“…that such loyalty to his King will always be rewarded!”
Treville jolted awake as if from a dream and bowed deeply, frowning at the ovations that thundered around him. The King’s speech had come to an end, and he hadn’t taken in one word of it. His thoughts had been entirely elsewhere when the elated expressions – of honour, of heroism, of loyalty to his sovereign, of no-mercy-for-assassins and enemies-of-the-Crown – washed over him. He caught Richelieu’s eye and they shared a grimace that was perhaps meant to be an amicable smile but withered halfway through.
His thoughts were in the corner of the graveyard where the twenty-first body of a once fine company of men had been laid to rest. They were on the twenty-second man, whom he’d left alone in the pouring rain as he hurried back, late already for the audience with His Majesty and furious beyond endurance with the King, the Duke of Savoy, the Cardinal. And with Marsac, who has returned like the ghost of past sins to torment them all. Aramis’ words came back unbidden; Marsac's spirit died in that forest in Savoy. Five years ago. It just took this long for his body to catch up. He wondered in a moment of passing madness if, perhaps, those words were true, if what they had encountered was not a man returned in flesh and blood, but as a mere phantom, a male Nemesis. The idea took hold of him so forcefully that he had to see the proof of Marsac’s corporealness with his own eyes.
He threw open the door to his office with a bang, only to find himself arrested in his stride. Aramis stood in the middle of the room, staring at the bloodstains on the wooden boards and dripping rainwater from his hair and clothes. He raised his head, very slowly, as though his reactions were delayed, and took a long time focusing on Treville’s face. His lips were blue.
The anger at Marsac flooded back with full force. How dared he, how dared the accursed dog use Aramis like that. As if his other crimes were not enough, he had to force Aramis to shoot him, because he was too much of a coward to go by his own hand. Then and there, Treville regretted pulling the strings that meant Marsac could be buried in hallowed ground. The fires of Hell should have consumed him for the anguish he caused a man whom he had once called friend.
He felt instantly ashamed for these uncharitable thoughts. They were not worthy of an officer of His Most Christian Majesty. To mask his moment of hesitation, he strode over to Aramis and put a hand on his arm. “What are you doing here?” It was meant to be a gentle question, but habit was hard to break, and it came out gruff and impatient. Aramis blinked and rubbed his temple with his thumb.
“I’m sorry,” he said, tipping his head back, and it broke Treville’s heart that these were his first words. “I’ll be gone in a minute. Just give me-” he broke off and swallowed convulsively. Tears or bile, Treville wondered, and his stomach clenched as guilt, anger and sympathy rolled through him in one nauseating swirl.
Quite of its own accord, his hand had wrapped itself around Aramis’ wrist. He shot a glance over his shoulder to the still-open door. Voices were floating in from outside, and it wouldn’t do anything for the men’s morale to encounter Aramis like this. The hero of the hour, the man who’d apprehended and shot dead a deserter and assassin, who saved his captain’s life, should not be spotted a shivering mess in the Captain’s office.
“Come with me,” Treville said and pulled Aramis with him through the door leading to his private quarters.
It was a soldier’s room. A narrow bed, a chest, a table and chair by the window, and not much more, if one disregarded the two shelves fitted above the bed and creaking under the weight of books. Treville noticed Aramis’ eyes alight on the leather-bound volumes and something like animation came upon the frozen features. With the black and purple bruise under his eye, with his deathly pale skin, his blue lips and with shadows pooling in the hollows under his cheekbones, Aramis’ face was a grotesque chiaroscuro mask, so much so that he barely looked like himself.
The room was cold, chillier still than his office, which had the benefit of being more lived-in. The fireplace was rarely used, as Treville only came in here to sleep. But Serge always made sure that the Captain had a supply of firewood ready at hand for when it was needed, and Treville kneeled down and stacked it deftly, struck the flint with his dagger and lit the tinder. The fire would be burning soon and then, perhaps, Aramis would unfreeze back into the man Treville knew.
“Here.” He walked over to the table, poured a balloon of brandy and held it out to Aramis. “Drink this.”
Aramis obeyed wordlessly. He knocked back the drink, coughed and handed the glass back. The air of docile bewilderment that hung around him was disconcerting, but Treville swallowed his irritation, determined to handle the man as gently as he would a spooked horse.
All of a sudden, Aramis spoke, in a voice that sounded as if he dragged it over sharp-edged gravel. “I’m sorry for this, Captain,” he said, indicating vaguely the bruise around Treville’s eye. “I had no right.”
