Title: Two Choices
Summary: He cast a look out to his little brother and then back to the viewing piece, his decision was made and a sacrifice he was willing to make… for Matthias did not need him anymore.
Author Note: So this is entry for December’s Fête des Mousquetaires – Sacrifice. Enjoy!
Laughter echoed over the courtyard, it was a full day of training for everyone but those on parade duties for the King, even Treville was watching the show below him. It was Athos against d’Artagnan; a year under Athos’s tutoring had the boy almost up to Athos’s level with the blade. It was always an entertaining match to watch.
The boy was a miracle, before him Treville was worried about his three best musketeers. They seemed to grow weary by the day: Aramis taking more risks with the ladies of Paris, Porthos with his gambling and it was many times that Treville had to turn a blind eye to Athos’s hangovers.
But then d’Artagnan appeared in a blaze of grief and rage, the story was always funny to hear when Aramis or Porthos got into the mood of telling it. He had turned the Inseparables lives and the other Musketeers upside down. The boy seemed to bring in a light that had seemed to fade long ago but was never noticed.
There were some of course who couldn’t look past his status in life but they dared not to say a word about the boy after the last time, no one had seen Athos that furious before and it was only a few months in after meeting the boy.
“He will beat him one day,” Serge chuckled as he came to a stop next to his Captain, he liked to take time and watch the boy spar with their broody swordsman.
Treville smiled, “but not today or anytime soon.”
A burst of laughter cracked across the field stilling a few of the older soldiers of the regiment, their eyes shooting to Athos in disbelief. There before them was a smiling Athos, his sword pointed to a hay covered d’Artagnan at his feet.
“He’s good for him, he makes Athos smile.” Serge hummed as he too smiled at the scene.
Athos held out his hand for d’Artagnan and hauled him to his feet just as a crack filled the air, something warm splashed across his face. Confusion replaced his smile and his free hand came up to touch whatever it was that coated him, his fingers coming away red.
“‘Thos?” d’Artagnan called confused, his chest cold. Why was Athos covered in red?
Steel blue eyes snapped to brown and widened in horror. “d’ARTAGNAN!”
The name falling from Athos’s lips in terror caused all those still frozen to snap into action, Porthos, Aramis and Treville made their way towards the two while the rest of those gathered split up to look for whoever had shot their youngest.
“ARAMIS!” Athos roared as he lowered himself and his petit frère – because the boy was his little brother in all but blood – to the ground, his free hand pressing hard down on the bloody wound on his brothers chest. Someone had shot d’Artagnan in daylight, someone had shot him in the back and…
Why wasn’t he waking up? Why wasn’t he jumping up and brushing away this as a scratch like he normally did? Why wasn’t he opening his eyes and laughing? He was too stubborn to allow the reaper to take him, to lead him from them. But he wasn’t waking up! WAKE UP!
Aramis dropped to their side, his hands roaming the wound, pulling away the doublet and shirt before cursing. “I don’t know if I can fix this!” He choked out, “it’s too close to his heart.”
“DO SOMETHING!” Athos roared, he would not, could not lose another brother… it would break him.
He was being pulled back from his brother once more, two sets of hands one pair larger than the other, telling him to stop… telling him to let go… but he didn’t want to let go he needed to be reassured that his little brother was still alive, that he was still here amongst them.
“I don’t know if I can Athos, the musket ball tore through him and… we need to summon a doctor and— and a priest for his last rights.” The Spaniard stated before jerking back as Athos roared and swung out, his arm pulling free form the Captain’s grip.
Treville grunted as his best swordsman elbowed him sharply in the ribs before swinging out again. “Stand down Athos! You are not helping and the more you fight with Aramis the more d’Artagnan is at risk!”
He wasn’t sure if the words were heard or not but in a brief moment of tensed silence, Athos’s struggles stopped and he went lax in their arms, a sob lodging in the swordsman’s throat, tears pooling in the usually sharp blue eyes. Treville jerked his head to signal Porthos to let go and tend to their Pup while he and Serge who had been standing back in wait to take the elder mad up to the infirmary after Aramis and a group of men gathered their youngest and hauled him there.
