Zell exhaled slowly and his blue eyes went blank. Squall tightened his grip on him.
"Zell....?!!!" he said harshly, shaking him. There was no answer. "Zell!!!" he said again, louder than before, echoing through the ballroom. Squall shut his eyes and shook his head, gritting his teeth. (God, this *wasn't* supposed to *happen*......! Everything was supposed to go back to the way it was before..... He wasn't supposed to die like this.....) He looked back down at his friend and stroked his fingers over Zell's eyes, closing them forever. He lifted his head up and lied it on his shoulder like he had before. He swallowed hard, placing his hand on the side of Zell's face over the tattoo.
As he held the lifeless body in his arms, Squall lost his grip on everything he had told himself to be true. That a person could survive on their own, that one only needed one's own self to make it in the world. It was all a lie. He had been lying to himself all this time, staring love and happiness in the face and denying it, while his friends had been trying to make him see it.
"*God*, I was so naive," he whispered, repeating the words he had said just moments before. He looked back down at the brother he once had, but never saw. He looked down and saw the result of his stupidity. He shut his eyes fiercely and turned his face away, unable to look at Zell's body anymore. He looked away until he couldn't stand it any longer and he looked back down. He did the only thing he could think to do: he screamed.
Seifer watched from behind one of the marble columns that stood outside the ring of light cast by the skylight. He listened to Squall scream in an emotion he didn't recognize. Not coming from Squall. He didn't scream in sadness, he didn't scream in anger.
He screamed in failure.
Squall had failed to save him like he had sworn to himself he would do if it killed him. He had failed. Seifer was unfamiliar with the emotion coming from Squall. He watched as Squall still held up Zell's body in his arms. He shook his head and walked up behind Squall, kneeling down and putting a hand on his shoulder.
"He's gone, Squall," he said, actually sounding sad. "Let him go."
Squall opened his eyes and looked at Seifer over his shoulder. "Let him go," he repeated softly. Squall looked down at Zell's body and exhaled shakily. He slowly laid him down on the tile floor. He looked behind him as he heard what seemed like an army of footsteps crossing the ballroom floor. "Seifer, stop them," he said, pointing to the other end of the ballroom. "Don't let them see this."
Seifer nodded and got up, running over to the others who were only a few yards away. He stopped them from coming any further. "That's as far as you're going," he said to Quistis, shaking his head. Raijin and Fujin stepped up in front of the others.
"ZELL, SAFE?" Fujin questioned, but in her heart, knowing the answer. Seifer could only shake his head in response. No words would come from his mouth.
Irvine moved the others aside. "You don't mean he's......oh, *God*....." he whispered and turned away.
"He's....dead....?" Selphie said in disbelief. "It's not *true*.....Tell me it's not *true*.....I have to see him...." she said, trying to move Seifer aside so she could see Zell's body. Irvine touched her shoulder.
"Selphie.....He's gone. We can't change it," he said to her. She turned around to face him, looking up into his eyes.
"I wanna see his body, Irvine. I think you do, too," Selphie said, tears already on her cheeks.
She was right. He did want to see his body. He wouldn't believe he was dead until he saw it. Deep down, he knew they all wouldn't believe it until they were shown Zell's body.
"I have to see, too," he said and walked around Seifer with Selphie. Seifer reached out to stop him, but it was no use. Quistis only covered her mouth and turned away with Nida, walking back toward the doors. She did not wish to see his body.
Rinoa ran in front of Irvine and Selphie and came to a halt as she saw Squall kneeling next to his body. She walked slowly, Irvine and Selphie catching up with her, toward Squall. She reached him and knelt down beside him. She looked down at Zell, and shook her head, beginning to cry. "Oh, Squall....." she whispered and he pulled her close.
"He's gone, Rinoa....." he whispered to her hair. He was more calm, then, than he had been but a minute before. Tears still came, but he spoke softly, betraying what he was feeling. "He's gone an' he's not coming back.......God, it wasn't supposed to be this way.....I tried to get the gun from him, Rinoa......I *tried* to get it from him....I could've waited, but I didn't.....I killed him....I killed him by trying to take the gun from him....I didn't mean to, Rinoa.....I didn't mean to....."
