Pairings: BroT4 (or Athos/Porthos if you prefer to read it that way)
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?
Part 1 - Part 2
Porthos woke the next morning to find d'Artagnan sitting on the edge of Athos' bed, holding a cool cloth to his forehead. Athos was apparently still asleep, although visibly restless.
D'Artagnan saw Porthos looking at him, and blushed. "He was crying out in his sleep," d'Artagnan explained.
"You should have woken me," Porthos scolded softly, climbing out of bed and coming over. D'Artagnan shook his head, looking defiant and protective and Porthos smiled at him.
D'Artagnan set the cloth back in the bowl and stood up. "Is he going to die?" he asked uncertainly.
"No. Of course not. Don't even think it," Porthos said immediately, with a lot more confidence than he felt. He wrapped his arms round d'Artagnan and gave him a comforting hug which d'Artagnan returned gratefully before letting go with an embarrassed smile.
"I've been thinking," said d'Artagnan a while later, when Aramis had woken too and the three of them were sitting in a huddle to share their blankets. "What if we did break out?"
"To what purpose?" Aramis asked tiredly. "I rather think the cards have been dealt already as to whether we're infected or not."
D’Artagnan looked cross that Aramis had assumed he was being selfish. "I meant for Athos. He needs better care. Come on, the three of us could take those two toughs, easily."
"And what of Yvette?" Aramis asked. "Would you have us push her down the stairs, or merely tie her up?"
"No! She's only small, are you telling me you couldn't manage her?"
"She spends her life dealing with the mentally unsound," Aramis said. "I'd bet you any money you like she's a lot stronger than she looks. We'd have to restrain her."
"Nobody's restraining anyone," came a voice from behind them, and they looked round to find Athos had woken up. "Need I remind you that this is exactly the reason we are here, and voluntarily at that?"
"I was just thinking that we could look after you better in your own home," d'Artagnan said, flushing red.
"And how many people would you carry me past in the street to get me there?" Athos enquired. "Would you perhaps consider my landlady collateral damage? No, Lefevre has a point, however heavy handed his methods. If this is plague we can’t risk taking it into the city. And if it is, then there is little that can be done for me in any case," he added soberly.
"And if it's just sickness?" Porthos said. "D'Artagnan's got a point, you'd do better with a warmer room, better food, fresh bedclothes."
"As we have no way of telling, there is no point in having the discussion," Athos pointed out. "If it is, then I may recover. Either way, I may not." He broke off with a fit of coughing, and d’Artagnan rushed to pour him some water.
"Thank you." Athos took it with an unsteady hand and drank thirstily. He looked round at their anxious faces, and smiled sadly. "Is it terribly selfish of me to be glad I am not walled up alone after all?" he murmured.
D'Artagnan dropped to the bed and clasped Athos' free hand emotionally.
"You shouldn't touch me," Athos chided, trying to gently pull away.
"He's been mopping your brow half the night," Porthos pointed out with a grin. "Might as well let him be."
Athos parted his lips in surprise, and then gave d'Artagnan a look of admonishment. D'Artagnan shrugged unrepentantly and Athos smiled, setting down the beaker of water and taking d'Artagnan's hand in both of his own.
"Thank you," Athos said. "All of you. And I'm sorry."
"As you've hardly become ill on purpose I can't see how you have much to apologise for," said Aramis.
"Leaving you, perhaps," said Athos under his breath.
"Don't you dare say that!" It was Porthos' turn to sink down on the bed, and he seized Athos in a bear hug. "You're not bloody going anywhere."
"At this rate I'm starting to think they intend to starve us all to death anyway," Aramis mused, as Athos patiently tried to extricate himself from his two friends. "They've normally brought us some food by this time."
"How can you think of food at a time like this!" d'Artagnan snapped.
"I'm hungry." Aramis shrugged. "Aren't you?"
"Well. Yes. But - " he looked conflicted, and then even more so when it was Athos that patted him reassuringly on the hand.
D'Artagnan looked from Athos to Aramis and then Porthos, and sighed defeatedly.
"What's wrong?" Athos asked.
D'Artagnan shook his head. "Sometimes I think I'm getting a handle on you three, and then other times it's like you're speaking a foreign language to each other without even ever saying anything."
