A/N: It's good to be back! With this little story, I indulged in a 'what if' scenario because I thought Grimaud took it a little too easy on Aramis during 'Prisoner Of War'. And just like many others, I missed the brotherhood and camaraderie from season one. This is my attempt to get their friendship back on track. I would love to hear your thoughts about my little version of Episode 8 :)
A huge thank you to JackFan2 for her wonderful support and additions to this piece. All remaining mistakes are mine :)
This is written in two parts, the second of which will be up sometime next week.
I hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: I don't own anything you recognize.
The Bond That Keeps
Part I - Porthos
"Kill us both!"
Those three little words held the raw force of a lightning bolt as they easily penetrated the haze that had settled behind Porthos' eyes since that blasted rock struck the side of his head. Aramis' desperate plea for vengeance and self-sacrifice served to ignite a powder cake of irrational anger within him. How dare he ask such a thing?
Porthos' heartbeat thundered like the hoofbeats of a thousand horses and was matched in intensity only by the merciless pounding inside his skull. When his vision briefly reduced to a faded landscape and his aim wavered, it was almost impossible to remain focused.
Time limped like a wounded animal as Porthos blinked several times in an attempt to clear his blurry vision, struggling to make sense of the scene before him.
Using Aramis as a human shield and firmly pressing his pistol into the marksman's back, Grimaud managed to keep himself out of the line of fire.
At Porthos' current angle it would have been a difficult shot on his best day. Considering the way the world lost focus at random intervals due to the pulsating ache behind his temple, it was clear that this was, in fact, not his best day.
He could not trust in his ability to hit Grimaud without driving a bullet through his friend's body. And despite Aramis' ridiculous pleas, he'd be damned if he would risk it.
Frozen in time and indecision, Porthos tried to gauge Aramis' condition. In spite of his constantly tilting sight and the pounding in his head , he was able to recognize the bone weary exhaustion marring the marksman's features but could only guess at the harsh treatment that would have preceded the stiff posture he witnessed.
When Porthos' gaze collided with Aramis', he was taken aback by the fiery spark of determination and desperate resolve brightening the eyes that greeted him. There was an almost frantic need visible in those depths; screaming at him to understand the extent of the sacrifice his friend was willing to make to see Grimaud dead.
Understanding all too well what was expected of a soldier in service to the King, Porthos was not naïve enough to believe any of them were not expendable. Expendable to everyone but each other, that was. And Aramis was a sacrifice he was not willing to accept. No matter how dire the consequences. No matter how high the stakes.
For if they sacrificed each other to win this war, there would be nothing left to fight for. Aramis had yet to realize that, and Porthos would make sure his friend lived long enough to do so.
The commanding tone of Aramis' next words would have prompted lesser men into action. "Shoot. Now!"
"Shut up!" Porthos' answering bark held all the fury and pent up frustration of a caged bear. He was no longer able to control his emotions in the face of his friend's utter disregard for his own safety.
When pistol fire shattered the air next to him, his world exploded into a flurry of activity.
Leaving the barrel with speed and a cloud of smoke, the small leaden ball cut the tension that had mounted. For one single heartbeat Porthos was paralyzed with the fear that Aramis' sacrifice might be claimed after all.
In the end, Athos' shot missed altogether but their enemy's retaliation for the attack was swift. While Grimaud's associate quickly drew his rapier and advanced on Athos' position, Grimaud himself evenly leveled his pistol at Porthos' chest.
As the ball sped towards Porthos with alarming velocity, it took a moment for his body to react.
He watched in horror as Aramis' knees buckled, unable to reconcile his friend's features distorting in pain with the thundering discharge of the weapon too close to his ear drum.
When his brain finally issued the command to leap sideways, Porthos recognized the close call for what it was when the shot sped past close enough to feel a gust of air brush his cheek.
Tasting dirt in his mouth and bruising his bones on the rocky surface beneath him, Porthos could not keep his angry growl at bay. He pushed onto his elbows and knees immediately, mind still reeling, desperate to regain his bearings.
Grimaud made a run for his horse.
Out of the corner of his eye, Porthos saw d'Artagnan sprint past him with the speed and agility of youthful determination. He recognized his younger friend's single-minded mission to bring their nemesis to justice.
Further ahead Porthos witnessed Athos deliver a final blow to another of Grimaud's men, shattering his opponent's defenses and cleanly running him through.
Finally gaining his feet, Porthos cursed his lack of equilibrium and the man who had landed such an unlucky blow to the side of his head. While scanning the immediate area to locate Aramis, the scenery slid and blurred like an oil painting as his vision lost focus once more.
