It was without a doubt the best rooms William had ever been given by a patron before. Everything was in plush velvet, rich furs of bears, tigers and lions and silk table runners.
“The boss wants you two to be as comfortable as possible,” said the chippy little man who had taken Will and his companion to the rooms. They had walked barefooted through empty marble halls, though Will was sure he could hear distant laughing and speaking.
“How very considerate!” Said his companion, a tall man with long and dark hair. His accent was not purely English however. “Perhaps we will now be allowed to find out why we are here?”
The little man laughed. “To write for the Boss! He’ll come by soon enough when he comes up with what he wants, but until then,” he bowed, “he’d like you to sit back and relax.” The man winked. “There are menus on those shelves should you want anything. An-ee-thing.” He winked again and Will almost rolled his eyes.
The doors shut with an audible click of a lock sliding into place. Will also noted the bars on the windows, high out of reach.
His companion snorted and slouched down onto the settee, looking all around the room. “Not to be disparaging but I have been in trapped in places that didn’t weigh on the heart as heavily as this room,” he said mildly.
Will ran his fingers along the patterned silk on the table. “I don’t know. This seems to be real. The skins too.”
“I didn’t say they weren’t real, just that they were tiresome. Who did you say you were?” He asked abruptly.
“You did not ask before now.” Will remarked but gave the man a shallow bow. “William Shakespeare, at your service, sir.” He smirked. “If you’ll have it!”
The man stood up and nodded, holding out his hand. “Not my service, but our employers, certainly. I am Oscar Wilde. I’d give you my card, but I seem to be missing all the social necessities today.”
And this was how they began, with Wilde teaching Shakespeare the importance of the handshake.
Much to Maximilien’s relief, he was slowly regaining his strength, both physically and verbally. Words that had felt totally inaccessible to him only a week ago came rushing back into his mind. His throat was still healing, but the kind Doctor Russo predicted that he’d likely make a full recovery.
“I’m going to be able to clear you to move into rooms on the upper floors,” she told him. Her hand was wrapped firmly, commandingly around his upper arm as she steered him around the room. She called it ‘physical training therapy’.
Maxime smiled slightly. “You’ll be glad to see me out of your infirmary?” He asked.
Russo snorted. “I’ll be glad to start working on an actual infirmary, outside of the castle. Using a kitchen is ridiculous and Jones knows it.”
They took a break, allowing Max to stop and catch his breath. They had been pacing around the empty grand hall. It all appeared to Max to be green tinted, as he was still wearing lenses to protect his healing eyes.
“I’ve been talking to Aspen and I think the next step I would like to do is find a better cardio exercise for you to do. She’s been talking about implementing a running program once the snow starts to melt, which I can’t wait to see, frankly.”
Maximilien blinked at her. “A what?”
“For health. It’s to go along with the rest of your ‘modernization adaptation’,” Russo said, flexing her fingers in the air.
“Running for health?” Max repeated, still bewildered. “In what way?”
“It’s good for your heart muscle. It helps with blood flow and weight management.” She sat next to him. “What sort of physical actives did you do in the eighteenth century?”
Max thought for a moment, tapping his fingers on his leg. “Walking. I would often walk in the Tuileries gardens and outside of Paris, when the weather was good.”
“Anything more strenuous?” Russo asked, tone so dry Max winced.
Max shrugged. “I enjoyed dancing, when I was younger.”
Russo let out a sudden bark of laughter. “Well you’ve met the right person! I minored in dance all four years in school. As soon as I think you’re strong enough for it, we’ll try dancing.”
At this, Max couldn’t help but brighten. He could still recall fall festivals around Arras, before the Revolution, when everything seemed much simpler.
Doctor Russo released him, allowing Maxime to go sit outside on one of the discordantly modern benches that dotted the inner courtyard of the fortress. He brushed off the thin layer of snow and gingerly lowered himself down. The weak sunlight on the frosted ground made him squint but Maxime found that being inside for too long made him feel strange and anxious.
He sighed. His meeting with Robin Varma was scheduled for this afternoon. Maxime did not relish the idea of spilling himself to a stranger. But both Russo and Aspen Strong insisted that it would help him with the vivid nightmares that continued to plague him.
“Mon- Cit- Robespierre!”
Maxime twitched at the sound of his name and looked over. Through the gate was striding the young Napoleon, as he insisted being referred to. Maxime brightened and raised his hand in greeting.
“England is damned cold,” he said without preamble, sitting next to Maxime. “Not as cold as other places I’ve been but freezing none the less.” He let out a harsh sigh. “Makes one long for the Italian front,” he muttered.
