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The Christmas Box

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Christmas Eve, 1888

After a decade together, Amanda and Genevieve have gotten quite used to their Christmas routine. Christmas Eve itself is spent at the home of the Duke and Duchess of Clairmont, who have managed to sweep a whole host of family and friends into the tradition, including Genevieve’s dear friend Lady Jane, married to the Duke’s brother, and Amanda’s Aunt Violet, one of the Duke’s oldest friends.

They enter the Duke’s home without touching, Genevieve removing her hand from the crook of Amanda’s arm only as the carriage slows in front of the house. They hide away their matching lockets, each with a lock of each other’s hair, tucked under their sleeves or in their pockets. They smile, wide and genuine, at their hosts, but ache a bit knowing they will be separated once dinner begins.

There is a sumptuous feast, and Genevieve and Amanda spend time chatting with their seated partners and catching up on news about the children, about Mr. Marshall’s conquests in Parliament, about Aunt Violet’s latest research findings. The children - and there are nearly a dozen of them now - flit through the dining room and the library, waiting for the Duke to open the doors of the parlor to show off the enormous glittering tree that signals that the holiday has truly begun.

This year, Genevieve gives the children gifts of small handkerchiefs, each embroidered with their initials in perfect, tiny stitches. Amanda writes them each a poem, rhyming their names with animals, writing tales of boys riding flying beasts and damsels without need of rescuing, which she is pressed into reciting for the holiday play the family puts on each year. (Genevieve is elected to play the pianoforte; Amanda is jealous of the way the room watches her hands on the keys.)

Amanda loves all of it, save for the fact that she and Genevieve must be seen to be merely bosom friends. Aunt Violet knows the true nature of their love and devotion to each other, as does Free, Amanda’s employer and Mr. Marshall’s sister. Amanda knows that Genevieve has never spoken outright of their relationship to Lady Jane, but she is a woman with a keen eye, and Amanda would be surprised if she hadn’t an inkling. But to the Duke and Mr. Marshall and most others in the room, they are companions, housemates, a pair of old maids who have found some quiet comfort in each other.

It makes Amanda want to laugh out loud, makes her want to shout and wave her fists; if they knew how unquiet Amanda and Genevieve were behind the doors of their cozy home, these society men of London would faint dead away. Genevieve does not give Amanda quiet comfort. She makes her blood rush through her veins, makes her heart beat hard and happy in her chest. Genevieve’s perfect skin and her steady gaze and her dry wit still stir Amanda to her core, make her feel feverish at times when she looks at her, even after so many years.

They spend a few quiet hours by the fire after the children go to bed, drinking wine and enjoying the company. The others all stay the night, and they offer rooms to Genevieve and Amanda. As always, they demure - Genevieve has promised her sister she would call the next afternoon, and Amanda has a deadline due to Free for the Sunday edition of the paper - and the carriage is called to bring them home to the small house they share not far from the Hospital where Genevieve spends most of her working days.

*

“Well,” Amanda says, flopping gracelessly into the armchair in their cozy sitting room, “that was lovely, but I am very glad to be home.”

“And I am very glad for the new radiators Mr. Dalworth installed,” Genevieve says with a happy sigh, warming her fingers over the iron grating. “Can you imagine how cold the house would be if we had to start a fire tonight?” She gives a fake shiver, smiling over her shoulder.

“Mmm, but think of how much fun we used to have keeping warm under the blankets, dearest,” Amanda replies, and revels in Genevieve’s laugh. She stands up and wraps her arms around Genevieve from behind, planting a small kiss at the nape of her pale neck. Genevieve turns in her arms until they’re embracing fully. She leans up a few scant inches.

“It’s Christmas,” she says, her breath ghosting over Amanda’s skin. “You have to kiss me properly.”

“You’ve read the papers - I don’t do anything properly,” Amanda teases, but she captures Genevieve’s mouth in a sweet, languid kiss. Amanda thinks of their bedroom down the hall. “Wait,” she says, breathless as Genevieve’s deft fingers tug at her bodice strings. Genevieve’s face is a picture of bemusement.

“You hate waiting. You’d have me in the parlor most nights.” Amanda flushes, and Genevieve grins at her.

(Genevieve never flushes, not out of embarrassment at their affection at any rate. Amanda still feels like a naughty schoolgirl sometimes, but beautiful, poised Genevieve always seems so at ease with herself. If Amanda loved her any less, she’d be jealous of that alone. As it is, it makes her admire her lover more for her boldness and her self-assurance. Amanda is much more self assured at thirty-seven than she was a decade ago, but Genevieve always manages to stay one step ahead of her.)

“Yes, well,” Amanda says, pulling away and walking toward her large writing desk, “I have another present to give you, and I didn’t want to wait until morning.” She pokes through her drawers until she finds an ivory envelope, brandishing it with an “A-ha!”

Genevieve appears at her elbow. “My love, you know you didn’t have to buy me a thing.” They are both women who earn a decent wage, but money is tight most years and they gave up on extravagant gifts ages ago.

“I know, that’s why I didn’t,” Amanda tells her, cheeky and giddy. She watches Genevieve’s face as she takes the envelope and opens it.

