If it Takes a Lifetime
Dedication: Happy Birthday, WhiteTigerLilly! (Josie, you're amazing!)
"Oscar." He shook her fragile shoulders gently and after a moment, she blinked at him; evidently, she was still tired. "We're here."
Some might have said that they were fortunate to escape the battle for the Bastille, and they certainly felt lucky—after all, they were both still alive—but they knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that many trials awaited them.
"Now, I want you to rest," he told her as they walked in through the front door. He was carrying their luggage, what little they had, and she carried only her sword, though she hardly seemed able to continue standing.
"Where is the—" She paused as she heard a thud and turned just in time to see André backing away from an inconveniently placed wall. "I'll rest," she said dryly, "but when you need to get around the house, let me help you."
"I can still see shadows," he argued, though his heart wasn't in it.
"But you didn't see that wall."
"Fine, fine, you win."
She took his arm and led him through the house until she found their bedroom, and gently instructed him on where to lay their luggage.
Before the end of the day, their few belongings were put away, and André had made dinner; it consisted of two potatoes and a little bit of salt for flavoring. He insisted that she couldn't boil water, let alone bake anything, but she argued that he might burn himself with his lack of sight. So they compromised. She made certain that the potatoes had no bad or bruised spots, and he cooked them.
It wasn't the savoriest meal they had ever eaten, but it was the best—their first night together as a real married couple. The glint of his wedding band caught her eye and she smiled again. If there was one scene that could be used to describe contentment, she thought, she was a part of it; the candlelight flickered as a small breeze blew in through their window, and she shivered. His arm was around her instantly, and she curled against him, leaning up to lick away a little bit of potato that had ended up near the corner of his lips.
He chuckled and turned his head to catch her lips with his own, and in that instant, their troubles were gone.
Suddenly, she turned her head, pulling away from him, and he let her go. Her trembling fingers found the handkerchief that she carried with her everywhere, now, and she coughed into it with such agonizing force that it broke his heart.
All he could do was rub her back and whisper her name, "Oscar…"
The weeks passed, and André grew better around the house. He could cook on his own, he bumped into walls less and less, and he learned that the neighbor boy would do errands in exchange for fencing lessons or the use of his horse.
Oscar grew worse. She was always pale, always cold, and always tired. Even the smallest activity caused her to lose her breath, and despite her verbal protests, she found herself sitting in bed more and more, rather than in a chair on the porch.
André remembered her last words to her beloved French Guards.
"I have tuberculosis."
He remembered the sad, knowing, understanding, and horrified looks given to her. They had all suspected, but none of them… None of them had wanted to believe it.
Oscar was glad that she had withdrawn the money she had earned and saved as a commander in the military. They had to budget strictly—the money would have to last a lifetime—but they never starved.
André could not work, and she wished she could. She would do anything to help him, to take care of him, but she found herself more often with a handkerchief in her hand instead of in her pocket, and André always seemed to be washing the blood off of a used one.
He sometimes felt guilty that he couldn't do more for her. All he could manage was simple cooking, a little cleaning, washing, and a strong arm. The more time that passed by, the more he worried about her. She seemed almost like a flower out of season, losing one petal at a time, and he dreaded the day when his beloved would no longer be able to sit up without assistance.
She tried so hard to do things on her own; if she had to spend half an hour to get to a sitting position, she would do it to keep André from worrying. It was a strange feeling to worry more about him than herself when her health was declining so rapidly, but she couldn't help herself.
He reached out at night to hold her, but he never had to reach far. She needed him just as much as he needed her. He needed her comforting presence, her unending love, solid proof that she was there, the sound of her breathing, however soft or loud. Proof, he told himself bitterly, that she was still alive.
She needed his warmth, his devotion, the knowledge that he was still there, still looking out for her; she liked to know that he still loved her.
They were too old for teasing. It wasn't funny when he bumped into things anymore, when he wanted to kiss her and couldn't find her lips. It broke her heart, and it broke his, too. Their love was so deep and so wide…but expressing it became harder and harder.
One day, the shadows were gone, replaced by eternal night.
He didn't tell her, but she knew.
His hands were burned in spots from cooking blindly, but they had no choice. She couldn't do it; she was dying, and she didn't have long to live.
She didn't leave her bed except when he carried her, but he didn't trust himself to do it very often. He had to move slowly, and he had to curl her body into his arms to protect her in case he ran into something.
She was aware of it, aware that she was sickly thin and that she would die before too long. She couldn't leave, couldn't… No, no… She couldn't leave him behind alone. It would be too cruel after all he had suffered, after all he had done for her!
