A/N:- This is an Aramis whump story but also a story about the solidarity and bond between these four Musketeers. In truth, the story was originally written several years ago for another fandom but with some rewrites here and tweaking there, I'm hoping it will be an entertaining story in the Musketeer realm. I hope you enjoy it.
Disclaimer: The Musketeers and its characters do not belong to me and this story is not intended as an infringement of copyright. It has been written solely for entertainment and no profit has been made from its creation.
Beyond the Darkness
Scrubbing his tired eyes, Athos looked at the familiar landmarks and gauged the distance to Paris. Standing in his stirrups, he flexed his back and neck and stretched muscles that had stiffened from four long days in the saddle.
The Musketeers had been delivering eviction notices issued by order of the King and, no doubt, encouraged by First Minister, Rochefort. Captain Treville had argued that this was no fit task for members of the King's Musketeer Regiment but, as was happening with greater frequency, the King had sided with Rochefort.
Several yards ahead, D'Artagnan and Porthos rode side by side; the larger man regaling their young brother with tales that grew more daring and more outrageous with every recitation. Turning in his saddle, Athos noticed that Aramis had fallen behind and he pulled back on his reins to wait for him. Though they were all weary, the uncharacteristic slump of the marksman's shoulders drew the older man's scrutiny.
Earlier that morning, they had been caught in an electrical storm and soaked to the skin before they could find shelter in thick woods. Despite the fact that the heat of the sun overhead had been enough to dry their outer clothing, Aramis was shivering so violently that Athos could hear his teeth chatter. As Aramis' horse drew alongside, Athos placed his hand on the younger man's arm.
"Are you unwell?" he asked.
Aramis looked up from under the large brim of his hat and smiled wearily.
"Do not concern yourself, my friend," he replied. "It is nothing a warm bed and dry clothes will not remedy."
They continued onward in companionable silence, arriving at the garrison just after dark. Entrusting their mounts to the stable boys, they slowly climbed the stairs to report to Treville. Athos kept a surreptitious eye on Aramis who looked pale and drawn as he stood shoulder to shoulder with his brothers until they were dismissed for the evening. Then, having worked up a sizeable appetite, the four men headed back down the stairs to the refectory. While the others took a seat at their usual table, Aramis remained standing.
"Gentlemen, I will see you at morning muster," he said, tipping his hat.
"What? You're not eatin' wiv us?" Porthos asked.
"Tonight, I find the promise of a warm bed far more enticing than watching you single-handedly deplete the garrison's food supply," Aramis smiled, slapping his hand on the bigger man's shoulder.
"May we enquire the name of the mademoiselle whose warm bed has robbed us of your company tonight?" the d'Artagnan teased.
"For your information, young Gascon, I shall be sleeping alone tonight," Aramis replied.
"Well, that's a first," Porthos grinned. "What 'appened? Her 'usband come 'ome early?"
"Believe me, my friend, after four days in the saddle, the only bed I wish to warm is my own," Aramis replied, curtly. "Bonne nuit, mes amis."
Porthos frowned at the marksman's brusque reply and watched as he turned and walked toward his quarters.
"Oi, wait up!" the large man called. "We were only jokin'! Aramis!"
When the marksman didn't respond, Porthos turned to the others.
"Something's eatin' at 'im," he said. "He hasn't been 'imself all day."
"Let him be, Porthos," Athos replied. "It has been a long four days. I venture we would all benefit from an early night."
The conversation was terminated by the arrival of the garrison's cook, Serge, who struggled to lift a large pot of his finest stew onto the table. Snatching the ladle from the pot, Porthos scooped a portion of the stew straight into his mouth before looking at his companions.
"Right, I got mine. What are you pair 'aving?"
Closing the door of his quarters, Aramis struck a match on a piece of flint and lit the small lantern on the table by the window. He watched as the flame spluttered and then caught, casting a soft glow throughout the room. His cold fingers fumbled with the buckles of his various weapons belts before he placed them neatly on the wooden chest at the foot of his bed. Shrugging out of his long coat, he felt the residual dampness from this morning's rainstorm in his breeches and shirt and quickly decided to light the small fireplace so his clothes would dry overnight.
Removing his hat, he felt a pang of guilt about his rather abrupt departure from his friends and carded his fingers through his unruly curls. Usually, he would find humour in their friendly banter but tonight he was tired and couldn't seem to escape the chill that had permeated his bones. He would offer his apology to his friends after he'd had a good night's sleep.
