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of comfort and despair

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In the year of our Lord 1184, being the fourth year of the reign of Philip Augustus, King of the Franks, a tournament was held in Paris to celebrate the anniversary of his birth. To this event many great lords and ladies were invited, and to all he extended his welcome, though perhaps to none so warmly as to Geoffrey Plantagenet, the Duke of Brittany.

"I had not expected you to put in an appearance." Philip sat up at the foot of the bed, leaning back against one of the columns, the sheets pooled around his waist. He looked relaxed in a way he seldom did and soft in ways Geoffrey knew better than to trust.

"And pass on your most excellent hospitality?" Geoffrey struggled with the laces of his tunic, unaccustomed to tying them himself. Undoing them had not been half as much a chore. "Not for the world."

The French court had much to recommend it to an English prince, even disregarding the positively delectable sight of Philip's red lips and tousled hair and naked body. Paris was a reliable source of entertainment and information and allies, far enough away from London to be outside Henry's sphere of influence and yet close enough for stories of his sons' proximity to the French king to be a constant, nagging reminder that even disappointing sons had options.

"I'm told Richard has led troops into Brittany."

And then there was that.

"So he has. Brother dearest took exception to my and John's little tour of Poitou."

"You don't seem terribly concerned."

Geoffrey shrugged. Giving up trying to redo the laces unassisted, he sat down on the bed, his thigh pressed against Philip's. "Some families send letters. Mine sends armies. It's how we show we care." He traced the edges of the purple bruise he'd sucked into Philip's fair skin, just above the collarbone. "He'll get bored of scaring peasants and burning fields soon enough," he said. "And besides, there are easier ways to deal with Richard than on the battlefield."

Easier ways to get back at him too.

Philip ran his fingers through Geoffrey's hair, soft and sweet. He looked younger like this, unencumbered by fine clothes and expensive jewelry and a heavy crown.

"A different man might care that you're only in my bed because it would upset Richard," he said.

"A different man might care that you only allow me in your bed because it would upset Henry. You'd let John fuck you, as long you got to break the news to my father."

Philip smiled at that, his the indulgent amusement of the very powerful. His fingers tightened painfully on Geoffrey's hair.

"Do not forget your place, my lord duke," he said, a tone like honey. Geoffrey smiled back, unworried and unrepentant, his smile growing a little wider as Philip's gaze dropped to his lips. He ran his hand up the younger man's thigh — slowly, deliberately, shamelessly — deriving no small amount of satisfaction from his rising colour. Philip drew in a sharp breath when Geoffrey pressed his hand over his manhood, a thin layer of fabric the only thing between them.

"I would not dream of it, your grace," he said softly, sliding his hand under the sheet and closing his fingers around Philip's length. The young king closed his eyes with a sigh and Geoffrey increased the pressure slightly, stroking him slowly until Philip relaxed his grip on him, his breathing becoming increasingly laboured. Geoffrey leaned his forehead against his, smiling a little when Philip tilted his face up to kiss him. He increased the movement of his hand on Philip's cock. "I am, as ever," he said, low and intimate, "your grace's most loyal servant."

It surprised Philip little and Geoffrey not at all when the arrival of the Duke of Aquitaine was announced two days later. Richard had not set foot in Paris since the events at Chinon over Christmas, having vowed that the world would see the Second Coming before he allowed Philip to play him for a fool again, but there were very few things the Angevin princes did better or more successfully than bait each other, and Geoffrey's look of smug satisfaction when Richard's party rode into the main courtyard was neither restrained nor subtle.

Philip supposed Geoffrey did have plenty of cause to look pleased. If Richard was in Paris for the tournament he could not possibly be in Brittany laying waste to his lands.

"Won't John mind that you two left him fighting a war by himself?" Philip asked, watching from a window as Richard barked orders at the members of his retinue on the courtyard below.

"I'll be shocked if he notices."

No, undoubtedly he would not. And if a day ever came when John Lackland sat on the English throne, Philip would fall to his knees and thank the heavens for his good fortune.

The King of France publicly welcomed the Duke of Aquitaine with all the warmth and affection of an old friend, but even such a pronounced mark of royal favour was not enough to break through Richard's icy civility. Richard might have allowed himself to be lured to Paris, but he seemed in no way inclined to humour Philip's desire for a reconciliation.

Not that he was discourteous. Oh no.

Richard Plantagenet was many things, but he was no fool and he would not risk giving offence in so public a setting — not when he had Henry to contend with across the Channel. King Henry might not have openly sanctioned Geoffrey and John's attacks on Poitou, but only in the same way he had not openly ordered that Thomas Becket become better acquainted with the sharp end of a sword. So Richard said and did all that was proper, made all the correct obeisances, showed all the deference a man owed to someone who was — if only nominally — his liege lord.

He did just enough and nothing more.

It puzzled the courtiers. It offended the dignity of those who resented the improper, unmerited and undeserved influence of these foreign princes who did not even have the good grace to acknowledge the honour done to them.

It amused Geoffrey to no end.

He, for his part, was doing his level best to get Richard to run him through with a sword, which he was sure to do, sooner or later. Geoffrey goaded and prodded and nettled his brother from Prime till Vespers, and if Philip could barely get a reaction out of Richard, Geoffrey suffered from no such difficulties. Stable boys and kitchen maids — who always seemed to take an unseemly interest in the affairs of their betters — started placing bets on how long till blood was spilt.

