Terra II: Shadows of the Past

by: mintbaby

Author's Note: Shadow is one of the most tortured souls in Final Fantasy VI. Much to my amazement, the game didn't really solve the mystery behind Shadow and his past. The gamer was left to wonder about the connection between Relm and Shadow hinted at by the 'Memento Ring' (which was only able to be worn by them) and by the few dreams witnessed when the party slept at an inn and Shadow was a member. This mystery fascinated me and I decided to put my two cents in.

btw, I would recommend that you read my fic titled 'Terra' before reading this one, as I reference several happenings in that previous fic. Not to mention all the excitement that happens throughout the previous storyline anyway! I think you'll enjoy both (of course, why wouldn't I think that?).

mint

1

„Your highness?š

Terra Branford Figaro, new queen of the Figaro realm, looked up from the book she read to the children gathered at her feet. „Yes, Chancellor?š

"I hate to bother you, highness, but there is a∑š

The Chancellor pressed his lips together, his expression clearly showing exasperation and frustration. Terra examined his face, the twinkle in her eyes fading to a glimmer as she handed the book to one of the older girls. After assuring them she would return to hear the ending of the story, she urged the Chancellor to follow her from the room. Terra closed the door behind her and led him out of earshot.

"What is it, Chancellor?"

"He will not relinquish his weaponry."

Terra sighed and dropped her eyes to the polished flagstones at her feet. Ever since Edgar had returned with his new bride, the Chancellor had taken it upon himself to tighten the security at Figaro castle. Many of the constant visitors, such as Locke and Sabin (who had become quite patient since beginning his school of Blitz Arts), saw it as a nuisance to be dealt with using extreme tolerance. Others, such as diplomats from other continents, sometimes saw it as an invasion of privacy and an insult to their credibility. Terra understood the Chancellor was attempting to protect the king and his new queen, but it had become old just the same.

"Who won't?" Terra finally asked.

"The∑ gentleman who now waits in your receiving chamber. Not only does he refuse to relinquish his weapons, he will not tell me what business he has with you. He also threatened the guards with bodily harm when they attempted to detain him and the beast that was with him--"

The tips of one of Terra's fingers flew to her lips. "W-was it a black and brown dog?"

"A dog," the Chancellor scoffed. "More like a Rhinox than a dog, but yes, it was black and brown. I only let him enter because I feared for my very life."

"What does the gentleman look like?"

"I do not know, highness," the Chancellor stated in a tight voice. "He was draped in black. A very mysterious creature, highness, and not very trustworthy, I dare say."

Terra heard nothing after the description of black clothes. "Shadow!" She grabbed fistfuls of her extravagant gown and rushed down the hall toward her reception chamber.

The ninja had seemingly vanished from the face of the planet after she and Edgar married. They had tried so hard to find him, even leaving word with the many merchant caravans that constantly departed from Figaro with supplies for other, smaller cities. Nothing, not one tidbit of information, had ever surfaced. Terra didn't understand why she had such a desire to find him. She just had this pressing need to know he was okay. To have him suddenly show up on Figaro castle's doorstep to demand entry in his typical way not only relieved her spirit, it brought a smile to her face and a twinkle to her eyes. 'Oh, if only Edgar didn't have meetings all day.' But his determination to rebuild the Figaro kingdom - which stretched from Narshe to Jidoor and from Nikeah to Kohlingen - encompassed his every thought.

Second to her, of course.

Terra skidded to a halt in front of the reception chamber door, pausing long enough to smooth her skirts and adjust her elegantly coiffed hair. She took in a deep breath and opened the door. Shadow stood in the far corner. He had changed. Never before had she seen his black attire anything but in the most perfect condition. She had always assumed that it was a matter of pride to his profession. Now, however, the black of his clothes was faded and dirty, dusty and stained with mud. There were tears and holes throughout, and his normally immaculate, embroidered sash was tattered to ribbons. He looked as though he had been through as many struggles alone as she and her friends had withstood together during the entire war with Kefka.

Terra pushed it aside and stepped forward with an eager but hesitant smile, producing her hands in greeting when he turned to face her. "Shadow, it's been so long. I'm so glad to see you're safe." Shadow did not take her hands. He only stared at her with that emotionless gaze that had terrified hundreds if not thousands of enemies. Terra's smile faded and her hands dropped to her sides. She gestured to the armchair situated across from a well-stoked fireplace that burned with brightness and warmth. "Would you care for a seat?"

He said nothing, his eyes still focused on hers.

She dropped her eyes and hesitantly turned away from him to make her way to an armchair. Her heart pounded in her chest with the surprising emotion of fear. "How have you been?" There was no answer, and she changed her gaze to him. Shadow was still staring at her. The strength left her limbs, and she slowly sat. "Would you care for some tea? Or wine? Are you hungry? I could have Cook prepare something."

"I terrify you."

There was something different in his tone. Almost as if the emotion he claimed was dead was beginning to awaken.

"N-no," Terra denied quickly. "I-I just∑" She dropped her eyes. She had never been afraid of him before. Never. Not in all the dark adventures they had experienced had she ever felt a moment of terror. Now, when he looked at her with those emotionless black eyes, she wasn't sure if she was safe with him anymore. "All right. Yes. You do," she admitted reluctantly. She raised her head. "What's the matter, Shadow? I've never felt threatened by you∑ before now."

He looked away, staring out the window onto the darkening sands of the desert just outside Kohlingen. Terra's heart dropped. He was so far away. Further than he had ever been. How in the world could she get him to talk about what had brought him? How could she find out what he obviously needed to tell someone? She pressed her lips together, a familiar sense of rebellion sparkling in her eyes. He was her friend. She cared what happened to him. Obviously he must have cared for her at least a little bit, or he wouldn't have risked his life to help her against Ledo.

"I'm glad you're here, Shadow," she told him. "The children have all been asking about you. I don't tell the scary stories nearly as well as you." A wall seemed to go up around him. Terra took in a slow breath and courageously pressed on. "It looks as if you've been away from civilization for awhile. I've never seen you look so haggard. Did you need anything?"

"I need nothing. I need no one," he said in a flat tone.

"I see." Terra paused, hesitating to do what her instinct told her. Shadow had never been very receptive to compassion and understanding. He'd always seemed to respect firmness and harsh reality. She tilted her head at him, grappling with her innate softness in order to do what had to be done. "Well, then I guess I'll go back to the children." She stood and moved toward the door, her insides twisting with reluctance and dread. "It was nice of you to visit. I hope you can stay longer next time."

Terra's hand reached out for the golden handle when there was a soft 'swoosh' and the 'clunk' of his dagger as it struck the doorpost. She flinched a little, and then briefly gnawed on the inside of her lower lip before reaching up to pull the dagger from the wood. When she turned, he was directly behind her. Terra handed the dagger to him and he took it sharply, sheathing it with a harsh motion as his dark eyes flashed with the surprisingly clear emotions of anger and rebellion. Terra didn't say a word. She simply stood there, doing her best to hold his gaze.

After several long moments, he turned and stalked to the fireplace where he gripped the mantle with a black-gloved hand. "Do not go."

There was the barest hint of emotion in his voice and that, more than anything else, made Terra unsure how to go on. She took a hesitant step forward. "All right."

"Have you never wondered who I am?"

Terra hesitated again before coming to sit in the armchair closest to the fire. "Of course. We've all wondered about everyone. Where Celes' parents came from and why the Empire was able to take her as a baby to be trained as a Magitek Knight. Who Setzer was before he became the Wandering Gambler, and what caused the scar on his face. What kind of person Locke was before he became the Treasure-Hunter he is today. Curiosity is normal. You know that."

"Yes. Yes, I know that well. Curiosity is the tool of the devil." He turned his face toward her and his eyes sparked. "You wish to know? Do you wish to know where I have been? Why I have not visited?"

Terra hesitated again. "Only if you want to tell me."

His eyes mirrored an inner battle. "My life has been darkness and secrets," he said in a flat tone. "If I do not confess them, they shall surely eat of my soul and feast of my flesh." Terra swallowed hard. He looked away, staring down at the fire as if it were the very maw of the darkest place in her imagination. "Look you here and see my soul. Captured by the very fires of the Abyss. Bonded by the very injustices that I first wanted to put right. Perhaps even the confession of my corruption will not save me from where I am intended to go. Where I should already be."

"Where you--" Terra leaned forward. "What do you mean 'where you should already be?'"

"I should not have survived the collapse of Kefka's tower," he said without emotion. "I do not know why, but the ground beneath me caved to reveal a secret exit. More than likely designed for Kefka to use at an instant such as that. After I jumped down, I followed it to the upper plateau." He seemed to sense her silent question. "No, the demon Kefka is dead and sent to Hell where his soul shall be tormented just as he tormented the innocent." He was silent a moment and his chin lowered to his chest. "Where I myself should be."

"You? Why? You helped save--"

"At the expense of those I should have held most dear," he cut in. "I was a tormentor of innocents as much as Kefka, and yet I have received a second and third chance to change my ways." Shadow paused. "I have been a fool to spit in the eye of the Fates and continue my spiral to Hell. Now, I fear it is too late. My past will never take me back."

"Why not? It's never too late."

"Not for you. Not for Locke or Sabin or any of the others, for they have held firmly onto their second chances and changed themselves. Changed their very way of thinking. I have, instead, held to this mask and my obsession with power, control, and secrecy." He pulled it from his head, suddenly, and stared down at it as he held it in his clenched fists. "This is what has kept me from that which I once wanted. This sudden desire to hide. This∑ this cowardice!"

Shadow tossed it into the fire with a harsh motion, and it burst into flame. Terra watched it burn with wide eyes, almost afraid to see what had been hidden under the mask for so long. Terra stared at the bright flames that engulfed the mask. 'Can I look? Do I dare look to see if what we've suspected is true?'

"Burn," he hissed. "Burn and to Hell where you belong! I have need of you no longer. You destroyer of family. You slayer of trust and honor." His voice faded, the passion of his statement yet lingering in the air to meld with the intense crackling of the flames that danced in celebration of their action against the mask that he seemed to despise. "There," he said in a dangerously quiet voice. "It is done."

Expectation brought her heart to her throat, but still she hesitated to look at him. After all, what could she say? All of them had wondered what could be hidden under the shroud he always wore, but all had known it was not a question to ask. Just as everyone had known not to ask about his past. Not unless they wanted a dagger to the throat. She swallowed hard when she noticed that he had turned his face full toward her.

"Long have I wished to be rid of that foul shroud of death, but I did not have the strength of spirit. Not until I saw how you and the others faced your pasts and fought on. It was then that I saw my own cowardice."

Terra took in a slow breath, and then changed her gaze to his face. A face she had never before seen, even after all the hours, days, and months they had fought side by side. He was well into the twilight years of his thirties, his good looks actually enhanced by the scars that were strewn about his face. His eyes were a dark blue, now that they were no longer darkened by the deceptive black mesh of the shroud, and his sandy brown hair was peppered with gray. What struck Terra the most, however, was the resemblance.

