"You're brooding," Aramis announced, utterly without preamble, as he dropped onto the bench beside Porthos and damn near shoved his hat into Porthos' ale.
Porthos, who had been quite attached to said ale, glared sullenly at him. It didn't quite have the effect he'd hoped.
"Ah!" Aramis stabbed a finger at the expression, almost poking his eye out with the triumphant gesture. "There, see? Brooding." He cheerfully ignored the eye-roll he got in response. As he ignored most things that didn't currently suit him, Porthos reflected wryly, with only the smallest touch of annoyance. Tiny, really. "Come, my friend. I would have thought this a good day for you. Why the long face?"
Porthos considered an abrupt answer. Considered something short and snarled, something that would drive Aramis away until some later point when he would be better able for him. (Not permanently. Nothing Porthos had ever found could drive Aramis permanently from what he'd claimed as his. It was ... perhaps more comforting a thought than it ought to be). In the end, though, he was too tired to play that game right now.
"A good day," he repeated softly. He turned the thought around curiously, staring down into his ale, and felt Aramis grow still beside him. "Do you think so?"
Aramis watched him cautiously. Porthos could feel glittering weight of his regard against his left cheek. Careful. Deliberate. So many forgot that part of Aramis, so many who'd been blinded by the air of cheerful, if genteel, lechery he hid himself behind. Dangerous, to forget. Such a very lethal man was Aramis, when cold.
"It was not perfect," Aramis allowed, slowly. "An incomplete justice at best. But, my friend, that is unfortunately more often the case than not. I would think perhaps that some justice is better than none? Or at the very least, rather more satisfying."
Porthos chuckled. A dark little sound, matching the shadows that swirled in the depths of his tankard in the dim lights of the bar. Aramis seemed a very fragile figure beside him, suddenly. Light and airy, perched next to him with casual caution. There were moments when Porthos felt like a lodestone to Aramis' steel filings, some monstrous attractive force that drew the shards of the other man close. He couldn't tell if it was a good thing or not. He could not help but cling to it, either.
"It was not a crime," he said eventually. Blank and clear, the words like pieces on a chessboard. A soft click of irrevocable progression. "What Bonnaire did. We could not punish him justly, because what he did is not a crime." He smiled, more like a slash across his face that a human expression. "Forgive me, my brother. I know Athos only spoke the truth. Yet I hear the words echo in my head, over and over." He took a swig, mouth twisting in that false smile. "They sound like iron."
Aramis said nothing. Coiled beside him with his silent tension, a creature of steel and wire in the grip of a lodestone. Like a swordpoint being drawn to a heart. Porthos grunted, distantly aware that he nursed a poison to his chest, but bitterly determined to hold that poison as his birthright. He had right. More than any, he had right.
"It would be no crime for me either," he finished, soft and rich with a particular sort of humour. "No-one would look twice. No-one would say a word against it."
"... Do you think so little of us?" Aramis asked, with a careful lightness. "Do you think we count you so little?"
And for all he said 'we', for all he said 'us', Porthos imagined that Aramis meant something rather more singular than those words implied.
"I don't ..." he started, turning at least to look at the man at his side, to look Aramis in the eyes. But what greeted him froze the words on his tongue, caught his voice still in his throat and swallowed it. Aramis looked at him, Aramis stared at him, and there was a shining hatred in his eyes that Porthos had never thought to see pointed his way. A deep betrayal and an anger like steel.
"The laws of the land are not mine to control," Aramis said, steel-soft and almost gentle. "You are right, I cannot make it a crime. I cannot call a king to care. But I will tell you something, brother. Should any raise a hand against you, should any threaten you with irons, I would count it not a crime but a sin. Against God, and against me. And before my vengeance for that sin, the punishments of king and country would pale as before the punishments of the Almighty, I do promise you."
... And he meant it, Porthos thought distantly. A truth as inexorable as the lodestone's pull. Aramis did not hold his friends lightly, nor his promises either. Woe betide the man who toyed with either, for Aramis had the patience of a serpent when needed, and a cold, passionless determination in the strike. Even should he die for it, he would not regret the blow he struck. Not when he considered it just.
The thought unfurled slowly in his chest. A newer and brighter poison than the other, a drug that sweetened even as it slew. He smiled more truly, a dark and warm sort of joy, and kept his brother's gaze.
"I am not where I came from, then?" he asked, a rumbling amusement from a pitch-dark place. "I am, instead, who I am with? Not a slave, but a Musketeer?"
Aramis tilted his head, a flash of bright-bitter humour like gunpowder. "Oh yes," he agreed, his hand darting quick and pale beside the glittering darkness of his eyes. "That does count, my brother. That does matter, much as it shouldn't be the only thing that does. But Porthos. Do you really think you would be who you are with, if you were not who you are?" A sly smirk, and that deadly promise behind it. "I don't love just anyone who stands beside me, you know."
It sang between them like steel, like that pull Porthos had always imagined between them. The quivering shards of the man beside him, aimed true for the heart in Porthos' chest for all he knew not what drew them there, save that it must be some fundamental part of himself. Save that he must have kept a lodestone there, all unknowing, and thus unwittingly drawn this sword-strung creature to him.
It was a dangerous thing, he thought. A sword was never a safe thing to draw towards you, not even in the form of a friend. But it was a bright thing, and a joyous thing, and he thought he would not regret the blow when it fell. Not even should he die for it.
"... I don't know," he rumbled, straightening abruptly, his dark mood cast aside and feinting laughingly towards his friend's chest in turn. "The way you go through paramours, my friend, you could have fooled me."
The blow struck true, sweet and pure, and Aramis drew back high disgust, his hand pressed to his breast as though mortally wounded. "Faugh!" he cried, the airy lecher once more, and only the silent pull between them to give lie to it. "And is that gratitude for you? Porthos, my friend, I don't know why I bother."
Porthos laughed and reached to sling his arm around the other man, tugging Aramis close despite loud and entirely false protestations. Aramis went to him willingly, nestled close like shards against a wound, and smiled an almost secret smile for the new humour in Porthos' eyes, the renewed strength that he had put there. Porthos allowed it. He felt more than a little generous right then.
"You bother because you are a fool of a romantic, and cannot help yourself," Porthos told him seriously, as it were a grave and important secret. "It will be the death of you one day. Mark my words."
Aramis blinked at him, something in his eyes for a moment that Porthos couldn't fathom, and then he laughed, soft and distant, and nodded quietly to himself.
"Aye," he agreed, prescient and near serene. "It will. But brother, there is no better way to go. Don't you think?"
... Yes, Porthos thought. Because he had to. Because he already had. From the first moment he had drawn Aramis towards him all unwitting, he had known what end he had earned himself, and counted not only right but just. Ever and always.
They would not, he thought, regret the blow when it fell. Not either of them.