Author's note: So it has been a long time since I've written for the Musketeer's fandom. I loved this show, although I have to admit I enjoyed the first season the most. Maybe it's because it had the best d'Artagnan storylines. The idea for this story came from one of my readers. I am so sorry I forgot who pitched me this story because it was so long ago. Please leave me a message if this is you because I would like to thank you properly. I started the story over half a year ago and then put it on ice when my muse went on holidays. I hope you enjoy it.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters.
Warning: not beta-ed.
An old man knelt at a grave outside a small cottage. It had been five years since the death of Andre LeMont. A man accused of the rape and murder of a young maiden. Pierre LeMont never believed his son would commit such atrocities, and even if he did, the young woman should count herself lucky his son would even lay eyes on her. Andre was a scholar. Pierre worked hard to ensure his son received the schooling he deserved. Andre was accepted as a scribe in the magistrate's court and would have excelled in his occupation. All the hard work would have paid off…that is until a musketeer arrested Andre for rape and murder! That musketeer was relentless in his conviction of Andre and he will pay for killing his Andre. He will pay for his crimes. The musketeers were not the honourable men everyone claimed them to be. They abused their power and now one will pay. Athos will know his pain. Athos of the Musketeers will suffer for the rest of his life, just as he did. "Today is the day, Andre. There will be justice for you before I join you in the afterlife. You have been patient Andre. Just more day." The smile could only be worn by a man who has lost his mind.
D'Artagnan laughed at Porthos's insane attempt at courting the young, new bar maiden at the tavern they frequented. Porthos returned to their table with a big grin on his face. Aramis shook his head at the big man. "Porthos, my poor, uninformed friend. Will you ever understand women or will you just stumble through life and pray a woman, just as uninformed, will stumble through hers until you two collide in a beautiful, encounter called love at first…impact?"
D'Artagnan raised his bottle at Aramis, "Only you can describe Porthos's attempt at courting a woman so poetically." Aramis, graciously, bowed his head in acknowledgement of the compliment.
"I don't know what you two are talking about. She's just playing hard to get." Porthos chucked his chin at them, indignantly.
"Porthos, she all but slapped you!" D'Artagnan laughed.
"Pfff…what would a boy like you know?" Porthos drank his wine.
"Considering the women I've seen eyeing him and Madame Bonacieaux's obvious attraction to him…I think he knows a hell of a lot more than you." Aramis teased them both.
"Careful, Aramis. She is a married a woman." D'Artagnan spoke, seriously. He found himself very protective of the merchant's wife. "She does not need the accusation of adultery following her."
"She is a beautiful woman who deserves to be loved by a real man." Aramis countered. D'Artagnan had no answer for that.
"Besides, even without Constance, d'Artagnan still has more experience with women than Porthos." Athos decided to join in the fun after he finished his third bottle of wine.
Porthos glared at him, "What would you know? The only flirting you've done is to a bottle of wine!"
Athos shrugged, not denying it. D'Artagnan and Aramis exchanged looks, laughing.
The four men were oblivious to the man watching them from the corner of the tavern. The old man had already made his move earlier in the night. He had paid the new bar maid a hefty bag of coins to add an extra ingredient to a young Musketeer's meal. The poison was slow acting. He knew the young man would not show any symptoms today but he would stay until the musketeers left. He would watch them enjoy their last night of laughter. Tomorrow, he will pay the Musketeers' garrison a visit before leaving to meet with his son.
The next morning…
D'Artagnan groaned as he made his way down the steps to the garrison courtyard where his friends were already having breakfast at their usual table. Aramis looked at him, amused, as the young man sat down at the table. "You look like Athos."
D'Artagnan folded his arms under his head. "Shut up, Aramis. I am not in the mood."
Athos shook his head. "I thought you were more tolerant of alcohol. I suppose I have not taught you well enough."
Porthos gave a deep laugh, "It's your punishment for your words about my method of courting."
D'Artagnan turned his head, smiling, despite his headache. "Please. We only get punished for lying."
Aramis grinned and slapped Porthos on the arm. "You walked right into that one, my friend."
Athos handed d'Artagnan a cup of water and a half a bread loaf. "Have your breakfast. You and Aramis are due for a friendly duel."
Aramis bounced his eyebrows at d'Artagnan. D'Artagnan just grinned and shook his head at his friend. These men may be quite a few years his senior, however, their behaviour would make anyone doubt that. "I can take you on without the sustenance."
"I would take you up on your challenge, if you didn't look like a cat dragged you out of bed." Aramis loved teasing his friends, but he also knew when he should goad them and when to back off. D'Artagnan may be bickering with them in the same manner he always did, but something told him he needed to take it easy on the young musketeer today. "Eat up! I want to see what Athos's training has done for you and I don't want you having any excuse when you lose to me."
"Ha!" D'Artagnan chuffed. "Not about to happen." He finished off his water and bread before standing from the table, swinging his sword. "This is going to be fun."
Aramis stood, smiling. The two musketeers walked out into the middle of the courtyard. Athos and Porthos stood with their backs against the stair rails, ready for a good show. "5 livres say Aramis takes him down in 10 moves." Porthos offered, his arms folded.
"You're on." Athos was confident d'Artagnan could hold his own against Aramis.
The duel's start was an impressive display of swordsmanship by both men. It was clear Porthos would lose the bet as soon as the duel began. He hesitated, handing over the livres but he was also impressed with the skills his young friend was displaying.
D'Artagnan was enjoying the duel until a wave of dizziness hit him just as he was about to side step Aramis's jab at his shoulder. Aramis's eyes widened in horror once he realised d'Artagnan wasn't going to deflect his sword in time. He shifted his aim, just in time to avoid stabbing d'Artagnan in the shoulder. The sword cut through d'Artagnan's shirt doing no damage to d'Artagnan. Sheathing his sword, he stepped to the side and grabbed his friend's arm, as d'Artagnan stumbled forward. "D'Artagnan, what's wrong?"
D'Artagnan's hand came up to head, taking deep breaths to counter the spinning in his head. "I'm not sure." He answered after the dizziness abated. "Must've had too much wine last night." By now, Athos and Porthos had joined them.
"I don't believe this is a simple case of the morning after a good night." Aramis turned d'Artagnan to face him. "Look at me." D'Artagnan sighed but did as he was asked. "How bad is your headache?"
D'Artagna winced, "I've had worse."
"After drinking the night before?"
D'Artagnan shrugged, "Maybe."
"D'Artagnan!" Athos growled, clearly concerned for his friend.
"Athos, I'm fine. It's just a headache." D'Artagnan pushed Aramis's hands away from his head and headed back to their table when he noticed an old man standing at the gate of the garrison, staring at him. He frowned, "Sir, can we help you?" The old man just smiled at him, then turned his gaze onto Athos.
Athos didn't like the feeling of dread this man instilled in him. "Monsieur, this is the Musketeers' Garrison. Do you have business with us?"
Pierre LeMont wanted to be able to see this man suffer but knowing that he would was enough. He could already see the poison taking effect and now he had a meeting with his son. "I believe I must have been given wrong directions. Apologies for the disturbance. Enjoy your day." He turned around. "I know I will." He smiled to himself.
D'Artagnan raised his eyebrows at his friends, confused. "What was that about?" Porthos looked as baffled as he did. "This morning is a little…" D'Artagnan's hand flew out to brace himself against the table as a sharp, stabbing pain in his head almost rendered him unconscious.
"D'Artagnan!" Three pairs of hands came out and grabbed him. They sat him down at the table. Aramis leaned over and pushed his friend back by the shoulders. "D'Artagnan, open your eyes." d'Artagnan did as the pain started to fade. "What happened?"
D'Artagnan shook his head, a little out of breath. "I don't know. It felt like someone stabbed me in the head."
Aramis checked his eyes for any signs of a head injury but aside from the pain in them he saw nothing wrong. "We should get you back to your room. Porthos, inform the captain that d'Artagnan will be out of commission until we can determine what is happening to him." Porthos nodded, leaving for the Captain's office. Aramis turned to Athos. "Help me get him to his room." D'Artagnan got to his feet, unsteadily. Athos kept a firm hand on his arm, while Aramis kept a hand on his back, both ensuring d'Artagnan made it up the steps without any accidents.
D'Artagnan sighed in relief as he laid down in his bed, closing his eyes to ease the headache. He wished he knew what was happening to him. The headache was annoying more than anything else, but the stabbing pain, earlier was abnormal. He opened his eyes when a warm compress was pressed to his forehead. "How's the pain?"
