Disclaimer – This incarnation belongs to the BBC.
AN – This might as aptly be titled my "milady arc" told through a series of missing scenes, (including the gap between 1.9 and 1.10!), where Athos tries to deal with the reappearance of Anne and his brothers try to convince him he is a good man.
Athos was alive.
In the weak winter light Aramis looked over at the face of his sleeping friend. His arm felt numb where it rested underneath Athos' shoulders. On the other side he could see Porthos curled on his side, one large hand resting lightly on Athos' chest so it rose and fell with each breath. Aramis grimaced as he realised Porthos head was an angle that would give him a crick in his neck which he would probably be complaining about for days to come. Deciding to take pity on Porthos, he kicked him softly, so that he came awake with a snort, rubbing at his neck and cracking a massive yawn.
"Athos needs to buy a bigger bed," He declared tiredly. "Or better still, stop this kind of nonsense."
"You couldn't have carried him back to my lodgings?" Aramis asked, as he shifted trying to find a more comfortable position on the hard wooden floor. "We could have all fitted into my bed. And I own more than one chair."
"Next time you can carry 'im home," Porthos responded. "Besides, I didn't know, did I? I just thought he needed to sleep it off."
Aramis propped himself up on one elbow so he could take a better look at their patient. Athos' dark lashes stood out starkly against his too pale face. Deep smudges under his eyes stood testament to his complete exhaustion. Beneath his shirt, his body was battered and bruised. Each wrist was carefully wrapped in clean linen bandages.
"Almost lunchtime and he's finally sleeping," He observed, gently brushing a sweat soaked curl from Athos' brow. "It's a good thing Treville isn't expecting any of us to report for duty today."
"The Captain's a good man," Porthos agreed. "And a wise one, he knows Athos' true nature better than most."
On first meeting Athos could seem arrogant, even rude. But his friends knew this was simply a way of safe guarding his feelings. Despite his best efforts at being moody and unapproachable Athos found it impossible to hide his fierce loyalty and inherent kindness. He was also a man who felt injustice keenly and his own disgrace would be an open wound for some time yet.
"Despite present appearances," Aramis managed a rueful smile. "Things are not as nearly as bad as they used to be."
"That's true enough," Porthos had to agree. "It was months before he could endure our touch without flinching, longer still before he actually would actually accept our comfort, although, that first time we shared a bed that was actually his idea."
"Athos has always put others welfare before he own," Aramis remarked. "You had almost drowned and I had been chilled to the bone going in after you. Apart from the fact we were both freezing with only two full sets of dry clothes between the three of us, he was afraid to let us out of his sight."
"We should have known he was hurtin'," Porthos looked guilty. "He hasn't drunk that much or took himself off alone to do it like that in a long time."
"We did know he was hurting," Aramis reminded him. Not even a man as stoic as Athos could face a firing squad without some ill effects. An honourable death in battle was one thing, staring down the barrel of a musket as you wait for death to claim you for crimes you did not even commit was quite another. "We just didn't know how much."
After Aramis had found Adele not at home he had been debating a return to the tavern when Porthos had sent word that he should come to Athos' lodging with all haste. Aramis had expected to be called upon to patch up the bruised knuckles and sore ribs of a tavern brawl. He had not expected to find Pothos raging, his eyes flashing as he paced, his hands clenched into fists and the remains of a shattered bottle at the base of the wall evidence of his tenuous hold on his temper.
"Treville shall hear of this," Porthos had hissed, his tone tight with fury. "Someone must pay."
Athos had been sprawled on the bed in a drunken stupor. His weapons carefully placed on the table, boots placed neatly at the foot of his bed, jacket folded on a chair suggesting that Porthos had been in the process of putting him to bed when something had stayed his hand. As he approached Aramis felt his own anger building. Treville had insisted that Athos be placed in isolation due to the number of prisoners in the Chatelet who owned their incarceration to the musketeers. However, that had clearly not prevented the guards having their own petty revenge on a man they believed had disgraced his uniform.
There were no marks on his face. The guards were not that foolish. But his torso showed the clear marks of rough hands and violent blows. There was a boot print, a dammed boot print, in the middle of his chest. And his wrists were marked and cut by the manacles he had been forced to wear, the skin rubbed raw in a way that could only have happened if he had been pulled and dragged around like some animal. Aramis suddenly found it hard to breathe. No wonder Porthos was beside himself.
