Author's Notes: Well, it is finished at long last! I am so sorry it took so long. The fic almost took six years to complete— a ridiculously long time, and yet strangely I feel a little sad that it is done. In a way, it has served as an emotional crutch for me during my hardest times in graduate school. But this week, I managed to finish my paper and hopefully it will be published! The load off my shoulders was like a writer's block tumbling away, and I got to start and finish this chapter in just under two hours!
I dedicate this last chapter to my sisters, and my friends Aurèlie, Nant and Megumi, and to all my readers. Some of you, like Luna, have been the very first to read the story and have faithfully kept track of it all this time, while other friends came later. Some, like Happii and Little Leaf and Seraph, had thought it worthwhile to create a fanlisting and to translate the story into other languages. Others, like Feri-chan, had thought to draw out some of the more memorable scenes. I am most grateful to you all for having stuck with me for so long, and it is truly a great honour to write for such a receptive and intelligent audience. I have been blessed by your kindness and patience. It is a great reward for this writer to have met so many wonderful people out there through this fanfic.
Last but not the least, this is dedicated to the people of Japan. It goes without saying that this fanfic would not have come into being were it not for Riyoko Ikeda's brilliant classic manga and anime, Berusaiyu no Bara. But more than that, through all anime and manga, Japan gave the world such a rich and stunning selection of stories and beloved characters, such inspiration, entertainment and pleasure, that it is only fitting that the Japanese people have my heartfelt thanks. I was (still am) in Tokyo when the March 11 quake and tsunami struck, and I deeply admire the people's quiet courage and resilience, fortitude and fierce will to overcome the tragedy.
I hope this is not goodbye. Who knows, I may have time to write another story in the months to come, and I already have an idea or two for another Oscar x Andre AU story. The research though, will be horrendous. But let us just see. Wish me luck with my studies and I hope you enjoy this last chapter of Memories. It has been a great adventure writing this story and I am glad to have embarked on that adventure with you all.
Having been the one to begin the story, I suppose it is only right that I should be the one to end it. But what to say of the tangled events that followed soon after my waking in the hospital? Certainly they had not signified the end of the story. In truth, we never got to see the end of it until years later. But I am jumping way ahead of myself.
I shall have to begin with Auguste and Antoinette then. Needless to say, they had to deal with the worst. The company collapse, the multiple lawsuits, culminating in the national court trial amid the glare of the merciless media. In a way I was glad I didn't have access to television during the very early phase of the collapse of de Brun, dubbed the Enron of France. Francoise had refused to turn on the TV set in the hospital suite, and in a way I was glad, for it gave us some quiet time to talk.
In that way I was spared the many inaccuracies and painful scenes during the trial, which saw Antoinette stripped of everything— wealth, power, friends and family, her dignity. Auguste had collapsed, physically and emotionally. He had to be confined in hospital and they had refused to delay the trial on his behalf. They shall start with his wife, they said, and that process of tearing into Antoinette alone will give Auguste plenty of time to recover until his time came.
But in dealing with Antoinette, they made the mistake of underestimating her. It was understandable enough, we supposed, for they had never really known her. All they had known was what the tabloids had painted her out to be through the years she had been Madame de Brun, the frivolous, party-going socialite wife of the one of the richest men in France.
They had never known the woman behind the public mask, and suddenly, in the midst of the courtroom drama orchestrated by Maxim Carraut's underlings, the woman revealed herself.
What Francoise had glimpsed in her several times before— the quiet courage and regal dignity inherent in Antoinette's person, saving graces that could not save a dying corporation— had surfaced at last during the time of her worst humiliations in the hands of the prosecutor general.
In part, the prosecutor general had overstepped his enthusiasm, so sure was he of inevitable victory over a frail woman whose golden hair had turned to grey by the end of the lengthy trial. To his outrageously exaggerated accusations of her financial manipulations, she had answered coolly and without heat. Her answers were so simple, so full of common sense, that even Maxim Carraut had expressed disgust over Monsieur Hebert's theatrics.
"To portray her as a modern day financial Messalina was not in our plans!" He was said to have roared at the prosecutor general in private.
Perhaps that was part of the reason why the prosecution suffered a setback so early in the trial. Another reason had been Fersen. And Monsieur de la Sagne himself.
Francoise had steadfastly kept out of sight. Refusing to side with either factions, she never agreed to interviews, never let Carraut's team summon her as a witness to the trial. It was enough that the public knew her stance by her sudden resignation from the corporation. Nevertheless, she had shown her hand by agreeing to let her father step in unobstrusively to root out the real villains behind the collapse of de Brun. In this aspect, history was not to repeat itself by having the perpetrators escape and let a couple take the brunt of the blame.
I suspected that this was also her way of avenging me. We never really knew who ordered the attack on my person, and suspicions were worthless in a formal investigation when so few facts were ever established. Still, she had a pretty clear idea who the culprits were, and it was convenient that they also happened to be the band that was truly responsible for the anomalies at de Brun.
In a way, I felt sorry for anyone who had to contend with Monsieur. We must remember that Francoise had to deal with him with a gun in his hand at one point. I can imagine those who had to face his implacable scrutiny were really better off dead.
