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Flaming Glory

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They said he had woken now.

Said he was ready for – for debriefing.

My excuse for being here, for the demands for news on his progress, his recovery.

Because what else could I say?

That I have a proposition which – I think – would get him out of the air, away from the immediate danger. He’ll never agree to anything completely safe, I know that, but this – this seemed better.

That – that I love him.

That I need to know he is well, alive.

I sigh, and look out of the window, wondering how long I can wait.

Wondering how I can prevent myself from doing as I wish, and sitting beside him, touching his hair, his hand where it lies on the cover, speaking the words I long to say now, safely, while he is lost in dreams.

As long as I need, I suppose.

He is scarred – oh, the scars will fade, already they are as scars of an incident long passed would be on any mortal, and besides, they make no difference to his beauty – but he is scarred, and hurt, and tired.

And I have no right to be here.

No right to his time, his attention.

But nothing changes my heart, though indeed I wish something would.

There is someone in – in the department to which I have moved, these days – younger than me of course; he is a Man, they do not last so very long. He is relaxed, easy. Friendly, ignoring my habitual curtness, my hostility which keeps all at bay.

He likes me, he makes it clear, this Alec.

There is a war on – and this time, this time the war seems to have brought a slight easing of the restrictions, somehow it seems acknowledged that things which might be wrong in peacetime are not so very bad when the end could come any day.

Odd.

But.

This – Alec – has invited me to a party. Friends, he said, old friends, good friends, and then – he met my eyes and added,

“No girls, if you mind that.”

So that was clear.

“Not in the least,” I could only be honest, he deserved that, but, “I cannot,” I said.

As I have always said.

I cannot.

Not ‘I will not’.

For me, for me there is no choice.

I love my Goldilocks, my beautiful one, and if the days when he looked at me are gone, never to return – still I cannot bear to think of touching another.

Still I cling to the faint hope that one day – one day – he will look for me again.

It is possible, I suppose, that this might even be that day.

That is why I am here.

 

 

I wait.

 

 

 

His eyes, still so blue.

What a ridiculous thing to think. Eyes do not change colour.

But, when he is like this, asleep, I can look at his eyes, drink in the blue, remember the warmth, the heat in them, once, when he looked at me.

Look at his hair, tied back, neatly, the way a nurse ties it, no style, no meaning to the braids, and remember it loose and glorious, tangling around my fingers, the heavy weight of it seeming to tie me close.

Only seeming.

And I wonder what braids, what meaning, he wears by choice these days.

Then, suddenly, he blinks, and awareness returns.

He licks his lips, and blinks again, and I want to reach out, to touch; but I do not.

I nod, instead, waiting for him to give me a sign.

“I heard,” I say, “that you – were here.”

He looks at me.

Licks his lips again, and I wait.

 

 

 

“Goldie!”
“Fin!”
“Goldfin!”

They come piling in.

Three of them.

Young, noisy, confident.

Macho idiots, I think.

And then correct myself – our brave defenders.

Two men and an elf.

One of the men looks at me, briefly, dips his head in acknowledgement, but then focuses on Glorfindel.

Everyone always focuses on Glorfindel.

Always the centre of attention in any room, any circumstance.

I do not mind, do not begrudge it; I never have, do not misunderstand me.

I do not want their attention, any of them.

And I know from experience, that if he desired me, wanted me, cared for me – nothing could distract him. He is one of the most focused people I have ever met.

But that focus is no longer on me.

I failed him, and he moved on.

The elf moves forward, and I watch as he helps Glorfindel sit up, passes him the glass of water – no, holds the glass for him to drink – and – and that should have been me.

Only I didn’t see – didn’t understand what he wanted.

Needed.

Because, it seems, I am a fool, an incompetent when it comes to this kind of thing.

Once he has drunk, he grins, that same irrepressible grin, and speaks,

“Nicely done, Ginger. Talent for that.”

“Don’t tease, Goldie,” the man who noticed me says, and then, “good to see you awake. When you went down – we really thought – well.”

There is silence.

Yes.

I too thought – when I heard his plane had been lost – gone down blazing into the sea – and then no sign, no word, nothing all this time – I thought.

Well.

