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You and Me and How It Ends (part 2/2) [Jul. 2nd, 2013|12:32 pm]
alley_skywalker
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Title: You and Me and How It Ends
Author: alley_skywalker
Fandom: War and Peace
Characters/Parings: Theodore Dolokhov/Anatole Kuragin; Helene Kuragin, Pierre Bezukhov, Galina Dolokhov, others in cameos
Rating: PG-13
Warnings:[Spoiler]Character Death
Word Count: ~12,300
Summary: After his unsuccessful elopement attempt with Natasha, Anatole has to leave Moscow without getting a chance to make things right with Theodore. They struggle through the rift, pride and confusion battling love and a need to be together. And when it seems their love might pull through after all, the war starts and makes its own claims.
Notes: Written as a stand-alone for the history_bigbang. Also part 3/3 of the You and Me series. Dedicated to helenvalentine who got me to write this series in the first place. She's since deleted her accounts so I don't know how to get in touch with her, but the dedication stands.

The Kuragin estate is bright, the sun blazing down on fields of bright green grass speckled with wild flowers. Across the garden and the stretch of meadow beyond the garden gate lie the woods. In the summer, the trees are thick with dark-green leaves, looming like a thick dark line in the background.

It’s nice on the porch when there’s a breeze. Under the shielding porch roof there is no scorching sun and combined with the movement of fresh air and ice cold drinks and ice cream, the day practically melts all around the small group as they enjoy the afternoon.

Maria Ivanovna and Princess Alina lead a slow and boring conversation. Maria is well educated and well respected, but Princess Alina has the snobbish disposition of old, wealthy, titled ladies which makes her complain to Helene almost nightly that she and Madame Dolokhov are really not good company for one another. “If you are so inclined, Maman, you could invite your own friends.” But the Princess merely tuts and tends to her needlework.

Helene, Theodore and Galina entertain themselves with cards. Theodore teaches the women some simple card tricks and Galina’s naïve incredulity is an amusing contrast to Helene’s amused curiosity. “You would make a fine sharper, Princess—forgive me, Countess.” Theodore smirks.

Helene gives him a disapproving look. “Not in front of my mother,” she reprimands him quietly.

“What? Does she believe in your and Petrusha’s great love? Truly?”

“Hush!”

“Oh Teddy, don’t,” Galina pipes up. “I apologize for my brother, he can be quite intolerable.”

“Don’t apologize for me. The reason our dear Countess is so fond of me is because I am intolerable.” Theodore leans over and tugs lightly on his sister’s braid.

“I don’t want trouble,” Helene says with as much of a flippantly apathetic expression as she can manage.

“Oh your mother won’t hear us. And if she does, than I will gladly congratulate her on her ability to retain such impressive sharpness of ear at her rather venerable age.”

Helene seems to not know if she should be amused or offended. “Rake.”

Theodore puts on a pensive expression and turns to Galina. “Is there a polite feminine equivalent of that? There really should be.”

“I don’t think there is such a thing as a polite insult, brother. It would be a paradox.” Galina fumbles the hand of cards she is holding.

“Insult? Depends how you look at it. I see “rake” as more of a compliment.”

Galina turns to Helene and smiles at her a little apologetically but the countess merely continues to fan herself slowly. “Your brother does go through such extravagant efforts to seem clever, ma cher,” she says, giving Galina an indulgent smile. Theodore doesn’t like the condescending tone of her voice and expression but he lets it go. Helene is like that with nearly anyone; she hardly means any harm by it.

“He is clever,” Galina asserts. She glances at Theodore and he can tell that she certainly has not noticed anything off in Helene’s tone or manner. In the couple of days that they have been at the estate, Galina has become nearly infatuated with Helene. They have female things to discuss and although Helene is far better versed in society gossip and fashion, she seems to take well to the role of mentor and Galina makes a very attentive student. Although Helene’s efforts do bother Theodore some. He keeps expecting a nasty surprise or that there would be something requested of him at the end of it all. But until then, since Galia seems so happy here and since the fresh country air is good for his mother, Theodore resolves to stay put.

“I think we should go for a swim tomorrow morning. The weather is bound to be just as fair as it is today,” Helene muses.

“Oh, a swim would be perfect. What do you think, Teddy? The lake is beautiful.”

“Do you know how to swim, Galina?”

“Y-yes. A little. But you and my brother will be there just in case.”

“A swim it shall be then. Theodore, what are you looking at?”

Theodore has been distracted by the sound of horse hoofs and carriage wheals on the road leading up to the estate. He thinks the carriage looks familiar, although he can’t be certain at this distance. Helene had not mentioned any other guests and who would come un-announced. A neighbor? Theodore nods toward the approaching carriage which rolls on, obviously feeling right at home. “Guests?”

Helene stands and walks to the railing of the porch and leans on it, straining forward as though to see. “Why it’s one of ours.” The carriage stops at the gate and a young man dismounts, landing lightly on the dusty road. He shouts orders to his men and takes off toward the house.

