When Anatole sleeps he looks quite a few years younger than he actually is.
Soft wisps of blondish-brown hair fall over his forehead and eyes, long, dark lashes barely brush over his cheeks, full, pink lips lightly compress in an almost-smile that never fades, never dies. It is an inane sort of smile, a symbol of childish warmth and contentment at heart. It barely matters whether his face is bathed in misty moonlight or watery sunlight of the early morning. His features seem to transcend the banal effects of light on one’s countenance, and instead provide their own inner glow that is constant and immutable throughout the minutes of his slumber.
As the pale red rays of an evanescent sunrise sun seeped into the room through the gap in the delicate curtains that swayed in the tranquil morning breeze, Theodore awoke to find himself lying next to a still sleeping Anatole, one arm comfortably wound around the other man’s waist. They were bathed in pale, red light that streaked across their faces, the dawn painting them into a picture that could be hung in the hall of Theodore’s memories even once the moment had evaporated into the great expanse of time.
So many memories, though most of them seemed a lifetime ago. So many of them bathed in tinges and tones of red…
The air is hot. The sun is bright.
A classic summer day.
They run along the field in the tall grass and field flowers. The small woods that divide their two estates have been left behind, the shade of the trees foregone for the sunny expense of the field. Theodore jumps at Anatole from behind, latching his arms around the younger boy’s shoulders. They go down into the grass among the flowers. Anatole manages to flip onto his back but Theodore is laughing too hard to move. Anatole doesn’t push him off. They lie panting and laughing, too immersed in their excitement of tag to realize the confounding position they had ended up in – one lying on top of the other, far from the world’s sobering reach.
They fall silent simultaneously, as though on cue, suddenly comprehending where they are and how they lie. Yet neither cares as their eyes meet in a moment of union of minds, souls and, on a level their childhood perceptions can not yet recognize, hearts. Anatole is blushing from the lengthy run, his cheeks abloom with a tender rose hue that compliments the delighted sparkle in his eyes. His breathing is still ragged and his heartbeat erratic and strong, pounding against Theodore’s own chest. Theodore, as the older, sees something else in Anatole’s flushed cheeks and dancing eyes, feels something deeper, more intense than pure boyish excitement, in his own aroused senses. It is…
Theodore flushes with a flame of a self-conscious embarrassment that is far beyond the younger boy’s comprehension. He rolls off of Anatole and lies in a prone position beside his friend.
They stay like that for another hour, each quietly observing his own thoughts. Anatole watches the clouds, wondering what had caused such a rapid change in Theodore’s mood, yet he does not dare question the other boy. Theodore lies beside him on his stomach, head rested on his folded arms, looking, in miffed introversion, through the forest of wild grass and flowers.
Anatole, at a mere nine years of age, can not possibly have had any understanding of what had, in one fleeting instant, materialized between them. Theodore, at fourteen, has a vague – intuitive – understanding.
Theodore has always found himself somewhat transfixed by the beauty of the Kurgins’ garden at their Moscow house. Now as the summer wanes and passes slowly into autumn, he walks through the enchanted enclave of leafy trees and colorful flowerbeds, breathing in the fading spirit of the warm season. Today he is looked for Anatole here because he knows the little Prince always sneaks off to the very far end of the garden, where the large, fragrant roses grow, separated from the outside world by a white stone wall. He comes around a small cluster of trees and steps into the enclosed area. Of course, he was right. Anatole is here, dressed in light britches and a white tailcoat. He is twirling a large red rose in one hand, holding it up reverently to the sun, then buries his face in its petals and his shoulders visibly go up as he breaths in its aroma. “They’re more beautiful then the ones my sister gets.”
Theodore laughs. He enjoys knowing that the boy can somehow sense him, recognize his presence, even when turned away. “Are you so jealous of your sister? Would you like flowers delivered to you as well?”
Anatole turns and Theodore is stunned by how sad the boy looks. There’s no light in his eyes; they’re slightly red around the corners as though he’d been crying and their crystal grey is muddier somehow, darker. Confused? “Perhaps I would. She never speaks to me of these things, these flowers and notes she receives. Soon she will not tell me a thing at all.” He sighs and allows the rose to tumbles listlessly to the ground, where it lies alone and helpless, though no less magically beautiful. The boy looks up and stares into his older friend’s face with a mournful expression beyond his twelve and a half years. “Soon, you shan’t tell me a thing either. Especially not when I’m all the way in Paris.”