"It's no worse than a headache now." D'Artagnan told his mentor.
"Are you feeling anything other than the headache?" Aramis asked from the other side of the bed.
D'Artagnan shook his head, "Just dizzy."
"Could he be ill?" Athos asked Aramis, concern clearly written all over his face.
Aramis shook his head, unsure. "Possible but the symptoms are very strange. I'm worried it may be…"
"AAAAHHHHHHH!" D'Artagnan threw his head back as the blinding pain lanced through his head again, more intense than the last one.
"d'Artagnan!" Aramis and Athos held him down against the bed as he writhed in pain. "d'Artagnan!" Athos called again, but d'Artagnan was drowning in the pain. There was nothing they could do but wait for the agony to fade. By the time it did, sweat soaked through his shirt and dampened his hair. D'Artagnan relaxed under their hold, prompting them release him. Their young friend was breathing heavily. "Aramis." Athos turned to his friend.
"This is more likely a poison." Aramis told him, warily.
"Poison? How?" Athos kept a grip on d'Artagnan's arm as a form of support even though he felt a rage boiling up inside him.
"I can't tell you." A knock at the door drew their attention. Porthos entered with the captain. He took one look at d'Artagnan's pale complexion and rushed to his side. Aramis rose from his place to allow him to be closer.
"He's worse! What happened?" d'Artagnan still hadn't opened his eyes. Porthos pushed aside d'Artagnan wet hair, his gentle movement belied his size.
"Aramis thinks it's poison." Athos turned to the captain. "If it is then he most likely came to ingest it in the tavern last night. I doubt it was in the wine and bread this morning as we all had the same meal."
The captain nodded. He knew Athos was asking permission to seek out the tavern owner. "Go, and take Porthos with you."
Athos looked at Porthos who nodded, but before any of them took leave, d'Artagnan reached out and wrapped his fingers around Athos's wrist. Athos looked down at his friend who finally opened his eyes. The pain was still there, Athos could see it in his eyes, but he could also see concern. "Try not to kill anyone."
Athos smiled despite the situation. "I'll make sure everyone is outside before I burn the tavern down." He joked, pulling a smile from his sick friend. Patting d'Artagnan's hand, he said, "I'll find out what is wrong with you and make sure whoever is responsible, pays."
"I know you will." D'Artagnan let the man's wrist go, then turned to Porthos. "Don't let him do anything stupid."
Porthos laughed, "It's more likely I will join him than stop him." Then he sobered, "I will watch his back."
D'Artagnan slowly let his eyes fall shut, exhaustion quickly taking him over. "Be careful yourself." It could barely be heard but Porthos received the message. Porthos's heart warmed at those words. It was no secret that there was a strong bond between Athos and d'Artagnan, but that didn't mean the boy meant any less to Aramis and Porthos and vice versa. All three Musketeers were protective of their young friend and anybody daring to harm him will not come to a good end.
"Watch him. We'll be back soon." Athos ordered Aramis, though he knew it was unnecessary.
Aramis nodded his assurance. He sat on the side of the bed after the two had left. "I'm afraid this may be beyond my expertise. If this really is from the meal last night, then it is a slow acting poison. Unless we find an antidote, I can do nothing." Aramis picked up the cloth that had fallen from d'Artagnan's head and wiped at the sweat beading along the brow and neck.
Captain Treville stepped up to Aramis and placed a hand on the man's shoulder. "Do what you can to keep him comfortable and do not lose faith. D'Artagnan is strong."
Aramis nodded, absently. "Yes, Captain."
Treville sighed, knowing Aramis was too worried to hear his words. He left the man to take care of d'Artagnan.
Athos entered the tavern with Porthos close behind. Considering the time of the day, it was still quite busy. Athos strode straight up to the tavern owner. The man looked up from drying a cup. "A little early, ain't it? Even for my best customer." He nodded at Athos.
"We're here on official business, Remy." Athos told him. "I need to speak with anyone who was involved in preparing our meal last night."
Remy put down his rag and glass. "Musketeers in my tavern on official business is not good for business."
"You cooperate with us and this could go smoothly." Porthos said in a low voice as he leaned forward. "Or we can shut this place down until our investigation is over."
Remy clenched his jaw however he knew he had no choice but to cooperate. "Everyone who were here last night is here today except for the new girl. She hasn't shown up and I'll be sacking her as soon as she arrives."
Athos and Porthos exchanged looks. It was too much of a coincidence. They didn't need to question the rest of the staff. They knew who they were looking for. "What's her name and where does she live?" Athos demanded.
"Her name's Sandrine…"
"Her name's Sandrine! She told me it was Bertrid!" Porthos complained before looking contrite at Athos's glare. "Right…not the point."
Athos shook his head, "Where does she live?"
"At the Monet's next to Doctor Contre." Remy looked at them curiously, "What's this about?"
"Nothing you need to concern yourself over…" Athos brushed off his question.
"Unless our suspicions about this girl is wrong, in which case, we will be back. Best you and your staff stay put." Porthos warned before leaving the establishment with Athos.
D'Artagnan groaned as he returned to consciousness. He felt as if his head was filled with cotton, but other than that he was feeling better. Aramis was sitting on the edge of the bed, studying him. "Why are you looking at me like that?" d'Artagnan asked, suspiciously.
Aramis chuckled, "I was going to ask how you were feeling until I remembered your answer will probably be 'fine', which may or may not be true. So I figured I would decide for myself."
D'Artagnan glared at him. "I'm fine!"
"How's the headache?" Aramis asked, ignoring him.
D'Artagnan sighed and rolled his eyes. "Not as bad as it was. There's no stabbing pain."
D'Artagnan smiled at him, amused. "Don't sound too happy about that."
Aramis gave a half-hearted smile. "Athos isn't back yet, so I don't know what the poison is."
D'Artagnan pushed himself up. "You take care of our injuries, Aramis. And even though it seems like it at times, you're not a miracle worker." He gripped Aramis's arm. "The blame is not yours to bare."
Aramis nodded, "You do seem better."
D'Artagnan shrugged, "Maybe the poison isn't very potent."
"I pray that's the case." But even as he said it he didn't believe it was true and he could see that d'Artagnan thought the same thing. "In any case, Athos and Porthos will return with an answer soon."
Porthos knocked on the door of the small house on the outskirts of the market place. Athos peered into one of the windows. He thought nobody was home when a sound from the back of the house caused him to rush around. Porthos ran the other way. As they rounded the back of the house, the young woman was running down the dirt path. Athos raised his pistol. "Stop running or I will shoot you in the back and I don't really care that you're a woman."
Sandrine froze. She turned around slowly. "Please don't shoot me."
"I have a feeling you know why we are here." Porthos pulled her arms in front of her and bound her wrists together. He could feel the young woman shaking.
"I needed the money." Sandrine cried. "He told me it wouldn't do any harm. Just cause a little discomfort."
"A little discomfort!" Athos grabbed her by the arms. "Who is this person?"
"I don't know. He was wearing black and had white hair. His eyes were pale. He never told me his name but I heard someone in the bar call him Old Man LeMont."
Porthos narrowed his eyes, "Sounds like the man at the Garrison today."
Athos nodded, thinking the same thing. "The name LeMont sounds familiar but I can't recall it."
"What are you going to do with me?" Sandrine asked timidly.
Porthos couldn't believe the girl he had flirted with the night before poisoned his friend. "Right now, you'll be held in a cell until we can prove what happened." He eyes turned cold. "If d'Artagnan dies, you won't be far behind. So you better pray he survives this."
"If you don't want a death sentence you will cooperate with us." Athos warned, "Do you still have the poison?"
Sandrine nodded vigorously. Athos and Porthos exchanged looks. They may be able to get d'Artagnan through this after all.
The Musketeers' Garrison…
Athos and Porthos grinned as soon as they returned to the garrison. D'Artagnan was sitting at their regular table having their afternoon meal. D'Artagnan turned in his seat when he saw Aramis smile at someone behind him. "You're back!" D'Artagnan winced as he stood from the table. Aramis reached over and pushed him back down onto the bench.
"They'll come over." Aramis told him, pointedly.
"Aramis," d'Artagnan groaned, "I'm feeling much better. Please don't start mothering me."
"He will mother you for as long as he sees fit." Athos slapped him on the back as swung a leg over the bench, next to d'Artagnan. "Good to see you up."
