A/N: It's officially my worst nightmare - I have two stories going at once! But this one insisted on getting out even though I told it to stay in the cookie jar until I was ready. This story was started as a response to the August Fete Challenge - where there is smoke there is fire - but then it took on a life of its own and here we are. It's my first modern AU, my first Savoy story, and my first origin-type story so I feel out on a limb but hopefully none of you will push me off.
I know even less about international policing than I do 1630s Musketeers so my apologies for the blatant errors. But I suggest you just go with it. My thanks as always to Issai for her beta-reading and her cheerleading. I swear there would be no stories at all from me if it wasn't for her.
Please let me know what you think!
He had to keep moving. He was too hot for the heavy trench coat he had buttoned over his clothes, but he pulled the belt tight again anyway. Something about the pressure from the belt snug around his waist gave him the illusion that he was not slowly bleeding out beneath the makeshift bandages holding his left side together. The coat was practical too as it hid his blood-soaked clothing as he pushed his way through the crowded city center. It was dusk, and people were on their way home or out with friends. The city was too full of other things to give much notice to the man weaving drunkenly against the flow of bodies heading toward the bus stops and car parks.
Someone jostled him as he rounded the next corner and he cried out in pain, staggering backward to lean awkwardly against the side of a building. The woman who had run into him - blonde, petite, dressed like she worked at one of the high-end boutiques that catered to rich tourists - looked as if she was about to apologize, but her face changed as she took him in. He was panting and bathed in sweat, his eyes probably blown wide from the adrenaline and morphine he'd shot himself up with from the emergency kit in the glove box. She backed away, melting into the crowd and leaving the crazy guy in the trench coat to fend for himself.
He didn't care. He needed a minute to catch his breath. The dull ache from his side was starting to burn and his vision was watery. The drugs were wearing off. They were supposed to last long enough to get you out of a firefight and into the hands of an evac team, not keep you on your feet for over an hour trying to find the one safe house you had time to locate before you had to toss your phone into the back of cab while pretending to hold the door open for an elderly couple. He'd dumped everything on the phone first - there was an app for that - but if he was being tracked, that cab had hopefully led his pursuers, whoever the hell they were, on a long enough chase that he could make the safe house.
He blinked up at the street sign on the side of the building. The words refused to stay in focus, but it had to be right. The church bells were ringing, he was close by, he knew it. He pushed himself off the wall and stumbled down the narrow street, less crowded but dotted with trash cans and paved with cobblestone. He wobbled on the uneven surface, each step causing a throbbing ache in his side. He checked numbers . . . 107 . . 109 . . 111. . and there, 113. It was that one. He crammed himself into the doorway, forehead leaning on the metal door as he keyed in a passcode. The door panel blinked red. He had the number wrong. No. No. That couldn't be. He'd memorized it, the code, the street, the map view - his mind was like that, nearly photographic. He typed the code again, more carefully, mindful of the clumsiness in his normally adept fingers. The light on the keypad blinked green and he heard the satisfying click of the door unlocking. He saw the slick of his own blood on the keypad as he took his hand away and pushed his way into the door.
He pressed the steel door closed, heard the lock shift into place. He keyed the secondary entry pad, resetting the alarm and identifying him as an INTERPOL agent. His code on the interior door would flag in the system and alert INTERPOL to which agent had entered the safe house. Only he hadn't used his own code because he had no idea if he was being targeted. If anyone was looking for him, he would show up in a database search as someone else and anyone running a program to flag his access would miss it. It would take someone recognizing the code manually to figure it out.
His knees buckled and he slid down the door, sitting heavily on the flagstones of the entryway. He pulled open the trench coat. He was drenched in blood. There would be a med kit in the house, but not in the hallway where he was currently slumped on the floor and incapable of getting up. He needed help. But who was left that he could trust?
