It's not the prettiest place she's seen during her stay, but nevertheless Grace has fallen just a little in love with the Tamaki River, and she's beginning to realise just how much she'll miss wandering along its shores when she returns to London. It's not just the scenery she's going to miss, she thinks wryly as she spots the tall figure ambling slowly in her direction. The broad shoulders and the gleaming silver hair are very distinctive. She'd recognise him anywhere, in any crowd and at any distance, but the once-familiar gait is markedly different nowadays. Still powerful enough, but short on the right leg. Physiotherapy has helped, but it's the considered opinion of all the doctors he's seen over the long months of recuperation that Boyd will never again walk without a noticeable limp. The injury was very bad, and he is not a young man, they say. There's nothing more they can do for him. He is dismissive about it, bears the pain and the inconvenience with grumpy stoicism, but for Grace that limp is a permanent reminder of the grim few days when her world became a very frightening and confusing place.
She starts to walk towards him, but Boyd impatiently waves her down, just as she expects, so instead she simply turns towards the water and looks out towards Wai O Taiki Bay. She's going to miss Auckland. It hardly seems possible that in less than twenty-four hours she'll be on her way back to England. Alone.
She can't stay. Over the course of the last six weeks Grace has grudgingly come to realise that. Practical difficulties of visas and work permits aside, there's just too much still tying her to England. Friends, family, career. Things she once thought she'd be able to walk away from without a single qualm. In a way it doesn't help that Boyd seems to understand her predicament almost better than she does. She wants him to rage and storm and sulk, wants him to force her to sacrifice everything for him. He won't. She knows he won't.
If you love something, set it free…
She sneers silently. Stupid. Banal potted philosophy for the masses.
He appears at her shoulder abruptly, the sand deadening his footsteps, and she looks round at him with a deliberately sardonic smile. "Good day at the office, darling?"
"Oh, stop it," he grumbles, slipping an arm easily around her waist. "Playing the dutiful wife really doesn't suit you."
She leans comfortably against him. "Good thing we're not married, then, isn't it?"
"Bloody good thing," he agrees, but it's clear his heart isn't really in it. Instead of continuing the banter, he asks gruffly, "You more-or-less finished packing?"
They will compromise. Phone calls and extended visits. Far from ideal. Better than nothing. She nods. "More-or-less. Why? Are you taking somewhere incredibly expensive for dinner tonight?"
Boyd drops his head to kiss the side of her neck. The soft bristle of his beard against her skin makes her shiver. "Nice try, Grace. Nice try."
He's very definitely pensive. Not in the mood for games, she asks, "Well?"
Ingenuously, he says, "Hmm?"
Grace sighs pointedly. "I know you far too well, Boyd. Out with it."
He looks up at the sky for a moment, as if gathering his thoughts. Eventually he says, "I've tendered my resignation."
It's the last thing she expected to hear. Astonished, she stares at him. "What?"
"Why?" she demands, still not quite able to process the unanticipated news.
He snorts. "Stupid bloody question. Don't worry, I know what I'm doing."
"Do you?" she asks bluntly, pulling away from him. "Because we've been here before, remember?"
He gazes at her sedately. "Things are different this time."
"You say that now, but – "
"Trust me. London's our home, Grace," he tells her, reaching out to take her hands. "Yours and mine. It's a done deal. I finish up here in six weeks, and after that I'll be on the first available flight back. We'll buy a house together, sort everything out properly."
The years may have mellowed him a little, but at heart he's still an impulsive, dogmatic sort of creature. Both amused and irritated by his automatic assumption, Grace raises her eyebrows at him. "We will, will we?"
He lifts her hands in his, rests them against his chest. "Mm. We'll live in sin together and grow old disgracefully."
It has a certain appeal. Still, she's not prepared to simply capitulate. Not yet. "We're already old, Boyd."
He grins abruptly, the irrepressible mischief quite clear in his dark eyes. "Speak for yourself."
Grace doesn't rise to it. He's never let her forget those few inconsequential years between them in all the time they've known each other, and she can't imagine that he ever will. It amuses him far, far too much. Better just to ignore him. "And that's it, is it? Our entire future decided, just like that?"
"Yes," he says emphatically.
"Do I get a say in any of this?" Grace inquires in a deliberately casual tone.
Boyd feigns a scandalised expression. "Of course you do, Grace. I just may not bother listening to whatever it is you've got to say."
Incorrigible old rogue. She can't help adoring him. Then, she's always had a bit of a weakness for bad boys. Particularly the ones who turn out to have hearts of gold. She shrugs. "No change there, then."
Boyd is grinning down at her again, still mischievous, but affectionate, too. Something in him has changed. He's never going to be content to sit by the fireside quietly growing old, but there's a burgeoning acceptance of the unavoidable in him that was notably missing before. He seems to have found some kind of equilibrium and Grace is glad, not just for herself, but for him, too. He's not quite at peace with himself yet, but perhaps he's finally heading in the right direction. Looking up at him, she says, "All right. But this is it, Boyd – no more second chances."
"Trust me," he says again, lowering his head to kiss her gently. "Aroha mai, aroha atu, Grace."
Turning in his arms, she settles back against his chest. She smiles as she gazes at Wai O Taiki Bay again. She's done her research. She says smugly, "'Love is reciprocal'."
He rests his chin on her shoulder. "Close enough."
- the end -
Aroha mai, aroha atu – Māori proverb/concept. "Love towards us, love going out from us". Love goes forth, love comes back. Give love, get love. The endless circle of love.