Curses! Demosthenes23 beat me in posting a 'dominoes' story! I hope you'll indulge me anyway. This is a different take on the situation at the close of Murdoch Au Naturel. When reading this, keep in mind that I have a hard time believing Julia and William have been completely chaste throughout their relationship. In The Green Muse, they come awfully close to doing the deed on their first date – and last season, the script very heavily implied that William and Anna spent a night together (that wasn't just me, was it?). So personally, I don't think the good detective is going to let a good hotel room go to waste, dominoes or no. ;-)
One of the things I really like about writing MM fic is playing with the veneer of Victorian civility … and what's underneath.
He couldn't be serious about the dominoes.
Fait accompli – at least the public part. Strolling through the lobby of the hotel with feigned confidence. Signing the ledger with shaky hands. Feeling the eyes of Toronto society on their backs as they made their way to the stairs. Locking eyes and exhaling simultaneously as they closed the heavy oak door behind them.
Now there was just the night to spend – and of course, the walk of shame in the morning.
They ordered room service. If it was to appear they were having an illicit tryst, they might as well do a proper job of it. Julia insisted on champagne.
As she sliced her chicken cordon bleu into elegant little bites, she studied her companion, who was studiously working his way through his prime rib. He wasn't nervous or fidgety or even … anticipatory. He just seemed, well, resolved. There was a little twitch in his jaw muscle which gave away his discomfort at the situation, but he was clearly going to see it through, come hell or high water.
No matter how unpleasant it might be.
Julia honestly didn't know whether to be amused or insulted.
Well, she had made her bed, so to speak, and now she was just going to have to lie in it. This was one of those times when the absurdity of her life became all too apparent to her. She had chosen Darcy over William, and now she had to face all the ugliness that came with undoing that choice … including the judgement of William's all-too-strict god, it seemed.
Once upon a time, when they had both been single, that god had had a looser set of rules – rules that had allowed them to be carried away with each other on a blissful handful of occasions. If William felt any guilt or shame, he had kept it to himself. There had never been any recrimination aimed in her direction.
Now, however, she was a married woman. And William took the subject of adultery seriously.
They often walked arm in arm. He wasn't loathe to kiss her, though there was an edge of restraint in the touch of his lips, that she had once imagined was long gone. At the theatre, and when they shared a carriage, he pulled her close and she rested her head on his shoulder, relaxing in his embrace. And often, that was enough.
In this instance, however – locked together in a room with heavy silk drapes, flickering lamplight and an enormous feather bed with very expensive linens – she thought that if he didn't touch her soon, and with serious intent, she might just scream.
William showed no indication of planning to do anything of the sort.
She wrapped her hand around her champagne glass and took a very unladylike gulp.
She had always tried to be respectful of his beliefs, but on this night, she had to admit, her tolerance was wearing thin. How could he just sit there, looking so intolerably delicious, and not feel what she was feeling?
Which was, frankly, a degree of desire that was increasing exponentially by the minute.
She knew better than to challenge William Murdoch head on; it only made him more resolved – and frankly, his morality could be a bit rigid. She had had more than one reason for shedding her skirts at the naturist camp that week. Admittedly, part of her had simply wished to experience the lifestyle, relishing the feel of the breeze on her skin and a few hours of freedom from a corset and hose.
But she was also hoping that, perhaps, William might return to the camp in the course of his investigation and that the sight of her, in her altogether, might stir something in him … something that he seemed to have so tightly under wraps at the moment that she was beginning to fear it might not ever resurrect itself even if they did succeed in marrying.
She knew well enough that William's passions, once ignited, were considerable and more than a match for hers. She just didn't know quite what it took to ignite them anymore.
They shared a slice of chocolate cake. Julia wondered idly if chocolate could be considered an acceptable substitute for making love. It might be all she found to gratify herself this night, so she savoured each bite, dragging the fork ever so slowly out of her mouth and letting her eyelids flutter closed as she let the rich icing dissolve on her tongue. A little smile played on her lips as she allowed her senses to focus on the flavour.
Across the table, William swallowed hard.
He really was serious about the dominoes.
Julia watched him clear the little table and reach for the bag of tiles. She poured herself another glass of champagne, and topped up William's glass even though he protested. She was beginning to think they might have to order a second bottle to get her through this farce of a night.
She could feel her cheeks flushing as the alcohol began to percolate into her bloodstream. She could feel William's eyes on her – disapproval, no doubt, for the way she was downing the demon drink – but she was beginning to feel hurt, and ridiculous, and horrible about the whole situation as he doggedly pushed half of the tiles in her direction. It was as if they were acquaintances at a tea house, instead of former, and future, lovers planning a future together.
Amusement having long since flown out the window, Julia could not generate one ounce of enthusiasm for dominoes, try as she might. Instead of answering his opening move, she picked up a tile and methodically set it on its edge on the table. Then she stood another one behind it, almost but not quite touching. Then another, and another, her eyes never leaving the table. When she had used all the tiles on her side of the table, she finally glanced up at William. He said nothing, his face unreadable as he regarded her steadily.
