About the fanart cover: Many thanks to the very talented artist, 夏虫 aka "SummerBug", who was very kind to give me permission to use her beautiful art as the cover of the story. I invite you to check out her work on Pixiv /en/users/34528959
The events of this story occur AFTER the events of another fanfic story written in French by Yael92 called "Faux-Semblant", in which the musketeers finally discover the real identity of Aramis while on a mission.
Thank you for stopping by and I hope you will enjoy this!
The tavern was full and the mood celebratory. The musketeers were sitting at their usual table, lined with four glasses of frothy liquid and several empty glasses on the sides, marking the passage of time in good humour.
Yet despite the never-ending supply of food and beverage that made its way to their table, Porthos was not in the best of spirits. He stole a glance over his drink at Athos and Aramis, who seemed to have locked eyes with one another, exchanging a passionate gaze with wry smiles. Despite their careful discretion of their relationship, they seemed in too good of a humour tonight to be subtle with their interactions. No doubt they plan on taking this disposition to bed with them this evening, Porthos thought to himself.
D'Artagnan, standing by the table, his back turned to his comrades, was being congratulated and patted on the back by the other musketeers. He had proposed to Constance earlier in the week and she had accepted.
It had been a year and a half since the events at Belle-Isle and about a year since Porthos and Athos learned the truth about Aramis. Since then, the devoted friendship between his closest friends evolved into a passionate and unquenchable love affair. At first, Porthos had trouble accepting it. But after seeing how happy it made his friends, he gradually warmed up to it. They were his best friends, after all, and their happiness was his happiness as well. The changes brought about by this new dynamic were subtle: for example, when Athos and Aramis shared a room in an auberge during a mission, it was inevitable to deduce what they would occupy themselves with at night. During battles, Athos now seemed more concerned and attentive about the safety of Aramis than his other companions and vice versa. Although their attentiveness to each other in dangerous situations was not to the point of completely ignoring their other comrades, it was still obvious enough for Porthos and D'Artagnan to notice. And so, Porthos found himself spending more time with D'Artagnan during missions and any free time they were accorded from their Captain.
The company of d'Artagnan was always pleasant, filled with good humour and funny situations. He was also a talented swordsman and creative on the battle field, which made him an ideal comrade-in-arms for the adventure-loving Porthos. The only thing the company of d'Artagnan lacked was a mutual appreciation of women and the pleasures of the flesh. For that, Porthos had to content himself with the company of other musketeers.
The news of d'Artagnan's engagement to Constance was only a matter of time. The musketeers often made jokes and hints to d'Artagnan that Constance is becoming impatient and that if he does not propose soon, she might just leave him for another man. Then ruder jokes would follow as to whom that man might be, to a point that someone once suggested Rochefort, which merited d'Artagnan's fist in that musketeer's face.
But in this current jovial atmosphere, instead of relishing his friend's happiness and celebrating, there seemed to be a dark cloud hanging over Porthos' head. What was this feeling anyway? Jealousy? Porthos never wanted love or marriage. He would never think of keeping a wife nor of ever leaving his musketeer life. But there was something he couldn't help but envy in the way Athos looked at Aramis or touched her or ran to her side after a skirmish to make sure she was well. Or something in the way Aramis tended to Athos if he was injured, or cautioned him on drinking too much or playfully teased him. There was a private intimacy between his two friends – a private space that he was not allowed to be admitted to. And it now seemed that a similar affliction will be claiming their other friend, thus leaving Porthos all by himself.
Lost in his thoughts, he was brought back to his body by a sharp pain radiating through his left side. Startled, he turned his head to see that he had just received a jab in his side from the musketeer sitting beside him.
"Porthos!" Her blue eyes, luminous and joyous of late, having lost their habitual sadness that they carried all those years he'd known her, were looking up at him with concern. This whole time, he had been twirling his glass in between his fingers on the table, lost in his reverie, without realizing that his friend was calling out to him. He chugged a generous amount, and turned to her with a big smile, as he rubbed at his side. For a petite stature and delicate features, she always surprised him with her strength and the steel-like feel of her punches and throws.
"What are you doing?" questioned a bewildered Aramis, as Porthos got up and straightened himself out.
"I was thinking to get an early night's sleep in preparation for training tomorrow morning," he replied, absent-mindedly, without looking at his friends.