A smith apprentice named Pip won the bet in spirit if not in practice when Richard unhorsed Geoffrey during a joust, the lance missing the shield entirely and shattering against Geoffrey's armour. The violence of the impact would've thrown him clear off the horse, but his foot caught in the stirrup and he was dragged behind his mount, narrowly avoiding being trampled by the beast's hooves. Philip was halfway out of his seat when Geoffrey managed to free himself and roll safely out of the way.

When Richard took off his helmet, his self-satisfied smirk was evident even at a distance.

Pip was not the only one to make a profit out of the day's proceedings.

"Bon." Isabella, sitting by Philip's side, removed a gold ring with a small sapphire from her finger and handed it to one of her ladies. "Congratulations, Marguerite."

Philip glared at his wife, cross and ill-tempered and lightheaded with relief. "You surprise me, madam," he said coldly. "Making a wager on a man's life is such unchristian, unladylike sport as to surely be beneath the dignity of the Queen of France."

Isabella laughed good-naturedly, either too sweet or too smart ever to take offence at his remarks. "You are no doubt right, your grace. Though even you must own that the Duke of Brittany would benefit from some restraint around his brother."

Philip could hardly disagree. It seemed to him the height of foolishness that having successfully drawn Richard away from his lands, Geoffrey should now be so bent on getting himself stabbed in the corridors of the Palais de la Cité, but it did not surprise him. Geoffrey had a first-rate mind, but he suffered from the same failings as his brothers when it came to dealing with one another. They were all of them so hungry for recognition and attention and affection — from their parents, from each other — that they were too often foolish when they ought to be smart. Even Richard, for all his strategies; even Geoffrey, for all his cleverness.

It was not a problem Philip had ever had to contend with himself. Philip Capet had been born the only son of an ageing king, and had from his first breath been regarded as the big, bright hope of the French crown. Dieudonné, they called him. God-given. Philip had been cherished and adored his entire life and had never once had to compete with anything or anyone for love or attention or power, had never once doubted that it was his birthright to rule and that above him stood only God.

It made it easy now to look with benevolent condescension on the sons of his father's enemy, even if Richard's frostiness was starting to grate.

"Is it that you regret hurting him or that you regret doing it for so little profit?" Geoffrey moved like a ghost — silent and inconspicuous and never there until he was.

Philip spared him barely a glance. Richard was half-way across the open field, deep in conversation with the Count of Flanders and the Archbishop of Cologne. All around them flashes of colour and movement dotted the landscape, as ladies and knights assembled in small groups or flitted from one acquaintance to another.

"Who's to say I regret it at all?" he asked.

"Show me another man who's allowed to so openly display his contempt for the King of France, and I will withdraw the question."

There were very few people Philip would've permitted such an observation and fewer still with impunity, but he was not about to alienate yet another one of Henry's sons. John would not make for half as useful — or half as entertaining — an ally.

"One day that tongue of yours will be your undoing," he contented himself with saying.

"Undoubtedly, but it's served me well so far. It helps that I'm so often right."

"I hope the thought gives you comfort when there's a blade to your throat."

There was no concern and no contrition in Geoffrey's amused grin, and it put Philip strongly in mind of Richard. Men called one brother fearless and the other one cold-blooded, but what they both were was reckless and self-destructive and aggressively untroubled by consequences.

"How do I get him to forgive me?" Philip asked, turning his attention back to Richard.

"You don't," was Geoffrey's less than useful answer. "Richard never forgave Hal for being born first, or me and John for having been born at all, and he won't forgive you that little piece of treachery either. Brother dearest could hold a grudge till Judgement Day, and you have nothing he wants."

"Your head on a silver platter might do the trick."

Geoffrey chuckled and immediately flinched, covering the reaction with a practised smile. "No doubt," he said, carefully shifting his stance. "But you like my head where it sits, atop my shoulders."

"Do I?" Philip wondered whether the fool had at least bothered to get seen by a physician. It had been an ugly fall. "You think highly of yourself."

"I do. But more to the point, I know when I'm needed. And you do need me, Philip. You need me to fight Richard, and Richard to fight me, and both of us to fight Henry. You had a very well-balanced juggling act until you went and lost Richard because you couldn't resist taunting our father. And I dare say it was terribly satisfying, but it was also folly, and costly folly at that."

It did not surprise him that Geoffrey should see right through his schemes, that he'd need but one look at Philip's carefully-spun web to see it for what it was and to know his own place in it. Geoffrey certainly did enough scheming and plotting of his own to recognise it in others.

"It only becomes a problem if Richard decides to make nice with Henry," Philip said as if he believed it. "And does that seem likely to you?"

Geoffrey shrugged. "Crowds of pilgrims flock to Canterbury to see the tomb of Thomas Becket, whom they call a saint, and in the span of a lifetime my lady mother went from being Queen of France, to Queen of England, to an old woman locked in a cell. Unlikely things happen."

Yes, they did, which was why Philip needed Richard to come around. He could not pull the strings of unwilling puppets. Not consistently, at any rate, and not well.

"Your grace, my lord duke." The arrival of Marie de Champagne saved Philip from having to concede Geoffrey's point. "I am told you plan to join the melee," she said to Geoffrey once the greetings were out of the way, "and so I came to see for myself whether it was just a rumour or if the fall from this morning has addled your brain."

