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Three stories of Final Fantasy 6, part one; Moments with Celes
by Weiila

I want to dedicate this three-part story to all my great on-line friends on the Vimm's lair message board. Thank you all for supporting me and cheering me up whenever I feel down, people ;)

Author's note:
So, I'll write a story. About Locke and Celes. Yep. Me too. Here we go... it's kinda "stories never told", shorter or longer descriptions of important events in Locke and Celes' lives, through the game and a little beyond.
This is the first short story of what will be three in a series of Final Fantasy 3/6. This one is about Celes and Locke, the next one will be about Gogo. And the third, well... wait and see.
Oh, and yes, there is an underlying vein here, pointing towards the second story. ;)

The tunnels below South Figaro.
"Mr. Cole, this is idiotic! Leave me here and run!"
"Miss Chere, for the fifth time; I won't leave you. Oops, there goes another crab."
The primordite thoughtfully clicked with its claws as Locke meaningly waved at it with his torch. It was pondering the chances it could stand against a full-grown man with a torch and a wounded, arguing young woman thrown over his shoulder. Finally the small monster made a wise decision and disappeared into a hole in the cave wall.
"Mr. Cole!"
"Please, miss Chere, do call me Locke."
"Locke, they only want me! Put me down!"
Locke Cole of the Returners walked on, carrying Celes Chere of the empire over his shoulder. Her words didn't bother him much, but her wounds did. The empire didn't treat traitors nicely, which wasn't much of a surprise. He would by no means leave her to the mercy of those monsters again. She had been as close to Gesthal as one could get, his general. But it didn't matter now. Now she was a traitor, beaten half to death. And those wounds needed to be taken care of.
It would be tricky. He couldn't rest here in the cave, apart from all the monsters there was the threat of a dozen imperial soldiers coming looking for the escaped turncoat.
As if hearing his thoughts, Celes spoke again:
"Locke, please do as I say and save yourself. If they find us both, then you'll die as well!"
"I like that word 'if'," Locke merrily said, "Fortuna has smiled at me so far, so I think I'll try a little longer."
He looked around. There was an underground river running here. Maybe...
Locke walked closer to the flow. The light that his torch shed on the dusky world around the two humans was reflected in the water. Interesting. The river went out of the wall. And once, the water had been much higher. Looked almost like a portal. Well, it was a risk, but he hadn't much choice.
Maybe Fortuna would grant him a little more luck, and a way out. Otherwise, well... if he knew the general imperial soldier, they'd rush past such a thing in their wild search for the fugitive. At least the first time they rushed through the tunnels. Anyhow, he didn't even know where the "real" exit could be. It was worth the risk.
Locke stepped down in the water, ignoring the cold that reached to his knees. Celes kept quiet.
Yes, there seemed to be a tunnel wide enough for him to cross through.
Walking against the flow, not even he could move silently. So there was no chance that somebody would be able to backstab him. Good. Let's just hope that he wasn't walking into someone or something that was waiting for a foolish treasure hunter.
The river took a turn. Locke smiled to himself. How nice. That would hide the light of his torch, so if he just could find a ledge or anything similar, he'd be able to take care of Celes' wounds.
There was another turn, and behind it was a kind of cliff beach. Perfect.
Locke got out of the water and put the torch down on the stone ground. Then he knelt and carefully removed Celes from his shoulder, placing her leaning against the wall.
The bruises on her arms and in her face had darkened, and the blood from her mouth and nose had dried up, turning almost black. She probably had even more bad bruises, maybe something even was broken.
"How do you feel?" Locke asked, kindly.
"Not so good," she hesitantly muttered.
He examined her reddened eyes and saw that her thoughts were just as pitch-black as the depths of the cave. She didn't trust anything anymore.
Those who once had been hers to command had beaten half to death, tortured and mocked her. Now she was so completely broken that she only awaited the last two things one could possibly do to her. Locke was shocked to find her calm, bitter accuse. She was only waiting, not even afraid in her despair and helplessness.
He couldn't believe that she could think that he'd keep hurting her.
"No, no, no..." Locke softly whispered, calming, "I promised that I'd protect you, and that's the only thing I'm going to do. Trust me."
She looked away, ashamed that he'd read her thoughts in her eyes.
"Cut it out," she muttered, "leave me alone and let me die... I'm so tired."
"No, I won't. How old are you?"
"What?" she said in disbelief.
"I wondered how old you are."
She looked suspiciously at him.
"I'm eighteen," she finally said.
Locke wasn't only just a little bit surprised. He had thought that she was at least five years older than that.
"So young, and you want to die already?" he softly said, "that would be a terrible waste of life, don't you see that?"
"You haven't a clue how they treated me!" Celes snapped, "I don't have anything to cherish in life. I never had!"
"That's because you've never been outside of Vector except for business, right?" Locke said with a calming smile, "out in the world we do other things than fight. You'll see."
She snorted and just shook her head.
Locke went through his pockets for a handkerchief or something that resembled. When he had nothing in his pockets, he took off his bandana and placed it in the river for a brief moment. Then he squeezed most of the water out of it and turned to Celes again. She shuddered as the cold, wet cloth touched her right arm.
"What are you doing?" she mumbled.
"I'm taking care of your wounds," Locke calmly said.
"Don't you get it? You have to get out of here before the soldiers comes!"
He shook his head.
"I'm telling you this just once more," he said, "there's no talking about me leaving you. I did such a mistake once, and I'm not going to repeat it."
As he spoke those words he had to clench his teeth, fighting the memories of Rachel. His heart suddenly froze, realizing that maybe the beaten woman in front of him had been leading the attack in which his love had been wounded.
But would that matter in this moment? Even if Celes had that sin on her list, she was half dead herself right here and now. Locke felt that he anyhow didn't want to ask.
She watched him for a moment, then leaned back and closed her eyes, silently allowing Locke to carefully put the cool cloth on her burning bruises.
"How's your legs?" he hesitantly asked, pushing all thoughts of Rachel aside, "anything broken?"
Celes just shook her head.
"Alright," Locke said.
He touched her forehead with the cloth and washed the blood away from her nose. Then he hesitated.
Blood was on her swollen lips, and had also trickled in a dark stream down her neck. He wanted to remove that too, but wouldn't such a move be a little... rough?
Without his permission, his mind wandered over to Rachel again. Once he had found her bloodied and unconscious... and when she had awoken, her mind had been blank. The memories were so painful... how she had asked him if he wanted to kiss her on his seventeenth birthday... her laughter and beauty that always had kept him bound. Her shining eyes and long, black hair, always smiling and laughing.
Celes' eyes were tired, darkened by pain. Blond curls tumbled down her shoulders, blood had stained it. Locke wondered if she had ever laughed.
He frowned. Why on earth was he comparing Rachel and Celes? Rachel was the only woman he'd ever loved, and there wouldn't be anyone else! Never! Especially not an imperial soldier...
He figured that he was angry without purpose, not being fair. Was he mad at Celes just because she made him think of Rachel? How silly... but why did she? They weren't alike at all.
"You okay?" she suddenly asked.
Locke looked up.
"Yeah..." he muttered, "just remembering..."
He fell silent and shrugged his shoulders.
"Nah, it's nothing you need to know. Look, you've got blood here, no offense."
Celes didn't ask about what he had been thinking about. She just leaned back again and let Locke wash away the blood form her neck and lips.

