The Way Back


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 4: The Way Back

d’Artagnan felt an inferno rising up in his body as he ran full out through the woods with King Louis dragging on the chain between them.

His lungs were burning, his legs ached and his heart raced with anxiety and fear. They had to get away – find sanctuary among the trees; find a way to shake the human traffickers pursuing them through the woods. He could hear the steady cadence of their hooves beating the ground as they gained purchase.

But the chain got heavier; and heavier, and weighed his ankle down so that its cumbersome bulk slowed him and the King to a trot; until they were tripping over their own feet and tumbling down, over roots; and rock; and into darkness.

In the distance, through the black ink, he could hear men screaming – begging for mercy – as gun fire erupted and Gus bore down on them yelling to, “Kill them all!” Bodies of helpless, tortured men fell over him, covered in blood; and the blank stare of Pepin gazed at him – accusing him – then pleading with him to save him for Laura’s sake.

Then through a dark tunnel of rock, Gus barreled toward him on horseback, his sword held out to pierce his heart; screaming a battle cry of hatred. He reached up – pulled him down and impaled him for Pepin.

Out of that darkness; Bertrand pounced – grabbing the sword from his brother’s chest – holding him about the throat- spitting in his face; growling “a scar for a scar” – squeezing the air from his body until bright lights sparkled out of the corner of his eyes; causing him to think – he should be dead. Suddenly, there was Athos beyond the lights – yelling for him to let him go – he would find his way back.

d’Artagnan sat straight up – grabbing at his neck; pulling on the collar of his shirt; choking and sputtering with tears streaming from his eyes - Bertrand was here – trying to kill him. He attempted to call out for help, but his voice was gone.

And then there was Aramis – crouching before him – holding his face between his hands; wiping his tears from his eyes and cheeks; encouraging him to “breathe – slow – steady.”

He grabbed hold of Aramis’ wrists and held on tight; willing himself to get a hold of his senses – the cool night air finally dousing the heat of his skin. “Do you hear me? Do you know where you are?” he heard Aramis ask – searching his eyes for recognition.

d’Artagnan looked carefully about his surroundings. The Forest of Evreux began to dissipate and the tents of the people’s army faded gradually away – and little by little morphed into their small camp fire; Porthos snoring nearby to the left; and Treville standing over by the creek with their horses – warily looking in his direction.

d’Artagnan nodded in the affirmative; and felt his ears burn with embarrassment. He had thought dreams of Evreux over, but apparently not. He swallowed hard – hoping that when he opened his mouth – words could be heard.

Lately, speaking had become hit or miss with him. There were times – like this one – when he wanted to speak, or answer a question, and all he could feel were Bertrand’s hands pressing down on his neck, closing around his throat – refusing him sound.

It had taken weeks for him to regain his speech after Bertrand’s attack – the swelling and the scar at his neck finally reducing and healing enough for him to drink and eat without pain, and to draw sound without discomfort. Not only had the recovery time been a source of agony; but had also been a nuisance – his ability to communicate compromised, giving way to undue frustration. He wanted to get past it, but the episodes of loss of speech still plagued him, as did his disturbing dreams.

When his voice would leave – sometimes it would be for only a moment. He would swallow; take a breath, and it would return, as if nothing happened. Sometimes his voice would leave him for a few hours. Then, he would keep busy – volunteer to muck out the stables; wash down tables for Serge; or practice sparring with Athos – where words were not needed.

And then there were the times when it would last for days – when he could not keep it to himself; and the others would accept his silence.

But now – he took in a breath; and frowned, concentrating hard – hoping against hope that the pressure would be lifted from his neck, and his throat would open up to give him his speech, “We are on our way to Pinon”, he answered with a rasp.

Aramis smiled and was clearly relieved, “Yes”, he nodded, pleased with the answer and to hear d’Artagnan’s voice.

d’Artagnan released his vice like grip on Aramis’ wrists and flopped back down to the ground, exasperated at his weaknesses – only to find himself staring into the flames; and thought – morning could not come soon enough. Sleep would evade him now – worry for Athos gaining purchase as each hour passed.

Athos had been missing in action for days now. He and the others had combed every tavern, searched everywhere they could think of back in Paris, with no success – until finally they had rummaged through his things at his lodgings and found unopened letters from his tenants begging for his help in Pinon.

So, with no other clues to follow; and hoping they had guessed right to his whereabouts – they were now halfway there, resting for the night before heading for the village in the morning.

d’Artagnan sat up – leaned forward and examined the flames – touching the scar at his neck. He didn’t remember receiving the injury – but could not escape its effect on him and on his brothers.

