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Dancing

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Dancing first, he had said.‎

As the afternoon's shadows stretched to evening, his clasp on her hand was ‎firmer, his arm on her waist more insistent, as he spun her, reeling her out, ‎reeling her in, careening through the garden walks. She knew what it would be ‎like, coupling with him. She was not Hero, not some shamefast, eyes-down, ‎unschooled city maiden. Her early years had been spent in the countryside, and ‎she had seen enough stallions top their mares to know how the evening's ‎festivities would end. Which was why she was hardly astonished, when he ‎dragged her into the narrow court beside the garden, the one where the chicken ‎coops were stored, hardly astonished when he pressed her against the stone and ‎seized her face in his hands. She was ready for him, braced for him, determined ‎he would no more get the better of her in this than in aught else.‎

But then, an inch from her face, with the warm stucco scratching her back and his ‎warmer body pressed against hers, he stopped. Simply stopped, his mouth ‎inches from hers, his thumbs still stroking the side of her face, and though she ‎cast about for the right challenge, the wry sly comment that would twit him for ‎it, none came.‎

‎"Beatrice," he said softly, his breath shivering her ear. ‎

She pulled back and met his eyes, and found them dark and solemn. She had not ‎known they could do that, change colors so completely, and her chest tightened ‎a little. The hairs of his close-cropped beard were the color of wheat.‎

‎"What ails you, Signor Benedick," she found breath to say.‎

‎"Beatrice," he said again. "Shall we indeed be married? Do you want this?"‎

It pulled her feet from under her, that he would ask her, that he would give her ‎this chance even now, after their public profession, after all that had happened. ‎His eyes were so utterly undressed she wanted to look away, but they caught ‎and held her. "Because if you don't – if you truly do not wish it – then I will ‎walk away, and we will never speak of this again. As a sister you shall be to ‎me." His hand dropped from her face, but as it dropped it managed to brush her ‎breast in what she could not imagine to be an accident, and she knew his jade's ‎trick. Not above a little persuasiveness, was Benedick. And yet his eyes were ‎dark and unblinking on her, and her throat felt parched, and she knew it was not ‎all from the dancing.‎

‎"You do not speak," he said softly.‎

Her lips twitched upwards as she remembered how he had stopped her mouth ‎earlier, and she tilted forward and pressed her lips against his. As she closed the ‎distance between them she brought her hips against his, and she felt his flinch, ‎the slight recoil, and it brought her up short. She pulled back and frowned at ‎him. "And yet it is you who flinch from me, Signor," she said.‎

His hands were back at her waist, pulling her closer. "Aye, that I do, mistress," ‎he whispered. "For should you feel how much I desire you, you would know ‎how completely you have mastered me." He edged her back against the wall, ‎pressing his hips into hers, and it gave her a pleasurable jolt to realize they were ‎much of the same height, and his hips were exactly level with hers, and then the ‎pleasurable jolt became a steady thrum as he pressed himself against her, and ‎she felt the hard length of him, felt him gasp into her neck as she rubbed against ‎him. ‎

‎"Beatrice," he groaned. "Beatrice," he said, more roughly this time, and his ‎hands at her waist pushed her a few inches away, and she saw that his breathing ‎was as fast and labored as hers. "By the gods. . ."‎

Very deliberately she hooked her hands into the trouser loops she found and ‎rocked him back against her. Slower this time, steadier, and she adjusted their ‎position until he was rubbing against her there, oh right there, and they kept ‎their eyes locked, their mouths open to swallow air.‎

‎"Let me go, Beatrice, or by'r lady in three seconds I shall hike that lovely skirt ‎and fuck you right here against the wall like a dairymaid, priest's blessing or no, ‎wedded wife or not. Is that what you—ah, God, God. . ." ‎

