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The Call of Duty

Chapter Text


Philippe flung himself face down on the bed and gnawed at his pillow. It was too much. It was all too much. People expected him to be the perfect everything, and then hated him when he (in their eyes) fell short.

He hated them all. Even the ones he loved. Especially the ones he loved.

He banged his head on the pillow, and thought of the Chevalier. And that was stupid because his prick stiffened immediately. To no purpose. Chevalier was on an elite list of people with whom Philippe was angry and/or refusing to have sex. He was also angry with his brother (as usual) and was refusing to have sex with his wife (of course), but the special little corner of hell he had set aside for the love of his life spanned both.

How dare he?

Philippe gave a short, frustrated thrust against the covers.


Actually, that was rather nice.

He did it again, mind racing.


If he turned the pillow around just so, and bunched the blanket up so… oh, that was delightful. And peaceful.

Now, if he just….

Philippe slipped his hand into his breeches, closing his fingers around his stiff, needy prick.

Oh, that was perfection.

Philippe closed his eyes and sank into exquisite sensation: the resistance of his bed, the warmth of the pillow in his embrace, the familiar reassurance of his own hand and its perfect touch. Excitement threatened to overtake him, so he forced himself to slow. This was no hasty snatch of relief. This was to be a tender, drawn-out pleasure.

He rubbed his cheek appreciatively against the soft linen, enchanted by sensation, tension coiling in his loins.

Several times Philippe approached the point of release only to stop, let the pleasure subside and begin again, until it was on the edge of too much, his member too sensitive. At the point where it hurt more to deprive himself than deprave himself, he thrust firmly into his fist once, twice, thrice before spending all over the sheets. It was glorious, an explosion of all the emotion he'd been restraining for so long. He was left gasping, smiling, and licking his own mess off his fingers as if it were nectar.

He should take a little more time for himself, perhaps.

Content at last, the Duke of Orleans slept.



Chapter Text

Philippe's cheeks were warm from the fire, and his belly was warm from the wine. A particularly sweet tune, that had been played by a particularly sweet violinist at that evening's entertainment, was lilting through his mind.

The outer door to his apartment banged open, jolting him awake.

"Darling, are you here? Or are you off breeding like a vulgar little rabbit?"

Chevalier appeared in the doorway, holding his fingers to his head like rabbit ears and twitching his nose.

"As you can see, I'm here," said Philippe. "My wife is indisposed."

"Oh, I'm sad to hear that. Wait. No, I'm not. It's about time I had my turn."

"I'm not some chattel to be passed around," snapped Philippe.

Chevalier moved behind him, rested his hands on Philippe's tensing shoulders. "Indeed not. You are a jewel to be fought over. Literally, if you like. I could challenge her to a duel and fight for your honour."

"You're drunk."

Chevalier sniffed. "No more than is seemly for the hour. Why aren't you?"

"I have no need."

"God, marriage makes you boring. Here we are, with the first opportunity for a night of passion in months, and you're just sitting here… actually, what are you doing?"


Chevalier snorted. "Well, that's a waste of time. And it gives you wrinkles."

"One of us has to."

"Hmm?" Chevalier perched himself on the arm of Philippe's chair. Philippe resolutely did not look at him. "How did you know I'd come here tonight?" He stroked the tip of Philippe's nose.

"I didn't."

"But in that case, my dear, what if I hadn't? What If I'd gone to weep into my pillow for the loss of you?"

"Or collapsed in a drunken stupor at the card tables?"

"That was one occasion, and it's not polite of you to keep bringing it up. You haven't answered my question. When her Highness retired with her sniffle or headache or whatever ailment is fashionable these days, why didn't you seek me out immediately?"

"It wasn't that sort of ailment," Philippe wrinkled his nose. "And it came on… suddenly."

"What on earth do you… oh." Chevalier's lips turned down in disgust. "Sometimes I forget how entirely inconvenient women can be."

"It is of no consequence."

"So there will be no patter of tiny royal feet, despite your valiant efforts. Poor thing. Have you approached the King for release from your marriage vows yet?"

"I have not! It's only been two months."

"You mean you intend to try again? Darling, do you think that's wise?"

Philippe's irritation caught like dry kindling and he pushed Chevalier hard in the ribs, forcing him off his perch to sprawl on his arse on the hearth rug, eyes sparkling with indignation, hair ragged over one eye.

Philippe licked his lips.

He surged forwards before Chevalier could gather the wits (or the inclination) to get up. Straddled him, caught his wrists and held them above his head.

He paused in the face of his lover's sputtering indignation, enjoying the heat of the body underneath him, the unmistakable bulge he was sitting on. Good. He wasn't that drunk, then.

"Unhand me, you brute," said Chevalier, unconvincingly.

"I don't think so. We both know you're not to be trusted. You need to be taught a lesson."

"Darling, don't make me laugh. What could you possibly have to teach me?"

Philippe's nerves sang with mischief and his stiff prick gave a single, delicious throb. "I can think of a few things." He leaned forwards, pressing his erection into the answering bulge in Chevalier's breeches with a little rub. "Gratitude. Trust." He raised his hips; Chevalier hissed at the loss of contact. "Patience."

"Oh. I see. The boring virtues."

"Hold on to the chair legs."


"Do as you're told." Philippe released Chevalier's wrists; Chevalier raised one perfectly shaped eyebrow, but obediently curled his fingers around the legs of the chair behind him. It allowed Philippe to dispense with the inconvenience of their breeches, and it was a concession of sorts, although he'd never admit it, to consent.

Philippe stood and plucked a vial of oil from the mantlepiece. He tipped a generous slop of it onto his fingers. It had been a while.

"This would be more comfortable on the bed, don't you think?"

Despite his whining, Chevalier made no sign of letting go of the chair. His eyes were fixed on Philippe as he prepared himself.

"You don't deserve comfort," Philippe said. "This is your punishment, remember?" He paused with two fingers inside himself, enjoying the stretch. "Unless you're only wanting to sleep?"

Chevalier's knuckles were white where he gripped the chair. He very slowly shook his head.

"Better," said Philippe, and took Chevalier's prick in his hand.

"Oh God."

Philippe smiled.

He positioned the head of Chevalier's member at the slick dip of his arse, and sank down, inch by inch, watching his lover squirm with the pleasure of it. When he'd taken him in to the hilt, Philippe captured Chevalier's wrists again, noting the flare of his nostrils, the widening of his eyes, the stutter of his breath as he did so. He liked it. He really liked it.

Well, this was new.

