Pairings: Athos/Porthos (established relationship)
Summary: Set around the end of Trial and Punishment, follows on from In The Balance. With Aramis exonerated Porthos thinks the worst of it is over, but Milady has given Athos a deadline.
Porthos finally ran Athos to ground in his room that night, and marched in with a cursory knock.
"You'll have a drink with me, won't you?" he declared, setting the bottle he was carrying on the table and examining the various glasses and beakers littering the surface until he found the cleanest two.
Athos didn't protest at the intrusion, but neither was he effusively welcoming. "I thought you were going drinking with Aramis?"
Athos had declined the invitation, and was mildly surprised to see Porthos back so soon.
Porthos shook his head. "He's taken himself off to church, would you believe. A vigil to give thanks for his deliverance," Porthos quoted, making a face. "Why can't he give thanks through the medium of wine like he normally does? We should be celebrating."
Athos half-smiled. "Aramis has ever been the most godly of us, for all his love of the world. You know that as well as I." He leaned back against the wall, watching Porthos make himself at home. "What about d'Artagnan?"
"Gone off somewhere with Constance."
Athos nodded slowly. "You know they're getting married tomorrow? They've found a priest willing to perform the ceremony at short notice."
"Not hanging about, are they?" Porthos grinned, then frowned. "Isn't that unlucky though?"
"What, getting married? Yes, generally," said Athos dryly.
"No, seeing each other the night before!"
Athos shrugged. "Can you blame them for wanting to be together, after everything they've been through?"
"I sympathise entirely. Talking of which..." Porthos came over and tried to kiss Athos, but he evaded his clutches.
"Athos?" Porthos frowned at him. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong." Athos folded his arms awkwardly. Porthos eyed him suspiciously. They had all just come through an extremely harrowing time relatively unscathed, and as far as he was concerned they had everything to be cheerful about.
"What aren't you telling me?" Porthos pressed. He was getting fed up with people keeping things from him, and if the world was about to go to shit again, this time he wanted advance warning.
Athos hesitated. "Milady. She's - leaving. For England."
Porthos went still, studying at Athos' profile as he stared out of the window. Wondering if this was good or bad news, trying to determine what Athos was thinking.
"Tomorrow night. Sundown."
"Good." Porthos just managed to keep 'riddance' unsaid. But Athos looked more miserable than ever, arms wrapped around himself now as if he was cold, and Porthos sighed. "I suppose she wants you to talk her out of it?"
Athos turned a fraction, glancing up at him. "Actually, she wants me to go with her."
Porthos felt like his blood had turned to ice. "Will you?" He heard himself say the words as if from a distance.
"I - don't know." Athos shook his head helplessly. "I don't know." He repeated the words in a whisper, looking lost and conflicted. He flinched as Porthos spun round and walked away, but he only went as far as the table, pouring himself a measure of wine with a hand that shook slightly and knocking it back in one draught.
Porthos slammed the beaker down, harder than he'd meant to, staring into space and feeling like someone had stolen all the air from his lungs. He'd promised Athos all the time he needed to make a decision, but now Milady had forced Athos' hand instead. He'd faced the possibility that one day he might lose Athos' love - but the idea he might lose the man entirely was too much to bear.
Athos had been watching him closely, too ashamed of himself to speak, waiting for Porthos' response. Now Porthos seemed to make up his mind and strode back over and Athos braced himself, ready for harsh words or even to be grabbed and shaken. But what Porthos did instead shook Athos to his core.
Taking Athos' hands in his, Porthos dropped to his knees on the floor. "Don't go," he pleaded, in a voice heavy with emotion. "I know I promised I'd let you make up your own mind but I'm begging you Athos, don't leave."
"Porthos." Athos seized him in horror and dragged him upwards. "No, God, Porthos you are worth a hundred of me, you must never kneel to me, never." He buried his face in Porthos' shoulder and clung to him, and Porthos held him tightly. "I'm sorry," Athos breathed. "I never wanted to hurt you like this."
Porthos fisted his hands into the material of Athos' shirt and held him close, clumsily kissing the side of his head. "I need you to know how I feel," Porthos said hoarsely. "I don't want you to think I don't care. That I'm not willing to fight for this."
"I would never think you don't care," Athos pulled back far enough to look at him, caressing Porthos' cheek.
Porthos caught Athos' hand in his and looked at him. "Tomorrow night you say?" Athos nodded. "Then for tonight at least, you're still mine?" Porthos asked gruffly.
