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Deeper Than the Bone

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She'd cast the spell that finished Maurice herself. Marianne had watched the beast she was descended from dissolve to nothing but bone, and she had pulled Blutgang out from between what remained of his brittle ribs, already crumbling to dust with the faintest breeze, as the professor and the rest of her friends ran to see if she was all right. The weapon had lit up golden in response to the Crest in her blood, and it had felt right in her hand. It felt good, even.

It did not remain good for long: but, then, nothing in her life did.

The problem was Blutgang itself. She had taken to training with it, to excess. She had had to learn the rudiments of swordplay as part of the Academy's curriculum, but her gifts had so obviously been in white magic that she had never needed go much farther. Lady Catherine had suggested that she practice on a lesser magical sword first, but Marianne had foolishly insisted that it had to be Blutgang she mastered, or nothing at all. The professor had nodded her approval, and Catherine had gone ahead with teaching her.

She first felt the surging in her blood two weeks later, at the training grounds. She had spent the morning drilling with her sword. Lady Catherine had agreed that Marianne was best on horseback, but that things happened to horses in battle. She needed to be able to work on her feet, too. When Lysithea showed up for a quick spar, she was tired and frustrated. To make things worse, Lysithea was pulling her punches and not taking her seriously, which wasn't unusual: Lysithea was so powerful that she didn't need didn't take most other mages seriously. But Marianne felt angry, and had put too much energy into a spell. She sent Lysithea's frail form sprawling into a pile of broken training dummies, and Lysithea had laughed about it.

It took her half the walk down to the lake before Marianne felt like herself again. Goddess, she could have hurt Lysithea, she had wanted to see Lysithea bleed. She made a turn for the dining hall, and once she'd gotten her tray and sat down, nothing she ate filled her up, and all of it tasted so wonderful. Only the cooks were there to see her gorge herself.

Something in Blutgang had made something go wrong with her Crest. It had to be the sword—she had felt human when she'd killed Maurice, but now there was something animal inside of her. She retreated to her little room for the rest of the day, lest she do something else to embarrass herself.

The next morning, Marianne woke with the dawn, and intended to go to the chapel to pray for forgiveness. Instead, she felt a hot feeling come over her, another sort of hunger. She rubbed her thighs together under her sheets, and her hand had drifted down between them, to rest between her legs.

She drifted in and out of sleep, stroking herself lazily, sometimes lying on her front, sometimes on her back. Eating and doing violence yesterday had felt wonderful, but this was even better. The slide of the rough sheets against her thighs, her fingertips on her belly whenever she took a break, everything felt sharper and more real with her Crest riding her like this. At the same time, it felt like emptying out the sea with a goblet: pointless, aimless. She didn't let herself come, because if she did, she had the most overwhelming sense that would just need it again, and again, and again.

No one came looking for her—until just before the bells rang for lunchtime.

"Marianne," Hilda said, shutting the door softly behind her. "Hey! Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Marianne replied. She wasn't just hungry for food. She cracked one eye open, just enough to see that Hilda was wearing training armor, that her biceps were on display, that she had an enormous axe slung heedlessly, dashingly, over her shoulder. Marianne added, "I just... I have a headache."

To Marianne's dismay, Hilda set her axe down and crossed the room to sit on the side of the bed, running a hand through Marianne's loose hair, rubbing her scalp with her fingertips. Beneath the blankets, Marianne stroked herself; she was careful to keep herself still as she circled her clit. It was shameful, but she needed it so badly. She knew she could come from this alone, just from Hilda, so close to her, smelling so nice, being so gentle. If she pulled Hilda to her... Hilda would happily make her come, Hilda was so smart, she was so talented. Marianne rubbed harder thinking about it, and she couldn't help shift under the blanket.

"If you start feeling sick, have someone give me a yell, okay? I trained super hard with Balthus, I'm going to be in the sauna for a while," Hilda was saying, oblivious to what was happening. "I'll get Professor Manuela down here for you. Or I'll just carry you to the infirmary, if you want."

"It's just a headache, Hilda," said Marianne, but a whimper crept into her voice. Hilda in the sauna wearing nothing but a tiny towel, a bead of moisture running down her breasts, her hair stuck to her forehead with sweat... Marianne was so close, she just needed a few more minutes, and keeping herself from moving against her hand was agony.

To Marianne's horror, Hilda kissed the top of her head. Marianne squeezed her eyes shut and stopped, lest she come right away and reveal herself as the kind of awful sinner who masturbated to her friend being nice to her.

"See you at lunch, then," Hilda said, and left, not a moment to soon. The moment the door shut, all of Marianne's resolve to not come drained away, and she brought herself off swiftly. The sensation, the release, sent her spiraling to the heavens, and when it was over, it was as she had feared. She still needed more. She had to think of something other than Hilda, or she would give in her base instincts: to go to the sauna, and to pull that towel off of Hilda. So she cast her thoughts elsewhere. She'd read the same banned books that had been furtively passed around the Golden Deer back in their school days; she had plenty of material for her imaginings. 