It does not matter what I thought, what foolish impulse I had.

None of it matters.

He is here, and alive.

Even if he does not speak to me.

 

 

 

Sorry about that lads, he begins.

Proper little skirmish I got myself into.

You probably saw – but just in case you were actually concentrating on your own games, like the selfish swine you are – I’ll tell you.

You’ll remember we’d been scrambled in daylight for once – lovely weather – sunny, good visibility for once. Perfect.

Whole load of the bastards come over – bloody Fritz, likes to think there’s safety in numbers, thinks it’s safe to come over raiding in bloody daylight – well, can’t be having that, can we?

For a moment, I wonder why he is telling them this – they know, surely – then I realise – he is practicing the story, the tale – practicing for another audience.

It is not aimed at me.

Not any more.

So, up we go, and it’s good to know you chaps are there, I’ll be honest, because there really are a lot of them. But – we’re fresher, we’re ready to go, we’ve got it all to play for – and we’re just better than them.

Not really keeping score, just seeing them off, keeping them busy, waiting for them to turn tail, run away, knowing they’ve got to lay those damn eggs somewhere, not sure what they have in mind – but still.

Every minute we’re wasting their time, giving them the run-round, that’s a minute more of fuel wasted, minute further from anywhere that matters.

Playing really, not taking it so serious as sometimes – the good weather gets me like that. Until one of them – one of them gets in a lucky hit – see one of ours plummeting. Speed he went down – didn’t stand a chance.

Bingo, wasn’t it?

Not a bad chap, as they go.

Poor sod.

So then – after that – it all got a bit serious – bit more – urgent, as you might say.

I’d taken out a couple of them – got the one that took out Bingo, and that made me smile – made me smile too much.

Next thing I know, this damn one is right on my tail.

Turning to try and shake him off, see he’s got these – I don’t know – score-card crosses on his side.

Bastard.

Realise who he must be.

Heard enough about him, him and his exploits last time round – the Red Baron – isn’t that what they called him?

He’s good. Oh yes, he’s good.

Stays on my tail. Keeps with me.

Cunning, knows the game.

Not the first time I’ve come across him either, but that’ll save for another day.

Can’t seem to lose him, whatever I do.

Pulling out all the tricks, but no.

Then I remember – you’ll laugh – one of your more fanciful ideas, Ginger. Yes. Down and round, and come up behind, all guns blazing, faster than him, because I can go lower, react quicker.

Took him down.

Only bloody Red Baron – as he’s going – even as he’s going – he fires up, and I see the arc of the tracers, curling up at me like – like a whip.

Nothing I can do.

Kite catches fire, goes up like – like something made of flimsy struts and material, and a bloody great fuel tank.

All the tricks used up, all my ingenuity used.

End of a long flight, remember.

So yes, spinning out of control, falling.

Burning.

Falling.

Fire.

Bailing out.

Parachute.

Yes, I know.

Parachute on fire.

Still.

Did enough of its job, slowed me.

Into the Channel.

Cold.

He sighs.

Been mortal, that would have been it. So cold.

But my lucky day, wasn’t it?

Little fishing boat.

Picked me up.

Don’t remember much of the next part.

No, I think, you wouldn’t. You were dead. They had to revive you. You were – to all intents and purposes – dead. And they brought you back.

I daresay my feelings are written clear on my face – clear to any who looks.

But you aren’t looking at me.

Took me a while to realise – getting old maybe – that they weren’t speaking English –Sindarin, but French-accented. Funny how you don’t pick up on that sort of thing straight away.

Still, even then I didn’t twig. Just thought – oh, have to do a bit of fast talking. Persuade them to take me the right direction. Or something.

And of course, thank Elbereth they’re elves – at least I can talk to them properly.

Only – they didn’t understand. Didn’t want to admit they understood.

I was still – groggy – not up to speed, not making the right connections. Just thought they were – a bit Sindar, bit slow on languages. Kept on trying, but in the end, gave up. Time enough, I thought. Besides, knew there was a pretty clearly organised Resistance, knew I should be able to get home easy.

Must have been really slow, because it wasn’t until they were almost into the port – little fishing village, that’s what I’d expected – but no, that isn’t enough, they insist on taking me into the nearest town – forget the name.

