Summary: Although the bond between Athos and d’Artagnan is strong – no one could have guessed the absolute depth of their connection. Will that connection prove powerful enough to save them both?
Chapter 1: Imaginings
Athos opened his eyes wide in terror. For a moment, he did not know where he was. The room was cool – yet he was covered in sweat; his heart racing – blood roaring in his ears so loud; he thought it was him screaming.
Then, the echo of his name bounced off the walls, chasing him from dream to wakefulness – chasing him so hard that when he sat up, he could not catch his breath; his chest heaving with exertion, as if he had been running.
Athos threw his legs over the side of his pallet and forced himself to steady his breathing; slow his heart rate and calm down.
This way of waking was becoming tiresome, and all too familiar.
He looked around his room and slowly began to gather his wits. The screaming had stopped; and his name drifted away into the corners; beneath the door and out into the streets.
The hour was early, the sun had not yet emerged – and darkness still invaded his small room. He was home – everything was fine – d’Artagnan was fine. He leaned over, placed his elbows on his knees and took a shuddering breath. When was this going to end?
His dreams this past week had been disturbing; and kept him continuously on edge. When he was able to drift off into sleep – unhappy endings attached themselves to bits and pieces of the truth. He shut his eyes tight and shivered – his body finally cooling down to match the temperature in the room.
He shook his head forcibly, and swiped the remnants of sweat from his face – the dream had been a lie. They had found d’Artagnan; and he was home now – in his room – that was the truth. But in his dreams – when they come upon him in the woods; his eyes shown vacant – his body still – cold; lifeless – the King and Anne standing over him, bewildered – gazing at him, accusing him of letting this happen. The King’s voice rattled around the empty space, “He’s dead.”
Athos covered his ears to muffle the sound; and to blot out the words.
Each night, the dream became more and more vivid – and during the day he became more and more agitated – seeking drink to calm his senses and force him to sleep. But it wasn’t working.
The dream was the same every night – it was trying to tell him something – but he could not decipher it; because it was a lie. d’Artagnan had survived – he lived.
Athos pulled in another breath – stronger this time and more in control; and pulled his hands through his hair, and could taste the remains of last night’s wine on his tongue. Wine had not helped – the dream haunted him and would not let him go.
It had been a week since their return from rescuing the King and d’Artagnan from the real possibility of serving as slaves on a Spanish ship. The whole search had been a waking nightmare. At every turn, new revelations as to their whereabouts led to new fears; and now, a week later, he was exhausted from it.
Athos dug the heels of his hands into his eye lids and behind the spots recalled the panic of d’Artagnan gone missing; blood in the street; and trolling the underbelly of the city, where corpses lay waiting to be claimed.
He had thought d’Artagnan dead, and it had shattered him; opening up wounds he had built walls around to protect his sanity – a precarious sanity, already fraught with fissures and cracks. All it would take to bring it crashing down would be one precise blow.
The only thing that kept him moving forward were his brothers – who seemed sure that d’Artagnan lived; and duty to his sovereign. When he had laid eyes on d’Artagnan running toward them – smiling; that look of fierce determination set in his eyes – he had almost lost his seat with relief. That was reality – his dreams told untruths.
Athos sat up straight; rubbed at his tired eyes and resolved to get moving.
He needed to see d’Artagnan; to spar – to work up a sweat – to be challenged; to see him laugh.
When Athos removed his hands from his eyes – he noticed shadows in the room and faint rays of light filtering through the window. The day was about to begin – his routine; his morning ritual would help calm his nerves. He would seek out d’Artagnan and all would be well.
d’Artagnan stared at the ceiling from his pallet. The night was taking forever to end. Crickets chirped outside his window, and reminded him of the woods.
He could not sleep. For the past week, he had dreamed of capture; torture; and the long agonizing walk through the Forest of Evreux. But most of all, he dreamed of Pepin.
Every time he closed his eyes; death visited him in the form of Pepin – standing before him; at the foot of his pallet – by the door or near the window; his eyes sad, pleading – with outstretched hands – moving his lips, speaking to him in a silent language he couldn’t interpret.
