Decided that Sleepy Hollow needed a little body swap action. Thank you to my wonderfully kind and talented betas JWAB and AmbrosiaJones. Thank you for not letting me be lazy even when I really, really want to be lazy. If you have not read their respective fics "Point of No Return" and "Shoqed," reevaluate your life choices.
Warnings: This might prove triggering to those with body dysmorphia. There are brief mentions of past drug use and abuse.
Timeline: Indistinct future. Katrina is either long dead and little mourned or never existed. Pick what makes you happy.
And I hope it's clear, but just in case, Ichabod/he = Ichabod's soul in Abbie's body; Abbie/she = Abbie's soul in Ichabod's body.
"Crane, knock that that shit off." The words came with his voice, but her flat American affect. The s held the faintest lisp, as though the teeth were too large for the lips to move around. "You're doing the twitchy hand thing and it's freaking me out."
Ichabod glared down the length of the couch. There sat his own lanky form, shoulders bent like a hunchback, knees drawn toward his chest. "I would thank you to keep your curses out of my mouth." The higher timbre of her voice chimed in his head, rattling about like a persistent echo. "It is most uncouth."
"No go. Not gonna make it through this fucking weirdness if I can't cuss." She drew out the f with evident pleasure, let the k ricochet out of her throat like a challenge.
"You act as if I somehow arranged this matter. Or am reveling in its oddity. We are both sailing foreign seas, you and I."
"You're the one who found the box. Had to go through it," she accused.
"How was I meant to know the mirror was cursed?" There was a grain of truth there, however. He had found the musty box in a storage hut on Sheriff Corbin's property and had brought it to her door so they might go through it together. But in his defense, the cursed object appeared to be an ordinary tarnished hand mirror, younger than he was and inscribed with butterflies, mixed in with other seemingly harmless junk. But the both of them had been attracted like magpies to its silvery glint. They had reached for it at the same moment. Next they knew there was a rush of lavender light, a feeling he could only liken to a violent sneeze, and they'd found themselves moaning on the floor and not at all themselves.
It was odd to dwell within her, certainly. Three steps were required to cover the same distance as one good stride took him. There were bosoms and hips that moved with the slightest provocation. Then there was the strange scent of her that drove him to distraction. Not her perfume, not the tropical sweetness of her lotion, but the sweet musk of Abbie that filled his nose and lungs with every breath.
And yet it seemed as though the experience should be more disorienting. Shouldn't he desperately wish to slither out of this skin, to long for his own familiar hands and teeth and toes? Shouldn't his flesh writhe with the wrongness of his habitation? While it was a surprise when he spied a reflection of himself in a window or saw her tapping her lips with his long finger, he felt at ease within her in a way he never could have expected. It was a new suit of clothes to be sure, but one that needed little tailoring.
Perhaps it was their role as Witnesses. Their souls already knew each other as they knew themselves; it was possible his spirit recognized that this, too, was a kind of home.
That fact acknowledged, it was, as the lieutenant repeated at regular intervals, really fucking weird.
"Wait. Wait, wait, wait. Found it." She held Grace Dixon's journal aloft, and Ichabod blessed that sainted woman's name once more. "Got the cure."
"Thank God. Let's be on about it then. What do we require?" He stood, clasping hands tight behind his back. Sudden awareness of his breasts led him to abandon the pose at once.
"Good news is that it looks easy and it should work. Apparently this kinda thing isn't uncommon. Who knew."
That tone of voice was all-too familiar. He sank onto the couch once more. With her posterior beneath him, it was like lounging on a velvet throne after a life spent perched on a wooden stool. "This is the sort of thing you usually follow with, 'but there's bad news.'"
"Bad news is, we can't do it until moon dark."
"But that's two days hence!"
"Hence. Now that's a word that's never come outta my mouth," she muttered, flipping pages. "We just need basic stuff. Personal item from both of us, some herbs, little bit of ground-up quartz. Should be easy."
"But how are we to manage for two days?" Hiding their condition would be impossible. God's wounds, but he did not relish the gale of hilarity that would ensue when Miss Jenny learned of their misfortune. They would hear of this on their very deathbeds, they would.
"Look, I'm not thrilled with it either. But what can we do? We'll lay low, take it easy, and this will be a weird fever dream before you know it." She uncurled from her huddle and stretched her legs, feet resting on the coffee table. "What do you even do with all this leg? There's so much leg here."
"Cover large distances at a bound and reach items on high shelves."
When she smiled, she revealed more teeth than he ever did in the same gesture. Yet he knew to his guts he never looked half so dazzling when he made that expression. For while it was his visage, it was her unmistakable essence creeping through, her wary brightness about the eyes instead of his prickly consternation.
No matter what guise she wore, nothing could obscure Grace Abigail Mills' shining soul.
"We should probably set some ground rules about this," she said. "First and most important for you is do not touch the hair. Ever. For any reason. I will show you how to put it up at night and I will do it for you in the morning."