To the casual observer, Marie bore a striking resemblance to her father. She had Louis's fair colouring, his kind eyes, an appearance of sweetness and softness and gentleness. It was just the appearance, however. She might look like Louis, but her manner was all Queen Eleanor's.

Geoffrey smiled at her, open and easy. There was no love lost between any of King Henry and Queen Eleanor's brood, but the Plantagenet princes had always doted on their eldest sister. Even Richard, who had so little regard for any of his relations. Even Geoffrey, who had so little regard for just about anyone.

"Now, now, Marie," Geoffrey said. "You know I can't possibly leave all the glory to Richard."

"It's a foolish enough thing for able men to risk their neck in a mock battle. For injured men to do likewise verges on idiocy. Wouldn't you agree, Philip?"

But Philip was only half listening. All the way across the field, Richard's attention had drifted towards them and he stood staring at Geoffrey as if barely aware he was doing it while Baldwin of Flanders prattled on, undisturbed by his audience's clear lack of interest. Even the Archbishop of Cologne could muster no more enthusiasm for Baldwin's chatter than that required to nod politely at regular intervals.

And in that moment, as Philip watched Richard watch Geoffrey, a thought came to him, the memory of a rumour he had dismissed as just that, but that now had him wondering. Because maybe Philip did have something Richard wanted. Something he could afford to give.

When Richard met his gaze, Philip's lips curled up slightly, his mind suddenly ablaze with shiny threads of possibilities.

"Do try not to get yourself killed, my lord duke," he said, his smile widening when Richard looked away. "I'll have need of you later today."

"I'll certainly try to oblige," Geoffrey said, just as the heralds sounded the call for the melee. "Your grace. My lady."

Marie drew closer to Philip as Geoffrey departed, following the direction of his gaze to where Richard was also taking his leave from his companions.

"Those two cause enough trouble without you whispering in their ear," she said after a moment, and Philip did not have to wonder which two she meant.

"Is it the place of a countess to censure a king?"

"Perhaps not. But it is the place of a sister to counsel her little brother. And I'm fond of all my brothers, Philippe. Not just you."

Yes, she was. And Philip did not fault her for that. But sentimentality was an inconvenient flaw for any man to have and a dangerous one for a king to indulge, and he'd do what was necessary — for France, for his crown, for what he owed to the memory of his father. Even if it meant taking the things Richard and Geoffrey had given him — friendship, companionship, love — and turning them against them. Even if it meant using them both to chip away at each other and at Henry, until there was nothing left of the Angevin Empire but rubble and ashes.

The room was quiet but for the soft crackling of the fire. Philip had dismissed all the servants and sat by himself with just a flagon of wine for company. He drank sparingly. The night was young still and he needed a clear head.

The knock on the door was expected, as was the voice of the servant announcing the Duke of Aquitaine.

"Your grace." Richard stayed by the door as the servant closed it behind him, and though he did not look towards the bed, Philip knew he too must be thinking of the last time he had been in this bedchamber. Of all the things they had done then.

"Will you join me?" Philip asked, indicating the chair across from his. A royal request had all the weight of a royal command, and while Richard had a lifetime of practice ignoring those — from Henry, from Hal, even from Philip himself — he acquiesced now, caught between the demands of courtesy and the show of indifference he had been determined to maintain since his arrival. Even if that indifference was starting to crack.

"Why am I here?" he asked, and if at a different time Philip might have bristled at the belligerence of his tone, on this occasion it warmed him right through. It was the most genuine reaction he'd got out of Richard in days.

"Because I desire it," he said, pouring him some wine. "And because I wish to make amends."

"Do you indeed?"

"Yes. Will you let me?"

Richard's expression was guarded and controlled, his voice strained as he said, "If you think for a moment I could ever trust you again—"

"I'm not asking for your trust. I'm asking for your forgiveness."

"And are they not connected?"

"Must they be?" Philip leaned back on the chair, holding his goblet between his hands. "You don't have to trust me. Trust only that it was not you I sought to hurt that day and that I'm sorry I did. Can't you believe that much? Can we not be friends again?"

Richard chuckled at that, a low, bitter sound that carried no humour. He pushed his chair back and walked towards the fireplace, his back to Philip.

"Friends," he said. "Is that what we were?"


"I know all about the friends you keep these days, your grace, and I will not add to their numbers."

Philip wondered whether the thought of him and Geoffrey stung more than the ill-considered words he'd said to Henry, and if that sting was complicated by all the things Philip thought he knew.

"Has Richard the Lionheart been living like a monk for the past nine months?" He pushed himself to his feet and moved to stand next to Richard, looking him in the eye as he added, "For the two years before that?"

"Would you have me believe that it's nothing more than a coincidence that of all the people you could've taken to your bed, you chose my brother? Was that too not designed to hurt me?"

"No." There was no great trick to hurting Richard. People thought him heartless and cruel, but men with no heart did not become poets and he bruised more easily than any of his brothers, for all that he showed it less. "It was designed to get your attention. And it did."

"And now that you have my attention, what?"

There was a combative edge to his voice, something like a challenge hiding something like grief, and had Philip had a conscience it might have troubled him then.

"Now you let me apologise."

"There's nothing you can say—"

"Perhaps it's not about what I have to say. Perhaps it's about what I have to offer."