He wanted to cry when he picked her up from the chair on the porch and realized that he could feel almost every bone in her body. She hardly ate, and she coughed so often that he wondered if she had any blood left to cough up, sometimes. He didn't talk about her dying, couldn't bear the thought of putting the reality into words.
She had to get better for him…she just had to. If she didn't, he would be so lonely, wouldn't he? But her stomach couldn't handle much food, and her body felt so weak… Sleep took her away from the pain, away from the sunshine that she could no longer enjoy, and even though sleep took her away from him, too, she indulged herself in it often.
What was it about her that he loved? Oh, everything. While she slept, he would trace his fingers over her face, outlining her hollow cheeks, the slope of her nose, the curve of her chin. He slept more than was healthy because he wanted to stay with her as often as possible. He only left her side when he had to.
She hated needing help to walk, needing to ask to go to the bathroom because she couldn't even get out of bed by herself, hated asking and asking and asking but never giving. So she apologized, over and over and over until he covered his ears and begged her to stop. He loved her, he said, and taking care of her was all he ever wanted to do.
It was a cold January day just after the first of the year. The fire hardly kept him warm, and she was shivering in his arms, chilled completely through. They hid under the blankets every moment except when they absolutely had to leave, but she could not get comfortable.
She didn't speak much, occasionally murmuring words that requested something simple of him—help changing her clothes, a new handkerchief that she couldn't reach, for him to hold her tighter. She wondered why she was still alive sometimes, when the pain was so bad she wished she was dead, but then André would pull her back against him, giving her more than her fair share of the blankets, and she remembered what she was fighting for.
It was early spring, and he woke up to find her asleep in his arms.
"Oscar…" he murmured. "It's a beautiful day. Do you want to see it?"
Oscar hadn't been outside since autumn ended, and had often commented that she wanted to go out when the weather was better.
The air was warm, the sunshine bright… He could feel the sun on his skin, and he gently stroked the side of her face. "Ma chérie…"
Slowly, her eyelashes began to flutter, and she opened her eyes. Her eyelids felt so heavy—almost as heavy as her heart.
"André," she whispered hoarsely after an eternally long minute, her voice clogged with tears. "I don't want to leave you."
He stroked her hair and kissed her head. "Do you want to go outside today?"
Trembling, she nodded, "Please?"
She weighed nothing, he thought as he scooped her up into his arms, tucking her against him carefully to keep from hurting her as he clumsily made his way to the front of the house.
She wanted to cry, wanted to cling to his shirt and press her face against his chest. She felt so dizzy and weak that she could only lie there. Why wasn't she getting any better? Why did she only have bad days? A cough wracked her body, but she didn't have the strength to cover her own mouth, and the blood spilled from the corners of her lips as her head lolled against him.
"Don't worry, Oscar," he told her, feeling around for the chair on the porch with his foot before he took a seat, adjusting her on his lap so that he could wipe the blood away and draw the blanket closer around her frail body.
The sun fell across her, and she felt it warm her chilled skin. She felt something… Something familiar.
"You know," he chuckled, stroking her hand and holding it against his face. "Today reminds me of your first day in Versailles. Do you remember the fruit trees? They were in bloom. I can't see them now, but… I imagine they must be. The air feels so nice."
That was what was familiar… She smiled a little, feeling her strength slipping; the edges of her vision started to fade, turning almost white, and she felt a tear slide down her cheek.
"Oscar… Why are you crying?" He was worried. She was so sick; he couldn't help but feel that way.
"I don't want to leave you…André…" Her words were so soft that he almost didn't hear them.
"Oscar?" He remembered hearing her say the same thing earlier. "I'll not leave you… I promised you that. Don't you remember?"
A small hiccup shook her body, and he automatically squeezed her, hoping to give her a little bit of his own life. "I'm going to die…" she said, and his heart pounded painfully in his chest.
"Yes, someday," he answered.
"Now…now, André… I'm going to…" She couldn't speak any longer. Her strength had fled, leaving her with tears running down her cheeks. She could only tremble and cry, and she hated it. How could she leave André like this? Alone and blind, alone and blind and scared! Guilt chewed at her heart, and the tears fell faster, uncontrollable.
He wiped them away with his lips, kissing her face as many times as was necessary.
"I love you, Oscar… I love you…" he mumbled, over and over again, before he stopped and brushed her long bangs out of her eyes. "And I don't want you to leave me."
