EPILOGUE
"Oh, breathe not his name! Let it
Sleep in the shade,
Where cold and unhonored his relics are laid."
--Thomas Moore


"I was wrong."

Quistis looked up at Zell dully, hands still shaking. She would be having nightmares of that battle for a very long time...

"What?" she asked, staring at the other SeeD. He was staring at the floor as if asking for forgiveness.

"About... about Seifer. God, I... I always thought he was such an asshole. But he... he saved us all, didn't he?"

Quistis lowered her head again. "Yes," she said faintly. "I think he did."

'I have seen some troubled children, but he was beyond troubled...'

From across the balcony Irvine raised his head as if he was about to speak, then thought better of it. Selphie, by his side, was as silent as they had ever seen her. Rinoa sat, huddled in a corner with her arms around her knees, face hidden by the long strands of hair that fell down on either side of it. She was shaking.

Two shadows fell across the entrance, and Quistis glanced up halfheartedly to see Fujin and Raijin standing in the doorway. Each had expressions as cold as stone.

"Nothing," Raijin said softly, shaking his head. Quistis sighed.

"Nothing," she repeated to herself.

Fujin spoke in a soft, almost-silent voice that was entirely unlike her customary snap. "Hurt, inside," she said.

Quistis nodded. "I'm... I can't say how sorry I am--"

"No," Fujin stressed. "Him."

Quistis looked out at where she was pointing, following the line of her arm into the darkness outside. There, barely distinguishable from the grey of the mountains, was a black-clad form on one of the ledges. Beside him the smaller hump of a gravestone rose from the ground.

"Poor kid," Irvine said, ignoring the fact that he was actually younger than Squall himself was. "I guess I never knew he felt that strongly."

"I didn't either," Quistis said. "I don't think any of us could have."

"No one expected any of this... y'know?" Raijin asked sadly, looking at Quistis. Quistis looked away.

Squall, I'm sorry, she thought up at him. I wouldn't have called the retreat if I had known. I would do anything... anything... I can't bear to see you like this. Not you. Not you, of all people...

As if in agreement, a muffled sob cut across the balcony. In a gesture of comfort that should have seemed misplaced, Fujin reached out and put a hand on Rinoa's shoulder.

"Cry, good," she whispered. "Squall... does not cry. He should. ...too hurt inside to speak..."

Quistis turned back to the figure up on the ledge. I am so, so sorry, she thought. If there's anything I can ever do to make it up to you...

A flash of lightning cut the air, and moments later it was followed by a peal of thunder. Fat droplets of rain began to fall, gleaming silver in the Garden's ringlight.

The figure on the mountains didn't move as the rain increased to a torrent, then a downpour. He only stood there, staring down at the grave at his feet as if nothing could erase the loss inside his soul.

Laguna stepped off the transport, shouldering his pack. Kiros and Ward stood beside him, both looking up at the blue Garden and the dark mountains behind it. Rain, having traveled up from the Centra continent, doused the Balamb landscape liberally.

"You sure you want to do this?" Kiros said, crossing his arms.

Laguna nodded. "Yeah. I gotta." Ward grunted beside him, and Laguna shook his head. "I'll be fine," he said. "I can deal with him."

"We'll trust you. For now. Just don't come crawling back with bruised feelings."

"Don't worry about it," Laguna said. "It'll be fine."

Stepping towards the Garden, Laguna could hear the transport taking off behind him. Approaching the Garden, he was surprised to see someone outside it, waiting for--something. As he approached, he saw it was Nida.

"Hey!" Laguna called, and Nida looked up. Waving halfheartedly, Nida stood and moved towards the trio.

"Welcome back, guys," he said, his greeting as halfhearted as his motions. "I suppose you want rooms?"

"We could stay in Balamb, if it's inconvenient," Kiros said before Laguna could respond. Nida shook his head.

"Nah, it's all right. We have plenty of space." A peal of thunder sounded above them, and Nida glanced up. "What brings you guys all the way over here?"

"He wanted to see Squall," Kiros explained. Nida sighed, looking at the ground.

"Good luck."

"What do you mean?" Laguna asked. Nida glanced up, pointing towards the mountains.

"I mean no one's been able to get a word out of him since the funeral. He's been up there for hours, now."

"Funeral?" A stab of fear hit Laguna. Nida couldn't be making some sort of macabre joke... could he? "What funeral?"

Nida grimaced. "Don't worry, it wasn't his. No... he told us to bury Seifer up there. Apparently it was the site of some duel or something--he wasn't terribly clear. Thing is, he hasn't left the grave since we finished filling it in. Pretty much everyone's been up there, trying to get him to come down before he catches something. It hasn't worked." Nida's grimace deepened. "Everyone has been up there. And I mean everyone. Rinoa, Zell, Selphie, Quistis, Irvine, Fujin, Raijin, me, Xu, Kadowaki... you name it. Anyone who feels even marginally comfortable around him has tried to get him down. He just sort of stands there, saying nothing, doing nothing. It's almost like he's dead on his feet. And after his almost being dead on his back, I can't say it's much of an improvement."

"Maybe I should talk to him," Laguna offered.

"If you want to try your luck, go ahead."

Laguna turned to Kiros and Ward, scratching the back of his neck absently. "Uhm, why don't you guys go get rooms. I'll go up by myself."

Kiros and Ward nodded silently. "Right inside," Nida said.

