By: MusketeerAdventure

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 2: Emerging

Thunder rolled all around; causing the earth to quake beneath their feet, rain drops fell fat and steady; and d’Artagnan’s spirits were high.

He strode alongside Athos and was happy to be up and about - on his feet and back on patrol. Though he still felt some discomfort in his hip; it was as if the last month of recovery had never happened.

To be here – now – walking the perimeter of the garrison with his best friend, he felt as if he had been let out of a cage. He almost laughed out loud – to be this ecstatic about guard duty – who would have thought it possible? The steady fall of rain – his wet poncho and wet hair, plastered to his face and neck, did not deter his optimism.

He had not considered how much he missed the mundane – until he could not partake in it. The month spent lying in bed – stretching his limbs; taking baby steps; and finally given the all clear to practice had been torture.

But this; back to being a musketeer was what made him feel alive. He couldn’t help it; but his grin escaped into a full blown smile, reaching his eyes and causing Athos to grin with him – a slightly confused look skimming over his features.

The night air surrounding him felt cool, wet and exhilarating. His mind was clear – no longer plagued by dreams of Pepin searching him out in his sleep. Instead, now he searched out Pepin’s living legacy – visiting with Madame Pepin and little Laura. When he could stand again on his own two feet; when pain no longer chased him back to bed rest – he had taken the time to get to know who Pierre Pepin was through his family.

He had gone to see them recently – his guilt pushing him to check on them – to be sure they were coping the weeks following Pepin’s death. He – himself – had not coped well; but it was getting better. And to see them again – help them in some way – he hoped it would aid Pepin’s spirit to rest – and in turn his own.

And though Madame Pepin had put on a brave face for his benefit – he could see that her pain was deep; her worries for the future overwhelming; and her concern for Laura immense. But despite this, she readily welcomed him into her home; and seemed eager to speak of her husband’s steadfastness; loyalty and love for his family. d’Artagnan was glad to bring her this small bit of comfort.

Sitting at the parlor table in their neat but close home; she had also shared with him that Laura had not spoken since the day he and the others had delivered the terrible news of Pepin’s death at her doorstep. It seemed her voice had escaped to the street; and she feared would not return.

The news of her husband’s death had devastated her, but Laura had turned inward – and poured all her heart into helping her mother survive her crushing grief. “It does not seem fair that such a little girl should carry such burdens”, she had told him.

After the evening meal with the family of two, he and Laura had walked together to the small church at the end of the street – to light a candle for Pepin in remembrance.

And though he had walked slowly – the pain in his hip bothersome – he and Laura walked side by side – both of them stoic and in deep thought. d’Artagnan thinking – how he should have done more to save this child’s father – for one day, when she understood better, she would surely blame him for his death as much as he blamed himself.

Halfway to the church – the pain in his hip began to move from bothersome to an ache that throbbed to his back and tightly contracted there. He stopped short – gasped for breath – and tried in vain to gain control over his body; to continue the walk with this child and honor the bravery of her father. At the time, he did not think he could take one more step.

But Laura had stopped alongside him; looked up into his eyes; stood close, turned and offered her shoulder for him to lean on. She had waited patiently for him to understand, and when he held onto her shoulder – he squeezed it tight in gratitude, and he hoped with comfort.

Thinking on that moment now; he knew that he would do whatever was possible; and to offer what he could to this family. He did not have much – no money to speak of, but the Pepin’s would forever have his loyalty.

They had continued on to the church, slow in pace; and heavy hearted – lit the candles in solemn comradery and sat silent in the pews. She never smiled or cried – her expression resigned and matter of fact; her only sign of emotion – tightly clasped hands fidgeting in her lap.

He had looked to her and wondered if they shared the same affect; and promised – one day perhaps, they would share a smile instead of this sad countenance.

But until then – they sat quietly, lost in their own worlds, until the bells rang the hour bringing them back to the present. They left the church then, the same as they had entered – he leaning on her small, frail shoulder – she the strong one.

But tonight, he could feel his strength at almost optimum.

His hip, though sore – no longer hindered his movements. His back – no longer tightened up on him at odd times and his face; now clear of bruises appeared as if nothing had ever happened. The physical trauma of that fated morning were gone – the emotional ones, still there beneath the surface.

He had killed someone’s brother – and they had come looking for revenge – almost succeeding in taking his life. If not for the man walking beside him, he would have answered Pepin’s call to death that day.

