Then You Stand
Chapter One: Alcohol
Alcohol is something I used to believe was a good thing. Not too long ago, I would have scorned the idea of drinking for any reason except in celebration, and I might have laughed in the face of anyone who dared to suggest that someday I would be drinking it to forget.
Wine makes one's mind fuzzy, and I guess at the time there were a lot of things in my life that I wanted to see disappear. Unfortunately, problems do not go away easily, so the alternate route—not facing anything—seemed the best choice.
I'd just forget it. Everything.
For only one night, I would drink and I would do it to forget. On a whim, on a split-second decision, I asked André to take me to Paris where I could drink and forget Fersen and Lady Antoinette and my father… but mostly myself and my confused feelings.
I remember thinking that I could not wait to down that first mug. How wonderful it would be for life to become a blur…
André was filling her glass, and as soon as it was so full it nearly sloshed over the top, her fingers closed around the handle and she downed it in one long swig.
"It's a good idea to get drunk once in awhile," André was saying, but Oscar tried to both ignore and acknowledge his words at once. Good? Well, perhaps.
But why, then, was this feeling not going away? Had she not had enough to drink? Was that the problem? An almost-image of Fersen seemed to float in front of her eyes.
Unobtainable, she thought. Was that why she liked him, why she felt drawn to him? Perhaps it was. But she was certain that particular problem fell under the category of things she'd prefer to forget for the moment, and she looked at her empty mug and wondered why she was still thinking of him.
The truth was, one thing worried her more than these feelings and the fact that he had yet to return to France despite the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. The feelings she had for Hans Axel von Fersen were slowly waning. Fading. Disappearing. Why? If she loved him as she thought she did—or had—why would she not feel for him just as strongly now as she did when he left for America?
Time would not be a factor. Lady Marie Antoinette was an open book, and even Oscar knew that after all the time that had passed, the Queen of France loved him just as strongly, if not more than she had when he ran all those thousands of miles away. She could think calmly of him now. Calmly? What did that mean, exactly? What did she mean, calmly?
Why was she so different from Lady Antoinette? She was still a woman. They both were! So why was there a difference? She didn't understand how it was possible that they were both born women, they both loved Fersen, and despite the amount of time that had elapsed since either of them had last seen him and the worry they felt because of it, Marie Antoinette's heart seemed to be so much truer, filled with more strength and passion than her own.
Wondering why was getting her nowhere. Didn't she want to just forget about the stupid man who had done nothing but confuse her since she'd happened to meet him?
She poured another mug, filling it to the top and ignoring what she spilled on the table on accident. André had fallen silent, but he spoke again, and Oscar wondered if he was just making some silly sort of attempt to get her to stop drinking.
Of course, "You've had enough, Oscar."
She threw him a withering glare that didn't even seem to phase him. It was probably the alcohol in him, she thought. Or in her. Either way, it was the damned alcohol. She could hardly believe that she was drinking it, anyway. What was one more problem to add to the pile? It didn't matter. Nothing really mattered.
"Don't worry, Oscar. He will definitely come back alive. Fersen will, I mean."
"I looked up his name. He's not listed on the casualty list, at least."
She tried to read his expression, but he only looked sad. She wondered why. And she wondered how he knew what was bothering her when she hadn't spoken a word. Her thoughts were churning almost violently, and she looked down at the table to avoid eye contact.
"What are you saying?" Inside, her heart told her to spill her guts to André—God, that soldier's keepsake could just as easily have been Fersen's and not a stranger's— but she beat those thoughts back as quickly as they came despite her slowed reaction time due to her intake of whichever wine or beer André had gotten them. She couldn't tell André. She just…she couldn't. And she didn't even know why. "Talking about what?" she continued. "You suddenly…"
Why did her voice sound so broken, just then? Wasn't alcohol liquid courage? It certainly didn't seem like it. But maybe she just hadn't had enough. Her fingers closed around the bottle, and she poured herself more. André only watched, and she sighed, suddenly feeling as if he knew more than he was letting on. Maybe everyone did.
Her gaze was focused on that last little bit in the bottom of the mug after she had managed to down it all.
Courage… Yes, well, she could certainly use some right about now. To face herself. But…she was herself, so why was she afraid?
"Hey, hey, Monsieur… You really toss it down."
She didn't acknowledge the stranger's presence until he was right next to her, and she looked up to see an ordinary man. He wasn't anything special or great, but neither was she or anyone else who bothered to go to Paris with the intent of getting drunk.
