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Brother Setzer's Traveling Salvation Show (and Casino)

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"Here she is, beings of all kinds, the woman with the magic touch and the sensual voice. She's the rune knight with the mysterious mezzo. Is she a soldier with a magic voice, or an opera singer who can kill you with a glance? Coming to you live from the Grand Ballroom of the Fabulous Airship Casino, iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit's Celes!"

Celes sighed and put a smile on her face before stepping out into the stage, where the orchestra was furiously trying to make it to the end of the introductory theme before it fell apart into chaos. She had tried to convince Setzer to hire away the opera house staff, but the Impresario knew what they were worth, and Locke had appealed to Setzer's love of...treasure...in hiring a much less skilled group for a lot less.

Not that it mattered. Most of the people on the airship were there to escape the reality on the surface, and if it meant spending a little more gil on drinks and entertainment, they were happy to pay the price. Forgetfulness was the hottest commodity in the world, and they were positioned to take advantage of it.

Music, on the other hand, was very difficult to come by. There were plenty of operas and pieces for choirs, but relatively few works for a solo voice that could be performed outside of the halls. If she had a better group to perform them, Celes might have tried her hand at writing a few. As it was, every time they landed to take on supplies, she had desperately run about places that sold music to see if anything new was available, before allowing Setzer and Locke to drag her to the worst of pubs just in case someone had a new tune. Of course, they also had other motives in mind at those pubs - gossip, tricks, trying to get her drunk on bad alcohol and worse compliments.

The applause from her performance lightly intruded on her thoughts, focusing her enough to hear one of the patrons in the back shout something she thought had been buried when the world crashed.

"Bravo, Maria!"

Before he could say it again, she saw Setzer, with Locke's assistance, quietly haul the offender out of the performance space. There they would politely explain to him that she was not Maria, had never been Maria, and that using that name in her presence again would result in an immediate ejection from the casino, regardless of whether or not they were on the ground at the time.

It was their way of protecting her, she knew. Maria was safely dead now, buried in the recesses of Celes's mind, no longer needed as an outlet against the horrors that a Rune Knight committed in the name of an empire that no longer was. Celes could sing again, as herself, to bring joy to a ruined world. The past always lurked, but here, in this floating testament to frivolity and excitement, it stayed in the dark corners.

The incident managed, Celes finished the rest of the song before stepping off the stage to thunderous applause. The night singer would take over after that and keep everybody pleasant with forgettable bits of nothing. She was going to bed, and hopefully she could just fall asleep without dreams.

Setzer met her right before the door to her bedroom, a mask dangling from his fingers. He wanted her to believe that he had just been in the area and was about to casually ask if this mask would fit on her for some dance they would be attending later on.

"Hello," he said.

"Skip to the point, Setzer," she said immediately, letting all of her tired feelings come with the words.

He frowned. "That's not how you play the game, ma Chèrie."

Celes fought the urge to brush past him and go to sleep. He would respect that, she knew, but he would also make the next time she wanted release that much harder. Many years together meant that he was equally as skilled at withholding as giving, and Celes did not want to be both tired and on edge from his work.

"What game were you going to play tonight?" she said, trying to convey how much she had no interest in playing with him tonight.

He opened his arms, a request that she regarded with suspicion before allowing him to hug her from behind. She didn't want to relax into him, but he was there, and he held her firmly enough to support her, and so her body took advantage. She sighed a little as she leaned on him.

"How are you feeling?" he asked, gently.

"Tired," she said. "I'm tired of singing the same songs all the time. I'm tired of flying all over the world with a smile on my face and trying to hold up the world's happiness on my own."

"Not on your own," he objected. "We have an airship, and a casino, and a lot of drinks to distribute."

She laughed weakly. "You mean the swill that you cook up in the kitchens and then serve as 'fine alcohol'."

Setzer was about to make another response, but Locke's voice rang through the closed door. "Will you two hurry up and get in here. It's cold."

Celes disentangled herself from Setzer's embrace and opened the door to her bedroom. Spread out on the bed, with his wrists and ankles tied to ropes running underneath, Locke let his head drop back onto the pillow.

"Thought I'd get a present for you," Setzer purred behind her.

