President de Gaulle asked her to join him for a glass of wine. He waited until she was well into her cups before he asked her a seemingly innocuous questions: “My dear Marianne, why did you never get married?”
He shouldn’t have had to ask this, because there were whole books - thick books, no less - in the Elysée Palace that detailed her tumultuous love life. They contained all the rotten, gory details about the failed engagements, the offers and the rebuttals, her very vocal distaste for the idea of marrying, the reputation she earned as a loose woman, a sly seductress of questionable moral.
But de Gaulle wanted to hear it from her, he wanted her to dissect her reasoning in front of him, he wanted her to do a post-mortem on all her failed relationships for him. She took a deep breath, drank a whole glass of wine in one go, and when she was feeling pleasantly tipsy, she did what he asked of her. France thought about all the men that loved her and all the men that asked for her hand in marriage, thought how she could best summarize all of them in as few words as possible –
There was Scotland and Turkey, and Russia and England, oh god, England that kept trying even after the others gave up. There was a whole story with every one of them, but it could be summarily described as this – all of them wanted things from her that France was never willing to give. They were never going to be satisfied with her military and her gold and her cunning and her cunt – they wanted things she would never be able to give.
“Even since the Auld Alliance – that was…when? 1295? That’s when they tried to marry me off for the first time, to seal the deal, as they say.” She took a big gulp of wine.
“Surely you know this already, Charles.”
“I want to hear it from you. Why did you never marry any of them? Not even him?”
The him in question was a thorny subject that her president rarely addressed directly.
France had stayed in behind during the German occupation, but President de Gaulle had been in exile in London. He had a notoriously rocky relationship with Churchill, he disliked the English and most of all, he seemed to irrationally dislike England himself without offering explanations, despite knowing about the personal history that England and France shared.
She suspected her president thought she had poor taste in men.
“Not even him.” She responded, voice hard. France hoped that Charles would leave it as such and not pursue this line of question further, but there was already a sinking feeling in her stomach.
“You’ve met him,” she shot back, and looked at him straight in the eye. President de Gaulle was smart and sly, he smirked at her and it made her soften into a chuckle, “What did you think of him?”
“He’s very intense, isn’t he? Possessive?” Like he was trying the word out for size, careful in what he was saying. Both of them knew though – she looked at president de Gaulle and knew he understood, that she could never have married England, because he loved her right up to the edge of insanity and wanted to possess her more than he wanted to be with her. It made her chuckle.
“I can’t be anyone’s wife, Charles. I’m not offering France as dowry, I’m not going to be an obedient bride, I’m not offering my men to die for another war, I’m not…”
Her voice was starting to get an edge to it, and edge of something that was frantic, because it was frightening that she was still having this conversation even after the monarchy fell and they were organizing election. They were trying out this whole democracy business because marrying into an alliance had lost its appeal.
“I’m not asking you to.”
“Then what are you asking me, Charles?”
“What if this would be a way to ensure peace? It wouldn’t have to be a real marriage, you know – it could be a contract, a performance for the people to show your commitment to peace. Herr Adenauer and I spoke about it, and…”
“You want to marry me off to Germany?” She shot up from her seat as it burned her. “After the war, you would suggest something like that?”
“Did he ever do something to you? Hurt you?”
The way President de Gaulle stressed the word made it very clear what he was actually asking her. The fact that he asked at all did a lot to temper her outrage – there were several kings in her past that wouldn’t have cared about it.
“You know he didn’t.” She asked with a tired sigh, “Have you seen Ludwig?” The thought of Prussia’s little baby brother having that sort of power over her was ludicrous.
His men were a different matter all-together, some of them had been monsters during the occupations, but they were still men and they wouldn’t be able to touch her.
What would men even be able to do to her that she hadn’t been through already? She’d been beheaded and burned at the stake and died of so many diseases she lost count. Men at war were always the same – vicious dogs. France, however, she had the certainty that no matter how long and tough the war would be, she would still have the satisfaction of trampling their corpses under the soles of her dainty little Channel heels.
Germany himself, though, he had never been frightening, could not be.
“He’s allergic to strawberries, you know.” France said. She picked up the open bottle of wine and poured herself a generous amount, emptied what was left of it in her glass. “You know how I found out about that? I invited that Prussia to a ball at Versailles a few decades ago, and she brought this child with her. He was munching on chocolate dipped gariguettes for the whole night and I paid it no mind, until Prussia puts him right next to me and she starts talking to me, and he just sat there, looking a bit green around the edges.”
France gulped down her wine glass. It wasn’t a good idea to do so, especially considering the fact that she was already slurring in her speech. However, President De Gaulle suggested that she should get married. Worse still, he suggested she should get married to Germany.
“I never knew how to deal with children, that’s why I left England to take care the twins,” she argued, feeling outrage swell in her chest at the memory of it. “Let it be known, Arthur was fully responsible for raising them.”
“What happened afterwards?” De Gaulle asked her, his voice mild and amused.
“Afterwards? Oh, afterwards? After Prussia sits this little blond child right next to me? ‘Oh, look how cute my little brother is, France’” she thought she did a rather accurate impersonation of Prussia’s harsh, throaty accent, “Look at his little blue eyes, look at his precious little face, look at him puking strawberries all over your silk organza dress. I swear, all of Versailles was echoing with the cackles of that witch.”
Prussia, oh, how long did the two of them spend pulling at each other’s hair in the world’s most elegant cat fights?
Back when she was a young little nation, old man Rome picked her out of all the other dirty little brats and put her in a temple, where priestesses brushed fragrant oils in her hair, braided it with gold cords and put flowers behind her ears. They called her Gallia back then, and they thought her how to sing, how to dance, how to move gracefully. She was clean and happy and beautiful, she smelled good because she took frequent baths.
Meanwhile, as a young child, Teuton who would become Prussia had decided she wanted to be a dirty little gremlin, dressed in boiled leathers and smelling like horse, half feral and with matted hair. Disgusting, yes, but as they grew into their respective nationhoods, both of them came to understand each other. Both of them were determined to belong solely to themselves.
“Germany’s older sister was a menace. Is a menace.” Ever since the West/East split, since Prussia started to be called Deutsche Demokratische Republik and Julia had been whisked away by Ivan – the world changed again, and France hadn’t seen her face since. France found herself blinking fast, her eyes stinging. “And he was small and cute and all wide-eye innocence, until I blink, turn around and he’s suddenly tall and huge and invading me.”
She had been so sick during the Great War – she was stuck in bed for days sometimes, feeling how wounds were opening across her back from where they were digging trenches, how mustard gas was seeping into the soils, how it burned her lungs, her stomach, her veins, her skin. All her nerve endings were burning.
It was 1962, the Great War was long gone, and France’s back still held the scars of it. She remembered how angry she had been, how much she wanted to make the damn brat pay for them – for the pain, the scars, for the way Arthur looked at her like he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to touch her anymore. For the way America and England suddenly thought she was weak.
“Marianne, if you don’t mind me saying – I’ve heard all the reasons you offered when arguing against marriage – a lot of it can be summed up to retaining independence and not wanting to be caged in. I do believe that a lot of the men who asked for your hand in the past were unsuitable for the position.”
She opened her mouth to argue, as if defend England’s honor in front of De Gaulle, but then – what was she supposed to defend? Over the years, she had used much of the same arguments to counter the proposition. She promptly closed her mouth with a click.
“Marrying someone has less to do with love and ownership and more to do with mutual respect and a willingness to compromise.” De Gaulle added, which France privately agreed to. Marriage was something that seeped away the romance and the forbidden passion out of a relationship, wasn’t it? For her, passion was unflinching and merciless in its destruction, something that left no room for negotiation.
All of those men that loved her, they always expected her to be theirs, as if it was that easy, as if you only had to place one foot on French territory and she was expected to open her legs, as if she got beaten once or twice and she was supposed to be less haughty, less bitchy, she should learn her place and stop playing with the big strong men. They all acted as if they knew all about France, how much easy she was, what depraved morals. Why, she should be grateful if they were willing to propose marriage to someone like her.
The casual possession and ownership, the expectation of submission.
“A marriage during the eighteenth century would have placed a woman at a disadvantage, but marriage as a partnership in in the 20th century would not be the same thing. Also, you said it yourself – Ludwig himself is young, and he was raised by his wild, free spirited sister. Do you really think he would expect you be – what? A meek little hausfrau?”
