Title: Growing up
Fandom: Versailles no Bara
Word Count: 1939
Characters/Pairings: Marie Antoinette, Oscar (Louis, Fersen and Andre mentioned)
Genre(s): Romance, shojo-ai, character study
Summary: "Live as long as you may, the first twenty years are the longest half of your life." On her 21st birthday, the Queen must consider her life, and feelings about her devoted Oscar
Warnings: Sexual references, gambling, drunkenness
Disclaimer: I do not own Rose of Versailles, or any members of French Royalty
Notes:The three days of gambling preceding Marie’s 21st birthday, and the non-consummation of her marriage until a year later are historical. Story written for the Secret Coconut, a fic exchange promoted by the community Saint Seiya Superfics Journal
On the stroke of midnight that heralded her 21st birthday, the Queen of France had been playing cards and roulette for 71 unbroken hours. A footman had been sent solely to remind her of the occasion by the King. She blinked regally, at his words, as if considering how history would record the circumstances. The crowd of ladies and courtiers gambling with her, too refined to send up a cheer, answered with round of polite applause.
The Queen was quite sure she’d only had a little too much to drink. No one could accuse her of letting her station keep her from a little fun–but for a queen to lose her dignity to public intoxication would be unthinkable. She was rather tired, and there would probably be some ceremony, celebration, or several of both, to mark a significant royal birthday. The Queen knew she should take a few hours sleep, and truly meant to. But she still retained hope of winning at least a few , and so many people eagerly awaited a final game. The Ducs, Marquises and noble ladies crowded around the tables, crowing or shrieking as the dice fell. It was so raw and passionate, so much more like real life than the rigid structures of Royalty, that the Queen was hopelessly enthralled. When she finally pulled away through the ruck of feathers, brocade and glittering teeth, she was thanking everyone for such a wonderful party, for playing with her so much. The Queen felt light and free as a cloud, as she slumped down against a marble pillar in the hall outside.
She didn’t know how much money she’d lost; other people would concern themselves with that. She ruled as Queen, that was the concern of her life. Her life; the twenty-one years that seemed to be running out her memory’s grasp, like spilt wine. All she could see was lights and gilt, undulating with the sick unstoppability of a golden fleet. Was that her life? Was that Versailles?
Some philosophilical gentleman had once said that the first twenty years of life were the longest. One day, would there be nothing new for her? Only the same entertainments, always passing away more quickly, until the end of her life.
As she sank into an exhausted half-unconscious reverie, Marie felt hot tears cut through the powder on her face. The years since her birth had been wonderful, of course, full of fun and glorious experiences. But it was no less than terrifying to think they would be most of her life.
So many wonderful things; and such anticipation of more to come. All those balls, parties and parades; the feeling of wearing the most beautiful dress in the most magnificent court of Europe. The excitement of holding crowds and nobles spellbound simply by being herself. And being able to bless her friends with whatever they needed; friends like Lamballe, Polignac, her dear distant Fersen and Oscar were truly the most wonderful thing.
Only Oscar had refused all her gifts–it almost brought her feelings to a still higher pitch. From the first day she had seen Oscar, a calming dignity from her beautiful guardsman had rested on Marie’s fearful heart. She was the only man who understood her heart; the only woman who didn’t depend on her and mimic her dresses. She had joked on that first day that she had taken Oscar for her destined prince. Oscar, with her almost-too-perfect smile, had said that she was only a guardsman.
She was like a lioness–and a real lioness could not have protected her more boldly than Oscar’s sword–strong and shining, but separate. Nothing seemed to move her; at least not what moved Marie. For all the years she’d relied on Oscar, she’d wanted to be closer to her and didn’t know how, since gifts of wealth were useless.
They had only danced together once, at that distant ball before Marie was Queen. The gentleness of her agile legs, and the arms that swept so rapidly around the great ballroom had disturbed a warm blizzard within her chest. She’d barely sensed the breasts under Oscar’s jacket, pressing at their corset; with her strength that held her up, and the tenderness in those ice-clear eyes, it had almost overwhelmed her. It had been so close to perfection–but not enough. For years afterwards of balls, parties and parades they were Queen and guardsman, with the same distance between them. Even if Marie could imagine her own feelings bursting from herself, and doing unthinkable things–Oscar never would.
There had been more fun than she could remember, but it was the waiting that had made Marie’s first twenty years of life so long. For the marriage abroad that was only expected for Austria’s most beautiful princess. Then for the breathlessly instant ascent into Monarchy. Then the unexpected wait for womanhood, for children and…the thing necessary for making them. That wait still had no end in sight–Louis was so shy, and all his failed attempts had been so embarrassing. Marie knew she had put off their unavoidable duty with almost as many excuses as her husband. Even if nobles whispered, pamphleteers bawled, and her mother stated icily in her letters that a queen without heir was no true queen, she couldn’t. It was too unromantic, too forced. And she felt so badly for her poor king.
