One interesting side effect of living in each other's pockets was that your lives naturally followed the same course. Shared courses in life seemed to mean... shared courses.
Bill's mother seemed to find it highly amusing that both girls began to mope around and show less interest in riding at the same time of the month. Although Clarissa was starting overcome her shyness with a much larger and more casual family than her own, Mrs. Robinson's heartiness on the subject came as rather a shock, and she blushed and stammered until Bill came to her rescue, scolding her mother for embarrassing her friend.
"I'm sorry," she said as they picked their way, rather slowly and carefully, to the stables that afternoon. "Mother didn't mean to shock you. I'm afraid I wasn't brought up quite the same way you were." She shook her head, laughing. "With seven boys and a stable full of horses, I suppose it was all Mother could do to drag up the stray girl." The affection in her voice was clear.
Clarissa shrugged, her attention distracted by the way even short curls could be flurried by the wind. "Your mother's marvellous," she offered, and was rewarded by a blinding grin and a squeezed hand.
Once in the stables, Bill fell into uncharacteristic brooding. "It's not fair, that's all," she said bitterly, stroking Thunder's nose. "My brothers don't go through this."
Clarissa didn't know quite how to answer. She wanted to comfort, but it was quite true that some things were unfair, that was all. Including the fact that her entire family had gone off on horseback for a picnic, and they were stuck at home because Bill at least couldn't endure the jouncing.
They clambered up onto the hayrack, so they could at least sit close together without the risk of teasing by Bill's brothers or her father's stable hands, if they returned early from the picnic. Clarissa let her head droop to Bill's shoulder, one small hand fisting against the small of Bill's back, where it would cause most relief. Herself, she simply felt headachy and a little mopey, but Bill's face had a grey tinge under her freckles and Clarissa could feel the tension pass through her with every spasm of pain. It was odd, having Bill be the fragile one. Clarissa was so used to being the one whose strength had to be conserved, who had to lag back and be protected. She shouldn't have ever worried about it. It was so sweet being allowed to look after someone beloved.
She kissed the skin where the mannish collar showed Bill's decidedly feminine throat, and closed her eyes, wishing she could pour strength into the other girl, lessen her pain a little.
"I'm sorry, old girl," Bill said at last.
"Don't be more of an ass than you can help," Clarissa said very tenderly, letting her other hand creep around to the centre of Bill's pain and massage, extremely carefully and gently. She wished she'd thought to bring a hot water bottle. The powder she'd taken didn't seem to be doing her own head any good, but that was of little importance.
Bill persisted. "You're missing out on your ride and picnic because I'm a crock. You should have gone without me."
"I didn't feel quite up to it, either," she said loyally, although she couldn't help thinking that the fresh air and movement might clear her head. "Besides, do you think I'd have fun without you?"
"And, well..." Clarissa opened her eyes to a wry glance. "I'm not much good to you like this, am I, Clarissa?" Bill shuddered with pain.
"Don't talk such utter nonsense, dear heart." Clarissa's eyes filled with sympathetic tears, and to hide her soppiness, she kissed Bill's throat again, more lingeringly this time, allowing her lips to part and move, sucking warm skin gently with each kiss. Of course, she reflected, that was soppy, too, but in a completely unobjectionable manner.
To her interest, Bill shuddered again, in quite a different way. She raised her head a little, wondering if she was terrible to even think what she was thinking. Of course, when she did it to herself, it helped her own pain, and it wasn't as if she hadn't touched Bill there until she knew her contours better than her own... Bill's pain was much worse than hers ever was, of course. And she might think Clarissa was disgusting to want to touch her at such a time --
She was a complete idiot. Bill would never find her disgusting.
"Bill? Is that nice?"
"Of course it is, angel." Bill gave her a breathless grin. "Only you know I'm... well. You, too."
"I don't care," she said, surprised to find it true. "I simply want to try and make you feel better. Let me..." She kissed Bill properly this time, trying to keep it gentle and soothing, resisting the urgency that rose at the first answering touch of a tongue against hers, deliberately slowing the caress. The idea was to sweetly distract her friend, not to give in to her own feelings, no matter how kissing Bill affected her...
