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Away from the sunlight, petal by fragile petal, Antoinette remembers.

PG. One-sided Marie Antoinette/Oscar Francois de Jarjayes, implied Antoinette/Hans Axel von Fersen. Drama & Romance. 3,320 words. Story written for the Secret Coconut 4, a fic exchange promoted by the community Saint Seiya Superfics Journal ([livejournal.com profile] stseiya_fanfics). Originally posted exclusively at the community.

For Prompt 252 by [livejournal.com profile] ghostfriendly: Oscar/Marie/Fersen. Queen Marie is in love with Oscar, and jealous of her relative freedom and independence. She tries to distract herself with her affair with Fersen, who loves her and who Oscar loves. Eventually, she appreciates that Oscar cares for her as a queen and friend. (No OCs, no rape or serious violence)

Warning: Spoilers for Versailles no Bara/The Rose of Versailles manga and anime series.



Special thanks to my awesome beta, [livejournal.com profile] flamesword, sine qua non.

Souvenant

by Shiraume


[January 2012]

When she was young, her sister Carolina had once likened her to a flower.

“Without sunlight, you’d wither,” her sister had said, smiling, placing a half-blossomed rose in her hair. “And your sunlight, herzerl, is love.”

Carolina had always been her favorite sister.

And she’d been right: comte de Mercy-Argenteau could criticize her choice of companions all he liked, but she simply could not live without companionship, especially with her husband so distant.

(It was a distance she later understood as timidity and shyness, not dislike or disinterest. But far too late -- if only.)

It was terribly ironic that the person she trusted the most was also someone who had never been part of her Société Particulière. Actually, it was the last person she could imagine chatting away in salons and fluttering around in grand ballrooms. A wry smile tugged at her mouth at the thought. Really, the two of them had very little in common at all.

Yet when she first came to Paris, Oscar had been her proverbial knight in shining armor. In the cave where she’d nearly met an untimely end, Oscar had been a fairytale knight, with hair like the sunshine, clad in pure white, rescuing a princess. She still remembered the shock when she realized her knight was, in fact, a woman.

Her hand trembled briefly, and the tissue paper crumpled in her fingers. With a sigh, she let it drop, and picked up another, shaping it carefully. In her hand, the paper rose began to take the shape of a bud, small and pure white.

~*~*~*~


“There are a lot of people at Versailles today.”

Despite her determination not to show any emotion, she was trembling. She’d lost. She, the dauphine of France, the future queen, had been defeated by a mere mistress of the king. The shame of losing to this woman, not only lowly of birth, but immoral and sinful, nothing better than a prostitute, burned like hot acid down her throat. Her laughter was like nails being driven into her back, sharp and painful, and Antoinette fled, feet flying over the staircase. Her own words echoed in her head over and over, accompanied by the ringing, mocking laughter, and she threw herself down on the cold marble floor, uncaring.

Warm hands raised her, and all she saw was white. And she knew whose arms held her up so effortlessly. Had it been anyone else witnessing her moment of weakness, she would have recoiled. But it was Oscar, and it was enough. So she laid her tear-stained cheek on Oscar’s chest and wept.

Oscar did not try to console her, as Madame de Noailles might have, or pat her back as her sisters would have. But the silence was strangely comforting. When the last of her sobs died away, Oscar raised her bodily from the floor, and led her to a sofa. Feeling drained, she lay down and closed her eyes.

When she woke up, the greeting ceremony had finished, and she was in her own bed.

~*~*~*~


Antoinette rubbed at her fingers. It was always cold in her cell, and so damp. Rosalie’s daily visits were her only source of comfort, of warmth, and she treasured those moments. With Rosalie’s soft voice, Oscar would come alive once again, wrapping the cell in a soft gossamer of dreams. And she could forget, just for a little while, her reality.

Sometimes, dreaming of Oscar made her reality seem like the dream. Surely if she opened her eyes, she’d be back in her room at Versailles, overlooking her rose garden! And she’d sneak out of her lessons, knowing Oscar would be waiting just outside the room with that fondly exasperated look in her eyes. Oscar had been the only colorful butterfly in her drab world, and when she looked at her like that, she was the only one in Oscar’s.

With a sigh, she opened her eyes, and took another piece of tissue paper.