It is too far to properly hear and see, especially with the glare of the sun, but Theodore knows that figure and voice too well to be mistaken. So when Helene proclaims, in a tone of heightened surprise, “Anatole!” he isn’t surprised.

“Anatole?” Theodore looks at her reproachfully. All the intuitive anticipation he had been feeling now bursts into clarity and he feels frustration at being played by these two bubble to the surface. Yet, he refuses to let Helene see just how unsettled he is. “What happened to his appointment?”

“I don’t know,” Helene says innocently, giving him a blank look. “We should ask him.”

Yes, we should, Theodore thinks. Judging by the luggage at the back of that carriage he is planning to stay awhile.

Helene flounces down the steps of the porch, the skirt of her white summer dress billowing in the breeze. “Maman, Anatole is here!” Alina does not look too awfully surprised, which only reaffirms Theodore’s theory that he has been lured into the role of a captive audience.

Anatole pulls Helene into a hug and twirls her around. He glances up at the porch and beams at Theodore innocently. “We’ve been had, dear sister. Or rather I have.”

“I still don’t understand what you are mad at him for,” Galina says uncertainly. “What was going on with the two of you while Mama and I were away?”

“Nothing. It’s really nothing. We had a…strong disagreement, but I think it’s time to put an end to it.” Not bloody likely, Theodore thinks. He doesn’t know why he is so angry. Because Anatole had always played him and now was attempting to do the same or because he cares so damn much for the idiot boy that all he wants is for things to go back to how they had been. Pride versus heart – the old dilemma that Theodore has thought to have conquered but here Anatole is, throwing it in his face again and Dolokhov is struggling to cope.

“Whatever happened to your military appointment, mon cher?” Theodore asks as he and Galina come down from the porch to greet Anatole as well.

“I thought I was getting one. Was all ready to head out but then…well…things changed.” He smiles radiantly at Theodore and kisses Galina’s hand in greeting. She blushes prettily in response. “Helene had just written that she had invited your family to visit and you had accepted. So, I thought, why stay in the city when I could be here with you?”

“Why indeed. An incredible coincidence all of this,” Theodore remarks, allowing his sarcasm to seep into his tone.

Anatole’s smile falters but then it is back again, as bright and radiant as the sun. He has always been like this – enthusiasm and optimism regardless of the situation. It is one of the things Theodore loves most about the young Prince. “I am happy it all worked out like this,” Anatole says earnestly. “Come, I must greet our mothers.”

Anatole slips passed them and up the porch steps. Galina tails him, drawn in by his sphere like most people. Theodore eyes Helene. “Well played. Your idea or his?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t know he wasn’t going to be out with his regiment.”

“Helene. How long have we been friends?”

She deflates just slightly and cocks her head to the side. “Too long.” He stares her down and she hits him on the arm with her fan. “Stop taking yourself so seriously. Just have some fun for once. It’s summer, after all.”

*~*

Theodore lets it go.

Not completely. He ignores Anatole’s longing looks, he ignores the offhand touches, he ignores the hints. Anatole doesn’t try to bring up what used to be between them or what happened and Theodore is glad for it. It makes being friends so much easier. And they are friends. That is something that could not simply be ripped away by misunderstandings and hurt feelings, not after so many years. With Galina and Helene there, they enjoy themselves thoroughly.

They take the swim Helene had suggested, splashing like children in the clear blue water of the lake and swimming out toward the lily pads, Theodore and Anatole racing while their sisters sat on the rocks at the side of the lake in their long, white swimming shirts and cheered them on. They come out to the lake at night, just the two of them, and float on their backs, counting the stars in the sky and remembering some of the wildest parties they had ever had.

They go hunting at Anatole’s insistence, although Theodore finds the whole venture stupid. “What did the poor animals ever do to you?” Theodore asks teasingly before they leave. On more peaceful-minded days, they go riding through the woods, watching as the evening sun skims through the tree trunks on its way to the horizon. Sometimes Galina and Helene join them and they hold picnics, serenaded by chirping birds and surrounded by wild flowers. It is too early for mushrooms, a fact that Galina laments especially.

When it rains one afternoon, Anatole drags Theodore out to dance in the rain. Theodore spins him around obligingly and they laugh like naughty little children as they go splashing through the puddles and mud, ruining perfectly good boots in the process. At one point, Theodore looks up the house to see the girls watching them from inside from their seats on the wide windowsill. Galina waves innocents but Helene winks at him. After the rain, there is a rainbow and Anatole proposes to paint it. It comes out crooked and childish but the look of concentration on Anatole’s face when he runs the brush over the canvas makes everything in Theodore curl up in blissful, agitated adoration for which he should have never been able to forgive himself, but does anyway.

