Disclaimer: I do not own the Musketeers or any of the characters affiliated with them. If I did, it would never have been cancelled and there would have been way more episodes about Aramis ;)
Author's Note: While I embrace constructive criticism remember this old saying if you choose to leave a review "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all"
Hello there! So, those of you that have me on alert were probably surprised to see a fic pop up that isn't an Avengers fic. I've been spreading my wings and dabbling in a new fandom - BBC's The Musketeers. I've written nothing but my VPU stuff for Avengers in years and this is the first time another fandom has caught me so thoroughly in its clutches. So if you're a VPU reader, thanks for checking this out! I've got more VPU stuff to come and I'm by no means abandoning it. I hope you at least enjoy some good whump and H/C even if you don't recognize these characters haha. Best case, maybe I can convince you to check this show out! In the states it's on Hulu, not sure about other countries.
Anyway, this is an entry in the monthly Fete des Mousquetaires challenge. This month the challenge word was "Contagion" to be interpreted as seen fit. I, being me, couldn't pass up an opportunity for whump and H/C! This little ficlet will also become part of a greater Musketeers universe that I've been working on for months now. I have the true 'verse launching fic with my beta right now (a monster 100k+ word story), but I really wanted to participate this month so here we are. That being said, read this with the knowledge that it will fit into a greater universe that I'm creating so there are mentions of characters and backstories you may not recognize...yet ;)
So, that's enough talk. You're here for fic. Special thanks to my wonderful, and patient, beta - Arlothia. I got this to her with only a couple of days to spare before the deadline and she totally stepped up for me! You should be able to infer when this takes place from contextual clues if you've seen the show. If you haven't seen the show, well, me telling you anything more here won't help lol. Now enjoy!
Listen to your own hearts not to those who would corrupt and mislead you.
The Muskteeers, "Emilie"
Porthos ripped into the bread with his teeth, chewing without really tasting it as he watched the stable doors. Aramis had been in there for an hour already under the guise of grooming his horse. Porthos knew better.
"Did he eat?" To anyone who didn't know him, Athos' tone would sound uninterested, even uncaring. But Porthos had learned years ago how to hear beneath the surface of the reticent man's words.
"No," Porthos grunted in response, eyes still fixed on the stable. "Barely slept either."
Athos silently took a seat across from Porthos at the long table in the yard and Porthos heard, more than saw, d'Artagnan sit as well.
"Where's Aramis?" the youngest of them asked as he suspiciously inspected the porridge Serge had served for breakfast.
"With Esmé," Porthos answered, exchanging a look with Athos, "brooding."
D'Artagnan's face twisted in sympathy.
"Is he still upset over Emilie?"
"Aramis takes matters of faith very seriously," Athos replied sagely. "But he will recover."
Porthos grunted in discontent. More likely this would become one more undeserved burden Aramis would carry silently – like the mess with his father. Like Savoy. A weight Aramis would pretend didn't exist but would always linger.
He sighed and dragged his attention away from the stable to look at his brothers.
"There was another attack last night," he informed them. "Fitz reported it when he came in from patrol. A Spanish merchant just travelin' through. He was dead when they found 'im."
The tightening of Athos' jaw and the brief flicker of his icy gaze towards the stable were the only outward signs that the news disturbed him.
"Was it like the others?" d'Artagnan asked, his wide, worried gaze sliding back and forth between them and then unabashedly towards the stable.
"Worse," Porthos admitted with a frown.
"Emilie left only yesterday," Athos pointed out. "It will take time for her followers to calm."
"And until then?" Porthos challenged with an arched brow.
"We keep the peace as best we can."
Porthos grunted again, looking back towards Aramis' chosen hiding place. He silently willed their fourth member to abandon his chosen isolation and rejoin them.
"Should Aramis be on patrols in the city in the meantime?" d'Artagnan asked reasonably.
Porthos snapped his gaze around to glare at their newest member. Athos arched a warning eyebrow at Porthos, but he ignored it.
D'Artagnan shifted in his seat under the large man's gaze.
"I only meant because…well…I mean he looks…"
"Looks what?" Porthos growled. "He's French. As French as any of us."
D'Artagnan's eyes widened and he shook his head.
"I know that," he assured quickly. "I only meant…"
"He knows what you meant," Athos interrupted calmly, sending Porthos a firmly quelling glance. "And he also knows that you have a point. Perhaps I should talk to Tr-" He paused when the stable door opened and their missing brother emerged into the morning light. He greeted them with a weary smile and made his way towards them.
He was only halfway across the yard when a voice at the gates caught all their attention.
"Monsieur Aramis!" a distraught woman shouted, all but collapsed against the Musketeer guarding the entrance.
Aramis pulled up short, blinking rapidly in what Porthos thought was surprise. Then he strode quickly towards the gate.
