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She is being shockingly bold, but moreover needy, she is needy over his body there in the chair in the hourglass room, and she has said her need is for him, good Lord—

“Comte,” she whisper-whines, plump lips moving softer than her word over his cheek, his jaw. He would have sworn before this moment that he knew what it was to suffer, in life and in lust. Of course she would be the one to show him better. She has revealed so many of life’s joys to him already, clarified tastes like lemon juice in jellies and lifted cloche after cloche off the delights of Paris he may never have found without her. How could she do anything but make his despair a sharper, deeper cut? What will be left if all his rules bleed out of him through the split she is making in his heart? That is the true and most dangerous question.

Because it is so dangerous, he will resist her, he will gently extricate himself from the chair and he will get up and usher her out or leave the room himself. He will… he will remember his plan as soon as she moves her mouth from his jaw, the very second she stops sowing a soft line of kisses there, so precise that the gardeners of the Grand Trianon would weep to see the elegant devastation she is working against him. He has not felt flush on his own skin in such a long time but it is there now: inelegant, blotchy, lurid. A mockery of mortality. It makes him nervous in a way that is juvenile, as he remembers the first time he ever courted, the fumbling declarations, the warmth of love in youth, tender and unwise. Her face interposes itself between memories of learning to dance and kiss. He wants to groan but worries if he makes a single sound, he will break more than his own silence.

“Is it… Marcel?” she murmurs, back to the game they have been playing for weeks, always with much more space between them.

Rumpelstiltskin, Tracassin, she had suggested in the garden on one of her first happy days in the mansion, if you will not tell me your name, then let me guess! He had agreed, so eager to indulge her and feeling some relief that the game put him in the villain’s place. He could be her entertainer and friend, and of course he would protect her. But he could not orbit her like a lover would. They’d smiled companionably over their cups from the fine set of Limoges, the brilliant white space in the pattern reminding him of her unpointed teeth. He had been confident she would never guess his name. And he had thought it such a neatly-arranged way for her to pass the time, close but not too close.

She is quite close now, the expanse of her skirts allowing the knee she has put on his chair to cage him in. The wingback could hide them from the world, if they were really lovers. Her body leaning to his, the sweet honesty of her seduction, these things have stunned him.

She pauses for his response, but before he can use the time to gather himself and move, she moving herself, shifting over his lap and making another guess. “No, not Marcel. Adrien?” She exhales a little laugh. The sound blooms from her throat, below the blood place. He can smell it, precious as butter and salt, and he is grateful he has never needed to see Lear’s folly to know the value of these things. Le comte de Saint Germain knows what makes a table and a feast, and though he will not have it, he knows exactly what he wants spread out before him on the lacquered rosewood surface where the mansion takes its meals.

There is a kindness to her hum, a milky sweetness, when she lifts away from his skin. Only far enough away for the lonely beast in his heart to yelp pathetically for her return, please, anything, go far away or come closer and truly ruin me and it is all silenced with her words. “I don’t think that’s a yes,” she says. “But you are not giving me any real answers at all…” And she returns to kiss his jaw again, her bold but ever-gentle hand cupping the other side of his face. He is surrounded by the feminine pressure of her, but he cannot surrender and he absolutely cannot allow his thoughts to list toward any consideration of feminine pressure.

He feels her arms under his hands, the slight supple muscle of her upper arms tense from contact that has surprised them both, and he is grateful his body is faster than his mind. Her name is a warning on his breath, but it is so heavy with his own need he must yet again keep himself from groaning. If he heard her say his name with as much passion, nothing would keep him from her.

“No more guessing tonight, ma chèrie beauté,” he begs her as he pushes her away. “You must rest.”

She is looking at him with an assessing sort of fire in her eyes, but still she is kind. She has kept her hand on his cheek even as he moved her to stand on the floor in front of the chair.

“Will you tell me?” she asks with transparent, honest hope. If timeless ones had her grace, their lives would not be ones of melancholy.

“I would not take away your game,” he says. Her gaze becomes reproachful.

“It is our game,” she whispers, and she moves to lean in again, has even closed her eyes. But his hands hold her. The hurt in her face wounds him. He wishes it only wounded him. He is not good enough to receive her, let alone reject her– that is why he must lean on the crutch of this farce and play at disinterest. He releases her arms to pat them and the second time manages to make it more of a quick touch than a caress.

“Shall I call Sebastian to take you to your room?”

He hates himself. For a moment she looks like she hates him, too.

Non,” she says with emphasis, suddenly French to her toes, and it is a new torture not to smile at her. He tries to focus on not moving forward as she finally draws her hand away, fingertips sliding over the muscle in his jaw that jumps to maintain contact with her. He wonders if even she has limits to her grace, if she is doing this on purpose to twist the knife in his heart.

It is there as a plug, that yelping animal whines, craving her understanding as much as her self. It is there to keep you safe.

She does not look at him as she walks away, but at the door she turns. She is reproachful and a little prim, but no longer angry. “In my time, women take lovers,” she tells him. “If you do not want me for one, it is courtesy to tell me so.”

“I have told you I do not want you for a lover,” he says immediately, and the syllables are so wooden and lame he can see every way her face transforms from pique to victory.

“Goodnight, Monsieur,” she says softly. The door traveler is gracious in her laurels.

He bids her the same, and asks her to forgive him for remaining seated. She only nods, sparing him further ruin. When the door clicks closed, he counts her slippered footsteps as they soften to silence in the hallway of his home. At twenty, he allows his hands to destroy the rests of his chair, splintering the fine frame underneath leather and stuffing.

Rouge and Blanc are both in reach, and both completely unappealing. He shakes the dust from his palms and undoes one cuff. Cleanly, he rolls the sleeve to his forearm, cream against his skin. He thinks of going to find Leonardo for company instead of being so maudlin, but decides against it. Melancholy men find one another eventually, and he’s convinced the other man loves her, too. They all do, damn them. For tonight, he’ll keep his hurt and his blood and his regard for her to himself. He has a terrible sense of dread that these things will see sunlight long before he would like.

She did not touch his sleeve, but her scent is unmistakable over his own, perhaps haunting the air around him. Butter, salt, lemon, lilacs, life. He sucks it in through his nose as he pierces the vulnerable skin inside his arm. The adoration for her is too strong to even imagine biting her and he can taste his own blood so it would be useless to try, but the smell of her stays with him as he punishes and soothes himself. She is the golden light of summer, unavoidable as midday sun. If hers could be the only sunlight to see how weak he is for her, he might dare to reveal himself. She will burn him if he is not careful, and oh, she makes it so hard to be careful. But without her in the room he is cold, and desires her warmth like a winter beggar, even more than when she was there.