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Musketeers fic: Forbidden Fruits (1/3)

November 30th, 2017 (08:27 pm)
anxious

feeling: anxious

Title: Forbidden Fruits

Disclaimer: I own nothing

Summary: Aramis was a man of contradictions. A man of many virtues, maybe. And one vice to undo them all.

A/N: Fills my forbidden love square for h/c bingo. Unbeta’ed. Includes pre series spec, spoilers for all seasons and post series spec.



Aramis was a man with many, many lovers. Growing up among prostitutes, he’d learned a thing or two about women and what they wanted. When his father finally came to claim him, he’d taken quickly to life in more civilized society, and his charms were excessively well received. His father talked often of marriage for him; Aramis thought mostly of love.

He loved many things as a boy. He loved nature; he loved books. He loved learning, and he loved God. He loved his family, and he loved his friends. But, more than anything, Aramis loved women.

He liked the girls he wasn’t supposed to fancy, and though he dallied as readily as he could, when he was no more than 16, he did the only impossible thing and fell in love.

To be sure, he was a young man with prospect, but he cared for none of them. All he wanted was the girl too simple to marry and the forbidden baby she carried. He fought like tooth and nail to have her, and he believed that this act of defiance would bring them happiness.

It was not, however, to be.

Some things are forbidden, after all, for man’s own benefit.

The child was lost. The match was broken.

Aramis wept bitterly for what he would never be able to have.

-o-

“It’s for the best, Aramis,” his father lectured, and not for the first time.

“The loss of my child? The absence of my heart?” he asked.

His father did not roll his eyes -- but sheer force of will alone. “You lack focus,” he said, as stern as he was kind. His father was not a sentimental man, but he had not been cold with Aramis. Still, his patience often wore thin. “You read your scriptures religiously; surely you understand contentment by now.”

“But my heart’s truest desire is being denied,” Aramis argued.

“Your heart’s truest desire?” his father said, barely refraining a scoff. “You hardly knew the girl, and the best life you could have provided was that of a humble farmer. Hardly the life we’ve talked about.”

Aramis crossed his arms over his chest. “But I loved her.”

“You loved her because I told you that she was not right for you,” his father said, almost pleadingly now. “And you loved her more because her father objected. And now, that she has left you, you love her all the more because she is impossible from your reach.”

The words cut, probably deeper than his father had intended. Aramis can feel the tears sting in his eyes. “She was my world, Father.”

“As was your dreams of the church. And your hopes to run the estate. You dream of things, Aramis, and the minute they are within your grasp, you want something else. It is best she is gone,” he said, more emphatically now. “Because once she was yours, you would have been so very dissatisfied.”

Cheeks flushing with anger, Aramis shook his head bitterly. “You don’t know me, Father,” he said, stalking toward the door. “You don’t know me at all.”

-o-

Aramis did not leave home just to spite his father, but he couldn’t deny that it was a helpful motivating factor. Indeed, he felt some trepidation starting off on his own. He’d gotten use to a life of plenty, where his greatest wants were unrequited love and a parsonage of his own. Leaving reminded him of how pleasant it had been, and he did hesitate.

It was possible, with a bit of perspective, that he could have learned to be quite satisfied with the life back there. His father had rejected his pleas to join the church, claiming it was for his own good, but Aramis could have proved him wrong with proper due diligence. And even then, if the church was not to be his fate, he could have had a comfortable life in his father’s house, learning to work the land and manage the property for the years to come.

These possibilities were simple and imminent.

That was why they were so very easy to leave behind.

-o-

Naturally, he set his sights high.

Paris, he thought.

No purpose, no claim to anything, just the dream of the impossible.

The forbidden world, at his fingertips entirely.

-o-

It did not come without sacrifice. Without his father’s support, he was unduly poor, and he made ends meet with odd jobs and benevolent lovers. Fortunately, as good as Aramis was at surviving, he was even better in a fight.

This was how he found himself, back to back with a half drunk bastard, fighting a whole host of very angry, well-armed men.

Why were they fighting? Aramis hadn’t a clue.

Was he even on the right side? It hardly mattered.

All in all, the odds looked impossible.

Which meant, for a man like Aramis, they were too good to resist.

-o-

When it was over, the half drunk bastard bought him a drink.

“You fight like a man with nothing to lose,” Athos said.

“No,” Aramis replied. “I fight because I have everything to gain.”

“That is an optimistic way to look at it,” Athos commented vaguely

Aramis grinned. “I do try.”

Athos seemed to shrug. “Well, no matter why you choose to fight, if you want to fight some more, you’d make a respectable soldier.”