Philippe rained kisses on him: his mouth, his cheek, his hair. He made him sob with each agonising withdrawal of his arse, watched him bloom with every fresh impaling. It felt right, in a way that his coupling with Liselotte never would; it set Philippe's body on fire and made his blood throb with life. He couldn't hold back for long, and shifted into a strong, steady rhythm. His knees burned from the friction of the rug, and his fingers were numb from squeezing Chevalier's wrists. He didn't care.

"Come on," Chevalier goaded. "It's time for a gallop, don't you think?"

Philippe stopped. He squeezed around the thick length inside him, making Chevalier gasp. "Patience. Remember?"

"To hell with patience!" For the first time, Chevalier struggled, trying to wrench his wrists from Philippe's grasp. But Philippe held on fast, digging his nails into the fragile skin, aware of how delicate the bones were there.

"Would you really swap exquisite pleasure for a quick tumble?"

"Right now? Yes. Yes, absolutely. I haven't had you for weeks, my balls are fit to burst and there's a terrible draft coming from under that door."

Philippe laughed, filled with impossible affection. More than affection.

"Very well," he said. "A compromise. You may have your pleasure, the moment you've brought me to mine."

"And then? Do I get dismissed like some throwaway chambermaid?"


"I want the whole night. You shall have your lingering pleasure, my dear. I'll remind you just exactly-" he punctuated his sentence with a perfectly angled thrust, "-how exquisite our pleasure can be. But not just once. I want it again." Another thrust. "And again." And another. "I want to be in your bed 'til morning. With you." He pointed from himself to Philippe and back again. "Both of us. Is that clear?"

Philippe circled his hips, fighting to keep his voice steady despite the delicious sensations that were running through his body. He was close. Perilously close. He wanted very much to come, to lie in Chevalier's arms in his soft, warm bed and do it all over again. "I'm not sure," he said. "I'm really very tired."

"Oh, is that so?" Chevalier grinned wickedly, and curled his fingers around Philippe's member. Philippe didn't know when he'd released his hands. He didn't care. He braced himself on the rug, forearms framing Chevalier's face, and closed his eyes as Chevalier surged into him again and again, each thrust more perfect than the last. He arched his back and rode his glorious body as if he were a thundering war horse, and truly it took but the barest squeeze of fingers on his prick to bring him off. He let Chevalier fuck him through it, his lover's crisis beginning as Philippe's calmed to its final, feeble spurts.

Philippe rested his palms flat on Chevalier's chest to hold himself up, panting for breath. His thighs quivered. He wasn't entirely sure he'd ever be able to walk again.

Chevalier made a whining sound, despite the blissful smile on his lips. "See where all your mastery has got you? You've broken me to pieces. I am done. Lost. Go on without me, I do not care." He waved one arm limply in the direction of the door. "Go back to your wife if you must, there is nothing of use to you here."

"You would have me return to my wife? Seriously?"

Chevalier cracked open an eye. "What do you think? Of course, not seriously. God in heaven no. I was trying to pay you a compliment."

Philippe kissed the sweat from Chevalier's brow. "In that case I would remind you that promises were made. We should make haste to the bed, my dear. I fear you must ravish me anew forthwith."

"I doubt I shall make haste anywhere ever again."

"Oh dear," Philippe crooned in his ear. "And you lying in that terrible draft."

"If I catch a chill it will be all your fault."

"Come then. To the bed. I'll carry you, if I must."

Philippe disengaged himself and stood on shaky legs.

"Very well. To the bed." Chevalier lumbered after him.



Dawn found the Chevalier sleeping in a tangle of sheets, a flush on his cheeks and a gentle snore escaping from his lips. Philippe reclined at his side, propped on pillows, watching the first rays of light filter through the gap in the shutters. He played idly with Chevalier's hair and enjoyed the languid hum of satiety that rumbled through his limbs, his groin, his belly.

He'd missed this so very much.

They had a week, perhaps, at most, before his marital duty would assert itself once more and steal his lover from him. Every ounce of his essence then would be saved and deposited safely in his wife, not cast with abandon on perfect golden skin or gifted like nectar to a waiting tongue.

At what cost, his duty?

Philippe's gaze fell on the crystal vial Chevalier had abandoned to the floor during their tussle the night before, still full, and was startled by a realisation: Chevalier truly hadn't been drunk. He had been present throughout, fully present, unimpaired by wine, potions or powders. For the first time in weeks. Months. Longer, perhaps.

Philippe looked up at the crimson ceiling, his eyes stinging with sudden tears.

"What have they done to us, my love?" he murmured. "What have they done?"


Chapter Text

Philippe sat back, drawing his soft, comforting blankets over his lap, and took a sip of wine. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Liselotte wriggling into her nightgown, flicking her hair out of the confines of the linen. It would tickle otherwise; she had a very ticklish spot just—

Philippe took another swig of wine, startled that he should know so much about his wife.

She slipped under the covers next to him and wrestled her pillow into a suitable position before laying her head upon it. "Good night, then," she said. "Another good night's work, eh?"

He managed a painful smile and found himself gently stroking a strand of hair from her cheek. She elicited such tenderness that it took him by surprise - and her as well, apparently, as her first reaction was to flinch. But she quickly recovered, caught his hand and kissed it.

"Actually, I'm wide awake," she said. "Do you know any stories?"


"You know. Bedtime stories."

"Most of the stories I know have beds in them. But I'm not sure they'd be entirely suitable."

"Oh, I don't know. My aunt's cousin used to tell us bawdy tales sometimes at parties. They were quite fun."

"No," said Philippe, firmly. "I don't know any stories." He put down his empty goblet.

"Tell me about the Chevalier," said Liselotte, in a small, soft voice.

His instinct was to recoil, to protect, to keep it separate. But somehow he found himself answering, "What would you have me tell you?"

"Oh, nothing sordid. How did you meet?"

"He would visit occasionally, with his brother, when we were children. Our mothers were fond of each other at the time."

"I had no idea you'd known him that long."

"Well, we were merely childhood acquaintances. Nothing of significance happened between us until later. Although he was always getting me into trouble."

She raised an eyebrow.

Philippe smiled, warming to the conversation. Nobody ever asked him about the Chevalier. They tended to make up their own minds on first impressions, and that never worked in Chevalier's favour.

"I remember one day we stole a great deal of wine from the kitchen. It was dreadful stuff, horribly sweet, intended only for cooking. But we didn't care. We set about getting quite outrageously drunk. He was sick in his brother's shoes and claimed I had poisoned him."

"Sounds hilarious," she said, wryly.

"Perhaps you had to be there."

"No offence, but I'm quite glad I wasn't."

Philippe frowned.

Liselotte sat up. "Tell me about a time when he wasn't drunk."

