Charity sits up against the headboard, a book abandoned in her lap as the warm spring sunshine and birdsong lulls her away to world somewhere between awake and dreaming. Time slipped away from her as she dozes, aware of little else but the sound of her breathing and the wind slipping through the trees outside.
She is roused by footsteps padding across the carpet. The bed dips under a familiar weight and as she sleepily turns her head towards the movement, soft lips met hers. A greeting kiss she could recognise anywhere. Charity sighs against her husband’s mouth, his pleased chuckle rumbling low in his throat.
“Keep your eyes closed until I say so,” Phineas instructs, words laced with a mischief she knows all too well spells trouble. Still her heart leaps with curious anticipation. Hands cupping Charity’s face, Phineas bestows a kiss, chaste, featherlight, upon each eyelid and another to the tip of her nose before drawing away.
Something flat and light is placed on the bedspread. She listens to the rustle of fabric, trying to guess what Phineas was up to, trying to stay one step ahead of him but knowing that she’d never manage it. Nor did she want to, really. That was part of the fun.
“Okay,” he says excitedly. “Open your eyes.”
Charity does, gaze falling upon the outfit laid out on the bed. Her breath catches, heat rushing to her cheeks.
The surprise is an almost exact replica of Phineas’ ringmaster coat. The same unmistakable luminous shade of red, the row of shiny brass buttons down the front and swirls of gold embroidery at the cuff. The corset is decorated to match Phineas’ waistcoat. In place of the riding breeches Phineas wears, Charity’s gifted a pair of frilly black drawers, cut to cover as little as possible. The kind of provocative garment worn by some of the performers in the ring.
Charity doubts this outfit will ever leave the bedroom.
“Do you like it?” She feels Phineas’ gaze upon her face, watching closely for her reaction. “You can wear it with a dress underneath if you’d be more comfortable like that.”
Momentarily lost for words, Charity takes his hands in hers, kissing over his knuckles. “Oh, Phin, it's beautiful. Thank you, sweetheart."
The gratitude feels insubstantial compared to the hours and hours of hard work and dedication Phineas put into the outfit. Her birthday isn’t for another few months. Phineas had made it just because he’d promised to a long time ago, back when the circus had first opened and Charity had mentioned in passing how she’d like her own ringmaster coat some day.
“Now you, me and Phillip all match.”
“Somehow I can't see Phillip striding out into the ring wearing those," Charity teases, nodding towards the shorts.
"He should, you know. He's got the legs for it."
Charity wholeheartedly agrees.
Phineas flips over the garment to reveal a golden cursive ‘B’ embroidered across the rear. Charity sighs, shaking her head, not surprised but amused nonetheless.
"You just want your initial stamped all over us.”
His face lights up at the suggestion. “Well, since you’ve both turned down the idea of tattoos, I had to get a little creative.”
Charity rises up onto her knees, threading her arms around Phineas’ neck to pull him in for a kiss.
“You’re lucky I love you.”
Eyes soft and warm with affection, nose brushing her, Phineas replies; “Luckiest man in the world. Try it on for me?”
Eager as a child on Christmas day, Charity clambers from the bed and sheds her nightdress.
The shorts sit low on her waist and hug her curves. Phineas steps in to help with the corset, expert hands lacing it like a second skin. The material, the same used in the dancers costumes, is made to be less stiff and constricting.
“And for the piece de resistance, ” Phineas announces with a flourish and a showman’s grin, holding out the coat for her. The fabric is as luxurious as Charity remembers from the times she’s borrowed her husband’s coat and she loves the velvety softness against her skin. This one was crafted especially for her and fits perfectly, just as she'd expect from a tailor's son. The tails fall to the backs of her knees instead of brushing her ankles. It’s a novelty not having to push up the sleeves and she no longer feels like a child playing dress up.
“How do I look?”
He takes her hand in his and twirls her, a slow ballerina spin to see the full effect. Phineas’ smile is feral, hungry, his voice dropping to a pitch rarely heard outside the bedroom. “Positively indecent, Mrs Barnum.” He cocks his head to the side, assessing. “But just missing that something extra…”
Charity watches, bewildered, as he dashes from the room without another word. It is, admittedly, not an unfamiliar sight being married to Phineas Taylor Barnum; once he gets an idea in his head and that look in his eye, there’s very little that can halt him in his tracks. Sometimes not even the combined efforts of both Charity and Phillip can slow the whirlwind of Phineas’ fantastical mind before it has run its own course.