“A soldier?” Aramis asked, wrinkling his brow.

“Stop by the Musketeer’s garrison tomorrow if you’re interested,” he advised, draining his drink and putting the empty tankard on the table. “Ask for Athos.”

-o-

Athos introduced him to Treville, who watched him fight with a look of mild interest. For a moment, Aramis worried that this trip would be for naught, but when he was offered a place in the training program, he felt his heart flutter with excitement.

A few months later, he earned his commission.

Aramis was a Musketeer.

This accomplishment was something he was quite proud of, and with the promise of a commission and the honor of service, he thought that this could be the life he was destined to live. The life he’d always wanted.

As a Musketeer, he had plenty of action, wine and women to make his life seem more or less complete.

Time would prove this to be another fallacy, one of many Aramis had embraced over the course of his short life.

For it was easy to think you had everything you needed until you were faced with everything you would never, ever have.

-o-

It happened his first year on the guard. It was a formal event, and though he was still a recruit, he’d earned a note of distinction after coming through during a particularly harrowing ordeal. It had been Athos who recommended his commendation, and Treville had agreed. This was all very important indeed, and Aramis was quite certain that his moment of recognition would provide the clarity of purpose he’d sought his entire life.

He was at the palace, side by side with Athos, waiting for the king, when the whole world turned on its head. She was, naturally, the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen. Fair skin, silky blonde hair, an exquisite figure under the layers of fabric. She carried herself with poise and grace, and when she deigned to stop in front of him, he was almost too dumbstruck to remember his place.

“Aramis,” Athos hissed next to him, head already bowed and knees bent in a position of respect. “The Queen.”

As a musketeer, Aramis understood well his loyalties. While he took those quite seriously, he’d never given much thought to the ones giving the orders. He’d never felt any particular attraction to royalty, and he’d never been one who felt imbued to offer undue honor or praise for a title alone.

But, standing in the presence of Queen Anne, he fell quickly to his knees, damn near prostrating himself in the process.

He came here for a personal honor of his own achievements, but he knew acutely now how foolish that was.

Because no matter what he’d done, what he’d achieved, standing in her presence, he is absolutely nothing.

-o-

He left the palace well rewarded and esteemed for his loyal service and sacrifice.

“There,” Athos said, nudging him smugly. “I told you that this job would be worth it.”

“Yes,” Aramis said, feeling somewhat light headed by the rush of it.

Athos chuckled. “I never took you to be so easily awed, even by royalty.”

Aramis blinked at him, not sure what to say.

Athos patted him on the shoulder reassuringly. “You’ll get used to it.”

Aramis watched him go, half hoping that was true.

And half hoping that it wasn’t.

-o-

From then on, he volunteered to go the palace whenever the cause warranted it. Protection duty? Aramis raised his hand first. Special envoys? Aramis would be at the palace by dawn. Boring dinner parties where musketeers stood as living monuments to the king’s glory? Aramis was there with his boots polished.

For he would endure anything for another glimpse of her.

-o-

It made sense in his mind, but none of the others quite understood.

“But it’s boring,” Porthos told him emphatically. “Standing around in the heat, all that gear, watching rich people doing rich people things -- how can you even stomach it?”

“It’s not so bad,” Aramis argued. “Besides, it’s our duty.”

“Our duty is to fight,” Porthos reminded him. “Not sit around like a stuffed mantelpiece.”

Aramis sighed wearily. “Our duty is whatever the king -- and the queen, for that matter -- deem fit.”

Porthos shrugged. “Whatever you say,” he said. “Better you than me.”

-o-

Athos, however, noticed his eagerness as the anomaly that it was.

“You should be careful, you know,” Athos advised.

“Why?” Aramis said. “I’m going to the palace. That’s hardly a dangerous posting.”

“Physically, maybe not,” Athos said. “But you are too keen. You must remember your place.”

“I know my place,” Aramis replied, wishing his indignance didn’t sound like petulance.

Athos eyed him tiredly. “You are a man who craves what he doesn’t have,” he pointed out. “It’s not so surprising, really. For a man with a innoble background to be wooed by the opulence of court.”

This time, Aramis is indignant. “You think I want that?”

Athos looked nonplussed. “What else could you want?”

This time, Aramis stared at him, not sure what to say.

What else, indeed?

What else?

It was the same question his father had asked him, the same question he’d came to Paris to answer.

And the only answer he had was a Spanish queen sitting on a French throne.

Athos shook his head. “Whatever,” he muttered. “Just mind yourself, and don’t get into any trouble, because I will be in no condition to bail you out of anything.”