He looks at me, and of course

“Nouvion,” I say, and he nods, and turns back.

Yes.

And that’s when I realise.

They’ve rescued me, yes, better than drowning or burning, but now – now they think they can hand me over and I’ll sit quiet for the rest of the war.

They don’t know me too well.

Only of course, don’t you know it, there’s no Fritz in town that can be bothered with me that day.

Have to make them live to regret that, won’t we, boys?

So I end up being handed over to some gendarme.

Absolute fool. Because he isn’t a gendarme, or at least not a proper one.

He looks at me for a moment, and then back to the others,

He’s a British agent. Never got his name. Let Nienna weep, but he’s an idiot. Man – sorry – but he is, and he can’t speak the language, only he doesn’t seem to know. Keeps on trying, providing much entertainment, I imagine, accent’s atrocious. Only all too often, instead of making no sense, he almost makes sense. Just – odd.

Mind, it means no-one questions him too much, because they all think he’s barking already.

Maybe he isn’t as daft as he seems.

Still, he locks me in a cell, so I’m not feeling that well-disposed towards him.

Until later.

It’s dark by then, and I’m lying there, thinking – well, doesn’t matter what I’m thinking about – who I’m thinking about,” and he winks, the bastard winks at his cronies, and carefully doesn’t look at me as they laugh, and I hear half-hints, and not-quite-names, and – and I remember when once it was I, only I, for whom he cared, but he goes on, “when he opens the door again, and lets in this – and I’m no judge,” he winks again, “but this French bint – a real stunner. Speaks English as well, thank Manwe, ever so nice – better than you, Ginger with your accent – and then it’s all, come on, chaps, quick as you can, this way. No-one needs to know where you’ve gone, don’t you worry, Crabtree will sort all that out.”

Crabtree being the gendarme, apparently, and to be truthful, I don’t find I care too much whether he gets into trouble or not.

So off I go with this pretty lass, following closely you can be sure.

Oh for – I don’t know how much longer I can stand this fake leering. And it occurs to me to wonder if any of them are taken in – and if so, how lonely it must be, forever pretending. At least when one is a civil servant, no-one assumes you to have much interest in any kind of lovelife.

Except Alec.

Leads me right across the centre of the town, to this café – rundown little place – but not so bad, not really, considering. Right up to the front door she goes, rattles it.

Soon enough they open up – and what a collection they are – all the things you’ve heard – true. Funny little chap, the owner, tubby, balding, terrified. Jabbering away in French, too fast to follow, most of it. Wife, nice enough, ginger as you, but not so pretty – not by a long way, not even in her day, and that’s past now, but she’s got a smile, and she means well.

And then – the waitress.

Blimey.

Real bit of Noldor class – what she’s doing there I couldn’t see – until I see the way she looks at him – at the tubby little chap – and oh. Like that is it?

War-torn France getting a bit low on eligible bachelors?

The lass I’m with breaks in, and thank Eru, she goes slow enough that I can follow it – I do have some French, but it’s been a while, bit rusty.

“Listen very carefully,” she says, “I shall say this only once.”

And they gather round, sighing, as she goes on to explain I am a captured, rescued, airman. I need a safe place to hide until I can be returned.

Oh good, I think, she has a plan.

She does indeed.

It’s the most ridiculous plan I’ve ever heard.

But – I don’t have anything else to offer, and these café-people seem to be nodding, so maybe – maybe it might work.

Anyway, I’m not in a position to complain.

So, off I go, when I’m told, down the stairs to the cellar with the maid – and for a moment, I think she – well, she gives me that look, tosses her hair, shows me her glitter-painted ear-tips,”

And the Men look confused, as well they might, but Ginger and I both draw in a breath at such behaviour.

It is only afterwards that I realise that Ginger is not only scandalised, but – what? As jealous as I?

“But I’m not about to get into that, not with me being so dependent on the café-owner, and I don’t think I’m wrong about the way he was looking at her earlier. So she shows me where to bed down, and off she flounces, all swirling lace, and perfume, and very nice too.