He knew Athos had saved his life – but not how. No matter how many times or what way he asked – Aramis and Porthos were closed mouth on the subject. Athos would only tell him that Bertrand was dead by his hand and would not elaborate. He never saw the body; and was never privy to what lengths his brother had gone to save him; only that afterward – it had driven him to late night tavern visits to drink alone – and on some occasions close to oblivion.

Rubbing absently at his scar – he could sense that Athos was in some sort of trouble. Tomorrow, they would find him in Pinon – he was certain of it.

Aramis watched closely as d’Artagnan rubbed at the scar just under his right ear, and asked “Does it still hurt?”

d’Artagnan paused, and dropped his hand to his lap, “no” he answered. It just reminded him of how much he owed his brothers, and how grateful he was to be alive. It also had him wondering what Athos could have possibly done that he was unwilling to share; and found offensive enough that he would drink himself to incoherence.

Aramis read his body language and answered as if d’Artagnan had spoken aloud, “You came pretty close to death you know. We all understand if you feel a little uncertain.”

d’Artagnan thought, yes and there was that – the flashing lights. He should be dead.

Aramis then asked cautiously, “And your voice?”

d’Artagnan shrugged – not sure what to say. It was a topic he kept to himself, like his worrisome dreams.

“Dr. Lemay says everything looks fine. There’s not a physical reason why you lose your speech. He thinks with time – these episodes you experience will diminish and eventually go away. Like your scar.”

d’Artagnan nodded, lay down and turned his back to Aramis and the flames; unwilling to speak on this – because if he did; his mind would flood with flashing lights, loss of air, and death. Is this what little Laura was going through; her voice and her father – stolen from her – lost and alone?

Aramis shook his head and kicked at the flames; causing the kindling to loosen, fall and send sparks into the night air. d’Artagnan and Athos were much alike when it came to talking out emotions and feelings. d’Artagnan only shared willingly his love for the musketeers, his brothers and Constance. When hard things needed to be said, it took patience and fortitude. So he spoke to d’Artagnan’s back, resigned to be in this for the long haul.

“Yes, get some rest d’Artagnan. Tomorrow we will find Athos, and find out what’s going on in Pinon”.

d’Artagnan nodded, shut his eyes tight and prayed that all would be well tomorrow.

The next morning saw the weather good for quick travel. The sun was shining, the air was cool; and so the four rode hard to reach Pinon by midday with Treville in front, leading the way. d’Artagnan was glad the Captain had decided to come with them – his steadying presence did much to keep them all in check.

And though he had been stripped of his captaincy – d’Artagnan still thought of him as such; and would see him as nothing else. It had not taken much to persuade him to join them in the search. He had protested at first, but they could see right through him. He loved Athos too.

The closer they got to Pinon – the more anxious d’Artagnan became; his thoughts flying in all directions. He could feel that Athos was in more than just trouble now, but in danger - and the sooner they reached their destination the better. The others seemed to think the same – all riding hard – no conversation between them – their only communication a steady pounding of hooves all in sync with the same rhythms, speed and power.

When they finally reached the outskirts of the small village, they could hear up ahead, the echo of a single gunshot; people screaming; and pounding hoof beats riding away. As they cleared the bend in the road – there stood Athos before them; hands tied, looking bloody and worn out – but very much alive. It seemed they had arrived just in time.

The chaos surrounding Athos was deafening – villagers yelling at the retreating men on horseback, screaming for them to “let Jeanne go”; weeping neighbors clinging to each other; and then crying with relief at the sight of the musketeers.

d’Artagnan heaved a sigh of relief himself, his fears of Athos dead now vanished – leaving him light – feeling better; only now his voice was gone again, and he could not express it. All he could do was to sit atop his horse – smiling with unabashed happiness – as Porthos released his bonds; Aramis greeted him with a warm hug; and Treville shook his hand – already asking what took place.

Amidst the swirling dust – distraught villagers; and his overwhelming surprise at seeing his friends – Athos looked to d’Artagnan atop his horse and was pleased to see him. He frowned a little and wondered at the boy’s silent but heartfelt smile in his greeting – could sense the relief; but then understood.

He walked stiffly toward d’Artagnan’s horse – grabbed the reins, then looked up at his friend – touched his knee and squeezed his reassurances; letting him know that everything was alright. Tiredly he walked away toward a small grove of trees, exhausted; ready to escape the weighted pressures of responsibility his title bore him – and the painful memories here that clung to him like mud.