The laughter that drew out of Richard was a study in bitterness. "Of course you'd have an offer. What is it about crowns that turns men into merchants?" He moved towards the table and poured himself more wine. "The last time my father wished for my forgiveness, I was given the Aquitaine. He came to regret it, of course, but it was much too late by then." He turned, looking back at Philip. "So what shall it be, my lord king? A castle? A town? A county? How much is my forgiveness worth?"

"Nothing as mercenary as that." There was a knock on the door just then, the timing of it so perfect that a more pious man might have suspected the heavens themselves of smiling down on him. "Enter."

Of the servant that had announced Richard's arrival there was no sign. Instead, two guards escorted Geoffrey into the room.

Richard's hand instinctively went to the hilt of his dagger, and Geoffrey might have done likewise, but he was unarmed. Philip had given very specific instructions.

"Leave us," Philip ordered the guards, who bowed once before withdrawing, closing the door behind them.

"Well, isn't this a merry assembly?" Geoffrey strolled towards the centre of the room, the easy smile on his face at odds with the tension obvious in the way he held himself. He stopped at a short distance, keeping the table between himself and the other men.

"What's he doing here?" Richard asked, and Philip had seen him look more kindly upon enemies on a battlefield.

"He was summoned. Much like you. You see, so many stories find their way to Paris: rumours, hearsay, gossip. Sometimes it's hard to tell what's true and what's not. Sometimes it's remarkably easy." Philip refilled his cup, smiling pleasantly at each brother in turn. "Shall I tell you about a story I've heard but recently? It was quite the tale. It was a story about two brothers who not content with following the wicked example set by Cain and Abel, further offended God by indulging in degenerate, unnatural acts with one another."

If Philip had entertained any doubts as to the veracity of the reports he'd been given, he had none now. Richard had gone deathly pale and even Geoffrey's practised self-assurance had given way to a carefully neutral expression.

"If you called me here to throw my sins in my face—"

"No." Philip closed the space between him and Richard, placing a hand on his arm. "Richard, no. I did not. I would not. I told you before. I'll have peace between us. I wish to make amends, if you will but let me."

"You call this making amends?" Richard's tone was harsh, his expression forbidding, but he had yet to move away, had yet to shake off Philip's hand on his arm.

"You asked me what I had to offer you, and there's no amount of lands I could give you, no amount of gold that could atone for the things I said. I would not offend you by trying. But this much I can give you. I can give you him. And me. On this night, in this room, to do as you please. Take your pleasure if you like; take your revenge if you prefer. Take either. Take both." Philip smiled a little then, the enticing, easy smile that had never failed him. "I'd beg you not to do anything too permanent, of course. I won't have blood spilt in these chambers. But perhaps we can find other ways to entertain ourselves."

Richard did not reply for several moments; he did not move. He was so still he barely seemed to be breathing. And then his hand came up and he gently touched a finger to Philip's chin, a once familiar gesture Philip had not realised he missed.

"If you had any love for me," Richard said, low and grave, "you would not tempt me so."

And the fleeting thought that Adam might once have expressed much the same sentiment amused Philip, but did not trouble him. Philip Augustus, by the Grace of God, King of the Franks had plenty of time to atone for his sins. First he meant to enjoy them.

"All men are sinners," he said. "To believe we can be otherwise is vanity."

Incurring God's displeasure did not worry him, and the thought that Richard might refuse him worried him even less. There was no great difficulty in swaying a man who wished to be swayed and Richard's conscience had never once stopped him from following the darker impulses of his nature.

"This is a touching moment to be sure," Geoffrey said with a smile that bordered on feral. "And what does your little arrangement make me? A trinket? A token? A peace offering? Well, piss on you both. I'm not in your gift to offer, Philip, and you forget that at your peril. I'm leaving."

He turned and made for the door, only to stop short at Philip's stern, "You have not been dismissed, my lord duke."

For a moment the only sound in the bedroom came from the fireplace on the far wall, the only movement the shaking of Geoffrey's shoulders as he stayed where he was, halfway between the table and the door. When he turned to face them, the naked rage on his face was an unusual show of emotion in one who had long ago learned to master every last one of his reactions.

And it was a curious thing to so clearly see the tug-of-war between the part of Geoffrey who wanted to storm off — who badly wanted to storm off — and the part of him who knew better, who could see not just consequences but also angles and opportunities and possibilities.

Letting go of Richard's arm, Philip crossed the room to where Geoffrey was still holding still, kept in place by the weight of Philip's gaze, by the ever-present spectre of royal authority, and by the conflicting demands of his own ambition.

Geoffrey's attention snapped to his brother when Richard snorted and said, "You have yourself a very well-trained pet."

"Eyes on me," Philip demanded. Geoffrey glared at Richard for one more moment before meeting his gaze, and it was perhaps fortunate that Philip had had the foresight to order that the Duke of Brittany be allowed no weapons, because Geoffrey might just have decided that some things were worth being drawn and quartered for. "Do not cut off your nose to spite your face, Geoff," he said quietly.

Geoffrey closed his eyes for a second, his hands balled into fists by his side, and Philip touched a gentle hand to his face, tracing the edges of it with careful fingers. When Geoffrey looked back at him some of his anger had bled away, and Philip might almost have felt tempted to agree with Richard that he did have himself a very well-trained pet, if only he didn't know better. Geoffrey hid a world of sharp edges behind a courtier's facade, and Philip forgot that at his peril.

"Smart man," he said before leaning forward and kissing him, a soft touch of lips that was part comfort and part apology, and still entirely unrepentant.