Athos looked pained, but nodded again silently, and Porthos pulled him into his arms, kissing him hard and possessively. He pulled at Athos' clothes, stripping them both quickly of their shirts and shoving Athos down on the bed, climbing on after him and pinning him down.
Athos wrapped Porthos in his arms, not protesting at his rough treatment, knowing how much Porthos must be hurting right now. He curled his fingers into Porthos' hair and kissed him, letting Porthos continue to strip them both of their clothes.
"Athos." Having managed to get Athos naked and spread beneath him, Porthos now hesitated, his anger draining away as Athos remained passive and quiet.
Athos reached up and drew him into a kiss, reassuring him with gentle touches. "Take me," he whispered. "It's okay."
Soon oiled and hard, Porthos fucked into him with a growl that was somewhere between triumph and despair. Athos was face down in the bedding and Porthos thrust into his tight heat, trying to concentrate on making it good for him and to not think about how it might be the last time they were together like this. He took Athos' hard cock and worked him with a rhythmic hand, holding Athos against him and pounding into him with eager force.
Porthos fucked him for a long time. Athos was groaning with every stroke now, struggling for breath and straining every muscle until finally he came in long spurts over the sheet, feeling Porthos find his own release, a sudden hot rush inside him.
Athos sprawled forward, panting for breath and heedless of the fact he was lying in his own mess. He was shuddering with sensation, shocks of pleasure still running through his body, and hardly able to speak.
Porthos rolled over, wedged against the wall in the narrow bed and caught his breath.
"She won't give you that," he muttered darkly. Beside him, Athos buried his face in the pillow, stifling a sobbing breath and Porthos groaned, immediately contrite.
"I'm sorry. That wasn't fair." He curled against Athos' body and pulled him round into his arms.
"I love you. I do," Athos insisted miserably, and Porthos kissed him.
"I know. Look, sleep on it, yeah? It's been a hell of a day. Make your decision tomorrow."
They clung together, finally falling asleep still holding on to each other.
"Time to get up."
Porthos opened his eyes blearily to find Athos standing over him fully dressed. He'd washed, and combed his hair, and Porthos had the immediate uncharitable thought that it was surely for her benefit.
"You look smart," he muttered.
"It's d'Artagnan and Constance's wedding, or had you forgotten?" Athos reminded him. "And before that, we're wanted at the palace."
"Oh, what?" Porthos sat up, grimacing at the state of himself and wishing he'd bothered to get up and at least sluice himself off the night before. "What do they want with us now?"
"I don't know, the message came from Treville. It was brief." Athos gave him a rueful smile. "Knowing the King it could be anything from a thank-you to another execution. Best not be late, eh?"
They were standing outside the church in the sunshine waiting for the bride. D'Artagnan was inside, pacing nervously up and down between the pews, and all three of them were still reeling from Aramis' sudden decision to resign his commission and enter a monastery.
Athos looked up. "Well what?"
"Have you made up your mind yet?" Porthos chewed at the thumb of his riding glove. "I've got to know Athos. Am I going to lose you too?"
Athos took a deep breath. "No. I'm staying."
Porthos spun to look at him and then pulled him into a hug. "Do you mean that?" he asked desperately.
Athos nodded, and Porthos stared at him, full of hope but wary. "Would you still be staying if Aramis hadn't gone?" he asked. However much he wanted Athos to stay, he didn't want to it be out of pity.
"Yes." Athos held his gaze. "I belong here. Maybe Aramis' decision has helped make me realise that, but it's not the reason for it." He hesitated. "I would ask one thing though."
"I would like to see her one last time. To say goodbye."
Porthos hissed and jerked away in frustration. "Then she'll talk you into going. Once she gets her claws into you - " He slumped back against the church wall, glowering.
"You think me so weak then?"
"You don't think straight around her," Porthos declared. "I don't know what it is - some witchcraft - she'll start pouring that sweet poison of hers in your ear and you'll do exactly as she wants. She'll say anything - promise you anything - to keep you."
Athos looked downcast, but didn't waste his breath arguing. "Whatever you think of me I cannot just let her leave thinking that I don't care. I would like at least some kind of resolution between us," he said softly.
"I can't forbid you to go. But I'm asking you not to."
"If I do - will you forgive me?"
Porthos gave a disgusted sigh, shoulders slumped in surrender. "Don't I always? Good old reliable Porthos, here to be walked over."