So there I am, cosy in the cellar of the café. Plenty of wine, plenty of food, only – only I find pretty quick these types – they’re the drinking den of choice for the off-duty Fritz – and not just drinking, I think, from the look of the waitresses. Still, you do what you must, war being what it is, who am I to judge the girls?

Nice enough to me, certainly.

But the scheme that – what was her name – Michelle – came up with. Well, I had a quiet word with himself – and then a slightly more productive one with herself – because make no mistake about it, she’s the one with the brains, and the guts for that matter – all he’s good for is the bonhomie – and chasing the skirts, oh he’s good at that.

Would make me angry for her, if I thought she cared.

Only she doesn’t.

Couple of times, she’s talking to me, and we see him and one of the waitresses all – bit cosy – and she looks at me, and there’s a resignation in her eyes. She doesn’t care any more, just going through the motions when she pretends to be angry, pretends to apologise when he comes out with a whole load of lies – blatant lies – lies no-one could believe.

No, she’s just putting in the time until they can walk away, until times change. Or if they don’t, in their lifetimes, Men being what they are, she’ll just go on, and on, until it’s done.

And the anger in his voice, the grief for her, reminds me all over again, as though I needed reminding, of all that I have lost. Of the sympathy, the passion, the wonder of him.

Anyway. This scheme.

Seems they just need to get something – and I admit I’m not entirely clear what – back from the local occupying General. Some picture – pictures – something religious, something about bloody daisies, would you believe? Makes no sense to me, and there’s something about sausages in there as well – best not to ask, I decide. Maybe the food shortage is worse than I’d thought.

Anyway. For reasons, which, frankly, make no sense now – made little enough at the time, but you know how it is – they want me to help with this. Distract the general.

“Always ‘e likes the blonde ‘Elga,” the gorgeous waitress tells me, with a flick of her hair in disgust at such poor taste, “but she will ‘ave nozzing to do with ‘im. She ‘as ‘er sights on the nasty little man in ‘is raincoat. She thinks ‘e will be a better ticket after the war.”

And what has this to do with me?

Then I see they are looking at my hair.

“Oh no,” I say, “oh no. Take off my uniform and I can be shot as a spy. Not happening. No way.”

But – they pout, and they plead, and – well, he shrugs, you know me. Can’t say no to a pretty face.

And he winks again.

I feel sick at the lies, layer upon layer of lies.

So, there I am, all dolled up – you’d laugh – me, in stockings, heels, big frilly blouse and a short skirt. Not to mention make-up.

Serving in the café.

Doesn’t take long before the local Colonel is in, and – oh I won’t bore you with all of the shenanigans, but – by the end of the week, there I am, in one of the bedrooms of the chateau, smiling and pouring wine for General von Klinkerhoffen.

Not a bad chap, really, as these types go. One of those that you can’t help feeling is rather – caught up in it all. Honest, upright, decent by his own lights – a patriot and a stickler for duty. Not like some of these – bully-boy horrors.

Anyway.

There I am, in my stilettos, and my silky blouse, little skirt and stockings – trying to remember to walk slow and neat, like the waitress showed me, one foot in front of the other, makes you sway, all that. Hold your arm at a pretty angle to pour, legs together at all – almost all – times.

And most unexpectedly, I cannot look at him, or at the lads, or anywhere much. I am hot, and bothered, and – goodness. I had no idea. But the thought of my beautiful Goldilocks all dressed up like that – smooth and polished, clean and perfumed, and – Erestor, stop. This is hardly the time and place. Concentrate on his words, not the images nor the feelings they provoke.

Almost as though he can tell, he looks at me, and looks away, our eyes do not meet, and I do not know what he is thinking as he continues,

Who’d be a woman, I ask you?

Well, I know these paintings are in the safe in the wardrobe, so I’m just hoping I can get to it with my – er – virtue intact, hoping the old buffer will pass out from the spiked wine before he can put his hands anywhere he shouldn’t. There’s been a fair bit of – patting – but so far, so good, and he’s definitely looking a bit sleepy, when in comes – the nasty little man in his raincoat.

That’s when it all goes wrong – as I should have known it would. General is unable to do anything about it when nasty little man marches me off. They can’t, you see, these generals. Nothing to be done to stop these – soulless creatures.

