So a little while ago I wrote a Musketeers fic and belatedly realized that what I really wanted to do was write a little trilogy. (I'm calling the series "Proud in the Daylight, Faithful in the Darkness" because that's one of the descriptions Cardinal Richelieu gives of the Musketeers in Dumas's original novel.) So here's part two, the one that gets more into the Porthos/Aramis relationship. Stories have power, after all.
By Starlight, By Firelight
"The Greeks had a story for everything," Aramis says again, quietly mounting the stairs behind Porthos and allowing his gaze to linger appreciatively on the breadth of the shoulders before him, still encased in the thick, studded leather of a dark doublet, the line of Porthos's spine hinted at by the twined tails of his bandana. It is after midnight, and they have just returned to Paris after a hard ride back from Évry, and the January air is still making him feel like his lungs have been hollowed out, scraped empty; he can only hope Porthos's room will be warmer than this draughty staircase.
Aramis has never been more grateful for Porthos's unthinking, unstinting kindness than he is now, reaching Porthos's room to find a banked fire keeping most of the chill out of the air. Porthos has developed a rapport with both the widow who owns the house and her daughter, who tends the rooms, and they show their marked preference for him in ways that Aramis would never dismiss as small – tending his fire, setting aside the choicest bits of the evening meal, and keeping their second-best linens for his bed. It helps that Porthos had imposed his breadth between the girl Mathilde and a would-be lodger who thought she should come with the price of his room, but it is, Aramis knows, mostly that Porthos never fails to smile when he sees them; his cheer is as irresistible as it is sincere.
Aramis pauses before undoing the buckles of his belts and sheaths and scabbards to look at his lover, his black and comely beloved, limned against the firelight his quick hands have stoked. Each of Porthos's curls is illuminated differently, each a world entire, and Aramis has to clench his fists for a moment to keep his hands from shaking before he takes off his boots. He does not want to do Porthos the disservice of touching his skin – known and loved these many months – with hands that convey anything less than utter certainty.
It is a game between them now, to tell each other stories, and for all his vast repertoire, Aramis is aware he is consistently second-best. Porthos is mighty, deserving of a hero's tale of his own, and Aramis wishes he had the other's skill in such matters, but all of his sweet words are recitations of lessons learnt long ago; Porthos is the one who can make a rousing tale of the most unlikely matter. Aramis might have given up the battle as lost, but it is still his turn to tell a story, and as he could not as they thundered back from Évry with the cold air knifing through their lungs, he must do so now as they prepare for bed.
He is not at all tired; he has been happily anticipating being warm, caught between the topmost pallet and Porthos's hot flesh, but the rousing fire makes the air of this room far less of a penance against his skin than he'd expected. He has not been free to touch Porthos in comfort in what feels like days, and the very thought spurs him on again to disrobe so he can perform at least cursory ablutions. Mathilde had had the foresight to leave the ewer by the hearth so that the water inside it would not freeze, and, naked, he crosses the room to where Porthos still sits on his heels, watching the sparks that fly from the fire.
"What's the story tonight, then?" Porthos asks, the leather of his doublet creaking as he stands to wind his arms around Aramis's waist and ducks to kiss his nape; Aramis is glad he has cut his hair to keep that skin readily available to Porthos's questing mouth. They are not often standing when they express their affections, and Aramis is still unused to being the shorter of two entangled lovers; that he is barefoot while Porthos still wears his Cuban-heeled boots only plays up the discrepancy. "What's this Greek story?"
They are already warriors in the Greek fashion, bound as lovers-in-arms, and Aramis has no wish to speak lightly of it, well aware of how close he came to misunderstanding his own desires, how close he came to missing Porthos entirely in his blindness. Porthos had been unspeakably brave, and Aramis twists in his arms to kiss him soundly. He can feel Porthos smiling against his mouth.
The constellation Taurus had been bright overhead as they conducted their mission in Évry, the Bull's red eye gleaming luridly in the night sky, and he'd considered telling Porthos of Zeus's amorous encounters with Europa before recollecting how long it would be before he could touch Porthos with any intent. Now that they are together in his room, Porthos is like to be in a better frame of mind for such a tale, but Aramis finds his interest in Zeus's ravishing of maidens has waned.
