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Whumptober '17

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This is the first of 31 one shots based on the Whumptober prompt list as part of Inktober over on tumblr. Anyway, these will all be around 1000 words give or take a few hundred. I have some catching up to do so expect to see a couple of these a day through the end of the month. They're unbeta'd and just for fun so forgive any mistakes and just enjoy the whump :) I'm doing this for two different fandoms so be patient :)

PS - I don't own the Musketeers...do I still even need to say that?

Oh and the prompt for this one was "On their knees"


"On your knees!"

Porthos instead held his back even straighter, lifting his chin and rolling his shoulders back defiantly. Hands pushed against his back, attempting to force him down, but he held firm, letting loose a low growl in response.

A cane cracked against his thigh and he grimaced, but didn't falter.

"I said on your knees, slave!"

"I'm no slave," Porthos shot back sharply. "And I kneel for no man."

"Then you're the worst kind of slave," the man taunted, glaring across the small space between them. "One that doesn't know its place." He jerked his chin at the men holding Porthos.

A blow landed solidly against the small of his back and another against his ribs. While he was still reeling from the sudden onslaught, a boot slammed into the back of his knee, forcing the joint to fold. His knee hit the dirt.

Porthos gritted his teeth and pushed back up.

More blows landed and the next time he fell, both knees slammed into the ground and he had to throw a hand out to catch himself. He spit blood into the dirt and drew in a steadying breath.

Then he slowly pushed himself up again, not stopping until his feet were under him once again.

He stared defiantly at the slave trader and wondered if he was taking this all a bit too far.

His job had been to infiltrate the group of slave traders that was abducting men from various port cities. He was to allow himself to be taken and his brothers would track them to the leader. Hopefully they were watching even now. He could imagine Athos was likely having to physically restrain Aramis at this point. Had perhaps even had to prevent him opening fire at least twice by now. He could imagine the colorfully worded rant Aramis would be muttering under his breath, likely in Spanish just to annoy Athos since he didn't know the language.

The thought made Porthos smile.

He just had to get them to reveal their leader, and then his over-protective, lethally dangerous brother could be unleashed on these vile men.

Perhaps he should be a bit more submissive. In fact, he knew he should be. But a deeply rooted piece of his soul rebelled against the very thought of kneeling before these men. He had only knelt to one man in his life, the king of France. He had done that by choice, as a Musketeer and a loyal soldier. No man should ever be made to kneel. Just as no man should ever be made to serve. These men lived to steal that right from men, to force them inter servitude and demand submission.

No.

He could not bring himself to kneel, not to men like this. Not even for the sake of the mission.

Instead, he lifted his chin and glared.

"Get the boss," one of the men snapped. "He'll enjoy breaking this one himself."

Finally.

The minutes it took them to summon their leader felt like hours to Porthos as body ached and fiercely protested the rigid posture he had demanded of it. But then, mercifully, a new figure approached, flanked by several men.

"I hear we've got a stubborn one," the man commented as he came to stand in front of Porthos. He didn't even look him in the eye. It was as if Porthos didn't even exist. The man lifted his chin, appearing both superior and confident. "Pride cometh before the fall," he chastised imperiously.

Porthos was ready for the blow, but even so it sent him to the ground. He tasted blood and over the ringing of his ears he heard an explosion of sound. He smiled around bloody teeth and wearily rolled onto his back, watching as bodies fell around him. The man who had hit him in the back dropped with a musket ball placed neatly into the back of his head. The man who had first ordered he abuse fell with a ball through the eye.

Then there was a shadow swooping over him like some sort of avenging angel, sword dancing through the air and deadly intent clearly shining in dark brown eyes. Some people believed that God watched over them. Porthos wasn't so certain about that, but he knew without doubt that his brothers always would.

Aramis glided around him, somehow guarding him from every angle without seeming like he was even trying that hard.

Athos was focused more intently on getting to the leader.

Before long, it was all over. Athos had the leader at sword point and Aramis had dispatched anyone that hadn't had the sense to flee.

Porthos hadn't bothered to move from his sprawled position on the surprisingly comfortable ground. He offered a bloody smile in greeting when Aramis leaned over him and was not surprised in the least by the blatant worry and anxiousness in his brother's eyes.

For someone who hated to be fussed over, Aramis was the worst about worrying over the rest of them.

"No permanent damage," Porthos assured, taking the hand Aramis offered him and allowing the marksman to slowly pull him to sitting.

"What, may I ask, were you thinking?" Aramis demanded even as his hands started gently checking over Porthos' various visible injuries.

"Was just stalling for time… Trying to draw out the leader."

Aramis paused his ministrations and glared at him. Porthos hadn't quite expected that lie to work.

"No man should ever me made to kneel," Porthos explained simply, but firmly.

Understanding softened the hard lines of anxious worry on Aramis' face and he reached out to lightly grip the side of Porthos' neck.

"And no man will ever be made to by his hand again," Aramis tilted his head towards the slave trader whom Athos was securing with a set of metal manacles. "Thanks to you."

"You mean thanks to Athos," Porthos shot back with a grin as Aramis went back to tending his wounds. "How many times did he have to hold you back from destroying the whole plan?"

Aramis huffed in offense.

"I was perfectly composed!"

"I had to physically hold you behind our cover and threaten to steal your pistols while you slept, and all the while you were cursing under your breath in Spanish, Latin and Italian," Athos interjected as he dragged the slave trader over to them.

"I didn't know you spoke Italian," Porthos commented in surprise.

Aramis met his eyes with a wolfish grin.

"I only know the fun words."

Porthos dropped his head back and laughed.


I'm usually one to beat up on Aramis so this was an interesting change for me. More soon!

Chapter Text

 

Athos woke with a start, blinking rapidly at the musty darkness surrounding him. His brow drew together and he frowned. It wasn't a natural darkness. As his eyes adjusted, he could see a faint cross-weaving of fabric before him. He could feel his own heavy breaths rebounding against the cloth back into his face.

A metallic clinking of chains drew his attention to the world beyond himself and he stiffened, the chains around his own limbs rustled in response.

"Who's there?" a familiar voice demanded gruffly.

"Porthos," Athos realized with a relieved sigh.

"Athos?"

"I assume that to mean you're in the same state that I am."

"With a bloody bag over my head? Yeah."

Athos sighed, straining his eyes to try and make out any shapes beyond the fabric, but to no avail. He heard more rustling of chains and tilted his head, trying to determine if it had come from where he now knew Porthos was.

"Aramis?" he guessed hopefully.

"No, that was me," Porthos admitted. "'Mis! You here?" the larger man barked out, the gruff tone doing little to hide the obvious worry folded into it.

There was no response.

"Feel around you. See if you can find him," Athos instructed. If Aramis was here and wasn't responding, that could mean nothing good.

He moved his hands blindly around his general area, reaching as far as the chain that tethered him to the wall would allow. He came across nothing but pieces of straw and dirt. He heard Porthos performing a similar search.

"Anything?" Athos asked abruptly, impatient to know his progress and growing more irritated at his lack of sight by the moment.

"Nothing… Wait!" There was a louder clanking of chains and then Porthos spoke again. "Aramis! Wake up!"

"Did you find him?" Athos demanded urgently.

"Unless there's another man chained up in here wearing the same mud caked boots 'Mis was complaining about this morning. Aramis!" More rattling of chains.

"Is he moving?" Athos asked.

"How the bloody hell would I know?"

"Well I can't tell one chain rattling from the next," Athos replied sharply.

"I can only reach his boot, I'm trying to…" more rattling. "Bloody hell, Aramis, if you don't wake up and say something I'm going to shake your bloody foot off!" the rattling intensified.

Finally a groan rose from somewhere beyond Porthos.

"That's it," Porthos voice immediately gentled, "follow me back."

Athos shifted forward as far as his chains would allow, head turned so he could listen more intently.

"¿Qué?…" (What?...)

There was a sudden loud jostling of chains and Porthos grunted in pain.

"Aramis! Calm down! There's a bag over your head, but we're both here with you!" Athos barked out, realizing belatedly that perhaps yelling at him wasn't helpful. But he had yet to master the ability to scold an injured, obstinate Aramis in a soothing, comforting tone as Porthos so often did.

The space around them went silent save for the sound of their combined breathing. Then, there was rustling again and the sound of dry heaving. Athos never thought he'd be so happy that they'd not eaten in almost an entire day. Aramis had nothing in his stomach to vomit out. With the bags secured around their heads, such a thing could have been deadly.

They could only listen helplessly until Aramis got his body's rebellion under control. The reaction wasn't surprising, Aramis never tolerated head injuries, even minor ones, very well.

When Aramis remained silent for several moments more, Athos frowned.

"'Mis?" Porthos sounded equally concerned.

Finally, Aramis spoke.

"Are you both alright?"

The question itself came as no surprise. Aramis, despite being notoriously poor at looking after his own health, was always quick to look after theirs. But there was something in his voice, something familiar and entirely unwelcome.

"You're injured," Porthos accused, stealing the words before Athos could speak them himself.

"I'm not," came the quick and steady denial.

"Don't lie to us," Athos snapped. "It's insulting."

There was another beat of silence and then a heavy, weary sigh.

"How did you know?" Aramis asked in resignation, though his voice remained strong and even.

"It's surprisingly easy to spot the lie in your voice when you can't use your face to sell it," Athos explained.

"The lie in my voice?" Aramis questioned with a chuckle that cut off abruptly.

"It goes hard and too steady," Porthos explained softly, heavy worry weighing down the words. He spoke as if this were something he had contemplated too many times over the years.

Aramis fell silent at that.

"So?" Athos prodded. "Your injury?"

"Perhaps a broken rib or two," the marksman answered flippantly.

"Perhaps?" Porthos growled.

"Well I can't see through my skin to the bone, now can I? And it's hard to feel with my hands chained." There was an intentional rustling of chains and Athos could easily picture Aramis' look of irritation. "What happened anyway? Where are we?"

It was a blatant attempt to redirect their attention.

"You know as much as we do," Athos replied with a shrug he belatedly realized neither of them could see.

"Well…" Aramis hedged. "It's a bit fuzzy…"

Athos closed his eyes and sighed deeply. How had he forgotten that Aramis had been unconscious for several minutes longer than they had and extremely difficult to rouse.

"How badly did you hit your head?" Porthos demanded.

"I didn't hit it. They did."

"Aramis!" Athos scolded.

"I don't know. Hard," Aramis snapped back.

They all fumed silently for a moment, but as was usual, their irritation with each other passed quickly.

"Are you alright?" Porthos asked quietly.

Aramis sighed. He had always been helpless in the face of Porthos' warm concern.

"I'm not mixing up languages," he pointed out more calmly.

Athos felt some tension leave him. That was always a glaring indicator when Aramis was hurt seriously. His mind's way of admitting to injury when the man himself refused to.

"Now that we've determined I'm not dying," Aramis went on cheerfully. Athos was sure if he could clap his hands together and smile gleefully he would. "What's the plan for getting out of here?"

Chapter Text

 

"Remind me…when we get out of this…to kill them all," Aramis stated around labored gasps for air.

"Save your breath, 'Mis," Porthos instructed lowly, groaning as he straightened as much as he could from where he was squatting. He glanced over at the marksman, wincing in sympathy. Aramis' bound hands were pulled straight up and secured to a chain. The slack had been pulled out just enough that the tips of his boots barely grazed the floor. But it wasn't enough to take the pressure off his shoulders or his bruised ribs.

Porthos was only a little better off. His tethered hands were attached to a narrow metal rod that stuck straight up from the ground. The height was such that he couldn't stand up straight, but neither could he complete sit. He had been alternating between standing hunched over or resting in a squat.

"I'll kill them for you," Athos volunteered dourly. "Slowly and very painfully."

Aramis replied with a breathy chuckle.

Athos was trapped on the ground. His bound hands chained flush with the stone floor. He couldn't stand or even sit up straight. He was stuck in a hunched, seated position.

"Who…even has…a cell like this?" Aramis wondered bitterly.

"Save your breath," Porthos reminded again.

Aramis obediently fell silent, but the sound of his labored breathing filled the cell.

Porthos forced himself to look away from Aramis' clenched eyes and tense face. He glanced at Athos, unsurprised to see him watching Aramis with similar concern. Since the sight did nothing to alleviate his own worry, Porthos looked through the bars that served as the fourth wall to their cell, warily watching for the return of their captor. Or perhaps hoping for it.

"Maybe if I…" Aramis trailed off and grunted.

"Aramis, what are you doing?"

Athos startled question drew Porthos' attention back to the marksman.

His eyebrows hit his hairline when he saw Aramis curling his legs upward, pulling up with his arms until he was upside down, ankles wrapped around the chain above his wrists to anchor himself.

Porthos stared open mouthed.

"Is that… Is that better?" he finally asked, confused as to the goal behind the acrobatics.

Aramis didn't answer. He had curled his body up even further and was staring at something near his hands as he gently swung back and forth.

"Aramis?" Athos called sharply.

"I think I can…" Aramis trailed off and then grunted, straining with something they couldn't see. Then, without warning, he let loose a loud curse and fell. He landed in a heap on the floor, the now unattached chain swinging loosely above him.

Porthos moved as close as he could, which was only really a step nearer than he had been.

"Aramis? Aramis?!"

The marksman rolled onto his side with a groan.

"Ow."

"How did you do that?" Athos asked, looking uncharacteristically surprised by the turn of events.

"Not as carefully as I should have apparently," Aramis responded with his usual inappropriate twist of humor.

They could only watch as he slowly pulled himself off the floor. He stumbled his way over to Porthos, mostly into him. Porthos wasn't convinced Aramis wasn't using Porthos to keep himself upright.

"How's your lock picking these days?" he asked as he fumbled with Porthos' doublet to access the inner pocket and retrieve the small tools Porthos used to break into rooms otherwise closed to them. Only on the king's business of course. "Not too rusty I hope," Aramis added as he pressed the tools into Porthos' hands.

Porthos grinned wolfishly and attacked the manacles on Aramis' wrists as best he could with his own wrists still trapped. He had Aramis free in a few moments and then turned the tools over to the marksman.

"Remember what I taught you," Porthos coached.

Aramis leaned in close to Porthos wrists and set to work.

Porthos watched patiently, offering advice and direction when necessary.

It took far longer than it would have if Aramis was at his best; and there were more muttered curses than there usually were when Aramis practiced the skill. But with his hands slightly shaking and his breaths still coming in unsteady gasps, Porthos was just happy Aramis had managed it at all.

Porthos rubbed at his freshly freed wrists and made his way to Athos. In short order he was free as well.

Porthos popped his back and stretched it. Then he set to work rubbing at Aramis' shoulders while Aramis massaged Athos' back to loosen the muscles that had tightened there.

Eventually they were all mostly functional again. And Porthos reached through the bars to try and pick the cell lock. He kept one ear on his brothers as they quietly talked behind him and trusted them to keep an eye on the halls.

He listened as Athos badgered Aramis into letting him see his bruised ribs to be sure it was nothing more serious. Despite Aramis' stubborn, and worrying, declarations that he had broken enough ribs to know what it felt like, eventually Athos won the argument. Porthos released a relieved breath when Athos declared – for Porthos' benefit he was sure – that it did seem to be only bruises. He didn't have to see Aramis' smug 'told you' grin to know it was there.

Finally, the lock sprang free and he pushed the cell door open.

"Let's go find our hosts, shall we?" he declared with a predatory grin.

Chapter Text

 

D'Artagnan was trying very hard not to panic. He told himself, with certainty, that this could not really happen. The others would find him first. Of course they would.

There was absolutely no way he was going to die at the end of a rope in a town he couldn't even remember the name of.

Still, as sweat snaked down his brow, stinging his eyes and burning the cut above his eyebrow, d'Artagnan keenly felt the coarseness of the noose looped round his neck. It was getting harder, as moments quickly passed, for him to keep his faith that his brothers would get here in time.

"You don't want to do this." He tried one last time to reason with them. "I'm a Musketeer. An attack on one of the king's guard is considered treason."

"We answer to no king!" one of the men in the crowd shouted. A chorus of shouts rose in agreement.

"You'll bring my entire regiment down on you," d'Artagnan warned.

"And we'll be ready for them!" Another man shouted, raising his old rifle in the air.

D'Artagnan shook his head in exasperation.

"Hang him! Hang the Musketeer!" someone shouted.

D'Artagnan's eyes widened as someone ran towards him.

"No! No! Wai-" his protest was cut off when the stool he stood on was kicked out from under him and he fell. There was a moment of terrifying silence as he dropped, then the rope caught and he jerked to a stop, the breath rushing out of him. The rope dug painfully into his neck and he came to the horrifying realization that he couldn't draw in a breath.

He kicked his legs, searching for something to stand on, but found nothing.

His vision blurred, whether from tears or something else, he couldn't say.

But then he heard the most blessed sound in the world.

The thundering of horse hooves.

D'Artagnan blinked, trying to clear his vision. Three blurry figures were rapidly approaching, all but flying down the main street towards d'Artagnan and the crowd. He realized fuzzily that they weren't flying, but rather riding horses.

"Aramis!" a familiar voice bellowed tersely.

If he could have, d'Artagnan would have frowned.

His name was d'Artagnan, not Aramis. Why was Athos shouting for Aramis?

