Phillipe thought he knew what it was, to be without the Chevalier.
After Henriette’s death, barely a week spent together before Louis’ marching orders came.
This notice is to hereby notify The Chevalier de Lorraine that he is no longer welcome in France, by order of the king…
Phillipe had raged and ranted and sworn and smashed, but the Chevalier had gone, with a sad smile and cracked façade.
I hear Rome’s lovely this time of year. Lots of…sun.
Too angry at Louis to return to Versailles, even for the Chevalier, too lost without him to do anything but fill his bed with poor imitations and parties full of strangers, he’d existed in a kind of limbo, waiting, until Bontemps finally arrived.
A messenger was dispatched to Rome two weeks ago…
His one weakness, and his brother knows just where to press. When he asks why Phillipe came back, he has to stop a moment. Playing games has become so normal for Louis that he does it without even realising. Why did he come back? His answer is always the same.
He lies, and Louis watches him lie, and they enter once again into their never ending game of half-truths and political advantages.
(Philippe doesn’t tell him of the dull aching pain in his chest, the hollow feeling in his gut, dreams that cause more pain than pleasure upon waking, glimpses of blonde that have his stare lingering because some stupid, hopeful part of him still refuses to believe they can exist without occupying the same space).
Philippe thought he knew what it was to be without the Chevalier, but being without the Chevalier because the Chevalier is with someone else – that is a hell Phillippe has never experienced before. Worse than Rome, worse even, than that hellish night spent crying and waiting and imagining his Lorraine to be pulled apart in the most vicious way possible.
No, this is worse, because at least then, despite the horrors surrounding them, Phillippe knew that he was wanted, loved, secure in the knowledge they would be together always.
He is not ignorant, he knows the part he played in this, he saw the tears, felt the pain. He pushed the Chevalier away – he is the reason for his own heartbreak, and there’s nothing he can do about that. But when he returned from the war, properly returned – he saw the Chevalier, saw how he’d grown, became more than they’d ever imagined. Then he saw himself. War changes a man, they say, and Philippe knows it. Who is he? He doesn’t know anymore. So he makes the decision.
Even so, when the Chevalier visits his rooms after dark, when his face is close enough that they breathe the same air, can feel the heat between their faces – he indulges. Just one kiss. Just one. But that makes it all the worse, of course, when he stops.
The Duchesse d’Angers is not a viscous woman, not a schemer, or no more so than any lady at court. She does not partake in powders, or an excess of drink, or attend secret parties held in defiance of the king. She is pious, and respectable, and gets along with most everyone at court, despite her strong religious views. Seeing her with the Chevalier is worse than anything Phillippe has ever felt before. He want to hate her, does hate her. Wants to blame her for taking the Chevalier away from him, but knows that that blame rests heavily on his own shoulders.
He knows, distantly, that he cannot be angry when he is the one that told the Chevalier no, that essentially pushed him right into the Duchess’s arms himself, but they are both proud, and jealous, and have never been any good at letting each other go.
Are you really in love with her? I can’t remember what that’s like…
Thank you, that makes me feel marvellous.
He smiles, doesn’t bother correcting. How can he not remember what being in love feels like when he never stopped? Although, who knows, maybe he’s still falling. He certainly feels like it sometimes, when he passes through the saloon, and hears a laugh, or catches his eye at a banquet, or spots him walking in the gardens, cane held aloft with a regality he thinks even Louis would be hard pressed to follow.
His investigation drowns him, and he lets it. Better to risk his life finding the truth than risk his heart seeing it. Still, nothing could have prepared him for what happens, and he despairs at himself, at Louis, King of France, who just killed their father and then attends council meetings and discusses taxes and war with all the levity of a child deciding which toy to play with.
His party is loud, and boisterous, and entirely lacking. He sits and drinks, plays cards, and drinks. Men approach him, flirt with him, let their hands wander, and he lets them – but his promiscuity seems to have left with his Lorraine, and he doesn’t enjoy any of it. It’s almost a relief when he and Liselotte put a stop to it, take the wine from him, sit him on the bed and confront him about who he has become.
I don’t recognise you anymore, I don’t know who you’ve become.
Phillippe remembers those words from his own mouth. Despairs, remembers that night. Waking up in a cold sweat, gunshots ringing in his ears, launching himself out of bed and halfway down the hallway before he’s fully awake. Gathering himself before opening the Chevalier’s door, heart racing until he spots a prone form under the blankets, the rise and fall of a chest. Trying to be quiet – pointless, really, an elephant could waltz into the room and the man would still sleep - as he walks over, brushes blonde hair back from too pale skin. Leaves before he gives in, climbs into the bed, holds onto his Lorraine and never lets go.