D'Artagnan could see the relief in his mentor's face. "It's good to be up. What did you find out?"
"The new barmaid poisoned your meal." Porthos revealed. He pulled out a bottle. "This is what he put in it. We've already sent a sample to the apothecary. Hopefully he will send news by tomorrow morning."
D'Artagnan nodded, "Doesn't really matter. I'm feeling…" He closed his eyes when Porthos went out of focus. He took a breath and waited for the spinning in his head to stop. When it didn't he buried his head in his hands and groaned. "Dizziness is back."
Aramis immediately shot up from his seat and stepped around the table. "Let's get you back to your room." He and Athos helped d'Artagnan to stand. As they reached the landing, d'Artagnan suddenly dropped to his knees, doubling over in pain. "What's wrong?" Aramis asked in a calm voice.
D'Artagnan broke out into a cold sweat. "Stomach hurts." He grunted out.
Athos took in d'Artagnan's expression. He was trying hard to not cry out, but Athos could tell he was beginning to lose the battle. "That's an understatement, to say the least." He pulled d'Artagnan's arm over his shoulder. "Come."
That night, d'Artagnan started burning with fever. Aramis worked to keep the fever at bay with towels and cold water but the fever tore through his body like a raging fire. It allowed little rest for d'Artagnan or his friends. D'Artagnan tossed in his bed, restless. Aramis threw the towel into the basin of water, frustrated. The fever was too high and rising too fast. "Athos, get a tub of water in here and fill it with snow."
"What are you planning?" Athos asked, confused by the request.
"If I don't bring down his fever, it may cause permanent damage." Aramis explained. "Go. Now!" Athos nodded, ignoring the tone. Aramis was always been ill-mannered when one of them was injured or sick.
"What can I do?" Porthos asked after watching Aramis stand over their restless friend, not saying a word.
Aramis shook his head in defeat. "This is beyond me, Porthos." He gestured to d'Artagnan. "Musket wounds, stab wounds, cuts, broken bones…that's what I can handle. Poison…" Aramis shrugged. "There's nothing I can do for d'Artagnan. For all I know, he's already beyond any help."
In all their years of friendship, Porthos has rarely seen Aramis lose confidence in anything and out of the three of them, he was one with the most faith. Seeing him lose hope and confidence was unnerving. "Are you giving up?"
Aramis swung his head around, almost giving himself whiplash. "I don't give up on my friends."
Porthos smiled, "Just wanted you to hear yourself say it." Aramis chuckled and nodded his thanks. "The apothecary should be able to tell us what the poison is in the morning."
"Do you know who did this?" In all the worry over d'Artagnan, they had neglected to tell Aramis what they had found out.
"A man called LeMont. Sandrine described that old man we saw in the morning at our gate." Porthos growled.
"I'm shocked Athos hasn't left to track him down."
"He would've but with d'Artagnan like this, I don't think he dares to leave…" Porthos faded off, but Aramis knew what he was about to say.
Three musketeers walked in then with an empty tub. "Just leave it near the door." Aramis told them. More musketeers started filing in with buckets of water, filling the tub. This was the reason why Aramis loved being a musketeer. They took care of their own. Their loyalty to their regiment was second to none. D'Artagnan was their newest member but even before he was commissioned, the musketeers had treated him as their own. If anything were to happen to the young Musketeer, the Three Musketeers would not be the only ones to feel the loss. Aramis thanked his brothers and emptied out the room once everything was set up, leaving just Athos, Porthos and himself.
"So what's the plan?" Athos asked, sitting on the bed beside his sick friend.
"Get him in the bath." Aramis said simply. "Help me get his clothes off."
Porthos gently lowered d'Artagnan into the ice water. As soon as he was in, he started thrashing, fighting the hands that were holding him in the water. "Keep him still."
"How!?" Athos snapped, but despite the sharpness in the voice, d'Artagnan seem to calm at hearing it.
"That's one way." Porthos suggested, "Talk to him."
Athos frowned, unsure of what to say, but d'Artagnan's thrashing spurred him on. "Hey, calm down. We're trying to help you. You've got a high fever." Porthos and Aramis slowly let their friend go as he relaxed.
"Keep talking to him, Athos." Athos nodded. Aramis grabbed a bucket of hot water and slowly poured it into the bath, careful of burning d'Artagnan. "This will slowly bring his temperature back to normal. Hopefully, after we get him out, his body can maintain it."
"Pfff…and you thought this was beyond you!" Porthos scoffed as he passed another bucket to Aramis.
Athos placed a hand against d'Artagnan's forehead. "I think it's working."
D'Artagnan groaned as his eyes fluttered open. He frowned when his mind cleared up and found his three friends grinning at him. "Why are you giving me a bath?" He asked, making the others laugh.
"How about we get you out of this tub and no one will speak of this again?" Aramis suggested.
"Sounds good to me." Athos seconded.
D'Artagnan didn't know what was happening. His head was still foggy, making everything nonsensical. "Our secret…" He mumbled. "Whatever the secret is."
"You know, he's really quite cute when he's like this." Porthos laughed as he hefted d'Artagnan up from under the arms.
Aramis quickly wrapped a towel around him before letting Porthos lift him out and onto a chair. They worked efficiently together to get the lethargic d'Artagnan into dry clothes and back into his bed. D'Artagnan was already asleep by the time Athos brought the quilt up to his shoulders. "Hopefully he'll stay comfortable enough to sleep through the night."
Captain Treville was going through old records for the name LeMont. Athos had given him the name and like Athos, the Captain thought it sounded familiar but couldn't place it. It was the middle of the night. Everyone was asleep save for the Three Inseperables and the Captain. It was hard to sleep when one of their own was fighting for his life. He scanned his records with the speed of someone who had done this his entire life; searching for key words, clues, evidence was his job and Treville was among the best of them. Treville moved onto the next page when a banging at the front gate drew his attention. "Who could that be?"
The Garrison's gatekeeper looked through the grills of the gate. Treville stood on the balcony, waiting and listening to who was at the gate. "What is your purpose, boy?" The gatekeeper asked, roughly. Treville could just make out the young man though the gate.
"My name is Julian, my father sent me with a message and a vial for d'Artagnan. He is the apothecary." The boy said breathlessly.
Treville stood up at that. "Let him in, Jean." He ordered as he rushed down the wooden stairs. "Boy, tell me it is good news you have to deliver."
Julian didn't look like he did. "I'm sorry Captain, but my father says the poison was made with different types of poisons." Treville felt his heart drop at the news. D'Artagnan could die. "But he made this and tested it. It will slow down the poison." Julian held out the vial. When Treville didn't take it right away the boy continued desperately. "I watched my father work very hard on this! The Musketeers saved our shop from being burnt down. He wouldn't give this to you if he wasn't sure it would work." He shrugged, unsure, "Maybe it'll give D'Artagnan enough time for you to find the real antidote?"
Treville nodded, smiling at the boy's optimism. Not to mention, he was right. It was their only chance. "Thank you, Julian."
Treville entered the room to find D'Artagnan sound asleep in his bed with the Three Musketeers surrounding him. Nobody was asleep but nobody was talking either. "He is looking better." Treville shocked them out of their vigil.
Aramis turned to the Captain. "His fever is under control for now but I do not know how I will rid his blood of the toxin without an antidote." It sounded to Treville like was giving up.
Treville handed the vial to Aramis. "This isn't the antidote but it will buy us a little more time."
Athos sat up, finally turning his attention to Treville. "How much time?"
"I don't know, but it is all we have." Treville told them all. "Give it to D'Artagnan and then you and Porthos can help me find LeMont in our records. We find him, we save D'Artagnan." Musketeers were tough and they always fight until their last breath. "That is an order." He glared at the three men, daring them to defy him.
"Yes, Captain!" They called in unison, having their determination and hope returned to them.
Athos sat D'Artagnan up for Aramis to give him the medicine. Aramis sat on the other side and gently opened D'Artagnan's mouth, tipping in the serum. It ran down D'Artagnan throat forcing him to swallow, letting out a small cough before relaxing again. Aramis was glad that D'Artagnan didn't wake up. He did not want to interrupt his slumber any more than he already had. "Let's go and search those records." Treville said after Athos lowered D'Artagnan back down and was sure he would continue sleeping. Athos didn't want to move but he knew Aramis had to be here to watch over their young friend.
"Aramis will send for us when he wakes." Porthos said. He was speaking to both of them.
Athos took one more look at D'Artagnan before getting up and leaving the room. "Let's find this man so I can decapitate him and he can give us the antidote."
