A few quick notes. This is my first Musketeers story and my first piece of fanfiction in a couple of years. I wanted to ease my way back into story-writing with something simple, and what is easier than expanding on an already existing scene? I expect you will find the necessary ingredients of both a hurt/comfort and friendship fic in varying degrees.

Secondly, I was hesitant about posting this piece before revising it more thoroughly. The very first story I read in this fandom was GreenWaters2's "Will You Let Me See?", which, if you read it (and I implore you do, and read their other stories as well!) expands on this same scene in Ep. 7. Several weeks after reading it I was ready to publish this story, and for some reason went back to "Will You Let Me See", and was mortified to discover how similar some parts of my story were to theirs. I did my best to revise those parts; all I can say is that I had read the story immediately after watching the episode for the first time and that my brain must have catalogued it as a part of the show itself. So it's only fair that I acknowledge that this story could be viewed, at least in some bits, as an expansion of that story, too.

Last but not least, thanks to laced-with-fire for beta-reading this piece. Any remaining errors are my own.


A wave of disgruntled surprise swept through the room as Aramis peeled away the soiled bandage across Athos' back. Elodie's eyebrows rose high into her hairline as d'Artagnan and Porthos exchanged a look. Under Aramis' fingers on his shoulder, Athos was breathing carefully, otherwise unmoving.

Aramis had not anticipated this; from the way Athos had been cradling his arm he'd expected a wound on the upper shoulder, impeding the muscles; hurtful not because of size or severity but of the placement of the cut. But splayed before him was extensive damage; it wasn't only a single, bad cut, the entire right side of Athos' back was a nasty mass of blood, bruising and lacerations.

Just how badly had Grimauld gotten to him?

Releasing a breath, Aramis let his hand slide off Athos' shoulder and turned to Elodie. "This needs to be cleaned and properly stitched. Could you provide me with needle and thread?"

"You could ask Juliette," the young woman answered after a moment's hesitation, her voice apologetic for not providing a more direct answer. "I'll fetch some water for you." Without waiting for a response, she turned, grabbed a large metal bowl and headed upstairs.

Silence descended into the cave room. Athos had not moved an inch, his shirt pulled up to his shoulders, leaving his injuries in plain sight. None of his friends could see his face.

With a heavy sigh, Porthos let himself sag backwards until his broad back met the rough wall of the cave. "Damn it Athos."

d'Artagnan, if he was feeling the same way, said nothing, his eyes still fixed on Athos' back. His expression was one of concerned disapproval, but the look in his eyes betrayed a mixture of mild horror and disgust. Aramis felt an unexpected surge of warmth for him: that even after enduring four years of war he could be horrified by this spoke volumes of the quality of his heart.

With a discreet sigh of his own, Aramis braced himself and turned to Athos. "Has anyone cleaned this since you received the wound?"

He received a brief shake of the head.

"So you splashed some water on it," he surmised dryly, "and thought it would go away on its own." Aramis had honed the art of keeping his voice level and controlled whenever a delicate situation such as this arose with Athos, but now he could not prevent a touch of sarcasm from coloring it. "I'll see Juliette about that needle and thread." Without looking at anyone, he walked past the wounded man and up the stairs, disappearing from sight.

"You should have let him see it this morning," Porthos said once the three musketeers were alone. "In the garrison. He'd have taken care of it."

"There was no time." Athos slowly lowered his head as if it weighed a ton, and rested it in the crook of his arm.

"Athos, we will get Griamuld," d'Artagnan asserted from his corner of the room. The frown had not left his face, but he spoke with certainty. "He will not get away, but tonight, we must rest. It won't do if you fall off your horse tomorrow while in pursuit." He walked to Athos, breifly laying a hand on his good shoulder as he threw a glance at Porthos.

"I'll see to the horses."

With a slight nod, he, too, was gone.

It was Athos himself who broke the silence, raising his head just slightly and looking towards Porthos over his good shoulder.

