It was a sunny day, the sky was blue, and Oscar and André—7 and 8 years old respectively—were fencing by a river near the Jarjayes estate. They'd ridden their horses there; the two mares were tethered to the low-hanging branches of a towering oak tree.
Oscar grinned as she managed to best André for the fourth time in three days.
"I concede," he gasped, flopping down into the grass to lie on his back and stare at the clouds.
His companion grinned and sat down beside him. "After you catch your breath, let's do it again," she suggested.
"Okay." He put his hand over his forehead to shield his eyes from the bright sunlight and turned to look at her. "But will you show me how you did that neat sword-spinning thing?"
"I suppose so. It's not as if it'll help you win or anything."
"I'll win someday!"
"It's currently 49 to 0. You don't have a chance." She smiled smugly for a moment and leaned over, picking up her sword as André threw a glance in the direction of his own; it was still sticking straight out of the ground. He turned back toward her to see her fingers busy playing with the tassel that hung from the handle of her weapon.
"That belonged to your grandfather, or his father or something, didn't it?"
"It was my great-grandfather's," she said. "But it won't stay on here very well." She tried to tighten the knot holding it in place, but the tassel didn't seem to want to cooperate.
"The Master will be angry with you for taking it," he told her; when she only shrugged her shoulders, he continued, "Without permission, no less."
"It's good luck," she insisted. "I can't be fighting without good luck. Though to tell you the truth, it must not have all that much luck, or it would stay in place. Stupid piece of junk!"
"And what good will luck do you if he gets a hold of you?"
She was silent for a long while before she answered him, "He won't."
"That's what you said the last time. Don't you remember? And then you tried to avoid him, and that only lasted for—"
"I remember it perfectly well!" she snapped. "Don't bring that up again. I don't wish to think about it. Besides, I'll put this back when we get home, and he won't even know it's missing!"
"Maybe we should head back right now," he said, almost nervously. "The sooner it's back in place, the better off we are."
"You're just afraid," she taunted.
"You are too! You just won't admit it." Suddenly, his voice lowered, and he looked at her with complete seriousness. "I haven't been here that long, anyway… I don't want to make him angry when he's the one that gave me a place to live."
She was silent.
"He could take it away as easily as he gave it, you know."
"I know. But I wouldn't let him! I'm not afraid of him."
"Fine," he said. "I'll fight against you one more time, you show me how to do that spinning-sword thing, and then we go home and put that good-luck tassel back before the General gets home and notices a family heirloom is missing."
"Okay." She got to her feet and stretched her back.
After André managed to make it to his own feet, she quickly showed him how she managed to send his sword spinning into the air and out of his reach so easily. After showing him three times, he finally said that he understood, and they crossed blades again; André was ready to secure one victory out of 49 for himself, and Oscar was ready to make her 50th victory.
Maybe she was only able to flip the sword, André rationalized, because he wasn't holding onto it tight enough. If he waited until the perfect moment—when she wasn't focusing her energies on holding the sword, but rather on moving—he'd be presented with the perfect moment to attempt the same little trick on her.
After all, he was a year older and therefore stronger. It would be no trouble for him to flip that sword right out of her hand! He just had to be sure to do it when she didn't have the sword near her face, or else he would feel guilty, Granny would kill him, and, on top of all of that, Oscar's father would surely send him to live on the poverty-stricken streets of Paris.
Well, he didn't know that they were poverty-stricken, he'd only heard it…but still… It was better to be safe than sorry. And besides all that, he really didn't want to hurt Oscar. She'd been nice to him…most of the time. She was a really good friend, and on top of that, he was learning things he never thought he'd be allowed to learn in a million years!
He'd lost one life, and had found another, it seemed.
Oh! There was his chance! She was backing away from him, and there was a root right behind her, and… Oh! There it went!
He watched her as she fell, the beginnings of a triumphant grin already starting to appear on his face. It was 49 to 1 now, right…? Her sword was sailing towards the river, but he kept his eyes on her. It would be him smirking at her, this time… Hah!
