Actions

Work Header

At Your Service

Chapter Text

"I've laid the grey suit out for you on the bed. And the silver cufflinks."

Porthos took the proffered glass of champagne with a grin and let his towel fall disregarded to the floor in the process. "You're a treasure."

Ignoring the fact his employer was now stark naked, Athos bent to retrieve the damp towel before it could leave a mark on the expensive carpet.

"The car will be out front in twenty minutes. Do you need help dressing, or do you think you can navigate the complexities on your own for once?"

Porthos' grin widened. "Remind me again why I let you talk to me like this?"

"Because no other poor bastard would put up with you?" Athos suggested.

"Hey! I'm a fucking delight, me," Porthos chuckled, downing the glass of champagne and holding the empty glass out for Athos to take.

Athos made no further comment, but his expression was eloquent and Porthos was still laughing as he walked into the bedroom to get dressed.

When he came out again he was wearing the suit Athos had picked out but an entirely different shirt and Athos looked pained.

"The scarlet? Really?"

"Gotta make an impact," Porthos retorted, straightening his sleeves and accepting another glass of champagne. "You don't walk into one of Aramis' parties looking like a fucking bank manager."

"Has he banned his guests from looking classy as well then?" Athos muttered, helping Porthos into his coat.

Porthos snorted. "Who needs class when you've got money?" He patted Athos smartly on the cheek and winked at him. "Don't wait up, eh? I feel lucky tonight."

"When don't you?" Athos sighed, but not until the door had closed behind him.

--

Sure enough it was gone two in the morning when Athos heard Porthos stumble back into the apartment. As usual he'd been sleeping with one ear open anticipating his return and rolled onto his back, listening. If Porthos was alone he'd get up and see if he needed anything; if he had company then Athos would stay discreetly out of the way unless Porthos called for him.

A door banged, and there came the tinkle of glassware. A woman's voice, muffled by the walls but rising in laughter. Athos grunted and rolled back onto his front, burying his face in the pillow. If it was a woman Porthos would be playing the gracious host, which at least meant Athos could go back to sleep. All he needed to worry about now was how much of a mess Porthos would create in the kitchen.

Athos' final thought before he fell asleep was grudging approval that at least if Porthos' conquest tonight was a woman she'd be more likely to automatically shut the fucking fridge door if Porthos didn't.

--

"Good morning madam. Can I get you anything?"

The woman standing at the window started slightly, and turned to look at Athos with a nervous smile.

"Oh. Hello. Sorry, Porthos did say he had a..." She let the thought tail off, leaving Athos to wonder how he'd been described this time.

"My name is Athos, and I'm at your disposal," he said, and smiled reassuringly at her. She relaxed a little, and laughed.

"I'm Alice. Hello. Um." She bit her lip, and glanced back out of the window. "You have an amazing view."

"One of the best on the harbour," Athos agreed, deliberately not claiming it as the best, on the grounds it would hopefully annoy Porthos if he could hear them. "Can I get you anything for breakfast?" he offered again. "Orange juice? Coffee? Something to eat?"

"That would be lovely, thank you," Alice said gratefully. "Both of those. And perhaps a little toast?"

"Certainly madam." Athos withdrew to the kitchen, which he'd been relieved to find hadn't been in the state he'd feared. He suspected Porthos had just fetched a bottle of something and taken it to bed with them.

When he came back in, Porthos had emerged from the bathroom and was sitting opposite Alice at the table, wearing a silk robe and fresh pyjamas.

Athos duly delivered the breakfast tray, stocked with enough for both of them, and as he withdrew he heard Alice ask in an amused stage whisper, "Is he your butler?"

Porthos laughed. "More of a - gentleman's gentleman," he grinned, watching Athos walk away stiff-backed. He knew perfectly well Athos preferred the term personal assistant, which was why he consistently described him in terms that were as old fashioned as possible. When it came to aggravating each other, it was a game they were both well-versed in.

--

"Will the lovely Alice be joining you again this evening?" Athos asked slyly, swiping lint from the sleeves of Porthos' tuxedo with a clothes brush.

Porthos shook his head. "Nah. She was headed off on some guy's yacht. Suits me. I prefer to restrict my cruising to land-based venues," he grinned.

