It isn’t wrong, what they do together; it never has been, really. Valentine can’t sleep alone and Mireille takes care of her, as she has for ages, and when they’re finished, Valentine’s head against her breast and nothing but the sound of Valentine’s soft breathing in the dark, Mireille fancies it the Lord’s work.
Surely anyone as sweet and gentle as Valentine, anyone so innocent, is meant to smile often and easily. Mireille contents herself with making it happen.
They’ve been together their whole lives, constant companions from the cradle it seems, and even in the Abbey they’d been alone, adrift in their own world. Long walks through the woods had turned so easily to touches, quiet words softly shared, long hugs and sweet kisses. Valentine likes to be touched and they can’t in the Abbey but they can in the woods, so they do, hands slipping deftly beneath their habits, baring skin meant for God’s eyes alone. Mireille worries once that it’s sinful, this wicked secret they keep, but Valentine smiles and makes such wonderful sounds, praying aloud for Mireille’s kiss there, just there, on the curve of her breast.
It’s been Valentine’s idea but Mireille never says no. Doesn’t honestly see a need to. It’s only wicked and sinful if it’s a man, the Abbess has been very clear, and Mireille can’t image ever wanting this with anyone but Valentine.
Then they’re being sent off, away from Montglane and leaving their woods behind them, two pretty pawns bound for the road, the prospect of Paris and all its unknowns before them. At least she has Valentine, she thinks, and when they drift off to sleep, Mireille holds her close.
The one constant of Mireille’s life has been Valentine’s full attention, no matter who else they meet. It’s no different with David, for which Mireille is grateful; Valentine takes to flirting more easily than Mireille likes but there isn’t anything Mireille can do about it without letting on and each night they curl up in bed together, Mireille is reminded that Valentine is hers.
That might not always be the case—certainly won’t be if Valentine keeps carrying on as she has, batting her eyes and patting her curls, smiling sweetly at everyone—but it is for now and that is enough.
It has to be.
Then they meet Talleyrand. Oddly enough, it seems a small thing when he enters, one more pretty face in a city full of them, one more man staring at Valentine as though she’s a thing he might have.
They’re naked for David—nude, he says, though it means the same thing—and draped solely in a bit of gauze to guard their modesty. Valentine has so little of it these days and Mireille worries; they’re grown women now and Valentine will marry someday soon, will settle down with a husband to raise a family as they both must, and Mireille will have to let someone else’s hands on her, will have to let someone who is not Valentine sleep beside her through the night.
It is quite thankfully distant; she knows no one who might desire such things of her and David seems reluctant to pursue the matter, at least for the time being.
Talleyrand seems quite ordinary at first, a lecherous man with an eye for bosoms and an air of confidence she finds off-putting. So many of David’s friends come through his salon while he’s painting and most have the sense not to stare once David’s acknowledged his wards as his models.
Talleyrand can’t look away.
Neither can Valentine.
“I thought he was very sweet,” Valentine says while they’re alone in bed and Mireille pets her shoulder, smooths a hand down her cousin’s back. “Didn’t you think so? I found him fascinating.”
“Monsieur Talleyrand?” Valentine is so warm and she bristles with restless energy. Mireille will have to tire her out if she means to get any decent sleep tonight.
“Of course Monsieur Talleyrand,” she hears, and Mireille swears she can hear Valentine’s dimples flashing, so bright and sweet is her smile. “I quite liked him.”
Mireille can only nod when Valentine glances up. “Of course you did,” she hears herself saying and Valentine frowns briefly before it smooths over. She presses a quick kiss to Mireille’s chest, just near her heart, and pulls back to settle again. It’s still so comfortable having Valentine there, though she sometimes squishes Mireille’s body in her sleep.
It’s only later, after Talleyrand’s dressed Valentine up as one of his fancy women, after he’s all-but adopted them and their guardian has allowed it, that Mireille thinks Talleyrand might be the man she’s thought about so long. Not the one who’ll draw her away into his web of sinfulness, but the one who’ll have Valentine.
And Mireille is not at all sure how to feel about that.
