Monsieur de Givenchy had designed her wedding dress. It had long sleeves and a bateau neckline, a fitted bodice that cinched at her waist, and a full skirt that was made using 34 meters of silk organza. It closed at the back with pearl buttons – small, delicate things that Belgium fastened for her. France had counted each one as they went, breathing in as she felt the dress wrapping more and more snugly around her.
Mercifully, Belgium had enough tact to not ask her how she was feeling, and didn't comment on the vodka she had been drinking while the hairstylist piled her hair up into an elaborate updo. If France closed her eyes, she might have been able to pretend she was back in Versailles, where her ladies-in-waiting would help her get ready to sit by the Sun King’s side as he held court.
Ever since he had been a child, Louis Dieudonné had looked at his country with the sort of possessive entitlement children often had for their precious toys – he demanded her constant affection and attention. Louis wanted her dressed in sumptuous silks, her chest heaving under the weight of diamonds around her neck. As if she was a royal doll, she lavished under his attention and entertained the whims and fancies of a King that loved her so. It had been such a time , such a wonderful time – and she had been old then too, but she hadn’t felt as old as she did now.
Back then, Marianne had been the glorious, shining jewel of Europe, the most coveted woman that ever lived. Men and women, royals and cardinals, and philosophers and artists and poets, all of them came to Versailles. They swarmed around her as if she had honey dripping from her hair and they all wanted a taste. My lady would you grace me with a smile? My lady would you allow me to pour your wine?
My lady, allow me to drag my fingers over the edge of your skirt , men begged, allow me to kiss the soles of your feet.
And Louis had preened, and showed her off, his beautiful France that he loved so much. She danced ballet for him and sat with him as he died, and back then it had felt as if a part of her world died along with him.
The world had been smaller then, but unfolding in front of her and ripe for the taking, and Marianne was convinced it was meant to be hers.
What would her Sun King think of her now?
“There’s still time to run away if you want,” Emma told her with a smile. France sighed, feeling a pang of annoyance at that. So much for merciful restraint.
“Don’t be silly, Emma,” Marianne told her, as she ran a fingertip over the lace trimming of her veil. “Where would I even run to?” She challenged, shooting Belgium a meaningful look over her shoulder.
She tried to keep her tone light and joking, but there was a stillness to her words that betrayed an underlying frisson of tension. Half the countries of Europe were likely taking bets on whether or not she would even show up to her own wedding.
Both of them pointedly ignored the obvious answers.
Belgium shook her head and giggled, curls bouncing around her face and lips settling into a smirk.
“You can always take a hike over the wall. I’m sure Ivan would be happy to have you.”
“Don’t joke like that Emma. Julia and her evil Hungarian hell hound would be waiting on the other side of the wall.”
“Prussia would eviscerate you for leaving Ludwig at the altar.”
“Prussia will eviscerate me for marrying Ludwig too. I’ve made my peace with that. Whenever that wall’s coming down, it’s off with my head again.”
“Not if the marriage works out, though. I’m sure Ludwig won’t appreciate his sister beheading his wife if the both of you will still be happily married by then.” Emma stole a bouchée à la reine from the tiered serving platter that had gone untouched until then. Marianne was desperately craving something sweet and sugary to sooth her frazzled nerves, but her make-up, her dress and the tight-laced corset she wore as undergarments wouldn’t allow for any momentary indulgences.
She eyed the canapés with longing and felt a stab of hunger in her belly – it was a discomfort caused in equal parts by hunger, anxiety and mounting annoyance, a troublesome sensation she had become accustomed to over the past few weeks as the wedding preparations had been underway.
She and Ludwig hadn’t been able to see each other for more than a few hours since September when they announced their engagement, and since then it was a whirlwind of arrangements to deal with. While they did talk frequently, it did little to calm her. Germany had several magnificent qualities, but a gift for words wasn’t something he possessed. Phone calls with him consisted mostly of Marianne chatting away until she got bored with the occasional grunt or comment from his side. Whenever she was feeling a bout of insomnia, she called him and asked him to read something to her. His voice kept this soothing rhythm that was perfect to fall asleep to, especially since he was reading her Hegel as a bedtime story from 500-odd kilometers away.
“Arthur’s here, you know,” Belgium told her right before popping the little pastry in her mouth, chewing deliberately to avoid making any further commentary.
“I was expecting him to be.” Not a lie, but somehow she had hoped that Arthur’s stubbornness wouldn’t allow him to show up. While it would be protocol to come to France and Germany’s wedding, she couldn’t imagine her stubborn English Dragon coming along willingly. She had to wonder how they managed it – who managed it?
Was it his beautiful queen that asked him not to cause a scene? Was Alfred guilting him into it? Or maybe Scotland dragging him along, kicking and screaming because Alistair still hadn’t quite forgiven Arthur for sleeping with Marianne when she was betrothed to him, and saw this as an excellent opportunity for payback?
France cringed as she remembered Prussia’s heartbroken intoxication at Austria and Hungary wedding, combined with Spain’s moody, mopey silence that hung over Schönbrunn ballroom, making everyone just a bit too aware of the theatrical nature of the wedding ceremony. France had looked at the whole thing with an air of superiority and slight pity, the poor fools , pining over the unhappy groom and bride that wanted to be there even less than them. She had been so amused by it and told herself she would never allow herself to be put in such a position.
“Oh come now, don’t make that face , Marianne,” Belgium said, as she got up from her seat and came over to France. She picked up the shoe box that was innocently sitting on the side table, crouched down in front of Marianne, and helped her put on her shoes, “Just think of….”
“Think of what? ” She challenged, an edge of madness seeping into her voice. Think of her wedding night? Her uncertain future? Her too-young husband or her too-old heartbreaks that kept bleeding sluggishly in her ribcage?
“Think of tomorrow. It’s going to be over by then.” Belgium fastened the straps of her pumps for her.
“We’ll be going on our ‘ honeymoon .’ Charles insisted on it. Ludwig protested, but Herr Adenauer convinced him a holiday would be beneficial for both of us.” Marianne shook her head, trying to imagine Germany taking a voluntary holiday and finding it impossible. He was too young to be so tense all the time, so she saw it as something of a personal duty to get him to unwind. “He would work himself straight into his grave if he were allowed to, I think.”
“Luckily for him, he’s going to have you to distract him from now on.” Belgium joked, not unkindly, though France thought she detected sharpness underneath. Whether it was imagined or not, it made her stand up straighter, made her brows furrow.
“Do you think I’m making a mistake?” she asked. Luckily, the makeup artist and the hairstylists had already left, silent as mice, leaving the two women alone together. They weren’t there to witness the tense silence between them.
“Does it matter what I think?” Her old friend asked, averting her eyes.
“Not in the slightest.”
“Then it doesn’t matter,” Belgium shook her head and laughed. “For better or worse, both you and Ludwig made a choice. I don’t know if it’s a good one, but I can only hope you do. I don’t want…” Her mouth clicked shut, teeth snapping audibly together. She didn’t finish her thought, but France could hear it anyways: I don’t want to be caught in another war .
France was never someone that went to the battlefield to fight. She was an aristocrat at her core, and her kings and generals knew and understood that about her. She wasn’t like Prussia , an uncultured mongrel that was forced to fight for scraps of freedom and land. Every war was a battle for survival for someone like Prussia, but not for France.
However, a battlefield wasn’t just a place for fighting, it was a place of worship. How could it not be, when all those men went out there and died in her name?
Her leaders loved to fashion her as a symbol of victory, a beautiful maiden that brought luck and fortitude to her brave men, a gracious lady that cared for the wounded and loved the poor. Whenever her armies saw her, they cheered – love and admiration, a desire to please, the energy that pulsed through her when her men sang her praise.
Napoleon loved to have Marianne with him when he was campaigning. He made her dress up in royal Parisian Blue silks and velvets, gave her rubies and sapphires to don herself in, made her shine like a golden Goddess observing her battlefield. His army won victory after victory, and he laid down Europe’s corpses underneath her dainty little feet. And she gleefully stepped over them, content to allow him this, let him burn the world down for her.
In Belgium’s fields though, at the Battle of Waterloo, Prussia caught her by her ankle and pulled her down in the mud, ripped golden jewelry and her beautiful dress straight off her body. Marianne never quite forgave that, never forgave any of them. She had woken up coughing up mud and dirt after being suffocated in it, had woken up in pain as she felt herself getting torn apart inside, and Belgium had looked relieved and hadn’t said anything.
Sometimes Marianne remembered Rome, and how he felt, how he smelled, how even when he was weak, he oozed power out of the cracks in his skin. How magnetic it had been to her, how fascinated she had felt. And then she remembered herself, how at the height of her power weaker countries weren’t even able to look at her.
Maybe that was why England wanted her, and Prussia too, though Julia didn’t want to vocalize it. Why Germany couldn’t keep his hands off her and why Russia spent a damn century chasing after her skirt. Because power was magnetic and the blood inside her always sang for more, her ambitions roared and greedy bastards always wanted a taste of her.