And so she imagined Lorenz, who had somehow gotten so handsome, naked on his knees before her, with his hands tied behind his back. He'd kiss her boots, kiss her thighs, tell her she was perfect, flawless, divine, that all he wished to do was worship her for the rest of his days. He would protest that he was unworthy of putting his cock inside of her, that they should wait until they were properly wedded, but Marianne would demand it of him. She would be noble, she would be cruel, she would remind Lorenz that by marrying a future Margrave he, a mere Count's son, was marrying up in the world. She needed to know she was making a good bargain.

Or... Catherine and Shamir teaching her how to use Blutgang's powers, as they'd been doing not two days before. The two of them, they never mocked her clumsy swordsmanship—the two of them, passing Marianne back and forth on the training ground, peeling off the thin shirt and long skirt she wore off as they went, carrying on a casual conversation, disregarding her entirely except as their toy; Catherine riding her face, Shamir licking her until she came. That thought brought Marianne close—she was so wet, her wrist ached from the effort—but didn't bring her to completion, and she whined with frustration.

Then she thought on Leonie surprising her in the stables while she was currying Dorte. Leonie was plain and straightfoward. She'd never subject Marianne to hours of tedious flirting that Marianne had no answer to. I told you I'd make time, she'd say, backing Marianne into a stall, plying her with rough kisses. I'm making it now. Panting, Marianne would look into her eyes and pull up the plain, knee-length skirts she wore to work in the stables, silently entreating Leonie to touch her. Leonie would be good at it, and she had such strong shoulders to hold onto.

And it was with a little shame that she turned her mind to Claude, who was never impatient with her, asking Marianne her advice on the best route to move their troops through northern Alliance territory. He'd sit down in one of those awful chairs, and she'd end up in his lap, giving him the details of the terrain. He'd look up at her for permission—to do something, she didn't care, he could do anything to her that he liked—and he'd get her stripped to the waist, put his clever mouth on her breasts—then he'd  bend her over the table in the Cardinal's table and fuck her between her thighs, tease her until she begged him to put it in.

This kept going. It was humiliating. She would have to look all of these people in the eye tomorrow.

Marianne brought herself to three thunderous, shuddering climaxes before she recovered the presence of mind to so much as sit up in bed, groggy, her pulse still drumming through her whole body. Someone would help her. If she just called Hilda back and told her just how unwell she was feeling, if she found Claude and threw herself at him, they could help her. Leonie would be shocked, but if Marianne kissed her hard enough, she could be persuaded, too. Her thoughts drifted to all three of them at once, devoted to her pleasure. The more she thought about it, the more it seemed like a wonderful idea.

She cast her groggy mind about for somewhere to go where she would not be tempted... the Goddess Tower. The first floor was used to store medical supplies. She'd borrowed a key to it from Professor Manuela and simply never given it back. All she had to do was go unseen, unnoticed, on her way there, and she would be safe, and everyone would be safe from her. She could peel off her clothes and scream into the dark night; everyone would think it was a ghost.

Marianne stood on shaky legs, and a hot, bright rage came over her. She was good, she was faithful, she did her best, she was a gifted mage, a powerful healer. She didn't understand why, but people liked her. She weathered all of Father's criticisms without screaming in his face that she'd never asked to be his heir. And still, she'd been saddled with this Crest, and even personally slaying her most distant ancestor had not been enough to lift the curse in her blood. It wasn't fair. She succumbed to the urge to sweep all of her books and papers off of her room's sideboard, and then she kicked and scattered them across for good measure. It brought her no relief. Nothing would, not until the morning. 

By some miracle, no one stopped her on her way around the side of the cathedral. The room at the top, where Rhea would have held her vigil, was disappointingly bare. She'd hoped to find some solace by standing where the Archbishop stood, some measure of comfort, an insight that would cut through the fog in her mind. All she found was a narrow bed, a dusty table, a dull quill, and a bottle of long-dried ink. 

 She closed the door behind her and settled in for a long night alone. 

*

"Marianne didn't show up to breakfast," Hilda said, handing Claude a stack of letters. "You should go check on her. She's been doing so well since we came back from the whole, you know, thing. With her ancestor."

"Sure," Claude said, clinging to the cup of tea she'd brought to his room and rifling through the envelopes. He knew what their contents were already: Count Gloucester whining about his cows. Holst Goneril's endless, cheerful overtures of friendship. A pissy little note from Seteth about how long Judith's people were taking to get supplies to the monastery. He wanted to read them about as much as he wanted his wyvern to give him a swift kick in the nuts. The minute Hilda left, he was going to bed. 

"Tonight," Hilda added. "You should check on her tonight."

