Title: You and Me and Those Between Us
Author: Shadow Padawan
Fandom: War and Peace
Pairings: Dolokhov/Anatole, Anatole/Natasha, Anatole/Cecylia (Polish girl), Nikolai/Dolokhov, references to/implications of a few others
Word Count: ~13,500
Warnings: slash, non-graphic sex, fidelity issues, some coarse language
Summary: After Theodore ends his relationship with Nikolai Rostov and Anatole firmly re-establishes himself in Theodore's life, it seems like few things could get in the way of their love. But in a time when their relationship is socially unacceptable, circumstances and internalized norms constantly force them to struggle to stay together. When Anatole meets Natasha, things come to breaking point…
Author's Notes: This fic stands fine on it's own but is also a sequel to You and Me and All Other People.
Baby, I've been here before
I've seen this room and I've walked the floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
But I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Our love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah
'—Rufus Wainwright, "Hallelujah"
Nikolai watches his world slowly fall apart. It happens almost in slow motion, cracking along the seems and then crumbling, rather than shattering in one breathtaking moment of utter devastation. By the time he walks into the smoke filled, dimly lit room and encounters Theodore's sharp, clear blue eyes, which are watching him from behind the card table, on that fateful night, he already knows that the end is near and there is nothing he can do to stop the inevitable, slow the momentum of the collapse. He wonders across the room as though in a dream as Theodore holds his gaze.
"We haven't seen each other in a while," Theodore says, dealing the cards in his hand, a new, crisp deck, Nikolai notices. "Thank you for coming."
"I've tried to call…" Nikolai starts but realizes that Theodore's attention is not on him at all. He's seen Theodore play cards before a few times, he just about always wins and every time he plays he has this look of bright concentration, intense but too confident to be tense at the same time.
"You can stake," Theodore says offhandedly. "Or are you afraid to play with me?" He looks up and meets Nikolai's eyes with his bright blue ones. They are teasing, almost friendly, almost like they always had been when Theodore would tease his younger lover. But this time there was something within their depths, some frightening determination and Nikolai shrinks from that intense look, although he used to always love to get lost in it.
He sits beside Theodore and watches him deal for a couple of rounds. His attention is focused entirely on his lover. He hasn't seen Theodore since his proposal to Sonya and therefore hasn't gotten to ask why Theodore had done such a thing as he did not seem to have had any intention, until very recently, to get married and why would he chose Sonya of all people? Not that there is anything wrong with Sonya, of course, but there is something so horribly cruel about marrying your lover's childhood sweetheart that the entire thing simply does not make sense to Nikolai. Besides, Dolokhov had said himself that he is not the marrying sort.
Dolokhov is teasing him, recalling their conversation about gambling. "I always say that one should never gamble for luck, but only for certain. However I'd like to try." Which exactly he wishes to try, for luck or for certain, Nikolai can not be sure but deep down he knows the answer and it makes everything inside him go hot and cold at the same time. The seductively deep notes in his lover's voice in that moment are so alluring, so familiar that Nikolai almost gives in and picks up a card, staying his own hand only in the last possible moment before his gesture can be noticed.
Intuition tells Nikolai, warns him, that all of this has nothing to do with Sonya at all. That this has everything, instead, to do with their affair and the sudden gaping emptiness that exists between them for no reason…other than… A flash of strawberry-blonde hair catches Nikolai's eyes and he suddenly beholds the slim, agile figure of Anatole Kuragin as the young prince makes his way through the crowd toward the card table. The men part for him almost instinctively. Anatole holds a champagne glass from which he drinks in small gulps, tipping the flute delicately in an exaggeratedly fluid and tempered gesture. Nikolai wonders if Anatole will sit and play but he remains standing, leaning slightly against the back of one of the chairs. His eyes slide over the cards and the drinks. They stop, finally, on Theodore and stay there, tracing his shoulders, his jaw line, locking with his eyes briefly, before dropping again to somewhere in the general vicinity of his lips.
"Why aren't you playing?" Theodore asks, looking over at Nikolai with an almost puzzled expression.
"I have no money with me," he says lamely.
"I'll trust you," Theodore says with an almost laugh, throwing that almost-warm look his way. One of Theodore's hands rests itself briefly on Nikolai's knee under the table. It is large and warm and so comfortingly familiar that Nikolai feels a surge of ecstasy run through him. Perhaps he is merely making this all up, perhaps Theodore truly means only to play a simple game of cards, perhaps there is no harm to it. He looks up and finds Anatole's beautiful grey eyes watching him, his full, kissable lips upturned into something that could almost be a smirk. That seals it for Nikolai. He makes a stake with the vicious desire to not be held back by petty fears, to not let Anatole Kuragin's pretty face smirk at him when he, Nikolai, is Theodore's lover, when he is the one who should be able to smirk at Anatole.
All of his first ten cards are beaten. Now Nikolai goes on because of the stinging shame that he feels. Somehow he is convinced that Anatole is still watching him. But when he looks up several hands later, the young prince has wondered off. But Nikolai cannot stop anymore. He is in a daze. The cards flash before his eyes and he makes stake after stake not understanding what is happening to him. Sometimes, Theodore will smirk a little at him, teasingly, and Nikolai will convince himself that this is all a dream or a mistake because it cannot possibly be any other way. The sum he owes rises mercilessly and the more he plays the more Nikolai drinks and the more incapable he is of stopping. He does not understand how this can be happening, how Theodore could let this be happening. Doesn't he see that Nikolai is losing far more than he could reasonably pay, doesn't he care?
The answer comes in the form of Anatole's reappearance. He merely floats up behind Theodore and puts both hands on his shoulders in a liberal, familiar gesture that makes shivers of angry jealousy explode all over Nikolai's body. Anatole leans over and looks at Theodore's cards. His hands begin to press firm but small circles into Dolokhov's shoulders as though trying to get him to relax. Finally, Theodore turns and waves at Anatole as though he is an annoying, small puppy. "Go away, Anatole, you're distracting," he says firmly, but without a single trace of anger in his voice.
Anatole shrugs and retreats obligingly. His eyes meet Nikolai's for a moment and a mysterious looks crosses his face, like he knows something that Nikolai doesn't, like he is privy to important and perhaps quite amusing information. In that moment a feeling of utter despair and isolation floats over Nikolai. Somehow that look puts all the pieces together for him.
Ever since Anatole arrived in Moscow earlier that month, Nikolai has watched him and Theodore with rising jealousy. He did not, at first, account for these feelings but they are there and he constantly feels himself on edge when Anatole is around. He sees the familiarity – intimacy, almost – in the way Anatole and Theodore interact, the looks and touches they share. Between them even the most innocent brush of shoulders seems to be filled with sexual tension or, perhaps, intention. Even more disturbing has been the way Theodore would look at Anatole, like he is the only true and real thing in the world, like all else is smoke and illusion and only the young prince is real and solid and true. Nikolai feels a sudden coldness in his own nights with Theodore. There is no longer the quiet comfort they used to share. Theodore seems to be restless and unable to stay in. When they have sex it is much rougher and much more desperate than ever but, surprisingly, far less satisfying. Apparently for both parties because Theodore has practically stopped holding him afterwards, falling asleep beside him but not really with him.
It hurts, and Nikolai, correctly, realizes that the source of their troubles is Anatole. He does not dare say anything to Theodore, however, afraid of provoking a strongly negative reaction. There is nothing he could do other than wait and love and hope that he would not be replaced by an airheaded dandy who had not even bothered to come to Moscow that spring when Theodore would have needed him most.
Now, Nikolai sees he was very wrong. Their relationship had ended the moment Anatole came back into Theodore's life. Perhaps Theodore has just realized this truth himself but this disaster – this awful, humiliating card game – is Theodore's harsh way of letting Nikolai know that he no longer matters, he is insignificant and certainly no longer loved, if he ever had been.