She threaded a strand of Philippe's hair through her fingers, back and forth.

"Very well. Hm. One day, there was a ball. In Paris. Not my first, but one of the first. It must have been of some public importance, because Mother insisted that I wore breeches, as I recall. It was all in aid of my brother, of course, but nonetheless I was quite excited. It was lively, colourful. I had a number of admirers. I looked fabulous, of course."


"I remember the moment he arrived. He walked through the doors and paused while he was announced. His hair was so golden, his eyes so blue, and he wore the most exquisite coat…" Philippe lost himself in the memory for a moment. He'd watched Chevalier cross the room to greet him, had given him a chaste kiss to each cheek. "I wanted him," Philippe said. "I don't think I'd ever wanted anything so much in my whole life."

After a pause, Liselotte asked, "Was he your first?"

"No. But that night, he was my everything."

"And now?"

Philippe's heart clenched with hurt. "I don't know."

"Hm. Well, I think I do." She looked sad. But there was something else. Compassion. Acceptance.

"He's quite impossible," said Philippe.

"But he loves you."

She released the hair she had woven so carefully around her fingers, and lay the curl against her cheek, tickling her nose with the end. The candlelight played across her features, made her eyes sparkle. Her lips were pink and full, and Philippe kissed her. A simple brush of lips, but her breath caught; she trembled in sudden arousal. Philippe was filled with affection for her. He pulled her on top of him, enjoying her little squeak of surprise.

"I think it's my turn now," he said.

"Your turn for what?"

"A story." He kissed her nose. "Just make sure there's lots of men in it. Preferably naked, oiled ones."

She giggled. "I think we can manage that. Let me see." She stroked his face. "Close your eyes. Now. Once upon a time, in Ancient Rome, there were some gladiators…."

She was very good at stories.

Chapter Text

Philippe checked his hair in the mirror, arranging the curls over his shoulders. Just for a moment, however, and with little attention. He was holding back. If he were dressing for the Chevalier, he might have fussed for hours. But he wasn't. He was dressing for Thomas, and Thomas most certainly did not deserve the best. Just what was strictly necessary to interest him, like sugar to catch a fly.

It wasn't very gratifying. And Philippe was irritated to realise that he missed Chevalier's guidance at times like this. He missed a lot of things about the Chevalier.

Philippe twitched his cravat into place, arranged his features into a pleasant expression, and left his mirror behind.

He found Thomas in the salon, standing at a card table. He had a notebook in his hand, as always. Perhaps he was about to compose an ode to baccarat.

"Your Highness," Thomas said with a little bow.

"Good afternoon. I'm sorry to interrupt, but may I have a word?"

"Of course." Thomas followed him to the side of the room.

"I have need of your services," Philippe said.

"Ah. As a writer, I presume?" Thomas winked.

Oh dear, the poor man was trying to flirt. It did not come naturally to him. "Yes, quite so. My brother is not the only one who appreciates your talents, you know. And unlike him, I actually have taste. Come, sit. Let me explain."

They sat together on the bench by the window. Philippe smiled at him. Thomas smiled back, but made no attempt to touch Philippe: not so much as an accidental brush of the knee or knock of an ankle. It gave Philippe pause. Only two days ago he'd come prodigiously down Thomas' willing throat and he'd thought that might have established a greater sense of intimacy between them. Perhaps he'd mistaken the man's thirst for secrets for something else.

"How is your wife?" Thomas asked.

"My wife?"

"I heard that she was indisposed. I feared there was bad news…."

Philippe had to fight to keep his expression friendly: he felt fiercely protective of Liselotte in that moment, and wanted to keep this threat, this spy, this filthy treachery, well away from her. "I can assure you she's perfectly well. Recent events in the Palatinate have been trying for her, is all."

"I apologise. I have displeased you."

"You have not."

"I shouldn't have mentioned her." Ah. Now Thomas' hand brushed Philippe's knee. "Please forgive me."

"Of course." Philippe patted his hand. "Now, let me tell you about my problem."

"I am all ears, your Highness."

"I am preparing an entertainment for my brother, to celebrate his forthcoming victory in battle against the Dutch." He leaned in conspiratorially. "I am afraid it might be quite short!"

Thomas laughed politely, covering his mouth with his little notebook.

"I fear the plot of my play lacks a suitable… conclusion," Philippe continued. "I mean, clearly I need to embroider the truth, and project a far greater outcome than is likely at present."

"I see. You want my help with your… climax."

"Indeed." Philippe bestowed another smile; as he did so he caught a glimpse of scarlet silk and golden ringlets out of the corner of his eye. Hell's teeth. Not now. This wouldn't do.

"Tell me about this… writing you would have me do," said Thomas.

"Certainly. But not here. Why don't we go somewhere more private? Your room, perhaps?"

Thomas raised an eyebrow.

Philippe could feel Chevalier's eyes on him; one moment more and there would be a scene. The sort of scene that could see an end to his task and threaten the security of all of France, not to mention Chevalier's own impossibly beautiful neck. "I can't wait another moment," Philippe said. Thankfully, Thomas took him at his word.

They made haste to Thomas' rooms, and, to Philippe's relief, nobody followed. Thomas opened the door for Philippe, who strode inside, waiting until the door was safely shut before he pulled Thomas in for a kiss. Thomas made a little squeak of surprise - what was the man, a blushing maiden? - but he rallied well, and looked suitably breathless when Philippe drew back. Philippe brushed a curl from Thomas' face. The man had a terrible moustache: it was as if a pair of brown caterpillars had fallen on his face.

"It would be such a shame," said Philippe, "if the entertainment were to just… fizzle out. Don't you think?"

Thomas' eyes flickered to Philippe's mouth, to his eyes, to his breeches and back again. "If Your Highness would be willing to let me probe the very depths of his script, I'm sure we could find a magnificent crisis together.

His hand was on Philippe's arse; he squeezed.

Shit. Philippe had really hoped it wouldn't come to this. A quick suck and a fondle was one thing, but this…

For king and country, Philippe. For France. Besides, perhaps Thomas hadn't meant… that, exactly.

"I trust you to probe the matter as you see fit," he heard himself say, and kissed him again, to be sure Thomas wouldn't see a hint of reluctance on his face. Thomas wasn't a bad kisser, actually; he mostly kept his tongue in his mouth and didn't slobber. But his lips weren't soft like Liselotte's, let alone insistent and possessive like Chevalier's. Philippe's heart grew heavy.

Thomas guided them to the bed and Philippe allowed himself to be pushed back onto it, Thomas a slight weight on top of him. The man was considerate, at least, supporting himself on an elbow and one knee so as not to crush him. "You are truly beautiful, your Highness, if I may be so bold." He stroked Philippe's cheek theatrically with the back of his hand.