"I think he got the order of events a little muddled up." Porthos mumbled to Aramis as he passed him. Aramis chuckled quietly.
The sun was peaking over the horizon when D'Artagnan stirred. Aramis was sleeping lightly in a chair, with his feet resting on bed. He immediately sat up when he felt D'Artagnan's movement on the bed. "D'Artagnan." He called gently as he poured a cup of water and sat on the bed. "Here, have a drink."
D'Artagnan felt someone lift his head and press a cup to his lips. He took a sip and upon realising it was water took a few more mouthfuls to ease his dry throat. He opened his eyes when the person lowered his head back onto the soft pillow. "Aramis?"
"How are feeling?" Aramis checked his fever. "You're fever is much lower."
"I feel…" D'Artagnan frowned. He felt weak but the pain was more of a dull ache. "…better."
"That's good. It means the medicine is doing its job." Aramis saw how D'Artagnan raised his eyebrows and knew what the next question was going to be. "It's not the antidote but it's slowing the poison in your blood."
"Oh…" D'Artagnan said, simply. He looked around the room. "Where's Athos and Porthos?" It was rare for d'Artagnan to wake up from an injury or sickness and not find all three of his friends sitting around the bed.
"They are trying to find out who LeMont is. We think he is the one who poisoned you and may have the cure." Aramis explained to him. "But you don't need to worry about that. Are you hungry?" d'Artagnan shook his head. His stomach still felt raw. "I'll have someone bring you something."
D'Artagnan gave short laugh which caused a little discomfort in his abdomen but he ignored it. "Why do you bother asking if you're going to feed me anyway?"
Aramis shrugged, "I'm still in search of a miracle. You doing what's good for you is one of them." He grinned at d'Artagnan's glare as he rose from seat. "I'll be back soon. Stay in bed. Athos and Porthos will want to know you are awake."
D'Artagnan closed his eyes and tried to relax. He wasn't lying when he told Aramis that he was feeling better but he left out the part where he could feel his body failing him. He was weak, like energy was slowly draining out of him. D'Artagnan was scared. Not because he was dying but because he would be leaving his brothers. The four of them have come to rely on each other, read each other's thoughts, pre-empting each other's actions. Criminals feared them because they hear of their conquests. Losing any of them would leave the surviving ones beyond repair. He didn't want to die. He wanted to live for his brothers, for the Musketeers. The thought of his brothers was enough to keep him going for as long as they need him to.
Athos was fast losing patience as the name LeMont refused to appear before him on the pages and pages he'd been sifting through. "Why can't I recall the name?!" He growled at himself.
Treville looked up from his search. Athos was pulling at his hair with frustration. "Calm yourself, Athos, otherwise you may miss something."
"How can I keep calm when d'Artagnan is on his deathbed?" Athos hissed.
"He's not dead yet, Athos." Porthos scolded him. "And when we find this LeMont, we'll cure d'Artagnan."
Athos threw his record book to the ground in anger. "Even if we do find his name and we find this man, what guarantees do we have that he will have an antidote! What guarantee does d'Artagnan have?!"
Porthos got up and picked up the record book. "He has none." He spoke bluntly. "But he has hope and if you give up now, then the only thing you have guaranteed d'Artagnan is his death!" He looked down at the record book and smiled. "And if you hadn't thrown a hissy fit, then this book wouldn't have landed on the page we need." Athos frowned at him as did Treville. Porthos turned the book around and pointed to the name on the page. "LeMont."
Athos's eyes widened as he grabbed the record book and read it furiously. "Andre LeMont captured by…myself…25th of January 1621 for rape and murder of Bernadette Moneaux." He looked up at Treville. "He was sentenced to death five days later." He narrowed his eyes, remembering the day. "I attended his execution. The old man we saw yesterday morning…" Suddenly the face was so clear to him. "He's Pierre LeMont…the father! He was dragged out of the square by the Red Guards."
"A grieving father wanting revenge for his son chose to punish you by taking away someone you care about." Treville leaned forward on his table by his fists. "Is there an address in the records?" Athos's expression was a dangerous one. He nodded slowly. "Then what are you waiting for?"
"Those words exactly." Athos and Porthos determinedly walked out of the office and right into Aramis.
They fell in a heap outside the Captain's office. "Please tell me I am in pain and in a heap for a very good reason. For example, you have found the mysterious LeMont." Aramis pushed himself up, rolling his shoulders and stretching his back.
"You better be coming here to tell us d'Artagnan's awake and feeling better!" Athos growled back, letting Porthos pull his up.
Aramis smiled, brushing himself off. "I will be very disappointed if your answer does not echo mine, which is affirmative."
Athos rolled his eyes and pushed past him. "A simple yes would've sufficed!"
"D'Artagnan!" Athos called as he entered the room. At first, he was disappointed to find his friend asleep when a tired voice sounded.
"I was trying to sleep." D'Artagnan smiled at his mentor.
Athos chuckled. "How are you feeling?" He asked as he sat on the edge of the bed.
Athos nodded, "Good, because we have the address for that old man and we'll find him and get that antidote."
"Damn right, we wil." Porthos told him from the door. D'Artagnan grinned at him, not realising he was standing there. "So you better be alive when we get back otherwise I'll drag your ass back from hell and kill you myself."
D'Artagnan laughed, "Wouldn't it be easier just to leave me there?"
Porthos stumbled into the room when someone from behind shoved him. "Our Porthos never does anything the easy way. You can tell that by the way he courts women." Aramis grinned at the glare Porthos sent his way. He held out a bowl of broth to Athos. "Make yourself useful." D'Artagnan was about to protest but Aramis stopped him. "I need to do a thorough examination to determine if you are up for a journey." He took his wrist to count his pulse. "What are you waiting for?" Aramis nodded to the bowl, expecting Athos to feed d'Artagnan.
"What do you mean?" Athos queried, suspiciously as he held a spoon to d'Artagnan's mouth. D'Artagnan ate distastefully, feeling like a babe, but he wanted to know what Aramis meant as well.
"Treville tells me we are heading to Versailles. That is a day's ride from here. The poison may have been decelerated but d'Artagnan will not be here in two days time. He must travel with us to meet LeMont." Aramis told them. D'Artagnan jolted when Aramis pressed against his abdomen. "How much did that hurt?"
D'Artagnan winced, "It was more of a shock."
Aramis gaged d'Artagnan expression as he continued his examination all the while Athos helped him eat. "I would've expected more elation from you, knowing you would not be left behind."
D'Artagnan smiled, tiredly, "Can't say I'm up for a day in the saddle." He admitted, which told them a lot about how d'Artagnan felt. The boy hated to admit weakness more than anything.
Aramis nodded, grateful for d'Artagnan's honesty. "The Captain is organising for a carriage. It'll slow us down but only by a few hours."
"A cart would be faster." D'Artagnan told them.
"But less comfortable." Porthos pointed out.
"I can sacrifice a little comfort if it increases my chances of surviving this." D'Artagnan spoke softly, causing the room to fall into silence.
Athos put down the empty bowl. He placed both hands on d'Artagnan's shoulders, "You will survive."
D'Artagnan smiled, sadly. He had every faith in his friends but sometimes, not even faith is enough. "It's not your fault if I don't."
Athos wished he could believe d'Artagnan but it was his fault. He was targeted because of an arrest he made before he even met d'Artagnan. "I know." Both Athos and d'Artagnan knew those words were empty. Athos didn't believe them and neither did d'Artagnan. They didn't call each other on it, though. For now, d'Artagnan let it slide.
Aramis stood, sensing the uncomfortable silence. "We need to get ready for our journey." He patted d'Artagnan's leg. "Wait here."
"Not going anywhere." D'Artagnan promised. Athos smirked glad to see his friend's sense of humour was still intact.
D'Artagnan waited for his friends to leave before pushing himself off the bed. He groaned as his abdomen complained at the movement. He has never felt this weak even after being shot or stabbed. D'Artagnan reached the table and painfully lowered himself into the chair. His friends will take a while to ready their journey, which gave him time to write down what they would never let him say because they wouldn't…couldn't let themselves believe he was dying. D'Artagnan had a lot to say to his friends and he couldn't say it all with his last dying breath. He spread out a piece of parchment and picked up the quill. The letter wasn't hard to write. Writing from the heart was never hard.