France thought back to the rotten days of the Vichy regime, when she was forced to rub shoulders in the Ritz with all the crème de la crème of Third Reich. By the Germans, she had treated like the highest war prize, like the crown jewel that was to be presented as an offering to their handsome little princeling. She had despised them, despised Petain, and Ludwig, and Julia - for putting her in that position, for the implication that she was supposed to be a conquerable, ownable thing once again.
But Germany had surprised her in the way he treated her – maybe because he was too young to remember the days of barbarian pillaging and plundering or when Kings were chosen by God and Nations had the right to take anything they wanted. Maybe it was as simple as growing up with Big Sister Prussia and Auntie Hungary that put the fear of God and womanhood inside him, because he never acted like he was entitled to her time, her body or her attention. He didn’t expect her to act like some damsel that cowered when he loomed.
As much as France pushed him, goaded him and challenged him, he never reacted, and France pushed.
France had very little expectations of conquering nations in war, she knew that bar was very low. However, it did teach her one thing about Germany – that at the very least, he knew he was supposed to respect her boundaries even when she pushed at his, that he was professional enough not to gloat or rub her failure in her face, he didn’t expect her to need him. He seemed cold enough to be detached, and quite frankly, he was too young to understand her. Too young for baggage, for meaning, for love, for that kind of love that hurt and tore her apart.
She closed her eyes and remembered the last marriage proposal she threw back in Arthur’s face, what his terms had been – to live in London and raise children together. To be his, to stay with him, to sleep in his bed. To be a wife, true and proper.
It was sweet and romantic to die for love, for that kind of love that France knew could burn inside of her – but to live with it? Impossible – Passion like that burned too brightly, hurt too much, like igniting an oil-field, it left her an empty husk whenever it burned out.
France sighed, and saddened by the empty bottle of wine on De Gaulle’s table, she lit a cigarette and felt the nicotine going to her head in a pleasant hit of chemicals.
It might not be a horrendous idea – to get a husband that would respect her and nothing more. Someone that couldn’t hurt her, someone that wouldn’t have a claim over her in anything other than paper.
“Has he agreed to it?” Charles shrugged his shoulders.
“I don’t know. Herr Adenauer and I decided to talk to both of you around the same time, assess the willingness for negotiation. I haven’t spoken to him yet, as I wanted to hear from you first.”
“I’m willing to have a conversation with Germany about this. A conversation, that’s it. It’s not an agreement, but…”
“Of course. A willingness to converse is more than I expected, Marianne.”
She nodded at him and swallowed thickly. President de Gaulle was a man that she respected and trusted, like all the great leaders that had helped her over the years. He had guided her people from afar, and when the occupation had been lifted, he had reached out to her.
During the last days of August 1944, Charles de Gaulle found Marianne Bonnefoy, the beautiful France he had championed during his exile – she had been thin, sharp and gaunt, with her hair chopped close to her scalp. He took her by the hand and asked for her trust, promised he would help steer her out of this mess she was in, promised her peace and prosperity.
The days after the Liberation of Paris had been an emotional drain on her, England’s particularly aggressive affection – “You should have come with me” and “I would have taken care of you” – America asking her all these questions, as if she was an invalid, an old woman that needed to rely on her strong, rich son for her retirement, Canada’s quiet concern. All of it was overbearing, was too much, was suffocating. She felt like she was getting swept up by them, as much as she loved them, France knew how easy it would be to lose herself in that, in letting England make decisions for her, in letting America take care of her, in letting Canada fret over her.
And out of all that, came President de Gaulle, and he promised he would help her, help France put herself back on her own feet, without becoming the weak old woman the men in her life already decided she was.
“Do you think this is it? An opportunity for a peace that lasts?”
“Do you trust me, Marianne?”
Her Franc was finally stable, her economy was doing well.
“Yes. I trust you.”
“Thank you. It’s a great honor to have the trust of a beautiful woman.” He was so charming when he wanted to, like an old gallant gentleman that was raised in the olden days. It was endearing.
“You’re an old dog, aren’t you?” She laughed.
France herself was old. She was old enough that she remembered when they laid the first stone on the settlement that would become Paris, as old as the dirt underneath the Champs Elysee, old. And yet, she still wanted to trust her leaders, even if it led her down dark paths in the past. She told herself it paid to be flexible from time to time, and a change of perspective was good for the soul from time to time.
When the Wehrmacht advanced into Paris, Germany had been there with them. He had thought it would be his duty to personally converse with the nations that fell to the German advance, and France was no different. He took a handful of men with him and went to the Elysee palace, where he knew that woman lived.
At the time, his experience with her had been limited, and he wasn’t quite sure what sort of welcoming he was going to receive in turn. Prussia had always been wary of France, rarely trusted her and warned Germany ‘to never believe a word that comes out of Marianne mouth.’ Germany had learned to take advice from his older sister with a grain of salt, as Julia was prone to exaggeration and hyperbole, but there was always some truth to what she said.
What little he knew of France was shaped during peace treaties after the Great War. The light that shined through the windows of Versailles lit her figure from behind and made the outline of her blurry, too thin and too tall. Her face had looked golden, and overly sharp, a demanding, punishing woman that looked at him with contempt and wanted to make him pay for every last solider she lost in the war, for all the trenches that had been dug across her back.
Initially, Germany thought it was because of the war, because of him, only to realize that France was like that with everyone – brittle and angry, he witnessed how she jerked away from England’s touch when he wanted to reach out to her, how she sharply she answered America when he asked something she deemed stupid. He had only seen her soften precisely once, when she caught him sneaking out through the gardens at night. At that point, he had been feeling the effects of the war and the revolution that was that was raging through his veins – it was a constant fever that made his head boom, made it hard to focus, made the world seems fuzzy.
Meeting France had caught him off guard and he had startled, had looked at her and tried to school his features, but he had been too slow. Something on her face had changed though, the line of her mouth relaxed. France had been outside smoking, and her eyes closed as she took a deep drag of her cigarette. He noticed that her face was bare of any make-up, blonde eyelashes and eyebrows barely visible. The shadows under her eyes looked like bruises, and she looked less like a goddess of vengeance and more like a very tired woman.
“Revolutions really make you feel alive, don’t they?” She asked with a breathy laugh. “I should know better than most.” She asked him sit next to her and offered him a cigarette, proceeded to laugh at him in earnest when the smoke make him cough and France realized he wasn’t used to smoking. It had been late at night, and France had taken off her slippers so she could bury her toes in the grass. The white, wispy material of her nightdress peaked out from underneath her dressing gown, and when she crossed her legs, the fabric rode up and he purposefully looked away, face feeling hot from something other than fever.
In the years that followed, they kept meeting, kept seeing each other in meetings and summits and conventions, kept clashing against each other because that was the nature of the turbulent times they lived in – there were moments in which he greatly wanted to believe that France was the hungry harpy that Prussia made her out to be, that lying French seductress that polite society whispered about, always done up, half drunk and shameless. It would have been so very easy.
However, while most of the evidence he saw pointed towards that same one-dimensional conclusion, he reminded himself that while France could be nasty, could be vicious, could be all those things that his sister warned him against, but she was also more.
When he went to the Elysée palace to look for her, he hadn’t even sure whether or not she was there. It was no secret that her and England were old lovers – there was always the possibility that he had convinced her to flee Paris with him before the German troops got there. France was there though, waiting for him, sitting with her legs crossed, her hair coiffed to perfection and her face unreadable.
“I wasn’t sure when you were going to show up.” She said to him, as she eyed him and the men that accompanied him. “Do you think that’s really necessary? A whole cohort of the Wehrmacht to arrest one woman?” Her perfectly painted lips smirked as she got up from her seat. “Do you think I’m that much of a threat?”
“I had no idea what to expect from you. You could have been…”
“Hiding a whole battalion of soldiers under my skirt? That’s what your sister would tell you to look for, but the witch was always foggy on the details of how I’m supposed to achieve that. I assure you, I know where to pick my battles.”
“You don’t seem like it,” he bristled, because she was casually talking to him while she was all dressed up in her fine clothes, like she had absolutely no intention of fighting him at all – this was a lie, because while her army was retreating, no one seemed ready stop fighting. “You don’t seem to be aware of your circumstances.”
