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The buzzing of Pierre Bezukhov’s phone creeps into his subconscious first, manifesting as a very angry hoard of bees, before he gropes at the phone on the floor beside the couch. He had to get off campus for a few days, had to try to clear out his head, so he’d crashed at his friend’s. Not like he ever slept in his own bed anymore, either.

When he sees “2:54,” he isn’t quite sure if it’s AM or PM. Depression naps.

“Hello?” he mumbles, voice thick with sleep. The voice on the other end is hurried, trying to stay calm. He holds the phone in front of his nose to squint at the caller ID.

“Marya?” He hasn’t seen her since the start of last semester, when she’d recruited him to help the freshman move into their new dorms. He wonders somewhere in the back of his mind if he should come up with an excuse, but she’s still talking, and he hasn’t heard a word.

Until he catches her name.

“Go back, go back,” he mutters.

“You’re friends with Natasha, right? One of my kids?” Marya insists on calling her residents her children.

“Yeah, I am,” Pierre says, and it hits him that it’s 3am and whatever she’s calling to tell him about Natasha can’t be good. His stomach roils. He feels a bolt of adrenaline shoot through his body, and he’s suddenly awake.

“Something happened tonight, she drank too much and – she’s gonna be okay, but she’s in the hospital –”

He doesn’t wait to hear the rest of it. He gropes for his keys, his glasses, his wallet. He doesn’t remember getting into the car but he looks up and he’s on the highway already, orange light passing overhead, the road completely empty. His heart is beating frantically in his chest, and his mouth is dry, and he thinks back to the last time he saw her.

There was the poetry slam, which he congratulated himself for even showing up to, even though (especially since?) the whole school was there. Mary had made him promise to come, and Andrei had messaged him to make him go for his sister’s sake, so he showed up.

Natasha was sitting with Sonya in the front row, and the second he saw her it was like he could breathe, for a second, like feeling the sun on your shoulders on the first day of spring. He smiled, in spite of himself, and when she grinned back, waving him over without an ounce of self-consciousness, something settled like a fist in the back of his stomach.

That feeling didn’t leave, so he did.

He knew something had happened with her and Andrei, but Andrei wouldn’t talk about it; Natasha had messaged him to ask about his roommate, Anatole, and when he’d replied, he’s dating at least 3 somebodies, she’d read it and never responded.

He takes the next exit, blinks a few times, calls Marya back.

“Which – which hospital?”

“Presbyterian,” she says. “I’m still here, don’t worry.”

“Okay,” he says, worrying anyway.

It’s past four by the time he pulls into the parking lot, and he rushes into the hospital, passing other harried-looking loved ones on his way in. He knows that Marya said she was okay, but his brain keeps spitting out horrible images, whispering that she’s dying, that she’s already dead.

Marya finds him staring into space in the fifth floor waiting room and looks at him with pity, like she knows something he doesn’t.

“Bezukhov,” she says, gruff as usual. “She’s fine. I shouldn’t have called –”

“No, I’m glad you did. Where… Can I see her?” he asks, hating the way that his voice sounds.

Marya nods. “Yeah, come on.”

Natasha’s asleep when he walks in. There’s an IV in her arm and dark circles turning her skin from warm brown to bruise-purple, and he finds himself hesitating at the door, as if he has to be invited in. Has he ever seen her asleep before? Something about the moment feels too intimate, even though Sonya and Marya are right there, too.

“What happened?” Pierre breathes. Sonya tells him everything that she knows, from Anatole to the final she’d failed to the alcohol poisoning – she’d woken her up in the middle of the night, right before she passed out. Pierre can’t identify everything he’s feeling, but when he thinks about his shitty roommate, sees his smug, exfoliated face in his mind’s eye, rage starts to bubble up inside of him.

But then Natasha stirs, and the way she says his name drains everything else out of him. A wave of affection washes over him, so strong he feels like it could knock him over.

“I’m here, I’m here,” he says, sitting beside her bed in a plastic chair that makes him feel ungainly and too-large, like an adult in a child’s seat. He doesn’t know what to say, where to put his hands. Sonya says something about going for coffee, and Marya goes with her.

“What are you doing here? You didn’t have to come, it’s not that serious” she says softly. She must see the way that his face falls, because she hurries to correct him. “But I’m glad you did.”

“Are you okay?” he asks. It’s a stupid question.

She’s about to lie to him, but she stops short, searching his face instead. She’s never lied to him. She’s never had to. Her jaw works, and she doesn’t answer. He takes her small hand in his before he loses the nerve, and she holds tight. He thinks, sometimes, that maybe they could anchor each other. Maybe they do.

“I –“ she starts, her voice wavering. She frowns. “Did Andrei say anything to you?”

“No,” Pierre says. “No, I haven’t talked to him.”

“When you do…” her voice is warbling. “Can you – can you ask him to forgive me? Can you let him know how sorry I am?”