That was fine with Aramis. Athos was smart enough to figure out Aramis’ weaknesses, but he was too foiled by his own to do anything about them.

There might be a day when that was a problem.

That day, however, was not today.

-o-

Not that Aramis truly had much time to dwell. He was a musketeer, after all, and when he wasn’t calling at the palace, he had actual conflict to attend. France’s skirmishes were always Aramis’ problem, and he traveled far and wide with his regiment, enduring long stays away from the comforts of Paris.

In these times, he scarcely had time to dwell on the things he lacked.

There was time to eat, drink, be merry with his companions. There was time to fight, march and survive.

Simpler times, battle was.

Better times.

-o-

In war, Aramis craved peace.

In peace, Aramis craved war.

A man of contradictions.

A man of many virtues, maybe.

And one vice to undo them all.

-o-

“All we do, it seems,” Porthos announced with a huff on his horseback. They were waiting in the courtyard, where the sun had risen higher in the sky. “Is wait. Traipsing after the beck and call of these people in their palaces.”

Aramis stretched from his own perch, and resisted the urge to wipe at the sweat collecting under the brow of his opulent hat. “It is all part of the duty, I believe,” he said with just a twinge of commiseration. He gave Porthos a flippant shrug. “At least, that is what Athos would tell us if he were here.”

Porthos grunted. “But he’s not, is he?” he asked. He shook his head. “Lucky bastard left this escort duty to us.”

“I recall,” Aramis mused. “He’s the one who half dragged me out of bed this morning and told me I was to take his place.”

Porthos grinned at that. “He tried that once with me.”

“Oh?” Aramis asked.

“Didn’t try it again,” Porthos said with a wink.

Aramis chuckled. “It must be a small entourage today, though,” he said, glancing around the courtyard appraisingly. “Usually the king travels with enough people to warrant the three of us on hand.”

“Not the king today,” Porthos informed him. “The queen.”

Aramis did his best not to look startled. “The queen?”

Porthos nodded, lip curling up just a little. “I know she’s our queen and all, but don’t you ever find it hard?”

When it came to the queen, Aramis almost always found it hard.

Porthos shook his head, pursing his lips for a moment. “I mean, we’re trusting a Spaniard,” he said, sounding more than slightly dubious. “I get the political alliance and all that, but is the risk worth it? We’d all be a lot safer if she were as far away from Paris as possible.”

Aramis’ reaction was more pronounced than he might have intended. After all, dutiful as he was to his king and queen, it wasn’t like he hadn’t indulged quiet gesticulations at the king’s detriment. It wasn’t like he hadn’t heard the jokes, the comments, the complaints around a round of poor beer after hours or on the tongues of soldiers huddled around a lone fire in a faraway battlefield.

Especially where Porthos was concerned, there was no question of his loyalty. There was no hesitation in his service.

Yet, to hear him speak such. Not against the crown or France or any of it.

But against her.

He shook his head, almost violently. “You shouldn’t speak of her like that.”

Porthos rolled his eyes. “I told you, I get the political aspects of it--”

“No,” Aramis said, a bit curt now. “It’s not even that she’s your queen.”

Porthos frowned at him.

“She’s a woman,” Aramis told him, as though that should explain everything. When it did not, he gave a short, half-incredulous laugh. “A complicated, fair and restrained woman who serves the crown as much as you and I do.”

The speech was short, but wrought with emotion. He hard hardly realized the intensity of his own feelings until his heart was pounding and his palms were sweaty.

Raising his eyebrows, Porthos regarded him skeptically. “I didn’t realize you had such strong feelings.”

Aramis tried to pull back his emotions, fearing he’d already revealed too much. Of what, he could not say, not even to himself. That was what was so complicated about this. His feelings were of nothing, but that did not explain why he felt them so fervently. “I just don’t like it when the queen -- or any woman -- is spoken of poorly without justification or cause.”

Porthos held up his hand in surrender. “Whatever you say,” he said. “Long live the queen, okay?”

Aramis nodded resolutely, and tried to feign like that was the end of things. Sitting stiffly in the saddle, waiting for his charge, he could scarcely contain the reality, though. This was far from the end.

Indeed, when he saw the queen descending the steps toward them, he knew it was probably just the beginning.

-o-

The mission was boring, more so than they could have feared. The day grew hot and the queen’s attendants were insistent upon making the short trip to church as difficult as possible. One of the horses threw a shoe, and the carriage wheel cracked upon the cobblestones just outside the gates. When the took stepped out to investigate, she was inundated with requests from the commoners on the streets, effectively delaying them by hours.

