Athos was rarely a happy drunk, and those who knew him less would say he was rarely happy at all. But those who knew him better, knew him intimately, would demand satisfaction if the accusation were uttered within earshot. While it was true he had more than his fair share of melancholia, Athos fiercely loved his friends; and their well-being, in turn, sutured the hundred-thousand wounds his heart had suffered in his previous life (which he took great care not to mention to those who did not need to know- and very few needed to know, as far as he was concerned).
“In all this, though, to call him unhappy, as if it were an indelible mark upon his character- as if he were incapable of happiness- is nothing short of an insult!” Aramis held his main gauche out at full arm’s length, staring down the point of the blade at the throat of the sorry Red Guard who had dared to gossip about their comrade, and looking away only to finish his glass of wine, which he set back down upon the table delicately. The tavern went as silent as a funeral. Porthos was watching from his spot at their table with a wry smile, one foot up on the chair that Aramis had vacated, cards in hand. D’Artagnan looked between the two of them, and the door through which Athos was sure to return at any moment, and bit his lip to halt the frown he felt coming.
“My dear D’Artagnan,” called Aramis, eyes unwavering, “what would you say of our beloved leader?”
D’Artagnan dropped his cards on the table, flustered; Porthos gave them a quick appraisal, and contented himself that even if he had played fairly, he would have safely beaten the lad’s hand.
“I don’t think he’d like being called a leader,” D’Artagnan reasoned.
“He’s got a point there,” Porthos mused, leaning over to refill Aramis’ cup, and grinned at D’Artagnan. “Still, I daresay there ain’t a man amongst us that’d challenge the description. Other than Athos himself, I s’pose.” He placed his cards face-down on the table and cracked his knuckles idly. D’Artagnan felt a headache coming on.
“Precisely! And what does this, this-” he twirled the point of the dagger as he searched for the words, “-coward! This milksop! What does he believe that could so easily change the hearts and minds of-”
“Athos! My dear, dear Athos!”
“Sit down, Aramis.”
“You are undeserving of being in the same room, knave!” snapped Aramis at his unwilling opponent, “nay, you are undeserving of being in the same city! Begone from my sight and perhaps- perhaps!- I shan’t thrash you into the Seine!” He made to throw the dagger, and the Guard yelped and bolted out the front door of the inn. “Adieu, you miserable villain! Adieu!” The door swung shut, and Porthos let out a roaring laugh. D’Artagnan sank in his seat and poured himself a fresh cup of wine. It was a fine Bordeaux, and hid the flush in his cheeks well. (In honesty, he felt nothing short of invincible when surrounded by his new friends, but he kept this mostly to himself; his Gascon pride had the tendency to make a fool of him.)
Athos sat down at the table again, flush against D’Artagnan’s leg. He leaned in, head cocked to one side; eyes tired, smile playful.
“Good Lord,” he murmured, taking a sip from D’Artagnan’s cup, “what kind of monstrous scheme could they have cooked up in the five minutes it took me to piss?” Athos picked up his cards, which hadn’t moved despite the ruckus.
“Someone from the Cardinal’s lot spoke ill of you, apparently.” He shrugged, keeping his head down, and reached for his cup; Athos passed it to him, letting their fingers touch for a moment.
“And Aramis believes causing a scene does… what, exactly?”
“ Aramis believes ,” interrupted Aramis, flicking a silver sou into the la prime pool, “that wiser men would do better than to sully your name. After all, he who insults the King’s Musketeers surely insults the King, yes?”
Porthos patted D’Artagnan heavily on the shoulder.
“He’ll be at this all night.” He looked over the top of D’Artagnan’s head at Athos, who was pondering his cards and pointedly ignoring Aramis’ pontification. “This last round, and then home, yeah?”
Athos gave a single nod in reply, and put his hand down with a small and satisfied smile.
“Oh, would you look at that. Un flux . I win.” He finished D’Artagnan’s cup, ruffled the lad’s hair, and picked up his hat.
“At once, Monsieur, at once.” Aramis sheathed his dagger and bowed low at Athos’ hip.
The walk back to the garrison was short and pleasant, the evening balmy; and helped along by Aramis and Porthos having taken two or three extra bottles of the Bordeaux with them, tucked into their belts. Aramis had his arm slung over Athos’ shoulder, taking the lead in the party, with Porthos and D’Artagnan flanking. Looking up at Porthos, he asked quietly, “is Aramis always this…?”
Porthos snorted a laugh.
“However you finish that question, the answer’s probably yes.” He bumped D’Artagnan’s arm affectionately with his own. “You alright? Looking a bit lost tonight.”