But…he didn't expect her to look so…distressed. As she landed on her backside, her hand stretched out, almost as if she hoped to pluck her sword from wherever it was laying. He didn't even have time to brag of his victory. He turned around and saw her sword sticking up from the mud of the river, the handle only barely showing.
"Uh-oh," he said.
She didn't give herself the time to whine about her bruises from the fall; instead, she scrambled to her feet and rushed to the edge of the water, slowly wading in until she was waist-deep in it.
"Be careful, Oscar," André warned. "It rained all day yesterday! The current's bound to be pretty fast!"
He was right—it was fast, and little Oscar had a lot of trouble standing upright in the water. Her sword was just out of her reach, and it was starting to tip over. If she didn't get it out of there soon, it would either fall to the bottom or float downstream…perhaps both!
She stretched her arm out as far as it would go as André waded in to stand beside her. "I'll try to grab it," he said, two or three times, but she ignored him. "Come on, Oscar, I'm talle—"
She tipped over too far and fell into the water, and for a split second, André almost panicked. "Oscar!" he shouted, but his heart quickly calmed when he realized he was already pulling her back up by her arm. One second too late, and he could have… He gulped. "I said to be careful!" His voice was harsh even though he hadn't intended it to sound that way.
She sputtered, unable to form a reply as she shook the water from her hair and allowed herself to be hauled to her feet.
"Now this time, you stay here," he pushed down on her shoulders to emphasize his point, "and I'll try to get your sword."
She squirmed a little, but stood still, pushing her hair out of her eyes with fingers that shook slightly, though she'd never admit it to anyone.
He waded out a few more feet and managed with only minimal difficulty to pull the sword out of the mud of the river. Quickly, both of them made their way back to dry land and fell onto the sun-warmed grass with a sigh. André handed over the sword, and Oscar took it gratefully, hugging it to her as if she'd almost lost something precious.
Suddenly, she stopped and paled. André was immediately worried. "What's wrong?" he asked, but then he noticed her fingers tracing over the handle of her sword—they were shaking. "O-oh," was all he could say.
"I have to get that tassel back," she said resolutely, steeling her gaze, glaring at the sword as if it would keep him from knowing how she really felt.
She was scared half out of her wits, he thought. She had to be. It would be bad enough if the general knew they'd borrowed that particular heirloom, but…to lose it…
He attempted to loosen his cravat, a nervous gesture, and looked at the swiftly flowing water. He could have sworn it wasn't flowing that fast five minutes ago. "Forget it, Oscar," he said. "There's no way. It could be anywhere by now! It could have floated downstream…"
"I have to check," she insisted, getting to her feet. She didn't say why, but he already knew. General de Jarjayes would be very, very angry at Oscar for losing that tassel… He would undoubtedly punish her harshly.
He cringed at the thought, but when she ran off down the side of the riverbank, he followed her, hot on her heels in pursuit. He couldn't have her doing anything dangerous, and she'd already fallen once…
"André, I don't see it!" she nearly shouted. She almost sounded near hysteria, he thought, and that was bad. A hysterical Oscar wasn't something he'd ever had to deal with. He didn't think he'd ever want to deal with it, let alone see it.
"Just keep looking," he told her, but he knew if it had actually floated downstream and not sunk, it would be at least a mile downriver. Perhaps Oscar already knew it, but he could understand the signs of desperation when he saw them.
After ten minutes of looking, they returned to their horses by the oak tree. "Do you think it might have sunk?" she asked him, staring at the spot her sword had been in. She nervously ran her fingers over the hilt before turning to look at him for a brief moment.
"I…well, I guess it could have," he acknowledged. "But… I'm not a very good swimmer…"
She wasn't either, but she'd never admit it. "I can swim," she told him, narrowing her eyes and taking a brave step forward. "I'll go down there and look." She made her way to the edge of the water, and just as she was about to step into it, he took her arm.
"Look," he said. "Just… I'll take the blame. It's my fault your sword ended up in the water, anyway."
