Title: A Restlessness in Common
Chapters: 15 of ?
Disclaimer: I do not own the The Three Musketeers, D'Artagnan, their friends or their enemies. If you recognise something, it's probably not mine. I'm just having fun.
Aramis studies the older musketeer's face. He's known him for many years and thought he knew every facial expression Athos has, but this one is new even to him. His friend's face is shuttered, closed off and frighteningly cold. Aramis has always joked that he wouldn't like to get on the wrong side of Athos but right now he's wondering if his question was out of place.
When Athos opens his mouth to answer, Aramis doesn't know what he's expecting – a tale of battles and treachery, of gallantry and morals. He's surprised by Athos' first words.
"Before I came to Paris I lived a very different life. A quiet life. I bothered no-one and no-one bothered me. Or so I thought."
There is a long silence, so long that Aramis begins to wonder if Athos has forgotten he's there. He doesn't want to shatter the moment but there's a bubble in his chest that's desperate to break free. He tries to stifle the cough but fails miserably as a wet, rasping hack forces its way past his lips. He wishes his hands were free so he could wipe the spittle off his chin, embarrassed by the sight he must present to Athos.
Athos frowns and Aramis is puzzled by his comrade's expression. But his confusion is soon pushed to the back of his mind, conquered by the sudden and agonizing pain ripping through his chest, starting in his lungs and sending tendrils of hurt down every fibre of his very being. He doubles up as best he can, coughing uncontrollably until he's left gasping for breath, tears running down his face, spittle covering his chin.
For a brief moment he forgets where he is, everything has paled into insignificance in light of this new sensation. Then a touch on his shoulder has him rocketing back to reality. He feels a hand in his hair and tenses, ready for the brutal yank he's become accustomed to. But it doesn't come. Fingers curl gently through the long locks and Aramis wishes his hair were cleaner. It's a ridiculously random thought, given the circumstances, and he laughs, slightly hysterically.
Then his head is pulled gently upwards until he is eye to eye with Athos. Through watery eyes he sees concern and a cleverly concealed panic. Anyone else, he muses, would miss the fear in Athos' eyes but Aramis has fought and played alongside this man for so long there's very little hidden any more.
"Aramis…" The older musketeer trails off as he manipulates Aramis' head from side to side, studying him intensely, so intensely Aramis begins to feel like a specimen in a mortician's catacomb.
Then Athos pulls his shirt free from his breeches and in one swift move he rips the fabric. With a tenderness that many, most even, would believe impossible from the man, Athos dabs gently at Aramis' face, wiping away the cough induced saliva. Aramis tries to nod in thanks but Athos is looking at the cloth in his hand.
"You're bleeding," he states, showing Aramis the soiled cloth. "Where are you hurt?"
Aramis frowns. His ribs hurt; his head hurts; his back hurts. He thinks it might be easier to tell his friend where it doesn't hurt.
"It doesn't matter," Athos assures him and Aramis starts, realising he'd drifted somewhere along the line. Athos' hand is no longer in his hair but instead he can feel firm but gentle touches over his scalp, down his neck, over his shoulders and finally, painfully, over his ribs.
He can't help the sharp intake of breath as Athos finds a particularly tender spot which, in turn, sets off another bout of coughing.
"I'm sorry," Athos mutters but Aramis needs more than platitudes to take his mind off the pain. Athos is lifting his shirt to inspect the damaged flesh of his torso and Aramis steels himself for the spikes of agony he knows are going to accompany the soldier's ministrations, no matter how tender he tries to be.
"Tell me about your 'quiet life'," he gasps, screwing his eyes shut in preparation for Athos' field medicine.
Athos pauses, fingers grazing Aramis' brutalised body. His hand comes to rest above his heart. "There was a woman," he starts and Aramis wishes he had the energy to make a smart comment. "We were very much in love, or so I thought." He prods gently at Aramis' ribs, murmuring apologies when Aramis can't hold back a whimper. "She was everything I ever wanted," he continues. "Beautiful, graceful, intelligent, funny. I had our future planned – we would be happy in the countryside, just us and our children, surrounded by friends and family."
He stops and Aramis opens his eyes, wondering when he closed them. Athos is sitting back on his haunches, studying him intensely and Aramis tries to conjure up a winning smile. He knows he's failed when Athos frowns.
"I should stop," he decides. "You need to sleep."
Aramis can't quite explain the sudden panic those words provoke in him. He knows he's safe, knows Athos won't willingly let any harm come to him but he can't do it. He can't close his eyes in this place. The coughing has diminished and Athos doesn't look too worried right now and although the pain in his chest has set up a constant, strong throb.
"No!" he exclaims, a little more vehemently than he'd meant to. "No," he repeats, more softly. "Please. I need to hear your voice. Tell me more about her." He hates the pathetic tone in his request and he tries not to care but it seems that's just one more thing he can't do any more.
Athos sighs. "Her name was Anne," he murmurs. "She came to live on my estate with her brother, the local priest. She was carefree in a way I longed to be and before I knew it I was in love. We married shortly after – her brother performed the ceremony. I truly believed my life was perfect."
Aramis finds himself nodding in silent agreement, his thoughts wandering back to a time when he thought he'd found perfect love. He smiles ruefully, remembering lost love and the life he thought he'd wanted.
Athos is still speaking and Aramis screws up his brow in an effort to concentrate on what his friend is saying. Things are becoming difficult follow and he's putting it down to extreme exhaustion but he knows telling this story is hard for Athos and he won't do him the discourtesy of passing out half way through the tale.
"It turns out she wasn't who she said she was," Athos is saying. "Neither was her brother. She was a killer, Aramis. Nothing more than a common criminal, a mistress of deceit. I don't even know if she loved me. She and the priest were lovers, not brother and sister." He stops and takes a deep breath. "When I discovered her past, I did what any law abiding citizen would have done, even though it destroyed me. The executioner took her."
Athos stops and Aramis can't think of a single thing he can say to him. In other circumstances he would pull the older man into a manly hug even though Athos is the least tactile person he knows. He wants to do something but his chest is suddenly inexplicably tight again and there's another coughing fit knocking on the door.
When it's over, he's doubled over again – and how old is this becoming? Athos is rubbing his back and dabbing at his face again with that stained scrap of fabric that Aramis really, really, doesn't want to look at. He thinks there are more words of comfort falling from his friend's lips but he can feel another bout rising up through his chest.
And he knows that he's not going to get through this next bout and come out of it on the right side of consciousness.