And of course, they all argued with him about his duty to these people – but it was d’Artagnan who had gathered himself to make quite the speech about Anne’s influence over him that turned the tide. He reached for the scar on d’Artagnan’s neck and lightly touched it with his thumb; took a deep breath; and resigned himself to helping these people.

There was no point in denying it – if not for d’Artagnan, he would get on his horse and ride from here and never look back.

He had left these people and this life behind years ago; and had wished not to return. To have found his way back here was tearing him apart. He hoped he would not lose his mind.

Athos studied d’Artagnan closely; the man’s faith in him to always do the right thing pulling at him with pride and guilt. But he was right – he could hate this place and its heartbreaking memories; but these people didn’t deserve this harassment and uncertainty.

He would try his best to not disappoint him; but right now he needed to get away – put space between them, and think. So he walked away, mounted his horse and rode out of the village – letting his past engulf him.

d’Artagnan watched disheartened as Athos rode off without them – unsure if someone should follow; try to force him back – to convince him where his responsibilities lay. But then Porthos gripped his shoulder, “You have done it. He will be back and with a plan.”

d’Artagnan looked to Porthos confused. What had he done? Drive him away? The man had just ridden away from them without a backward glance.

Porthos chuckled and rubbed d’Artagnan’s head fondly, “You underestimate your effect on him”, and then left his side; walked toward Aramis and the innkeeper to plan his daughter’s rescue.

When Athos returned and spoke of weapons at the estate – d’Artagnan wondered at Porthos’ words – but grinned – happy to see his friend had returned; ready to fight against injustice – just as he knew he would.

And when he was asked to accompany him to retrieve the firearms he practically ran to the cart, climbed aboard, and commandeered the reins. “I will drive”, he announced, moving with the swiftness of youth.

Athos moved more slowly, and grimaced over the many aches and pains all over his body. He sat gingerly at d’Artagnan’s side, and wished he had the energy and stamina of the very young – the rough treatment he received at the hands of the Baron taking a toll.

It had been a long, long few days, and he hoped d’Artagnan would sense that he was not up to having conversation. His talk with Catherine was enough to last him for a while. To find her here – damaged; humiliated and still grieving for a way of life long lost because of him made him tired and weary.

Here was yet another person he had let down and abandoned. Just as being back here had elicited visions of his past; Catherine had dredged up emotions he wanted to keep locked away permanently – for when released, that dark part of him would be set free as if from a cage and given permission to act without restraint.

That dark place in him was so deep that it frightened him. It frightened him because it lived within him – hiding – and when let loose took over his faculties and left him wondering what he had done and what cruelty he was capable of.

That place held his blind rage for Anne’s murderous nature and her betrayal; it held his disgust for his own weaknesses and addictions for losing himself to artificial numbness; his capability to exact harsh revenge and to kill without remorse - when it came to protecting his own.

He looked to the young man beside him, who was loyal to a fault and could not fathom what d’Artagnan saw in him. The faith that he, Aramis and Porthos placed in him was the only light keeping him from giving in to that darkness. If he were to know of his hidden place – would he still think well of him? Aramis and Porthos knew of this flaw in him, and loved him anyway. But d’Artagnan was young; and the young sometimes found it difficult to understand flaws in people they loved and looked up to.

He scrutinized the scar at d’Artagnan’s throat and remembered the rage he felt as he ended Bertrand’s life. He had taken aim without hesitation; and blew his head off.

He would keep what he had done from d’Artagnan for as long as he could – not wanting to witness his look of loathing; for surely he killed that day with impenitence. But one day, d’Artagnan would know him – then what?

Athos rubbed his eyes and pushed his hair from his face – and buried such thoughts to the back of his mind and behind the locked door. Right now, they must concentrate on gathering weapons and getting the residence of Pinon ready to confront Baron de Louviers.

d’Artagnan sat contently next to his brother, atop the buggy, on their way back from the estate. He could tell that Athos was done with conversation; and that his thoughts jumped from the past to the present giving him much to think about – if the scowl on his face was any indication.

But all in all, he was glad that Athos had found it in his heart to help his people. The family armory had provided them with enough weapons, ammunition and gun powder to put up an adequate fight against the Baron. His brief, silent vigil over his brother’s burial place spoke volumes to him – and he would not intrude.

