A/N: Sorry about the delay, my life has busy moments. As ever, I don't own the characters; I hope AR wouldn't have minded me borrowing them for a while.
Nancy reclined - rather elegantly, she thought - beneath the lower marker. When John retrieved the bottle of champagne from among the rocks she laughed and asked, "So, what are we celebrating, Commodore?"
"It's not Commodore any more, Nancy, it's Midshipman. I've passed my exams and qualified for sea training, and after all these years you seem like the obvious person to celebrate that with. Hang on, just let me get the glasses, I hid them here earlier too…"
She laughed. "If you hid them too well, John, just take a look in that bush." She pointed. "You'll find two champagne flutes there, wrapped in a towel. You might want to check around the rock where Titty saw the dipper, too."
John raised an eyebrow. "Am I not the only one who's been hiding things here, then?"
Nancy smiled at him. "You're on your feet, Mr Midshipman Walker, so why don't you go and see?"
John finally managed to find his two glasses - also wrapped in a towel - then walked along the edge of the harbour to the rock Nancy meant. The dipper wasn't here today, and indeed nobody had seen it except Titty on that one occasion years ago, although she'd told them all about it and showed them where the little bird had stood and bowed at her. It was perhaps three feet from the shore, and just in front of it, under the water, he could see a submerged cloth bag. He reached out and retrieved it, and it gave a glassy chink as he lifted it from the water. He felt it carefully. Yes, it contained a champagne bottle and what appeared to be a large stone.
He walked back to Nancy holding his bottle, the rolled towel and the dripping bag. "So are you celebrating the end of school in style?" he asked.
Nancy smiled and patted the grass beside her. "Sit down, John, and get one of those open. I think we should keep the second one for another day, though, especially after that beer you had."
He laughed as he sat down. "So that's why you went all Susanish on me! I did wonder. It didn't seem like you somehow."
"Well, we know that a bottle of wine between us leaves both a bit taken aback, and of course champagne is bubbly, which isn't going to help." She extracted the bottle from the bag and laid it on the grass beside John's, then wiped her wet hand on her breeches. "Which one shall we open, Mr Midshipman?"
John frowned at the two bottles, contemplating the problem. "Well, yours is a Moët & Chandon 1932, while mine is only a Moët & Chandon 1932. I'd say that yours is clearly the superior vintage, don't you think?"
She laughed and raised a hand to hit him, then dredged up a reserve of ladylike decorum from somewhere and lowered it to her lap again. "Damn it John, just open one! And don't get all showy with the cork. This isn't the end of a cutter race at Britannia, it's a celebration for us… for you."
"For us, Nancy. A celebration for us. Here, can you hold the glasses now…" He stripped the foil from a bottle and twisted off the wire binding, then eased the cork out with a discreet pop. A wisp of vapour curled from the mouth of the bottle. The wine fizzed and sparkled as it flowed into the two glasses Nancy held up for him, like the bone in the teeth of a good boat. A reckless instinct made him fill the flutes until the foam lapped at the rims, then he carefully stood the bottle on a level patch and took a glass. Nancy gently chinked her own against it and smiled. "To Mister Midshipman John Walker, may he have fair winds and blue water."
John sipped the sharp champagne and Nancy followed suit, looking directly into his eyes over the rim of her glass. When she lowered it John chinked rims in turn and said solemnly, "To Commodore Nancy Blackett, may she rule the Main with our - her - fleet."
Nancy's smile broadened into that old grin. "Why thank you, John. I'll drink to that," - they did - "and I resign. Susan is Commodore now."
John's mouth dropped open. She'd fought hard to win command of the fleet - Swallow and Amazon, and later Scarab too - and although the Swallows had triumphed it had always been understood that Nancy was second in command. And now, when he'd handed her the title, she resigned? Of course that had been back in 1930, and she was growing up as fast as he was himself, but really…
Nancy's grin spread wider at his confusion. She raised her glass again. "To Mr Midshipman John Walker and Miss Midshipman Nancy Blackett. May we make the Navy our new lake."