Athos stared blankly at the stairs as he forced himself out of his Captain’s and Serge’s arms to sit at the bench he and his brothers usually claimed, praying this was a nightmare he would soon wake from. But he could still feel the blood of his younger brother drying on his skin, sticking to his hands and burning him… it was a sensation that told him this wasn’t a nightmare, this was reality and… to remind him that he had failed once more.
“We will find whoever did this Athos.” Treville promised his voice sharp and promising retribution. “But for now I need you to stay here and let d’Artagnan know you’re there for him when they let you in, he needs to know that there are things worth fighting for while I go inform the king.”
Yet the Comte did not move, his eyes only dropping from the stairs to his blood soaked hands once more. How did this happen? Not moments ago he and d’Art were sparring, laughing and throwing out taunts and now here he was with blood soaked hands while his petit frère fought for his life in the infirmary.
A dark thought seeped into his mind, a thought he had not felt since Anne… of things he would do to who shot d’Artagnan and if the boy should suffer the same fate as Thomas… Athos would seek bloody vengeance on the fool who did it and then walk the same path as his felled brothers.
His eyes clenched shut at that thought. Oh he had Porthos and Aramis but d’Artagnan brought a light back into his life he had thought lost when Thomas was murdered and he could not bear to lose it once again. The boy had painstakingly picked up the pieces of his shattered heart and glued them back together again, if he were to die the shards would crumble once more and he would not survive that pain once again.
d’Artagnan woke with a gasp, his hand flying to his chest in panic as he heaved. When he found no wound, no sign of a wound or blood he fell back into his bed with a relieved sigh only to frown as he realised that the bed was a little bigger, a little softer than his bunk in the garrison.
His eyes snapped open wide as he breathed in the familiar smell of home, it was a combination of hay, freshly turned earth and a distinct scent of home… it was also something he had not woken up to since he hand his Père had left for Paris.
“Frère! Frère! Wake up, wake up! You over slept again and you promised to teach me sword fighting today!” A small voice called out and before d’Artagnan knew what was happening he found himself lying on his back and a small bundle of energy with a face he had not seen for many years now.
Tears pooled in his eyes as he felt his heart constrict with grief and confusion, he pulled Matthias close to his chest and squeezed him as hard as he could. How? How was this possible? Was the past four years a dream?
Matthias pushed against his elder brother with a groan and a laugh. “Okay, okay, you win! Let me go Charlie!”
At the familiar nickname d’Artagnan let his brother go and watched as he raced out the door with laughter and telling him to hurry up and get ready so they could sword fight, completely oblivious to his elder brothers plight.
Question upon Question filtered in his mind, how was this possible? His little brother had died one harsh winter four years ago; he and his père tried everything to get the cough that settled in Matthias’s lungs to clear. They sold one of their horses for money for medicine; d’Artagnan worked his fingers till they bled to afford food and it still wasn’t enough… so how?
“Best not question it.” He murmured to himself as he got to his feet and dressed for the day. His chest ached something fierce and as he tried to remember why, he could faintly hear the sound of a musket shot and Athos screaming his name… that’s right he was shot but by whom?
Oh Athos… How was his mentor coping with this?
“Hurry up frère!” Matthias called from outside, pulling a laugh from Charles’s lips. He was still as impatient as he remembered him.
Porthos sat heavily next to Athos, his face pale and eyes haunted. He had just finished helping the rest of their brothers searching for the culprit who shot their Pup cowardly in the back. But there had been no clue to go on, they found the location of where the shot came from but no witnesses and he had spent the past few hours in the Court asking questions.
“I don’t understand how the bastard escaped from being witnessed.” Porthos growled out, slamming his fist on the table and causing the empty cups to topple over.
Many of a musketeer had come back, taken a drink and left once again and yet Athos stayed sober. The cup one of the others had placed in front of him was now warm and untouched, eyes still glued on the door of the infirmary.
Hours it had been hours and still no word.
“We will find them and when we do there will be no trial for them.” Athos rasped out low; even with a dry throat he could still sound dangerous.
Porthos sighed harshly and placed his hand upon his brother’s shoulders. “That is not what the Pup would want and you know that Athos. He would be devastated to see and hear you speak this way, it isn’t you.”