Valentine’s is not always an innocent affection and she’s gone out of her way to collect stories not meant for maids’ ears, whispers and rumours of what Talleyrand does with serving girls and society wives when he gets them alone. She still sleeps with Mireille every night but they speak of other things, the secrets Talleyrand might have, and Valentine grows restless. She’s already spending long hours with her head in the man’s lap, whole afternoons alone with him while Mireille reads, and it’s only a matter of time before Mireille loses her.
“I want to kiss him,” Valentine giggles, tipsy on Madeira and lying still-dressed on their bed. “Do you think I could?”
“Kiss him?” Mireille doesn’t ask who Valentine means; she’s had sense enough to keep to one glass herself and anyway, she knows. Valentine will never be a mystery, not to her. “I suppose you could.”
“Do you think he’d kiss me?” Valentine sighs and lets her hands drift to her own chest, cradling them as though she might burst if she doesn’t.
“I do,” she says. She does not sound happy to her own ears but Valentine misses it, the gentle warning in her tone.
“Do you think he’d kiss us both? You and me, together?”
“At the same time?” Mireille frowns. They’ve heard stories of such things but she cannot believe them, because how would that work? Like this there’s only just the two of them, Valentine laid out for her hands and meant for kissing, and for a man—for any man, including Talleyrand—she’d be laid out for him, letting him between her legs and having all his weight on top of her, and there’d be nothing left for Mireille but a small space on their bed.
“Would you hate it very much if I did?” Valentine asks, nervous for a moment. “Would you hate me?”
The small sound of Valentine’s voice worms deep within her; despite what Mireille thinks of Talleyrand and her cousin’s patently clear intentions, Mireille cannot bear that sound from her Valentine. “I wouldn’t,” she lies, then forces herself to honesty. Valentine deserves that much, at least, and Mireille has never been fond of lying. She meets Valentine’s darling face and presses a kiss to her cousin’s lips, hard enough to rouse Valentine’s attentions back from the pleasant haze of her Madeira. “I couldn’t ever hate you, my darling.”
Valentine stares at her, wide-eyed for a moment, then bites her lip and nods. A smile breaks free, wild and happy, and she’s giggling again, whispering conspiratorially in the dark. “He asked me once if I’d been kissed,” she confesses. Mireille tenses up considerably but cannot let it show. “I said I had.”
“I’m sure he didn’t mean by me,” she reasons but Valentine merely giggles and shuts her eyes.
“He said he meant to teach me, if I’d like. There are so many ways of kissing, did you know there were? And not just mouths and things, either. There’s kissing everywhere.” Valentine hums thoughtfully. Mireille feels cold. “I should think I’d like that, Talleyrand’s kisses everywhere. I do so like when you do it.”
“Anywhere in particular, Valentine?” Mireille watches the rise and fall of Valentine’s chest, thinks of the time and trouble it’s going to take to ease her cousin from her dress.
Valentine hums agreeably.
Mireille stops then, pausing in her efforts to stroke her darling cousin through her clothing. “Where?” Valentine merely sighs, dreamy and wistful. Mireille cannot help but ask, though she’s not sure she wants an answer. “Show me?”
Valentine falters then for only a moment. Then one hand skims down her dress to brush beneath her belly, to that soft place Mireille has not seen or touched in ages, not since they’d started spending their nights in Talleyrand’s guest rooms. “Here,” she says, “I should like to be kissed here.”
And when Mireille brings herself to look away, she finds Valentine watching her, clear-eyed and intent.
So Mireille does, both through her skirts and under them, and it’s God’s will that she does, it has to be, because nothing this good could be sinful.
Three days later, Valentine is dead and Mireille stands naked before Talleyrand, taking from him everything he might have taken from her, the ghost of her cousin between them.
It’s nothing like her nights with Valentine, it’s rough and it’s harsh and it’s wordless, she leaves scratches all down his back and it feels so strange when he first pushes in, uncomfortable and painful, but she cannot stop until he’s chased away the feel of her Valentine’s body.
When she’s finished, when she’s had all of him she can stand without crying or worse at her own memories, she dresses herself and walks away.
Her journey, she thinks, is just beginning, and she cannot afford to look back.
~ f ~