True to his style, Monsieur had curtly summoned Maxim Carraut and pointed out that he would face the possibility of losing the case if he continued his team's strategy of just pinning all the blame on the de Bruns.
Fersen had been behind the scenes too, evidently working beside Monsieur in flushing the rats out of hiding all over Europe and the United States. Lauzun, Esterhazy, all those who had fled were extradited back to France one by one over the coming months to face trial. And thanks to Fersen and his time in the corporation, he had compiled enough incriminating evidence to prove the involvement of each person.
"It's not so easy covering one's tracks now as two hundred and fifty years ago," observed Francoise dryly as we went over some newspapers one morning to find a picture of the rat pack standing in single file, side by side, in a packed courtroom. "And it's not so easy to dump everything on a poor scapegoat."
Yet in the end, on the principle of being captains of the sinking ship, Antoinette and Auguste were still, of course, found guilty on several counts of negligence and cover up of the company's swelling debts. They were still sent to jail— Auguste for several years and Antoinette for less than 12 months. A huge fine was, of course, imposed upon the couple and the family, sending one of the richest families in France to near-bankruptcy in the space of a few months. Of course, the unprecedented trial sent shock waves around the globe and forced the government to open its eyes and begin a long-overdue investigation and tightening of its laws against corporate wrongdoings.
And life went on.
Surely, that was the most important thing. Life does go on even in the midst of such calamity.
It was much later that we came to learn that Auguste, far from languishing in jail, had come to view his imprisonment, if not with something close to happiness, then with content. Free at long last from the job that was his from birth and to which he was totally unsuited, he now had all the time in the world for quiet contemplation and his beloved books. Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, he had also achieved an easy rapport with his fellow inmates. He, who had himself admitted to having no social talent among the people of his class and who found social trivialities a tense and tedious chore, was treated with an almost protective camaraderie among prisoners far below his rung in the social ladder.
"Auguste had always been very kind and considerate," mused Francoise, "totally lacking in airs and easy to talk with, so long as it has nothing to do with money. He's one of the very few whom I would call a true gentleman. It's just too sad he never got to show it during his years in de Brun."
"Or rather de Brun would not let him show it," I said.
"That's true," answered Francoise.
As for Antoinette, one can only imagine what she went through after the sentence was passed on her. It would have felt like death, in a way. Certainly, her way of life before the full collapse of de Brun was already in ashes. Yet, whatever her feelings, she withstood everything with a white, poised silence that had earned her admiration, if not a little sympathy, from certain sectors. The woman, shed of the dazzling carapace of her former life, emerged from gaol after serving eleven months as a person totally transformed and unrecognizable…and faded away. Or so it seemed.
We heard something quite different. It was true she had been disowned by her family in Vienna, so it was only logical that she would not have returned there. But soon after her release, we found out that Auguste had quietly initiated divorce proceedings to free her from her last ties to France, much against her wishes. The last we heard of her was that she had gone to Sweden.
Of Fersen, we have not heard much as well. But one can imagine the endless possibilities for these two, now. One can only hope that they have, at last, against all odds, found happiness together in this life.
And of course, we got married.
It was nothing fancy, as Francoise had insisted. The day after I got discharged from the hospital, we headed straight to the nearest city hall and got ourselves a civil wedding, with only Francoise's parents and Granny in attendance. It had been done with so much haste and such furtiveness that I had to laugh afterward.
"Well, nobody's whisking me away that easily so there's no need for such secrecy," I said, eyeing my wheelchair gingerly.
"The sooner we got it over, the better," said the ever-practical Francoise as she settled down beside me. "Now nobody can take you away from me."
I stopped laughing then. I knew that the past few weeks had been hard for her, but I never realized she would take it so much to heart.
"You know my heart is yours, cherie," I said softly. "Nobody can part us."
"Yet we almost got parted," said Francoise, almost in a whisper. "Even when we had taken all possible precautions, we almost…"
Her words died out as her mouth thinned out, twisted. For an alarming moment I thought she was going to cry.
"But I didn't die, that's the most important thing," I told her bracingly.
"I was such a fool to have waited so long," she continued in that soft, subdued voice, as if she did not trust herself to speak out loud. She kept her head down, but even so, I could see her face flaming. "I was so stupid…I was waiting…I was hoping you would ask me to marry you."
"I am sorry," I said, shaking my head and sighing. "I didn't know what to do. Not for a long time, not even when we were finally together. I wasn't sure…"
She lifted her head to look at me, her eyes wide, stricken. "What?" she said, bewildered. "What were you not sure of?"
"I've loved you nearly all my life. I wanted you. I am afraid I will always want you. But I wasn't sure I'd be good enough for you."
She stared at me hard for a moment before laughter bubbled out. "I guess I wasn't the only one being stupid, then," she said ruefully.
"When you were unconscious, you had two visitors in the hospital that stood out," said Francoise when we were finally on our way back to her parents' house for a small dinner celebration.
"One was Madame Dubois who, after all this time, still scares the living daylights out of me," she said matter-of-factly. "I mean, I could feel the hair on my nape stand out when she came in to see you, can you believe it?"
