Aubrey Fitzwilliam wasn't hiding. He didn't like that word. 'Hiding' meant he was going to be found eventually. He didn't want to be found. Especially not by the person yelling his name from the other side of the door to his office.
He sat hunched over his desk, looking at the cover of an unopened manila folder. He should have read that report earlier, but he'd gotten sidetracked. A soft knock started up again, wincing, he sat back, wishing he could curl into a small defensive ball like the millipedes who curled up when poked.
Any other day of the week he would have been delighted to see Caroline Hepworth's face. It had the delightful effect of making his heart speed up and slow down simultaneously. But as he knew he was in trouble, he kept silent, hoping she would think that he was away.
'I know in there Aubrey.' resounded from the other side of the closed door. She hadn't fallen for it. Of course not.
Reluctantly he stood up from behind his desk, wincing as he knees cracked from sitting down for too long. He walked to the door and opened it. Caroline's beautiful face was almost snarling, showing Aubrey just how trouble he was in.
'Are you ready for lunch?' she snapped, 'Or should I just stay here and we discuss the problems here?'
Opening the door more widely, Aubrey revealed the obvious rip in his jacket. He hadn't meant to ruin it, but the pocket had gotten caught on the handle of the drawer on his desk and as he went to turn away, it had torn.
After letting out a resigned sigh, she squeezed past Aubrey, went to his desk, and opened the bottom most drawer. Confused, Aubrey went over to her. She straightened up and grabbed hold of the jacket lapels forcing him to sit in his chair.
She had somehow found a needle and copious amounts of thread in the bottom drawer and after threading the needle she sat herself down on the edge of Aubrey's knees and began attacking his torn jacket, leaving order rather than chaos in her wake.
When she was finished sewing up the small rip, Caroline tied a small knot and deftly ripped the excess thread off. Standing up, she hauled Aubrey to his feet before leading the way to the door.
'We're going to Marcel's,' she announced over her shoulder, 'I figured Lutetian cuisine would be fitting for our discussion.' Aubrey grunted his acquiescence, simply glad that Caroline hadn't gotten too angry with him.
After being served a fine platter of delicately cooked Lutetian chicken, Caroline launched into discussion by announcing that the Lutetian and Holmland governments had finally come to an agreement over land ownership in the North-Eastern border of Lutetia.
He sighed in relief, glad that the situation regarding Divodorum was settled peacefully. Last he'd heard Major Saltin was convinced that this conflict would result in another war, a stark turn-around since his view on last time. Aubrey winced as he thought of what he owed to the airman.
Unbeknownst to him at the time; Major Saltin had been one of the Lutetian prisoners that Aubrey was forced to be photographed with when he was in Baron Von Grolman's factory at Stalsfrieden.
When the whole place was blown up by explosives laid by Katya and her crew, the prisoners had managed to escape. They returned to Lutetia with the truth behind the pictures. After announcing that Aubrey was innocent the pictures were denounced, and Aubrey was no longer considered a traitor by the newspapers.
Until Aubrey caught Tremaine he knew he would not be welcomed back lightly, and until he did, he wasn't going back home.
After their lunch they decided to take a stroll along Earlchester bridge where Caroline had admitted all those years ago that she knew about Aubrey's illness. They stopped at the same spot as they had back then. Instead of talking they both admired the view of the city.
Caroline looped her arm through his and let her head rest lightly on his shoulder. Her perfume filled his nostrils, it was flowery, but had a honey-like undertone to it. 'Heaven,' Aubrey thought to himself, 'I've died and gone to heaven.' A quiet, annoyed sound came from Caroline and she straightened up, once again her attention was on his jacket. "I didn't do enough stitches;" she grumbled unhappily "there's still a bit hanging loose."
Looking down at his mended jacket, Aubrey thought it looked fine. As if his careless movement had never ripped it at all. When he told her this, she slapped him lightly on the arm and picked up the mended spot, and showed Aubrey the tiniest piece of loose fabric.
