Beauty Blooms
By: Manna


xOx…

He tried to run from love.

Now he laughs at how silly the idea was.

He ran thousands of miles away for love. He ran and ran and ran. And he's still running. Running away from the curve of her cheek, her sweet smile, her sparkling, curious eyes, and that endearing laugh. He hears it as he lies in his tent, stretched out looking up at a cloth canopy—the only thing between him and the same sky above her.

He wants to forget her beauty. For her sake, for his. For France! But how can he forget something he loves so much? He doesn't think it's impossible. There's no way he can forget the small things, but he tries to convince himself that even those memories will fade with time.

She was so beautiful. And he could have had her. He felt strangely confident knowing this, and yet…so terrible.

He laughs because she was out of his reach even when her arms were around his neck and her face buried in his chest. Embracing, but never touching.

He entertains thoughts of the two of them in a place nobody will ever find them. America, a soon-to-be free country, where anyone can marry anyone else. Where rank and station and bloodlines don't matter. He wishes he could stay forever, and he would if she was with him.

They'll get married, he thinks, and they'll have a brood of little children that have his nose and chin, but her hair and eyes. Perfection.

But then he wakes up and realizes he's fighting a war. And he runs and runs and runs. Forget her, he tells himself, and his men tell him the same thing. Forget whomever it is you're pining over. This is war, man! War! You might never go home alive. You might die here.

And he wishes and hopes and prays that he does, because it's the only way he can think of to forget her.

xOx…

She's worried. She worries and worries until it becomes so much a part of her that she can't remember a time without feeling the intense pressure pushing against her heart. That is why she tells Oscar she can think calmly of him, now. She loves him so much that she can't, even for a second, believe that he isn't coming back to her.

He will return, she tells herself. He'll return because she loves him and he loves her, and nothing can keep them apart. Not gunfire, not injuries, not heartache or fear or a vast ocean. He will come back, and he'll be so handsome she'll blush just to look upon him.

She spends her nights thinking of the texture of his hair and the curve of his lips when he smiles. She kisses her children goodnight and wonders how things might be if they were his, too. They'd be happy together…no, they will be. Because he's coming back to her, and happiness is all that rests in their future. He'll wrap his arms around her and she'll press her face against his chest and feel the warmth and smell the scent that is so very distinctly him.

So she wishes and hopes and prays to God not to take him away from her because what they have is love, and not everyone is blessed enough to find it in this world.

xOx…

He doesn't die. He fights, and he is victorious. He wonders if it's a curse, but then he remembers the words delivered to him just before his departure to America: to fight well, to win, and to return safely.

Perhaps it is her words that keep him alive, because it's almost like he can see the tears and her hurt expression and he knows he is the one who caused them. Guilt settles over him when he remembers how he left her without a personal goodbye, but he knows that if he had seen her that day, he would still be in France.

He wonders how she is doing, if she is all right…if her smile is as radiant as it always had been.

His memory of her is accurate, but he doesn't think she can get any prettier. She's so exquisite, delicate… like a butterfly or an expensive vase. She is so lovely that he wonders sometimes if she isn't a dream. He wants to forget her, but at the same time he can't. He refuses to let go of something so precious, that means so very much to him.

He's never been so torn in his life. He tries not to think of her, but he always does at the worst times.

Beauty blooms amid gunfire and exploding cannons.

He wants to see her again, but he is afraid of what might happen, of what he might do.

The war ends and he's so happy he feels like his heart will burst. Men write letters home to their friends, their families, their wives. Everyone is so excited to go home that it makes him happy, too. He wonders if he will go to see his Antoinette. Men start to leave, some carrying the keepsakes of their fellow soldiers with them, and he's so glad that it's not him, that word of his death will not fall on the ears of his beloved, that his parents will not hold what remains of him with sorrow weighing their shoulders down.

But he's lying in bed, tossing and turning as she hovers over him. She smiles and strokes the side of his face, and she's so beautiful that it makes him hurt. Is this what he's been waiting for? Is this what he's run away from? Oh, dear God, what has he done? He asks himself over and over again as he fights the fever. Why did he leave her? How could he leave Marie Antoinette, the most beautiful woman in the world? What had he been thinking, wanting to run away from her sweet smile and her love?

When he opens his eyes, there's no one there, and he isn't sure that what he saw was really her, anymore. But he fights and fights and fights, harder and with more ferocity than he used while he fought the war. This is war of a different sort, one that requires more than strength and courage.