Hands shaking, he managed to fish his burner phone out of his pocket. It was old-school, a flip phone and he'd have to actually remember a phone number to be able to use it. He flicked it open and stared at the keys. His memory was excellent but right now it was a soup of too many things trying to coalesce. He got like that when he took drugs, and apparently when he suffered from extreme blood loss too. He set the phone on his thigh and hoped a number would come to him.
His glock was tucked into the waistband of his pants and he carefully pulled it out, trying not to stretch the shredded muscles on his left side. He switched off the safety and placed it on the floor beside him, his right hand on the grip. It was reassuring to have the gun in his hand. Grounding. He had logged hundreds of hours with it in the field and on the range. He could hear the echo of gunfire inside the throbbing of his head. Not just his shots, but the report of two others beating a staccato rhythm somehow in sync with his own. He fumbled for the phone and clumsily dialed the one number he could remember. He felt a burning pain sear his side and he moaned. Yeah, the morphine had definitely worn off. The pain was excruciating and he all but forgot the cell phone as it dropped from his hand. He had to get up. Had to stop the bleeding. He pressed his hand into the wound and moaned again. He was trying to stand when a shadow stepped into the doorway from the main room.
He froze as fear hit him like ice water. For all of his clever tricks, his evasion skills, his desperate trek across the city, they had been waiting for him all along. With his last remaining strength, he raised the glock, trying and failing to keep his hand steady enough to make his shot. The figure didn't stop, didn't say anything, just moved slowly into the dark hallway, blotting out the light from the doorway behind him. He tried to squeeze the trigger but his fingers refused to cooperate. The gun slipped from his hand, clattering on the floor. The man came closer, spreading his arms wide until they became wings and the last conscious thought he had was of a great black raven sweeping him into the blackness of oblivion.
"Who is it?"
"Nothin'," Porthos said, tapping his phone closed, "Just heavy breathing and some moaning."
"Sounds like Aramis butt-dialed you again," Athos offered as he flicked the turn signal on and shifted lanes. Their exit was coming up and they'd be back home in about another 15 minutes. Well not home exactly, but back to The Garrison, the command bunker for their elite operations INTERPOL unit. They spent enough time there it might as well be home.
"Yeah, but it wasn't his number," Porthos said, peering at the phone, "I don't know this number."
"Ok so someone else butt-dialed you," Athos hated it when Porthos went down these rabbit holes. Sometimes things just happened.
"On my encrypted line?" Porthos tapped at the phone while he talked to Athos, "Only eight people have this number and seven of them are forward-thinking enough to take their phone out of their pockets when they're having sex."
"So wrong number?" Athos offered, taking the exit that took them off the main highway and into the French countryside.
"What are the odds of that though?' Porthos frowned, "That some random guy from . . . um . . . Venezuela randomly butt dials me while he's getting it on with some babe in a bikini in the bulkhead of his yacht?"
"You've given this a lot of thought," Athos said dryly.
"Well all I've had for company is you the last eight days so yeah, I got a lot to think about," Porthos complained, but Athos could hear the smile in his voice.
"You could always ask to be reassigned if I don't talk enough for you," Athos's tone was flat, but this was a longstanding joke between the three of them. Athos's stoicism was as legendary as Aramis's chattering and Porthos was the poor fool who had to suffer through both of them. "I hear Rochefort's group is looking for a fourth."
Porthos gave a derisive snort. "Rochefort? That pig, he can't keep any team for longer than three months."
"Well we haven't had a fourth for a lot longer than that," Athos pointed out.
"Yeah, well that's different," Porthos said, as he put his phone away, "We started as a trio. Not our fault that we already had a thing going when Treville mandated four-man teams."
"Four-person teams," Athos corrected, "Plus back-ups."
"Whatever kind of person it is, it's one too many people for the three of us," Porthos countered. He was silent a minute and then added, "Do you think we need a fourth?" Athos sighed. He asked himself this question almost daily and every time his answer seemed to change.