Saw it in his eyes, he knew it was wrong, knew – even if I was just the pretty French girl he thought – that something pretty damn awful was going on, something that went beyond the bounds of proper behaviour. But there was nothing he could do.

Of course, since I wasn’t just a pretty girl the man wanted, there was a lot worse likely to happen, but actually, for the only time, I was tempted to say something. Tell the General it wasn’t such a smear on his honour as he thought.

Didn’t though.

Not a complete bally idiot.

Still, though, the way he looked. Reminded me of Ecthelion, he looks at me, you remember hearing me speak of him? Upright, honourable, bound by his own code – unable to really credit such things.

Yes, I remember.

Well, as it turned out, nasty little man isn’t going to get his own way this time.

Takes me off to his lair – nasty underground sort of cellar-office it is too – and – well, things would have gone from bad to worse. He’s just told me to go behind the screen and strip down to my underwear – and I’m thinking – oh Eru, now what am I going to do, because even in the full rig, I’m a bit lacking certain – attributes – bit endowed with others for that matter" – he winks again – “and surely it’s going to be obvious, even if it isn’t going to get worse than that. And then it’s off to the firing squad for me.

But, as I’m fiddling about with buttons, and he’s – well, I don’t want to know what he’s up to – the door opens, and in comes, he pauses for effect, the lovely Helga herself.

And frankly, lads, if he’s got that on tap, I’ve no idea why he’s sniffing about after supposed French peasants.

She’s gorgeous. Tall, blonde, all her own – assets – blimey, has she got assets – and a voice like a sergeant major.

There’s a moment of silence, and then – and this I wouldn’t have expected – nasty little man is almost – bashful, almost like a little boy caught with his hand in the cake-tin. They’re speaking in German, so I don’t get all of it, but there’s definitely something about what would his godfather Heinrich say, fraternising with the – something uncomplimentary about elves I think – and he’s stammering and trying to bluff it out, but then – then they start kissing. At least, she’s kissing him, and he’s allowing it, and behind his back she makes a shooing gesture at me.

So I go, happy I haven’t unbuttoned anything much, out that door, quick as I can, even as the lovely Helga is surfacing and saying,

“I have on the set you particularly like, with all the little swastikas….”

The mind boggles, frankly.

Still, out the door I go, and I’m in such a hurry I don’t see the chap waiting there. Straight into him.

Oh – bother – I think. Another damn German. Place is swarming with them.

This one’s a lieutenant though, and I think – unless I am much mistaken – I’ve seen him before, in the café.

Not sure whether that’s good or not, until he speaks,

“Come along, fraulein,” he says, and once more, there’s a hand on my arm, only this time he takes my arm above the elbow, and there’s a moment when he blinks, “we also have interests in these paintings – we all need to be prepared for after the war. The last thing Helga and the Captain and I want is for Herr Flick to get his hands on the originals. So – back to the café?”

What else can I do? They have my uniform. I don’t want to be shot as a spy.

I get in the car.

He drives in silence, but he keeps giving me little sidelong looks, hopeful like, and oh no, here we go again, I think.

Parks outside the café, and – oh yes – his hand is on my knee, and I’m expecting it to go higher, and wondering what to do, when the door opens, and the tubby little chap comes out,

“Ah, lieutenant,” he starts, “how kind of you to return our wandering girl. Get inside, cherie, get inside.”

He’s at great pains to go in front of me, I notice, and then – then the lieutenant puts his hand on my shoulder, and I think the game’s up, but

“Cherie, is it?” he says, “you would be better away from here before Herr Flick comes after you again. It is a great pity – I would like to have known you in Berlin before the war – I think you would have fitted in there, cherie. But now – now it would be the Russian front for me, and I am not sure what for you. So off you go, cherie.”

I don’t know if the lads all understand that, but I do. There was a time when Glorfindel wanted us to go to Berlin – to be able to be a little more – at ease. But it would never have done.

After that, he goes on, I couldn’t get back into my uniform fast enough.

Waited, watched for my moment, my chance.

Wasn’t putting any more trust in the little tubby chap and all his friends. Oh no, once bitten, twice shy, that’s me. You know what they say – fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

He looks at me, and it hurts, it hurts that this is the moment he chooses to look at me. I never made a fool of you, my beloved, never. I never lied, I never cheated, I never – I never had the courage to do anything, did I?

