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"Surely you must see now that this cannot be allowed to continue." Athos pitched his voice low, his words intended only for the man seated opposite. Not that there was much danger of being heard over the noisy clamor of the inn.

"I still can't believe he'd be that stupid."

"Yes, well, believe it," said Athos, staring morosely into his drink, sober despite the late hour.

"What I don't get is what you expect me to do," said Porthos.

Athos gave him a sharp look. "Don't play me for a fool. I have held my tongue because I did not feel it was my place to interfere. However, it has gone past that point now. Aramis is going to find himself in the Bastille if you don't act."

Porthos darted a quick look around before leaning low to whisper across the table. "And what if you're wrong, hmm? What then? I can't lose him."

"Please," said Athos. "There is nothing you could say or do that would compel him to leave your side."

Porthos sat back with a jerky shake of his head. "I can't risk it."

"Porthos, listen to me. You know as well as I, it is his restless heart that leads him into dangerous territory. Tether it, and you will be keeping him safe and content."

"I don't know if I could share him with them," Porthos admitted.

"You won't need to," Athos assured him. "A little flirtation should suffice. There'd be no need for him to carry it further."

"Since the moment I set eyes upon him, I've wanted him. But I told myself it was a bad idea. That'd I'd be risking his neck and mine."

"You would have to be discreet," Athos acknowledged, "But I see no reason why this cannot be kept a secret between the three of us."

Porthos arched an eyebrow. "What about d'Artagnan?"

"I don't think we should tell him yet."

"But we will tell him?"

"Of course."

"Good. Because it don't feel right keeping secrets from him."

"I couldn't agree more," said Athos. "But he's young, and he's already adjusting to Paris and the regiment. I see no reason to burden him with more. Besides, it may take a little time for Aramis to acclimate himself to the situation. When you and he are comfortable with it, then we'll tell him."

"Agreed," said Porthos, taking a drink.

Athos slid a key across the table. "This is the key to my lodgings. The neighbouring room is used as storage, so you needn't concern yourselves about being overheard."

"What about you?"

"I may have already procured a room at the garrison for the night."

Porthos smiled. "I should punch you in the face."

"That seems a trifle harsh."

"You were so certain I'd say yes?"

"Porthos, my friend, you said yes when you met him."

Porthos acknowledge this truth with a shrug and downed the last of his drink. He glanced across the room to where Aramis was engaged in conversation with one of the serving women. "Then it's high time for me to stake my claim, I reckon."

He made his way across the crowded room to his friend's side. The woman was giggling at something Aramis was whispering in her ear; her hand came to rest on his arm. Porthos gently removed it. The woman looked startled and then annoyed. "Sorry, love, he's busy." The woman looked askance at Aramis, who offered her an apologetic smile before turning his attention to Porthos. Neither man really noticed when she huffed and walked off.

"Care to tell me what that was all about?"

"Bit of a step down, isn't she?"

Aramis frowned and then his eyes widened. "He told you?" he hissed.

Porthos' smile was all teeth. "Of course he bloody told me."

"I thought the matter was settled," Aramis ground out, sending Athos a fierce look over Porthos' shoulder.

"It's about to be," replied Porthos, cryptically. "Come on."

"Why? Where are we going?" Aramis asked, following him to the door. He glared at Athos as they passed by his table. Athos merely smirked and tilted his head in a goodnight gesture.

Out in the street, Aramis asked again, quickening his pace to catch up with his friend. This time Porthos replied.

"Athos' lodging house."

"What? Why?"

"I have a key."

"Which doesn't really answer either of my questions," Aramis pointed out.

"We're staying there tonight."

"Again, why?" Aramis demanded, stopping.

Porthos sighed and came to a stop too. He placed an arm around his friend's shoulders. "Come with me and I'll tell you." Aramis didn't look particularly satisfied with this answer, but he nevertheless continued down the street with him.

Porthos kept an arm around his friend's shoulders to keep Aramis moving, eager to get to the lodging house before there were any more questions. This wasn't a conversation he wanted to have in the street. Athos was right, this had been a long time coming; though he wasn't certain if any other situation could have persuaded him to act. God knew, there had been sufficient to merit worry. Irate husbands, jealous lovers. Porthos had got used to living in a state of constant fear that his friend would be shot, stabbed or run through. This was different. This was treason.

