"...And Then There Were Five"
An original Final Fantasy VII Fan Fiction
Copyright 2000, Mark Christopher Buchholz
Dear readers, this is my first attempt at writing fan fiction, thus, I've decided to keep it short. This is a complete work. There will not be anymore installments or chapters. Also, this is not what I believe happens after the game ends, but merely one of the many paths that Time can take. I would love to know what my readers think. Please, please Email me at email@example.com; just don't expect any changes to be made to the original document. Thank you and enjoy.
The dawning sun just peeked over the horizon, allowing the mists to lift slowly and eerily from where they lay among the trees and valleys. An unhappy wind flowed down from its bed in the mountains, and down across the open plains. The wind paused only briefly to sadly touch the long reddish-brown strands of hair belonging to a tall, darkly garbed gentleman, loosing a few strands from his simple hair tie, and blowing it into his face. He gently brushed it out of his tear-filled eyes.
Irvine, Selphie, Quistis, and Zell were at the front of the funeral procession. Selphie wept openly, Irvine hung his head. Quistis was struggling to keep herself in control, fighting not to break down, even though her eyes were wet with tears. Zell walked next to Quistis in silent melancholy, his lips tight with concern.
The procession following the four was a long train of bowed heads in dark clothing. No one spoke. Of those that wept, most did it silently. The pallbearers found the coffin difficult to bear, even if the body inside was so light, so frail. Even Headmaster Cid had tears in his eyes, remarkably for one who was not a SeeD.
As the darkly clad mourners wound their way out of the Garden and to the burial site, hearts grew heavier, and all but the strongest wills broke down into tears. Zell was one of the few left with dry eyes.
Headmaster Cid said a few brief closing words, as the narrow coffin was slowly lowered into the grave. Afterwards, as the fresh earth was being shoveled back onto the grave, the company dispersed slowly. Each at their own pace, some staying a while to say their own silent goodbyes to those who knew her personally. Eventually only Quistis, Zell, Irvine and Selphie remained. A long, heavy silence hung in the air. Those shoveling the earth into the grave had completed their task and left.
"Any word on Squall ?" Zell asked reluctantly, almost knowing what the answer would be, grimacing at the thought. His permanent smile was gone.
There was only a shaking of heads in reply. Selphie had almost gotten a hold of herself again, before she burst out into tears again.
Zell closed his eyes. He could still see the fear and panic in Squall's eyes when he told him. That look of horror as he bolted back out the door heading for the infirmary. But by then it was already too late. In the end, Rinoa had only called for Squall. Her weakened voice barely creaking out his name. Even though they were all there for her: Selphie, Quistis, Irvine, and himself, it wasn't enough. She needed Squall. But Squall was not there for her. Squall was away, helping Laguna set up a Garden in Esthar. And when he came back, Squall looked happy. Happy to be back. Yet the atmosphere of sadness that greeted him on his return changed all that.
Dammit ! Zell thought to himself, Why ? Why now, when Squall had just gotten himself together ? When everything seemed to be settling down ? He was so happy with Rinoa. In all the years I've known him, he was never that happy. In fact I don't think I ever remember him even being particularly happy. But now, who knows ? We don't even know where he is. I've gotta feel sorry for the guy. After all those years of loneliness, even at the orphanage, he'd finally found someone, the someone he needed to find himself and find happiness again, and now it's all blown to bits.
Zell hung his head, shook it, and laughed humorlessly, almost a sob, at the irony of it all. It was Ultimecia's last laugh. The sickness which slowly drained away your life's energy, weakening your spirit, until there was nothing left. Your body died not because of physical atrophy, but because of the lack of a will to live. And now, his best friend, the lone wolf, who had finally found his place in life, with his friends, and with his love, had lost control. Squall had fled the Garden only minutes after hearing the news, pausing only to confirm it by seeing her body. Zell remembered seeing him on his way out, running like a madman, with a look of desperation and pain on his face. With tears streaming down his face, Squall had sprinted past Zell and Quistis, without so much as a look in their direction.
Zell snapped out of his reminiscing when Quistis finally lost her battle and broke down, falling to her knees, sobbing loudly.