~*~*~*~


When she saw Oscar unharmed, sheer, naked relief made her knees nearly buckle. Then, she heard duc de Guéméné screaming threats at Oscar, and her relief turned to sharp anger. She wasn’t even sure at whom her anger was directed: Oscar, for being so reckless, duc de Guéméné, for nearly taking Oscar away from her, or maybe even duc d'Orléans, for standing there and doing nothing to stop this travesty. But it gave her strength, enough to round on Oscar angrily and place her under house arrest, and deliver a scathing reprimand to the furious duke.

Oscar didn’t say anything, merely bowing her head in acceptance, and Antoinette stepped into the carriage, pointedly not looking at her. The icy stab of panic she’d felt at dawn, when she heard about the duel—

Antoinette closed her eyes.

The last time she’d felt it, she had been the dauphine. Had that been a lifetime ago, when she’d laughed so happily to be on horseback for the first time? She still vividly remembered her terror as the horse reared and took off, and Oscar...

Oscar had saved her then, too. Then, heedless of her own injury, Oscar had laid down her life to save André’s, and nearly bled out her life right there in front of the entire court. In front of Antoinette herself.

Perhaps it was then that she realized her actions could hurt the people she loved. She was older now, a queen besides, and knew if such a thing happened now, André would lose his life. And Oscar wouldn’t escape punishment, either. As queen, more than ever, she was under layers of chains so fine, even she could (almost) pretend they didn’t exist. Etiquettes, rules, tradition, duty – they wrapped around her like snakes, tightening every day. She could never be traditional enough, courteous enough, or French enough to please everyone.

And maybe Oscar thought herself above all that. Being a woman in a man’s profession, in direct defiance to convention, being unmarried, free... Perhaps Oscar felt she could be the voice of reason and probity. Could challenge any injustice and stand against anyone, even a prince. But why didn’t Oscar see it? In a way, Oscar’s freedom existed only because of the continued royal favor. Doubly so, given Oscar’s tendency to speak her mind in Antoinette’s presence, even advise her openly. Her post as the Commander of Royal Guards was precarious as it was; many nobles, including duc de Guéméné, had voiced complaints that a woman was given such a prestigious position in the army. And duc de Guéméné was a powerful man, one the royal family could not afford to alienate. Why couldn’t Oscar see her actions put Antoinette at odds with the haughty duke, and the rest of the court? And if she failed to appease duc de Guéméné in some way, it would be Oscar who suffered.

Antoinette clenched a white-knuckled hand in the silk of her voluminous skirt.

It was said freedom had its price. Yet, how blessed were those who could choose to pay!

~*~*~*~


The tissue paper made a soft rustling noise as she put down her half-finished rose. Antoinette fingered the white petals, rubbing at her chest with her other hand. Rosalie had secretly brought her a woolen cloak, concerned about her lingering cough, but it was scarcely enough to keep her warm.

Sometimes, she wondered if God even heard her prayers after the life of sin and deceit she’d led. Still did, even now. She was a widow, and a bereft mother. Yet, memories of Oscar visited her dreaming mind more often than those of her dead husband, or even her poor children, both the dead and the living. Remembering her poor Louis Joseph still brought a sharp pain to her chest, though a part of her was relieved that he faced none of what his poor siblings were going through.

Yet the poor young prince had been lucky in another way. Being only a boy, a child, he could put his arms around Oscar’s neck and kiss her with all his innocent affection. For all their time together, she scarcely remembered being able to touch Oscar so casually. How her heart had trembled that first (and only) time Oscar had danced with her! She’d all but forgotten Fersen’s presence nearby. Even if Oscar had asked her to dance only to help her, she couldn’t help her pure, unrestrained joy at the thought that she would be Oscar’s only partner. She’d been too happy to even worry about the way her cheeks were flushed and her heart wouldn’t stop pounding. Oscar’s arms around her, Oscar’s eyes on her, Oscar’s scent enveloping her... She could have danced all night.

Antoinette touched her fingertips to her lips, letting out a gentle breath to warm them. The white rose seemed to gleam in the dim candlelight, and she reached out, caressing the petals tenderly.

She took another piece of tissue paper, and started shaping another petal.

~*~*~*~


“Have you forgotten your position as the queen – the mother of this country?”

Antoinette lowered her eyes to hide the tears beginning to form. She knew Oscar offered her advice – and admonishment, when necessary – only out of concern. But Oscar had no idea why she clung so desperately to the companionship Madame de Polignac offered. Oscar had no idea why Fersen was her only oasis in the vast desert that was her daily life.

