A/N: Hey out there, I've got another little story ready. This time it's more d'Artagnan-centric, but I couldn't help, I had to get it out of my mind. After re-watching S2E2 for the umpteenth time, I again felt really angry with the king for the way he treated his musketeers. So I thought about a way to make him see the error of his ways. Unfortunately, d'Artagnan is the one to suffer for Louis' enlightening... This could be seen as an episode tag to 'An Ordinary Man', although it's a bit off-canon.
As always, reviews are deeply appreciated!
On last note: Thanks to my beta Linguam for making this readable!
"You gave him your word!"
D'Artagnan was appalled and disappointed. The king had promised Bruno Lemaitre clemency for his part in their kidnapping and now he had commanded him to kill the man, who had helped them out. Obviously, Louis was thinking that killing someone in cold blood would be a reward for his young musketeer. It couldn't have been farther from the truth…
"Are you taking sides with the traitor, against your king?" Louis asked annoyed, his voice conveying a subtle threat, warning the Gascon to not answer the question in the way he'd originally intended.
Hearing his brothers shifting subtly behind him, d'Artagnan huffed out an exasperated breath before he took a step back. Then he looked over to Treville, whose eyes met his. His gaze was indicating sympathy and silent support; the Captain would accept his decision no matter what. So the young man decided to simply follow his heart this one time.
"I'm a soldier," he began when he turned to look back at his majesty again. Facing him, he ended his sentence, "…not an executioner."
Without waiting for an answer he bowed, briefly, and moved back into line with his brothers, suddenly feeling weary and a bit dizzy. Now that the tension and the agitation were leaving him, the throbbing pain in his back made itself known again. Thus far he had been able to ignore it completely, had simply denied its existence, but now...
The king seemed confused and upset that his musketeer had denied the offer, had rejected his reward. But before he could say anything about it, Rochefort drew his sword and swiftly stabbed the begging man to death.
The Gascon watched the execution turned sideways, feeling relief when Aramis' understanding gaze met his. Hearing the king praise Rochefort made him feel sick and he winced when he turned to face his monarch again. Carefully straightening to full height, d'Artagnan couldn't suppress the hissing sound that escaped through his teeth when his clothing moved against his torn skin.
Aramis shot him a questioning look but he ignored it, too busy to fight the darkness creeping into his vision, just as he had had to in the church, when they all bowed for the dauphin. Once more he felt something warm trickling down his backside, and he assumed that he was bleeding again. Before, he'd been quite capable of ignoring the pain in his back, the ache of his shirt sticking to his skin, the pressure of his doublet and the cloak. He had been full of adrenalin from the fight against the kidnappers and their escape and even the would-be-duel against the other Lemaitre had brought him renewed energy. He couldn't disappoint his brothers and he still had to bring the king back to safety. Although his friends had him somewhat released of that burden, but still… He had protected his sovereign thus far and he would do so as long as he wasn't properly released from his duty.
Suddenly, he felt ready to collapse, right here and now, but he would be damned if he showed any sign of weakness. Not in front of the king, who was making them scapegoats for his silly idea. And surely not in front of this maniac Rochefort, who was sneaking his way into the king's inner circle.
Taking a slow, deep breath, d'Artagnan concentrated again on what was happening around him and heard the king's final words.
"Why do you musketeers insist on disappointing me?"
The injustice of this question made his anger flare again and gave him another rush of much needed energy. Watching the king leave and Rochefort's guards pulling the corpse out of the room, he turned on his heels and headed for the door, directly followed by Treville and his brothers.
"D'Artagnan, wait!" Aramis called for him.
With a sigh, the Gascon stopped right behind the threshold. Obviously, the medic hadn't forgotten his signs of discomfort. And thinking about it, he too, felt it again. Not just discomfort, but the pain throbbing through his back. It hit him like a rock… Taking a stumbling step sideways, he searched for support at the wall, suddenly panting for breath.
"D'Artagnan?" That was the Captain right beside him, concern in his voice. "Are you alright, lad?"
