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TM Fic - The Shadow of Tomorrow - Part 2

Athos icon (used with permission) by Larmay



Tréville greeted Athos and Porthos in the courtyard, taking their horses.  “The arm is nothing, Aramis grabbed a bar and set it himself, I had only to bind it.  But he’s failing rapidly.  I let him go too long.  I should have put a stop to his going back out again in the evenings.”

We couldn’t even stop ‘m, Cap’in,” Porthos ground out.  “You might have ordered him, but it would have tore him apart to sit around twiddlin’ his thumbs when he could be out lending a hand where needed.  It was a no win situation, sir.”  He tossed his reins to the captain and headed straight for the barracks, leaving Athos to finish the report to Tréville. 

“It is true; no amount of cajolery on our part could keep him off the streets.  Thank you for sending reinforcements to relieve us, but Porthos and I could have stayed on.”

“Somehow I doubt Porthos would find it in his heart to forgive me if something happened to Aramis and he was not here.”  Tréville collected Athos’ reins as well.  “If it came to it,” he glanced sideways at the man he considered his second-in-command, “neither would you.”

“There is likely some truth in that, though without malice aforethought, sir.”

“Yes, I understand that, too.  d’Artagnan would not allow us to take Aramis to the surgery or the common room.”  Which, out of necessity, they’d turned into a makeshift infirmary. “They are in d’Artagnan’s room; he muttered something about it being the least cluttered as he’s had less time to accumulate things.”

“Perhaps we should move him to my quarters,” Athos considered aloud, trying to think through what such a move would entail.

“Not now, he’s in no shape to be moved.  What is this?” Tréville asked, looking over his shoulder as a laden wagon rolled to a stop under the arch.

“The queen, sir.  She thought we might be in need of supplies.”

“A wagon load?”  Tréville eyed the mounded wagon suspiciously. 

“Yes, sir, she was …” Athos considered his words carefully, “feeling she had been remiss in not sending supplies when this first hit the garrison.  Thus – a wagon load.”
“I see.” Tréville lifted an eyebrow.  “Is there anything else you need to tell me?”

“No, sir,” Athos replied, looking his superior in the eye as he lied without flinching.  He could at least make certain the treasonous ax fell on as few as possible if it ever came to light.  “d’Artagnan?” he inquired, changing the subject with the surety of a noble well used to politics, though he had never spent time at court as the Comte de la Fere. 

“The boy is exhausted, but shows no signs of the illness.  I could not pry him from Aramis’ side; perhaps he will listen to you.”

“Doubtful.  But I will make certain he rests.” 

“Go,” the captain tilted his head toward the barracks.  “I know you are as anxious as Porthos.”

“Thank you, sir.”  Athos delayed no further, following in Porthos’ footsteps, taking the stairs two at a time, apprehension driving back his own weariness for the moment.
“Where is he?” he snapped, no more had the door opened and closed behind him.  They all understood the time line of the illness, not only had Aramis explained it a number of times, they’d witnessed it innumerable times among their own companions. 

“Started sweatin’ already,” Porthos reported without turning.  He was leaning over Aramis, a damp cloth in his hand, blotting at the sweat-dampened hair.  “If he follows the others, the heat will begin soon.”

Athos slumped back against the door for just a moment before pushing off.  “Do you think it would help if we wrapped him in cold sheets?”

In their experience, most of the deaths happened during the heat sequence, as though the sensory systems in the body burnt to a crisp. 

Porthos tilted his head consideringly.  “Might.  Worth a try at least.”

“The queen sent ice.”

d’Artagnan was up instantly from where he knelt on the opposite side of the bed from Porthos.  “I’ll get it, and sheets and water, too.”

“Set someone to chipping at that ice block so it can be shared around,” Athos called after the departing youth. 

“Will do,” d’Artagnan returned, already halfway down the stairs. 

They knew so little about healing, this might just push the regulatory systems over the edge and cause death by shock.  Athos had no idea what the risks were in trying this, but he did know the odds if all they did was sit around and pray; they were no better than fifty fifty. 