Then he saw one of the three approaching figures drop his reins and lift something else, something long and thin.

An arquebus, he realized dazedly.

Oh. Oh.

As his lungs burned in his chest, d'Artagnan watched Aramis sighted the shot. He wouldn't be able to make it, d'Artagnan realized. Aramis was good, maybe the best. But he was atop a moving horse and they were still so far away.

Then Aramis suddenly shouted a sharp command that d'Artagnan couldn't hear. The horse beneath him stamped to a sudden stop, shifting her body even as Aramis turned in the saddle to compensate – the arquebus never having faltered in its aim – and fired.

The rope stretched taught above d'Artagnan's head snapped and he fell.

He landed in a heap of loose limbs, coughing and gasping as he drew in as much air as he could as quickly as he could. There was more gunfire and shouting, but d'Artagnan hardly heard it. He looked up through watery eyes as a familiar horse broke through the crowd and pranced to his side.

"Esmé…" d'Artagnan murmured in dazed recognition.

Of course, only Esmé would have known exactly how to stop and turn to allow her rider the best shot with his arquebus. Familiar booted feet slid into view and then Aramis crowded in close to him.

"Are you with me?" the marksman asked gently, already loosening the knot on the noose and lifting it up and over d'Artagnan's head.

D'Artagnan could only manage a shaky nod and watched as Aramis produced his dagger and swiftly cut d'Artagnan's hands – bound behind his back – free. D'Artagnan couldn't help himself, he launched himself at the older man and hugged him fiercely.

Aramis patted his back gently.

"Nice shot," d'Artagnan croaked, voice cracking painfully.

Aramis chuckled.

"I was lucky," he insisted modestly.

D'Artagnan shook his head, pulling back and looking Aramis dead in the eye.

"Only you…" he had to pause to swallow moisture into his dry, bruised throat, "could have made that shot." He coughed, shaking his head at the fresh concern that sprouted in Aramis' eyes. "Perhaps a bit sooner next time, though."

Aramis chuckled again.

"Next time? Are you planning to make a habit of this?"

D'Artagnan grinned wearily and dropped his head forward to rest against Aramis' shoulder, suddenly feeling drained as the relief settled in. He felt a warm hand settle on the back of his neck. There had been a moment, just after he'd dropped, that he'd thought it was the end. That they wouldn't make it in time.

"We will always come for you, and each other," Aramis promised softly, somehow reading his thoughts. "Always."

Chapter Text

 

Aramis nudged aside the curtain with his pistol, warily making his way into the next part of the room.

"Nothing here!" Porthos shouted from another room in the small house. "You?"

Aramis didn't reply right away as he moved further into the space, eyes searching. He didn't see anything immediately amiss but the back of his neck was tingling in warning and his instincts were clamoring that something was very wrong.

Loud footsteps echoed out in the hallway and then Porthos spoke from the doorway.

"Aramis?"

"I'm here," he replied distractedly as his gaze continued to roam restlessly.

There were more footsteps and then Porthos ducked through the curtain.

"Anything?" Porthos asked.

"I don't know."

Porthos eyed him curiously.

"Got that tingly feeling, do you?" he asked knowingly.

Aramis hummed a confirmation, still wandering the room. He noticed a small half sized door tucked in the corner and moved over to it. He clipped his pistol back to his belt and felt around the edges of the door, finding a space to curl his fingers around. He glanced at Porthos, who shrugged. Aramis looked back at the door and then pulled it open.

Sparks ignited at his feet, lighting up a line leading into the small closet.

Aramis stared blankly for a moment and the small barrel tucked deep inside the small space. Then his eyes widened as he realized what he was looking at. He took a startled step back.

"Porthos?" he called calmly.

"Yeah?"

Aramis turned and started urgently towards him.

"RUN!"

It spoke to Porthos trust in him that the larger man didn't hesitate to turn and rush for the door. Aramis was only a few steps behind him.

Neither of them made it before the world exploded around them.


Porthos returned to consciousness with a groan. He blinked blearily, eyes watering as the settling dust stung them.

"Bloody hell…" he mumbled as he tried to get his bearings.

Something was pressing heavily against his back, but an experimental push off the ground offered little resistance. He wriggled himself free a moment later and squinted around the dark space, trying vainly to see through the heavy layer of dust in the air.

"Aramis?" he called experimentally. When there was no immediate response, he tried again. "Aramis!" When eerie silence was all that followed, Porthos felt a stirring of panicked worry. He stumbled to his feet, heading back towards the source of the explosion. Aramis had been between him and it.

He nearly missed him. Might have walked right past him if he hadn't tripped over Aramis' boot. He stared in momentary horror at the piling of debris hiding his brother from view. Then he shook off his shock and dropped to his knees, pulling at pieces of the wooden wall that had collapsed across Aramis' back.

"Aramis!" he called worriedly. "Come on, 'Mis, answer me!" He shoved aside more debris. "Aramis!" Another piece of wood thrown aside and he could see an arm. "Aramis!" he called again, voice desperate and growing more panicked the longer he went without a response.

He heaved the largest piece of debris aside and finally had a clear view of his brother.

Aramis was sprawled on his stomach, head turned to the side, but appearing in one piece. Porthos reached out, cupping the side of his brother's neck with his hand.

"Aramis?" he called again, giving him a gentle shake. He leaned closer, spying a small pool of blood collecting under Aramis' mouth. His hair was wet with it as well, but Porthos couldn't tell where it was coming from. "Aramis, wake up!" He demanded, giving him another careful shake.

But Aramis didn't move. The only assurance Porthos had that he wasn't dead was the slight rise and fall of his back that proved he was breathing. Swallowing with a dry throat, Porthos looked Aramis over more thoroughly.

He saw it then.

The shard of wood imbedded in Aramis' back, a bit left of his spine.

Porthos let out a sharp breath, shaking hands hovering over the wound.

"I don't…" he shook his head, desperate eyes glance back at Aramis' lax face. "I don't know what to do," he whispered. He closed his eyes. "Think, Porthos… Think."

Every time one of them was stabbed and the object was still inside them, Aramis always wrapped something cloth around the wound to stabilize the weapon until he was in a place where he could adequately treat the wound.

"Right then," Porthos muttered, pulling out the hem of his shirt and ripping off a large chunk. He carefully wrapped the fabric around the shard of wood and then sat back on his haunches.

Now what?

Porthos looked around, squinting through the dust to see if he could find a way out. The building hadn't collapsed on them, which was the only reason they were still alive. But walls had blown out and the structure seemed one wrong move away from falling in on itself. He had to get Aramis out of here.

"Okay…okay…I'll get you up and get us out of here," he assured to his unconscious friend.

First, he carefully took hold of Aramis shoulder, slowly rolling him onto his side, carefully conscious of the debris in his back. He had to swallow down his worry when Aramis' head lolled lifelessly.

Porthos leaned over, pulling Aramis up and resting the marksman across his shoulders. Then Porthos pushed up on unsteady legs and started searching for a way out. He thought he saw a bit of sunlight cutting through the dust and made for it.

He was still a few steps away when he heard shouting - a familiar, if not a little uncharacteristically panicked, voice.

"Aramis?! Porthos?!"

"Athos!" he shouted back, nearly overcome with relief. He took the last few steps to the hole in the wall and peered through it. Athos appeared suddenly on the other side. The swordsman's eyes widened when he saw Aramis hanging limply across Porthos' shoulders.

"He's alive," Porthos assured. "But he hit his head and he's got a shard in his back."

Athos' nodded grimly.

"Step back," he instructed. "When we get the opening large enough, be prepared to move quickly. The whole house is ready to collapse."

Porthos nodded and retreated a few steps. He glanced sideways to where Aramis' head hung limply next to his and watched in heightening concern as blood dripped from Aramis' face to the ground.

"Athos! Hurry!" he shouted without taking his eyes off his brother's lax face.

"Alright! Be ready!" Athos shouted back from outside.

There was a thud then a creaking sound. Then the sunlight suddenly spilled in over a larger area as some of the wall was torn away.

"Now, Porthos!"

Porthos ran for the light.

Hands caught him as he careened out of the building and he was hustled away as the house groaned behind them. They all paused and looked back when the building finally collapsed in on itself.

For several moments, Porthos could only stare at the place that could have easily been his grave and that of his dearest friend.

A groan from Aramis drew Porthos back to himself and he glanced at the marksman's face, but his features were still lax.

"Here, let us take him," a familiar voice spoke from Porthos' side. Even though he recognized it as d'Artagnan's, Porthos still jerked away, denying the younger man access to Aramis. It was instinctive, and protective, and entirely irrational but he couldn't stop himself.

"Easy," Athos spoke up, appearing in front of him. He held up a calming hand. "It's just us. We wouldn't hurt him, you know that. Let us help."

Porthos shook his head to clear it, taking in ragged breaths.

"Sorry," he offered, allowing them to come closer and help him ease Aramis to the ground. Athos caught his head and gently rested it in his own lap while Porthos carefully made sure the wound on his back was stable and d'Artagnan worked to arrange Aramis' limbs comfortably.

"Try to rouse him," Athos instructed. "He'll hear you before he'd hear either of us."

Porthos swallowed, trying to work some moisture into his dry throat and then leaned over Aramis, lightly cupping his neck and giving him a careful shake.

"Aramis," he called firmly. "Come on, brother, stop being so dramatic. You're scaring the pup."

D'Artagnan rolled his eyes but didn't argue.

Aramis remained unresponsive.

Porthos licked his lips and lowered his voice.

"For what it's worth you're scaring me 'n Athos too. And you know how much we hate that."

For a long moment, it didn't seem to work. Aramis didn't move or even twitch.

"Come on, 'Mis…wake up," Porthos pleaded quietly.

Finally, Aramis' eyes fluttered.

"That's it," Porthos praised the progress, relief coloring his tone.

Aramis' eye opened more fully and his gaze rolled around drunkenly before finally settling on Porthos.

"There you are," Porthos greeted, feeling weak with relief.

Aramis blinked at him and then raised a shaking hand to point at Porthos' head.

"Estas sangrado," (You're bleeding,) the marksman pointed out a bit dazedly, though dark eyes full of concern.

Porthos stared at him, momentarily dumfounded. Then he glanced at d'Artagnan. It had been established some time ago, much to their surprise, that d'Artagnan knew enough Spanish from growing up in Southern France that he could often be counted on to translate Aramis' mumblings.

The young Gascon cleared his throat.

"He said, 'You're bleeding.'"

Porthos dramatically rolled his eyes and looked back at Aramis.

"You're one to talk," he accused lightly, grinning and shaking his head in exasperation. "I'm not the one doing an expert impersonation of a swooning damsel."

Aramis' lips quirked and when he blinked, his eyes were clearer.

"Well Athos makes such a fine…" he frowned, waving his hand in frustration, "almohada?" He looked to d'Artagnan.

"Pillow," the younger man supplied with a smug grin at Athos.

Aramis snapped his fingers and pointed at d'Artagnan's chest.

"Yes that…bloody headwounds… Anyway, I wouldn't want to waste the opportunity."

Said 'pillow' rolled his eyes, only to grimace when Aramis clamped his mouth and eyes shut, suddenly looking green.

"Ah, here it comes," d'Artagnan announced as if he'd been anticipating this moment.

Between the three of them, they carefully supported Aramis while his breakfast made an unsightly reappearance. When he was done, Aramis eased more fully onto Athos' lap.

"Why does my back hurt?" he wondered with a scowl.

"Well, you've got a shard of wood sticking out of it," Porthos explained bluntly.

Aramis' eyes widened fractionally in surprise.

"Yes, I suppose that would explain it," he replied simply.

He arched an irritated brow when all three of them shook their heads in exasperation.

"That was impressively synchronized. Did the three of you plan that?" he asked sourly.

"Well we've had enough practice when it comes to you," d'Artagnan quipped.

Aramis fixed him with a look of aghast disbelief.

"You wound me."

"Look at that! Aramis admitting to a wound. I'm shocked!" d'Artagnan teased further.

Aramis scowled at him.

"I'm not that bad," he defended.

"Yes, you are!" It was hard to say which of them offered the firm reply more loudly, since all three of them said it in perfect harmony.

Chapter Text

 

"I don't want to do this."

"Unfortunately, we've no other option," Aramis replied steadily.

Porthos swallowed thickly, eyes pinned on the odd lump under the skin of Aramis' arm. When he noticed the fingers of that arm trembling, he shifted his gaze up to Aramis' face. The marksman's jaw was set in a hard line, a muscle in its base flexing every now and then as he repeatedly clenched his teeth. But there was no other indication of pain in his expression, not that Porthos expected one. Aramis had learned to hide such things long before the Musketeers.

"I'll do it wrong," Porthos warned, forcing his eyes away from Aramis' steady expression and back to his misshapen arm.

"Porthos, I'll guide you through it. But it must be done, do you understand?" Aramis' voice had taken on a harder edge – another small slip that gave away the pain he was in. He took a visible breath and when he spoke again, his voice had returned to normal. "The pain will be less if you set it."

Porthos snapped his eyes up to Aramis'.

"Really?"

Aramis jaw clenched again as he glared at him, his patience for Porthos' hesitation finally gone.

"Porthos, enough! The longer it goes untended, the worse it will get. Now stop complaining and just do as I say!"

Porthos felt ill at the whole idea, but reluctantly nodded.

"What do I do?" he asked in resignation.

Aramis released a sharp breath, posture loosening slightly at his capitulation.

"Think of a broken branch on a tree or bush," he explained. "When we're tracking someone through the woods, we look for such things, yes?"

Porthos nodded, his mind conjuring the image.

"This is not unlike that. To fix one of those branches, you have to straighten it and bring the broken pieces back together."

Porthos nodded again. Aramis met his eyes steadily.

"My arm is the branch."

Porthos drew in a deep breath and nodded once more.

"Hold on here and here." Aramis used his uninjured hand to place Porthos'. "And remember, you can't fumble about with broken bones. You must move with purpose."

"I just straighten it out?" Porthos asked.

Aramis nodded.

"Do so quickly and firmly. Neither of us wants you to have to try a second time."

The thought of that made Porthos' stomach turn.

"Ready?" he asked.

Aramis merely jerked his head once in affirmation. Then, as Porthos watched, Aramis retreated behind his mental walls, ready ignore the pain – to pretend it wasn't there. Even Porthos could admit the stoicism was useful on the battlefield, but it had no place here. It was just the two of them. There was no one here that Aramis needed to impress or please.

"Don't do that," Porthos snapped.

Aramis gave him a startled glance and then immediately scowled when he realized what Porthos was calling him out about.

"He's not here," Porthos pointed out sharply. "He's not been here for years."

Aramis lifted his chin defensively and Porthos sighed.

"I only mean that won't think any less of you for allowing yourself to feel the pain of this."

He saw Aramis battle with himself for several moments before something in his brother's expression softened.

"I know how much you hate it," Aramis allowed. "For you, I'll try."

"That's all I ask." He tightened his grip on Aramis' arm. "Ready?" he asked again.

Aramis nodded tightly.

Porthos drew in a breath, steeled himself, and then sharply forced the bone back into place.

Aramis let out a half-keening grunt and his free hand shot out, wrapping so tightly around Porthos' shoulder that it was sure to leave a bruise. The marksman let out a stuttered, gasping breath and nearly wilted right there.

Porthos swiftly moved to support him and Aramis allowed it. The marksman tucked his wounded arm against his abdomen and dropped his forehead against Porthos' shoulder.

"You did well, Porthos," Aramis mumbled lowly. "Better than my first time setting a bone."

"Thank you for trusting me enough to let your guard down," Porthos replied sincerely.

Aramis drew back, meeting his eyes seriously.

"Porthos, don't you know?"

Porthos shook his head in confusion.

"I trust you more than anyone. There is very little that you can ask of me that I will not then try to do."

Warmed by the words, Porthos smiled.

"In that case, I'm asking you to never get injured again."

Aramis cocked an eyebrow, grinning.

"A tall order."

"You said you'd try to do anything I asked of you," Porthos reminded.

Aramis chuckled and squeezed his shoulder.

"Porthos, for you? Anything."

Chapter Text

 

"Do you have a shot?"

Aramis lifted his head from where he was looking through the scope of his rifle, narrowing his eyes at the scene before him. He hoped that perhaps he had misread the situation, but it appeared the same as it had through the scope. He lowered his head again, focusing on the magnified image.

"Diablo, do you have a shot?" Athos demanded over their comms.

"Negative. It's not clean," he replied without taking his eyes off the scene playing out down on the docks.

He watched their target press his gun more firmly against the underside of Porthos' chin. Usually Porthos bulk was an asset, but right now it only served to completely shield the man Aramis wanted very badly to shoot.

"Retriever, what about you?"

Aramis waited hopefully as d'Artagnan's voice crackled across the comms a moment later.

"Negative. I don't have the angle. And we've got to talk about that code name. If he gets to be something badass like Diablo, I don't want to be named for a dog."

"Would you prefer Chihuahua?" Aramis asked with a grin, unable to help himself despite the circumstances.

"No," d'Artagnan denied fiercely.

"How about Labrador?"

"Shut up, Diablo."

"Labradoodle?"

"That's enough. Diablo, take the shot." Athos' command broke through the moment of lighthearted teasing.

