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the space between heartbeats

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“Are you thinking of her?”

It was, perhaps, an unwise question, but Athos’ eyes were half-lidded with memory and something else, something that had fire behind it, and d’Artagnan was drawn in by such an expression on his friend’s face.

“I’m thinking,” Athos replied, his voice slow as honey, soft with brandy, “of what I had when she was mine.”

“And what is that?” D’Artagnan truly wished he could stop his mouth, but he’d had just enough brandy himself that the need to understand Athos’ mood overruled his sense.

Athos was open tonight in a way he’d never seen, seated on his narrow bed and slouching loose-limbed back against the wall while d’Artagnan sat beside him on the edge of the bed. His spartan room held no other decent place to sit, and d’Artagnan was flushed with heat from the fire in the hearth and the seductive warmth of the brandy, not to mention from sitting so close to one who had captivated him since the moment they met. There had been a fire in Athos’ eyes then too, albeit of a different kind, as he gazed at d’Artagnan across the length of a blade.

There was no coldness in him now, none of the world-weariness that d’Artagnan was accustomed to seeing. The susurration of his even breaths drew d’Artagnan in, so quiet and yet so loud in the otherwise silent room.

Athos watched the brandy in his cup as he swirled it around. “Being close enough to feel the heat of another’s skin against your mouth, before the touch. The way a moment can stretch into hours, the way you forget everything except they way you fit together. The scent of intimacy, familiar and yet enough to make your heart rush.”

D’Artagnan’s breath stuttered in his chest and he gripped the bedclothes tightly in his fist. “I’d never have suspected you had the gift of poetry,” he said, surprised that he could keep his voice steady while all his blood pounded southward.

“Have I shocked you, then?” Athos looked up at him with dark eyes that reflected the firelight.

D’Artagnan cleared his throat. “A little,” he replied honestly, not seeing the benefit of lying.

“Have you ever had that with a lover?”

“I’ve had lovers,” he admitted, and left it at that.

Athos narrowed his eyes at him. “That’s not what I asked.”

D’Artagnan looked up at the ceiling, focusing on keeping his breathing even and contemplating leaving before he did something regrettable. He shook his head finally.

“You can only find it with someone you know well. Someone whose body and mind are familiar to you. Someone you can be at ease with, who you trust implicitly.”

D’Artagnan thought back on his short string of lovers, how none of them had lasted long enough to reach that kind of intimacy. Until that moment he hadn’t been aware of what he was missing, and now he longed for it in the pit of his belly like a hunger.

“You mean a friend. A true friend.”

Athos didn’t nod but his eyes answered for him.

“A friend first and a lover second,” d’Artagnan continued, guessing as he watched Athos’ face.

“Until the two bleed into one, yes.”

“Athos,” he whispered, and Athos sat up slowly, setting his cup aside.

“If you leave now we’ll speak no more of this,” Athos murmured, and d’Artagnan briefly closed his eyes. “But if you stay I can show you what I mean.”

“ think we can have that?”

“I think we already do,” Athos replied. His gaze on d’Artagnan’s held weight. “You can’t tell me you never thought of it, that it hasn’t been in your mind since we met. I can see you, I know you now.”

D’Artagnan leaned forward helplessly, caught in the pull of Athos’ tide. He dared to brace his hand on Athos’ chest and felt the thrum of his blood beneath the weave of his shirt and the cage of his ribs. Athos drifted forward and d’Artagnan stilled, and he could indeed feel the heat of Athos’ mouth on his, without touching. D’Artagnan closed his eyes and didn’t dare to breathe, soaking up the warmth, lost in the space between heartbeats.

“Do you feel it?” Athos whispered, touching d’Artagnan’s jaw with finger and thumb, two points of fire on his skin.

D’Artagnan nodded and his lips brushed across Athos’ accidentally, velvet and blood-warm, and then Athos was kissing him. It was as if d’Artagnan had never felt someone else’s lips on his own, a dizzying revelation so strong that he felt light-headed. He slid the hand on Athos’ chest up to his neck, tangling in his tousled hair, begging for more with the grip of his fingers.

