Pairings: Athos/Porthos, Aramis/d'Artagnan, past Athos/Aramis
Rating: NC17 (overall)
Summary: Ghost story AU set (vaguely) in the 1920's. When literature professor Athos de la Fère is invited to spend Christmas with an old friend and one of his students insists on tagging along, he's not expecting it to be overly eventful. But then a mysterious stranger arrives at the door in search of an old manuscript and all hell may be very literally about to break loose...
Every eye turned to Porthos in a mixture of surprise, enquiry and accusation. For a second he wavered, eyes flicking to the door as if considering making a run for it, but the three of them were all standing in his way and after a second he crumpled back into his seat and put his head in his hands.
Aramis looked from Porthos to Athos, confused and increasingly angry that their visitor had apparently tried to swindle him.
"Whatever put you on to this?" Aramis asked, feeling rather embarrassed that he'd been so guileless in believing Porthos' story.
"A couple of things," Athos admitted. "When he arrived last night, he said he'd broken down further out, and that we were the first house he came to - but the footsteps in the snow came from the direction of the village. That could have had an innocent enough explanation, he might have walked past in the blizzard and not noticed the lights at first. But then later in the library, he showed - well, considerably less knowledge of or interest in some of the books I was showing him than I would have expected of a member of the British Library. And then there was the unsigned letter. I suppose I just wanted to make sure."
Athos looked down at Porthos. "I assume the letter was a forgery?"
Porthos nodded miserably.
"And the story about the breakdown was a fabrication? You knew very well this was the house you wanted?"
Another nod. "Do I look like I could afford to run a car?" Porthos asked with a tired laugh. "No, you're right. I came up by the last train and walked from the village."
Aramis frowned at him. "So come on then Porthos, if that's even your name. I think we deserve an explanation don't you? You seem to have gone to a lot of trouble to defraud your way in here to find something we only have your word exists in the first place." Wondering now if the man was perhaps here to case the joint for a later robbery.
"It does exist," Porthos insisted. "And yes, Porthos du Vallon is my real name." He sighed. "I'm sorry. You've all treated me so kindly, and this is how I repay you."
"You weren't expecting to find us here were you?" Athos asked, taking the seat next to him and thinking back to Porthos' rather startled expression at finding three men opening the door to him.
Porthos shook his head. "I thought I'd be dealing with some local executor or the like, who'd be impressed by the letter and ignorant of the manuscript's value." He glanced at Athos, with a mixture of resignation and respect.
"You knew my uncle was dead then?" Aramis said immediately. "Perhaps you were expecting to find the house empty? What then, you'd have broken in and stolen this thing?"
Porthos looked up with a flare of feeling. "Not stolen. It's my rightful property. My inheritance. It belonged to my father, until d'Herblay took it from him."
Aramis stared at him coldly. "My uncle was a vicar, I hardly think he was in the habit of defrauding people."
Porthos subsided a little. "I'm sorry. I meant no offence."
"Why don't you start from the beginning?" Athos said gently, waving Aramis and d'Artagnan to chairs. He'd been impressed by Porthos' single-minded and dedicated search, and was sure in his own mind that the man had no designs on the rest of the house's contents. Confronted with his deception Porthos had proved both civil and apologetic, and Athos was intrigued as to the reasons behind it all.
"I work as a clerk in a law firm," Porthos told them. "The office was dealing with the estate of M. d'Herblay, and I recognised the name. I thought this might be my one chance to recover an item that was mine by right, if you like." He glanced at Aramis. "However your uncle came by it, I'm not saying it was dishonestly, but it once belonged to my father, and he would never have let it out of his possession willingly."
Porthos paused, to gather his thoughts. "I was only small - maybe five years old - but I remember him talking about it. In fact he never seemed to shut up about it. It was going to make him rich, he reckoned. Rich and powerful, more than all other men." Porthos gave a rueful smile. "I don't know, maybe that's how all fathers go on to their sons. But he seemed so certain. And then one day something happened, he lost it to d'Herblay."
Porthos looked awkwardly at Aramis. "I'm not saying he stole it. I was just a child, I don't know what happened. But I remember my father's rage. And I remember the name."
"Did you ever even see it, this book?" Aramis asked, still annoyed about the implication his uncle might have been anything less than honest.
