Page 171: Stray Lambs
Stray Lambs
Summary: Belle finds a mumbly surprise for Hardwicke.
Date: January 4, 2012
Related Logs: Enemy Within and a Belle/Raffton log that will surely go up.
Belle Hardwicke Raffton 
Hardwicke's Chambers — Four Eagles Tower
January 4, 289

It is toward evening when Belle — covered head to toe with soot and wrapped in a cloak too long for her) comes to find the Captain of the Guard. Her only explanation for her state?

"Don't ask."

She is most insistent, however, that he come with her. It's important. No, it won't wait, of she'd have had a bath first. Finally, quietly, "I found something we've been looking for."

That something — in the person of one Raffton Howell — has been stowed in the Captain's quarters, away from prying eyes and malcontents that might mean him harm. And so Belle Beckett reunites the Captain with his prodigal guardsman — and stands aside to observe the proceedings, grubby toes peeking out from beneath her borrowed cloak.

Hardwicke has not been an easy man to drag back to his own chambers, despite Belle's assurances of the task's importance. When she finally manages to finagle him into his room, he spends a good long minute just looking at Raffton. There is a hint of bruised temper to the tight solidity of his shoulders, but he holds it in check. Finally he says, in a low voice, "Guardsman."

Raffton doesn't seem entirely comfortable hanging about in his captain's room. He stands stiffly, hands clasped in front of him though he shifts to re-clasp them behind him when Hardwicke enters. "Ser," he replies.

Belle, blue eyes standing out vividly against a sooty face, glances back and forth between the two men. She's silent, stepping back a pace, unobtrusive.

Hardwicke glances at Belle, perhaps distinctly conscious of her presence and — particular feelings. Looking back to Raffton, he says in a chilled voice, "You have been absent, guardsman."

Raffton nods a bit. "Yes, ser," he replies simply. His arm shifts, like he's about to lift his hand, probably to scratch at his cheek from the way his nose and lip wrinkle and twitch, but he doesn't, remaining otherwise still instead.

Again, Hardwicke is silent. He watches the younger man with a conflicting range of emotions winding tension along the upright carriage of his form. He exhales a slow breath. "Are you injured?"

"No," Raffton replies. He's still got fading bruises on his head, one in particular marked by a healing cut on his forehead. "Might've broke a finger," he admits after a moment, "Bruised some ribs. Can do m'job."

Still entirely silent, barely moving enough to be noticed, Belle nods approvingly and shifts her gaze to Hardwicke.

Hardwicke nods quiet comprehension as the flick of his gaze takes stock of whatever of Raffton's injuries are visible. "You won't be left alone," he tells him, voice still even, still that familiar roughness. "I won't lie and tell you it's entirely for your own benefit."

Raffton nods a bit more, though a shade gingerly, it may be noticed now that those bruises have been referenced. "Just rather not be locked up again," he replies.

"You haven't done anything yet other than get beaten," Hardwicke says with a rough-edged snort. He shakes his head with a sort of world-weary exasperation and says, "Unless you've got something else to tell me."

Raffton gives a small shake of his head. "No, ser," he says. After a moment, he thinks to clarify, "Haven't done anything." After another pause, he adds yet again, "'cept the hiding."

Belle sighs softly, leaning back against the wall. Her eyes for Raffton are nothing but sympathy — and perhaps apology, or regret.

"Except the hiding," Hardwicke echoes back. He scrubs a hand over his face in a sudden, brisk show of frustration. "People aren't going to like it, Howell, but I won't have riots and beatings on my watch. You'll have at least two men with you working the same duties. Don't lose them, and keep your eyes open. I'd rather you didn't wind up dead."

Raffton doesn't seem the biggest fan of it either, tongue pressing his cheek out from the inside before he swallows and nods a little more. "Yes, ser," he says. After a beat or two, glancing up from his toes, he tacks on, "Thank you, ser."

"I've known you a long time, Howell," Hardwicke says, and there is a sense of something else hanging in the air, something unspoken. But he shakes his head and then centers his gaze steadily on the other man's face. "Don't make me regret this."

Breathes in as though about to speak, but then thinks better of it, breathing out again and merely offering Raffton a faint smile of encouragement.

Belle breathes in as though about to speak, but then thinks better of it, breathing out again and merely offering Raffton a faint smile of encouragement.

Raffton waits patiently as Hardwicke seems as if he might continue. And then as he does (though perhaps in a different vein than he might have). He nods. "Yes, ser. 'll do m'best, captain, ser."

Hardwicke nods a distinctly final note. "Man the walls," he says. "Less chance of a scuffle with you out of the way of the smallfolk." He glances at the door.

Raffton nods. "Yes, ser," he says once more. He continues standing where he is, just long enough for it to become faintly awkward before he remembers where he is and, with a twinge of embarrassment, turns to abruptly leave.

"It's — probably been a while since he's had a proper meal," Belle says softly. "Bathed and shaven, he might look a little less…" Ironborn? At any rate, she swings off the cloak and offers it back to Raffton. She's wearing her chemise and pantaloons beneath, black and streaked with soot as the rest of her. "Here. Thank you — and I'm sorry for dirtying it."

Hardwicke hesitates, looking distinctly loathe to accept advice. Then, before Raffton has disappeared completely, he says, "See to yourself." He angles away from him.

Raffton glances back to collect his cloak and bob his head in a nod at captain and lady before exiting.

Belle watches the guardsman go, then turns to face Hardwicke, scratching the side of her nose and tucking her chin down. She looks up at him, all big blue puppy eyes, rather certain she's going to be scolded. For something.

Hardwicke does flick a glance at Belle down the line of his shoulder, assessing, frowning. Then he sighs out a resigned breath, shakes his head, and says nothing.

And unsurprisingly, she laughs. Laughs and stands on tiptoe and takes his face in her hands and kisses him. Thoroughly. "I love you."

Still wound tight and disgruntled, Hardwicke is slow to ease into the kiss, but eventually he lifts a hand to her cheek to return the warm press of her mouth. "Aye, well," he grumbles. "I have to get back."

She nips his bottom lip. "I love you, too, Belle. Thank you for bringing back my stray lamb, Belle."

"See?" he replies dryly. "You don't even need me for the second half of the conversation." Still, Hardwicke takes a moment to look her full in the face, something inscrutable in his expression. Then he bends to press a kiss to her forehead, shake his head again, and turn to the door.

Belle sighs and lets him go, with a reminder — "No dying!" — before she drops into a chair to sulk a bit before she has a bath.

"No dying," he repeats obligingly without turning back to her, and then he's out the door and returned to his duties.