Brush and comb.
Lotion… One by one, he removed each stopper to sample several from the generous collection arrayed before him. I think… yes. Beeswax and a hint of woodruff – honeyed, like the end of summer; warm and sweet for a chill autumn eve…
File and pumice stone.
And oil – Oh, yes… He held the small brown vial, heavy in his palm, and closed his eyes; he did not need to open this one to recall clearly its every blended note… He bit his lip and brought himself back to the present and the task before him.
Yes, that should do it, except for a towel. Something soft.
He cast around for one dry enough from the pile he had discarded after his bath, and dissatisfied with each, shook out a fresh one from those folded neatly on the shelves. With one last look to confirm that he had gathered everything necessary, he placed each item in a shallow porcelain bowl. He shrugged on his robe, leaving it untied to hang loose, and slung the towel over his shoulder. Balancing the bowl in the crook of his arm, he let himself out of the foggy haze, making his way on cold tiles down the darkening hall to his room.
The door stood ajar as he had left it earlier, and he smiled ruefully when the first thing he saw was the heap of travel clothes, shed quickly in his eagerness to make himself presentable. They were the only signs of disarray in a room arranged for welcome.
His return had been anticipated – fresh water stood in the jug on his washstand, a fire was laid in the grate, new beeswax tapers had been set all around. A tray on the hearth bench held silver bowls, their contents napkin covered; a bottle of Old Winyards, already opened to breathe; and delicate crystal goblets, survivors from his mother's wedding set.
The white bed linens and pillows were pristine and unrumpled, and his summer weight quilt had been exchanged for down-filled velvet, as the season had changed during his absence. The nights had become cold, as well he knew from shivering through them outside these last days. But he would not be cold this night…
Late afternoon sunlight sparkled through a glass vase of cobalt blue, and highlighted the spiky stems of golden yarrow, brown cat tails, and draping orange bittersweet, intermingled with tufts of seeded grasses wafting gently in the breeze from the open round window.
The sunshine fell also across his bed, and its warm invitation made him forget the discarded clothes. He set his supplies and towel conveniently nearby, and smoothed his hand across the soft eiderdown; its rich, dark wines, blues, and greens had absorbed luscious heat. With a sigh, he let the robe drop from his shoulders, and climbed naked to sit in the middle of the bright pool. For the first time since his hurried return, he allowed himself to slow and ease and anticipate. Lying down, braced on his elbows, he stretched out in the sun, lean legs extended. He rolled his shoulders, sighing, then let his head fall back, curls brushing velvet, eyes closed.
The trip had been necessary, difficult, fruitful, and long. But he had returned, and it would not be much longer…
And now he had yet one more preparation, and blissful though it was to simply rest, this was the last he would do in readiness for what he wanted so very much.
He took a deep breath, and sat up, careful to not tip over the bottles balanced precariously in the basin. He spread the towel, shifted to sit cross legged upon it, and took one foot firmly in hand, wincing as muscles, strained by the haste of his travels homeward, were pulled in new directions. But he was pleased that he had not lost his usual agility. It was a simple thing to bend, and twist so that he might examine that hard-used foot and decide what must be done to repair the abuse from a long trek over rough paths.
The stains and dust of travel had washed away in his bath, but the days of neglect and unaccustomed terrain had left ragged edges and torn nails which could scratch tender skin. Protective callouses had prevented any cuts, but were unpleasantly coarse to his touch and required smoothing. And the dark waves on top were tangled, even matted in places, and needed tedious attention to work through the knots if he were to avoid jaggedly cutting them out. The short soft bristles between the pads of his toes seemed the only part unscathed by the journey.
He sighed and tucked his foot beneath his thigh as he examined the other. No better.
He sat still for a moment, tipping his face to the sunlight, and considered what to do first; the afternoon shadows were growing long and time was short. He tried in vain to push damp tendrils back from his forehead and behind his ears, and leaned to pick the pumice stone from the basin, rotating it deftly in his hand so the most abrasive side was ready for use. He brought his right foot across his knee to expose the hardened sole, braced it firmly with his other hand, and applied the stone vigorously to the most thickened patches. It would not do to take off too much – it was there for good reason, toughened by pleasant rambles through meadow and wood. He finished with the more finely grained side of the stone and smoothed his hand over his heel, and the ball of his foot, and the pad of the strong large toe. Yes. That was much better.
