A Rose By Any Other Name Would Still Smell As Sweet
1662, the Court of Versailles, Paris
"So what happened next?"
Porthos's question brought Anne out of her memories, as she turned wide eyes on him. Aramis leant over and swatted Porthos over the head. Anne raised one eyebrow, inwardly shaking her head fondly.
"All you need to know is that Philippe and Louis were conceived on October 20th, 1640, just before the four of you left for La Rochelle. After he returned, and my pregnancy became known our interaction lessened day after day. D'Artagnan knew the child was his, but I knew he could not bear the pain of being forced to watch his child claimed by Louis, so we stopped our affair. We barely spoke or touched for twenty three years after that, until I received a letter from the prison where Philippe was held, telling me my son was dead. That night, I ran to the chapel, to beg for forgiveness, and D'Artagnan found me there. And…" Anne trailed off, her grief beginning to rise, as tears began to well, when she remembered that night and the last night D'Artagnan had left a rose for her, in the gardens outside the chapel.
"Mother, you don't…" Philippe began, but Anne put up her hand.
"No, my son. It's alright. It is just difficult…but our story ended two nights ago, when D'Artagnan bade farewell to me before riding to the Bastille. That was the last time I saw him alive," she finished blankly, staring once more into the flames. The clock chimed on the mantelpiece; it was a quarter to one. "If you don't mind gentlemen, I will retire now."
"Of course, Your Majesty," Aramis said immediately, rising. He bowed, as Athos and Porthos copied his movement, and left. Philippe watched his mother, a troubled expression on his face.
"What is it, Philippe?" she asked, feeling his scrutiny, her eyes fixed on the flames.
"I'm sorry, Mother. I could never have imagined…"
"My son, I must ask you not to…please…"Anne could feel her control slipping. A moment later she felt his hand gripping her shoulder, just once, before there came the sound of a door shutting softly. Anne's eyes closed, pain filling her, as her grief at last broke free.
Versailles, Paris 1640
Anne could only stare out her window at the parade of men in military uniform, pikestaffs in the air, muskets slung across their backs, swords at their sides. Her husband rode out on his bay charger, going to the front at La Rochelle to rally the troops' spirits. Anne was glad of it; a Palace without Louis was a happier one for her. But it meant that soon her beloved D'Artagnan would be sent to war, and who knew if he would return. Her confidant, Caroline, had just left her, to try to find out more. All she could do was wait.
Two days later, Anne still waited for more news. D'Artagnan was so busy with his preparations to leave, she barely saw him. But she waited patiently.
A week later the Musketeers still hadn't left. Anne could only carry on with her duties as Queen, forced to hide her true feelings every time she saw her love, forced to hide all the desperate love and fear she felt at the prospect of him leaving her.
On a rainy, cloudy October evening, Anne sat by her window, after having just performed her devotions in the chapel. She'd been partially comforted by the single red rose that habitually awaited her on the pew, gleaming scarlet and emerald in the soft light of the candles. Her mind was lost in dream wanderings; of an innocent time spent in a French chateau, with the love of her life. A tear of longing slipped down her face.
At the excessively gentle, husky voice, the young Queen froze. She turned ever so slowly, pivoting round in her seat to meet the dark eyes of her lover, resplendent in his Musketeers' uniform, handsome and austere in the gentle candlelight of her bed chamber.
"D'Artagnan? But how did-?" Anne began to ask, rising to go to him, but D'Artagnan raised his hand to stop her.
"The secret passages. Treville showed them to me shortly before his retirement. Anne…." D'Artagnan trailed off uncertainly, as she got to her feet and walked to stand in front of him. She read the expression of both pain and sorrow in his face, her mind instantly guessing what he had come to her about.
"You're leaving Versailles, aren't you?" she asked, her voice deadly quiet, fighting to retain her control. D'Artagnan nodded.
"Yes. Anne," at this he took hold of her hands and held them to his chest, over the space where his heart beat, gazing at her beauty. "I love you. I will always love you, until the day I die."
Anne frowned. "D'Artagnan, why-?"
"Anne, please let me get this out," he begged her, dark eyes soft, as they gazed at her gleaming raven hair and the soft, loving form concealed in cream silk. "I wanted to make sure-"
"You're not saying goodbye?" Anne asked in a small voice, a single tear joining the other one that had tracked down her cheek earlier.
"D'Artagnan, please, don't say goodbye," she begged, snatching her hands out from under his grip to frame his face. Her breath accelerating, her gaze dropped to his lips. He and his friends were facing death and carnage in La Rochelle, and this might be the last time she ever saw him again. In that second, months of restraint and caution flew out the window, as their gazes met, and understanding flew between them.
Anne stretched up on her toes, her hand sliding around to back of his neck, beneath his hair, as her lips brushed his, his hands lying around her waist.