Theodore watches him curiously, though not without dismay. So this was what this was all about. Anatole was being sent off to grammar school in Paris and he had been quite excited about the matter until, it seemed, this very day. “I don’t think that’s so,” Theodore denied, shaking his head slightly. “You’re free to write as often as you wish, and I’ll write too.”
Anatole looks so vulnerable. His shoulders slump slightly and the midday sun that reflects off of his hair seems shamelessly cheerful in the face of such innocent sadness. “I will write,” the boy decides firmly, finally. “Everyday.” He looks up with hopeful, beautiful grey eyes and the ghost of a smile skims over his lips.
Theodore marks the picturesque beauty of the moment and shuts it up within his memory where it would always stay: little Anatole in his virginal-white tailcoat, framed against a flowerbed of large, red roses in the bright heat of the early-autumn sun. He steps forward and picks up the rose, running a finger over its velvety pedals, and hands it to Anatole who takes it gingerly, regarding it with newfound interest. “You will love Paris.” Later, Theodore would think that between the rose and the boy, Anatole was the more beautiful.
Anatole looks immaculate. Seventeen and just back from Paris, he is no longer the sweet little boy Theodore saw off to Paris all those years ago. He had noticed the changes in Anatole’s letters over time as they became lengthier, more grammatically correct, more eloquent, and almost entirely in French. Yet he had still not been prepared to see what he saw now: a young Prince in the very bloom of his youth, handsome and radiant, dressed by the latest fashion. He exudes self-confidence and happiness, a bright presence that captivates everyone who enters his sphere, a socialite of the highest level. The only thing that is the same is his smile. Innocent and genuine, beautiful in its warmth and childishness. His eyes are hardly different too. There’s more understanding there, understanding of how society works, understanding of his own value, but no less desire to live and to be happy.
“Theodore,” Anatole puts out a hand to him as Dolokhov approaches him through the crowd of guests in the Kuragin drawing room. “I sent word weeks in advance of when I was to be back. Why didn’t you come to see me?”
“Your Grace.” Theodore bows slightly, sharp blue eyes unexpressive and vigilant. He is stunned and uncomfortable, perfectly uncertain of how to carry himself with this magnetic stranger who just slightly resembles the darling boy he’d once known and mentored.
Anatole’s smile falters and he looks genuinely offended. “Your Grace? Next you’ll be calling me Prince Kuragin. Do stop this second!” Anatole regards him carefully. “What is it? You look at me as though you do not know me.”
Theodore doesn’t think he does. His head spins and he takes a glass of champagne from a passing waiter, bringing the cool, stinging liquid to his lips and avoiding Anatole’s eyes for just another moment. He finally forces himself to meet the boy’s tentative gaze. “You have changed much. When I saw you last you barely reached my shoulder.”
Anatole’s smile returns easily. He takes this as an acceptance of their old friendship, perhaps a return to it. “Well, of course I have! Would have been a shame if I had stayed so short, wouldn’t it?” Anatole picks up his own champagne glass and takes in a long drink. He picks up a perfectly shaped, ripe, bright red strawberry and pops it into his mouth effortlessly. “They’re quite good. Try one.” Theodore watches as the boy savors his second strawberry, his lips curving over the delectable morsel as though in a passionate kiss. Anatole holds out one of the plump, red things to him. “Come, try one.”
Theodore reaches out almost numbly and takes the strawberry. His hand brushes Anatole’s just briefly and if he had any less self control he would have gasped. He eats the berry without tasting it. Anatole proposes some toast and they drink.
It would take time for him to admit it, but that night, Theodore fell tenderly and hopelessly in love.
Theodore has managed the finest wine for the night and now it gleams a bright rouge in the delicate glasses, reflecting the firelight and throwing faint light-bunnies into shadowed corners. They’re alone for the night. Theodore’s mother and sister have gone for a few days on a visit. He’s trying very hard to ignore the fact that this “friend” they have gone to call on also happens to be a rather well-known doctor. Anatole has been in Moscow for the last couple of months but will leave a week or so before Christmas. Theodore loathes the thought.
They sit on the carpeted floor with their wine and an empty plate that use to have an assortment of cheese on it, but they’d eaten that long since. There is no other light in the room and their conversation has died away into a peaceful silence. Theodore is no longer upset about the change in Anatole though he is still not quite use to it. The boy makes it both easier and more awkward for him. Anatole snuggles up to him without a second thought, as though it is the most natural thing to do, laying his head on Theodore’s shoulder and curling up into a ball, the glass of wine cradled against his chest.
