He has no rights in the matter, Athos knows very well, but he would rather see anything other than Porthos's lush mouth becoming just one more piece of finery for Aramis to wear against his skin. Aramis is a hedonist, and all of his frippery adorns him as though he were not just a gem but one of those storied Eastern jewels with names and bloodshed in their histories. No other man could wear that pauldron with the Moorish tracery, those braces scalloped and curved, those lace collars, that delicate chain. He's seen Porthos eyeing that flat chain in particular, nestled against rough hair, framing Aramis's collarbones like they're a particular gift meant just for him.
Porthos needs to know better.
Athos does know better. He's seen Aramis for years, watched him court gazes like they're valuable, like they're keepsakes he can tally up on quiet, lonely nights. He's seen the shy-looking curl of Aramis's hair, the bright roundness of his charming eyes, and knows how little they mean when Aramis has been had and lost. Athos wants to teach Porthos all he knows, before Aramis teaches him regret.
Darkness had fallen, and Athos needed to forget suddenly fresh memories. There was no particular reason for it – no green-eyed girl had crossed his path, no raven-curled Madame had caught his eye – and that was the worst of it, that his light-eyed wife could bewitch him still, when she was in the grave he'd dug for her. He could feel the weight of her body on his back and called for stronger drink.
Aramis intercepted it with every sign of enjoyment, as if depriving Athos of what he needed for his very survival was just a game. "Good Athos," Aramis said, his voice gone tart as if the sniff he'd taken from the bottle had corrupted something inside him, "this smells worse than a painter's brush-cleaner."
"I would not dream of asking you to pollute your fine throat with it," Athos said, unable to keep his eyes from that ivory column, yet holding out his hand with every expectation that Aramis would laugh and clap the bottle into it.
"Then how can I do any less, brother mine?" Aramis answered, still holding fast to the bottle, dancing back from the table and toward the stairs that led up to the rooms he'd taken. Athos absorbed the endearment unhesitatingly at first only to have it stick in his craw a moment later; Aramis had no right to smile as he spoke the word brother. Athos laid one hand on the hilt of his sword and followed Aramis and the salvation in his hand up the stairs, that damned locket hammering against his chest.
Aramis's door was ajar and the bottle shone on top of a small table next to the wall. Athos nudged the door open with his shoulder and reached out his hand only to find Aramis, doublet and hat discarded, looking resolute. Aramis's hand pressed against the side of his face, warm and altogether alien.
"What are you doing?" Athos asked, keeping his eye on the bottle, just out of his reach.
Sinuous as the vines on his discarded pauldron, Aramis's fingers traced his brow. "I called you my brother but that did not sit well with you." Athos shifted his gaze from the green-glass bottle to look at the man in front of him then; better to see Aramis's lovely, vulpine face than recall Thomas's glass-green eyes. "In truth we are closer than brothers, are we not?" Aramis continued, dark eyes dropping down to his mouth. "Use me as such."
Aramis knew – oh, he knew – as well as any wife how to get a man's blood up and Athos no longer wanted the bottle when this beauty was there for the drinking down instead. He surged forward and kissed Aramis down to the bed, biting kisses that tore at soft flesh. Aramis gasped and lay still under the onslaught, and then Athos felt arms encircling his body, keeping him close, and he could think no more.
When Athos came back to his right senses, Aramis was dazed and marked with bruises – marks from teeth and fingers, none pretty – and his linen was torn. Athos himself was mother-naked, spent, and sticky, his hands like iron across Aramis's hips.
He snatched his hands back, horrified. Athos fumbled into his clothes and clutched at the bottle that had lured him up the stairs. Aramis was just rousing when he shut the door between them.
Even whores who raised their price for rough trade would have baulked at what he'd done. He could not expect any man, even Aramis, his willing brother-in-arms, to make a martyr of himself like that more than once.
