I posted this meme:
Pick any passage of 500 words or less from any fanfic I’ve written, and comment to this post with that selection. I will then give you the equivalent of a DVD commentary on that snippet: what I was thinking when I wrote it, why I wrote it in the first place, what’s going on in the character’s heads, why I chose certain words, what this moment means in the context of the rest of the fic, lots of awful puns, and anything else that you’d expect to find on a DVD commentary track.
And I got a response!
(445 words! Done this way instead of reblogging to keep the notes from getting messy.)
I love you. This is probably my favourite piece of the fic I love the most. I have so many ideas swirling around in my brain that I wanted to get through in here, and hopefully some of this will be more of a ‘yeah, I see that!’ than a ‘how on earth did she get there from this?’
The setting of this story is medieval Byzantium, a location and time where women actually had more legal rights than in most of Europe at the time, but where they were, in direct contradiction to their legal freedoms, expected to remain in social seclusion. The core of this story is about Katherine – a woman without access to the same surface freedoms as modern-day Kate Bishop – dealing with a lot of modern-Kate’s own inner turmoil surrounding freedom - of movement and of choice – vs. safety and duty.
For those who haven’t read the story, this is one of the stories in my Crusades!AU: the characters are transposed back to the early 13th century. Thomas has been accompanying his brother on a trip that was supposed to be to a shrine in Italy, where he might be able to find answers about his strange abilities. (Billy’s the only one with powers). They got derailed, and have been travelling with the Fourth Crusade.
The Crusaders have just landed on the far side of the Bosphorus, and are turning their sights on Constantinople. Tommy has ridden out as a scout, to get the lay of the land. Kate is the wife of the governor of Scutari, and has ridden out to the countryside for her own purposes. They meet at a river and have an essentially anonymous sexual encounter.
“Married?” He asked her, and he seemed amused rather than appalled at her hesitation and her nod.
She’s expecting condemnation here. This is the ultimate act of betrayal, not just against Eli (my poor Eli!), but against the general rules of the society she was raised in, and the one she married into. Woman’s access to the public sphere was tightly controlled specifically to maintain her sexuality as property of her spouse. To be unmarried and having it on with a stranger in the woods was a sin, and possibly in poor taste. But if a married woman engaged in extramarital intercourse, it was legally considered treason, at least in England at this point (her husband was like unto a king, she his subject, and under the same sorts of rules of loyalty).
That Thomas doesn’t react the way she’s expecting throws her off her guard even more than he’d already managed to do.
She rolled her hips and he made a sweet and desperate noise that she yearned to wring from him again. He cupped her breasts, stroked his thumbs across the hardened peaks of her nipples, rough and needy. She reached back and seized his cock in her hand. He stiffened, anticipating, his hands stilling in their movements and his breath catching.
This is something I referenced in my notes for the piece, though I may have left it too oblique. Christian men in Europe did not circumcise; that was a rite performed only by Jews and Muslims. Jews did not have freedom of movement, and Muslims were not welcome, so being forced to drop trou was a reasonably effective way of proving yourself Christian-by-birth.
Thomas, in this AU, is a bit of a hedonist, and he’s got a girl in every port, but he’s also Jewish by birth and has had to be very adept at concealing his lack of foreskin from girls who might notice such things. (Hence the allusion to him going down on his first pickup, in ‘Road to Santiago’ – he plays it off with a joke about making sure she doesn’t get pregnant, but that’s only part of it.)
Something similar will become a plot point for Billy later on. Teddy knows what they’re supposed to look like. XD
She sank down upon his prick and took him inside her body, the second man to ever breach those walls.
I’m not thrilled at myself for including this, actually. It was meant as a fill-in of a little bit of background information, and to drive home how momentous this decision was for her. Seeing it in isolation, it reads a bit like slut-shaming in reverse (she’s really a good girl, see?).
I still think it helps establish some more of Kate’s background than we had before, but I should have found a different way to do it.
She was liquid and she was fire, molten gold inside her veins.
Barren-ness versus life was something I tried to work in as an undercurrent throughout this story.
Kate and Eli have been married for a long time and have no children, which at this point in time would be blamed entirely on her. She’s an ‘empty vessel,’ and that’s reflected in her surroundings inside the walls. I used a lot of beige descriptors for the palace – it’s dusty, dry, quiet, hushed, empty.
The outside world is lush and coloured, and out there, with Tommy, Kate can access levels of emotion and feeling that she’d previously had but lost. I tried to emphasize that distinction with more direct and hopefully visceral word choice, emphasizing colour and variety in texture and sensation.
