Athos stared out of the terminal window with a deepening sense of gloom. He was surrounded by excited holidaymakers which only served to worsen his mood, particularly as half of them seemed to be badly behaved children.
Technically of course, he was a holidaymaker as well. He'd reached the end of the year having managed to use up virtually none of his annual leave allocation, only for his boss to stubbornly insist he take it. A single-minded workaholic, Athos was suddenly faced with the prospect of an entire month off, and it filled him with a nameless dread. With no partner and few friends outside the work environment, Athos had no real hobbies to speak of and had been at a loss as to what he would do with himself.
That had been bad enough, except then his boss, Treville, suspecting that Athos would just end up working on things at home if left to his own devices, had promptly booked him on a cruise at the company's expense, supposedly as a bonus for all his hard work.
Athos had received the news with a look of startled betrayal.
"What the hell am I going to do on a cruise?" he'd protested.
"Relax, hopefully," Treville told him, unmoved. "You've worked yourself into the ground this year Athos, you're here all hours, and every week that passes I see the shadows under your eyes get deeper. Take some time off, God knows you've earned it."
"I like working," Athos muttered. "It gives me a sense of purpose. Not going to get that sat on my arse in a deckchair for four weeks am I? I'll go nuts."
"There'll be plenty of things to do," Treville declared, remaining firmly cheerful. "Who knows, maybe you'll even meet someone. Do you good."
Athos had snorted. "It'll be all retired old ladies. Not really my scene."
Looking around the departure lounge now Athos conceded that at least the average age of his fellow passengers seemed to be a little more youthful than he'd feared, but then, they hadn't got to the boat yet.
The one bright spot in all of this was the unspoken rule that at airports you were allowed to have a drink regardless of the time of day, and Athos was consequently nursing his second pre-eight AM Bloody Mary, heavy on the vodka.
A crackling tannoy announcement abruptly declared that their flight had been delayed by an hour. Surrounded by the groans of his fellow travellers, Athos gave a grim smile and went back up to the bar. There was a perverse pleasure in the thought he would be able to return home at the end of this and declare it to be the most appalling holiday he'd ever had, so consequently the more things that went wrong with it, the more vindicated he would feel.
Coming back carrying his drink, Athos scowled to discover a stranger sitting at his table.
"Good morning." The man beamed at him. "I hope you don't mind me perching here?"
"Looks like I don't have a choice," Athos muttered.
The man's smile faltered a little. "Sorry, I - there weren't any other seats, and - if it's going to be another hour - "
"No, no, it's fine," Athos sighed. "Help yourself."
"Thank you." The hundred watt smile was back. "I'm Porthos, by the way."
"That's nice." Athos poked at his drink dismally and wondered if it was possible to commit suicide with a stick of celery.
"What's your name?" Porthos persisted.
Athos looked up irritably. "Lucifer, Dark Lord of Perdition."
Porthos just grinned. "Lucifer eh? Using up your airmiles?"
Athos almost laughed at that, then remembered he was determined not to enjoy himself. "Fine," he sighed. "Athos. De la Fère."
"Just Lucifer at weekends, then?"
That did prompt an involuntary smile, or at least an approximate twist of the lips. Annoyed at himself for cracking so easily, Athos slumped down in his seat and resolutely ignored all further attempts at conversation.
A mere three quarters of an hour past the initial hour's delay, they were finally called for boarding. Relieved at the opportunity to escape his talkative new acquaintance, Athos shuffled on with the rest of the passengers only to halt in horror as he reached his seat to find Porthos already ensconced in the adjacent one.
"Hallo again!" Porthos didn't seem to register Athos' look of dismay. "Small world, right?"
"Too small by half," Athos muttered, resigning himself to a barrage of unwanted conversation for the next ten hours. He wondered if he could manage to fall asleep before Porthos got up any momentum but it seemed unlikely. The man was already chattering away nineteen to the dozen and certainly didn't seem to have taken offence at the way Athos had rudely ignored him in the lounge.
"Do you ever draw breath?" Athos snapped finally, when Porthos had been talking for ten minutes non-stop, mostly about how he'd packed and re-packed his case six times before leaving the house that morning.
