Summary: Modern AU. Porthos has been stood up on Valentine's Day, but it might just be the luckiest thing to ever happen to him.
A/N: I started this last Valentine's Day, wrote the first 500 words, then it languished in my WIP folder until this morning. I get there eventually...
Porthos checked his watch for the fifth time in as many minutes, and sighed. He was standing at the bar in a crowded pub, nursing a beer and keeping a sharp eye on the door, but he was fast coming to the depressing conclusion that he'd been stood up.
It was Valentine's Day, and the place was thronged with young couples making lovey-dovey faces at each other, a fact that had gone from romantic and adorable to downright annoying in the three quarters of an hour he'd been stood there. The one apparent exception to the loved-up rule was the man perched on a barstool next to him with his nose stuck in a book. He didn't appear to be waiting for anyone, taking no interest in his surroundings other than to throw the occasional filthy glance over his shoulder every time the press of people meant he got jostled.
Porthos, at least, was grateful for his presence, as it meant he didn't look quite so much of a sad loser stood here on his own. He tried to make eye contact, thinking that getting into a conversation might pass the time, and give him an excuse to buy another drink. The other man though, was either oblivious to his glances or determinedly avoiding them, and it was some time before Porthos managed it. He finally got his chance as the man looked up to order another beer - his third in the time Porthos had taken to drink one - and his gaze drifted over Porthos with seeming disinterest.
Porthos gave him a nod and a smile, and was rewarded with a wary twitch of eyebrows in return. It was at least better than the scowl he'd been expecting - the man looked quite bad tempered, and ordinarily Porthos wouldn't have dreamed of trying to engage him in conversation, but he was feeling more and more awkward waiting here alone as the minutes crawled by.
"What you reading?" Porthos asked, trying to convey a friendly interest and hoping it didn't look like he was trying to chat him up. In response, the man merely lifted the cover of his book so Porthos could see the title. Moby Dick.
"Huh. You must be having a whale of a time," Porthos ventured, with a hopeful smile. His taciturn companion did at least look up at this, although only to convey the exact amount of contempt the comment deserved with one silent glance.
"Tough crowd," Porthos muttered, giving up. He looked at his watch again.
"Three minutes later than when you last looked," came the dry observation from the adjacent barstool.
Porthos looked up in surprise, that after going to such lengths to avoid being drawn into conversation, the man should volunteer an opening. Porthos wondered dismally if he looked even more pathetic than he felt.
"Ever feel like you've been stood up?" he sighed.
"No. Predominantly because I never ask anyone out."
"I'm starting to think that's not such a bad approach," Porthos sighed. "Here, let me get that for you." Before his new acquaintance could pay for his beer Porthos handed over a note and ordered one for himself as well.
"Thank you." The man looked faintly exasperated, but didn't protest.
"No worries. I'm Porthos, by the way."
He got another blank stare, then the man sighed. "Athos. Pleased to meet you." He pointedly went back to his book.
Porthos took the hint and left him alone, drinking in silence. At least he didn't feel quite so uncomfortable now there'd been some conversation, although he was starting to wish he'd brought a book as well.
He still looked up hopefully every time the door opened, but he was starting to lose any conviction that his date would ever show up. The pub was packed now, and those sat at the bar were constantly being elbowed by people wriggling in to buy drinks.
After ten more minutes of this Porthos noticed Athos give a huff of annoyance, drain his beer bottle and stand up. He hoped the man was just going to the gents, but he pulled on his coat and shoved the book in the pocket.
"You off?" he asked, rather redundantly.
"I'd forgotten it was sodding Valentine's Day," Athos muttered. "Normally quiet as the grave in here. What is it about pointless commercial festivals that makes people suddenly decide it's the one day of the year they have to go out?" He belatedly remembered Porthos was trying to do exactly that, and gave him a lopsided smile. "No offence."
Porthos laughed. "None taken mate." He looked at his watch a final time and sighed. "Don't suppose you fancy getting dinner with me do you?" he asked on impulse. "I've got a table reservation going to waste, and they're like gold dust tonight. My treat?" he added hopefully.
Athos frowned at him in surprise. "You don't want to be stuck with a grumpy sod like me for the night."
"Better than eating on my own like a loser. Or going home and being miserable," Porthos pointed out, sensing that he was wavering.
"Well. Alright. If you're sure?" Athos said, sounding bemused. "Better than the take away I'd probably have ended up with. I'll pay my share though."
Brightening at the prospect of company, Porthos smiled and lead them out of the pub and across the street to the restaurant he'd booked.
"Porthos du Vallon?" he said to the man on the desk. "Table for two?"
The waiter found the reservation and beamed at them. "Ah yes. Come this way sirs. May I take your coats?" He lead them to a cosy table in a corner, settled them with menus, and lit the candle before discreetly disappearing.
"Um." Porthos looked embarrassed, but to his relief Athos was smirking.
"I think we've just become a couple," he drawled, picking up the wine list.