"My poet," said Philippe, and slid his hand between them to pluck open Thomas' breeches. Perhaps he could distract him from anything more intense than a quick tryst. Thomas' member was, if slender, impressively stiff, and the noise Thomas made when Philippe touched it was keen. This, at least, was not a lie. Thomas wanted him.

Philippe smirked. Thomas was laid bare to him at that moment, for all his treachery. No doubt he had accepted Philippe's invitation with treason in his heart, but he had fallen, like so many others, under the spell of Monsieur. A jolt of power shot through Philippe, and he claimed Thomas with a sudden, biting kiss.

"Your Highness, if you insist on handling me so, we may find ourselves too soon in the final act of the play," Thomas said.

"It matters not if the story is short. It is the intensity that counts." Philippe gave Thomas' prick a masterful tug.

Thomas groaned in pleasure, but grasped Philippe's wrist. "But I want very much to put it inside you."

Oh well. Apparently the time for metaphor was past. And there was, Philippe realised, a challenge in Thomas' eyes.

This was a test.

"Very well. But we will need to prepare. You would not, I hope, wish to fuck me dry."

Thomas looked instantly startled - he had either expected greater resistance, or he wasn't familiar with the demands of the sexual act he was pursuing. It made Philippe feel better, either way.

"Some oil should do," Philippe said, hoping he didn't have any.

"Of course. Wait one moment."


Thomas sprinted away into his dressing chamber, leaving Philippe alone. He sat up, and caught his reflection in the mirror on the table to his right.

He hadn't expected things to go this far when he agreed to his brother's orders. His relationship with the Chevalier might be fraught at present, and they were, above all else, free spirits, but there were unspoken boundaries between them nonetheless. Acts he would perform with no-one else, not even his most trusted mignons. Perhaps he should refuse Thomas, after all. If he were hungry enough for information, surely he didn't need this level of consummation to be satisfied with Philippe's intent?

Then again, you didn't get to survive as a spy in Versailles for so long without a great deal of intelligence and cunning.

Thomas returned, grasping a bottle of oil in one fist. Cheap, no doubt.

"Splendid," said Philippe. "Are you sure you want to? I thought perhaps I could—"

"I want to very much," said Thomas. "Providing you also…?"

"Oh yes. Absolutely. Nothing I'd like, um… here, give me that." He took the bottle from Thomas. "I'll take care of the details."

A few moments later Philippe was on his belly on the bed, wearing only his shirt and stockings, as Thomas covered him. Thomas was clumsy and eager to fuck, as Philippe found many men to be when the bulk of their experience was with women. Philistines. Thomas paused long before he was fully seated, however, his breath coming in short huffs against Philippe's shoulder. He was trying not to come. Philippe smiled to himself.

"Oh, Thomas," he murmured. "You fill me so." It was a lie; the man had a skinny prick and not even half of it had attained its goal, but that was quite enough.

"It's so tight," said Thomas. "I can't…"

A moment later, Thomas was gripping his shoulders as if his life depended upon it and, with one wicked clutch of his arse, Philippe tipped him over the edge. In the chaos of his pleasure Thomas pulled out, slipped his prick harmlessly along the valley of Philippe's buttocks and spent there, spluttering like a landed fish.

"Oh my," said Philippe - and it took every ounce of concentration at his disposal to keep the sarcasm from his voice. "What a compliment."

"If you give me a moment, perhaps I could—"

"Shhh." Philippe captured Thomas' hand in his own, and kissed it.

Thomas rolled off him and lay at his side. He was still breathing hard, his chest and neck flushed pink. Philippe pulled the pillow closer, and rested his chin on it.

"You must think me an idiot," Thomas said.

"Not at all. If you recall, I predicted the play would be short." Philippe tapped the tip of Thomas' nose.

"I beg another chance, Monsieur. The key to an effective peak, after all, is to tease. To drive your audience wild with anticipation, to the point where they are—" He captured the tip of Philippe's finger between his lips, and sucked. Lust rose in Philippe's body like champagne from the bottle. "—begging for resolution."

Philippe smiled without meaning it - he definitely drew the line at begging - but Thomas had noticed his arousal, and was quick to take advantage. He kissed Philippe, rolling him onto his back, knelt between his spread legs and kissed his hip, his thigh. His prick. Which was, of course, treacherously hard.

Perhaps it takes a traitor to catch a traitor, Philippe thought to himself, and let Thomas have his way.


Afterwards, when they were dressing, Thomas revealed that he was to go on a tour with the King later that afternoon, to see some newly refurbished apartments. "I hear they're magnificent," he said.

"If you like that sort of thing." Philippe stood at the mirror, teasing his curls out with his fingers. "Of course, it begs the question of how he will continue to fund the war. He is running resources too thin. But, as ever, he ignores my warnings. At this rate his army will starve, and all for the sake of a few ornate shutters and gilded ceilings."

He could tell when Thomas had lapped up one of the nuggets of information he'd offered. His carefully managed smile would twitch, and he cocked his ear like a lapdog awaiting its next treat.

"Anyway, enjoy the spectacle," Philippe said. "I shall see you again. Soon, I hope." He left Thomas with a breathtaking kiss, certain that when they met that evening at the card tables, Thomas would be ready to hang on his every word.

Philippe returned to his apartment and called for a bath. He sank gratefully into the steaming water and lay there for a long time, letting the heat sink into his bones, to the very core of him. He thought of the Chevalier, and the sweet days they'd enjoyed together before Liselotte came. Feeding him sweet grapes and macaroons as they lay tangled together in soft sheets, sunshine streaming through the window to light up his beautiful, golden prince.

Saint Cloud felt so very far away.


Chapter Text

Liselotte woke in the early hours of the morning with an incredible craving for pickles. She sighed. There was a jar on the dressing table - her ladies were kind and indulgent, and tended to leave them dotted about her rooms, wrapped in pretty silk and ribbons like bonbons.

Ugh, bonbons. She most definitely wasn't craving those. This baby had turned her taste in food completely upside down: the thought of sweets and pastries turned her stomach; she craved only sharp and bitter things. She could imagine crunching into a succulent onion, the burst of spice on her tongue, brine running down her chin…. Damn. She was practically drooling on her pillow. Resigned to her fate, she got out of bed, pulled on her robe - soft green wool embroidered with gold, a gift from Philippe when he went to war - and padded over to the dressing table.

She wrenched the lid off the jar, pulled out a tiny cucumber, and popped it straight into her mouth, whole. It was perfectly juicy and delicious, and she gathered the jar lovingly in her arms, prepared to take the whole lot back to bed with her.

