Musketeer Space Part 47: Athos in the Walls

cushionIt’s Musketeer Day! I can’t believe this is all going to be over by August – but Wednesday will always be Musketeer Day.

Speaking of Musketeers (when am I not??) don’t forget to check out the latest Musketeer Media Monday essay, All the Musketeer Ladies (2015) which is mostly about how the latest season of Musketeers treated the female characters, while the boys were looking pretty in leather.

I am a little dismissive about the boys in that essay. Athos had at least one and half good episodes, and there was that bit where D’Artagnan took his bandanna off which made Tumblr collectively swoon for at least a fortnight, but the most interesting thing I have to say about the men in this season is: not enough Treville, not enough Porthos, and I want to throw things at Aramis, like all the time. The serial killing astrologer episode was pretty amazing, though, and the finale was great.

Never mind those Musketeers, get yourself into space to play with my Musketeers!

Start reading Musketeer Space from Part 1
Missed the last installment? Track back to Part 46
Read a festive Musketeer Space prequel, “Seven Days of Joyeux.”
Main Page & Table of Contents

PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE: Olivier Armand d’Auteville, the Comte de la Fere of a backwater county on the planet Valour walked out on his old life thanks to a tragic backstory, and ended up drunk on a mountain where he was rescued by two Musketeers and whisked away in Paris to start again as the Musketeer Athos, AKA Pistachio Grumpyface. He later befriended a 20 year old Gascon wannabe pilot, D’Artagnan, who shares his love of barfights and his dislike of talking about feelings.

Athos recently discovered that his dead husband is rather less dead than previously believed, and also an intergalactic assassin. Also, there’s a war on right now between the Solar System and the Sun-kissed. The Musketeers’ commander, Amiral Treville, needs to be debriefed about the current political relevant of Athos’ tragic backstory and D’Artagnan’s recent near-death experience. That’s why they’re in a nightclub. Actually, they’re in a nightclub because letting Aramis choose the rendezvous spot is always a bad idea.

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Chapter 47: Athos in the Walls

Dovecote Red was Athos’ idea of hell. He had never been one for nightclubs, all that noise and movement. Even in his university days, he had not been the one who dragged them out to ‘paint the town,’ it had been…
But no, he would not think of Auden here and now. He had a mission.

Athos liked having a mission. The best thing about being on duty as a Musketeer was always having a straightforward task to achieve, even if it was as simple as ‘fly in a straight line from Station A to Satellite B’ or ‘keep the royal family alive during a public appearance.’

Athos liked being given orders, and he lived in a constant state of background dread that Treville would someday make one allowance too many for his ridiculous extracurricular shenanigans, and put him in a position where he was the one giving the orders.

That possibility was far too close to his former self – the young Count who bore too much responsibility on his shoulders, and fucked up his life so thoroughly that there was nothing but ash and rubble left behind.
The best thing about a war, as far as Athos was concerned, was that you were technically on duty all the time. You had a constant purpose.

Tonight, he could see his mission parameters as clearly as if Treville had written them out for him in calligraphed longhand on the back of his arm.

His mission was to find out who Cardinal Richelieu was meeting in an upstairs room of this dive of a nightclub. His duty was to keep his friends safe.

“Wait here for Treville,” he said abruptly. “I won’t be long.” And before Aramis or Porthos or D’Artagnan could protest, he was out the door and striding through that godawful club.

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A dark-eyed boy with silver eyeliner – too damn young for Athos, that was for sure – lurched out of the noise and the lights, covered in glitter. “I like your jacket,” he said, eyeing Athos up and down.

All his instincts told him to brush this kid off before he got too close – Athos’ usual method of getting laid involved either arguments or swordplay, and he saved it for opponents who didn’t expect him to smile or flirt. He definitely drew the line at flirting with anyone D’Artagnan’s age (possibly younger, God, it was hard to tell under all that glitter).

But this was a mission, and he’d look less suspicious going upstairs if he had company. Athos offered the easy, charming smile he had so recently been practicing on the Cardinal herself. The d’Autevielle smile, a family heirloom he usually kept buried.

“Do you want it?” he asked the young man, crowding into his space and sliding off the jacket to wrap it around his shoulders. “It’s yours.”

Huh. Flirting was apparently easier than picking fights. That was a thought to be examined at a later date.