Philip was absurdly fond of Geoffrey — in truth he was. And he adored Richard. And while it was true that he dearly loved them both, it was equally true that he loved them at each other's throats most of all. Because it amused him. Because it upset Henry. Because what was bad for England was invariably good for France. But there was more than one way to kick a hornet's nest, and this was fun too.

It was Geoffrey who deepened the kiss, and when Philip reached for his belt, he made no move to stop him.

Richard had once been a boy of many aspirations. He had wished to be a good man and a good Christian, a dutiful son, a wise ruler, and an able soldier.

He had managed that last one, at least.

He stood rooted in place as Philip tugged and teased and coaxed Geoffrey out of his clothes with clever hands and soft words and softer lips.

And Richard knew that a better man would leave. He knew that a better man would've left already. With each piece of clothing that fell on the floor the gulf between the man Richard wished to be and the man he was grew wider until those two men bore no more than a passing resemblance to one another.

And still he stayed.

Geoffrey's gaze followed Philip as the younger man knelt at his feet to remove his boots, and if it was a curious thing to see a king kneeling before a duke, no one watching them could've been left in doubt as to who owed fealty to whom. If Geoffrey moved a hand, it was because Philip wished it. If he lifted a foot, it was because Philip desired it. There was no hesitation to his movements, no pause. His earlier defiance had given way to an easy acquiescence, and all the anger had been smoothed out of his features and replaced with something like contentment. It occurred to Richard that it was perhaps that sort of tranquillity that men of God found when they put their lives in the hands of their Maker.

Not as I will, oh Lord, but as thou wilt.

And then Geoffrey chanced to glance at Richard and he was once again his brother as he knew him: wilful and proud and resentful.

"And what say you, my lord duke?" Philip asked once all of Geoffrey's clothes were scattered around them and all of him was now fully on display — strong arms and a broad chest and his cock already half hard between his legs. "Does my offering please?"

It did. God help him, but it did.

Without saying a word, Richard moved towards them, neither willing nor able to stay away. He briefly squeezed the back of Philip's neck in a small gesture of approval that had once come as naturally as breathing.

Geoffrey tensed up but did not move when Richard circled behind him, and held perfectly still when his brother touched a hand to his back. Abandoning all hesitation, Richard ran his fingers down the curve of his spine, all the way down to the small of his back. And then, rather than continuing down, he wrapped his arm around Geoffrey's waist, stepping forward until he was flush against his back.

"You always did carry your shield too low," he said against Geoffrey's ear, his hand feather-light where it ran across the dark bruise that covered most of Geoffrey's right side, where his lance had shattered against his armour. And then he pressed. Geoffrey drew in a sharp breath and instinctively tried to break free, but Richard only tightened his grip on him. "None of that now. Stop fighting me, you little fool." And Richard wasn't sure if he meant then, or out on the battlefield, or in general, and he wasn't sure it mattered.

Philip stepped closer to Geoffrey, looking more amused than sympathetic even as he placed a soothing hand on his chest. "Easy," he said, and Richard could almost feel the effort Geoffrey made to stop struggling, the effort he made to hold still. He leaned his head back against Richard's shoulder, closing his eyes for a moment, his breathing coming in short, shallow breaths.

"There," Richard said, easing up the pressure, because he was not above rewarding good behaviour. "Was that so very difficult?"

"There was nothing— There was nothing wrong with my shield." Geoffrey's voice was strained and breathless, his fingers close to crushing Richard's hand where he still clung to it. "I wasn't counting on you trying to kill me."

"If I'd been trying to kill you, you'd be dead, little brother." Richard kissed the side of his neck, a soft counterpoint to his iron grip, but Geoffrey's laboured breathing was becoming increasingly less about Richard's punishing hold over his bruised ribs, and more about Philip's hand on his cock, stroking him with slow, languid movements that were soon drawing needy little gasps out of him.

"And you thought I had nothing he wanted," Philip said, trying to catch Geoffrey's eye, but Geoffrey only scoffed, either too breathless or too distracted to come up with a clever retort.

Richard too risked becoming more than a little distracted. His cock was painfully hard inside his trousers, and it was with an effort of will that he stopped himself from rocking against Geoffrey's buttocks, seeking what friction he could.

"Here's what's going to happen." Richard willed himself to focus, surveying the room. "There's a chest there by the wall. You will drag it so that it's standing in front of the fire."

"If you're eager to redecorate," Geoffrey said, "call a servant."

"Is that what you want, princeling?" The way they were standing, with Geoffrey pinned between him and Philip, Richard could feel every moan, every breath, every last shiver that ran through his body. "Should we get a servant in here? How about a few guards? Shall we see how many cocks you can take between now and dawn?" Geoffrey's hands tightened on his and Richard couldn't help the small smile tugging at his lips. "Get on with it," he said, kissing his temple before letting go.

Philip stepped back at the same time, and Geoffrey almost lost his balance, suddenly cast adrift. He hesitated but for a moment, a little unsteady on his feet, before making for the chest.

"Have you forgiven me yet?" Philip smiled at Richard, his arms coming around his waist, and Richard wrapped an arm around him, seeking the boy he had once loved in this king that would be his enemy, if not today then soon enough. Crowns were heavy things, and Richard was neither so young nor so naive that he did not understand just how heavy.

