by Lassarina Aoibhell
Warnings: Spoilers, a bit of language
Author's Notes: I was singing Trisha Yearwood's "The Song Remembers When" to myself when this fanfic idea just exploded in my brain. I wrote it over a weekend and for the first time in my life, actually revised something! I'm rather proud of it, actually. Characters, settings, and suchlike belong to Squaresoft, not to me, though the story of course is mine. Feedback is encouraged and welcomed; please send to firstname.lastname@example.org. (I like compliments and criticism equally well, so feel free to send either or both!)
"C'mon, Celes, do a friend a favour, will you?"
Celes turned around, and sighed at the sight of the King of Figaro doing puppy eyes at her. "Do tell, the noted ladies' man can't get a date to the opera?"
Edgar snorted and pushed the ends of his blond ponytail back over his shoulder. "Oh, I could get any of the girls in Figaro to go, but they all want to marry me."
"Whereas I will just crawl in the sack and not ask questions?" Celes arched an eyebrow.
"Yes--no--wait, that's not what I meant!"
Celes kept a straight face, with difficulty. "So are you saying you want me in your bed, or that you don't, and am I insulted that you just implied I'm a slut?"
"That's not what I was saying!" Edgar ran his hands through his hair, dislodging the ribbon that held his hair in its ponytail. "Look, I just want intelligent company when I make my obligatory appearance at the opera. Is that too much to ask?"
With the girls you usually pick up? Yeah. She kept that comment to herself, though, and tilted her head, pretending to consider. "So I take it you've gotten over your opinion that I'm....what was it you called me in Narshe that time? 'Cold as ice'?"
He fidgeted. "Come on, Celes, make up your mind and quit wasting my time."
"Changing my mind when and as I please is my prerogative as a female." She smirked. "But I suppose I could go with you. As long as you keep your hands to yourself!"
"All right, all right." He sighed, then flashed her his best playboy smile. "So, Friday night, right?"
"Friday night." She sighed a little. "What's the show?"
"You'll love this. Castle In The East."
"Castle In The--But that's the one that Maria was starring in when I--"
"When you stood in for her," Edgar finished. "Yup."
Celes blinked. "Weird."
Edgar shrugged. "Uh...by the way..." He eyed her close-fitting pants and light summer-weight tunic skeptically. "You got anything to wear?"
"Huh?" She looked down at her clothes. "I thought I was wearing--Oh. Opera. Fancy clothes. Right. Um....I'll find something."
"Are you all right, Celes? Seriously?" Edgar was watching her with a wary expression.
"Yeah...I'm fine. It's just that....well...." She shrugged and twisted her hands together. "Friday would have been...."
"Oh. Oh, shit." Edgar grimaced. "I'm sorry....Look, you don't have to-I'll ask someone-Terra-"
"No, it's all right." She began twisting one of the thin braids on the left side of her face around her fingertips nervously. "I'd rather have something to do. It'll....Yeah. Anyway. Friday night, 6 o'clock, right?"
"Right." He gave her an uncertain look. "Well....if you're sure."
"Go." She made shooing motions with her hands. "I'll meet you at the Opera House?"
"Nah, I'll pick you up here." He walked to the door and made her an elegant, courtly bow. "Till Friday, then, my lady."
The door closed behind him, leaving her alone in the center of the room, worrying her braids and trying not to think too hard about the past.
"Damned, damned hair!" Celes put her hands on her hips and glared at the mirror. Her hair would not stay up. The silky strands kept slipping out of the pins.
With a sigh, she twisted the heavy blonde mass into a single braid, and coiled it around at the nape of her neck. It wasn't the most elegant thing she'd ever seen, but it was reasonably formal, especially when she added the delicate silver-and-sapphire combs Locke had given her for their first anniversary.
Don't think about that, she warned herself as her hands clenched around the matching necklace. Just don't think about it.
The dress had been a gift, too. She slid into the fancy blue silk ballgown and managed to get the laces in the back done up properly. The last time she'd worn this dress, she'd had Locke to help her get at the nitpicky fastenings.
Stop it. Not worth it. Don't think about it. She repeated the words in her head like a mantra as she carefully applied makeup.
When she was done, she stepped back from the mirror and regarded her reflection critically. The image in the mirror almost looked like someone else--a tall, slender woman with heavy, shining dark-gold hair that had been pulled smoothly back from her forehead. A silver chain dripped teardrop-shaped sapphires into the very low neckline of a deep blue silk ballgown that just matched her eyes. The gown fit closely through the waist and down over her hips, then flared out into a bell shape.