Porthos hesitated, eyes flicking from Athos down the aisle and back again. "Sorry," he said uncertainly. "I'm afraid I talk a lot when I'm nervous. It's a bad habit."
"You don't like flying?" The only thing worse than being trapped next to a talker was being trapped next to someone who was going to potentially freak out, Athos thought irritably. Then from further down the cabin the high thin wail of a baby started up and he conceded that okay, maybe he'd escaped the absolute worst thing.
"I don't know," Porthos said, and Athos frowned.
"You don't know if you don't like flying?"
"I've never flown before," Porthos admitted. "This is my first flight."
"Oh." Athos was surprised. He'd done a fair amount of traveling for work purposes, and rather assumed everybody did these days. "Well. There's nothing to be afraid of. Planes almost never explode these days."
Porthos gave him a rueful grin. "Thanks for that. I feel a lot better."
"Have a drink," Athos advised. "Take the edge off. Works for me."
"You don't like flying either?" Porthos asked hopefully.
Athos signalled the stewardess over. "No, I just don't like people."
For the next couple of hours Athos managed to avoid conversation by keeping his gaze very firmly fixed on his book. Porthos, thankfully, had found the whole experience of take off tremendously exciting (less thankfully, he had explained this to Athos at some length), and ever since had been glued to the window, watching the land slip away beneath them with a riveted fascination.
Eventually though, the plane left the continent behind and half an hour of staring at the ocean was enough for the novelty to wear off. Porthos stared hopefully at Athos instead, who twitched and read the same page three times because he was furiously sending silent instructions to leave him the fuck alone.
Either the 'fluence worked or Porthos took the hint, because he eventually huffed and pulled out a tablet from his bag instead. Athos gave a mental sigh of relief and finally managed to turn the page.
He'd hoped that Porthos would prove to have a kindle or something and just read quietly, but after a few seconds the muted pinging of an electronic game started up and Athos ground his teeth in suppressed fury.
It wasn't terribly loud but it was intrusive, and after about five minutes Athos slammed down his book and glared at Porthos with an irate intensity.
Porthos glanced up at him, then did a double take when he caught Athos' expression.
"Sorry, is this annoying you?" he ventured.
Athos pressed his lips together. "Take a wild fucking guess."
Porthos looked helpless. "Sorry. I don't know how to turn the sound off."
Athos silently held out his hand and Porthos meekly placed the tablet into it, clearly wondering if Athos was simply going to hurl it down the length of the plane. Instead Athos peered at it for a moment and spent a few seconds stabbing at the settings before handing it back, safely muted.
"Don't mention it," said Athos stiffly. "And I mean that most literally."
A further hour passed in relative harmony, and as they were served lunch Athos put his book to one side, resigning himself to a renewed onslaught of attempted interaction.
Porthos tilted his head to see what Athos was reading, and raised his eyebrows.
"War and Peace huh? You really into that, or just hugely pretentious?"
Athos nearly choked on his bread roll, and suppressed a laugh. He supposed he deserved that for being so rude.
In answer, he just shrugged. "I didn't want to carry a tonne of books around with me, so I figured I'd just bring one that would last."
Porthos nodded acceptingly, and seemed pleased that Athos had conceded to talk to him at last. "Any good?"
Athos considered. "Honestly? Boring as fuck so far."
"Got a couple of thrillers on here, if you want?" Porthos offered, tapping his tablet with a finger. "I figured I'd watch a movie after lunch, so you're welcome to borrow it?"
Surprised by the kind gesture Athos felt vaguely guilty for having been so standoffish, but shook his head. "No thanks, you're alright, I may as well stick with this."
"So, uh - you headed to Miami on business?" Porthos asked after a moment, desperate for someone to talk to and hoping to take advantage of Athos' slightly more affable mood.
"I wish. No, I'm on holiday."
Porthos processed this rather confusing sentiment, and nodded slowly. "Oh. Right. On your own?"
"Yes." Athos gave him a sharp look, and Porthos held up his hands.
"Nothing wrong with that. More people should do that. Where you headed? Disneyworld?"
Athos gave a startled laugh. "Christ. Thank you. For making me realise that it really could have been worse. No, my boss has booked me on a stupid cruise."
