play football with the boys growing up, guess the tackling instincts are still there." She would've made a mad dash for the bathroom, but something told her she wouldn't fare any better there.

"I stand corrected. Your method is effective, if I ignore the fact this isn't football," Squall deadpanned. He decided against telling her it would've been a horrible tackle, considering. Apparently, Rinoa wasn't embarrassed to throw her arms around people, just embarrassed to admit that she did. Maybe he'd be a good 'wingman' and clue Seifer in about bringing a football with him or…maybe not.

Biting her lip, she smiled impishly. "Sorry, I just wanted to say I get sidetracked."

His brows knitted in confusion. "You tackled me to tell me you get sidetracked?"

"That's not what I mean… I'm saying I answered just about everything you didn't ask, but nothing you really did." Stepping back, she glanced down. "You may not believe me, but see…I didn't have many people to trust growing up. It's one thing talking to someone about random things, but another thing…"

"…to open up?" He finished the sentence for her.

Seeing her there, he saw something new, something vulnerable. She had been protecting herself by being equal parts playful and stubborn. That was the real her, but there was something beyond that. Most of all, he saw a person afraid of being hurt, being judged. He saw a person who had taken a completely-different path, but ended up being just as lost. He may have been projecting, but hopefully he knew better.

"Exactly." Forcing a smile, she continued, "In the bathroom, I had time to think…and cry…and cry again…and then do more thinking. I thought of everything, from my childhood to my mother, to all the mistakes I've ever made. I thought of all the things that have gone wrong and the times I wanted to give up. I thought of everything including Zone and Watts and the person they thought I could be. As cliché as it sounds, life's too short focus on the negative."

He watched the tears stream down her face. Normally, they'd bother him, but these had been a form of cleansing. Remembering Seifer's comments about napkins, he quickly reached into the bag to get one. With a soft 'thanks,' she accepted it, wiping her eyes as she continued.

"Anyways, I was lying there, no longer able to cry…somehow, I managed to doze off. It wasn't the most comfortable, but my only thought was - I survived. I was probably supposed to die but, beyond any reasonable explanation, I didn't. And then there was you…someone who didn't know me, but believed me all the same. You risked so much…and seeing you smile didn't hurt your case either," she said, trying to keep it relatively upbeat.

Words rarely fazed him, although the next thing would come close. "You're a good person Squall Leonhart. About you and Quistis…I meant everything. I hope she realizes how lucky she is, then again, I hope you realize how lucky you are. It's understandable... she isn't my biggest fan. I still hope she's the one who can save you."

That omission just sort of slipped out naturally - thinking them was one thing, saying them was another. His demeanor remained steadfast, although his brain simply couldn't process it.

Save? Save him from what? Sure, there were inherent dangers on the job, but it equaled others in his field. While he honestly couldn't make rhyme or reason of that remark, he decided not to dwell on it. For once, someone who had no outward reason to care did just that – she cared. That concept was…scary as hell. Unaware of his own actions, he'd closed his eyes, losing himself within his own thoughts.

The split-second he allowed reality in, his eyes flew open and his demeanor became the portrait of indifference. Clearing his throat, he decided to end this, once and for all.

"I need to get in there, I'm…concerned. He's been fairly quiet, considering. God only knows what he's doing for entertainment," he said, gesturing towards the bathroom door with his hand.

Unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, Rinoa misinterpreted the meaning. "Oh, ah, wow," she chuckled awkwardly, "… he really is proud of his big file."

The look on Squall's face said it all.

Leave it to her to take one of the most emotionally-honest moments she'd had well, ever, with anyone and kill it with a joke better fitted for one of Zone's naughty magazines. Her nerves had taken hold, leading to another absurd conclusion. To be fair, she'd spent nearly her entire adolescent years around males. There was no doubt that that's exactly what any of them would've meant.

Ashamed, she covered her face as she felt her cheeks burning. "God, you meant he was probably listening to us….I'm so embarrassed."

He clenched his jaw, responding with the only logical answer. "I would be too."

Her assumption had been so utterly ridiculous that he nearly smiled in secondhand embarrassment. Thankfully, the gesture was so foreign that even the slightest twitch was felt.

With a curt nod, he excused himself. The conversation had become way too uncomfortable for his liking, although that had little to do with the miscommunication. Truthfully, it wasn't like him to become vested in someone's reasoning unless it case-related. It felt entirely wrong.

The fact was that he hadn't lived up to professional standards today – his or the bureau's. He'd been distracted and snappy. He'd been curious and almost concerned. He didn't like it; he much preferred his stagnantly-grumpy self.