It appeared neither the Catholics nor the Huguenots were winning the war, both sides were equally decimated. 

Besieged, but not without resources, they set to with a will, determined to battle through the siege and win the campaign.  Except Porthos fell in the middle of the battle, dropping at d’Artagnan’s feet as he brought up a bucket of fresh water. 

d’Artagnan didn’t even glance up, just rolled Aramis to the side of the bed and wrestled their much larger companion onto the bed as well.  It wasn’t so small as to require only friends with benefits occupy its configuration, but it was definitely a snug fit for more than one occupant. 

“’m sorry,” Porthos mumbled, fighting the chills doggedly, attempting to assist as much as he was able through the pain piercing like lances in every extremity. 

“Two down,” d’Artagnan reported grimly as Athos brought in a new bucket of ice chips.  “Do not dare fail on me, too.”

Athos made no comment, merely began stripping off Porthos’ clothing before throwing a blanket over him.  The big man was shivering uncontrollably, teeth clamped against chattering and the moans trying to escape as every limb spasmed with cramps.  Aramis lay in a swoon, giving off enough heat he might have cooked an egg if he’d had the strength to hold it between his hands. 

“Do you suppose if we rolled them together, they might cancel each other?” d’Artagnan asked wearily, and not entirely facetiously.

“If only.” Athos tossed another blanket on the floor.  “Neither of us is going to last long enough to see them both through this.  Get some rest, I will wake you in an hour or two.”  He did not say – if I am still on my feet - though the thought crossed his mind.

The youth’s accession without argument worried him almost as much as Aramis’ high temperature.  d’Artagnan did not so much lie down as melt into the floor, pulling the blanket under his cheek as he went down.  Athos spread another over top of him, stepped out to retrieve more blankets – the queen’s wagon load of supplies had included a secondary supply, thankfully – set another over Porthos and returned to replacing the rapidly drying linens wrapped like bandages around their healer, with new ones dunked in ice water. 

Methodically he changed the wrappings, checked Porthos, who advanced rapidly to the sweating stage as well, and began wrapping him in cold cloths too. 

Perhaps it was weariness, but with each passing hour - and he did not wake d’Artagan - an insidious thought began to work its way to the surface.  Escape this way would be so very easy. No loss of honor, no regrets.  He could lay down the burden that weighed so heavily, with an easy conscience. 

The longer he toiled alone, the easier it was to look at the thought directly and consider the consequences.  His shoes would not be so hard to fill, it would not be long before d’Artagnan could fill them admirably, and either Aramis or Porthos could step seamlessly into them now.  He was not so far gone as to fall into the despair of thinking he would not be missed, he knew full well his companions would mourn him as if he had fallen in battle. 

But oh it was tempting to linger in the soothing balm of knowing forgetfulness lay upon the threshold.  He felt the internal strife as Aramis fought to live, knew Porthos would fight just as hard, as would d’Artagnan if the foulness touched his as well, though the youth might yet escape its clutching clasp. 

A hand snaking around his wrist jerked Athos back to the reality of the stinking room. 

“Don’t go there,” Aramis croaked, digging his hot, sweaty fingers into the wrist he grasped with as much strength as he could muster. 

“I am going nowhere.”  Athos pried the fingers lose and bent over his friend, peeling back first one eyelid, then the other, as he’d seen Aramis do with his patients.  “Does this mean you have turned the corner?  What am I looking for?”

“Pupils … normal.  Dot … center of … eye.”

“I am acquainted with pupils,” Athos replied, the merest hint of humor coloring his words.  “Yours appear to be returning to normal, though they are still a little engorged.” 

“Worst …  think the worst … is past.  Porthos?  The puppy?”

“d’Artagnan is sleeping, Porthos has reached the sweating stage.” 

“He’ll be … fine.”

“Yes, he will.  Now stop talking, you are not yet strong enough to prattle like this.” Athos laid a finger across the still hot, dry, and cracking lips. 

