Love's Musketeer --- Chapter Twelve
Afternoon was fading into evening as the coach reached its destination, the occupants inside remaining completely silent, each one reviewing his role in the forthcoming rescue. Athos gripped the silver crucifix that guarded his heart as he stretched out his senses, praying to hear the voice that had healed the restlessness in his heart. Fellow Musketeers Porthos and Aramis sat across from him, their hands entwined, their touches demonstrating the abiding love they had for each other. The newest member of the closely knit group, Henri, sat facing the English nobleman, watching him closely, memorizing the man's handsome features and lean form. He smiled when Buckingham caught him staring and his smile widened when the Englishman blushed and looked away.
The horses were reigned in suddenly and the coach swayed to a halt. Without a word being spoken, the door was swung open and the men gathered their capes and swords, each moving swiftly to exit the coach. The Duke of Buckingham straightened his finery as he shifted in his seat, acutely aware of the remaining Musketeer's presence. Henri moved quickly and captured the lips of the English Duke, his hands gripping the man's slender shoulders and pulling him close. Pressing hard against Buckingham's mouth, he thrust in his tongue when the man gasped with surprise and, for a single moment, Henri savored the wet heat of the foreigner before releasing him to whisper in his ear.
"For luck, Monsieur."
The dark-skinned Musketeer caressed Buckingham's cheek, his lips grazing the man's smooth jawline for a cherished moment before he stepped down from the carriage. With one last look, he touched his lips and saluted the Englishman before joining his companions.
"To our future, Monsieur. I have no doubt we shall meet again when the circumstances are less dire."
Buckingham snapped his mouth shut and stared after the Musketeer, his heart hammering inside his chest. Taking a deep breath, he shook his head and liberated himself from the man's spell. Now was not the time for matters of love, Buckingham admonished himself as he recalled the desperate look on D'Artagnan's face. Collecting the royal pouch his assistant had presented to him before they left, he disembarked from the coach and took note of the men standing before him.
The four Musketeers wore the uniform of the England's Royal Guard and Buckingham couldn't help smiling at the memory of when the men had first changed into their outfits. Aramis had protested the loudest when presented with the borrowed garments, his close examination and disapproving frown indicating the uniforms were definitely inferior to their French counterparts. Porthos had added his complaints when he had slipped on his tunic and immediately ripped out the back seam, a sure clue his top was way too small for his bulky frame. Athos had simply thrown his on a nearby table, refusing to waste time with such things when his mind could be better occupied with the plans of rescuing his beloved.
And then there was Henri and his whispered need for assistance as he stood half naked in the doorway to his chamber, his jacket dangling from a finger, the laces of his breeches half undone. Buckingham snatched his mind away from that particular memory and cleared his throat noisily, catching the attention of the Musketeers.
"Shall we proceed, gentlemen? D'Artagnan awaits us."
Silently the five men moved through the prison and presented identification when requested. They traveled across the open grounds of the stockade, hurriedly moving toward the far corner of the stone structure. Reaching their first true obstacle, they stood shoulder to shoulder and watched an enormous wooden gate opened slowly to reveal the prison master, a toothless hunchback with only one eye. The Duke stepped forward and presented the royal pouch to the hulking beast of a man, trying to appear unconcerned as the seal was broken and the single piece of parchment inside thoroughly examined. The hunchback spit on the ground at the Duke's feet before acknowledging the royal order with a nod of his head and a bark to his men to allow them safe passage inside. With a suspicious grin, the prison master returned the paper and royal pouch to the Duke's outstretched hand and watched as he and his escort were ushered into a darkened passageway led by a young prison guard.
The damp walls closed in on them as they moved deeper and deeper inside, agonized moans of tortured prisoners lending speed to the Musketeers' feet as they followed their guide. Athos remained at the head of the group, spurring the guard to move faster. A sense of foreboding hung over him and the sooner he could assure himself of D'Artagnan's safety, the better.
Rounding a corner the entourage came face to face with the Duke's private convoy of guards. Buckingham stepped forth and spent a few moments questioning the leader before dismissing the four men. He then turned to the young prison guard and secured the keys that would unlock the cell. Opening the door, he thanked the youth for his assistance and instructed him to return to his post.
As soon as the guard disappeared from sight, Athos pushed the Englishman out of the way and threw open the door. The fading light barely touched the gloom within the small enclosure but Athos had no trouble locating D'Artagnan. And it wasn't his sight that led him to D'Artagnan's side. The moment he entered the cell, his distressed soul had instantly been soothed by the familiar heartbeat of his lover.
Turning to his friends, his unspoken request was witnessed and granted. The three remaining Musketeer took up positions outside the cell, allowing Athos and D'Artagnan a brief moment for their reunion. The Duke remained behind and cautiously touched the elder Musketeer on the arm. "We have only a short time before suspicion is aroused. Be quick. There will be ample time for loving as soon as we are free of this place."