Ten minutes later, Athos were upstairs with a keycard, arm slung around the glittery boy. It hadn’t taken much to convince the club manager – who had served with Treville in the previous war – to hire him a room near (but not suspiciously close) to the Cardinal’s rendezvous.

It had been embarrassingly easy to convince the beautiful young man who now owned Athos’ Musketeer jacket to come upstairs with him. Charm was obviously a dangerous tool, best only cracked out for emergencies.

The Cardinal’s honour guard were positioned along the way, two of them at the top of the stairs, two more in the corridor and the last pair playing cards outside the hired room. None of them paid much attention to the glitter-smeared couple who went past, though Athos was pretty sure at least one of the Sabres gave him a wink, which was faintly disturbing.

Inside their own room, Athos peeled the young man off him and made for the wall vents. He’d spent a few nights in this club years ago, on a protection detail for the Regent’s hen party, and had pulled at least three would-be assassins out of the walls.

Dovecote Red had terrible lighting, awful music and a drinks menu that priced itself far too highly, but its ventilation system was spacious and comfortable.

Athos had almost forgotten his glitter-strewn companion, but the boy threw himself on the bed, watching him with a calculating gaze. “I’m guessing, this is a spy thing rather than a hookup thing, yeah?”

Couldn’t argue that one, with his hands already busy removing the grate. “Sorry,” said Athos half-heartedly. “There’s a war on,” he added.

“Doesn’t bother me, mate, makes for a better story tomorrow,” the boy smirked. “I get to keep the jacket, right?”

Athos rolled his eyes, and hauled himself physically up into the vent. It was more difficult than it had been three years ago. Maybe it really was time to be cutting down on the wine. “Yes,” he drawled. “You can keep the jacket.”

It took a little time to get his bearings, but Athos made good time crawling down towards the room where the Cardinal and her guest were meeting.

All he could hope was that her appointment was a spy thing and not a hookup thing, or he had wasted everyone’s time.

“… Seems to me that your time on Paris Satellite has been entirely wasted.” The Cardinal’s voice came clearly through the vent. Athos stopped moving. She sounded angry. “The Marquise de Wardes continued her loyalist sympathies entirely without your involvement – and meanwhile, the Valour government has all but washed their hands of us. What exactly was the point in making it possible for my own agent to take such an influential position as Secretary for the Interior if you wield so little of that influence in my favour?”

Athos had been quietly shuffling forward to try to catch a glimpse of who else was in the room, but he stilled when he heard ‘Secretary for the Interior,’ because that answered his question in the worst possible way.

Milord. He must think of him as Milord, because if he even began to think of that man as Auden d’Autevielle, he would not be able to get through this.

A warm mouth on his neck, a sly smile in the sunlight, bare feet padding across the ancient floors of the house of his ancestors…

Blood, so much blood spilling out across the grass.

“Your Eminence,” said a patient, familiar voice that chilled Athos to the vein, “There is a fine line between influence and the ability to steer an entire planetary policy in the opposite direction.”

Athos leaned his head against the cool wall and listened to the voice, to the inflection of every word. He had known about this for so long, ever since Dana spilled her secret to him, but there was a difference between believing it, and hearing it with his own ears.

Not dead. I didn’t kill you. How are you still alive?

“It seems to me that your so-called influence has been entirely toxic!” the Cardinal exclaimed. “First Minister Beautru was previouslyneutral on the matter of Valour independence, and never once failed to commit troops and ships to the Crown when requested.”

Milord scoffed. “First Minister Beautru is four months away from retirement after three terms of inactivity, and his so-called Fleet is entirely controlled by the various Dukes, Counts and other New Aristocrats who fund the various regiments. They all see Beautru as a relic of the past, and take their cues entirely from the electoral candidates. While the Marquise de Wardes has indeed managed to spark some of the younger New Aristocrats to her royalist sympathies, the most powerful tastemaker with the set who actually own military resources is still the Duke of Buckingham with her Independence Faction.”

Ugh, politics. Valour politics, no less. Athos had gone to a lot of trouble to ensure he never again had to care about all this New Aristocrat posturing bullshit. And now he had to listen to it poured forth to him in his dead husband’s voice?

