Page 292: Marital Friction
Marital Friction
Summary: Hardwicke gives Belle the news about heading to Stonebridge and puts his foot in his mouth in the process.
Date: May 10, 2012
Related Logs: Well-Laid Plans
Belle Hardwicke 
Hardwicke and Belle's Chambers
It's a room.
May 7, 289

It's a balmy and beautiful evening in Terrick's Roost, shadows stretching long between rays of sunshine so golden… it's almost possible to forget the hard times that have befallen the place. The losses and the sorrow, still so very near. Yet there's new life coming into the world, as well, a daily miracle and reminder of life's joy. Belle has taken to resting her hand over her belly as a default — though there's still nothing to feel besides the occasional flutter, and her abdomen exhibits only a modest swell. The midwife has likened the growing babe to a variety of vegetables as it's grown — a lima bean, a baby carrot, an avocado, a turnip. Next stop, eggplant. Presently, the mother-to-be is seated at the small writing desk in the room she shares with her husband, catching up on correspondence in the dwindling light, left hand at rest over the life inside her.

He is often the same way when he returns home: dusty, work-worn, smelling of sweat and leather and steel. Hardwicke's hair and beard are returned to their closer cut in the weeks since his return to the Roost, and it's the latter than he is stroking as he steps into his chambers. He pauses in the doorway, admiring his wife with quiet devotion and a certain trepidation before he approaches her. He settles behind her to bend and press a kiss to her hair.

Belle curves a small, glowing smile as her husband stands in admiration, keeping her eyes on her writing but certainly aware of his presence. She tips her head back when he come to stand behind her, offering her lips as well. "Welcome home, my love. I was just writing our Luci. Is there anything particular you'd like me to include on your behalf?"

"Tell her to come home," Hardwicke rumbles before he graces his fingers along Belle's cheek to help tilt her head for a kiss. It's long and lingering, full of the early hint of heat and perhaps a touch of distraction as well.

Belle purrs and sets her quill aside, turning in her chair to better kiss him. There are certain things letter writing can wait for — this is certainly one. She smiles against his mouth, standing to twine her arms about his neck. "I wonder if I'd have married you if you weren't such a deliciously good kisser," she teases softly, words mumbled against his mouth.

Well, this is certainly more fun than giving Belle news she doesn't want to hear: Hardwicke wraps his arms firmly about her as she stands to draw closer, his mouth tipped to fit hers perfectly. He lingers in the warmth of the kiss. "Probably not," he rumbles, pinning her between his body and the writing table.

Laughing softly, delighted, Belle leverages herself to sit on the edge of the desk, drawing a leg up against his. There are some things letter writing can got to the Hells for. She'll start over if the inkpot spills. "Probably not," she agrees, tasting his jaw and throat, breathing him in. "So little else to recommend you, after all."

"I'm a man of few talents," Hardwicke agrees with a growing sense of breathlessness as he presses in closer. One hand slides up her leg to hike up his skirts as the other begins working on the laces of his breeches.

She nods, moaning softly as he presses closer, angling her hips to meet his, wanton and willing. "But of those few, you are a master," she whispers hotly, nails raking the back of his neck. "I will never have enough of you."

Hardwicke finishes unlacing his breeches and fits himself between her legs with a quiet gasp. It is a close, rough and tumble kind of matter, all familiar heat and touch until it's done. He's left with his forehead pressed into the curve of her neck, recovery his breath as his body eases in aftermath.

Belle shudders and gasps, coming with him at the last. He may be a selfish lover at times, but clearly she likes it that way. She smiles against the side of his throat, shivering deep and stretching out her legs on either side of him. "Promise me we'll always be like this," she whispers, awash in melting bliss. There's a faintly wry, melancholy note to the request, as though she's asking him to lie to her and knows it.

"We'll always be like this," Hardwicke murmurs against her skin, ever obliging for his wife. He draws his fingers along her hair and down her cheek, the barest of brushes of his fingertips.

She laughs, lifting her head to kiss him tenderly. "I love you, Hardwicke," she murmurs, her smile adoring. She strokes his beard with the backs of her fingers, rubbing the tip of her nose against his. "Now… what's troubling you?"

Hardwicke grunts a low, rumbling sound in his chest that sounds about as reluctant as a low, rumbling sound can. But he exhales a quiet sigh and says, "I have to travel to Stonebridge tomorrow."

Belle sighs. "Balls," she murmurs. She doesn't sound pleased, but she doesn't sound upset. "For how long?"