He closed his eyes – but there Pepin stood – so he sat up instead, covering his face with his hands – wishing the sun would come up, in order for the day to begin.
Routine was what he needed. To meet with Athos and his brothers in the yard – to spar – to sweat – to drive Pepin from his thoughts through sheer force of will.
But the sun would not rise for hours yet; and he needed to get out – away from this stifling air; and Pepin’s pleading eyes. To move is what he needed – not to lay here and wait for death to visit.
So he rose; dressed; stepped from the room and prepared himself to walk the streets of Paris. Perhaps, during this quiet time, he could think; and ban these dreams from his consciousness.
Walking at a steady pace through the streets; d’Artagnan thought how rare it was that he had a chance to see the city this way. It was quiet; hushed – the only other persons he noticed along the way were the lamplighters – dousing the flames of lanterns lining the streets – readying for dawn; the street sweepers; and the occasional Red Guard patrolling the area.
Unlike the daytime – where Parisians bumped; pushed and shoved without apology – rushing to get on with life – this time of day was smooth, unhurried – the calm before the storm.
The air even smelled different – clean, fresh; wet with mist from the dense fog – that rolled eerily close to the ground like steam from a boiling pot. As he walked through the foggy gas – the cooling mist dampened his hair and face – much like a cold compress. This was good. He needed this – maybe by the time he returned to the garrison, the worrisome threads of his harrowing experience, which pulled at him nightly, would unwind and drift away.
But for each step he took, his mind fell on his disappointment with his King – who would have him kill a man on command; as if he were an assassin. From there his thoughts turned to Pepin’s wife and child – who were alone now, because he had turned his back for a moment; and then did not go back to save him. And finally – there was Athos – who had fallen into the bottle each night and would not share his worries with him or even with Aramis and Porthos.
Was this his doing? Was this what he inspired in people? To his King – blind obedience without morals; to Pepin – death without purpose and to Athos – worry so strong it would lead to drink; for he suspected that was what his nocturnal visits to the tavern were about.
During the day, Athos had become aloof – putting him at arm’s length, wary of him; but at the same time ever present – watchful; protective at a distance. Over time, he had come to know Athos’ moods – and had seen this before when he, or one of the others were injured; so had thought to let this run its course.
But something about him this time was different – and he wished Athos would open up about it. They had made progress – he thought, moving past mentor and student – and now interacted as equals. But he could see this was not so much the case – perhaps, never would be. He would always be the youngest it seemed.
So deep in thought was d’Artagnan, that he did not sense the three men who had been watching and following him since his departure from the garrison. They stood back – still – flattened against brick walls and hidden by darkened alleyways and the moving mist.
Instead, he noticed the empty, abandoned tavern that loomed before him – The Crow. The windows had been boarded up, and there a sign on the door was posted, informing intended patrons that the establishment was now closed. d’Artagnan stared idly at the building – frowning with concentration.
This is where it all began – this was the very street where he and the King had been waylaid – abducted; and forced upon a journey he would not soon forget.
He looked down at his wrists and could still see the marks and bruises from the manacles he had been forced to wear for days – could still feel the ache in his legs from their forced march; and then frantic escape over rough terrain and through thick underbrush; and then there was Pepin – dead because of him.
As he made his way past the abandoned tavern – the three shadowy figures rushed him; took him unawares – one knocking him about the head and shoulders with the butt of his firearm. d’Artagnan fell to a knee, “How stupid”, he thought to himself; as the glancing blows left him seeing stars – the inseparables would call him foolish for feeling safe in the streets of Paris.
He reached for the hilt of his sword and was hit again about his temple – this time his thought was to call out for Athos to help him, but his name never left his lips – getting stuck in his throat and bounced around his throbbing head. He was out before he hit the ground – his sword skittering away into a nearby alley – lost in the shadows and beneath collected rubbish.
“He’s dead”, one called out distressed, “What did you hit him so hard for?”
“Shut up Rene, he isn’t dead”, the other hissed back, “Let’s get him into The Crow – hurry help me.”
