Chapter 10

Locke’s hand hovered in mid air an inch away from the door.

Once he went in there and said what he had to say, there was no going back, that was for damn sure. He wasn’t gonna wimp out after that.

Not that he was planning to anyway, but...

It was damn suspicious, though. How come he and Ghaleon hadn’t just gotten the stuff before? Oh, sure, Ghaleon said he hadn’t read about it yet. Yeah, right. More likely than not he was just scared out of his mind.

Look who’s talking, he thought, staring at the door.

“I’m not scared,” he said aloud. It wasn’t that at all. It was just that he’d be down there a lot longer, and he still wasn’t too keen on-

The door opened suddenly in his face. He stumbled and landed on his backside. “Locke?” Celes asked, looking down at him, “What are you doing?”

He grinned sheepishly and pulled himself to his feet. “I was just coming by to see you.”

“Oh.” Celes held up the stack of papers she carried in her arms. “Edgar needs these in a few minutes, Locke, so I really must-”

As she started past him, Locke put his hand on her arm. “Listen, Celes, I’m goin’ back down. Right away. For a while, maybe, this time.”

Celes stopped. “What do you mean, for a while?”

“I... I think I can find a lot. I’m gonna load up the digging module and then maybe be back in, I dunno, a few weeks.” Locke hung his head.

This was too much. He didn’t trust Ghaleon one bit around Celes, and here he was letting the guy talk him into goin’ back down and away from her for a long time. Damn long time.

Ghaleon wasn’t going this time. So as not to arouse suspicion, he said.

A lot could happen in a few weeks.

“Locke, no. That is far too long for you to... far too dangerous!”

Locke shrugged. “Nah. I’ll be fine, really.”

“You’re going alone?” Celes frowned.

He nodded.

“Well, you wouldn’t have been ‘fine, really’ the last time if Ghaleon hadn’t saved you from that thing,” she said.

A whole hell of a lot could happen in a few weeks.

“Hey, I would have figured something out. Like I’d need his help for anything,” Locke said. He stepped closer. “Not that some help wouldn’t be appreciated...”

She didn’t back away or say anything, just sort of hung her head. That was the kind of look you could get around.

It was the kind of look that some people could get around.

Hell, he was lucky she’d ever given him the time of day. Now the time of day was when she was working and he was...

And he wasn’t telling her even a little bit of the whole truth.

She wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Locke, you know I can’t.”

Yeah, that was for sure. “Oh.”

Celes actually looked at him and tried to summon up a smile. “That is, I really must be going. Edgar will wonder what’s happened to me, certainly, and we won’t get anything done-”

Ignoring the thick stack of papers she was holding, Locke pulled her into his arms and kissed her. That was about all he could think of doing, other than blurting out the whole damn sorry story then and there.

At first she tried to push him away, but he wasn’t ready to be pushed, and sure enough she stopped trying pretty quick.

“Sure you’re too busy?” he said after a too-short minute.

She sighed and slowly shook her head.

Aw, hell. How could he lie to her like this? What could it hurt to tell?

Why was he thinking about that, for crying out loud?

“Okay. Can’t somebody else, you know..?” He pointed to the papers.

Celes glanced at them, then back to him. “No.”

He smiled and leaned closer. “But it’s not like the world’s gonna end without ‘em, is it?”

She got awful pale, but then, she was pretty pale these days anyway. Before he could try to hold her again, she started down the hall. “Of course not,” she said, “but I have to attend to it.”

Locke sighed. Things had been bad enough before. But at least Celes hadn’t been working every hour of the day. The last time he’d seen her, she’d asked him if he wouldn’t bring her something to eat before they talked. At two o’clock, she still hadn’t broken for lunch?

Or was she just avoiding him?

“Wait up!” he called.

She hadn’t gone far, so he caught up fast.

“Locke, I truly wish I could stop time and spend an hour or two with you. But I couldn’t spare the minutes we already spent talking. So-”

“Why?”

Celes looked taken aback. “Why? Well, the rebuilding effort, of course.”

“And how come the rebuilding effort is tougher now than it was a year ago, huh? I’d figure it’s going strong already, so it oughtta be easier.” Locke put his hand on her shoulder. “Tell me the truth, Celes. What’s really goin’ on?”

Yeah, tell me the truth, Locke thought. Which is more than I’m doing.

But that’s as much for her as for me!

He was gonna surprise her with everything he’d gotten, and then really surprise her when he turned pretty much all of it over to Edgar. She’d understand then, but not now, not yet.

“Locke, I really must go.” She sighed and started off again. Then she turned around and, after a pause, said, “Well, all right, I’ll tell you. Some of this is for the celebration.”

“All this for some dumb celebration?” Locke asked. He didn’t buy it. It wasn’t like Celes to get all tied into knots over something like that. If anything, she’d be saying not to have the damn thing ‘cause of the resources it’d take up.

“Even Terra’s come from Moblitz,” she said, “so it has to be quite an event. Hopefully, more of our friends will be coming. I owe it to them-”

He nodded. “OK, I give up. I can tell when I’m being brushed off.”

“No!” Celes practically dropped her papers at that. “Really, Locke, it’s nothing like that. But there truly is a lot of work to be done.” She smiled. “Just think, though. While the celebration is going on, everyone will stop working.”

“Even you?”

“Even me.”

“No work at all, for at least a whole week?”

She nodded and her smile grew wider.

Hell, if she was really serious, that was worth looking forward to. Worth maybe even her doing this extra stuff now. Maybe a bird in the hand was worth more, but Locke’d always gone for the two in the bush.

He found himself grinning. “And, uh, about when is this gonna be?”

“Three weeks.” Celes leaned closer and kissed him on the cheek. “And then we’ll have all the time in the world. Perhaps even enough time to leave Figaro for a bit.”

And in three weeks, maybe he’d have something to show for his efforts. Ghaleon’d said there should be a pretty major payoff from this hunt, and that weirdo just wanted some stupid old junk, not the real treasure.

Yeah. Oh, yeah. Three weeks. Maybe it’d be a good time to tell the world, especially Celes, all about Locke Cole’s newfound riches.

And he’d only be giving most of it away. He could keep enough in reserve to buy a nice place.

A nice ring, too.

“That sounds great,” Locke said.

“Then you understand why I’ve thrown myself into this nonsense with such fervor.”

Locke nodded. “Yeah, and I’m gonna get back to what I was doing. See you soon.”

It couldn’t be soon enough.