evening_bat: Bat in flight, silhouetted against the moon. (Default)
[personal profile] evening_bat
Title: Unsteady is the Ground
Author: [personal profile] evening_bat
Pairing: Gen
Rating: PG
Word Count: ~3200
Warnings: No worse than canon
Summary: Five times someone fainted.  
Notes: Written in response to a prompt over at [personal profile] bbcmusketeerskink. Because the new series over on BBC has me swooning over swashbucklers again.


Unsteady is the Ground


ONE

It had taken Porthos years to work his way out of the gutter in which he’d grown up, to earn himself a place in the musketeers. He generally considered it time and effort well spent, but some occasions left him wondering why he’d bothered to set foot outside of the Court of Miracles. Standing at attention in full uniform for hours under the broiling midday sun while visiting nobility traded barbed words with the king somehow didn’t seem like all that much of an improvement. The Court had had its own share of heat and flies, but at least there, he’d never been this bored.

It sometimes seemed that the company had been better at the Court as well. Porthos slid a glance to his left to where Athos stood, as indifferent as always. Opinion was split on whether the man had ice water or cheap wine running through his veins, but as little as the heat affected him Porthos was beginning to weigh his bets towards the former. Why Treville seemed to think they’d work well together Porthos had never figured out, but at least the captain had done him the favour of assigning Aramis to Athos as well. Even more newly arrived to the musketeers than Porthos, Aramis was as outgoing as Athos was withdrawn and made for a hell of an entertaining companion. Porthos was confident that between the two of them, they’d either wear down Athos’ reserve or break the man’s mind.

It was almost a shame that Aramis was standing at Porthos’ right shoulder; that little smirk of his was enough to drive a saint to madness, and Athos was no saint. Knowing Aramis, he was busy entertaining himself with more pleasant memories of heat and stickiness. You couldn’t discipline a man for smiling on parade, but watching Athos find an excuse to try would have at least been some entertainment.

A thump and clatter drew everyone’s attention to the row of the cardinal’s guards lining the walkway beside the carriage. Apparently one of their number had found the parade conditions unendurable and had simply wilted, toppling over in a dead faint as his stupefied fellows blinked down at him. A murmur rustled through the gathered nobility, ladies hiding amusement behind hands lifted in affected concern while gentlemen alternately offered excuses and mockery. Porthos smothered a smile of his own, willing to bet that the hectic flush on the cardinal’s cheeks had nothing to do with the smothering heat as he ordered his man taken away.

“Well, I suppose that’s one way to enliven the proceedings.” Athos’ comment was barely audible and dry as dust.

Porthos swallowed a snort of laughter and shot a disbelieving look at Athos, who gave him a minute but unapologetic shrug in return. Well, well, well. Perhaps not so lost a cause as Porthos had thought, then. At his right, Aramis had finally assumed an appropriately sober air but his eyes were bright and his shoulders trembled with suppressed hilarity.

Fortunately for them all, a welcome breeze finally began to stir the heavy air, rustling their cloaks and covering a multitude of sins as the assembled musketeers stood proud and watched the scrambling ruin of the Red Guards’ formation.


TWO

Athos eased open the door to the sickroom, hoping to avoid disturbing its occupant. He swore bitterly when a quick look around the sparsely furnished room told him that his caution had been unnecessary. The covers were flung back on the empty bed, and Aramis was gone. Again.

“Don’t tell me,” Porthos grumbled from behind him.

Athos didn’t bother to confirm the obvious; Porthos was already muttering a few choice words of his own as he shouldered past Athos into the deserted room.

“You go that way.” Athos pointed down the corridor, pausing only long enough to drop a roll of bandages on the utilitarian table in the corner. “I’ll take this one. We’ll meet in the courtyard. He can’t have gotten far.”

“Wouldn’t bet on it.” Porthos’ smile held little humour as he laid a tray of food down on the table. “He’s not even supposed to be awake, forget out for an evening stroll.”

“All the more reason to retrieve him before he finds his way into any more trouble.” Aramis had seen quite enough trouble already in recent days, and he wasn’t clear of it yet.

