|You and Me and Those Between Us (Dolokhov/Anatole) - Part I
||[Apr. 12th, 2012|04:49 am]
Title: You and Me and Those Between Us
Fandom: War and Peace
Pairings: Dolokhov/Anatole, Anatole/Natasha, Anatole/Cecylia (Polish girl), Nikolai/Dolokhov, references to/implications of a few others
Word Count: ~13,500
Warnings: slash, non-graphic sex, fidelity issues, some coarse language
Summary: After Theodore ends his relationship with Nikolai Rostov and Anatole firmly re-establishes himself in Theodore’s life, it seems like few things could get in the way of their love. But in a time when their relationship is socially unacceptable, circumstances and internalized norms constantly force them to struggle to stay together. When Anatole meets Natasha, things come to breaking point…
Artist Master Post: http://queenmidalah.livejournal.com/431100.html
Author's Notes: Written for the history_bigbang. Is a stand-alone fic but is also a sequel to You and Me and All Other People. Dedicated to helenvalentine who got me to write YaMaAOT which is what started this madness.
Baby, I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked the floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
But I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
Our love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
‘—Rufus Wainwright, “Hallelujah”
Nikolai watches his world slowly fall apart. It happens almost in slow motion, cracking along the seems and then crumbling, rather than shattering in one breathtaking moment of utter devastation. By the time he walks into the smoke filled, dimly lit room and encounters Theodore’s sharp, clear blue eyes, which are watching him from behind the card table, on that fateful night, he already knows that the end is near and there is nothing he can do to stop the inevitable, slow the momentum of the collapse. He wonders across the room as though in a dream as Theodore holds his gaze.
“We haven’t seen each other in a while,” Theodore says, dealing the cards in his hand, a new, crisp deck, Nikolai notices. “Thank you for coming.”
“I’ve tried to call…” Nikolai starts but realizes that Theodore’s attention is not on him at all. He’s seen Theodore play cards before a few times, he just about always wins and every time he plays he has this look of bright concentration, intense but too confident to be tense at the same time.
“You can stake,” Theodore says offhandedly. “Or are you afraid to play with me?” He looks up and meets Nikolai’s eyes with his bright blue ones. They are teasing, almost friendly, almost like they always had been when Theodore would tease his younger lover. But this time there was something within their depths, some frightening determination and Nikolai shrinks from that intense look, although he used to always love to get lost in it.
He sits beside Theodore and watches him deal for a couple of rounds. His attention is focused entirely on his lover. He hasn’t seen Theodore since his proposal to Sonya and therefore hasn’t gotten to ask why Theodore had done such a thing as he did not seem to have had any intention, until very recently, to get married and why would he chose Sonya of all people? Not that there is anything wrong with Sonya, of course, but there is something so horribly cruel about marrying your lover’s childhood sweetheart that the entire thing simply does not make sense to Nikolai. Besides, Dolokhov had said himself that he is not the marrying sort.
Dolokhov is teasing him, recalling their conversation about gambling. “I always say that one should never gamble for luck, but only for certain. However I’d like to try.” Which exactly he wishes to try, for luck or for certain, Nikolai can not be sure but deep down he knows the answer and it makes everything inside him go hot and cold at the same time. The seductively deep notes in his lover’s voice in that moment are so alluring, so familiar that Nikolai almost gives in and picks up a card, staying his own hand only in the last possible moment before his gesture can be noticed.
Intuition tells Nikolai, warns him, that all of this has nothing to do with Sonya at all. That this has everything, instead, to do with their affair and the sudden gaping emptiness that exists between them for no reason…other than… A flash of strawberry-blonde hair catches Nikolai’s eyes and he suddenly beholds the slim, agile figure of Anatole Kuragin as the young prince makes his way through the crowd toward the card table. The men part for him almost instinctively. Anatole holds a champagne glass from which he drinks in small gulps, tipping the flute delicately in an exaggeratedly fluid and tempered gesture. Nikolai wonders if Anatole will sit and play but he remains standing, leaning slightly against the back of one of the chairs. His eyes slide over the cards and the drinks. They stop, finally, on Theodore and stay there, tracing his shoulders, his jaw line, locking with his eyes briefly, before dropping again to somewhere in the general vicinity of his lips.