Aramis frowned, never taking his eyes off Porthos or the man holding him captive.

"I told you, it's not clean. Outlaw is-"

"Outlaw is concussed. He's not getting himself out of this, so you need to. Take the shot."

"Give him a moment to regain his senses and he'll give me an opening."

"The target is two steps from that boat. If he gets Outlaw on it, he's dead."

"But-"

"You see the situation, Diablo. You're behind the gun. Make the call."

Aramis swallowed and licked his lips, watching a dazed Porthos be pulled back towards the boat.

"Come on, Porthos…" he whispered softly, adjusting his aim.

The target pulled Porthos a step closer to the boat and the driver revved the engine.

Aramis was out of time.

"Perdóname hermano." (Forgive me brother.)

He squeezed the trigger. He watched blood explode from Porthos' shoulder and then both he and the man holding him crumpled to the ground. He watched, still covering Porthos, until Athos ran out onto the docks and the boat sped away.

Only then did Aramis lifted his head, swallowing down a wave of nausea. He rolled away from his rifle and laid on his back. He stared up at the night sky, listening to Athos rattle off more orders.

It took several moments before he realized Athos was trying to raise him on the radio.

"Is he alive?" he asked around the lump in his throat.

"It was a clean hit. He'll be fine," Athos assured.

"The target?"

"Dead. You did we-"

"Don't say it," he snapped, cutting off the praise. Then after taking a slow breath, he went on. "I'll find my own way back." He plucked his earpiece out and in a fit of anger sat up and threw it across the rooftop.


Athos watched the paramedics load Porthos into the ambulance and then climbed in after him.

"Where is he?" Porthos asked for the sixth time, his concussion as serious as Athos had feared.

"He'll meet us at the hospital," Athos assured once again.

He hoped it wasn't a lie. Aramis' comm had gone dead and his phone was going straight to voicemail. Aramis did this sometimes – went dark on them. Usually after a hard mission. It was only the knowledge that Aramis would never put anything, not even his own feelings, above Porthos that assured Athos that their sniper would not go to that extreme now.

"I'll follow with the SUV," d'Artagnan stated from outside the ambulance. Only after Athos nodded did he slam the door shut, pounding a hand against it to let the driver know they were ready to move.

Athos watched Porthos' gaze wander listlessly around the interior of the ambulance before finally settling back on him.

"Where's 'Mis?" he asked in bewildered confusion.

I don't know.

"He'll meet us there, Porthos."


Porthos woke feeling remarkably more clear-headed than he had when he'd gone to sleep. The confusing effects of his concussion were fading away and he could finally piece together a bit of what had happened.

He took a moment before opening his eyes, assessing the amount of pain he was in. Getting shot was never a good time, but as such wounds went, this one wasn't terrible. Something to credit the shooter with, he was sure.

Satisfied that his pain meds were doing their job sufficiently, Porthos opened his eyes, glancing around his hospital room. His brow drew together in confusion when the only face to greet him was that of their team's youngest.

"Where's Aramis?" Porthos asked without preamble. He couldn't remember a time he'd woken up after being injured that his closest brother wasn't there waiting for him.

D'Artagnan looked a bit like a deer caught in the headlights for a moment before he schooled his expression.

"The doctor says your scans look good. And also that you shouldn't have any mobility issues once your shoulder heals."

Porthos stared at him, concern mounting when d'Artagnan nervously shifted his gaze away.

"Where is he?" he asked again, more firmly.

D'Artagnan sighed and looked back at him in resignation.

"We don't know. His phone is off and he hasn't check in."

Porthos felt a rush of cold fear from his head down to his toes. He hated it when Aramis did this. Hated it. He'd done it all the time after Savoy. He would disappear for hours at a time, sometimes days, without a word to anyone. In those days Porthos had worried that they would find him dead, buried under the weight of 20 lost souls and having finally decided to join them.

He didn't do it as often now, but sometimes when he took a mission too hard, he would go dark again.

"Where's Athos?" Porthos demanded, gripping the bedrail and hauling himself up to sitting.

D'Artagnan's eyes went wide and he jumped up from his seat, hands hovering in midair as if he wished to push Porthos back down.

"He's out looking for Aramis."

"He won't find him," Porthos grumbled, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. "He never knows where to look."

"Yes, that's usually your expertise," a voice spoke from the doorway.

Porthos twisted, glaring across the room at Athos. Their team leader looked worn and worried, but otherwise composed.

"Did you find him?" Porthos wondered hopefully, despite the claims he'd made moments before.

"Would I be here alone if I had?" Athos countered, coming farther into the room and offering d'Artagnan a steaming cup of coffee. "I've called the usual places. I had Constance check the apartment and Treville went to the Garrison. No one has seen him."

Porthos shook his head, scoffing in exasperated annoyance.

"What?" Athos challenged. "Is there somewhere else I should have looked?"

"Yeah," Porthos snapped. "HERE."

Athos frowned, looking uncharacteristically confused.

"He shot me, Athos. He was forced to shoot me. Do you really think he'd be anywhere but here?"

Porthos watched the light in Athos' eyes spark as he realized the truth of Porthos' words. He met Porthos' gaze again.

"He's staying out of sight, but close enough to keep up with your condition," Athos theorized.

"Somewhere high," Porthos added. "With good sightlines."

"The roof," d'Artagnan suggested.

They both looked at him sharply, having forgotten he was there, then looked back at each other. Porthos made like he was going to try to stand, but Athos held up a hand.

"I'll go. He'd be furious if you came tramping up there in your condition."

Porthos hesitated and Athos sighed.

"He's my brother too, Porthos," he reminded quietly. "I've got him."


Athos was not as confident as he portrayed himself to Porthos. And as he pushed his way through the access door that lead out onto the roof, he wondered what he would say if he actually did find Aramis here.

At first, it seemed that Porthos' uncanny ability to read his best friend's mind had finally failed. The roof appeared deserted. But then Athos heard a dull, repetitive thudding from the other side of the enclosed stairwell. He ventured around it and was totally unsurprised to see Aramis sitting on the edge of the half-wall, feet tapping rhythmically against the brick as he looked out over the city.

Athos wasn't worried about startling him. Aramis couldn't be startled unless he was having one of his, now rare, PTSD episodes.

"He woke up and you weren't there," Athos stated bluntly. He grimaced, having come across far more accusatory than he'd intended.

Aramis' feet stopped their swinging and the sniper went absolutely, eerily still.

"I only mean to say that he wondered where you were and was worried."

He watched Aramis' head tilted slightly, but he still didn't turn to face him.

"Knowing Porthos, he knew exactly where I was."

Athos rolled his eyes, unwilling to admit that it had taken Porthos thirty seconds to figure out what Athos had been unable to unravel over several hours.

"And Porthos is always worried about me. It's his default setting." Aramis added lightly.

"You should be down there with him," Athos pointed out. "What if his condition had worsened?"

Aramis held up an unfamiliar phone.

"I'm getting text updates from the beautiful, wholly unattached Nurse Jacklyn."

Athos frowned.

"That's not your phone."

"It's one of my burners."

Athos sighed deeply.

"So you're using a burner so that we couldn't find you? You're hiding from us now?"

"No…" Aramis hedged slowly.

"Aramis…"

"Just you."

Athos flinched in surprise.

"Is it because I gave the order to fire?"

"But you didn't, did you? You didn't give the order," Aramis countered, turning sideways and bending a leg to rest on the top of the wall he sat on. He glared across the space between them. "'You see the situation, Diablo. You're behind the gun. Make the call.'" He quoted. "You put that on my shoulders."

Athos shook his head sharply, taking a step forward with wide eyes.

"No, Aramis, I didn't mean… I had only hoped that you would step back and see the situation as I did. That you would see there wasn't another option. You didn't have a choice."

Aramis swung around completely, jumping off the wall and striding towards him. He grabbed two handfuls of Athos' leather jacket and jerked him closer.

"I shot Porthos!" he hissed. "Porthos!"

"You had to," Athos assured firmly. "There was no choice, Aramis."

"There is always a choice," Aramis denied with sharp shake of his head.

"Not this time," Athos argued. "If you hadn't made that shot, Porthos would be dead."

Aramis shook his head and pushed Athos away. He turned his back on him again and looked out over the skyline.

"You didn't have a choice, Aramis," Athos repeated firmly. "Porthos knows that too. In fact, I imagine he's grateful to you."

"For shooting him?" Aramis scoffed derisively.

"For saving his life," Athos corrected calmly.

Aramis sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face and then tangling it up into his hair.

"Come and see him," Athos requested. "If I come back without you, Porthos will just come looking for you himself and he's in no shape to do that right now."

Aramis huffed and though Athos couldn't see his face, he could imagine the sniper rolling his eyes in fond exasperation. They both knew how true Athos' words were.

Finally, he gave a reluctant nod.


Porthos sat up straighter when Athos came striding into the room. He leaned to look past him and let out a relieved breath when Aramis came reluctantly trailing behind. His brother's already unruly hair was wind-tousled and he had his hands tucked into the jean jacket he always wore layered over a gray hooded sweatshirt. He was watching Porthos warily, as if worried about how he would be received.

Porthos gave him a warm smile of greeting.

"Nice of you to turn up," he teased carefully.

Aramis watched him from the doorway for another moment before a slight grin cracked his stern expression and he drifted into the room. Athos and d'Artagnan quietly slid out to give them a moment alone.

"You know me, I hate all the waiting. I've no patience for it."

"Ah, but you've missed out on meeting my night-shift nurse. She's just your type."

"Blonde and witty?"

"Breathing," Porthos quipped with a smirk.

Aramis huffed a chuckle and rolled his eyes, shifting a few steps closer to the bed. His dark gaze was looking Porthos over, clinically assessing the bandages on his shoulder, expertly translating what the monitors were telling him, and doing everything but meeting Porthos' eyes.

"I'd be dead if not for you," Porthos stated bluntly.

That did it. Aramis' eyes snapped to his.

"Thank you for what you did," he went on.

"For shooting you?" Aramis challenged with an arched brow. Porthos could see the guilt in his eyes, the self-loathing, the doubt that he'd made the right call.

"For saving me," Porthos countered, "even though it cost you."

"I'm not the one in the hospital bed," Aramis pointed out.

"I'm not talking about physical cost," Porthos replied. "I know what it costs you to squeeze that trigger. I know what it takes from you every time you have to do it. And I know that making that choice last night wasn't easy."

Aramis' eyes moistened and he looked down to hide it.

"No, it wasn't," he agreed quietly.

"I forgive you for making it," Porthos offered carefully.

Aramis eyes rose once again to meet his, looking surprised and hopeful. Whether Porthos believed Aramis needed to be forgiven or not, Aramis believed he did. So Porthos would gladly give him that peace of mind.

"You do?" he asked.

"'Mis, I forgave you before you even pulled the trigger."

The tension drained out of Aramis' posture and he finally finished his agonizingly slow journey to Porthos' bedside. Porthos reached out and snagged his wrist, pulling him forward until he could properly hug him.

"You were protecting me in the only way you could," he assured firmly, before loosening his hold and allowing Aramis to retreat. The sniper merely sat on the edge of the bed, pretense of personal boundaries gone now that the air was clear.

"I hear you offered up some new code names for the pup," Porthos commented with a grin.

"Yes, he expressed dissatisfaction with the one he'd been assigned," Aramis replied with an answering smirk.

Porthos nodded.

"I liked Labradoodle."

 

Chapter Text

 

When Aramis woke, squinting even from the meager light sneaking in behind their makeshift curtain, Porthos knew it was going to be a bad day. He watched Aramis slowly roll up to sitting, swinging his legs tiredly over the side of his bed. He braced his elbows on his knees and dropped his head into his hands. Porthos watched his fingers restlessly begin to rub the old scar long since hidden behind the hair above his right ear.

"Aramis?" he called, in a voice pitched low and soft. "You alright?"

Instead of answering, Aramis' head sunk further into his hands, his right palm now pressing solidly against the scar.

"How bad is it?" Porthos asked knowingly, sure to keep his voice in a whisper. Aramis opened his mouth to answer but Porthos cut him off. "The truth."

Aramis squinted up at him with a weak version of a scowl.

"You know me too well, mon frére,(my brother,) Aramis replied with a pinched grin.

"How bad?" Porthos asked again.

Aramis opened his mouth to reply, but was stopped this time by the door to their shared quarters banging open. The influx of the bright morning light made them both wince, but Aramis also turned his head away, pressing his hand over his eyes with a low groan.

Porthos frowned and watched Aramis' shoulders roll forward. He was off his bed and halfway across the room with the chamber pot – thankfully just emptied – before d'Artagnan had even stepped into the room.

Porthos went to a knee next to Aramis and shoved the pot under his face just in time to catch whatever Aramis heaved up. He rested his free hand across Aramis' nape and then looked over his shoulder at d'Artagnan.

"What's wrong with him?" the young Musketeer asked with wide, worried eyes.

Aramis twitched under Porthos' hand and heaved again.

"Keep your voice down," Porthos hissed softly. "Where's Athos?"

"He's down in the yard," d'Artagnan whispered back. "He sent me to rouse you two."

"Go and fetch him," Porthos instructed. "And close the door behind you."

D'Artagnan nodded hastily, eyes wide with worry, and retreated. He pulled the door closed quickly, but silently, behind him. That handled, Porthos returned his attention to Aramis. His shoulders were still rolling with heaves, but nothing was coming up anymore.

"Get it under control, 'Mis," Porthos whispered, massaging Aramis' shoulders carefully.

It took a moment, but Aramis stopped heaving. Porthos set aside the chamber pot and nudged Aramis to lay back down. He sighed in frustration when the marksman resisted.

"Lay back down. You need to try and sleep through it."

"Just…give me a moment…" Aramis muttered around carefully controlled breaths. "I'll be fine."

"Aramis, you can't even open your eyes," Porthos pointed out wearily.

Aramis huffed in frustration, but didn't try to prove Porthos wrong as he usually would when such a challenging statement was issued. He continued to sit on the edge of his bed for several moments, hunched forward with elbows braced on his knees and his head in his hands – right palm pressed to the scar. His eyes were clenched closed and his jaw was set in a hard line.

"Lay down," Porthos instructed again, more firmly this time.

Aramis hesitated.

"It's only me here," Porthos reminded.

The marksman's shoulders drooped and gave in. He blindly allowed Porthos to guide him back into his bed and rolled to face the wall, draping an arm over his head.

Porthos had just flicked the blanket back over him when the door slowly eased open, but only far enough for Athos to squeeze through. Then it was shut tightly once more.

"How bad?" Athos asked in a whisper as he moved to the single window, snagging a spare blanket out of the trunk beneath it – stored there for days like today – and proceeded to secure it over the window, casting the room into darkness.

"Seems bad," Porthos replied, concern coloring his tone. "Couldn't even make it out of bed."

"I sent d'Artagnan for cool water and rags and stopped in to inform Treville. He removed us from the duty roster for the day," Athos informed him quietly. "I'll go ask Serge to start preparing some of that soup he likes. Try to get him to sleep," Athos instructed before slipping silently out of the room.

Porthos returned to Aramis' bed and sat on the edge.

"Think you can sleep?" he asked softly.

Aramis slowly uncurled the arm from his head and peered up at Porthos through the darkness. He didn't say anything, but they'd known each other long enough that sometimes words weren't needed.

"Okay, you got it," Porthos promised. Then he turned and stretched out beside Aramis on the bed. Aramis was curled impossibly small into the wall, face hidden under an arm again. Porthos hooked his own arm behind his head and settled in to stare at the ceiling for however long he was needed.


D'Artagnan followed Athos into the room, carefully balancing his bowl of water in his hands. The room was fully dark and once they closed the door, d'Artagnan could barely see enough to move around. Athos didn't seem phased at all. He moved freely and easily throughout the room, retrieving a single candle and setting it on a small shelf in the corner of the room furthest from Aramis' bed. Once that was lit, it provided a soft, meager glow to navigate by and d'Artagnan dutifully brought the water and rags towards Porthos and Aramis.

Porthos was stretched out on his back next to Aramis, who was on his side, curled away from the room and into the wall. The big man pointed to the floor and d'Artagnan deposited his burden there. Then he retreated to the other corner where Athos had settled on the foot of Porthos' bed with a book.

D'Artagnan hovered awkwardly for a moment before Athos tilted his head toward the space on the bed next to him. Relieved, d'Artagnan clambered up to sit on the thin mattress.

For a moment they sat in silence, Athos reading and d'Artagnan watching Porthos and Aramis.

"Why is Porthos in his bed?" d'Artagnan finally asked, careful to keep his voice soft.

Athos looked up from his book, eyes settling for a moment on the other two Musketeers before he looked back down at his book.

"Aramis sleeps better with a warm body at his back."

D'Artagnan nodded.

"Because of Savoy," he realized.

Athos nodded once.

"What's wrong with him?" d'Artagnan asked.

"He suffered a grievous head injury in Savoy," Athos explained without looking up from the pages he was perusing. "He sometimes suffers crippling headaches because of it."

D'Artagnan nodded again.

"He showed me the scar once."

Athos looked up from the book again when they heard Porthos murmur something too softly for them to make out. Aramis shifted a bit before settling his weight back against Porthos' arm instead of curled into the wall.

