Please Note: This chapter is from Athos's POV and is primarily a series of flashbacks filling in details about Athos, Porthos, and Aramis have been doing behind the scenes.
Chapter Eighteen: The Answer, Part Two
"You were spying on me?!" d'Artagnan said loud enough that Athos thought the younger man might wake their friends.
Athos held up a hand and gestured towards where Porthos and Aramis were hopefully still getting some sleep.
D'Artagnan immediately looked contrite, though still upset, before continuing in a lower tone of voice, "You were following me!"
"On that particular day? No. Coming across you that morning was pure happenstance."
"Please, d'Artagnan. You said you would contain yourself until the end."
D'Artagnan put his hands on his hips and looked down for a moment. Sounding peevish, the Gascon said, "I said I would try."
Athos knew d'Artagnan would be angry with him – them – for keeping tabs and trying to work out what the younger man was too stubborn to ask for help about, yet he was too tired to argue at the moment.
"Well, then… Try…harder?" he said, trying not to wince over what his tired mind had come up with as a counter-argument.
His brother stared at him for a moment before throwing up his hands in frustration. "Fine."
"Thank you." Athos said, beyond relieved. He was hoping to avoid the whole matter about them spying on d'Artagnan for just a little while longer.
(Flashbacks to prior weeks…)
Seeing d'Artagnan fall from his horse during battle almost made his heart stop. Not being able to stop and render aid, and having to continue the fight against Baron Grailly's forces, nearly finished the job. It made him, and likely Aramis and Porthos, fight all the harder even as worry for his younger brother lodged in his throat.
When all was said and done and the battle was over, with men dead and dying strewn all over the ground, Athos only cared about one particular man. Aramis reached their friend moments before he did and gave him some of the best news he'd ever heard – d'Artagnan was alive. Unconscious, and bleeding from a gunshot wound to the arm, but definitely alive.
However, the younger man's wound was not the only factor in the heart-stopping fall to the ground. While Porthos was taking care of the horses as a distraction from worry and the day's events, the larger man discovered that the stirrup d'Artagnan had stood on to return fire had come apart at the seams and gave way. In fact, according to the larger man, most of d'Artagnan's tack and other gear were showing signs of wear to a degree that no Musketeer would normally tolerate. In the past, d'Artagnan had been quite scrupulous about taking care of his own equipment; including paying for repairs he was not adept at making himself. Athos couldn't help wondering if something hadn't happened to the younger man's finances that he couldn't pay for necessary repairs or replacements. A lack of funds would explain why d'Artagnan no longer joined them at any of the taverns.
Of course, d'Artagnan's run of bad luck continued when he developed a raging fever as a result of his wound. At one point, the Gascon was extremely delirious and rambling aloud semi-coherent thoughts. Some of the words spoken caught his attention, which had him asking his friend multiple questions. The answers were not entirely clear, but some of his lingering questions were answered.
Rachelle was indeed Richelieu, and the man was holding something over d'Artagnan. Given the Gascon's guilt over it, it sounded like a debt of honor, something to do with money. There was also something about a broken promise and shame about something precious to the younger man's family.
Interrogating someone on the precipice between life and death was not one of Athos's life ambitions, but he felt he had to take advantage of the situation for when – not if – d'Artagnan survived his ordeal. His brother remembered nothing of what he'd said or was asked while feverish, which gave Athos and the others the opportunity to keep working behind the scenes in order to help the stubborn Gascon. It did not, however, lessen the amount of guilt he felt for what he had done, and Athos hoped might be forgiven when the whole story was revealed.
From d'Artagnan's poorly-hidden panic over how long they had been away from Paris, whatever Richelieu had over d'Artagnan was dependent on time. Could that be what the weekly disappearances were about? Was some form of blackmail involved? Did that explain the seeming lack of funds his friend was experiencing?
During their return journey, his brother continues to recover physically, but mentally is a whole other story. D'Artagnan seems…diminished…in spirit, as if devoid of any positive emotions. It was possible it had something to do with the younger man's recovery, but Athos had a feeling it was something having to do with whatever was going on between d'Artagnan and Richelieu.
He resolved to try and get d'Artagnan to join him, Porthos, and Aramis out to a tavern, partly to test his theory about the money and partly because the younger man could do with some fun.
Besides, he was starting to miss the younger man's company, though he'd only admit that fact under torture.
The next night, a night when d'Artagnan did not typically leave the garrison for a supposed rendezvous with Rachelle, the Gascon leaves around two in the morning, according to nearby church bells. Athos believes it will be simple, that all he need do was follow the Gascon to the palace, but that's not where the road takes him.
Instead, d'Artagnan leads him out of the city where he has to be even more careful while following his young friend. Eventually, the Gascon leaves the main road, causing him to hang back even further lest he be discovered. Because of that, he loses track of d'Artagnan.
It's frustrating because he knows this road, though less travelled, eventually connects with another, yet somehow d'Artagnan managed to evade him. As he heads back towards the garrison, Athos resolves to try and discover how his brother had managed to disappear so thoroughly. Athos detests the thought of d'Artagnan having to exile himself once a week in order to cater to whatever type of revenge Richelieu has enacted.
He informs Aramis and Porthos of his nighttime excursion, and they all wonder about the change in schedule. They all agree that the next time any of them has the opportunity, they would attempt to find out what happened and to where d'Artagnan had disappeared.
Athos had considered that d'Artagnan might be late to meet up with Aramis due to the meeting with Richelieu, but he had not expected the younger man to not show up at all. Granted, they were all off duty for the day, and the Gascon had the right to go wherever he pleased for as long as he pleased when not required to be at the Garrison, but the longer his brother was absent, the more his gut churned with worry.
