A Man Among Men
Dedication: To Forced Simile. Happy Birthday, my awesome friend. Thank you so much for introducing me to this amazing anime/manga, and may you have a wonderful day, and another year better than the last. Cheers!
(Oscar François de Jarjayes is 11 years old.
André Grandier is 12 years old.)
She laughed, both hands covering her mouth to hide and hopefully muffle her mirth.
"Shh, Oscar!" He couldn't help but smile as he nudged her and tried to get her to calm down. "If you're not quiet," he whispered, "we'll get into trouble!"
"Trouble?" Amusement faded from her expression.
"Yes." He immediately felt guilty when her smile fell away from her face, but he didn't want either of them to get yelled at, let alone beaten, for misbehaving. "It's late and I shouldn't be here anyway."
"But we haven't done anything wrong." She was being stubborn again. He could tell by the tilt of her head and her fisted hands that were now on the covers of her bed, lying on either side of her legs. "We're only reading."
"I know, Oscar, but I shouldn't be in your room at this time of the night!"
She blinked at him in the dim lighting. "Why not?"
André wasn't sure as to how he should answer her. She had to know the reason why he shouldn't be in her room late at night. It wasn't as if they would do anything terribly wrong, of course, but…he had the feeling that it would be better if Monsieur and Madame de Jarjayes did not know he was there. And Granny… Well, he was certain she would not be happy if she found out, either. An evening without supper would be unbearable!
So it was their little secret. Reading silly books and sharing stories about the maids and menservants in the flickering candlelight. When the wick ran low, she would get under the covers of her bed, and André would go back to his room after their goodnights and prayers were all said. It was a nice arrangement, and for almost a year, it had suited them well.
"Because I'm a man, and…"
"And you're saying I'm not?!" He had upset her unintentionally, and he shied away from her, almost as if it would save him from her wrath. "You… You take that back!"
"Shhh!" He pushed her back against the pillows and covered her mouth with his hand. "Are you trying to wake everyone else up?"
She glared at him and tried to speak, but his hand muffled her words, and he couldn't quite catch them.
André was certain that she was trying to tell him to get off of her. Either that, or she was insisting he take back what he had said only a minute earlier. Her lips tickled the palm of his hand as she attempted to speak, but he wouldn't pull it back. "I'll only let you go if you promise to be quiet!"
She continued to glare at him, saying—or trying to say—absolutely nothing. He merely sighed, but still showed no inclination to remove his hand from her mouth until she complied. Oscar had always been a bit headstrong, and she had this nasty habit of falling silent. Maybe she did it because it drove him absolutely insane. Dear God, it was irritating! It was also something that stood between them every once in awhile, like when she was sad and would not tell him why. How was he supposed to know what to do or say in a situation if she continuously refused to voice anything?
"Promise…" he said, smiling slightly at the annoyed expression that flickered over her face, her eyebrows lowering dangerously. She was terribly cute when provoked, he thought, but his thoughts did not get a chance to go further before he felt her lips curve upward in a smile against his hand. This… This was…probably bad…
He made two mistakes. The first one was to shout rather loudly when he felt the wetness of what he knew was her tongue slide against his palm. His second mistakes was, in an attempt to somehow rectify the first, to pull his hand away from her mouth only to cover his own. Needless to say, all he managed to do was get his mouth wet, too.
Seemingly horrified, he pulled his hand away and let it rest between them for a moment.
She was squirming a little in an attempt to get out from under him, but she had a smirk on her face that, for reasons he didn't quite understand, set his cheeks afire. "Eww!" he said, making a face as he wiped his slobbery hand across Oscar's shirt. She continued to smirk at him like the little fiend she was, and he wasn't sure why he was more embarrassed than angry.
He took her shoulders in his hands and pushed her back against her pillows, catching her by surprise. He could tell when her grin of supremacy was replaced by a confused, curious tilt of her lips that he found particularly endearing.
"Oscar!" he scolded, his tone gentle even though he half-heartedly wanted to shake her a little bit. "That was like…like…" He wiped his mouth on the shoulder of her nightshirt and continued, his face still flushed, perhaps more than it had been initially. "That was like…indirectly kissing!"
