Terra peered into yet another narrow alley. A brown lump shifted and extended a wrinkled hand towards her. Old eyes looked at her from within the mound of rags. She placed a few coins in the outstretched palm, then continued on her way; she was looking for someone else.

The town around her was reeking of despair and loss. The fact that the war with the Empire was over did not help the condition of those that had been unfortunate enough to have been swept over by the waves of battles. At least half a generation had died, and countless others were dying from poverty and neglect. Terra couldn't possibly help all those suffering here; she came only for the orphans, to take them from this misery.

And there were always orphans to be found in a place such as this. One was currently sitting at the street corner, gnawing at his nails. That he was an orphan was obvious from the fact that he was filthy from head to toe and clearly too young to be in the streets by himself. A look at his blank, lonely eyes confirmed Terra's suspicions.

None of the beggars lining the streets paid the least bit of attention to the boy. How could they honestly care about yet another poor kid when they could barely keep themselves miserably alive? Perhaps a more resourceful one among their number could recruit him to be a pickpocket, but Terra knew that wouldn't improve his situation.

Terra walked up to the child. He was covered with dirt and grime, but his dark curly hair still puffed out delicately from his head. Streaks in the mud on his face betrayed the fact that he had just been crying. When she took him up in her arms, he instinctively embraced her neck, though his face remained expressionless.

"Are you by yourself?" Terra asked the boy, knowing already what the answer would be.

The boy lowered his eyes away from her, but nodded slightly.

"How long have you been living here? Where are your parents?"

"They’ve been dead for days and days."

The boy’s expressionless face as he said this touched Terra’s heart more than any sobs or tears could. She briefly pressed her cheek against his, as though she could somehow squeeze out some sign of sorrow.

"Are you staying with anyone? Where are your relatives?"

Terra was not surprised when the boy merely shook his head.

"Poor boy. You must be so scared. I’ll take you to a nice place to live, with lots of other children. Would you like that?" Terra gave him a reassuring smile.

The boy nodded with that same blank face, looking up at her. His firm clasp around her neck betrayed his anxiety, as though he was afraid she would change her mind and leave him back on the street. His eyes wandered around her face, drifting up and tracing her green hair down around her chin.

"Would you like me to carry you there? Can you walk?"

The boy only clutched her tighter and said not a word.

Terra was familiar with his apparent craving for security. All the other orphans had similar reactions when she found them. Suddenly thrust from a warm and loving world into one that was blind to their existence, these children had wandered the streets for a number of days, never knowing where they would sleep that night, or when they might next eat. What they desired most was a friendly home and someone strong to protect and care for them. She had been the same herself when she first awoke from her slavery.

She had often wondered, while picking up these orphans, how she must have seemed to Locke when he freed her of her slave crown. She was an orphan too, and had suffered terribly at the hands of the Empire. She must have clung to Locke as desperately as these children to her. In that moment of freedom, all she had felt was relief and hope that whatever happened to her from that point onwards, she would never be subjected to mental slavery again. In hindsight, Terra realised that she was just very lucky Locke was a man of some moral conviction and didn’t take advantage of her hasty loyalty.

Would she have reacted otherwise if it had been someone else who freed her? Wouldn’t she have just as gladly attached herself to Kefka if he had saved her from that blank hell? Terra would never know for sure, but she suspected what the answer would be, and she didn’t like to think about it. Terra had been lucky indeed. As this boy was lucky.

As she walked away with him, she rocked gently, trying to soothe the boy, whose arms were still around her neck and whose hands were constantly grasping at her hair.

"How old are you? What’s your name?" Terra asked gently.

The boy continued to avoid eye contact, and seemed to study her hair intently.

She talked to him in a smooth, calming voice. "When we get there, you’ll get a nice warm bath. We’ll have lots of food for you and a soft bed. Your new home is really big, with brick walls and a high roof. There are lots of grown-ups there who will take care of you, and lots of other children to play with. We’ll get you new clothes, too."

He still said nothing and kept his eyes away from hers, but his embrace seemed to be loosening. The thought of safety and comfort was slowly overtaking the fear and uncertainty he had lived with for the past month.

"We have pets there too," Terra continued. "You can play with the puppies if you like, or if you don’t like them, they won’t bother you. And you can play games with the other children and have lesson too when you’re older." Terra continued talking for a while, making clear to the boy that he would be allowed to live at the orphanage indefinitely, that it would be a firm constant in his life.

"Your hair is very nice," the boy said suddenly, looking only at her locks.

"Why thank you," Terra replied, more happy at the fact that he was talking than at his compliment.

"Is green hair always this nice?"

"Well, I wouldn’t know," Terra said with a hint of laughter. "No one else has green hair except me. Isn’t that funny?"

"My parents were killed by the Returners. A green-haired witch killed them."

Terra somehow maintained her rocking gait. Her mind raced back through the many battles she had fought. Had there been a man with dark curly hair under his helmet? Or a woman with this boy's eyes hidden beneath her visor? Did any of the fallen soldiers whisper a son’s name with their last breath? She would never know.

"Now who told you that?" Terra asked, still in a smooth voice.

The boy didn’t reply, but continued to play with her hair, his filthy fingers spreading dirt through it.

Terra realised that it hardly mattered whether she really killed his parents or not. That was what the boy believed, and that’s what she had to deal with.

"Well, you know in war people sometimes have to do things they don’t want to. Sometimes they do things they are very sorry about." She wished that she could see the boy’s face, to know what he was feeling, but he kept his head resolutely turned towards her back.

If it had been Kefka who removed her slave crown, would she still hate him? What if he had promised her safety and comfort? Would that be enough for her to follow the man who had caused her so much suffering? Would she trust him as she had instinctively, even thoughtlessly, trusted Locke?

When Locke rescued Celes from whatever she had endured, didn’t she attach herself to him? She was an orphan also, and though she had never divulged the whole of her past, it was plain to Terra that Celes too had suffered much because of the Empire. And didn’t she turn vehemently against the Empire that had wronged her? What would she have done if instead of Locke it had been Kefka or the Emperor? Terra in her place might not have cared, might have clung to whomever saved her, but Celes was a general, and she was strong, and she was too proud to need someone as desperately as Terra did.

How desperate and scared was this boy? How strong? How proud?

"The war is over now, no one is killing anyone anymore. I know nothing I do or say can make it better, but I promise you that I will never hurt you and I will try what I can to make you happy again." Terra felt tears on her cheeks.

The boy’s arms tightened once again around her, and she thought that his face, which was turned away from her, must be struggling to keep back his tears too. Or was he simply weighing her old wrongs against her present kindness?

"I know the war is over," he said in an even voice. "I know you had to kill them, and I know when I’m older I’ll have to kill you."

Terra’s mouth opened and closed wordlessly, trying to articulate some vague undefined sorrow. She wished that she could see the boy’s eyes, but she knew that even if she could, she wouldn’t find what she wanted to see. The boy’s emotions were safely fortified within some half-understood concept of vengeance, and she could not guess how long it would take to rediscover them. She took a long breath to hold back her sobs, and continued towards the orphanage, blinded by tears, with the boy still clutching at her hair.

author's note: The enemy grunts never have distinct faces. It's so unfair. Oh, and the writing of this story was catalysed by Lesley's "Are You Afraid?" -- so you know who to blame.