This is a WIP and is so far pure fluff. Angst may appear in later chapters, as may porn - you never know how these things might work out. In case you fancied a soundtrack with your fic, the first piece of music James' plays is this wwwdotyoutubedotcom/watch?v=pSv0vC1vUbA&feature=fvst and the record they put on a bit later is this wwwdotyoutubedotcom/watch?v=Miwejo0mgok
The cup rattled in the saucer as James set her tea down on the desk in front of her. Helen raised her head and gave him a small smile which he returned tenderly. The way his eyes crinkled at the corners made a warm feeling take up residence in her stomach and Helen placed her pen down flat on top of the desk and watched as he ambled back towards the tea trolley in the bay. James cradled a saucer in his hand and inhaled the aroma for a long moment before taking a slow slurping sip and gazing out of the rain streaked window with a contented sigh. Outside, a bare branch swayed back and forth against the endless grey of the sky and in the silence Helen could make out the vague groan of the wind.
It had been raining all day and most of yesterday as well and the ground had been unbearably soggy when they had attempted to take their morning stroll. As Helen watched him now, his back ramrod straight despite the familiarity of her company, she could not help but grin at the memory of how they had clung to each other as they attempted to navigate their way down a particularly slippery bank. She had grass stains on her skirt she was sure would never come out but she did not mind. Despite the inclemency of the weather and the chilly air that lingered in the long halls, she felt somehow at peace in this crooked old country house and considered perhaps that if they locked themselves away here forever they might escape all the woes that awaited them in the city.
A log snapped and crackled in the hearth and disrupted her reverie. Helen rose from the desk and crossed the room to stand before the fire, poking at the cinders for longer than was strictly necessary.
"Everything alright Helen?" James enquired in a soft voice.
"Perfectly darling," she told him with a smile. James drained his teacup and set it down on the trolley and made his way slowly towards her. As he approached he cupped her elbow in one hand and gently plucked the poker from her fingers.
"Are you cold?" he murmured, nuzzling her cheek with his nose and Helen turned into his embrace.
"Not particularly," she replied. "Just...had enough of writing for this afternoon."
"Hmm," James answered and pulled her closer to kiss her softly on the lips. She indulged him happily, squeezing his shoulder firmly as the bristles of his bear scratched her cheek.
"Play something for me," Helen asked quietly, resting her forehead against his and peering into his eyes.
"For you, anything," James whispered and gave her a conspiratorial wink before he stooped down to hang the poker on the rack. Helen watched his retreating form as he crossed the room and lifted the lid on the baby grand in the corner. "Schubert darling?"
"Of course," Helen replied with a grin and James shook his head mildly as he cracked his knuckles.
"You and your obsession with Schubert, Helen," he chided playfully even as he began to play.
"My obsession? You are the one who can play all his pieces from memory!" she retorted and James grinned at her.
"My dear heart, only because you ask me to," he replied and Helen shook her head as she began to amble along beside the bookcase, absently running her fingertips across the spines of the books as she passed.
"I am not averse to Liszt," she told him. "Or Chopin for that matter."
"Hmmm," James replied, only half listening as he began to get lost in playing.
"I think..." Helen said, gliding closer and placing a hand on his shoulder. James met her eyes as he played and she grinned. "...that you do not find Schubert as wearisome as you pretend." James chuckled at her and swayed as his hands ran up and down across the keyboard. Helen stood close behind him and stroked her hand across his neck as he played.
Outside the wind gusted hard, driving a sheet of rain against the windowpane and Helen slipped out from behind the piano to gaze through the glass. James peered at her across the top of the piano as she stood, admiring the elegance of her profile as she pressed her palms against the windowframe and her breath misted against the glass. The piece he was playing came to an end and Helen turned, her skin squeaking where it was pressed against the window.
"Do carry on, darling," she implored. James could not refuse and began another piece. As he played, Helen moved towards the tea trolley and lifted the lid off the pot, wrinkling her nose at the contents for a moment before letting out a sigh.
"I thought you liked darjeeling?" James offered.
"I do," she replied a touch absently, replacing the lid on the pot and poking her finger into the as yet untouched almond tart on the tray beside it.