Or not. When it came to Marianne, Hilda didn't make suggestions, she gave orders: Marianne had a headache and wasn't to be bothered, Marianne would be given an extra slice of cake with dessert, Marianne's horse would have the nicest stall in the stable and best hay.

"Why aren't you checking on her?" Claude asked, despite this.

Hilda gave him a little huffy sigh. "I did, after breakfast. Then she didn't come to lunch or dinner, either, so I need you to work your magic on her, Mr. Leader Man! Give her that talk that makes everything right again."

He glanced up at Hilda, knowing exactly what he'd see: the saintly mien of someone who was sure that Claude von Riegan could make the world dance on its head if he wanted it to. When he saw her turn it on other people, he thought they were idiots for falling for it; when she turned it on him, it took about twelve seconds for him to cave in.

"Fine," he said. "I'll go give her a little speech."

"You're the best," Hilda said. "You know that? You're my favorite."

And the thing was, Claude thought, as he headed down toward the dormitories—he liked Marianne. Her smiles came more often lately, and every time he heard her shy little laugh, it was like having a bag full of diamonds dumped out in his hand. So here he was, crossing the entire monastery for her, readying a speech about how she was a nice person who deserved nice things, and so on and so forth.

Who knew, maybe she'd let Claude give her a hug when it was over. Maybe she'd give him a nice, chaste peck on the cheek, but he couldn't imagine asking for anything more from her. Well. He could imagine it, in great detail, if he wanted—they'd all seen each other naked at some point,  after training, in the sauna, in a healer's tent, he'd taken those moments to memorize the curve of her waist and the dip at the base of her spine—but someone like Marianne von Edmund needed a nice, long romancing. 

He knocked on Marianne's door and and got no answer. There wasn't any light coming out from underneath it, either. When he tried the knob, he found it unlocked, which was basically an invitation.

The room was empty, the bedsheets crumpled, books and papers strewn all over the floor. Claude took a step back, puzzling over the scene. A kidnapping in the middle of Garreg Mach wasn't impossible, just improbable, but it didn't look like something violent had happened here. It looked like she'd destroyed the room herself. He'd bet Failnaught that Hilda had already seen this and simply hadn't felt like running all over Garreg Mach in search of her beloved Marianne.

And, all right, where would Marianne go if she wanted to be alone? The cathedral had comers and goes at all hours. She loved horses, but Judith's retainers were still figuring out their stabling arrangements, and there wasn't any privacy to be had down by the animal pens.

That left the Goddess Tower. It was a leap on his part: there were plenty of other abandoned spaces at Garreg Mach, but if Marianne was in one of her melancholy moods, she'd go somewhere very holy, he bet.

The locks on the door at the base of the Tower were antique, rusty, and susceptible to a little persuasion. Outside, it had grown dark. It was going to be a moonless night, and there were no windows on the staircase at the tower's core; instead, the perfect, smooth stone of the wall shone at intervals with lights in the shape of his own Crest, which preceded him up the steps and disappearing when he passed them.

Claude added that to his "creepy monastery mysteries Seteth refused to explain to him" list, along with "who decided there was going to be a huge secret cavern under the mountain where people lived?" and "hey, what's with the weird glowing green orb in that one gazebo no one talks about?" Behind the door to the topmost room, he heard the sounds of someone pacing back and forth, their footfalls light on the creaky floors. If it was just a drunken soldier, he was going to feel like a huge idiot.

He swung open the door. He looked inside, got a brief impression of stained glass, unfinished wood floors, a desk, before a hand grabbed him by the front of his shirt and dragged him in.

Standing before him, tugging him along with a strength he knew for a fact she did not possess, was Marianne. Every day she covered herself from wrist to ankles, but here she was, naked as the day she was born. The mass of her hair fell around unevenly around her face, her tidy braided crown destroyed, as if she'd been yanking on it.

"Uh, Marianne," he said. "Are you okay—" 

In response, she flicked her wrist and sent Claude stumbling down onto the narrow bed. When he sat up, she stood over him and watched him. The starlight coming through the stained glass of the window painted her moon-pale skin blue and red. It should have been a pretty picture. It would have been, but when he looked her in the eyes, he did not see Marianne von Edmund; there was something else there, something older.

"So I take it Marianne's not at home for visitors," he said, as she advanced on him. Even the walk was wrong: Marianne wasn't graceful like this, not on her feet, at least. Whatever was riding Marianne made her settle down onto Claude's lap, wind her slender arms around his neck. She was eye to eye with him. It was so easy to forget that she wasn't actually short. 

"You're strong," it crooned in Marianne's soft voice. "I can smell your blood. You're worthy."