"I will touch not a strand. And likewise, do not attempt to groom the beard. There is a tricky knack to it-"
"You're gonna talk to me about tricky hair?" She jutted her chin at him in a gesture which was so characteristically her he nearly laughed to see it expressed with his own weak mandible. But then she leaned back with a sigh. "Which," she said, rubbing at her forehead, "we need to talk about that. People are going to react to you differently now. You're going to have some shit thrown at you."
They had spoken of this before. The comments about her body, the assumptions about her person, the looks and whistles and violences great and small. He believed her, of course – had even dressed down several men for their crude comments or felt the heavy weight of old women's eyes upon them – but for him, it remained a largely academic issue. Until now. "I'm sorry," he said, though he wasn't certain what for.
She shrugged; her shoulders almost touched her ears. "Is what it is. But on the upside, I get to spend the next two days not being followed around stores or worrying about being shot by my coworkers. So that's a win for me." Her solemn face scrunched in irritation as she scratched at her whiskers. "This thing itches."
"You grow accustomed to it. I expect we both will learn to live with some minor –" A new thought struck. Oh, he did not care for this at all. This time he saw his fingers do their strange, crabbing dance, but could not muster the mastery to halt them. Anxiety reigned. "I've just realized, Lieutenant. Over the course of two days, we will both be required to deal with certain…necessary functions." Her lips twisted, but she said nothing. Just watched him with bright eyes. "I assure you, Miss Mills, I shall do all I can to preserve your dignity and modesty through this ordeal. Under no circumstances would I ever wish to compromise your virtue or intrude upon your most intimate concerns."
Miss Mills gave the most undignified snort imaginable. Then she prodded the tip of her nose, eyes crossing as she sought a glimpse of the long snout.
She abandoned her quest, hands smoothing over her thighs. "Thanks for being a gentleman about this, Crane. Not that I expected anything less."
Should he suggest she dress herself to the left? Discuss the finer points of washing under a foreskin? Or, most horrifying of all, should he warn her that he was greeted most every morning with persistent arousal that he banished with a few quick tugs? Did she know? Surely she knew. And yet knowing and knowing were oceans apart.
Merciful heaven. Was she in her menses? Would he know? He concentrated for a moment, felt the new rhythms of this body. Faint grumble in the guts – nerves, most like, or perhaps dairy. Ragged ache in the left calf; she'd strained a muscle whilst hunting renards. Nothing seemed to be happening between the legs at the moment but –
"Honestly, the physical part of it is the least of my worries," the lieutenant said.
That jolted him out of his frenzied vortex of concern. "What on earth do you mean? What is there but the physicality of it?"
"Just – I don't know. It's like sleeping in someone else's bedroom, right? Even if you know them really well, you're still going to find something you didn't expect. Weird sex toy in the nightstand, love letter slipped between the pages of a book. Even if you're not looking for them, you find them. And that changes things."
The lieutenant was one of the cleverest women – people – he had ever known. Yet at times she was like a cat who fancies herself invisible because her head is hidden behind a curtain, all while her tail twitches out for the world to see. Even after all their battles, all their tears, she still believed there was aught she could conceal from him. Or aught that would make him care for her even a tick less.
"Sometimes change is for the better, you know."
Arguing with her – with anyone, really – was always a temptation for him. But he let it drop for now. Other matters held his concern. "While I am pleased the physical aspects of our predicament do not trouble your mind, I cannot say the same for myself."
"You scared of you seeing me or me seeing you?"
Merciful Lord. He had been so consumed with her modesty that he never considered his own. Would she think him handsome? Adequately virile? Not that it mattered, but…
Well. He supposed it did matter. A little.
"My only thought is your privacy, of course," he demurred.
She regarded him, and he was struck by her stillness. He was ever in motion, hands flapping, feet tapping. Yet she was an oasis of calm. "Well. How about I give you a tour, then?"
His curiosity and his eyebrows rose. "What's that?"
"We'll get it over with. Take the fear and awkwardness out of it. I'll show you around my body, tell you what you need to know. You can do the same."
"Are you really suggesting we…we disrobe in front of one another?"
"Yeah. I am."
"Why, Miss Mills. I do believe you're blushing."
Her cheeks burned with the high points of color that had plagued him since his youth, that beacon which made it impossible to speak with any comely lass without making them quite aware of his intentions. She puckered her lips in irritation, but made no motion to scrub away the offending flush. "That is really goddamn inconvenient. But yes. That's what I'm suggesting. Because it's gonna happen anyway. This way we still feel like we have some control over what happens to our bodies."
Ah. There it was. Of course. For the empathic lieutenant, it was commonplace to see the world through another's eyes, if perhaps in not so literal a sense. No, she would not fear that she would lose herself; she knew her soul too well for that. Rather, she would fear the loss of her autonomy, the destruction of her self-possession.
The idea of displaying his own – his true, male – body for her approval held limited appeal. To be naked and gazed upon with curiosity instead of desire made his stomach churn; it reminded him of the bathing chambers at school. But if this was what she wanted, if it would aid her, if she would take him in hand and show him the undoubted wonders concealed beneath her clothes…
Well. Perhaps it was not the worst idea he'd ever heard.