When he set eyes on Aramis, he watched as the marksman struggled to get a foot underneath himself and slowly pushed his way upright with obvious effort. Hands still shackled together in front of him, his friend seemed to have trouble keeping his balance as he swayed precariously.
With Aramis no longer in the line of fire and in no immediate need, Porthos made a split second decision to move past his friend, rushing to aid d'Artagnan in his pursuit of Grimaud.
He knew he was too late even before he reached the edge of the woods. Frustration tore at his gut as he could do no more than watch as their enemy already thundered into the thick of the forest on horseback to escape once more.
Just ahead, d'Artagnan aimed his pistol at the man's back and pulled the trigger.
And Porthos watched with bated breath. Hoping...
The bark of a tree splintered violently with the impact of the lead ball, the echo of the shot startling a flock of birds to frenzied flight. D'Artagnan's enraged roar reverberated through the clearing, his uncontrolled fury perfectly serving to announce that once again, Grimaud had evaded them.
"You should have all fired. And killed us both!"
Porthos' vision turned white as blinding anger suddenly ruled his head and heart at Aramis' relentless demand for self-sacrifice.
"Are you kiddin' me with this?" – His rage drove him forward, pointing an accusing finger in Aramis' direction – "You have no right to ask this of any of us."
Aramis did not respond but exhaled shakily and lifted both his shackled hands to wipe the beading sweat off his brow.
Even after all the time they had spent apart, Porthos still recognized Aramis' reckless behavior as the same methods the man before him had always displayed when he believed his service to the Crown, his country, and its citizens demanded it. The dire consequences those actions often held for himself were always stubbornly disregarded.
Usually, Porthos was able to handle his friend's lack of self-preservation because he always respected his motives. This time, though, it only served to ignite his temper.
His body was brimming with the need to vent his frustrations lest he choke on them. "And you shouldn't 'ave been keepin' secrets! Then perhaps this whole mess would've turned out different."
At his continued rant, Aramis finally sought to defend his actions and raised his voice to match Porthos in volume and ferocity. "I wanted peace," he began, gesturing wildly with his bound hands, fighting desperately to explain himself. "We've all seen what war does to the world. It makes refugees, men like Grimaud…"
"There was no reason to go at it alone," Porthos interjected fiercely. "You should have told us! We would have –" The weight of a hand came to rest on his shoulder, halting his tirade.
The quiet warning hidden in the sound of his name had him turning his head instantly. He was met by d'Artagnan's sidelong glance, his features clouded in shadows by the deep frown marring his forehead. But it was the open concern Porthos detected in his younger friend's eyes that caused him to blink in confusion.
"Something is not right," d'Artagnan said with a quick nod of his head. Porthos' eyes followed the direction his friend indicated and realized that Aramis was the subject of his scrutiny.
It remained a challenge for Porthos to think passed the cobwebs still stubbornly clouding his mind. In addition, the anger which had surged bright and hot within him a minute prior had left him almost dizzy.
When he hurriedly turned his gaze back to Aramis, his stomach twisted in knots at the possibility that he had missed something important.
The marksman now stood quietly rooted to the spot where he had so vehemently defended his actions mere moments ago. When Porthos' eyes carefully scanned the man before him, he slowly registered a suspiciously pale face, clammy skin and a small but steady tremor that had taken a firm hold on Aramis' upper body.
It seemed he had indeed missed something.
"Aramis?" His voice felt like dry sand, scratching his throat painfully as it emerged. Guilt, ugly and dark started to spread inside his chest with frightening speed.
Glassy eyes lifted to meet Porthos' frantic gaze, and he was hard pressed to tell when exactly Aramis' chest had started to heave in the mad rhythm he witnessed.
"I am truly sorry. My friend," Aramis panted breathlessly. The words, spoken with too much effort were carried away instantly when a sudden gust of wind whisked past them, attempting to penetrate armor and bringing with it an air of warning.
Aramis' arm slowly wound around his midsection and his shackled hands came to rest just under his ribs on his left side. The light pressure of the touch left him gasping for air while his features twisted into a mask of pain.
Porthos immediately recognized the sticky substance oozing out between gloved fingers.
No. His throat constricted violently, a surge of fear ripping through his chest and winding around his heart.
His eyes still firmly locked on Aramis' in a desperate attempt to keep his friend anchored to the present and connected to himself, Porthos watched with bated breath as Aramis' knees buckled.
Leaping forward with no conscious thought and more speed than he believed his tired body capable of, Porthos reached his destination just as his friend's knees hit the ground with a dull thud.