"With good reason, I should think," I answered, recalling the last time I ever spoke to Madame Dubois with a shudder. "So what did she say?"
"She said something about our stars not being properly aligned at the last minute, but that I should not lose hope. After all, she got all that she wanted in this life, so there's no reason why we won't be able to do so, too." Francoise turned to me with a puzzled frown. "She acted as if she expects me to understand her. Do you understand anything at all in what she said to me? Because I don't."
I stared at her. "You mean, you've never dreamed of her?" I asked. "Oscar Francois never showed you who she was before?"
"Good Lord! Then I've got a story to tell you for bedtime tonight. You said I had two visitors. Who was the other one?"
"Angelique," said Francoise with a sigh.
A small silence. "And?" I finally prompted.
Francoise closed her eyes as she recited mechanically: "She said all throughout your college days, she had never heard you speak of another girl other than myself. She said I was all you ever cared about, and it was such a shame because you would have been so interesting if you were only 100% there, which you were not. But still, after she had met me, she said she could now better understand why you were so…besotted with me. She said I must not get it the wrong way because she's not in love with you. At least, not anymore. She said she was happy to see us together, and she wished that we would have a happy ending if only she could finally see you happy."
I had to admit that took the wind right out of me. "She really said all that?" I said incredulously.
"Well, yes and no," said Francoise testily. "But that was what she managed to convey, more or less."
"Damn," I muttered, thunderstruck. I was thankful then that I did not have to witness it. I wouldn't have known what to do.
Francoise smiled. "Still, you have to admire her guts. And you know I don't bruise too easily. A punch every now and then would do me good. She did drive the point home to me that no more time is to be wasted between us. Besides, to have a friend who really cares for your happiness…well, you don't get a lot of those. Anyway, I do understand why she had to do what she did."
"Why?" I asked, my mind a total blank as to why Angelique could be so catty. Viciously so!
Francoise turned to me, her gaze tender. "Because you're worth fighting for, you know."
Several months after the furore surrounding the de Brun trial had gradually wound down, we had a second, more formal, wedding.
No, it was not held in Paris, but in the small stone church in Arras, with only family and a handful of close friends to wish us off.
For this church wedding, Francoise and I managed to reach a compromise. To please me, she had agreed to dress in white. To please me further, she had actually come very close to agreeing to wear a dress for the occasion.
Standing in the cream and white salon of the wedding couturier, amidst five carping sisters (the designer had very prudently retired from the scene as the disagreements over the dress escalated), Francoise had turned to me and said, in the most gracious gesture of all, "I suppose you would want me to wear a gown for the wedding?"
It was clear that she was willing to swallow whatever objections she had if it would make me happy. Could a man be more blessed?
All heads swivelled to my direction. Hortense, eyes wide, mutely signalled that I agree immediately by vigorously nodding while Anne Marie, in a voice low with warning, declared, "This is your one and only chance, Andre."
I had to laugh. "I'd love to see you wear a gown," I told Francoise, "but it would mean so much more to me to see you comfortable on our wedding day."
Chagrined, the Sisters subsided as Francoise swept an elegant hand at my direction and said in a voice full of love and pride, "And such is the man I have married!"
Are the readers disappointed? Ah, alas things cannot be helped. Francoise is Francoise, and I love her for being her. In the end she decided on a flowing ensemble, very much like a dress but actually pants when one looked more closely. There was a white veil, though, with a modest wreath of white flowers crowning it. After months on painful rehab, I was finally able to stand up long enough for the ceremony, and to lift the veil from my dear wife's face to kiss her.
Afterwards, champagne and lunch in the Arras house gardens. A bit of dancing followed. There was the entire family— my new parents and four lovely sisters. Granny crying into her handkerchief long after the wedding service was over. And there were our friends: Rosalie and Bernard with their new baby, and Alain, of course, who took Francoise around several dances while I did a clumsy round with a laughing, delighted Diane (it would take a while for my legs to obey me, I'm afraid). All the de la Saigne managers who would be reshuffled into the other businesses owned by the family were there.
And most of all, there was Francoise. One could not have met a more radiant bride. I felt my heart swell with love and pride as she slipped her hand into mine and I felt the warm metal of her gold wedding band against my fingers.
Looking into her smiling eyes, I felt a thrill rush through me. We had made it through somehow, made it through whatever Fate had in store for us. Bruised and bloodied, we had somehow managed to defy the vicious cycle that God only knows how many times we had gone through in our different past lives.
The rest of our lives, to be lived together, begins now.
More Author's Notes: There was a real Chevalier de Jarjayes, upon whom Riyoko Ikeda based Oscar's father on, who, together with Axel von Fersen, helped the royal family to plan for their escape from France during the Revolution. The prosecutor-general in this story is fashioned after Jacques Hébert, a journalist during the Revolution and one of the dauphin's guards who would twist the boy against his mother, Marie Antoinette, during her trial.
Some important additions to my dedication, posted April 21, 2011.
Additional changes posted June 29, 2011. I thought the revised wedding dress scene is more in keeping with the characters compared to the earlier draft. Do tell me what you think.