Then she heard the Chevalier cry.

She took a moment to find and put on her slippers, devouring another two miniature cucumbers as she went, and opened the door to what had once been her dressing room, but was now home to a bed, several large mirrors and her absent husband's lover.

He was curled up at the end of the bed, shoulders shaking with his sobs, grasping a pillow to his breast as if his life depended upon him never letting it go.

"Hello. D'you want a pickle?"

Somewhere amid the wails that ensued, Liselotte heard an emphatic, "God, woman, no!"

She perched next to him on the bed. "That's a relief. Not sure I can spare any, to be honest."

"Go away."

"Sorry, no can do. Did you have another bad dream?"

Chevalier lowered the pillow a little, revealing red, tearstained cheeks. His scar had faded already to a thin, silvery line. It rather suited him, although the doctor said it would be as nothing in a few more weeks.

"To dream would require that I had slept," Chevalier said. "And as you know perfectly well, that is not something I do any more."

"Point taken." Liselotte crunched her way through another delicious cucumber before she noticed the look of disgust on Chevalier's face. She took pity and put the jar on the floor by the bed, relinquishing it with a loving pat to its lid.

"Go on then." She pulled her legs up onto the bed, tugging her robe over her knees to keep the cold away. "Let's get it over with."

"I beg your pardon?"

"The part where you beg for wine, laudanum or powders, and I categorically refuse."

"You're a dragon. You have no idea how hard this is for me."

She did. She'd been watching him for two months now. She'd bathed his forehead during his sweats, she'd held his hair back while he retched into a bowl. She'd listened to him rant, rave and beg for days on end.

But things were better now. He could hold down food and his demands had lost their desperation. It was more of a habit now, as if he felt it was expected of him.

However, no sooner had his physical pain subsided than his emotional pain burst forth. The tears, the fits of rage, the numb despair. It tugged at Liselotte's heart. It was as if every hurt that Chevalier had masked so completely with potions and powders was rearing up to attack him a hundredfold. He was adrift on a sea of pain and misery, and she wasn't sure how to reach him.

One thing she was convinced of, though, was that Chevalier was determined to keep his promise to the King, and especially to Philippe. If he'd wanted to go back to his old ways, he could have. There were no locks on the doors, no restrictions on his purse, no directives as to whom he could or could not see. Philippe had been insistent on that, because only in a state of freedom, he had told her, could a person truly change.

He could be quite wise, when he put his mind to it.

Chevalier groaned, and punched the bed.

"If you like," Liselotte said, "we could try putting our feelings into words rather than unintelligible noises."

He whined.

"Or not. As you wish. I'm perfectly happy to go back to bed with my pickles."

"Feel free. All you do is treat me like a child having a tantrum."

She raised an eyebrow at him.

"There's nothing to say," he continued. "My life is a miserable vacuum, devoid of grace and beauty. It merits no discussion."

"Alright then. I'll tell you about my feelings, if you like." He grimaced, but she continued regardless. "I'm lonely. I miss my husband. I miss riding. And I burst into tears in the salon in the most embarrassing way this morning, just because I caught a whiff of perfume on someone that smelt exactly like one my cousin used to wear."

He tossed his hair, pretending disdain. She was getting good at recognising when he was pretending. It didn't make him any less difficult or any more appealing, but she did understand a little better how Philippe put up with him.

"I miss him more," Chevalier said.

"Yes, I expect you do."

"He's the father of your child, that's all. He's my entire world."


"You've only known him for… what? Less than a year. I met him when we were both children."

"Is that so?"

"Yes. Not that it's any of your business.

Liselotte gave his knee a little pat. "Tell me," she said. "Please?"

His eyes narrowed, but she kept her expression open and kind, and eventually he sat up, arranging the pillow in his lap. He fiddled with the lace around its edge. "He used to get me into dreadful trouble, actually."

"Did he?"

"Oh yes. There was one spectacular incident with a bottle of wine and my brother's shoes, but that's not desperately interesting. The one with the Queen's petticoat was amusing, but I am prevented - by royal decree, no less - from telling it. But there was one winter, I recall, when we were at the Louvre. The weather was too frightful to go out, and Philippe had an absolute tyrant of a tutor at the time, whom he was keen to escape. He begged my assistance in helping him to flee from the spectre of a nature walk - in February, my dear, I tell you, the man was insane - so I collected food from the kitchen and we sneaked into his brother's chambers. As I recall, we spent a great deal of time bouncing upon his brother's bed."

"Of course you did," said Liselotte, drily.

"I am shocked at the direction of your imagination, my dear! We were as innocent as babes. My balls had barely dropped."

He glanced at her to gauge the effect of his crudity. She took care to keep a cheerful tone in her voice as she replied, "Continue, then."

He looked mildly disappointed by her lack of outrage, but she'd learned early on that being scandalised around Chevalier (or her husband, come to that) was about as much use as protesting the cold while bathing in snow. It took a lot of energy that was better spent on other things.

"Well, there we were, engaged in our innocent boyish fun, when we heard footsteps. Alas! We feared the dreaded tutor had tracked him down - no doubt with the encouragement of an angry entourage. So we did the only reasonable thing. We took refuge in the King's wardrobe."

"Sensible choice."

"Of course it was. It was my idea. It was deep enough to be hidden in shadow, but its fretwork doors afforded the ideal opportunity to observe one's enemies."

"But they found you?"

"They did not. As we huddled there in eager anticipation of outwitting our foes, it became apparent that it wasn't the tutor after all. It was the young King himself. On a positive note, he clearly wasn't part of any search party out to catch a truanting prince. He had a pair of chambermaids with him, one under each arm. He tossed them on his bed, amid much giggling and happy squealing, and proceeded to fuck them both."

"Gosh," said Liselotte. "Really?"

Satisfaction glinted in Chevalier's eyes - this time there was no hiding her surprise. But she allowed him the win. He'd earned it.

"It was frightful. We were practically forced to watch. Well, Philippe pulled his skirts over his head and refused to look at first."

She didn't rise to the whole dress thing - that really was old news - and instead picked up on, "At first?"

"He was being ridiculous. He refused to look, but expected me to give him a whispered account of the entire proceedings. Eventually curiosity got the better of him. It proved quite instructional, in fact. I confess it left me with a certain curiosity I had not had before."

"About sex?"

Chevalier rolled his eyes. "I'm a red-blooded male. I was born to be interested in sex."

"But you said—"

"Curiosity about Philippe. Our dear King, even at that age, exhibited a certain generosity of endowment. I couldn't help but wonder if it ran in the family."