“This is a letter from Nellie Bly,” Genevieve says, her eyes wide as saucers. “To me. How - how ever did you manage this?” Amanda laughs. Genevieve had been enthralled by Miss Bly’s article about her time in an American insane asylum. The article had been published in London in the Spring, and Genevieve had wasted no time visiting the asylum associated with her Hospital to ensure women there were not enduring similar treatment. She’d found conditions that were tolerably better than the ones Bly had endured, but also much room for improvement. Genevieve was not one to stir the pot - unlike Amanda and Free and their newspaper for ladies - but it spurred her to action, to improve conditions where she could, citing Miss Bly and her ordeal wherever she ran up against resistance.

“That editorial I asked you to write about hospital conditions in London - I mailed it to her with a note that she had an ardent admirer here in London, should she care to give support to your cause. She replied with a letter! I admit that I have already read it, but it is most definitely meant for you.”

“This is certainly a surprise.” Genevieve sits carefully at the desk, smoothing the letter out and reading it slowly. “Why, she says she is trying for a trip next year, and may be in London! She’s asked for a luncheon, if we’re able!”

Amanda leans in to kiss her cheek. “As long as you promise not to run off to America with her, I think that sounds splendid. I think you’d keep a framed picture of her on your nightstand if she sent you one.”

Genevieve narrows her eyes. “Well, I do appear to like women of a type,” she says.

“Overbearing ladies who don’t know their place?” Amanda asks, quoting from the weekly reminders she gets in the form of letters to the paper.

Genevieve stands and wraps her arms around Amanda’s middle. “Fearless journalists who aim to change the world for the better,” she says, and Amanda’s heart feels too big for her chest.

“I love you immensely, did you know that?” she manages through the tightness in her throat. Genevieve pulls her in close.

“I do, darling. And I love you. In a ballroom full of Nellie Blys, I’d still want to dance with only you.”

Their kiss is heated, not frantic but hot and full of promise. This time, when Genevieve makes motion to undo Amanda’s laces, she doesn’t stop her. Soon, she can feel Genevieve’s fingers through her thin woolen shrift, one small hand cupping Amanda’s breast through the fabric before tugging it gently down. Amanda’s nipple goes taut in the cool air, but only for a moment before Genevieve’s lips close around it, suckling hard enough to make Amanda cry out.

“Darling, darling Gen,” she whispers, her fingers getting caught in the pins in Genevieve’s golden hair.

Genevieve kisses her throat before pulling away. “You,” she says, one delicate eyebrow arched, “go to the bedroom and get yourself ready for bed.”

“And where will you be?” Amanda asks, already untucking her hair from its pins so that it falls onto her shoulders.

“On my way - you’re not the only one with a special gift tonight.” Her tone is light, but something in Genevieve’s eyes makes Amanda’s heart race.

By the time Genevieve returns, Amanda is down to her skin, her dress tossed haphazardly over the armoire in the corner. She’s laying back on the pillows, her stockings still on (Genevieve rather enjoys taking them off, and Amanda hates to disappoint her) but otherwise naked as God made her. Genevieve pauses in the doorway, just looking at her for a long moment, before she hefts a moderate sized case onto the night table and stands back with a “Well then,” her hands on her hips.

“Well then, what?” Amanda asks, rolling onto her stomach to get closer.

“Well then, open it up!” Genevieve says, and she has an enigmatic gleam in her eye, the one that makes Amanda wonder how she managed to stay so pure for so long. The one that makes heat pool in Amanda’s belly. Genevieve steps back, undoing her bodice and pulling pins from her hair methodically, but not taking her eyes of Amanda and the case. When Amanda unlocks the metal clasp and lifts open the lid, she’s half expecting something tawdry to pop right out. Instead, she’s looking at a machine - a metal cylinder around the size of a grapefruit with a tapered nozzle and a handle - that appears to be attached to a battery with a handful of wires.

“Oh, this is… what is this?” she asks, cautious. Genevieve has always managed to get her perfectly lovely gifts in the past, so perhaps she is missing something.

“Ah,” Genevieve sits on the bed to roll down her own stockings. “It’s a new invention. The Hospital just ordered this and I thought I would bring it home and test it out.” Her hair is in pincurls down to the middle of her back, and as Amanda watches, she slips her cotton shift up and over her head until all Amanda can see is glorious skin. She runs her fingers over the swell of Genevieve’s hip and up her ribs where she’s most ticklish. Genevieve laughs as she swats Amanda’s hand away.

“And what, exactly, does your new invention do?”

“It’s an electric percussor, for treatment of muscle aches. Here, look.” Genevieve takes the machine from the case and attaches the wires fully to the battery. When she flips a switch on one side, the machine begins to vibrate in her hand, the tapered head moving quickly enough that Amanda can barely see it. It’s very interesting, scientifically, Amanda supposes. But still baffling as a Christmas present. And it’s on loan.

“Darling, I am certain that it works wonders, but do you suppose I danced so much or so badly this evening that I am in need of - what was it again? Percussing?”