Porthos ruffled his hair. "You'll pick it up," he grinned. "Don't be so impatient."
"Give it time," Athos added quietly. "You forget, we've known each other for years."
"It's mostly just trust," offered Aramis. "Trust that we will accept each other for who we are, regardless of circumstance. Trust that we'll always be there for one another." He smiled, suddenly. "And that includes you, now."
D'Artagnan felt abruptly too choked up to speak, but was saved from having to answer by a banging on the door and Yvette's loud demand that they all stay back.
When the door was pushed open, to the amazement of all those watching she brought in a tray laden with food, and the two guards at her side carried in an enormous sack of firewood and two bottles of wine.
"I thought you couldn't spare this amount of stuff," said Porthos, staring in astonishment at it all.
"I do hope this doesn't mean half your other patients have died," added Aramis, setting Athos off coughing again as he tried to swallow down the inappropriate urge to laugh.
"You have a sponsor," said Yvette, making a hasty retreat to the door.
"A sponsor? Who?" Porthos demanded, but she gave a dismissive one shouldered shrug. "A military gentleman."
Yvette banged the door shut and locked it again, and they all stared at the things she'd left. As well as a pot of hot porridge and a mound of fresh rolls there was a steaming jug of coffee and a plate of fresh fruit, besides two good bottles of wine and enough logs to keep the fire going all day.
"Treville," said Aramis finally. "It has to be Treville. No one else knows we're here, for a start."
"He must have come to see how we were getting on," Porthos theorised. "And if they told him Athos was sick and locked away on thin stew and water - " He glanced over at the bed and grinned. "I'm amazed we didn't hear him yelling from all the way up here."
"I'm glad my malady could be of some benefit," said Athos dryly. "Is that wine I can see?"
"Feeling better are we?" Aramis smirked. "You can have some hot food first in that case."
"Are you feeling any better?" Porthos asked later, as he settled Athos back into bed after helping him relieve himself. Athos shook his head slightly, and Porthos frowned. "Worse?"
Athos hesitated, then nodded.
"Why didn't you say?" Porthos chided, rubbing his back.
"I'm fine," Athos muttered, despite having just indicated exactly the opposite.
"Are you?" Porthos sighed. "You know, if it was me, or Aramis, we'd probably have been pleading for sympathy by now, but you - " he gave a tired laugh. "Even when you're at rock bottom you won't ask for comfort, will you? It's not a weakness you know."
Athos gave him a tight smile, and Porthos stretched his arms out. "Come here." He didn't wait for Athos to reply, but wrapped him in his arms and held him. The fact that Athos didn't pull away but just rested against him quietly, told Porthos all he needed to know about how bad Athos was currently feeling. "It'll be okay," he whispered.
After a moment Athos looked up at him. "Porthos - if I die - "
"You're not going to," Porthos interrupted firmly.
"We're all going to one day," Athos couldn't help pointing out.
"Not yet though, eh?" Porthos shook his head and squeezed him tighter. "Not yet."
Aramis woke early the next morning, first light just creeping through the window.
He looked round in surprise and saw that Athos too was awake. He climbed out of bed and came over.
"Are you alright? Do you need anything?"
Athos sat up with some difficulty and nodded. "I need to ask something of you."
Frowning, Aramis sat on the side of the bed and waited for him to continue.
"If I die - "
"You're not going to."
"Let me finish." Athos gave him a look of faintly amused frustration. "I tried to say this to Porthos last night, but he won't even countenance the possibility of me expiring, so I gave up."
"Sorry. Go on," Aramis nodded.
Athos took a moment to muster his thoughts. "If I die - if I do - Treville has a copy of my will."
Aramis frowned, but didn't interrupt, as Athos clearly hadn't finished.
"I've meant for some time to update it, but I never got round to it. At the moment it is divided equally between yourself and Porthos, but - I would also like something to go to d'Artagnan." Athos spoke in a low voice, glancing across the room to make sure the others were still asleep.
Aramis took Athos' hand in his. "In a few days you'll be out of here and can alter it yourself," he said softly.
"But if I'm not?" Athos persisted, and Aramis nodded.