Athos snapped his eyes to Porthos and it took all will for the other man not to flinch away from the sharp gaze. “This is me. It has been this way since Thomas was murdered by my wife. The only point of light in my life is currently fighting for his life and it is he who keeps this darkness at bay.”
“Then put that anger to good use Athos but if—when he lives… he will not want to see you in irons once more. Let us find them and make sure that they don’t escape trial for what they have done.” Porthos explain, never tearing his eyes away from his brothers.
Neither man looked away but after a tense moment Athos nodded his head minutely, letting the bigger man know that his words were heard and will be abided by. He was right of course, when d’Art woke he would be needed and if he was in chains… Athos knew that he would not be able to care for his brother.
“I think we need to take another look at where the shot came from, take me to where they found the evidence, we’ll go from there.” Athos ordered while standing, his legs shaking slightly from the sudden weight thrust upon them.
Porthos nodded. “Come, I’ll tell one others to come fetch us if we can see the Pup when we’re out.”
d’Artagnan fell back into the shade with a laugh, his body ached from the surprisingly strong whacks he let Matthias get in and from laughing all morning. Even his cheeks hurt from smiling so much and he couldn’t recall how long it had been since he smiled this much.
Which confused him because he could have sworn that he was smiling all yesterday as he and Matthias did their chores, they nearly sent their horses scattering as they both tripped and fell into the hay; their père was furious of course but ended up laughing in the end.
Matthias laughed as he jumped on his brother’s stomach. “I missed you mon frère.”
Charles laughed as he sat up and pulled his brother into a hug before getting to his feet once more. “You just saw me last night Matti.” He called over his shoulder, completely missing the frown on her younger brother’s face.
The frown that marred Athos’s face as he examined the room was a familiar one, it was the same face that he used when dissecting a prisoner or to pull the truth out of a witness. It was one that he gave a room when they first entered and it was one that had Porthos keeping silent.
If there was anyone who could find something in this empty room, it was Athos in all his determined glory.
Blue eyes peeked out through the tattered curtains and into the yard where d’Art was shot; he could still see the blood that soaked the ground. Not many people could make that shot, not unless they had training like Aramis and that was only a few still.
Something rotten curdled in his stomach as he thought back to that moment, he was helping d’Artagnan to his feet after beating him, just as a crack of a musket filled the air. Bile rose then as he realised what had happened, his face draining of colour as he jerked his head back and away from the window.
Porthos rushed forward to steady his brother, leading him over to the lonely stool in the corner. “What is it?”
“This is my fault.” Athos breathed in horror. “My fault.”
“What? No. This ain’t your fault Athos.” Porthos denied crouching before him.
Athos shook his head sharply. “The shot was for me Porthos, I helped him to his feet and he took the shot meant for me!”
Before Porthos could say a word, the sound of footsteps thundered up the stairwell. Both of them were on their feet with their swords drawn, waiting for the attack only to pause as Étienne appeared with a gasp.
“Come… quick… d’Art… dying.” He gasped out and pushed himself into the wall as both men flew past him and towards the Garrison once more.
Charles smiled as he watched Matthias practice his footing from the window; they had just finished their morning chores and was time for lunch.
“Make sure you keep your left side guarded mon petit frère!” He called out through the open window with a smile, only to frown as the words seemed to sound unnatural to his ears as if they were not his words and that was not his voice.
It was familiar though and d’Artagnan tried to wrap his mind around who it could be.
“You’re forgetting him.” A voice explained causing him to spin around with the knife in his hand.
A young boy sat at his table, just a few years shy of his own age but older than his own brother. His hair was finely groomed and sat just upon his shoulders of dark oak, blue eyes that he knew from somewhere… but it was the clothes that stood out. He wore clothes finely made and what you would not see in these parts.
“Who are you? How did you get in here and who am I forgetting?” He demanded the boy, never letting his hand with the knife drop.
“You know who I am d’Artagnan, not in face but by name. I am Thomas d’Athos de la Fère.” The boy said and for a blink of an eye the boy was replaced with an older counterpart.
Dark hair that reached past his ears, piercing blue eyes and the sigil of a musketeer upon his shoulder.
Athos… his mind whispered. “Athos.”
Thomas nodded and drifted forward, his hand gently pushing down d’Artagnan’s arm that still held the knife. “You’re forgetting, you’re giving up.”