Aramis struggled to free his uninjured arm from the wrappings.  “Where’s my … bag?”

Athos turned so he could search the small room.  “Shelf in the armoire.  Why?”

“Oint…ment,” Aramis reached to touch Porthos huddled beneath a pile of blankets.  “Constitution … of a… horse.”

Athos rose to retrieve the bag, returned and sat down to rummage for the pot of salve he’d watched Aramis apply to the lips of a number of his patients as well.  “Fortunately, you are blessed with the constitution of an ox.”  He opened the jar, stabbed a finger inside and applied the salve with a sensitivity usually reserved for their puppy.

Aramis sighed and closed his eyes, grateful for that small bit of relief.  “We’ll be alright.”

Athos did not respond.   Porthos flailed an arm over the side of the bed, smacking d’Artagnan, who came fluidly to his knees, only waking fully as his hands encountered the cool cloths hobbling Porthos. 

Dawn was breaking, the first faint flush of color painting the piece of sky visible through the window.  It would not be long before the lesser heat of the night gave way to the scorching blaze of day. 

“Why didn’t you wake me?” d’Artagnan clambered to his feet, rubbing aching eyes.  He read the answer in the raised eyebrow directed at him.  “Right.  Allow me to return the favor.  There are empty beds everywhere, go find one.”

Athos turned back to his task.  “I will have plenty of time to rest shortly, I am sure.”

d’Artagnan made no effort to keep the plaintive note from his voice as he plunked himself down on the edge of the bed beside Porthos.  “Here I thought I’d finally earned your trust.” He did not wait for an answer, mostly because he was purposely baiting his elder.  “How are they?”  The youth turned a pensive gaze on Athos, thoroughly inspecting the haggard features in the soft light of the new dawn.  “And you?  You do not look well at all.” 

“Do not be ridiculous.  This has nothing to do with trust; I am beyond the capacity for rest.  It is only a matter of time before this strikes me as well, until then, I will do what I can for the others.  We could use some more ice and I would appreciate it if you would check on Tréville.  Aramis may be interested in food in a bit as well, if Serge is still on his feet.” 

d’Artagnan bent over to check on Porthos, muttering under his breath.  Athos ignored him, though he sighed again, as the youth closed the door quietly behind himself a very few moments later. 

Aramis opened his eyes again.  “He only wants … to do his part.  You … you need to let him.”

Athos turned his comte look on their healer.  “Already anxiety begins to oppress my mind.  It will not be long before he has all of us on his hands.  And you are not to rise from your sick bed to assist him.”

Aramis’ irrepressible grin was more like a ghost of its usual quick flash, but it made a brief appearance.  “There is not room for three of us in this bed.”

“I will occupy the pallet d’Artagnan has vacated on the floor.”

Aramis’ lips twitched, but he said nothing.  They would see who won that battle when the time came.  He drifted back off to sleep, unaware that Athos continued to change out the cold linens, though with longer and longer between changes.
 

d’Artagnan returned with a new bucket of ice and a tray wafting the inviting scent of warm buns drenched in honey.   He set the tray in the armoire and went to work silently exchanging Porthos’ sweat-soaked wrappings for the set waiting in the bucket of melted ice water. 

He was there still an hour later, when Athos’ fingers quit working.  d’Artagnan was around the end of the bed faster than a cat could lick its whiskers, reaching to support him as he tried to stand and his knees buckled beneath him. 

“Floo’,” Athos ordered indistinctly.  “Jus’ he’p me t’the floo’.”

Aramis, who had woken with the sudden commotion, though there had been little noise, slid over the edge of the bed and crawled, one-armed, around to the blankets still on the floor where d’Artagnan had left them.  He dropped like a stone.  “I will be up soon to lend a hand,” he stated firmly, though the hoarseness of his voice somewhat undermined the authority. 

