After the agony of their touchless habitation at Sevigny, the freedom to touch is unspeakably exhilarating. She has spent so long, since Lyon, since Algiers, so aware of her hands, her steps, the fall of her skirts and the masking of the concealment of her emotions, that Philippa gets a rush just from placing her hand on her husband’s fine forearm. Its an easy gesture now, steadying herself as she laughs so hard her stomach hurts from his wit, or when they’re taking their leave from a visit to Midculter and she teases Francis in front of his family.
Its easy, but the swoop of her stomach and the centering of all her senses on her husband is as distracting as if they were alone in their large bed at St Marys. She knows Francis feels it too, the way his center of gravity shifts so he sways imperceptibly closer towards her, how his eyes darken even as he returns her verbal jousting.
He is so tactile, she hadn’t known. She wonders if anyone, Güzel, Oonagh O’Dwyer, Will Scott (gone, gone, all gone, her heart hurts for his loses) had ever truly known how much touch effects Francis.
She wonders if even he is aware, after holding himself in and everyone else at bay for so long, how he absent-mindedly seeks it now. When they are about their various work together in the library, he’ll run his hand lightly over her unbound hair when he passes behind her. At the harpsichord, when she plays and they take turns making up verses to traditional tunes, he’ll sit close enough that their thighs touch and often fingers the laces on the back of her gowns while its her verse to compose (she calls it cheating, he calls it evening the playing field). He takes her hand in his, tracing her fingers with his own, when they stay late at the table talking after everyone else has retired, each too delighted by the exchange to notice the time.
In bed… In his bed- in their bed- they have spent mornings, evenings, days, luxuriating in their freedom to indulge in their likeminded desire. The Seraglio taught Philippa an unmentionable number of ways to please a man, and Güzel had informed her on how to seek her own while doing so (Philippa is impressed that her sixteen year old self had not clapped her hands over her hears and stomped up and down as she had done to Kate when she had been much younger and dead set against listening). Yet for her and Francis, nothing is better than the strong lean expanse of Francis’ body stretched out over her.
The thrill of Francis, just Francis, all titles and clothing and worries shed from him like wool from sheep at shearing, blanketing her is all she can think to desire for the rest of her life. She loves the feeling of her toes curled into his slender ankles, the coarse hair of his calves and thighs tickling the soft skin of her own. How his slender hips and chest press into the cradle of her body and are pillowed on her breasts. And its his arms braced under her shoulders where he’s tucked them and his hands cupping the back of her head, holding her gently as a chick as he moves in her- with her- it’s all irresistible.
When they’ve gone all day, shirking domestic duties and ignoring the soft sounds of the house staff going about their work, his back becomes slick with perspiration. She cannot find purchase, but runs her hands up and down the corded muscles as he unsticks her hair from her forehead, pressing his lips against her high brow.
Once, spread out on top of her lazy and affectionate, he had composed poetry about her eyebrows. Francis could do that; make her laugh and her breath catch in her throat all in one heartbeat. She had been giggling helplessly as he started on the eighth stanza, feeling her face break uncontrollably into a face splitting grin. It was the same grin she had withheld from two royal courts and the seraglio after Güzel had laughed unkindly at it when Kuzum had brought her flowers. It had been unstoppable in that moment, her joy was so great, and looking down into her face, laughing himself, Francis’ words caught in a helpless, wounded noise in his chest. Giving a full body jerk, he had buried his face into her neck, his breath fluttering unevenly against her collarbone. She loved those moments, the small moments where he so totally, unexpectedly lost his control. Because of her.
“Philippa,” he said once he had lifted his head, grinning, and kissed her lips, her cheeks, biting her much honored left eyebrow and lipped at her nose, “Philippa, you take a master and reduce him to a novice. I find myself helpless against much more than just your wit and seraglio charms.”
“I am but Circe, reducing men to their most base states. However, finding a master such as you, I can be called upon to be sweeter.” She had still been flushed with her pleasure and her pleasure in his own, and the light in his eyes had sparked.
“Is that so, my enchantress, my heart? But I think I can make you just as defenseless, and a Penelope out of you yet.”
“I have been your Penelope since I knew what love was,” Philippa had said; hand on his rib cage, pressing into the brand from so long ago.
Francis had smiled then, the smile that was just for her- soft, without pretense or intention. “Forgive your Odysseus his wanderings then, and let us rejoice he has found his way back to you, that he may repay in kind all that you have given him.”
His grin turning mischievous, he had pressed one more kiss to her mouth, cool like a sip of water, and slid down her body, sweet and attentive with his lips and fingers and wicked sharp tongue, until she was trembling with tears in her eyes. With her fingers carding through his soft hair, it had been the noise of contentment and pleasure he had made in response to her nails, gentle against his scalp, that had sent her over the edge into shivering oblivion.
When she had found her way back again, it was to the warm embrace of his arms and his voice, picking up where he had left off, about the stately curve of her left eyebrow.