"When will this end?" Porthos shouted angrily as they stood together around Aramis' bed, taking in that an attack had been made against their comrade yet again.
"It will end when we are all dead," Athos answered curtly.
Porthos looked over at their leader as he objected, "Yes, but how many times will the Cardinal send someone here to try to kill Aramis? Surely he has been through enough. He hasn't even awakened yet."
D'Artagnan thought for a moment until he shook his head, then looked between his friends and Constance and responded, "I don't believe the Cardinal did send anyone to kill Aramis, even though we were all away when our assassin came. I mean, Constance is right. Why would Richelieu send another assassin when Aramis is his only leverage against Queen Anne?"
"Maybe, but who else knew we would all be away from him at the time of his attack and who else for that matter would want to kill Aramis?" Porthos asked again. "It doesn't make any sense."
"It could be anyone with a grudge against us musketeers and figured Aramis being alone and defenseless would be the perfect chance to be rid of one of us," Athos replied and then looked over at Constance. "They just didn't expect Madam Bonacieux to be here with him, or that she has the courage and ability to fight him off. Thank you, Madam."
She nodded and then answered, "I figured I owed Monsieur Aramis, for all the times I have mistreated him, and for him helping d'Artagnan achieve becoming a musketeer. Do any of you have an idea who the man was? I couldn't see him. His face was covered, but… He was awfully short for a man and he didn't have the same strength I would expect from a man either."
A thought suddenly dawned on Athos as he spoke up again saying, "If that's true, then I think I may know who the mystery attacker may be. What if he isn't a man at all, but the young girl we met twice on the road?"
"The woman who told us where to find Aramis?" d'Artagnan asked in confusion. "Why would she help us and then try to kill him days later? And how would she know where to find him?"
"She knows the forest well and she knows how to make herself invisible until she's ready to be seen," Athos answered. "And if it was her, I don't believe that she was trying to kill Aramis, but rather come here to make sure he was alive."
Constance shook her head in disagreement and retorted, "But she attacked me as soon as I came into this room. Why would she do that if she was really here to see to his wellbeing?"
Porthos responded, "Because she wasn't willing to get caught. I could see from the sadness on her face and her poor condition that she doesn't have a family or ties to anyone or anything. It was obvious that she trusted no one, so when Aramis showed her an act of kindness, she grew attached to him and felt a need to make sure he would be all right, but didn't want to be confronted anyone else. You walking in startled her. She only fought you off to get free."
The woman with them nodded and replied, "I see. Well, in my defense she did startle me as well. If I had known that she…"
"Aramis?" Porthos quickly cried quietly when their wounded brother began to stir beneath the blankets covering him to keep him warm. "Come on, Aramis. Come back to us, damn you!"
"Please, keep fighting," Athos added quietly.
The Spaniard struggled as he slowly opened his eyes, and fought against the pain in his body to remain awake, then spoke, barely audible asking, "Po… Porthos… Athos…?"
His closest friend sat down beside him as he gently lifted Aramis' hand in his own as he answered, "That's right, my friend. We're all here. You're safe again. Those that did this to you… those who have hurt you this way have paid for what they've done."
"Wh…" he tried to speak again, though he couldn't get out the words he was trying to say.
"You are safe at home, no longer in that God forsaken, barbaric village," Porthos responded.
Aramis shook his head slightly and asked again sadly, "Wh… why?"
Athos stepped forward and moved into his friend's line of sight as he replied, "Did you really think that we would abandon you, to die alone?"
"You shou… should have… I…" Aramis tried to answer until Athos moved to sit down on his other side, reached out to lay his hand gently over his good shoulder to cut him off before he got worked up, while d'Artagnan and Constance stood back to allow Athos and Porthos to help one of the men he had grown close to in the short time they have been together.
Then, Aramis closed his eyes again against the torment and turned his head away from his friends, and Athos answered, "You are worth fighting for, Aramis. None of us were injured thanks to you that day on the cliff. And we weren't harmed when we fought to save you from the hands of the villagers and Mi… Milady."
"You are a fool if you think you are at fault for all that you are blaming yourself for," Porthos added. "We don't blame you, not for anything."
"I'm no mus… musket… teer," Aramis continued sadly. "I com… com… promised us. I was self… selfish. Why… did you come… for me?"
Athos looked between Porthos and d'Artagnan, then back down at Aramis and slowly picked up the gold cross their Queen had laid across his chest nights before when she visited them, held in out for Aramis to see when he opened his eyes again, and responded, "Your love for Queen Anne is not selfish, Aramis. Because she loves you back just as much if not more. It isn't fair that the two of you cannot be, but God has given you both a gift. And as for us, you have not compromised us, any more than the rest of us ever have before. You will always be our truest friend and we will always be here for you, no matter what comes our way."
Aramis finally reached out weakly as he took the cross from Athos, then Porthos smiled as he replied, "We are in this together, through thick and thin, until death, but do not let that day be today. Do not let the Cardinal win over you. We must fight against him as we always have."
"The four of us, together," d'Artagnan finally spoke for the first time since their friend had finally awaken. "Richelieu wanted to hurt you to make you weak when his attack against us occurred, but you have proven that you are stronger than he believes you are. I am proud to fight at your side for our King and Queen and for France. I am proud to call you my friend."
"As are we all," Athos said in agreement. "Now, rest and allow yourself to heal, my friend. Your wounds are severe, but we will help you grow stronger again, if you will allow us to and do not put so much burden on your shoulders."
Aramis looked between them all as he answered, almost sounding more like himself again, "It seems… I have no… choice. I would… wouldn't want to give… the Card… Cardinal the satisfaction. Thank you."
When he closed his eyes and laid his head to his side to sleep again, Athos motioned for each of them to step away so that Aramis would not be able to hear him as he spoke softly saying, "We cannot tell Aramis of Richelieu's threat he made to Anne. Is that clear? He cannot know that he will be used against her should she tell Louis of his indiscretions. He will not take it well."
"I agree," Porthos responded in frustration, then patted d'Artagnan on his back as he turned to look at the young man. "Your words were good, d'Artagnan. Aramis' spirits have risen and I think he will be well again in no time."
"I think you're right, but I do not feel comfortable with allowing the Cardinal to think he has won, despite that Aramis has survived, free and clear of all consequence," Athos replied coldly as he started to walked toward the door, then paused for a moment, and turned to look back at his friends before leaving. "I'm going to have a chat with the villain to make it clear that should he strike against Aramis again in retaliation for his humiliation, then he will die by my sword, even if my death is the price. It is a price I am happy to pay."