Aramis had survived the attack at Savoy - and Athos would not let himself dwell on the unlikeliness of that small miracle, nor think too long on the man’s still-fragile health - but he’d been days in the woods, suffering from the cold and his barely-treated wounds. He was ailing still, disoriented and feverish more days than not, just well enough to provide a challenge to his keepers. It would be far easier to see him back to health if the fool would consent to take - or accept - sufficient care to regain some semblance of strength. Sleeping the night through instead of dragging himself from his sickbed to wander the halls would, in fact, have been a fine place to start.

All the same, Athos wasn’t terribly surprised to find that Aramis had indeed defied all common sense and reasonable predictions by making his way as far as the courtyard. Nor to see that the man hadn’t done anything as sensible as put on a coat before venturing out into the winter night. Porthos was going to have kittens if he saw him standing there in his shirtsleeves, face tipped up to watch the falling snow.

“Aramis,” Athos called softly as he approached, wary of startling him. It didn’t do to surprise a man with Aramis’ reflexes; him being half out of his head just made it more dangerous.

Aramis started at the sound, swivelling his head to see who’d called for him. His brow furrowed in confusion, eyes sweeping side to side as he visibly struggled to recollect himself.

“Athos.” His name on Aramis’ lips was an exhalation of pure relief. The way that he relaxed into Athos’ steadying grip on his shoulders was terrifying; no one should have such trust that Athos, of all people, would help him. Athos steeled himself and set his feet as Aramis pressed closer, leaning into his chest with a weary sigh.

Unworthy of such faith Athos might be, but for tonight, he’d let them both pretend otherwise.

“Come on, let’s get you back to bed,” he said.

Aramis muttered an incoherent protest into his neck, but he was sagging more heavily against Athos with every passing second. Athos just sighed and looped an arm around his waist as his knees buckled.

Porthos stormed into the courtyard as the last of Aramis’ strength drained away, cursing in mingled relief and frustration as he hurried to Athos’ side to take a share of Aramis’ weight. It proved to be more difficult a task than anticipated. For a man performing a very convincing imitation of an unconscious invalid, Aramis had an unshakable grip on each of their coats and could not be convinced to let go. They were eventually able to sling him awkwardly between them and stumbled their way back. He became more compliant in the warmth of his room, allowing himself to be peeled away and bundled back into his bed.

“I’ve had about enough of this,” Porthos said, scowling as they watched Aramis settle into an uneasy sleep.

Athos nodded agreement, not mistaking for a moment that Porthos’ complaint had anything to do with the work of getting Aramis healthy again.

“I'll speak to Treville,” he promised. Aramis did better with one or both of them near; the captain could be made to understand.

He'd been meaning to have a conversation with Treville in any case. They all did better together than apart. He would make certain their captain remembered that, when next the time came to assign their duties.


THREE

The day’s fighting was done, and Porthos didn’t know where Athos and Aramis were. He struggled against the hands that held him down, ignoring both the spluttered curses over his head and the wetness trickling away from the tearing pain in his side. They weren’t important. The only thing that mattered now was that battle was over and he didn’t know where his brothers were. He was gathering himself for another effort when a much-missed voice cut through the buzzing in his ears.

“God above, Porthos! Stop thrashing around before you hurt someone worse than you already are!”

“Aramis,” he choked out, blindly reaching for him.

Porthos forced his eyes open as a familiar hand clasped his, squinting against the brightness of the sky to force the blurry face leaning over him into clarity. Aramis was as much of a mess as Porthos had ever seen him - uniform dirty and scuffed, while his hair hung sweaty and tangled in his face - but he seemed fine otherwise, and he was moving easily as he knelt beside Porthos.

“Athos?” Porthos demanded, reluctantly obeying the press of Aramis’ hand on his shoulder and lying still.

“Is doing far better than you.” The response was delivered with only a fraction of Aramis’ attention, he being obviously more occupied with assessing Porthos’ condition.

Pain and lightheadedness aside, it was a relief to see Aramis' concern lighten as his expression warmed into something true. If Aramis could smile like that, then Porthos was going to be all right.

“He’ll be along any moment now, I imagine,” Aramis continued. “We’ve been looking for you. In the meantime, maybe we could do something about this rather impressive hole in your side?”

“You?” Porthos hoped so. Aramis was a thousand times gentler in his ministrations than whoever had been jabbing at Porthos' wound before his arrival.

“Of course,” Aramis answered matter-of-factly, but he gently squeezed the hand he still held. “I know how fond you are of my needlework.”

