"So this is home."
Edgar flopped back onto the bed and blew his hair out of his eyes, throwing his arms out to either side across the mattress. Locke laughed and dropped his knapsack next to the door.
"Yeah, this is home. Nothing as grand as you're used to, I'll bet."
The look Edgar gave him was vaguely chastising. "I honestly hope I don't come across as that snobbish to the others."
Locke grinned at him. "I wouldn't worry. If any of them starts letting it get to their head that they're in the company of a king, I'll set them straight. All it'll take is me telling them about that time in the stable when we were hoping like hell we wouldn't get caught by your groom...."
Edgar threw a pillow at him. "As I recall, that was your idea."
Locke ducked the pillow easily and sat down on the edge of the bed next to him, laughing. "Yeah, but you went along with it."
"So I'm weak-willed. But only when it comes to you."
Then Edgar was reaching for the front of his jacket and pulling him down into a kiss, and Locke decided there were far better things he could be doing with his mouth than talking. A few blissful moments later, he pulled away and settled his elbows on Edgar's chest, propping his chin on his hands.
Edgar slid a hand over the top of Locke's head, running fingers through his tousled blond hair. "I hope you're planning on showing me around later," he said, and there was a tone in his voice that Locke recognized. It was the tone that said no matter their problems with the Empire, all was currently right with Edgar's world.
"If you want me to." Locke turned his face up into Edgar's hand and kissed his fingers, nibbling lightly. Such a large hand, compared to his own. But then, he'd always thought of himself as too slender, too slight in a world that valued strength over stealth and speed.
"I do." Edgar looked uncommonly serious. And of course he already knew about Rachel, didn't he?
Locke closed his eyes, not wanting to drown himself in his memories. Not yet. "Later. I promise. For now just... just let me be happy I'm home for a while. Okay?"
Edgar's finger slid down over his cheek, caressing gently. "Okay."
Then he pulled Locke down into another kiss, and that was the last thing either of them said for a very long time.
The streets of Kohlingen hadn't changed all that much since the last time Locke had been there. It was still the same modest little hamlet stuck on the edge of the world, trying hard to keep pace with its larger cousins. Even the faces he passed on the street didn't look all that different, except maybe to have grown a little older, a little more weathered by the years that had passed in his absence. He wondered suddenly, painfully, if life had been kind for them.
His feet followed the path to Rachel's house without his conscious volition. They knew the way effortlessly even after all this time, and he didn't even have to look up to see where he was going. He walked with his arms wrapped tight around his chest, eyes fixed unblinkingly on his toes as the forest thinned out around him.
Edgar was a silent presence at his side, warm and somehow jarring in this place. Because he didn't belong here, not where Locke's most painful memories roamed free. There were ghosts in these woods, all around him, and they frightened him. For the first time, it occurred to him why it had been so many years since he'd returned.
He could feel Edgar's eyes on him when he stopped in front of Rachel's house. It looked just like he remembered it, with its broad thatch roof and the thick line of trees screening it in on the left-hand side. There had always been shade here, in the evenings.
"How long has it been?" Edgar asked, shifting slightly where he stood beside him.
Locke didn't take his eyes from the house. "I don't know. Maybe eight years or so." Like he didn't know the time he'd left down to the day.
Edgar nodded and didn't say anything more.
After a moment, Locke said, "I was going to marry her."
"I know." Edgar's voice was soft.
"But we... we went on that damned expedition into the mine. Looking for some godforsaken treasure or other."
Edgar nodded again; he'd heard this story before. "And the bridge collapsed, and she pushed you to safety."
"Yeah. And she... she fell." Locke swiped a hand over his eyes, hating the roughness that was creeping into his voice. "She lost her memory. When she woke up, she didn't have any idea who I was."
"And she asked you to leave."
Locke pressed his lips together hard before answering. "Her father'd never liked me. Never... approved of me. And she remembered him, of course, so I guess it made sense that she'd ask the stranger to go away, and leave her family in peace."
Edgar's hand settled onto his shoulder and squeezed gently. "I'm sorry."
Locke closed his eyes and let his breath out slowly. "I never should have left her."
"You couldn't have known what would happen, Locke." Edgar's voice was firm.
But it didn't matter, really, because Locke had promised her he'd always be there for her. And he had let her down. "I came back a year later, to see how she was doing. And I found out she'd been... she'd been killed in an Imperial attack."
The hand on his shoulder moved down over his back, comforting him with the solidity of its presence. "You couldn't have known," Edgar said again, more softly this time.
Locke leaned against him, trying not to acknowledge the bitter sting behind his eyelids. "Just before she died, her memory came back. They told me... told me that the last word she spoke was my name."
Edgar held him, and the silence of the woods seemed strangely golden, as if the trees were somehow holding themselves in mourning for the loss of the raven-haired girl who used to live and play among them. Locke kept his eyes closed, concentrating on the warmth of Edgar's arm around him, and considered the possibility that maybe -- just maybe -- the memories contained in these woods weren't all bad.
"I loved her," he whispered, pressing his face hard against Edgar's neck.
Edgar's arm tightened around him. "I know you did."
Locke drew in another deep breath. "I love you, too."
This time, Locke could hear the edges of a smile in his voice. "I know you do."
"I'm not going to let you down, Edgar. Not you, or Terra, or Celes, or any of them. You know that, don't you?"
"Yes. I know that."
And it seemed the most natural thing in the world to tip his chin up and let Edgar kiss him. Because while he might be a king, one of the things Edgar did best was bring comfort to the people who needed it.
"I love you," Edgar whispered against his lips, and Locke smiled, thinking how very wonderful it was to hear those words. It had taken him a long time to learn to love again, but right here -- right now -- he couldn't imagine living his life any other way.
"Come on." Edgar gave his shoulders a brief tug. "Let's go back and join the others."
Locke slipped an arm around his waist and nodded, leaning hard against his side as they made their way back toward the town. Somewhere distant, a bird called, and he looked up toward it with a fleeting smile.
Together, they turned their back on the past and made their way forward toward the destiny that was waiting for them.
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