She took one step into the water—she could feel it rushing against the sides of her boots already, and it was making her nervous. Looking away from him, she stated in a matter-of-fact tone, "I lost the match. It was my fault."
"Then it was both our faults," he insisted, stepping out to stand next to her and taking her elbow. "So we should both go."
He doubted that it was there. A lightweight thing like that? How could it sink? But…what if by some miracle, it had gone to the bottom of the river, and Oscar was punished and they hadn't even looked? He knew it would haunt him forever if they didn't check.
He took her hand, and she tried to pull away from him, but he wouldn't let her, his fingers intertwining in hers, squeezing forcefully. "Hold onto my hand," he said. "Just in case."
She shrugged slightly, but he could tell that she wasn't as confident as she tried to appear to be. He could feel her fingers on the verge of shaking, so he gave her what he hoped was a comforting squeeze and took a step forward in the water. Oscar followed immediately after.
When they were waist deep in the water, André spoke again. "Do you think this is about where it was?" he asked.
Oscar nodded. "Now I have to just go down there and feel around for it."
She took a step forward—not a dainty-little-girl step, but the long stride of a man—and suddenly, she wasn't there anymore. André knew something was wrong; somewhere in the back of his eight-year-old mind, warning bells were going off. He felt her weight tugging at him, and he found himself being pulled after her.
But there was no way he was going to let her go.
The first thing he noticed was that she had stepped off of the edge of a dip in the mud at the bottom of the river. That was why she had disappeared so suddenly. He didn't have time to notice much else because he realized, without his stable footing on the riverbed, both he and Oscar were being dragged downstream by the current.
It wouldn't do him any good to try and right himself, because the water was just too deep for his heels to reach the bottom to secure his footing again. He was left with one option: swimming.
But how could he swim with Oscar attached to one of his arms? He wasn't so sure. And he was even less sure when he realized that Oscar had not been given enough time to get air before she fell under. If he didn't act fast, she would become dead weight. Well, he hoped not in the literal sense, but that fear was still there… very present.
He could tell she was trying to swim, but she wasn't swimming towards the surface—no, her eyes were scanning the floor of the river for that tassel. What did the tassel matter, now? They could die! Heirloom or not, surely it wasn't worth more than her life, even to her father!
She was weakening, but he really couldn't speculate on it for long, because so was he. His arms felt like lead, his lungs were burning, and he struggled to just break the surface of the water. He felt the water change direction suddenly, as if going around a bend, and he tried to swim at what might be the outside of the loop.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the water pushed him against land. Rocks were beneath him, and they cut into his knees a little, but he didn't care. He quickly took in fresh gulps of air, the adrenaline pumping through his veins the only thing keeping his limbs from shaking. He looked behind him.
He still had Oscar's hand clenched in his own. His grip was weaker, but they were still holding hands. Thank God he had suggested it. Thank the Lord!
His eyes widened as he looked behind him to see Oscar just…there.
His heart stopped, and he was certain that tears were flooding his eyes. "Oscar?" he asked in a whisper, so quiet that even if she had been awake, she wouldn't have heard him. "Oscar, are you…okay?"
No answer. He jumped to his feet and hauled her up after him, wrapping his arms behind her back and under her arms, lifting her high enough in the air so that he could carry her to shore. Quickly, he laid her down and pushed her hair out of her eyes. What was he supposed to do, now? He, uh, ah, he… He didn't know!
He pulled her up into a sitting position and patted her back awkwardly. There was no response, and he was at a loss. "I don't know what to do, Oscar," he was saying. "I just don't know what to do to help you!" He had tears running down his cheeks, and he shook her lightly before he tried patting her back again. That would make her cough up the water, right? Right?
She squirmed a little, and relief flooded him when he realized he had been holding her too tight. She opened her eyes and both coughed and struggled for breath at the same time. "What were you doing?" she finally managed to ask, pushing him away from her so that she could get into a kneeling position, bending her torso forward slightly. "Were you trying to beat my back in or what? I didn't drown or anything!"
