Will Laurence breathed in the wonderful scent of the port of Dover as he stood on the shore with Temeraire, waiting for someone from the covert to come and meet them.
"Do you suppose they will be pleased to see us? I am certainly looking forward to seeing Maximus and Lily again." Temeraire asked his captain, resting his head on his forelegs.
"Well my dear, you must remember we are traitors now. I would not expect everyone to take kindly to our brief return, though I am sure Maximus and Lily have missed you terribly."
"Oh, that is perfectly all right with me." Temeraire smiled to himself. Laurence sighed. Who would be glad of his own return? It was surely too much to ask that Jane would be welcoming, but perhaps Berkley and Harcourt would be happy to see him...
"Laurence." a familiar voice greeted him, stiffly. Laurence looked up and saw Admiral Jane Roland walking towards him.
"J- uh, Admiral." Laurence corrected himself hurriedly; clearly, they were no longer on first-name terms. "I trust we find you in good health? Excidium and Emily too?"
"Indeed you do. Emily is anxious to see you, she has missed her captain."
Laurence's brow furrowed a little at the way Jane spoke those words, then he shook it from his mind and turned to Temeraire.
"Come, my dear, we must be off." Temeraire picked Laurence up onto his shoulders and placed him on his back.
"I will see you back at the covert, Jane."
"Admiral Roland to you." she corrected him coldly, marching off. Laurence sighed.
"She does not seem to like you at all anymore." Temeraire said sadly. "What a shame. I liked her."
Laurence said nothing as Temeraire rose into the air and soared towards the covert. On landing, there was a small knot of people waiting for them down in Temeraire's clearing. Among them were Berkley, Harcourt, James – and the most beautiful woman Laurence had ever seen. His heart missed a beat, and he urged Temeraire in to land, sliding off his back as gracefully as he could.
"Been too long, my friend!" Berkley laughed, thumping Laurence on the back. Harcourt gave him a companionable one-armed hug, and he briefly exchanged a hearty handshake with James. Then the woman came up to him, and Laurence looked at her for a long time. Her hair was a sandy blonde and it fell in waves halfway down her back. She was dressed in the bottle green aviator's uniform, and it clung to her beautiful curves. She was captivating.
"I don't believe we've had the pleasure of being introduced." Laurence said with a smile. The woman laughed; a soft, sweet sound.
"Have I changed so much that you no longer recognise me, Captain?" she said, and suddenly Laurence's jaw dropped. He knew that voice...
"Yes, you fool, it's me!" Emily chuckled, throwing her arms around him. "I missed you, Laurence."
Laurence was shocked at her sudden launch at him, and then he returned the embrace warmly. "I missed you too, Emily." Laurence glanced around to see that the others had left him alone with Emily; even Temeraire had gone to see Lily and Maximus.
"So, how is Australia?" Emily asked. "Is it any different than when I was last there?"
"Not at all. Still as hot as always, and still as foreign."
Emily laughed again. "Why have they all gone and left us alone?"
Laurence knew why. Among his generation of aviators the way he felt about Emily had been no secret. They were giving him this chance to tell her. It was take the chance, or most likely never get another one.
"I know why." Laurence smiled. "They know that I have something I wish to tell you."
"I have something to tell you too, but you first." Emily said, subconsciously moving even closer to him, which was near impossible given that they had remained so close after the hug.
"Well, I, uh..." Laurence stammered. "Have you ever heard the saying 'actions speak louder than words'?"
"Yes, but what does that have to do with..." In one swift movement Laurence leaned down and pressed his lips softly against Emily's. Emily sighed and melted into his embrace, then suddenly broke away from him.
"Oh, Laurence, I am so sorry. But the thing I need to tell you is... I'm engaged."
Laurence looked at her for a long time, his eyes moving from her face to her left hand, on which he now noticed a sparkling ring. His heart felt like it was breaking. "Who is the lucky fellow?" he asked quietly.
"Laurence! Good to see you again!" called another voice, and Laurence turned to see Captain John Granby walking towards him. Laurence briefly embraced his former first lieutenant.
"Ready to go, Emily, love?" Granby turned to Emily.
"Yes John." she replied, turning red as Granby kissed her on the cheek.
"Why the blush, darling?" Granby asked her. "Oh! Laurence, how idiotic of me. Emily and I have been courting for some time now, and only last week I finally asked if she would let me make an honest woman out of her."
Laurence hesitated for a long time, then forced his face into the most convincing smile he could manage. Was Granby that oblivious to what discussions had gone on between his fellow officers?
"That is wonderful news. I wish both of you all the best."
"Anyway, I promised I would take her out to dinner to talk about setting a date and everything else." Granby continued. "Shall we, love?"
"We shall, John." Emily gave him a smile, reaching out to hug Laurence goodbye. As she did so, she whispered in his ear. "Meet me here at ten tonight. I'll explain everything."
She pulled away just as suddenly as before, and linked her arm through Granby's as they walked away towards the town, casting one last glance back at Laurence over her shoulder.
Laurence watched her go. In that one moment when his lips had touched Emily's, everything had been perfect, and now to discover she was engaged... It was breaking him inside...
She kissed you back, Laurence's mind suddenly told him.
"She did..." Laurence murmured aloud to himself. For a fleeting second, Emily's mouth had moved with his as though they were made to fit...
"What am I to do now?" Laurence sighed, turning on his heel to go to Temeraire, hoping the explanation Emily had to give later would be enough to keep his feelings at bay...