The carriage shook and swayed, semi-monotonously rocking as it lurched down the uneven dirt road. Try as William might, the wheels occasionally caught the sharp edges of muddy ruts that hardened into wheel traps after the wet weather had cleared up. William murmured an apology under his breath after yet another particularly heavy jolt, gripping the reigns with more determination, his eyebrows furrowing in concentration as he attempts to better estimate when to direct the horse sideways so he would pull the carriage and its wheels clear of the next rut.
Lexa was, however, completely oblivious to her surroundings. Her body has learnt long ago the ways to adapt to the rhythm of carriages and her mind had strayed far away, the echo of gentle lips on her skin stoking that unfamiliar warmth just below her stomach. So engrossed in her thoughts she was that she had not noticed the change of terrain, the harsh lurching of the carriage giving way unnoticed to a gentle sway as the wheel rolled smoothly over the carefully sanded and evened cobblestones of the driveway.
She glanced around, eyes focusing on the familiar rose bushes planted just between the two winding stairs as the bewilderment of surprise slowly wore off. ‘Home already? But I’ve barely just stepped out of Clarke’s studio…’ Her eyes finally landed on William who stood by the steps of the carriage, door held open with one hand, the other poised at just the perfect height for Lexa to hold onto as she alighted. His eyes were politely averted, staring straight ahead as if he were a statue, a mere instrument to aiding the comfort of his passenger. Not even the shadow of curiosity or expectation ghosted over his features. If he had noted his Mistress’s lack of presence or subsequent bewilderment he was well-enough trained a professional to hide it.
“Thank you, William.”
“Miss Woods. Apologies for the rough ride there, Miss.” He offered an apology as Lexa’s grip loosened on his hand, his professional facade slipping just enough to let his voice become gruff with annoyance.
Lexa knew that William prided himself over his skill to handle horses, having overheard the upstairs staff gossiping about the male servants many a times. No one begrudged William this small infringement of professionalism for his pride was well-founded. In the days of his youth the ageing coachman had been a promising jockey, expected to give even George Fordham* a run for his money until an ugly accident rendered him incapable of competing ever again. Left with an aching limp and bad sight to his left eye, William was forced to retire but his love of the beasts could not be denied for long. Soon after his recovery he found himself in the employment of Sir Gustus, a race enthusiast himself, who offered to employ him as coachman and stable master. Not wishing to aggravate his injured pride any further by offering an excuse Lexa accepted the apology with a regal nod. Without need for further communication, she dismissed William to his duties as she ascended the marble steps leading to the large front doors of the manor.
As soon as she had set foot atop the last stair the large door was opened by a footman. Lexa raised an eyebrow in surprise, wondering if there were guests to be had whom had slipped from her mind due to the afternoon’s excitement.
“Miss Woods.” The footman, James, greeted his Mistress. “Sir Gustus ‘as given me orders to commun’cate his wish that you join ‘im in the library upon arrival if it is not too great an inconvenience.” He said with a slight accent, waiting in perfect posture as Lexa walked through the door. He closed the large wooden door as silently as he could in his haste to rush after his mistress to take her travelling accessories from her.
‘If it is not too great an inconvenience…’ Lexa thought, a hint of anxiety colouring her gaiety. She was fairly certain that had been her uncle’s exact phrase, word for word. To the servants, whose observational skills Lexa was not particularly familiar with, the words may seem harmlessly cordial but Lexa knew that such cordial formality in fact belied her uncle’s vexation. ‘What could I have done to displease him so?’ Lexa absent-mindedly dismissed James to his duties as she moved along the corridor leading to the library rather than taking the stairs to her own room.
“Aunt Helen, could I have a word?” Clarke asked as she wandered into the sitting room where her aunt was, mercifully, occupied with a book of some sort rather than entertaining guests.
“But of course, child. What nonsense of you to even ask.” Aunt Helen replied in good humour, marking the page she was at before setting the soft covered yellow book aside. The unmistakable large illustration on the front cover informed Clarke that her aunt had been engrossed in a favourite guilty pastime of reading penny dreadfuls**. She patted the empty space beside her on the settee in invitation. The small gesture of familiarity caused Clarke to blush, the memory of Lexa inviting her to sit with the exact same gesture leaving Clarke’s ears burning.