"My father kept it locked away, but I caught a glimpse of it once. Horrible thing it was, gave me nightmares for weeks."
"And this is something you want back in your possession?" d'Artagnan couldn't help asking.
Porthos flushed. "I was going to sell it. You see - after he lost it, my father disappeared. Vanished. We never saw him again. My mother died not long after." He was silent for a second, sober-faced. "I grew up in the workhouse mostly. Managed to do alright for myself in the end, but it's been a struggle making ends meet. I was going to use the money to put myself through law school. I figured I was owed it. That d'Herblay was dead, and I wouldn't be doing anyone any harm."
He bowed his head. "And it's all been for nothing. Maybe it's not even here, maybe he never had it at all." Porthos looked up at Athos, face guarded but resigned. "Will you go to the police?"
Athos looked to Aramis. "It's your house."
Aramis sighed, staring at Porthos in a quandary. Finally he shrugged. "What the hell. It's not like a crime has actually been committed yet. I'm willing to let it go." He looked at Athos to see if he agreed, and got a slight nod of approval.
Porthos looked stunned. "Really? Do you mean that?"
"Yes. Why not." Aramis suddenly smiled at him. "It is Christmas after all. Season of good will and all that."
"I don't know what to say. Thank you. Thank you. I know I don't deserve it." Porthos got slowly to his feet. "I suppose I'd better be going."
"Where to?" Aramis asked in surprise. "There'll be no trains at this time of the evening, if they're even running at all in this weather. Athos barely made it back up the road, and it's been coming down thickly ever since. You'd better stay."
"You can hardly want me here," Porthos said awkwardly.
"I hardly want them to discover your frozen body out there come springtime either," Aramis retorted. "I think we're all stuck with each other, for a couple of days at least."
They ate supper together in the kitchen, being cosier than the draughty hall, but afterwards were drawn irresistibly back into the library.
"It seems a shame after all this that we haven't found it," Aramis sighed, settling into his customary chair and looking expectantly at Athos, who was busy with the decanter.
"Maybe we should ask the crystal ball," d'Artagnan grinned.
Athos snorted. "If you put half the effort into your studies that you put into pointless distractions..."
"Hey, don't knock it. It was right about your tall dark stranger wasn't it?" d'Artagnan laughed, nodding at Porthos. He grabbed hold of the stand the crystal was resting on and attempted to drag it further into the room.
"D'Artagnan stop fooling around, you're going to break something," Athos told him irritably.
"Don't fuss it's fine, it's fixed down. Look." D'Artagnan tilted the wooden stand and then watched in horror as the crystal rolled out of the ornate metal base and crashed to the floor with a sound of splintering.
Everyone froze, and d'Artagnan clapped a hand over his eyes. "Tell me the worst," he said tightly, wondering with a feeling of nausea how valuable it had been.
Athos bent down and retrieved the globe. "It's fine," he reported with some surprise. "Somehow you appear to have managed to merely break the house instead."
Everyone looked down at the dip in the carpet where the heavy crystal had apparently smashed through a floorboard.
"That's odd," said Aramis. "I thought there were stone flags under here. Used to be the chapel when the house was built, I think. Athos, grab the corner, let's have a look."
They peeled back the rug and peered at the damage. One of the floorboards was split across its width and a dark space showed beneath.
Aramis slipped his hand into the crack and prised up the broken board, before lifting out the other half until there was a hole about a foot long by six inches wide. By now all four of them were kneeling on the floor staring into the gap. It was pitch black inside, and even bringing the lamp across they couldn't tell how deep it was.
"Well I'm not putting my hand in there," Aramis declared. "It's probably all cobwebby."
Athos looked amused. "For a man who makes his living putting his hands into people's body cavities, you're remarkably squeamish."
"I like to think of that as more of a hobby," Aramis said under his breath, and was gratified by Athos' stifled huff of laughter.
They all eyed the hole uncertainly.
"I'll do it," Porthos offered finally, and with a little trepidation put his hand down into the space. He was in about halfway between wrist and elbow before his expression changed. "I can feel something."
"Is it a rat?" asked Aramis wickedly and Porthos dragged his hand out so fast that he banged his knuckles on the boards. He glared at Aramis, who smiled back unrepentantly.
