Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Three Musketeers belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and Alexandre Dumas.
Note: I apologize in advance for my shameless abuse of the French language. If you have any corrections, please tell me.
The woman was Diana la Chasseresse
, a white bow at her shoulder and a silver mask on her face.
He watched her move through the bright-lit chamber, her hair a glory of golden fire under the candlelight. Men and women alike turned to watch as she passed, and he heard the whispers float from corner to corner of the salle
. A gentleman Achille bowed low to her and offered a hand, from which she demurred with such bashful charm that the man, who beneath his own mask was recognizable as a marquis
, was not offended, but rather looked after her beseechingly as she slipped by.
“Who is that?” they whispered, and it was true that she was not anyone he had seen at court before. He would have remembered a woman like her, with that hair and that skin, that rapier-narrow waist.
He matched her progress over the floor, stalking her from the opposite side of the room. She seemed not to notice him or anyone at all, but drifted aimlessly like a leaf on a wind, blind and deaf to the courtiers, men and women alike, who tried to catch her eye for the excuse of making introductions. She would stop for nobody, and when approached by bolder sorts she retreated behind her fan, an intimation which no one had yet been boorish enough to ignore.
The silver mask was a lovely piece, the decadent style unmistakably Venetian. By contrast, her gown was modestly cut, almost a nun's habit, saved from being passe
only by the virtues of its shockingly expensive material and color and the loveliness of the wearer. Radiant in the virginal white of la Chasseresse
, she seemed unaware of her effect on the men who looked at her, or of the attention she was receiving from every pair of eyes in the salle de bal
He wanted to go nearer, but she so determinedly parried every attempt that he felt that it would be useless to try, at least not there. He stared at her recklessly, knowing how unmannerly he was being in looking at her so openly and not caring. Mon Dieu
, that hair! A thousand Parisian women would give their eyeteeth for such hair. And that waist, smaller than he had previously believed any natural woman's waist could be, no matter how tightly they laced their corsets. The other women of the salle
were white with powder and lack of breath, but she was a golden cat to their pinched white mice, the sway of her hips almost scandalous.
Who was she? Surely no one who looked like her, who could afford a mask of silver from Venice, could be completely unknown. He had thought he knew all the peerage, but he could not even begin to guess at this creature's likely origins or patrons. Had someone married abroad? Was she new in Paris, come on the arm of her newlywed husband? The thought was a knife in his flesh.
She was through the salle
, now, and was going through an archway into the hall. He hesitated, that familiar pain not so far away from the moment after all, but then he saw her slow as she exited the room. Her head turned, she looked back over her shoulder, and it almost seemed as if she were looking straight at him.
Then she was gone, leaving behind her a babel of whispers, and his blood boiled so hot that he immediately decamped from his position beside the wall and strode through the archway.
Here it was a hall opening into a series of smaller drawing rooms, most of which hosted bored husbands or the gaming tables, and he saw the fluttering ends of white feathers just slipping through a small, half-concealed door. He hurried to it, arriving in time to almost collide with the man rushing through in the other direction.
“Oh, excuse me,” cried the man, and he had an impression of pale blonde hair, a strident, high-pitched voice, and an expression of sheer panic on a soft, boyish face as the man, shorter than most, hurried by.
He might have stopped to wonder at this, if a short, feminine hiss of “Andre! Arrete!”
had not interrupted his thoughts. He turned, burst through the door into a private sitting room while reaching for the hilt of his sword—and caught her in his arms as she almost knocked into him.
He looked down into wide, green eyes, glowing agates in the silver. Her arms were up and folded against her chest, her fan still held to her face, creating an awkward position. He inhaled an astonishingly sweet scent that made his skin heat and his eyes darken, and a low, growl escaped his throat.
She gasped, tried to stand back—and he held her still, near crushing her against his chest.
The expression on her face, which had begun as one of acute embarrassment, now mingled with outrage. He was enthralled to see her glaring up at him, where any other woman would have been fainting with terror. “Pardonnez-vous,”
she said archly, tone as sharp as the point of a sword. “I think you were expecting someone else!”
“Milady,” he said roughly, without thinking, and there was an echo to that from of address that made his blood chill just a little. He tried again. “Mademoiselle
, forgive me for this.”
He kissed her.
This was not what he had meant to do at all. That he had laid hands on her was a shock to his own senses; that he had not immediately released her and asked her forgiveness was unthinkable. To go a third and final step farther and take such a gross liberty, as he did now, was a crime past bearing.
His left arm, around her waist, pulled her up against him, their bodies so close from breast to hip that an Italian would have gasped to see them. His right, reaching up behind her, put his hand at the back of her head and turned her face up to his, and he realized that the softness that wound in his fingers was the masses of her golden hair.
He felt the light exhalations of her breath, tasted her lips, felt the curves of her breasts pressed against him. He sensed a touch at his face, thought she might be about to lacerate him with her nails, and then felt more than heard the deep, groaning sigh that made her tremble from head to toe, and her hand dropped to rest lightly on his arm. The fan slipped from her fingers and to the floor.
When he managed to make himself break away, she was looking at him in an entirely different fashion. He thought he had never seen breathlessness so suit a woman, and the look in her face and eyes was enough to drive lesser men mad.
“Your name,” he told her, and, though he did not mean to, the words were a command, a stern order rather than a whispered request. “Give me your name.”
Again, her response charmed him. “You
,” she told him, taking the sting from the accusation with her quick breathlessness, her blush. “You go first.”
