A/N: I've been trying to find my voice for my other story so this was an exercise to get into that. It was a one-shot that got too long so I've decided to cut it off into separate chapters and share it with the lovely people here. But that means the chapters will be small. On the plus side it's mostly done, only the last part is left so updates might be quick.
I tried a different writing style in this one and I apologize if it comes off as clunky; probably won't be using this style again.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything recognizable in this story, not making any money either.
He doesn't remember the first breath he drew, doesn't remember the days that followed, the months that they became; but his first memory is of the sound of hooves drawing a carriage to their house and the grim blue eyes of his father that turned to him as his mother's voice ordered the maid to take him away.
It is the first of many.
The order remains the same.
Athos stays out of sight.
Each time he is ushered away Athos is confused. He dares not disobey, except that one time – when he had come out to play with the children under the tree in the back garden. The parents of those children had come out for their departure and Athos, forgetting he is not to be seen joins the rushing children of their guests.
It is later in the night, much later when the Comte's anger had dissipated and the Comtesse's tears had dried, that Athos finds the courage borne of a smarting back and he demands answers. He slams his small fists against the locked door and screams himself hoarse wanting to know why.
Why, he would later realize is not something he should have wanted to know.
But that is only after his mother comes to him in the morning, sits down on the edge of the giant bed he is curled up on and explains why he's always spirited away when they have company. Explains how she had been born as one touched with luck, just like his father, just like him.
They are of the few whom luck has marked out to define.
She pushes up the dainty sleeve of her dress and Athos' eyes widen at the words curling down from the crook of her elbow towards her wrist.
"To rule," Athos reads.
"Yes," she says, "something that luck has touched your father with as well, on my right arm and his left. Those who are touched by luck can read what luck has bestowed upon others whom it had touched."
Being still too young, too naïve, Athos hurries to roll up his sleeves and his lips wobble at finding them blank. His mother's smile is not a happy one, he is not too naïve to not make note of that. His stomach flutters as she guides him to the long mirror in his room and standing behind him she holds up a smaller mirror in one hand while she raises the hair at the back of his head with the other.
It is there.
Curled around the back of his neck, like a thick black chain.
"To serve," he mutters.
Like a thick, black, heavy chain that pushes his head and his gaze down.
"We do not know who is one of us and who isn't," his mother says, "but we cannot risk them knowing."
From that day on Athos only watches the children from behind curtained windows of cold rooms and finds company in the thick volumes lining his father's chilly library. When he is taken to meet his new brother he prays that luck had been kind to him. He sees the words on the tiny left arm, words exactly like those of their parents.
Athos feels his heart soar and fall to earth in a thundering crash.
He knows that his brother in the end would not hold him in regard, would want him tucked out of the way just like his parents.
Because he is To serve.
So he obeys his father and obeys the position he is born to serve. He will be the face of his family until he would hand over his title to his younger brother. The laws of man may allow him to inherit his father's place but luck had not deemed him worthy. He is only To serve, nothing more.
When he comes out to meet the world as the first born of the Comte he wears his hair just a bit longer than the other young men his age and if he always has a scarf tied about his neck it only adds to the arrogance that is his armour.
But the weight of the words at the back of his neck is always a reminder of his place in life.
Luck has left him defenseless and unworthy.
Meeting Anne is a revelation.
Her kisses burn away the words from his mind when he finds the courage to show them to her.
And he falls deeper in love.
With her laugh, with her fire, with her zest, he falls in love with her and the words curled like a bejeweled pendant around her throat.
"To live," they declare to the world.
And he follows her into life.
Until she brings death.
He cannot look at his parents' portraits, their stilled eyes carving into his skin and he cannot look at his brother, cold in the ornate casket. His world is collapsing around his ears, crumbling under his feet. The only truth left to hang on to is the choking grip of luck on his neck. He knows his place, he is To serve and he serves the crown and the law and orders the death of his murderous wife.
And he promises himself to never again be brought to his knees like this.
It is only when he's stumbling out on the cobblestone road, a rapier in one hand and a rapidly emptying bottle of wine in the other that he wonders if he had committed a crime against luck. She was meant To live and he had ordered it not to be so.
Her presence becomes a curse sewn to his soles like an ever present shadow.
She was meant To live.
It would be years and years later that he'll find the true strength of those words, declaring their power from beyond the scar of the noose. But for the moment he wishes that he could tear off the mark of his servitude from his neck, he wants to wash it away with his blood but he's just too good with his blade.
His drunken duels end with spilled blood but it's hardly ever his own.
"Are you who they call Athos?"
The haze in his view is not helped by the clouds shifting over the moon. It takes him longer than he'd like to look at the man standing a few feet away.
"I'm Captain Treville of his majesty's Musketeers,"
The wine is warm on his tongue; the glass is cool on his lips.
Athos lowers the bottle.
"What're you doing in Pinon?" he asks.
"You are in Paris,"
He looks to his right and then his left.
Tightly packed buildings loom over the narrow street he's in. It's disconcerting to some piece of him not soaked in wine that he doesn't know where he is or how he got here. He doesn't remember when he started walking and he has no plans to stop.
He plans instead to walk across the world and fall off its edge.
"I believe you could be a good addition to my regiment," the Captain speaks up.
To serve, supplies his mind.
"Never!" he snarls.
The shift of the pommel in his grip is too natural for him to pay it any mind. His stance is perfect as he covers the distance, the blade only an arching gleam in the darkness. It is a hairbreadth's away from the man's neck when blocked.
