“It could be worse,” Treville remarked.
“How?” Athos demanded, glaring.
‘You could be the one with the bullet in him,’ Treville thought, and wisely didn’t say. He knew that Athos would bear any number of wounds for his captain, his king, his friends- would always wish any injury they might sustain was his instead- but had considerable difficulty believing anyone might feel that way about him.
Beyond the comfort that knowing that Athos was uninjured brought him, Treville did have trouble finding a bright spot in their current predicament. They were locked in a storeroom that had been repurposed as a cell by the man they had come to arrest and the mercenaries he had working for him, and Athos’ extensive search hadn’t produced anything that could get them out of there. Of course, Treville had no doubt that Athos’ friends would come for him, but it was impossible to tell how soon they would arrive, or if they were even looking yet. He couldn’t even say that this would teach him to go out on a mission when he could keep to his desk- not when there was a distinct possibility that he would bleed out in this place; the joke would almost certainly fall flat.
He decided not to say anything at all.
“Let me look at that,” Athos said, fingertips finding Treville’s shoulder and lingering there.
It was so second nature for Treville to shrug Athos off that he had to force himself to keep still. Athos wasn’t generally inclined to touch people, and it had been easy enough to convince him with little signs that there was no need to fight that disinclination with Treville as he did with Porthos and Aramis and now d’Artagnan.
But Athos had reached out now for an entirely practical reason, and it would be folly to avoid him now. Athos unbuttoned his jacket with surprisingly delicate fingers and Treville gritted his teeth.
Athos paused. “Does that hurt?”
“A little.” Treville was unhappy enough to tell the lie that it came across as reluctance to appear weak and Athos seemed satisfied. In fact, Treville was feeling very little, pain or otherwise. He had an idea that the lack of pain- combined with light-headedness and a general weakness of limb- was a bad sign. The muffling of his other senses he blamed on Athos’ close proximity, which he had always found somewhat intoxicating. His body, it seemed, had not entirely gotten the message that Athos was pushing his shirt aside for entirely businesslike reasons. Treville swallowed, set his jaw, and proceeded to count backward from a hundred.
Athos peeled back the fabric and hissed.
“Is it that bad?”
“Not at all,” Athos said. It was difficult to tell if he was lying. “Aramis will have it good as new.”
Treville concluded that Athos believed what he was saying- but he knew that the faith his Inseparables had in Aramis’ healing abilities did sometimes stretch beyond the power of medicine. What was more, there was no way to be sure Aramis was even coming- coming soon, anyway- and Treville could feel himself fading. If he fell asleep, he wasn’t sure he’d wake again.
Athos backed off from his examination, but he didn’t go far; he was holding a scarf to the wound to staunch the bleeding. “I take it you have no desire to discuss… what you did.”
“What I did?” Treville repeated. “I didn’t know it was up for discussion.”
Athos looked uncomfortable. “I’d like an explanation.”
Treville wondered what explanation beyond the obvious Athos imagined there might be. ‘I tripped and fell in front of a bullet meant for you. Terribly sorry; it won’t happen again’?
“You’re so much more important than me,” Athos added.
Though he had planned to keep his mouth shut, that last remark had so mirrored his own thoughts on the subject that Treville simply couldn’t. “And who, may I ask, is less important than you?” Treville coughed, and it jarred his shoulder, finally sending pain lancing through his body.
Athos’ sympathetic wince suggested that he had seen as much, and felt sufficiently guilty for antagonizing him that he would allow Treville to change the subject to whatever he wanted, or keep silent altogether. But if Treville was indeed going to die, he had no desire to do so with this unsaid.
“Who is less important than you? Who might jump in front of you that you would weigh the options and conclude that they had made the practical- correct- choice? Porthos or Aramis? D’Artagnan, maybe? No? Some other new recruit you know less well? Or perhaps one of our older hands, fit for guarding some inconsequential part of the palace but one I would never send on a vital mission or assign to the king, no matter how much he trained or how long he served?”
Treville watched Athos’ face as he spoke, saw his expression go from puzzled to horrified to disgusted by turns. “No,” Athos said stiffly.
“Are you sure? Because they are less important than you.”
Athos looked away.
“Or will you admit that there are other factors?”
“There are,” Athos said immediately. His dogged expression told Treville everything he needed to know about how Athos intended to harness this argument. “Most of those men have families. Wives. Children. People who depend on them.”