D'Artagnan didn't know why Athos looked so relieved by this change.

The older man must have sensed his confusion because he looked over at him.

"What did he tell you about Savoy?" Athos asked.

"Only that they were attacked in the night and Marsac saved his life before deserting."

Athos nodded.

"That's his preferred version."

D'Artagnan frowned in confusion.

"What that version of the story fails to disclose is that he was out there, alone, for five days with twenty dead Musketeers before they found him."

"They?" d'Artagnan asked.

"Porthos, Treville, and two others that had gone to retrieve the bodies."

D'Artagnan shook his head in bewilderment.

"Why did nobody find him sooner?"

Athos sighed.

"The report said no survivors. It was assumed that he was…" Athos trailed off and shook his head. "Imagine their surprise to find him alive," he finished in a low, contemplative murmur. Then he drew in a breath and settled his gaze on the two men across the room. "As surely as Savoy left that scar on his body, it left a bigger one on his soul."

D'Artagnan watched Aramis shift again. Then Porthos leaned off the bed to wet one of the rags d'Artagnan had brought. He reached over to settle it across Aramis' forehead and then stretched back out on the bed, letting Aramis' back settle against his arm again.

"You wouldn't know it day to day," Athos surprised him by going on. But when d'Artagnan looked at him, Athos was staring across the room, gaze fixed on his brothers. "He hides it well. He needed us a lot in the beginning, but now he mostly handles the bad days well enough on his own. Sometimes, though, on the really bad ones he still needs us."

"Like today?"

Athos inclined his head.

"In a way. Today is a little different. The headaches make everything worse. They lower his defenses in more than one way and can make real rest hard to find. If we weren't here to bully him into letting us look after him, he'd try to go on about his day and just make it worse."

"So, you do this every time? The water and rags, the darkness, the waiting?"

Athos nodded.

"Many years ago, Porthos and I promised him – and swore to each other – that we would never leave him alone with these ghosts, no matter the form they took…" Athos trailed off, a frown turning down his mouth. D'Artagnan wondered if he was thinking of Marsac. A moment later, Athos answered the unspoken question. "We failed him in that once, but never again."

Chapter Text

 

Athos hated himself most days. He truly did. He hated himself for not protecting Thomas. He hated himself for abandoning his father's – his – lands and title. He hated himself for loving Anne and then hated himself for killing her.

He drank to forget all the reasons he loathed himself.

And then loathed himself for being a drunk.

It was a vicious, destructive circle, but one he had no real desire to pull himself out of.

Not until he'd met them, at least. Aramis and Porthos – two beacons of light in his dark and dreary world. Some days, their presence alone was enough to pull him out of the shadows of memory.

But some days it wasn't.

He sat now, on one such day, with a belly full of wine, pleasantly feeling nothing at all.

It was with numb regard that he watched Aramis duck into the tavern, shaking snow off his hat and bundled in his blue cloak. His brother searched the tavern with his eyes, but Athos made no effort to draw his attention.

Aramis would find him easily enough without help and Athos was in no hurry to expedite being escorted away from the wine.

He watched Aramis spot him, but still only stared.

Aramis' gaze narrowed, head tilting slightly as he studied Athos from across the room.

Then the marksman moved, but not towards Athos as he expected, towards the fire burning in the hearth on the far wall instead. Athos downed the rest of his cup and watched Aramis spend several minutes hunkered close to the flames, hands outstretched to absorb the heat. Athos wondered if it was Aramis' hands that were shaking or his vision.

The snow was likely bringing up all sorts of traumatic memories for the marksman, but in his current apathetic state Athos couldn't bring himself to care. Instead, he tipped the wine bottle to pour more of the contents into his cup and waited for Aramis to make a move.

His brother was here to collect him, of that he was certain.

This ritual was a practiced one. Usually the tavern keeper waited until Athos was practically unconscious before calling in one of the others, though. So Athos was curious as to how the whole process would proceed when he still had some of his faculties in order.

"Athos?"

A hand waving in front of his face, made the swordsman blink and draw his head back. He stared, dumfounded at Aramis, who peered down at him in concern. Athos frowned, wondering when Aramis had moved.

"How much have you had?" Aramis asked, taking away the wine bottle even as Athos reached for it.

"Too much," Athos replied blandly. "And at the same time far too little."

Aramis rolled his eyes and passed the bottle off to a passing barmaid.

"I was drinking that," Athos objected, clumsily reaching after her. Aramis caught his arm with unreasonably fast reflexes and used the grip to haul him up.

"Come on, let's go."

"No," Athos objected, pushing against Aramis with his free hand and attempting valiantly to stay in his seat.

"Athos, let's go." Aramis pulled on him again.

Athos glared and remained stubbornly seated.

Aramis sighed, looking incredibly weary and rubbed at his eyes.

"Athos, I'm tired and I'm cold. I want to go home. Get up or so help me, I will knock you out and carry you."

"You wouldn't dare," Athos challenged confidently. His sluggish gaze was unable to track the fist as it flew towards his face, but he felt it with perfectly clarity.


When Athos woke again, it was to find himself vomiting violently into a bucket. When he was done, a cup pressed against his lips.

He hoped for wine, but tasted water.

He spat it back out.

There was a loud, frustrated curse in what his muddled mind vaguely recognized as Spanish. Then the sound of something slamming down onto a table and a door opening and shutting sharply.

As Athos drifted back to sleep he hardly noticed the quiet click if the door opening and closing again.


The next time he woke it was morning.

He squinted against the meager light spilling in through the partially covered window and looked around. He was in his old quarters at the Garrison, a room once shared between he, Porthos and Aramis until he had sought a private apartment in the city. Aramis and Porthos both still resided here and had never bothered to have Athos' bed removed.

His mouth felt dry and a bit like something furry had died in it and his head pounded mercilessly.

Still, he forced his eyes to remain open and searched for what he knew would not be far.

Sure enough, Aramis was slouched uncomfortably in a chair near the bed. His arms were crossed over his chest and his feet crossed and propped on the edge of the mattress.

And he was staring right at him.

Athos stared back, blinking dumbly.

"Why do you do this to yourself?" Aramis asked suddenly, voice scratchy and rough.

With a stirring of guilt, Athos noticed the dark circles under his brother's eyes and the exhaustion lining his posture. It had been snowing last night, Athos remembered. Less than a year after Savoy, the first snowfall of the winter had led to a resurgence of Aramis' struggles to recover from that trauma. Weeks into winter now, it had gotten a little better, but not much.

"It doesn't matter," he replied lowly, guilt and worry churning his gut as he wondered if Aramis had slept last night. And if he did, had he had nightmares? With Porthos away and Athos more or less unconscious, there would have been no one to ground him in reality.

"Maybe it matters to me," Aramis shot back. "Maybe picking you up off the floor of taverns has gotten a bit old."

The worry and guilt faded quickly in the face of the sarcastic jab.

"No one asked you to," Athos snapped.

"That's the point of us: me, you, and Porthos. We don't have to ask."

"If it bothers you so much, just leave me there next time."

Aramis shook his head in frustration and looked away.

"Would you leave me?" he asked, still turned away. "If I were drinking myself into oblivion because of Savoy, would you leave me?"

Athos frowned.

"Of course not," he answered.

Aramis finally looked back at him.

"Would you try to stop me?" he asked.

Athos knew where this was going.

"It's not the same," he insisted.

"I suppose I wouldn't know," Aramis replied flippantly. "While you know my demons, I've not even gotten a passing introduction to yours."

"I've told you," Athos defended.

"Ah yes, there was a woman and she died. How did she die?"

Athos pressed his lips together and didn't answer.

"When?" Aramis went on.

Athos remained silent.

"How long did you know her? What was her name?"

Athos looked away.

Aramis sighed and stood.

"I've volunteered for grounds patrol at the palace today. I've told Treville you took ill last night and would be a few hours delayed in your duties," he informed Athos stiffly. It wasn't until Aramis was at the door that Athos realized his brother was fully dressed, winter cloak and all. Aramis pulled the door open, but paused before stepping through.

"I'm glad you're not dead. But if you wouldn't mind waiting for Porthos to return before trying to drink yourself to death again, I would appreciate it."

Then he was gone before Athos could decide if he was angry or not. Before he could ask why Aramis had volunteered for an outside patrol when the snow would only set him on edge. Before he could volunteer to join the patrol and go with him.

Instead Athos was left alone, hating himself once again.

 

Chapter Text

 

"I told you this was a bad idea," Porthos snapped irritably as they tramped through the woods.

"It's been nearly a year," Athos shot back, equally perturbed. "He hasn't had an episode in almost two months!"

Porthos whirled on him, gesturing around the woods with a wide sweep of his arm.

"Well he's bloody well having one now!"

"Arguing isn't going to help us find him any faster," Athos pointed out, shoving past Porthos to continue their search.

Porthos threw up his arms in frustration.

"He's ex-Special Forces. He can probably sense us coming a mile away!"

Athos rolled his eyes, and glanced over his shoulder at Porthos.

"With as loud as you're being, he'll likely hear us long before then."

He frowned when Porthos eyes narrowed and then went abruptly very wide.

"What?" Athos barely got the question out before Porthos was yanking him to the dirt.

"Down!"

A shot cracked above their heads, imbedding in a tree just beyond where Athos had been standing.

They both laid there for a moment, breathing hard with the spike of adrenaline.

"Is that him?" Athos asked, shocked.

Porthos nodded.

"Saw the glint on his rifle by chance," Porthos revealed. "Didn't see him, though…he's too bloody good at this."

Silence reigned around them, but it wasn't a comfort. A silent Aramis was usually a deadly one, or a dying one, neither option was welcome at the moment.

"What are our chances of getting out of this without him shooting us?" Athos wondered, easing his head above the log Porthos had pulled them down behind. He couldn't see anything, but ducked down just as a bullet bit into the wood an inch from his nose.

Porthos put a steadying hand on his shoulder.

"Best keep your head down with 'Mis behind the scope, yeah?"

"He didn't kill me," Athos stated.

"Lucky you."

"No, Porthos, he hit the wood in front of me while I was still exposed enough to watch it happen."

Understanding lit Porthos' gaze.

"A warning." Then he narrowed his eyes in thought before suddenly nodding. "I'm gonna risk it."

He rolled out from behind their cover and flowed to his feet.

Athos reached fruitlessly after him, trying to pull him back.

"Wait, no!" He sighed. "Shit," he muttered before climbing to his feet as well.

He followed Porthos example and raised his hands in a show of surrender.

"Aramis, you know me," Porthos announced. "You know my voice. You're not where you think you are."

A bullet bit into the dirt before Porthos' feet.

He obediently stopped his approach and waited. No other bullet tore into flesh, so he figured he was safe to keep talking.

"Hear me, Aramis. Follow me back."

Abruptly, a figure swung down athletically from a tree, landing in a crouch. Aramis rose to face them, sniper rifle slung across his back and two Desert Eagle hand guns pointed at their heads. He'd camoflaugrd himself with mud spread across exposed skin and in the fading light, he cut white the lethal looking figure.

"What are you doing here?" Aramis demanded. "Who sent you?"

"He's still there," Athos murmured from Porthos shoulder.

"Aramis," Porthos tried again, extending a calming hand.

"Did you kill them? Are they all dead?" Aramis demanded, guns steady in his hands despite how his voice shook. "Where's Marsac? What have you done with him?"

"Aramis," Porthos intoned firmly, stepping forward.

Aramis' eyes homed in on him like a hawk spotting its prey and one of the guns rose to target Porthos' forehead.

"Hear me," Porthos commanded, not stopping his approach.

Aramis' eyes narrowed at him, and Porthos could see his mind whirling as he tried to figure out what was going on.

"Follow me back," Porthos repeated the mantra once more.

Every time this happened, those words were the key.

Aramis. Hear Me. Follow me back.

Porthos didn't stop until the barrel of Aramis' Desert Eagle was pressing against the skin of his forehead.

Aramis looked confused now, nearly painfully so. Porthos wondered, in moments like this, what the world looked like to the marksman. Was reality blending with memory before his eyes? That was how Aramis described it once. Like an old reel film, playing with the two pieces of film stuck together, one image overlaid on the other.

It was no wonder Aramis always looked his most vulnerable in these moments, as he clawed his way back to them.

"Porthos?" Aramis finally whispered, eyes widening fractionally as recognition settled in.

"I'm here," Porthos assured.

"But…"

"You're not there," he went on before Aramis could argue. "You're not in Savoy."

"But…" Aramis looked to where Athos stood, obviously not having progressed far enough to recognize him yet. "Who…"

"Oh that's just Athos," Porthos replied, careful to keep his voice light and warm. He was keenly aware that the gun was still pressed to his forehead. And Aramis, made strong through years of training, had not wavered in his aim.

"Athos…" Aramis repeated the name slowly.

Porthos watched the rest of reality trickle in through Aramis' eyes. The guns dropped to his side and he took a step back, eyes widening by the moment.

"Easy," Porthos coached, taking a single step in pursuit. "Breathe."

"What…what happened?" Aramis asked, eyes wide as saucers and breaths coming in sharp gasps. His eyes cut around them, confusion clouding them. "Where are we? How did we get here?"

Athos watched Porthos reach out, wrapping his hand around the back of Aramis' neck and forcing him to look at him. Ever since Savoy Porthos had just always seemed to know what Aramis needed. He knew how to talk to him. When to be firm and when to be gentle. He'd known when a touch was needed and when it would only make things worse. Athos wasn't sure how he did it; how he interpreted the various pitfalls that came with Aramis' PTSD. But he was grateful that at least one of them knew how to get through to him.

"Focus on me and holster those weapons before you shoot your own foot," Porthos instructed firmly. When Aramis did as instructed, Porthos went on. "Something triggered you. You took off with your rifle before we knew what was happening. We've been tracking you for hours."

Aramis' brow slid up and he frowned in contemplation.

"That explains why I'm so thirsty."

Athos wordlessly produced his own water bottle and tossed it to him.

Aramis slid out of Porthos' grip and unscrewed the lid, downing a mouthful, only to grimace and give the bottle an odd look. Then he tossed a disbelieving glance at Athos.

Athos shrugged. There wasn't a rule that said he had to carry water when he was off duty.

"Thanks, but my liver isn't as resilient as yours," Aramis teased, tossing the bottle back. But then the marksman sobered, looking around again.

"Do you know what did it?" Porthos asked.

Aramis sighed, scrubbing a hand up into his hair.

"I don't know. I could have been any number of things. I haven't… I haven't been camping since…"

He didn't need to finish. They all knew how the sentence ended.

"Stop looking so worried," Aramis joked suddenly, a familiar forced smile on his face. "I'm fine now."

"Do you want to go home?" Athos asked seriously. They would, immediately, if that's what Aramis wanted. But the marksman shook his head, brow pinching together seriously.

"I won't tiptoe around for the rest of my life, worried about what could or might trigger me. I won't live like that," he stated firmly. "Maybe I wasn't ready for this yet," he admitted. "But I'm here and I won't run home just because things haven't gone as smoothly as we'd like. I'm a soldier, I need to be able to walk through the woods. Savoy took enough from me. I won't let it take my ability to do my job."

Athos shared a glance with Porthos, who shrugged in deference to Aramis' wishes. Athos looked back at Aramis to find him waiting expectantly. He stood straight and tall, shoulders rolled back confidently. His eyes were haunted, but so were theirs.

Athos inclined his head in agreement.

"Okay."

Chapter Text

 

"Diablo, come in. Do you copy?" Porthos hissed.

"The EMP took out our comms, Porthos, he can't hear you," d'Artagnan pointed out. He shrugged when Athos glared at him. "What? He can't."

"Diablo, do you read me? Come in," Porthos tried again. When the comm line remained silent, he cursed. "This is bad," he stated.

"He'll be fine," Athos assured, though he sounded a bit like he was trying to convince himself.

"He's probably better off than us at the moment," d'Artagnan added, peaking his head over the broken down, rusty truck they were using as cover. "We're the ones that're surrounded."

"I don't like this," Porthos lamented, shaking his head and glancing at Athos. "He's got no one watching his six."

"He never does when he's at roost, you know that," Athos countered, pressing his back more firmly against the side of the truck when more bullets pinged into the metal. "There's not much we can do about it anyway. We need to solve our situation first, then worry about his."

Porthos clenched his jaw, looking momentarily rebellious. But then he blew out a harsh breath.

"Remind me to kill whoever gave us this shitty intel," he snapped, then forced himself to take a slow breath. "If we can get to the Humvee, I can get us out of here," he strategized more calmly. He wasn't the top-rated driver within the Musketeers for nothing.

"How do you suggest we do that?" d'Artagnan asked. "We're outnumbered 10 to 1 and…" he looked down at his gun, checking the rounds, "I'm almost out of ammo."

Both veteran Musketeers gave him a reproachful look.

"I'm tellin' 'Mis on you," Porthos threatened. "He'll have you restocking your supply pack for hours. Out of ammo…" Porthos shook his head disapprovingly.

"Just because Aramis walks around with enough ammo strapped to him to supply a small militia, doesn't mean we all should," d'artagnan argued.

"Gentlemen," Athos' calm voice cut through their bickering.

They both looked at him, then edged up to follow his line of sight over the hood of the truck.