Genevieve leans over her and presses the tapered head of the machine to the meat of Amanda’s arm. She runs the machine up to the knob of muscle on Amanda’s shoulder that is always tense from hours of sitting and writing at her desk. It feels strange, but pleasant; Amanda can tell that it would work well, in the short term, to ease that ache. Genevieve grins at her, almost wickedly, and runs the machine up and over her shoulder and down toward her breast. She can feel the percussor pulsing against her skin, too fast to be ticklish, too light to be painful, but just enough to make her gasp. When the head of the machine skims down her breast and over her nipple, Amanda can’t hold back a gasp of pleasure.

“See, my love?” Genevieve says, smug and radiant.

Amanda pants, arching up as Genevieve brings the machine down on her other breast. “Yes, absolutely, you always do get me the most wonderful presents,” she manages with a laugh, and Genevieve’s smile grows wide.

“Well, then, can you think of any other places you’d like to be percussed?” Amanda’s eyes snap up to hers. “I hear,” Genevieve says in a conspiratorial whisper, “that some physicians are using this in the aid of treating hysteria.”

“Oh, well, we wouldn’t want me to become hysterical,” Amanda replies, her legs already moving restlessly at the very idea of that glorious vibration between them.

“Mmm, definitely not.” Genevieve presses on Amanda’s shoulder under she is laid out against the covers. She kneels up over her, the machine held tight in one hand, and gently pulls Amanda’s thigh to one side. It leaves Amanda exposed, the cool air a shock against the wild heat of her core. Genevieve’s clever fingers walk up her thigh until they’re pressed against her, rubbing through the slick wetness and making Amanda keen. “My beautiful girl,” Genevieve murmurs, and Amanda blushes still, always, under the intensity of Genevieve’s gaze. “You never believe it, so I’ll keep saying it until you do,” she smiles down. Amanda wants to reply, to make Genevieve understand that she is tall and awkward and outspoken, that she will never be the lady that Genevieve deserves, but they’ve had this argument before and Amanda always feels like she’s both lost and won it at the end.

So she bites her tongue and closes her eyes as two of Genevieve’s fingers press lightly inside of her. “Please,” she says, and Genevieve presses the head of the machine to Amanda’s inner thigh. It’s startling, enough to make her jump, but the warm buzz against her skin is tantalizing. “Genevieve, please,” she says again, not knowing how to ask for something so new, so thrilling. The machine slides slowly down her leg until it reaches the crease of her hip, and then Genevieve’s fingers spread open her lips as she presses the machine against the nub of Amanda’s arousal. “Oh,” Amanda cries out, her hips bucking up without warning. Genevieve pulls the machine back abruptly.

“Amanda, dearest, did I hurt you?”

Amanda laughs before she can even catch her breath. “No, anything but. My lord, that is powerful.” Genevieve echoes her laugh, her eyes crinkling.

“More, then?”

When Amanda nods, Genevieve puts the machine back against Amanda’s clitoris, not pressing down at all. Amanda’s hips still jerk into the vibrations, but Genevieve keeps a steady hand and after a few moments Amanda is writhing, her hands clutching at the covers, her head thrown back. It feels like the sparks she would get from a bumpy carriage ride mixed up with the steady hum of the printing press going at full blast, but concentrated between her legs and constant, sure, neverending. “More, please Gen, give me more,” she rasps, and when Genevieve presses the machine against her just a fraction harder, Amanda shakes and shivers apart with a cry that the neighbors can probably hear. Sod the neighbors, she thinks, it’s Christmas.

Genevieve clicks the machine off and drops it onto the bed, leaning in to kiss Amanda’s still-quivering stomach, then down to where she can still feel the aftershocks of the percussing machine. Her tongue is gentle where the machine had been hard and unyielding, but somehow it’s just as devastating. “Gen, I can’t,” Amanda sobs, but Genevieve always has higher aspirations for Amanda. Soon she’s arching off the bed as a second wave of pleasure overtakes her.

She blinks her eyes open long minutes later to find Genevieve sitting back against the headboard, Amanda’s head resting against her hip. Her fingers card through Amanda’s hair. “I’d say the machine was certainly worth the Hospital’s investment,” she says primly, her eyes dancing. Amanda leans up on one elbow and manages to just reach Genevieve’s breast, pressing the nipple between her lips, then leaning back to kiss it sweetly.

“I’m not certain, Miss Johnson. I think we’ll need to test it a few times more, just to be sure.”

Genevieve slides down so that Amanda can fold over her, her hair falling like a curtain around them. “Mmm, I think you might be right, Miss Ellisford. We wouldn’t want to be hasty.” She leans up to kiss Amanda tenderly. “Though tonight, I think we should let the battery recharge. I would much prefer you the old fashioned way.” Genevieve kisses her shoulder, her breast, and slowly twines their fingers together.

“It would be my pleasure, Miss Johnson. Slow and steady.” Amanda smiles against her skin and begins her favorite endeavor - mapping and remapping Genevieve’s body with her hands, her lips, her tongue. It promises to be a long, delicious Christmas night; Amanda settles in happily.