Authors note: I will first state that this is post game and spawned simply from a moment's whim after watching clips from Dissidia. I must stress that this is made up of moments set on the same timeline, but happen at different points along it. The time notice at the top of each story will tell you how much time has passed. It is imperative that you understand the time given in the first chapter since all times will be given based on that first one. For instance, the story starts three years after the death of Kefka. In the next piece he may state a time of five years, this is five years after the death of Kefka not after the last event. You'll get the hang of it.
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy 6. It I did, It probably wouldn't have been as fun as it was. Nor do I own any of the music that will be used throughout the course of this story.
The Moments Between Us
Three years, six hours, twenty-four minutes since the death of Kefka.
That's how Locke Cole had thought of time for the better portion of his life, and the death of Kefka had not changed that. It was not often that the years since the defeat crept up on him, but since he had received the invitation to the anniversary party, it had been ringing in his head like a chapel bell. Like everyone else on the planet, Kefka's downfall was a marker for him, history's new point of reference. But for Locke, it was a new beginning, a point to start time all over again. He'd grown tired of the last count anyway.
Sure, he was glad to see the invitation, but that didn't mean it excited him. Edgar threw the party every year, along with a Yuletide party, birthdays and anything else he could think of celebrating. Parties were Edgar's bread and butter, not because of the women he could chase, but because of the people in general. He was a people's king, thrived on them, lived and breathed them. But Locke, he wasn't the best with people, never was, never would be. Not since…
Locke shook his head to clear the stray thought and resettled himself against the wall. Colored lights and streamers filled his view as he looked up, almost blinding him with their brilliance. The sounds of thrilled revelers flooded his ears as the band struck up a new tune, encouraging the crowd to dance. He cast his gaze across the hall, the gaudy colors of the party gowns and paper lanterns dancing before his eyes like shimmer flies on a muggy summer night.
It was pretty, but it just wasn't his thing. A cool breeze drifted in through the open windows, trailing with it that soft smells of late summer in the desert, his favorite. A hearty belly laugh broke though the roar of the crowd, drawing his attention back to the party in progress. Sabin stood off to the side, one hand on Cyan's shoulder as he gave another guffaw. Cyan just looked at him, his face colored with what could only be embarrassment as he adjusted his blue linen tunic. Sabin just grinned at him as Cyan started speaking again, running fingers through his freshly cut and groomed hair.
Locke chuckled. You could dress Sabin up, as handsome as the prince he really was, but Sabin would never stop being just that, Sabin. The band finished it's tune and began another, this one of a slower tempo but just as jovial as the last. Women laughed as they gathered together and danced in a circle, their satin-heeled feet following the new dance that was 'all the rage' across the world. The return of trends was the last thing he'd expected to see so quickly after the downfall, but it just showed the strength of the human race.
He shifted against the wall again, tugging briefly at the soft white shirt Celes had asked him to wear. She asked the same thing of him every year. White shirt, Black pants and vest, and his best boots. She asked, because it was the only thing he agreed to. He hated tunics, they just weren't his style, so she didn't bother. But, he gave her what she wanted and never argued. Though, he had to admit, he did hate this shirt. The sleeves were too long, and the fabric was too soft. But, even Edgar wouldn't let him dress normally for these puffed up, fancy parties, so he did as he was told.
He'd been doing that a lot lately, being obedient. It was unlike him, but it made things with Celes easier. Not that things were difficult with her, but, he just didn't want to put forth the effort of arguing with her. She was a strong willed woman, and he loved her for it.
"Speak of the angel," He said as he saw her duck through a mass of revelers, a glass in each hand. She paused as a couple brushed past her, holding the drinks away from herself so as not to spill any of it on her pastel green gown. She shook her head in annoyance once they'd gone and started toward him again.
"Delivery!" She chimed, holding the glass out to him. He took it gratefully, sipping at the cool prickly pear flavored beverage within. His favorite. She knew him well.
Celes took a sip of her own before pausing to toss her long cascade of white blonde hair back over her shoulder. She complained that it was too long now, but kept forgetting to cut it. At waist length, the strands were truly glorious, fine as spider silk and soft as a cloud. He loved it. Loved trailing his fingers through it as she lay on the bed. Loved the smell of the gardenia-scented oils she used to keep it clean and shining. Loved her.