"There was no time," he said once more, " -in the morning. We had to pursue Grimauld." His voice was hoarse with exhaustion, but he was seeking Porthos's understanding, even his forgiveness, and that much was clear to his friend.

They had come to an agreement once, Porthos and Athos. It was nearly two years ago now, when they were stationed in one of the hottest zones of war. For days they had ridden into battle, time after time, desperation steadily rising each time they did, understanding bitterly that one or both of their brothers could very well not make it out alive. Many good musketeers, comrades and friends were lost there. Porthos had found himself sidelined by a severe blow to the head which had left him with agonizing headaches for days; d'Artagnan had suffered a stab wound from a particularly agile Spaniard soon after. It was only days later, when reinforcements had finally arrived and what was left of their regiment was finally being relieved, that Athos had unceremoniously collapsed while preparing to mount his horse. The physician had scoffed at the negligence of the Captain: how could a man who did not even take care of himself, he had vented angrily, be given responsibility of the King's most elite regiment?

Porthos sighed. It had been a difficult time, but also one where he and Athos had reached an understanding about care and responsibility. It was, now, a good sign that Athos sought to explain himself, for it meant he had not forgotten. But Porthos was angry, for Athos had slipped into his old habits; once more he had allowed himself to be carried away without considering his own needs. It wasn't a dismissal of his injuries, Porthos knew, it was just that sometimes, his friend did not think to acknowledge himself as something to be taken care of.

Not trusting himself to speak about his disappointment, and knowing that this was not the proper time, Porthos pushed himself away from the wall, and shaking his head, began ascending the stairs just as Aramis was returning.

The marksman watched in mild surprise as Porthos brushed past him and disappeared into the night. When he turned, he found Athos' raised eyes trailing Porthos's departure as well. Involuntarily he searched Athos' face for any clue as to what had trespassed in his absence, but - when had that ever worked with Athos?

Finishing his descent, he placed the bowl of water and pieces of cloth he was carrying onto the small table and took his place behind the captain. "Juliette couldn't provide us with supplies," he informed tersely as he began rolling up his sleeves, "but Elodie was kind enough to find these cloths."

Without another word, he leaned in close towards his friend's injury.

The larger wound itself, while not too deep, would have required stitches two days ago, immediately after it had been received. It had not bled alarmingly, but left unattended and aggravated by the musketeer captain's unending activities in the last two days, the wound had been able to scab over, and its edges were now swollen with the beginnings of infection.

It was the abrasions, the minor cuts and extensive bruising in the area that were unexpected. If Aramis put any stock in his experience of bodily hurts after his many years as a soldier, this was the result of a very bad fall. He could feel the tautness of his own face muscles as he leaned in close, his lips firmly pressed together, grimacing in sympathy as he took in the ugly sight. He needed a poultice – something to prevent the spreading of this infection and to help relieve some of the discomfort his friend was undoubtedly feeling.

Aramis bit down a frustrated growl. There were no herbs, no supplies to make one, and Juliette seemed adamant at not lending help. All Aramis could do was to clean the area as best as he could - and cleaning was direly required, for he could already see dust and gravel lodged within the broken skin. Straightening his back, he set to work. Checking if the water Elodie provided was tepid, he nodded to himself in approval before dipping in a clean cloth. He squeezed the excess water and softly put his free hand on Athos' shoulder to warn him that he'd be beginning his administrations. Under his fingers, ever so slightly, Athos tensed.

