Porthos leaned back and sighed. He rubbed his shoulder against the rough wooden slats of his chair, trying to find some relief. His healing wound itched terribly, and of course luck would have it that the offending injury would be placed just out of his reach.
"Athos, could you please?" Porthos turned in his seat and gave the swordsman hopeful eyes.
Athos glanced up from his cards with an unimpressed expression. "If this is another ploy to peek at my hand, I assure you that it will not work."
"It's not, I promise. Have mercy, Athos. It itches like hell." He gave the other man another beseeching look.
Athos sighed. "Itchy or not, you are supposed to leave it alone," he muttered severely, but Porthos could already tell that he had won. "Lean back a bit further."
Porthos nearly groaned out loud as Athos reached out and scraped his fingernails around the scabbed wound. He also noted with concern that the swordsman still relied heavily on his right hand, preferring to perform tasks one-handed rather than move his left arm. The damaged shoulder joint was healing much more slowly than they had expected.
"What on earth are you doing?" Simon was staring at them from Aramis' bedside and his stern question made both Athos and Porthos freeze. "I told you not to touch that wound!"
"You will have to forgive them," came the faint response. "Neither are particularly good at heeding sound advice."
"Aramis?" Porthos perked up in his seat, itch forgotten. "Is he awake?"
"Come and see for yourself," Simon said with a smile, his exasperation quickly forgotten. The young soldier stood up and stretched, moving aside to make room for the two Musketeers as they resumed their positions by his bedside. As Athos carefully lowered himself down onto the edge of Aramis' cot, his splinted leg awkwardly jutting out, Porthos took Simon's arm and pulled him aside.
"How is he doing?" he asked quietly.
"Better." He gave Porthos a tired smile. The young man had been working tirelessly on their behalf since Athos had stumbled into his care. "Although he could hardly be doing worse and still be alive."
"So he will recover." Porthos' eyes glanced at the marksman, who was propped up on a pile of pillows to help support his ribs and ease his breathing. Aramis was beaming at something Athos said, and it eased the lingering fear in Porthos' heart to see it. His face was still too pale and too thin, but there was a spark in his eyes that had gradually gotten stronger over the past week, after they had finally left Savoy behind and escaped to the French garrison outside of Briançon.
Simon paused before answering, pursing his lips. "Pneumonia is quite dangerous, and your friend is still very frail," he finally said. "But I am optimistic. He is under my care, after all."
Porthos closed his eyes and exhaled. He had only just recovered his vivacious brother after the massacre. The thought of losing Aramis again to Savoy made Porthos shiver with loathing for the wretched duchy. But no, Aramis was alive. He was not on stable ground quite yet, but he had still survived.
"Thank you," Porthos breathed. He had said those words too many times, and not enough.
The other soldier smiled kindly and pat him on the arm. "I need to prepare some more poultices. Do not overexert yourselves," he warned the three Musketeers as he turned to leave. "I do not want to find any of you undoing my superb work."
"Modest, isn't he?" Porthos muttered fondly as he watched the young man leave. As far as Porthos was concerned, Simon had dragged Aramis back from certain death. He could brag as blithely and often as he wanted.
"Is Simon going to release me from captivity?" Aramis asked as Porthos approached his bedside. "That man is a tyrant."
Athos gave a rare smile as he shuffled over, allowing Porthos to join him on the bed. "But a very capable one," he said. The injuries that Athos had sustained in his bid to find help were also healing well. The lines of pain that had marked his face so deeply were finally beginning to ease. Simon had assured both Athos and Porthos that he would not suffer lasting consequences from his mangled leg, and he was confident that Athos would regain full use of his arm, despite the stubborn slowness of its recovery.
Aramis huffed in mock annoyance and then smiled. "I suppose that is true," the marksman agreed. He coughed and pressed a hand against his chest, clearing his throat with a grimace.
"Should I get Simon?" Porthos asked, tensing in anticipation of another spasm.
"No," Aramis puffed. "I will be fine." Rather than burning Aramis' energy with a needless argument, Porthos simply kept close watch and was relieved when the marksman's breathing evened once more.
