From the moment she kisses d’Artagnan outside her husband’s house in what’s supposed to be a last farewell, it takes nearly two months more for Constance to decide she’s finally had enough.
Her husband’s ostentatious gratefulness to her for staying, carefully pitched to maximise her guilt, lasts two weeks shy of that; and she bites her tongue through the coldness and the carefully-chosen barbs that follow, everything calculated to remind her that she is a sinner not worthy of his forgiveness, all too aware that she cannot afford to be rash.
She’s always been good at finding balances: income and expenditure, pros and cons, joy and grief; and she resolves to do the same with her life, to consider every aspect of her situation and give it the appropriate weight. On the one side of the scale are her friends and neighbours, church and community, and life in her large, comfortable, mostly-quiet house, assisting with her husband’s business, a maid to help with the chores and Bonacieux’s only-occasional presence; and on the other, the life she imagines with d’Artagnan – uncertain, perpetually short on money, the risk of discovery and disgrace – and her heart sitting unmistakeably lighter in the pan.
She isn’t fool enough to think it will be an adventure, not when the reality’s far more likely to involve just as many days alone while her soldier ‘husband’ goes off to fight, stretching out their meagre coin as far as she can – but she wants it. She wants him, unmistakeably; and when she stops caring at all what Bonacieux thinks of her, when his cruel words no longer even impact, then she knows it’s time.
She waits until the morning he leaves the city before writing a note and leaving it carelessly on the kitchen table, packing all the clothes she can carry, and a little money (not enough to feel she’s stealing, but enough to get by – she’ll sew again, she thinks, that’ll help them along) and walks out of the door and through the bustling streets to the Musketeers’ garrison, with her head held defiantly high for a married woman carrying a travelling bag, looking for a soldier.
It’s only as she stands awkwardly in the courtyard, feeling the minutes pass, looking for the men she knows and seeing none of them, only other, unfamiliar eyes passing over her – thinking all sorts, no doubt – that she realises just how stupid she’s been. That he might not even be here, perhaps not due back for weeks.
But then she sees him – coming down the stairs from Tréville’s office with Athos just behind, leaning over a little to say something in his ear, one hand on his shoulder.
When they see her, they both freeze, half way down; and in the excruciating seconds that follow, she fancies she sees Athos’ fingers clenching against the leather of d’Artagnan’s doublet.
“D’Artagnan,” she says stiffly, when it becomes clear that nobody else is going to move or speak, lifting her chin against the sudden wash of uncertainty sweeping through her. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and she’d expected he’d run to her and sweep her in his arms, not just stand and stare like she’s a bad mistake turned up to haunt him; and she’s just steeling herself to turn and walk away when Athos squeezes d’Artagnan’s shoulder and says something low in his ear, that has him closing his eyes for a moment as if it hurts to hear.
She’s curious, but it’s forgotten as d’Artagnan finally steps forward, Athos’ hand pushing him gently on as he strides down the steps and over to where she’s standing, rooted to the spot.
“Constance,” he says urgently, still not touching her, searching her face for something she can’t identify until he asks, “Are you alright? Did he hurt you?”
“No, he didn’t hurt me. I’ve just – left.” She smiles tentatively, hoping to trigger the joy she’d expected to see in him all along. “Like you asked me to.”
It’s only then that he seems to notice the bag in her hand, staring down at it and then back up at her as if he doesn’t know what to do, as she feels the smile fall from her face.
This isn’t how it was supposed to go at all. He was supposed to be happy to see her.
Please don’t send me back, she thinks half-desperately, trying and failing to understand. All the times you begged me to come away with you. Please don’t send me back.
You don’t just stop loving someone. Do you?
“D’Artagnan.” It’s Athos, who she’d barely noticed approach – and she’s surprised to see d’Artagnan start visibly, his attention snapping immediately to his comrade in a way that seems almost fearful, though she can’t remember Athos showing any inclination to pass judgement on their relationship before.