To my Dearest Brothers,
Life is never dull with you in it. I never knew how unfulfilled my life was until I came to Paris with my father. Who would have thought a Gascon farmboy could be a King's Musketeer? But I became so much more than that. I was acceptable among the Three Inseperables. You considered me your brother and that is my greatest honour. I have learned so much from each of you.
The words flowed from the quill as if it had a mind of its own. D'Artagnan folded the parchment before getting up and changing into his travel clothes. The parchment was slipped into his shirt. He would give it to his friends when the time came. D'Artagnan was ready to leave this world, he only wished his brothers will be ready to let him go. He prayed his words will help them let go and live their lives.
D'Artagnan felt faint. He realised belatedly that his body wasn't ready for so much moving. "Aramis is not going to be impressed." He braced himself against the wardrobe door, waiting out the dizziness.
Aramis walked in and found him like that. D'Artagnan was right. He wasn't impressed but he wasn't surprised either. "What did you think I meant when I told you to wait?" He gently took d'Artagnan's arm and led him back to the bed.
"Um…" d'Artagnan groaned, sitting down on the bed. "Wait in the room?"
Athos walked in and saw how sick d'Artagnan looked, "What happened?" He frowned at d'Artagnan's attire. "You're changed?"
"That is what happened." Aramis gave him a tight smile. "And to answer your question, d'Artagnan. I meant, stay in bed." He shook his head at Athos. "Remind me to be more specific with my instructions."
Athos worried over d'Artagnan. He laid a hand on d'Artagnan's shoulder as he spoke. "Are you sure d'Artagnan's well enough to travel?" d'Artagnan looked up at Aramis, wondering the same thing.
Aramis sighed, "We don't have a choice." He knelt in front of d'Artagnan. "Trust us. We'll be your strength."
D'Artagnan smiled, "Without a doubt."
Porthos helped d'Artagnan onto the cart they had made comfortable with quilts and a pillow. "I feel like an idiot, traveling in this. Like a damsel."
The Captain walked up to d'Artagnan and leaned his hands against the side of the cart. "Come back alive, d'Artagnan." It sounded like a simple order. He said that to them all the time but this time it was different. This time it was right in front of them. They could all see it. d'Artagnan frowned when the Musketeers in the garrison fell in line. Treville stepped back and withdrew his sword, holding it in the air. The Musketeers behind him did the same, in unison. "All for one…"
"And One for All!"
D'Artagnan looked at all of them. His brothers-in-arm. Tears filled his eyes as he looked around the garrison and then back at the Captain. "It was an honour, Captain."
"The honour was mine and still will be when you return." Captain Treville said, sternly.
D'Artagnan smiled sadly, "We don't usually get a departure of this proportion when we go on missions, Sir."
"On the miniscule chance of you not returning to us, I want you to know, you are and will always be a King's Musketeer and my friend." Captain Treville held out his hand.
D'Artagnan gripped it. "Thank you, Captain. Being a musketeer means more under your command."
Treville turned to Athos, Aramis and Porthos, who were already on their horses. "Either way, bring him back to us." He ordered.
"Yes, Captain." Athos promised.
D'Artagnan laid in the cart, propping himself up on his elbows. He watched as they left the garrison. He watched as the gates closed, until he could no longer see the Captain and his Musketeers. And then he kept on watching until the cart turned and the Garrison was removed from his line of sight. "Lay back and rest, d'Artagnan." Aramis ordered, gently. He had waited until the garrison was out of sight, knowing his young friend wanted to engrave every tile, every brick, every grill on the gate, into his mind. It was his home. "You will see it again. You will see them again." The Musketeers' determination was always something to be admired but d'Artagnan was scared that it would be their downfall. "Do you doubt me?" Aramis asked him, seeing his concern.
D'Artagnan shook his head, "Never." He laid down on the pillow, looking up at Aramis. Out of all of them, Aramis was the most level-headed. He was the healthiest; emotionally and mentally. If anyone of them could handle his passing and continue with his life, it was Aramis. "I need you, Aramis." He said before he let his eyes drift closed.
Aramis frowned, unsure of what d'Artagnan meant by that. He looked up at Porthos, who shrugged. "Maybe he just means that you're the one who takes care of us when we're sick."
Aramis nodded, absently. He knew that wasn't what d'Artagnan meant.
The Musketeers stopped only to water their horses and for Aramis to take care of d'Artagnan. They've been riding for over half a day now and already, d'Artagnan's fever was rising again. Aramis worried his calculations were wrong. Aramis fed d'Artagnan a spoonful of medicine from his bag. "What is that?" Athos asked.
"Laudanum. It'll keep him asleep and slow his heart, meaning it will slow the poison." Aramis explained. "It's all I can do. I don't dare to give him anything else in case the toxin does not agree with it."
Athos gave Aramis's shoulder a squeeze. "You're doing well, Aramis."
Aramis nodded. He didn't have the heart to tell his friend that he wasn't doing anything except keeping d'Artagnan comfortable, so he changed the subject. "What do you plan on doing when we get there?" He was a little afraid of the answer.
"Beat the antidote out of the old man before I stick his head on a spike." Athos didn't hesitate. He stood and got back on his horse. Just like that his mind went straight back onto the mission. Aramis sighed. He knew Athos was trying to treat this like any other mission. It may be more efficient that way but it was emotionally unhealthy. In the half day ride, this was the first time Athos asked about d'Artagnan. It was as if he told himself the person on the cart wasn't his best friend and brother. If d'Artagnan made it through this alive, then everything will be fine, but if d'Artagnan died, Athos will never forgive himself for not making the most of the little time they had left.
"Athos!" Aramis called, suddenly realising what d'Artagnan was asking for. He didn't need his help for himself. D'Artagnan needed him to help Athos. "Let me drive the cart. Stay back here." Athos was about to shake his head. "He's unconscious but he'll feel your presence. It'll keep him relaxed…keep his temperature from rising too fast…keep the poison from travelling too fast."
"Just by riding next to him, I can do all that." Athos said, sceptically.
Aramis nodded, "You can and he needs you to."
The ride was quiet. Porthos was riding on the other side of the cart watching Athos look everywhere except down at his friend. Porthos never liked silence, especially around his friends. "You know I remember…"
"Please don't start talking about the past. He's not dead." Athos interrupted him.
Porthos glared at him, then looked down at d'Artagnan. "Funny, Athos thought I was talking to him. He's egotistical that way." Athos rolled his eyes and returned to looking ahead. "Give me a minute while I set him straight." He turned back to Athos. "You don't have to listen or you can ride on ahead but don't think I didn't hear what Aramis told you." He nodded down at d'Artagnan. "He could take a turn for the worse if you leave his side now." Porthos can tell, even from behind, that Aramis was grinning at what he was saying.
"That's not what he said." Athos said, deadpanned.
"Pff…close enough." Porthos scoffed, "the point is I'm going to talk to d'Artagnan and he's going to listen. You can choose to ignore me."
Porthos looked back down at d'Artagnan. "Now, I remember the day you arrived at the garrison. I thought Athos was going easy on you but you were holding your own against him." He leaned over a little and whispered loudly, "Can you imagine how bruised his ego was? An experienced Musketeer versus a farm boy." Porthos sat back straight in his saddle. "Then you went and saved the idiot's life. Something else he probably wasn't happy about." He continued rambling on about their adventures.
Athos tried to block out Porthos's voice but it was hard when the subject of his words was d'Artagnan. He wanted to ride away but was scared that Porthos was right and that d'Artagnan would leave this world if he left his side. It was irrational. He knew that. It was the poison that was killing d'Artagnan not his absence. Athos couldn't help but chuckle when Porthos brought up d'Artagnan's protectiveness over his uniform when he first became a musketeer. He remembered how proud he was of d'Artagnan. He fought with his head, not his heart. D'Artagnan was a quick study. It rarely took more than a lesson to teach him a skill. "You were so calm that day." Athos whispered. It was so soft, Porthos wasn't sure he heard right. He looked at Aramis, who turned his head and shook it, telling Porthos not to interrupt Athos. "I watched you fight, LaBarge. You had so much anger but you kept calm. You used his strength against him and took him down like a Musketeer of ten years. We all knew from the moment you walked into the garrison that you would be among the best Musketeers." Athos didn't realise a tear had escaped his eye while he was talking. "My life was black before you walked through those gates. I don't want to go back there, d'Artagnan, so you cannot leave us. You must not." His last words were whispered with so much pain that Aramis felt air leave his lungs. D'Artagnan turned his head towards Athos. He wasn't awake, but it was as if he sensed Athos needed him.
