.:.three.:.

It happens in a fragment, in a second, in a breath. Just the vaguest whisper and then it's gone, fading and faded and passing him by because it doesn't matter all that much anyway (only it does, it does matter and it matters a lot, just to nobody else but him, so then it really isn't that important because saving the universe from crazy witches is better than falling in love with one of them). It happens in a moment, and then it's gone, when she makes eye contact and all of a sudden he thinks that the world might just have swallowed him upand spit him out, leaving him for dead, because what the hell kind of person is he, anyway?

Who gives them the right to decide who should live and who should die, and why is he playing along? But the moment passes and he can almost (just barely) think that it was just a trick of the light, the all-out begging in her eyes. It wasn't real. She doesn't really need him like she says she does and he can walk away from here, out a ring and maybe a tiny hole in his heart because what the hell? She wasn't that bad, really. Sucks that she dies a sorceress's death, but what can you do? He's just doing his job, and it's no fault of his that Esthar's fucking paranoid.

If he can convince himself that he's heartless, then maybe he is, and maybe it doesn't really matter much anyway. But it's just that look in her eyes, just that moment where she's begging him to save her (like he always did before, and never mind that he's only known her for a few months, and he's already saved her ass practically a thousand times, so it kinda serves her right that she should know what it's like to be screwed over once in her life). And he can't make it go away, no matter what he says or does or thinks or pretends, he can't make her eyes just leave him the fuck alone.

Because she's forgiving him. Forgiving him for not saving her because she thinks this is right and she thinks he shouldn't come to her rescue. He doesn't really want to be forgiven for this, because that means it's right even though it feels so damn wrong, and she'd probably tell him to follow his feelings or something like that, which would mean disobeying orders, which is doing the wrong thing to make it all right, and the world isn't supposed to work like that. This isn't a fairytale. He isn't a knight in shining armor, and she isn't a princess in a tower. The good guys don't always win, and he's got a job to do, which is why he can't go chasing after pretty rainbows in blue, no matter what they deserve.

It takes him three seconds to catch his breath after she's gone; three seconds to turn around and go back inside. It takes him three seconds to convince himself that it doesn't matter because she's just a client who got on the wrong side of a crazy future-witch and a fucking insane city-state. It used to be instinctive; he never used to have to convince himself of anything. He never used to wonder.

And it's her fault, really. It's her fault that this is even bothering him because if she hadn't practically begged him to come leaping to her rescue like the hero he isn't, then it wouldn't have bothered him at all (that's a lie) and he could have just done his job like a good SeeD should. But she really, honestly needed him. This isn't like she was just overwhelmed by a Tonberry and he happened to be there. No one else could have saved her and he let her go. She needed a knight in shining armor and got a heartless mercenary.

It's great, isn't it? He finds himself sitting in the passenger deck of the airship (Ragnarok, right? Ragnarok, the apocalypse, when the enemies chained by the gods break free, like he learned in some history class somewhere. Fitting, almost. Kind of. If he squints.) Before he can stop himself, he's hurled his fist at the window. It looks like glass, but it's something stronger, because all he does it hurt his fist; the window doesn't even shake and he feels worse for trying to break it. He just wants to make something bleed right now, because this is bothering him so much more than it should.

Where's Seifer when you need him? Right now, he could do with a fight. He could do with getting angry and destroying something. Right now, he could do with Seifer sneering at him because right now, he'd break his nose and feel no remorse.

And it's his fault because he let her go because he's a fucking retard. What kind of person rushes out in space to save someone only to hand them over to the authorities? You don't risk your life to save someone and then throw them to the dogs. And SeeD don't risk their lives to save people, period, unless they've got enough gil, and he's never gotten even a penny from Rinoa yet so by all logic, he should have just let her die. Let her go.

He just did exactly what his job entailed, nothing more. And he's never hated Garden so much as he does at this moment.
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(A/N: Holy crap, I wrote Squall. And it's not absolute crap. Head for the hills, kids, it's the end of the world!)