Athos knows that the Captain is armed.
He expects him to fight back, to draw, to defend.
But it's not him whose blade rests against his own.
Athos glances to the side and catches the soft smirk on the new man's face; it's like a gleam of a dagger amidst the shimmer of silk. The face is too young but the eyes are too old and Athos is transfixed like he would be on a pair of glowing embers.
"The Captain only wishes to talk," says the man.
"I will not serve," Athos puts pressure behind his rapier.
The man doesn't relent; he slides the edge of his blade against Athos' own, steps before the Captain and their pommels clang as their swords lock across each other. He will only remember the thrill of the challenge and the rage of it in the duel that follows. The man out of the shadows matches him blow for blow until Athos trips on something hard under his heel.
The night tilts on its axis, the blade lunges for the side of his chest, but the thrust is diverted at the last minute with a precision that Athos would appreciate had he been sober. It's a harsh jolt that stops him from falling backwards. His burning breaths are caught in his throat, his head swims from the jerk to his neck but his opponent had caught him by the front of his shirt before it can smack into the wall behind him.
The same hand pulls him forward onto his wobbly knees.
The man still has his rapier at his side in his other hand.
The blade is lowered, out mind for the moment but not out of reach.
"Easy brother," the man steadies him.
But Athos' brother is dead.
His wife murdered him.
Athos swings his fist and busts the man's lip with his punch.
The hold doesn't falter.
And there's no retaliating blow.
"Let him go Aramis," says the Captain.
Athos expects to be shoved back into the wall. His eyes water when he is gently settled back against it. His breath hitches when the hand remains on his chest as he slides down and he finds himself staring at this stranger crouching before him.
Aramis swipes his tongue over his bleeding lower lip, turns his face to the side and spits red.
The smirk is still elusive, still a touch deadly and Athos doesn't understand why the man would not deliver on the promise of violence he can see in the flashing upturn of his damaged lips.
"You have turned into quite the legend Athos," The Captain walks over to them, "they're calling you the best swordsman in France. But I can tell you this; the trail of duels you've left in your wake can lead you to prison or to my garrison. It's your choice."
"I will not serve," he repeats.
"There are worse things than serving the crown," the Captain says.
"And I'm supposed to serve the crown in a regiment whose Captain is out recruiting drunkards from the streets?" Athos snorts, "Are you that desperate Captain Treville? What drove you so low? Don't tell me you suddenly lost all your men."
The Captain's blue eyes harden, even in the dim glow of pasty moonlight Athos can tell that.
But it's the way Aramis pulls back from him that douses his rage. He doesn't want to dwell on how he misses the support of the hand on his chest. Athos thumps his head back against the wall and closes his eyes.
He opens them in the Musketeers' garrison.
There's a terrible pounding in his head, gut-churning but familiar.
He bites back a groan as swirling heat clenches in his stomach.
Hands grasp him by the shoulders and ease him up.
Wine and bile gushes past his lips and Athos wonders why he isn't falling in the puddle like he's used to.
It is only when his vision clears that he notices another pair of boots next to his own. His head is still bent, his body trembling with the aftershocks that usually snap the firmness of his spine. But this time the grip on his shoulders would not let him fall forward on his face as he's accustomed to.
"I think you managed to consume a tavern or two," says the voice much too cheerfully for his liking, "you suppose if I prick you with a needle there'll be a fountain of wine in here?"
The hand on his right shoulder shifts, long fingers tangle in his hair as a warm palm settles on the back of his neck.
The back of his neck that is bent, that has no scarf around it.
This man – if he could – he would know – he would have read.
Athos shoves him back with all the force of his fear and anger.
He doesn't care that the man has landed hard on his back.
His neck is exposed. His hands claw at his own neck even as the loss of support has him slumping on his knees on the floor with an impact that resounds in his head. But his scarf is not there. He scratches at his exposed neck, his vision blurred, eyes hot and stinging.
"Hey, hey, it's alright mon frère," the voice sooths.
Athos doesn't see the other man get to his feet, doesn't see him come forward with his scarf. Only finds that he can breathe when the soft worn fabric is finally, finally, wrapped around his neck. When he blinks clear the moisture in his eyes it is to find his forehead resting on a firm shoulder and his fingers clutching the leather of the man's coat.
"…it's aright, it's alright,"
And Athos stills.
He pushes the man back, but can't find in him the desire to shove him hard.
Sitting back on his haunches Aramis cocks his head to the side and raises a brow.
Athos clears his throat and gathers the torn remnants of his dignity.
The edge of the cot digs in his back as he straightens and pulls his knees up. Aramis responds by crossing his legs and settling on the dusty floor before him. Like there isn't a puddle of regurgitated wine next to them, like Athos hadn't just lost his bearings over an old scarf, like he hadn't read the words carved on the back of Athos' neck.
The sunlight from the window makes him squint but there is something about the man before him that pulls at Athos.
"It seems I will be serving the crown," he says.
Aramis holds his gaze when he nods.
"Four months, one week, three days ago the regiment lost half its men," he says, the tremor in his voice is not lost on Athos, "We need skilled soldiers Athos but only those who are worthy."
The implication of the words dries up his throat but Aramis still holds his gaze. Those dark eyes hold a warmth in them that Athos dares not let himself draw towards; but a part of him knows he's already failing at that. He hates the responding pull up on his lips when a slow, small smile curls on Aramis' face.
"Welcome home," Aramis says.
Thank you for reading, please let me know what you think.