"Ask me again tomorrow." He cupped Philip's face with his free hand and kissed him, a slow, deep kiss that carried all the things he thought he had locked away inside himself — things like love and want and a deep longing for a time when things had been easy and uncomplicated between them. And things had been easy and uncomplicated. In spite of what they were. In spite of who they were. And part of Richard would always hate Philip for shattering that, and part of him knew that there wasn't a thing in the world he wouldn't forgive him. Even if Philip had become yet another person in his life who thought Richard existed as nothing more than a piece on a chessboard.

Even then.

When they broke away, Philip's smile had turned a little softer, a little more genuine, the painful echo of simpler times.

"God, but I did miss you," he said, and Richard let himself believe it.

All the way across the room, Geoffrey watched them without saying a word, looking serious and thoughtful and uncharacteristically vulnerable, as if more had been stripped away than just his clothes. He held Richard's gaze for no more than a heartbeat before looking away.

"So you can do as you're told, on occasion," Richard said, noticing the chest by his side, and Geoffrey immediately bristled, his expression gone sharp and angry.

"I live to serve," he said, his voice dripping with scorn, and it suited him far better than the forlorn expression he had worn but a few seconds before.

"And serve you shall, little brother." He surveyed the chest up close; it was unremarkable in every way: dark wood and a flat top, neither too high nor too wide. It would do. "On your hands and knees," he said, smirking. "I'll enjoy watching Philip get you nice and open for me."

Geoffrey flushed scarlet and his scowl deepened. "And if I refuse?"

Richard stepped closer to him until they were standing face to face, as close as any two people could be without actually touching. "I'm going to fuck you either way," Richard said, soft and dangerous, brushing his lips briefly against his brother's and smiling when Geoffrey made to follow the movement. "Take what's on offer."

And if anyone would refuse out of sheer spite it would be Geoffrey, but he had always been the clever one in a clever family, and he was clever now, looking none the less humiliated for it. His movements were stiff as he dropped to his knees at the edge of the chest, and he refused to look at either Richard or Philip as he let his body fall forward, his fingers curling against the opposite edge, his grip so tight his knuckles turned white. And there was something about the sight of him like this — exposed and open and on display — that did much to reconcile Richard to the prospect of an eternity in hell.

He briefly placed a hand on the back of his brother's neck, and Geoffrey let out a shaky breath when he squeezed lightly before stepping away.

"Be thorough," he said, and if Philip minded being told what to do in the same tone Richard reserved for his pages and servants and household knights, he did not show it, but smiled a little while reaching inside a cupboard for a small corked vial.

"I always am." Geoffrey started when Philip touched him, and the young king tutted him, running his hand soothingly along his side. "I've never known you to be skittish," he said, leaning down to place a kiss on the centre of his back before tapping the inside of his thigh. "Wider."

Richard sank down on a chair a few feet from them, facing Geoffrey's front. From that position he could not see the details of what Philip was doing, but he could see its effects clearly enough. Though Geoffrey dropped his head between his shoulders, his hair obscuring most of his face, Richard could still clearly see the deep blush spreading down his neck and chest, the half-parted lips that quickly closed on a choked moan when Philip started rubbing a finger over his entrance. His cock hung between his legs, hard and neglected, and Richard struggled against the urge to palm his own, which was straining uncomfortably against the tight fabric of his trousers.

But resist he did. He meant to savour this. He meant to take his time.

Shuddered breaths turned into small gasps, turned into stifled moans, and it was plain to see the effort Geoffrey was making to control his body's reaction, but it wasn't long before he was rocking back against Philip's fingers, his arms shaking under him — from need, from strain, from the shame of it.

And Richard — who had meant to do nought but watch, who had meant to deny himself the things he wanted at least for a while yet, like some absurd form of penance that would serve neither to please God nor to appease his own conscience — he finally accepted that self-denial was the province of martyrs and saints, and that he was neither. If tonight's events were proof of anything, they were proof of that.

He got to his feet and dropped to a crouch in front of Geoffrey, cupping his face with one hand, his thumb brushing over the overheated skin.

"Look at me, Geoff," he said, his hand just resting against his brother's face. "Now, little brother."

Geoffrey's eyes when they met his were dark and glazed over, his cheeks flushed, and just then Philip did something that immediately made him bite down on his lip, the sound that escaped him half-way between a sob and a moan. Richard chuckled, kissing his forehead before kissing him properly, an open-mouthed, uncoordinated kiss made more so by the increasing difficulty Geoffrey was having stifling all the sounds dragged out of him by Philip's clever fingers. When he dropped his forehead to Richard's shoulder, Richard let him, burying his fingers in his hair for a few seconds.

"Still glad I came to Paris?" he asked, feeling more than hearing the laugh that drew out of Geoffrey. Richard kissed the side of his head. "You should've quit while you were ahead, brother." And with that he stood up, undoing the buckles of his trousers and freeing his cock with a sigh of relief. "Do a good enough job sucking my cock," he said, yanking Geoffrey's hair to force his head up, "and I might even let you keep all the things you plundered from my lands. You'll be the highest-paid whore on the continent."

He pressed his hard cock to his brother's lips until he opened his mouth, and then pushed in almost all the way in one swift motion. Geoffrey instinctively jerked back, startled, but Richard tightened his grip on him, keeping him still.