After another hour of waiting, he, Aramis, and Porthos split up in an attempt to find their wayward brother-in-arms. Eventually, Athos realized the futility when he had no idea where d'Artagnan was at the moment or even where to begin searching. The only thing they knew for certain was that d'Artagnan was not still with the Cardinal; currently, Richelieu was in a council meeting with the other ministers of France. Athos reasoned d'Artagnan had to eventually return to the Garrison, so it seemed only logical for him to wait for the younger man somewhere reasonably comfortable.
He returned to the Garrison, grabbed a book from his quarters, and went to wait in d'Artagnan's room, sitting on the man's bed. Athos was beyond tempted to search the Gascon's belongings for any clues as to what was happening to d'Artagnan, but he couldn't bring himself to breach the young man's trust in that way. Though, if his brother had not returned by nightfall, he would definitely reconsider that stance.
Over the next hours, Athos received odd looks from the various Musketeers who shared the room with d'Artagnan, but he ignored them all and continued to read his book. When d'Artagnan finally did return, his relief at seeing his friend was immediately quashed when he saw how poorly the man looked. Discovering the blood staining his friend's shirt in no way helped the situation especially when d'Artagnan lied about how his injury had reopened.
He was more than thankful for the timing of Aramis and Porthos's entry into the room; it gave him the opportunity to override d'Artagnan's objections to getting treated. Aramis's comment about d'Artagnan's blood-stained shirt revealed yet another lie, and it only served to help confirm his theory about the Cardinal's blackmail centering, at least partially, around money. Not only had his brother had to make due in terms of his equipment, but d'Artagnan was also no longer able to adequately provide for his own basic needs.
Athos wanted to call d'Artagnan out on his lie, but he knew it would only lead to more falsehoods, and perhaps even some words said in the heat of the moment which could not easily be taken back. Given the anger radiating off of Porthos, Athos was aware the larger man had noticed the same things he had. He had no doubt Aramis had seen the same things but the marksman was able to hide it better. His anger, and no doubt that of Porthos and Aramis, only intensifies at the sight of the blood and the bruising littering d'Artagnan's body.
Before Porthos can give away anything of what they know, Athos reminds the man about getting the shirt Aramis had offered to d'Artagnan. It's a near thing, but he manages not to flinch when they all hear Porthos punch a wall in anger. They've been reciprocating the level of contact and conversation d'Artagnan has kept up with them, but he doesn't think Porthos's outburst hurt that pretense. He just hopes the level of concern they are showing now doesn't tip d'Artagnan off to the fact the three of them are aware more is going on with the Gascon.
He helps Aramis treat d'Artagnan's arm, noticing and trying not to comment when the Gascon keeps a tight hold of the bloodied shirt. There is no conversation, making things quite awkward between all of them. He can see that d'Artagnan is avoiding his gaze and looking uneasy about the whole situation. His brother is probably wondering why he, Aramis, and Porthos continue to care for him despite the ongoing discord between them, which is what they want d'Artagnan to think no matter how much they hate it.
Athos hates to force the issue, but he has to know what happened to his brother. He has a feeling it has to do with whatever is going on with Richelieu, but needs confirmation before deciding what the next step should be.
D'Artagnan's story is so full of holes that, if it had been a bucket, it would have leaked like a sieve. However, the Gascon had no way of knowing Athos was aware of Rachelle's true identity, which made it easier to detect the lies. He also didn't know how to feel about the poorly constructed story, though for the most part he was disappointed and trying very hard not to show it.
His friend had had the perfect opportunity to confess and yet d'Artagnan had instead given them a flimsy story about Red Guards attacking him without provocation. There was some truth to what he and the others had been told, but that truth had been twisted to conceal what really happened. Athos was certain Richelieu and his Red Guards were involved, but the reason given for the new injuries had definitely been fabricated.
Athos can tell that neither Porthos nor Aramis are convinced by the account they'd just heard; he just hopes the two men don't give away how much they know regardless of how little that was. Before he could signal them, Aramis asks a question about the main inconsistency. Admittedly, he had also been curious, but had not wanted to alert d'Artagnan that he knew the majority of the information given was falsified. However, Aramis had opened up another opportunity to tell the truth, but the Gascon refused to take it.
Instead of a confrontation, Athos plays along with d'Artagnan and offers conjecture about the Red Guards wanting a little sport. It takes him nearly losing his temper to get Aramis and Porthos to leave without revealing any more inconsistencies.
As Porthos and Aramis walk out of the room ahead of him, Athos orders d'Artagnan to get some rest. Given the younger man's expression – a mixture of confusion, hurt, and relief – Athos felt guilty for leaving his brother alone that like that. What he wanted most was for everything to back to the way it used to be before Cardinal Richelieu had set out to ruin d'Artagnan's life. However, having that wish fulfilled any time soon seemed impossible for the moment.
Two days later, Porthos comes to him with news: d'Artagnan has a hideout. It's a campsite that seems to be almost entirely hidden by a thicket of bushes that you have to practically stumble upon to find. Knowing it wasn't a night d'Artagnan was away from the garrison, and given the late hour, Porthos had decided to stay the night at the campsite. Apparently, out of all the times d'Artagnan had used the place, there was no evidence of any fire that had been lit, or for that matter, how often it had been occupied. Aware that he would not be able to hide his presence at the campsite, Porthos had gone ahead and lit a fire to cook the rabbit he'd shot.
Athos was pleased they finally knew where d'Artagnan hid himself away from the world, yet it distressed him that his brother had never once allowed himself the comfort of a fire. At least they now had a pretty good idea of where they could find him in an emergency.
"So you've known where my campsite was for a few weeks now?"
Next time: Chapter Nineteen: The Answer, Part Three
Many thanks to Celticgal1041 for proofing. Any remaining mistakes are Richelieu's fault. ;o)
Thanks for reading!