Bruises That Lie
A/N: I can't take credit for the poems, they were actually written by the real Mary Stuart, this is just my translation from the old Scots and French with some re-interpretive changes to fit the story.
Gideon strode out onto the balcony with a casual confidence that spoke to the level of comfort he currently felt with the person waiting for him there. She would, of course, never admit that she was waiting for him, but he knew it to be the case. Ever since they had worked together to thwart Don Carlos's plot against her, Gideon and Mary had come to a tentative truce; a truce aided by their occasional nighttime conversations on the balcony. He smiled to himself as he stepped out into the night air, pleased to see her there. Pleased because it meant he was making progress in gaining her trust as he'd been ordered to do. But also pleased because he actually enjoyed her company. She had an intellect to engage his own and his ego was not such as to blind him to that.
"You're early tonight," he commented. Mary did not turn to greet him, choosing instead to continue looking out into the quiet of the castle grounds at night.
"I didn't realize you had a schedule I was to keep to," she replied dryly. Her tone plainly said that any such expectation was impertinent on his part and would not be tolerated.
"I don't. I merely meant to comment on the earliness of the evening," he assured her, making reference to the livieness of the castle halls below them. Mary shifted uncomfortably, sensing that despite his words he absolutely meant to imply that she had been hoping he would come join her here. Which of course she had been, but she did not like him thinking so.
"I didn't know you would be here," she said curtly. Gideon suppressed a chuckle at her expense.
"No, of course not. No more than I expected you to be here," he said, leaving Mary to wonder exactly what he was trying to say.
"And what is on your mind that draws you away from the delights of the rest of court? Leaving France? Your next marriage alliance? The Protestant problem in Scotland? A maddening English ambassador?" he asked cheerfully, and then added with more gentle solicitation, "Francis?" It still felt odd to her that he seemed to empathize with her loss more than anyone else at French court who had actually known her husband. And yet, Mary suspected that was part of what made Gideon easy to talk to when they were in the privacy of the balcony: here they could be nothing more than two people trying to live through the grief of great individual losses.
"You do think highly of yourself don't you?" Mary asked, evading his question about Francis and poking fun at his own teasing implication that he was driving her mad on his own merit.
"Only when the situation allows," Gideon replied amiably, "The situation often allows." Mary's eyebrows rose with disbelief at his gall, but her lips twitched in amusement despite herself.
"Any word of your daughter?" Mary asked, changing the subject. It was Gideon's turn to raise his eyebrows in disbelief at the nerve of the question.
"Don't you know? I thought you were intercepting my correspondence," Gideon asked cheekily. She had the good grace to not take offense at his accusation given that she'd clearly said as much in their last conversation.
"So, no, then," Mary answered her own question. He hadn't quite realized that he was hoping her question meant she knew something he didn't until she shattered that hope with her "no." Gideon chewed his lip and studied his hands as a way to compose himself.
"No," Gideon agreed sadly. Though I hold out hope, still, he thought. He watched his ring turn round his finger as he toyed with it contemplatively—a gesture he often started unconsciously in moments when he felt his wife's absence more than usual. Mary caught the movement from the corner of her eye and watched the piece of jewelry spin slowly round the strong finger, his hands broad and masculine. Gentle hands, she noticed. Strong but gentle. Good hands for a father.
"What is she like, your daughter?" Mary found herself asking. She couldn't say why, but there was something about Gideon that made her think he was the kind of father a little girl might be lucky to have. The kind of father a little girl would worship and adore: charming, gentle, clever… loving. At least, she wanted him to be that kind of father; because if he was than he could possibly a good man. Certainly a better man than she had first taken him to be when they'd met.
Gideon cleared his throat. "I don't know. I've never met her, but I hope she is like her mother," his voice caught a little over the anger and remorse that filled him at the admission. Mary turned her whole body to look at him in surprise.