Lighting a candle from the flame of lantern, he proceeded to the wood heater and began to light the papers and twigs within. The fire caught quickly and Aramis rubbed his hands together in anticipation of the coming warmth. An all too familiar aroma drew his attention and his breath caught.
Before he could react, an intense flash of light and heat assailed him and the fire place exploded with a force large enough to shake the building. Caught in the blast concussion, Aramis felt his body picked up and thrown violently across the room. His head cracked against the wall behind him and his body crumpled to the floor as the darkness rushed over him.
Having quickly demolished his first plate of stew, Porthos stood to refill his plate when the garrison was rocked by an explosion that shattered nearby windows and catapulted assorted debris into the air. Instinctively ducking and drawing their weapons, the Musketeers looked frantically for the source of the explosion; their collective hearts clenching when they saw plumes of smoke billowing from Aramis' room.
Instantly to his feet, Porthos sprinted across the compound at a dead run with Athos and d'Artagnan at his heels.
Arriving at the marksman's quarters, Porthos put his shoulder to the door with enough force to burst it from its hinges. Pulling his bandana from his pocket, he held it over his nose and mouth, providing some protection from the thick smoke. Taking a deep breath, he crouched low and ran into the room. His breath was immediately snatched away by the heat and smell of the fire that had clearly been caused by the exploding fire place.
"Aramis!" he called, blinking tears from his irritated eyes.
His calls were immediately echoed by d'Artagnan and Athos, who were frantically stomping on burning embers and using blankets to beat the flames into submission.
"Where is he?" d'Artagnan shouted. "Aramis!"
Coughing and gagging from the taste and smell of the acrid smoke, Athos crouched and breathed deeply from the untainted air closer to the ground. He was ready to continue his search when he saw a body lying sprawled at the far end of the room.
"Porthos! Over there!" he yelled.
Porthos found Aramis unconscious against the wall. Frantically searching for injuries, he ran his fingers over the younger man's head, wincing as his fingers returned coated in his friend's blood.
"Aramis...Aramis, open your eyes," Porthos said, tapping his friend's cheek in an attempt to rouse him.
"There's too much smoke," d'Artagnan coughed. "Get him out of here!"
He steadied the injured man as Porthos lifted Aramis across his shoulders and carried him from the room into the compound where other Musketeers hurried to help.
"Take him to the infirmary," Treville ordered. "I'll send for a physician."
Porthos gently lowered Aramis onto the first available bunk to assess his injuries. In addition to the head injury, the marksman had suffered burns to both hands and small blisters were already forming on his cheeks and brow.
"Come on, Aramis," Porthos croaked with his smoke-irritated throat. "Open your eyes. You listenin' to me? Open your eyes!"
The younger man was as still as a stone effigy and Porthos expelled a groan heavy of frustration and contempt.
"Where's that bloody physician?"
"He'll be here," Treville said, as he moved to the bed with two large bowls of clean water to soak Aramis' hands.
Porthos carefully lifted the injured man's head, grimacing at the amount of blood now caked in his hair. Taking a clean bandage, Treville soaked it in water and did his best to clean the nasty head wound and stem the bleeding. The door to the infirmary burst open and Athos and d'Artagnan rushed to Aramis' bedside.
"How is he?" d'Artagnan coughed roughly.
"Still out," Porthos replied flatly. "He's got a nasty 'ead wound and his 'ands are burned."
"What happened with the fire?" Treville enquired.
"Extinguished," Athos replied, not taking his eyes off his unconscious friend. "It appears the wood burner exploded when Aramis attempted to light it."
Treville sighed and shook his head.
"A senseless accident," he said.
"This was no accident," Athos continued pointedly. "It was packed with gun powder."
Porthos shot to his feet.
"What are you sayin'?" he demanded.
"I'm saying...someone tried to kill Aramis."
"That's not possible," Treville stated. "Only Musketeers have access to the barracks."
"Then, it would appear that one of our brother Musketeers wanted Aramis dead...and very nearly succeeded," Athos replied bitterly.
Athos leaned languidly against the outside wall of the infirmary. Though his body gave the impression of nonchalance, he was far from relaxed. Watching from under the brim of his hat, his lips twitched in amusement as d'Artagnan thoroughly cleaned and then re-cleaned his pistol. The younger man looked up, meeting Athos' questioning look.
"A wise man once told me – respect your weapon and it will respect you," d'Artagnan explained.
