Hearts to Heaven

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The day had broken warm and sunny, the morning air bright and clear. Quite unlike London on those horrible days when the smog made even a sunny day dark and depressing. No question a day that she would need her parasol. She stood still as the maid twitched the striped sky blue and navy blue silk walking skirt into place. The clock was too slow to reach the hour, the maid too annoying as she tried to get the drapes, folds, and ruffles to lie correctly. Men's clothing was so much less fussy and she missed the speed at which she had gotten into it. Of course that also meant getting out of it just as quickly. She blushed helplessly; hopefully the maid would interpret it as a young girl's silliness. With German efficiency, the maid finished with her dress and then pinned the prerequisite small hat onto her gathered and hanging curls.

The feathers on it draped down onto her collar and tickled her neck reminding her of the imp's spell. Her blush grew even deeper and once she was free, she began to walk, glaring at the stubborn clock. The silk whispered as she paced the room, pulling on her lace gloves. She would be a tiny bit early in the hall, but she couldn't stand to wait any longer. The recent activity made her energetic and she had not brought a hobby to occupy her spare time. She needed to walk and stretch her legs, walk out the wonderful ache that the swordwork had brought. With a bright "good morning" and a nod of thanks, she went out the door to go meet Ezekiel for their walk.

Barrymore finished fastening Ezekiel's cuff links and with a sharp pull, made sure the shirt sleeves were tight. Ezekiel appreciated his manservant's willingness to keep his master honest when it came to clothes. If given the choice, Ezekiel would wear a simple shirt and pants with a quality set of boots along with his coat - all the better to move about. But if his general attitude was considered scandalous, wearing his preferred clothing choice out and about with Katherine would have him ejected from the ranks of the nobility before he had a chance to blink. As it was, he wore a crisp blue and gold patterned vest to go along with the cream shirt underneath. As he pulled his coat on and looked for his hat, he got a glimpse of himself in the mirror. Not too bad, old fellow, he thought. Would Katherine find it attractive? He had suddenly found that the possibility of Katherine's approval or disapproval caused him to care about things that he wouldn't have cared a whit about before.

Top hat on and cane in hand, he stepped out of his room into the hall to see if Katherine was ready to go for a bit of a jaunt around the grounds.

If he had worried, that was gone the moment that he saw her face light up. Katherine smiled, her mouth opening in a little "O" as she caught sight of him.

"I've never seen that vest darling!" she exclaimed. "How wonderful you look." She waited for him to come to get her arm and tuck it into his as the servants opened the front doors to let them go towards the gardens. As they entered the edge of the surrounding trees, she sighed. "Finally, a chance to get away." She cut her eyes to him, hers twinkling merrily. "Although if we had put on much more finery, we'd look like we were going to see the Queen." Her voice lowered as she leaned her head close to him. "I must admit that I miss the pants, my love. It was much simpler to get dressed with them."

"You never know when the Queen might appear and you'd want to be dressed well if she were to show up," Ezekiel said with a small smile. "And while men certainly have it easier in terms of convenience, women have the advantage in selection. I would never be able to wear your outfit and look half as beautiful as you do. Yet you can wear pants and look better than I do in them."

He laughed as they walked along and took a gentle poke at the arm entwined with his. "Patently unfair, I'd say."

The grounds were quite attractive, he noticed, well kept with elaborately sculpted hedges and equally well made marble sculptures. Thankfully, none of the sculptures were anything like what the Countess most likely kept in her library. While he looked forward to that discussion with Katherine, it seemed prudent to save it until they were married. Whenever that might be.

She raised an eyebrow. "I beg to differ. You look quite delightful in pants." She pretended to gaze at a distant tree, her mouth twitching. "But nonetheless, thank you." They walked quietly for a little while, hand in hand, and then she ventured softly. "So darling, I must admit something before we go back into the catacombs."

Her tone had a bit of the confessional to it. Not enough to make him immediately worried, but enough to know that she was at least a little worried about whatever she wanted to admit to him. So he gently rubbed her hand and replied, "Katherine, you can tell me anything. If there is any one thing that I want you to know, it is that you should not fear to share with me."

