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A Place of Their Own

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Emeraude had thrown her arms around Clef's neck and kissed him on the cheek when he offered them the place. It was just a little stone cottage that was sitting neglected on the edge of Clef's family estate.

"No one has lived in it for a good few decades," Clef said when he handed Zagato the keys. "The bones should still be solid, but I make no promises about the rest of it."

But Emeraude couldn't have cared less. They left Clef's house with her nearly bouncing in excitement. "It's ours! All ours!"

Seeing the place hadn't done anything to dampen her enthusiasm in the least. If anything, it just increased it.

Zagato found it difficult to see past the crumbling plaster and faulty wiring, even after they had started clearing the detritus that had been left behind by previous tenants, but Emeraude saw a blanks slate, a chance to make something truly their own.

They had set to work immediately, pulling down the old plaster and clearing the floors.

'Labour of love' took on a new meaning for Zagato that year. If it hadn't been for his love for Emeraude, and the desire to support her in this project she was incredibly excited about, he wouldn't have even started the project. He'd taken one look at the work and wanted to turn around and hand the keys back to his mentor.

But what Emeraude wanted, Emeraude got.

Clef helped them find craftsmen and engineers when they needed them. At first, he paid for them, but when Emeraude and Zagato put up a fuss that he had done enough given them the cottage to start with, they started receiving the bills. But the prices always seemed considerably less than Zagato would have thought they would be when they arrived.

They spent weeks stripping back the woodwork by hand - years of strange paint combinations and far too much magnolia were peeled back to reveal a beautiful grain.

Somedays it seemed there was more paint and plaster on either of them than on the walls, but it was also those days that Emeraude would turn to him laughing with the brightest smile he'd ever seen on her face, and he couldn't help the rush of affection. It was wonderful to see her completely and truly happy for the first time in years.

The hard work was worth it if he could end that day with that smile in front of him.

.*.

It took three months longer and nearly twice as much as they had estimated to complete the project to perfection.

And it was perfection. All beautiful woodwork, decorative plaster, and cheery fireplaces.

They'd furnished it an eclectic mix of flat-pack furniture, hand-me-downs (if antiques from the lesser used rooms of Clef's great house counted as hand-me-downs), and a few high street items that Emeraude had insisted they needed. She'd even learned to sew so she could make the curtains that she wanted - that no shop seemed to carry.

Walking into that place, he felt truly at home.

.*.

They married that spring - a small ceremony at the registrar's office, with only their very closest friends and family present. They hosted a picnic afterward, in the cottage garden - their newest project.

Looking around at all the happy smiling faces, Zagato knew Emeraude was right; it was wonderful having a place all their own.

He wouldn't trade it for the world.