He was pleased to find Athos' room more hospitable than on previous visits. The empty wine bottles were not rolling about the floor, the bedding looked reasonably fresh, and Athos had even left the window ajar. Porthos locked the door behind them and then closed the window.

"Do I get to ask why we're spending the night here at least?" Aramis asked, removing his hat and his weapons.

Porthos unbuckled his own sword and set his hat on the table before taking the only chair in the room for himself. "We need to talk."

Aramis pulled a face and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Porthos-"

Porthos cut his friend off with a slicing motion of his hand. He leaned forward, his expression thunderous. "What I want to know is, what you were thinking?"

"It isn't quite as straight forward as Athos no doubt made it seem," said Aramis, tightly.

Porthos sat back. "Fine. Then you tell me." Aramis regarded him thoughtfully for a moment.

"You remember I told you about the girl from home?"

"The one you were supposed to marry?"

"What I didn't tell you is that the marriage was arranged because she had fallen pregnant." Aramis looked down at the floor; his voice was unsteady as he spoke. "But she lost the child - my child - and her father senther away. He wouldn't tell me where. I searched for her for months. Eventually, I had to give up. That's when I took to soldiering. I didn't want to go home, I had no trade, and I didn't much care, or so I thought, whether or not I died on a battlefield."

Porthos waited; watching as Aramis ran shaky fingers through his hair. "I didn't recognize her. Can you believe that?" Aramis smiled sadly. "You forget just how much time has passed."

"She was at the convent?"

Aramis nodded. "Sister Helene. That was the name she was using." He looked up, and the pain and confusion in his gaze left Porthos struggling to stay on his side of the room. "She told me she did it out of kindness. That she knew I was never meant for marriage. That I would not have been happy as a husband and a father." Aramis roughly thumbed the tears from his eyes before they could fall. "It did not feel like a kindness then. Though I wonder now if she knew me better than I knew myself."

"You were sixteen," Porthos pointed out. "Show me a boy of sixteen who doesn't have some wildness in him. Doesn't mean you wouldn't have been a good husband, or a good father."

Aramis gave him a brief, grateful smile. "I was perhaps wilder than most," he admitted.

Porthos could see how that might have been true. Aramis had a core of recklessness that had only in part been tamed by Treville, Athos, and himself. This was a man who didn't flinch from musket or cannon fire, and who appeared almost joyful when outnumbered in combat. Even his favored mount was an evil tempered stallion that was as likely to bite you as not.

"She was unchanged in other ways, though," Aramis continued softly. "Still wiser than me, and courageous. She died saving my life."

Porthos sucked in a sharp breath. Damn Athos for not telling him of this. Then again, if the man hadn't known...

"They had tunneled into the convent. Stupidly, I didn't believe it possible. She called out to warn me and they shot her."

"I'm sorry," said Porthos, simply.

"But not before she killed one of them with his own knife." Aramis' eyes glittered. "May his soul burn in hell."

"Amen," said Porthos.

Aramis breathed deeply in and out for a few moments before continuing. "She... her majesty came to me later. She told me of her own child, of her grief at its passing. We offered each other comfort." He stared hard at Porthos as though willing the other man to understand. "I don't deny that I am attracted to her. She is a beautiful woman. But I would never have... It was grief and sorrow, not base lust. I promise you."

"I believe you," said Porthos. "But Aramis," he waited until he had the man's full attention. "This has to stop."

Aramis frowned. "I'm not a fool. I don't expect her to-"

"-I'm not talking about the Queen. Well, not just her. I'm talking about the rest of it."

"I don't understand," Aramis began. He paled. "I wouldn't - you have to know - I wouldn't do anything to endanger you. Or Athos, or d'Artagnan."

Porthos hushed him. "Don't be an idiot. I know you wouldn't. Least ways, not on purpose. But you must see how this could end badly for all of us."

Aramis put his head in his hands and buried his fingers in his hair. "I'm a fool. You would do best to stay away from me. All of you."

"And now you're being an idiot again," chided Porthos, gently. "Anyway, you don't need to worry, because I have a way to sort this."

Aramis raised his head. "How?" he asked, warily.

"Stand up."

Aramis blinked slowly, but stood up without question.