There had been other things she’d finally resigned herself to. She would never have any significant power over the destiny of her adopted country. She would always be the Austrian Queen, the lovely, feckless consort without understanding (maybe she wasn’t a deep thinker, but she still had feelings, and always would, deeper than rivers of gold at the earth’s core).
She finally knew, as well, that she would never be married to a man she loved. Not with the divine, heart-stopping immortal love that had been the glory of true queens when she was a child–what was more precious than love, after all, or more worthy for a nation to follow? Among the priceless opulence of Versailles she had only seen such love from the outside once, when Oscar had passed a horse’s bridle to her servant Andre, and Marie had glimpsed the silent rapture in his eyes. She and he had lingered on the brilliant liveliness in Oscar’s face. She drew love as innocently as the sun lifting a rose’s head.
It seemed things could never be so easy for Marie. She had felt she would never have the courage to offer her body and pride to a man she did not truly love. But after the longest time, she had learned to feel affection and respect for dear, earnest struggling Louis; contentment with the tiny, formal round that their future would comprise. Slowly and painfully, she had grown. Even if she ever saw Fersen again, like a gloriously firework bursting across an empty garden–even if the dream in his bold, irresistible face came true–it would be a snatched, ephemeral moment of bliss. A hidden, excluded footnote in the pages of history.
She was sure that Oscar would’ve pleased with her growth; not that a queen could always worry about what an officer approved of, but it was a nice thought. She had so much to do these days, as well as much she was still avoiding; she only seemed to see Oscar from a distance, drilling the guard, helping Louis with fox-hunting or lecturing the palace sentries. Oscar was tied to her own duties as well, the duties of a man. And the distance between man and woman was something Marie’s whole life might not hold enough years to truly cross.
“Your Highness. I’m taking you to your bedchamber. Please, don’t exert yourself unduly.”
Vision swam back before Marie’s eyes. Her side was cold from lying against a stone pillar, her head was numb, and there was a smell of polish and perspiration in her nose. Oscar was carrying her through the corridor, her boots clicking rapidly.
“Oscar, you’re here…”
“Your personal maid has been busy preparing for your birthday celebration tomorrow, and no one seems to have been deputised to attend you between your party and bed. It was fortunately I came to Versailles so early–you should sleep for a while, your Highness. I will make sure no one else comes to know of this, and that it does not occur again.”
“Yes...the crown should not be embarrassed any more than can be helped,” Marie suddenly smiled up at Oscar as they entered her warm, gorgeously hung sleeping quarters, “Doesn’t it invite scandal, though, if an officer should enter the Queen’s bedchamber alone with her?”
“Your rest for tomorrow is most important, Highness. And I...honestly doubt it would be believed that I could threaten your virtue.” Marie turned her face away as Oscar knelt to lay her in the plush four-poster bed, on one side.
“No. You are always the most loyal, reliable, Oscar. So devoted to my safety and happiness...” Oscar drew the bedclothes over Marie, resting a hand lightly on her shoulder. When it didn’t move, and Marie’s baby-blue eyes looked back at Oscar, the Guard Colonel was lightly blushing. Marie heart leapt to her mouth
“Forgive me, Highness. I momentarily imagined...” Her guardsman’s eyes were suddenly filled, with a caring love and pitiful sadness, “No, it was a foolish thought. I will pray…that you are blessed with children soon.”
Marie drew herself up in bed. Frustration and alcohol pouted her lips and knitted her perfect brow.
“Did you imagine I was a child for you to tuck into bed, Oscar? Am I still a child to you, and not even a woman?”
“Highness...you are the Queen.” Oscar’s hawk-bright eyes stared at her sudden anger. “I will do anything you ask.”
The words rang so hard in Marie’s head, she was sure Oscar could hear them. There would be no going back. Every sacred function of the crown would be transfigured by her surrender to desire, as if her life had begun again. She could touch Oscar’s perfection and strength, live her own strange fairytale....
But would Oscar? Would she say the Queen was not herself, and leave her? How would those eyes look? She wouldn’t be herself. Everything in her life would be gone if she seduced Oscar. They had been Queen and soldier for all these years, and friends was all they would ever be.
“I know you would do anything, Oscar. I’m...very grateful for everything you’ve always done. You had better leave me now. I will sleep more soundly, knowing you are near.”
“Your Majesty...forgive me.” Marie watched, as Oscar bowed over her hand on the silk bedclothes, and left a chaste kiss on her fingers, “You are...you have always been a woman to me, with the heart and pride of a true queen.”
Feeling as if she was made of glass, and shaking in a storm of music, Marie watched Oscar walk slowly to the door and leave. It had been a moment–but whatever Oscar’s true feelings were, she would never give in to them. She was too strong, sometimes, for her own good. Oscar would never have children, but Marie would, and soon, because she couldn’t know how much life she had left from now on. Then her life would be shared with their young lives, and the same for Louis. Maybe she would learn to truly love her husband. Though she would always love Fersen, as she realised now. Even though Oscar would always have been her first love.