War used to make her skin glow and her eyes shine, it made her lips redder and her teeth whiter and sharper. Power was hard to resist, and it looked good on her, but so did submission, and ever since she had been young, France had learned that conquest could tingle and throb and ache sweeter and deeper than kisses ever could.
Ludwig though, he wanted to try peace for a change.
And Marianne wasn’t sure if she was capable of peace. Not true, whole-hearted peace in which she would be able to fall asleep at night and wake up well rested in the morning. She forgot how that felt like on her own, much less how it was to share it with another person. Peace and safety and contentment.
And more so, she didn’t even think it was possible, not with America and Russia continuously flipping coins over the safety of the world.
Ludwig, however, had looked earnest and young and sincere when he had asked it of her, and she had been taken aback by the rawness in his voice. Summer swelter and her own loneliness had made her mind cloudy then, and she wanted to believe that maybe they could have some version of that.
She had no excuse for still going through with it, other than the fact that maybe she liked him a little bit, because he was so very different from all the others she’d been with. Buttering her toast and remembering how she liked her coffee, weirdly observant and sweet and careful when he talked to her, Ludwig reminded her more of the human men that tried courting her over the years as opposed to the Nations that wanted to conquer her.
Germany wasn’t human, though, even if sometimes the rift of time between them made him feel so alien to her.
They didn’t get married in a church, it would have been too much of a hassle to determine what sort of church it would be anyway. Catholic? Protestant? Marianne herself went through phases of alternating piety with fervent atheism, and while she hadn’t asked Ludwig about his relationships with the deities, she was certain the answer couldn’t be an easy one. The man had been raised by Prussia, after all. Poor soul.
Instead, they got married at the Elysée Palace.
It was January, and dreadfully cold outside, and snowing. Marianne would have preferred a summer wedding, but what can you do? It wasn’t up to her. Ludwig and Marianne were more so decorations than active participants in this marital affair of theirs, as their bosses signed their treaty documents and then offered them pens too. President de Gaulle smiled at her, very pleased with himself.
She signed herself, Marianne Bonnefoy, République française, stared for a long moment at her name and how the flourished, cursive lettering looked next to her groom’s neat looking Ludwig Beilschmidt, Bundesrepublik Deutschland.
“It’s customary for the bride and groom to kiss at this point, is it not?” Ludwig’s fingers brushed against the back of her hand as he asked her, softly and without looking at her. There was a red glow across his cheeks, over the tips of his ears.
“I suppose it is,” she answered, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.
It was a very polite kiss they shared, it lasted for the second between heartbeats, and she could feel the tension coiling through his body as he pressed his thumb under her ear.
There were camera flashes, and applause too. A surreal experience. They posed for official photos, in which De Gaulle and Adenauer sat at their side like parents would. While the photographers were searching for the best, most flattering angles, Ludwig would steal quick glances at her, as if he was trying to reassure himself that Marianne was still there.
When they danced together at the official wedding banquet later that evening, he held her hand too tightly and carried himself almost mechanically. She could imagine him counting the 1-2-3-4 waltzing rhythm in his head as they moved together. Marianne remembered him being a better dancer than that, but then again, it wasn’t every day that a man got married under the scrutiny of the entire world.
No matter how silent and tense Ludwig was, at least he made up for it by being exceptionally handsome. He always cut a striking figure, but the dark bridegroom tuxedo made him look regal – tall, broad shouldered and serious, features sharp and elegant. Older than he was. His eyes were very blue, and softened slightly when Marianne’s hand tightened around his.
The music swelled around them. The orchestra that Austria recommended really did play beautifully, and as the wedding waltz came to an end she felt his palm settle more firmly over her back, felt his fingers running over the pearl buttons of her dress. His hand lingered there a second longer after the song ended, and she felt how the muscles in his arms stiffened, how the space between them was a barrier, and her stomach went tight.
There was always this intensity that he carried himself with, too much of it, like there was a core of emotion inside threatening to spill over at the seams of him before he managed to get it back under control. Ludwig didn’t say anything at all, but he looked at her like he was trying to unravel her, looked into her eyes, stared at her mouth as he chewed nervously on his lower lip. The lipstick on her mouth was bright red and felt heavy on her skin, she smirked at him and wondered if he was going to kiss her, bold as it might be.
Ludwig seemed to swallow thickly, but he didn’t look away. Instead, he took a step back from her and brought her hand closer to his face, pressing his lips against her knuckles before letting her go.
There were so many people surrounding them, all these wedding guests that knew nothing about the relationship between them apart from the scandalous nature of their wartime affair. Now here they all were, and France wondered what all these people saw now, how they measured Ludwig’s small moments of tenderness against their expectations.
There was a part of her that wanted to put on a show for them, throw her arms around Ludwig’s shoulders and press their mouths together in a passionate kiss, give them a little something to talk about after they went home. There was nothing like a little glimpse into someone’s bedroom to make people interested in a story, especially since Marianne knew what a beautiful couple they made together.
Ludwig would be so embarrassed about it , though. Burn through his suit with the force of his blush. It would be very cute. So, so tempting.
The only thing that stopped it from happening was America, as Alfred came between them on the dance floor with all the subtlety and elegance of a bull raging through a China shop.
“Oh, wow, I wanted to congratulate you guys.” He grabbed Ludwig’s hand and shook it forcefully, “Congrats on getting her, Germany. You better take good care of her, or else !” he announced, laughing.
It took about a second for Ludwig to school the slight look of horror that overtook his features into something polite. Alfred looked pleased with himself. Ludwig cleared his throat.
“Certainly, there’s nothing to worry about,” Ludwig answered, cautiously stilled. Marianne wanted to offer some sympathy, but she felt that the best solution here was to disengage on an emotional level, lest she fall prey to the overwhelming awkwardness of the situation.
“That’s the spirit! Haha , I wouldn’t want to have to intervene between you.”
Her amusement was short-lived. It lasted just until Alfred turned to her, put his hands on her shoulders and looked at her with these big, shiny looking eyes.
“You look really pretty in that dress, Mom ,” he told her, all sincere and heartfelt, before pulling her into a back-breaking hug.
Marianne cringed. Ludwig cringed. The whole room probably did as well, but it slipped off Alfred’s tongue so naturally and harmlessly, a damn title that France never wanted to be associated with.
America called her that sometimes – in 1944 when they liberated Paris and he found her in the crowd, he pulled her into his arms and spun her around, and said ‘ Mom, I’m so happy to see you’. Mathieu had been with him, and he had slapped Alfred over the head when he put her down, reminded him that it wasn’t how they talked to each other, it wasn’t proper to speak in such familial terms.
The damage had been done, though, and over the next few years, America showed her that even as he called her France, he treated her very much as if she were an ailing old woman that needed guidance and protection. It was all I’ll take care of this , and I’ll take care of that, all of it invasive and domineering, as if he were entitled to make decisions for her because he was suddenly so much stronger.
Over America’s shoulder, she looked for Ludwig and hoped he would be around to divert this attention. However, he was already lost in the crowd, stolen away by some politician, and leaving her alone with America’s easy, condescending behavior.
“Thank you very much, America ,” she said. They danced together when the next song started up, and Marianne spent the duration of it hoping to subtly remind him of the propriety that needed to warm itself back up between them. It was a very hopeless task – whether he was too thick to pick up on it or simply ignored it because he didn’t want to accept the rules, he continued.
“You know, I always kinda hoped you’d eventually end up marrying England, right?” He laughed as he twirled her arms, spinning her around and then pulling her back in. “You know, I used to talk about that stuff with Mattie all the time. How would it be like if Mom and Dad got married?”
“I would very much appreciate it if you were to stop calling me that,” she said firmly, but Alfred just ignored her and kept on blabbering.
“I know you’re not technically my Mom and all, but I would have liked it if you were! It would have been so nice, can you imagine what lovely family portraits we would have had?”
There was something very sly about how it was wrapped up in wholesome expectations, yet still put Alfred himself at the center of the fantasy. He would have commissioned family portraits to hang on the walls of the White House, to give himself the legitimacy of a son inheriting a royal title.
“ America …”
“Hahaha, would it have been so bad? If you and England married, the two of you could move in together. You could retire together. Wouldn’t that be easier?”
“Retire?” she repeated, annoyance flaring inside her. Marianne made a point to step on his toes, but it didn’t seem to bother him at all.
“Yeah, like – do you really want to get caught in all this mess with Ivan and the damn commies on the other side of the wall? Cause you know, it would just be easier if you let me handle things.” Alfred smiled a Hollywood smile, all beautiful straight teeth and earnest charm.
Alfred’s head was still foggy with power, wasn’t it? He was just envisioning a world in which he stood at the center of it all, with other variables being easily maneuverable pawns in the games he played. It was the same thing England used to do, it was the same thing France herself used to do, and she felt the sharp stabbing resentment of being on the receiving end of it.