Their enemy were dropping one by one.

Porthos grinned wolfishly.

"Atta boy," he muttered, ducking back down.

"He's giving us our opening, we move on my command," Athos instructed firmly, tone all business. He edged around to the front bumper of the truck, gauging the distance to their Humvee. "On my mark."

"Uh, guys…" d'Artagnan's worried voice, made them both freeze. They snapped their heads around to look at him, but he was staring up into the hills. More specifically, he was staring at the large contingent of men now riding various vehicles into the hills, straight for their hidden sniper.

"We can't warn him," Porthos breathed in horror.

"He'll see them coming," Athos replied sharply.

"There're too many of them," d'Artagnan pointed out. "If he keeps firing, he'll give away his position. He can't cover us and himself."

Porthos stared at Athos. They both knew who Aramis would choose to protect.

"We can't waste it," Athos whispered.

They heard more shouts as the men firing at them continued to fall at a steady pace. Those that remained were now taking cover.

"We have to get to him," Porthos stated, firmly and without room for argument.

"And we will," Athos promised. "We will. But first, we have to get out of here. Now, on my mark, we move. Understood?"

Porthos looked sick at the idea, but nodded anyway.

"Retriever, you stay between us," Athos ordered.

D'Artagnan moved to crouch in front of Porthos.

"We have got to discuss that code name," he muttered.

"Ready?" Athos eyed the area around them. Aramis had cut them a clean path and right now the enemy was only taking potshots at them. They had become more focused with shielding themselves from the sniper's assault. "Go."

They moved as one unit, swiftly and silently. Porthos laid down fire to cover their rear and Athos kept his gun up to ensure the way remained clear. D'Artagnan covered any outliers that came into sight. It took less than a minute to reach the Humvee and pile in.

Porthos cranked the engine and looked out the window, up into the hills where the enemy vehicles had disappeared.

"We can't get him back if we're dead," Athos reminded.

With one last long look, Porthos whispered an apology and then slammed the Humvee into gear and hit the gas.


Aramis ran his tongue across his upper lip, tracking his teams escape through his scope. He shifted his focus back to the enemy within the compound and saw several men preparing to pursue. He took out the engine block of one of their trucks, sending them all scattering for cover again.

His senses were blaring warning, but he ignored it.

He had seen a chunk of their enemy break off from the compound. He'd tracked the various four wheelers, dirtbikes and trucks headed his way for a moment before ignoring them in favor of covering his brothers.

He knew he was giving away his position. They would be on him in a matter of moments most likely. But until he knew his brothers were out of danger, he wouldn't give up his roost.

He fired again, destroying the engine of a dirt bike.

Then he went absolutely still as a presence loomed over him and the barrel of a rifle pressed into the back of his head.

"Stand up slowly," he was instructed firmly. "Keep your hands where we can see them."

Aramis did as he was asked, going first to his knees then rising to his feet, hands held up to waist height. He glared when one of the men snatched his rifle up, pawing at it in a way only a man unfamiliar with such weapons could.

"That's a custom-made rifle," he warned coldly. "If you break her, I'll break your hand."

The man holding the gun froze, eyes going wide. He quickly shoved the rifle into someone else hands. Aramis smirked darkly.

"What you're going to do is get on your knees and lace your fingers behind your head," the one who appeared to be the leader instructed.

"You just told me to stand up," Aramis pointed out sarcastically. "Make up your mind."

The butt of a rifle slammed into the small of his back and a foot kicked against the back of his knee. His knees hit the dirt and he had to throw out a hand to catch himself.

"Alright, no need to be so hostile," he snarked, slowly straightening and very deliberately lacing his fingers behind his head. He glanced back at the man who had hit him. "I think I'll kill you first."

"Shut him up!" the leader snapped.

This time the rifle but caught him in the head and Aramis was unconscious before he hit the dirt.


Aramis stumbled forward, glaring over his shoulder at the man who had shoved him.

He'd come around to find himself sprawled in the bed of a truck, hands tied behind his back. All of his weapons, save the knife he kept in his boot, were gone and the vicious, violent part of him was looking forward to retrieving each and every one. He'd realized quickly, once he'd vindictively thrown up his field rations all over the nearest man's boots, that they were taking him back to the compound.

A stupid move, if they'd bothered to ask his opinion. Now his brothers would know exactly where to find him. Not that he was going to warn them of that.

All he had to do was stall for time and keep them from getting him into one of the buildings. Once he was inside, rescue efforts became a whole lot more complicated.

So when he was shoved again, he let himself sprawl to the dirt, purposefully throwing his left shoulder down. Without his hands to catch himself, his cheek scraped on the hard ground and his shoulder popped out of joint. He let loose a shout of pain purely for the viewers benefit. It was his bad shoulder, always popping out at the slightest sign of trouble. The coming out wasn't so bad anymore, or perhaps he'd just gotten used to it. It was the putting it back in that he usually liked to avoid.

"Get up!" someone shouted, kicking at Aramis' feet.

"My shoulder," he ground out around a groan that was mostly real. "It's dislocated."

Hands latched onto him, yanking him up and holding him on his feet. A rough examination of his shoulder had him biting down hard enough on the inside of his cheek to draw blood.

"Well we better fix that," the leader decided. "Cut his hands free."

"Wait, wait, wait…just leave it, really," he protested as someone he couldn't see sliced through the ropes holding him. "Are you even trained to-" He gasped in pain as his arm was swiftly and efficiently manipulated and his shoulder forced roughly back into place.

Hands shoved him and he hit his knees, riding the wave of pain and then locking it away. There wasn't time for it. His brothers would be here at any moment. He had to be ready.

A red dot flashed in front of his face in the dirt, so briefly he would have missed it if he blinked.

Show time.

Time to distract.

"Get up," the leader snapped.

"I can't," Aramis replied, deliberately making his voice shake and following it with a gasp of pain. Boots kicked at him and he curled in on himself, protecting his head.

"Get up!"

Hands yanked at him again, and Aramis allowed himself to be pulled to his knees. He resisted going any higher, though. He didn't want to be in the line of fire, after all.

A gun barrel jabbed roughly against his temple.

"Get on your feet, or I will kill you right here."

Aramis saw a red dot flash on the leader's chest.

He smirked, feeling blood trickle over his lips from where his cheek was still bleeding into his mouth. The leader frowned down at him.

"Bang," Aramis whispered.

The leader fell.

Aramis snatched the gun from his hands and started firing, carving himself a path towards the three men rushing towards them. The men around him started panicking and one of them latched onto him. A knife glinted in Aramis' peripheral and he blocked it with his forearm, feeling the blade slice down to the bone. He grimaced and shot the man in the face. He tucked his bleeding arm to his abdomen and kept moving.

Porthos met him just as he broke away from the scattering enemy. The larger man wrapped an arm around his back and got a grip on his belt, hauling Aramis against his side and pulling him with him as they retreated.

Athos and d'Artagnan stepped forward, covering them as they ran – half stumbled in Aramis' case – back to the Humvee. When they got there, Porthos all but threw him into the back seat and then climbed in after him, Athos was in the driver seat a moment later and d'Artagnan slid into the passenger seat, still firing rounds back the way they'd come.

"GO!" Porthos shouted, clamping a hand around Aramis' forearm, which he dazedly realized was bleeding quite freely. "Hey, 'Mis, stay with me."

Aramis blinked at him, frowning at the lightheadedness that came over him.

Porthos leaned closer, staring into his eyes. But the way they were bouncing around made Aramis dizzy so he clamped his eyes closed.

"Concussion," he heard Porthos announce. "He's loosing a lot of blood. D'Art had me his medic pack…"

Aramis lost track of the conversation after that because with his eyes closed, it was surprisingly easy to fall asleep.


Athos shifted in his chair and grimaced. These plastic hospital chairs were hell for his back. D'Artagnan didn't seem to suffer any such discomfort because he'd been sleeping in one for hours now. The joys of youth.

Porthos was only sitting on the edge of his. He was leaning forward, elbows braced on the side of Aramis' bed, head resting wearily in his hands. He wouldn't sleep, willingly at least, until Aramis woke up. Athos wouldn't either. They'd both passed out for 15 minutes here or there over the course of the last three days, but hadn't gotten proper sleep.

Blood loss had been their main enemy this time, too much of it too quickly. When they'd gotten to the extraction point, where a medevac was mercifully waiting, Aramis' normally deeply tanned complexion was eerily gray.

Porthos had gone in the medevac with him, leaving Athos and d'Artagnan to take the regular chopper back to civilization.

Two transfusions later, it had been touch and go until recently. Finally, Aramis' vitals had leveled out and started growing stronger.

Athos glanced at Aramis' face, blinking in shock to find two sleep and drug muddled brown eyes staring at him.

"Aramis?" he called curiously, not sure if their brother was truly with them yet.

Porthos jumped, head snapping up and he leaned closer. Aramis' head rolled to face him, eyes clearing a bit at the sight of the larger Musketeer.

"There you are," Porthos greeted with a relieved smile, resting a hand on Aramis' unruly hair.

"Was I gone?" Aramis replied softly, lips quirking a bit at the familiar exchange.

"Not too far," Porthos assured. "Glad you're back, though."

Aramis grinned a little and then his eyes seemed to grow heavy again.

"Rest now," Athos instructed. "We've got the watch."

What little tension had risen, drained from Aramis' body and his eyes slid closed.

Porthos remained where he was for a moment longer before sinking back wearily into his seat.

"Sleep, Porthos," Athos instructed. "I'll rouse you if he wakes again."

The bigger man didn't argue, just folded forward and pillowed his head on his arms where he'd crossed them on the mattress.

"Wake me in a few hours to switch."

Athos nodded dutifully and settled back in his chair. His back ached, but he didn't move. He remained where he was, eyes on the door, keeping watch over his brothers.

Chapter Text

 

"Dios," Aramis muttered, hanging onto the rigging and barely keeping himself from going overboard.

"Again?" Porthos asked in sympathy as he leapt down from the upper deck, moving as if he was born on a ship.

"How is it you're not even the smallest bit affected?" Aramis wondered as he hauled himself upright, straining to regain a somewhat dignified posture. He schooled his expression expertly, but it did little good when he likely looked as green as he felt.

"Dunno," Porthos answered with a smile. "Maybe I've got some pirate in me."

The ship lurched again, and Aramis closed his eyes, swallowing thickly.

"Have you kept anything down?" Porthos asked more seriously.

Aramis didn't dare open his mouth at the moment, so he just shook his head.

"What about the pup?" Porthos went on.

"Athos is with him," Aramis answered before cursing and folding himself over the edge of the ship again. He didn't know how he kept getting sick. He'd lost what little food he'd eaten today hours ago. When he was done, he became aware of a hand on his back.

"You don't look so good," Porthos commented worriedly.

"I'm fine," Aramis groaned out, hauling himself back to standing.

His eyes widened when the world tipped sideways, and he went lurching after it.

"Whoa!" he heard Porthos exclaim in surprise.

The next thing Aramis was aware of was the hard deck beneath him.

"What happened?" he asked the large Musketeer hovering over him.

"You passed out but only for a few seconds. Best get you down below."

Aramis allowed Porthos to haul him upright only to end up clinging to the larger man when his legs refused to properly support him.

"I thought you'd been on a ship before?" Porthos wondered as he practically carried him towards the main hatch.

"Only once…and I was below decks mostly…and unconscious."

Porthos shook his head, always a bit astounded by Aramis' stories from the early days of the Musketeers. He nearly carried Aramis down the steps on his back as they made their way below decks.

"When I wasn't unconscious that time, I was too busy trying not to get myself killed to notice the movement…'s so boring here…" Aramis went on wearily. He let Porthos deposit him on a cot across from the one d'Artagnan was sleeping on. "There was no storm then either," he finished with a sigh, eyes clenching closed as the ship swayed.

Athos raised his eyebrows at them.

"Found him up on deck hanging over the side of the ship," Porthos explained.

"Again?" Athos asked, concern clouding his eyes.

Aramis hardly seemed to even notice they were talking about him, much less care.

"I don't think 'Mis has sea legs to even find," Porthos lamented. "How's that one?" he asked, nodding at d'Artagnan.

"Doing a bit better. Kept down some bread earlier," Athos reported.

They both looked at Aramis when he rolled to the side of the cot to wretch into the bucket placed next to it. Nothing came up, as it hadn't for hours, but his stomach still rebelled anyway.

Porthos crouched next to him, rubbing a hand across his shoulders. He looked at Athos with worried eyes.

"He's not kept food down for days now," he whispered. "We've still got two days left."

"It's this damn storm," Athos replied with a frown. "We would have been there yesterday without it."

"Oh, what a sweet dream that was," Aramis commented with an accompanying groan as he flopped back onto the cot.

"You need to try and eat," Athos pointed out. "And drink water."

Aramis groaned loudly in protest.

"Why must you torture me?" he asked pitifully, his usual stoicism fading after days of enduring the same unending sickness.

"Because we're rather fond of you and don't want you wasting away," Porthos replied, taking the bread Athos held out and extending it to Aramis.

The marksman stared at it but made no move to take it.

"I'm just going to throw it back up," he pointed out miserably.

"Maybe not. D'Artagnan didn't," Porthos reminded, gesturing at the sleeping Gascon. Aramis rolled his head to look at their youngest and then sighed.

"Fine."

He accepted the bread.

And threw it back up less than ten minutes later.


"Aramis, wake up. We're there," Porthos prodded gently.

Aramis' eyes fluttered open and he slowly shifted them to look at Porthos.

"We've stopped moving," he realized tiredly.

Porthos nodded.

"Mostly. We're in port. Let's get you off this ship, eh? Back on dry land?"

"To a bed that doesn't move," Aramis requested firmly.

"I promise. No moving beds," Porthos agreed, hauling Aramis up and supporting him towards the stairs. The marksman felt too thin in his arms after so many days without being able to keep food down. "Athos sent a letter to Treville," Porthos told him as they made slow progress up the stairs. "We're going to stay here a bit longer than planned. Give you and d'Artagnan a chance to recover a bit."

Aramis grunted his approval.

"Maybe I'll just stay here forever," he muttered.

"You don't mean that," Porthos replied with a chuckle. "What would you even do here?"

They stepped out onto the deck and headed directly for the gangplank. Athos and d'Artagnan were already waiting on the dock.

"I don't know, but I'd find something."

"What about us, then? You'd abandon us?" Porthos went on.

"You could always come visit," Aramis replied easily.

Porthos chuckled as they finally stepped off the gangplank onto the solid wood dock.

"We've acquired a recommendation for an inn," Athos informed them. "I suggest we make our way there before anything else."

"No moving beds," Aramis stated sharply.

"I'm with Aramis on that one," d'Artagnan agreed. Though he looked a bit better, he was still noticeably pale and sickly. "I don't suppose there's a way home without going back on the ship?" he asked.

"Afraid not," Porthos replied with an apologetic smile.

"That's what I was afraid of," d'Artagnan sighed, moving ahead with Athos to lead the way.

Porthos kept supporting hands on Aramis as they slowly followed.

"I'm so hungry," Aramis admitted suddenly and very quietly.

"I know, 'Mis," Porthos soothed. "We've got you back on solid ground now. You can eat whatever you want."

"I feel like I'm still moving," Aramis complained.

"Me too. But the captain said that'll fade," Porthos assured.

"How much further?"

"I don't know, but it can't be far."

Aramis clenched his jaw in determination and they continued on.


Athos stuck his head through the door, searching the room until he saw Porthos near the hearth. The large man was stoking the fire that burned there. Further inspection of the room showed an Aramis shaped lump curled into the wall on the bed.

"How is he?" Athos asked in concern.

Porthos glanced at him, then at Aramis, then back to Athos.

"Kept down that broth. But mostly wanted to sleep. I'll get him to eat more when he wakes up."

Athos nodded.

"d'Artagnan ate down in the dining room. He claims to be feeling better. We're going to go meet the ambassador and get the mission sorted."

Porthos nodded.

"Want me to come along?" he asked, looking reluctant to even offer.

"No," Athos denied immediately. "Stay with him." He cast one last lingering look at Aramis then sighed. "We'll be back soon." Then he disappeared and shut the door.

Porthos wandered over to the bed and stretched back out on the spot he'd vacated to tend the fire. Aramis stirred, curling closer to the wall before rolling onto his back so they were laying shoulder to shoulder, staring at the roof.

"How you feeling?" Porthos asked.

"Hmmmm…hungry," Aramis replied eventually.

Porthos nodded, sitting up.

"That I can help with. Do you want more broth or something solid?"

"Something solid?" Aramis hedged warily.

"Comin' right up," Porthos promised.

Aramis kept down the baked chicken Porthos brought him and by the next morning he was consuming everything in sight. Another time, Porthos might have gotten annoyed at constantly being sent for more food. But as it happened, he would have gladly fetched every morsel in the entire city if that's what Aramis had wanted.

Chapter Text

 

Aramis had never been what one would consider a 'good sleeper.' In the tiny one room apartment of his childhood, there had always been something to wake him through the night. Sirens through the window that would never quite close. Fights heard through the too thin walls. Sabine or Vincent sneaking out - or in depending on the time of night. His mother's alarm at 4 am so she could get to her job on time.