Athos absented himself from the garrison with an excuse Treville did not even feign to believe. There were newly commissioned Musketeers to be welcomed into the brotherhood, Athos had heard, and surely he would not be expected to participate in any fraternization rituals; it was well-known that his best friend and only beloved was his bottle.
When he returned, the third morning after his frenzy, Aramis had already laid implicit claim to one of the newly minted Musketeers, a giant of a man who, by virtue of looking nothing like Athos's past, was instantly appealing. The man had beauty writ upon him with a generous hand, and his face was a miracle of expressiveness; the man looked intensely curious about Aramis, who was swimming against the current to stand by his side, to clap him on the arm with a disarming hand, to laugh at his every muttered comment.
Aramis, whom Athos had torn to shreds, who even now merrily waved him over as if unaware of any debasement at all. Aramis, who, Athos realised, shared his body too often to puzzle over any particular use made of it. Aramis had a reputation for soft-heartedness, given the frequency of his love affairs, but Athos could see that, truly, Aramis entered each engagement with his body rather than his heart at stake, just as it was when he fought for the King; the thrill was in the chase and the triumph was in getting the other to abandon virtue rather than to surrender to his love. Aramis was the most dangerous man in Paris.
"Athos," Aramis said, gleaming with pleasure, "this is Porthos."
These days, Athos finds himself looking at Porthos with alarming regularity; somehow they have ended up in orbit together, though which is circling and which is fixed he cannot judge. He can tell – though just barely, the man has tact – that Porthos looks back at him, keeping count of his drinks, every night they're out together. Porthos is a good man, a strong shoulder of which Athos avails himself more often than he should. Athos presses his face to his pillow when he thinks of a boisterous laugh, almost feeling warm breath on the back of his neck. He grinds his cock into his bed at the thought of snapping dark eyes, glad when the locket presses painfully into his breastbone at the movement. He has no business thinking of Porthos when she lies like a fog over his senses.
Despite that miasma, he's still sharp enough to observe. He sees that it's Aramis at whom Porthos gazes starry-eyed, Aramis who hears all of the basso rumbles that are Porthos's mode of telling jokes. And Aramis preens, glad of the adulation, but his eyes do not stop dancing, endlessly seeking for new conquests.
Athos seizes his chance when Porthos is on guard duty one night; he does not know Treville's motive in assigning them separate shifts, but it works in his favour. "Aramis," he starts, seating himself across a table that's seen better days; it looks to be a match for the furniture in his rooms.
"Athos, my friend, I must thank you," Aramis says, his smile like a beacon, shamelessly bright.
That is enough to check his words. "For what?" he inquires cautiously.
"Mademoiselle Louise saw your marks on my hips and pitied me the dangerous life of a King's Musketeer. In the retelling, you grew two feet and three stone and were most fearsome, I must say." Aramis toasts him with a half-full cup; Aramis never does seem to need wine in a quantity greater than what's sufficient to wet his throat.
Athos feels his gorge rising. Those marks had been left months ago; for them to be visible still means his loss of control was even more egregious than he had thought. Half of Paris – the prettier half – must have seen them by now, given the rate at which Aramis, unabashed as an alley-cat, conducts his love affairs. It is, Athos reflects, a wonder that Aramis can sit so calmly across from the monster who marked him. The lecture he intended to deliver to Aramis now smacks of hypocrisy. He clutches at his cup instead, opening his mouth only far enough to pour drink down his throat.
"What did you want to say to me?" Aramis asks, sharp-eyed, watching him swallow wine like he knows how much Athos wants to drown in it.
Athos owes Porthos this much, at least, to try to temper his inevitable reckoning in Aramis's bed.
Aramis's eyebrows are raised expectantly, and they lift higher still when Athos speaks. "Porthos is charmed by you." He intends to ask Aramis to show mercy; he cannot bear to see the bright glory of Porthos's smile dimmed.
"I am really very charming," Aramis returns, defiantly opaque. "As you know."
"As all of Paris knows," he snaps, and a dark smile blooms in Aramis's eyes.