"And which harbour will you be dropping anchor in tonight?" Athos slapped Porthos' hands away from the hash he was making of his bowtie and did it for him, with an economy of deft movements that produced a perfect knot.

"The casinos I think," Porthos decided. "Spread a little wealth, eh?"

"I'm sure all those starving casino bosses will be duly grateful," Athos retorted. Porthos certainly wasn't the world's best gambler, but he did at least manage to stick to his limits and generally came home when he'd lost his self-imposed allocation for the night.

"My luck lies in other areas," Porthos told him happily. "I might not win big, but I guarantee I'll not come home empty handed. Man like me, I can have anything I want. Boys, girls, you name it."

"Chlamydia?" Athos suggested, and Porthos made a face.

"Urgh, shut up!" He gave Athos a shove, then grinned again. "Don't worry, I'm careful me. Gotta take care of the goods, ain't ya?"

"Glad to hear it," Athos said dryly, and Porthos nudged him.

"What you into then Athos? Girls? Boys? You've never said."

"A quiet life."

Porthos laughed. "Do you good to get laid once in a while you know. Might stop you being so bloody miserable."

"I'll certainly bear that in mind." Athos held the door open for him, and once Porthos had gone out he leant back against it, and sighed.

--

This time when the door crashed open at one in the morning, Athos picked out a second male voice, a fraction higher than Porthos' deep rumble. He sat up and switched on the lamp, knowing from experience that for some unfathomable reason Porthos enjoyed showing off the fact he had staff to his male guests far more than the women.

Sure enough after a minute or so Athos heard his name called out urgently. Frowning, he grabbed his dressing gown and slipped out of his room, thinking that Porthos had sounded more concerned than he would have expected if he was simply needed to play butler.

He found Porthos in the living room with a long-haired young man hanging off his shoulder, looking distinctly green around the gills.

"I think I broke him," Porthos said sheepishly, as Athos gave him a despairing look. "He insisted on trying to keep up with me, despite me being twice his size."

The boy gave a slight belch and looked panicked. Porthos made a face and Athos groaned. "Give him to me. Here, come on, it's alright, let's get you to the bathroom."

Porthos retreated gratefully into the bedroom while Athos supported his increasingly queasy looking guest into the main bathroom and stayed with him while he immediately threw up.

"Word to the wise, never try to out-drink a brick shithouse," Athos murmured, handing the lad a damp towel and leaning over to flush the toilet when it seemed like he'd finished. "However poncy his shirts."

Sitting crumpled and woebegone on the floor, Porthos' latest conquest looked up at him and nodded resignedly, before looking slightly confused.

"Sorry, I don't - who are you?"

"My name is Athos, I work for Porthos," he said quietly. "It's okay, don't worry. You're safe with me. I'm not his partner, and he's not into kinky threesome shit. Well, as far as I know."

The boy raised a smile at that. "I'm d'Artagnan," he said croakily. "Sorry about this. I don't normally make this much of an arse of myself."

Athos patted him on the shoulder. "Don't worry about it." He rummaged in a mirrored cabinet and handed d'Artagnan a sealed plastic packet containing a travel toothbrush and a tiny tube of toothpaste. "Here. You might want to freshen up. Come and find me when you're done, I'll make you some coffee."

D'Artagnan did as he was told and followed Athos into the kitchen, where he was promptly given a glass of water, a cup of coffee and a piece of bread and butter.

"Thanks," he said weakly. "Sorry."

Athos shook his head. "It's fine." He poured himself a cup of coffee as well and took the adjacent stool, sitting next to him in companionable silence until d'Artagnan had finished and pushed his cup away.

"What happens now?" d'Artagnan asked awkwardly. Athos glanced at him, and was pleased to see he was looking better.

"Up to you. You can go on and join Porthos in the bedroom if you want. Or I can call you a cab."

"Will he still want me to?" D'Artagnan looked uncertain and nervous, and Athos mentally rolled his eyes.

"I'm sure he will." As long as you don't throw up on him, he added silently.

"Then I'd like to."

Athos nodded, and showed d'Artagnan the way to Porthos' bedroom, lingering outside just long enough to pick up the murmur of voices and be sure that Porthos hadn't unhelpfully fallen asleep.