"If it would grant you ease, then certainly it is worth considering," he said.
"It's gonna grant you more ease than it does me. You'll see. Just get the weirdness out in the open and then we can move past it."
If they both believed they were doing it for one another, then why were they doing it? Was it truly to make this situation less alien? What was she playing at? What was he?
"The longer we wait, the more one of us is gonna have to pee."
This was fine, he assured himself. Quite fine. Logical and practical, even. He had seen many, many of his fellow soldiers in the buff and it had altered their friendship not at all. Of course, he had not been ensconced within their bodies at the time. And he had never spent restless nights staring into the darkness and wondering what those men might look like gasping and panting beneath him.
But no, this was clearly the proper course. Just business. A quick look, brief explanation, and they'd be on their way. Marvelous.
She led the way to the bedroom, bony hips swaying. Despite his best efforts to remain unmoved, anticipation was already a glowing ember in his belly. He found distraction in surveying her chamber. He had been here before; once when she was gravely ill and again when she was gravely drunk. But now every object took on new meaning. The prints that hung upon her wall, blobs of paint both indistinct and iridescent. The closet door slivered open to reveal the soft shirts she wore against her skin and the hard jackets she wore against the world. The bottles and jars and brushes that cluttered her bureau, armor donned each morning and succor taken each night.
Including the phial marked "Intimate Lubricant – For the Sexy TimesTM."
"What unexpected turns this day as taken." His throat was locked, filled with the cracking pressure he'd not felt since he grew his first beard. When his voice managed to emerge from his tight jaw, it was a pulverized squeak. "Never could I have foreseen this when I awoke today. Fight a demon or two, certainly. Stumble upon an arcane blood ritual in the forest, of course. But this, this is quite something." In shrugging out of his jacket, his arm became wedged in the close confines of the leather. He flapped the sleeve whilst continuing his desperate monologue. "The general had a saying about unexpected days like this. He said—"
She grasped him by the shoulders. As ever, her touch steadied him. "Crane. I don't want you to do anything you don't want to do."
Ichabod breathed in with steady purpose. Smaller lungs drew less air; unaccustomed weight constricted his chest. He exhaled. Then again. "You mistake me quite, Lieutenant."
The world blurred with vertigo as he cupped her cheek in his unencumbered hand. It was like touching his own reflection. But momentarily, sharp focus returned. He stroked his thumb across the tender flesh just above her whiskers. "Sure."
Her lips smiled, but not her eyes. Oh, he knew that countenance well. She stepped back and let his hand drop away. "Good. Let's do this."
After disentangling him from the jacket, she disappeared into her closet to hang the garment. In the fidgeting silence, his gaze fell upon the looking glass that hung above her dressing table.
His current face – the lieutenant's true face - was full of subtle wrongness. He held the eyebrows too high, lending an air of perpetual startlement; kept the lips parted too much. And there was something else, an absence he could not define. It was not the lieutenant residing within, but the exterior remained lovely, however altered.
Footfalls – clodding in thumping boots – behind him, and the lieutenant appeared in the glass. She towered above him like an oak tree over a rose bush. He had expected that difference might make him feel weak, but the marked disparity was not unpleasant. He was delicate. Elegant. Safe.
The nape of his neck prickled.
She took the measure of herself in the mirror. Quirked her lips to the side, struggled to hook one eyebrow upward, but wound up lifting the both of them. The overall effect was deranged.
"Tell me I don't look like that," he pleaded.
"Nah. Mostly." Her smile faded, her eyes sobered. She unbound her hair from its leather thong, let it fall in languid waves and recast her face with a new kind of softness. Fingers hovered over her skin, sketching a cheek bone, the ancient dimple of a scar on the forehead, the recurve of the lips. There was longing in her eyes – of that he was certain – but still she did not touch. Her fingertips crackled above the skin, but she would not bridge the gap.
"Won't bite without your approval," he teased.
But still her hand made no contact.
"Sorry." She clenched a fist and smiled an unconvincing sort of smile. He was accustomed to seeing that sadness huddling within brown eyes; to observe it crouching within blue sent a twanging pang. "Was just thinking about what you'd look like without the beard."
"Chinless." She would not touch her face, yet she would see them strip bare before each other? This boded for ill. "If you—"
"Want to get started? Yeah. Let's go." She turned away from the mirror and he was relieved to follow suit. To gaze upon them both in the same portrait made him feel as though he were floating outside his disembodied self, neither him nor her, but something quite in between.
"Ladies first," she said. He waited a good long while before her wry grin brought realization.
"You mean-? Oh, very well."
That was for the best, wasn't it? This was for her, after all. To ensure that she felt comfortable leaving her most precious possession – her very self – in his care.
He began with the smallest bit, leaning against the edge of her bed and unlacing his boots, great heavy things with steel in their toes. Then came the stockings and…an unexpected flash of blue.
"You've painted your toenails," he said in delight, wiggling the pretty little toes. "Like some great French lady. But not your fingernails."
"Impractical. Chips too fast and makes cops feel like you're not willing to get your hands dirty."