"Out of Miami?" Porthos asked, looking up from his food again. "Caribbean?"
Porthos grinned. "You're not booked on the Versailles are you?"
"Yes, how did you - oh God," Athos guessed. "Not you too?"
"Charming," Porthos said, although he didn't look particularly upset.
"Sorry." Athos winced, realising his instinctive reaction had been incredibly rude. "Well, at this rate we'll probably be in adjoining cabins."
"Doubt it. I suspect I'm down in the bowels somewhere," Porthos said cheerfully. "Whereas any man who goes on holiday wearing a suit, I'm guessing you've probably got a suite."
Athos looked down at his clothes. It was quite a casual suit, he thought defensively. He wasn't even wearing a tie.
"I don't know," he said, and Porthos frowned at him.
"You don't know?" he echoed.
Athos shrugged. "I didn't really take much notice. I mean, it wasn’t my idea. Being stuck in some poky cabin for weeks, getting seasick and having to play boules with old ladies. Probably coming down with Norovirus. You hear about it a lot, don't you, whole ships getting sick. Spreads like wildfire on those places. Hardly my idea of fun."
Porthos looked at him dubiously. "You're a bundle of laughs you are. Look, come on, have you got your reservation details handy?"
Athos dug out the brochure and tickets from his hand luggage, and Porthos examined them.
"There you are look," he said, flipping to a page showing a beautifully appointed room. "You have got a suite. An executive one, and all. You know what that means, don't you?"
Athos shook his head and Porthos grinned triumphantly. "Twenty four hour butler service."
"You mean I could shut myself in my cabin for the duration and just get pissed?" Athos asked hopefully. Porthos rolled his eyes.
"If you're really determined to be a miserable sod, yeah, I suppose. Or you could take the stick out of your arse and enjoy the scenery and the amazing islands."
Taken aback by the rebuke from the thus-far relentlessly cheerful Porthos, Athos had the vague feeling he'd just been mauled by a labrador puppy. Huffily, he returned to his book and said little for the remainder of the flight.
Upon landing in Miami Athos had the vague dread that Porthos would latch onto him as they were headed for the same place, but to his surprise Porthos slipped away in the baggage reclaim area and didn't reappear.
Finding his way to the coach laid on to transfer passengers to the cruise ship, Athos couldn't see Porthos in the group assembled here either, and found himself hoping he hadn't missed the connection.
Realising that he was worrying about a complete stranger and a faintly irritating one at that, Athos tried to put Porthos out of his mind, staring out of the window instead and watching the world go by. It was hot here, but actually his cotton shirt and lightweight suit was proving to be a surprisingly good choice.
He'd managed a couple of hours' sleep on the plane, but was looking forward to a shower and a decent lie down. It might only be afternoon here, but his body thought it was much later and Athos was desperately hoping that he wouldn't be expected to attend some first night dinner bollocks with the other passengers.
Arriving at the port, the coach took them past several different terminals before pulling up at one indistinguishable from the others. Waiting his turn to check in at the desk, Athos realised the building he could see through the rear window was in fact the ship. It was absolutely enormous, far larger than he'd imagined, and his heart sank a little.
Rattling around there on his own was going to be no fun whatsoever. It must carry thousands of passengers, and the chances of running into Porthos again, even over the course of several weeks, suddenly seemed miniscule. Not that he especially wanted to, Athos reminded himself sternly. It was just that Porthos would have been at least one friendly face in a sea of strangers, and Athos wished suddenly he hadn't been quite so cold to him.
Ascending several floors inside the cruise ship terminal, their group was escorted out onto a metal gantry that took them out over a dizzying drop and into the side of the ship.
Waiting to greet them on the other side was a small formal welcoming party, comprising the captain of the ship and some of his crew.
Shuffling forward in line to shake hands and making a mental note to wash his own as soon as he got to his cabin, Athos gradually became aware that one of the crewmen standing behind the captain was staring intently at him.
He looked up, and blinked. Standing to something approximating attention, clad in the pristine white tropical uniform of the ship's First Officer, was Porthos.