The opera house.
Locke stared at the stage, hidden at the side of the whole thing. Stared at Celes.
Gods, she was beautiful... that dress, it seemed to bring forth something completely new inside of her. Sensuality? Grace? Beauty?
No, no. She had always been beautiful. But he hadn't thought about it that much before.
He slapped his own cheek. What are you thinking? Looking at other women? What about Rachel?!
The music began to play, and a man's voice softly announced:
"The forces of the West fell, and Maria's castle was taken..."
Celes threw a nervous gaze down the short corridor of scenery, towards Locke. In just a few seconds she would step out into the sight of the audience, performing a completely new role. Locke gave her what he hoped was an encouraging smile.
"Prince Ralse of the East took her hand by force..."
Why did he suddenly feel so angry? Those words of plot made him want to hit something.
They were about Celes. Or rather, her character. And he had promised to protect her. Was that it? How silly...
"But she never stopped yearning for Draco."
Celes took a deep breath and stepped out of hiding.
And she sung.
She sung.
Locke almost dropped to his knees.
"Oh, my hero, so far away now... will I ever see your smile? Love goes away, like night into day..."
Her voice was engulfing him, the words and that true feeling of loss...
Oh, Rachel... Celes...
Rachel! Rachel, focus, you moron! You love Rachel!
But what if Rachel was gone? What if there was no treasure that could bring her back? Where will you be left standing like a lost boy then, treasure hunter?
He had said to Celes that he liked the word "if". But not in this kind of situation.
Trying to pull himself together, he turned to look at the small part of the stage visible to him. Not a very smart move considering the whirl of confused feelings that raged inside of him.
"... I'm the darkness, you're the stars... our love is brighter than the sun..."
Rachel had dark hair, but she had been like a strong light. Always smiling and warm. Celes was blond, but she was dark, marked by pain and war. Locke closed his eyes, unable to fight back the thoughts that had haunted him ever since he had found Celes in the cell. Something about that imperial traitor spoke to his heart, no, it screamed at him. Rachel had spoken. Softer and twinkling, she had always been prepared to follow him whenever he had found something interesting, even if that involved tunnels and dirt. Celes was like a sharpened diamond with a crack. She was strong and beautiful, could harm at will if you weren't careful. But there was that fracture.
She had been raised to be a war machine, nothing else. But the empire hadn't considered that no human is a rock.
A crack... she wasn't a weapon. She was a beautiful woman, and she deserved better.
"What should I do? I'm lost without you... speak to me once more!"
Celes put such helplessness and pleading into every single letter that Locke had to fight back a wish to rush out to her.
It's just an opera, just a show... it's not for real!
Who could have guessed that she was such a good actor?
Or was she?
Now she was walking up another stair, holding the flowers that Draco had dropped as he fell through a trapdoor, hidden behind a blinding lamplight. Locke couldn't see Celes anymore; the ceiling was in his way. He could only listen.
"We must part now, my life goes on... but my heart won't give you up. Ere I walk away, let me hear you say I meant as much to you. So gently, you touched my heart... I will be forever yours. Come what may, I won't age a day. I'll wait for you, always..."
Rachel wouldn't age, the magical herbs that the chemist provided would see to that. But Locke would become older.
Come on. There might not be any treasure. Rachel might be gone forever. Do you really want to go through your life yearning for the unreachable?
The people of the audience were applauding wildly as the scenes quickly were changed from the outside of the castle to the inside.
Locke took a deep breath, watching Celes dance with Ralse.
"Well done, Celes..." he whispered.

