To listen to the music which is played and referenced in this story, search for "My Sweet and Tender Beast" by Eugen Doga on youtube or any other website :)
WARNING: This is the CHEEZIEST thing I have ever written.
She had never been the one to dance the night away.
When she was young she spent most of the evenings trying to remain upright while alcohol in her blood kept tilting the world on its side. At Marine bootcamp, she usually just threw herself on her cot out of exhaustion in the evening and later... there just wasn't time, mood or... the other person to dance with.
It was actually Dalton, early in their relationship, who taught her how to dance. Really dance. Not just sway from side to side or jump around squealing. It was their second date when he took her to an expensive restaurant that had a string quartet playing. And asked her to dance with him. She refused, embarrassed. She still remembered how sweet he was when he invited her over the very next day and insisted he could teach her waltzing if nothing else. He was sweet and encouraging. Patient. Looking back that was the memory of him she liked the most. Before he put his selfish interests above her trust in him. Before his insistence on getting what he loved turned him into a creep. Before he bled to death in her arms.
So Clayton was pleased when she told him she could waltz and that was also why he insisted she would attend a function with him. And dance. Not just any dance though. Something rehearsed, with choreography already decided and sent out to be learned by the chosen participants. She had no idea what function it was, some charity perhaps that his mother put her money behind, but she knew at once she would feel awkward and uncomfortable. She could dazzle society and she had had her share of big events. But those were usually her people there. Military. Or sometimes politicians. Here people were expected she had little in common with. Millionaires passing through town, heiresses following their social calendars and, she had no doubts, secret agents searching out contacts or choosing to step out of the darkness for a moment. She really did not want to go. But Clay was back in town for only a few days and there was no telling when they would see each other again. So she forced herself to smile and agree even if on the inside she was panicking. She owed this much to him.
She never stopped to think that going out with her boyfriend should be something she should enjoy rather than suppress everything she felt for his sake. After all, he was all she got. Her circle of friends had never been too wide. Bud and Harriet had their own lives. Sturgis never made it among her favourite people and Jennifer Coates was sweet but they never really had a meaningful conversation. The difference between their ages and ranks did the rest. Chloe was so, so far away. Uncle Matt was in Leavenworth. And... he... she didn't know where he was but the silence to her 17 unanswered messages on his machine was loud enough to understand.
So, Clay, it was. He was away a lot now, that he became better, but whenever he arrived he made sure to treat her right. He included her in everything he was doing - as long as it was not his work. He cared. He wasn't cryptic about what he felt for her. He was hardly the best man living, but she did not deserve the best anyway. She could work with Mr Not-Perfect. She could.
And so she learned that dance. It was a waltz and the choreography, thankfully, was simple enough. A raised arms here, a twirl there, palms meeting overhead as her other hand would hold onto his shoulder and his rest on her waits. A moment during which her back was to him. They could choose whether to end the song with her giving him a curtsy or him lifting her up by the waist into the air and hold her there for a moment, her hands resting on his shoulders for support. He favoured the latter but after just one try she refused. His arms shook from the effort. She was too heavy for him and he had only recently recovered from everything he had suffered in Paraguay. She would not let him strain himself unnecessarily. Otherwise, it was lovely, really.
So they rehearsed. Clay was a very good dancer and it only took two nights to get the routine down. Just the very end of the song gave them trouble.
"You need something to wear," he told her on the same occasion.
"I have dresses," she said.
"From what I have seen in your wardrobe, none will do," he shook his head. "You need a proper ball gown."
She refused his money. She had enough saved and though it may seem frivolous to buy an expensive gown she might only ever wear once, she went out and got one. What was she saving money for anyway? It was not like she was planning to get married and start a family anytime soon. She was not ready to even think about a family with anyone. At least not anyone who wasn't... him. And the dress, the gown, was glorious. Long bell skirt covered with organza and printed with flowers. Dark blue with hints of grey. Off-shoulders with slightly puffed sleeves. Broad ribbons tying her bodice in the back. It was like a dream, as if from a fairy-tale and yet far from tacky or loud. The dress was long, but her height combined with heels would make it perfect for dancing.
A week later she stepped into the ballroom on Clayton's arm and wasn't surprised that everybody kept stealing glances at her. She knew she looked good. Beautiful even. She felt beautiful after a very, very long time. And while she had little add to conversations that Webb engaged in with other guests, she smiled and hid her anxiety deep inside. She could do this. She would not let Clay down like she had Mic that one time. She would not ruin this. He was all she had. The one who told her what he wanted. No guessing games. No smarting around. No denial. It was ironic, really. The spook who opened his heart to her and the lawyer who kept her in the dark and then only had the galls to stake wordless claims when she tried to move on. Well, she had moved on. And he... he was no longer even a lawyer.
Where was he? She had no idea.
Seventeen walls of silence.
The ballroom was splendid. The blazing lights reflected in crystal chandeliers and diamond necklaces. The air was heavy with the scent of hundreds and hundreds of slowly dying flowers.
