WARNING! This post contains nudity! You can’t see much, because my skins are Barbie and I was making sure you couldn’t see anything to spoil the illusion, but still! NSFW!
She had come back, Lamorak knew, that afternoon. Or rather, she had told him to expect her back late that afternoon. Lamorak looked at the lowering sun in the sky, screwed up his courage, and walked into freshman ladies’ dormitory.
He should not have had to screw up his courage, but comforting Garnet after she saw her mother was always a trial. Especially after what had happened almost two years ago now. It was a miracle Garnet had forgiven him at all, but she had not forgiven her mother. And truth to tell, the more that Lamorak thought about it — which he tried to avoid doing whenever he could help it — he could not blame her for not forgiving Morgause. He wasn’t sure he forgave Morgause, either. He still wasn’t sure what had come over him, that day two years ago, but he was damn sure that Morgause had not only been fully on board with it, but encouraging it. Even if he had been coming onto her, what kind of mother willingly climbed into bed with her daughter’s betrothed?
But he wouldn’t think about that now. He wouldn’t bring further pain to Garnet. Because however bad things were with her mother, one things were certain — after Lot’s collapse, things with her father were so much worse.
There were two young women sitting on the sofas in the late-afternoon sunlight. But only one attracted his attention. She was oddly familiar-looking, though Lamorak couldn’t trace the resemblance — if there even was one of them.
He coughed to bring her attention to him.
The young woman looked up. Something in that quizzical glance hammered hom the feeling of familiarity, but Lamorak didn’t have time to ponder the resemblance. “Yes?” she asked.
“I’m looking for Lady Garnet Orkney. Is she back yet?”
The young woman nodded. “Aye. She’s upstairs, in her room.”
Lamorak was halfway out the door that led into the corridor when the young woman spoke again. “I suppose I ought to warn you that she’s a wreck. The Princess is upstairs with her.”
“Er — thank you.” Lamorak climbed the stairs and wondered whether he should be glad that Garnet had help, or upset that she had clearly been here long enough to send out for help — send for someone other than him.
Then again, who was to say that the Princess, with the magical talent that they both shared, hadn’t simply known that Garnet would need all the help she would get, and was willing to provide it?
In any case, Lamorak could hear the sniffling from the time he mounted the sixth step.
“It’s — it’s just not fair!”
Lamorak could hear nothing but a soothing murmur from a person who he guessed was the princess.
“Nobody else cares! Nobody! Mother’s just prancing around pretending to be distraught but a two-year-old could see through that! Mordred only cares about the estate! Dindrane — oh, Dindrane’s trying, fine, but she doesn’t understand! It’s not her father who could be — could be –“
“I know, honey, I know.”
“Did you know she wouldn’t let Morgan in to try to help?”
There was no doubt in Lamorak’s mind as to who that “she” was.
“And do you know what she asked me? She asked me if I’d put her up to it!”
“She shouldn’t have asked you that,” the Princess soothed.
“She didn’t even think about Father! She just told me I had no business inviting Morgan into our business! He’s my father! I’ll do whatever I have to — to –” Whatever Garnet’s next words would have been were cut off by a barrage of sobs. “What if he dies, Jess? Or — or what if he lives, and doesn’t get any better?”
That did it. Lamorak knocked.
“Who is it?” called the Princess.
“It’s me. Lamorak.”
Before he was quite aware of it, the door flew open and Garnet barreled into his arms. The Princess followed at a more sedate pace, her face entirely blank.
She stared into his eyes for one breathless moment, then pressed her wet face against his shoulder and sobbed.
“They don’t know if he’s going to get any better!”
“Oh, Garnet.” Lamorak ran his hand through his hair as best he might — it was hard, now that Garnet come to Camford and let her hair spring into its naturally abundant curls, never mind what her mother might have to say on the matter.
“They think — he can’t even move his body! I don’t even know if he saw me! I tried, I tried to talk to him and smile at him and hold his hand, but he couldn’t or didn’t look at me, and finally I just couldn’t take it anymore and started crying!”
“No one would blame you for that, Garnet.”
Well, no one other than her.
“And Dindrane said when she went in a little later that Papa was crying!”
“Maybe that means he knew you were there.”
“And he thinks I’m a horrible daughter!”
“Garnet, Garnet, he’d never think that …” His own father, he knew, would never think less of his daughters for breaking down after seeing him like that. Lamorak pressed her head against his shoulder. “He has plenty of reasons to be crying … it can’t be your fault …”
“But what if it is?”