Athos’ tongue traced a slick line along his bottom lip and d’Artagnan moaned, just a thread of sound against Athos’ mouth. Athos angled his head and slipped his tongue through parted lips, sweeping by slow degrees, inviting d’Artagnan to join him.

D’Artagnan jumped when Athos’ fingers began tracing the line of his collarbone, tugging his shirt aside until it caught against his throat. He swallowed and leaned into the touch, willing to tear his shirt into pieces in order to keep Athos’ hand on his skin. He shivered at the heat of his palm, possessive and bold.

“We can stop here,” Athos said against d’Artagnan’s cheek. His fingertips pressed once into the muscle of d’Artagnan’s shoulder, then released. He pulled his hand away and d’Artagnan caught it swiftly.

“No, we can’t,” he said, and pressed his mouth to Athos’ with urgency.

Athos groaned and returned the kiss, matching him perfectly, and it reminded d’Artagnan of sparring with him. Here was a parry, here was a thrust, here was smooth motion like water, dancing together with delicate but lethal intent. It made sense, he reasoned somewhere in the back of his mind as Athos tugged him down to the bed beside him, that this would be as easy and inevitable as their friendship. They knew one another, after all.

There was a thigh bearing down on his, slotting between his legs and giving him something to thrust against. He was hard in his breeches and Athos’ weight on him was both welcome and maddening. Athos cupped his skull and lifted him into a kiss that gave no quarter, and what should likely have scared d’Artagnan instead filled him with a desperate longing to lose himself within it, to let the minutes stretch into hours as he floated in the place between passion and release.

“I never knew,” d’Artagnan gasped, and Athos pulled away and leaned up on one elbow. “I never guessed that you would feel the same. I tried to let it be enough to call you friend, and I had no hope of more.”

Athos stroked his hair where it fanned out across the sheets. “It was enough, until it wasn’t.”

D’Artagnan arched his head back, chasing the tug against his scalp, the tingling pleasure. Athos dipped his head down and set his teeth against the cords of his neck, and d’Artagnan sucked in a ragged breath, rocking against Athos’ thigh.

Athos sat up and d’Artagnan watched him strip his shirt over his head. Athos’ skin was a sketched map of scars, and d’Artagnan wanted to press his mouth to each one. He let Athos pull his shirt off and he was briefly tangled in his sleeves, then they were skin to skin and Athos was smiling at him. It was such a rare thing to see that d’Artagnan was dazed by the warmth of it, by the quirk of his lips and the crinkled lines beside his eyes.

He touched those lines with a fingertip in wonderment. “You’re beautiful,” he told Athos, and blushed after.

Athos raised a sardonic eyebrow but didn’t comment, choosing instead to lean in and drag his lips down d’Artagnan’s chest, pausing to roughen a nipple with fingers and mouth. D’Artagnan cried out softly and weaved his fingers into Athos’ hair, following him as he continued down to lick along the waist of his breeches. Athos breathed deeply, and his exhale was warm enough for d’Artagnan to feel it through the leather against his cock.

“Athos,” he said, absolutely lost.

“Can I?” Athos slid the heel of his hand over d’Artagnan’s trapped cock, watching him with dark eyes.

D’Artagnan nodded swiftly. “Anything.”

Athos’ gaze sharpened. “Don’t ever say that unless you know what you’re agreeing to.”

“I know I trust you with my life,” he replied, his heart pounding painfully, “so I trust that you won’t demand something of me that I’m not willing to give.”

Athos surged up and kissed him roughly, fumbling with the laces of d’Artagnan’s breeches in a rare show of uncoordination. When Athos drew his cock out of his smalls he realized that Athos’ hand was shaking.

D’Artagnan hardly knew which way was up when Athos slid back down and fisted his cock with a reverent grip and licked across the head in a broad sweep. D’Artagnan groaned and tried not to thrust up, and Athos responded by pressing down on his hip bone with his free hand.