"I see the benefits. We have some skills deficits that a fourth could make up for. It would improve tactical operations and allow a stronger command role when running missions with interchangeable -"
"Athos, cut it out," Porthos interrupted, "I don't wanna hear tactics and administrative crap coming from you. I'm asking you, my lieutenant, my friend, my - hell, we are practically brothers - do we need a fourth?"
Athos sighed. Practically brothers. He didn't think he could be closer to blood brothers than he was to Aramis and Porthos. They were family in every sense of the word. A deeper bond than his family, or at least what was left of them. But did they need a fourth?
"Well, Treville thinks we do," Athos said reasonably, "So that means whatever I think matters less than we at least try to find one."
"And if we never do?" Porthos asked.
"I don't think I'll mind," Athos said warmly. Far too warmly for Porthos to not understand the underlying message. They finished the remainder of the journey in companionable silence, although Athos knew Porthos was probably still pondering all the unspoken questions constantly rattling around in his head.
As they pulled into the drive, The Garrison seemed busier than it should have been for a Wednesday night. Although with an international agency, time was completely relative. A crisis didn't wait for morning in France, it could unfold at any time. The Garrison was not just a command post, it was a bunkhouse, an arsenal, a transport center, and a supply depot. Everything they needed at a moment's notice, including an infirmary, a mess hall and a place to crash between missions.
Reaching the security checkpoint, Athos rolled down the window of the black, government issue SUV. He was surprised to find Jacques on duty as he usually worked the day shift.
"Good evening, Sirs," his tone was formal, not the usual greeting from the young soldier, "I'm sorry but I'll need to see your identification, Lieutenant."
"Of course," Athos said, slipping his ID folder from his back pocket. He reached across the front seat to take Porthos's and he handed them both to Jacques. The soldier didn't just look at them, he took the time to slip them through the scanner and check them against the records that came up. Athos glanced over to Porthos, a question in his eyes. Porthos gave a shrug. They both pulled out their phones while they waited for Jaques, a soldier they had known for well over a year, to check their identification to make sure they were themselves. Something was going on.
Athos reviewed his messages, nothing from the Garrison.
"Did you get pinged?" Porthos asked.
"Nope. Nothin'," Porthos took a deep breath, Athos could almost hear the cogs start turning in the man's brain. They were about to go down another rabbit hole. Porthos tapped rapidly at his phone. Athos knew he was texting Aramis.
"Here you go, all checks out," Jacques interrupted Athos's thoughts to hand him back their IDs."
"Did you think we weren't us?" Athos said as he passed Porthos his ID booklet.
"No... I mean, of course not, Sir," Jacques was clearly flustered and Athos didn't mean to be giving the kid a hard time. He liked him, they all did. He often worked motor pool and they'd talk cars and engines. Or take him to the shooting range because wow, he was terrible but Aramis never shied away from a good project.
"What's going on?" Athos asked.
"I don't know, Sir. I was just ordered to remain at my post until relieved. I don't think it's a security exercise, I think it's a real threat," Jacques said that last conspiratorially as if he wasn't supposed to tell. Athos and Porthos exchanged a glance. If The Garrison was under threat there would be a Code Red All Call issued and neither of them had received that.
"Did they do a full field recall?" Porthos asked from the passenger seat.
"I don't know, Sir," Jacques replied, "But it's been busy, Sir, I can tell you that. Two choppers just came in a few minutes ago and they are clearing the helipad for two more. Someone said a team's been compromised."
Compromised. It was a euphemism for captured or killed. Athos felt his chest tighten.
"Ok Jacques, thanks. Nice job" Athos added, attempting to show the young soldier he had not been offended by being asked for ID. He must have done alright as Jacques offered him a formal salute as Athos put the car in gear. The Garrison wasn't military exactly but there were enough former soldiers and special ops crews that a salute still meant something here. Athos returned the gesture and then pulled the car through the gate.
"If it's Code Red, then why didn't we get pinged to come back?" Porthos immediately asked.
"Maybe because we'd already checked in as on our way?" Athos answered, "I mean the Captain knows we are en route."