"A story inspired by the stars," he says, shivering as Porthos pours a cupped handful of water on the crown of his head, baptising him afresh as Aramis, Beloved. He is well aware that Porthos would take him in his bed just as he is, unadorned and weary, still smelling of horse, but Porthos knows Aramis usually wants some measure of cleanliness in their bed; Mme. Caron's linens deserve that much courtesy at least. He hastily washes, shivering again as the droplets caught in his hair fall belatedly down his back, and Porthos's arms are around him once more, warming him thoroughly.
He lets his hand get in the way of Porthos's; while Porthos undoes the fastenings of his own doublet, Aramis is using the gold studs punched into the leather that lies along Porthos's throat to trace the shape of the constellation, sketching it with a determined forefinger. "Do you recall stars in such a formation?" he asks, already looking past the collar to the glory of Porthos's long throat and rising up on the balls of his feet to lay his lips on winter-cold skin.
"Had eyes for nothing but you," Porthos says, dipping his head down for a deeper kiss. That is not, strictly speaking, true, as they had performed their task with their usual efficiency, and Porthos could not have played his part with anything less than complete attention, but Aramis heeds the sincerity of the words as he kisses Porthos back. It is a wonder to him to be so far from solitary, to have in his arms one who knows how his days are fashioned and has a hand in shaping his nights. He only wishes he could find words as easily as Porthos does, that way he has of making everything seem fresh and worthy of elevation.
"Come," he says, pulling Porthos by one of his doublet's buttons, not needing to see to make his way to the bed. "I have a tale for you." He feels inspired, as if the stars had shone only for them, two Musketeers on trusty steeds, and Porthos must catch his mood, for he flashes that blinding smile and, quick as a wink, is bare as a babe on the bed.
Aramis is, he flatters himself, hardly slow to take advantage of having such beauty supine before him, and he scrambles onto the bed, glorying in being the taller, brief though the moment surely will be. He is on his knees and Porthos is resting on his elbows when Aramis bends his head to mouth along the hinge of Porthos's jaw. A golden gleam dazzles his unfocused eyes, and he captures the plump softness of an earlobe, hoop and all, between his lips. He is about to breathe honeyed words into Porthos's ear when he feels strong arms wind round him again, pulling him off-balance and closer still.
"Opportunist," Porthos half-scolds and half-praises when Aramis's surprise makes his hands glide along firelit skin. Thumbs skimming Porthos's nipples, Aramis feels his cheeks heat at this label; as ever, Porthos chooses his words with great justice. Porthos could have, with even greater righteousness, chosen a more opprobrious epithet, if he had known that Aramis is defiantly unashamed to find a primitive satisfaction in how the chain round his own neck has pooled possessively in the hollow of Porthos's throat.
Aramis draws back until he's sitting upright again, manoeuvring so that he is astride his splendid man. "And you are a terrible audience. I am about to begin the prologue."
Porthos raises indulgent eyebrows and draws a sure hand down Aramis's side, heedless of his scars; none is particularly fresh, and that is due to Porthos, who has eyes in the back of his head for danger that threatens Aramis. "I ain't stoppin' you, darlin'." His voice is entirely too warm and amused.
"There was a particular constellation overhead tonight," Aramis begins, already losing ground as that big hand lazily strokes up and down, like a sentry guarding a very small area indeed. Porthos hums that he's listening, though his eyes are fixed on the flush rising on Aramis's chest; he's never been so susceptible to blushes as he is with Porthos, who seems delighted every time. "The Greeks – or perhaps the Romans after them – called it Taurus, the Bull." He grins down at Porthos's eyebrows, lifted to express just how dubious he is. "It looks nothing like a bull," Aramis concedes, and the eyebrows come down and Porthos's eyes are lost, reduced to joyous crescent-moon curves in his smiling face. "Nevertheless they called it so, and –"
Porthos shifts restively under him and Aramis simply cannot be blamed for abandoning the prologue entirely when his lover is so beautifully bare beneath him. His hands cup Porthos's face, too roughly to be cherishing but too heartfelt not to carry a hint of it, and he stops his own mouth with a fervent kiss. This time Porthos's hum is attentive and pleased, the vibration of it setting his lips to buzzing. "Porthos," he murmurs, arching wantonly as Porthos's pleasingly rough hand drags up his spine, light as a feather but warm as a candle. "Porthos," he pleads, and the hand caresses more firmly.