By the time they returned her safely to the palace, they were hot, tired and far later than they should have been. Porthos was grumpy, sulking off to the nearest bar for some respite.

Aramis, though, stood at the gates and looked back in wonder.

For him, after all, the mission had been nothing short of splendid.

-o-

As things were to progress, Aramis started to fear that this would be like an itch he just had to scratch. Sometimes it nearly drove him to distraction. He started missing shots and parrying too far to the side. It was like she’d thrown off his balance, somehow.

Which was all very silly. The queen didn’t even know his name, and there was little indication that she remembered him from time to time. She was paraded in front of countless officials and courtiers and dignitaries and community members. She had no reason to give Aramis a second though.

The less likely the reality, the more Aramis wanted it.

God help him if he ever did anything the easy way.

-o-

God help him, all right.

Because his next mission was a training exercise just outside Savoy.

God help him, indeed.

-o-

Aramis was a man of passions, of action, of fire.

At least, he was -- until Savoy.

In Savoy, all of these things -- all of his dreams and desires and decadence -- were frozen to ice inside of him.

Not death, no.

But an emptiness and loss that was so much worse.

-o-

“Aramis?”

It was all Aramis could do to open his eyes, and even then, all he could see was the tilted world of white as it flooded his vision.

“Aramis!”

He startled, and the voice ran down his spine with an unexpected jolt. He inhaled, and realized for the first time in days that he was alive.”

“Aramis?”

In front of him, Athos’ face seemed to float. Behind him, Porthos looked positively stricken. He wanted to recoil because they shouldn’t be here.

No one should be here.

No one living, anyway.

“We’re going to take care of you,” Athos coaxed, and Aramis blinked dumbly, unable to understand. “You’re going to be okay.”

As they lifted him up, Aramis knew they meant well, and he knew they would do everything they could to deliver on that promise.

He also knew, however, as they led him past the bodies of the men who had died, that it would be an impossible sort of promise to keep.

Because Aramis would never be okay again.

-o-

In the aftermath, Aramis was picking up the pieces. He had wounds that needed mended, injuries that needed healing, and he had a whole regiment of musketeers to mourn.

The process from this point was long and slow, and it was not without its own perils. Indeed, if not for the steady support of his friends and captain, Aramis knew he might not have recovered at all. His senses came back to him first, and then his memories. When his tears finally started working again, he drained his reservoirs and was left wanting more.

With all of this, Aramis hardly had time to remember his dalliances or his fancies.

Much less the ripened desire for that which he was not meant to have.

Something inside of him had died, he thought, and it lay buried in the snowfall at Savoy that covered his fallen brothers. That part of him he’d never get make.

He had to think those passions and wants had been laid to rest there as well.

Along with the optimism that had once been, for him, so undying.

-o-

Still, Aramis recovered.

His body regained its strength; his stomach reclaimed its appetite. He learned to feel comfortable holding a sword again, and he was able to narrow his eyes and shoot straighter than ever before. When his good humor was finally returned to him, he rejoined his compatriots in uniform and started his life as though the rest of the men at Savoy hadn’t been denied theirs.

It was hard, still, to live with the grief. And he still woke sometimes in the dead of night to the screams of musketeers as they were murdered in their sleep. He often wondered why he’d been chosen to survive when so many others, worthy others, had perished.

He had to trust God for the answers he could not explain, and that was how he recovered his faith as well.

Those dreams, though. Those passions. When those stirred, he rejected them. For what good did it do to think of a woman he could not have? Instead, he blocked her memory as he kissed the prettiest girls, the wealthiest women, and made do with what he could grasp instead.

For he was chosen to survive.

He was not yet convinced he had been chosen to fully live.

-o-

All that notwithstanding, Aramis was a man who was good with appearances. If he laughed hard enough, if he joked with enough vigor, if he loved with a passion unmatched by his peers, then everyone might believe him to be the man he was.

For a time, he suspected he was the only one who doubted otherwise.

Because he believed, quite honestly, that part of him had died in Savoy and that that part of him would never be recovered. He would love without the passion. He would yearn without the need. He would live fully without the full scope of his vitality.

It was a fate he determined to be for the best.

Until he was called to the palace on a routine operation. When she graced the room, he practically fell to his knees, a flush of excitement coming over him.

He hadn’t realized it, but all these months had been a farce.

Until seeing her, he had never truly been alive.

-o-

So it went.

Aramis pined and wanted, distracting himself with as many things as possible so that he might not remember he was being denied the one thing he truly wanted. He spoke of this none, covering it so well that not even his closest friends would suspect.