“My circumstances?” She laughed, “I’m aware that Prussia’s little brother feels man enough to invade me. Am I supposed to be afraid of you?” France crossed her arms over her chest and looked him in eye. “Are you going to handcuff me? Is the princeling of the great and powerful Reich going to walk me out of my home in chains?”
She held out her hands in front of him, slender, delicate wrists with thin skin and blue veins underneath. He could grab them in one hand if he wanted to, but she would bruise, and he didn’t want that.
She had been infuriating in the way she talked to him, because Germany knew without a doubt how it would make him look – twice her side and in uniform, cuffing and manhandling a poor damsel in distress.
France was the hesitation on his face, used that opportunity to get closer to him, lower her voice to speak to him –
“Look, Ludwig, I promise I’ll be a good girl for you.” Her voice dripped with so much honey he felt his stomach clenching uncomfortably. Her lashes fluttered, and for a wild second, he thought Prussia was right, Prussia was so right, “I won’t cause a fuss. But – if you insist on cuffing me, well - ” She shook her head, and he caught a whiff of her perfume, “I’m afraid you’ll have to shoot me before that happens – or you’ll men will have to shoot me, if you don’t have the stomach for it. Either way, you’re carrying my corpse around. I’d like to avoid an unnecessary death, if possible.” France lips spread, revealing her straight, white teeth, and Germany thought her canines needed to be sharper, pointier. A mouthful of fangs.
In the end, France had walked out of the Elysée palace on her own, without anyone laying as much as a finger on her. She had kept her head high, her back straight and looked ahead. The movement of her skirt had been distracting, and Germany found himself looking at the muscles of her calves, how they tensed as she walked in those uncomfortably looking shoes of hers.
“I’ve never been married before.” France told him suddenly.
It was early July, 1962, it was smoldering hot and they were walking together through Reims. Earlier that day, both of them stood next to each other as they attend mass at Notre Dame de Reims along with their leaders.
It was also the first time they saw each other ever since they agreed to start the marriage negotiations.
While Adenauer and de Gaulle were preparing to ride ahead towards the schedule formal dinner, France caught him by the arm and asked him to join her for a walk through the city instead. He had protested against it at first, as it wasn’t part of the schedule and Germany wasn’t fond of breaking protocol like that, but France had insisted. Normally, it wasn’t something he would ever agree on doing, but Herr Adenauer told him to go, said it would be quite rude of him to refuse the lady.
It was with a sinking feeling of betrayal and low brewing anxiety that he allowed France to take his arm and lead him away from the steady, well-structured bubble diplomacy they were in. Germany was keenly, uncomfortably aware of the fact that this was the first time they were alone together since the end of the war.
“It would be redundant to say ‘neither have I’.” He added, unsure of how to proceed in through this conversation.
“No, no, no, you don’t understand. Do you know how many Popes, Bishops and Cardinals struggled to get me in front of the Altar? Some of them ran after me with crosses and holy water, yelling about sinful fornication outside of a holy union.” The summer evening air was balmy, and France’s voice was rich with amusement, “Repent, wretched sinner. There was a time when I was considered the Whore of Babylon, you know.”
Germany tried to focus on their surroundings and let her finish talking. He was aware there was a conversation both of them needed to have regarding the future of Franco-German relations, the conversation that both Konrad and President de Gaulle hoped would happen if they were alone together –
“And here you are, handsome young man that you are, ready to turn me into a good, honest woman for the first time. I bet all those old, dead priests are rejoicing.”
“I’m not intending of ‘turning you’ into anything,” He rushed to correct her language, not wanting to let that idea settle between them, not even jokingly. He felt France’s grip on his arm tighten minutely and then relax as she sighed,
“I supposed it’s not something I understand from you. You agreed to this as much as I have – I know my reasons, I want to know yours.” He didn’t answer her straight away and carefully considered his words. France stayed quiet as she pulled him towards a nearby park. She sat on a bench and took off her shoes with a winch. There were several red blisters on her feet.
“New shoes,” she offered as a way of explaining herself, “you need a while to break them in. These ones are horribly painful.” She sank her toes into the grass and Germany was reminded of that night at Versailles, so many years ago.
“Prussia was always ready to throw herself into another war.”
“She was. I’ve been on the receiving end of several incursions.” France added matter-of-factly.
“The way she looked at it, every war had the potential to be the last one – I think my sister has been expecting to die ever since she was old enough to realize what dying was like.” Germany shook his head and looked across the park – there were several fountains bursting streams of water up ahead, while young couples with children were enjoying the summer night. “Always a war to be had, and if there wasn’t a war, there were preparations for the next war.”
“That’s the nature of things, mon chouchou, there’s always some sort of war that needs to be fought,” She told him, like it was naïve of him to think anything else.
“I don’t want another war, Marianne.” His voice was sure and steady, forceful enough that it made her look up at him sharply. “I won’t live like that.” France looked at him uncertain, and it was terribly difficult to look her in the eyes – heat bloomed over his cheeks as he added “Aren’t you tired of it?”
“Of course I’m tired, Ludwig; but I….” France ran a hand through her hair and mussed her curls thoroughly. She paused, and she ran the tip of her tongue over her lips to wet them. Germany looked away, embarrassed, “I don’t know whether I’m meant for peace.”
“Try.” He told her and sat down stiffly on the bench next too her, “No one is asking us to love each other. It wouldn’t be like that – we would be signing a contract which would ensure a long-lasting commitment to peace.” It made her laugh, rather mocking and incredulous. Ludwig felt himself growing angry – with her, with himself.
“That’s not a very romantic proposition.”
“I’d rather we dedicated ourselves to safety, rather than romance.”
He snapped at her, frustrated with how she chose to look at things. It made her stop laughing, as she closed her eyes and inhaled. There was a long moment of silence between them, as the sounds of the city continued into the night.
“I’m trying to think…” Her eyelashes were coated with dark make-up, her mouth unnaturally red. “…when was the last time I felt safe – truly safe. No war knocking on my door, no leader wanting to fight for my wounded pride, no revolution. And I’ve been old for such a long time…” France shook her head, as if she was shaking thoughts right out of it.
As much as Prussia had insisted that France was always lying, no matter what she said, Germany knew better to think that. She was honest in one breathe and lied in the other, sometimes in the same conversation – it was misleading because they both looked the same and you were forced to figure out which was which.
With the risk of making a fool out of himself, though – Ludwig trusted his analytical abilities enough to think that she was being honest, that her emotions were honest, that at the heart of it, both of them wanted the same thing. A nebulous, far off safety and a peace that felt stable. He wanted to say that to her, but he had no idea how to put it into words.
“Where would we live?”
“I suppose I will still live in Bonn for the time being. You would live in Paris.” Germany shrugged – the thought of living together with her constantly seemed ludicrous, especially since both of them had their own responsibilities and lives. Learning how to make space for each other in that would be hard enough, it would be near impossible to be with each other all the time. “We’d set up a visiting schedule for each other.”
“A schedule? Conjugal Visits?”
“Do you have any better idea?” He shot back at her.
“I refuse to be called Marianne Beilschmidt. I’m not sharing a name with your sister.”
“I didn’t expect you to, and I believe Julia would say the same thing.”
There was a pause between them as France pulled out a pack of cigarettes from the tiny purse she was carrying. Ludwig had wondered what the point of it was - initially he thought it was purely aesthetic, but apparently there was supposed to have some practicality to it as well? Was the whole purpose of that tiny purse for Marianne to keep her Gauloises in it? Didn’t her dress have pockets for this?
France took a deep drag of her cigarette, kept it in and then exhaled sharply. The smoke from her cigarette hit him straight in the face, very unpleasant. He opened his mouth to say something about it, but she beat him to it –
“Fine. I’ll marry you.” She said with finality. The plainness of the statement took him by surprise. He realized he didn’t know how he was supposed to actually respond to that.
“Oh god, don’t thank me,” she snorted, half-smoked cigarette hanging loosely out of the corner of her mouth as she was struggling to put on her shoes. “You’ll be stuck with me indefinitely; I feel like I should apologize already.”
France got up from her seat and straightened her dress. She looked around the park, presumably to judge the time, and then she turned to him a smile and said –
“Ludwig, I think we should celebrate this glorious union of our houses. Considering we’re in official world capital of champagne, it would be a shame to miss out on the opportunity to get absolutely sloshed in style.”