He was rendered speechless for a moment, and flung his arms around her neck, tackling her straight to the ground. "Oscar!" he shouted, squeezing her tightly and pressing his lips against her cheek. "I thought… I was…"
"Were you crying?" she asked incredulously. "You know that's not very manly."
"N-no, of course not!" He hastily sat up and turned away from her, hiding his shaking hands where she could not see them.
After she had caught her breath, she stood and pulled her soaked shirt away from her chest, making a face. "Well," she said, "I guess by the time we get back to our horses, we might be half-dry at least…"
He smiled a little. "Maybe if we're lucky," he admitted. "It's not as warm out now as it was a few hours ago."
"That's because it's getting dark." She started to leave without him, throwing him that regal noble look over her shoulder. "Are you coming?"
"Y-yes!" He jumped to his feet and followed right after her.
It was a long walk. André estimated that they had been washed at least two kilometers downriver, if not further. By the time they reached their tethered mounts, they were both only slightly damp.
She was already on the back of her horse, and he was beginning to swing himself into his saddle when she spoke. "André, please don't tell my father I lost that match."
"It's okay. I'll just tell him that I lost it."
"But Oscar, he'll—"
"Don't worry about it, André. Nothing will happen." She smiled at him, and then kicked her horse into a gallop, shouting a challenge in his direction, "I'll race you home!"
She walked into her father's study just like a proud soldier, but it took everything in her to do it. She'd asked Nanny to keep André busy and away from that particular part of the house, and she could only hope that the older boy would listen. It was embarrassing enough to be yelled at in front of him…but punished? That would not do at all!
She didn't know if she could hide her embarrassment or her shame. It was better to do it alone, she thought. So shoulders straight, eyes steeled, and teeth clenched, she knocked on the door.
His words caused a slight tremor to pass down her spine, but she held her head high and marched into his room to stand right in front of his big mahogany desk, clicking the heels of her black shoes together as she stood at attention.
"What is it, my son?" he asked, giving her his undivided attention. Hmph! Son! She was not really a son... She was a daughter! She would fill the role of a son, but she didn't know if she should be proud or insulted to be called as such. She thought it might be a compliment, but…
"Father, I…" Her voice faltered. Ah, not now, not now! It was a very bad time for her courage to fail her! She took a deep breath and stared him right in the eyes, hoping beyond all hope that he could not tell how she was quaking inside. "Father, I borrowed Great-Grandfather's tassel and I lost it." Bowing her head, looking at the floor, she continued, "I ask your forgiveness."
He was silent for a long moment, and Oscar didn't know if that worried her more or eased her fear. She supposed it only made it worse, because it was something she was not used to.
She didn't even realize that he had stood until she felt the sting of his hand on the side of her face and the hard wood of the floor beneath her as she landed on it. It took every bit of self-control she had to refrain from putting a hand up to her cheek.
"Do you know," he started, his voice deathly calm, "what that was worth to me?"
She did not look up to meet his eyes. "Yes, Sir."
He walked around to the front of his desk and hauled her back to her feet by the front of her shirt. "Where did you lose it? How did you lose it?" He was shaking her, and she locked gazes with him again, afraid to look away now. "Tell me!"
"I…cannot say," she managed. There was just no way she was going to tell him that she'd lost a match against André. She was certain it would only anger him further. If she was to become his successor and inherit the Jarjayes Estate and become a great General like him, she could not lose to someone that she always won against. No "son" of General de Jarjayes would lose a fencing match against anyone, least of all someone who hadn't been trained by anyone as good at fencing as Monsieur de Jarjayes himself.
"What do you mean, you cannot say?!"
He was furious, absolutely livid, and not for the first or the tenth or the hundredth time in her short life of seven years, she was afraid. He smacked her again, but she didn't fall to the floor—he was holding her up so that she couldn't. Her body was screaming at her to defend herself, but she knew it would do her no good.
"Tell me where you lost it!"
