Chapter 15

Locke wiped the sweat from his brow before he bent down to haul a crate full of heavy silver and terra-cotta knickknacks out of the back of the digging module.

Damn, there was a lot of it!

Trouble was, not as much of it was really worth something as what he’d gotten last time. Most of the stuff he’d brought back wasn’t quite up to the standards of the last haul. Some of it was downright worthless.

Locke sighed.

Things hadn’t gone quite how he’d expected, that was for sure.

His problems had started... hell, his problems had started a long time ago. His current problems had started when he’d gotten to wondering just why the hell Ghaleon’d wanted all that weird old stuff, anyway. The guy claimed to be out to make a profit, but what kind of profit would you make off of that?

More importantly, who would buy it?

But that line of thought hadn’t gotten him anywhere except short on time and heavy on junk that wasn’t worth loading the digging module with. He hadn’t come up with any decent answers, though he had ended up getting most of what Ghaleon had asked for.

“Locke, are you there?”

He nearly dropped the crate on his foot at the sound of Celes’ voice. At the last minute, he managed to set it back where it came from and to slam shut the rear hatch. It was no good her seeing it now. “Sure am,” he called back when the coast was clear.

She walked down the stairs into the dim light, and Locke had to fight to keep himself from staring - sure, he’d seen plenty of Celes before, but after a long treasure-hunting jaunt, her wearing a long black gown was a sight for sore eyes, that was for damn sure.

And, Locke thought as he watched her walk gracefully toward him, his eyes were awful sore.

“So,” she asked quietly, “how did it go?”

“Better now,” he whispered, taking her into his arms.

Celes seemed inclined to let him, but then pulled abruptly away. “I meant your treasure hunt.”

“Oh.” He should have known better. “It was okay.”

At least he didn’t have to lie about that... too much.

“That’s nice,” she said. She turned around.

What the hell was going on, anyway? He’d seen her ‘too busy’ side plenty of times, but this was different. Celes was never, ever nervous, but that was how she seemed to him.

Locke’s thoughts flashed back to why he hadn’t wanted to do this in the first place.

A lot could happen in a couple of weeks.

Why did Ghaleon want that junk, anyway?

Did he even want it at all?

“Some welcome home,” Locke muttered.

“What?” Celes spun back to face him. Uh-oh. He hadn’t meant for her to hear him say that.

She wasn’t nervous-acting now, but something Locke was a lot more familiar, and really more comfortable, with her being: Angry.

“I just mean that you don’t seem all that happy to see me,” Locke said, crossing his arms across his chest. He wasn’t gonna stand here and take this, not without knowing why.

“Perhaps I shouldn’t be,” Celes shot back. “Honestly, Locke, acting like... like you are... at a time like this is genuinely deplorable.”

And now Locke was well on his way to joining her in anger. Maybe a good old fashioned yelling match was just what they needed - it had done the trick before. “Oh, is it? Why’s that, ‘cause you’re not interested any more?”

“It's because Strago is dead,” Celes said, her voice flat.

Locke stopped, his mouth open wide to shout something more. But what came out was more of a whisper than a shout. Strago, dead? The old man’d seemed tougher than the lot of them. “W... what?”

“He died nearly a week ago,” she went on, her eyes downcast. When she did look up, her eyes had only a little of the icy fire that they’d held a moment before. “Hence, his friends are in mourning black.”

Locke looked over the gown which had so caught his attention before. Celes never wore black. He should have thought of it. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“No, Locke, you didn’t.” She straightened up to her full height and fixed him with an emotionless gaze. “Perhaps if you’d pay more attention to what is going on instead of spending all your time on petty treasure hunts, you might have.”

“And maybe I just didn’t know! Dammit, Celes, I left without even hearing that Strago was around.” Locke tried to take her hand, but she deftly avoided him.

She nodded. “Precisely my point.”

“Well it’s not a real good point.” Locke sighed. “I wouldn’t have acted like I did - whatever I did, anyway - if I’d known. You happy now?”

Ask a stupid question. ‘Oh, yes, Locke, I’m just ecstatic that one of our friends and companions is dead, because it wasn’t your fault’. Not damn likely. But she knew what he meant.

“Then I, too, must apologize, Locke.” Celes closed her eyes. “For my harshness today and for... deceiving you.”

She turned to leave again, and this time Locke had no muttered words to make her stop.