“Factions or not, Buckingham and the rest of them are obliged to put ships into the air and join this war,” the Cardinal hissed, all but vibrating with fury.

“True enough,” said Milord, sounding arch and amused. Did nothing phase the man? “The defence of our solar system is a trending topic, and I might well have been able to convince the charming Buck to join the party as a final gift to the Crown before she rips Valour out of the alliance. Unfortunately, she has spent the last couple of months immersed in the world’s longest bender, followed by several stints in rehab. Hardly a development that I could have predicted, or prevented. In Buck’s absence from the planet’s social media hubs, it has been assumed that she doesn’t give a damn about the war against the Sun-kissed, and therefore the rest of the New Aristocrats don’t have to either.”

Cardinal Richelieu was obviously unimpressed. “I am hearing excuses, Milord, when I want solutions. I want at least fifty new ships at the siege by the end of the week, and I want Valour to be the one who provides them.”

“We have two obvious options with which to proceed,” Milord said, sounding delightd by the challenge. “Either the Duchess of Buckingham must be convinced to lead an armada to war – or the other New Aristocrats must be inspired to do so, by some dramatic event. Nothing like a tragedy to bring people together, don’t you think?”

Athos sucked a breath in. He had known for years that his husband was a murderer and a criminal – not to mention an alien spy – but was he really about to hear him plot a murder?

“Now you’re thinking creatively,” said the Cardinal, positively delighted. “Given all the ridiculous antics with the Prince Consort last year, the Duchess of Buckingham has proved herself a diplomatic liability.”

“Are you asking me to become your assassin, your Eminence?” God, it actually sounded like Milord was flirting with the woman – like a cat bringing a dead mouse to his mistress. Athos wanted to throw up, but this was hardly the most convenient place for it.

“I ask you to use your own judgement,” the Cardinal said.

She couldn’t know, then. Athos was not sure whether to be relieved or not by this information, but it was clear that Cardinal Richelieu was working with the military needs of the Crown and Solar System as her main priority. She did not know that the agent she had hired was one of the Sun-kissed himself.

She couldn’t know, or she would never give him this opportunity to control the reinforcements for the United Fleet.

“I would not presume to use my own judgement, your Eminence,” said Milord – Auden – Milord, a sharpness edging into his voice. “For such a high profile incident, I shall require protection to ensure I don’t find myself reclassified as ‘a diplomatic liability’ at any time in the future.”

A long pause, after which the Cardinal spoke as if the words were being physically dragged from her. “You might as well tell me exactly what you have in mind, so that we do not speak at cross purposes.”

“I am as you know a devout follower of the Church of All, your Eminence,” said Milord. “I’d like you to sign a contract.”

Another long pause, in which Athos heard his own breathing far too loudly in his ears.

“Milord De Winter,” said the Cardinal finally, on the verge of laughter. “Do you really think it would be appropriate for me to sign a contract ordering the assassination of a public figure and highly popular New Aristocrat?”

“It doesn’t have to be that specific,” said Milord, his own voice dancing as it became clear that he was going to get exactly what he wanted. “But I do require your full protection, should I be caught. A sealed stud declaring that the bearer has done whatever they have done in your name and for the good of the Solar System – that should be enough.”

“Only that?” the Cardinal said. She did laugh this time, though it was a sound without humour in it. “Why, you could commit any murder you liked and be assured of a pardon.”

“Yes,” purred the man that Athos had once loved more than life itself. “I could, couldn’t I? I think I’ll start with Dana D’Artagnan.”

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It was not enough. Not enough to hear that voice, to know for certain that Milord and the Cardinal were working together again, and plotting D’Artagnan’s death, damn it all. No, it was not enough to have the information.

I will stop you. I will end you.

When Athos returned to the hired room, the boy was gone, leaving only a rumpled bedcover and a pillow covered in a fine film of glitter. That saved him from one potentially awkward conversation, at least.

Athos replaced the vent, washed dust from his hands and face, then checked his messages. There were a lot of emoticons on his comms stud from Porthos and Aramis, mostly conveying surprise, impatience, concern, and their mutual belief that he was a dickhead.

From Dana D’Artagnan, he only had a single message: ??

