Another lash blow fell as the shout echoed from the docks.
Porthos' back was a mess now. As the other guards moved warily towards the warehouse door, the young man drew back to deliver another wicked strike. That blow never fell.
The warehouse door was kicked open suddenly and a pistol shot rang out accompanied by the increased volume of the chaos outside.
Aramis ran through the room smashing the butt of his spent pistol into the side of the head of one of the Spanish guards as he made his way towards Porthos. Athos' had his rapier drawn and was quickly occupied with two other men who had come charging across the warehouse. He deftly plunged his rapier through the chest of the first attacker, while dispersing the next with a swift flash of his main gauche. Aramis pulled his other pistol and fired it, severing the rope that held Porthos suspended from the overhead beam as another of the guards rushed towards him.
Porthos fell heavily to his knees, but recovered quickly.
From his knees, he brought his bound hands into the torso of the remaining guard standing near him. The man doubled over as the wind was knocked out of him. Porthos leapt to his feet and drove his elbows down onto the back of the guard so he fell forward onto the ground. Porthos swung his bound wrists like a club so the shackles connected with the man's temple and he was knocked unconscious.
Athos and Aramis were dispatching their final opponents as the young Spanish guard struggled to his feet. He was bleeding from his chest where Aramis' shot had hit him. He raised his dagger and launched himself at Porthos.
Porthos grabbed the outstretched arm with both of his bound hands and pushed back against the young man until he was pressed against the wall. Porthos leaned heavily on his forearms, which pinned the man in place and impeded his breath; he slowly turned the blade upon its owner. The remote brown eyes widened as the blade penetrated his neck. Suddenly, a look of relief and shock danced into those eyes.
As the warm blood coursed down Porthos' arms as he held the man in place, the young man smiled slightly, a bashful young smile that shook Porthos to his core.
Porthos let him fall and then knelt at the man's side. In those last moments before his death, whatever last vestiges of innocence and youth sprang back to the man's face and his resemblance to D'Artagnan was uncanny.
The adrenaline was fading quickly from him and the intense pain at his side, back and wrists returned with an unholy vengeance. Porthos brushed the hair back from the lad's face; in the flickering torchlight, Porthos could have sworn it was D'Artagnan who now lay dead before him. But it couldn't be, could it? What had he done? Had he just killed his brother? But what choice did he have? Porthos' head swam with delirium as the likely infection from the wound to his side finally won out.
"D'Artagnan," Porthos muttered once again as his pain and grief overcame him suddenly as he fell slowly to the floor. The cries of Aramis and Athos echoed dimly in his ears.
Silence covered him like a blanket and was interrupted only by the soft crackle of firewood somewhere off to his side. He could have lain there forever if the burning pain in his back wasn't growing in force. He shifted uncomfortably which only made it worse and a sudden surge had him gasping for air as his side also flared suddenly.
His eyes snapped open and his breaths came in sudden strangled gasps as visions of his last known surroundings flashed into his mind.
"Porthos!" cried a voice, "Calm down! You're safe mon ami, you're safe!"
Hands were on his face suddenly, cupping his cheek and running through his hair in a calming manner as his eyes focused on the familiar eyes of the medic in front of him.
"Mis!" he rasped as he struggled to control his breathing. "You came…"
"Of course, brother, of course," he said soothingly, his deep brown eyes bursting with a tenderness that Porthos well recognized in his brother.
"Did you think we'd allow you to set sail without us?" came the dry drawl of Athos from his other side. He turned his head to face his other brother whose face bore one of his rare and precious smiles, eyes bright and gleaming in his direction. Porthos grinned back.
"Not for a moment," he rasped and then grimaced as the pain seared through his back again.
"Easy, easy my friend. You are in quite the state," said Aramis.
"Where am I?"
"At an inn that we have commandeered for you and your companions' recovery," said Captain Treville appearing suddenly in Porthos' eye line.
"Captain!" Porthos gasped. "What are you doing here?"
"I received an urgent note stating that one of my men and some other French soldiers had been captured and were to be sold into slavery, and now I find myself in the unenviable diplomatic situation of explaining to the Spanish Ambassador that he will not be compensated for the loss of his men or the destruction of what he claims was only a trading vessel," said Treville, his eyes flickering towards Athos and Aramis whose mischievous grins belied their attempts at innocence.
"Another ship, 'Mis? You'll have ta explain that one to me later. The others. They alright?"
"They are due to return to return to Toulouse but wanted to wait until you had awoken before setting out on their return journey. You've been out for nearly three days. Infection," said Treville.
Porthos nodded and shifted again. He hissed as his back flared once more.
"Careful Porthos, your back has just begun to knit and your side will look like a darned sock if I need to put more stitches into it," said Aramis admonishing gently, lifting a cup to Porthos' lip. He drank deeply before grimacing as he recognized the familiar bitter taste. Aramis grinned. "It's for the best. Finish it. You'll heal better if you're resting."
Porthos frowned, but he could already feel the pull of the draught, so he finished it without saying anything more and easily slipped back to sleep.
He woke up some time later to the sensation of someone rubbing a salve onto his damaged wrists.
"D'Artagnan…you're alright…" he muttered as the young man's smiling face came into focus.
"Just slightly better than you are," he said as he grimaced slightly as he shifted his position.
"I heard you cry out," Porthos explained, "And then in the warehouse…I thought he was…I thought you had died…he looked so much like ya…but not…" Porthos said and his brow furrowed in confusion. D'Artagnan frowned slightly as he tried to process what Porthos was trying to say.
"I'm sorry I wasn't there Porthos…I wanted to be so badly…but Aramis -"
"Aramis said that you were supposed to remain in bed and recover. You definitely should not have come racing across the country on horseback so soon after your injury," interrupted the medic who entered with Athos, carrying a tray laden with dinner.
The Gascon blushed and ducked his head embarrassedly as the medic glared at him. "To be fair, you said I'd be fine to move about in a few days, so when Treville arrived, I was able to join him…"
"You collapsed when you got here," Athos deadpanned, a slight smirk tugging at his lips. D'Artagnan scowled, but was comforted slightly by the wheezy chuckle that Porthos exhumed.
"You could have seriously injured yourself…further," Aramis scolded as he handed D'Artagnan a bowl of stew. "You were reckless."
"Says the man who blew up his second ship?" said D'Artagnan indignantly.
Aramis grinned, the fire of challenge in his eyes. "Apparently with Athos' approval, recklessness is now considered strategic." They laughed as Athos shook his head slightly and poured them all a glass of wine.
"Did you have another plan to distract 20 or so men?" quipped Athos.
With a fire at his side, a warm bowl of stew and the warmer conversation and presence of his brothers surrounding him, Porthos was happier than he could believe. To have come so close to losing everything – to being taken aboard a ship to never see the lands of his birth or the faces of his loved ones again – only to now be engulfed in everything he held dear was almost more than he could take.
His eyes began to droop once more and Athos took the empty bowl from his sagging hands.
Porthos looked around and met the tender gaze of each man. "Knew you'd come," he said faithfully.
"Of course we would, Porthos. We couldn't go on without you," said D'Artagnan fervently.
"Carrying on without you was never an option," said Athos.
"All for one," said Aramis emotionally, his dark eyes sparkling.
"And one for all"
A/N: Thank you so much for reading and to everyone for your great reviews! Hope you've enjoyed this little adventure. The brotherhood keeps us going! Cheers!