"I love Edgar and all, " She started. "But his parties get a little annoying. But hey! Kefka's gone right? Let'em get crazy!" She grinned at him, blue eyes sparkling with mirth as she settled back against the wall herself, tugging absently at the top of her gown. It was strapless, so it made her nervous. Being rather well endowed was often her main annoyance, and she had fretted over this dress ever since she put it on this evening, constantly afraid it would fall down. Locke couldn't complain though, she looked gorgeous, and who could complain about those creamy shoulders being out to play. She caught him staring and elbowed him in the side.
"Pick your jaw up off the floor, lover boy, or you'll catch flies." She chuckled, her blue eyes sparkling. She took a long drink out of her glass, licking her lips clean of the sweetness before putting it down on the low table beside her. She pushed herself up from the wall slowly, eyeing the top of her gown before casting a sidelong glance at him, her long dark lashes fluttering against her pale cheeks.
"Well, I'm off to find Relm," She said, "She's been pranking people all night, and Strago's just about hit his last nerve with her."
Locke nodded his approval and watched her go, her hips swinging more than usual with the knowledge that he was watching her a small promise of things to come. He chuckled as she vanished into the crowd. The tempo swelled again, and the crowd got louder. The alcohol was flowing faster now that the hour had grown later, and the party was ready to get more wild than wholesome since the families with children had all left for the evening.
He looked about the hall again, searching for his friends on a moment's whim. He found them easily. There was Edgar in royal purple, laughing at something the Chancellor hand just said. And of course, Sabin and Cyan, in the corner, each wearing a shade of blue. Gau had joined them by now, his soft brown a good compliment to his hair, now combed and tamed. At heart, he was still a wild boy, but living with Sabin had turned him into a fine young man. He spoke much better now, but was, thankfully, still himself.
He spotted Setzer at the gaming tables, his black dress coat a sharp contrast against his silvery hair. He laughed at some joke a player made as he dealt the next hand. Locke hoped he was playing fair for once. Strago sat at the dinner tables with a few older folks, drinking and talking what could only be the latest world news. Celes was on the dance floor, surprisingly, distracting a prettily made up Relm. Her yellow dress a perfect compliment to Celes' green. He found them, one by one, all of them that came that is. Except for…
He saw her, right where he least expected her to be. Far across the room, standing quietly with her back to the wall, hands folded quietly behind her.
She wore a simple gown of red satin. Red, her favorite color. It always looked good on her. It was floor length, which was unusual for her, but she'd been doing unusual things the last few times he'd seen her. The dress must have cost her a fortune, or the satin at least. Terra never bought clothes anymore, she couldn't afford them. She refused to talk about it, but they all knew that looking after the children had left her with very little time to make money. When pushed, she always said that she didn't need it. Mobliz was a fully functioning farm after all, albeit a small one, so money wasn't something that was needed.
He kept his eyes on her, surprised to find her standing all alone in the corner, looking rather like the outcast girl no one ever asked to dance. It was a shame. She'd put her hair up in something other than a ponytail for once. It was a delicate bun, with soft tendrils of rich emerald green hanging down to frame her pale face. She was stunning, despite her plain gown and simple bun, but then, Terra was always beautiful.
Locke looked around the party once more before making his decision. He set his mostly full glass on the small table next to Celes' and stood away from the wall. Straightening his shirt, he struck out, keeping close to the wall as there were less revelers here, he ducked around tables and a few who'd decided to catch a moment's rest. He moved past them easily enough, his years of treasure hunting having left him with agility and balance circus performers would have killed for.
She didn't notice him as he approached, she just stood there, watching the party happen without her. In truth she looked a little nervous, like she wasn't sure if she was welcome on the dance floor. She raised a hand to her lips, and tried to chew on her nails, a nervous habit she'd never broken. But, her long violet gloves got in the way and she dropped her hand, fingering at her evening bag.
"Hey darlin'" He said as he came up to her. She looked at him, her amethyst eyes wide with surprise at the sight of him. "Some party eh?"
"Yeah, it's great." She replied, turning her gaze back to the party. There was something distant in the way she gazed at them, as though she weren't actually seeing the party.
"I tell ya though, I wish Edgar would throw a quiet one once in a while, with just us heroes." He said, slipping easily into the way he always spoke to his friends, overly friendly and laidback.
"Yeah, that'd be nice."