"But doesn't a ping like that go to everyone?" Porthos wondered.
"Maybe because it isn't a Code Red?" Athos answered, finding that calm center he needed to withstand what was probably going to be a barrage of questions that Athos could not answer. He knew it was Porthos's way of puzzling things out, but being asked speculative questions that he could not possibly have the answer to drove Athos crazy. Athos preferred to quietly connect the dots in his own mind, taking in bits of information and slipping them into place until a picture emerged. Once he found the picture, he could share it, act on it, add to it but for him, it was a solitary and quiet process. Porthos made him nuts.
Both of their phones chimed simultaneously. Athos snagged his out of his cup holder and tapped the fingerprint access on the back. The message scrolled up on the lock screen - they were to report immediately to Captain Treville.
"Treville?" Porthos asked, confirming they had gotten the same message. Athos nodded. "What the hell is going on that we don't get recalled but we get flagged the minute we set foot in The Garrison?"
"I don't know," Athos answered, wondering the same thing.
"What teams are out?" Porthos asked.
"I don't know," Athos said. Beside him, Porthos was glued to his phone, probably searching the duty roster. It would at least tell them who was at The Garrison.
"Who do you think we lost?" the question was loaded.
"I don't know," Athos tightened his grip on the wheel as he directed the car toward motor pool parking. Porthos's questions might be annoying, but he was right. Something was off about this whole thing. He put the car in park and switched it off.
"Do you think Aramis -"
"Is probably fine," Athos said.
"But did he get called back?"
"Maybe he was already here."
Porthos shook his head, "He'd of texted us if he was here and we weren't. Why didn't he?"
"I don't know, maybe he's still in the field?" Athos suggested, "Did you text him?"
"Yeah," Porthos tapped at his phone some more, "Says it was sent, but not delivered."
"So he's busy," Athos reasoned, "If he's in the field he can't answer. If he's in the situation room here he can't answer either."
"He always answers," Porthos tossed back, "Damn, the guy can be lying in the rain on a roof trying to line up a rifle shot and he calls me. Why not now?"
"I don't know," Athos said quietly.
"Do you think he's alright?" Porthos pressed.
"I don't know," Athos said, gut starting to churn.
"Why wouldn't he call or text if —"
"I don't know!" Athos banged his hands against the wheel, cutting off the end of Porthos's question. He leaned back in the seat and raked his hand over his face, trying to calm down. He was the one who never lost his cool. Beside him Porthos looked smaller, his head hanging down as he peered at his phone looking for answers that Athos knew weren't there.
"I'm sorry," Athos said quietly, "I'm worried too."
"I know," Porthos said without a trace of hurt or malice. They knew each other well, too well sometimes, but this was their way and they were both grateful for it - the bickering went along with the brotherhood.
They got out of the car and retrieved their personal weapons, readjusting their holsters and putting their ID back in their pockets. They'd probably be asked to show it again at the desk. Porthos went around back and popped the trunk and started to pull their bags.
"What are you doing?" Athos came around the back and leaned casually on the bumper, clearly in Porthos's way. Porthos straightened up and gave the Lieutenant a curious look.
"We gotta log our gear," he said but it sounded more like a question.
"Yeah, we do," Athos said with a shrug, "But our orders are to report immediately to Treville."
"Yeah, but the gear... " Porthos trailed off at Athos's arched eyebrow.
"Can stay in this vehicle, in this secured facility, until we know what's going on," Athos gave Porthos a small but knowing smile as he cocked his head in a question. Protocol said the first thing they did was return weapons and gear to the quartermaster. They'd never deviated from this - even when it meant the quartermaster was in the infirmary with them stripping off pistols and ammo clips.
"Let's go," Porthos said, a dangerous edge to his voice. Athos and Porthos might get to the end of a puzzle in different ways, but they rarely disagreed about the outcome. Something was up, and they both knew in their gut it had to do with them - and therefore with Aramis. Stickler for the rules as he was, Athos was leaving them a backdoor exit in case they needed it.