"Oh." She knew she was staring at him as wide-eyed as a babe, but she couldn't help it. Chevalier had a grin on his face that could only be described as victorious.

"Suffice to say," he continued, conspiratorially, "future investigations revealed a happy truth. Of the two, our boy not only matches but exceeds his Majesty's assets in that regard. Quite significantly."

Liselotte's cheeks went hot, but she couldn't help but snicker.

"It was a most revealing afternoon," said Chevalier, with a smirk.

"You know, that's the first time you've said that out loud."

"What, that our dear Philippe is well-endowed? I hate to shatter your illusions, but I think you'll find it's not the best-kept secret at Court."

"You described him as 'ours'. That's the first time that you acknowledged that you and I share him."

His anger rose quickly, flushing his cheeks and throat, stripping the twinkle from his eyes.

"Don't," she said. "Heavens, you should have realised by now that I am no threat to you. You know that. He loves you. He is going to be so very proud of you, and, when he comes back, you will return to his bed."

"If he comes back."

"When," she said, firmly. The baby inside her gave a none-too-gentle kick. She rubbed her hand soothingly over her belly.

"Are you alright?" Chevalier watched her with a blend of curiosity and disgust.

"I'm fine. The baby's moving. Would you like to feel?"

He looked as if he'd been asked to put his hand in a bowl of cold porridge, or to go out in last season's shoes. Liselotte laughed.

"You're a cruel woman," he said.

"Finish your story."

"What story?"

"You were hiding in the King's wardrobe, spying on him. Were you discovered?"

Chevalier sniffed. "There's no need to make it sound cheap."

"What else would you call it?"

"An accident."

"Ah. Accidental voyeurism."

"Do you want to hear the rest or not?"

"I'm sorry. Carry on."

"Well. Things proceeded apace, as one might expect. Louis was young and eager after all. But the best part, the very best part, was when, as he crossed the finish line, so to speak, and he cried out—" Chevalier began to giggle, the infectious sort, so Liselotte was already smiling when Chevalier said, in a perfect imitation of the King's pitch and intonation: "For France!"

They collapsed on each other in helpless fits of laughter, until Liselotte could barely breathe.

"I can't… help… wondering," gasped Chevalier, "whether he still does that." He composed himself somewhat, and sat up straight again. "Anyway, we were both in hysterics. They heard it. The girls screamed and Louis was incandescent with rage. Chaos ensued and our dear Philippe blamed it all on yours truly." He pointed at his own chest. "Terribly unjust. But I forgave him as always."

"Did you suffer a terrible punishment?"

"Indeed. To our horror we were banned from associating with each other for several weeks." Chevalier smiled, sly as a fox. "Officially."

Liselotte could imagine all too clearly the pout on the young Chevalier's lips, and Philippe's howls of devastation at being deprived of his friend.

They had been doing this dance for such a very long time.

"He always slips through my fingers," Chevalier murmured.

"And he always comes back."

"Perhaps this is the time when he won't. Perhaps he'll get distracted by some dashing Captain, and you and I will both be abandoned."

"I don't think that's very likely, do you?"

"My dear, you have no idea how faithless he can be. Especially around soldiers."

"Whatever he might get up to, his heart is here-" she pointed at Chevalier, "-as is his duty is here." She pointed at her own belly. "He will return. Believe it."

Chevalier gave her a hopeless sort of look, and pulled the pillow close again. She let him have his silence for a while, glancing wistfully at her jar of pickles.

Chevalier cleared his throat.

"I miss him dreadfully," he said. "It hurts. It hurts like being ripped open with a disembowelling knife. It hurts like being trampled by a hundred stampeding bulls, like a night in the Marshall's dungeon. Like someone dragged your innards out through your mouth and shoved them back all mangled…. Oh. Oh, my dear, you're crying. Why are you crying? I should warn you, I don't do well with…"

Liselotte didn't answer, partly because she couldn't trust her voice, partly because she couldn't find the words.

"Oh, of course," said Chevalier in a small, thin voice. "You really do miss him too, I suppose."

Liselotte sniffed loudly, pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed at her eyes. "I want my child to know its father. I want it to have brothers and sisters to play with. Is that too much to ask?"

She braced herself for the snappy comeback, the derision, the defensive slap of cruelty. But it didn't come. Instead the bed shifted, and an arm curled around her shoulders.

"You're right." Chevalier sounded calm; she hadn't heard him like this, soothing and resonant. "He always comes back. Do you know why I am certain he will return safely this time?"

She shook her head.

"Because if he doesn't, it would leave you - both of you - in my hands, and there's no way on earth he'd let me be responsible for raising his child."

She managed a smile, and let her head rest on his shoulder.

"But I would," whispered Chevalier. "God help me, if the worst happened, I would do my very best."

He pulled the blanket around them both and held her close for a long, long time.


Chapter Text

It had become Philippe's habit to take a walk through the camp each night and talk with his men. It was good for morale - theirs and his - and helped to form a bridge between the exhilaration of the day and the still of the night. It brought him back to himself, let fresh horrors fade. By the time he reached his own tent, he'd feel calm and ready for sleep.

His tent needed more drapes and better mirrors, but it had begun to feel like a home of sorts.

There was a letter waiting under his pillow. It had been delivered with the rest that morning, but he'd saved it, as he saved all of Liselotte's notes, to be savoured in the peace of the night.

He settled himself under his blankets, and neatly broke the seal on the letter. It was thick, several pages. His wife was a prolific and entertaining writer, often covering both sides of the paper with amusing tales from court. But it became instantly apparent that this missive wasn't her work alone. The first page was not in her flowing, practical hand: it was alive with swirls and flourishes, an unmistakable feat of calligraphy that set his heart racing.

My Darling Mignonette.

Philippe sat up, slanting the paper to better catch the candlelight. He read quickly, his hand trembling so much that the paper quivered under his scrutiny.

I hope you are alive and well, and winning all your battles. I hear you are covering yourself with glory as usual. Nobody should be surprised by that: you are, I am sure, as magnificent on the battlefield as you are in the salons.

Versailles is dull and pointless without you. My life is perpetual misery and your wife has taken on the aroma of vinegar due to her bizarre and disgusting diet. I swear she won't touch a thing unless it's pickled. Your child will probably emerge a gherkin.

I am bored, my darling, like you wouldn't believe. There is no gossip, no scandal, and without your presence to light up the rooms of the palace, we might as well be living in a shack. The highlight of my week was meeting the Marquise de Montespan in the gardens yesterday. Yes, the gardens. Your wife has the insane idea that fresh air might improve my disposition. She knows nothing. Anyway, I had not thought anyone could be more despondent than I, until I saw her face. The woman is positively ravaged by misery. A ghost of her former self. And so utterly alone.