The Floating island.
Kefka held forth a sword.
"Go on, Celes," he smirked, "kill your friends and you'll be forgiven."
Silently she took the weapon and then looked at Terra and Locke. The woman with green hair was almost unconscious, lying with her face down. But Locke was sitting on his knees, watching Celes. Neither him nor Terra could move, bound with Kefka's magic.
Locke's eyes were calm, trustful. Even though Celes held a weapon and had received such an order, or suggestion, he wasn't afraid that she'd harm him.
She recalled that awful moment in the esper facility, when Kefka had accused her for not being a traitor for real. There had been doubt in Locke's eyes then, even if it was very small and staggering. It had hurt her like a dagger.
She had unleashed all the power she had to protect that man. To show him that she never would lie to him.
When she had awoken, in a prison cell, she had been told that her "friends" had escaped like dogs without looking back. Even though she had been freed later on by Cid, and she really knew that it wasn't true what they said... the thought had been nagging her.
As she was sent to Thamasa with the Returners, she hadn't been able to bear facing Locke when he tried to talk to her. She had felt abandoned, and ashamed. Ashamed that she had doubted him. But later when she tried to tell him that she was sorry for running off, it was he who had been angry. He had just walked away. Almost killing her.
Leo had been worried about her when they sought the espers together with some soldiers. He had noted that something had been weighing heavily on her shoulders. But she hadn't explained to him that she was so sorry about Locke that she could scream.
Not only because it had gone all wrong, she wanted to yell at him that Rachel was gone forever. His way of holding on to her memory made Celes feel bitter straight through.
A mountain had left her as he smiled at her in Thamasa and told her to not say another word about what had gone wrong. He wasn't angry...
If only Kefka hadn't... Gesthal hadn't...
Those damn fools!
He trusted her this time. He wouldn't doubt ever again.
Why did it hurt, then? Why was it his trust in her that hurt now? Because she still was afraid? Of what, then...?
"Violence only gives birth to hate..." she bitterly muttered, unable to look at Locke, "I wish I was never... born..."
Then she spun around and raised the sword at Kefka. But with her sight blurred with tears, she only hit his arm slightly.

