Pairings: Athos/Porthos, Aramis/D'Artagnan
Summary: Tennis AU. Sequel to 'Holding Serve' and 'Returning Serve'. (Porthos and Aramis are doubles partners, under the stern eye of coach Treville. Athos is Porthos' lover, and his ex-doubles partner-turned-commentator, since a drink problem forced him to retire from the game). Porthos is on track to take the Wimbledon mens' doubles title with Aramis - but not everyone wants him to win, and it may be that the best way to take him down is through Athos...
Warnings: Contains descriptions of struggles with alcoholism, past and present.
"And where do you boys you think you're going?"
Porthos and Aramis froze in the act of putting their racquets away and exchanged a guilty look.
"Well I was going home for dinner," Porthos sighed.
"And I was hoping to get laid," Aramis added cheerfully.
Treville ignored that in favour of glaring at them both equally. "And when I said at least two hours' practice?"
"I played two hours earlier," Porthos pointed out.
"Yes, in a singles match which you lost in straight sets," Treville snapped back. "Which tells me you're not on the form you should be. So I'm making it three hours."
They groaned, but Treville was implacable and Porthos and Aramis reluctantly walked back out onto the practice court.
"He's right you know," Aramis murmured. "If we want to be in with a shot of the title we need all the edge we can get."
Porthos grinned. "For God's sake don't tell him that. I'd hate him to think we were actually paying attention."
It was the second week of Wimbledon, and they'd been making steady if unflashy headway towards the final. Porthos had made it to the fourth round of singles before being taken out by one of the top seeds earlier that day, while to no-one's surprise Aramis had gone straight out in the first round. They both performed better together, and Aramis claimed he'd got the result he wanted anyway when he'd taken home one of the ball boys. Porthos still hadn't stopped teasing him about that, despite Aramis' indignant protestations that technically D'Artagnan was a ball-man. Mostly, that just made Porthos laugh harder.
With a wary eye on Treville, who'd settled himself in the empty stand and appeared to be taking notes, they picked up where they left off, oblivious to the fact that barely two miles away a very different struggle was taking place.
Athos stared at the bottle sitting in the centre of the table. The bottle of whisky seemed to stare back at him implacably, and Athos shook his head to try and dislodge the sensation. He couldn't quite believe it was actually there, but now that it was he couldn't take his eyes off it. Transfixed, like a rabbit by a snake. A rabbit that suddenly, desperately, wanted to be eaten.
He licked his lips, feeling a cold sweat break out on the back of his neck. Having spent the last few years trying so hard to convince himself he was over this, that he didn't need this, suddenly Athos could remember with a shivering clarity the exact taste, the burn in his throat, the way it would make him feel. Remembered attaining that one moment of supreme peace where nothing hurt. Once upon a time that had been generally somewhere halfway down the first bottle, only it had become harder and harder to reach. And he remembered too the fallout, the comedown, the shattering reactions. The days spent in an aching, retching daze as he tried to wean himself off it, only to slide backwards again and again and again.
Athos discovered he'd reached out without realising it, his fingertips caressing the curve of the bottle, and snatched his hand back. It had been so long since he'd touched the stuff, that moment of peerless nirvana would surely be attainable after barely a glass.
He balled his hand into a fist and forced himself to turn away. He knew from bitter experience, that he wouldn’t be able to stop at one glass. That the bottle might as well have been filled with amber poison. And still he wanted it.
Hand trembling, he dug his mobile out of his pocket and dialled Porthos. He should have been home by now, had been out training with Aramis. Athos wasn't sure he'd pick up, but after a few rings Porthos answered.
"Hello?" He sounded gruff and out of breath, and Athos took a second to find his voice.
"Hey. It's me." Athos sounded distant to his own ears, but before he could say any more, Porthos had interrupted.
"Athos, what is it? Look, we're going to be another hour or so here, we're getting stuck in, okay? I'll see you later. Don't wait for me if you want to eat."