Athos acknowledged the nobleman's warning with a grunt, his attention completely focused on the huddled form of his lover. Waiting until Buckingham had closed the cell door, Athos slowly approached D'Artagnan and knelt beside him.
His heart nearly broke at the appearance of his young companion. Athos took note of the youth's thin frame, the sallowness of his skin, the dark shadows under his eyes. He reached out and brushed away the tangled curls that covered D'Artagnan's face, a curse being forced back as his fingers tenderly slid over a bruised cheekbone.
The lad stirred in his sleep, unconsciously seeking the caress. Even in slumber, D'Artagnan still reached for his loved one, seeking the hand that lay against his cheek and bringing it to his lips so that he could kiss it while whispering Athos' name.
The Musketeer knew his eyes were wet with tears as he leaned down to kiss his lover awake. His mouth eased over D'Artagnan's with a gentle possession, his husky voice murmuring quiet endearments. "Beloved, wake up," Athos instructed as he wrapped his arms around D'Artagnan's shoulders and pulled him into an upright position.
D'Artagnan ignored the voice he knew could not be whispering to him. Instead, he snuggled closer and murmured sleepily, "Soon. I will see Athos soon."
Smiling at D'Artagnan's steadfast belief in him, Athos nuzzled his throat and nipped at the tender flesh. "D'Artagnan! Open your eyes. It's time to leave."
Drowsy blue eyes slowly opened and then widened with disbelief. "Athos!!!"
The elder Musketeer found his arms full of one very happy Gascon and his face was quickly covered with sloppy wet kisses as D'Artagnan verified his presence by touching every part of his body he could reach. "Dear God, please let it be true. Please don't let this be a dream." D'Artagnan clutched the lapels of Athos' tunic, jerking the older man down. "You are real, aren't you?" He transferred his grip to the sides of his lover's face, holding him still as he devoured the smiling lips that had haunted his dreams for the past few nights. "Athos, Athos, Athos," he whispered as he lost himself to the unique taste that belonged only to the man holding him tight.
Athos laughed and the sound was instantly captured by his lover's hungry mouth. "Yes, my brave lad, it is I and I am no illusion." An attempt was made to control their enthusiastic reunion as D'Artagnan pressed against him but the lonely days and nights without his lover had tested Athos' control beyond measure and he allowed a brief moment of desire to flare through him as he experienced the touch of the hard shaft that searched for its mate.
Enjoying a final kiss, Athos gentled the frantic youth, using soft words and gentle caresses to soothe his trembling limbs. A whisper of urgency caught the Musketeer captain's ear and he was quickly pulled back into the reality of the moment. "Beloved, wait! We must leave. Now!"
Athos assisted the D'Artagnan to his feet, catching him as he stumbled. A precious moment was stolen in order to allow the youth to find his footing and, once Athos was certain D'Artagnan would not fall, he moved the two of them to the cell's doorway. "Open," he called out. His instruction was followed without delay and Porthos met them as they came out, offering his comrades his assistance if needed.
D'Artagnan smiled at his friends and laughed when Aramis hugged him and then sank to his knees in prayer. He shook hands with Henri and nodded at the Duke, his eyes communicating the thanks he could find no words for. "Athos?" D'Artagnan questioned when chains were reapplied to his wrists and ankles. A tender kiss and quiet assurance from his lover soothed his fears and he stood ready to follow those that had risked everything to rescue him.
The entourage moved quickly toward the prison exit, pausing occasionally to allow D'Artagnan a moment to rest. Athos constantly ran a comforting touch across the smaller man's back, assuring himself that his lover was safely in his arms. Buckingham stepped forward as the giant gate opened, prepared to finalize D'Artagnan's release. A stunned gasp fell from his lips as he staggered backwards and was caught by Henri who pulled him to his side.
Four swords slashed through the air as the Musketeers recognized the man who stood before them.
Athos could not believe his eyes, could not believe that Fate had once again dared to tangle its wickedness in his life. His anger knew no bounds. Acting quickly, the Musketeer passed D'Artagnan into the safety of Porthos' arms and moved toward Rochefort, taking a small measure of pleasure at the confused astonishment on the older man's face. Tossing his sword to Aramis, Athos stepped forward and allowed all his frustrations to blaze forth.
"HELLFIRE AND BRIMSTONE! I'VE HAD ALL I CAN TAKE! YOU CANNOT HAVE HIM!!"
Gathering all the hate and fear that had plagued him since D'Artagnan's abduction, Athos lashed out with his fist, violently impacting with Rochefort's jaw. The Frenchman's head snapped back from the force, his eyes glazing over. He wavered on his feet mere seconds before Athos' next two powerful blows tumbled him to the ground, blessed unconsciousness overtaking him.