"You've never met her?" she asked incredulously. She'd somehow assumed that he must be close to his daughter if Elizabeth were able to ransom her to guarantee Gideon's unquestioning obedience. It was another insight into his character that he felt so strongly about a child he'd never even met. Gideon shook his head slightly and glanced up at Mary from the tilt of his head as though to remind her that he'd already told her once not to pity him.
"I was imprisoned by Elizabeth before her birth," he informed her with some annoyance disguised with impudence, "Your spies in England must not be very good to not have known that. It's not exactly a well-kept secret." Mary turned away from him again to hide her discomfort at his observation.
She felt that he wanted to drop the subject but she had to know: "What was your crime?" Gideon chuckled and then sighed. Of course Mary would ask. But while his imprisonment itself was no secret, the true reason for it was. As far as everyone but himself, Elizabeth, and Robert Dudley were concerned, Gideon's only crime was service to the late queen, Mary Tudor.
"I offended her sensibilities whilst in the service of Mary Tudor," he said by way of explanation.
"And now she has sent you to offend mine," Mary mused wryly. Gideon bowed his head slightly in acknowledgment. "Do you always serve your queens with such devotion?" Gideon paused before answering, looking at the Scottish queen with a calculating expression, wondering if she was the first person besides his wife to have recognized that in him or if she was mocking him.
"I serve my monarch without question, and will protect them, whoever he or she might be, for the sake of England unto my death," he answered seriously. Mary took a deep breath at the honesty.
"You are a good and loyal subject that any queen would be lucky to have," she noted, wishing that she could command just such loyalty from her own Scottish subjects. At the same time, she realized that, as admirable as his loyalty was, it meant that she could never truly trust him because he would always put his country's interests above her own. Gideon searched Mary's face to gage the sincerity of her compliment. The intimacy of that gaze unnerved her. It was just a look, and yet it felt nearly as intimate as the many times Francis had told her across a room that he loved her with just his eyes. Mary shivered. "I think the night has turned colder than I expected," she said, making her excuses to leave as quickly as she could, "Good night ambassador."
Gideon bowed, but did not say a word as he watched her leave with that same intense gaze that seemed to bore through her clothes to the skin underneath.
Gideon hacked at the cylindrical wooden dummy with a rage that should have shattered the thing; certainly would have shattered a man's bones. Instead, the wood splintered in a way that was not nearly as satisfying as he'd hoped. And yet, it was the only recourse he had short of murdering someone. A recourse that did nothing to change his situation, frustrating him all the more. He was so deep in his anger that he did not see Mary as she made her way down the parapet steps into the practice yard. She paused to watch him. Slicing at the dummy wildly, throwing his whole body into the movements. Francis had been an expert swordsman and Mary had seen him spar with his half-brother Bash and members of the guard on more than one occasion. What Gideon was doing now was nothing like Francis' and Bash's polished movements. This wasn't practice, this was release. It was brutal and inelegant and rekindled her hope that he just might be desperate enough to make her plan work, even as it made her all the warier of him. A man with that kind of rage was a dangerous man.
She remembered the anger that had carried down the hall in his voice when he'd argued with Jeffrey. That small snippet of conversation had been enough to give Mary pause: clearly thwarting the marriage with Spain had not been enough to make Elizabeth to allow Gideon to see his daughter. And as much as she distrusted the man who had clearly been sent with the intent to be a thorn in her side, she had seen the look on his face when thinking about his daughter. There was no doubt that, given the chance, he would be a doting father. That he would do anything to keep his child safe—the last living piece of the wife he had loved. She sympathized, given how angry she was herself over Lola's letter. She could not imagine if it was her child being held hostage rather than her friend.
"Ambassador Gideon," she called from a safe distance. Best not to startle a man swinging a sword. He paused to look over his shoulder at her. "You look like a man working out his frustrations," she observed imperiously, dragging her hand along the wall as she continued her descent, "Perhaps I should take a swing, as we are both frustrated with the same queen." Gideon's jaw twitched, and he turned back to the dummy, his nostrils flaring in anger. Yet another stubborn queen was the last thing he wanted to deal with right now.