"How about another cup?"
Maybe her reply sounded rude. Maybe she should not have turned her head. Maybe she should have taken some of his wine. But she just wanted left alone. André was respecting her silence. Why couldn't this stranger follow his example? He didn't even know her, and yet…he wanted to bother her. "No, thanks." She just wanted…
"Hey! Are you sayin' my wine's not good enough for you?"
Before the words even left his mouth, André was standing up, and Oscar looked back down at the remnants of her drink. He was probably offering to take it, himself. It wouldn't surprise her at all. It would be just like him to placate her in any way possible. She was half-listening as the man pushed André away from him and turned to look back at her.
"Wow… The more I look at you, the more amazing you look!"
Was it admiration in his voice? What was it? It was annoying, and she didn't even bother to look up at him. She realized that she had no desire to see the look on his face. In fact, it was probably better that she didn't.
"What a beautiful soldier!" the man was saying, and Oscar wondered what André was doing. Probably looking defensive already. He would know this man was getting on her nerves with every idiotic word that came out of his mouth. She only kept her silence, her hands in front of her.
"You must be a minor officer to come to a place like this," a different man was saying, but she ignored him the same as the first, and the ones to follow.
Hey, men! Even Zeus would drool over this man!"
"You had a fight with your woman, didn't you? And now you feel rotten!"
"C'mon brother, drink with us!"
"Wow, not even Narcissus has a face as pretty as yours!"
Man? Man? With a pretty face? She could let it go. And she probably would have, too, but within seconds he had her bangs clasped in his fingers, the nails digging into her scalp. That was something she would never let go. He had no business touching her when he did not even know her! No business at all!
"Now, drink, beautiful one."
His words made her want to swing her fist straight into his face, and despite André's shout not to do it, she felt an almost satisfying crunch as her knuckles connected with the man's nose. The breaking glasses and tipped tables were only an added bonus. She could hit and she could hit hard, especially when provoked. She vaguely noticed that André looked…smug? Strange. But she was angry. She was really angry.
"Wow," a few men said, and she half-realized the entire establishment's eyes were on her.
"Who do you think you are, bastard?"
"Haha, whoa! He sure is spunky, isn't he?"
"A beautiful soldier?! Hah!" She stood tall as she sent a scorching glare down at the man. "If you lay your greasy paws on me again, I swear I'll rearrange the features of your face!" Her breath was hard to catch, and she assumed that it was because she was so upset. But somewhere in the back of her mind, she thought her reaction time could have been better. "Get within an inch of me, and I'll smash you into the ground…"
"You seem really rough, eh, my beautiful palace guard? Are you showing off again tonight?"
That got her attention. The voice…something about it. Not only were the words it was speaking pretty damned stupid—she belonged to no one!— but it seemed…familiar. She turned around, and so did André. Her voice sounded breathless. "You're Robespierre!"
He smiled. "Right. It must be fate that keeps bringing us together. First in Arras, and now here. I'm a lawyer in Paris…for the people."
"For the people?" she echoed. What was that supposed to mean? She tried to wrap her brain around it, but she was unsuccessful.
"Palace Guard?" The man sitting with Robespierre scowled and pointed right at her. She felt taken aback, but she wasn't sure why. "He's the Queen's dog!"
"I guess so," the lawyer answered, and then shrugged. "But calm down, Bernard Châtalet."
She was watching Robespierre when chaos erupted across the entire bar. She should have seen it coming, she thought. But it was too late.
André hadn't wanted to bring Oscar to Paris. As the various men crowded around them, their angry voices clearly displeased, he reflected back on when she had mentioned going to drink in Paris. How much he had wanted to tell her that he wouldn't go with her, that she oughtn't do things like that to herself, that she'd be better off just going home and crawling into bed.
But no… He had agreed because he had a terrible time refusing her anything. After all, it was Oscar. She was the most important person in his life. He only wished he had the courage to stand up to her, especially when it could be for her own good.
"A royal guard?"
"That means he's a nobleman!"
"Nobles? In our bar?"
"In our Paris?"
"I wonder why a nobleman would bother to come here? Eh, Palace Guard? Why don't you tell us why you'd bother to set one of your pretty clean boots in here?"
"Just looking at you makes me sick!"
"Kick him out! Kick the Queen's Dog out!"
Well, well… The Jarjayes mansion was looking terribly nice, André thought. His fists were clenched. He knew what was going to come before it came. Barfights were common. The people were angry, and the presence of a nobleman drinking their cheap wine and sitting among them was not helping things.