John's jaw dropped further and he stuttered in confusion. "But Nancy… really…"
"Drink, and I'll tell you. Honest sailor!" She touched glasses. "The Midshipmen, John." She waited for him to echo her, "The Midshipmen," then drank. "Now, John, you have some questions for me I believe?"
John frowned slightly. "Well yes, I do. What are you talking about? I mean… I hate it, because I know what a good sailor you are and honestly Nancy, you're a born leader, but girls can't join the Navy."
"Well, have you heard of the Women's Royal Naval Service? Five hundred women were Naval officers during the Great War, and five thousand more were ratings. It was disbanded in 1919 of course, because, well, women can't do a man's job" - her smile turned vicious for a moment and John winced - "but they're looking to windward for once and wondering how to expand the Navy. If war comes again - and it might, you know, if Hitler stays in power - the WRNS may be reformed. But the Admiralty want to test the system, so in October a Division of twenty women will begin training at Britannia. And one of them will be me."
He stared at her, saw from her eyes that she was telling the truth and exclaimed, "Nancy! But that's… that's super! You'll really be at Britannia?"
She nodded. "Yes, I will. We'll be doing a basic drill and duties course, then some sea training - not so much, of course, because we're all bound for shore jobs, damn it - and finally specialist training. I'm hoping for Intelligence or Operations. But yes, I shall be at Britannia."
John smiled, slightly dazed at the thought. Nancy, at the College… why, he'd see her every time his ship came in. When he wasn't at sea - and there would be plenty time he wasn't at sea, because much of an officer's training took place in a classroom - he might see her every day. Ever since he'd known Nancy they'd been restricted to holidays and letters. But now, why, he might see her for as much as six months of the year!
Impulsively he took her hand, and as her fingers gripped his in return memories of the other time rose up. Sitting together side by side, high above the loch where Dick's birds had nested, with a tin mug and the pilfered bottle of Captain Flint's claret between them. Somehow as he'd reached for the mug his fingers had touched hers, then their hands had entwined and he'd been looking into the fire of her eyes.
Her smile warmed, and her eyes held him again. "Your father suggested it, John. I'd written to him because… well, because I wanted to, and he replied and told me that the Navy was looking for young ladies to take experimental commissions. He asked if I was interested and I said, of course. Well, I was hardly going to refuse that sort of offer, was I?"
"He never said a word to me. He didn't even mention that you were writing to each other. I suppose I was a bit surprised when you mentioned it earlier, but it was so good to see you again that really I forgot about it."
She chuckled. "Well, you'd better not forget it again. Not that you'll have a chance to come October, of course. The women's Division will be attached to a regular one for shore training because it's so small, and some strings may be pulled to make sure that that Division is yours. Your father certainly has a sense of humour. Look." She reached into the pocket of her breeches and pulled out a creased sheet of paper, which she handed to John.
John unfolded the paper and scanned it quickly. It appeared to be an estate agent's listing for a small two-bedroomed bungalow. The address was in Redwall's Meadow, Dartmouth - right beside the Naval College. He looked up. "He sent you this?"
Nancy nodded. "Yes, he did. In fact he suggested it would be an ideal time to buy it, with prices as low as they are. Young Naval officers should settle close to the College, he said, so when they come back for courses they can live at home. What do you think?"
He frowned again. "Well, I don't know. If Father says it's a good price I'm sure it is, but still, the mortgage would be a bit much on a Midshipman's pay."
She threw her head back and her laugh rang out again. "Oh John! How about on two Midshipmen's pay?" She leaned towards him. "Listen, if I buy a house I'll be buying it together with you. Do you have any idea how often Aunt Maria has asked Mother if I've found a suitable young man yet and if I've stopped associating with that awful Walker boy? With a recommendation like that, how could I let you go? I know you; I've watched you for years. I've never told you this before, but I admire the way you think things through instead of just charging in like I do. But sometimes my way's better, John, and I know that however much you want to do this - and I know you do - you'll never quite get there on your own. So just get it over with and ask me to marry you."