“Why aren’t you playing?” Theodore asks, looking over at Nikolai with an almost puzzled expression.
“I have no money with me,” he says lamely.
“I’ll trust you,” Theodore says with an almost laugh, throwing that almost-warm look his way. One of Theodore’s hands rests itself briefly on Nikolai’s knee under the table. It is large and warm and so comfortingly familiar that Nikolai feels a surge of ecstasy run through him. Perhaps he is merely making this all up, perhaps Theodore truly means only to play a simple game of cards, perhaps there is no harm to it. He looks up and finds Anatole’s beautiful grey eyes watching him, his full, kissable lips upturned into something that could almost be a smirk. That seals it for Nikolai. He makes a stake with the vicious desire to not be held back by petty fears, to not let Anatole Kuragin’s pretty face smirk at him when he, Nikolai, is Theodore’s lover, when he is the one who should be able to smirk at Anatole.
All of his first ten cards are beaten. Now Nikolai goes on because of the stinging shame that he feels. Somehow he is convinced that Anatole is still watching him. But when he looks up several hands later, the young prince has wondered off. But Nikolai cannot stop anymore. He is in a daze. The cards flash before his eyes and he makes stake after stake not understanding what is happening to him. Sometimes, Theodore will smirk a little at him, teasingly, and Nikolai will convince himself that this is all a dream or a mistake because it cannot possibly be any other way. The sum he owes rises mercilessly and the more he plays the more Nikolai drinks and the more incapable he is of stopping. He does not understand how this can be happening, how Theodore could let this be happening. Doesn’t he see that Nikolai is losing far more than he could reasonably pay, doesn’t he care?
The answer comes in the form of Anatole’s reappearance. He merely floats up behind Theodore and puts both hands on his shoulders in a liberal, familiar gesture that makes shivers of angry jealousy explode all over Nikolai’s body. Anatole leans over and looks at Theodore’s cards. His hands begin to press firm but small circles into Dolokhov’s shoulders as though trying to get him to relax. Finally, Theodore turns and waves at Anatole as though he is an annoying, small puppy. “Go away, Anatole, you’re distracting,” he says firmly, but without a single trace of anger in his voice.
Anatole shrugs and retreats obligingly. His eyes meet Nikolai’s for a moment and a mysterious looks crosses his face, like he knows something that Nikolai doesn’t, like he is privy to important and perhaps quite amusing information. In that moment a feeling of utter despair and isolation floats over Nikolai. Somehow that look puts all the pieces together for him.
Ever since Anatole arrived in Moscow earlier that month, Nikolai has watched him and Theodore with rising jealousy. He did not, at first, account for these feelings but they are there and he constantly feels himself on edge when Anatole is around. He sees the familiarity – intimacy, almost – in the way Anatole and Theodore interact, the looks and touches they share. Between them even the most innocent brush of shoulders seems to be filled with sexual tension or, perhaps, intention. Even more disturbing has been the way Theodore would look at Anatole, like he is the only true and real thing in the world, like all else is smoke and illusion and only the young prince is real and solid and true. Nikolai feels a sudden coldness in his own nights with Theodore. There is no longer the quiet comfort they used to share. Theodore seems to be restless and unable to stay in. When they have sex it is much rougher and much more desperate than ever but, surprisingly, far less satisfying. Apparently for both parties because Theodore has practically stopped holding him afterwards, falling asleep beside him but not really with him.
It hurts, and Nikolai, correctly, realizes that the source of their troubles is Anatole. He does not dare say anything to Theodore, however, afraid of provoking a strongly negative reaction. There is nothing he could do other than wait and love and hope that he would not be replaced by an airheaded dandy who had not even bothered to come to Moscow that spring when Theodore would have needed him most.
Now, Nikolai sees he was very wrong. Their relationship had ended the moment Anatole came back into Theodore’s life. Perhaps Theodore has just realized this truth himself but this disaster – this awful, humiliating card game – is Theodore’s harsh way of letting Nikolai know that he no longer matters, he is insignificant and certainly no longer loved, if he ever had been.