This, she realized much later in life, was a crossroads. She could have blamed it all on André, she could have told her father everything and been shunned for losing against him, shunned for being a girl, shunned for everything she'd ever done and not done and would never do right. But André would not take the blame. She would not mention his involvement, however slight, no matter what happened. She would not appear weak to her father, and André would not be punished for something that was not his fault.
She clenched the muscles of her jaw. "I said, I cannot say."
He threw her to the ground rather violently, but she waited patiently. She knew what was going to come.
"You will regret ever touching that, Oscar," he said, and she cringed while his back was turned.
I already do, she thought. He was back far too quickly for her liking, and she knew much better than to try and leave. She'd tried it once before, and she would never make that mistake again.
She knew the drill. She got to her feet slowly and walked to the far wall—the one by the big bay window, behind his desk—and put her hands on the wall, palms flat as he would order her to do in a few short moments. She might as well just do it before he said to. Her feet were a good foot and a half away from the wall, and spread about the same distance away from one another.
Just wait it out, she told herself. Wait it out, because he'll get tired and he'll stop soon. He always does. He's just angry, that's all. I did lose something precious to him. I shouldn't have touched it, I—
She cringed as she felt the sharp sting of the switch across her back.
She would not cry, she would not cry, she would not cry, she would…not cry, she…
With a sigh of relief, she shut her door behind her and went straight to her bed. It was nice and mostly dark thanks to the lack of lit candles, and she fell onto her bed on her stomach. She'd probably be sleeping on her stomach for a long time to come, she thought, but nothing could distract her from the pain she was feeling.
Perhaps she'd upset her father more than she'd initially realized by taking that tassel. For luck. Hah! If she could do it all over, she'd have left the stupid thing in his desk drawer in its velvet-lined box. It really wasn't worth all of the trouble it had caused her.
She drew in a shaky breath. "I'm not going to cry," she whispered, mostly to herself, but her voice betrayed her and she couldn't help herself. Furiously, she scrubbed away her tears. A great general wouldn't cry, right? The tears didn't stop.
A man wouldn't cry, right?
She continued to wipe them away with the sleeve of her blouse. Well, was it all right for someone who was born as a girl to cry?
Maybe it was.
Just this once.
André was worried.
"She should be in her room by now," his grandmother was saying, shoving a tray of tea in his arms. "Why don't you try and be a good friend and go to visit her?"
He didn't really want to, but at the same time, he was so concerned that he couldn't help but make his way up the stairs that led to the floor her room was on. He knew she'd sent him out to the stables through Grandma to keep him away from the house. She was probably afraid he'd interfere if he was inside, and he silently acknowledged that he would have done just that. It was his fault that she had lost the heirloom and had almost died. His fault! If he hadn't been so eager to win one lousy fencing match against her…it never would have happened.
Why hadn't he used his head for once? Ugh! He didn't know if he was angry or disgusted at himself. Both, most likely. He found himself in front of her door in no time flat, with his hands full and his mind empty. What would he say to her? He hoped she was doing okay. After all, she might have sent him outside, but he was already no stranger to the temper her father had…
And Grandma had mentioned he'd had a foul day at work and had come home in a huff. He would never tell Oscar, but he had been below General de Jarjayes's second-story study window when she had received her punishment. After only a minute into it, the sound of the switch connecting with what he knew to be his friend sent him running back around to the other side of the house and into the stables.
She really didn't deserve it. He deserved at least half of that punishment. But she had taken it all, and he wasn't quite sure why. "Oscar!" he called at her door. He heard a muffled reply, but wasn't sure if it was permission to enter or a plea for him to go away.
He decided to take his chances. He had to see if she was okay, just…just for a second. One quick look was all, and he would leave her in peace.
The door creaked slightly as he opened it, and again as it closed behind him. "Oscar?"
The fireplace was dying down in the foyer, so he set the tea down and stirred it with the poker. It was late spring or early summer, depending on how one might view it, but the nights easily got chilly. And it was his job, anyway, though the thought didn't quite cross his mind.