Athos typed ‘a little longer’ to all three of them, then stepped out into the corridor just in time to see the back of the Cardinal and her guards as she swept out of the premises. There was no sign of Milord.
Athos stopped thinking. He didn’t quite black out, but one moment he was standing in the corridor, considering what to do next, and then he was standing before the other door, one hand raised and the sound of his knock still in his ears.

They were doing this, then. Good to know.

His husband opened the door.

There were no semantics in this moment to protect them from the situation. Athos could no longer pretend that he was facing political mastermind and murderous secret agent Milord De Winter, when the tired and sullen man with the silver hair standing before him was quite obviously the snarky troublemaker he had fallen in love with as a student.

He had one moment, one breath in and out to actually feel glad about it, in a terrible sort of way. Then the anger took over, burning a hole through his chest and propelling him forward, into the room before Auden could shut him out.

“You’re here,” his husband said, falling back with his eyes wide and troubled. “Olivier…”

“That’s not my name,” Athos said in a harsh snap. “And believe me, I know the names you’re going by these days, Milord De Winter.” Slate. Perhaps even…hell, yes. Grey, too. He had not put it together before now, but he remembered an oddly compelling, quiet man in service to the Duchess of Buckingham when she first visited Paris as Ambassador as far back as Joyeux. Now that he was standing in the same room as his husband, Athos knew why it was that he had been drawn to that man. The face had been different… but this face, this was so close to his own Auden that it was chilling. Why would a shapechanger risk holding on to the face of a dead man? So many questions.

Milord arched his neck and his startled response bled away, leaving behind a more professional smoothness. “Isn’t it lovely to catch up with old friends,” he said, closing the door behind Athos with a click. “Shall I order in coffee, so we can gossip about the good old days?”

Auden had always been good at turning on that slick, artificial charm. He had used it on professors, on girls trying to flirt with him, on authority figures and members of the close-minded aristocracy who disapproved of their union. He had never before worn his false face at Athos when they were alone together.

And wasn’t that a colossal joke? Because he knew now that all of it had been a false face, every second of it, but Athos kept forgetting that, because the memories blurred together between what he knew now, and what little he had known then.

Husband, criminal, traitor, assassin.

“Are you a devil, then? You’re supposed to be dead.” Athos meant it to be threatening, he did, but instead it came out as something else – half sad, half frustrated. “Why aren’t you dead?”

“That’s rich, coming from you,” snarled Milord. “There’s a grave marker on Valour with the Count de la Fere’s name on it. The land was given up to the Crown years ago.”

“Yes,” said Athos. “But the difference is, I actually remember killing you.”

Milord smiled, and it hurt Athos’ stomach to see that familiar twist of his pretty mouth. “Surprise,” he said, deadpan.

Athos had to seize control of the conversation. It was ridiculous that one person could unnerve him, could bring all the old insecurities pounding back into his head. “My condolences,” he drawled after gathering his dignity around him like a coat. “On the death of your most recent spouse. Delia De Winter, wasn’t it? Was your wife aware that you were still contracted to me when you put the ring on her finger?”

Milord smiled unpleasantly, a new smile Athos had never seen before – something, at least, that did not remind him of their old life together. “Death ended that contract, sweetness.”

“You didn’t die,” Athos ground between his teeth.

“You have no idea what I did,” his husband retaliated. “What I have done.”

That, at least, made Athos laugh. “You’d be surprised at how much I know. You have been creeping back and forth from Paris for months, running errands for the Cardinal. Stealing diamonds, drugging the Duchess of Buckingham, kidnapping Conrad Su, and oh yes, attempting to poison Dana D’Artagnan. Not to mention, five minutes ago, accepting a commission to assassinate a member of the New Aristocracy peerage, but only in exchange for the Cardinal turning a blind eye to a murder of your own. Did you think I wasn’t paying attention?”

Milord’s eyes only widened slightly, as the list – barely a footnote, surely, in comparison to all the rest – of his crimes spilled out from Athos’ mouth. “And you called me a devil,” he said finally, with a tilt of his head. “I rather think you are one.”

“Perhaps,” said Athos. He needed to pace, needed to punch something, needed a sword in one hand and a drink in another. He held himself frighteningly still because if he started to move, they would be fighting, and he would get none of the answers he needed from this man. “Is your ego so fragile that you need to murder children out of revenge for a spoiled plot or two?”

