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The Bridal Tour

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In the immortal words of Augustus T. Snodgrass, “Never write what you know.”

Jo has penned her share of passionate nights (or at least the dramatic evenings prior and tragic mornings after). Her overwrought heroines have threatened to throw themselves over cliff sides and ship rails to escape clutches most caddish. Her murderesses bury secret marriages along with their late husbands. Lovers commit indiscretions so shocking they cannot be put to paper or indeed be fully pictured by their author.

There are no prickling palms in her stories, no toes curling anxiously in the maiden's shoes as she sits on the edge of the bed, biting her lip. Neither hero nor villain has ever fumbled with a match, hissing when he burns himself trying to light the lamp. Certainly no one has ever laughed, him with fingers in his mouth and eyebrows bowing in self-deprecation, and her with a sudden breath of relief that eases the giddy tension in her chest.

She can’t even recall if she ever made a fictional suitor smile, but Friedrich’s is warmer than the lamplight.

“Jo,” he says, his voice hushed and tender as he joins her at the bedside.

It’s shoddy writing to leave dialogue hanging, but instead of replying she takes hold of his collar. At the slightest tug he leans down obediently to kiss her, and when she lies back it is with the inevitability of a book falling open to a well-loved page.

~

“There’s nothing to fear,” Marmee said, frank enough to make those New York sporting men blush when she sat Jo down for the marital talk. “It’s all perfectly natural. You must make him your confidante, and he must do the same with you. Be honest with him. If he doesn't listen to you, you're not marrying the right man.”

"Yes?" he asks, his hand at her waist.

Her body answers as readily as her wits. Oh, yes.

~

“It’s very quick at first,” Meg told her, pried loose from propriety very late at night in the name of older sisterhood. "It will be over before you know it, all in a passion."

It isn’t, though. It's deliciously slow. Friedrich kisses her generously, holding her close to him. His mouth is hot against her own, and yet it makes her shiver when it ventures to her cheek, to her ear, to her neck. Every breath makes her nipples tighten as they rub against her chemise, and something flutters in her stomach far below her navel. He unbuttons her dress with an ease she never expected of a man, his hands perfectly steady as hers clumsily attack his waistcoat and shirt. Her shoes fall carelessly to the floor.

Then his steady hand is under her skirt, and that flutter sharpens to something nervous and hungry. He follows the seam of her stocking, settles on her thigh for what feels like an eternity, and then lightly touches her between her legs.

The air leaves her chest and goes dizzily to her head. She’s given herself that sensation, squeezing her thighs together alone in bed at night, but this is deep water to those shallows. A sound chirps in her throat as his fingers move back and forth, only lightly at first, and then with persuasive pressure that makes her run embarrassingly, excitingly wet.

She’s dimly aware of his attention in between kisses, his gaze on her face, which feels frozen in blushing stupefaction. Oh, she says, and oh and yes and oh, and then her eyes are squeezing shut and she gasps, clinging to Friedrich’s shoulders as something winds unbearably tight inside her and then shudders exquisitely free.

~

They honeymoon at Plumfield. There was no question of anything else as she forged ahead with her plans, Friedrich following behind making notes and carrying anything heavy. There is so much work to do, turning a house into a school: buying what needs to be bought, making what can be made, and making do with everything else. Besides, there is no place on earth more beautiful than Concord in the autumn. It delights her to show Friedrich the sights so dear to her again after her time in New York, and to see them anew through his eyes as he admires the changing leaves and the quiet brooks.

Someday they’ll go to Europe, they agree, someday when they have the money. For now, she has Europe here with her, in Friedrich, and in his books that have come with him all the way from Berlin. Shakespeare, Goethe and Kant fill the empty spaces around Aunt March’s staid collection and overflow the library, pooling on every surface from the breakfast table to the window sills, stuffed with notes and stray pens and ribbons as bookmarks.

"I'm not a very good housekeeper," Jo’s forced to confide, looking around at the little islands of clean space.

"We'll manage," Friedrich says and gamely starts to pick up a few of the books, ferrying six back to their rightful places before the seventh captures his attention. He pauses on the stairs, the sunlight in his hair as he distractedly reads one page and then another. She gathers her own armful and watches him, unable to keep the smile from her lips.

~

Practice makes perfect.

Her legs wrap around his waist, her arms breaking out in gooseflesh at the silent “oh” on his lips and the way his eyes close as he presses inside her. She arches her back, her hips tilting up until she's closer to rubbing just right against him. He stops, readjusts, his arm under her knee.

Bodies, it seems, can understand each other too.

~

Loafe with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat,” Friedrich reads, speaking softly, savoring Mr. Whitman's verses. “Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not even the best, Only the lull I like, the hum of your valvèd voice.”

The cold rain is coming down briskly, tapping on the roof above the quiet house. A fire crackles. Friedrich's chest rises and falls beneath her palm as she reclines on the couch with him, her head on his shoulder.

I mind how once we lay such a transparent summer morning, How you settled your head athwart my hips and gently turn'd over upon me, And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone…”

Her fingertip follows the line of buttons down his chest. She bites her cheek to suppress a laugh as she reaches his lap.

His voice catches. “...and plunged your tongue to my bare-stript heart.”

She touches him very lightly until he shifts beneath her.

"Is that the end of the poem?” she asks innocently when he makes no attempt to continue.

He sets down the book. "It is one of his unfinished works."

~

His hands are wonderful, confident but gentle, always warm. He watches her face when he touches her, pausing when she shivers, only going on when she leans closer for more.

And his mouth...

She trembles like she’s had too much strong coffee the first time he slips under the covers. His hands (warm, wonderful) spread her thighs apart. His mouth is on her breasts and then between them, and then on her navel. She laughs, drawing her stomach in at the tickle of it before the sudden revelation of his intentions.

Her hands tighten on his shoulders, and he pauses. She can feel his breath against her hip, a silent questioning “yes?”

She pauses too, a long and hot-faced moment passing as she considers it. Her grip relents. She strokes the back of his neck.

His mouth is hot and entreating, and she blinks up at the ceiling in surprise at the sensation. His tongue slides over her, and she gasps. Again, again, and then his fingers are touching her too. Soon her legs are over his shoulders and her head is pressing back into the pillow, and she can hear the low, muffled sound of his moan along with the wicked wetness of his slow kisses.

"Oh," she sighs, grabbing hold of his hair, "yes."

~

She adds her share to the household clutter of paper with a flurry of notes: curriculum plans, snippets of poetry, and ideas for her next book. Friedrich usually falls asleep after the marital act, but she always finds herself wakeful afterwards, her mind buzzing with ideas even as her limbs are heavy and lush.

The candle stub perched on her writing desk sputters when Friedrich stirs and stretches, sitting up in bed and looking at her with sleepy fondness.

“I’m almost finished,” she whispers, but he gets up anyhow.

She hears him rummage around on the dark side of the bedroom before he returns with his dressing gown. There is a moment's pause as he reads over her shoulder with a hum of interest, and then he kisses her cheek. He drapes the dressing gown over her shoulders, tucks it warmly around her, and then sets a second candle on the desk.

“Take your time.”