He grinned, 'So I take it you're reconsidering working as a seamstress them?' he joked. She glared at him in return. 'As long as you're reconsidering your occupation as a comedian.' she shot back, her mouth still set in an unhappy grin, but her eyes lightened, welcoming the sparring of wits.
Instead of coming up with another comment or (heaven-forbid) a pun, he pulled Caroline's arm closer back to him. She looked up at him, her gaze softening.
They walked slowly back to Lattimer House. Caroline seemed in no hurry, and Aubrey would match her pace even if she decided to run all the way back. She kept her arm looped through his, which was delightful. Aubrey relished in the closeness, savouring every moment.
Looking down at Caroline, her face was set in determination, as if she was mulling over her thoughts. Aubrey pondered what he would give to be able to see into her mind, then dismissed the notion. He liked being alive.
He continued to watch her as they walked. The streets were, thankfully, uncrowded so he didn't run into anyone. Her expression didn't change from her deliberating look. A small crease appeared between her eyebrows, she bit her bottom lip. Aubrey thought it was a scene that could make people stand up and cheer with tears in their eyes. She looked so beautiful, yet so heartbreaking.
When she noticed Aubrey staring at her, she let her expression relax, but a shadow of the crease still remained. Whatever she had been worrying about was still in the forefront of her mind. She took a deep breath and Aubrey would tell that she was mentally preparing herself for what she was about to say.
She let a few breaths in and out before she opened her mouth. 'Aubrey,' she began hesitantly 'I have two questions for you.' seeing that she needed encouragement to continue, he nodded his acquiescence, knowing that speaking was beyond him as he watched her.
She seemed indecisive about which question to ask first, and ended up blurting out 'Does George want children?' Aubrey stopped dead, staring at Caroline confused. She met his gaze evenly and said one more word to explain herself 'Sophie.' Ah.
'I don't know,' he answered truthfully, 'it's not something I think we've ever discussed…' Caroline nodded and said, 'It's just that, since the wedding, I've been wondering if they'll settle down somewhere to start a family…' as strange as the notion was to consider, Aubrey could picture his friends in a quiet cottage, like the Doyle's farmhouse in the country, with honeysuckle and ivy growing everywhere.
'I suppose they will eventually, even if they work for a few years before… err, settling down.' Aubrey coloured at the thought, he and George were the same age, but George was one step ahead of him this time.
'Your second question?' he prompted her.
'Will we ever settle down?' her question was abrupt, and Caroline had to look away after asking it. Aubrey couldn't believe his ears.
He assumed she would want to travel the world. Explore every inch. Discover hundreds of never before seen creatures; before she'd even consider settling down, get married or have a family. The look on his face prompted her to continue.
'I know what you must be thinking, that I've gone and been replaced by someone else for thinking this way; but Aubrey we're both twenty-five, and not that I care for what society thinks but I do want to get married. I've already achieved so much else. Playing a part in getting votes for women; I've helped your mother discover and classify dozens of seabirds and arctic creatures. I've travelled all over the word, in all kinds of ways. I've seen so many things and had so many adventures, and even though we're still young, I want to know if we're going to have an adventure.'
She stared at Aubrey, their eyes meeting perfectly. Aubrey imagined she could see right into his soul, and as he stared into her chocolate brown eyes, he felt the same.
Not knowing how to respond, he pulled her closer, his hands gently enfolded around hers. He let his eyes peruse her face. She was so heartbreakingly beautiful, and she wanted to marry him? His mind rushed a million miles per hour as he tried to think of how to respond appropriately. He thought back to the war, all three of them, adventuring, saving the country, thwarting evil. With all that behind them, life often appeared mundane. Aubrey was determined to not let his life get too boring.
Aubrey knew that this was a 'do-or-die' moment, he had to say the right thing, or else all the times he pictured Caroline walking away to be never seen again would probably come true. Looking back into her eyes, he knew just what to say, even though it didn't answer her question.
'I love you.'