Athos licked dry lips again, shooting a wary glance at the bottle in the centre of the table as if it might have snuck closer while his back was turned. He knew regardless of circumstances, if he told Porthos what the problem was, he would drop everything and come to him. Had done it, countless times over the hellish year it had taken Athos to painfully put himself halfway back together again.
Athos had thought he'd put all that behind him. Porthos had built his own career up again now, and he had no right to jeopardise it like this. Besides, he could do this. He could.
"Athos?" Porthos sounded impatient. "You still there?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm here. It's fine, I'll see you later." Athos chewed at his thumbnail as Porthos said a quick goodbye and hung up. Pictured him tossing his phone back into his kitbag, rejoining Aramis on the practice court. Forgetting about the conversation in less time than the short exchange itself had taken.
He had his hand round the neck of the bottle and had no idea how it had got there. Didn’t remember doing it. He'd been going to put it away, yes, that was it. Shove it in a cupboard somewhere out of sight. Out of mind.
He’d picked off the foil from round the top. When had he done that?
"Shit." Athos put his head in his hands. He could get up. Go out. Drive somewhere, except his hands were shaking and maybe that wasn’t a good idea.
A drink would steady them, he knew that much. At least for a while.
Why was this happening? Where had it come from?
Athos' hand was creeping closer to the bottle again when the doorbell went and he nearly fell out of his chair in guilty alarm. Stumbling to his feet, he wondered if it was Porthos, somehow come to check on him - except there was no way he'd have got here that quickly, and he had a key.
Grateful for the distraction Athos made his way to the front door and pulled it open. The young man who stood there he'd never seen before in his life and Athos stared at him blankly.
"Hey." The boy gave him a cheerful smile that faltered a little as Athos frowned at him, uncomprehending. "Uh - sorry to bother you, but, um, Aramis said to meet him here?"
Something Porthos had said a few days ago clicked into place with the boy's appearance - longish dark hair, dark eyes, an open expression that somehow managed to be innocent and knowing at the same time.
"Right. Right - uh - D'Artagnan, yes?"
D'Artagnan nodded, clearly relieved.
Athos nodded too, distractedly. "They're not back yet I'm afraid. Still practising."
"Oh. Right. Well I guess I'll - wait out here then, if that's okay?"
Athos blinked, suddenly remembering his manners. "No, sorry, come in, it's fine."
"I don't want to be a bother?"
"Really. No trouble." Athos held the door open for him and reflected guiltily that D'Artagnan's arrival had possibly been just in the nick of time to save him from doing something irrevocably stupid.
"It's Athos right?" D’Artagnan was smiling at him rather shyly now. "It's nice to meet you. You were my hero when I was a kid."
Athos hesitated. "Thanks," he said rather dryly, but D'Artagnan was already wincing in embarrassment.
"Sorry - sorry, that - that came out entirely wrong, I didn't - I mean, it was only a couple of years ago." D’Artagnan gave him a sheepish grin, going scarlet with mortification.
Athos smiled. "It's fine. Really. Don’t worry about it. Do you want a coffee or something?" He walked back into the kitchen automatically then stopped short as the bottle caught his eye again.
"No, thanks, I'm fine," D'Artagnan was saying, looking around him with interest. He noticed the whisky on the table and frowned curiously. He knew Athos' history, and it seemed a curious centrepiece, considering. Although maybe it was some sort of weird willpower thing.
Athos had sunk down into one of the kitchen chairs as if he'd already forgotten D'Artagnan's presence, and was staring at the bottle rather glassily.
"Uh - are you okay?" D'Artagnan asked cautiously.
"Mmmn." Athos didn’t look up and D'Artagnan bit his lip.
"You know what, maybe I will have that coffee, if that's okay?"
"Yeah. Sure." Athos still didn’t move.
"I'll - make it myself then?" D'Artagnan got no response and shrugged, filling the kettle and staring to go through the kitchen cupboards until he came up with a cafetiere and an opened packet of coffee. The fridge yielded nothing but salad and a tub of chopped pineapple and D'Artagnan raised his eyebrows, thinking longingly of his own that was mostly full of cold pizza, left over chinese and beer.
