Prompt: "In 1.04 (The Good Soldier) Porthos says that he is so bored that he may faint "just for something to do". What would happen if one of the four did faint (for fun or for real) during a parade?"

La Canicule

They're in the middle of a week-long heat wave.

The sun, high in the sky with nary a cloud in its way, has already scorched the grass under their feet. The flowers, so carefully planted and nurtured, have wilted and stand drooping against the ground. Even the birds seem to have lost their voices, sitting defeated and silent in the treetops.

Paris, too, has fallen silent. The streets lie empty and smoke has ceased to rise towards the heavens. Those who can, have abandoned the city for the coastal towns. Those forced to stay behind sleep on their roofs and eat their dinners cold. They endure because they must, sweating and panting in the sun like over-worked beasts in front of the peasant's plough.

So, of course, the King has decided that it's the perfect time to throw a fĂȘte.

The tents have been raised, the wine barrels opened and the musicians stand red-faced and glassy-eyed as they play their harps and blow their horns. As the very air around them vibrate with heat, the sounds they produce sound less like music and more like the cacophony of the damned. Hell, Aramis feels as he licks his cracked lips, has rarely been so close.

His throat feels parched, but then so it has ever since he'd received a cut to his ribs some days earlier. They had been tasked to escort a messenger to Le Havre and some fools had rushed them in the woods. The cut had been nothing serious, but nonetheless he'd bled like a stuck pig. To make matters worse, the physician had then bled him to keep the wound from festering in the heat. Ever since his thirst has been as unquenchable as Athos' and, for the first time he can recall, he's found himself both willing and able to match his friend bottle for bottle.

A fat drop of sweat runs down his forehead, dripping off the edge of his nose. There's a handkerchief in his pocket but Treville has already made it clear that the next man to fidget will face a fate worse than their current parade duty. What that could possibly be is hard to fathom, but Aramis has the utmost faith in his captain's ingenuity.

"I think I'm going to be sick," comes a sudden, miserable whisper to his left.

Glancing through the corner of his eye, Aramis attempts to take stock of the speaker. d'Artagnan's face has indeed turned sallow and his Adam's apple bounces up and down as he swallows convulsively. To the left of d'Artagnan, Porthos' jaw twitches in a wordless comment and Aramis finds himself sighing in agreement. Not only would the stench of vomit make a most unwelcome addition to an already hellish day, but worse still would be the embarrassment such an event would bring their Captain.

"Breathe through your nose," he advises, speaking with his lips still. A most useful gift, he's found, for the many times when their duty consisted of being seen and not heard. A few harsh exhales follow his words but they only result in d'Artagnan beginning to sway.

Porthos, moving with the kind of grace no one ever expects from a man of his size, reaches out to grab hold of their friend's arm. Around them, their fellow Musketeers stand unblinking and unmoving yet there's been a clear change in atmosphere. No one wants to see their Captain lose face in front of the King and the Cardinal.

"Don't suppose you have a plan?" Aramis asks, turning his head an inch to meet the eyes of their leader. Rather than worried, Athos looks grimly amused. Not a good look under the best of circumstances, something in the way it's aimed straight at Aramis has him regretting his question.

"I do," the older man replies, "but you're not going to like it."

He's right. Aramis doesn't like it at all.

But needs must and all that.

He falls, knowing that no one will break formation to catch him.

The grass smells burnt, the wizened blades snapping as he shifts to avoid the hilt of the rapier digging into his bandaged torso. Even with his eyes closed he can sense the crowd hovering above him like vultures. Someone - Porthos, he decides though he'd be at a loss to explain how he knows - kneels down by his side and hefts him into a half-sitting position.

"What's this then?" the familiar voice murmurs, speaking directly into his ear. Porthos sounds bemused rather than alarmed, though he's been careful to support Aramis' limp body. "Here I'd pinned d'Artagnan as the one who'd hit the ground first."

Aramis fakes a whimper, curling in towards his friend to hide his face against his shoulder.

"Blame the wound," he whispers, confident that Porthos will catch on to the plan without any need for further explanation. And so he does. Tucking one arm underneath Aramis' knees and the other under his arms, Porthos heaves himself to his feet as if his burden weighed nothing. Allowing his head to fall back for dramatic effect, Aramis decides that the entire day - no, make that the entire week - must be his due punishment from God for his many sins.