They play-wrestled and sometimes even drag the girls down into the tall grass with them, something that neither had done, if not to their own sisters then certainly not to their friends’, since they were all children. They go out to the haystacks near the barns and fence with their shirts off and fall into the hay afterwards, exhausted. They lie side by side and watch the shapes of the clouds, arguing lazily about which one’s idea is more accurate. Theodore has not felt so gloriously free since he was a young boy and there was nothing in the world more important than.

After several days, Theodore begins to forget his initial annoyance. In fact, Anatole’s doesn’t even seem to remember that he had an agenda to begin with. His looks become more open and his smiles brighter. He seems to bloom and blend with the summer background, soaking up the sun’s warmth and spreading it around. Sometimes, Theodore thinks that he doesn’t look a day over eighteen, almost exactly how he had been after his return from Paris even though that was years ago.

The truth is more that Anatole is incapable of nursing an agenda for too long. After Theodore allowed them the freedom of their friendship, he dissolved into it happily. The guilt he’d been feeling for the past few months drains away bit by bit ever day, the poison slowly leaking out until he can no longer remember what had weighed on him so heavily. With the girls around most of the time, he is not too sorely tempted to get too affectionate and the days carry on, smoothly blending together into something akin to a dream.

If they’re anything in those placid summer days of 1811, it’s happy.

*~*

Princess Alina leaves first, claiming that she has received an invitation from a friend to join her summer gala in a village close by and will stay there until she is ready to return to Petersbug within the month.

Maria Ivanovna, not wanting to overstay her welcome, leaves the next day, taking Galina with her. Anatole convinces Theodore to stay for another hunt and he agrees without much reservation. “You should write to me,” Anatole tells Galina cheerily as they say goodbye by the gate. “I think we’ve become great friends over these last few weeks. Perhaps, you and your brother can come to Petersburg for the season.”

“Balls are really not for me, Anatole Vasilievich,” Galina says and tips her head to the side. She has finally stopped blushing around him.

“Nonsense. Besides, there’s always the opera and Madam Polignac’s parties and—“

“Anatole, for God’s sake, I’m sure Galia can imagine the glories of Petersburg. You’ve only told a million stories of them over the past few days.” Theodore hugs his sister and she promises Anatole that she will write. He and the Kuragins wave as the carriage drives off and then look at each other for a few moments in contemplative silence.

“So now that it’s just us, what sort of mischief should we get up to?” Theodore asks and his friends grin back at him. They still have a few more days.

*~*

Helene insists on leaving the morning before Theodore has planned to return to Moscow. “It will be good for you,” Helene tells her brother when they are alone. “Wouldn’t you want some perfectly alone time? I thought I’d do you a favor.”

Anatole shrugs and twirls his glass of rum in one hand. The last hunt had gone well but now the days are quickly dipping out of August and into September. It is time to return to the city and the shortening days are an acute reminder that the summer dream has ended and it is time to return to reality. “What for?”

Helene looks at him uncertainly. “What do you mean what for? The two of you seem to have been having a wonderful time – we all have. How hard would it be to get ridiculously drunk and…well…” She gestures meaningfully with one hand toward the sofa.

Anatole can’t help but smile in mild amusement. “I don’t know. It may only make things worse. We’ve been so happy and maybe it’s better this way, if we just stay friends. Not because of any sort of moral thing – God knows I’ve never been good at that – but for our own sakes. We feel so much when we’re together and it makes everything revolve around this eternal question of: does he love me? Will it last? What are we to do? We thought we could simply ignore the consequences of being in a relationship without a relationship but…obviously we can’t.”

Helene continues to eye him suspiciously. “Is it me, or are you growing up? Who are you and what have you done with my brother?”

Anatole smiles sadly. “I needed to grow up some time anyway. So everyone says…. So are you going tomorrow morning?”

“Yes, I’ve already made the arrangements. Will you come to Petersburg straight away?”

“Yes, there’s little for me to do here alone. I was never a reader.” He grins in self-irony and Helene returns it, fondly.

*~*

The night before Theodore leaves, there’s a storm.

The rain begins mid-afternoon, catching Anatole and Theodore by surprise. They race the clouds to the manor house but the rain breaks out in a torrent before they can even reach the gate. They pile into the front hall soaking wet, panting and laughing as they peal off the top layers of their clothing. “Looks like it’s going to be big one,” Theodore comments as the first flicker of lightening colors the sky purple.

They spend the rest of the night by the fireplace, playing cards and drinking brandy as the rain beats down on the roof and the thunderstorm rages outside.

Once alone in his room, Theodore draws back the curtains and perches on the side of the bed to watch the furry nature is capable of. The snake-shaped lightning bolts light up the night sky in an unnatural violate glow. The thunder cracks before rolling in rumbling waves outward from the epicenter. In the unnatural light every leaf, swayed by the gusts of wind whipping through the trees and sloshed by the large, plump raindrops, is clearly visible on the nearby plant growth. In contrast, the far off forest outline stands out in an ominous black mass. Even as a boy, Theodore had loved thunderstorms. He has always found them exciting, enthralling. There is something mystically powerful about them that draws him in. What other people consider frightening, he sees as worth emulating.

