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Disclaimers: Final Fantasy VI and its characters belong to Squaresoft. The characters are being used in this fanfic without permission. Credit to the title of this fanfic goes to Mikerek (thank you). Story was completed November 8, 1999.
She had never been the flirtatious type. Characteristics of that nature simply did not suit the needs of a soldier or a general. But upon joining the Returners, she had gradually learned how to use her femininity- which she had never considered an asset, more of a hindrance in a world dominated by men- in certain situations when they became applicable. She conceded to herself that it was much easier to sweet-talk a man out of information than it was to beat it out of him. It was more discreet and required a lot less effort on the part of her companions, though to be sure, it took a certain amount of her willpower to not turn her head away when inhaling the "victim"'s generally unpleasant odor.
They had never brought it up with Terra; apparently, they had determined that she was too easily embarrassed to learn the trade Celes had acquired- not that Celes wasn't initially mortified by the idea either. Still, her friends had eventually convinced her it would help their cause considerably, and as she'd had experience with the lecherous, dim-witted, desperate types (the army was full of them), she could certainly take care of herself if the situation demanded it.
Privately she wondered if by "experience" they also were attempting to insinuate something else. She had no doubt that Edgar and Sabin were "experienced". Cyan, too, though in a different manner, as he had been married, and a man like him would always treat a woman like a lady; the thought of a tryst with some lowly barmaid would most likely make him turn red five times over. As for Locke- well... She was thoroughly convinced that he was completely devoted to Rachel, as lifeless as she was. It wouldn't surprise her at all, though, if he had his share of women. And with him being friends with Edgar, she would bet on it.
That evening had gone well. She had managed to discreetly inquire about certain "sightings" that evening. She gave a sigh of relief as the man continued to drink, pulling away casually as she left the bar. She exited the building into the cold night air. Though it was snowing only lightly, the streets were already covered with the fine powder, and her boots left tracks in the ground, mixing with past, half-filled tracks of previous walkers. She walked some distance away from the loud singing and dancing and drunken banter inside several streets down, and making sure no one was nearby, she easily slipped into an alley where the other three were waiting for her. She stood at the edge of the alley, her back against the wall, so that she could still see down the street. Though she was wearing a light cape, she barely noticed the cold, looking somewhat contemptuously at the men, who were shivering.
"Do we need to stop off and buy something warmer for you gentlemen?" she asked, too sweetly. She got dirty looks at her for an answer. She shrugged in response and looked up towards the sky. It was pitch black except for the falling, white snowflakes. She exhaled slowly, seeing the white mist from her mouth disappear into the air.
"Well?" Edgar was the first to speak.
She glanced at him, then at the other two, before saying, "She was seen headed to the northeast. Towards Jidoor." She inclined her head in the direction of the bar. "The soldier inside said Kefka's started the search for her... to retrieve her..." Her gaze drifted off towards the edge of the town. There were street lanterns on, and through the snow, it gave it the world an eerie glow, dark black and brown covered in white, quiet, almost deathlike.
'To retrieve the bitch...' To make her a slave again...
She suddenly shivered without meaning to, for the first time feeling the icy air. It was then that she realized that the three men were talking; she wondered if she should listen. Wasn't she just along for the ride? Or did she really care about the Branford woman? She stared at the brick wall without seeing it. Terra wasn't a bad person. She had seen the innocence in her eyes, the struggle. Did she even remembering killing all those people?
Locke's voice called her. She lifted her face, looking at him passively, not revealing any of her thoughts. He studied her for a moment before saying evenly, "We're spending the night here. Tomorrow we'll head towards Jidoor." Clearly he knew she had not been paying attention to them.
She nodded. He handed her the sack he had been holding for her while she was gone, and she swung it easily on her back. "The nearest inn is two streets down," said she. They followed her as she slowly trekked towards the inn. They were silent as they walked. Celes looked at the buildings as she passed; candles were lit in some of the windows, but very few. Most people were already asleep; she supposed it must be nearly midnight.
The night was beautiful, despite the lack of the moon and stars; she used to stare at the evening sky for hours, every night with her armies. After the camp was immersed in slumber, she would leave her tent and just gaze up at the sky, not thinking anything, just looking. The absolute silence, the purity of the evening air filled her with peace, as if everything was perfect in the stillness. It never gave any indication that, the following day, the following weeks, blood would fall by her blade, by her hand, her face as lifeless as the bodies she slayed. As though everything was all right, and she-
They arrived at the inn. Edgar managed to book three rooms for the evening, despite the late hour, and they parted, the twins to one room, Locke to the second, and she to the third. Her room was at the very end of a long corridor on the second floor. She locked her door, dropping her things carelessly onto a chair. She sat down on the bed and began to undress. She folded all her clothes carefully, setting them next to her sack, then took out her nightgown. It was severe- thin, made of cotton, and fully white. She pulled it on, then went to bed, lying down on the mattress with the blankets over her.