Quistis had felt a strong sense of friendship with Rinoa. She had become as much a part of the Garden as any of the students. To Quistis's knowledge, Rinoa had a positive influence on everyone she met, and everyone in the Garden liked her for it. And when Quistis put it into perspective, Rinoa was a SeeD in all but title. The younger students looked up to her, the older students, who were not yet SeeD, listened to her with intent and focus. Even though Rinoa never had any formal duties in the Garden, she always seemed to be helping out.
She was one of us, Quistis realized with a fierce sadness, She was one of us, and now she's gone. It's not fair ! Even when Ultimecia is destroyed, she still manages to torment us. And poor, poor Squall....I hope he's all right. He should be, after all, he promised us that he wouldn't try anything crazy.
Quistis remembered the promise, uttered in the instant when the four of them tried to bar him from the infirmary. She just hoped that he remembered his promise.
Irvine offered her a hand after she had composed herself a little. She graciously took it. He placed a firm, sympathetic hand on her shoulder, and brushed the tears out of his own eyes. Finding nothing to say that wouldn't sound stupid or superficial, Irvine patted her shoulder once, and turned to go. Selphie walked with him, his arm around her shoulder.
He remembered that in the past, when he had broken down and cried, he had always felt better afterwards. There was usually a comforting smile and a supporting friend on the other side of his tears. This time there were no smiles.
When you can't cry anymore, you just sit there, feelin' like shit. And because everyone else is feelin' like shit, too, the same stuff just keeps runnin' through your head. And eventually, when you've thought about it enough, you just can't help but start cryin' all over again, he thought.
He offered another tissue to Selphie, secretly hoping she wouldn't need any more, since that was his second to last one.
"Do you think everybody's okay ?" Selphie asked him, her voice choked with emotion.
"I hope so," he replied, his own voice not so clear.
"I think Zell did the right thing,"
"By telling Squall the way he did," she said, "y'know, just telling him flat out, instead of trying to.....soften the blow."
"Yeah, I think we picked the right man for the job, and what a tough job at that. Squall is a no-nonsense kind of guy, so I figgered he'd want us to level with him."
Irvine's mind strayed to the vote they had taken as to who should break the terrible news to Squall. When Zell discovered that they had voted unanimously for him, Zell looked a bit disheartened, but showed no signs of backing out.
Selphie had stopped crying, and now was resting her head on Irvine's shoulder. As they passed through the gates of Garden, Irvine fingered the last tissue in his pocket. He knew that they wouldn't have dry eyes for very long.
Squall had just been running, running from that terrible reality he could not bring himself to accept. And when he could run no more, he walked. He walked for what seemed like an eternity. Getting as far as he could from the one thing he knew he could not face up to. His calves burned, his knees ached, but he did not feel them; those pains were so miniscule in comparison to the one in his heart. Tears streamed down his face.
Squall stumbled and fell face first into the sand.
He looked at it curiously as it trickled out of his hand.
Where am I ?
He looked around. He was on a beach south of Balamb. He tried to remember how he had gotten there.
His first reaction to the look on Zell's face had been concern. Zell was usually very loud and active, yet that day he looked quiet and subdued.
"What's wrong ?" Squall had asked, realizing only after the words were out of his mouth that Quistis, Irvine, and Selphie wore the same expressions.
Zell was about to speak, but looked like he was trying to choose his words carefully.
"Where's Rinoa ?" Squall demanded. It was the first time he had ever truly been afraid.
Zell noticeably resigned himself to what was coming.
"Rinoa's dead, Squall. I'm sorry."
Squall's head went haywire. He couldn't think for a second. He felt like he was losing his balance, like the world was spinning hopelessly out of control.
"Where is she ?" he growled.
"In the infirmary. But Squall..."
Squall was already off and running down the corridor. Disbelief clouding his mind.
It can't be. No, not now. It can't possibly happen this way. I'm going to get there, and she's going to be sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting for me. And everything's going to be all right. This cannot happen to me again.
He dimly remembered Zell and Quistis restraining him from the infirmary, but his focus was on Rinoa. He broke free of his friends and raced through the infirmary, checking the rooms. When he found her, he stopped short, his breath caught in his lungs.
She was deathly white, all her color gone. Her eyes were closed, a gentle wince of pain settled on her beautiful face. I must be having a nightmare, Squall thought. He walked over to her still form on the infirmary bed. He brushed a strand of hair back from her face, and winced at the cold, spongy feel of her skin. It was not the warm, soft skin that he remembered from her embraces. Her lips were drawn and lifeless, no more would he feel their gentle kiss.