“I don’t think that’s a wise idea - ”
“Nonsense.” She waved off his half-hearted protest by grabbing his arm and pressing herself against his side. “We’re engaged now. We might as well celebrate.” She seemed relaxed, her face warmer and more open that in usually was, “Trust me – things will become very hectic soon, and you’ll regret not taking a night off to get spectacularly drunk before that happens.”
“I don’t want to get drunk – much less spectacularly so.” But he allowed her to lead the way.
“I insist, Ludwig. We can get dinner too, I know a place here that makes, hands down, the best Îles flottante in France.”
“If you insist on it, I suppose we can stop for a drink.” And Germany had to admit, he wasn’t really against the idea of champagne.
“You’re…somewhat friends with Alfred at the moment, aren’t you? I know you are. You can tell him we’re getting married.”
“I don’t want to tell him that.”
“No, no, no, mon chou, I’m not asking you do, I’m telling you – you have to do it.” France was looking at him with her eyes comically large and a frantic note in her voice. All the champagne they had been drinking made her eyes shine and her cheeks blush.
Meanwhile, Ludwig had just enough alcohol in his system to loosen his muscles and make his eyes droopy. The Îles flottante were as fantastic as Marianne had said they would be. Slowly but surely, between the drinking, the dessert and the casual way she touched him when they were so close – He felt the line of professionalism between them slowly eroding. A little less Franco-German diplomatic relations, and a little too much Marianne and Ludwig.
“Why do I have to?” He did not whine, not exactly, Ludwig was too mature and serious for that. His question made Marianne worry on her bottom lip.
“Alfred is – Alfred is a very…family oriented young man.” She sighed and slumped heavily in her chair, “Alfred has been holding on to the hope that I would eventually marry his father.” She said it in a hushed, whispered tone, like she hoped Ludwig wouldn’t hear it and wouldn’t make her repeat it.
The mention of England sobered him up enough to consider what his next words would be. Her relationship with England was a thorny subject that needed to be addressed, whether Ludwig felt comfortable with it or not. He cleared his throat before beginning –
“I’d like to add a clause in our contract.”
“A what where?”
“A clause. To our contract.”
“You mean to our engagement, Ludwig? Our soon to be marriage?” her voice grew in volume and amusement. She rested her chin on her palm, and he was momentarily distracted by the thin skin on the inside of her wrist, how her blue veins were visible underneath.
“Precisely – I expect you abide to a clause of exclusivity for the duration of it.” He told her seriously, raising a finger and pointing it towards her nose as he spoke to her. He wanted to make the gravitas of the situation clear to Marianne, but because she was at least semi-drunk and overly amused, she burst into a fit of laughter before he even finished talking. Ludwig felt his mouth set itself into a grimace. “What’s so funny?”
“You.” She answered plainly, “A clause of exclusivity. Couldn’t you have said – I expect you to be faithful? Or even – I’m jealous of England.”
“I’m not.” He said firmly, face burning and brows frowning, “Jealous of England, I mean.”
“Worried about England, then.” She shot back, a smirk on her face and her lilt in her voice. The wretched woman was having too much fun teasing him, but when he tried to defend himself against the accusation, she stopped him “It’s alright, you know. I wouldn’t have agreed to marry you if that was something you’d have to worry about – and even as I agreed to marry you - ” Marianne sighed, suddenly averting her eyes and focusing somewhere over Ludwig’s shoulder.
“Did you know, Arthur is surprisingly conservative in a many ways? Marriage is one of them – he would never…” Marianne shook her head, “It would be one thing he would never be able to look past – me belonging to another man. Considering I never married him – ” She poured herself the last drags of champagne from the open bottle on their table and drank it all in one go. Marianne put her glass down with more force than it was actually necessary. She turned to Ludwig with a watery smile on her face. “I’m not going to run off to England. Can we please leave this place now? I don’t think I want to sit here anymore.”
He realized he had upset her with the conversation, and it sat uncomfortably in his chest. He paid for their dinner and offered her his arm wordlessly as they walked out of the restaurant. As soon as they stepped outside, Marianne breathed in the night air deeply and slumped slightly against his shoulder. He felt how she shuddered as she breathed, how she pressed her face against him.
Was he supposed to hold her? Pet her head? Hold her hand? What was he supposed to say – I’m sorry your relationship with your ex is beyond repair? It would be a lie.
You’ll find someone else – false, she was marrying Ludwig – and he didn’t want to take England’s place in France’s life.
There, there, it’s going to be alright? It had been easy enough to say that to Italy to get him to stop crying, but Marianne wasn’t Feliciano and probably didn’t appreciate the empty platitudes.
Ludwig was starting to get anxious about what he could even say to her, when Marianne suddenly look up at him with her eyes huge and wide and bright –
“I have a proposition for you – listen. Either you can go back to your boring old hotel to sleep all by your lonesome self - ”
“Marianne, what are you…?”
“Or you can come with me. Come back to my apartment with me – it’s still premarital sex if we’re engaged, so it’s more fun because it’s meant to be sinful.”
“That would not be a good idea.”
“Why not? We’ve slept together before. We’re going to get married in the future.” Marianne turned to him, as if Ludwig’s reluctance was beyond her understanding.
“Even if we did…” He spluttered, trying to phrase an argument in the face of her laissez-faire attitude. ”In the past, I mean…” He felt hot under the collar, and Marianne was looking at him as if he was crazy, “The circumstances were different.”
“How so? We slept together because we were attracted to each other and the war was terrible, and the rush of endorphins was a welcome change to that.” Marianne shrugged, as if it were perfectly acceptable to speak so plainly and openly about it. “Another explanation would be – we slept together because I make poor decisions and have bad taste in men, and you were mostly out of your mind and also making some very poor decisions. Don’t look at me like that, you know that’s true.”
“How can you oversimplify things like that?”
“I’m not...” she shook her hands, motioned wide in front of herself in the universal gesture of half-drunk person struggling to find the right words. “Not things in general, one thing in particular. I’m not trying to brush things aside or trivialize them, I’m just saying - because as far as I see it, we’re still attracted to each other, we’re going to spend a great amount of time together in the future, and a rush of endorphins would still be welcome.”
Objectively, Marianne Bonnefoy was very beautiful and of course he noticed – it would be impossible not to notice. It was also why he struggled to keep their relationship as professional and detached as possible, without letting any of his… thoughts about her get in the way.
“I don’t want to go back and sleep alone. Maybe I don’t want to lay in bed all lonely and think about the whole berth and scope of all my bad decision and how they affected me in life. Do you?” She turned to look at him and he was momentarily transfixed by the way lipstick was smudged around her mouth. “I know I could use the endorphins.”
Marianne was wearing a blue silk dress, the humid summer air made it stick to her chest, made the outlines of her breast visible.
“Is it that simple?”
“The whole history of violence that led us to this point? The wars? The political mess? Any of that? No.”
There was a pause.
“But sex is.” She nodded to herself, and Ludwig found himself unable to counter her argument, was not sure if he should even try.
So Ludwig came to a very simple conclusion himself – if everything else was complicated, if Marianne was a mystery and their future uncertain, at least this was supposed to be simple, right?
He didn’t even know how he was supposed to get back to his hotel, not that is mattered – but…
He appreciated her honesty and the way she cut to the point of it. Maybe she knew that about him, realized that it worked better with him like that, to be direct and concise, rather than play games. Maybe it was all the champagne and the way she took his arm and pressed herself against his side. He was so sure that his shirt would smell like her perfume, and really, he wasn’t supposed to indulge in flings or sleep around, but was it sleeping around when they were going to be married anyway?
Ludwig found himself walking up the stairs behind Marianne. She was bare-footed, with her high-heels in her hands as to not make any noise – but she turned to look at him over her shoulder and giggled. Marianne was always wearing shoes that made her look taller, but when they stepped inside her apartment, he realized how short she was compared to him.
The apartment was exactly how he imagined all of Marianne’s homes to be – overly crowded with art, furniture and statues, an overabundance of decorative pillows and rich colors that should have clashed. It wasn’t messy, but it was so much that he wanted to declutter it after just stepping inside.
“Is that a Golden Stag head on the wall?”