"Don't know what you mean," he said, trying not to snarl. He felt her baiting him and was only barely holding onto his self-control. He could not let his anger make things worse by destroying all diplomatic relations.
"Well," Mary said as she exited the steps, "first Elizabeth holds your daughter hostage, and then she keeps changing the price on the little girl's freedom." Gideon took a swing at the dummy, trying to calm himself, before sheathing his sword. "Do you remember how we found your daughter Agatha's letters to you? We found other letters as well," Mary informed him.
"Of course you did," he retorted, there was no point in denying what they both so obviously knew, even discussed openly between them recently, "That's why we change ciphers routinely."
"My cryptographers finally deciphered the letters," she continued. Gideon turned away from her and grabbed a flask of wine to give himself something to do that would help him hold on to the few threads of composure he had left. "Including several from Elizabeth to you," Mary continued in a tone that said she knew full well that she was destroying every last hope for him with her words, "Ordering you to seduce me." For a brief instant Gideon was unable to hide the anger and dismay on his face, but then he laughed it off.
"Your cryptographers are breathing too much of their own ink," he scoffed, "They're imagining things." He took another swig of the wine in his flask. Mary was undaunted. She knew she had him cornered.
"And letters from her to your aide, Jeffrey, ordering him to watch your every move," she said slyly, drawing closer. Gideon didn't bother to hide his anger this time. He'd suspected that Jeffrey was a plant to spy on him but to have that suspicion confirmed did not improve things. God, this day could not get any worse. He just wished she would stop talking and leave him to wallow in his ire. "I can show you, if you need proof, but I don't think you do," said Mary, "If Elizabeth had to ransom your daughter to guarantee that you would obey her, why would she trust you without supervision?"
"Let it go, Mary," he warned through clenched teeth, pulling out his sword and hacking at the dummy with renewed anger. Unseen by him, Mary flinched and her eyes widened briefly with alarm at the way he threw himself into it. For a moment she wondered if it was playing with fire to provoke him this way.
But then she pressed on, "You are angry now because you know that your mission is doomed to fail. Why would I let you seduce me when I know the truth? Elizabeth will keep withholding your daughter." Gideon raised his arms over his head and drove his sword, double handed, as far into the dummy as it would go before spinning around to face her.
"That's enough!" he shouted in warning, "If you're finished." He glared at her with an expression that said, queen or no, if he lost his final thread of self-control she would regret it.
"Unless," she pressed on in her own dark tone, "I decide to let you seduce me." Gideon blinked; all the rage draining out of him in a confused rush. Surely he imagined that. There was no way a woman this intelligent would say what he thought she did. "Because it gets us both what we want," she continued, venturing a step closer to him now that he was no longer desperate to swing a sword.
"What are you talking about?" he asked, genuinely at a loss for what was happening here. He squinted at her as though it might help him see the situation more clearly. It didn't help that she was so beautiful and kept stepping closer while talking about seduction. He suddenly wished he hadn't drunk that wine.
Finally, Mary's nervousness showed through. She took a deep breath and launched into a rushed, excited explanation, "Jeffrey's letters say that he is returning to England soon. Let him bring news to Elizabeth that I am the lonely, brokenhearted queen she thinks I am and that you have seduced me. Convince her that you control me, and you'll have something to bargain with, to force her to let you see Agatha." Her suggestion immediately made sense from his end, but he knew there had to be more to her motives than reuniting him with his daughter.
"You said this would give us both what we want. What does it give you?" he asked.
Mary relaxed a bit at his question, then said with confidence, "You're not the only one Elizabeth has broken promises to. I have few enough weapons at my disposal. I plan to use this one to ensure Elizabeth keeps her promise to me." Gideon tried to read her face. She seemed sincere enough and he couldn't ascertain any outcome from her proposed duplicity that didn't benefit him and his purpose in France.