After the initial shock, Athos' first reaction was one of embarrassment. He recalled the way he'd been banging on about how horrid it would all be, and the whole time Porthos had been part of the crew rather than a paying guest. Why hadn't the bloody man said? It wasn't like he'd shut up about anything else.
When Porthos realised Athos had seen him, he smirked slightly and then, rather to Athos' surprise, winked at him.
Flustered, Athos could only manage a brief smile in return before the moving queue of people meant he'd shaken hands with the captain and been herded away in a group of guests before he really knew what was happening.
He resisted the urge to look back, determined not to make more of a fool of himself than he had already.
Athos was shown to his cabin, and as the door closed behind him breathed a sigh of relief at finally being alone for the first time since he'd left the house in a taxi that morning. He had a brief moment of worry that the route here had been so complicated that he'd never manage to find his way back again if he did venture out, but that could easily be solved by staying firmly in his quarters.
Porthos had been right, he did have a suite, comprising a small sitting-dining room, a bathroom and a bedroom. His luggage had been delivered already, and Athos sank down to sit on the bed with a tired sigh.
Well, he'd made it. It felt strangely like being sent into exile.
Athos peered out of the window, but all he could see was a harbour wall. He pulled the curtain across and turned all the lights on, fiddling with the sound station until the suite was filled with quiet music. He lived on his own, was entirely used to his own company, but in this strange place he suddenly felt unexpectedly lonely.
Cross with himself, Athos showered and changed his clothes, before unpacking his bags and stowing everything away. Shipshape, he thought to himself with a faint smile.
The room came with a list of instructions and contact numbers, and after a brief scan through the options Athos picked up the phone and ordered a light supper and a bottle of wine to be delivered to his room. Lonely he might be, but the thought of interacting with strangers right now was worse.
The food came quickly, and was top notch. After eating, Athos climbed into bed with the rest of the wine and shortly afterwards gave in to his body's insistence that it was gone midnight despite the fact it was still light outside, and promptly fell asleep.
Waking the next morning, Athos thought for a moment that he was more hungover than he'd anticipated, until he realised that the strange sense of motion was the ship and not him. They must have embarked while he was asleep, and he was faintly surprised it hadn't woken him up.
Rolling out of bed, Athos dropped into the seat under the window and pulled back the curtain, blinking in the sudden sunlight.
Outside was a scintillating carpet of blue, for as far as he could see. They must have left port in the middle of the night and were well underway to their first stopover in the Bahamas.
The bright blue sea and cloudless sky lifted Athos' spirits a little, and he decided that to remain stubbornly in his cabin would be pointlessly churlish. He might as well at least see what was on offer.
Showered and dressed and clutching a map of the ship in one hand, he made his way with only a few false turns to the nearest restaurant. Breakfast service was well underway, but being alone he managed to get a small table no one else had wanted, right by the panoramic window.
Food was served twenty four hours a day in at least one or other of the on-board restaurants and Athos noted with amusement that he could have had a steak and a glass of wine if he'd wanted. Instead he opted for scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on a toasted bagel, and several cups of black coffee.
Again the food was excellent, and Athos was slowly conceding that this holiday might be worthwhile if only for the food alone.
He quietly observed his fellow passengers as he ate, and noted that there was quite a mix of ages, although to his private relief no young children. Most were couples or groups, the only other guests that seemed to be on their own were, as he'd suspected, rather elderly ladies and gentlemen and even they gravitated towards each other and were seated together on some of the larger refectory-style tables.
Treville's optimistic suggestion that maybe he'd meet someone here seemed more unlikely than ever, although Athos had to admit that this was only a fraction of the number of guests aboard. Not that he was looking for anyone, he reminded himself. Relationships had always struck him as a tedious complication he could do without, which was possibly why none of them had ever lasted very long.
After breakfast Athos ventured up on deck, and was amazed all over again by the sheer scale of the ship. It was a veritable floating city, and after he'd been walking for a good half an hour, Athos started to consider finding somewhere out of the way for a rest.
It was nice to be outside, with enough of a breeze up here to make the heat bearable, but he soon realised finding a peaceful corner was going to be tricky. Everywhere was full of people, strolling, chatting, taking photos, heading for the pool or one of the tennis courts. There were plenty of spare sunloungers, but all of them seemed to be next to one that was already occupied, and Athos just wanted to get away from everyone.
