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The gardens were chilly, cut by a cruel wind from the east that whipped at Chevalier's hair and stung his skin. But he did not care. It was positively refreshing, after the stifling weight of Monsieur bearing down on him. Trapping him. Molesting him.

Chevalier gave a little gasp at the memory of it. How dare he?

How could he?

Who was this crude monster, returned from war with the face of his beloved? And what was to become of the Chevalier now? Philippe had always needed him. Listened to him. Often times (albeit on his own terms) obeyed him. This was simply the way of things. The cornerstone of their relationship. Philippe needed to be guided, spoiled, mastered. This was precisely what Chevalier excelled at doing for him.

What had just passed between them was clearly more than a simple punishment for Chevalier's minor infidelities. Fidelity was a matter of the heart, not the body. In that regard, Chevalier's conscience was completely clear. A man had his needs, after all. It in no way diminished his affections. Philippe had no reason to be jealous. And even if he was, why this method of retribution? Why not shout at him? Hit him?

What on earth had driven him to behave in such a way?

It was a mystery.

He had been looking forward so very much to Philippe's return, hoping to do nothing in the coming days except bask in Philippe's heroic war stories between bouts of glorious sex. Now, all that was lost.

What to do?

Chevalier glanced back at the ever-expanding façade of Versailles. He sneered. He didn't need this. Didn't need any of it. Not the court, not Philippe, not the king and definitely not masked madmen slitting peoples' throats. He could be in Paris by nightfall.

But he had no appetite for Paris. His yearning was, as always, for Philippe, and the Philippe he yearned for had not yet returned.

With a deep, painful sigh, Chevalier turned and walked the path back to the palace.

 

The salons were buzzing with talk of the king's victory. Conversation at court, like any of its other fashions, thrived on fresh meat, and those returning from the battlefield were ripe with gossip. Chevalier circulated, picking up the flavour of it without becoming too involved. War brought out the hearts of men, and in some cases this led to dalliances that did not stay as firmly on the battlefield as some individuals might wish. He stored those away for future use. But most captivating to Chevalier were the stories of Monsieur: his bravery, his military brilliance, his charming of the troops, and his compassion. Finally, others saw Monsieur as the Chevalier had always seen him, and it left him with an uneasiness fluttering at his stomach, as well as a sense of pride.

He sought out his cousins for conversation later, on his way to supper.

"We did not expect to see you this evening," said Sophie. "Is Monsieur tired?" The little minx winked at him.

"Sophie!" said Béatrice, with a snap of her fan.

"Contrary to popular belief, I am not an animal," Chevalier replied. "Besides, you know how sweaty soldiers get. His first desire was, quite rightly, for a bath. Then he will require a period of rest and repose."

"How strange," said Sophie. "I could have sworn I saw him in the stables earlier."

"What were you doing in the stables?" said Béatrice.

"Passing by." Sophie did not, quite, meet her mother's eye.

Béatrice turned her attention to Chevalier. "What if he no longer favours you, Cousin?"

"Don't be ridiculous. Monsieur's affections for me remain as constant as ever, I assure you."

"Despite your dalliances?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"War changes things," said Sophie. "One of my lady's chambermaids was in floods of tears this afternoon. Her lover had broken off their engagement the instant he returned from the front. He told her he was no longer fit to be her husband, on account of the terrible things he'd done."

"Monsieur is hardly to be compared to the lover of a chambermaid," said Chevalier, trying not to think about champagne.

"At least this man recognised his failings," said Béatrice. "Most merely visit their new-found savagery on their wives and children."

"Surely not," said Sophie.

"Violence breeds violence. War makes brutes of men, and some simply cannot tame themselves afterwards. Some do, of course." Her voice softened. "Some may become even more tender. More loving. With time, and patience."

"Mother—"

"Enough of such sombre talk," said Béatrice. "Have you seen what the king's mistress is wearing? It's a most ill-suited shade of green. It makes her look positively ill. Surely the king will not persist there much longer. Do you not agree, cousin?"