The Garrison was bustling when they made their way through the front doors. The Octagonal shaped building had an open atrium with their main security desk at the front and a lounge area in the center. The building was three stories high with balcony corridors on the floors above that bordered the atrium dome. There were three more floors below ground. The Garrison was bigger than it looked. The normally peaceful lounge was full of people on laptops and cell phones. People were coming and going in the balcony corridors above them. There was no panic, but the tension was palpable. They checked in at the security desk and again were asked for ID.
"Thanks," Bucky said as he handed them back their documents. The Sergeant had taken his nom de guerre from the Marvel movies and he did look a bit like the actor who played Captain America's rogue best friend. "The captain's in the bird's nest. He said to send you up as soon as you got here."
The bird's nest was their nickname for the top floor command office that Treville worked out of. There was a command post in the bunker too in case The Garrison was ever under direct attack. So whatever was going on it didn't pose an imminent threat to the facility. Athos and Porthos were silent as they took the elevator to the third floor.
Treville was on the phone when they arrived but he waved them into his office anyway. For all the tech they had, the Captain's office was decidedly a throwback to another century. An antique farmer's table served as a desk, littered with documents, folders and paper maps. There were files stacked on the floor and littering the top of a 17th-century credenza, the most ornate piece in the room. The rest of the pieces were rustic, culled from French country auctions and estate sales. Treville's laptop sat buried in the papers on his desk, an anomaly along with the large screen monitor that hung on the wall behind him. He had to call in his assistant to help him every time he needed the big screen for a video conference, which was frequently.
Treville gestured for them to sit, but Athos and Porthos remained standing, unconsciously assuming an at ease stance that ex-military easily fell into. They waited as Treville finished his call.
"Twenty-one confirmed two hours ago. So where is he?," Treville barked into the phone, "I want to know how it happened." Treville paused as the person on the other end of the phone said something, "Send the photos directly to me," he listened again, "Well find him! He didn't just get lucky and walk away from this, he's involved. I want an update in 30 minutes." Treville tapped off the phone and flung it onto his desk. He sighed and ran a hand through short greying hair, composing himself from the heated call before looking up at Athos and Porthos.
"There's been a breach," Treville didn't mince words, "A SVOI mission was compromised. The entire team is dead."
Athos tried to process what he had just heard. SVOI - The Special Victims Operations Initiative - conversationally they pronounced it Savoy, was a cross-functional team with representatives from multiple agencies that were sent out for targeted missions related to sex trafficking and child pornography. All of them participated in SVOI missions and often more than one operation was in play. At any given moment any of them could be in any imaginable, or unimaginable, corner of the world. For men in the field, it could be dangerous, but the bulk of the team were back-office - computer support, logistics, tactical and surveillance. Even a big raid would not put everyone at play in the field. How could they all be dead?
"What Musketeers were on the team?" Porthos forced the question through his clenched jaw. Treville searched both their faces as if considering what he should say.
"Captain?" Athos breathed. It was almost a plea.
"We lost five men," Treville said softly. "I'm sorry, but Aramis was one of them."
The Captain's statement knocked the wind right out of Athos. For a moment he couldn't breathe, couldn't think, couldn't feel. His limbs felt like jelly. He took a step to the side to fall clumsily into a chair. He knew this choking feeling, he knew it too well. He thought after what had happened to his family he would be immune to pain like this. He couldn't ever feel grief that deep ever again. Yet two years with these men, two years with Aramis and his absolutely irritating chatter, his frat boy behavior, his disregard for orders and command, his collection of sexual conquests coming and going at all hours, his cold-blooded ability to drop a bullet in a man's head and then make fun of Porthos for yet again overdressing for a surveillance mission …. Athos fought to breath as all these memories pushed into his heart. Beside him, Porthos had shifted closer, a hand on his shoulder. Athos found the gesture reassuring, grounding and terrifying. He was in too deep with both of them. He wasn't supposed to feel like this again. Porthos was saying something to Treville, Athos forced himself to listen as Porthos asked for the information that he himself should have as Aramis's unit commander.