"But the toes are just for you. An expression of your own self when no one else is watching."
She folded her arms across her chest. One hip jutted to the side. "It's just a nice color, Crane. You don't have to go deep on it."
Right. This was about practicality, not understanding. Yes. Of course. But now he was left with a dilemma: top or bottom?
The shirt. He had seen her clad only in a bra, after all, scant days after first they met. And he had, perhaps after a tipple or three, revisited that particular image, happily etched into his memory. This would simply be reliving that moment.
He seized handfuls of shirt around the shoulders, as he would remove his own garment, but she swatted at his hands. "Girls' shirts don't come off like that. Here." Manipulating his limbs like a doll, she crossed his arms over his stomach. "Like this. Then just up and over."
Even the shirts were different? Perhaps this "tour" was badly needed indeed. One last deep breath and he followed her instructions and lifted the shirt away.
It was difficult to know where to look first. The breasts, the tops of which just peeked over the cups of the brassiere? The flat of stomach, hard-won muscle standing in relief? The lithe, inward curve of waist?
Yet ominous souvenirs were rent deeply into that lovely flesh. Inner arms speckled with pock-like scars. A cluster of glossy burns formed a constellation the waist of her trousers, each too round to be accidental. He trembled as he touched them, as the pads of his fingers slid across the slippery burns, dipped over the tiny scars. He looked a compassionate question at the lieutenant.
"I was dumb," she said.
"You were in pain," he countered.
"I was both." She shrugged, as if it truly were meaningless. But her eyes were cast over his head, insistent in their refusal to meet his. "Now they're reminders to be better." She gave a distinctly melancholy laugh. "Look, this wasn't supposed to be serious. If the scars start feeling tight, a little cocoa butter will take care of it. That's all you need to know."
"Yes, of course." What of her hurt and her past and her heart could he possibly need to know? "Pressing on, then."
The brassiere was not satin, but something like it, the fabric soft on his skin. The hook and eye fastening was simple enough to unlatch. He refused to make a ceremony of it – such an act would only discomfit the lieutenant further. He let the garment fall away.
The first sense of his breasts was not the look of them, it was the settling of their weight upon his chest as gravity took hold. But oh, when he did look upon them in their fullest glory, his mind turned hummingly blank.
Each breast was a ripe fig, heavy and lush, stemmed with a nipple chilled by the cool air and his own desire. He became acutely aware of the beat of his heart thumping betwixt his thighs. He discreetly swiped across the front of his trousers, but of course there was nothing to adjust. This was not the rushing, growing sensation he knew well; it was an incessant cadence, a diffuse wanting.
But that was all beside the point.
"Is any special care required?" he asked once he was able to tear his eyes from the bounty of this body.
Her head was tilted to the side. She licked her lips; her tongue extended too far and whiskers dampened. "You can touch them. It's okay. They're part of you."
A gentleman would have demurred. "Oh no I couldn't possibly," such a man would have said. "Your virtue surmounts all other concerns," he would have said. But in that moment, Ichabod Crane was no gentleman.
His touch was tentative at first – hesitant fingers on the undersides of each breast. A quick look to the lieutenant – she nodded – gave him courage to heft the bosoms in his hands. It was an action he had taken many times, though never before had he felt their weight both in his hands and upon his chest. He let them fall, admiring their fluid motion. He made to lift them again, to more closely observe the bouncing sensation, but then he chanced to graze a palm across a chill-tipped peak.
The sensation was at least three-fold that of any he'd known from that anatomy heretofore. Even a light touch sent bolts of pleasure traveling from his bosom to the very tips of his painted toes.
"My apologies, Lieutenant."
But the lieutenant did not seem to require apologies. She extended a hand, fingers curled as if to pick the ripe fruits of his body. Then she rammed the hand deep within her coat's pocket. "Said you could touch, didn't I?"
"Perhaps we should…" Stop. Dress. Restrain. Leave. Ignore. Repress. "Perhaps it is time for you to doff your shirt as well." If they were equal in their undress, he reasoned, he would not feel so exposed, so conscious of the clenching of his thighs.
"Fair's fair," she acquiesced. She readily let the greatcoat fall from her long limbs. "Oof. That thing is heavy." She rolled her shoulders.
"I'll have you know that coat saw me warmly through three winter campaigns, including Valley Forge." As he moved to lay the coat over the squashed armchair in the corner, cluttered with stockings and books, a torturous friction made itself known.
It was nothing. It was nothing. A physical imperative, base and baseless in equal measures. And far less insistent or inconvenient than male arousal. He could – oh, and by God he would – ignore that ragged ache, the strange slipperiness, the tremor in his belly.
When he returned to her side, she was pulling her shirt off with a grimace. "You never told me how much your knees hurt. You should see somebody about that."
That pain, like gravel poured into his joints, had been his shadow for so long, it was baffling to note its absence. "One grows accustomed to it. It's not so terrible. And would be less still if you would stand straight, like a gentleman." He poked at the bare, raised bones of her spine. She swatted him away.