“Mais oui, bien sur. Do you like it?” She motioned proudly toward the huge, gaudy looking Stag Head that gleamed in gold. “I think it might have been Russia’s Tsar Peter that hunted it himself. They dipped it in gold and gave it to me as a gift.”
Ludwig wasn’t sure what was worse – that it was an actual stag head dipped in gold or that it was a gift from Russia that she proudly displayed in one of her homes. Ludwig crossed his arms over his chest and felt his dislike mounting.
“I don’t like it.” He scoffed, and Marianne turned to look at him with exaggerated disappointment on her face.
“I know it’s….an aesthetic choice…when you look at it on its own, but you have to understand the whole concept of my interior decor. It’s part of the grander tableau of…of…” He squinted at her as she was trying to justify its existence, but as far as Ludwig was concerned, there was no explanation that could even begin saving the grander tableau.
"It is objectively very ugly and has no practical purpose."
For about half a second, Ludwig thought she would argue with him. She didn’t though, rather, she shook her head and chuckled coyly, gave him a half-lidded look and walked away. Ludwig was quite insulted at how easily she dismissed him, but the sway of her hips was so purposefully distracting – even if it was nothing more than an alluring ploy, it was simple and effective.
“Come here, Ludwig,” She asked, and he went after her. Marianne pushed him to sit down on the red velvet sofa and straddled him with one smooth, feline motion.
Then she kissed him, really kissed him. Her nails were digging in his shoulder, breasts pressing against him, hips moving across his lap. Marianne kept her eyes open, so he did as well, they made eye contact when she pulled away.
“I want to be on top,” she said with a confident smirk, and didn’t wait for him to respond – not that he would, but … -
Her mouth tasted like smoke and champagne. Marianne bit his lip and sucked on his tongue, gasped slightly when he dug his fingers in the soft flesh of her thighs. She was all heat and hunger, her fingers unbuttoning just enough of his shirt to push it off his shoulders – she liked to bite him, he remembered that from before, she liked to bite and she liked to leave marks on his skin in places where he could see them easily afterwards.
Marianne’s dress was getting all bunched up between them, her nipples were hard and pressing through the fabric of it – he closed his teeth around one of them and tasted the blue silk against his tongue. Neither of them bothered to undress more than it was strictly necessary – he just pushed her underwear aside and she sat on his cock, took all of him inside her at once.
“Fuck, fuck,” her whole body shuddered in his arms, “I forgot how big you are,” and Ludwig generally wasn’t vain, but he loved it when she said that.
Marianne’s pace was hard and fast and rough, and she moaned with abandon. One of her hands was between them, rubbing herself so she could race faster towards her climax.
“You’re not allowed to come until I tell you to,” she gasped and threw her head back, eyes closed, beads of sweat rolling down the dips of her throat. It was very enticing, so he pressed his tongue against it, because he wanted to taste her skin and because he could.
Ludwig cradled the back of her head and pulled her forward until their foreheads were touching, wet lips brushing together, sharing the same breath. He wanted Marianne to look at him when she came, he wanted to be sure that she knew whose cock was making her feel good. She smiled at him, through the moans and the whines and the gasps – then she tightened around him, all wet, gushing and gripping, making a mess in his lap as she came.
“That was so good,” She melted into him afterwards, hips rolling lazily, mouth peppering kisses over his cheeks, his brow, his lips. “You’re so good,” his arms tightened around her waist and he pulled her closer, forced her legs to open wider.
He felt tremors in his body from the strain – Ludwig was proud of his own self-control, but it was hard to keep himself in check when all wanted to do was to throw her against the sofa’s pillows and….
“If you make me come again, I’ll let you finish inside me,” she told him, with an evil, evil smirk and a deliberate roll of her hips.
But it was permission, and so that meant he could take advantage of this situation and change their position – he pressed her back against the cushions, gripped the arms of the sofa and thrusted into her. He bit the inside of his cheek to concentrate, to force himself to go as slow as possible until Marianne was clawing at his back and asking him for more.
“God, yes, just like that, you’re so good,” she was babbling praises, clenching around him. The make-up around her eyes were all smudged from sweat, and she was a vision of debauched beauty. Tomorrow, he was going to be terribly ashamed of himself for it, but he couldn’t help but love it, how wrecked she looked, how raw she sounded.
Her back arched off the sofa when she came again – broken gasps, body shaking, eyes rolling –
“Ludwig, Ludwig, you can come, you can come for me, I – ah.” Her legs were like a vice around him, her pussy squeezing him, he wanted to drown in her.
It took him by surprised, how intense it was, how he felt like he was breaking apart inside her, how unforgiving and unrepentant the swell of feeling was when Marianne held his gaze throughout it, how the whole world got small and hot and blue.
He was all shaking and gasping afterwards, and Marianne was soft and inviting and she ran her fingers through his sweaty hair and kept her legs around him. Her dress was ruined, his clothes were sticking to him uncomfortably, but Ludwig couldn’t pull himself away from her. There must have been something magnetic about her body, about Marianne herself – it was the only way he could explain it to himself, why she made him act so unlike himself when they were alone together.
After both of them showered, Marianne came out of the bathroom with her hair still damp and her bathrobe undone. By this point, Ludwig had already started to feel a mounting wave of embarrassment while sitting awkwardly on the edge of Marianne’s bed, but when she came in with her breasts bare, her nipples small and hard and dusty pink….He wanted to press his tongue against them.
His thoughts must have been written on his face because she took on looked at him and her lips quirked.
“I'm glad you like what you see – it’s going to make being married much easier.”
“You know what you look like, ” – it was studied, how she moved, talked, dressed, Marianne was always aware of her own body and how to use it to produce maximum results.
“Still, at my age, it’s good to get reassurances.”
He’d been with women and men before her, but there was something about her that made him feel like an inexperienced adolescent.
Maybe it was because the most notable female presences in his life were Prussia and Hungary, both of them no-nonsense warrior women that were more comfortable riding into battle and bossing Austria around than worrying about their dresses. During his youth, he had been absolutely convinced that all countries were just like that. His sister refused to wear dresses and Miss Hungary thought him how to punch people when he had been younger. Both of them constantly smelled like horse.
Then he met France, and she was so different from anyone else he knew, she might as well have been dropped from another planet. The way she laughed and moved and talked reminded him more of actors on stage than anything else, and she left a trail of fragrant orange blossom scent behind her wherever she went.
Then, there was the war – during the final months of the war, everything completely stank, because there were always bombs dropping and people dying and corpses rotting, and Germany himself felt like he was rotting from the inside. Technically, that was the truth, considering he was feeling the losses, the territories that did not belong to him, the strain. At that point, he was still struggling to keep himself together, but it was hard to maintain a coherent sense of self when his head was spinning from the constant fever and infections.
When he saw Marianne last in Paris, she took great pleasure in telling him how he was going to lose the war, how Russia and America would tear him apart, described it in vivid details, and then just to add to it, she told him how England would bring her Ludwig’s head on a silver platter if she were to ask for it. She said it all with her voice so sweetly cruel, face sharp and eyes cutting, and then she threw her arms around his shoulders and hugged him.
Her body against his had been soft and warm, she pressed her nose to the shell of his ear. Marianne smelled the same as before, like her orange blossom perfume, and she looked like something that stepped out of one of Feliciano’s prized Renaissance paintings.
And he couldn’t forget about that – he thought about it from time to time, because he wasn’t sure why she did it, if it was cruelty or want.
“I can hear you thinking, Ludwig - ” her voice was accusing, scolding him as she picked up a cigarette and put in the corner of her mouth. Marianne picked up her matches and her ashtray, opened her window wide. She lit a match and it illuminated her face in soft orange light, “Don’t.”
There were all sorts of scars on her body, but Germany knew which ones he was supposed to look for. The fresher ones - the redder they were, the more time they had taken to heal. Hell, he knew there was still a mess of long welts on her back from the trenches that they dug during the Great War.
Naked as she was, he couldn’t help but notice them, couldn’t stop thinking about them. He thought he had no business sleeping with a woman who held so many scars that were caused by him.
“Don’t.” Her mouth was set in a grimace and her brows were furrowed. “You should be sorry, by the way, but I don’t want to hear you say it. You have no business asking for my forgiveness and I’m not going to offer it – but I don’t want you looking at me like that either.” She sighed and ran her hand through her hair. “Do you know what Napoleon used to call me?”