Her nose crinkled a little at his words, and he looked at her eyes to find them fixated on him. "And?"
"And we can't do that!"
She just blinked at him. He didn't know if that meant he was supposed to explain himself or not, but he was certain that that was exactly what she meant. Maybe it was the way she was almost biting her lower lip distractedly, or the fact that her bright eyes looked so dark in the small amount of light that the candles gave off, or it could easily be the way her soft hair brushed against his fingers that were still pressing her back into the pillows at the head of her bed…but no matter what it was, he felt that he had to say something, anything, to answer her unspoken question.
"We… we just… We can't! Because you are… and I am… And…" Suddenly, he frowned and let her go, sitting back as he crossed his legs to think of a reasonable explanation. He felt her knees knock against his own as she mimicked the way he was sitting, and he smiled a little at that. A perfect "boy" all right.
"W-wait! Don't you want to be a man among men?" His finger was pushing into her collarbone lightly.
"W-well, that's it, then! Men don't go around kissing one another!"
"Then why don't you be a woman?"
Her question was so matter-of-fact and calmly stated that he was startled by it. He fell back against her bed and covered his face with his hands.
"What?" she asked innocently, tucking her legs underneath her and crawling over to peer down at him. "What's the matter with you?"
"Oscar, I can't be a woman!" He peeked at her through his fingers. "I don't want to be a woman!"
"Why not?" Looking completely serious, as she was wont to do, she poked him firmly in the side. "Are you too manly?"
Grunting a little as if to appear unaffected by her attempts to tickle him, he grabbed her hand and held it away from him. "Yes, I'm a man! And…men can't be women!"
"You're different." He locked gazes with her and refused to melt under the combination of long lashes, candlelight, and soft blue eyes.
"Of course I am." She grinned, though the brightness of her teeth only showed for an instant before it faded. After a moment of silence, she continued, having finally managed to twist her hand out of his grip, "Father says I'm to be a great general just like him. I'll get to command armies! That's different, isn't it?"
He wriggled underneath her as she ran her hands up and down his sides. He tried to push her away, but couldn't manage to do so. "No, I meant…I was born with the body of a man, so I can't ever be a woman! And…you were born with the body of a woman, so…even though you can dress like a man and command armies, you can't be a man, really."
She had stopped tickling him and had settled for merely staring. "I'm a man," she stated.
"But you have the body of a woman!"
"N-no! No way!" He flushed crimson and seemed to shrink underneath her. "D-don't be ridiculous!"
"You're just afraid that you can't prove you're a man and I'm not."
"I can so!" he hissed defensively, immediately lowering the volume of his voice for fear of waking someone in the house up. "I just won't do it!"
"André…not even for me?"
He hated this. Oscar only used that tone of voice when she really, really wanted something. Either she wanted a particular thing, or she wanted him to do or say something for her. Well, it didn't matter how sweet and innocent she sounded when she acted like that, he still wasn't going to try and prove that to her. No way! That was just…just…
"No, Oscar, no. That's indecent!" He turned his head, "Men and women shouldn't see each other…you know…"
"Is that the only way you can think of to prove it?" She made a face at him, but he couldn't see it. "Men and women shouldn't, you're right. But we're all men here." She swung one leg over both of his and sat on his stomach, placing both of her palms flat against his chest. "I win," she told him. "And anyway, my chest is just as manly as yours, so there!"
"That's because... you're still young!"
Her tongue was sticking out at him, and he had the terrible urge to push it back into her mouth. He resisted with all of his might, but after ten seconds, his hand was pressing against her mouth again. "Stop doing that," he told her. "It's not very…" he struggled for a moment to come up with a word that wouldn't irritate her. "Adult-like."
"I'm still young." Her words were muffled but he understood them, and then the ones that followed. "And if you don't get your hand off of my mouth, I'm going to bite it!"
"Don't you remember Arianne?" he asked her, pulling his hand away quickly before she could do as she had threatened.
"The kitchen maid?" Oscar's eyebrows knit together slightly as she tried to remember. "Yeah, but I don't understand what that has to do with anything."