He stole a glance in Athos’ direction and could read how disturbed he was to be back here in this place, which must haunt him still. The last time he was here, the man’s home had been burning down around them; and they had barely escaped the inferno with their lives. That woman had meant to kill him that night; and vexed him still.

He wished he knew what to say to help him.

Athos’ declaration that he knew nothing of him had him wondering – but such statements would not push him away. They had been through too much together – overcome hurdles most people would not attempt to cross; and of course, the future held obstacles neither one of them could foresee.

He swore to himself – there was nothing Athos could have done; or would do that would ever have him turn away – nothing.

The man meant everything to him. If anything should happen…. He didn’t want to think about it. Perhaps he would survive it – as he had with his father, but then he had turned to Athos, who had filled that void and picked up where his father had left off – guiding him through all things; and leading him back from unspeakable grief.

He took a deep breath to clear his mind. He must think on this another time. Right now, they had a battle to get ready for; and he would not let his brother down.

The battle at Pinon had been terrible and fierce. The people – determined to fight for the land now theirs – given to them freely by their Comte, fought with desperation.

d’Artagnan looked around, breathing hard after fighting off four men himself - pleased to see Baron Renard’s men fleeing away in retreat - he boldly stalked after them; pointing to the tree line where they should run to cower – adrenaline flowing through him like lightening.

The tenants were stunned, shocked and shaking with relief that it was over. They had won. They were now free to choose their own destinies.

Everyone had done well in battle; but the evidence of its aftermath was high. Many men, women, and children had lost their lives – their shattered bodies positioned boneless, bleeding in the dirt. The red colors of Baron Renard’s men also held the stain of their blood; their cost for loyalty and greed for another man’s land ending in death.

He saw that Aramis, Porthos, and the Captain had survived their battles without injury as well, and there before them all stood Athos, towering over Edmond de Louviers; his sword at his throat ready to put an end to the life of the man who had orchestrated this needless skirmish that took so many innocent lives.

And then Athos looked toward d’Artagnan; caught his eye as if measuring what he should do at this moment. Remembering that dark place and wondering, if he did this thing – ran Edmond through – would he recover and be himself again. Would he be able to find the way back? This place – his home – had taken so much of his soul already; would he let it take more?

And before anyone could react – Catherine was speaking – holding her gun on Athos, forcing him to lay down his weapons. d’Artagnan and the others moved to step closer – but Athos held out his hand to stop them and tried to placate her; smooth over her humiliation and bruised ego.

Then everything moved so fast.

Edmond reached for a hidden knife within his armor, rose up and lunged for Athos striking at his leg – blood spurting out like a fountain; Catherine fired her weapon; then Edmond and Athos fell to the ground – still, silent, unmoving.

All around them Pinon came to a halt; time suspended; sound sucked away as if through a vacuum – d’Artagnan screamed but could not hear himself; running toward his friend, panic in his heart.

Then Athos struggled to his feet feeling d’Artagnan rush into his arms holding him tight – lifting him to stand; leaving Edmond to lay shivering on the ground; the Baron racing to his side; falling to his knees; cradling his boy in his arms – guiding him to die with dignity – a fatal wound to his chest evident.

d’Artagnan could not speak; his voice gone – so he held onto Athos tighter still – silently thanking God that he was at least on his feet. But he felt Athos wince from his embrace; and when he pulled back saw blood covering his hand and the white of Athos’ shirt, spilling down onto his pants – where blood also cascaded from a wound at his leg. Edmond’s thrust had fallen true at his thigh, and Catherine’s aim had found his chest.

He turned to call for Aramis to help – but nothing came; his eyes widening in terror. Athos reached for his neck and pulled him in close; whispering in his ear, “Steady.” But all he could think was that his friend was shot; and that there was so much blood. Suddenly Athos tilted toward him – his knees giving way; no longer able to hold his weight; and they both made a slow descent to the ground – he, trying to hold Athos up and failing.

When they both hit the ground, Athos was in his arms unconscious. It was rain; and mud – and death all over again.

d’Artagnan swallowed hard around the lump in his throat; and tried to speak – to beg Athos to stay. He shook him in his arms trying to impart the urgency that he wake up – that Aramis was here also and would help him.

When he looked up, there stood Aramis standing over him– yelling for Treville and Porthos to lift Athos and bring him to the tavern – but when they reached for him to bring him away from his hold he would not let go; only held fast with all the strength he had. He could feel Athos’ breath on his neck and knew if he let go, he would die.

But then Porthos was pulling Athos away – and when he gazed up he pleaded, “please, please” - but no sound passed his lips; so Porthos wasn’t able to hear him begging to leave him as he was – here safe in his arms.