The air is thick, laced with tension that explodes in light and sound only to condense once again. This tension floods through Theodore, fills him up to the core and he finds himself holding his breath in anticipation of…something…more than once. Sometimes he thinks of Anatole several doors down. The young Prince had hated storms as a child. If he and Theodore were in the same house during one, he would come and crawl into Theodore’s bed, hide under the blankets and proclaim that he was not leaving unless someone came and forcibly dragged him away. Theodore had teased him endlessly about it, but always let him stay. But Anatole is no longer a child and unlikely scared of a storm enough to come crawling into his former lover’s bed.

Theodore stands, meaning to draw the curtains, but is stopped by a soft nock and then the creaking sound of a slowly opening door.

Anatole stands in the doorway in his night clothes, his hair slightly tousled, like he had already gone to bed but then decided against it, and a low-burning candle in one hand. He looks uncertain and childish just standing there and Theodore reaches for an old joke in order to break the silence. “Still scared of thunder, mon cher, and looking for a bedmate/” He regrets his wording instantly, but it’s too late by then.

Anatole slips into the room and shuts the door. He sets the candle on the dresser and comes to stand next to Theodore by the window. “I always hated storms,” he muses quietly. “But you always liked them. You found them…relatable.” The lightening flares and paints the room violet. Anatole looks terribly pale in that light, but he seems more thoughtful than frightened.

“We’ve always been different,” Theodore agrees. “I think that’s why it has always worked for us.”

“Has it?” Anatole asks sharply, turning to face Theodore and not looking away until Theodore meets his eyes. “Sometimes I think we hurt each other more than anything.”

“It’s a necessary bi-product of wanting something you can’t have.”

“What do we want?”

Theodore doesn’t answer. He doesn’t really have an answer. It’s likely that they want very different things and it’s just as likely that they want the same thing. Everyone wants to be loved, to feel needed. If only it was that easy.

“I always thought that what makes us different is that we always fall back together again. Sometimes I think…the more we want to be anywhere else but here, the more desperately we need this.” Anatole reaches out and wraps his fingers around Theodore’s wrist. Theodore looks over at him and they watch each other’s face for a long time as the lightening flares again and again in waves of supernatural violence and force. The air crackles and their skin burns where their hands are linked together.

“I love you,” Anatole says. “I swear to you that I will never leave again if you would only have me.” The words mix with thunder and all Theodore can hear is a rolling rumble in his ears like the sound of unceasing canon fire. He pushes Anatole back and back again until the young Prince’s back hits the wall. Anatole gasps in surprise at the impact and stares unblinkingly at Theodore, his pupils dilating in the dark.

The candle Anatole had been carrying earlier sputters and goes out. What there had been of its yellow light is drained from the room and they are plunged into darkness, interrupted only by flashing of white-violet light at irregular intervals. Theodore kisses Anatole with all the desperate force that seemed to have been accumulating for much longer than they had been apart. Anatole latches his arms around his lover’s neck and throws himself into the kiss. They’re both panting when they draw back for breath. “You ever leave again and I will kill you,” Theodore whispers gruffly against Anatole’s ear.

The young Prince laughs quietly, somewhat hysterically. “I hope you do because I couldn’t go through all of this again,” Anatole gasps, eyes wide and vulnerable.

They fall onto the bed and tear away each others clothes in the rush of the heat of each others bodies. Anatole gasps and pleads and whimpers quietly as Theodore claims him for the first time in months and they melt together to the rumbling music of the storm.

Theodore hates himself for his weakness but he loves Anatole too much to resist. The boy is right – they can’t stay away from each, they can’t live apart. Their lives are far too closely intertwined to ever be cut away. Those wounds would not become scars, they would be fatal and by every instinct of self-preservation they must stay together to fill up the holes in each other’s existence.

And if hell comes out of it, they’ll deal with that when it does.

*~*

They spend a very happy year together. Theodore tries to be in Petersburg as much as possible and Anatole makes a few visits to Moscow. He stays away from Pierre and his lot just to avoid trouble. The night Pierre presumed to rough him up over the incident with Natasha was the night Anatole decided that their break up had been for the better and, really, he wasn’t there to see Pierre anyway. The political atmosphere seems to tense and relax in waves as Napoleon continues to conquer Europe. They discuss the politics off-handedly as though it has no relation to them other than some interesting stories and live with what seems like the entirety of their lives ahead of them. Their last night at the estate had been animalistic passionate and when they woke up in each other’s arms the next morning, there seemed to be an unspoken agreement between them that all was well again and no further discussion was needed. There had been words that remained unsaid, words that perhaps needed saying, but it was easier to leave it alone. The silence created a hovering uncertainty that weighed heavily on both of them at time, but ignoring it was still easier that putting their fragile balance into danger.

