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No Such Roses

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I am a coward.

I brought everything to Craig Castle – everything, Julie's ugly jumble of a confession and my poor battered Pilot's Notes and even her rag of a scarf. I gave it all to Lady Beaufort-Stuart – oh, I can't call her Esmé - and then I ran away.

I couldn't watch her read them, I just couldn't. I know them too well.

Anyways so here I am, hiding away in my corner of this magic castle. It's strange – even though I feel so much lighter having given all that writing up, I'm still scribbling.

Well, maybe not that strange.

I'm in Julie's bedroom again and the window is still open – I couldn't bear not to. The breeze is almost warm, but it still smells like her. The bed particularly. Lying down, I can almost pretend she's next to me, just out of reach.

I found her journal. That's what I'm writing in now. My handwriting looks so funny next to hers, so tiny against her sprawling scribble. I didn't read much of it, but it looks like she stopped writing before the war, so I don't feel like I'm intruding. I've already read the most private things she could write.

And I don't know where else I could put this. I need to write it – everything is only real because I wrote it down, or that's how it feels sometimes. Everything except the bridge. That's too real, all the time

Anyways

Everything else – the barn and the chickens and even Mitraillette – feels like it could disappear if I hadn't put it down in words on the page. I don't like to re-read it, but sometimes I have to, just to make sure it really happened. I'm going to try and leave it all here at Craig Castle, though. This was Julie's home and it holds all her secrets. Surely it can hold a few of mine.

And when Julie's mum put me in her room and I found her journal it just seemed right. Because there's the one thing Julie and I both had to leave out of what we already wrote, but I can put it in here and it'll still belong to both of us. And I won't have to worry about it not being real.

It started – well. I don't know if I can say when it started. Maybe it was when we flew together the first time and I let her take the controls. Maybe it was all the way back when she held that stupid brolly over my head. But if I had to say when it started, it would be the morning after I found out what Julie actually does did.

I fell asleep holding her, but when I woke up Julie was already up. She was bouncing on the other bed – the springs squeaking woke me, I was dreaming that the landing gear on my plane needed oil.

"What are you doing?" I asked, rubbing my eyes.

She gave me a slightly manic grin. She was properly dressed, chignon and all, but her eyes were still red from crying. When she turned, I could see the bruises on her neck from where the German had tried to strangle her, and oh, I'd never been so angry in my life, I could have taken on the entire army myself.

She didn't answer me, just jumped off the bed and hauled me up so we could make it to the mess before I had to fly her back. I looked over my shoulder as we left the cottage, though, and I couldn't tell which bed we'd slept in. And I realized Julie'd done that on purpose, so no one would guess that we hadn't both slept in our own beds.

Of course nobody would think anything of it if only one bed had been slept in – they'd assume one of us hadn't come back, if they even knew two people were supposed to be in the room at all. But Julie thought of it, and Julie wanted to make sure no one else did, and that kept me thinking all the way back to base and until we hugged goodbye.

I could see Julie was in pain and I tried to be gentle, but she held me tighter than someone her size should've been able to. "Thank you," she whispered into my neck. She dashed off before I could say anything back, but I knew she was thanking me for not being afraid of her, now that I knew what I was really ferrying her around to do.

I could never be afraid of Julie, though.

It seemed ages after that before I got another S chit, and then of course it was a day flight for someone else, but it wasn't long after that that I did get to pick up Julie and fly her to that airstrip again.

She was quiet on the way there, and so was I. They swept her off practically before I'd shut down the engine. I went off to supper with the rest of the pilots, but I couldn't keep my mind on anything and I begged off early.

Julie was already in our room when I got back.

"Is everything all right?" I asked. She didn't look like she'd been beaten up this time, which was something, but she didn't look quite herself either.

"Maddie," she said. She pressed a hand back to steady herself on the bed. "Maddie, they're sending me to France."

My legs gave out suddenly and I sat down hard on the other bed. "To France?" I echoed. "To do what?"

"To work with the Résistance." She shrugged. "I don't know just what yet – but oh, Maddie, France!" She beamed at me, alive like I hadn't seen her since before that last awful night. I thought about sending her across the Channel into an occupied territory, and not seeing her every time I jumped between airfields, and about all the effort she'd put into rumpling the beds, and – well, and I kissed her.

It was awkward and rushed and I felt like a fool the moment I pulled back and saw Julie sitting there, still with her hair up and her eyes closed like nothing had happened. I'm sure I turned bright red.

I didn't have time to even think about apologising before Julie opened her eyes and looked at me and every thought went right out of my head.

She looked so happy.

"Maddie," she said, just my name, and kissed me back.

I'd never been kissed like that, I'm sure I never will be again, because Julie is was as unpredictable a kisser as everything else. But it was just so right, and I couldn't believe I'd ever thought it could be wrong.

She was so tiny, she fit into my arms so perfectly, and I don't think I ever saw her so - well, so honest. She wasn't anyone but Julie then. She didn't have to be.

I remember laughing and touching and letting her hair down so it fell over both our faces and everything smelled like her. I remember the way she smiled; she looked just like she did the time I let her fly the plane.

"Kiss me, quick," she said at one point, pulling me down to her.

I pulled back. "No, don't," I said. "Don't make fun. Not of this."

And she put on her very serious face and apologised, and I kissed her again and we were fine, but since then I can't ever hear those words without thinking of the way she tasted and the way her lips moved under mine when she smiled. Only now it's not just her hair I smell, it's river water and gunfire.

We had that summer, at least, before she left, when she was learning to be Käthe - insisting on naming herself after my callsign so she'd have a part of me with her. She got rushed all over the country to prepare and I had to take her everywhere. At least we had those stolen moments in the air and on the ground. So many people don't get even that in wartime. We got to share our limelight. And I know she knew - I loved her, at the end.

So you see, I couldn't put that in my Pilot's Notes and Julie certainly couldn't put it in her fake confession. But I couldn't bear not to write it down, not when we put down everything else that mattered about us right until the very end. And now it's written and I will tuck this book back into Julie's hiding place, and the rest of our story will stay here with the rest of the Craig Castle ghosts.

I still feel unbalanced flying without her, though. It's like the front has come off my cockpit and there's no glass between me and the air and I'm just getting beaten and and scoured raw by the wind. I'm always raw, now. I keep flying the plane, but it hurts.

Maybe in time I can build up some protection again from the rest of the world. I don't know what I'll do without Julie to keep me safe from myself.

The breeze is carrying the scent of roses into her bedroom. Roses and ink, and if I close my eyes, I can still see Julie flying my plane, and so alive.