"Let her through," Aramis commanded, his voice vaguely ringing with authority long since abandoned.
Porthos stood and followed, taking in the woman's dark hair and eyes, and the olive color of her skin that matched Aramis'. He shot a look at Athos over his shoulder and received a grim nod in return. The three of them all hurried to join Aramis at the gate.
"Madame Cardenas," Aramis took the shaking woman's hands in his own, looking her directly in the eyes and somehow calming her with nothing but the simple touch and the tone of his voice.
"Por favor," she tightened her hands around his, "they will kill him."
Porthos exchanged a startled look with Athos.
"Who?" their pseudo-leader asked, stepping up to Aramis' shoulder.
"Her husband," Aramis answered, eyes never breaking from hers. "He's a tanner. His shop is not far from here."
"Who will kill him?" d'Artagnan asked.
"I don't know who they are," Madame Cardenas admitted. "I was bringing breakfast to him and saw the crowd gathering. Oh, Monsieur Aramis, they were shouting such terrible things."
Aramis squeezed her hands in comfort and glanced back at the rest of them.
"She and her husband moved here from Spain many years ago. They've been in Paris as long as I have, or longer." He turned back to the distraught woman. "Stay here," he instructed gently.
He passed her off to the same Musketeer who had restrained her.
Without having to exchange a word or even a glance, the four of them strode from the Garrison together.
Aramis led the way, jogging through the streets towards where he knew the Cardenas' store was located. His brothers didn't speak, but he felt their presence at his back. It was both a comfort and a strength.
He heard the mob before he saw it.
His gut tightened at the hateful, cruel words. Memories of his childhood rose unbidden to his mind as so many of the shouts rang painfully familiar. He pushed away the memories, forcing his attention back to the present moment.
When he reached the back of the crowd, he wasted no time pushing his way through it. Porthos stayed at his shoulder, protecting his back as he moved. Finally, he broke through the mob and turned, placing himself between the closed shop door and the raging men and women crowding around it.
"I order you to disperse," he shouted, "in the name of the King!"
But the shouts didn't quiet.
"Filthy Spanish dog!"
"Root them all out!"
"Nothing but spies!"
"Kill all the Spanish!"
Porthos and Athos pressed in close at his shoulders, d'Artagnan on Athos' other side.
"This man has lived and worked here for over ten years!" Aramis tried. "He is a citizen of Paris, just as you are!"
"Look at him! He's one of them!" a faceless voice shouted.
"Kill the Spanish spy!"
The rotten fruit caught Aramis in the side of the head, launched from somewhere out of his field of vision. His hat was knocked to the dirt and he was forced to take a stunned side step to keep his balance.
A guttural growl rose beside him and a strong hand latched onto his arm, pulling him back until he was shielded behind familiar broad shoulders. Porthos' other hand had gone to his sword and Aramis didn't have to see his face to know his brother's expression promised violence if anyone made another such move.
D'Artagnan exploded with an indignant, furious shout and his hand flew to his sword as well.
"Aramis," Athos' low, controlled voice drew the marksman's attention. He was surprised to find the swordsman suddenly at his side, urging him towards the door. "Go inside, speak to the tanner and find a way to get him to safety if the crowd doesn't calm."
Normally, Aramis would have rebelled against getting sent away from the conflict. But he wasn't foolish enough not to recognize that his presence only made the situation worse. He gave Athos a tight nod and moved towards the door, stooping to retrieve his hat as he did.
He heard Athos' voice rise up above the rest, that reasonable but uncompromising tone that drove Aramis mad when it was directed his way. But there was no doubting its effectiveness, especially on those less stubborn than he often proved to be.
Aramis pounded his hand against the door and shouted to be heard over the din behind him.
"Monsieur Cardenas! It's Aramis of the King's Musketeers!"
Almost before the words had left his mouth, the door opened just enough for him to slide inside. He cast one last look at his three brothers, squared off against the angry crowd, before firmly closing the door behind him.
He turned, offering Monsieur Cardenas a reassuring grin.
"Quite the morning you've had, my friend." He reached to warmly clasp the tanner's shoulder.
"How did you know to come?" Diego Cardenas asked, releasing a shaky, but relieved, breath.
"Lucia came to the Garrison," Aramis explained. Diego's eyes widened fearfully and Aramis squeezed the shoulder under his hand. "She's fine – safe and secure as you soon will be too."
Something thudded loudly against the door and Diego flinched.
"They came from all sides," he whispered distractedly. "I only barely got the door closed and barred in time."
"Diego," Aramis interjected firmly, trying to stop the panic he could see rising in his friend's eyes.
"Eleven years I've lived and worked here. Eleven years and not one bad word to be said against me. And now…" Diego shook his head and his voice took on a frantic lilt. "Now they shout of taking my head. What have I done to deserve this? What have I ever done but be a loyal, honest citizen of France?"
