Thank you all so much for all your kind words and encouragement. Though we have come to the end of this story, I'm certain this will not be the end of our Inseparable's adventures! x
The boy cried so loudly that anyone would think he were being tortured.
Aramis had been landing heavy seats on his backside for the better part of ten minutes, barely even begun with their night's work.
A dam had clearly been breached the second Aramis' hand fell; something, some manner of tension in the boy snapping at the first hearty whack.
"If I did not know any better I would say you are enjoying yourself," Aramis said, having to speak quite loudly to be heard over the din.
"Ah—ah—Aramis!" d'Artagnan cried, clearly outraged by this opinion.
"Or perhaps you are seeking to embarrass me? I assure you my neighbours would think nothing of such a din, coming so clearly as it does from a naughty boy receiving a goodly dose of discipline. Really, anyone hearing you will easily guess as to the cause and not be alarmed."
He had not thought it possible, yet d'Artagnan flushed an even deeper shade of scarlet. The boy buried his face into his crossed arms and wailed brokenly.
Despite his words, Aramis was truly perplexed by the usually stoic lad's performance. He did not act this way when Athos thrashed him, Aramis was certain, and even the last time d'Artagnan had been over his knee the lad had been as brave as one could be under the circumstance.
"What is it, petit?" he asked gently, easing slightly the force of his blows, "Why, even when under Jussac's hand you—"
D'Artagnan tensed and shuddered to a wrenching silence.
And there it was, clear as day.
"Oh petit," Aramis whispered in full reverence, "Thank you, my brother."
Really, the trust was near overwhelming. For the boy to so comfortably allow himself to become undone was the highest sign of respect that Aramis had ever been shown. Even his women, delightfully pliant as they often were, retained a modicum of restraint when laying with him. Here d'Artagnan was; proud, earnest young warrior, allowing Aramis to have the whole of him without reserve.
Rewarding the boy was as easy as the increase in his efforts, eager as Aramis was to show him the fullness of his love and devotion. He too was then rewarded as d'Artagnan lifted his head and howled.
Three times. Three times in as many weeks the lad had suffered under another's hand without the comfort of release. Three times he had bravely, stoically held back his cries, no catharsis to be found from such a soulless, loveless beating. No hand holding him in place so that he might kick and writhe with abandon, in constant fear of reprimand and revulsion should he allow himself to feel the fullness of his pain. Silent, strictured punishment in its rawest, most evil form.
D'Artagnan threw back a hand, not to cover his glowing backside, but palm raised over his lower back, the fingers gripping empty air in a silent plea that warmed Aramis' heart. He grasped it firmly, the thumb rubbing softly against the back of his hand as the other continued to unreservedly wallop that deserving backside.
That did quiet D'Artagnan a little, but likely only due to the growing hoarseness of his voice. Aramis was glad he had a comb of honey in his pantry and – greater miracle still – wine left from Athos' most recent visit. The two warmed would provide relief to his brother when they were done, as would the salve Aramis had prepared that morning. Clearly he had delayed overlong in giving his brother his just reward.
"Such a good boy," he crooned, swatting low and sweeping upward; a move that produced plenty of wicked sting without causing too much in the way of real damage. D'Artagnan's skin was blotchy with the first sign of burst vessels, soon to bruise and leave their own tell-tale ache for the boy to contemplate over the next few days. A lucky thing that he still had some days of rest remaining; any duty at the garrison would prove hideous on such tenderised skin.
Aramis paused at that. Had that been d'Artagnan's design all along? If Aramis had waited until his indented day to carry out his promise then the boy would have been returned to his duties still raw... Wicked, clever little brat!
He relayed this opinion to his brother, along with several hearty whacks. D'Artagnan's swiftly natural response and vehement denial seemed genuine but the suspicion was still real enough for Aramis to press the matter.
"If that was truly your intention, young man, I think you will find me equal to your deceptions – a thrashing need not be delivered in one sitting, after all. We can easily reconvene the night after next."
"Noooooo!" d'Artagnan wailed. "Please, 'Mis, please!"
"If I discover you are lying that shall be your fate, as well as a mouth soaping to rinse away your deception."
"NO, Aramis!" D'Artagnan bawled, kicking his feet in furious agitation. "No! Didn't lie. Didn't lie! DIDN'T!"
Aramis laid down a flurry of quite heinous slaps upon the boy's thighs. "Enough, young brat! You do your case only ill with such a display."
D'Artagnan, knocked breathless from the assault, whined out a babble of sorries, and fell limp, his chest heaving.
