The Orphan Chapter 26
The Legend of a Hero
By Kate Lorraine
Seifer Almasy walked through the crowded first floor of Balamb Garden trying to attract as little attention as possible. He was there alone today, with neither his posse nor his gunblade. Squeezing his way through the sea of people he heard snippets of conversation. In the past day or so he had become rather popular at garden. It was made known that he had lead the fight against the sorceress, that in the end he had almost died fighting the witch. He was the new hero of Garden.
The crowd stirred. Seifer was pushed to the side as people began moving, trying to make a path for the small carriage bearing the coffin of their old commander. As the oak casket went by, there was a mixed reaction as some students choose to salute it while others looked away in disgust. Seifer did neither, he merely turned his face away and continued making his way toward the elevator. The last thing he wanted to do now was attend the funeral of Squall Leonhart. In fact, he was planning to get as far away from that gathering as he possibly could. Yet as he caught sight of that coffin he felt a surge of dread. No, it couldn't be. He wasn't feeling guilt. . . was he?
Seifer had never believed that Squall deserved the acclaim he got for defeating Ultimecia. However now, he couldn't fool himself into believing that Squall deserved the notoriety that clouded his name for defending Alexandra. It was all just a pointless game, one that he was finally gaining an upper hand in.
Seifer stepped to the elevator, out of the mob. He pressed the oval button for up when the doors opened with a ding. He winced inside suddenly as he saw who was standing there.
Rinoa. Her eyes had a distant look to them but they focused suddenly as she caught sight of him. For the first time in a long time, Seifer was at loss for words.
"Seifer," she said with a nod, her layered raven hair bounced lightly as she walked out, towards him. Seifer stood there, watching, half hoping that she would disappear, half hoping that she would just burst out and confess her hatred for him.
She was dangerously close now. Her large brown eyes looking into his. What was it that he saw now that he had seldom seen before. Her eyes glowed with an aura of sadness as she watched him. This was not the Rinoa he had used to know.
"Is there something you want to say, Seifer?" she asked.
What did she expect him to say? Did she expect him to apologize for all the times he tried to kill her? He wanted to run away then even at the risk of being a coward. This was one confrontation no amount of training could prepare him for.
"I'm not sure .. what you want to hear Rinoa." he said.
She nodded as though she completely understood his reply. She brushed a strand of hair away from her face and frowned. Her tiny pout was tantalizing. Had he seen it on any other woman he would have found it erotic. However her entire demeanor frightened him. She was . . . just like a witch.
"I don't hate you Seifer." she said reaching over to touch his arm. She withdrew her hand as he twitched at her touch. "Maybe, Seifer, some dreams are better left unrealized."
He frowned at her. "You know nothing of my dream, Rinoa."
She nodded as though that too had been expected. "I didn't mean your dream, Seifer, I meant mine." she drew back. "I once told a man I loved dearly that I never stopped loving something once I've started. I want to say the same to you now." At that she backed away and walked into the crowd. She looked back only once and nodded at him.
Seifer stood there for a moment longer, feeling a chill down his spine.
Why can't you just hate me, Rinoa?
Quistis Trepe kneeled down beside Squall's coffin. The lid had been removed and there on the white satin, her little brother laid sleeping. She felt an awful lump in her throat as she leaned over him. She could see his ungloved hand laying top of his chest against the intricate designs of his SeeD uniform. He didn't look dead, maybe he was just knocked out. Perhaps if she sprinkled and phoenix down on him he would wake up. Quistis reached over and took one of his cold limp hands in hers.
The only thing worse than facing his wrath at her betrayal was to know that he had taken that grudge with him to his grave. She remembered how he had turned his head toward her as he slipped out of life. His eyes had been open, as though he had died without understanding. His accusing eyes opened forever as a monument to her decision.
Squall, if only, I could tell you now, how wrong I was.
"Quistis," someone said from behind.
Quistis turned her head, irritated at being disturbed when she had instructed the guards that she must have a moment alone.
Quistis bit her lip. Rinoa walked over, her black heels clicking against the tiled floor. Rinoa knelt down beside the coffin, beside Quistis. She cast her large brown eyes down at the sleeping boy.
"Don't blame yourself Quistis. It's all fate. Where ever Squall is now, I'm sure you are the least of the ones he would blame."
