LeBlance must make a choice.
A stillness rested over the reception room. Only the buzzing of a fly, investigating the juice oozing from an overly ripe pomegranate, broke the silence. The two persons seated quietly, the one on the couch, the other on the upright chair, might as well have been statues of a particularly realistic type. They shared not the restful and companionable atmosphere of two old friends basking in the presence of one another but the strained and awkward silence of strangers who had run out of things to say and did not know how to take a graceful leave.
Nooj leaned forward in the chair he had chosen, the one which had the higher seat and was easier to get up from. He had brought LeBlanc the latest information from the studies the Youth League had made of the spheres she had supplied and had received a fresh recording from her to take back for further research. His business in this house was done.
The woman, who had been looking at him with a gaze which combined fear and curiosity, was awakened from her contemplation by his move. "You aren't going yet?"
"I'm afraid I must. We both have our duties. It seems as though there will be little time before Spira is endangered again and we have to be ready."
"No. Please stay a little longer, I want to show you something." She was surprised to hear the words come out of her mouth. She had not meant to say that.
He inclined his head politely. "What is it, madame?"
She stood and held out her hand. "Please, come with me. Upstairs. It's there."
"Upstairs? I'm not sure ..." He struggled to his feet, leaning heavily on the cane.
"Please." She laid a light palm on his wrist, not daring to touch him more firmly. "It'll only take a moment."
"Very well. I'll be glad to see what you're talking about." He smiled the smile an adult might bestow upon an importunate child. "But it's getting late and I have a long trip before me."
The setting sun cast crimson light on the polished floor as LeBlanc led the way out of the room and up the right side of the curving staircase from the main floor. The usual servant standing watch outside her private suite snapped to attention as they approached, then sprang to hold back the curtain which screened the entry.
Nooj demurred, "I'm not sure it will be proper for me to go into your sanctum, lady."
"It's all right. I'm not going to attack you." She tried for a feeble joke. He did not seem to hear.
When he first entered the bedroom, the dim light and the thick rug made him stumble slightly so he paused to let his eyes adjust and to take his bearings. To his left was a large, heart-shaped bed with draperies looped up in graceful folds. The only illumination came from a lamp hanging to one side. Across from him was a dresser - its top cluttered with various bottles and jars. Dresses and shoes lay discarded carelessly on the floor and over chairs. But the dominant feature of the room was a tall glass case opposite the bed containing ...
With a choked exclamation, Nooj hobbled toward the vitrine. "What in the hell...? What's this supposed to be?" His voice was low and incredulous.
"It's a statue. Of you." She blurted out. "It's you. Do you like it?"
"What do you think you're up to, woman?" He stood transfixed staring into his own face through the glass.
She stood a few paces behind him, her eyes wide with dismay and her hands clasped at her mouth. Why had she done this foolish thing, showing him the secret shrine she had erected? The night before must have upset her more than she had realized.
"Well?" He faced her, anger and disgust radiating from him like the chill from a deep cavern. "What's the meaning of this?"
"M-meaning?" she stuttered. "Does everything have to have a meaning? I wanted a statue of you and ..."
He interrupted fiercely, "Why did you want a statue of me? Don't you command my presence often enough to remember what I look like? Here." He spread out his arms and raised his chin. "Look at me. Take a good look. This is what I look like. Think you can remember?"
LeBlanc took a hesitant step forward, her hand reaching tentatively toward him. "You were always so much a part of me, when we were children. I just wanted to have something of you near me again."
He stared at her in disbelief. "You're not making any sense. There is nothing of me in this ... this mockery you have here." He dropped himself onto the edge of the bed and immediately regretted it. The mattress shifted sluggishly beneath him as though it was filled with some semi-liquid material. This was not a concept he wanted to consider. However, it would have taken more effort to stand up again than he was willing to spend so he remained seated, trying to move as little as possible.
LeBlanc, seeing his anger fading, finally found words. "Noojie, it's better than nothing. At least I can touch it."
"Touch it? Great Ixion, woman! What are you using that thing for?" A horrified comprehension began to dawn in his mind.
She could only stare at him and shake her head, helplessly.
He looked back at the figure in the case. It exercised a peculiar attraction and he could not keep his eyes away for long.
"What do you do with that thing?" he asked again, mildly. "Does it have some purpose other than to remind you of what I look like?" He asked a question and dreaded the answer.
She came to him and sank to the floor at his feet, leaning her head on his thigh. "Yes. I carried a kiss from your lips to the lips of the statue. And I felt it respond."
He tipped her face up so that he could look into her eyes. "So that was what you were after? Do you have some idea you can make that statue live?"
"Why not? The fayth do. Why shouldn't this? It was carefully made and looks exactly ..."
"Are you as lonely as all that?" His voice was suddenly gentle. "I didn't know."
"You should have!" She burst out, a shadow of anger in her voice. She shifted her position and clasped her hands on his knee. "I've tried to tell you."
"So you have." He turned his attention back to the vitrine. "I am not persuaded that you can waken a statue just because you want to - no matter how carefully it is made or how hard you try. And, another thing, I am not willing to have my essence trapped in this -" he waved his hand at the figure, "this thing for whatever your purposes are. No. Give it up, LeBlanc. You're on the wrong road."
His anger had left, pushed aside by his curiosity and fascination with her unlikely plans.
Encouraged by his slight smile and non-threatening manner, LeBlanc rose lightly and seated herself on the bed beside him, causing the heavy liquid with which the mattress was filled to gently shift. The wave-like motion tilted her against his shoulder. Without thinking, he wrapped his right arm around her to steady her. She raised her head as he bent toward her; their lips met and did not immediately part.
When he drew back from her, he caught her wrists in his hands. She could feel the unyielding force of the metal fingers pressing into her bones. The pain was strangely stimulating and, as she leaned forward, her lips parted and she panted softly.
"So, this is what you want?" He tightened his grip and drew her closer. "Do you want reality or do you prefer your as yet unawakened toy?" He gestured toward the vitrine with his head. "Make your choice."
"Will you stay?" She forced the words through the desire clogging her throat.
"For a while."
As he bore her back to the softness of the absurd bed, she breathed deeply, trying to slow the pounding of her heart. She had been waiting for this all her life. It was to this moment all the other moments - beginning with their shared childhood and continuing to the kiss she had taken from the man and given to the statue - had inexorably led. She had known it. Had he?
He still held her wrists in the manacles of his hands and she pulled him to her using that contact. His face was smooth and warm against her own and when his fingers released their grip and moved to other places, she could not tell the living hand from the prosthesis, so befuddled were her senses. Then, none of that mattered at all.