"Step aside," Porthos barks, clearly enjoying his role. "Can't you lot see that this man needs air?"

A sharp voice, the kind meant to carry across a battle ground, cuts through the murmur of the crowd. Around them, everyone stills and everything, even the terrible music, falls silent.

"What's going on here then?" Treville demands again, his voice closer now.

"It's Aramis." Athos, for all that he's a miserable actor, manages to pitch his voice into the perfect imitation of flat concern. "We told him to stay in the garrison, sir, but he insisted on coming. He can't abide to abandon his obligations, even when wounded in duty."

Aramis can only hope that the groan which escapes his throat, prompted by such an amazing lack of subtlety, will be taken for a sign of discomfort.

"You mean to say he hasn't recovered fully after defending the King's messenger?" Treville asks, his voice offering no hint as to whether or not he's bought their ruse. Athos must have nodded, because the next words out of their captain's mouth are orders for a tent to be cleared for them. Treville then disappears, presumably to carry the tale of Aramis' loyalty and bravery back to the King and the Cardinal before the latter has a chance to gloat too much.

Peeking through his eyes-lashes, Aramis catches how Athos grabs d'Artagnan by the shoulder. Leading the pale youth along, the two of them then follow in the wake left behind as Porthos carries him towards the tents. The swaying motion has Aramis himself swallowing down the bile rising in his throat. It's hard to recall a less dignified retreat, but Aramis tries to find comfort in the fact that they have succeeded in getting d'Artagnan out of parade duty without compromising the Musketeers' honour and reputation.

The tent turns out to be nothing less than an oven, the air so thick that it sticks in Aramis' nose and mouth. Porthos grunts once, his body shuddering as he pushes through the wall of heat, before lowering Aramis down on a hard bench. Opening his eyes, Aramis blinks away the blurriness while looking around to ensure that they're by themselves.

He finds d'Artagnan sitting in the other corner of the room, arms on his knees and head in his hands. Athos has kneeled down by his feet, one hand on the boy's back. Something in Aramis' chest, no doubt the part of him that's watched Athos drink himself into a stupor more times than he cares to remember, swells at the sight of his friend taking such open interest in their youngest team member.

"How is he?" he asks, grimacing as his voice comes out as a harsh rasp.

"I'm fine," d'Artagnan answers, his thick voice acting as immediate proof against his claim.

Aramis struggles to sit up, only to find that a heavy weight keeps him pinned in place. Squinting at his chest, he sees Porthos' hand resting against his sternum. He bats at the offending fingers, irritated by the notion of being held in place like a kitten, but Porthos just responds by capturing his arm by the wrist.

"Stay down," he says, his eyes darting between d'Artagnan and the opening in the tent. "If someone comes in here, we don't want you waltzing around giving orders, now do we?"

It's a good point, and Aramis sinks back down on the bench. He should have thought of that, but the heat has left his mind as slow and dull as the blade of a Red Guard's rapier. On top of that, the pain behind his eyes has been getting steadily worse by the hour.

"Remind me," Athos calls, "of the symptoms of someone being stricken by heat?"

Aramis frowns, trying to remember. While he's never studied medicine, he takes pride in having picked up some knowledge along the crocked path of becoming a musketeer. At first it had just been a matter of making conversation with his fellow travellers and soldiers - listening to their stories to pass the time - but after a while he'd developed a genuine interest in the human body and its workings.

Later in life he'd been given the chance, through various patrons, to look through some of the many books written on the subject. He'd also found that there were people in Paris who were prepared to do all matter of things, some of them downright ungodly, in their self-imposed quest to solve the mystery of the human body.

"A throbbing head," he says, speaking slowly as he draws from memory, "and an upset belly. Rapid heartbeat and breathing. Confusion, sometimes. Oh, and the body ceases to produce sweat."

A warm and callused hand, immediately recognizable as Porthos' by its size, shimmies over his forehead on its way to tousle his hair. While it's hardly the time to be playing around, he supposes he shouldn't be too surprised. After all, Porthos has always jumped on any opportunity to ruffle Aramis' feathers.

"Stop that," he mutters. "Oh, and remind me to get that idiot boy a hat."

"Will do," Porthos promises.