Athos suckled on the head of his cock while he writhed, then slid his mouth down further, engulfing d’Artagnan in wet heat and a stroking tongue. “There it is,” he murmured thickly when he pulled off to breathe.

“There’s what?” d’Artagnan asked on a heaving breath, pressing his thumb to the corner of Athos’ reddened mouth.

“The scent,” Athos replied, nosing at the base of d’Artagnan’s cock, his eyes closed, his brow furrowed with pleasure. “What I needed from you. To be this close.”

D’Artagnan couldn’t help but tug him back up, bracketing his face with unsteady hands. He hooked his leg around Athos’ and ground his cock against Athos’ leather-clad hip. He kissed him deeply, tasting himself and the last remnants of the brandy, feeling more intoxicated on Athos than he had on the wine.

“What do you need?” Athos asked, biting at d’Artagnan’s lip and soothing the sting with his tongue.

“I need,” d’Artagnan tried, panting, “I need you to take your clothes off.”

Athos grinned at him, a glint in his eye and his hair a wild halo around his face. He extricated himself from d’Artagnan’s embrace and stood beside the bed to remove his boots and leathers. He made a bit of a show of unlacing his smalls and slowly dropping them down his hips, and d’Artagnan’s mouth watered at the sight of Athos’ heavy cock curving up, flushed and hard.

D’Artagnan sat up on his elbows and watched while Athos removed the rest of his clothes for him, and then Athos was crawling up over him again. “What else do you need?” Athos asked, and no sooner had the words left his mouth than d’Artagnan shoved him over onto his back.

“I need you to lie here, and don’t move until I say you can,” he told Athos, whose eyes widened at the order. After a few tense heartbeats, in which d’Artagnan began to wonder if he’d pushed too far, Athos finally relaxed and tucked one hand behind his head, watching with the faintest smirk on his face.

“By all means,” he acquiesced, making a little flourish with his hand to indicate that d’Artagnan was free to do as he pleased.

D’Artagnan took a deep breath and started at the top, leaning over him and pressing a kiss to his mouth, running his tongue over the scar twisting his upper lip, soaking up the trembling gasp that Athos made and chasing that sound until he made it again. He found the hollow of Athos’ throat and kissed it, and felt Athos’ arms come up to make a loose cage around his waist. Athos rested his fingertips in the small of d’Artagnan’s back and slid them downwards, sending fire radiating through him at the thought of where those fingers might go.

“I told you not to move,” d’Artagnan warned, biting Athos’ chest.

“Yes, but you didn’t tell me not to touch,” Athos countered, pulling his hands back and tracing along d’Artagnan’s ribs just hard enough not to tickle.

D’Artagnan shook his head and smiled ruefully, bending once again to his task, learning the contour of Athos’ chest, the slope of his hip, the curve of his cock where it rested on his belly. He breathed in the scent of musk and leather and salt, and realized with a jolt that it was familiar to him. He might not have known it from this context, but he knew Athos’ scent.

He stroked down Athos’ thighs, heavy with muscle, and licked a slow line up his cock, savoring the way it jumped under his tongue. It tasted the way Athos smelled, only sharper and more pure. D’Artagnan may not have had much experience in such a thing but he did his best to mimic what Athos had done to him. The saltiness at the tip startled him, and he spread it around on his tongue to explore the flavor before he sucked the head of Athos’ cock into his mouth to see if he could coax out more of that slickness.

“D’Artagnan,” Athos murmured, touching his face, his voice strained. “Come up here.”

He shook his head. “Not until I’m ready.” He sank back down on Athos’ cock, sucking softly as he rose and fell with Athos’ twitching, barely there thrusts. The heavy weight on his tongue and the stretch of his jaw should have been strange, but somehow it felt like coming home, like his mouth had been made for this, for Athos.