"How? When?" Porthos choked out the words.
"Six hours ago. Their location was compromised. Multiple explosions and gunfire. No survivors," Treville's voice was clipped, efficient, but Athos could hear the grief in it. Aramis had been among the first recruits to The Musketeers, INTERPOL's elite special ops team. Treville had named the unit Musketeers as a nod to their Paris location and the spirit of the team that Treville hoped to build when the team was formed. Athos, Porthos and Aramis had been cheeky in naming themselves after the heroes of the novel, but they knew it had meant a lot to Treville as a sign that they embraced the values of loyalty, bravery and skill that the Captain strove for. Treville did not play favorites, but this team was his first and Aramis's death would hit him as deeply as it did Athos and Porthos.
"Where were they?" Porthos's voice held a tremor but the tone was cold as ice.
"Turin," Treville said, fidgeting at one of the maps on his desk, "They were just setting up. No one even in the field."
"What was the mission?" Porthos continued his questions. It was his way, Athos knew, but right now he wished everyone would just shut up because as the first wave of grief and shock began to recede, Athos had the feeling that something wasn't adding up. He needed to think with a brain that refused to do anything other than bringing up memories of the last time he challenged Aramis to a game of darts over a pint in one of their favorite pubs. Aramis was laughing as he pulled his cluster of red darts from the center of the target. . .
"Sex-trafficking ring connected to a high-ranking official in the Italian Government," Treville sighed. He sounded weary. He'd probably already had this conversation half a dozen times at least, "We had good intel on this. It was big, so a big team, but we had the situation contained. This should never have happened."
"You're damn right," Athos could hear the dangerous edge in Porthos's voice, "So who are we looking for?"
"We're not sure," Treville replied, "The crime scene is a mess. We had trouble identifying everyone, we'll be processing it for hours more yet."
"How do you know he was there?" Porthos challenged.
"Porthos, I know," Treville said
"How?" it was nearly a growl. The comforting hand had left Athos's shoulder as Porthos stepped closer to Treville. They faced off over the desk.
"We recovered personal effects," Treville's voice was as raw as Porthos's, "His were there."
"Let me see," Porthos was not asking. Eyes still locked on Porthos, Treville pulled open the drawer of his desk and fished out a plastic evidence bag. He flung it on the desk between them. Porthos picked it up and despite the smears of blood on the inside of the bag Athos could see the familiar worn billfold embossed with a fleur-de-lis, a key to what he knew was a forest green old-school Jaguar, and a set of Tibetan prayer beads woven into a bracelet.
Porthos stared at the bag, jaw working but no words came out until he dropped the bag back on the desk as if it had burned him. "These could have been planted. He'd leave this behind if he was in the field. This is not proof," Porthos challenged.
"First chopper back brought me 21 of those," Treville said coldly, "No one was deployed yet. So when I tell you they are all lost I expect you to believe me."
"This isn't enough," Porthos was getting angry, the volume rising, "I'm not going to believe it until the DNA confirms it."
"I understand, son," Treville's distress was genuine as he tried to soothe the big man, "It's hard for me to accept too. But over twenty men were killed, five from our squad, and as difficult as it is, our job now is to find out who did it."
"Then why the hell are we still standing here?" Porthos demanded, "Why weren't we recalled as soon as it happened?"
"Because I wanted to be sure before I told you," Treville's voice was soft, kind, heartbreaking, "And I didn't want you to find out from anyone besides me." Treville shared their grief, Athos knew it, Porthos would realize it soon enough, "Losing a comrade - a brother," Treville's voice choked on the word, "is devastating. But when you're not there, when you wonder what could have happened, how maybe you could have prevented it, well that just eats at you," Treville was speaking from his heart, from his gut, and from what sounded like his own experience. "I didn't want you to face this out in the field. I wanted you both here. Maybe that's selfish on my part. But I've had enough loss for a lifetime today…" Treville's voice trailed off. He cleared his throat. He'd said enough. His next words were strong and unapologetic. "You are on bereavement. One week. Take the time, get some rest."
