|Summary:||Hardwicke has too much alcohol, but a good woman to take care of him.|
|Date:||December 10, 2011|
|Related Logs:||All the is-Luci-a-bastard logs, but particularly Where Rumors End|
|A different seedy bar — Stonebridge|
|Quite seedy, I'm sure.|
|December 8, 288|
Evening is just starting to fall, and Hardwicke has sought out possibly the dingiest tavern he could find in Stonebridge. He's armed, though he's not dressed in Terrick colors, so he looks more like a war veteran sellsword than a knight of a noble household. He's found himself a table at the corner where he can drink himself stupid without being bothered, and it looks like that's exactly what he's attempting to do as he gulps down another ale.
Belle Beckett has a favorite tavern dance — it's called the wench toss, and between the sets that's precisely what happens: wenches are tossed from one man to another, much to the delighted shrieks and giggles of the wenches. It might have something to do with her love of flying, her affinity for this dance, and the fact that, being small, she can be tossed good and high.
Given that, in the space of two short days, Hardwicke was well-acquainted with Belle's laughter, he might recognize it in the din of music and voices — it's a clear and carrying thing. Either way, the dance is soon over, and the golden-haired handmaid is fending off a big, meaty fellow who wants to buy her a drink. As a prelude to a number of other things, it can be certain. She extricates herself deftly, directing his attention elsewhere and then slipping away. Flushed and damp, she steps behind a rough-hewn beam, resting her back against it and catching her breath. There, she's precisely in the sight line of Hardwicke's table, and her eyes settle there naturally.
The shrieks and giggles actually seem to be something of a source of irritation for Hardwicke, as if their interruption is making his process of intoxication more difficult. But, with her so squarely in his line of view, she is hard to miss, and finally his dark eyes lift. His glower is interrupted by an eyebrow twitch of surprise as he sees her. He says nothing for a moment as he watches her. He stands slowly, taking a moment to search out some balance, before making his way just as slowly over to her. He does not stumble entirely, but he is not /precisely/ steady, though he looks to be expending great focus to keep himself as balanced as one can be in his state. He offers no greeting except for this: once he's approached, he tries to slip a hand to her waist and, smelling of the ale he's been drinking, bend to kiss her with a rough mouth. Drunken men trying to kiss you is always charming, right?
Not just every Ser Thomas, Richard, or Harold gets to stumble over and kiss her in lieu of hello, but… it's not precisely their first kiss. And she might actually like him a little. She does start just a bit, then laughs against his mouth, finally returning the kiss with sweet familiarity, twining locks of his dark hair about her fingers.
"Hello, Ser Hardwicke," she murmurs, giving his chin a playful nip. "Fancy meeting you here."
Hardwicke rumbles a low, wordless reply at first, one forearm resting on the beam above her head to brace the weight of his lean. His other hand travels upwards to twine into her hair as his mouth drops to her neck. "You look" It's hard to tell if it's the alcohol or his habitual conversational problems that gives him pause. "alive."
Belle makes a barely audible — but distinctly pleasant — sound as his hand twines in her hair, lidding her eyes a moment. "That must be a good look for me, by the greeting," she murmurs, a bit breathy as he tastes her throat.
A low, vibrating laugh is barely audible, though it can be felt against the delicate skin of her neck. "You make me want to hike up your skirts and have you right here," he rumbles, his beard rasping against the line of her jaw as he tastes her.
She draws in a sharp, quick breath, mewling softly in her throat. Apparently, that's not a sentiment of which she disapproves. Her fingers tangle in his hair, and she tilts her head to give him more of her throat. "Inadvisable," she breathes, laughing. "We'll wind up with a queue."
"Then let's go somewhere else," Hardwicke says, his hand detangling from her hair to slide down her neck. His hand is coarse and a bit fumbling in his intoxication where it cups one breast through the fabric of her clothing.