Porthos snorted disgustedly, shaking his head. "Didn't feel ratty," he said, as if trying to convince himself. "Felt like cloth."
"Maybe it's a shroud," suggested Aramis helpfully. "This being an old chapel and all."
Porthos fixed him with a look, and deliberately stuck his hand back in the hole, feeling around. Athos, thinking privately that after Aramis' teasing he wouldn't have put his own hand down there for all the tea in China, was impressed.
Porthos grabbed hold of something and with some difficulty drew it out of the gap. It was a flat rectangular package, bound up in sailcloth and sealed with wax. Porthos carried it carefully to the writing desk and everyone clustered around.
"You don't suppose - ?" d'Artagnan let the thought tail off, but everyone was thinking the same thing.
"It's certainly about the right size," said Porthos.
"Whatever's that all over it?" said Athos, brushing grains of something off onto the carpet. "Sand?"
Aramis dabbed a finger into it and touched it tentatively to his tongue. "Salt," he said in surprise.
Athos touched the wax seal thoughtfully, considering how best to proceed.
"That's from my uncle's signet ring," Aramis said, studying the design of the seal carefully. "It was in his effects."
"Aramis, do you have a letter opener?" Athos asked. When one was provided he held it briefly in the flame of one of the candles to heat it, then slid it carefully under the blob of the seal, prising it up in one piece and freeing the loose ends of the knotted twist of cord beneath.
At that moment, a fierce gust of wind from the growing storm outside slammed against the library window and it burst inwards, making the curtain flare. It caught the oil lamp that had been left on the floor by the hole, turning it over and in an instant burning oil had set fire to rug and curtain alike.
For a confused few minutes they all beat at the flames, which seemed to take hold with alarming speed. Eventually, they managed to both douse the fire and slam the window shut again, panting and exclaiming in shock. Certainly it felt like the result would have been a lot worse than a little charred fabric if there hadn't been four of them to put the fire out.
Aramis poured brandy for everyone, feeling it was certainly needed, and when heart rates had returned to something like normal, they gathered back around the book.
Athos was unsuccessfully trying to untie the tangled cords and d'Artagnan sighed impatiently. "Can't we just cut it open?"
Athos gave him a disapproving look. "Heathen."
"Well, let me have a go then."
Athos relinquished his seat and d’Artagnan took over, unpicking the knot in a short space of time.
"What nimble fingers you have," said Aramis admiringly, meeting Athos' frown with a guileless look.
"Just better eyesight probably," Athos retorted, resuming the seat in front of the desk and carefully unwrapping the cloth.
Lying in the folds was an ancient looking volume, with a dark tooled leather binding.
"That's it!" Porthos said excitedly. "We've found it!" He subsided a little as he remembered he technically had no claim to it.
"You'd better open it Athos," Aramis said. "You're probably the one of us least likely to damage it."
Athos raised an eyebrow. "Only probably?"
With great care he lifted open the cover, and stared in astonishment at the design within. It was a face staring out of the page, which at first he took to be a sun but looking closer realised it was formed from a mass of black, writhing snakes.
"That's it," Porthos said rather hoarsely. "That's the picture I remember seeing as a child."
"No wonder it gave you nightmares," d'Artagnan said feelingly. "It's hideous."
"It's exquisite," Athos murmured, leaning closer. "Look at the detail in it." It was such a complex design it seemed when he was concentrating on one section the snakes on the edge of his field of vision seemed to be moving.
"Come on, move on," d'Artagnan urged impatiently. "Let's see the rest."
Athos suppressed a smile and turned the page obligingly. "The pages are quite loose," he noted. "We'll need to be careful."
Each page proved to hold cramped Latin text running neatly around a depiction of some kind of animal. A pair of silver owls stared back at them from one, and a seething knot of rats from another.
"It's a Bestiary," said Athos in wonder, turning a third page to reveal a hissing ginger cat, or possibly a tiger.
"How old?" asked d'Artagnan.
Athos considered. "I'd say maybe fourteenth century?"
"The same age as the original house," Aramis put in.
"You think there's a connection?"
"Well, judging from the seal and from what Porthos has said, it can only have been in the hole for - what, twenty, twenty five years at most? So I don't see how there can be."