He looks away, and continues.

Waited until one night, they’ve got half the bloody garrison in the café, and my lieutenant friend has helpfully left his little tank parked blocking the window.

Well, I’m not waitressing anymore, not after the interrogation episode – that’s how I tell the story, I don’t want to dwell on anything else. So, once it’s all busy, and noisy – the lovely lady with the brains is singing, and I know the Germans hate her music so much they plug their ears with cheese – ignorant fools. She can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but her heart’s in the right place, and that makes for sweet music to my ears. Anyway, what with her singing, and the blithering old fool that accompanies her rattling away on the old Joanna – and the pretty girls occupying everyone’s attention – I let myself out the back door, round to the main square.

As I expected, there’s always one, a bike. A proper BMW, nothing less for the master-race – nothing like my dear old Triumph, but it does the job.

I’m lucky. For once, I’m lucky.

There’s a full tank.

He shrugs.

It was an exciting ride, nonetheless. Had a few – outriders – chasing me at various points, but – well.

They were only Men.

What elf worth his salt can’t outride a Man?

I suppose if I’d been near a different border, it might have been a different story. I wouldn’t guarantee to jump the wire to Switzerland on one of those, he laughs, tosses his head with almost his old assurance, and I see that the audience, the worship in their eyes – particularly those of Ginger – is meat and drink to him, restoring him faster than any medicine could do. Faster than I could do alone, and I smother the ache at the thought, even as I silently acknowledge I am not worth my salt, and he continues, but a bit of weaving and dodging – oh, that’s nothing.

Made it down to the village they’d brought me in to. Took a boat.

Rowed.

Was bloody lucky, really.

That’s not quite how I would have described it. He chose the middle of summer. Heat exhaustion, dehydration – even elves need some care – after the weeks of low rations, the months of low sleep and tension, benzyhdrine, shock, injury – well. That’s why he’s here now.

Oh my beloved.

He shrugs.

Got picked up near the coastline – off course, I never could read a damn map – would have ended up in Essex if I’d kept on. Or parts north. Not sure which would be worse, hey Ginger?

They laugh.

Anyway, he goes on, it’s not so dusty here. Plenty of food. Pretty nurses.

Be back to keep an eye on you soon enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a moment’s pause, and then the elf starts up with some chatter, gossip, nothing of any importance, and the men join him, teasing and laughing.

Glorfindel replies, and the banter is easy, practiced, but all the time he does not look at me. Carefully ignoring my presence.

The elder, more sensible man glances my way from time to time, inviting me to comment, to laugh, but I know nothing of such matters, such jokes.

I wait.

Eventually, he says,

“Lads, give me a minute or so with – Vanimedlion,” and the name cuts me to the core. No longer Kitten, no longer even Erestor. No longer, I find, a friend, as he continues, “not sure which department he works for these days, best not to ask.”

The eyes of the elf sweep over me, and for an instant I wonder what I see there, as he says,

“Right, Goldfin, we’ll see what we can rustle up in the way of tea – there was a particularly charming nurse on the way in – and if she won’t do it for me, she will for Algy. They always do, more’s the pity.”

More laughter, and,

“Oh Ginger, always chasing a bit of skirt, that’s you. Be careful, one of these days, one of them will take you seriously, and then you’ll be stuck with her,” he says, and oh really, I think, because I took you seriously, but you did not stick with me.

Ginger laughs again,

“No-one ever takes me seriously,” he says, and manages to look almost mournful as they head off, the three of them still talking.

Silence again.

I don’t know what to say, where to start.

I want – I want to reach out.

I want to tell him how much I care, how much I miss him, how – how my life is shrunk to work, and passing time, passing the hours until I have a chance of seeing him once more.

But somehow, seeing him with his – what do they call it – crew? No, they aren’t his crew, they weren’t in the plane – squadron – friends.

Friends.

Seeing him with them, so relaxed, so easy, so much a – a soldier among soldiers – I don’t have the courage.

Because – why would he be interested?

He made it clear.

I am not enough. I never was – not me, not Erestor the civil servant – the office-worker.