"Come on, sweeting," Belle says gently, taking the hand from her breast and threading her fingers through it. "Let's take a walk." She deftly guides him through the crowd, catching the eye of the barkeep on the way — a fantastically obese man with a ring in his nose — and tipping up her chin and mouthing a kiss. The man's huge hand snatches the kiss from the air; he gives a gap toothed grin and a nod, waving her off. And out into the cool, clear night they go.
In the shadows just outside the door, she turns to back Hardwicke against the wall, kissing him hotly — and with a great deal of dexterity, rather less drunk than he. "You don't seem like the kind of man often given to excess, Ser Hardwicke," she whispers between kisses.
Hardwicke groans a quiet noise against her mouth as he pulls her closer, his hands twisting in the fabric of her clothing to bring her flush against him. He doesn't immediately answer, seeming more interested in the taste of her mouth and the feel of her body than any comments.
She shivers as he grabs her and pulls her in tight, drawing a leg up alongside him. "Sweet Seven, you're a delicious beast," she purrs, body arching smoothly, sinuously against his, lips moving to his ear. "What's wounded you, darling?" she whispers, tracing the edge of his ear with her tongue, suckling and nibbling the lobe.
Hardwicke sucks in an unsteady breath through his teeth, shivering tightly at the warmth of her tongue on his ear. His fingers clench in her clothing, and then he turns her suddenly, reversing their positions to press her to the wall. "Stop asking questions," he tells her, the words somehow a plea beneath their rough demand. One hand reaches for her skirts, fumbling in an attempt to draw them upwards.
She intercepts that hand in her skirts, threading her fingers through his once more. "Time for more walking," she whispers, bestowing a final, sensual kiss that captures his lower lip between her teeth as she draws back. She coaxes him away from the wall. "Come on, sweet."
Hardwicke mumbles a wordless protest as she pulls back, trying to chase her lips for a moment before she begins to coax him away. He stumbles, catching his shoulder up against the wall a moment to regain whatever small amount of balance is left to him, before finally following the clasp of her hand wherever she might lead.
It's a bit of a walk through town, the night air brisk and bracing — and Belle, herself, rather bracing, helping keep Hardwicke upright and walking a marginally straight line. She's quite strong, small as she is — all that lithe slenderness must be muscle. There are more than a few stops along the way to neck in the shadows, though she always calls the game just as it's getting really good. And, finally, their destination: a cozy little inn off the main thoroughfare, the kind that's more expensive for its location and exclusivity than for its amenities. She takes him up to a comfortably appointed room with a large feather bed, warmed by a well-tended fire. "Here we are, darling."
There is actually a sense that he may be getting /more/ drunk, as a few of the stumbles might suggest, that may be the product of too-rapid drinking back at the tavern. He's thoroughly roused by their shadowed kisses, though, so that by the time the door closes, he has little restraint before reaching for her laces. Of course, his dexterity is severely hindered at the current moment, and what would generally be an easy job becomes a complex fumble.
Belle laughs, merry as ever. She takes his fumbling hands and nibbles a fingertip, then suckles the digit into her mouth, quite a convincing imitation of… other things. After a few beats of this teasing, she releases his finger from her mouth with a soft, wet pop… and turns him 'round toward the bed, giving him a gentle push in that direction. "Lie down, sweet Hardwicke, before you fall down."
Hardwicke watches her with a gaze intent, if slightly unfocused. The push, gentle as it is, catches him off guard, and he does take a step back to keep his balance. "Stop calling me that," he grumbles, even as he stumbles slowly to the bed as urged. He lands gracelessly — and uncomfortably, given that his sword is still buckled.
"Why?" Belle wants to know. It's not a piqued demand, but an easy and indulgent inquiry. Even so, it's a question. Damned woman and her questions. She tugs off his boots and sets them aside, then reaches for his belt, to remove his sword and other arms.
"Because I'm not sweet," Hardwicke slurs in a low mumble. He watches her with a drunkenly suspicious gaze as she starts pulling off boots and unbuckling weapons, despite the fact that he was certainly attempting to remove /her/ clothing moments ago.