Charity steps up to the mirror and blinks in confusion her own reflection. The Charity Barnum who has a wardrobe full of simple, understated dresses in pale feminine shades has been replaced by a woman who has more skin on show than not, who would surely draw a world of scandal if she set foot outside in her current getup. She does not think of herself as a weak woman, but there’s a power in her stance that wasn’t there before, the power to command the attention of a crowd instead of blending into it. Charity had witnessed a similar phenomenon happen when Phillip first put on his own ringmaster coat and she marvels at the transformation a single item of clothing can bring.
Phineas returns to her side and tosses her the cane, a move she’s seen take place between the two ringmasters’ countless times. Charity catches it effortlessly with one hand, sharing Phineas’ bright smile. Next, he delicately gathers Charity’s hair up on top of her head in a bun and places his hat over to hold the curls in place. The hat, Phineas’ father’s hat from long ago, slides down over her eyebrows.
Phineas laughs delightedly. “Too big, but I think you can make it work.”
He adjusts it slightly so Charity can still see, a few golden locks falling free.
Though she seldom admits it, she enjoys being spoilt and fussed over by Phineas, his attention fixed solely upon her a heady experience she is yet to tire of. Charity has no need of the finer things in life, something Phineas still struggles to accept, but the heartfelt, homemade gifts he treats her with for no other reason than just because he can , because he saw it and thought of her, mean more than she can say.
Phineas stands behind her as they admire her reflection in the mirror.
“My circus queen. Look at you ,” Phineas whispers, passion in each syllable. He can’t take his eyes off her and she can’t take hers from his face. The awestruck way he looks at Charity like he’s just now seeing her properly reminds her of their wedding night. “You could bring the entire audience to their knees and have them begging for mercy with one flick of the cane.”
Charity hums and taps the cane against the floor. She finds she rather likes that idea. To see them bow to the power of a woman. “Wouldn’t that be scandalous.”
“The biggest scandal of the year. It might ruin us. No one would be able to take their eyes off you. We’d have to hold back the hoards.”
Charity laughs; she knows Barnum humbug when she hears it.
“Fortunately it’s a private show,” she counters. Phineas hums in approval. “Very exclusive, only two tickets available."
Phineas sighs against her ear, teeth nipping the shell. His hands roam her body like he just can’t help himself and Charity is pleased she’s not the only one so readily affected by the ringmaster red.
His mouth trails a heated path down her neck. Charity fists a hand in Phineas’ hair and tugs until he meets her gaze in the mirror. She raises an eyebrow at him in a silent challenge.
“Now, I believe you said something about begging on your knees?”
Comprehension dawns and Phineas spins her around so they’re chest to chest and captures Charity’s mouth with his own. Her sound of surprise is lost between their lips. Phineas cradles the back of her neck, hands sliding up into her hair and the hat falls to the floor, forgotten, along with the cane. Charity clings to him, bunching his shirt up in her fists, molten heat shimmering beneath her skin at the desperate intensity of his need.
Distantly, Charity is aware of Phineas’ moving them, his hands tightening on her hips to stop her from falling. Phineas’ arousal is a searing heat against her belly and Charity’s blood pumps faster within her, gasping into the kiss. Her back hits the wall, pinned there by the length of his body. Hot ragged breaths fill the space between them, Charity peering up through her lashes at Phineas, pleased to find that he looks just as dazed and flushed as she feels.
Part of Charity wonders if Phineas is going to pick her up, wind her legs around his waist and fuck her against the wall. A not insubstantial part of her wants him to.
Instead, Phineas braces a hand on the wall beside her head, awaiting for her next move, his body wound tight and trembling with anticipation.
There's always been a certain push and pull between them in the bedroom, a rhythm of who initiates, who takes the lead. Despite the minimal gossip about married life she’d overheard from her mother's friends, once she and Phineas eloped it never occured to Charity to be the good, submissive wife society expected her to be. She was never the type of woman who lies beneath her husband and takes no pleasure from the perfunctory act of making babies.