He kept walking, down a gangway behind rows of suspended lifeboats and across a service area with vents and pipes and clouds of steam that from the smell suggested they were coming from one of the kitchens.
Past all this was a flight of stairs between two metal walls leading up to a louvered door that seemed to be some sort of plantroom. With a feeling of satisfaction, Athos settled onto one of the steps. The position was sheltered and warm with a little shade, and more importantly away from the crowds on the main deck. It was perfect.
He leaned back against one of the walls and took out his book.
Athos had been reading for perhaps twenty minutes when the sound of approaching footsteps made him look up. To his astonishment it was Porthos, who looked similarly surprised to recognise him, although his expression quickly turned to one of amusement.
"Morning." Porthos leaned against the wall and smiled down at him. "You do realise we have very many much more comfortable seats at the disposal of our passengers?"
"I prefer to be on my own," Athos said, feeling awkward.
"Then I'll leave you in peace," Porthos said easily. "Just investigating a security report of an unidentified man loitering in the services area. Let me know if you spot him, eh?"
Athos flushed, starting to get up. "Sorry, am I not supposed to be here?"
Porthos waved him back. "Nah, you're alright. It's not technically out of bounds. I don't think anyone bothered putting up signs, on the grounds no one in their right mind would pick it as somewhere to sit." He grinned. "How's the book going?"
Athos glanced down at it. "I'm going to finish it if it kills me. Although at this rate I might be asking you to bludgeon me to death with it."
"That good huh?" Porthos laughed. "What, too much Peace and not enough War?"
"Too many people making stupid decisions," Athos complained. "Why do people do that?"
"Because they're people?" Porthos suggested. "Bit like the ones who avoid the nice padded loungers to sit on a metal step. No telling why they make some choices. Here, you're not half cat are you?"
Despite himself, Athos smiled. "Not as far as I know," he said. "Look, I owe you an apology. I was rude to you yesterday. Repeatedly."
Porthos raised his eyebrows. "Are you apologising because you've actually seen the error of your ways, or because you've now realised I have the authority to clap you in irons?" He broke into a smile. "I'd have to check the rulebook for this tub, but I could probably make you walk the plank."
Athos dropped his gaze, not quite knowing how to respond to the teasing and Porthos frowned, realising he'd made him uncomfortable.
"Sorry, I'll leave you alone. Can I get you anything?"
"No, thank you. I'm fine." Athos gave him a hesitant smile and Porthos nodded, giving him a brief salute of understanding and walking away without another word.
Athos watched him go, thinking idly how well the uniform suited him. And fit him, his brain added helpfully, as his eyes came to rest entirely involuntarily on the man's arse.
Athos snorted and fixed his gaze firmly back on his book, although not quite before Porthos had finally disappeared from view. It wasn't as if he had a chance there, he thought resignedly. Not only had he spent the previous day being rude to him, Porthos now thought he was weird as well.
He probably was.
After another hour or so Athos was beginning to feel the need for some lunch, not to mention a wee after all the coffee he'd drunk with breakfast. Stretching some life back into his legs he hauled himself up and wandered back out to the main passenger deck, trying not to glower at the mass of humanity in unpleasantly patterned shorts he now had to contend with.
With some food inside him Athos felt rather more well disposed to his fellow passengers, although he still had little wish to mingle. Instead he made his way back to his secluded corner, only to draw up in surprise at seeing something lying on the step.
His first thought was that it was somebody's coat or towel, and that his sanctuary had been invaded by some other passenger looking to get away from the rest. Irritation gave way to puzzlement and then bemused surprise, as he realised it was in fact a cushion. There was nothing to explain its presence, and he was finally forced to conclude that Porthos must have left it there for him.
It certainly made sitting on the step more comfortable, and had been pleasantly warmed by the sun. Athos wondered if Porthos had waited for him to leave, or if he'd just missed him. He had to admit it was a nice gesture, even if it left him a little fidgety at the thought someone was taking notice of him even in this out of the way corner. Still, he supposed it was Porthos' job to make sure all the passengers were comfortable and looked after, even the bizarre ones determined not to enjoy themselves.