She felt the flush rise in her cheeks and then felt it go down to her neck. Looking away to overcome the sudden need to giggle, she stopped walking and ducked her head. It was silly; she knew that she could tell him everything, but it was such a strange thing to say and even more so, such strange feelings to explain. "I---" she began, and stopped. What if he didn't want her afterwards? Swallowing, she turned and looked him in the eyes with a little bit of shame and a whole volume of questions. "Ezekiel, that spell that the imp entrapped me with, do you remember that I laughed and shrieked most unbecomingly? Well, ah . . . I enjoyed it immensely, my love! Whatever those things were that held me tickled and. . . ." Her face felt as if it were on fire and the memories of the touches made her embarrassment even worse. Finally, frustrated, she stomped one foot and rolled her eyes, looking down at ground. "It was just improper and wrong. But heavens, it felt wonderful."

Her eyes sought his face again, wide and worried. "You may break off the engagement now. I have been sullied by foul magic. And worse, I enjoyed it. I am no more than the worst of the street walkers who drunkenly ply their trade on the open streets. I would not do you the dishonor, Ezekiel, of marrying you now that this has happened. I have thought about it and decided that you needed to know so that you could make an informed choice. It is only fair. I am sorry that I am not the pure woman that you so richly deserve. I cannot do anything else but be honest with you and allow you the chance to leave me."

Ezekiel had to take a moment to think about exactly how her statements made him feel. He couldn't deny that his first reaction was jealousy. The imp had given her pleasure before he had a chance to and he briefly, ever so briefly mourned something innocent lost. But given a bit of time to consider and gather himself, he mostly just felt sad that she thought he would throw her aside so quickly and easily.

"Katherine," he replied carefully, "why do you have so little faith in me? Or in yourself?" He kept his hand wrapped around hers as he talked, trying to send her comfort through their touch. "I do not consider the imp's actions to have made you any less pure. But even if they somehow did, I am still in love with you."

He paused for a moment and a thought came to him and it was so obvious that he felt somewhat ashamed he had not had it before. "You know that I have shared a bed with a woman before I knew you. Do you wish to not marry me?" He hoped that he was not too subtle in making his point, but Ezekiel wanted her to come to the conclusion on her own.

Oh, it was still there! The green-eyed monster of jealousy roused itself and she felt his words hit her like a punch in the gut. Of course he had. Of course he would have known a woman in that way. She felt her eyes flare as she quickly looked to her shoes. Her breath caught in her throat and she swallowed to make it go down, forcing her mind to the task at hand.

She stood quietly as he held her hand, letting the whole of his statement come to her. There had been more words. There had been more than the maddening thought of a previous woman who had pleasured him; there was the warm and supportive acceptance that she herself could have been pleasured before she and Ezekiel had the chance to find it with one another. Abruptly, a silly thought came to her and she tried to suppress it, but after a moment, failed utterly. Her laughter brought her nearly to tears and as she looked at him helplessly through misted eyes, she knew that there would not be a moment that she was not grateful to have earned his love.

"I suppose," she managed finally, wiping her eyes once she had tucked her parasol under her arm, “that at least you got to meet your rival, even if he was tiny and repugnant. I just hope that your lover could be described in the same manner and that she smelled bad." She giggled again. "At least, don't tell me anything other than that."

She sighed, finally done. "Ezekiel, I. . .I just felt that I should offer you the chance to walk away as befitting your honor and all the formulations and regulations surrounding our positions. But my love, I do have faith in you. In all things. Even to the point of being fairly certain that you would reject my offer. Each day, the strength of my faith in you grows as each day you show me what an amazing man you are and more and more of your talents and charms are revealed to me. However, my faith in myself is not as strong, nor is my regard of what you are getting in exchange for yourself in this bond of matrimony."

She quickly kissed him on the chin and let her eyes sparkled into his. "But now that you have admitted to me that you want a woman sullied like me, I shall not let you free, nor shall I put such thoughts into your head. And I must admit that I am now much more curious as to what our wedding night will be like thanks to an imp. And, “her thumb rubbed his hand gently, "I am now required to outstrip your memories of that other lady. I shan't have you remembering her at all after our night." And she tossed her head with a tiny harrumph.

Ezekiel laughed with her as she painted a picture of the imp as a rival and then grew serious as he realized that she was jealous of a woman she had never met, that had blown through his life like a summer breeze. "I barely remember her at all, my love." He brought her hand up to his lips and turned it over to kiss her palm. "I have never experienced anything like what I have just begun to experience with you. If she was a droplet of water on my brow, then you are the ocean, majestic and beautiful, and I have only just begun to feel the cool spray of the water upon my skin."

