|Summary:||Belle and Hardwicke discuss the coming march and the attentions of certain knights.|
|Date:||January 15, 2012|
|Related Logs:||Together Again and No Directions Here|
|Hardwicke's Chambers — Four Eagles Castle|
|You know. The usual.|
|January 15, 289|
Belle doesn't pay Hardwicke's grumbling much mind as they make their way back to the roost. Not the slightest iota guilty or contrite, she rides back beside him on her recovered mare, letting him simmer. Once they've returned to the keep, she lingers in the stable to comb and feed the old horse, making sure is has a blanket and a comfortable stall, fussing over it like a child. And Hardwicke likely had duties of his own to tend. So it's not until evening, in his chamber, that there's a chance to address the goings-on of the day.
For all that the mood about the castle is lighter with the breaking siege, Hardwicke still returns to his chambers exhausted. He's already beginning to unbuckle his sword belt as he enters, still armed and armored from the day. His mood does not look like it has improved terribly much over the hours.
She looks up, fresh from a bath, wearing only her shift and combing out her hair. His exhaustion tugs visibly at her heartstrings, and she sets her comb aside, rising to help him free of the buckles and straps. "Now that this is over, you should sleep for three days straight," she opines softly.
"There's still work to be done," Hardwicke says in a low, tired voice. "More, now, in some ways." He does allow her to help with his arms and armor, falling gratefully still to allow her room to unstrap the breastplate.
Belle isn't quite as efficient with the job as a squire, but her hands are nimble and her fingers deft, and it's not all so great a mystery coming off as it is going on. She undresses him dutifully, properly careful with his gear. "Surely you have a second in command?" she wonders. "Someone who can keep things running in peacetime?"
"My duties don't end just because the siege is broken," Hardwicke reminds her quietly. His fingers curl around the leather of the sword belt he's already removed, his voice falling silent for a long, pregnant pause. "Lord Terrick will likely send a host to join them in routing the Ironborn."
She pauses a moment, herself, as she takes the unfastened belt from him. "Of course, you'll want to be with them," she observes, her tone carefully neutral.
"Belle—" Hardwicke glances at her, but then his gaze slides swiftly aside to the wall. "It will be my duty to go where my lord places me."
"Of course it will," Belle replies, hanging belt and blade with care. "I know men of duty, Hardwicke. And I know better than to try to reason with them." She flashes him faint smile. "You'll go soon, I suppose?"
"I don't know," Hardwicke admits, removing his unbuckled breastplate as she hangs his belt and blade. "I imagine so. If Seagard is still under siege, they will want to move quickly." He sets aside his breastplate carefully, and then finally looks at her. "If I am called, Belle, we will wed before I leave."
She closes her eyes at that, bowing her head and swallowing. "You don't have to do that," she whispers.
"I want to," Hardwicke says, answering quiet for quiet. "Belle—" He swallows, uncomfortable in his emotion. "If I am to leave, I'd rather leave you my wife."
Belle throws her arms around him and hides her face against his neck a moment, up on tiptoes, breathing him in. She nods mutely, not quite trusting herself to speak. When she finally can, she wipes her eyes quickly and smiles for him again. "Maybe it won't come to that. But if it does — you still have to ask me properly." She gives him an arch look.
"I thought I asked you properly the first time," Hardwicke says in a half-hearted grumble, though he wraps his arms in warm embrace about her. "And everyone already knows you said yes."
"You didn't ask me at all, the first time. You demanded," Belle rebukes him tenderly, softly biting the edge of his ear.
"I was asking," Hardwicke claims stubbornly, despite the temptation of her teeth on his ear.
"Of course you were," Belle replies, laughing, trailing wet, suckling kisses down his throat. "Just like you ask your men to present arms."
"If you are going to be this picky," Hardwicke says, even as he tips his head back and laces his fingers through her hair as she draws kisses down his throat, "maybe I'll rethink."
Belle playfully nips his shoulder. "I did say yes," she muses. "Maybe I like it when you give me orders."
Hardwicke firms his grip in her hair to tilt her face up to his, where he studies it with darkened eyes. "As far as I can tell," he says, voice roughening, "you only appreciate orders when we're fucking."
Her breath catches; she swallows and lids her eyes. "That's an interesting theory," she whispers, opening her eyes just enough to gaze at him through her lashes. She draws her nails slowly down his chest. "I suppose there's only one way to find out."
Similarly spent, Hardwicke presses into the curve of her neck, breathing in the reassurance of her scent as his body slowly recovers. It is some time before he finds his voice to ask in a rasping whisper, "Are you all right?"
Belle laughs low and sweet, bringing his hand up to kiss. "Yes," she whispers, groaning pleasantly as she stretches beneath him. "Yes. Very." She kisses his hand again. "You?"
Slowly, carefully, Hardwicke pulls out of her to fall onto his back, a hand dragging through his damp hair. "Seven fucking bloody hells," he breathes. "I never thought—" He actually laughs, a dry breath of sound. "Yes."
That prompts a bright peal of laughter from Belle, despite her lassitude. She rolls over as well, lying on her back beside him, turning her head to bring him into view. "What did you never think?" she asks, smiling.
"I don't know," Hardwicke admits, face to the ceiling at first before he turns his head to look at her. He watches her with an unbearably tender expression before reaching to pull her close against his chest. "That it could be like this," he says.
Belle closes her eyes, basking in that tenderness, tucked securely against him. "I am so in love with you," she whispers. "It frightens me, sometimes."