"No way!" Porthos roared, "No way we sitting this out, Captain. Not happening."
"That's non-negotiable," Treville leaned in with his fists on the desk, not giving an inch to the angry man before him, "Your emotions are running too high, you are not going to think clearly and I don't trust you to act rationally. We will catch the whoever did this. . ."
"And then I'll kill him," Porthos growled, cutting off the Captain.
"That's exactly why you are not to be involved," Treville snapped, "This is complicated, it involves the Italian government and an uninvited international force within their borders. I don't need a loose cannon -"
"I don't give a damn about your politics!" Porthos shouted, "I'm gonna to find the bastard who killed Aramis and four other Musketeers and I'm gonna shred him!"
"You are not!" Treville shouted back, "You will stand down and let the rest of the team handle this."
"Like hell we are!" Porthos was livid, "You have no damn right to box us out of this!"
"I have every right," Treville spat, "I'm your commander. You need to listen and you need to trust me."
"Like those five dead musketeers trusted you?" Porthos sneered, "I don't think so."
"Okay, now two weeks bereavement!" Treville came around the desk, "Open your mouth again and it's a month on administrative leave."
Athos could see Porthos's clenched fists, heard the raspy breathing as the big man fought to control himself. But it was just as likely that Porthos would haul off and hit the Captain as not. The rage and the grief were threaded together and unwinding them was not going to be possible yet. Porthos needed to hit something and Athos was almost inclined to let him. For Aramis's sake and the sake of the other four . . . Athos paused as the missing piece clicked into place. He had a picture together, and it wasn't pretty. He jumped up from the chair, sorrow falling away as he snapped into action.
"Porthos," Athos was quickly by his friend's side, hand on his shoulder pulling him slightly back from Treville, "The Captain is right. We're too close to this."
"What?" Disbelief and betrayal flashed in Porthos's eyes as he switched his gaze from Treville to Athos.
"Captain, I'm sorry," Athos stepped between the two men, "We're devastated as you can imagine. This insubordination won't happen again." Behind him Porthos shifted closer, anger coming off him in a wave
"Athos, this is crap! You know it" Porthos raged and Athos spun around, placing a hand on the big man's chest and pushing him back a step.
"Calm down," Athos ordered, his voice calm and clear but his eyes begging Porthos to listen. Under normal circumstances, Porthos would have picked up on the silent communication but these circumstances were not normal.
"You're just going to let him do this? Let him box us out of this? Aramis needs us. Aramis -"
"Aramis is dead!" Athos yelled, "He's dead and your yelling about it isn't going to bring him back. Now get it together!" Athos's eyes bored into Porthos's his hand pressed hard into the man's sternum, fingers wrapping around his shirt and tugging. Finally, finally, he saw something in Porthos's eyes that wasn't pure rage. It was more like desperation and Athos's grip changed from threatening to one of strength. Lean on me his eyes said and Porthos's clenched jaw told Athos he would. Athos took a steadying breath and turned toward Treville who was watching the scene between the two of them.
"If there is nothing else?" Athos looked over his shoulder to the Captain, asking to be dismissed. Treville's mouth was set in a determined line. His eyes flashed blue steel. He probably would put them on administrative leave if Porthos said another word. Athos knew it and knew he had to get the big man out of there.
"Two weeks bereavement," Treville repeated, "Turn over whatever files you've been sent on this to Rochefort's team. He's taking the lead on the investigation." Behind Athos, Porthos fidgeted but Athos just tightened his grip where he still had Porthos's shirt. "Go somewhere. Work it out. But if I catch you within 100 miles of Turin I'll have you both dismissed from this unit."