He should have. Maybe then they wouldn’t be here, Liselotte’s arms around him and the Chevalier looking on.
It’s a damn shame, whatever your brother’s done to you.
He leaves, and this – this – has to be the worst moment of Phillippe’s life, because if there is anything else coming, he cannot survive it, surely, he cannot survive anything worse than losing the one man he feels he cannot live without. The slam of the door finally undoes him, and he cries, cries like a child, leaning on Liselotte as she holds him, not speaking, not making any promises of things to come.
Life goes on, somehow, and he picks the pieces of himself back up, tries as best he can to make them fit together in a whole. He only needs enough of himself to leave, to ride to his estate and pretend for a while that he is never coming back. He manages somehow, sends the servants away when they start fussing, trying to make the place habitable instead of clean. He sits in the middle of one of the many parlour rooms and doesn’t bother stopping the tears when they fall. His brother is lost, his Lorraine is gone, even Henriette, the one person he could fall back on to speak sense in times of hardship, has left for a place much better than this. And doesn’t that just speak volumes, that he is at the point of wishing for Henriette? Their marriage was not a loving one, but he could at least trust that her love for Louis would hold some semblance of control over him. Not anymore, it would seem.
Liselotte arrives the next day, interrupting his plans of drinking and wallowing until he is either unconscious or insensible enough to forget.
The Chevalier wants me back?
The words seem to slip out before he can stop them, but he holds his gaze, even though he can already see in his wife’s face the truth. In her presence. Liselotte, he already knows, would not leave any of her friends to fend for themselves in the palace right now.
The Chevalier? Release him, if that pleases you.
It would seem his one weakness is no longer a weakness, is even less than that. An afterthought. No, Louis still doesn’t understand, still sees people as naught but bargaining chips. For all his lovers, his chain of consorts, Philippe thinks that Louis will never know what love truly is.
Still, he tries. He orders the release, arranges a meal, a chair, dresses himself properly, nervous for reasons he knows but ignores. Wishes he’d done this the last time. How foolish he’d been, pushing him away like that. The beginning of the end, it would seem.
Maybe that works for you, but not for me.
The taste of heartbreak is so familiar he can taste it no longer. He doesn’t know what to do, how to act, what to say. Reminisces over the ridiculous court rules they created together, for a moment, then sighs, lets them go. Realises he cannot connect with someone who no longer exists. War changed him, yes, but in his arrogance and self-obsession, he has failed to notice the changes of others, too.
It may have escaped your notice, but things moved on without you.
He didn’t listen, and now he’s reaping his reward. Just because he cannot live without the Chevalier, that does not mean he can take all happiness from him.
No, let her go.
Louvois has plenty to say, but Philippe’s patience wanes. Seeing his Lorraine with the Duchess, helping her escape, performing a gesture grander and more romantic than he probably knows, splinters his heart, pain so familiar he breathes it, embraces it. Even he cannot watch their farewell, however, and he does his best not to hear the tenderness in their voices. He has never figured out if the Chevalier was ever truly in love with the Duchess, but he saw them together, saw the way he looked at her, the fondness she showed him, and found that the truth of it did not matter, in the end.
Having Liselotte and the Chevalier beside him during his brother’s play at God soothes him, somehow, some part of him ceasing it’s wounded aching. When chaos erupts, he is not surprised, but when he sees his brother about to die – that scares him.
It would seem his heart has room for one more weakness. Louis is shocked, and Philippe hopes his brother sees sense, but knows it will not happen. His new wife will see to that, surely, just as she saw to his wife’s child being taken from her. Philippe wonders how long she will last. She has already beaten the Marquis de Montespan, although she is more subtle than she. Still, Philippe finds himself empty, for the time being, no room left for worrying about the King.
Life carries on as normal, and Philippe accepts that he will most likely live out his days in the same cycle as he experiences every day. He and his brother are tied too tightly to ever escape, willingly or not. His heart still beats for his Lorraine, and he sees the sadness in the Chevalier’s eyes over the Duchess slowly fade, until the air between them starts to pull, makes the Chevalier distant, snappish, until Philippe bridges the gap.
You’ve never said it before.
I will if you will.
He cannot stop his smile, cannot help the way he says the words back, can’t stop himself from leaning in and kissing his Lorraine with a tenderness he wishes he’d always shown.