Theodore stops the game when Nikolai’s debt reaches forty-three thousand rubles. Nikolai remains in such a drunken, heartbroken daze that he cannot properly comprehend what he is being told. He hears the number that he owes and at first the enormity of the sum is so devastating that he cannot fully comprehend its meaning.
“When can I expect to have the money, Count?” Theodore asks matter-of-factly, gathering up the cards and tucking them away. Nikolai realizes vaguely that Theodore had not called him by titled since they were first acquainted. He calls Theodore into a side room and looks at him with shinning, pleading eyes, thinking hysterically that he cannot, on top of all the heartache, be left with this debt, that Theodore must surely forgive it to him. Had that not been what his warm hand on Nikolai’s knee had meant? That they would settle their scores privately, without any damage incurred? Or had he misunderstood? Nikolai holds out the hope that Theodore will let the debt go, he has gotten his point across clear as day – he is done with Nikolai – so surely there is no need for this added insult, this debilitating injury. “I can’t pay everything at once,” he says quietly, his eyes meeting Theodore’s intense ones for a moment, then fleeting away then coming back and doing the same thing. “Will you take an IOU?”
“You know the saying, lucky in love, unlucky at cards?” Theodore asks, casually, without even a trace of a jibe, as though this is a normal conversation on a quiet night in while they are both curled up in front of the fire in each others arms. Nikolai thinks that where Dolokhov is concerned that saying does not apply as he seems to be lucky at everything all at once. “Your cousin is in love with you, I know.”
Nikolai’s head shoots up and suddenly he can look Theodore in the eyes even as his insides melt and turn to acid. He cannot understand why Theodore is talking about Sonya. This has nothing to do with her and he cannot possibly believe that Nikolai does not know this, It makes everything in Nikolai burn and churn, the added insult that Theodore will not even cut with him cleanly, honestly, that he has to hide everything under some sham, some idiotic façade that they both see through for some inexplicable reason. He cannot even give Nikolai the respect of telling him outright that their relationship is over and that there is another man.
“My cousin has nothing to do with this!” Nikolai explodes. Tears sting his eyes and he feels that they will begin to seep out at any moment. “There is not reason to talk of her!”
“Tomorrow!” Nikolai snaps brashly, his entire body shaking. He runs from the room into the hall and stops at the door. Theodore is watching him almost curiously from the other side of the hall. Nikolai takes a last, longing look at his lover’s – former lover’s – face and bolts outside into the swirling snow.
After the door slams shut behind Nikolai, Theodore lets out a long breath that he hadn’t been aware he was holding and looks down at the wooden floor. Well that ordeal is over with. He has even managed to win a good, solid sum of money from it. He hadn’t truly wanted to hurt the boy – Nikolai had been good to him, very good, if he is to be honest – but there was no other way. Even if Anatole had been willing to share, Theodore does not think Nikolai would be and the last thing Dolokhov wants to cultivate is a jealousy scene in the making. Rostov would simply have to move on with his life.
Footsteps behind him and then a warm, comforting hand on his shoulder announce Anatole’s presence. The boy presses his nose against Theodore’s neck and murmurs, “That was harsh. Couldn’t you just have told him you were through?”
“Rostov wouldn’t have listened,” Theodore says, although he isn’t sure he quite believes that himself. “Besides, I would never turn down a good chance for money.”
Anatole giggles, almost childishly, his face still pressed against Theodore’s neck. “You wouldn’t, I know.”
Theodore has the greatest urge to kiss him, but he is cautious, knowing that they cannot be observed. He reaches back and grabs Anatole’s arm. He yanks the boy after him and pushes him into the room where he and Nikolai had been speaking, locks the door, and shoves Anatole against the wall, holding the boy’s wrists down with a strong, firm grip. Anatole is watching him, wide-eyed, but there is no fear in his eyes, only surprise.
Theodore leans over and kissed him, full-force, pushing their mouths together. Anatole struggles to free his hands but Theodore doesn’t let him. He thrusts forward, their groins rub together and Anatole lets out a harsh gasp, which is muffled by Theodore’s mouth. After several moments, Theodore withdraws and presses his forehead against Anatole’s, watching the younger man’s eyes, an expression of desire, an almost desperate desire, on his face.