“You had every right.” It had been the most-deserved beating of his life. “You were right, I had sold you out.” Not a week had passed in which the memory didn’t come back to haunt him, triggered by the most innocuous thing, a word, a smell, and was the reason why he would forego any collation whatsoever on Good Friday.
“You were following orders, as were we,” Aramis continued to speak in the same pained voice, forming words around a wooden tongue and sneaking them out past chattering teeth. “This is what we do. Anything else is in God’s hand.”
“Oh for Heaven’s sake, man!” Treville burst out. He didn’t want to get angry, he really didn’t, but Aramis scared him. He’d have much preferred Aramis furious, like he had been when he confronted Treville on the porch and then in his office, shaking with rage and spitting out words in a disjointed rhythm. Fighting for his comrades even though they were long dead. His hair had been soaked with rainwater like it was today, but the fire of his righteous fury had kept the cold out. Glaring at him across the distance of the few feet that separated them, Treville willed Aramis to get angry again, to call him a traitor, a murderer even, so that he could argue with him, put him in his place and remind him that he was a soldier and the King’s man. But Aramis remained still and silent; he stood shivering and a puddle of water was forming at his feet.
And so Treville did the next best thing: he walked over and gathered Aramis in his arms like a brother.
If he had thought about it, he’d have expected Aramis to tense up, to pull back. Aramis didn’t. He fell into the embrace with a sigh and wrapped his arms around Treville. His wet hair clung to Treville’s face and neck and his body was vibrating like a highly strung chord that threatened to snap if twanged.
Something melted inside Treville. He ran his hand down Aramis’ back and then back up, ignoring the way his palm caught on the wet leather, and curled it around the nape of his neck. Only then did he notice how cold Aramis’ skin really was. The water from Aramis’ hair ran down the back of his hand underneath his sleeve, and the moisture from Aramis’ clothes seeped through his own doublet and shirt. The pommel of Aramis’ sword dug into his hip. It was uncomfortable, he was getting cold, and he tightened his arms around the other man. “It’s all right,” he heard himself say as he carded his fingers through Aramis’ hair.
“I’m soaking wet,” Aramis said, pulling back.
“I’ve noticed.” He looked Aramis up and down. “You should take these wet clothes off.”
Aramis blinked. “All of them?”
In retrospect, it was with his next words that the die was cast. “Yes. If you like.”
He helped Aramis undress. Water had rendered the buckles of his coat rigid, and Aramis’ fingers, usually so agile, were stiff with cold. Treville took the powder horn off him and put it carefully on the table to let it dry away from the fire. The room was slowly getting warm. He stoked the fire, and when he turned back, Aramis was down to his linen and battling with the row of buttons on his cuff. Treville stepped to him to help just as Aramis was getting fed up with it. “Merde,” he muttered, shaking his arm impatiently. “I can’t get the fucking thing-”
“Calm down.” Treville put his hand on Aramis’ chest in a soothing gesture. Where it clung to Aramis’ skin, the shirt was transparent. “Let me get this.” His own fingers must have been cold, too, because he fumbled a bit before he managed to unbutton the cuff.
Aramis snorted out a mirthless laugh. “This is ridiculous,” he said with a hint of his usual flippancy. “I’m being ridiculous. You should kick me out, Captain, not indulge me. Tell me I’m a disgrace to the regiment and throw me out on my ear.”
Treville grabbed his head and pulled him close. He pressed his forehead to Aramis’ and said, in a very low and clear voice: “You are not a disgrace. You are one of the finest men I have under my command, Aramis, and I will not have you question my judgment.”
Aramis choked, and it was more a sob than a laugh this time. “I did question you, though,” he said softly, pulling back from the grip. “Not just your judgment. Your honour. You must be furious. Athos and Porthos never did. Porthos maintained all the way through that you were the finest man he knows.”
“Then he was wrong,” Treville said in a hard voice. “I’m not infallible, Aramis. Don’t you ever forget that. And remind your friends of it.”
“I wouldn’t dare.” Aramis smiled. It set his eyes alight, the hard lines around his mouth dissolved, and Treville’s heart flooded with warmth at the sight. Guilt and shame and remorse and anger, they were all still there, tiny pinpricks of pain on his soul. But the mantle of warmth had been thrown over them and, for now, they didn’t hurt. He wished desperately he could share some of that warmth with Aramis.