"Good. Now take off your clothes," said Porthos, bluntly. This, he knew, was the tipping point. He tried not to let his relief show as Aramis began to undress, only pausing when he stood in his braies. "And the rest." Aramis' eyes widened slightly. Nevertheless, he stripped off the last of his clothing. Aramis was no popinjay, despite what others might think, but nor did he possess false modesty. He simply knew he was pleasing to look upon, so he didn't flinch now from Porthos' appreciative gaze, even if there was a hefty measure of confusion in his own.

"You are lovely," said Porthos, honestly. "I don't know how I manage to keep my eyes off you half the time."

Aramis swallowed hard. "Porthos-"

Porthos shook his head. "This is me talking and you listening. Now, I know you're not stupid. You know as well as I that we've been dancing around this for years. So, this is me offering it to you." Porthos stood and walked forward, standing toe-to-toe with his friend. He held Aramis' gaze as he continued. "But if you accept, there'll be no more lovers. You can flatter and charm them as much as you like, but it goes no further than that. You put any part of you, near any part of any one but me, and it's over."

At the panicky look in Aramis' eyes, Porthos quickly sought to clarify the last part. "We go back to how things were, is what I mean. And hope you don't get us all hung at some point."

Aramis' lips quirked in a strained smile. "So, no pressure then?"

Porthos took hold of his hand, threading their fingers together. "No. No pressure. You can have this. But only if you truly want it. Not for me. For yourself."

"You know what I-"

"Yes. Do you honestly think I could have known you for this long and this well, and have not known that?"

"And you're all right with it?" Aramis asked.

Porthos took their joined hands and pressed them to the front of his breeches. "What does that tell you?"

Aramis drew in a harsh breath and let it out shakily. "You want this?"

"I want you," Porthos corrected.

Dark eyes brightened. "Then, I am yours."

Porthos made a rough sound in the back of his throat, quickly releasing Aramis' hand to bury his fingers in his friend's unruly curls. Tightening his grip, he forced Aramis' head back and rubbed his beard against the delicate skin of his neck; pressing his lips to the pulse that thrummed beneath the surface. He walked them the two steps backwards to the bed, pushing Aramis onto it and crawling over him.

"You're... going to... leave the imprint... of your leathers... on my skin," Aramis protested, breathlessly.

"Good. I want to leave my mark on you."

Aramis gave a choked huff of laughter. "Brute," he murmured, squirming under Porthos to try to kiss the closest part of him.

"You're going to want to keep still," Porthos warned. "Unless I tell you to move."

Aramis lifted his head from the bed to stare at him, but he stopped moving.

"That's better." Porthos laid claim to a patch of skin normally hidden by Aramis' collar, teasing it with his lips and teeth until it reddened. "There's another mark for you." he murmured, moving lower. He lapped at a flat, dark nipple, then scraped it with a blunt nail. "More?"

"More," Aramis agreed, hoarsely.

Porthos pressed it between his thumb and forefinger until Aramis drew in a sharp breath, letting it out shakily. "Still good?" Porthos checked.

Aramis nodded, apparently not trusting his voice.

Porthos kissed the abused nipple lovingly, and then turned his attention to its neglected twin. He rubbed his thumb over it until it stiffened, nipping at it with his teeth and sucking on it fiercely. He used his nails to score lines across Aramis' belly, chest, and thighs. When he ignored Aramis' cock, the man whined. Porthos hushed him. "Not yet." He placed a heavy palm on Aramis belly, feeling the muscles tighten. "Not 'til I've had you."

"At least remove your clothes?"

"I might take them off later, if you're good."

"That hardly seems fair."

Porthos chuckled softly. "You don't want fair, you want this. Or you would never have taken yours off when I told you to."

"I'm a trusting soul."

That drew a huff of laughter. "You?"

Aramis regarded Porthos with a heavy-lidded gaze, his eyes glittering in the candlelight. "I trust you."

Porthos swallowed. "Yeah, you do." He grabbed Aramis' wrists suddenly and pinned them to the bed above his head; Aramis tensed and then went pliant. Porthos shook his head in wonder. "Look at you. You'd let me do anything."

Aramis remained lax in his grip, but his voice took on a teasing lilt. "So, now that you have me, what will you do with me?"