“I do think I’m rather drunk,” Anatole proposes finally,
“I don’t believe that for you that is a very difficult feat.”
Anatole laughs softly. “Your mind is elsewhere tonight.”
“You’re right, it is,” Theodore admits and sips at his wine. “It is with my sister. I suppose I’ve been dull.” He wouldn’t apologize for putting Galina first and Anatole wasn’t expecting him to.
“Is she not well again?” Anatole lifts his head from Theodore’s shoulder and looks up at him with genuine concern. His hand is on Theodore’s shoulder and he flattens his palm over it, sliding his hand down Theodore’s back.
Theodore looks over at him and something breaks inside and he looks dully back at the fire. “She’s never very well. It’s her back, see. The deformity is hard on her body, the lungs, they say.”
“Will they be back by Christmas?”
“I think they should be, but if they aren’t I’ll go to them.”
Anatole nods and puts his head down on Theodore’s shoulder. “You should come to Petersburg for Christmas. Stay with us. You and your mother and sister.”
“I’d hate to intrude.”
Anatole scoffs. “No you wouldn’t. You’re just saying that out of propriety. Please, won’t you? It’ll be nothing to convince Papa to let you. I know, too, that Helene will be delighted. She’s terribly fond of you.”
“I don’t think my mother and yours like each other much.”
“Yes, well, I think my father fancies your mother.”
“That would explain the former rather neatly then, wouldn’t it?” They look at each other for a moment and begin to laugh just like the two naughty little boys they had once been.
“That’s awful of us,” Anatole manages finally, still smiling. “But I’m serious, you should come. Christmas in Petersburg would be a bore without you there. I couldn’t possibly stand it.”
“Don’t over dramatize.”
Anatole pouts. “Well.” He looks up pleadingly at Theodore and bats his eyelids, long eyelashes fluttering to repeatedly reveal and hide the most beautiful grey eyes. “Please?”
Theodore smirks and sips at the fine red wine, finishing off the current glass. “I’ll speak to my mother of it.” He reaches forward for the bottle so that Anatole wouldn’t see the triumph in his eyes.
The Dolokhov’s do spend Christmas in Petersburg, though they are put up by one of Maria Ivanovna’s friends, rather than the Kuragins. Regardless, Theodore constantly finds himself in Anatole’s company. On Christmas day, they take some time to be alone, admiring the tall Christmas tree as Anatole goes on about high society gossip. Anatole, dressed formally for the evening, makes a magnificent site, outshining by far the most exquisite of the decorations. Theodore can hardly keep his eyes off the boy and Anatole notices and blushes so fiercely that Theodore realizes that they must be thinking of the same thing. He looks away at one of the glass balls hung on a sprawling branch that is abnormally long, sticking out from the rest like an outstretched hand. It is bright red and perfectly spherical with an intricate, silver design engraved over its surface. The ball collects the fading evening sunlight and throws dancing light bunnies onto the walls.
Anatole’s light touch on his arm makes Theodore flinch and shivers erupt over his back. He looks over at Anatole, searching the other young man’s face, meeting his crystal grey eyes with his own sharp blue ones. A wave passes between them and Anatole’s hands shake slightly as he reaches into his jacket and draw out a small box of red velvet and holds it out on an open palm. “I’ve been waiting to be alone with you to give you this.”
Theodore takes the box, feeling the smoothness and softness of the velvet beneath his fingers. He opens it slowly, revealing a silver locket on a delicate silver chain that looks terribly fragile. The locket itself is a simple oval shape with a fine engraving of a cupid with his arrow on the top. Theodore flips it open and the top pops up with a small click of the clasp. The locket contains a miniature portrait of Anatole, his facial features sharply defined by thin elegant lines and the paints used are soft, warm colors that illuminate the small painting with a tender glow. On the lid, the engraving in French reads: “From my heart to thine, a token of utter affection, in hopes that thee shall keep me close to thy heart always.”
Theodore looks up and encounters Anatole’s searching glance. “Merry Christmas,” Anatole murmurs, blushing in boyish embarrassment. “I…” he begins but does not have the courage to finish.
Theodore reaches out and takes Anatole’s hand with his free one, twigging their fingers together. They meet each other’s eyes and no more words are needed.
