It had just been another typical Parisian evening with the four best Musketeers in the garrison. Of course, that in itself was a combination for disaster. The four men had just finished their duties for the day and were cheerfully meandering toward the nearest bar, chatting jovially to one another; Aramis and Porthos titling childishly whilst Athos quirked an eyebrow and d'Artagnan rolled his eyes at their antics. Athos subtly increased his pace to distance himself from the two fools but when d'Artagnan attempted to follow his mentor's lead, Porthos nudged Aramis in the ribs with his elbow before rushing forward and trapping the Gascon in an amicable headlock. Surprised by the attack, d'Artagnan was pulled easily forward, bent forward so that he was incredibly off balance and unable to break his friend's firm grip. Athos smiled as Aramis fell into step beside him and d'Artagnan tried unsuccessfully to escape the large Musketeer as Porthos laughed deeply and yanked the younger man around after him. A few civilians smiled as the group passed but the majority avoided them, pressing up to the buildings cautiously, recognising them as no mere rowdy gentlemen on their way to whichever tavern would take them.
They were reaching the end of the street, darker in the growing twilight that shrouded the city like a greying world of ghosts. Distracted by their fun, the others took no notice as people sifted past them in their dreary way, like phantoms, but one person caught d'Artagnan's eye as he rounded the corner ahead and walked toward them. Whether it was the bearded man's purposeful stride, or the determined set in his eyes or perhaps just the fates, an oppressive weight settled in the young man's gut and he narrowed his eyes at the approaching figure, noticing perhaps too late the glint of silver in his hand aimed towards Porthos' torso. Without a thought, without hesitation, d'Artagnan barrelled into Porthos' side with his shoulder sending him tumbling aside whilst the youngest Musketeer simultaneously reached into his belt and expertly delivered a shot right to the other man's gut, his hand on the man's shoulder as he held him back and stared into his dark, hateful eyes and felt a pressure against his torso.
Aramis and Athos shouted out as the man dropped from d'Artagnan's grip, still and glassy eyed, and d'Artagnan watched him crumple in a boneless heap, dumbstruck as his brain struggled to catch up with his own actions. A moment later and he was dragged backwards, the sound of another musket shot ricocheting through the street as screams erupted and men and women alike ducked for the cover of the buildings and more gunfire echoed in d'Artagnan's ears.
Athos' warning spurred d'Artagnan into action as Aramis' fingers gripped the leather of his jacket tightly and pulled him behind an abandoned cart and the Gascon finally noticed the group of bandits suddenly bursting from their own concealed spaces, emerging from the crowd as though they had been invisible. Porthos had managed to scramble across the mud and reach safety in the doorway of one of the houses, Athos in a similar position a couple of doors down as dust sprayed from the walls and they sought for protection from the onslaught of bullets. The wood beside d'Artagnan's face splintered, spraying him in sharp needles and he turned his head from the barrage.
Aramis looked pale as he pushed himself back into the hard wood and pulled his musket from his waist "Where did they come from?"
"I don't know," d'Artagnan admitted breathlessly, turning his head to peer at the other two Musketeer "We have to get to Porthos out of here; I think they're after him."
"We have to save his ass again, huh? This tale better be a good one...and it better be told over at least three rounds of drinks." the other commented with a flash of a nervous smile, carefully rolling a bullet down the barrel.
"You won't find me declining free drinks and a good story. On three?"
"Smart boy, we've taught you well. On three."
They nodded to one another, determination glinting in each of their eyes as they steadied themselves.
Bursting from cover, d'Artagnan fired a shot which took down one of the closest men before sprinting over toward a back alley whilst Aramis' covered him with his deadly shot. Seeing their move, Athos and Porthos broke their own pathetic excuse for shelter and fell back alongside him; Athos forcing Porthos ahead of his as he distracted their attackers so that Aramis could follow more safely. Finally out of sight of their assailants, shouts suddenly filled the air as the Musketeers tore through a labyrinth of winding passages between streets and houses in an attempt to find a suitable position to defend themselves. Porthos overtook d'Artagnan when the young man turned into a dead end, running ahead down another pathway as the Gascon followed.