"Very well," he said finally, "How, exactly, do you plan to convince Jeffrey that I have seduced you?" He took a seat on the bench closest to them and motioned for her to join him. Mary hesitated for a moment, then sat down. Truthfully, she hadn't really thought much farther than convincing him to work with her.
"I thought," Mary suggested uncertainly, "perhaps some love letters would provide good evidence." Gideon nodded, making a mental list of the evidence that Elizabeth would require.
"A reasonable start, but unlikely to be sufficient," he noted. Mary frowned.
"What do you suggest then?"
"Jeffrey needs to be eye-witness to… something," Gideon mused, "Something that might be interpreted as somewhat illicit. Elizabeth has him watching me so that he can personally report what he has seen with his own eyes, verifying that I'm not just telling her what she wants to get my daughter back." Mary nearly popped out of her seat at what he was implying. A part of her had been anticipating collaborating with him again after the success of their thwarting of Don Carlos, but until this moment she hadn't fully realized what that collaboration might entail. Something illicit.
"W-would a kiss be sufficient?" she managed to get out. A kiss she might be able to accomplish, more than that however…
"So long as we could guarantee that Jeffrey saw it," Gideon continued thinking aloud, apparently not noticing Mary's discomfort or choosing to ignore it, "Notes that he could intercept, planning a secret assignation." It struck Mary that Gideon seemed alarmingly well-versed in what was required to make a seduction look convincing.
"This isn't your first seduction, is it?" she asked abruptly. Gideon chewed the inside of his lips and tried not to smile at the mild alarm lacing her voice. He shook his head and dropped his chin to his chest so that he could look at up at her with that piercing gaze of his. Mary was off the bench, spinning to face him. "Oh god," she exclaimed as all the implications of that revelation struck her, "that's why Elizabeth chose you of all people. That's why… oh god! Elizabeth! Did you… is that how you offended her?" Gideon remained silent merely looking up at her, waiting for her to put together what pieces she would; not confirming or denying anything. "No. Don't tell me," Mary concluded, "I will simply take this to mean that you know what you're doing. I will write the letters and set someone to watch Jeffrey to make sure he is in position to witness our 'assignation' as you say." Gideon stood and nodded in agreement.
"Of course," he said. Mary fidgeted, wanting to get away as fast as possible.
"As to the rest," she fumbled, "I leave myself in your experienced hands." Gideon frowned over a smirk, his gaze still piercing as he waited for her to hear the innuendo in what she had just said. Mary blushed, turned on her toes and fled.
When Mary had suggested she write love letters to Gideon as evidence of their affair, she had not fully anticipated the difficulty such a task would present. It was not that she found him physically repulsive, she'd just not given his appearance much thought before. And while she could find things about his character to admire—his devotion to his daughter and country—she did not find these things to be inspiring enough to fill her page with manufactured words of love and longing. Mary stood from her writing desk and paced her room. She needed to write something about Gideon and yet, when she reached for the deepest desires of her heart all she could see was Francis's face and feel the enormous ache he had left there.
But perhaps that was the solution. If she left out his name and too many specifics, maybe she didn't need to write about Gideon. Maybe she could write her letter to Francis, telling him how much she missed him and wished they could be together. Leave out the name and simply send it to Gideon. Mary sat back down at her desk and picked up her quill and began writing, the words flowing pure and true as she let her memories of loving Francis well up from the depths of her soul and spill onto the paper.
My love increases, and will increase more and more
So long as I live; and I will find great happiness
To have, a unique place in your heart,
Where, one day, my love will be revealed
So clearly, that you shall never doubt it.
For you I will strive against despair
For you I will seek out greatness.
And I will do it so much that you will know
That I have no wealth, luck, or happiness,
But to love you truly.
For you I await all good fortune;
For you I will conserve health and life;
For you I desire to grow in courage,
And you will ever find me unchangeable.
For you I have cried many tears:
First, when you made me yours,
Though, at the time you didn't seem to care;
And after, you gave me another burden,
When you bled, and caused me great sorrow and a distress
That almost killed me and I was afraid
I would lose the only strength that armed me.
