‘Richard –’ Her voice was small. ‘Richard, I’m scared. A little.’
He held her more tightly against his chest, cupping her soft guinea-gold head with his hand and drawing it to rest in the nook of his shoulder. She nuzzled her nose into his jacket, her small fingers curling around one of his buttons.
‘My Pen,’ he said softly, for now was not the time to call her ‘child’, or ‘brat’ – laughing endearments that they were. His chest felt tight, painful, and something was hoarse in his throat. ‘Pen, I’m sorry.’
She cast her eyes up to his face, her cheek still pressed into him; those eyes were as blue and trustful as they had been the day he had met her, cast in the guise of the veriest street urchin. ‘Richard, you have nothing to be sorry for. I married you, didn’t I?’ She smiled then, a little curling tug of the lips. ‘Although you did force my hand a little bit. But we knew – this might happen. And I’m happy, Richard, truly I am – you must believe me! I’m just – just a little scared as well; I feel much too young to be a – a mother.’ The last word was just a whisper.
He stroked her firm little chin with tender fingers, troubled by the slightly pinched look to her face, by the way she was shivering just a little bit, so little that he would not have noticed had he not been holding her so closely. He was not sure what he could say; he did feel sorry, rather desperately so, but Pen did not want to hear repeated apologies. She needed comfort, and he was not sure how to impart it.
Before he could say anything, though, she was speaking again, murmuring the words against him, her hands gripping the fabric of his jacket.
‘It’s – my mother, you see. You know she died – having me, and I just – just can’t seem to stop thinking that maybe…’ Her hands loosened suddenly to reach more of him, her arms going about his neck and clinging there tightly, and she turned her head fully against him and buried her face in his chest.
He let out a worried huff of breath, and ran an agitated hand through his hair before bringing it back down to cuddle her to him again. ‘This is – truly – all my fault,’ he said.
Pen moved against him, looking up at his face again. ‘Richard,’ she said.
‘I should never have done this,’ he said, heavily, ‘it was reckless, foolish…’
Pen, oddly, was starting to look slightly amused. The pinched look she had had a minute before was fading. ‘Not very flattering, Richard,’ she murmured.
He stared down at her. ‘Pen…’
‘Richard!’ She hugged him hard, suddenly, a proper hug, wrapping her arms around his waist and squeezing. He rested his face in her hair.
‘Make me laugh,’ she whispered suddenly. ‘Tease me.’ She looked up at him, straight and clear, half-laughing, half-pleading. ‘Look after me. Call me a silly child – like you always do. Don’t – don’t start regretting – this.’
Richard looked back at her for a moment, look for look; and then he grinned. A little twisted, probably, but still a grin, and he lifted a long forefinger and rested it under her chin.
‘Very well, brat,’ he said lightly.
And then – not at all gently – he bent and kissed her.