That had to be one of the greatest parties Versailles had ever seen. But it was only fitting, after all, this was the party to celebrate peace, "a victory", as Louis called it. The Chevalier de Lorraine was not so sure about that. He had seen the effects of war on the king's brother, his lover Philippe, and there was nothing victorious about that. He had seen him changing from a caring lover to an aggressive stranger. And he resented the king for that. He took away the only person he had in that palace.
Since that incident right after Philippe came back, the Chevalier had not seen him many times. The Chevalier changed to his own chamber after it, waiting for a visit from Philippe in order to apologize, but it never came. On the rare occasions in which they met each other, Philippe was drunk or seemed to be avoiding him. Perhaps it was for the best, the Chevalier didn't know if he wanted another round of such violence.
The party was no exception. Philippe was avoiding him again, making small talk with everyone he could find except him or his cousin, who was his company for the night. It hurt, but he wasn't one to sulk and crawl after a man, even if the man in question was the brother of the King of France whom he missed a lot.
Keeping his face, he stared at the "stage" where the Royal family (mistress included) stood, watching the King as he publicly humiliated the Duke de Cassel. Philippe wasn't there yet (he hated Cassel so it was to be expected), and the last time the Chevalier saw him he was talking to some lone woman he had found, and he wished the Prince didn't have the nerve to put that woman on their bed. The humiliation of the first time was enough.
When the king finally decided he had enough of Cassel and dismissed him, Philippe joined them at the stage, taking his role as the King's brother.
Then the glorious fireworks came, overrated burning paper the Chevalier thought. Usually, he was not one to complain about them, he quite liked them since they distracted the rest of the court while usually he and Philippe left the party to engage in their outdoors activities. But today had not been a good day for him and no amount of fireworks could make it better. In fact, they managed to make everything worse.
The moment the fireworks started, the look on Philippe's face changed, and then the Chevalier knew something was wrong. He saw fear in Philippe's eyes, like he had never seen before in all the years they spent together. That worried him. Philippe wasn't his brother, all stoic and controlled. Philippe felt too much, one could tell what he was thinking just by looking at his face.
Philippe was looking around as he if was looking for help but it seemed like no one but the Chevalier saw the pain he was in. Not the King, who kept clapping at the crowd, not the courtiers, who were far too impressed by the fireworks to notice anything. Not even his wife.
Philippe suddenly left his seat, crossing the whole party at a fast pace, not caring about any courtiers who tried to clear his path. The King quickly followed him, what cause a wave of whispers among the people. His own cousin made a rather cruel remark about Philippe that the Chevalier didn't listen. His mind was full of worry about Philippe.
"I'm going to see if he needs my help." he told her, excusing himself for leaving her alone at the party. She would find company soon. Fabien Marchal had been staring at her looking for a chance and he was giving him one.
"You can't go, the King is with him."
He ignored her advice and followed the royal brothers into the gardens. Surely neither the King nor Philippe would be happy to find out they were being followed, so he had to be quiet and almost invisible in his little quest.
The gardens were illuminated by thousand of small candles — a way the King had to prevent getting lost in one of his many night rendezvous. The chevalier hid behind a tree, ten feet away from them, hoping not to be found as he tried to listen to their conversation, and eventually interfere should the situation require it.
Despite his effort, he couldn't listen too much, the fireworks were too loud and Louis and Philippe were almost whispering. But for the look on Philippe's face, the Chevalier knew he was talking about the war, the horrors he saw and lived and with that a bit of guilt started filling his thoughts. He had refused the invitation Philippe made all those months ago. Maybe if he had accepted it, he would understand Philippe's pain better. But he didn't regret his decision. War wasn't a place for him. Besides, if he was too affected by the war there would be no one else to care for Philippe.
At first the King seemed to understand Philippe's pain but like all the conversations between those brothers it quickly changed the tone and Philippe was pushing his brother away.
"Go! I command you!"
With that the King left him to go back to the party, leaving Philippe alone in the dark of the night with his demons. He had his typical smug smile in his face, the one that made the Chevalier's blood boil.
He let the King disappear from his sight before making his approach, quietly, but in a way that would not startle Philippe. Who knows how he would react? The Chevalier could only hope Philippe hadn't brought his dagger with him.
Step by step he left his hiding spot, but stepping on a twig blew up his cover and startled his lover.
"Who's there? Show yourself!" shouted Philippe looking around trying to find the source of that sound. His hand was inside the coat trying to find his dagger. With all these conspiracies in the Palace he had started keeping it close to him as a measure of security.
From behind a bush the Chevalier appeared, with a distressed look on his face and both hands in the air.
"It is only me, my love." he didn't move any further.
Philippe put the dagger back in his coat.
"How much did you hear?" asked the prince, his voice low.
"Enough to know you are not well." answered the Chevalier, now slowly moving closer to Philippe.
Philippe couldn't look at his lover's eyes. He hadn't talk to him since the day he arrived and mistreated him and he still hadn't apologize for that. And now, now he felt exposed, the pain he had been trying to hide from the Chevalier was out for him to see.
"Leave me alone."
"You know I can't do that." answered the Chevalier. By looking at Philippe, he knew the prince felt vulnerable, and he wasn't happy about the situation. He knew what would happen. Philippe was too proud to show his pain, even to his lover.
"I command you!" demanded again Philippe, this time as a general demands a soldier.
But the Chevalier was no soldier and ignored him. Instead, he kneeled, putting his arms around Philippe in a shy embrace.
"Go!" insisted Philippe, his voice shaking, trying to push his lover away "Leave me!"
"Philippe, you should know by now that I am not like your brother and I won't leave you when you are in pain." The Chevalier tightened the hug.
With that, Philippe's defences fell. Hiding behind his bravado proved to be useless when it came to the Chevalier. He could see behind all masks and walls Philippe had built around him.
Philippe buried his face in his lover's shoulder. He couldn't fight the tears falling from his face anymore. He felt helpless and scared in a way he hadn't been since he was a child. He could see the images of death flashing in front of his eyes, repeating themselves, over and over again, feel the blood on his fingertips, hear the screams of his fallen men ringing in his ears, getting louder, silencing the surrounding fireworks. That was only stopped by the Chevalier's voice.
"You're with me now, my love."
"I'm afraid." Philippe's voice was frail "It feels like this war will never end."
"I know, but you are safe with me. I won't let anything harm you, my prince. I promise we will get over this. Together." the Chevalier assured him, petting Philippe's hair and a leaving soft kiss in his head.
They stayed like that for a while, Philippe crying in his lover's shoulder and the Chevalier holding him close to his heart. Both in silence, as words were not needed between them. Philippe in that silence saw another proof of the Chevalier's love for him. Despite what people told him, he knew his lover cared about him. He couldn't resent him for not going to war with him. It was a foolish thing to ask now that he looks back. And with his reaction once he came back, he was even surprised that his lover could even look at him.
He looked up to the Chevalier's eyes.
"I'm so sorry."
"For my behaviour this week. I treated you wrong. You didn't deserve it."
"Apology accepted." the Chevalier held Philippe's arms and raised him from the ground. He picked his handkerchief and cleaned the remaining tears from the prince's face. The prince gave away a weak smile in appreciation.
"Now my prince, where shall we go?"