Ashe always fell asleep first.
After three years of sharing a bed, Marianne knew Ashe’s routine as if it were her own. The tight grip of his arms around her waist would slacken as his breathing grew deep, slow, and even. After a few minutes more, his soft snores would signal that he had fallen into a deep sleep, one he would not wake from until the sun rose in the morning and streamed through their bedroom window. Even though she knew it was safe for her to move about, Marianne always waited an additional ten count before she opened her eyes.
Tonight, she would trace the constellations.
It was a fairly new fascination that she had only started pursuing in the past month or so. It had started as a mere curiosity but had now grown into an artform. Before she would have to spend significant time puzzling over where to find the constellations, but now it was as if the invisible lines tying the constellations together danced before her eyes and beneath her fingertips.
As she prepared to discover another new constellation, her eyes flickered only briefly to the window. Outside, the sky was clouded and dark, leaving their bedroom awash in shadows. Any astronomer or casual star gazer would curse a night like tonight.
Marianne smiled to herself.
She wasn’t an astronomer or even a casual star gazer.
The stars she was searching for weren’t to be found in the sky.
Gently, ever so gently, she scooted herself out of his embrace to allow for a bit more room to maneuver. She stopped only when she had a full view of his bare torso. Despite (or perhaps due to) what they had been doing just before he fell asleep – what they had done countless times before – she found herself blushing like she was a schoolgirl at Garreg Mach once again.
It was a tale spun of fairy stories and pixie dust. She had gone to Garreg Mach certain that the only thing she had to offer was misfortune. She was a beast, a monster, and anyone that came in contact with her was doomed to a grim future. Just look at what happened to Ashe. He had innocently told her she had a nice smile when she came to return his dropped key and a week later they were sent on a mission in which they had to slaughter his father. Surely that had been her fault.
Yet despite it all, he kept coming back to her, kept insisting on being her friend and she found herself clinging to that friendship until it blossomed into something more. Now she was lying in bed with him, blushing as if they hadn’t been married for years already.
She exhaled through her nose, trying to force the blush to fall from her cheeks as she pointedly concentrated on his freckles rather than his bare chest.
Nothing would stop her from finding the constellations hidden among the freckles scattered across his skin.
Slowly, she raised her pointer finger and rested it on Ashe’s shoulder, picking a freckle at random. Languidly, gently, carefully, she dragged her finger across his skin to another nearby freckle. Her fingertip prickled as his skin flared with gooseflesh. She worked methodically but without hesitation, choosing each freckle with care, as if an artist choosing the palette for her masterpiece.
As she continued to work, she became keenly aware of how his skin felt beneath her fingertip. It was warm and smooth, nothing at all like the faraway night sky. However, as she painted her imaginary lines, each freckle she touched seemed to shimmer like the stars.
“The Swan Maiden,” she said softly as she traced out a wing, her voice gentle as a feather but sure as steel, “Flights of fancy, frivolity, innocence, exuberance.”
She let her finger slide from his skin as her eyes traced the path her finger has just taken. The constellation started at his shoulder blade and extended all the way to his fingertips – the vague outline of a swan who wished to dance with the grace of the women it saw at the ball every night. The copy they had of the tale in the library of the manor was well worn and well loved.
Satisfied with her handiwork, she gently, ever so gently, scooted herself back into Ashe’s embrace and barely pressed her mouth onto the first star of the constellation, her lips ghosting over Ashe's skin. She didn’t know the proper words to christen a constellation, so she instead borrowed those she had heard used for ships. Her breath moved gently against his skin; her words filled with warmth to light the night sky.
When she reached the end of the well wishes and prayers for safe travels, she pressed her lips down with slightly more strength, allowing her eyes to close. There was now one more constellation to be found in the star chart of his freckles.
She pulled back slightly, her face awash with the terrible fondness of someone that doesn’t even realize how in love they are.
After tracing The Swan Maiden with her finger once again, she leaned up and placed a kiss on the freckle that intersected the top of Ashe’s lip. It was the first constellation she had discovered and the last one she kissed every night. The North Star. Guidance, resilience, loyalty.
As her lips found his, Ashe kissed back sleepily – as she knew he would – gradually tightening his embrace until he was holding her naked body tight against his. He planted several kisses on her forehead and the top of her head before mumbling something into her hair.
“I love you, Marianne…”
She knew that was what he was saying, even if the sleep made it sound more like a hazy mumble than actual words. Marianne closed her eyes and cuddled up against his chest. It was an area of the sky she had yet to chart. A grand open expanse of possibilities contained in tiny pinpricks of color. There was no rush to discover all the constellations. She had her whole life ahead of her.
“I love you too, Ashe.”
Tomorrow, they'd wake to bright sunlight and blue skies, but the stars would never leave Marianne’s side.