Then, when she had died, he had gone into the foster care system. His propensity to sleep lightly had been an asset then. Though he had learned quickly to always sleep with his valuable tucked close to his body. It had been in one such foster home that he had met a tall, lanky boy with curly black hair and deep, warm brown eyes. Porthos had been older by two years and he had born an air of someone that fiercely protected that which he valued.

Somehow, he'd come to value the smart mouthed, fiery tempered twelve-year-old Aramis had been at the time. Many a night had been spent curled into the wall next to his bed while Porthos slept at his back. Those nights had been the only time in his life that he had ever slept deeply and solidly. For the two years they were in the same home, Aramis had almost forgotten that he wasn't a 'good sleeper.' But then their home had gotten shut down, and no matter how much they had begged, he and Porthos had been separated. The ensuing four years had been a return to form for his sleeping habits.

Then he had mercifully turned 18, been freed from the system, and volunteered for another with Porthos at his side – the French Navy. It was in basic training that they had met Athos and become somewhat of an inseparable trio. But it had taken no one long at all to realize that someone with Aramis' natural ability with firearms should be trained for special forces. So he had been separated from his chosen brothers once again and gone to Commando training.

Sleep became a rare commodity, taken when and wherever it could be found. That suited him fine.

But then had come Savoy - a disastrous multi-unit operation that remained largely unexplained. He had only been weeks from a transfer. A special commando team had been formed – code named The Musketeers – and Aramis had been hand-selected to join Porthos and Athos within its ranks. Savoy had been meant to be his last mission with his old unit – and it had been, just not in the way anyone ever expected.

Sleep had not come easily or peacefully since.

On the worst nights, he and Porthos had reverted to the habits of their youth and shared a bunk. Aramis curled into the wall, and Porthos' back pressed against his.

But despite his tumultuous relationship with sleep, Aramis still needed it eventually. He even rather liked it when it wasn't plagued with nightmares.

This basic human need, that which all men are slaves to, was now their current problem.

"How long has it been, do you think?" Aramis asked loudly to be heard over the loud rock music blasting through the hidden speakers. He glanced at Porthos as he paced the confines of their small white-walled cell. Porthos was sitting on the floor against the wall, head tipped back, and eyes closed against the bright fluorescent lights.

"20 hours? 24?" he guessed in response. He cracked an eye open to watch Aramis' restless prowl around the room. "Sit down."

But Aramis shook his head, hands tracing the outline of the door, looking for weaknesses in the frame.

"You've checked that door half a dozen times already," Porthos pointed out. "You're making me more tired with all that pacing. Come sit down."

The slight guilt trip worked because Aramis sighed and slid down the wall to sit next to him.

The lights abruptly went off and the room went silent.

Porthos shifted pressing his arm more solidly against Aramis'.

"Fight it," Porthos murmured. "It'll be worse if you don't."

Aramis had lost count of the number of times they had done this dance. Music and lights for what seemed like hours, then a blessed period of dark silence. But this reprieve was always short lived and varied in length. Then the lights and music would come back.

At first it hadn't been so bad, but as time wore on and fatigue set in, the cruelty of it got more and more pronounced. But they'd found as long as they stayed awake, the return of the stimulation wasn't so jarring. That task was getting harder and harder, though.

The period of dark silence was longer this time and Aramis couldn't help it, his eyes slid closed and his head tipped onto Porthos' shoulder.

"Ara-" Porthos call was cut off by a sudden blasting of rock music and the return of the too bright lights.

Aramis jumped, startled awake and caught his breath. He blinked in horrified shock at a room that was suddenly blanketed in snow. He stumbled to his feet, turning to take in the bodies scattered around him. As he always did in these moments of lost clarity, he stumbled toward the bodies, intent to check for life signs.

He came abruptly out of the flashback to find himself on his knees, Porthos kneeling in front of him, one hand on his shoulder and the other on his neck. Seeing Aramis come back to himself, Porthos sagged in relief, dropping his head forward until their foreheads touched.

Aramis swallowed and realized his breaths were coming in sharp, harsh gasps. He reached out, wrapping a hand in Porthos' shirt, trying to ground himself and Porthos pulled him closer, guiding Aramis' forehead to his shoulder and cupping a hand at the back of his head.

He could barely hear him over the music, but Porthos spoke steadily to him.

"I'm here with you, 'Mis. You're not there. I'm here."

He hadn't had a flashback in almost half a year. There had been the occasional bad day, a panic attack here and there when something especially triggering happened. But nothing like this.

Aramis didn't know how long they sat there, on their knees facing each other. But eventually the lights and music cut off again and both of their postures wilted in relief.

"Stay awake," Porthos pleaded. "Come on, 'MIs, talk to me."

"What about?" Aramis asked tiredly.

"Anything…just don't go to sleep. Tell me about your mum."

"You know those stories."

"Tell them again," Porthos instructed. "Talk, Aramis. Stay awake."

So Aramis did.


36 hours later, Athos and d'Artagnan finally found them.

"It's this room?" Athos asked sharply over the comm.

"Affirmative, Whiskey. Outlaw and Diablo are in there." Treville's no-nonsense voice responded over the comms. He was in the control room 'questioning' a few of the men they'd rounded up during their infiltration.

Athos glanced at d'Artagnan as they neared the door.

"Do you hear that?" d'Artagnan asked lowly.

Athos nodded. The nearer they got to the room, the louder it got.

Rock music.

Athos lifted his gun and reached for the door handle, but waited until d'Artagnan was in position before turning it. He swung the door inward and stepped through, gun up, d'Artagnan sweeping in behind him to cover the opposite side of the room.

Athos lowered his gun immediately, crossing the room in quick strides to kneel next to his brothers.

Porthos was sitting in the back corner, back against the wall and legs stretched out. Aramis was sitting directly in front of him, facing him, legs bent over Porthos', and curled forward until his forehead was pressed against Porthos' sternum. Porthos had his hands over Aramis', which were pressed over the marksman's ears.

Porthos pulled his head forward, blinking heavily at Athos when he put a hand on the bigger man's shoulder.

"Retriever, get rid of the music and lights," Athos shouted over his shoulder. He didn't watch to see if d'Artagnan obeyed, he knew the boy would follow the order. Athos waited as patiently as he could, keeping a hand on Porthos' shoulder. He didn't dare touch Aramis yet. The fact that the usually hyper=aware marksman hadn't acknowledged his arrival spoke clearly as to his current headspace.

Abruptly, the room went silent and dark.

Porthos visibly deflated, dropping his head forward until his forehead hit the back of Aramis' head. He slowly peeled his hands off Aramis', looking stiff at the movement. Athos was left wondering how long they had been sitting like this. Porthos let his hands drop onto Aramis' shoulders instead.

"How long's it been?" Porthos asked without lifting his head.

"2 and a half days," Athos responded.

Porthos groaned.

"Yeah, that feels about right."

Athos shifted a nervous look down at Aramis, who hadn't moved save for the subtle tremor that Athos could see vibrating his entire body. As if sensing his worry, Porthos painstakingly lifted his head and reached to gently tug at Aramis' wrists, finally pulling his hands away from his ears.

"'S okay now, 'MIs. It's over."

Aramis slowly started to move. First his hands flexed, then his spine started to uncurl. He braced a hand on Porthos' shoulder to steady himself as he finally lifted his head. Athos watched him warily, concern growing by the moment. Aramis didn't look at him, barley even looked at Porthos, just combed a trembling hand up into his hair and straightened further.

"Can you stand?" Athos asked carefully. He started to reach out, but Aramis jerked away from the touch before he ever got close. A glance at Porthos yielded a slight shrug and a shake of his head.

Athos retreated, allowing them space to find their feet on their own. They did. Slowly and with postures lined with weariness.

D'Artagnan appeared in the doorway.

"Uh…time to go," he urged. "We've got incoming."

That news seemed to breath one last wind into Aramis because he seemed to come back to life. His eyes cleared a little and he finally looked at Athos.

"Is there a plan?" he asked, voice scratchy and rough.

Athos gave him a smirk.

"Of course there is."


Hours later, Athos sat in the infirmary ward of their home base – a compound that was affectionately known as The Garrison. D'Artagnan was sleeping the first bed afforded to the room while Athos took up residence in one of the chairs near the window.

Aramis and Porthos were crammed into the second bed. Aramis was curled into the bed rail, body wrapped around a pillow, and looking impossibly small considering he was 6 feet of lithe muscle. Porthos was wedged in behind him, facing the opposite direction, looking entirely too large to fit in one of these infirmary beds alone, much less with another full-grown man.

But Aramis hadn't been able to sleep alone.

Though perhaps it was more accurate to say, he had slept, but not well. He'd been restless and plagued with nightmares. It had gotten so bad at one point that it roused Porthos from his own sound slumber. The larger man had stumbled over to Aramis' bed, shoved at him until he rolled away and then collapsed in behind him.

Neither had moved since.

It wasn't the first time Athos had witnessed the deep-rooted familiarity of their brotherhood. He knew there was a long history between them that stretched into their childhoods. And though he knew they both accepted him a brother, his friendship with them would never compare.

Athos looked up from his phone when Treville walked in, two coffees in hand. He handed one to Athos and arched a brow at the odd sleeping arrangements.

"From what Porthos told me, after Aramis' exhaustion reached a certain point, the music and lights started triggering his PTSD. Flashbacks, is what Porthos said."

Treville shook his head in sympathy.

"This is the only way Aramis could sleep and actually rest," Athos went on, waving a hand at the doubly occupied bed.

"Whatever works," Treville allowed with a sigh. "I've secured you all a week's leave time. When these two are released, get them off site for a few days."

Athos nodded. It wasn't uncommon for Treville to send them away to recuperate after a hard mission. None of them relaxed very well around the hustle and bustle of The Garrison.

They would go somewhere sunny and warm, he decided, with no camping and no hint of snow.

 

Chapter Text

 

"I wish I understood why you do this," Athos commented lowly. He didn't look at them as he said it, instead, he gazed into the flames of the fire burning in the hearth, draining the rest of the wine in the cup he held.

Porthos glanced up the swordsman from where he was carefully spreading Aramis' special liniment on the marksman's deeply bruised ribs. When Athos still didn't look at them, Porthos glanced at Aramis. When the marksman didn't break from his stoic stare at absolutely nothing, Porthos shook his head in exasperation and went back to his task.

"Aren't you going to say anything?" Athos snapped, his voice pitched in that furious, but carefully controlled tone that Aramis hated.

Porthos glanced up again, but Aramis remained unmoved, staring ahead unflinchingly as Porthos finished his work and reached for the strips of cloth they'd set aside to wrap around his torso. Porthos found himself hoping for a twitch, or a flinch, something – anything – to indicate he was even there with them at all and not lost somewhere in his head.

"You in there, 'Mis?" Porthos questioned quietly.

Aramis blinked, turning his head to look at Porthos.

"I'm here," he answered evenly.

"Why do you do this?" Athos asked again. "First that mess two months ago where you hid the slash across your ribs. Now this? Why didn't you say something?"

Aramis' gaze cut away guiltily, but he didn't offer a response.

"We would have stopped hours ago," Porthos pointed out. "We wouldn't have minded. Instead you kept this mess to yourself." Porthos waved a hand at the deep bruising painted across his chest and side. "And kept riding for hours."

"Would you even have told us?" Athos demanded. "If you hadn't nearly collapsed when you dismounted your horse, would you have even told us?"

Aramis didn't look at them.

"No," he answered simply.

Now Porthos was getting as furious as Athos already appeared to be.

"Why the bloody hell not?"

Aramis looked back at him, his gaze clearly indicating how ridiculous he believed they were being.

"Because it's nothing. A few bruises," he replied steadily.

"A few bruises?!" Porthos snapped in disbelief. "You've got bloody broken ribs, Aramis!"

"I'm fine," Aramis insisted.

"I've never heard such a ridiculous lie," Athos snapped. He gestured at Aramis' bruised chest with his wine cup. "You are clearlynot fine."

Aramis shook his head in frustration and looked away again.

Porthos sighed, reigning in his own temper.

"Just talk to us, 'Mis," he pleaded quietly. "Help us to understand."

"You can't," Aramis argued bluntly, gaze fixed on some spot on the wall.

"Try us," Porthos insisted.

Aramis shook his head again and then closed his eyes.

After a long moment of silence, he finally spoke.

"If an injury doesn't kill you, it shouldn't slow you," he stated in an oddly blank voice.

Porthos frowned, glancing at Athos whose brow had drown together in confusion.

"If you can't stand on your own, you don't deserve to stand at all," Aramis went on. "Pain is merely weakness. It can and should be overcome."

"Where's all that come from?" Porthos asked carefully.

Aramis finally looked at him, really looked at him, and Porthos swallowed at the unfamiliar coldness in his brother's eyes.

"These are just some of the lessons bred into me by my father during my youth."

Porthos nearly shivered at the steely, emotionless tone of Aramis' voice. It was like nothing he had ever heard from him before and was certainly nothing he ever wanted to hear again.

"Your father?" Athos asked slowly, clearly as confused as Porthos.

"A cold, hard man whom I have no desire to ever see again," Aramis explained with a frown.

"He…he taught you to think this way?" Porthos asked slowly. "To believe…" he trailed off, struggling to find the right words.

"He taught me that weakness would not be tolerated," Aramis responded stiffly. "And took great measures to ensure the lesson was a permanent one."

"What did he do?" Athos asked, expression expertly schooled, but eyes wide with shock.

"Nothing that matters now," Aramis replied. "All you need to know is that I've been trained to…compartmentalize certain things."

"Compartmentalize?" Porthos repeated blankly, unfamiliar with the term.

"It means to lock it away, to ignore it," Athos explained. "Your father demanded this of you? As a child?"

"My father demanded strength."

"This isn't strength," Porthos argued. "Ignoring injuries is foolish, not to mention dangerous."

"It's tactical," Aramis shot back. "And it's saved my life many times."

Porthos shook his head, horrified. He hated the way Aramis was talking about this, as if it was normal, or worse, valuable.

"I told you that you wouldn't understand," Aramis reminded evenly.

"We want to," Athos replied. "But Aramis…you do realize that this way he made you think is wrong?"

"Of course I do," Aramis replied immediately. "But knowing that doesn't change anything. This way of thinking, of behaving, is a part of me – as natural and instinctive as breathing."

Porthos stood, pacing across to the open window so he could draw in a deep breath of fresh air.

"Do you think I haven't tried to change?" Aramis challenged. "Do you think Treville hasn't spent the better part of the last five years trying to get me to unlearn these lessons? Some things are just not so easily forgotten."

Porthos stared out at the night, heart troubled. Of course Treville hadn't tolerated such self-destructive behavior passively. But if he had not been able to put it right, what hope was there for them to make a difference.

He felt a stirring of hatred for Aramis' father, whoever and wherever he was. What kind of man would demand such stoicism from a child?

"Pain is not weakness," Athos stated suddenly, voice firm and uncompromising. "We will never see it as such. Whatever strength you believe you must have, know that we will never demand that of you."

Porthos turned in time to see Aramis absorb the words with a slightly confused frown.

"If you need help to stand? We'll be there to prop you up," Porthos added. "If an injury slows you, we'll be there to cover you."

Aramis's gaze flicked back and forth between them, eyes wide with surprise.

"You will never have to ask these things of us, Aramis. And we'll ask nothing of you in return," Athos went on. "There is no condition placed on our loyalty or brotherhood."

Porthos nodded fervently, meeting Aramis' eyes sincerely when the marksman glanced at him.

"You're not going to beg me to change?" Aramis wondered suspiciously. "Yell at me about what a foolish way to think this is?"

"Oh I'm sure we would both very much like to," Athos admitted. "But you already know the truth of that," he pointed out. "We will, instead, simply remain at your side."

Emotion flooded Aramis' expression, his expressive eyes clearly showing the impact of Athos' promise. He dipped his head once in humble acceptance of the vow.

"And," Porthos added a bit more lightly, "if I ever meet your father, I'll likely punch him square in the face."

Unpredictably, Aramis grinned as if that were something he would very much like to see.

Chapter Text

 

"I don't know why you're wasting your time with him," Aramis commented casually, as if it were just another day and they weren't currently being violently interrogated. D'Artagnan shot him an annoyed glare. He knew exactly what Aramis was about to do and, while he appreciated the protectiveness behind the gesture, he willed the man to keep his mouth shut for once.

The marksman was handcuffed to a metal chair, in the exact same fashion as d'Artagnan, but he appeared completely at ease and wholly unconcerned about their precarious situation. D'Artagnan watched Aramis tilt his head, regarding both the man who had just spent the last several minutes beating him and d'Artagnan himself with nothing more than vague disinterest.

"He's only been with our unit for what? Three weeks now?" Aramis went on airily, as if the whole situation bored him terribly. "The most valuable information he knows is how to dig a proper latrine."

Their interrogator stepped back from d'Artagnan, arching a brow curiously at Aramis.

"I mean just look at him," Aramis jerked his chin towards d'Artagnan. "He's all floppy hair and puppy dog eyes… Barely more than a child and hardly the threat you seem to think him."

D'Artagnan knew Aramis was just trying to draw the interrogators attention, but the comment still stung. His lack of experience was a point of self-consciousness and had been a source of merciless teasing. And then there were the puppy references – all the time.