Theodore stops the game when Nikolai's debt reaches forty-three thousand rubles. Nikolai remains in such a drunken, heartbroken daze that he cannot properly comprehend what he is being told. He hears the number that he owes and at first the enormity of the sum is so devastating that he cannot fully comprehend its meaning.
"When can I expect to have the money, Count?" Theodore asks matter-of-factly, gathering up the cards and tucking them away. Nikolai realizes vaguely that Theodore had not called him by titled since they were first acquainted. He calls Theodore into a side room and looks at him with shinning, pleading eyes, thinking hysterically that he cannot, on top of all the heartache, be left with this debt, that Theodore must surely forgive it to him. Had that not been what his warm hand on Nikolai's knee had meant? That they would settle their scores privately, without any damage incurred? Or had he misunderstood? Nikolai holds out the hope that Theodore will let the debt go, he has gotten his point across clear as day – he is done with Nikolai – so surely there is no need for this added insult, this debilitating injury. "I can't pay everything at once," he says quietly, his eyes meeting Theodore's intense ones for a moment, then fleeting away then coming back and doing the same thing. "Will you take an IOU?"
"You know the saying, lucky in love, unlucky at cards?" Theodore asks, casually, without even a trace of a jibe, as though this is a normal conversation on a quiet night in while they are both curled up in front of the fire in each others arms. Nikolai thinks that where Dolokhov is concerned that saying does not apply as he seems to be lucky at everything all at once. "Your cousin is in love with you, I know."
Nikolai's head shoots up and suddenly he can look Theodore in the eyes even as his insides melt and turn to acid. He cannot understand why Theodore is talking about Sonya. This has nothing to do with her and he cannot possibly believe that Nikolai does not know this, It makes everything in Nikolai burn and churn, the added insult that Theodore will not even cut with him cleanly, honestly, that he has to hide everything under some sham, some idiotic façade that they both see through for some inexplicable reason. He cannot even give Nikolai the respect of telling him outright that their relationship is over and that there is another man.
"My cousin has nothing to do with this!" Nikolai explodes. Tears sting his eyes and he feels that they will begin to seep out at any moment. "There is not reason to talk of her!"
"Tomorrow!" Nikolai snaps brashly, his entire body shaking. He runs from the room into the hall and stops at the door. Theodore is watching him almost curiously from the other side of the hall. Nikolai takes a last, longing look at his lover's – former lover's – face and bolts outside into the swirling snow.
After the door slams shut behind Nikolai, Theodore lets out a long breath that he hadn't been aware he was holding and looks down at the wooden floor. Well that ordeal is over with. He has even managed to win a good, solid sum of money from it. He hadn't truly wanted to hurt the boy – Nikolai had been good to him, very good, if he is to be honest – but there was no other way. Even if Anatole had been willing to share, Theodore does not think Nikolai would be and the last thing Dolokhov wants to cultivate is a jealousy scene in the making. Rostov would simply have to move on with his life.
Footsteps behind him and then a warm, comforting hand on his shoulder announce Anatole's presence. The boy presses his nose against Theodore's neck and murmurs, "That was harsh. Couldn't you just have told him you were through?"
"Rostov wouldn't have listened," Theodore says, although he isn't sure he quite believes that himself. "Besides, I would never turn down a good chance for money."
Anatole giggles, almost childishly, his face still pressed against Theodore's neck. "You wouldn't, I know."
Theodore has the greatest urge to kiss him, but he is cautious, knowing that they cannot be observed. He reaches back and grabs Anatole's arm. He yanks the boy after him and pushes him into the room where he and Nikolai had been speaking, locks the door, and shoves Anatole against the wall, holding the boy's wrists down with a strong, firm grip. Anatole is watching him, wide-eyed, but there is no fear in his eyes, only surprise.
Theodore leans over and kissed him, full-force, pushing their mouths together. Anatole struggles to free his hands but Theodore doesn't let him. He thrusts forward, their groins rub together and Anatole lets out a harsh gasp, which is muffled by Theodore's mouth. After several moments, Theodore withdraws and presses his forehead against Anatole's, watching the younger man's eyes, an expression of desire, an almost desperate desire, on his face.
"Why did you do it?" Anatole gasps, the question sounding small to his own ears. "Why did you…?"
"Do what?" Theodore asks, looking confused. "Break it off with Rostov?" He wonders where Anatole could possibly be going with this.
"No." Anatole shakes his head, silky strands of his bangs flying into his eyes. Theodore lets go of one of Anatole's writes to push the hair out of his lover's face. "Why did you propose to Sofie?"
Theodore's eyes narrow. He isn't sure why Anatole is asking so he doesn't know what answer he should give. "Are you jealous?"
Anatole makes a derisive sound, almost a snort. "No, of course not. But… It just seemed so out of the blue." He looks worried, however, nervous. As though he expects Theodore to react badly or to reveal to him some horrible truth.
"Well I needed a plausible public excuse for breaking up with Rostov. This would do just fine."
"Since when are you worried about what society thinks?"
Theodore gives his lover a withering look. "Anatole, this isn't a joke. Rostov's a fool and a child. Who knows what he could say to the wrong people. Besides, I don't care what they say. Otherwise I wouldn't have put myself in the line of rejection."
"So you were sure she would refuse?"
"Quite." He drops Anatole's writs but doesn't back up.
"What if she had said yes?"
"What if she had accepted?" Anatole repeats, enunciating deliberately this time. He looks almost vulnerable, that nervous look is back.
Theodore shrugs. "I would have married her. It's about time, really, and she is just the sort of woman who would make a good wife. There aren't many like that out there." Anatole drops his eyes and Theodore smirks. "You are jealous."
"No," Anatole says firmly. When he looks up, his eyes are shinning. He throws his arms around Theodore and kisses him. "But I'm glad she said no."
Theodore rolls his eyes and hugs his lover back. "Idiot boy," he mutters into Anatole's hair. "Come on, we should go. The gypsies have started singing."
Theodore had expected to leave Moscow for the army within the following week, but there were delays and so he ends up staying put for the next three. This allows him to be in Moscow while the Rostovs search frantically for the money which Nikolai owes and to receive the payment personally.
He counts out the banknotes and signs for them. Later, in his study, he re-counts them and stores the money in his bureau. He lights a pipe and leans back in his chair, watching the grey puffs of smoke swirl and lift up in ringlets and swirls, like misty ribbons in the wind. He wonders what it must have cost Nikolai to procure such a large sum and what the boy must think of him now. Probably that he is a damn right scoundrel. Well, Theodore has heard worse sentiments in his life.
He doesn't exactly regret what he'd done. But there is a vague feeling floating around him in the past couple of weeks. Not like something is missing, but like he has passed by a highly desirable, valuable thing and has not spared it the deserved attention. He could have had it but chose not to and he is not completely certain why he had made that choice.
Later that evening, he sees Anatole at a party, his arm familiarly around Sergei Makarin's waist. Makarin looks like he is on top of the world and his mousy face is lit up with a tender sort of happiness that makes Theodore want to hit him. The man is a fool if he believes that Anatole's affection, which he throws around rather freely, is anything serious.
Anatole, noticing him, smiles and waves, his eyes promising that they can have a moment later. Something about seeing Anatole with Makarin makes Theodore want to take the boy, throw him on the bed and kiss him until his lips are swollen and fuck him until neither of them can move from under the covers.
Instead, he takes a glass of wine and joins the card game.
He doesn't look up from the cards until Anatole comes up behind him, puts his hands on his shoulders and says quietly, "I'm going home, I'll take Sergei's carriage."
Theodore looks up sharply, tilting his hand of cards toward himself as to make sure they are not exposed. "I thought we'd…have drinks later."
Anatole shakes his head. "I'm tired. You keep on playing, don't bother. I will see you tomorrow."
Theodore watches him leave with Makarin. Sergei's hand is so close to Anatole's that Theodore keeps expecting them to hold hands. They don't, of course, and he returns to the game, reproaching himself for the moment of idiotic jealousy.