“You should take Madame –” here Athos pauses discreetly, as if he’s not sure of the correct address any longer – “to see the Captain. He’ll be able to make temporary arrangements.” Athos lifts his hand, as if to touch d’Artagnan’s arm – and then appears to think better of it. “I’ll meet you in the stables.”
“Yes, of course,” d’Artagnan replies, straightening up – relieved to be given an order, Constance thinks, though she doesn’t miss the strange expression in his eyes as they follow Athos’ retreating back for a moment, before appearing to shake himself from his reverie.
When he looks back at her he’s smiling for the first time since she arrived, though it still doesn’t reach his eyes.
“Should I not have come?”
She says the words as soon as she thinks them, needing to know where she stands – though she doesn’t know what she’d do if he said yes, he doesn’t want her here, she needs to go.
“No, of course you should. I’m sorry. I was just surprised.” He finally reaches out to put his hands on her arms, and leans in – though only to press his lips to her cheek.
Well. They are in the middle of the garrison, she supposes, with other soldiers milling around, and anything else would hardly be proper.
Not that that’s ever stopped him before.
Still, she is all too aware that she’s dependent on him now, for everything; and so she smiles as if she’s noticed nothing amiss, lets him take her bag and lead her to the Captain’s office.
Tréville, by contrast, seems to understand the situation immediately; once he’s ascertained that there’s there’s no question of Constance returning to her husband’s house (and d’Artagnan is at least definite on that point), he offers her the room besides his quarters which is normally reserved for guests without even blinking, in exchange for her services with a needle and thread, until she and d’Artagnan can make more permanent arrangements.
It’s fairly scandalous, she’s sure, and suspiciously quickly arranged – she can hardly imagine Tréville offers this service to all his men’s mistresses – but she reminds herself she’s in no position to turn her nose up at charity when it’s offered.
D’Artagnan leaves her with a kiss on the forehead and a promise to return come evening; and Constance spends the rest of the day in Tréville’s office, restitching a pile of chemises full of stab holes while he tackles apparently endless paperwork. It’s strange how quickly the biggest decision she’s ever made takes on the feeling of being everyday, and she finds she welcomes it, is glad of the chance to keep herself busy and think about something other than her lukewarm reception from the man who claims to love her, for whom she’s walked away from everything she knows.
Only when she and Tréville are eating together does she make herself say, “Thank you. For – all of this.”
Tréville gives her an amused little-half smile that somehow reminds her of one of her uncles. “If you’ll forgive me for no doubt speaking out of turn, Madame, you deserve the chance to do better for yourself than your husband.”
She’s shocked into laughter, for the first time all day, and suddenly her heart feels a lot lighter with it. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s no longer my husband.”
As dusk falls and Tréville leaves her alone to retire, Constance’s uncertainty returns anew; and so she takes a pile of mending to bed with her and strains her eyes by candlelight so she’s not just sitting and waiting, and moping.
When the door finally opens to admit d’Artagnan, who closes it carefully behind him and hovers shyly at the threshold, she takes a moment to secure her needle in the linen before putting it to one side and looking up at last, willing her heart not to pound.
He isn’t reaching for her. Why isn’t he reaching for her?
“There’s something I have to tell you.”
He’s still leaning against the doorjamb, fiddling with the tail of his belt, unable to hold her gaze – and she clenches her hands in her lap as she feels the cold fear deep in her breast, waiting for him to tell her that this was all a mistake, that he doesn’t love her any more, to send her back to her husband.
But what he says next surprises her.
“I didn’t think I would.” He reaches up and rubs the back of his neck, a clear tell. “I thought I’d keep it from you. I wanted to. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to bear it. So – I suppose I’ll just have to spit it out. And accept your judgement.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” Constance asks sharply, too confused to moderate her tone.
What could he have possibly done to incur her judgement?