They make love for the first time that night. Theodore is a young man of twenty-four. Anatole a boy of nineteen and a half.
It’s everywhere. The thick, red, sticky liquid seems to cover everything. It ranges in hue from a deep burgundy to a sickly, brownish, brick-red. There is read on the bandages, the sheets, the ground, Anatole’s clothes, his hands and face... There’s no water – no water to spare at least – no vodka or even blankets. The tents are crowded, infested with wounded men who lie on cots or benches, most of the soldiers are simply placed in rows on strips of cloth. The air is filled with the moans and cries of the wounded and dying.
Theodore stands at the entrance to the medical tend, one arm still held out at a strange angle, frozen in midair where it had stopped when he pushed aside the flap of fabric covering the entrance. He watched, as though entranced, the horror of the scene, unable to make a single step forward. He’d seen this before, of course, but never had his little boy been right in the middle of it all.
It had taken no time for Theodore to locate Anatole, even in the dying light of the evening. The young man is sprawled on one of the cots, covered to the waist by some excuse for a blanket. The bottom of his shirt if soaked in red, his hands, stained red, clutch at the sheet covering him as he grimaces in pain and rolls his head from one side to the other. Anatole is looking straight at Theodore now but whether he can see his lover or not is questionable. But Theodore sees. Sees the remains of blood on the boy’s face, the tear stains on his cheeks and his bloodshot eyes. His stupor is gone in an instant and he pushes his way through the rows of cots to Anatole’s side.
Theodore takes Anatole’s hand in his, squeezing it slightly; his other hand brushes sweat-soaked strands of hair from the young man’s forehead. “Anatole,” he whispers quietly, leaning closer to the boy, the stench of blood filling his nostrils almost instantly. “Anatole, can you hear me?”
“Teddy.” His name is a half-whisper, fragile and transparent, allowed to float off in a generally up and onward direction, released from trembling chapped lips.
“Yes, I’m here. Anatole, tell me, how bad…how’re you wounded?”
“My leg. They…took my leg. Bullet. Blood. Bone shattered…” Anatole takes a shuddering breath that is almost a sob. Theodore notices how cold the boy’s hand is and begins to rub it between both of his. “They took it.”
Theodore looks down at the thin sheet and beneath it can make out the outline of one leg amputated just above the knee. He winces involuntarily, Anatole shuts his eyes, squeezing Theodore’s hand so hard that Dolokhov almost cries out in protest but instead merely rubs soothing circles into Anatole’s wrist with his free hand. “Anatole, Anatole…” He is lost for words and can’t think of a thing to say to soothe the boy’s pain and grief. All he knows is that Anatole couldn’t stay here. The army is in retreat and the wounded will be most likely left behind at some point. He will not – can not – let that happen. “I’ll get you out of here, I promise,” he vows quietly. “Please, don’t let go. Don’t let go, my dear, bear the pain a little longer…”
Theodore does as he vows. He has to leave Anatole to make arrangement and he fears that the boy might die while he is gone. That would be the worst – to die alone in such utter misery. But Anatole waits for him and Theodore manages to procure some things for them – a carriage to take them through Moscow and to a nearby town, a man to drive them, water, and some bandages. He carries Anatole into the carriage and settles him down so that the boy’s head is on his lap. He takes off his cloak and wraps Anatole up in it for warmth. He re-does the bandages on Anatole’s leg, wincing both at the gruesome sight and Anatole’s muffled cries of pain when the area is disturbed. He gives Anatole some of the water to drink, takes a sip for himself and uses the rest to wash the blood off of Anatole’s face. They’ve been riding in almost complete silence for a couple hours when Anatole opens his eyes and asks very softly,” Won’t you be degraded to the ranks for deserting?”
“We’re in retreat anyway, Don’t bother with me, I’ll manage. Besides what do those bastards know? Tell me rather: how are you feeling? You seem a little more clearheaded.”
“It’s hard to breath and it hurts.” Anatole hides his face against Theodore’s chest and Dolokhov strokes the boy’s hair tenderly. Theodore can tell that Anatole is shaking and knows the fever must have started.
“My poor little boy,” he murmurs softly. “Hush, hold out a little longer. We’re almost in Moscow and there we should find you something for the pain. Shhhh. Shhh. There, don’t cry, you’ll be alright, trust me. Sleep now. Sleep.” He continues in the same fashion for some time as they speed toward the darkened silhouette of Moscow, quietly murmuring tender, loving nonsense against Anatole’s ear, kissing his forehead and temples from time to time when the boy seemed to grow especially agitated.