"What's the matter Helen?" James asked as she sloped back towards the fireplace. She did not respond, merely dropped another log onto the grate instead. "Darling?"
"Nothing, James," she told him. "Nothing is the matter at all. In fact..."she hesitated and raised her head to meet his eyes. "Everything is really rather perfect."
"I must say, darling," James breathed contentedly as he reached a particularly dreamlike portion of the piece he was playing. "I think you might be right."
Helen sat slowly on a chaise in front of the hearth and began to unlace her boots, wiggling her toes as they were freed from the confines of the stiff leather. When the boots were off, she turned and raised her feet onto the cushions beside her and pretended not to notice as James' eyes were drawn to her ankles. She suppressed a chuckle and began to unpin the braids on the back of her head.
"I was thinking," she began, digging her fingers into her hair and loosening the plaits so that it tumbled down wildly over her shoulder.
"What were you thinking?" James enquired from his spot across the room.
"I was thinking we ought to let the poor housekeeper go home before it gets dark. It is so terribly fierce out there, I imagine that if we keep the poor soul any later this evening she should never find her way home at all."
"Hmmm," James responded with a quirk of his brow, watching as Helen loosened the frill of her lace cravatte. "And what about supper? You are not particularly adept with a frying pan my dear," he teased and Helen threw a cushion at him.
"I am adept enough to beat you about the head with it Doctor Watson," she chuffed, pressing her chin against the back of the chaise and glaring at him in mock indignance.
"Very well," he sighed. "If it will preserve me from your abuse." Helen shook her head at him and flopped back against the cushions as the music ceased and a chuckling James slipped from the room.
When he returned a little while later he found Helen sitting on the floor beneath the Victrola, rifling through a box of records.
"There seems to be a glut of Caruso," she told him mournfully as he trotted up to the window to watch as the housekeeper disappeared down the drive, weaving from side to side across the path as the wind drove across the vale.
"I thought you liked opera," he murmured, waiting till the woman was out of sight before turning across the room to join Helen.
"I do but it's a little more maudlin than I was hoping for," she said, letting her shoulders slouch as she pulled another sleeve from the cupboard and dropped it onto the pile on the floor beside her. James leant forward and picked it up, turning it over in his hands for a minute before pushing up onto his knees and shuffling toward the Victrola. A few moments later and the dulcet tones of a tenor began to waft from the speaker and James leant back in his haunches. He turned his head and met Helen's eyes with a little smile.
"It will have to do," he told her and reached forward to peck her lightly on the lips. "Oh my knees are too old for this," he complained pushing up stiffly and Helen chuckled as he turned to reach for her hand. "Well isn't that just perfectly charming," he said with a mock scowl as he pulled her to her feet. "Not all of us can be blessed with such youthful joints as yourself, Helen."
"Sorry darling," she said, kissing him again. "Let me get you a medicinal tonic to ease your rheumatism."
James swatted her backside playfully as she slipped away and Helen turned to give him a cheeky wink over her shoulder. He dug his finger under his cravatte and jerked it roughly from side to side, pulling it loose from his waistcoat and stepping towards the fireplace. He unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt and toed his shoes off and a moment later Helen reappeared in the doorway with a bottle of something brown.
"Whiskey," she told him, waving it at him and causing the contents to slosh around inside the bottle.
"Aah," he chuffed in satisfaction as she plucked her teacup from the desk and moved toward the tea trolley to dump the now cold contents back into the pot with a splosh. She hooked his empty cup in her finger and sauntered back towards him as Caruso broke into a particularly robust chorus. He took the tiny teacups from her and dutifully held them as she uncorked the whiskey and poured a generous measure for each of them.
"Chin chin," she told him and they toasted their teacups together with a clink before they drank. James chortled as Helen screwed her face up as the whiskey went down and she dumped the bottle loudly on a side table before stepping close to the hearth and sinking to her knees.
"Let's get this going a bit more shall we," she said as she began to stack up the grate high. "It's already getting a bit parky in here and when the light goes we'll freeze."
"We shall have to keep each other warm," he told her moving closer and Helen looked up at him through her eyelashes.
"James," she purred as he sank down beside her.
"Helen," he crooned in reply and she chuckled before cupping his face in her hands and kissing him soundly.