“Right,” d’Artagnan agreed acerbically.  “In case you’ve missed it, friend, you’re barely this side of the grave,” adding as he covered Athos with a blanket and tucked it in securely, “not that I’m not thankful for your Lazarus impression.”

Aramis adjusted the blanket rolled up for a pillow under his neck.  “Don’t allow Athos to take the easy way out,” he said cryptically.  “Keep him cool, and make him drink.  Porthos should be turning the corner shortly.  Let him sleep.  Wake me if necessary.”  Between one shallow breath and the next he slipped into a deep, recuperative sleep himself. 

Athos’ condition deteriorated so quickly, it did not take long for Aramis’ words to acquire meaning.  d’Artagnan could not hear the siren song luring the Comte de le Fere, but he sensed its silken threads weaving like a spider web around the Musketeer.

He was on his own for only the second time since leaving home and while he was not standing with a dagger in his hand in the door of a dead man’s room, he understood that fate held a dagger that could severe the ties that bound a tortured soul to this mortal coil.  If he could not turn it aside, he would lose a friend who, in a very short time, had become crucial to his own well being.

He could not follow to untangle those threads, nor wield a physical sword that would slice through the thickening cocoon.   d’Artagnan felt his lack of experience like a blade to his own heart.  What had Aramis said – and had it just been this morning? No, it had been yesterday morning; but neither audacity nor charm would get him through this ordeal.

Porthos woke to a droning monologue that at any other time would have amused him no end, now it just irritated him.  He swatted an arm at the endless stream of sound pouring into his sore ears and aching head.

“Shhhhhhup,” he slurred on a heavy sigh, shifting in an attempt to find a comfortable position, only to find the bed occupied by a too-warm body.  “G’way.” The droning increased in volume before fading away as he drifted back to sleep, unaware that his brief foray into consciousness had relived their youthful compatriot no end.

d’Artagnan’s hands kept up the mundane tasks he had set them to long after his mind shut down, massaging knotted and cramped muscles, soothing, changing out cooling wraps until his hands were chapped from the water and his jaw aching from so many words.  But the words continued too, long after thought ceased.

Aramis woke to that nearly incoherent string of mumbled words around sunset.  He sat up, yawning as he scrubbed his face, wondering why he’d woken on the floor and why, for heaven’s sake, every muscle in his body protested the slightest movement.  He sat for a bit, head in his hands, then finally shook off the plaguey lethargy, raising his head to look for the source of that annoying buzzing. 

“God,” Porthos put a hand to his head, as he too woke.  “That was the worst nightmare ever.  What the hell is that noise?”

Aramis propped his good arm on the bed and laid his heavy head on it.  “At least one of them is still breathing.”

At some point during the long afternoon, d’Artagnan had lost the battle with his equilibrium.  He was sprawled half on and half off the bed, his right arm flung across Athos’ chest, fingers entwined in the cloth over the elder Musketeer’s heart.

Porthos flung an arm out, smacking Aramis.   “One still yammerin’.  Mus’ be th’ pu’py.  At’os?”

“Ow.  Yes, it is d’Artagnan mumbling,” Aramis observed, squeezing his eyes shut.  “Headache?”

“Worst ‘angover evah,” Porthos grumbled.  “Or di’ som’body ‘it me again?” 

“No, we’ve all been sick,” Aramis reminded, shoving at the hand that now rested on his head. 

“Oh yeah.  Sick,” Porthos echoed, holding his head on with the hand Aramis had shoved off as he heaved himself up so he could lean against the headboard.  “Sick,” he repeated.  “Sure feels like I got kicked in the head.” 

“I can relate,” Aramis murmured assent.  “Check Athos.  Is he breathing?”

“Can’t get the puppy off ‘em.”  Porthos heaved at the back of d’Artagan’s shirt, to no avail.  “‘e’s making m’ teeth hurt with all that noise, but I’m not sure ‘e even knows ‘es makin’ it.” When strength failed, he reached around the mumbling youth.  “Athos?”  He found a pulse at the juncture of jaw and throat.  “’earts beatin’ still,” he reported. 