"Diego!" Aramis took him by the shoulders and shook him once, firmly. "I will get you out of here, back safely to Lucia. But you must pull yourself together."
Diego's dark brown eyes, wide with fear, welled with moisture.
"What have I done to deserve this?"
"Mi amigo." Aramis hoped the use of Spanish would be calming as he tightened his grip on Diego's shoulders. "This is not your doing. Hatred does not stop to ask questions. It spreads like a disease, affecting all in its path. But it will fade and pass with time."
Diego held Aramis' earnest gaze, his frantic breaths slowing as he calmed.
"How can you be so certain?"
Aramis quirked his lips and, with one last squeeze, released Diego's shoulders.
"Because I and mi hermanos will make it so." (my brothers)
The tanner released a calming sigh and nodded. Outside, the shouts rose louder.
"Now then," Aramis grinned, firmly fitting his hat back onto his head and clapping his hands together, "have you a back door?"
Diego shifted and shook his head.
"Not exactly but…" his gaze shifted to something over Aramis' shoulder, "perhaps something just as good?"
Aramis nodded and held out his hand for the frightened man to lead the way.
Porthos shoved a man in the chest when he pressed in too close and then looked at Athos.
"We need to do something," he pointed out with a growl. "Your reasonin' doesn't seem to be workin'."
"We need to give Aramis more time," Athos replied lowly.
"Then let me knock some heads together at least," Porthos grumbled. "Maybe that'll settle 'em down."
"Or enrage them further," d'Artagnan put in helpfully.
Athos ignored them both and raised his voice once more.
"Disperse now," he ordered. "I will not ask again."
A few in the front of the crowd exchanged a nervous glance at the deadly calm in Athos' voice, but most of the crowd just continued to shout and call for Spanish blood.
"Very well." Athos smoothly drew his pistol, pointed it into the air, and fired.
The crowd fell into a sudden hush. A handful of men at the back scampered away and out of sight.
"I trust I now have your attention." Athos clipped his pistol back to his belt and rested a hand on his sword. "Disperse now or be met with force."
The crowd hesitated.
The tightening of Athos' hand around his sword informed Porthos of his intention. So, as Athos drew his sword, Porthos drew his as well. D'Artagnan was only a breath behind them.
"I will not ask again," Athos reminded.
Aramis looked out the second floor window in the small attic above Diego's shop and breathed a light chuckle under his breath.
"What is funny?" Diego asked with worried frown.
"Oh nothing," Aramis replied airily as he drew back from the window and gave the tanner a wide smile. "I just can't ever seem to meet with a window that isn't a frustrating distance from the ground."
Diego gave him an odd look and glanced out the window himself.
"It's not so far," he replied easily.
"Yes, well, when I was young, I broke my leg jumping from a height not so very different than this and ever since I've not been fond of such ventures."
Diego blinked at him and Aramis felt an embarrassed flush color his neck. The older Spaniard's gaze seemed to speak without words.
A musketeer wary of heights?
"Well usually the situation is so harrowing that I don't have time to think about it," Aramis defended brightly.
A sudden pistol shot from the front of the shop had Diego flinching. Aramis merely raised his eyebrows and smiled.
"And this seems to be just that sort of situation. Come now, I'll lower you by the wrists and get you as close as I can."
Diego held up a hand and ran to the opposite corner of the small attic. He returned with a coiled rope.
"Yes," Aramis tried not show his relief, "that is a much better plan."
Moments later Diego and then Aramis were down the rope and in the alley.
"I'll take you to the Garrison and arrange an escort for you and your wife from there," Aramis explained as he urged Diego down the alley. They would have to take back streets to keep Diego out of sight.
Even with that precaution, they had only made it two streets over when three men stepped out to block their way. Aramis stopped, propelling Diego backward.
"There are more," Diego hissed, pushing back.
Aramis backed towards the wall, shielding Diego behind him, and looked up and down the narrow lane they found themselves in.
Hissing a curse under his breath, he drew a pistol with one hand and his sword with the other. "Diego, when I tell you, run. Do not stop until you reach the Garrison."
"What about you?"
"I'll be right behind you," Aramis assured. He then turned his attention to the men pressing in from both sides. "I will not let you harm him," he explained firmly.
The approaching attackers paused, eyes scanning over Aramis and his raised weapons.
"A Musketeer," one of them realized, motioning with his club at Aramis' shoulder.
"A spy," another hissed. "Just look at him to see it."
Murmurs of agreement rose from the others.
Aramis clenched his jaw in frustration. It wasn't the first time – nor would it be the last, he was sure – that the features inherited from his mother invited the wrong kind of attention.
This time, though, was perhaps one of the most inconvenient.
