orthos hugging Aramis goodbye in the season 2 finale made me feel so bad for them, I wondered what had forged their friendship. this is what I came up with. As always, this story is much better thanks to the insights and suggestions from my wonderful beta, Sharlot. My undying gratitude, my friend. :)
Porthos parried and dropped back, his sword swinging free, his feet shuffling in the loose dirt. His opponent grinned knowingly, pressing his advantage as Porthos scrambled to keep his form. He knew he wasn't much of a swordsman, his normal weapon of choice his fists, but Treville had ordered him to work on his footwork, so sparring with the other recruits of the regiment was something he would simply have to endure. But it didn't mean he had to like it.
The clash of metal meeting metal rang throughout the courtyard as he thrust his blade forward, the motion met swiftly and decisively by the other recruit. The contact reverberated up his arm unpleasantly, feeding the frustration within his belly. Growling, Porthos stepped around his opponent, circling, looking for an opening. The man dropped his arm and Porthos saw his opportunity. Pressing in, he feinted with his rapier. When his opponent moved to defend, he swung his left arm into his unprotected shoulder, the sheer force of the blow knocking the man sideways. Ignoring the other recruit's bellow of outrage, he followed with the sword in his right, twisting his wrist and butting the pommel against his opponents face.
The young recruit's nose erupted in blood, and he went down hard, scrambling backwards as he tried to put distance between himself and the large man now hulking above him. The wounded man's eyes were wide with fear but his expression quickly turned to one of indignation and anger.
"That's against the rules!" the young man spat. He rubbed at his cheek where a dark red bruise was quickly forming. His eyes blazed as they looked up at Porthos who simply shrugged and stepped back. "We we're supposed to be sparring – with swords!"
"You were obviously gonna win with just swords," Porthos said calmly. "I evened the odds." He held out a hand to help him up, knowing the gesture would be refused. It wasn't that he didn't want to make friends with any of the other recruits, but he refused to back down despite their disdain toward him.
The recruit continued to stare accusingly, his anger unabated.
Porthos sighed and dropped his arm, reluctantly stepping away, ignoring the looks of disapproval thrown his way from the other recruits in the courtyard. It wasn't like he was trying to purposely hurt any of them, he just didn't understand why they believed he should lose simply because they knew more about wielding a sword. It wasn't in him to lose a fight – not when he knew he could win by utilizing his own talents. He knew little of proper dueling techniques, but he did know how to survive. If these recruits thought he was going to just lay down and allow them to win simply because they'd been instructed on the finer points of dueling when he had been forced to learn to win by any means necessary, they were going to be sadly disappointed.
Of course, the color of his skin was probably a larger part of why the rest of the recruits had kept their distance, only a few of the more experienced Musketeers deigning to see the potential in the muscular young recruit and making small overtures of welcome since his arrival. It didn't help that most of those Musketeers had been on the ill-fated training to Savoy last month, never to return, their memories fading as the new recruits took root.
As the others helped the bleeding man to his feet, Porthos made his way over to the long table near the Captain's balcony, tossing the rapier on the wooden top and dropping down onto the bench. Although some of the others watched him cautiously, he knew none would follow him to this particular table.
The other forlorn occupant made sure the area was given a wide berth.
Porthos grabbed a tankard, pouring water from a metal pitcher, downing it in one draw. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, glancing at the man seated at the other end of the table from the corner of his eye.
Porthos had met Aramis once before the Musketeer had left for Savoy, finding him a friendly, gregarious sort of man. Always smiling; handsome and sociable, a fellow everyone wanted to be near – a contradiction to the man wearing his face now. Twenty-two men had left that cold spring morning for the mission, only one had returned. It had been one of the worst disasters in the short history of the regiment, and Aramis was the silent reminder of all that had been lost.
