Fanfic, posted to New Atalanta and Saffic (with Kannaophelia's grateful permission!)
Crossposted here for completion.
Title: A Very Malory Christmas
Fandom: Malory Towers
Pairing: Bill/Clarissa (from Clarissa’s POV)
Summary: Clarissa spends Christmas at Bill’s and receives a most unusual and unexpected gift.
Written for new_atalanta’s 2004 Christmas/Hanukkah challenge and as a literary salute to Kannaophelia, who writes these things ever so much better than I…
Clarissa thought Bill’s family were just the nicest people she’d ever come across. After one older sister, having seven pseudo-brothers around the house was difficult to adjust to, but they were all completely unaffected by her. Bill was, after all, effectively just one more of the brothers, and Clarissa was her best friend who rode a damn good horse. So by extension, it was easiest to treat her as just one of the boys.
With certain obvious exceptions, of course.
Bill had introduced her as the Honourable Clarissa Carter, but she’d done it in a way that was mocking of airs and graces without being mocking of Clarissa herself. Clarissa quite approved of that mockery – most of the other girls she knew from the rarefied social stratum her parents circulated in were nothing like her. They were all pretty dresses and inconsequential baubles and… well, really very Gwendoline-like. Now that she’d been shoved headlong by Bill into the true joy of riding, Clarissa was quite content to spend her life in jodhpurs. Until now, horse riding had been delicate dressage and poncey prancing; Bill had shown her another side – the art of reckless galloping. There were times when Clarissa looked at Bill’s older brothers, wished herself a hundred years in the past and saw them all going into the cavalry. She wasn’t sure she’d like that – rough ground held enough dangers without somebody firing all sorts of nastiness at you – but there was a part of her that could appreciate the longing for risk and danger.
Clarissa had slowly become aware, as the term had moved to its close, that there was something she felt for Bill which wasn’t like anything she’d felt for any other girl. Oh, there had always been close friends and whispered secrets, even stolen hugs and promises of undying friendships, but this was different. Clarissa was no longer satisfied with just casually brushing up against Bill as they tried to pass one another in narrow stable passageways, nor just with sitting as close to Bill as possible to read a book or do a jigsaw puzzle. And how many times could she reach for the same puzzle piece as Bill did, just to feel the electric thrill that shot through her when their hands touched, before the other girl suspected something was up? Girls didn’t feel like that about other girls, did they? But girls could feel whatever they liked about boys. And when Bill looked and acted so much like her brothers sometimes, it was easier for Clarissa to allow herself to feel the way she did.
She knew afterwards that it really wasn’t an honest thing to do. If she felt that deeply about Bill, she should find the courage to tell her so (otherwise she was as much a coward as Gwendoline). Clarissa knew that Bill would at least be understanding, even if it all ended horribly. But the feelings wouldn’t go away, nor did Clarissa have any reasonable excuse to remove herself from Bill’s presence until she could sort them out rationally.
December the 24th started with an even greater frustration: snow was forecast for Christmas Day. Normally Clarissa loved White Christmases, but now it meant that her plan for a Christmas morning spent riding with Bill was all set to be wrecked. To make things worse, the snow was scheduled to arrive early this afternoon, so any opportunity for a ride would have to be taken in a hurry this morning.
Bill took it in a hurry, all right; Clarissa (riding Merrylegs) was hard pressed to keep up at first, and if she hadn’t already had a good idea of Bill’s capabilities (and her refusal to put any horse in real danger), she’d have berated Bill for the risks she was taking. As the morning wore on, though, the territory became more familiar and the adrenaline level tipped down from scary to exciting. When both horses and riders were thoroughly worn out, they turned back for the house at a leisurely pace. While they rode back, Clarissa kept her eyes fixed on Bill.
Bill was flushed, excited, breathing heavily. All Clarissa could see was the shape of Bill’s body, the short-cropped hair, the way Bill swayed from side to side in the saddle, breast heaving as she caught her breath. Those strong legs. The dashing manner. It was all so despicably irresistible, and exciting at the same time. Clarissa compared it to the thrill of the morning’s ride. That was what riding was really about – charging headlong across the fields, revelling in the adrenaline of it all. Bill knew how to enjoy life, and she knew how to offer Clarissa a share in that enjoyment. To a girl who had spent a significant part of her childhood courting death, this was important.