I still love the imagery of the ‘molten gold’ line; I (over)use sparks and lightning when describing male desire and climax, something that builds and flashes and then fades. Women’s arousal is different; slower, maybe, more like waves or an undertow, an engulfing heat that lasts longer, rises and sinks in intensity, then pulls you under to drown.
Hence ‘liquid’ and ‘molten.’ Also, those words just sound awesome on the tongue, all… round and slick and warm to say. Medieval setting calls for writing that could be read aloud, designed with that kind of rhythm and cadence.
I’m so overthinking this. XD
Her hips rolled, slowly at first as she got accustomed to his size. The stretch was just enough to complete her, end that empty hollow feeling, and bring pleasure in its wake. She rolled her hips again, leaned forward to brace her hands against his shoulders and there and there and there!
Maybe I’m belabouring the ‘empty hollow,’ but this is a double-reference, both to her physical desire (obviously enough) as well as … god. If I say ‘unmet emotional needs,’ shoot me. As well as her dissatisfaction with her options. On the surface, she has access to all kinds of power, and in her personal life, in the most personal decision she should veer have been able to make – her spouse, the person who gains life-long legal access to the inside of her body – she had absolutely no control.
This version of Kate was never sexually assaulted, not like Modern!Kate, but her loss of bodily autonomy is in many ways worse, more insidious, and longer-lasting.
Here, though, she’s on top, she’s in control, she is able to act out her own desires – to discover her own desires – with someone who’s shown no signs of judgement or disapproval.
The head of his cock rubbed against that place inside that seemed connected to every other part of her body. He stroked into her, his hands rough against her hips. He held her tightly and thrust up into her, his back arching up off his cloak.
She rode down to meet him in return. She ground her hips against his in frantic circles, first the nub of pleasure at the fore that demanded friction, sparks shooting up her spine at every contact. Then the swelling, burning need inside for more and ever more pressure until she thought that she would burst; blow apart into a thousand sparks and take her place among the stars.
Pleasure here is tangled up with the idea of literal physical escape, either through flight or death. She’s not content (obviously) with her life as it is, and the fantasy lover, the imagery associated with the sexual act here, is all about leaving the dull day-to-day behind.
Kate isn’t lusting after Tommy as a person, so much as she is projecting everything that she wants onto this idea of capricious and impulsive freedom that he represents.
Her thighs were aching, her arms trembled where they held her weight above him, and still there was the pleasure and the need driving her ever forward. Thomas’ mouth was on her breasts again, frantic nips and licks wherever he could reach.
I get the feeling that Tommy’s a boob man. I have no textual evidence to back this up.
He pressed a hand between their bodies and she lost her rhythm for a moment. He worked one finger in between, his fingertip resting just there where she could reach it on the downward stroke. She rocked her body down on him again, filled herself, hitched her hips and he was there. He rubbed his finger against her, slick with the evidence of her desire. That little extra was enough, the swollen balloon of pressure bursting in a rush. Sparks consumed her, became a blazing fire that racing outward from the iron bar inside her, flooding every limb and sense and inch with searing bliss.
And he’s a considerate and practiced lover. He’s actively working for her pleasure here, while she’s not doing much of anything specifically directed at his. This leads into my next note…
She screamed, and it was his name upon her lips.
I was originally planning to keep going with this, at least long enough for poor Tommy to formally ‘get his,’ but I got to this point and realized that it was the natural and proper stopping place. Tommy’s pleasure doesn’t matter, as such. Unlike in a huge amount of porn out there, the climax of the male partner is completely and utterly immaterial. He’s an object in this piece, a tool for Kate to use to begin to break down the barriers that have been constricting her. As such, her sexual agency, her pleasure, is the only appropriate end.
The curtains parted, the cage was gone, and she could see the sky.
This is a call-back to the canopy bed motif from earlier in the story. In a flashback, Kate remembers her nurse telling her stories about the demons that lurk outside the barriers of her world; the bedcurtains act, physically and metaphorically, as protection. Now that Kate’s an adult, the curtains have become stone walls and she is as effectively a prisoner as if she was actually locked down. By taking agency, in one of the very few ways a woman in her position would be able to access, she’s gained a glimpse of the kind of freedom she was trained all her life to be terrified of.
This also begins the hawk/hunter motif (“slip the jesses”) I’ll be using for Kate through the rest of the series.
The entire series began when I heard the song ‘Hunter’ by Heather Dale, and realized that was Tommy/Kate for me. She does some remarkable folklore-inspired music, and the more I listened to her albums again with the YA crowd in mind, the more pieces of this series started to fit together.
My current youtube playlist is here. Each track is a story I have planned out for this ‘verse so far. Hunter’s down at #10.
There aren’t nearly enough puns in this thing. I’m sorry.