Squall was standing exactly where Nida had said he would be, on a ledge in the mountains. The rain had plastered his hair to his head and was running off him in rivulets, but he didn't seem to notice. His thumbs were hooked in the pockets of his pants, and he stood as motionless as a statue. In front of him was a patch of newly-packed earth beginning to run in the rain, graced only by a simple grey headstone. It reminded Laguna inescapably of Raine's somehow; only with a tinge of shadow in the rock that was only accented by the rain and gloom. The Hyperion lay across the grave near the base of the headstone, rain running off its polished surface. A gleaming, silver-blue scale was set into the headstone, bearing a simple inscription. Silently, Laguna walked up next to Squall and read it.

SEIFER ALMASY
------------------
DIED AGE 19

"I never really knew the kid," Laguna said awkwardly. Squall said nothing. "I was a bit confused by him. I heard that he did all these terrible things to you, but then I heard he saved you, too. I didn't know what to think."

Neither did I. The tiniest shudder went through him, but aside from that there was no indication that he had heard. He saved me a lot, Squall thought. At Fisherman's Horizon. On the bridge. On the coast. At Fisherman's Horizon again, when I was in the jacket. And after the battle. If I hadn't promised him, I wouldn't have taken up Quezacotl's offer. And what does he get? I couldn't save him once.

"I heard what happened."

Squall almost said something, but didn't. You can't imagine it unless you were there, he thought. Whatever they told you, it doesn't do justice to it. Seifer made a conscious decision to give his life in place of mine. Why? Was he that tired of living? Or did he actually think I was worth more? Squall stared down at the grave, unable to tear his eyes away. If Seifer had waited a second longer... been a meter farther away... I would be the one in that grave while he was lying in the infirmary. Not the other way around. Not this way. How can I ever stand to accept that? A second might as well be forever--for all the difference it made.

"So, that's it, then? No epitaph, or anything? Just, 'Seifer Almasy, died age nineteen?'"

There aren't any words that would fit. He died before we could really understand him. Why? Is it Dyne's fault? Is it mine? Or was it just some stupid accident of fate? Life is unfair. You can't choose what happens around you. Bad things happen to good people. It's just like that. Maybe there is no reason.

Laguna shifted his weight nervously, making a squelching sound in the mud. "So you were his friend, huh?"

I never really knew. Laguna lapsed into silence beside him but Squall ignored his father. Someone once said you should try to focus on the good memories you have of a person, instead of their death. But I don't have any good memories.

Seifer... you've become only a memory.

"I... came to talk with you. But maybe this is a bad time."

Nothing.

Laguna sighed. Sounding a bit hurt and very resigned, he turned away. "Never mind. I guess I don't really have a right to intrude." With an ache in his heart, he started moving back towards the Garden. "I'll contact the transport and have them come back."

"Wait."

Laguna almost jumped. Turning, he saw that Squall hadn't moved. "What?" he asked.

Squall shuddered. Like Quezacotl said. I lost the best friend I never knew I had. Do I... do I want to take the chance of losing a father, too? Sighing, he turned away from the grave to look at Laguna.

"I... I don't know if I'll ever be able to accept you," he said, and Laguna's face fell even further. "...but I guess I can try."

Laguna stood there for a moment, staring at Squall. "Then I guess that's all I can really ask," he said.

"It won't happen fast."

Laguna took a step closer, and clasped Squall against his chest. The SeeD didn't move, either to pull away or hug him back. "I know."

Silently, Squall waited as Laguna broke the embrace. Looking back at the Garden, he shook his head. "A lot has happened."

"Too much," Laguna agreed. "But... for now, maybe we should go inside? It's cold out here."

In more ways than one. Squall turned back to look at the grave. I've never felt this way before. "We tied." He sounded as if he was confessing.

"What?" Laguna was obviously confused.

"Our last duel. We tied. Neither of us won."

"Oh," Laguna said, deciding not to ask. Motioning to the Garden again, he shrugged. "Maybe we should be getting back?"

Squall nodded. There's nothing up here but dirt and stones anyway. Seifer's body may be here, but Seifer isn't. It's just... another way to remember. "Yeah."

Almost as an afterthought, Squall bent down and grabbed Seifer's gunblade. Turning, he walked in silence back towards the Garden. Laguna followed, saying nothing.

As Squall stepped up to the door, Nida clapped a hand on his shoulder. With a silent, sympathetic look, he turned to go inside. Laguna walked in after him, rubbing his hands together to defeat the cold.

Inside... inside, he had friends. Light, and life. They said pain shared was pain halved. All Squall knew was that he couldn't bear it alone--that part of him had died with Seifer.

As morning broke there would be a memorial for those who had died, Seifer not the least among them. And a human service for Bahamut, which might be graced by GF's as well. They would be remembered. Squall had kept his promises. All of them.

The thunderstorm would be gone by then, leaving the sky clear. The stars would be out tonight, and the moon would be full. The light would gleam off the mountains, transforming them into great, glowing sentinels seemingly not of this world. And the simple headstone would gleam brightest, all the light of the heavens glittering off the entirety of Bahamut's remains--that single, palm-sized scale.

Squall paused on the threshold of the Garden, turning back to the ledge. For one, brief moment he seemed to hear a voice, calling his name, and see a faint silvery figure among the crags giving him a final salute.

Then again, maybe it was only the wind.

--The End--