"You got any milk?"
Athos dragged himself round to look at him, frowning as if concentrating was hard. "Porthos and I both drink it black. Sorry, I don't think we bothered." Too distracted to think of hiding the fact of their living together, and assuming that in any case, D'Artagnan would know about it from Aramis.
"No worries. Got any sugar?" D'Artagnan didn’t normally take it, but something was telling him it was a good thing to keep Athos talking.
"Somewhere. Top shelf?"
D'Artagnan found a torn packet that looked like it had probably been purchased by a previous tenant at least three occupants ago, and spooned some into his mug, before pouring both of them out some coffee.
Athos looked surprised when D'Artagnan put a mug in front of him. "Oh. Thank you."
"No problem." D'Artagnan sat opposite Athos and regarded him. "Look - tell me to butt out if this is none of my business, but - are you okay?"
Athos' gaze flickered up briefly, then back to the bottle. D'Artagnan tried again.
"Would you like me to take that somewhere?"
"What?" Athos looked up properly this time, his attention finally caught. D'Artagnan took a deep breath. "I mean - you're teetotal, right?" Athos nodded. "So I figured maybe you - don’t want to touch it? I'm just saying, I could - get rid of it, if you didn’t want to?" D'Artagnan faltered, wondering if he was way out of line. But Athos didn't seem to have taken offence.
"Thank you. No, it's - it's fine." Athos took a shuddering breath and laid his hands flat on the table, pushing himself back slightly. "I'm fine."
"Forgive me, but you don’t look fine." D'Artagnan hesitated, wary of wading in where he wasn’t welcome, but sensing all was not well. "Should you even have that?"
Athos shook his head slowly. "Someone sent it to me."
"Left it on the doorstep." Athos looked up again, and blinked at D'Artagnan as if surprised to see him there, or perhaps trying to remember his name. "I don't know why."
"That seems - cruel."
"Cruel?" Athos looked surprised. "I hadn't thought of it like that." He went back to staring at the bottle, in an intent way that made D'Artagnan distinctly uncomfortable. "I'm fine though," Athos said softly. "I don't - don't need it any more, you see."
"Yeah. Right." D'Artagnan nodded soothingly, and got to his feet. "I'm just gonna - make a phone call, okay?" He edged out of the room, but Athos didn’t even appear to notice him go.
In the hallway, D’Artagnan called Aramis. It rang and rang and he was just despairingly expecting it to click over to answerphone when Aramis' voice came on the line.
"Hey D'Artagnan, sorry, sorry, completely forgot to tell you we were staying behind. Are you with Athos?" Sounding vaguely guilty that he'd not thought to warn either of them.
"Yeah. Look, is Porthos there? Because I think he should come home. I think - I think Athos kinda needs him right now," D'Artagnan said in a low, urgent voice.
"Oh. Okay." Aramis sounded startled. "Well we were about finished up here anyway. We'll be back soon as, okay?"
"Make it sooner." D'Artagnan hung up, only then registering the fact he'd just cut off the man of his dreams mid-sentence and wincing. He hurried back into the kitchen, relieved to see Athos still where he'd left him.
Athos looked up, a faint sheen of sweat on his face, his thumbnails bleeding where he'd been picking stressfully at the cuticles. "Talk to me?" he pleaded softly.
"What about?" D'Artagnan, normally the world's chattiest man, found his mind went immediately blank.
Athos shrugged helplessly. "Anything. Nothing. Doesn't matter. Just - talk to me?"
So D’Artagnan talked, about his childhood, his love for tennis, his family, his love life. He talked about how Athos had been his idol growing up, how gutted he'd been when he retired from the game, how determined he'd been to hate Aramis when he'd heard Porthos was taking a new partner. How that had lasted exactly as long as it took for him to actually see Aramis on court. How stunned he'd been when he'd finally met Aramis in the flesh and found that not only was Aramis as gay as every single one of D'Artagnan's fantasies had dictated, but had also been entirely willing to sweep D'Artagnan off his feet and into bed.
