Working Title: How Far
Characters: Natalia, Guy
Part 6 of ?
It was raining the next morning, and Guy’s plans to work out in the garden were spoiled. Waving a long blade of metal in the air during a lightning storm wasn’t the best idea.
He was still getting used to having the run of the palace. He was a guest, technically, but he was also betrothed to the princess. In a few weeks, this would be his home. Everything here was at his disposal. It would take some time for him to remember that and feel comfortable taking advantage of all the facilities.
Such as the gymnasium.
Natalia was already there when he arrived. She had tied a scarf over her hair and was wearing a sleeveless top with a short pleated skirt, well-suited for easy, unrestricted movement. A quiver of arrows was slung over her shoulder, and across the room, four targets were set up in a neat row. The centers of the first two targets were packed with arrows, and the third was well on its way to matching them.
He kept quiet so he wouldn’t distract her. Setting his sword on the ground, he began stretching, his feet planted apart and his eyes on her at all times.
As she moved her aim to the fourth target, she changed her stance. If previously she had been working on accuracy, she used this last chance to focus on pure speed. Each arrow whipped through the air and hit the center of the target so fast he could barely follow it. The cluster of arrows building in the center were almost as densely packed as the other three. She never missed.
And with each shot, her skirt rustled, giving him a quick peek of something white and lacy underneath. He swallowed a groan and pretended any physical reaction was simply due to his exercises. There was bound to be some friction in his trousers as he stretched from side to side.
After the last arrow, she lowered her bow and examined her work, wiping sweat from her forehead with the back of her free arm.
“It’s almost boring how good you are,” he said.
She jumped a little at his voice before turning around. “Oh?” she replied. “I never tire of being perfect.” Exchanging her empty quiver for a full one, she said, “Would you like to see something I’ve been working on?”
“Sure.” He brought his feet back together and stretched his arms one last time over his head. As he did so, he could have sworn her eyes dipped down to the front of his trousers, then quickly scuttled away. Damn, was it that obvious?
She wiped her forehead again, her cheeks pink with exertion, and removed her scarf. “Can you bring those three training dummies over?” He was planning on using them himself, so he agreed. She helped with the last one, arranging them in a line with about a meter in between. “Good,” she nodded. She folded her scarf into a long rectangle and tied it over her eyes like a blindfold. “You may wish to step back now.”
That was all the warning he needed. He returned to his place behind her, making sure his shoes trod heavy on the lacquered wood floor so she’d know exactly where he was.
Three arrows were nocked and ready. She raised her bow slowly, paused in a moment of concentration, drew, and fired.
With a quick, resounding thwap, each arrow found one of the dummies, piercing them all in the exact same spot: right between the legs.
Guy winced. “Ow.”
Natalia tugged her blindfold down and let it hang loose around her neck. Grinning at her success, she turned back to him. “Never cross me, Guy.”
“Noted.” That little demonstration was enough to make his earlier problem wither away. “So, can I have a go?”
“What do you mean?”
He picked up his sword and moved to the other side of the gymnasium, taking a place in front of the dummies. “I mean, try me.” He planted his feet in a ready stance and raised his blade.
“I’m not going to shoot at you, Guy.”
“Why not?” His sword sliced though the air, and he wanted to make swooshing sounds like he did when he was a kid. “Think I can’t deflect you?”
“No, I’ve seen you. I know you can.”
“Then let’s do it.”
She gave him an exasperated look as she retrieved her arrows and refilled her quiver. “If I impale you….”
“I’ll return the favor later.”
The exasperation was still there, but he could see her trying not to laugh. “Fine.” She raised her bow. “Ready?”
Despite her concerns, he knocked the first arrows away easily. She was giving him plenty of time between shots, but he didn’t need it.
“Faster,” he said, and she complied. He was quick on his feet, invigorated by having someone to train with. Back in the old days, he would have practiced with Luke or Van. Pere had been his instructor since childhood, but he wasn’t as young as he used to be, and Guy hesitated to ask him to do much more than the basics. And Merton would never dream of such activity. In his words, a true gentleman did not sweat. It was undignified.
How Merton stayed in shape without sweating was a mystery for the ages. If Guy were to ask, Merton would likely reply that the stress of dealing with his trying young employer and such ridiculous questions was enough to expend any unnecessary calories. Just wait until he had to deal with Natalia on a regular basis. He’d probably waste away to nothingness.
“More.” The clang of steel and aluminum echoed from the high ceiling, accompanied by the sound of Guy’s shoes shuffling across the floor and the occasional grunt of effort.
Instead of working off his frustration as planned, this was starting to feel more like foreplay as they fell into a rhythm with each other.
Kissing her had kept him up half the night. Turning an abstract attraction to her into something real was both easier and more difficult than he would have imagined. Finding her beautiful wasn’t the difficult part, nor was it new. Any man with functioning eyes would be attracted to her beauty, and any man with a functioning brain would be attracted to the rest of her. If she hadn’t proposed to him, this would still be true, only it would have remained in the realm of the hypothetical, an intriguing but ultimately inconsequential aspect of their friendship.
After so many years spent terrified of even incidental contact, it was all he could think about now. Kissing her soft, pliant lips, remembering how they’d opened to him. Touching the silk of her hair, sliding her delicate fingers through his as they’d said good night and retired to their separate chambers.
That he could concentrate on anything else was a wonder in itself. The threat of physical injury was the only thing keeping him focused.
He swatted her last arrow to the ground, breathing heavily, sweating like he’d run for hours. He had hoped to feel some sense of relief. Instead he was just exhausted, every muscle aching.
Natalia looked somewhat the same, but even sweating, she had a glow about her. Her exhaustion must have been much more satisfying than his. She let out a long breath, wiped her flushed face with her scarf, and smiled at him. “What do you think?”
“I think I’m wishing I’d let you go easy on me after all,” he answered, and she laughed.
“Well, I don’t know about you,” she continued, kneading her draw shoulder, “but I’m going to have a soak in the whirlpool before lunch.” A tilt of her head indicated a door on the right side of the gymnasium. He knew from previous visits that the door led to a spa, sauna, and lap pool, all for the private use of the royal family and their guests.
A soak in the whirlpool sounded like heaven. A soak in the whirlpool with her sounded like irresistible torture. “You know,” he said, “you’re making it very hard for me to leave tomorrow.”
She tossed her hair and glanced back at him over her shoulder. “I have to make sure you come back, don’t I?”
Why, why, why do I have "To Love Again" on my G/N playlist instead of "Touch"??? I'm so dumb.