They each have their secrets. Fewer now than before – these months since D’Artagnan joined them have played havoc with all attempts at equilibrium. But as close as they may be, they do not confide every inner thought or desire or fear.
Athos is well aware that he shares less than most. As Treville said once, a pointed barb delivered with no true intent to sting, it’s expected of him. Aramis has long had the skill to speak much and say little. Porthos has never hesitated to say what he means. D’Artagnan, they have learned, can keep his own counsel well when he wishes. And Athos, he hoards truths like gold, sharing as poorly as any miser. It wasn’t always such. He takes lessons learned to heart.
But as difficult as it is to keep secrets amongst the four of them now, it has always been more difficult to keep them from himself.
He held no illusions that his wife – his former wife – had stayed true to vows he had thought broken by her lies and her death. Even after discovering her deception, he hadn’t spared any thoughts to the men she might have known since.
Now he does. He thinks, and he wonders.
And he must admit to himself that his thoughts dwell more on whether impulse or insight rules D’Artagnan when in bed, rather than whether his wife had slept with the boy hoping that Athos would learn of it.
The day they ride away from the king and queen and cowed-but-not-broken cardinal, ends a fine day. It did not start that way, and they all had to have known that they would return to the knowledge of what losses they have suffered. Athos had not, however, expected the celebration to turn quite so early in the evening.
“Warning be damned, we should have killed him,” Aramis grumbles.
The smoke-filled air of the tavern helpfully swallows his words before they can stir any curiosity in the men huddled over their own drinks and business. For his part, Porthos pushes a newly filled cup across the table and claps a hand on Aramis’s shoulder.
“If you’d volunteered to be the one answering those questions,” he says with a smirk, “I would have happily laid him out at your feet.”
Athos drinks deep, barely tasting the wine for the water as Aramis mouth twists in wry acknowledgement. He knows why Aramis is the one wishing they had been free to take more drastic steps. They all feel a measure of it – to try for the life of the queen is more than reason enough – but he can’t begin imagine being in his friend’s particular place on this matter. There is also a part of him that wishes he didn’t know that place is different than where the rest of them stand.
The other two are unaware, and this is not a secret that should be shared. It’s no surprise, though, to see D’Artagnan’s contemplative frown. The boy has a keen mind, and is as adept at ferreting out a truth as any Athos has known. So, he decides, it is time to divert the path of that mind.
He upends his cup on the table with a clatter and pushes up to stand. “Come,” he says. “There is one more stop we should make before this day is done.”
An amused snort from D’Artagnan is the only response. Athos raises an eyebrow and D’Artagnan simply leans back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest, and grins at their companions. “I think they’re stopped where they are.”
It’s a pity, but turning his full attention is back on the others, Athos can’t disagree. Aramis is now leaning into Porthos’s arm around his shoulders, head down and eyes near closed, and they’re speaking in tones low enough that even Athos cannot hear, the other side of the table too far under the din of the room. As if feeling their regard, Porthos looks up, a hint of the curiosity Athos had seen in D’Artagnan now in Porthos’s eyes. It retreats under a look Athos cannot guess the meaning of, and Porthos jerks his chin.
Athos pauses, wanting to ensure he understood that signal. Porthos’s exasperated return expression, combined with the clear gesture with his free hand, leave no doubt. Chuckling, Athos nods to D’Artagnan, and the two of them ease their way toward the door alone.
Darkness is just starting to descend in the narrow street outside the tavern, enterprising souls moving to light lamps to continue showing their wares. There is still enough light in the sky, however, to see D’Artagnan shake his head with a small smile.
“An odd end to an odd day,” he says.
“I can’t remember ever seeing Athos the first one headed under the table on a night.” D’Artagnan kicks a small stone along in front of them as they start back toward the inn they settled on that afternoon at the edge of town. When Athos continues to walk without offering any insight, D’Artagnan looks over at Athos and shrugs. “Odd.”
“Porthos will get him to bed in relatively good condition,” Athos finally says. That’s not really an answer, but it is still not his secret to tell.