It would have confused Aramis once – that this man, apparently afraid of nothing at all, would think personal contact unbearable, but that was in the long gone days when Aramis knew little of Athos' background. Aramis had learned, through experience, that the reaction was not a mere signal of anticipation; now he thought he understood, or at least understood better, that it was not the touch or the intimacy that elicited this minute change in Athos' stance. It was a developed aversion to being taken care of, or being cared for. In the battlefield, after countless skirmishes, Athos would bear Aramis' stitching with admirable stoicism, with little more than the occasional flinch or hiss. But many years of fighting by his side had taught Aramis to detect the subtleties of Athos' moods, and only when Athos was badly injured, or too weary to keep up his inscrutable walls that Aramis would detect this extra tenseness in his muscles, this subtle change in his breathing. Perhaps he might not have put it into words, but Aramis felt that his friend simply did noy know how to properly respond to care. A strange notion for a man of noble birth, perhaps – yet no one, and certainly not Aramis, was naive enough to equate being provided for with being cared for or loved. Aramis knew nothing of Athos' relationship with his family before they passed, but what little he knew of his friend's infamous wife was enough.

His thoughts were interrupted when a hiss managed to wring itself from Athos' lips, warning Aramis to concentrate. Frowning deeply, "I am sorry," he said quietly. He paused for a few seconds before resuming his administrations, giving Athos time to brace himself once more.

He took a moment to carefully moderate his voice. "Would you care to tell me how Grimauld managed to catch you by surprise?" Athos had not spoken a word of the altercation, but Aramis knew that the only explanation of these hurts could be a surprise attack. He would not make the mistake of underestimating Lucien Grimauld, but despite not having seen him in a fight, Aramis was certain that the man was no match for Athos.

Silence descended for several moments as Aramis continued to work, and he was beginning to think an answer would not be forthcoming when Athos finally spoke.

"I was with Sylvie."

"Athos..."

Aramis' voice almost broke as his hand stilled. He had known, from Sylvie's appearance in the garrison and her involvement in the incident, that Athos had been in the refugee camp and in her company that morning, but had not thought much of it. Had it been a lighter moment now, Aramis would have jested. But there was such intense bitterness in that hoarse voice, such hurt that ran deeper than the pain of cuts and bruises, that it caught Aramis off-guard.

"Did he put her in danger?"

"He came for me." Then, a pause. "Went after her when she intervened." His breathing quickened.

"That's when she shot him?"

A dip of the head that passed as a nod, and Athos took in a deep breath as he stiffened in the seat, fingers tightening around his elbows where there rested on the back of the chair. Aramis put aside the cloth in his hand, walked over and perched on the steps before his friend, crouching to his eye-level.

"Athos."

The sheen of fever on the musketeer's face glistened mockingly in the torchlight. Exhausted green eyes were staring unseeing into the dark corners of the cave, now glossed over with remembrance.

"Athos," Aramis called, willing him to snap out of it, and satisfied when Athos' gaze wandered to his own. "What matters now is you're safe, and Sylvie's safe. Whatever Grimauld wants with you, we will get him first."

"Will we?"

Aramis frowned at the unexpected note of doubt that tinged that acerbic bitterness, but Athos did not look away. "He could have crossed the border already," he pushed, "disappeared without trace."

"It is too early to come to that conclusion." Aramis paused, eyes narrowing as he studied his friend. "It is not like you to doubt yourself – or us." But he knew, even before he finished that sentence, that he should have kept that thought to himself. Because if Athos would allow him to pursue that line of thought, Aramis could find a direct way through Athos' defenses and reach the heart of the matter: his friend was, much more than he had in years, doubting his decisions.

But as he was wont to do, Athos sharply broke eye-contact, sitting up straighter in his seat even as he flinched. Aramis was only thankful that he didn't move to walk away.

He rose to his feet and walked behind the chair once more, knowing well when not to insist. Picking up the cloth from the bowl, he squeezed it once more, the water now a dirty pink. "With no poultice and no needle and thread, I fear there's little more I can do." Suddenly Aramis was noticing his own tiredness, the familiar weariness in his limbs after riding on horseback for the entire day. He cast a measuring glance at Athos. God knew how tired his friend must be feeling.

Footsteps were heard creaking the top steps of the stairs.

"You guys alrigh'?"