“You’ll want to be careful with that one,” an indistinct shape standing at Porthos’ other side advised. “He fought all our attempts to help.”

“Leave him to us. We’ve devised a means of ensuring his cooperation.”

Porthos slitted his eyes open again to verify the evidence of his ears. Good. Athos was here, looking as disordered as Aramis but equally hale.

“You’re just in time,” Aramis said cheerfully, and Porthos closed his eyes again, the sound of their voices growing ever more distant. Now that he’d seen them both safe, Porthos could let himself be taken care of.

The last thing he heard was Athos’ cool amusement: “It seems you might not need my help preparing the patient after all.”


FOUR

Athos was mildly surprised when Aramis and Porthos brought the boy with them as they made their way to the tavern after his narrowly-avoided execution, regardless of the early hour. He’d been impressive enough with a sword when they’d fought yesterday; he must have done something during the course of their efforts to free him to earn Aramis and Porthos’ approval. Athos would have to remember to ask for details tomorrow, since it seemed they were in no hurry to send the boy on his way back to Gascony. Today, his plans involved communion with nothing other than a wine bottle.

Aramis and Porthos knew better than to interfere when Athos walked past them to the bar, made no effort to stop him from settling alone at a small table by the fireplace. He had enough consideration to stay within their line of sight but that was the limit of his thoughtfulness. He was dimly grateful that Aramis had kept the boy from completing any of his attempts to speak with Athos, knowing that he was beyond civil conversation at the moment. He knew they’d heard his gratitude for their timely intervention earlier today, and he trusted they’d forgive his need to get thoroughly, unrepentantly drunk. Surely, any man would be understandably shaken by his brush with execution.

Aramis was the first to depart, some hours later, no doubt on his way to continue his ill-advised affair with the Cardinal’s mistress. Athos nodded an acknowledgement as Aramis bid him farewell, tipping his hat and flashing him a smile as he made his way to the exit. Behind him, Porthos had apparently decided to continue the boy’s education by way of teaching him about the risks of gambling. Athos hoped he’d cheat with a bit more finesse this time. If the boy caught him at it, he was likely to challenge him to another duel and start yesterday morning’s mess all over again.

Athos scowled and eyed the level of wine left in his latest bottle. If he were sober enough to be entertaining such thoughts, then clearly he hadn’t yet had enough to drink. He caught his glass in a tight grip and set about remedying the problem.

By the time that Porthos was leaning over him, shaking his shoulder, Athos had passed the point of seeing straight. Clear thought had mercifully become a thing of hours and bottles past. Porthos’ voice was mere muffled noise in his ear; the familiar hands that levered him upright were nothing more than an irritating inconvenience he couldn’t muster the strength to protest. Well, if Porthos were so damn determined to see him elsewhere, he could do the work of carrying him there. It was a well-worn routine by now, anyhow.

Athos had many secrets, most of them so closely guarded that he never spoke of them, even to those he most trusted. Aramis and Porthos had no idea who he’d been or why he’d left, and Athos never volunteered the information. His family, his failures, they had no part of his life as a musketeer. By contrast, the secrets he’d acquired since accepting his commission from Treville had all been shared, part of a camaraderie upon which he’d come to profoundly depend. All except his newest secret, his latest shame, the reason that he’d abandoned his companions for the comfort of the bottle.

Aramis and Porthos tolerated so much from him, but even they had limits. Aramis had kept the boy from pestering him, and Porthos had stayed behind to get him safely home, but neither of them could ever know why he’d set about drinking with such determination. They’d gone to such lengths to save his life, they would never understand the sharp dismay that had gone through Athos at the reprieve. He didn’t struggle as Porthos dragged him through the streets and into his room, eventually dropping him heavily onto his bed. Athos welcomed the stillness of the pillow under his spinning head, gratefully letting the alcohol drag him down into darkness. With any luck, the morning’s hangover would eclipse the sick disappointment he’d felt at realizing he’d have to keep living with all of his regrets.


FIVE

“You could help, you know,” d’Artagnan said through gritted teeth.

“But you have the matter so well in hand!” Aramis said, the polite praise in no way masking the amusement he was enjoying at d’Artagnan’s expense.

