Edgar leaned against the wall, sipping at his cup of water. Really, the basements of Moblitz weren't all that bad. The candles were dim, but surprisingly restful and romantic compared to the bright electric lights of Figaro and, as always, temperatures underground were pleasantly cooler than the ones above. Now, if only...
Yes, that. The sand in the wine. He looked over to see what ruckus was going on now.
Mog was scrambling across the floor in a flurry of fluff, mostly because he was being chased by a wild pack of giggling children who were not content to let their eyes do the seeing. He dashed, ducked, and weaved, staying barely one step ahead of the pack, until one flutter of utmost effort took him to the refuge of Terra's lovely legs. The mass of children crowded around, begging for a chance to pet the "little kupo".
"He is a not a 'kupo'," Terra said sternly, pushing an especially rowdy boy back. "He's a Moogle named Mog - stop that, Cary! - and you need to treat him with kindness and respect. Clear out, give him some room! Lette, no grabbing!"
The mass of children allowed itself to be pushed back a step. They did not stop whispering or giggling, even as Terra crossed her arms and glared down on them.
"Now," she said, "you may play with Mog, if you are gentle and listen to him, and don't grab or shove. Anyone who doesn't has to go help Katarin do the mending. Is that clear?" She gave them all a long, slow, significant look that was eerily reminiscent of Figaro's High Priestess.
And much like Edgar and Sabin at that age, the look made the children slowly retreat with vaguely ashamed expressions on their faces. Once they were a few steps back Mog poked his head out from behind Terra, pom waving. A couple of the girls giggled.
"But that's boring," a boy in the back called, and was promptly swept up from behind by Sabin. "And anyone that wants to play rough can come with me!" he shouted cheerfully, the boy slung upside down over his shoulder. "Who wants to see Master Vargas's special technique?"
This brought on a general outpouring of cheers and attempted tackles, and pretty soon Sabin was swinging three kids on his arms with another two clinging to his back and all laughing like loons. Edgar wasn't sure how much of this was actual martial arts, but it kept the children busy, if not quiet.
Faced with the remaining group of more sedate children, Mog came out from behind Terra with only a bit of encouragement in the form of her patting his head. "I'll show you how to dance, kupo. Watch, follow along, and keep your hands off my tail, kupopo!" The brave girl who had made the grab pulled back, shamefaced, but joined in dancing with Mog a few minutes later with no apparent ill-feeling between them. The entire group swept across the floor, staying well away from Sabin and ending up in front of the busily sewing Katarin, who seemed to enjoy the excuse to rest her hands and watch.
Terra, freed from the burden of maintaining discipline, came over to Edgar and leaned against the wall next to him with a sigh.
"Masterfully handled, I thought. They remind me of my royal advisors - perhaps I can ask you to come over at some point and remind them that if they don't all play nice they won't get a snack?" he said with a smile, and offered a drink of water as if it were the finest wine in his castle.
Terra took it without seeming to notice the courtesy, which always was her most charming and infuriating trait. "With all the trouble I have keeping the children in line? I feel like I'm always scrambling to catch up before the next disaster hits, if it's Kefka or a stolen toy. And yet," she turned to Edgar, her smile a quiet glow, "the more trouble they are the more I can't give up on them."
"It's the same with my advisors," Edgar said ruefully. "I think it's a common failing among humans: the more you have to take care of something, the more you care about it. Children, advisors, women, worlds...that's what it all comes down to, in the end."
"When you care for something that needs you...that's what love is, isn't it?"
From out of the corner of his eye, Edgar could see the edges of Terra's smile peeking through the hair curled around her face. She was probably thinking of the children, and how they'd rushed to her after the cataclysm. Edgar couldn't help thinking of a girl who'd shown she needed help by turning into a monster and running off at top speed.
Sure, he'd been thinking of her in vague terms since he first saw her in Figaro, sticking to Locke like a shadow and staring at the sky like she'd never seen it before. There was something about her odd green hair, her slightly abstracted look, her way of staring at you like she'd never been told not to. That recruiting her to the Returners would turn the tide of the war and stick a big fat thumb in Kefka's eye was pleasant, but as incidental as he'd claimed at the time.
Seeing those green curls wash bright pink as the shy girl he knew was replaced with a mythical monster was...well, it was strange, and Edgar had been pretty damn scared on the snowfield. It took seeing her in Ramuh's apartments again to realise that the monster was the same shy girl he'd gotten to know, that underneath the fur and claws and glow of raw magical power she still had those same, abstracted eyes… Well, he'd quickly realised the appeal of fur and claws to go with a pretty face and soft skin.