Lulled by the warmth and the motion of the boat, the gentle swell of the ocean just discernable even so many storeys above it, Athos was on the brink of dozing off when a shadow fell over him. He sat up straighter, shading his eyes and frowning as he realised the new arrival wasn't Porthos, which was what he'd vaguely expected, but one of the waiters who patrolled the deck and ranks of sunloungers.
"For you, sir." The waiter deposited an ice bucket containing a bottle of well chilled white wine, and a single glass on the step below him, not appearing to find the situation at all odd.
"Uh - there must be some mistake, I didn't order any wine?" Athos told him.
"Mr de la Fère?"
"Er - yes?"
The waiter beamed. "In that case, there is no mistake. With the compliments of the First Officer, sir," he said, gave a small bow, and left.
Athos stared at the wall, and then at the wine. He'd say one thing for this ship, they really did know how to look after you.
The wine had gone, and the heat of the sun had mellowed into the pleasant glow of late afternoon when the waiter returned. Athos half-expected to be presented with another drink, or perhaps something to eat, but the man simply handed him a folded slip of paper and walked away again.
Frowning, Athos unfolded it. It was blank but for two handwritten words.
It could only have been written by Porthos, and Athos snorted to himself, remembering Porthos urging him on the plane to appreciate the scenery.
Feeling that after the cushion and the wine it was the least he could do, Athos hauled himself up and made his way out to the main deck. People were lining the rail, and he wriggled in until he could see what they were looking at.
Coming up on the left - to port, he corrected himself - still some way ahead, a chain of dark green islands was rising from the sea. Slowly they increased in size until he could start to make out details, staring with fascination as they approached.
There was something magical about arriving by sea, and he was grateful to Porthos for tipping him off so he could experience it. He'd been to the Seychelles once, during one of his short-lived and ultimately disastrous relationships, but arriving somewhere by plane didn't have quite the same impact.
It was faintly annoying that Porthos had been right though.
Athos stayed at the rail until the ship slowed to a stop some way out, then fished the crumpled deck plan from his pocket. There would be boat trips out to the islands the following morning, but for now they were anchored. Time to try and find his way back to his cabin.
It took him almost forty minutes, and by the time he found the right door Athos was tired and cross. All the bloody corridors looked the same and the signage was confusing to say the least. He'd ended up at the same restaurant three times from two different directions, and as he poured himself a cold drink from the mini-bar Athos decided he might as well eat dinner there tonight. He was reasonably certain he could find it again, after all. If he got lost he'd just try and find his way back to his cabin, then he'd inevitably end up there by default.
Cleaned up and back in a suit, Athos felt marginally more comfortable and made his way down the to restaurant an hour or so later. He found it with no difficulties, which pleased him so much that he found himself inadvertently agreeing to share a table when the waiter asked him where he'd like to sit.
He'd been vaguely hoping this would mean being put with others who were holidaying alone, so he could at least perhaps make a few acquaintances, but to his horror the man seated him at a table with two people who were clearly a couple.
"Hello." The woman gave him a welcoming smile and Athos managed a strangled smile back, cursing himself for his choice. The last thing he wanted was to be a spare wheel, and these two looked sickeningly lovey-dovey. They were even holding hands for fuck's sake.
"I'm Constance," she continued brightly. "This is d'Artagnan. We're on our honeymoon."
"Oh. Good." Athos winced inwardly. This was getting worse by the second. "I mean, congratulations." He remembered his resolution to list all the appalling things about his enforced holiday to Treville when he got back and brightened slightly. "I'm Athos."
"Are you on your own?" Constance enquired, looking round as if expecting a wife to be following along at a respectful distance behind him.
"Constance don't be nosy," he husband muttered, elbowing her in the ribs. Athos warmed to him immediately.
"I'm not being nosy, I'm being interested," she frowned, then turned a beaming smile back on Athos. "Is there a Mrs Athos?"
"No. And it would be a Mr Athos, anyway," he told her, figuring he might as well lay his cards on the table early before she spent all evening trying to fix him up with her second cousin or something equally dreadful.
"Oh." She looked a little nonplussed and spent a second or so trying to rearrange her features into that expression people did that said 'oh you're gay how nice I absolutely don't have a problem with that and now I'm going to change the subject because I don't know what to say'.
