Sometimes, he still thinks like he used to. The ideas only come to him in silence, when he wakes up just before he needs to, and the whole of Balamb Garden is still. He doesn’t sit up or roll over; he doesn’t even open his eyes. Hands folded over his heart, he simply lets the thoughts slide across the insides of his eyelids, and for those few brief minutes, he entertains them.
It’s not about Sis anymore – he sees her every time they visit Esthar for “presidential briefings”. And with Rinoa curled up next to him, fingers splayed out on their pillow, these moments are one of the rare times that he doesn’t worry about her. Instead, he recalls cool yellow eyes and merciless claws. He doesn’t stew over the battle against Ultimecia, nor does he have nightmares about how things might have been different. No, to his amazement, he wishes he knew who she was.
There are so many reasons why people choose their actions. Parents raise their children by letting them face peril and learn from it, or by doing whatever is necessary to shield them from all that’s harmful. Poets craft their art about the troubles they’ve endured for the sake of love, or the love they lost because the pain was too great. Soldiers fight wars to bring freedom to other lands, or to stifle the uprising of strange and dangerous ideas. Through his work, he has met people like all of these, and yet he still can’t quite grasp what could drive a person to end all life.
She must’ve been hurt. There’s no way around that. She must’ve been in so much pain that she couldn’t bear the sting anymore. Actually, no, that’s not necessarily true. She didn’t want to end time, she wanted to compress it. Half-remembered words about childhood lost and time slipping away echo in his ears, and he shuts his eyes a little tighter, inhaling through his nose.
He knew someone like that.
And now that the thought’s there, he can’t ignore it. In some other universe, he might’ve stood against a different wall and never danced with Rinoa. Someone else might’ve been assigned to her team. He might’ve never known her like he does now, a friend, family, love, something... more. In that world, he wouldn’t have changed at all. He’d have clung to the past, to the hole left when his only family was pulled away, and he could’ve ended up just like her.
In another world, where he was born a descendent of Hyne, he could’ve been her.
He’s a realist – no matter how much that idea hurts him, he won’t ignore it. In this world, he thinks with no small amount of relief, I’m Squall. I’m not that person.
In the future, he knows she will be born, and grow up, and whatever damaged her will damage her, and in her rage, she’ll try to compress time itself. In the future, Rinoa will... die, and her powers will be passed on to someone else. Eventually, through generations, those powers will filter through to Ultimecia.
Fleetingly, he wonders if that’s even her real name. He doubts it.
The practical part of his brain starts to debate whether it will be better to have Rinoa pass her powers to someone they know – a child of theirs, someday? – or just let them fly at random. He feels like he could raise a child properly enough to ensure that she wouldn’t abuse her magic, and then she could raise her daughter to be kind and responsible as well, and so on and so on. Every time he thinks down this path, it startles him to realize that that would make Ultimecia one of his descendants. Somewhere down that line, something will go wrong, and one of his children, or their children, or theirs... someone will fail.
That failure will ultimately stem from him. And Rinoa, his brain supplies before he can stop it, but he quickly erases that thought. His blood will threaten all of existence.
In the end, he’ll stop what he started.
That concept makes him want to wake Rinoa up immediately and ask her to swear that she’ll never pass her powers to one of her own daughters, but the alternative always stops him. They can’t let the magic go. He has no idea what will happen between Rinoa’s end and Ultimecia’s beginning, and he just can’t risk the power being abused in that expanse of time. There’s no other choice but to choose the successor themselves.
When the time comes, he doesn’t know how they’ll manage.
Every time he thinks like this, he hopes the outcome will be different, but he eventually reaches this same point. And then he’s stuck. He bites his lip.
After some time – it varies from day to day whether it’s seconds, minutes, on one occasion a full hour – there’s a knock on the door and Selphie calls out, “Wake up call for the Squalls!”
At last, he opens his eyes, and watches Rinoa sit up blearily, hair tangled in uneven clumps around her face. Rubbing the back of her head, she turns to look at him for just one heartbeat before wiggling down to lay on his shoulder.
“Morning. Want to go get breakfast?”
For now, his worries don’t matter.