So, this is it - the last chapter of the story. Hope you enjoyed the ride.
By the way, I added a small scene to the end of the last chapter, inspired by a review of the lovely Nurse13. So, before reading this chapter, best check back to Torn and read the last scene.
Thank you all for bearing with me, and for reading the story. I had a lot of fun, sending Athos and d'Artagnan through hell, and I hope you did, too.
When there is a knock on the door, Athos sighs and goes to draw back the latch. Half of him dreads what his wife has to say or will do this time. The other, very guilty half, is actually looking forward to it.
Fight it as he may, she has her claws in him, and he simply is not able to get away. And to be honest, those last days he has not been trying very hard.
Which just amplifies the guilt that is gnawing at his insides.
He pulls the door open, and his thoughts come to a screeching halt when to his utter shock he does not look into Anne's lovely countenance, but into the just as shocked face of d'Artagnan.
That giddy feeling starts doing backflips in Athos' stomach.
"What...", he starts.
"You...?", d'Artagnan blurts out at the same time. Then his face sets into grim determination and he forcefully pushes forward before Athos can shut the door, shoving Athos back into the room, kicking the door shut behind him.
Surprised, Athos stumbles back, rather shaken from suddenly gazing into the face he thought he'd never see again. And from the way his eyes have instantly been drawn against his will to d'Artagnan's full mouth, remembering how soft those lips felt under his.
He draws a deep breath, trying to get these cursed feelings under control.
"Just leave", he says, trying to sound calm, but taking a few steps away from temptation nevertheless.
And oh, how tempted he is.
Damn. He is back with Anne, in a way. Shouldn't that stop his pining for a certain farmboy from Gascony? What is wrong with him?
But suddenly, unexpectedly coming face to face with d'Artagnan, after trying – rather unsuccessfully - to force thoughts of the boy out of his head, shakes him to the core. He can feel his heart racing.
"Oh no,", d'Artagnan answers, his chin set in a stubborn line, and just hearing his voice intensifies the backflips his stomach is doing in a way Athos does not want to think about. "Forget it. Not before I know what's going on."
"Nothing is going on. Just go." Athos tries to keep his voice carefully level, but he just can't look d'Artagnan in the eye, so he averts his face. It would not do to let d'Artagnan see the turmoil raging in him.
"Nothing? Are you joking? I get this...", d'Artagnan draws a slip of paper from his pocket, steps forward and waves it in front of Athos eyes, "...slipped under my door, and now here you are. Nothing, really?"
Athos snatches the paper out of d'Artagnan's hand, suddenly chilled, and stares at the note. There are words written on it, in a delicate handwriting he knows so very well.
Rue de Petit Pont 43.
Come alone, and you will find the answers you're looking for.
Athos stares at d'Artagnan, so appalled that for the moment it drowns out all those other muddled emotions he's trying to suppress.
"A friend?", he asks caustically. "Truly? And you just come running? Alone?"
D'Artagnan has the grace to blush, but refuses to look away. "Well, I did. And here you are."
Athos throws another glance at the dubious letter and throws it on the table with disgust. "Anne", he mutters, darkly. "I told her not to contact you."
He hears d'Artagnan inhale sharply. "Anne? Your wife?"
Athos hears d'Artagnan step forward and just has time to quickly turn around before the boy is there, grabbing the front of his shirt in both fists, shoving Athos back into a wall.
That certainly seems to become a habit.
"Is that why you left m... the Musketeers?", d'Artagnan demands, hotly, his eyes dark and furious. "To be with her again? You chose her over... us?"
Athos just stares back, refusing to answer, fighting the nearly irresistible urge to run his hands through that silky, shimmering hair. He knows he should push the boy back, get some distance, but d'Artagnan is so close, and it just feels too good.
D'Artagnan fists Athos' shirt tighter and leans in, his weight pressing into Athos' chest.
"Did you... sleep with her?", he asks in a strangled voice.
Athos averts his eyes. "None of your business", he says, while his stomach churns with an unholy cocktail of emotions - lust, guilt, fear, anger, need. He tells himself has to keep the lid on it, because if he doesn't, this is going to end in disaster, but fighting against this sick want gets harder and harder. He balls his hands into fists and shoves them behind his back to stop himself from reaching out.