“Of course I will. Of course.”

“I ruined everything,” she says thickly. “I don’t know what I was thinking, I don’t know why I believed him, I don’t know anything.”

“You don’t have to tell me,” Pierre says. “We don’t have to talk about it, it’s fine.”

“Did they tell you?” she says softly. Pierre pauses, nods. Another wave of shame passes over her face and she pulls her hand from his, covering her mouth.

“Don’t cry, Tasha,” Pierre says desperately. “If you cry, I’m going to cry, you know that.”

He’d been hoping for a hint of a smile, but she bursts into tears instead, trying to cover them. I’m sorry, he wants to say, I didn’t mean to make you cry, I know you didn’t want me to see you like this.

“See?” he says, voice choked. He can feel his glasses starting to mist over and wipes them on his shirt.

“I’m so ashamed,” she says.

Pierre shakes his head. “Natasha…”

“I’m a horrible person,” she says, her voice starting to pitch up. “And I’m an idiot. I don’t deserve anyone.”

“Natasha, that isn’t true at all,” he says, horrified. “You’re incredible. You’re smart, and you’re kind –”

“Kind?” she wails. “I cheated on Andrei, Pierre! We can keep dancing around it but it happened, and I hate myself for it. I hate myself for all of it.”

“That’s my line, not yours,” he says, and for a moment, they both look sternly at the other one, both reproach each other silently for daring to say or think such a thing.

“I didn’t want you to know,” she says. “I’m – I can’t believe I did this to him. You must hate me.”

“What?” Pierre says. “Hate you – Natasha, I could never hate you, I –”

Oh.

His heart beats furiously in his chest. He wonders if she can hear it. He tells himself to stop talking before he says something he can’t take back, but the words spill out of his mouth before he knows what they’re going to be.

“You’ve got it backwards, Natasha, you deserve the world. You deserve someone who knows how incredible you are and appreciates everything about you, like the way your nose crinkles when you’re trying not to laugh and the God-awful memes you send. You have so much love to give, you deserve someone who will give you even more back. If I weren’t… if I weren’t me – if I was… better looking, and smarter and better, I’d do anything to try to make you happy. To give you that love back.”

She doesn’t say anything for what feels like a decade as the seconds stretch between them. There are tears glittering in her eyes and she’s got dark shadows and cracked lips. She’s the most beautiful thing he’s seen in his entire life.

“Oh,” she says, quiet and heavy. “Oh, Pierre.”

She slides her careful fingers across his cheek, under his ear, and one thumb swipes away a tear. He stops breathing all together, afraid to move, afraid to say anything else that would shatter the moment that’s been spun around the two of them. She’s never touched him like this before. No one has.

He knows he doesn’t have a poker face, that the way he’s looking at her must be giving him away. He can feel the affection flooding out of him, the love and tenderness and sympathy.

He’s ruined. He knows, more than he’s ever known anything, that he’s already too far gone to ever find his way back. Maybe he doesn’t want to.

There’s conversation in the hall and Pierre shrinks back as two adults rush into the room and toward Natasha – Mr. and Mrs. Rostov, he guesses. Sonya and Marya are back, too. Everything is loud and frenzied and the room is too full of people, so Pierre stands up so quickly he knocks the chair over and has to right it for Natasha’s father. The man throws him a sideways, distracted smile before sitting down; Mrs. Rostov has already launched into a desperate, tear-tinged “what were you thinking?” tirade, and the shame has returned to Natasha’s face. Her father grabs her hand though, gives it a little squeeze.

Everyone is talking, and Pierre waits for a lull in the conversation to say goodbye, anything. He edges toward the door.

“Does anyone want me to go and get anything?” he tries. No one responds. He considers trying to say something again but colors, thinks better of it. He can feel himself hovering. Better to leave now, without being noticed.

He turns one last time at the door to look at her face, and when he does, she’s staring directly at him, lips parted, steady and unreadable. Come back, she mouths. Come back, okay?

He nods, turning before she can see the tears in his eyes. Always, always, always.

He walks through the hallway in a daze, thinking about the way she’d looked at him, the way no one has ever, ever looked at him. He forces himself to breathe again, to remember how to.

He loves her.

Now that he sees it he can’t stop saying it to himself. He hits the elevator button. He loves her. He shuffles out into the lobby. He loves her. He pats his pocket absently for his keys, turning toward the parking lot. He loves her, he loves her, he loves her, he loves her. How long has he loved her? How hadn’t he known?

And there, as the sliding doors part before him, a soft, pink light is creeping over the lot. He lifts his gaze and freezes. The sun is rising. By the time he reaches his car the sky is awash in pinks and oranges and purples, and he leans back onto the hood of his car and lets himself be still. He lets himself breathe, and he lets himself feel everything he’d normally push down inside himself.

Now, there are three things Pierre Bezukhov knows: It’s a new day. He loves Natasha Rostova. And he’s going to live.