Porthos wouldn't let him lighten the moment. His own voice was laden with promise as he leaned down to whisper in Aramis' ear. "I'm going to put you on your knees and fuck you until you scream."

"I'll never scream," Aramis retorted, quickly.

"We'll see." Porthos released the other man's wrists and sat back, patting Aramis on the thigh. "Come on, up you get."

Aramis scowled, but shuffled up the bed onto his hands and knees.

Porthos nudged his legs further apart. "You might want to ready yourself," he warned. "I'm not going to go gentle with you."

"Then I look forward to hearing your explanation when Treville inquires why I'm unable to ride."

"Oh, you'll be able to ride," said Porthos. "You'll just have the memory of this when you do." He withdrew the vial of oil as he began to unfasten his breeches.

Aramis glanced back over his shoulder and eyed the small vial with some trepidation. "Are you quite certain that will suffice?"

"It'll have to, there isn't any more." Porthos uncorked the vial and poured the contents down the shadowy crease. A few drops dripped onto the bed.

Aramis looked pained. "For goodness sake, don't waste it."

Porthos smacked him hard enough to leave a hand-print. "Quiet." He ignored Aramis' wordless grumbling, instead savouring the harsh indrawn breath as he worked a finger into him. Porthos was blessed with large hands and strong, blunt fingers, but he had a swordsman's dexterity. A second finger soon had Aramis trembling and panting as he tried to maintain his position on the bed. A third sent a full body shudder though him. "Yeah, you're ready." Porthos withdrew his fingers and stroked his cock, coating it with what remained of the oil. Then he made true on his promise, entering Aramis with one forceful, relentless push. Aramis whined through clenched teeth and tried to crawl further up the bed. Porthos hauled him back with a hand on his hip. "None of that. Come on, you know how to do this." He was locked in his own battle, fighting the urge to move. He made himself wait until Aramis' white-knuckled grip had eased on the blanket.

Aramis gave a breathy groan. "Dear God. Do you have to be ridiculously large everywhere?"

"I think I'll take that as a compliment."

"You w-would."

Porthos circled his hips, causing Aramis to stutter out the last word. He smoothed a hand down Aramis' back as he stared at the place where their bodies joined. The contrast of vulnerable golden skin against his well worn leathers pleased him. "Ready?"

"Would it matter if I said no?"

Porthos pretended to think about it. "Not really, no."

Aramis looked over his shoulder. "So, fuck me," he challenged, "make me feel it."

"Oh, I'll make you feel it," promised Porthos; he eased back and then drove his hips forward, sending Aramis down onto his forearms. He kept up a relentless pace. "Don't," he warned, when Aramis tried to touch himself.

"Please," Aramis begged.

"I said leave it," Porthos told him, gruffly.

Athos was right, he had been a fool to deny himself this. Aramis was grace and sin combined. His body attuned to Porthos even as he struggled to take him. The scant measure of oil made it just shy of too much, and Porthos could already feel the end approaching. He thrust a handful of times more, groaning his friend's name as he spilled deep inside him. Porthos curled forward over Aramis' back as he breathed slow and deep, waiting for his heart to settle into a familiar rhythm. Aramis hissed in protest when he withdrew.

Porthos rolled onto his side, tugging Aramis with him; the other man's back to his chest. Porthos could feel the heat coming off his skin, his breaths harsh in the stillness of the room. When Porthos reached for his cock, Aramis whined and bucked his hips. Porthos finished him off without finesse, his fingers bathed in the sticky warmth of Aramis' release barely a moment later. Porthos wiped his hand off on the blanket before throwing a possessive arm around Aramis' waist, nuzzling the sweaty nape of his neck. "Good?"

Aramis made a wordless sound of assent. However, after a short time he grew restless, pushing against Porthos' hold until he was able to turn over onto his back. Porthos noted with pride faint indentations where Aramis had worried his bottom lip with his teeth.

"You don't need to look so smug," Aramis grumbled.

Porthos' smirk didn't lessen. He ran a hand over Aramis' chest, tracing the marks left by his nails.

"I suppose this means I'm yours now." The airy tone was at odds with the hopefulness in Aramis' expression.

"Idiot," said Porthos, kissing him tenderly. "Didn't you know? You were always mine."