Henry parted from Catherine with one last passionate kiss. He fell back to her side panting. The queen turned her back on him. It had already been a lot to allow him to come to her rooms and make love to her. Now she just wanted him to fall asleep so she wouldn't have to talk to him. Henry, however, had a different idea.
- No thanks? - he asked.
- Good night, Henry- replied Catherine coldly.
The king seemed astonished by this behavior. He raised himself on his side.
- Is this how you treat me now? - he asked, frowning.
In response, his wife wrapped herself in the blanket and curled up in her corner.
Henry tried to make her turn around, but the queen pushed him away.
- What is it? You see an old, slightly attractive acquaintance again and your husband doesn't count for anything anymore?
- If you talk about Philip you are ridiculous. Besides, isn't it the same thing you do every time? - replied Catherine sarcastically.
The king snorted. Then he leaned over to whisper in his wife's ear.
- I want to start over - he said.
- Henry, please, I'm tired - the queen said trying to move him.
- Not me- replied the man.
- Then go and find Kenna or whoever you want and let me sleep- replied Catherine.
"Oh yeah?" thought Henry furious "Now I'll show you".
He took her by force and put her under him.
- Henry, no! - shouted Catherine struggling.
- I am the king- growled Henry -and you are mine, so when I say I want to start over, you obey.
He said this and violently penetrated her, making her moan with pain. Because this was all Catherine felt.
Pain, pain, pain.
A ray of sunlight woke Henry up with overbearance. He touched the side of the bed next to him and found it empty. He felt a squeeze in his heart when he thought back to the night before. He got up and dressed, determined to find his queen and talk to her. It was early morning, he imagined she was in the gardens or in the throne room.
Nothing, Catherine seemed to have disappeared. Henry rubbed his head. Where had that woman gone?
- Catherine? whispered Alexander, removing a lock of blond curls from his sister's face. She had arrived around dawn. When he had opened the door, she had collapsed in his arms, destroyed. She had told him everything. Alexander could feel his blood boiling as he thought of the humiliation Catherine had suffered. He had made her sleep in his bed, in his arms, like when she had a nightmare as a child and ran to be comforted by her brother.
- Mh- replied the queen, opening her eyes slightly. She sat down and rubbed her face.
- Are you all right, my dear? - asked the duke, placing one hand on Catherine's. The woman nodded and stroked his hand.
The woman nodded and caressed his face.
- I hope I let you sleep - she said getting up.
Alexander snorted with amusement and helped her to rearrange her dress.
Catherine glanced at the mirror nearby.
- I'm a mess," she moaned, "I'll have to go back to my room and fix myself, I can't let them see me like this.
Her brother stiffened. The queen looked at him and smiled reassuringly.
- Don't worry, Alexander, if Henry is still there, I will be able to face him.
- I don't doubt it - mumbled the Florentine, worried.
Catherine hugged him.
- Thank you, my brother, thank you for being there - she whispered.
- I'm filling the gaps of the past- the other one made a gesture of affection in return. The queen detached herself and went out the door.
"Luckily my rooms are nearby" she thought opening the door of her room. She quickly moved to her dresser and sat down to settle in. He heard the door open.
- Oh, Alexander, look at that...- she began but stiffened at the sight of her husband. He immediately turned away.
- Catherine- said Henry approaching.
- I don't want to talk to you- she said dryly.
- Catherine, please...- began the king.
The queen stood up.
- No, Henry, I do not want to listen to you, so go away- she said peremptorily.
The king's face darkened.
- You cannot expect me to respect you if you keep talking to me like this- he said angrily.
- So now it's my fault? - the queen asked astonished - I'm really fed up with you and your childishness!
He turned away and said nothing more. Henry snorted and left.
After making herself presentable, Catherine headed to the throne room for the audience. All the while, she ignored the glances from Henry, who seemed to be hell-bent on hurting her by shamelessly flirting with all the women present.
However, the queen did not mind her unfaithful husband. First, because it was a behavior she was used to, second, because a certain person walked around the room, throwing her friendly smiles from time to time.
At the end of the hearings, the woman approached Philip.
- I see that the French court attracts you- she said in Italian.
- I find the intrigues of this castle almost amusing compared to the Medici court- the other smiled.
- It is enough to think that I face them every day- joked the queen with a hint of bitterness.
- You make it splendid- said the man looking into her eyes.
Catherine's heart leapt when she realized what that look concealed.
- Catherine- a voice called her, breaking the magic.
The queen turned around and saw that Mary was coming from their side. How inappropriate that girl was!
- Maria- she said raising her eyes to the sky. The Queen of Scots nodded to Philip, with an air of condescension that irritated Catherine.
- The room for tonight's ball needs some of your approvals- explained Mary. The Queen of France took her leave of Philip with a friendly smile and followed the girl.
For the rest of the day she was immersed in the preparations for the banquet in honor of an old alliance of which she remembered nothing, but which seemed to matter a lot to Henry. In fact, the King of France had begun to wander around the room, without approaching, entertaining himself with some lords. If his presence meant nothing to the others, Catherine knew that her husband was watching her.
"He must have seen me with Philip" she thought, while giving some orders to some servants.
- I need to talk to the queen- said an unfortunately familiar voice.
- Henry, this is not the time- said Catherine without looking at him.
In response, the king took her aside, pulling her close to a wall. The woman crossed her arms, frustrated.
- What do you want?" she growled.
- I want to finish this morning's conversation- replied the other, sulking.