He was debating the wisdom of giving Athos a literal blow by blow account of the subsequent night, when there was the sound of a key in the lock and seconds later a frantic and worried Porthos barrelled into the room.
"Athos! What the fuck?" He took in Athos' flushed and guilty expression, the bottle of whisky on the table, and stumbled forwards, face haggard. "Athos - you didn't - tell me you didn't - "
Porthos half fell onto him, gathering Athos into his arms and hugging him tightly. Athos clung to him, shaking with the release of tension and burying his face in Porthos' shoulder.
"I didn't. I haven't. I swear," Athos managed, voice muffled. Porthos rocked him, fingers clenching in Athos' shirt. He looked round and gestured wildly at the bottle.
"Get that out of here," he ordered blindly.
Aramis, who'd been hovering in the doorway giving D’Artagnan mystified glances, picked it up. "What do you want me to do with it?" he asked.
"I don't fucking care, just get it out of here," Porthos shouted. "Out of the house."
"I'll put it in the car," Aramis said, although no-one appeared to care. He shrugged and walked out, D'Artagnan remaining, awkwardly watching Porthos and Athos clinging to each other, but reluctant to leave.
"I'm sorry," Porthos was saying, sounding wretched. "I'm sorry. Why didn’t you say? If you'd said what the matter was, I'd have come home, you know I would."
"I know." Athos' breathing was becoming steadier, now the bottle had gone, now Porthos was here, now he no longer had to be strong. "I just - I didn’t want to bother you."
"Athos." Porthos groaned, angry with himself, knowing now that Athos had called him for help, replaying his own terse side of the conversation in his head with a sick sense of guilt.
"What happened Athos?" Porthos pleaded. "Why didn't you tell me things were this bad?"
Athos shook his head, still clasped in Porthos' arms, both of them somehow awkwardly occupying the same chair. He didn't know what to say without making it sound like an excuse, but as Aramis walked back in it was D’Artagnan who came to his rescue.
"He said someone sent it to him?" D'Artagnan ventured cautiously. "He said it was left on the doorstep."
"Is that true?" Porthos pulled back and looked at Athos in astonishment. Athos nodded towards the kitchen bin, and Aramis fished out the wad of crumpled packaging on the top. He unfolded it on the table, stiff plain paper with pieces of sticky tape, a tall box, and a card.
"To Athos, From A Well-wisher," he read out. "Well. That's the most sinister thing I've seen all day."
"And it was just on the doorstep?" Porthos repeated.
Athos nodded tiredly. "I found it there when I came home after your match. I'd unwrapped it before I realised what it was, and then - " he sighed. "Guess I'm not as through it all as I thought." He leaned defeatedly against Porthos who held him in a fiercely protective embrace.
"You're doing fine," Porthos said stubbornly, kissing him on the side of the head. "But I want to know who the fuck sent you a thing like that."
"I guess it was just a fan who didn't know any better," Athos sighed.
D'Artagnan shook his head. "That was an expensive bottle. Anyone who's going to fork out for a present like that is surely going to be enough of a fan to know about your - " he hesitated. "Situation."
"Addiction," Athos corrected quietly. "It's okay. You can say it." he mustered a smile. "And thank you, D'Artagnan. For everything you've done for me this evening."
"I didn’t do anything." D'Artagnan blushed, but Athos shook his head.
"You turned up," Athos said simply. "And you saw something was wrong, and you didn't go away." He bowed his head in shame. "I'm sorry you had to see me being so weak. Guess I must be something of a disappointment in the flesh."
"No." D'Artagnan shook his head, and Athos looked up again questioningly. "You're not weak," D’Artagnan insisted. "You - you wanted that bottle, you wanted a drink, so badly, I could see that. But you didn't take it. And, you could have, because frankly I'd only just met you and I wouldn’t have had the balls to stop you. But I don't think you would have, even if I hadn't been there. Seriously, that was - the strongest thing I've ever seen. So no, you're not a disappointment Athos, I think you're pretty fucking amazing."