For you, since, I have hated honor,
The only thing left that brings happiness;
For you, I have risked greatness and my conscience;
For you, I have given up all family and friends,
And set aside all other considerations:
In short, you are the only alliance I seek.
Gideon felt anxious and ridiculous as he knocked on Mary's door. It was such a simple plan; it should not have put him on edge as it did. Mary opened the door and gave him a once over, judging the fit and color of his doublet and pants.
"Mm," she said, giving her approval, "we have to hurry. Juliet is signaling. Jeffrey is in position to watch our secret rendezvous. Has he already seen my love letters to you?" He took a step forward as though to enter the room but she signaled him back with one finger, before grabbing a bottle of wine and goblets from behind the door. Gideon glanced anxiously down both ends of the hall, checking for onlookers.
"He has read them, along with the notes arranging tonight's tryst," he confirmed, allowing her to stack the wine and goblets in his hands. He tried to look her in the eyes for verification. Mary closed the door behind her.
"Good," she said, circling behind him and shoving him down the hall ahead of her, "But this is only going to work if he sees us together. Now hurry." As they made their way out onto the balcony, Mary gave a gasp of concern and grabbed Gideon's arm, having spotted Juliet in the window with a candle, ready to signal when she confirmed Gideon's valet was watching them. An intimate dinner had been set up, and Gideon set the wine on the table before turning to see what she was looking at that had made her gasp.
"Where's Jeffrey?" Gideon demanded, too obviously trying to look in the windows facing the balcony.
"Well, don't look!" Mary chastised, giving him and a little push, "We don't want him to realize that you know he's there. Now sit. We're enjoying a meal together." Gideon did as ordered and immediately began to relax, while Mary arranged the goblets and poured wine. He watched her, taking in her tenseness. Even worked up like this she was beautiful and he saw no reason not to enjoy it, given the situation.
"Shouldn't you, perhaps, be smiling? You're supposed to be enchanted by my company," he teased with a smirk. She gave him a dirty look that seemed to demand he be serious, but it only lent strength to his smile as the situation allowed for his statement to actually be serious. The irony was too good for him not to enjoy it.
"I think I'm doing pretty well for a queen who used to rule two realms and is now barely holding onto one," she said defensively.
"Huh," he grunted noncommittally, popping a grape into his mouth with a casual gesture. He didn't want to burst her bubble on whether or not she was doing well. It all depended on perspective.
"A queen who," she expounded, while he chewed, "is reduced to playacting for someone else's servant to convince him that she's lost her foolish heart to a spy and a fraud." Gideon did not miss the insult to himself, rolling his eyes slightly. He was also not fooled. She was absolutely terrified right now. Playacting was not exactly her forte, he noted. And she was going to have to kiss him. The last man she'd kissed was the love of her life, who'd died in her arms. Gideon reached up and took her hand, rising from his seat as he did so.
"If only for Jeffrey," he said, guiding her to sit down across from him, "but also for you, Mary, sit down and breathe." She eyed him guardedly. His touch was gentle but firm, and oddly reassuring at the same time that it made her pulse quicken. She'd not properly appreciated before how deep and husky his voice was. But in the intimacy of the moment she heard it, and allowed herself to resentfully be seated. "It's going to be alright," he assured her, his expressive brown eyes willing her to trust him, "I'll get my daughter, and Lola will be released. If not this way, we'll find another." His look and his words promised that they were in this together and they would find a way—together.
"I do want to believe you," she confessed quietly, surprising him slightly, though he could feel her hesitancy, "But so many things have been going wrong lately. For me, for my country... I just don't know if I trust my own fate anymore. I don't know..." Mary cut short with a gasp as rain suddenly started coming down. Gideon looked up at the sky and chuckled.
"You have to admit, your fate has a sense of humor," he said, smiling wryly. Mary frowned at him and sighed, throwing her napkin on the table in disgust.