“Alright. While we were apart, Athos and I were…” his eyes slide away from her face, as he ducks his head, “…intimate together.”
“Intimate how?” she hears herself ask, over the roaring of her own pulse in her ears, though she thinks she already knows.
Her d’Artagnan, and… that.
“As man and woman, but – the two of us.” His knuckles are clenched around the hilt of his sword, and he sets his jaw, looking her straight in the eye. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Yes. I understand.”
She’s supposed to be disgusted, she knows that; but she can’t imagine being disgusted with d’Artagnan, not even for that. Mostly, she supposes she just doesn’t know what to think.
“If you want to go back to your husband, there’s still time,” d’Artagnan makes himself say, though she can hear the way his voice catches, the tears that are threatening to spill. “He never need know you’d left. I’d understand, if you didn’t want to stay.”
It explains the way d’Artagnan looked at her when she turned up at the garrison, she thinks, everything suddenly clear. The way Athos had to tell d’Artagnan to go to her.
Athos told d’Artagnan to go to her.
Two men can… know each other, she understands that much; but can they love each other, the way she and d’Artagnan do?
The way she thought they did?
Her choice hinges upon that question, and yet she does not dare to ask it.
Instead she asks, “Do you want me to stay?”
“I promised I’d take care of you, and I will.” His voice is determined, as though he’s trying to convince himself as well as her. “When we – well. I didn’t just stop loving you.”
D’Artagnan knows his own mind, she reminds herself. He’s honest – too honest for his own good, and when she searches her heart, she truly believes that he would tell her to return to her husband if that was what he wanted, and not take her on out of mere obligation.
“That’s settled then,” she insists, though nothing has ever felt less true.
It’s only then that he goes to her, kisses the crown of her head, and then rests his own cheek on her hair, his hands gripping tight to her shoulders.
She should feel elated, she knows, that she has her d’Artagnan back, but she can’t shake the slightly sick feeling in her stomach.
“Say something, please?” d’Artagnan begs, the fear plain in his voice; and she realises for the first time that he must be scared of her too – of her judgement, of the power he’s placed in her hands.
She could destroy him with this, and Athos too.
“It’s alright,” she says, pulling him close, trying to comfort him with her touch. “It’s not – I mean. I’m not angry. You weren’t unfaithful, I wouldn’t have asked you to wait for me.”
Neither of them acknowledge that this is hardly the real issue.
She is the one who stands, after that, setting her mending aside and kissing him on the mouth, because she knows enough of marriage to know that nothing’s ever perfect, and that they have to make the love they want; but d’Artagnan leaves her that night, and she sleeps alone in Tréville’s guest quarters, pulling the blankets tight around her and feeling like a guest in her own life.
She can’t help staring at Athos when she sees him at breakfast the next morning, the first one of them around the table, at his hunched back and his still-wet hair.
He looks so normal. She can’t imagine him with d’Artagnan, she wouldn’t know how to picture it – could easier imagine him sprouting wings and flying away.
As he looks up at the weight of her eyes upon him, she sees immediately that he knows d’Artagnan has told her.
In that moment, she wants nothing more strongly than to run; but she has nowhere to go; and so she takes a seat opposite him and murmurs a greeting, reaching for the bread and avoiding his eyes.
In fact, she has just about decided he’s not going to speak to her at all when he says, without preamble, “Although it’s hardly my place to say, Madame, I’m glad you left him.”
“Are you,” she replies flatly; then immediately wishes she could take the words back as she sees the sincerity in his eyes, that she can’t believe is faked.
First you take his place and then you kick him when he’s down, she thinks, with a jolt of self-loathing.
“Truly,” he replies, his expression careful. “Though I understand that you may not be able to believe it of me. And – I give you my word that any previous understandings are now at an end.”
She’s saved from having to respond by the arrival of Porthos, and d’Artagnan after, looking visibly the worse for wear and unable to meet her eye; but Athos’ words needle at her all day.