“It’s not, it’s not …”
Garnet shook against him for a few more minutes, at least until the Princess coughed. “Well. I think my presence is a bit superfluous, don’t you? Garnet, honey, if you need me, you know you can just drop by the sorority house anytime. If you really need to, you can stay the night. Any night. Damn the administration if they have a problem with it.”
First-semester freshmen were, Lamorak knew, not allowed to live in a fraternity or sorority house — the only reason why Lady Clarice and Lady Leona had gotten away with it, last year, was because they moved in before the sorority charter went through. But Lamorak doubted even the straight-laced Camford administration would have a problem for Garnet staying with her cousin while she went through a family crisis.
Lamorak felt Garnet nod. The Princess patted her on the back and kissed her cheek. “Anytime day or night — I’m there for you. Now just try to get some rest, all right?” She glanced at Lamorak with a wan smile. “And you don’t keep her up past her bedtime.”
Lamorak’s returning smile was equally wan as the Princess moved out of view.
When Garnet had quieted somewhat, he asked, “How is your brother taking things?”
“All he cares about is gaining control of the estate!”
“Garnet, that can’t be –“
“Lamorak, he spent the whole two days I was home closeted in Papa’s study with your father! What could he be doing if not to gain legal control over the estate?”
“Garnet, baby, I don’t doubt that he’s trying to get control of the estate …” Mordred tended to have a laser-like focus on the practical that unnerved Lamorak at the best of times. “I just — I just think that maybe, that’s his way of dealing with it. Focusing on the practical so he wouldn’t have to think about … other things.”
Garnet went silent. Then, “Lamorak?”
“I … I don’t want to have another breakdown in the hall.”
“You’re — you’re inviting me inside?”
Her eyelashes fluttered, she looked away from him the way a child who had stolen a sweet might look away from her mother. “I don’t want you to get in trouble …”
“Hang the administration, we’re as good as betrothed and you deserve some privacy.”
Wraith-like, she slipped from his arms and led the way into her dorm room. Lamorak followed.
He shut the door behind him, but had barely a moment to glance around at his surroundings before Garnet turned to him with eyes so wide and dark that his breath caught in his throat.
She said nothing, simply stared at his face as if she was afraid she might forget what he looked like if she looked away. Her breath came in short gasps that set her bosom in that low-cut dress heaving. It was only the knowledge that he owed it to Garnet to be a gentleman that kept his eyes on her face, where they belonged.
“We’re — we’re not betrothed.”
“I know. But we will be, the moment you come of age.”
“You don’t know that. With — with my father being –” Her voice caught on a sob.
“Garnet, Garnet — that’s not going to change anything. I promise. Your father and mine have everything agreed upon, all that’s left is for you to sign the papers. Even — even if your father hasn’t recovered by that point, your brother is not going to throw away that work so soon. He’d just have to do it all over again to find you another husband.”
“But what if it’s up to my mother? She’d rather see me die an old maid than marry you.”
“It won’t be.”
“You can’t guarantee that.”
No, he couldn’t — but before he could say that, the look in Garnet’s eyes forestalled him. She looked like someone hovering over the edge of a precipice, wondering whether to throw herself over or not–
Before he could ask her what was wrong, she flung herself into his arms, her lips seeking his like a compass would seek north.
When he ran over his conduct that night in the days and weeks to come, he would decide, eventually, that he could not reproach himself for the way he had acted when she pounced on him. He was a red-blooded male, and when a woman threw himself on him like that, what was he supposed to do? Pull away and ask her to talk?
Besides, he knew — he had to know, he had to believe — that this was what she wanted. He would remember her hands on his face, in his hair, picking so delicately at the laces on his tunic. She didn’t want to talk, she wanted her lips on his, she wanted her hands on his body, she wanted his hands on her skin and his whole mind focused on her.
So, like a gentleman, he tried to give the lady what she wanted. He kissed her. He tangled his hand in her hair. He lost track of everything else, everyone else, to the exclusion of her. He did not notice if there were more whisperings and rustling of cloth than perhaps there should have been. He did not notice if she only stroked him with one hand at a time. He did not notice, when they came up for air, that her lips were moving in silent words; he could feel them on his cheek but did not try to interpret them. Instead he stroked, with his free hand, first her shoulder, then down her arm, then up the underside of her arm and down her side–
It was when he encountered, not soft velvet, but softer, silky skin, that Lamorak’s eyes popped open. “GARNET!”
Without thinking, he sprung away from her. “You’re — you’re –“
Naked as the day she was born.
He shouldn’t have looked. A gentleman wouldn’t have looked. But Lamorak couldn’t help it.
She was — beautiful was one word for it. A wonderful word for it. She was tight where she should be and round and soft where she should be. But she was — small, somehow. Not in a way that made him keel over with lust (though he was pretty damn close to do doing that anyway), but in a way that made him wonder if she was quite finished growing yet. Oh, clothed she was an adult — she was definitely an adult — but without them?