It isn't until he is home, lying awake in the dark silence, not drunk enough to fall asleep immediately, but still tipsy enough to have a low buzzing in his ears and what seems to be the center of his head, that he realizes that Nikolai had always come back home with him when asked to, always spent the night, never dreamed to leave with someone else. If he could be honest with himself, Theodore would admit that his relationship with Nikolai had been healthier, more normal than what he has with Anatole. He's not even completely sure of what that is anymore or what it had ever been. Perhaps he had been sure back in 1805 when they had first found each other, when they lived together and never spent a day apart. But now, he can not be sure. There is something inherently uncertain about being with Anatole, like a crack might open up at any moment and swallow him. But he likes the excitement of it.
Or, perhaps, he just doesn't know how to live without Anatole anymore, regardless of the price.
"I'll miss you, write to me." Anatole slides his hands down Theodore's arms and holds his hands.
Theodore, dressed in full military uniform, is about to leave for his regiment. The new one, the one that he has been assigned to, most likely as punishment for the duel with Pierre. That is only reasonable explanation he can come up with for why he is being deployed to the Caucasus. The thought angers him, makes him itchy for action. Itchy to blow someone's head off, if he is to be honest. Saying goodbye to Anatole, again, is making the entire thing even more frustrating. "I'll write. Where will you be?"
"In Petersburg at first but I'm assigned to a regiment that may be deployed soon. So Poland, then, later, perhaps." He shrugs and steps back closer to Theodore, still holding his hands, so that their chests are touching. He looks up and smiles openly, albeit sadly.
I'll miss that, 'Theodore thinks, looking into his lover's upturned face. I'll miss the way he looks at me and the way he smiles and the way it feels to hold him. 'He doesn't say any of this out loud, just kisses Anatole softly, almost casually, detangles himself and grabs his cap. "I have to go."
"I'll see you out," Anatole murmurs, his eyes wondering over Theodore's body, as though to memorize it. The last time they were separated by army business it had almost torn them apart. He doesn't want that to happen again. It can't happen again, because if it does, Theodore might not come back.
Anatole steps out onto the porch, following his lover, waves slowly as the kibitka takes off, the wheals making a rumbling noise on the road, but doesn't dare run after it. He watches Theodore disappear with a longing gaze which is returned.
Mon Cher Anatole,
It is not quite as boring here as I would have imagined it would be. The Caucasus are stunning. There's something about the air here, the way the sky seems more blue, more saturated. I feel much freer here that I do in Moscow or Petersburg. Perhaps that is just the novelty of the place and I'm certain I will grow restless and tired of it in time. I'm no romantic, as you well know, so there will be no impassioned odes to the place, but I do like it. Far from the worse outpost to end up at.
We see action from time to time, enough to keep everyone busy and on their toes. The officers are always up for cards and I'm building up a good reputation here. Not for the cards, of course, but for the fighting. The colonial is a damned pig, however. I would like nothing more than to beat him at cards so badly that his head spins. But he doesn't play. Do you think it would be wise for me to try and provoke a duel? Probably not, I'd only get into trouble and the pig wouldn't even brother fighting me most likely. Rank disparity if you will.
Overall, I'm quite well settled. There are, admittedly, certain pleasures that are not quite as easily obtained in your absence.
Be good and have a care. I hope you are well.
Anatole folds up Theodore's letter and stuffs it into his jacket pocket. He looks across the modest ballroom where his fellow officers are dancing with some of the local girls. A smile lingers on his lips as he thinks of Theodore's words. There are, admittedly, certain pleasures that are not quite as easily obtained in your absence. 'That is about as close as Theodore will ever come to saying I miss you 'and Anatole accepts it as a fact of life.
His eyes stop on a pretty girl in a cheap, somewhat ugly – by Petersburg standards – but not gaudy gown. The daughter of the landowner, who has put him up here in the Polish province where his regiment is currently stationed, is a lovely girl. She is fresh and delicate, modest but, Anatole suspects, not entirely innocent, even if she does drop her eyes demurely when she realizes he is looking at her. She is the sort of girl that makes a man want to hold her hand and kiss her lips and go exploring.
Perhaps he should feel guilty as he walks across the floor and asks her for the next Mazurka, Theodore's letter hidden safely against his chest. But he doesn't. It is different with women, it is just the way things are supposed to be and Anatole does not question his desires for a single moment and does not consider that there is anything wrong in them.
Theodore is his love, his only true love, but he is not a woman.
Cecylia's dirty-blonde hair is soft and silky under Anatole's wandering touch. He slides one hand through her hair and the other down her back. The strings of her dress come away easily, as though she had taken measures to not tie them too tightly in case this would happen. He smiles against her neck as he kisses her shoulders and pushes her dress down until it lands on the floor in a pool of shinning fabric. She now stands in a slip before him, her hands clutching his shoulders and her eyes wide even as he begins to undo her corset. "You want this don't you," he states more than asks.
She nods enthusiastically into his chest, her small, full breasts pressing up against him. Her Polish accent is thick as she speaks, "If my father were to find us…"
"We've locked the door."
They fall onto her bed and Anatole continues to ravage her. The corset comes off, then the rest of her undergarments. He throws off what is left of his clothes – not much by then – and slides on top of her. She does not protest and does not resist him, although he thinks he can see a deep blush rising slowly into her cheeks even in the dark. Surprisingly, she is a virgin, or so it seems as he enters her. She is tight and warm around him and Anatole loses himself blissfully in the satisfaction of a desire that has been nagging at him for weeks.
A storm rages outside as they fuck. That's all it really is. Anatole never thinks of it as anything else, never thinks of it as making love. Not with the anonymous whores or the provincial girls. It's nothing against them and he probably wouldn't be too badly offended if he was told that it is the same for them. It cannot possibly be making love if you are not in love so why pretend that it is?
The storm swirls and rumbles, dry bursts of thunder clap and crack overhead, drowning out Cecylia's low moans and Anatole's heavy breathing. The air is thick with rain although none has fallen yet. The purple lightening seeps through the mostly-drawn curtains and lights up the room in spurts, drawing dark, disfigured silhouettes on the walls. There is something heavy in that night, something malignant.
When they're spent, she falls asleep with her head on his chest and Anatole stares up at the ceiling, watching it glow purple at various intervals as the storm rages. He falls asleep once the rain begins to fall, pounding out a lullaby on the roof. His last thought is that he wishes Theodore could just get over himself and write I miss you 'like he obviously means to every time.
Once everything comes out and Anatole is faced with Cecylia's red-faced father who looks angry, but not angry enough for the shame he claims to be feeling, Anatole realizes plainly that he had been set up. Cecylia is pregnant but makes no move to honestly conceal her state and her father, although enacting an enraged bull, does not aim even a fraction of his wrath at his daughter, which is odd. She cries, but only in a picturesque manner that even Anatole doesn't buy. It's only too comfortable for them: if Anatole marries the girl she will get a title and wealth far beyond anything she could have ever hoped for. The pretty blonde looks far more seductive now than she does innocent and Anatole can see the careful way in which she moves, how perfectly acted it is. He had not been able to decipher those details when he had been full of lust for her. For the sex.
What Anatole is more afraid of isn't that Cecylia's father will go to his commanding officers or that he will spread word. Fathering a bastard is not a crime and is common enough for his friends and comrades to not think twice about it, even if society croons talk and jabber. It isn't the best reputation to have but men have had fantastic careers even with those scandals on their heels. He's marginally more afraid that his own father would find out. Vasili Kuragin would be furious that his son could not employ even a dash of discretion. But he would be far more infuriated by the knowledge that Anatole had married a polish girl, the daughter of a poor, undistinguished, provincial landowner.
What really does scare Anatole, are Pan Brzeziński's friends. He is good with a sword and not bad with a pistol, but there are several more days before his regiment will depart this post and Anatole has a bad enough perception of the local gentry to imagine, vividly, an angry mob singling him out for some sort of ravenous lynching. In the end, this is what allows him to be bullied into marrying the wench. It's a stupid reason, he knows, but the itchy desire to simply be rid of the sticky situation is so overpowering that he cannot think straight of any way out than to surrender to the demands.