The swordsman's eyes softened, recognising Aramis' words.
"Indeed," he replied before turning his attention to Porthos who was pacing like a caged lion outside the infirmary door.
Patience was not something the larger man had in abundance but it was never more evident than when one of his brothers were injured or in trouble. For several moments, the only noise between them was the creaking of the boards under the large Musketeer's booted feet. D'Artagnan startled and the swordsman raised an eyebrow as Porthos thumped his fist into the wall.
"What's taking so long?" he growled.
"Treville will inform us when the physician has completed his examination," Athos replied calmly.
"I agree with Porthos," d'Artagnan added. "We should've heard something by now."
"I'm not waitin' any longer!" Porthos declared. "I'm goin' in!"
"You will do no such thing," Athos said, using a more authoritative tone. "Treville ordered us to remain here until further notice."
"That's Aramis lying in there!" Porthos growled. "We should be in there wiv 'im."
"We would still be in there had you not terrorised the physician."
"I didn't terrorise 'im!" Porthos objected.
Athos rolled his eyes and sighed.
"You threatened to tear him limb from limb," he said.
"Well he wasn't workin' fast enough!" Porthos defended. "I still say he should be done by now. Something's wrong and I'm gonna find out what it is!"
His jaw set in determination, Porthos turned purposely toward the door when it swung open and Treville blocked his path eyeing him menacingly.
"I was just…stretching me legs," Porthos told him, unable to meet the captain's steady gaze.
"If you can remain civil," Treville said, looking accusingly at the larger man. "You can come in."
The soldiers shot to their feet and rushed to Aramis' bedside.
Physician Neval Chevallier was a portly man with a balding head and a ruddy complexion. He had been eating a hearty evening meal when two Musketeers knocked urgently on the door to his residence and demanded his presence at the nearby garrison.
Possessed of a highly-strung nature, Chevallier, was quickly overwhelmed by the presence of four Musketeers hovering over his patient and scrutinising his every move. When the largest of them had threatened bodily harm, he demanded the captain clear the room to allow him to work. The physician swallowed convulsively at the disapproving and cautionary looks the three younger men threw his way as they reluctantly moved outside. Now, as the soldier's gathered at the bedside of their injured friend, Chevallier could see the genuine concern etched on their faces.
"How is he?" Athos asked, eyeing the clean white bandages encasing Aramis' hands.
"He sustained some burns to his hands," Chevallier replied. "I have applied a salve and clean bandages which must be changed several times a day to avoid infection."
"Will he lose the use of his hands?" d'Artagnan asked, dreading the answer but needing to know.
"The injury is painful but superficial and should heal well if he follows my instructions," the doctor replied.
Chevallier exchanged a nervous look with Treville.
"What aren't you tellin' us?" Porthos asked, standing to his full height and towering over the twitchy physician.
Chevallier cleared his throat several times before answering.
"As you know, your friend suffered a serious head injury."
"Aramis!" d'Artagnan interjected. "His name is Aramis."
"Yes, of course, forgive me," the physician stammered. "The wound has been cleaned and stitched but he...Aramis has not responded to **salt of hartshorn or other stimuli."
"What are you saying?" Porthos growled causing the physician to take several rapid steps backward.
Treville glared a warning at the large Musketeer.
"Head injuries are always hard to assess," Chevallier said. "Aramis has yet to show any signs of regaining consciousness."
"It's been hours," d'Artagnan said, worry eking out of every pore.
"He's had harder knocks to the head before," Porthos said, taking a seat next to the bed and placing a comforting hand on the young Gascon's shoulder. "He always bounces back. You'll see."
"You may very well be right, monsieur, but I'm afraid we won't know anything until he wakes up," Chevallier said, gathering his medical bag.
"You're leaving?" Porthos asked angrily.
"It's late," Chevallier replied. "I've left a tonic to give him when he wakes – I suspect he'll have a fearful headache. See that he drinks it; keep him calm and as still as possible. I'll be back tomorrow to check on him but, in the meantime, Captain Treville knows where to find me."
With a brisk nod, Treville led the doctor to the door before turning to his men.
"One of you stays with him at all times until we know what we're dealing with," the captain ordered.
"That won't be a problem," Athos replied.
"I'll be in my office. Let me know when he wakes."
In silent companionship, Porthos, d'Artagnan and Athos spent the rest of the night in the infirmary by Aramis' side. Between them, they monitored every restless movement or soft, incoherent moan the marksman made, desperately hoping the injured man would regain consciousness. They took turns in watching over their friend, each man gently grasping Aramis' forearm or his shoulder - never breaking contact and silently reassuring him that he was not alone.