So now, he was almost good as new, and tonight, patrolling here with Athos; he would prove that he was ready to go back on active duty.

He had to get back to work – it was time. Another week of forced convalescence and he would go mad. He loved his brothers – but a child he was not. He needed to get from under their coddling soon – before he did something ridiculous.

d’Artagnan could feel the energy in his body ready to explode. If he did not have an outlet soon – he wasn’t sure what he would do. Just yesterday, he almost took Cypriene up on a bet that he could scale the pillars at the back of Treville’s office to the balcony and walk the railings all the way to the bottom.

He did not have the chance to take Cypriene up on the bet; for as soon as he moved to climb the pillars, Porthos grabbed him by the scruff of his collar; dragged him away – scolding, “Have you lost your mind?” For good measure, he smacked the back of his head; and penned Cypriene with a cold stare, that promised a reprimand at a later date.

Now that he was feeling better there was not enough practice; sparring; shooting or hand to hand that could contain him.

So this felt wonderful. So wonderful, that he found it hard to keep an ear splitting smile from creeping onto his face; to keep this bounce from his step and to force himself not to chatter away about nonsense that Athos would not appreciate.

Tonight, guard duty – tomorrow, a real assignment – he promised himself.

Athos walked side by side with d’Artagnan and was pleased with what he saw.

Though he noticed a limp – it was very slight; and he saw no evidence of pain etched on his face; or in his gait. Instead what he saw was a wide smile; and bright eyes, under wet, limp hair – that sent rivulets of raindrops streaming down his face.

Was this excitement he saw – and for what, guard duty? He could not help but grin himself.

It was good to see d’Artagnan this way. There was a bounce to his step that belied how eager he was to be let loose. He understood this eagerness – he felt it too. For the past month, he had missed this boy at his side; their missions lacking his enthusiasm and energy.

d’Artagnan’s convalescence – though not too long – for what he had been through – had been painful. The forced week in bed had been unbelievably hard to enforce. It had taken the three of them in shifts and the recruitment of their fellow brother musketeers to keep him down.

He had complained – moaned; groaned; and had stooped to cajoling eyes to try and get out of bed – but Aramis had schooled them all on how to ignore the look and do what must be done to help him mend as quickly as possible. And so – he had finally given in – to everyone’s relief.

Looking at him now – he could no longer see the physical evidence of the terrible beating he had sustained just over a month ago. Thinking of this now, he still felt a cold rage coursing through his veins toward the brothers who thought they could take revenge out on d’Artagnan for a justified defense of innocent lives.

He squeezed the hilt of his sword beneath his poncho, and imagined himself running Bertrand through – or finishing what he had started and beating the man to death. Even now – he barely had memory of what took place in that cellar. Only that d’Artagnan had walked toward him, bloody; and in pain – pleading for him to stop. Later, he had looked to his swollen and split knuckles wondering at how he had snapped and lost himself.

He wiped the rain from his face and pushed back his hat; there was no doubt in his mind, that one day, he would see Bertrand again – and then that chapter would be closed.

Thunder rumbled again; and his mind lifted from his dark thoughts as he felt a shift in d’Artagnan’s mood. He could tell that his mind had fallen now on something more sensitive – as his brow was creased in concentration. He knew that recently his dreams of Pepin had ended, but that now he visited the family and wondered if this was a good thing.

d’Artagnan had a good heart – and sometimes this did not match well with being a soldier. Loss and death were inevitable and could not be prevented, even with the best of intentions; but this was what made d’Artagnan a good man – and he would not discourage it.

Having him walk beside him tonight on duty, felt right. It was as if they moved as one – step for step – their thoughts the same; senses heightened; and awareness on alert. It was almost as if Porthos or Aramis stood with him; but different.

And it was definitely time for him to get back to the business of being a musketeer. Just yesterday, Porthos had come to him explaining d’Artagnan’s almost; near; impending fall to his death. “He needs to get back to work before he kills himself”, he had bemoaned.

So here they were – walking the perimeter of the garrison – rain steady; and the night sky an inky black with no moon or stars to help illuminate the way.

They would have to use instinct tonight to help keep the garrison safe from intruders.

All had been quiet and seemed secure until suddenly on their third hour, Athos felt a displacement in the air and came to a halt. d’Artagnan stood close and stopped alongside him; nodded; and could feel it too.

Something was not right. As one, they reached beneath their ponchos and pulled out their firearms; scanned the yard, the archway; and the stable entrance.