"Bitter Hardwicke, then?" Belle asks, lofting an eyebrow and standing to carefully hang his things. "That's a rather poorly done endearment." She returns to the bed, pouring a tankard of water from a pitcher on the bedside table. In full view, she adds a packet of white powder to the liquid, giving it a quick swirl to stir it. Before she offers it to him, she takes a swallow. "Drink this."
Hardwicke actually laughs as she poison-tests it in front of him, though the sound is a low, rasping thing. He reaches for the tankard and downs it obediently in a few quick gulps. "Done?" he growls, letting the tankard fall to the ground with a thump so he can reach for her hips to try to pull her to him.
It's exceedingly bitter, the stuff in the tankard, but — well, it like as not won't kill him. Belle smirks, laughing as well as he pulls her to him. "For now," she allows. She stretches out atop him, dipping down for a kiss, deep and sweet and slow. Her fingers curl lazily in his hair, fingertips stroking his temples. She teases his hunger with hints of her own, but she is very much of her own mind — she won't be hurried.
Her slow sweetness is met with hunger, hot and without his usual control to bank it. Hardwicke chafes at the bit her pace sets him to, his hands sliding up her legs under her skirt as she settles onto his lap. There is a sense of frustration breaking when he tells her, "I threatened a woman's life today." It is a challenge, there in his glassy eyes and rough-hewn voice.
Belle blinks — not so much startled as clearing her head a little, processing his words outside of kisses. She cants her head, studying him, stroking his cheek with the pad of her thumb. "Why?" she asks, gently.
"What does it matter?" Hardwicke asks, the sharpness of his voice dulled by alcohol. "I would have." He drags his thumbs across her thighs, watching her.
She combs her fingers through his hair, stroking the nape of his neck. "It matters," she tells him, just as gentle. "Assuming you mean me to be horrified, I'm afraid that you're capable of killing isn't enough information." She kisses his forehead and the bridge of his nose.
Frustration somehow sparked by this, Hardwicke's fingers tighten on her thighs, and then he shifts, attempting to stifle conversation with a roll on the bed on top of her and the slide of a hand between her legs.
Belle takes his wrist, stilling his hand on her thigh even as she wraps her other leg around his hip. She drags her fingertips over his lips, leaning up to kiss him. "Who were you defending?" she whispers.
"Who are /you/ defending?" Hardwicke snaps back as she once again stalls his aggression. "What did you bring me here for?"
Her brows knit slightly as he snaps at her, her fingertips moving over the stubble of his cheek. "Don't do this," she says softly. "I brought you here so you wouldn't be alone."
"Do /what/," Hardwicke says, pressing into her. "Why won't you just /help/—" He cuts himself off with a ragged breath and buries his face in her hair and the curve of her neck, his muscles wired with tension.
"Help you what, sweeting?" Belle whispers, cradling him against her.
"I /want/ you," Hardwicke finally says, with a frustration that is not entirely pointed in her direction. He leans heavily against her, a drunken, uncomfortable weight that nonetheless does not seem entirely capable of — performing — in his current state, even if she invited him.
She brushes her lips across the shell of his ear. "I know," she whispers. "And unless the world ends tonight, you may have me, yet." She smooths back his hair. "You need to sleep now, darling. Whatever you want, that's what you need. Sleep heals."
Hardwicke is silent. He inhales slowly and then shifts off of her to fall heavily to his side on the bed. "You'll take this all back to your mistress," he mumbles against the blankets.
Belle turns on her side to face him, one hand curled beneath her cheek. "I find for my mistress the things she wants, and the things she wants to know," she says softly. "You're of no interest to her."
Hardwicke snorts quietly, but he's calmed somewhat in his acceptance of tonight. "Why else would I be of interest to you?" he counters in a mumble that might sound wittier were he more awake and self-possessed.
