D’Artagnan opened his eyes, regretted it, and scrunched them shut against the light. He put a hand to his head, and winced at the sudden pain in his shoulder. Everything hurt.
“I was starting to think you’d never wake up.”
“I’m starting to wish I hadn’t.”
D’Artagnan tried again, and this time managed to open his eyes properly. He was in a bed, that much he recognised, but that was not his ceiling. He carefully turned his head on the pillow until he saw Athos sitting in a chair across a small room. Athos was watching him. He looked bored.
“Where am I, and how long was I out of it?”
“My room, and at least half an hour.”
“Because you are an idiot and tried to fight five men at once.”
Oh, that. Now he remembered. But that wasn’t what he had intended when he asked the question.
“No, I meant why am I in your room?”
Athos shrugged. “It was the nearest place.”
A vague memory came to him of being thrown over Porthos’ shoulder, while Aramis and Athos held off the opposition. After that, it all went hazy.
“I’m not sure whether to thank you for coming to the rescue, or be annoyed that you didn’t trust me to handle it on my own. I did have it under control.”
“My apologies. Next time we’ll let them crack your head open,” Athos said, deadpan.
“It feels like they did that anyway.”
“You’ll live. But you’re going to feel it for a few days.”
D’Artagnan attempted to sit up, but a flare of pain in his ribs made him bite back a cry. Suddenly Athos was beside him, his hand gently supporting D’Artagnan’s shoulder as he sank back onto the bed.
“Stop being an idiot. Lie still.”
Idiot. Was that really what Athos still thought of him, even now? Hadn’t he proven himself, or did the solider still think he was just a rash, impetuous boy? D’Artagnan closed his eyes again. He didn’t want to see the disappointment in Athos’ eyes. Or worse; pity.
Much as he didn’t want to admit it, Athos was right about one thing; he really didn’t want to move right then. He wasn’t sure if his rib was broken, or just badly bruised, but he was pretty certain if looked down at himself he would see entirely more fresh cuts and bruises than he was happy with. He wondered where Aramis was, and why it was Athos here instead. Aramis was the one they normally turned to when one of them needed patching up. Was that a good sign that he wasn’t so badly hurt that he needed expert attention, or just another sign that he simply wasn’t considered important enough?
His thoughts were interrupted by the sudden realisation that Athos’ hand was still on his shoulder. And more to the point, Athos’ thumb was gently rubbing circles on the skin just above his collarbone.
D’Artagnan opened his eyes again and looked up, and just for a second he saw the way that Athos was looking at him. It was neither disappointment nor pity in his eyes. It was... actually, he wasn’t entirely certain. It was an expression he had never seen on the man’s face before. If he didn’t know better, he might mistake it for protectiveness, maybe even affection.
But that couldn’t possibly be right.
“What are you doing?” he asked, when he couldn’t ignore it any longer.
“Aramis thinks your shoulder might be sprained. Regular gentle manipulation should stop it from seizing up.”
A second later D’Artagnan frowned, and opened his mouth to point out the obvious flaw in that. The challenge in Athos’ eyes made him pause, and then close his mouth again. He didn’t need to point out that it was his left shoulder that was sprained, while the shoulder that Athos was so carefully touching was, in fact, his right shoulder. Athos already knew that.
D’Artagnan was suddenly very aware of the possibility that he had no idea what was going on here.
“Stop thinking so loudly,” Athos said. There was now one of those rare looks of amusement on his face, but his eyes still spoke of care and worry.
D’Artagnan still wasn’t sure what was going on, but there was one thing that he did know; he trusted this man, and he knew whatever Athos’ intentions were, he would be safe here with him. It was a suddenly liberating thought, that here in Athos’ room, he was probably safer than anywhere else he could be. D’Artagnan nodded at him, and closed his eyes again, and let himself settle back into Athos’ bed.
Athos’ thumb was still tracing a feather-light pattern on D’Artagnan’s skin, and as D’Artagnan drifted back towards sleep, he felt his hair being brushed back off his face, the touch always avoiding the thumping wound on the side of his head.
It was... nice. Unfamiliar and unexpected, certainly. But not unwanted.
