Author's note: This story first found life as an angsty one-shot; I always meant to follow it up with a sequel, but not a direct continuation. Obviously, I changed my mind. I read the game's setting as mid- to late-nineteenth century, or more specifically as steampunk, so when details about daily, non-monster-killing life are mentioned, please keep that in mind. And while interpretations differ, please accept that I don't think there's conclusive proof that Locke's in love with Celes (what, do you think he should just drop her off a cliff? Saving her life doesn't prove much; he saves Setzer's life too.) And finally, this story is something of a follow-up to "Sweetness Follows," "Season of Grace," and "Victory," among others - most of my FF6 fics are connected, though you don't need to read any of the others to make sense of this.
I hadn't expected to make it out. I'd thought I'd dissolve, float up and vanish the way the magicite was doing. I'd spent long sleepless nights before the battle trying to make sense of what I knew, of some other world of the Gods that was the real home to magic, of human stories about rebirth after you die, or paradise, and I'd tried to tell myself that my children would be taken care of if anything happened to me - Edgar had sworn he'd be sure of that - and I'd tried to cling to the faint hope I'd make it. But when the tower started coming down, as we'd known it would, I barely had time to think; I could feel the Espers leaving, and I needed to lead my friends out, and I was worried about my family back at home, and that was all.
And I guess that was enough; I wasn't thinking of death, I wasn't ready to go, and I wasn't like the Espers, the last of me confined to a crystal after I'd given up, after years of worse imprisonment. I had a life I wanted to keep, and people I wanted to return to, and it anchored me. But something left me as I fell.
I wasn't able to tell what it was. I was giddy with surviving, I felt like laughing and crying at once as Celes hugged me and then Locke and Sabin, and if my legs felt unsteady or if something felt strange, well, no one had done anything like this before. We'd all been injured and weak and exhausted and now we were jubilant, and I just assumed it was normal. Edgar danced with me, and Setzer called out when we passed over Mobliz so I could wave to them, and everyone was shouting and talking at once and laughing at everything, and I realized how long it had been since I hadn't been worried or frightened. That alone would explain why everything felt so strange.
At some point someone gave me an elixir - stripped of the magic infusion it'd once had, it burned and buzzed my blood like liquor, and when I giggled and said so Edgar laughed and took a sip of one himself, then passed it around, until Setzer intervened to insist on the champagne he'd been talking about earlier. So there was champagne too, and Edgar started dancing with me again, both of us laughing and tripping a lot, and then it was Setzer, smiling more than I'd ever seen him, and then he got Celes to dance with him and he got her to laugh, too, and Locke clapped and said "that's better than I can usually do," and she got embarrassed and pulled away from Setzer and he poured more champagne for everyone.
We ended up belowdecks somehow, and I remember sitting on the settee while Sabin made some rambling toast to Cyan, and my head falling against Locke's shoulder. I don't know how long it was before he shook my shoulder lightly, saying, "Terra?"
"Maybe you need to get to bed?" he suggested. "You've been asleep for a while."
My head didn't feel any clearer. "I don't want to miss everything," I said.
"I can make you some coffee," Setzer suggested, and I smiled blearily at him. I must have dozed again at the table, but I woke when he handed me a steaming mug - "It should be cool enough to drink," he said, though I didn't remember him even brewing it, so I must have been asleep - and I took a sip and made a face and started added sugar.
Eventually, after it seeped through me, I felt better, more alert, but still strangely lost and hollow and sad in a way I couldn't define. I wandered back out to the main quarters, to find Setzer leaning against a wall by the phonograph, sipping a cup of coffee of his own, and Cyan off in one corner - even he couldn't help smiling, though he hadn't really joined in the festive mood yet - and Relm gleefully drawing away on a sketchpad while Strago dozed in a chair. Locke and Edgar were talking over by the stairs, laughing and interrupting each other. There was music playing, some orchestral victory march or some kind. I touched my face and hair to remind myself I was alive, that we'd won and we had hope again, and then I noticed Celes up above us, leaning on the railing overlooking the main area, a glass of champagne in her hand.
I went over to the stairs, and when Locke and Edgar both asked if I was okay I felt happiness welling up again and I just beamed at them, which must have been reassuring enough because they stepped back to let me past. Up above, I joined Celes by the railing, and she smiled slightly.
"You seem well," she said. "More than before. It must have been exhausting."
"It was," I said. "I guess that might have been it. I thought I just didn't have any head for strong drink."
"That could have something to do with it too," she agreed. "How are you feeling now?"