Satisfied, he went back first to the kitchen and then the bathroom to clean everything up, and finally climbed thankfully back into his own bed. Some days, he mused, he really felt like he wasn't paid enough for this shit.

--

"Thanks dude." Porthos sounded remarkably subdued compared to normal, and Athos looked up from the newspaper in surprise, to find him leaning in the kitchen doorway.

"What for?" he asked automatically. Porthos wasn't generally given to spontaneous outbursts of gratitude, and it took Athos a second to work out what he was talking about.

"Looking after the kid last night." Porthos shuffled his feet awkwardly. "That was shitty of me, to dump him on you. I just - I can't stand seeing people throw up."

"Maybe you shouldn't have got him that drunk in the first place then," Athos said mildly. "Was he okay?"

"Yeah. Yeah, he buggered off early though," Porthos said. "Said he had to get back to work for the next shift."

"What does he do?" Athos asked, surprised. He'd assumed d'Artagnan had been one of the feckless yachty set with more money than sense that Porthos generally hung around with.

"Croupier," Porthos admitted, his expression somewhere between embarrassment and pride.

Athos snorted with laughter. "You won something at the tables last night then?"

Porthos smirked. "I took him to the roulette wheel and asked him if he liked to ride on black."

Athos put his head in his hands. "And there was me accusing you of not being classy."

--

It was spotting with rain that night as Athos made his way down to the marina with Porthos' coat over his arm. This was, in fact, the reason he'd been dragged out of the nice warm flat, Porthos had taken one look at the weather and called him, pleading for Athos to make the trip down with his coat.

It wasn't far, and it wasn't that late, but Athos had nevertheless spent the entire trip down muttering darkly to himself about how some people seemed to think that just because they were rich the weather should somehow always be warm and sunny. Even here on the Med, it was prone to rain in late September.

He found Porthos lurking under an awning on the pontoon below his friend Aramis' yacht.

"Here. One coat, as ordered. Next time maybe dress for the season?"

"Fuck you, it didn't go with my shirt," Porthos objected, letting Athos help him on with it.

"You mean, thank you Athos, that's very kind of you to come all this way with it," Athos said stiffly and Porthos wrinkled his nose.

"Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Here, do you fancy a drink?"

Athos raised an eyebrow. "What happened to the fancy party? No good?"

He'd been surprised to find Porthos outside and waiting for him for that matter, he'd expected to merely hand in the coat to the staff and go home again.

Porthos shrugged uncomfortably. "Had an argument with Aramis. He's chasing a married woman again, and I may have reminded him how badly it ended last time."

"People rarely like hearing the truth about themselves," Athos murmured, giving Porthos a sideways look.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Porthos growled. "Not like you ever bleedin' hold back, is it?"

"Not that you ever take any notice of me." Athos frowned as Porthos lead him down a dark and slippery alley. "Where are we going?"

"Bar," said Porthos shortly, pushing his way in through a metal door and not waiting to see if Athos was following.

Inside the lighting was low and the floorboards were sticky, and Athos kept a cautious hand on his wallet as they pushed through the crowd. He'd never been in here before, although Porthos seemed relatively familiar with it.

Athos felt his skin prickling as they were scrutinised from all sides. The clientele seemed to be a mixture of locals - the proper locals, as opposed to the denizens of the expensive apartment blocks and multi-million pound yachts - and the crews of said yachts, at least from the rougher end of the scale. He wouldn't have been especially worried drinking here alone, but he sensed Porthos stood out like expensively clad bait and it made him uneasy.

"Are you sure you want to drink in here?" he murmured, as Porthos waved a note obnoxiously at the barman.

"What's the matter with it? Bit of local colour, eh?" Porthos said cheerfully.

"Mmmn." Athos dubiously accepted the glass that was thrust into his hand, and wiped the rim with his sleeve.

"Don't be such an old queen." Porthos nudged him with his elbow and knocked his own drink back in one. "Want another?"

Athos sighed, and followed suit.

--

An hour later Porthos was looking tired and Athos was relieved when he finally suggested they go home. He helped Porthos into his coat for the second time that evening, and followed him out into the alleyway.

