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It happened less often now. Philippe had made his peace with war, and although he remained changed by it, he rarely felt that assault on his senses that had dogged him in the first weeks and months after his return. It sat in the corner of his mind, a lifelong wound, as real as any blown-off limb or battered bone. It was invisible, mostly dormant, but sometimes, just sometimes, it took him by surprise.

Like tonight.

He could not pinpoint a single moment of difficulty, such as the shock of a gunshot or a flash of fireworks. He had, quite simply, woken in a state of terror. His heart jittered, his hands trembled. He was coated in sweat. Being still was more than he could bear; he sprang out of bed, and the first thing that caught his eye was the jug of wine on the table. He reached for it instinctively, as a falling man might grab a rope.

He drew a full glass to his lips, prepared to drink.

"It's a little early, don't you think?"

Philippe gulped down half the glass in one go. Warmth spread through his body, dragging comfort over him. He topped up his wine from the jug.

"Wait, Mignonette."

This time the Chevalier's hand was on his arm. Gentle restraint.

Philippe's arm quivered under the imposition.

"You may have your wine," Chevalier said, softly. "But first you have to talk to me. Do you remember our bargain?"

Philippe did. It had been struck at his own request, in the early days when he would wake screaming, start at shadows, attack anything that moved too fast, shone too brightly. The only thing that would calm him would be to talk, and Chevalier heard him in a way that no-one else did. He'd keep him safe in his arms, take in his every sorrow. No story was too gruesome for him, no hurt too much to bear. In their daily lives he remained as vexatious, frivolous and insufferable as always. But in these moments it was as if he knew intimately each calamity that had befallen Philippe, and he rose magnificently to every fresh challenge. There had been many nights when Chevalier had been his only life raft on a very stormy sea.

"I see them dying," Philippe said, his voice cracking with hurt. "A man came to me the day of the last battle. He was drunk. I told him he couldn't fight in that state. He'd be a danger to others as well as himself. He was too inebriated to hold a musket the right way around, for God's sake. The next time I saw him, he was dead on the battlefield, lying in a pool of his own vomit. That night I talked to his childhood friend in camp. He told me the man had left six children and a wife in one village, and another wife and three more children in the village over the hill."


"I didn't stop him."

Chevalier gently squeezed his shoulder, but said nothing. He listened to these stories without his characteristic commentary and critical wit. He simply listened. It was so unlike Chevalier's normal disposition that it gave a sense of detachment and unreality, which was, Philippe had discovered, exactly what he needed the most at such times.

It ended, as always, with tears, which Chevalier brushed away, and finally with a tender kiss. This was the full stop, the ending. The moment Philippe put the stopper back in the bottle. He did so gladly, with a lighter heart, and threaded his fingers through Chevalier's hair. The kiss flooded Philippe with desire, chasing the ghosts away, and, thus freed of troublesome thoughts and violent images, he allowed Chevalier to entice him back to bed. There he was laid on cool sheets; his heated skin was tenderly caressed and they found simple pleasure in the press and rub of their bodies. Once they had followed their passion to its inevitable conclusion, they lay together, Chevalier stroking Philippe's hair as he nestled into his lover's side.

"My darling," Chevalier purred. "What say you we remain in bed until dinner today? Unless the King has any particular demands with which to torture us?"

"None of which I am aware. I believe his time is to be consumed with an inspection of the building works or some-such."

"In that case, here we shall stay."

Philippe kissed Chevalier's cheek and dozed in his arms, his ghosts once more locked safely away.