And, after all, what is there to discuss when you both so obviously just want to enjoy being together? Certainly they have fallen into this trap before, but Theodore decides that he has given up caring about that. His pride did him no service in this matter, so he put it aside in favor of Anatole’s kisses and the young prince’s body under his late at night.

Theodore is toying with the idea of re-joining the army for lack of anything better to do when the war starts. He’s in Petersburg at the time and he and Anatole are discussing another summer get away like the year before. The news comes with a disheveled Hippolyte Kuragin who burst into the drawing room of the Kuragin townhouse, waving some papers in one hand, and declares. “It’s happened! Napoleon has dared to do it!”

“Do what?” Theodore asks, displeased at the interruption to a perfectly lazy afternoon with his lover. Anatole actually looks concerned.

“He’s crossed the Neman River! There’s talk of it all over the city just now. I think...there’s going to be a war…”

Of course there’s going to be a war, you dolt, Theodore thinks as Anatole jumps up with an overeager expression. He and Hippolyte begin to talk at and over each other in French. Their words slide over Theodore’s head as he wonders why he feels so perturbed. He shouldn’t be so terribly worried. They’d been at war before; he’d served as a rank-and-file soldier in the 1805 campaign for God’s sake. But he’s not worried about himself. It’s the look of idiotic enthusiasm on Anatole’s face that makes him worried. Anatole had missed the whole ordeal of 1805, stationed as an aid-de-camp in Petersburg. But now… If they are lucky the whole thing would be over quickly. But Napoleon is a force to be reckoned with. If there were doubts about that seven years ago, there certainly weren’t any now. “You seem very excited,” Theodore tells Anatole, allowing himself a teasing note.

Anatole throws him a look over one shoulder. “Of course I’m excited. Everyone’s been anticipating this for such a long time. Come on.” He pulls Theodore to his feet.

“Where are we going?”

“Out! I want to know what everyone else thinks of this.”

*~*

“Will you fight?” Anatole asks, putting on his new uniform jacket and surveying himself in the mirror.

“Eventually most like. I’ve never been a civilian and it’s strange to simply sit by and do nothing. I’d go now, but my situation is…uncertain. I don’t think the higher-ups have the time for a debate at the moment.”

Anatole gives him a concerned look. “You’re going to go, even as a soldier?”

“You’re going.”

“As an officer.” He takes his cap and twirls it around aimlessly, giving the clock a flighty look. “It’s time I went.”

Theodore comes up to him and puts his arms around the young man’s wait. They stand looking at each other for a long time, not saying a word, simply memorizing the lines of each other’s face. Theodore has a million things he could say, they both do. But all those words seem empty and useless; they cannot possibly express everything that they feel, everything they would like the other to know. Finally, Theodore merely pulls his lover into a long, lingering kiss. He teeters on the edge of saying it, of saying the words he withholds because they are both cliché and so very real and heavy, an eternal promise that he cannot bring himself to express aloud. “Write if you can,” he says instead, almost not recognizing his own voice, for it has gone horse and flaky, frayed at the edges.

“I will,” Anatole promises. He pulls Theodore close into a firm embrace, hiding his face in the other man’s shoulder. Then, after a few minutes, withdraws and put on his cap. “Goodbye, Teddy.”

“Goodbye.” Theodore follows him onto the porch where Anatole’s family is waiting. They embrace and say their own goodbyes. Helene fidgets nervously and stands as close to Theodore as she possibly can within propriety as they watch Anatole drive away. He turns at the corner and waves enthusiastically before disappearing in a cloud of dust. Theodore closes his eyes and thinks, just stay safe, you little fool.

*~*

Theodore’s mother and sister don’t want to leave Moscow. Even with the threat of Napoleon at their door, they fight his insistences that they go.

“This is all we have, where would we go?” Galina asks, frustrated. She gives concerned look to their mother and then returns imploring eyes to her brother. “Surely, they won’t let Napoleon take Moscow. They can’t.”

“We can’t be certain of that and I’ll have the two of you safe. I’ve got us a carriage, take only the valuables, whatever will fit. Go to Aunt Lydia’s. She won’t turn you away, not in wartime, you know how patriotic she is…”

Galina smiles wistfully and watched Theodore put on his soldier’s greatcoat and cap. “What about you?”

“What about me?”

“I know you’ve done this before…the fighting…they shouldn’t have put you in the militia…”

“There’s no time to figure that out now,” he tells her, trying to allay her concerns. He knows what he’s going into and he knows that his chances are not wonderful, but she doesn’t need to know that. “I’ll have my rank back in no time. These things get mnaged quickly during the war.” Theodore hugs her, hugs their mother, makes them promise to leave the city the very next day and not dally. Promises to write when there’s a chance.

Going through Moscow toward command point is like going through a disturbed anthill. The streets are flooded with militia men and soon-to-be evacuees. The August sun is still hot, even though the nights have begun to cool and the world takes on that peculiar orange glow that sometimes settles over everything late summer. Theodore seems to see all of it as though in a dream. His thoughts are torn between his family and between Anatole’s last letter: We are in retreat and all the regiments seem to be pulling together. I was at Smolensk last but the way the march is going we should be in Moscow soon. Seems we mean to make our stand against the French there.