It was Porthos who had stuck his head through the entrance. Even in the darkness Aramis could make out the frown on his face; he had, after all, been taking his time cleaning Athos' wound. He nodded.

"Just about done."

Once again, to Aramis' surprise, Porthos descended the stairs into the cave instead of taking his leave as Aramis had expected. He watched as Porthos walked over and took a place aside Athos, who had set up as straight as he could upon seeing their friend approach, and the two shared a long, loaded look that Aramis could not decipher. Wiping his fingers on the wet cloth, he watched, with a sudden twinge in his soul, as Athos appeared to relax and once more leaned over the chair's back.

"Four years is a long time," Porthos had said. "We learned to live without you." Over the several weeks since his return to their fold, Porthos's voice had echoed in Aramis' ears many times, usually in moments like this, when he would miss out on a silent exchange, on unspoken memories, thoughts and emotions that Aramis was not privy to. It was nobody's fault, but a simple result of the circumstances - of the choices they had made. Never once did Aramis regret his decision to remain at Dhuai instead of riding to battle, but moments like this, Aramis admitted to himself, stung, like the stinging nettle when he'd collect them without gloves.

His eyes had been wandering around the room as he'd allowed himself to brood, but now, he frowned when his gaze got caught on something that glinted dully in a thin sliver of light. Curiously, he walked to the corner of the room and leaned towards the object protruding from under a cloth over the large wicker basket that rested innocuously against the wall. His eyebrows rose as he pulled it out. "What do we have here?"

"Oh, that better be good," Porthos said, a grin slowly spreading to his face and casting an encouraging look to Athos as Aramis held out the wine bottle he had discovered. The glass neck was covered in cobwebs, which was usually a good sign when it came to wine, but Aramis was shaking his head as he carried it over to the table.

"Let us hope the women don't see this as another raid." He pulled the cork open with his teeth and spat it out, taking a sniff from the bottle. The smell was sharp and extremely sour, and nothing like any wine Aramis had tasted before. "I have no idea what this is." Without delay, he held the bottle under Athos' nose for an expert inspection.

It took a single whiff for Athos to jerk away from the bottle, the sudden motion eliciting an annoyed groan as he twisted his upper body away from the offending substance. Now Porthos too was frowning. He took the bottle from Aramis and took his turn in sniffing, and his face quickly screwed up in distaste.

"Ew - this is terrible!" But he threw a calculating look at the bottle, then, turned a non-committal one to his friends. "Then again, why judge a drink by its smell?" And before the other two could voice irrefutable replies to such an absurd question, he raised the bottle to his lips.

Silence stretched like an elastic band as Porthos kept the liquid in his mouth, eyebrows moving up and down independently, his mouth twisting as he took his time tasting the beverage. Aramis and Athos watched his Adam's apple move up and down as he swallowed, his face unreadable, then turned, left the bottle on the table, reached calmly for the pitcher, and pouring a glass of water, he downed it all in one go. Setting the cup down, he looked up.

"That," he declared, "is the most disgustin' thing I ever put in my mouth. And that's countin' the Queen's cookin', bless 'er heart."

The comment drew a snort from Aramis -any thought of the Queen usually sent him down a spiraling path to sorrow and regret, but he would not argue with anyone about the quality of her cooking. Even the tight lines around Athos' eyes smoothed over as though he would roll his eyes at Porthos's antics.

Porthos coughed and cleared his throat.

"Damn fermented, though. This thin's like a thousan' year-old failed attempt at brewin' Spanish wine." He glared at his friends. "An' fear my wrath if either of you repeat what I jus' said in front of the women."

Aramis nearly chuckled before, in a split second, an idea flashed in his mind, causing him to frown instead. "Is it strong?"

"Pretty strong, yeah."

Aramis thought for a second. If the liquid was sufficiently alcoholic, it could be of another use than drinking.