"There," Aramis soothed, "Good boy, Charles, I apologise for goading you. I know you are far too good to follow such a deception through. Even if you had, I know you would not think of dishonouring yourself so by lying to me about it."
D'Artagnan whined. "That's not fair, 'Mis."
"Is it not, little brother?"
D'Artagnan shook his head weakly, laying his cheek upon the bedspread and squinting up at Aramis with one sore, puffy eye.
"I did not mean to deceive you, Aramis, truly I did not."
Aramis rubbed soft circles over the boy's scorched flesh, relishing the shudder and welcome groan it elicited. "I'm sure you did not, my dear."
"Buuuut..." D'Artagnan's eye darted away then back, delightfully bashful in his innocence.
"Buuuut?" Aramis mimicked fondly.
"But I did think it... something like that..."
"At the inn tonight, when you..." D'Artagnan paused, gulping at the memory, "when you ordered me to leave."
Aramis broke into a smile. "Were you pleased, young one, that I would be dealing with you now, and not two days hence?"
The boy nodded miserably, honest despite his anticipated fate.
"That was not deceitful, Charles," Aramis said, his spanking hand coming up to caress the lad's hair. "That was simply relief from a wait overly cruel in length. I apologise for it wholeheartedly. I didn't wish to see you hurt, so soon after your ordeal with d'Melliuor."
D'Artagnan looked away, burying his head in his arm.
"Not the same," he mumbled.
"No, dear boy, it is not. I am sorry it took me so long to realise that." Aramis said with a fond smile. "Let us continue then."
"Continueeee!?" D'Artagnan asked, aghast, his question ending in a wail as Aramis did indeed resume his assault. There was very little strength behind the blows now, but to d'Artagnan it was surely as a brand laid against his flesh.
"Of course," Aramis said, stoically. "We have as yet not revisited the cause of this thrashing."
D'Artagnan groaned and pressed his face into the mattress. "Aramis..."
"Do you wish to tell me why we are here, petit Gascon?"
"Was rude..." D'Artagnan hissed and moaned, "said horrible, untrue things."
Aramis chuckled. "Close, mon frère. Do you remember your words?"
Whether he could not, or whether they pained him to greatly to revisit, d'Artagnan shook his head.
"Luckily I do," Aramis said grimly, "and there was a part which is most prescient to our current situation. Shall I repeat it?"
"Oh no, Aramis, nooo...!"
"You said to me that we did not respect you, or regard you as an equal," Aramis said, pausing in his blows so that his refreshed anger did not communicate itself to his brother's hotly-thrashed bottom. "I think you can understand why this is a wholly unacceptable line of thinking?" he said after suitable pause, resuming his attention now upon the boy's thighs.
"Yessss!" D'Artagnan wailed.
"Tell me, dear one."
D'Artagnan huffed great gasping breaths, his body trembling with fatigue. "You do respect me," he sobbed.
"You... you see me as an equal."
"You were only concerned for my welfare."
"I'm sorry, 'Mis."
"I accept your apology, petit. Now, let me instruct you as to what the consequence shall be, should you decide to doubt us again."
Saying this, Aramis gripped his young friend's hand tightly, pressing down upon his back to prevent any escape from what was to come. Ten of the hardest, most wicked swats that he could forgive himself to muster. The first drove the breath from d'Artagnan's body, the boy gaping and choking like a landed fish; even his tears were halted by the overpowering, all-encompassing pain. Aramis knew from experience of similar proportion just how thoroughly such a method could drive out all thought, leaving one with a singularly memorable focus. He gave the lad no time to compensate for this shift in tactics, laying down one burning brand after the other with no space between them.
At the last blow he left his hand where it fell, relishing the sting as amends for his part in the boy's suffering.
D'Artagnan was shuddering through a fit of dry-sobbing, unable to summon forth any more tears despite his wretched, heartbroken relief.
"You are our most dear and beloved friend," Aramis said above him. "Whatever you do, whatever you say, we shall be at your side, as equals, mon frère."
Incapable of any form of speech, d'Artagnan simply nodded. His free hand was gripped tightly in the fabric of Aramis' breeches, clasping and unclasping as he panted out his sadness. All the rage, the grief, the unjustness gone, cleansed in the purging fire of his brother's absolution.
"We could not be any prouder of you; Athos, Porthos, and I," Aramis continued, his voice a soothing balm, watching with fond delight how his words made the boy shudder, his limbs going lax as the last of the tension left him. "If we did not already know you to be the very best of us, all you have endured these past weeks has proven you possess the bravery, the spirit, the very soul of a Musketeer."