“Good.” Aramis shoved off the bed, but no further than the bed roll he’d just tried to abandon.  “Any idea…” God, he was tired, thoughts floated away before he could get them out of his head and off his tongue.  A head shake only made it worse and he gave up trying to rise just for the moment.  “Athos – still hot?”

“Feels like, though not so hot he’s burnin’ up with it anymore.”

“Pour some water down his throat if you can.  I’ll get it if you can’t, don’t worry.”  Aramis made an effort to relax the stupid taunting muscles flexed to capacity but unable to keep him upright.  “I’ll just be a minute or two more, then I need you to move down here so I can get d’Artagnan into the bed.  Is he hot yet?”

“Not so much.  If I had the strength, I’d knock ‘em out, though, just to shut him up.”

Aramis was quiet for a several heartbeats before observing softly.  “He may well have been the link that kept Athos among us.  You’ve seen the toll this has taken on our comte.”

Porthos grimaced.  “Yer thinkin’ he might have taken the easy way out?”

“Noblemen are funny that way.  I’m thinking if this had happened before d’Artagnan joined us…” Aramis let the thought trail off.  Porthos wouldn’t need it spelled out.

“Well ain’t that just fine and dandy.  What are we?  Boiled potatoes?”

Aramis smiled and felt renewed strength creeping back with the bit of humor.  “Hungry? I vaguely remember d’Artagnan bringing up rolls several hours ago. Or maybe that was yesterday. Don’t know where they got to, but a minute more and I’ll hunt for them if you like.”

“Always hungry,” Porthos admitted, yawning.  “Aramis?”

“Hmmm?”

“Just … I might still be under the shadow of tomorrow, too, ya know, if you weren’t around.”

Aramis sat up, realizing for the first time he was wearing only his birthday suit.  “Likewise my friend.”  He let a pregnant silence fill the room as they both contemplated a realm without their boon companions, then broke it in inimitable style.  “I don’t suppose you remember where our clothes got to?”

“Dunno.”  Porthos opened his eyes, moving his entire head to scan the room, since it hurt like hot pokers to move his eyeballs.  “Wait, maybe the armoire.  Looks like couple a shirts at least.”

“Good.  Another minute and I’ll be good to go.”

“Say when, m’legs are like noodles, but I’ll get down there if I havta roll meself.”

Another twenty minutes passed before Aramis scraped together enough energy to attempt rising again.  He abandoned the blanket after the second attempt to wrap it around his middle.  The losing battle was eating up too much of his meager energy.  The armoire yielded up clean shirt and britches, and he sat heavily on the foot of the bed in the space Porthos had gruntingly vacated, to pull them on.  He would have liked to bathe before dressing, but they were at least another day from being done with this and such niceties would have to wait. 

“You gonna be okay down there?  I think the room on the right is empty, you could sleep in that bed.”

“Nah, I’m good.” Porthos stretched aching limbs like he hadn’t been able to do in the bed with a companion.  “How long ‘fore we’ll be be’ter?”

Aramis rose again and moved around the bed to bend over their puppy.  “Come on,” he shook the youth slightly, eliciting a groan, though the mumbling recommenced immediately.  “d’Artagnan!” He did not shake him again, vague memories of his own experience with this first awful stage of the illness reminding him to be gentle.  “Feet.”  He shuffled the Gascon’s feet together with his own foot, keeping hold of the collar he’d grasped in order to pull d’Artagnan off Athos.  “Good job.  Now – UP!” He hefted with what strength he had, and d’Artagnan, still coherent enough to know he was being prodded to stand, struggled to his feet. 

‘Aramis,” he said, by way of greeting, and stumbled the few steps necessary to slump against the wall.  “You look like …” he swiped the back of his hand across his eyes and tried again.  “Y’ look like Athos after a … bender.”  Which reminded him.  He pushed off the wall to drop to his knees beside the bed, grabbing Athos by the shoulders.  “Don’t you dare die on me!” he commanded, and slumped again over the Musketeer. 