They moved forward slowly – listening for any unusual sounds; but only heard the rain hitting the ground; the horses swaying hoof to hoof; crickets chirping; and looking up saw Cypriene, still on watch up above on the wall.

Then, there – on the ground was a downed musketeer – his weapon still with him, unmoving in the mud. They rushed quietly to him, skidded to a halt and kneeled in the forming puddles. Athos touched his back, relieved to feel him breathing evenly with no distress.

He looked to d’Artagnan and answered his questioning look with a nod – Etiene lived. Athos then whistled out a call to alert the others on duty that the garrison had an intruder. d’Artagnan sighed with relief; and stood to make his way to Treville’s office.

Whoever did this was headed there – this he knew without reservation. But before he could leave his crouched position, Athos grabbed his arm, and they shared a brief silent communication. He knew it too, and pointed for d’Artagnan to proceed to the back. There were no stairs there, so he knew he’d be climbing and entering through Treville’s window, at his living quarters.

He nodded at the direction; and grinned – he would win his bet after all – and took off swiftly.

Athos watched after d’Artagnan with a slight frown. Who would be so bold as to enter the garrison under cover of night; down a musketeer and attack the Captain? And why was d’Artagnan smiling so widely before entering into such a precarious situation? He shook the thoughts loose and made for the stairway that led to Treville’s office.

Making his way to the stairway Athos removed his hat, and laid it on the bottom step; and without making a sound, crept up the stairs and entered the door – sliding through a thin opening. He then took refuge in a dark corner of the office and waited. Before him he saw Treville sitting at his desk, with a single candle burning – working on the endless hours of paperwork the man had to endure to keep a place like the garrison running smoothly.

He kneeled low and slowed his breathing. Had he been wrong? All appeared quiet here. Treville had not even noticed that he had entered. When he looked over the Captain’s head – he could see d’Artagnan entering from the living quarters – bent low – scanning the room, and then look to him for direction.

He held up his hand for him to stay – wait. All seemed well, but something felt wrong. d’Artagnan agreed, and hunkered down lower into the darkness; held his breath, and let out shallow puffs to keep his presence unknown.

Some moments passed with only the scratching of Treville’s quill pen on paper making any noise. Athos was pleased that d’Artagnan made no sound; his skill at stealth improved by leaps and bounds. The room remained still, but for the thunder outside making itself known and the rain pattering on the roof.

Then out of the dark – a figure stood from the ground, as if a ghost, but perhaps instead an assassin, and pulled Treville into a threatening embrace – a knife at his neck – demanding, “If you resist, I will kill you. I want an audience with your king.”

And in that moment Athos and d’Artagnan, stood from the shadows, held their firearms out toward the assailant who held their Captain, and surged forward with stealth, twin movements and of one mind.

“Drop your weapon” d’Artagnan spoke evenly – trying to temper the nervousness in his voice.

The assailant looked side to side at the two musketeers and wondered how they had been here without him being aware of them. He had not heard them or even sensed their presence – but he held fast with his purpose, and would not be deterred, until the other spoke with complete dispassion, “Or we will kill you where you stand.”

Tariq Alaman released Treville, and lowered his weapon. The rain outside seemed to have peeked to a storm. His arms dropped to his sides and his gaze studied the ground – defeated. He had lost before he could even get started.

In that moment, Porthos, Aramis and several others rushed the room; and held the intruder at bay.

After interrogating General Alaman; and then escorting him to the garrison holding cells – the four musketeers left Treville’s office weary to the bone.

The rain had stopped, and the air had transformed itself from cool and refreshing to a muggy humidity. Walking together through the muddy yard the four thought on how in a few hours, the sun would be up, and they would all meet with the King to witness this miracle gun powder - Alaman was willing to trade, as a once loyal subject; but now as a traitor to Spain.

d’Artagnan yawned and stretched his body tall, and felt the rain induced ache in his hip and back make themselves known; he groaned and clutched at his side. He was tired, and rest would ease this misery he felt.

When he looked to his brothers, they were watching him with concern; remembering not so long ago his weakened state – and the pain he had endured. Staring down all three, d’Artagnan announced, “I’m alright! Rest will do the trick.” And before they could voice their trepidation, raced off toward his quarters – calling over his shoulder – “I’ll see you in the morning”, giving them no time to decide he could not join them.

“You know, we could just leave him behind” stated Porthos in a matter of fact tone, as he watched d’Artagnan move quickly away from them.

