Author's Note- I'd like to say this is a character driven story, but let's face it, it's probably just fluffy whump. Yes, it's actually, most definitely, fluffy whump. But as an Aramis fan whose eyes continually track every movement and facial expression when he's on screen, and leans closer to the television whenever a character speaks of him (and I'm sure I'm not the only one), I have noticed 'things' since nearly the first episode that have not sat well with me- this being the lack of responsiveness from other characters whenever something happens to him. So I decided to express my displeasure with how Aramis is treated by everyone when he seems to be in distress or his life hangs in the balance or they see him thrown out a window or better yet- when someone actually says he's dead, by whumping the crap out of him to teach his friends a lesson on how they should not just assume he's fine simply because he's Aramis- which apparently means he can take care of himself so there's no need to worry.
Thank you, please enjoy, and think of this as a tribute to all of you who feel the same as I. And thank you to JenF who was my most excellent beta reader for this story.
The Invincibility of Aramis
Aramis walked into the garrison incapable of stopping the sword in his hand from dragging on the ground. With his weapon belt dangling from cold, weak fingers, doublet undone and azure scarf thrown over his shoulder, he lumbered slowly through the archway. Placing one blistered and aching foot in front of the other, he trudged toward the table where his brothers sat eating, the tip of his sheathed sword drawing a line in the dirt behind him.
Typically, the aroma of stew enticed his stomach, but right now it only made it clench. His lips quivered before spreading into a tight, thin line as he held back mutinous bile. His mouth watered not at the thought of eating but in anticipation of that bile, so he turned his nose away. The smell escalated the closer he came to the table, and augmented by the loud, boisterous chattering of his brothers, his need to lie down increased dramatically.
He came to a standstill just shy of the table, unsure if his sudden stop was solely due to the smell, or because his legs were so weak. His body swayed, and with his left hand slowly loosing strength, his weapon belt dropped even lower, his sword now almost parallel with the ground. He knew he looked a shamble of his normal self - hurting and dispirited, but the thought of his brothers coming to his aid brought him comfort.
He drew in a deep breath through his nose, wincing as his chest expanded and the wound on his back spread apart. He lifted his left arm, wanting to get his sword out of the dirt, but only achieved a few inches of height before his muscles refused to co-operate and his arm fell back to his side.
Deciding not to tempt fate again, he raised his right arm and tipped his hat off his face to swipe the cold sweat from his brow. There were many things he wanted to say to his brothers but his lips were not co-operating with his brain, and he found he could not speak lest a yawn were to escape.
"I see you've returned," said Athos.
Porthos waved him toward to the table. "Come on, you must be starvin'."
Aramis opened his mouth then closed it. He looked over his shoulder wondering if they were talking to someone else. Seeing no one, he turned back to his brothers. Hungry? He thought. You think I'm hungry?
"You're drenched," said d'Artagnan, reaching for the ladle in the pot of stew occupying the centre of the table. "I don't recall it raining today."
No, thought Aramis. No, it didn't.
"Come," said Athos, scooping out a bowl of stew Aramis assumed was for him. "Eat first. Then you can give Treville your report."
Aramis looked up to the balcony, his neck protesting with cracking sounds as his head tilted back. He rested his eyes on his captain's door for a long while before returning them to his brothers. The few steps to the table seemed a tremendous obstacle, but the thought of climbing the stairs and talking seemed insurmountable.
Again he drew in a deep breath, winced, and let it out slowly through pursed lips. He yearned to speak, but his mouth would still not co-operate.
"Why are you just standing there?" asked Porthos.
My god, thought Aramis. I'm actually too tired to answer my friend.
Athos stared at him from over his shoulder with a raised eyebrow. "Are you all right?"
The question felt like a slap to the face. Of course I'm not all right!
He took a deep breath to steady his fledgling nerves, grateful for at least a general inquiry directed as his well-being, but his brother's lack of astuteness still baffled him. "What do you think?" he said, his head pitching to his right.