"Sorry," Porthos stammered, feeling awkward on Athos' behalf.
"Don't worry about it." Athos lowered the folder and looked at him. "Sorry about your actual date," he offered quietly, as it dawned on him Porthos was possibly feeling quite upset. "I'm sure something just came up."
"Yeah. Like a better offer," Porthos growled. Athos gave him a sympathetic twitch of the lips.
"Then look on the bright side, you're better off without her."
"Him," Porthos corrected automatically, then froze, realising that Athos hadn't twigged he was gay, and that this whole scenario might suddenly have become a whole lot more uncomfortable for him.
To his relief, Athos didn't look that bothered. "Sorry, I should have said."
"Why should you? We're not on an actual date. It's irrelevant." Athos waved the wine list at him. "Any preferences?"
"Er, no, you choose if you like." Porthos normally went for the cheapest bar one, but Athos had been studying the list for longer than he normally looked at the actual menu for, and he didn't want to pick something embarrassing.
"How about this one?" Athos pointed to a bottle on a page Porthos had never even turned to before, and he felt his eyes going wide at the price.
"Yeah. Sure," he said weakly.
Athos noticed his obvious discomfort and snorted. "My treat," he said. "Life's too short to drink crappy wine."
"Yeah, well in my case life's not paid well enough to drink the good stuff," Porthos told him, and Athos looked amused.
"I'll pay. I don't mind. Call it a thank you for taking me to dinner," he said with a smile.
Slowly, Porthos relaxed and started to enjoy himself. Athos proved to be good company once he opened up a little, and Porthos' fear that dinner would be a stilted affair proved groundless.
In fact, by the time they were lingering over dessert, Porthos was starting to think that this had been a better evening than the one he'd had planned might have been. There'd been no awkward romantic small talk for one thing, they'd roamed over a wide range of topics and frequently made each other laugh.
Plus, now he'd had time to study him at close quarters, Porthos had come to the conclusion that Athos was really quite attractive - and he didn't think it was just the eye wateringly expensive wine talking.
The only problem was he had no idea if Athos was into men. He certainly appeared to be single, and he hadn't batted an eyelid at Porthos being gay, but he hadn't actually implied a preference himself. Porthos supposed he could ask, but that would look too obvious, and they'd been having too good a time to potentially derail the evening now.
Still, he thought, Athos had suggested earlier that he often drank in the pub where they met, so perhaps Porthos could engineer for them to bump into each other again one day soon.
They were just savouring the last of the wine and debating whether to have coffee when it all went wrong.
Porthos was vaguely aware that someone had come into the restaurant and was making their way hurriedly between the tables, but most of his attention was taken up with considering how nice Athos' fingers were, wrapped around the stem of his wineglass.
"Porthos? What's going on? Who's this?"
Jolted from his reverie, Porthos looked up into the startled eyes of the man who should have been his date for the evening.
"Aramis! Where have you been? I didn't think you were coming!"
"Well it doesn't seem to have taken you long to replace me!" Aramis retorted, glaring at Athos. "Didn't you get my texts?"
"It's not what you - no? What texts?" Porthos hurriedly pulled his phone out, but was relieved to find no messages waiting. "I never heard from you?"
"I sent three," Aramis said indignantly. "Telling you I was going to be held up in surgery, and that I'd get here when I could. That I was sorry." His voice was rising, and Porthos winced.
"Look, keep it down can't you?" he muttered, conscious that people were looking over at them, and that Athos had been trying to get a word in for several seconds.
"Why?" Aramis demanded loudly, and Porthos groaned.
"Look, I swear I never had any texts, I thought you'd stood me up. What number have you got?"
Aramis checked his phone, fuming, and read out the number. Porthos shook his head.
"Nah, that's wrong look, it ends 25, not 35."
"Well that's the number you gave me!" Aramis glared at him. "Or was it deliberate? If you didn't want to hear from me again you could have said."
"No! You must just have typed it in wrong," Porthos protested, which wasn't the right thing to say either.
"Look, I should go," Athos said, taking advantage of the first lull in the argument. "I'm obviously in the way, and - "
"Who the fuck even are you?" Aramis demanded. "No, no, you stay, he obviously prefers you to me, why should you worry?"
"Aramis - " Mortified, Porthos tried to calm him down. "It's not what you think, really, just let me explain."
"You really should listen to him," Athos added, and Aramis turned on him in embarrassed fury.
"You think so do you? Well fuck you, whoever you are." With that, Aramis picked up Athos' glass of wine and threw it at him.
In Porthos' world, everything seemed to freeze. The whole restaurant went silent in a kind of horrified delight. Athos just sat there, expensive wine dripping from his beard and soaking darkly into his shirt. Aramis stood motionless, still holding the glass and looking defiant. Porthos swore he could hear his own heartbeat.
Then gradually sound and life came creeping back, the tinkle of glassware and cutlery and rising murmur of conversation as everyone in the place started to discuss the drama. A pair of waiters started hurrying towards their table and Athos got to his feet, wiping his face with a napkin.