"Easy." He pulled back slightly, thrusting in and out unhurriedly. Across from him, Philip's composure was starting to fray at the edges and he watched with enraptured attention as Richard forced Geoffrey to take more and more of his cock in his mouth. Richard kept his movements slow and deliberate, intercalating short thrusts with long, deep ones. "It was always your most flattering angle, Geoffrey," he said, and Geoffrey whined as Richard slowly, carefully, relentlessly drove his cock all the way to the back of his throat. "On your knees, looking up at me."

"What a hungry little thing you are," Philip said, his cheeks flushed, his eyes dark with want. "I almost think you could come like this, without either of us touching your cock."

"You could, couldn't you, little brother?" Richard pulled out almost all the way, before thrusting back in as far as he could go, holding the position for a few seconds and moaning at the wet heat surrounding him, at the feeling of Geoffrey's throat convulsing around the tip. "You could come like this, with nothing but my cock in your mouth and Philip's fingers in your ass."

And at any other time Geoffrey might have held out out of sheer spite and stubbornness and pride, but he was too far gone to be contrary, trapped between Richard and Philip, caught between the implacable incursions of the one and the relentless attentions of the other. He reached his peak with a deep moan that reverberated all around Richard's cock, his entire body shaking as he spent all over the dark top of the wooden chest.

Richard kept fucking his mouth through it, too taken with the soft gasps and muffled moans around the sensitive skin of his cock. When he finally pulled out, Geoffrey's loud breathing filled the room as he tried to catch his breath, his shoulders rising and falling rapidly. Philip carefully removed his fingers, and Geoffrey started to bend his knees and sit back, only to snap back into position when Richard grabbed a fistful of his hair.

"No one gave you permission to move, princeling," he said, and the boy Richard had once been — the boy who had wanted nothing more than to be good and honourable and brave — that boy would've been shocked to learn he was to grow into this man who was only too glad to gamble his chance of salvation on a night such as this.

Richard pulled Geoffrey's leg a little higher over his, giving Philip a slightly better angle in which to fuck him, and Geoffrey pressed his face against his brother's chest, muffling his moans as Philip drove his cock into him with powerful thrusts that left him breathless. Thus pinned between the two of them on the bed, with Richard half under him and Philip draped half over him, Geoffrey had nowhere to move, no way to do anything but let them do whatever they wanted, use him any way they wanted, and he found he did not mind it — not much, not just then. There was no space in his mind for anything but their bodies pressed against his, hard and warm and familiar; no space in his mind for anything but the punishing pace set by Philip as he pushed deeper inside him; no space in his mind for anything but Richard's fingers, soft and steady in his hair, and Richard's cock, hard against his leg.

And there was a certain luxury in being able to just cling to his brother, a certain freedom, even a certain peace, as if the only thing he needed to do in order to please was be. For once he did not need clever words, or clever plans, or clever anythings. He existed, and that was enough.

He tilted his face up, the sound that escaped his lips neither a moan nor a sob, but something in between, and Richard's lips found his, soft and warm and comforting. Behind him, Philip's fingers dug painfully into his side as he snapped his hips against his.

"Do you trust me?" Richard asked, the words just sound long before they turned into meaning.

"Not in the slightest," Geoffrey finally managed, each word dragged out of him by an effort of will.

Richard chuckled, smiling as he kissed the corner of his mouth, and Geoffrey wondered if he too could hear the lie in the words.

"Enough, Philip," Richard said, and Richard's arm, the one tucked under Geoffrey's neck, turned slightly as he reached for the other man. "Philip," he repeated, the tone a command.

Philip groaned, his hips going still against Geoffrey's, his cock still hard and pulsating inside him.

"I'm not saying it's ill-deserved," he said, his whole body shaking against Geoffrey's back, his voice breathless and cracking, "but must you torture me?"

"Patience is a virtue."

"I did not think virtue was what we were aiming for." He carefully pulled out of him, and it was all Geoffrey could do not to whine.

Richard sat up, and Geoffrey had no choice but to do likewise, however little he cared to, however unprepared he felt to let go — of Richard, of Philip, of the pressing weight of their competing demands on his attention, on his body, on him.

"Lean back against the pillows, Philip. Like that."

Geoffrey lowered himself on Philip's cock when Richard told him to, breathing a sigh of relief at the grounding feeling of being full again, anchored in place. It was not the same, however, and he did not relish being once again cast into a world of choices and options and decisions. He moved his hips experimentally and Philip moaned, lifting his hips to meet the movement. Geoffrey increased the pace a little, smiling at the need written all over Philip's expression, at the moans and gasps his movements drew out of him, at the small rush of power in being the one in control. At any other time he would've enjoyed it immensely.

The bed dipped when Richard joined them once again, and Geoffrey blindly reached for him until he felt his brother's arm wrapping around his front. He leaned into Richard, kissing him while slowly continuing to fuck himself on Philip's cock.

And then he felt Richard's slick finger probing at his entrance, where Philip's cock was still driving in and out of him, and Geoffrey couldn't help the moan that escaped his lips, even as a shiver of something much like fear ran down his spine. Richard cupped his face, pulling away just enough that he could look him in the eye.

"Do you trust me?" he asked again, and Geoffrey knew what he was asking, and he knew himself for a fool when he heard himself reply, "Yes."

Richard kissed his forehead before shifting away to stand behind him, and Philip parted his legs just enough to make room for him. Geoffrey had but one moment in which to regret several of his life choices before Richard pushed him down on top of Philip with a firm hand.

