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The service ended.
Clarisse had given a beautiful eulogy and presented the posthumous medal of valor. Archbishop Montague had officiated the service and now escorted the Queen out of the church to the waiting limousine.
She took a deep breath and paused to let her eyes adjust to the bright sunshine before allowing the Archbishop to lead her down the steps of the cathedral to the waiting car.
"Want to come with me Michael?" she asked him quietly.
"Are you going back to the palace, my dear?"
"No. The airport."
He raised an eyebrow in question.
She tried unsuccessfully to keep the excitement out of her voice. "I'm meeting Joseph's plane. He's finally well enough to come home."
"Thank God," Michael said fervently. "You go without me, Clarisse. I would only be in the way."
"In the way? Of course you wouldn't be in the way!"
Michael smiled and paused at the open car door. "Clarisse, what would be the point? Neither of you would ever even know I was there!" She tried to protest, but he merely winked at her and shut the car door.
The limo slid almost silently into place on the tarmac. Clarisse hoped no one had followed her as she left the church, but no such luck. She could see the photographers inside the terminal. Lenses pressed against the glass walls, focusing on where her private jet would land.
Clarisse waited rather impatiently. She had the privacy barrier up between her compartment and the driver. Finally the intercom buzzed. "Genovia One is making its final approach, Your Majesty."
"Thank you, Adam. I will remain here. Can you see that Joseph joins me without any trouble?"
She cursed silently as she eyed the press corps again. What she really wanted was to race up the stairs and greet Joseph the moment the door opened. But she knew the enthusiastic greeting she'd like to give him would look less than regal when flashed across the evening news. She would let him come to her.
And he finally did. She watched as Joseph made his way carefully down the stairs, disdaining the help of one of the stewards who followed alongside. His arm was in a sling and Clarisse knew he still had stitches in the skin above his right ear. He walked gingerly, but under his own power.
Finally the door of the limo opened and he carefully twisted his way into the car. He caught her eye and grinned broadly. "Hello." was all he said. She waited until the door was closed behind him before she spoke.
"Oh, Joseph." Her voice caught in her throat. "How are you feeling? Was the plane comfortable enough for you?" she added a little breathlessly.
He looked at her somewhat quizzically. "I'm fine. A little sore, certainly, but much better now that I'm here."
"Well, that's good. I've talked to Edward and he's arranging for all your favorite foods – the doctor said you could eat whatever you wish – and Charlotte has arranged for the doctor to see you later today – he said he could provide whatever care you needed at the palace…" she stopped in mid-sentence as Joseph started to laugh.
"I'm babbling, aren't I?" she grinned ruefully.
"I've never known you to babble, but yes, that is exactly what you're doing." He smiled at her.
"I'm sorry," she looked down at her hands clasped in her lap. "I just never… I thought I was going to go crazy waiting for you to come home. I needed to be here this week – I owed that to Marcus and his family – but I could hardly bear to leave you in that hospital."
He started to speak, to reassure her that everything was fine. She didn't let him. "Joseph, you are the most amazing man I've ever known. You almost died for me. I can't comprehend that – it makes me feel so humble and so unworthy. I've always loved you, but facing the possibility that you might die made me realize I can't live without you. I owe you my life, Joseph."
"Clarisse," Joseph said softly. He reached over and took her hands in his. "I'm fine. Really. You don't owe me anything. I am your bodyguard – it's my job to keep you safe and alive. But you should understand this; my actions are never predicated solely on what is and isn't my job. I do what I do because I love you. It's as simple as that."
She started to speak and it was his turn to silence her. "I also know things really aren't as simple as that. I really do understand. I'm only asking for one thing. When the time is right – right for you, for me and for this country – promise me we can be together. That is all I ask."
She looked at him for a moment, then wrapped her arms around his neck. He met her lips softly. Then he pulled her against him, taking complete possession of her mouth. She gave herself over to the kiss, her body making the promise that his heart desired.
He chuckled. "I guess I still have to take it easy." He wrapped his good arm around her shoulders and she snuggled up against him. "So what are we going to do once we get home? Play chess?"
That evening Edward decided to deliver Joseph's dinner tray himself. He wanted a chance to welcome his friend home. He was astounded by everything that had happened since they last ate together.
He carried the tray up to Joseph's room and knocked on the door. There was no answer, so he hoisted the tray with one arm and opened the door. He called Joseph's name and stepped inside the room. All he heard was music.
It was Marvin Gaye singing a slow, smoky love song.
Edward set the dinner tray on the coffee table in the sitting room. Joseph was probably asleep or just lying around day-dreaming to the music. Either that, or more likely, he was reviewing the security logs for the past few weeks that he'd been gone. Joe could be such a workaholic sometimes, Edward thought. He finished setting up dinner and still no sign of Joseph. The bedroom door was open just a bit, so he decided to peek in and make sure everything was ok before leaving.
He raised his hand to knock, but froze as his eye caught movement inside the room. Joseph was dancing. And he certainly wasn't alone.
Edward had seen the two of them dance together before, several times. He always thought they were beautiful to watch together – so fluid, so perfectly in step.
This was different.
He knew he should leave. He knew he shouldn't watch. But he couldn't tear his eyes away from them. They moved like one person. Their dance made the music almost visible - tangible. Edward watched them sway and turn, twirl and touch. He could tell Joseph was moving carefully and that she was conscious not to hurt him. But that didn't stop their dance from being one of the most sultry Edward had ever seen.
The music stopped. Joseph leaned forward and whispered something into Clarisse's ear. Her throaty laugh was her only response. Then she took his face in her hands, and never taking her eyes from his, she kissed him. Deeply. Sensually.
That finally shook Ed from his trance-like immobility. He quietly moved away from the door and abandoned the dinner tray. Joseph would find it sooner or later.
From the looks of that kiss, probably much later.