"You have the sweet tongue of a charming rogue, and were I younger, I might be swept away," she retorted. She put her parasol back up and took a step, glancing back over her shoulder at him. "But you may keep talking. I'm willing to listen as your tongue caresses my ears with such delightful, lovely words. Had I known that you had such talents at stroking my ego, I might not have bored myself with all our talks of science and theology in the past." She had to press her lips together to keep from giggling; the innuendos were fun and she could not help herself. He was so serious now and she had to do something to bring a smile to his face.

Two might play at that game, he thought. "I did not realize I was quite so tedious and dull. Perhaps I should let you be free to find someone more interesting, someone more along the lines of your cousin Bertram." He stood there looking at her, a small smile sneaking its way across his face as he talked. "Perhaps he can recommend someone."

She spun on him, pouting. "But I've put so much work into you. I've made you believe that I am capable, brilliant, and interesting. Nay, even, shall I venture to say, lovely and alluring? Please sir, do not make me start over. What can I do to change your mind? I am but a poor old maid." She poked him gently with her parasol. "I even had to fence you. You know that I despised that, surely? All that animal sweatiness and physical contact." She had to walk off then; her shoulders shuddering with silent laughter.

"Well," he called after her, sighing in protest, a bit of if you insist entering into his voice, "I suppose a kiss might change my mind.” Pause. "With the promise of more to come."

Katherine composed herself, pivoting on the ball of her foot, with a matching martyred sigh. "I guess I can promise that. I'll try not to make a face when I kiss you if you promise not to either." She marched back to him, poking her parasol into the ground before putting her arms around his neck. "Will this do?" She planted a prim kiss on his lips.

"That was nice, I suppose," he said, with a small sigh. He scuffed his foot a little on the ground like a small child denied what he wanted. "I was expecting something more like this."

And Ezekiel licked his lips before he gave her a long, hungry kiss. He could feel an electric tingle jumping between them that went straight to his groin, causing a reaction that he had gotten very good in suppressing the last couple of weeks. When he finally pulled away, he tried to put an innocent look of his face without much success. "Something like that. Do you think you could manage that?"

She swayed as he let her go, her cheeks pink. "Let me see," she stated after a swallow and a breath. "Give me a moment to practice." Taking his face into her hands and pulled it to her, she kissed him softly at first, licking his lips gently before pressing hers against his with a passion. She finally gave into the urge that had overtaken her in Paris in the air, biting and sucking gently at his lips before finishing by kissing his eyelids, nose and chin. "Shall we practice some more?" she murmured into his ear before kissing his earlobe gently.

She pulled away, inflamed with a fire she could not name, but knew it as a fire as old as man. Although she blushed as she looked into his eyes, she knew with certainty to let her instincts control her when they were finally joined as man and wife as much as she knew to tamp them down now before she and Ezekiel were tempted beyond their abilities to control. Licking her lips, she sighed softly with a tiny noise and released him; England and the end to this torment was too far away.

He sighed again, but this one real rather than affected. "If we do not stop, practice will become reality, and we shall be in serious trouble." Enjoyable trouble though it might be. Ezekiel stepped forward and linked her arm in his again. "Perhaps to continue on with our walk and talk of things less likely to tempt into places we dare not go and acts we dare not perform." A beat. "For now."

She gathered up her parasol and leaned her head against his arm. "Have I told you how very wise you are?" she remarked as they began to walk again. "I shall tell you that I have no fear going back into the catacombs later today because I shall be there with you." Katherine raised her head for a moment. "With your brave heart and clear mind." She smiled, content. "I am very fortunate, Ezekiel Drake and very much looking forward to being the Mrs. Ezekiel Drake."

"And I look forward to having you." A brief pause as Ezekiel smiled a sly little grin that he rarely displayed. "As my wife, of course."

She couldn't help but playfully nudge him a little with her shoulder. "But of course. I wouldn't have taken it any other way, my dear." She looked out at an intriguing piece of topiary displayed within a vibrant mass of flowers. "Rather lovely bit of artistry," she commented and winked at him.

"Neither as lovely or as artistic as you, my treasure." He smiled at her as they continued their walk through the gardens. The day was beautiful, the rays of the sun streaming into the garden creating isolated pools of light that they walked through. They had walked for a few minutes when they approached a stone bench, simply but elegantly carved on the sides and the legs with patterns of dragons. It sat slightly in shade, a beam of sunlight just behind it but not quite illuminating it, creating the feel of a cozy hideaway from the rest of the garden.

