Leo had always disliked magic-driven healing. It wasn't only the process.
She asked him why, once, when she was treating a nasty burn he had acquired during one of his "friendly" demonstrations with Kefka. (Celes wondered how anything with Kefka could be friendly. Kefka recognized two types of people: predators, and prey. Friendship didn't enter into the equation, though Leo had said that it hadn't always been that way.) The slow creep of flesh and blood and bone knitting themselves back together faster than they had ever been meant to and the constant itch that could never be scratched ranked, in Celes's mind, as the most unpleasant aspects of accelerated medical treatment. If a wound was minor, Leo had turned down healing as often as not.
He sat still for her efforts, though he didn't like them. "What do you mean, why do I dislike it?" he asked her, when the silence had spun out too long and she began to worry she had offended him.
"You never ask for healing," she said. "You don't even take potions. Why be in pain if you don't have to?" Magic was like controlled breathing: the basics, the capacity, were things she didn't even have to think about, but shaping it the way she wanted and timing the release of energy required concentration. She stopped talking while she shaped the thought of healing and laid it against his shoulder. It sank into the burned flesh and the process began. She didn't watch it, but she did catch the burnt pieces of his uniform as the mending flesh shoved them out of the wound.
A surgeon without magic would have had to sedate him—with drugs that, unlike Sleep spells, would leave side effects—and dig around with knives and tweezers, and still would not be sure of getting all the pieces.
He let out a long, controlled breath and flexed his shoulder a little, wincing as that pulled at muscles not yet healed. She glared at him until he leaned back in his chair once more.
"It's not the pain that's the question," he said, when she had nearly forgotten she'd asked the question. She dug in the medical kit for a salve and smeared it on his shoulder, and some of the tension went out of his shoulders as the anesthetic herbs took effect. "It's that—do you know that we and Gestahl are the only ones who merit this?"
Celes frowned. "The Emperor cannot afford to have his generals out of commission for extended periods of time," she said, the response ready at her lips. She stepped away to wash her hands, and Leo rubbed his uninjured hand across his eyes.
"But why not give healing to all soldiers?" Leo asked her. "Surely the Emperor benefits from having an army that heals quickly."
The question had the ring of those he used to ask her when he was teaching her about battlefield tactics, which meant that he expected a considered response. Celes turned the question over in her mind. "Magic has a cost," she said at last. "If using a Cure Beam from MagiTek armour, the cost is in maintenance and reagents. In the case of someone like myself, the limitation is in one person's ability, and in the number of people we have who can perform the task, like any other specialized need."
The number of people was five. Cid hoped to increase that number, imbue more children like he had done with her, but Emperor Gestahl had forbidden it until they were able to determine that the MagiTek infusion had created no "unforeseen circumstances," by which he politely meant Kefka's insanity. He had promised Cid that if Celes reached eighteen with no signs of "complications," the process could be expanded beyond the monsters that Cid infused to test different processes. Emperor Gestahl's clock had two years left.
"But what makes a general more deserving than a soldier with five children to feed?" Leo asked her. "And what happens when men live beyond their natural span?"
A chill that had nothing to do with the ice in her blood skittered down her spine. Such a question was dangerously close to things for which the Emperor had executed citizens and soldiers alike. She had held the sword twice.
She tried to answer the question as it had been posed to her, for thinking about what he hadn't quite said made her too uncomfortable. "A general represents a significant investment, in materiel and training. Particularly a general with MagiTek infusion. In terms of his family, the father cannot be easily, if ever, replaced—but in terms of the Empire, the soldier can."
Leo said nothing, and she wondered if she had answered incorrectly. She concentrated on his wound, shaping healing into a cool blue mass over the burn, and nudged it into his skin. It contained more healing than he needed, but it gave her something to do while she tried to determine the correct answer.
There was tender, pink new skin in place of what had been a bad burn before Leo spoke again. "You are correct," he said, "in purely practical terms."
She watched as the healing progressed, skin turning deep brown and healthy before her eyes. "Your words say one thing," she said slowly, "but you mean something else."
She almost missed the flash of his smile, but she was sure it had been there. "There's more to command than logistics and materiel," he said.
She stepped back to wash her hands and tidy up her workspace. "Yes," she said cautiously, "you have said so before."
"How do you think it applies here?" he asked.
She shouldn't have needed the lead, and she was annoyed at herself for missing the implied question. She made herself think past it. This was the part of command that she had the most trouble with: understanding how her soldiers were going to react. They were not always predictable in their motivations.
Leo, ever patient, waited while she stowed her supplies and made sure the room was cleaner than she'd found it. She turned to him when she was down and the words tumbled out in a rush. "It's like when you say that men will fight for you because they have to, but die for you because they trust you," she said. "If we could give everyone magical healing, so that fewer of them would die, they would fight better." She stopped, took a breath. "But it's not just the practical things. They should be taken care of simply because they fight. Because it's the right thing."
He smiled, like he had when she solved a particularly thorny tactical problem, and rested a hand on her shoulder. "Yes," he said. "We owe our soldiers more than room and board, because they risk their lives for us and for the Empire. That should be rewarded, and respected."
She realized he was using his formerly injured arm, and without any signs of discomfort. The smile that came felt strange on her face, easier than the one she put on for the Emperor and Kefka.
He let his hand fall away when he stood up, but she felt the warmth of his skin—and his regard—as they left the medical facility.