Skidding to his knees, Porthos stopped Aramis' forward momentum by catching his friend's upper body against his chest. When the injured man's head fell limply onto his shoulder, the vulnerability of the act increased his worry exponentially.
"Damn it. Aramis?" Porthos was hard pressed to keep the panic at bay, especially when no reply reached his ears. "A little help here!" Even as he barked his command for assistance, he recognized the sound of hurried footsteps as both Athos and d'Artagnan already rushed to his side.
The Gascon reached them first, falling to the ground where Porthos still held their ailing friend in an awkward embrace. "What the hell happened?" d'Artagnan asked breathlessly. "Did anyone see him get hit?"
Porthos only managed to shake his head slowly in denial.
"Alright, easy now," d'Artagnan cautioned and hooked his arms under Aramis' shoulders from behind to carefully lift him out of Porthos' hold. "I've got him. Let's lay him on his back and take a look."
When d'Artagnan failed to complete the movement, and Aramis hung limply between them, Porthos looked at the Gascon expectedly. The sympathy he read in the young man's eyes confused him. "I've got him, Porthos," d'Artagnan repeated quietly. "You need to let go."
Right. Briefly closing his eyes in an attempt to gather his scattered thoughts, Porthos reluctantly loosened his firm hold and allowed d'Artagnan to move Aramis backward to settle him gently on the ground.
The hammer pounding away inside Porthos' head made it ever more challenging to follow events as they unfolded around him. He simply refused to give in until he knew for certain that Aramis' solitary pursuit of peace would not cost him his life.
Unconscious, Aramis' head rolled to the side, allowing Porthos to inspect his condition. Dark circles underneath closed eyes bruised the marksman's pale skin, lending him a ghostly appearance.
Drawn by the dark and frighteningly large stains covering his friend's leathers, Porthos' eyes studied the ragged tear in the garment above the belt and just below the ribs.
He blanched at the thought of what might lie underneath. "This is no musket wound," he muttered under his breath, for his own benefit more so than anyone else's, his sluggish mind fervently trying to fathom what had happened.
He needed to see.
Porthos grasped the chain that still bound his friend's wrists together. After unlocking the shackles, he quickly discarded the offending object.
In an effort to gain access to the wound, Porthos unfastened the buckles on Aramis' doublet and loosened the blue sash beneath. During his attempt to open the leather clasps, he realized that his fingers suddenly lacked the necessary dexterity to complete the task. His hands insisted on shaking without his permission, and the leather fastenings kept slipping through his grasp.
Something wet suddenly entered his eye and obscured his view, halting his urgent efforts. Tilting his head to the side, he wiped his face on his upper arm. In his peripheral vision, he noticed the red stains now adorning his armor and growled in annoyance at the reminder of his own wound.
Calloused fingers suddenly covered his uncooperative hands and Porthos brought his head up to find Athos staring at him intently. "Here," he said soothingly, as if trying to calm a wounded animal, "let me." Even soft-spoken, the words and steady gaze brooked no argument as Athos firmly moved Porthos' hands aside to quickly complete the task before them.
When the last buckle released and Athos pulled open the leather overcoat, Porthos' breath caught in his throat. Aramis' blood stained shirt was saturated, the vast expanse of red stains painting a truly frightening picture.
There was no time to hesitate. Reaching in, Porthos grasped the wet material and quickly tore it open to expose the injury. Taking Aramis' discarded sash, Athos pressed it to the wound immediately, staunching the flow of blood. After a moment, he lifted the cloth slightly, allowing them a quick examination.
"Bloody hell." Porthos grumbled. He surveyed the damage with a trained eye that had seen too many battle wounds for one lifetime. Even though he could tell that the injury was inflicted by a dagger, the gash was too wide and the edges too ragged to be caused by a smooth blade. He turned knowing eyes to Athos. "Serrated edge?"
The older musketeer cringed in response. "Certainly looks that way."
Porthos heaved a heavy sigh and felt sweat beading on his brow. A stab wound caused by a serrated weapon was always more difficult to close, causing additional pain and bleeding. How on earth had he missed this?
But in his heart, he already knew the answer. When he had first caught up to Aramis, his world had narrowed to the anger elicited by his friend's careless actions, and all possible warning signs had been overridden in favor of venting his frustrations.
Quickly pulling the scarf off his head, Porthos pressed it firmly into the steadily seeping wound before Athos lowered the sash, doubling their efforts to stem the loss of blood.