D'Artagnan clasped Aramis' hand so tightly he feared the boy might damage himself, but then, with a deep and satisfied breath, the hand relaxed.
Aramis, content to remain where he was, guided the boy's arm around to ease the stiffness that had likely built there, and so that d'Artagnan could pillow his head in his hands. He stroked the lad's hair soothingly; the other hand, still hot from its night's work, put to further good use softly massaging the knots from his shoulders.
They stayed in place for a long while, until d'Artagnan's breathing had settled into a steady rhythm.
"My arse hurts," d'Artagnan grumbled after a long while.
Aramis stifled a barking laugh. "I am certain it does," he said, eyes crinkling with fondness.
"And my throat."
The lad's voice was, indeed, most painfully hoarse.
"I should not wonder, given your earlier antics."
"You were thrashing me too hard."
Aramis snorted inelegantly, rewarding the bratty comment by scooping the boy up, standing, and dumping him back down upon the bed. He ignored the spluttering curses, heading for the pantry.
"You might as well finish removing your breeches," he called as he made his preparations. The lad had kicked them nearly the whole way off in his struggles, the material bunching about to hobble his ankles. "Your boots, too."
"Oh? I thought I would repay your last visit to my bed," came the saucy reply.
Aramis poked his head from the pantry, giving the lad a mock glare. "Seems I neglected a spot of sass. Have a care, young one, lest I feel tempted to rectify that error."
D'Artagnan gave an impudent roll of his eyes and made a half-hearted attempt to kick his boots free, not-quite-accidentally smearing some mud upon the bedframe.
"I shall have to write to Brother Benedict for his yard stick," Aramis said, as if to himself. "…Perhaps for now this might do the trick?" he brandished a large wooden spoon from the pantry contemplatively.
D'Artagnan gave a yelp and quickly shuffled to the end of the bed, standing with a wince to unlace his boots. Sitting was, of course, out of the question. He made quick work of the laces, removing his boots and skipping out of both them, his breeches, and his smalls. Without needing to be told he folded the clothes, and placed them in a neat pile beside the shoes. His shirt would serve well enough as a nightgown.
Aramis gave a satisfied grunt, resuming his task. He heard d'Artagnan return to the bed, muffled hisses and groans suggesting that a comfortable position eluded the boy.
Once the honeyed wine was warmed, Aramis brought it and the salve to the bed. He smiled to see that the boy was still awake, grumpily attempting to find a restful position.
"Drink this," he instructed, holding out the wine, watching as d'Artagnan propped himself up on his arms and obediently drank. He took the opportunity to divest himself of his breeches and boots, leaving his smalls in place – it wasn't his arse that was hurting, after all.
When the drink was finished Aramis took the cup and set it aside, climbing into the bed and settling himself against the wall, manhandling d'Artagnan until the lad was once more draped over his lap.
"Must you?" the boy whined, face hot with embarrassment.
"I have just spent the better part of an hour in intimate acquaintance with your bottom, petit frère," Aramis said with arch humour, "how can it still perturb you?"
"This is different." The boy folded his arms before him, resting his forehead upon them, expression hidden from view amongst the covers and his curtain of silky hair.
Aramis gave a tolerant sigh. "Would some distraction help?"
"A story, perhaps?" Aramis grinned, "One of a similar situation to this?"
"A similar… like the Burgundian Incident?"
"Or the tale of the Painted Horse," Aramis agreed good-naturedly. Both stories held no awkwardness for him if told to someone so close, and he was certain that Athos would feel the same way. The boy had earnt that much, at least.
D'Artagnan squirmed a little. He had heard neither story and was clearly intrigued, but the subject matter was still raw upon his mind. "I think I should like to hear your tale, please, if you don't mind," he said eventually, still facing the covers, his ears crimson. "I would like to hear Athos tell his in person."
Aramis took the bowl of salve, scooping a goodly portion up with his fingers and then dabbing it gently upon d'Artagnan's scalded skin. The crease of his buttocks and thighs was the area most direly in need of attention, angry dark splotches webbing a pattern of pain over flesh. He started there, countering the flinch and muted cry with a gentle hand that stroked through the boy's hair.
"It was perhaps a year since Athos' joining the Musketeers, and our first mission together into the territories of Burgundy…"
It took no more than a few minutes for d'Artagnan to fall asleep. Aramis smiled and continued his story as he worked, letting the words lull the boy into peaceful dreams.