Together the two men lifted an unconscious d’Artagnan and dragged his unresisting body between them; the third looking out for onlookers; just as the sun began to peek over the horizon.
As Athos stepped through the gate and into the garrison yard – he stopped short and looked behind him. He could have sworn he heard d’Artagnan calling his name from across the street – so he waited.
After a moment of scanning the area - looking first right, then left – he grabbed his neck and massaged his shoulder, attempting to ease a tension there, and shook his head. Were his dreams now following him into the daylight?
Across the way – he could see his brothers seated at their table – already breaking fast and wondered at how early they were and earlier still Serge was with the meal. He made his way to them and sat down heavily – his body weary from lack of sleep; and too much wine.
Aramis and Porthos glanced to each other and then studied their friend openly. They had agreed to meet here early – and intercept their friend before the day began. It was time to talk.
It had not been a secret, that for this past week, they had been worried for Athos. He would not eat; had distanced himself and drank at night alone – asking for space, and of course they obliged. However, now things were coming to a head, and the proof of it sat before them.
Athos looked rough and worse for wear – so Aramis stated the obvious – “No sleep again I see”, gesturing toward his friend, bringing to attention the dark smudges under his eyes; and the pinched look to his face.
Athos had no reply, for it was true; sleep had eluded him once again.
Porthos watched him closely, and gestured toward the warm bread on the table, “Come, eat something”, pushing an empty plate in his direction.
Athos raised a hand to decline – wine sitting thickly in his stomach; just the thought of food causing bile to rise in the back of his throat. He coughed a little; turned away and kept an eye on the yard, hoping to spot d’Artagnan on his arrival.
Aramis placed his elbows on the table and leaned forward; attempting to garner his friend’s attention, “Then if you won’t share the meal with us; please share what troubles you. This has been going on for too long.” Aramis communicated a look with Pothos, who with a nod encouraged him to continue, “We have seen this dark mood before Athos, and it never ends well. If you wish a satisfactory conclusion to whatever is going on with you, we are here to help.”
Athos considered two of his best friends before him, and wondered if he should tell them about his dream; how it consumed his nights, and now seemed to be creeping into the day. Perhaps he was just losing his mind – his thin hold on sanity finally leaving him - or could it be that the dream really meant something?
Athos thought on it and finally gave in; their sincere concern tipping the scales in their favor. He rubbed his eyes wearily and took a deep breath, “My dreams deceive me and won’t let me sleep. When I close my eyes we find d’Artagnan dead in Evreux. It is so intense; so clear. Sometimes when I wake, it’s as if the dream is real; and I am living the lie. I can hear his voice calling me, and then I wake up.”
Porthos nodded in understanding; for he had relived many a battle in his dreams that seemed as real as when the moment they happened; causing him to actually unsheathe his sword, looking for the enemy- ready to fight to the death. Yes, he understood how a dream could feel true.
Aramis nodded in assent also – Savoy was as real to him in his dreams today as it was five years ago. Time had not dampened the feel of snow in his eyes; the wet flakes soaking through his clothes, the taste of blood in his mouth – or the smell of death, which sometimes overtook him at odd moments when he did not expect it. So yes, he too understood how dreams could ring genuine.
Porthos looked between his brothers, “You know d’Artagnan has been troubled with dreams also. His mind falls on Monsieur Pepin. He thinks it’s his fault that Pepin was killed; that he should have gone back for him. He says the man visits him as death, and won’t let him rest.”
Athos frowned and took in the faces of his worried friends. This revelation of d’Artagnan’s dream could not be a coincidence. That they both dreamed of death; concerning the same events? What of the odds?
In that moment of understanding Athos felt a pull; and stood from the bench. He turned then and walked toward the gate as if listening to something only he could hear. Aramis and Porthos exchanged curious looks – worry creasing their brows.
As Athos made his way to the street; he closed his eyes and felt the ghost of his name on the other side and crossed over. Aramis and Porthos followed without hesitation. “What is it Athos – what do you hear?” Aramis asked, wondering if he dreamed now.
Athos raised his hand for his friends to stand still with him, and asked, “Where is d’Artagnan?”