It was raining in earnest now, and the cooler air was welcome after the fug of the bar. As they walked up towards the road Porthos was grumbling about the weather, but Athos' attention was on the two figures that had stepped out of the shadows to block their way.

"Evenin' gents." Porthos nodded to them amiably enough, then looked puzzled as they didn't move out of his way. "Can I help you?"

"Yeah. You can help us." They exchanged looks, and one of them gave a nasty laugh. The streetlights were all behind them and their faces were in darkness, but a flash of headlights from a passing car revealed matching sneers.

"Have you got the time? No, wait, let me rephrase that. Give me your watch," said the first man with a snigger.

"And your wallet," said the second. "You too sweetheart," he added, looking at Athos.

"How about I give you a punch in the face instead?" Athos retorted, and they tensed.

"Now now. Let's not get nasty." There was a horrid sounding snick, and suddenly the gleam of metal shone dully between them.

"Shit." Porthos took a step back. "He's got a knife."

"Am I supposed to be impressed?" Athos moved up next to him, and Porthos looked round wildly.

"Athos! Don't antagonise them! Look, just give them what they want, let's get out of here. I'll pay you back whatever you're carrying," he said in an urgent undertone.

"No. Fuck it. Why should I?" Athos took another step forward. "You know what they say about men who carry knives right?" he said conversationally, then held up thumb and forefinger about an inch apart. "Very small dicks."

There was a flurry of movement as the man with the knife slashed viciously at Athos and Athos did something that Porthos couldn't quite make out, but suddenly there was a sick sounding crack and the knife dropped to the cobbles. The man who'd been wielding it staggered back with a howl, clutching his wrist.

"Fucking - gut him!" he spluttered. His associate, who'd been standing frozen with his mouth open for the last few seconds, immediately piled in, only to meet Athos' fist backhanding him almost casually in the face. He bounced back, hit the brick wall behind him, and subsided unconscious to the wet ground.

Athos took another deliberate step towards the first man, who cut his losses and ran, swearing violently at them.

Athos glanced at Porthos. "You okay?" Porthos nodded mutely. "Good. I suggest we get out of here, before he comes back with friends."

--

Porthos hadn't said a word all the way back to the flat, and as Athos helped him off with his coat, he sighed. "What's wrong?"

"What's wrong?" Porthos stared at him incredulously. "You just broke a man's wrist!"

"What, you think I should have let him just take our wallets?" Athos hung up their coats and walked into the kitchen, washing his hands vigorously under a stream of hot water.

"Well - no." Porthos sank onto a stool and reached for a glass. "I mean - it was amazing. You were amazing. Where'd you learn to fight like that?"

Athos passed him the single malt without having to be asked, and hesitated.

"Does it matter?"

"Well I don't remember it being on your CV, put it that way," Porthos said. "Bare knuckle fighting, unarmed combat? I'm fairly sure I'd have remembered that section."

Athos looked increasingly uncomfortable. "I was in the army, okay?" he admitted.

"Were you?" Porthos asked, surprised. He was certain that hadn't been on there either.

"Briefly." Athos poured himself a measure as well, and to Porthos' disgust added two ice cubes. "Does it matter?"

"I'm just curious." Porthos sipped his drink and eyed him. "You never talk about your past. Now I'm wondering why."

"Maybe I just don't feel the need to overshare every little detail," Athos said tiredly. "Look, do you need me any more tonight, or may I go to bed?"

Porthos was taken aback. Athos almost never formally asked to go off duty, and it was clearly to avoid any further questioning.

"Yeah, course you can," he muttered.

"Thank you." Athos picked up his drink and made to leave the room.

"Athos!" Porthos frowned, feeling an unwelcome prickle of conscience. "You okay?"

Athos nodded. "Yeah," he said softly. "Just tired."

"I didn't really say thank you, did I? For saving my arse, I mean. Thanks, anyway," Porthos added awkwardly.

Athos gave him a faint smile. "All in a day's work," he said, and toasted Porthos briefly with his glass before walking out of the door.

--

"So. Army huh?" Porthos looked enquiringly up at Athos as he set a plate of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon in front of him the next morning.

Athos looked away. "I'd rather not talk about it, if you don't mind."

