Celes knows who Terra Branford is — knows who she is by name, even, not by epithet. Terra isn’t “the witch,” “the weapon,” or “Kefka’s guinea pig.” Terra is a young woman who has the misfortune of being different — being special, as the Emperor liked to stress. Celes is special, too — but the tailor-made sort. Terra was the inspiration, a souvenir hidden away in the Imperial Palace and kept safe behind glass. While Celes walked free, grew up tall, and followed orders, Terra remained under lock and key.
There is a world of difference between being an unaware biological weapon and a genetically-engineered Magitek Knight. This is why Celes needs all her willpower not to balk when Terra stands up for her.
“I was also an Imperial soldier.”
Cyan’s jaw hits the carpet, and Celes’s nearly follows. She manages to hide her surprise behind Locke, who hasn’t moved, still shielding her from the doubts and the hatred. She doesn’t blame any of them; she’s a walking example of what must be stopped, right here in the nest of the resistance.
But there are more pressing matters at hand. Banon steers the conversation back toward their plan of attack — or defense, rather. Celes stands at Locke’s shoulder, but she keeps stealing glances at Terra. One time, Terra glances back; her eyes are innocent and gentle, and it makes Celes drop her gaze. They’re the same age. Why does Terra look so soft and kind, when Celes knows she looks cold and hard?
Then there are the questions. As they march to the hills, Terra inquires about her magic, about her — about love. Celes shrugs it off, the same way she’s been shrugging all of their inquisitions and insinuations. All the same, Celes feels a pang of envy at how the others exchange jokes and tales of their time apart.
Even having watched Terra level buildings under Kefka’s command, nothing prepares Celes for seeing her in action under her own free will. The soft, gentle thing is a soldier; she doesn’t back down and holds the line with Banon no matter what comes her way.
Later, when Terra is wrapped in fire and burning, bright hot, against the snow and ice, Celes catches a glimpse of her eyes. She’s scared; she screams, takes off, streaks across the sky like a pink comet. Celes wants to reach out to her, to beg for her hand, but she can’t. She’s got one arm braced against a craggy rock, her other hand keeping a vice-like grip on Locke’s wrist. He’s a dead weight now; Celes is the only thing keeping him from plummeting down the mountain.
Days later, when they discover they must sneak into Vector in order to save Terra and the other Espers, Celes thinks of those frightened eyes. She was going regardless, but it strengthens her resolve.
Terra figures Locke and Celes are sharing a cabin, and is surprised to find they aren’t. She tries asking Locke what happened between them, but all she gets for her efforts is a noncommittal shrug or an “I don’t feel so well right now.” She’s convinced he’s putting on an act until she sees how green he looks. When it becomes apparent that magic is no weapon against common seasickness, she leaves him curled up in their cabin and goes to look at the stars.
She gets more than she bargained for, but not what she wants. Leo can’t help her enough; Shadow can’t help her at all. Distraught and disappointed, Terra heads back below deck. She glances at the door to her shared cabin with Locke, door ajar, and keeps moving.
Celes has her own cabin, albeit a small one, and they are sort of cramped together when they sit on her bunk. Terra shifts awkwardly, eyeing the former (reinstated?) Imperial general.
“Are you okay?” Terra asks. Celes wasn’t the most forward when it came to expressing her feelings, but now she looks worn out. Her face is drawn tight with exhaustion and Terra wonders if maybe she doesn’t get seasick, too.
The blonde pulls a face. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that?” She looks up at Terra from beneath long eyelashes. “We haven’t really seen each other since … before. Before Ramuh.”
“Before the Research Facility,” Terra confirms. She looks at Celes again — looks hard, listens to the Esper energy coursing through her blood. “What happened to you? After?”
“After?” She is dodging.
“After you saved Locke. Why aren’t you speaking to one another?”
Celes shakes her head. It’s not a negative; she’s shaking away a bad memory. “Kefka … no.” She shuts her eyes briefly. When they open, she doesn’t look tired anymore. “What happened to you? I’ve heard … I want to hear it from you.”
It’s like breaching a dam. Terra tells her everything: about her memories, her parents, her powers, and her fears. She is proof that peace between humans and Espers is possible, and she doesn’t know how to be either one.
When it’s over, they are curled together on Celes’s one-man mattress, fingers entwined against the world. It’s a small comfort, but a welcome one.
“What have they done to us?” Celes sighs.
It’s a rhetorical question, so instead Terra ventures, “You should try talking to Locke. He’s sorry, I know he is. I can feel it.”
Celes could have retorted with something nasty — could have challenged Terra’s ability to read others’ emotions when she could scarcely understand her own. But she doesn’t. She only nods as best she can with Terra nestled in the crook of her neck.
