A/N: Everything here (except Luke - he's mine!) belongs to Kenneth Oppel and Harper Collins. I'm not making any profit from this, and it is all done with the utmost respect for the author and these books.
As Matt Cruse walked along the banks of the Seine, he thought he felt entirely too happy. He practically felt on the verge of whistling, but contented himself instead with a smile. The sinking sun was warm on his back, he had just finished classes at the Airship Academy for the day, and he was on his way to Kate's house.
He swerved his way in and between the crowds on the street, by now used to the current of the river that was streets of Paris. It had been nearly eight months since the adventure with the Hyperion and Matt had just begun his last year at the Academy. He had been visiting Kate often, formally and even sneaking in through her window at night. It was thrilling and satisfying after so many years of dancing around each other, to finally admit their feelings and move on from there.
The one problem, Matt thought as he drew closer to Kate's grand house, was that her family had little idea who he was. They knew him from the papers, the stories of his heroic deeds and he had been invited to dinner once after the Hyperion incident, but that was it. They had no clue that he was tarnishing their daughter's reputation. Though that was the wrong term, Matt thought. He wasn't doing this thing with Kate because he wanted to drag her down with him, or just for fun. It meant more to him, she meant more to him, than that.
The sun was below the horizon as Matt walked slowly across the Pont de Bercy. He took his time, knowing it would be a while before Kate would be able to escape Miss Simpkins and go up to her room, where he would be waiting. He smiled at the thought, anticipation making his heart thump a little harder.
Her house was the second one on the left, a little back from the street, and it seemed more elegant and distant each time Matt saw it. It intimidated the hell out of him, to be sure, but now that he knew how to enter it in secret, it wasn't so bad.
He ducked under a trellis that was artfully hiding a door meant for the gardener. The lock was rusted and practically falling off, so Matt just gave it a little nudge and he was in.
The garden stretched back toward the house, open in the middle with trees surrounding it. Matt stayed in the growing shade, tip-toeing toward the right side of the house. Feeling cheeky, he crept over to the stone wall of the house and peered inside. It was the dining room he was looking in to, and he saw Kate –
And her parents. Her parents were there. Matt quickly ducked back down, heart now pounding out of shock instead of anticipation. Her mother and father were never there! They traveled a lot, or mostly stayed in London while Kate studied in Paris. He crouched in the bushes, wondering if he should still go up to see Kate at all, wondering why she hadn't told him that her parents would be coming.
As Matt remained as still as possible and tried to think, he heard the deep rumble of her father's voice. He listened for another second, and Kate laughed. And in that moment, he made up his mind.
Creeping along the side of the house, he quickly found his way to the drainpipe he used as a handhold. Immensely thankful that although he had grown nearly six inches he was still light and nimble, he began to climb. Balancing his feet on the stone walls, he made his way up inch by inch to the second floor. Once he made it far enough he grabbed on to the windowsill and pulled himself up that one last inch. Kate, as usual, had left the window open just a crack, and he pushed it open enough for him to slide in. Grunting, he did a very ungraceful somersault and landed on Kate's plush carpet.
Once in, he lay on the carpet, catching his breath. It was soft and thick under his back, and he enjoyed the feel of it for a long minute as his breathing eased.
He stood and walked over to the mirror beside her vanity table, ruffling his hair a little to try and make it fall in the right place. He studied himself, wondering how adult he seemed. At seventeen he felt more adult, and he had filled out a lot after going out on two more training vessels and being forced to do some hard labor instead of just sitting in a classroom. Matt peered at his reflection, at the way his dark hair flopped over his forehead, the way his serious brown eyes stared back at him.
"Goodnight mother, father," a voice outside the door said, and Matt straightened quickly, brushing the front of his clothes off in inexplicable nervousness. Then, in a sudden panic, he went and hid behind the door, afraid that someone might follow Kate inside her room. The doorknob twisted and Matt went still.
Her shadow appeared first, stretching out across the carpet, and she shut to door behind her without looking back. Matt smiled, as he could see her looking around the darkened room, trying to find him. He stayed hidden though, enjoying being able to look at her without any inhibitions.