She could seek Madame de Polignac’s company without a shred of guilt. Unlike Oscar, who only accompanied her as far as duty required, Madame de Polignac stayed with her without being asked, and she could have put up with any amount of requests for favor just for that. She could look into Fersen’s eyes and see only the sincere, earnest love there, and feel no guilt at the way her heart fluttered. It was sinful, yes, for a married woman to accept the love of another man, but at least it was a natural thing, to seek love from a man.

She closed her eyes tightly.

“Thank you for your concern for my welfare,” she murmured. It took all her strength to school her expression to neutrality. “But it seems you don’t understand my feelings, either. Or perhaps, it was foolish of me to hope you would respond with a woman’s heart?”

Even as the words left her mouth, she could have laughed at their sheer absurdity. She didn’t want Oscar to respond with a woman’s heart. But how could she dare to admit that even in the privacy of her own thoughts, let alone to Oscar herself? She needed love, as a flower needed the sunlight; and she couldn’t receive it from her husband, nor could she ask it from—

“I am a woman first, and a queen second. I tremble with the need to love, and to be loved, like any other woman!”

Oscar could leave her at any moment. Oscar was free to fall in love, get married, and become an ordinary woman any time she chose. And she, being her friend and her queen, could do nothing but watch and give her blessings, no matter how bitter they would taste in her mouth. She was trapped by her very position that all other women at Versailles envied.

“My husband the king is a great man, and I respect him. But we are husband and wife in name only! I am so desperate to forget the emptiness of my marriage that I dress up and dance and sing until I collapse of exhaustion!”

It wasn’t fair, to burden Oscar with her secret. The stricken look on Oscar’s face nearly made her flinch and apologize, but at the same time, she was perversely glad that Oscar now shared at least a part of her pain. As Oscar made her hasty excuse and withdrew, looking like her world had turned upside down, Antoinette sank to her chair, sobbing.

When she felt gentle hands on her shoulders, she took the offered comfort without hesitation. As long as they stayed, as long as they loved her, what did it matter who they were? So she closed her eyes and pretended that the arms around her were clad in red uniform sleeves, not lace.

~*~*~*~


Unbeknownst to the rest of the court, Antoinette had once read the infamous Memoires Justificatifs by the equally infamous comtesse de la Motte.

Madame de Polignac had been her usual solicitous self, assuring her that no one in decent society believed those lies, and the slanderers were merely jealous of the queen, and the friendship she shared with her favorite ladies. The pornographic nature of the books had angered her, yes, but more than that, the books had frightened her. The accusations regarding Madame de Polignac or the princesse de Lamballe she could dismiss easily; all she’d ever felt for them was friendship. But the odd tremor of excitement Oscar’s very presence inspired – she’d never once imagined—

The sound of paper ripping startled her. Carefully, she unclenched her fingers, letting the torn pieces drop from her hand. Rosalie looked at her, puzzled, and she shook her head. “Please go on,” she urged, taking another piece of tissue paper. Soon, Rosalie’s soft voice again filled the cell with stories of Oscar, but for once, Antoinette found it impossible to lose herself in dreams.

How terrifying, to think a complete stranger could so easily lay her soul bare. And without even knowing the truth – the truth that she hadn’t even realized herself. She was much older now, and not so innocent in the ways of the world. (One couldn’t hope to remain innocent for long at Versailles.) But she hadn’t ever thought of indulging herself in the ways described in those lurid books, even with Fersen. Dear Fersen, who had loved her truly. Whom she had once believed she loved back just as fervently.

It wasn’t even so much that she didn’t return his love, but... There had always been someone more important. Fersen had been soft moonlight, a whispered promise of romance that women only dreamed about. Yet, it was only with Oscar she felt the sunlight on her face.

And without so much as a kiss to remember it by, that sunlight was farther than ever from her cold cell.

~*~*~*~


“Why didn’t you tell me?!”

Her voice trembled, and Antoinette fought for her composure. They were alone, but her ladies-in-waiting were just outside the door. She took a quick breath, and tried again.

“You were gone for three days, Oscar. Do you know how worried I’ve been? If you were so concerned about this thief, you should have ordered your lieutenant to handle it! There was no need for you to chase a common criminal across the city, particularly alone!”

Oscar kept her head bowed, and Antoinette felt her anger slip. She never could remain angry with Oscar for long. “Forgive me, your Majesty. But this Black Knight – he’s popular with the common people. I wanted to catch him myself, and learn the truth from him, if possible.”