"I love you," was the bare whisper before she kissed him wildly, deeply, uncontrollably. Her need for him was acute to the point of pain; spiced by the fear of discovery, and tempered by the unknown future that awaited them on the horizon, as threatening as the storm clouds that massed outside her windows. This was their best opportunity; Louis was away at the wars, his friends were busy with their own preparations for war, and her maids and confidant were gone to bed. They could spend one night in safety, and Anne did not intend to waste this opportunity. Not for anyone or anything. Not for the thought that this was treason, one that could kill them both if it were discovered. Not for anything.
None of this crossed Anne's mind as she pulled herself closer, her mouth open to his, inciting his wildest desire, as his arms became a steel cage around her, hauling her to him. But D'Artagnan's cautious side still had some sway, and attempted to inject sanity back into the situation. He pulled back.
"No, Anne. This is-" he was cut off by Anne's lips on his own, effectively shutting him up, her hands twining with the strands of shining brown hair that covered them. The feel of her soft body against his was too much to resist; D'Artagnan returned the embrace with equal need, letting his heart rule his head for once.
Anne's hands slid down his chest, stopping at the fastenings of his tunic, trembling slightly as she broke the kiss to look down at them. Their collective breath was ragged and shallow after the prolonged kiss, and D'Artagnan's eyes burned with an inner fire when Anne's flicked her gaze back up to his. Slowly, never taking her eyes off his, she undid the fastenings, until the front gaped open. Her hands dropped to his sword belt, undoing the buckle quickly until it fell to the floor with a dull thunk.
Freed from restriction, she pushed his tunic off over his shoulders, followed by the coat beneath it, until he stood before her in boots, breeches and his shirt. Her eyes roamed the strong muscles revealed by the small opening at the top of the shirt, a view she had seen once before. At the look of wonder on Anne's face, he kissed her again, his lips quickly moving down her face to her neck. Anne gripped his shoulders, as his hands quickly dispensed with her hair pins, until her curls tumbled freely down her back. Her eyes rolled back as a moan of bliss escaped her lips, his hot, urgent mouth on her neck igniting fires beneath her skin.
The flames leapt higher as D'Artagnan quickly undid the pearl buttons that did up her bodice, Anne dropped her arms, eager to feel him, skin to skin. Her dress fell away, leaving her in her corset and chemise, shivering with need as the cool air of her bedchamber hit her, contrasting with the heat escaping from the two of them. All conscious thought had left them at this point; only need and its primal fulfilment remained.
Anne pushed D'Artagnan's shirt from his shoulders, revelling in the toned chest revealed to her. She splayed her hands over the tensed muscles, her fingers making no imprint of the stony skin. At the look of sensual wonder, D'Artagnan set his lips to hers again, pulling her back into the circle of his arms, as he hastily unlaced her corset, flinging it away from him, sliding his hands down, holding her against him. Anne gasped into their joined mouths, holding onto him as he lifted her off her feet, effortlessly held up by his strength, and walked towards her bed.
When he set her down, the communion of their mouths broken, she stared up at him, her mouth dry, and her body aching, as he stood within the v of her legs, seated on the bed as she was. She ran her hands up his chest wantonly, acting on unholy desires she'd fostered for years, sensing the tensing of his entire body, letting her know how much she affected him, how much he desired her. Their eyes locked, as D'Artagnan gently pushed Anne back into the soft comfort of her pillowed bed, sprawled over the silken covers, her raven curls scattered like the feathers of a raven's wing, contrasting against the white of her skin and chemise. Sensing his regard, Anne smiled mistily, any reticence or shyness she might've felt extinguished, melted by the flames evoked by D'Artagnan's ember-like gaze.
"D'Artagnan, please," she murmured, holding her hand up towards him. A second later, he joined her, inexorably slowly, letting her pull him down, their bodies flush against one another. Their lips rejoined, passion escalating as D'Artagnan's hands explored her body, tracing line of leg, breast and waist, screened by linen. Filled with the need to feel his skin on hers, with no more barriers, Anne boldly pulled her chemise over her head, baring herself completely to his touch and his gaze, her alabaster skin gilded by the soft candlelight. D'Artagnan paused, their breaths mingling, their now bare skin pressing against each other, from knee to breast, hearts thundering as one, eyes fixed upon one another.
"You're so beautiful. I love you so much," D'Artagnan kissed her, her hands splayed over his back, never wanting to let go. She arched under him, the feeling of him against her so intoxicating.
Their lovemaking degenerated into a heated battle of fiery caresses and urgently needy kisses. They could only cling to one another, together, bound as one; physically, mentally and spiritually, as the wave of their need burst over them, ripping them away from this world of cruelties and pain.
In that moment, they were not Queen and Musketeer. They were not Anne and D'Artagnan. They were not even true lovers. They were just a man and a woman, stripped to the bare truth of life and its affirmation.
The next morning, Anne awoke to the sight of a red rose on her pillow, as the four Inseparables rode out the palace gates, on their way to war and glory. Or death.