Dedication: For André! Happy Birthday to our favorite guy who was born August 26th, 1754.
The stables were quiet. As he led his and Oscar's horses through the wide double doors into the dark interior, he kicked at a bale of straw and grumbled to himself. Did the queen think that Oscar had nothing better to do than chit-chat? If so, she was gravely mistaken. Wasn't she? Oscar had many other things to do that were far more important than discussing the weather—which, by the way, was just fine and had been all week.
"Oh, what lovely weather we're having," he mimicked, rolling his eyes as he unbuckled the saddles and slid the bridles off of the horses heads. He finally sighed as he closed the door to the tack room behind him and grabbed a brush to give the two mares a quick once-over with the currycomb. "I'm only tired," he said to Oscar's horse. "That's why I'm in such a foul mood. I just don't understand why Lady Antoinette is so selfish sometimes."
André's horse snorted at him.
"Chevis, don't look at me like that. No, I haven't gone crazy! You weren't there so you don't know. They just went on and on and…well, Lady Antoinette went on and on! Oscar just kind of stood there. She's been awake until late every night this week. I don't understand why Lady Antoinette couldn't see that she was exhausted and needed to go home and get some sleep."
He mumbled under his breath as he continued to curry the horses. It was like Oscar had been dead on her feet all day. He supposed another two hours of "girl talk"—hah, whatever that entailed besides weather forecasts and other silly things Oscar didn't even care about—wouldn't hurt. But it was after dusk before they left, and now it was terribly late, and he still had to…
Ah, forget it. He'd just water the horses and make sure the doors got locked and then go inside. It was just how things worked. It wouldn't take too long, and then he'd go and check to see if Oscar had gone off to bed. If she hadn't…well, he might be forced to say something to her, because she really, really needed her rest. After all, what if she got sick, or…? He shook his head. That was enough thoughts like that for one night. Everything was just fine… And anyway, if Oscar got sick, it would be the perfect excuse for him to sit up with her all day to make sure she got her rest. He chuckled and grabbed two pails to fill with water for the horses.
Oscar sighed and threw her jacket across the chair in front of the fireplace in her foyer. She was tired.
Tired? No, that was an understatement. She was downright exhausted. Maybe it was all of the drama at Versailles, maybe it was because her back was killing her and her feet hurt, or maybe it was because she hadn't been sleeping worth anything for pretty much as far back as she could remember. Had it only been a week? Two weeks? Three? Four? She couldn't recall and didn't really care to try.
Marie Antoinette was probably digging herself a hole, and there was nothing she or anyone else could do about it. She wondered why it was that the people closest to her were the ones who had the most trouble saying what needed to be said. Ah, it was because she always looked so happy, that was why.
Happiness. What was it, anyway? Just a word. Yes, that was all. She took a glass and a bottle of wine from a cupboard in the foyer and squinted to read the label. She couldn't really make out the date on it, and just shrugged and poured herself a glass. It didn't matter. Whatever it was, it'd be good enough for her. The de Jarjayes family didn't have bad wine. It just wasn't possible. Of course, some was better than others. And some was stronger than others, but it didn't matter.
Not tonight. Tonight, she was going to have fun. But it was late, so that meant pounding on piano keys incessantly to whatever song came to mind was a big no-no. She drank the entire glass in one gulp and poured another, drumming the fingernails of one hand against the small countertop as she thought. Now, what could she do?
After a few minutes, she moved to the window and set both her glass and her bottle there as she watched the moon. Well, it was a beautiful night, she admitted to herself. There was a moon that was almost full out, and everything was so peaceful… She smiled a bit to herself and noticed a figure walking around. She realized immediately that it was André, and when he came out of the shadows she saw the buckets in his hand and knew what he was doing.
Water for the horses, eh? Well, that meant he'd be inside sooner or later, and André…well…
She downed her second glass and poured a third as she watched him carry the pails full of water back to the stables. Water was sloshing on his pants and his boots, and without being able to see clearly, she knew he was biting his lip. In fact, his tongue might just be poking out of his mouth as he tried to walk steadily enough to keep more water in the pails than on the ground.
André would know something fun. Right? Ever since they'd been kids, he'd either followed her stupid plans or he'd come up with his own. His had always been better than hers. She crinkled her nose at herself and wandered into her room, taking her glass with her. Actually, all of his plans had worked out without them getting busted, and almost all of hers had ended up with them getting in trouble.
Well, with her getting in trouble. Since they were her plans. But she couldn't deny that André had been punished right alongside her enough to make her feel guilty to the point of being angry with him for days afterward.
