Pairings: BroT4 (or could be read as Athos/Porthos if you're inclined that way, probably without squinting very hard...)
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?
A/N: Apparently I started this in October. Oops. (Part 1 here)
The afternoon passed equably enough; they were used to spending most of the time in each other's company in any case. The light was fading from the sky as the early winter's night drew on, when there was a rattle at the door and it was opened to reveal a masked Yvette carrying a tray.
"Your supper," she said, handing the tray to Aramis, who'd immediately leaped up to assist her. "And some fuel for the fire." She reached back and hauled a sack into the room. "You'll get an allocation each day."
"That won't last long," Porthos said dubiously, looking at the meagre pile of logs and kindling.
"Do we look like we're made of money? There's a lot of rooms here," she told him tartly. "Would you have someone else go without?"
"Is it really necessary to lock the door?" Athos asked, as she backed out again. "We're here of our own free will."
"Rules is rules. And people get mighty odd in the throes of infection. Safer for all concerned if you're shut in," Yvette said firmly, closing the door and locking it loudly and pointedly.
"Well that was cheerful," Porthos grumbled. He'd carried the sack over to the small grate, and was staring at it gloomily. "Do we light it now, or later?"
"Later," Athos said. "Like you say it won't last long. The later we leave it, the room should still be warmish to sleep in."
"If you're depressed with the fuel, wait till you see what's for dinner," Aramis told Porthos, setting the tray on the table.
D'Artagnan, who'd eagerly pulled up a chair, stared dismally at the uninviting bowl of possibly-stew in front of him. "That's revolting."
"Eat it anyway," Athos advised, taking the seat next to him. "Keep your strength up."
"Or give it to me," Porthos grinned. "I've eaten worse." He took a mouthful, and made a face. "Although I can't remember when."
The evening crawled by with increasingly painful tedium and they finally lit the fire for sheer want of something to do. They had discovered in the chest a number of items including a battered pack of cards and a set of dice, which caused momentary elation until Aramis had pointed out they'd probably been used by whoever had been sequestered in here last, after which nobody fancied touching them again.
As soon as all the wood was gone they retired to bed, on the grounds the longer they slept, the quicker the time would pass.
In the morning the room was freezing again and everyone was considerably grumpier than they'd been the day before. There was a listless reluctance to get out of bed, even to use the chamberpots which were their only recourse to sanitation.
Sitting up huddled under his blanket, d'Artagnan sneezed, and gradually noticed the others were all looking at him. "What?"
"You, er. Feeling alright?" Porthos asked casually.
"What? Oh, for - " D'Artagnan glared at them. "I'm not ill! Or if I am, it's only a chill from sleeping under this bloody window."
The arrival of food, such as it was, spurred them to at least get up, after which Porthos hit on the idea of making everyone run through a set of training exercises. The awkwardness of moving effectively in the constricting nightshirts was outweighed by the laughter it promoted as more than one of them fell over trying to effect a decent lunge, and both the exercise and warmth it generated made everyone feel better for a while.
Gradually though, their high spirits died away again as the enforced inactivity grated on all of them.
It should have been fine. They were well enough accustomed to spending their idle hours together out of choice, but that was generally with numerous flagons of wine on hand to lubricate the sharing of tall stories, not to mention the knowledge that any of them was free to get up and walk out at any point. Being forcibly contained, not to mention labouring under the threat of plague, was enough to make them all edgy and irritable.
Athos felt it perhaps the worst of all. There was a solitary side to his nature, and while he normally took great pleasure in and comfort from the proximity of his friends, there was a certain point where he preferred to appreciate them in the abstract form, from the privacy and peace of his own lodgings.
He was also feeling increasingly rough, with a persistent headache he put down to the fact he needed a drink. The watered wine they'd been given with their meals was barely enough to go round, and hardly of a strength suitable to bolster the spirits.
By the second evening they were all snappish. Porthos made a valiant attempt at getting everyone to participate in another round of exercises, but was met with three variants of exactly where he could stick his suggestion.
D'Artagnan, who'd been driven through boredom to run the risk of latent plague, leprosy or whatever else the previous incumbents might have suffered from, was by this point sitting cross-legged on the floor and playing with the dice.
Aramis was perched on the end of d'Artagnan's bed and watching the comings and goings down below in the yard, and whistling to himself in an irritatingly piercing fashion.
"Aramis! Stop that bloody racket!" d'Artagnan yelled when he couldn't stand it any longer.