He'd left the jacket off, and with her pressed against him like this, he could feel her hard nipples through the fabric of his shirt. Her breasts were so small—smaller than he'd thought they'd be, under all those layers—and he fisted his hands at his sides. She wasn't herself. All right. He could handle that. Like most problems in Fódlan, it was probably a Crest problem. If she kept rubbing herself on his thigh like that, it was going become another kind of problem entirely. 

Moving over him, using his leg for her pleasure, Marianne radiated heat. She went for the laces on his pants, and he caught her hands before she could start tugging at them.

"You're worthy," Marianne repeated, fighting his attempts at keeping him away from his cock.

"Worthy of what?" Claude managed.

"Of fathering my heirs," Marianne said coolly. "Of spilling your seed—"

"Whoa, okay, yeah, got it! Sure. Got it," Claude said. He put his hands on her shoulders and peeled her upper body away from him, gently, lest any sudden movement set her off. 

He could not have predicted the fineness of her collarbones under his touch, the smoothness of her skin, how the strength in her shoulders belied their delicacy. He did not expect that she would be trembling, shaking like a leaf. There was a peculiar, greedy light in her eyes, but there was pain there, too. She was more than her Crest, and if Hilda was right, she hadn't eaten all day. He hadn't seen bags under her eyes like that since their student days. 

The smart thing to do would be to get out of this room and sit vigil on the steps, so no one came up here and took advantage of her. The wise thing to do would be to wrap her up in a blanket, throw her over his shoulder, kick Manuela and Hanneman's doors in, and tell them to fix her.

Claude von Riegan—Khalid ibn Tiana—whoever it was convenient to be today—always did the smart thing, and sometimes he even did the wise thing. But Marianne had come up here to hide something problem she was ashamed of, and he wouldn't be doing either of them any favors by dragging it out into the light.

And so, heart pounding in his chest, cock stiffening regardless of his good intentions, he did a very stupid thing.

He pulled Marianne carefully back into an embrace. She stuck to him, still shaking, her thighs clamped around his hips. If these were any other circumstances, he would have been having a great time. "Want me to make you feel better?" he asked, kissing the point of her chin and the line of her jaw, which was all he could reach with her holding him like this.

Even with such a little touch, she shivered against him, shifted downward so that she could put her mouth to his. There was something dark and hungry in her kiss, something that wanted to consume him from the inside out, and Claude welcomed it. He spent all day being just the right amount of perfect, and for a selfish minute, he wanted to be free, be nothing, be an object for Marianne to use. He ran a hand up her slender back, letting it settle between her shoulder blades. Her skin under his palm felt like silk, and she arched her back and made a startled gasp into his mouth when he grabbed the back of her neck and squeezed. 

"It's okay," he said, pitching his voice low, speaking into the corner of Marianne's mouth. "I've got you." He could feel her heart pounding. When he slid his hand up, to tangle it in her hair and wrench her head back, the sound she made was poetry. This Marianne liked it a little rough. Claude could do rough. 

He kissed the base of Marianne's throat and lingered there, sinking his teeth in and feeling her flinch. Her skin tasted of salt and flowers. She clutched at his hair, returning the favor from moments before, and with her uncanny strength she made it hurt. The pain was sharp and sudden. Claude groaned. His hand went to her lower back, pressing her against where he was hard; she ground against him, head thrown back, bare breasts pressed to his chest. That brought him no relief, for all that she felt so right against him. Maybe he had a little bit of that Crest madness in him too, because he couldn't think of any good or compelling argument against pulling his cock out and letting her ride it until they were both spent. 

Which was all the more reason to get a hold of himself. He couldn't take advantage of her. Never mind that she was rutting herself on his cock through trousers that felt thinner by the moment, letting out the kinds of sweet, excited little moans he dreamed of; Marianne deserved six months of flowers and owl feathers before he even thought about kissing her, let alone seeing her naked.

But here they were. He shifted their bodies so he was fully on the bed, propped up on his arms. Marianne made a sound of dismay, stroking herself shamelessly. She looked like she was hurting again, her brow furrowed, her mouth turned severely down at the corners. "I will have my due," she said, her free hand fisting in the front of his shirt, twisting it. Her voice was harsh. "You will give me an heir of my bloodline—"

"Shh, it's okay," Claude said, easing himself down on the ragged mattress. It was thinner and harder than it had felt at first. The archbishop always did carry herself like an old soldier. Claude took Marianne around the waist and encouraged her to scoot up his body, so that the thatch of curly pale blue hair between her legs was right in front of his chin. "Ride my face, come on. I've got you. I bet you taste so sweet, Marianne." 

Slowly, almost petulantly, she came up the rest of the way, so that her cunt hovered over his mouth. He didn't have to do much, not really. Her cunt wasn't sweet; she was bitter on this tongue. He licked up and down the seam of her lip, slow and teasing. He delved in and felt how wet she was already, and when he pressed the flat of his tongue to her clit her whole body froze, and she whined and pulled back. The sound gripped something deep inside of him and squeezed. Even her Crest couldn't overcome the shock of having someone touch her there for what was almost definitely the first time. Marianne was still in there.