“I have no idea. What did he call you?” His struggled to keep his voice under control, without showing how shaken he was by her. Because everyone said that France was a silver-tongued liar, he always expected her to be glib and dance around important issues – he was always struck by how frank and cutting she could be when she wanted to get to the point.
“My first love and my last.” She laughed, cigarette smoke coming from between her lips. Marianne touched her neck idly, where the thin long scar from the guillotine still graced her skin, “Previously, my people had dragged me through the streets to behead me, you see. They wanted to get rid of that old France, and they kept trying to….So when Napoleon came around, he kept promising me so many things and I wanted to believe every word from his mouth – And I remember how it felt when he started conquering, how it felt when he lost too. I thought I was going to be ripped apart.”
Ludwig knew exactly what she meant, how the conquering and the invading felt – like you were invincible, like being drunk on power, dizzy with it, until you realized that the new parts didn’t fit and you started to hurt everywhere.
“I was convinced I was going to die if I lost the war. I didn’t – and now I…” Germany closed his mouth so fast his jaw hurt.
France laughed and it made her breasts move. She stubbed her cigarette bud ashtray and walked over to the bed. She reached out to him and ran her fingers through his hair, long fingernails over his scalp making goosebumps rise on the back of his neck.
“What I figured out over the years is this – we don’t get to die that easily. You’re forced to live with the full consequences of what you did even after the fog of war lifts.” She smiled sadly at him, like she knew exactly what she was talking about, like it was old news and Ludwig simply didn’t understand it yet, “You never forgive yourself either, but that’s not the point.”
“I’m not sure yet. Every couple of decades I come up with a new answer to fit with the mood of the century, but the reality is that I don’t know.” She cupped his cheek in her palm, ran the pad of her thumb over his cheekbone, underneath his eyes, “Maybe you’ll help me figure out something this time around.”
What was dangerous about Marianne was that she had this way of pulling him in, seemingly understanding things about him just as easily, and then she made it seem like it was no big deal. Ludwig was left feeling struck with a sense of unfairness, that he felt like he was out of his depth with her, while she knew just what to say and do. It was unravelling.
“How am I supposed to help you make sense of the world when I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do further on?”
“Then we’ll have to figure it out together. Meanwhile, do you know what you can do to keep you mind off all that angst?” Marianne let her robe fall down her shoulders and she laid down on the bed right next to him, spreading her hands over head. Stupidly, Ludwig thought she was was offering herself as a willing prey he was supposed to devour, only the smirk on her face made him doubtful about who was supposed to consume who. “You can touch me. I’m good medicine.”
Marianne’s body was all dips and curves – full breasts, the valley below her ribcage and the gentle slopes of her waist that widened into rounded hips. There was a patch of dark gold hair between her thighs, and he wanted to press his mouth against it to hear the sounds she made.
“And yet, you already made up your mind, didn’t you?” She raised one graceful leg and put it over Ludwig’s shoulder, her bony knee pressing against his cheek. He felt her heel pressing the middle of his back, encouraging him to bend forward.
So Ludwig went, obligingly, tongue flat over her clitoris so he could hear her gasp at the sensation, then he put his lips around it so he could suck, so he could make her moan at how much she liked it.
“Yes, yes, yes, just like that,” he moved lower, pushed his tongue inside her, let Marianne buck her hips against his face. “Can you…? I need…ah -” He moved his mouth away just so he could push two fingers into her and push upwards, greatly enjoyed the way she arched against the bed.
The scent and the taste of her, they went straight to his head, made him dizzy with want. Her thighs were trembling, closing around his head. When Marianne came, desperately shouting, unrestrained, dripping wet – Ludwig felt like a god.
“Oh, Ludwig, Ludwig,” her voice was raw, gasping, but she sounded deliriously happy. The fingers in his hair had been gripping him before, but now she was gently caressing him, “You’re such a good boy, you’re so good to me” he kissed her hipbone, her abdomen, kissed over her ribs.
His mouth was full of her taste, and she was all pliant and sweet, in a way that Marianne never was. Pride was something that Ludwig associated with things well made and the satisfaction of a job well done, so this definitely qualified, even though it wasn’t exactly the same thing. Usually, getting diesel engines to work did not come with this maddening arousal.
“Come here, come here, kiss me, kiss me.” So he did, pressed his lips over hers and Marianne made this chirping, happy noise that sent a shiver through him. She sounded so uncharacteristically needy that he had to make sure, wanted her to open her eyes and look at him while she said it. Ludwig cupped her cheek in his hand, ran his thumb over her lips.
Marianne bit the pad of his thumb gently, looked at him with her eyes big and wide and mischievous.
He needed to….wanted to…
“Marianne, can I…?”
“Yes, yes, yes, you can fuck me, you can use me however you want. You can…” He didn’t need to be told twice, so he hooked his arms underneath her knees and pulled her towards him, felt his jaw go slack when he pushed inside her.
Marianne urged him on, hips bucking, breasts bouncing, her body sucking him in like she couldn’t get enough of his cock.
“Faster, harder, I know you can give it to me harder, you can…”
Her voice broke apart when he did go harder than that, turned into a sob. The bed was shaking and banging against the wall, and Marianne’s hair was sticking to her neck, her chest. She was all blotchy red across her skin, but she was so beautiful like that and he wanted…well…
“That hurts so good, please don’t stop, please, I…”
Marianne was all more, more, more, like she wanted Ludwig to give her things he didn’t have to give, but he still wanted to. He wanted things from her too.
“I want you, I need you, I…”
He really had no chance in front of her, not if she was fighting dirty like that. Ludwig came so hard he thought he burst out of his skin, and when he came back to his senses he felt completely scraped on the inside, exposed in a way that had nothing to do with being naked.
Marianne kissed him before he had the chance to properly regain his breath – she looked at him like she was slightly dazed, with a soppy looking smile and her lower lip between her teeth. Marianne put her hands on his jaw, dragged them across his skin, settled them over his shoulders. Touched her forehead to his. Rubbed their noses together.
He could feel Marianne’s breath wash over his face, she was so close to him that he could feel her chest rising and falling with each inhale-exhale. They settled together on the pillows without saying a thing to each other, even though Marianne was still looking at him like that and he had no idea what to do with it.
There was a looming sense of dread and rejection settling over him. The urgency of arousal and the hazy glow of pleasure cleared from his brain and he was hit with the realization that his head was on a pillow in Marianne’s bed and she was there too. Ludwig wasn’t quite sure how he was supposed to proceed from this point on – even when they did sleep together in the past, they never slept together, never stayed long in the same bed after they were done. However, between then and now, the parameters of their relationship had changed completely, and if the expectation was for him to stay here, he needed to figure out what he was supposed to behave with her from here on.
There was a part of him that wanted to just close his eyes, force himself to fall asleep and leave her alone – don’t engage further, don’t look at her like that, it’s just sex. He knew all about that. He read all about oxytocin and serotonin, about dopamine, how neuropeptides and neurotransmitters worked, how sex was a whole cocktail of hormones and amino-acids that was meant to produce a fake bond. His body was running high with those feelings, with the intimacy of it.
It didn’t have to mean anything.
France closed the distance between them with a sigh and a roll of her eyes, like she was tired of waiting for him to decided on something. She threw her arm over his side and tucked her head under his chin, her naked skin feeling sticky against his.
“You can hold me after you fuck me – actually, I insist on it. Put it down as a cuddling clause in the contract.”
“Alright. I’ll keep that in mind,” he heard her laugh at that, and then she started wiggling around until she found a comfortable position to sleep in. She curled her leg over his thighs and used his arm as a pillow.
Eventually, he felt her breathing evening out, falling asleep like it was the easiest thing in the world, like this was as simple as that. Ludwig stayed awake.
The thing about Ludwig was that – he liked doing things with his hands, he liked building things and making them work, he liked using his body in various physical activities. He was never going to be graceful and elegant like Austria or move smoothly and fluidly like Spain did – he was much too tall and bulky for that to be a possibility. He was also never comfortable enough with touching people – it just seemed so presumptuous and bothersome.
He just didn’t have that sort of charm and carefree attitude. It was men and women like Italy and France that were casually affectionate and generous with their touches and smiles, and Ludwig always had to remind himself that just because he was the weird one that struggled with connections, didn’t mean everyone else was like that. Those romance nations were just all…
Once, Prussia told him – Those romance nations are all soul sucking demons. Look at your uncle Austria – he had something of a heart before he got married to the Spanish slut, but then it got sucked right out of him through his dick. I’m telling you, Ludwig, you have to look out for them, lest you end up fucking a succubus and end up believing it’s the real deal.
