Disclaimer – If I owned them there would be no need for missing scenes.
AN – the comment about d'Artagnan's older brother comes from the actual history of the Musketeer on whom Dumas based the character who went to war and died in battle. I liked the symmetry of Athos having lost a younger brother and d'Artagnan having lost an older brother. I could do a lot with that.
Taking Porthos up on his offer of a game of cards it didn't take long for d'Artagnan to realise that the deck wasn't running quite as it should. He would win small amounts, not too much, just enough to encourage him to bet again, and then Porthos would sweep in and clean up. Narrowing his gaze he caught sight of the merest edge of a card up Porthos' cuff.
"I'll take another card, if I may."
Reaching over he took the new card, not from the deck on the table, but from the stash up Porthos' sleeve, placing down his discarded card with an arched brow.
"My hand, I believe."
"You have a good eye." Porthos grinned, impressed that the younger man had noticed what he was doing. He surrendered the pot of money with a rueful shrug. "I told Athos I needed to work on that."
"Will he really drink himself unconscious?" d'Artagnan wondered, glancing across the room to where the Musketeer was working his way through a bottle of wine with grim determination..
"More than likely," Porthos cast his own concerned look over at Athos. "When he gets like this it's as if he can't bear to live with himself."
"For a man so weary of life you and Aramis seemed remarkably determined to save him." d'Artagnan said carefully.
"It's complicated," Porthos scowled, as the matter was closed. Then he seemed to recall that the younger man had himself done a great deal to save the life of a man he thought had killed his father and perhaps deserved some sort of explanation. "Don't get me wrong. He would never take his own life. But a man who feels he has nothing to live for maybe he can find some comfort in serving others. But then if he happens to die in combat then maybe so be it."
"And that is why Athos became a Musketeer?" d'Artagnan frowned. "To serve others but loose himself along the way?"
"Perhaps why he chose to be a soldier," Porthos allowed. "Not what he found."
"What did he find?"
"Brothers," Porthos declared. "Brothers who gave a damn what happened to him, who relied upon him to watch their backs, who would follow his lead without a thought. Aramis and I have always done what we can to save him from himself. Duty keeps him focused. And he would do anything in his power for a friend."
"Is that so?" d'Artagnan mused, before picking up the bottle of wine and rising to his feet.
"Whatever you're thinking," Porthos stopped him with a hand on his arm and a warning look. "I wouldn't."
"Trust me," d'Artagnan smiled beatifically. "Come on."
Shaking his head slightly at the boy's foolishness Porthos nonetheless levered himself to his feet and followed him across to where Athos was drinking alone. Porthos knew Athos would never actually hurt the boy, but at times like these the Musketeer's tongue could be as sharp as a rapier, as if it was impossible for him to keep all the seething loathing he was feeling for himself inside. His friends had learnt not to take his sharp words to heart and to graciously accept his apologies on those rare occasions when he actually remembered what he had said. The Gascon had no idea what he was walking into.
"I'm in no mood for company, d'Artagnan." Athos warned, as the young man approached his table, Porthos hovering at his shoulder.
"Forgive me, but I wondered if you both would do me the honor of drinking a toast to my father," Even as he spoke d'Artagnan was pulling up a chair and pouring the wine, deliberately making it harder for Athos to rebuff him with any degree of courtesy. "I confess, I have been so busy chasing justice for his killer I've not had a chance to raise a glass to his memory and as you were generous enough to supply this wine, and I have no one else I might presume upon in Paris it would mean a great deal if you would drink with me."
"That's quite a speech." Athos observed dryly, looking over d'Artagnan's shoulder at Porthos.
"And a clever one," Porthos noted, as he pulled up a chair in his turn, knowing by the way that Athos' shoulders had loosened slightly and his gaze had focused that the young words had been aptly judged to soften the edges of his friend's dark mood. "Perhaps you could make your fortune as a writer or a poet?"
"What's this?" Athos asked, sat up a little straighter, and put his wine glass down, as he looked between the two men.
"d'Artagnan here is in need of a new career," Porthos spoke up.