Heat flared in d'Artagnan's side and he stumbled, falling against the edge of one of the crumbling brick walls and hissed as his mind was overloaded with sudden pain. d'Artagnan's hands slipped to reach for the source, looking down to see his shirt and coat were soaked and dripping a vivid crimson, leaving a river running down his trousers and trailing across the dusty cobbles. The air felt like it was knocked from his lungs as he saw the wound, adrenaline pump fading like a slap to the face and a bone deep fatigue filling the vacuum, making his vision dim and he slid down the wall to the floor, his legs unable to take the strain. Athos had skidded to a halt when the Gascon has collided with the wall and had just gathered his wits enough to reach out to him when he collapsed. The elder man managed to bark something at Porthos before Aramis almost crashed into him, looking ruffled and panting for breath as Athos quickly dropped to his knees.
"d'Artag-" the words cut off when he saw the blood beginning to pool around the young man "d'Artagnan! Talk to me!"
Seeing his friend was bleeding heavily, Aramis' medical instincts kicked in and he quickly crouched to examine the wound "He's losing a lot of blood! I need to tend to this now!"
"'thos…'Mis…r'n…" d'Artagnan gasped as he struggled to stay conscious and Aramis hastily tore at his sleeve and pushed it hard against the wound.
The sound of voices and thudding of boots told of their aggressors approach and Porthos' eyes were wild as he tracked movement further down the alley "I hate to remind you but we've got to go!"
Aramis looked up sharply, but Athos' never left the young boy's face as his eyes locked tenderly with the wet brown orbs and he softly urged his little brother to stay awake. The medic's eyes fell upon a small alcove and he pointed quickly.
"There! Get me in there and I'll help d'Artagnan; but I can't fight and save his life."
"Leave the fighting to us, Aramis." Athos did not spare a glance to his friend as he slipped his arms beneath the boy and lifted the surprisingly light figure carefully into his arms "Save d'Artagnan and we will take care of everything else."
"But they're after Porth-" Aramis began to protest as he rose quickly and followed
"Have you such little faith in me, Aramis?" Porthos managed a breathless snort, gun up as he moved backwards with the group, watchful eyes on the corner of the alley "Don't worry about me; I'll be fine."
Reassured, Aramis did not argue again, only rushing after Athos as the man turned into the small recess and slowly set the injured man down, standing up to removed his jacket before sliding it under d'Artagnan's head. Needing no instruction, Aramis leapt into action; expertly using the meagre supplies he always kept on his person as he desperately fought to stop the bleeding, face pale and features taunt with worry.
The medic was working so frantically, was so preoccupied with saving his friend's life that the next few minutes continued in a blur as hot blood spilled onto his clothes and stained his hands. Aramis doubted he had ever been so focussed on a patient-enough to ignore the loud sounds of shouting and fighting behind him as the other two Musketeers defended their weak position-but this was probably the most serious injury he had come across, so grave that Aramis began to doubt his own skill. Perhaps in any other situation, if it were anyone else, Aramis may have left them to a peaceful end but his heart refused to give up on the young Gascon who to him-and the others-was now a little brother in all but blood. A sharp cry which he recognised as Athos' made him flinch but he had not the time to look as he gritted his teeth and prayed to God with all his might that he would not lose any brothers tonight.
A gunshot burst directly behind him and he jumped in fear, wheeling around with his own musket as the bandit directly behind him dropped his weapon and collapsed onto the floor. Breathing heavily, heart thudding in his chest and eyes wild with panic, Aramis looked up to see Athos leaning heavily against a bruised and bloodied Porthos, gun still smoking as he pointed it where the dead man had been standing. Exhaustedly, Athos sighed, arm dropping down and gun slipping tiredly from his grip as Porthos brought him to the wall and allowed him to sit.
"That was close." was their eldest's only comment and Aramis breathed a deep sigh of relief and staggered back a step "I was worried he was going to shoot you."
"Thanks," Aramis replied quickly before turning back to attend to d'Artagnan, though his heart still raced as he realised he had been only moments from having a hot ball of metal projected into the back of his skull.
"How is d'Artagnan?"
Aramis pondered on how to reply as he finished his work "Better. I've managed to stop the bleeding, but it's only temporary. He is going to need someone with more skill than I to save him and it is likely that his injury will become infected."
"How did he get shot? I didn't see anyone in the alley?" Porthos questioned and Aramis could not help but notice the slight slur in his speech.