"Oh." Porthos gave a sudden, quiet exclamation and they all looked at him. He appeared to have thought of something that gave him no comfort whatsoever.
"I suppose it's always possible that my father - obtained - the manuscript from d'Herblay in the first place?" he said slowly. He'd never given it a thought before, but considering objectively now the kind of society his father had seemed part of, compared to that of his current companions, it seemed a stomach-churning possibility.
"Well, we've no way of knowing what happened, so there's no point in speculation," said Aramis kindly. "In any case, here it is. Athos, what do you think it's worth?"
Athos pursed his lips. "I'd hesitate to name a sum, but - if you put it before the right bidders - I'd say a small fortune."
Athos continued to turn the pages, but Aramis' attention kept drifting thoughtfully back to Porthos, who looked more miserable than ever at the news of what he'd lost.
"What the devil's that supposed to be?" d'Artagnan asked. The beast on the current page seemed to be trailing water and tentacles.
"Some kind of squid?" Athos hazarded.
"Drawn by someone who'd never seen one," d'Artagnan added. "And who was drunk."
"I certainly wouldn't want to meet that fellow on a dark night," Aramis grinned.
Athos turned the last page, and the merriment fell away as they all stared at the final picture. Rather than an animal, actual or mythological, this was some kind of devil. It had a protruding tongue and short horns, black hair all over its body, and a barbed tail. It glared out of the page, and seemed to be looking right at them.
"Now he's unpleasant," murmured Aramis, the first to find his voice. "What's it supposed to be?"
"Some kind of imp?" Athos suggested.
"Close the book for God's sake Athos, you'll give us all nightmares," d'Artagnan said with a shudder. Athos obliged without demur, glad enough himself to have the disturbing creature out of his sight. He wrapped the protective cloth back round the manuscript, and they retreated to the armchairs to discuss their find.
"Well Porthos," said Aramis, into a lull in the conversation. "What would you say to half a small fortune?"
"I beg your pardon?"
Aramis smiled. "Well, given Athos' estimation it sounds like the sale of the thing would fetch a pretty penny. I have little inclination to give such a hideous thing houseroom, and therefore no objections to selling it. As ownership seems to be - disputed - I thought perhaps you would see your way to accepting half the proceeds?"
Porthos gaped at him open-mouthed as Athos and d'Artagnan exchanged a look of pleased surprise.
"Well, I - I - " Porthos seemed speechless, and Aramis laughed.
"I'll take that as a yes then."
"That's very generous of you," Porthos managed. "Beyond generous. After what I tried to do - "
Aramis waved away his concerns. "Forgotten," he told him. "And it sounds like you'll put the money to much better use then me." He smirked. "I shall probably just fritter it away on alcohol and cigarettes."
"Don't forget your friends, will you?" Athos murmured with a teasing smile and Aramis threw his head back and laughed.
"A case of best claret for you shall be the first thing I buy," Aramis promised. "What would you like d'Artagnan?"
Conversation continued in this pleasant vein for the rest of the evening, and somehow despite the excitement of the discovery nobody showed any inclination to look at the book again. Athos made a passing comment to the effect it would be better examined in daylight and everyone eagerly seized on this, faintly relieved to defer the moment they would have to set eyes on the disturbing illustrations once more.
When it was time for bed, Porthos and Athos walked together through the darkened hall and up the spiral stair, which felt somehow more claustrophobic than ever. They were glad of each other's company, and paused at Athos' door to say goodnight.
Porthos looked up into the darkness of the final flight up to his own room, and swallowed. Somehow putting his hand into the mysterious hole under the floorboards had needed less courage than it would need to walk up there alone.
Athos was looking at him from the door, candle in hand, and it took every ounce of determination Porthos had not to turn back and beg Athos to let him sleep in his room once more.
Halfway up, the light from below cut off as Athos closed his door, and Porthos almost tripped in his haste to gain his bedroom. It suddenly felt like he wasn't alone on the stair, and it was nothing like the comforting sense of having Athos at his side.
Porthos closed the door with a sigh of relief, and lit all the candles in the room from the one he carried. This merely seemed to deepen the shadows in between, and he got ready for bed with a sense of prickling unease between his shoulderblades, as if he was being watched.
