Pairings: Shippy gen
Summary: Accidentally exposed to victims of a plague, the four musketeers are consigned to a week in quarantine. But will the enforced proximity harm their friendship, and could they actually be infected?
"This is stupid." Porthos folded his arms and glared at the others mutinously. "We're not sick."
"Shut up and take your clothes off," Aramis told him cheerfully.
"Not the first time he's said that," murmured d'Artagnan, and then squawked indignantly as Aramis pushed him into the wicker linen basket.
"We do as we're told," Athos said quietly, removing his shirt without fuss and dropping it into the basket, narrowly missing d'Artagnan as he scrambled out. "I sincerely hope you're right and we're not infected, but the fact remains we were in there for a long time. Would you risk us being carriers? Would you risk some innocent person getting sick because you were too impatient to spend a couple of days in isolation?"
Porthos muttered something inaudible, but he started stripping without further complaint and soon all four of them were stark naked and shivering slightly.
There was a pile of folded linen on a side table, and Aramis shook out the garments, holding them up for inspection with an ironic smile.
"Nightshirts. One size fits all, by the looks of things."
"What?" Porthos snatched one and stared at it. "No way. No way am I wearing this."
"Suit yourself," Athos told him, pulling one on over his head. "But three days without anything on will get a mite chilly. Those stone walls look cold."
Grumbling, Porthos dragged one over his head, promptly getting tangled in the lace around the neck and stamping about the room blinded and naked from the waist down.
"It's like being haunted by a really obscene ghost," said d'Artagnan, almost crying with laughter.
Aramis came to Porthos' rescue and straightened out the nightshirt, smoothing it down and making soothing noises. When everyone had put one on, they all looked at each other assessingly.
D'Artagnan's was slightly too loose, and he held out the sides with a sigh. "Room for two in here."
Athos and Aramis had gotten away with it the best, as while the garments were unflattering, they at least almost fitted. Porthos' though only came to his knees, and the sleeves ended well above his wrists.
One look at his face was enough to start d'Artagnan laughing again, and Porthos was on the verge of taking a swipe at him when the outer door opened and a man and a woman came in. Both were masked by scarves tied over their faces, and the four stared at them uneasily, all levity gone as the potential seriousness of their situation was brought home.
The woman took hold of the linen basket with all their clothes in and went out again, closing the door firmly behind her.
"She's going to wash them, right?" Porthos asked warily.
The newcomer shook his head. "Yvette is taking them to be burned."
"What?" Porthos started forward furiously and both Athos and Aramis shot out a hand to hold him back. At their touch he subsided, although if looks could kill the man would have dropped dead at their feet. To have lost his prized coat and favourite bandana was briefly of more import than the idea he might have some form of plague.
"Who are you?" Athos asked.
"My name is Lefevre, I am a doctor here."
"We're not sick," Aramis said firmly.
"Perhaps not." Lefevre gave a little laugh that all of them instantly distrusted. "But we need to make sure. You are therefore our honoured guests."
"How long do we have to stay here?" Athos asked, before anyone else could interject with anything ruder.
"Not long. A week, say."
"A week!" Porthos roared, and it was to the doctor's credit that he didn't look in the slightest perturbed.
"A week, yes, that is correct. The symptoms should have shown themselves by then."
"There won't be any symptoms," d'Artagnan said, more for his own comfort than anything else. "We're fine."
"Then think of this as a short holiday," Lefevre gave them a rather insincere bow, and gestured to the door behind them. "Now, if you wouldn't mind - your quarters for the next few days."
They filed obediently through into the next chamber. It was a large-ish room, with bare floorboards and two barred windows. It held four narrow beds, a nightstand with basin and pitcher, four hard chairs, a scrubbed wooden table and a chest.
Before any of them could comment on the room's stark and unwelcoming appearance, the door closed unexpectedly behind them and they whirled round.
Athos walked quickly back and tried it, rattling the handle.
"Locked," he sighed.
"Are you telling me we're prisoners?" Porthos demanded incredulously.
Athos shrugged. "We have no reason to believe they won't let us out at the end of the week. We are here voluntarily, remember."
"If by voluntarily you mean because Treville ordered us, then yes," Aramis put in dryly. He chose a bed and tested its give with a considering hand before sitting down, swinging his legs up and leaning back with his hands behind his head. "Might as well make the best of it," he said to Porthos' silent look of disgust.
"Easy for you to say," Porthos complained. "You don't look like a badly dressed baby doll."
"Personally I think it suits you," Aramis smirked. "You have very shapely knees."
"Why are there bars on the windows?" d'Artagnan asked, pressing his face up against them and trying to look down into the yard.
"This is a secure hospital, when they're not using it for isolation purposes," Athos told him.
"A nuthouse," Aramis clarified, grinning. "So mind they don't keep you in."
D'Artagnan glowered at him. "Spending a week shut in with you three is bound to send me loopy, I might choose to stay."