But Chevalier did not answer. He gazed out of the window, replaying in his mind the events of the past few weeks with fresh perspective, and slowly, understanding grew.

 

 

For the rest of that evening, Chevalier deliberately kept his distance from Philippe. He stayed busy at the card tables after supper, while Philippe sat on Jean-Paul's lap and drank himself insensible. It took great effort to contain the incandescent rage that boiled inside him at the sight, but somehow he managed. He even won at cards.

The following morning - unsurprisingly, considering the amount Philippe had been drinking - Sophie reported to him that Monsieur was indisposed. This gave Chevalier ample time to both consider his approach and become riddled with fear in contemplating the potential consequence of its inevitable failure or its unlikely success. But he remained determined to try. He returned to Philippe's rooms in the late afternoon to find him still sleeping, a rumpled mess in his wife's bed. Chevalier selected the clothes he felt Philippe should wear that night to the party, and set them out carefully on his untouched bed. Then he made himself scarce.

 

The entertainment was, predictably, spectacular. Chevalier drifted from one conversation to the next. However hard the king tried to stamp his name on this victory, it was Monsieur who was the talk of the court. Such a surprise for them all, to discover that the charming, witty Monsieur, setter of fashion and lover or the arts, should become master of the battlefield. They knew of his violent temper, but not the fine instrument it could become when forged with the cold steel of intelligence that ran through Philippe's veins. Or, for that matter, when deployed under Chevalier's command. What the court did not yet see, however, was that something had shifted the balance in Philippe, and killed the restraint and kindness that tempered his darker qualities. If the Chevalier's plan worked, they need never know, and his lover would be restored to him.

Towards the end of the evening, the Chevalier retreated behind a hedge to take a piss. He was just re-buttoning his breeches when he heard a group of ladies talking on the other side.

"You missed the highest drama, my dear! Monsieur ran into the gardens, the king following. Delphine saw the whole thing, and she said Monsieur was in tears!"

"Delphine wouldn't know the truth if it were to bite her on the nose. Monsieur is a war hero. What use has he of tears? If you wish to hear scandal, I can offer better. The Marquise de Montespan left the party extremely early. And the king was seen on his way to her rooms not an hour ago!"

Ignoring the squeals of delight and disbelief that followed, Chevalier decided it was time to make his move.

 

The air had grown thick, heavy with the scent of fireworks and damp grass. Dark clouds rolled across the sky, threatening a storm. Chevalier went to Philippe's rooms to await his return. He settled himself with a glass of wine, his nerves thrilling with excitement and apprehension all at once.

Henriette came back at midnight, but to Chevalier's relief she went with her ladies straight to her room, leaving him to his vigil in the anteroom without so much as a second glance.

Time crawled by, and Chevalier waited. And waited. Finally he heard the door open again, and he must have been napping, because it took him a moment to recall what he was about. Philippe's voice reminded him, a tone of quiet authority that dismissed his valet and the rest of the servants until morning. Chevalier stood by the window, drenched in moonlight, and coughed delicately. He did not wish to startle Philippe with his presence.

"Good evening," Philippe said, closing the apartment doors behind him. "I didn't see you at the entertainment."

"I wished to speak with you privately."

"You are not ignoring me, then, after all. Am I forgiven?"

"There is nothing to forgive."

Philippe gave him a suspicious look, and set about taking off his coat. Chevalier leapt to his aid, following Philippe into the bedroom and helping with a stuck button, his shoes, his hose, his breeches, his shirt, until finally Philippe stood before him slipping his nightdress over his head, while Chevalier's arms were full of clothes.

"Are you going to put those down?" asked Philippe, looking at him as though he were mad.

Chevalier stumbled for a moment, before depositing them haphazardly on a chair.

Philippe stood by the side of the bed, and stripped his fingers of his rings. All but one. "I'm very tired," he said.

"Of course."