The nails were another matter. He remembered, distinctly and painfully, the stumble that had ripped that one – he had been hurrying a little more than was safe on that steep, rocky hillside – and this was from a fall when overtired, having delayed his night's camp too long, in hope of getting just a little closer to home, a little sooner. Yes, this required scissors and some courage. He bent close to see how best to remove the sharply torn piece, took a deep breath and lifted the nail enough to apply scissors – and it was done. Nothing to snag there, now. The other was not so bad, and was quickly trimmed. He finished by smoothing each toe with the file and fine pumice, then massaging the thick honey and herb lotion into cuticles and skin. He switched to his other foot, tending it as carefully, so that there would be no unpleasant distraction when… when… but he would not let himself think on that yet.
All that was left to do, was to disentangle the hair that swirled, unruly, across the top. He laid aside the towel, hesitated for a moment, and then brought his knee up to his chest and set his chin upon it. His eyes drifted shut. The warm sunshine and the gently focused activity combined with bone deep weariness, and he rested, languid, letting his yearning heart control his thoughts and fire his imagination. His belly tightened with need and he shuddered as heat rushed from his groin to every part of him. He drew up his other leg and wrapped his arms tightly around his shins, curling in to bury his face and his sigh. Only a little longer. Only a short while. And then…
He took a deep breath and raised his head, blinking in the bright shaft of light that fell now full in his face. Eyes narrowed, he looked thoughtfully at his feet, flexing them, wiggling his toes. The shining waves over his arch caught the light; he wanted them as sleek as he could make them, and he roused himself for this last effort, knowing that all he did was an offering to what lay ahead. The comb tugged painfully at first, but with small short strokes and dexterous fingers, he was able to work through most of the knots. The hair draped silken now from ankle to toes – except in this one place. And this tangle simply would not come out. He looked at it with dismay. Cut it out? That would not only look odd, but so much removed would feel less than pleasant beneath a caress…
Frowning, he glanced to the supplies he had brought. Ah! The oil! That would not only help loosen the snarl, but it would also feel good to sore feet, and soften them to the touch, as well. Pleased with the solution, he reached for the small vial and uncorked its aromatic scent.
In an instant, he was overwhelmed by remembered sensation, and seized with longing, too long delayed, that stopped his breath – and he cried out with need so great and so deep that he did not think he could bear it…
And the one he loved, arriving on silent hobbit feet, had lingered in the doorway, his heart caught by the sight before him: sunglow through russet curls, curved grace of a supple spine, lithe creamy limbs folded limber as he bent to his task. But compelled by love's cry, he hastened now to meet longing with longing.
And only the soft stir of the air gave warning…
He gasped –
Arms he knew well wrapped around him, pulled him close to lean backwards, shoulders and spine pressed against a wool-clad chest, as calloused hands were laid with love on his breast, his belly. Wayward curls were tucked gently aside, and warm fast breath whispered his name in his ear with the lightest flick of a tongue. The hand on his belly circled… lower, lower… as the other tilted his head back, traced along his white throat – and lips and tongue sought his, opening him, plunging in with a hunger fierce as his own.
His hands flew; one overhead, behind him to the contours of a beloved face, trailing the scent of the bottle he yet held; the other down, before him to cover the strong fingers that encircled him, stroked him, and knew his urgent need. And for long moments there was only this kiss of reunion – their hands together caressing his desire, and the hardness behind him pushing through wool, against and between naked rounded cheeks as he pressed back for more, more…
And then, breathless, he was lowered swiftly to the bed beneath his lover's kisses, and the bottle he had somehow not spilled, was taken from his hand. Desperately, he undid buttons above him and spread wool and linen aside and down – and with a groan, he laid both hands to the quivering hardness exposed for his touch, bringing a gasp from above. And then there was a rustle and a shifting, a rush of scent, and an oil filled hand joining his to smooth that familiar fragrance, to slip between them, lower… across heated flesh to slide… there…
Now, now, the waiting was over.
Strong arms sheathed still in cotton slipped under his thighs, his knees; lifted him to hard slick heat… guiding, pushing, gliding…
His fingers flexed, raked and clutched the velvet covers, as with legs and smoothly silken feet he embraced, surrounded sturdy hips, and enveloped naked flesh, thrusting… pulled his love closer, deeper, to fill him, to be fulfilled by pulsing pressure… sighing pleasure...
And nothing at all would distract them from their joy as, limber and lithe as ever any lover, he was folded and enfolded in love…
Together always, and now, again.
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