Porthos's smile was filled with pride. "Even unconscious, he's watching your back."
The Musketeers stopped at an Inn in Versailles. The intention was for Aramis to stay there with d'Artagnan while Athos and Porthos took care of LeMont. It was the plan until d'Artagnan woke up when they were stabling their horses. "D'Artagnan." Aramis leaned over the cart and laid a hand against d'Artagnan's forehead. "You slept through the journey and your fever has remained steady."
"Are we at LeMont?" d'Artagnan took a few sips of water from the water skin Aramis held out for him.
"No. He lives on the outskirts of the city. We are at an Inn where you and I will be staying while…"
"NO!" D'Artagnan pushed himself up, groaning. He was stiff from laying on the hard surface for so long. "I'm coming."
"D'Artagnan…" Athos was about to reason with the boy.
"It's my life. I'm not sitting here." I'm spending the last hours of my life in a bed that is not mine, in a City that is not home, without my brothers with me, he thought to himself. "Please, Athos. Don't leave me here."
Athos looked to Aramis for advice, but he had none. For the benefit of his health, d'Artagnan should stay but with the poison inside him, he couldn't make him stay, knowing this could be the last time they may see him. Athos took a breath. "We're not taking the cart so you'll have to ride."
D'Artagnan chuckled, "Funny, I was going to say the same thing." He held his hand out. "Help me up." Athos and Porthos helped the boy out of the cart. "Was starting to think that damn cart was going to be my coffin. OW!" d'Artagnan glared at Porthos who had slapped him over the head.
"Stupid thing to say!" Porthos admonished. D'Artagnan grinned at him. Porthos was big but he was the most soft-heart man he'd ever met.
LeMont knelt at his son's grave behind his home. He had finally got his revenge. The Musketeer, Athos, is no doubt feeling the loss of a loved one. He will suffer just as Pierre had suffered. Now he could join his son in death. He could finally rest in peace. "Is he there, Andre? Is the boy, Athos cares about so much for, there with you? That is my present to you." He laughed the way a man who had lost his mind would.
D'Artagnan felt ready to fall off his horse by the time they reached LeMont's cottage. Aramis pulled his horse up to his. "You should stay back." He gasped when d'Artagnan turned to him. His face was pale, sweat rolled down his face and neck. He could see the boy trembling. It was a short ride here from the Inn and yet d'Artagnan looked as if he had ran here from Paris.
D'Artagnan shook his head, grimacing as the pain in his abdomen intensified. The medicine was wearing off. "I want to look…this man…in the eye."
Porthos's ear perked up. "Do you hear that?"
D'Artagnan didn't hear a thing. He could barely sense anything around him. Athos dismounted. There was laughter coming from the back of the house. Porthos got off as well. Athos gestured for him go around one side while he circled around the other side.
Aramis reached over and took d'Artagnan's reigns from him. D'Artagnan frowned but he didn't have the strength to protest. He wasn't even sure he could hold on for the antidote. They were so close. He reached into his jacket and pulled out the letter he wrote. He extended it to his friend. Aramis looked down at the parchment. "What is this?" He asked as he took it from his friend.
D'Artagnan could barely hold his head up. "Read it…after…" Aramis's reaction was lightning fast, jumping off his horse to catch d'Artagnan, as he lost his strength to remain on his horse.
"D'Artagnan!" Aramis called, lowering him the ground. It was a relief when he saw the boy was still conscious. "Stay with me, d'Artagnan." He looked down at his hand, still holding the parchment. He knew what he was holding. It was d'Artagnan's last words.
Athos and Porthos aimed their muskets at the man kneeling at a grave. The man didn't move, didn't acknowledge them. "Pierre LeMont." Athos called.
LeMont grinned maniacally at his son's grave. "Look who's here, Andre. It's the man who killed you." He cackled. "Do you see the pain in his eyes? He will live with this pain for the rest…of…his life!" He continued laughing, but it started sounding strange. Like he was gurgling. "They think they will have their revenge by coming here to kill me but you'll get the last laugh, won't you son?" Athos frowned. They were strange words. Porthos moved around the man so he could see the man's face but what he saw was horrifying. Blood ran down the man chin, in his stomach was a knife.
"NO!" Porthos holstered his musket. "He stabbed himself!" But before Porthos could even think of stemming the bleeding LeMont pulled the knife out and slit his own throat. "NO!" Athos and Porthos looked in shock as the man fell, bleeding to death in seconds. Athos dropped to his knees. He watched as d'Artagnan's last chance die right in front of him.
Aramis's grip tightened around his brother when he heard Porthos and Athos cry out. He knew that sound. It was the sound of lost hope. He didn't know what happened but he knew d'Artagnan's last chance was gone.
"This cannot be it." Porthos stumbled back in horror. "This is not it!"
"He's dead, Porthos." Athos stared at the dead body. Even in death the man was laughing, as he stared at his son's grave as if they were both having a laugh. Last laugh. "Last laugh." Athos whispered.
"What?" Porthos asked, confused.
"He said his son will get the last laugh. What did he mean?" Athos rose to his feet and walked up to the grave.
"Exactly that! D'Artagnan's dying. They won!" Porthos growled at the corpse.
Athos shook his head. "No, he specifically said his son would get the last laugh. Not himself."
Porthos shook his head. "So what?! I'm going back to see d'Artagnan…" He swallowed down the lump in his throat. "For the last time." He choked as he walked away.
Athos knelt next to the grave and fingered the soil in a spot at the foot of the grave stone. It was recently disturbed. "Porthos!" He called, clawing at the dirt.
Porthos turned and saw his friend digging frantically. "What the hell are you doing?!"
Athos stopped when his fingers hit something rectangular. He started brushing the away the dirt. "Something's here." He looked up at Porthos even as he continued to dig. Porthos looked at his friend sadly. Athos was grasping at straws. It was not uncommon to bury something special at the foot of a gravestone. Athos finally loosened the box, pulling it out. He puffed as he held it in his hands. Cautiously, he opened the box.
Aramis rocked as he hugged his brother to his chest. D'Artagnan hasn't responded to him for the past five minutes. "D'Artagnan, you have to wake up. Athos cannot come back to find you gone. You cannot rob him of his last words to you." He buried in head in d'Artagnan shoulder, his tears soaking into d'Artagnan jacket. "Please." His grip tightened as he begged his friend to come back. "D'ARTAGNAN!" Aramis threw his head back, yelling at the Gods above them.
"We have it!" Porthos yelled as he and Athos rushed from behind the house. Aramis's head swung towards them in disbelief.
"We have it!" Athos dropped to his knees beside his brothers. He looked at d'Artagnan looking lifeless in Aramis's arms. "Is he…"
Aramis shook his head. There was still hope. "He is still breathing…barely." He snatched the vial from Athos. "Take him!" Athos quickly wrapped his arms around d'Artagnan. Aramis grabbed his medical bag and pulled out a contraption he'd never used but saw it used once by an English practioner. "Lay him down and open his shirt." Athos did as he was asked, not taking his eyes off the device Aramis was holding.
Porthos shook at the contraption. "What is that for?"
"Something I was given." Athos and Porthos watched in fascination as Aramis filled the device with the contents in the vial. "It's too late for d'Artagnan to ingest this. It'll take too long for the antidote to take effect. This will send it straight into his heart."
"You're going to stab him in the heart with that! We are trying to save him, not kill him!" Porthos yelled, incredulously.
Aramis placed his hand on d'Artagnan's chest and pointed the needle to where his heart was. He looked at his friends, waiting for their approval. Porthos nodded and then turned away, unable to watch. Athos looked down at d'Artagnan's pale face. "Do it!" He winced as the needle went straight in and the plunger deployed. Aramis pulled the syringe out and waited.
"Now what?" Athos asked when nothing happened.
"Now we wait." Aramis told them.
They returned to the inn. They couldn't wait outside LeMont's home and they didn't want to wait inside. It felt wrong, so they rode back to the inn. There was no change in d'Artagnan, for good or bad. Aramis tried to reassure his friends. He should be dead by now. The words were not as reassuring as he had hoped, even to his own ears. After a day passed with little change, Athos started losing hope again. Aramis could see the man lose himself to despair. That night, Athos got up to leave the room. Aramis knew where he was going and stopped him. "Before you drown yourself in wine, please let me read this. I want you sober, so you can understand it."
"What is it, Aramis?" Athos growled, "Don't waste my time."