Was Bonacieux truly so hated, then, that even Athos would be willing to lose d’Artagnan just to see them parted?
She doesn’t know if men can love each other in that way, but she finds it hard to believe that a man like Athos would take d’Artagnan to his bed simply to pass the time.
It only takes a few days for d’Artagnan to find them rooms together, in a new quarter of the city where they are unknown. Constance calls herself Madame d’Artagnan, and they greet their neighbours with a smile.
Still, they do not lie together.
Constance turns away from him every night, mind racing, unable to work out if she’s punishing him. She doesn’t think she is; all she can think that she’s betraying Athos somehow, that she left and she didn’t realise it was no longer her place to return until it was too late, and by then she couldn’t – wouldn’t – take any of it back.
D’Artagnan is being so good to her, she knows; too good, and too patient.
She hopes that soon she will figure out what to say to him, but she stops being able to keep her silence long before she finds the well-considered words she wants.
“You told me to come away with you,” she blurts out into the darkness, the dam finally breaking under the weight of her care. “You –”
And now she’s crying in earnest, and she stops talking so he can’t hear it in her voice, but she can hear the way her breathing hitches as she gasps for air and knows she’s given herself away.
“Constance, I’m so sorry. I swear –” he’s touching her now, gathering her to him in his arms and holding her as tightly as he can. “I thought we were truly over, or I’d have never – I didn’t mean for this to happen. I’ll still be your husband, I promise. I promised you.”
How can he not understand?
She doesn’t want him to be with her because he promised.
“What about Athos?” she asks – and it’s absurd to be asking d’Artagnan to think of Athos when she needs him to think of her, but she saw what that woman did to him years before she knew his story, she’s seen his heart and his quiet dignity, and she can’t imagine what it must have cost him to let d’Artagnan inside.
She can’t help thinking that making d’Artagnan walk away from that now might just ruin him, and she can’t have that on her conscience, she can’t.
“I don’t know,” d’Artagnan almost wails, rocking her in his arms as much for his comfort as for hers, she thinks. “I’m so stupid, I’m sorry, I should never have let this happen. I don’t know how I can fix it.”
It’s in that moment she comes to a decision.
“We’ll work something out.”
D’Artagnan falls abruptly still. “What do you mean?”
“We can talk to him – no, not talk to him. We’ll tell him. If we ask him what he wants then he’ll let you go, he’ll just tell us to be happy together. We’ll just have to tell him how it’s going to be.” She can feel herself growing in confidence every moment, and though it’s just the satisfaction of making a decision she determines to carry it through, use every ounce of her new strength until the wheels are set in motion once more. “I can’t go back. And I can’t let you leave him on his own, not when he needs someone too. There’s no way around either of those things.”
“So what are you suggesting?” d’Artagnan whispers, as though he thinks he knows but still doesn’t dare hope.
“An… arrangement. You’ll be my husband, and he can remain your… well. Lover, I suppose.”
“You’re willing to –”
“Yes. For him.”
She has done so much for Athos in the few years she’s known him, and she can never imagine not. Perhaps it’s in her blood.
“I don’t know what to say,” d’Artagnan admits.
“Tell me honestly. Was it breaking your heart to leave him?”
“Well then. I can’t go back to Bonacieux –” too selfish, her mind unhelpfully supplies, “but I can stop your heart breaking. And his.”
Then she’s kissing him as if her life depended on it, finally able to feel free to do so. He belongs in her arms, she realises as she finally stops tamping down on all the want that’s been dormant in her as he covers her and pushes her chemise up to her waist, reaching beneath.
She came here to take what she wanted, and she can have what there is for the taking.
After that, she doesn’t ask. She takes on enough piecework to fill her days, and when d’Artagnan comes home they learn how to be man and wife together. She’s happy, even, content. She makes sure she never needs to go to the garrison. She doesn’t know what time her new husband spends with Athos, and she doesn’t ask; the hours of a soldier are irregular enough that there’s never a moment she can look up and know for certain, they’re together.