Then Captain Treville commanded, “You must let him go”, and was lifting Athos up and away. Before he understood what was happening, he and Porthos had Athos between them – each holding an arm and leg beneath the knees – his head lolling about, landing on Treville’s shoulder; his body uncoordinated and limp – his face pale as death.

d’Artagnan watched them carry him away, and beat the ground with his fist, screaming soundless fury – tense anger flowing through his body ready to strike.

He looked around the decimated square for Catherine – but she was gone – having slipped away during the confusion. Nearby, the Baron held onto his son, weeping – ignoring his surviving men, who reached for Edmond – ready to retreat back to their own estate before the Comte’s people and the musketeers decided to arrest them.

All around him villagers searched the grounds, clinging to their lost children; parents; spouses – sorrow and wailing echoing and bouncing off the scorched buildings.

Seeing this distress - d’Artagnan stood to his feet; retrieved Athos’ sword and ran toward the tavern to be with his family.

When he entered the tavern, Athos was laid out on one of the dining tables – Aramis cutting away at his pant leg, to get to his wound. Porthos was removing his shirt; lifting him gently to pull the shirt over his head and guide his arms from the sleeves. He then laid him down with such care - d’Artagnan felt tears well up in his eyes. He swiped them away and moved closer – clutching Athos’ sword, uncertain how to help.

Then Jeanne was at his side, removing the sword from his grip; handing him a bucket of water and a cloth – and pushing him forward. Aramis called to him, “Yes, d’Artagnan – clean the wound at his side, and I’ll clean out the wound here.”

Porthos and Treville nodded; and took positions at Athos’ shoulders and legs ready to hold him down if the need arose.

d’Artagnan moved swiftly, and sat at Athos’ side; and began to gently wash away blood from the wound that scored a path from his chest to beneath his right arm pit. He saw no bullet hole, and upon examination, felt no bullet beneath the skin – and when Aramis looked to him with a question in his eye – he shook his head no.

Aramis took a deep breath – “Then here at the leg, is the danger”, he announced to everyone. Then Jeanne was there, standing at Aramis’ side passing to him the needle and thread.

He took them from her, and looked to his brothers, “Hold him steady”, he urged, “He will feel this”.

d’Artagnan stood up to gain leverage, and held Athos at the shoulder; Porthos his other. Treville stood at the leg to be stitched with Aramis and held the lower part of his leg tight in his grip. The innkeeper stepped up to help and held onto the other. When everyone was in position, Aramis leaned over the gaping knife wound at his thigh, and began – his hands steady and sure.

At first d’Artagnan thought Athos might remain unconscious and feel nothing; as the first several stitches were placed with no movement or awareness from his friend; but then suddenly, Athos eyes were wide open – unseeing and his brow creased with pain.

d’Artagnan was not prepared for Athos’ strength, when he lashed out and caught him across the mouth with his fist; sending him reeling to the floor. He jumped back up to his position; licking blood from his lip; holding on for all his worth – not willing to let Athos hurt himself.

“Are you okay?” Porthos called to him – struggling with Athos on the other side of him; giving his full weight to keep the man down.

d’Artagnan nodded back at Porthos – gritting his teeth with determination.

This went on for quarter of an hour – a battle of wills, Aramis wasn’t sure they could keep up; and he had nothing to give him for such agony.

Athos growled from deep down; his back arched from the table – fighting against their restraint; the pain in his leg too much for him to process.

Aramis wiped the sweat from his brow and continued on – ignoring the groans of pain; the jostling and the heat in the room. He could do this. If not – Athos would bleed out right here on the table – and that was not an option. His hands were true – that wasn’t the problem. “Keep him still” – he grunted to his friends; piercing skin within the wound – knowing this would take hours.

He looked up from his work, and stared Porthos straight in the eyes - could they hold onto him for even an hour? Understanding, Porthos yelled over the anguished groans, “Should I hit him?”

But then d’Artagnan laid his forehead down and pressed it against Athos’ arm and squeezed tight, willing his friend to be still; to be helped – to stop moving; to find his way back.

And there, unexpectedly, Athos took in a shuddering breath; opened his eyes - and looked about him with discernment. Standing above him was Aramis – a study in concentration; hands soaked in blood – stitching his leg; the pain of it agonizing – and almost unbearable. Porthos, noticing he was awake, pushed the hair from his face, smiled down at him and released his grip – nodding with relief. The tide had turned – he knew Athos’ strength; and now that he was aware, would bear up well under such pain without the need for restraint.