He gives himself over to moans instead of words, as Porthos draws them out of him; for all that he is the one with the reputation of a libertine, always with an eye to a lady plump and pretty as a partridge, Porthos is remarkably skilled in this arena. Or perhaps it is simply that Porthos is unabashedly pouring love into him with every touch and that step past lust is enough to set him alight. Aramis's hands fist the sheets – not quite Rennes linen but more than serviceable – convulsively, rucking them without care and exposing the ticking near Porthos's shoulder. They are belly-to-belly now, joined at the mouth, and Aramis is already undone.
Porthos's rigid cock feels like a brand, a line of fire against his hip, and he slips his hand down to cradle it in his palm. Porthos catches him, though, weaving their fingers together on first that hand and then the other and pushing until Aramis is nearly upright again, their hands pressing together halfway between their bodies. "Not yet," Porthos says, a little hoarse finally, though Aramis cannot tell whether that is due to needing to put some distance between them or the tremendous force he is exerting to keep Aramis at bay. "Don't want to be too quick, been promising myself a full night of glory." There is such confidence in his tone, a certainty that they will again be incendiary and tender, a knowledge built on their nights spent together, a stolen space carved out of their duties and their friendships.
Aramis sways down, body suddenly liquid as if it counts the strength Porthos's words have chiselled away well lost. He nudges Porthos's nose with his own, nuzzles at his cheek. "Let me bring you to your glory, then, love," he offers, because he finds himself tireless in Porthos's service. "Now and again, as many times as you wish." Porthos has a sweet stamina that has sated even Aramis; most nights after their first frantic coupling he has burrowed into Porthos's side and left it to him to decide if what happened next would be a more languorous fuck, a drawn-out kiss, a steady caress, or a skirmish. Porthos's deep voice sounds as marvellous in mirth as it does in moans, he recalls, and he bites down lightly on the collarbone set invitingly before him.
Porthos lets loose a laugh, and then flexes his arms again to get their clasped hands off the disordered nest of the bed. Aramis feels like Polichinelle, like Porthos's willing marionette, when Porthos moves one set of joined hands to chuck Aramis's chin. "I was promised a story," Porthos reminds him, eyes dark, a smile lurking in them somewhere, Aramis is sure, if he could only see past his own desire. "Else there'll be a forfeit to pay, darlin'."
He can't tell which of them moves first, but they're both like horses straining at the bit, as if there were some new urgency in the air, as if they have not promised themselves the entire night, and all the days after. They are biting at each other now, a soft lip caught between teeth, a tongue pressing like it could bruise a jaw, and Aramis realises his hands are free only once he feels Porthos's tangling in his hair to keep him close. He is nearly choking, heedless of air in his need to drink deep from Porthos's hot mouth; he has wanted this for so long.
It should shake him to feel how very much his desire is reciprocated, met and matched by Porthos, but Aramis can only feel exalted that Porthos freed him enough to recognise his own needs. And Porthos has asked him for a story, for a favour over which he can linger when they take guard duty at dusk, and he must oblige. Aramis reluctantly draws free of Porthos's clinging mouth, closes his eyes against the Madonna-blue veins traversing Porthos's strong wrists, and sits upright once more. His breast is cold now, bereft of Porthos, and he rubs at his own heart in a futile attempt to soothe it. When he opens his eyes again, Porthos is chewing meditatively on his own lip, his absurdly long eyelashes tipped with the fire's molten gold. Aramis finds his thumb drawn to that abused lip, gently freeing it from the strength of those teeth, and his thumb is blessed with the quietest kiss.
