lassarina: Lightning in FFXIII-2 costume, as a Valkyrie (Lightning: Valkyrie)
[personal profile] lassarina posting in [community profile] rose_in_winter
Characters: Yaag Rosch, Jihl Nabaat
Rating: G
Contains: Spoilers
Wordcount: 913
Notes: Written for [personal profile] roseargent in 2017 Chosen by the Crystals.
Betas: None
Summary: He did not come to this in one fell swoop, a sudden jerking turn from a path well-trod; instead, he is the sum of his choices, one by one.

Rosch, in the ruins of the Proudclad.

Rosch does not delude himself. He is not a good person.

A good person might have tried to convince the citizens of Cocoon that they didn't need to Purge anyone who might have even seen a L'Cie on television; instead, he carries out their will.

A good person would have spent his time and energy analyzing the faults in fal'Cie rule and finding a better way, not upholding that flawed weight with all of his strength.

A good person would not have agreed to Jihl's plan to use the child to entrap the L'Cie; he would have found another way (or would he have let it go on, because crystal is better than cieth? Rosch doesn't know anymore, and he's not sure it matters.)

Jihl would have laughed and pointed out that he knew there were no good choices when he joined up. She wouldn't be wrong.

~*~

It might be accurate to say that the first choice on his road was applying to the Academy, but really, his first choice came in class, when the instructor snapped out his name and he scrambled to his feet to answer the question, with dread pulling his heart and stomach down to the floor.

"Cadet Rosch, why do we Purge those who come into contact with Pulse L'Cie?"

It was an easy question. "Because they are contaminated, sir!"

"And who decides that?" The instructor's face was unreadable, and Rosch knew this was the real test. He wracked his brain for the answer, but nothing came to him. The other cadets stared at him, and Jihl Nabaat's face had the careful blankness of someone watching her neighbor be Purged: she could see the doom and only wanted to separate herself from it.

"The fal'Cie, sir!" If he was wrong he would at least sound confident.

"Have you learned nothing, cadet?" the instructor demanded. "The Purge is not of the Sanctum, it is by the Sanctum. We Purge the contaminated because without the Purge, Cocoon's citizens would revolt. They trust in us to keep them save from anything that Pulse has touched. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir." His face burned scarlet, and several of his classmates were sniggering.

"Enough," Jihl said abruptly, and they all fell silent. When Cadet Nabaat, unquestioned leader of the class, had something to say, no one questioned her. "Cadet Rosch understands his mistake."

The instructor moved on to someone else, and Rosch eased himself back into his seat. He wanted to thank Jihl, but she was already focused on the next question, and had no time for someone at the bottom of the class.

He vowed to change it.

~*~

Questioning everything started with something so small.

"What do you do when a mother refuses to let her child be Purged?" Jihl prompted, her fingertips tapping the tablet that held their practice exam questions.

"Purge them both," he recited.

"Why?"

"The child must be Purged one way or another; if the mother refuses to let it go, then she must also be Purged." He knew the words by heart; three years of intense study, and he had pulled close enough to Jihl's effortless ability to be second in the class. If he passed this test tomorrow, he could join PSICOM. Jihl's success was already assured.

"Why not let them stay?" She asked it almost casually, twirling her glasses around her fingers.

He opened his mouth to answer, but no words came. He thought about the question more thoroughly. Why not let them stay? Was a Pulse L'Cie truly so devastating to Cocoon?

He thought about that day in the classroom, and the instructor's disdain. "Their neighbors won't allow it," he said at last.

Jihl laughed. "Would you?"

"Would I be here if I doubted our mission?" Sometimes the safest way to answer a question was with another question.

Jihl flicked her fingertip across the tablet screen to pull up the next set of notes. "I suppose not. You would have washed out."

He'd chosen to stay, but it wasn't for the reason Jihl thought. He did doubt PSICOM's mission. He doubted, very much, the benevolence of the fal'Cie who would let those under their protection be so cruel. But he couldn't change it as just another citizen. He had to participate in order to change.

"I didn't, though," he said, since Jihl seemed to expect an answer.

"No." Her smile was quick and brilliant, and deadly. "I could use someone like you," she added casually. "Someone who knows how to work in shades of gray."

Jihl Nabaat was going to be director of PSICOM one day; it was what she wanted, and what Jihl wanted, she got. He couldn't ask for better placement than that. "It's what I do best," he said, and it was even true—he had always excelled at the exercises for intelligence-gathering and suborning targets into betraying themselves or their friends.

She looked down at the screen. "How many degrees of separation must someone be from the L'Cie to avoid Purging?"

~*~

Not every choice is the right one.

He staggers against the Proudclad as the L'Cie hurry onward to do what he hadn't been able to accomplish himself. He's been a coward after all, choosing again and again to uphold the fal'Cie's dictates, lying to himself about what he could accomplish as Jihl's right hand.

The behemoths snarl as they approach. Rosch grunts, and drags himself to his feet.

One last choice. One last chance.

He reaches for the grenade.

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