D'Artagnan stumbled to a halt, looking embarrassed, but Aramis clapped him on the back. "Well said."
"Seconded." Porthos kissed Athos roughly on the cheek. "You twat."
Athos, who was by now mostly sitting in his lap, half-laughed. He was feeling better every moment, surrounded by people who somehow, amazingly, weren't judging him.
"I still don't understand though," Porthos said. "Who could have enough of a grudge against you to do a thing like that?"
"Maybe Athos wasn't the target," D'Artagnan suggested, and blushed again as they all looked at him.
"It was addressed to me," Athos pointed out.
"Yeah. But - if someone didn't want Porthos and Aramis to get through to the final - what's the one thing that could distract you enough to knacker your chances?" he asked them all meaningfully.
It was Athos who caught on first. "If I was to have a major meltdown," he said slowly.
Porthos paled. "That's - criminal. Worse, it's sick."
"But it is possible," Aramis conceded heavily. "And you know who would come up with something like this? Who would benefit?"
"Rochefort and Bonacieux?" Porthos asked scornfully. They were the top seeds in the mens' doubles, their arch rivals, and he and Aramis were on course to meet them in the final. "They wouldn't have the balls."
"Wasn't thinking of them," Aramis murmured. "More their coach."
"Richelieu?" Porthos raised his eyebrows. "Yeah, you might have a point there. He'd certainly be devious enough." Richelieu had once tried to lure Porthos away from Treville at a time when Porthos had been in freefall down the rankings, arguing that Treville clearly wasn't attending to his training needs and that Athos was a toxic weight around his neck. Without being aware of the fact that Porthos and Athos were in a relationship, so it had backfired on him rather, and the man had been bitter about it ever since.
"Maybe I'll have a little word," Porthos said meaningfully.
Aramis and D'Artagnan left some time later, and as they climbed into Aramis' car, he looked across at D’Artagnan in the passenger seat and gave him an apologetic smile.
"Sorry, about all that. Wasn't quite what I intended for this evening." Feeling faintly embarrassed, firstly that he'd failed to meet D'Artagnan in the place they'd arranged, or warn Athos of his imminent arrival, and secondly that D'Artagnan had immediately become embroiled in such a drama. Aramis hoped he hadn't blown his chances. D'Artagnan had been a casual pick-up, and it was hardly fair on him to have made him go through all that.
"S'okay." D'Artagnan smiled at him. "Glad I could help." He propped his knees up on the dashboard and stared ahead consideringly. "It's funny. When I was a kid, I used to watch Athos and Porthos playing together and - well I guess I was that age, y'know? I used to pretend to myself that they were lovers and stuff. And now it turns out that they were, all along. And they still are. Are you look at them, and it's so clear they love each other, and after everything they've been through." D’Artagnan caught the curious look Aramis was giving him and blushed, shrugging. "Well. Gives you hope, doesn't it? That there might be someone that special out there for you."
"Yes," Aramis said softly. "I guess it does." He rested his hands on the steering wheel, and looked back at D'Artagnan. "What do you fancy doing? It's got a bit late to go somewhere for dinner," he said apologetically.
D'Artagnan gave him a sideways look from under his hair. "Could always go back to yours?" he suggested hopefully.
The knowing smile that spread across Aramis' face had D'Artagnan stiffening in his jeans before Aramis had even got the car in gear.
When Porthos climbed into bed that night Athos was already there, curled silently under the covers in t-shirt and boxers and facing away from him. Porthos wriggled up behind and wrapped an arm around his chest, relieved when Athos acknowledged him by pressing a kiss to his hand.
"You alright?" Porthos asked quietly.
"Yeah." Athos' hesitant reply was more than half-sigh, and Porthos hugged him.
Athos considered. "Yeah. I think so. Just a bit - shaken up by it all, I guess," he admitted under his breath.