“He would never forgive us” Aramis said with certainty.

“I believe him ready”, added Athos with a slight smile. He then turned to his friends, “He climbed the pillars to reach Treville’s window.” Aramis could hear a hint of pride there and chuckled softly.

“Well then”, bellowed Porthos, “I have won the bet, and will let the others know that they owe me the ten livre!” He moved away from the others laughing heartily and rubbed his hands together in amusement. “I will see you gents in the morning.”

As they said good night to Porthos and watched him move away, Aramis turned to Athos, “So you think him ready – his hip…”

“Is sore, but serviceable”, interrupted Athos.

Aramis searched Athos’ face and let it drop. The two men were much alike, and arguing the point that d’Artagnan could use another week to recover would get him nowhere. Athos’ mind was made up. He saw something tonight that made him think d’Artagnan was ready, and would not be persuaded otherwise.

“Then” Aramis sighed, “I will see you in the morning; Good-night my friend.” As Aramis moved away, his mind wandered to thoughts of his Queen and her distress over the illness of their son.

Athos inclined his head – good-night; and made his way out of the garrison yard to his lodgings.

Tomorrow they would have audience with the King – see the workings of this miracle explosive powder and hope that France finally had a way to gain advantage over Spain.

As the smoke cleared, and frightened citizens began to emerge from hiding beneath carts; from behind walls; and clutching at each other – d’Artagnan sat on the blood stained ground, stunned at the turn of events.

The plan to rescue Samara had been simple; only it did not turn out that way. Alaman had lied – he did not have the cypher; Samara had been recaptured; Porthos was injured, and dragged away as a hostage. d’Artagnan shook his head in disbelief.

He could not understand how the plan had disintegrated into chaos. Aramis had not been able to take the shot that would bring down Baltasar, and now five innocent Parisians were dead in the street.

He sat here now next to one of them; a girl, only a few years older than Laura – dead; shot in the chest by a Spanish arrow. Nothing could be done, but to watch her take her last labored breaths. Not moments ago, she had clutched at his hand; coughed up blood and begged him to find her mother – her face streaked with tears.

His eyes had welled up as her grip on his hand loosened and fell away; but he swiped them away before the others could see. Off to the side, he noticed Athos talking intently to Aramis. What had happened? They had waited for the shot – anticipating success to this mission. Instead, Porthos was gone; and citizens were dead through no fault of their own; caught between Spain and France on a sunny day on the way to market.

He looked back down at this young girl; closed her vacant eyes to the world; stood, and lifted her up into his arms. She felt so light – her spirit already released. He carried her carefully to lay her beside the others to now wait to be identified by family, once the word spread that there had been a massacre at the Place de L’Eglise.

d’Artagnan sat next to her, and the others, to wait with them; sorry for his part in this terrible; horrible event.

Sensing his despondency, Athos; moved toward him through the crowd of people - trying to bring order to this senseless bloodshed, and placed his hand on his shoulder. “Let us move from here d’Artagnan, so that the families can look for their loved ones.”

d’Artagnan stood and walked some distance away with his friend, before turning back to sear the image of this moment in his brain; vowing not to forget; wondering of Porthos – worried that he may be dead also; and said aloud, “What do we do now?”

Aramis then joined them, his heart caught in his throat, unable to provide an answer – for all of this death may be his doing. And if Porthos survived – would he ever forgive him?

Athos heard the uncertainty in his voice – grabbed him with both hands about his neck – forcing him to make eye contact with him; and spoke emphatically, “Porthos is alive. We will get him back.” He looked to Aramis then, intending the message for them both.

d’Artagnan nodded within his grip. Athos sounded so certain – so it must be true. He reached up and held on to his forearms, and took a deep breath. “Yes”, he agreed – they would gather themselves; plan a counter move, and tomorrow bring their friend out of Spanish territory and back into the safety of France.

As they rushed from Baltasar’s safe house; Athos almost laughed out loud with relief. They had done it – escaped Baltasar with Porthos – injured, but very much alive. Athos marveled at Porthos’ tenacity and bravery. The man had the strength and fortitude of ten. He had managed to free himself and Samara, and had met them where they held Alaman, as if it was planned that way all along. The cypher was lost to Spain for the moment– but it didn’t matter, they had their brother and at Alaman’s insistence his daughter.