Content, and no longer thinking about anything, D’Artagnan breathed deeply. His ribs flared again and his breath cut short and his chest spasmed and abruptly he was coughing, every hack driving a deep stabbing pain into his chest. He wanted to cry out but he couldn’t get the air to do so. He felt arms wrap around his back and pull him upright into a sitting position, and he blindly grabbed at Athos’ shoulder to brace himself.
“Breathe, D’Artagnan, breathe.”
He dragged in a breath, and felt his chest hitch again but this time the coughing that followed was less harsh. Gradually it died down, and D’Artagnan became aware that he had a fistful of Athos’ shirt twisted in his grip, while Athos held him steady with one hand, and rubbed slow, soothing circles on his back with the other. D’Artagnan loosened his grip and let his forehead drop onto Athos’ shoulder.
“Shut up. Unless you want to set it off again.”
D’Artagnan bit back the absurd desire to laugh. He breathed slowly until he was sure he wasn’t going to start coughing again.
“Why are you doing this?”
“I told you to shut up.”
“That doesn’t answer the question.”
There was a silence, and D’Artagnan wondered if he was actually going to get a reply at all.
“I’ve spent a lot of time and energy on you. It would be a waste for you to die so soon.”
Of course. He almost wished he hadn’t asked. D’Artagnan felt a twinge in his chest that had nothing to do with broken ribs. He tried to pull away but Athos held onto him.
“No. Stay upright. You’ll breathe more easily.”
“What did I say about shutting up?”
D’Artagnan was too tired and in too much pain to argue. He let himself be held, and concentrated on breathing slow and shallow. Athos continued to rub his back, and he was almost beginning to drift towards sleep again when he felt a soft touch of breath on his neck. He became aware of Athos moving closer, and then the unmistakeable ghost of a kiss on his skin.
D’Artagnan pulled back and stared at Athos, his eyes wide. For a split second Athos seemed not to know what to do. Then he looked away and let go and began to stand up.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have...”
D’Artagnan grabbed his arm and halted his escape. He thought he understood, now, why it was Athos and not any of the others here.
Again, unexpected. But not unwanted.
D’Artagnan gathered his courage.
“Athos, do you see me objecting?”
Athos stared at him with an almost comically stunned expression for several seconds. D’Artagnan tugged his arm and Athos let himself be pulled back to sit on the bed.
“Are you sure?”
No, D’Artagnan wasn’t sure at all, but he and certainty had parted company the day his father had died. There were many things he was no longer sure of in his life; what his future held, who, outside this small group, he could trust, where he might find himself the next day, whether he would even survive the next mission these three men dragged him into. But one thing that he was sure of was that he trusted Athos with his life, and, he dared to admit, perhaps more than that.
“If I was objecting, you would have a sword at your throat right now.”
An amused smile touched Athos’ lips.
“You have a very high opinion of your swordsmanship.”
D’Artagnan smiled. “Okay, perhaps not. But you would at least have a black eye. If I was objecting.” He paused, and then added, “Which I’m not, by the way. Just to make that clear.”
“Well, in that case...”
His hand came up to cradle the back of D’Artagnan’s neck, and he leaned closer until D’Artagnan could feel Athos’ breath against his face. But then he paused. Waited. D’Artagnan closed the last distance between them and then they were kissing. It was softer than he had expected, as if Athos thought he might break. D’Artagnan reached up and slipped his hand into Athos’ hair and held him as he pressed harder, determined to prove... something.
When Athos finally pulled away D’Artagnan breathed deeply, barely catching himself when he felt his chest hitch again. He held his breath for a second, willing his lungs not to betray him again, and the urge to cough slowly subsided.
He glanced up at Athos and saw the concern in his eyes.
“Sorry. That kind of killed the mood, didn’t it?” D’Artagnan muttered.
“Get some rest.”
“Get. Some. Rest.”
Athos gently placed a hand on D’Artagnan’s chest and pushed him to lie down. He looked faintly exasperated, but more relaxed than D’Artagnan had ever seen him.
Questions whirled around his head, demanding answers that he knew the normally taciturn man was unlikely to give him. When he finally stopped resisting and settled back onto the bed, Athos let go and stood up.
He wasn’t sure what he wanted to say.
Athos seemed to understand, though. He sat down on the chair again, and watched D’Artagnan.
“I will be here when you wake.”
D’Artagnan nodded, and closed his eyes. He could ask for no better promise than that.