Clarissa decided, as they put the horses away and saw to all the incidentals, that she no longer wanted just a little piece of that aliveness – she wanted all of it. She wanted a friendship with Bill that let her submerge herself in Bill’s love of life; that let her submerge herself in Bill’s life,, and she knew that once she had it, she’d never be able to let go. Resistance was pointless – she loved Bill madly for a thousand different reasons, and she didn’t care any more who knew it. Not the least Bill.
They said very little between getting back and hurrying to get out of their riding clothes, and most of it was horse talk. As soon as the door of Bill’s room closed behind them, though, Clarissa knew it was now or never – she’d never before been brave enough to tell Bill how she felt; and if she didn’t say it now, she’d start thinking things over again and she’d never say anything.
In the end, there was no need for her to say anything. Maybe the fact that they’d both lost themselves so completely in the enjoyment of the morning had broken a barrier, or maybe it was as simple as each girl looking at the other and recognising what was reflected in her own heart. Whatever it was, Clarissa felt herself being pulled gently forward; and before she knew quite what was happening, Bill’s lips were on hers.
Not long after she’d turned twelve, Clarissa’s mother had decided that she was a grown up girl; and she’d been poured a glass of red wine at dinner that night. She’d liked the taste, finished it far too quickly, and promptly found out what intoxication was all about. This was much the same; except that the taste of Bill kissing her was like draining a glass full of the most delicious sweetness that was always topped up from somewhere beautifully mysterious, while the mildly dizzy feeling she’d had then was replaced by a far more pleasant one – Bill holding her, pressing close against her; Bill’s fingers sliding through her thick auburn hair, holding her captive to those deliciously forceful kisses. She’d always thought she wanted to be kissed gently the first time, but it seemed that Bill wasn’t that sort of kisser.
Clarissa told herself that she should have known what would happen from the way Bill rode a horse. Bill’s interests were few but passionate – she ate, breathed, slept and lived horses, and rode them like there was no tomorrow. Clarissa now knew that she was Bill’s new interest, and that she would be approached with much the same intensity. Nor did she mind.
Oh God, who cared if – under all the boyishness and short hair and masculinized name – Bill was a girl? Bill was the sort of special friend Clarissa had never had before; thrilling and scary all rolled into one, with an intensity to her friendship that not only took Clarissa’s breath away, but also her embarrassment and her fear of her passionate feelings being rejected. Clarissa had wanted Bill for so long, had ached for her; and now she knew that Bill wanted her, the ache was over.
They separated a little, looked at each other, almost surprised by their own feelings. Bill’s lips were just parted as she caught her breath, tempting Clarissa to lean forward and drink from them once more. “You kiss,” Clarissa breathed, “like I always imagined I’d be kissed one day.”
Bill grinned. “Well, why not? You’re a girl, after all, and you deserve to be kissed like one!”
Clarissa had to laugh. “You’re not exactly a boy, Bill.”
“As if I’d want to be,” Bill replied. “Much as I give myself a boy’s name, act just like my brothers and do it all with my parents’ unalloyed blessing, I know what I am. So we’re both girls. So what? Neither of us can hide what we feel about the other any more. If you truly love me, and if kissing me does the same thing to your heart as it does to mine, do it!” She took a deep breath. “You kiss really well, you know.”
“Do I really?” Clarissa was surprised by this, but it was quite pleasant as surprises went.
“Yes, you do: now come here and kiss me again before we both change our minds.”
Clarissa leaned forward and pecked those inviting, just-parted lips with her own. Bill pressed against her, firming the contact, slowly deepening it. This was gentler, much less forceful – and now that the air was clear between them, that was just the way Clarissa wanted it. They gradually melted into something more intimate than just the odd peck, yet more tender than their heart-stopping introduction to each other. There wasn’t much of Bill’s hair for Clarissa to run her own fingers through, but it didn’t really matter. Her free arm wrapped itself around Bill, pressed into the middle of the strongly muscled back, pulled her close. She continued to make herself comfortable with the feeling of Bill’s kisses as she made herself comfortable with her feelings for Bill. The two went together, just like she and Bill did.
There was a present under the Robinsons’ Christmas tree that had Clarissa’s name on it, but she wasn’t really all that interested in it any more. She had the gift she wanted, right here. Bill’s love (she knew now that ‘love’ was the right word) had always been a given, but up until now their friendship had been like a child’s game of rattling a parcel or hefting it in an effort to guess what lay within. Well, the childish game was over. The wraps had come off the gift now; she knew what was inside, and she was immensely pleased with it.
Outside the window, the snow fell but Clarissa no longer cared. Let it keep them indoors; Christmas was going to be just fine.