“Why did you do it?” Anatole gasps, the question sounding small to his own ears. “Why did you…?”
“Do what?” Theodore asks, looking confused. “Break it off with Rostov?” He wonders where Anatole could possibly be going with this.
“No.” Anatole shakes his head, silky strands of his bangs flying into his eyes. Theodore lets go of one of Anatole’s writes to push the hair out of his lover’s face. “Why did you propose to Sofie?”
Theodore’s eyes narrow. He isn’t sure why Anatole is asking so he doesn’t know what answer he should give. “Are you jealous?”
Anatole makes a derisive sound, almost a snort. “No, of course not. But… It just seemed so out of the blue.” He looks worried, however, nervous. As though he expects Theodore to react badly or to reveal to him some horrible truth.
“Well I needed a plausible public excuse for breaking up with Rostov. This would do just fine.”
“Since when are you worried about what society thinks?”
Theodore gives his lover a withering look. “Anatole, this isn’t a joke. Rostov’s a fool and a child. Who knows what he could say to the wrong people. Besides, I don’t care what they say. Otherwise I wouldn’t have put myself in the line of rejection.”
“So you were sure she would refuse?”
“Quite.” He drops Anatole’s writs but doesn’t back up.
“What if she had said yes?”
“What if she had accepted?” Anatole repeats, enunciating deliberately this time. He looks almost vulnerable, that nervous look is back.
Theodore shrugs. “I would have married her. It’s about time, really, and she is just the sort of woman who would make a good wife. There aren’t many like that out there.” Anatole drops his eyes and Theodore smirks. “You are jealous.”
“No,” Anatole says firmly. When he looks up, his eyes are shinning. He throws his arms around Theodore and kisses him. “But I’m glad she said no.”
Theodore rolls his eyes and hugs his lover back. “Idiot boy,” he mutters into Anatole’s hair. “Come on, we should go. The gypsies have started singing.”
Theodore had expected to leave Moscow for the army within the following week, but there were delays and so he ends up staying put for the next three. This allows him to be in Moscow while the Rostovs search frantically for the money which Nikolai owes and to receive the payment personally.
He counts out the banknotes and signs for them. Later, in his study, he re-counts them and stores the money in his bureau. He lights a pipe and leans back in his chair, watching the grey puffs of smoke swirl and lift up in ringlets and swirls, like misty ribbons in the wind. He wonders what it must have cost Nikolai to procure such a large sum and what the boy must think of him now. Probably that he is a damn right scoundrel. Well, Theodore has heard worse sentiments in his life.
He doesn’t exactly regret what he’d done. But there is a vague feeling floating around him in the past couple of weeks. Not like something is missing, but like he has passed by a highly desirable, valuable thing and has not spared it the deserved attention. He could have had it but chose not to and he is not completely certain why he had made that choice.
Later that evening, he sees Anatole at a party, his arm familiarly around Sergei Makarin’s waist. Makarin looks like he is on top of the world and his mousy face is lit up with a tender sort of happiness that makes Theodore want to hit him. The man is a fool if he believes that Anatole’s affection, which he throws around rather freely, is anything serious.
Anatole, noticing him, smiles and waves, his eyes promising that they can have a moment later. Something about seeing Anatole with Makarin makes Theodore want to take the boy, throw him on the bed and kiss him until his lips are swollen and fuck him until neither of them can move from under the covers.
Instead, he takes a glass of wine and joins the card game.
He doesn’t look up from the cards until Anatole comes up behind him, puts his hands on his shoulders and says quietly, “I’m going home, I’ll take Sergei’s carriage.”
Theodore looks up sharply, tilting his hand of cards toward himself as to make sure they are not exposed. “I thought we’d…have drinks later.”
Anatole shakes his head. “I’m tired. You keep on playing, don’t bother. I will see you tomorrow.”
Theodore watches him leave with Makarin. Sergei’s hand is so close to Anatole’s that Theodore keeps expecting them to hold hands. They don’t, of course, and he returns to the game, reproaching himself for the moment of idiotic jealousy.