"Oscar?" His voice was softer as he approached her bedroom and found her facedown on her bed. "Are you okay?" She didn't answer him, so he set the tea down again, this time on her nightstand. "Hey." Gently, he shook one of her shoulders, the palm of his hand splayed across her back.
He got a reaction, but it wasn't one he wanted.
She jerked away from him violently. "What do you want?" she asked, and he recognized the pain in her voice in an instant.
"I'm sorry, Oscar. I didn't…think…" He moved away from the bed and scuffed the toe of his shoe against the carpeting of her floor. "Grandmother sent some tea up to you, and…I, uhm, wanted to see if you were doing okay."
He let his eyes rise up from the ground to look at her, and after a moment, when it was apparent he was not leaving until he got his answer, she turned her head toward him. He could tell that she had been crying—her eyes were red and swollen, and her cheeks still a little damp.
"I'm not crying," she said. "Men don't cry."
"Of course not."
"But it does hurt."
"I know." He walked a little closer and touched her hand with his own. "It's dark in here. I'll light some candles."
She didn't argue.
He busied himself with his newfound task, lighting a few candles before making his way back to the bed. "O-oh, Oscar," he gulped, noticing the red streaks across the back of her shirt. "How long have you been in here like this? I'd have come sooner if I'd have known!"
She kept silent for a long moment. "My shirt's stuck to my back," she admitted. "I can't get it off."
He realized that she meant the blood had dried on her back and the shirt was stuck to her in a few places due to that fact. "Well," he said. "I guess we have to get it off like you do a bandage, right? If you rip it off really fast, it's over with faster and it doesn't hurt as bad!"
"O-okay…" Slowly, she got onto her knees and undid the front of her shirt, loosening and taking off her cravat before sliding her arms out of her sleeves. "I'm ready." She closed her eyes tight, knowing that from his position behind her, he could not see.
"Want me to count down?" he asked.
She half-shrugged. It's not as if it mattered, anyway.
A strangled gasp ripped from her throat as the shirt peeled away from her back forcefully. She clenched the comforter on her bed and managed to recover quickly.
"Now, I think you have to wash it off… Ah! In the basin."
He helped her off the bed and followed behind her to the basin that still had water in it from that morning. André fetched a washcloth and dunked it in the water. "It'll probably hurt," he said before going over her back lightly. It really did look terrible, and it probably hurt twice as much. He cringed at the sight and wondered if any of them would scar. He hoped not.
"I think you have to disinfect it, too," she spoke up, and pointed to a cupboard on the far wall of the washroom. "Nanny keeps some stuff in a bottle that she always uses…"
"This bottle?" he asked, holding up a clear one with a blue lid.
"I think so."
He grabbed another cloth and held it at the base of her spine and dribbled the liquid over the lash marks, letting the dry cloth catch it so that it did not soak her pants. He could feel her tense underneath his fingers, but there really wasn't anything he could do about it. After he was done, he wiped it off with the wet washcloth.
"Now…get changed for bed," he said. "I'll, uhm, wait in the foyer. Just let me know when you're done."
She nodded, and five minutes later, he was standing in her room again, pulling the blankets over her as she lay on her side, facing away from the door. "Oscar…" he began, not sure of where he should go or what he should say. "I'm sorry. I didn't really want to win that badly."
"It's okay." She sighed and shifted to try and make herself a little more comfortable. It wasn't going to happen. "It wasn't your fault. If I hadn't taken the stupid thing, none of this would have happened."
"No. Now, please, André… I have fencing with my father tomorrow…"
"I…ah, okay…" There was no way General de Jarjayes would go easy on his "son", even after giving "him" so harsh a punishment. She needed to get some sleep. "Goodnight then, Oscar." He gave her hand a squeeze, relieved to feel her return the gesture weakly, and blew out the candles.
"Goodnight, André," she murmured, closing her eyes.
"If you need anything, Oscar, just ask…"
She didn't answer, but he knew that she heard, and he closed her door behind him as he left, satisfied with that. There was just something…so…he didn't know the word—noble, perhaps?—about her, that made him want to help her and be there with her. He didn't even want to leave her foyer, but he knew that he had to… Nobody would be happy to find him there the next morning, he was sure.