“Your shirt.” He tugged at the fabric at Aramis’ waist, and Aramis lifted his arms and, together, they peeled the fabric off his skin. Treville found himself standing there with a handful of drenched shirt before an almost entirely naked Aramis, whose chest and arms were covered in goosebumps and who looked far too young and innocent to be a seasoned soldier.
Still, a seasoned soldier was precisely what he was. He was not an innocent boy, which was the reason why Treville hesitated before voicing his next request. An innocent boy would take it as just that: innocent. With Aramis, he could not hide the fact that his thoughts had taken a distinctly inappropriate turn since they’d both entered his bedroom. Aramis was following his orders, though, unquestioningly. Was that to demonstrate that he was a good soldier? To show Treville that he respected him as his commanding officer, no matter where it led him?
“I will have you know,” Treville weighed his words carefully, “that you’re here as my guest tonight. As my friend, not as a musketeer under my command.”
Aramis nodded. “I know,” he said softly. “Thank you.”
Treville crossed the room and bolted the door.
“Go to bed, Aramis,” he said in a voice barely louder than the pounding of his blood. He didn’t watch Aramis crawl under the cover as he rid himself of his clothes and boots. Outside, the rain had turned into a torrent and dusk had fallen quickly. Inside, the fire cast a warm glow over the room. He added two more logs to it and walked to the bed. Aramis was lying on his back, his face turned towards the wall, his eyes closed. He wasn’t asleep, and he wasn’t faking sleep, either. Exhaustion might have claimed his body, but Treville knew that his mind was still reeling with thoughts that didn’t allow him to give himself over into the soothing embrace of oblivion.
Aramis was a cold and heavy weight against him as he slung one arm around his middle. The narrow bed offered no space for them to lie apart: Aramis had been aware of that and yet he had got into bed willingly. Treville traced the line of his ribs under the cover, marvelling at the softness of Aramis’ skin. He had been wary of him at first – the man was just too well-groomed – but Aramis had won his trust a hundred times over.
“I regret it more than I can say,” he whispered, ghosting his hand over Aramis’ chest, his arm, over trembling muscles and tautened skin. “I never wanted to betray your trust.”
Aramis nodded without opening his eyes. “I know.” He lay quite still, slowly relaxing into Treville’s touch, and said: “I betrayed trust, too. Marsac’s. He asked for my help.”
“You did help him.” Treville had spoken more sharply than he’d intended.
“I killed him.”
“You helped him do something that he couldn’t do himself.” Curse Marsac. Aramis’ body had tensed up again and he was shivering just as before.
“I knew that he wasn’t going to shoot you,” Aramis whispered urgently, as if ridding himself of the words would help him rid himself of the pain. “I knew it the moment he said it had to end here. Yet I shot him.”
Treville pulled him close and, with his lips pressed against Aramis’ skin, said: “He wanted you to.”
“Does that make it right?”
“It made it right for him. He found peace at last. And he was buried in hallowed ground. All because you had the courage he didn’t have, the courage to pull the trigger.”
Aramis snorted, but perhaps the words had been the right ones after all, because he stopped arguing. If not for the rapid pulse at the base of his neck and the pounding of Aramis’ heart that he felt under his palm, Treville might have thought he’d fallen asleep. But then, Aramis spoke again. “I just wish it didn’t hurt so fucking much.” He took a shuddering breath. “Just… something to make me feel anything rather than… this.”
Treville tightened his grip around the curve of Aramis’ ribs and Aramis hissed and arched up.
“Yeah?” Treville breathed against his skin.
He scraped his teeth over Aramis’ shoulder, up the tendon in his neck and bit the spot between ear and jaw. It was incredible how hard he was already, like a man thirty years younger. Aramis was breathing through his mouth, not quite gasping yet, but getting there, and Treville sucked in his earlobe and said: “Turn over.” He was rewarded with a groan, and Aramis turned in his arms until he was pressed up against Treville with the full length of his body. Treville ground his cock into Aramis’ arse: “What do you want?”
“Anything.” Aramis let his head fall back onto Treville’s shoulder. “Everything.” Still moist, his hair stuck to Treville’s skin, and he leaned in and bit the muscle straining where shoulder meets neck.
“It might hurt.”
“I don’t mind.”
Treville closed his eyes and, inhaling the scent of Aramis’ skin, willed his heart to stop racing and his mind to clear. He’s never expected that offer to be made, he was quite overwhelmed by it. It was the ultimate act of trust: of mutual trust, because if it ever got out, they would both be branded as common criminals.