“And you don’t?”
“My friends would... miss me,” Athos admitted. “They would recover.”
Treville doubted it immensely, but chose not to fight Athos on the subject. If Aramis and Porthos hadn’t yet managed to convince Athos of his own importance, it was not for lack of effort. He said, “I wouldn’t.”
He doubted Athos could have looked more astonished if he had declared an intention to kill the king.
Athos looked oddly suspicious. “Why?”
“Because I would like to touch you.” From the way Athos’ brow wrinkled, his acceptance of Treville’s desire not to touch him hadn’t been as unconscious as Treville had always believed. Whether he had taken it at face value or wondered what the explanation might be Treville didn’t know, but it was reasonably evident that he had never correctly guessed why.
Under other circumstances, this would have pleased Treville. But there seemed to be little point in keeping it quiet any longer. He had always thought of how it would be a burden to Athos- disgust him at worst, trouble him at best- to know the truth. He had never thought before now that it might do him some good to know how fiercely he was loved, if only in this one quarter.
Athos leaned close and Treville touched his face. He brushed the backs of his fingers over Athos’ cheek. “I saw so much in you when we met,” he sighed. “I knew how great you could be if you would only believe it. And somehow you managed to be great without it.”
“I’m a good soldier,” Athos protested. “I have never doubted as much.”
“And yet you have yourself half-convinced that you have no heart left, even when it is nearly breaking for comrades you hardly know. Your skill with the sword, your general tactical abilities; they make you a good soldier. Your heart is what makes you great. A great soldier, a great leader, a great man. And I so wanted it to be mine.”
“I have never followed you with anything less than complete devotion.”
“That is nonsense,” Treville said warmly. “Devotion, yes. Complete, no. You would choose your friends over me if you had to. I do not begrudge you that. But I did not mean service.” Treville slid his thumb downward, brushing over Athos’ lower lip. “It is rather telling that you still don’t realize.”
“That I fell in love with you.”
Athos’ jaw worked, and Treville felt dizzy. He caught himself hoping he would fall away before that dumbfounded look was replaced by whatever would come next. He didn’t, but his thoughts were cut off by sound of steel on steel and various thuds and cries. Then he heard voices, calling Athos’ name and his own. Aramis. D’Artagnan.
“In here,” Athos shouted, voice slightly strangled, but carrying. He didn’t move away from Treville. “Hurry.”
There was a sound that was the chair holding the door closed being moved, and then Aramis was the first through. If he was at all surprised by the pose he found them in, he didn’t show it. “Are you all right?” d’Artagnan, following closely behind, asked.
“He’s been shot,” Athos explained, giving Aramis room. While Aramis removed Athos’ scarf to get a look at the wound, Treville kept his eyes on Athos’ face. His baffled expression had softened into something Treville had never seen before.
"We shouldn't move him like this," Aramis said, lowering his voice as if that would keep Treville from hearing. "But if I can stitch him up..."
Athos' face settled then into a look of determination that Treville found all too familiar. It was the last thing he saw.
* * *
He opened his eyes- which in and of itself was surprising- and found himself in his own rooms again. There was an itching in his shoulder that suggested there were fresh stitches there. Treville looked around.
There was a chair by his bed, and Athos was in it, hat over his eyes.
“How do you feel?” Athos asked, not moving.
“Like someone punched me. What happened?”
Athos took off the hat and eyed Treville with an oddly tender expression. “Porthos caught our man trying to leave the country while Aramis and d’Artagnan were looking for us. So that’s all fine- and if you get sufficient rest you should be too.” Athos stood, crossed to Treville's bed, and perched on the side of it. Just a little too casually, he continued: “I have to tell you something.”
Treville’s gut twisted unpleasantly, but he kept his face impassive. “Yes?”
“You saved my life. When you recruited me, I mean. And every day since. My… friends mean a great deal to me, it’s true- but there would never have been enough of me left to meet them if not for you.” Athos leaned closer. “Imagining I might someday- somehow- be worthy of your trust, your respect, your… affection- it kept me going when nothing else could. What you said yesterday...” He sighed. “Did you really think I’d let you go after that?” He kissed Treville quickly, but hard enough to take his breath away. “Now then. Aramis will want to take another look at his handiwork.”
Athos’ smile was crooked and close-mouthed, but no less like the sun coming from behind the clouds for it. Treville thought he could get used to seeing it.