The Solitary island.
She stared at the endless ocean.
Was there something left at all out there, somewhere?
Her hand moved by itself, drawing something in the sand with a dead twig.
Were they all dead? Edgar, Terra, Sabin, Gau, Cyan... Locke?
Locke... dead?
Tears filled her eyes, like back then on the floating continent. If she had only aimed better and killed Kefka! Right there and then! Then the Apocalypse maybe had never occurred. Was it her fault that they were all dead...?
No! No, no, no, no, no, no...!
"Locke... Locke!"
She rushed to her feet and screamed to the cold, red purple ocean. It mocked her with its endlessness, why wasn't there anything else!? Something! Anything!
"Shh, my girl, shh... calm down..."
Cid's hands were on her shoulders, calming and comforting.
"Grandpa?" Celes sobbed, "you're alright...?"
"Yeah, my poor girl," he kindly said, "but you're not. Shh..."
She cried like a child, leaning against Cid's chest.
"He promised that he'd be there!" she sobbed, "and now he's dead, because I didn't manage to stop Kefka!"
"That's not true, Celes!" Cid sharply said, "it's not your fault! I doubt that you could have stopped anything, you did all you could."
"But I... I missed him! If only I had killed Kefka..."
"No, no... then something like this had happened anyhow. The only thing that would have been different is that Gesthal had ruled the whole world. And I believe that such a fate maybe would be even worse for our poor planet."
"But then they would be alive!"
"And slaves. Is that what you want?"
Celes shook her head. No, no, no... she didn't want her friends to be enslaved by Gesthal. But she didn't want this either! She wanted them all to be back around her, even the suspicious Cyan! All around her... on the airship... soaring through the air, and Locke would be somewhere around...
Oh, Locke...
Did he ever understand? Had she ever done so before she became stuck on this dying island? Stuck with a sick grandpa and her own thoughts the only things to concentrate on... she had got a lot of time to think. About Locke. And how much she missed that thief.
Treasure hunter!
She gave a bitter laugh in the middle of all the sobs.
Yes, Locke, you're a treasure hunter...
And I loved you. But now you're dead! Because I couldn't kill Kefka...
That seagull has something tied around its leg.
Celes' heart suddenly began to beat faster, as she stared at the bird.
"What is it?" Cid asked, noting that her sobs suddenly stopped forcing themselves through her body.
Celes carefully broke free from Cid's calming hug and approached the seagull. It looked at her, suspicious. But to her surprise, it didn't fly away as she sat down and reached for its leg. It was as if it was used to it. Maybe... if more people were alive somewhere, they had used the birds as carrier pigeons. Celes hardly dared to hope.
Her fingers trembled as she untied the knot of the piece of cloth. The seagull screeched and took off, but Celes didn't move. She sat there on her knees, looking at what she held in her hands.
"What is it, dear?" Cid carefully asked and sat down by her side.
Tears streamed down Celes' cheeks, but this time they glistened of joy. She was smiling, even though her whole body trembled by the sobs.
"It's a bandana," she whispered, "it's Locke's bandana... he's alive! He's alive, grandpa!"
She buried her face in her hands, sobbing and breathing deeply to feel the distant scent of the treasure hunter in the cloth. Cid wrapped his arms around her, smiling warmly. As she began to calm down, he patted her shoulder.
"Come on, Celes. I want to show you a project I've been working on for some time before I got sick."

The town of Tzen
The house collapsed as Sabin dashed forward, not trying to hold it up any longer since the kid was saved.
"Sabin, you're alive!" Celes smiled as she helped him to get up again.
"Ye thought a minor event like the end of the world would take me out?" the bodybuilding prince smirked and laughed.
Then he smiled warmly and put his hands on her shoulders.
"You okay, Celes?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," she said, "and you?"
They looked at each other. Then they laughed out loudly and hugged, as two long lost friends.
"Come on, we have to find all the others and go punch some nutcase face!" Sabin grinned.
"Right as always," Celes nodded with a chuckle.
"Man, if people would say that more often..."
They walked towards the chocobo stables. Celes' hope and spirit had risen like a soaring dove from the first moment she had seen Sabin again, even though he had been in a bit of a complicated situation.
"Look here, Locke's alive!" she triumphantly laughed, bringing the bandana from her belt.
Sabin smiled and squeezed her shoulders as they walked on.
"Hey, people like him are even harder to kill than people like me, Cel," he chuckled, "and I bet he's been turning the whole world upside down again during this past year, trying to find you."
He grinned at her.
"Hey, I might not be a scholar, but I'm not that stupid."
"You're not stupid at all," she smiled.
"If you keep giving me such compliments I'll be a pest to everyone!"
Celes only smiled. It was wonderful to have Sabin back. Now she was even more sure than before that everyone else also was alive.