“Damn,” Aramis muttered.  “Should have shoved him across the bed while he was still on his feet.” He felt muscles twitch painfully beneath his hand and knew indeed, that their youthful companion was just at the beginning of the worst of it.  “d’Artagnan,” he murmured, “you’ve done enough.  It’s your turn to rest now.  Come, sit up, I can’t do this without your help.” 

“Have to stay.”

d’Artagnan’s hoarse whisper must have reached Athos on some level, for a hand was lifted slightly.  With clearly monumental effort it brushed lightly over the dark head still lying on his chest before falling back to the mattress. 

“Still here,” Athos dredged up from the depths of his fevered dreams, where a will far stronger than his own kept him tethered to this world when he would have gladly allowed the darkness to swallow him up. 

“d’Artgagnan,” Aramis said again, attempting cajolery where sheer strength was really required.  “Come, sit up.  Only help a little and we will have you lying down as well.” 
“Must stay.  You must stay!”  The cry was heartrending even muffled as it was in Athos’ chest.  Aramis tried tugging – to no avail.  He gave up and scooted back to lean against the wall while he reevaluated.  “Maybe I can just swing the rest of him up on the bed, then roll him over.”

“Gimme a minute,” Porthos echoed his friend’s mantra, “an I’ll … help.”

“No, don’t try to get up.  It’s … an experience,” Aramis panted, as he struggled to lift d’Artagnan’s legs onto the bed.  “Not a good one.”  He was light-headed and dizzy and if either of his friends woke while he was attempting this maneuver, there would be hell to pay … or – a knock and the door opened -  anyone entered the room. 
“Captain.”  The healer breathed a sigh of relief when Tréville appeared on the threshold.  “You’re still on your feet.”

“You, on the other hand, look like you should not be.  Here let me.” Tréville scooped up the slender youth with ease.  “It’s a bit crowded in here.  How ‘bout if I put him--”

“No!” Aramis and Porthos said together. 

“No,” Aramis repeated. 

Tréville didn’t bother to argue.  “All right then, but there’s no room to tend to him if I put him on the other side of Athos, so roll Athos to the other side of the bed.”

“Good idea,” Aramis agreed, though actually accomplishing the deed required the last of the energy he’d managed to conjure by force of will alone.

As soon as there was space enough, Tréville laid d’Artagnan in the spot and reached over him to help settle Athos.

“I will send someone--” the captain began, only to be cut off again. 

“My thanks, but we’ll manage.  Porthos and I are through the worst of it.  He’ll be on his feet in no time and we’ll take turns.  Athos is past the critical point, as well.”

“d’Artagnan?” Treville brushed back already sweat-dampened dark hair to lay a large palm over the hot forehead.  “Not hot enough to be very far into this yet.”
d’Artagnan pushed at it fretfully. 

“He’s had the care of all of us, sir.  And he was already exhausted going into this.  But he’ll be fine.  He is not so far removed from childhood, nor has he lived as hard as some of the rest of us.  The illness will likely deal more gently with him.” Aramis considered the small lie nullified by the relief he glimpsed in the captain’s eyes. 

He thought the opposite rather.  d’Artagnan was burnt down to wick, he had used up any reserves he had managed to hoard away battling the beast for each of them in turn, watching over them, keeping them all grounded, though he had poured out his soul for Athos. 

Captain Tréville planted a fist on the bed between Athos and d’Artagnan and leaned over to inspect Porthos.  “Mmmm, you don’t look as if you’ll be on your feet anytime soon.”

“We’ll manage,” Aramis repeated, though he was slumped over the legs of the pair in the bed, making every effort not to pant.  He flicked the blanket back over Athos, hoping to underscore his ability to cope, even half lying down and lifted himself enough to tuck it around the bare feet hanging out the bottom.

“An I will be, on my feet that is, sir, if I haveta crawl around the furnishings.”

