They meet at a fork in the road.
Not necessarily shaped like the eating utensil or what you would even call a proper divide in the path, it's much more like a demolished passageway left to be picked on by greedy gales and choking weeds, a spoiled carcass left to the lowest of the scavengers, the dust left behind the steady strides of a charging behemoth, the salty remains on a child's sanguine face, the way that has been abandoned for Hyne know's how long.
Still—it's a fork in the road, and the very tip of the middle prong is where he encounters the familiar gleam of what he once thought would be sealed forever away.
But he doesn't really care which damn prong or tip or pointy vertex causes him to come to a nostalgic standstill, and the revelation that only such a high entity possessed the knowledge of the chronology of the road isn't helping him calm down a rising pull of air at his throat—should he laugh that such allusions, especially the last, the very epitome of what he thought his life was, was a direct reference to his own? The path that he thought would justify his tiny purpose of being someone important in this world, this highly disgusting, secular world, was only known by a greater being who started the very chain of anarchy?
Or should he say that he was one of the fools who stumbled off the cliff?
The man on the other side of him continues his centipede stride.
He notices that he's skinny—skinny, as in skinny; fuck, the guy's always been much more on the slim side, the agile side, the let-me-see-what-I-can-do-while-I-pull-this-bullet-out-of-my-head bastard, but the idiot was always too stubborn to let his body cave in and dry out, let himself give up when the last shell splits into half after the last shot (the last, last, last one—the one that he still never removed on the right side of his fucking ribcage; that shit hurts like a bitch), tumble forward and let the remains of whatever strife was left grab him and turn him into something else—someone else, some breathing, robotic toy with an equally conventional girlfriend who didn't know the difference between the future with a past and the present without the "-ing". There are the sickly, purple patches of restless stigmas protruding from underneath his faded eyes (were those even eyes?), and the taut lips that were once vibrant yet silent, never pulled back to force itself back into the face, were closed off to hide something—if it had any secret left at all.
He wonders if he's as noticeable to him.
He wouldn't be surprised, really; ten years down the road could really change a person—for the better or the worse, he couldn't really tell the difference between the two, but change was definitely there: alteration, experience, walking, breathing, laughing, fighting, hurting; ten years was enough for those things to happen, ten years could make you forget that you were done staring dumbly at a public service announcement, ten years was a shitty cost to hear that the woman you tucked in the folds of your heart was bedding the man you hated ten years ago, ten years could make you wonder when hell decided to freeze over—ten years was enough for him to swear that he didn't want to have another ironic encounter with what he thought was real—who he thought was real.
Ten years was enough for him to see that he was not recognized—for now.
Ten years, ten fucking years: So it's clearly true that time can make a river flow, but you can't step into that same river twice. Maybe it was the same way right now; maybe the fact that his weapon of choice (see what ten years can do?) that he forgot the name of no longer existed ten years ago, maybe the fact that his supported stride ten years ago was replaced by a slight, pained limp, maybe the fact that he was forced to dye his hair and get colored contacts was because he was tired—weak and sick, to put it candidly—ten years ago, maybe ten years was enough to read that Sorceress Rinoa was finally overthrown by some other "lucky hero".
Maybe it took ten years for this to happen.
But he doesn't believe in fate, and the man—toy, puppet, thing, shadow, whatever it was—is walking—crumbling—slowly, after his broken gait, and does not notice—care to think of—him; there's the sound of heavy metal clinking against his worn belts and the taste of the crude, unforgiving air around him, burning the taller male's throat and skin with every inch of nearness. The very thought of mild surprise that he could suddenly have these virulent and burdening contemplations out of nowhere is somehow a bitter and delicious buzz to him, alerting its presence intravenously and traveling to his fingertips in kinetic signals; years and years of despair of self-hatred already had morphed solely into wariness and the mentality of what's expected mundanely—to know that he could still recall running and believing and laughing with his deceased friends to wondering why he couldn't deserve a better outcome was breaking off the rust that corroded his morality.
It felt new—somehow; it actually hurt to think.
And he looks at the mirror image of himself, dragging along what seemed to be a blade and a gun haphazardly, with the tip drawing dizzy lines into the dirt, a broken stride making its sloppy markings into the planet that he had once that would be saved—only if his agenda had worked from the start, the remains of his infamous, gleaming mark of pride swaying dementedly on its braided chain, clutched in a bloody hand that was branded as being a traitor, a loser, a cast-out, a piece of shit that was no longer needed—all with his head hung impossibly low; and then there's the additional spice of fear that the entire world dashes onto his plate of cannibalistic nothingness, but to him—so rare to him, it's not the type that kills him in the back of his throat or clogs up his senses—it's new in a familiar way, somehow, and it tastes fresh and detrimental to him, somehow, and he could imagine himself taking it all upon himself, somehow.
They meet at a fork in the road, somehow.
He watches what the world has called a malevolent monstrosity, the exact mirror image of him, that has each of his feet planted in the divides of what the world wants and his personal goals that no longer exist, emanating a silent dirge that could only be perceived by the ominous means of his advertisement—hey, world! Look at fucking me, but don't look at me! See me, the fucking hero, but don't see me as I die and the next boy-toy lines up to get the prize. He sees him, hears him, smells him, fears him, laughs at him, hates him, and takes in the remains of a man that was quickly branded as a traitor of the government and human judgment; the wings that once so beautifully adorned his back were ripped off in black gashes, the chains that bore the friendship and the emblem of what he fought for were only the little souvenirs clutched in disloyalty, and the man was basically no longer a fucking hero—he was the shit that people called inhuman: the impetus that drove the powerful to means of high anarchy—a friggin' sorceress knight to be analytically correct, but damn him if he were to accept another sorceress' knight in history. Anything but that—he didn't know if it was for his broken state or the latter's, but a man who gave devotion with blood, sweat, gunmetal, and hubris was already belittled to be merely called the puppet of an impossible lunatic, and that was inconceivable.
Wasn't he called the same—except it was never poetically exclaimed?
His fingers tug before his brain thinks, and they reach out for the strange individual: hesitantly, mockingly, angrily, bitingly, impulsively—like he doesn't know why the fuck he wants to grab him so bad; and do what? Punch him? Tell him who was the unworthy dirt trampled upon now? Hope to reminiscence? Push his buttons?
But then he pushes back the voice in his throat, the itch in his fingertips, the pull of his body's want to progress, and instead merely watches him: It comes to him now in deteriorated pieces rising out of the ashes.
It's been the same way before.
Ten years: Ten years ago, the very person whose epithet was The Sorceress' Lapdog (named specifically by the courtesy of the successor) had marked his nescient path with the tip of his sword; ten years ago, a man, a puppet, an executioner had faced his own demise through the depths of time; ten years ago, the very same being had gotten out of the Compression of Time to find out that the world had already fucking changed and moved on; ten years ago, the man had disappeared off the face of the earth.
Ten years ago, he had come across a fork in the road.
Ten years ago, the man on the other side was the man ten years later.
So he watches him unstably push onwards, with the eyes that had watched the other so observantly during his own time of faith: he sees himself in him, and he doesn't see himself in him. He sees the reject—he sees the commander of Balamb Garden; he sees age—he sees the future; he sees the betrayal—he sees indifference; he sees fire—he sees ice; he sees all the years that he had lost, all the truths that he had gave, all the promises he wanted to keep and be kept—he sees the permanent pair of rings dug into a hollow throat; he sees his cross—he sees pride; he sees what he wanted to be, what he could've been, what he had been at a time—he sees the deliverance of what was not meant to be.
He sees the fork in the road.
And he lets the ten years let him go.