“Why two Terras?”
It’s not unusual for Gau to ask weird questions out of the blue. Except that the weirdness has just reached a new level, so Sabin stops shuffling his cards and says: “Sorry, what?”
Gau, who, during the last half hour, has become frighteningly good at Crazy Eights, puts his own cards down and points at Terra, his gaze so intent his brow furrows. Their companion is sitting across from them at the large casino table, mending a tear in one of her shirts, and there is, as far as Sabin can tell, most definitely just one of her.
“What do you mean, two Terras?”
Gau huffs impatiently and gestures with both hands. “Most time, Terra like this. But sometimes, she different. She glow. She fly. Then she like this again. No glowing, no flying. Two Terras.” He shoots Sabin a sharp glare, as if to see if he’s following. “Gau want to know why.”
Ah. This will require a bit more explaining than simply asking if the boy’s eyes are alright. Terra has, by now, become aware that they’re talking about her, and smiles.
“You mean my Esper form,” she says.
Gau looks her over from head to toe. “But Terra good form. Why change?”
Sabin barely manages to suppress a guffaw. Alright, time to intervene. “Terra can do this special trick, you see,” he tells Gau. “Just like Cyan has his swords and Locke has his knives, Terra has her other form.”
Gau has this look on his face that Sabin knows all too well by now, that look that says very clearly that he isn’t satisfied with a given answer. Sabin sighs and wrecks his brain for a comparison the boy will understand. “Like… like a butterfly. You know where butterflies come from, don’t you?”
Gau nods. “Worms build little house around them. When house opens, worm gone, butterfly there.”
“Right. And that’s more or less what Terra does. She just skips the house building part.” He flashes a grin at Terra who has put her shirt down and seems to be all ears.
“But… butterfly stay butterfly,” Gau objects. “Not become worm again. Terra different.”
“Yeah,” Sabin says. “Our Terra just is a special kind of worm, you see?” He winks at the young woman. Terra blinks, smiles a bit belatedly, and focuses on her needlework again.
Gau has ripped Sabin of a dozen walnut kernels by the time Setzer enters the room. Truth be told, Sabin wouldn’t even have noticed him had the Blackjack’s pilot not slammed both hands down onto the gaming table and leaned right into his face. “Hey, Prince Charming. Whatever did you do to the Esper girl?”
“Terra?” Sabin looks around, perplexed. “Where’d she go? Is she okay?”
Setzer snorts. “You tell me. I was up on deck, minding the controls - and my own business, I should add - when she came up looking all dazed like a sleepwalker. And when I asked her what happened, she looked right through me and said: ‘Sabin is right’.”
He plucks the Queen of Spades out of Gau’s mouth with two fingers and drops the card back onto the stack. “I have no idea what happened, but you’d better set this straight, Figaro. I don’t need any depressed women on my ships. It’s bad luck.”
As Setzer predicted, Sabin finds Terra on deck. She’s leaning against the rail, the airstream tearing at her hair and clothes, and looks very small against the vast grey sky. Sabin is ready to bet a fortune that the dirt under his boots is feeling better right now than he is.
“Hey,” he says, going to stand next to her. “You alright?”
She looks at him with this far-away stare she often gets when she doesn’t know how to handle an emotional situation, and it doesn’t really make Sabin feel better.
“I’m really sorry about the worm thing,” he says. “I didn’t mean to be rude, I just wasn’t sure if Gau could handle the word ‘caterpillar’.” He makes quotation marks with his fingers.
Terra keeps looking at him, her gaze both intent and unfocused, and it actually takes Sabin a certain amount of self-control to not start fidgeting.
“But it’s an apt comparison, isn’t it?” she finally asks, her voice soft. “Caterpillars don’t serve any purpose. There’s no reason for them to even exist. All they do is consume resources, and the only reason people tolerate them is because they have the ability to become something different, something people like better. Right?”
There’s no discernable emotion in her voice, and it sends colder shivers down Sabin’s spine than the wind. “Wow,” he says flatly. “Don’t you think you’re a little hard on the poor critters?”
“I mean, there’s no reason to give so little credit to you- uh, the caterpillars.”
Terra frowns so deeply her eyes become slits. “What are you talking about?”
Good question; what the hell is he talking himself into? He runs a hand through his face, wishing fervently that his brother was here. Or Locke. Or even Cyan. Heck, anyone who is better with words than he is.
Wait a minute…
“When you visited Figaro, did you see the royal gardens?” he asks.
Terra blinks in surprise. “Yes,” she says. “Edgar showed them to me.”
“Yeah, I bet he did,” Sabin mutters. “Anyway, when we were still wee little crown princes, Dad had a lot of different animals brought in to live there, so we’d have something to look at. And one day, when I was hiding from my tutors, I found a caterpillar in one of the bushes.” He holds his thumb and forefinger apart as far as they will go. “That thing was this big. It had a double row of spikes on its back, and a black and orange pattern all over its body.”
He has obviously captured Terra’s attention, because her expression has gone from bewildered to concerned. “Did it hurt you?” she asks.
Before her mind’s eye, she’s probably seeing a blonde little boy wrestling to the death with a multi-legged, maggot-like monstrosity. Sabin grins.
“No, no, it wasn’t interested in me. It had just crossed path with a sand beetle. Now these things are vicious. As big as a hornet, and with a stinger like a scorpion. Their poison can make a grown man sick and feverish for days.” Hordes of servants and gardeners had been tasked with keeping the creatures out of the gardens, while Edgar and he had had the time of their lives catching them in jars and competing who could find the most.
“The beetle killed the caterpillar,” Terra guesses. Sabin leans his back against the rail and lets the wind muss his hair.
“That’s the point,” he says. “It didn’t. Quite the contrary. The caterpillar stood on its hind legs and attacked the beetle! Like a snake, when it’s trying to bite.” He holds one hand up, fingers pressed together, and imitates the jerky movements of an attacking serpent. “Bam! That poor beetle didn’t know what hit it. Ten seconds later, it was lying on its back on the ground. I think it had lost a leg, actually.”
Terra’s mouth is hanging slightly open. “I… did not see that coming,” she says.
“Neither did I, believe me.” He turns so he can look at her better. “So, I can only speak for myself here, but what I learned on that day was that if worse came to worst, I’d rather be a kickass caterpillar than a pretty butterfly.”
Terra stares at him, her eyes as big as saucers. She gives a strange hiccupping sound that has him worried for a moment until he realizes that she’s trying to suppress a laugh.
“Now what?” he asks in mock indignation.
“I’m trying to imagine you as a butterfly,” she giggles.
“That shouldn’t be too hard,” he says cheerfully. “You already had me pegged as a bear. Just add a pair of wings, and we’re good to go.”
Terra has to support herself on the rail as she shakes with laughter. It’s contagious; Sabin can’t help but join in, and somehow she ends up leaning against his chest, gasping for breath. “Alright,” she concedes. “I guess caterpillars aren’t so bad.”
“Now you’re talking.” He wraps an arm around her shoulders. “And just so you know, I have it on good authority that I’m not the only caterpillar fan on this ship.”
Terra become very still suddenly and peers up at him. “Are you… flirting with me?”
“No,” Sabin says, surprised. “Should I be?”
“No,” she says, and sounds a bit like a mother good-humoredly correcting her child. She grins up at him. “I know what you did there. Thank you.”
Sabin has no idea what just happened, but then again it’s not unusual that her way of figuring out interpersonal dealings is a bit wooly from time to time. He chuckles and gives her another squeeze. “Anytime, butterfly.”