How fickle, how fraught the whims of favour. How quickly the barbs of wit can be tamed.

I pray for France's swift victory, my darling, entirely for the selfish wish that you quickly return to us. I must finish this, as I hear your wife approaching in thunderous mood. It appears someone has hidden her pickles, can you believe it?

Yours in innocence and with all my love,



Philippe read this letter three times before putting it carefully aside to read the rest of the pages. Liselotte gave her usual detailed account of events, her reassurances as to her health and that of their baby. But he lingered over the very last line of all, where she had written:

The Chevalier is insufferable, but I say with confidence, that he is well at last.

Philippe slipped Chevalier's letter under his pillow, lay down and closed his eyes.

Soon the war would be done. He would ride home victorious, and claim his prize.



Chapter Text

Philippe sat with the Chevalier on a bench under the carefully trimmed branches of a beech tree, the shade a welcome respite from the heat of the day. Saint Cloud had never been more beautiful. The grass was a lush green, the topiary immaculate, and they were soothed by the delicate rush of water from the fountain, which currently played several inches higher than the tallest at Versailles. A true peace, however short-lived it would inevitably be, after the noise of battle. It felt as if Philippe had put down roots, secured himself and his strange little family in paradise. Anchored their ship in a safe harbour.

"Well, this is glorious." Chevalier tossed his hair back and smiled at the sun.

Philippe took Chevalier's hand, and twined their fingers together.

Chevalier squeezed his hand in return. "I missed you, Mignonette."

Philippe wondered when, exactly, Chevalier had missed him most. While he was at war? Or before that, at Versailles? When they were separated by duty, circumstance and Chevalier's own jealousy.

The last had been hardest for Philippe. The times when his love was right there in front of him in all but spirit, as if some unknown force had taken possession of his body and corrupted that beautiful mind.

He supposed, in a way, it had.

The sound of hoofbeats disrupted his ruminations, and Anne Marie galloped past on Stormbringer, raising a cloud of dust.

"She's getting too big for that horse," Chevalier noted.

Philippe glanced at him in surprise. It was rare for Chevalier to even acknowledge the presence of his children, never mind offer comment on their development.

Anne Marie wheeled the little pony around in a chaotic fashion.

"Use your thighs!" Liselotte bellowed from the direction of the stables.

Anne Marie's seat instantly improved. She waved as she galloped past them again on her way back.

"Your wife is making your daughters quite wild of spirit," Chevalier observed. "I must say, I approve. They will find it impossible to find husbands, and be forced to live a life of decadent immorality." He kissed Philippe's knuckles. "Just like their father."

Philippe smiled at him, lost for a moment in his sparkling blue eyes.

"You know," Chevalier said, peering up at the sky. "I think it looks like rain. Do you think it looks like rain? It definitely looks like rain."

"There isn't a cloud in the sky."

"I'm sure I felt a drop. We should go inside."

Chevalier's face was the picture of innocence. It was also very, very handsome.

"There have been a lot of freak storms this season."

"My point exactly." Chevalier got to his feet and held out his hand. "Let me escort you to shelter immediately."

Philippe glanced over to the stables, where Liselotte was explaining some aspect of horsemanship to his children, with a variety of exuberant gestures. Then he looked at Chevalier.

It had been a long time. In the three days since he had returned from the war he had restrained himself, to the confusion of both his wife and his lover. Each night he had kissed them both on the cheek and retired to sleep alone, in his own bed. He had survived without so much as a fevered tryst in a shadowy corner. Liselotte did not expect him to join her: she was close to confinement, her body sending the clearest of messages that his duty in that regard had been thoroughly fulfilled. But she did expect him to be with the Chevalier. She didn't ask him about it, though. And Chevalier waited to be invited, as if he understood it to be a test of patience. Perhaps it was. Perhaps Philippe had just needed to collect his thoughts.

Whatever the reason, the waiting was over now. Philippe could resist no longer. But it was the first time Chevalier was to be in his bed for a very, very long time. He wanted it to be special.

He made sure Liselotte saw them leave. She was rebraiding Marie Louise's hair. She nodded to him.

Philippe and Chevalier made haste through the gardens to the house, and thence to Philippe's chambers. They might have been fleeing a fictitious storm, but the cool of the house was welcome just the same.

"Close the shutters," Philippe said, and sat on the bed while Chevalier swiftly complied. Only when the room was in quiet shadow did it feel like they were finally alone.

Chevalier strode boldly to the bed, all pretence gone. He stripped off his coat and stood for a moment while Philippe admired him. How could he not admire him? He was the most beautiful creature Philippe had ever seen.

Chevalier put one knee on the bed, leaning in. Philippe stopped him with a firm hand to his shoulder. "You presume a great deal," he said.

Doubt flickered in Chevalier's eyes. It was enough.

"Mignonette," he said, soft-voiced. "If I have miscalculated your intentions…. Or is it that you would prefer to be master here?"

Philippe licked his lips. A tempting proposition, but this was about mending bridges, not starting fresh power struggles. "There are no masters here," he said, and kissed Chevalier's lush, sweet mouth.

Chevalier swept Philippe's hair back from his face, cradled it at the nape of his neck. "You have no idea how glad I am to hear that, my darling. If you did not want me—"

Philippe brushed his lips over the shell of Chevalier's ear. "Want you? I burn for you."

Chevalier growled deep in his throat, and Philippe pulled him down on top of him.

They indulged in long, slow kisses, languid in a way that belied the lust thrumming through Philippe's veins. Chevalier tasted of sweet wine; he was warm and gentle, not teasing but, like Philippe, savouring the moment.

"There was a time," Chevalier said, stroking Philippe's arm, "when I thought I would never have this again. You have my promise, Mignonette, I will never take you for granted again."

Philippe couldn't believe that, but he did believe Chevalier's intention in that moment, and that was all he needed. There was trust between them for the first time in so very long. Happiness blossomed in his chest, and he surrendered himself completely to Chevalier's fervent attentions.

Their kisses paused to allow Chevalier to deal with the obstacle of their clothes. Philippe watched Chevalier pop his buttons and peel away layers of silk and lace, treating them with great care until the moment Philippe's body was free of them, whereupon they were cast carelessly to the floor. Chevalier slipped from his own clothes with the utmost elegance, emerging like a resplendent butterfly from his brocade cocoon. He stood naked by the bed for a moment and Philippe drank in the sight of him: golden, vibrant, dangerous.

"Come here."

