AN: Not the most innovative title for a story, yeah. Sorry!
And this story is what happens when a rabid shipper finds an keyboard left unattended for too long. This is my first ever try at writing anything of this sort, so any suggestions are welcome.
He tells her everything. What happened at Diego Garcia, at Easter Island, and in between.
She's curled up against him on the sofa, head on his chest and hand clutching a steaming mug of coffee.
"So, did you do it?" she asks, the last of her questions.
"Her. The princess."
He stares at her.
"I'd understand, you know," she adds quickly. "Given the frame of mind you were in, it's completely justifiable. I mean, I'm not—"
Her words tumble over one another in a rush to not be misunderstood, and he suppresses a smile.
He closes his eyes and leans back in his chair as she leaves his cabin, trying not to think.
His mind has other ideas.
A flurry of memories race by in his head. Each image is as clear as the woman who's still waiting just out of sight, probably hoping to hear the scrape of a chair being pushed back.
A windswept beach in Dublin, a different woman with bright eyes and big dreams kisses him. He tastes innocence and freshness and young love and it's new and electrifying. He pretends he deserves this magical girl and he pretends he'll get to stay for more than a year.
A darkened kitchen in Victoria Station, after everyone's long asleep. This time it's all tongues and teeth and hands everywhere. Frantic, rushed. They feel more like a couple of randy teenagers than mature adult soldiers who are nevertheless too young to throw ten years of their life into a mission headed towards near-certain disaster.
He pretends she'll have a life after this, when this is over. A life apart and away from all this.
At Perth Airport, she kisses him softly, with a quiet sadness. He doesn't try and stall her, or stop her. It's almost too easy to pretend she'll be back. That it'll all be the same when she is. That he'll still have time to ask her what he should have asked seventeen years ago. He pretends he has a plan to give her the ring that's currently burning a hole in his coat pocket, because of course it'll all be the same.
But it is so very different, at the Burj Al Arab, when it's past one in the morning on New Year's Day and they're both a little too tired to think straight and when he kisses her she doesn't turn away at first but all the same, pulls away a bit too soon. He feels a hint of something he's never felt before in her kiss… regret?
He pretends he doesn't notice.
And now, here. His head is spinning. Now he sees the signs, her distance, her (now) quite obvious remorse, and more glaringly, (with a pang of his own guilt) what he could've done differently.
But his little private slideshow has awakened him up to a startling realization.
She had made a mistake. But she didn't deserve his recrimination until she had at least had a chance to defend herself. Until he knew why she'd done what she'd done. He owes that much to the woman who'd stood by him all those years, whom he'd hurt more than once, who'd blindly followed him to more life-and-death situations than he could count.
He wonders if this is some cognitive consistence bullshit his brain is pulling, because some part of him is absolutely unshakeable in its disbelief of any malice on her end.
That part wins. He decides to wait, to give her the benefit of the doubt, before blaming her for breaking whatever little heart he had left.
A small voice in his head, which still retains his nobility, thinks that even a woman as manipulative and self-serving as the British Royal didn't deserve to be used by a man who could kiss her and still see nothing but blonde hair and blue eyes.
Her question hangs in the air, and he answers.
He pretends he doesn't see her let out the breath she'd been unconsciously holding and that her coffee cup seems a lot steadier now.
The one thing he does know, however, is that the woman who's currently lacing his fingers with hers (who will soon ask him to marry her on bended knee), that this wonderful, brave woman, will forever own his loyalty.