He kept his gaze shifting back and forth between the advancing men, but spoke over his shoulder to Diego.
"I'll take the three on our left first and give you an opening to run. Stay close."
He didn't wait for acknowledgment, or for the enemy to get any closer. Years of training and battle instincts took over and he exploded into fluid action. His first pistol shot seemed deafening in the narrow space of the alley. One of the men fell, his wound debilitating but not fatal.
Aramis dropped his pistol, reaching back for his main gauche even as he brought his sword up to engage the other two.
A blur of motion out of the corner of his eye assured him his instruction had been obeyed.
"After him!" someone shouted.
Aramis shifted, spinning to guard Diego's retreat as the five remaining men crowded towards him.
"Oh I don't think so." He smirked. "We've only just met. It would be rude of you to run off before we can be properly acquainted." He spread his arms out in a showy flourish. "I'm Aramis."
The men exchanged glances and then looked back at him with matching frowns.
"Come now," he shifted into his fighting stance, sword at the ready, "I haven't got all day."
They did not wait for a second invitation.
Porthos strode into the Garrison with Athos and d'Artagnan at his side.
Huddled together at the long table in the yard sat the woman from earlier and the man Porthos assumed to be her husband. Both stood to greet them.
"Monsieur Cardenas, I presume?" Athos greeted with a nod.
The short man nodded, a trembling hand rubbing anxiously at his dark mustache. His dark gaze shifted over their shoulders to the gate and then back.
Porthos felt a knot of dread tighten in his stomach. He shifted a wary glance around, searching for a familiar blue sash and dove gray hat. Some instinct, deep in his gut, flared in warning when his brother was nowhere to be found.
A subtle tightening in Athos' posture suggested that same instinct – that invisible tie that bound the three of them together – was igniting in him as well. They exchanged a sharp, worried glance even as d'Artagnan spoke.
"Where's Aramis?" the youngest of them asked, a wary hesitance in his tone suggesting that his not-insignificant time with them had drawn him into that bond, turning their cord of three into one of four.
"He was supposed to follow after me," Cardenas replied shakily. "I had hoped he would be with you."
"What happened?" Porthos demanded, voice dropping into a growl.
Cardenas swallowed thickly and explained.
"There were six men," he said. "He told me to run and that he would follow."
Porthos tightened the hand he had instinctively dropped to his sword.
"Sounds like Aramis," he grumbled. "Reckless."
"Where?" Athos asked. His voice had taken on that tone he got. That one of infuriating calm amidst a terrible circumstance where any normal person would be overtaken by emotion.
Aramis hated that tone. Porthos relied on it.
It meant Athos was in control, that he would make everything right.
So as Cardenas relayed the location of the confrontation, Porthos focused on Athos' placid expression and drew his own measure of calm from it.
Aramis would be fine. They would accept no other outcome.
"That…is a lot of blood," d'Artagnan observed as they spread out in the alley.
"Well there were six of them…Aramis probably made every one of them bleed," Porthos replied with a feral grin as he moved farther down the narrow space, searching for a clue as to where his brother was now.
"Porthos." Athos' grave voice drew Porthos' gaze. He stared at the pistol in Athos' hand, a band tightening around his chest and preventing fresh air from entering his body.
"That belongs to Aramis," d'Artagnan pointed out needlessly.
Athos' gaze stayed locked on Porthos'.
"If he had been the victor," Athos stated slowly, the calm in his voice more forced now, "he would not have left this behind."
Porthos tore his gaze away, casting a more frantic look around the alley. He caught sight of a swatch of gray and a broken feather. He moved to retrieve the abandoned hat even as Athos took control of the situation.
"D'Artagnan, go back to the Garrison. Alert Treville. We will search the immediate area and meet you there."
Porthos didn't turn to watch their youngest leave. Instead, he stood slowly, carefully cradling the dirty hat in his hands.
"We will find him," Athos assured firmly as he moved to Porthos' shoulder.
"I know we will."
There was no other option, no other outcome.
"We need to look for witnesses," Athos went on.
"Can you handle that?" he asked.
"Where are you going?" Athos inquired instead of answering.
"To speak with Defrain," Porthos said with a sigh. "He'll want to help with the search."
"You think the Red Guard will care that Aramis is missing?"
"Defrain will, you know that."
For better or worse – and Red Guard or not – Marc Defrain's longstanding friendship with Aramis was beyond question as far as Porthos was concerned. The two had served together in the infantry, years before Porthos had even met Aramis. Athos, however, had never warmed to the man's sometimes questionable morals and brazen tongue.
The swordsman's doubtful hum made it clear his feelings had not changed.
Porthos raised an eyebrow in challenge.
"Whatever you think of him, I've never known Defrain to let Aramis down when it mattered. He'll help."
Athos tilted his head in acquiescence.