“I’ll wait here,” Celes says. “Keep watch,” she adds, resting a hand on the pommel of her sheathed blade.
“Keep watch for what?” Sabin asks, shooting her a perplexed look. “Espers pretty much got the monsters running scared.”
“Then I’ll keep watch for Espers,” she replies, dryly.
The martial artist shrugs his huge shoulders. “Whatever, if you didn’t want to come into town, you could have just said so.”
“You all right?” Edgar inquires.
“Fine, fine,” she assures them with tight nods. “I’d just rather wait out here.”
“I’ll wait here, too,” Terra declares, coming to stand beside Celes. She folds her arms and shifts her weight to one leg. “You two can check it out. If you need us, scream.”
Edgar and Sabin exchange glances, but then shrug and abandon them both.
“They don’t remember,” Terra excuses them. “It’s not their fault.”
“I know,” Celes answers. “We had … a lot on our minds then.” She takes a deep breath, purposefully not looking at Maranda’s thatched roofs or rebuilt houses. It didn’t matter that they’d gussied it up again; Celes knows some of the stone steps are charred black, a constant reminder of what happened here.
“I understand,” Terra offers quietly. “I know what it’s like to — to have been used as a weapon.”
Celes almost chokes on her own tongue trying not to laugh. She succeeds only because Terra means so well. It’s ludicrous, this comfort! “No,” she manages, in just as soft a voice, “you don’t understand. You don’t understand that choice is the weight here.” And oh, it’s a heavy, burdening weight; it’s a mountain atop her shoulders. “I wasn’t wearing a slave crown,” she clarifies. “All I had was mistaken loyalty and a life of following orders.”
Terra regards her for a long minute. “You have atoned, I think. You continue to atone.”
“What would you know about atonement?” Celes snaps, and regrets the words as soon as they leave her mouth.
For a brief instant, Terra looks hurt. She recovers quickly, though,and gives Celes a searching look. Celes fidgets under the gaze. “I’m human enough to know about misplaced blame and lashing out,” she says, wryly.
“I’m sorry,” Celes apologizes immediately, empathetically.
“It’s all right.” And it is, as simply as that, because there’s an apocalypse coming and they have things to do.
Terra looks so frail, so broken. Celes doesn’t know what to say. Neither does Sabin, though that doesn’t stop him from trying.
“But, Terra,” he protests, “you have to come with us. We can’t just leave the job unfinished!”
“And what would you have me do?” Terra asks, weakly. “You saw me. I can’t fight.” The words cut Celes like a knife, because Terra is a fighter. She might be scared of her own existence and uncertain about her future, but she never backed down during battle.
What Humbaba had done to her….
Celes and Sabin spend one night in Mobliz, to regain their strength for the journey back west. Celes spends it by Terra’s bedside, wondering where her friend was, why was she hiding in this broken shell of her former self?
“I thought you were dead,” Celes manages. She whispers it, but against the silence it’s deafening.
“I’m glad you’re not,” Terra whispers back. She reaches out, and Celes isn’t sure, but she follows the pull.
It’s desperate and awkward and the bed is really only made for one. At first, Celes is sure the rustling will wake someone — and the panting, oh god. She huffs into the pillow, clumsily holding herself up with a forearm as Terra wiggles downward, all soft, curious kisses and tender touches. They have to favor Terra’s injuries, but they make do; Terra is fascinated by Celes’s hair and Celes discovers that Espers taste like ambrosia.
They don’t talk about it, but Celes knows. She feels Terra shuddering in her arms afterward, shaking with suppressed sobs — and she understands. She almost wants to cry, too, and Terra is human and needy and scared now, as she’s never been before. This might be some kind of breaking point.
Terra doesn’t know what love is, and Celes can’t help her. She doesn’t know, either.
Everything is going to be all right.
For the first time in years, since this whole mess started, Celes exhales. Kefka is dead; they’re alive.
They’re all alive.
Her voice is still hoarse from screaming for Terra, and she’s leaning against the railing once again, enjoying the wind against her face. The sun is rising in the east and her friends’s ecstatic chatter is white noise behind her; it’s surreal.
“Figaro!” she hears Edgar shout, and realizes Setzer has asked where to point the Falcon.
Locke squeezes her hand. He looks about as exhausted as she feels. She grins at him and squeezes back, then turns around to lean back against the rail.
Terra’s still at the very front of the Falcon, as human as the rest of them, hair whipping about her face. She must feel Celes’s stare, she must, because she looks right at her, one hand keeping windblown strands at bay.
Celes musters a smile.
Terra smiles back; it lights up her whole face, and Celes knows what love feels like.