The eyes. The defiance. The spark of life. It was as if Terra was looking into the face of young Relm Arrowny.

2

Terra was speechless for a long moment. When he again turned his head away from her, she asked the question she had longed to voice. "Does she know?"

Shadow shook his head. "No. After so many years of hiding the truth from even myself, do you believe I would have the courage to tell her?" He stood with a sharp motion and began to pace in front of the fireplace. "All I have become was originally done for her. Yet, something went horribly wrong. Even I do not understand what it was. The weakness of my own desire to provide a better life for her. A safer one. Then there was greed and a self-centered desire for power." He jerked off each of his black gloves and tossed one by one into the fire on top of the ashes of the mask. "Such was the reason she was abandoned. A desire to give her peace which was twisted into a lust for power."

"It couldn't have been that bad." Shadow clenched his jaw and Terra continued to examine his newly uncovered face. It was a strange feeling to be able to actually read the emotions that crashed across his expression like the tides of the ocean during a storm. "Could it?"

Shadow paused for a long moment before turning his eyes from the fire to Terra's face. "Judge for yourself."

"All right." Terra adjusted her position, and then looked to Shadow when she was ready. "Go on."

"Relm's mother was Amanda Magus," he began in a strictly controlled tone. "She was a beautiful, fiery woman with a passion for life that attracted every youth to the challenge of winning her heart as their own. She was an artist with an innate talent to capture the very breath of life in her portraits. Her work was in high demand, much as Relm's is now. This talent caught the Empire's attention. All gifted people were seen as new blood for the Empire's gene pool. Amanda was no different. She was taken and forcefully enrolled in experimentation with pre-natal infusion."

Shadow's face twisted with agony and rage. "I had already taken her as my wife when she was 'recruited' by the Empire for their greater good. Neither of us knew what was in store for her when the soldiers came. I was a simple man, then. A clerk at the local armory. What did I know of the Empire and it's dark desires? What did either of us know of their intent? The officers came with the promise of glory and a better life. I had just taken a wife, so how could I resist this temptation? They assured me that no harm would come to her and that she would be back within a couple of weeks. So, we said our good-byes with the promise to celebrate our good fortune when she returned."

The memories scorched his face and he turned from Terra's eyes.

"Amanda was with child when she went to the Empire. Neither of us knew. If I had, I would never have let her go. Damnation! I would never have let her go if I had known then what I know now," he snarled. "The Empire wished to know, for certain, whether or not an embryo would incorporate an infusion received by the mother. How wonderful that would be for them! How delighted they would be with the discovery of the way to breed those with Magic abilities. They knew of her background. They knew of her ancestry being directly linked to the Blue Magi from the War and the power that went with it. It is what they counted on! They wished to have that added assurance of a special Magic power when they infused her with an Esper's life. "

"That's where Relm's gift came from? >From an Esper?"

Shadow ran his hands through his hair. "For the most part. Yes. As did Celes' and thousands of other Magitek Knights. Life after life was enhanced and twisted for an evil purpose, not realizing or caring that another life was being drained in order to do so. When Amanda discovered this, she left the Empire and returned to Thamasa, enraged with what they had done. She attempted to tell others what she had discovered, but they did not care. After all, what did it have to do with their petty lives?"

"Did the Empire just let her leave?"

"Why would they not? She was infused and carrying their experiment to term. They knew she wouldn't kill it, for it was her child. Our child. They dared not do anything to her for fear that her precious cargo be damaged!" Shadow's expression grew suddenly distant. "Precious cargo. Yes. That was what she was. When Relm was born it was as if a miracle had been delivered to me. I could hardly believe it. I had a family such as I had never thought possible∑"

Terra's heart nearly stopped beating. "What happened?"

Shadow actually paled. He dropped his head and clenched fistfuls of his hair. "They came to take her away. My little baby. They wanted to test her. To prod her as if she were an animal bred for their pleasure. Amanda was incensed. Relm was barely a month old and they had come to take her! Amanda refused. She said that if they wished to do any tests at all they would need to bring the equipment to our home and perform them there, under her watchful eye. They agreed. A few days later the caravan of scientists arrived with their myriad of equipment. They began the tests. Only problem was, Relm didn't exhibit any special abilities. No magical powers of any significance. The scientists were disappointed, but their experiment had failed and Amanda was pushing for them to leave. What could they do?"

"Did they?"

"Of course. All too eagerly," he said in a dark tone. "Life seemed to get back to normal, as much as it could with what we had been through. Then, one day, I returned from a trip to Nikeah and found her gone."

"Relm?"

"Amanda."

"Where did she go?"

Shadow clenched his jaw. "At the time, I didn't know. I was frantic. I searched the surrounding area, but found nothing. I asked friends and neighbors if they had seen anything out of the ordinary, but they hadn't. All I knew was that she had left Relm with her father, Strago, and then left to supposedly visit her sister in Miranda."

"What really happened?"

"The Empire had threatened the life of our daughter in order to get Amanda to cooperate with another experiment. When I discovered this, I was furious. I headed out to Vector immediately, barely taking the time to pack suitable supplies. I nearly starved to death on my way, but I didn't care. The Empire had again torn my family apart. It was too much. I finally arrived at the Magitek Research Facility, but it was too heavily guarded. There was no way in. So, I waited for the next merchant caravan to arrive and smuggled myself in as an armory merchant. Once inside, it wasn't too difficult to discover where the experiments were performed. That was the central hub of activity." He dropped his hands from his hair and looked over at Terra. "When I found the room, I also found the man responsible for her kidnapping. He was experimenting with the Empire's newest infatuation: mind-control."

"Ledo," Terra whispered.

"Yes. Another demon bred by the Empire's all-consuming desire for power."

"He didn't∑ he didn't operate on her∑"

Shadow clenched his jaw, his eyes dark with misery. "He did more than that. He operated on her and then left her to die when they malfunctioned. He had decided that her life wasn't worth the time or effort to remove them! Even when the removal would have saved her life!"

Terra choked on a sob, her own memories of the pain and near-death experiences she'd had at the hand of this same man resurfacing. "Oh no∑"

"I found her body," he said in a gruff voice. "Even in death she was vibrant∑" He cleared his throat and looked away. "Ledo appeared as I was attempting to leave with her. We fought, I lost. I hadn't trained as a soldier. I was a salesman. For some reason he didn't kill me. This would have been a merciful act considering he had already killed my reason for living. Instead, he had me taken to a holding cell to await experimentation. I do not remember how I was able to get free. I was so close to death that vague images and running feet are all I remember. I awoke in Thamasa." Shadow shook his head. "I tried to forget her. To raise Relm and go on with a life that now felt only half lived. Each night I would awake to imagined screams and horrible cries of suffering. After 2 years I could take it no longer. My conscience demanded action."

"You left?"

Shadow nodded. "It was the most difficult decision of my life, but I was determined to make a difference. I was determined to change the world and make it a better place for my daughter to live. So, I left her with her grandfather∑"

Silence descended and Terra watched Shadow's face, the memories colliding against each other to form guilt and rage almost at the same instant. "So, what happened, Shadow? Why didn't you come back?"

"I knew that what I desired for her would take time. Training was what I needed. So, I studied with whomever would have me. Each instructor warned me of the same failing, my rage. They urged me to bury it deep. To kill it in order to better focus on the goal I had taken. At first, I believed this was an impossible order. A dream. Then, as my training increased in difficulty and my talent improved, it became easier. The memories faded. The pain subsided. The numbness I felt was a release from the torture I had endured for years and months."

"But why didn't you come back?" Terra pressed.

He turned on her with eyes flashing in anger. "I could not," he snapped harshly. "As long as the Empire ruled in force, she was not safe! I could not return a failure. I had to accomplish what I had set out to do."

"But you didn't," Terra went on. "You forgot about her."

"I did not forget," Shadow insisted in a dangerously low voice. "How could I forget a life that had once been the epitome of happiness? That pressed me on. It moved me forward to increase in power so that I would be able to undermine all that the Empire attempted to do. It urged me to discover more--"

"You forgot," Terra interrupted. "Admit it, Shadow. Don't keep lying to yourself. You can't get your life back if you lie to yourself."

Shadow clenched his jaw and then stood with a harsh motion. He strode to the window and glared out to the desert scenery, his hands balled into fists. "I did not forget. I chose not to remember. It is different."

"Was it because you hadn't done what you wanted? Did you think Relm wouldn't want her father back just because of that?"

He turned sharply. "A father? Was I ever a father? Would a father have--" Shadow cut off and looked away again.

"See? You felt guilty about all the failures and so you stayed away instead of facing them." Terra came to stand beside him. "So, what are you going to do now? Are you going to let your pride keep you away from her still? I'm sure she'll be angry, but don't you think you deserve a little of that? You've had all this time to tell her who you are and you haven't. She's not exactly going to feel very wanted."

"I do not deserve to have a family again. Shadow never had a daughter. Relm is Clyde's and not mine."

"So, is that going to be your excuse then?" Terra hesitated. "Why did you even come here if you had no intention of owning up to who you are?"

He leaned forward suddenly and pressed his palms against the window, lowering his chin to his chest. "I do not know! I told you once that I had killed the emotions within me. It was a warning to you to never do the same. Now they rage within with a force that would stagger your imagination. How can I admit to her who I am when I fear I will lose control."

"Life is not about control," Terra said passionately. She turned him with a grip on his arm, ignoring the warning spark in his eyes. "Life is about learning. Loving. Helping others. Be honest with yourself, Shadow! You never felt so alive and so real as when you were helping us help others." She shook him when he didn't say a word. "Admit it!"

He pushed her away. "Do not try my patience."

"Then don't come in here and try mine. You came here for help. Fine. I'm trying to help you. Don't go back and forth between decisions because that doesn't help anyone. Just a few minutes ago you were admitting that you made the wrong decision, now I don't know what you're admitting. Make up your mind and stick with it!"

Shadow clenched and unclenched his jaw as he glared at her, his hands balling into fists. "Tell me what to do, Terra," he said after a long moment of silence. "Tell me what to do."

Terra shook her head, her throat tightening on the tears that came when she saw the clear expression of confusion in Shadow's eyes. "I can't, Shadow. I can't."

He stared down at her for another long moment and then turned away, moving for the door without a sound. Shadow paused a moment before opening it, but said nothing as he opened and closed it behind him. Terra stared after him, the tears running freely down her face. After several minutes she turned away and stared out the window, desperately hoping she had said all the right things.

3

"Terra?" Edgar stepped into the receiving chamber set aside for the queen of Figaro and looked for her slight frame and pale green hair. The room was dark, but the slight glistening of a candle directed him to the far side where a collection of rugs and cushions served as her hiding place. "Terra?" He knelt down and gently pulled her toward him, enveloping her in his arms when he saw the tears streaming down her face. "What is it, my sweet? What has upset you?"