Still, there’s an awkwardness between them, in that shared knowledge that’s not discussed. She would have thought it would be easier for d’Artagnan to have his freedom but instead it feels like the proverbial horse in the corner, the spectre of Athos’ presence unacknowledged between them, and thus always lingering.
One evening she swallows her reservations and says, in a determined voice, “Tell me how it feels. With – Athos.”
D’Artagnan’s expression would be comical if the situation weren’t so serious. “You mean… what we do together?”
“No, no,” Constance clarifies hurriedly, feeling herself turning red, “I mean – how you feel about him. Why you like him.”
“You’re sure you want to know?”
She nods, finding that a little to her surprise, she is. “I don’t want to pretend it isn’t happening. Not when we both know it is.”
The idea is still strange – surreal – but it doesn’t make her angry, or revolt her. She’s had weeks to consider it, turning her heart over in her hands and testing herself until she was sure she was strong enough to know.
“It started – after you went back to Bonacieux.” He can’t help screwing up his face in distaste as he says her husband’s name. “A few days after. I started drinking with him of an evening, because he was the only one who didn’t try to cheer me up, I suppose. I… I fell asleep in his arms. It – I couldn’t believe it when he kissed me. I’m glad he did. I don’t think I would have known to.”
After that, the halting flow of words becomes a torrent, d’Artagnan recounting Athos’ apology, the way he refused to speak of it, his own new-found determination and the way he slowly wore him down; and she realises too late that d’Artagnan’s been keeping all this inside himself, first from Athos and then from her. From what she knows of Athos she can’t imagine he’s able, yet, to hear all of the ways in which d’Artagnan adores him, and this adoration has been bubbling up inside him until he’s near-bursting with it.
While she expects she would feel jealous of a woman, worry about direct comparisons, about her position being usurped, here she needs fear nothing of the kind; though the more she learns the less difference she thinks there is between herself and Athos, except in circumstance. By virtue of her sex, d’Artagnan’s love for her can be acknowledged, whereas his love for Athos – she’s sure now that it’s love, from the words d’Artagnan uses, from the look in his eyes – will always be a clandestine thing, must pass unacknowledged, and for someone as open as d’Artagnan she can see the way it hurts him.
Athos, she thinks at first, is self-contained enough that he doesn’t feel the need to share his feelings; later it occurs to her that even if he wished to, he would have nobody to tell.
As the weeks pass she even comes to welcome these conversations, the chance to get to know Athos even more intimately, through the eyes of somebody who adores him. She can see how the two of them balance each other: d’Artagnan’s enthusiasm and impetuousness and Athos’ quiet restraint, both underpinned by an honour and a moral code that’s ever-fierce.
She starts to forget that she’s supposed to be jealous.
She would always have thought the presence of a third would push any two lovers apart, but she reflects as she listens to d’Artagnan tell her about something ridiculous but admittedly funny Athos said to a bandit today before knocking the man out cold – “he pretends he’s so serious, but he just can’t resist” – that the shadow of Athos’ presence in their marriage only seems to draw the two of them closer together.
If she’s jealous of anyone, it’s not of Athos but d’Artagnan; and though a small part of her has always wished for some of the excitement of Musketeering for herself, she does know the difference between a longing for adventure – to do something that matters – and missing a particular man.
She hasn’t seen Athos since she left the garrison – but since d’Artagnan came into their lives they’ve barely even spoken, the days when he used to come for dinner when her husband was away and they used to sit into the night, talking quietly about her life, on subjects that she would never have imagined could interest a man and a soldier, long vanished.
Back before she knew anything of his life, she had sometimes wondered if he fancied himself a husband. Not her husband, but a man with a wife to come home to, a safe haven where no swords were drawn and no blood spilled.
(When d’Artagnan finally told her everything she felt sick to have imagined such a thing, though of course she could never have known.)