"Athos," he said quietly, hesitantly searching his friend's eyes, but comprehension of his intent dawned quickly on Athos' face. Pursing his lips, Athos defeatedly closed his eyes, but nodded his consent. Without waiting for further encouragement, Aramis grabbed the offensive bottle and positioned himself.

Porthos too had caught up on what was about to happen. He shifted closer to Athos and squatted beside him, resting an assuring hand on the other man's thigh. Aramis let his free hand pause for a second on Athos' bicep as he moved it to the shoulder, tightening his grip there.

"Ready?"

"Do it."

Without further ado, Aramis tipped the bottle down over Athos' back and began pouring the purple liquid directly onto his friend's open wound. The reaction, as expected, was immediate. Athos shot upright in the chair, a gasp fleeing his throat before he caught himself, biting his lip as if to restrain an onslaught of pain from within which fought to find voice. Under Porthos's fingers he was as taut as a bow; the larger man near-expected to hear a creak as Athos struggled to lower his head, as if hauling a boat to tie it against a bollard, and managed to rest his forehead on his arms. Behind him, Aramis had steeled himself against the agony he was causing; while slowly pouring the liquid with one hand, he took a clean cloth with the other and held it down across Athos' waist to catch up the excesses. He knew what this felt like, and so did Porthos: Athos' back was on fire, desperately burning and itching and aching all at once and Aramis hated doing this, but the liquid was also an unexpected blessing if it helped to thoroughly clean the wound. Once he was sure that every inch of Athos' back had been doused, Aramis held up the bottle, sparing the rest of the drink. Swallowing against the dryness of his own mouth, he gently mopped his friend's skin. He allowed himself to now take in the stiffness of the injured man's posture, and the hand that had crawled to the back of his head, fingers spread against his skull, pressing down as if to curl and fold over himself around the chair he sat on. Squatted down by Athos, Porthos's hand was still on his friend's leg, looking up through the hidden face with unconcealed sympathy.

Aramis sighed deeply, leaving the sodden cloth onto the pile he'd already created. He laid his hand on Athos' shoulder, fingers brushing his clammy neck, and squeezed. "I'll just wrap your back," he said quietly, "and I'm done."

He worked quickly now; he had caused his friend enough pain. The knowledge that it was with good intent never quite managed to quell the rise of this familiar guilt, though Aramis had not had occasion to feel it in the last four years. Hardened soldiers, they were, he thought with irony, taking care to not press over the delicate skin as he wrapped the linens. He didn't know the number of times he'd stitched up his friends through the years, it was simply too many to count, but this guilt, sometimes dull and sometimes sharp, for causing them pain always accompanied his administrations. Four years more wizened, Aramis now had a much better knowledge of how to treat wounds and ailments than he had had before: the monastery at Dhuai had a remarkable library and Aramis had had the chance to study with a mentor. And so a new kind of frustration now accompanied the guilt: now he knew what he needed to help Athos, but simply did not have it in supply.

Mentally shaking himself to clear his head, he secured the tip of the bandage and lightly pulled down Athos' shirt, finally covering his friend's back. With narrowed eyes he took in Athos' hunched frame. His friend hadn't made another sound, but his head was still buried in his arms and he remained terribly tense. Aramis shared a look with Porthos before walking over and crouching at Athos' other side.

"Athos." He laid a hand on Athos' knee, but the man was too tightly-strung to respond, obviously still riding the pain. Deciding not to insist, Aramis turned to Porthos and caught his gaze. Porthos was listening, his eyes questioning, ready to do whatever Aramis asked.

"There's a small pouch tied to my saddle," Aramis began quietly. "It's just about empty but there are still a couple of herbs left in it. Boil a large cup of clean water and crush the leaves in your palm - don't crumble, just break them down. You'll also find small square pieces of linen: use one of these to wrap the crushed leaves carefully so as to completely filter it when dropped into the water." He cast a glance at Athos before adding, "we'll be right up with you."

Porthos simply nodded, and with a last look at Athos, took his leave to do as he was instructed.