She chuckles, resting her forehead against his for a moment. "I don't know. Why am I of interest to you? Certainly there are easier, less inquisitive, less likely-to-poison-you women." She resumes stroking his hair, shrugging one slender shoulder. "Some things just are."
"Maybe I thought you were easier," Hardwicke mutters, only half-audible. He mashes his face against a pillow and closes his eyes.
Her hand stills, then withdraws. She's silent a few beats while she finds her voice. "My apologies for disappointing you," she whispers, and shifts to climb from the bed.
He reaches to try to stall her, stop her, grabbing for whatever's in reach — her hand, her skirts, anything. His eyes open once more, Hardwicke mumbles, "Don't."
She doesn't shake him off, at least. She stills, looking at him, her expression carefully blank.
"You didn't—" Hardwicke turns his face to the pillows and exhales. "You didn't."
Her brows draw together just a little. She still doesn't move, but she doesn't say anything, either.
"Fuck, Belle," Hardwicke growls, his grip on her tightening. "Just — stay."
She huffs a soft laugh, the sound wry and a little pained. "Fuck, indeed," she murmurs, sighing and hesitating a moment more before stretching out beside him. Her arms slide around him and she kisses the top of his head. "Fuck, indeed."
He says no more to get himself into any further trouble (or not-trouble). When she settles down beside him, Hardwicke slides one arm about her to draw her close and promptly start to fall asleep.
Belle cleaves close to him, bowing her head into his hair, her fingers idly stroking his nape and back. Soon, she follows him down into sleep. The fire dies to embers, and the night is dark and still.
Certainly his hangover is considerably less than it might have been otherwise, but there is still a stuffy grogginess to Hardwicke when the morning finally comes and draws him from his sleep. His eyes crack open to slits, taking in the very small amount of the room he can see without moving.
That very small bit is likely considerably less for the body he's nestled against and the breast upon which he's pillowed. Having not gotten staggering drunk the night before, Belle still smells rather sweet, of honeysuckle and magnolia. Probably owed in part to the fact that he did get staggering drunk, they're both still wearing their clothes. The slender form half beneath him shifts very slightly with an indistinct murmur, draws a deep, sweet breath, and sighs in sleep.
He stills as jumbled pieces of memory collect enough to give him some idea of how exactly he came to be here. Hardwicke watches the rise and fall of her as she breathes and reaches very slowly and carefully to touch her hair.
She stirs slightly, but doesn't wake. The light of morning is still pale, barely intruding on the darkness of the room. A chill has crept in since the fire died, but at some point during the night, one or the other of them pulled up the blankets, and the cocoon of warmth they share is quite pleasant.
There is a flickering lightening of Hardwicke's expression as he watches her before it closes off beneath some weight. He rolls onto his back underneath the blankets and stares up at the ceiling, dragging a hand across his forehead.
There's a faint groan and she stretches, long and catlike and arching. She cracks an eyelid at the thin, grey light, then tugs the covers up over both their heads. "I've learned that if you're very quiet," she murmurs, "morning will go away."
Hardwicke, older and wiser, says in a low, dry voice, "I've learned nothing of the kind." He drags himself to the edge of the bed, pushing aside the blankets, to draw up to a seated position. He rubs at his temple.
Sighing and stifling a kittenish yawn, Belle props up on her elbows. "Then you have a thing or two to lean about time works." She rolls out of bed and stretches her hands above her head, fingers laced together and palms turned out, arching up onto the balls of her feet. "It's linear and always moving forward."
"Perhaps if you have the luxury of sleeping late. Some of us have work to do." Hardwicke glances over his shoulder at her, his gaze not entirely unappreciative as he watches her stretch for a brief moment before turning back away and standing. He reaches for his boots first, pulling them on one by one.