“Um, perhaps we m-might take a stroll outside?” Clarke asked, her voice cracking with the effort to maintain her composure as she glanced from the corner of her eye at her uncle Philip who had eyed the exchange with some interest, enough to make him lower his newspaper to his lap.
Helen’s eyes gleamed with understanding, coming to the conclusion that her pointed glance and the dark blush colouring Clarke’s cheeks was due to her need to discuss something of a feminine nature. Several suitable subjects presented themselves to Helen as she stood from the settee and motioned for her to take the lead. “Certainly, dear. We shan’t be too long, Philip, but there are lady businesses that do require privacy” Helen’s parting words to her surprised husband were as ever kind and humorous as always. “I trust you can entertain any lady callers agreeably while you fetch for us if someone should call?”
“Naturally” Uncle Philip scoffed with exaggerated annoyance at his wife’s teasing dismissal, the slight twitch of his moustache belying the amused smirk he attempted to conceal as he turned his attention to the newspaper again.
Lexa stepped into the library with as much confidence as she could muster. The short distance from the front door to the library had not allotted her much time to consider what may have annoyed her uncle. Her mind was still distracted by the heartfelt confessions and intimacies she and Clarke shared and for the life of her could not think of a single misdemeanour she may have committed in recent memory. She pushed the door open, resolved to find out soon enough and stepped into the large stately room. The walls were lined with the finest mahogany bookcases from carpet to ceiling, necessitating the building of an interior balcony that ran along the middle so as to provide easier access to several top shelves.
“Good evening, Alexandria.” Uncle Gustus voice was gravelly from the smoke of the pipe he indulged in. The puff of white smoke he exhaled just as Lexa turned in his direction obscured his face from view. Lexa winced at the use of her full name, another symptom of her uncle’s mysterious exasperation.
“Uncle Gustus, good evening to you too. Pray, what might I have done to upset you again?” Lexa cut immediately to it, not wishing to delay the subject any further.
“As observant as ever, I see.” Sir Gustus said with a smile while he waited for his niece, whom he loved as if she were his own daughter, to take a seat in the armchair opposite his. “You have been spending a great deal of time at the Collins’ as of late.” He stated.
‘Ah…is this about Clarke or Mr. Collins I wonder…’ Lexa’s mind carefully collected the pieces of information her uncle casually revealed. “I have, indeed. Clarke is a most wonderful friend.” Lexa confirmed vaguely. It occurred to her that it may be prudent to keep the exact nature of her visitations with Clarke a secret, lest she reveal too much and give away her Christmas surprise.
“And Mr. Collins?” Sir Gustus prompted.
“Fares of good health as far as his wife is aware.” Lexa sassed, deliberately misunderstanding her uncle’s question. She was rewarded with a flat look. Not a single hair on uncle Gustus’ face twitched that would be indicative of any lip movement beneath his long shaggy beard. Lexa accepted her inability to lighten the mood gracefully and supplied the correct answer without further questioning. “I have not met Mr. Collins, either the younger or the senior, under unseemly circumstances, Uncle.” Lexa clung to her feeble attempt at a comedy of errors, hoping to chase the severity from his eyes.
“Then perhaps you may care to explain why the buttons on your dress are done so haphazardly?”
Lexa’s hand flew to her chest to clutch at the offending items, cursing silently. To her surprise her immediate reaction was not a renewed apprehension of her uncle’s ire. Her mind wandered to the various servants she had met along her journey from Clarke’s studio to her uncle’s library, wondering if any have caught on to her apparent state of dress. ‘There really is nothing worse than the gossip of servants…’ Lexa dared glance down her front and was confronted with the sight of all of her buttons done in perfect order. Fury rose in her chest as she realized that her uncle had tricked her into revealing a secret her attire had not betrayed. ‘Oh God, what am I to say now… I cannot exactly tell him why I need to change dresses all the time. But… lord, he is going to think Mr. Collins has been behaving indecently… the poor fellow.’
