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The Truth

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With the bedroom door ajar, Apollonia can hear Michael and Sonny talking. She doesn't hear most words, and doesn't much care, either, with her nose in a book. (The library is her favorite thing about New York, so far.) But then her name floats to the surface, and she pauses, listens. Sonny's voice is concerned; Michael's is steady. She thinks about it a minute, and then returns to her book. 

Two chapters later, Michael comes in the door. His tie is loosened. The bruise high on his cheekbone that merely looked dark at dinnertime has now gone mottled with purple, blue, and yellow. But he's smiling a private smile, amused.

"Sonny?" Apollonia guesses, carefully saving her spot with a bookmark and then setting the book aside.

Michael nods, and then slouches next to her on the bed, peeling off his socks. "He's worried that you don't like me." Michael's voice is dry.

"Oh?" This must be a good story.

"We barely talk to each other. He's afraid we're ignoring each other as a mutual punishment."

Apollonia makes a chuh sound of incredulousness in the back of her throat. 

"Yes, well. You have to remember Sonny. His marriage is nothing but talking. Good and bad, she's on him all the time."

Apollonia switches to Italian, the quicker to have the conversation, knowing Michael will follow her there without complaint. "He's with other women often enough."

"Yes," Michael admits.

"He thinks we're like them?"

"He thinks I married in haste and I'm repenting in leisure."

"What does that mean?"

"It's an English expression. It just means I found your face too beautiful to have any sense."

"Well, you did."

"I still do."

"Mm."

They smile at each other like they've got a secret. They do, in a way.

Sonny isn't entirely wrong. Apollonia has intentionally kept herself a silent wallflower at any gathering of Corleones that includes men, even a gathering as small as herself and Michael and Sonny in her own kitchen after Sonny's wife has thrown him out. It's just that she finds New York dark and cramped and frightening, and she hates talking in English with people she doesn't know. Her accent is so thick. Michael insists that his family will find it perfectly normal, but Apollonia is determined not to be seen as merely provincial, and chooses instead to keep to the background as much as possible, quiet and unobjectionable, until she learns the ways of the city and the language and the people, and then she can prove herself. She knew who Michael was when she married him. She's willing to take the challenge.

In the meantime, though, Apollonia ought to double-check the security of her position with her in-laws. "What did you tell him?"

"I tried to tell him the truth."

"And?"

Michael shrugs. "He's my brother. How could I explain it to him?"

Apollonia understands. Even her own mother had been utterly mystified by her decision. Placating a dangerous man by submitting to his attentions, now that anyone could understand. But intentionally egging him on in her own demure way, tripping so that he can catch her? The sideways glances, and all the rest? Apollonia feels that she's the only one who knows why she did what she did. And she's perfectly fine with that.

She shrugs.  "Your mother likes me," she says. She's certain of it. She almost thinks that perhaps Vito likes her, too, but it's hard to tell with the old man. Maybe recovery from his injuries has made him softer than usual.

"Yes," Michael says, and that's an end to the matter. If the marriage has Mrs. Corleone's support, that's all they need.

Now Apollonia is free to attend to different matters. She runs her eyes over him, slowly. The bruise on his cheek is matched by one on his hand. She bets if she looks a little farther, she can find more under his clothes.

"How tired are you?" she says.

"I'm strong," he answers, which provides her with much more information than a yes or a no.

"Mm." Apollonia swings a leg over him till she's settled in his lap, nightgown riding up on her thighs and his hands following warm soon after. Everything is still new and yet she has some ideas, ideas beyond kissing hungrily until he can't stand it anymore and fumbles with the button of his trousers. She knows some of him now, she thinks. Enough for something else.

This time, she breaks away from the kiss first, when he's barely got a taste. Her hand cups his cheek, thumb over the bruise, and she looks him directly in his dark eyes. Then she presses in, just a little. His lips part.

She presses in harder, and his hands tighten on her hips, the both of them at a stalemate. She leans forward an inch, and she can see satisfaction in his eyes, until she slips a hand between the waistband of his boxers and his warm skin, and then she sees a different kind of satisfaction. When she's pressed the pad of her thumb to his cheekbone nearly as hard as she can, she moves her other hand between his legs, lightly, like an incidental brush of skin, and at that he inhales sharply and lunges.

A blink later and she's on her back, smiling against his lips. Discovery made, or theory confirmed. And from the way he's slowly kissing his way down her body as he undoes button after button, she thinks she's about to be rewarded for it.