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All the Means to Make Us One

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***

She is everything to him. Jean Blake, a vision in white, blinding the room with the power of her smile. Lucien barely recognizes her giddy happiness, can hardly believe that he is its cause, that they are here, together, married. The joy that settles in his gut and on his cheeks is unfamiliar, and in it he recognizes a sort of delight that is new to both of them, rooted in this shared impossible second chance, this unexpected love they never have to do without.

But the feel of her hand in his as they make their rounds between tables is comfortable, as is the way she giggles knowingly at Matthew’s jokes at his expense. He likes to think he knows her--certainly she knows him, has seen him through drink and despair and more, and then married him anyway--but surely this day will give him a side of her long held back. Of them both, and he struggles to keep the images at bay: he has never seen the curve of her shoulder or kissed the jut of her hip, never touched the small of her back under her clothes. Soon--.

He laughs as she feeds him cake, trying hard not to get frosting in his beard. He wants to lick it from her fingers, but she wouldn’t approve, not in front of all these people. He returns the tradition carefully, not wanting to muss her makeup, and almost drops the plate he is holding when he feels her run her tongue around his forefinger. It is the barest tease, a half second, and when he meets her eyes, they are sparkling with mischief.

He is captivated as Jean steps closer, brushing against him. “Lucien,” she says, and slides into a dangerous look he has only seen once or twice, on that woman who undressed him in the hallway with the promise that she would one day be his wife--and now she is, somehow, and she is curling her fingers in his collar, breath close against his cheek. “I’d like to leave now.”

He wants her. Of course he wants her, he can barely remember not wanting her, even before he liked her. It was easy, in those early days, to take a fantasy to bed--that brilliant, scolding mouth--but now he loves her, and the picture in his mind is of his radiant, remarkable Jean, standing before him in her satin and lace, her smile full of promise for the night and their future together.

She put him off after their engagement, all apologetic kisses, and he understood and never pushed. But now, now she is demanding he take her home, her voice full of pleasure they have not yet shared. So bold, his wife, and suddenly the wait--this next hour of goodbyes and well wishes and the short drive home--seems far too long. Soon, soon, finally so soon, and his knees almost buckle at the reality of it.

His grin will give them away, if her hands on his face don’t, the way that now that she has started touching him she doesn’t seem to want to stop, brushing his cheek, his temple. He shudders but stills her fingers with his, bringing them to his lips. He kisses the backs of her hands, then her palms, open mouthed, and she tastes like hand cream and vanilla frosting.

It is all he can do to stop, to keep from kissing her wrists, the delicate lace of her sleeve. “Yes, my darling,” he says, meeting her eyes. “Let’s go home.”

**

They enter the house as they have a thousand times before, his hat on the peg, her bag on the side table. He might have carried her over the threshold, but she was through the door before he could think of it, a familiar purpose in her gait, and he smiles for moment at the normalcy of it all. For a moment, he imagines she might be off to put the kettle on or rifle through the post as if it were any other day, but instead of continuing her ritual march into the house, Jean turns on her heel and into his arms.

Her brief smile before she kisses him is wild and joyful. When he pulls her closer she follows, arching her back to maintain the kiss, touching her tongue to his, tangling her fingers in his hair. It is with a start he remembers: he can touch her now, if he wants. He runs his hands from her back to her backside and squeezes, wrinkling the heavy drape of her dress, pressing his fingers into the soft flesh of her bum.

She grins against his mouth and rubs her hips against his, and of course she isn’t coy, not his straightforward Jean. He feels himself twitch against her in response, and he can taste her laugh, pleased at his easy arousal and reminiscent of sweet wine. He could almost be ready for her now, if it wasn’t the first night, if this wasn’t something he wants to get right for her, slow and thorough. It is so easy to love her, to want her--.

He wants--he wants to carry her to the room they will share, from this day forward, until death do they part, and lay her carefully down on the bed that they will share, to show her all the ways he can love and cherish her. He wants to kiss her breasts and her stomach, learn the line of her knee where it bends, seek out childhood scars and run his tongue over them.

She bites his lip and he wants--he wants to take her against the door in their foyer, heavy satin bunched around her hips as she grinds down on him, hard and fast until they both cry out.

He wants her, however she will have him, and though she has loosened his tie and run her hands under his jacket it hardly seems real that he doesn’t have to choose. Now, yes, there will be a first time and a next time, in whatever way she prefers, but after that they will have a lifetime together. One day, the weight of her breast in his hand and the press of her tongue against his will be part of a familiar dance between them, and he looks forward to that almost as much as what lies before them now.