He was so effectively that he thought it nothing more than an idle daydream to pass the time when his duties were otherwise unengaging.

After all, every man needed something unrequited in their lives. It was the only thing that kept them striving.

The only thing that kept them focused.

For impossible dreams were the most lovely and powerful of them all.

-o-

Even impossible dreams, however, can be realized.

Time will only tell if they become nightmares after all.

-o-

Still, when he saw the risk, he didn’t hesitated. It was his job, his duty, his honor. This was what he was born for, trained for, destined for. To fight, to serve, to protect.

This was what he told himself when he dove to knock the queen from harm’s way.

On the ground, her bosom rising precariously into his, so close that he can feel her heart pounding against his own, he knew none of those reasons were true.

Not when they were hand to hand, mouth to mouth, heart to heart.

Suddenly, it wasn’t just a dream anymore.

-o-

“That was quite heroic,” Athos observed when they were sorting up the mess later. “You didn’t think twice.”

“I did what any of us would do,” Aramis told him, and that much was not a lie. They were good soldiers, his friends. The best.

Athos regarded him with a certain care. “That spark in you,” he reflected. “I have not seen it--”

Aramis looked up, eyes flashing. “Since Savoy?”

Athos did not flinch. “For a long time,” he said. “It concerned me, but it had always made you reckless.”

Aramis sighed, the height of his reaction waning. “I’m still the same man I’ve always been.”

Distantly, Athos nodded. “I suppose you are,” he said, patting Aramis on the arm. “Perhaps that is what scares me so.”

Aramis chuckled, somewhat mirthlessly. “I thought you were scared of nothing.”

“Because I yearn for nothing,” he said. “I know from experience that passion can blind you.”

“It can also be very motivating,” Aramis pointed out.

Athos nodded his head, tilting it slightly. “It is the kind of thing that makes you jump in the line of fire for a person you scarcely know, is it not?”

Aramis did his best not to flush red, but Athos would know his thoughts either way. Their friendship ran too deep; Athos had seen him through too much.

With great composure, Aramis pressed his lips together, forcing them into the closest approximation of a smile. “Yes,” he said, clapping back on Athos’ forearm. “I dare say it is.”

-o-

He told himself with great gusto that Athos was worrying about nothing, but when the queen summoned him at the palace, he accepted without an inkling of hesitation.

Her words were kind; her eyes were soft. When she touched him, it was like lightning sparking through his veins. For this time, she knew his name. She recognized his face. This was a moment they would share, and it was a moment that would count.

Aramis accepted her gift, and pressed his lips to her hand. All the words he could muster of his thanks would never be enough.

-o-

He wore the crucifix everywhere, and when he said his prayers, he fingered it instead of his rosary beads.

“That’s got to be worth a small fortune,” D’Artagnan commented, almost in envy. “You could live quite comfortably off that for a while.”

Anxiously, Aramis tucked the relic beneath his coat. “I promised the queen I would wear it always.”

D’Artagnan chuckled. “I bet she hardly remembers.”

He had a point, and, in truth, he was probably right. The queen had many relics, and she’d had many heroes. It was silly to assume that their encounter, pointed as it had been, would bear any lasting significance for her.

Later, he would try to tuck it away in his drawers, not to think of it, but his prayers were unsettled and his sleep was evasive until he withdrew it once more. As his fingers danced over the surfaced, he closed his eyes and smiled his prayers to a forgiving God once more.

-o-

It was not without its weight, however.

In battle, it had a tendency to get in the way. Indeed, he nearly cut his own face when moving with it laced freely around his neck.

This relic, he knew, could save his life.

It was also increasingly apparently that it could take it, too.

Aramis kissed the jeweled exterior once more and closed his eyes.

Time would surely tell.

-o-

Aramis spoke of devotion, but he was an unsteady man. He talked of faith and doubted his very mind and heart. He thought, if only momentarily, that maybe he could forgo the burdens he’d taken in terms of desire and lust and trade them for something far more meaningful.

That was what he told himself when he removed the cross from his neck and gave it to another.

When the queen noticed, when she questioned him about its absence, he found himself surprised. He had thought she would have forgotten the gesture.

But the hurt in her eyes, though well concealed, was easy enough to place.

Just like that, his faith in the impossible was restored.

-o-

If he had need for further evidence, there was always this.

The crucifix made its way back into his hands, back around his neck.

This was not something he could give away.

Lifting the jeweled surface, he pressed his lips to it.

Instead, he would cherish it forever.