"I told you; it was my idea so it was my responsibility!"
She chuckled as she sat down on the bed and let her wineglass rest on her nightstand. Well, either way, her boots had to come off. She pulled on them and finally managed to free them from her feet, one after the other. Damn, she was good. She tossed them casually into the corner and hoped the loud thump of them hitting the hardwood floor didn't wake anyone up.
Waiting patiently had never been her strong suit. In fact, it was most likely her weakest point. Waiting was something she hated a lot. She waited at Versailles all day—mostly for the day to end—and she didn't like coming home and waiting for dinner and waiting for a carriage to go to town and waiting for someone when she wanted to talk to them now. But it was something she couldn't control for the most part, and it was something she'd deal with in her own way.
She downed the third glass slower than the first two, savoring the taste of the wine instead of swallowing it without bothering to care, though to be fair, by that time the taste wasn't as important as its side effects. She wanted to pour a fourth, but she realized the bottle was in the other room and she fell back on her bed, leaving the empty cup on the nightstand, all but forgotten as she waited to see if André would show up.
Of course he would.
He always did.
Though she wasn't quite sure why. Was he worried about her? 'Cause she'd be fine, just fine. She always was, wasn't she? When had she ever failed to miss work due to not being fine? Never. But if he didn't show up soon, she'd just spend her time flopped on her bed until she fell asleep.
André tried to be quiet entering the mansion. After all, he came through the back door as all servants did—the only exception was when he went somewhere with Oscar and he left through the main doors—but the biggest problem was that the servants slept in that wing of the house and if he wasn't careful, he could have ten servants and twenty maids surrounding him. Not to mention Grandma. Oh, but not her! She'd have a lecture for him that would leave his ears ringing for a month, he was certain.
Oh, well you should have made sure Oscar got back before dark! Do you know she skips dinner when you bring her home so late? What kind of friend are you? Come on, André, take better care of her!
He grinned to himself as he imagined what she'd say to him. All that and more, most likely. But in all honesty, he wasn't Oscar's keeper. He couldn't always prevent things from happening, and Oscar—despite what good friends they were—would not always listen when he said something. It wasn't as if it was his place to say anything to her to begin with. She had a life just like anyone else, and she was entitled to live it as she saw fit.
The door to the hallway creaked slightly as he opened it and again as he managed to close it behind him. Stupid door…ugh. He'd have to remember to oil the hinges because nobody else would bother to do it. And it needed done. But that was beside the point. He shuffled down the hallway and up the stairs as quietly as possible considering his rather bitter mood.
If he found her asleep in her chair or at her desk doing paperwork, or worse—asleep at her desk doing paperwork—he was going to go absolutely insane. Mentally. Because it wasn't as if he could actually scold the Queen of France for keeping Oscar up too late. Even though he sorely wanted to.
He made it to Oscar's door in record shuffling-footsteps-time, and was about to knock on her door when he noticed that it was already open. He wondered at it for a moment, but shrugged and assumed she'd left it open thinking he'd drop by to see if she was still breathing. After all, if he remembered things right, she looked about ready to drop off of her horse by the time they'd gotten home. And that was never a good thing.
"Oscar?" he called tentatively, peering into her foyer and scratching the back of his head when he did not see her there. "Are you in here, Oscar?"
"André?" her voice sounded muffled, and he realized she was in her bedroom. Maybe it was better to leave… She was probably almost asleep and he'd woken her up—oh, wait. The candles were still flickering, and she would have put them out beforehand unless she was absolutely out of it…
He wondered if it was an order, but he didn't really care. If she wanted him for anything, he'd be there. Unless, of course, she wanted to use him as a shooting target, because then he wouldn't agree. But he sincerely doubted that she would be so angry with him that she'd suggest such a thing.
"What is it, Oscar?" he asked, puzzled to walk into her room to find her flopped on her bed, sans boots, and apparently sans dignity as well, considering her shirt was unbuttoned quite far. She sat up and stretched and smiled widely at him. Her clothes were wrinkled and her eyes a bit droopy.
"Hello," she said.
André was confused for just a moment. It was a small, rather short, mostly unimportant moment. But it wasn't like Oscar to be so… so… "Hello…"
Silence fell over the both of them until Oscar grinned and gave a laugh that sounded terribly girly, giving André was could be considered momentary heart failure. "Oscar, did you have too much to drink…again?"
"No," she answered after a lengthy pause, and then glanced over at the empty wineglass on her nightstand.
André shook his head. "I think you should go to bed."