"We have to get inside," she said, sounding slightly frantic.
"Right," he agreed, as the rain came down harder, starting to drench them both.
"Bring the wine!" she cried, picking up her skirts and running inside. He grabbed the wine as directed and quickly followed after her, making their way back to her room. "We have to get to a window," she said as they entered the room, her tone a mixture of panic and annoyance, "He'll be able to see us from there." Gideon set down the wine. He was drenched to the bone, but before he could shake off any of the water, Mary was grabbing his shirt and dragging him toward the window seat. "We should get to the kiss quickly before the building collapses under the weight of my misfortune," she said in a rapid string of words that he couldn't seem to interrupt long enough to calm her down. He took her arm, trying to slow her.
"Shall we sit at this window seat?" he suggested reasonably. He was considerably calmer than she at the moment. But then, it wasn't him that this evening seemed to be falling apart for.
"Yes, but you've got to be in the right position..." she said, still speaking way too quickly and attempting to forcibly place him where he needed to be. Only she miscalculated and in her anxiety did not hear his warning as she shoved him toward the window seat.
"Ooof! Mary!" was all he got out as he tripped backward into the seat, landing on a pillow that promptly burst open, spilling out gold coins. Mary gasped, clapping a hand over her mouth. Gideon's mouth fell open in shock, looking up at Mary with wide eyes.
"Is this yours?" he asked, standing up. Mary shook her head, terrified. It wasn't hers, but she could guess whose it was and who hid it there. "No, you wouldn't have told me to sit here if so," he reasoned, looking back at the gold, his quick mind working through the possibilities and implications, "Do you know who would've d—" He didn't get to finish that thought, because when he turned back to her she cut him off with her mouth on his. A tiny "mm!" of surprise escaped him as they both pulled back. He blinked at her in shock, his mind gone blank of anything but her mouth. They were both panting, whether from the excitement of the rain and the gold and the intrigue, or from the kiss itself was hard to say. Mary stared at his lips. Had she really just done that? More importantly, why was she thinking about doing it again?
"Do you think that was enough to convince him?" she asked, dragging her gaze from his mouth to his eyes. Those brown eyes that looked her in surprise, longing, and a little bit of terror as he struggled to figure out what was happening. He looked younger like that: wet and in shock. She wondered if he had always been this handsome, with his brown curls plastered to his head with rain. Gideon strained desperately to remember who they were trying to convince. Himself? Yes. He was convinced. What of, didn't matter. He was too distracted by her full parted lips to care. He should care. She had asked him a question and he needed to answer.
"Um..." he said shakily, trying to read her face. Trying to read what she wanted. He knew that he wanted more. She gave him a skeptical look. And suddenly he remembered that it was Jeffrey they were supposed to convince, and kissing her again was a simple matter of saying…
"No," they said at the same time.
"Maybe..." he began.
"More," she finished for him, at the same time realizing her hands were still tangled in the lapels of shirt. She smoothed her fingers over his chest as it rose and fell with his excited breaths, her gaze flickering back and forth between the opening of his shirt and his face. He felt firmer and more defined under the fabric than she expected.
"More," he agreed, nodding with perhaps too much eagerness.
"Um... Less impulsive," she considered, her voice stumbling as she listed the attributes required to convince Jeffrey.
"Mm-mm," he agreed, fairly trembling with anticipation. It had been much too long since he had kissed a beautiful woman.