"Are d'Artagnan's last words a waste of your time?" Aramis challenged. Porthos sat up at the parchment Aramis was holding. "He gave it to me before he lost his strength to hold on any longer."
Athos slowly sat back in his seat. His eyes still on the parchment. He was scared to hear the words but he couldn't leave without hearing them. Aramis took a deep breath and unfolded the parchment. "To my Dearest Brothers, life is never dull with you in it." Aramis tried his hardest to keep his voice from shaking, "I never knew how unfulfilled my life was until I came to Paris with my father. Who would have thought a Gascon farmboy could be a King's Musketeer? But I became so much more than that. I was acceptable among the Three Inseperables. You considered me your brother and that is the greatest honour. I have learned so much from each of you." Aramis wiped away the tears before he continued. He looked up at Porthos.
you are a big man whom which enemies cower upon seeing but little do they know that your heart is just as big. I have never met a more kind-hearted man than you, Porthos. I may tease you about your inability to court women but the woman who will win your heart, will be the most fortunate woman in all of France, for she has the most precious gift in you. I am a better man for knowing you, Porthos. Please do not let my passing darken your heart. I cannot bear the thought of that.
Porthos reached over to d'Artagnan and took his hand in his. "I am the one who is a better man." He whispered. "I promise you; I will live my life and be the man you speak of."
Aramis looked down. The next part was addressed to himself.
You are a man who sees this world so clearly. You love with all your heart, even though there are times when I wished you wouldn't love so many at once. And yet, for a man who loves so much, you are not blinded by it. Your mind is clear. When I am in battle I look to you because amidst all the chaos, you are calm. If not for your words, I would not have put aside my anger and followed you to find my father's killer. You have shown me that there are times when words can wield more power than any sword. Even as I am writing now, I am thinking of what you would say, what words would Aramis use because I need his guidance to guide my brothers through the road ahead, without me. I need you, Aramis, more than ever, I need you now.
Aramis wiped away his tears, knowing what d'Artagnan needed of him. He needed Aramis for his next words, written to the man he respected the most. "I am with you, d'Artagnan." He turned to Athos, who knew it was his turn. It took all his will power to not run away. "Athos…" Aramis spoke softly.
I lost my only family when my father was killed. The name he spoke with his dying breath was Athos. I knew that name would define my road ahead, but I was wrong about how it would define it. Your name lead me to the Musketeers and never, for one moment, have I regretted walking through those gates, as much as my motivation on that day was sadly misplaced. Athos the name, lead me to the Musketeers but it is the man who has made me who I am today and I pray that you are proud of who I have become. You are my mentor and my best friend and I die with no regrets, but one. There is a darkness in your heart that I fear will claim you when I pass and so this is the time where I pray what Aramis has taught me does not fail me. I will always be with you, Athos, no matter if I am on this world or another. You will see and feel me every day. Please, don't try to drown me with wine. I am not there to remind you of what you have lost but why you must live. I am a Musketeer. I am a Musketeer because of you. Please keep me alive by being the Musketeer I know you are. Don't forget me, Athos.
Athos stumbled as he made his way over to d'Artagnan. "How can I forget you?" He gripped d'Artagnan's hand in his.
"There is more." Aramis continued reading.
My brothers, I cannot ask you not to mourn for me but please do not do so for long. I will be taking every step you take until the time comes when we will meet again. You are my brothers in every way but in blood. Being a King's Musketeer has been a honour but being your brother is and forever will be my highest achievement.
All for One and One for All.
Aramis stood, walking over to d'Artagnan. Athos reluctantly stood, giving Aramis his place next to d'Artagnan. Aramis folded the parchment and slipped it into d'Artagnan's shirt, resting his hand on the boy's chest. "We have read your letter. We have heard your words. Now you must hear mine. I will honour your words. I promise you Athos will not spiral into darkness as long as I am alive." He turned to Athos, daring the man to contradict him. Athos didn't. He nodded, promising he will do the same. "But you must fight! Every reasonable thought in my head tells me you should be dead right now, but you are not. The poison should have caused your body to shut down but you are still breathing. You are still breathing because even though you write that you are ready to leave this world, you are not ready. Those are words written for our benefit." Aramis's hand took a fist full of d'Artagnan's shirt. "You have not done all that you need. You still have too much to give, d'Artagnan. So fight! The poison has not killed you yet and it will not! Wake up, d'Artagnan!"
They waited in silence for d'Artagnan to respond to Aramis's plea but he did not. They waited. Minutes became hours and hours became days. Three to be exact. On the third day, while the Three Inseperables slept into the late morning of the day, letting their exhaustion take over, the man in the bed stirred. His eyes fluttered as he woke from his long slumber. At first, all he saw was the blurry ceiling of a room. He was too disoriented to realise he was laying on his back. He closed his eyes to clear his mind and his vision. When he opened them again, everything was clear. He turned his head. A smile tugged at his lips. His brothers were asleep in chairs around him. Athos was the closest with his feet on the bed. Aramis and Porthos had their heads on their arms at the table. It was a nice feeling to be protected by three older brothers. D'Artagnan would never admit it but there were times when he enjoyed their over-protectiveness. This was one of those times. He was tired enough to go back to sleep but judging by the looks on his brothers' faces, he had probably been asleep for a few days now. D'Artagnan lifted his hand and grabbed the foot on his bed, giving it a shake.
Athos opened one sleepy eye at the disturbance of his sleep. He rubbed out the sleep in his eyes, clearing his view of whatever was still shaking his foot. It was getting irritating. He pulled his foot away, ready to unleash his wrath on him when he saw d'Artagnan grinning at him. "You were never a morning person." D'Artagnan croaked.
"d'Artagnan!" Athos gasped, moving over to the bed. "How are you feeling?" d'Artagnan frowned. Athos was calmer than he expected. When d'Artagnan didn't say anything, only looked at him, confused, Athos yelled. "Aramis!" d'Artagnan jolted at the sudden call.
Aramis and Porthos shot up in their chairs, shocked awake. "What?" Their hands went to their swords.
"Aramis, get over here. There's something wrong with d'Artagnan." Athos barked.
D'Artagnan grinned at the scene. This was the Athos he knew. Aramis pulled at Athos but the man shoved him off. "Athos, if you want me to look at d'Artagnan then get out..." He pulled at Athos again and shoved him towards Porthos, "of the way!" Aramis, finally getting a view of d'Artagnan, huffed, and then narrowed his eyes at d'Artagnan's smile. "Athos, you and I have a very different definition of 'something wrong'." d'Artagnan chuckled softly at that. Aramis gave his own smile. "You look considerably better." He reached down to check d'Artagnan's fever. "It's about time your fever broke."
Porthos leaned forward and peaked over Aramis's shoulder. D'Artagnan grinned at the big man. "Porthos." The low rumbling laughter he loved so much bubbled from Porthos's chest. D'Artagnan laughed when Aramis was unceremoniously thrown aside, almost stumbling to the floor.
"Come here." Porthos ordered, pulling d'Artagnan up. "I thought we'd lost you for good." He whispered as he embraced his friend.
D'Artagnan smiled at his mentor, leaning against the wall, trying to show that he wasn't at all concerned. The man wasn't fooling anyone. "Can't get rid of me that easily." He answered Porthos even though he was looking straight at d'Artagnan. "Although, there may have been a moment of doubt." Porthos pulled back. D'Artagnan smiled suspiciously at the cheeky grin. "What…" Suddenly, Porthos jumped back holding a parchment in his hand.
"Like when you wrote this?" Porthos teased.
D'Artagnan's smile faded when he recognised the parchment. "That's…" He threw himself forward, reaching for his letter.
"D'Artagnan!" Aramis and Athos called as the young man started falling off the bed. Athos bolted forward, catching him before he could hit the floor. Aramis stepped forward and slapped Porthos over the head. "He just woke up! The teasing couldn't wait?!" Porthos shrugged, looking a little sheepish.
Athos propped up the pillows behind d'Artagnan and gently laid him back. "Are you alright?" He asked softly.
D'Artagnan's eyes showed that he was tired but it also showed he was unimpressed. "Did you read it?"
Athos winced, "Technically, Aramis read it…I just listened."
D'Artagnan groaned, "I was supposed to be dead first."
Aramis chuckled, "Would you rather be dead or embarrassed?"
D'Artagnan glared at him, "I'll get back to you on that."
"Alright," Athos laughed, "Let's get back to our original question; how are you feeling?"
