War and Peace (And Vampires): Chapter One, or, Natasha is Come To Moscow
Moscow winters were beautiful in their unintended cruelty- dazzling, hard, and deadly. Much like Anatole Kuragin.
Anatole caught a glimpse of himself in the window of a shop as his sleigh rode down Podnovinski Boulevard, and thrilled, for his own visage never failed to please him. He was stunning, and he knew it- his eyes were an ice-cold blue, and the lashes that framed them were almost too heavy to be real. His hair and skin fairly glinted gold in the light of the street lamps, his jaw was strong and his mouth was full and red. He was handsome in a way only fairy tale princes were, handsome in a way that people could live a lifetime and never see again.
But it was his expression and demeanor that caused men and women alike to throw away their greater judgement when caught by his charms. He had an uncommon and disarming gentleness about his mouth, combined with a swagger and boldness that rendered his lithe and graceful frame somehow intimidating. One felt, when his gaze was locked upon them, that they would do anything for Anatole Kuragin.
Time may have been able to reveal in inner nature more accurately, as time has a way of shaping the face to show the heart within. Time may have been able to harden his mouth in such a way to reveal his selfishness, or crinkle the skin around his eyes to show the narrowness of his mind.
But it wouldn't. It never would.
Anatole had come to Moscow at the behest of his sister, Helene- who herself was chasing after her rich yet estranged husband. Anatole was disappointed in Moscow- Petersburg had been less stifling for a man of his tastes. Moscow had society enough, but one had to be more careful. His face and manner bought him leniency wherever he went, but the old guard was strong in Moscow. The throng of unmarried heiresses were a bore, and Helene's estrangement from Pierre tiresome.
Luckily, there were distractions everywhere.
Anatole gazed down at the woman in his arms- she was beautiful, too. An impoverished French actress he had become enamored of at the club. So young! So fresh! But she was beautiful in a much more fragile way- her face was pale and pink from the cold, her eyes bright against the cold of the Moscow night. Her pulse leapt wildly in her neck- her thin, delicate neck.
Anatole smiled, unaffected by the cold, somehow amused, gallant and condescending all at once. He truly did love young women! So soft. So breakable. So delicious.
Anatole signaled to Balaga to turn the next corner, a snug little street full of the shadows and only the dimmest of lights, safe from the prying eyes of Russian society. She looked at him, full of excitement and trepidation- he had seen that look so often before, but somehow it never bored him. The admiration in her eyes pleased him also as much as the sight of his own face, which he could also see in her clear blue eyes. How he loved these moments!
He took those full, red lips and placed them on her trembling neck, right below the pulse in her ear.
He kissed lower.
And then, with care borne from a thousand identical moments, he unveiled his fangs and sank them into the flesh of her collar bone. He was skilled and strong, and the women who received his own peculiar kiss never complained- the pain was a pleasure to them. He made sure of it.
In his own way, Anatole was a man of honor. He believed in gallantry, he believed in good breeding. He lived only for beauty and pleasure and enjoyment- and if a few hearts got broken along the way (not to mention necks!), well, that was life, was it not? He was not cruel by intention or design. He could, at the very least, make it as pleasant for anyone who happened upon his charms as possible.
A few gentle sighs later, and it was done. Anatole gallantly wrapped the young miss in her fur, and closed it about her. Two gentle fingers traced her eyelids, closing them in sleep. Unlike his sister, he preferred to keep his conquests breathing- he abhorred both mess and meanness, after all. As a man of honor.
"Well, Balaga," he murmured softly, "We all live to love another day."
Balaga turned out of the alley, and drew up to the crossing of Konyusheny Street. Up at the courtyard of Marya Dmitrievna, 4 carriages were approaching. Normally, Anatole would find the doings of the great old lady to be of little consequence, and she was well known for her nightly guests- but something made him signal to Balaga to pause.
The old woman herself was still awake, and barking orders to the servants in her own gruff but kind manner. From one of the carriages emerged Count Rostov- a man whom Anatole pitied. The Count's son had both emptied the family coffers, and made an unwise match, he had heard, in his pretty but penniless cousin, Sonya Rostova. Anatole thought one could really do only one or the other and not be a disappointment to one's family (the particularities of his family, of course, made him immune from such censor in his own mind. The rules were not the same for Kuragins.)
From another carriage, the pretty but penniless Sonya stepped out, and Kuragin viewed her with slightly more interest, as his favorite companion, Dolokov, had set his sets on the dark but quiet girl. Her dark hair shone in the street lights, and her expression was sad and grateful at the same time. A remarkably pretty girl, but timid. And yet… there was something Anatole could not place his finger on. He saw why his friend was drawn to the girl, although he himself did not share the fascination.
And then Natasha Rostova stepped out of the carriage.
Anatole felt the strange and unfamiliar sensation of his breath catching in his throat (he naturally did not need to breathe, since he was not technically alive.)
Like Anatole, Natasha Rostova was beautiful, but her beauty was only half in her expression was her charm- in the evening lamplight, she fairly gleamed with the force of it. She was full of light and life, and no one looking at her could ever see anything wanting. If her eyes were almost too large for beauty, and her cheeks too full, the viewer was none the wiser. A strange yet unmistakable sense of possibility hung about the countess- a terrible yet powerful possibility that none but someone who shared it could recognize. She held both the possibility of beginnings and eternities within her.
And all at once, in Anatole Kuragin's chest, he felt his heart lurch slowly and heavily once. Twice. Three times.
It was the first time in nearly 50 years he had felt his heart beat.
The young countess turned her face to Marya, whose weathered but warm hands grasped the girl by her rosy cheeks.
"You've grown plumper and prettier," she remarked, drawing Natasha (whose cheeks were glowing from the cold) to her by the hood. "You're half frozen, I'm sure! Bring some rum for tea!... Bonjour, Sonya dear!" she added, turning to Sonya and indicating by this French greeting her slightly contemptuous though affectionate attitude toward her. "Welcome, my dears! Welcome to Moscow- how wonderful to have you here, instead of these gossips and crybabies."
The three visitors followed their gracious, if not gentle, hostess into the warmth and safety of the large house. For a few, long moments after their retreat, Anatole's cool blue eyes stared at the door with an uncharacteristic intensity.
"Where to now, Sir? Shall we drop the young lady off and go back to the club?" Balaga inquired of his fine gentleman. Balaga liked Anatole Kuragin greatly, and did not mind the goings on with the young ladies that occurred in his troyka. Kuragin was lively, and always treated Balaga as a fellow gentleman, sharing both his women and his wine with him. However, the young man's strange quiet made him feel vaguely uneasy.
"No, Balaga. Let's drop the mademoiselle off, and then home." Balaga was surprised, as Kuragin could normally be counted on to drink the night away every night, and was more than capable of seducing more than one poor gypsy girl or actress before the sun rose. But he dutifully lifting his reins, and down they went to Pierre Bezukhov's fine mansion. The newfound intensity gradually faded from Anatole's eyes, replaced by his usual air of gaiety and gallentry.
Welcome to Moscow, indeed, Countess.