"Um. More deliberate. I will instigate to show that I've f-fallen for you..." she stuttered, waving one hand to fill in the gaps where the words were failing. Failing over the fear that they might be true. He nodded encouragingly. "Um..." she paused shakily, running out of things to say that would stall this thing that she couldn't admit she wanted for her own sake and not Jeffrey's. She gulped once then took a step closer, awkwardly trying to move her arm out of the way and then not sure where to put it. She placed it back on his chest and he waited as she leaned into him, meeting her partway. Their lips met softly this time. His head tilting down as hers tilted up, theirs eyes closed, his mouth pressing gently into the soft luxuriousness of her lips. Her lips gave way under the pressure, opening slightly to taste the sweetness of the grapes still on his breath. He kissed her tenderly and she responded in kind. His lips were cool with rain at first, warming quickly at the contact. Lost in the connection, his hand drifted up to her neck, gradually sliding into the wet black hair that stuck to it, his thumb grazing her jaw. The light touch of his fingertips grazing her skin and caressing the hair at the base of her neck made her belly flutter and twist. She was almost equally lost, drawing out the single kiss with the movement of her lips. For a moment the world fell away for them, and it was only as they pulled apart, eyes opening slowly and reluctantly, that it began to creep back in on them.
"Uh..." Mary whispered shakily. Gideon looked at her with half-lidded eyes and an open mouth, as though he were still frozen in the moment. His hand even now hovering near her neck before slowly, unwillingly falling away. He looked and felt half-awake, wondering if he was dreaming and reluctant to wake up from it. Mary's mouth opened and closed several times before the words came back to her. She pulled herself together suddenly.
"Well done," she said with forced brightness, patting his chest in a congratulatory fashion before grabbing his shirt and yanking him in the direction of the door. Gideon stumbled forward, dazedly looking back at the spot where they had just stood and where the gold still lay spilled over the floor. "All right," Mary was saying cheerfully, pushing the silently shell-shocked man toward the door, "Elizabeth will hear of this, and she will know it was a success. You've seduced me, you've won my heart. And, uh, well, then!" He turned back as she pushed him into the hall, wanting to talk to her. Knowing he should ask about the gold. But he never got the words out, his voice still lost in the kiss, his mouth hanging open silently as she shut the door in his face. Mary, pressed her back to the closed door and tried to catch her breath. Had that really just happened?
In the hallway Gideon strove to understand what just transpired. He considered knocking on the door but thought better of it. What would he say? Excuse me Queen Mary, but why in hell do you have gold hidden in your pillows and can we kiss some more? I thoroughly enjoyed it. Or better yet, I am concerned the gold in your room is evidence of some foul play—I don't suspect you though. Also, I don't think Jeffrey's convinced. Perhaps we'd best remove some clothing. No. Going back in that room would make him a complete imbecile. He took a few steps down the hall, then turned and walked back to the door. His hand was already poised to knock on it before he realized what he was doing. Good God! What was wrong with him?! Gideon clasped his errant hand behind his head to control it and walked away so quickly it was almost running.
Gideon picked up the doll from the peddler's cart and ran his hand over the hair gently. He wondered if Agatha would like it. He assumed she was still young enough to play with dolls. But who really knew? It had been so long since he'd seen her.
"Shopping for toys for your daughter, are you?" Mary's cautiously optimistic voice cut in on him, causing him to visibly jump, sidling away from her slightly. Their staged rendezvous was still very fresh in his mind. He made an effort to look her in the eye. "Have you heard something from England?" she asked. He cleared his throat and placed the doll back on the cart.
"Well, the queen is happy, yes. Seems Jeffrey reported our..." he paused awkwardly, nodding meaningfully at her, "evening together."
"Oh," she said, suddenly developing a deep interest in something—anything—on the cart.
He pushed on, moving past the thing that was now looming between them, "Now Elizabeth's considering dates when I might be allowed to travel home." He gave a perfunctory nod of acknowledgement for the roll she played in that, but his smile was more of a grimace. Mary gasped in delight.
"Gideon, that's wonderful news, isn't it?" she asked, trying to sound encouraging, unable to understand the cloud of gloom that continued to hang over him, "You'll be able to see your daughter again. And you can help my friend Lady Lola." His words came back more biting than he meant to, but his frustration made it hard to speak otherwise.
"'Considering,' Elizabeth says. I 'might be' allowed to come home," he said bitterly, shaking his head to say the that he knew better, "These are the same vague promises I've heard for years." Mary tried to understand.