Time passed slowly and Athos was lured into the almost hypnotic effect of the steady rise and fall of Aramis' chest. He tried to ignore the stillness of a man who had rarely stopped moving since their first encounter. He shook his head and his lips quirked in a smile as he fondly recalled meeting the cocky, young man. To his surprise he'd found, under the flippant, brash, wise-ass exterior, Aramis was a hell of a Musketeer, a person he could respect and trust with his life and a man he had grown to love as a brother.
The sun sent its early morning tendrils to peak through the shuttered window and herald the arrival of a new day. Porthos rose stiffly to his feet and rolled his shoulders to work out the kinks. He stood quietly beside the bed and placed a gentle hand on Aramis' head.
"At least he had a restful night," d'Artagnan said, looking as exhausted as Porthos felt.
"That makes one of us," Athos quipped.
Noise and movement in the compound outside, signalled that it was almost time for morning muster. Athos caught d'Artagnan's eye and pointed at the injured man with his chin.
"Stay with him," he said.
"Of course," the younger man replied with a set to his jaw that silently vowed that anyone who tried to get to Aramis would need to get through him first.
Taking up a position in the back row, Porthos and Athos stood side by side, casting their eyes over each of the Musketeers assembled for morning muster. The majority of the soldiers gathered had been part of the regiment for many years and neither man could believe they would have cause to harm their affable marksman.
When Treville had allocated the day's assignments and dismissed the men, he sought out Porthos and Athos and spoke quietly.
"How is he?"
"No change," Porthos replied. "d'Artagnan's wiv 'im."
Nodding his head, Treville continued.
"Are you aware of any issues Aramis may have had with anyone within the regiment?"
The two men shook their heads.
"Aramis is well-liked and well-respected among the men," Athos answered.
"If he was 'aving any problems with anyone, I'd know about it," Porthos stated.
"I will be personally speaking to every man assigned to the garrison during the four days you were gone," the captain said. "But, so far, I am finding it very hard to believe the attack against Aramis came from one of our own."
"One thing is clear," Athos said. "We cannot rest until we have brought his attacker to justice."
"Be on your guard," Treville warned. "If this man learns Aramis survived the attack, he may well strike again."
"Just let 'im try," Porthos growled menacingly.
Several more hours passed until, finally, Aramis began to show signs of waking. His pale face contorted and he screwed his eyes shut; the deep frown lines announced the presence of a mammoth headache. Noting the younger man's pain, Athos quickly closed the shutters to keep out the light and reduced the flame of the lantern.
"You back wiv us?" Porthos asked softly.
Answering with the smallest of nods, Aramis flicked his tongue over his dry lips.
"Here, drink this," d'Artagnan said, holding a cup of water to his friend's lips.
Aramis took a few sips of the cool substance, sighing as the liquid soothed his parched throat.
"What happened?" he whispered, wincing at the sound of his own voice.
D'Artagnan opened his mouth to reply but Athos shook his head.
"We were hoping you could tell us," he said.
Aramis frowned again, willing his memory to fill in the blanks.
"I was cold," he said. "I couldn't seem to get warm. I tried to light the fireplace and...it exploded!"
"Easy," Porthos cautioned, feeling the tension surging through the marksman's body.
"Is anyone else injured?"
"Only you," Porthos replied. "You put quite a dent in the wall with that 'ard head of yours."
Aramis gave the hint of a smile and tentatively opened his eyes.
"What time is it?" he frowned.
"A little after midday," d'Artagnan replied.
Aramis fisted his bandaged hands in the blankets; his breathing coming in short, sharp gasps. Exchanging worried looks with his friends, Athos placed his own hands over the marksman's to still them.
"You must remain calm, Aramis," he said.
Aramis' heart was hammering as he fought to control his breathing.
"Hey, hey!" Porthos said. "Listen to me...the doc said you're gonna be fine."
Aramis swallowed convulsively trying to find his voice.
"I'm afraid the good doctor is mistaken," he said shakily.
Athos leaned forward and squeezed his friend's shoulder to anchor him.
"What is it?" he asked.
"I...I can't see," Aramis whispered. "I'm blind."
**Salt of hartshorn refers to ammonium carbonate, an early form of smelling salts commonly used in the 17th century.
A/N I hope you enjoyed that – more to come.