The Phoenix cave.
"Have this blasted cave no end at all?!" Edgar growled and tried to rub the sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief, "it feels like we're getting to the center of the planet! Wait."
Celes, Terra and Gogo stopped walking, waiting while Edgar removed his cloak and put it in his backpack. He looked at the mimic, raising his eyebrows.
"Say, aren't you boiling, Gogo?" the king asked.
"Yes, I am," the mystery nodded, but left it at that.
It was as if he'd rather die than unveil himself even the slightest.
"There must be something here," Terra said as they began to walk again, "I can feel it. There's something with this place... the heat feels almost alive."
"Oh, that really made me feel better!" Edgar muttered.
"No, not alive like that."
Terra frowned, trying to find the right words.
"Alive like... filled with life force," she slowly said.
Celes' stomach suddenly felt like it was filled with ice, but she couldn't explain why. Maybe it was just a woman's intuition.
They walked around a corner and froze, all four at the same time. That man... that back...
"Locke...!" Celes harshly whispered.
He startled and looked around in surprise. Then he smiled.
"Oh, it's you guys."
Nothing else. He didn't ask who Gogo was. He hardly even looked at the four. Not even at Celes. She felt as if a sword ran through her chest.
Locke turned around again and bent down over a treasure chest. When he looked at his friends again he held a piece of magicite in his hands, and his eyes were almost glowing.
"Look here," he said, breathless, "it's the Phoenix, the esper that can give life!"
Celes' knees were about to bend, but there was suddenly a hand on her shoulder. As she looked aside, Edgar draped his arm around her with a grim look in his eyes. For once he had no intention to flirt.
"Locke..." the king of Figaro said.
"But it has a crack," Locke concernedly said, as if he hadn't heard Edgar, "I'm not sure if it's got all its power."
He carefully put the magicite in his backpack. Then he smiled towards his friends, but not at them. He wasn't in the same world as they were.
"Come on, I have to go to Rachel," he said and walked past his stunned friends.
"No, Locke..." Celes groaned, so quiet that only Edgar heard her.
Like robots, Terra and Gogo turned to follow Locke. But the magitek knight and the king stood, looking at the empty, alone treasure chest.
"Celes, you mustn't give up," Edgar said, frowning.
She shook her head.
"Locke always loved Rachel," she muttered through clamped teeth, "I can't do anything about it."
"Stop that!" Edgar snapped.
He looked grimly at her, with a frown in his usually smooth forehead.
"You can't give up like that, Celes," he said, "we all know that you love Locke. You can't just let him go like this. He should know better himself!"
Edgar snorted and turned her around, beginning to walk back through the huge cave.
"You're a warrior, Cel," he continued, "you never retreated for as long as I've known you. Now is not the moment for starting to do that."
"But Edgar..."
"No buts. Come on, let's go. If Rachel comes back to life, then... well, you'll have to fight for what you want. You deserve better than this."
He carefully squeezed her shoulders, as his brother had done almost half a year ago, when she had felt so strong. Where was that strength now?
Celes looked at Edgar, and some part of her was calm enough to be amazed about this sudden turn of personality. He had always been flirting, sometimes she hadn't been sure if he was joking or not. But now he was gravely looking at her, putting all his usual behavior aside. Forgetting all about the rest of the world and just concentrating on her and her problems.
She felt that she hadn't valued his friendship high enough before.
"Thank you, Edgar," she honestly said.
He smiled encouraging.
"Just don't give up, Cel."

The town of Kohlingen.
"What a looser!" Relm muttered.
Nobody cared to argue with her. They were all in the inn, feeling as if Celes' bitterness was about to drown them.
She had promised Edgar to try, but... this was Locke's moment with Rachel.
"Where are you going, Gogo?" Shadow suddenly said.
Even Celes looked up. The mimic met her gaze. She had never seen a concerned look in his eyes, always had the idea that he hadn't got any feelings at all. He just shook his head, making the big feathers on his helmet lazily wave. Then he pushed the door open and left.
For a moment it seemed like Shadow was going to follow the mystery, but then he just leaned back against the wall again.
Nobody said anything.
The door suddenly opened again.
"Celes," Gogo said with his muffled voice, "you should go to Locke, right now."
Now that was the longest line he'd had since they had brought him out of the zone eater.
"Why?" Celes said, puzzled and bitter.
"Because," Gogo said with a strange tone in his voice, "Rachel was awakened, but now she is dead. The Phoenix couldn't save her."
Suddenly Celes was standing outside of the alchemist's house, without knowing how she had gotten there. She took a deep breath and went in.
Locke came up the stair. She couldn't judge what he thought, looking at his emotionless face. But then he looked up, and there was a mix of loss and relief in his eyes.
"You okay?" Celes carefully asked.
"Yeah, I guess."
He sighed, but then he smiled and held up a green orb with a flame within.
"It's the Phoenix," he said, "Rachel healed it."
There was no crack in it anymore. Locke passed the last steps of the stair and placed the magicite in Celes' hands.
"Here," he softly said, "you should learn the spells first. I think Rachel would have liked it that way."
His smile was filling her up completely.
"Let's go," he said, "I haven't seen you in one and a half year. We've got a lot to catch up."
He didn't say "I haven't seen you people", he said "I haven't seen you". Celes could have thrown her arms around his neck, but knew that he just had lost Rachel. It wasn't the right moment.
As she walked by his side towards the inn, listening to his grumbling about that the heat down in the Phoenix cave almost had melted all the treasures he had assembled there, Celes held the piece of magicite against her chest.
Thank you, Rachel. Thank you.