"Why not?" Porthos persisted, shovelling eggs into his mouth. "What's so bad about being in the army?" He grinned. "It wasn't covert ops was it? Like, you can't tell me because then you'd have to kill me?"

"Nothing so dramatic, I assure you," Athos said quietly. "Can I get you anything else?"

"How about a side order of personal history?" Porthos needled. "Go on, what's the big secret?"

"Why do you need to know?" Athos countered, turning on him exasperatedly. "What possible bearing can it have on my ability to do my job?"

"Keep your hair on," Porthos muttered. "Just curious, that's all."

"Nosy, you mean."

Porthos glowered at him. "Is it that surprising I want to know who I'm sharing a flat with?" He poked his fork at Athos. "I could order you to tell me."

"And I'm asking you not to." Athos sighed. "Have I ever given you reason to doubt me?"

"Well. No." Porthos' phone went at that point, and Athos thankfully made his escape.

When he'd finished his breakfast, Porthos came to find Athos in the kitchen.

"That was Aramis. I'm going round for coffee."

"Oh, good." Athos nodded, relieved that Porthos had voluntarily changed the subject. "You've made up then?"

Porthos nodded. "Yeah. He never holds a grudge for long. Plus, I'm the only one willing to listen to his woes. See you later yeah? Oh, while I think of it could you book the tickets for Paris?"

"Already done," Athos confirmed, and Porthos grinned at him gratefully.

"What would I do without you, eh?"

--

"He did what?" Aramis leaned back in his padded seat on the upper deck of the yacht and stared at Porthos in astonishment.

"I'm telling you, he broke the guy's wrist. And knocked the other one clean out. I mean, I'm no pussy but when a guy's got a flaming knife, I'm not going to take any chances. It's only money, you know? But Athos - it was like it spurred him on. He didn't even break sweat!" Porthos leaned across the table, relishing having some gossip of his own for once. "And the thing is, he clammed right up about it afterwards. Won't tell me a thing."

"He's not on the run is he?" Aramis grinned. "Hiding out undercover. Hey, maybe he's a hitman."

Porthos snorted into his coffee, and made a face. "God, don't say things like that. Nah, the one thing he did admit was being in the army. Mind you, that takes some picturing. I can't see him as a squaddie somehow."

"He'd have been beautifully turned out," Aramis laughed. "Everything polished to within an inch of its life. And think of the immaculate marching."

Porthos was giggling by now. "The most organised invasion plans ever." He poured himself another cup from the silver pot, and spooned in sugar. "Christ, maybe they should have put Athos in charge of the whole forces, he'd have had 'em all drilled to precision in weeks."

The inadvertent mental image made him start laughing again. He still had no idea if Athos was into men, but he had to admit the unexpected display of brute force had been a bit of a secret turn on after the shock of it had worn off.

Aramis excused himself for a moment, and while Porthos was enjoying the view over the water, a shadow fell over him. He looked up to see Aramis' assistant had come over with a fresh pot of coffee and some pastries.

"Excuse me sir, I couldn't help overhearing," he ventured.

"What is it Rochefort?" Porthos asked, scowling slightly at the thought the man had been eavesdropping.

"I hope you don't think I'm interfering in any way, but if I can offer my services at all...?"

Porthos frowned. "To do what, exactly?" Rochefort had once upon a time applied to be his assistant, only to be beaten to the job by Athos. Porthos had always had the vague feeling he'd held a grudge ever since, even though he'd shortly afterwards picked up a position working for Aramis.

"I could perhaps be of service with some research into Mr La Fere's - background, shall we say?" Rochefort said smoothly. "Just to put your mind at ease. It does seem rather odd, his reluctance to talk about it."

Porthos considered. He wasn't really worried that a background check on Athos might turn up anything untoward, but on the other hand he was intensely curious, and if he got Rochefort to do it, Athos need never know.

"Yeah, alright. Let me know what you find out. Not a word to anyone else though, eh?"

"Of course not sir. I am quite the soul of discretion." He gave Porthos an oily smile, and quickly moved away as Aramis came back.

--

"So what have you got?" Porthos looked round nervously, feeling unaccountably guilty at this surreptitious meeting with Rochefort. They were at a table in a street cafe, and while they were shielded by various potted shrubs and umbrellas, Porthos couldn't help the feeling that Athos was going to walk past at any moment.

