I awoke with a start, my heart pumping fast.

"Terra?"

No answer. I must have been dreaming of her again. I was pushed all the way to the left side of the large stuffed mattress on my floor. Like someone else was with me. I looked around my room in the dark, rubbing my heavy eyelids.

My stone foot dragged coarsely on the sheets, making a zipping sound. My stomach turned. When I woke up, for a few moments I would forget that I'd been permanently disfigured. Then I'd remember and get this sinking feeling that my life was now going to be different beyond my control.

I hated that. Not like I've never been injured. Far from it. Sometimes I wondered if I craved injury. It was like I got high off getting broken and coming back stronger. This was different. This was something that had me beat. Something that made me reach outside of myself for help. I didn't like it one bit.

I suppose that's why I was thinking of Terra so much. For all I knew, she was the only one who could stand a chance at helping me. I felt very vulnerable and dependent. It was a weird bond we were forming nonverbally.

I looked over at my grandfather clock near the moonbeam of the window. It was three in the morning. What a relief. Plenty more time to sleep. Classes didn't start till noon today, which meant I'd be getting out of bed around eleven forty. After all, I was still "injured" and didn't need to warm up carefully, just coach my guys.

I tossed over to one side and exhaled as I hit the mattress, surrendering to sleep.

"She's cheating on me with you then, huh?"

I jumped out of bed, my eyes still hazy.

"Who's there?!" I tensed my fists, staggering.

"Shit! Dammit, Sabin…sorry. Ah, crap I spilled scotch on your carpet, friend."

I couldn't see details of the shape sitting in the chair beside the clock but I could recognize the smooth low voice. He stood up into the moonlight, a slight guy with pale skin and stubble.

"Locke?"

"You scared the crap out of me, bud. Here, hold this, I'll clean up your floor." He handed me a rocks glass half full of warm scotch.

"I scared you? This is…uh, you know. My place."

"Didn't think you'd still have those reflexes I guess." Locke chuckled. He grabbed a towel off the back of my bedroom door, dabbing it on the wet carpet. My whole room was going to reek of booze. Very classy for the ladies, I'm sure. Thanks Locke.

"Don't worry about it, man. How the hell are you? What brings you here so late?"

"Why'd you call Terra's name when you heard me come in?" He looked up from the carpet and gave me his schoolyard prankster smile. I laughed, flabbergasted.

"Hey, this is my house, bub. I'll ask the questions."

"Come on, I need to know. I'm an information guy, I need to know. Is someone from the old gang getting friendly with the old girl?"

"Maybe, but it's definitely not me. Look, I-"

"What? Then who?"

"What the fuck, Locke, are you a girl or something? I haven't seen you in more than a year and you crash my place and now you want to know if I'm banging Terra? Like, that's what you're here for? Gossip" He looked down, like he knew he'd pushed it just a bit too far. I felt bad, instantly, for blowing up at him. He was in the wrong but I couldn't help but feel like a jerk. Locke is that kinda guy that's very tough to be mad at.

"Listen, calm down. I'm sorry. I'm actually here on business."

"What business?"

He scratched his head. "I need to borrow some money."

I laughed. "Why do you need money from me? I'm a karate teacher, man. You're the big shot adventurer treasure hunter guy. How could you possibly not have any money left?"

"Look, I have money, it's just, well, a lot of it is assets and artifacts, stuff I can't just use as cash. Also, I don't want the wife to know what I'm up to. This is top secret stuff. She'd notice if I took a huge chunk out of our personal savings without warning."

"Well I'd certainly hope she'd be on the lookout for that kinda thing." Celes. A woman of infinite patience was required to put up with the roguish whims of a guy like Locke. I'm sure she'd gotten used to his tricks by now. She must have had him on a pretty tight leash.

"Anyway, yeah. I was thinking. That statue of you. It's so ugly."

"But you just said no artifacts…"

"Right man, but it's solid gold. I can melt it down and coin it."

"Who the hell is gonna do that for you and not tell anyone?"

"Relax, I know people."

"Locke, you GAVE me that statue..."

"Look it was a joke from better times. It's ugly as sin, you won't miss it. I'm going to coin that sucker, I will pay you back with interest, Sabin. Please, I just need this."

"I don't know why you don't just ask my brother…" I shook my head.

"Because I honestly trust that you won't tell anyone." He looked at me with sincerity. I rolled my eyes.