"That's right," he said. He was shooting for sounding nice and reassuring. He landed somewhere around horny idiot."That feels nice, doesn't it," he went on. In the darkness above him, he had the sense of motion, of Marianne nodding, before she tentatively lowered her body onto him again.

This time, he put his hands on her thighs to hold her to him, feeling them clench under his grip. They were strong from years of horseback riding, a delight to touch. On a whim, he turned his head and nipped at the soft skin on her inner thigh, then kissed the mark he'd left. She responded by pushing herself down onto his face, which, okay, fair.

He licked eagerly at her, giving his attention to her whole slit, and above him she nearly sobbed with pleasure.

"Please," Marianne moaned, and now she sounded like herself, whispery and soft. He shut his eyes and traced his tongue in tiny circles around her clit, keeping his touch light, just for the satisfaction of hearing her beg, to feel her shove her body into the pressure. She grabbed his hair with one hand, and it sent a thrill through him—would Marianne, normal Marianne, want to pull his hair as much as she did when her Crest was making her wild? He liked it. He'd seen her as a healer, he knew she had a bossy side hiding inside her. Just one more secret to uncover.

When Claude opened his eyes, he saw that she'd braced herself on the wall over his head as she rode him. That wouldn't do. He wanted her collapsed over him, limp and desperate, so he took her whole clit into his mouth and sucked, hard, and she wailed so loudly he was sure the flying sentinels could hear it. The sound went straight to his cock. If it had been hard before, it was aching now. He had half a thought to reach down and palm at himself, but he made it as far as her ass. 

He squeezed it, and he sucked her clit into her mouth. It was with no small amount of pride that he felt her collapse over him, rubbing herself blindly on his face. He needed to stop, he needed to take a breath, but Marianne was merciless. Insatiable. He was surrounded by her scent; if he didn't wash his face in the morning, he could smell her all day. With both hands on her ass, he moved her back and forth, showing her how to grind herself on his face. She took to it naturally; it was just another kind of riding, it wasn't such a big leap, some far-off part of his mind supposed.

But the rest of him, the part of himself that Claude might have kept at a remove at any other time, with anyone else, was quiet. He had no plan. He had no grand design here, no scheme to advance, no one to manipulate. There was just making Marianne come, and the satisfaction it would bring. Gradually, as he worked his tongue against her, he felt her movements become shorter, more erratic. Her little, sobbing moans grew to a heartbreaking wail, and he sucked at her again, squeezed her hips so hard he knew he was going to leave a bruise, and he did not let her go, not until he felt like she was going to break his neck.

And then it was finished. She'd slumped over him, boneless, and Claude had to maneuver her onto her back. She looked at him from beneath heavy-lidded eyes, and he saw a flash of panic there—and then she fell abruptly asleep. 

"You know, Marianne, that's actually kind of flattering," Claude said to her sleeping form. "I've never made someone come so hard they fainted. Good work, me."  

He looked down, considering his erection. Yes, she'd just fucked his face, but it was still Marianne; it would feel wrong to jerk off next to her. All he could think of was the soft heat of her body, how she'd feel around his cock, but now was not the time. If she forgave him for this in the morning, then maybe they could talk about it; for now, he was going to try to catch some sleep.

*

Marianne came back to herself, slowly and with terrible steadiness. It was still dark out. That wasn't right. She lay in the narrow bed, and she had someone's arms around her: strong arms, lean with muscle. Her desperate aching had dulled, but not disappeared; she could smell her own sex on the air, feel her own wetness on her inner thighs. That most certainly was not right.

"Look who's awake," a sleepy voice said from above her head. "You okay?"

It was Claude holding her, Claude whose chest she was half-lying on, Claude who smiled down at her, a little hazily. Oh, no, she thought, as her mind scrambled to catch up with what was happening: he still had all of his clothes on, even his boots. His lower body was angled purposefully away from her—and she was still hungry, apparently, because the only thought in her mind was that she could fix that. All it would take was a little shift forward, to throw her leg over his. 

"You," she said, shaking herself out of it. "We...."

"Mostly you." Claude adjusted himself so he was sitting upright, taking her with him. She was sat in his lap, and she could feel the evidence of his arousal against her belly. Even between their bodies, through his trousers, his penis felt big, bigger than she'd dared imagine it when she'd imagined him pushing her down over the Cardinal's room table. But she had most likely thrown herself at Claude and done terrible, wicked things to him; she could not dream of asking him for more than what he had already given he had given her. 

"Ah, I...." Marianne began, and trailed off almost immediately.  "Did I hurt you?" she asked, at last. 

He shrugged, brushing his hair back from where it had fallen over his face. "You surprised me, is all. Hilda asked me to check on you, and I found you up here." 