"Not long," Hardwicke promises her, stroking his fingers through her hair. "There will be another shipment of food traveling back. We have plans to try to lure the bandits from their hiding and stamp them out."

"Bandits?" Belle raises her eyebrows, then sighs. "I do so hate being cloistered. I never hear anything interesting." She unlaces his tunic, undressing him as they speak. "They must be a significant problem. Have they been preying on shipments of food, primarily?"

"They took a shipment of food several weeks ago," Hardwicke says with an aggravated grumble. Stupid bandits. "But there's no real way to track down the right men. Hence the bait." His skin is worn but warm underneath the lacings of his tunic.

She slips from the edge of the desk, back to her feet, and divests him of shirt and tunic, both. "I hope you can capture a few, rather than kill them," says Belle, tossing his soiled clothing aside and leading him to sit on the bed so she can remove his boots. "I remember this same thing happened at the end of the Rebellion — most bandits in the wake of a war are desperate men, trying to feed their families." She shrugs, putting one boot aside and working off the other. "Of course, if they're redistributing the goods at a profit, they should hang." She really has no problem with that, it seems.

"If they yield, we will bring them home for judgment," Hardwicke says simply, seating himself on the edge of the bed at her urging. "They cannot simply take what they want."

"Of course not, my love," says Belle, reasonably, taking his hands and looking earnestly up at him. "I only think… if there is a circumstance which exists that drives men to such desperate acts, isn't it better to know of the circumstance, so it might be addressed? Banditry is only a symptom. Perhaps food and relief meant for these people isn't reaching them. We can't know unless we make an attempt to parley." She tilts her head, giving his hands a squeeze. "Won't you please… at least suggest this to whoever's leading the hunt?"

"Everyone is hungry, Belle. That is not unknown. Lord Terrick is doing what he can." Hardwicke's jaw is hard as his wife takes his hands and squeeze. "I've no wish for unnecessary death, but it is in their hands if they yield or no."

"Darling, I'm not casting aspersions on Lord Terrick — or anyone, really. Things go awry down the distribution chain. It happens. And of course I know you've no wish to kill anyone, if it can be avoided." She rises to sit beside him, kissing his shoulder. "If you were in charge, instead of being called in to something that's already planned, I'd have no qualm. All I'm saying is… I don't know whoever is leading this foray. If you do and believe they'll be… moderate and wise and merciful," she shrugs. "Then that's good enough for me."

"Lord Justin seems to be spearheading the effort," Hardwicke tells her, a hint of a frown on his lips. "He's been very eager for my advice, at least. And the Lords Kamron and Martyn have done much to help. I don't foresee any of them being unduly ruthless."

Belle doesn't look overwhelmingly reassured, but — she nods. And kisses him. A woman of her word, she puts her trust in him and lets it go. "Thank you for hearing me out, my love." She nuzzles his cheek. "You're not cross with me?"

"I'm not cross with you," Hardwicke promises with another sigh, drawing her close into his lap. "I consider myself lucky to only hear this much protest to my departure."

She chuckles, nestling close as she's gathered into his lap. "I knew you were a man of duty when I married you. I can hardly complain as though I was deceived." She kisses his brow, smoothing back his hair. "Shall I go have a bath drawn for you, my love?"

Hardwicke drops his hand to curve at the slight swell of her navel, cupping firmly against her skin as if to reassure himself of the presence inside. "In a moment," he murmurs, content to keep her near.

Belle places her hand over his, resting her head on his shoulder. "Your wish is my command, my lord husband," she replies, basking in his nearness while she can.

"You know," he tells her, his voice vibrating low in his chest, "I really think you only mean that about half the time."

She feigns an affronted gasp — but can't really keep a straight face. She giggles and kisses him. Then again. And a bit longer. "Would you love me half as much if I were entirely compliant?"

"No," Hardwicke says with a thoughtful, weary sort of smile. "I think I'd love you quite a deal less."

Belle kisses him with her smile. "I thought that might be the case. We do suit rather well, being as in love with one another's faults and foibles as we are with our virtues." She presses his hand over her belly, gently. "I only hope we're not too exasperating to our little bean."

"You probably will be," Hardwicke estimates. "You are a particularly exasperating woman, Belle."

She laughs outright at that, pulling back a bit to gape properly at him. "I?" she asks, incredulous. "I will be the fun parent. You'll be the one that's always scowling and punishing for anything that's even remotely entertaining."

As if on cue, Hardwicke scowls. "I am not — opposed to entertainment," he says with a distinct, creased frown.