Ezekiel motioned towards the bench with his free hand. "Would you care to sit for a few minutes and rest your feet? Perhaps just sit and talk for a little while on those boring, dull topics you mentioned earlier?"

Katherine followed the direction of his hand, settling herself on the bench as he sat beside her. "I would be delighted to be bored by you." She inhaled deeply, or as deeply as the corset allowed. "I don't want to return to the catacombs and yet, I cannot wait. The sooner we clean the defilement from that poor cathedral, the sooner that it can be made holy again. I cannot believe that a man of order would consort with the elder gods."

"Very few people display the same face to the world that they see in the mirror, Katherine." He looked out to the garden, his eyes moving restlessly in thought. The killing of the bishop had weighed upon him. It was the first time since Ezekiel had started his quest that he felt the Host had asked him to serve as judge and executioner. He had known that the time would come. The sword was a weapon and it was meant to be used. And Excalibur was the representation of Justice on this mortal coil. He could not be fit to wield it if he was not willing to dispense justice when it was necessary.

But yet...

"The bishop, at one point, may have had good intentions," Ezekiel continued on. Much as their group did now, he thought. "But somewhere along the way, he fell. He should serve as a warning to us to never elevate our duties to Queen and Country above those duties which we owe to the Host."

Katherine couldn't hide the sadness that suddenly overwhelmed her. "I trained almost everyday in combat. But even the best of what Sadif could teach me didn't prepare me for the first feel of a body against my sword. Even if it was that of an imp." She swallowed hard. "But I did hesitate when I shot the driver of the carriage. I knew that it must be done; but there was the tiniest of moments." She looked at him, her hand gripping his. "Even the dreadful demon woman," she paused. "Her face was human. It was hard. Not as I shot at her, but afterwards. At night. I dreamed of her face." Looking out to the rest of the gardens for a moment before looking at him, she managed a weak half-smile. "Not that I questioned what you and Neecy said. They were evil."

She was quiet for a moment and then, "Are we better than they if we kill them, Ezekiel?"

"We are not better because we kill them." Ezekiel said quietly. "Killing should never be the method of first resort, at least not when dealing with mortals."

He looked over at her and he was sad for the loss of innocence. He knew in his mind that she could not adventure with him without having to face a crisis over the end result of a battle with evil, but in his heart, it still saddened him that she must go through it. He could feel her hand gripping his so very tightly.

Ezekiel wanted to reassure her. "Demons are evil though, my love, and we fail in our service to the Host and to Order if we do not slay them. It is their nature to be such - they do not have the choice given to us mortals by the heavens."

"It seems a shame to be created without any chance of redemption, though. There is a cruelty to that, that one's destiny be so set." She sighed softly. "But even more sad that the Bishop turned his back on order. He was given the choice and he chose badly. Would you be angry if I told you that I wish to pray for his soul?" She looked into his eyes, searching. "I know that he deserved the death you gave him. It was a release more than a taking of something from him. But I want to pray for him." She frowned. "Once he had to have believed. Right?"

Ezekiel let loose a small laugh of relief. Katherine had such a good heart. She would be at his side as his partner, but it seems they could also serve as each other's conscience. "Of course I would not mind, my love." He smiled as he looked into those deep green eyes of hers. "All men and women deserve a chance at redemption. I'm sure that once he was a good man who believed in Order. And perhaps after his penance in the afterlife, his soul can find peace."

Katherine brightened like a ray of sunlight. "Oh, we must then. If there is a chance for him." She squeezed his hand again, only in exuberance. "You must lead. You were always so good at leading grace at my dinner parties. Shall we kneel or shall we stand, Ezekiel?"

"There is no need to kneel, at least not in my eyes. The Host looks into our hearts and sees our intent." He squeezed Katherine's hand tight as he closed his eyes and began his prayer.

“We pray to you, Saint John, in hopes that a soul that has been lost may one day be found. We, two humble servants of the Host were forced to serve justice to the bishop of Nuremberg yesterday. He, once, must have been a faithful servant of order and served the Host well. But he strayed from the path and gave his belief to the ancient Norse gods and summoned a demon through dark, chaotic magic.