No one had asked her if she was willing to partake in this game; it was decided for her when England and America and Russia had closed the door in her face at Yalta and Potsdam. England had done it because he wanted to teach her a lesson in humility, hadn’t he? America just saw her as a player that had been removed from the board and transformed into a pawn.
“We do appreciate your help, Alfred, of course we do,” she told him sweetly. Flattery went a long way with him. “How else would I have managed without you?” She fluttered her eyelashes too, played up the gratefulness and saw him puffing up with pride.
“Oh, Mary, you know I’m just looking out for all of you. Gotta keep an eye on you guys. I don’t want any of you going crazy again.”
Back when Alfred had been a young nation, still unsure of himself and unrefined in the ways of politics and diplomacy, Marianne had taken him under her wing and taught him things he needed to know – that you didn’t always need to use brute force to show off your power. Sometimes, you could remind others of your position with a few words; exerting control could be as easy as making someone squirm in front of you.
“I would never doubt your good intentions, my dear.” The sooner the song ended, the better. She supposed she should be proud of herself, of how well he appropriated the lessons she had taught him. However, it was frankly insulting to use this tactic on her, in such an unsubtle manner.
France refused to give him the satisfaction of seeing her unsettled.
“Say though – why are you marrying Ludwig in the first place? Come on, you can tell me – is it because England’s ships aren’t riding the waves as well as they were before?”
“Oh, you know, Alfred...” she started, lips pulled thinly over her teeth. “Sailing experience gets you far over the years, but after a few centuries, the waves might want to see a different kind of boat.”
“Heh, I don’t want to know the details of that.” America grimaced; a blush pulled over his features as he looked away awkwardly. Puritan at heart, he never knew how to respond when people started laying the innuendo down thickly enough. Sensing his discomfort, she decided to push on.
“But you know, sometimes you want a bigger, stronger boat. Diesel powered engine and all, has better acceleration and force …”
“ France ,” Alfred said, bright red now.
“Considering you were so eager to make suggestions about how I should be living my life,” Marianne told him, hissing between her teeth, grin still bolted into place, “I thought you wanted to know more details about how I was actually living it in the present.”
“Point taken.” He laughed, realizing he’d been played but very amused about it. This child sometimes forgot who he had learned this sort of tactic from . Would it teach him to mind his own business? Probably not. Did it give her a small moment of satisfaction to shut him up? Yes.
America didn’t answer her after that, but he twirled her with decidedly more force than necessary and then let her go before she had the chance to steady herself on her feet.
It left her dizzy and reeling with an unpleasant feeling of aborted conclusions. A coiling thread of barbed wire in her guts, combined with the alcohol she had started consuming early today and the lack of food. All of it made her emotions pierce too deeply and somehow sit on top of her skin at the same type, a type of vulnerability that left her exposed and on edge.
It’s not like the day was going poorly in any sense. At the very least, she and Ludwig were going to have some beautiful pictures to reminisce about together in a couple of years, provided they were still civil to each other and the whole sham didn’t collapse on top of them in some sort of messy divorce.
She took a glass of champagne from the tray of a passing waiter, downed it in big gulps. It left a soothing buzz of alcohol running down her throat, and she thought it might help a bit with the complicated brew of feelings. Marianne sighed, and before she was even ready to move from the spot –
“ Marianne .”
Her heart stuttered.
Breath caught in her lungs, she turned to look at England, hoping that her expression wouldn’t betray the tumultuousness inside.
Dressed in his sharply tailored suit, England looked every bit the gentleman he claimed he was, though she knew better. His behavior always betrayed him – instead of asking her for a dance, he walked forward and put a hand on her waist. Grabbed her hand. Led the dance. Marianne was unable to protest, caught up in the sheer presence of him, limbs heavy and willing to let him take charge.
His expression was tight, brows furrowed and lids tense, lips pressed together.
“Am I going to have to call you Frau Beilschmidt from now on?”
“That’s such a rude question, milord . Is it not more polite to congratulate the bride first?” she challenged, mouth quirking and hoping that he would be too upset with the situation itself instead of noticing the trepidation in her voice.
“Oh, sod it, Marian.” He gripped her hand tightly. His fingers dug into the fabric of dress. “I’m allowed to be rude.” He wasn’t even trying to mask the hurt in his voice. “I’ve never thought I’d be a bloody guest at your wedding.”
Marianne’s heart was as good as it was going to get – silly old thing that it was. It got mangled up and stomped on so many times since she had been a child that it grew a protective barrier around itself to make sure that strangers would never be allowed to touch it. However, Arthur Kirkland had always been a dirty little gremlin that hid in the bushes to catch her by the edge of her dress and pull her down to the ground with him. He hid inside the hollow parts and made a nest for himself there.
“I suppose not. Life surprises you sometimes, doesn’t it?”
“Life has a way of mucking things up, you mean.” He huffed, and pulled her in closer. “I can still steal you away, you know.”
“Wedding dress be damned, he’s not supposed to get you. He doesn’t deserve to have you -”
“But I suppose you do…”
“Of course, I do.” He said, rolling his eyes. As if it was that easy. As if it was the most obvious thing in the world. And for the longest time, it had been, “Who else? You’ve always been...”
And he didn’t say it, but it caught in the air between them, the possessive pronoun that he used to whisper into her skin.
England and France used to play together when they were very young. They had been young nations trapped in the young bodies, without having proper understanding of their limitations. They were still new and their bodies were exciting and meant to be discovered. England used to push her around and one time, he pushed her straight into a river. Her dress had been wool, and it got heavy with water, and she drowned before she had the chance to pull herself out of the stream.
Marianne remembered how she had woken up later, chest aching, head fuzzy, breath gasping , unsure of what had happened to her. Arthur had been all over her in a second, had pressed his mouth against hers, all desperation and relief – a first kiss that leapt into the next one, and the next, and the next, until her chest was full of warmth.
“You’ll never love him the way you used to love me,” Arthur said, his voice barely a whisper over the band playing.
“That’s unfair, Arthur. I don’t even love you the way I used to love you.” His eyes flashed, and it made her... aware , present in her body.
France knew it was cruel to say it, but Arthur liked her cruel. After all, she learned how to sharpen her teeth on the underside of his ribs.
Arthur looked at her like he wanted to eat her.
“All these buttons they put on this dress.” His voice made her stand up straighter, pull her shoulders back tighter, lest she collapse into herself, and….and…
The problem was that Arthur and Marianne loved each other too much, too deeply, too passionately. There wasn’t anything you could do with that love - it was a knife with no handle that hurt both of them. Over time, they bled over each other so much there was no more room between them; they were just swimming in all the hurt they inflicted upon the other.
And everyone knew, didn’t they? Everyone knew the danger, which is why Spain came over and pressed a hand on Arthur’s shoulder heavily, and pulled him away from Marianne.
“Ah, Arthur, very sorry to take you away from the lovely bride, but I felt like I needed to talk to you about…” She heard Arthur protesting, but Antonio was pushing him away forcefully.
Words couldn’t express how grateful she was for his intervention. She struggled to take a deep breath, which she had been previously denied, but found that she couldn’t, like her lungs were unwilling to expand enough to accommodate her. She tried once, twice, deep breaths swallowed through her mouth, but it was pointless.
And then, she got swept off her feet again , this time by the most unlikely person of all –
“Keep your back straight and your chin up,” Roderich said, as he handed her a glass of something and put a hand on her back, gently steering her through the crowd. He took her out on one of the balconies and the biting winter air felt sharp against her face. Despite the layers of silk she was dressed in, a shiver still went through her body.
Austria handed her a tissue without saying anything. Marianne blinked slowly, dapped it under her eyes, and hoped she caught the moisture there before it rolled onto her face and ruined her make-up. She sniffled a little, gulped down her drink without tasting it. She grimaced when she realized it was stronger than expected.
“Usually I know better than to talk to you about how much you should be drinking and how, but I do hope you aren’t planning on getting drunk at Ludwig’s wedding.”
“Why, Roderich, do you care that much about making this a good experience for him? Is this proof that you have a heart after all?” She snorted and snatched Austria’s drink straight out of his hand. “It’s my wedding too, you know.” Marianne took a sip out of the stolen champagne flute and added, “I can get drunk if I want to.”
“And what good would that do you, hmm?” He sounded annoyed, but God forbid, he sounded sympathetic and understanding too. Truly a horrifying thought. There was a pang in her chest at that.
Considering the fact that Austria whisked her off the dance floor, offered her a drink and tissues, and took her out to get a breath of fresh air – which helped calm her nerves, she had to admit – Marianne realized that this was his way of easing some of her stress.
“Roderich, are you trying to comfort me?” She asked, incredulous and amused, slightly worried over this development. It even worked .