Back on the airship.
"So, Strago is the last one we need, then?" Locke said as he had listened to everyone's stories (except Gogo's, of course. At least he hadn't said a word. Instead the others had told Locke how they had found the mimic).
"Yeah, and that old moron could be strutting around anywhere!" Relm sighed.
"Let's go to all towns again and ask for him," Setzer said, shrugging his shoulders.
"Then there's something I think that we should do when we have found him," Locke smirked, "we should invade the Cult of Kefka."
"Sounds like a good day's work to me!" Sabin grinned.
"And they're guarding something important for him too," Locke said, "don't know what it is, but we need to try to get him from all directions."
"Good, then we have something to look forward to," Setzer grinned, "I'll set course for South Figaro."
He went up to the deck, the others gave relieved breaths and went to calm down after the stress Locke, Rachel and Celes had put them through.
The magitek knight sat down in the small sofa, and her heart made an extra beat as Locke sat down beside her. Smiling and exchanging glances, all the others in the crew backed off, going up the stair to the ship's second floor. Well, Mog had to command Umaro to move, but otherwise the "leaving alone" went smooth.
"I thought about how I behaved down in the cave," Locke gravely said, "I'm sorry."
"It's alright," Celes said.
"No, I was a pig."
"A pig?"
Celes had to laugh.
"No, you weren't a pig," she smiled, "you were just excited."
His fingers touched the back of her hand.
"Now that's no excuse," he gravely said, "I hadn't seen you, or anyone of the others, for such a long time. And I didn't even notice that you had a stranger with you." He sighed.
"I awoke in Jidoor after the Floating island," he told her, "had wounds that took a month to heal. Then I ran around the world for surely seven times, looking like mad for you and the others. But I guess I just had bad luck not to find anyone. Then I happened to hear about that strange mountain that had formed during the world's downfall, and something called me there. As I realized that it was the Phoenix I held in my hands, I just forgot everything else. Even about you, and what I promised you. No, I was a pig."
Celes opened her mouth, but then she saw a small figure in a chair on the other side of the room. A figure with pencils and a sketchpad.
"Relm, you're not...?" Celes exclaimed.
"On paper, on paper!" the girl hurriedly calmed both the magitek knight and the treasure hunter, "keep talking, but don't move! This will be great on canvas and with paint!"
"Good grief..." Locke sighed, "well, where were we?"
"I was going to tell you one more time that you're not a pig," Celes smiled.
"Fine with me. Go ahead."
Did his smile mean something, or was it only her hopes? She hoped that it was important.
She smiled back, carefully moving the fingers of her free hand over the pocket where she kept the bandana that had brought her courage on the solitaire island.

Kefka's tower.
"Surrender, Kefka!" Cyan growled even as he was chanting another spell.
But the angel-creature only laughed madly. He was beyond any sanity by now, bleeding from several wounds. He didn't even seem to care about it.
"Look out, Cyan!" Strago shouted.
But the swordsman was now so deeply into his chanting trance that he couldn't see Kefka's wing rushing towards him, towards his throat.
Gogo threw himself at Cyan, knocking him aside. The mimic was hit in the face by the razor-sharp wing, but in a way so that it wasn't deadly. But his veil was cut, and he fell down the mountain, to the ground far below.
"I'll get him, keep fighting!" Celes shouted and began her journey downwards, jumping from ledge to ledge.
As she approached him, Gogo threw his torn veil aside and almost in panic ripped off a piece of his robe. There was even more yellow, red and green cloth beneath the first layer. Celes had no chance to see his face as he was turned away and had secured his new veil before she had reached him, tying the cloth around the whole helmet.
"Are you alright?" she asked, offering him a hand to get up.
"Yes, I'm fine," he growled, "let's get back up."
"Are you sure that..."
"I'm fine," Gogo resolutely said, even though his new veil was red with blood already.
Celes closed her eyes and hurriedly chanted a healing spell. As Gogo straightened up properly, they nodded at each other and turned to the hideous mountains.
"Thank you, my friend," Gogo muttered as they began to climb.
It sounded almost like a prayer as he said it.
"You're welcome," Celes hesitantly replied.
She looked up towards the battle. Locke jumped down to lend both her and Gogo a hand.
"We'll win, trust me!" the treasure hunter grinned.
Gogo growled with a strange anger and climbed past Celes and Locke. They looked after him, wondering. Then they resolutely followed the mimic, determined to finish the job they had come for.