That entirely dissolves her in giggles. She slides a leg over, straddling his lap and cupping his face in her hands. "And I couldn't possibly love you more," she tells him, beaming as she kisses his scowl, "for your lack of opposition."

"It is just not the most important thing to teach a child," Hardwicke says, settling his hands at her hips when she straddles him.

"The most important thing to teach a child is that they are loved," opines Belle, smiling tenderly at her husband. "And I think we shall do that very well indeed."

"He will know he's loved," Hardwicke says a bit dismissively. "But I will teach him to be just and honorable."

"How could he look upon his father and be anything but?" says Belle, indulgently. "Though we might have a just, honorable girl."

"Whom you will not teach to be so free with her virtues as her mother was," Hardwicke says sternly, as if he didn't derive great enjoyment from said freedom.

"Free with my — Hardwicke Blayne!" She's gaping at him again — this time caught precisely between mirth and the urge to slap him, or so it appears. "I've been with two men in my life, both of whom happen to have been my husbands, never mind the order of events. May I inquire how many women you've taken to bed?"

This actually brings Hardwicke up short — and, perhaps, a bit appropriately, if grudgingly, shamed. "I—" His gaze slides away from her, a bit sheepish. "I — assumed you—" Um.

Belle utters a laugh — far less amused and indulgent than before. She swings herself off his lap, to her feet. "You certainly did."

"I just thought, from how quickly we—" Just hand him a shovel already. "Well—"

"Yes, yes — I liked you and it had been six years — six years — with nothing between my legs but my fingers and a superb imagination, and I wasn't spying on you — ironically enough, if I had been, I'd never have taken you to bed — and — " she throws up her hands. "What can I say? You overcame my virtue. Congratulations."

"You just seemed so—" Hardwicke stands now, trying to move closer and pull her up against him. "Belle," he says instead, attempting placation.

"What? What did I seem?" Belle demands, stepping back, frowning deeply.

"Well, eager," Hardwicke says with a frown before he can think better of it. "Despite a week or two of teasing."

She actually laughs at that, this time with legitimate mirth — though there's still a spark of temper in her eyes. "SIX. YEARS. Hardwicke! Yes! I was pretty damned eager. And besides, we had this… thing — " she gestures back and forth between the two of them.

"I know," Hardwicke says, returning to (attempted) placation. "I just — you know how I am, Belle. It was hard for me to figure out you just wanted me." He steps towards her again, attempting once more to pull her closer.

Belle sighs, finally allow him to reel her in, though she's stiff and bristly. "To be fair," she mutters, "it's not as though I felt bad about it afterward, and I'd certainly no idea you were going to marry me. So… maybe I am a loose woman — I just hadn't done anything about it yet."

"You're not," Hardwicke murmurs against her hair, despite everything he's just said. "You are the best of women, Belle."

"Oh — make up your mind," mutters Belle. Her face is hidden against his chest, her voice thick with affection and frustration. She clears her throat and sniffles.

"Belle," Hardwicke says, a bit pained now that she's sniffling against him. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. You know I think better of you than anyone else in the world."

"It's all right," Belle dismisses softly, pressing any moisture away from the corners of her eyes and composing herself. "Of course I crave your good opinion — I love you — but I don't want it… because you think I'm someone other than I am." She smiles faintly. "I suppose that you loved and married me despite thinking I had… a promiscuous past is endearing. In a round about way."

"I am — glad my insult is somehow endearing," Hardwicke says a bit awkward. "I didn't mean it to be — like that. I just—" And then he just sighs and gives up. "I love you."

Belle laughs, looking up at him and placing a hand on his cheek. "I love you, too, you most fortunate of men."

"Very fortunate," Hardwicke says with a certain self-aware dryness. He bends to offer further amends with the warmth of her mouth in a quite thorough kiss.

Her arms twine around his neck and her body bends like a supple bow, up onto tiptoes to meet him. She kisses him until she's a little dizzy, breathless when they break. "Let me find someone to bring in that bath," she whispers. "We'll have it together."

Hardwicke gathers her up close against him with the hard brace of his arms, drawing her up off her feet by the end of the kiss. Then he sets her back down with the quiet hint of a smile. "As you wish, my lady."

"Mm-hm. You know," she says, eyeing him, "I really think you only mean that about half the time." She flashes him a grin, then goes to arrange for their bath.

"Well." To that counterpoint, Hardwicke offers nothing but a wry, slight smile as he watches her leave.