|The Whitest Rose
Author: Laurel-Crowned PM
As part of a peace agreement involving warring nations, a marriage is arranged between Figaro’s King Edgar and Celes Chere of the Empire. Problems arise when Celes falls not for Edgar but for Figaro’s young emissary, a man named Locke Cole.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 8 - Words: 36,595 - Reviews: 59 - Favs: 16 - Follows: 9 - Updated: 04-28-05 - Published: 09-22-02 - id: 979869
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: No, I am not dead (though sometimes it feels like it) and neither is this story ... even if it does seem like I only update once every 8 million years or so. For that I do apologize. I do continue to work on this whenever I can, but it's slow going and I don't know when or if that will change. I'm rather surprised this update is happening at all, especially during this wonderful finals season. shakes head Anyway, I'm not too happy with this addition, but it seemed like a good place to leave off. Enjoy. Cheers.
The longer it took for him to arrive, the longer the wedding would not take place.
They wouldn't start without him. If he never got there, then it would never start. It was backward logic, and Locke almost wanted to laugh at himself. He took another carefully measured step, and paused as his shoulders slumped in defeat.
This was it. He was officially losing his mind. If he went crazy, they wouldn't want him to be in the wedding anymore, and then they could get on with it whether he arrived on time or not. He wouldn't be forced to witness the blasted ceremony that way, but he would still know that it was happening. And if they really were concerned about where he had gotten to, they could just send out a search party. Sabin was uncannily good at finding him even when he didn't want to be found, so he knew he was doomed even if he did try to hide.
Still, it was an idea. Locke was seriously considering it, mentally running through a list of the most obscure hiding places that the castle had to offer, when a hand settled heavily on his shoulder.
To his credit Locke did not yelp, but he jerked away roughly as he fought to spin around, his eyes wide with surprise. For a moment he didn't recognize the man before him, who was watching him with mild concern.
"Mr. Cole. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," he said, and Locke's flurried mind shifted back to rightness as he suddenly remembered. Mustering up a weak smile, Locke shook his head.
"No, it's my fault, really. I was … ah, thinking," he excused himself, knowing that the terse explanation didn't even begin to cover the strange workings of his overstressed mind. "Nice to see you again, General." Leo grinned broadly, though Locke wasn't sure if it was because he had recognized him or because Locke had assured him that he was alright, and the general held out his hand.
"Please, it's Leo," he said, shaking Locke's hand firmly when it was offered out of habit. Locke blinked, returning the gesture as best he could.
"Okay. But it's Locke, not Mr. Cole," he replied. Leo gave a slight chuckle, and glanced around at the bustle of people that flowed around them.
"This is quite a production," he pointed out, and Locke nodded agreement.
"Er, yeah," he said nervously, rubbing at the back of his neck as he watched an unfamiliar group of girls scamper past giggling about something. "It's been like this for weeks. Crazy."
"How unfortunate," Leo sympathized, still smiling, then he inclined his head down the hall. "I'm glad to have run into you. I'm afraid I am unfamiliar with the layout of this place. I was waylaid by a couple of dignitaries and seem to have become disoriented. Could you point me in the right direction of the ceremony hall?"
Locke paused a moment, a bit thrown by Leo's formal way of speaking, but he nodded agreeably.
"I'm headed that way myself, actually," he admitted. "They wanted me there early. You know, for … last minute preparations, or something. I'll show you."
"Thank you," Leo said, and fell into step next to Locke as the young man begrudgingly started walking again. His game was ruined now; he didn't think any amount of persuasion and explanation would get Leo to help him delay the inevitable.
"Did they ask you to come to the hall early too?" Locke asked, wondering why Leo was already trying to get there. Was it really that late? Were the guests already taking their place? Leo's expression turned a bit sour only for a moment, then he gave a slight shrug of his shoulders.
"I had a short conversation with King Figaro and Mr. Gabbiani earlier. They thought it might be best if I was there to … ah, buffer, as it may be, some of the less enthusiastic Imperial guests," he explained, delicately choosing his words. "Not everyone was as pleased as I am to be invited to Figaro Castle."
"That's a major understatement," Locke sighed, and Leo laughed.
"Yes, well, I don't mind. I will do what I can to see that this day goes smoothly for everyone involved. It wouldn't be fair to Celes to have it ruined by some self-righteous snob who can't stand to let go of old transgressions," Leo said. Locke nodded, wondering idly how such a seemingly decent person could have become an Imperial military leader.
They were getting closer to the large hall where the ceremony was to take place, and Locke squirmed internally. Maybe he could fake illness. His stomach churned uneasily, and he frowned. Maybe he wouldn't have to fake it.
"Locke!" a voice drew his attention, and he looked up to find Sabin hurrying toward them. "It's about time! I was putting off telling Edgar that we couldn't find you, because he probably would have had a small nervous breakdown. Cyan and Setzer and I were going to draw lots to see which of us would have to tell him if you didn't drag yourself down here pretty soon. What took you?"
"Ah …" Locke really didn't want to explain. Instead he gestured to the man at his elbow, who was watching the scene with a pleasant if bemused expression. "Sabin, maybe you know General Leo?"
"Oh, of course," Sabin grinned, offering his hand. "We've never been formally introduced, but I've heard of you."
"Likewise," Leo smiled. "Your brother has asked me to …"
"Yeah, mediate at the door, keep the peace," Sabin interrupted with a wave of his hand. "They told me. Tough luck. That's not a job I'd want, that's for sure."
"I'm sure it won't be that bad," Leo said casually, but his expression made Locke wonder if he really believed that, and Sabin shrugged.
"Well, you're braver than I am, then. Come on. Locke, get moving. Honestly, of all the days to sleep in …" Locke wanted to snap that he hadn't slept in at all, that he had slept horribly and wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed for days, but he knew all of that would only bring more questions so he just followed Sabin quietly. Leo left them at the entryway, nodding politely before taking a post with all the authority that his position provided.
Locke trudged forward, barely noticing the veritable explosion of expensive and lavish decorations that had overtaken the formal hall. Blues and whites predominated, and the place was filled with so many flowers that Locke might have wondered where they all came from, had he been in the state of mind to notice such things. None of them were desert flowers, and that many flowers probably couldn't have all come from one place anyway.
He idled sullenly just inside the doorway, because he wasn't really sure what was expected of him just now. The room was mostly empty, save for Sabin, Cyan and a few random guardsmen who had been recruited for last minute straightening.
"Is Edgar freaking out again?" Sabin was asking Cyan, who was eyeing a doorway to the side of the room that led to an adjoining room.
"Edgar does not 'freak out', Sabin," Cyan sighed tiredly, and Sabin made an exasperated noise.
"Okay, well, is Edgar having a very dignified and kingly fit of uncontrollable anxiety?" At that Cyan's lips quirked into an almost smile, and the glare that he shot Sabin was far from chastising.
"In a manner, yes," he admitted, and Sabin dragged a hand down one side of his face with an exaggerated groan.
"I knew it! He's not doing anything stupid, is he?" Sabin asked, turning to look at the doorway as well. Cyan sighed, crossing his arms over his chest.
"No. He may be banging his head against a desk, however. He was doing it earlier, until I told him we were going through with the ceremony even if he did have a massive red mark on his forehead."
"Well, he knew what he was getting into with all this. He … doesn't want to back out, does he?" Sabin asked, the first traces of worry creeping into his voice. Cyan shook his head slowly.
"Of course not. He … is merely realizing the finality of what he is doing. He will be fine," the swordsman said. "But, perhaps you had better go in there. He'll listen to you."
"Oh, thanks," Sabin rolled his eyes, but he merely shrugged at Locke as if to say 'it was bound to happen' before striding over to the door and knocking gently as he swiftly let himself in. The door shut quickly behind him, but Locke wasn't really interested in what was going on in there. He looked at Cyan and Cyan returned the gaze before shrugging.
"It's about time you got here," was all Cyan said, before he turned to walk off. "I've got things to check on. Stay here." Locke didn't bother to answer, but he made his way over to the nearby wall and leaned against it heavily. The room was momentarily silent, save for the quiet milling of the guardsmen who seemed nearly finished with inspecting the hall.
Locke closed his eyes, trying to block out what was happening around him. It was another game. If he didn't see it, it wasn't real; as long as his eyes were closed, then nothing could happen.
It was an even more pathetic game than the first, but Locke didn't care. He was a desperate man.
"Didn't sleep much?" a voice startled him, and his eyes snapped open to find Setzer walking silently toward him down the elaborately garnished isle. Locke glared at him, and gave a one-shouldered shrug.
"What do you care?" he snapped, unable to contain his irritation, and a flicker of confusion passed over Setzer's face before being replaced with cool indifference.
"I don't, particularly. But it's going to be a long day. You should be well rested," he said. "What have you been doing all morning, if not sleeping?"
Locke scowled, not particularly willing to tell Setzer that he had spent a majority of his time that morning feeling sorry for himself and thinking up wildly unfeasible plans for sabotaging the day's events. Instead he shrugged again.
"Well, the guests should be filtering in soon. Try not to frighten them too much," Setzer advised, before passing through the entryway. From the voices that carried in, it appeared he had found and struck up a conversation with Leo. Locke sighed and turned his head away, resisting the urge to slam the back of his head against the wall. Edgar seemed to think it was a good idea, after all …
Approaching footsteps alerted him this time, and he pushed himself away from the wall just as someone entered the room. He blinked, rather surprised to see Terra coming in, her arm linked with that of an elder man in formal clothing. He nearly didn't recognize her, dressed in her maid of honor gown and her hair swept up in an unnecessarily complex manner. She was speaking amiably to the man she was with, pointing something out at the front of the room, but she paused when she noticed Locke's presence.
"Locke! You're here!" she smiled, moving toward him to pat his shoulder. "We were worried something was wrong."
"No," Locke said in a rather subdued voice. "I'm here. Everything's fine … isn't it?"
"Yes," she grinned. "Well, Edgar and Celes are both pitching fits, but I suppose that's to be expected. I'm not used to all this fancy stuff. Do you see these shoes?" She stuck out one of her feet to demonstrate, rotating her ankle around. "I hate these shoes! At least your clothes are somewhat normal."
"Eh …" Locke wasn't sure how to reply, but he was saved from the effort when the man finally appeared behind Terra's shoulder. He looked vaguely familiar, but Locke couldn't place him. Terra remembered his presence and looked suitably flustered.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Locke, do you know Cid? He's Celes' grandfather," she introduced him, and Locke suddenly remembered. He nodded, a bit unnerved at the stare he was receiving from the old man.
"Yes, we met briefly in Vector," Locke said. "Nice to see you again, sir."
"Mmm, yes," Cid nodded, before looking at Terra. "Terra, thank you for looking after an old man, but perhaps you'd better get back to Celes. You know she'll have no patience left for those hovering maids, as tense as she is."
"You're right," Terra smiled. "Locke, you'll show Dr. Cid to his seat, won't you?"
"Sure," Locke shrugged, and Terra nodded.
"Okay. See you in a bit then, Locke!" she said, before quickly taking her leave of the room. Locke felt awkward, being left alone with Cid, and the old man didn't speak until he was sure Terra had gone.
"So, you're the one then," Cid said lowly, looking around the room rather than at Locke, and Locke was momentarily confused.
"Uh, what?" He couldn't bring himself to be more articulate. Cid didn't seem upset by his lack of understanding. He simply gave Locke a brief look, one eyebrow lifted slightly, and Locke swallowed thickly.
"Celes told me what happened," he said, as if that was all he needed to say, but Locke continued to give him a blank look and he sighed. "The potion, Mr. Cole."
"Oh," Locke said, suddenly understanding, and Cid nodded gravely. The look he was giving made Locke wonder if the older man was angry at him; after all, it was his granddaughter that they were discussing. "Celes must have explained, sir. It was an accident."
"I know," Cid nodded. "She told me what happened. That doesn't make it less severe."
"I know. I'm sorry," Locke said, and he was. He looked down, scuffing his shoe against the floor nervously. "I don't suppose there's any way to … reverse it?"
"I'm afraid not," Cid replied.
"And it's permanent?" Locke looked up again, frowning. Cid hesitated momentarily, then sighed.
"It is designed to be. Its effects can vary, but generally it is meant to be long lasting," he said, and Locke sighed.
"I really didn't mean for it to happen," he said again, and Cid finally looked at him with something akin to sympathy.
"I know you didn't. You seem like a respectable young man. Celes speaks highly of you; I think her opinions would hold true, potion or not," Cid said. "However, the fact remains that there is something between the two of you. I want you to know that I'll try to look for a solution, but for now I think it would be best if you stayed away from my granddaughter. Her situation is very important, and goes beyond just you and her. I hope you realize that."
"I do," Locke said softly. "Edgar is a brother to me. I wouldn't ruin this, for his sake and for Celes' too." Cid stared at him again, as if trying to judge his sincerity, then he nodded.
"Good. Now, the other guests are on their way. Where do I sit?"
Slight consolation arrived in the form of a very disgusted-looking Kefka, who looked as though he was about to be forced to ingest something rather unpleasant. When Locke reluctantly approached him, Kefka recognized him with an arrogant sneer.
"Why, if it isn't Celes' dog," he mocked quietly, looking at Locke like one might look at a bug about to be crushed underfoot. Locke just shrugged as if unconcerned, unwilling to rise to the bait. Why bother, he thought, when none of it was real anyway? At his lack of response Kefka had lifted his gold-embossed invitation between thumb and forefinger, and sent it spiraling to the floor with an arrogant flick.
"Fetch," he drawled. Locke merely stepped over the card as if it did not exist, and led Kefka straight to a seat right next to his father, the Emperor. If glares could kill, Locke assumed that the pair of them would have murdered him on the spot. He went away feeling a fleeting sensation of vindication, pleased at the dark looks he received as he trotted away down the aisle. If he was miserable, why shouldn't everyone else be?
He seated the hall until it was full and buzzing with murmuring voices, telling himself it wasn't actually happening. He hung back, wishing there had been some shadows to fall into, when the bulk of the wedding participants appeared up near the altar. Sabin beamed at him and Terra waved, but he ignored bother of them.
After all, it wasn't really happening.
He refused to acknowledge the arrival of the priest and Edgar, who looked slightly off-kilter but no less regal and dashing than he usually did. When the voices hushed and the soft music began to swell, Locke stepped to one side and tried very hard not to look.
It wasn't really Celes who was beginning a slow march up the aisle, accompanied on either side by a child from Figaro and another from the Empire, who were holding the train of her gown and looking thrilled to be the centers of attention. The Emperor wasn't really waiting near the end of the aisle, having risen from his seat to make a show of giving her away.
Locke stood in the back by the open entryway, firmly trying to block everything out. Usually a father or older relative would take the place of standing next to the altar with the groom, and a sibling or younger relative would take the post at the room's entry. As Edgar didn't have any living elders, Sabin had taken the post with easy enthusiasm. The position of 'guard', as Sabin had dubbed it, had fallen to Locke by default. He was to stand there throughout the ceremony, and would be the first to receive and congratulate the couple once the ritual was over and they made their way back down the aisle together. It was Figaro tradition.
It made Locke feel sick.
The ceremony droned on, and Locke pretended not to hear the priest's words. They weren't real after all. You're so pathetic, Cole, Locke told himself, but he figured it was easier to be pathetic than to face the cold hard truth of what was going on around him.
He pretended not to hear the vows, staring resolutely at the length of satin carpet beneath his feet.
He blocked out the priest coaching Edgar's words, hunching further into himself. It wasn't real.
He stopped breathing correctly when it was Celes' turn, her words soft but sure as she mimicked the priest's phrases. It wasn't real.
He closed his eyes as the whole blasted thing neared its end, gritting his teeth painfully as he heard Edgar solemnly intone "I do." Nope, not real.
But then it was Celes' turn, and Locke couldn't do it anymore. It was real.
It was very very real, no matter what Locke wanted to think. How was he supposed to deal with that? How was he going to look them both in the eye, when this was all over?
Unable to face the thought of hearing Celes repeat those two words, he made a split second decision. He spun on his heel and quietly fled, as there was no one there to stand in his way. He didn't notice Sabin's eyes following him, his expression growing dim and concerned from his position at Edgar's side.
Locke was long out of hearing range by the time Celes spoke again, but that didn't stop him from imagining the words again and again, with bitter regret followed by shame that he couldn't seem to shake.