It isn’t until he is home, lying awake in the dark silence, not drunk enough to fall asleep immediately, but still tipsy enough to have a low buzzing in his ears and what seems to be the center of his head, that he realizes that Nikolai had always come back home with him when asked to, always spent the night, never dreamed to leave with someone else. If he could be honest with himself, Theodore would admit that his relationship with Nikolai had been healthier, more normal than what he has with Anatole. He’s not even completely sure of what that is anymore or what it had ever been. Perhaps he had been sure back in 1805 when they had first found each other, when they lived together and never spent a day apart. But now, he can not be sure. There is something inherently uncertain about being with Anatole, like a crack might open up at any moment and swallow him. But he likes the excitement of it.
Or, perhaps, he just doesn’t know how to live without Anatole anymore, regardless of the price.
“I’ll miss you, write to me.” Anatole slides his hands down Theodore’s arms and holds his hands.
Theodore, dressed in full military uniform, is about to leave for his regiment. The new one, the one that he has been assigned to, most likely as punishment for the duel with Pierre. That is only reasonable explanation he can come up with for why he is being deployed to the Caucasus. The thought angers him, makes him itchy for action. Itchy to blow someone’s head off, if he is to be honest. Saying goodbye to Anatole, again, is making the entire thing even more frustrating. “I’ll write. Where will you be?”
“In Petersburg at first but I’m assigned to a regiment that may be deployed soon. So Poland, then, later, perhaps.” He shrugs and steps back closer to Theodore, still holding his hands, so that their chests are touching. He looks up and smiles openly, albeit sadly.
I’ll miss that, ‘Theodore thinks, looking into his lover’s upturned face. I’ll miss the way he looks at me and the way he smiles and the way it feels to hold him. ‘He doesn’t say any of this out loud, just kisses Anatole softly, almost casually, detangles himself and grabs his cap. “I have to go.”
“I’ll see you out,” Anatole murmurs, his eyes wondering over Theodore’s body, as though to memorize it. The last time they were separated by army business it had almost torn them apart. He doesn’t want that to happen again. It can’t happen again, because if it does, Theodore might not come back.
Anatole steps out onto the porch, following his lover, waves slowly as the kibitka takes off, the wheals making a rumbling noise on the road, but doesn’t dare run after it. He watches Theodore disappear with a longing gaze which is returned.
Mon Cher Anatole,
It is not quite as boring here as I would have imagined it would be. The Caucasus are stunning. There’s something about the air here, the way the sky seems more blue, more saturated. I feel much freer here that I do in Moscow or Petersburg. Perhaps that is just the novelty of the place and I’m certain I will grow restless and tired of it in time. I’m no romantic, as you well know, so there will be no impassioned odes to the place, but I do like it. Far from the worse outpost to end up at.
We see action from time to time, enough to keep everyone busy and on their toes. The officers are always up for cards and I’m building up a good reputation here. Not for the cards, of course, but for the fighting. The colonial is a damned pig, however. I would like nothing more than to beat him at cards so badly that his head spins. But he doesn’t play. Do you think it would be wise for me to try and provoke a duel? Probably not, I’d only get into trouble and the pig wouldn’t even brother fighting me most likely. Rank disparity if you will.
Overall, I’m quite well settled. There are, admittedly, certain pleasures that are not quite as easily obtained in your absence.
Be good and have a care. I hope you are well.
Anatole folds up Theodore’s letter and stuffs it into his jacket pocket. He looks across the modest ballroom where his fellow officers are dancing with some of the local girls. A smile lingers on his lips as he thinks of Theodore’s words. There are, admittedly, certain pleasures that are not quite as easily obtained in your absence. ‘That is about as close as Theodore will ever come to saying I miss you ‘and Anatole accepts it as a fact of life.
His eyes stop on a pretty girl in a cheap, somewhat ugly – by Petersburg standards – but not gaudy gown. The daughter of the landowner, who has put him up here in the Polish province where his regiment is currently stationed, is a lovely girl. She is fresh and delicate, modest but, Anatole suspects, not entirely innocent, even if she does drop her eyes demurely when she realizes he is looking at her. She is the sort of girl that makes a man want to hold her hand and kiss her lips and go exploring.