Just then, d'Artagnan lets out the most miserable whine, followed by the unmistakable sound of vomiting. The splash and Athos' curse as he jumps back has Porthos' eyebrows shooting up and his mouth twisting with uncharacteristic uncertainty, as if caught between laughing and frowning. As they listen to the boy dry-heaving, Aramis can't help but feel as if he's missing something important.

"And what is there to be done for it?" Athos asks. His hand, Aramis can see, has come up to rub awkwardly at the spot between d'Artagnan's shoulder blades. Peeking up at Porthos, Aramis meets his friend's eyes and they acknowledge, in their silent language, how lucky they'd been to have d'Artagnan join them.

"Strip him down to his linens," he says, belatedly answering Athos' question, "and sponge him down with water."

With a jerk of the head Aramis then dispatches Porthos to help their friend with d'Artagnan. He seems reluctant to leave, no doubt having hoped that being on guard duty would keep him from having to get any closer to the smelly mess by d'Artagnan's feet. Though Aramis would have thought that all the times they'd mopped up after Athos ought to have left them both immune to such petty concerns.

Resting his head against the hard wooden surface, he watches how Athos attacks the straps and buckles of d'Artagnan's leather armour while Porthos tugs off the boots. The entire tent stinks now, and the very air trembles with heat. Having found the act of speaking so much strangely exhausting, Aramis allows his eyes to drift shut.

"Oh," he adds, "get him out of this oven as well, will you?"

And with that, Aramis sinks down into a swirling pool of darkness.

xxx

He wakes with a splutter, convinced that he's drowning as water runs into his nose and mouth.

Strong hands haul him up so that he's leaning over someone's shoulder, coughing and spitting until he catches his breath. Then he hangs there, limp and wet, blinking at the scenery for a while as he tries to makes sense of what's happened.

The sun has begun to set behind the trees and he's sharing the shadow of a willow tree with Porthos and a swarm of gnats. Athos, under a nearby tree, naps with his hat pulled down over his eyes and his ankles crossed. A stone's throw away, there's a brook; it babbles happily as it runs past them, the sun glittering like gold against its surface. d'Artagnan, dressed in nothing but his shirt and Porthos' hat, sits with his feet in the water while scratching idly at a scab on his knee.

Hadn't he been ill? Aramis searches his memory. Water drips from his hair, down his neck and into his shirt. He shivers at the sensation, noticing for the first time that he too has been stripped down to his shirt and under-linens. And all of it, himself included, seems to be nothing short of sopping wet.

Pulling back, he meets Porthos' eyes.

"Did you just pour water on me?" he demands, wincing as he has to clear his throat mid-question.

"Of course not," Porthos answers easily.

It's such an obvious lie that Aramis doesn't even bother calling him on it. Instead he takes stock of himself. His arms and legs feel heavy, but they have nothing on the dull throbbing of his head. His throat's dry, his lips cracked and his mouth tastes as if he's been licking the stable floor.

Reading his mind, Porthos offers him a water-skin. Aramis accepts it, but doesn't help himself to a drink right away. Allowing the skin to sink down into his lap, his eyes stray back to d'Artagnan. The boy had been ill, he's sure of it. Reaching out towards the blurry images which drift in and out of his grasp, Aramis slowly begins to puzzle all the pieces back together.

(Porthos suggesting that Aramis stay behind to recuperate alone in his chambers while the rest of them headed out for the countryside. Then, the first suggestion having fallen on deaf ears, Athos attempting to order the same, as if somehow he had the authority to make such a call for a fellow soldier of equal rank. The memory rankles.

Standing in the sun. Swaying in the sun? No, that hadn't been him. d'Artagnan swaying. d'Artagnan taking ill from the heat. d'Artagnan about to throw up or faint or both. Working together in unspoken harmony, the way they always did, to get the youngest member of their team out of the sun and the heat.

Only no. No. Something wasn't right there. He'd missed something.

He's still missing something.

Oh.)

"You bastards," Aramis says, hating how his voice comes out filled with equal parts disbelief and admiration. "You tricked me."

Porthos shrugs, but doesn't deny it. Doesn't even have the common decency to look ashamed. Aramis lifts the water-skin to his lips, sipping resentfully at the tepid water. Remembering the pallor on d'Artagnan's face, the panic in his eyes and the stench of vomit, he shakes his head.

"He's not that good of an actor," he says, knowing that Porthos will follow his train of thought. "And Athos sure as hell isn't even close to being able to fake concern that well."