"Is that so?" Athos gave the younger man a sharp look.
D'Artagnan felt his cheeks color slightly as he realized what the other man might be thinking. A taste of adventure and the sights and sounds of the big city and he was ready to abandon his family and responsibilities and run away to become a soldier.
In that moment he realized just how important this man's good opinion was to him. As soon as he had crossed swords with Athos he had realized he was dueling with a master. And yet Athos had spared his life. Not once, but twice. First when he had refused to slit his throat and second when he had refused to take revenge for the knife thrown in fury at his retreating back. He had acted with nothing but honor and courage.
He reminded d'Artagnan a little of the father he had worshiped and he was loath to disappoint him.
"Farming is a difficult business," d'Artagnan forced himself to meet Athos steady gaze as he chose his words carefully. "Rains can destroy a year's work of work in a matter of weeks. Disease can wipe out your entire herd. And then there are the new taxes which everyone is struggling to pay. The farm wasn't doing well before we lost my father. To settle his affairs I'll probably need to sell the lands, it will be enough for a small legacy but that won't last long."
"And your family?" Athos enquired.
"My mother died when I was small. My elder brother went off to the wars and never returned," d'Artagnan shrugged, his eyes hooded. "I'm not even sure if he is dead or alive. My father saw to it that all my sisters married well. Without the farm to provide a livelihood if I return home I will only be a burden to them."
"I've been meaning to ask," Porthos put in. "How come a Gascon farm boy is so skilled with a sword?"
"My father worried there was no future in farming. He wanted to ensure that my brother and I had a board enough education to make our way in the world if need be," d'Artagnan's face twisted, as if recalling a family disagreement. "After my brother left home I think he rather regretted that I had such an appetite for it."
"Or such an aptitude?" Athos enquired mildly, causing d'Artagnan to blush deeply at the compliment from a man whose own skill with a blade he so admired. The two Musketeer's exchanged a tolerant glance at the vivid reminder of how truly young he was.
"A man who is skilled with a blade can always find ways to make a living," Porthos put in. "Especially if you ain't too fussy."
"No offence," d'Artagnan softened his words with a smile as he nodded slightly at the cards still tucked in the Musketeer's sleeve. "But I would prefer to come by an honest living if I can."
"Soldiering is honest work. Maybe, we could arrange an introduction with Treville?" Porthos looked at Athos.
"Perhaps," Athos was making no promises as he gave d'Artagnan a shrewd look, which belied the amount of alcohol he had consumed. "When you parry you can leave yourself open to the left. That's a dangerous trait if you will insist on challenging strangers to duels."
"I'll try to remember that," D'Artagnan nodded respectfully, in gratitude for the advice.
"Better to correct the fault." Athos declared.
Lifting his glass, he met d'Artangon's eyes steadily, before across glancing at Porthos, who also raised his glass. "To Alexander d'Artagnan, may he rest in peace."
"Alexander d'Artagnan." The others toasted.
Placing his empty glass on the table Athos watched as Porthos put a comforting hand on D'Artagnan's shoulder and both Musketeers pretended not to see the tears welling in their young friend's eyes. Now that the excitement was over and he had found justice for his father, d'Artagnan was painfully reminded that he was all alone in the world.
"Meet me at the garrison at day break tomorrow and I'll teach you how to parry like a Musketeer." Athos' voice cut into his maudlin thoughts.
Casting a glance at the still half full bottle of wine Athos resolutely looked away, before nodding his farewell to Porthos and taking his leave.
"Well, that's a first," Porthos marveled. "He left before the wine was out. He must be pretty serious about teaching you."
"Should I be worried?" d'Artagnan frowned.
"Naw," Porthos shook his head, as he poured them both a top up of wine. "Unlike some Athos believes that the young learn better through encouragement than humiliation. You're in good hands."
The next morning d'Artagnan could not help but feel a little nervous as he approached the Musketeer's garrison. He knew he had been well taught and had something of a talent for the sword. But Athos was older and more experienced. Add to which Porthos had kept him later at the tavern than he was used to and his head was pounding.