Almost.

He sucks her lower lip between his, worrying at it with his teeth, before pulling back just far enough to take in her heavy gaze. “Might I suggest we move this to the bedroom, Mrs. Blake?” he asks, breath warm on her skin.

She laughs, deep and throaty, glancing around at their surroundings. “Mmm,” she says, and steps away, turning toward the studio--no, not the studio. Their bedroom. They have begun to make it theirs, collecting pieces of their lives, turning a space he once could not bear to enter into one he cannot wait to enjoy. He doesn’t have to wait any longer.

Jean looks over her shoulder at him, her smile startling him out of his brief reverie. “Coming, Lucien?” she asks.

He cannot help himself as he catches up to her. “I should think so,” he says, and she rolls her eyes but takes his hand all the same.

**

She steps up to the dressing table and he watches her as she removes her hat, her shoes, the pearls from around her neck and her wrist. He thinks of stopping her, of breathing some inkling of his vision of her in their bed wearing nothing but her jewelry, but neither of them wants to ruin anything precious. He thinks of helping her, but he is captivated by her easy movements, the way her strong fingers are so delicate with the clasps.

He barely remembers what it is like, to live closely with a woman, though they have shared this house for years. The daily transformations, the intimate routines of makeup and stocking clips and earrings, everything just so--these things have never been his, not with her. There are so many things he already loves about being married, and this little moment is suddenly first among them.

Jean closes the lid on her jewelry box, pearls safely away, and turns to him. She has long been the most expressive person he knows, every emotion clear across her face. This is one she has kept from him until now, though: serious eyes and a considering half smile, all anticipation and need. “Lucien,” she says, amused, and he realizes he is staring.

“You are so beautiful,” he says, for what might be the tenth time today, but he will never tire of telling her.

She steps toward him, because he is still rooted to the floor. “So are you,” Jean says, and kisses him again. Her hands are under his jacket, against the thin material of his shirt, curling her fingers into it and sliding up his chest. He touches her face, cupping her cheek and holding her into the kiss.

Jean reaches to his shoulders to push his jacket off. He has to let her go to let it fall to the floor, just a moment, but it is far too long not to be touching her. He leans back in and kisses the side of her face and her neck, breathing in the faintest remnants of her floral perfume, feeling the satin of her dress under his hands.

Her dress--. He manages to pull away long enough to turn her in his arms, pressing her back against his chest. He thinks he has the dexterity still to manage those beautiful buttons, keeping them safe for memory or fond granddaughters, and he will test it in a minute.

But first, he draws her close, letting his growing erection rest in the small of her back, skimming his hands up her bodice to her breasts. He palms them, squeezing, and she makes a small noise of pleasure and leans into his touch, lacing her fingers to his, and pushing his hands against the lace of her bodice. She rocks her hips back against his, friction and heat through so many layers of fabric. He thrusts against her and can’t help but breathe her name. “Jean,” he says. “Oh, Jean.”

He wants--he wants to draw up her dress and push aside her undergarments and have her from behind against her delicate dressing table, strewing the bottles and powders across the room. He wants her breasts in his hands as he comes inside her, the angle ensuring his release will spill down her thighs.

She shifts his hand to the buttons at her neck and he wants--he wants to kiss every button as he removes that dress impossibly slowly, to see if she squirms when she’s impatient to have him.

He steps back and considers the problem, trailing his finger down her back. “You want me to have to work for it, is that right?” he says, kissing her neck.

“You can handle it,” Jean says, that familiar teasing tone infused with a breathy lilt he likes. So many things to discover tonight, if he can steady his fingers and his nerves, if he can keep up with everything she might want from him.

“I appreciate your confidence,” he says, and takes a breath. He has had too much experience calming his hands in challenging situations, and he tells himself that this is no different--though the skin of her back against the his fingertips is soft and freckled, and he leans to kiss her, tasting between her shoulderblades--and soon the work is done. Then it is nothing to pull the zip down the small of her back and over her buttocks, resting his hand possessively as he does so, and nothing at all to watch her dress fall to the floor.

Jean steps out of the pile of fabric and turns to face him. Any thoughts of being solicitous and hanging her dress away fall from his head as he takes her in. He opens his mouth, then closes it, blinks, but she is still there, watching him watch her, watching him lose his words in the presence of her in flimsy, lacy, stunning lingerie. “God, Jean,” he says again, though his mouth has gone dry and the words are hoarse to his ears.