The three Musketeers settled into a light conversation, and Porthos was pleased to see that Aramis seemed livelier than he had the day before. The marksman had been so weak when they had finally left the cave, drained to the point of utter exhaustion from both his harrowing experience in Savoy and the treatment that Simon had forced upon him to help clear his lungs. Porthos had come close to punching the young healer after listening to Aramis painfully wheeze and choke his way through Simon's ministrations, but had instead sat on his hands and allowed it to continue. Porthos had congratulated himself on his own self-restraint as his brother's health gradually began to improve. Despite the persistent symptoms that yet refused to release their hold on Aramis, he could feel bright hope pushing its way to the surface. Porthos reached out and grasped the marksman's hand. It felt fragile in his strong grip, but he was gratified to feel Aramis squeeze back firmly. The hard knot that had formed in his chest the day he had stood before Tréville began to loosen.
Simon soon returned with fresh poultices for Aramis' chest. He shooed away the other two Musketeers, promising that they would next be subjected to his scrutiny. Porthos kept an ear on the murmured conversation between Aramis and Simon. As his strength returned, the marksman had begun to take a great interest in the methods that Simon used to treat wounds and illnesses. The young man was apparently from a nearby village, and had grown up in a family of women that had been steeped in local herb lore. Porthos was not entirely certain as to how the gentle young man had ended up as a soldier and had never witnessed Simon taking up any arms, but it was clear that Captain Meunier and the men at the garrison greatly valued their skilled healer nonetheless.
Athos and Porthos resumed their seats at the small, rickety table where their cards were haphazardly scattered. Both men positioned themselves where they had clear views towards Aramis' bed and picked up the cards, pretending to resume their previous game.
"He looks better," Porthos murmured. "Sounds better."
"Yes," Athos agreed. "I would not have thought it possible, just a few days ago."
Porthos scraped his chair back so that he was sitting side-by-side with Athos and slung his arm around the swordsman's shoulders. "And it wouldn't have been. Thank you, Athos."
The other Musketeer shook his head. "I do not need your thanks."
"Well, you have it anyway," Porthos said. "We would not have survived without you."
Athos stared down at his cards. "You would have found a way."
Porthos grinned. "I did find a way. I brought you with me to Savoy. It is one of the better decisions I made in the past month."
Athos rolled his eyes. "Yes, and everything worked out so well."
"Do you regret coming?"
"No," Athos replied immediately. There was no hesitation in the response and something warm settled into Porthos' chest.
"Good," Porthos declared, "because I need help looking after Aramis. Now you know what kind of trouble he gets into when he is left on his own with no one to watch his back."
"Hmm." Athos lay down his hand and tapped his finger against his thigh, above the splinted bandages that were still tightly wrapped around his leg. "In that case, I may need to ask Tréville to raise my wages," he said thoughtfully. "Some sort of hazard pay."
"Let me know what his response is," the big man requested. "Or better yet, let me know when you ask so that I can come along. I would love to see his reaction."
Athos simply raised an eyebrow in response and Porthos laughed. It felt good to be able to do so.
Porthos turned his attention back to the marksman and saw that his friend was drifting back towards sleep. He and Aramis had watched over each other for a long time, with peripheral friends that came and went. It was not unusual, especially considering Aramis' friendly, outgoing nature. But at the end of it all, it was Aramis that was always there for Porthos when needed most, and in return, he that supported Aramis when need was greatest. Porthos remembered being told that triangles were the strongest of shapes, with each leg equally capable of bearing weight and providing support for the other legs. Perhaps, Porthos mused, what we need is a third. They needed a cool, steady hand that would offset Aramis' recklessness and his own hot temper.
Luckily, it seemed the third was already in place. Porthos suspected that Aramis had already known, and it had just taken time - and quite a bit of pain - for both Porthos and Athos to come to the same realization. Better late than never, I suppose, he thought. And well worth waiting for.
Yay! We made it! Thank you to everyone who made it through this journey with me! Until next time...