"Well. It's quite interesting. Shocking, in fact, one might say." Rochefort had placed a cardboard folder on the table in front of him, but made no move to open it, and Porthos suddenly had the urge to shake him until his teeth rattled. Or maybe he'd let Athos do it.

"Stop building your part, and tell me what you found out," he said gruffly. Rochefort had made it clear on the phone that he'd discovered something Porthos would want to know, and that he expected to be paid for the information, both things that had put Porthos in an exceedingly bad mood.

He hated the feeling that he was going behind Athos' back, but equally he hated the idea that Athos was hiding something from him that made it necessary.

"Well, for a start there's no such person as Athos de la Fere," declared Rochefort slowly, enjoying the look of consternation on Porthos' face. "That's why it took me a few days to come up with the goods. No person exists on the electoral roll of that name, either here or in France. I did, however, find an Olivier d'Athos who was in the armed forces about ten years ago."

"Olivier?" Porthos frowned. "It can't be him, surely?"

"See what you think." Rochefort flipped open the folder and pushed it towards him. There was a black and white photograph lying on top, a blurry group of men in combat fatigues gathered around a table with one in particular looking at the camera, leaning slightly towards it with a predatory look and a lazy smile. He had a buzz-cut, but after the first double-take there was no question that it was Athos.

"Fuck," said Porthos softly. So much for not being able to picture Athos as a squaddie. He looked different. Dangerous. But it was still recognisably him.

"I think we are agreed, it's Athos, yes?" said Rochefort smugly. "Do you want to know the rest? Because I can tell you, it's fairly obvious why he didn't want you to know."

"Why? What?" Porthos glared at him. "Spit it out man, what's the big secret? Why did he change his name?"

"Because," Rochefort drawled, savouring the reveal. "He was in prison."

"Prison?" Porthos sat back, shocked. "Why? What did he do?"

"He killed someone. A fellow soldier, in fact. Got into a fight, as I understand it. Broke his neck. Cue dishonourable discharge and five years for manslaughter. The prosecution wanted to do him for murder, but apparently he showed such remorse in the witness box he got away with the lesser conviction." Rochefort curled his lip, clearly wishing they'd locked him up and thrown away the key. "It's all in there," he added, tapping the file. "Court reports, newspaper clippings."

"Christ." Porthos rubbed his face, feeling sick. He'd never imagined uncovering anything like this. No wonder Athos hadn't wanted him to know.

"I'm shocked that a man in such a trusted position lied to you for so long," said Rochefort. Porthos looked at him irritably.

"He didn't lie to me. He just didn't tell me. There's a difference."

"If that makes you feel better." Rochefort spread his hands. "Just about his name then. And, presumably, parts of his employment history. The question is, what are you going to do about it?"

"Do?" Porthos looked at him blankly, feeling battered and rather wishing he'd never asked Rochefort to find out in the first place.

"Well you'll have to confront the man, surely? May I say, if you're looking to recruit an alternative assistant I would be entirely at your disposal?"

"I'm sure Aramis would be glad to know how loyal you are," Porthos said dryly. "How much for the information? And for keeping your mouth shut about it," he added as an afterthought.

Rochefort named a ridiculous sum and Porthos paid it with gritted teeth.

"I don't know yet," he said. "What I'm going to do with this information. But if it gets out, in the public domain? I'll know where it came from. And I'll make sure Athos does, too."

"And will you also tell him you paid me to find it?" Rochefort asked coldly, getting up to leave.

Porthos sat there for some time, in a dismal mood. He was at a loss to know what to do for the best. He read through the file, wincing at the stark facts of the case, and feeling ill. That this was someone he'd employed, trusted, invited into his home - could he trust Athos?

The thought hit him like a blow. Athos had access to a considerable amount of his money, given that he dealt with the paying of all bills, food shopping, travel arrangements and so on. Porthos never bothered to check his statements, not having much of a head for figures. He'd been glad that Athos had taken charge of everything.

He got to his feet, tucking the folder into his bag. It was getting dark, and Athos would be wondering where he was. Sure enough, his phone vibrated with a text - Athos, asking if he would be home for dinner or should he just feed it to the seagulls?