Perhaps he should feel guilty as he walks across the floor and asks her for the next Mazurka, Theodore’s letter hidden safely against his chest. But he doesn’t. It is different with women, it is just the way things are supposed to be and Anatole does not question his desires for a single moment and does not consider that there is anything wrong in them.
Theodore is his love, his only true love, but he is not a woman.
Cecylia’s dirty-blonde hair is soft and silky under Anatole’s wandering touch. He slides one hand through her hair and the other down her back. The strings of her dress come away easily, as though she had taken measures to not tie them too tightly in case this would happen. He smiles against her neck as he kisses her shoulders and pushes her dress down until it lands on the floor in a pool of shinning fabric. She now stands in a slip before him, her hands clutching his shoulders and her eyes wide even as he begins to undo her corset. “You want this don’t you,” he states more than asks.
She nods enthusiastically into his chest, her small, full breasts pressing up against him. Her Polish accent is thick as she speaks, “If my father were to find us…”
“We’ve locked the door.”
They fall onto her bed and Anatole continues to ravage her. The corset comes off, then the rest of her undergarments. He throws off what is left of his clothes – not much by then – and slides on top of her. She does not protest and does not resist him, although he thinks he can see a deep blush rising slowly into her cheeks even in the dark. Surprisingly, she is a virgin, or so it seems as he enters her. She is tight and warm around him and Anatole loses himself blissfully in the satisfaction of a desire that has been nagging at him for weeks.
A storm rages outside as they fuck. That’s all it really is. Anatole never thinks of it as anything else, never thinks of it as making love. Not with the anonymous whores or the provincial girls. It’s nothing against them and he probably wouldn’t be too badly offended if he was told that it is the same for them. It cannot possibly be making love if you are not in love so why pretend that it is?
The storm swirls and rumbles, dry bursts of thunder clap and crack overhead, drowning out Cecylia’s low moans and Anatole’s heavy breathing. The air is thick with rain although none has fallen yet. The purple lightening seeps through the mostly-drawn curtains and lights up the room in spurts, drawing dark, disfigured silhouettes on the walls. There is something heavy in that night, something malignant.
When they’re spent, she falls asleep with her head on his chest and Anatole stares up at the ceiling, watching it glow purple at various intervals as the storm rages. He falls asleep once the rain begins to fall, pounding out a lullaby on the roof. His last thought is that he wishes Theodore could just get over himself and write I miss you ‘like he obviously means to every time.
Once everything comes out and Anatole is faced with Cecylia’s red-faced father who looks angry, but not angry enough for the shame he claims to be feeling, Anatole realizes plainly that he had been set up. Cecylia is pregnant but makes no move to honestly conceal her state and her father, although enacting an enraged bull, does not aim even a fraction of his wrath at his daughter, which is odd. She cries, but only in a picturesque manner that even Anatole doesn’t buy. It’s only too comfortable for them: if Anatole marries the girl she will get a title and wealth far beyond anything she could have ever hoped for. The pretty blonde looks far more seductive now than she does innocent and Anatole can see the careful way in which she moves, how perfectly acted it is. He had not been able to decipher those details when he had been full of lust for her. For the sex.
What Anatole is more afraid of isn’t that Cecylia’s father will go to his commanding officers or that he will spread word. Fathering a bastard is not a crime and is common enough for his friends and comrades to not think twice about it, even if society croons talk and jabber. It isn’t the best reputation to have but men have had fantastic careers even with those scandals on their heels. He’s marginally more afraid that his own father would find out. Vasili Kuragin would be furious that his son could not employ even a dash of discretion. But he would be far more infuriated by the knowledge that Anatole had married a polish girl, the daughter of a poor, undistinguished, provincial landowner.