The low moan reaching his ears signaled Aramis' rude awakening and return to consciousness. Porthos witnessed the exact moment when awareness struck as Aramis arched his back, desperately trying to escape the torment and pressure.
Athos leaned in to grasp Aramis' shoulder in support. "Steady now." – Tightening his grip, the swordsman made sure he was in Aramis' line of sight. – "Deep breaths brother. We will make this right. I promise you, we will make this right."
Porthos had seen enough death in recent years to understand that there were no assurances that Athos' statement would hold true. But between the four of them, they would tolerate no other outcome.
He watched as Aramis' eyes, frantic and wide with confusion, searched for the source of his misery. When his gaze found Porthos' bloodstained hands, his growing agitation was easily recognizable as the marksman's chest started to heave uncontrollably and his words came with the same labored quality as his breathing. "What. Happened?"
In the face of Aramis' disorientation, Porthos tried to quell the panic threatening to seize his chest by ordering his hands to maintain the pressure that kept the blood at bay, and forcing his voice to remain steady. "We were hopin' you'd tell us."
When Aramis seemed unable to respond, d'Artagnan leaned in close. "Don't you remember?" he prompted gently.
Aramis briefly closed his eyes in an obvious effort to compose himself. As Porthos watched his friend slowly take one deep breath, then another, he marveled at the other man's ability to calm himself by sheer force of will.
After opening his lids once more, Aramis' eyes focused on Porthos without difficulty. Gone was the confusion that had visibly clouded his irises earlier. The pain, however, had etched itself into his friend's features, promising to be a constant companion for the foreseeable future.
"Grimaud," Aramis whispered with a sneer in his voice. "He did not appreciate that I shouted out details about the strength of his forces upon your arrival. I suppose he wanted it to be a surprise." – He exhaled shakily when a visible tremor drove through his body. – "He stabbed me to force my silence."
As soon as his brain fully comprehended Aramis' explanation, Porthos' precarious hold on his temper threatened to slip.
"You couldn't just for once do the sensible thing and keep your mouth shut?"
"I was trying to be helpful," Aramis explained as his breath hitched. "Besides, it was Grimaud's intend to silence me, not to kill his only leverage. He didn't drive the dagger deep enough to pierce anything vital."
"That supposed to make it al'ight?" Porthos snapped, the bite to his words harsher than he had intended when the fear coursing through his body forced him to overreact.
It became obvious then that Aramis' usual defenses were shattered when he failed to conceal his emotions and pain and sorrow freely displayed on his features. Porthos cursed himself inwardly and hastened to soften his tone.
"Never mind that now. We'll talk about this later." Leaving one hand to maintain the pressure on the wound, Porthos lifted the other and placed it where he knew his friend's heart to be. "Right now we need to get this bleedin' under control."
"My thoughts exactly." The reprimand in Athos' voice left no room for interpretation and the Captain's disapproving glare in his direction served as proof that Porthos had gone too far.
"We need shelter to tend the wound," d'Artagnan added quickly before tempers could continue to rise. "The spot where Aramis was being held appeared secluded enough to provide sufficient cover for the night. The fire I saw might even still be going."
"What about Grimaud?" Aramis asked quietly, his lids threatening to close.
"Grimaud is long gone," Athos replied, his voice like gravel. "The satisfaction of killing him will have to wait until next time."
Aramis' eyes narrowed in disagreement, and he opened his mouth to voice his objection when Athos continued. "Do not concern yourself, my friend. Grimaud will face justice for all that he has done. I will not stand for anything else." – Athos squeezed Aramis' shoulder in solidarity. – "His day of judgment will be upon him soon enough."
The conviction in Athos' voice served to smooth the lines in Aramis' forehead and with a tired nod, the injured man finally closed his eyes.
"Ey. Not yet brother." Porthos allowed the concern raging within him to color his words in an effort to atone for his earlier outburst. "We need to move first. Any chance you can walk?"
Forcing his eyes open with obvious effort, Aramis tilted his head in contemplation. "It is not far, I should be able to manage."
Without warning, Aramis placed his hands on either side of him and pushed off the ground in his attempt to sit up. When his stomach muscles contracted to complete the movement, all remaining color drained from his skin. Athos rushed to steady Aramis from behind when his trembling body threatened to collapse.
"Stubborn fool," Athos bit out. "Will you wait for help!"
The heaving chest was a testimony to the pain assaulting Aramis' system and his face told the story of his suffering as his breath caught in his throat. "I'm just not very popular today. Am I?" he complained through gritted teeth.
"Glad to see you haven't lost your sense of humor," Porthos remarked. "Pitiful as it is."