Porthos laughs then, one of his giant paws coming up to scratch at the back of his neck.

"The kid had me impressed there for a while," he acknowledges, gently tugging the water-skin out of Aramis' hand and replacing it with a wet cloth. "Well, at least, until he puked. That's when I figured things had gotten a little bit.. out of hand."

"A little bit," Aramis echoes, shaking his head. It's partly to get rid of the buzzing gnats, but mostly to punctuate his disgust with the whole notion of those three block-heads banding together to scheme against him. And the knowledge that he had, somehow, fallen for it.

"Put that on your neck," Porthos says, nodding towards the cloth. "You're still hot enough to use as a frying pan."

Aramis smiles, displaying enough teeth to warn Porthos away.

"So, while faking illness, d'Artagnan ended up actually taking ill...?" he then asks, taking a petty kind of consolation in the fact that there had been a kernel of truth in the youngster's performance. Also, in ignoring Porthos' order. "And this was all part of some kind of bird-brained scheme to accomplish, what, exactly...?"

"Why do you think we did it?" Porthos demands.

Only a fool would mistake the twist of his upper lip for a smile. And, despite all evidence to the contrary, Aramis isn't quite willing to call himself a fool. Not yet anyway.

Attempting to find an answer which will please his companion, Aramis' gaze wanders over to where d'Artagnan sits by the brook, bare feet submerged in the water and a stalk of grass clamped between his teeth. A hazy scene flashes through his mind; Porthos frowning unhappily as the boy vomited and, then, the very memory tinged with disbelief, Athos rubbing at d'Artagnan's back like a mother would her child. And to think that they had then been forced to deal with Aramis as well.

His face heats as he remembers Porthos carrying him to the tent - an indignity Aramis would never have allowed had he known that his friend acted on misguided concern for his wellbeing - and his ears begin to burn as he realizes that, even with d'Artagnan showing some mild symptoms of being struck by the heat, the boy hadn't been the one to pass out like a lady faced with a mouse in her parlour.

Prodding at the bandage wrapped tightly around his ribs, he allows that perhaps he shouldn't have insisted on joining his brothers on parade duty. But they weren't called the Inseparables without good reason and Aramis would be damned if he allowed such a small graze to keep him from standing by his friends. After all, the three of them tended to get into terrible scrapes without him.

Besides, he would have been fine if they'd just left him alone. If anything, surely their scheming and the stress brought about by his concern for the boy had brought him down as much as, if not more, than the heat and the wound.

"Well?" Porthos prompts.

Suspecting that his friend might not be in the kind of susceptible mood needed to appreciate Aramis' take on the events, Aramis falls back to one of his old tricks and summons his most charmingly sheepish smile.

"I suppose I should have listened to you this morning," he lies. The silence which follows his words is broken by a snort. It sounds remarkably like the ones frequently produced by Athos, only when they turn their heads to glare in his direction the man's still pretending to be sleeping under his tree.

"Next time, I'll leave it to you to talk some sense into him," Porthos says, speaking loud enough for his voice to carry over to their leader. His tone comes across as vaguely threatening, though Aramis can't imagine why. Of the four of them, he's surely never been the unreasonable one.

"As for you," Porthos continues, "don't mistake me for one of your lady friends, to be bought with a smile and some pretty words. You're a damn fool any day of the year, but I swear this weather's made you lose what little wit you had left."

Then, without missing a beat, he up-ends the water-skin over Aramis' head.

xxx

Aramis leans back, too tired to swat at the gnats buzzing around his ears, but taking a strange kind of comfort in listening to Porthos' continued haranguing. Ignoring the actual words in favour of the timbre of the man's voice, he decides that there's at least as much fondness as exasperation in his friend's voice.

There's fish, freshly caught from their brook, cooking over the open fire and Athos has snuck out to fetch them a few bottles of wine. The din of the festivities drift in with the wind, but for once Aramis does not regret missing out on the excitement. His brothers have gathered around the little fire, hoping for the smoke to chase away the insects, and the sun has set behind the trees. There's a cool breeze and d'Artagnan, every bit the son of a farmer, has sniffed the air and predicted rain.

Aramis allows his eyelids to fall shut. He means to sit up in a few heart beats, to join the others for supper and wine, but instead he falls asleep listening to the hum of the maybugs.