Beside her, d'Artagnan had snorted with laughter and she glared at him. "What?" she hissed.
"Nothing. Your face," he amended, with a blithe disregard for his own safety. "Don't worry," he added, addressing Athos. "Some of her best friends are gay. She's got a badge and everything."
Constance had gone a mortified shade of red and clearly didn't know whether to be furious or die of embarrassment.
"Don't listen to him," she said to Athos, who'd been listening with amusement.
"Oh, you don't have a badge?" he asked politely, and d'Artagnan choked on a mouthful of wine.
"Very funny," Constance said frostily, glaring at the pair of them.
D’Artagnan held out the wine bottle. "Would you like some?" he offered, and Athos decided that yes, he definitely liked him.
"Thank you." He held out his glass, and glanced apologetically at Constance, who was still blushing and looking awkward.
"I hope I'm not intruding?" Athos murmured.
"No of course not," d'Artagnan said, rather too quickly to Athos' mind. "It's nice to have some company, it's been just us for the last couple of days."
Even Athos, whose lack of tact could win prizes, felt that was a spectacularly thoughtless thing to say on one's honeymoon, and Constance's expression had gone tight enough to burst something.
"I've never been on one of these things before," Athos said into the sudden frigid silence. "Have you?"
"Yes," Constance said, as d'Artagnan shook his head. "Once. With my first husband."
Ouch, thought Athos. "What happened to him?" he asked, not through any actual interest, but just because he was finding this increasingly funny.
"He pissed me off once too often," she declared with a meaningful look at d'Artagnan.
"Don't let her order the steak," d'Artagnan grinned. "In fact, soup might be safest."
"Don't worry," said Constance darkly. "I could still gut you with a blunt spoon."
To Athos' mild surprise d'Artagnan just smiled fondly at her. He was starting to suspect this bickering was in fact some bizarre form of foreplay. And then really, really wished he could unthink it again.
The rather strained start to the conversation did at least have the effect of breaking the ice, and after that they all got on fairly well. The food arrived and the wine kept flowing, and while Athos wasn't one of nature's talkers, the other two more than made up for it and he found the occasional interjection to show he was paying attention was all they required of him. It was quite relaxing in a way.
After they'd been there perhaps half an hour, a table that had been kept reserved at the head of the room started to fill up, and Athos noticed that while everyone had dressed fairly smartly for dinner, the people being seated there were rather more well turned out than the rest of them.
"The Captain's Table," Constance told him, noticing the direction of his gaze. "Quite an honour to be invited to eat there," she said wistfully.
"If you like stuffy formality and starched collars," d'Artagnan retorted. "She just likes the uniforms," he added in an undertone to Athos, then yelped as Constance pinched his inner thigh.
Athos thought privately that she had a point, as he watched several members of the crew file in to take the seats at strategic points between the invited guests. The captain was a distinguished looking Jamaican in his late fifties, but the bulk of Athos' attention was taken up by his first officer, sitting at the other end of the table and side on to where Athos was seated across the room.
Porthos wore that uniform like he'd been poured into it, and Athos had to cross his legs under the table.
Don't be stupid, he thought, watching Porthos blatantly flirting with all the female guests around him. Just because he was nice to you doesn't mean he's interested. It's his job. He's probably forgotten you exist.
Despite this stern mental talking to, Athos half-hoped Porthos would glance this way and notice him, but Porthos' attention remained firmly on the passengers he was sitting with. Occasionally his laugh was audible above the general hubbub of the room, and Athos found he was draining his glass every time.
"Are you coming on the trip tomorrow?" Constance asked him.
"What trip?" Athos asked, dragging his attention back to her with a frown. Everything was getting a little fuzzy.
"To shore, silly. The boats start from ten." She filled up his glass again. "I want one of those drinks with an umbrella in it."
"She's all about the culture," d'Artagnan smirked, and ducked out of the way of the ensuing slap with an admirable dexterity given the amount they'd all drunk. "I want to buy a hat," he added vaguely.
"I was thinking I'd probably stay on board," Athos said, remembering how determined he'd been not to enjoy himself.
