Courting and Curling

The chill hit Julia as soon as she entered the building. She took in the wood-panelled room and slick floor, immediately understanding why William had promised her a day of unconventional courting. She felt sure that none of her friends had been treated to a private curling class by their sweethearts.

Turning to the man in question, she noted the slight trepidation on his features. Rushing to put him at ease, she grinned, her tongue peeking out between her teeth to show her uninhibited delight. Exhaling, her breath spiralled before her in white plumes, and she shivered.

"Here," he drew a neatly wrapped box from the bag he held, "you might need these." He pressed it into her hands, a hint of a smile on his features.

"William?" she questioned, her tone taking on the happy surprise of receiving an unexpected gift.

Opening the box revealed a pair of gloves and a scarf in the softest, ultramarine wool. In a display of affection that she was only beginning to become accustomed to from him, William wrapped the scarf around her himself, brushing her chin as he adjusted it to settle around her jaw. He even took a moment to touch one of the soft curls framing her face. Stepping back to take in the full picture, he was gratified to see that the colour did indeed compliment Julia's blue eyes and blond hair as he had hoped (he was not going to tell her just how long he had spent dithering in front of the overwhelming selection in Eton's). The fact that his gifts paired nicely with Julia's dusky grey jacket was an added bonus.

"Come along." He took her gloved hand in his and led her across to one of the wooden benches lining the iced lane, which was called the curling sheet, as William informed her. The floor they walked across was thankfully plain wood, rather than the slick surface for curling, so Julia's shoes clipped across the surface, while William's elicited the occasional squeak. "We have the place to ourselves for the whole morning, so we have plenty of time to practise."

While he attached the novel, silver-coloured sole to his shoes, he explained the properties of the material and how it would benefit gameplay. She sat on the wooden bench to watch him, nodding along to his words. She'd heard it before, yet she was loath to interrupt him. His excitement was endearing, and she knew that it was not often that he found an audience receptive to his interest in technology and science. Indeed, the inspector was often dismissive of her and William when they fell into a passionate discussion of such subjects.

"First, Julia, you must start in the hack." He knelt to demonstrate, and despite her previous attention, everything began to fade away.

William down on bended knee… At first, she felt a stab of sadness as she recalled the previous time he had knelt before her, and how she had rejected him, fleeing in tears of remorse and fear. Yet soon, she was overtaken by a thrill of anticipation. They were truly free to marry! No more James Gillies or Leslie Garland to torment them. She fought a smile. Surely it would not be much longer before he asked her again. She only had to wait, impatient though she was.

"Julia… Julia?"

Her name penetrated her musings, and she refocused on William, feeling a little sorry upon seeing his disgruntled impression. "I apologise, William; my mind was elsewhere. Please, do show me again."

He acquiesced, and this time she focused as he drew back his arm holding the stone, and slid forward a considerable distance before letting go. The rock stopped short of the target, but Julia clapped enthusiastically, nevertheless. "Brilliant, William! Look how far you slid. Your invention is truly fantastic!"

She expected him to be pleased with her complements, yet his expression told a different story. He grimaced, rubbing a hand over his face.

"William? Surely you cannot deny how ground-breaking this is for the sport. Imagine how many players will use your innovation in the future!"

He sighed as he walked back to her. "No, I'm not denying that. I only wish that someone else was using them."

"Someone other than Leslie Garland," she supplied.

"He had me fooled."

She shook her head. "He had us all fooled. However, there are many more people who will benefit. When the Canadian curling team triumphs in the Nordic Games, I'll know that we have the brilliant Detective William Murdoch to thank for it. And I will tell everyone how very proud I am of you."

Thankfully, he appeared to brighten. The smile that he tugged at his lips was an endearing mixture of pleasure, pride and embarrassment. Not knowing what to do with such praise, he turned to pull the spare carbon-free chromium sole from his bag. "Please put this on. Then you can try for yourself."

"I will." She took it from him and then stepped back. "But please turn around for a minute."

He shot her an odd expression, but did as she bid, facing the opposite direction. His brow creased further as he heard the rustle of clothing.

Julia quickly shimmied out of her skirts to reveal the trousers that had been previously hidden by the voluminous fabric. It was liberating, her legs unencumbered by heavy, tangling cotton and lace. Clad in only trousers, she could move her legs to almost their full physical range. "You may turn around now."