A hand touched his aching back and elicited pure agony. Uttering a half-loud cry, the young musketeer dropped to his knees and hands, his chest heaving heavily, and desperately tried to stay conscious. His vision was darkening and there was a confusing hum in his ears. He could hardly hear himself gasp for breath.
He heard Aramis calling him and suddenly the medic was kneeling in front of him, his hands on d'Artagnan's shoulders the only thing preventing the younger from tilting sideways. "What's wrong with you, pup?" the Spaniard asked, his voice gently, but insistent.
But he couldn't answer.
"D'Artagnan!" Athos' voice joined the chorus of worried exclamations.
"What's the matter with him?" Porthos queried.
"I don't know," Aramis said.
"Don't touch his..." was the last d'Artagnan heard Treville say, when once more a hand touched his back.
Crying out in pain, his arms buckled and he fell onto his left side, before the world went black around him.
"Damn!" Aramis swore, immediately checking d'Artagnan for any signs of life. He quickly discovered that the boy was still breathing and his heart was beating, but he felt quite warm to the touch. The whelp definitely had a fever and was most likely injured, because he wouldn't just collapse because of exhaustion.
Hearing Athos shift beside him, he could almost feel the concern radiating from their leader.
"Aramis..." his friend demanded.
"I don't know yet," he answered brusquely. Remembering the Captain's last words, he hurried to unbutton the Gascon's doublet, before he slid his hands under it.
"Madre diós," he uttered, when he pulled them away from the boy's back. There was redness on his fingers, not too much but enough to make him worry. Silently cursing his youngest brother's complete disregard of his own well-being, the medic took a deep breath.
"I need a place to tend to him," he demanded, looking up to his Captain. "We can't wait till we've brought him back to the garrison."
"Take him to the guest quarters," Rochefort's gruff voice told him.
Startled, Aramis and his brothers turned their heads and saw the Captain of the Red Guards standing in the doorway. Apparently, the 'comte' had decided to follow them rather than to accompany the king, for whatever reason.
The blonde man smirked sarcastically. "It would leave a bad impression, one of the king's musketeers bleeding all over the floor in the Louvre."
The musketeers tensed, hearing the disdainful undertone in Rochefort's voice. But before they could respond, he continued. "Although the king is disappointed with you, he wouldn't appreciate if this one just died. And without a decent reason, it would seem..."
Porthos growled deeply and started to rise, but Athos' hand on his arm held him back.
"No," the swordsman said. "We have more urgent problems. It looks like you must carry him." He rose and faced his Captain. Assuming that Treville held at least some sort of authority because of his frequent presence at the palace, Athos chose to address him rather than Rochefort. "Could you arrange that we get some supplies? All that might be needed?"
"Of course," the Captain answered before he quickly walked away, heading for the servant's quarters, knowing that there he would find someone to help him.
"And I'll tell Dr. Lemay that he might be needed," Rochefort offered. "And now move him, before someone else notices this mess." Snorting and shaking his head, he turned on his heels, his exit followed by another dark growl from Porthos.
Aramis muttered something incomprehensible in Spanish before concentrating on d'Artagnan again. "You must be gentle, Porthos. I don't know the exact kind of injury yet, but there's obviously a bleeding wound on the pup's back. If you just scoop him up, it will most likely hurt him."
Porthos nodded and had just started to take his youngest brother into his arms when d'Artagnan suddenly stirred. His arm moved closer to his body; he started to blink and then his eyes opened as he wearily tried to push himself up, only to hold his breath and squeeze his eyes shut again. After a moment, the young man groaned and gasped for breath, but he finally managed to sit up and open his eyes.
The medic saw the haze of pain in his friend's eyes and shook his head. Damn, stubborn pup... "D'Artagnan? Can you hear me?"
Blinking slowly, the Gascon obviously tried to focus on him, but he failed. Instead his lids closed again and he grimaced once more.
"D'Artagnan, we need to move. We can't stay here," Athos said apologetically, gripping one of the lad's arms. "Can you stand?"
The medic huffed and indicated Porthos to take d'Artagnan's other arm. Watching his brothers hauling their youngest up, he heard the Gascon hiss through gritted teeth. The boy swayed dangerously on his feet, but he stood upright, face pale and breathing heavily. Aramis took the arm Athos held and put it over his shoulder to support the boy, Porthos following his example. A small cry escaped d'Artagnan's lips, but he quickly closed his mouth again, biting his bottom lip.