"That's because he wasn't." Aramis clenched and opened his fists a couple of times, noticing how shaky his crimson hands were before rolling over to face the other two "d'Artagnan was stabbed."
Porthos paled, his blacked and bruised jaw swollen and an angry purple a stark contrast to his greying pallor "But that means…when he pushed me out of the way…?"
Aramis nodded shortly, rising to his feet with a quick backwards glance at the soft rise and fall of d'Artagnan's chest before he moved over to Athos "The bastard managed to strike him before d'Artagnan could fire; I doubt the boy even knew he'd been hurt until he collapsed in the alley."
Porthos sagged against the wall with a deeply pained expression, looking as close to tears as Aramis had ever seen him "The bloody fool…"
"What of the rest of our attackers?"
Athos winced as Aramis crouched beside him and he moved a little to let the younger man see the deep cut across his leg that steadily gushed blood "Dead or dying."
"You two don't seem to be doing much better," Aramis joked though it fell slightly flat even amongst the usually amicable three.
"We've had worse. Plus, it looks far worse than it feels." Athos spoke clearly, almost monotonously, though he flinched as Aramis experimentally touched the deep gash,
Porthos looked up, rubbing his sore jaw and trying to wish away the pounding in his head "Speak for yourself, some of us feel like we've been hit by a carriage."
"You didn't reference a hangover to describe a headache…I'm impressed." Aramis peered over his shoulder with a cheeky smile, flashing his white teeth and Porthos glared at him "Just hang on a minute and I'll make sure you didn't lose what little sense you had left."
Satisfied with his temporary work-but noting the laceration would need stitching-, Aramis slapped Athos on the leg before crossing the room to Porthos, who hissed as Aramis immediately touched the heavy bruising on your face "Some bad bruising, but I don't think its fractured; should fully heal so you shouldn't be any uglier than before."
" . Why do you always get nasty when you're worried?"
"I do not get nasty. Gentlemen don't get nasty."
"You…. a gentleman?"
Aramis raised his eyebrows at his best friend "Do remember who's hands are incredibly close to your very bruised and painful face."
Porthos looked over at Athos's smirking face and tilted his head "See…nasty."
"He didn't protest to being worried though." Athos groaned in discomfort, settling down on the hard floor as he stretched his aching limbs.
"We all know he is."
"You try having to patch all your friends up constantly," Aramis scoffed as he peered into Porthos' eye and frowned at the dilation of his pupils "You'd get nasty too."
"You just admitted to getting nasty!"
Aramis retrieved a small bottle of ointment from a pouch in the folds of his clothes "You're delusional…I blame the nasty concussion."
Athos yawned from his seat on the hard floor "My fault I'm afraid, a bullet grazed my leg and I fell; Porthos got punched in the face trying to help me."
"I thought you were the best at close-combat fighting?" Aramis did not bother to hide the teasing smile on his lips as he gently rubbed the sweet smelling salve onto the dark skinned man's jawline "Perhaps we should let d'Artagnan train with someone else."
Porthos wisely did not rise to the challenge, just glared darkly and changed the subject "One of us should probably head back to the garrison."
"The commotion is bound to have been reported," Athos explained quietly, eyes closed as he rested his head against the wall behind him "Besides, it's impossible for any of us to go. I can hardly walk-at least not until Aramis has stitched my wound-you can barely stand up straight, not to mention the fact that are assailants are apparently after you. The only one fit enough to leave is Aramis and he needs to stay here to look after d'Artagnan and we can hardly expect him to do anything."
"I see your point." Porthos shrugged as Aramis finished his ministrations with his usual skill "So what are we going to do now?"
"It's too dangerous to move d'Artagnan when he's so weak and I don't have the supplies to tend a wound as severe as Athos'." Aramis suddenly looked old and worn, his usually handsome face dark and lined.
"Treville will find us, have faith."
Porthos scoffed at Athos "The Captain probably heard about the fight and immediately assumed it was us; we do have a knack for finding trouble."
"No," Aramis protested almost vehemently "Trouble has a habit of finding us."
A loud moan cut into their conversation and they all bristled nervously before Aramis hurried over to his awakening patient as d'Artagnan's eyes fluttered open and he gritted his teeth against the onslaught of pain that accompanied his return from unconsciousness. Dazed and in considerable pain, the dark haired young man attempted to sit up, only to be pushed hastily back down by Aramis' soft but firm hands.