Kefka's falling tower.
Celes ran over the floor, feeling it tremble under her feet. It would break down any...
Something slipped out of her pocket. She looked around and her heart froze.
Locke's bandana lay on the floor. She heard somebody yell at her to hurry, but didn't care. That piece of cloth was the most precious thing she had ever owned, she couldn't let it fall into the depths of the crumbling tower!
The floor trembled even more as she ran back and bent down for the bandana. Just as she got a grip of it she felt the floor bending to fall under her. With a half strangled scream she slipped towards the void. In the last second she got a weak grip of the swinging floor.
Two hands grabbed her wrists, and she stared up into Locke's wild eyes. They were wide open in panic and fear.
"I will not let go!" he hissed between his clamped teeth, "I promise!"
And she stood on the floor again, shaking like a twig in storm.
"You almost ate it trying to pick up that silly trinket!" Locke shouted, furious.
Celes was about to desperately defend herself, but felt the floor shake again. She grabbed Locke's hand and made him run towards a little more safe ground. She hadn't time to even take a relieved breath before she heard Locke's angry voice again. In shock she turned to him, but Setzer put his hand on the treasure hunter's shoulder.
"Not now, for heaven's sake!" the gambler growled and dragged Locke down the corridor.
Gogo ran beside her, and he put a hand on her shoulder for the briefest moment. They were the last in the running group for the moment.
"It's a dead end!" Edgar shouted in the front.
Celes desperately looked around, spotting a door in the wall.
"Let's try this way!" she yelled and forced it open with Gogo just one step behind.
They entered a small room with a wide crack in the floor and stair leading up to the right. Celes took a few steps and heard a metallic crashing. Spinning around, she found that Gogo had been thrown to the other side of the wide crack, and the platform she had just passed had moved. That had created a hole so wide that the others were unable to get into the room. Celes hurried over to the wall, were there was a controlling device. It should work for the platform... oh, no...
She glanced at the wall on the other side of the crack. There was an identical set of buttons.
"The buttons needs to be pushed simultaneously..." she helplessly said.
With a groan Gogo got to his feet. Edgar jumped up and down, feeling the need of speed since the whole room was shaking.
"Gogo!" he shouted, "watch Celes and do what she does!"
The mimic caught the magitek knight's eyes and nodded. Celes turned to the buttons again, trusting Gogo to do the right thing.
With another crash the platform went into place. Gogo would also be able to pass, since the platform was so close to the crack that he'd easily be able to step over onto it.
The crew hurried through the room and up the stair. Celes went up after Relm, suddenly hearing a surprised shout. As she looked back she found that Gogo wasn't in the room behind her.
She hurried back and looked down into the crack.
"Are you there?" she called.
"I kept mimicking you as you walked!" Gogo shouted back, rather sheepishly, "it's not that deep, but I can't climb up..."
"I'll get him out of there."
Celes looked up in surprise and found herself staring into Shadow's cold eyes.
"You just run along," the assassin emotionlessly said, "hurry!"
She nodded and obeyed, even though Shadow's acting made her very confused. Rushing up the stair, she didn't see the two men look at each other in silent agreement as Shadow pulled Gogo out of the darkness.