Fighting off the unreasonable fear that something was going to grab his ankles from under the bed, Porthos pulled back the bedclothes with a sigh. It took a second to register that there was something lying on the sheet below; in the wavering candlelight he took it for a fold in the cloth. Then it moved.
Recoiling with horror, Porthos saw with a sense of disbelief that it was a snake. He'd dropped the blankets back over it in his instinctive urge to back away, and now realised this had been a huge mistake, as he could no longer see it.
In the room below, Athos heard the cry and a crash, as it sounded like Porthos stumbled across the floor. He frowned, sitting up in bed and listening for further noises as he wondered if Porthos was alright. He had no wish to embarrass the man if he'd just tripped on the rug, but on the other hand it had felt like everyone was on edge this evening. Maybe it was just the shock of the fire, Athos thought. If they hadn't acted as quickly as they had, it could have been a lot more serious.
A further series of small creaks suggested that Porthos was at least walking around and hadn't actually knocked himself unconscious, but Athos wasn't terribly surprised when there was a tentative knock on his door a few minutes later.
Climbing out of bed again to open it, he found Porthos standing on the stairs looking embarrassed and shaken.
"Hello. Is everything alright?"
Porthos cleared his throat. "I don't suppose - " he broke off, looking more miserable than ever, and Athos took pity on him.
"Did you want to sleep in here again?"
"Would you mind?" Porthos asked, feeling silly.
"No, of course not." Athos was by nature a rather solitary soul, but he had to admit even with his suspicions about the man he'd found comfort in Porthos' presence last night. Whether it was the effect of sleeping in a strange room or just the coldness of the house, Athos suspected he would have had a far worse night's sleep had he remained alone.
"What happened just now?" Athos asked curiously, regaining the warm sanctuary of the bedclothes. "I heard a crash?"
Porthos climbed in beside him and looked sheepish. "I think I was seeing things," he confessed after a second. "I thought there was something in my bed, but I pulled all the blankets off and shook them and there was nothing there. And I don't see how there could have been. It's just - I could have sworn - " he broke off and sighed. "Maybe I'm not used to drinking brandy before bed," he said, and Athos smiled.
"What did you think you saw?" he asked, expecting Porthos to say a spider, or a mouse.
"I know, I know. Not likely, is it?" Porthos sighed.
"What sort of snake?"
Porthos shrugged. "I don't know, I'm not a zoologist. A thin black one. I pulled back the blankets and there it was, plain as day. Except - then it wasn't. Gave me the creeps though. I'm sorry to impose on you like this."
"That's alright." Athos thought of something. "Maybe it was the book? You said the snake picture gave you nightmares before. Maybe it just stirred up memories. Childhood impressions can be very lasting."
"Perhaps you're right." Porthos was grateful to Athos for being so understanding, although he was still half-convinced there might be an actual snake in his room. As far as he was concerned though, any further searches could be undertaken in daylight.
Beside him Athos reached out to the lamp and hesitated. Then frowned, cross with himself for being shaken by fancies, and turned it out. He lay there watching the fading glow of the wick until the darkness was complete, then closed his eyes firmly.
Aramis was preparing for bed and had paused to sit at the open window, smoking a last cigarette and looking out over the moonlit snow. It was cold but beautiful, and so silent after the city that he never failed to marvel at it.
The slight noises from the room next door had ceased a while ago, and he guessed d'Artagnan was already asleep. It was nice to have people in the house, he'd been here alone for several days before their arrival, and while it hadn't particularly troubled him, he preferred company.
When Athos had asked if he could bring a friend Aramis had been both surprised and pleased for him, and wouldn't have batted an eyelid if they'd indicated they wanted to share a room. But there didn't seem to be anything of that sort going on, and from what Athos had said there wasn't likely to be.
Suddenly there came a loud and frantic hammering on his door and Aramis almost jumped out of his skin. He flicked the end of his cigarette out of the window and hurried to the door, concerned that someone had been taken ill.
Outside was d'Artagnan, looking dishevelled in his nightshirt.
"Is everything all right?" Aramis asked, seeing how shaken he looked.
"I think your house is haunted," d'Artagnan declared, much to Aramis' astonishment.