She shuddered, struggling to pull in air, and felt warm tears on her hand as he rubbed it against his own cheek, kissing her palm gently before he closed her fingers around it and laid it on her chest. He held her tight, rocking back and forth slightly as he choked on his own words.
"But it's okay, Oscar… It's okay. You can go. It's okay if you go…"
He felt the light touch of her hand trying to fist the material of his shirt, and then…she was gone.
Arras: Spring 2008
"André, that was the most ridiculous story I've ever heard in my entire life." A teenage girl scoffed at her dark-headed companion and tossed a rock into the creek.
"It is not," he insisted, sitting down beside her before he flopped onto his back and looked up at the sky. "I thought that since we were here on vacation, celebrating the fact that your father managed to buy some land in what was once considered family property before the Revolution, I would ask about old stories… So I told you one! And I happen to think that it was pretty neat."
"But why did you add our names to it?" she asked, still skeptical. The story seemed a little too far-fetched to be true, after all. Some silly man raised his daughter as a boy to be a military officer; her servant fell in love with her… And then, she thought sourly, the servant was blinded in one eye, started to go blind in the other, and the girl-raised-as-a-boy contracted tuberculosis!
"Those are the names I was given," he insisted, blinking at her lazily. "I swear, it must be some kind of strange coincidence that they had our names."
"Must be. Father only gave me such a strange name because boys' names for girls were "in" in 1994… He just went a little overboard and picked a boy's name nobody would ever have normally used for a daughter." She threw another rock into the water and leaned back beside him. "You don't believe that story, do you?" she asked.
"I don't know. Maybe. It is possible, isn't it?"
She shook her head and grinned, letting her eyes close. "Well, the end was acceptably tragic, I guess, so it probably is true. But…what happened to the other André?"
"I guess they found him dead, too. Of course, the legend says he died of a broken heart, but I'd almost bet a heart attack is more likely. I just can't believe they ran away from the Revolution and ended up dying anyway," her friend mourned, rolling onto his side to grab her hand and squeeze it. "I mean, they might have died under gunfire, but…"
"Maybe it gave them a few more months together," Oscar said, suddenly looking serious. "André…"
"Yes?" An eyebrow rose questioningly as she peered at him.
"When you heard that story…"
"I got a strange sense of déjà vu," he told her, nodding. "Did you, too? I don't feel like I've heard the story before… I know I haven't. But…it was almost like…"
"Like you know this other Oscar and André?"
"I still think you replaced the real names with ours, André."
"I swear I didn't!"
"Okay… I'll believe you." She fell silent for a long time, watching the clouds float by overhead while André held onto her hand loosely.
"I still think it's a good story." He let go of her hand and put his arms behind his head, turning it slightly to watch the expression on her face as she sleepily peered up at the sky. "Both of them had a hard life, but in the end they got to be together. That's all that matters, right?"
Silence overtook them again; it was a long time before André spoke again, breaking it.
"Did you feel déjà vu hearing the story, too, or is it just me?"
"I… Well… Not exactly." She turned on her side to look into his green eyes, and smiled. "When I was younger, I used to dream about a woman with long blonde hair who wore an old military uniform." Her fingers played with the strands of grass beneath her. "Maybe I did hear that story before…"
"Well, I know I didn't," he said, "but I dreamed the other night that a girl who looked an awful lot like you in a white military uniform slapped me and told me she didn't need me. I was so confused when I woke up, I just thought… I don't know…"
"That maybe you deserved it?" She chuckled at the expression on his face and ruffled his hair playfully, ignoring his shout of protest. "You know… Maybe…"
"Maybe what? Maybe you're finally admitting you're insane?" He reached over and mussed her hair up too, just for payback.
She jumped him then, getting him into a headlock, grinning contentedly at her victory… Though there was hardly any fight to win. "I was going to say…"
"Yes?" His expression was passive, his eyes shining with amusement at the serious expression that she had adopted. "I'm listening now, Oscar, I promise."
"If you dreamed of her too… Maybe…"
"Maybe our names aren't coincidentally the same after all."
Lame, I know. Wow, this was… I'm sorry. I was hoping this would turn out better. Most of my ideas flew out of the window pretty quick after I got them. I guess that's what happens when you're inspired to write, and then you can't until much later in the day.
Anyway, kind-of a "what if" 'fic, here… I wanted to write a full-length story like this, but it would be so long and tedious to write. So I decided on writing just a oneshot, summarizing everything I could in a shorter story.
Thanks for reading! Feedback is appreciated as always.