D'Artagnan was about to answer when Aramis stopped him. "Wait, the question needs to be more specific." He thought about it and then pointed at d'Artagnan. "On a scale from zero to ten, zero being no pain and ten being extremely painful, how are you stomach pains?" d'Artagnan looked at him blankly. "Well?"
D'Artagnan looked at Athos, "Is he serious?"
Athos shrugged, "Your answers do tend to have broad definitions." D'Artagnan sighed, subjecting himself to the annoying question. He answered them truthfully because he could see how close he came to death by looking at his friends faces. They covered it up well by joking but he could see how shaken they were by his very near death.
Athos pulled the blanket up to d'Artagnan's shoulder. The young man had fallen asleep straight after being questioned. "That was more of an interrogation." D'Artagnan had complained before dropping off. Aramis and Porthos were getting ready for tomorrow's journey back to the garrison and getting tonight's dinner. Aramis had decided after his interrogation that d'Artagnan was well enough to ride so long as the ride was slow. It may mean the journey would be twice as long but it was better than waiting here. D'Artagnan longed to be home and so did they. Athos smiled at the content expression on d'Artagnan's face as he slept. It made him forget that d'Artagnan was an experience Musketeer who has seen more death than Athos cared to admit. Something in d'Artagnan urged him to protect him. There was a spark in him that never seemed to die no matter how much death or injustice witnessed. He believed so strongly in the Musketeers that no amount of pain could break that faith. Athos prayed he does not live to see the day that light leaves d'Artagnan's eyes for it must be dark indeed to kill it. "I need you, d'Artagnan. Every now and then I need a reminder of why I do what I do. You're my reminder. So try not to do this again to me. I only have so many years left, I don't want to use the all up on stressing over you."
It was nightfall by the time d'Artagnan and the Three Musketeers arrived at the Garrison gate. D'Artagnan was ready to fall out of his saddle when he saw his home standing before him. The last time he saw the garrison he truly did not believe he would be returning here alive. "I'm home." His three brothers smiled at the look on d'Artagnan's face. He was pale and a fever was most probably developing again because of the strain the ride put on his already weak body, but the boy knew he was exactly where he wanted to be and it was written all over his face.
As soon as d'Artagnan rode through the gates, a cheer erupted within the walls of the garrison. D'Artagnan grinned as he looked around at his fellow Musketeers. He was finally home. He was finally among his adopted family. "Are you planning to get down or stay there all night?" d'Artagnan looked down to find Captain Treville looking up at him.
D'Artagnan smiled and nodded. "Good to see you, Captain."
"Not as good as it is to see you." Treville smiled. "Now get down. You look like you're going to fall over."
"Yes, Sir!" d'Artagnan swung his leg back to dismount, however, it was more of a drop than a dismount. Treville had braced himself for the fall, catching him from behind. "Oops." The captain chuckled at the child-like blunder.
"I'll take him, Captain." Porthos came up to them, ready to take d'Artagnan back to his room.
"One moment." Treville requested. He steadied d'Artagnan before turning him around so that he could see the boy's face. The Captain smiled as he took in the man in front of him. He laid a hand on d'Artagnan's shoulder, the other hand came up and gripped the back of his neck. "How many lives do you have, boy?"
"As many as you need, Sir." D'Artagnan laughed.
"Go and get some rest." He looked around at his best men in the regiment. "All of you. I need my men back out there."
"Yes, Captain!" Porthos took d'Artagnan by the upper arm and lead him to the steps. Aramis placed a hand on his back, assuring d'Artagnan that his brothers have his back. Athos nodded to his captain before following.
D'Artagnan stumbled at the top of the staircase, his knees buckling. Aramis's arm wrapped around his back while Porthos pulled his arm across his shoulder without missing a beat.
That night, the Musketeers had the most restful sleep in a long, long time…in d'Artagnan's room.
Three days later…
Aramis watched the sparring match while he had his lunch. He was keeping a close eye on d'Artagnan. No doubt Athos was taking it easy on the young man. It was his first spar since his return. Porthos leaned back against the table and groaned. "I'm bored. This is not a spar, it's exercise. Athos is barely giving d'Artagnan a challenge."
Aramis rolled his eyes. "If d'Artagnan and Athos had their usual sparring match, d'Artagnan will be back in his bed by the end of it."
"He should be falling asleep right now, that match is so boring." Porthos droned.
"If you're so bored, go find someone to train with." Aramis watch d'Artagnan stumble for the fifth time that morning. He got up, about to call a stop when Athos beat him to it.
"I think you've enough for the morning. Go eat and then rest." Athos ordered, gently pushing d'Artagnan toward the table.
D'Artagnan took the towel Aramis handed him as he took his seat. Bread and broth was put in front of him while he wipe away the sweat around his neck and face. "You know you can stop mothering me now, Aramis. I'm much better." D'Artagnan dipped a piece of bread into the soup. "I don't feel any pain in my stomach or get any headaches anymore. I haven't felt dizzy. I'm good." He looked at Aramis when the man didn't say anything. He sighed and turned back to his food. "You're not going to listen to me, are you?"
Aramis laughed, "You know me so well."
D'Artagnan smiled. He was too tired to argue with Aramis and he realised that this was one of those times when he didn't mind his brothers being over-protective. Aramis looked at him, strangely. "Your brush with death has changed you. You would still be arguing with me if it were any other time."
"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, Aramis." Athos warned.
"I was only wondering if this new d'Artagnan was here to stay." Aramis queried.
D'Artagnan shrugged, "Almost dying does change a man."
Porthos spoke with a straight face, "Tell me about it. You wrote us a love letter." Athos and Aramis burst out laughing. D'Artagnan glared at Porthos, his hand slowly moving towards his sword. Porthos's grin slowly faded as d'Artagnan's expression grew dangerous. Porthos put his hand out, slowly raising out of his seat. Athos and Aramis were grinning, ready for the show. "Now, d'Artagnan, you don't want to do anything that will land you back in that bed." He looked at Aramis for help. "Tell him, Aramis."
Aramis shrugged, "A little exercise won't hurt."
Porthos took a few quick steps back and started circling the table. D'Artagnan slowly followed. "I wrote that letter thinking I was going to die."
"And it was a very nice l…l…letter." Porthos stuttered. "It had a lot of…nice…nice words about me." He continued teasing. He could never help himself.
"I take them all back." D'Artagnan chased him to the other side of the table.
"You can't take it back." Porthos side stepped, countering d'Artagnan's moves. "You wrote it down on paper…" They ran around again. "…in ink! Do you know how that works?" Aramis and Athos couldn't stop their laughter until a dagger went flying past them and imbedded itself into the stair's wooden rail.
Porthos stared at the dagger and then swung his head back to d'Artagnan. "Are you trying to kill me?!"
"You think I'm holding my sword for fun?" d'Artagnan yelled, he tried climbing over the table when Athos quickly grabbed him, holding him back.
Aramis got up and moved so that he was standing in front of Porthos. "d'Artagnan, you know whatever Porthos thinks, comes out of his mouth. There is no filter."
"I'll remember to engrave that on his tombstone!" D'Artagnan pulled at Athos's grip on him.
"Which you won't need to do for a very long time." Athos told him. D'Artagnan glared at him. Athos forced a smile at Porthos. "Because Porthos is going to give his word that he will not speak of the letter again." Athos dared Porthos to contradict him.
Aramis turned to Porthos when the big man said nothing. He elbowed the man. Porthos grunted before groaning. "I give my word."
Athos waited until d'Artagnan put his sword away before he letting him go. He then turned his back on the others and gripped d'Artagnan's forearm, getting his attention. D'Artagnan turned to him. Athos patted his own jacket pocket where he kept d'Artagnan's letter. "I would not have drowned your memory in wine." He whispered. D'Artagnan was surprised at the words. "And I am proud of the man you've become." Athos smiled when he felt the boy relax. "Now finish your lunch. Aramis is going to have an aneurism if you get any paler."
Aramis narrowed his eyes at the exchange that seemed to completely reverse d'Artagnan state of mind. He smiled when d'Artagnan sat to finish his lunch. Aramis's smile tightened as he remembered the idiot standing behind him. He sat Porthos down. "Behave!" He ordered.
Porthos pouted, "You know I only tease the people I love."
D'Artagnan couldn't help but chuckle at Porthos's expression. "You know I don't kill the people I love."
The four of them paused, looking at each other amused before bursting out laughing. Finally the Musketeers' Garrison was complete again.