"Don't tell me what to do," she said, though she did stand a trifle taller. She scraped a knuckle along the ghastly scar that marred his pale breast. "You realize this makes you look like a badass pirate, right?"
It was his turn to avert his gaze. "It makes me look like a dead man."
"Dead men don't scar. Only survivors do."
"My scars make me a survivor. Yours make you 'dumb'?"
A cough of laughter. "Yours, mine, who can tell the difference anymore?"
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"This is my hand. This is my knee." Light taps indicated the appendages in question. "But it's yours, too. All at the same time. Different pieces of us mushed together. Can't tell where one ends and the other…" She wrapped arms tight about her thin chest, words run dry.
"Go on," he urged. "Please."
Entanglement was not the right word. Not for him. He had a sense of sharing. Borrowing. The extra care you take with a tool lent by a friend, a heightened awareness that none of this belonged to him. But that closeness brought him no unease. Even in these unnatural circumstances, it felt natural to be near to her, even to be part of her.
That she did not feel the same wounded, though it did not surprise. Whatever she was saying, it was about more than just this. More than just the wrong soul in the wrong fleshy vessel. It was bigger and wider and truer than any of that.
Some dam inside her creaked and strained, but just before it broke, she found a way to patch it over, to hold the waters at bay. Her arms fell away and her smile became her shield. "Nah. Being weird. Ignore me."
"I don't want to ignore you. I want to understand. "
"How can you if I don't? Just take your pants off, Crane."
If it weren't for the edge of desperation in her voice, he would have walked away then and there. Slept in his clothes, closed his eyes in the privy, done all he could to ignore the trappings he wore. But she needed this, to control the way he viewed her body, to know his response and, perhaps, to see herself in a way she never had before.
And so he did as she bade him.
Ichabod closed his eyes. He did not wish to see this in awkward glimpses as clothing was drawn away; he wished for a grand reveal, every inch of her – of him – laid bare at once. He hooked fingers inside the waist of his undergarment and drew them down along with the jeans. At last he stepped free and kicked them aside.
Only then did he open his eyes.
He had imagined this moment, of course; he was but a man, and weak and alone. But oh, the reality revealed his imagination for the beggar it was. Her body was a masterful landscape – sloping hills falling off to long plains which rose again to a mossy vale hazed with hair. The muscles of strong thighs became secret canyons and valleys; the rise of her arse a monument to God's goodness.
"Have you any notion of how exquisite you are?" he asked once had had admired every perfect speck of her.
"Yup," she said. He laughed. "Still nice to hear. Thank you." She sniffed once, sharp and deep, and only then did he notice the tang in the air, a scent of musk and need that was at once familiar and alien, a concentrated scent of Abbie that wafted free. Flame lapped at his cheeks; he thanked heaven that secret, at least, would keep. But bless her, she held her tongue.
She walked a slow circle about him. "So weird. Never knew I had a mole there. So weird—" She stopped midstride. Her eyes bulged; her Adam's apple bobbed as though she'd swallowed a frog that now attempted to swim its way out again.
"Lieutenant? Are you all right? You look positively stricken." But as his eyes strayed from her face to her trousers, the issue became obvious. "Oh."
What a curious mystery, this. Certainly there were times when he found himself engorged courtesy of a passing breeze or odd recollection, but he doubted the coincidence now. He could not imagine anyone gazing upon the lieutenant's true body and remaining unmoved – was it the simple sight of her own self? Was it the knowledge that desire guttered through him? Or, most impossibly, had his own body pleased her in some way?
"I don't—I'm-That is quite the thing that's happening there." She stared. Her fingers twitched – an eerie echo of the action she had scolded him for – but she did not touch.
"It's as if the world entire has narrowed, constricted, tightened," he said, voice all rasps. "And yet suddenly quite anything is possible."
"That's, uh, not how I woulda said it, but yeah. Kinda." The lieutenant gave a tremendous shake, like a dog emerging from an icy river. "Okay. I'm good. I'll just think of cold showers and baseball and it'll go away, right?"
It was madness. The height of folly. Yet the words escaped his mouth anyway: "If that is what you want."
She snorted like an over-lathered stallion. "What?"
"You wished a tour. Let me give you a proper one. Let me show you the fullness of it."
There was nothing he wanted more in this moment than to show her how marvelous his body could feel. How marvelous he could make her feel. He could give her this, one moment where everything was washed away. He wanted to be the one to give her that, no matter how odd the circumstances. If he never had another chance, if nothing ever…if they never…
At least he could give her this.
"Besides, this will almost certainly come up again. So to speak," he said, hoping he sounded cavalier. "Best to get through the first one together, as you said."
"I…" She plucked at the placket of her trousers, trying to relieve the pressure that grew with every beat of her heart. "It's just this. Just while we're stuck this way. No strings, no weirdness after."
Ah, yes. No strings. She had spoken to him of this before, once when he stumbled upon Detective Morales leaving her abode of an early morning, his clothes rumpled and redolent of sex. The man had flashed a cocky smile and quite accidentally – of course – bashed his shoulder against Ichabod's. Ichabod struck back with full force, just as accidentally.