“Oh, I’m sure,” D’Artagnan says. They pass four more darkened shops in strangely comfortable silence before D’Artagnan starts speculating on how much longer it will be until Treville’s shoulder is healed, and they speak no more on the actual events of the last day.
There are few days when Athos allows thoughts of his former wife to enter his mind. It becomes quickly clear that while D’Artagnan might wish he had that strength, he does not.
“You can’t keep standing all but at her doorstep, mooning,” Aramis advises as they lead D’Artagnan away to another task yet again. “The look of a lovesick puppy does you – and us, might I note – no favors.”
“She seems sad,” D’Artagnan says, twisting in Porthos’ hold to look once more at the house on the corner. “She used to smile more.”
Porthos jerks him back around and pulls his head close. “You’re not watching her every move, are you? Maybe she smiles when she knows you’re not around.”
D’Artagnan shoves Porthos away, but not as hard as he might have, as he has done before. The strong twitch to his mouth as he moves out of range of retaliation is another sign that makes Athos begin to believe it won’t be long before they will no longer be fetching him from this spot.
“Perhaps if you aren’t always standing around her house, Madame Bonacieux will come back to see the rest of us poor souls,” he says, his own amusement held close.
Aramis catches his eyes, narrows his own for a moment, and then nods. “Yes,” he says brightly, “as I was saying, think of the rest of us.”
“How can I not?” D’Artagnan sighs, and he succumbs with good grace to the neck hold Porthos traps him in this time.
The day is bright and clear, the air bordering on sharp in the lungs, and Athos is flying.
When the trees appear ahead, he pulls up, slowing his horse down to a walk, and then a halt. And he laughs.
Athos turns. D’Artagnan comes to a stop at his left, a grin on his own face, somehow having been the one to nearly keep pace with Athos on that mad dash. It’s a long moment of them and their horses standing there, breathing hard, before Aramis and Porthos finally crest the ridge behind them.
“I had no idea you were going to do that,” D’Artagnan says, shaking his head and beaming with the thrill Athos can still feel. “Maybe a little warning, next time, hmm?”
“I…” Athos shakes his own head and fights to bring his thoughts back into order.
“You lunatic!” Aramis calls, close enough now to point and scowl. “Not all of us were brought up on a horse, you know.”
That, of all things, settles Athos. It’s been near six months since they learned of his heritage and upbringing, and this, he realizes is the moment when their knowledge no longer disturbs him. Instead, he can easily wait until they pull up along side, point his own finger at D’Artagnan, and say, “This is one was brought up on a farm horse, and he kept up well enough.”
“Battle-hardened Musketeers,” D’Artagnan muses. “It looks as though I still have things to learn. I’d have thought a fast run on a horse would be second nature, no matter how you were brought up.”
“Oh, don’t you start,” Porthos rumbles as he dismounts and rests a hand on his horse’s side. “I can control a horse as good as any, but up and damn near flying across an open field for no good reason – it’s not exactly a thing we do every day, now.”
All the more reason to do it, Athos thinks. What had passed through his mind at seeing the open space, knowing they are ahead of schedule to reach the abbey, was nothing more than: Look at that.
What he says, though, is, “Maybe we should.”
Aramis snorts. “Across the many fields of Paris, yes.”
“No, wait,” D’Artagnan says. “There are plenty of good runs outside of the city. To the south, there’s one that has a small river, a good obstacle in the middle for–”
He breaks off, finally noting the stares from the rest of them. His shoulders tighten, the horse stirring under him before he loosens his hands on the reins again and raises his chin.
“So that’s where you go now when you disappear,” Aramis says, nodding thoughtfully. “Quite a ways from your usual haunts.”
D’Artagnan shrugs it off, his voice soft when he says, “I’ve always been good. I wanted to be better.”
“You are,” Athos says. But he’s thinking now, You didn’t ask for training. You didn’t ask me.
Athos isn’t in the barracks when Madame Bonacieux returns for the first time since the day they rescued her. He is on his way back from quick duty as a messenger, but he is not quick enough to be there.
He discovers the day’s event when he returns and finds Aramis and Porthos flanking D’Artagnan at a table in their favorite tavern. Their eyes are bright, their voices loud in song, and empty bottles and filled cups surround them.
