Page 168: Past, Present, and Future
Past, Present, and Future
Summary: Belle and Hardwicke discuss their past histories and present options for the future.
Date: January 1, 2012
Related Logs: The general Belle/Hardwicke and Ironborn invasion timeline.
Hardwicke Belle 
Hardwicke's Chambers — Four Eagles Tower
Worn and bare.
January 1, 289

After a long day's training, Hardwicke is probably more than grateful to be able to drag himself back to his own chambers. He shuts the door behind him, shoulders slumped with exhaustion and smelling of a day's work as moves farther into his room. His one hand is already working at the buckle of his belt, though it's slower going with one arm.

What's the children's tale about the girl with the golden locks, caught sleeping in a bear's den? Not all in Hardwicke Blayne's room is as he left it. The skirt and bodice neatly folded atop the foot-chest might be easy to overlook in the semi-dark and his state of exhaustion, but someone's been sleeping in his bed! And still is! That someone is curled up under the blankets, face buried in the pillows, but the long, golden hair and the curves of her body probably give her away.

Hardwicke stops. Hardwicke sighs. "Well, if I wasn't in /enough/ trouble—" He finishes unbuckling his belt and hangs it up with his weapons on a hook near the bed. Then he sits down on the edge of the bed, back to her, and begins carefully removing his boots with one hand.

"Mrpmffflngh?" says Belle, yawning herself awake and pushing into a muddled sit. "Trouble? Who's in trouble?"

"Me," Hardwicke tells her as he pulls off one boot and sets it aside. "With you sneaking into my bed. As if Lady Terrick weren't already angry enough at you being here." Despite the potential harshness of his words, he mostly sounds tired, as if presenting a problem he doesn't actually have any time or energy — or desire — to address.

Belle pushes her hair out of her face. "Where do you mean to keep me when we're married?" she wonders.

"Well, here," Hardwicke says, pulling off his other boot.

Belle slips out of bed, her shift rather fetchingly off one shoulder, and comes around to assist Hardwicke undressing — which basically entails undressing him herself. Gently, of course. And careful of the arm. "Then what's the problem?"

"We're not married /now/," Hardwicke points out, though he is happy enough to let her attend to rather wifely duties such as undressing him.

"And your point…?" asks Belle, amusement playing about her lips as she helps him out of his tunic and shirt.

Sighing in defeat, Hardwicke mutters, "That /was/ my point." His jaw twitches over a twist of inevitable pain as the removal of shirt and tunic requires his arm to move at least a /bit/, but he makes no noise.

Belle tosses these aside for laundering — they're not going to make it another day, smelling like that. "Lie back," Belle directs gently. "My point is Lady Propriety doesn't have a leg to stand on — and I'm sure you know it. But," she says, unlacing his breeches, "hypocrisy being a most human trait, if you think she'll give you grief for my being here, I can find somewhere else to sleep."

Put to the point so directly, Hardwicke seems disinclined to send her away: "Maybe she won't hear of it. And beds are scarce, besides. I wouldn't want you in the rabble, in their moods." He lies back as instructed onto the bed with a slow exhale.

This gives her a moment's pause. "Rabble? Really?" She sighs, kneeling — "Lift your hips" — to draw down his breeches and small clothes. "I never imagined you a classist," Belle says, sliding an arm beneath his knees to help lift his legs onto the bed.

"I am /not/ a classist," Hardwicke says, a bit sharp for the accusation. "I'm a realist. Men get stupid and violent, trapped in cages. We've already had the one outburst, but it won't be the last." He scowls a bit and moves his own legs in a rather pointed manner, as if to show that not /all/ his limbs are bad.

Belle backs off his legs, folding her arms. "So that makes them men trapped in cages. Not rabble. You are also a man, an no less caged."

Head falling back against the pillows, Hardwicke blows out a frustrated breath. "I just want you to be safe, Belle."

"I know," says Belle, softening a little. She pulls the covers up over him, sitting on the edge of the bed. "But calling people rabble isn't going to do that. That sort of thinking — it's slippery. And I think you're a better man than to paint with so broad a brush." She smooths his hair back tenderly. "The rabble are my people," she says with a faint smile. "However long I live of the luxurious crumbs of the well-born, I don't mean to forget that."

"It's not like /I'm/ a noble," Hardwicke argues back, barely registering on the tuck of the blankets or the touch of her hand as he focuses on her words. "My father's a blacksmith, Belle. I've no claim to any higher birth, and I don't intend to try."

She smiles. "Good. I'd hate for you to be marrying beneath yourself."

Hardwicke exhales very, very slowly. Then, all grudging about it, he says, "You're very beautiful, you know."

Belle laughs, beaming at him. "And you sound so happy about it!" She stretches out beside him on her side, propping up on one elbow. "Most men would be pleased to be getting a beautiful wife," she teases.

"I /am/ pleased," Hardwicke says, the start of another argument before he takes a breath. "I am," he tells her quieter, shifting carefully to draw her into the circle of his arm. "Lady Anais is already planning how our wedding will be a great morale boost if the siege goes on too long," he tells her dryly. "She also instructed me to inform you that you are pretty, because apparently it's not enough for you to know it already; I have to tell you."

