Emily excused herself to put the roses in water. Robin followed her to the kitchen and stood leaning against the door frame as she took a vase down, and then found a pair of scissors. “The problem isn’t really this photo, you know,” Emily told him from the sink, her back to him as she cut the flowers.
“What is it, then?” Robin asked, baffled.
“It’s that I’m not your type.”
“Who says that?”
“Well, look at the others. The Lady from the Paris Airshow and now this woman.”
“There were lots. Do they matter?”
That put her on the spot. “No, of course not. Not if you’re sure that you don’t still want one of them – someone who can help your career, make life a luxury for you, open doors to unheard-of futures in politics or whatnot.” Emily had learned at Cambridge just how very much the “right” connections could do for you in life.
“I went to a great deal of effort to avoid the snares of the lot of them and stay free,” Robin retorted sharply. “I don’t want to be married to a woman like Virginia Cox-Gordon or Caroline Merriweather.”
The sharpness – almost bitterness – of his tone surprised Emily, and she noted with a rush of guilt how very gaunt Robin looked. He must have lost a lot of weight recently. As their eyes met, she had another shock: he was frightened – really frightened.
Emily left the roses standing and crossed the room to him. He pulled her tightly into his arms and clung to her. “Don’t leave me, Emily.”
“Forgive me, Robin. I had no right to give you a fright. I considered that I ought to give you up, and that I might be happier in the long run if I did, but I can’t give you up now. If you want me—”
“I do. Emily, the others were playthings. The only person I can imagine spending the rest of my life with is you.”
Emily lifted her head and they kissed. It was a long kiss, and at the end of it Robin drew back, only to hold her tightly to him again. “When are we getting married?”
“As soon as you can get some leave,” Emily assured him.
Robin dropped her and stepped backwards. “You know perfectly well I can’t get any leave!”
Emily was left bewildered by his abrupt change of mood. “Other people do—”
“Other people aren’t commanding a fighter squadron – or if they are, they have at least one Flight Lieutenant! Woody’s hardly up to leading a flight, let alone a squadron. Sutton and Donohue are cracking up on me. Ginger gets sick at the sight of the enemy, and Banks can’t – or won’t – shoot. At least Ainsworth bought it today, so that’s one less worry. And Eton’s broken his collar-bone.”
“So how do you picture a wedding? I come out to the dispersal and the padre marries us between scrambles, or what?” Emily retorted, hurt to the quick by his tone and unable to follow his logic. It was as if he wanted to marry her only in the abstract.
“Of course not! We get stood down for one day every four now.” He was scowling darkly. He thought she understood what things were like. He’d depended on it.
“One day,” she sneered.
“Twenty-four hours; maybe I can stretch it to 36, if we have late readiness the next day, but frankly, if you’re going to start making demands in the middle of all this, then maybe you’re no better than the rest after all.”
“Demands? You think expecting to spend one week with my husband is a demand?!” Emily shot back on the brink of tears.
“Who’s talking about a week? I thought we were talking about a lifetime.”
“That’s what I wish we were talking about, too! But how the hell can you promise me a lifetime when you can’t promise me an hour from the next time you go on bloody readiness!” Emily flung back at him, and then tried to run out of the kitchen because she was ashamed of herself. She knew she shouldn’t have said it. It was against the rules.
Robin stopped her and pulled her into his arms.
She broke down and started sobbing. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I know. All I’m asking for is a week.” She sobbed into his tunic. “A week together without the war.”
All his anger was gone. He felt only sympathy for her. And love. He held her without another word until she had calmed herself down. She sniffled, and muttered, “I need a handkerchief.” She started to pull away from him to go and find one, but he held her fast with one arm and drew his own handkerchief out of his trouser pocket. He handed it to her, and she blew her nose, still enclosed in his arms. Then he pulled her tighter again, and she surrendered, laying her head on his chest, feeling the wet of her own tears and the scratch of his wings, and just waited.
When he was sure he had her attention, Robin said very softly, “We cannot build a future together on the assumption I am going to die tomorrow.”
Emily took a deep breath. “I know.”
“I’ll put in for leave and see what they give me, but the reality is, I’m more likely to get a 48-er than a week. I’d rather do that, than live without you one day longer than necessary.”
Emily only nodded, not trusting herself to say anything. After a bit she drew back and asked, “Have you had anything to eat?”
“I ate at the mess.”
“I can’t remember. I wasn’t paying much attention.”
“Let me make you something. You’re too thin.”
“You don’t have to cook, Emily. That’s not why I love you.”
“Why do you love me?”
“Because you aren’t in love with a trophy winner, or a fighter pilot, or a DFC. You’re in love with me – a me I don’t even know is there half of the time. You remind me that I’m more than just the brain of my Hurricane.”
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