“If I had known my absence would cause such merriment…” he drawls.
D’Artagnan jerks around so quickly, he tilts, staying upright on the bench only due to Porthos’s bulk at his side.
“Join us!” he cries. “For today is a good day!”
“So I see,” Athos says. He eases onto the bench across from them and reaches for one of the empty bottles. Not the best, a quick sniff at the open mouth reveals, but not cheap. Celebration, indeed.
Aramis waves a broad arm, and one of the tarvern girls brings another cup. “Today is a day of new beginnings,” he says with gleaming eyes. He pours for Athos with restraint, though, all the liquid making it into the cup.
“And what are we ending?” Athos asks.
There’s a moment, both Aramis and Porthos turning to D’Artagnan, who is looking intently enough at Athos to give him pause. Then Porthos jabs D’Artagnan with an elbow, jolting him into a chuckle as his eyes fall to the cup in front of him.
“Constance, she…she came to the barracks today.”
Athos’s hand tightens on his cup. He’s immesurably glad he had not yet lifted it to drink.
“We spoke,” D’Artagnan continues slowly, “and I…”
The hesitation is too much. “Are you leaving?” Athos hears himself ask.
D’Artagnan’s head comes back up, alcohol-muddled puzzlement all across his face. “What?”
“Um, just how much did you have while you were gone?” Porthos asks, and he reaches for Athos’s cup as though to take it.
Athos simply picks it up and drinks deeply from it. “I apologize,” he says, hoping that they won’t poke and prod. “Continue.”
With a sharp, curious look, Aramis says, “What our young friend is trying to say is that the good madame arrived this afternoon with a package of mended uniforms, and she and D’Artagnan exchanged pleasantries, and D’Artagnan–“
D’Artagnan puts a hand over Aramis’s mouth. “Shush. Mine to tell.”
Aramis’s eyebrows rise high at that and Porthos starts laughing. Athos is not feeling any hint of amusement, and he dares not look to close at the reason. But then, thankfully, Aramis gives a wave of his hand, urging D’Artagnan on.
“We spoke, and I realized…I still love her,” D’Artagnan says, eyes wide and earnest.
It takes all of Athos’s control to force down the urgent need to leave tat comes over him. He manages, and stays still in his seat, but it’s undeniably strong and there – he doesn’t want to hear D’Artagnan say any more.
Aramis is the one who says something, his words still muffled by D’Artagnan’s hand.
“Oh!” D’Artagnan pulls away. “Sorry! Sorry.”
“If you don’t tell it faster,” Aramis repeats as he leans in until they’re nose to nose, “I don’t care if it’s your story.”
“The idiot realized he’s not in love with her,” Porthos announces from the other side. D’Artagnan turns on him, but Porthos holds him back, saying, “You’re an idiot. We’d have been here a week before you’d just say it.”
Athos stays silent as the three of them shove at each other. There are too many thoughts, and too many that he doesn’t want to think. None can be allowed to escape into the air.
Finally, he settles on, “That is a very good reason for a celebratory drink,” and raises his cup to the agreement he gets all around.
Athos stays as clear of the others as he realistically can for the next week. He needs to think. He needs the space to struggle with what he knows is another truth he should not – cannot – share.
But he remembers what he wondered after he first learned of the relatonship between D’Artagnan and his wife. And if nothing else is solved in this week, he has to admit that he has never stopped wondering and that the problem now is that if he chose to speak, he might have the opportunity to satisfy his curiosity.
It it at the end of that week that Porthos and Aramis are sent on a mission by the queen to the abbey that had sheltered and protected her at such great cost. He questions the choice of Aramis for that task, but the man assures him it is one accepted freely, even gladly.
“I need to see where they’ve buried Isabelle. Sister Hélène,” Aramis says to Athos alone. Another closely shared secret, although it is likely Porthos will be included in the circle who know. Perhaps he already is.
So for a few days, the four of them are to be only two, and it will be far harder to keep to himself in that situation. He should relearn to act normally, really. He of all people knows that avoidance is hardly a long-term solution for anything.