The fire crackles and sends up a spray of sparks, and Aramis takes it as his cue, looking at the shadows Porthos's eyelashes are casting on his pillow. "There was a king of the Greeks who'd been gifted a fine white bull to sacrifice to the gods, an offering that would keep his kingdom safe." He cannot keep himself from rocking languorously against the firm flesh of his lover; Porthos is wearing the delighted, dimpled smile that shapes his face whenever a story is in the offing. Aramis paints Porthos's broad chest with his fingers, revelling in the strength coiled in the body bared for him. "But the king was weak and foolish and kept the animal for himself, for he'd never seen the like."
Porthos's thumbs have begun stroking the grooves just below Aramis's hips, where his thighs meet his trunk, and Aramis's toes are curling in Mme. Caron's disordered sheets, as much in reaction to Porthos's thumbs as his other fingers, crooked in the flesh of Aramis's backside. "And so the gods punished the king by making his queen desperate for love of the beast. She had a craftsman fashion her an idol in the shape of a cow, hollow so that she could climb inside and mate with the bull –"
Aramis stops his recitation; Porthos's eyebrows have risen to dizzying heights, and his uncertainty tempers the hilarity of his reaction. "Really?"
"City boy," Aramis teases even as he points with his chin at the little stoppered pot in which they keep goose grease.
"Not all farm boys take their pleasures from animals," Porthos retorts, his long fingers, anointed with grease, steadily stroking and opening Aramis up. "And I never heard tell of a farm girl doing so, much less a queen." Despite his sharp words, his brow is knit with what Aramis knows to be dedication to their shared pleasure, so he dips down to bestow a lingering kiss on that lovely mouth. Porthos's fingers are marvellous.
"Well, her lust was a devising of the gods," Aramis answers, pushing himself back upright with his hands on Porthos's rippling shoulders. "And the craftsman, truly a master, built her what she commissioned." He rocks back, signalling his intent, and then he is accepting Porthos's cock into his body, a thick heat filling him up. Always there is a moment of sheer disbelief at the overwhelming pleasure of their copulation, what they can do together when they are both intent on fucking, and he squirms in ecstasy. His breath is coming fast now, and he has none to spare for flowery prose. "And she lay with the bull and bore him a son."
Aramis gives up speaking for long moments, fully occupied by the vigour with which Porthos is thrusting into him. He lets himself list to one side and Porthos rolls them both over. Off his knees at last, Aramis sinks into the bed and wraps his legs around Porthos, who is scooping his arse up with his big hands. Aramis moans deliriously, happy to be positioned to take the full brunt of the snaps of Porthos's powerful hips, but Porthos slows to a delicious grind that makes Aramis acutely aware of each separate sensation rather than the force of all of them combined; it is still overwhelming and he thrashes his head against the pillow.
Porthos's expression – caught between concern and triumph – is no surprise, but his thumb is, tenderly tracing Aramis's left eyebrow. Between kisses dropped on his face, Porthos reminds him to breathe, and Aramis hears the hitch in his own breath smooth out into sighs and gives himself over to the drawn-out pleasures Porthos brings him, stretching luxuriously so that every inch of his front is pressed to some part of Porthos's velvety skin.
He is slowly being driven mad by his lover's care, his position at once utterly secure and precarious. Porthos's deep voice settles on him like a silken cord. "Don't tell me I've fucked the story out of you."
Aramis laughs, arching up, and winds his arms round Porthos's neck, fingers catching in those lush curls. "There is more," he allows.
"'m all ears," Porthos promises, grinning wickedly because he knows very well that Aramis, if he could only get his breath and mind back, would intimate that there's at least a generous cock to Porthos too.
"Ears and all, I love you," Aramis swears, and Porthos hides his face in Aramis's neck, gently nuzzling at cheek and throat, murmurs of love buzzing against thin skin.
Porthos's hips keep describing tight circles, drawing out a spiral of torturous pleasure. "So tell me the rest," he says, dropping a kiss on each of Aramis's nipples before rearing back just enough to allow air to flow between them and cool their overheated skin.
The sting of it recalls Aramis to his duty. "She bore the bull a son," he recites obediently as his hips move as Porthos's dictate. "A monster, half-man, half-beast, and the master craftsman was called upon to build a jail for the misbegotten creature –" He feels, too late, that Porthos has gone terribly still, that his respiration sounds ragged, punctuated by the snapping of the fire. "Porthos?" Spitted as he is on Porthos's cock, his arse still cupped by one of Porthos's hands, he has very little scope for movement; still, he curls up, heaving his shoulders off the bed so that he can lay his palm on Porthos's cheek.