“Well?” Garnet asked.
When he remembered her voice later, he would hear the quaver in it. At the time, though, there was only a disconnect. Garnet’s voice, his young Garnet’s voice, coming from an adult’s — more or less — body. Garnet’s voice, coming from the naked woman before him.
He looked up. It was Garnet’s face before him too. He wouldn’t have been a red-blooded male, he thought, if a certain part of his anatomy hadn’t — reacted to that realization.
Well, even gentlemen were Sims, after all.
“Well?” she asked again. “Do — do you want to …” Her forefinger gestured to the bed behind her.
His eyes followed her finger, because he could think of nothing else to follow.
“We’re practically betrothed. You said so yourself,” Garnet said in a rush. “So — so — why not?”
The way she looked at him, eyes so wide, mouth quivering a little …
“Garnet, but — are you sure? We’re not — actually …”
“So? I — I don’t mind if you don’t … mind.”
She was standing before him wearing nothing but a smile, and she was asking if he minded? Did she think him a eunuch?
Except she wasn’t even wearing a smile …
“If you’re sure …”
“Oh, I’m very sure,” she whispered. She stepped closer to him, laying one hand on his shoulder. Her soft body pressed up against his. “I’ve never been more sure …”
She was trembling.
“No — no — Garnet, no.”
“What?” Her face fell, like a child’s promised treats and having them withdrawn at the last moment.
No — worse, like a child whose father or mother or aunt or teacher had said, “I love you and I’ll always be there for you,” then said, “Just kidding. You’re on your own now.”
Lamorak laid a hand on her shoulder. “Garnet, we’re not betrothed. I can’t — I can’t do this to you.”
“Why not? I want it, you — you do want it, don’t you?”
Lamorak’s mouth was stuck.
“Lamorak! Don’t — don’t you want me?”
“I — Garnet, put — put your dress on and we’ll talk about this.” If he had to stare at her like this for longer … there would be no talking, his better instincts be damned.
He turned around. “I’ll — give you some privacy.”
“When — when I turn around, I want you clothed, all right?”
“You didn’t ask my mother to put her clothes back on!”
He didn’t say anything to that — what was there to say?
Instead he stood still, straight, slack-jawed and watching Garnet’s reflection — what he could see of it — in the window of her stool chamber. Not that he wanted to be a voyeur — well, maybe he did — but when he turned around he wanted to make sure she was clothed, damn it.
A sniffle. “I’m ready.”
The window told him it was true, and so Lamorak turned around.
Her eyes were screwed up the wrong way — in anger? To keep from crying? He couldn’t tell. “So,” she said. “I guess you don’t want me after all. Well, I’m glad you let me know before you deflowered me — or I married you.”
“What? No, Garnet, that’s not it –“
“You slept with my mother, Lamorak, and you swore you didn’t love her, but you won’t even sleep with me! How the hell am I supposed to take that?!”
“Garnet, I’m just — I’m just looking out for you.”
“Liar! You’re just not interested.”
“You’re upset over your father, you — you’ve been through a lot the past year, I — I don’t want to do something you would regret –“
“Did you say that to my mother?”
“Then why should I believe you?”
“Because I didn’t love your mother.”
Where the hell was this coming from? “I lusted — I lusted after her, yes. I — I slept with her. But I never loved her. I never thought about what … what it would do to her.”
“And why don’t you trust me to know what’s best for me?”
“Because, Garnet …” His hand crept up to stroke her cheek, where was he getting this courage? “When you touched me, you were shaking.”
She almost smiled. Then her smile faded and she rested her head on his shoulder.
“Listen,” he promised, “some … some other time when you’re not so distraught over … everything … come to me and we’ll talk about this. If you still want to do it then …” Well, I doubt my inner gentleman would win two of these battles. “We’ll talk,” was all he would tell her, though. “And I promise — I promise — once you’re eighteen and we sign those betrothal papers, we’re sealing the deal — unless, of course, you want to wait for the wedding then. That’s all right, too.”
She let out a sound that was half a laugh and half a sob.
He wrapped her arms around her waist and held her close. His lips grazed her cheek.
They stood like that for a good long time.
“Garnet?” Lamorak whispered.
“Don’t ever accuse me of not wanting you,” he murmured. “Turning — turning you down was almost the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
“What was harder?”
“Telling you what — what happened …”
She laid her finger against his lips. “Do you promise you still want me?”
“You’ll me you want me whenever I want you to?”
He nodded again.
But there was really only way to seal that type of promise.