Back at my tent, I combed my hair and washed my face, trying not to be disconcerted by the way he watched me the whole time from his seat on my cot. Every time I looked at him he was smiling. Which made me smile, every time. So we proceeded to ruin all my good work on my hair by spending much of the afternoon together, all newspapers and tours and any duties he might have had forgotten.
We talked, too. We eventually emerged from the tent for the meal that evening. During the days, we held hands as he showed me around the dig. When he went back to work, I sat within sight of him and read old newspapers, the pages weighted down with rocks. When it got dark he took my by lantern-light to the tent where the artifacts were kept, and when Molly came to find us we were kissing in a corner, ancient beads and pottery forgotten.
We must have been irritating to be around, and I remember there were times I'd realize that and get embarrassed, but mostly we were off in a world of our own. I didn't think to send a note home until the fourth day; I was surprised when I realized two weeks had passed, and I'd finished all the newspapers. It's hard to write about that time. I remember bits and pieces vividly to this day - Locke telling me "Your eyelbrows are this dark, dark green," smiling like it was a wonderful secret we shared; the time we walked out in the hills, holding hands and talking about the reasons monsters were so much more scarce now; the time one of the assistants asked "so when are you buying her a ring?" to tease Locke, and Locke just grinned and said "sometime soon" - but I can't make a story out of this part. How do you describe love? Or happiness? I already knew what it was, but I'd still never been able to describe the feeling. And the way I felt about Locke was so different from how I felt about the children, but I couldn't describe it either. Maybe no one could, since no one could tell me what it was like all the times I'd asked. I was happy. We were happy. Maybe that was all you could say.
We're still happy. It's been three years, now. Katarin always used to complain about "happily ever after" at the end of stories we read to the kids - she called it dishonest. I don't think it is, exactly. Of course the time comes when you learn that he likes to kick the sheets off of both of you, or that your kids will ask him for permission instead of you because he lets them get away with more. Of course we have disagreements. But that doesn't mean being unhappy. I don't think Kat thinks it does either. Maybe it's something I don't understand, one of those things missing from my memory. Maybe everyone thinks happy ever after means never having any problems.
And there can be problems that aren't just between the two of you. My memories - what happened with Kefka, which I still have trouble talking about - gnawed at us both, in different ways. I had Katarin's reassurance that "making love" - her term, and she surprised me by blushing when she said it - wasn't terrible at all if things were right, but I still froze up when I could have made the first move with Locke, every time. And Locke clearly didn't want to traumatize me all over again. It took much longer than that first visit to sort all of that out. We did, eventually. I told Katarin "You were right," the next morning, and she That's all I can write about that.
And there was Celes. When Setzer came to retrieve me, at the end of the third week at the dig, we went out to meet him, and I saw Celes at the rail, in almost the same spot I'd been. I must have tensed up; Locke looked at me quizzically, but didn't say anything. Maybe he just thought I didn't want to leave, which wasn't wrong. I didn't want to leave, either. But I also didn't want to greet Celes while holding Locke's hand, any more than I wanted to let go of his hand and have him wonder.
She greeted us both with smiles, which seemed genuine enough. She helped see my luggage belowdecks, so I could say goodbye to him. And on the flight back home, she was... polite. It didn't feel like we were friends, and I hated it. But I didn't know how to talk to her right then, any more than she seemed to know how to talk to me. I couldn't tell her about how wonderful everything was, and we couldn't avoid talking about him; we both knew him, he was a friend to us both, he was a natural topic, except that everything about him was awkward to discuss.
On the second night, when I couldn't sleep, I got up, thinking to go out on the deck. Cold air wouldn't make me sleepy, but if I was going to be awake and thinking, I preferred clouds to my cabin's ceiling. In the passageway - the catwalk, we used to call it, the partial floor that looked out over the lounge - I found Celes, looking out one of the portholes.
"Couldn't sleep either?" she asked me.
I shook my head, then realized she'd already looked back to the porthole. "No," I half-whispered, then cleared my throat.
"I'm not letting it bother me," she said. I thought she meant sleeplessness for a moment. The words filtered in as she spoke again - not letting it, it could bother her if she'd let it. "I gave up on him ages ago."
"On--" I stopped myself. Who else could she mean?
"I remember dancing with him, the night of the victory. While we were all celebrating. We were dancing, and there was this moment when our eyes met and I thought, I should tell him now." She smiled a little. Ruefully, maybe. "And I turned tail and ran, instead, and I was telling myself, I'll tell him before we get off the ship in Figaro, or wherever we're going." He kissed me that night, I thought of saying, but I couldn't even open my mouth. She didn't look away from the glass. "And then the next morning, Edgar pulled me aside and told me what he hoped to do in Narshe, and offered me the post. And I was thinking, I wonder what Locke will say if I tell him. I was hoping he'd say I should say, or ask if he could go with me, but he just told me about the ancient castle, the excavation. So I thought, we'll both be in Figaro for the festivities, I'll tell him then. If I don't tell him before we all leave, that's my last chance. And I never told him."