After several warning knocks, he entered the bathroom – still with a tad more apprehension than normal. Turned out that Heartilly's words had etched some very unwanted concerns into his head and, although what he found was surprising, it wasn't that surprising. Seifer had been sitting on the edge of the bathtub, completely engrossed in playing a game on his mobile phone.

"Really? That's what you're doing."

Seifer snorted without looking up. "Well, it's better than listening to your painful attempts to hit on the witness. Word on the street is that Funguars have more game than you… and four times the personality and sex appeal."

"I don't need your shit so don't start. Now, what's so damn urgent?"

"Well, I was going to warn you to stay the hell away from her, but after hearing you, I think the warning isn't needed. I'd never insult Rinoa like that."

Squall reached his limit. As much as he wanted to take a swing at this asshole, he couldn't go down that road. Still, he wasn't about to be stand here and be disrespected like that. In one swipe, he batted the phone out of the detective's hands. It ricocheted off the shower walls, hit the tub's bottom, and then unceremoniously broke into three pieces.

"Fuck man, I was gonna beat that level! You know how long I've been working on that stage of Disgruntled Chocobos? Those damn Cactuars would've been salad fodder, part of my balanced breakfast."

"Play with your damn birdies later, what did you want to tell me?"

"What-the fuck-ever. How about I say that I heard every pathetic thing you said 'cause sound travels into here? Or I could say that the Chocobos aren't the only ones disgruntled - your boss is looking for you. Head-Fed was none-too-pleased you've fallen off the grid. Of course, we know that's good, so congrats on not completely sucking ass at your job."

"Thanks for the compliment," he responded dryly. "I need to get a hold of him, but not here. I also need to ditch the government-issued car. I'll rent under an alias if needed."

"May I suggest using Seymour Butz? A classic in its own right and aptly-fitting." Reaching into the bathtub, Seifer retrieved his phone and then clutched it tightly. "Little-Baby."

Since they were no longer twelve-years-old, Squall ignored Seifer's comments. Then again, with the mentality around here, determining the mean age seemed impossible. "I need to get in contact with Director Kramer, but want to head a few blocks down before trying my phone. That should also change its last known location. Keep the laptop, it's safe to use - unlike my phone, it's secure. I cashed in a favor from a colleague in cyber crimes. Maybe you can find your Chocobo game on there…or maybe do some actual work."

Seifer reached into his pocket, grabbing a set of keys. "Screw a few blocks, Rinoa's worth more than that – head to a completely different district. I'm letting you use Big-Baby, but if there's one scratch on her, I'm coming after you and kicking your scrawny ass."

"Really? One scratch on your car?" Squall replied angrily as he snatched the keys. It pained him when Almasy was right, but further was better.

"Good one, Leonhart. Still, one ding on Big-Baby and that chicken scratch on your face will be nothing compared to what's coming your way, got it?" He scanned Squall's wound, feeling a pinch of guilt. Frankly, it could've been either of them. To be blunt, if it had been him, he would've gone bat-shit insane. Seifer did give props to Squall for taking it in stride.

Using his finger, Seifer made a slashing motion across his forehead. "Sorry about that. Battle scars and all. Think of it as a conversation starter, a great way to pick up women. They go for that sort of thing. Seriously, consider filling out that application to be my wingman." His only response was an evil glower. "Sorry, my bad, Fed-Boy. Think of it as a way to pick up men then? Animals? Office furniture? Whatever your thing is."

Just as Squall was reaching for the doorknob to leave, Seifer asked one more question. "Are you going to say goodbye…in case you're reassigned? Might be the last time you see her."

He swallowed as his fingers wrapped around the knob. He was never one for goodbyes. "I'm sure our paths will cross."

Seifer kept his voice down. "You know, I was with Quistis when you called. If you were serious about getting Rinoa into witness relocation, well…your paths will never cross."

Squall turned around. "If the DEA is as involved like I think they are, she'll have to disappear."

"I know." The detective looked down, shaking his head. All traces of humor had vanished as Seifer said the next words. "That's why it's probably best your paths don't cross."

Squall was curious about the comment, but decided against asking. Although Seifer was the last person he thought would be speaking the truth, the man was right.

"Seifer, take care of her arm, I wasn't able to."

"That's not a goodbye." Seifer stood in disbelief.

No it wasn't, but it was looking out for her.

"We already said our goodbyes," Squall stated firmly before he walked out of the bathroom…and then out of the hotel altogether.