Porthos wasn’t even bothering with the pretense, laughing outright as d’Artagnan awkwardly embraced his armful of swooning middle-aged noblewoman. The boy was practically lost in a flurry of embroidery and petticoats.

A couple of servants were fluttering anxiously around d’Artagnan, cooing over their “poor mistress”, but Porthos was sure he wasn’t imagining the smiles tugging at the corner of their mouths. And he was certain that the cheeky one with the blonde curls didn’t really need to be patting so carefully at d’Artagnan’s backside, but his stammering and blushing was entertaining enough to excuse the liberty. Probably one of the few joys of the poor girl’s job.

“You ruffian!” a voice suddenly demanded. “What are you doing to my wife?!”

Almost dropping her, if Porthos was any judge of the sudden laxness of d’Artagnan’s shoulders, followed by a hasty grab as the lady threatened to slither out of his arms altogether.

“Your pardon, sir,” Athos interjected smoothly, breaking his silence as the angry nobleman sputtered and reached for his sword. “Our young friend was merely rendering aid to your lady wife after she was accosted by thieves. She was quite overcome by the experience.”

The offended husband paused, taking in the sight of three musketeers standing in support of the “ruffian”, as his wife’s servants quickly chimed confirmation of Athos’ assertion.

“I see,” he finally conceded. “Then I thank you for your efforts, young man.”

“It was nothing, sir,” d’Artagnan managed as the ladies surrounding him abruptly stopped hovering helplessly and neatly tipped their mistress out of his arms and into their own, hastening to their master’s side with their burden. “It was only what any gentleman would do.”

“Still, accept this gesture of my gratitude,” the nobleman insisted, tossing a purse over to him before taking charge of his colourful entourage and bustling away.

Well now, that was a grateful gesture indeed. The man must be feeling guilty for his accusation; the purse had clinked promisingly as d’Artagnan caught it.

Athos pointedly raised an eyebrow as d’Artagnan stood in the middle of the street, blinking in confusion. “Let that be a lesson in the risks of interfering.”

D’Artagnan nodded fervently. “Next time I just let the thief get away with his prize.”

Good. Regardless of the subsequent trouble, that had been one of the most beautiful lifts Porthos had ever seen; the thief had deserved to get away. “Not as if they couldn’t spare it.”

“At least you earned a pretty little profit for your spot of heroism,” Aramis consoled him, wrapping an arm around d’Artagnan’s shoulders as they resumed their progress across town.

“True.” D’Artagnan brightened, flush finally fading as the embarrassment subsided.

Athos rolled his eyes as Aramis and Porthos exchanged a look full of wicked anticipation. D’Artagnan clearly thought the worst of his trouble was over, which was awfully short-sighted of him. Porthos was glad they’d been on the way to d’Artagnan’s lodgings, otherwise he’d have had to find an excuse to follow him home. He didn’t want to miss Mme. Bonacieux’s reaction to her lodger walking in smelling of expensive perfume, holding a brocaded purse full of coin.


+ ONE time everyone stayed on their feet

Athos was looking for his next opponent, even as the corpse of his last fell at his feet. He found none. D’Artagnan was pushing a body off of his sword a few paces away. Porthos was chuckling somewhere behind them, dusting his hands off with unmistakable satisfaction. The crack of musket fire brought all of their heads around to see Aramis lowering his weapon as his shot knocked the last of their attackers out of his saddle, ending his attempt to flee.

“Well, that was a pleasant enough diversion,” he remarked as he strolled back to them.

It could easily have been a deadly diversion, were they men of any lesser skill. Athos kicked at the body in front of him, idly examining the familiar face as it lolled towards him. If Richelieu were trying to act with subtlety, he’d be better off not sending his own guardsmen after them.

“It would appear that the Cardinal is determined to see we don’t reach our destination,” he told the others, sheathing his sword.

“He won’t succeed,” d’Artagnan swore with all the faith and fervour of the very young.

Porthos clapped a companionable hand to his shoulder. “Course he won’t.”

Aramis contented himself with a nod of agreement, though he laid a hand over his heart (or the gold crucifix tucked safely under his coat) in silent promise.

“Then we’d best be moving,” Athos said. “Time and tide will wait for no man or mission. Get on your horses and we’ll be on our way.”

FIN


As expected, the series is neither faithful to the novels nor historically accurate but I am enjoying it nonetheless. :)
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