"I think I said everything wrong, Edgar. I think I hurt him more than help him and now I don't know what to do," she sobbed against him.

"There now," he soothed. "Whom have you hurt? What has happened?"

"Shadow came," she said in a choked voice. "He came and told me so many things about who he was and what he'd done∑ I couldn't tell him what to do. It had to be his choice."

Edgar frowned in confusion as he continued to stroke her hair and rub her back in an effort to soothe her tears. "Shadow? Tell me, sweet, what did he tell you? What did he ask you to tell him?"

"He's Relm's father and he wanted to know if he should tell her or not. He didn't want to tell her because he thinks he's failed her. Why doesn't he see that she just wants him to love her. She won't care about all the other stuff. Oh, Edgar, I don't know if I helped him∑"

Edgar's frown dissipated and he pressed his lips tenderly against her hair. "Ah. So the shadow of night has decided to attempt an unveiling to the morning. You have accomplished another miracle, my sweet."

Terra shook her head against him. "I haven't, Edgar. I was mean. I wasn't understanding or kind. I pushed him too hard and now I don't think Relm will ever know."

Her voice broke on the tears and Edgar tilted her chin up to wipe the wetness from her cheeks with the delicate touch of a finger. He smiled down at her. "You haven't the capacity for anything but kindness. You may believe you were too harsh, but there is an instinct in you that is able to know in which attitude you must speak. I am certain that you spoke justly. Remember, our dear friend Shadow has had a harsh life and respects firmness and forthright views. I am positive you offered him both."

"I'm just so afraid that it wasn't enough∑" She sniffled and wrapped her arms tighter around him as she again rest her cheek against his chest. "I so wanted to help him, Edgar. To help him find the family that I somehow knew he wanted to have."

"Your concern for his life will not be lost on him, my sweet. Never before has he been in the presence of such gentleness as you. Trust in your heart. It shall be enough." He lay back in the cushions, his arms still wrapped around her to hold her close. "Now, rest here with me. You shall forget your troubles soon enough. I assure you that I do the moment I see your smiling eyes."

Terra took in a deep breath and released it slow, snuggling against him. "I love you, Edgar," she whispered.

"As I love you, light of my soul." He placed another tender kiss on her head and ran a gentle hand through her long hair. "As I love you."

Several silent minutes passed and then her breathing slowed, deepening with sleep. Edgar smiled, his hand absently caressing her neck. When the Chancellor had told him that Shadow had forced his way into the castle and awaited Terra's arrival in her chamber, Edgar had smiled with relief and quiet happiness. He knew how fervently she had searched for him. The fact that she would be relieved at his safety had comforted Edgar. He hated seeing her upset for any reason, no matter how slight. Sabin titled it disgustingly romantic sentiment, but it was simply how Edgar displayed the deep intensity of his love for her.

This love grew each moment she stayed with him.

Now his heart mourned at the grief she bore. 'I must do something,' he reasoned. But what could he do? He didn't know where Shadow was and only had a mere hint of what Shadow had possibly told her. How could he possibly do anything? Edgar placed another kiss on her head and then pressed his cheek against the softness of her hair with closed eyes. 'I know enough. I know that he confessed to being Relm's father and that should be confession enough to know the heart of the man. How would I feel if I knew I had abandoned a daughter? Guilt. Shame. Rage at my own inability to protect her. Surely he feels the same as these? Is he not human?'

Edgar took in a deep breath and then carefully manipulated himself from her arms. Unfortunately, he had become quite adept at doing so without waking her. The life of a king seldom began later than dawn. There had been uncountable mornings when he had escaped to the edge of the bed without waking her only to disturb her when he would lean in to give her a farewell kiss. Her lips had always been his weakness in those wee hours of the morning when his eyes had been shielded against her own. Then, upon the touch of his lips on hers, her bright eyes would wake and draw him in again.

Edgar gazed down at her for a long moment, his lips drawing near to hers in a whisper of a kiss. "I shall return, love light," he promised.

Edgar quietly stood and then left the chamber in search of Shadow. It amazed Edgar that he never tired of Terra's company, or the warmth of her presence beside him. As a bachelor involved with many a village maiden for an indeterminate amount of time, such a newness had never been present. He had tired of their plastic smiles and shallow beauty after only a few nights. His moments with Terra were never so fake. Never so shallow. Her laughter and smiles warmed him in a way nothing had previously done. How could he not do whatever was within his power in order to bring her another smile?

The Chancellor was just entering the hall. Edgar noticed that he looked tired, frustrated, and extremely insulted. "Chancellor, what has upset you so completely?"

"Her highness' guest," he answered in an exhausted tone. "Never before have I been so tried and tested as I have been with this ruffian."

"Guest?"

"The gentleman inferred that he was asked by her highness to remain here for an unknown amount of time," the Chancellor said. "I understand, highness, that she is young and inexperienced in matters of court, but how am I to prepare a place for her guests if I am not told in proper fashion?"

Edgar smiled in understanding. "I do apologize, Chancellor. I shall see to it that she knows the pr--"

The Chancellor looked horrified. "Oh no, highness. You must not tell her that I have complained. I have no wish for her to feel guilty."

"Then what do you wish for me to do, Chancellor?"

The Chancellor straightened. "Nothing needs to be done, highness. All is well."

Edgar fought back a laugh. "I am glad to hear it. Now, where have you placed her highness' guest?"

"In the west wing, although it was not I who placed him there. He has a certain independence about him, highness. He does that which he desires and will not hear a negative word about it."

Edgar nodded. "Yes, that sounds very much like the Shadow we know and love." Edgar placed a hand on the Chancellor's shoulder. "Get some rest, Chancellor. The castle shall keep till morning."

The Chancellor bowed and then made his way down the hall toward his own room. Edgar turned and headed for the west wing. 'It is indeed odd that he would choose to remain here after such a disaster as Terra described. I wonder what his intention is?' With Shadow, however, there was never any way to tell. Edgar shook his head, his eyebrow lowering in a frown. Terra may have thought the subject was closed, but Shadow apparently did not. Edgar would have bet his kingdom that the ninja had decided to meet with her again in the morning. 'How he has changed,' Edgar commented inwardly.

That change made him wonder at the torture being silently withstood.

Edgar arrived at the only room available in the west wing and smiled at Interceptor who waited outside the door. "Good evening, old friend. Does your master wish time to himself?" Interceptor grumbled and adjusted his position as he raised his head, licking his chops and giving a long, deep yawn. "If you make your way to the kitchens, I believe you will find Cook more than willing to part with some choice bits of meat." Interceptor's ears perked forward and he sat up, licking his lips with more enthusiasm as he tilted his head at Edgar. "I do not jest, my friend. Go on. I shall comfort your master."

Interceptor stood, stretched quite thoroughly, and then lazily headed toward the kitchens. Edgar watched him go with a smirk and a shake of his head. The beast was truly amazing, as well as the groups first clue that Relm was more to Shadow than what he had alluded to. Interceptor had taken an instant liking to the child, as if he had already developed a trusting relationship with her. Now, with Shadow's revelation to Terra, it was yet another piece to an intriguing puzzle.

Edgar turned away, pausing a brief moment as he stared at the door. Finally, he took in a slow breath and made a move to knock.

"Do not bother me."

Edgar smirked, lowering his hand to his side. Typical of Shadow to know all and wait until the last moment to reveal it. "I wish to speak with you, my friend, much as you wished to speak to Terra. It will be no bother."

Silence greeted his response, so he reached out and opened the door. Shadow was standing on the far side of the room, staring into the dying embers of the fire. His mask was gone and Edgar immediately noticed the resemblance. It was uncanny.

He closed the door behind him before speaking. "Misery blackens your face, my friend."

"Misery. Misery is a close friend to me." Shadow's voice was dead.

Edgar paused for a brief moment. "It seems that this close friend is no longer wanted." He moved deeper into the room and sat in the armchair across from the fireplace. "It is good to have you here, Shadow. Good to see you alive." Shadow said nothing. He simply gazed at the fire, his jaw clenched. "You of course realize that Terra will have confided in me your secret." Still he said nothing. "Your secret is safe, Shadow, unless you give either of us leave to speak of it."

"I know."

Edgar examined the cool composure on the ninja's face. "Terra described quite a heated debate between you. She was too emotionally exhausted to go into great detail, but enough was said. To find you yet here is an intriguing twist. What is needed to be said that has not already, and in such a way as to break her very heart?" The cool expression wavered minutely. "She is certain that she has broken your spirit and heart more than it had already been. She is certain that she has done more harm than good. To find you here∑" Edgar shrugged slightly. "To find you here makes me wonder, Shadow, if there is something you yet wish her to do. Something you yet hope she can accomplish."

Shadow glanced to Edgar briefly and then returned his gaze back to the fire, his jaw clenching furiously. Edgar watched his reaction, his mind processing each emotion and veiled expression. "She cannot rescue you, Shadow, if you refuse to be rescued. She has performed many a miraculous feat, what with rescuing me from my own ignorance of happiness and companionship, but she is not superhuman. She cannot turn back time and allow you to relive and change your past life. You must own up to your decisions and move on from there."

"I do not ask for a miracle," he said through clenched teeth. "I ask for her help. I ask for her support when I reveal myself to∑ when I reveal myself to my daughter."

Edgar released a slow breath. "My respect for you has grown tremendously. Such a road I would not be so courageous to take, my friend."

Shadow sneered and turned from the hearth, stalking to the far window with a dark growl. "Courage? I have been backed into a corner as a frightened animal. What other route is there for me to take in order to save my soul? This is not courage. This is nothing but another form of cowardice!"

"I disagree. Passionately. You are accepting your responsibility. You are opening yourself up to rejection and pain the like of which no one has ever known. Do you truly believe this to be cowardice, my friend? No. Do not allow your demons to lie to you in such a way.  You are putting right a grievous wrong. You are offering a young girl the opportunity to know a father whom has always held her best interest close to his soul. Do not discount this courage."

Shadow turned his face toward Edgar, his eyes a conflicting collage of emotion. "I am afraid as I have never before been afraid. To look into my daughter's eyes and see hatred or disgust∑ it is of this that I am most afraid. Throughout this war against Kefka and the Empire I have continued to be haunted by her eyes and her voice. So like her mother's. To have her eyes despise me would be the one punishment I would not survive."

"You know that you cannot take this choice from her." Shadow turned away again. "It will be a difficult time, Shadow, but Terra and I are here to offer our strength." Edgar stood and made his way to the door before turning and examining Shadow's rigid form. "If you are yet here in the morning, my friend, Terra and I shall accompany you to Thamasa. I know she will be pleased that there are no harsh feelings held by you. Good evening and sleep well."

4

Terra stared glumly down at her breakfast, picking at the salad greens with her golden fork in disinterest. Edgar watched her, a concerned expression dulling his handsome features. He reached for her hand and squeezed it gently, smiling at her when she raised her eyes to his.