Aramis watched him go, looking away from Athos as he wanted to give his friend a few seconds to collect himself. When he turned, his frown deepened upon seeing that Athos had still not moved.

He shifted to the side, now crouching directly in front of his friend, and peered up, trying to glimpse at his face. "Athos," he called, his concern threatening to morph into worry. "My friend, are you alright?"

It took a few seconds, but eventually, Athos nodded and slowly raised his head. His appearance was that of a man in desperate need of rest: the dark bruises under his eyes stood in stark contrast against the fevered tinge of his skin; evidence of moisture trailed on the rims of his eyes and deep lines creased his forehead. Rising to his feet, Aramis poured a glass of water and crouched again, holding it out to Athos, and with a slightly trembling hand Athos accepted it, bringing his head down to the cup more than raising it up to his lips.

"Forgive me," Aramis murmured as he watched him drink. "I would not have this be so painful if it were in my hands."

Athos merely put the cup down and resolutely reached forward, leaning close to Aramis and resting his hand at the back of Aramis' neck. Their foreheads close, Athos briefly squeezed before releasing and straightening again, tentatively testing his back. The gesture was enough to dispel Aramis' misgivings. After watching his friend for a few more seconds, he grew confident that Athos had mostly collected himself. Rising up once more, he quickly gathered the used cloths from the table and took up the bowl of dirty water even as Athos gingerly rose from the chair and reached for his doublet that lay discarded on the nearest step. Looking over him, Aramis felt great relief now that they were done and getting out of this cave-room.

"Let's get some rest," he suggested as they slowly began ascending the stairs. "But wait for me before going to sleep; I'll give you something to drink. It is not what I'd have chosen but it's all I have with me, it should help fight off that fever."

"Damned be the fever." Athos' voice cracked with exhaustion, but it surprised and pleased Aramis to hear him speak. He had remained quiet for too long down in the cave.

The chilly, clear night air was a welcome blessing to both as they stepped out under the dark sky and made their way towards the camp they had set. As Athos wearily walked over and took a seat by the fire, next to d'Artagnan who watched his mentor with the same concerned expression he had been wearing an hour ago, Aramis met the questioning eyes of Porthos and gave him a tiny nod. d'Artagnan inquired after Athos' well-being himself, receiving a nod and an almost imperceptible brush of the hand against his knee while Aramis got rid of the dirty water and threw the soiled cloths into the fire. The water he'd requested was simmering obediently over the flames; he took the prepared tea-bag from Porthos's fingers and dropped it into the hot water. Watching him work, Porthos released a deep, tired breath.

"Well then," he said, looking around at his friends, "if you're all alrigh', it's time I caught some sleep."

d'Artagnan was holding Porthos's gaze as he nodded at his words, standing up. "Good idea." He looked first to Athos, then to Aramis. "We'll see you in the morning."

Aramis saluted his friends by touching two fingers to the brim of his hat. Five minutes later, he was sitting across from Athos by the fire and Athos was accepting a steaming cup of the promised brew from Aramis. Porthos and d'Artagnan lay not too far away; Aramis sneaked a look towards their direction and found Porthos's deep breathing characteristically indicative that he was already fast asleep; beside him, d'Artagnan lay on his back, one arm folded under his head. His face was in the dark and Aramis couldn't see if his eyes were closed.

Picking up a twig from the ground, he turned to Athos to find him staring into the cup he held, a mild expression on his face that, for Athos, could be called something of a grimace.

"Drink," Aramis commanded softly. "It's not all that horrible, I promise."

He was rewarded with the slight raising of an eyebrow before Athos obeyed his instruction and raised the cup to his lips. He was frowning when he lowered it and looked up.

"You were right; it is not too horrible." He sounded almost surprised.

"Athos, I am a man of God," Aramis reminded lightly, sitting up and straightening his back, "it wounds me that you would suspect my word so readily."