- No, Henry, for me we have talked enough about your conduct - replied Catherine.
- I would like to remind you that you are my wife and however unpleasant it may be, I am entitled to do to you what I wish- said the king, trying to keep a calm tone so as not to start arguing again.
- You reminded me of this last night, just before you violated me, if I am not mistaken- said the queen- I do not think that was unpleasant for you!
Henry raised his eyes to the sky. He gently touched his wife's arm.
- Catherine I apologize with all my sincerity - he said gently. The woman looked at him from head to toe.
- Of course," she replied scornfully.
Enrico smiled and caressed her cheek with the tip of his fingertips.
- You are beautiful when you try to resist me- he whispered seductively. Catherine's eyes seemed to soften, but her mouth turned into a bitter smile.
- Reserve your arts for Diana," she said sarcastically, "Didn't you bring her back especially for the ball tonight?
Her husband's face stiffened. Catherine snorted.
- Stop playing with me, Enrico, I don't want to be hurt ever again- she said with a hint of sadness in her voice. She turned away.
Enrico watched her join her brother who had just entered and felt a tug at his heart to see how he smiled at her with such sincere affection. He was about to leave when he noticed the duke's right arm approaching the two brothers. Her fist clenched.
How she hated that man! Even from that distance he could see the looks he gave his wife. If only they had been full only of lust! But no, Philip Machiavelli looked at the queen of France with such respect, affection... love. The king's heart leapt, feeling the wrath growing inside him. He stomped away.
The party was going on well. Catherine smiled.
She was afraid to turn around, she knew that behind her were Henry and Diana, happy to be seen too close.
It was the fourth dance they had finished. The queen tried not to mind the sadness that threatened to suppress her.
She had seen Alexander laughing and joking with his nephews and some Italian and French courtiers. She knew well that he did not like that kind of atmosphere. He was there just for her.
Catherine heard Diana's giggles at Lord Thierry's joke and Henry's witty reply. She shook her head.
If only Philip could have been there for her, just to put on a friendly face. Instead he seemed to have vanished.
- You look dejected, my lily- said a warm Italian voice.
- Is it so obvious, dear brother?- asked Catherine to Alexander.
The Florentine shrugged his shoulders and smiled at her.
- Forget Diana, Catherine- he whispered- It is you who shine tonight-.
The sister smiled.
- What if I asked you to dance?- Alexander asked at one point. Catherine looked at him, slightly surprised.
- Don't tell me you'll be accused of adultery - joked the other.
- No- replied the woman - But Alexander...-.
- Caterina Maria Romula de'Medici - her brother admonished her - If you do not come immediately to dance with me, I swear on my Medici blood that I will burn every French inch of this earth.
Catherine laughed softly.
- After these words I can't help but accept - she joked. The man offered her a hand that the queen gladly accepted.
The musicians played one of her favorite ballads.
Alexander had always been an excellent dancer and Catherine was sure of it as he began to spin her around. He slid her from one arm to the other so gently.
He placed a hand on her hip and they began to twirl.
She felt the eyes of many in attendance on her, but her brother's expert steps, his smile, that perfect music, made it feel like it was just the two of them alone.
Now the ballad attacked a piece in which Alexander would have to lift her up to turn together.
- Hold me- murmured Catherine.
- Always- replied her brother. He surrounded her with his powerful arm and lifted her up.
Now the queen had no more doubts: what the whole court admired was their majesty, their power. As they continued to spin, everyone watched their movements, even some of the dancers. It was proof that the Medici, however foreign, were worth more than the entire castle.
As the music ended, Catherine had a flashback:
She was in the Medici gardens, curled up under a large tree surrounded by greenery. She couldn't have been more than twelve years old. She was staring angrily into space. A much younger Alexander, almost eighteen, came towards her.
- Caterina - he called her softly.
- Go away! - shouted the girl, standing up - I don't want to see you anymore!
Alexander stopped. Catherine was crying.
- You lied to me! You all lied to me! She kept shouting. You are not my brother! You're just a... a bastard of the Pope!
The boy started to approach her again.
- So what? We grew up together, Catherine, we became brothers in those years- he said taking her hand.
- Is that why uncle wanted you with him? - asked the little girl in tears -Is that why you left me alone in... a... in Florence?
Alexander caressed her face.
- I would never have abandoned you if it had not been so- he murmured. Catherine hugged him very strongly.
- Please tell me you love me!" she said.
Her brother returned the gesture of affection with a smile.
- You don't have to ask me - he said.
Catherine buried her face in his jacket.
- I'll always be your brother - Alexander promised her - our different blood won't divide us. I will always be your hero and best friend. I love you so much, my lily.
- My lily? - the present Alexander called her as he escorted her to the side of the room. Catherine smiled at him and clung more tightly to his arm. Looking around, she noticed a very angry Henry, even more attached to his favorite. This did not touch her in the least.
- You were fantastic- exclaimed Francis coming towards them with Mary on his arm.
- Really - she agreed - a marvel!
The rest of the evening went perfectly. Catherine enjoyed herself as she hadn't done for a long time and remained always at her brother's side. When it was almost eleven o'clock, she decided to go to sleep. Alexander escorted her for a while then turned back because some of his companions were claiming him. The queen continued on her way. Suddenly, around a corner not far away, she heard a sigh of pleasure. She made to leave but a familiar voice reached her.
- Tell me again, my king- whispered Diane.
- I love you, my beloved- answered Henry.
A.N. I hate Diane, but it was necessary for what comes next ;)