"Go then. We'll meet back at the Garrison as soon as we can to regroup and begin the search in earnest. "
Porthos nodded and set off with a quick, purposeful stride.
It was the shock of cold water that woke him.
Aramis coughed, drawing in a sputtering breath as he blinked furiously and tried to get his bearings. His head throbbed, the pain sharpest somewhere at the back. His vision was a bit out of focus and something thick and rough was keeping his wrists tethered in front of him.
"Get him up." The rough command heralded a sudden jerk at his arm.
Still unsteady – he and head injuries had never gotten along very well, even less so since Savoy – Aramis staggered as he tried to find his feet. Another rough pull at his arm attempted to steady him, but all it did was throw off his balance even more. He stumbled bodily into whoever was holding him, eliciting a grunt and a curse from his captor.
"How hard did you hit him, Jean?" a voice hissed in annoyance.
Aramis' stomach chose that moment to make its own displeasure known – another byproduct of head injuries he could never seem to escape – and he expelled the entire meager contents of his stomach onto someone's boots. He hadn't had breakfast, so there wasn't much to it, but the entire display was no less unpleasant.
Oddly, though, it did help clear his head a bit.
He offered up a weary smirk.
"I'd offer to have your boots cleaned, but I'm not convinced this isn't an improvement for them."
The owner of the boots grumbled something under his breath and stalked away. Aramis took a moment to survey the room.
And realized he'd been here before. Many times, in fact.
He was being held in a local tavern – The Prancing Musket. Porthos didn't often want to come here, so he had not visited in some time. His brother was opposed to the establishment on principle as he thought its name was ridiculous.
The rough voice that had commanded his rise earlier addressed him again.
"State your name, Spaniard."
Aramis shifted his gaze to the voice's owner. Something about the man's face seemed familiar, his still vaguely muddled mind spun for a moment as he tried to place where he'd seen him before.
Then he knew.
This man – Franco – had been in Emilie's camp.
"I believe you already know my name," Aramis replied evenly. "And I am not Spanish. I am French."
Franco's mouth twitched.
"You can save your lies. We'll not be beguiled by you as Emilie was."
"I'm not lying," Aramis insisted. He glanced around the room at all the faces watching the display. "My name is Aramis, of the King's Musketeers. Alexander," he saw the tavern owner behind the bar, "you know me. I've come here for years. All of you, please, consider the consequences before you proceed down this path. An attack on a Musketeer is not something the King will take lightly."
"The King will thank us!" Franco snapped before anyone could respond and drawing Aramis' attention back to him. "He may even reward us for rooting out a Spanish spy."
Aramis lifted his chin slightly in defense.
"I am French," he stated calmly.
"He looks Spanish!" someone shouted from the small crowd gathered in the tavern.
"He tricked Emilie!" another added.
"Kill the spy!"
The man in charge held up a hand to quiet them.
"You stand accused of treason, Aramis, of the King's Musketeers. I witnessed you take Emilie away from the camp and when she returned, she was changed."
Aramis kept his voice calm and even as he replied,
"She had been misled. I merely helped to guide her back to the path of truth."
"You lied to her!" Franco shouted. "Before you came, she had united us to a common cause. We were unified against the Spanish filth that have infiltrated our country. A few days with you and suddenly she disavowed her teachings."
"She had been misled," Aramis repeated, feeling a twisting of guilt. Though her faith had been placed in lies, it had been real to her…and Aramis had ripped it away.
"By you!" a faceless voice shouted.
"By her mother," Aramis corrected.
"Did you not enter her camp with the intention of stopping her march on Spain?" Franco demanded.
Aramis paused, searching for a safe way to answer the question.
"I only intended to learn about her, and her true motives," he carefully replied.
"You came to stop her," Franco insisted. "You came to protect your Spanish countrymen from our wrath!"
"I came to stop French lives, your lives, from being lost in a war you were not prepared for," Aramis shot back sharply. "She would have led you to your deaths."
"He admits it!" Franco announced triumphantly. "He admits his treachery!"
Aramis shook his head in frustration. Franco was hearing without listening. Judging by the nods and vicious smiles surrounding him, the rest of the crowd was allowing itself to be swept up in Franco's unfounded accusations and hate.
"By your own confession, we find you guilty!" Franco stated and the crowd cheered.
Aramis searched the faces around him, settling finally on Alexander, the tavern owner.
The old man swallowed thickly and averted his gaze.
"An example must be made," Franco went on. "This man," he pointed at Aramis, "will serve as a warning to any other Spanish dogs that lie in wait. They will all be rooted out!"
Franco snatched something off the bar and held it up above his head. The crowd cheered again.
Aramis felt his mouth go dry as he recognized a crude, homemade flogging device.
"Take him outside so all can see what happens to filthy Spanish dogs."