Raijin, Fujin, and Seifer stood outside the ring of light that encased the others. "I don't believe it, ya know......Zell's dead....."
"SHUT UP!!!" Fujin yelled at Raijin and kicked him again. She knew he was dead. Why did Raijin keep having to state the obvious?? She hated it when he did that. She covered her mouth and stood silent next to Seifer.
Irvine and Selphie embraced each other, Selphie crying, Irvine's eyes filling with tears. None of them knew what to do. Squall and Rinoa sat, unmoving, on the ballroom floor, next to the body of their friend.
And they stayed there for a long time.
The funeral was held inside the church in Balamb. The entire church was packed with townspeople and students of Garden. People had poured in until there was no longer any room on the pews for them to sit down. Many had had to stand in the back of the room. Many were SeeDs, dressed in uniform for the sad occassion. Others were small children that had known Zell in Balamb.
Up in the front, sat Zell's parents. Ma sat crying, looking away from the coffin in front of her. Pa covered his eyes, leaning forward in Squall's manner, crying. Next to them sat Irvine and Selphie. Irvine wore black, and Selphie her SeeD uniform. Irvine's hat covered his eyes so prying eyes couldn't see the expression that lied beneath. He had shed all of his tears two nights before. He had no tears left to cry. He only wished he had listened to Zell when he had hinted at being suicidal. If he had done something, maybe he would be alive.
Selphie, too, had no more tears left to shed. She was in shock. Her hands were sweaty and clammy as she ran them through her hair.
"You okay, Sefie?" Irvine asked her. She looked up at him and nodded.
"I'm alright, Irvine. Just....I still don't believe it....."
"He's gone, Selphie. We can't change it....No matter how much we want to, we can't change it....I'd take his place if I could, but I can't," Irvine said.
On the other pew, Squall and Rinoa sat. Squall sat wearing his SeeD uniform as were all who were members of SeeD. Rinoa wore a black dress, bowing her head. Quistis sat next to them, also in her uniform. She could only look down at the floor.
Headmaster Cid and Edea sat on the other side of the room, on the front pew, Edea dressed in black as she almost always was. Cid dressed the same as he always did, but with a sad look on his face.
Seifer, Raijin and Fujin all stood in the back of the room. Seifer crossed his arms and looked down at the floor and sighed deeply. He hated funerals. He hated them with a passion. Zell's death had been an accident; he had gone to the ballroom to kill himself, but instead was killed in an accident. Seifer knew Zell didn't blame Squall for what had happened. He didn't, either. An accident was an accident. But it didn't change anything.
The fact that it was an accident didn't take the bullet from Zell's stomach that night. It didn't keep the muscle relaxants from slowing down his breathing and heartbeat, making him die sooner than he should have. It didn't lift Zell out of his coffin and make him breathe again. It had indeed been an accident, but it changed nothing.
Zell had always been Seifer's favorite person to pick at. All because he would get upset and want to fight. But, Squall had always broken them up with only a glance or a word of reprimand. Seifer didn't know it before then, but he realized, as he stood in the church next to Raijin and Fujin, one thing. He respected Squall. When it came to him, his eyes went wide.
Fujin touched his shoulder. "SEIFER, OKAY?" she asked.
He nodded, closing his eyes. "Yes, Fujin. I'm okay," he said, not looking at her. His hand rubbed his chin in a thoughtful manner. "Just thinking...." he said quietly.
"TOO MUCH THINKING, BAD," she said.
"Just sometimes, Fujin......Just sometimes......"
He respected Squall. He didn't know why, but he couldn't deny it. He didn't get along with him, but he respected him. He would leave Garden again, after Zell's funeral. He had soul-searching to do. Alone.
"Fujin," he said, still not looking up from the floor. "I need to ask you something. Actually, I need you to do something, you and Raijin."