On the airship.
"How could you be so stupid!" Locke growled, "I thought that you were going to die!"
"Locke..." Celes said, trying hard not to let tears escape her eyes.
She had gone through hundreds of battles, heard thousands of voices scream and cry. Why couldn't she be strong now, then?
"You could have fallen," Locke went on, "just because of a piece of cloth!"
"It's not just a piece of cloth!" she shouted, making all the others turn at her and Locke, forgetting their happiness of victory and safety.
Locke was taken aback by Celes' sudden fury, falling silent.
"It's your bandana!" she snapped, "it gave me hope and strength when I thought that me and grandpa were the only people left alive! I thought that you were dead, I thought that I'd never see you again!"
He stared at her, cupping his bigger hands below her white knuckled grip of the bandana.
"I sent it with a seagull..." he slowly said, "hoping that one of my friends would find it and know I was alive."
"That's exactly what happened!" Celes growled, "and you're an idiot!"
She turned around to hide her tears and the blush that had followed her childish words.
Suddenly she felt his hands on her shoulders, but refused to look around.
"Celes, you're right," he muttered, "I am an idiot. I didn't understand... I'm sorry I got so mad. I was just so afraid that you'd die... Celes, please look at me."
She bitterly turned around again, refusing to meet his gaze.
"I'm sorry, Celes, I really am. I was so afraid that I'd loose you, like Rachel..."
"Always Rachel!" she screeched, "why do you always think of Rachel?! You always go on about Rachel, and Rachel, and Rachel! Can't you see that she's gone forever now, Locke!? She's gone, and you don't care! You won't let her go, will you?!"
She threw her arms around him, desperately holding on to him and helplessly sobbing against his shoulder.
I don't want to be strong anymore!
Locke's warm hand tenderly stroke her hair.
"No, no," he mumbled in her ear, "don't think of Rachel, Celes. I've let go of her, but remember what I told you in the tower?"
She looked up, and to her amaze she saw that there were tears in Locke's eyes too. She had never seen a man cry before, but it didn't seem to matter to him.
"If I had lost you too I wouldn't have been able to go on," he said, "of course I was angry. I'm sorry, Celes."
She reached up, even though she was afraid to let go of him, and brushed away the tears from his cheeks.
"It doesn't suit you at all," she mumbled, not knowing what else to say.
"You neither."
He carefully smiled down at her.
"Look," he whispered, "you've got tears here, no offense..."
And with that he bent his neck the little bit needed and touched her cheek with his lips. Celes froze at first, then she tightened her grip of him as his mouth gently wandered over her soft skin to her lips, every tender touch filling her soul with music.
Edgar gave a relieved breath. So did the people around him.
"Finally!" the king of Figaro sighed and put his hands over Gau's eyes with a smirk as Locke more or less lifted Celes from the deck, even though she was almost as tall as he was.
"Yep," Setzer said with a sneer and a wink with one eye, "so guys, shall we toss a coin about who'll get to flirt with Terra? We could use a nice coin that Celes once gave me..."
"I heard that!" Terra shouted.
"Aack!" Setzer gasped and ducked behind the wheel.
He stood up again, laughing loudly. Terra clenched her fist and sent it towards him, without any thought of really hitting the gambler. She was laughing too.
"Kupo, we've got loads to celebrate!" Mog yelled, "let's dance!"
"No!" almost everybody shouted at him.
"If you're going to be that mean to Mog," Relm said, wrinkling her nose, "I'll make a painting of the whole group!"
"Aww, she shouldn't be dangerous now that there's no magic..." Sabin said.
"Alright, we'll make an experiment," Relm evilly grinned and reached for her pencils, "stand still, you bear..."
Sabin ducked behind the wheel and Setzer. It didn't take much more for everyone to began laughing like mad. Well, Gogo's eyes carried a smile within, but he didn't seem to laugh like the others. However he did smile. At least something. And Umaro just looked confused. But let's leave it at that.

South Figaro, one month later.
Locke awoke and found his face encircled by a glistening curtain of golden hair.
"Good morning, sleeping handsome," Celes smiled.
He stretched his whole body with a halfway fought back yawn.
"Sleepy as always?" Celes warmly teased.
"I had a long night without much sleep," Locke snorted and grinned, "but I'm not complaining..."
"Better not, you old thief."
"That's treasure hunter!"
She laughed as he rolled over on her back and wrinkled his nose at her.
"Oh, I ask for forgiveness!" she said, "my mistake..."
Locke grinned and held up a hand.
"Is this yours, by the way?" he innocently asked.
A golden ring rested between two of his fingers.
"Yeah, I think it is. 'Thanks' for 'finding' it," Celes smiled and held up her own hand so that he could put the ring back in place.
Locke smiled and lowered his head to kiss her when she caressed his cheek with her fingertips.
"I love you," she mumbled.
Locke looked down into those deep blue eyes and remembered how they once had been reddened and filled with a wish of death, down in the tunnels below the town. The thought drove him to secure his grip of her and pull her even closer to him.
"I love you too, Celes."
She smiled warmly against his lips.
He'd always feel sorry for Rachel. But she was gone, and Celes was there instead. He would never let go again.

The end.

Yes, I know that Celes only gets Locke's bandana if Cid dies. But how can she have it the ending sequence, then? Huh, huh? ;)
The second part of this three-part story is a bit more psychological. Go on, friends...

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