Kate de Vries had grown up too in the past eight months. Her hair was longer, shinier, and she had developed curves in lovely places, if anyone asked Matt. He smiled at her back as he watched her.
"Matt?" she whispered anxiously and his grin broadened.
"Right here," he whispered back. She spun, surprised. He stepped towards her and she gave him the full, bright smile that Matt thought of as his own.
She practically jumped on him, arms wrapping around his neck. He chuckled softly, his arms automatically finding their place around her corseted waist.
"I thought you weren't here for a second," Kate said in a breathless, accusatory voice. She lifted her head from where she had buried it in his shoulder and looked up at him, trying to look stern and failing. Instead of answering, Matt chose to lean his head down and press his lips against hers.
Kissing Kate still felt as good as it had on the island, when they'd nearly been killed, or on the Hyperion, when they had finally made amends with each other. She responded eagerly, pulling his head down closer to hers, her lips sliding over his with an intense focus that was characteristically Kate.
She pulled back and looked at him, smiling happily, through lidded eyes. Matt took a hand from her waist and ran it over her glossy mahogany hair, feeling a shiver run through him at the want in her dark eyes. He thought he would never tire of that.
"Well, I suppose this makes up for it," she said quietly, her fingers digging into his hair. She stood on her toes and kissed him again, quickly, as if she couldn't keep her lips away from his.
"I don't have anything to make up for," Matt replied, pretending to be offended. But he couldn't stop smiling, and leaned down to kiss her again, slowly. This time when they pulled back, they stayed nose to nose with each other, content to be sharing the same space.
"Mmm, I missed you." Kate smiled up at him as he admitted that, laughing a little.
"It's only been two days, Matt." He ran his hands over her back, trying to feel more of her through all the stiff layers of clothing she wore. It had become his recent goal to try and figure out – or at least imagine – what lay beneath there.
"Two days too long," he replied. He touched his lips to her nose and she wrinkled it. "So your parents are here?" Her smile slipped a little and she stepped out of his embrace.
"Yes. I wasn't expecting it at all." She sat on her plump little couch and he followed her, sitting close. "They all of a sudden decided that they were going to take an interest in my studies, now that it looks like I might be able to get a grant to go back to the island." Though she was agitated about her parents, that familiar excited gleam worked its way into her eyes. "Oh Matt, we might get to go back! I'll wait to take your ship of course," Matt snorted, "but it might actually happen! I'm terribly excited."
Matt watched her in amusement. With her hands gesturing, her eyes alight and her lips red from kissing him, he thought she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, airships included.
"If I get a ship, you mean. I'm not even out of the Academy yet."
"Oh, you will." Kate brushed away the comment like it had never been spoken. "I expect you to fly me out there, Matt. There's no way you can escape it." He grinned at her.
"There's no way you'll go without me, then? No other handsome, roguish captains going to appear while I'm studying?" Matt cringed a little at the thought of Hal, even though he hadn't seen the man for some three months now.
Kate snorted. "Not likely." She raised her eyebrows at him. "There are no other ones I see that I like." Matt smiled, a little smug.
"Let's keep it that way, hey?" They leaned in again, and Kate's hand found its way to the back of his neck, pulling his head the last inch so that his mouth met hers.
Soon, as always, they found themselves getting a little carried away. Kate was kissing him a little too eagerly and his hands were wondering a little too low, stroking where they most likely should not. She was practically in his lap, trying to get as close as possible to him. His arms pulled her to him and they pressed in tight.
Matt associated Kate with adventure. Everything about her had an exciting glow to it. She was a wild fire he couldn't quite get his head around, and he couldn't get enough of her.
But he pulled his head back, breathing hard. Kate looked up at him, eyes dark. Matt wanted nothing more than to continue what they had started, but he took a deep breath and steadied himself.
"We can't let that go any further," he said. She nodded and pushed some of her chestnut waves out of her face. Then she reached up and moved some of his hair off his forehead, her hands soft.
"I know." Her voice was quiet and she sighed. "I do want to, though." Even though there was regret in her words, Matt felt something like hope jump inside him. She wanted…him? Even though it had been some time since she had told him that all that mattered was him, that he was all she wanted, he still had trouble believing her. But as he stared down at her flushed face, he believed it.