As had been Aramis' intention, the interrogator took a step away from d'Artagnan, cocking his head in contemplation and what appeared to be mild fascination.

"And you?" the man asked. "Are you a threat?"

Aramis quirked his lips into an arrogant and vaguely predatory smirk and let that answer for him.

D'Artagnan wasn't quite sure how he managed such a look, how he could say so much without ever saying a word. Athos and Porthos both possessed a similar skill. D'Artagnan, ever the new puppy, hadn't yet mastered it.

The interrogator turned his back on d'Artagnan completely and focused completely on Aramis. The marksman's gaze stayed fixed on their captor, but his left hand flexed, pulling slightly against the handcuff that held it. D'Artagnan wasn't so new that he didn't catch the clear signal to attempt to free himself while Aramis had the man distracted. Porthos insisted they all kept paperclips tucked away in various places on their uniforms for times just like this. Doing his best not to rattle the cuffs on the metal chair, d'Artagnan stretched his fingers towards the clip he knew was hidden in the flap of the cargo pocket on his pants.

"Your training serves you well," the interrogator commented to Aramis, sounding impressed and intrigued all at once. "I can see in your eyes that my usual methods won't work on you."

Aramis' smirk remained fixed as he held the man's gaze.

"I'm flattered," he snarked.

"But this, I think, you can't have trained for." The man reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a syringe and a small glass vial.

D'Artagnan froze, freshly retrieved paperclip pinched between his fingers, eyes zeroing in on the unidentified drug.

Aramis' expression didn't crack. His gaze slid down to the drug then disinterestedly back to their captors face.

"Sodium pentathol is it?" Aramis guessed.

"Truth serum," the man agreed.

Aramis chuckled.

"Unreliable, at best," Aramis pointed out. "Surely you know this."

"Reliability is not my concern," the interrogator shrugged as he moved closer. "You present a challenge, my friend. This won't get me any hard and fast truths, not on its own. But it will put you in a more…useful state of mind for what comes next."

D'Artagnan hastily started manipulating the paperclip, bending it with his fingers into the shape he needed. Porthos had drilled him on this for hours and it was nearly rote instinct now. He flicked a worried glance at Aramis and while the sniper appeared unconcerned on the surface, amused even, d'Artagnan could see a stirring of panic hidden deeply in his eyes.

Aramis didn't react as the drug was injected, but to clench his jaw and glare fiercely at the man. As D'Artagnan watched, though, a sudden change swept over him. His pupils blew and his head dropped back and then rolled forward as if it had suddenly become too heavy for him.

"I'll give you a moment," the interrogator took Aramis' chin and leaned in to hiss in his ear. "I want you to think of the worst time in your life… Go there. Remember every detail." Then he shoved Aramis' head away and strode out of the room without even giving d'Artagnan a passing glance.

As soon as the door shut, d'Artagnan went back to work on his cuff, shooting worried glances at Aramis. The sniper just sat there, shaking his head slowly as he stared down at his knees.

"Diablo?" d'Artagnan called softly. "Hey! You with me?"

Aramis lifted his head, looking around in confusion.

"Where's Porthos?"

D'Artagnan frowned at the use of Porthos' real name.

"He's not here. Outlaw's not here."

Aramis frowned, gaze flitting around restlessly, but not seeming to really see anything.

"Outlaw…because he's got a record. Sealed though," Aramis spouted.

D'Artagnan blinked in surprise.

"I didn't know that," he replied.

Aramis shrugged dismissively.

"No one does. No one but me 'n Athos and Treville."

D'Artagnan kept working on freeing himself, biting back a question about their codenames. It would be wrong to take advantage.

"Whiskey," Aramis murmured, rolling the word around in his mouth. "Whiskey because it was his drink of choice before he got sober…it's a reminder not to go back."

D'Artagnan stared at him. Screw it.

"And yours?"

"Diablo. I'm Diablo."

"I know," d'Artagnan replied. "Why?"

"Because I'm the devil in disguise…an angel of death behind a scope…a reaper."

D'Artagnan wondered if the chill that glided down his spine was because of the cool temperature in their cell or the eerie words.

"Athos and Porthos wouldn't have named you for that," d'Artagnan insisted. In fact, he was certain the two had no idea the true meaning Aramis believed his codename held.

"I chose it," Aramis revealed.

D'Artagnan stared at him. He'd thought Aramis' codename was the coolest of all of them – the most badass. But now…now he wished it was anything else.

Aramis suddenly looked around, as if seeing the room for the first time.

"The worst time in my life," he stated suddenly. "Do you want to know what it was?"

"Aramis, no…" d'Artagnan tried, sure he was about to witness some sort of Savoy related flashback. But Aramis instead looked reflective as he went on.

"Foster care," he decided. "Not before Porthos…after. After they separated us."

D'Artagnan got one wrist free and started in on the second. He refused to prod the story along. He was sure he didn't want to know the details Aramis was surely about to spill.

"He doesn't know. I never told him," Aramis confessed. "I never told anyone."

D'Artagnan froze.

"You all always wonder why pain means so little to me," Aramis went on as he pulled experimentally at his cuffs. Then he cocked his head, staring intently at his left hand. "When you've had enough of it, it just becomes white noise."

Aramis curled his fingers around his thumb and sharply forced the joint out of place.

D'Artagnan sucked in a sharp breath, eyes wide, as he watched Aramis calmly slip his hand out of the cuff, thumb folded unnaturally into his palm. D'Artagnan focused back on his cuff and had it loose a moment later. He practically dove across the space between them, catching Aramis' hand before he could dislocate the thumb of his right hand as well.

"I've got it," d'Artagnan whispered. Aramis shrugged and allowed him to set to work on the cuff. As soon as he was free, Aramis casually reached across and forced his left thumb back into place. "Let's get out of here, yeah?" d'Artagnan suggested, pulling Aramis up from the chair.

"Don't tell Porthos," Aramis requested suddenly. "He doesn't know. He'd feel guilty and it's not his fault."

"I won't," d'Artagnan promised softly. He pulled one of Aramis' arms over his shoulder and walked him towards the door.

"We wanted to stay together," Aramis went on as if d'Artagnan hadn't spoken. He followed along willingly as they moved, but continued to chatter. "I'd had a brother before, but Vincent didn't like me very much. Porthos seemed to like me, even with my temper and smart mouth. Well he didn't like my smart mouth so much because it tended to get me into trouble…"

"No surprise there," d'Artagnan muttered as he eased the door open and peeked out into the hall.

"Porthos was a good brother. He looked out for me and no one had ever done that before," Aramis went on easily.

"Maybe you should be quiet," d'Artagnan suggested in a hissed whisper, but Aramis didn't appear to hear him. Or he just simply ignored him.

"When the group home we were in shut down I begged my social worker to place me with him. I cried when she said no. I hadn't cried since my mama died. I had been alone for so long before Porthos. I didn't want to be alone again…" Aramis sounded so sad at the memory that d'Artagnan felt his own throat tighten.

"You're back with Porthos, though, aren't you?" he reminded.

Aramis perked up a bit at that.

"He waited for me. He moved into an apartment down the street from my group home after he turned 18. He's a good brother," he said again.

"He is," d'Artagnan agreed.

"So's Athos," Aramis announced brightly. "We met him in basic training."

"I've heard the story."

"You've heard a version…not the best version. Not my version."

"I'm sure its colorful."

"He didn't like me much at first," Aramis explained. "I talk too much."

"I've noticed."

"Athos didn't like bright and happy things back then. I tended to be both all the time. Overcompensating a bit, I suppose." Then Aramis looked at him as seriously as he could in his drug-induced haze. "You won't tell Porthos, right?"

"I won't," d'Artagnan promised.

Aramis brightened again.

"Athos likes me now. Most of the time at least. He says I still talk too much."

"I find myself agreeing," d'Artagnan replied with a grin, quickening their pace when he spotted an exit.

"He stopped his drinking because of me…well because of me and Porthos. Nasty business that day was…still have the scar."

D'Artagnan desperately wanted to ask, but bit his tongue to stop himself.

"I like him better sober, not so gloomy. Still moody though."

"I suppose he is a bit moody," d'Artagnan agreed with a grin as they stepped warily through the exit door and out into the open.

"A dirt bike!" Aramis exclaimed suddenly, nearly tripping them both as he tried to move towards the black dirt bike parked nearby.

"No! No dirt bike!" d'Artagnan scolded. "You'd fall off before we went two feet."

"I love motorcycles," Aramis sighed dreamily. "Have you met my motorcycle?"

D'Artagnan sighed and manhandled Aramis into a hard topped jeep. He climbed in after him and leaned down to hotwire it.

"I'm tired," Aramis announced suddenly, slumping wearily against the door, breathing startlingly shallow.

"Hey!" d'Artagnan snapped. "Stay awake!"

But Aramis was already gone. The jeep roared to life and d'Artagnan put the gas pedal to the floor just as gunfire erupted behind them.

Chapter Text

 

Aramis woke to darkness.

At first, he thought perhaps night had fallen and nobody had lit a candle. But then other things started to filter unto his muddled thoughts.

Sounds. There were so many sounds. Birds chirping. Swords clashing. Shouts and laughter.

Smells. Morning dew. The fresh bread from the bakery down the street from the Garrison.

Then memory. Running after someone. A dark corridor, a spark and then…an explosion of light, searing pain…then nothing.

Aramis surged up, hands clawing at his face, pulling at the linen bandage he found wrapped around his eyes.

"Easy!" a familiar voice rumbled as hands caught his wrists, pulling his hands away from his eyes.

"Porthos?" Aramis gasped, twisting in Porthos' grip until he could reach out and fumble for a fistful of his brother's shirt. The contact did little to ground him, though when darkness still pressed in on him from all sides.

He turned his head frantically, seeking a shadow or some sign that there was light left in his world. His heart started pounding when none could be found.

"You need to calm down or Henri is gonna put you back to sleep again," Porthos warned.

"Again?" Aramis questioned, chest heaving with increasingly panicked breaths.

"You've woken before," Athos voice startled him and his head jerked in that direction. "It didn't go well."

"Calm down," Porthos instructed gently. "Slow breaths, 'Mis."

Aramis tightened his hand in Porthos' shirt, turning his focus inward. He did as his father had taught him and commanded his body to yield to his will. His heart beat slowed, his breaths became less frantic.

"That's it," Porthos praised.

"I'll get Henri," Athos announced. Aramis barely held back a flinch when the door opened and closed suddenly.

"What happened?" Aramis demanded, fingers twitching against the urge to pull at the bandages again.

"There was an explosion. You were closer than the rest of us. Your eyes were…I don't know exactly. Henri said something about burns inside."

Aramis frowned, a stirring of panic starting to wrap him in its grasp again.

"Am I… Am I blind?"

Porthos remained silent for a bit longer than was comforting.

"Henri will explain it better," the other man finally replied.

Aramis felt his heart start to pound again. His hands twitched, the urge to rip away the bandage and try to see nearly overwhelming. As if sensing his intent, Porthos' hands tightened on his wrists.

"Just wait for Henri, 'Mis," his brother pleaded.

As if cued, the door suddenly opened. Aramis tensed, a fight or flight instinct surging to life in a way it hadn't since just after Savoy.

"Easy," Porthos urged softly.

"Look who's awake," Henri's familiar voice greeted him warmly. "How do you feel?"

"Am I blind?" Aramis demanded bluntly.

Henri sighed.

"You never were one for pleasantries in moments like this," the old physician lamented. "Very well, the answer is I don't know."

Aramis frowned deeply.

"What?"

"Your injury is beyond that which I truly know how to treat. I've done what I can, but the best thing to do is simply let your eyes heal."

"Heal? It's not permanent then?" Aramis asked.

"Perhaps not," Henri replied. "But perhaps it is. We will only know when you've healed."

Aramis pulled his wrists out of Porthos' steady grasp and retreated in his bed, backing away until he hit the wall.

"Aramis?" Porthos called in concern.

"Leave me," Aramis requested quietly.

"I don't think that's…" Athos started, but Aramis cut him off.

"Leave!" Aramis snapped.

"Perhaps we should give him a moment to himself," Henri suggested softly. "Come, boys, leave him be."

There was a deep sigh and then the sound of several footsteps on the floor. The door opened, but before it shut Porthos' voice rang out.

"I'll bring you some food in a bit. Shout if you need anything. I won't be far."

With that promise the door then closed.

Aramis pulled his legs up to his chest and slowly reached to trace his fingers along the bandage wrapped around his head. He wanted to rip it off, but he knew enough of medicine now to keep himself in check. He must let his eyes heal, Henri had said. If there was ever an opinion he trusted about his health, it was Henri's.

So instead he wrapped his arms around his legs and rested his chin on his knees.

What if his sight was gone forever. What if he was no blind. His sight had made him the greatest marksman in the entirety of the Musketeers. What would he be without it? Certainly no longer a Musketeer.

And what would he be without the Musketeers? This was his life. His identity was built on being a soldier. He would be nothing without it – worthless.

He turned his face down into his knees, and tried to imagine such a life.

And he listened to the world outside his room go on without him.


"It's been days. He's not eating. He just sleeps and lays there," Porthos grumbled as he stared up at the door to his and Aramis' shared quarters. "And he's not talking…not at all. That's the worst part. I hate it when he's bloody quiet like this. It's unnatural."

"He needs time," Athos reasoned, but the frown on his face suggested he wasn't convinced of this.

They both straightened their postures when Treville suddenly loomed over them.

He joined them in staring at the door and then cleared his throat.

"You're both on patrol at the palace in an hour," he announced.

Porthos balked.

"But.."

"That's an order, soldier," Treville snapped.

"We had thought to stay close at hand," Athos interjected.

"I know what you thought. And as you two so astutely noticed, its' been days with no improvement. So why don't you go about the duties you've been assigned and give him some space."

"Space?" Porthos scoffed. "We've been giving him all the space in the world!"

Treville arched a brow at him.

"If you think he doesn't know you're both sitting down here staring at that door, then you're grossly underestimating him."

Porthos and Athos exchanged a sheepish glance.

"No go," Treville commanded.

They both reluctantly rose from the table and obeyed.


Aramis didn't bother rolling over when the door to his room opened. Whichever of his brothers it was would likely leave the food they brought and then retreat.

He nearly jumped out of his skin when an unexpected voice spoke.

"On your feet, soldier."

Aramis twisted in bed, turning his head towards Treville even though he couldn't see him.

"I believe I gave you an order," Treville's voice rang out again.

"We both know how I am with orders," Aramis shot back, though he did reluctantly roll off his bed and straightened to his feet.

He heard Treville slowly approach, taking deliberate, measured steps. Aramis cocked his head, trying to track his progress.

"Good," Treville suddenly praised. "You're paying attention."

Aramis' brow drew together in confusion.

"Get dressed," Treville snapped. "And meet me down in the yard."

Now Aramis frowned fully.

"But…"

"But what? You've forgotten how to dress yourself? You've forgotten how to go down stairs?"

Aramis drew his head back, scoffing in offense.

"That's what I thought."

Then Treville left, closing the door sharply behind him.

Aramis stood there for a moment, before his curiosity got the better of him. He fumbled around the room, finding first his trousers, then a shirt. A quick sniff suggested it was mostly clean and would do. He found his boots by tripping over them and blindly dug in his trunk until he found stockings.

Finally clothed, he moved towards where he thought the door was, hands outstretched to prevent him running into the wall. He tripped over something anyway, but didn't fall.

He found the wall, feeling along it until his fingers bumped against the door handle. Then he finally made his way out onto the porch. A few steps straight ahead and he found the rail then it was a relatively simple thing to follow it to the stairs.

Here he paused, knowing a fall could prove deadly.

"I've not got all day!" Treville barked from below. "When was the last time you looked when you were walking down the stairs?"

Aramis cocked an eyebrow. That was true, he supposed.

He stuck one foot out and stepped down, and then did so again. It was easy after that, as his body remembered the distance and height of each step. He'd been going up and down them for years after all.

He finally found the ground and then licked his lips, starting towards the middle of the yard.

"Over here," Treville beckoned.

Aramis adjusted his trajectory to follow the call. A hand caught his arm, halting him and then something smooth and sweetly familiar pressed into the palm of his right hand.

One of his twin pistols.

"I want you to shoot the target," Treville explained.

Aramis' hand tightened on the weapon, but he frowned.

"That's not funny," he snapped.

"Do I appear to be laughing?" Treville shot back. When he spoke again his voice was closer and Aramis instinctively turned his head in the appropriate direction. "Feel that pistol in your hand. You know the weight of it. You know the feel of it. You know how it fires, what the recoil feels like. You know that weapon as intimately as if it were an extension of yourself."

Aramis ran the fingers of his left hand over the barrel, savoring the familiar feeling of smooth, cool metal.

"You've been handling firearms since you were a child. I've seen you clean this very pistol without ever offering it a glance. Do you need to look at it to draw it? Or does your hand find it by memory, by instinct?"

Aramis thought it over.

"Instinct I suppose," he finally replied.

"I've been a soldier for most of my life, Aramis. And in all my years, I have never known a man with an instinct for firearms like you have. That instinct will serve you now."

"What am I supposed to do?" Aramis wondered.

"Shoot the target," Treville repeated.