Lexa raised her eyes defiantly at her uncle, taking strength from the knowledge that she had, in fact, not committed the indecency she is being silently accused of. “I presume you shall not be satisfied by my telling you that it is not what you think?” Lexa threw caution to the wind, braving the possible anger her continued sass may provoke in favour of stalling for time. While the vague words spilled from her lips her mind reeled as she weighed each possible approach she may take. Incriminating an entirely innocent Mr. Collins was, in Lexa’s eyes, out of the question. The only two avenues left open to her were to reveal the true nature of why she spent so much time secluded in Clarke’s studio…or to reveal the exact reason why she had loosened her dress on this last occasion. ‘Only… that may prompt uncle Gus to probe further… would he truly be quite as prejudiced as Clarke fears?’
“What is troubling you, child?” Helen asked as soon as the door behind then closed. “Has your monthly come ahead of time?”
Clarke’s eyes rounded comically as she stared at her aunt, almost affronted at the suggestion. ‘Wh…what…why would I even… it is not like I have not been having them for years, I can take care of that!’ She thought with a pinch of indignation. She had been prepared for the possibility that her aunt might tease her endlessly for she knew her nature well. But such a gross misunderstanding was entirely unexpected. ‘Where would she even get the idea from?’
Assessing her niece’s incredulous lack of response, Helen came to the conclusion that she may have been mistaken. The mystery of it immediately piqued her interest. “Ah, I see I am mistaken. I’m sorry, dear. It is just that you blushed so furiously when I suggested you have the talk with me in front of your uncle.” Her easy smile faltered for a moment and she suddenly grabbed Clarke’s arm, eyes searching hers urgently. “Oh it’s not a lack of your monthly is it?” She asked, stressing the offending word, horrified at the mere possibility that her niece would get pregnant while in her care.
“AUNT HELEN!” Clarke fairly screeched, shocked at the implied accusation. “No, I am not pregnant if that is what you are insinuating.” She ground out in a huff, growing uncertain if this was the best course of action after all. ‘How in the WORLD did this conversation get so out of hand?’
Helen let out a breath she had not noticed she had been holding in, relief flooding her. Despite her sister-in-law’s frequent reminders and pleas to not do so she has allowed Clarke to run wild, to chase her passions as she saw fit, only dragging the miserably child with her to her calls to placate her mother. For the briefest of moments she feared that the passions Clarke had chosen to chase had put them both in a predicament.
“I’m sorry, child, I did not mean to embarrass you.”
“And why are you so obsessed with my period anyway?” Clarke continued as if she had not heard the apology, her temper inflamed. The memory of Lexa assuming the same thing only weeks ago and her bemused reaction to said accusation dampened her ire for just a moment. “I wanted to talk about my mother.”
“Oh.” Helen muttered, surprise clearly etched onto her features. “Well, what about her?”
“Well…what have you been telling her in all of those letters you have been exchanging?” Clarke asked. When the surprised that flashed in Aunt Helen’s eyes morphed into amusement Clarke knew she would not be spared the teasing.
“I see.” Helen smiled, her eyes gleaming with a characteristic knowing glint. “You want to know what mood you shall find her in when the week is out?”
“Yes. And no.” Clarke replied vaguely, biting her bottom lip before finally blurting “I want to invite Lexa to come visit me. But you know mother…”
Helen regarded her niece with shrewd eyes, taking in the barely perceptible cues of nerve she was exhibiting. She had known that Clarke had grown quite attached to Miss Woods but she only now realized that she had perhaps misjudged the depth of their attachment.
“You have…taken quite a shine to Miss Woods, have you?” Aunt Helen asked, her tone more tender than Clarke had ever heard before. Aunt Helen tended to be quite shrill, always the gayest, always the loudest in any gathering. Clarke reckoned that may be a ruse to deflect people’s attention. Whether her intention was to make people underestimate her or to forgo any curiosity directed at her, Clarke was not certain. This newfound tenderness was certainly something that had never been directed at Clarke before.
“I have.” Clarke said, the urge to voice her thoughts, her feelings overpowering her. “I have never had a friend quite like her. She has left quite the lasting impression upon me.” Clarke’s voice was soft and a smile played on her lips as she described her feelings. She failed to notice the spark of understanding that flashed in Aunt Helen’s eyes.
“You and Finn both… this Miss Woods of yours really must be something…” Aunt Helen said in a teasing yet conspiratorial tone. “Your mother is quite charmed by the idea of you attending Miss Woods’ ball. I think she would be favourable to receiving her if you asked.” She said before Clarke had time to take her words in.
