6. Betrayal

get alone, get alone often
and if you can't sleep alone
be careful of the words you speak in your sleep

Aramis was hunched over with an arm tight across his chest when he stumbled into the garrison. He made a good effort at straightening himself as he carefully walked to the table, but it clearly cost him. Aramis near enough felt the blood drain from his face.

Porthos was playing a card game with d'Artagnan. He looked up to give a nod of acknowledgement, and then narrowed his eyes.

"What the hell happened to you?"

d'Artagnan twisted around to rake his own eyes over Aramis. "It's usually Athos who turns up in that sort of a state."

Aramis managed a wan smile. "Nothing to concern yourselves with. And speaking of Athos, where is he?"

"I think you should lie down, you don't look at all well." Porthos put his cards down and made to get up.

"No need." Aramis swiftly raised a palm. "Athos?"

"Won't you let me help you?" There was something in Porthos' voice that sounded hurt.

"Aramis, you look like a strong breeze would blow you over." d'Artagnan helpfully added.

"Don't worry about me, just carry on with your game." The hand across his chest turned into a tight fist. "Now, Athos, please." The tone of his voice brooked no argument.

"Check the stables, he's just got in."

Aramis could feel their eyes on him as he made his way to the stables. The moment he was out of sight he bent over and leaned against the nearest post.

"Athos?" He hissed between gritted teeth.

"Yes?" His voice came from a box further down. The clink of tack being removed could just be heard.

"I need you."

"What for?"

"Please, just come with me."

At that Athos poked his head out and frowned. "Are you alright?"

"Come with me, and don't let on to the others that anything's amiss as we pass by."

Athos shouted for the stable boy to finish brushing his horse down and then he followed Aramis, offering a subtle hand to the elbow when he wavered. The two crossed the yard as far away from the table and the sullen card game as they could.

Aramis led Athos back to his room. He stood in the middle, still with an arm clutched tight to his chest.

"Now will you tell me what this is about?"

Aramis seemed suddenly unsure. His fingers twitched towards the opening of his doublet, they shook, then turned to fists. His gaze dropped to the floor.

"Aramis, you wanted my help." Athos took a step towards his friend. "Let me help."

Athos reached out towards Aramis' doublet. At first Aramis made as if to shy away, but then he seemed to give in and let Athos open it up.

"Who did this?" Athos' voice turned hard as he revealed a shirt stained red beneath.

"It's my fault."

"Unless you stabbed yourself I can hardly see how that's true."

"It is."

"Let me have a look. Get this off."

Athos helped to remove Aramis' doublet, but when he went to peel away the bloodied shirt Aramis seemed to hesitate and hold on to it.

"Aramis, I need to see the wound."

He made no move to comply.

"Would you rather stand there and bleed to death?" Athos sighed. "What is the matter with you?"

"What you're going to see… It's… I can… I can explain…"

Athos reached forwards to pull up the shirt and found a crudely etched word seeping blood down Aramis' front.

JUDAS

"What on earth…?" Athos put a hand to his mouth in disbelief. "I'm going to clean this up and you're going to explain. Sit down."

Aramis took a seat on his bed while Athos went about gathering a few supplies. While Aramis had said he could explain, it still wasn't easy. He asked for Athos because he knew the man would be discrete. Plus he was aware of certain facts the others were not. Porthos would be full of rage, and d'Artagnan… well, he wasn't known for being tight lipped. Still, it didn't make this any easier.

How had this happened? He should have seen it coming...

Earlier...

"This is new…"

Aramis gave a sly smile as little Lottie tied his arms to the bed. But he was slightly confused. This wasn't her usual style.

She went to work on his legs and gave a coy smile of her own. "Oh but this is all the rage amongst the girls you know."

"You er… often talk about bondage in polite company?"

"Well, we sit there sewing and gossiping while you men are around. Then as soon as you're out the door talk turns to bedroom tricks."

"Maybe next time I'll have to listen at the door."

"I wouldn't, your ears might start burning."

Little Lottie came to straddle Aramis. She gently teased her fingers down his chest. "Oh, but I've forgotten something!"

She leaped off the bed and went to rifle through Aramis' discarded belongings until she came back with his dagger.