Mouth curling into a slow, smug smile, Charity presses her hands to his shoulders with enough weight behind it to get the point across. Phineas goes to his knees willingly with every intention of worshipping at her alter, golden eyes shining as he looks up at his wife with such unbridled adoration it melts her heart and steals her breath in one fell swoop.
The adoration quickly becomes something darker, his lips curling with wicked promise. Phineas nudges Charity’s legs apart and noses along her inner thigh. His scratchy stubble feels wonderful against sensitive, heated skin. Charity shudders, tangling a hand in Phineas’ hair for an anchor. The roughness over reddening skin has her squirming with nowhere to go, yet the burn only heightens the throb between her legs. Gentle kisses follow, soft lips a blessed relief, trailing up to where she needs him most. Phineas mouths over the front of the shorts where surely he can feel her arousal saturating through the fabric and Charity’s head falls back against the wall with a sigh.
Phineas helps her step out of the undergarment. She leaves the coat on. Her head spins from the thrill and debauchery of it all; Charity bare from the waist down whilst Phineas kneels at her feet, fully clothed, his trousers stretched tight over his erection.
He draws long, sweeping pathways over her legs with his palms, Charity arching into the touch.
"Phin…" Charity breathes, unable to temper her impatience any longer.
He meets her gaze with a tenderness reserved only for intimate moments such as this.
Bracing her weight back against the wall, Charity hooks her ankle over his shoulder. His lips part, panting, hands tightening in his lap.
"Don't you have something better to be doing?"
Phineas leans in, his hot gusting breath an exquisite torture, so close to where she needs him most, her body slick and ready. He draws his thumb over the crease of her thigh.
“With pleasure, your majesty.”
Charity can hear the smirk in his voice and her own laugh becomes a choked cry as he continues lower. Phineas spreads her legs a little wider and teases Charity with his tongue, tasting, light and gentle strokes, not enough to give her what she needs just yet. Little hitching noises escape Charity’s throat, rolling her hips down to meet his mouth. His moan vibrates through her.
“You taste so good, Chairy,” Phineas murmurs, voice wrecked and trembling with reverence. Charity tightens her fingers in his hair, coaxing him back into place.
“Then get to work.”
He makes a startled amused sound, eyes flicking up to meet hers briefly to flash a winning smile.
Charity may be wearing the ringmaster coat, may have the circus king on his knees, but he needs no further instruction to please her. After so many years of marriage, Phineas is the master of her body and he throws himself into the task with the same dedication and passion he shows all other aspects of his life.
Phineas charts a map of all the sensitive sweet spots to pull the helpless cries from her throat and arch her spine tight as a bow. He pants against her, his moans mingling with hers as his head moves between her legs. Hearing his enjoyment, the filthy, wet sounds of his mouth intensifies the ache at her core. His hands slide under Charity’s thighs, opening her up to press in deeper and her moans pitch up an octave or two. The hot, wet stimulation is delicious , Phineas’ talented tongue lavishing her with attention.
The world narrows to the waves of pleasure Phineas coaxes from deep within her, every nerve ending in her body electrified and burning with carnal bliss. He doesn’t let up for a second, suckling hungrily, thoroughly ruining her, his mouth so good she can barely catch her breath. Phineas cups her rear, cradles her hips, leaving white handprints on flushed skin as she writhes and rocks against him.
She catches sight of them in the mirror across the room and, oh, what an obscene picture they make. The elegance of the coat a stark contrast to deprived situation, them both in varying degrees of undress, too desperate to make it to the bed. Seeing Phineas holding her up against the wall like its nothing, the muscles and veins in his arms bulging, sends a bolt of arousal right to Charity’s gut.
Charity teeters on the brink of ecstasy, grinding down on Phineas’ face, so achingly close to unravelling. Phineas looks up at her, his eyes saying everything his rich, rough baritone would be murmuring in her ear. Her shaking thighs clench around his head. His tongue dips into her, inside her and all of a sudden her pleasure rushes to a blinding peak. Charity shudders and topples over the edge, Phineas’ name a broken sound on her lips as she’s swept away by blissful release, deep and radiating out through her.
Sated and exhausted, Charity’s wobbly legs finally give out from beneath her. Phineas breaks her fall and eases her down onto his lap. She buries her face in the crook of his neck, clinging to him, panting, feeling the vibrations of his praise but too far gone to make sense of it yet.