“What, no… I’m home… aren’t I?” He asked confused, shaking his head vigorously while clutching at his hair.
Flashes of memories slammed into him, the death of his brother, later his father and the chain of events that it caused. Vengeance, Vadim, the burning manor and learning of Savoy… on and on they came and he tried to grasp them tightly but his hands swiped through them like air.
Pain bloomed over his body, starting at his chest and blooming outwards, blood soaking his shirt and leathers but no wound showed.
“You were shot.” Thomas supplied softly while leading his charge towards where he knew a large looking glass sat. “You are forgetting, you are giving up.”
“I don’t know what that means!” Charles snapped jerking back from the boy. “If I have been shot then how am I here? Why are you here?”
“Because you are dying!” Thomas shouted. “I am here because Olivier needs you!”
With that Thomas slammed his hand on the edge of the looking glass and forced his charge to look at what was happening around his unconscious form. He needed to see that he couldn’t stay, that he had to go back because without him Athos would die and it was not yet his time.
Athos and Porthos burst through the door of the infirmary, their steps faltering as they took in the grim faces Aramis and Doctor Lemay. A priest stood at the head of the table where d’Artagnan rested chanting a prayer but it was all white noise to Athos.
“Is…?” He manages to get out as he stumped forward.
Aramis felt his eyes close to hold back the tears. “He still lives but his heart has stopped once already and we fear it may not start once more if it happens again.”
Athos staggered forward to d’Artagnan’s side and buried his head into the boy’s hair while his hand clutched at the still hand. “You need to fight d’Artagnan; please I cannot lose you as well. Please… please.”
Exhaustion and grief swept through Aramis as he staggered back and into Porthos when the Priest finally left. If it wasn’t for his brother’s strength he’d surly be on the ground, he wanted to cry but they wouldn’t fall.
“What are we going to do Porthos? If we lose d’Art we’ll be losing Athos too.” He croaked out, running a blood soaked hand through his hair tiredly.
“I don’t know ‘Mis. The Pup’s a fighter; he’ll fight to stay with us if not then for Athos.” Porthos replied as he led Aramis to an empty chair close to their youngest.
Truth be told Porthos was terrified but he could not let it show, not now. His brothers needed his strength and for now he will hold them up and keep them going, only when he gets to be alone he will let the tears and anger flow.
“I’m not so sure about that.” Aramis confesses.
Athos ignored them both as he let his tears slip free and to hide into d’Artagnan’s hair. His left arm curled around the boys head and tangled gently into his hair, stroking it ever so softly as Athos whispered his pleas.
Please wake up…
“Please d’Artagnan, I cannot lose another brother, I cannot. Fight, fight for Porthos and Aramis, for Constance… for me. You are the light in this world I thought long lost, I’m selfish enough to admit I am nothing without you… you give me a purpose to be a better man, a better brother. Please Charlie.”
The words struck d’Artagnan with viciousness, opening a wound he had long thought healed. He never knew Athos felt that way, yes he knew that he was considered a younger brother to all the older Musketeers and especially to the Inseparables but he didn’t know that Athos held him in the same high regard as he held him.
He took a step back and turned his head away from the looking glass and out to the gardens where Matthias played. He couldn’t choose between the brother of his heart and the brother of his blood, he loved them both equally and no matter the choice it would hurt one of them.
“You have a choice Charles d’Artagnan; a sacrifice to make that would break any other man. All you have to do is walk through one of the doors.” Thomas whispered, bringing d’Artagnan’s mind back from the swirling thoughts.
If he stayed here he could be with Matthias again, could teach him all the things he promised he would… but then he would be leaving his brother of heart in a world that was cruel. He would be another mark upon Athos’s heart…. Yet if he returned to the world where he ached, where the world was cruel to be with his brothers… then he would not see Matthias again until the angel of death brought him mercy.
“I can’t…” He whispered a tear spilling down his cheek. “He need’s me.”
Thomas spun his charge around to face him, his face an image of seriousness, “but which one needs you?”
The Inseparables settled in the infirmary for the night, they had shifted d’Artagnan from the table to a cot and then took one of their own near him. Athos though sat on the floor, his hand still carding through the boy’s hair silently as his voice had turned to a rasp hours ago.