"I'm sorry, Squall. There was nothing we could do,"
Squall had not even noticed Dr. Kadowaki when he came into the room. He panicked now, realizing what he was seeing. He was seeing the truth, and the implications were too much for him to handle. He had bolted from the room, and then...
And then ?He wondered, still lying on the beach, his cheek resting on the sand. I....I don't remember. I just ran. Nothing stopped me.
Squall felt numb. He had no more tears, and no more energy. He merely lay there, staring blankly at the waves just beyond his outstretched right hand, the water occasionally nipping at his fingertips. He remained like that for a long time.
He let his mind drift, remembering all the memories he had with Rinoa in them. The time they had met, and the time he had acted without thinking, hurling himself out into space to save her. The moment when he realized he loved Rinoa, circling the moon in Ragnarok. He remembered the feel of her when he embraced her, and how safe and secure he felt in her arms. He remembered what brought them together, the terrible struggle against Ultimecia.
The ordeal with Ultimecia seems like nothing compared to this, he thought, wallowing in his misery.
Squall gave a small start.
He knew it in his gut that Ultimecia was somehow the cause of Rinoa's death. Ultimecia, almost two and a half years dead, had still managed to tear his life apart. Now that he had someone to blame, anger sparked, deep within Squall.
The pain of the past few days fed the spark and fiery fury flared up in Squall. All the misery he had come to know fueled the fire, and Squall was on his feet screaming rage. His one angry roar drowned out the crashing of waves. The fire of his anger set off the magical energies he had drawn from his enemies, and those magical energies set off still others. All the spells he had absorbed went off simultaneously, and Squall's body shook with the force of the spells' casting. He was at the epicenter of a chain reaction of magic. He could see nothing but a prismatic flaring of pure light. Waves of Ultima, Holy, and Meteor flooded from Squall's tormented being. The immediate vicinity shone so bright, it made the blazing afternoon sun seem dim. Squall clenched his eyes closed, and fed more pain to his fury. His scream was amplified, echoing of the distant cliffs, and spreading out across the ocean.
There was one giant, climactic thunderclap, and all was silent. Squall felt his body jerk, twisting him around like a rag doll, and then he was falling. The wind stung his eyes and ruffled his hair. Another crash, and Squall was underwater. He fought to gain the surface, and had almost given up when his hands broke the surface.
Squall came up gasping for air, coughing and sputtering. Glancing around, he saw that the closest land was four hundred yards to his left. Struggling against the current, his boots and clothing dragging him down, Squall swam ashore.
Letting the last wave toss him onto the beach, Squall crawled out of the water and to the safety of land. He was thankful to be alive.
Why should I be thankful to be alive, after what happened ? I don't know. I need to stop asking myself questions.
He decided to rest there a while longer, catching his breath and coughing up more seawater. The slight drizzle of cold rain felt good on his back. The rhythmic thrumming of the waves, and the constant soft hiss of rain soon put Squall to sleep.
When he woke up, and pushed himself to his knees, every muscle in his body screamed with pain.
As if my loss isn't enough... Squall thought bitterly.
He turned his head, wincing with pain, and was surprised to see the orphanage off to the right. He made himself get to his feet and began to limp towards the ruins where he had spent his childhood.
Rinoa, where are you ? He thought as he walked, you were always there for me, no matter what was wrong, I could always come to you, and you would make me smile again. How will I ever smile again now that you're gone ? I should have never left for Esthar. I should have stayed with you. But I guess right about now you would tell me to stop blaming myself. You've changed me so much. I look back at who I used to be, before I met you, and I see someone who is scared, and alone. You gave me confidence, security, and love. Things I'd never had before. You brought me out of my shell; something no one's managed to do before. You taught me how to love again. For that I thank you. You saved my soul, Rinoa. I'm forever in your debt. I know that you wouldn't want me to spend the rest of my life moping around, so in payment of that debt, I'll try to live my life as you would want me to, because I truly owe my life to you, my love. And if nothing else, I'll see you on the other side.
He had reached the orphanage, and gritted his teeth through the painful climb up the stairs. Squall stepped inside the aging structure, which was only barely recognizable as a house, and experienced a feeling of coming home.
Squall sighed, looked around and smiled sadly, and slowly began to clean up the debris which littered the orphanage floor.