Title: The Best We Could
Rating: M-ish (In which the sexings occur but are not described in the usual sense)
Chronology: Takes place right at the very end of Twenty Years After.
Plot: So, they've been through a lot, and now clearly Athos is in a shitty mood (as per usual). He and Aramis have an "adult" conversation and we learn about how someone is the master of self-sabotage. And this is how they spend their last night together (of possibly ever).
Warnings: I don't know. This makes ME sad. But that could be a personal problem. P.S. Rio, I love you!
The Best We Could
The banks of the Seine were unusually quiet, and the house on rue Guénégaud seemed to cast an askance shadow towards Pont Neuf, although what luminary object was causing said shadow to be cast remained such an enigma at that time of night, that Athos had to admit it was probably a conjuration of his own mind.
“What?” he heard from the other side of the room, although Athos was certain he had shared none of his thoughts out loud, content though he was trying to be just staring out the window into the darkness of Paris.
“Your silence,” the voice moved closer until Athos could feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand up in that familiar way, “It is voluminous then.”
“I won’t be able to sleep tonight,” Athos finally elected a neutrally truthful statement.
“I wasn’t planning on letting you,” the snicker in Aramis’s voice was soft and didn’t have its usual edge. “Come,” a gentle grip was pulling Athos away from the poorly insulated glass. “You know very well by now that window-gazing has never helped either one of us in the past.”
“So, this is it then?” Athos turned around and looked into his friend’s face, on which the insufficient lighting illuminated the deepening creases of the worry lines around his still far too luminous eyes. “You get to go play errand boy for your lady friend and I return to Blois tomorrow.”
“You look like a man who is thoroughly finished with everything,” Aramis replied quietly, shaking his head and brushing his hair out of his eyes in his usual gesture of mild exasperation.
“Well,” Athos looked out the window again, his mind wandering somewhere between the scaffold before Whitehall and the shards of a burning felucca in the middle of the English Channel, “I suppose I might have one more thing to do at some point.” He straightened up quickly and walked over to the armchair, unbuttoning his doublet. “But I suspect I’ll be doing it alone.”
“So much mystery,” Aramis shrugged and stretched out on his side upon the bed, already in his shirtsleeves and with unshod feet.
“You seem satisfied with the way things turned out,” Athos slipped out of his doublet seemingly only to sink into the armchair.
Aramis made a vague gesture.
“My bastard is going to have the King of France for a Godfather. Could have turned out a lot worse, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes,” Athos muttered, his eyes taking on an unkind glimmer in the darkness, “He could have had you for a father.”
Aramis held his companion’s gaze for few long moments. He opened his lips, as if to speak, but then, as if making up his mind to the contrary, he closed his mouth and smiled one of his dazzling smiles of old. Athos felt defeated in his small victory.
“You might be done with your life, old man,” Aramis finally spoke, his voice assuming a jovial tone, “But I still have a trick or two up my sleeve, and do not plan on dying until all my goals are eventually met.”
“My love, I suspect you shall live forever then, what with this much scheming in your beautiful head.” Aramis laughed one of his silent laughs and rolled over onto his back, fixing his eyes on the beams of the low ceiling. “I know you’re not finished, Aramis,” Athos continued, watching his friend’s upturned profile as he spoke. “This was why I let you go in the first place.”
“And by let me go, you actually mean made me go, or have you come up with an alternate reality of our agreement in your head?”
“You made it abundantly clear you had no intention of staying in Blois and playing House with me.”
Aramis turned his face to the other man, sharply.
“But I did stay, and I did play House.”
Athos shut his eyes.
“I don’t… I didn’t mean to talk about that. I’m sorry. I did what I thought was best for my son.”
“And now, you hypocritically begrudge me my upcoming trip to Rouen?”
“I begrudge you nothing, Aramis, except the possibility of you being happy without me.” Athos laughed at that, knowing full well the extent of the egotism of his words.
“But I have had to learn to be happy without you.” Aramis rose off the bed a bit, as if about to get up, at the same time as Athos finally rose himself out of his armchair.
“I fear I shall never see you after tonight.” Athos moved closer to the bed.
“You say that each time we meet and part again,” Aramis sighed. “And still, we do meet. You can’t get rid of me that easily, you ought to know by now, my dear count.”