"We'll see he gets an equal share. Of course we will. And - " he frowned. "Thank you seems somehow the wrong thing to say."
Athos smiled faintly. "Who else was I going to leave it to?"
Aramis gave a quiet laugh. "For that matter mine is split between you and Porthos. And I don't know, but I suspect Porthos' is much the same." He looked over at the snoring mound of blanket that hid d'Artagnan and smiled. "D'Artagnan, I am sure is much too young to have considered having one drawn up."
"As it should be." Athos looked down at where Aramis was still holding his hand and shook his head. "And you were being so sensible about not touching me," he sighed.
Aramis snorted. "We are all of us in God's hands, now, I suspect."
The arrival of Yvette later that morning heralded another surprise, as along with the food and the fuel, her companions carried in a trunk. Examination of this once they'd gone revealed that it was full of clothes - and not just any clothes, but their clothes, someone clearly having visited their lodgings and collected a fresh set for each of them.
"Do you think Treville would mind terribly if I kissed him?" Aramis wondered, holding up a shirt with a look of wonder normally reserved for miracles and lovers.
"He will if you've got plague," Athos called over from his bed, and Aramis gave him a rude gesture.
Porthos was already standing stark naked in the middle of the room, having discarded his ill-fitting nightshirt as soon as he was able to pull it off over his head, which proved just as difficult as getting it on in the first place. He was soon clad in breeches and shirt and jerkin, and beaming fit to burst.
"Here, these must be yours." D'Artagnan carried a pile of clothing over to Athos, amongst them to his grateful surprise, a fresh nightshirt.
"There's another blanket too," said Aramis, pulling the folds of thick wool out of the bottom of the trunk and promptly spreading it out over Athos' bed.
D'Artagnan was sitting on his own bed and in the middle of pulling on his breeches when he froze. "Um. Guys?" he called nervously. "Could you - could you have a look at something for me?"
"As long as it's not your pizzle," grinned Porthos, but his smile faded when he saw the frightened expression on d'Artagnan's face. "What is it?"
Wordlessly, D’Artagnan stretched out his leg. Clustered near his ankle were three bright red spots.
Aramis bent over him, peering closely while being careful not to touch. Porthos, and Athos behind him, waited tensely for his diagnosis.
Finally Aramis straightened up. "Flea bites," he announced. D'Artagnan flopped back onto the bed with a groan of relief, and Aramis patted him on the knee. "Probably in the mattress. Nothing to worry about."
"I thought I was a goner," d'Artagnan said weakly, then clapped his hand over his mouth in horror.
Athos snorted. "It's a good thing I'm not sensitive," he said dryly, and d'Artagnan rolled over to look at him and gave him a sheepish smile of abject apology.
Porthos was sharing out the tray of food, and as they settled down to eat, the mood was more cheerful than it had been for some time. The only cloud was Athos' clearly still deteriorating condition, and having managed only a little food he slipped back into a restless sleep.
"I wish his fever would break," Aramis sighed. "Even if this is something other than plague it's still wringing him out."
"None of us seem to have caught it?" d'Artagnan ventured, and Porthos promptly slapped him round the back of the head.
"Don't tempt fate. I'd have thought you'd learnt your lesson."
Aramis shook his head. "He has a point. Whatever killed those men at the fort seems to have acted quickly - they were all dead before they could even send for help. But it's been days now, and none of us seem affected. I'm inclined to start believing that whatever Athos is stricken with, it's not the same thing."
"Which maybe helps us, but not him," Porthos sighed.
For the rest of the day they watched and worried, as Athos went from bad to worse. Up to now he'd been weak but relatively lucid, sleeping often but fully able to join in with their conversations when he woke, with all his natural acidity and self-possession. Increasingly though, he seemed barely aware of where he was or what was happening, and his bedclothes were drenched in sweat.
Porthos had pulled the sheet from his own bed and put it on Athos' instead, trying to make him more comfortable. Athos was clearly in pain, and while his cough had mercifully eased he still seemed short of breath.
As night fell, the three of them dragged his bed closer to the fire and then settled themselves to sit up and watch, sensing this would be the crisis point.
They spoke little, each lost in his own thoughts and fears.
"If - " d'Artagnan started at one point, only to fall quiet again, unable to put any of it into words.