While he knew that was supposed to come with a heaping of salt to look past the creative language his sister used, there was some truth in the matter. He didn’t believe that France or Italy or Spain had any sort of soul sucking power, but simply being so free and careless with their affection tended to confuse those that were reserved and careful with their connections.
Italy didn’t even have one stray malicious intent in his body, Ludwig knew that for a fact - he was just too sweet and kind-hearted for that. He didn’t know Spain that well, but as much as he knew about the other man, he seemed like the kind that made impulsive decision without thinking about the consequences. Poor decision making and a tendency to realize the gravity of them after the fact were most certainly not the markers of a smart, shrewd nation, but there was never any outright maliciousness intent behind Antonio’s actions.
She sighed in her sleep and turned around in his embrace. She grabbed her pillow and pulled it closer to her on instinct, curled her knees into herself. He got a mouthful of hair, the curve of her bottom pressed into him, and Ludwig wanted to…
She was already so close. It would be easy to pull her back into him, press her back his chest and push his nose against the shell of her ear, his lips over her pulse point. Very, very easy to do so, if Ludwig had been anyone else other than himself.
It didn’t help that the room, the sheets, her…despite the open window, it smelled filthy, it smelled like all the things they did together and he couldn’t just untangle himself to shower, because even if he scrubbed it all of his skin, it was still. In his nose. On his tongue. The sound of her voice in his head.
Ludwig had no idea – if she said the things she did because she meant them, or because she realized how much he wanted to hear them. If it was just written all over him, how much he enjoyed it when she clung to his arm and when she clawed at his back and she wiggled against his face because she needed him to make her feel good.
A cool breeze can in through the open window, and it made a shiver go through her body in her sleep, Marianne’s skin prickled and she murmured something unintelligible. On instincts, she molded herself back against his chest, seeking warm.
When he woke up, light was streaming through the windows, along with early summer morning warmth. It was quiet outside, probably earlier than even he usually woke up – for a wild second he didn’t realize were he was, who he was with. Then, the whole of yesterday settled in his head and his stomach like hot lead.
He still had a naked woman with her ass pressed up against him, he was painfully hard and his cock was settled between her thighs, and he could feel how hot and wet she was there. His breath hitched, not daring to move, as it would only make the whole situation more uncomfortable than it already was. However, just because he wasn’t planning on moving didn’t mean that Marianne wouldn’t instinctively make things difficult for him, even in her darn sleep. He felt how her legs tightened so hard that it made him hiss, and then she rolled her hips and it was about that point that Ludwig had doubts about her being actually asleep.
Then she reached over, grabbed his wrist from where it was resting on her waist, pushed his hand over her breast and he swore that she was evil and maybe Prussia actually knew what she was talking about.
“Ludwig – either you put it in and fuck me,” her voice was thick with sleep and her eyes were still closed, “or you turn around and let me sleep. It’s too early to tease.”
He wanted to complain that the one teasing wasn’t him, that Marianne was rubbing herself against him like she was starving for it, and then he realized it would be both stupid and pointless to argue about it when he could just –
The light coming through the window illuminated her skin and her hair, caught in the fine sheen of sweat and the wetness on her thighs. He felt the lush drag of her tightness around him as they rocked into each other, lazy and still sleepy. The urgency from last night all had disappeared into the early morning sunlight, and all that was left was a slow build-up.
Marianne sighed turned her head to the side so they could kiss. It was too wet and felt obscene, how willingly and eagerly she opened for him, but it was also humbling how she trusted him with her body. He wanted to feel worthy of that, even if he was hazy on the specifics of it. His hand dragged over her side, over her hip, between her legs so he could touch her clit while fucking her from behind. It would be rude if he didn’t.
There was a soft gasp, her spine arching. He closed his arm over her collar, put his open palm on her shoulder and pulled her in so there was nowhere to go but melt against his chest. It made her latch on to his arm, press her throat against the crook of his elbow like she wanted to feel more of that pressure. Her hips rolled back more insistently, and Ludwig knew this was – different. More open. Closer to some part of her that was always closed off.
Afterwards, he kept his grip on her as the trembling of her body subsided. He went soft inside her, and his dick was screaming in overstimulation, too much and too close and overwhelming. There was danger in this vulnerability between them, but if Marianne wasn’t moving away from him, he didn’t want to pull away first. Her hair got in his mouth again, but it was alright. He kissed the crown of her blonde head as he held her, Marianne’s fingers still loosely fisted around the sheets she held onto as she peaked.
“It’s late, I overslept, I lost my train to Bonn and now everyone is probably wondering where I am, and…”
“I think everyone knows we left together yesterday. Your dear old Chancellor even gave you his blessing to come with me.”
“That doesn’t mean this is alright!”
“Oh, come now, you’re exaggerating. Usually, when you’re conspiring to get two people married, them spending the night together and oversleeping in the morning is the best result you can hope so.” Ludwig stopped his pacing around her bathroom and looked at her with this deer-in-the-headlights look that made Marianne remember how young he was.
“Do you think he thinks we…?”
“Most likely – the man was married at some point, wasn’t he? I’m sure he knows what goes on in the bedroom between consenting adults.”
Ludwig groaned and pressed his forehead against the frame of her bathroom door. He had barged in on her while she was in the shower to complain about how she didn’t have an alarm clock set, how she kept him up and how he had missed his scheduled train to go back to Bonn with the German official delegation. All this information was very seriously and sternly relegated while she was rinsing conditioner out of her hair.
“I don’t want them to know we slept together.”
“Why not? They’ll all know about it after we sign out mutual exclusivity contract, won’t they? It’s not going to be more scandalous than when we slept together during the war, or that one time during the 20s.”
“Please stop talking,” His face was red, and it was terribly cute, how easily he got flustered about sex even after she spent quite a bit of time bouncing on his dick last night. You’d think after that, he’d be a bit more willing to joke around with her, but no.
“Though I’m not sure if that counts, considering it didn’t involve any penetration, but you were very eager to learn how to pleasure a woman with your mouth. I wasn’t going to refuse that.” She picked up the detachable showerhead and put it between her legs.
“What are you doing?”
“It’s sore.” She answered, keeping her voice plain and straightforward, but she couldn’t help the smirk that tugged at her mouth. “Warm water helps.”
He stared at her as if she had grown another head, as if he weren’t the reason why she was sore in the first place. It made her snort a laugh when he turned around and left her alone – there was something dreadfully endearing about how serious and buttoned up he was. Marianne always felt like messing him up just a bit, wanted to see his hair ruffled and his shirts less pressed, see if she could make him lose control of himself every now and then.
She got out of the shower and wrapped her hair in a towel – when she went to the bedroom, she found Ludwig glaring at his clothes that were spread on the bed.
“I can’t wear these, they’re filthy.”
“You can go to guest bedroom and check the closet. Alfred liked to visit this place during the prohibition to get very drunk on proper champagne – I think there’s still some of his old clothes here. You’re about the same size, aren’t you?”
“I don’t want to wear America’s old clothes,”
“Well, it’s either that or you’re wearing the filthy clothes while we’re going to lunch. I think there’s some of England’s old clothes here too, but I doubt those would fit you.”
He looked slightly betrayed at her and she grinned at his retreating back. It had been absolutely hilarious for her to realize he was feeling insecure about England – even though she realized it was mean of her to poke at that subject, she couldn’t keep herself from it.
Truth be told, England was a sore spot for her too – it always hurt a little to think about him, like a wound in your mouth you couldn’t help but tongue at because you liked the pain of it – and Marianne always liked a little bit of pain. She’d meant it thought, what she told Germany the day before. There was no way she could imagine Arthur, someone that kept asking her to marry him every century or so, taking well to the idea of her marrying another man. It would be too much a betrayal, something he could never look past.
Whether he realized it or not, Germany himself would be the best protective shield against England and his presence in her life, and France had been certain of it from the start. And yet, it still stung and likely it would always sting on some level – like old loves and fond memories always did. However, there had been points in her life in which she realized that England would always want to possess her, wanted parts of her she wouldn’t be able to give and keep herself Marianne Bonnefoy, whole and independent, in the process.