He sought her mouth again, and when they parted he had backed her against a wall, looming over her quite threateningly. He wanted to tear off his own black mask, throw it and hers into the fire, but that would have required a free hand.
“Your name,” he said into her lips.
“Annette,” she whispered.
He felt some part of himself regain its composure, pull back and restore to him some of his constraint. He straightened to look down at her where she leaned against the wall.
“Are you married?” he demanded, in the same manner he had commanded her name.
She frowned. “No.”
“Widowed?” he continued, mercilessly holding back his hopes. “Affianced? Anglais
“There's nothing wrong with being Anglais
,” she told him, “but, no. I'm not.”
It was true, she spoke French as only a born Parisian could. “Do you know who I am?”
“You'd better not be the king,” she said, and now it was her voice that was heavy with threat. “That's the last thing I need.”
He could not help it. He smiled.
They stood there, close together, looking at each other, and it seemed her expression changed as she looked at him, and he was stricken by the way his heart stirred at her look. He felt a resolve come over him, a resolve all too similar to a moment more than twenty years past but completely unique, too, and for the first time in almost all his adult life, those old ghosts failed to keep him.
“You will come with me,” he told her, and, without waiting for an answer, began to walk to the door, pulling her with him. There was a hesitation, a moment where he thought she would resist and deny him, but then it was gone and she was walking beside him, her hand in his, and he dared to place a hand at the small of her back, a gesture both solicitous and possessive.
Her touch was as light as feathers, and she floated beside him like a breath of air. He could, from this close, see the curve of her cheek beneath the mask, trace the pink buds of her lips. The stomacher of her gown pressed up against her breast and tapered to a small, entrancing point just below where he could envisage the indention of her belly.
She looked up and down the hall when they emerged into it, and indecision briefly filled her face. “I'll find that idiot later,” he heard her mutter, and then she looked up at him and smiled.
They did not go through the salle
. He couldn't bear the thought of sharing anything of her, even a glimpse, with anyone else. He felt like a thief hurrying away into the night, and at the same time like the most jealous of lovers, resentful of even the glance of any eye but his own on her face, a youthful feeling he hadn't known he could still suffer. And now her hair was coming apart and falling onto her shoulders, the consequence of his loss of control, and he had to stop himself from thinking of her in dishabille
, her hair loose and the sheets of the bed disheveled around her. Je le jure!
He was behaving like a lunatic, and he did not care. How his old comrades would laugh at him, the tragic hero turned desperate suitor. He wondered at himself.
But she was nothing like Sabine.
He took her back into the hall and then down to another door, these leading into a foyer that brought them to windows that opened into a garden. The night was hot, a long summer, but late enough that the garden was no longer crowded and those others who were
present wanted discretion more than gossip. He hurried her through it, unwilling to be seen there—to have her
be seen there—in the dark, and it was the work of a moment to get into the front courtyard and then to the gates, where the coachmen waited with the carriages.
His own coachman hardly raised his brows when he appeared so precipitously and with a lady in tow, but the man had always been discreet. “Home,” he said curtly, and, after lifting her into the carriage, too impatient to hand her in, got up after her, and the door shut behind them with a click of the latch.
She sat beside him, glowing white in the moonlight, her hair filaments of bronze. He restrained himself, only brushed the loose hair from her neck and, bowing his head, kissed the flesh between shoulder and collarbone. In that ungainly position, the hilt of his sword jagged him in the ribs.
“Kiss me,” he demanded, and, when she obliged him, thought he might drown in her.
His own maison
was very close by, and they were arrived long before he could do anything more than dishevel her indecently. His coachman remained silent, his manservant said nothing, keeping his eyes low, and he kept no other servants. The lights were doused, the hall quiet, for he kept lights only when he had company, which was seldom, but he knew his way and held her hand to guide her, going up the stairs and along the floor to the door of his own chambre
, where he saw a fire had been laid and his usual Malaga placed on a table.
Only when the doors were closed and she was still there, standing by the spartan bed, did the reality of the situation impress itself upon him. He felt like a hero and a kidnapper—a heroic kidnapper—unable to decide if he was seducing or being seduced. He put his back to the doors and leaned against them, taking a moment to simply look at her.
Anne looked back at him, her mask a silver skin in the firelight. Her hair was completely free now, a river of gold, and her eyes greener than the painter's verdigris.
“Just tonight,” she whispered. “Tomorrow, I'll go, and we'll never see each other again.”
He almost cried out at hearing from her lips what he himself had been thinking, and then was speechless to feel himself grow angrier than he had ever been before, a scorching, explosive feeling that made him shake.
She shivered when he touched her, pressed closer when he pulled her to him. The hilt of the musketeer's blade touched her just below the breast, but she either did not notice or did not care.
He pulled experimentally at laces and ribbons, watched the gown and the stomacher come apart in stages. Underneath it, to his both shock and provocation, he found that she wore no corset at all, and the sight of her standing in the heap of her cast-off white dress, wearing a silver mask and a linen chemise, was enough to make his mouth dry as it never did in dueling or war.
When he embraced her, lifting her off the floor in his arms to kiss her face and neck, she clung to him and slipped a hand beneath his collar.
“My name is Athos,” he whispered into her ear, “and I will never marry you, or fall in love with you.” “Grace a Dieu,”
she moaned, and then he lay her down onto the bed, and tore off her mask.
Author's Note: I feel vaguely...ashamed