"Well, she had a chest like yours too, but now…" He cupped his hands and held them half a foot away from Oscar's chest. "Now she's all the other servants-- well, the men-- talk about! So what are you going to do when you get like that?"
"That won't happen."
"How do you know?"
"None of my sisters are that big. Even Mother isn't that big!" She made a mock-disgusted face. "And besides, who needs all of that…that weight to drag them down?" She rolled off of him and went back to the head of the bed, leaning her back against her pillows. "I'll bet if she tried fencing, they'd be flopping all over the place!"
"Oscar!" he admonished, but chuckled when he saw the grin on her face. She smiled a lot more at night. She looked undoubtedly female when she smiled, despite the masculine clothes she might be wearing at the time.
"What?" she asked. "It's true! They'd get in the way for sure. If she had to jump up in the air, one might swing around and smack her in the eye!"
André suddenly quieted. "You know, the men around here would like that, though, I think. I mean…from the way they were talking the other day, I'd bet they would."
"Well, I guess men are supposed to like feminine things… Do you like Arianne, André?"
"Huh?" He was caught off-guard by her question. It wasn't often that Oscar asked his opinion on things like that. "W-well, she's pretty and she's nice, but…"
"You're right. She'll never be able to fence. That's boring. Plus she's always going all ga-ga over those frilly dresses all the ladies wear at Versailles." He made a face. "I guess compared to her, you really are a man!"
Suddenly, the wick of the candle on her nightstand ran out and plunged the bedroom into darkness.
"Aw, damn," she said, "I guess I wasn't paying much attention to the candle."
"Oscar?" His hand reached out for her, feeling around on the mattress. "Where'd you go?"
"I'm right here." She, too, reached out and before too long, her hand had found his head. She messed up his hair, rubbing it in every direction just because she could. "You should go back to your room. It's really late now, I think."
"Prayers first," he said. "After that I'll go."
They both scrambled to the edge of the bed, their eyes adjusting a bit better to the darkness, and eventually dropped to their knees beside it in silent, but companionable prayer. When they finished, André stood and turned down the covers giving Oscar enough room to crawl into bed.
"You and me, horseback riding first thing tomorrow, right?"
He pulled the blankets up to her chin and let his fingertips gently stroke the side of her face once. It was surprising how feminine his very best friend could look when she didn't even try. When she slept, she looked like an angel. He could only barely see from the light of the moon that spilled in from the foyer, but her eyelashes were already fluttering closed. "Goodnight, Oscar," he said.
He was almost to the door before she stopped him with her words, "I do…fight like a man, right?"
He turned to look at her, and found her half-sitting in the bed, the blanket he'd pulled over her pooled around her waist. Her eyes were open, but she looked as if she was only barely managing to keep them that way, and he grinned. "Of course!"
"Okay, that's good…" She settled back down and pulled the blankets over herself as she let her eyelids slide closed, one of her hands fisting loosely by her mouth, making her words sound more mumbled than they really were. "That's all that really matters… Right…?"
He shook his head, glad she wasn't able to see him, and sighed a little. "No," he whispered, thinking she would not hear him. "If you're happy, that is all that matters." She looked so cute, sleeping there where the moonlight only barely illuminated her face and her hand pressed up against her cheek. He decided that he'd best leave before he ended up staying all night just watching her. No matter how great of a "man" she might become, he'd at least watch over her for her own sake…probably forever. How could he not?
As he stepped into the foyer, turning to shut the door behind him, something stopped him—her voice.
Through the crack between the door and the doorframe, he could see that her eyes were still closed. "I am," she murmured, and he smiled before shutting the door behind him with a light click. She could fight like a man, talk like a man, and walk like a man, but she was still distinctly female. And he supposed, as he snuck back to his room in the darkened halls, as long as she was happy with that arrangement, he was too.
I really struggled at the end, there. I re-worded and re-worded and finally came up with something that sounded good. Also, if you did not know, the name André means "manly" in French. I apologize for the dialogue-heavy writing, though. It just seemed to fit.
Thanks for reading- feedback is always appreciated!