After a second, Aramis reached out and silently took his hand. Then felt fingers brush his other hand and looked up to find Porthos reaching out to him in turn.
Aramis took the offered hand with a nod and for a second they both smiled, a little bleak but still finding strength in each other.
"He'll make it," Porthos whispered.
'Yes.' Aramis formed the word, but found he was too choked to speak it out loud, and bowed his head.
As the dark hours crawled by they could do little but wait it out, making Athos as comfortable as possible.
He was murmuring in his sleep, most of it unintelligible, but at times all three picked out their own names from the jumble of half-formed words.
"We're here," Porthos promised him, stroking Athos' damp hair back from his face and clasping his hand, despite knowing Athos probably couldn't hear him. "We won't leave you." And don't you dare leave us, he added silently.
Finally, as the first glimmer of dawn was showing in the east, Athos seemed to pass from a distressed, fitful stupor into a deeper sleep. At first alarmed, once they realised his breath was coming more easily they relaxed a little, hopeful that the worst was past.
"He's definitely not so feverish," Aramis said quietly, pressing the backs of his fingers to Athos' cheek. "Why don't you two get some sleep? I'll keep watch."
Porthos would have protested, but he could see d'Artagnan was exhausted and knew he would refuse to sleep unless someone else did, so he nodded. He could see the sense in it, the more worn out they were, the more likely they'd come down with something themselves, and Athos at least seemed to be out of danger.
"Wake me if you need to," Porthos said, laying a hand on Aramis' shoulder as he got to his feet. "If anything changes, or you need to sleep."
Aramis nodded. "I promise."
He sat and watched the sun rise over the rooftops, gilding the window glass and the worn floorboards with gold. He heard the clatter of a cart in the courtyard below as the place started to come to life and go about its business, and the creak of a winding handle as someone drew up bucket after bucket from the well.
Something skittered across the roof tiles overhead, a bird or a squirrel, loud in the early morning hush. Automatically glancing up at the ceiling, when Aramis looked down again he found Athos' eyes were open, and smiled at him in surprise.
"Welcome back," Aramis said softly. "You gave us quite the fright."
Athos tried to speak but it came out as a croak, and Aramis helped him sip some water.
"Thank you," Athos managed, his throat working painfully. "Sorry, have I been a terrible burden?"
Aramis laughed. "Massively. Try not to do it again, at least for a while, eh?"
Athos' lips quirked in a smile. "Next time you can be ill," he murmured. "You're welcome to it."
"How do you feel?"
Athos considered. "Better. Lighter, somehow. I've felt so heavy, like I couldn't move. That's gone. And my headache's gone." His hand shook a little on the covers, and he stilled it with an effort, sighing. "Might be a while before I'm running any races though."
"Well, with any luck you won't be required to." Aramis stifled a yawn, and Athos peered at him.
"You look worse than I feel."
Aramis laughed. "Thanks a bunch. We've been sat up all night due to a certain someone managing to drag himself to death's door and back." He stood up, working the kinks out of his back.
"Not that I'm not grateful you made it," Aramis added softly, and Athos smiled up at him in surprise as Aramis leaned over and kissed him lightly on the forehead.
Aramis, yawning widely, moved over to Porthos' bed and touched his shoulder. Despite the fact he'd been asleep and snoring, Porthos was awake in an instant and sat up looking worried.
"He's fine," Aramis said quickly. "And awake. But I need to lie down before I fall over."
Porthos nodded immediately, and Aramis moved on to his own bed and sank thankfully into it.
Porthos wrapped the blanket around himself and came over to occupy Aramis' vacated seat by Athos' bed.
"Not dead then," he observed, as Athos watched him settle. "That's very sensible of you."
"I'd never have heard the last of it," Athos said with a faint smile. "It seemed wisest not to."
Porthos nodded to himself, propping his bare feet up on the side of Athos' bed. Athos draped the corner of his blanket over them, and Porthos grinned his thanks.
"Was I really that bad?" Athos murmured after a while. The fact that Aramis had seen fit to wake Porthos rather than leave him alone suggested his friends had had a more troubling night than he had. At least he didn't remember much of his.