Hardwicke shushes quietly against her hair, his fingers stroking gently through her blonde locks. "I know," he murmurs. "I—" He takes in an unsteady breath and then presses a kiss to her hair. "You make me feel so much — lighter."
"You make me feel… like there's more," Belle says, pressing a kiss over his heart. "When… I once thought… I thought I'd lived all my life in such a short time. And then it was all over, all gone — in an instant, it seemed like. And I thought the rest of my life, I would just be biding time. Until it was over. And it didn't seem sad, it just seemed… empty. Done. I was done." She takes a breath. "I'm not done, anymore. There's — I want life. A life with you."
He swallows, working against an unseemly rise of emotion as he looks down at her. Hardwicke traces her face with one finger, still scented by her, and then pulls her in for a kiss as soft as their lovemaking was violent. "I didn't think I was meant for — this kind of life. A family."
"My granna used to say, 'Saying 'never' makes the Stranger laugh,'" Belle whispers, smiling. She kisses him again, just as soft, then his forehead, the bridge of his nose, and his mouth again. "I think you'll make a wonderful father. And grandfather. And we will be very embarrassing old people, still so in love."
There is some hesitation on his expression, some point of trepidation in her words, but Hardwicke smooths it away with another kiss and then slowly stands, gathering her up with him and carrying her over to the bed. "I can't imagine the floor was very comfortable for you," he remarks dryly, suddenly boyishly self-conscious.
She drapes her arms around his neck, perfectly content to be carried, peppering him with tender kisses along the way. "I didn't notice," she murmurs.
Hardwicke places her down gently onto the enveloping warmth of the bed and sits on the edge next to her to begin removing the clothing left underneath his armor. "Distracted, were you?" he asks with a crooked sort of grin that eases several years off his age.
Belle grins back — and blushes. Just a little. "A bit," she admits, watching him disrobe with open admiration. "You know, I think Ser Coope was more interested in you than me."
"I'm amazed that you can still blush, Belle," Hardwicke says with an easy laugh before it startles away. "What?"
She laughs at his startle, shaking her head. "You didn't see the way he was looking at you?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Hardwicke snaps, getting all scowly at the very idea.
"I'm not," chuckles Belle, coaxing him down beside her. "Consider it a compliment!"
"It is not a compliment. And stop—" Hardwicke scowls as he slides out of his breeches and smallclothes.
Belle sits up and rests her chin on his shoulder, sliding an arm around him. "Stop what?"
"Liking him," Hardwicke blurts out, his muscles warm and hard beneath her. "He's a cad."
"I don't know him," Belle says of liking him. She kisses his shoulder. "But he's amusing — an honest cad. He certainly doesn't pretend to be a thing he's not. I like that in people." She nuzzles the hinge of his jaw. "What makes him a cad? Wanting me? Wanting you?" She laughs. "Who can blame him?"
"I told him I would not give him the benefit of the doubt twice, after he knew you were spoken for," Hardwicke says in firm defense of his action. Scowling again, he says, "He does not want me. He's a cad because he spends his time bedding as many as possible." WHAT. Rumors are totally fact.
Belle laughs, shaking her head. "What if he does?" she asks, hands roaming over the warm, hard muscle of him. "If he's honest and gives a woman no unreasonable expectations, and pleases her — who's harmed?"
"I don't want to argue about Alek Coope," Hardwicke mutters, muscles slowly relaxing again where her hands roam. "Just — don't be so nice to him."
"I can't promise that," says Belle, kissing the side of Hardwicke's neck. "Unless he gives me a reason not to be nice." She combs her fingers tenderly through his hair and kisses his nape. "Now come to bed, my only love."
"You can try not to look so amused when he kisses you," Hardwicke grumbles. But he does oblige by turning into her touch and sliding onto the bed.
"It was a stolen kiss," murmurs Belle, kissing Hardwicke far more properly. "Little boys steal kisses. It was funny."
"I didn't think it was funny," Hardwicke says more seriously as their lips part, drawing Belle atop him under the blankets in a rather possessive manner.
Belle studies his serious features, brushing his cheek with the back of her fingers. "He won't ever have the pleasure of me kissing him back," she assures him. "No matter how many kisses he steals. You are what I want."
Exhaling a more settled breath, Hardwicke draws a hand slow up the line of her back. Not doubtful so much as curious, he asks, "Why?"
"You're you," says Belle, kissing him with her smile, shivering deliciously beneath his hand. "And you both fill up my heart, and light my body on fire." She nuzzles the side of his throat, breathing him in. "What more could I ask for?"
"I don't know," Hardwicke admits in a lower rumble, the broad column of his chest vibrating beneath her. His hand slides down to cup one cheek of her ass, warmly possessory.
Belle purrs and tucks herself beneath his chin. "We should sleep now," she whispers, sliding a hand down his side and stretching, effectively caressing the length of his body with her own. "Or we'll be up all night."
Hardwicke groans quietly as she stretches, eyes shutting as his hand wanders in slow, affectionate exploration of her rear. "You're the one on top of me," he says. As if he didn't put her there.
"I know," Belle murmurs, arching her back just a little to make her ass more accessible. "But I do love where you have your hand… It makes me a bit loathe to move."
"Do you," Hardwicke murmurs, slipping his hand between her thighs to just graze more sensitive regions. Then, with a quiet groan, he lets it slip away before he gets too excited.
Belle laughs and rolls off to take a slightly less provocative cuddling position against his side. "Good night, my love."
Hardwicke curls an arm about her shoulders, drawing and keeping her close. Pressing a kiss to her hair, he says, "Goodnight, my lady."