Summary: After the battle of Borodino, Anatole is in a bad way.
Content Warning: Character death.
Dolokhov walked between the rows of flapping tents with a growing feeling of apprehension. On all sides, the cries of the wounded rang out, some agonised, some merely pitiful. Under the larger canopies men from the ranks lay in rows on long trestles, while those of higher station, deserved or not, were sequestered in smaller tents with some degree of privacy.
In the confusion after the battle it had taken some time for the message to reach him that his friend had been wounded, and Dolokhov wondered if he would even be in time.
He called out gruffly to a small group of men clustered around a smoking fire. "I'm looking for Kuragin."
They looked up, grunted, indicted one of the tents behind them.
Dolokhov pushed back the flap and stepped inside. There was a lamp burning, but the interior was dim and the heavy taint of death already hung in the air. Superstitiously, Dolokhov crossed himself.
"Who's there?" The figure on the bed moved beneath the covers, and Dolokhov realised with that what he'd taken for a blanket was dark blood soaking through the sheet.
"It's me. Dolokhov." He stepped closer to the bed, and sank onto a wooden stool. "I'm here, Anatole."
Anatole groped for his hand and Dolokhov took hold of Anatole's in both of his.
"They took my leg, Fedya," Anatole said weakly.
"Well that was careless," Dolokhov murmured. "You should have kept a better hold of it."
Anatole tried to laugh, but it turned into a spasm of coughing and Dolokhov frowned.
"Let me see." He pulled back the blood-soaked sheet and winced. "These bandages need changing. How long have you been here? Does anyone come to tend to you?"
Anatole shook his head. "I lose track," he said vaguely. "I don't know how long it's been."
Dolokhov looked round but the room was sparse in terms of supplies, and he frowned. "I'll see what I can scare up." He looked down at Anatole, flushed and shivering, and squeezed his hand. "I'll be back soon. Don't go anywhere, eh?"
Anatole managed a shaky smile, before biting down hard on his lip against the pain. "I'll stay right here," he croaked.
Dolokhov strode out of the tent and looked round for the nearest soldier. "You. Fetch me some water."
"But - "
"Now!" Dolokhov marched off in the direction of the surgeon's tent, not waiting to see if he was obeyed. They would, his reputation was enough to ensure that.
Twenty minutes later he was back with fresh bandages and a bottle of vodka.
"Here. Don't say I never give you anything." Hands full, Dolokhov pulled out the stopper with his teeth and took a long swallow himself before passing the bottle to Anatole, who seized it gratefully.
Settling at the foot of the bed, Dolokhov gingerly unwound the crusted dressing from Anatole's knee. The stench of corruption assailed his nostrils and he flinched, heart sinking. The heat of Anatole's skin had already hinted at infection, but the bloody stump was in a bad way and was clearly a clumsy job, done in a rush in no doubt filthy conditions.
Nevertheless, Dolokhov cleaned it up as best he could and wrapped everything in fresh bandages before throwing the stained sheet and old dressings in the corner. He washed the blood from his hands in the basin of water and took the vodka back from Anatole.
"There. Good as new." He sat back down on the stool and patted Anatole's hand.
"I'm a cripple," Anatole moaned, fumbling for the bottle again. "I don't want to be a beggar on the streets."
"Oh, not much chance of that," Dolokhov sighed. "Not with your money," he added hastily, as Anatole looked at him in horror. "It'll be alright. We'll get you a peg-leg. Very piratical. The ladies will love it, you'll see."
Anatole mustered a grim smile. "Will you still want me, Fedya?" he breathed.
"Of course I will." Dolokhov bent over him and pressed a kiss to his lips. They were hot and feverish, and trembled beneath his mouth. "Always."
Anatole nodded slowly, and reached for Dolokhov's hand. "And now the truth," he whispered. "Am I dying, Fedya?"
Dolokhov glanced down at his leg where blood and pus was already seeping through the fresh bandages, and laid a hand on Anatole's burning forehead.
"I fear so," he said heavily.
Anatole looked away, his grip on Dolokhov's hand tightening convulsively. When he looked back there were tears in his eyes, but also a bleak acceptance.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" Dolokhov asked, feeling helpless and hating it.
"Hold me?" Anatole begged. "One last time."
With a lump in his throat Dolokhov did as he was asked, leaning forward to take Anatole into his arms. For a long moment they embraced each other, but then Dolokhov felt Anatole's hand fumbling at his belt and drew back in alarm as he pulled out his pistol. But Anatole pressed it to Dolokhov's chest with a shaking hand, and Dolokhov abruptly divined his meaning.
"Please," Anatole begged, tears spilling unheeded from his eyes.
"No. No, no I beg of you don't ask that of me," Dolokhov protested, but Anatole shook his head desperately.
"Please, Fedya. I've seen people die of the blood fever, it takes days. And it hurts, so much, already. I would do it myself, but I know I would never have the courage. But you - you would. Please. If you love me, you'll do this."
Dolokhov hung his head, defeated. "Very well," he breathed.
"Thank you. Thank you." Anatole fell back against the pillow, coughing weakly. "Will you make it quick? Before I lose my nerve," he pleaded.
Shaking his head, Dolokhov loaded the pistol, his hands steady.
"If you should see Helene - give her my love?" Anatole asked, his voice a croaky whisper.
Dolokhov nodded. "Of course."
"And look after her. If you can."
"If I can." Dolokhov promised. He took a deep breath. "Are you sure about this?"
Anatole nodded. "It's the only way." He reached out and Dolokhov took his hand, pistol held ready in the other. He leaned over Anatole and kissed him tenderly. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "That it should come to this."
He positioned the pistol beneath Anatole's chin, and looked a question at him. Anatole nodded jerkily, and then screwed his eyes shut, bracing himself.
Dolokhov, briefly, closed his own. "Goodbye my friend."
Outside, the soldiers gathered around the fire looked up sharply as the shot rang out, then exchanged looks, relaxing again. It was plain enough what had happened. Nor was it the first pistol shot to echo across the camp since the fighting had ended.
Several minutes later, the tent flap was pushed back and Dolokhov emerged. The three soldiers outside got to their feet and stood in something approximating attention, a silent mark of respect. Killing Frenchmen was easy, but every man in the army dreaded having to do the same for a friend.
Dolokhov hesitated, glanced at them, nodded in recognition of the gesture. Walked on, his back straight and head held high. And if any of the men had noticed his face was wet with tears, not one of them was brave or foolish enough to mention it.