"Not yet. Come here." She patted the bed beside her and he moved closer but did not take a seat beside her.
"What is it?" he asked again.
"Come on, André, sit down. I don't bite." Her eyes were narrowed a little in annoyance as she grabbed his arms and tried to force him to sit. He finally complied, and then she smiled and poked his arm. "Much, anyway."
"What's the matter with you? Are you sure you drank wine and not something…else?"
"I didn't drink anything. I'm perfectly fine. What about you? Are you fine?"
"I'm fine, Oscar."
"Oh." Silence took over again before she stretched again and stood. "Let's go do something," she said nonchalantly, as if going and doing something in the middle of the night was completely normal and they did it all of the time. "You know, like we used to."
Oh. Right. Like we used to. He shook his head and smiled. "Do you have something in mind, Oscar?" he asked. He'd humor her, at least. After all, she was cute when she was a bit out of it… She was cute all of the time, but… she rarely let a more playful side of herself out.
"I can't remember anything specific," she admitted, chewing on her lower lip as she thought. "I was hoping you could help."
"We used to raid the kitchen for cookies Grandma left out," he said, grinning widely at the memory of Grandma catching them and smacking them both upside the head with a ladle. "Oh, and I think we tried playing hide-and-seek in the dark, once…and we never did get caught doing that…"
"I remember that…" Oscar murmured. "Let's do that. After we get some food. I'm a bit hungry, aren't you?"
"Okay, we'll get some food. I doubt there'll be much to choose from, though, considering we missed dinner."
"I know." She fell silent and walked out of the room, André silently following. She seemed…different. And not just in the way she was acting, either. She was…. Ugh. He couldn't tell. It was eating at him, though. Slowly gnawing away at his mind, and he was sure if he didn't figure it out soon it'd pester him all night and probably all of the next day, too. Was she shorter?
Once in the kitchen, André lit a candle and found some butter and Oscar found bread. They hastily buttered uneven slices of the bread that Oscar cut herself—and she seemed pretty darn proud of the job she did—and then beat a fast retreat out the back door. Once in the fresh air, Oscar smiled widely and looked up at the moon, breaking a small piece of the corner of her bread off before tossing it into her mouth. "It's nice out, tonight," she said to him.
He couldn't think of anything to say to that. He ate the bread and made a face. "This is a terrible dinner," he told her. "I'll bet there's better food in there somewhere if you want more to eat."
"I'm fine," she said, and she continued to eat what she had until she was done. Finally, she spoke up, "André, let's go to the tree."
The tree? Why there? Well, he wasn't going to complain. "Okay," he answered, shrugging his shoulders and walking just behind her. After all, she was a bit off-kilter…it would be better for him to stay close by just in case she tripped or fainted or only God knew what could happen.
Once there, she turned toward him and smiled prettily, her hands clasped behind her back. "Isn't this where we used to count?" she asked him.
"I thought you couldn't remember."
"I needed some food to jog my memory."
"Yes, Oscar, this is where we used to count…"
"Good." She crouched down by the tree trunk and covered her eyes with her arms, folding them around her body. "You hide, and I'll count to…fifty, and I'll come and find you."
He raised his eyebrows as she began counting, but did not make a move to leave.
"One…two…three…four…six…twenty-three and-a-half, thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two…"
"Thirty-four, thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-nine…"
"Oscar!" He shook her shoulder lightly, but she kept counting. "Oscar, your counting is all…oh, forget it."
She grinned, but he couldn't see. "Forty, forty-one, forty-three, forty-four, forty-six…"
André scrambled to find a place to hide…oh! He had it. The perfect place… And close by, too…
She loved messing with him, sometimes. He was so cute when he was confused, and she had always had this power of confusing him. She wasn't sure if it was something she was proud of or not, but she was almost certain that it was a God-given talent. At least, that was how she had felt as a child, when he scratched his head and couldn't figure out why he always picked a hiding spot she was able to find him in. Far too predictable, she would tell him, and he would always answer that he thought it was a good place to hide!
Well, she was feeling pretty good. This was fun. This was what she was talking about! There wasn't anything wrong with an adult reliving a childhood experience, was there? Especially if her father never found out about it. Sure, somewhere in the back of her tipsy mind, she realized it was rather immature, and imagine the looks she'd get if people found out that Colonel Oscar François de Jarjayes was playing games in the dark outside! Well, they'd probably turn it into something scandalous, but…
They didn't matter. This was for her. For her sanity. She needed this or else she'd be drinking herself into an emotional sobbing stupor, and what would people think then? Hm? And André would probably…she didn't want to think about it. Whenever she drank too much and fell asleep partway through, she'd wake up the next morning to find herself in bed with her boots off and the covers pulled over her. Well, someone had to have put her to bed. It wasn't fair for her to be some kind of a leech like that and make him help her out.