"I have always suspected your word when it comes to stuff you make for human consumption. Your respite at a monastery will not change that."

"Well, as a man of God..." he took a second to deliberate, "I deem that fair." He watched in silly delight as the corner of Athos' mouth curled upwards, and he felt a grin split his own face in turn. Athos was shaking his head.

"Should we treat you as a man of God, then, and not as one of the sword?"

"I consider myself both, actually, in equal parts."

"Equal parts?" This time, Athos' surprise was evident in the rising of both eyebrows. Thinking for a second, Aramis sighed.

"One part for God, two parts to the sword?"

"Do try not to splint yourself more." Closing his eyes momentarily as if abate some discomfort, Athos took another sip from the brew. "You have picked up new skills at the monastery."

Aramis was finding his attempt at conversation truly admirable, and his care to keep it clear from the circumstances they were in.

"Some, I would say," he responded thoughtfully. "When a man has a library across his cell and too much time on his hands..." He shrugged with a smile. The time, that there was so much time in a day, was the one thing that he had struggled with the most when he had first settled at Dhuai. How he'd itched for his musket, his rapier, his gauche every time he found himself sat restlessly at the edge of his cot, to clean and brandish and to care for them; how his hand had strayed towards the back of the door as if to take up his hat from the hook, only to remember, in one astray heartbeat, that he'd swapped it for the spacious hood of the monk's garb. Then, he remembered Father Bonnet, the kind elderly monk he had befriended in his early days of exploring the library. "The monks were generous in sharing their knowledge," he added, recalling with fondness the endless patience the old man possessed and how he'd pretend not to be listening when Aramis spun tales from his musketeer days for the orphaned children. Father Bonnet knew more about healing people than any physician Aramis had encountered in Louis's court, and he had generously offered to teach Aramis, guiding him with manuscripts he picked and gave him to read, and teaching him to identify and to use herbs. Moments with Father Bonnet and the children were the ones that had kept him grounded; those were the moments of reprieve from the troubles of his soul, like safe harbors during sea-storms. And yet...

His left hand slid around his waist to rest on the hilt of his musket even as he clutched the twig in his right hand, staring into the earth beneath his feet. Even in his hours of studying with Father Bonnet, he would feel something waiting calmly beneath his content, a feeling he would not acknowledge fully enough to name regret, yet could never quite fully dismiss. Father Bonnet would be instructing on the uses of meadowsweet -how it would relieve Athos of that fever and exhaustion if they had some now!- and Aramis would wonder, with a pang of sorrow, whether these new skills could not be of use to his brothers, who were, then, fighting in God knew which battlefront. He had even had to admit his thoughts out aloud once, at the friendly prodding of the elderly monk, but Father Bonnet had gently admonished him. "Do you think it worthless to learn of medicine, because you think it won't be of use to your friends?"

"I have learned that no knowledge is worthless so long as the path of learning leads to God." Aramis paused hesitantly before continuing. "But I would still hope to be able to use such skills, rather than simply having knowledge of them."

"And what do you think of that wish, since it means you hope people would need your skills?"

Aramis frowned. "That is not fair. People don't fall ill or get injured just so physicians and healers could be of service, I would think it's the other way around."

"Indeed. And yet, it is exactly that wish that leads many a man of knowledge to arrogance and deviation from the true path." Father Bonnet was regarding him with the fond patience of a parent, but there was also a hint of steel in his aged voice. "Do not misunderstand me, Aramis," he warned, bushy, white eyebrows sitting like crowns over his hazelnut eyes, "certainly we study medicine in order to be of service to others. But the challenge is never to forget the source of your knowledge. If the yarrow we have picked this morning-" he held up a single yellow flower from the thick bunch splayed before them, "-taught you nothing about God and only made you yearn for your friends, then I am sorely failing in my mentoring of you."