Her hands stroked and squeezed through her friend's shirt, almost like petting a cat, and the sounds Bill was making against her mouth could be compared to purring, if she felt like it. Cats didn't compare to horses, but there was no denying they were more... sensual.
She worked at the fastenings of Bill's breeches, expecting protest and finding none. Clarissa sneaked a glance through the kisses. Bill's eyes were closed, and her expression...
Clarissa was forced to stop kissing and concentrate, almost defeated by the complicated straps and linen. But then, they had managed with regulation Malory Towers undergarments. Anything else was relatively simple, after that. It was almost as though they deliberately dressed them for chastity, which was a ridiculous thought.
"Clar..." A hand took her wrist.
Clarissa shook her head. "Sit still and let me love you. It will help you feel better, I know." Before she could be stopped again, she deliberately slid her fingers between padding and... Bill.
No different, after all. Or rather, far different, but not at all off-putting. She had been silly to hesitate. This was still Bill, warm and living... Her fingers slid more readily than usual, so readily that it required concentration to find the right place and rub, her index finger slipping from its goal, but she adapted to it quickly. Slow, gentle stokes...
The colour was returning to Bill's face, just a little, her breath coming in soft moans. Clarissa, sitting half on her lap, her fingers caressing in slick wetness, felt almost overwhelmed by tenderness. "I love looking after you," she whispered against curling hair, and the answering promise fell gently in her ear as she pushed a finger deep inside.
There was no violent climax, just a long slow shiver. Clarissa leaned in and kissed her softly, sliding her fingers from her friend, hoping to hide the evidence. She stared in despair...
"Oh, no. How will I ever do you up now?"
"I can dress myself, you idiotic darling." The corner of Bill's mouth was twitching as she suited action to words, but there was concern there, too. "Oh, Clar, I shouldn't have let you. How horrid for you."
Clarissa glared at her, then deliberately lifted her fingers to her mouth and sucked. She had intended it purely as defiant gesture, to prove that nothing about Bill could never be horrid to her, but actually it wasn't as bad as she'd feared - just strongly metallic and somehow deep. Part of Bill, and tasting it was no different to tasting any other part of her. Her birthright.
"Clarissa Carter!" Bill protested, but she was laughing. "To think you -- you shy little well-mannered thing..."
Clarissa grinned at her and snuggled close. "Did it help?"
"Yes... yes, it did," Bill admitted, wonderingly. She kissed Clarissa's wrist. "My girl has the most smashing healing touch. Ever think of becoming a vet?"
"If you think I'd ever do that to a horse, you have another thought -" But Bill was laughing, and Clarissa laughed too. She was getting rather better at seeing jokes in time, spending every living moment with Bill. She knew the other girls felt Bill could bee too earnest and take things too literally at times, but she at least had more of a sense of humour than Clarissa, who tended to anxiously inspect jokes in case there was something hurtful or important she had missed.
Being anxious around Bill was unnatural. She put her head back into what she felt of as its proper place, in the crook where Bill's neck reached her shoulder.
"Thank you, dear." Bill's words were indistinct with drowsiness. "So... terribly sweet..."
Clarissa snuggled closer, in absolute confidence as to who was the sweet one. She was aching to be touched, just a little, but that would wait until Bill was rested... Bill would make it up to her when she felt better, that was as certain as that they would be teased abominably by Bill's family when they came home and found the girls had fallen asleep in the loft. Not that it mattered, not compared to the arm holding her close, Bill's more relaxed breath...
The stable was rich with the smell of horses. The soft musk that was Bill, the living metal scent of blood, simply added complexity to the richness. It wasn't something she could ever tell anyone about, loving this smell... except Bill, who would understand perfectly. Clarissa smiled to herself as her headache receded into the edges of dreamy consciousness.
Just because polite conversation avoided certain topics didn't mean they were all that bad, when it came down to it.
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