Quistis swallowed deeply. Her eyes were becoming warm with tears.
"No," Quistis whispered. "I failed to protect him. He was my responsibility. It was my own narrow mindedness. I tried so hard to protect his body from harm that I forgot about his emotions.". She pressed her hand against her mouth and looked down, weeping. Rinoa watched her with sympathy. She reached out a hand to the blond SeeD beside her.
"You don't understand." Quistis suddenly began again. "He never wanted Garden. I nearly destroyed Garden trying to keep his place for but all along was projecting my idea of what was best onto him. He never wanted Garden . . . he just wanted you."
"Quistis," Rinoa whispered but was ignored. Quistis threw Rinoa's hand aside and sniffed. She dragged her smooth gloved hand over her wet eyes.
"He died for you. He happily impaled himself on his gunblade because you were in danger. Tell me Rinoa, did he do it because he wanted to be together with you in death? Surely you of all of us would know what was going on in his mind when he committed that act."
Rinoa sighed. She looked away and her demeanor changed. She grew very serious suddenly. "Quistis, if only you knew . . . .what she told him when they were alone. He didn't die for me. He . . . is no martyr."
Quistis did not reply as Rinoa got up. Rinoa looked at Quistis sadly.
"Don't grieve too much over Squall's passing. It's not as tragic as you may think."
Seifer walked into the ballroom where he was showered with a handful of glitter. He scowled as he dusted it off himself. Looking up, he saw the faces of a his new fans. Raijin was standing in front with a grin on his face.
"Congratulations Seifer, I knew you could do it, ya know. Squall and the sorceress were no match for you."
One of the younger students spoke up. "Seifer, how does it feel to be the best warrior of SeeD?"
Seifer stood there for a moment looking at their smiling faces. He had a puzzled expression on his face, one which emitted no sarcasm, no cockiness, no joy.
"Seifer, say something," Raijin said gesturing to the small gathering. "We all want to hear the story from your point of view. Let's all drink and be merry. You can tell them all about how we knew all along that Squall was a traitor."
Seifer stood there and clenched his jaw. For a moment he scanned one happy face to another. He felt frozen in place. There was something he was supposed to say. Something about how Squall was the black knight. That in the end good always triumphs against evil. Yet he remembered Squall standing there that night, with his stained wet with blood, leaning against his gunblade for support, spitting out a mouth full of blood onto the floor. Despite all that Squall had continued to defend his beloved.
Seifer felt a measure of sympathy. It was the weakness of every hero, Seifer realized. When evil appears in the guise of a brother, a friend, a human. In the end you just want to believe that they are secretly good inside. Squall didn't have a measure of goodness in him. He was evil to the core. Seifer wanted so badly to believe that.
Seifer reached out a hand and shoved Raijin aside. He ignored the tabled stacked with wine and foods and made his way to the balcony. Behind him, he heard whispers of confusion. He shoved his way past the crowd of people, glancing absently at their baffled faces.
"Seifer? We're having this party for you, ya know?" Raijin said helplessly as Seifer left the room.
Seifer stood there leaning against the stone railing feeling the wind against his face. Underneath the Garden, the miles of emerald sea stretched to the horizon. It was strange to be alive now that Squall was dead. All his life he had made his personal duty to be better than Squall. That was simply a standard he had set for himself. Now that standard was dead. He never believed that such a day would come, when Squall would cease to exist. It was like a part of him had died.
"Seifer, what are you doing?" Fujin asked.
Seifer turned to see her standing there. The wind was blowing her gray hair away from her oval face. She gave him a faint half smile as she moved closer to him. Her brown eye was large with concern as she studied him.
"It's Squall isn't it? His death troubles you."
"I don't care about Squall. He means nothing to me."
Fujin pressed her lips together in a look of irritation. "No Seifer, I mean Squall was a symbol to you. The reason you are so agitated is that symbols aren't supposed to die."
Seifer ignored her.
"Seifer, you grew up with Squall. He was always there, a part of all your memories. In a way, he stood before you to the grave. You are afraid that since he died you are next."