"You will stay?"

There was just enough hope in Philippe's voice to make Chevalier think that things might not end so dreadfully after all. "I'd be delighted. But there is one matter that I wish to discuss first."

Philippe's face clouded. "I really am very tired."

"It's actually more of a proposal."

"Very well." He sat on the bed. "Speak."

Chevalier paced in front of the fire for a few turns while Philippe watched, his growing impatience plain on his face.

"It pertains to what happened the other day," said Chevalier. "To certain… overtures that were made. By you. To me."

"Overtures?"

"There was a hint, a very strong suggestion, if you will, that you wished to pursue certain… pursuits."

He gave Philippe what he hoped would be understood as a suggestive look.

"Ah. You mean I was trying to fuck you."

Chevalier winced. "In a manner of speaking."

"I really don't think I was that subtle."

"Indeed. Anyway, the crux of the matter is that, on further consideration… you may."

"Oh." Philippe played with his ring, the brother of which rested on Chevalier's own hand, and fell silent.

"If you wish," Chevalier added.

"And if I do not?"

Chevalier struggled with an onslaught of emotions. Rejection. Shame. Disappointment.

And, to his amazement, a complete lack of relief.

"Oh," he said. "Well, my darling, your desire is my keenest interest."

"I don't really desire anything at all," said Philippe.

The response to that was perfectly straightforward and familiar: a wave of paralysing fear. "You mean to dismiss me? My darling, I may confess to a wandering eye in your absence but rest assured that my affections are as constant as ever and I promise I—"

"I would have you lie with me."

Chevalier shut his mouth, confused into silence.

"To sleep. Just sleep. I really am so very weary."

He looked up at Chevalier with eyes full of tears, and Chevalier went immediately to him. His cheeks were tear-stained and his eyes puffy. There was such pain there, and Chevalier simply could not bear it. Not in Philippe. Not all that pain in that perfect heart full of love, wit, beauty. The things that made each day worth living. Chevalier remembered the gossip by the hedge and found himself beset by doubts.

What if it wasn't just about the war? Philippe, for all his bravery, was insecure in so many ways. What if Chevalier really had hurt him that much with his inconstancy?

Inconstancy that he had, quite literally, paid for in blood.

Chevalier shuddered.

"Are you cold?"

"A little. It is of no matter." Chevalier stroked Philipe's hair and cupped his face. "You shall have whatever you desire."

"Sleep," said Philippe, with a wan smile. "Just sleep."

"Very well. We shall get you into bed. Come now. Stand."

Chevalier ushered Philippe to one side and prepared the bed for him, folding back the covers, plumping the pillows. He beckoned Philippe to climb in and then tucked the blankets around him.

"The sheets are chilly." There was an adorable pout on Philippe's lips. Chevalier wanted very much to kiss it away, but he resisted.

"I will be there to warm you in just a moment."

He stripped in record time, fumbled briefly beneath the pillow for his nightshirt, fought his way into it and got into bed. He blew out the candle on the bedside table and wrapped himself around Philippe's back, burying his nose in soft, silky hair.

Philippe caught his hand, kissed its knuckles and clasped it to his chest. They lay for a while, Chevalier's heart beating so fast and strong that he was convinced Philippe would feel it against his back.

He was also trembling with need. His member was stiff - of course it was, it had no sense of propriety - and nestled lovingly into the curve of Philippe's buttocks, caressed by the layers of soft linen between them. He tried every method at his disposal to will his erection away - Colbert in a corset, his great-aunt's teeth, maggots - but his body responded to Philippe's as it always had. Instinctively, passionately and entirely without shame.

Just as it had when Philippe had pinned him to the bed and whispered filth in his ear.

His hips moved without his intent. He froze as soon as he realised, his eyes squeezed shut, ready for Philippe to admonish him, to order him from the bed….

Philippe clutched Chevalier's hand a little tighter, and murmured something unintelligible into the pillow. It was entirely possible that he was asleep. Or perhaps he'd changed his mind. Perhaps he wanted more.