And she could blame d’Artagnan, for bursting onto the scene and trampling over all they once were, but… the truth is that some things are still hers, to tend or let wither, and she has let an old friendship fade away.
Ever since the day this started, she’s feared seeing him; feared her own reactions, as he has no doubt feared hers. She is the ‘wronged’ wife, after all, and no doubt he imagines a situation in which she acquiesces but does not approve, in which she barely tolerates his existence, let alone his presence.
The funny thing is, she understands both of them all too well.
She’s always thought she could love a man like Athos, did not sorrow sit so heavy on his back; and in letting d’Artagnan in he has surprised her.
It makes her wonder what’s possible; and when she interrupts d’Artagnan’s story to say, “Bring him for dinner,” his delighted grin makes her think that perhaps yes, more is possible than she’d thought.
She should tell d’Artagnan what she has planned.
Though she’s sure he doesn’t mean to do it, sometimes he thinks to know better than her – to control her, even, when she’s older than him and may know less of death but knows more of life, of living within the world and its limitations, and not riding roughshod over every obstacle without a thought for what may shatter in your wake.
No. If she and Athos are to close this circle it must be on their own terms entirely, just as d’Artagnan and Athos’ own affair is not on hers.
So she makes fresh bread and mutton stew, buys a few bottles of wine that stretch the household budget just as much as she’s willing to allow, and busies herself as thoroughly as she can until evening comes and brings with it the expected knock on the door.
“Athos.” She had worried about smiling too brightly; but she is pleased to see him, as much as she could have hoped. “D’Artagnan’s not here yet.”
He falters, clearly taken aback – she knows for a fact that d’Artagnan left the garrison early and is taking a very circuitous route home, precisely to give her and Athos a little time to talk. “I’m early,” he says at last, apologetically.
“Come in,” Constance insists, can see him hesitating on the threshold. “You’re always welcome here, you know that.”
He’s far too well-bred to say am I?, of course, but she can almost hear the words all the same; and so busies herself taking off her apron and pouring two glasses of wine, listening to the familiar sounds of a sword being propped up against the wall, boots on the boards, the scrape of a chair and the clank of the weaponry they all wear adjusting itself as he sits.
She hasn’t been nervous up till now, and allows herself to look out of the kitchen window, at the first signs of spring, and take a moment’s breath.
You have to make the life you want; that lesson has taken her far too many years to learn already.
She turns, takes the glasses to the table and pulls out a chair for herself, sitting and taking a swig of wine that’s just a little more than a sip.
“I want us to be able to speak of this. All three of us.”
She pauses, to see if Athos will reply; but he’s just watching her carefully, and so she pushes on, tries again, although it shames her to admit:
“I thought I’d hate you. For what happened between you both. And instead I felt like the impostor. Like I’d taken something away from you.”
She’s almost ready to hold up a hand and tell him to let her finish before she realises that he still isn’t speaking, that his expression may be tightly controlled but he’s sitting here quiet and still because he knows she hasn’t finished; she’d forgotten this, and she loves him for it just a little more.
Perhaps he will teach d’Artagnan some patience, she thinks, hopes they will all teach each other to be the best of themselves – and almost wants to laugh at her own presumption before she remembers she still has a story to tell.
“I made the decision I did because I couldn’t bear the guilt. I thought that – I could better live with allowing my husband to stray than knowing I kept you both from each other. I was not expecting – that his love for you would seem to enrich our own.”
When she falls silent, Athos keeps his eyes on hers and says very quietly, “Our positions are not equal. You needed him to be your husband more than I needed a paramour, and I would not have let him stay to warm my bed at your expense.”
Constance almost scoffs aloud. Does he really think himself worth such little consideration, even now?
“Warm your bed?” She says sharply. “He was in love with you even then.”
She expects him to turn away, but he does not – instead holds her gaze and says, immediately contrite, “Forgive me. I do him an injustice. It is to his credit how much he has always given, even when he received so little in return.”