Eyes still shut, Porthos flinches away, and Aramis feels as though he has been run through by every blade he has ever faced. "Porthos, love, what is it?" Porthos makes no answer with words; he disengages from Aramis's body with all possible care and buries his head in his hands.
Porthos's back, pricked with sweat, is hunched over, a far cry from the sleek lines Aramis loves so well, but he puts a tentative hand on the damp skin. Even like this, Porthos is endlessly beautiful, and Aramis nestles close, lays his lips against an iron-hard shoulder blade, and breathes deep. It must be his words that have dealt this terrible wound, all unwitting, and he thinks of the tale he was telling – oh, what has he done?
"The creature the queen bore," he says softly, and Porthos jerks away like even familiar breath is too much for his tender skin to bear. But Aramis knows his own wrongdoing now, and he cannot let Porthos pay the penalty for a moment longer. "The queen's child," Aramis amends, "half hers and half his father's, must have been wholly wondrous." He sweeps a hand firmly along Porthos's back. He does not know to which parent Porthos owes his luminous smile, his unthinking grace, and he suspects it is the combination of them both that has wrought the fine bronze tint of this bared skin. "Entirely lovely," he says, the words falling from his lips ripe with significance. "His mother loved him," Aramis continues, though he was never taught that tendril of the tale, "and took pains to protect him, build him a home of his very own." He knows Porthos remembers his mother, her sunlit eyes and fierce love.
"Still alone," Porthos says, but there is a note of capitulation threading through his voice. His mother's memory has ever had a way of laying his heart bare.
"Alone because no one could stand with him. Because he was extraordinary," Aramis says, a last kiss aimed for Porthos's temple falling instead on a round cheek. He rises from the bed and makes his way on unsteady legs to his discarded clothing, rummaging in his pocket until he has his prize, only then turning to face what he has wrought.
Porthos's eyes on him are like heated flint doused in water, looking the way Porthos's body feels when Aramis fucks him, and Aramis has no choice but to fall to his knees before him. "Forgive me, beloved," he asks. "I did not think."
"You didn't think to connect me with this feared creature," Porthos corrects, unstinting in his mercy. "What's there to forgive?"
Porthos is entirely too generous. He has caused pain and it is for that reason that he kneels before his lover. Aramis bows his head to Porthos as he does to no one else; he has been chastised by Treville for his stubborn refusal to perform his obeisance thoroughly, for always keeping his eyes on the face of the one to whom he is bowing, even when it is the King. But for Porthos he will bare his neck – for Porthos, who has been dismissed as a beast, as a mistake, all his life.
He kisses Porthos's knees and Porthos reaches out a hand to push Aramis's tumbled hair off his face. He looks up to see Porthos chewing on his lower lip again. "Do not," he asks. "Bite me instead."
Porthos smiles, a spark of wickedness warming the sorrow still written on his face. "I could eat you up whole."
"I surrender," Aramis says quickly, whole-heartedly. "And I pay my forfeit." He loops a leather cord around Porthos's throat, the silver charm of St. Jude warm from his hand. "I meant it as a sign of my capitulation in our storytelling contest – it was a desperate hope indeed to think my words or wits could match yours."
Porthos picks him up off his knees and puts him in his lap to kiss him soundly. "So long as what's in your heart matches mine," he says, murmuring the words into Aramis's mouth.
Aramis cannot help clutching him close, arms fiercely unyielding across the vast expanse of Porthos's back. "But now – hear me, Porthos – it is a reminder to myself, to you, to anyone with the wit to understand, that I am the lost cause without you."
He feels Porthos's voice rumbling through him. "In all the wide world –"
Aramis ducks his head to kiss the silver charm and then the heart beating beneath it. "In all the wide world, this is my home." He lifts his chin and Porthos's smiling mouth claims his, and Aramis gasps out a laugh as he twists and falls so that his back is on the bed and his lover is spread over him, warmer than the firelight that crackles as they kiss and begin again.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.
This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/453502.html.