A/N: short one again, sorry! Got interrupted. But I am really hoping to finish this SOON, like hopefully even another chapter this week, at least. I'm just struggling with the wrapping-up, but the story is obviously coming swiftly to its dénouement!
Emma quickly turned her gaze back to the ocean as the heat rushed to her cheeks. She chewed on her bottom lip thoughtfully. "I did want children, George. I had no real wish to marry, as you know, but children? Oh, I do love them."
Knightley reached his hand to hers and—so lightly—smoothed his fingers over the back of her hand. Pulling his hand away, he asked softly, "And now, Emma dearest?"
"You told me once that touching leads to children," Emma sighed. "How can I have children when I cannot bear the touching?"
"I think you are made of sterner stuff," Knightley answered after a moment. "That man, that terrible, awful barbarian of a man..." he grabbed Emma's hand again, more firmly. "That man is dead, Emma. Don't let him destroy your dreams."
"I hate him!" She declared, rising to her feet. "And, oh, George; what if I hate you, too? Why can't everything just go on as it always has? Why does anything have to change? We were so happy, at Donwell and Hartfield."
Knightley resisted the urge to stand, instead remaining calmly on the blanket. "Because things did change, sweetheart. We can't control everything, and things—so many things, Emma, spiraled away without our wishing." Emma turned around and looked at him, but he continued. "But Emma, we can control what we do with what we are given. Things were done to you, but you can define who you are now. Don't be constrained by the bad memory of a ruffian."
"Or Mr. Elton?" She asked, a painful edge to her voice.
"Or Mr. Elton," he assured.
"Nor Mr. Churchhill."
"You see my experience of men is uniformly unpleasant," Emma said bitterly.
Knightley frowned at that. He stood up, and drew his hand lightly across the back of her shoulders and neck. "Uniformly?" He asked in a low whisper.
Emma shivered. "Oh..."
"'Oh'?" Emma heard the smirk in his voice and turned to face him.
"You—George, how you confuse me!" She exclaimed.
"Do I?" He murmured, gaze drifting to her lips.
"You make me shiver," Emma pronounced with distaste. "I know I oughtn't be afraid of you, and yet, I am."
Knightley reached for her face and gently brushed a single hair that had fallen on her forehead. "Are you sure it's fear you're feeling, Emma, darling wife?"
Emma suppressed another shiver with effort. "What else could it be, George?"
Knightley's fixation was overcome by amusement, and he backed away and sat back down on the blanket. "Desire makes one shiver as well," he chuckled.
Emma whirled around and stared at him. "D-desire?"
"Sit with me again," Knightley entreated her. "You were so full of questions... before. And now I may answer, you know. I'm surprised you aren't pestering me at great length."
Emma looked at him censoriously, but settled herself next to him nonetheless.
"Desire," he repeated. "You recall your encounters with that odious toad, Mr. Churchhill? And how they weren't entirely unpleasant to your experience?"
Emma nodded, still mortified over the events.
He stroked his finger against her cheek again. "And you feel that? That—frisson?"
She nodded again.
"And—" he leaned in closer and very delicately traced down her neck and across her collarbone. "And that?"
"George," Emma said, helplessly. "Oh, George."
He withdrew his hand and scooted back to his corner of the blanket. "That, Emma, is why people marry." His voice dropped even lower, "and it has nothing to do with fear."
Emma wasn't sure she remembered how to breathe, and was very thankful when he moved away from her again. The expression on his face was curiously tortured, and she felt like she ought to say something, although she didn't know what. "George," she ventured at last, when she found her voice again; "I... I feel as though... I don't know what I feel," she said at last.
The silence stretched on and on, and Emma began to think he was never going to answer her. At last, he stood, and offered a hand to pull her up. "Come back to the cottage with me, Emma," he entreated. "The groundskeeper is bringing by some fish, and we'll fry them up for dinner tonight, and eat them as we watch the sun go down. Sunsets on the ocean are a better sight than any to be seen in all London."
Emma reached out and grabbed his hand, enjoying the brief stretch of her muscles as he heaved her to her feet, and the tiny tingle that ran all the way up to her shoulder from her wrist when he steadied her. She watched his sure and efficient movements as he gathered the evidence of their picnic back into the hamper, then scrambled to follow him back to their cottage.
"Do you really know how to fry fish, George?" Emma asked, staring dubiously at the pot of oil he was swinging toward the fire.
"I know how to do many things, Emma," he answered slyly.
Emma decided she liked this rakish version of the straitlaced George Knightley, and so she beamed at him.
His eyes widened a fraction. "I can tell I'm making progress," he muttered.
"At seducing me?" Her eyes sparkled.
"Ever mischievous, Emma."
"I begin to think I want you to make progress, George." Emma's voice was timid as she watched him building up the fire to an appropriate level.
Knightley frowned a little bit, to Emma's surprise. "Because you want children?"
"I'm—so confused, really."
His hands stilled at their work by the fire, and he looked up at her thoughtfully. "Your experiences thus far have been confusing," he affirmed. "Doubtless it's quite normal for you to feel so confused."
"And it really is a terrible thing for women, is it not?" Emma asked, hesitantly.
Knightley resumed poking at the logs to cover his own discomfort. "Only the first time," he said at last.
"The pain... the blood... it's only by the loss of the maidenhead, not the—not the... usually, it is... that is, it can be... very enjoyable, after that." His voice was laced with awkwardness.
"You said you would talk to me freely after we were wed," she reminded him teasingly.
"It is hard to be at ease having such conversation with one who is still not entirely my wife."
Emma looked suitably chastened for a fleeting moment, but brazened on. "When you touched my neck, on the blanket, is that what it feels like?"
"That is the bare beginning of what it feels like."
"It isn't entirely pleasure, is it? Not the same way as the sun on my face, or chocolate melting in my mouth... it's different."
"It is different," Knightley agreed. "It's relational, for one thing. I imagine my brushing a hair out of your face causes quite a different cascade of sensations than you brushing your own hair away?"
Emma remembered the moment, and blushed. "It seems so," she said cautiously.
"It is, nevertheless, intriguing, isn't it, Emma?" When she merely nodded, he continued. "I don't want one moment on the highway to doom your entire experience of this world, Emma." He got up and gave her a very chaste kiss on her cheek. "And I don't relish the thought of celibacy while living in the same house with you, if I'm honest," he chuckled. "Now, let me show you how to fry some fish."