"Do not fret, sweet. Please."

"I can't help it, Edgar. There had to have been something I could have said that would have made him feel better."

He caressed her cheek with the back of his hand. "You have done more than you know. Trust in what you do not know about him, soul light. Your words moved him to a decision."

Her eyes twinkled with a myriad of questions. "What do you mean?"

"He has decided to tell her the truth and I have offered him our companionship for the journey. I only wait, now, for him to make the final decision."

"Final decision? What decision?"

Edgar touched her gently on the nose. "Whether he wishes to tell her in the company of friends or in the company of the tortured memories of a past he no longer wishes to hold so close."

"How do you know all this, Edgar? What did you do?"

He smiled and changed his gaze to his breakfast. "I continued from that delicate point which you prepared."

She was quiet for a moment or two and then squeezed his hand tightly. "You are wonderful, Edgar."

"Not so wonderful as my bride."

Terra flushed and looked down at her breakfast a moment before pushing it away. She stood and pulled Edgar to his feet. "Come on, Edgar. I need to know if he's still here. Please."

He smiled down at her as he brought her hand to his lips. "Of course. Shall we?"

She nodded enthusiastically and then allowed him to lead her from the dining chamber and through the meandering hallways of the castle to the west wing. Interceptor was still outside the room. At Edgar and Terra's approach, he sat up and smiled at them. Terra released Edgar's hand and knelt down to stroke Interceptor behind the ears.

"Good morning, Interceptor. Is your master still sleeping?" Interceptor pulled away from Terra's hand and shook his head. He then stretched and grumbled, announcing his displeasure at his master's sudden and mysterious change in attitude. "Did he sleep at all?" Interceptor shook his head again and repositioned himself beside the door, allowing them room enough to enter.

"It seems the demons rage deeply."

Terra gnawed on her lower lip as she slowly straightened, reaching behind her to once again take hold of Edgar's hand. "I think I understand why. At least, I'm trying to."

Edgar gave a gentle squeeze and then lightly knocked on the door.  When there was no response, he twisted the knob and pushed it open. To both of their amazement, Shadow was again dressed in his full black garb. They stepped further into the room, confusion evident in their expression.

"Why the mask, Shadow?" Edgar asked slowly.

Shadow's expression was distant and hard. All too familiar. "I will not bombard her with the truth. I will offer to her the choice of hearing. If she does not choose to have it revealed, I will not."

Terra placed a gentle hand on Edgar's shoulder to cease any further questions.

Shadow stood and moved noiselessly to the door, bidding Interceptor to his side with a simple gesture. "I am ready."

Edgar and Terra both nodded.

5

The trip to Thamasa would be a long one.

First, the group would need to proceed underground to the continent which held South Figaro, where they would charter the use of 3 chocobos that would take them to the port town of Nikeah. From there, they would buy passage on the ferry that could hopefully be persuaded to take them to Thamasa - for an extra price of course. All in all, Edgar and Terra figured it would take at least a week. Hopefully, in that limited time Shadow would be inspired as to the best way to present his identity to Relm.

The Chancellor wasn't too thrilled with the prospect of once again losing control over the (not-so)-young king of Figaro, but he handled it well enough. The group's supplies were packed as the castle made its way underground, past the mysterious castle where Odin had been found, to resurface just outside the cave that had at one time led to South Figaro. The cave had since been sealed off by a landslide, so the group would need to proceed, instead, around the mountain range to South Figaro. Edgar and Terra bid the Chancellor good-bye, promised they would be careful, and then turned to follow Shadow who had already begun making his way toward the town.

"Terra, do you think it wise for him to offer her the choice of hearing the truth about her father? Relm is young. She may opt against the telling because of a myriad of reasons, anger being the greatest."

Terra nodded and gripped Edgar's hand. "I know. I'm worried about that too, but it really should be her choice. I think she'll want to hear it, though. It's a gut feeling more than anything else, but I trust it."

Edgar was quiet for a moment, examining Shadow's tall and rigid frame as he walked approximately 50 feet ahead of them. "How does one confess such a secret to a young girl, Terra?" He glanced over at Terra's delicate features and caught her eyes. "I told Shadow that I would not be so courageous to do what he has planned. It was all I could do to confess my love to you." Terra flushed and lowered her gaze as Edgar continued. "How does someone such as Shadow confess to a secret such as this to someone like Relm?"

Terra shook her head. "I have no idea. I don't think Shadow does either. He didn't even know how to tell me. It just kind of happened. He just kind of unrolled it like a person would shake out an old carpet."

"Do you believe Relm would be receptive if it was offered in such a way to her?"

"Relm's so unique," Terra stated with a sigh, "that I don't think her own grandfather would know how she'd take something like this."

"Speaking of grandfathers∑ do you think he realizes who Shadow is?"

Terra looked over at Edgar with a small smile. "You're full of questions that I can't answer, Edgar."

He returned her smile and brought her hand to his lips. "I apologize. My curiosity has run away with me, it seems. I shall do better at curbing it."

Terra moved in closer and wrapped her arm around his waist. "Don't. I like it when you ask me questions. It means you want my opinion."

He draped an arm around her shoulder and kissed the top of her head. "Among other things, soul light."

Terra giggled, glancing up at him with a flush and twinkling eyes. "You're too wonderful, Edgar."

He smiled down at her. "Do not set me too high on that pedestal, my little Esper angel. I am terribly afraid of heights."

She laughed.

* * *

They arrived in South Figaro in record time, chartered the required chocobos, and then promptly left town toward Nikeah. The group made it quite a ways toward the port town before making camp. Shadow had set an incredible pace, but Edgar and Terra had kept up without complaint. Their journey was beginning to remind them greatly of their past adventures against Kefka and the Empire. An adventure that, while difficult and filled with heartache, had held a great many tender memories of discovered friendship that had later blossomed to love.

As Terra and Edgar set up camp, and Shadow disappeared into the darkness to see about dinner, Terra sent Edgar occasional glimpses. He noticed and, after he had finished setting up the campfire, he made his way to where she was setting up the tent they would share that evening. He offered his help and began tacking down the opposite corners.

"What is it, Terra?"

She bit her lower lip as she tied off a corner. "Do you think you could disappear for a little bit when he comes back?" She looked up before he could answer, stopping what she was doing to go over to him. "He needs to talk about something. Something that wouldn't be easy to say if you were there. I hate to ask∑"

Edgar's tips tilted with a smile as he finished off the tent corner and stood to wrap his hands around her slim waist. He pulled her close and nuzzled his lips against her neck. "Afraid I may get jealous, sweet?"

She pushed at him with a laugh. "Edgar, Shadow's not that far away."

Edgar sighed with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes and faked dejection. "Very well. I shall turn the other way while you entertain this rogue ninja."

"Oh, Edgar, stop it."

He touched her lips briefly, and then smiled. "I shall make myself scarce, Terra. Do not worry on that. Perhaps I shall have Interceptor take me for a walk."

Terra returned his smile as she caressed his cheek. "Thank you. I don't know how long I'll need, so∑ an hour?"

"I am sure Interceptor will know when we are welcome back. Do not feel rushed. Besides, the time alone may do this man good. Too many months of perfection is liable to drive me insane."

Terra laughed and turned to finish securing the tent. Shadow and Interceptor returned a few minutes later with dinner - a fistful of fish from a nearby stream - and set about cleaning them and setting them up on stakes around the fire.

Dinner was a silent meal. Terra could feel the tension rise as they got closer to finishing. Edgar sent her a glance before cleaning up his meal, making a semi-believable excuse of needing to stretch his legs, and then asking Interceptor if he wanted to come along and keep him company. Interceptor hesitated, sent a glance toward Shadow - who ignored him - and then gave an annoyed growl before falling into step beside Edgar.

Terra took in a slow breath as she set aside her plate. She didn't want to start this conversation, but some small part of her was saying that he wouldn't. "You want to talk about it?" It was the only thing she could think of to say that didn't make her sound like an idiot.

"Talk about what?" Shadow's voice was dead.

"Whatever. You don't need to do this by yourself." He said nothing, and Terra looked over at him. Having his face covered with the shroud was going to make it difficult to know what he was going through, but she wasn't going to ask him to take it off. It had been his choice to wear it again∑  A sudden thought struck her and her eyes widened in surprise. "Shadow, I had a sudden idea."

His gaze actually traveled to her face. It was wary. "What."

"You don't need to tell Relm that Shadow is her father." His eyes registered surprise and confusion. Terra continued. "Hear me out. Do you believe that Shadow is Relm's father? Or do you believe that Clyde Arrowny, husband to Amanda Arrowny, is her father?"

"The latter."

"Right. To you, Shadow is a ninja with no emotion, no home, no family, and probably no friends." Shadow barely acquiesced the statement with a nod. "Clyde Arrowny left her to make things right, and then was captured by the Empire."

Shadow examined Terra's face for a long, silent moment. "You want me to lie to her?"

"Where's the lie, Shadow? The minute you put your emotions and family behind you, Clyde was a captive. Now, you've let him go. He's no longer a prisoner. He can go home to his family and start over." Terra looked down at her hands. They were trembling. "I'm not saying this is right. I'm not saying this is wrong. I just believe that this is a possible way for you to get your family back." Terra took in a deep breath and looked back over at him. He was gazing at the fire. "You say that Shadow should have died in Kefka's tower∑ Well, maybe he did. Maybe Clyde is the one who fell down the hole and was able to find his way out safely."

Silence descended and Terra sighed, turning away from him to lie back on the cool grass. She draped her arm across her eyes. "Shadow, I didn't explain my idea to you very well. If you have a second∑" He remained silent, and she took that as a 'yes'. "Relm is fascinated by you, hard as you may find that to believe. I think it would be awful if you ruined that by telling her that you've been her father all this while. You don't even believe that. You believe Clyde was someone different." She paused and lowered her arm to her side before sitting up. "If Shadow just disappeared, Relm would think that was fairly normal. After all, you've done it before. If her father shows up and explains that he was able to get free of Kefka Tower after the end battle, it's the truth on a whole other level and she'd believe that too. That way, she wouldn't lose your friendship. She'd gain her father."

Shadow tightened his hands into fists. "It seems too simple of an answer."

"Simple? Sure, the answer may be simple, but doing it will be the hard part. You won't be able to be secretive anymore, Shadow. You'll have to learn how to talk to her about stuff. About her mother. About why you left. About everything that's happened since you went to try and save the world. It won't be easy." Terra hesitated a moment. "Shadow, if you do this, you will have to stay gone. No more hiding. I∑ I just thought you'd want to know."

"You don't believe Relm would wish to be visited by her one-time friend?"

Terra shrugged. "I don't know. That's your call. Not mine. It might be dangerous to have Shadow show up because what if she figures it out? You'll hurt her."

"What of Interceptor? Surely she'll recognize him."