“It is early yet. I’m hoping he could find rest last night” Porthos offered, remembering how d’Artagnan had shared his dream and worried for his reason.
Athos nodded, but continued walking, searching the awakening city streets; an urgency now in his step. Aramis and Porthos followed close behind. They recognized this – Athos was absorbed in a task now, they would be unable to steer him from. They had witnesses this in him before – his uncanny ability to focus; to tap into hidden reserves - and trusted his instincts.
d’Artagnan was in trouble somewhere; and Athos was looking for him.
So, they walked a pace behind, letting him lead the way – their hands ready on their hilts – prepared to do battle.
d’Artagnan was painfully startled awake by a kick to his ribs, that sent Pepin’s aura dissipating in haste – and for him to draw in a spastic gulp of air – that strangled in his lungs. The pain was sudden; and he could not draw air, so he wasn’t prepared to be dragged to a sitting position and slapped in the face.
When he attempted to raise his arms to defend himself – he found that his hands were tied together with a thick rope in front of him. The rope bound him so tight that he could not feel his fingers – he could barely rasp in a breath; and he could not see through the red veil that covered his right eye.
Where was he? Was he back on the forced march to Evreux – walking his way to imprisonment – or worse, death? This did not feel like the forest – the ground here was hard, not damp and earthy.
Another slap to his face had him opening his eyes wide – the confusing surroundings made him realize he was not outdoors – inside then; underground somehow – barrels all around. He squeezed his eyes shut – attempting to think clearly. He was in a cellar of some sort. He could feel the presence of one of his captors leaning over him, and could hear the breathing of others in the background.
He groaned and licked his lips – feeling a cut and tasting blood in his mouth; he wheezed in a breath, finally able to pull in air. Another kick landed at his hip; and his side ignited on fire. What was happening?
“Are you even listening to me?” a voice demanded loudly from the shadows. “Our brother, musketeer, you have killed our brother!” the voice screamed at him manically – punctuated with another kick to his hip and then his back.
d’Artagnan attempted to curl in on himself to protect his body, but was pulled again to a sitting position and pushed against a barrel. He looked through the red haze of his sight to take in his abuser – a burly man whose face was red with hysteria.
“What do you mean?” he rasped, at the agitated man in front of him.
The man then grabbed d’Artagnan by the collar of his tunic; shook him hard enough to spike pain in his aching head, and screamed through spittle, “Don’t lie to me! You know just what I’m talking about.” He threw d’Artagnan against the barrel and turned away to address the men in the shadows.
“I saw him do it!” He then turned back to d’Artagnan pointing at him and then accused, “I saw you pull Gus from his horse and kill him. You stabbed him through his heart. So don’t lie to me.”
d’Artagnan hissed in a breath, his mind whirling. Moving from the shadows and into the light of the single lantern sitting atop a barrel of wine – he saw two other men – one an anxious looking boy; the other an uncertain young man about his age. His tormenter moved toward him again with murderous rage on his face; lifting his hand to strike him again.
d’Artagnan stared down his attacker, ready to absorb the hit; too spent to raise his hands in defense, when he heard the urgent voice of the youngest, causing the hand to stay, ” Bertrand, please stop. I thought we were going to talk to him and find out what happened?”
“I know what happened Pierre. I followed Gus, I saw it all.”
d’Artagnan squinted his eyes against the blaring pain in his head to see Bertrand glaring at him; gesturing hopelessly in his direction, “He has taken everything from us. Our business; livelihood; he has killed our brother.” Bertrand lowered his head, and spoke softly, “I had to drag Gus’ body through the woods, and bury him with no marker. Over his grave, I swore revenge, and we will have it.”
Off to his side, d’Artagnan heard the third speak, “But I think we should…..”
“I’ll do the thinking Rene! Gus is no longer here, and now I’m the eldest.”
“I think you should hear us out Bertrand …” But the boy got no further. d’Artagnan watched as Bertrand moved quietly to his brother and placed his hands on his shoulders.
“I think you should go Pierre. Go home. You weren’t here. You’ve seen nothing.” He turned from his brother and then pushed him from behind, toward the ladder leading up to the tavern, “Go home.”