“I have an extensive amount of experience with weddings and marriages. Not everyone has a personality suited to this kind of diplomatic arrangement,” Austria said with a sigh. “It’s especially hard when it’s your first, and I would rather make sure that Ludwig’s wedding goes smoothly and without issues. Unfortunately, this means that I must take care of your mental well-being too.”
“Ah, Roderich, for a second there I thought you actually cared about me . Almost gave me a fright.”
The 19th century was very much a fever dream for Marianne. Blazing bright and hot and impossible when she was hanging on to Napoleon’s arm, with power running through her veins like fire; then it was painfully ripped away, and she was hazy and aching all over, her brain struggling to settle back into some semblance of normality after the overdose of Imperial Strength shot her pleasure receptors into dust. And then she had tried compensating it with whatever was more readily available. Wine didn’t do it anymore, but absinthe did, and opium, until she lost track of the weeks and the many lovers tumbling into her bed.
By the time she woke up from her stupor, it felt like decades passed by without her being fully aware of it. Years blurred together and memories stood out like explosions of feelings and colors playing across the back of her skull.
Taking all that into consideration, it was no wonder that she sometimes forgot – that Prussia, Austria and Hungary formed this strange little family unit around each other, raising Germany like the sole child with too many adults fawning over him.
“Are we going to be in-laws from now, Roderich?”
“Goodness, let us not think about that. This period is hard enough for all of us as it is, no need to make it worse.” Roderich handed her a small box, most likely as a way to distract her from the conversation subject. “I have something to give you.”
“Is this supposed to be a wedding present, Roderich? Seems overly sentimental, doesn’t it?” She was snarking at him as she opened it, revealing a silver flask inside. “I thought you said I should watch my drinking. I believe this is called enabling .”
“I’m hardly an enabler, but it’s also not a gift from me .”
She raised an eyebrow and pulled out the flask, feeling liquid sloshing inside. She was curious to see what it was filled with. Opening the lid, she put it next to her nose and took a whiff – promptly gagging on the pungent smell of the alcohol.
“Mon Dieu, this is that foul thing Hungary drinks.”
“ Palinka , yes. To make matters worse, it was also brewed in some dark, seedy basement in the DDR where Prussia tries experimenting with different means of getting intoxicated.”
“Ah, witches brew, then,” Marianne commented, a deep, seething sense of loss and longing aching through her. “Is it poisoned?”
“Purposefully?” Austria shrugged. “I wouldn’t be able to tell you. However, I also do not advise you to drink it.”
Prussia knew how much she despised Hungary’s drinks, how much she complained about the smell, the taste, the way it settled in her stomach. Horrible. Disgusting. Marianne smiled fondly, suddenly imagining a couple of long-haired hags bent over a still and checking the condensation level of the alcohol, arguing in their own cursed language – that mixture of Old Prussian dialect mixed with Hungarian words, poorly rendered accents that sent a shiver of dread down her spine. Whenever Prussia and Hungary were together, they spoke in this unintelligible language that they grew into over the years, much like layers of mold growing on top of each other.
The palinka, though? It might as well be poisoned, but France chose to see it for the positive that it was - A small, vitriolic token of affection.
“Come now, Roderich. It would be quite rude to refuse a drink offered to me on my wedding day.” And with that, she tipped her head back and drank as much of it as she could, letting it run down her throat without tasting it. An impossible task, though – it was just as bad as she remembered it, just as strong too, and when she put it down Marianne realized that the world had suddenly tilted off its axis. “This is just as bad as I knew it would be.”
“Have you had anything to eat today?” Roderich asked, suddenly concerned. “You’re looking slightly green at the moment.”
“When was I supposed to eat anything? There’s no room for food in this dress!” Goodness, the world was spinning, and she should really be sitting down, lest she make a fool of herself and fall over. Marianne sat down on one of the ornate, iron-wrought chairs. “I suppose it’s too much to ask if you have a cigarette on you, is it not?”
“I haven’t picked up smoking this century, no. My apologies.” Roderich sounded upset with her. Uppity little aristocrat, when wasn’t he sticking his nose up at someone? Always huffing and puffing.
So what if she was more than a little bit sloshed? She had started drinking while they were putting on her makeup and progressively kept up a steady influx of alcohol throughout the day. Honestly, it was impossible to be anything other than drunk.
“Oh dear, this is an unfortunate situation.”
“Ah, I think it’s actually an amazingly favorable one at that. The world is slightly softer and fuzzier around the edges when you’ve consumed just the right amount of drink.” She took a second to close her eyes and breathe in as deeply as her dress would allow her. “Say Roderich, you don’t like me much, do you?”
“I assure you that is an understatement.”
“You don’t like me at all, and yet – you didn’t try to stop Ludwig from marrying me, did you? Why not?”
“It’s not my place to prevent him from marrying whoever he chooses to marry. For better or worse, he picked you and he was determined to marry you. At the end of the day, that’s the important thing.”
“I keep wondering why he’d do that,” Marianne asked herself out loud. It was a question that she kept coming back to, never certain how to answer it for herself. “I know why he says he’s marrying me, but I’m hard pressed to believe it’s as simple as European Peace and duty towards people.”
“I don’t think either of those are simple, Marianne. More so, it’s Ludwig – you know responsibility is enough of a reason for him to do anything.”
Austria was right, and she knew it, of course. Plus, hadn’t she already told herself so many times that she was marrying Germany because it was a simple, straightforward diplomatic transaction which neither of them would feel the need to complicate with asking for more than the other was capable of. A contract.
“I just feel there’s more to it than that.” Maybe it was the alcohol, the wedding, the blurriness of the world and the cacophony of thoughts and sensations that were vying for her attention.
“Do you want there to be more to it than that?”
Austria’s question was framed in such a way that made her pause, trying to assess it. She opened up the flask of nasty palinka, took a small mouthful of it. Moved it around her mouth, repelled by the taste of it, but swallowed nonetheless.
“I don’t know.” She ended up answering him, completely honest.
“Then, I suggest you clarify that for yourself before you move forward with investigating this matter.”
Inside the grand ballroom of the Elysée Palace, people were dancing, talking, having a good time. All in all, it seemed like their wedding party was a success. She spotted Ludwig in the crowd, tall and poised, blond hair slicked back.
She willed him to turn around, suddenly feeling like she needed him to see her as much as she needed cigarettes or something sweet to eat. Maybe Austria noticed it on her face, because he came closer to her and told her softly.
“There are worse things in the world than figuring out you want more from your husband, Marianne.”
She didn’t know how to respond to that, so after a moment she raised the flask to her lips and started drinking just to keep her mouth busy. When the flask was completely empty, Ludwig opened the glass door to the terrace, as if summoned, and stepped outside.
“I saw you two here. Is everything alright?” he asked, a frown on his handsome features, looking between her and Austria.
“Husband, you’re here,” she said, a smile stretching on her features, a pleasantly floaty feeling overtaking her limbs as her body processed her intoxication. Her voice slurred. Ludwig’s eyes widened when he realized what was wrong with her.
“She’s very drunk, I’m afraid,” Austria, tattletale that he was, confirmed it for him.
“He’s right, I am drunk,” Marianne told him, opening her arms in his direction and pleading with him, “Come here, husband, help me sit up.”
There was an exchange between the two of them, in German, which normally wouldn’t be an issue for her, but at the moment her head was much too heavy to process the language change. Whatever it was, though, it seemed like Ludwig snapped something to Austria and then came over to her, crouched down in front of her.
“How are you feeling?” he asked her, gentle, and Marianne thought his French accent was getting better, but it was still there, in the way he breathed when he talked. She reached out and cupped his face in her hands, caressed his cheekbones with her thumbs. Ludwig’s hands settled over hers.
“You’re very handsome. Very handsome face. Shiny eyes.” She leaned forward over him, wanting to touch her forehead against his, but miscalculated the distance and ended up with her cheek pressing against the crown of his head. “You have to tell me I’m pretty now, as well,” Marianne said, fingertips running over the lines of Ludwig’s face.
“I think we should take you inside now, Marianne,” he told her. He caught her wrists in his hands and pushed them away, stood up to his full height and suddenly she had to strain her head to look up at him. “Don’t look at me like that , Marianne. It wouldn’t be a good idea to stay at the party when you’re so inebriated.”
“But Ludwig …”
“Come on, Marianne – I’ll take you inside, and…”
“Will you take me to bed, then?” She got up from her chair and leaned into him heavily, cheek against his shoulder and body relaxing against his, forcing him to support her weight. Heh, it didn’t matter; Ludwig was built like castle walls, unmovable and strong, he could carry her just fine.
Austria was talking again, and she heard Ludwig responding something. Mostly she focused on how his chest rumbled while he talked, the smell of his clothes, how he put his hands around her while keeping her steady in place. When she heard Austria’s footsteps departing, she thought Ludwig would follow him out, dragging Marianne along with him.