"Kick the Queen's Dog out! Kick him out! Kick them both out!"
Oscar's back was to him—he could feel her shoulder blades through his coat—but he was still worried. Their situation was a bad one. There were more than a dozen drunken men and only two of them. He himself hadn't had much to drink, but Oscar… She had enough alcohol in her that it could easily impede her ability to fight well enough to protect herself. Not that it would do much good either way, he thought. A dozen versus two did not give them good odds. No, not at all.
"What the hell are you doing here, you aristocrats?!"
"Drag them out and beat the shit out of them! It's what their kind deserve!"
"Do you even know what we've been eating every day? Do you? Do you?!"
"I dare you to try it! I'm in a terrible mood. Just go ahead and try it!" Oscar's voice slashed through his thoughts sharper than any sword. No, no, no! She really had had too much to drink if she thought she could take on a dozen men who were not only drunk, but livid with anger at noblemen and the royalty. And Oscar herself was the very thing they hated most—a nobleman who served royalty!
"Oscar, stop it!" His voice came out harsher than he intended, and he wanted to turn around and shake her to get her to understand that now was really the opposite of a good time to try and provoke someone. But she didn't listen. She only snorted in indignation and clenched her fist, keeping her back rigid.
"We hate men who wag their tails for royalty!"
"Kill the aristocrat! Kill those that dare to eat while we starve!"
"Oscar, run! Run!" He knew she wouldn't listen. And it wasn't as if she had time to try before fists and feet came flying at them. He was pulled away from her almost instantly and he would have panicked, but the feeling of someone's fist against the side of his face quickly brought him back to reality. He had to get out of this alive. He had to get back to Oscar. What if she needed his help?
He counted the men he was up against. Four…five? Oscar likely had more than he did. And she was half-drunk and angry, which meant she would hit hard but not accurately. He struggled. Hard. One man or a hundred—they could not keep him from her. And she needed him. She really did. Maybe he had convinced himself of this fact, or maybe it was just a feeling, but he fought with everything he had.
I don't know why I fought as hard as I did. I remember feeling absolutely terrible, as if I'd broken something, and even though I had, at the time it didn't matter. Oscar was all that mattered to me. Why would I ever put myself above her? All I knew was that she needed me, and I couldn't even see her for all the men that were ganging up on her.
But I could hear her. I heard her tell Fersen go to hell, and all I could think was that I had been right all along. I hadn't really doubted it. I knew Oscar well enough to tell when something was bothering her, and really, after what had happened, what else could it possibly be? It hurt to know that she was letting Fersen of all people hurt her. She didn't deserve to hurt.
A fist connected with the side of my face, and I crashed into a table, sending it to the floor along with me. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of her—she had kicked a man hard enough that he had been knocked out cold. I felt strangely smug about it and temporarily forgot that I was fighting, too.
I always did like watching her.
Suddenly, they were holding her down and going through every pocket they could find, paying no heed to her clothes or how much they had to rip at them. I realized they were after money, but my heart was pounding in my chest fearfully—and it wasn't due to the alcohol or the fighting.
I was watching Oscar's face when it happened. There was blood on her cheek and I could see bruises already forming in various locations. The furious look on her face suddenly fled and was replaced by one full of confusion and surprise. I felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me.
"What?!" one of the men exclaimed, and the noise level in the building dropped to a disturbing silence.
"Holy Mother of God!"
"What? A woman?"
"Damn! This officer isn't a man! It's a woman!"
It wasn't just anger in their eyes anymore. It was something different. Hunger, perhaps.
"Do you know what we do to bitches like you?"
I didn't like the sound of his voice. Of any of their voices; I started to go to her.
If there was ever a time in her life when she needed me, it was that moment. But a bottle of wine came down on the back of my head, and I heard the glass shattering as I hit the floor.
"Oscar," I managed to croak out, but she was too far away, and all I saw before darkness overtook my unwilling mind was her eyes. They were wide with shock and something else… I realized as my own eyes fluttered closed that it was fear.
"What if the men in the bar had found out Oscar was a woman?"
Well, the results aren't pretty, but I'm sure you could guess that. I'm trying a new writing style with this one, and I combined both the anime and the manga as best as I could. But here is where the similarities in the manga and anime end, because the story will take a route that is not quite the same.
Thanks for reading—feedback is always appreciated.