Treville had placed him on leave, insisting he take time to allow his wounds to heal before returning to duty. Aramis had stayed away one week. When he had limped back into the garrison, Treville had looked with dismay at the sight of the barely healed man, but not surprise. He'd welcomed him back, assigning him tasks that were normally given to the rawest of recruits, keeping his load light, but giving him a reason to awake each and every morning. When not cleaning weapons in the armory or helping Serge in the kitchens, Aramis had spent most of his time sitting at this table, barely eating, speaking only if spoken to, isolating himself from the rest of the world.
As far as Porthos had observed, he barely moved when he sat here for hours at a time, always seated in the same position, back straight, head bowed, staring at the table under his hands. It was obvious Aramis' attention was far away, despite his intense study of the wood beneath his long fingers, and the rest of the men had taken to leaving him alone, either not wanting to disturb his contemplation or trying to avoid being caught in the emptiness of his stare.
Porthos was not so easily put off. He had grown up around people whose eyes held the same pain and heartache he could see in Aramis', and he wasn't one to look away. Since the Musketeer had begun to claim the table as his own, Porthos had started to make time to sit nearby, quietly, not speaking or disturbing him, simply letting himself be known. So far Aramis hadn't seemed to notice him, but Porthos was determined to continue to keep silent company, hoping eventually Aramis would realize he was not alone.
Right now, Porthos' frustration was getting the better of him and he slammed the tankard down on the table, not caring about remaining silent or unobtrusive in his tablemate's presence. Normally, he had little trouble making friends wherever he went, but these men were proving difficult to understand, their lives so much different than his, their perspectives so diverse. He never considered himself a man who desired acceptance where it wasn't offered, but he found himself longing for just a small gesture of kindness from any of these men he was supposed to fight alongside.
"He was right, you know."
"Huh?" Porthos startled at the soft voice coming from his left. He turned and stared at the still Musketeer, head still bowed, dark curls hiding his face.
"You were hardly playing by the rules."
Porthos snorted, covering his surprise that Aramis was deigning to converse with him. "Last time I checked, there were no rules to winning a fight."
The Musketeer dipped his head in acknowledgement, but didn't look his way. "That is entirely true. We can only hope young Michelle will realize that before he is engaged in actual battle."
Porthos chuckled. "I don't think Michelle is ready to realize anythin' as of yet."
"Probably not. And it will most likely be the death of him."
The sadness and defeat in Aramis' voice was not lost on Porthos.
"But you're right," he said quickly, forcing remorse he didn't feel. "I did cheat. It's just that I don't feel right using a sword. It just doesn't feel natural."
"Then perhaps you need a bigger sword."
Porthos' brows rose as he turned his entire body toward Aramis. "A bigger sword?"
Aramis shrugged, his fingers tracing patterns on the rough wood of the table. "A rapier is an elegant weapon. I'm afraid elegant is not a word that can be used to describe your technique."
Porthos was momentarily offended, until he realized the man was right. "True." He picked up the rapier, eyeing it with disdain. "But what option do I have?"
"There are many swords in the armory." Aramis finally turned, his dark eyes narrowing as they traveled across Porthos' muscular shoulders. "If I were you, I would try a schianova – a broadsword. You certainly have the power to yield one, and it would be heavier, giving you better balance."
Porthos pursed his lips, considering the idea, seeing the wisdom in the change. He smiled. "I'll do that. Thank you."
Aramis didn't return the smile, but nodded his head in acknowledgement before he turned back to his contemplation of the table.
Captain Treville stepped out onto the balcony and leaned against the rough wood of the railing. His eyes roamed the courtyard below, watching, assessing, evaluating the progress of the new men. There hadn't been so many raw recruits at one time since the initial formation of the regiment, but there had been little choice after the events at Savoy.
An entire company of Musketeers.
Men with such potential, such vigor, it was hard to believe they had been removed from existence so mercilessly. Spanish raiders had been blamed, but Treville knew the truth. It was an ugly truth, and he cursed the men who'd brought it about.
