He held her hand in his, occasionally bringing it up closer to his face to admire the mix of delicateness and roughness in its creases before he would touch her fingers to his lips.
The room was now dark since the candle had gone out. They could hear the patter of the rain outside. There was nowhere else he would rather be but the urgency of the situation he had found himself in began to gnaw at him. Marianne was out there somewhere. The Comte had been kidnapped by the Iron Mask and his people and God knows what kind of destructive invention he was currently making for them.
He let out a big sigh.
As if reading his thoughts, the young blonde musketeer propped herself up on her elbow and stroked his chest.
"We'll find them both, don't worry," she deposited a few light kisses on his shoulder.
He returned her gesture with a faint smile. She could see his forehead wrinkle with worry. He was endearing and adorable. Like a little boy concerned over a pet animal. Except the "pet" in question was not a pet. It was a woman, and Aramis was beginning to see that this young lady occupied a very special and irreplaceable place in his heart. At first, she thought his concern and attachment were just an expression of duty, but it was much deeper. It was a friendship turned into a solid fraternity. Something she understood oh so well. Her heart ached once more. What happened to Porthos? She could only assume he was suspended. And yet, he hadn't come looking for her as was his habit. He was always the one to make amends, to melt the ice between them by saying something funny and making her laugh. He knew how to make her forget all her anger and reserve. But he never came.
She buried her face in the crevice of her companion's shoulder.
"Are you thinking of Athos?" he asked.
She was startled.
"Athos? No, I was not. Why would you think that?" she was on the defensive. Her body tensed up. If this was going to be another bout of jealousy, she was ready to pack her things and join a convent.
"Because we often think of the people we love," he spoke softly.
"Are you thinking of Marianne?" she said in an accusatory tone.
What was she expecting? Of course, he was thinking of his friend. Jealousy indeed!
"I was thinking of Porthos," she admitted, "The last time we had a rift like this was when I accepted the Captain's post and then…"
He cut her off and sat up, causing her to roll off his chest unceremoniously, "Wait a minute. You were Captain of the Musketeers?!"
She chuckled, "For a short time. It was a ploy to bring down the Iron Mask and his horrid accomplices."
She went on to tell him the full story. From when the Iron Mask kidnapped Philippe to the major plot that he and his accomplices hacked up to overthrow the King and control France.
In the meantime, her hand had instinctively gone to the golden locket with the ruby in the middle. It occurred to him suddenly that he had never seen her without this jewel around her neck.
"And this?" he gestured to it.
She stared sadly at it.
"An engagement present," her voice was barely audible.
"That man you loved… the one who was assassinated," he began.
He trembled at the name. It was so regal, so fitting. He could just imagine him. Probably someone older, someone with the highest nobility and honor. She deserved no less.
"He was Prince Philippe's tutor."
Gerard went silent. The blood in his veins ran cold. Could it be?
The words he had overheard that night between Rameau and Paul-Francois de Dandurand echoed in his head.
"You knew the risks very well when you recommended him to be Philippe's tutor. And I assume you knew the risks when you betrayed him. But you needn't feel guilty anymore; his murderer, that insipid Manson, met his demise on Belle-Isle and good riddance."
"Manson…" he whispered to himself.
Aramis propped herself up on her elbow again, fixing Gerard with a puzzled look.
"That was the name of his assassin. How did you know?"
"I… just put two and two together from your story," he lied. His palms began to sweat. What was wrong with him? Why did he keep lying and keeping things from her? A part of him wasn't sure it was the same person, so there was no point in bringing it up, was there? And yet another part of him, the dominant part just did not want to be connected to someone who could potentially have been responsible for this tragedy.
He cleared his throat and attempted to reroute the conversation, "Did you avenge him, your fiancé?"
"I did," she simply said and smiled, absent-mindedly bringing the locket to her lips.
She wasn't sure what time it was when she woke up. It was still dark but she could see his silhouette moving about the room. She rubbed her eyes and sat up.
"What are you doing?"
"I have to leave. I'm sorry. I didn't want to wake you. You seemed so tired and spent. I wanted you to get your rest."