"Thank you for such an - eventful - evening," he said to Porthos, ignoring Aramis completely. "But I think I'd better call it a night."
He walked away with dignity, not rushing and looking neither angry nor embarrassed. Porthos was both of those things, and hissed at Aramis furiously.
"What the fuck did you do that for? He wasn't my date, he was just a - a friend. Someone who agreed to have dinner with me when I thought you'd stood me up."
Aramis sank into the rather damp seat Athos had just vacated, looking shamefaced. "Oh."
"Even if he had been my date, you still had no right behaving like that!"
"No. I'm sorry." Aramis sighed. "It's just been a long night. I thought you'd stiffed me."
Porthos groaned. It had suddenly dawned on him that while he'd been quite prepared to pay for dinner, he was also now stuck with paying for the wine Athos had ordered. He'd be skint for weeks.
"You really know how to screw up a man's evening, you know?" Porthos muttered. Aramis gave him an apologetic smile.
The waiters were hovering discreetly, not actually intervening now that the threat of confrontation had ended but Porthos got the distinct impression they were expected to leave.
"Come on." He got to his feet and sighed. "Let's get out of here before we're arrested or something. At this rate it's the way my night's going."
There was at least one point of unexpected relief, when Porthos asked for the bill only to be told that Athos had settled it on his way out - and paid not just for the wine, but everything.
It was a weight off his mind - and bank balance - but he couldn't help feeling horribly guilty. He'd been the one to invite Athos to join him, and it had ended in public humiliation and probably a ruined shirt. And the man had still paid for their dinner. Porthos wanted to crawl into a hole and shrivel up.
Outside they looked at each other, and Aramis gave Porthos a rueful smile.
"I've fucked this up, haven't I?" he said quietly.
Reluctantly, Porthos nodded. He thought of Athos and the way he'd handled the whole thing with such quiet composure, and couldn't help comparing their behaviour. He still liked Aramis, and could see where he was coming from, but if that was the way he flew off the handle in public, Porthos didn't think he could handle a relationship with the man.
"I'm sorry," Porthos said. "I don't think it would work. Maybe we could have a drink sometime though?"
Aramis brightened, and nodded immediately. "I'd like that. Friends, then?"
"Friends. Definitely." Porthos smiled in relief and they shook hands, then kissed each other on the cheek.
"Goodnight Porthos. And - apologise to your friend for me?" Aramis asked. "I'll pay for his shirt, if he wants me to."
Porthos nodded, but as he watched Aramis walk away he couldn't help feeling rather flat. What were the chances of ever seeing Athos again? Or even if he did, of Athos wanting anything to do with him?
Across the road the pub they'd met in was still open and Porthos checked his watch, and wondered.
Inside, the crowds of earlier had mostly dispersed. There was nobody sitting at the bar and Porthos' heart sank - until he spied the figure sitting at a table at the back of the room, nose in a book.
Nearby, there was a man moving from table to table, flogging a bucket of overpriced roses in cellophane via the traditional sales technique of exerting mild Valentine's night blackmail on half of every couple. Porthos walked over and bought one.
Athos looked up in surprise when Porthos sat down opposite him, and then looked confused when Porthos offered him a rose.
"I figured it'd match your shirt," Porthos said.
Athos looked down at the dark wine stains on the white cotton, and laughed softly. "Thank you." Hesitantly he took the rose, their fingers brushing together for a second that made Porthos catch his breath.
"I'm sorry," he blurted. "About - well. Everything."
Athos shook his head. "Don't worry about it." He frowned. "I hope I didn't screw things up for you?"
"Nah. Aramis and I - we're not suited. Better to find out now than further down the line."
"Had you been seeing each other long?" Athos asked curiously.
"No. This would have been the second date."
Athos nodded. "Sorry it didn't work out." Twisting the rose between his fingers, not quite meeting Porthos' eyes.
"I wanted to say thank you," Porthos said. "You didn't have to pay for dinner. Especially after what happened."
Athos shrugged. "I figured you had enough to contend with. And I did pick the wine, after all." He smiled suddenly. "I just never bargained on wearing it."
"Aramis offered to pay for a new shirt, if you want?" Porthos told him, but Athos shook his head.
"That's kind, but really not necessary."
Porthos screwed up his courage and took a gamble.
"Then how about I just help you out of it instead?"
For a second Athos looked startled, and Porthos thought he'd guessed wrong. He was about to stutter a retraction, when Athos smiled.
"Well." He lowered his gaze, fidgeting with the rose while a faint blush flooded his cheeks. "That's certainly one hell of an offer."
"Or I could just buy you a drink," Porthos said, conceding that given they'd only just met, suggesting they go to bed together might seem overly forward.
Athos looked up again. "They've already called last orders," he said.
Then he reached across the table, and took hold of Porthos' hand.
"Looks like Plan A it is."