It had been a devastating blow to the regiment… to him. His culpability ate at him. He had not known at the time why the Cardinal had instructed him to divulge the location of the training mission to the Duke of Savoy, his only thought was as a courtesy so that the men would not be mistaken for a threat if discovered.
Little did he know the mechanizations of the Cardinal's devious mind had already sealed their fate.
Treville's unwitting participation in the tragedy did not absolve him of responsibility for their deaths, no more than it absolved him of his debt to the one man who had returned.
His eyes moved across the courtyard, coming to rest on the dark, bowed head of the man who sat motionless at the table at the far end near the stables.
It had been just over a month since they had brought him back from the snowy forest of Savoy, and a month since Treville had seen the light that had previously danced so readily in the marksman's eyes. He had recovered, physically, but mentally and emotionally, Treville still worried for the young Musketeer. Before the mission, Aramis had been full of laughter and good cheer, always seeing the good in things, never flinching from responsibility or duty. Now, it seemed, he moved through his days as in a treacle, speaking to no one, keeping to himself as much as possible.
It had come to the point that the other men had begun to keep their distance, unwilling to breech the circle of misery that seemed to surround him. The fact Aramis was one of the best marksmen in the regiment – perhaps in all of France – had been the one saving grace. Treville had used Aramis' skill as a wedge to keep the young man's mind engaged. Even in his present state of despair, he was a finer shot than anyone Treville had ever seen, and the Captain had no problem utilizing that ability to keep him grounded and in the present when the fear of losing him to the memories that haunted him had become all too real.
Most of the recruits had grudgingly accepted his instruction – his ability never in question - but only one had seemed to see more in the sullen Musketeer than a means to increase his own aptitude with a musket. Treville had been surprised the first time he had seen Porthos sitting at the table with Aramis, but he had been glad for it. As he watched them now, they didn't speak, but they both seemed comfortable in each other's presence and that was a step in the right direction as far as the Captain was concerned.
Who would have thought the men who represented the two biggest regrets of Treville's life would find each other and take comfort in each other's company?
He wasn't sure if it was a relief or a punishment to see them together.
When he had first realized who Porthos was, he had done everything he could to get the young man recruited into the Musketeers. He was a fine soldier, a loyal and true servant to the crown, though he was raw as far as the others were concerned. Big and strong, he didn't have the experience with blade or musket some of the other recruits had, and because of his origins in the Court of Miracles, he wasn't as refined a gentleman as some of the higher born recruits. But despite those origins, it was apparent Porthos du Vallon was a good man – one Treville would be proud to stand beside. He felt he owed the young man that much. He had given him the chance to show his potential, now it was up to him to succeed.
Though Porthos' former life was not known to most of the men, the color of his skin was something impossible to hide. It made no difference to Treville – the true worth of a man being what was on the inside rather than what was on the outside – but he'd noticed some of the others making comments when they believed Porthos was out of earshot. Nobody, as far as Treville knew, had had the courage to insult the muscular young man to his face – and he would make sure the first one that made that mistake was swiftly and decisively dealt with – but he had noticed how the other recruits had given him a wide berth despite his overtures of friendship.
Porthos had eventually drifted toward Aramis, not the least bit intimidated by the man's air of dour solitude; never pushing, simply sitting near, letting him know he wasn't alone. It had given Treville hope to see Porthos' fearlessness slowly overcome Aramis' self-imposed exile, the marksmen doing nothing to respond to the overture, but also doing nothing to discourage it.
Now they both sat, only an arm's width apart, neither speaking, both comfortably aware of the others proximity. Treville smiled, there was hope for them both yet.
He had not assigned Aramis a mission outside the garrison since his return to duty, but Treville suspected the man needed to realize he was still a trusted member of the regiment if he was ever going to find a way to move on from the tragedy. Considering the straightforwardness of the missive he had just been given by the Cardinal, he saw it as the perfect opportunity to push the soldier back into duty. It would do him good to get out of Paris for a while, and it would give him time to remember who and what he was.
