For a moment, Deline thought that Carrone was simply stuck on a never ending circle. Then she realized that he was smiling.
She smiled back at him. “Well.” She raised her eyebrows. “I’d say ‘wouldn’t you like to know,” but I think we already established that you have an interest and an opportunity. But if we’re talking about the furniture… you could go upstairs and take a look yourself. It’s not quite as modern as the one back in the Capitol, but it’s an Imperial Bed.”
“But the point is not to find out by myself.” He took another sip from his flask and passed it back to her. “We probably should stop drinking. There are still hunters on your trail. Our trail now, isn’t it?” He regarded her balrefully. “Ours. But… yours, I just get it because I come with your baggage.”
“You’re-” doing it again. She twitched a hand at him and tried to take in that whole idea. “So you don’t like your options?”
What, she cared?
Well, he had saved her life…
She stared at the bottle and took another swig. “We should stop drinking,” she added, before he answered her. “Because someone might still be coming to kill me.”
“Didn’t I just say that?” He took the bottle back and shoved the cork in it with excessive force. “I don’t believe my options. You kidnapped a slave. Why would you – why would you – why?”
“I think by this point this has to count as fishing for compliments.” She rolled her eyes at him, but his expression didn’t change. “Okay. Okay, why. Let’s start with, in my line of work -”
“Which you’ve said several times that you’re getting out of, considering your face is known,” he pointed out helpfully.
“In my line of work,” she repeated, “I don’t meet many people that I can tell who I am enough to have more than a night or two. I’m sure you can see why.”
“I’m sure.” His voice was dry but he’d lost the angry look. That was a good start.
“In my position, most of the people I do meet are more interested in my husband than they are in me, and getting in my bed is generally a shortcut to getting into my husband’s bed.”
“Gee, I can’t imagine the sacrifice. Sleeping with you to get to your husband.” He rolled his eyes. “You’re a beautiful and brilliant woman.”
“Thank you. You keep saying things like that.”’
“Well,” he cleared his throat, “you keep pretending that there’s nothing to you but some low-level Claw, when we both know it’s not that. You tweaked Dekleg’s nose enough that they sent bounty hunters after you, that they left a string of murders – Sorry.” He held up both hands. “I know you hate it. But they did. You really got their attention. And then you evaded all the hunters, including me, for days. I think the beautiful part goes without explaining.”
“For some reason I believe that you mean it.” She looked at him for a moment, cleared her throat, and looked away. “So there aren’t that many chances I get to meet someone who is annoyed that I’m married to the Emperor.” She glanced back at him and found that she’d hit a nerve; he was fiddling with the cork on his bottle. “You managed to follow me despite all my attempts. You’re clever, you’re handsome, and you’ve saved my life.”
He shifted a bit and looked up at her. “After trying to kill you.” It was weak. “And I was saving my own life, too.”
“I wouldn’t put myself down too much right now. It does sort of ruin any future flirtation.”
“Flir-” He blinked at her. “You mean it.”
“I meant all of it. I meant that you could share my bed. I meant that you could share my life. I meant that if you didn’t want either, I’d give you enough room to have your own – your own…” She belched and huffed. “Your own life, this stuff is poison.”
He snorted. “Imperials don’t know how to drink unless it’s made from potatoes.”
“Ha, and Halorians drink wheat that could be made into bread. You’re fine, you’re just feeling the part where it potato red haddock…. that is… “
She shook her head, once, twice, trying to dislodge the feeling. “But it-“
“Words,” he agreed. And then, more coherently, “You think I’m clever.”
“Maybe – nuts – oh, this is bearclaws. Maybe not about me….” She glared at him. “Poison.”
“Whisky,” he countered.
“Have you – this is -” She had had whisky. Whisky did not confuse the way you spoke.
She looked at him. She put her hands on his shoulders. He looked back at her and raised his eyebrows.
Okay, That worked. She considered her options.
Words were not an option.
Words had not been working all that well anyway.
Well, his shirt had buttons.
She wondered if buttons were an option.
Only one way to know.
She let her hands drop to the front of his tunic and began working on the first button.
He caught her hands in his and tilted his head. “Sorrel?”
“Ceres,” she responded, huffed, and shifted her hands out of his to unbutton his button again.
“Bear Mother,” he breathed, and reached for the first button of /her/ shirt.
She didn’t bother to try words this time, just focused on the small buttons and their fiddly button holes all the way down past his waist, while he raced her down the same buttons on her shirt until they were both staring at each other with their shirts open and thin undershirts taunting them.
She pushed Carrone’s shirt off of his shoulders and made much quicker work of the four buttons holding his undershirt on, while he started to struggle, trying to get her shirt off while she was using her hands. She won that race and shrugged her own shirt off; suddenly, his hands were slow and reverent – or simply clumsy, she shouldn’t get ahead of herself – and his eyes were darting between her buttons and her face.
She didn’t trust her words so she leaned in and kissed his forehead, which was all she could reach at the moment. He looked up at her and smiled, a sudden and sincere near-grin.
When he kissed her back, she thought perhaps they didn’t need words.
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