"WHAT?" she asked.
"I'm leaving Garden again, after Zell's funeral. I want you and Raijin to stay here," he said. He needed to go and find himself, and he couldn't have anyone with him. He needed no interference, good or bad.
"STAY HERE?? NO. GO WITH YOU."
"No, Fujin....Not this time. I need to be alone for a while, for my own reasons. Will you stay here for me? I wish you could come, but I just need to be by myself for a while. Okay?"
Fujin sighed. She knew when there was no changing his mind. "OKAY....."
They both looked up and the room went quiet as Squall stepped up behind the podium above Zell's coffin. Zell was being buried in his black SeeD uniform, his hairdo unchanged. It was a white marble coffin, the best that Squall and the others could afford ot have him buried in. It had golden handles on the sides, for it to be carried outside with. All around the coffin were flowers on stands and wreathes and in vases. There was hardly enough room for them all.
Squall ascended to the podium and looked down at Zell's body. He lied with his hands over his chest, the tattoo on his face standing out against the pillow his head was lain on. Squall looked down at him and closed his eyes. He sighed as the room went completely silent, the Dincht's looking up from the pew directly in front of him. He could have cried when he saw their faces.
He knew the Dincht's didn't blame him for Zell's death. He knew that they didn't hold him accountable for what had happened. But he did. He blamed himself, if no one else would. He knew he was the one to blame for Zell dying. Looking down at Zell's parents, he could only feel guilt for taking their son away from them.
Squall looked around the room at the SeeDs who had come, some sitting with grim faces, others crying at the loss of a friend. He looked around at the townspeople of Balamb who had known Zell and the small children who had run to him if they were being picked on. He could only feel guilt for taking Zell away from them.
He cleared his throat and swallowed. He looked out over the crowd of people and spoke.
"Friends.....we're gathered here today to pay our last respects to Zell Dincht. He was a friend of mine, as he was to everyone in this room. He....he lost his grip on life, in this past week. He lost his grip on any reason to live....as do we all sometimes.....He was abused into silence by the people he thought loved him, some more guilty than others," he said, turning his face away for a moment and then looking back up at them all.
"He--he didn't--he didn't...think like a lot of us....he always thought there was some way out of anything, any obstacle he might come across....." Squall shook his head. "But, he didn't see what all of us thought was so obvious, and maybe to him it wasn't obvious, but he didn't see that he was cared for. If he were alive to see this room, here, now....If he could see how many people really cared about him....maybe he wouldn't have lost his grip on life like he did.....We can only know that he's in a better place, now, than this wretched Earth of ours."
He looked down and saw Mrs. Dincht crack a small smile at that.
He continued. "We shouldn't remember how Zell died. We should only remember the good person he was. His smile, his loyalty.....He was the most loyal person I'd ever seen.....He loved his family and his friends more than anything in this world. But, if there was anything Zell did well, it was *live*. He knew how to live and have fun better than anyone I know." Squall chuckled a bit. "I remember a few weeks ago, we were in the cafeteria, he'd come over with a plate of hot dogs and sat down with me at my table, just me and him. I remember we somehow got to talking about what we believed about life and he said to me 'Squall, dude, I'm no teacher or philosopher or what have ya, but if anybody learns anything from me, they learn to live life to it's fullest. It's like, ya know, there's a thousand tomorrows, but only one today, ya know what I'm sayin'?'. I didn't know what he meant then. I didn't focus on what he was telling me. I can only think, now, that he was telling me that this was going to happen. I think that was why he sat down with me that day. To teach me what he knew about life and living it, because he knew he wasn't going to be here much longer. I wish I would've sat down and really listened to what he had to say.
"Zell told me, the night before he died, he told me that when he died, he didn't want anyone to cry. He told me he didn't want anyone to feel sorry for him and I don't. I truly don't feel sorry for him. When a person doesn't live their life to the fullest *before* their time comes, that's when you should feel sorry for that person. And Zell took a bite out of life like nobody I'd ever seen." Squall chuckled. "He bit off a little more than he could chew sometimes, but he lived pretty well."