Chevalier paused in the place between risk and safety, and held his breath. He could feel the power in Philippe's body: in his tautly muscled back, the firm grip of his fingers, the strong, lean length of his body. This is what he wanted. This is what he loved, more than anything.

Even, God help him, more than his own life.

He rested his forehead at the nape of Philippe's neck, and spoke.

"You deserve my fidelity in any way you desire it. I cannot tell you how proud I am, of your brilliance and courage, of the loyalty of your men. You surprise me every day. You waken in me desires I never thought to contemplate, and I want nothing more than to ease your burden. However it should manifest."

Chevalier waited, every inch of his body still, for what felt like a year.

"I would not hurt you," said Philippe, rubbing his thumb gently over Chevalier's wrist.

"I know."

"No. You don't." Philippe rolled over. His face was shadowed by the fading glow of the fire, but his eyes were bright and big and reached right into Chevalier's soul. "I mean that I do not wish to hurt you. But there is this rage inside of me. I am not the man you loved."

Chevalier cupped Philippe's face in his hand, and stole a kiss from his lips. "My affection remains unaltered, Mignonette. And I see within you still the man I have always seen."

"What do you see?" Philippe whispered.

"A hero. A leader. A poet. A brother to a king who does not deserve him. A man both dangerous and kind beyond reckoning. And more beautiful and desirable than any other."

A smile flickered at Philippe's lips. His vanity, at least, was intact.

"I witnessed such terrors," Philippe said. "Yet I would fight again, if he would let me. What kind of monster does that make me?"

"Why, a brave one, my darling."

Philippe considered this for a moment, then bestowed his approval on Chevalier in the form of a kiss which lit a fire in Chevalier's belly. He contained it. Instead of throwing himself on Philippe in a frenzy of passion, he brushed a wayward curl from Philippe's cheek, and chastely kissed the spot where it had lain.

"For now, let us be done with war," he said. "In our bed, at least, there can be peace. Rest assured, I shall soothe the beast that war woke in you. Over time."

Philippe's brow furrowed. "But what if you can't?"

"Do you not trust me to look after you, my darling?"

It was a risk. A challenge to the precarious balance of their relationship. But Philippe looked at him with such vulnerability. Uncertain. Desperate for care and guidance. Such a reassuring reversal from all that bluster and cruelty. This was Chevalier's Philippe.

"I trust you like no other," said Philippe.

"Then I am forgiven?"

"On one condition."

"And what might that be?"

The steel came back to Philippe's voice, too soon, too cold. "Don't ever lie to me again."

Chevalier swallowed. "You have my word, of course, my darling. Now, sleep. Let me shelter you from whatever storms arise."

Philippe nestled in Chevalier's arms.

"But, my dear Chevalier, I am the storm," he murmured, and then fell soundly asleep.

 

Life continued in its usual manner. True, Philippe was more brusque with Chevalier than had previously been his habit, and the quiver of fear was more lively in Chevalier's belly. But the next time they found themselves alone, a most satisfying and passionate episode ensued. Philippe made no further attempts to assume command, instead taking long and noisy pleasure while Chevalier thrust inside him.

There were nightmares. Philippe would wake screaming from almost every sleep, and only Chevalier's soothing voice would calm him - to the point where, when Philippe had howled on waking from a nap, Henriette had sent for Chevalier to return from the salon. For his part, Chevalier found himself reflecting on the events of the day Philippe returned from war: specifically, the weight of Philippe's body on top of his, the hard press of Philippe's prick into the small of his back. The infernal question that ran over and over in his mind: if he had let Philippe have his way, what would it have felt like?

One night, when Philippe was called away late in the evening to attend to some nonsense for the king, and Chevalier found himself abandoned in bed, alone, he was moved to experiment. He ended up coming hard and noisily across his bare stomach with two fingers jammed up his own arse.