"Aramis!" he called, startling the man who looked up, surprise obvious on his face. Treville could not remember ever seeing the marksman flinch before the massacre, and was saddened to see it now. Pretending not to notice the man's uncharacteristic reaction, he motioned for him to come up, shifting his gaze to the other man at the table and nodding. "You, too, Porthos."
The two men exchanged looks of surprise, but rose from the table and made their way up the stairs.
With both men standing before his desk, Treville picked a sealed parchment from the scattered papers strewn across the surface and handed it to Aramis.
"I have a missive that needs to be delivered to a Comte a half days ride north of the city. I want you and Porthos to deliver it."
Aramis hesitated, his brows furrowed, his eyes narrowed as he studied the Captain's face. Treville met the younger man's gaze evenly.
"Problem?" he asked after a moment of silence.
Aramis swallowed, shook his head and reached for the parchment. "No, sir." His voice was steady, but Treville could detect the note of confusion within. It had been two long months since the young Musketeer had been given any kind of responsibility and it was obviously unexpected.
"Good," Treville kept the marksman's gaze, not letting his relief show on his face. "You are expected to wait for a reply and deliver it to the Cardinal upon your return." He turned and moved back around the desk, dropping into the chair, making a show of returning to his work. When neither man moved, he glanced back up, schooling his expression into one of impatience. "Was there anything else?"
Aramis looked to Porthos then back to the Captain, his pride taking hold, not allowing him to voice the question that was obvious on his face. Squaring his shoulders he took a deep breath through his nose and returned the Captain's gaze. "No, sir."
"Then you are dismissed."
With a curt nod, Aramis turned and exited the office, Porthos a beat behind him. Treville sat back and sighed, praying he was doing the right thing. He leaned back against the chair and braced his chin on his upturned hand. Whatever happened now was up to Aramis. Whether or not he had it within him to push his way back to the life he'd known before the massacre was yet to be seen, but Treville fancied himself a good judge of character – he'd be a poor Captain if he was not – and he saw something in Aramis the young man struggled to see in himself; resilience. He had been dealt a devastating blow, there was no denying that, but Treville had realized the depths of the man's strength when he'd first recruited him into the regiment. He'd seen more than just a skilled marksman, a competent soldier who knew strategy and never flinched from confrontation. He'd looked into those dark eyes and seen a lust for life that was rare among men who placed their lives at the disposal of the crown. Aramis had stood out because he had found a purpose, a meaning for life in the death that surrounded them and Treville had needed that type of character to prevail within the newly formed Musketeers.
Aramis' zeal had made him a popular member of the regiment, the men following his lead, trying to live up to his example. The fact the mission to Savoy had dampened that ardor had thrown a shadow over the entire garrison, and Treville would do anything to see it return. He'd given Aramis time; to grieve, to heal, to come to terms with his own survival. Now it was time to see if his trust in himself, his trust in his God, was enough to overcome the doubt and misery that had encompassed him.
Treville had hoped, the first time he'd seen them together, that Porthos would have a positive effect on the marksman. He'd been encouraged when Aramis had not pushed him away and had begun to assign them tasks that would put them in each other's paths. He didn't know if there was a friendship forming, but there was a level of comfort between them that was a basis for one, which is why Treville had decided it was time to give them a gentle nudge forward. He hoped they would return from this mission stronger, knowing neither of them stood alone, and he would have a foundation for a company of Musketeers that could show the rest of the regiment what it meant to persevere.
And with the arrival of his newest recruit, he would be able to build on that foundation.
A few leagues outside the city wall, Porthos turned to study his companion. Aramis sat tense in the saddle, quiet, his eyes darting from the road to the grassy plains around them. He supposed it was difficult for the man to be exposed like this, out in the open after everything he'd endured. Surviving an attack such as the one at Savoy had to do something to a man's nerves and he couldn't fault Aramis for being jumpy.