Chevalier complied, lying at Philippe's side and submitting to the softest of kisses, the most delicate touch. A fingertip glancing over his nipple still made him giggle; a kiss placed just so on the delicate arch of his neck made him keen. Urgency rose in them both and their kisses grew more feverish. Philippe skimmed his hand down Chevalier's flank to cup his backside. A perfect, soft, round handful.

"If you wish, Mignonette…"

"Not today."

Philippe had thought a great deal about how this reunion might be consummated. His reflections had given him many interesting dreams during his long nights at war. But there was a principle at stake here. A boundary Louis had made him breech with Thomas. A gift, snatched away from them both that he was anxious to restore.

"I want you to fuck me," he said, watching the lust burn in Chevalier's eyes. "I want you to reclaim what's yours."

Instead of the passionate action Philippe had anticipated in response to his request, Chevalier's expression softened. He held Philippe tenderly and flurried kisses along his jaw and throat, murmuring, "Oh, my darling, how I have waited, how I have longed…" Philippe's throat tightened and he kissed Chevalier's mouth. They shared stuttered sobs and clung to each other.

Chevalier proceeded to lavish his attention on every inch of Philippe's body - except the most needy parts. He kissed his ribs, his knees, caressed his ears and his feet, until the tease threatened to bubble over into frustration. At that very moment Chevalier - he knew Philippe so well - took Philippe's member in his mouth, and Philippe was lost. His mind and body were governed purely by lust and pleasure. Chevalier held Philippe down by his hips, thumbs stroking soothing circles in the dip of his pelvis. When he had licked every inch of Philippe's erection, he closed his mouth around the head, wet-lipped and warm, while Philippe simply writhed. Then Chevalier cupped and fondled Philippe's balls, so expertly that Philippe had to cry out for him to desist, lest he reach his crisis too soon.

Chevalier raised his head, all golden curls and smug grin. Philippe smiled back.

Chevalier took hold of Philippe's knees and tipped them back, slipping a cushion gently under his hips.

"Yes," Philippe murmured, capturing Chevalier's hand. He kissed and licked each finger, taking care to wet them. Chevalier kissed his way down Philippe's body, from his chest to his belly to his prick to his balls, where he paused, nuzzling, and drew his fingers from Philippe's mouth. In the next instant they were busy stroking Philippe's hole. Philippe tossed his head back and cried out at the pleasure of it; it was a second or two later that he realised it wasn't just Chevalier's fingers; his tongue was down there too, and Philippe was stunned, enraptured and, admittedly, somewhat relieved he'd taken a bath earlier.

Nobody had ever kissed him there, he realised, as Chevalier's finger slipped inside him, finding the nub of his pleasure in one unerring movement. Nobody knew his whims and desires like Chevalier did, and most certainly there wasn't another creature on earth who could satisfy them so well. Philippe's limbs trembled and he melted to the core under Chevalier's ministrations. He could hear himself making the most undignified noises, and could not bring himself to care. Chevalier teased him, indulged him, teased him again, opening his body, softening him for what was to come.

Then he knelt up, stroking Philippe's thigh with one hand, while the fingers of the other continued to tease him. "Now you're ready for the oil, my love," Chevalier said.

Philippe blinked at him. He heard the words, but no longer had the wit to understand what was required of him.

"Of course, I could fuck you without." Chevalier ran his finger around Philippe's hole in circles, then slipped it back inside. Philippe would have agreed to anything to get Chevalier's prick inside him. "See you well you take it, darling? But I would not hurt you for the world." Their eyes met and his words took on the weight of a solemn vow. "I will never hurt you."

Philippe nodded, once, and said in a voice that came out far more squeakily than he'd anticipated, "On the mantel. Usual place."

"Right! Back in a jiffy."

Philippe lay bereft as Chevalier took his time getting the oil, pausing for a mouthful of wine, admiring his hair in the mirror. Finally he returned to the bed, rolling the vial in his hands to warm it. He kissed Philippe on his forehead, his nose, and Philippe had but to raise his head to capture his mouth for an imploring kiss. Chevalier kept him occupied thus as he unstoppered the vial. Next Philippe knew, Chevalier's slick questing fingers were between his legs once more, slipping easily inside him, while he opened up to the touch like a fucking flower.

Philippe's prick leaked prodigiously over his stomach, and he was fighting a strong urge to beg. But Chevalier was no better off. Philippe recognised the hitch to his breath, the tremble in his fingers. All he had to do was whisper, "I need you," and Chevalier was pouring fragrant oil over his own member - so straight and pink and perfect, rising magnificently from its nest of blond curls - before casting the vial away.

He paused, the tip of his prick kissing Philippe's hole, teasing him one last time before he pushed inside.

Philippe sighed deeply, relishing every thick, slick inch that filled him. Chevalier groaned, taking a moment to support himself on shaky arms, planted either side of Philippe's head. His cheeks were flushed and he bit his lower lip; Philippe stroked the exquisite slant of his cheekbones with the very tips of his fingers. "I missed you so very much, my dear Chevalier."

"I love you," Chevalier replied. "Mignonette, I have not to words to describe—"

"Then show me," said Philippe.

They gazed softly at each other, and rocked together.

This was nothing like the frenzied passion of previous reunions. Every movement brought fresh delight, every kiss ardent pleasure. Chevalier fit so perfectly inside him, knowing the precise angle of thrust to send fresh waves of bliss through Philippe's body. And with every thrust he drove the past away, farther and farther and farther. The betrayals. The secrets. Henriette. Rome. Liselotte. Thomas. The war.

Philippe came in a series of aching spasms that only intensified when he realised he'd brought Chevalier with him; all was slick and wet and the air smelt of sex. Chevalier howled his pleasure.

They lay in a sticky mess upon the bed, Philippe still gasping for breath, and Chevalier said, "Actually, I think I love you more than that, Mignonette. Give me a moment and I'll show you again."

Philippe whimpered.

"Just as soon as I've recovered the use of my limbs."

"And I the use of my entire body."

"I shall restore you. You lie there and relax, and I shall feed you titbits."

He called for food and wine, then flopped back at Philippe's side, quite exhausted, apparently, by such a feat.

Philippe caught his hand and kissed his knuckles.

"I propose," Chevalier said, "that we devote the entire summer to pleasure and intimacy. We shall have scandalous parties, set trends that mere mortals cannot hope to follow, and I promise solemnly I shall fuck you at least twice a day. Three times on Wednesdays. What say you, my darling?"

"I say you are inspired. I am yours."

Chevalier pulled him in close, and kissed him.

He was no fool. They might have the summer, but soon enough Louis would insist on their return to court, and all that entailed.

But in that rare instant, lying in Chevalier's arms, duty forgotten, Philippe felt truly free.