Milord laughed at that, and it was a relief that it didn’t sound like Auden’s laugh at all – it was bright and cold and bitter, and Athos’ husband had been all of those things at one time or another, but he had not laughed like this. “Dana D’Artagnan was a full-grown woman when I took her to my bed. Would you like details?”

“She’s barely twenty,” Athos ground out. “I don’t give a damn about your seductions, but if you try again to harm her, there will not be enough pieces of you left to stage a second miraculous return from the grave.”

Milord leaned back in his chair, humming beneath his breath. “It’s killing you, isn’t it, that you don’t know how I escaped your murder?”

“It was an execution,” Athos replied coldly.

“Tell yourself that, sweetness, if it helps you sleep at night.” Milord’s grey eyes glittered fiercely. “You severed my head from my neck, and you still couldn’t put me down. It’s eating you up inside.”

The only known method for killing one of the Sun-kissed is to sever his head from his body, and burn them both. I did that, it nearly killed me in turn to do it, but I did. What did I do wrong?

Athos threw his arms up in the air, finally losing the temper he had been forcing down for this entire conversation. “Why are you here? Why are you pissing about with the Cardinal’s plots to increase Crown troops, of all things? Shouldn’t you be with your friends on the other side of the war, ready and aiming to shoot us out of the skies? Or are you still spying on us for them?”

“I have no friends,” said Milord, unblinking. “I am not who you think I am. I never was.”

Athos stepped towards him. They were an arm’s length apart. Then a hand’s span. He stopped with barely an inch between their knees, looking down at the seated figure. Milord tipped his head up to maintain eye contact, silver hair falling back over his shoulders. “The grey wall. The alien ships. Your people are at war with ours.”

“I never denied that,” Milord whispered. “But you are assuming a lot, to think that I am working for them.”

It was a lie. Of course it was a lie. Athos slid the arc ray from his belt and pointed it at his husband’s face at close range.

“If you have no loyalty to your people,” he said, allowing a sense of dangerous calm to flood through his body. “Then all you have to bargain for is your own safety. Believe me, I want to shoot you now. Shall we find out how many methods of execution you really are immune from?”

Milord’s eyes flickered, but only a little. “I don’t fear you, sweetness.”

Another lie.

“Give me the stud,” Athos said conversationally. This was an order he was more than comfortable to make.

“What?” Milord was genuinely surprised at that, his eyes still fixed on the weapon. He pulled his gaze away with some difficulty to look Athos in the face instead.

“The sealed stud that the Cardinal gave to you,” Athos elaborated. “I want it.”

Milord hesitated. Athos pressed the barrel of the arc-ray directly between his eyes. The alien spy made a frustrated sound and held out his wrist.

There were a dozen or more studs along the pale skin near the vein (did Sun-kissed even have blood in their veins? There had been so much when Athos severed his head from his body, but perhaps that was a trick too). The one from the Cardinal was obvious – a flat bead of platinum with a red fleur-de-lis stamped into it. Athos peeled it from Milord’s wrist, and let it burrow into his own, before activating it with a finger swipe.

Words glowed in the air above his arm:

It is by my orders and for the good of Crown and Solar System that the bearer of this stud has done what he has done.
Cardinal Richelieu, timestamp 987398Red, identity sealed.

Athos nodded, and stepped away from Milord. “Bite if you can, viper. But you will face judgement for your crimes, just like everyone else in this damned war.”

He had more to say, but every word that wanted to come out of his mouth was too much, would give away information he could not afford to share.

Having the last word was enough for now, because he had realised five minutes ago that he was not capable of killing his husband for a second time, and it was important he not make that weakness too obvious.

Athos, formerly Olivier d’Auteville, the Count de la Fere, left the seedy hotel room and walked away from Milord De Winter without looking back.

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You have been reading Musketeer Space, by Tansy Rayner Roberts. Tune in next week for another chapter! Please comment, share and link. Musketeer Space is free to read, but if you’d like to support the project for as little as $1 per month, please visit my Patreon page. Pledges can earn rewards such as ebooks, extra content, dedications and the naming of spaceships. Milestones already unlocked include the Musketeer Media Monday posts, the Robotech Rewatch posts, and “Seven Days of Joyeux,” a special Christmas prequel novella which was released in December 2014. My next funding milestone will unlock GORGEOUS COVER ART.

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