He turned. His eyebrows shot up when he took in her attire. It was certainly less scandalous than her antics on the beach, not to mention the nudist colony, but was still scandalous, nevertheless. Still, she would not be Julia Ogden if she did not push the boundaries of what society deemed proper. And he had to admit, seeing her skirts pooled on the floor, he could not imagine doing half of his daily activities hampered by such clothing. Not an uncommon occurrence, he developed a new-found respect for the woman before him.

As she bent to fit the sole, he was satisfied when he saw that she had followed his instructions to wear flat shoes.

"Be careful, Julia," he warned as she made to step onto the long and narrow curling sheet. "The floor is extremely slick."

She nodded, yet had not anticipated quite how slippery it would be. Her foot shot out from under her. She grabbed at William's forearms with a giggled yelp. He immediately grasped her elbows, steadying her.

Her fingers dug into his arms, feeling only the strength of taught muscle tensed to support her. Her own leg muscles worked to stop her feet slipping and sliding on the icy floor. "Oh my!" She giggled again.

William grinned in return; he would give anything to elicit her carefree laughter, one of his favourite sounds.

Once balanced, she gently shook him off and walked, albeit gingerly, out to the hack unassisted, determined to prove that she could hold her own. If William could mange it without falling, why couldn't she?

Made of granite, the stone she grasped was weighty in her hand, pulling her off balance. This resulted in her first attempt sending the stone wide, missing the target completely. She gained more control the second time, yet it still took on a spin, curving midway down the lane. And she had also only managed to slide half the distance that William had travelled.

"Try again," he urged calmly. "Try to ensure that the whole movement is one fluid motion." He pantomimed the movement for her. "Let the weight of the rock and the momentum of your arm carry you forward."

Jaw set and lips thinned in concentration, she followed his instructions. The release was much smoother, so much so that with the further distance she slid, the power she put behind the rock was so great that it overshot the target, hitting the wall the other end with a sharp smack.

Still, William was patient and encouraging. "Just a little less force next time."

She knelt, rock held in gloved hand. She drew back her arm then slid forward, her arm moving fluidly past her side, the rock making smooth contact with the floor and she released. They both held their breaths. The rock slid straight down the centre of the lane. Gradually, it slowed, and slowed, passing the outer ring. It slowed further, gliding over the middle rings. Inching forward, it stopped in the very centre.

Now standing, she turned towards him, her smile only growing wider at the pride on his face. A second later, they flung their arms around each other, both inexplicably joyful at the success of sliding a rock into the middle of a circle.

"Please teach me how to sweep, William." Despite her success, Julia was not one to rest at her first triumph.

He nodded, yet cautioned. "I don't have any experience, but from watching the men, I believe that the friction caused by the brush heats and melts the ice."

"So that the rock can move faster as it is experiencing less friction," she added.

"Exactly! So, if you think you want the rock to be carried further, you sweep faster. And if you think you may overshoot the target, you sweep less."

"And you mustn't touch the rock with your broom." Julia recalled William's recount of George's unfortunate loss to Leslie Garland.

"Precisely." He could not help but be inordinately pleased that Julia demonstrated once again that they shared an affinity for science. "It's called 'burning the rock', I believe."

Neither having much experience, their endeavours at sweeping were much less successful. Still, they tried their best, laughing merrily as they did so. With both of them holding jobs that demanded uttermost professionalism, and with society always looking to condemn unsuitable behaviour (perhaps more for William and Julia, given their recent notoriety brought about by their affair and connection to Darcy's murder), the ability to be alone and freely express themselves was liberating. Julia did not think she had ever seen William so uninhibited and unbuttoned. Unbuttoned, both figuratively and literally, for he had discarded his jacket, loosened his shirt collar and rolled up its sleeves in response to the heat that their physical activities had wrought.

"William, I have had such a delightful morning, but I must say that I am keen to go somewhere a little warmer." They stepped outside and she basked in the bright warmth of the Toronto streets. She was back in her skirts. Her bundled trousers had been placed in William's bag, with only a hint of embarrassment from the detective. "And all that activity has made me quite famished

"Well then," he offered his arm, "might I interest you in a spot of lunch?"

She smiled serenely and squeezed close, not yet ready to fully return to the propriety that society demanded. "That sounds like a fine idea."

A/N: This is for ChibiDawn23 who, after reading my previous story, suggested a curling date.

As this story is pretty much pure fluff, I decided to try and improve my written descriptions. It's not quite there, but I'll keep practising!

If you look at the 'Curling' page on Wikipedia, there's a photo of men curling in Toronto in 1909. The man on the left looks a little like our Murdoch. :)

Thank you for reading! :)