D’Artagnan shrugged. “Hm? Yeah, I’m fine. It’s…” He nodded towards Athos and Aramis strolling ahead. “Is it really that strange that he’s in a good mood?”
Porthos shook his head. “Nah. He just doesn’t have the time to indulge everyone he comes across, is all.” D’Artagnan watched the pair in front with a solemn curiosity, keeping in step with Porthos. “Aramis wears his heart on his sleeve, Athos doesn’t, not much else to it.”
They passed under the arch into the garrison; D’Artagnan stopped at the threshold.
“I should probably go back to Bonacieux’s. He doesn’t like his tenants coming in at all hours.”
“Oh, rubbish.” Porthos turned and held his arm out, bottle of Bordeaux in his hand. “We’re not gonna kick you out. Anyway, don’t you wanna enjoy that ,” cocking his head over in Athos’ direction, “while you get the chance?”
Porthos’ room was the largest, on the premise that he was a larger man than most, and the three inseparables took great advantage of this; upon finding out the size of his lodgings, Aramis had bought a few more chairs and Athos a bigger table. By the time D’Artagnan had closed the door behind himself, Aramis had already lit the lamps and was in the process of piling tinder onto the little hearth. Athos hung his doublet and accoutrements by the door and settled into his usual spot next to the fire, Aramis pulled down four cups from the cabinet; Porthos kicked his boots off, and D’Artagnan stood a little awkwardly in the corner. It was normal enough for him to spend time with the other men in the tavern, or the mess or stables, but this was his first invitation back to anyone’s quarters, and the three of them already had such a natural way of moving about one another in Porthos’ room that he was unsure whether to interrupt.
“Oh, come now, pup!” Aramis slapped the seat next to him. “No need to hover over there like a lackey!” He looked back over at Athos, still with his hand on the chair. “Another round of la prime , or just the pleasure of company?”
“I’ve had quite enough of beating you at la prime , brother.” Athos poured the four cups of wine, and set the bottle back in the middle of the table. “You’re awfully poetic tonight, tell us a story.” D’Artagnan drew his chair up, half-lit by hearth fire and candle flame.
“All right, to what do you wish to hear, a pl-”
“None of that modern English nonsense,” Porthos interrupted.
“What, not even Marlowe? I know you’re not fond of Shakespeare, but-”
“Porthos considers their verse as poor as their food,” Athos murmured to D’Artagnan, head bowed in shadow. D’Artagnan stifled a laugh.
“Very well,” said Aramis, feigning lamentation. “ Lancelot ? Ipomadon ? Damon et Pythias ?”
“Make something up,” said Porthos, with a grin, “afore that silver tongue of yours is lost to the wine.”
“I’ve yet to lose a silver louis , let alone my tongue,” Aramis replied, swatting at Porthos’ chest, “but I’ll indulge you, nonetheless.”
“... so unwilling to trouble his captain, he was, that he lay in the street like a corpse! The chevalier’s men found him on the crossroads the next morning, still face down in the muck. Which proves, I believe, that all Cardinalists are both cowards and imbeciles.”
“And that chevaliers are too honourable for their own good, I’d say,” said D’Artagnan, a little embarrassed by how freely he’d spoken. Aramis chuckled, the kind that gave him deep crinkles in the corners his eyes, and refreshed their cups.
“Quite right, D’Artagnan, quite right indeed.” He looked over at Athos as he poured the wine. “What say you, brother?”
Athos smirked and sipped at his cup.
“Oh, I think you’ve said more than enough for all of us, dear friend.”
Porthos barked a laugh, and leaned in to D’Artagnan, nose in his hair.
“You know that he’s talking about Athos,” he whispered, so quietly D’Artagnan barely heard the words over the timbre of his voice.
“Perhaps we should’ve stuck to Damon et Pythias ,” continued Athos, though he was smiling warmly. He cast his glance over at the youngest in their party. “I doubt D’Artagnan wants to hear any more of your tales of filthy men.” D’Artagnan blushed so hard that not even the Bordeaux could not take the blame. It wasn’t his fault that he wasn’t as- how would Aramis put it- enlightened as the rest of them, but they all had a few years on him, and he’d grown up a reasonably sheltered farmer’s son. The kind of talk they had in Paris never made it to his acres. “Look at this, you’re ruining the poor boy. He didn’t come all the way from Lupiac just to have his ears defiled by your-”
“It’s fine,” said D’Artagnan, too quickly; he drank a little more wine and cleared his throat. “Please, tell me more about this chevalier.”
“See, Athos. It’s not like his head was full of lamb’s wool before he got to Paris. And he’s a grown man! He can stand to hear a thing or two,” Aramis argued, and shot a wink at D’Artagnan as he lifted his cup to drink. Athos rolled his eyes, but then fondly put an arm around D’Artagnan’s shoulders. Aramis and Porthos shared a look that D’Artagnan couldn’t read.
