They find him at last at the Boar's Tits, the dirtiest and most flea-infested of the taverns that Athos likes to frequent when he is, as Porthos is wont to put it, in One of Those Moods. "There he is," Portos sighs when he spots a familiar crumpled hat bent over a tankard in the back.
"What are you doing here?" Athos slurs as Porthos and Aramis each grab an arm. "Leave me 'lone."
"He's more in his cups than usual," Porthos observes as they maneuver him out into the alley.
"And that's saying something," Aramis adds from his other side. Their voices are amused and ironic, but the look they give each other behind his back--where neither Athos the various pickpockets, drunks, and urchins listening avidly can see it--is not.
But once they are away from the crowded parts of the streets, Porthos growls, "Why do you do this?"
Athos brushes off their hands. He turns to look into Porthos's face, but overcompensates and starts listing off to the east; his comrades unobtrusively put their hands on his shoulders again to right him. "There's nothing wrong with a few drinks--"
"He doesn't mean the drinking," Aramis snaps. "He means the running away from us."
"I am not...running away from you," Athos says, blinking owlishly. He looks from Aramis to Porthos. "See? If I were running away, I would not be here any longer." He considers for a moment. "Obviously."
Porthos and Aramis exchange another look. Then they pivot, each with a hand on one shoulder, and begin to advance on him, pushing him backward. "Athos," Aramis says as if explaining something to a small child, "You know the high esteem in which we hold you."
"And you know we're fond of you even if you're a pig-headed fool," Porthos says.
Athos turns those statements over in his head as he stumbles backwards. "You're right. I am a pig-headed, prideful, useless--"
His back collides with a crumbling brick wall as Porthos snarls and Aramis sighs at him simultaneously. "Do shut up," Aramis says. "For heaven's sake, what must we do to convince you of the great love we have for you?"
"I mean, have we got to tie you up and gag you to make you listen to us?" adds Porthos.
Athos's knees go hamstrung-weak; he wobbles wildly in their twinned grasp. There is a long moment when they both look at his face; Porthos's mouth rounds in a silent "Oh."
"Maybe?" Athos says in a very small voice.
The alcohol is still turning the world blurry around the edges, but Athos can feel the leather strips binding his wrists and ankles to the bedposts with a preternatural clarity. There's silk up against his lips, muffling his voice. He wants to explain that they should just let this go, just throw him in a pigsty somewhere and let him rot, but the thought seems strangely faraway. He can't push them away anymore, not with his hands or his voice.
They've never done anything like this. Oh certainly, the usual quick friendly fumbles of comrades when half-drunk or between mistresses; a hand in the dark and a sigh of release--they all know these moments. But this is different. Aramis and Porthos strip him of his clothes with a sort of luxurious slowness, stopping to exclaim over each step.
"Observe these hands, Porthos," Aramis says, kissing each finger. "How steady they are on a trigger, how sure on a sword." Athos tries to pull his hand--his filthy and forsaken hand--away from Aramis's lips, but the bonds hold him fast.
"A mind of cunning strategy," Porthos says with a kiss to the forehead. He strokes Athos's hair. "And a wit as sharp as a blade."
Aramis has opened his shirt, "The truest heart in France," he murmurs. Porthos makes an annoyed sound, and Aramis amends it to, "In this world."
"Or any other," Porthos declares. They are to his left and right now, kissing each rib. Athos feels as if he will die with the shame and the delight of it.
"You always have to one-up me," Aramis grumbles, lifting his head from one peaked nipple. "This isn't a competition."
Porthos chuckles, delighted, and slips a hand into Athos's breeches, tugging them down. "Shall we discuss the manliness of our comrade?"
"That is most certainly apparent," Aramis says with a cheerful leer. "But his true manliness is in his bravery and loyalty."
Porthos cups his balls, caressing, and Athos whimpers against the silken gag. "Shhh," Porthos whispers, his voice rough and gentle at once. "Let us do this." As if Athos has any choice in the matter, as if his arousal weren't so agonizingly clear. Porthos bends over him, takes him in his mouth, and Athos bucks against him helplessly.
Aramis drops a kiss on Porthos's head before trailing his hands downward. His voice is nearly lost in the haze of pleasure, yet even this bliss cannot blot out the words--so sweet, so undeserved--he is saying.
"Porthos, are not these thighs the thighs of a warrior? Have they not marched by our side to many a battle?" Porthos makes a blurry but enthusiastic sound of agreement as Aramis slides his hands lower, caressing Athos's knees, his calves, coming to rest on his feet, strong thumbs pressing into his instep.
"And these feet," he murmurs. "Humble feet. Feet that have trodden many a lonely road with no one by their side." He bends and--sweet Christ, Athos feels his lips against his instep, caressing. Porthos's mouth is avid, demanding release, commanding pleasure, and Athos knows he will soon be unable to deny it.
"These feet which have done the greatest deed of all," Aramis says, and his mouth is a cold flame against Athos's skin. "These feet which brought you at last to us."
And Athos arcs up against Porthos's mouth, feeling strong hands on his hips pinning him back down to the bed, and for a moment there is nothing but the utter safety of his friends' embrace, the total knowledge of their love.
He lies, limp and blank, feeling Aramis untie his ankles and wrists, feeling Porthos undo his gag. Without asking, they slip into bed on either side of him, seeming sated and sleepy already. He wraps an arm around either one of them, pulling them closer.
"I have done nothing for you," he murmurs. "How can you waste your energy on one such as me?"
"You're welcome," Aramis says, his voice already feathered with sleep.
"Now shut up and go to sleep," adds Porthos.
Athos lies in bed with his comrades draped across him, arms and legs in a tangle. He is warm, he is safe, he is--impossibly--loved. He should feel more guilty than he does, he thinks with chagrin.
But for now, he decides it might be best to take Porthos's advice.