"Sorry," the Spaniard mumbled.
"I'm fine," d'Artagnan uttered, breathless.
Aramis couldn't help but to smile when he heard that surely false statement. Hearing Athos snort, he carefully laid his free arm around the Gascon's waist, wincing when the boy once more sucked in a pained breath.
"Sorry," he apologised again. "Maybe Porthos better carry you, after all," he suggested.
"No!" d'Artagnan protested firmly, fighting to keep his eyes open. "I can walk."
Exchanging doubtful looks, the three older men almost simultaneously shrugged. Then Athos sighed and nodded towards the next corridor. "Follow me, I'll lead the way."
It took them almost endless minutes of awkward stumbling to bring d'Artagnan into one of the guest quarters. The farther they went, the more d'Artagnan was leaning into them, till Porthos and Aramis almost carried him. Together they managed to sit their pup down onto the bed, where Porthos supported him while Aramis took the Gascon's cloak and leather doublet off.
D'Artagnan stiffened and held his breath when the weight of the leather was finally taken from his body. But it was Athos' reaction that told Aramis all he needed to know.
The swordsman had been walking around the room, taking the buckets with water and linens from the servants to prevent them from coming in. He had put the supplies onto the table and was crossing the room again to wait for Treville, walking right behind his protégé when Aramis removed the doublet.
Suddenly the former 'comte' froze in his movement and his eyes widened, followed by the sound of a sharp inhale, a brief pause, before Athos voiced his concern. "My god... D'Artagnan!"
The swordsman looked up, anger and disgust clear to be seen in his eyes. "He's been whipped," he stated, deadly calm.
Silently gesturing Porthos to turn their youngest around a bit, Aramis couldn't help but to inhale audibly. "Dios (mío)!"
The Gascon's back was a mess, his shirt stained with blood and sticking to the wounds underneath. It was clear to see that the young man had indeed been whipped, hard enough to leave bleeding welts. And he was bleeding again.
"I can't take your shirt off without soaking it in water, d'Artagnan," Aramis explained while he moved to face his youngest brother. "But even so, it will still hurt a lot.
The young man just gave a weak nod. "I know," he murmured. "Just… do it."
Lifting his head, Aramis met Athos' gaze. Their leader looked ready to commit murder, and suddenly the medic wished they hadn't finished off all of those damn kidnappers back there in the forest. Their deaths had been far too merciful...
Porthos, who was still holding the pup to prevent him from tumbling down on the floor, only growled- lowly, darkly. A sound that would have made Aramis shiver, if he hadn't known his friend for so long.
Then Athos seemed to forcefully calm himself. He stalked over to the table, taking some towels and dipping them into one of the water buckets before he made his way back to the bed.
"Place them onto his back," the medic instructed the swordsman. "This will be unpleasant," he warned d'Artagnan directly after, directing the young man's hands onto his own arms.
"Do it," the Gascon uttered, briefly looking up.
A quick glance was enough to make Porthos tighten his grip on the boy's shoulders. Athos, still hesitating, exchanged another look with Aramis. After getting his silent approval, the former 'comte' gently placed the dripping wet towels on his little brother's back.
It wasn't as bad as he had expected, at first. But when the water slowly soaked through his shirt and into the still open wounds, it started to hurt.
And it got worse.
D'Artagnan gritted his teeth, so hard that he heard them crunch. His grip on the medic's arms became vicelike, provoking a pained hiss from his friend. But he couldn't help it, couldn't loosen his grip, for the throbbing and stinging morphed into a hellfire of pain. He wasn't able to stifle his groan and when he finally noticed Aramis gesturing Athos to remove the towels, he was panting. Slowly he let go of his brother's arms, barely registering the imprints his fingers had left on the medic's flesh.
"We'll pull your arms out of your sleeves," Aramis announced softly.