Between herself and Germany, though – they didn’t have one thousand years of hurting each other on a deep and person level. They didn’t need to default to that, because there was no default between them yet. It was easy to sleep together, because it didn’t come with all complications, did it?
She picked up a white dress that had been in her wardrobe since the ’50s, started to button it up and realized she had trouble buttoning the top of it. It made sense, considering France always had a tendency to put on weight in times of peace – most of it went to her bottom and thighs, but the dress was flowy enough below. Her first instinct was to shrug it off and change into something else, but she could always just….leave it unbuttoned.
It would be a bit on the provocative side, but then again – a couple of buttons could make all the difference when you wanted someone to think about undressing you.
“I can’t wear this.” She turned around over her shoulder and had to bite back a laugh, inelegantly.
“Oh, dear me. Alfred was on the leaner side during the prohibition, apparently – don’t breathe too deeply, no sudden, movement lest you want to explode out of that.” The shirt protested as it was stretched across is his shoulder and arms. “But I think – you were too, weren’t you?” She shook her head, struggling to wrap her head around the fact that –
He was younger than Alfred. He was younger than Alfred and France had been already old by the time America had been born.
What are you doing with him? She asked herself, incredulous and without knowing what to say to answer herself.
Everyone would be able to guess that he was younger than her, but while the regular every day human might look at them, see her hanging off a younger man’s arm and think nothing much off it, Marianne could feel all the length of time stretching between them.
“How did you grow so fast?”
“I remember myself, you know – I was a child for such a long time, then I was a teenager until I was sick of all the hormones that were messing with my head. For decades. And then I turn around, and it’s a blink of an eyes and you young nations are all suddenly…” she let her gaze drag over his body, told herself she’d done dirtier things to him than just ogle, so she might as well enjoy it “…tall”.
“Economic expansion, industrialization and fewer people dying of preventable diseases, I assume.” She shook her head to hide a smile, walked over to him so she could run her fingers through his hair to mess it up a bit.
“I wonder what…” and then she laughed at her own romantic notions. She pressed her forehead against Germany’s massive shoulder, remembered how she had been during her wild youth. The cruelty and vitriol that made up her relationship with England had been the stuff of legends, but it had also been very, very mutual.
She was self-aware enough to know that 300 years ago, she would have taken great pleasure in tearing him apart. He was so intense and serious; she got these frequent spikes of want, when she wanted to take a stab at him just to see how he would react.
“You know, Ludwig, I think you met me at a very interesting time in my life – when my natural inclination for cruelty started getting dull.”
She walked past and out into the hallway, wanting to get her heels so they could go out for lunch, Germany called out after her –
“Can you please wear some sensible shoes while we’re out? If we have to walk to the train station after we eat, in those shoes you wore yesterday, your feet will be bloody by the time we get there.”
Marianne’s first instinct would normally be to reach for the highest heels she owned after such a comment, she turned around and crossed her arms over her chest. Her bare toes wiggled on the hardwood floor.
“Why do you care about my feet?”
“Do you have something against your own feet that you that you need to purposefully hurt them?” he countered.
France thought – there were all sorts of ways she could answer him, but she was also feeling surprisingly light. She woke up being sore in all the pleasant ways one could be sore, and Germany was so handsome when his brows were furrowed like that. And really? He cared about her feet not getting more blisters?
So just because she was feeling very charitable, Marianne pulled out her Channel ballet flats and slipped them on with a smile. She didn’t say anything, but she raised her foot so she could show him the sole of her shoe.
Germany looked confused.
“I didn’t expect that would work.”
“What can I say? I’m all full of surprises.”
She was grabbed his arm and pulled him along with her. France took him for lunch, stole the top choux off his Religieuse, and tried to play footsie with him under the table, though he wasn’t having any of it. Then, she took him to the train station – she had to get back to Paris, he had to get back to Bonn. While she waited with him on his platform to see him off, he said something that was almost lost in the noise around them –
“I don’t think you’re naturally cruel. I thought about it – but I don’t think it fits you.”
“Most people would disagree with that.”
“Naturally cruel implies instinctual drive for it, something that happens without your control. That isn’t you – you’re not naturally cruel. You realize what you say and you’re very aware of it, so it’s very purposefully cruel, isn’t it?”
“Such a clever boy you are. So then, tell me - what’s my purpose?” France stole a look from the corner of her eye – eyebrows raised; mouth quirked.
Germany took a step closer to her and France turned to him, taking note of the tension running through him and the unnatural way in which he kept himself stiff. He never seemed like he was comfortable in his body, too aware of how big he got and how fast that happened. She was reminded of Alfred, and how quickly that boy had taken to his new body and explored the limitations of it – how fast he could run, how high he could jump and how strong his grip was. Alfred relished in his own strength.
Meanwhile – Germany – sometimes France thought he should have been born earlier, when the world had been smaller and cozier, and maybe back then he would have made some smaller mistakes first so he could get used to it.
Despite the noise, despite the smell of the train station – the air between them was thick, Germany eyeing her as if he was trying to decide what sort of animal she was, if she was going to bite him if he came closer.
Then, he surprised her.
Germany’s hand went to her throat, open palm and splayed fingers against her pulse point. It was so gentle, barely any touch at all, but there. His hand was warm, heavy. So big against her throat.
He didn’t have to press at all, even just keeping his hand there was enough to send a shiver through her body, the realization that it would be so easy for him to hurt her in all the ways she wanted to.
It made blood race through her quickly, made her heart beat faster. France instinctively raised her chin so he could get a better grip on her neck.
“This is what I realized.” His hand didn’t tighten, but the possibility of it made her breath hitch, “You wanted me to...”
Germany didn’t say it, but it hung between then anyway. Maybe it got caught on his tongue, hurt you, because he wasn’t the type that picked at scabs until they bled again.
She felt his fingers fluttering against her veins. Marianne wondered if he felt how erratic her pulse was. Heat was pooling between her legs and she thought – if she grabbed his hand, would he allow her to guide him along to the nearest bathroom? She would ask him to pull her hair while she forced herself to choke on him. Knees getting bruised on the floor. Eyes watering from the length. Swallow. And then she could send him back to Bonn with lipstick on his cock.
Marianne thought he was playing dirty – truth be told, she thought Ludwig was too much of a good boy to pull out the filth right in the open, but she wanted him to be capable of that. All the thoughts in her head were geared to that, and when she turned to him, blue eyes meeting each other, she didn’t try to hide the intense want coursing through her bloodstream.
She knew he realized it, by the way his eyes widened slightly – if he was bluffing before, well, they both knew the truth of it now. Marianne’s hand shot out to grab him by the shirt and pull him forward, raised herself on the tip-toes and kissed him. She pressed forward with her tongue and licked his mouth open, breasts pushing into his chest, arms around his waist. The kiss was all full of heat, because she wanted him to think about her on the way back, she wanted to him to think about her until he couldn’t think about anything else anymore and brand the taste of her on his tongue so he would remember it.
Whether or not that was possible yet – she wasn’t sure. There was potential, and that was more than she had hoped for. It was a definite maybe. The goodbye kiss was ended with a little peck on the corner of his mouth.
“Au revoir, Ludwig. Think about me while you’re away, won’t you?”
She turned around and rushed away without waiting for him to respond. It wasn’t hard to get lost in the crowd, especially when her flat shoes allowed her to move so much quicker. France resisted the urge to look back over her shoulder, it would ruin the whole illusion. She rushed down the stairs from the platform down to the train station, and only slowed down there, when she was sure there was enough distance between them and Germany wasn’t going to follow her.
There were people walking around her – her people, she could feel them, they were busy, or they were sad, or they were rushing to catch their train or they were waiting for their family or they were saying goodbye to their lovers. France closed her eyes and let herself feel that, the movement and the feeling around her.
She thought Ludwig was cute. Sweet. She liked him – raising a hand to her mouth, she wiped her lips and stared at the red pigment on her fingertips afterward. Chuckling, she had to wonder if he realized right away that she left a huge lipstick stain against his mouth when they kissed, of if he only realized after he got on the train.
The train to Paris was still a good bit away, so there was no reason to hurry anywhere. Marianne sat down on a bench and lit a cigarette for herself. She felt her chest was heavy, without being able to pinpoint exactly why.