"Did I... did I make any unnatural demands of you?" 

"You did try to suffocate me," Claude said, "but not with your hands, if you know what I mean." If the light had been a little bit fainter, she might not have had to see him wink up at her. 

He didn't seem angry with her, at least. She silently thanked the Goddess for that, and for whatever he'd been so kind as to do to her; and for the blessing of his body underneath hers, which alleviated the burning inside her. But as she shifted in his lap, the fire began building again, and this time it had more than her detailed and fevered imaginings to feed on. Claude seemed so calm underneath her, as though this was a lovely tea party and he had nowhere better to be—as though she hadn't fallen on him like a ravening animal. Like a beast

The thought—that Claude had seen what she feared most in herself and not been disgusted by it—inflamed her even more than his beautiful face or his heavy cock. A memory came back to her through the haze that overlaid the past few hours in her mind, of pulling his hair and hearing him gasp for her. Of tossing him down onto the bed and climbing him like a mounting block. And still, he hadn't run away. 

"Claude," Marianne said. Reluctantly, she extracted herself from his embrace. "I thank you for your kindness, but I need to go back to my room now." 

His brows drew together. Immediately, Marianne readied an apology—for what, she did not yet know, but it was prudent to have one on the tip of one's tongue, just in case. "Are you all right?" he asked. He reached out and laced his fingers through hers before she could think to pull away. 

"I'm fine," she insisted, but just that little touch stoked the flames in her to an inferno. Take him, her Crest said, he's hard for you, he wants you. 

No... no. She was blaming this on her Crest, but it was just her thinking these awful things about a friend who'd been so generous as to help her, with his mouth, no less. Another memory, through the fog: looking down into Claude's eyes as he buried his face between her legs. She shifted uncomfortably. She'd sullied the Goddess Tower with her presence, she needed to go. What had she been thinking, coming here? She could return to her room and touch herself for hours, if need be. This state could not last forever. 

Without a word, Claude rose from where he lay and embraced her from behind. He rested his chin on her shoulder and yawned, a little, the weight of him heavy and comfortable. She could smell herself on him. 

And that was all it took to unskein her will. She tilted her head away from him, an invitation to kiss her right there, on her neck—he did so, his mouth slow and wet on her skin. He nipped at her earlobe as well, with gentle teeth, and progressed up the shell of her ear, then worked his way back down again. She trembled, reaching around behind her to touch him, do something. She whimpered with pleasure.

"Still going strong, huh," Claude said, when at least he pulled his mouth off of her. 

"I'm sorry, I really do mean to go. I'm just—"  

"Whatever you need, I'll give it to you," he said. "Come on, it's not like it's a hardship. I mean, it is pretty hard, but...." He tilted her chin so she could see the slow smile spread across his face. 

Claude was seducing her. This was all wrong. She did not understand how he could sit there and grin, as though she was a normal human being, someone he liked, even. But the Goddess had not seen fit to grant Marianne the strength not to succumb—to his warm eyes, to his big hands, which were cupping her breasts gently, enough to make her yearn for more.

"When I was alone, trying to, um, deal with this myself," she found herself babbling, "I thought of this. Of you, Claude." 

"Yeah? Just me?" Claude had one hand splayed out on her stomach, holding her firmly to him. The other had begun playing with her breasts, taking turns with them, plucking leisurely at her nipples, squeezing them. Every touch felt like she was falling, melting.

"I thought of nearly everyone, I think," Marianne admitted. She arched her back into his touch, but only a little bit: her foul blood was still howling at her to take him, take what he offers, but she gritted her teeth. She was going to be restrained, controlled. She had to be. "I'd... I'd like to be on top of you, please," she continued. 

Wordlessly, he let her go, and she watched as he removed his shirt, tugged his trousers and underwear off. Marianne brought a knuckle to her mouth and gnawed at it, at the sight of his body. "Not bad, right?" Claude asked while she gawked. 

"You're very handsome," Marianne said, half into her hand. When he laid down, his cock was so hard it curved up against his stomach, and after a moment's hesitation Marianne climbed atop him, straddling him. Now she balked: she had spent quite a lot of time thinking about cocks today, but the mechanics of the act itself were foreign to her. 

"If you're not sure about this, we don't have to," Claude said. "You had a lot to say earlier about, uh, me fathering your heirs, I don't want to put either of us in an awkward position. There's other stuff we can do"—he cupped her between her legs, going directly for her clit, and she bit her lip—"if you want." 

Even as he played with her clit, even as his cock was inches away from being inside of her, Marianne felt her face turn red. Where had such filthy words come from? As for his other concern: "Um, the awkward position, it won't be a problem." She placed her palm over her lower belly and performed the little spell that Professor Maneula taught to every student who could get pregnant, regardless of their magical talent or which uniform they wore. Claude's eyebrows rose in recognition of what she was doing.

