Warnings: Character Death; Drunkenness; Grief.
Notes: Written for flypretties for her birthday. She asked for Portamis and tragedy.
For Want of a Needle
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
Athos sat at his usual table in the tavern, lingering in the shadows beyond the firelight as had long been his custom. But he was not drunk.
He had not been drunk in a very long time.
No, these days it was Aramis who spent the evenings in a blind stupor, pouring wine down his gullet until he needed to be carried home. Athos watched him now, swaying lightly in his seat, D'Artagnan sitting close to keep Aramis from falling out of his chair.
Athos could have gotten drunk. He could have kept to his ways, the only way he knew to cope. To mourn. D'Artagnan would have looked after the pair of them. But Athos would not do that to the boy.
And he owed it to Porthos to care for Aramis.
Sensing it was time, Athos rose and approached the table where Aramis sat. D'Artagnan gave him a wary look, and Athos nodded to him, to put him at ease. He was prepared if Aramis took a swing. It had only caught him off guard the first time.
Aramis had never been a violent drunk before they lost Porthos.
Athos laid his hand on Aramis' shoulder. "Come on. It's time you were home."
Aramis blinked. He was slow to respond. Slow to look up. When he did, and his eyes focused on Athos' face, his lips curled into a sneer. "Oh. It's you."
"Yes," Athos said.
He didn't mind Aramis' anger. Aramis could never hate Athos more than Athos hated himself.
He pulled Aramis to his feet and got one of the man's arms around his shoulders.
"Do you need help?" D'Artagnan asked, his eyes wide and wounded. It hurt Athos to look at him.
He couldn't bear the trust he saw there. He didn't deserve it.
"Not tonight, I think," he answered, steering Aramis towards the door.
He was able to get Aramis home to his rooms quickly that evening. Aramis was too drunk to fight him, too drunk even to hurl insults. That suited Athos well enough, for though Athos had earned every blow and more, Aramis always felt badly for it in the morning.
Athos laid Aramis down on the bed and removed the other man's weapons and boots, so that Aramis could rest more comfortably. And he was struck again by just how often Porthos had done this for Athos himself. Porthos, his friend who had never once asked for anything in return.
He was busy building up the fire when he heard Aramis' voice.
"Why do you do this?"
Athos looked over his shoulder. Aramis was gazing at him through slitted eyes, his dark hair hanging over his forehead in a mess of curls. His shirt hung open, the laces unstrung. The sight of him made Athos wonder again if what he suspected was true.
"Why haven't you taken a lover since he died?"
Aramis let out a long sigh and sank back on the bed. Athos turned back to the fire.
"I think you know why."
The words shattered the stillness. Athos had never truly expected an answer. He faced Aramis, saying, "There's no longer any need to keep up appearances."
Aramis' silence was confirmation enough.
Athos stood, dusting ash from his hands. "I do this to honor his memory. Because he would do it, if he were here."
"If he were here, there would be no need."
Unable to meet Aramis' eyes, Athos looked away, to the room's single window, to the dark night beyond. But whether he witnessed Aramis' wretchedness or not, he could not keep the memories of that day from haunting him. From haunting them all.
What's the matter with you? Don't you care about Porthos?
And where would you have me take him? The closest village is a day's ride behind us!
"If only I'd let you make camp," Athos said.
Then we camp here! Or we find somewhere. We go back. He will die, Athos.
Aramis snorted. "I should have tried to stitch him up anyway."
Put him on the wagon. We'll go ahead as planned. If we come across so much as a shack, we will stop so that you can tend Porthos.
"You did all you could, Aramis. You'd never have been able to manage it with him awake and the wagon rattling. The dim light and the small space…"
Aramis shook his head. "Sometimes I think I see his blood on my hands still. If only I'd bound the wound tighter." He gave a strangled laugh that turned into a choked sob. "I should have done more. I should have done more than hold him as he died."
Athos squeezed his eyes shut. "And I should have died in his place."
"I would that you had."
The words would have been easier to dismiss if they were spat in rage. Instead Aramis said them with a sort of resigned wistfulness, a quiet desperation that expected no relief. They pierced Athos through the chest, echoing down into the place where he used to have a heart, before his wife, before Porthos, before so many things.
Seconds after he uttered the oath, Aramis' expression changed from sorrowful to stricken. "Athos, I – "
"Hush," Athos said, heading for the door. "I'll see you in the morning."