The same empty response. A warning flag jumped up in his mind as he looked at her. She looked normal enough, despite being so dressed up. She pressed her lips together briefly, her red lipstick shining in the brightly colored lantern light. She shifted her weight slightly, disrupting the fabric of her gown, sending it fluttering gently about her lithe figure. Three years had gone and she still kept her fighters figure.
It was strange though. Since her arrival the day before, she'd been secluded and quiet, almost as though she was lost. It was entirely like her. The Terra he knew was a blossom of joy, not this quiet, lonely figure. It unnerved him, this sudden change. She showed no outward sign of illness, just this emptiness, but only when she was alone, or thought she was. She laughed and joked just the same with the group, but there was a distance now. Was it because Mobliz was so far away? Or was it something else? It couldn't be a man, he was certain of that. It wasn't a woman either, Terra always seemed apathetic when the subject of relationships and reproduction came up. Ever since he'd met her, she just hadn't cared.
"Why aren't you out there?" Her question was sudden and caught Locke off guard. Shaken from his thoughts, he was uncertain of what to say for a moment. But he'd always found the truth to be the best response so…
"Big crowds aren't my thing." He said, turning his gaze back to the dance floor, Celes had moved away from the dancers, Relm having dragged her over to Edgar to talk and get something to drink. She seemed to be having a good time, popping cherries into her mouth. She waved across the crowd as Sabin, Gau, and Cyan joined them, bringing more laughs to the group. "I could ask the same of you..."
"And the response would be the same." She replied.
"Just a couple of loners, aren't we?" He chuckled, nudging her in the shoulder, hoping he could get her to smile. She looked up at him, her amethyst eyes glassy and almost empty. Locke chuckled awkwardly, wondering if he'd said something wrong. He reached up to run his fingers through his silver hair.
"Hey," He started. "You wanna dance?" He knew the answer before he'd finished the question, but it was too late to retract it.
"No, thank you." It was not an unusual response from her regarding dancing. Terra was a self-proclaimed clutz after all, she always said she could trip on air. And dancing was no different. It was the way that she looked back to the dance floor with those empty eyes that bothered him, but he knew better than to ask.
"Hey, would you like some juice? It's prickly pear." He tried to tempt her, drawing out the drink's flavor in an attempt to draw a smile out of her. She just shook her head to the negative, her expression lacking any interest at all.
"Terra?" He questioned, another warning flag popping up in his head. Something was definitely wrong here. Something major was bothering her. "Are you.."
"Yes, I'm fine." She stated, cutting him off. She turned to face him, raising a gloved hand to brush a stray hair away from her pale face. Locke got a good look at her then. She looked ghostly almost haggard, her face thinner than he remembered.
"If you'll excuse me, I think I'll head to bed. I need to leave early tomorrow. I told Jacoby I'd be home in time for his birthday."
With that, she turned and strode away, her usual long stride carrying her quickly to the door leading to the rest of the castle. He called out to her, but Edgar's annual fireworks display began, and the crowd quickly moved to the windows. The cries of the crowd and the boom of the fire works drowned out his voice and he couldn't break through the bodies to chase after her. Somehow, Celes found him and caught him by the arm, dragging him to the windows. He didn't see Terra the rest of the evening, but then, Celes kept him too occupied to particularly care.
He woke before dawn, which was surprising for the day after one of Edgar's parties. But then, he hadn't been drinking, which was also surprising. He couldn't figure out what woke him up until a chocobo down in the castle yard trumpeted again.
"Hush you!" Came the angered whisper-shout of the stable hand.
Remembering the party, Locke all but jumped out of bed. Stuck with a sudden and acute need to be in that yard, to see Terra before she left. He froze for a moment, looking back to make sure he hadn't woken Celes. But, judging from the dark circles around her eyes and the fact that she had been drinking last night meant that she would be sleeping in.
Grabbing his pants and shirt from the party, he threw them on as fast as he could before barreling out of the room barefoot. He raced down the hall, oblivious to the cold floors beneath his feet or the desert chill that filled the air despite the hearths that were kept warm all year long. He had to get there, had to see here before she left. Or, or..Or he didn't know what. His need became a fear as he picked up speed, his run becoming a full sprint. His gut told him something was terribly wrong, and when it came to Terra, his gut was never wrong. It had been that way since he'd found her on the cave floor in Narshe.
And his gut told him, that if he didn't say goodbye now, he'd never get to, ever again. His head told him this was an entirely ridiculous and unfounded fear, but his legs kept running and his surface thoughts kept racing. He had to see her!