Terra dropped her eyes. "Yeah. I thought of that, too. That's your problem, though. I can't think of anything. Unless Shadow says good-bye and leaves the dog with her." Terra shrugged. "That's all I can come up with."

"It's a good idea," Shadow said after a slight pause.

Silence descended yet again. Terra released a slow breath. She'd let him think about it for a while. Terra didn't know why she'd suddenly thought of this. Maybe it was the simple fact that she didn't want Relm's innocent view of Shadow to be tainted. After all, Relm thought he was the coolest thing since energy. Maybe it was the questions she'd heard Relm ask Celes about people captured by the Empire and whether or not they were ever released. Relm knew something.

Terra heard Edgar and Interceptor approaching. "Whatever you decide to do, Shadow, we're behind you one hundred percent. Okay?"

Terra stood and went over to meet Edgar while Interceptor continued toward his master. Edgar took her hand and led her to the tent, ushering her inside and tying the flap closed.

"So, how did our ninja do this evening?"

"He was quiet. I did most of the talking." Terra blushed and sat on the large, two-person bedroll as she began to remove her soft-soled boots. Edgar sat beside her and did the same. "I came up with the most bizarre idea."

Edgar's lips were tickled with a smile as he set aside his shoes and began to disrobe. "I am all ears."

* * *

Shadow stared at the fire, the night sounds drifting in and out of his awareness as Terra's words settled deeper into his mind.

'If her father shows up and explains that he was able to get free of Kefka Tower at the end battle, it's the truth∑ You won't be able to be secretive anymore∑ She'd gain her father∑ She wouldn't lose your friendship∑'

Shadow pushed the thoughts away with a painful sigh, pulling the shroud from his head with a slow and deliberate motion. He stared down at the crisp blackness of it and thought back. So many thoughts and feelings had been hidden by it. Safely tucked behind its black mesh. Safely distant and alone.

'You'll have to learn how to talk to her about stuff. About her mother. About why you left. About everything that's happened since you went to try and save the world∑'

No. It wouldn't be easy. He had come full-circle∑ Shadow tossed the shroud at his bedroll near the fire and hid himself away from the feelings. He was tired. Too tired to face them and survive.

'Shadow, if you do this, you will have to stay gone. No more hiding∑'

He stood and made his way to his bedroll, lying back to drape an arm across his eyes. Laughter and a tight grip on his hand drifted out of his memory and twisted his insides. Cheerful chatter. Humor and smiles. The wedding. The wedding of Locke and Celes and Edgar and Terra had been the beginning of the end of Shadow's life... No. Even before that. When Ledo's evil had been put to rest Shadow had known his life was coming to a close. He had known that Clyde was demanding freedom from the cage within his dark self.

There was no more vengeance to be sought.

'The answer may be simple, but doing it will be the hard part∑ I just believe that this is a possible way for you to get your family back.'

Shadow released a deep breath and drifted to the blackness of sleep.

6

Terra saw that Shadow was wearing his shroud the next morning and felt her spirits drop.

Edgar noticed. He wrapped an arm around her waist and placed a couple of kisses on the back of her neck as she tore down the tent. "This was but the first night of many, soul light. Do not give up."

She nodded with a deep breath, sent him a quivering smile, and then watched him as he made his way toward Shadow. One or two intense discussions were nowhere near enough to help Shadow make such an important decision. She had to be patient. Terra focused back on the tent. It would be hard, but she was willing to see it through. Just as Shadow had done for her on countless occasions.

The camp was packed up, the chocobos were loaded, and then the group set off for Nikeah once more. The pace wasn't quite as maniacal has it had been the previous day, and that instantly raised Terra's hopes. Shadow actually appeared to be in a thoughtful and quiet mood. Interceptor had noticed the change as well and continued to send questioning glances toward not only his master, but Terra as well. She tried to give him a reassuring smile, but how did one know whether or not a dog was reassured?

She chuckled under her breath and, as she brushed a stray ringlet from her forehead, she noticed Edgar's adoring glance. He winked at her and she flushed, her eyes twinkling their response before she looked away. He had been a constant source of encouragement and strength. A giver of understanding and compassion at the exact moment she needed it. His wisdom amazed her and caused her heart to grow closer than she could have thought possible. Saying that she loved him was no longer enough. She hadn't lived long enough to know what word could possibly describe the feelings she held for him.

And each day brought a new discovery of who he was.

"Terra?"

She looked up and caught Edgar's amused expression. "Hmm? What? I'm sorry. Were you saying something?"

"No, but our traveling companion did."

Terra changed her gaze to Shadow and blushed as she stammered out an apology. "I'm sorry, Shadow. I didn't hear you."

"I have a favor to ask you."

Terra looked over at Edgar, who was still smiling with mild amusement, and then refocused her eyes on Shadow. "Sure. What is it?"

"Would you and Edgar go on ahead? So that you are there in Thamasa with Relm before I arrive?"

"Sure. I suppose we could do that. Edgar?"

Edgar shrugged, his eyes clearly holding mild confusion. "I do not foresee a problem, Shadow, but I am curious as to the reason."

Shadow said nothing. He simply moved away, Interceptor tagging along behind him with what almost seemed to be reluctance. Edgar and Terra watched him in silence, and then turned to look at each other.

"Do you suppose∑ Could he be considering your idea?"

"I∑ I don't know. Maybe." Terra's brows wrinkled together. "Do you think he could be?"

"I suppose anything is possible, especially from someone as mysterious as Shadow. It does give one cause to wonder."

"Did you see Interceptor's reaction?" Terra asked as they prodded their chocobos to a slow walk. "He wasn't too happy about something."

"Yes, I had noticed." Edgar pulled his chocobo close enough to hers that he was able to rest a hand lovingly on her knee, his thumb caressing small circles on it. "Shadow's favor has become a wondrous opportunity for me to spend as much time with you as possible. It seems we shall have a second honeymoon, my little Esper angel."

Terra covered his hand with hers and sent him an innocent glance. "I didn't even know our first one was over."

Edgar smiled, his hand releasing his grip on her knee to adjust his hold on the reins of the chocobo. It purred. "Now that is truly the most wonderful statement I have heard pass from your lips."

Terra laughed.

* * *

They arrived in Nikeah a few days later. Terra and Shadow had not shared another twilight conversation and Edgar had been avoided, much to his surprise. Any surprise or disappointment had been easily put aside, however, as he and Terra shared many a moonlight rendezvous, both outside the circle of the campfire's light and in the cozy closeness of their tent. While these well-timed escapes had been originally for the sole purpose of experiencing a private and intimate moment, the two had found themselves cuddling together in the soft darkness as they discussed their traveling companion's possible decision held so closely to himself.

The time together gave Terra exactly what she had needed to accept Shadow's decision of secrecy.

Now, the trio was on the Nikeah dock getting ready to temporarily part company. Shadow removed a pouch from somewhere on his person and handed it to Terra. She stared down at it for a long moment before catching Shadow's guarded eyes.

"Give that to her. Tell her that he will not be back. Tell her that he met his match at the Coliseum. Tell her that∑ tell her anything you believe she will accept as the truth." Shadow knelt and rest a hand on Interceptor's head, and then straightened and gestured to the massive beast. "Tell her that Interceptor has no home and that it was Shadow's dying wish that she should take him."

"D-dying wish?" Terra's throat tightened and she felt Edgar rest a comforting arm around her waist. "Y-you're going to∑"

"Shadow has no purpose. The Empire is gone. Ledo is dead. My wife is avenged. What else is there for him to do but fade into the existence that was his name?"

Shadow turned and lost himself in the crowd, Terra and Edgar silently staring after him. After a moment, Terra turned to face Edgar with tear-filled eyes. "Did he mean that he's going to die? Or that he's going to be Clyde? I can't tell. I don't know what I should believe."

Edgar continued to stare off in the direction Shadow had taken. "I do not know, Terra. Perhaps he himself does not yet have the answer."

Terra changed her gaze to the pouch. "Relm will be heartbroken."

"She is young, Terra, and her heart will mend." Edgar changed his gaze to his beautiful wife and lifted her chin. "Come, soul light. Let us away."

Terra smiled slightly and allowed herself to be guided to the ferry. As they put out to sea, Terra looked back to the dock as she clutched the pouch to her chest. "Don't forget about her again," she whispered. "Come home, Clyde. Come home."

Interceptor whined and leaned a shoulder against her leg.

* * *

Shadow watched the ship until it disappeared into the distance. Then, he turned and went into the shop, removing his shroud before the door had closed behind him.

7

Terra took in a deep breath as she again squeezed Edgar's hand. "Well, here it goes."

They heard a door open and close, and then a very recognizable Relm squeal. She ran up to them with twinkling eyes and a wide, eager smile as she asked them a myriad of questions as to why they were there, why Interceptor was with them if Shadow wasn't, and where Sabin and the others were. Edgar and Terra did their best to answer each one the best they could, but for each answered was another in its place. As Edgar continued to wade through the quickly rising tide of questions, Terra smiled and watched her.

Relm had always been precocious and adorable, with her bright eyes and naturally blonde tousle of curls. To Terra and the others, Relm's eagerness to stray from what her grandfather believed was appropriate had made her what she was: an independent 10 year old that had (some time when they hadn't been looking) turned 12 and was rapidly approaching teen-hood. She still appeared as young and innocent as ever, with the obvious exception of her sharp tongue and quick wit.

Terra, with what Shadow had told her of Amanda, could see the woman in the bright clarity of Relm's expression.

Relm's clear green eyes focused on Terra. "Did you need me to watch the kids again?"

Terra's smile widened and she gathered the girl into a hug. "No. We haven't seen you in a while and we thought it would be nice to get away." Terra thought of the pouch in her possession and the smile dissipated. She pushed back and caught Relm's eyes. "We have some bad news, though. We didn't find out until we were in Nikeah."

Relm's eyes displayed an expression of wariness so similar to Shadow that Terra nearly cried.

"Bad news? What are you talking about?" Relm asked.

Edgar stepped forward and rest a hand on Relm's shoulder. Relm switched her eyes to him, watching him as he took the pouch from Terra's belt and handed it to her. "Shadow∑ Shadow wanted you to have this, Relm. And Interceptor as well."

Tears were instantly in her eyes. "What? What are you talking about? Interceptor is Shadow's dog! He wouldn't just give him away!"

Edgar sent Terra a helpless expression before turning back to Relm. "Shadow knew that you'd take care of--"

"Shadow can take care of him," Relm shouted, backing off from the two with tears trailing down her cheeks. Interceptor came to stand behind her and nudged at the back of her leg to keep her from running away.

Terra took a hesitant step forward, reaching out her hands to gently take Relm's. Terra knelt and gave the hands a gentle squeeze as the girl silently cried. "Yes, Shadow could take care of Interceptor, couldn't he?" Relm nodded. "But, Relm, you know that bad things sometimes happen. Shadow knew that too." Relm shook her head with a pained expression as Terra went on. "He also knew that you liked Interceptor and Interceptor liked you. Won't you take care of Interceptor until Shadow can come back?"