He kept the hand covering the wound in place and extended the other for Aramis to grasp.
"I spent the last four years in a monastery," Aramis reminded as he reached for Porthos and locked their arms with a tight grip. "Sadly, monks aren't known for their wit, and I'm afraid I might still be a bit rusty in that department."
"Ah, I don't know. I hate to tell you this, but you never were all that funny to begin with." Porthos savored the feeling of familiarity their teasing evoked as he got one foot underneath him and slowly pushed off the ground, pulling Aramis with him as he went.
With the sudden change in elevation, the thunderstorm that had slowly gathered inside Porthos' head, attempted to overtake him. A torrent of pain drove unrelentingly through his brain, forcing him to release the bandage he'd held pressed into Aramis' wound in favor of clutching the side of his head. When the agonizing sensation assailed his mind, the world suddenly shifted dangerously beneath his feet.
An angry growl made it past his lips when a wave of dizziness distorted his senses, and he found himself fighting to regain his balance. He attempted to remove his other arm from Aramis' grasp, refusing to take his injured friend down to the ground with him.
But Aramis would not relinquish his hold. When he stubbornly tightened his grip on Porthos instead, Athos and d'Artagnan rushed in to hold them both upright.
"Porthos?" Three separate voices, colored with various degrees of concern, penetrated the haze that suddenly trapped him.
He wanted to tell them that he was fine, wanted to alleviate their worries and get on with it. Only his world was reduced to a narrow tunnel of blurred images and the foggy aftermath of the storm clouding his mind made it impossible to form a coherent thought, let alone speak it aloud.
Several hands adjusted their support, and somehow he instinctively knew that the tight grip on his left shoulder was Athos' while the reassuring hold on his right elbow undoubtedly belonged to d'Artagnan.
"Porthos. Look at me." Aramis' voice sounded far away. "Porthos?"
He felt a gloved hand firmly cup the side of his neck; a simple touch creating a solid connection that clearly conveyed its purpose to ground him, to call him back into the present. There was something achingly familiar about the gesture; a gesture he hadn't felt in years.
"Porthos. Please. Look at me."
The breathless quality of Aramis' plea forced him to renew his efforts to banish the fog inside his head.
When he forced his eyes to focus on Aramis' worried features, his vision slowly cleared, and the dizziness no longer threatened to overtake him.
"Are you with us?" Athos asked.
Porthos drew on every ounce of strength he possessed and simply forbade his body to fail him right now, forcing his weakened knees to remain locked. "Yeah, m' with you," he murmured, using his irritation with himself to cover any weakness that might have colored his voice.
"Are you sure? That's a pretty decent sized gash," d'Artagnan observed as his fingers gently prodded the source of Porthos' misery. "You look like someone bashed your head in."
"'at's proba'ly cause someone did," he replied, his patience clearly wearing thin. "I'll be fine. After all, i's not my blood that's stainin' the ground."
"No, you are merely the one who can not currently keep his balance," Athos remarked. "But I do see your point." The older Musketeer directed a meaningful glance in d'Artagnan's direction and the younger man reacted immediately by tightening his hold on Porthos' elbow.
Releasing his steady grip on Porthos' shoulder, Athos now wound his arm around Aramis' waist in support. "Alright. Are we quite certain no one else is hiding any other injuries?" Receiving three separate glares with equal levels of irritation, Athos met each of them unflinchingly and undeterred. "Then whilst everyone is still standing, let us keep moving."
Only Aramis made no effort to follow his Captain's lead as he remained rooted to the spot, one arm still firmly intertwined with Porthos', the other pressed tightly into his side. "You're concussed." The marksman's breathless whisper demanded Porthos' entire focus. "I can tell."
"An' you got yourself stabbed." – Porthos felt his lips twitch into a tentative smile – "Nobody's perfect." His attempt to alleviate the tension fell flat and his smile slipped off his face when Aramis' ashen features reminded him that his friend's blood continued to escape. Renewed urgency caused his heart to beat faster.
When Aramis' concern continued to shine unguarded in his too bright eyes, Porthos attributed it to his friend's exhaustion and pain. The price he paid just to keep upright was evident in Aramis' labored breathing as well as the sweat beading on his brow.
Porthos doubted that the other man would be able to keep his feet for long and knew it was time to get them moving. "Tell you what," he offered. "We close that wound and get you settled. Then you can fuss over me all you want."
Aramis' nod was stilted, but a small smile graced his features. "Your terms are acceptable."
Exhaling slowly, Porthos nodded in Athos' direction, and together they turned back to seek shelter inside the ruins.