Pairings: Athos/Porthos (established relationship)
Summary: Set during The Accused. Athos is faced with making a choice between Porthos and Milady.
It was late morning, and coming to the end of Porthos' watch when he spied the lone rider approaching over the hills. He'd been standing here on the battlements of the convent - an incongruous term, that made him smile - alone with his thoughts under a clear blue sky ever since they'd arrived just after dawn.
He'd had a lot to think about. Aramis had told him, a long time ago, that he'd met and lost an old love here, that first time. But he'd said nothing of the Queen, and as much as Porthos understood his reasons for not sharing that confidence, it still hurt. To know, too, that Athos had also known, and kept it from him, added to the ache in his heart. Understanding their motives made it no less painful.
Porthos had volunteered to take the first watch, seeking a temporary reprieve from the company within. Despite his words of warning to Aramis, the man was still making cow eyes at the Queen, and now that all around him knew their secret, had seemed to take this as leave to be shockingly direct in the way he addressed her. Whether they'd been intimate or not, it grated on Porthos' sense of propriety, and so he'd taken himself out here where he could pretend for a few peaceful hours his world wasn't in all likelihood about to come crashing down around his ears.
The threat of actual pursuit was small, and the duration of his watch had been peaceful. Only two people knew where they'd been headed, and while he didn't trust Milady an inch, he knew Athos trusted her even less, so if he was satisfied with her intent then that was good enough for Porthos.
Now, he raised his spyglass and studied the distant horseman for a moment until he was satisfied as to identity, before turning and rattling down the steps into the convent, bellowing "Athos is here!"
They were all outside waiting for him when Athos finally rode in, looking understandably weary but also troubled. The news he brought was disturbing, and while the others went immediately to inform the Queen, Porthos followed Athos to the room he'd been assigned to freshen up in.
"Good to see you made it in one piece." Now they were finally alone, Porthos went to pull Athos into a hug, but Athos extricated himself awkwardly.
Porthos let his hands fall to his sides, brow furrowing slightly as Athos wouldn't look him in the eye.
"Athos? There anything you want to tell me?" he asked quietly.
Athos stiffened. "What do you mean?" Staring into the basin of water the nuns had brought him, but making no attempt yet to wash away the cloying and distinctive scent of jasmine.
"You reek of her," Porthos said in an undertone. Not accusing. Just - resigned. Because he'd seen this coming, hadn't he, and steadfastly ignored all the signs.
Athos tried to meet his gaze and couldn't, staring now at the floor instead. "I'm sorry."
Porthos pinched his lips together, mentally begging Athos to look up at him. That apology had sounded so final that he didn't know what to say, or whether Athos even wanted him to say anything, or simply to leave.
He took a shaking breath, and closed the distance between them, pressing a chaste kiss to Athos' temple. His lips lingered for a second, then Porthos pulled back.
"I love you Athos," he said under his breath. "I always will. Whatever you decide."
He turned and walked heavily to the door, was reaching for the handle before he caught the shudder of indrawn breath behind him.
He turned to find Athos finally looking at him, eyes dark and full of misery.
Athos' voice was brittle, sounding close to tears. Without a word, Porthos marched back across the room and took him into his arms, and this time Athos didn't resist but clung to him.
"I kissed her," Athos confessed, his face buried in Porthos' collar. "That's all. It was just a kiss."
"Shhh." Porthos hugged him tight. "It's okay. I'm sorry. You don't have to tell me." His heart flared with treacherous hope, but he forced it down stubbornly.
"I don't know what to do." Athos straightened up, visibly struggling to get a hold of himself.
"Do you want her back?" Dreading the answer, but determined to be the friend Athos needed even if he was no longer wanted as a lover.
Athos looked torn. "How can I ever be with her?" he whispered. "Regardless of whether she was unjustly served all those years ago she is a murderess, has condemned herself a hundred times over since then."
"Love finds a way," Porthos said gruffly. "Look at us. We're not supposed to be together either, but we've managed."
Athos looked at him. "Are you saying you think I should be with her?" he asked disbelievingly.
Porthos shook his head vehemently. "No. No way. I love you, and I don't want to lose you. And I don't think for a minute she'd be good for you." He took a steadying breath. "But - I want you to be happy. You have to follow your heart. And if that means her rather than me - then I won't stop you."
Athos' face crumpled with held-back tears, and Porthos took him back into his arms, blinking away tears of his own.
"No ultimatums," Porthos said thickly. "I promise. I love you Athos, and I always will. That's never going to change. Take your time. Change your mind a thousand times. I'll still be here."
"I love you too." Athos cupped his face, and kissed him softly on the mouth. "Whatever happens, I want you to know that."
Porthos nodded. "I do. Thank you."
They smiled at each other, eyes swimming with unshed tears.
"Come here." Porthos drew Athos closer and kissed him again, slow and intent. Athos didn't resist at first, kissing back with equal ardour, but then reluctantly pulled back.
"We're in a convent," he protested mildly.
"Didn't stop Aramis," Porthos grinned.
Athos produced a reluctant smile. "Talking of which, shouldn't we be keeping an eye on him?"
"D'Artagnan's under Treville's orders not to let the Queen out of his sight," Porthos declared with a decidedly evil smirk. "But you're right. We should join them. This news about the King - it changes everything."
Having entered the convent that morning anticipating a protracted stay, barely two hours after Athos' arrival everyone was preparing to leave again. Amidst all the confusion of packing and readying the horses, Athos drew Porthos aside into an empty chamber and looked at him steadily.
"You don't have to do this."
"Someone has to," Porthos said calmly. "And it was my idea."
"I can't help feeling it would make more sense to send Aramis," Athos sighed. "The further he is from Paris the safer he'd be."
Porthos shook his head. "You know you'll never get him to leave the Queen's side. Besides, if he disappears now it might just incriminate him further. And we don't know if Rochefort's mentioned his name to Vargas." He smiled. "For once in my life, I'm the least suspicious looking option."
Athos half-smiled, and Porthos took his hands. "It'll be fine. Trust me."
"You know I do." Athos sighed. "Look after yourself, okay? Come back safe."
Porthos nodded. "Do I have anything to come back to?" he asked tentatively, hating himself for it.
"Yes. Yes." Athos pulled him closer and kissed him, hard and bruising. "If you dare not come back I'll kill you myself," he hissed, and Porthos laughed, reassured.
Athos squeezed his hands. "Let's sort out this unholy mess first, eh? With any luck we'll all end up hanged and I'll never have to face up to deciding what to do."
Porthos cackled. "You're the most depressing man I've ever met, do you know that?" He slipped an arm round Athos' waist and pulled him in for a kiss. "I'll see you in Paris. Try and stay in one piece until I get back, eh?"
Athos nodded. "Good luck."
"You too." Porthos kissed him once more for good measure, then turned and strode back out into the sunlight.