Impossible Choices

Chapter 1

The fire raged at the eastern flank. The screams of men and canon fire still rent the air. They had long ago fired their muskets and pistols and any idea of reloading now was as futile as this whole mission had proved to be. There was that unmistakeable smell in the air of death and destruction – smoke, and mud, and the tang of blood.

Porthos wiped the dirt from his brow as he pulled his boot free of the squelching mud that was trying to keep him there, when all he wanted was to find his brothers amidst all this carnage.

A sudden burst of flame and an eruption too close to him sent Porthos flying backwards where he landed with a hard thud on his back. He lay there stunned, his head ringing from the blast or the impact and a new searing pain emanating from his side. He tried to rise but couldn't. His body would not cooperate. He tried to fight off the sudden encroaching darkness, but the pain in his side made even the thought of movement unbearable.

He had to find the others. He had to make sure they were alright.

He had seen Aramis hard-pressed by a number of enemy combatants once his firing perch had been discovered; the bodies of several of them had fallen to his remarkable aim. The odds had been stacked against him, but that was never a thing to faze the marksman.

D'Artagnan was near Porthos, holding his own, but Porthos was certain that this battle was far bloodier and more chaotic than anything the whelp had yet seen. He hadn't even received his commission yet = he shouldn't be out in this madness.

And where was Athos? Porthos tried to force his mind to focus. He had lost track of Athos soon after the battle had begun. Athos was clever, but for all of his talk about head over heart, Porthos knew that Athos would willingly sacrifice his own life if it meant saving another. The fact that Porthos could not place Athos' whereabouts on the battlefield sent a shiver down his spine …or maybe that was the new pains ravaging his body.

He couldn't look down to examine his wound. The impact had left his body uncooperative; he couldn't lift his arms or his head to determine what had happened. There was just cold, pain and darkness, and the need to find his brothers.

The pain wrapped icy fingers securely around Porthos, strangling him, pulling him down into darkness and snuffed out the sounds of the rest of the world. A high tone echoed in his eardrums as he slipped away.

A desperate cry broke up the tone suddenly – a cry of someone he knew. "D'Artagnan," he muttered as the darkness consumed him.

oOo

Aramis stood in the medical tent that had been erected for when the violence had finally ceased. The dead and the dying, the devastated and the desperate lay on cots and pallets around him. He fought to block out the muffled groans and tears of the men in his care…that is until the still, silent form of the young Gascon was brought to him. Then, more than anything, he begged for sound, for movement, for any indication of life from the brother who lay bloodied before him.

The other men were quieting. He could do nothing more for them, and the ones he had been able to save were now being tended to by others – spooning broth, or changing compresses, anything to bring comfort to the injured.

Aramis sat silently staring into the pale face of D'Artagnan. The young man had been carried in with a blade still protruding from his side. The soldier carrying him had enough sense to not pull the blade, preventing the wound from bleeding out on the field. Nonetheless, D'Artagnan's naturally olive complexion was now waxy and pale. He held his brother's hand with one hand and reached forward with the other to wipe the sweat from the young man's brow with a clean cloth.

He was pale, and weak, but he was alive. Aramis sent a silent prayer up to heaven to beg that he remain so.

The flaps of the tent were pushed forward suddenly and Athos burst into the room. He stopped immediately as he saw Aramis sitting vigil at D'Artagnan's side. Aramis stood quickly and stared at the swordsman. As one they moved towards each other into a firm embrace, their relief at finding one another palpable. With so many men on the battlefield, the four musketeers had been separated, illuminated only by the sporadic bursts of fire.

When Athos pulled away he looked pale – as though he had aged another ten years in that short embrace.

"D'Artagnan. Is he?" was all the man could mumble.

"Alive, thank God, but barely," replied Aramis softly.

The relief was clear in Athos' eyes. He staggered forwards a few steps and Aramis put his arm out to steady him. Brown eyes full of concern met blue.

"I'm alright," said Athos sincerely, "Just tired." Aramis nodded. "What happened?"

"He fought. Bravely. The man who brought him here said that he was with D'Artagnan near where he and Porthos were pinned down by the eastern flank. An explosion went off as the enemy made their final push. Apparently D'Artagnan was trying to protect the men that had been stunned from the blast. He managed to kill two before the third was able to stab him with his dagger," said Aramis. He sighed heavily and ran his hand through his hair. "He also has a nasty lump on the back of his head which bled quite a bit. He hasn't come to yet but he moaned finally as I was placing the stitches on the head wound."

Athos nodded. "Porthos?" he asked.

Aramis shook his head and his brow furrowed even more as he ran his hand back through his dark hair. "I had hoped he'd be with you. I haven't been able to leave here to look. There are so many injured Athos…" he said desperately, his eyes shining in the muted light.

"I will look for him. I will find him," Athos said rising, his blue eyes gleaming.

"You're dead on your feet," Aramis scoffed.

"And you are any better?" Athos asked. He had noticed Aramis' hand tremble slightly as he spoke. Athos knew that his compassionate brother had not rested for a moment in his ministrations for the others since he had come off the battlefield. He couldn't be sure if the blood that marked the man's forehead was his own, that of an enemy or the blood of one of the lives he had either saved or had lost within the tent. A quick glance around the tent gave Athos a little bit of insight into the strain on the medic.

"I will find him, Aramis," Athos repeated firmly. "We will need your skill here when D'Artagnan wakes up. You have saved many lives today." There was no uncertainty in the tone. Aramis sighed and ran his hand through his hair again.

"Athos, please…be careful…" he whispered. The marksman was clearly torn. His desperate need to find his brother, battled with the urge to care for the one in the bed at his side, which fought still against every instinct in him to protect the third brother who was standing in front of him.

"I will," said Athos, as he uncharacteristically pulled Aramis once more into a tight embrace, the desperate need for support and reassurance present in both soldiers.

oOo