Still it was with a pang of disappointment that he saw only Aramis and Porthos waiting for him.
"Athos sends his apologies." Aramis greeted him. "He is engaged on the King's business. But he asked Porthos and I to fulfil his obligation to you. Our instructions are to put you through your paces. See what you are made of."
"Um, both of you?" d'Artagnan looked between them with a degree of trepidation, wondering if he was about to be punished for his previously audacity in wanting to fight all three.
"Only one at a time, this time." Aramis smiled encouragingly.
"Me first," Porthos stepped forward.
The sword play was fast and fierce. d'Artagnan's face was furrowed in concentration as he strove to keep up with the seasoned soldier. Unseen by the men below the sound of blade on blade brought Treville out of his office to watch proceedings in the courtyard when the fight was brought to an abrupt halt by Porthos aiming a sturdy kick right between d'Artagnan's legs.
"Ouch!" d'Artagnan yelped, as the blow made agonising contact and his legs gave out under him.
"Lesson number one," Porthos gave him a moment to catch his breath and then held out a hand to help him to his feet. "Never expect your opponent to fight fair. In a duel the only thing that matters is not getting killed."
"I'll bear that in mind," d'Artagnan swallowed hard, as he struggled to his feet, wincing visibly at the pain, but still readying his sword to begin again.
Aramis and Porthos exchanged a swift look of approval. They had seen many a raw recruit carefully schooled in swordplay, but lacking the steel required of a soldier falter, when faced with the gritty reality of battle. d'Artagnan was young and impetuous but he was also resolute and courageous, traits of a man who could be relied upon to watch his comrade's backs in combat.
"Alright, time for a little more finesse," Aramis stepped forward and unsheathed his blade in his turn. "Let us look at your footwork."
In contrast to the raw power of crossing blades with Porthos, sparring with Aramis was almost like a dance. At first, d'Artagnan wasn't sure whether to focus on meeting blade to blade or keeping up with the elaborate ballet of movement that the Musketeer seemed to execute without conscious thought. Still his confidence began to grow as he began to match the soldier move for move, until suddenly, without warning, Aramis swept his feet out from under him and dumped him unceremoniously on his backside in the dirt.
"Lesson number two," Aramis helped him to his feet and politely dusted him off, before clapping him warmly on the shoulder. "Over confidence has been the death of many a good man."
"Duly noted," d'Artagnan nodded slowly, still feeling the impact of both "lessons". "And if I forget, I'm sure that the bruises on my bruises will be sufficient reminder."
The three men grinned at each other in a moment of perfect accord. Aramis patted d'Artagnan on the back and Porthos gripped his arm firmly. That simple human contact warmed the younger man beyond measure. Still reeling from the loss of his father, he relished the sense of fraternity and it made him ache to belong.
It was, he knew, an impossible dream. He did not have the training or the experience to become a Musketeer. He did not even have a relative who might recommend him to posting in the King's Guard's. And he certainly did not have the money it would cost to pay for the teachers and equipment he would need to achieve such a goal.
"Aramis, Porthos," A man with an unmistakable military bearing and an air of command, strode across the courtyard, nodding in greeting at the Musketeers, before casting an enquiring glance at the stranger in their midst.
"Captain Treville, may I present Monsieur d'Artagnan of Gascony, d'Artagnan, this is Captain Treville Commander of the King's Musketeers." Aramis made the introductions.
"d'Artagnan?" Treville frowned. "Wasn't that the name of the man Athos was wrongly accused of murdering?"
"Alexandre d'Artagnan," the young man nodded politely. "He was my father."
"d'Artagnan helped us clear Athos' name and see justice done." Aramis cut in swiftly. They had all agreed that as d'Artagnan was not actually a Musketeer that it was best not to bring attention to the fact that he was the one who had killed Gaudet.
"My condolences," Treville gave a sharp nod, before moving onto to what had drawn him down the stairs from his office. "You have some talent with a blade Monsieur D'Artagnan. I wonder if you might be interested in an enterprise in the service of your King?"