Porthos waved a hand and chuckled. "Course he's all right. Just needs some food that's all."
"A little testy when he's hungry?" asked d'Artagnan, a good-natured smile adorning his face.
Porthos grunted with amusement as he moved along the bench, presumably making room for him to sit down. "Aren't we all," he said.
Aramis watched in both shock and dismay. He couldn't believe what he was experiencing and didn't think he could stand there much longer without getting angry. He turned away before that happened, and walked toward the bunkhouse, not caring that his sword still dragged on the ground.
With his right hand braced around his torso, for he couldn't actually reach the wound on his back, and with his head swimming in disbelief, he stepped into the cold shade of the building. Behind him, he heard Porthos' voice across the courtyard.
"Hey, didn't Aramis leave on horseback?"
Overwhelmed by his brother's lack of discernment, Aramis dropped all his weight onto his left leg as he took the last step leading into the bunkhouse, nearly collapsing when his knee buckled under the load. Yes, Porthos, he thought, yes I did.
Standing at muster the next morning, Athos leaned backward with his arms stretched behind his back. Treville had not yet arrived, and as he noticed while cranking his neck side to side to relieve the tightness, neither had Aramis.
Athos straightened and turned to d'Artagnan. "I was just wondering that myself."
"The Captain's gonna kill him if he's still sleepin'" said Porthos.
Athos looked right, catching the large musketeer midway through a yawn. "Did you see him this morning?" he asked.
Porthos shook his head. "Naw. But I wasn't really looking either," he said. "Slept late."
"I saw him last night," said d'Artagnan. "Saw him walk into the refectory just before dawn."
Athos turned to the Gascon on his other side.
"Unlike some people," said d'Artagnan, a light lilt in his voice. "I like to be prepared for morning muster."
Porthos growled which made Athos smile. He always enjoyed when their young friend gave back what he was so often given. "What was he doing?"
D'Artagnan frowned. "Going to eat I presume."
"Yeah," said Porthos, hitching his thumbs into his belt. "Missed evenin' meal last night remember? Probably woke up starving."
It was a reasonable explanation. Athos glanced around the courtyard, wondering if he'd slipped in late and was standing near the back. "But where is he now?" he asked when his search came up empty.
"Here's a better question," said Porthos, pulling out his thumbs to stand straight. "Will the Captain notice him gone?"
Athos turned his eyes front and pulled his body to a stand-easy position when he saw Treville. His stomach turned knowing there was no way for their captain to miss Aramis' absence when he usually stood there along side them each morning.
He listened to their captain detailing yesterday's late dispatches and todays' orders, his stomach twisting each minute Aramis' absence was not mentioned. At one point, Athos thought he caught Treville looking at him sideways. Their captain almost seemed surprised to see them there.
"Were we supposed to be somewhere else this mornin'?" whispered Porthos.
Athos frowned. "You saw that too?"
"You mean the Captain lookin' at us funny? Yeah."
Athos shuffled his feet, took a quick look around then returned his attention back to Treville.
"Why do I get the feeling it's not Aramis that's missing, but us," said d'Artagnan.
"Like he's where we're supposed to be," said Athos.
"And we're standing here like fools," added Porthos.
"Is there a problem?"
Athos cleared his throat and looked at his captain. "No. Sir," he said.
Treville stared at him for several beats. "Then I suggest you pay attention when I'm speaking," he said, clasping his hands behind his back.
Athos noticed that questioning frown once again on Treville's face before he continued doling out the day's orders. Athos wasn't sure if he should ask him what was going on or if he should immediately apologize for not being wherever it was he was supposed to be.
"I'm getting a funny feeling," said d'Artagnan.
"My stomach hurts all of a sudden," said Porthos. "And I don't think it's 'cause I'm still hungry."
The possibility that he, Porthos and d'Artagnan had all forgotten to do something or be somewhere this morning was impossible. It was definitely Aramis who was missing.
At the Captain's dismissal, Athos strode forward with Porthos and d'Artagnan beside him. Treville met them halfway with an incredulous look on his face.