"No." Athos went to him, seizing his hands and looking earnestly into his face. "Don't say that."
Porthos looked at him sadly. "Just - come back to me Athos," he said quietly. "That's all I ask."
"I promise." Athos looked round at the noise of an approaching carriage with an escort of Musketeers, and pulled back to a more discreet distance. "Here comes Constance. I'll see you inside."
Inside the space of another hour, their world had been thrown once more into unlooked-for confusion. War declared, and Athos promoted, and the afternoon passed in a flurry of preparations.
Porthos watched Athos moving between tasks, giving out orders and supervising the men, and despite his calm and efficient exterior Porthos could tell he was preoccupied. He kept glancing at the position of the sun, and Porthos wasn't surprised when Athos finally broke and went for his horse. He watched him ride out of the garrison with a heavy heart, wondering if he would ever see him again.
Porthos hoped his new responsibilities would give Athos an added reason to return, but knew there was a chance they would make Athos run instead. He had too-little faith in himself, and had spent a good ten minutes protesting to Porthos all the reasons why he was a bad choice and couldn't do it. Porthos had kissed him and told him firmly that he was entirely capable and by far the best man for the job, but he hadn't been able to completely clear the shadow of lingering self-doubt from Athos' eyes.
It felt like a very long time before Athos finally reappeared in the gateway, and Porthos' heart leapt in his chest. Athos looked downhearted, but he was here, and right now that was a victory Porthos would cleave to.
It was another good few hours before they were able to retreat to Athos' room together and close the shutters on the world outside. The noise of men working through the night filtered through to them, but Athos had finally and reluctantly let Porthos prise him away to get some rest.
"You came back." Porthos smiled at him, hopeful in a way he hadn't allowed himself to be for a long time.
"I promised, didn't I?" Athos poured them both some wine, but he looked tired and sad.
"Did you see her?"
To Porthos' surprise Athos shook his head. "No. In the end, she didn't wait."
"Maybe she was late? It wasn't quite sundown when you left."
Athos hesitated, then drew something out of his belt. A white glove. "She was there," he said quietly. "She left this."
Porthos couldn't help the look of disgust that passed across his face. "You should throw that in the same ditch you left her locket," he declared.
Athos looked at him. "I thought you'd be pleased that she didn't care enough to wait for me."
"Except now I'll never know if you'd really have come back, will I?" Porthos muttered, knowing he was being unfair.
Athos seized Porthos' sleeve. "I could still have followed her, had I a mind to," he said in a quietly urgent tone. "I knew where she was headed, after all."
"England?" said Porthos, sounding sceptical.
Athos shook his head. "Le Havre. I could have overtaken her if I'd wanted. But I took it as a sign. And maybe after all for the best." He let his hand drop, defeated. "Was I wrong? Do you no longer want me?"
Porthos wondered how it was possible for your heart to feel like it was breaking when you were being given exactly what you wanted. "Of course I still want you," he said bitterly. "Because I love you Athos. As much as you love her."
Athos stared at him, stricken, shaking his head in increasing distress.
"My love for her - it's like a knife in my heart, and I can't stop bleeding. I thought once that I must surely die of it, but you - your love - it holds me together. You give me life, Porthos. You give me hope. And even if through some cruel bond I still love her, then I love you so, so much more."
He pulled Porthos into a rough hug, burying his face against him and holding him tight. "I've been a fool, such a fool. Forgive me Porthos. I love you. With all my heart."
Porthos kissed him then, desperate and messy, and for a long while they clung to each other as if the world itself was about to end.
Later, they lay together in Athos' bed, drowsy in the flickering candlelight. They'd made love for hours, slow and tender, rediscovering each other with every smile and press of lips, every gentle stroke of fingertips against flushed and sensitive skin.
"I guess this is the last time we'll be able to do this for a while," Porthos sighed. "What with the whole war and all."
"I suppose you're right." Athos kissed him lazily, enjoying the heat from his body and the slide of Porthos' fingers over his back.
"Unless you get a tent to yourself, as Captain," Porthos grinned. "Do you?"
Athos' lips twitched into a half-smile. "I don't know. I'd been intending to share with the rest of the men. But - perhaps you're right and I should not be too hasty to discard all privileges of rank, after all."
Porthos gave a throaty laugh, and Athos smiled at him fondly. The future was uncertain, and war would mean hardship and danger and the constant risk of death, but they would face it together and for now that was all that truly mattered.