Though he is by our hand dead, we do not rejoice in this, but rather weep for the loss. We pray to you, the Saint of Restitution, to request that you look over his soul in death so that he may have a chance in the next life to make up for the evil which he committed in this one.

And we also pray to you, Saint Peter, that you continue to guide our vision and our justice so that we do not step on to the same path that a once righteous man found himself on.

In the name of Justas, the Host, and Order itself we pray. Amen.”

Ezekiel opened his eyes and looked at Katherine. "I hope that my humble words served."

Her eyes were misted as she nodded. "From our hearts to Heaven, my love. May our hearts and hands always be guided by the Host's mercy, wisdom, and presence," she said softly. She leaned over, smiling, and put her head on his shoulder. "I am happy now. Thank you."

"As am I," Ezekiel said quietly. "I am, as always, proud to be at your side."

She exhaled softly, a gentle sigh with a tiny contented noise, closing her eyes. Nuzzling his shoulder, she squeezed his hand, inhaling his scent with her next breath. The soft sounds of the birds and the gentle rustle of the leaves surrounded them, the wind soft on their faces. If there was a better place or a better moment, she had not yet found it.

"I love you," she finally stated. The words were a poor substitution for what she felt; she only hoped that he felt on a tiny bit of the emotions behind them. Beyond words, beyond feelings, beyond explanation, beyond pride. He humbled her and yet exalted her and she would forever be grateful that Neecy's stubbornness had won the day. "Blessings to a stubborn, overly sensitive hobbit, too," she whispered. "Without which I would not be here with you."

Ezekiel felt the soft weight of her upon his shoulder, the quiet sound of her breathing, the sweet smell of her hair. And everything felt just as it should be. The Host was mysterious in their ways, but they had certainly been looking out for his best interests when they had steered him to Katherine.

"And I love you, Katherine." He ran one hand softly down her cheek, so smooth, so comforting. "Our marriage will just be the formality to what we already know we feel." And in his head, he thanked Monsieur Beignet as well for being the catalyst for something so amazing.

After a while, she lifted her head, a wry smile on her face. "I suppose that we should start back. Before they send the armies to find us. The Host know that we cannot be left to our own devices for very long lest we cause scandal."

Ezekiel stood up, keeping Katherine's hand in his to help her stand. And as he stood, he returned her smile with a small grin of his own. "Ah, but before long, we will be able to cause as much scandal as our hearts desire. And my heart is full of desire."

Her eyes twinkled. "Such wickedness after prayer from lips that so recently spoke such sanctified words." She twisted quickly to kiss him soundly. "There," she said afterwards, a bit breathless. "I've gotten the most of it off."

"Ah, but love," he said, after the kiss, still savoring the taste of it on his lips, "the Host understands. My vision portends of equality brought to all. You and I will shake society to its core when we are done, all for the better."

He smiled once more. "And that will not happen without some scandal along the way. If we are not raising a scandal, then perhaps we are not doing our task well enough."

She laughed, leaning to begin drawing him along towards the house. "I intend to make history then. Starting with our bathtub. I will warn you; I intend not to bathe alone ever again once we are married. My back will be clean." She looked back at him over her shoulder, grinning. "Just to let you know. Honesty in marriage, you see."

"Then I must be honest as well, as I always will be with you," he said with mock seriousness as he followed after her. "I will not mind bathing with you in the least."

"Very kind of you sir," she answered with the same seriousness and then helpless laughter rang through the air. She paused to let him catch up and gathered his arm against hers to continue their walk. "Kindness is one of your most wonderful traits."

"And your laughter is one of yours." The sound always helped him to soar higher, as if he could step up on each ringing note of happiness to approach the angels themselves.

He clutched her arm tight to him. "I do not plan to ever let you go now that I have found you, Katherine."

"Nor I you," she answered. "Shall we wind home for now, my heart? We still have the catacombs and I, for one, would like lunch before we go."

He nodded. "Yes, that sounds like an excellent idea. When we are married, you will have to make sure I eat regularly. I am admittedly poor about remembering such things."

"Such a burden you will be," Katherine countered with a wry smile. "Come then with your forgetful self and I will make certain that you are fed. Neecy will eat it all if we're late.” She waited a step and then cheerfully added, “Or feed you barrels of potato salad.” His horrified and aggrieved look only started her laughter again, giggles that lasted all the way until they reached the house.


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