There had only been a couple of letters – it’s hard to write from the front. The thought that he might run into Anatole here is thrilling but it certainly does not help his concentration. Theodore means to speak with Kutuzov or one of the other generals if he gets the chance. It’s unlikely he will get himself heard before the battle, but the attempt is necessary. Truly, he should be worrying about this most of all, not seeing his lover. But there had been some sort of urgency in Theodore’s last thoughts of Anatole, an uneasiness that would not go away. War is ugly and, though he has no reservations about his own ability to thrive in this environment, Anatole’s career has been full of fruitless outposts and show parades. Anatole would probably be offended by such concern, say he is a man and can fight like everyone else, and he can, but that doesn’t stop Theodore from worrying.

*~*

The first night at the front, Theodore has no time to go looking for Anatole. He spends his time pulling contacts to get him to see some people in command. He proposes a sound strategy plan and volunteers to go spying in the enemy’s picket line. The escapade is successful and the next morning he goes to see Kutuzov to make his reports. He doesn’t think the man will help him much himself but to be speaking with the General would do him good in the eyes of other commanding staff and Theodore needs all the good grace he can get.

Kutuzov is distracted during the entire time and Theodore doesn’t know if his words had made any impact at all and there’s a bitterness in his mouth as he wonders if the meeting will have done him any good. Many of the men in Kutuzov’s circle do not know him at all and eye his soldier’s garb with some suspicion. Dolokhov is used to the looks however and pays them little mind. He has learned that if he is focused some good will come of his efforts eventually.

There are others there that he is acquainted with in passing. Boris Drubetskoy for one, although Boris is the epitome of the sort of man Theodore despises – the career climber who owes the entirety of his career to his sycophant habits rather than any great independent achievement. Theodore could not possibly respect any man who did not respect himself.

The one person he does not expect to see among the ranks is Pierre Bezukhov. Pierre stands surrounded by headquarters rats and gapes at the goings-on of the military men around him with a childish wonder that is laughable. He seems completely lost and out of place but for all Theodore’s prior hatred to the man he feels a need to speak to him.

The coming battle has excited everyone and Theodore’s own late-night exploits have prepared him for the danger to come with a healthy surge of adrenaline. But he knows that many will die and he cannot be certain that he will not be one of those men. He does not fear death, but there is a dire need to connect to the life that he had left behind, in Moscow, the life that had been pulled away from all of them when the war began. And Pierre, in this very moment, is the only man present who has anything to do with that life. Pierre is his only connection with Anatole in the moment, even if it is an unpleasant, six-degrees-of-separation sort of connection. And if anything, he could make a show out of this for the sake of showing himself as well-connected – Pierre seems to be in Kutuzov’s favor – and he may have need of Pierre later, if the Count chooses to stick around for the battle. Pierre was fool enough to do just that.

“Count,” he says plainly, in a loud, clear voice. “I am glad to have this opportunity to speak with you on the eve of the battle in which many are certain to fall. I am sorry for any misunderstandings that have passed between us and I ask you to forgive me.” Perhaps, Theodore thinks, Anatole had played Pierre the same way all along as well. Not maliciously or intentionally but simply by being who he is. Perhaps Bezukhov was just as caught in Anatole’s bright sphere as Theodore himself is. Pierre is a different person and would not be able to see beyond what he would have considered a betrayal from Anatole, but Theodore can relate, even if only vaguely. He still dislikes the man intensely but he does wish to settle what issues they had once had concerning Anatole. He cannot say that outright so he must hope Pierre understands. We both loved him, he thinks, I still do. Neither of us could help that.

Pierre merely smiles at him vaguely and Theodore lets the subject drop. “Have you seen Prince Kuragin? Anatole, I mean, not Hippolyte.”

“Oh, I think…” Pierre stumbles distractedly. “From afar.”

“Would you tell me where, Count?”

Pierre points in a vague direction, which is only marginally helpful, but it does allow Theodore to narrow down his search somewhat. He leaves Pierre with Kutuzov and forgets about him almost instantly.

*~*

By the time Theodore finally finds Anatole it is twilight. The boy looks tired but not especially miserable. In fact there is a sort of feverish excitement in him that makes him unable to stay still. His eyes are bright and his mood swings every ten minutes. Theodore takes him away from his fellow officers and they find themselves a ruined, abandoned barn of some sort in which to hide out. Through the broken roof, the moon lights up the world in a ghostly, blue light and the stars sparkle merrily in merciless oblivion to what is going on below them.

“Calm yourself,” Theodore says, taking Anatole’s hands in his and trying to keep him still. “You’re acting like you’ve never been bloodied before this.”