Instead, Ludwig’s arms around her tightened, one of them around her middle and over her shoulders. He sighed and Marianne felt tension uncoiling from him, softening even, as he held onto her like she was a raft in the middle of a storm. He didn’t say anything, but his breath betrayed him as he ran his palms over her back. It made her cling to him in response, reacting to the need that came off him in waves.
Ludwig stayed outside with her until her legs were somewhat steady again. She still hung onto his arm when it was time to move through the crowd, but it was alright because she could play it off like an enamored woman as opposed to a drunk one. They got stopped by people a couple of times to be congratulated, and it was extremely amusing because Marianne was giggly and overly affectionate, while Ludwig seemed to try to manage the situation professionally . It was completely hopeless – her speech was slurred, and she kept stealing macarons and choux a la crèmes from waiters passing by with trays.
“Are you retiring this early?” some poor sod asked her while she was licking crème Chantilly off her fingers.
“Why, Monsieur , one could say we overstayed , as opposed to retiring early. It’s such bad practice to keep the bride and groom on the dancefloor, when really they’re both eager for the wedding night consummation.”
“Marianne! How can you – I apologize – I….” Ludwig turned bright red and continued apologizing for her behavior, but the man was awkwardly shuffling away before he managed to sum up anything convincing.
France was quite smug with her performance, though her groom was obviously upset because he snatched away her choux before she had the chance to put in her mouth.
“You’re a terrible man,” she told him, pouting.
“You deserve it,” he snapped back at her, but when he turned to look at her and was met with her exaggerated pout, Ludwig sighed in defeat and held out the choux for her. “Take it, then, I don’t want it anyways.” So she smirked and picked it up with her lips and tongue from between his fingers, left marks of lipstick over his digits as she closed her mouth around them.
And Ludwig was blushing, and staring at her transfixed, and everyone else could talk about it as much as they wanted after they left.
The bridal chamber was exceptionally ornate and sumptuous, with flocked velvet wallpaper and a huge, four poster bed with a draped canopy. It had about two dozen pillows, all in various sizes – inviting and luxurious, if her mouth could water over a bed...
Marianne still felt the unnatural lightness of being drunk, and slumped over the door as soon as Ludwig closed it behind them. She closed her eyes and let her head drop back, trying to re-center herself. She thought longingly about how satisfying it would be to finally take off the dress.
“You have to unbutton my dress, Ludwig,” she said, walking over to him and turning around. Threw a glance over her shoulder. Smirked. “Undress me, please?”
“I can do that, alright.”
His fingers stumbled over the little pearl buttons, but one by one he went, occasionally grazing her skin. A slow process. A thought entered her mind, treacherous – Arthur would have just ripped it open – but she refused to dwell on it. There was a raw feeling in her chest that got unraveled, piece by piece and button by button, and with each little give of the dress it felt like it was harder to stop it from happening.
When he pushed the bodice over her shoulder, Ludwig’s fingers lingered over the bones there, and her skin puckered with anticipation. He leaned closer to her, lips almost touching her cheek but not quite.
“You looked very beautiful tonight,” he told her, and she thought she felt the word being formed onto her skin. It made her chuckle, feeling warm. There was something youthful in the way he said it, like he was a timid suitor that was trying to court her, unsure of her affection, when there was really no need for any of it. She appreciated it though, saw it for what it was, and decided to take pity on him and not snark back at him.
“Thank you, Ludwig.”
There was a small sway in her posture, her back against his chest, and she allowed him to push the dress off her body. Then, Marianne guided his hands towards the delicate front clasps of her corset so he could remove it. Underwear too. He didn’t touch her, not like she expected him to. His hands were shaking as they undressed her, but they didn’t stray from their task.
“You should help me with my shoes too,” Marianne told him, as she sat on the bed and held out a leg invitingly. When Ludwig came close enough, she pressed the heel of her pump against his chest, a small amount of pressure. He raised an eyebrow at her, but did as he was told. Pumps off and he even rolled off the stockings from her legs too.
Marianne spread herself on the bed and hoped he would take it as the invitation that it was. She was so incredibly ready to put the stress of the day behind her, exhausted and delicately bruised as she was. Ludwig should be able to fuck away the thoughts from her head, though; he was good at that.
There were moments in which she wanted to throw herself in the Seine and let it wash her away until there was nothing left of her but bones. Ah, but the Seine spilled into the English Channel, and she didn’t want Arthur to have her anymore.
Who was supposed to have her now?
The Rhine was something she associated with Julia, but now it was Ludwig’s, wasn’t it? And it felt foreign, still, that Ludwig was foreign to her in a palpable way, and it left her feeling aimless, drifting. Unknown and unowned, and she wanted to be both, in a sense that was deeper than skin, but that was all they did offer to each other.
The two of them didn’t know each other. They were still exploring each other, tentatively, trying to find each other. She wanted her head to settle, she wanted to not think about anything until she could drift off into sleep.
Ludwig, however, did not touch her, didn’t settle over her, didn’t even sit on the bed next to her. What he did, instead, was press his forehead against the wooden poster of the bed.
“I feel this is a trap,” he said through gritted teeth and with his eyebrows furrowed.
“A trap?” Suddenly, she raised herself on her elbows, looking at him with confusion and no small manner of frustration. “A trap ? Ludwig, we just got married . We’re supposed to consummate the whole thing.”
“I know that, it’s simply that - ” he sighed and ran his hand through his hair, mussing it up from its previous neatness, “ - it doesn’t feel like I’m supposed to.”
“What do you mean, it doesn’t feel like you’re supposed to ?”
All the annoyances, frustrations, and sorrows of the day came right back – how could they not, when they were barely hidden by a thin layer of composure? Now, though, she was getting denied the swift release of a speedy orgasm too, because Ludwig….didn’t feel like it? After all that ?
“Look, I can’t explain, but….”
“ Try ,” she demanded, sitting up completely and crossing her arms over her breasts. It was ridiculous that they were having this conversation as she was naked and very willing to fuck , and instead of fucking her Ludwig was pacing the room, with an obvious erection he wasn’t putting to good use.
“I…” he started, but then stopped, like his mouth clamped shut and his face darkened with a flush.
“I missed you.” The words tumbled out of his mouth very quickly, and too loud.
“I fail to see why that is a problem.”
There was a moment of silence between them, palpable awkwardness as Marianne tried to understand what was going on in his head, but the rush of hot emotions combined with being not-quite-sober resulted in her mind being sluggish.
“Look, Marianne, I – ” Ludwig sighed and took off his tuxedo jacket. Undid his bowtie as he walked over to the bed, undid the buttons of his shirt. He sat down heavily and patted the spot next to him. Despite herself, Marianne complied.
“I am upset with you.” There was no hiding whine in her voice. If she sounded like a brat, though, so be it.
Her eyes were stinging with tears, feeling hurt for offering herself in the first place, unable to understand why she was getting rejected when he clearly wanted her too. Didn’t he? She blinked quickly and tried to look away from him.
“I know you are - ” But Ludwig wouldn’t let her look away, he grabbed her cheeks with both hands and turned her head towards him. His thumbs wiped underneath her eyes, where the tears of hurt pride and frustration had gathered.
“Listen to me.”
He tried, but Marianne closed her eyes and said, “No,” even as she leaned into his touch. Ludwig sighed, moved his hands behind her head and started picking bobby pins out of her hair. He continued talking to her, his voice steady and soothing, his touch gentle as he worked.
“I was looking for you today. In the crowd.” What a coincidence , Marianne thought, she had been looking for him too. “Every time I saw you, I told myself I should leave you be. You were always with someone else, and you always looked so – " Whatever he wanted to say, he stopped himself from saying it. Frowned. Searched for the right word to use.
Marianne’s hair was finally free from its up-twist, and Ludwig ran his fingers through it. The caress was soothing, helped her relax, and made her lungs feel lighter.
He had such big hands and thick fingers, and she never would have thought that he could be as tender as he was. That was so baffling about Ludwig sometimes – he was so big and roughly cut, it would be easy for him to be a brutish oaf. Despite that, or maybe because he was so aware of himself, Ludwig was possibly the gentlest man she had ever been with.
“What did I look like, then?” she asked, eyes closed, words purring from her tongue.
“Like no one could touch you. Like you were somewhere else.” It sent a cold shiver down her spine, but Ludwig’s hand cupped the back of her head and pulled her forward until their noses touched. “You didn’t seem real.”
“ Ludwig ,” she sighed, and she moved to kiss him so she could shut him up, because he was on the verge of saying some dangerously stupid thing. Instead, the hand in her hair gripped, like she taught him to, close to her scalp so she was immobilized and bared her throat at him. Arousal pooled in her belly.
“And then when I found you with Austria, you were already drunk, and I – "
“What do you want from me?” she asked.
Ludwig pressed his forehead against hers and looked her in the eye. He did that sometimes, and Marianne always wondered why, what was he looking for? This handsome young man that was her husband now, he took such great care whenever he touched her, the contours of her mouth, and – what was he always looking for inside her? Did he ever find it?