"You've rekindled your courtship."
"No, no. We definitely have not." She placed her foot onto a chair, hiking her trousers to reveal what at the time had been a tantalizing sliver of ankle. She strapped on the holster that held her tiny but potent .22. "No time for that. Friends with benefits," she'd said with a shrug. "All the fun, none of the baggage."
Yet for Ichabod, the two were indivisible. Oh, he'd had his tumbles with camp followers, certainly, sticky encounters fraught with loneliness and need, but even then other faces had been transposed upon their haggard visages. They had been but placeholders for those who truly mattered.
And what truly mattered now, was her.
If he was wise, he would walk away. If he was strong, he would call a halt. If he was honest, he would tell her.
He pressed against her -– hard enough to be felt through the fabric, light enough to tease instead of torment.
"It's just this," he lied.
Her eyelashes trembled; were they always so long? She illuminated new aspects of his own self. "Yes," she sighed.
More pressure now. She twitched and swelled, dug grasping fingers into his shoulder until he winced. But through it, he smiled, for in that moment he was a god of infinite power. He used small, nimble fingers to undo the many buttons that held her captive. Together, they discarded small clothes and trousers, and the pair at last stood naked before each other.
Ichabod took no particular pleasure in viewing his body; the lieutenant had certainly been dealt the poorer hand with his gawky, gangly bag of bones. But to see that cock blooming forth, droplets of desire just gathering, lips parted, thighs taut, and to know that inside was the lieutenant, living those delicious sensations he knew so well, being brought pleasure from his body and by his hand?
It was the single most sensual moment of his life.
It didn't last.
The lieutenant wagged her hips from side to side. "Oh, the balls. That's…" She did it again, oysters slapping against her thighs. She giggled. While he could not disagree with the sentiment – what Creator would hinge reproduction upon a set of such flimsy and injury-prone organs? – the reaction still smarted. Granted, he had not a tenth of her beauty, yet part of him had hoped she might look upon him and find him … unrepulsive, at the least, if not desirable.
Perhaps she sensed his disappointment, for chagrin settled in at once: "Sorry. I'm not laughing at you. Just the way it feels is so foreign." She examined herself again, and this time a slow smile spread. "I always knew you were packin' heat, but …" She whistled with seeming appreciation.
"You've given the matter some thought, then?"
A raise of her brows was the only answer she would allow. A flicker of heat licked at the places his heart beat – throat, breast, the split of his peach. He reached for her.
The lieutenant drew a deep, shuddering breath and braced herself against the wall. Muscles corded. He pulled slow and steady from bulb to blossom. There was a tinge of unreality to the proceedings; the utter impossibility of watching his own face distort, stroking the familiar contours of his prick without the accompanying bolt of bliss. At this moment, the bottom would drop out of her stomach, a steady falling sensation. Her hand would tighten and loosen over and over again with the rhythm of his pulsing. And her spine would be jellied, awash with mounting anticipation.
"I think I need to sit down." He glanced down to find her knobby knees atremble; he grinned.
He drew her to bed, let her stretch supine upon the coverlet. He excused himself for but a moment and retrieved that bottle of unguent he had spied upon her dressing table earlier. A squirt in his palm revealed a familiar viscosity.
He circled her with thumb and forefinger, marveling at how her small hand made him look larger still. Then he took her in his fist and she hissed and writhed like a serpent. Her lips – his lips? – mouthed phantom words. The world spun precipitously. Good Christ, he was frigging himself. But it was the lieutenant. But it was him. Everything was backward and wrong and he closed his eyes for a respite.
"Crane?" Her voice was a bass rumble. "You okay?"
Even now, even when her body trembled with need, she put him first. He opened his eyes. It was his ridiculous face staring back at him, but it was her. That was all that mattered. He could do this, follow the beats of his own desire to give her something she had never experienced before. She who had shown and given him so much. "Yes. Do not fret on my account. Better yet, do not think at all."
Ichabod wanted this to last; wanted to push her higher and higher until she felt she would die if she did not come. He pumped his little hand over her; he pressed a thumb against her slit. He stroked a single finger down the frenulum and she produced a clawing, strangled noise, her face twisted and hard.
He ceased his movements at once. "Are you in pain?"
"No." She arched her neck back, tendons standing out in ruddy relief. Her fingers were talons clutching fistfuls of sheeting.
"Then you needn't choke on it. Sing for me, Abbie."
She looked at him, then. And peeking out from his own eyes, glimmering just around the edges, was fear. Fear at its most naked and most primal, far more revealing than any unclad body or shout of pleasure ever could be. It was not fear of her altered form, not of its odd liftings and stirrings and wantings, but of him. Of what he might see in that moment when there could be no control, when she could not hold herself aloof and apart and safe.
That fear only endeared her more. Yet he could offer no words of assurance. Any comfort he could give would be regarded as an attack. Words, long his weapon and his armor, could not help him now. All he could do was show her that she was safe. That no matter what, he would remain.
Ichabod licked her from stem to stern and her hips jutted heavenward. He prayed she saw God.