"You had your moments," Porthos rumbled darkly, not particularly wanting to relive those few hours when they'd seriously started to be afraid it might not end well. "Trust you to escape an outbreak of plague only to nearly die from something else. I mean where did you even pick it up?"
Athos shrugged apologetically, although he could tell Porthos was relieved rather than cross, despite his grumbles.
"Plus I suppose you'll be convalescing for weeks, meaning we'll have to pick up all your duties," Porthos continued, getting into his stride. "It's a bloody inconvenience, is what it is."
Athos drifted off to sleep again with the comforting burble of Porthos' complaining in his ear, and a smile on his lips.
When he opened his eyes again there appeared to be a breakfast party happening around his bed, and a fresh fire was crackling merrily in the grate.
"How did my bed get over here?" Athos asked in confusion, realising for the first time it was in a completely different position from what he remembered.
"You moved it," Porthos told him, straight-faced. "You were getting up to all kinds of weird shit last night."
"Sleepwalking's a terrible thing," Aramis put in. "The dancing in particular was quite distressing."
"Especially before we could get you to put your nightgown back on," said d'Artagnan.
Athos just lay there and smiled at them, taking the teasing without complaint. The last few days had been incredibly hard on him, not just physically or in the belief he might be about to die, but knowing that he might take his friends with him. Conversely, it had been their presence and constant strength and comfort that had kept him going, and made him determined to fight every step of the way.
He would never not be grateful for that, and was equally grateful for the knowledge that he didn't need to tell them so. Badly hidden behind teasing and jibes, the same relief was written on everyone's faces.
"So will they let us out soon?" d'Artagnan asked. "I mean - now that Athos is recovering, and it presumably wasn't plague?"
"They may wish to keep us here longer," warned Aramis. "Until everyone has gone a full week without symptoms of anything."
This was met by a chorus of groans. "Let's hope Treville doesn't stop paying for our keep then," said Porthos gloomily. "I don't much fancy going back to the gruel and twigs stage."
"We could always eat you if we get too hard up," Aramis smirked. "There's plenty of you to go around, after all."
Porthos cupped his groin obscenely and waggled his eyebrows.
"That's not what I meant and you know it!" Aramis protested, but everyone was laughing now and he gave in and laughed too. "Fine, now I really want to get out of here. We're all going mad."
In the event, it was only another three days before Lefevre consented to give them their freedom. Athos, while still weak was up and about by then, and as he'd clearly had neither had the plague they'd feared, nor anything particularly virulent as the other three had escaped unscathed, it was decided the four men were really more of a burden than anything else, and they were turfed out before breakfast.
They stood in the street, rather surprised, and a little overwhelmed by the sudden open space and clamour of city life around them. Athos was still wrapped in a blanket over his clothes, and Porthos had slipped an arm around him without being asked, knowing he was still shaky on his feet and offering silent support.
"Now what?" said d'Artagnan, looking round at his companions. Having been locked up with them for days and at times desperate for some peace and privacy, he now found the thought of separating from them, even for a short period, left him feeling unaccountably anxious.
"I need a bath," Porthos declared.
"I need a drink," said Athos, and Porthos snorted.
"You should go home to bed. In fact, I'm taking you there myself."
"I'm going to see Treville," Aramis told them. "He should be told that we're out, and that Athos is alright. And needs to be thanked, for keeping our body and soul together."
"I'll come with you," d'Artagnan said, and they set off together towards the garrison.
Porthos gave Athos a one-armed hug. "Home then?"
"Can't we go via a tavern?" Athos said hopefully, and Porthos snorted.
"Don't have any coins on me." He frowned. "Thinking about it those bastards took my moneybelt along with my coat." Porthos half turned back towards the hospital, but Athos pulled him away.
"You won't get it back now," he said. "They'll only claim it went towards our upkeep. Come on, I've got wine at home. And I really don't want to go back in there." He shuddered, only half from the cold, and Porthos realised he was neglecting his duty.
"You're right. Come on." He slung his arm around Athos again and smiled at him. "Glad to be out?"
Athos nodded. "Glad to be alive," he said softly.
"You and me both." Porthos pulled him into a sudden hug. "You and me both."
They walked on together, arm in arm, and the shadow of the hospital walls gradually fell away behind them.