But someday… someday he would have to do something for her as great as what she had done for him, even though she didn't think she had done anything. Did she know how many other people in the world would have chosen to lay the blame on another? She probably didn't. Maybe that was one of the things he loved about her so much. She was the best friend he could have asked for, and before he went to bed that night, he was sure to thank God for her twice over. Once for her presence, and the second time for not letting him lose her that day. And then he asked God to please, please let him stay by her side for another day, because she brought him so much happiness and she needed him, at least a little.
He was drenched in sweat, and he woke up with her name on his lips, though it only came out sounding like a strangled gasp. Suddenly, he realized that he was no longer eight years old, and he and Oscar were not in the water. They were not drowning. He was safe in his bed in the Jarjayes home, and he was panicking for no reason at all.
But oh, it had felt so real! The water surrounding them, her limp hand…
He buried his face in his hands. What if it was some kind of warning, he thought. Maybe…maybe he should check on her, just to make her. She did have the ability to get hurt and not tell anybody, as her incident with Marie Antoinette's horse had proved.
Of course, that had been entirely his fault, and yet… and yet… Again, she had refused to let him take the blame for it. He owed her twice over, now, but this time he knew he owed her his very life. How many years had passed since she'd collapsed after demanding her life be taken before his? He couldn't remember, but the picture was still vivid in his mind.
She had looked so radiant… So…
One look, he decided. Just one look. He would go to her room, he would see her lying peacefully in bed, and he would leave. It would be enough for him to know that she was okay. It really would. His troubled heart would be calmed, and then he could fall back asleep and dream of anything but that terrible day he would never forget. How could he, when it had been the first time he had almost lost her?
Her door squeaked a little when he opened it, and he scowled half-heartedly at it. He could have sworn he oiled the hinges just last week! But no matter. Oscar was the only thing that mattered to him. She was everything to him, she truly was.
It only took him a minute to steal silently across her floor to the doorway of her bedroom, and sure enough, she was tucked under the blankets, sleeping peacefully. He had intended to leave, but…something drew him closer. She was lying on her side, and her hair spilled over her face. He gently brushed it aside and pulled the blankets up just a little higher for her comfort. Her fingers clenched the comforter, one of her hands resting near her mouth.
"Goodnight, Oscar," he whispered, and bent over to kiss her cheek. He did not receive an answer, but he was not disappointed. Just seeing her alive and well was all he needed, right? He felt his heart settle in his chest at the very sight of her.
When he found his way back to his room, the first thing he did was kneel beside his bed and thank God for her twice over. The first time for her presence, and the second time for not letting him lose her that day. And then, finally, he asked God to please, please let him stay by her side for another day, because she brought him so much happiness and she still needed him, at least a little.
I just spent… a long time on this. I'd estimate about…almost 8 hours, on and off, writing this 'fic. Wow. I'm pretty impressed with myself for sticking it out. I almost gave up, but I knew the general direction I wanted to go, even if the ending came as almost a surprise. I wanted to include an adult André in the 'fic, because I thought it was important to tie it in a bit with their past.
Also, I went with the manga/anime mix. In the anime, they say they almost drowned when he was 6 and she was 5. But in the manga, he doesn't even show up until he's 8. So I just went with the manga's account—making them "almost drown" at 7 and 8 years of age, instead. I thought it more dramatic and perhaps more poignant that way. But really, it's all up to everyone to interpret that particular bit as they wish.
There's a little symbolism in here, a dash of humor, and a lot of angst. General de Jarjayes is under my interpretation. I believe he is treating Oscar no different than his own father treated him. Of course, that's all a matter of opinion. He might have been harsher, seeing as how he might want to break her of any feminine anything… Oh well.
There is a very, very slight reference to a song in this 'fic, but I'll bet nobody will recognize it.
Thank you for reading! Feedback is very much appreciated.