Seifer looked over at her finally. "It's strange, Danielle, to be without a rival." He and I were the opposite sides of the same coin, Seifer though to himself. He contemplated her words and he realized that they were true. As long as Squall was alive his world was complete. Every hero needs a villain. Now that the black knight was dead, Seifer felt a horrible sense of loneliness as though he had lost the purpose of his life. No, Seifer thought to himself, I'm not that weak. I'll make it somehow. There will be new journeys to embark on, new foes to fight, new legends to make. Squall Leonhart was dead. One story had been finished, the tale of his childhood had ended in victory. But this was just the first one, the white knight had just began slaying his dragons.
Seifer turned to Fujin and smiled sarcastically. It wasn't quite a smirk but it will do for now. "Come Danielle," Seifer said, putting his arm around her narrow shoulders."Let's go back."
Fujin nodded happily. She placed her head against him momentarily and placed her hand against the one draped over her shoulder.
"Are you better now, Seifer?" she asked him.
He nodded at the silver haired damsel in his arms although he still couldn't shake the feeling of loss that plagued him. It left a bad taste in his mouth that no amount of talk could extinguish. When he looked upon Squall's corpse he had felt as though he had swallowed death its self. Maybe Fujin was right, he had seen Squall as a partner to the grave.
But maybe in the end he had lost more than an enemy . . .but a friend.
* * *
Quistis Trepe stood up and began to walk to the podium. She watched the nonchalant faces of the audience and felt that familiar anger boil up in her chest. It was the same anger she had felt toward Drew. For on simple mistake Squall will now have his name forever clouded by infamy. The sorceress's knight. Is that what the history class will remember him as? Perhaps places him on the same list as Adel, Ultimecia. . Seifer Almasy. It frightened her to think that this was one thing she could not protect him from - the jaws of notoriety that had consumed his good name.
Quistis frowned more deeply than she had ever done so before as she walked up the stairs to the microphone beside the opened casket. From where she was standing she could see Rinoa Heartilly sitting in the back staring into space lost in a quiet reverie. She was not crying.
Zell and Fifi were sitting together and so were Selphie and Irvine. Zell had a frown on his face as Fifi wiped her eyes with a tissue. Selphie looked grave but shed no tears. Irvine had his face concealed under his hat. Quistis cleared her throat, preparing to deliver the eulogy to the crowd of half hearted listeners. She felt tears welling up in her eyes but she refused to let them fall. Why aren't you crying Rinoa? Quistis wondered. These are your tears that are in my eyes. Take them back, they don't belong to me.
Quistis allowed her eyes to travel over the crowd once more before she began speaking.
"The body that lies here today is that of our commander, friend and mentor but for me he was also a student. Over the years I tried my best to teach him facts, number and patriotism but now I see that he has learned something more valuable which cannot be taught in a class room."
Quistis felt herself begin to choke on her words as she watched the blank faces in the audience. She paused a moment to recollect herself. Her voice when it came out next was more accusing then she had meant for it to be.
"While the people of this world spoke in the language of power, of ambition, of revenge and of selfishness, Squall spoke in the love. That is why none of you understand what he was trying to say."
Quistis glared at Rinoa then as she saw the black haired girl turn her face toward her right as though she was staring at someone who was beside her. No, Quistis though, she would not let herself believe that Rinoa was on the verge of choosing a new man to love. Such a thought could not enter her mind.
"Today," Quistis continued, keeping her eyes on Rinoa, "we bid farewell to Squall as he enters the stone forest. The baggage he takes with him is loyalty, strength, righteousness and pride. I can only hope that without him we will be able to find these traits amidst ourselves and somehow try to make up for that which we have lost."
Quistis felt her lip tremble as she saw Rinoa attempting to keep her focus on the stage. Rinoa was sporadically glancing to her side as though there was something hopelessly important here. The young student who was sitting two empty seats to her right was glancing at her nervously, as though he was afraid that the commander's old flame was making passes at him.
Quistis ground her teeth in anger.
"And Squall .. . Squall . . . " Quistis trailed off feeling her tears slipping down her cheeks. And Squall gave up his life for love, love that was amorous and adulterous. What tragic joke of destiny was this.
Across the room Rinoa turned her eyes back to Quistis. She watched with the instructor with sympathy.
Let me tell her Squall, look how she grieves for you. I promised you that I would never tell but . . .
Rinoa felt tears in her eyes as she watched Quistis bury her eyes in the palm of her right hand. Rinoa got up then, she wanted to go up to the podium and comfort the instructor but from beside her she felt someone grab her by the arm.
She'll never believe you Rinoa.
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