Everything is taken out of his hands the evening after Aramis and Porthos take their leave. Sitting across from him for the evening meal in their lodgings, D’Artagnan does nothing but pick at his food.
“Is the bread not to your liking?” Athos finally asks him.
D’Artagnan shakes his head, breaks off a piece and dips it in the bit of sauce on his plate. “I’ve a question.”
He says nothing more, though his body speaks louder, as it often does – curled forward, hands constantly moving. Whatever is bothering him is more than a small thing.
“What is it?” Athos prompts.
Though his head is still down, it’s easy to see the way D’Artagnan’s mouth screws up, a determined set, before he takes a deep breath. “When I said I’m no longer in love with Constance.” He breaks off with a small laugh and glances up to admit, “When Porthos said it, I mean.”
Though it’s near the last thing he wants to do, Athos nods for him to continue.
D’Artagnan pauses, then pulls his shoulders back. It’s a deliberate move, and Athos stamps down on the need to shift in response.
“You didn’t really say anything.” D’Artagnan leans in and says, “You haven’t really said anything in the last week.”
Athos say anything now – if there’s a safe response, he doesn’t know it.
D’Artagnan scowls and lets out a frustrated sound. “Fine. Here’s my question: Why? What are you thinking?”
Feint. Distract. Delay. “That’s two questions.”
“Athos!” D’Artagnan shoves back to stand with his hands braced on the table, practically shouting, “The others said plenty! Comiseration. Congratulations. Advice. Names and directions and, and descriptions of the best women in town. But from you…” He stops and takes another deep breath as he straightens fully to look down at Athos, and say more calmly, “From you I heard nothing.”
Athos rises to match him and puts his hands out. “What would you have me say?”
D’Artagnan tilts his head, considering, before saying, “I’ll settle for an answer to the second question.”
It’s a foolish risk. It could break everything. But D’Artagnan has always sought and demanded truth.
“I’m thinking that I’m glad,” Athos admits.
Surprise opens D’Artangan’s eyes wide. “Glad,” he says.
“Not that you suffered,” Athos says quickly. “I know that suffering, thinking the one you love never loved you.”
“Yes.” D’Artagnan’s voice is quiet now. “You do.”
Athos’s hands clench at his sides. “I’m glad because it means you are free.”
“Yes,” D’Artagnan says again. He steps closer. “I am, now.”
Eyebrows high, D’Artagnan asks, “And that’s it?”
He is very close now, his mouth pursed as he contemplates what Athos has dared to share. Athos closes his eyes, needing for a moment not to see what’s in front of him.
“Free to do this.” D’Artagnan’s soft words wash over Athos’s mouth a bare second before his lips brush across the same skin.
Athos freezes, his eyes snapping open. D’Artagnan is still close enough their breath mingles, the look in his eyes cautious but hopeful.
That hope fades, dying when Athos stays silent. A wry smile twists D’Artagnan’s mouth and he starts to pull back.
“Or not,” he says.
Athos grabs D’Artagnan’s arms.
“Or…yes,” Athos tells him.
There’s enough time as D’Artagnan’s hands come up to hold Athos’s head for Athos to see the hope flare into a full smile, and then their mouths are together for a true kiss.
It's not an easy one - they both want to have their way. A twist, a turn, the corner of the table jabs sharp into Athos’s hip before he pushes and D’Artagnan’s back hits the wall. They break apart, breathing hard. Then D’Artagnan holds out a hand.
“If you’ll follow my lead, this time…”
After a beat, Athos nods. “For now,” he says, taking that hand in his own.
Impulse, Athos learns, can far more reliably be seen as a boon in bed.
It had been clear from the moment they moved on from kissing that D’Artagnan’s level of experience with male partners did not measure up to Athos’s, and the first time was over almost embarrassingly quickly for both of them. Athos pushed D’Artagnan over the edge with the most basic of touches before following right behind.
When they have recovered enough, Athos still moves slowly. Bringing both their hands together, he murmurs, “Let me,” and draws their hands down to pull on D’Artagnan’s cock, startling a pleased groan out of him. He keeps the rhythm steady, deliberate, and forces himself to not grind his own cock into D’Artagnan’s leg as his hips rise off the bed with each long stroke.