Anatole shrugs and takes a ragged breath. Theodore sits on the ground with his back against the barn wall and drags Anatole down to sit beside him. “I can’t help it,” Anatole says finally. He’s still blushing feverishly but manages to sit still. “I’m so happy I got to see you before tomorrow.” He lays his head on Theodore’s shoulder and closes his eyes.

“You talk as though we won’t see each other after.” Theodore runs a hand through Anatole’s hair, sifting the fine strands through his fingers. He doesn’t dare take his eyes off of Anatole, wanting to memorize his face, wanting to forever burn in his memory the lines of his cheekbones and the soft curve of his lips, the misty grey of his eyes in the moonlight. Just in case.

“You never know,” Anatole says in a half-whisper. He sits up and looks steadily at Theodore. “I haven’t been able to shake this heaviness, Teddy. Like my entire life has come to this point and no amount of common sense can make it go away. Although, you will likely say that I have very little of that – sense, I mean.”

Theodore gives a small, strangled laughed. “You don’t. But it’s no use to talk like that. You can’t go into battle thinking you may die.”

“It’s not…I’m not afraid.” He shakes his head to emphasize his words.

“I know.” Theodore cups Anatole’s face in both hands and kisses him gently. “Don’t be a little fool. All will be well. Just don’t do…anything stupid.”

Anatole laughs and it comes out just as strangled as Theodore’s own attempt at lightheartedness. “You too.”

Theodore wraps his arms around Anatole’s waist and slides his hands under the young man’s shirt. Anatole shrugs off his already unbuttoned uniform jacket. They kiss, long and deep, as though they are trying to melt together, become one so that even the smoke and chaos of battle could not separate them. Words fail Theodore almost for the first time in his life and all he can do is run his hands over his lover’s body, slip off his shirt and kiss his shoulders, his neck and lips, tangle his fingers in the Prince’s hair and hardly dare to breathe to not break this moment.

“I want to be a hero like you,” Anatole whispers against Theodore’s neck between their kisses. “I want to be like you.”

Theodore feels his heart skip a beat. This is the last thing he wants to hear right now. “No,” he says firmly. “You don’t. And I’m no goddamned hero.”

“You are to me,” Anatole mouths, catching Theodore’s gaze and holding it for a long time with purposeful determination. “You are everything to me. Perhaps I never told you, perhaps I never found the right words, perhaps I was never faithful enough for you but I have always loved you. Only you. I don’t know anyone more admirable, anyone with whom I am so free and happy and protected and…God, I’m talking nonsense, but I have to say it now, I have to say it now.” His eyes are feverish again and Theodore strokes his face and kisses his temples to calm him. “I always wanted to be like you. You don’t think that’s a good thing but can you not see that you are so much more a man than anyone else, anyone else I know? I couldn’t survive loosing you. Oh God.” Anatole covers his face with his hands as the words fail him.

Theodore feels everything in him constrict in painful happiness. He cannot allow himself to feel all of this, he knows it is dangerous, but here in the moonlight, in the dark, with the uncertainty of the day to come it is impossible to resist the urge to allow everything to come out to the surface. Just this once. Anatole’s anxiety must have been infectious because all Theodore can see in his mind’s eye is Anatole engulfed in the smoke of gunpowder, drowning in the rumbled of canon fire. He has a flashback of their night at the Kuragin estate and how there had been rumbling thunder. It is almost ironic and he almost laughs at the strange connection his mind has made. He puts his forehead to Anatole’s and takes the young man’s hands into his. “I love you,” he says quietly, seriously, and watches Anatole’s face slowly light up.

The next couple of hours are a blur of pleasure, passion and tenderness. They take all they can from each other and end up curled up in each other’s arms, tangled together into a single whole. “After the war,” Anatole muses sleepily, his head nestled in the crook of Theodore’s shoulder, “Let’s go away.”

“Go away?” Theodore is mildly amused by the proposition. “Where, mon cheri?”

“Abroad. Anywhere. Paris, maybe. Or Venice. Yes, Venice.”

“You want to elope?” Theodore is extremely amused by this whimsical dreaming, but he cannot help but be drawn into it. It is such a sweet thought, despite its insanity, that he wants to hold on to it for as long as possible.

“I guess? I don’t know. After all this is over, I don’t ever want to be apart again, alright?” Anatole sounds vulnerable, like a forlorn child.

“We won’t. We won’t, my love,” Theodore promises, kissing Anatole’s temple and holding him even closer. He lets himself dream, dream of freedom and happiness, of the sort of complete perfection that he has never been privileged to have. But really, it isn’t Venice that he needs. Just there, holding Anatole in his arms is really enough. The boy had always been pure light, joy and life and beauty all wrapped up into this one amazing love of his. If Theodore had ever had any real hope, Anatole embodied it from the day they met as two young boys who wanted for nothing but to enjoy the revelries of summer.

They stay together until the dawn breaks and it is time to join their respective regiments. Anatole rides away, disappearing slowly into what is left of the early morning mist. Before he is out of sight, he looks back one last time and waves with a warm, happy smile, full of boyish hope. Hope that when this is all over...