Belle lifts one leg, knee crooked, so she can grasp her foot, then extends her leg straight up, parallel to the rest of her body. She holds this a moment, then repeats the stretch with the other leg. She comes over, then, and drops to sit beside him. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Hardwicke looks back at her extending her leg and promptly misses his foot with his boot. He stumbles, cursing, then yanks it on. Scowling blearily as she comes to sit by, he reaches for his belt next. "Talk about what?"
"Whatever was bothering you so that you felt compelled to get obliterated, last night," Belle suggests, mildly. "Perhaps the lady you threatened to kill."
Hardwicke grunts a quiet non-answer as he buckles his sword belt. That might suggest his answer is, 'No,' but who can tell.
Belle groans and rolls her eyes, settling behind him so she can slip her arms around him and rest her chin on his shoulder. "You are easily the most emotionally constipated man I have ever met," she observes. "It's not healthy. Come — you'll feel better, I promise."
"Why do you even bother asking if it's not actually a question?" Hardwicke grumbles. "Maybe I don't tell you because I can't talk about it."
"Why do you grunt ambiguously when you could just clearly say something like, 'I can't talk about it'?" Belle counters, nibbling the edge of his ear. "If you can't, you can't. Otherwise, talk."
"There were rumors," Hardwicke says flatly. "I came to investigate them. I didn't like what I found." He rests his thumbs at his belt, all solid and unresponsive to her cuddling like a jerk.
"About Lady Lucienne?" Belle asks, gently. Really, you'd have to be deaf not to have heard that one, and it's the only one circulating at the moment that concerns the Terricks.
Hardwicke's jaw tightens, and for a moment he is silence. "As you say," he says eventually.
Belle sighs. "That must have been very painful for her," she says. "And very frustrating for you — you can't beat a rumor into the ground, or put a sword through it." She pauses. "You must have found the source, then?"
"Makes no real difference now," Hardwicke says. "It's out and alive." He turns his head to peer over his shoulder at her. "Are you usually in dingy taverns away from your mistress?"
Belle sits back on the bed and gives him a playful nudge with her bare foot. "No more usually, I would imagine, than you are in them drinking yourself senseless."
Hardwicke snorts quietly. "Well," he says. Then he turns back to her, tipping his chin down to look at her. Then, finally, he sighs. "I have no idea what to do with you," he admits.
Practical Belle arches her eyebrows and asks, to help him sort it out, "What are your options?"
"What /are/ my options?" Hardwicke counters. "I'm never even sure what you want."
"I already told you what I want," says Belle, dimpling to one side of her mouth. "On the beach. You seemed to like some of it quite a bit."
That earns the ghost of a smile, wry and tired as it may be. "Not that you've been interested in taking advantage of it, as far as I can tell."
"And it's black and white like that, is it?" Belle asks, wryly. "There are two kinds of women in the world — those who fuck you right away, and those that want nothing to do with you?"
"That's—" Hardwicke scowls at her. "That's not what I meant."
Belle nods easily. "Very well. What did you mean?"
"I meant—" Hardwicke scowls deeper. "Stop that." He spots the discarded tankard from the knight before and snatches it up to fill it with water for himself.
"Stop — what?" Belle frowns a little, now. "I really do want to know what you meant."
"You're always talking circles around me," Hardwicke complains in a quiet mutter before gulping down a glass of water.
"Does it help that I get that a lot?" Belle offers, smile gently teasing. "Very well, here's a question — what do you want to do with me? Besides fuck."
"I—" Hardwicke looks distinctly uncomfortable to have the question turned back around on him. "I am not much of a romantic, Belle."
"You don't strike me as the sonnet-writing type," Belle agrees.
Hardwicke hesitates a long time. Finally, he says, "The last time I truly cared for a woman, it — did not work out well. But that was a long time ago, and I have not — given much thought to it since."
"The last man I truly cared for was my husband," Belle says with a melancholy ghost of a smile. "Sometimes life is shit."
Again, he hesitates, his manner a bit awkward at the reminder. "I'm — sorry," Hardwicke says. He is quiet another beat, and then he says, "I like you, but I don't trust you. And I don't want you to — expect things."