Pierre looked back at his brothers; Rene nodding at him to go now - squeezing his shoulder – with a resigned air. So he bounded up the ladder; tore through the tavern; and raced out the side entrance – making his way home through tears of frustration. He knew in that moment, he would never see his brothers again.
d’Artagnan watched the exchange between the three brothers – his head; his side; his back; and his face aching. He would die down here if nothing changed soon. He could attest to this, for there standing behind the ladder watching him, was Pepin; with those sad eyes, moving his lips, trying to impart some message.
d’Artagnan turned away from him, and thought of his own brothers. Athos and the others had found him before – searched the city up and down; and had traveled far to rescue him. Perhaps they would find him again.
d’Artagnan watched as Bertrand moved toward him once more. He understood this pain the man was feeling. Would he not do the same? But what of Pepin; did he not deserve justice also? What of all the people Gus had killed that day; of all the lives he deemed unimportant and condemned to slavery – didn’t they deserve something?”
But before he could even try to reason with him, Bertrand rushed at him, screaming, “Whatever he did, whatever he was – he was our brother!” And in that moment, pulled back his fist and struck him squarely in the temple.
His last thought before darkness took him was of Athos, Aramis, Porthos and his dear Constance – his family – who would never know what happened to him. But then he saw Pepin reappear from the mist, and begged him not to take him.
The three musketeers walked the streets as if they were on patrol – taking notice of every detail – such as early risers getting their carts ready for market; store front owners opening doors and sweeping away the debris from the night before; ladies and gentlemen, slowly making their way home to sleep during the day; so as to be ready by nightfall.
They were in pursuit and would not be deterred.
Athos walked slowly, but with taunt urgency. Aramis and Porthos noted that he seemed to know where he was going, yet not. When he stopped in his tracks – he took no notice of where they really were – only that the sense of d’Artagnan ended here.
Porthos looked around, “You have brought us to The Crow.” He gestured to the abandoned building, “Since we did away with the LeMaitre brothers and Gus – this place has been closed down.”
At that moment, a young man in his teen years rushed across their paths – breathing hard; swiping tears from his face. He seemed in a great hurry to get somewhere.
Aramis looked after his fleeing form, curious as to what he could be doing, out and about on this off street; this time of morning.
Athos ignored him and crossed over to the nearby alley – bent down, then reached beneath a pile of rubbish. There he touched on and lifted away d’Artagnan’s sword.
He held it up for the others to see; and strode purposefully toward the tavern; and reached for the door. When it would not open, Aramis pointed to the side of the building, “That boy ran from this way”, and led his brothers to an open side entrance.
The three of them then exchanged a brief glance; unsheathed their swords and entered The Crow. Inside was dark, with streaks of light straining between boarded up windows. The last time they were here, the King had wanted to go on an adventure; to be an ordinary man. But his experiment had ended in near disaster – averted only by d’Artagnan’s sheer tenacity; Anne’s unexpected assistance; and luck.
Porthos pulled down a plank from one of the windows and light spilled in to reveal the empty tables, unoccupied chairs and the vacant room where unsavory individuals would come to commence dishonest business.
They walked the room at first hearing only their footsteps on creaking floorboard; when suddenly below their feet they heard a raised voice. Someone was below them, screaming obscenities in a rage. Searching the floor; Athos pointed toward the trap door that must lead to the cellar. They sheathed their swords and silently readied themselves.
Porthos leaned down to grab the rope, and held up his fist, pantomiming the count, “One, two…”
On “three”, he pulled the rope, and the trap door opened; with Athos sliding down the ladder first. And as he reached the bottom, he saw standing over d’Artagnan a large man of Porthos’ size and build – his face red with fury striking down on d’Artagnan – and he knew no more.
He charged forward; not hearing the others slide down the ladder behind him; threw d’Artagnan’s weapon to the side, and grabbed the man by the back of his neck; and hauled him back off his feet. He watched the man hit the ground with dispassion – and a cold indifferent rage took over. He looked down on the man, and felt his fists clench tight at his side of their own accord. A heat began to coil in the pit of his stomach; build up in his chest and grow red in his eyes.