She lowered her hands to cup his arse, bringing her mouth to his ear. "Perhaps it ‎is," she breathed, and he was not asking permission now. His hands grabbed ‎fistfuls of skirt and slammed her against the wall, and had she found breath to ‎laugh she would have crowed aloud at seeing him so undone, except she could ‎hear her own breathing, hear the groaning in her voice, and knew that she was as ‎unmanned as he, and then he was fumbling with his trouser placket, hasty, ‎desperate.‎

‎"Yes," she managed, and threw her legs wide, curling a brown thigh around him ‎just as he thrust home, and her head shot back and hit the wall a trifle harder ‎than she might have wished, and her eyes stung from it and from the pain that ‎shot like red fire upwards from her groin, and her voice broke on the cry.‎

He froze on the instant, already buried in her. When she was eleven she had ‎fallen from the laurel tree to the west of the garden, and had landed with a ‎thump on the gravel, and for a few dizzying seconds the blue sky had spun ‎overhead before breath had returned. It was like falling from a tree, it was like ‎dancing until you were faint, it was like teetering on the edge of the wall.‎

‎"Beatrice—ah, Christ, Beatrice, forgive me, what have I—"‎

‎"Don't move," she said, when the air rushed back into her lungs, and he obeyed, ‎cradling her there against the wall, his shaft a pulse within her, his arms firm ‎around her. She sank her head against his shoulder.‎

‎"If I move," he whispered after a bit, "it will be good." ‎

She shook her head, her eyes closed.‎

‎"Dearest. You must trust me."‎

She nodded into his neck, and he slowly pulled out a bit, and slowly, ever so ‎slowly, back in, and then again, and by the third time the burn and the fire of it ‎had lessened, and something else, something else entirely, was taking its place. ‎His fingers tightened on her rump, and she tried, tentatively, thrusting against ‎him as he thrust into her, and oh, the warm deep pleasure of it, so alien and ‎indescribable and hungry that she gasped aloud. ‎

‎"More?"‎

‎"Yes."‎

He moved just the tiniest bit faster, and the thought flitted across her brain that ‎he certainly knew what he was about, and the wrench of jealousy struck cold in ‎her belly for just a second before she squashed it, and now she felt only his lips ‎on her jaw, his fingers on her back, his shaft stroking, stroking her, and oh oh oh ‎there was a warmth that flooded her to her toes, and she must have more and ‎more and more, and she began to push and thrust and rock against him, her ‎fingers tight in his hair.‎

‎"Ben—Benedick—"‎

‎"Sweet one, sweet Beatrice—" And she wanted to throw her head back and ‎laugh aloud at that, that he could call her sweet whose mouth had never dripped ‎aught but tart around him, but it was not a jest, she knew exactly what he meant, ‎this man whose barbs and taunts were sweeter to her than honey on walnuts, ‎than the sweat that beaded at the base of his throat, and she ran her tongue over ‎it just to see, and relished his groan. ‎

‎"Yes, yes, love," she said, tasting the word on her tongue. She felt him shudder ‎beneath her to hear it, and then he shifted, angled up a bit, and the warm steady ‎stroking became sharp, unbearable, too much, too good, too fast, and she was ‎crying out with each thrust, shaking, shaking as the heat shot down her legs and ‎her arms, and black spangles spun behind her eyelids.‎

‎"Bea—Beatrice—God, Christ—ohhh. . ." Wet heat flooded her, whether hers or ‎his she could not tell, and her body arched and curled and quaked around him, ‎they were sweat and fire and flood, and their legs spasmed and gave beneath ‎them, and only the wall held them. It took long moments for the earth to settle ‎back into its accustomed place, as they slumped unmoving against the courtyard ‎wall. She was the first to find her tongue.‎

‎"Well, Signor Benedick," she panted, her voice gone quite hoarse, "if you wish ‎to gain the upper hand of your friend young Claudio, this time you can be the ‎one to cry foul to the priest, and there'll be none to gainsay you."‎

His back shook with laughter under her fingers. "Shall you swoon away dead for ‎me, if I do?" he murmured.‎