He walked the length of the yard, ducked into the stable long enough to offer soothing words to Esmé – Aramis' spirited horse had always had an uncanny sense of when her master was in danger – and then stalked back across the yard.
He had chosen to stay behind to coordinate the search. But inaction did not sit well with him, especially when one of his own men was in danger. Especially when it was Aramis, the one who had been at his side since the Musketeers were born. The boy soldier he had helped guide into manhood. The one who had been his right hand for so long until a tragedy of Treville's own making had opened a gulf between them and soured leadership in Aramis' heart forever.
Movement at the gate drew his attention and Treville watched a small boy all but trip over himself trying to get to Treville.
"Are you the Musketeer captain?" the boy asked breathlessly.
Treville nodded sharply.
"My papa sent me," the boy gasped in a breath. "They made him go along. He didn't want to, I swear he didn't!"
"Go along with what?" Treville demanded, though he felt he already knew.
"They're gonna kill him," the boy revealed dramatically. "They're gonna kill the Spanish Musketeer!"
Ice raced through Treville's veins. He seized the boy by the shoulders, forcing himself to be gentle and not frighten him.
"Where is he?" he asked. "Where is the Spanish Musketeer?"
"At my papa's tavern – The Prancing Musket. You have to hurry!"
Treville was already moving.
"Pierre!" he shouted for the other man who'd stayed behind to act as a messenger between search groups. The gangly youth appeared out of the armory. "Find Athos. Tell him Aramis is at the Prancing Musket."
Pierre was running through the gate a moment later, dust kicking up in his wake. Treville wanted to run after him. But he knew that tavern and where the rest of the Inseparables were searching – Athos and Porthos would be close to it. They would get Aramis back. Instead, he would have to prepare for what would come next.
He turned back to the wide-eyed boy.
"Was the Musketeer injured?" he asked.
The boy blinked owlishly.
"I don't know…but he wasn't awake when they brought him in."
Treville cursed under his breath. Aramis and head injuries never mixed well. With all the time that had passed, it was unlikely his Musketeer would be left unscathed. He needed to find a physician.
Treville cast a wane glance at the Garrison's infirmary. It had been three years now since Henri had passed, but Treville had never felt the old physician's absence so sharply.
He looked sharply to the gate, momentarily stunned to see Constance Bonacieux standing there.
"Madame Bonacieux," he greeted stiffly.
"Word has spread," she explained carefully. "Their majesties are concerned about the missing Musketeer." She stepped farther into the yard, some formality fading from her posture. "It's Aramis, isn't it?" she asked worriedly.
Treville nodded sharply.
Constance rung her hands together and glanced vaguely in the direction the palace stood.
"Has he been found?" she asked with wide eyes.
"We have his location. Athos, Porthos, and d'Artagnan will bring him back."
She nodded, swallowing thickly and looking unsure of what to do next.
"He may need a physician," Treville pointed out carefully.
Her eyes lit with purpose.
"Lemay," she stated. "I'll go and fetch him."
Treville watched her stride out of the Garrison with the confidence of a woman on a mission. He felt a sudden note of sympathy for anyone who tried to slow her down.
Aramis pulled at the ropes binding his wrists to the wooden post that supported the second-floor balcony. He had no more success in freeing himself than he had in all previous attempts, and all he really accomplished was rubbing the skin of his wrists even more raw.
The stagnant, warm air of the open street brought a light sweat to life on his back, despite the lack of any layers of clothing. It had taken four of them – and ultimately a well-placed punch to his lower back – to strip his torso of both his leathers and his shirt. It had taken three pistols pointed in his direction, and his own main gauche pressed to his spine, for him to remain compliant enough for them to truss him up.
Franco was giving a speech now to the rapidly growing crowd about patriotism and rooting out the filthy, poisonous Spanish. Aramis ignored him. Instead, he turned his focus inward, reaching out to that which had always brought him comfort.
The words slipped easily from his lips as he prayed for strength to face what was to come. He prayed for his brothers to follow whatever tether bound them together and find him. He prayed for mercy on those who had gotten caught up in Emilie's infectious hatred for the Spanish, those who could not let it go even after she renounced it all.
"Do you see!" a voice shouted suddenly, ringing loudly in his ear. Fingers tangled in his hair, jerking his head back violently enough to draw a surprised wince. "Even now he speaks their vile language!"
Amidst the jeers and shouts that followed, Aramis realized he had fallen back into his mother's native tongue. It was his tendency, he knew, in moments of stress or pain. Porthos and Athos had both confirmed it on many occasions.
He'd always supposed it was a method of subconscious comfort. His mother's voice, her language, was wrapped up in his best memories of childhood. Perhaps it was his way of reaching for those long lost days of warmth and contentment.
He was sure it did nothing now but reaffirm his supposed guilt to those around him.