Once she'd finished the spell, however, she sat atop him stiffly, unsure of what to do next. She wanted to sit on his cock, ride him until she was spent, but she had vowed self-control. With great care and a gentle touch, she fisted his cock, exploring the length and girth of it, the way his foreskin slid over his head. She could manage getting this inside of her. 

"I can hear you thinking," Claude said. "Keep doing that, if you want. Take your time." But his voice sounded strangled, and in the dim and distant light she could have sworn his cheeks were flushed. She wanted him to enjoy this, too. He had already gone out of his way to make her come. So she rose up on her knees and fit the head of his cock against her slippery cunt, rubbing it against her clit. Something hot unfurled in her, and she longed to go faster, but she bit the inside of her cheek and forced herself to go slowly. 

Claude's hands went to her hips, wandered up her front, to squeeze her breasts, almost cruelly. He liked them, she realized, belatedly, and the realization had her leaning over him, grinding harder. He tilted his head back and took one of her nipples into his mouth, sucking on it, worrying at it with his teeth. "Yes," she said, forgetting herself. "Yes, oh, Claude, I want—"

"I know," Claude interrupted, pushing his cock up against her so that it slid through her folds. Marianne nodded, and Claude's held her around her midsection, pulling her down flat against his body for a ferocious kiss. It left her no room to think of her restraint. When he broke the kiss, she panted against his mouth, gasping. His cock bumped up against her entrance—she froze. Claude smoothed some hair away from her face. "Take it in your hand," he ordered, closing his eyes. "Put it inside of you."

This tone was his leader of the Alliance voice, which he used so very rarely, but to great effect each time. She did not think she would ever be able to hear it again without thinking about moving over him in the dark. 

With clumsy hands, Marianne grasped his cock and did as he said, and slowly, painstakingly, worked the tip into her. She was so wet, but it felt as though she was hardly prepared, and the stretch was uncomfortable. Very well: if it hurt a bit, she would not get carried away. She slid down another inch and grimaced, looking up at the ceiling so he would not see it. 

"You feel so good," Claude groaned, thrusting shallowly up in her, wringing a surprised cry from her lips.  "Come on, Marianne. sweetheart, I know you can take more." 

With this encouragement, with this endearment, he pulled her down into another hot, openmouthed kiss, his bowstring-roughened hands roaming over her back. Marianne steeled herself to sink down further onto his cock and found that she was wetter, now; it was easier, and almost pleasant. Almost. She held onto the discomfort as she rode him, taking him a little deeper with each movement of her body, until her hips were flush against his. Only then did she break the kiss, clinging to his shoulders and resting her head on his chest.

As she lay there, holding his entire length inside of her, she felt so full. It was not comfortable, but for the first time in the past day, the baying of her Crest was quiet. She could stay like this forever if it meant she did not lose herself again, she thought, even as her cunt strained around him. Claude's touched her there, stroking clit briefly, his fingers delving in between their bodies to feel how she was stretched on his cock. He made a desperate noise in the back of his throat at what he found there, and with no small effort, she ceased her dithering and began to ride him.

Every movement was a joy, and an agony. Marianne felt clumsy and awkward as she moved on him. His hands wandered over the front of her body, now stroking her face, now stopping to appreciate her breasts again, now pressing a thumb firmly against her clit. "Claude," she said, proud that her voice was steady, "please, keep doing that." 

He nodded, and moved finger in lazy circles, his lips parted and his jaw slack with lust as he watched her ride his cock. She allowed herself to move a bit faster on him; the burn was not so severe now, it was almost overtaken by the pleasure of being filled, of having a bit of control over someone so smart and powerful, but she had to keep her wits about her. She rose up so that only the tip of him was still inside of her, then sank down swiftly—the sensation was astonishing,  not wholly painful, and spread through her whole lower body, curled her toes, made her abdomen clench. So she did it again, chasing that strange, thrilling feeling, and this time forgot to hide her wince. 

She knew she had done something wrong when Claude's hands went to her hips and stilled her movement. "Hey," he said, "something's wrong. What is it." 

A thousand admonitions in her lifetime to stand up straight and not be an embarrassment to the family name could not keep Marianne's shoulders from slumping. "I'm sorry, I just... I imposed myself on you earlier," she said. "It must have been very shocking. I'm trying not to be shocking." 

"I've watched you rip enemy soldiers apart with magic without so much as slowing your horse down," Claude replied flatly. "That's scary. Your Crest making you want to sit on my face and talk about me getting you pregnant isn't going to frighten me off. I promise." 

"Ah... if you say so," Marianne said. She could not help herself: before she could cover her mouth to stop it, she let out a little giggle. What he'd said wasn't funny, but the fact that she had laughed seemed to make him happy. He stroked her face with something very much like affection on his face, then sat up abruptly, still buried inside of her. The slight change in the angle of his penetration made her gasp, and she her hands flew to his shoulders to steady herself. He felt so much deeper like this; she had not thought that was possible.