"I thought we was past this?" Porthos protested, appearing at his side. "Why would he keep this from us? Why would he not tell us?"
It had taken Aramis some moments before he could find his voice. He had sunk down onto the bed and taken one of Athos' lax hands into his own. Running his thumb over his knuckles he began to stir Athos into wakefulness. He needed to clean and wrap those wrists and he knew from experience that it was not a good idea to startle Athos' from sleep.
"Because I imagine he felt he deserved it." He remarked sadly.
They were all familiar with Athos' tendency to punish himself. He lived in this cold, bare, cell with only the barest of necessities. He had never taken a day's leave that wasn't caused by some injury. His only comfort was the company of his friends. He eschewed all other forms of entertainment. To Aramis' certain knowledge he had never pursued a relationship with any woman. Even his drinking seemed more like a penance than a pleasure. Isolated and alone it would have been difficult for Athos to believe he was worthy of the least kindness or consideration.
"Right then," Porthos had visibly gathered himself. "You tend to his wounds. I'll stoke up the fire and fetch us some blankets. I've got a feeling it's gonna be a long night."
Athos had held himself stiffly as Aramis had carefully cleaned his wounds and applied a healing salve, before gently wrapping up his wrists. Then Porthos had held a bowl and got him to take a few mouthfuls of broth, before they had spread the blankets out in front of the fire and tucked him in securely between them.
"Not a word," Aramis had chided, putting a finger across Athos' lips' when he saw him trying to raise a protest. "We're all going to have nightmares about this. We won't leave you to face yours alone."
Despite their comfort he had held out as long as his body would allow. Which given Athos' strength of will had turned out to be quite some time. Finally, he had slipped into oblivion, only to startle awake a short time later, his eyes wide and his brow clammy with sweat with those dreadful words on his lips.
"Shoot, damn you!"
After that it seemed that every ghost of his past was determined to torment him. He cried out for his brother Thomas, he begged his dead wife Anne for her forgiveness, he reached for the unseen figures of his mother and father, he cried silent tears for the time they had thought Porthos buried alive and clutched Aramis hand so tightly he though a bone might break, believing him lost in Savoy because they had not been there in time to save him.
"Nothing that suffers can pass without merit in the sight of God," Aramis quoted softly. "Athos, my friend, I think you have suffered more than enough for a whole legion of men."
"Why chose Athos?" Porthos asked suddenly.
"Hmm?" Aramis wasn't really listening.
"Gaudet could have picked any musketeer to discredit," Porthos sat up. "Why did he settle on Athos?"
"Athos is the finest soldier in the regiment," Aramis thought that was explanation enough. "Losing him would be a huge blow to morale."
"Maybe, someone should tell that to his Majesty," Porthos grumbled. "Five years of loyal service and the King did not even know who "this Athos" was that he was so keen to sentence to death."
"The Cardinal was particularly eager for Athos to be made an example of, now you mention it," Aramis recalled as he sat up in his turn, leaning back on his hands. "He was the one pressing for his execution."
"He might have done a bit of digging," Porthos looked pensive now, his brow furrowing. "If the Cardinal did have a hand in things he'd want to Treville brought as low as possible."
"Treville has always been particularly fond of Athos," Armais agreed. "Although, his eminence is not the kind of man to get his own hands dirty, he generally leaves the sordid details to his minions."
"Do you think it might have had something to do with Athos' past?" Porthos asked carefully.
"Unlikely." Athos' voice surprised them.
"Athos, my friend," Porthos looked a little guilty. "We thought you were sleeping."
"That would be far easier to do without the two of you going back and forth over my head like a tennis match," Athos moved to sit up, giving Aramis a grateful look in lieu of a nod for his assistance, unwilling for the moment to move his head more than strictly necessary, he settled back against the side of the bed. "What time is it?"
"About midday," Aramis supplied.
"Is there anything left to drink?"
"Don't you think you had enough last night?" Porthos frowned.
"Are we expected at the Garrison?"
"Not until tomorrow," Aramis assured him. "Treville said if you showed up before then he would personally revoke your commission."
"Then no, if we are to finish this conversation I shall need a drink," Athos rubbed a hand over his face. "There should be a bottle of brandy up there in the rafters."
"Why do you keep it up there?" Aramis wondered.
"It's a rather fine almanac. It deserves better than to be swigged back like a cheap house red. This way at those times I am drunk enough to consider reneging on that principle I am also too drunk to climb up and retrieve it."
