Philippe dealt blows in a vicious flurry, thrusting and hitting and slicing. He screamed and bellowed, consumed by rage. At his brother, at the loss of his wife, at every hopeless battle he'd ever fought.
Fuck them, fuck them, fuck them.
His name, in that voice, hit him like a splash of iced water to the face. Only one person could reach through his anger. A vexatious voice, but a steadying one nonetheless. His lifeline.
"I think you killed it rather thoroughly, my dear," said Chevalier. "Several times over, by the look of it."
And such it was with Philippe's temper. It burned brightly and consumed him entirely in a flash, like a pinch of powder in the [pan] of a musket. Once gone it left him dizzy and overwhelmed, dazzled by clarity. He blinked at the pile of splintered wood and shredded canvas in front of him. There was straw everywhere. If it had been a man rather than a dummy, there would be blood and guts spattered around the whole training ground.
He came back to the world in a rush. It was late afternoon. He was in the training yard at St Cloud, behind the stables. He hadn't slept in days: when he closed his eyes all he saw was death and pain.
Tears welled in Philippe's eyes, and his sword fell from his hand to clatter on the ground. He stumbled backwards. Strong arms caught him.
"Come inside, Mignonette. It will be dark soon and there's a chill in the air."
Philippe felt it: he wore only a thin shirt old breeches and riding boots. He didn't, entirely, recall how he came to be here.
Chevalier wore travel clothes.
"Where have you been?" asked Philippe.
"You shouldn't go there alone. My brother will be looking for any excuse—"
"And yet, he has found none. He will find none. Indeed, he needs none. Come now, Mignonette, we both know that I am by your side only under sufferance. If your brother wished me gone—"
"No. Don't say it. I will not allow it." Panic thrashed in Philippe like a wild thing. His world was fragile enough, to lose Chevalier too…
"Hush, my darling." Chevalier held Philippe close and cradled his cheek in the palm of his hand. He smelled of fresh air and outdoors, with the acrid scent of Paris underneath. "There's no need to think of such things. I went to meet with my brother, that is all. He would happily testify such to the king if necessary."
Chevalier put his hand on his heart. "I promise."
"Very well. Next time, invite him here. I do not think it advisable that you should go alone to any of your old haunts."
"As you wish. Now, come inside, my love. I am dusty from the road and you are chilled right through. I think a bath is in order."
"That does sound soothing," Philippe admitted.
Chevalier took his hand and led him back to the house.
The bath was newly installed, green marble with plenty of room for two (or even three, as Jean-Paul had demonstrated the other night). Far better than the tin baths of Versailles. Philippe wondered how long it would take Louis to copy the idea. Not long, no doubt, and of course he would make it bigger and better. There would be gold involved, and probably some kind of fountain. But for now, Philippe didn't care. The room was warm and boasted south-facing windows that not only caught the sun but boasted magnificent views over the gardens. Now, however, the sun was setting, the shutters were closed and the room filled with candles. The water was softened with scented oil, steam rising from its surface, promising a nurturing warmth. Philippe realised he had stopped just inside the door, distracted, but Chevalier was quick to come to his assistance, slipping the robe from his shoulders and hanging it carefully over the back of a chair.
Chevalier's hands lingered here and there as he guided Philippe to the pool. At the curve of Philippe's spine, his flank, his buttock. Philippe remained unaroused, however. He noticed the flicker of concern cross Chevalier's face: normally Philippe would have been hard the moment his boots came off. But once the anger had gone he found he felt very little, and cared for even less. All he wanted was to get into the bath and warm his bones.
Chevalier tested the water with his toes. "Excellent," he said. "That woman you found is a very good judge of temperature. Come along, my darling, in you pop."
Philippe's lips twitched with a fleeting smile. It had been a while since things felt like this. Since he relinquished control to Chevalier, trusted him to direct his every choice and action. It made things so much simpler.
He sank gratefully into the bath. Chevalier put a goblet of wine in Philippe's hand and slipped off his own robe. He was beautiful. His skin was fair, his body lean, his shoulders broad. His hair a golden cloud. Philippe's heart filled with affection and warmth, the pleasant feelings smarting after so much pain.
Chevalier got into the bath at Philippe's side, lay back and sighed deeply.
"Thank you," said Philippe.
"The pleasure is mine. Relax, now. Hm. We could have music in here, don't you think? We could fit an instrument or two in the corner. There's that viola playing friend of Lully—"
"No-one from Versailles."
"My dear, if I am not permitted Paris, our options are severely limited."
"Don't." Philippe's eyes filled with tears. "I can't. Not now. My heart is too heavy to quarrel with you."
Chevalier clasped Philippe's hand under the water. "Shhhh, my love. I know what you need."
"Always. Come, now. Drink your wine."
Philippe did so, and as the warm glow of the alcohol spread through him, he closed his eyes. Chevalier began to caress him, with no apparent intent but to soothe. It worked. Very well. Philippe allowed himself to drift to a place where he only existed to be touched by Chevalier; where his choices and power were stripped from him entirely. When, at last, desire began to grow, he was content for Chevalier to foster it, while making no move of his own. Indeed, his limbs were so heavy he wasn't sure movement was possible at all.
Chevalier pleasured him with his hand, nuzzled and nibbled at his neck. The water whirled around the motion he created, forming little waves to splash against the shore of Philippe's belly. He could hear himself moan and whisper Chevalier's name. It sounded a long way away. He was coddled in pleasure, warm hands and warm water. His crisis approached as a deepening ache in his groin, a tickle at the head of his prick that Chevalier swiftly licked at. The ache grew thick with promise and all at once reached its peak: Philippe cried out: a raw, primal noise that came from his very core. He spent over Chevalier's tongue and lips and then, as Chevalier swallowed him down, deep in his throat. Everything was fire and release and the throb, throb, throb of life.
After what felt like an age, his softening cock slipped from between Chevalier's lips to bob, contented, in the water.
Chevalier kissed him, his tongue a warm, live, wriggly thing, keen to exchange flavours and spit and spend. It was filthy and delicious and depraved; it was all he was, all they were, and Philippe never wanted it to change.
When the water cooled, Chevalier helped him from the pool, wrapped him in soft linen and took him to bed. The world was quiet and still, and the peace of St Cloud wrapped around Philippe like a blanket. At last, he slept.