Philippe sat by the window in the corner of his bed chamber, and looked out in the stars. Chevalier slept deeply in the bed Philippe had abandoned more than an hour since. He was curled up on his side, golden hair spread across the pillow, and from time to time he would whimper in his sleep like a wounded dog.
Do you remember the first night we spent together?
There was a ball at the Palais-Royale.
Philippe wore a flowing gown of emerald green, jewels at his throat, and gloves of fine, cream lace from elbow to wrist. The gown was silk and muslin, as light as air. He was the forest.
It was a ballet of his brother's design, in which Louis had insisted Philippe play a part. Philippe did not object, and if Louis was surprised at his interpretation of his role, he did not, for once, show it. The ballet was a great success, and Philippe was basking in the enthusiastic appreciation of the audience when he noticed a boy standing close to the stage, to the left. He had the face of an angel.
Their eyes met - the angel had the most vibrant, blue eyes - and Philippe's heart fluttered. It was only later, when they bumped into each other again, that Philippe recognised him. He passed him in the corridor on his way to the ballroom, paused and indicated with a flick of his fingers for his entourage to go on without him.
"It's the Chevalier de Lorraine, is it not?" Not so very many years ago the boy had visited the royal palace in the company of his mother and older brother. He had certainly grown up in all the right places.
People flowed around them on their way to the ball. The Chevalier bowed. "Your Highness. If I may say so, you are a most magnificent forest."
Philippe searched his face for sarcasm, but found none. A gentle tease, was all.
"It's a part that comes naturally to me," Philippe replied. "My life involves a great deal of standing about and trying to look tall and imposing."
Chevalier laughed; it sounded genuine, bright, and Philippe rather liked it.
"And are we courtiers the birds that flit around your branches?" Chevalier fluttered his fingers in the air.
Something had rendered Philippe stupid - possibly the outrageous smirk on Chevalier's face, or the wicked twinkle in his eye - and he heard himself reply, "Perhaps I could offer you a twig upon which to land."
Philippe wanted to snatch the wretched words back as soon as he'd spoken them, horrified that Chevalier might think him an idiot, a wanton or heaven knew what else. But instead, Chevalier took a step closer and whispered, "A twig? I'm sure Your Highness has only the mightiest of boughs to offer." Then he turned on his heel and set off down the corridor, away from the ballroom. He may even have been whistling to himself.
Philippe's cheeks were flushed and his hands trembled. However much he told himself he was blushing from embarrassment, he could not in all honestly believe such a thing. He knew all too well what he was feeling.
That summer had been an interesting one for Philippe. After several years of personal confusion and far longer spent in confession than he would have preferred, he had come to the conclusion that he not only had an aesthetic affection for the male form, but that he had a great deal of interest in exploring it in the flesh, as it were. He could not change this, no matter how sinful it made him, and did not, in all conscience, want to. Furthermore, when the opportunity presented itself to him to make reality of his fantasies, it had been a moment of revelation, epiphany and, not to put too fine a point on it, bliss. He had been enthusiastically pursuing such interests ever since.
The current object of his affections was the brother of a friend of a cousin, Charles Boucher. Philippe had been rendered quite dizzy with love for him for several weeks, but now, suddenly, his constancy faltered, and all because of one chance meeting in a corridor.
Oh dear. And Charles would be waiting for him to help celebrate the triumph of the ballet. He hated to be kept waiting. Philippe made haste to the ballroom.
The room was alive with the sparkle of candlelight on gilt and crystal. A string quartet filled the space with intricate melodies. The court was a riot of colour and extravagance. Philippe's heart thrilled with it. His brother appeared, with Françoise at his side. Apollo and his nymph.
"Another triumph, brother," Philippe said.
"Indeed," Louis replied. "A fitting start to the new season."
Raised voices imposed upon their conversation, one of which was very familiar. The gaiety of the room fell to dread in Philippe's stomach.
"Charles," he murmured.
"It appears your friend is drunk," Louis observed, disapproval draining his features of all conviviality. "I suggest you see to it that he retires from the entertainment until he has recovered himself."
He marched off with Françoise, leaving Philippe to face the spectacle of his lover swinging a punch at an innocent bystander. Fortunately he missed so completely that he hit a column instead, howled in pain and fell flat on his arse.
Philippe made haste to his side and held out his hand to help him up, but Charles pointedly ignored him and staggered clumsily to his feet, aided only by his own belligerence.
He was so very pretty. It was a shame, really. But, relieved of the dizziness of love, Philippe couldn't help but notice the spiteful look in Charles' fickle hazel eyes, nor the tendril of drool that was escaping from the corner of his mouth.
"You're late," Charles slurred. "And you look like a fucking girl."
The crowd stepped back with a collective twitter of disapproval, forming an uneasy circle around them.
"You're drunk," Philippe said. "Go to your rooms."
"Only if you come with me." Charles' mouth twisted into a snarl.
It wasn't the first time Charles had shown Philippe this side of his nature but, Philippe realised, in an instant of clarity that truly surprised him, it would be the last. All that had been beauty between them fell to darkness, and Philippe hissed, "Go. You are dead to me."
The blow came; Philippe stopped it easily, a simple block of the arm followed by a gut punch so heartfelt that it rendered Charles breathless, a gasping heap of blubber at Philippe's feet. The desire to kick him was strong, but guards were already hovering, and for once, with effort, Philippe contained his temper. "This gentleman is tired," he told the nearest guard. "Escort him to his rooms. And see that he remains there until morning."
Philippe watched them drag him through the crowd.
"I hope I do not speak out of turn," a velvety voice breathed in his ear from behind him. "But that was quite the most arousing thing I have ever seen."
He spun around to see the Chevalier de Lorraine, resplendent in dark green brocade. His face was the picture of innocence, except for those sinful, twinkling eyes, full of mischief.
He'd be trouble.
So much trouble.
Philippe held out his hand. Chevalier took it, and kissed his knuckles.
"Dance with me," Chevalier had said.
The sun had come up. Philippe left his window seat and returned to the bed. Chevalier had turned; he lay on his back now, still asleep, one arm thrown carelessly above his head. Philippe touched his face. There was a bruise there, on his cheek, he hadn't noticed before. A brother to the one on his jaw. His upper lip was slightly swollen, bearing the trace of a recent cut.
Chevalier groaned without waking, his face twisted in agony.
Philippe stroked his hair. "Shh. Be still. I am here."
Chevalier's eyes fluttered open, full of tears. And sin. And mischief.
Dance with me.
Philippe placed a kiss on his bruises, one by one. He kissed his eye, his cheek, his jaw. He licked at Chevalier's wounded lip then kissed him there, too. Chevalier responded instantly, winding his arms around Philippe's neck, welcoming Philippe's tongue into his mouth with a whimper of pleasure.
"It's morning," Philippe said. He caught Chevalier's gaze. "A new day. Do you understand?"
Chevalier nodded, gravely.
"Very well," Philippe said. "Move over. It's early, and I find myself in need of further sleep."
Chevalier scooted up quickly and pulled back the covers. Philippe nestled in the warmth Chevalier had created. They kissed for a while, but both were sleepy. There would be time for other things later. For now he lay with his Chevalier in his arms, and dozed as the birds began to sing outside.
A smile came to his lips.
Twitter, twitter, twitter.