"Haunted! Whatever do you mean?" It crossed his mind that this might be a ruse to come into his room, and was quite willing to go along with it - but d'Artagnan looked genuinely disturbed.
"There's something in my room. And given that I was alone when I went to bed, I don't much care to find out what it is, flapping round my head like that."
He sounded indignant and flustered, and underneath it all quite scared, and Aramis had the suppress the urge to take him into his arms, feeling that it probably wouldn't do much for d'Artagnan's sense of dignity.
"Well I've been sleeping here alone for a week, and nothing's gone bump in the night so far," Aramis said with a rather suggestive smile. "Are you sure it wasn't just a dream?"
D'Artagnan looked more indignant than ever and Aramis apologised. "Would you like me to take a look?"
"Would you?" D'Artagnan asked, clearly relieved. He tagged along close on Aramis' heels as he walked the short distance into d'Artagnan's bedroom.
To the light of Aramis' oil lamp it appeared empty enough, and he performed a cursory search, not entirely sure what he was looking for and inclined to think d'Artagnan had had a nightmare.
"Well, if there was a spook here it seems to have go- what the hell?" Aramis ducked as something swooped at his head, clawing at his hair. He stumbled back towards d'Artagnan in the doorway, and for a second they clutched at each other in mutual alarm.
No further attacks were forthcoming, and Aramis lifted the lamp again, determined to find out what was going on. From the curtain pole big yellow eyes glared down at him.
"There's your ghost," he told d'Artagnan, starting to laugh with relief. "An owl. It must have come in the window." The casement was standing open as his had been, and Aramis assumed d'Artagnan had been looking out at the snow in much the same manner.
He grabbed a towel from the back of a chair and flapped at the bird, which snapped its beak at them and ruffled its feathers crossly. Eventually Aramis managed to persuade it back out of the window, and fastened it securely shut.
"There. All safe again," he smiled. D'Artagnan blushed.
"I feel like such a fool."
"Oh come now, no need for that. I'm sure I'd have been equally thrown if it had happened to me. Look, come and have a drink, it'll settle your nerves."
Aramis lead d'Artagnan back to his room and poured them both a stiff brandy. He was quietly pleased when d'Artagnan settled next to him on the bed.
"I'm sorry," d'Artagnan murmured, looking into his glass. "For putting you to such trouble."
"Think nothing of it," Aramis said. "I should be sad to think you felt in any way unsafe in my house."
D'Artagnan laughed and Aramis looked quizzical. "I've amused you?"
D'Artagnan tried unsuccessfully to hide the smile. "It's just - you're so different from Athos."
Aramis smiled. "No so different in some ways," he said softly.
"You've known him a long time?"
"Over ten years. We were at university together."
D'Artagnan looked thoughtful, curling his legs under him comfortably and setting his glass on the nightstand. "You know - there are rumours about him," he ventured. "People talk."
"Do they?" Aramis asked, sounding amused and non-committal.
"It's just - he's never - most other men of his age are married. Or at least courting."
"Athos has never really had time for women," Aramis murmured, and d'Artagnan frowned at the number of ways that could be taken.
"You like him, don't you?" Aramis asked softly, after d'Artagnan had been silent for a while.
D'Artagnan's blush was readily visible in the lamplight, but when he realised Aramis was in no way reproving, he sighed.
"I thought - coming away with him like this - he might finally notice me," d'Artagnan confessed in a low voice.
"And yet you chose the room next to mine?"
D’Artagnan picked at the hem of his nightshirt. "I thought perhaps he would - that Athos would suggest we - " he faltered, and Aramis patted his knee.
"You hoped to share a room?" he supplied, and d'Artagnan nodded gratefully.
"When it was clear he didn't want to, I suppose I picked the nicer of the rooms left," d'Artagnan said, and smiled. "And now I'm glad I did."
When he'd been first alarmed by what he could only at the time rationalise as being some kind of ghost, d'Artagnan's first thought had been to run to Athos. But that would have entailed going down the stairs and across the darkened great hall and up another flight, and there had been a light showing under Aramis' door, and really things had worked out rather well, all told.
Aramis' hand was still resting on his knee, and d'Artagnan could feel himself blushing again. Then Aramis seemed to recollect something and withdrew his hand with a click of self-reproach.
