"Pauline," Halt said, looking up at his girlfriend, "What's wrong?"
The diplomat sighed.
The ranger raised an eyebrow.
Pauline gave a frustrated sigh.
"Fine," she said, "There are...you know...whispers."
Halt gave a snort.
"Yes. Whispers. About my career."
Pauline's career was rising dramatically, and many narrow-minded men were crying foul. Women in the work force was radical enough - but a woman at the top of her chosen career?! Outrage!
Halt sighed. Some people.
"Well, what are they about?"
"They're just...you know..." For once in her life, Pauline was at a loss for words.
"People are talking about how I'm an 'independent woman' and yet I'm seeing you. They're calling me a hypocrite." she said finally, adding a sigh to the end of it.
Halt growled - a low, guttural sound - without even realizing he did.
"Idiots," he snarled.
"Idiots with power." Pauline agreed with a sad nod. She looked down at their entwined hands.
"Halt, what am I going to do? What are we going to do?"
The shorter man just sighed. Honestly, he wasn't sure. Pauline meant the world to him - and he loved her enough to let her go, as horribly cliche as that sounded.
You see, she was a very smart woman, and had come to the same conclusion that Halt had.
"Pauline, you aren't going to get any further if we continue courting, and I know how much you love the Couriers."
"I am not letting you do this, Halt."
Halt sighed frustratedly and raked his fingers through his untidy hair. He was starting to let it grow out.
"It's not like we can't still be friends. And no one has to know why we decided to split."
"I am not going to lose you, Halt." Pauline was just as stubborn as the Ranger was, and crossed her arms, glaring at him.
"Alright," Halt said eventually, "I'll make you a deal."
Pauline's eyebrows shot into her hairline.
"Once your career is steady, without any bumps in the road at all...we can pick up where we left off. Right here."
Pauline's mouth twitched. Only Halt could think of something like that. The man was a genius.
Slowly, she nodded.
"Alright...I agree...I guess..."
Halt's gaze softened a little bit.
"Yes?" she asked softly, looking at her hands. They were folded in her lap. No longer were they holding Halt's calloused hand, like they were supposed to. They weren't attempting to tame the beast that was his hair. They weren't wrapped around his waist in a bear hug when he got back from a grueling mission.
They were folded in her lap, like a lady.
A hand moved her face up to look him in the eye.
"One more time?"
Pauline cracked a smile.
"I suppose," she said, as Halt leaned in to kiss her, one last time, before they officially became, 'Just friends.'
And it was at that very spot in the castle gardens - the same bench and everything - that Halt proposed with the words.
"Pauline, I want to pick up where we left off."