They make a deal: he will marry the girl, very quietly, and send her a certain, agreed-on allowance every month for the right to remain a bachelor in the eyes of his society. The affair will be quiet and no one will speak of it. Once his regiment leaves, Anatole tries to forget the whole ordeal, but the marriage papers he is forced to take along to show to his father so that he can have the money needed for these payments, seem far too heavy to allow him to forget.
Married. It is such an idiotic thing in the best of circumstances. But to be married to some Polish girl who had fooled him, whose father had shamed and bullied him into the entire affair… He tries to write to Theodore about it, to get it out, to tell someone, because Theodore is the only friend he trusts with something like this, but realizes as soon as his quill touches paper, that he cannot bring himself to write those words to his lover. He is too afraid of what they might mean, of how cruelly they could be misinterpreted.
He ends up writing to his sister instead.
The Petersburg Opera in September, just at the start of the Season. Anatole thinks he's missed it more than words could describe. He loiters around in the lobby, talking to arriving friends and some of the ladies. He doesn't realize he is subconsciously searching out Theodore until their eyes meet across the stalls. Anatole makes his way toward the front where a crowd of young men, most of them still boys, are gathered around Dolokhov with looks of everything from amazement to trepidation to admiration to curiosity. And, in some cases, adoration that would have made Anatole jealous if he wasn't so confident that his lover had better things to do than notice fawning admirers.
Anatole regards his lover's Persian costume with some interest. He'd heard the rumors and he knew Theodore had spent more than a year in Persia before coming back, but his letters had been scant and Anatole wonders as to what Theodore could have been doing there. He does have to admit that his lover is breathtaking in the exotic dress and with his hair swept back in an outrageously dandy style of which Anatole had never before thought him capable.
How long had it been since they last saw each other? More than three years? Three and a half? Strange. It feels like only yesterday he had been lying beside Theodore, snuggled up into the older man's side, his head tucked under his lover's chin. Everything comes back with such sharp clarity that there is almost no gap, no sense of discontinuity, no sense of estrangement. It is a feeling so different from what he had felt with Pierre after their reunion in Petersburg back in 1805. If this had anything to do with the fact that Anatole had found himself a new lover in the time that he had been away from Pierre, he couldn't be sure.
Theodore steps straight through the group of young men before him. They make way for him and watch as he easily comes up to Anatole and embraces him for one short but extremely warm moment. Anatole feels such a strong wave of affection fall over him that he is, suddenly, acutely aware of just how lonely he had been for the past couple of years. There were friends but he had taken no lovers, limiting his satisfactions to actresses and whores. He has had no desire to tangle himself with ladies after the Polish incident.
"Did you miss me?" Theodore asks with a smirk as he steps back. "It's been quite a while."
"Yes it has. I'm so glad to have run into you. I was hoping you were back as well." This isn't what he wants to say and Anatole hates the conventions, hates the lying and the strange rules that his sister follows so well and his father wishes he would follow better. He wants to attach himself to his lover and never let go, not now that he's been reminded what it is like to not be alone. Anatole knows the feeling will pass but the crotch of his trousers has grown uncomfortably tight and he hopes desperately that no one will notice. "Will you drink with me to our reunion later tonight?"
"Yes, dear friend, meet me after." There's a promise in Theodore's eyes and Anatole smiles knowingly at him. Not many people would have seen the truth in this exchange. For all the warmth in the glances they exchanged and their embrace, their words were those of simply good friends. Only their closest friends, or those engaged in similar relationships as theirs, could discern the underlying longing and that the bounce in Anatole's step, as he headed up to the box he would share with his parents and brother for the night, betrayed not even so much joy as hardly restrained impatience and desire.
They have passionate, desperate, starved sex later that night locked far away from the prying eyes of the world. In the end, they are both exhausted, sprawled on Theodore's bed in the dark with the window open. Theodore smokes lazily and Anatole lies with his head pillowed on his lover's stomach. Theodore weaves his fingers through his lover's hair, his thoughts drifting drowsily somewhere among the clouds of the cigar smoke.
Anatole lies with his eyes closed, thinking and turning things over in his head. He doesn't want to be thinking about this right now but he needs to make this confession and better do it while Theodore is in a sated, satisfied mood. Also, better in the dark where they cannot as easily make out each other's expressions. "Teddy, I have a confession," he mumbles finally.
"Hmmm?" Theodore sounds aware but only marginally interested.
"Something happened while we were apart, while I was serving in Poland." Anatole feels himself tense up and he tries to relax but it's hard. He's afraid of how Theodore might react and he's afraid of losing this moment. But he can't not say anything. It's hard enough carrying a secret as big as a marriage around. Helene had laughed and teased him – unhelpfully – and, what was worse, never bothered to close the door unless strangers or their parents were present in the house. This had led to the unpleasant circumstance that Pierre had overheard their conversation and now knew of Anatole's predicament. They had made him swear that he wouldn't tell anyone. Pierre did not seem to understand their terror and had promised. It seems he had kept his word to stay quiet. Anatole had been awkward with Pierre ever since the break in their affair and even more tense since the dual between Pierre and Theodore but they rarely see each other these days and there has not been a convenient time for conversation or explanations. Anatole had, in the end, opted to not tell his father anything for fear of his wrath but the monthly payments to Poland meant that his debts were higher than ever, a circumstance which bothered his father and was causing immense tension between them. His hope now is that Theodore will understand and sympathize rather than react jealously.
"So what happened?" Theodore asks when Anatole does not continue for some time.
"I…I got married."
There is a long, dreadful silence. Then, Theodore laughs in, what sounds like, disbelief and Anatole doesn't know if he should be relieved of offended. "What do you mean married? To whom?"
"I was tricked nastily into it…" Anatole recounts his polish misadventure then, unable to stay in his current position as Theodore stays quiet, thinking this over, slides up on the bed and rests his head on his lover's shoulder. "Teddy? Are you upset with me?"
Theodore puts out his cigar and turns to look at Anatole in the dark. His face is unreadable. Anatole starts to build up arguments in his mind instinctively. He hadn't meant for it to happen and, after all, who is Theodore to talk? Did he not wish to marry Sonya Rostov just several years ago? But before he can formulate his line of defense fully, Theodore asks, quietly, "Well it doesn't mean anything, does it?"
Anatole's pupils dilate as he attempts to see through the gloom. He slides one hand over Theodore's chest, liking the feeling of taunt skin and well-pronounced muscle under his hand. "No, of course not," he whispers back, feeling himself growing hard again as the tension in his body and mind fades.
Theodore kisses him possessively, biting roughly and sharply at his lower lip – it will be swollen the next day – as though marking his territory. "Then we've got nothing to talk about. You've already punished yourself." He grabs Anatole's hands and throws them over the young man's head, pinning them to the mattress. "As for me. I'm going to fuck you." His voice drops and roughens on the last two words which he pronounces slowly and deliberately in French.
Anatole grins up at him and pushes his hips forward. That had gone much smoother than he'd expected. If he had stopped to ask himself what Theodore had thought in his moments of silence he probably would have conceived that his lover had been imagining Anatole with his wife and thinking if this was an image he could deal with. In truth, Theodore's thoughts had been far from that. They had been on a young officer he had met in the Caucuses, the general who had sexually harassed that boy, their escape to Persia, and the subsequent covert operation, ending with an assassination, Theodore had been forced to become involved with in return for not being taken to trial for desertion. The boy had, last Theodore knew, run as far as Europe. Hopefully, he could make it there. He'd asked Theodore to come with him, begged almost, but Dolokhov had not gone. There would be too many things he would be forced to leave behind. Anatole not being the least. Hence his question if Anatole's marriage mattered. In the end, none of it matters. They are here, together, making love and Theodore is perfectly happy.