Relm hesitantly took the pouch from Terra's hand and stared down at it. "Will he come back?"

"I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not. At least you can take care of his dog while he's away. Won't you?"

Relm nodded slowly, opening the pouch to pull out a tattered embroidered scarf. A tear dripped onto it and she sniffed. "It looks like the one he used to wear."

Terra looked down at it with a slow breath. It was the one he had worn when he had told her of his past life. Maybe it was the one he had purchased when first becoming 'Shadow'. Maybe it was the one that his late wife had worn. Whatever the answer, it held special meaning for Shadow. Why else would he give it to Relm? "Yes, it is."

"Why do you suppose he gave it to me?"

Terra hesitated and sent Edgar a glance. He smiled and rest a hand on her back for encouragement. "Maybe because he knew how special you are. After all, Interceptor likes you best. He only tolerates us."

Relm smiled slightly and looked up to catch Terra's gaze. "I'm going to miss him."

Terra nodded and brushed the tears from Relm's cheeks. "So will we, Relm. So will we."

Relm sighed deeply, pushing away the heart break with a tenacity that had always amazed the others. She took Terra's hand. "Come on. You better come in and say 'hi' to the old geezer before he blows an artery."

"Will he mind our staying?" Edgar asked.

Relm shrugged as they made their way to the house, Interceptor immediately falling into step beside her. "Probably, but I don't care." She looked over at them with a strange expression in her eyes. "He's not feeling too well lately, so he's kind of grumpy. Spends most of his time in bed."

Terra tried not to sound alarmed. "I suppose you've already had the doctor over to make sure he's not blowing everything out of proportion."

Relm shrugged again. "I called him, but grandpa just shrieked and said he didn't need any kind of witch doctor looking at him and making like he knew what he was talking about. He just wanted to be left alone."

"I see." Terra sent Edgar another look and he raised his hands in a helpless gesture. "Well, then I'm sure he'll be fine. He'd know whether or not he needed a doctor, wouldn't he?"

"You never know with grandpa. The old geezer lost his mind ages ago, I think."

Edgar tousled her curls with a chuckle. "You love him anyway, Relm."

She waved off his hands and sent him a scowl. "Humph. Whatever."

* * *

"Strago?" Terra crested the stairs of the bedroom and looked around for the old mage. He was sitting at a table in his housecoat writing letters. "Strago, are you too busy for a talk?"

"Probably, but you never let that stop you."

Terra smiled and came to sit on the edge of the bed by the writing desk. "It's about Relm and her father and mother."

Strago's grip on his pen tightened, but he kept writing. "What about them?" Strago asked gruffly.

"What do you know about them? Are they dead?"

"If they weren't, do you think she'd be with me?"

"Does she know about them?"

"What's to know?"

Terra took in a deep breath and released it slow. "He stopped by the castle, Strago. He's coming."

Strago's pale complexion went yellow. "Who's coming?"

"Clyde." Strago said nothing and Terra looked down at her knees. "What are you going to do?"

"About what?"

Terra looked up. "Strago, you know what I'm talking about. What are you going to do when he shows up? Are you going to refuse to let him in? Are you going to deny everything? What?"

Strago threw down his pen and glared at her. "What can I do about anything when it comes to that little dear? She does what she wants! Just like her mother! Just like her father! If he comes, he comes. If he tells her, he tells her. I'm still her grandpa and I'll still be here to pick up the pieces when he runs away again."

"He didn't run away, Strago. You know that," Terra insisted in Shadow's defense.

"Oh, I know what he said all right, but I also know that 10 years is a long time to be away from the daughter you supposedly love so damn much." Strago shook his head with a long succession of coughs, and then took in a slow breath. "No, Terra, I won't come between her and her father, if he's decided to finally come home for good. I won't make things easier, though, either. He better have some good reasons as to why he's been away for so long."

Terra stood and dropped her gaze. "He told me that he would do his best. Just∑ Just try and be understanding, Strago. Please."

"If he's got a good excuse, I'll be understanding. If not, tough luck."

"Strago--"

"That's as good as it gets."

Terra sighed and turned for the stairs. "Okay. Thank you, Strago."

"Don't mention it."

Edgar met Terra at the bottom of the stairs with a kiss on the cheek. "How did it go?"

"Okay, I guess."

"I take it Strago will be understanding, but only to a certain point."

Terra nodded with an exhalation of breath and wrapped her arms around Edgar for a comforting embrace. "I really hope it's enough."

Edgar kissed the top of her head. "You cannot heal them all, Terra. Do your best, but do not expect all to be totally and completely restored. Life is seldom as perfect as what we have been led to believe it should be."

"Why not? My life with you seems perfect enough," Terra countered.

Edgar smiled with a chuckle and tightened his arms around her. "Ah. I see, then, that our storybook romance has made you forget the harshness of the real world."

She laughed and snuggled in closer with a deep breath. "No, I haven't forgotten. It just seems more like a bad dream than anything else."

"It is most assuredly real, my sweet." He sighed as he pulled back, smiling down at her with a twinkle in his bright eyes. "Come. Let us have a walk. Relm complains of boredom the likes of which we, ourselves, have never experienced, and I have promised that we would rescue her."

"Where is she?"

"Outside playing with Interceptor." Edgar chuckled. "Perhaps I should amend that statement. Interceptor is attempting to play with her. He seems to sense the fact that something is bothering her."

"Bothering her?" Terra looked concerned. "About what?"

"Apparently, Strago has been sick for quite a while."

"He still refuses to have a doctor come, even after all this time?"

Edgar nodded. "That would be what is troubling Relm, I do believe."

"The poor girl. Not only did she just lose Shadow, she thinks she might be losing her grandfather." The door opened at that time and Relm walked into the room. She saw Terra and Edgar and absently waved before moving past them to head for her room. Terra's heart went out to the girl. "Relm, we were just going to find you and take you for a walk. Would you be interested?"

She shrugged, and then came to stand beside them. "Sure."

They made their way out of the house just as a tall man in fairly nice clothes hesitantly entered town. Terra's heart thumped and she cast Edgar a quick look. He nodded. As the trio approached the end of town, the 'stranger' caught her gaze and slightly smiled, twirling a cap in his hands for a long moment before making his way toward them.

"Hello."

Relm seemed to be so engrossed in her own disturbing thoughts that she didn't notice his presence. Terra and Edgar exchanged a glance, and then greeted the man themselves.

"Hello," Edgar said. "Is there something we can do for you?"

The man cleared his throat. "I'm looking for Strago Magus."

Relm looked up at that comment and began to examine the stranger's face. "Well, he doesn't take visitors. Not anymore. What did you need?"

The man hesitated and Terra could tell he was fighting with the sudden urge to flee. Hadn't she faced that same fear when first exploring a relationship with Edgar? 'Keep going. You're doing great,' she wanted to say. He caught her expression and seemed to read it in her eyes because he took in a deep breath and pressed on.

"I needed to talk to him about something that happened 10 or 11 years ago. It's very important."

Relm continued to intensely scrutinize the man's expression. "Important? Important like what? Like he owes you money? Or like you're his long-lost son?"

The man went a little pale. "Not exactly. No."

Terra tugged on Edgar's sleeve in such a way that Relm didn't notice, and then gestured toward the house with her eyes. He nodded slightly. "Relm?" Relm turned her eyes toward Terra after a slight pause. "Relm, why don't Edgar and I go get your grandfather and tell him there's someone here to see him?"

"Sure. Whatever you want to do. He won't come out, though."

Terra smiled. "You never know. He may want to for this. We can always try." Terra motioned to the stranger. "Why don't you keep his would-be guest company while we do our best."

Terra and Edgar turned for the house as Relm refocused her bright eyes on the stranger. She gripped Edgar's hand. 'Please oh please let her take it well.' Edgar squeezed back.

* * *

"So," Relm continued as she turned back to the man. "What's your story?"

"Story?"

Relm crossed her arms. "Yeah. Where do you know grandpa from? Usually, as far as I can remember anyway, the only people who want to see him are about as old as they come."

"I∑"

He didn't seem about to finish the attempt at an answer, and Relm prodded him with a wave of her hand. "Yes? Waiting."

He took in a deep breath and plunged ahead. "I was married to his daughter."

All thoughts drained from Relm's head, and she felt her stomach hit the ground at her feet. "What."

The man's eyes darkened. He reached out a hand. "Are you all right?"

She cleared her throat and waved his hand away. "What did you say about his daughter? You were what?"

"I was married to her."

"You were∑ you were married to her?" The man nodded and Relm felt the hot flash of expectation battle with the chilling intensity of dread. "Did∑ did you∑ did you have a∑ a child."

He swallowed hard. "Yes."

Relm looked down at her hand suddenly, at the ring from her mother that she always wore, and offered it to the man to see. "Was∑ was this her ring?" He nodded very slowly, and then seemed to hesitate. She watched him for a long, silent minute before even wanting to risk the final, most important question. "Was your child's name∑ was her name, Relm?"

He closed his eyes and nodded again. "Yes," he whispered.

Relm choked out a cry, and then threw her arms around him. "I knew you were alive," she sniffled passionately. "No matter what he said, I knew it! I just knew∑ Oh, Daddy∑"

Her choked sob cut off any other words as his arms went around her.

8

The excitement of meeting her father for the first time in her life out-weighed the questions as to why he'd been away for so long. She just didn't care. A lot of people had been taken captive by the Empire, even more had been killed by them, so to have her father alive and in front of her was enough right then. She knew the story would come later. It usually always did.

The story of her own life came out in spurts and choppy remembrances. He listened with rapt attention, his eyes crisp and alert as they examined her face and expressions. Relm liked it. The only other person who had seemed to look so deep at what she said and the feelings she tried to hide was Shadow. Maybe that was why she'd liked him. She had known that he couldn't be fooled or goaded.

Unlike Sabin, the old muscleheaded moron.

Finally, after what seemed hours of telling him what she'd been doing all her life (which mainly consisted of the entire battle with Kefka and the Empire), she fell silent and just smiled at him. He returned her smile, almost hesitantly, and then dropped his eyes to the table top in her home. He seemed unsure and uncomfortable. It was almost as if he didn't want to tell her where he'd been or what he'd been doing.

"I know that you have a lot of questions, Relm."

His reluctance, surprisingly enough, affected her enthusiasm and made her reluctant. "Do you blame me?" Relm asked him. "Grandpa said you were dead a long time ago. Why else would you stay away?" Relm paused, watching his face. It was scarred and haggard. As if he'd lived his entire life in a prison cell where he was tortured and beaten each day. "Daddy, why did they take you and Mamma away?"

His face darkened with pain and the scenes of his life flashed quickly across his eyes. "For a lot of senseless reasons. The most important, to them of course, being the fact that your mother was descended from the Blue Magi."

