The girl is like a breath of fresh air, a delicate rose with its petals just unfolding from the bud. She is just old enough to no longer be a child, but still young enough to be fresh-faced and unspoilt by society's demands. In the dim lighting of the opera, she has a soft glow around her and when she flushes the color stands out in contrast to the rest of her pale face.

With her eyes, Helene traces the lines of her breasts and her neck, her gaze catching on where wisps of the girl's dark hair touch against her skin. It has been a while since she has seen a creature so pure and lovely. Helene wants to reach out and touch her, kiss her bared shoulders and taste the sweetness of her milky skin.

'It is a crime for you to hide such beauties in the country, Count," Helene tells Count Rostov, never taking her eyes off his daughter.

The girl, Natasha, flushes with pleasure and the old Count, flustered, blusters about with gratitude and cheery exclamations.

Helene takes Natasha to her box and spends the entire opera watching the girl's face. The flurry of emotions Natasha shows is so unseemly and so fresh and exciting that Helene cannot help herself. "What a beauty you are, my dear," she tells the girl softly. She takes her gloved hand and kisses it, never taking her eyes from Natasha's. "You must come to my next party. It will be a small affair, just friends. But you must come and see me again."

Natasha, flushed and excited by the sudden attention, bats her eyes and murmurs something about her father's permission but how she would love to.

Helene tells Anatole and Dolokhov about the whole thing afterwards. They sit in her small dressing room, Helene in an armchair with a glass of wine and Anatole curled up into Dolokhov's side on the sofa. Her boys listen to her with wrapped amusement.

"You ought to have come tonight, Anatole," she says, drawing the words out. "You would have liked tonight. There was the loveliest flower of a girl there, just the sort you would like."

"He's taking some time away from the ladies," Dolokhov says, arm possessively wound around Anatole's waist.

"Which girl? Tell me about her," Anatole puts in.

"Natalie Rostov." And Helene describes in sumptuous detail the virtues of Natasha's slender arms and her fiery glance, the delicate curve of her small breasts and her tiny waist.

"She sounds exquisite," Anatole hums, one hand tangling in his lover's hair. "Doesn't she?"

"First rate, my love," Dolokhov says, eyebrows raised. "But not for you. Your sister seems to have laid claim to this one."

Anatole smiles his most charming smile at Helene. "Tell me if it comes to anything, then."

A few days later, Helene has the distinct pleasure of running across Natasha at the tailors. The girl is dressed in nothing but a corset and underskirts. She is being fitted for her wedding gown and the purity of this activity makes Helene want to giggle as though she were still a naughty, adolescent girl.

"What of that promise to come and see me, my little Countess?" Helene asks. "You look so charming standing there, it would be a shame if you kept yourself locked away."

She chooses a moment when they are alone in the room and walks over to Natasha's side. She can feel the girl's confusion and excitement radiating off of her and it makes her giddy with a heady sense of control and longing. She puts one hand under Natasha's chin and tips Natasha's head back so that their eyes meet. "Mlle. George is giving a performance at my house tomorrow night. Will you come?"

"Would you like me to?" Natasha asks, obviously pleased at the invitation but also somehow scared of it.

"Oh, certainly. I would be proud to host such a treasure."

For half the evening, Helene is left to entertain guests and she can hardly get a word in with Natasha. She sets Anatole to watch the girl for her, afraid that Count Rostov will decide to hurry his girls home, and Anatole takes to the task with such enthusiasm that it makes Helene wary. Anatole is bound to lose his head, if she allows him too much time with Natasha and what good would that do?

Finally, she manages to get the girl alone in a side-room. "Are you enjoying yourself?" she asks, pouring out two glasses of wine and handing one of them to Natasha.

Natasha sips carefully at the rich liquid. The red wine stains her lips and she flushes bright red, whether from excitement or embarrassment, Helene cannot be certain. "Oh, I am," she says, and her eyes meet Helene's only to quickly hide behind long lashes. "But it's only…What is it you wanted to speak to me of, Countess?"

"I merely wished to have some time alone with you, to admire you."

"Oh." Natasha takes another drink of wine, now obviously hiding behind her glass.

"I saw the way you wished to keep yourself hidden away, waiting for your finance to come home—"

"You know about that?"

"Naturally, my charmer. And I must say it is a shame you do not come out into society more often."

"I simply did not think…now that I am engaged…"

"Oh the world of men may be closed to you, but certainly not the world of women." Helene picks up a platter with fresh fruit and comes to stand directly in front of Natasha. "You know they say a woman is unlikely to share a soul with a man, but she may with another woman. Do you have many friends?" Helene picks up a strawberry and admires its sumptuous curves.

Unbidden, Natasha does the same, watching the bright red fruit intently. "Not many," she says in a breathless rush. "My cousin and my brother and I always thought that would be enough for me."

"How lovely. But do you not wish to experiment from time to time?"

"Experiment?" Natasha looks uncertain, uncomprehending.

Helene hums and holds out the strawberry to her. Obediently, Natasha opens her mouth and takes in the fruit in its entirety. Her lips purse around it and Helene smiles warmly at her. "See the world, see new sides of the world? Your friends could help you with that."

Natasha watches her as she chews her strawberry, her eyes flickering from Helene's face to her cleavage to something beyond her shoulder and then back to her eyes again. "And would you be my friend?" she asks finally, breathlessly.

Helene smiles. She leans forward and captures the girl's lips in a soft, feather-light kiss. It lasts only a moment, but Helene can very clearly taste the sweetness on Natasha's lips, can feel her excited, confused trembling, and her own body reacts with desire. She wants this flower of a girl all to herself, to teach and to excite in her feelings the like of which she has never felt before. "Yes, my charmer, I will be your friend."

As the Rostovs leave later that night, Helene presses Natasha's hand and says quietly in her ear. "I will write to you. But will you keep it a secret?"

"Yes, oh yes, if you like," Natasha whispers back with a small, trusting smile.

As the Rostovs' carriage drives off, Anatole comes to stand beside her. "What do you think will come of this, exactly?" he asks, a note of amusement in his voice.

"Exquisite pleasure," Helene tells him lightly, taps him on the arm with her fan and goes to retire for the night, Natasha's slightly parted lips and shallow breathing in her mind's eye.