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in the clinches

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By the time he finds her it is already done. The men encircle her, a gory rosary. Blood christens her body as well as the sword in her hands, spattered across her in patches, dripping from her cunt.

When he takes a step forward her eyes flash, baring teeth; his very presence an affront.

It's too familiar.

He reaches out, and she swings messily. She's just frightened is all.

Disarming her is almost second nature at this point; Guts has her on the ground in seconds.

She's not wailing so much anymore as yowling, eyes screwing up. He puts the bare minimum amount of pressure on her limbs, at a loss for what to do next. He's no better at this now than he was before.

She snarls as if sensing that weakness in him and catches his cheek. Her nails aren't blunted and she's able to gouge him easily. Apparently she's not as far gone as he'd thought.

The idea snags, and he stiffens. He doesn't allow himself to think about anything else before he leans down and covers her mouth with his.

She stops making noise. He keeps his eye open, watching hers widen. Two years worth of isolation and regret cut short in one clean stroke, the void filled up with a ravenous, unknowable thirst. She must understand that much.

If there were a way for her to understand that he is repentant, coward that he was, he'd chase it down and catch it for her sake. Yet she'd clung to Griffith without a second thought, seeking him out before she'd ever look his way; he can't even console her right.

Guts bears down on her wrists until she whimpers, the sound swallowed up by his mouth. A ghost in the shape of Casca shivers beneath him, begging to be pitied.

Blood roaring in his ears, under her skin. That old, nagging doubt, an echo that's been picking at him from the shadows after so many sleepless nights, turns ferine, hissing, jeering with laughter.

She's warmer than he would expect. Whimpering still, but all he can taste is the copper spattered on her breast. The half-frozen earth burns beneath his fingers but her wrist is solid.

The scream of the rabbit distant to his ears. He clenches his jaws as though to let it die and it does not abate, only lowers, keening. Copper floods his mouth and he stiffens. On her breast, crescents already welling red.

Shrinking back in horror against a fallen oak, he curls into himself as she does.

A few days ago he sat with her by the fire and watched her eat. Before she'd needed a rope 'round her wrists to be civil (before he'd put his hand 'round her throat) he'd taken her to see the shoreline and watched her kick around in the sand, barefoot, cooing like a babe.

She may as well be just as helpless, he'd told himself then. Useless on the battlefield.

Casca begins to wail, guttural, monosyllabic.

In his head there's only silence.