Porthos climbed up to retrieve the bottle. Aramis set about finding some clean glasses. All three of them took a moment to have a quick wash in cold water and take their ease. At Aramis pointed look Athos also changed out of his sweat soaked shirt before he could become chilled. Whilst his back was turned Aramis and Porthos combined their coin until they had enough to purchase a decent meal.
"Thank you, but I'm not hungry." Athos shook his head, when Porthos returned and busied himself ladling the pot of stew into three bowls.
"Try just a little," Aramis encouraged. "You need to eat if you are to be fit for duty."
Athos rolled his eyes at him, knowing exactly what he was trying to do. Still his innate good manners roused him to make at least the appearance of eating. As he touched the spoon to his lips he was surprised at the soft, tender meat, the tang of woodland mushrooms and the crunch of perfectly sautéed onions, all in a rich, red wine sauce, augmented with herbs.
"This is the beef stew from the tavern d'Or," He realised, touched beyond measure that his friends had most likely put themselves into poverty for the next week to purchase his favourite meal just to tempt his non-existent appetite. He swallowed hard for even after five years their unthinking kindness could still catch him unawares. "Gentlemen, you didn't have to do this."
"We know that," Porthos smiled at him, as he took his own bowl and settled on the bed next to him. "We wanted to."
"You are worth every last sous, I do not think you can hear that too often," Aramis passed him a glass of brandy, before sitting down beside him with his own meal. "Although, I would count it as a personal favour if you would consider buying some more chairs."
"When I first came to live here I wished to discourage company." Athos replied honestly.
"Yeah?" Porthos grinned around a mouthful of stew as he butted his shoulder fondly. "How's that working out for you?"
"Better than I could have ever imagined," Athos smiled fondly.
"So, who do you think might have wanted to frame you," Porthos returned to their earlier conversation.
"Nothing comes to mind," Athos sighed. "I have never been particularly interested in court politics. I can think of no adversary who would have the power to orchestrate something like this. Deciding matters with the point of a sword is so much more straightforward."
"Only if you have the courage to face your opponent," Aramis pointed out. "Maybe, your adversary did not wish to be known."
"It would be a funny kind of revenge if no-one knows you're doing it," Porthos pointed out. "Are you sure it ain't somehow connected with the time before you became a musketeer?"
"I don't see how," Athos shook his head. "My parents are dead. My wife had no surviving family. Thomas was my only living relative. There is only me left."
"There was only you," Porthos corrected with a hint of steel as he gripped Athos' leg. "Now there's the three of us."
"And I thank God for it," Athos spoke very quietly. "I hope nothing I should ever say or do would lead you to think otherwise."
"Athos," Aramis slid a comforting arm around his shoulders. "You are our brother and we love you. No matter what lies behind or ahead, we will never forsake you."
"At least in Athos' case we don't have to worry about a woman scorned, eh?" Porthos joked, hoping to lighten the mood, only to quickly sober as Athos looked stricken and Aramis scowled at him. "Sorry," He apologised gruffly. "That was out of order, what with your wife being dead and all."
Athos briefly placed his hand over Porthos' in acceptance of his apology. He could not bring himself to meet his eyes. His friends knew that Thomas had been killed and that his wife was dead. He had not been able to bring himself to tell them that those two events were connected. Nor that Anne had died by his orders.
If God had any mercy he would take those secrets to his grave.
"Perhaps we should look closer to home," Aramis remarked. "A blood debt perhaps, a brother or son killed for their crimes, or one of the Cardinal's men who you've bested in a duel, in a position to whisper in his eminence's ear."
"That would be a pretty long list." Porthos commented.
"It is a plausible explanation," Athos sighed. His tendency not to hold back in a duel had embarrassed a number of the Cardinal's best men. "Perhaps, in a way I brought this on myself."
"You're not worried that it had anything to do with the boy?" Aramis frowned slightly. "Only you have rather been keeping him at arm's length?"
"No, his grief is sincere," Athos was sure of that. "He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"Or the wrong place at the right time," Porthos allowed. "Seeing as he helped us clear your name and he's a fine a candidate for a musketeer as there could be. You should have seen 'im go after Gaudet. He was a right little terror."
"A talent like that would be wasted on a farm." Aramis observed lightly.
"You are wasting your breath, gentlemen," Athos scowled at them, not blind to their motives. "I am not looking for a protégé."