Athos bent down, intent upon inflicting more damage on the one-eyed demon but a firm grip stopped him. Porthos pulled him back and returned an exhausted and frightened D'Artagnan to him. His lover's distress stripped him of all hostility and Athos wrapped his arms around the younger man, whispering soothing words of comfort and safety. He bestowed several tender kisses on the youth's lips before quietly moving away from the body of the fallen man.
Sheathing his sword, Henri released Buckingham and swiftly moved to pull Rochefort's crumpled body from view, following Aramis' instruction to place him in a nearby vacant cell. Grabbing Rochefort's feet, Aramis assisted Henri in moving Rochefort into the darkest corner of the prison chamber and, after a brief second of consideration, grabbed an armful of hay and scattered it over the prone body, effectively hiding it from view. Just to make sure it remained unseen, Aramis took hold of the cell's lone cot and turned it on its side before shoving it in front of the body, providing another bit of camouflage for any curious eyes that may pass by.
The six men quickly gathered themselves and proceeded out of the prison, wasting precious moments at each checkpoint, satisfying security protocol. Finally, the steel gate of the stockade slammed shut behind them and anxiously held breaths were released. D'Artagnan whispered a prayer of thanks to the heavens and then proceeded to collapse into the arms of his lover. Athos caught the young Gascon, falling to the stone pavement, the unexpected weight of the lad dropping him to his knees. A soft grunt of pain reflected the bruising impact of the jagged rocks upon his knees but his grasp did not loosen, his large but gentle hands maintaining a solid hold on his cherished Musketeer.
The Duke hurriedly motioned for his carriage, opening the door as Porthos helped Athos to his feet. The two men wrestled D'Artagnan's body inside, trying to be as gentle as possible. Athos crowded into the far corner of the coach and positioned D'Artagnan on the seat beside him. Buckingham and Henri climbed in and took the seat opposite him as Porthos and Aramis clambered up to sit beside the driver. With a crack of the whip, the carriage pulled away from the prison and into the darkness and only then did the six men congratulate each other on the success of their mission.
Henri watched as Athos tenderly removed the chains and manacles from D'Artagnan's wrists and ankles, amazed at the loving gentleness shown by the older man. There was no sign of the impatient, bad tempered and, often brusque, Musketeer he had encountered only days ago. The man before him had tears in his eyes as he whispered soft words to the young man he held so carefully in his arms, his trembling hands caressing D'Artagnan's body as they searched for and found the various injuries inflicted upon his lover's body. Embarrassed at witnessing the stark evidence of Athos' feelings, Henri turned his eyes away, only to be snared by the smoky gaze of the English nobleman sitting next to him. Gloved fingers slid along his thigh and stole into the warmth of his hand, leaving Henri no recourse but to stare at their clasped hands. He flexed his fingers testing the strength of those wrapped around his and he whistled in a breath as Buckingham's hand answered his inquiry, tightening imperceptibly.
A startled gasp escaped his lips as the Duke's gloved fingers broke free and traced a burning path of sensation to his groin. A lightening fast stroke over his manhood left the dark-skinned Musketeer struggling for air, his need to breathe hampered even more when Buckingham settled his hand upon Henri's groin, communicating an unspoken promise. Henri looked up at the Duke, mesmerized by the play of a half-smile on his lips as he leaned close and whispered to him.
"For the future, dear sir."
Buckingham's hand returned to his, fingers threading through fingers, each subtle caress a reminder of the delights they had once shared. Henri blushed and felt the heat of his embarrassment spread across his cheeks. Averting his eyes, he knew his blush deepened as he caught the understanding look on Athos' face.
The older man took a moment to look upon the sleeping features of his lover before glancing over at Henri and his companion and reaching forward to grasp their entwined hands. "Hold on to this love you two have discovered," Athos instructed. "Hold on tight. You never know…."
Athos choked and could not continue. He, instead, feathered a touch across D'Artagnan's face slowly mapping his pale features, hesitating ever so lightly over the full lips that would once again smile and speak words of love to him. Sliding his hand inside the youth's disheveled tunic, Athos rested it over his heart and allowed the steady rhythm to comfort his battered soul.
"Time is precious, my friends. Do not waste a single moment when you are with the one you love."
Athos leaned his head back against the cushioned seat and unlocked the tight control he had placed upon himself, finally allowing his lover's safe deliverance to permeate and replace the fear he had so long lived with. Dear God, he prayed. Do not tempt me again. My sanity may not survive.
Athos caressed the soft pelt of hair that covered D'Artagnan's chest, his hands warming the flat nipples he discovered. Whispering words of love, the older Musketeer fell asleep to the restful heartbeat of his beloved, his fingers tangled in the softness of D'Artagnan's curls.
End of Chapter 12