It wouldn’t get out.
His hand slid from Aramis’ chest to his hip, from there to his groin, and Aramis thrust up into it, shamelessly. Treville ground the heel of his hand against Aramis’ cock through the linen, but it wasn’t enough. He began fumbling at the laces, until Aramis, hungering for more, swatted his hand away and undid them himself. “Your hands must be warm again,” Treville said, pulling the linen down Aramis’ hips, and he slipped his hand inside, where Aramis’ skin was hot and damp. Aramis groaned, and the sound shot straight to Treville’s head and cock. “I could make you come like this.” He emphasised his words by the motion of his hand. “It wouldn’t take long.” Aramis groaned again and thrust his cock into Treville’s tight grip. “Would you like that, Aramis?” He brought his hand up to his mouth and spit into his palm. “Would you like to spill yourself in my hand?” The throb of Aramis’ cock said yet, but Aramis shook his head.
“No,” he breathed and arched back into Treville.
Treville swore. Drenched in sweat, desperately hard and shaking with marrow-deep lust, he wasn’t sure if he could control himself long enough to give Aramis what he desired. This was madness, he knew that, temporary lunacy that had come upon both of them. He was not in the habit of bedding his men, nor had he intended to take advantage of Aramis’ vulnerability like this, and yet here he was, his mouth on Aramis’ neck and his hand on Aramis’ cock, and his mind on the act of depravity that he was about to commit.
“Stay there,” he whispered, stroking his hand down Aramis’ thigh, and, rolling over, he grabbed the flask of oil from the table that he used only this morning to refill the rushlight. When he turned back to Aramis, he found him naked: gloriously naked and sprawled on his back and moving his hand on his cock in long, lazy strokes. Aramis was watching him, his eyes black in the dim light, and Treville was struck with how direct, how unashamed his gaze was. There was something primal about the way Aramis presented himself, his legs spread apart, one hand maintaining that slow, steady rhythm on his cock, the other trailing the tendon on the inside of his thigh, to his balls and past them, and he had to angle his hips to reach all the way down. He was, Treville realised, showing him how he liked to pleasure himself, and the lust that flooded over him made his head spin.
He poured oil over his own cock, hissing at the contact. Aramis’ rhythm faltered momentarily, but he recovered himself, only his breathing quickened. They were watching each other now, watching the way the other’s hand rubbed and glided and tugged. Treville lifted the flask again and dribbled some of its contents over Aramis’ groin, delighting in the noise that Aramis made. Delighting in the obscenely slick sound that accompanied the motion of Aramis’ hand as he picked up his rhythm again.
“Turn over,” he said, and Aramis obeyed at once.
The patter of rain against the window pane, the crackling of fire, the rustle of bed linen, the creaking of the bedframe, the soft noises of pleasure that Aramis choked out into the pillow made for a sonata that he wasn’t ever to forget. The now-warm air smelled of wet leather, of smoke and of the oil that was trickling from the flask into the small of Aramis’ back. It had been his intention to go slowly, but then Aramis moaned and pulled his knee up, and all control was lost. Treville grazed his nails down Aramis’ flanks and over the swell of his arse, and thrust his thumb inside him. Aramis grabbed the bedframe and dug his fingers in so hard that it made the muscles of his arm and back stand out.
Treville leaned in and brushed his mouth against Aramis’ shoulder. “Relax.” He was moving his hand gently between Aramis’ parted thighs. “I can’t fuck you if you tense up,” he whispered brazenly into Aramis’ ear and delighted in the groan he got in response. “You want me to fuck you, don’t you?” The words were leaving his mouth almost without consulting his brain. It was only because the entire experience was so much like a dream, so removed from the reality of his life, from what he and Aramis were to each other, that he was able to speak them aloud.
Beneath him, Aramis arched, trapping Treville’s cock between their both slippery flesh. “Not yet,” Treville muttered once he got his breath back. “You’re too tight, I can’t-” The rest of his words got lost in a gasp, because Aramis reached back and pushed his finger in alongside Treville’s.
“I’m good,” Aramis ground out between gritted teeth. “Just… fuck me.”