She shut her eyes and cleared her mind, but she did not sleep. Though it was late, she was not tired. From the bed, she could see out the window to the street, the falling snow. The night called to her, as it always did, as it had for the past two weeks, when her companions were asleep, following her habits as a general.
Quietly, she left her room, not even bothering to bring her cloak or her shoes. She paused outside of Locke's room, but she could not hear a thing. Even the Figaro brothers were surprisingly silent; it seemed as if the whole inn was asleep, peaceful in their dreams.
She didn't dream. Not really anyway. Her dreams were white, empty, cold. She could feel the cold, she could see the white, she could sense the emptiness. But that was all.
She didn't dream but she had nightmares. Once in a while. Not often. Not white but red and black, hot, sticky, the red hot sticky colors running down as she could feel them enveloping her. Were these nightmares a result of her conscious? Or a higher force exacting punishment onto her mind? But she didn't believe in God.
Climbing down the stairs, she made her way to the first floor, then silently left the inn, to the outside world. It was still snowing, the sky still pitch black. She breathed in, letting the cold air enter her body. It invigorated her, clearing her head as she peered up into the blackness with blue eyes.
And she stood there, the snow falling on her, clothed in nothing more than her nightgown, standing in the frozen air, her body cold though she couldn't feel it, at peace with herself, with the world, content in a way she could never explain afterwards, only in the moment it was occurring. Her eyes shut, she could feel nothing. For minutes or hours, maybe only seconds, she didn't know or could tell.
Something warm was wrapped around her shoulders, and her world shattered. She turned abruptly to see him standing there, shivering in the cold, having given her his own warm cloak, his brown hair mused but his dark, green eyes alert. She looked at him blankly, touching the material absently.
"Why are you out here? You'll freeze to death." His words were spoken without annoyance or anger, but of concern. She watched him, standing there, looking ridiculous as he tried to keep warm, not used to the weather, and she took off his cape and held it to him: "You need this more than I do."
He was about to protest but decided not to at the brisk tone of her voice, commanding, and he took it from her hand. "Let's go inside."
She looked back towards the sky, ignoring him. "I'm fine here."
"Surely you're not going to stay out here?"
"Why do _you_ care?" The question was presented coldly to him. Her ice-blue gaze met his eyes. What didn't he understand? She wanted to be out here; he had disturbed her, lost the moment for her. She wished to regain it.
He looked at her for a long moment. Then he shrugged, turning away. "Maybe I don't," he answered. "I would, however, not wish that the woman I risked my life for die not even two weeks later."
She laughed. It surprised him. It was clear, not hindered by harshness or anger. She was genuinely amused by his response. Holding out her hands to the sky, she supposed she must have looked insane to him- all in white; the thin material covering her lithe, tall frame; bare feet; pale, white-blond hair floating around her face; paler skin, almost as white as the snow itself.
Beautiful. The thought was fleeting in his mind. Strangely beautiful, as if she were the snow, or something borne of it.
"I'm not cold." She smiled at him. Her first smile without irony, or sarcasm, or malice. Just a simple, pure smile. She closed her eyes, bringing her hands down to her chest. "It's so beautiful... so clean. It absolves you, the snow... A pure death, dying in the cold. I would like to die that way."
He said nothing, staring at her. But her attention was fixated on the sky, the falling snow, on something he could not see, something he wasn't sure he wanted to. They stood there together, how long she never asked, perhaps he did not know either, but he waited for her, by her side, silent and unmoving, watching her.
Gradually she broke her steadfast gaze away, returning to herself, to reality and the pain and the worry and the tremulous questions she asked herself everyday when the sun lit the sky. It was then that she looked at him, noticed his presence, and felt confusion at seeing him still there. "You.. you've been here the entire time? You didn't have to wait here."
"I wanted to."
It was a deceptively simple answer. She quickly tried to read his face, to assess his words, but could find nothing. Nothing she could understand anyway. She lowered her face, suddenly feeling exhausted. "It's late..." she said. He nodded. He didn't move, and she realized then that he was waiting for her to move first. She did so, but she stopped in front of him, looking into his eyes and whispered, "Thank you, Locke" before she quickly entered the inn.
In bed, she lay awake for several minutes, listening as she heard footsteps enter a door some distance away, the door closing and locking. She let out her breath and closed her eyes, falling quickly into a deep sleep.
That night, she dreamed. Not white or red or black, but green, brown and green.
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