"Understood," Athos said tightly. The Captain gave a dip of his head. They were dismissed. Athos turned and forcibly bundled a protesting Porthos from the room. As soon as they were in the hallway Porthos started to speak but Athos was unrelenting, "Not here," he hissed as they passed the desks of Treville's administrative aids. They kept walking, bypassing the elevator and heading for the stairwell. They made it down one half flight of stairs to the first landing when Porthos spun around and slammed Athos into the wall.
"What the hell was that about!" Porthos gripped Athos by his jacket, nearly pulling him up off his feet."
"We couldn't risk administrative leave," Athos's voice was tight but low, "On bereavement, we keep our weapons and ID. We need that."
Porthos stilled, hands still gripping Athos's jacket but the tension released from his body. "We're going after the bastard that did this."
"Of course we are," Athos said flatly, "Did you really think otherwise?"
"I guess I wasn't thinking," Porthos said, all the anger draining from his voice. "I can't believe he's gone," Porthos let go of Athos and shook his head, tears brimming in his eyes. He sat heavily on the bottom step.
"Hey," Athos said, and now it was his turn to be strong, to offer comfort where no one else could. He sat beside Porthos, "I don't want to get your hope up, but I'm not so sure he is."
"What?" Porthos's head snapped up, the desperate look returning, "Athos, I don't need false comfort, I -"
"Stop. Think," Athos said with a ring of command in his tone. Porthos was an emotional wreck, hell so was he, but they were better trained than this and Athos was convinced something about the situation was not adding up. "Put that big brain of yours to work. Treville said five Musketeers were dead. He always sends teams of two. Where is the sixth man? Who is it? That could be Aramis."
"Or it could be the bastard that set them up," Porthos countered, but at least he was thinking it out, "How do we know?"
"We don't," Athos said, "But until everyone is accounted for, I'm going to believe there is a chance. That call you got, moaning and heavy breathing - what if Aramis was injured?"
"I called back, no answer. What is he doing then?" Porthos was frustrated and falling down the rabbit hole, which right now was a good thing. Athos needed Porthos's mind to focus.
"Running." Athos said, "If he was in trouble, he'd call us first chance he felt safe enough to do so. But not on his regular phone, on a burner."
"If he's running," Porthos surmised, "He thinks its an inside job. That's why the radio silence."
"Treville thinks it's an inside job too," Athos said, "The call when we came in, he said 21 dead, not 22. That whoever survived didn't just walk away - he thinks the Musketeers were betrayed."
"But if Aramis is the missing man, then you think he did this?" Porthos looked confused.
"No. I will never think that," Athos said strongly, "But if it was an inside job, anything taken from the site is suspect, including 21 bags of personal effects. Aramis would have given those things to any Musketeer if he was deployed. He would have trusted them.
"We need to figure out who the missing Musketeer is," Porthos said.
"Well we're not going to be able to do that sitting in the stairwell," Athos said, standing.
"We need to pull the investigation records for Turin, the duty rosters, and the SVOI mission reports and get out of The Garrison. I give Treville no more than ten minutes before he figures out we gave up too easily and shuts down our computer access and puts us in lockdown on the base," Athos offered Porthos a hand up, "Coming?"
"Hell yeah," Porthos said, taking Athos's hand and letting his friend pull him up to his feet. He held on a minute, shifting his grip to clasp Athos by the forearm, "Athos, we're clutching at straws here. There's no evidence, there's just a whole lot of conjecture . . ." Porthos trailed off, unable to finish the thought.
"Where there is smoke, there is fire" Athos answered, confident, determined, and sure. "We're gonna find him." Athos gave Porthos a thump to the chest and the big man nodded. He might not have faith right now, but Porthos was willing to let Athos's faith be enough for them both. They released each other and raced down the stairs to the second level where Musketeer Team 1 had their suite of offices. They'd have to work fast if they were going to bring their brother home.
Please leave a comment and let me know what you think! And for those reading my other story, I promise I'll get back to it soon.