Dismissing the idea of speaking the Gascon simply nodded once. Directly afterwards, he felt first Aramis, then Porthos carefully guiding his arms out of his shirt. Losing his balance, d'Artagnan wavered dangerously on the edge of the bed and then Athos was suddenly in front of him, keeping him steady.
"Sh-sh... I've got you," his mentor mumbled. "It's almost over."
The words were meant to comfort him, but they didn't. D'Artagnan knew all too well that this had only been the beginning, the easy part. As soon as Aramis pulled the fabric away from the welts on his back, the pain would flare and most likely drive him unconscious again.
Not that he would mind any more...
"Maybe we should wait for Dr. Lemay? He might have something against the pain," Aramis suggested suddenly.
Slowly shaking his head, d'Artagnan pulled himself together. "No..." he murmured. "Don't let me wait any longer. Just finish it... Please," he added after a short break.
He could almost feel the worried looks of all of his three older brothers, and he appreciated it, but he wouldn't be able to stand the burning pain much longer.
"Well then..." Aramis' voice sounded hoarse and he harrumphed. "Ready?"
Clinging onto Athos' arms this time, the Gascon once more gritted his teeth and then nodded.
And when the medic finally tugged the fabric away, it felt like Aramis was tearing his back apart, like his friend was going to pull his skin away. He couldn't help but scream in agony when the pain flared, before finally sinking into oblivion.
When d'Artagnan went limp in his arms, Porthos pulled him closer, successfully preventing him from sliding down onto the floor. Athos, whose arms were free again, hurried to assist him and together with Aramis the three of them managed to place the boy on his stomach on the bed.
Rising slowly, Porthos got his first look at his little brother's back. "If those scum weren't dead already, I'd kill them slowly," he growled.
Meanwhile, Athos took his place at the edge of the bed, near the Gascon's head, pushing some strands of hair from the younger man's face. His hand stayed unwittingly in d'Artagnan's hair when he looked up. "So, how bad is it?" he asked.
Aramis had made use of the time and taken a closer look at the whip-marks.
Whoever had flogged the boy had done it with all his might. The strokes of the whip had been meant to hurt as much as possible. The skin had been cut deep; in some parts, the medic thought he could see the white of the shoulder blades shimmering through. And apparently nobody had taken care of the wounds. Just as if someone had taken his anger out on the pup and then pushed him aside. Most likely they had forced him to undress before the punishment, which would explain the state of his shirt. It wasn't shredded, only stained with blood.
"That must have hurt like hell," Aramis mumbled, carefully touching the edges of the wounds. "I cannot understand how he could stand it this long. His clothes must have shifted against those welts with every movement."
"The pup is too stubborn for his own good," Porthos said with a sigh.
"But why didn't he tell us that he was injured?" Athos asked.
"Are you really asking that?" the medic questioned him with a raised eyebrow. "You?"
Shooting him an annoyed glance, Athos turned his head in the direction of the door when he heard footsteps approaching.
After a brief knock, the door opened and Treville entered the room, directly followed by Dr. Lemay.
"I met the doctor on my way," the Captain told them, "…and..." Stopping dead in his tracks, Treville couldn't finish his sentence. "What the hell..."
Meanwhile, Dr. Lemay had reached his patient and was looking closely at the boy's back. "Do you know when this happened?" he asked Aramis, who had left his place at d'Artagnan's side to make way.
"Not exactly, but since he and the king disappeared two days ago and we returned to Paris just before the dauphin's christening, it could have been anytime between then and this morning," the Spaniard answered.
"From the look of these wounds, I assume it happened this morning. They're too fresh to be older than twelve hours. But what's worse is that nobody's cleaned them. They show early signs of infection."
"What would explain the fever," Aramis said sombrely.
"Hmm..." Checking the Gascon's forehead, Lemay nodded. "Definitely feverish. Well..." He straightened and opened his bag, taking out the things he needed. When he had prepared his supplies, he let his gaze wander over the four men in the room.
"I have to thoroughly clean these wounds, which will cause the patient a lot of pain. But because he's unconscious already and lying on his stomach, I can't give him anything against it."
"We'll hold him," Athos simply said, understanding what the physician tried to say and gesturing to Porthos to take hold of the boy's legs. "And Aramis will assist you."