Tréville just shook his head.  “Fine.  I’ll send one of the boys up with some more ice, it’s been a godsend.  We lost two more men, but I think the rest pulled through because of it.”

“Haveta remember to tell the queen,” Porthos said.

“And thank her,” Aramis agreed.  “Make everyone drink as much as they can, sir, water would be best, but anything wet will keep the body moist.  There is beginning to be some thought that water cleanses both inside and out.  Flushing the humors can only be a good thing.”

“I will pass that along.  You have only to open the door and yell if you need help.  And do not be too stubborn to ask for it, Aramis.”

“Yes, sir.” Aramis touched his left hand to his heart, where normally he would have placed his right hand and hat in deference to the command.  “I will endeavor to beat down the stubbornness, sir.”

Tréville’s lips twitched in a rueful smile.  “Good man.  I knew I could count on you.”  He turned to go, but stopped with his hand on the latch, though he kept his face to the door.  “I am glad to find you all alive.  I have been needlessly dreading making the trek up here for fear of what I would find.”

“Never fear, sir,” Porthos grunted.  “You would have heard the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth if we’d lost one of our own, though it’s sorry I am not to be on my feet makin’ that report.”

At this, the captain turned his head, the rueful smile blossoming into a grin.  “Thank you for the reminder, Porthos; should have thought of that myself.  Aramis, you should get that arm in a sling.”

“Uh, yes sir.  I’ll do that.”  Just as soon as he could lie down again.  If he could find it.  He had a very clear memory of setting the broken arm, it had hurt like being trampled by wild horses, so he knew there was a makeshift sling lying about somewhere, probably buried in the bed clothes or beneath the blankets on the floor.  He did not remember when he’d lost it. 

The door closed very gently and Aramis slumped completely over the foot of the bed.  “In a minute I’ll get d’Artagnan out of his clothes.  Can you believe it?  He’s still wearing his boots.”

From his supine position on the floor, Porthos’ voice was tinged with a bit of awe. “We’re alive,” he said, wonderingly.  “And not like to die now, are we?  I’d have thought, with my sins, the devil woulda been waitin’ on the doorstep.”

“No, no one’s going to die.  Based on the progress of others I’ve observed, a day or two of rest and we’ll be up and around again.  A seven-day past we’ll hardly remember we were even sick.”

“A seven-day!” Porthos huffed, unsuccessfully attempting to raise his head.  Aramis had been known to pull his leg a time or three.  “Yer jokin’, right?”
  

“I wish I were, my friend. I wish I were.”

When Aramis woke again, it was full dark, the moon’s silvered shadows playing hide and seek about the room, now brightening a patch of floor, now hiding the blue cloak hanging inside the armoire.  He woke because d’Artagnan had turned on his side, jerking his feet from beneath Aramis as the fiery darts of pain began playing havoc with every muscle, tendon and joint in his body. 

He had curled into a ball of shivering misery by the time Aramis made his slow and careful way to the head of the bed again.

Prying away knuckles bloody with teeth marks, Aramis sank to his knees by the side of the bed.  Gliding moonlight briefly gilded the thin face, reflecting in the dark eyes narrowed against the phantom jolts of bodily lightening strikes.

“This does not last long,” Aramis whispered, stroking back the long hair with his free hand,   “And the rest is not so bad, I promise.” 

“Watched … you … all,” d’Artagnan panted from between teeth clenched tight.  “Candle burnt down three marks … before it … loosed Porthos.”  He grunted, as though hit with a body blow.  “No stranger … to pain … won’t … kill me.”

“No,” Aramis’ smile was gentle and approving, “you’ve proven yourself fairly indestructible, youngling.  Try not to tense up, it only makes it worse. Let it roll through you and over you as you would roll with a punch.  That’s it … good,” he praised softly, as the youth made a concerted effort to relax muscles tensed in anticipation.  “Now breathe, slowly and as deeply as you can.  Better, yes?”

“How is Athos?” d’Artagnan queried, as soon as a respite allowed. 