He came over to her side. He was almost fully dressed now. All he needed was his belt with his weapons.
Her heart sank.
"Why don't we wait until tomorrow to look for Marianne?" She wanted more time with him. Just a little while longer.
He smiled and stroked her face before he put his lips to her forehead.
"I'm not going to look for her. I'm going to see your Captain."
"What, now? Well then, I will come with you!"
"You will do no such thing. The last thing I want is for you to get into more trouble that you're already in." He leaned closer to her and made a face, and with a formal accent he said, "Think of the disarray France would fall into if the musketeer Aramis were no longer in service."
She laughed. "France?"
"Yes, one must always think of what is in the best interest of France."
She playfully shoved him. "I think you've spent a little bit too much time at the Cardinal's."
"Well, then, think of the disarray I would fall into if you lose your commission over me." He theatrically put a hand to his heart.
She chuckled and kissed his neck. "You're already in much disarray."
He sighed, "That, I am. Many thanks to you."
He kissed her nude shoulder. Then, he looked down at his hands which were resting on his lap, his face resuming its usual gravity.
"You know were right before, about Marianne."
"I'm afraid I'm the one who needs her more than she needs me," he had never admitted it out loud, but there it was. "Marianne is the only person in the world who has loved me as I am, who has accepted me as I am, never without question or judgement."
She intertwined her fingers with his.
"She's not the only person in the world who loves and accepts you."
Her words took his breath away. He wanted to revel in them, to drink them, to drown in them. Yet, his bliss was short-lived.
"I don't deserve either your love or hers."
"Why would you say that?"
"I broke a promise and I left. I abandoned her when she needed me."
"You came back."
"Yes, but I…"
She put a finger to his lips to make him stop talking.
"I love you too, Aramis," he whispered.
Their eyes met. Despite the darkness, he could see himself reflected with such clarity in those azure eyes of hers, like the surface of a mesmerizing lake in which Narcissus could see himself.
He put his forehead to hers and they stayed like this for a long moment. He felt a new resolve awaken within him, as if he had been given a new life.
Now, after all the physical ecstasies had left them and her fantasies finally fulfilled, she could see clearly what her feelings for him truly meant.
From the moment she had met this man, Aramis had immediately recognized that look of perpetual "tristesse" that hovered around his features like a permanent dark cloud. Even when he smiled, there was always a hidden shadow lurking around. The remnants of a haunting secret, a dark past.
For the first time in her life, she saw herself. Every time she looked into his eyes or was in his presence, she could see herself reflected back at her.
In him, she had seen Renée, at sixteen, wounded and touched by tragedy.
Then she had seen Aramis, ever so reserved, prudish, measuring every word, every gesture, carefully trying not to give herself away and feeling like an imposter all the time. Not being able to be truly close with anyone. She now understood what Marianne's presence in his life must have meant to him. She was an oasis to him; someone to share his burden with, to be free around. But for the longest time, she herself was alone.
Then her secret was finally out and she was face-to-face with the thing she had dreaded the most all these years: humiliation and rejection from her comrades, her friends, her brothers.
What she needed all those years and even now was someone like Marianne. An oasis. And there he was now. She might not love him as a partner, or in the same she loved Athos, or Porthos or D'Artagnan, but she loved him nonetheless. For who he is, for what he was to her, for how he had taken her into his heart without judgement or question.
For now, she was content. It was a successful experiment and she felt appeased and lighter than she had been for the past few months. Somehow, she knew all would be right in the world. And she knew that their lives would remain close from here on out.
She stood at the top of the stairs, dressed only in her chemise and watched him put on his hat and gloves before her left.
"Gerard," she called out to him.
"Try not to get arrested, will you? I'm quite fed up of prisons for the time being and I'm not sure I'll have the energy to come and rescue you."
"It's always nice to know the extent of devotion of one's friends."
"Don't worry, I can handle a few Red Guards."
But it wasn't the Red Guards she was worried about.
"Well, I should hope so. Otherwise you're a disgrace and I should have given you the boot."
"I left the tincture for you on the table with instructions. Use it, please."
"I will." She smiled.
She blushed and went back to bed.