She tried to ignore that he was still helping her of his own free will, because it wasn't like he had to come and check on her… He could just go to bed, himself…
"Forty-nine… Fifty!" She opened her eyes and slowly stood from her crouching position, feeling her knees and calves whining in protest from the sudden movement. "Ready or not…here I come!"
She stood still for one long second, and then ambled around slowly to the other side of the tree, her steps silent against the grass. There was André, as predicted. Sitting down, eyes closed, head on his arms that were resting on his knees. Once again, he picked his favorite hiding spot, and once again, she found him.
She didn't know why she was so happy.
She didn't know why she jumped him, either, flinging her arms around him as she nearly tackled him. "I found you," she whispered in his ear after he nearly leapt a mile into the air. She laughed at his reaction, expecting it but still no less amused by his wide green eyes.
"I guess you did," he whispered back, and his voice sounded nervous. She wondered why, but shrugged it off. They acted like this as kids and he'd never been nervous then. It was probably her imagination. It was just good to see that everything didn't change. "How did you find me?"
"You always hide here," she said, as if making the statement current.
He smiled, "I know."
"Do you want me to hide?" she asked him, her voice still hushed.
"Why are we whispering?"
"I don't know." In a louder voice, "Do you want me to hide?"
He smiled wider and shook his head. "No, I don't."
She didn't know there were a lot of reasons why that he wouldn't tell her. A lot of underlying thoughts and feelings surrounding the fact that he never wanted her to ever hide from him. For any reason, least of all as part of a game.
"Oh…" she sounded disappointed.
"I'd never find you, Oscar. Especially not in the dark. You'd be out here all night and you'd probably get sick and go to Versailles and then infect everyone there. Don't you think we should get to sleep for the night?"
"I suppose so…"
André got to his feet and offered her his hand. It was a rare occurrence indeed when Oscar would accept assistance, but she did. It was what her heart was telling her to do, and she wouldn't refuse it. It just…it felt right. And André's hand was warm while hers was cold; it was a fair tradeoff to give him some of her chill for some of his warmth.
"Thank you," she said as she stood up and almost tripped over the most obvious root from the oak tree that was sticking up in plain view of all who happened by, even with only the light of the moon to see by.
André caught her by the shoulders and suddenly stopped and blinked. "You're not wearing your shoes," he said as if he had just noticed.
"I know," she said. "I wear those boots every day. My feet were killing me. I didn't think it'd hurt anything to not wear them for a bit."
"Just…watch out where you walk. Don't hurt yourself…"
Oscar was safe in bed and André sighed with relief as he shut her door behind him. Well, he'd just witnessed Oscar looking more beautiful than he had ever seen her before. The women at Versailles could try to look as beautiful as they wanted by doing their hair up and wearing expensive dresses, but none of them could even come close to comparing to the woman he'd just spent his evening with.
They'd done nothing wrong. She hadn't worn anything revealing, even though her shirt had slipped and it was unbuttoned a little more than he was used to. They'd laughed a little and had a terrible dinner and she'd gone barefoot and her hair was tousled by a light breeze and God she was amazing!
And she had laughed. He sighed happily as he entered his own room and made sure his door was closed. Some people thought church bells or falling rain was the most beautiful sound in the world, but he'd be damned if he wouldn't admit—if only to himself—that Oscar's laugh was just…indescribable. It was that lovely.
He smiled as he lay in bed, realizing after a few minutes that he was no longer in a foul mood at all. Usually he was the calm one, placating Oscar in some way…calming her down, holding her back when she needed him too. But no, she had been the one to help him. He decided that he liked it.
He'd have to work hard to make her smile and laugh without the aid of alcohol. It couldn't hurt, right? After all, the way her face lit up…it blew him away.
And the sound of her voice… "I found you…"
It was still echoing in his ears. He closed his eyes. The truth was, he was still hiding from her. Though he was doing it to protect them both, it would make him the happiest man alive if she could truly find him.
She would. He knew she would.
So he would wait for her to seek him out.
Happy Birthday to André. Ah… I'm finishing writing this half an hour before midnight. Wow. I've spent forever working on this. I hoped to write more 'fics tonight, but... See if you can find all of the symbolism, eh? Thanks for reading! Feedback is much appreciated.