Squall scowled at the gravestone even as he scooped up a long-dead bouquet of shriveled pink roses and deposited it in the plastic trash bag he held. He walked on, spearing leaves with a fallen branch he had picked up on his way out from Garden. He bent to pick up a crumpled piece of paper from the grass in front of the stone for Corporal Trina Farady, F, dead at 16 years, and three cigarette butts lying on the top of the headstone of Captain Mika Querrel, M, dead at 22 years.
"Graveyard duty sucks," Squall muttered, standing and looking out on the sea of identical white gravestones stretching out in neat rows around him. Litter, dead flowers, leaves—it was his duty to seek out and collect all. Hundreds upon hundreds of graves, each one his punishment to care for.
"I’m going to get Seifer for this," Squall swore, continuing down the row again, his trash bag dragging in the grass behind him. "Professor, I swear, it wasn’t me!" he cried in a high, mocking voice. He made a noise of disgust and kicked at a gravestone. "Stupid Instructor Markin—Seifer is such his teacher’s pet."
Squall glared down row after row of headstones, occasionally stooping to pick up papers, wrappers, crushed beer cans and broken bottles. He really did hate graveyard duty. The hundreds of uniform white tombstones depressed him, and it was literally a painful process to walk up and down countless lines scanning for trash. His back, legs and arms always hurt the day after he incurred this punishment on himself—especially when he did not have Seifer, his usual partner in crime, there to help make the duty go quicker.
He stopped briefly and looked at the garden of headstones that he still had to visit and cringed. Deciding that he deserved a break, he collapsed and threw his arms out, flinging the trash bag to the side.
Squall grunted and reached up to finger the engraving on the headstone near him. He ran his finger over the rough stone for a few minutes before reading the words. When he did, he sat up quickly, his earlier exhaustion completely forgotten in the face of his discovery.
"Leonhart," Squall murmured, absently brushing the dead bits of grass from the shoulders of his worn, white T-shirt and putting the trash in the plastic garbage bag.
"Hello, Captain," Squall said, getting up on his knees and resting back on his heels. He fired a smart salute at the headstone. "Good to meet you. Are we related?"
A small bubble of eager excitement made him grin. Squall had never met anyone with his surname before and had no relatives that he knew of. He patted the gravestone happily and fought the urge to give the unresponsive stone a hug. Restraint, he thought. Dignity.
The grin grew wider. Family. At last, he had some family.
"Who were you, Trion?" Squall asked, taking the liberty of addressing the man familiarly. "You died twenty-seven years before I was even born. If you were alive today, you’d be…" Squall frowned and puzzled it out. Mathematics was not his favorite subject. "You’d be fifty-eight if you were alive today. Maybe you’re my uncle. Or, like, my mother’s cousin. I don’t know!" He laughed and patted the top of the tombstone again, bouncing a little on his heels.
It seemed it was a good thing that Seifer had weaseled out of punishment, after all. The blond would certainly never have understood. It was a fair bet that he would have found Squall’s exuberance over finding a dead possible-relative very amusing. Seifer was like that sometimes; insensitive and callous.
It occurred to Squall, then, that sometimes in graveyards, members of the same families were buried near each other. He glanced at the stone next to Trion’s, but it belonged to Corporal Chi Zeo, M, dead at 17 years. The stone on the other side was that of Corporal Salla Verani, F, dead at 21 years. Disappointed, he scratched some moss out of the engraving on Trion’s headstone: Died 19 yrs. He frowned, then, and looked around at the headstones around him, his eyes gliding over the words and numbers and actually thinking about them, understanding them.
Captain Shiona Rale, F, dead at 20. Sergeant Fran Fethers, F, dead at 20. Behl Jeck, dead at 17. Minra Wend, dead at 16. All around him, the words jumped at him. Dead at 17, dead at 22, dead at 20, dead at 18… Not one of them had lived beyond the age of 25.
It occurred to him, then, that in all the many times he had roamed this graveyard in punishment, idly reading the epitaphs as he searched for garbage, he could not remember seeing very many stones marking the lifespan of an elder. The Balamb Garden SeeD cemetery had the occasional instructor without family buried in its impersonal grounds, but mostly the space was given over to soldiers and cadets killed in the line of duty.
Trion Leonhart, Squall’s maybe-uncle, had died at the age of nineteen. Squall was only twelve, that was only seven years away. He could not fathom that when Trion had been his age, his life had already been more than halfway over. To all these dead children around him, Squall was midway through his lifespan.
Hyne above, that chilled him. He laid an absent hand on Trion Leonhart’s grave and shivered. He didn’t want to be like them, these dead soldiers beneath him. They were over, their lives were over. Squall needed more time than seven more years. He refused to accept the apparent destiny of a SeeD: early death and a standard, formal epitaph that would remember him only for his rank and date of death.
No, it wasn’t going to happen. Not to Squall Leonhart.
Squall stood then, fists clenched against his thighs. He turned and looked at the Garden Academy, so big that even though it was over a mile away, it still remained massive from his perspective. The Garden loomed large in Squall’s life; always had, as far back as he could remember. As far as his memory was concerned, Squall could have never lived elsewhere; never had a family and never been born, but rather grown in some Balamb Garden laboratory that churned out students faster and more efficiently than the cafeteria could produce hot dogs at lunch time. All he knew about himself was that his last name was his mother’s, and not his father’s, and he could not even remember how he knew that much information.
He may have always lived at B.G. and he may be a creation of the academy, but he became determined that his fate would not be the same as all the others’. He would be better than that. He would be the best, always the best and brightest. So bright that his star would never go out and would shine on forever. He was not going to die at nineteen or twenty or ever. He was going to live forever.
Squall looked down at Trion Leonhart’s gravestone and the anger drained away, leaving in its place an icy resolve. He placed his hands on the top of the stone. He knew a place in the forest where wild orchids grew. He would go there after he was finished in the cemetery and bring back a flower to put on the grave. Mourners were few and far between in this garden of headstones marking SeeD’s uncountable faceless dead; in truth it was rare to find a bouquet or any objects of sentiment placed before the graves in this constant sea of white and green, but Trion Leonhart would not remain unknown and forgotten.
Counting the rows and stones around him so that he would remember exactly where the grave was, Squall moved slowly on and continued his penance.
Return to Archive | next