Her brassiere is lace, and her nipples press against it, pink through the fabric, almost demanding he kiss them. Her girdle--is that silk or more satin?-- slims her waist and her hips and obscures her knickers, but he knows it must be a matching set, barely there at all. She’s wearing expensive silk stockings, white except for some delicate blue detailing at the top. He sounds ridiculous to his ears when he says, “Something blue?”

She grins, and he doesn’t know if it’s at his inanity or the thunderstruck look on his face. It doesn’t matter, as long as she is happy, and his. “Well,” she says. “The dress was new and the pearls were old.” He doesn’t hear what she borrowed, because he cuts her off by kissing her hard, thrusting his tongue in her mouth, and if he scratches her with his beard he will make it up to her with gentle kisses later, but now--now, she tangles her fingers in his hair, pulling him closer, moaning into his mouth, teeth clattering against his.

He can touch her now, and her skin prickles with gooseflesh as he caresses her arms, the strip of bare flesh below her breasts. He can feel her ribs as they rise and fall beneath his hands, the way she hitches her breathing as she kisses him, and the sharpness of the bone doesn’t make her skin any less soft. He curls his hands around her waist, and he never wants to let her go. He never has to, not really.

“You’re beautiful,” he says against her lips, then tilts her head back to kiss her neck, feeling her pulse race against him, and then he moves to her collarbone. Such a delicate thing, the clavicle, easily broken, hard to treat, but the line of Jean’s is perfect and feminine and he can forget he is a doctor for a moment and give in to being a man in love with a woman, increasingly desperate for her.

He kisses the top of her breast where it strains against the lace every time she breathes, and then opens his mouth and takes her breast into it, tongue against her nipple. The lace scratches but he doesn’t care, not for this first taste of her, not for her hands pulling him closer--she likes that, he’s learning, a deep sort of pressure against her breast, and it’s easy to do again and again. She moans in the back of her throat and he smiles before switching sides, repeating the movement against her other breast while his hand kneads the first, damp from his mouth.

He reaches behind her and unhooks her brassiere, and she pulls it away from her body. He kisses between her breasts, burying his face between them and touching his tongue to her sternum, tasting the faintest salt of sweat. “Oh, Lucien,” she says softly, threading her fingers through his hair. He grins against her, kissing her abdomen above the line of her girdle, reluctantly shifting away long enough to undo it.

The fashion of the day, of the last fifteen years, but she hardly needs help to keep her waist trim and her hips slim. She has always been stunning, and knowing her more has made her more so. And--he forgets his thoughts about her foundation garments, because now he has removed them and unclipped her stockings and he was right about her knickers. “Bloody hell,” he whispers, strangled. White lace, the curls of hair between her legs pressing against it in dark contrast, and he sinks to his knees before her.

It is nothing to prostrate himself before this woman, his wife, his Jean, who tips his head back so she can look at him, green eyes flashing. He’s still mostly dressed, tie askew, straining the trousers of his wedding suit at the knees and the crotch, and he wonders what she sees. He could not hide from her if he tried--he’s never been able to hide from her, and so he does not bother now. Let her see how much he wants her, how much he cannot believe they are here even as she twists her fingers in his hair.

She smiles, so gently he might shatter, and strokes his face. “I love you,” she says, acknowledgement and encouragement at once.

There is nothing for it but to press his mouth against her sex through the lace, breathing in deeply. The smell of her arousal is sweet and deep, like fruit at its ripest, and he darts his tongue out against the wet fabric--he has to taste her, to find out what this part of her is like. He wants to know every piece of her, intimately, but this especially, what type of touch makes her writhe, what makes her moan, and he licks at her, tongue flat against the crotch of her knickers. He hasn’t even touched her clit and yet she rocks against him, holding him by the hair against her, seeking her own pleasure.

He can barely breathe for the smell of her, the taste of her, but he doesn’t need to, not with the tang of her sex on his breath. It sparks his wonder--will she like it when he curls his fingers inside her? Will she wriggle when he kisses the curve of her bottom where it meets her leg? What makes Jean Blake--Jean Blake--scream?

He licks her again and again, pushing his tongue deeper into her through the lace of her knickers, curling his hands around her bum. She’s his new favorite flavor, her hips thrusting against his face his new perfect sensation, and her voice is strangled as she pulls at his hair. “God, Lucien,” she says. “Later.”

