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Conflicted Hearts

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Athos slouched despondently in through the gatehouse, only to draw up sharply at the sight of Porthos leaning back against a wall, idly cleaning his fingernails with a long-bladed knife. He looked up as Athos appeared but said nothing, studying him with a watchful gaze.

Porthos had watched Athos become entangled with Sylvie with a certain amount of resignation that occasionally bordered on sulky resentment, although he kept his own counsel on the matter. Having generously given Athos leave to do so, Porthos had been slightly taken aback when Athos had promptly done exactly that, but he wouldn’t go back on his word.

Now, Athos stared at him helplessly for a second, then gave a sigh of utter defeat and turned into the passage without speaking.

Debating the wisdom of interfering, Porthos nevertheless found his feet carrying him along to Athos’ door in short order, and gave a cursory knock before pushing the door open.

Athos had shed his coat and was in the middle of pouring out a beaker of wine. He looked up urgently as Porthos came in, and Porthos didn’t miss the flicker of disappointment that crossed his face when he saw who it was.

“Sorry,” Porthos said blandly, closing the door behind him. “Only me, I’m afraid.”

Athos opened his mouth to protest the sentiment, then seemed to realise the futility of it and merely sighed, pouring a second measure of wine and holding it out to him. Porthos took it, and looked steadily at him.

“You alright?” he asked quietly.

Athos nodded tiredly. “I’m fine.”

“Which would be why you look as miserable as sin?” Porthos jibed. He took a swallow of wine, and swirled the liquid thoughtfully. “Is it Sylvie? I saw her leave. What’s wrong?”

Athos gave him a sharp look, his suspicions that Porthos had been keeping an eye on him confirmed, but then sighed. “You don’t want to hear about it.”

“Probably not,” Porthos agreed. He lifted his hand, stroking the back of one finger lightly across Athos’ cheekbone. “But I do happen to care about you,” he added more softly. “Talk to me Athos.”

Athos was silent for a moment. “I can’t be what she wants me to be,” he said heavily. “I knew from the start that her interests were heavily – political,” he said carefully, and Porthos gave a snort of laughter.

“Thank Christ for that, I wondered where that sentence was going,” he said irreverently, and winked at Athos when he gave him a reproving look. “Sorry. Go on.”

“She is involved with a certain group – I say involved, I have a horrible suspicion she’s actually leading it,” Athos said, draining his cup and pouring more wine. “They have an interest in the welfare of the refugees, and the treatment of the working poor in Paris.”

“Nothing wrong with pressing for better conditions and equality,” Porthos said immediately.

“And I would hope you know me well enough to know my views are no different from yours,” Athos protested. “But I have seen some of the material these people are circulating, and it’s bordering on treason,” he breathed more quietly, as if they might be overheard even within the thick walls of the garrison. “I cannot be implicated in this, Porthos.”

“You’re afraid – what, of being arrested? Or that you might see something that would oblige you to arrest them?” Porthos asked, frowning.

Athos sighed, emptying the second cup of wine. “It’s better I stay out of it,” he muttered. “No good can come of my involvement, for either of us.”

“And you’ve explained this to her?” Porthos asked. Athos looked uncomfortable, and he folded his arms. “Or have you just sent her packing, thinking that you don’t care?”

“It’s for the best,” Athos muttered. “I have already been forced to order the execution of one woman I loved, I would prefer not to be obliged to do it a second time.”

“You love her then?”

Athos flushed. “I didn’t – that was just – you know what I meant.”

Exasperated, Porthos shook his head. “You really do need a slap sometimes Athos.”

Athos looked hurt. “I thought you’d be pleased it was over between us.”

Porthos snorted. “If you’d come to me, and said you’d had your fun and you weren’t interested in her any more, then yeah. But this ain’t exactly you picking me over her, is it?” Athos had the grace to look embarrassed, and Porthos put an arm around him, softening his tone. “I know you too well, Athos. You’re not like Aramis, you don’t fool around with someone lightly, you never have. You’ve fallen for her, don’t tell me you haven’t.”

Athos didn’t answer, and Porthos sighed. “Look, if you really think she could get into trouble over the stuff she’s spouting then keeping your distance isn’t doing her any favours either, is it? Or are you just going to stand by while somebody else hangs her?”

“Don’t say that.”

“Well tell me I’m wrong. If you care about her, then you need to get through to her how dangerous what she’s doing is.”

“I’ve tried!”

Porthos looked at him steadily. “Do you love her?”

Wrongfooted by the abrupt change in direction, Athos hesitated. “Yes,” he finally admitted under his breath. “I think so.”

“Then try again.”

Athos sagged against him, and Porthos pulled him into his arms.

“I love you too,” Athos breathed sadly, and Porthos hugged him tighter.

“I know. And I love you. And nothing is ever going to change that. But you and Sylvie? You’ve got a chance at a future together. All we could ever have is stolen moments. I want you to be happy, Athos.”

“Is it awful of me to want both of you?” Athos sighed.

Porthos smiled. “I will share you, if I have to. But it’s not up to me. I know what you’re like Athos, you don’t do things by halves. You would never be happy cheating on her with me. And it’s not like you can ever tell her the truth.”

Athos was quiet for a while, then looked up at him, raising a hand to fiddle with the fastenings of Porthos’ shirt. “You know, technically, right now, Sylvie and I are no longer seeing each other,” he said mildly. Porthos gave a bark of laughter.

“Are you offering me a fuck on a technicality?”

Athos lowered his gaze, but his lips were hooked up into a guiltily amused smirk. “Possibly.”

Porthos tipped his face up again with a gentle finger, and kissed Athos on the lips before breaking into a broad smile.

“Then I accept.”