A/N: This isn't much, but I hope you'll like it.
Anywhere But Here
Clarisse cupped her bottom lip to the rim of the porcelain coffee mug and blew gentle ripples in the steaming caramel-colored liquid before taking a small, careful sip. Joseph's coffee remained untouched on the table as he studied his Queen intently. She was unusually silent today, but he knew the reason why and would not press her to discuss it. Still, he longed to pull her into his arms and comfort her... but that, he reminded himself, would be entirely inappropriate.
"Today would have been my anniversary," Clarisse spoke softly at last.
Joseph nodded slowly but did not meet her eyes. He found it strange that she should say "my anniversary" instead of "our anniversary," in reference to King Rupert, because knowing Clarisse's way of carefully choosing her words, he sensed that there was an intended meaning there. His eyes searched her face, and his heart panged at the unmasked sadness she held there.
Joseph got to his feet suddenly, unintentionally startling Clarisse somewhat.
"Come with me," he said, extending a hand out to her.
She hesitated for just a moment before placing her hand in his, delighting in the tingle from the contrast of her cool skin wrapped in his warmth.
"Where are we going?" she questioned as she rose from her chair.
"For a ride," he replied simply, leading her outside.
Clarisse felt in a daze as Joseph opened the passenger door of his own car and helped her inside. Even after all these years, the complete and unconditional trust she had in this man still took her aback, as she knew that she would follow him anywhere.
He smiled at her as he got into the driver's seat.
"Are you ready?" he asked.
She nodded, though not entirely certain of what she was agreeing to.
After he had let the convertible top down and pulled out onto the road, Joseph turned on some soft music on the radio, knowing how Clarisse had always found music to be particularly soothing.
"Are you ever going to tell me where we're going?" she asked.
He gave a grin and a half shrug.
"Anywhere you want," he replied.
"Anywhere but the castle," she requested, sighing.
"That's the plan," he assured her with a wink.
"How do you always seem to know what I need?"
Joseph chuckled but did not reply; it would likely be in his best interest not to tell her that he knew her so well because he paid attention to every tiny thing about her, not because it was his job to do so, but because he truly cared so deeply for her...
Clarisse noted Joseph's avoidance of her question, but she did not push for a response.
"It's such a beautiful day," she commented, closing her eyes and relishing in the feel of the breeze caressing her face and tossing her hair.
The melodic sound of her laughter was even sweeter than the sultry tunes played over the radio. Joseph had not anticipated how difficult it would be to keep his eyes focused on the road with Clarisse sitting so near to him. Her beauty was a distraction begging for his attention, especially as her face was lit so brightly with the bliss of newfound freedom.
Clarisse fell silent for a few moments, and just as Joseph was about to ask if she was all right, she leaned over and rested her head on his shoulder. His breath bated and his grip on the steering wheel tightened at the increased nearness of her and the feel of her soft hair wisping against his cheek. She sighed happily as she relaxed against him and breathed in his warm, masculine scent.
"I don't want to go back yet," she spoke quietly.
"Then we don't have to," Joseph answered.
"Really?" she asked, lifting her head from his shoulder only briefly.
"Really," he replied with a smile. "We can drive as long as you want."
She didn't tell him that she didn't expect that his car could drive as many miles as she would want just to be able to spend more time with him, but it was certainly on her mind.
He was getting used to the gentle weight of her head on his shoulder, and he wasn't looking forward to missing it.
It almost felt strange to be spending her would-be anniversary this way, yet with Joseph, it felt so right. This was better than spending the day in miserable emptiness, after all...
"Do we ever have to go back?" Clarisse asked jokingly, eliciting a chuckle out of Joseph.
"Eventually," he said. "But not yet."
"Good," she whispered, the warmth of her soft breath ticking the sensitive flesh of his neck. Again she raised her head from his shoulder, and he nearly inwardly cringed from the loss until he felt her tender lips press sweetly against his cheek and he was certain that his heart had skipped a beat. "Let's take our time... I'm in no hurry."