As far as missions went, this one was fairly straightforward and simple, but Porthos was happy to have received the summons from the Captain. He believed his involvement was more as an accompaniment for Aramis, but a mission was a mission and Porthos could only appreciate the Captain giving him the opportunity. This was Porthos' first official mission as a member of the regiment and, as far as he knew, this was the first time Aramis had been outside the city since his return. Porthos had barely known the marksman before the mission to Savoy, but he'd been aware of who he was; his laugh, his flair, his roguish appeal the envy of every man in the regiment. Porthos remembered how everyone had been captivated by the easy manner in which Aramis carried himself - which is why it had been so hard to watch him isolate himself from the others, to see his garrulous nature blanketed by guilt and depression.
Porthos had felt the need to help, but he knew his help would not be welcomed any more than anyone else who had attempted to engage the wounded man since his return to duty. He hadn't expected anything to come of his attempt at companionship right away, but Porthos was nothing if not patient. With the rest of the men still leery of including him – because of his size, his rawness or the color of his skin - he had found himself with plenty of time to sit with the wounded Musketeer, lending silent support whether it was welcomed or not.
He had been surprised when Captain Treville had approached him after the battle of La Rochelle, inviting him to join the King's elite Musketeers, but he'd learned to accept opportunity when it came his way without delving too deeply into the reasons behind it, and had accepted without reservation. He'd know it would be an uphill battle considering where he'd come from, but he was up to the challenge and dared any man to try to take it from him.
It had been Aramis who'd made the first overtures of friendship when he'd been introduced with the other new recruits. It seemed his differences held no significance to the affable Musketeer, and Porthos had been beholding to him for treating him like any other soldier. It hadn't stopped the others from giving him a wide berth, eyeing him suspiciously when they thought he wasn't looking, but it had eased his nervousness that first day and given him a feeling of acceptance that he hoped to build on and subsequently find a place to belong.
Of course, the Aramis who had returned from the training mission was not the same man who had departed the garrison that day and Porthos could only sympathize with the cause of the change. By staying close, he'd hoped to repay the Musketeer's kindness in some small way by letting him know he was not alone in his misery. When Aramis hadn't chased him away, Porthos prayed his silent support made things a tiny bit easier on the man and had made a point to be near whenever he could.
"Must you stare?"
"Huh?" Porthos was brought from his thoughts at the sound of the other man's voice.
"You've been watching me since we left Paris," Aramis remarked, his voice holding no animosity. "I have been told I'm quite pleasant to look at, but it's starting to make me nervous."
Porthos chuckled. "Pleasant, huh? Who would've told you something like that? One of those many mistresses you're rumored to keep?"
Aramis smiled, but it did not reach his eyes. "Some rumors are more true than others."
"So you do keep mistresses?"
Porthos tilted his head. "Haven't really had the chance. Most women find me a bit… dark for their tastes."
Aramis frowned. "Oh come now, Porthos. A strapping man such as yourself has plenty to offer a woman."
"Are you flirting with me?"
Porthos was pleased to hear a laugh, genuine and filled with delight, come from the marksman.
"I'm afraid you are hardly my type, my friend."
Porthos returned the laugh, a deep rumble as he smiled. "From what I hear, your type is anything that looks your way."
The remark only made Aramis laugh harder. "And some rumors are just rumors. Contrary to what you may have heard, I have standards. Lofty ones, some people might say."
"You like a challenge, eh?"
"I like the thrill of the chase, that I cannot deny," he responded earnestly. "But I do not discriminate. A lady's position does not matter to me so much as her disposition."
Porthos threw his head back and howled in laughter, liking the man beside him more each moment. He glanced over and noted the pleased grin on Aramis' face, realizing it was the first time since his return from Savoy Porthos had seen him truly smile.
"Well then, I suppose our next discussion should be about the 'disposition' you favor the most."
Aramis raised a hand to his hat and tipped it back, leaning toward Porthos as if to share a secret. "To be honest, my dear Porthos, I do so like them all."
Porthos crowed in delight. This was going to be a very interesting mission after all.