He felt stupid as he struggled with the band of his pants as he came around a corner, almost knocking over a guard on his way. He threw an apology over his shoulder as he tried to buckle his pants. But the damn things were too big and just never stayed on right. Forgetting about it, he took a right at the end of the hall and shot down the straight hallway at full tilt for the door at the end. Using his momentum, he hit the heavy door like a train, his hand finding and depressing the latch immediately. Succumbing to the force of his momentum, the heavy door all but slammed open onto the dark stable yard.
He stumbled over the threshold as his feet found the sand that somehow always crept in from the yard. The stone steps were cold and hard beneath his already cold feet, a stiff reminder of how cold the desert night got. Pain assailed the balls of his feet as the chipped stone cut into his skin. By some miracle he kept his footing and made it down into the yard in time to see Terra climb up into the saddle.
Both the stable groom and Terra turned to look at him as soon as the door slammed open. Surprised registered on Terra's face as he straightened up, his shirt trying to slip off his shoulder as he panted. He'd forgotten to tie the damn laces. He hated this damned shirt and could only imagine how awful he must look at the moment. The thoughts of rumors that would soon be spread about him flitted in and out of his mind. He, Locke Cole, the man who was expected to marry an ex-imperial general standing in a dark courtyard, barefoot and sweating, and panting so hard his oversized clothes were trying to fall off.
"Locke?" Terra's voice was delicate in the chill morning air, her face barely illuminated by the groom's solitary lantern, the shadows on her face making her look ghastly.
"Are you alright, Sir?" The groom asked, true worry in his voice.
"Yes, I'm fine. I...I just wanted to say goodbye." He said, his voice cracking in the chilly morning air.
Terra fixed him with a steady gaze, her grip on the reigns tightening as the great yellow chocobo shifted about in annoyance. It wanted to leave. Terra cast a glance to the open gate, the light of pre-dawn beginning to glow on the horizon. Looking back to him, her brow knitted together as what could only be described as a sad look came over her face.
Deciding, Terra reached down and handed the reigns to the groom, who took them without question. The man nodded too her and stepped aside. She slipped easily out of the saddle, readjusting her ratty brown travel cloak about her slim figure. She remained where she was for a moment and just looked at him, back straight, her ponytail hanging over one shoulder.
Locke's shoulders slumped of their own accord and held his arms out to her, hoping she'd come. Terra had never been much of a hugger, she just seemed to dislike physical contact with anyone other in general. She fingered her ponytail for a moment before doing the unthinkable. She didn't just come to him, she ran to him, right into his waiting arms. She hit him hard, throwing her arms about his back as his own locked about her shoulders and hung on, as though for dear life. And deep in his gut, the fear reared its head higher.
"I'll miss you," He said, his voice trying to choke on the words.
"And I you," Her voice barely above a whisper. "But, I need to leave. If I could stay, I would."
"You promised Jacoby." Locke stated, the words straining in his throat. Why did this hurt so much? Why was he shaking? It was just Terra, he'd see her in a few months, right? "I'll visit you, I promise."
"Promises, promises, everywhere and everyday, broken and unbroken, with or without care, I've no care for promises, as people choose not to keep, promises promises, enough to make me weep." The words were strange coming from her, but he chose not to think about them for the time being. He had heard them somewhere before though, but couldn't think of it. The meaning, however, did not strike him until much later.
She drew away from him then and his body ached for the loss of her warmth, the chill creeping into his bones no that the adrenaline had faded. Terra was always warm, no matter how cold it got. Though the magic in her blood was gone, there was fire in her veins. It was that fire that she gave to her friends and family, it was what made her Terra.
"I need to leave." She said quietly, holding him at arms length. "I will miss you, Locke Cole."
"And I you, Terra Branford." He said as he squeezed her arm. She slipped away from him then and made for the chocobo.
"I love you." He called as she reached for the reigns. She paused at his words before taking the leather straps from the groom. She cast him a glance and uttered something similar, as was custom among the group now. You can't save the world without coming to love those you did it with.
Reaching up, she tugged the hood of her cloak up and over her forehead, before wheeling the chocobo about and heading for the gate. As the bird crossed the threshold into the desert, Locke felt again that he would never see Terra Branford again
And as she vanished into the desert, he was certain of it.