Chapter 18

Celes looked rapidly back and forth between the battered recordbook and the mostly still-blank white paper on her desk. The book was singed and its cover had seen far better days but, theoretically, the information it contained could be invaluable.

Seeing something of at least possible interest, Celes put her quill pen roughly to the paper and scrawled out a note.

The pen snapped.

She sighed.

That was the third one she’d gone through, for only twice that many notes in five times that many minutes. Her generally neat handwriting was barely even readable.

If she could just concentrate!

But concentration was as elusive as peace of mind. As elusive as escape from the memory of what had occurred in these very quarters three nights before.

She was, for once, glad to have had the opportunity to throw herself into her work. It was a useful escape from herself. But this work could quite possibly be the key to understanding the rift, and it was nothing to be used as mere escape.

There was a knock at the door of her chamber.

Celes nearly jumped out of her seat at the sound. She quickly placed her notes, indecipherable as they were, into the recordbook as a placeholder, and rose.

She didn’t try to guess who was at the door.

She didn’t know who she wanted to be at the door.

At least, that was what she told herself.

She opened it.

“I trust I am not disturbing you?” Ghaleon asked.

“Of course not,” Celes said. And no, he didn’t disturb her any longer, not as he had when they’d first met, when fascination had been mixed with anxiety. Now there was only...

Only what?

“You have been most difficult to reach these past few days,” Ghaleon said. He stepped inside and closed the door behind him. Unconsciously, Celes gave way and let him.

She glanced at her small desk. “I have been most busy. By the time I returned here it was very late.”

“As it is tonight, though you must mean later still.” Ghaleon met her eyes. “I thought perhaps you were... avoiding me?”

I should have been, Celes thought. But she wasn’t. “No! Nothing like that.”

“I am most pleased to hear this,” said Ghaleon, stepping closer.

Celes fought - and won - against the instinct to mirror his movement.

Perhaps he saw her hesitation. Perhaps not. In any case, he stopped and again glanced at her desk. “What work was so crucial that it occupied all your time?”

She shook her head. “I cannot-”

Ghaleon pulled her close and kissed her.

It was unexpected, unthinkable, totally beside the point - and incredibly welcome. When their lips finally parted, she regretted the parting more than anything in the world.

“What could be so crucial that it kept you away?” Ghaleon asked, kissing her again - but only quickly this time.

She must not tell him. It was unthinkable, after the suspicions Edgar had had about Ghaleon. Yet had he not told her three nights before - so much, yes, but also that he had heard Strago’s dying words? Known at least enough to know that they were a threat.

Celes looked up into Ghaleon’s ruby eyes.

Did he not deserve to know just as much as anyone?

Edgar was mad to suspect him of any wrongdoing.

Ghaleon might even be able to help, if he was but given the chance.

“I am studying Vectran records. Looking for magical researchers,” she clarified, speaking rapidly.

Ghaleon nodded and kissed her a third time.

Celes noted that he had begun to hum. It would be so easy to lose herself in that music, those kisses.

So easy.

“In connection with His Majesty’s announcement?” Ghaleon asked, his tones lyrical. How did he manage to make such a question sound like the sweetest poetry?

“Yes,” Celes said.

Another kiss rewarded her for her answer, banishing what little restraint logic still held on her.

Ghaleon raised an eyebrow and asked, “But why the need for investigation? Was not the call for volunteers?”

“Such a call would have commonly been used as a trap for ‘undesirables’ in Vector,” Celes explained. She was all too used to the ways of the Empire. “The very people we mean to contact could construe it as simply another way to capture them, especially as the message was so vaguely worded.”

He nodded. “I see. And all these labors have proven successful, no doubt?”

“I... no. They have not.” Perhaps, a sliver of Celes mind that still fought to retain her poise, if she had not been so distracted, they would have been moreso.

Ghaleon nodded solemnly. “I have complete trust in your abilities,” he said. His next kiss was as long as the first, and Celes could feel his long fingers deftly unfastening the back of her gown.

Just as it had been.

Abruptly, Celes pulled away. “No, Ghaleon.”

He made no move to pursue, but his eyes were downcast.

She continued, her words stumbling out but reluctantly. “It was a... a mistake. We cannot, I cannot...” What of Locke? She must not, would not betray him. Not again.

What of him?

Where was he?

Where had he gone without so much as a goodbye, without even giving her the chance to offer one?

Back to his petty treasures?

Was that all he thought of?

Celes looked back to Ghaleon.

He had not spoken of treasures. The glint in his eyes had not been for gold or ancient relics, had it?

No.

“If that is how you feel,” he said, “then I offer my apologies for participating in your... mistake. And for inviting another.”

He began to turn, back to the too-close wooden door from whence he’d come.

“Ghaleon...” Celes said. She put her hand on his shoulder.

He looked back to her, and smiled.