The taste of cock was not so foul as he had feared; a hot, close sort of flavor. He was not brave enough to take her in his mouth entirely; he feared he would ruin the whole affair with his ineptitude in that sensual art. But he knew what he liked, knew the power of a tongue laved across a tip, of a fast, hard suck. Clumsy as he was, it seemed to have the desired effect: soon, she chanted fuck, fuck, fuck.
This time, he took perverse joy in the profanity.
Ichabod could have toyed with her longer. Could have drawn her farther into bliss until her walls crumbled to dust and she forgot her own name, let alone her own fear. But that part of her should only be given, never taken. So he twisted downward and pressed a single knuckle against the spot just behind the testicles and –
She thrust in blind rut as seed rained down. His nethers stirred with echoes of sensation he no longer had the physical capacity to feel, the tightening and churning and slick liquid heat of it all. He resisted – barely – the urge to touch himself. Instead, he focused upon her.
God in heaven. Even wearing his face, even as it contorted with the painful bliss of release, teeth clenched, nostrils flaring, demented hisses leaking through, she was unearthly beautiful.
The lieutenant melted, still gasping, against the bedclothes. "That – good God damn – I … " She laughed, all air. "How do you ever leave the fucking house?"
"Grudgingly." He located a box of disposable handkerchiefs on her bedside table. She plucked a few from the box, but then collapsed again as if it were all too much effort.
"Just give me a minute. Or ten. Wow."
Ichabod fetched her a glass of water, which she drank in trembling gulps. He cleaned the leavings away and caught himself just before he brushed the damp tendrils of hair that clung to her face. They were not lovers, he reminded himself. Partners. At once more and less. And yet when there was nothing more to do, he lay beside her, head almost upon her shoulder. He did not wish to intrude upon her warm, lingering glow, but distance was intolerable.
She lay with boneless grace, eyes closed, chest rising and falling ever slower until he thought her sleeping. But then her eyes popped open and fastened upon him with determination. "Your turn."
"There's no need for that." Need tatted in a persistent drum beat, but he was a man of discipline. He could ignore it. Or slake it himself, biting a towel in the privy chamber to stifle his own inevitable cries. "A situation arose, and we managed. If it occurs again, you've the knowledge and permission to do what must needs be done."
"You gonna sit there and tell me you don't want to?" She took his breasts in hand and there was that jagged bolt of pleasure again. "Because I'll call you a liar. I know all the tells." The lieutenant tugged at his nipples with such sudden urgency he gasped and arched his back in an involuntary instinct older than time itself.
He wanted her to do it again.
"It is not that I do not wish to. But – but – you are weary, and –"
She bent her head to his breast; whiskers scratched and scraped, then her teeth grazed his nipple with infinite care but electric intent. "I'm not. Let me do this for you. The way you did for me."
There was no arguing with that set tone. For to stop now would leave the scales unbalanced. He could not own a piece of her that she could not claim in return.
"Another adventure in the new world, then," he joked feebly as they exchanged positions, he leaning against her protrusion of pillows, she between his thighs. A rivulet of fear gripped him. Would it be different? Certainly it would be different. Would it be painful? What if he could not find fulfillment? The female body was infinitely complex compared to the simple mechanics of male desire. What If that dizzying disorientation that had seized him fell upon his poor lieutenant? What if –
She drug the very tip of an index finger through the outermost folds of his mound of Venus. Unfamiliar muscles fluttered. The lieutenant repeated the gesture, this time deeper, parting the lips and slicking her digit with dew.
He trusted her. He trusted her. He trusted her.
She seized a pillow and propped it under his hips, elevating his thatched house. She looked down and shook her head. "Can't believe I'm about to do this."
"I would never wish you to do anything which would discomfit—"
"Oh, shut up. It's not my first time eating a little pussy. Just, you know, first time working on my own."
His brain stuttered. "You've—you've steered the punt from Cambridge end?"
"Whatever the fuck that means? Probably." She disappeared between his thighs and laved her tongue broadly over his slit. And oh, as lovely as those fingers had been, this was better and beyond, softer but more urgent and oh.
She gave another long, leisurely stroke, but this time the tip of her tongue darted between folds and he squirmed closer to that marvelous organ. There was a noise – a high whine. It took him several seconds to realize it issued forth from him.
"Anyone ever tell you that you have very good fingers?" With great gentleness, the lieutenant slid one of those "very good fingers" inside him. She did not thrust, but gave a small curl inside him. "Okay?" she asked.
The physical sensation transcended words, at once invasive and fulfilling, stretching and compressing. But some dim part of him burned with shame to be penetrated, to be the woman. Crude words whispered in dormitories at Eton, shouted in the halls of Oxford, sneered by his father over brandy, and leered around campfires, it all buffeted against him.
Ichabod tightened strange muscles around her. "Okay," he replied.
A great many things happened at once. She was everywhere – tongue at work, a finger within him, another hand tickling along his inner thigh, then kneading at a callipygian buttock. His own head bobbed between his legs and the world tilted once more. As marvelous –marvelous – as it was, he would have given anything to reverse their positions, to be back within his own self, buried between her legs, coaxing low moans from her throat. To be himself and to give that self to her.