With the flick of a fingernail, she nudged the first of the dominoes and watched the cascade snake around the table as they all fell in sequence.
She knew she was edging towards petulance, but she really didn't know what to think of William's lack of response – to her, to her refusal to play, to the painfully-obvious metaphor of the chain reaction of her choices. She sat heavily back in the chair and sighed.
"Julia? The game doesn't interest you, I take it?", he inquired gently, sounding puzzled. He really could be astonishingly obtuse.
"No, sorry. I think I'll draw a hot bath." She tried to keep the hurt out of her voice, but she didn't entirely succeed. Perhaps disappearing into the bathroom for half an hour would be the best approach. Perhaps she could collect her thoughts and rein in her emotions there.
Unlimited hot water, piped up from the boiler in the cellar, was one of the most commendable things about the Queen's Hotel. Julia sank into the deep clawfoot tub with a little groan which was half pleasure, half frustration. She needed to close her eyes and gain some perspective. Think about the big picture.
Not for the first time, she let her mind rail against the restrictions of the Church. Honestly, if adultery was forbidden in the Commandments … well, wasn't lying also forbidden? If they spent this whole night in a game of subterfuge for the sake of the divorce court, wasn't that just as serious a sin? She didn't pretend to understand the convoluted logic of priests and ministers, but surely there was an argument to be made …
One thing she knew: she didn't care to seduce an unwilling Murdoch. She valued his respect, and wasn't about to jeopardize that. Even if this turned out to be the most awkward, embarrassing night of her life.
She just hoped that, contrary to all indications, that his desire hadn't evaporated completely.
Julia lingered in the bath, silently willing the night to come to a close. When the water started to cool, she added another infusion of hot, relishing the steam that fogged up the bathroom. She wondered how long she could remain immersed before she wrinkled up like an elephant. It was a more attractive fate than returning to that bedroom.
After an eternity, there was an excessively polite little knock on the bathroom door. Feeling defeated, she declined to answer. Instead she closed her eyes and sunk further into the water, dipping her chin under the surface.
"Julia?", came a tentative inquiry from the other side of the door. When she still didn't respond, he pushed the door open a crack and peered inside. "Are you decent?"
She couldn't help it. Decent? She snorted derisively. What did decent mean, anyway?
If he was going to push his way in, she certainly wasn't going to rush to cover up for him. Defiantly, she forced herself to continue to recline in the tub, more fully exposed here than she had been in the naturist camp, given that her hair was pinned up this evening.
William stepped onto the tiled floor, closing the door softly behind him. Ever courteous, she thought, that at least never changes. He's making an effort to keep the cold draft out of the room….
He had discarded his suit jacket and vest, his tie, and his shoes, padding to the side of the tub in bare feet and rolled-up sleeves. She felt a surge of affection for him that momentarily obliterated the irritation. How she loved the man that her buttoned-down detective could become when they were alone together.
He found a ladder-back chair in the corner and moved it to the edge of the tub. Settling gingerly on it, he took in the sight of her with steady appreciation. If she had expected admonishments for her boldness, or a flinch resulting from her full-frontal-ness, he offered neither.
Then he reached into the water and took her hand, running his thumb over her pruning knuckles.
"I'm sorry this is so awkward," he began.
In for a penny, in for a pound. She decided to be brutally honest with him. "As am I. How is it that we can find ourselves in two small rooms and be so far apart from each other?"
"Are we?", he responded with mild surprise.
She let out an exasperated sigh and sat up in the tub. "We have a lovely opportunity here, and dominoes is the best you can do?"
His eyebrows climbed to his hairline. "What makes you think …."
She forged on, venting her frustration without a filter now. "William, I appreciate that you are so willing to set up this deception, but when you bring me to a hotel and then refuse to come anywhere near me, I feel like a fool!"
She had hoped for dawning comprehension on his features, but he just looked amused, which only egged her on.
"Sigmund Freud may not understand women particularly well, but there is one detail about which he is correct: we have desires and needs every bit as strong as a man's! Frankly, I don't see the point of feigning adultery and lying about it!" She was working herself into a proper fury now.
"You told me that no matter what the church says, you refuse to believe that love could be wrong," she concluded, her eyes flashing. "Well, detective, I miss you."
There. She could hardly be more plain about it. She was standing in the tub now, gesticulating at him while her breasts jiggled and goosebumps started to erupt on her skin.
She was so indignant that she failed to notice the way William's eyes had darkened during her speech. But he said nothing. He merely stood and reached for one of the hotel's huge, fluffy towels. Draping it over his shoulder, he offered his hand to help her step out of the tub. He waited until she was standing, dripping, on the floor, and then abruptly he pulled her to him and seized her in a searing kiss. One hand moved over her cheek and then slid down to trace one damp breast, while the other firmly cupped her buttocks and yanked her entire body flush against him, whereupon she suddenly had no doubt of his intentions whatsoever.
He finally broke the kiss to regard her seriously. "I did say that, Julia. Now, are you coming to bed, or aren't you?"