"Another bedroom trick…?" He was starting to get a little worried as she drew the point of the dagger delicately down the path her fingers had taken just a moment ago.

"Only for certain men." Her smile turned dangerous.

"Would you mind loosening the ties a little? I fear I'm beginning to lose the feeling in my hands. And I'm going to need them before this night ends." He tried to inject a little lasciviousness into his voice but it fell flat.

"Do you want to know what kind of men this is for?"

She dug the point in.

"Traitors."

And she pulled.

Aramis bucked up against the unexpected pain, but she didn't shift an inch. Little Lottie slashed at his flesh again, and suddenly she didn't seem so little.

"Stop! What are you doing?!"

But she carried on, determined in her work.

"Lottie! For the love of God, why?!"

She stopped then. She stopped and glared at Aramis with such hatred. She bared her teeth as she spat an answer. "Anne. Beautiful Anne. With such golden hair and so many other virtues that no doubt make her a more welcoming lay than me!"

"What are you talking about?!"

"Oh Aramis, my dear, poor Aramis. You talk in your sleep. Did you not know? You told me all about your beloved whore. I feel I know her better than I know myself. While you lay between my sheets you whispered your love for another. How could you betray me?!"

She dug particularly deep with the next cut. Aramis couldn't help but let out a yell.

"I haven't! Honest to God and all the saints above, I have not seen her! And it was just the on-" The dagger sliced deep. "JUST THE ONCE! Before you!"

"LIAR!" She dug her nails in just as deep. "You would not speak so fondly of a fleeting dalliance! I know your heart! You traitor! You Judas!"

"Please, believe me Lottie. I can't be with her. I can't…"

"Even if I believed you, does that mean you would be with her if you could? You are not making things better!"

"I want you!"

"Stop lying!" She struck him about the face. And then with a flourish she finished. "Let's see what your whore makes of this."

"Lottie, please…"

"Go back to her. I never want to see you again. When I return you had better be gone."

"LOT-" She crashed the pommel into his head and everything went black.

Aramis wasn't sure how much time had passed before he woke up. He was alone, and his bonds were cut. Gingerly he sat up and winced as he looked down at Lottie's handiwork. JUDAS. The word was scored into his sore and weeping flesh. As Aramis took it in something inside him crumpled. He was caught between devastation and anger.

Aramis eased his way off the bed and retrieved his belongings. He delicately pulled his shirt on, and wrapped his doublet tight about him. He didn't want anybody to see. The wounds stung fiercely. They might need stitches, and they would have to be cleaned up at the very least. But he didn't want anybody to know. Beneath the devastation and anger was a rising tide of shame.

Porthos would be angry for the both of them. He would want revenge, he would be out for blood. Aramis didn't want that. d'Artagnan wouldn't keep this to himself… If you don't tell him, I will… He had learnt that much from Marsac's return. Athos, it would have to be Athos. He was good with secrets, and he knew the truth of Anne.

So he slunk back to the garrison, an arm tight against his chest in an attempt to slow the blood flow and conceal it from view.

Now...

"And so you see, this is my fault. I brought this on myself. I betrayed myself…"

"A man can hardly be condemned for talking in his sleep. Just be thankful you did not say any more. You could have woken in a prison cell."

Athos had finished cleaning and stitching. He helped Aramis to sit up and started on the bandages.

"She hated me for an affair that wasn't an affair. But I still feel responsible, I still feel… shame. How can I explain it to her? How can I make things right?"

"My friend, I think it better to let this lie. She believes what she believes, and there is no way you can prove your innocence. Besides, she isn't the first heart you've broken. Move on. Although I would suggest a little time alone would be most wise."

"You know me, I'm not so good at being alone."

"Just until this little sleep talking problem goes away. Don't forget my neck is on the line as well. I'll sleep beside you if I have to, just to ensure your silence."

Aramis looked down and fingered the bandages thoughtfully.

Athos squeezed his bare shoulder. "With any luck they won't scar."

"Athos… thank you. And don't tell the others."

"My lips are sealed. I just hope yours are too."

Aramis tried for a small smile. Perhaps some alone time was well overdue.


AN: Quote is by Charles Bukowski.