"Is that really me?" she wondered aloud. It had been so long since she'd seen herself dressed up. These days, she just worked part-time at the item shop and spent her evenings immersed in the study of history. Not like she had anything better to do....
A knock on the door interrupted her reverie. She sighed and went to answer it. Edgar was standing outside, studying the carvings on the door lintel.
"Sorry. I was running a bit behind." She grabbed a loosely woven white shawl from the peg by the door and started to put it on.
"Allow me." Edgar took the shawl out of her hands and settled it gently on her shoulders. "I have to say....wow. I promised myself I wasn't going to hit on you tonight, but wow. That dress is stunning."
She felt the heat of a blush climb into her face. "Thanks. I....It was a gift."
His mouth turned down slightly at the corners. "Yeah. Shall we go?"
She followed him quietly into the crowded streets of Maranda. A carriage, pulled by two perfectly matched white Chocobos, waited approximately five steps from her door. Edgar helped her up into the carriage and settled in the seat across from her.
"Is anyone else we know going to be there?" she asked idly as the carriage started to move. It was surprisingly quiet, and a very smooth ride.
"Cyan, of course--they invited all the royalty. Sabin's off training with Duncan again, or something. You know how he is about opera." Edgar rolled his eyes.
Celes laughed and looked out the window at the golden evening light slanting across the ocean. "How is Cyan faring as King of Doma? I haven't spoken to him much recently."
"You haven't spoken to any of us much recently," Edgar pointed out. She winced. "You know that he managed to collect enough of the dispossessed to rebuild the castle and the main city. That's all complete now, and he's working on rebuilding Doma's international reputation. This winter I get to deal with him in trade agreements....our machinery for some of Doma's surplus crops and animals, that sort of thing."
"Finally got over his fear of them, has he?" She smiled a little.
"It would seem." Edgar shrugged. "I don't know if anyone else is going to be there. It's supposed to be kind of a cream-of-the-crop affair, though I heard rumours that Setzer was planning to crash it, for old times' sake."
Celes shook her head. "Good to know some things never change," she murmured.
The carriage slid to a halt. Edgar stepped down and offered a hand to help her out. She looked around her.
A sizable crowd of people, in an array of expensive fabrics and glittering jewels, had gathered outside the Opera House. Edgar shouldered his way through the throng, and she followed him. They reached the front steps with a minimum of fuss. The same Impresario who had presided at her own amateur performance was racing back and forth, flattering and cajoling impatient people into waiting "Just a few more minutes, we're still missing one of the royal guests, you see...." he explained to one formidable-looking matron with steel-gray hair.
"Impresario!" Edgar called.
"Ah, King Edgar! Good to see you've made it! And....why, it's the lovely General Celes! Come for a bit of nostalgia, eh?" The Impresario chuckled.
Celes forced a polite smile onto her face. She hated being reminded that once she had been an Imperial General, responsible for the slaughter of thousands of people. That was what had cut most deeply about Locke's vicious statements during their last fight. "Good evening," she managed to say with reasonable civility.
"Well of course, you'll be up on the balcony. It's reserved tonight strictly for royal guests and Your Highness's own companions in defeating that madman Kefka," the Impresario burbled. "Right this way please--oh, do be careful, my lady, that step is just a touch steep. Yes, we've remodeled since you were last here. The carpets were getting a bit ragged, you see, and that's simply uncouth, you know, to have the place looking like a hovel!"
Celes had extreme difficulty picturing the opulent, marble-walled Opera House ever looking like a hovel. She clenched her teeth to keep from shouting at the Impresario to shut the hell up about trivial details.
Finally, with much bowing and scraping, he left them outside the door into the balcony. As he disappeared down the stairs, Edgar heaved a sigh of relief. "Sometimes I think that man must talk in his sleep," he muttered. "Shall we, my lady?"
"Indeed." She put on her best I'm-in-polite-company smile and straightened her shawl, which was trying to slide off her shoulders.
Edgar pushed open the door to the balcony seating and gestured for her to precede him.
The balcony, although it possessed a decent number of seats, was nearly empty. Only one seat was occupied.
"King Cyan," Edgar called.
Cyan turned and smiled. He wore the new uniform of a high-ranking Doma soldier--dark blue with gold trim. "King Edgar." He offered a half bow. "General Celes."
"Hello, King Cyan." She curtsied back. It felt odd to use formal titles. She was used to only given names with these people. "How have you been?"