It requires heart.

xOx…

She wonders why he isn't home yet, and she knows others are worried, too. She's heard rumors of her favorite Royal Guard getting into a barfight, telling Fersen to go to hell, and it hurts her to think about it. Oscar won't come to visit her, and she feels so very alone in the big empty Trianon with her children's laughter being her only company.

And she loves them, more than the entire world. More than Fersen, even! But she feels as if a part of her is missing, and she's terrified that behind Oscar's icy mask, the other woman wonders if they'll hear of the Swedish count's death. He's not on the list of the deceased or the wounded, so where is he? Her heart aches more and more with every passing day, and she spends all of her time with the children, because their bright smiles and cheerful outlook on life are the only things that keep her going sometimes.

xOx…

He returns to France, but he tells himself not to see Marie Antoinette. Instead, he goes to see Oscar, because who would know Lady Antoinette better than she?

He doesn't realize that he's breaking the colonel's heart. He doesn't see the way she looks at him. He only thinks of Marie Antoinette and Oscar's words that tell him she's even more beautiful than she was when he left. He believes her…she would know, after all. But he fences with André and has a good time and smiles a lot even when he doesn't feel like it because he knows better than to act on his thoughts.

He can't see her. If he does, he'll want nothing more than to take her in his arms and kiss her until neither one of them can breathe properly.

The worst part is that he knows that's what she'll want, too.

xOx…

She's so happy to see him again that it makes her sick. Instantly, he's forgiven for being gone and not even sending a letter, for leaving her in the first place, for anything and everything he may or may not have done. He's even more handsome, and it almost takes her breath away because he looks as if he's grown up in his absence. His face seems more angular, but his lips…ah, they're just as soft, as sweet.

She buries her face in his chest and clings to the material of his clothes. He smells like war, she thinks; though it's been finished for quite some time now and she doesn't even know what war could possibly smell like, she cries and she cries and she cries, because when a man is at war, they're only one bullet away from God himself.

xOx…

He sits alone in his study, as angry and hateful as he'd been since the day his beloved had died. Life has no meaning, now. Nothing. All he can think of is her pretty smile, but in his dreams, it's always replaced by her calm acceptance on the day she died or the fear on her face as he galloped away, leaving her with her husband.

He wonders bitterly if things would have been okay if he'd done what he wanted to do from the beginning.

They could have run away together…far, far away. To America, even! But now she's dead and he's left with her memory and everyone's hatred towards her. It makes him sick to hear them talk of her, because he loved her so much that he'd never done anything for himself. He'd never fall so far in love with a woman as terrible as the one they described.

They were talking about someone else.

But oh, he hates life. Curses it with every breath he takes because he is the last one and he hates it. Oscar is dead, André is dead, and so is his dear Marie Antoinette. Is there anything worth living for? He cries and lashes out at the people who try to get close to him because even his own parents are dead and damn everyone else to fucking hell because he's still alive.

He wanders to his bed and falls onto it, neither tired nor awake. He feels nothing these days except emptiness, anger, and regret, but even the regret is mostly fueled by anger. He would cry, but he's out of tears. He shed them all after her death, and he's not cried since.

Life is just life, and he'll live it until he dies. He just wishes it would end sooner. He remembers the war in America and how many times he'd nearly died from a stray bullet or a frightened horse, and he curses and screams and throws his pillows and his vases against the wall because he had been unable to forget her and he hadn't really tried.

He wishes someone would have just put a fucking bullet in his head and ended his miserable existence before it even began.

He dreams of the war, and of her. Each night, she becomes more beautiful, and each morning, he hates his life a little more. He tosses and turns restlessly as he hears the other men in his company telling him to forget her, and he pushes at them futilely, because he can't forget her and he doesn't want to anymore. She's like a rosebud that blooms amid blazing guns and exploding cannons.

When he wakes, the words are still echoing in his head, and he throws the wineglass on his nightstand against the wall, angrily. Why didn't he listen to them? Why the fuck hadn't he listened to those men when they told him to stop thinking of her?

It was war! He could have died there!

And now he wishes he had.


xOx…

Author Notes:

Not much to say here, really. Just…something I thought about while I was at work last week. Fersen must have really hated everything after Antoinette died, to drive him to such a horrible destiny.

But really, he should have just let them think he died, or he should have sent a letter and never returned. At least he would have escaped everything, I guess. (And perhaps others might have, too.)