“I grow more ridiculous in my old age,” Athos shrugged and moved to lie down on top of the bed as well.
“Besides, aren’t you keeping this place?” Aramis gestured around the room.
“Now that Raoul is in the military service, I thought it might be good to have a place to stay in Paris.”
“Then you will be close to Noisy.” Aramis grinned. “And, of course, the more convenient to visit your friends in Paris: Mme. de Chevreuse and M. d’Artagnan.”
“Please don’t tell me that twenty years later, you’re still jealous.”
“Indeed, these past few months I have had the chance to observe d’Artagnan in a positive light. He’s greatly improved himself since last we parted. I might even give you my blessing this time!” Aramis seemed quite complacent about this latest quip, until Athos decided to roll on top of him and stifle his outbursts of laughter with the entirety of his weight. “I thought you wanted my blessing,” Aramis gasped and, liberating his arms from under Athos, wrapped them around his friend’s neck.
“If I ever want a priest’s blessing, I’ll go to church,” Athos mumbled, his gaze assuming a soft focus as his teeth gently grazed the edges of the other man’s lower lip.
Aramis closed his eyes and leaned up into his friend’s weight, which seemed intent on crushing him and mold them both into one fossilized imprint. No other person in the world had ever made him love and hate them simultaneously as much as Athos.
“You’re impossible,” he muttered, his own lips seeking out the lips of Athos by a finely tuned blind instinct. “And impossibly dear to me.” He cradled his friend’s sharps cheekbones in the palms of his hands and kissed his heavy, dark eyelids. “Come now,” Aramis tugged at the billowing folds of the other man’s shirt, “Come out of that impossible head of yours. We did the best we could.”
At those words, Athos quickly buried his face in the crook of his lover’s neck. He wasn’t quite certain what Aramis was referring to, for in fact, he could have been referring to too much with that simple statement. He felt a tremor running through his muscles, as something released inside him.
“Under the circumstances,” he whispered into Aramis’s ear, “We did do the best we could.”
“At least we can agree on that,” Aramis sighed, and closed his eyes, concentrating on the slowing of his own heartbeat, as if hoping to calm the averted storm by proxy.
Athos shifted, allowing Aramis to take in more freely the air that he suddenly did not seem to want. He could picture it all too clearly now, despite previously trying to shut his mind to it, the same way he was shutting his mind to his friend’s obvious baiting, but there they were: the years stretching out endlessly before him, the locks to coffers of untold power unlocking themselves one by one, until in the end there he remained, holding all the cards, all-knowing, all-seeing, but alone, always alone.
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Aramis suddenly spoke. “You can come with me. Raoul has been unleashed, so to speak, there is nothing holding you anymore in Blois.”
“Aramis,” Athos moved closer again, his lips gently brushing the other man’s chin, “You know I could never be the anvil weight with which you drowned yourself.”
It was just a turn of phrase, but at the mention of drowning, both men tensed up, their breaths held like secrets in their chests.
“You will take care of yourself?” Aramis broke the silence first.
“As much as ever,” Athos smiled. “And you? You will write?”
“I always do.”
“Good.” Athos ran his fingers through the other man’s hair, still as dark and voluminous as in his youth, and he felt the beast that said eternity would never be enough stirring once again inside himself. “No more talking.”
Aramis consented to the silence and to everything else that would follow in that silence, for that kind of silence has been a second nature to them for too long. A silence born of habit, born of necessity. The familiarity of the moan forever trapped inside one’s throat by the hand of the other on your mouth. That deep stillness had always elevated all their other senses, until at last they forgot even the sound of their own names, and existed only in the imprint of teeth on one’s shoulder, the imprint of fingers on one’s hips. After all, whatever there was to be said, could never be expressed in words, only in the heartless passages of time, the merciless ticking of the clock that could still never penetrate their silence.
And when the hours passed, and Aurora’s touch colored the skies over the Louvre in the softest hues of pinks, no other words passed their lips. So that when, at the hour he appointed, Athos met Porthos and d’Artagnan at Charlemagne Hotel, himself and Aramis already both clad in their traveling clothes, nothing else remained except to say their good-byes.