"I'm not interested in him like that," she protested.

"Hrm?" Setzer chuckled. "You mean, you don't like him like this?"

He crossed the room from her and casually dragged a finger up Locke's outer leg.

Celes stared as Locke shivered up his leg and gasped, before gritting his teeth and breathing heavily for a couple breaths.

She couldn't help herself. She took the mask from Setzer and settled it on Locke's face, blowing a little puff across his lips before lightly dragging her nails across his chest. Locke jumped and tensed under her nails, trying hard to stay still, and only partially succeeded, getting some marks for his effort.

Setzer winked at her and motioned for her to mirror him, then started tickling his left side. Celes joined a moment later, and was amazed at the concentration it took for her to keep her fingers on Locke as he tried to find some way of escaping their touch. She could hear his breathing become more ragged as he twisted and strained against the ropes. A sound escaped his lips, a request to both stop and continue, that built in intensity the longer the tickling went.

Just when she thought Locke had no air left from the tickling, Setzer stopped.

"Breathe, Locke," he said. Locke's breath stayed short and quick.

Instinctively, Celes put her hand on his chest. "Deeply," she added, making her own breathing rhythm more audible.

It took Locke a few cycles to slow down to a matching rhythm as Celes realized she had to exert some control over her own breathing to calm him. There was an exhilaration in getting someone to respond like that!

Setzer motioned her over and whispered in her ear. "Fun, isn't it?"

Celes blushed and nodded.

"Good," he whispered. "It's your turn when we're done here."

Celes froze, her hand twitching involuntarily, pinching Locke very hard on the nipple. He shouted in pain and she pulled her hand back. Setzer caught it and gently guided it back to Locke's chest.

"You generally have to warm them up first," Setzer said, a warm smile suppressing a laugh. "Perhaps not with him, maybe." Setzer indicated to Celes Locke's clear erection. "I think he likes you. He certainly doesn't do that for me."

Celes shot Setzer a look of annoyance before deliberately turning her back to him.

"Oh, don't be like that. It's a compliment. Here, I'll help you get him ready." Setzer slipped down to the end of the bed and began tickling the underside of Locke's feet, causing him to start thrashing again, making ineffectual kicking motions at Setzer while laughing at the feeling.

"Whenever you're ready," he said, after watching Locke intently for a bit, "pinch him hard, then blow on it. It will drive him wild."

Celes leaned in, ready to strike.

"Treasure Hunter." Locke breathed.

Setzer stopped. Celes held back, not sure that she had heard correctly, and looked at Setzer for confirmation.

"All done for tonight?" Setzer asked, smiling.

Locke nodded.

"All right." With a couple of quick tugs, Setzer undid the ropes around Locke's ankles, then moved up and unbound his wrists.

"You were right," Locke said, taking off the mask Celes had set on his eyes and sitting up slowly. "The mask really does make things different." He rubbed his hands and wrists.

"Take your time, Locke," Setzer said gently. "It can be pretty intense. When you're ready, though, we can start phase two." He indicated Celes, who looked at them both with skepticism.

"I didn't agree to any 'phase two.'" she said.

"No, not yet," Setzer said, keeping an eye on Locke as he lazily traced a path down Celes's back. He removed his hands from her and looked her squarely in the eyes. "We won't go any farther than you want us to."

Celes shivered. Setzer was a joker, Locke was a rogue. She liked keeping them that way, to believe they were traveling companions and there weren't any deeper feelings between them. Yet, Setzer was being honest and sincere with her, and Locke, well, Locke had already declared what he thought of her.

She could pull away from them, put on the performer, laugh it off, and go to bed. It would be safer than getting involved.

"No masks for me," she said. "I want to see everything that you're going to do to me."

Setzer lit up immediately. "Of course." He enveloped her in a hug. "You're so beautiful," he whispered in her ear. "I've wanted to do this since you sang for me at the Opera House."

"Quickly, now, Locke," Setzer said, pulling away from her. "Help our dear Knight get out of her armor."

Locke sprang from the bed and offered his hands to her. She guided his hands to the right straps and buttons that would allow her to slip out of her clothes quickly without taking them apart completely.