Belle lofts an eyebrow. "Do you trust anyone, really?" she asks. "I get the feeling it's the fact that I'm daft enough to fancy you that you don't trust — who I work for's just a convenient thing to pin it on."
"I also don't like the habit you have of telling me my feelings," Hardwicke adds. There's a pause, and he adds, "And yes. There are people I trust."
"Do you dislike it because it's presumptuous, or accurate?" Belle says before she can stop herself, then sighs. "I rescind the question. It is presumptuous, but in all fairness, I don't tell you how you feel. I tell you how I think you feel. Or I ask you. When the parties involved are not you and I, dialog is supposed to ensue."
Hardwicke scowls at her and pours another tankardful of water. "I talk," he mutters. He looks down at the water as if steeling his courage and finally asks, "Are you looking for me to court you?"
Belle grins despite herself, but doesn't argue with his assertion. The question, though, startles a laugh from her. "I don't know. Define courting. Am I expecting you to put some elaborate plan of wooing into motion with the aim of ultimately marrying me? No." She tilts her head to the side, considering him. "Would I like you to treat me sweetly while we get to know one another better and have what's likely to be a great deal of very good sex?" She nods. "Yes."
Hardwicke blinks at her, then shakes his head and gulps down water. "I'm not used to women talking like that outside of the brothel," he admits.
"Your life does seem to be sort of… compartmentalized at extremes, doesn't it? Ladies to the left of you, whores to the right." Belle smiles. "Truth be told, most of us are somewhere in between."
"I serve a noble house," Hardwicke says, shifting his gaze away from her as something complicated works in his expression. "I have for most of my life. Ladies behave a certain way."
"Ladies do," Belle agrees, watching his expression. "I'm not a lady. But neither am I a whore." She shrugs, curving another small smile. "I'm just Belle."
Hardwicke sets down the tankard and takes a step towards her. One hand lifts to draw a finger along her jaw and chin and tracing under her lip. "I suppose that'll do," he murmurs.
Belle nips playfully at his finger. "That'll do, will it?" she rebukes, all dimples and mirth. "Cad."
He curls the others underneath her chin, his dark eyes intent. Then Hardwicke reaches for her arm to pull her up all quick and firm to him and bends to press a warm, rough kiss to her mouth.
She gasps a little for that suddenness, but purrs and twines her arms around his neck as she's kissed, arching up on tiptoes so he doesn't have to bend so far. "Does this mean you're staying for breakfast?" she murmurs against his mouth, dimples returning with her grin.
It is to her credit that Hardwicke lingers warm and near, forehead to hers, and considers. But in the end he sighs. "I have — matters I have to attend to," he says.
Belle kisses the bridge of his nose. "Alas," she murmurs. "Well, we'll be in Stonebridge for the duration — whatever that turns out to be." She kisses him once more, sweetly, and steps back. "Don't be a stranger."
"Perhaps," Hardwicke says a bit vaguely. "I may have to return to the Roost soon." He hesitates a moment, then reaches to tuck a lock of golden hair behind her ear.
She tilts her head slightly into that touch. "I do often travel that way," she says. "I'll send word if I'm about." She adds, "If you like."
After a brief pause, Hardwicke says in a quiet voice, "Yes. I — do."
Belle smiles and leans up to kiss him again, ardently as though she means to drag him back to bed. When she finally breaks for a breath, she whispers, "Go safely. Be well. Miss me sore."
By the time their lips are parted, his hands are in her hair once more, tilting her to him and urging the kiss deeper. Hardwicke exhales slowly when she breaks it. Quirking a crooked smile, he replies with, "Don't poison anyone," before turning to go.
He turns, and the not-lady lands a resounding smack on his backside. "No promises."
Hardwicke actually startles. He stops to look back at her with a distinct sense of disbelief before shaking his head, turning back, and /really/ going.
And as the door shuts behind him, the muffled sound of her laughter follows him down the hall.