"Just trying to keep my spirits up."
"You're driving me insane! What with you whistling, Athos sulking and Porthos thumping about like a carthorse I'm on the verge of trying to smother myself with my own blanket."
"I am not sulking," Athos muttered, but given that he was lying on his bed with his back to them, it rather undermined his point.
"You're always bloody sulking, how are we supposed to tell the difference?" Aramis said under his breath, although quite loudly enough for everyone to hear him.
Athos visibly tensed, but didn't look round or reply. Porthos frowned, unsettled by the atmosphere, and went to sit with d'Artagnan. "Game of cards?" he suggested hopefully.
"Yeah, why not. Let's face it, death'd be a merciful release at this point. Aramis, you in?"
Aramis sighed and nodded. "Go on then."
"Athos?" D'Artagnan invited, but Athos gave no indication he'd heard, and Aramis snorted.
"Too good for us?" he called across. Athos' only response was to pull the blanket over his head.
Several raucous hands later, the three of them were in marginally better tempers, until Aramis suggested lighting the fire with the wood that had been brought in that morning.
"Athos said we should wait," d'Artagnan objected awkwardly. It was still early evening, and they'd learnt yesterday that it would only give a couple of hours' warmth at most.
"Well I don't see Athos deigning to take part in this conversation, do you?" Aramis shot back. Athos hadn't moved or spoken in the hour or so they'd been playing, but no one was entirely sure if he was asleep or not.
He certainly gave no reaction to the current conversation, and Aramis and Porthos lit the fire, ignoring d'Artagnan's clear discomfort. They were both used to Athos' moods, and entirely willing to go against his wishes on trivial matters if they thought otherwise, trusting that no bad feeling would ever last between them.
Another hour's play and Yvette arrived at the door with their supper. Porthos carried it over to their place by the hearth, and looked over at Athos, who still hadn't moved.
"Supper's ready?" Porthos called hopefully.
"He knows perfectly well it's here, don't pander to him," Aramis snapped irritably. Porthos ignored him and went over to sit carefully on the edge of the bed. This close he could tell Athos was far too tense to be asleep.
"Food's here," Porthos said quietly. "Will you join us?"
After a second's hesitation Athos turned slightly, letting the blanket slip away and looking up at Porthos. He looked - blank, Porthos thought. Shut in. He smiled down at him.
"We could save you some," he offered. "But for once it smells quite good. Have some while it's hot?"
Athos looked like he was wavering, as if he wanted to say yes, but was quite capable of saying no just to spite himself. Porthos reached out and laid a hand on his arm. "Come on," he coaxed. "Come and eat with us."
"Alright." Athos sighed and sat up, and Porthos grinned approvingly at him.
As they moved to join the others over by the fire Aramis opened his mouth to say something scathing, and Porthos jabbed a finger at him.
"Don't. Just - don't."
Aramis subsided again, and Athos took a seat on the far side of the fire with a wary look at him.
"We lit the fire," d'Artagnan blurted needlessly, half as apology and half for something to say to break the silence. He'd never seen any of the three of them at odds with each other before, not like this, and it unsettled him more than he cared to admit. It felt like his world was out of kilter.
To his relief Athos gave him a small smile, and nodded. "It's very cosy," he said, and d'Artagnan smiled back gratefully.
"Don't worry," Porthos murmured, nudging d'Artagnan with his elbow. "Soon as we're out of here, everyone'll be friends again." He'd been close to Athos and Aramis long enough to know any passing disagreement would be just that, and that apologies were never needed between the three of them. D'Artagnan, on the other hand, hadn't been around long enough to see them all this cross with each other before, and Porthos realised from the outside it probably looked worse than it was.
With an unspoken truce in place, the rest of the evening passed more comfortably, and although Athos still declined to join in with their everlasting card game, he did at least sit with them until the fire died out and they were all forced into their beds by the cold.
Athos opened his eyes the next morning to hear Porthos yawning and complaining loudly from the next bed.
"God! We're still in captivity, I'd hoped it was all a dream."
"I can think of better things to dream of," d'Artagnan called out, and Aramis snorted.
"Careful, I bet you won't get any clean sheets out of them before we leave here."
There was laughter, and creaking of bed frames, splashing of water from the pitcher and the sound of someone having a piss.
Athos curled in on himself, trying to ignore the twin facts that his headache was worse, and that his throat was all needles. He lay there for a minute, shivering, then gathered his courage and sat up. This wasn't something he could keep to himself.
