Reconciliation

by Lassarina Aoibhell

Author's Notes: Characters belong to Squaresoft, not me. Inspired by the lyrics to Celes' opera song, "Aria di Mezzo Caraterre." Props to my friend Amy-chan for helping to conceive part of the idea that led to this fic. Feedback welcomed at lassarina_angharad_aoibhell@hotmail.com.

~*~Chapter One~*~

~*~Oh, My Hero~*~

"I don't understand why you can't allow me this one thing!" Frustrated, Locke Cole raked a hand back through his hair.

"Oh, so it's unreasonable for me to ask you to pay a little more attention to me occasionally!" Celes Chere glared back at him. The expression on her face gave him a good idea as to how a slender, fragile-looking woman had maintained command in the Imperial Army.

"So what's the problem, Celes? Feeling neglected?" he retorted.

"Frankly I'm starting to wonder how valid your promise of fidelity was!"

He froze. "What did you say?" Odd that he could make his voice so calm.

"It's not me you're living with, it's her! Just like you were saving her in South Figaro, not me! All you want is Rachel!"

He simply stared. Her blue eyes widened slowly as she realized what she'd said. All color drained out of her face until it was whiter than the cloak she wore.

Exerting all his self-control, he turned and walked to the door. Quietly he opened it and quietly he stepped outside.

He slammed the door behind him with a force that shook the frame of their small house.

Not really caring where he was going, he strode through the thriving little town of Kohlingen, ignoring the greetings that came from all sides. All he cared about was getting away, somewhere he could lick his wounds in peace.

He was somewhat surprised to find himself in a cool, damp, dark area. Frowning, he looked around. He was in a cave? But he didn't remember heading for the mountains...

The realization hit him like a fist to the gut. Oh, God. He must be in the small sea cave west of Kohlingen. The Verridian Cave, where he'd sworn never to set foot again.

The cave where Rachel had been hurt and lost her memory trying to save him.

A shock of pain spread through his body, and he realized he'd fallen to his knees on the stone floor of the cave. He wanted to leave, to walk out and leave the memories and grief and fear here by themselves. God knew he had enough of those to deal with in the present, never mind his past.

But the memories didn't seem to want to leave him alone. Flashes of all the times they'd gone treasure hunting together scrolled through his mind.

She had always laughed and called him her hero. He had protected her from the denizens of the caves they'd searched, and she had followed him with wide-eyed delight as they searched for treasures long since lost to their civilization. He remembered how she had looked, lying in his bed amidst priceless gems and jewelry, laughing as she pulled his head down for a kiss.

And she was dead, and it was all his fault.

He shouldn't have allowed her to come here with him. He'd known the cave was too dangerous for her, but he had let her convince him that she would be fine.

She'd nearly died saving him.

"Locke...."

His head snapped up and he looked quickly around. That had sounded like her...but she was dead. It couldn't be.

Something glimmered ahead of him.

"My hero...."

Curious, he dragged himself to his feet and made his slow way forward. The glimmer floated ahead of him, always just beyond his reach. Doggedly he followed it deeper and deeper into the cave, now anxious to find out what it was.

Locke carefully eased around a jagged rock outcropping that would have left nasty gashes across his arm if he had bumped into it. He saw the uneven, cracked cave floor and looked around for an area that would better support his weight. Then he forgot all about such trivialties when he saw a ray of scintillating blue light.

That couldn't be it.

But the shimmering something floated just above it...

He started forward.