"So let this be a warning to all those filthy vermin who remain!" Franco shouted, releasing Aramis' hair and stepping a few paces away. "We will root you out and purge our country of your vile presence!"
An odd misplaced hush fell over the crowd and Aramis drew in a breath. A faint whistle in the air gave him a crucial moment of warning to brace himself.
Then the first blow fell, burning a line of fiery pain across his back.
Aramis closed his eyes and started praying again.
His Spanish was intentional now, perhaps to spite his abusers, or maybe to reach out for that cherished comfort of his mother's warm voice. He lost himself in the flowing words and let the world, and the pain, fade around him.
Time lost meaning until a sudden, familiar, animalistic roar of anger froze the words on his lips. A pistol shot followed and afterwards screams and the sound of fleeing feet. Aramis forced his eyes open, surprised to find it harder than he expected.
"'Mis? Aramis? Can you hear me?" Porthos' voice was gentle, worried, and angry all at once. It was a jumble of emotions Aramis had heard before, had caused before.
"'Thos…" he attempted to speak his brother's name and frowned when he could barely form the word.
"Easy," Porthos soothed as he reached for something over their heads. "Can you stand?"
Aramis frowned more deeply, brow drawing together in confusion.
Wasn't he already standing?
But then the rope holding his wrists in place gave way and he was falling. A strong arm caught him low around the waist, keeping him upright while another guided one of Aramis' arms around broad shoulders.
"I got you, brother," Porthos promised.
"Porthos?" another familiar voice shouted from a distance away.
Athos. Athos was here, too.
"Not good," Porthos replied gravely.
Aramis frowned, trying to piece together what he missed in the conversation.
"Get him out of here," Athos commanded. "We'll handle this."
Then they were moving. Porthos pulled him along while Aramis' uncooperative legs tried to keep up. His unfocused eyes caught fleeting glimpses of Athos and d'Artagnan and…Red Guards? Before he could work that out they ducked down an alley and the sounds of the brawl faded away.
"Just stay with me, 'Mis," Porthos urged as he hefted more of Aramis' sagging weight against his side.
Aramis tried. He did his best to keep his feet moving and to keep his eyes open despite how long they walked.
The Prancing Musket, while not so terribly far from Cardenas' tanning shop, was a fair distance from the Garrison.
He wasn't sure he would make it, that his body wouldn't betray him before they reached the safety of those familiar gates. But the solid warmth of Porthos at his side reminded him that it didn't matter. It didn't matter if he couldn't make it on his own. He wasn't alone. But until that moment of weakness came, he would persevere as long as he could.
So they stumbled along together, down back streets and narrow alleys.
"Almost there," Porthos assured as they finally drew within sight of the Garrison gate.
Something about the sight seemed to sap the last reserves of his strength, though, and Aramis' feet got tangled up in themselves. He would have fallen, but Porthos was there.
"Easy," his brother murmured, taking even more of his weight. "Stay with me."
He tried. But as his vision dimmed he managed to murmur an apology. What language he used, Aramis could not say. But he knew, even as consciousness fled, that Porthos would understand and would not let him fall.
Athos led the way across the yard to the infirmary. D'Artagnan was following so closely behind him that he kept stepping on his heels, and behind him Marc Defrain brought up the rear. Normally, Athos would have come up with some sort of snide, but subtle, dismissal of the Red Guard. But right now, his only focus was on getting to Aramis.
He paused at the door, the scent of blood and sweat momentarily overwhelming his senses.
Porthos was there, exactly where Athos had known he would be. The large man sat on the floor next to the cot that held their wounded brother, who was lying on his side as his injured back was tended to. Porthos was near Aramis' head, casually carding a hand through the marksman's hair and speaking softly. Aramis, the tactile creature he was, craved such physical comforts when he was injured…even if he would never admit it.
Aramis' hand lay limply near his chin and Athos felt himself drawn across the room. He went to one knee next to Porthos and took Aramis' hand in his.
"How bad is it?" he asked Lemay as the physician worked silently from the other side of the cot. Constance was quietly assisting him, her eyes red-rimmed and cheeks damp.
"A few of the marks will scar," Lemay told them quietly. "But most of them are shallow or didn't break the skin at all. He will heal," he told them confidently. "There was a head wound which required some stitching. It could be why he's still asleep, but then, it could also just be the shock."
Athos nodded and turned his focus to Porthos.
"Did you kill them?" Porthos asked in a deadly soft voice.
"Those that left us no choice," Athos replied.
"And the one who did this?" Porthos' dark eyes met his and Athos clearly saw the lethal intent within them if Athos did not give him the answer he wanted.
Athos thought back to the moment they pushed through the crowd and saw their brother hanging limply by his wrists, his bare back being laid open by a crude whip. The world had grayed at the edges and while Porthos had torn through the crowd to get to Aramis, Athos' focus had narrowed to the main wielding the cruel weapon. He had no clear memory of drawing his pistol, or of taking aim.