Porthos smiled, then felt sad. He didn't want to believe Athos was taking him for a ride - he'd been with him for three years now, and he'd have had plenty of opportunities to abscond with a pile of cash before now if that's what he'd been planning. Maybe Athos really had just been looking for a fresh start.

He arrived home in a sober mood, still conflicted as to what to do for the best. However much he wanted to, he couldn't pretend he didn't know. He found he was watching Athos intently as he moved about the flat, discussing arrangements for their journey to Paris at the weekend.

Porthos liked to spend the winter in the city where there was more going on, migrating with the social flock, and kept a beautiful house there. Athos was reeling off a list of information: train times, details of luggage dispatch, instructions he'd given for having the house opened up and aired and stocked, and Porthos wasn't taking any of it in.

"Is everything alright?"

Porthos blinked. "Sorry, what?"

"Well given that I'm fairly sure you've not been listening to a word I've said, and you've barely touched your dinner, I wondered if something was wrong." Athos suddenly looked suspicious. "Oh God, you're not in love are you?"

"What? No!"

"Thank God for that," Athos muttered.

"Wouldn't be any of your business if I was," Porthos muttered back, stung.

"No. No, you're right, my apologies." Athos looked a little shamefaced, and turned away.

"Olivier." The name was out before Porthos could stop it. Athos froze.

"What did you call me?" he asked quietly, without turning round.

"Olivier. I mean, that's your name, isn't it? Olivier d'Athos?"

Athos turned round slowly, his face a stony mask. "How the fuck did you find that out?"

"A little bird told me." Porthos shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

"And what else did this little bird tell you?" Athos asked coldly.

"That - you've been in prison." Porthos stood up, not liking the way he felt at a disadvantage with Athos looking down at him. "And why."

Athos just stared at him, eyes searching his face as if for answers.

"I see." Breathing the words more than speaking them, his gaze finally falling to the carpet.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Porthos demanded, feeling awkward. He'd been prepared for Athos to be angry, but hadn't anticipated this look of stunned and abject defeat.

Athos looked up again. "Why do you think? Would you have given me the job if I'd told you the truth? Honestly?"

"Well - no. Probably not," Porthos admitted.

"There you are then," Athos sighed.

"I might have!" Porthos objected. "Or - or you could have told me after."

"Who told you all this?" Athos asked, and Porthos fidgeted uncomfortably.

"Does it matter?"

"I need to know who else knows." Athos looked pleading, and Porthos winced inwardly.

"Rochefort."

"Rochefort! How the hell - ?"

"I - asked him to do some digging," Porthos confessed. "Because you wouldn't tell me!" he blurted indignantly when Athos stared at him in shock. "What was I supposed to do? You were being all man of mystery about it, I needed to know!"

"Did you?" Athos asked faintly. "Really?"

Porthos didn't have an answer. "You could have been anyone," he muttered defensively.

Athos sighed, rubbing his eyes. "And it turns out I was. You're right, I should have been honest with you. I'm sorry you feel I've deceived you. You'll have my resignation on your desk in the morning."

He turned to go and Porthos grabbed his arm, startled. "Wait! What are you talking about?"

Athos looked at him tiredly. "You don't trust me. You mistrust me, in fact, enough to have me investigated, and by a man I wouldn't trust to do up my shoelaces. Which means in turn, I can no longer trust you either. What basis is that for a working relationship? You clearly don't want a man of my history working for you, so I'll make it easy for you. You don't have to fire me. I resign." Athos pulled out of his grip and walked out of the door.

"Athos!" Porthos dashed after him just in time to see the outer doors click shut and realised that Athos had actually left the apartment. By the time he'd pulled them open and stepped out into the lobby the lift doors were closing, and he sighed, knowing he'd never catch him down that many flights of stairs.

He walked back inside, feeling sick. He hadn't intended for such an outcome, had imagined they could talk it all through. Hoped that when Athos cooled down and came back, if only to collect his stuff, they could work things out.

Porthos spent a miserable evening and a restless night, and when he got up in the morning and discovered that Athos wasn't there and his bed hadn't been slept in he had to face the most uncomfortable truth of all - that Athos clearly wasn't coming back.

--