And then she'd stood up, gained control of her powers, and swept the Empire away before them like a storm. She’d taken no notice of him, of course, but something in Edgar had changed that day and he couldn't go back to the way he was.
"It's not like it stops when they stop needing you..." he muttered to himself, cursing his reputation, his royal responsibilities, and his own damn traitorous little heart.
He was faintly surprised when Terra replied: "Do we ever stop needing each other?"
He gave her a weak half-smile, which was the best he could manage without turning the royal charm on full force. "Not really. Especially not in this world."
She looked at him, warm and bright in the dim candlelight. "Are they all right? Your advisors, I mean. Have you found them yet?"
"Some of them. Figaro was...well, it was damaged by the cataclysm, and we lost a lot of people, but the castle was more or less intact once I found it, and we've moved in some of the more desperate refugees. South Figaro's still stumbling along, and everyone that's survived is just trying to keep them and the castle going. Last I checked the minister of technology was coordinating medical teams, and the interior minister was cursing my name under a pile of petitions."
"I heard a bit about that from Sabin, about how you uncovered the castle." Terra giggled, a sweet sound Edgar hadn't had the pleasure of hearing all that often. "He said you snuck into the castle through the dungeons and when you came out, you were covered in dust and had cobwebs in your hair."
"Shameless exaggerations!" Edgar struck a pose of mock-despair. "It was only one cobweb, and I brushed it aside right away. It hardly touched me!"
"That sounds more like you, it's true. But I would've liked to see you all covered in dust." She giggled again.
"You'll have to settle for covered in sand, I'm afraid to say."
"I've already seen that - and I was covered in sand too!"
Edgar laughed, despite the world. "That's Figaro for you! Can't bury a castle without breaking a few dunes!" Terra blinked for a second, then laughed with him.
They soon lapsed into silence, memories crowding around them. In a sense, it was hard to remember the world had once been different from how it was now. In another, it was impossible to forget.
"I'm glad...Figaro is doing well. Everyone there was very kind," Terra said, breaking the silence.
"So am I," Edgar replied, and poured himself another cup of water in preparation for what he was going to say. "But I think they could do better...if Kefka wasn't here."
Terra nodded. "So could Moblitz. We could go above ground, tend the gardens and bathe in the lake..." She looked back over at the children, still running rings around Sabin and Mog. Her face was a familiar mix of guilt and grief.
"Then join us, Terra! We need you!" Edgar swallowed down the lump in his throat and kept going when she looked at him, falling back on Returner cliches because he couldn't articulate what he really meant. "You're the best at magic, you're a great swordswoman - we need you. We're taking down Kefka and dammit-" Now or never. "I don't- I don't want to have to do it alone!"
Terra's lips narrowed with something unnamable. "Don't you have Sabin and the others?" She shook her head, suddenly, and there was the hint of esper wildness smothered under duty. "It's not that I don't want Kefka gone, Edgar. I do. I want the children to grow up happy and unafraid. I want them to see the sun. I want them to be able to have families of their own, someday. But...but I can't." her voice trembled. "I'm afraid. I'm afraid of failing again. I'm afraid of dying and leaving the children alone. And I'm afraid of...what they'll see, if I fight."
They'll see you, Terra. Just like I did. They'll see the beautiful, kind warrior you are no matter what you're shaped like. The words were in his mouth, but Edgar had practiced his smooth charm so often that sincerity sat like a weight on his tongue.
"We still need you, Terra," he said, once again falling back to cliche to fill the silence that gaped between them. "I know you can do it. Help us set this world right."
"And who will comfort the children, when they find out their Mama is a monster?" Terra's hands clenched at her side. "They don't know me. They don't know what I am, what I've done. That's for the best. They look at me and they just see their Mama, and that's all I ever want them to see."
And Edgar pulled back, because he did understand. Sabin might have teased him incessantly about the Gerald ruse, but it was about the bad dye job and the fake accent. His brother didn't know what Edgar had done to keep the band in line. He didn't know what Edgar had been up to after the cataclysm. He looked at Edgar and he still only saw his brother, and that was all Edgar wanted him to see.
So no matter how much he wanted to keep going until he either found the right cliches or forced himself to say what he really meant, Edgar nodded and said: "All right, I understand."
"Thank you." The way she looked at him made him feel like more of a louse than any of the High Priestess's lectures ever had. Almost as much as when Celes had caught him in Nikeah.
"But, you know, if you change your mind..." he started, but the moment had passed and his chance was over. A kid ran over with a scraped knee, Mama Terra had to go for the bandages and Edgar was left standing there, watching her hide her light to shield her family.