Squall's smile disappeared as he looked down at the Dincht's in the front pew.
"It....just wasn't fair for him to die so early in life.....Children are supposed to bury their parents, not the parents bury their children. It wasn't fair for him to die so early....But, we all know that there's a reason for everything. There was a reason he died when he did, even if we don't see it now. Maybe it was to teach all of us a lesson about showing that we care about others. To not be afraid to say 'I love you' or 'I care about you' to someone else, lest they not be there in the morning. I don't know what the reason is, but there is one. We can only look to a brighter day when we die and see the ones we lost, but until then we should learn from Zell and live our lives to the fullest, lest we not be here tomorrow."
They carried Zell's body in a hearse out to Balamb Cemetary out on the Alcauld Plains outside of town. It was a sunny, but cold morning with the wind blowing in off the ocean. Squall stood in front of all the SeeDs as they fell in in front of the coffin as Zell was about to be lain to rest. Squall stood in front of them, facing the closed coffin stiffly at attention, along with the rest of the formation.
"Squadron," Squall barked loudly to the SeeDs behind him. "Present, ARMS."
Every right hand in the formation saluted the coffin as it was lowered into the ground. When the coffin was in the grave, Squall turned around. "Order, ARMS."
All hands returned to their sides and Squall spoke one last time to the formation. "Fall out," he said softly. Most people were returning to their vehicles to go home after that. Except the Dincht's. They walked over to Squall and the others where they stood. Ma Dincht took his hand in hers and looked him in the eyes.
"Back at the church....that was...a beautiful...I guess you'd call it a sermon....That was beautiful, Squall. I want you to have this," she said, holding out at least twenty gil in her hand. Squall pushed it back away from him.
"I won't accept that, Mrs. Dincht," he said to her.
"Call me 'Ma'," she said softly. "And you will take it." She put the money out in front of him again.
"No, ma'am. I won't take it," Squall said, more insistant this time. Ma sighed.
"If you won't take it, you an' the others can at least come home and eat dinner with me an' Pa. It'll be lonely in the house, now that Zell's....gone...." she said, emotion in her voice. Squall had told her about what had happened, how Zell had died. That it was his fault.
Squall took the older woman by the shoulders. "I'm so sorry....." he choked. "I didn't mean to take your boy from you....." Ma hugged him.
"You did what ya could and that's what counts.....I woulda done no different than you if it would have been me up in that ballroom. I can't blame you for what happened. You was scared for him, was all."
Squall's eyes widened and he gently pushed Ma away. "What did you say....?"
"I said 'you was scared for him, was all'. Why?"
"In the few moments before he died, I told him I was sorry for tryin' to get the gun from him. And....he told me not to worry about it, that passion always ruled reason."
"Of course passion rules reason," Pa Dincht said to him. "You want somethin' bad enough, that want blinds you to rational thinking. You can only see what you want and you'll do anything to get it. You're not thinking clearly."
"I understand, now what he was telling me......He was telling me not to be sorry because I didn't know what I was doing. I was scared for him, and that blinded me from thinking straight....He said there was something under his bed for us, in your home. Would you mind if we looked?"
"Of course not. If Zell said there was somethin' you young'uns was supposed to get outta his room, then you're welcome to it, whatever it is," Pa said.
Squall pulled a small metal box out from underneath Zell's bed. He picked it up and held it in both hands.
Squall's fingers felt a piece of paper on the bottom of the box and he flipped it over. There was a note taped to the bottom of the metal box and he took it off. He opened it up and read it aloud.
'If Zell Dincht isn't dead, don't open this box. The only person supposed to open this box is Squall Leonhart of Balamb Garden.'
Squall turned the box back over and opened it up. There was a video tape inside with a label that said 'last will and testament of Zell Dincht' in Zell's small handwriting.