"I promised I'd behave myself," Aramis muttered ruefully. D'Artagnan frowned.
"Promised who? Promised what?"
"That I'd keep my hands to myself where you were concerned," Aramis admitted, with a glimmer of amusement.
"But who did you - Athos?" d'Artagnan guessed incredulously.
"He's very protective of you," Aramis murmured.
D'Artagnan blushed darker than ever, to think that Athos should have been picturing this, talking about it even. There was also a spike of annoyance that Athos should be managing his affairs without his knowledge. And under it all, a shiver of arousal. He wasn’t quite sure what it was he'd wanted Athos to do to him, but he was increasingly sure that whatever it was, he would be equally pleased for Aramis to do it. Perhaps more so.
"I'm not a child," he said aloud, hoping it didn’t sound self-defeatingly petulant. But Aramis smiled at him.
"I can see that," he said softly, eyes fixed on the folds of d'Artagnan's nightshirt, beneath which were definite stirrings. He let his hand return to d’Artagnan’s leg, higher up this time and the little intake of breath this prompted had his own cock stiffening in an instant, making Aramis glad of the heavy dressing gown he wore.
He slid his hand further up, pushing the material with it, watching d’Artagnan’s nightshirt rising steadily over his growing erection.
"We shouldn't," Aramis whispered theatrically, captivated by d'Artagnan's wide eyed look of startled arousal. "Athos'll kill me."
"It's not up to him," objected d'Artagnan, nervous and excited by the hand still moving up his thigh, and by the neatly bearded mouth so close to his own clean-shaven one.
Aramis smiled delightedly, and d'Artagnan gave a breathy laugh.
"Are you sure you want this?" Aramis asked, holding d'Artagnan's eyes with a serious gaze.
Hardly knowing what 'this' was, but certain the answer was an emphatic yes, d'Artagnan nodded, his chest too tight with need and nerves to find words.
In the next moment Aramis had kissed him, at once masterful and tender, and d'Artagnan practically fell into his arms. He'd kissed one or two girls of his acquaintance before, but it had never been like this.
D’Artagnan couldn't hide his instant and full arousal, and in the next moment the quivering pleasure he was experiencing from the kiss alone was infinitely intensified when Aramis' hand slipped boldly beneath his nightshirt and encircled his cock.
It took every shred of his remaining self control not to ejaculate on the spot. D'Artagnan pulled back a little, from the kiss if not from Aramis' determined hand, and attempted to master himself.
Aramis, satisfying himself that d'Artagnan's hesitation was not reluctance, helped him lift the nightshirt off over his head, and let his own dressing gown fall away.
He pulled back the covers and lay d'Artagnan down in his bed, discarding his own nightshirt and letting d'Artagnan see for the first time that Aramis' cock was standing as proudly as his.
"You're beautiful," Aramis told him softly, as he knelt between d'Artagnan's legs.
D'Artagnan watched in speechless wonder as Aramis took him into his mouth, licking around him like warm heaven. He groaned helplessly, bucking between those wickedly smiling lips, feeling Aramis suckling at his cockhead.
"I - I can't - " was all d'Artagnan could manage before losing all control and coming with a convulsive shudder.
Aramis crawled up the bed and settled next to him with a smirk, delicately wiping his beard with a fastidious thumb. It was dawning on d'Artagnan that Aramis had just swallowed everything he had shamefully spilled into his mouth, and the thought made him hot all over again.
"Was that good?" Aramis asked solicitously, puling the covers over them for warmth.
D'Artagnan attempted to form an answer, and then to his huge embarrassment was caught by a wide yawn.
Aramis laughed, wrapping an arm around d'Artagnan's shoulders and wriggling up against him. d'Artagnan curled into his side, willing enough should Aramis wish to continue their adventures, but Aramis turned down the lamp and wrapped him in his arms with a kiss, his cock pressed snugly against d'Artagnan's hip, content not to rush things.
They slept deeply, and if owls' wings battered the window glass in the night, neither were aware of it.
On the far side of the house, Athos woke in the small hours, sensible of a scrabbling noise somewhere nearby. It was an unpleasant sound, but he put it down to mice in the wainscoting. Porthos was snoring beside him, and Athos found he was again glad of his warm presence as he closed his eyes and went back to sleep.