"I don't know how you put up with having your hair all over your neck," I said. "It feels so strange!"
She chuckled. "That wasn't quite what I meant, but it's an answer of sorts... You don't feel ill or anything? I suppose this isn't the best time to ask, after all that champagne. I doubt you slept enough to really sober up."
I shook my head. "I feel kind of light-headed, and sleepy, so... maybe tomorrow I'll know."
"Terra," she said, suddenly serious, "Thank you."
"Huh? What for?"
"For..." She laughed a little, and looked down at the main area. "I really meant for not asking me what I'll do next. I've been dreading the question all night, but Sabin's the only one who's asked so far. But for all of it. Risking yourself in this, and guiding us out, and all you did in the war against the Empire."
Down below, Relm and Setzer were bickering by the phonograph, Relm with a cylinder in her hands. Finally, Setzer stalked off toward the stairs and Relm put the record on, starting a jaunty dance tune. Setzer nodded to us both as he passed, clearly on his way up to the deck. "Celes, I always wondered. Why did you defect? I mean... I was different. I wasn't serving consciously and I didn't rebel consciously. You were raised there, and your whole life was there - did you just start having doubts? I guess Kefka would cause that for anyone."
"In a way..." she said. "We'd been friends, and I hated what was being done to you, and I hated that no one even seemed to see that Kefka was out of control, but I wasn't yet ready to commit treason. That was... an accident, I think, though it could have been a set-up. My doubts only came in later, when Locke saved me and I had to tell myself the Returners were in the right anyway, that the Empire had to be stopped."
"Oh," I said, not sure how else to reply. Mog and Relm were dancing down below, Mog much better than Relm. Celes took a drink of her wine, and made a face. "It's getting warm. I can't keep things chilled anymore."
"I never did that automatically the way you did," I said.
"It's going to take some adjustment," she said, and finished the drink. "I probably ought to turn in for the night, but I'm almost afraid I'll wake up and things will look worse tomorrow."
"I wish you hadn't said that," I said. "Excuse me for a second?" She nodded, and I made my way to the bathroom. I was in for more than a second; when I'd washed my hands in the basin, I leaned in close to the mirror and stared at myself, trying to see if anything had changed, if my eyes were different now, my hair any less green.
I saw them when I stepped out of the bathroom. They were dancing, one of those faster-moving new dances I can never remember the names for, and they didn't seem to have noticed me; I caught the door before it could shut, not wanting to disturb them. I thought of retreating back into the bathroom, but I didn't want to stay in there forever. Everyone else was down below, except me, and the music was a bit distant up here. Locke took her hand to twirl her, and when the song ended they didn't let go right away. He was still grinning, but I saw her look down at their joined hands, and pull away. "I'm going up on deck for a little bit," she told him, a bit too loudly.
"Hey, you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, I just want some air," she called over her shoulder as she clattered up the stairs.
"You sure? Celes!"
"I'm fine, I'm fine, don't worry!" The door banged shut behind her. Looking bemused, he ran a hand through his hair.
"You guys get in a fight?" I asked, stepping away from the wall I'd been leaning against.
"Oh, I don't know. I don't understand her at all. And where'd you come from?"
I indicated the bathroom as I walked over to him. "Wasn't trying to intrude."
"Oh, no problem. Nothing to intrude on."
"Well, at least you're not like Sabin and you aren't saying you don't understand any women," I pointed out, a bit irrelevantly. On the lower level, I could hear Sabin and Gau play-wrestling, and then a waltz started and I heard Relm saying "I believe you promised me a dance, your Majesty." I couldn't make out the words of Edgar's protest, but the intent was clear enough.
"Well, I think that's a bit of a broad statement to make. Some of you have to make sense, right?"
I poked him in the ribs, and he swatted at my hand. "I don't know that all of you make much sense either."
"Fair enough," he agreed. The waltz started over. I glanced over the railing; Relm was, in fact, dancing with Edgar. She came up to his chest, barely. When I looked up, Locke was holding out his hand. "Want to dance?"
"Yeah, it shouldn't be hard. Just follow my lead..." He took one of my hands, put the other on his shoulder, slipped an arm around my waist. When he moved I half stumbled, but he helped right me.
"Where did you learn how to waltz?" I asked.
"I didn't, exactly. We'd do these dances in Kohlingen, but slow-dancing was basically just an excuse to touch a pretty girl for a while."
A pretty girl? Me? Touching? "Shouldn't you chase down Celes, then?" I asked to cover my confusion.