"Mmmn." Porthos pressed closer, tucking his knees up behind Athos' legs so they were spooned together from chest to feet. "Well, I'm right here, okay?"
Athos turned his head enough to kiss Porthos' bare shoulder. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
Athos lay his head back down on the pillow and sighed. "I seem to keep fucking your life up."
"Hey." Porthos propped himself up on one elbow and tugged at Athos until he rolled over to face him. "Can we get one thing straight?" Porthos asked seriously, staring at Athos in the dim light. "You are my life. Everything else is just so much window-dressing. If I seriously had to choose between you and my career, I'd give it all up tomorrow. In a heart-beat."
He paused, grasping for the words to make Athos understand. "You need to stop feeling guilty," Porthos said quietly. "Every time I've ever put you first, that's been my decision to make. And I know it's sometimes weighed on you, and I wish - I hope you understand how much I love you, but sometimes I just wish I could make you understand why I do."
"Because you're an idiot?" Athos said softly, and Porthos groaned.
"Don't do that. Don't laugh it off."
"I'm not. I just don't know what else to say," confessed Athos helplessly. He put his arms around Porthos and kissed him. "I love you. And I am eternally grateful and constantly bemused by the fact you love me." Porthos started to say something, and Athos stopped him with another kiss. "But I can't cope with analysing all this," he whispered. "Not tonight. My head's in too many places. Just hold me?"
Porthos sighed, giving Athos a resigned smile and folding him back into his arms, so his chest was snug against Athos' back, and their hands were clasped together.
"Sorry," Porthos murmured, when they were settled comfortably. "I didn't mean to lay it on so thick."
"You don't have to apologise," Athos told him sleepily. "Not for being nice to me. Even I'm not that much of a dick."
Porthos snorted. "Matter of opinion."
Athos smiled in the dark. "What happened to it, out of interest? That bottle?"
"I think Aramis took it. He's probably finished it off with D'Artagnan by now. Look on the bright side, you probably just got them both laid." Porthos felt Athos laughing silently against him, and closed his eyes with a smile. They might have ups and downs in life, but as long as he could still end every day like this, with Athos in his arms, he was content.
Waking the next morning, Porthos found Athos gazing at him quietly from the other pillow, and his eyes crinkled into a smile.
"Hey you," Porthos said fondly, then found his arms unexpectedly full of Athos as he launched himself forward. "Mmmn." Athos was already kissing him, tongue deep in his mouth, and Porthos could feel that he was hard in his boxers.
"Someone's frisky this morning," Porthos growled, clutching Athos to him in approval and kissing him back thoroughly.
Athos gave a breathy laugh against his neck, ducking his head in embarrassment.
"That wasn't a complaint by the way," Porthos murmured, kissing him again and rubbing himself meaningfully against Athos' erection.
Athos drew back enough to regard him, and Porthos was glad to see the look in his eyes was significantly lighter than the night before.
"I suppose I had a bit of an epiphany," Athos said.
"By yourself? Dirty bugger," Porthos grinned, and Athos smacked him on the arm and sighed.
"No, I just - I woke up, and thought - the sun's shining, the birds are singing, and I'm in bed with a gorgeous man. So why aren't I taking advantage of it instead of lying here feeling sorry for myself?" Athos said quietly.
"Feel free to take advantage of me as much as you like," Porthos said immediately, pulling him on top and enjoying the way Athos pushed against him.
"I want you," Athos murmured in between increasingly heated kisses.
"I'm all yours," Porthos agreed whole-heartedly, already stiff as a board and entirely willing to oblige Athos in anything he wanted. He knew Athos' moods could shift unpredictably, and had been fearful that after the events of the previous night Athos would sink into a prolonged low spell. Consequently the fact that Athos had woken up unexpectedly cheerful and horny was something to be encouraged on all fronts.
As they fucked though, he wasn't blind to the fact there was a certain desperation in the way Athos took him, his ragged, panting breath hot against Porthos' cheek, Athos thrusting into him fast and hard. Not that Porthos objected in the least, but he wondered how much of this was Athos trying to convince himself that everything was okay.