"So relax, okay?" Claude was saying. "Here, I've got you." 

With a hand braced on her lower back, he laid her down and settled above her. She was not accustomed to keeping eye contact with anyone for so long, but she resolved to meet Claude's gaze. He wasn't much taller than her, but he felt enormous, hovering over her like this. "I like this," she said, bring her thighs up to rest against his sides, cradling his lean hips.

His cock slipped in deeper, and he huffed out a breath. Oh, Goddess, this must have been such a strain for him. She was being inconsiderate. Emboldened by the dark, the quiet, the heave of his chest against hers as he tried his best to stay still—she liked him straining, she liked that all of his attention was on her—she ran her hands down his back. He had a deep scar running along his spine, where an inferior healer had tried to repair an axe wound. She paused, running her fingers around the edges of it, mapping the length it. If she had been there for him... no, she would not feel guilty about this, there was so much more of him to touch. She caressed his behind, scraping her fingernails over it to see what he would do. 

"Shit," Claude said, and his hips snapped against hers, not gently at all. 

A hot sensation coiled through her, winding around her limbs, putting all her focus on where they were joined. It was nearly as good as riding him. "Do that again, now," she demanded. 

Claude von Riegan, the best talker in all of Fodlan, did not have anything to say to that. He kissed the tip of her nose, pressed a brief kiss to her lips. Then he moved on her, in her, and she found was not in control of herself at all. She had never been in control, probably: not when she'd been riding him, and certainly not now, with her legs wound around the small of his back, her cries echoing through the whole of the tower. 

And he was not quiet, either. Next to her ear, Claude's breaths were heavy with exertion. She clung to him, desperate, trying to meet his rhythm; he felt so right on top of her. She grabbed his behind again to feel how his muscles worked, and abruptly the tempo of his thrusts changed, became faster and harder. 

"Let go," he said, face pressed into her hair, his voice broken, the movement of his hips over her turning rough, frantic. "Let go, come on, come for me, I want to feel you—" 

Marianne felt it, the moment he came inside of her. She had not expected to be able to feel it—and he kept going through it, reaching down stroke her clit hard, murmuring encouragements into her ear. And she felt something break inside of her, and she was coming, too, still full of his cock, his fingers working at her relentlessly.

He stayed atop her when he pulled out. His eyes were shut, and his chest was heaving. She felt his come leaking out of her, and it wasn't unpleasant, only strange—but it slid down her inner thigh onto the Archbishop's blankets. Oh, Saints, they'd just had sex in the Archbishop's bed, this was terrible. She could not bring herself to feel embarrassed. Just this once, she would worry in the morning. For now, there was only the pleasant tiredness in her limbs to think of.  

"How's the Crest," Claude said, finally rolling off of her. He sounded as though he'd just run five miles with Hilda on his back. 

"Oh, it's quiet now, thank you." That didn't seem adequate. Marianne cleared her throat and tried again: "Thank you... kindly." Still not good enough. "You're a good leader." 

"Right, a leader." Claude rolled himself over, onto his side, so he was looking down into her eyes. "If this ever happens to you again, I'll take care of it. You know that, right?" 

"I couldn't—" 

"Sure you can. It's not like I don't get anything out it. You scratch my back, I scratch yours." 

The Marianne she became under her Crest's influence was violent, greedy. With it calmed, she could remember more of what she had done. It came back to her with an awful clarity. She'd wanted to hurt him. She had wanted to mark him, to carve herself so deeply into his flesh that he could never get her out. She'd wanted him to fill her belly with children, so this cursed Crest would not die out. Those things were a part of her, and she had never looked away from all the dreadful things she was, and she did not intend to start doing so now—and Claude looked completely earnest when he offered himself up to her.

She cared for him. She liked him quite a lot.

"Very well," Marianne said gravely, and held out her hand for him to shake. "It's a deal."

He shook it once, firmly. "Great, nice doing business with you." His tone was pleasant, but Marianne had spent enough time cringing from pleasant tones of voice that she knew he did not mean it. Then he sat up, picking up his clothes from the foot of the bed.

In the faint light, she could see the scar she'd touched earlier, and more, as well. She could not let him leave the tower on this note, as though what had just passed between them was business between their houses, a price paid for the Alliance war effort. Claude turned to say something to her, and Marianne flung her arms around him, pressing her cheek to his chest.

"I'm glad it was you who found me," she said, glad that her face was angled away from him. "I—I wouldn't have wanted anyone else."

"Oh, come on, Marianne, if you keep talking like that I'll think you like me," Claude said—but he kissed the top of her head, and he held her for a long, long time, until the first rays of sunlight came over the mountains and through the window, and it was finally time for them to return to the rest of their lives.