What really does scare Anatole, are Pan Brzeziński’s friends. He is good with a sword and not bad with a pistol, but there are several more days before his regiment will depart this post and Anatole has a bad enough perception of the local gentry to imagine, vividly, an angry mob singling him out for some sort of ravenous lynching. In the end, this is what allows him to be bullied into marrying the wench. It’s a stupid reason, he knows, but the itchy desire to simply be rid of the sticky situation is so overpowering that he cannot think straight of any way out than to surrender to the demands.
They make a deal: he will marry the girl, very quietly, and send her a certain, agreed-on allowance every month for the right to remain a bachelor in the eyes of his society. The affair will be quiet and no one will speak of it. Once his regiment leaves, Anatole tries to forget the whole ordeal, but the marriage papers he is forced to take along to show to his father so that he can have the money needed for these payments, seem far too heavy to allow him to forget.
Married. It is such an idiotic thing in the best of circumstances. But to be married to some Polish girl who had fooled him, whose father had shamed and bullied him into the entire affair… He tries to write to Theodore about it, to get it out, to tell someone, because Theodore is the only friend he trusts with something like this, but realizes as soon as his quill touches paper, that he cannot bring himself to write those words to his lover. He is too afraid of what they might mean, of how cruelly they could be misinterpreted.
He ends up writing to his sister instead.
The Petersburg Opera in September, just at the start of the Season. Anatole thinks he’s missed it more than words could describe. He loiters around in the lobby, talking to arriving friends and some of the ladies. He doesn’t realize he is subconsciously searching out Theodore until their eyes meet across the stalls. Anatole makes his way toward the front where a crowd of young men, most of them still boys, are gathered around Dolokhov with looks of everything from amazement to trepidation to admiration to curiosity. And, in some cases, adoration that would have made Anatole jealous if he wasn’t so confident that his lover had better things to do than notice fawning admirers.
Anatole regards his lover’s Persian costume with some interest. He’d heard the rumors and he knew Theodore had spent more than a year in Persia before coming back, but his letters had been scant and Anatole wonders as to what Theodore could have been doing there. He does have to admit that his lover is breathtaking in the exotic dress and with his hair swept back in an outrageously dandy style of which Anatole had never before thought him capable.
How long had it been since they last saw each other? More than three years? Three and a half? Strange. It feels like only yesterday he had been lying beside Theodore, snuggled up into the older man’s side, his head tucked under his lover’s chin. Everything comes back with such sharp clarity that there is almost no gap, no sense of discontinuity, no sense of estrangement. It is a feeling so different from what he had felt with Pierre after their reunion in Petersburg back in 1805. If this had anything to do with the fact that Anatole had found himself a new lover in the time that he had been away from Pierre, he couldn’t be sure.
Theodore steps straight through the group of young men before him. They make way for him and watch as he easily comes up to Anatole and embraces him for one short but extremely warm moment. Anatole feels such a strong wave of affection fall over him that he is, suddenly, acutely aware of just how lonely he had been for the past couple of years. There were friends but he had taken no lovers, limiting his satisfactions to actresses and whores. He has had no desire to tangle himself with ladies after the Polish incident.
“Did you miss me?” Theodore asks with a smirk as he steps back. “It’s been quite a while.”
“Yes it has. I’m so glad to have run into you. I was hoping you were back as well.” This isn’t what he wants to say and Anatole hates the conventions, hates the lying and the strange rules that his sister follows so well and his father wishes he would follow better. He wants to attach himself to his lover and never let go, not now that he’s been reminded what it is like to not be alone. Anatole knows the feeling will pass but the crotch of his trousers has grown uncomfortably tight and he hopes desperately that no one will notice. “Will you drink with me to our reunion later tonight?”
“Yes, dear friend, meet me after.” There’s a promise in Theodore’s eyes and Anatole smiles knowingly at him. Not many people would have seen the truth in this exchange. For all the warmth in the glances they exchanged and their embrace, their words were those of simply good friends. Only their closest friends, or those engaged in similar relationships as theirs, could discern the underlying longing and that the bounce in Anatole’s step, as he headed up to the box he would share with his parents and brother for the night, betrayed not even so much joy as hardly restrained impatience and desire.