Aramis' eyes widened more. She looked to Athos for some help. He quickly came to her aid, realizing the extreme unusualness of the situation, "Porthos…" Athos began, with a very concerned tone and, speaking slowly, he reminded his comrade that the Capitaine had given them the day off tomorrow in honor of d'Artagnan and Constance's engagement, on orders from the Queen herself.
"Indeed…," Porthos said, slowly, looking up, as if hearing this news for the first time. A loud noise came from a different table. A quarrel? It attracted his comrades' attention long enough to enable him to slip out.
"Port-," Aramis began, turning around and interrupting herself, realizing that he had left. She looked at Athos, who mirrored back her concern and worry. More food had only just arrived at their table and Porthos had left before it came.
They said nothing to each other for a while, stewing in stupor. Aramis decided to break the silence, "Do you know anything that has happened?"
Athos searched his memory. Nothing seemed to come to him. Everything seemed normal; they have had no quarrels. They fought side by side as always, they drank together, ate together, laughed and fought off the Red Guards together. It is true that they have been spending less time together since he and Aramis began their affair, but Porthos always had other pursuits anyway. At the end of an evening, when Athos left with Aramis, he always glanced back to see Porthos comfortably installed with a woman, and sometimes even more than one.
Aramis' thoughts followed the same procession as Athos', except that she suddenly realized that something was deeply amiss. She remembered remarking to herself one time a few weeks ago that Porthos had not been eating as much. In fact, she had joked, rather insensitively, that he had become slightly leaner. The giant did not seem amused at this joke, which took her off guard at the time. What's more, Porthos who normally takes pleasure in giving a solid beating to the Red Guards, seemed distracted during their latest skirmish to the point that she had to come to his aid. She hadn't thought much of it at the time but now it seemed that all these subtle events were amounting to a worrisome realization.
Of course, everything was fine, to her and Athos. They were finally together after many tribulations and misunderstandings. But during their tumultuous affair, they had thought of no one but themselves over the last year. This thought made her flush. She felt overtaken by a sense of shame, accompanied by a heartbreaking sadness and disappointment in herself: she had neglected one of her truest friends. A friend who was always there for her, who comforted her, protected her with his life, who accepted her as she was even after she had lied to him for years. She felt as though she had abandoned him. Not only had she been inadvertently ignoring him, but she had put him down and treated him with complete ingratitude and insensitivity.
Seeing the look in her eye, Athos looked around before he sneaked a squeeze on her wrist and looked deeply into her eyes.
"Do you think we were selfish?" she questioned Athos.
He was taken aback. Selfish? Why, because they wished to be together? But then he understood.
He tried to speak in a low voice, "I didn't think this would bother Porthos. He was fine with it all. Besides, we are discrete most of the time."
How could she explain this to him? Athos was the sharpest and most observant man she had ever met but he sometimes did not fully comprehend the multifaceted nature of people, and especially not when it came to matters of the heart. After all, the fruition of their relationship was fraught with misunderstandings, to say the least.
"It's not about us, Athos. What if Porthos is lonely?"
Athos released her hand and laughed heartily. "Lonely? Porthos has everything he wants in life: women, food, friendship, adventure, a glorious career, honor and freedom. What more could a man want?"
Aramis shot him a dark look, "Freedom and women? And is that what you want, Monsieur Athos?"
He walked straight into that one. Bashful, he lowered his head, "Not in the least, my darling," he whispered, "You know I only ever want you and nothing else in my life. There is nothing that could make me happier than you," he said, with a charming genuine smile. His eyes shimmered with a look of love and tenderness.
She smiled wryly, she won this round. How she loved toying with him!
Seeing her appeased, he continued, "But this is Porthos. He's different. This is what he wants."
Still, Aramis wasn't convinved. If Porthos was lonely, or he was upset because of them, she intended to make it right no matter what it took. In a hurry, she excused herself and left. "Aramis, let it be…" Athos called after her, grabbing her wrist. She shook his wrist off, placed her hat on and left. Athos sighed in exasperation. Ah, but he was in too jovial of a mood mood and decided to remain a bit longer at the tavern before joining her later for a night of passion. There was no use talking to her now anyway. She was always in better spirits after a good session of lovemaking, which is what he had planned on anyway.
Porthos stood on the bridge, looking at his reflection in the Seine, illuminated by a full moon. Even though he left the tavern before hearing any of the words Athos had said, the same thing was going through his mind. He had everything he could want: an appreciation of good food, beautiful women who wanted his company, loyal friends and comrades-in-arms, illustrious adventures, a trembling reputation as a valiant warrior that struck fear into his enemies' hearts and above all, a musketeer's honor.