Her heart was heavy and she felt tired even before they were called, together with several other chosen couples, to prepare for the dance.
She knew, she had to know how gorgeous, how stunning she was. How alluring. How devastatingly beautiful. What it was doing to him.
And just how much her hand trapped under Clayton Webb's arm enraged him.
But perhaps she did not know. Perhaps she did not even notice he was present as well. After all, she apparently hadn't known so many things.
"Simmer down, partner," he heard Beth O'Neil, his company for the night, whisper to him. "If you incinerate Webb with your glare you will get us both in trouble."
Beth knew, of course. During the long hours of flying together, she had dragged everything out of him.
"You knew they would be here," he accused her, suddenly understanding why she had been so adamant on attending this pompous monkey-business and drilled him in choreography for a waltz.
"Just giving you a chance on a silver platter," she shrugged, not bothering with denial. "Depends on you what you choose to do."
So he chose.
Clayton Webb managed just a surprised "What the..." when he roughly bumped into his side, making the other man trip and barely catch himself. Within the next second, just as the music started to play, Harmon Rabb wrapped his right arm tightly around Sarah Mackenzie's waist, drawing her near, so near it could not be considered proper in any polite society. His other hand grasped hers. Her eyes were large and dazed in her pale face, her lips falling half apart as she came to realize what was happening.
It was too late though. Too late for Webb to fight her away from Harm without causing an embarrassing scene. Too late for her to squirm away from him and slap him for being insolent. Too late for him to stop loving her with every breath he possessed.
The music swirled around them, now slower, now swifter. It had something beautiful yet full of pain. It was perfect for them. He was the most amazing man she had ever met and the one who could hurt her the most. She was the most desirable woman of his life and the one who had broken his heart. Why was it that they both clung to that pain? Because it was better to hurt for each other than face existence without one another?
Every time she needed to take a step away from him, his arm only let her go with reluctance, hungrily reaching for her again as soon as it was possible. The skin of their joined palms was burning. She closed her eyes after a while, letting him lead her completely, trusting in every touch, unable to bear the intensity of his gaze. Her heart was hammering so loudly she could barely hear the music at all.
Christ! Her face was a picture of beauty and ecstasy. His whole being ached for her, all of her. And as the music stopped, there was no curtsy from her. Instead, completely exhausted by every emotion she had just experienced, she nearly fainted and just buried her face in his neck.
He did not let go. Feeling her smaller frame trembling against him, he ignored a red-faced Webb who had appeared to demand an explanation, an apology and his partner back.
He was done with this party and decided that so was Mac.
In one resolute motion, he picked her up in his arms and carried her away through a quickly parting sea of people, who merely assumed the lady was not feeling well.
Clayton Webb stayed another hour, drinking.
Beth O'Neil then called him a taxi.
From the moment he had pressed her to himself so greedily and the music played until the small hours of the morning when the gentle pink ribbons of the dawn painted the ceiling of her apartment, they said nothing. There were only heavy breaths that could have been their names. His, when he unlaced her bodice and tasted the smooth skin of her back, when he intertwined their fingers as he drank from her core. Hers, when she accepted all of him inside her body, when she pressed her abdomen against his in a desperate need to feel all of him, all the time. He made love to her as he had never made love to any other woman. He conquered and worshipped. She gave and she accepted.
He would swear he had only dozed off for a minute, but when he opened his eyes again, she was no longer in his arms or in the bed with him. The sheets felt suddenly cold and uninviting.
He found her in the living room, gloriously naked, leaning against the French windows and watching the sun slowly rise. It was then that he noticed an imprint of his own hand on one of her thighs. It was slowly but surely turning dark blue.
"I hurt you," he said, his voice unsteady and still raspy from sleep.
Those were the first words he had said to her in months. They were not the ones he had wanted or planned. Then again he had never planned any of this. He had only dreamed.
"I hurt you," she simply answered and it was clear she meant before. In that dark and distant past when they had not been lovers. Last night, after all, had spanned millennia.
"I am afraid I will hurt you again," he said, but again she merely shook her head.
"Of course you will. And I will hurt you again. This is us. You and me. This is what we do. We hurt each other." She said it so matter-of-factly it startled him. But before he could say anything she continued: "We also love each other. And this is our love. I die without you. You die without me. I know that now. And no amount of hurting can make this go away, this feeling. Our love is like this. Like that song," she laughed a little.
"The one we dance to yesterday."
He could no longer keep away from her. Coming closer his hands gently caressed her shoulders and slipped lower. She shivered at his touch. Her eyes were two pools of liquid gold when a newly born sunbeam hit them.
"My sweet and tender beast," she said. "That was the name of that waltz. That is what you are to me and what I am to you. We hurt each other. But we will always love each other more."
He knelt in front of her then, gently kissing the bruised flesh he was responsible for.
"I promise that I will be tender now," he whispered.
And he was. He was so tender while loving her then, he made her cry for joy.