He groans against her--he doesn’t want to stop, though his erection twitches hard at the prospect of what she might want instead. But first he pulls her knickers down and kisses her clit, touching it with his tongue, a promise for later that he intends to keep. Jean shudders and moans but still insists he stand, tweaking his ear.

He climbs to his feet as she kicks away the remains of her underthings and stockings. They are terribly mismatched now, but she is beautifully naked and he takes her in--the redness between her breasts, the wetness between her legs, but also the color on her toenails, the mole on her thigh, the crinkle at the corner of her eye. He wants--he wants her, God, he wants her. No more, no less. Just Jean.

She leans forward and kisses him again, smiling against his mouth. She surprises him, her confidence, her ease, and he wonders if she would have been uncertain if they had done this before they were married, fearful of God’s judgment or her own, for failing to live up to her own standards. No matter now, because she wears his ring, and he hers, and he will never take it off whatever the fashion--and she has removed his tie and his shirt.

Jean scrabbles for his singlet and he pulls it over his head. She has seen him barechested before, of course, in those long, infuriating weeks after he was stabbed. Still, she steps into his embrace and kisses his chest, wet and hungry, the sort of thing she wouldn’t, couldn’t have done before.

Her hands are nimble as she undoes his belt, pushing his trousers and shorts down over his hips. His erection springs free and he groans but continues undressing, making quick work of shoes and socks and every last layer before straightening before her. Let her see the man she married, all of him: the scars, the passage of time, the effects of her wonderful cooking, the strain of his cock between them.

And Jean, his Jean, looks and sighs with need at the sight of him, a high pitched noise she cannot suppress. Of course she has been waiting, wanting just as much as he has, though he tried to put it out of his mind. But now, she doesn’t shy away from her desire, and it flares in her eyes and between her lips and she is magnificent. He feels wetness gather at his tip and he hopes he can be enough for her.

He has to touch her, and so he runs his hand up her side, tweaking her breast, one more tease, another tiny moment of happiness. It makes her shiver, and she replies by pressing her hand against him, grasping his erection tightly.

Heat courses through him, that sharp arousal he has been trying to tamp down in favor of learning her, tasting her, making sure she’s ready for him. “Oh God, Jean,” he says. She twists her hand and kisses his nipple, her free hand coming to rest on his rear. She squeezes hard and he thrusts into her hand, and all of a sudden it catches up to him: her smell, her taste, her breathy moans, her voice echoing in his ear, to love and to cherish, and it is all he can do not to come in her hand. He pushes her away and steps back, trying to calm himself--deep breaths, slow and even.

When he opens his eyes, she is there before him, eyes sparkling with affection. She’s flushed pink with arousal but sure on her feet, and she has always been the steady one, and she still is, even after throwing caution and convention to the wind to marry him. He looks at her, waiting for him now, that steadfast love that has weathered more than he likes to think about shining between them, and he swallows back a lump in his throat.

“Jean,” he says, “I--.”

She quiets him with her fingers on his lips, then the softest of kisses. He remembers that first moment, on a crowded bus to Adelaide, that same insistence that his touch could speak more than his words. “I know,” she says, and takes his hand in his, this time to lead him to their bed.

He lets her lead, wants to give her a chance to get settled, but she doesn’t crawl under the covers or dim the light. No, there is Jean, propped up on her elbows, watching him through lidded eyes. He steps toward her and she opens her arms to him, and her legs, and he cannot help himself but stare at her: nipples erect, skin flushed, hair losing its curl, folds wet and pink and ready, all sex and want and his. His wife.

He wants--.

He crawls between her legs, and he could tease her more, rock between them to create even more friction, but no--another time. Now, he brushes a loose strand of hair from her face and kisses her hard before snaking his hand between them to grip his erection and guide it to her.

He slides into her deep and firm, and her groan is low and needy and the sexiest thing he’s ever heard. He matches her, he thinks, but he can’t hear for the rush of blood in his head, the feel of her hot and wet around him, the way her hands clutch at his shoulders and her feet fold against his arse, urging him on.

He had wondered if this first time might be slow and gentle, but there is far too much heat between them. With every thrust she gasps, hips rising to meet his, pulling him into her as far as he can go. She is hot beneath his hands, pressing herself against him, seeking friction for her breasts, her clit, and he gives her as much as he can, trying to keep up, trying not to give in yet, not yet, not if he can bring her higher with his mouth and his fingers and his cock. He tries to set a rhythm but soon they both lose it, frantic against each other, hips pounding, slippery with sweat and sex. He feels the pressure building in his balls and he grasps her breast hard, trying to bring her with him. She tightens her legs around him and nips at his shoulder, and this is the messiest thing they have ever done and the most wonderful.