“Did you travel much?” Maxime asked. They had not had much of an opportunity to talk about the years after Maximilien death.
Napoleon stilled for a moment. “You could say that,” he muttered before clearing his throat and glancing at Maxime. “Have you seen Monsieur Varma yet?”
It was Maxime’s turn to clear his suddenly tight throat. He shook his head. “Have you?”
Napoleon nodded, still looking over the mostly frozen grounds and the cold stone walls that caged them into the keep.
“What did he speak to you about?” Maxime asked.
Napoleon shrugged. “He asked about how I was adjusting to this,” he waved a hand at their austere surroundings. “He asked about my family. My wife. My-my children.” His voice was suddenly very rough, and Maxime looked away when he coughed and swiped a hand over his face. “He told me that we would begin to talk once a week and that I should consider him a confidant.”
They sat in silence for a moment, shoulder to shoulder.
“He also asked me about you,” Napoleon said suddenly. “How I felt with you being here.” He trailed off and Maxime blinked, bewildered.
“Why would he ask you that?”
Napoleon snorted. “Who can say?” But his eyes remained fixed on the horizon.
Maximilien did not know what to expect when Aspen Strong escorted him to Robin Varma’s room. It took them an embarrassing long time to climb the stairs up his rooms and Maxime was burning with exertion and embarrassment by the end.
“If I had known it was going to be a trial for you, I would have been contented to meet you in the kitchen,” Varma apologized and poured Maxime a cup of tea. He added milk and sugar.
Maxime tried it. It was some blend he had never tried before, oddly spicy on his tongue and throat but with a pleasant warming effect. These days he found himself always cold.
Varma sat across from him, watching and sipping his own tea. Maxime tried not to stare at his fingers, the blending of white against black at his nail beds.
“I’ll confess, Robespierre, I was the least prepared to have this conversation with you,” Varma spoke suddenly. Maxime looked up. Varma’s warm brown eyes were intent upon his own. “I have read Doctor Russo’s medical report, but I can not think about how to approach it with you. Nor could I understand how to speak about your last years…” He trailed off and shifted in his chair. “Frankly, I do not know how to help you.”
The crackling fire filled the silence. Maxime looked into the center of it, where the fire was bright enough to hurt.
“Is-is there anything you would like to know?” He asked, hesitantly. “I do not know what was written about me.” His voice failed and he took a hasty sip of tea, wincing. “But maybe I can help you understand.”
Varma settled back, folding his hands over his stomach. “Were you spoken to at all, on the Bastille? Did Doctor Miller or Major Haruka ask you anything?”
Maxime clutched his robe closer. He shook his head. “I was not asked, nor told, anything at all.”
Varma sighed. “That was what I was worried about. I believe that Major Haruka’s goal was to capture any of you. This means that you were simply,” he breathed out. “Unlucky.”
Varma leaned forward. “No this is important. It means that Haruka’s goal is not so much to target any of you specifically. Any of you can be in danger. And anyone helping you as well.”
“Then why bring me back at all?” Maxime snapped.
The only sound was the fire crackling. Maxime buried his face into his teacup, eyes burning.
“Do you regret being brought back?” Varma asked. Maxime looked up at him, bewildered.
“No! I’d sooner die…”
Varma studied him. “Do you think about death often, Robespierre?”
Maxime let out a silent sigh. “My own?”
Varma shrugged. “You lived a tremulous time. You saw a lot of death,” he said gently. But Maxime bristled.
“Oui. It was for the Revolution and the Republic. They served a purpose.” His voice broke on the last word and Maxime winced.
“I didn’t say that they were pointless deaths. Although I’m sure you will meet people who will argue with you about that,” Varma assured him, and Maxime twitched.
“If this interview isn’t going to help me, then why bother with it?” He demanded.
“It might not help right now, but as we gain a rapport,” Varma waved his hand between them, “they will. Think of me as a sounding board if it helps you. Someone to bounce ideas off of. Your thoughts on what we are doing the castle. On your fellows. And your past too, if you want to discuss it.”
Maxime didn’t respond. He did not like the idea of sharing his thoughts with other people, especially if they were personal. Too often, his private life had been broken into by people who would use it to betray him.
Burning is not answering, Maxime!
He jerked in his chair, Camille’s voice suddenly all too close to him and his teacup fell out of his nerveless fingers. It fell and broke in half on the cold stones.
Maximilien and Varma both looked down on it, Max in shock and Varma in concern. He rubbed a hand over his brow.
“I think we will have a lot of work to do, Robespierre.”