On a particularly needy noise, D’Artagnan turns his head to look at where Athos is careful to maintain a space between their bodies.
“I, I want…”
Athos shushes him, tightening his hand to distract him, but D’Artagnan shakes his head, panting, and pulls his own hand free hand to push at Athos’s shoulders until they’re facing each other on their sides.
“I want, no,” he says, twisting away to come up on his knees when Athos reaches out again. “Stop. I want to try.”
Intrigued, Athos says, “Very well,” expecting D’Artagnan to mirror the action Athos had taken.
But D’Artagnan’s smile is somehow both shy and wicked as he looks down and licks his lips, and before Athos can lean up to replace D’Artagnan’s tongue with his own, D’Artagnan slides back to bend over and suck Athos in.
It’s too sudden, and it’s been too long, and Athos nearly loses control entirely.
D’Artagnan pulls off with a wet sound and a knowing grin. They look at each other just long enough for Athos to swear, harsh and heartfelt, at what’s in D’Artagnan’s eyes.
“My turn,” D’Artagnan says, his voice already rough.
Athos puts his head back and wonders if he should pray. Impulse combined with insight. He has known for some time that this is one of D’Artagnan’s most dangerous weapons. If this is the result, it does not disappoint him – in any way at all – to learn that this holds true for D’Artagnan in bed.
Morning is barely a glimmer in the sky when Athos awakes.
D’Artagnan sleeps still, sprawled over far more of the bed than Athos would have thought possible. The faintest darkened marks are showing on D’Artagnan’s shoulders, his shirt hanging loose on his torso, and Athos remembers how hard his fingers had dug in when D’Artagnan had lightly scraped his teeth up the length of Athos’ cock.
This is not the first time Athos has woken with another man at his side – the months after he left his estate, before he joined the Musketeers, there was little he did not do or see.
This is, however, the first time his first thought is not to roll away and out of his bedfellow’s life.
Still, he hesitates when D’Artagnan stirs.
“Mmm,” D’Artagnan sighs. Then he opens his eyes and a sweet, wide smile lights up his face. “You’re still here?”
That smile banishes all doubts, but Athos deliberately raises his eyebrows. “That you say that with surprise does not, I think, speak well of me.”
Concern rounds D’Artagnan’s eyes and he scrambles up to lean over Athos, as if needing to keep him in place. “Oh, oh no. Just…” One hand waves, a helpless motion that encompasses everything that occurred in the night. “I didn’t know what to expect,” he admits.
Athos levels a look at him. “This changes nothing outside of this room.”
“Of course not,” D’Artagnan quickly agrees.
“We will tell the others together, though. When they return.”
The difficulty in keeping a stoic face while saying that is well worth the effort when D’Artagnan’s eyes widen even further.
Athos lets himself smile now, real amusement behind the wry twist. “I don’t wish to risk their actions, or their words, should they discover it on their own,” he points out. “And if last night is any indication of how we get on, they will discover it.”
D’Artagnan winces. “Very true. You aren’t quiet.”
Shocked, Athos shoots an arm out to topple D’Artagnan back to the bed. “I’m not?” he growls.
D’Artagnan’s response is to pull Athos down on top of him.
Three days later, Aramis and Porthos return and Athos is there alone to greet them.
D’Artagnan did not stay in Athos’s room the night before – past the first night, neither stayed, not all the way through to dawn. And they had words about that. A question from D’Artagnan during sparring practice, carrying a hint of hurt, caused Athos to sheathe his sword and walk away, because as he hissed when they were in close, blade to blade, “This is not the place, nor the time.” The words that came when D’Artagnan came after him had been practical, not couched in any soft words. Athos had spent the night alone.
Now he stands in the courtyard without knowing where D’Artagnan is. They didn’t keep track of each other’s every moment before they started this…this thing, and there’s no reason to change that habit now.
He watches both Aramis and Porthos carefully as they dismount, happy to note that the tense set to Aramis’s shoulder from the last months, while not gone, is considerably loosened. And that his smile is genuine when he holds out his arms wide and says, “We are returned.”