"Very busy," he replied with a shrug. "Rebuilding a country is hard work, but I think we've finally gotten it right."
Edgar settled into one of the velvet-upholstered seats. Celes followed his lead. On the floor below, she could hear the rise and fall of voices as the opera guests filed in. The curtains on the stage had been replaced, she noticed. They were now dark blue velvet instead of red.
"Who's the star tonight?" Edgar asked Cyan. "Is Maria still singing?"
"No, she retired last year. The new lead is a girl called Lynn. The character, of course, is still named Maria."
"Of course," Edgar said. He turned to wink at Celes. "Wish you were up there again?"
"God, no. I was petrified I'd come out off-key and forget the words!" She shuddered.
Cyan chuckled. "You did quite a good job for someone with no training," he replied.
"Thanks." She fiddled with a clasp on her gown. "When is the show due to start?"
"Very shortly," Cyan replied. "If you'll excuse me a moment, I must speak to someone before the show." He got up and strode away, to the opposite side of the balcony from where they had entered.
Celes looked down at the stage, where musicians were settling into their seats and tuning up. Edgar leaned back comfortably in his chair, stretching his legs out in front of him. "You'd think they could tune their instruments before they came out here," he said, wincing at a particularly harsh discordant note. "This is supposed to be a professional establishment." He rolled his eyes.
"I know. Warming up out here, fine. But tune somewhere else." Celes continued to stare down at the stage. Slowly the house lights went down. She leaned back a little, vaguely aware that Edgar was watching her intently. She wondered why.
"The West and East were waging war," the Impresario intoned. "Draco, the West's great hero, thinks of his love, Maria. Is she safe? Is she waiting?"
The actor playing Draco stepped forward into the spotlight and began to sing. Celes watched without really paying attention, her mind drifting back seven years to the time when she had stood on the elaborately constructed castle set and sung the part of Maria. She had only just betrayed the Empire....only just met Locke....
"I'm going to see what's keeping Cyan. Pardon me, my lady," Edgar murmured politely. She nodded distractedly as he got up and walked away.
"How I long to be with you," Draco sang.
The music brought so many memories rushing back. She pictured Locke tumbling down onto the stage from the rafters, declaring that he was going to save her from Ultros. Then Setzer showing up and kidnapping her, because he thought she was Maria. She remembered invading the Imperial MagiTek factory with him, the struggle to destroy Kefka on the Floating Continent and later in the strange tower at the center of the southern continent.
And she remembered the night he had knelt in front of her and offered her a silver ring set with a sapphire, and the day they'd gotten married....Five years ago today....
"Celes, sit down," Terra said with some degree of amusement. "Pacing accomplishes nothing."
"But--" Celes began.
"Celes, he's not going to change his mind. Nobody's going to raise a fuss--or at least I can't think of any reason why they would. You look lovely. Stop worrying." Terra straightened the lovely white veil falling from the headpiece of white roses that Celes wore, and smoothed her own pale blue bridesmaid's gown. "Just sit still for five more minutes." Gently she pushed her friend toward the chair in the center of the room. "I'm going to go check on things. Try not to fret yourself into a fit while I'm gone, will you?"
The door swung shut behind the half-Esper girl, leaving Celes alone with her nerves. She fiddled with the lace ruffles on her sleeves. Her wedding dress of white silk was surprisingly similar in design to what she had worn when she posed as Maria. She'd even done her hair the same way, remembering Locke's reaction to her appearance when he popped into the dressing room.
Despite Terra's injunction, she rose and began to pace the room. God, what if she screwed something up? What if he changed his mind and didn't want her after all? She wanted this so badly and what if it didn't happen, what if he started to hate her, what if she did something wrong, what if--
"All right, Celes, you can quit pacing," Terra said from the doorway. "It's time to go."
Celes almost tripped over her hem as she headed for the door. Flushing crimson with angry embarrassment, she followed Terra out into the bright afternoon sunlight.
The sight of the crowd that had been invited almost made her stumble again. All of the Returners, of course, and what seemed to be the entire town of Kohlingen. At the end of the aisle, Locke waited with the High Priest, looking particularly handsome all dressed up. The summer sun glinted off his blonde hair.
"You ready?" Terra murmured. Celes nodded.
Terra gestured to the musicians, and preceded Celes down the aisle.
She wanted to remember this moment, to preserve it in her mind for the rest of her life, as Locke slid the ring onto her finger, but somehow all of it blurred and the only thing she really recalled with any clarity was walking back down the aisle with him by her side.