"Morning," Porthos said cheerfully, seeing him emerge from the folds of the blanket. He took in Athos' flushed and tense face, and frowned. "You alright?"
Athos shook his head, and Porthos came over. "What is it?"
"Do I feel hot to you?" Athos asked quietly, and winced as it came out as a hoarse rasp. "No, don't touch me with your bare hand," he added quickly, as Porthos reached out.
Frown deepening, Porthos pulled the sleeve of his nightshirt down and laid his covered palm on Athos' forehead.
"You're burning up," he muttered.
Athos shook his head, wrapping his arms around himself. "I feel cold. And my throat is like broken glass."
"Let me see." Aramis had come over to join them, looking anxious. Athos tilted his head back and let Aramis peer into his open mouth.
"Swollen," Aramis sighed. "And covered in little white spots."
Athos recoiled from both of them until he hit the wall with a jolt. "You'd best stay back," he muttered. "Both of you."
"It could just be a fever," Aramis said, shaking his head. "It doesn't mean it's - " he broke off uncomfortably.
"Plague," Athos finished for him flatly. "It doesn't mean it isn't either. We have no way of knowing what the first symptoms were. On account of it having killed everyone that could have told us."
"What do we do?" Porthos asked, looking between them helplessly. "There must be something we can do. We're in a hospital aren't we, we need a doctor. Let's get Lefevre back in here."
Athos wrapped his arms around himself and huddled back against the wall. "Firstly you need to get them to put me in a separate room," he said. "There's no reason to suppose we've all been infected. I was the only one to touch one of the corpses."
Porthos shook his head angrily. "Stop talking like that, we don't know that's what it is."
Aramis laid a calming hand on his arm. "Athos is right, the safest thing to do is to assume the worst. Pray for the best, but - it is possible that right now Athos is the only one of us carrying it."
They banged on the door until Yvette appeared, and explained the situation to her. She disappeared again, and was gone for a long time. Further banging attracted no attention, and it was nearly two hours before anyone came. When they did, it was Lefevre, and he refused point blank to come into the room and examine Athos.
"He is in the best place," was all he would say.
"Who for?" Porthos demanded. "Athos is sick, he needs help."
"For the city," said Lefevre, coldly.
When it became obvious that Lefevre was on the point of leaving again, Athos hauled himself off the bed and threw himself at the door, shocked by how weak his legs already seemed.
"You have to put me in a separate room," he shouted, gripping the barred grille in the door to keep himself upright as much as with frustration. "This is an isolation hospital isn't it? So isolate me."
Lefevre looked at him blankly. "There are no other rooms free. Regrettably, you must all take your chances."
Athos looked horrified. "The rest of them are showing no symptoms, let them out then, for God's sake, before it's too late."
"I'm afraid I can't do that. Now please stop causing a disturbance, or I will be forced to have you restrained."
He left, and Athos turned slowly back to the others, face pale under the blush of his growing fever.
"What do we do?" d'Artagnan asked.
Athos raised his head to look at him, as if in a daze. "Kill me," he whispered.
"What?" Aramis glared at him. "What the devil are you on about?"
"It's the only way," Athos said, shuddering now as he fought to keep standing upright. "Kill me, one of you, or give me the means to do away with myself, before it develops, before any of you catch it. They'll at least take away my body, they'll have to do that."
The words were spilling out of him, as close to panic as they'd ever seen him, until Porthos stepped up, seized Athos firmly by the shoulders and shook him.
"Athos, get a hold of yourself. This isn't like you. Nobody's doing away with anybody, for all we know this is just an ordinary fever."
"Don't - don't touch me," Athos protested, trying to wriggle out of Porthos' grasp.
Seeing it was upsetting him Porthos let him go with a sigh, and Athos fled back to his bed in the corner.
The rest of them sat at the table, conferring in low voices on what could be done and coming up empty. There was nothing they could do but wait it out and hope for the best.
Porthos was sitting facing Athos' bed, and had been keeping a desultory eye on him in case he took it into his head to do anything silly. Athos though had slumped in a defeated huddle against the wall, as far as he could get from everyone else, and hardly moved for an hour.
With a sudden burst of activity that made d'Artagnan jump, Porthos stood up, his chair scraping back on the floor and marched over to throw himself down next to Athos on the bed.
"Go away," Athos protested, trying feebly to fend him off as Porthos put an arm round him.
"No." Porthos glared at him. "I can't watch you sit here all alone thinking you're dying. I just can't."