"Like grandpa?"

"Yes."

Relm hesitated, actually unsure as to the wisdom of asking him what he obviously didn't want to relive. Her desire to know about her parents, however, made her press on. "Please. Tell me about her. Tell me about you. All I've ever known is grandpa, and I want to know more than that. I want to know about who I came from."

Her father looked up, then, examining the bright expression in her eyes with a distant look. "You have your mother's passion. Looking into your eyes is like looking into hers."

Relm's throat tightened. "Really?"

His lips tilted upward and his eyes seemed to focus back on the present. "Yes. Your mother was a passionate artist that lived life to its fullest extent. Her beauty came from this. So has yours."

Relm looked down with a blush. Not very many people called her beautiful. She'd never even had it hinted at.

"I was amazed at the resemblance when I first saw you," her father said. "It was so uncanny that I was sure I was mistaken. After all, how could it be that simple?" His eyes became distant again and he looked away. "She would be pleased at all the things you've done. You've become a hero at a very young age. Not many can boast of such an accomplishment."

Relm changed her gaze to his face. "Haven't you done anything like that before? Even once? Were you always a prisoner?"

"In some form or another." He sighed. "Relm, I'm sorry. I did not mean to be away this long. Some of my friends are certain that I allowed myself to forget. It was less painful than remembering and coming home to pay the price for my absence. When I first escaped, I should have made my way here."

Relm sniffled, clenching her hands together as her throat tightened. "You probably thought I would be mad."

"It doesn't matter. I should have come. You deserved to have your father, as well as new memories of your mother."

They were quiet for a long moment, and then Relm looked up. He was watching her. "Are you going to stay now, Daddy? Grandpa won't be happy, but I don't care. Please stay."

Her father stood and looked toward the stairs leading to the second story bedroom. "I will stay," he said quietly, "but I might not be welcome in this house."

Relm scowled. "If you're not, then I'm leaving. He's just a grumpy old fuddy-duddy anyway."

Her father turned a stern expression toward her. "Relm, he is your grandfather. Your mother's father. He has your best interests at heart and has never abandoned you. He deserves your presence in his life more than I do."

"But you're my father," she said passionately. "He has no right to keep you out of my life, and I'll hate him if he tries!"

"You shouldn't hate him for doing that which he believes protects you. He loves you and has never hesitated in the showing of that love."

Relm crossed her arms. "I don't care. If you go, I go. It's as easy as that."

"Relm--"

"Daddy, don't make me stay here if you have to go!" Relm insisted with tears in her eyes. "Okay, so he's doing everything - everything that drives me nuts - out of love. Okay, I understand, but I'm not going to stay. I'm nearly 13 and he still treats me like a baby! I want to grow up with my father, not him."

Her father studied her for a long moment before a reluctant smile broke out across his face. He chuckled. "Yes, you definitely remind me of your mother. She had much the same thing to say about him when I proposed and he refused. She told me that she would marry me because she wanted to. That his decision had nothing to do with her choices."

"Mamma said that?" He nodded and Relm was quiet for a moment. "She loved you a lot, didn't she?"

His face became slightly pale as he moved suddenly for the stairs. "We loved each other very much. We were happy. We were content."

Relm watched him climb the stairs, and then dropped her eyes. 'Then why did you leave?' It was a question she didn't want to ask.

* * *

Clyde stood at the top of the stairs for a long and silent moment.

"Might as well come in the rest of the way."

Clyde took in a deep breath and stepped forward, his eyes focusing on his father-in-law as he sat in an armchair covered with a blanket. He examined Strago's pale complexion, his sunken eyes, and the constant tremor of his hands and knew: Death was coming.

Strago caught his gaze with a hard expression, his eyes not wavering. "So, you came. She said you would, both Relm and Terra, but I never believed it. Why should I have? It'd already been 10 years." He pressed his lips together and gestured to the desk chair that was positioned across from him. "Sit down."

Clyde sat without a word, holding Strago's firm gaze without a problem. Strago noticed and gave a snort.

"You've grown a spine it seems. Never used to be able to look me in the face for a full five seconds before." Strago examined his face and adjusted his crossed arms. "So, what's your excuse?"

Clyde felt a spark of temper. "I wasn't aware I needed one."

Strago raised an eyebrow. "Oh really. You expected to be able to strut in here and take over as 'father' and 'provider' without any kind of word at all?"

Clyde pressed his lips together and grappled with the refreshing freedom of anger and frustration. "I came with an explanation and an apology. I did not come with any excuses of my actions in order to justify them to you or to her. There is no justification."

"At least on that point we can agree," Strago said harshly. He paused as a fit of coughing robbed his breath and strength. When it passed, he regarded his son-in-law with a dark expression. "You've been gone a long time, Clyde. I guess I'm being a bastard about it, but I want a damn good explanation. I think I deserve it. Do you have any idea what it's like to raise a girl in a world like this by yourself? I couldn't answer her question about why her 'mommy' was dead. Or why her 'daddy' went away. I couldn't tell her when her 'daddy' would be coming back again."

Strago took in a deep breath and rest his head back against the armchair as he examined Clyde's pained expression which still held his. "10 years, Clyde. It's been 10 damn years." He shook his head and closed his eyes. "Prisoner of the Empire? How do you survive 10 years as a prisoner of the Empire without getting yourself killed?"

"You learn to do what they want. You learn to fade into the background." Clyde dropped his eyes to his clenched fists. "I was a prisoner, a puppet, even while I was a free man."

Strago's eyes opened slowly, and he took in a slow breath as he watched Clyde's face. After a moment, he closed his eyes again. "Sounds like a lot of other people. Terra and Celes to name a few. You've met Terra and her husband, I suppose?"

"Yes."

"That's been Relm's family. They're the best thing that ever happened to her. They taught her a lot of things about life that she should have learned from you. Get to know them, Clyde."

"I will."

Strago was quiet a moment. "I suppose Relm's already told you what she's been up to."

"Yes."

"I guess you're a bit mad that I let her get involved."

Clyde hesitated. "You had your reasons, I guess. The same as I did."

"That and she's as stubborn as her mother when set to do something."

Clyde smirked. "I noticed."

Strago opened his eyes suddenly and caught his gaze. "I'm dying, Clyde, and I think you know it. If you had plans to come here and open this kettle of worms and then leave again, then you best tell me now so that I can make arrangements to have her stay with Terra and Edgar or Celes and Locke. She deserves a family. No, she deserves a father."

"I know. I wouldn't have come if I didn't plan on staying. I've been away too long, as you said before, and it's time for me to take accountability." He took in a deep breath and dropped the old man's intense gaze. "I left to make the world a better place. In a way, I've done that. Perhaps one day I'll tell you how. Now∑" Clyde looked up. "Now I need to come back. I would have before, but as you say, 10 years is a long time."

Strago examined him for a long moment, another fit of coughing bringing a quick kerchief to his mouth to hide the blood that Clyde knew now hid there.

"I'm giving you a chance, Clyde," Strago rasped with a haggard breath, "but only because I know Relm wouldn't have it any other way. Neither would Amanda, if she'd lived. If you screw up, though, and I'm not dead yet, you're gone. I don't care if it makes her hate me. I'd do anything for her. That includes keeping her from you."

Clyde paused for a long moment, holding the man's gaze for what seemed an eternity. Finally, he took in a deep breath and reached forward to take the man's hand. He clasped it tightly. "I'm here to stay, old man. Amanda's murderer is gone. The Empire is gone. My old life is gone. Relm is all I have left. Relm is all I need. I won't make the same mistake twice."

Strago's hand tightened in his and a spark of a smile flashed in his eyes. "Good, because I can still take your ass."

9

"Relm?"

Relm straightened from where she'd sprawled on the couch, her eyes brightening to a brilliant emerald. She set aside her sketchpad and stood to rush to his side. "Yeah, Daddy?"

His eyes held an unreadable emotion as he gazed down at her, and then he looked away to gesture toward the door. "Let's walk."

"Oh. Okay." Relm turned to grab her sketchpad and her pencils, and then fell into step beside him as they stepped onto the front porch. "Where we going?"

"Some place we can talk."

A sudden burst of butterflies from another planet sprouted in her stomach, and she gripped the sketchpad tighter to her chest. "You're not allowed to stay, are you."

"No, I need to tell you about your mother. I need to tell you why I went away." He took in a deep breath and released it slow. "I need to tell you everything."

The way he said it terrified her. "Oh. Okay." They proceeded out of town and Relm could sense the dread. "Daddy?"

He hesitated. "Yes?"

She stopped walking and turned to face him. He turned as well, catching her gaze. "I don't care. Sure, it would be nice to know what happened, but--"

"Relm, you need to know."

"Do I?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

He clenched his jaw and seemed to get irritated. "Because if I don't tell you, what kind of father would I be? If I keep yet another secret, how can you feel a part of my life? How can I truly have peace? How can I truly be free of the Empire?"

Relm chewed on her lower lip as she saw the dread and fright battle in his eyes. "If it makes me mad∑ Daddy, I don't want to deal with that. I just got you back. I don't want to lose you again."

Words by the hundreds rose and fell in his eyes, clashing against each other like the waves of the sea on the shore of Thamasa. Finally, after what seemed hours instead of the few moments they actually were, he turned away with clenched fists.

"I need to be free of all the secrets, Relm. I know that this one revelation may chase you from me, but∑ how can I risk your feelings of betrayal should you discover my secret on your own?" He faced her again, pain evident in his eyes. "My life has been hell, seeing you so close and not being able to let you know that I still thought of you∑ But how could I, knowing that I had chosen to stay away those many years, serving the evil that I had intended to destroy."

Relm's insides went cold as his voice began to sound chillingly familiar. Her mind and heart battled with the realization and her throat tightened as he went on.

"You must be given the choice to hate me or forgive me. If I keep that from you, my torment will never end. It is not fair to you, I suppose, but you need to know. You need to know, so that you can decide whether I am free to stay or go."

Relm shook her head, a wave of panic bringing tears to her eyes. She dropped her sketchpad and it landed on the ground with a dull thud. "No. Don't tell me. I don't care. I just want my father."

He knelt down to look her eye-to-eye and took her arms in a gentle grip. "I am your father, Relm. I have been your father, even as I hid behind that shroud. Even as I watched you grow in courage and bravery, determined to destroy an evil that had destroyed so many. I have been your father, even as I have been your friend."

She shook her head again, pulling against his grip with a half-hearted tug. "No. Please."

His eyes darkened with agony at what his next revelation could do, and then he pressed forward. "I was Shadow."

Relm covered her face with her hands and burst into tears, anger and hurt clashing together to bring fresh sobs. "Why? You didn't have to tell me. I didn't care. I just wanted my father." Her hands dropped and the rage sparked in her emerald eyes as she pushed at him. His grip remained firmly gentle on her arms. "Why did you give Terra your sash and make me think you were dead? Why did you send Interceptor for me to take care of? Why, if you were going to tell me who you were anyway?"