Theodore watches him go, his chest both empty and full at the same time. He thinks he sees red in the rising sun and a deep, gnawing fear grips him. He wants to run after Anatole, grab hold of him and never let go. Instead, he waves back and mouths, “when this is all over…” That hope is the only thing they have.

*~*

“I’m sorry,” the surgeon says, giving Theodore a look that is half-pity half-impatience. “We did what we could.”

Theodore hardly hears him. All he can see is bright red blood staining white bandages and the linen of a similarly white undershirt. All he can feel is the unnatural coldness of Anatole’s skin as Theodore lays a hand over his forehead and slides it down to close the boy’s eyes. All he hears is Anatole’s voice repeating over and over in his head “I love you” and “after all this is over.”

Well it is over now. In the aftermath of the battle, with the earth soaked with blood and the smoke just starting to part, there is a gaping emptiness. Theodore walks out of the medical tents and gases over the dark fields. He faces the emptiness and realizes it will never be filled for him again. He feels no rage, not yet. That will come later. Now, the shell-shock grips him around the throat and strangles him until he can hardly breathe. He tries to search for something to hold onto, but there is nothing there, just a life-deep void that Anatole has left behind.

They had sent a petty officer to search him out because Anatole had been calling for him in the time he had before he could no longer fight for his life. Fight for that hope, that “after this is all over.” Theodore had come, stumbling through mud and smoke, over fallen men and beasts. All in vain. He had come too late.

They say that before a man dies, his life flashes before his eyes. Theodore doesn’t know if he is dying but all of his memories of Anatole go streaming through his head, silent flashes of a life he will never have again. Perhaps, he is dying in a sense. Whatever life will be after the war is over, it will never be the same. He knows, as firmly as he knows that the sky is blue and the grass green, that no matter how hard it had ever been with Anatole, that love was a blessing and a happiness neither of them had taken the time to appreciate properly. And yet, it had been the best thing Theodore had ever had.

The void that Anatole has left would be filled with despair and cold rage and murderous resolve, but that emptiness could never be filled. After the numbness passes the pain will be devastating. But Anatole was worth it. If Theodore has any regrets, it is that he did not get the chance to once more say goodbye – farewell, this time – as much as he hates the word.

“Farewell, my Anatole,” Theodore says into the dark emptiness. “I love you.”

I love you.

*~*

EPILOGUE

Pierre learns of Anatole’s death before his return to Moscow. He learns of Andrei’s at the same time and the grief and shock of that loss and his sudden determination to destroy Napoleon are so great that he hardly gives Anatole a second thought at the time.

He thinks of Anatole again only once he is relieved of his captivity by a band of Cossacks. Theodore Dolokhov is in charge of one of the bands. He is as ruthless and sharply focused as always. He wonders if Dolokhov knows of Anatole’s death until he notices that the man wears a black ribbon on his left arm. It is faded and tarnished, almost unnoticeable but it is there. Pierre doubts that there is any other death – aside from his direct family – that Dolokhov would honor in such a way.

After the hasty funeral of Petya Rostov, an unnecessary, horrible casualty of the raid on the French garrison that freed Pierre and his fellow prisoners, Pierre watches as Dolokhov, with the help of a few men, lines up the French prisoners. “What will he do with them?” Pierre asks Denisov who comes to stand beside him.

“Shoot them,” Denisov says and Pierre can hear from that man’s tone just how much he disapproves. “No matter how many there are, Dolokhov will always shoot them. Himself. It’s his way.”

Pierre watched Dolokhov load up a pistol with the same cold deliberation that he always has upon him when he is dealing with something serious.

“I thought this would be too much even for him,” Denisov mutters. “Why do you think he does it?” Pierre cannot tell if the question is rhetorical or not but he thinks on it nonetheless.

He notices things about Dolokhov. He still has an air of command about him but there is something heavier in the set of his shoulders and in his step. There are dark circles under his eyes, ones that could easily be attributed to the depravations and stresses of war. But Pierre had known Dolokhov before, in that other life. There is something gone from his handsome, intelligent, sharp eyes. Something intangible but very real. Pierre’s gaze is once again drawn to the black ribbon and he thinks of Andrei, of the words they never said and the things Pierre had never dared to mention and all the feelings that he still felt despite the silence. He thinks of what he wouldn’t give to have another, single day with Andrei. Even just one.

And he understands. “For vengeance,” he says flatly, unable to take his eyes off Dolokhov. Pierre certainly doesn’t approve, he would never do this himself. But he understands. For once, Theodore Dolokhov makes absolute, crystal-clear sense.

“Vengeance?” Denisov shifts uncomfortably beside him. “You think?”

“I know.”

*~*
‘Cause it’s you and me and all other people
With nothing to do
And nothing to prove
And it’s you and me and all other people
And I don’t know why
I can’t keep my eyes off of you

What day is it and in what month?
This clock never seemed so alive.


—Lifehouse, “You and Me”
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