Athos glared back at him, but Porthos was resolute and after a silent battle of wills Athos finally slumped against him with a shaking sigh of surrender. Porthos settled them both comfortably and hugged him close.
"You'd better not catch this," Athos muttered. "If you dare catch this I'll never forgive you."
Porthos gave a low laugh. "If you can just restrain yourself from kissing me, I'm sure all will be well."
To his gratification this prompted a splutter of stifled laughter, and Porthos smiled. "It'll be okay," he murmured. "I promise. We'll all be okay."
"You have no way of knowing that," Athos objected sleepily, but he was finally relaxing into Porthos' determined embrace with a grateful exhaustion.
For the next few hours Athos dozed fitfully under Porthos' watchful gaze, his sleep broken by fits of coughing.
Yvette brought them the day's food and fuel, but was accompanied by two heavyset men, and ordered them all back from the door before she would open it.
"They think we'll try and break out," d’Artagnan muttered, half insulted and half annoyed that it hadn't actually occurred to him. Not that he had any intention of abandoning Athos, but he agreed with the others that Athos needed more help than he was getting, whatever was wrong with him.
Athos woke from troubled dreams and looked around disorientedly, confused to find himself lying in Porthos' lap. He stifled a cough, shoulders shaking, and felt Porthos rub his back gently.
"Cough if you need to," Porthos said quietly. "If I'm getting it, I'm getting it."
Athos struggled to sit up as a fresh fit took him and he doubled over with the force of it.
"How's he doing?" Aramis asked, crouching by the bed.
"Oh, you've deigned to come over at last have you?" Porthos grumbled.
"You think he'll be somehow happier if we all catch it?" Aramis retorted. "Here." He handed Porthos a basin of water and a towel, and Porthos settled the half-delirious Athos back against the pillows and cleaned the sweat from his face.
"He doesn't sound good," said d'Artagnan, standing at a nervous remove, but closer than he had been. Athos' cough was a hollow wheezing rattle in his chest, that made them all feel breathless just to listen to it.
"No, he doesn't." Aramis straightened up. "On the other hand, I've heard that cough a lot this spring. I don't think it's necessarily plague."
"Well that's good!" d'Artagnan said, looking hopeful. "Isn't it?"
"What he's not telling you is that the cough often turns out to be just as much of a killer," said Athos weakly.
"Shush you," Porthos chided. "I thought you were asleep again."
"Seems a shame to waste my last hours," Athos muttered with a certain ghoulish amusement.
"You're not dying. I won't let you."
"You may not have a choice in the matter."
Porthos grunted. "In that case, if you die, can I have your sword?"
This prompted a huff of laughter than in turn triggered a fit of coughing, and Porthos was immediately contrite.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to set you off."
Athos shook his head, wheezing. "Don't worry about it. You're right, I was being morbid."
"This is all my fault," Aramis sighed suddenly, sinking onto a chair and putting his head in his hands.
"How do you work that out?" Athos asked, seeing that Porthos and d'Artagnan looked as confused by this outburst as he did.
"I insisted we stay and look for survivors," Aramis said wretchedly. "If we'd just left straight away - maybe this wouldn't be happening."
Athos frowned. "D'Artagnan, slap him would you, I can't reach. You didn't insist," he said to Aramis. "And even if you had I could have overruled you. I'd already touched one of the dead bodies by that point in any case."
"And we still don't know that this is plague," Porthos pointed out stubbornly. "I thought we were going with pig-ordinary fever?"
"How do you feel?" Aramis asked. Athos was clearly still running a temperature and coughing fit to rupture something every five minutes.
"Like death," said Athos with a rueful smile. "Which doesn't help."
"Is there any rash?" Aramis persisted. "The b- the others," he said, faltering over the word bodies, "they were covered in sores and spots."
Athos peered down the front of his nightshirt. "Not that I can see."
"Let's have a proper look. Come over into the lamplight," said Porthos, and despite his protests Athos was helped out of bed and stripped of his nightshirt. He stood trying not to catch anyone's eyes as every shivering inch of him was scrutinised.
"Looks fine to me." Porthos slapped him on the bare arse and handed him his nightshirt. "Never knew you had a birthmark there though."
"I did," said Aramis, and sniggered.
"Oh, fuck off," said Athos good-temperedly, struggling back into the nightshirt. Despite the teasing he felt relieved at the result, and lay back down with a tiny thread of fresh hope in his heart.