His body was desperate to throw itself into a frantic rhythm, but he clenched his jaw until it hurt, and the motion of his hips was a slow, steady push forward and down. Aramis was completely still, there was neither noise nor motion in the body spread out before Treville, and he held Aramis’ hip in a tight grip to steady them both as he lowered himself fully into him. At once, Aramis dissolved, melted into the mattress with a moan that reverberated through their both bodies. The flesh around his cock was so taut Treville was sure it must hurt, and he ran his oiled finger along the seam where they were both joined. “If you’re ready,” he kept his voice from trembling by speaking very low, “fuck yourself on me.”
There are bite marks on Aramis skin, he realises dimly, later, as he lifts his head from where it dropped on Aramis’ shoulder. Aramis’ breath is harsh and it settles damply on Treville’s forearm, the arm that lies curled before Aramis’ face, and he’s holding Aramis’ hand in his. He can’t see his face, there’s only a sliver of pale brow that’s peeking out from beneath the hair. Treville’s other hand is tangled in that hair as he’s rocking into Aramis. It’s neither hard nor fast nor deep, not in the position they’re in, and oh how can Aramis move at all, buried so completely under Treville’s body? Yet this is what he does, pushing his hips up and down to match Treville’s rhythm, and Treville isn’t sure if the pounding that thrums though his chest is Aramis’ heart or his. It’s neither hard nor fast nor deep, but it’s mind-numbing, terrifying in its intimacy and intensity. Whatever he expected, it wasn’t that, and he prays for Aramis to come soon, because he isn’t sure if he can take it for much longer.
“Let me touch you,” he whispers and peels himself off Aramis, wincing when the hairs on his chest stick to Aramis’ sweat-slick back. Aramis flexes his fingers and throws his arms open to grip the wooden frame on both sides of the bed, and as he presses his arse back into Treville’s body, he almost pushes him off the bed. “Shh…” Treville’s hands are roaming his back, his sides, dip down to his thighs and back again. “I’m still here.” He withdraws and thrusts back in with a snap of his hips, and Aramis swears filthily and arches his back until he’s almost bent double.
“Again,” Aramis growls. “Do that again.”
He wonders, vaguely, because this is not the train of thought that one should pursue whilst fucking, if Aramis is going to confess the sin of sodomy tomorrow. If, in the darkness of the confessional, he is going to go down on his knees and whisper through the lattice to a priest how he spread himself for a man, how he lay there with his legs splayed wide and his arse thrust in the air and begged to be buggered, and how – Treville reaches around and takes Aramis’ cock in his hand – how he spat out blasphemies in French and in Spanish.
He leans forward and seizes Aramis’ shoulder with his other hand to hold him in place as he drives into him harder, and it must hurt, Treville’s full weight resting on that one point, he will carry the bruises of it tomorrow, but neither of them care. He feels Aramis’ orgasm seconds before it washes over him, a tension of all muscles in his back. A heartbeat later, Aramis’ convulses and his body clutches around Treville’s cock in endless spasms that are almost too painful.
It’s over, then, Aramis’ shaking, wet body pliant in his hands, and Treville pulls his cock out and shoves it back in. Aramis is so open now, there’s no pressure, just heat, and it only takes three or four thrusts before Treville is spending himself inside that heat. When he pulls out one last time, the frothy dribble of mingled oil and come spills out and trickles down Aramis’ thighs. The depravity of it all renders him lightheaded, and he licks a long path up Aramis’ back as he stretches out beside him.
The fire had burned down, but the air around them was scorching hot. Aramis was shivering still, weak and heavy-limbed with the aftershock of cold and tension leaving his body. Treville pulled the cover over both of them and held Aramis close, his hands skimming with soft, whispering touches over the jut of Aramis’ hip, his ribs, along the curve of his collarbone all the way up to his throat, and back down again.
“You can sleep now,” he said, smoothing several sweat-soaked tendrils of hair back from Aramis’ face.
Aramis hummed in response and then sighed, took Treville’s hand and pressed it to his chest.
“Tomorrow morning…” Treville hesitated. He was going to say something practical, like that there were fresh shirts in the chest that Aramis was welcome to if his own should still be wet. It didn’t seem appropriate, somehow, after what they’d just shared, to address such prosaic concerns. Yet whispering sweet nothings into Aramis’ ear would be ludicrous.
Aramis threaded his fingers through Treville’s and pressed his palm to his lips. Treville felt them curve up in a smile “I won’t be here tomorrow morning.” He stretched, rolled his shoulders and nestled into the cradle of Treville’s arms. “Good night, Captain.”
In the darkness, Treville smiled.