-o-

Emotions, though, were fleeting and hard to hold. When the hours stretch longer than he wishes, he was restless and hard to control. For Aramis was inconstant like the moon, pulling and pushing with the tide.

Standing on the cliffs, watching the queen’s entourage for a glimpse of her unkempt beauty and grace, he found a smile in his listlessness.

For is Aramis was the moon, then the queen would always, always be the sun.

-o-

He would make his due diligence, but Aramis had slept with married women before. He would put up a fight, but he had given up this fight a long, long time ago.

Her beauty, her vitality, her vulnerability, her strength, her loneliness.

It did not matter why.

Only the what.

-o-

Treason, some would call it.

Sin, the church would surely condemn.

Foolishness, his friends would advise.

Forgotten already, the queen would necessarily insist.

Love, Aramis knew, holding her body close to his.

Love.

-o-

That was it, eternity in all its perfection, in all its glory. That was it, that moment that Aramis would have last for a lifetime. That was it, proof of a deity that no skeptic could deny.

That was it.

One moment.

One perfect, indelible moment.

Then, the sun rose, and the moment ended.

That was it.

-o-

No one could know

No one.

It was a dream, a fancy.

To love her, after all, was to save her.

To save her was to forget this interlude ever occurred.

And, in the process, break his own heart into a million irreparable pieces.

-o-

Athos had little to say of the affair, and he had made it plain that he wanted nothing to do with Aramis’ unwise flights of passion. He had, instead, taken the prudent course of action and simply refused to acknowledge that such things had happened.

But, when the queen’s ordeal was finished, when the machinations of the cardinal had been revealed, when action gave way to aftermath, he took a moment to pull Aramis aside.

“You’re going to have second thoughts,” Athos told him as he accepted another drink for the bar keeper.

Aramis shifted in his chair, shaking his head. Athos didn’t specify what; he didn’t have to. “I’m not a fool--”

Athos gave him a telling look.

Aramis was appropriately chagrined. “I know that this isn’t about me as much as it is about her,” he said. “Doubt many things about me, Athos, but do not doubt my convictions for her.”

Tilting his head, Athos took a drink and swallowed. “I have never doubted your convictions, Aramis,” he said. “Only your resolve.”

With an indignant scoff, Aramis resisted the urge to fly away from the table in a rage. He would have, if Athos were not so calm.

And if he didn’t have a point.

He had, after all, bedded the queen of France while in a convent.

Sighing, the anger left him. Slumping back down, he looked at Athos. “What would you recommend I do?”

“What you do best,” he said. “Woo women and fight battles. Keep yourself busy, and for the love of God, whatever you do, stay away from the palace.”

Aramis sat silently for a moment, considering this advice.

Athos promptly downed the rest of his drink, settling the tankard back on the wood between them. “That shouldn’t be so hard,” he said, lips tweaking upward with a smile now. “Even for you.”

-o-

In this, Aramis did what he could. He volunteered for extra duties, taking on anything that involved travel or combat. He practiced sparring when that failed, taking on the likes of everyone from the newest recruits to Porthos himself.

When there was a respite, he filled it with women. He flirted shamelessly, and he slept with as many women above his station as he could. The women were rich and doted on him so, and they were beautiful as anyone could imagine.

These women, each one, would give him everything he needs.

Sadly, just not the one thing he wants.

-o-

As was usually the case, all of Aramis’ efforts were for naught. Because, in the weeks that followed, Aramis had done everything he could to distance himself from the queen, from his feelings for the queen, from every interaction he’d ever had with her.

Then, news came from the palace, that the queen was expecting a baby.

Aramis was a fighter, not an academic, but he could do the arthimetic as well as anyone else.

God, as it turned out, was either very kind.

Or very, very cruel.

-o-

Still, Aramis had been resolved. He had promised. He had promised the queen; he had promised Aramis. He had promised himself. He had promised God.

This changed nothing.

He clutched at the necklace around his neck and prayed his request again.

This changed nothing.

-o-

So, Aramis tried, harder than he had ever tried anything in the entirety of his life. He tried not to think of it, his child.

He tried not to think of it, her blossoming with life.

He tried not to think of it, the family they could never possibly be.

For this fantasy would destroy them all, and he would never wish that on the woman that he loved or the child he’d made with her.

That is, naturally, why he wanted it more than life itself.

-o-

“I still think it’s a good thing,” D’Artagnan said as they passed through the city streets. “I mean, a child can only bring stability, can it not?”

Porthos huffed. “Have you ever been around children?”