Was it something real? Some emotion? Was he looking for deceit or trickery?
Maybe he just wanted to convince himself Marianne felt the same as he did, slightly lost inside a thing neither of them could name properly, with too many variables and not enough room to breathe. Or maybe he just wanted to reassure himself that Marianne missed him too.
Ludwig didn’t answer her, though. She saw it as an opportunity to push forward.
“You don’t even know yourself, do you?” And with that, she shook her head, and he let go. Marianne felt like she had been suddenly cut loose of a snare, and a desperate chuckle started building up inside her.
She let herself fall back against the bed and looked at the canopy above, still laughing because the whole situation was absolutely hilarious to her, but also completely hopeless. So both she and Ludwig were just as clueless in this, floating in uncertainty while trying to search for some common ground.
Ludwig was stubbornly silent, his cheeks bright red and his expression stormy, lips pressed together, as if he could force himself to swallow words that shouldn’t be said. Sometimes he made that sort of face, and you just knew there were things going on in his head that he was trying to bury, and he thought that somehow, not saying them would push them further down.
Marianne always found herself torn between allowing him privacy in his own mind and scratching her fingernails against the scabs in his psyche.
“If you don’t want to fuck me, and you don’t know what to say to me either - ” Her chuckles died down, “the least you can do is hold me, you know.”
So Ludwig took off his shoes and his pants, unbuttoned his shirt, and got into bed with her, wearing boxers, an undershirt and black socks. She settled her head on his chest, closed her eyes, and breathed in deeply, feeling it was alright to allow herself a little bit of longing.
“I missed you too.” She was having problems keeping her eyes open, the effects of alcohol, stress and the intense mixture of emotions making her tired.
Ludwig chuckled, and it made his chest rumble pleasantly underneath her touch. However, if he responded to her confession, she didn’t hear it.
Nightmares were nightmares. They just were, they happened, they tore into her head and stole away her sleep, and she woke up gasping and shaking, with her heart hammering in her chest and her cheeks wet.
“Marianne?” Ludwig said her name and tried to touch her, but his touch made her flinch and she jumped out of bed before he could do more than that. She ran into the bathroom and turned on the faucet, splashed water on her face so she could calm herself.
She was distantly aware of herself, mind drifting somewhere above and observing her reaction as if she was a spirit curiously in possession of a strange, uncomfortable body. Her head throbbed and her thoughts pulsed, struggling to rise above the heavy fog.
Ludwig was sitting in the doorway, looking at her with this pinched, worried expression. There were pillow marks on the side of his face. Why was he even there? The stupid boy that he was, he kept hovering over her and fussing and worrying. Sometimes it was slightly insulting, how he seemed to think she was this fragile thing that would fall apart if he touched her wrong. Sometimes it made her angry.
But Marianne was bone-tired, and Ludwig - with his sleepy face, beady eyes and big warm body - was inviting, and tempting, so she walked over to him without a word and wrapped her arms around his middle. He embraced her, tight and close, and ran his open palm over her spine.
Deep breath, she told herself, as much as your lungs will allow, and then let go – tremulously, body shuddering with it. Take note of yourself, behind the pain, the haze, the weariness. Look for anchor points, outside and in, something to ground you.
His hand cradled the back of her head. His lips kissed her temple. And he knew better than to ask her about her nightmares, allowed her to cling to him. No words were exchanged between them, and she was so very grateful for his silence.
The closeness. The smell of his skin. The warmth.
How he took her by the hand and brought her back to bed, curled around her and held her close.
The physicality of it helped.
Every time Ludwig breathed, she felt it, and they were so close together, and Marianne wondered if he could feel how her body ached, how her bones throbbed, how her blood coursed, how her heart and lungs and skin…
Oh, but Ludwig – he had to understand at least some of it, didn’t he? How there was a thing living inside her, full of memories and pain and guilt, how that pushed against the edge of her mind sometimes when she let it slip out of control.
In 1929, France was upset with England. This happened frequently.
It was because Arthur loved her – Arthur loved her so much he kept killing her so she could gasp back to life in his arms, love her so much there was no room for anything else between them, loved her so much he never got around to learning how to like her.
He licked champagne from between her tits and fucked her until they were both sick of each other. And then they were pushing each other away with, no more, no more, that’s enough, that’s enough –
Afterwards, it went like this –
They sat next to each other and navigated a minefield full of memories and heartbreaks and old wounds that never healed, all that ‘ I never forgave you for this and that and the other one ’. The list was long - for Napoleon and for Jeanne, for not saving her from Robespierre when he went mad and dragged her through the streets to cut her head off. For Agincourt and the smirk on his face when they brought her to his tent in chains. For all the scars on her body that he caused and the jealousy on his face when he sneered at the ones were caused by anyone else.
And whenever she started it, Arthur had his own list of things he made clear that he would never forgive her for – all those times she fucked Scotland in places he would find them because she wanted to punish him, for her scandalous behavior with other men, for all those times she refused to marry him, for the American Revolution. For not loving him enough, and for being the cruel, vain woman that she was.
Why do you never stay with me?
Why do you never come with me when I leave?
And there was never any answer.
She turned around and left and when she was on her boat back from Dover to Calais, she could finally breathe again.
But it was 1929 and she was beautiful. Gabrielle Channel was sewing Marianne’s little black dresses personally, and she was surrounded by people that fawned over her. It was almost enough to make her ignore the political instability and the uncertainty rumbling in her chest. The fact that she started waking up in cold sweats when she was alone in her bed.
After the Great War, she used to wake up coughing blood and choking on it, because mustard gas seeped into the soil of France and left her with painfully bleeding ulcers. Those were healing, but they weren’t gone.
And England smelled weakness on her.
She got home, and maybe she had an air about her, a lingering melancholy and sadness, because she was walking aimlessly around the halls of the Elysée Palace when she met Monsieur Briand, currently her prime minister for the eleventh time. A bit excessive, but she was fond of his bushy moustache.
“Oh dear, you look under the weather. I take it that your time in London wasn’t exactly relaxing. Was it the weather troubling you, or that Englishman of yours that upset you?”
“I suppose each of them contributed in their own way,” she answered dejectedly.
“Ah well, if you’re back here early, I wonder – would you like to join me on a trip? I’ll be going to Berlin next week, and if I remember correctly you were in friendly relations with Madame Beilschmidt and her brother, weren’t you?”
Marianne considered his offer, and she ended up accompanying him to Berlin out of boredom and frustration, thinking that spending time with dear Julchen might lift her spirits.
However, one thing she didn’t think to account for was this: in the late 20s, Hungary was no longer married and no longer as raw with anger as she had been in the first part of the decade. The wounds and heartbreak left by the Trianon peace, the anger Hungary had felt towards her ex-husband, towards Prussia, towards the world – well, by then, a lot of the pain was subdued enough, scar tissues formed where previously there were only bleeding sores.
This meant the Lady Héderváry was free to do whatever she wanted, and Prussia had waited for this moment for too long a time to let it slip her by. Whenever she had a free moment, Julia spent it with her head between Erzsebet’s thighs, and when that wasn’t an option, she was probably thinking about it.
France went to Berlin with Monsieur Briand with high hopes of seducing Julia to keep herself entertained, but her long-time friend, sometimes lover, swiftly rebuked her when she tried to sneak into her room the first night. Of course, she cited Erzsebet and their newly established relationship as the cause of this rebuttal.
Germans and their weird ideas of fidelity. Julia used to sleep with France and then ask her advice on how to win over the willful Miss Hungary. It was never more than two friends sharing each other’s bed. And to think that now ! Now when France needed comfort, Julia was going to turn her away in the name of fidelity.
How extremely sad !
It was because of that reason – because she was lonely, and she was upset with England, and upset with Prussia, and with herself, because she thought she came here for nothing and she might as well enjoy her time here, because she was France and she was terrible at spending her nights, because she looked lovely in the dress she picked up for herself and she wanted someone to undress her –
Because of all those reasons…
She ended up asking Ludwig to keep her company.
Looking back at it now, it was an impulsive decision motivated mostly by boredom, but Ludwig surprised her. They had played chess together, and she beat him – he was good, but Marianne used to play against Napoleon.
“You have to take me dancing, now,” she told him with a smirk, while Ludwig was analyzing their chess pieces to better understand her movements.
“Why do I have to take you anywhere?” he asked, slightly annoyed at her, maybe, but also intrigued. She realized very quickly that Ludwig was attracted to her, despite his better judgement and maybe without realizing it either, but he was attracted to her. When Marianne realized that, she decided that it might be fun to tease him a bit.
“Because I won! I beat you, fair and square, Ludwig Beilschmidt. You might as well take me dancing as a prize for that.”
Marianne didn’t really think he would be willing to indulge her, but he surprised both of them when he got up from his chair and offered her his hand.
“I suppose that’s right, yes. Come on then, where would you like to go?”