She only goes on grinning as their most absurd argument yet almost takes flight, and is shaking with silent mirth as he draws her close. "I do love you," she says, inexplicably. Then, "Lady Anais is very wise, you know. I'll have to remember to thank her." She nods. "You do have to tell me."

"Lady Anais is—" Hardwicke hesitates, and then he drops the thought with a shake of his head. "I don't see why I have to remind you when you seem to already know it so well."

"Sweet natured, good hearted, merry of spirit, and very intelligent," supplies Belle, for whatever Hardwicke was going to say. Then, more seriously, but still smiling, she says, "You're not reminding me — you're telling me you think I'm beautiful. And because of all the men in the world, you're the one I most want to admire and desire me… it's rather nice to hear."

Hardwicke snorts, though whether it's in response to Belle's description of Anais or her reasoning for receiving compliments is unclear. But he does say in a put-upon manner, "Well, you are. Beautiful."

Belle snorts, in turn, shaking her head. "When you say it like that, I'm not likely to believe you."

Hardwicke doesn't reply to this, perhaps giving up on the idea that he'll manage a convincing compliment tonight. He draws his fingers along her hair instead. "Your parents," he says, apropos of nothing. "Are they still living?"

"My mother is," says Belle, lidding her eyes for a moment, catlike, in pleasure of his touch. "She married and settled in Fairmarket. I never knew my father."

Hardwicke's hand stills a touch at that last piece of news before resuming it's slow stroke. "Oh," he says, a touch awkward. "I'm — sorry."

Her eyes flutter open to consider him, curiously. "Does that trouble you?"

"It doesn't—" Hardwicke considers his words carefully. "It doesn't change anything or — anything like that. I don't think I'd have wanted to grow up without knowing my father, though. Though I guess I grew up not knowing my mother."

Belle nods gently. "I'm sorry for that, too. You not knowing your mother, I mean. Me — " she also considers her words a moment, then goes on with a shrug, "it was commonplace, not knowing your father. I was one of many, many bastards. My maiden name was Roads. More than half the children in the menagerie were so named. So I had a score of brothers and sisters."

"Well, that's something," Hardwicke says with a touch of dryness. His thumb slides down her hair to brush lightly against her bare shoulder where her shift has slipped off. "I would have liked my father to come, but who knows when the roads will be safe."

"I have a suggestion," Belle says, cupping a hand along his jaw. "Let's elope. Just you and I and a septon, perhaps a witness each. Let's just… have it done! And we'll celebrate when all this is over — have a grand party, with our families in attendance, which Lady Anais can plan to her heart's content. That way, too, there's no impropriety in our sharing a bed and — " She takes a breath, frowning softly, studying his face. "And… since I have a feeling there will be no keeping you from the field… should it come to the worst, I would rather be your widow than have almost been your wife."

Hardwicke hesitates a long moment as he studies her, reaching his hand back up to brush back her hair from her face. Finally, his voice quiet, he asks, "Is that really what you want?"

"No," says Belle, smiling sadly. "I'd rather us both die in bed, very old, surrounded by children and grandchildren. Barring that, mid-coitus — but also very old." She flashes a grin. "But I will settle for eloping in the middle of a siege, because I'm a realist."

"Well, no, not /that/ part, the — yes. The eloping part." Hardwicke's fingers brush lightly against her temple. "If that's what you want. Gods know I don't care about having a big party, Belle."

Belle laughs brightly, protesting, "I like big parties — and I have the biggest family you have ever seen." Not to mention, probably the strangest. "But later. When this is past. When we can really just — lose ourselves in bliss and dance and drink and thank the gods and fall into bed and fuck like bunnies for days. Now? Now I want to marry you. The party will wait."

He studies her face, his dark eyes traveling the lines and curves of it, the elegant sweep of her brow, the full curve of her lips. Then Hardwicke pulls her in close with that arm about her to press a kiss warm with want and soft with need to her mouth. His lips linger on hers quite a while before he pulls back to say, "All right."

Having lost herself in those long, sweet, drowning kisses, it takes a moment for her to register his words — but when she does, she smiles. In a swift, graceful motion that barely jostles the bed, Belle swings a leg over to sit astride him and pulls her shift over her head, tossing it aside. She takes his good hand and splays it over the curve of her hip, guiding it slowly up over the dip of her waist and her side to cup her breast. All the while, she looks into his eyes. "Now," she whispers, settling and softly, slowly rocking her hips precisely where their bodies were made by the gods to join, "tell me I'm beautiful?"

His gaze travels the length of her, taking in every lush curve while his hand explores the warmth of her breast with a gentle press of his fingers. Hardwicke draws in a breath made slightly unsteady by that precise rock of her hips. "Gods," he whispers. "You're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

Belle lids her eyes, arching for his touch, sighing blissfully. "That's the way," she murmurs, smiling for his improved compliment delivery technique. And before he can scowl, should be be so inclined, she leans down to kiss him. And kiss him. And kiss him.