"Don't move, d'Artagnan; lest you open the wound again-I haven't got my sewing kit so I'm afraid even sitting up could undo all my hard work."
The younger man nodded his head weakly, looking round at his companions with knotted eyebrows "Are y'u guys ok'y?"
"Fine, lad." Athos reassured him, though his entire appearance suggested otherwise and d'Artagnan looked less than convinced.
"Wh't h'pp'ned to P'rthos' face?"
Aramis patted d'Artagnan on the shoulder with a playful smile "I think it's an improvement."
Porthos' glare shifted between the two and they chuckled quietly with one another, though d'Aratgnan regretted the reaction when his side flared angrily in warning.
"What h'ppened?" the Gascon gasped weakly as he tried to push back the agony ravaging his torso.
"Do you remember the man who attacked Porthos? The bandits in the street?" d'Artagnan thought for a moment before nodding "Well your attempt to save Porthos' life almost resulted in you losing your own-he stabbed you before you could shoot him."
"Seems like you need to improve your drawing time." Athos commented dryly though Aramis could only see it was a result of stress and worry; their leader had a tendency to take every injury as a failure in his training.
Aramis rolled his eyes and continued "You lost a lot of blood whilst we were running away. Apparently a stab wound to the gut doesn't worry people in Gascony until they crash into buildings and lose consciousness."
"S'rry, got caught up in the m'ment…" d'Artagnan explained with a slight blush as he noted the exhaustion in Aramis' eyes "Th'nk you for saving me…all of you; 'm guessing that's why you're inj'red?"
"Could hardly keep running with you spilling your guts over the street," Athos seemingly realised the inappropriate bluntness of the statement as they lapsed into silence and looked up to the other Musketeer's dark looks and d'Artagnan's slightly disbelieving one "Apologies, d'Artagnan, I did not mean to be so insensitive; must be a result of being sober…I haven't been injured without a wine bottle to hand in a while."
d'Artagnan's eyes widened a fraction further before his eyes narrowed, obviously trying to gather if the older man was joking or not through the pounding headache-Athos' lack of expression made it difficult to decipher even when one was not grievously injured-but one look at Porthos' grin seemed to reassure him.
After a moment of silence, d'Artagnan piped up-words still slightly slurred and he blinked slowly -"Ummm…wh're ex'ctly are we?"
"A small recess a short distance from where you collapsed; I needed to work on you immediately and it was the only defendable position within reach."
d'Artagnan nodded at Aramis before tensing slightly and pulling his arm around his weakened body "It's cold."
"No doubt partially due to the amount of blood you lost," Aramis clarified gently, looking around for something other than his own blood soaked cloak to give to the boy.
"Here…take mine." Athos tossed over his own slightly less blood soaked cloak and Aramis carefully laid it over their recruit as he mumbled his gratitude.
"I don't know about you but I'd rather be anywhere but here right now." Porthos said with a dark tone, his fingers tentatively prodding at the blossoming bruise across his face.
Athos nodded "Agreed."
"Anywhere?" Aramis inquired lightly, briefly glancing over his shoulder as he took d'Artagnan's wrist and checked his pulse "Even a parade?
"Even a parade. I'd take heat, flies and boredom over pain, worry and cold any day."
"I'll remind you of that next time we're standing in one and you're moaning constantly." Athos promised casually, hands reaching for something in his pocket.
The Comte de la Ferre revealed his silver flask, concealed deep within his pockets and he admired it for several seconds before something akin to guilt flashed in his eyes.
"Aramis, give this to the boy…it will ease his pain."
"Th's boy c'n hear you, you know."
Aramis caught it gracefully, unscrewing the lid and taking a quick sniff of the strong white spirit before leaning over and carefully lifting the younger man's head into the crook of his elbow and placing the carafe to d'Artagnan's lips. The Gascon took a sip then coughed as the alcohol burned his throat, surprised by its strength before he marvelled at how effective it was at lessening the pain in his side.
"Thank you, 'thos."
Athos merely nodded his response as noise erupted from around the corner and the distinct sound of marching feet filled the air and lingered amongst the heavy scent of fresh blood and burnt gunpowder.