With utter certainty, Constance replies, “You gave more than you knew.”
There are a few seconds where he’s entirely silent, and she thinks she can see a softness in his eyes – before his lip quirks unexpectedly.
“Athos?” she prompts, unable to see what on earth could be funny.
“Well… I’d never thought to be what is essentially your husband’s mistress.”
Then he grins, swift and entirely unexpected, and Constance can’t help but laugh at the ridiculous turn their lives have taken.
Before she can think better of it, she reaches across the table for Athos’ hand.
Always so formal, she thinks.
Waiting for her to tell him what this is, what she means by it, though by the impropriety she’s just committed it must be clear already.
“I’m glad he had you, you know. When I… couldn’t be there.”
It’s sort of true, but it’s not what she means; as she looks into Athos’ eyes, the wariness there only half-concealing something quite different, she thinks deliberately, I’m glad you had him.
He inclines his head in recognition of the compliment. “You’ve always been a very selfless woman.”
But it jars at her in light of what she’s thinking, what she’s about to do, and she squeezes Athos’ warm fingers as she says with a ferocity that surprises her, “Not any more.”
Keep a hold of yourself, she thinks angrily in the next breath, almost concerned she’ll have scared him off – but he just raises his eyebrows politely, though the rest of his face is carefully controlled, as taught as a wire pulled tight. “Oh?”
“You realise a lot more things are possible, once you become determined to have them.”
She can see the exact moment her meaning becomes clear.
And determined, she pushes through: “I think he’d like it.”
“But that’s not your only reason, I trust.”
“Good,” he says, with a forcefulness that shocks her. “I would not have you make such a proposal for his sake, let alone my own. I should warn you, though – you saw how my last relations with a woman ended.”
“Is it so different, then? With d’Artagnan?”
“Yes, it is. He –” Athos looks towards the window, as if he’s imagining d’Artagnan’s face will appear there at any moment. “We do not seek to consume each other. He has you to balance him, perhaps.”
“Then I have him to balance me, and I will no more consume you than he has.”
But for all they’ve said he still startles when she gets up from her chair and walks half way round the table, still holding his hand.
“Would you not rather wait for him?”
“If we’re going to do this, then it can’t all be about him,” she counters, and sees him nod in understanding. “I want it to be about just the two of us, as well.”
She feels as if she’s moving through a dream world. Who else could this Constance be, who’s bold enough to get up from her chair and sit straddled on Athos’ lap, letting her skirt ride up around her knees as she lifts her hand to touch his jaw?
His hands come to rest on her waist, steadying her gently, and though his touch is not entirely improper she feels it shooting through her nerves to pool between her legs with a force that surprises her.
“Madame. Are you sure?”
“Constance,” she insists, suddenly smiling – she thinks she could love him too, maybe even the way d’Artagnan does, in all his quiet dignity, his flashes of wit and poorly-concealed kindness. “After we do this, I don’t want to hear you call me Madame again.”
“Alright. Constance,” he agrees, lifting a careful hand to her face – before pulling her in to kiss him.
She doesn’t know what she’d imagined – she hadn't imagined, she realises now, and Athos kisses with all the carefully controlled intensity of a man starving for it, though his hands are careful on her waist, never straying.
She’ll have to take the initiative then, she thinks; and allows her hands to explore his face and neck, dipping inside the collar of his shirt, running her fingers along where hair meets skin until he gasps into her mouth.
“I will not bed you without him,” he says, resting their foreheads together, and she reaches down to tangle her own fingers in his.
“No,” she agrees, smile curving conspiratorial, “Although part of me would love to see his face.”
Athos’ lip curls to mirror hers, a puff of air escaping him that would be a laugh from anyone else. “Perhaps next time.”
Next time indeed.
She knows d’Artagnan must be due any minute now; and so they wait together, just as they are, for the sound of footsteps at the door.