"Where is he?" asked their captain.
Athos stopped short. "I was going to ask the same question of you," he said.
They stared at each other for a moment then Treville leaned back, his brows pulling together. "I figured there was a reasonable explanation for his absence," he said. "I was giving you all the benefit of the doubt. But you're telling me you don't know where he is either?"
"No," replied Porthos. "I…we… thought you knew something we didn't. You kept lookin' at us funny."
Treville's face went red. "I was wondering where Aramis was!"
D'Artagnan held up his hands. "Why don't we figure this out?"
Athos nodded then remembered something d'Artagnan said earlier. "You saw him walking into the refectory this morning, did you not?"
D'Artagnan nodded, already turning away before Athos could suggest they start looking for Aramis where he was last seen. Porthos headed for the stables and Athos for the window to Aramis' room that looked out over the courtyard.
He stuck his head inside the open window, immediately noticing the empty but unmade bed and let out a deep breath. He took note of the doublet and weapons scattered on the floor then pulled his head back out and went to meet the others at the table.
"Not there," he said.
"Horse isn't either," reported Porthos.
D'Artagnan came running out of the refectory. "He's not there," he said, skidding to a halt. "Serge said he saw him come in earlier then just leave all of a sudden without saying anything."
"That's weird," said Porthos.
Athos scanned the courtyard and balcony above. "I agree," he said, resting his eyes on his captain. "Permission to start a formal search?"
"Granted," said Treville. "I'll check with the men at the gates. See if they saw him leave."
Athos nodded at his captain then turned to his remaining brothers. "He must be here," he said. "He's not in his room but his coat and weapons were there."
"So we check all hallways and private rooms," said d'Artagnan. "Ask everyone we see."
Porthos was biting his lip as he looked at the ground.
"What is it?" asked Athos.
"He didn't look so good when he came back last night," said Porthos. "Maybe we should check the infirmary?"
Athos shook his head. "A report would have been given to Treville." He caught Porthos staring at him with wide eyes. "But check anyway."
Porthos left and Athos sent d'Artagnan to gather help and check the upper floors of the garrison. Within minutes the courtyard was a flurry of activity as the men, both on and off duty, were searching for Aramis and calling his name.
Athos scratched his neck. Where would Aramis go? Why would he leave without telling anyone? These questions ran through his mind without answers, leading him to consider a heinous predicament- kidnapping. He spun toward the gate where Treville was talking with the men on duty. If Aramis were seen leaving, Treville would have announced it by now.
Athos kicked the dirt. "Damn it, Aramis. Where the hell are you?"
"He's not there," called Porthos, crossing the courtyard. "And no one's seen him."
"Not up here either," said d'Artagnan as he came down the stairs.
Their captain joined them in the middle of the courtyard shaking his head. "No one saw him leave. Or anything suspicious for that matter. No one came in or out after he arrived last night."
"Then he must still be here," said d'Artagnan.
"There's more than one way out of the garrison than the front door," stated Athos. There were exits all over the place, but none he could conceive Aramis taking unless… He dropped his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I dismissed it at first, but what if he was taken?"
Porthos' anxious demeanour quickly changed to anger. "Oh hell no."
"What about the church?" asked d'Artagnan, an optimism in his voice Athos hated to quash.
"Why would Aramis sneak out to attend church?"
"He wouldn't," replied Porthos. "But I'm not taking anything for granted right now. I say we check."
"What about a woman?" asked Treville.
"Not without his coat and weapons," replied Porthos. "He'd never walk around Paris without them. Not even to church."
"Agreed," said Athos. "But like you said, let's not take anything for granted. We check every household where he is… welcome. And every church between them."
"You men go," said Treville. "I'll keep the search going here, even as redundant as it seems right now. And god forbid a ransom note finds it way to our doorstep, somebody should be here to accept it."
Disparaged by the thought, Athos followed his brothers through the arch leading to the streets of Paris. Their captain's voice echoed in the tunnel as they passed through, calling out one more order.
To Be Continued…