Only Rinoa, Selphie, and Irvine had followed him up into Zell's room. Quistis, Fujin, Raijin, and Seifer were downstairs with the Dincht's in the living room.
Selphie hopped back and forth from foot to foot. "Let's go see what's on it!!" she said, impatiently. They all took the tape downstairs into the living room of the Dincht's home.
"We found it," Irvine said plainly, decending the stairs after Selphie. Squall came down behind him, the video tape in hand. Everyone sat down wherever they could. The Dincht's stood in the doorway to the kitchen Quistis sat down in a chair next to the blue couch where the others sat, watching Squall as he put the tape in the VCR. He pressed 'play' and sat down on the couch.
The screen was black for the first few seconds, but then Zell came up on the screen adjusting the video camera. He backed away and sat down on his bed. It was being taped in his room upstairs where they had just been. Zell sat on the bed, facing the camera with a grim face.
*"Well......If you're watching this tape, Squall, Rinoa, Quistis, Selphie, Irvine, and Seifer.....If you're watching this, I'm not here anymore and I'm not coming back. I don't know how I died or why, but this is just to say 'I love you' to all of you. Ma, Pa, Squall, Rinoa, Selphie, Irvine. I love every one of you. Ma, Pa, I know you're watchin' this, too and I love you, too. However I died, in a battle, or something else, don't be mad at Squall and the others. I know they did everything they could to save me, no matter how I died."
Ma nodded her head and looked around the room at her son's friends. They were an odd group, but they had been her son's friends, and that was all she cared. They would be welcome in her home until she and her husband were both gone.
*"Selphie.....I know you like Triple Triad, so you can have all my cards. They're in a box in my closet under the floorboard. I got some rare cards in there I never use 'cause they're worth money. You can have those. In case you ever need any money, you can sell 'em.
*"Quistis.....ummmmm.....You can have all the books on my bookcase up here. I don't know if you'll like any of them, but if you don't you can donate them to the library or take them to that bookstore in town an' trade 'em for somethin' you want.
*"Irvine.......Dude, I want you t' close your eyes."*
Irvine cocked his head to the side in confusion.
*"Irvine, I know your eyes aren't closed. CLOSE 'EM!!"* Zell snapped. He picked up the videocamera and held it up to his face. Irvine closed his eyes. *"Irvine, you know what's gonna happen if you open your eyes before I say so? I'm gonna come back down from heaven, an' beat you. Here's what you're getting."*
Zell turned the camera toward his bookcase. *"Okay, you can look now."*
Irvine squealed. In front of the camera over the bookcase, were the rifles Zell's grandfather had given to him. *"I don't think Grampa would mind if I passed these over to you. Don't you agree, Ma? And even if you don't, I don't care, this is my will an' I'll give anybody anything in my room I want. I'm just playin', Ma...don't get upset."*
*"Now, Rinoa.....uhhhhh....[clicks tongue].....I don't know....I don't know what I'll give you.....You can have my CDs. Like with Quistis, I don't know if there's anything you'll like, but if not, you can sell 'em and get somethin' you want."*
They were all getting something to remember him by. Squall knew that he didn't want anything, but whatever Zell gave him, he would keep it and not let anything happen to it.
*"Squall.....you need to do me a favor: stay the commander of Garden. You're the best person suited for the job. There's not a SeeD in Balamb Garden good enough to lick your boots. And do me another favor: don't be punchin' no more rocks, *okay*? When we were at Edea's house when Rinoa was in the coma, when you punched that rock, I heard your fingers pop from where I was standing. For you, Squall? You get my punching bag. Being the commander of Garden, you'll need it and I know you will. You keep punching rocks and you won't have a trigger finger to fire that gunblade no more,"* Zell said, an amused look on his face, pointing at the camera.
Squall laughed. For the first time, he laughed a full throated bellow. Every head in the room turned to look at him. He stopped laughing after a moment and watched as the tape continued.