Athos' rough and dirty approach meant Porthos came in double quick time, not bothering to hold himself back. Moments later Athos too came to a gasping, spasming climax, collapsing over Porthos' chest and clinging to him as if the room was swaying.
"Fuck," Athos said weakly, and Porthos laughed, helping him dispose of his condom and then hugging him close. "Sorry. That was - I needed that," Athos managed.
Porthos kissed him, and shook his head. "Did you just apologise for fucking my brains out? Are you insane?"
Athos laughed, then coughed, still short of breath. "Is that where you keep them?" he teased when he could speak again, waggling Porthos' now soft cock in his hand.
"At least that way I can claim you want me for my brains," Porthos grinned.
Porthos' first mission of the day was to seek out Richelieu, and he finally ran him to ground on the balcony outside the players' restaurant, watching the crowds below with a disdainful expression.
"I want a word with you," Porthos demanded, cornering him against the rail.
Richelieu looked him up and down with interest. "Come to your senses and sacked Treville at last?" he surmised. "My door is always open to a player of your calibre."
Porthos scowled. "I'm sure Rochefort and Bonacieux would be pleased to know your allegiance is so easily swayed."
Richelieu shrugged carelessly. "What is it you want then if you're determined to remain mediocre?"
"It's about Athos."
"Oh really? How is he these days? Still drinking? Must be such a trial for you, really, you have the patience of a saint."
Porthos balled his fists furiously, then made himself calm down with a considerable effort. He wouldn’t put it past Richelieu to have considered the fact if he could get Porthos to punch him, he could have him thrown out of the competition for it. Losing his temper and making wild accusations wouldn’t help, and the man was clearly trying to rile him on purpose; everyone knew Athos had been dry for years. Unless there was more behind the pointed dig than merely spite.
"About that. He says someone left him a little present yesterday," Porthos said tightly. "A bottle of whisky. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"
Richelieu put a hand to his chest in a gesture that managed to be simultaneously dramatic and sarcastic. "Me? Why should you think I would know anything about what Athos says people are sending him?" He shook his head in a semblance of concern. "He didn’t touch it, I hope?"
"Of course he bloody didn't!" Porthos realised he was shouting, and winced.
Richelieu inclined his head. "Hmmn. How terribly sensible of him."
"So you wouldn’t happen to have left a bottle on our doorstep recently then?" Porthos snapped, awkwardly aware he was dangerously close to being accused of slander.
Richelieu though didn't react to the implied accusation, just looked at him thoughtfully. "You and Athos never won here, did you?"
Porthos glowered. "We came close." They'd got to the final once, but lost in five sets. It had been at a stage where Athos' drinking had been having more of an effect on his performance that either he was willing to admit, or Porthos to acknowledge. And even then it had been a close run thing.
"Runner up is still losing." Richelieu folded his hands up the sleeves of his fleece and looked smug. "And this story of a bottle appearing on the doorstep seems very convenient. Are you sure he wants you to win?"
"What the hell are you saying?"
"Well." A cold smile played around Richelieu's lips. "Perhaps you should look closer to home for your saboteur before accusing others, hmmn?"
Porthos watched him go with a cold feeling in his stomach. Athos would never lie to him, he told himself. Promptly remembering all the times Athos had done exactly that when he'd been at his lowest, all the times he'd told Porthos he'd stopped drinking and hadn't.
He wasn't drinking now, Porthos was at least sure of that. But that didn't mean he wasn't fighting himself over it. Porthos rubbed his eyes, groaning. What if Richelieu was right? Could it be that the prospect of watching him and Aramis win something they'd never managed together be eating away at Athos? Or was that just what Richelieu wanted him to think?
As the next few days went by, Richelieu's words refused to leave Porthos alone and he found he kept coming back to the possibility that Athos had made it all up and bought the bottle himself. He didn't want to believe it, but as he and Aramis won first their quarter- and then semi-final matches, he couldn't help but notice Athos becoming quieter and more withdrawn.