"I was given another option. One that I thought would be easier on you, until I realized that, again, I was taking the coward's answer. I was robbing you of something that you needed to be told. A decision that should have been yours to make."

"Even if it made me hate you?"

He cringed and swallowed hard. "Yes," he said in a tight voice. "Even then. I∑ I couldn't keep this from you, Relm. You deserved my complete honesty. You deserved all or nothing." He paused and his grip tightened on her arms momentarily. "You're all I have left. I wasn't going to lie to you anymore. That was Shadow's life and I had already decided to put that behind me."

Question after question pushed accusation after accusation out of her mind as she stared down at her father∑ her friend∑ The pain was as clear as anything she'd seen. The dread even more clear. She didn't know what to do or what to feel. She felt angry that he'd traveled with her for so long and not told her. She felt relieved that Shadow, her friend, wasn't dead. She felt hurt that he thought she wasn't mature enough to move past the lie and accept him∑

"I am sorry, Relm," he said in a voice twisted with misery. "Yet again I have done you an injustice." He slowly stood and dropped his hands from her arms. "I will go if you wish."

Relm stared up at him in confusion and a myriad of other emotions that kept her rooted to the spot. She wanted to hit him. She wanted to hug him. She wanted to cry her eyes out and tell him that she didn't care. That she was happy just to have a father, finally. All she could do was stare at him, tears trailing paths of misery down her cheeks as she desperately tried to think of the right thing to do.

Relm balled her fists and lurched forward, pummeling his chest with her little hands as she cried and raged in frustration. He knelt down to gather her weeping form into his arms, silently taking the slaps, shoves, and punches as she continued to vent her fury, confusion, and betrayal the only way she knew how. Once the onslaught passed, she wrapped her arms around him and sobbed, burying her face into his neck as he tightened his protective embrace.

"I am so sorry," he repeated in a voice sated with tears. "I never meant to hurt you. I thought I would die when the battle with Kefka ended. I was resolved to that ending because I knew that I would never be your father. I had too much evil in my heart. Then I was given another chance. And another." He pulled back and held her face in his hands, wiping her tears away with his thumbs as his gaze held hers. "Your face wouldn't let me go. The memory of the happy life with you and your mother plagued me each night, urging me to try again. To recapture it. I had to try."

Relm saw the tears in his eyes, watching them in awe as they cascaded down his scarred cheeks. Never in her life could she have imagined Shadow crying. Yet∑ Shadow was her father. He was her father. 'Your father,' she told herself. 'You have a father.' She brought her hands up to his face and tenderly wiped the tears from his face.

"Daddy," she choked out, "please don't go away again."

He pulled her into a tight embrace, pressing his damp cheek against her tousled curls. "I won't. I promise."

* * *

Terra hurried down the stairs and nearly ran into Edgar on his way up. Concern flashed in his eyes as he steadied her with his hands placed gently around her waist.

"What is troubling you?" Edgar asked.

"Strago∑ He's coughing up blood. Edgar, hurry for the doctor."

Edgar nodded and turned to hurry away, slamming out of the house as Terra rushed back upstairs.

* * *

Relm could sense something was wrong when she and Shadow-- her father returned a couple hours later. Her step faltered and his grip on her hand tightened slightly. "Something's wrong," she said in a faint whisper.

"Yes, I noticed it too." He waited for her to take a step forward and, when she still hesitated, he changed his calm gaze to her. She was still staring at the house. "He has been sick for a while. You knew he was dying."

She nodded, barely, her teeth absently gnawing on her lower lip. "Yeah. I knew."

"You will want to say good-bye."

Relm nodded again, dread settling firmly in the pit of her stomach like a magicite shard the like of which she'd never seen. "I know."

"He'll want to see you."

Her stomach lurched and she took a faltering step backward. Her father's hand kept her from turning and fleeing back the way they'd come. Her grandfather had been her entire life. Someone she thought would always be there as a pain in her backside. The conscience that she always ignored. The common sense she tried to live without. No, he couldn't die now. Not when they finally had a chance to be a family.

Relm turned an agony darkened gaze to her father. "Not now. It's not fair. We were just∑" Her voice was swallowed by the tears that lurched into place.

"We were just a family?" Relm silently nodded, tears making her emerald eyes gemlike. Her father held that gaze for a long moment, pain twisting the scars at the corners of his eyes. "Your absence will not keep him from dying, Relm. You will only hurt an old man who has loved you as much as was possible."

Her voice fought its way through the misery and broke through in a choked squeak. "He survived Kefka's Tower. He survived the Fanatic's Tower. How can he die now?"

Clyde caressed a tear from her cheek, his grip tightening gently on her hand still in his. "He can die now because he knows you will be safe."

Relm turned her frightened eyes back to the house. She'd never faced death this close to her before. It had always been someone else. Locke and Rachel. Edgar and Sabin and their father. Setzer and Darryl. "I∑ I don't want to see him die. Not him. Anyone but him."

He brushed a curl of hair from her temple and tenderly guided her forward. She didn't resist. "Come, Relm. Terra and Edgar are there, so you won't be alone. It is best to be surrounded by those we love when Death approaches."

Her hand squeezed his so hard that her fingers began to hurt with the effort.

The two silently progressed up the stairs, pausing on the landing to give Relm enough time to scramble for her courage before moving further in. Strago was in a corner bed, his hands clutching the covers as Terra continued to dab a cool and damp rag across his forehead. She and Edgar saw Relm and her father enter the room at the same moment.

Edgar approached them, his normally bright blue eyes nearly charcoal with deep-seeded sadness. "Terra has given him something for the pain, but∑  It is but a matter of time. Very little, I'm afraid."

"Eh? Is that Relm?" Strago's weakened voice sounded from the corner of the room, persisting even when Terra urged him to save his strength. "Come over here, Relm. I need to speak to you."

Relm's grip on Clyde's hand tightened, if possible, and she made her way to her grandfather's side. Her father stood just behind her. Strago looked at both of them with a tender smile. Relm slowly sat on the side of the bed. There was a slight tinge of red in his beard.

Relm took in a deep breath, released her father's hand, and forced a scowl on her face. "Are you still acting sick? Well I like that. Terra and Edgar visit for the first time in months, my dad shows up after who knows how many years, and you're in bed with a cold."

Strago hacked out a laugh, quickly covering his mouth with a kerchief to hide the splattering of blood. Relm barely withheld a cringe.

Strago reached out to take her hand, weakly patting it as his eyes twinkled at her. "I'll be all right in the morning, dear, don't you worry about that."

Relm swallowed back a sob, and then finally spoke in an uneven voice. "Yeah, that's what you always say. Just don't expect me to make you breakfast in bed."

"No special treatment for me," he told her. "You save that for your father." He changed his gaze to Clyde. "You do right by her."

"I will, Strago. I will."

A sniff slipped through Relm's crumbling faćade of courageous anger and she fell forward, engulfing her grandfather in her arms with a sob. "Don't die, grandpa. I love you∑"

Strago closed his eyes with a slight smile and brought his arms around her. "And I love you, you little dear."

The arms slackened and Relm's sobs deepened as Clyde sat down behind her to gently pull her into a comforting embrace.

Epilogue

It was a silent and somber group gathered that day in Thamasa. They watched as Clyde and Relm Arrowny made their way forward, placing a bouquet of pale flowers by the headstone newly erected beside that of General Leo. The occupant, Strago Magus, would be greatly missed.

"Good-bye, grandfather."

Relm had seemed to age an entire decade by the passing of the old man, and each time one of the group retold a story of their previous traveling days a flash of pain darkened her eyes. She had long since excused herself from the others, retreating to sit at the foot of a tree behind the large house where she had once been trapped by fire. Her grandfather had gone against the rules of the mayor and attempted to use magic to save her. When that hadn't worked, he'd actually gone into the still burning building to find and rescue her∑

Relm covered her face with her hands and hunched over, pushing away the loneliness that she felt at his sudden absence.

A footstep made her straighten suddenly, wiping the tears from her face as she attempted to blink them away. It was Sabin. She looked away, staring at the ground at her feet as she kicked at a pebble with the toe of her black slipper. He silently sat beside her.

When he didn't say anything, she cast him a sidelong glance. "What."

"Nothing," he said softly.

She looked away again, the silence annoying her. Every one of the Thamasa residents had offered their "heartfelt condolences" or their "sincerest apologies" about her grandfather's death. Sabin had been the only one, besides Edgar and Terra, who hadn't offered such bland words of comfort. Now, with him just sitting beside her, she could feel a fresh onslaught of tears. It was as if his mere presence was acting as an invitation to vent.

"It's not fair," she whispered in a choked voice.

He nodded silently, lifting his head just enough to squint off into the distance. "I know."

Her throat constricted a little more and she sniffled, clenching her hands into fists. "I∑ I'm just so mad at him," she cried as she turned to face Sabin. "Why did he have to go? Why did he have to die now that everything was going to be different? I have my father! We could have told stories of my mother! We could have been a family!"

Sabin nodded again, dropping his eyes to the pebbled ground at his feet. He picked one up and threw it. It clinked off a tree. "Yep." His voice was still quiet.

Relm turned away again, wiping the tears from her cheeks and not caring they were replaced with twice as many as before. "He left, Sabin, and he'd told me that he'd never do that. He promised I wouldn't be alone. Ever."

"I'd be angry too."

"Damn right I'm angry," she seethed. Relm took up a fistful of small pebbles and tossed them at the nearest tree. Each one missed. Her throat tightened, wrestling with the tears that so desperately wished to be free. "The first time I actually admit that I want him to be around and that's when he decides to die! It isn't fair!"

"Nope. He should have known better."

That statement made her stop, her anger dissipating like the air from a punctured balloon. Relm took in a deep breath, felt amazingly less overwhelmed, and was immediately bombarded with guilt for what she'd said. She sent Sabin another sidelong glance, but he was still squinting at a distant tree. "Well... I guess I'm not really alone."

He shrugged and picked up another pebble. "No. I guess not."

"After all, I've got my father now. And you guys," Relm quickly added.

Sabin nodded, almost grudgingly, and turned to hand her the pebble. Their eyes met. "That's true."

Relm took the pebble and looked toward the tree he'd first pelted. She tossed the rock and nearly hit the same spot. She smiled slightly and released a deep breath. "I'm sure he didn't mean to leave me."

"No. Probably not."

Relm looked down at the satin ribbon on her black slippers and released another deep breath, a tear caressing her cheek to drop to the pale ground at her feet. "I'm going to miss the old fuddy-duddy."

Sabin caught her gaze. His eyes held understanding and compassion. "Yeah. Me too."

Relm closed her eyes, then, and turned toward him suddenly, burying her face in his chest as the grief-filled sobs were ripped from her soul. Sabin looked down at the weeping girl for a long moment before folding one arm protectively around her, the other moving to tenderly stroke her hair.

<The End>