When Aramis hit the ground, he noticed Athos standing over someone, and another moving to attack him from the back. d’Artagnan lay unmoving on the ground – blood covering the side of his face; his hands tied. He moved quickly to contain the other – pulling his sword – aiming at the man’s throat, “Stand down. We are the King’s musketeers. If you move, I will run you through!” The man seemed to freeze – not sure what to do; but obeyed the direct order.
Porthos slid down the ladder; moved past Aramis, and slid to the ground next to d’Artagnan; and gently sat him up to lean against the barrel behind him. His eyes were closed; blood stained the side of his face; dripping down his neck into the collar of his tunic – his hair matted and slick. Porthos touched the side of his face, and noticed the split lip and a bruise already forming on his left temple. He hurriedly removed the ropes from his wrists – calling the boy’s name – tapping his cheek lightly.
Behind him, without warning, Athos had reached down and grabbed d’Artagnan’s abuser about his collar, and with one hand began to beat him about the face relentlessly, striking him over and over – blood forming quickly around his eyes; nose; mouth and ears.
d’Artagnan woke to noise – a tapping to his cheek – and Aramis yelling for Athos to stop, “You will kill him”, echoing in the small, close space.
d’Artagnan forced his eyes open, and at first, he could only see shadows. But then he recognized Porthos kneeling in front of him; holding him up by the shoulders – Aramis to his side holding his sword on Rene; and then to Athos beating Bertrand to death; the steady rhythm of his fists meeting flesh, causing him to wince.
He looked then to Porthos, and with steel in his voice insisted, “Help me up – get me on my feet.” As he spoke the words, he could feel that nausea was spinning in his stomach; blood rushed in his ears and the taste of copper pooled in his mouth. He could feel his eyes rolling and knew he would pass out again, if did not get on his feet.
Porthos understood in an instant; nodded, and pulled him up into a standing position – holding on to his shoulders so he would not fall.
d’Artagnan leaned heavily against his friend; coughed; cleared his throat and spit blood from his mouth onto the cellar floor. He gathered his strength and called out, “Athos stop!”
d’Artagnan watched as Athos’ armed raised to strike again, but then stay at his plea; his arm trembling with tension and rage in midair; hovering over Bertrand’s bloodied face and limp body.
“I’m okay”, he rasped – pushing away from Porthos’ protective hold; locking his knees to stand on his own. The ground tilted beneath him, and he could feel his body lean – but felt Porthos pull at the back of his tunic to stand him straight.
Athos lowered his fist closer to Bertrand’s face ready to finish what he started – a low growl emitting from his belly; but d’Artagnan’s voice persisted around the edges of his rage, “Look at me please. I’m okay.”
Aramis pushed Rene aside and with a lethal look instructed the man to stay put. He sheathed his sword, and moved slowly toward Athos, ready to envelop him – if d’Artagnan could not convince him to break off.
Athos turned little by little to take in the sight of d’Artagnan; Bertrand still held tightly in his grip, by the throat of his collar. His hold on Bertrand began to falter as he watched d’Artagnan take a faltering step in his direction. And then as he took another step, his heart rate began to steady; and as he moved closer still, the heat in the pit of his stomach began to dissipate; and lastly his fists uncurled, and Bertrand dropped to the floor, a dead weight.
Aramis sighed with relief, and felt his knees weaken. He leaned against a barrel of wine; let the tension of the moment pour from him and sent up a silent prayer of thanks. Porthos placed his hands on his hips, bowed his head, and contemplated on what had just been averted. Rene ran to his brother’s side; fell to his knees and wept openly.
“See, I’m okay”, d’Artagnan repeated soothingly as Athos reached out to him as a father reaches out to catch his child taking his first steps. When they met, Athos grabbed him about the shoulders – looked him in the eyes and brought him close. When they withdrew from each other – he touched the side of his face; felt the pull of hate; and looked over his shoulder back at Bertrand laid out on the ground.