It was disturbing. Exhilarating. Unnervingly pleasant.

Then the king got ill, and Chevalier's life was shot to Hell.

 

Chevalier thought he had endured the worst possible terror and agonies in the Bastille, but they fell to nothing when he saw the hurt in Philippe's eyes upon his return. A pardon by the King saved his life, but if he hadn't been pardoned by Philippe, it would not have been a life worth living. Even once Philippe had forgiven him, it had seemed too much to hope for, more than he dared dream, to return to Philippe's bed that very night. Yet here he was. The fire burned brightly, and he knelt on Philippe's fine linen sheets, wishing the dungeon floor were a more distant memory.

But it was vivid and real, and kept the terror alive in his heart.

Philippe saw it.

Chevalier watched as Philippe knelt in front of him, their knees touching, and brushed the hair from Chevalier's eyes. Chevalier's cheeks were burning, his skin stung by so many tears.

Philippe kissed his nose. His eyelids. His mouth.

Oh God.

He had thought this lost, deserved this lost, yet here he was. Still with the love of this man who had every right to cast him out. Philippe's kisses breathed life back into Chevalier, reignited his hope, his wits, his soul. His very self.

He was forgiven.

He threaded his fingers through the thick waves of Philippe's hair. They rose together to their knees, better to press into each other, a familiar urgency rising through them. Philippe pulled Chevalier's nightshirt from him before attending to his own, and the touch of Philippe's naked skin warmed Chevalier to the bone, better than the thickest blanket, the hottest fire. Chevalier's vitality shot through the core of him, erupted in moan of raw, uncontainable need.

"Take me," Philippe said.

Chevalier opened his eyes. Philippe held a bottle of oil between them. It was stoppered, but the scent of vanilla rose up, triggering a thousand memories of pleasure. But this was to be different. Everything would be different now.

Chevalier shook his head. Disappointment clouded Philippe's expression.

"I am yours," Chevalier said. "Take me."

Philippe's eyes widened. "You mean it?" A hitch to his breath told Chevalier all he needed to know.

"I do, my darling. If you wish it."

They kissed to seal the contract, and a bolt of lust ran through Chevalier's body. Not at the act they were about to perform - there was a certain trepidation about that, still - but at the enthusiasm with which Philippe responded to Chevalier's gift.

"How?" Chevalier asked.

Philippe made a strange noise in his throat, a whimper and a growl all at once. "On your back. No. Wait. First I must prepare you."

Chevalier went to take the bottle from him. "I can do that."

But Philippe snatched it out of his reach. "No. I insist. Lie back."

Chevalier submitted, and arranged himself on his back as delicately and alluringly as he could. Philippe assisted, parting his legs just so, raising his knees so his feet were flat on the bed.

Philippe smiled.

"What is it?" Chevalier wondered if he might one day become immune to humiliation. What a blessing that would be.

"You are blushing," said Philippe.

Perfect. His emasculation was complete.

Philippe stroked his cheek, kissed his nose. "It's adorable."

"Yes. Well. I'm not used to being the 'adorable' one."

Philippe kissed his lips, lingered, let the tip of his tongue tease and play with Chevalier's. "Then it's about time. All this time you have brought me such pleasure, my dear. It's your turn."

"I assure you, the pleasure was all mine." Chevalier chased the kiss, plundered Philippe's mouth with his own until they were both breathless.

Philippe kissed his way down Chevalier's throat, lingered at his clavicle before moving down his chest, his belly and finally, settled at the tip of his stiff, quivering prick. Chevalier closed his eyes and arched his back. For a moment there was nothing in the world that wasn't the warm-wet of Philippe's mouth and the flutter of his tongue.

Then, as Philippe sucked gently on him, another sensation arrived. An oiled finger slipped between Chevalier's buttocks and played there, teasing and stroking at his most intimate of areas. It made his balls tingle. His prick throbbed. It occurred to him that if Philippe did not stop sucking on him soon he would come shamelessly down his throat.