By the time he pulled off and crawled back up the bed Athos was trembling all over, his skin sheened with sweat. Athos lay perfectly still except for his heaving breaths, until d’Artagnan said, “You can move now,” and Athos growled, his hands coming up to grip d’Artagnan hard and pull him half on top, so that their thighs slotted together and d’Artagnan’s hair fell in a curtain around their faces as they kissed.

“You are the most,” Athos began, but never finished because d’Artagnan did his best to steal Athos’ breath with a kiss. He let Athos tug his hips into place where he wanted him, where their cocks could slide against each other, slick and hot. It was easy to follow Athos’ rhythm, the thrust of his tongue guiding d’Artagnan’s whole body.

There was a brightness building in him, a spark in his blood that grew with each rocking motion, and d’Artagnan only became aware that he was moaning when Athos stopped his mouth with his calloused palm. He strained against the pressure and Athos held his gaze.

“Hush,” he warned, then kissed him to swallow the sound. “The walls are thin.”

D’Artagnan shivered and pressed his forehead to Athos’. A moment later he found himself on his back when Athos rolled them over, and his arm scraped the rough plaster wall, where Athos’ weight trapped him. He bit back a curse when Athos caught them both in one hand and began to stroke, swiping his thumb over the head of d’Artagnan’s cock and spreading the slickness over both of them.

“Another time I’ll open you up with my fingers and show you how to get even closer,” Athos whispered hoarsely against his cheek. He spread d’Artagnan’s thighs even wider and abandoned his cock in favor of reaching back to swipe his thumb across d’Artagnan’s hole, and d’Artagnan arched his back as sparks rippled through his core, making him feel both weak and powerful in the same breath.

“Will you do it now?” he asked, his voice so low it scraped his throat.

Athos’ eyes widened. “We’d never last,” he replied, but he pressed one finger against d’Artagnan’s lips and he suckled it desperately. When Athos slid that wet finger over the rim of his hole d’Artagnan felt the sparks blow into fire, and at the slip of that fingertip inside him he came silently in a rush over his own belly. Athos gathered up that slickness in his hand while d’Artagnan was still shuddering and spread it over his own cock, stroking himself and spilling hot over d’Artagnan’s skin.

They collapsed in a tangle of limbs and d’Artagnan became gradually aware of the room around them, the snap of the fire in the hearth, the cool draft from the loose window frame, the shadows of their bodies thrown against the wall. After a few minutes Athos levered himself up to find one of their discarded shirts and cleaned them both, then lay down carefully beside d’Artagnan, who turned his head to regard him.

“Did you find what you were searching for?” d’Artagnan asked softly, seeing the answer in Athos’ eyes but needed to ask the question anyway.

Athos smoothed the hair back from d’Artagnan’s cheek. “This is the part I needed most,” he said, and brushed his mouth across d’Artagnan’s, settling warmly against him. “But if you didn’t find what you need here, I won’t keep you.”

D’Artagnan leaned back to look him in the eye. “And if I want to be kept?”

Athos bit his lip and d’Artagnan leaned up to soothe that reddened place with his tongue. When they broke apart Athos settled his head onto the pillow next to d’Artagnan. “Then I’ll keep you,” he said simply, and hooked his finger into d’Artagnan’s loose fist.

After a moment d’Artagnan lifted Athos’ hand and pressed a kiss to his palm. “Am I really here, or asleep in my bed dreaming?”

“Have you dreamed of this?”

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

Athos trailed his hand down d’Artagnan’s arm, leaving him shivering with sudden and unexpected want. “How did it measure up to your dreams?”

“I don’t want to sleep right now, if that answers your question,” d’Artagnan said with a smile. He curved his body against the shape of Athos’ and nudged him lightly with his knee.

Athos huffed a laugh. “Give me a few minutes,” he said, but slid his hand over d’Artagnan’s hip in a promise of something more.

D’Artagnan grew still and searched Athos’ eyes. “I’ve never seen you like this.”

“Like what?”

“Like you don’t want to be anywhere else.”

Athos pulled him closer into a kiss that barely skimmed his lips, so that all he felt was velvet and warmth. “You give me a reason to be here.”