After the New Year, Anatole's father insists that he go to Moscow as an adjutant in hopes that Anatole would both minimize his ever-growing expenses and find himself a rich heiress bride. Anatole agrees readily for Theodore had gone to Moscow a month earlier to spend the holidays with his mother and sister. He arrives in good spirits and does not even consider living any less expensively than he did in Petersburg. By virtue of Moscow being cheaper, however, and his new appointment, he is able to curtail his expenses enough for his father's – temporary – satisfaction. He knows Theodore means to get his own place off the profits he made in the business ventures he had managed to run on the side in Persia but he does not have it yet at the time of Anatole's arrival. Anatole puts up at Helene's instead.
At Helene's means at Pierre's, which is awkward, to say the least. On the second night of Anatole's presence in the house they find themselves in the sitting room, glasses of brandy in hand, looking uncomfortably at each other across the room. Anatole tries to recall how exactly it had gone between them. The details are blurry, like he had not wanted to remember them so badly that his mind did not fully process the information, but he remembers the general gist. Pierre found out about Anatole and Theodore's affair coming back from Paris. Anatole had not been brave enough to say anything outright to Pierre and so Pierre had been forced to watch and wonder until finally cutting the ties himself. It hadn't been fair, Anatole knows, he should have cut it off cleanly with Pierre. It would have saved them both a lot of uncertainty and hurt. But Anatole is also sure that Pierre's affections had always lain elsewhere. There are rumors, which Sergei Makarin eagerly perpetuates, that Pierre and Andrei Bolkonski are involved. While Anatole doubts any sort of consummation between the two, he is certain that Pierre's old infatuation with Bolkonski has not disappeared.
What had happened after Pierre had been exiled from St. Petersburg for their antics and Theodore degraded to the ranks? Here, Anatole isn't certain. He had continued living in Petersburg, then went off with the army. He and Pierre did not speak or write to one another during this period except for the couple of days surrounding Helene's wedding during which they fought, hurling hurtful insults at each other. Pierre is reasonably mad but Anatole responds badly to being verbally attacked. The next he hears of Pierre is in connection with the dual and Theodore's injury and subsequent illness. He goes to Moscow but does not find Pierre there. He writes his former lover a scathing letter which Pierre, supposedly, receives bur does not answer.
Now they stand looking at one another, the air pregnant with explanations and apologies that both are too proud to offer first. In the end, Anatole is the first to break. "I wish we didn't have to be like this."
"Like what?" Pierre asks distractedly, sitting down. "We're not like…anything."
Anatole catches the double meaning and fights a rising wave of protest. He hadn't wanted it to be like this. He sits down as well. A coffee table separates him from Pierre. "Mon cher, I know the way things ended…between us…I should have said something…"
Pierre shakes his head. "There's nothing you could have said. We're just...we were all wrong for each other. Although, your letter…it wasn't fair, Anatole." Pierre looks up and meets Anatole's eyes. There's something lost in that gaze, something that says that Pierre has changed and Anatole isn't sure if it's growing up that had changed it or some sort of prolonged intimacy with Bolkonski.
"I was upset," Anatole says flatly. "You shot my lover."
"Well, yes," Pierre concedes and looks down in his typical awkward way. Anatole still gets glimpses of the old Pierre sometimes, of his Pierre. But not too often these days. "But Dolokhov, he wants everything. Your lover wants everything. He got you and then he wanted to have my wife too."
"You never loved my sister, admit it."
"That's not the point!" Anatole flinches slightly at the vehemence in Pierre's voice. "And, anyways, I loved you. She looks like you."
"That's why you married her?"
"Yes…no…I don't know."
"Theodore was never Helene's lover. I don't know who told you that nonsense or why you believed them but…you have to know it's not true."
"And you have to know I was hurt."
They both look up again. Anatole feels agitated. This conversation is hard and he hates hard conversations and he wants to just…forget about it. Not have to deal with it. He's happy now and he would like Pierre to be happy too. "Why aren't you happy, Pierre?" he asks, surprising even himself. He hadn't meant to say that out loud. "I know it's not me. It can't be, you've said yourself we were never a proper match for one another. Is it Bolkonski? What, is he getting married again?"
Pierre looks amazed and a little petrified, watching Anatole cautiously and searchingly. "How do you—Never mind, it doesn't matter."
"So he is? To whom? Alright, don't answer if you don't want to but still, is it him?" Anatole stands and walks over to sit beside Pierre. The tension between them has faded somewhat.
"It's everything. I'm just not satisfied with life. Not fulfilled."
Anatole shakes his head. "Denying yourself will never fulfill you," he says, thinking of all the mind-boggling, stuffy philosophy Pierre had studied back in Paris. Poisonous stuff, really. "I don't know if Bolkonski convinced you to not be my friend or if you felt so hurt that you did not wish to yourself, but I assure you, we were 'happy back then. Not just because we were together and even after we weren't. It's about letting yourself be, Pierre." He reaches out and puts one hand on Pierre's wrist.
Pierre flinches front the touch but doesn't pull away of slap Anatole's hand. He merely finishes his drink and sets the glass on the table. "Hedonism cannot possibly be the meaning of life," he retorts flatly.
"Who told you life has some sort of meaning above simply being life? Why does there have to be some big goal of purpose? I have not seen anyone searching for a goal or trying to reach one end up happy. Not you, not Teddy…"
"You wouldn't understand."
Anatole rolls his eyes. He'd heard that before, from Pierre most often perhaps. "Alright. But still, will you believe me if I say I'm sorry?"
"Will you come out with me then? I know you and Theodore dislike each other but I'll make sure he behaves if you do."
A look of uncertainty crosses Pierre's face but he finally nods and smiles resignedly. "Perhaps sometime."
Anatole does not expect everything to magically be alright between him and Pierre again and it isn't. But things do get better. Pierre gets used to him and they go out sometimes. If Theodore is jealous of Pierre's reappearance he does not show it.
In fact, Pierre's reappearance bothers Theodore only at first. He does not like this reconnection and warns Anatole about it. They almost fight over it but, in the end, Theodore relents to let Anatole make his own mistakes and Anatole is convinced that he has won. Theodore sees little threat in this new Pierre. Anatole is warm toward him but they never act as lovers might and while Anatole obviously longs for friendship he does not look at Pierre the way he once had, with the tenderness of childish infatuation. It would be as silly to be jealous of Bezukhov as it would be of Makarin, who is obviously madly in love with Anatole for the entirety of the world to see. If Anatole notices Sergei's feelings he gives him no real hope. Most likely, however, he is merely oblivious as Anatole is oblivious to most things which do not interest him. Theodore finds it unworthy of his sense of personal dignity to be jealous of either Pierre or Sergei.
Anatole spends many blissful, forgetful nights with his lover. On the nights that he does not, he shares the bed of a gypsy girl or, if he is especially lucky, a French actress. Mademoiselle George is especially fine in bed. He and Theodore take turns with her and later share experiences, although Theodore gets far less joy from sleeping with women than Anatole does and his conquests are made more out of habit, a need to maintain his public image and stroke his own ego.
The ladies Anatole ignores for the most part. The heiresses because they are plain and he cannot marry one of them anyway, the pretty unmarried girls because there are far too many expectations tied to courting them and he had never cared for the married ones. This is Theodore's forte.
Anatole does not even consider that he could fall in love with a girl. Not for real. Not in a way that could jeopardize his happiness. Not until he meets Natasha and the world flips unpsidedown.
Anatole had seen Natasha before, at a grand ball, a little over a year ago, but they had never been introduced. The first time he really sees her, though, is at the Moscow opera in mid February of 1811. He is there with Theodore and his sister, who had just come to Moscow after several weeks of promising to do so with no avail. Anatole is in good spirits, despite Pierre's grumpiness, seemingly due to Helene's arrival. The young prince's good mood increases when he spots an exquisitely lovely young girl in one of the boxes. She looks vaguely familiar and has shinning dark hair and deep dark eyes. Her face is pale but her cheeks are flushed. She looks over the crowd with a paradoxical mix of interest and indifference. Her fan flutters in her hand and the bow in her hair sinks slightly to one side. Anatole feels something inside him begin to tingle. He nudges Dolokhov once they are left relatively alone and asks, "Do you know that girl?"
Theodore looks up to where Anatole is looking and his eyes narrow slightly at the sight of the Rostovs. "She is Nikolai's younger sister. Natalia, I believe her name is.. yes, Natalia Rostov."
"Natasha," Anatole says softly, dropping effortlessly into the diminutive. The name whispers across his lips and he feels a rush of excitement. Theodore is looking at him strangely as though he means to ask what is going on. "Can you introduce me?" Anatole asks abruptly, looking over at Theodore. "You know her brother."
"Yes. If you remember, I was his lover and then left him with a huge gambling debt. I doubt they like me much in that household."
Anatole frowns, thoughtfully. "She's gorgeous, though, isn't she?"
Theodore takes another look at the Rostovs' box and rolls his eyes. "Our tastes in women differ, as you are well aware," he says, a little too sharply. Natasha repulses him with her idiocy, her self-centeredness, which is neither cynical nor ambitious but simply spoiled, her hysterical nature – what he'd glimpsed of it anyway – and her overall vapidity. He never begrudges Anatole fleeting crushes on girls but that his lover must chose someone so intolerable to idolize perturbs and annoys him.
"You don't understand anything, I'll tell you later," Anatole promises and pushes his shoulder slightly against Theodore's, staying pressed against him for a few seconds longer that perfectly appropriate. It is one of the more intimate gestures they can allow themselves in public.
Theodore spends most of his evening alone as Anatole is preoccupied with wooing the Rostov girl. They have dinner together afterwards and Anatole goes on about Natasha the way he rarely does about girls. He describes in detail her eyes and her lips, her arms and breasts, her feet and waist. Theodore listens to the boy with an air of amused amazement.
"She's a fine one, mon cher, but not for us," he says finally, coolly. Theodore doesn't know what it is, but something tells him that the Rostov girl will be a problem.
"Oh, give up your stupid jokes. I'm going to woo her. You know I just love young girls."
Theodore smirks and finish off his drink. "You already got caught by one young girl," he points out, a little cattily, but mostly in good humor.
"It can't happen twice, can it?" Anatole says with a laugh and Theodore feels a strange sense of relief, almost as though Anatole's ability to make light of the situation has thwarted the growth of some conviction deep within him that this time is not like the rest.
Watching Anatole and Natasha dance is like watching two butterflies mate.
Theodore is dully aware of the gruesome vulgarity of this comparison but he hardly cares. Anatole doesn't know that he is there for he has not made his presence known, but Helene does know and sometimes she will glance in his general direction with a look that is not quite pitiful – he would kill her for pity – but unhealthily sympathetic. Theodore watches as Anatole holds Natasha like one might hold something delicate and breakable, the way he looks at her with amazed adoration and everything in him rebels at the thought that Anatole, his Anatole, could be so serious about her 'of all people. This is not a short-lived infatuation, it is not a pro-ego conquest, this is something that makes Theodore jealous in a way in which he does not want to be jealous, especially of women.
Helene slides up to him, just as the current round of the waltz finishes and Natasha untangles herself from Anatole. "Jealousy and stalking do not suit you," she says, stopping next to him and brushing her fan over his shoulder.
Theodore sneers up at her. She has come to amuse herself at his expense and, currently, he finds that annoying rather than endearing. "If I got jealous of every woman your brother makes love to, I would have gone mad by now," he parries evenly, looking back at the dance floor as the cotillion starts and trying to find Anatole again.
Helene sighs and swats his shoulder. "Stop pretending you don't care. You know he's in love with her. And you're jealous."
"Your brother falls in love all the time."
"But not like this."
Theodore stands and glares at her. She smiles impudently up into his eyes. She is not scared of him, never could be. She knows him too well. "Your brother can sleep with any woman he wishes. That is his right," he growls at her in irritation. The sentence comes out in French and he isn't sure why. His French has improved significantly after Persia but he is still not very comfortable speaking it if there are other options.
"Of course it is," she confirms placidly and folds her fan. One hand goes sliding over his arm and Theodore traces her movement with his eyes, trying to glimpse something from it. "But if I know my brother, as long as he comes back to you, it means nothing."
"I should go," Theodore says. "It really is useless to stay here. Goodnight, Helene." He leaves before she has a chance to reply. He feels ill and the sense of something happening which is beyond his control makes him claustrophobic and hot even in the crisp winter air.
Of coarse it means nothing. Where would Anatole go? Of course he won't. They are just in the process of moving back in together. It is simply a flight of fancy.
It has to be.
"You want me to do…what?" Theodore manages to not sound quite as anxious as he feels but Anatole's request has knocked him completely off kilter.
"I need you to help me elope with Natasha." Anatole's eyes are wide and innocent; he obviously sees nothing wrong with this request. He perches himself on the edge of Theodore's desk and gives him a pleading look that makes Theodore want to grab the boy and fuck his head off. "I could try to do it myself but I can't imagine how to get the documents quietly and you're so brilliant at all this…" He's not trying to be flattering, he seems genuinely lost and this scares Theodore too.
"I won't," he says firmly, placing his hands flat on the table and looking up at Anatole with a piercing, demanding stare.
Anatole deflates slightly but he is still meeting Theodore's eyes, hope dancing around their edges. "Please? I know it's a hassle but I need this!"
Theodore stands, so suddenly that he knocks the chair over. Anatole flinches and finally looks away. Theodore comes around the table to stand in front of Anatole. "Look at me," he demands seriously. He reaches out and grabs Anatole's hands in his. "Damnit, Anatole, look at me." Anatole looks up obediently and Theodore wants nothing more but to kiss him and forget that this is happening. "You're mad to try to elope with her. She's not a gypsy you can just take away and then bring back like nothing happened. She's a noble-born girl. She has a brother to protect her honor for goodness sake!"
"Do you think I'm afraid of a duel? Besides, there will be no duel. There will be no bringing her back. I can't actually marry her as I am already married."
Theodore's eyebrows draw together slightly. He takes a step back but doesn't drop Anatole's hands. "What are you on about?"
"I want to…I do want to marry her, even if it turns out to not be legitimate, and then take her away. Abroad. To Poland at first, I think that will be easiest, then maybe somewhere else."
Theodore feels a knot tighten in his chest. Helene's voice echoes teasingly in his head – as long as he comes back to you… -' and he shuts it out vehemently. This has to be a mistake. Anatole has no idea what he is doing, or how stupid and dangerous this is. "You're an idiot!" he burst out. "Don't you understand that if you take her away you will never 'be able to come back? Think about that! Just think about that for a moment. Let us even disregard the fact that it's dangerous and you could get into a lot of trouble for it. If you take her away you won't be able to come back because your marriage will come out – and inevitably it will, so don't argue – and when will you be then? In the criminal court?"
"I don't plan to come back,"
Silence falls, heavy and crushing, between them. Theodore slowly lets go of Anatole's hands and Anatole looks down at them, feeling a flash of something hot and agonizing tear through him for a moment at the loss of contact and the hidden meaning behind it, but not commenting. He has made up his mind. They are silent for several minutes with the ticking of the clock and the low, barely-audible crackling of candles the only sounds in the room. Finally, Theodore manages to ask, "You are decided?" At Anatole's stubborn nod, he adds, "Why?"
Anatole looks down, struggling with a wave of sudden guilt. It's not a feeling he is accustomed to and it makes thinking and speaking difficult as everything in him constricts. He looks up at Theodore and feels the urge to reach out and grab him, hold onto him and swear that this is not personal. It doesn't even mean that he doesn't care. "You're my best friend in the entire world, that will never change—" he says instead of an answer.
"Anatole," Theodore cuts off sharply. He doesn't want to listen to excuses. There's a roaring in his ears and he can't quite draw the line between where his emotions end and his practical thoughts start. Everything is jumbled and he doesn't know if he should feel miserable, betrayed, jealous, angry or if he's overreacting altogether. He had convinced himself that this was a game, like the rest of Anatole's affairs, even helped Anatole write flaming love letters to the Rostov girl in drunken amusement, disregarding how serious Anatole had seemed about it.
Anatole forces himself to look up and into his lover's eyes. Theodore deserves at least this courtesy. "I love her."
That statement is the emotional equivalent of a slap – or perhaps a punch of the stomach – and Theodore struggles to make his expression as neutral as he can. Nevertheless, he gives it one more probing try. "You fall for girls all the time."
"It's not like that this time," Anatole insists. He can see in his mind the way Natasha floats as she walks and can feel the ghost touch of her small hand on his shoulder. He imagines making love to her and his body erupts with shivers of hot desire. "I can't get her out of my head. I never thought I could fall for a girl like this. I like girls, sure, but this one… Oh, she is incredible. Teddy, she—"
Theodore holds up one hand to stifle Anatole's emotional outpour. He doesn't want to hear it. He can't quite handle it right now but Anatole cannot be allowed to see that. "I will arrange for the documents and the post horses and if you need help borrowing money, I'll help with that as well. Write to her and settle on a time." He says all this blankly, feeling his emotions ebb away with every word, like skin going numb after it is repeatedly hit with a hammer.
Anatole stares at him for a moment, then jump up and throws himself into his lover's arms. He hugs Theodore tightly, hiding his face against Theodore's shoulder. "Thank you. I don't know what I'd do without you," he mumbles. After a moment, Theodore hugs him back and presses a closed-mouth kiss to his temple. Anatole feels a wave of warmth saturate him and he knows that despite everything, despite how much he wants Natasha, he will 'miss this'.
But, oh dear God, she is so lovely!
It's not as hard as Theodore initially thinks it will be. He throws himself into helping Anatole plan the elopement because doing everything is better than doing nothing and simply standing to the side and watching. Watching as his happiness slips father and further away from his.
Jealousy is an interesting this. The more he fights it the hotter it burns, leaving deep marks on his heart, tearing through the delicate fibers of his soul. Once he accepts it, however, it goes cold and begins to freeze everything it touches until every emotion is frozen over and chipped away. This hurts at first too, like removing a glove and taking a hand-full of snow stings in the first few moments before the snow and ice numb the nerves of the fingers and palm. Jealousy is much the same as it slowly takes over the soul and the mind, covering everything with a thin sheet of ice which thickens daily.
Theodore can feel himself growing calmer by the day. He and Anatole have stopped having sex, have stopped cuddling and even kissing, for the most part. But Theodore no longer feels a sense of burning loss from any of this. He merely feels empty and listless, finding thing to do – anything and everything – just to take up time, fill up the void.
It takes almost two weeks to put affairs in order. Theodore watches the last day slip away with a sort of dreadful apathy. He thinks of speaking with Makarin about being one of the witnesses and the way the man's eyes had widened and the slight tremor of his lips. "He's going away for good?" Sergei had asked, his hands fisting in his tailcoat. "And you're just letting 'him do this?"
"What am I to do? Stop being a child."
"You could at least not help him. He'd never pull it off on his own."
"Exactly. But he would try and only end up hurting himself. I won't allow that. Would you like it? I can at least make him as safe as possible."
Sergei had not responded, then, reluctantly, agreed to be one of the witnesses at the wedding. Theodore had left with a feeling of contempt for Makarin. If he hadn't allowed all of his emotions to freeze, to decay, he would be a wreck as well, if not from the utter feeling of loss than from sheer terror of what Anatole could be getting himself into if things go awry. But he would never allow himself such an indignity.
Everything goes to hell before it even has a chance to start.
"Kuragin, back! We've been betrayed!" Theodore shouts as he struggles with one of the Rostovs' valets. Boots crunching in the snow, coming toward him, are the only indication that Anatole has heard him.
They had been ambushed in the courtyard after giving the signal. Theodore's intuition had been correct on advising him to stay at the gate as Anatole went in or they would have been trapped. Theodore doesn't know what happened. Maybe Natasha got scared and told her household. More likely, she was found out and didn't think to warn them, the idiot that she is. Perhaps she couldn't warn them or didn't have the time, but Theodore takes a vicious pleasure from thinking the Rostov girl betrayed them on purpose. It serves Anatole right.
Anatole makes it out of the gate and Theodore gives the valet a punch in the face and a shove before slipping out into the street and swinging the heavy metal gate shut behind himself. Anatole is staring in shock up at the house, at the brightly lit windows. Theodore grabs his hand and pulls him toward the troika. "Come on, let's go!" he shouts urgently over the galling wind.
Anatole snaps out of his stupor and runs with him. They jump into the carriage, shouting at the driver to go, and are carried off into the dark. Anatole curls up in the corner, away from Theodore, and puts both hands over his face. "Damn it all," he mutters miserably.
Theodore doesn't make a move to comfort him.
Anatole stands with his forehead pressed against the cold glass of the window in Theodore's study. His cup of tea and brandy, which Theodore had had brought in for them so they could get warm, has gone cold by now and he had only taken a few sips. His uniform jacket is hung over the back of a chair and he remains in only his shirt, britches and boots. The room is warm but Anatole often feels waves of cold wash over him. Hvostikov and Makarin have been informed that the escapade has been called off and they have gone home. Makarin had wanted to stay but Theodore wouldn't hear of it.
Anatole hasn't said a word since they'd come back. All of his feelings are confused and he fluctuates violently between sadness and fear and betrayal. Theodore is in the room but he keeps to the shadows on the opposite side, nursing a glass of hard liquor. He is also silent and the silence festers and breeds between them like a dangerous infection.
"I can't believe this," Anatole whispers softly. "I can't believe she would do this. Why would she tell? And if she did not, why wouldn't she warn me? What am I going to do?" The question is rhetorical. He doesn't actually expect Theodore to answer. He has been so cold the entire time that Anatole has begun to fear him and this mood he is in.
Theodore looks from where he had been examining one of the knives with an engraved handle hung up in his wall array of weapons. He does not rush to answer, choosing instead to glare at the back of Anatole's head. The adrenaline from their getaway had nudged something deep inside him, broken some vital chord. The ice covering his insides began to crack and melt and shatter. What comes out from beneath it is rotten and bitter, seething with anger and hurt pride and heartache.
Anatole wants everything. This is a fact Theodore had always known. He wants to lie with girls by the dozen and re-connect with former lovers, be free and yet have a faithful lover. All of this Theodore had been able to forgive him and carry on accordingly. Anatole made few demands, after all, and they had always been honest with one another, which kept side affairs from being too destructive. But this time, Anatole has gone too far. This had not been a fling or a society intrigue. This had been Anatole willing to leave him behind. This had been the end. Is the end.
All that Theodore feels now is cold rage, verging just beyond contempt. He feels no sympathy for Anatole, no tenderness. Only a deep, aching hurt that he does not know how to avenge. "You're going to go to bed," he answers firmly. "It's been a long day. I'll have the spare room made up for you." He sets his empty glass on the desk and walks out of the study, allowing the door to slam shut behind him.
Anatole turns, as though in a daze, and regards the empty room. A strange pain rises within him and he feels his head spin. Sleeping alone doesn't scare him – although he longs for the safety of Theodore's arms around him right now – but the prospect of what will happen tomorrow, of what all of this means, terrifies him. He is far too emotionally exhausted, however, so he takes a drink of his cold tea and sinks down onto the sofa to wait for his room to be prepared.
Anatole cannot find Theodore anywhere in the morning, so he goes to Makarin's instead. Sergei insists that Anatole needs fresh air so they take a brichka ride. It snow storm of the night before has ended and the snowfall is light and soft, almost unnoticeable. The air is frosty and it is 'easier to breath in it. The morning is so very bright that Anatole's mood lifts automatically and some of the nagging fear from the night before dissipates and calms.
His thoughts are still scattered and he feels utterly torn between making things right with Theodore or trying to find a way to see Natasha. He can still imagine her glowing smile but somehow her charm has faded. Something about the disaster of the night before and Theodore's sudden coldness have made him uncertain as to his feelings, of what he truly wants.
Sergei offers encouragement but little advice. They run across Pierre who has, evidently, returned to Moscow and Anatole waves to him. He can appear cheerful easily. It is not that hard – all he has to do is not think about anything. But he is not afforded much time for that escape now.
"What should I do, Serge?" Anatole asks Makarin when they come in from their ride. He feels better but his head has hardly cleared.
Makarin regards him thoughtfully only to shrug in the end. "Do you love Natasha? I do have to say it would be fruitless to try and have something with her now. I wouldn't be surprised if she finds out you are married."
"That's impossible! You, Helene and Theodore are the only ones who know. And Pierre…"
"Is it impossible? Even so, her family will be on guard." Sergei waits out a moment, then, gently, puts a hand on Anatole's shoulder. "Something tells me it's not her you're worried about."
Anatole's shoulders slump. "I feel like I messed up with Teddy. I didn't mean to."
Makarin rolls his eyes. "Mon cher, you were about to leave him forever."
"I know." Anatole drops his eyes to the hardwood floor. He suddenly can't breathe again. "It felt alright just yesterday. I…" I didn't realize what it might be like to lose him. It couldn't really imagine it… 'the thought is so striking, so sudden that he flinches.
Makarin's hand on his shoulder tightens and concern flickers over his eyes. "What, Anatole?"
"I wanted both of them. I didn't want Natasha more. 'I think I thought I did, because she's a girl, but…" He rubs his temples in circles. "Oh, dear God. I don't know what I want anymore. I'm so mixed up, Serge."
"He loves you, you know," Makarin says quietly. "He always loved you. When…when he was talking to me about helping you elope, he said he couldn't do anything about your decision but he could at least keep you safe."
Anatole feels his heart constrict. He feels ill and weak, like the ground has just been swept away from under him. Without Theodore he feels alone and vulnerable, unable to make up his mind about anything. It had been easy to fantasize about running away with Natasha when he still fell asleep beside Theodore and could turn to him for help and comfort. He thought that, since they had been apart for long periods of time before, he could do it again, for even longer. Forever maybe. And…they could still write and maybe Theodore could make it abroad some time. He had been so sure of it all. Now, the fear eats him up from the inside, the fear of being alone and vulnerable. Anatole almost never feels these things and they terrify him. "I need him back," he decides out loud, meeting Makarin's eyes with rare determination, as if making a promise.
Anatole goes back to Theodore's for dinner. They eat either in silence or to Anatole's talk about seeing Pierre and Helene's party that night. When they've eaten and the brandy is poured, Anatole goes to the window and sits on the wide windowsill, swinging his legs slightly in a nervous habit. He can feel Theodore watching him and he can also feel how unwelcome he is. "We need to talk," he says finally.
Theodore scoffs. "Whatever is there to talk of, mon cher?" The endearment comes off so sarcastic that Anatole can almost feel the venom dripping off the words, burning like acid.
It isn't fair. He doesn't deserve to be treated like this. He was honest from the start and is it his fault Natasha is so lovely? Is it his fault she is a girl and what is a man to do when he finds a girl he wants? Surely, even elopement would be more proper than sodomy? Surely, it was only natural for him to lose his head over a girl? Surely… He looks over at Theodore and sees the aloof coldness in his eyes with just a shard of interest and something else which Anatole cannot distinguish. The coldness in those eyes that look at him as though he is the enemy sends a shock of fear rushing through him and Anatole's frustration and sense of being slighted unfairly increases to a breaking point. "I need to figure out how to see Natasha," he says, keeping the catty edge out of his voice but he still sounds irritable.
The iciness in Theodore's eyes settles again, leaving no room for any other emotion. "Ah." Theodore stands and paces slowly, brandy glass in hand. He finally settles of leaning lazily against the mantle. "So. She betrays you or just carelessly treats your safety and you still feel so strongly about her that you will run after her?"
Anatole gives no answer. He is both insulted and ashamed. "Teddy…" He can't find the words to express what he feels, how lost and confused he is.
"I think you're on your own now, Kuragin. I'm bored of your games."
The use of his surname feels like a slap. Theodore is smirking slightly and there is dry contempt and disgust in that smirk. Theodore sets his brandy down and turns as though to leave the room. You're on your own now. 'Panic washes over Anatole and he understands, in an overwhelming, sudden epiphany just what he has done. He has snapped something vital, crossed some invisible line, and now all of his happiness has gone to pieces within hours.
"No!" Anatole jumps from the windowsill, his glass falling from his hand and shattering. He runs to Theodore and grabs his arm. He turns the other man around and peers up into his face. "Teddy, listen to me, I didn't mean that. I only said that to spite you. Please, listen to me. Listen."
Theodore turns and regards Anatole with the same cold eyes. He pulls his arm out of Anatole's grip and clips, "Why the hell should I have anything to do with you?"
"You're my best friend," Anatole pleads, feeling horribly helpless. "At least for the sake of that, listen to me." Theodore does not answer but he makes to move to leave either. "I need you," Anatole says earnestly, reaching out to touch Theodore's arm but stopping short, his hand hovering just inches away from his lover. Former lover? No! Nonono…
Theodore's smirk widens and there's a venomously jeering edge to his tone. "Oh yes, now that the Rostov girl is out of the picture."
Anatole drops his hand and shuts his eyes tightly before speaking again. "I have had other affairs. So have you. Why are you singling this one out?"
"Because," Theodore says patiently, his tone patronizing as though explaining something to a child. "This time it was different. You had a choice to make this time and you made it."
Anatole opens his eyes and looks up at Theodore, desperation clinging to every part of his being. "I…I didn't..." He has no way to refute this argument. But it seems so stupid. "I didn't mean to make a choice like that. I didn't realize that I was…I wasn't thinking properly," he admits, dropping his eyes.
"That's because you never think!" Frustration is evident in Theodore's voice now, the patronizing expression gone. "Yes, you've had other affairs. So have I. But I've always chosen you over any other and I've always come back. Up until now, so have you. I trusted you, Anatole. Trusted that no matter your flights of fancy you always lo—knew when to stop. Would never leave. But you proved me wrong. And I don't fucking care if you didn't mean it. I don't care if it wasn't what you thought it was. It shows something about how you feel and what you want. Which is obviously not the same thing as what I want."
Anatole throws up both hands to make Theodore stop. Tears sting the back of his eyes. "It's not like easy for us to be together!" he nearly shouts. It's an irrelevant defense but he's searching for any viable excuse.
"It wouldn't have been easy for you to be with the Rostov girl either! Or anyone. You are married remember. Just because we can't be together for the world to see doesn't mean other people don't have feelings, Anatole. Doesn't mean I…that it's easy for me. That's why I never objected to your affairs with women and you did not object to mine. But this was not a fancy, Anatole. This was a choice. Perhaps I should have seen it coming; you were never very prone to commitment. But I was fool enough to put my faith in this. Whatever this thing we have – had – is but apparently is wasn't enough."
"It is!" Anatole protests. He reaches out and grabs Theodore's hands. "Please, I love you." He blinks tears out of his eyes. Theodore's expression is cold and disbelieving. He has made up his mind on the matter and nothing Anatole can say is going to change it it seems. Anatole pulls his pride together and tramples it mercilessly until he can speak again without stumbling. The words come out slowly but with determination, evenly paced. He is trembling, knowing this is his last resort. "Alright," he concedes as calmly as he can. "You are right. I was wrong. I was very wrong and I'm sorry. I let her get to my head, I messed up. I really messed up. I've been selfish and careless…and…I need you, Teddy. I'm sorry I hurt you." He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, meeting Theodore's eyes. "Will you forgive me?"
There is a long, pregnant pause in which Anatole holds breath. Theodore seems to struggle for a few moments, several unreadable emotions crossing his eyes. Then, deliberately, slowly, but not quite roughly, he takes his hands back from Anatole and retreats a step.