“You have always been quite smart in finding out my secrets…” Lexa complimented, a slight hint of approval colouring her tone. Despite the inconvenience of it, she had to admit her uncle’s time spent on the exercising of his mental capacities was not wasted. “My shoulders were giving me trouble. Clarke gave me a massage.” She blurted out eventually. Guilt immediately flooded her heart. She was not in the least proud of possibly betraying Clarke’s secret but she took the chance that her uncle might not question her further. However, the single raised eyebrow and the flat stare she received by way of a response suggested otherwise.
“Miss Griffin… gave you…a massage?” Sir Gustus eventually said, slowly, as if testing whether any of the words tasted foul on his tongue before uttering them.
“Yes.” Lexa replied confidently, her voice strong and unwavering.
“Lexa…” Sir Gustus said, his voice gaining an edge Lexa had never heard before. “You do understand the consequences of any liberties you may permit to Mr. Collins?” He asked, his voice low, tone vibrating with an entirely unfamiliar urgency, his eyes boring into hers.
‘Christ, why won’t he believe me…’ Lexa thought, a mixture of exasperation and temporary relief bubbling in her chest. “I have not permitted any liberties to Mr. Collins, Uncle. I believe his parents may vouch for his innocence. Clarke has been giving me massages for my shoulder pain.” Lexa said steadily, the truth of her words ringing clear in her voice.
“If you are having regular pains you should consult a doctor, not a friend you have known for two weeks.” Sir Gustus said after a pregnant pause.
“Three weeks, uncle Gus. And she IS a doctor.” The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. Her eyes widened in shock and she dearly wished the floorboards would open up like the jaws of some great beast and would swallow her whole. She had not intended to reveal Clarke’s secret unless absolutely necessary.
“Is she now? And how is that possible?” Sir Gustus leaned forward, his eyes twinkling with newfound interest.
“Uh…that private tutor abroad she mentioned? He has been teaching her anatomy.” Lexa said, voice tremulous, hoping that to conceal at some of the information that she had been entrusted with.
Sir Gustus leaned back again, resting his back against the plush of the armchair. His demeanour changed entirely, his eyes no longer hard and calculating but rather glowing with interest. “I would like to have a word with Miss Griffin. Soon.”
“Well…she has invited me to stay the night tomorrow.” Lexa started to say, only realizing her blunder when her uncle’s eyes flashed, clearly scandalized by the suggestion. “Which I had declined because I had anticipated your displeasure at the idea of me spending a night under the same roof as Mr. Collins. I suggested that she perhaps spend the night here instead?”
Sir Gustus’ shoulders relaxed with the same speed they tensed with, his mind slowly eased by the hope that his niece wasn’t quite as foolhardy as he had feared. “Very good. I shall speak with her tomorrow then.”
The finality of that statement left Lexa wondering what trouble she may have caused Clarke with her inability to keep her thoughts from her lips.
Clarke laid in bed as she had been for hours, twisting and turning restlessly beneath the covers. It was an entirely unfamiliar experience. She had always slept easily and without interruption, her brain succumbing to slumber’s pull within minutes. She lacked practices that would help soothe her restlessness, for she never had the need to master them. She felt the stinging ache of physical exhaustion assault her eyes, her body silently begging sleep to claim it. That feeling was far more familiar to her than she preferred to admit, having stayed up many a night as she prepared for exams.
She exhaled a puff of air noisily as she moved to her back once again, growing frustrated with her predicament. She contemplated vacating her bed in favour of reading by candle light until her mind exhausted itself sufficiently but found that her body protested far too valiantly. She had once flipped the covers off her body only cover up just as hastily. The cool air of the room compared to the scorching heat beneath the duvet felt like the very night had attacked her person.
As she lay trapped between the opposing needs of her mind and body Clarke wondered if she may be at risk of losing her sanity. Determined to calm her mind she closed her eyes, picturing in minute details the events that occurred through out her day. When her mind wandered to the settee in her studio her breath caught in her throat before her lungs rapidly expanded to pull in as much air as possible. A soft whimper escaped her lips as the memory of her lips on Lexa’s skin, the taste on her tongue assaulted her senses. She could see themselves quite vividly, Lexa’s soft sighs so alive in her mind that she blindly reached out next to her, wondering if she had not conjured her friend by the power of her will. She found herself unable to resist imagining what it would feel like to kiss Lexa’s warm skin again. Her lips tingled, hungry for the memory to become reality. A cold shiver ran down her spine despite the heat her body produced below the covers.