When his hands moved to the last piece of her underclothes, she pushed them away and shook her head, crossing her arms in front of her chest. Some things she still wanted to remain private.

Locke backed away from her and went to the foot of the bed as Setzer patted it with one hand. The other held rope.

"Last chance to say no," she joked, and sat on the bed.

He leaned in and kissed her neck gently. "No," he said to her gently. "You can always say no. If things get too much, you can ask us to stop. Or say... Maria, and we'll know. Do you understand?"

She nodded. "Yes," she said, when he frowned at her. He smiled and kissed her again, and she breathed a little heavier. He was a good kisser.

She almost didn't feel him slip the rope over her wrists and start tying. He was fast. He never stopped kissing her neck and shoulders, so maybe she was distracted for a bit, but it didn't seem like very long before he pulled her arms above her head and tied what he had made of her in place.

"How do you feel?" he asked. "Ready for the feet?"

She tugged on the ropes experimentally. A small wave of panic rushed through her as she realized they would hold against her. What was she doing, letting them do this?

"Easy," Setzer said to her. He took one of her hands and guided it to a particular piece of rope. "If you need to get out, pull this hard. It will undo all the knots quickly."

Celes grabbed the rope with her hand and held on. Setzer waited for her breathing to steady before kissing her stomach, right below her breasts, then moving down a little and kissing again, getting closer and closer to very intimate territory.

Just past her navel, Setzer bit.

Celes's knees slammed up to try and crush whatever dared attack her before she could reassert control. Before they could do damage to Setzer, she felt Locke pulling her knees away from him, aided by Setzer's hands pushing her knees away from him.

Celes blushed. When they had started adventuring together, she would have cracked them both in half had they pulled a stunt like that. Here, though, they could do anything they wanted to her, and she wouldn't be able to hurt them.

It was mildly terrifying, and incredibly freeing.

Locke's tying wasn't as fast as Setzer's, but he was gentle, and he kissed her body right before sealing it with his rope. Setzer kept trying to distract her from Locke's work by kissing (and then nibbling on) her ears and neck. Celes could feel her awareness start to get fuzzy around the edges as her body and mind started to focus on the kisses. When Locke started massaging her feet, it was sharp and present, but then it began to feel warm and incredibly pleasant, spreading through her body and fuzzing her perception of other things even more. She had only been this concentrated on a single thing when she was casting magic or using the runes.

The thought of the magic jolted her awareness up. At the same time, Locke caressed the part of her legs where the tattoos had been, before they disappeared with everything else. She shouted in terror and tried to shrink away from the touches, pulling on the release rope for her hands.

Setzer and Locke both immediately moved away from her as she frantically tried to untie her feet, the terror making her hands clumsy. She needed to get away from all of them, and hide until the danger was past. Launching herself off the bed, she dashed for the first open door and closed it behind her, sinking to the ground and clutching herself while the visions of her past replayed themselves.

"Celes?" It was Locke. "Are you all right?"

It was not all right. Celes felt ashamed and embarrassed to have shown him such weakness. It was unbecoming a Knight.

"Is it safe to open the door?" Setzer, this time. Now she knew both of them had seen her panicked flight. They would think horribly of her now.

"I have breakfast," Setzer continued. Celes had a dim awareness that time had passed since she came in to...this closet, she realized. Food sounded good. But that meant confronting her shame. She wasn't sure she could do that.

"...the time where Locke completely froze up when Relm said he was cute?" Celes heard a sound like someone punching someone else in the arm. She did remember that. Edgar, Sabin, and Cyan had laughed and joked with Locke, but Setzer...had taken him aside and talked. Celes remembered that was when she thought Setzer might not be the playboy exterior he put up.

A waft of breakfast touched her nostrils, and her stomach responded enthusiastically. Opening the closet door, she saw a tray of food sitting on the bed and both men sitting in chairs in the room, appearing to look at each other rather than her. Her stomach rumbled again.

Food was a good idea. She had eaten in front of them before. That was safe. Celes went to the bed, arranged herself under the blankets - no sense in giving them anything to look at - and began to eat. She needed to be strong, after all, and she had several performances to get through this evening.

"Maria," she said quietly. For now, at least.

Setzer and Locke exchanged happy smiles.