D’Artagnan rolled his eyes. “This isn’t just a child,” he said. “It’s going to be the future leader of France. Protecting that, honoring that, isn’t that what our duty is all about?”

“A child is just another political target,” Porthos said, shaking his head.

Riding between them, Aramis clenched the reins of his horse so hard that his fingers hurt. He could feel a muscle in his jaw vibrating. From anger? From frustration? For impotency?

Athos sidled up from the side, looking between the other two. “Until we receive orders to the contrary, it has nothing to do with us,” he said, his tone just slightly harsher than it needed to be. He looked at Aramis with even more of an edge. “Do we understand?”

Aramis nudged his horse forward, outpacing the others.

Understanding, he knew, was one thing.

He got in front of the others, blinking back tears in his burning eyes.

Accepting it was another.

-o-

Nine months could be a long time.

A lifetime, really.

Or the pause before one began.

-o-

As the kingdom grew anxious, Aramis grew reckless. He drank too heavy and slept around too much, and when Athos dragged him home one morning after a night of debauchery, Aramis was just sober enough to wonder.

“Are you disappointed in me?”

Athos did not even look at hims, preparing a hot kettle. “You’re not sober enough to have this conversation.”

It was possible, but Aramis was also not sober enough to know the limit right now. “Am I failing you again? Am I making mistakes just like I always do?”

Athos sighed, turning from the fire to sit across from Aramis in one of the chairs. “I am not your minder.”

Aramis actually laughed at that. “Are you sure?”

Athos did not look so amused. “You are making mistakes, yes,” he said flatly. “Many of which you have made before, and many more I’m sure you’ll make again.”

Slumping miserably, Aramis groaned. “So you are disappointed.”

“None of these mistakes you are making involve the queen,” Athos interjected. He tilted his head, not letting himself smile. “At this point, I can ask for no more.”

The response was reassuring, more than Aramis had right to hope for. Still, he turned his gaze bleakly to the window. “I feel like I should be relieved when this pregnancy is finally over and France has its heir.”

Athos got up, tending to the kettle again. “I have a feeling that will be when it starts.”

Aramis looked up at him pathetically. “That’s not much to hope for, is it?”


“Keep doing what you’re doing,” Athos advised him. “These are the messes I know how to clean up. Anything more…”

Aramis nodded, waving his hand. “I know, I know.”

-o-

Then, the child was born.

And Aramis knew nothing.

-o-

There were vast celebrations, all throughout the kingdom. This was their sign; this was their hope. This child -- though born of a king they did not always like and born of a queen they did not always trust -- this child was theirs. Theirs to love and honor. Theirs to call their own.

Aramis did not join those celebrations, not one.

Instead, he locked himself in his rooms, drawing the curtains to grieve the child that would never be his.

Not his to love or honor.

And definitely not his to call his own.

-o-

Still, he was resolved.

At least, he was.

Until he saw the baby, perched in the arms of his governess.

The governess was an attractive woman, tall and fair and keen, but all Aramis could see was the baby tucked securely in her arms.

Common sense told him better, and indeed, with the queen, he had surrendered.

With this child, he knew as he reached out to touch the delicate skin, such surrender would never be possible.

His heart swelled in his chest with a ferocity he almost could not comprehend.

With this child, the need to fight was simply impossible to ignore.

-o-

Aramis wooed the girl, and it was the easiest thing he’d ever done.

Most sin was.

Easy, easy, easy.

Right up until the point it killed you.

Some men learned from their mistakes.

Aramis kept making the same ones over and over and over again.

-o-

Aramis’ affections for the queen had been problematic, to say the least.

His affection for her child, however, was so very much worse.

The baby was not merely a distraction. It was an encompassing shift in his world view. Aramis could usually turn off his desires when faced with enough outside stimulation. Indeed, he had never been at risk during battle, even if the queen were standing right in front of him. Because Aramis loved women, yes, but he was at his core a fighter.

Or, he had been.

Now, at his core, all he could conceive was the sound of his baby’s cry. It distracted him; it made him less effective in the field. Through all of this, he’d made himself a liability in every possible regard. Indeed, his distraction nearly cost Porthos his life, and Aramis was sorry for that. Truly, he was.

But every time he sat down to sort it all out in his mind, to lecture himself sternly into getting himself back on track. Every time he tried to think of Porthos, D’Artagnan and Athos at risk because of im.

Every time.

All he could think about was whether not his son knew how to laugh and find his toes.

-o-

They all knew something was wrong. Athos kept his advice subtle, if possible, not that it would have made much difference either way. For the baby was the ultimate impossibility, and nothing would deter him.