He moved to start again, but d’Artagnan grabbed him about the arms to hold him in place, “I killed his brother”, he whispered.
Athos turned back to him startled at the declaration – a question in his eyes.
“Gus was their brother”, he explained, and then his eyes rolled white and he passed out in Athos’ arms, his head falling to the crook of his neck; and his legs no longer holding his weight. Athos then hugged him tight and held him up – refusing to let him fall.
A few moments of silence passed and Athos then looked to his brothers, “Get d’Artagnan out of here. I’ll join you later.”
Aramis stood tall, and faced his friend. He was wary to leave. Athos still looked as if he would willingly commit murder, and asked, “What are you going to do?”
As Porthos lifted d’Artagnan from his arms and held him about his shoulders and under his knees; his arms and legs swinging boneless between them – he noticed that Athos still trembled with rage, but his face was a mask; and he could not read it.
This was a dangerous moment and he understood Aramis’ reluctance to leave him here alone with these men.
Athos bowed his head and asked again, his voice devoid of emotion, “Please Aramis. You and Porthos – take d’Artagnan from here and help him. I will take care of things here; and will do nothing you need worry about.”
And so with some hesitation; and unwilling to press the point, they left him in the cellar with the two abductors and carried d’Artagnan swiftly through the streets, back to the garrison.
d’Artagnan opened his eyes slowly, adjusting his sight to a slightly darkened room. One candle flickered on the table beside his pallet, casting a warm glow – giving him a feeling of safety.
Looking around, he could see that he was in his own room and sitting beside his pallet, chin down on his chest, sat Athos – asleep; his breathing steady and even.
He took inventory of the room and noted that Pepin stood nowhere about – not at the foot of his bed; near the door or in the shadows; it was just he and Athos here. He breathed in deep; and felt an aching pull on his rib cage, that radiated to his hip and then up his back.
He moved his hand from beneath the heavy blanket that covered him and reached to touch the side of his face; and felt a bandage wrapped around his head. His mouth felt dry as a desert, and he licked his lips. The room began to spin – so he squeezed his eyes tight to regain some equilibrium.
When he opened his eyes again, Athos was sitting up, and looking down at him with a questioning expression. His eyes swept the room, and he asked, “Is he here? Is Pepin here with us now?”
d’Artagnan cleared his throat and spoke softly, “No.”
Athos stood; poured some water in a cup and returned to his side- placing his hand beneath his neck and shoulders; and lifted his head to help him drink. d’Artagnan drank greedily; but after a few gulps, felt exhausted from the effort – so Athos removed the cup and gently set him down again to rest against the pillows. He smiled fondly at him, and took his seat.
“And in my dreams you are well.”
d’Artagnan frowned, unsure of what this meant – but glad to see his friend smiling; so he chanced to ask, ” What has happened to Rene and Bertrand?”
Athos hesitated slightly, and answered carefully, “I have sent them away from Paris, on the threat of death. If I see them again, I will kill them.” His tone sent a slight chill through d’Artagnan, causing him to tremble and to gasp in pain. Athos reached for his hand and squeezed – waiting with him for the moment to pass.
“Bertrand only wanted revenge, as I wanted it for Pepin”, he reasoned.
Athos let go of his hand, and readjusted the blanket around his shoulders, “Gus was a thief, a killer and a slave trader.”
d’Artagnan could feel himself flagging – the weight of his injuries dragging him down, making him tired; however, he had to speak on this, “But he was their brother.”
Athos brow creased, he knew where d’Artagnan was going with this but he didn’t care. Bertrand had attempted to kill him; and if he had his way – would have finished what he had started, “And they only live now, because of you.”
He could see that d’Artagnan was fighting sleep and wanted to convince him that he had done the right thing; but to him the matter was closed. “Let’s not talk of it again, d’Artagnan. Get some rest.”
The pull of sleep was strong, but he wasn’t so sure it would be peaceful, “Will you stay?” he asked, his eyes doing that thing no one could resist.
Athos touched the top of his head; and stroked his hair gently, “Yes, I’ll stay.”
And so - d’Artagnan drifted away to sleep; the room quiet and free from apparitions.