The startling sensation of liquid moving between her legs jolted her from her thoughts. “Wh-hat.. HAS my period come early?” Clarke mumbled aloud as she blindly groped around for the matches on her bedside table. She pulled her sleeping gown over her hips and pressed her fingers between her legs. Upon retrieving her fingers, she stared in abject shock when she found that the tips of her fingers were stained with a clear liquid rather than blood. ‘What in the world IS this…’
She rubbed her fingers together and stared, transfixed, as the liquid stuck to her fingers, reminding her of pancake batter. She brought her fingers to her nose and sniffed experimentally, surprised at the musky, slightly sweet yet spicy smell. ‘Well…at least it doesn’t smell like pee.’ She thought absent-mindedly. Not knowing what to make of her discovery Clarke stuck her tongue out, the scientist in her refusing to acknowledge defeat, and she licked her fingertips. ‘The taste is not repulsive either…this certainly isn’t pee or blood.’
Her fingers slipped between her legs again, intent on gathering more of the surprising liquid but she yanked her hand out when her spine spasmed, a pleasurable jolt coursing through her. Quickly covering herself up and blowing out the candle, Clarke huddled in the dark, her mind racing. As her body calmed so did Clarke’s nerves and she found her curiosity getting the better of her. One hand cautiously slid beneath her gown again and she pressed her fingers hard against herself. To her surprise, nothing happened. The odd wetness was still there but that startling jolt did not happen again. Clarke released pressure on herself then dragged the tip of her fingers, wanting to examine the texture of that wetness again but when her fingers reached a certain point her body reacted again, her spine arched off the bed with the shock of it. She pulled her hand away again, overwhelmed by the sensation.
Deciding to forgo any further experimentation Clarke turned on her side and pulled her legs up to her chest. She surprise had worn of quicker and Clarke attempted to still her mind but found herself unable to focus on anything except the gentle warm feeling between her legs. ‘God, what have I gotten myself into…’
For a while she resisted the urge to touch but eventually frustration got the better of her again, her mind unable to commit to any other thought. Anticipation and dread combined in her mind as her fingers gently ran against her slick skin, her body heating up and shivering at the same time in reaction to her rubbing motion. She kept up the motion, not only because of the never before experienced physical pleasure but because she was determined to see what would happen. She knew she could not stay in such a state for long and hoped something would end her predicament.
After a few minutes Clarke whimpered in agony. Rather than subside the feeling continued to mount stronger. Her chest fell and rose with the shortness of her breath and the pleasure she had hoped to drive away pulsed stronger between her legs. She felt as though she was a slave to these sensations. She pulled her hand away again, worry gnawing at the edge of her consciousness. ‘Am I going mad?’ Clarke fretted the repercussions of what she may have done to her body. Despite years of studying the human body she had absolutely no idea what was happening to her own. Horrifying images of being locked in a madhouse assaulted Clarke’s mind. ‘What if this will never stop?’ she worried as the sensation refused to die down even after she had extracted her hand from between her legs. Her mind conjured vivid images, doctors inspecting her, looking down at her with pity as she sat on the floor among the other inmates, in a soiled gown, a hand stuck between her legs even as she was being observed, unable to stop rubbing herself, forever a slave to this pleasure as she slowly wasted away.
Despite the worry that gripped her soul she felt a dark, looming presence inside of her, demanding attention. The agonizing throb between her legs beat with the same rhythm as her heart and Clarke acknowledged defeat with a desperate mewl as her hand descended again. A groan borne of both relief and desperation tore from Clarke’s lips as her hand started the now familiar motions anew, and Clarke begged whatever God would listen that there be a cure to what she was feeling.
Not more than a few strokes later Clarke’s spine arched off the bed, her hand gripping the mattress beneath her for dear life as pleasure like nothing before it coursed through her body. When she could not bear it any longer she removed her hand, relief immediately flooding her when the compulsion to press her hand between her legs desisted. As her breathing returned to normal Clarke’s mind also quieted, softly chuckling at her own foolishness. Her last thought before she finally fell asleep was that she had not lost her sanity after all.