But where did this sudden feeling of emptiness come from? Or was it really sudden? It had been creeping in gradually over the last few months, he now realized. The adjustment to the relationship of his comrades was not easy but he thought he had adapted rather well. What he didn't count on, however, was what this change in their dynamic had brought to him personally. It made him examine his own life. He had never felt lonely. He always found friends and comrades or company with women. But now he saw a different facet of human relationships and it made him uncomfortable to know that its absence in his life was causing him to feel a sinking sensation within his heart.
He stared at his reflection. His dark curly hair fell to his shoulders. His body was naturally large and muscular, according him an unparalleled strength as a warrior. Appearances aside, he caught a gleam of sadness in his eyes that he had never seen before. A feeling of loss came over him. Was he mourning the loss of a friendship or a lack of something in his life? He hated being plunged in these… feelings. It wasn't like him at all. He took a deep breath, through which a waft of familiar perfume penetrated his senses. He felt a warm presence around him and a friendly hand on his shoulder. It was a loving hand, a caring hand. He looked to his side to its owner and was greeted by such tenderness. The blue in her eyes was accentuated by a tearful glisten. Had Athos upset her again? He looked at her, concerned.
"I'm sorry, Porthos," she began, her voice shaking. Turning to her, he put both his hands on her shoulders and then brought his fingers to her cheeks, wiping the tears that she couldn't hold back. He looked at her, perplexed. What was she sorry for?
She broke away from him and wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeve, sniffling. Ever since the truth came out, she became more comfortable displaying certain vulnerabilities of her feminine side amongst her closest friends, but especially to Porthos. He was her protector, the guardian of her secrets and feelings. She reproached herself on this spectacle, embarrassed and adamant to exercise more control over her emotions.
"I never realized how selfish we were. 'One for all and all for one'…" she trailed off, bitterly, ashamed of herself for neglecting their oath.
He smiled at her, indicating to her that he understood, "It's still the same, Aramis," he said trying to reassure her.
She smiled weakly at him, "But it's not, really… is it?" Her blue eyes had a way of seeing into the souls of those they looked into.
He smiled sadly and turned away, back to the river. He cleared his throat a few times, in an attempt to hold back any tears. He was sad too. The acknowledgement of it made it all too real. They stood in silence for a while, letting the emotions wash over them. Finally, Aramis broke the silence.
"Remember when we had a fake funeral for d'Artagnan?"
Porthos laughed. The conversation moved on from there, taking the habitual turns and detours that were characteristic of two old friends reminiscing. They spoke about battles, laughed to tears and teased each other mercilessly. It felt right and familiar, just like it had always been.
The conversation eventually reached a halt. The silence engulfed them in a new wave of sadness, a mourning of some sorts. As if the trip down memory lane was a tribute to something that had died. But it was also cathartic. They stood facing each other, Aramis kicking a rock off the bridge, her hands in her pockets, Porthos looking out onto the water where the rock had landed.
She then took both his hands with hers and looked him in the eye. Her eyes were flooded with the utmost tenderness that can only be found amongst the most loyal of friends and the most noble and honorable of individuals, "We will never leave you alone, Porthos." This was a promise.
He hated showing his vulnerability. He did not want her to know he was scared, or that he was having these feelings of sadness and emptiness of late. But Aramis had a way of knowing these things without him having to verbalize them. With her, he felt comfortable being vulnerable.
He squeezed her hands, shrugged his shoulder and smiled bashfully. He looked down and in a thick voice, he said, "I know you won't." He took her in his arms and squeezed her towards him.
When they broke apart, she grinned widely, "The King's ball is next week," she elbowed him playfully.
They were on duty during the ball but they were allowed some breaks for dancing or socializing.
"I hear there will be a lot of attractive young ladies this year," she continued, teasing. One detail he would never miss about the male version of Aramis was his prudish nature and resistance to women. But now that Aramis was free to be herself, she was at liberty to point out beautiful women to Porthos, share her comments on their appearance and personalities and even venture a few tips here and there on what is pleasing to women in bed or what would be an appropriate gift for a mistress he was courting.
"Well, then, the ladies can all line up behind the dessert table because I will certainly be a busy man!" he joked.
She burst out laughing and, linking her arm in his, her body naturally leaned into his, she led him back to the tavern, all the while smiling and laughing. If anyone knew how to cheer Porthos up, it was always Aramis. Some things hadn't changed after all.