“With gifts,” Porthos adds. His hands are also out, but they are holding dark jugs from near every possible finger, and his grin has teeth. “We will drink well for some time.”
“Then you are welcome,” Athos says.
Aramis stretches out an arm to hit Athos on the shoulder. “And we wouldn’t be welcome without?”
Athos takes a jug and breaks the seal to breathe deep of the rich scent contained within. “A token is never amiss.”
Porthos snorts, and snatches back the jug without spilling a drop. He looks around as he caps it again. “Treville send D’Artagnan off somewhere? Or is he going to be here to help with this ‘token’?”
It takes considerable will for Athos to not shift on his feet. “No. He will be back, I’m sure.”
There’s a quick glance between the other two, but then Aramis shrugs, and says, “We need to go up and report.”
“I’ll take your horses.” Athos brings up a small smile. “And the token.”
“You’ll take the later only far as our rooms,” Aramis says with a cocked eyebrow.
Aramis continues to watch him closely until Porthos grabs his arm and starts moving toward the stairs, Aramis brought along despite himself.
Athos turns to lift the bags off the horses, and hopes D’Artagnan will not turn him into a liar.
They are only three again when they return home that night. It is amazing how incomplete that now feels.
They move around each other comfortably, their rhythm set long ago. They are setting in at the table for the first round – and Athos is wondering whether he will be able to enjoy it without slipping so far into the drink that he can’t guard his tongue – when the door opens.
“So the rumors are true, you didn’t take up vows and leave us for prettier company.”
“There are so few prettier than you,” Aramis says, raising his cup to D’Artagnan’s smirk.
Porthos shoves out the empty chair with his foot. D’Artagnan puts a hand on it, but he doesn’t sit.
“I need a word,” he says to Athos.
Athos’s throat closes up. He puts his cup down, and nods.
They move to D’Artagnan’s room, Athos deciding not to disagree on what field this played out on.
He’s completely disarmed when D’Artagnan turns around, the full room between them, and leads with, “I’m sorry.”
D’Artagnan crosses his arms. “I know we must keep this, keep us, quiet. I am…not unfamiliar with that approach.”
Athos does not like the way D’Artagnan says that. And he doesn’t like being compared to D’Artagnan’s previous partners. “It’s not that I don’t want you, don’t want to be with you.” He finds himself mirroring D’Artagnan’s crossed arms, and drops his hands to his sides. “We simply must be cautious.”
“And I know that,” D’Artagnan says. “I understand it. It’s just, we need to come to some agreement on how this works.”
“You want rules?” Athos asks, incredulous.
D’Artagnan lets out a rough sigh. “No, I want expectations. I want us to decide what we need, what we want, and how best we can make that happen.”
Athos steps forward. “I want you,” he says quietly.
“And I, you,” D’Artagnan says as he moves to join Athos in the center of the room.
“And we are so happy you both finally figured that out.”
They spin as one to see Aramis and Porthos, arms over each other’s shoulders in the – damn it all – open doorway, grinning from ear to ear.
“Seriously, we should have left you alone months ago, seems like,” Porthos says.
“And this forgives listening to a private conversation?” Athos demands. He’s standing so close to D’Artagnan, he can feel him shaking slightly.
“Door. Open,” Aramis points out. “Also, since when have we not indulged our curiosity?”
Athos knows his jaw is slack, all the secrets they don’t share an invisible mountain in the room.
D’Artagnan’s shaking deepens, and Athos turns to him, worry coming out on top of every other thing. It disappears, though, when D’Artagnan takes one look at him and breaks out in the laughter he had apparently been fighting to hold back.
“We said…we said they’d…figure it out,” he manages to say through his mirth.
Athos scowls, but it’s a poor job given the way he wants to join in now that he knows what D’Artagnan is thinking. “No, we said we’d tell them together.”
“You were actually going to tell us?” Aramis asks. “Could we go back out and pretend this never happened? I’d love to know what you were going to say.”
Athos gives in, and turns back to look at both of their friends. “Surprise?”
Porthos cackles, and starts back to the main room, calling behind him, “Drinks are out here!”