That summer, Marianne stayed in Berlin for a week, and Ludwig took her dancing every night – always looking a little bit reluctant to do so, sneaking out behind Prussia’s back and indulging in the vibrant nightlife. They talked about silly, meaningless things, or at least that’s how Marianne chose to look at it.
It was the last bit of fun both of them would have for a long time, as by the end of the year, the stock market crashed, and after that, it was one bad turn after the other.
Still though - the summer of 1929, Marianne and Ludwig caught the sunrise together over Berlin, and she didn’t care about him, not really, but they were both lonely, weren’t they? And it was nice to sit next to someone and lean into them, an uncomplicated silence settling comfortably over them both.
When Marianne woke up the next morning, light was barely filtering through the room. The January sun was taking it’s time to rise, and threw shifting shadows in their bedroom.
She blinked her eyes open, lazy and slow, and turned to look at her new husband lying next to her. Ludwig was already awake; his face was open and his hair was all messy like you never got to see him when he was awake. He looked his age, young and slightly overwhelmed. It made her feel warm inside.
“Good morning,” she told him.
Ludwig reached out a hand and cupped the side of her face, ran his thumb over her mouth. Pressed the tip of it between her lips. It made her chest swell. He moved forward, closer to her. On top of her. Kissed her.
“Good morning,” he told her, voice rough, between kisses. His fingers dug into her thighs. Her arms were around his shoulders.
And they didn’t have to talk at all after that. There was really nothing to talk about, was there?
At least in this they understood each other. Her body responded to his touch. Arousal spread through her and she was already wet just from kissing. Last night’s anger and rejection, her nightmares, the tight knot of unpleasant emotions, all of it unspooled while he kissed her. Instead, there was a leap in her chest and sense of trepidation, a connection forming between them that was starting to feel familiar, even when Ludwig himself was not quite that, not yet.
Ludwig made her come twice, with his mouth and his fingers, until her legs were pleasantly weak, and her body was soft and relaxed.
He left wet kisses on her inner thigh, gentle bites and sucking marks against the sensitive skin. Nuzzled against her mound, kissed her slit – tender at first and then harder. Laced their fingers together and held her hand as he licked into her, tasted her, his nose against her clit as his tongue dipped into her opening. Took his time with it too, made her sigh, pleasure spreading hot and languorous through her, until he flicked his tongue directly over clit and then pulled his face slightly.
“Please, please, please come back .” It made her legs shudder, hips bucking without meaning to, whining, and moaning.
Her voice was needy and desperate, and she knew he liked it, Ludwig could never resist when she said please , when Marianne said “ I need you ” it went straight to his head and his cock and his face softened – please, I need you, and he kept falling into her, head between her legs and rock hard the entire time.
Ludwig’s lips were wet and very soft as they wrapped around her clit, and he sucked around it just as much as she liked it, pressed two fingers inside of her so she could grip onto them, slid them in and out, in and out. Pushed them against her walls. He wasn’t an intuitive lover, but a very observant one that learned quickly, generous with offering her pleasure.
Ludwig asked her once to show him how she liked to have her pussy eaten, and he did that for the whole night until he learned how to do it perfectly. That was more than thirty-three years ago, and by now he was fluent in the language of her body.
Her heart was beating wildly, her blood hot, and her lungs wouldn’t allow her to breathe anymore, waiting , waiting, yes, like there, there, like that please don’t stop . Her thighs trembled and clenched around his head when she came, heat rushing through her. Ludwig kept going, didn’t let go of her as she came, and as she was coming down from the intense high of her orgasm, his lips were still there. Tender. Pulled out his fingers slowly so he could tease her with his tongue.
Marianne was drowsy with pleasure, sensitive.
“Do you want me to keep going?” Marianne felt how the words were formed against her folds.
He kissed her over the hood of her clit as she answered him. It was redundant to ask, she was already rolling her lips towards his mouth, greedy for attention.
And then he dragged his tongue over her pussy slowly, like she was dripping honey and he couldn’t get enough of her. God, that felt so good, it made her bones melt. Her body was still thrumming with warmth, but now it was pooling there again, the excitement, the pleasure, the need.
Ludwig liked tasting her and making her come. He wanted to take care of her because he was sweet like that. Good boy. Did his best. Maybe it was because it made him feel powerful to bring her off, maybe he liked the control of it and how desperately her body asked him, maybe he thought it was his responsibility to take care of her and keep her satisfied. Whatever it was, it made him persistent and relentless, single-mindedly focused on overwhelming her senses to orgasm and then moving back just enough to ask if he could do it again.
His fingers inside her crooked over that spot that made her see stars, and Marianne couldn’t control her movement anymore, grinding against him and feeling like the pressure wasn’t enough, she needed more, she needed more, she needed him, needed …
Yes like that, yes, don’t stop, yes, please, please, please, I need you, yes, thank you, yes, darling love, you’re so good to me, yes, yes.
Mind blank. Light and floaty with the aftermath of sensations. Breath gasping, chest heaving.
Endorphins and oxytocin tricked her into this swell of hopeless feeling. It made her want to cling to Ludwig in ways she would never allow herself outside the fragile bubble of post-orgasmic bliss. He made it easy for her to keep up the illusion. He touched her almost reverently after he made her come, like she was magic and he wasn’t yet sure how to contain it.
He bit her nipples to make her gasp out his name, and then kissed her with the taste of her cunt on his tongue, his mouth and his chin wet.
Ludwig asked her, “ Can I… ?” while his cock was pressed between her folds, and she nodded, all this affection and anticipation making her head and her heart and her lungs warm and sweet.
Marianne was so wet, but she still felt the stretch and fullness, the sharp edge of pleasure-pain. Ludwig always hurt when he pushed inside of her, a good kind of hurt that made her feel completely open for him, like there was no part of her he couldn’t touch – a vulnerable and delicious sense of surrender that took her breath away.
“I missed you, I missed you.” She was breathless and raw, grasped at his shoulders and wrapped her legs around him, pulling him in until it was too much and all the nerves in her body were alight.
The heaviness of him inside her and on top of her grounded Marianne in the moment. Ludwig’s body was an anchor she needed, hyper aware of herself, of him, of how he moved inside her. Careful at first, with slow thrusts until she got used to the feeling of having him inside, and then gradually picking up his pace. So controlled too, struggling to keep himself in check even now.
Marianne put her hands behind his head, pulled him closer, cheek to cheek, eyes closed. She pushed her pelvis up into his thrusts, searching for friction, letting his movements fan the sparking embers in her. Ludwig breathing against the shell of her ear, his lips brushing against the side of her jaw, kissing her pulse point, kissing her shoulder. The weight of him on top of her.
Other positions felt better, made her come quicker, but nothing beat missionary when it came down to the inherent tenderness and the intimacy of connection.
“Kiss me, kiss me, please.” Half-begged, half-whined.
And he did, lips moving against hers while his hips rolled , and it sent a tremulous ripple of pleasure through her.
“Do that again.” She sighed into his mouth. “I love how you fuck me.”
“Like that?” He sounded proud of himself, more confident in bed than she ever heard him outside.
Ludwig’s hips rolled again, like that , just like that , and her back arched to meet him. Marianne’s toes curled and she gasped. Each time he did it, again and again, slowly, too big, and too full and good, so good, making her shudder, vision losing focus, jaw going slack. Her spine tingled. It became overwhelming, too deep, too intense, sensation numbing.
“Tell me how it feels,” he asked her, and followed it up with a kiss on her cheek. One of his hands was on the side of her throat, thumb pushing slightly against her pulse point.
“Your dick feels so big inside me.” If Ludwig wanted her to talk dirty, she could tell him whatever he wanted to hear. She felt tight, like her walls were swelling around him and trying to absorb him inside. Ludwig pressed his forehead against her, kept fucking into her with those long, deep strokes.
“Ludwig, Ludwig – I need you, I need you to fuck me harder.”
Ludwig kept such a leash on his own impulses, he never allowed himself to truly let go until she told him it was alright, until she gave him permission to use her as he pleased. And she liked seeing him lose his grip on feelings, it made her feel damn proud of herself to see him unravel with her, because it was so, so rare. He needed a little help with that, though, so she looked him in the eyes and said,
“Fuck me like you love me.”
The moment he started pushing harder, faster – it left her breathless and dazed, body reacting on its own accord, trembling and contracting around him, tension breaking and overflowing, spilling out of her seams. Coming around Ludwig’s cock, gushing wet, heat rippling.
Head full of hot honey. Heart bursting.
Ludwig’s movements were more erratic now, desperate. Lost some of his rhythm, pounded into her, needed her. She felt how hard he got, how he tensed all over, pulsed inside of her. Filled her, came in her, warmth spreading.
Marianne’s arms embraced him and held him against her as he caught his breath, their sweaty, hot skin pressed together and her fingers running through his hair. Ludwig had his eyes closed and nuzzled into the curve of her shoulder, almost on instinct, lips over her pulse point, but he didn’t kiss her, just inhaled deeply.