But it was not to be. Not tonight. Perhaps not ever.
So he would have to make the most of what he had. He closed his eyes and that helped; helped him lie back and relax, helped him remember who he was.
Ichabod strove to be a passive observer, a detached natural scientist gathering data for some treatise. He noted the difference between the male arousal and the female, the way woman's bliss radiated through every fiber of her being instead of concentrating on one prominent locale. He listened to his own breathing as it took on a tempo all its own, staggering and gasping, chest heaving, breasts jostling. But as she dipped a second finger inside him, as she circled her tongue around and around that little button, his sang-froid evaporated until there were only two things he knew for certain:
Abbie, his Abbie, was devoting herself to his pleasure.
He never wanted her to stop.
A third finger, and all shame fled. He ground downward, craving more contact, to be filled utterly even as old instincts flared and he yearned to be inside, to be enveloped. His legs clenched closed as if to protect himself from the enormity of all this, but she threw his thigh over her shoulder, keeping him wide and ready.
And then. And then, when he was a gibbering mess of a man, babbling words without meaning, burying fingers in her hair and pulling with all his might, desperate for any tether to the earth.
Then she put her lips around that nub.
And he dissolved.
It was like being washed away by a tremendous tide, every particle of his body pulled apart and then slammed back together again in glorious resurrection. No part of him was unscathed; he quaked from head to toe, all of him alive and sparking.
When he knew the world again, the first thing he was aware of was her name on his lips: Abbie. God. Abbie.
She was sitting upright again. Later, he would revisit her countenance, chiseled into his memory like a sculptor with stone. Note the pinched set of her lips, the flare of her nostrils, the dismissive way she flicked desire from her beard. Later, he would understand.
But now, his body still tremored; mastery of his breath eluded him. He fumbled for her, needing the simple reassurance her grasp always provided. But she would only pat at the back of his hand, eyes cold and hard as glaciers.
"What is it? What have I done?" His ephemeral weightlessness turned to lead.
"Nothing. Nothing. We're cool."
She drew her knees closer to her chest, arms locked about them. She looked so small.
O God, had he blurted something at the height of passion? He scrabbled back through his memory but for once it failed him. There was only a whirlpool of sensations, devoid of language or cogent thought.
"You must tell me," he begged.
"Look, I don't want to make it a thing." The lieutenant rubbed at his scar as though it pained her. Or was it the heart that beat beneath that ached?
"The longer we take to discuss it, the more a thing it becomes."
"It's nothing. I've said some crazy shit when I was on the verge too. But there's no way you meant it." Her voice was too careful. Testing.
Dread coiled in his belly. "What did I say?"
She surveyed his face, her own lips pursed. "You really don't know, do you?"
"Out with it!"
His flustered reaction seemed to satisfy her. She nodded, something flinty gleaming in her eyes. "You said, 'I love you.'"
He could not possibly be so stupid, so careless, so cruel as to do that. Not like this. He could not burden her with the knowledge that he only allowed himself to know late at night, when the world was still and his heart was at its wisest.
Now he had to make it untrue.
"Ha," he said unconvincingly. "As you say, strange utterances are made at the height of passion."
"Right. And with us being all jumbled up like we are, not surprising something a little out there happened. But it's cool. Already forgotten." The only thing cool here was her demeanor. Distant. Guarded. Wary.
He had ruined everything. His stupid mouth and his stupid heart and now here she went again, fleeing from him when they were closer than they had ever been. His only hope was to commit to the lie, to make a joke of it, to lean into her belief that him loving her – that anyone loving her – was absurd. "Let that be a testament to your skill, Miss Mills. Very fine work indeed, to make a man lose his wits using only your tongue."
She cast her eyes upon him, remote and resolute. "Not the first declaration of love I've gotten that way," she said with a smirk. "Definitely the weirdest though. But don't worry about it. Forgotten already."
He forced a smile; his face seemed to peel away from his bones. "You are kind to forgive such a contretemps. All is well between us, then?"
But it was not always. It was almost. She permitted him to creep close, so close, to nearly touch the fortified compound of her heart. And then she would bolt like a greenhorn under fire for the first time, leaving him closer and farther than ever.
"Sleepy," she murmured. "Maybe I'll close my eyes for a minute. Then we'll finish doing all the stuff we were supposed to be doing."
"It will keep. Rest now." A folded blanket, deep purple and soft as sin, lay at the end of the bed; he drew it up. Her feet protruded. She turned from him, her spine arching inward as she sought to mold her long limbs into a protective curl.
Her breath grew long and deep. Cracking snores issued forth in the silence. He slipped from bed and clutched his greatcoat to his breast. It was ridiculously large, of course, with sleeves falling over hands and rough wool scratching at delicate skin. But he needed its heavy familiarity now. He sank into the armchair and drew the coat close about him.
Ichabod watched her sleep, certain in the knowledge that if the lieutenant refused to believe his truth, that somehow he could learn to live within her lie.