Porthos tried a softer approach, getting him good and drunk and asking him what was going on with him. Aramis bought the next round and slung his arm around his friend. “Trust me, you don’t want the details.”

D’Artagnan was the most insistent, for he asked often, as though his suspicions were too hard to ignore. “We have to stick together, you know. The four of us. The musketeers.”

All for one and one for all.

It would be a convicting argument.

At least, it would be if it wasn’t also the reason that Aramis knew he couldn’t -- he shouldn’t -- say a word.

“You are still young, but you will have your secrets too,” Aramis advised him in return.

D’Artagnan shook his head, pursing his lips. “Secrets from each other?”

“I’m sorry, my friend,” Aramis consoled. “But I have it under control.”

-o-

He didn’t, of course.

Among his many faults, Aramis was also a liar.

God have mercy on his soul.

-o-

He prayed, of course.

Through it all.

He prayed.

“God, I don’t know how to keep this secret, not when it’s destroying me inside,” he whispered from his knees. “I want to do the right thing, but the force of it is almost so uncontrollable.”

He turned his eyes up to the ceiling.

“I cannot do this, not alone,” he said, almost begging now. He squeezed his eyes shut, letting his head drop back downward. “Not alone.”

-o-

God answered his prayers.

Just not quite the way he expected.

Secrets, after all, were just like forbidden fruits.

They were impossible to resist.

-o-

That didn’t make it easy, of course.

Telling his friends the truth, putting his sins into plain words for them to know and judge, it was the worst moment of Aramis’ life. One laden with shame and regret and so much guilt.

But, the next moment, the moment when his friends understood, when they forgave, when they accepted him.

That moment was the best yet.

-o-

Telling them was only fair, so they knew what they faced and they knew why they were fighting.

Telling them was also Aramis’ easy way out.

Because he needed that much accountability to make sure he did the right thing.

That was his solace in the cells.

That was his solace as they dragged him in to be questioned.

That was his solace when he remember that for his son, he would fight.

For his queen, he would always surrender.

-o-

Aramis had told many lies in his life, some for good reasons, some for bad reasons.

This lie was the hardest.

That he did not love his queen.

That he did not father her son.

That he did not have any connection to her in any way, shape or form.

This was a lie that concealed his passion, his truest self.

But the truth was still honest: that he would lay down all of himself on their behalf. His commission, his freedom, his honor, his very left itself.

-o-

It would have worked, too. It should have.

But Marguerite came in and spun lies and she sealed the fate of him, his lover and his child.

This betrayal, it ought to hurt.

Having denied all that he is in this room, however, there was nothing left of his heart to shred.

-o-

Aramis had probably always been a man condemned. He’d avoided it; he charmed his way through it; he’d adapted as necessary to survive. And he knew, he knew so unequivocally, that he had no one to blame. Not Rochefort, for he was a scum. Not Marguerite, for she was vulnerable and impressionable. Not the queen, for being desperate and far too trusting.

Just him and his vices.

Him and his mistakes.

Him and his impossible, forbidden loves.

When he had nothing left, there was that.

And he would take it to his grave.

-o-

The only courtesy they provided was a priest.

“I have already made my confessions,” Aramis told him quietly.

“But if you let me, I can intercede with God on your behalf,” the priest encouraged him. “It is the last thing you can do to save your soul since your body is already condemned.”

Aramis gave a short, hoarse laugh. “Do you want to hear the account of my sins, then? Surely, you know why I am to be executed.”

The man inclined his head. “Fornication and adultery are sins before God.”

“And before the royal courts,” Aramis advised. He sighed. “There is a problem, though.”

“You do not think God has heard your confession?” the priest asked.

Aramis offered him a wan smile. “I wish it were that simple.”

“With God, all you must do is confess,” the priest explained. “Repent.”

“Therein is my dilemma,” Aramis said. “Because I am sorry, Father. I am sorry for the mess I made, for the pain I caused. To my friends. To my musketeers. To my king and all of France.”

The priest nodded in encouragement. “That is good, my son.”

“But I also know,” Aramis continued, shaking his head. “I know I would do it all again, in a heartbeat.”

The priest’s expression turned grave. “God will have your soul for that.”

Aramis nodded in resignation, clasping his hands placidly. That was the conclusion he’d come to, the one he’d probably known before all this started. For this always had an ending in mind, and it might as well have been this.

He closed his eyes, letting out a breath.

“Then, so be it.”

The priest sighed, reaching out to press a supporting hand on Aramis’ shoulder. “May God be with you, my son.”

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