“He’ll never make it,” Porthos was muttering, wringing his hands and causing them to make sounds that put Aramis in the mind of skulls being crushed underfoot.
“That’s not an option, Porthos,” the younger musketeer whispered, and leaned over the bed in which their fallen comrade lay, seized with a fever, probably still bleeding, and unconscious. “Pass me that wet cloth again.”
“You’re not a surgeon, we need a surgeon,” the other man said, slamming one of his giant fists into the bedpost, causing a long crack to form in the wood.
“Yes, thank you for that, Master of the Obvious. And if you could be bothered to stop breaking his furniture…” the voice of Aramis trailed off as he wiped the sweat off their friend’s brow.
The man on the bed moaned and tossed, prompting his two friends to throw themselves upon him to make sure he did not lunge his body off the bed. His eyes flew open, fogged with the confusion of the fever, and he tried to focus them on the two faces hovering over his own.
“Oh, hell…” the patient mumbled.
“Not quite yet,” Porthos reassured him.
“I think I should be offended,” Aramis sneered.
“Are we in prison?” Athos inquired, weakly.
“Only in the prison of your own body, my dear Athos,” Aramis pointed out, placing his hand upon his friend’s chest.
“Which may or may not be dying,” Porthos added, causing Aramis to let out a protracted groan.
“Thank you, my honest friend,” Athos smiled despite the pain, and closed his eyes.
“If you could be troubled to stay conscious? We have sent for a surgeon.” Aramis tried to use his most dulcet of tones, while shooting arrows with his dark eyes at Porthos, who had begun to nervously chew on his mustache.
“And a priest, no doubt,” Athos mumbled, his eyes still closed, as if keeping them open would in itself be the death of him.
“Aramis is already here,” Porthos responded, with an involuntary chuckle. Athos gave a small laugh, also despite himself, which seemed to cause him so much pain that he actually cried out.
“Don’t make him laugh!” Aramis snapped.
“I’m sorry!” Panicked, Porthos began to pace the room anew.
“Stay awake,” Aramis urged again. “Talk to me.” Athos responded with a small moan. “How did you let this happen?”
“You were there,” came the laconic reply.
“You are right,” Aramis seemed to hang his head in shame, “we should have done something.”
“No… that… not.”
“We thought you were dead,” Porthos added, approaching the bed once more.
“I am beginning to wish I truly was,” Athos squeezed each word out as if it was his last, then, to his two friends’ consternation, he made a movement as if to get up.
“Insane! What do you think you’re doing?!” Aramis and Porthos gripped the other man in the vise of their arms again.
“If I’m going to die, I want to die drunk. That way I can always claim that Death caught me completely unawares.”
“The fever has utterly obliterated your mind,” Aramis shook his head. “And you’re not going to die. It’s merely a flesh wound.”
“Mhm!” Porthos grunted, clearly trying to the best of his abilities to suppress his real thoughts.
Suddenly, catching the collar of Aramis’s tunic in his hands, Athos whispered, “You cannot let anyone know this happened to me. I will die another hundred deaths of shame.”
“We were ambushed!” Porthos threw his hands up. “There was nothing we could have done!”
“Yes, well, tell that to de Treville,” Athos mumbled, falling back onto the pillows, seemingly drained of his last bit of strength.
There was a tentative knock on the door, and when Porthos went over to see who it was, he was greeted by a gaunt, pale-faced young man, accompanied by a chubby, short personage, carrying a surgeon’s satchel.
“Well done, Grimaud!” Porthos clapped his massive palm over the servant’s shoulder, nearly bringing him to the ground. “This way, doctor.”
As the newcomer approached the bed, the patient made another effort to open his eyes. Things were becoming decidedly blurrier than he would have preferred. The men's faces swam in a kaleidoscope of eyes, lips and noses before him. Words, although he heard them, were a meaningless hum in his ears. But he could feel pressure on his hand, a pressure that reassured him that he was not alone, and that as long as their hearts beat, he would never be alone.
“Do not tell de Treville,” he finally managed to mumble, before blackness overtook him.