"So she acts as though she's keeping her promise just by admitting she made one," she observed. Gideon grunted in confirmation. "How many lies and deceits does she expect people to accept?" asked Mary in disgusted incredulity. Gideon looked up from the goods on the cart, his expression alarmingly similar the one he had worn hacking away at the dummy in the practice yard.
"In my case, not many more," he growled in confession, "I'm at my limit, Mary. If I don't see my daughter soon, I feel I may lose my mind." She believed him. He seemed on the verge of madness when it came to being kept from his daughter, and if he were pushed too far… it was hard to know what he would be capable of. She wanted to reach a hand to his arm and comfort him, but his demeanor frightened her too much to act on the desire and he stormed off before she could work up the courage.
Mary swept onto the balcony in a wave optimism, surprising Gideon as he sat moodily looking at the stars and drinking wine from a goblet. He was too relaxed to stand at her entrance, leaning back in his chair with his shirt untied at the throat and his vest hanging open. Besides, they were beyond that kind of formality now.
"Oh, I thought I might find you here," she said cheerily, "Thanking your lucky stars?" His forehead creased as he looked up at her in curiosity.
"Thanking them for what?" He asked.
"You haven't heard?" She seemed surprised at his ignorance, but thrilled to be the one to share the news, "I got the news in a letter from Lola today. Elizabeth is keeping her word. Your daughter is coming here. Agatha's coming to France!" Gideon leaped from his chair. Wine sloshed from the goblet, spilling down the front of his shirt. Gideon stopped and looked down.
"Oh," Mary smiled in amusement at the result of his exuberance, pulling out a handkerchief and pressing it into the front of his shirt and the hard muscles beneath it. Her touch made his stomach squeeze. She was so close and the torchlight warmed the outline of her face. It wasn't just that she was beautiful and she was close, she had helped him get his daughter back because she wanted to. He didn't stop to think about it. In one quick movement he slipped his hand behind her head and pulled her face to his. And she kissed him back. At first. She couldn't help it, caught up in the moment as much as he was. But an instant later she had pushed him away, her mouth open in alarm. He looked at her curiously.
"Gideon," she said firmly, "no, we can't." He was instantly contrite. Squeezing his eyes shut over the embarrassment of his error.
"I'm sorry," he began, "I just..." He wanted to say it was an impulse. Too much wine. The excitement of the good news. His gratitude for her help. It didn't mean anything, please ignore it. But she cut him off before any of that could come out.
"We might be friends, but our countries are still enemies," she reasoned. Willing him with her eyes to understand how important this was.
"Mmm-hmm," he acknowledged, dropping his gaze in appropriate humility.
"It's one thing to pretend," she babbled on, her tone turning pleading at the end, "but to let this be real..." She stopped suddenly. He looked up in time to see the horror on her face as she realized what she'd just said. Let this be real. Because if she didn't stop herself, that's exactly what it would be. She had told him before that love was not an option for her as a queen, but that he was right in guessing that she wished for it anyway. And she had now just as good as admitted that a part of her wished for it with him. One corner of his mouth curled upward in a smile. That smile terrified her, because it meant that he saw right through her and knew exactly what she wanted. Mary clamped her jaw shut tightly and made a stiff turn to flee the balcony.
"Mary," Gideon said her name like a gentle reproach, his deep voice making her breath catch and causing her to turn around and look back at him. He didn't say anything more. He didn't need to. As she gazed at him he raised his eyebrows in question, clearly asking the very thing she dreaded: Is that really what you want? Because I am willing to try if you are. Mary softened, a sadness and defeat stealing over her countenance. She shook her head slowly.
"No," she said again, more resolved than ever. Then fled the balcony. Gideon stared after her smiling to himself through his disappointment at her departure. For a terrifying moment, he had thought he'd ruined everything with that kiss; but then her face as she'd babbled her way into a confession of her feelings had changed everything in an instant. She wanted him. Despite herself; despite what she knew of his orders: she wanted him as he wanted her.