Disclaimer – If I did own them there would be more than ten episodes.
AN - I have not written anything in a long while. But this series has such potential. Who can resist?
D'Artagnan had followed the two Musketeers out of his lodgings without a second thought. Any enterprise that might banish his shame at failing his father had been more than welcome. With a single mindedness borne of sheer determination he had ignored the protests of his battered body as he had mounted his horse. But as they traveled out of Paris each stride of his horse send waves of agony through his battered body. Despite the bitterly cold morning he felt unaccountably warm and had to keep his jaw clenched tight shut against repeated waves of nausea.
Grateful at least that the two Musketeers were riding side by side a little way ahead and thus were oblivious to his discomfort, d'Artagnan tried to force himself to focus on something else. He remembered riding hard along this road, urging his horse onwards towards Paris, full of grief and anger at his father's senseless murder, Athos' name echoing in his mind and revenge burning in his heart. And not a thought as to what would come after. Now only a day later he was re-tracing his steps with everything he'd thought he understood was thrown into confusion.
He had known when he challenged Athos that it might be the death of him. The man was a Musketeer after all. He had not expected the seasoned soldier to show him any clemency. Not when he had been the one to issue the challenge. At the time he had not stopped to consider how remarkable it was that he had been able to keep up with the Musketeer, especially as he was already injured. The compassion in Athos' eyes when he had pinned him to the wall had raised the first stirrings of doubt.
"Don't make me kill you over a mistake."
But at the time he had been too driven by his grief to stay his hand. d'Artagnan closed his eyes against the memory. Throwing a knife at an opponent's retreating back, even if he had not intended it to find its mark, was not the action of an honourable man. And yet even when Athos, (and his friends), had had him entirely at his mercy, he had still walked away. Nor did d'Artagnan think that a man who murdered in cold blood, would have meekly surrendered himself and his weapon, merely out of respect for his Captain.
"I'm not the man you're looking for."
"Are your ribs bothering you?"
D'Artagnan blinked and realized that the two Musketeers had dropped back to flank him on either side. On his left, the taller of the two was looking at him with a solicitous expression. d'Artagnan felt himself color slightly at having been caught so completely off guard.
"That usually means it's something." The handsome dark skinned man to his right observed blandly.
"It's nothing for you to worry about," d'Artagnan insisted. "I can still fight."
He was slightly surprised when, without any apparent communication between them, the two Musketeers reached out as one, and each put a hand on his reins, bringing his horse to a halt.
"Let us begin again," the taller man decided. "I am Aramis and my friend over here is Porthos. We assume from your spirited defence of your father that you are d'Artagnan. Now putting aside that fact that sparring with Athos is exertion enough to test the best of men, you don't strike us as the kind of person who would have stood idly by as your father was murdered. So let me ask you again, are your ribs bothering you?"
"If I was you I would let Aramis take a look at you. He has good hands. He's patched us all up at some time or another. And if we do have to fight, we would both feel better knowing you can stay on your feet, rather than faint like a girl." Porthos softened his words with a smile.
"Well, since you put it so nicely." D'Artagnan scowled at him.
Steering the horses into a small clearing d'Artagnan realized with dismay how much his body had stiffened up during the journey. Dismounting from his horse was going to hurt, pressing his lips together d'Artagnan braced himself as he lowered himself down as slowly and gently as possible. Even so, the impact with the frozen ground jarred him and he was forced to lean heavily against his horse to stay upright as black spots danced before his eyes.
"Whoa, easy there," A large hand caught him under the elbow, steadying him. "I think you better sit down."
Nodding his thanks, d'Artagnan let himself be helped towards a convenient rock and sank gratefully onto the smooth surface, his eyes widened slightly as he saw the extensive medical supplies Aramis was placing beside him.
"You really have done this before."
"A wounded man can easily become a dead one without swift and proper treatment," Aramis returned, as he began to help d'Artagnan to remove his jacket and shirt with careful hands. "It does not do to travel un-prepared."
"Athos and I would both be dead long ago if it wasn't for Aramis' skill." Porthos agreed, as he moved about the clearing gathering wood and set about laying a small fire to combat the worst of the winter chill. On the one hand d'Artagnan was quite glad of the cold and the way it helped numb the pain. What he had not considered was how stark the dark black bruises would look against his shivering skin as his shirt was removed.
"This is your idea of nothing?" Aramis raised a brow.
Drawn by his friend's protest, Porthos rose to his feet from tending the fire to inspect the damage in his turn, his low whistle of dismay testimony to the depth of his feelings.
"That's gotta hurt." He decided.
"It's nothing compared to the feeling that I have failed my father," d'Artagnan shook his head miserably, barely aware of the fact that Aramis' deft hands were already dabbing at his bruises, tending to his wounds and then wrapping his ribs with lengths of soft, cotton, cloth. "My only concern now is to seek justice for him."