In bed the night before the final, Porthos couldn't sleep. He was still going over and over it in his mind, and finally conceded that whoever had been responsible, the end result was the same in that he was certainly distracted and worried enough that it was starting to affect his equilibrium. There was only one thing he could sensibly do.
"Athos. You awake?" he murmured.
"Yeah," came the soft reply, and Athos rolled over, curling up against his side and kissing his arm. "You okay?"
Porthos realised guiltily that he'd probably been fidgeting and sighing ever since they'd gone to bed, and keeping Athos awake as well.
"Will you mind?" Porthos asked quietly, before he could chicken out. "If Aramis and I win?"
Athos went still, then the bedclothes rustled as he sat up. It was too dark to make out more than shapes, but Porthos could tell Athos was staring at him, and wished he could see his expression.
"What are you talking about?" Athos said finally, and there was enough genuine surprise in his tone that Porthos relaxed a little. Although Athos had always been a bloody good actor.
Porthos sighed. "I just - we never won at Wimbledon, did we?"
"We got to the final," Athos said immediately, and Porthos smiled despite himself. It had been almost the same as his own defensive response to Richelieu.
"But we didn't win," Porthos murmured.
"No. Sorry." Athos lay down again on his back, staring up into the dark and Porthos could have kicked himself. The last thing he'd wanted was for Athos to think he was blaming him for their loss.
"I didn't mean - Athos, that's not what I'm saying. It wasn't your fault."
"It was, though," Athos said quietly. "If I hadn't been sweating whisky and having to blink the tramlines into focus we'd have taken it."
Porthos hesitated. "You've never told me that before." It had been another six months before Athos' behaviour had become too bad to ignore, and another three after that before he'd finally submitted to the combined arguments of Porthos and Treville and booked himself into a clinic.
"Lot of things I didn't tell you back then," Athos admitted softly. "Too afraid of losing you, I suppose."
Porthos shifted closer and slid an arm over Athos' stomach. "I'd never have left you," he whispered. Sensed Athos turning to look at him in the dark, and kissed him softly on the mouth.
"I didn't know that then," Athos whispered back finally. "I couldn't see any worth in myself, I hardly expected you to." He traced the line of Porthos' cheek and jaw with his fingers, almost wonderingly. "What did you mean?" he said finally. "About minding if you win?"
"I just - thought you might," Porthos said awkwardly. "You know. If I pull it off with Aramis instead of you."
Athos was silent for a moment. "I was so jealous of him, in the beginning," he admitted under his breath.
"You never told me that, either," Porthos accused, and Athos smiled slightly.
"How could I, when it was me telling you to do it?" he said. For a long time, Porthos had held out hope that Athos would return to be his partner once he'd got himself straight again, ignoring Treville's insistence he pair up with someone new and stubbornly only playing singles matches. It had taken Athos formally declaring his retirement from the game that finally convinced him to give in.
"I kept hoping you'd come back."
Athos sighed. "I know. But my heart wasn't in it any more. And you deserved someone better." He found Porthos' hand under the covers and squeezed it. "But then the two of you started winning everything, and for a while part of me hated that."
"Athos - "
"No, let me finish. That was a long time ago now. And let's face it, you and Aramis play better together than we ever did."
"I said shut up," Athos said gently, folding Porthos' hand into both of his and patting it. "Like I said, since then - well, I got to know Aramis, and like him, and I suppose I've also got over myself a bit." He rolled onto his side and Porthos put his arm back round him, holding Athos close but this time not interrupting.
"So yes, I absolutely want you to win this," Athos whispered. "Win it for us. Win it for me."
Porthos kissed him then, relief and love and heartache all mingling inside him to an almost overwhelming degree. Athos kissed him back with equal fervour, and after one thing had lead to another it was some time before they finally settled back down to sleep.
It was only as Porthos was drifting off that the thought occurred to him that if the incident with the bottle hadn't been Athos on the brink of self-destructing, then it meant somewhere out there was still a very real threat.