In Moscow they find vodka and Anatole has at least some relief from the fiery pain that had consumed him. The fever persists but to fight that Theodore manages to acquire a warm blanket and two pillows. They head on in the night to a village that is unlikely to be targeted even if Moscow is taken and is fairly far off, for precaution’s sake. Theodore finds an elderly woman who agrees to put Anatole up and Theodore sighs in relief. He knows he has to go back to the ranks but leaving Anatole is the last thing he wants to do. He sits up the night with his lover, caring for him in what way he can. "Sleep, darling, I’m here,” he whispers over and over again in Russian because he cannot stand anything French at the moment. They have water now and Theodore puts strips of cloth soaked in cool water on Anatole’s forehead to fend off the fever. Anatole finally falls asleep by daybreak and Theodore knows it is time to go. He gives his young lover one last, longing look. With the red splotches gone from his face and clothes – a new shirt had been procured – and his wounds invisible beneath bandages and blankets, Anatole looks as though he is merely asleep, peaceful and blissful. Theodore knows better but does not think about it; the thought is too disturbing. He kisses the boy he had loved so much for so long one last time, stands and leaves, abandoning Anatole to the cares of the elderly woman and her family.
The most overwhelming feeling at that moment is failure.
…Anatole’s head shifting slightly against his shoulder drew Theodore out of his thoughts. He looked down at the young man in his arms with unconcealable adoration. “Morning, Your Grace,” he said softly, nuzzling against Anatole’s soft hair, breathing in the familiar scent of his lover.
“Don’t call me that,” Anatole muttered drowsily, burying his face into the soft pillows to hide from the invading sunlight.
“Anatole,” Theodore laughed softly at the young man’s antics. “You can’t stay in bed all day. Besides, you’re already awake.”
“Of course I can,” Anatole informed him, not moving. “It is all I have to do.”
Theodore suppressed a sigh. It was difficult, very difficult, to keep his temper with Anatole these days. Anatole was often melancholy and petulant and insisted on making things difficult. Both their lives had changed after the war. Anatole had chosen to remove himself from Petersburg society for he did not feel like he belonged there anymore. With Helene dead there seemed little reason for him to stay in a place where he felt constantly either judged of pitied. His disabilities were constantly observed and prevented him from rejoining the carefree, joyous scene of revelry that had been so prominent in his early youth, before the war. Anatole was but 28 now, but he felt much older and his new limitations haunted him. Theodore, on the other hand, felt as though he had finally found peace. When Anatole moved to the Kuragin’s country estate, Theodore had gone with him unwillingly at first, but with increasing determination. He couldn’t leave his lover. At first because Anatole’s health compelled him to take care of his lover and later because he found himself very fond of this new life. He found small things – helping Anatole manage the estate, helping him adjust to his new life and seeing the gratitude in his lover’s eyes, even waking up by his side on a morning such as this – extremely gratifying.
Theodore climbed out of bed and drew open the curtains. Light flooded the room. The sun had fully risen and was a bright yellow spot in the cerulean late-August sky. Anatole made a move to pull the blanket over his head but stopped and, instead, lifted his head to look at Theodore with accusing eyes. “Have you nothing better to do?”
“Hardly. Come, it’s a beautiful day. We’ll breakfast on the porch and then continue your riding lessons. You’ve got her at a walk, I’m sure you can manage a trot if you’re careful with it.” Riding was something Anatole missed painfully, almost as much as dancing. It was taking time but Anatole was slowly learning how to stay in the saddle despite his predicament.
“Yes, I suppose I’d like that.” Anatole sat up, pushing the blanket down to his waist. This was still a problem. Anatole hated seeing his own disfigurement and it was almost as if every morning he woke up still hoping it had all bean just a dream. Theodore sat down on the bed next to him and pulled the young man closer, kissing him rapturously. “Just remember that I love you.”
Anatole nodded and smiled brightly. “When you say that, nothing else matters.” He pushed the blanket back, took a moment, then reached over to the dresser by the bed where his clothes for the day were laid out and began to dress.
“How can I stand here with you
And not be moved by you?
Would you tell me how could it be
Any better than this?”
-- Lifehouse, “Everything”