"Spread out, men! Find them!" a familiar, gravelly voice commanded; voice filled with grit which Athos registered as worry.
The Musketeers looked amongst each other and grinned, speaking it chorus "Treville."
"I'll go get 'im." Porthos grunted as he moved shakily over to the door, waving Aramis back before the younger man could protest "Make sure d'Artagnan's okay to be moved, like you said, we need to get him out of here as soon as possible."
The big man staggered into the open, leaning heavily against the wall and Athos watched him leave with a careful eye, obviously still nervous about sending one of his own out injured and unprotected despite assurance that they were among friends. Unable to face his Captain off his feet, Athos struggled to get upright, relying upon the wall for support with barely a gasp leaving his lips.
"Athos!" Aramis reprimanded him, checking down to see d'Artagnan watching his mentor with bleary eyed concern although he made no move to help him "Sit down before you fall down! You're meant to be the good influence on the boy!"
"Stop mother-henning me, Aramis. Concentrate on the boy."
"Will people stop calling me that! 'm a Musketeer too, you know!"
Aramis laughed lightly at d'Artagnan's indignant tone "You sound better! Is it possibly because you had the opportunity to argue with us? The insolence of youth; respect your elders."
"It might h've had something to do with the burning alcohol you poured d'wn my throat."
"Should put hairs on your chest." Athos commented casually, straightening his uniform and limping over to the opposite wall to cast his eye out "Something similar to what Bonnaire gave Porthos during our…painful encounter. A gift from an old friend…though I would have preferred some wine."
"It's foreign?! I…how…it must be exp'nsive!"
Aramis had to gently restrain d'Artagnan "Calm down, worry about this when we're back at the garrison and you've had the opportunity to experience my excellent stitching."
"I can, at least, attest to his skill." Athos assured the Gascon and Aramis was surprised of his willingness to speak-usually not one to waste his words-but came to the conclusion Athos was just relieved to hear his protégé alive and talking.
d'Artagnan seemed more relaxed but it was obvious the matter wasn't dropped, though he rested his head back and closed his tired eyes with a small sigh. Treville chose that moment to enter, face grim as he spotted Athos against the wall and Aramis crouched low over his newest recruit.
Athos looked up at him, his lips a thin line "We were attacked in the street and d'Artagnan was badly injured. I will give you a more detailed report back at the garrison."
"Porthos is already receiving medical attention outside," Treville nodded and looked to Aramis, eyes deep with concern "Are you able to transport d'Artagnan safely?"
"'m fine." d'Artagnan assured them weakly but the older men ignored him.
"It'll be risky but in truth, we have little choice." Aramis frowned deeply and moved to allow Treville to see the bare extent of the injury "The wound isn't bleeding as heavily as before but it needs to be cauterised and stitched. This bandage would last forever."
"Well done, Aramis; I will leave him in your capable hands." The Captain praised with a small smile before turning to Athos "Your leg is injured; I'll help you to get outside and then send in Musketeers to assist Aramis."
Athos thought for a moment before giving his superior-his old friend, he amended- a slow, grateful nod of his head and obligingly slung his arm around Treville's shoulders-careful to mind his recently healed injury from Labarge.
Once outside, Treville calmly organised his men and began showing his awe-inspiring leadership skills, leaving the injured Musketeers in trusted hands. As d'Artagnan was carefully lifted onto a cart they had temporarily acquired from a nearby merchant, Treville watched as the others clambered in after their friend; sitting close to him as he battled to stay conscious. Aramis was knelt at the boy's waist, tending to his wound and chatting to him with a charming smile and laughing with Porthos, who rested his hand on the Gascon's ankle protectively. Athos sat with a small smirk beside d'Artagnan's head, eyes fond and caring, with his incapacitated leg propped up on an old cloak strewn across Porthos' lap. As the cart moved forward with a quick jerk from the horse in front, d'Artagnan's face twisted and he gritted his teeth against the wave of pain but Aramis was instantly forward, whispering gentle soothing words whilst Porthos' grip tightened on the boy's leg as a steadying force. Slowly, d'Artagnan's hand moved up to Athos and the older man carefully took it in his own, comforting the lad with his silent presence.
The four brothers sat close together for the long ride home; contented in each other's company.