Athos looked down at the top of d’Artagnan’s head, resting at his arm, and reached to ruffle his hair. Feeling movement, d’Artagnan sat up; looked to his friend – grabbed for his hand and held on tight.

“That won’t be necessary”, he answered to Porthos, holding on tighter.

Sometime later – Athos opened his eyes to find himself still in the tavern, laid out on top of one of the tables, where he had endured hours of Aramis stitching the wound on his thigh.

The pain of it had been enormous – but he had not wanted to falter in d’Artagnan’s eyes and so held on to the boy’s hand until he could no longer endure it and passed out.

Now, looking about the large open space, he could see that darkness had descended; a fire had been placed in the hearth – giving the room an orange glow, and enough light to see that a blanket now covered him, with a straw pillow at his head. Not too far from him, Aramis and Porthos lay asleep atop a table of their own – snoring lightly he guessed from exhaustion.

Around the room lay other injured men, women and children – on tables; across benches or on the floor atop makeshift pallets.

Next to him, in a chair, sat Treville; watching him carefully as he took in all that was around him.

“How do you feel?” Treville asked, with true concern in his voice. At one point during the procedure, he had been fearful they would lose this extraordinary young man, and it pained him. He had watched the gift of Aramis’ steady hands; Porthos’ gentle encouragement, and d’Artagnan’s fierce determination and love work a miracle. The three men were truly a study in loyalty and courage – he was glad to call them friends.

Athos thought on his Captain’s question, and answered truthfully, “Tired, and thirsty.”

Treville stood from his seat; retrieved a cup of water from the bar and returned to Athos’ side; helping to lift his head to drink; encouraging him with, “Small sips.” When he emptied the cup, Treville helped him to lay back to rest – resuming his seat at his side.

As he moved to find a comfortable positon – Athos felt a weight at his arm, hip and leg. He looked down to see d’Artagnan lying next to him – on his side, facing him – his warm body breathing heavy and even against his arm.

He gazed up at Treville, apprehension fluttering in his gut, “How is he?” he asked- remembering the terror on d’Artagnan’s face in the square.

“Afraid you were going to die”, he sighed deeply, “and hasn’t spoken a word since you were hurt.”

Athos looked down at his sleeping friend; his eyelids growing heavy with fatigue – closing on their own accord – his body shutting down quickly forcing him to rest.

d’Artagnan squirmed closer; and latched onto his arm holding fast.

Leaning over them, Treville gripped his shoulder, “Rest son – we are all here with you.” And trusting his Captain, Athos drifted down into slumber.

A few hours later, Athos woke to see d’Artagnan sitting atop the table at his side; with his hand on his chest – his eyes closed feeling its rise and fall. The warm glow from the fire and the light emitting from the many candles strewn about the tavern, gave the room a surreal quality of peace.

He watched him sitting quietly beside him like that for some moments, reluctant to disturb this quiet interval – amazed at how young d’Artagnan looked. After a while, he cleared his throat and spoke softly as not to startle him, “I’m alright now, d’Artagnan, and there is nothing to worry about.”

d’Artagnan opened his eyes and smiled down at him, removing his hand- embarrassed to be caught checking to be sure Athos was still breathing, but glad to finally see him awake. He had been afraid; truly terrified that his brother would die.

Athos looked up at his friend, and remembered what Treville had shared with him earlier, “How are you?” he asked; hoping that after some time he had regained his voice.

d’Artagnan raised an eyebrow, surprised Athos would ask about his welfare after what he had just been through.

He shrugged his shoulders and bowed his head; hair falling across his features, hiding his face and his worries; and moved to slide from the table to find a chair to sit on.

Athos could feel his reserves waning – pain and weariness pulling him down; and he had to know d’Artagnan was well before he succumbed to sleep once again.

He caught hold of his arm, to have him stay; reached up and pushed the hair from his eyes; sliding his palm over the side of his face to cup his cheek; lowered his hand to his throat – and felt for the scar below his ear. He noticed the split lip and frowned, a memory prickling at his consciousness – but asked again with more urgency, “Are you well?”

d’Artagnan felt the warmth of his hand, stared intently into Athos’ eyes with true resolve; shored up his nerve; and answered, “I am now.”

Athos closed his eyes and felt his body relax, once again, drawing him down into a healing sleep, “That is good”, he countered, smiling slightly – glad to see the terror gone from d’Artagnan’s face.

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