"Athos didn't kill your father, d'Artagnan," Aramis spoke kindly as he continued his ministrations. "If he were free he would be the first to help you seek justice. Which means that the man who did this not only destroyed your life but set out to destroy the life and reputation of one of the very best of men."
"You truly believe he is innocent." d'Artagnan realised. "But if Athos did not kill my father why would the murderer chose to blacken his name?"
"We have no idea," Aramis admitted. "Athos is one of the most honourable men you will ever meet. He may be a soldier but he would never kill without reason."
"Musketeer's ain't murderers," Porthos agreed. "Not to mention he was with both of us when your father was killed."
"Better?" Aramis asked, as he finished tending to d#'Artagnan's wounds.
"Much," d'Artagnan realised, as he took a careful breathe and found the searing agony reduced to a dull throb. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Aramis smiled as he started to help d'Artagnan back into his shirt and jacket.
The Gascon was forced to close his eyes tightly as a wave of nausea washed over him. Therefore he missed the look of concern that passed between Aramis and Porthos at the decidedly green tinge to his complexion. Looking at the younger man's bowed head both men felt a wash of sympathy for all the younger man had been forced to endure these last few days.
"When did you last eat?" Aramis demanded suddenly.
"Um," d'Artagnan managed.
"That's never the right answer." Porthos observed.
Thinking back, d'Artagnan realized it had been some time since his last proper meal. The entrails he had been served at the inn hardly counted as nourishment. Immediately after his father's death he had had no appetite at all. The last time he could remember sitting down to eat with any clarity was looking into his father's eyes crinkling with good humor across the breakfast table.
A wave of grief was followed by the bitter sting of bile rising unexpectedly in his throat, forcing him forward onto his hands and knees to expel the sour tasting liquid, staining the fresh white snow. He was dimly aware of Aramis hands supporting him and Porthos footsteps moving back and forth on a serious of errands leaving tracks in the snow. When it was finally over and he sank back onto his haunches, it was to see a bowl of warm clear broth placed under his nose.
"Eat up," Porthos advised with gruff kindness. "It'll help."
"Shouldn't we keep moving?" d'Artagnan had no wish to be a burden and time was surely of the essence if these men were to save their friend. "Athos is due to be executed in the morning."
"And you will be no use to us in identifying the perpetrators if you are dead," Aramis pointed out bluntly. As Porthos rolled his eyes Aramis had the grace to look embarrassed and amended his words. "Forgive me it has been a difficult day, I mean dead on your feet, of course."
"Of course," D'Artagnan conceded politely.
"A soldier always makes time to eat. A man can't wield a blade if he is weak from hunger." Porthos added, passing another bowl to Aramis and taking another for himself. "Athos taught me that, taught me a whole lot of things he has. And never asks more of any man than he would ask of himself."
"He has the speech and manner of an educated man," d'Artagnan spoke carefully, not sure of his ground. "How is it he found his way to be a soldier?"
"Some questions you don't ask." Porthos advised looking d'Artagnan in the eye so he could see the seriousness of his intent. "But I'd follow him to hell and back. No questions asked. Now drink your broth before it gets cold."
Obediently d'Artagnan drank a mouthful of the broth cautiously, waiting to see if its comforting warmth would rest easy in his stomach. The two Musketeer's settled on either side of him, Porthos slurping noisily at his own share of broth whilst Aramis simply rolled his bowl anxiously between his fingers. D'Artagnan felt a pang of sympathy as he realized the man was preoccupied with thoughts of his friend.
"I don't suppose they feed prisoners all that well." He offered tentatively.
Aramis gave him a sideways look, one eyebrow arched, as if surprised by his compassion for the man who only scant hours earlier he had been trying to kill. But then his expression melted in to a rueful smile.
"Even if they did, Athos would most likely abstain, the man has elevated suffering almost to an art form."
"Oh?" d'Artagnan frowned.
"It's complicated," Aramis shook his head, before making a face and raising the bowl to his lips, forcing down his now cold broth. "If we manage to save his save his life I will tell you what we know. Let's just say I would rather he had no more reason to feel the universe was against him."
D'Artagnan took a careful breath, still feeling the benefit of Aramis's medical attention and the warmth of Porthos' broth in his stomach. Coming to Paris he had not expected to find such kindness at the hands of strangers. Nor such compassion from men whose first loyalty was to the Musketeer he had tried to kill. His father had always told him that the worth of a man could be measured by those he could call friends.
If that was the case, then Athos must be one of the finest of men, d'Artagnan decided. He sincerely hoped that he would have the chance to know him better.
First, there was just the small matter of saving his life to attend to.