Athos took possession of the bed closest to the wall, and Porthos immediately bagged the bed between him and Aramis. This left d'Artagnan with the bed nearest the window, which he was pleased with until he realised the thin glass was letting in a howling draught.
"Oh, great." He pulled the blanket off the bed and wrapped it around his legs before sitting down again. "So now what?"
Athos sighed. "Now, we wait."
It had started off as an unremarkable mission. A small fort a day and a half's ride out of Paris had been out of communication for nearly two weeks, and Treville had dispatched them to see what was wrong. It wasn't in a troubled area and none of them were expecting anything other than having to deliver a reprimand for neglect of duty. The weather was cold and bright, and they'd enjoyed the journey out, taking their time and appreciating the scenery as they rose steadily into the hills.
As they approached the fort, they'd found the gates open and welcoming. Athos though, had reined in and paused for a moment, staring thoughtfully up at the deserted battlements.
"Where is everybody?"
"Having lunch?" suggested d'Artagnan, whose stomach was telling him it was high time they thought about something to eat.
"Leaving the gate unattended? I'll have something to say about that if they are," Athos muttered. He shook his head. "This feels wrong. Be on your guard."
They rode slowly under the gateway arch, alert for trouble. The only sound was the faint echo of the horses' hooves on the cobbles, and as they moved further in the feeling of unease intensified.
Dismounting in the courtyard no-one came out to greet them, and the building ranges to each side presented blank, empty windows. To one end was an expanse of freshly turned earth and Aramis walked over for a closer inspection.
"Is it me, or does this look disturbingly like a mass grave to anyone else?"
"Should we dig?" Porthos asked, sounding less than enthusiastic.
"Let's have a look round first," Athos said. "Raiders wouldn't have stopped to bury them, and they didn't bury themselves."
They entered through a door in the main keep and found themselves in an armoury. Swords and pistols were ranged in well-kept ranks, and racks of ammunition were neatly stocked.
"Well they didn't go down fighting," Porthos muttered.
"If they'd been attacked, surely the raiders would have cleaned this lot out?" Aramis said. "Same goes if they just deserted for some reason. They'd have taken the equipment with them, it doesn't make sense."
"Um - guys?" D'Artagnan had gone up a flight of steps at far the end of the room, and his voice floated down to them sounding more uncertain than they'd ever heard it. "You need to see this. They didn't desert their posts. They're - they're still here."
Exchanging a worried look they ran up the stairs and found themselves at the end of a dining hall. Wooden tables and benches were set out down the length of it - and not all of them were empty. A handful of figures in military uniforms were slumped over the tables, as if they'd died where they sat.
"Was it poison?" Porthos wondered. "Did they kill all the others and do themselves in in a fit of remorse?"
Athos walked over to the nearest corpse occupying a chair at the head of the table and took hold of its shoulder, lifting it back in the seat. As soon as the face was revealed he stepped away hastily with a sharp intake of breath. The grey flesh was pitted and marked with a rash of sores and blemishes that extended all over the man's face and down his neck.
"Plague," Porthos hissed.
They all backed slowly away from the bodies at the table.
"We need to get out of here," d'Artagnan said tightly.
"What if they're not all dead?" Aramis said. "There might still be someone left alive that needs our help. We should really check."
They eyed each other, full of misgivings. Finally Athos set his shoulders. "Get out, the lot of you. I'll do a walk-through. Meet you outside."
Aramis shook his head. "I was the one that said we should look. I'll do it."
Porthos rolled his eyes. "So we split up, take a chunk each. It'll reduce the length of time any one person has to be inside."
"I can't ask you to do this," Athos said, and Porthos snorted.
"D'Artagnan, why don't you take the horses out and wait - "
"If you think I'm abandoning you lot, you've got another think coming," d'Artagnan said indignantly, stung out of his reluctance to stay a moment longer.
Athos hid a smile. "Very well. Then I suggest we take a range each. Don't be long about it, and try not to touch anything. Yell if you find anyone alive."
They hadn't. A few more corpses had come to light in the dormitories but not a single living soul was revealed in the whole of the fort. Aramis had tentatively suggested a decent burial, but hadn't objected when Athos overruled him and ordered them not to be touched.
When they left they hauled the gate closed and chained it locked shut, and as soon as they reached the first stream on the path home they'd dismounted and hastily washed themselves, trying to play down the skin crawling sense of fear each man felt.
The ride back to Paris had been a sombre one. The fort had held a complement of over twenty men, and to know they had all died within days of each other, and so hideously, was enough to leave them silent and troubled.
It was reporting their findings that had resulted in them being immediately ordered into this protective quarantine, Treville being unwilling to risk the chance they'd brought it back with them. It had been two days since their grisly discovery and no-one was exhibiting any signs of being ill, but as no-one could swear to exactly what the malady had been or how quickly it might develop, they were resigned for the moment to their captivity.