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By Vigour (and Resolution)

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There is a game they play.

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition, had found herself in a somewhat unorthodox marriage to an equally handsome, clever man. Contrary to the norm, Emma’s husband was living in her home, reliant on her coin, and with a general disposition slightly to the left of happy. He was endlessly happy with Emma, doubtless, but his tone - his manner, would incite questions, perhaps, otherwise. As it was, there were a great many number of things George Knightley appeared not to be if one wasn’t looking too hard. He appeared not to be the sort of man to indulge a girl such as Emma Woodhouse. He appeared not to be overly excitable, or prejudiced against men that he had never met. He appeared, certainly, to be a man in control of himself and what he chose to do in life.

This, then, was the game they played; stumbled upon by accident, an extension of the discussions, the disagreements they had enjoyed with each other over the years, and further, from that pivotal discussion they’d had, filled with promises. Then I shall come here, he’d said, the warmth of his fingers seeping through Emma’s gloves. Yes, he’d quit the abbey, and yes he’d sacrifice his independence, and yes he would live with her and her father both, with no house of his own.

That final yes, barely whispered, but filled with such - feeling, with love and excitement and permission. A little of something else, too. Something Emma didn’t truly acknowledge at the time, hadn’t thought of at all, so distracted with simple happiness to bother looking into the details of what she was feeling. It was only later, after the passing of many weeks, the passing of Harriet’s wedding and then her own, after night fell and they had retired to their joint bedroom for the first time.

They were both giddy with excitement and with wine, and stumbled together into their room without a thought of what may happen next, only enjoying each other’s company and the promise they had made to each other that day. They sat together on their bed and recited the day's events to each other - Mr Elton’s more scathing looks as the night and his wine consumption had progressed, her father falling asleep briefly during the ceremony, and so on. It hadn’t been a perfect day, but Emma was beginning to find that perfection wasn’t something she needed any longer, let alone desired.

As the conversation progressed, his hand found its way to Emma’s thigh, and she in turn found her way to his mouth. Like before, he let her move first. Allowed her to come to him, push into his space and take what she wanted. This, at least, was familiar: on her father’s wishes, and as general propriety insisted, they weren’t to share a room until they were married - but there was no rule against kissing. Emma considered herself experienced, now, in all the ways in which they could kiss each other. The way George would cradle her face in one of his big hands, the tilt of his head to make the angle better and the gentle way he’d open his mouth for her. Always so happy to let Emma do what she wished, take what she wanted.

Now, Emma didn’t have a great deal of knowledge about how other men kissed, nor what they let their wives do or how they fit themselves around each other, but what she did know suggested that George was a little out of the ordinary in that respect. He was out of the ordinary in many respects, Emma would argue, but she was aware of her own prejudice in his favour. Still. She felt a stirring interest within herself when she pressed in closer and he not only allowed it but went easily, falling back against the bedcovers. She eyed his reclined body, his heavy-lidded gaze.

“I suppose you’re not going to undress yourself, then?” she said, only half a question. Emma was more than willing to help him from his clothes if it meant that she might be able to see what was underneath. Fortunately, when she began unbuttoning his vest there was no complaint. It was slow going, being that he was just as layered as Emma herself was, and her skirts were in the way more than they were not, but Emma sated her impatience by allowing herself lingering kisses between buttons. George seemed happy enough with that arrangement, only once attempting to help her by tugging at his cravatte, but Emma gently slapped his hands away so that she could remove it herself. She was quite fascinated by this process now that she had begun it.

Fascinated by her own interest, really. There was a teasing element to it all, a strange delight in unwrapping him slowly, and in him letting her, pliant under her careful hands. Between one kiss and the next, she managed to unknot his cravatte and slip it from his high collar, fingers gentle against his skin, the area around his neck and beneath his chin suddenly seeming vulnerable without its usual cover. George hummed encouragingly when she pressed two fingers beneath his chin though, tilting his head up so that she could kiss him better. He was quiet now, in a way he most certainly wasn’t during their daily conversations - not that she would desire him differently. But there was an ease to this thing between them, when they were together like this. Whatever it was, it came naturally.

Once his high collar was removed, and finally his shirt, Emma allowed herself a quick press of her mouth to his ribcage, helpless not to. What had happened between them was already somewhat deviated from the norm, and so Emma couldn’t find it in herself to restrain herself from whatever fancy passed through her mind now. George had allowed her so much already, and it only made her want all the more. When he didn’t flinch, or move away, only inhaled sharply, fingers grasping at the sheets beneath him, Emma took that as a sign to continue - and continue she did, with one hand resting on his collarbone, feeling the warmth of him, the steady rise and fall of his chest, a little faster than usual. She kissed his chest again, a little higher this time, skirting the edges of propriety. She did not linger though, pressing another to his collarbone, and still another to the underside of his chin, thrilling at the little shudder he gave as she did.

Overcome with a sudden wash of fondness for him, Emma paused her explorations in order to kiss him properly again on the mouth. He let her come to him like he always did, only pushing forward when she pulled away, an honest neediness that only made Emma love him more. She allowed him another kiss, ever the generous sort, but only briefly, before pulling away.

 

“You let me do too much,” she said to him, still close enough that she could see clearly the lovely scars that decorated his face - the pink wetness of his mouth, so thoroughly kissed was he. She thought briefly of her water colours and if he would let her paint him, like this.

“And I’d let you do more, Mrs Knightley,” he said. George was always an honest man, but like this, it felt like more. It felt like every word he gave her was a gift, an offering, that she could very well hurt him with if she were not careful.