‎"Only after I have beaten you senseless with the altar candle."‎

He chuckled, but made no move to disentangle them. They stayed knotted ‎together for another few minutes, and he began to brush feather kisses up and ‎down her neck. "Beatrice."‎

‎"Mmm."‎

He raised his head and met her eyes. "That is not what I. . .ah, dear one. Forgive ‎my clumsy, selfish, addle-pated idiocy."‎

She arched a brow. "That, I am going to want written on a scroll, that I might ‎carry it with me always."‎

‎"I shall have a locket inscribed."‎

She ran a finger down his beard. "Look not so, love," she said softly. "I am glad ‎for it. Too wise to woo peaceably, you said? Too eager to woo at all, I should ‎say."‎

He slipped out of her, and it felt as though her spine went with him, so boneless ‎was she. He caught her as she swayed, and frowned as he looked down. "Hold ‎still."‎

‎"Oh." The pain shot through her again, duller this time, but a not unpleasant ‎ache. There was blood on her thighs, and she winced at it. "Sorry."‎

‎"I shall ignore for now the obscenity of your apologizing to me," he said, ‎tugging at the arm of his shirt.‎

‎"Benedick, what on earth are you—" The fabric gave, and he tore at the sleeve. ‎He leaned over to the small basin of rain water perched on the wall, dipping the ‎cloth into it, and knelt. Gently he wiped her thighs, her center, following the ‎swipes of the cloth with kisses, kissing his way back up her body, her belly, her ‎waist, her breasts, before pulling down her skirts and smoothing them. He ‎leaned against the wall beside her when he was done, and they watched the first ‎of the evening stars slip into place over Sicily.‎

His voice when he spoke was quiet. "I can do better than a hasty tumble against ‎the poultry yard wall, you know."‎

‎"Oh, I doubt it not. Have I not heard these many years of the fearsome exploits ‎of Benedick, terror of the ladies from Compostella to Durrazzo?"‎

His eyes went solemn again, and she knew that for the rest of her life her heart ‎would turn over in her chest at the sight of it. "There was only ever one lady," he ‎said, and she smiled at him, and he leaned and caught her lips in his, slow and ‎lazy as they had not troubled to before, and she gave herself over to it. ‎

‎"You must tell me about her someday," she said, still smiling against his lips. ‎

‎"Oh, I shall. A nasty, ill-favoured thing she was, with the breath of a nanny goat ‎and the grace of an ox in rut, her voice like the sound of Scottish horns being ‎sodomized by a bull calf. But I loved her, it's true, and though she left me—"‎

‎"Left you? How shocking."‎

‎"'Tis true. But she bequeathed me her capacious girdle, which I had made into ‎this shirt, and which alas, I fear shall never be quite the same."‎

‎"Oh, I can mend that," she said with a mischievous gleam, tugging at the other ‎sleeve until she heard the satisfying rip. He groaned.‎

‎"A right buffoon I shall look at my wedding," he said ruefully, as she tossed the ‎remains of his other sleeve over the wall. He held up his hand, forestalling the ‎rejoinder that twitched her lip. "No, no, spare yourself the trouble." He ghosted ‎another kiss along her jaw, brushing her hair back, tucking stray tendrils out of ‎the way. "We shall be missed," he murmured. "We should go back. I have no ‎desire to meet the point of your uncle's sword before I have met the priest at the ‎church door."‎

‎"Wedding? Church door?" She slipped out from under his encircling arms. ‎‎"Signor Benedick, I fear there has been some mistake. Now that I have had my ‎way with you, I see no need to make an honest man of you. Had I known your ‎virtue to be quite so pliable. . ." She laughed as he lunged for her, dancing just ‎out of his reach, relishing his low chuckle, and she let his hand close on her wrist ‎as she tugged him back into the shadows of the garden, into the torchlight and ‎the music and the tipsy shrieks of joy.‎

Dancing first, he had said. And so they had, at that.‎