The Grace of God Chapter 8
Six weeks later
SPRING HAD COME to Nikeah at last. The sea breeze was mild, carrying the scent of flowers and of warmth, and the sun was shining after what had seemed like years of rain.
In a small thatched house near the edge of town, a man was moving about, his face flushed from both the unsually warm morning and the heat of his oven, which he was leaning over, watching something through the glass window with intense concentration.
A knock startled him; he bolted upright andf made his way through the living room to his front door, navigating piles of clutter along the way, and managing with only a trace of a limp.
He paused for a second at the threshold, smoothing back his hair. He noticed he was still wearing his oven mitts, and tossed them quickly over his shoulder before opening the door.
"Hi," he said, with a broad grin.
"Hi," said Celes, with a smile of her own.
Locke led her in, apologizing along the way for the mess. "I still haven't really moved in," he explained. Clearing off a spot on the sofa, he invited her to sit down. "The tea's right there on the table. I made it in advance so I wouldn't mess it up. The crumpets are almost done, I think -- maybe? Hold on, I have to go check."
Celes watched him as he returned to the kitchen, a smile still lingering at the sides of her lips, took a sip of her tea -- and shuddered, her mouth twisting. She was careful to return her expression to normal when Locke returned.
"I think they need another minute."
"That's fine. I'm in no hurry."
He cleared a spot next to her and sat down, favoring his ribs slightly. A small, awkward silence passed.
"How are things in Albrook?" he asked, after a minute.
"As well as can be expected, I suppose. Cyan and I have made an amazing amount of progress, considering it was all but decimated."
"How is the, um, agricultural planning going?" he continued. "I know you said there had been some problems with -- stunted crops, something like that? Cyan will be taking care of that while you're here, I guess. I know Nikeah has --"
"Locke." Celes was staring at him steadily.
He raised an eyebrow quizzically.
She put her teacup down on the table and drew a deep breath. For once in her life she would say exactly what was on her mind.
"I've been thinking," she began haltingly. "About her."
Locke was quiet. He didn't have to ask who she meant.
"I've been thinking that -- that she gave me a second chance, in a way." Her words were coming out in a rush. "I don't want to waste it, waste what she gave to us."
She dared to look up. He was watching her.
"I've been thinking that, too," he said softly. "And about how terrible it is for them. To live in a world without a Celes Chere."
Locke put an arm around her waist, like a question, and she moved in, as an answer. For a minute she could only rest her forehead against his chest, listening to him breathe. He was stroking her hair; she could feel it in every strand.
"Why do you always wait for me, Locke?" she whispered.
He was quiet for a moment, considering this. "I think it was," he said finally, "'come what may, I won't age a day.' Something like that, I think."
She laughed into his shoulder. When she looked up, he was watching her, his eyes dropping down to her mouth. But he didn't press her, didn't take, only gave her what he always had: a chance.
Celes took it, closing the distance between them.
For a time there was only warmth, warmth and the taste of Locke, his hands on her back, pulling her in. When at last they parted, his eyes were almost black with pupil.
"How long can you stay?" he whispered into her hair.
She closed her eyes and swallowed. "As long as you want me to."
"So when will you be moving in, then?"
Celes smiled and laughed softly, until she saw that his eyes were serious, waiting.
"As soon as I can," she murmured. She had the heedless, frightening sensation of walls being broken down, of falling without a parachute. But if that were so, at least she was not falling alone.
Locke pulled her close again, and her brain stopped working properly. Presently there was an acrid scent in the air, like smoke.
"Oh, bugger," he said, between kisses. "The damn crumpets."
"Don't you -- need to get them?"
"They can wait."
This time it was Celes who broke the kiss, tilting her head back in laughter, in a freedom she had never felt before. There was only her, and this day, and Locke, and the promise of a long, lustrous spring.
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