"But you're right here," he said, which I guess isn't really a romantic line, but the way he smiled, you could have fooled me. I suddenly knew exactly why Celes had run off just when they were holding hands, because I sort of wanted to as well. It made no sense at all, but I didn't know what I was supposed to do next. Actually, for me it made sense, but not so much for her. My body dealt with the issue by tripping me again. I cursed, and he steadied me. "Maybe we should leave the dancing alone for a while," he suggested.
"Yeah, maybe so." I moved over to the couch to sit down. I could walk fine now.
He extracted a flask from one of his pockets, then sprawled on the couch next to me. He took a drink, then offered it to me. "I didn't even know you had one of these," I commented, pointlessly, then took a swig and coughed. I couldn't identify the alcohol, but it was strong. I could feel the warmth crawling down my throat and then out along my shoulders.
"I'm full of surprises," he said, as automatic as accepting the flask back from me, but he seemed to be thinking about something else. "Terra..."
"Does Celes... is she interested in me?"
I blinked. It wasn't blindingly obvious? "Um, Locke, that's sort of her business, you know, not..."
"Yeah, I guess so. I just wondered if she'd said anything."
"Not to me." She doesn't talk about her feelings much. She just shows them. How could he have missed it? He didn't say anything else, and while I could still hear music and voices from below, up here it was quiet. "Are you interested in her?"
"Aww, hell. I don't know, Terra! It's been... what, three months since Rachel died? What's the date, the twentieth? Not quite three months. I mean... hell, I don't know. She's beautiful, but so are you, and nobody's making significant statements about me and you, are they?"
"I don't think so." Beautiful?
"I just don't get it..." He took another drink. "You know what I want to do?" I shook my head, but he hadn't waited for my answer. "I want to get back into that castle under the mountains. There's lots in there we could get to, if we could just clear out some of the rubble. The treasure hunter deal wasn't just a joke, you know."
Another drink. "Know what else I want to do?"
"Nope," I replied, and he leaned in and kissed me. I felt his fingers in my hair, felt my arm go around his neck. His teeth caught at my lip, our tongues kept bumping into each other, and then his other arm was around my waist. He pulled back a bit, but his arm was still around me as he leaned his forehead against mine. "That," he whispered. I closed my eyes, trying not to notice anything but the warmth of his skin and the nervous happiness bubbling in my chest. But I could smell the alcohol on his breath, and the phonograph was playing something very like the song he and Celes had been dancing to.
"Locke," I murmured, "you're drunk. I'm sort of drunk. You're..."
"Not that bad," he protested, and kissed me softly. "It's not like I won't remember in the morning."
Someone behind us coughed, and I practically flung myself away from him. Edgar. Just Edgar, but my heart was hammering, and I knew I'd been expecting Celes. "Sorry," he said quietly. I noticed Locke's hand was still on the small of my back, so I hadn't jumped as far as I thought. "I really was just coughing. And heading for the facilities. Sorry."
"I, uh, I... um," I stammered, and stood abruptly. Locke grabbed my arm to stop me.
"Can I at least talk to you later?" he asked, and I think I nodded because he let me go.
I guess they talked for a while, because I'd actually dozed off when I heard the knock on my door. I got up and hastily smoothed my hair before I answered it. Locke, of course, but my heart was beating hard again. Obviously I'd been expecting someone to run up and tell Celes, who had come to confront me. I stepped back to let him in, and he stepped in and pulled the door half shut, then scratched the back of his head awkwardly. "Um... hey, Terra, I'm sorry."
Regretting it already, then. I felt myself deflate, and didn't pause to examine that reaction. "Why?" Because he hadn't wanted to kiss me. Because he really wanted Celes.
He shifted his weight from foot to foot. "I, um... I guess I was kind of rebounding, you know, from Rachel's death. And it's really not fair, what with you and your memory and all. It'd almost be taking advantage of you." I wasn't the child I'd been when I first lost my memory, but I didn't know how to say that, and clearly he still thought I was. Or someone did.
"Locke, is that what Edgar said?"
"Well..." He wouldn't meet my eyes. "Kind of, I guess. But he's sort of right, too."
Maybe about the rebounding, I thought. Hell, maybe even about the other. I had fragments of my memory back, but not enough. I'm still new at all this in a way, probably not really ready for a relationship, and I have the kids to think about. And there's Celes. I don't want to hurt her. Besides, he's my friend, and there's no need to ruin that. All kinds of good reasons to stay away. "I guess so."
"Yeah," he replied, quietly, then paused like he was waiting for me to say something. Finally, he added, "I guess I better go then."
I just nodded, and watched him leave.