D'Artagnan draws an unsteady breath "Damn you, Athos", he snarls, pulling Athos from the wall a bit, then shoving him back with force. "Damn you!"
"Enough!", Athos growls, desperate, pushing d'Artagnan back violently, not caring that his shirt gets ripped out of his breeches before it slips out of the boy's grasp. He needs that distance, now. Before he does something stupid.
Because d'Artagnan... is jealous. And if Athos thought that controlling himself was difficult before that realization, he now understands that it has been easy before. Knowing that d'Artagnan might... feel something for Athos, too, makes resisting that damnable pull near impossible.
D'Artagnan stumbles back a little, taken by surprise by Athos' sudden action. He stares at Athos for a few seconds, then the furious fire dies in his eyes, and he slumps against the table, like a puppet who has its strings drawn.
He stares at the floor, his face flushing, obviously ashamed. "I... can't forget, Athos", he whispers, hesitatingly. "I tried, but I just can't. I...", d'Artagnan swallows, not finishing the sentence.
Athos leans back against the wall, closes his eyes. "I know", he says, shakily, hating how hard this is, hating himself for the sliver of hope that threatens to rise in him. Because it does not matter, should not matter, that d'Artagnan seems to want this, too.
It's still wrong. Forbidden. Dangerous.
He hears tentative footsteps approach, but refuses to open his eyes.
"I have never... it's never been like this", he hears d'Artagnan's voice from right in front of him. The boy's voice is shaky, but he plods on, always the one to take the bull by the horns, going for a frontal assault.
"When you touched me... it was..." d'Artagnan draws another shuddering breath, and bends forward, until his mouth touches Athos' ear. "I want that again, Athos", he whispers. "Do it again."
Athos groans as the words seem to reach directly into his cock, making it throb, but he grits his teeth and shoves d'Artagnan backwards.
That, too, seems to become a habit.
"Have you lost your mind?", he growls, harshly, furious with d'Artagnan for making this harder, and even more furious with himself for being unable to kill those wretched feelings. "Do you even know what you're saying?"
Angrily, Athos stares at d'Artagnan, tries to stare him down. The boy is breathing heavily, his hands are balled into fists, and his eyes are dark and hot, fierce.
"Don't patronize me, Athos", he says, bristling. "I'm not a kid."
Athos just snorts.
"Oh, that's rich", d'Artagnan exclaims, livid. "So it's alright for you to grope me in an alley, but I have lost my mind? You blasted hypocrite!"
Athos says nothing. Because d'Artagnan is right, and it stings.
"Alright then", d'Artagnan carries on, still angry, stepping forward, poking Athos' chest with his finger. "Tell me you...", he swallows, still having difficulties saying it out loud, but stubbornly goes on, "tell me you don't want me. Go on, tell me."
Athos looks away.
"Hah!", d'Artagnan exclaims.
"Doesn't matter", Athos grits out, bitterly. "Because whatever I want, it's still wrong. Sick."
D'Artagnan exhales slowly, visibly calming down with an effort, then leans against the wall next to Athos. "You know what Aramis said?", he asks. "He said that whatever the Bible or the law says, he does not think God frowns on love, whichever form it takes." He throws Athos a short, tentative glance. "I don't know about you, but that sounds very wise to me."
Athos snorts again. "That sounds very much like Aramis."
D'Artagnan grins a little, despite himself. "It does, doesn't it? But it still sounds about right to me."
Athos sighs, turning his head to look at d'Artagnan. "It still makes no difference. Because it's not God who will burn us on a stake. I'll not risk your life."
"Yeah, well", d'Artagnan forks his fingers through his hair, and as always, Athos is captivated, his eyes drawn to the silky, shimmering length. That hair is much too pretty. How is a man supposed to resist?
"I've been thinking on that, too, since you've gone away", the boy continues, scuffing the floor with the toes of his boots while staring down. "You know what I think? I think we're Musketeers. Soldiers. We risk our lives every day, every time we go to battle, every time we walk the streets. It's highly unlikely we die of old age. Every day could be our last. And I don't want to die thinking I wish I'd had the courage to grasp a little happiness, do you?
Athos simply stares at the boy while he digests all this.