I realized my own hands were knotted together, fingers intertwined like his and mine had been so many times. "I..." I didn't even know how I felt. I didn't have anything to tell him. But he kissed me that night even though I didn't say anything.
"When I saw him again in Mobliz, it was - we were friends. I remember thinking how much better it was this way. But I still wonder what would have happened," she said. I felt my heart pounding, flailing, like it wanted out. I felt like I'd burst if I said anything, but I couldn't open my mouth. "If I ever had a chance it's gone now," she continued. "You have yours." And suddenly I was furious, because she said it like I only had him because she'd given him up, or let him slip through her fingers.
"I kissed him," I blurted out. "The night after we killed Kefka. We kissed that night."
"Terra, I didn't mean... I meant you didn't take him from me. Whatever it is that I'm feeling, disappointment or... whatever it is, it's irrational. There was never any reason for me to be angry."
It didn't matter. I was angry. "I know I didn't take him from you!"
"Then we have nothing to talk about, do we?" she said, coldly, and I turned and stomped back to my cabin. So much for sleep, or clearing my head. The next morning she was polite again; we talked about food, and weather, and Setzer played solitaire and looked like he wanted to tip us both off the deck. It was a relief when we finally landed. She hugged me goodbye, then, and seemed like she was going to say more, but she didn't. Neither did I. "Don't forget to write to me," she finally said, and I nodded, then added "I won't." I just spent the next month chewing over what she'd said in quiet moments. What if she'd said something to him, back then, before we all scattered to the corners of the earth? What would he have done? Who would he love now, if it had been different? It took me far longer than it should to hear what she'd really said; that she didn't blame me or hate me for it. And by then, I was too embarrassed to bring it up, and she would never rehash an emotional subject if she could help it.
The doubt all went away when his dig closed for the winter and he came to join me. When we were together, the thought that one sentence could have changed all three of our lives was just speculation, meaningless. She didn't ever tell him how she felt; maybe she hadn't really wanted to, deep down. I didn't want her to be unhappy about him, but the times I'd tried to pull away from him on her account had only made for more unhappiness. I did write to her. It was difficult, because I didn't feel like I could write to her about Locke. But I was so happy, and after the dig closed it was hard to talk about my days without mentioning him. So I'd describe something he did, and then feel guilty, and then put the letter aside. And then I'd finally gather up my courage and write a letter like I didn't have any reason to believe she'd feel anything if I mentioned Locke, and I'd sign and send it. It was the only way, but each letter took a while. Then when she started mentioning Setzer in her letters, I started to find it easier. She never said how she felt about him, but I knew how he felt about her - it was even obvious to me, even years ago - and I thought the fact that she mentioned him, that he was part of her life, was a good sign. They came to the wedding together, and this time when she smiled and hugged me and said she was happy for me, I felt like she meant it.
Locke and I got married during the spring of the second year - last year - not long after the victory anniversary. It could have been sooner; by the middle of that first winter, we were talking about when we got married, not if. But we were both busy, and so were all the people we'd want at the wedding, so it took time. In that time I presented my work on the diary at the Figaro Royal Society. I published an annotated text last year, and donated the original to the archives. It's good that we're so remote out here; I always get swarmed by Esper scholars when I'm at gatherings in Figaro, former Imperials and others who took up the study after the world broke, trying to make sense of what happened. What they have in common is that they're more interested in my parentage and what I learned about it than in my own work. But some of them read my writings out of curiosity, and it helps me get published. I'm not above taking advantage.
We never did start an airship freight company; there was too much else to do, and not enough money. After spending some time at Setzer's office - we went to Jidoor for my wedding gown - I realized exactly how much work it would all be. There's a railroad working its way toward us now, and that will be enough for now. Edgar thinks he has a means to keep food cold so it won't spoil, though he hasn't tested it for long-term storage yet. The world is moving on; this winter there are no reports of food shortages, not in any of the news I can find.
We ratified the Mobliz constitution, and I decided not to run in the elections that followed. Locke thought I should, and so did Martin, but I just wanted to have my family, and work on my book, and live my life. No more children yet; Duane and Katarin had a new little one, a son they named Edgar, born a month before our wedding, but Locke and I haven't. We've both wondered if I'm even capable of bearing children. Espers and humans could, obviously, but the loss of magic might have made a difference, or something else. Some hybrid animals are sterile, I've read, though Locke doesn't like for me to mention that; I think he doesn't want me to think that I'm the reason, or maybe he doesn't like me likening myself to pack animals. I don't think he believes me when I say the thought doesn't bother me. But it's also possible we just haven't had any luck that way. It hasn't been that long.
There's not much more to write. It's winter, and Locke's here again. I sent letters to Celes and Edgar this morning, and the little Edgar - Eddie - has his first tooth. The older kids all decided to grow like weeds at the same time, this fall; everyone has new winter clothes. Things are going well, and we're happy.