Treville had arrived just in time with reinforcements; and the Spanish safe house was surrounded by a regiment of musketeers. A shot echoed through the house out into to the court where they stood – Samara screamed; and then the world exploded – stone and rock rained down and he was thrown forcibly away from the building – hitting the ground with such force, he felt a rib crack. He must have also struck his head – because everything was spinning and weaving in and out of focus.

When he stood to take in his surroundings, he choked and coughed on smoke and debris – heard Samara screaming for her father; saw Porthos grabbing for her to shield her from his disfigured remains; Aramis coughing up smoke beside him – but he could not see d’Artagnan.

The smoke was thick and soupy and his vision would not cooperate. Where was he? Had he been buried under rock and stone? Was he lying somewhere a distance away – unable to call out to them? Had the blast deposited him so far away that he could not see him? Because he was alive; if he were dead – wouldn’t he know it? Wouldn’t he feel an empty space and the sense of him gone? No, d’Artagnan was alive here somewhere, he just needed to find him.

Athos fell to a knee – vertigo so strong assailed him that he turned his head and threw up. Aramis was at his side holding him up, saying words he could not understand. The only thing he wanted to hear was that d’Artagnan had survived the blast that had almost destroyed the whole street.

He then felt the earth tilt sideways and he fell with it; Aramis gently lowering him to the ground. Looking up to the sky he could only see dust filtering down on him like snow. When he tried to sit up – his broken rib ground inside his body – causing him to groan with pain, so he lay back, trying to breathe through it and regain his senses.

He then turned to Aramis, a real fear tearing him apart, his battle with unconsciousness beating him down. “Where is he?” he rasped; grabbing the front of Aramis’ coat; and pulling him down to hear him clearly. “Go and find him” he pleaded, weakness dragging him under. When he gave the order – he could feel himself slipping down into darkness, unable to keep his hold on wakefulness; afraid he would never see d’Artagnan again. He let loose of Aramis’ coat, giving him permission to leave his side and go find their youngest.

And just as he was about to lose the fight and succumb to the shadows– d’Artagnan limped into his vision, struggling through the soupy dust. He let go of the tension in his body and watched as d’Artagnan climbed over rock and stone; finally reaching him and falling heavily to his knees – yelling his name. Athos relaxed further, sighed; and then closed his eyes to rest, and thanked God that this boy was alive. Then he felt a shaking about his shoulders and d’Artagnan calling out, “Athos – please!”

And just those two words tore him from the edge and pulled him back to awareness. He could deny d’Artagnan nothing – and so forced his eyes open and focused his sight on the distraught boy beside him, willing the darkness to recede.

He looked up at d’Artagnan and smiled reassuringly – “I’m okay. I’m okay.”

d’Artagnan bent down and pressed his forehead into Athos’ shoulder and let out a shaking breath. “I was thrown away from the building by the blast. When I couldn’t find you, I thought…”

Athos reached out and touched the top of his head, carding his fingers through dusty hair, finding a lump there at the base of his skull; then moved to squeeze his shoulder, feeling slight tremors beneath his hand. After a moment; Aramis interrupted, “Can you stand Athos – we need to move from this smoke and rubble and get you and Porthos some help.”

Athos shifted to his elbows and tested out his limbs – feeling every bump and bruise.

Close by; the three could hear and see Samara screaming in Porthos’ arms – inconsolable; unaware of her surroundings; losing the ability to stand on her own – so lost in her grief.

Athos nodded, “Yes, just give me a moment. Go and see to them”, he nodded in Porthos’ direction. “They need you more than I”.

Aramis clapped his shoulder and left his field of vision – moving cautiously toward Samara’s wails.

D’Artagnan then sat up on his haunches and gently helped Athos to a sitting position – watching him closely for any signs of other injury; and asked warily, “Are you being truthful Athos? Are you really okay?”

Athos smiled ruefully and reached for his side, “A cracked rib maybe; but nothing else I can’t recover from”, he grimaced as pain spiked behind his eye lids.

d’Artagnan sat down beside him; amongst the debris – feeling grateful that everyone was alive, if not worse for wear. He saw Aramis and Porthos attempting to console Samara and turned to his friend. “You were right”, he said. “Porthos is alive and we got him back”, a glint of pride in his eye and unwavering faith in his voice.

Athos held his head in his hands, the spinning sensation getting the better of him, “A fitting conclusion to this terrible mess”, he sighed, as the others moved toward them to sit nearby; for nothing else mattered – not King, not country – and certainly not the cypher; only that they had all survived this day.

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