It feels like an epiphany.
Looking back, the last five years, all he had were regrets. For all the things he'd lost, couldn't save, or threw away, because he thought he had to. Because it was his duty. And the last few weeks have been even worse. He's been tearing himself up, because of what he feels and should not feel for d'Artagnan, because he still loves Anne and should hate her.
He's been like a walking dead man, caught in chains of his own making.
D'Artagnan's words seem to echo in his head. Every day could be their last.
And suddenly, he's so sick and tired of trying to live up to everyone else's expectations. Squandering his life, feeling guilty and ashamed, crawling into a bottle just to be able to bear the gaping emptiness inside.
This is his life.
And d'Artagnan is right: Every day can be the last.
Suddenly, everything seems so clear.
He's not going to waste his time anymore, only because he's afraid to take a risk.
He turns around and lets his trembling fingers glide through d'Artagnan's glossy hair, closes his eyes to enjoy the silky feel of it between his fingers.
"Are you sure you want this?", he asks, hoarsely, still nervous despite his newfound resolution.
"I want you", the boy's voice whispers into Athos' ear, and Athos shudders when he feels d'Artagnan's hands slip under his shirt, slowly, tentatively.
All that bottled up want wells up in Athos, and he drowns in it, moaning as his mouth clashes with d'Artagnan's, who seems just as greedy.
It still feels strange to kiss another man, someone who is the same size, feeling stubble scrape against his skin, strong muscles rippling under his hands instead of a smooth, slender back.
But he wants it, wants it so much, and to hear d'Artagnan choke out a needy sob while he presses into Athos, pushing his hardness against Athos' own raging erection, drives him crazy.
He just lets it out, lets out all the feelings, all the need he has kept locked up inside for too long. He is past caring about consequences. He will have this. Have d'Artagnan. Now.
Growling into d'Artagnan's mouth, he rips the younger man's shirt while he starts dragging him to the narrow bed, and shudders when he feels d'Artagnan's fingers pulling roughly, impatiently, on the lacings of Athos' breaches.
Pushing d'Artagnan down on the bed, he rips the tatters of the shirt away, and for a second just stares down on the boy, drinking in the sight. D'Artagnan is just as beautiful as Athos has always imagined, lean, strong muscles under velvety, dusky skin, that gorgeous hair spread over the white pillow.
"Athos...", the boy moans, and Athos's eyes meet d'Artagnan's dark ones, now completely black with emotions, and briefly wonders if his own look just like that: Hazy with lust and feverishly bright.
The split second of hesitation obviously seems too long for d'Artagnan, because he growls and grabs Athos' shirt with both hands, and with one forceful tug rips it open from hem to collar.
"Now", he commands hoarsely, pulling Athos down into another fierce, needy kiss.
And when skin meets skin, Athos just stops thinking altogether, losing himself in the passion he's been yearning for far too long.
In front of the ramshackle door, Anne straightens and turns to leave, her face inscrutable. She would be lying to herself if she said she did not mind what happened behind that door.
If she said she was not jealous of a certain pretty farmboy.
But she has come to realize that if she does not want Athos to go to hell in a handbasket, something needs to be done. She just hopes those two will be able to sort it out from here on without her help, though she's not going not bet on it. Men are darned stupid, after all.
Oh well, for now, things seem to go as planned. Hopefully, the Gascon can draw Athos back from that brink he maneuvered himself up to.
Because she told Athos the truth - she needs a fallback plan for the time the Cardinal will not require her services any longer. She knows perfectly well that her life is forfeit as soon as she outlives her usefulness. She knows too much.
Having the Musketeers at her back then will be a life saver. They are the only ones able to stand up to Richelieu, constantly thwarting his plans.
And if that is not her only reason to save Athos from himself, that is something she will never tell.
She delicately nibbles on one of her long, elegant nails, imagining what's just now happening in that spartan little room upstairs, and suddenly feels the urge to fan herself a little. Those images in her head are... delectable.
Maybe there are possibilities here? Not today, certainly, but in the future?
Which woman would be able to say no to having two devastatingly handsome men in her bed, after all?
For now satisfied with the results of her effort, and already spinning plans for how to proceed from here, Anne makes her way into the bustling streets of Paris.