"What! You can't, it's the first proper adventure. It's the Bahamas," Constance insisted. "Right, you're coming with us. Meet us here for breakfast at nine, we're all going ashore," she said firmly.
Athos was too drunk to object, and in any case was watching Porthos be fed fruit salad by a matronly looking woman in a red dress. "Yeah," he said vaguely. "Okay."
It wasn't until Athos stood up that it really hit him how much he'd drunk. Glass by glass, and sharing with the others it hadn't really been noticeable, but must have been most of a bottle, and that was on top of the bottle he'd had earlier.
Athos muttered his goodbyes and managed to make his way out of the restaurant without falling into anyone's table, which by that point felt like quite an achievement. He headed back to his cabin, feeling suddenly in need of a lie down in a darkened room.
Ten minutes later he was forced to admit with a sinking heart that he must have somehow taken a wrong turning. It had been five minutes at most to get to the restaurant, so he must have gone off course.
Athos turned around, trying to backtrack and ended up getting more lost than ever. He found himself in a hallway he swore he'd never seen before with a different coloured carpet, and when he came to a staircase went down it with the vague idea his cabin was on a lower deck.
Somehow at the bottom he lost his footing. Reactions dulled by the wine, he grabbed for the rail and missed, slithering down the last few steps and ending up in an ungainly heap on the floor, winded and startled.
"Oops a daisy!"
Athos realised a pair of polished shoes had entered his field of vision, and peered upwards to discover Porthos peering down at him.
"You alright down there?" Porthos offered him a hand, but Athos grabbed the banister and hauled himself upright, flushing red.
"Not used to life at sea," Athos muttered. "Must be getting rough out there."
Porthos looked him over and raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, rough's the word," he muttered. "Come on, let's get you safely home eh? Where's your cabin?"
"I wish I knew," Athos sighed mournfully, and Porthos broke into an amused smile.
"No, I meant what number is it?"
"Oh." Athos pulled out the much abused deck plan that he'd carefully scrawled the number on, and handed it over. Maybe it had got wet, he thought, the number seemed blurrier than he remembered.
"Right, okay then." Porthos glanced at it and nodded. "Back up we go." He shepherded Athos back up the steps and after a minimum of twists and turns, to Athos' surprise they were suddenly outside his cabin.
"How did you do that?" he asked in astonishment.
"Witchcraft," Porthos said solemnly, and Athos gave him a look. He laughed. "Oh alright, look, the first part of your cabin number is also the deck number. It's printed on all the bulkheads."
"Is it?" Athos gave him a wide eyed look, and then coughed. "I knew that," he muttered. He dragged out his key and opened the door.
"Um. Thanks for rescuing me," he said, conscious that Porthos was still standing there. "It all takes a bit of getting used to."
"You'll get the hang of it. At least you came out, eh?"
"Excuse me?" Athos stared at him, for a confused moment thinking this was some allusion to his earlier conversation with Constance.
"Of your cabin," Porthos explained. "Seem to remember you were threatening to spend the whole trip shut up in it."
"Oh. Right. Yes." Athos felt silly. "Well, I guess that would have been cutting my nose off to spite my face."
"You, er - going to be alright then?" Porthos asked, and Athos frowned.
"Yeah. Course. Why shouldn't I be?"
"Well, it's just - you are holding on quite tightly to that doorframe," Porthos pointed out, sounding like he was trying not to laugh.
"I told you, it's the movement of the ship. I'm not used to the ground feeling like it's moving under my feet."
"Sure about that are you?" Porthos muttered, and Athos glared at him, affronted by the implication.
"Fuck you!" he blurted, the ability to come up with anything pithier having temporarily deserted him, and he slammed the door shut in Porthos' face.
Inside, once the flare of temper had died away Athos immediately regretted his actions. Hadn't he spent half the evening idly fantasising about getting Porthos out of that uniform? And he'd been right here, practically asking if Athos needed helping into bed.
He pulled the door open again and stuck his head into the hallway, but Porthos had gone.
Sighing, Athos went into the bathroom to splash cold water on his face and stared accusingly at his reflection in the glass.
"You," he told himself sternly, "are the reason we can't have nice things."