“You may come to regret that,” Emma said, only half teasing, “for there are many things I wish to do with you, Mr Woodhouse.” The way he looked at her in response was not new; he had called her Mrs Knightley recently, gently chiding her for something or other, and in return she had called him Mr Woodhouse, not quite an insult, but certainly something not meant for serious use. Her husband had surprised her again, for he had gone quiet and flushed at the term, quite unable to reply.

Since then Emma had made a habit of referring to him as such, not in company of course, but in private moments between them, sometimes to provoke a more heated response during a quarrel, but more often just to see the strange power over him the words possessed. It made her want to kiss him, as many things did, but it also made her want to hold him close to her, run her fingers through his hair and say it again and again.

Here, now, Emma pressed her thumbs to the hot pink flush of his cheeks, a little less than gentle. “Darling Mr Woodhouse,” she said, watching his eyelashes flutter, the corners of his mouth curl upward, “I can barely stand how much I love you, how much I’d thrill to keep you here forever.”

“Then keep me,” he said quietly, firmly, “keep me, Emma, I’m yours.”

And, oh, she thought, every time I think I’ve seen you at your most sweet, you become sweeter still. Emma enjoyed having things in her possession, enjoyed a collection that she could cultivate, a vice she had yet to kick, and George knew this certainly. Knew what it would do to her to proclaim himself hers, a pretty thing to possess. Perhaps she shouldn’t enjoy the role-reversal quite so much as she did - certainly it was a departure from the norm when it came to the expected of man and wife, but George knew her. He knew what Emma wanted before she did so herself, and besides, he seemed to delight in this game they were playing as much as she.

Emma couldn’t quite claim to steel herself, since she rarely felt she had to be careful of her words around George, but she took a moment nonetheless; to breathe, to enjoy another kiss, gentle and slow. Then, so close that their mouths still touched, she said, “mine.

And: “Hmm. I do like the sound of that.”

An understatement, perhaps, because saying it aloud made her flush hot all over, made her scalp prickle in a strange way she had not experienced before, and her toes curl in the confines of the shoes she still wore. George seemed similarly affected, eyes wide like he was surprised at his own interest. His hips twitched upward, abruptly.

Oh,” she said, shocked and delighted by the sudden reminder of how little attention she had been paying to his needs. He possessed an infinite patience when it came to Emma, and in this it seemed he was the same. So she took pity on him, and finally put her hands to his breeches, helping him unlace and remove them. She did not take quite so much pity on him as to address his general state of arousal, though she did spend a minute taking him in, displayed like a platter of sweets for her perusal. Flushing ever more pink under her gaze, his cheeks and his chest and lower still; the softness of his belly rising and falling with every breath he took; the imperceptible trembling in his limbs, his fingers, his mouth. Emma’s own mouth wanted to water at the sight.

“Have you decided,” George said, his voice catching, “what you might like to do with me?” Perhaps his patience was not endless after all, but Emma only found herself wanting to push him farther, make him wait ever-longer, see where exactly that well of patience might end. She hummed and hawed, tilted her head like she was appraising him, though she wasn’t quite able to keep the smile from her face.

“I might have,” she said simply, fingering the edge of his stockings, “but there is still work for me to do yet.”

“Of course,” he said on a sigh, patient still.

She slipped her fingertips beneath the tight band that encircled his thigh, pulling it taught, waiting for the hitch of his breath, wanting to see him shudder again, wanting so much she could hardly stand it. Emma pulled the material toward her, sliding it over his thigh, his knee, down his calf with a slowness bordering on ridiculous, she was aware, but couldn’t help herself. It was a reveal even more delicious than that of his shirts or breeches, the final baring of flesh from beneath such a delicate covering, at odds with the strong muscle and the hair that covered them -

“Forgive me,” Emma said, squeezing her own thighs together, laughing a little at how hot and dizzy she felt, just from that simple sight, “forgive me for taking my time dear husband, but there is so much of you that I should like to savour.”

“There’s nothing to forgive,” he said, but his voice was tighter than before, the bed sheets clutched between his hands close to unsalvageable. Emma slid her hand around the back of the thigh still covered, catching the edge with her finger tips and pulling it, her nails pressed against his skin as she went. George bent his knee slightly to accommodate her, lifting his leg high enough that she could press a kiss to his skin as it was revealed. She allowed herself a kiss to his inner thigh, his calf, and finally his ankle, surprisingly delicate. As she did so, Emma could just make out the red lines her nails left behind on the back of his thigh, and the sweet dizziness concentrated itself further, burning through her belly and between her thighs.

She found the end of her own patience before she found her husbands, in the end, for she found herself needing, abruptly, to be on him. To have her own flesh bare, to be close in every way that they could. She kissed him, quickly, to sate the need for it, and then she said, “help me undress.

He did so happily, urging her to sit upon the bed so that he could help her remove her boots. And so Emma was confronted with yet another image that she wished she could paint, keep indelibly - her husband naked before her, knelt on the floor between her thighs so that he could unlace her wedding shoes. He urged her to rest her shoe on his thigh, the heel digging into his bare flesh, purposefully drawing her attention, she thought. Not that she minded in the least.

Once her shoes were removed, then came her own stockings, her dress and her petticoats; the unfastening of her stays, and finally, finally, the removal of her chemise, tugged over her head and dropped to the floor with the rest of her wedding clothes.

They stood for a moment, breathing, looking at each other.

“You-” he said.

“You,” Emma agreed, and she stepped forward to kiss him.