*"If Seifer's watchin' this tape.....uhhhhhhhhh......Let's just say I forgive you for everything, okay...? I'm not saying I'm your friend or anythin', I just forgive you and we'll leave it at that. Don't be sad for me, guys. I know I'm goin' to a better place, I just hope it has hotdogs and mustard. That's all I care.[door opens and footsteps coming up the stairs.]"*
*"Zell!!! Come help me with these groceries, boy!!"* they heard Pa's voice yell up the stairs. Zell looked at his door and ran over to the camera. He put two fingers against his lips and touched them to the camera lens. *"Bye, you guys...."* he whispered.
And the screen went black.
Squall stood outside on the dock, watching the line of clouds that had blanketed the continent of Balamb for the past week. He watched them recede into the distance as the sun set behind them, casting an orange hue over the water and onto his face. He felt a hand touch his shoulder.
"Squall?" Rinoa said uncertainly. He was thinking again.
"Hmmm?" he replied, still watching the waves.
"What're we going to do without him? He was one of us. How can we keep on going without him?" she asked.
"He's not gone completely, Rinoa. Only his body. He's still here, we just don't see him anymore. He's still with us, I can feel it. He's not gone," Squall said, and in the distance they heard a clap of thunder. "See? There he is."
"He's still not here physically, Squall," Rinoa said, shaking her head. "We can't touch him anymore, we can't talk to him anymore--"
"Sure, we can. He just won't talk back, is all. As for him not being here, I guess we'll all just have to deal with that one day at a time, won't we?"
Rinoa didn't say anything. She didn't have to. She knew he was right. Zell was still there, with them. She just didn't believe he was gone. And she knew no one else really believed it, either. Maybe if they cast a life spell on him, he would come back and be Zell again. But she knew that wouldn't happen, no matter how much people wanted to believe it. He wasn't coming back.
Maybe, in time, they would all come to accept Zell's death as it was, but for now, all they could do was cope with it, as Squall said, one day at a time.
Now, I've got some explaining to do. First, why I let Zell die, instead of having him live. When I first started this story, I intended on letting him live. But as I got to writing it, I realized it would be a more powerful story if he died. Letting him live wouldn't have gotten my point across: be careful how you treat people. If someone you knew died because they felt ugly or stupid because people branded them that, you would feel pretty sorry, especially if you were one of the ones that led the person to that. In everything I wrote in this story, I put myself in the Zell's position, thinking to myself 'what would I do?' or 'what would I say to that'? I put a lot of my personal beliefs in this story. The feelings Zell is showing in this story, I've had experience with. I know what it feels like to be afraid to say something I feel, or that I'm clumsy and dumb. I've felt most of what he felt before, and although I haven't ever tried to kill myself, that was why I was able to write this story. And to answer ????'s question on the review's page, this was so short of a story because that's how it happens a lot of times in the real world. People are fine one day and then the next they're slitting their wrists and starving themselves. People do that, no matter how much we don't want to believe it.
Second, Squall. I had Squall play the big brother in this story. He doesn't really realize that his behavior has an affect on people and I tried to play on that a lot. Especially in the last chapter and the beginning of this one. At the beginning of this chapter, he's more angry with himself than sad about Zell's dying. He's upset with himself for letting it happen and he blames himself, much in the way Zell blamed himself for what happened to Trabia. He hasn't ever experienced something like this, even though he thinks he knows a lot about the world.
Third, Seifer. Like in chapter 11, Seifer only wanted forgiveness for what he had done to Garden and the others. He knows he was crazy when he did all of that, he just doesn't admit it. But he still wants forgiveness for what he did, and he saw that this was the best way to get it, by saving Zell from himself. Which he failed at, so he's leaving Garden again to do some soul-searching. I leave that as an open invitation for anyone who likes to write Seifer stories. Just thought I'd throw that in there for anyone who's having writer's block.
To everyone who read this story and enjoyed it, I thank you wholeheartedly. I also want to thank the following people for helping me out when I needed it: Annika, FunnyGinMan, Ash, Fallenange13, and JuliaHrtly776.
Until next story, I remain.....