But he remembered pulling the trigger.
"He left me no choice," Athos answered coldly, tightening the hand he had on Aramis'.
"Good," Porthos growled lowly, turning his focus back to their brother's lax face.
Lemay stepped back.
"I've done what I can. I'll leave something for the pain for when he wakes and will be back to check on him in the morning."
"I'll walk you out," d'Artagnan offered.
Athos did not turn to watch them go. He assumed Defrain had gone with them as there was nothing but the sounds of Aramis' ragged breathing.
They were alone.
"Have you seen Treville?" Athos asked after a moment. He would need to give a report on what happened at some point. French citizens had lost their lives by Musketeer hands today and that would need to be answered for.
"He was here when we arrived," Porthos replied quietly, eyes never wavering from Aramis' face, "but was called away by a message from the King."
Athos nodded and settled more comfortably on the floor.
"It shouldn't be like this," Porthos muttered lowly.
Athos raised an eyebrow and waited for him to go on.
"He was born in France, raised here. He's only ever been to Spain in the service of France."
"I know," Athos agreed quietly.
"He's a bloody Musketeer, has been for longer than anyone else still commissioned."
"It shouldn't matter what he looks like or that he lapses in his language sometimes. It shouldn't matter because he's French."
"I know," Athos assured once again. Porthos was right, it shouldn't matter. Just like it shouldn't matter that Porthos was born with dark skin or that he had been raised in the slums. All that anyone should see of them now was the uniform they wore on their shoulders.
But that wasn't the world they lived in.
They both started when Aramis' voice, weak and weary but clear, rose from the cot.
"Hate does not stop to ask questions," he reminded softly, blinking blearily at them. "You, dear Porthos, know this better than most."
Athos tightened his hand around his brother's.
"Cardenas?" Aramis asked before Athos could speak, before he could offer the apology on the tip of his tongue. He never should have sent Aramis off alone. They should have found him sooner, gotten to him faster.
"Safe," Athos assured. "He and his wife were escorted home and Treville posted a rotating guard for the night."
Aramis nodded, eyes drifting closed wearily before he forced them open again.
"How you feeling, 'Mis?" Porthos asked gently.
"I'll be challenging you to hand-to-hand before you know it," Aramis replied with a shaky grin.
Athos watched Porthos' hand falter where it still absently stroked Aramis' hair. The words, though tinged in Aramis' usual humor, were nothing but a shield – and a feeble one. Behind the shaky grin, Aramis' eyes told the true story, as they always had. Their brother was on crumbling ground as the reality of what he'd just been through started to sink in.
"It's all right, Aramis," Athos assured softly. Years ago, when he'd first met these men, such gentle assurances had not come naturally to him. But shared experiences, shared horrors and injuries and traumas, had forced him to become the same anchor of comfort to them that they always were to him.
"You're safe now," Porthos added.
"I told them I was French," Aramis insisted quietly.
Athos and Porthos both pretended not to see the lone drop of moisture slide across Aramis' nose and drop to the pillow beneath his head.
"As you said, hate does not stop to ask questions…or listen to reason," Athos reminded.
"But I'm Spanish too," Aramis went on. He blinked and freed another solitary tear. "She is a part of me and always will be. I won't renounce that…or be shamed by it."
He was speaking of his mother, who, though she spent most of her life in France, had been born fully Spanish. It was a side of himself that Aramis had never denied, a side he embraced because he had loved her so fiercely.
"I hope for a world where you would never have to be," Athos admitted. "A world where you and Porthos are looked at no differently than any other man and are given all the same opportunities."
"That's not our world," Porthos reminded with a hint of old bitterness.
"Not yet," Aramis agreed with a tired sigh, eyes drifting closed as Porthos continued to stroke his hair.
"That is why it is called 'hope'," Athos pointed out softly as he watched his brother slip back into sleep.
And hope, if fed as fervently, was more powerful a weapon than hate could ever be.
And there you have it. My first Musketeers fic! As any faithful show watchers noticed, I took a tiny bit of liberty with the timeline at the very end of the show (namely when Treville gets his demotion letter), but hey, that's my right as a fanfic author right? ;) I'm hoping to start participating in the monthly challenges more often, if not every month. (I do have my second child due in 6 short weeks and then fic writing time will be hard to come by for a while)
I hope you enjoyed this! And I hope some of you will be back to check out more of my Musketeers 'verse when the time comes ;) This fic can probably clue you in that I'm an Aramis fan and my 'verse will be centered around him just like my Avengers 'verse is centered around Clint Barton. (shameless plug for my other works lol)
Thanks for reading and if you're feeling inclined, drop me a line! I love reviews like a fat kid loves cake!