They have passionate, desperate, starved sex later that night locked far away from the prying eyes of the world. In the end, they are both exhausted, sprawled on Theodore’s bed in the dark with the window open. Theodore smokes lazily and Anatole lies with his head pillowed on his lover’s stomach. Theodore weaves his fingers through his lover’s hair, his thoughts drifting drowsily somewhere among the clouds of the cigar smoke.
Anatole lies with his eyes closed, thinking and turning things over in his head. He doesn’t want to be thinking about this right now but he needs to make this confession and better do it while Theodore is in a sated, satisfied mood. Also, better in the dark where they cannot as easily make out each other’s expressions. “Teddy, I have a confession,” he mumbles finally.
“Hmmm?” Theodore sounds aware but only marginally interested.
“Something happened while we were apart, while I was serving in Poland.” Anatole feels himself tense up and he tries to relax but it’s hard. He’s afraid of how Theodore might react and he’s afraid of losing this moment. But he can’t not say anything. It’s hard enough carrying a secret as big as a marriage around. Helene had laughed and teased him – unhelpfully – and, what was worse, never bothered to close the door unless strangers or their parents were present in the house. This had led to the unpleasant circumstance that Pierre had overheard their conversation and now knew of Anatole’s predicament. They had made him swear that he wouldn’t tell anyone. Pierre did not seem to understand their terror and had promised. It seems he had kept his word to stay quiet. Anatole had been awkward with Pierre ever since the break in their affair and even more tense since the dual between Pierre and Theodore but they rarely see each other these days and there has not been a convenient time for conversation or explanations. Anatole had, in the end, opted to not tell his father anything for fear of his wrath but the monthly payments to Poland meant that his debts were higher than ever, a circumstance which bothered his father and was causing immense tension between them. His hope now is that Theodore will understand and sympathize rather than react jealously.
“So what happened?” Theodore asks when Anatole does not continue for some time.
“I…I got married.”
There is a long, dreadful silence. Then, Theodore laughs in, what sounds like, disbelief and Anatole doesn’t know if he should be relieved of offended. “What do you mean married? To whom?”
“I was tricked nastily into it…” Anatole recounts his polish misadventure then, unable to stay in his current position as Theodore stays quiet, thinking this over, slides up on the bed and rests his head on his lover’s shoulder. “Teddy? Are you upset with me?”
Theodore puts out his cigar and turns to look at Anatole in the dark. His face is unreadable. Anatole starts to build up arguments in his mind instinctively. He hadn’t meant for it to happen and, after all, who is Theodore to talk? Did he not wish to marry Sonya Rostov just several years ago? But before he can formulate his line of defense fully, Theodore asks, quietly, “Well it doesn’t mean anything, does it?”
Anatole’s pupils dilate as he attempts to see through the gloom. He slides one hand over Theodore’s chest, liking the feeling of taunt skin and well-pronounced muscle under his hand. “No, of course not,” he whispers back, feeling himself growing hard again as the tension in his body and mind fades.
Theodore kisses him possessively, biting roughly and sharply at his lower lip – it will be swollen the next day – as though marking his territory. “Then we’ve got nothing to talk about. You’ve already punished yourself.” He grabs Anatole’s hands and throws them over the young man’s head, pinning them to the mattress. “As for me. I’m going to fuck you.” His voice drops and roughens on the last two words which he pronounces slowly and deliberately in French.
Anatole grins up at him and pushes his hips forward. That had gone much smoother than he’d expected. If he had stopped to ask himself what Theodore had thought in his moments of silence he probably would have conceived that his lover had been imagining Anatole with his wife and thinking if this was an image he could deal with. In truth, Theodore’s thoughts had been far from that. They had been on a young officer he had met in the Caucuses, the general who had sexually harassed that boy, their escape to Persia, and the subsequent covert operation, ending with an assassination, Theodore had been forced to become involved with in return for not being taken to trial for desertion. The boy had, last Theodore knew, run as far as Europe. Hopefully, he could make it there. He’d asked Theodore to come with him, begged almost, but Dolokhov had not gone. There would be too many things he would be forced to leave behind. Anatole not being the least. Hence his question if Anatole’s marriage mattered. In the end, none of it matters. They are here, together, making love and Theodore is perfectly happy.