"I also won't make you tell me a lie about why you need it. I know you better. Take it out yourself, I'm not moving it for you."

"You're a real pal, Sabe."

"Whatever. I'm going back to bed." I collapsed back onto the sheets, flustered.

-------

I awoke to the strangest of sensations. I could feel vibrations in my leg. I was being touched, but I couldn't feel the point of contact. I jerked upward, looking. Leila's big brown eyes met mine. She looked worried sick with curiosity.

"Shit." I muttered, looking away. I pulled my stone foot away from her outstretched fingers. She didn't say anything. There was a basket of laundry on the chair, folded, pressed. My gi was laid out on the foot of the bed. She never brought me my gi in the morning.

I felt miserably guilty and embarrassed.

"Did you…move your statue?" She mumbled.

"What? Oh, don't worry about it."

"Sabin…" She looked up at me again. God how I wanted her to stop looking at me. She was like a lost puppy. So unlike herself. I couldn't stand it.

"Please, Leila. I think I should probably be alone. You can take the day off."

"You have class to teach, what do you mean alone?" She said, a tinge of outrage in her voice.

"Have Marcus take over for me today, I've got to go travel."

"Again? Sabin what's going on with you? Why are you avoiding me?" She was full-fledged mad. Her fist pressed into her hip. I wanted to care, but I was stretched too thin. The past week was unreal.

"Please go enjoy your day off." I got out of bed and started getting dressed. I swore I could hear her exhale hissing smoke through her nose. She stomped out of the room. A few seconds later, my front door slammed.

-----

"Ever sleep with someone you shouldn't have?" I asked, knowing it was a stupid question. My brother laughed richly, astounded.

"Little brother, what have you gotten yourself into?"

"No, Ed, it's a hypothetical question." I killed the last of my red wine, motioning to the waiter. "Another one would be great, thanks. No, I'm just saying, like, have you ever regretted it? Are there lines that should be drawn?"

"How young?"

"No, that's not the issue."

"So there is an issue?"

"Ed, please. Humor me." He smiled with glee as the waiter filled my fifth glass. Everything was very rosy.

"Okay. Go on. You want to know if there indeed are scruples regarding affairs with sultry young ladies?"

"Not sultry, just…"

"Sorry, brother, if I overcomplicate things. Much like this wine to you is a way to get silly drunk, it is art to me. The same phenomenon applies to the pursuit of the fairer sex. I am a connoisseur. So was she a fan of yours?"

"No, stop asking. I'm the one asking you a question, Ed…"

"Forgive me. Well. It's a careful game, Sabe. Lots of factors are involved. It's mathematical to some. How beautiful she is, coupled with how adventurous…over how much you stand to lose by crossing her…which is the value of how clever she is coupled with how close to your personal business she is. Does this help any, Sabe?"

My stomach flipped a little. Maybe it was the wine.

"I think I need some air."

------

The summer air was thick and moist, hardly a refresher. Edgar stepped out onto the balcony behind me, away from the noise of the dinner party.

"You know I can send you any of my maids and servants you wish, Brother. If you made a mistake with Leila, you don't have to live with it."

"What's that supposed to mean?" I mused weakly. He knew. How did he know? And why wasn't I covering it up? Damned wine.

"It means she's of low birth, no offense. Her word means nothing, her type is a dime a dozen. If her presence makes you uncomfortable day to day then I'll send her packing and you can have anyone you like. Personally, I congratulate you. I never had any luck with that one. Don't be offended but it's originally why I sent her to you." He chuckled, walking over to the railing. "You're not going to be sick, are you?"

"No…don't worry about it. I can fix my own problems."

"Don't let her mess with your mind, remember, she works for you. Keep it clear. I'm not telling you to get rid of her, just…well. Sabin, women are aware of the power they have over men. She knows she's affected you, she will take what she can get, it's just natural. If you let her, she'll wind up running your household before you know it. Keep your heads in order, understand? That's the first rule."

"There are rules?" I said, amused.

"Oh yes, I will teach you, dear brother." He took a long sip. We listened to the night in silence. Finally he spoke.

"I'm going to marry Terra Branford." My jaw tightened like a bear trap. I made sure my face didn't budge.

"Does she know about this?" I forced a joke.

"Oh she will. She's going to be arriving with my crew and Gideon in the morning. I plan to propose tomorrow night." He clapped me on the shoulder, turning back to the party. "Work on your speech, Best Man." He called over his shoulder.

I felt nothing.