"Kate – " He leaned down again and her eyes went soft. Right as he was about to kiss her, the door swung open.
"Kate, I – oh!" Kate's mother stood in the door, her hand to her throat. She stared at Matt with wide eyes as he jumped to his feet.
"Mother!" Kate had gone deathly pale and she stood up beside Matt. "What are you doing here?" Matt opened his mouth to say something, anything, but his brain had gone blank. What does one say when one is found alone in a room with a young lady?
"Kate, what is the meaning of this?" Her mother's voice was shrill and slightly hysterical as she looked at him like he was a monster who had just crawled out of the closet. "Who is that?!"
"Ma'am, I'm – " Matt started to say.
"What is going on here?" Kate's father appeared, and Matt thought he might faint. Only in his wildest dreams had he ever imagined meeting Kate's father, and the circumstances had certainly not been these. He had just returned home from an adventure with Kate, one that had finally gotten him enough money to give him some chance with her, and her parents had welcomed him like a returning hero.
Dreams were nothing like reality.
Now Matt was faced with an angry, protective father who probably thought he was leading his impressionable daughter into sin. Matt gulped.
"What are you doing in here with my daughter?" Mr. De Vries stepped forward and looked like he was going to punch Matt, but Kate stepped up.
"Father, Mother, this is Matt Cruse. You know, from the Aurora and the Sagarmatha and all." She was using her calming voice like she was approaching a herd of nervous horses. Which, Matt supposed, she was.
"The cabin boy?" Her mother cried, a hand flying to her mouth. "Kate, really? Oh, this is most embarrassing." She turned as if unable to look at them.
"A cabin boy?" Her father was completely red in the face. Still, Matt plastered a (he hoped) confidant smile on his face.
"Mr. De Vries, sir, pleased to meet you." He held out his hand, which the older man ignored.
"Pleased is not what I would call it," Mr. De Vries said with a sneer under his large moustache. "Tell me, Mr. Cruse, why are you in my daughter's room, alone?" Matt flushed brilliant red and once again could not find the words to say.
"Sir, I – "
"Answer me, boy." He stepped forward again like he was going to hit Matt, who took a step back.
"Father, please! Be reasonable!" Kate raised her hands, trying to calm him. "Matt is a friend and you have no right treating – "
"No right?" Mr. De Vries thundered. "You know better, Kate! Why on earth would you allow him to come in here with no chaperone? Why would you allow him to see you at all?" Kate opened her mouth to argue in return, but he kept going. "He's nobody, Kate, trash. He has no right being near you – "
"Father! He goes to the Airship Academy – "
"I don't care if he owns a ship made of gold; he is nothing." Kate's mother gave a pitiful wail in the background and Kate was glaring at her father, ready to attack him, but Matt stepped forward.
"Sir, I love your daughter. I would do anything for her, please know this – " But, instead of making this any better, Matt appeared to make them worse.
Several things happened simultaneously. First, Kate turned to look at him, her eyes wide. Somewhere in the back of his mind Matt was shocked at what he had said, but knew the words were true. Second, her father went very still and very red. Third, her mother fainted.
"Get. Out." Mr. De Vries' eyes were hot coals in his face as he glared at Matt with seemingly unending hatred. "How dare you even be here at all. Get out of my house!" Matt winced at his words.
"Sir – "
"Don't you dare speak to me!" Then he finally reached forward and grabbed Matt by the shoulder. Matt tried to fight back but Mr. De Vries was a much bigger man and was soon hauling him down the stairs and towards the door.
"Matt!" Kate had gone to her mother first but was now racing down the stairs after him. "Father, please, don't!" Her voice sounded ragged. "Father, stop it!"
"Kate, go back to your room. Now." Her father's voice was stony. Final. Matt gave up struggling and let himself be shoved out the front door. He sprawled on the stone steps, wincing as he hit the hard surface. "Stay away from my daughter."
"Matt!" He heard, and then the doors closed.
He sat on the cold steps in the dark, staring up at the unassailable fortress before him, and felt completely, utterly, hopeless.
With a heavy heart, he stood and walked away.