She is everything to him, now and always, and with his next deep thrust, she contracts around him, fingers digging into his arms, arching her back, making a noise somewhere between a moan and a gasp that hits him in his heart and his groin. She is flushed and beautiful as she writhes beneath him, thighs holding him within her, and he is undone. He gives in with one strong push, spilling himself into her with a groan.

He collapses into her shoulder, breathing hard. Beneath him, Jean is trying to catch her breath as well, chest heaving, and he tries to lift himself off her, though in the end it’s an inelegant tumble to the bed at her side. He watches her, peeking at her lips and her breasts, and has to touch her, clumsy fingers drawing contented circles on her belly.

She grabs for his hand and presses it to her, stopping his motion. “Lucien” she says, and he cannot help but grin at the pleasure in her voice, a little smug that he has put it there.

He brings her hand to his lips, kissing the back of it, before pulling it toward him to encourage her to roll to her side. He rests his hand on the curve of his waist, and looks down into her eyes, and that smile that has lighted their way all day is back in full force. She raises her hand to smooth his hair, stroking her fingers through the short curls at his neck. They are both impossibly mussed, and he likes her hair wild from the touch of his fingers, likes that he surely has the remnants of her lipstick on his mouth. He loves that they are good together, that he will not have to hold back from her, that he can want and she will give--and that he will give her anything she wants, now and always.

“I love you,” he says, bringing his hand to hold her cheek. He kisses her. “I love you.”

There have been days when loving her hasn’t been enough to overcome his faults, the difficulties of their lives until this point. He knows he fools himself to think it will be uncomplicated now that they are married, just because they have this barrier between them and the world, but it is easy to believe it when she leans into his kiss and says, “I love you, too.”

It is easy to kiss her, here in their bed, the quilt tangled around them, her knee snaked between his. It is a quieter affection, now that they’ve spent the early passion, but still tinged with a want he hopes never fades. They will leave on Monday morning for Melbourne and then the world, but when they come back, it will be to this bed in this room in this house, their space as they make their lives together. They will have a fiftieth and five hundredth night together, and if the first is anything to go by--.

Jean breaks the kiss, taking a deep breath in. “You are thinking very loudly, Lucien,” she says, and though he strains to hear a note of annoyance in her voice, it isn’t there.

He presses his lips together. “I am just thinking how happy you make me,” he says. He squeezes her bum, pulling her closer. “And how much of a lucky bastard I am.”

She smiles and presses herself close. He thinks he will never tire of the feel of her breasts against his chest, the softness of her hair against his shoulder. He will never tire of her in his bed, in his life, of calling her his wife. Her response is soft against his mouth: “I’m feeling pretty lucky myself right now,” she says before opening her lips to his, and he has never heard her so content, or so wicked.

“Is that right?” he says, drawing her lip between his teeth.

“Mmm,” she says, sliding against him. He won’t be ready for more just yet, and he could lament his age--but he would not have loved her at twenty or thirty. He would have found her pretty, but wouldn’t have known how to see past her sharp tongue and careworn dresses--even if she had looked twice at a posh fool visiting from Europe. No, the years and the losses and the hopes between them have given them the wonder of this day, and he will not regret the time or the journey if it led to Jean in his arms.

But he is still of a certain age and it will be a while before he can go another round. Jean, on the other hand--.

He presses at her shoulder and shifts her to her back. He kisses her mouth, then her cheek, then the hollow of her throat, drawing a path down her body with his lips. He could linger, see if there is a spot on her ribcage that tickles, or if she likes his tongue in her navel, but he made a promise earlier that he is eager to fulfill.

He slides to the bottom of the bed, pushing her legs apart with his shoulders. He can smell himself on her, will be able to taste himself on her, and he falls on her as if it’s been months instead of minutes since he touched her. She is still swollen from their coupling as he presses his mouth against her sex, sucking, seeking entrance with his tongue, this time without any fabric between them. She is warm and slick and already ready, and he feels the moment she gives herself over to him. Jean drops her fingers into his hair before thrusting her hips against him, circling and seeking, smearing his beard with her wetness.

She surprises him, this wonderful woman who is his wife, and he cannot wait for what is next. She lifts her leg over his shoulder, pressing her thigh against his ear, and they begin again.

***