“I think we might’ve ruined your coat,” Phineas says later, genuinely regretful, smoothing his hands over the fabric.
She laughs into his neck. “Yours has seen far worse.”
“And that’s why I now have spares.”
Phineas has been asked to wear his ringmaster’s coat to bed more times than Charity cares to count, resulting in some marks that not even the most expert pair of hands could wash out. Charity is loath to take hers off to inspect for damage, wanting to stay in it forever.
Despite his best attempts to clean up using the back of his hand, Phineas’ face is still a little damp and slick. Charity would blush at how worked up she was but she likes seeing him all dirtied like this. She kisses Phineas’ neck, along his jawline, her mouth finding his. Their tongues slide lazily together, Charity shivering as she tastes herself there. His hands wander to her hips, sinking in his fingertips as he bucks up against her, Phineas’ arousal hot and hard through the fabric.
Her lips never leave his as she presses Phineas to the ground. She takes his wrists in her hands and stretches across his body to pin them down above his head, his arms crooked at the elbow. Their difference in height puts a strain on Charity’s limbs and she squeezes his wrists warningly twice before letting go. She is pleased yet a little surprised when Phineas remains in place, his expression open and vulnerable as he holds her gaze.
Phineas could flip them over and have his way without blinking an eye. He doesn’t though and Charity feels an inexplicable power having such strength lying pliant beneath her.
“Please, Charity.” A quiet plea not often heard from him. He licks his swollen lips. Charity could see him thinking up the right thing to say to get what he wants. “I’ve been good, haven’t I?”
Charity answers by palming him through his trousers. He sucks in air between his teeth, twitching beneath the touch.
“Now, what are we going to do about this?” Charity asks, off-hand, carefully concealing the excitement from her voice.
Frustration turns to hope and a triumphant grin tugs at the corner of Phineas’ mouth. He sits up on his elbows, watching Charity loosen his belt. “I have a few ideas.”
“Oh I’m sure you do.” She nip at his chin and pushes at his shoulder. Phineas goes down with a vexed little grumble, tucking his palms under his head. Charity touches her fingers to the slick, damp spot soaking through the front of Phineas’ trousers, and then mouths over it just to feel his hips rise. “But what if I told you to wait?”
Phineas’ face crumples. “Wait?”
The way it sounds on his tongue is almost like a foreign concept to him.
It shouldn’t be. For all his complaints, Phineas enjoys being wound up and left wanting just as much as Charity enjoys teasing him to that edge. Seeing his teary eyes pleading with her for release because he’s been half hard all day and forbidden to touch himself is even better.
This is his reward and a thank you all in one, but Phineas won’t see it that way until the lust has cleared and he’s curled between her and Phillip, boneless and finally satisfied, many hours from now.
“I said I’d give you and Phillip a show. It wouldn’t be right to start without him.”
“I believe I already had my show,” Phineas points out, a touch of desperation colouring his words now.
Charity’s smile curls into something wolfish and sly. Her fingertips wander idly down the buttons of his shirt with no intention of undoing them.
“Let’s think of that as a rehearsal.”
He makes a sound between a laugh and a groan. "My dear, sweet Charity, what a tease you are." His face is full of betrayal but the delight sparkling behind his eyes gives him away. "And after I made you a shiny new coat, too."
“Well, I learned from the best.”
Charity climbs the length of his body to kiss him, deep and unhurried. He brushes the curtain of hair from her face, fingers skimming the column of her throat. Charity guides his hands to her hips, granting permission he freely takes advantage of. Phineas makes a pleased sound against her mouth and Charity loses herself to the heat of his palms caressing the slope of her spine, the swell of her breasts, the tops of her thighs. He traces the golden ‘B’ on her sleeve like he wants to write it in to her skin.
Reluctantly, Charity draws away before her willpower splinters beneath the weight of her desire.
She takes his chin in hand and their eyes meet.
"Be good," Charity says not unkindly, but firm, leaving no room for arguments or doubts. A parting command not to find relief by his own hand, or Phillip’s, until she says otherwise.
"Yeah, yeah," Phineas says, making a show of being petulant. He sighs and tucks his face into the crook of his elbow. "I'll have to think of Bennett naked for the rest of the afternoon so you better make this worth my while.”
It was going to be a long day for him.