21: Even

Sinking into the tub, she closed her eyes as she let the warmth seep into her. It had been months since she had last had a warm bath, and the sensation was incredible. Sighing, she quietly relaxed in the dim light of the private room as she listened to the wind howling and rustling the trees outside. To think that she had been out there just the night before, weathering the frigid winter…

Praise Campbell.

“Cera, darling. If you’re nearly done with bathing, Lelouch is almost done with making supper, and we’d like for you to join him.”
“Yes, ma’am.”

Peeking out from above the water, she reached for the neatly folded towel that Marianne had left for her. Shivering, she hurriedly dried herself before slipping into the muslin work dress. It had been some time she had worn a dress, and while she had never much liked the corsets, it was nice to dress up now and then like a woman. Having the skirt swing around her legs was a nice feeling, and as she gave herself a quick, girlish turn, she was pleased by the way the dress flared up and floated around her.

Tucking her hair behind her ear, she stepped out into the main room, only to be surprised by the single person waiting for her at the table.

“Where are everyone else?”
“Gino, Xingke, and Jeremiah are in the guest house. They’ve gone to bed, as has my mother, and so will not be joining us for supper.”

She stared at him as she stood by the door. Perhaps it was because of the way she suddenly kept thinking about how she’d kissed him or the way his hands had felt wrapped around hers, or even the way he’d dressed in a clean white shirt and black pants.

“Would you join me for dinner, my darling?”

He held out a hand for her, and shyly, she accepted. Suppressing a smile, she let him lead her to the table and pull out her chair for her.

“This doesn’t mean anything,” she said softly as they locked their pinkies together.
“Oh, I’m well aware,” he replied. But when he winked, she couldn’t help but flush.

She knew he couldn’t court her as much as he wanted to. So he had told her that night when he had recounted to her the past they shared, which she had understood. It was imperative that he maintain his legitimacy with the rest of the men, and openly favoring her was the fastest way of discrediting him. But supposing he did it secretly? Every now and then, like this dinner?

“Did you make all of this?”
“I did.”

Eyes wide, she smiled. How wonderful he was. One could hardly believe he was capable of killing a man in cold blood, what with his soft smile and gentle ways.

“I hope it tastes as good as it looks.”
“Only one way to find out.”

And with a smile, she picked up her fork.

. . .

She turned around when she felt his hand on her wrist. Stepping down from the stairs to the attic, she leaned back as his hand slipped down and laced their fingers together. Closing her eyes, she held her breath as he gently pressed his lips on her cheek.

“Now we’re even.”
“You devil.”

He smiled at her cheekily as she nudged him away.

“I have to go,” she whispered. He nodded. “But we’ll see each other again in the morning.”
“We will.”
“We’ll always have tomorrow.”
“That we will. Good night, my darling.”

In spite of bidding him good night, she couldn’t help but lie awake late into the evening. It was just seemed like such a dream… He was such a dream, her heart couldn’t help but swell at the thought of him. Smiling to herself, she squeezed her eyes shut.

Oh, what a man. What a wonderful man he was.

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