Aramis dipped his chin down to his chest, cheeks suddenly aflame with embarrassment. Father Bonnet's words had driven right into the heart of the matter: ever since stepping into the monastery he had been struggling with letting go of his previous life. Although knowing full well, when entering the monastery, that he would have to, he was still not comfortable with it; he was not ready to release all hold from who he had been, because he could not see where he would land -or if he would land safely at all- once he'd let himself drift away from Réne d'Herblay, from Aramis the King's Musketeer, Aramis the Inseparable from Athos and Porthos and d'Artagnan.. It was the last part that hurt him the most, for he was, now, irrefutably, separated from his brothers. It was the first and the sharpest break, but it wasn't a clean one; the thought of his brothers -the deep betrayal in Porthos's eyes, the disappointment on d'Artagnan's face, Athos' quiet sorrow- and memories of his old life dangled like a broken limb he could neither suffer nor severe. Nearly a year since laying down his pauldron, he was still holding on with the last and strongest remnants of desperation.

"And what makes you certain that you won't be of service?" Father Bonnet asked, cutting into his troubling thoughts with a softer voice. "You have not been here long, but do you think our brothers here, or the children, are immune to illness or hurt?"

"No, of course not," Aramis replied quietly, feeling the heat in his face. How selfish he was being for thinking only of Athos, Porthos and d'Artagnan!

"And how much longer do you esteem that I will live to help them?"

Aramis shook his head. "I certainly hope you live for many long years to come, Father."

Father Bonnet waved his bony, frail hand to dismiss the sentiment. "Do not forget this, Aramis," he said, leaning forward across the wooden barrel that served as a table between them, "only God possesses knowledge of what is to come. Your skills are your treasure. Use it carelessly, and you waste it. Remember to nurture its source, and you will never fall without."

Aramis smiled once again; the wisdom in Father Bonnet's words was all the more apparent now. He felt the smooth, curved wood of his musket hilt under his fingers as he took a deep breath of the crisp air. This felt right. Unlike any single moment he had had in the monastery, it felt right to be here, under the stars, the crunch of foliage under his boot, the crackling of the fire, and more than anything, his brothers surrounding him. He belonged here. Grabbing the precious cross hanging from his neck, he closed his eyes and said a heart-felt prayer of gratitude.

When he looked up from his musings, he found Athos staring at the flames through heavily-lidded eyes, completely lost in his own dark thoughts. He was hunched forward as if feeling cold, the earthen cup forgotten in his hand and dangerously close to slipping from his grip.

"It is late," Aramis declared, discarding the stick in his hand and rising to his feet. "We should get some sleep." He picked up their blankets from where they lay nearby, and wordlessly laid out both their beds at a safe distance from the fire. As he straightened he glimpsed Athos leaving the cup on the bench and rising difficultly; he approached, his untucked shirt hanging over his thin frame, and walking as a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Aramis couldn't help but be reminded of the Athos he knew five years ago – the Athos marred by his guilt and pain, weary beyond his years, and lacking the air of confidence that the captain now seemed to have- but to Aramis it wasn't too far in the past, separated from the present only by the couple of months since his return. To his slight surprise, though, Athos stopped before him, reached out with his good arm and clasped Aramis' bicep in a wordless gesture of gratitude. He did not speak, but the look in his eyes spoke clearly of his thanks; Aramis softly patted away at the arm, not wanting the moment to drag, but once again, he felt a warmth creeping into the confines of his soul, much deeper than that of their campfire.

He was enjoying this. These fleeting moments of discomfort and joy, this discreet, mute dance around his companions to find his place as he remembered them and reacquainted with them, knowing full well that neither of them were the man they had been before. This feeling of satisfaction that came every time Aramis felt them click again, and found a new way to fasten and secure their bonds - this felt right. Trying to be a monk never felt like this.

Without need for more words, they settled down for the night, and in the safety of the nameless village, the King's musketeers slept in a ring around the fire, comfortable in each other's company, readying for another new day.


Thank you for reading! So... is there hope for me in this fandom?