“Sleeping comfortably now that you’ve ceased your yammering.  As is Porthos.”  Aramis propped the broken arm across his thighs and reached to take the abused fingers of the hand lying on the pillow.  “You did a good thing, anchoring Athos as you did.  How did you know to keep talking?” 

“Didn’t.” d’Artagnan convulsed, shoulders hunching around a sharp intense anguish that shot through his chest as though pierced by a blade.  “Oh God!”  The cry was wrenched from him though he very nearly bit through his lip in an effort to stifle it.  “Just knew …” he sucked in air, wheezing with the effort to draw breath against the tension stretching muscle and sinew at every joint, “had to try and stop him from drifting away.”

Aramis breathed a silent prayer of supplication even as he stroked back the hair again.  “You did good,” he repeated quietly, “it worked.  Athos will be fine.  Come on, breathe with me now. In … and out.  In … and out.  That’s it, that good … see, it works… in … and out.” 

“Wha’s goin’ on now?” Porthos rolled into Athos’ bare foot, Athos having turned on his side as well, and kicked the tucked-under blanket free.  “You prayin’ or somp’in?  Can’t catch a moment’s peace around here.”

“Go back to sleep.”

Porthos needed no such instruction, having already nodded off again, though only lightly, for he began to snore.

This drew a half-strangled laugh from the last patient, who had strength enough yet to snatch back his hand and stuff his knuckles back in his mouth, so blood began to trickle from the corner.  Aramis did not try to wrestle the fist down a second time.  Instead, he maneuvered his exhausted body into a seated position and used the bed frame to prop himself so he could lay his heavy head on the mattress next to d’Artagnan.    

Aramis’ internal clock informed him it was well after midnight when the tide finally turned and the painful spasms eased.  d’Artagnan had long since fallen into a dazed stupor from which he roused, slightly, only when Aramis began forcing him to drink every few minutes, and then when the cold compresses packed against his overheated skin were changed out. 

Around the hour of the third vigil, Porthos woke again, with enough strength to take Aramis’ place.  And d’Artagnan passed into the delirium stage.  He woke again and again, parched, drank deeply of the cold water Porthos tottered down the stairs to fetch up to their sick room, and fell back in a swoon again as soon as his thirst was quenched.
Sometime between that third hour of deep night and dawn, Athos woke again, enough to drape an arm over d’Artagnan, whose tossing became less violent and gradually gave way to a light doze.  Porthos heaved a great sigh of relief, drew covers back over the sleepers and settled himself on the floor again in d’Artagnan’s nest of blankets.

Tréville, stopping by for the sixth or eighth, or perhaps tenth time – he’d lost count of how many times he’d circled the garrison in the last forty-eight hours – echoed Porthos’ sigh of relief, though he did not know it, as the sound of rain began to patter down on the roof, underscoring a chorus of snores here in this room. 

He stood a moment upon the threshold, sending up his own prayers of thanksgiving, then moved into the room to tuck in blankets here and there, touch a forehead lightly, and just reassure himself that this quartet of warriors was indeed on the road to recovery.   He glanced back over his shoulder as he was about to close the door and saw Athos had woken. 

Tréville inclined his head respectfully.  “Sleep well, my friend.  Your flock has been well tended.”  

Athos lifted a hand in acknowledgement and Tréville took himself off to his own bed, his faith restored in an almighty God who looked with favor upon Catholic and Hugeonot alike and sent rain equally on the just and the unjust.
~ttt~
 
This has been a work of transformative fan fiction.  The characters and settings in this story belong to BBC America, its successors and assigns.  The story itself is the intellectual property of the author.  No copyright infringement has been perpetrated for financial gain.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
fredbassett
Apr. 9th, 2016 09:16 pm (UTC)
This line was pyre gold, too:

It appeared neither the Catholics nor the Huguenots were winning the war, both sides were equally decimated.

Really great fic. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Thanks for friending. It's been nice to meet you!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )