The sharp, metallic smack of the guillotine and a scream rang out in the empty air of Marguerite's mind, wrenching her from her fitful sleep. She knew that the scream that haunted her now had been her own, but in her dreams it was always disembodied, howling on the edge of her consciousness like a phantasm of the hope of happiness that died that day. That hope was only one victim of many that day. Chief among them was Marguerite's husband -- the man whose love she had spurned and then longed for by turns, the victim of the guillotine that tormented her mind daily -- but that was not the most tragic loss that occurred on that patch of coast that day. That honor, dubious as it was, belonged to the untimely passing of the glorious future that was now denied Sir Percy Blakeney and his bride, the Scarlet Pimpernel and his Marguerite.
Percy growled in frustration as he stalked a path in front of the window, pausing every few steps to stare darkly at Lord Anthony Dewhurst who sat beside the fire, feigning indifference as best he could. Outside the wind blew cold and the heavy rain promised to give way to snow before the day was through, a fact that Tony seemed determined to ignore for as long as possible, despite the growing level of agitation from his friend.
"Dewhurst, God damn your eyes, I am not spending one more minute rotting in this shack! Sod the weather!"
Tony sighed and gave his friend a withering look as he closed the book that rested across his knee. "Need I remind you, Percy, that this whole charade was your idea in the first place? Why do you have this sudden compulsion to go back to Blakeney Manor?"
Percy sighed and sank into the worn leather arm chair beside the small fire burning in the grate, lowering his head to rest in his hands for a long, quiet moment. "Dash it, it's nearly Christmas." Percy's voice was suddenly weary, the many stresses of months in hiding finally showing on his pale face like the frayed edges of a much-used cloth.
If he was completely honest with himself, his desire to get home as soon as possible was two fold. His need to see Marguerite, to hold her safe in his arms and begin the lengthy process of making up for all the time they had already lost, was paramount. In the rear corner of his mind, however, there was a faint fear that more than anything Percy wanted quieted. He had put her through this, put her through months of agony that he could only imagine, and though it was necessary, though he would make the same decision again were time reversed, he still had no choice but to bear the brunt of whatever anger and sorrow and recriminations were awaiting him. He would explain, of course. Explain that he simply couldn't risk her safety, Armand's safety, the safety of his friends and compatriots, and that as long as Chauvelin's adherents believed him alive, they were all at risk of falling prey to attempts at exacting revenge on Chauvelin's behalf should the full events of that final duel come to light. French politics being the fickle mistress that it is, Percy never expected it would take more than a few weeks, perhaps a month, for the few remaining hangers-on that Chauvelin had had at the time of his unfortunate exposure as the infamous Scarlet Pimpernel to either be roundly and publicly execrated or to move their loyalty so completely that they would never dream of seeking satisfaction for the tarnished honor of their former leader. It had taken longer than planned, to be sure, but certainly Marguerite would forgive him. Certainly. If he kept thinking it often enough, perhaps he would believe it sufficiently to calm the churning in his stomach.
The snow was falling in wet, heavy clumps more than in flakes as Marguerite sat in the window seat of her drawing room, gazing unseeingly out at the haze of white. It was a frequent past time of hers now, curling up against the damask cushions and allowing her mind to wander to imaginings of what her life could have held and the moments that had passed. To dwell in dreams would not change things, she knew, but at least in dreams she had a momentary respite from the chilling loneliness that would sometimes overtake her. They were but vague vignettes most times, but they were all she had. Percy's arms stealing around her as he appeared behind her as she sat her dressing table, his lips soft against the nape of her neck. Cheery mornings beside the fire as she sipped tea while resting on his knee. That familiar scent of soap and lavender water as they prepared for an evening out. The blue of his eyes shifting to nearly cobalt the moment before he kissed her. They were seemingly insignificant details at the time, moments taken for granted, but they now amounted to the mass of what Marguerite had of her marriage.
The heavy crunch of snow under hooves and wheels brought Marguerite back to the present as she stretched and stood slowly to move towards the hall. "Jessup, who is that in the drive? I wasn't expecting anyone today."
There were loud voices echoing over each other, the clatter of stable hands bustling in the drive and footmen rushing to their work as Marguerite made her way to the entry hall until a familiar voice shouting orders rose above the din until finally it could be heard distinctly.
"Dewhurst, see to that message to Ffoulkes and for God's sake, make sure these horses are well fed and rested for a good while!"
It couldn't be, Marguerite thought. It simply couldn't be. Her mind scrambled frantically for an explanation, for some reassurance that what her senses were telling her could not possibly be correct, lest her sanity shatter under the stress.
And then, irrefutable as the day, Percy strode forcefully into his home, and Marguerite could hardly process it. Before she could attempt to untangle the puzzle she saw before her, strong arms were tightening around her, breath stirring her hair as Percy lowered his mouth to claim hers in a kiss that tore all sense from her in an instant. As if of their own accord Marguerite's arms clung to his broad shoulders, meeting his kiss with a fierceness and desperation borne of the maelstrom raging within her heart until she wrenched free for breath, taking several staggering steps backwards, pale and trembling in shock.
"Margot…" Percy's voice was but a hoarse whisper as he moved slowly to close the distance between them.
She stared at him like a startled animal for a long moment, her breathing ragged and shallow. Just minutes earlier she was a lonely widow and now, here was her husband, flesh and blood as anything. Her normally quick mind was addled, leaving her to wonder if she was going mad. Or had she been mad all along? Or was this somehow actually real? Had Percy truly been returned to her?
Gradually her voice returned to her, her good sense slowly confirming that all was as it appeared. She reached for him again, seemingly needing to confirm that he was as real and tangible as he seemed. "Percy, mon dieu, I saw you under the blade of the guillotine!"
Percy wrapped his arms around her closely, nuzzling against her soft curls. "Darling, my Margot, I wish… Lord but I wish I could have explained. I can't imagine what you've been through. It's been all I could think of knowing how you must have been hurting."
Marguerite tensed and withdrew slowly and reluctantly from his embrace, her eyes stormy as she leveled her gaze up at him. "You're right, Percy. You cannot imagine what I've been through. You cannot imagine the agony or the guilt. You cannot imagine the exhaustion from having to attend to the endless social calls from everyone who thought they could get into the good graces of the widow Blakeney or callously wanted to see for themselves what horror the little French upstart had found herself in. You cannot! Do the both of us a favor and do not strain yourself trying."
She turned to make her exit, her entire bearing tense and wounded, but as she did her eyes met Percy's and she stopped. The look she saw there was full of the same pain and guilt and fatigue as she felt. This had been as difficult on him as it was on her, how could she imagine otherwise? She could be angry for what was probably an absolutely necessary deception or she could relish every moment with her husband that had been returned to her. It was a simple choice when put that way.
Wordlessly she closed the distance between them again, wrapping her arms around him and burrowing gratefully in the warmth of his embrace. After a moment's hesitation Percy pulled her closer, kissing along her cheek and neck gently. "Margot, my love, I can explain…"
Before he could say more Marguerite pressed her lips to his insistently, winding her fingers in his hair. "Explain later, Percy."
Christmas morning dawned crisp and cold, the grounds of Blakeney Manor blanketed in freshly fallen, untouched snow.
This fact was barely noticed, however, by the lord and lady of the house. There were parties to attend, gifts to be given, hymns to be sung all through the course of the day, but for the moment, in the very early hours of that Christmas morning, Percy and Marguerite were more thankful for the gift of their future than they could ever be for anything else.