The church-bells tolled one o’clock, and with some poorly hidden embarrassment, D’Artagnan realised he had dozed off. He blinked awake slowly, warmed by the fire to his back and a comforting weight around him. Porthos and Aramis had left the table, but he could hear them talking quietly in the bedroom. He’d kept his assumptions about the closeness of their relationship to himself, but was secretly pleased to have them confirmed. D’Artagnan had not grown up with too many chansons des gestes , but had a full and honest heart; much like the admirable Aramis, he saw little point in discriminating between lovers, if they were truly in love. He had yet to build up the courage to speak theologically with Aramis about these matters, but believed he’d made a decent enough conclusion by himself. Briefly lost in his thoughts, D’Artagnan looked up from where he rested. Athos was reading by the firelight, legs kicked up on what had been Aramis’ chair; still half-embracing D’Artagnan, he licked his thumb, and turned the page.
“Oh,” said D’Artagnan softly, “you didn’t have to stay.”
“Mm.” Athos shrugged. “It’s no matter.” He scratched under his jaw. “No, that’s not true; I wanted to stay. I hope you don’t mind.”
D’Artagnan did not so much give in, but allowed himself to stop resisting gravity, and let his head rest on Athos’ shoulder. Athos reached into his pocket and pulled out a short length of ribbon to save his spot in his book. He closed it neatly.
“Aramis is a romantic,” said Athos. “He fancies himself an Eros, I think. Imagine how much more the little cherubs with their bows and quivers would have achieved with pistols.” He rested his chin on the top of D’Artagnan’s head; it smelled like woodsmoke and straw.
“I don’t think I understand you.”
“Then let us have this conversation another time, when we’re both a little more sober. Let me clear my head, and I’ll walk you home, hm?”
D’Artagnan buried his face in Athos’ shirt, tipsy and warm and drowsy and fully content, even though he wasn’t entirely sure what Athos was talking about.
“I don’t want to go home,” he mumbled into the cambric. “I’m not a little boy you can send to bed, Athos.”
“Then what are you now, if not a babe sleeping on my bosom?” Athos murmured a laugh. D’Artagnan was less than impressed, but the first dull pangs of a hangover were starting to kick in- brought on by being so close to the fire, no doubt- and he was struggling to shake off the fuzziness of his head. He grumbled, and then grumbled again for realising how childish it made him sound. Athos watched him carefully, remaining unguarded nevertheless.
“I’m not a child,” D’Artagnan said flatly, and before he could convince himself otherwise, grabbed a fistful of Athos’ shirt and kissed him hard on the mouth. Athos neither moved away nor pushed forward; the only way one would have noticed he was even being kissed was the small crease in his brow, his eyes closing as if in the middle of a slow blink. D’Artagnan let go of Athos’ shirt and sat back, biting his lip. “I. I’m sorry, I-” He swallowed. Athos opened his eyes again and touched his fingers to his lips, movement slow and dreamlike.
“Aramis is going to be so proud of himself,” he said, finally, unreadable as always; and held his hand out to D’Artagnan (who was considering if jumping out of the window would be the best plan of escape).
D’Artagnan looked at Athos’ hand like it was a trap, ready for it to suddenly snap open and shatter his own at the end of his limb. Tentatively he reached out to it, and Athos held it like a courtier’s, gently pressing against his knuckles with a rough, pale thumb. Athos leaned forward and kissed the back of D’Artagnan’s hand tenderly.
“He’s been trying to push me into this for months,” he continued, looking towards Porthos’ bedchamber briefly. “I told him quite explicitly that I wouldn’t compromise our,” and Athos looked around without moving his head, searching for the words, “well. I wanted you to know that my fondness for you had no hidden agenda.” He squeezed D’Artagnan’s hand gently. “You could be the best of us all, one day. You deserve to know that without bias.”
“You mean, you wanted…”
“...for you to know that your praise is duly earned, not a thing I would give away to simply win your graces. You are not a patroness to be wooed with half-empty words.”
D’Artagnan laughed his bright, lovely laugh.
“And if I were?”
“You’d have been sent to the convent already, with a temper like yours. Or the pyre. I never would’ve met you.” Athos’ smile was small but earnest. “D’Artagnan?”
“I’m going to bed, D’Artagnan.” Athos knelt in front of him, and kissed his hand again. “You’re not obliged to, by any means, but if-”
“-oh, shush .” D’Artagnan grinned and pulled Athos back up onto his feet. “You just said I’m not your patroness.” He embraced Athos, close but loose, and lay his head on a cushion of hard bone and soft cambric. “Take me with you.”