There was something unbearably vulnerable about Ludwig whenever they fucked – like he had no idea how to separate the intimacy of it from who they were, like all these feelings he never realized he had were written so plainly over his face and he couldn’t be trusted with his own words. As much as he tried to act like he was serious and stoic and untouchable, Ludwig was all a mess of feelings that bubbled deep inside and whenever they were close like this, it was unstable territory they were exploring.
He ran his fingers over her side, over her ribs, mapping curves and dips and valleys on her body. Marianne’s legs tightened around him in response, despite the soft tremble of her muscles. When she didn’t follow it up with anything else, he raised his head and looked at her.
“What is it?”
Eyebrows knitted in a confused little frown, blue eyes hazy. There was still a flush on his features, and his hair was all messy. He looked very cute, boyishly handsome, and it made her wonder how in the world he was the same man who confidently fucked her before. A mystery.
Marianne tightened her hand in his hair and pulled him in for a kiss, which he returned smoothly. He wasn’t shy in bed, not in the least, and he gave into her easily whenever she asked for physical affection.
Such a change for her too - she wasn’t used to lovers that gave her what she wanted. Marianne was the kind of woman that liked her men mean and a little bit cruel, the kind of men that denied her when she begged and kept her coming back for more. It was thrilling to be punished like that, so she rarely considered the possibility of wanting something else.
Here he was, though, against all her logic - her young, gentle husband that kissed her whenever she asked her for it, held her and fucked her just like she wanted to be fucked. Ludwig made her feel tender.
Marianne felt him go soft inside her and then slip out, semen oozing. It sent a shudder through her. She sighed, her pussy throbbing slightly. Instead of saying anything, Ludwig settled on the mattress, on his side, facing her.
This was a comfortable little bubble between the two of them – the bed was warm and Ludwig’s body was solid and safe. What she wanted to do was just...lay between the sheets with him, close enough that touching each other would be easy and effortless. Kiss and explore, wasn’t that what newlyweds were supposed to do, anyways?
“What time are we supposed to go to breakfast?”
His voice was rough, and the question made her laugh. It seemed absurd to ask for the day’s schedule when it was their first day as a husband and wife, and they just had ‘ I missed you’ morning-sex. At least the orgasms cured the last of her hangover. She reached out a hand and ran her finger over the bridge of his nose.
Such a handsome-looking nose he had, long and straight and elegant. And high cheekbones, and nicely shaped brows. She loved looking at his face when they were in bed together. Maybe because she was an old romantic fool, that’s why.
“I don’t know.” She answered with a smile, hoping it was disarming enough to distract him.
“Should we check our schedule for the day? I feel we’ll be missing something, surely there’s things that we need to do. There are people still here, aren’t there? Konrad said something about meetings in the morning, didn’t he? And we’re leaving for our honeymoon this evening, and…” He seemed like he wanted to move, but Marianne pressed her hand against his cheek.
“We should definitely check our schedules, but is there any harm in lingering in bed for a while longer?”
“Won’t we have enough time for that while we’re away?” he asked with a frown. “There are things we need to do before we leave.”
“There are always things to do, Ludwig,” she said, eyes rolling and dismissive.
While he was right about this - of course he was right - she also knew that they could easily get away with postponing their responsibilities for at least a little while longer. No one would question it if they didn’t leave the room until mid-morning. It was still so early outside!
She wasn’t quite yet ready to get out of bed and out the door.
There was a world full of commitments and decisions and expectations and politics, Mon Dieu –
She remembered when Austria had sent blushingly beautiful Marie Antoinette to marry Louis XVI, and how the poor girl had looked so scared and overwhelmed by it all. Marianne had told her the same thing she told all the other princesses that were married off to royal men – that marriage had nothing to do with love; rather, it was about responsibilities and giving yourself in servitude to your country and duty. And then she suggested they get themselves a lover in case the husband wasn’t enough, and told herself, ‘ Ah, poor girl, marriage is so unkind to women’. It was the extent of her compassion.
However, Marianne herself was no blushing bride, no young woman that needed comforting because she went to her marriage bed not knowing what to expect. And yet.
“I don’t want to get out of bed, Ludwig,” she said, closing her eyes and refusing to think too deeply about things, lest she fell prey to the gnawing shadows at the edges of her mind.
“I don’t want to do it,” she insisted, and hid her face in the pillow because it would be too much, too open, and too revealing to hide in Ludwig’s arms.
If her husband had been Arthur, or Antonio, or Ivan, it would have taken her no time at all to convince them to stay. Ludwig, however, wasn’t like them. Instead of decoding her words for what they were, he sat up in bed.
“I’m not like that Marianne,” he told her, sounding frustrated with himself and with her, running a hand anxiously through his hair. “I can’t shut the world away and simply - ”
There were empty places between her and Ludwig. Fragile, vulnerable cracks. Over the years, those cracks would widen into rifts if they were allowed to, hurt pride and conflict and misunderstandings forcing them open.
Of course, the other option was simple – they could allow themselves to grow into each other’s spaces.
During her relationship with Arthur, there had been so many moments in which she knew she was tip-toeing on the edge of a crack . And this was a moment in which she was running her fingers over a split.
They were brittle things, weren’t they? She and he, Ludwig and Marianne. She had too much scar tissue and he was bleeding from too many places.
She sat in bed and pressed her chest against his back, chin on his shoulder. She felt how he tensed under her touch, but he didn’t pull away. They stayed like that for a minute, until Ludwig sighed and grabbed her hand, raised it to his face and kissed her palm.
“I’m sorry, I can’t be...”
And she knew what she wanted to say, because they were things and accusations she might have thrown at him too – can’t be like that, can’t be more spontaneous, can’t be more like you want me to be, more romantic, more fun . Stop thinking so much, Ludwig, allow yourself to feel things.
If she had been younger, angrier, more like she used to be, maybe she wouldn’t have stopped herself. However, she could look at all these traits that made up Ludwig’s personality, and she didn’t feel like punishing him for it. She had decided she quite liked Ludwig, with his overly anxious, hyper-analytical brain and the repressed bubbles of feeling that he hid so poorly. And because she never told him that, she decided it might be a good time to do so, lest he started wondering why she was so uncharacteristically silent.
“I like you, you know , mon doudou .”
“I…thank you? I fail to see why it’s important at the moment. We got married, so I think it was important that we could at least tolerate each other.” He sounded hurried, a bit frazzled, like it took him by surprise to hear her say it.
“I suppose it was, wasn’t it?” She sighed and closed her eyes, cheek against his shoulder. “Let me tell you a secret, Ludwig. I’m quite frightened of the day ahead.”
“Why would you be?” He asked, their fingers laced together now. His voice was calmer, something in his mood changing in response to her.
“Once we get out of bed, it becomes very much real, doesn’t it?”
“And is that supposed to be frightening?” There was a pause, until… “Am I supposed to be some ogre that keeps you chained to the bed?” At least he sounded amused by that, albeit in a slightly concerning way.
“It might have been easier if you were,” her mouth answered before her brain was able to think it through.
“Ah. I’m sorry to disappoint you, then.” he answered, cautiously, and he turned to look at her. “I can only be myself in this, but I promised myself I would be a good husband and I intend to keep that promise.”
She had no idea how to tell him that was very much part of the problem. Ludwig confused her sometimes, in ways she was convinced she couldn’t be confused anymore.
“I suppose it’s too much to ask time to stop for me for a while. Allow me to process everything before starting up again.”
“No, I’m sorry, I don’t think that’s something I can provide for you,” he told her, kindly, combing fingers through golden curls.
“A shame.” She sighed, and smiled at him. “I used to think that if enough time passed, I would stop feeling anything at all. Wouldn’t that be so much easier?”
Ludwig didn’t respond to that at first, letting a long moment of silence settle between them. Marianne imagined that it was in moments like this that Ludwig tried to understand her. She had no idea what he saw when he looked at her like that; whatever conclusions he came to he never openly shared with her.
“What would this new, unfeeling Marianne be like?” Ludwig asked her with a quirk of his lips. Her head was settled on his shoulder and he was twisting a lock of hair on his forefinger. “Would she be less prone to anger? Would she quit smoking?”
“I suppose I’d drink less.” Nothing to feel, no painful noise to blend out. “Fuck less, too.”
“Julia used to say you were a soul-sucking succubus,” Ludwig told her, voice light.
“Those are bold words, coming from a witch,” she countered, mischievous. “Did you believe her?”
“Sometimes I still do.” The honesty with which he admitted to it surprised her.
“I find there’s a certain amount of danger in agreeing with the things Prussia says,” Marianne told him with a laugh. “Rest assured, husband, you can keep your soul. The only thing I want to suck is your cock.”
Marianne pressed an open-mouthed kiss on his cheek, a noisy smooch that made Ludwig laugh. A rumbling sound she was still unfamiliar with, but she enjoyed it nonetheless. It made her chest ache, only a little.