“A thief is a thief, Oscar.” Antoinette sighed heavily. Oscar had always taken her duties very seriously, and personally whenever possible. It really shouldn’t have surprised her to hear that Oscar had been pursuing the thief herself. “And André? Is he all right? I heard he was seriously injured.”

“His eye... The sight in his left eye is lost,” Oscar admitted, and finally, Antoinette could hear genuine emotion in those soft words. “But his life isn’t in danger.”

Antoinette closed her eyes, grateful that Oscar wasn’t looking at her face. How absurd, for the queen of France to envy a mere servant! But André could stand by Oscar’s side the way she never could.

“Your Majesty...there is one more thing.” Was she imagining it, or was there a thread of hesitation in Oscar’s voice? “I wish to resign from my current post. And would like to request a transfer.”

Through her shock, it took Antoinette a moment to register what Oscar was saying. “What?”

“Please release me from my duties as Royal Guard Regiment Commander. As long as it’s not the Royal Guards, I don’t mind if it’s the Border Guards or the Navy.”

“Tell me why,” Antoinette demanded, her voice shaking. “Tell me why, Oscar.”

Why are you leaving me, Oscar?

“It’s the first and last time I ask a favor, your Majesty. Please.”

No matter how many times she repeated her question, Oscar would not budge, nor disclose her reason for the request. There must have been a million excuses she could have given. And was she not the queen of France? If she wished, she could force Oscar to stay. But Antoinette, tears burning her eyes and her throat tight, could not think of anything to say.

“Even if I leave the Royal Guards, my regard for you will never change.”

She had to close her eyes and draw another long, careful breath, quietly so Oscar wouldn’t notice what it cost her to force her voice into a calmness she didn’t feel. Oscar would never change her mind. Even if she refused Oscar’s request, she couldn’t make Oscar change how she felt.

But what Oscar also felt – her friendship and affection for Antoinette – would never change, either, just as she promised.

“You’re stubborn, Oscar,” she said softly, and couldn’t help the affection that colored her tone. “I will consider it.”

After Oscar left, she sank into her chair, weary beyond relief. Fersen had returned to her, but was never by her side, busy with his duties in the army. She had distanced herself from Madame de Polignac, dutifully following Fersen’s advice. But more than ever, she now knew just how much she’d relied on Oscar’s presence, her friendship, and her support.

And maybe, if this had been years ago, she would have justified her own selfishness and found a reason to make Oscar stay against her will. But what would that accomplish, besides making Oscar unhappy? Best to let her go, and find a way to keep her within the city, at least. Who knew? Perhaps, in time, Oscar might even change her mind and return to the Royal Guards, to her side.

Forcing her thoughts to a more hopeful direction, Antoinette began to consider which branch of the armed forces might be suitable.

~*~*~*~


A sad smile tugged at Antoinette’s lips at the memory, and she sighed softly. If she had known sending Oscar to the French Guards was the proverbial last straw... No, it probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome. Oscar had always been so much more free-spirited, and her sympathies had always lain closer to the common people than nobles. Sooner or later, their respective choices would have led them to that evening, under the fading roses, where Oscar would urge her to withdraw the troops from the city, and she would refuse Oscar’s heartfelt request for the first time.

So she’d lied, “Au revoir,” knowing with all of her heart it would be the last time.

“Au revoir,” Oscar had answered. It was the only time she ever lied to Antoinette.

A warm droplet fell on white paper. The candlelight wavered in her blurred sight, and all she could see was the warm yellow glow – and white.

In her hand, the finished rose blossomed in pure white, full and perfect.

~*~*~*~


Rosalie’s eyes were brimming with tears, and Antoinette smiled kindly. This girl was the only person left in the whole world who cared about her fate. And she had also loved Oscar. That thought was enough for Antoinette to feel a sense of warmth and kinship towards her.

“Madame Rosalie, please dye this rose,” she murmured, cradling the paper rose carefully in her hands. “In the color that Oscar liked.”

Rosalie finally let out a sob, taking the rose carefully. Those would likely be the only tears shed for her death. Leaning closer, she kissed Rosalie on the cheek.

“Thank you.”

Finis


Note: This fic uses a manga-anime hybrid version of the canon events, with a lot of details and paraphrased dialogues taken directly from both. The rest are expansions from the canon. For consistency’s sake, I’ve used canon over history whenever possible. The endearment Carolina uses, “herzerl,” is (Austrian/Viennese) diminutive of “herze” (“heart”).

April 2014

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