It's a royal birthday party, but Locke is haunted by the one person who's not there.
Locke: And, apparently, developing angst complexes. :sighs:
Author's Ramblings: This story is after-game, and the timeline is as follows:
* Brother's Keeper
* The Welcome in His Eyes
And, on with the fic!
Locke was drunk.
Not everyday, had-a-few-beers-and-is-mildly-buzzed kind of drunk. This was the went-at-the-hard-liquor-like-it-was-water kind of drunk that he didn't often let himself get. It was counterproductive, stupid, to let himself get this pissed, to where his reflexes were shit and his thoughts felt like they were wrapped in wool. But here, in Figaro, a friggin' fortress, at a birthday party thrown by two of his best friends, well....
If there was any time to get falling-down drunk, Locke had thought, this was it.
So, he had. Happily. On good Jidooran red and the little flask of cactus wine that Sabin had slipped in his pocket with a wink before being whirled away into the crowd to, it seemed, be pestered into dancing with every woman in the place. Ah, the life of a prince. Evidently even a musclebound prince who can't dance worth shit.
It escaped Locke how someone with the reflexes of a cat, who could do precise katas at dawn without even being fully awake, whom he'd seen dodge everything from flying cactaur needles to laser beams, seemed completely incapable of avoiding a dance partner's feet. The music ended, the dancers bowed to their partners, and Locke winced in sympathy as the petite little merchant's daughter limped away.
Sabin, catching his eye, wandered over to the bench Locke had managed to claim. Locke had to admit that Sabin was looking rather princely at the moment. Someone had managed to pry him out of his tank top and loose training pants and had put him in a white shirt and black velvet trousers with soft black leather boots. Over it all was a long velvet coat the color of good rubies, trimmed with gold and flattering his broad shoulders and narrow waist. Somehow, though Locke was more used to seeing him in sweat-stained training gear, it suited him.
Sabin swiped a glass of champagne from a passing servant's tray and downed it in a gulp before dropping down at Locke's side. "Are we havin' fun yet?" he grinned, shrugging out of his coat and draping it over a convenient statue.
Locke chuckled and reached out to refill Sabin's champagne glass with some of the cactus wine. He had cut back on his own consumption in the last hour or two and was starting to feel like he might even be able to walk straight if he was very careful. "Sure. You royal folks sure know how to throw a party." A tiny bit more of the wine cool-burned its way down his throat. "How 'bout you, birthday boy?"
Sabin tossed back his own wine, eyes dancing. "Now that I've danced with everyone who'd get upset if I didn't, you bet."
"If I didn't know better, I'd think that you tromp all over their toes to keep 'em from asking again."
Sabin chuckled and tried to look innocent. "Would I do that?"
The prince snorted and grinned. "Damn straight. Works, too. See the rat-looking woman over there in the green dress?"
Locke looked and spied a thin, pinched-face woman in the center of a bright circle of apparently fawning males. Her face was set in a bored sort of smirk. He shuddered. "Yeah."
"Well, she's the daughter of one of Edgar's best advisors, truly awesome guy, served our father since before anyone can remember. She, however, should have been drowned at birth. Spoiled and mean-tempered and a vengeful little snit to boot. Sometime when I was about thirteen she decided that she liked the idea of marrying me--"
Locke nearly snorted cactus wine through his nose. "Gah!"
Sabin looked out over the crowd. "--yeah, tell me about it. Don't know why she picked me. Maybe she didn't want to have to fight all the chicks around Edgar, I don't know. Anyway, she started stalking me. Every time I turned around she was there, wanting to go on picnics or go riding or some such shit. I tried bein' nice, I really did. When that didn't work I started trying to avoid her, but she must have had spies on me or something. She was usually able to find me. So, after about a month of this, I was ready to pop, and Edgar was absolutely no fucking help, seemed to find this tremendously amusing and kept asking when the wedding was going to be--"
Locke tried to hide his grin in his hand and spotted Edgar, who seemed to be on his way over. "I'll bet."
"--no shit. So, this was back when our father still held balls about every week or so. Finally, one time, after she asked me to dance for about the fiftieth time, I said sure--"
"And promptly proceeded, I believe, to step all over the poor girl's feet," Edgar interjected cheerily, pulling up a chair and dropping into it with a sigh. The king of Figaro, as resplendent as his brother, but in blue velvet and cape rather than red and coat, smiled wryly, his boneless posture and slightly flushed face hinting that he'd had not a little bit of champagne himself.
"Hey, she deserved it!" Sabin insisted, pointing a finger at his brother for emphasis.
"Sabin, you broke her foot!"
"Hey, I don't know what you're complaining about. It got you out of dancing with her for a few months, too."
"More than a few months. You did it the next time she was dense enough to ask to dance with you, too."
"That time was an accident."
"Sure it was, little brother." Edgar leaned back in his chair and nudged Locke with the toe of his boot. "Locke, are you dying?" Edgar asked.
Bent over his knees, shoulders heaving with laughter, Locke gasped for breath between giggles. He flapped his hand negligently, not being able to spare the breath for a reply.
"So," Sabin said, tossing his empty glass to a rather startled passing servant, "how much longer 'til we can tell all these folks to bugger off?"
"Eh." Edgar stretched in his chair. "Another hour or so. If we start the gift-opening now."
"Ah, shit." Sabin made a face. "I forgot about that. I hate having to smile and say thanks for a bunch of useless shit that I don't need."
Edgar stood, laying a hand on his brother's shoulder. "I know. But look on the bright side. The sooner you do it, the sooner we can sneak off to the real party."
Locke looked up, wiping tears from his eyes and scanning the room. Strago was closeted with a few of Edgar's advisors, folks he evidently knew from before Time began. Terra, looking quite lovely in a light blue gown and with her hair cascading down her back, had evidently coerced Cyan to dance, and the Doman retainer actually seemed to be doing a pretty good job of leading. Gau and Relm were off to the side, being entertained by Mog and, surprisingly, Setzer. Locke saw with vague horror that they were all holding cards. Locke sincerely hoped that Setzer didn't have them gambling, or, if he did, that Strago didn't see them, or Setzer might shortly be a black-velvet-clad stain on the wall. Shadow was nowhere to be seen, but this was nothing new. "Is...everyone here?"
Edgar almost winced at the hope in his friend's voice, some of his cheer evaporating. Ah, Locke.... "Everyone but Celes. She said that she'd try to come but that she's so busy she might not be able to. I haven't seen her, so she's probably...not able to make it."
"Oh." The way his face fell was subtle, and mostly hidden behind the wine flask, but both the brothers saw it, and they passed a tight, unhappy look over his head.