"But I can't see it," Aramis pointed out with a scowl. "How do I aim if I can't see?"

"Is your sight your only sense?" Treville challenged. "Is your sight the only thing linked to your instincts?"

Aramis' brow pinched in confusion again.

"Tell me what you hear," Treville urged.

Aramis took in a breath and let it out slowly, trusting Treville's guidance and focusing on what he could hear. He heard Esmé complaining about something in the stables. He heard Serge cursing in the kitchens. There was…a faint rustling of a curtain in an open window and…there…a soft ding of a bell.

"The bell, what is that? It's not familiar," Aramis stated.

"It's attached to the target," Treville answered. "Now you know where it is."

Aramis turned his head in that direction, but then shook his head.

"What does this matter?" he complained. "Will my enemy wear a bell into battle?"

"Of course not. But have you ever known a man to move in absolute silence?" Treville challenged. "A man must breathe, he must step and shift. These are all things you can hear if you take the time to listen."

Aramis blew out an annoyed breath.

"You know the height of that target," Treville pointed out sternly. "You've fired at it almost daily for years. You know where the center is just as you know the average height of a man. Now shoot it."

"I can't!"

"Are you not the finest marksman in all of the king's service?" Treville snapped. "Have you not served as such for nearly a decade?"

"I'm blind!" Aramis spat back.

"Perhaps you cannot see, but you are not blind to the world around you. You can hear. You can smell. You can feel. Now stop making excuses and shoot the damn target!"

Aramis turned and fired.

He stood, arm extended, breathing harsh.

He didn't ask if he'd hit it. He'd hear the bullet make impact. He couldn't bring himself to ask where he'd hit it.

A hand touched his wrist, urging him to lower the weapon.

"Still the finest shot I've ever seen," Treville told him softly.

Aramis let out a harsh breath.

"Did I…?"

"Dead center," Treville answered quietly, pulling the gun from his grasp. A moment later it's twin was pressed against his palm. "Now do it again."

 

Chapter Text

 

Athos just paced at first.

A restless prowl around the small room. He told himself that it was just restless energy and worry for Aramis that kept him from relaxing.

It absolutely had nothing to do with his body already yearning for a drink.

He wasn't in complete denial. He knew he had a problem. He knew it wasn't a good thing that he couldn't sleep without a few beers and a whiskey chaser (or three). He knew it was unhealthy that he rarely remembered his off-duty nights because he drank so heavily on them.

But he never got behind the wheel. He never drank on duty. He never hurt anyone.

Until today.

After today, he would never drink again.


Porthos watched Athos pace, restlessly moving around the room. It wasn't a large space. A small, enclosed unit with a window into the hall. It had blinds, but Athos hadn't yet bothered to close them. It looked like every other room in the hospital honestly.

"How bad will it get?" Porthos asked Lemay as their doctor stepped up next to him.

"Hard to say. He said he'd gone out and downed half a bottle of Jack before coming back to have me check him in, so he probably won't start really showing symptoms for a while yet. What happened on this mission?"

Porthos sighed, closing his eyes and seeing Athos and Aramis both covered in blood, Aramis with an oxygen mask and too pale skin.

"Things went sideways…Aramis is in surgery."

Lemay arched a concerned brow.

"I'll get you an update on him," the doctor assured. "And I'll take care of Athos."

"Can he do it? Can he get sober? Athos's been drinking as long as we've known him… It's never been this bad but it's… It's gotten worse lately, I guess."

"He seemed determined," Lemay replied simply. "Which is good because his success here will largely depend on him. At the end of it all, he needs to want to be sober more than he wants a drink. I'll do what I can for him, but I won't lock him up. If he asks to leave, I'll try to reason with him but won't restrain him."

Porthos nodded. He didn't doubt Athos motivation. He had seen the look in his eyes when he had realized what this nasty habit had caused.

Athos wouldn't give up.


Hours later…


Athos curled on the bed, shaking and fighting the urge to rip put the IV Lemay had taped to his arm.

He closed his eyes and remembered why he was here.


"I've got eyes on the target," Aramis' voice whispered over their comm. "Outlaw, are you ready to receive the package?"

"Affirmative," Porthos replied steadily.

Athos swallowed, pacing down one alley way and into the next. His part in this was to keep the patrolling guard contained. If anyone stumbled upon Aramis, the whole mission would be blown. This whole thing had to be tied perfectly. Aramis had to take out their target at the exact moment Porthos snatched the package – in this case a spy who wanted to defect – and then cover Porthos retreat from the small army of men who would swiftly try to kill them.

Athos paused, wiping a hand across his brow as he leaned against the wall. He glared down at his shaking hands.

This mission had taken longer than planned. It was supposed to be 48 hours. It had been 72. Athos hadn't been this long without a drink since basic training. He had, admittedly, been drinking more and more as of late. The time it took for him to start yearning for another drink was getting shorter and shorter. It had never been a problem before now.

"Diablo, I've got heat signatures closing in on your position." Treville's voice snapped across the line. "Rapier, deal with it."

Athos frowned, glancing around. He'd been patrolling the area, but now wasn't sure exactly how far he'd wandered from Aramis' position. He retraced his steps down the alley and looked around again.

"Rapier, get to Diablo's position," Treville barked.

Athos took off at a run.

"I hear them on the stairs," Aramis hissed.

"How long before we can execute?" Porthos snapped back.

"Twenty seconds," Treville replied sharply. "Rapier, what's your status?"

Athos was running, scanning the buildings, looking for the one that Aramis had chosen as his roost. How had he wandered so far? He finally spotted it two blocks away.

"Rapier, where are you?" Porthos growled.

"Too far," Athos whispered to himself as he sprinted towards the building.

"They're on the roof," Aramis' voice whispered across the line. "Haven't found me yet."

"Abort," Treville snapped. "Diablo, abort!"

"Negative," Aramis hissed. "This is too important. I can still make the shot. Outlaw be ready. Top, on your mark."

"Ten seconds," Treville stated sharply.

Athos sprinted, feeling his stomach twist and head start to spin.

"Five."

There was a shout across the line and then the familiar sound of one of Aramis' Desert Eagles discharging.

Silence fell.

"Execute."

A shot from Aramis' rifle cracked through the stillness, followed swiftly by several more. Then it went abruptly silent.

"Package secure," Porthos reported a few tense moments later. "That was a little closer than I found comforting, but we got away clean enough."

Athos hit the stairwell, sprinting up. A wave of dizziness caught him off guard and he had to stop, bracing his hands on his knees.

"Diablo, report!" Treville snapped.

There was grunting and cursing over the line and then a very out of breath response.

"A bit..." another curse, "busy."

"Rapier, where the hell are you?" Porthos demanded.

Athos started moving again.

"I'm almost there."

He burst out onto the rooftop with his gun up. But only eerie silence greeted him. He rounded the enclosed stairwell to where Aramis had been perched and blew out a harsh breath.

There were four bodies collapsed all in the same general area and only one of them was moving.

Athos quickly covered the last few steps to Aramis, who was struggling to drag himself away from the other three bodies and leaving a trail of blood in his wake. His rifle was knocked over and hanging precariously half over the ledge, such lack of care spoke to how desperate the fight had been.

"Nice of you to show up," Aramis teased with a breathy chuckle. His words bore no heat, but Athos felt struck anyway.

"What's his status?" Porthos demanded. "Is he alright?"

"We need…" Athos had to pause to swallow moisture into his suddenly dry throat when he saw the amount of blood seeping through Aramis' fingers where he had a hand pressed to a wound low on his back. "We need emergency evac. Diablo is down."

"Don't be so dramatic," Aramis scolded with a grin and jerk of his chin at the other three bodies. "Those three are much worse off."

Athos glared him into silence and Aramis just shrugged, collapsing back against the rooftop while Athos dug a pressure bandage out of his pack and replaced Aramis hand with it. When he drew his own hands back they were coated in blood – Aramis' blood. He watched the marksman blink slowly, gaze a bit less focused than it bad been a moment ago.

"Hey, stay with me." Athos snapped, sharply tapping Aramis' cheek. "Stay awake!"


Athos stared across the darkened room and brought one of his hands up into his field of vision. He could still see the blood if he looked hard enough. Aramis' blood.

Another wave of nausea hit, and he groaned, tucking his arms around his waist to ride it out. He'd already vomited out anything of substance an hour ago.

But he wouldn't stop. He wouldn't give up. He would accept whatever pain came with this. It was no less than he deserved. And there was something so much more important he was fighting for.


"What the hell happened?" Porthos shouted, rounding on him once they whisked a terrifyingly pale Aramis away from the evac chopper that had been sent for them. "Where were you?"

Athos shook his head, fruitlessly trying to wipe his hands on his pants. But the blood had started to dry. It wouldn't be so easily removed.

Porthos snatched him up by his shirt, dragging him in close. The larger man's eyes bore into his angrily.

"I can see your hands shaking. You're sweating and fidgety. How long's it been, eh? How long since your last drink?"

Athos met his gaze squarely but couldn't find the words to respond.

Porthos shook his head in disgust and shoved him away.

"You choose, Athos. You choose right now which is more important – that poison or us." Porthos pointed towards the doors Aramis had been rushed through only moments ago. "He counted on you... counted on you to have his back. He's in there because you couldn't do your job! You aren't going in the field with him again unless you're stone cold sober. So choose."

Then Porthos turned his back on him and walked away.


Athos had found the nearest liquor store and downed half a bottle of Jack Daniels before he even knew what he was doing. When he'd realized he was standing in a dirty alley, bottle in hand, nearly shaking with the relief of finally getting a drink, reality had crashed down hard on his shoulders. He should have been with his brothers. He should have been with Porthos, waiting for news on Aramis.

He'd thrown the bottle across the alley, watched it shatter, and made his way back to the hospital. He'd walked straight up to Lemay and asked to be checked in.

He had made his choice.


Porthos jumped when a hand settled on his shoulder. He blinked up blearily at Treville.

"Aramis is out of surgery and awake. He's asking for you."

Porthos stood up so quickly he nearly lost his balance. Treville steadied him and then pat his shoulder in comfort.

"How's Athos?" Porthos asked.

Treville sighed.

"He'll get through it," the older man promised. "He's strong and determined."

Porthos nodded, scrubbing a hand across his eyes.

"Aramis is waiting," Treville urged. Porthos didn't need to be told again.

He found their sniper curled onto his side, propped on pillows. His eyes were closed, but as soon as Porthos stepped into the room, they opened.

"Hey, how're you feelin'?" Porthos greeted. He grabbed a chair from against the wall and carried it over to the bed, so he could sit.

"Like I got stabbed…or shot…which one was it?" Aramis replied groggily. His usually sharp gaze was dulled with pain medication and lingering anesthesia.

"Stabbed," Porthos informed him.

Aramis hummed an acknowledgment and blinked heavily at him.

"Where's Athos?" he asked eventually.

Porthos sighed.

"He's checked himself in with Lemay."

Aramis frowned in confusion.

"Was he hurt?" he asked, worry creasing his brow. He started shifting like he was going to try to rise, so Porthos leaned forward, pressing a calming hand against his arm.

"He's not hurt. He's…well he's…trying to get sober."

Aramis still looked confused for a moment, but then his muddled thoughts seemed to align.

"He is?" the sniper asked in surprise.

Porthos nodded.

"Just…for now? Or forever?" Aramis went on.

"He was talking like it was going to be a permanent change," Porthos answered.

"But why?" Aramis asked in bewilderment.

Porthos rubbed wearily at his eyes. He never enjoyed talking to a medicated Aramis. It was always jarring to see the sniper's usually sharp, quick mind slowed and befuddled.

"You, mostly. A bit of me, perhaps."

"Me?"

Porthos met his gaze.

"A bit of a reckoning for him, I think, finding you bleeding out on that rooftop."

When Aramis still looked confused, Porthos narrowed his eyes.

"Do you even remember what happened?" he wondered.

Aramis' eyebrow twitched.

"It's a bit…hazy," he admitted with a bit of an embarrassed grin. "Damn pain meds…always muddle things up."

Porthos grinned a little in response, but sobered quickly as he recalled the events that brought them here.

"He was supposed to be covering you, but he was out of position. He got distracted with…" Porthos shrugged helplessly. "I don't know exactly what happened. But he wasn't where he was supposed to be. Three men cornered you on the rooftop. You shot one with your handgun, but had to cover me and the package. That allowed the other two to get the drop on you."

Aramis was frowning now, gaze reflective as he seemed to laboriously shift through his drug-weighted thoughts.

"When Athos got there, it was all over. You'd taken them out, but were bleeding heavily. You were unconscious by the time I got there."

Aramis' gaze shifted around the room, taking in the various monitors before he looked back at Porthos.

"You blamed him for this?" Aramis realized.

Porthos sighed and rubbed at his eyes again.

"He should have had your back, Aramis."

"What does any of this have to do with his drinking?"

Porthos stared at him, realizing belatedly that Aramis hadn't seen the signs Porthos had when they'd gotten off the chopper. He'd been too busy being unconscious.

"He had the shakes, 'Mis. Sweats. Twitches. All the signs of withdrawal. He didn't have your back because he got distracted by how long it'd been since he had a drink."

Aramis' eyes widened in surprise.

"When we got here and they took you away to surgery and I realized what was going on…" Porthos shook his head. "I nearly laid him out right there."

"But you didn't," Aramis questioned curiously.

"I wanted to," Porthos admitted. "But the look in his eyes…he knew what he'd done. He knew what his addiction to that poison had cost. So I gave him a choice. The drinking or us. I told him he couldn't have both, not anymore."

"And?" Aramis prodded.

"He chose us."


Athos cleared his throat, rapping lightly on the door that led to Aramis' hospital room.

"It's not as if it's got a lock," came the chuckling response. Athos reached for the handle. "Honestly, Porthos, I don't know why you're even kno…oh…"

Athos stood awkwardly in the doorway, staring at Aramis, who was sprawled on his side, propped on pillows, messing with a tablet.

"I thought you were Porthos," Aramis pointed out needlessly.

Athos just shook his head. He wasn't Porthos...obviously.

Aramis assessed him with that calculating look Athos had only ever seen snipers use.

"Are you…?" Aramis trailed off with a vague wave of his hand.

"Three days sober? Yes." Athos answered. "Lemay told me I could walk around, stretch my legs."

As if cued, his legs trembled and Athos swiftly took the seat next to the bed. Aramis eyed him knowingly but didn't comment.

"How are you?" Athos asked, looking the marksman over. His color was back and his gaze sharp, which meant he'd talked them into giving him the weaker painkillers. Aramis didn't like having his senses dulled.

"Alright," Aramis replied easily. "Ready to get out of here."

Athos grinned a little. Aramis wouldn't be Aramis if he didn't grow quickly restless with inactivity.

"How are you?" Aramis wondered.

Athos sighed.

"Getting there," he replied.

Aramis nodded slowly, watching him closely.

"I want to apologize to you Aramis."

"You don't have to," the sniper replied immediately.

"I want to," Athos countered.

"Athos…"

"You have always been too forgiving, Aramis. I will allow you to forgive me this, if you allow me to apologize."

Aramis sighed and waved him on and Athos cleared his throat. He met the marksman's gaze and was wholly unsurprised to find no judgement there, no recrimination, only the same warmth and brotherhood there had always been. Seeing it made the Athos confession flow easily from his lips.

"I didn't realize how bad it had gotten. Or perhaps had refused to realize," he began. "I told myself that it wasn't affecting my job. I wasn't being irresponsible. No-one was getting hurt so why shouldn't I continue drinking? Only ad time passed I continued to drink more and more. And the time I could last between drinks got less and less."

Athos paused, running a hand over his mouth and down his chin. He forced himself to hold Aramis' steady gaze as he went on.

"I knew things were bad going into the op that night, but I did think I would be fine to do the job. I never would have put you or Porthos at risk if I thought myself truly compromised."

"I know, Athos. Of course, I know that," Aramis assured fervently.

Athos let out a shuddering breath.

"I overestimated myself," he admitted. "I got distracted, caught up in my own head and strayed out of position. I didn't even… I had no idea how far I had gone until getting back meant your life or death."

Athos closed his eyes and shook his head, hating himself for what his addiction had cost – for what it had almost cost.

"If you had died…" Athos whispered in horror.

"I didn't though," Aramis reminded.

"Because you're you. Because you're the toughest son of a bitch I've ever known. You survived because of you, Aramis. But you nearly died because of me."

Athos leaned forward, gaze earnest.

"The drinking is over. I will never let you down in such a way again."

"I know you won't," Aramis replied sincerely, his dark eyes speaking clearly of forgiveness already given.

In the face of it, Athos was stunned to feel his eyes start stinging.

He didn't deserve a brother like Aramis. Few, in fact, ever could.

"I'm thinking of changing my code name," Athos announced suddenly, desperate to regain some sort of equilibrium.

"To what? Teetotaler?" Aramis asked with a snort. When Athos merely fixed him with a glare Aramis shrugged. "Too soon?"

"Whiskey," Athos corrected mildly.

Aramis' brow furrowed in confusion. They both knew it was Athos' drink of choice.

"So that I never forget and never go back."

Aramis held his gaze and nodded.

"Whiskey, Outlaw, and Diablo…I like it."