On their way to their honeymoon on the Solitary Island, they had stopped by the Opera House to see the final showing of that run of Castle In the East.
Celes came back to herself with a start, right as the actress onstage had reached the midpoint of the Aria. She wiped the tears from her cheeks, blaming the music for the unaccustomed trip through her memories. It brought back so many images of time spent with Locke...
She wondered where he was, what he'd been doing in the two years since they'd separated. There had been one fight too many, and they had decided to call it quits.
They had split up on their third wedding anniversary. She didn't remember what had started it or why it had escalated into a shouting match. There had been other fights--God knows no one could ever have accused them of having a calm and stable relationship--but that one had fractured an invisible barrier, one that had kept their previous disagreements reasonably civil. She recalled a great deal of shouting, and the tinkling sound of a wineglass shattering on the wall as the argument degenerated into name-calling--"heartless butcher" and "arrogant glorified pickpocket" were particularly clear in her memory.
Hell of a way to celebrate your anniversary, with your husband declaring that if he saw your face again this side of Hell it would be too soon.
But she didn't think about that very much anymore. She'd decided that two phenomenally independent personalities were not meant to coexist in a permanent relationship, and had repeated the concept to herself until it finally sank in.
Shaking off her reverie, she looked up at the stage. Maria was standing on the balcony, raising her flowers to the stars. "We must part now. My life goes on, but my heart won't give you up. Ere I walk away, let me hear you say I meant as much to you. So gently, you touched my heart. I will be forever yours. Come what may, I won't age a day. I'll wait for you always," she sang.
How often had she sung that part of the aria to herself, late at night, when she couldn't sleep and it was a better alternative than crying herself sick? The words kept echoing through her mind, reminding her of so many things....
The curtain fell at the end of the scene, and the house lights came back on. Celes looked around, and realized that neither Edgar nor Cyan was back yet. She frowned, wondering where they were, and got up to look for them.
She almost missed the figure standing quietly in the shadows near the door, but light glinted off pale hair and she stopped dead. He must have realized that she'd seen him, because he lazily straightened up and stepped into the light. "Hello, Celes."
"Locke," she managed to say around the sudden lump in her throat.
His eyes raked over her from head to heels and back again, twice. She stood there with a thousand words whirling in her brain, none of which she could quite get enough of a grasp on to speak. He wore a suit that had the look of new clothes not yet broken in. His trademark bandanna was nowhere to be seen, but then again, the Opera House was hardly the place for it. But the air of trouble-waiting-to-happen combined with insouciance and confidence was unmistakable.
"It's been a while," he murmured, his gaze lingering on her necklace.
"Yes." Two years. She had only taken the ring off last week.
"Nice dress." His grey eyes glinted with laughter.
"You bought it for me," she retorted.
"Yeah." He ran his fingertips lightly across her shoulder where the shawl had slid away to leave her skin bare. "Enjoying the opera?"
"It brings up a lot of memories," she said before she thought about it.
"Yeah." He hesitated, reached into his pocket. "I wanted to ask you something."
Celes arched an eyebrow. "Ask away." It was hard to keep her tone light and casual. God, so hard.
He dropped to one knee and pulled something that sparkled blue and white from his pocket. With a slight shock, Celes recognized her engagement ring and wedding ring--which she had seen on her vanity table as she dressed for this evening's performance. "I know we didn't do too well at this last time around, but I'd like to try again. Will you?" He looked up at her, grey eyes showing nothing but earnestness.
Celes blinked, still stuck on the fact that he was holding her rings. "How did you get those rings?" she asked mindlessly.
He rolled his eyes. "Please, Celes, I'm a treasure hunter. How the hell do you think I got them?"
Celes looked at the gems, shining softly in the low light. She wanted to say yes so much, but what if she screwed up again? What if she did something wrong and they got in another fight and she had to put all the pieces back together again? Would it be worth it to have one more try at making it work? Was she even sure she wanted him?
Yes. The answer in her mind was unmistakable.
Though tears sprang to her eyes at the thought of all she could still do wrong, she smiled. "I suppose I'll have them back, then."
He smiled and slid the diamond ring back onto her hand. "Remind me to thank Edgar and Cyan for helping me set this up," he said, sliding his arm around her. "Shall we watch the rest of the opera?"
She smiled and leaned her head against his shoulder. "Yes, let's."
Well, that's all. Please send any feedback to email@example.com. This was written in response to a challenge at my fanfic group, DSL. :)
Final Fantasy VI Fanfics Page
Lassarina Aoibhell's Contributor Page