The rest of their brothers still combed the streets of Paris for any news; Porthos explained that Flea would hunt down the bastard if he was in the Court and deliver it to them. They may help those who are unfairly judged, thieves or anyone who was deemed unsavoury or unnatural. But what they did not condone was cowardly killings.
None of them could sleep in fear that if they did, they’d wake up and d’Artagnan would be gone nor could they speak, for they feared any sound would topple over the current stability that wobbled on the edge of a blade, bringing chaos and pain.
So they waited, they prayed in silence for the miracle of their youngest awakening.
They stayed like that until the first light of day brought the sound of raised voices in the yard, stirring them from their vigil. Porthos rose to his feet unsteadily and made his way to the door to see what the ruckus was about, a frown pulling at his brows as he stepped out onto the balcony and glared down into the yard of the Garrison.
“What is the meaning of this?” Treville asked as he stepped out from his office, glaring hard down at his men.
“We have him!” was called out by several Musketeers, stilling the rage bubbling in the Captain’s and Porthos’s chests.
Before anymore was said Porthos cast a look back in the room, shooting Aramis a look and closed the door behind him firmly before rushing down the steps. The men parted like the red seas as he stalked towards them, revealing the bloody face of the shooter. No one stopped Porthos as his hand shot out and grasped the man by his ripped, dirty, bloody collar and lifted him off the ground the best he could.
“Were you hired or did you do it by your own merit?” He asked in a snarl, black eyes sparking with rage that made the man quake.
“Hired… she hired… me.” The man struggled to get out before gasping as he landed on the ground in a painful lump. “She hired me to shoot the Musketeer named Athos but the boy got in the way. She paid me double when she found out.”
“Who?” He demanded in a snarl.
The poor excuse of a man shook his head defiantly; he knew his employer would kill him if he told. He had seen his fair share of cold hearted killers and she was one of them, black hair the colour of night with eyes as soulless as a demon with a ring of rope scars around her neck.
Treville placed his hand upon Porthos’s arm as he went to strike out to force the man to talk more, “Go back to your brothers, I will deal with this.”
With one last snarl at the hired gun Porthos stormed back to the room, his footsteps hastening as he heard the screaming and Aramis’s frightened shouts float down from behind the closed door. His heart leapt into his throat as he slammed the door open to see Athos crying out as Aramis struggled to pull him away from their Pup.
“d’ARTAGNAN! d’ARTAGNAN! LET ME GO ARAMIS! d’ARTAGNAN!”
Unaware of the chaos that surrounded his unconscious form, Charles took a step away from the front door of his home and towards the back door that led to his brother. Thomas stayed silent, never moving a muscle or even twitching.
He remembered once when Athos said that he reminded him so much of Thomas, d’Art didn’t know what version he meant but it was not the one he has now.
His chest ached fiercely, heart tugging him in two different directions. Two choices, one sacrifice. He wanted to stay, oh how he wanted to stay. He didn’t want to go back to reality, to the hurt and lies… he was just so tired of it all no matter how happy he seemed. The deception, murder, lies and secrets all seemed to repeat themselves and it was exhausting.
“What… What would happen if I stayed?” He asked, turning to face Thomas.
“I do not know the future, therefor I cannot tell you the fate of your other family members but I can tell you that Athos will find the quickest way to join us.” Thomas stated bluntly, his mouth turned down into a grimace.
“Then what do you know besides that?”
Thomas cocked his head to the side, hands clasped behind him and he looked very much like Athos in that moment. “You will be missed, your absence will create a hole that will not and cannot ever be filled. I know that you are not the only one afraid in this current moment.”
“d’ARTAGNAN! LET ME GO!”
“Wake up Pup! FIGHT!”
“You need to come back to us d’Artagnan…”
“I beg you, please allow him to live, do not take him from us.”
Voices of his friends of his family echoed the small room sending the spike of pain deeper into his chest. Porthos, Aramis, Treville and Athos. He wondered briefly where Constance was but, he recalled she had chosen her husband over him…
But… Athos, Porthos and Aramis had been by his side from the very moment he stormed into the garrison demanded Athos’s head. There were so many good things left that he experienced, the laughter, the quiet nights out under the stars during missions. The good outweighed the bad.