But Philippe did stop. He sat up, and trickled oil over Chevalier's balls, catching the cascade with his fingers and spreading it liberally over Chevalier's arse. Then slowly, gently, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world, he slipped a finger inside.

Chevalier yelped, and Philippe instantly withdrew.

"No!" said Chevalier. "Do not… stop."

"It does not hurt?"

"It very much does not hurt. Please. Continue?"

Philippe smiled a lazy, knowing smile, and the finger duly returned.

He bathed Chevalier in oil - inside and out - and excited parts of Chevalier's body that he had no idea could become so aroused. All this time he'd prized himself on his hedonism, his constant study and pursuit of pleasure, and yet he had never felt anything like this before. Of course he knew the effect it had on others when he touched them so, but he'd never thought… Philippe fucked him open with his fingers, whispered delicious filth in his ear, ground his own erection against Chevalier's thigh. Thick and hot. And big.

A spark of fear woke Chevalier from the reverie of lust. He said nothing, but of course Philippe sensed it.

"I will not hurt you," Philippe said. "Do you trust me?"

"With my life."

"Well, then."

Philippe kissed him, and as they sank into the familiar rhythm of it, Philippe rolled them, so that he lay on his back with Chevalier astride him.

"Like this," Philippe said. "Oil my prick. Take it at your own pace."

Chevalier looked down at Philippe's erection - elegant, eager, and so damn big.

He would do this. For Philippe.

He took the oil, hoping the tremor in his fingers would go unnoticed. He worked oil into Philippe's cock, watching Philippe as he did so. How prettily he arched, teeth closed over his lower lip, a flush already rising to his cheeks. All those times that Philippe had given himself to him, always so willing and eager.

Really, the least he could do was return the favour. Whatever the cost to his arse.

He took a deep breath, positioned Philippe's erection just so, and surrendered.

And, oh.

It was hot. And big. Too big, he would never, how the fucking hell did Philippe ever—

"Shhh, not so fast." Philippe clasped their hands together. "Take your time. Look at me."

Chevalier kept his gaze on Philippe. His exquisite features, his hair spread in black waves over the white pillow. His eyes, soft and kind.

Love hit Chevalier like a thunderbolt, and he relaxed and took Philippe all the way inside him. He breathed in short, quick gasps, overwhelmed by the sense of transgression, of fullness, of sheer, bloody lust.

"Ride me," Philippe said.

And Chevalier did. God help him, he shamelessly rose and fell on Philippe's cock, no thought in his head but how very fucking good it felt. Philippe's hips rocked to meet him, his thrusts even and fluid, filling him over and over again. Chevalier lost himself in it, until Philippe came undone, his hips bucking up, fingers clutching Chevalier's as if his life depended on it. Chevalier realised Philippe was coming, he was coming inside him, and it was irresistible. Chevalier grasped his own stiff cock and stroked it roughly once, twice, then came with such force that the first spurt reached Philippe's neck, the second his hair. The rest rained down as thick, white drops on his chest and stomach. Chevalier stared down at him, gasping for air.

"Oh my God," he said. "I had no idea." Emotion overwhelmed him: relief, pleasure, and, looking down at Philippe, love. Such love. Laughter bubbled up, his limbs went weak. He leaned forwards and Philippe's cock popped out of him in a slippery rush. It just made Chevalier giggle all the more.

"Are you all right?" Philippe asked, stroking his hair.

Chevalier raised his head. Philippe was flushed and sweaty, but concerned. Chevalier took a deep breath, calming himself. "Yes. I may never be the same again, but yes."

Philippe frowned. "Did I hurt you?"

Chevalier brushed the hair from Philippe's cheek. "You did not. On the contrary, you gave me such enormous pleasure. I would say, my stallion-" he kissed Philippe on the nose, the chin, the lips, "-that you have finally tamed me."

Philippe smiled like a warm sun on a summer's day, and kissed him back.