"Relax," he said, and that really was the last thing anyone should say to someone they wanted to relax, but Geoffrey tried anyway. Philip was shaking under him — from nerves, from anticipation, from the strain of keeping still while Richard pushed in a finger alongside him, and then a second one, running them along the length of his cock, in and out. Philip closed his eyes shut and bit his lip, his fingers tightening on Geoffrey's hair, but he otherwise held perfectly still while Richard took his time stretching Geoffrey open.

And Geoffrey, who had spent a lifetime collecting cuts and bruises and scars — in battles, in skirmishes, in the tournament circuit — he had little trouble keeping his breathing even and himself relaxed. Richard's fingers felt much larger than he knew them to be, and it burned a little, but Geoffrey had known pain in his life, and this really did not begin to compare. It was fine. He was fine.

And then Richard replaced his fingers with the tip of his cock and pressed in, and it was like being hit by that lance again — a searing pain, and the world gone out from under him, and not enough air in his lungs even to scream.

He was faintly aware of Philip whispering reassurances in his ear, of his hands on the back of his neck and on his arm, of Richard rubbing little circles on the small of his back, and he tried to relax, he really did, but the pain shot right past the part of his brain that made decisions, to the part of his brain that was all reaction and instinct and the need to flee.

He only realised he was trying to push himself up when he felt Richard run his hands over his arms, steady and solid.

"Hey, hey, hey. It's okay. Geoff, it's okay. Sit back. Come here."

"I can't— I just— I can't."

"It's okay, little brother. I've got you. You're okay." Richard wrapped his arms around him, pulling him back against his chest, and Geoffrey leaned his head back against his shoulder, staring up at the canopy and trying hard to remember how to breathe.

"Richard," Philip said in a tone that was all alarm and concern and the not-so-subtle hint of royal authority.

"Geoff, look at me. Now, little brother. Do you want me to stop?"

And Geoffrey didn't want to be given the choice. In truth, he did not. And he resented Philip for worrying and Richard for caring and both of them for giving him the option. He pressed his face into the crook of Richard's neck and took a deep breath, the pain loud and pressing but no longer all-encompassing.

"Geoffrey." Richard pressed a kiss to the side of his head. "Give me an answer. Do you want me to stop?"

He shook his head and ran his tongue over his lips before croaking out a "No." He cleared his throat before adding, "I just need a moment. Enough with the mother henning."

Richard snorted, the short burst of air warm over Geoffrey's hair.

"Heaven forbids we should ever be accused of that," Philip said and closed his fingers around Geoffrey's cock, stroking him softly, slowly, unhurriedly. And Geoffrey wasn't hard — he was nowhere near it — but it was a pleasant counterpoint to the pain.

Richard held still for long enough that Geoffrey was about ready to yell at him to just get on with it, but the moment he started to move it became impossible for Geoffrey to say much of anything. He couldn't stop the tears, or the pained gasps, or the occasional sob, but he did not fight and he did not struggle, and Richard mercifully did not stop.

His brother held him tight against him, whispering a string of endearments in Occitan as he pushed himself in alongside Philip, inch by inch, until they were both fully inside him.

And for a moment none of them moved, and Geoffrey's mind could not even begin to process the feeling of it or comprehend the reality of it. It was both too much and not enough, and if he thought too much about it he'd shatter.

And then Richard carefully started to thrust in and out of him, followed by Philip a second later, and everything went blank inside his mind. There were no thoughts, no words, nothing but that fullness, and the burning pain of it, and the insistent fingers on his hard cock, and the warm lips on the curve of his neck, and the solid arms around him, keeping him safe and steady.

His climax, when it came, washed away all of those things too until there was nothing but pleasure, bright and warm, in and all around him.

Richard struggled to keep his eyes open, tried hard to resist giving in to the increasingly strong temptation to fall asleep. Soon enough it would be dawn, and he and Geoffrey could not still be there when servants came to attend to Philip. Besides which, he wanted to savour what was left of this night, the simple pleasure of just lying there, with Geoffrey but a short distance from him, and Philip snug between them.

When he met his brother's eyes, he was unsurprised to find him equally alert.

"They should call you Richard the Awake," Geoffrey said, smiling drowsily when Richard ran his fingers through his hair.

"How much of this did you plan, little brother?"

Geoffrey's smile grew a little brighter, a little sharper, the smugness of it achingly familiar.

"Philip would have you believe it was all his doing."

"Philip is young." Young and sharp and devious, and far too clever for his or anyone else's good, with a mind that might one day rival Henry's or Geoffrey's or Eleanor's herself, but not yet. He wasn't quite in their league just yet. "He's young, and he doesn't know you like I do." Geoffrey's sleepy yawn seemed all the reply Richard was likely to get, and he did not press, other than to say, "We cannot keep doing this."

"So you keep saying."

And Richard meant it every time. And every time, every last one of his good intentions turned to ashes at the merest provocation. If God had meant to test his resolve, He could not have devised a better way to get Richard to fail. To get Richard to keep failing. And at a different time Richard might have cared, but just then he could not bring himself to.

God help him, but he could not.

Philip moved next to him, mumbling something in his sleep, and Richard tightened the arm he had around him, pulling him closer against him. Geoffrey drew closer to them, closing his eyes.

"Get some sleep, brother," he said, but Richard did not want to sleep. He wanted to enjoy this while he could — this room and this bed and the three of them in it. Sleep could wait.