He had a decision to make… a sacrifice. A peaceful afterlife with his brother, free of worry, hunger and fear… or lose his brother once more and subject himself to all the bad. You have three brothers waiting for you. they love you just as much as you love them.
Thomas was always the better of the two of us, the favourite. But he was so carefree and mischievous, loving and kind. Athos’s words from a mission they had undergone without Porthos and Aramis echoed softly in his mind. It was a rare night where Athos had initiated the conversation and spoke of his brother.
He cast a look out to his little brother and then back to the viewing piece, his decision was made and a sacrifice he was willing to make… for Matthias did not need him anymore.
“You’ll look after him right?” He asked, eyeing the youthful face.
Thomas nodded, a smiling gracing his face for the first time since he appeared. “I will, you have my word if you give me yours. It is my turn to be a big brother for a change.”
D’Artagnan laughed softly, his eyes once again locked onto his little brothers playing form in the garden. “Tell him… Tell him I’m sorry and I love him. Tell him I’ll see him again and until then he has to work on his footing, to keep his guard up….” He trailed off here, looking away. “Tell him that someone needs me more.”
“He already knows this.” Thomas explained softly, resting his hand on his charges arm. “You must tell my brother that it is his turn, tell him that I approve will you. I’m afraid he won’t fully allow himself to forgive and let go of his guilt about replacing me until he knows that I approve and that I am happy with this choice.”
d’Artagnan felt his eyes slip close and brow furrow in confusion but he would remember the words and he would tell Athos. He didn’t understand Thomas completely but he would still deliver the message for him, after all he is returning the favour.
With a deep breath he stepped away from Thomas and towards the front door and pulling it open. He didn’t turn to look back at neither his brother nor the youngest d’Athos but he did pause for a second to steel himself for the pain that was surly to come before stepping through.
The room was silent and it seemed that the entire Garrison was mourning. d’Artagnan’s heart had stopped twice within a span of an hour and none were hopeful that he would wake, that he would survive until the end of the day.
Everyone but Athos had left the room, letting the elder Musketeer clean their younger of the blood that caked his chest and hair. He just needed to clean away the visible evidence besides the bandages that something had happened; in this case he could fool himself into believing that he was just sleeping.
Yet he still hoped.
There were no words left for Athos to give, no words but screams of anger. Anger at God, at the bastard who did this, at himself but most of all his anger was mainly at d’Art for giving up.
It took only a few more moments for Athos to finish his task and place the dirty bowl and soiled cloth on the table near the window and return to his brother’s side, taking up the same position he had for the last day.
“I do not wish for you to go… but if you do, tell Thomas I am sorry.” He whispered, surprised that there was indeed more words to give, more tears to spill.
He didn’t know how long he stayed like that nor did he know what pulled him back to reality, but it was something small that seemed to shatter the silence and lift the heavy sensation in the air. Athos jerked his head back and scanned the room for any sign of danger or what caused the sudden shift in the air only to whip his head down as a pained gasp reached his ears. Blue eyes met brown.
“d’Artagnan,” it fell from his lips in a relieved whoosh, taking the air from his lungs as it did so.
A pain grimace that could be classed as a smile graced the young man’s face. “Thos… saw Tho…”
“Shh don’t speak, not yet. ARAMIS! PORTHOS!” He yelled for his brothers before turning back to d’Art. “Rest, don’t speak the others are coming. You came back, thank you, thank you.”
“No… saw Th—Thomas…” the confession had Athos reeling back in shock. “s–said he ‘pproved… he knows… you feel—guilty. But ‘approves of me… had come back… he’s looking after Matti— for me.”
Something he didn’t know that seemed to weigh heavily on him released. He didn’t know how or why but Athos knew deep down that the words d’Artagnan spoke were true, that Thomas knew and approved of the younger man before him.
“Rest mon petit frère, save your strength. When you are better you can tell me what Thomas had said, rest now.” He whispered while Aramis, Porthos and Lemay worked around them mixing draught and gathering fresh bandages with relief.
It was a miracle and he wondered what sacrifice was made for it to happen.
Author Note: And that is it! Hope it fit the prompt!