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To have an ambassador for dinner was a rare honor for a captain of the musketeers, even if that ambassador was an old musketeer himself. D'Artagnan brought out the good wine and got some biscuits ready; maybe Aramis improved his tastes while living abroad. Too much has changed since Porthos' passing. He smiled ironically at the idea of Athos laughing at him for fussing over having an old friend visit. D'Artagnan sighed. His life lacked Athos, Porthos and Raoul; this half-life without a father, a brother and a son ― even if by choice rather than blood ― was almost unbearable.

D'Artagnan sat next to the table and put his swollen feet on the footrest. Even as he mourned his losses, he couldn't help the rising expectation. What would a nightcap with Aramis bring?

Aramis, old fox...

There was no doubt, Aramis had outdone all his old friends, he surpassed Athos' titles, Porthos' riches, d'Artagnan' progress... he had even outdone poor Raoul by living to this ripe old age.

Yet Aramis had always been the spoiled child of fortune; he'd never lacked a safe port even as their friends were struggling to make ends meet — be it through his good looks, shrewd mind, or cunning ways. d'Artagnan had to make a conscious effort to turn away his mind from the image of Aramis' youthful handsomeness: his mind's eye, and hi secret heart, never saw Aramis in his actual figure, only the slender, dark-haired boy he’d once known. Oh, so beautiful... Aramis' beauty was his best weapon, but his intelligence was the blade he concealed at the ready while assessing a flanking stab.

D'Artagnan closed his eyes, trying to steel himself for the upcoming visit. There was a lot of water under the bridge, but Porthos was still a sore spot; in all honesty, d'Artagnan blamed Porthos himself sometimes, for he was sure Aramis' advice in that situation would have been to run like the wind. And yet... A sigh was the only thing that escaped d'Artagnan's lips, despite the urge to curse Porthos' foolhardy bravery. He couldn't blame Aramis, even if the rest of the world would pin Porthos' early demise on the survivor of that ill-fated adventure.

What would Athos do? D'Artagnan asked himself idly; Athos could never care for anyone but himself in this affair and if he mourned, no one noticed. Athos was never the one one could turn in romantic affairs – age had given the old captain insight to notice this dreadful fault; but what Athos lost on hero’s worship he won back on fondness, which he was never short, now that he had gone to a better place.

In an effort to divert his thoughts d’Artagnan poured a cup of wine and took a sip but he soon ran out of actions to distract his mind from the real question. He was not wary of Aramis' presence because he was still mourning Porthos, or because Athos was not here to shower him with sensible advice; in his inner heart, he knew he still loved his old friend with the same half-annoyed, half-awed desire, and this was what led to his unsavory restlessness.

The clock struck the hour. The wait was reaching an end and all the words unspoken in the past three decades piled up into his brain. Good thing they had never wasted worlds in emotional matters.

A polite knock at the door announced the guest's presence; d’Artagnan rose from his chair to answer. Here was Aramis, his clothes were better fit and made with richer fabrics than the ones of their youth, but Aramis was always the most stunning man on the room.

“Here we are," Aramis said, “Sharing table and food again.”

“Last time we did this, you sent me on a wild goose chase and left me drenched in sweat,” d’Artagnan complained, half in jest, clearing the hollow with mock deference.

“It will be my pleasure if I would give you the same thrill today,” Aramis said, his voice almost a challenge.

The door had barely shut before the Duke of Alameida’s outer garments touched the floor. Some things don’t change at all: Aramis still knew how to lead d’Artagnan by the nose and d’Artagnan was always unable to resist a challenge.