Only when I was – pretending, living a life for which I am not suited – only when I was living his life – did he want me.

And even then – I cannot but wonder now – was it simply that there was no other available?

I want to believe those days were real, that love was true – but I am not sure.

Not really sure.

Not sure enough to risk words now.

So I shrug a little, and say,

“I am glad to speak with no others to hear. I came – the report I had said you were badly injured, burned, possible damage, long term damage, to limbs. Which would mean you could not fly again.”

He looks away, the set of his mouth showing – what? Sorrow, hurt, disappointment?

“You’d like that,” he says, “see me grounded.”

Yes.

Of course.

A part of me, I am not proud, and I would not say it aloud, but, a shameful part of me hoped – hoped beyond anything – that you would need time to – to recuperate. To relearn basic skills, perhaps.

I checked, before I came, I checked what leave I have owing.

Even I was surprised how much has accrued.

I suppose it has been many years since time away from work had any meaning for me.

Since you had more than a night to spare – and when was the last time you had even that for me?

Over a decade ago.

So – there are places, quiet places, away from London, if you wanted. I had thought, a month, or more, as much as you needed, in the country, just the two of us.

Even if at the end of it, you – you walked away.

Still, it would be time with you.

And if you did not – did not want to touch me – I would not mind. Not much. Just – just to be with you.

I miss you so.

I love you.

However.

The report, I think, was not written by someone who had experience of elven healing.

So I swallow it all down, and say,

“That does not look likely now. However. There is a new – relatively new – initiative. SOI. I have some – influence,” then I pause and make myself look at him, “this is confidential. No repeating all this to your little – friends.”

He nods.

“Special Operations Initiative. There’s other names, already, but that’s the proper one. Now, you being RAF, we’d transfer you, officially, into a particular command – one that doesn’t really exist – make a paper trail for you. And then – well. There’s a fair bit of specialist training. And then – I suppose – abroad. Depends on what’s happening. Or potentially – in the worst case – they want people ready to – stay and co-ordinate.”

“Spying,” he says, and I cannot read his face, “spying or resistance.”

I nod.

“Why?” he asks.

I shrug.

“You would be – brilliant – and you know it. You have more experience than many who are volunteering. I suspect you would enjoy it, bit more freedom, do things your own way.” I would know where you are, and what you are doing. I would – probably – be your main contact. It’s dangerous, but – for you – no more than where you are now.

You are the sort that they want, need.

You – you could make all the difference.

He nods, slowly, his eyes still on me.

“That’s why you’re here,” he says, cold as ever, “recruiting. Silly Glorfindel crashed his plane, they won’t give him another, not if Erestor wants him somewhere else, I know. You can pull strings. You always get what you bloody want,” he sighs, “sign me up then. What difference does it make?”

For a moment, I am shocked, silent, I do not react.

No.

Not at all.

Then, as I am about to try, somehow, to speak, to make this right, or at least better, to – plead – the door swings open.

“Are you done, yet?”
“Brought your grub up with us. Not bad, either.”
The elf looks at me,
“Oh, sorry, shall we leave it – your friend is still here.”

Glorfindel looks at me briefly, and then back to their eager faces,

“Vanimedlion is just going. We’ve said all there is to say.”

I nod, because perhaps we have, and walk towards the door. Outside, I stop, not quite able to walk away, wanting to go back, wanting to at least ask if I can come and see him again.

“Not a friend, Ginger,” I hear him say, plainly, “just work. Oh for the love of Elbereth, I can’t manage this with one good hand. Come on, pretty, come and sit here, help me.”

I am cold.

So.

Celebrian said, long ago, that she believed he had a history of – little mistakes with Silvans – and I, like a fool, thought – believed – that it was but a smokescreen of pretty girls.

I believed him when he said there was only Ecthelion, and that unreturned.

How long has he been laughing at me?

I do not stay to hear more.

Perhaps I will accept Alec’s invitation.

He will be gone soon, back down to Bridstow to continue his – work – as he completes his medical training.

I daresay he will find congenial company there soon enough.

But in the meantime, in the meantime, perhaps he meant what he said.

Perhaps I could learn to – enjoy life a little.

What have I left to lose?

 

 

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