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Broken Places

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Porthos was attempting sleep; had been for the last thin moments of the night.

The sound of a knife hitting wood, a slowly repetitive sound, the time delay between each dull thud just enough for his body to slip back into a relaxed state before the next thunk, was keeping him from falling back into the oblivion he’d been greatly enjoying an hour ago. After the fifth instance of his muscles instinctively constricting, startling him to a semi-aware state and jarring his still-healing back, the big man pushed himself to a seated position on his narrow bed, a growl building at the back of his throat.

Someone was going to bloody pay.

The sun was barely edging the horizon, letting just enough of its light spill over and around the walls of the garrison that the interior of Porthos’ room was gray rather than pitch. The wooden shutters closing off his room from the outside world held enough cracks that light slipped narrow fingers into his only sanctuary, climbing coyly across the rough-hewn floorboards to slip up his bare legs and tease his sleep-swollen eyes.

His body protested as he pushed to his feet, rubbing a hand over his unruly black curls, then dragging it down his face to tug at the tip of his beard. He shuffled to his door, not bothering to dress, grabbing his schiavona – in his left hand as his right still protested the weight – and opened the door. The cool morning shocked his eyes open wide, truly alert for the first time since sitting up in bed.

Clad in only his smalls, his browned, bare chest taking the brunt of the chill, Porthos blinked out into the frosty, not-quite-empty courtyard of the Musketeer garrison. Crystalized dew clung to the hoof and footprints that littered the grounds, turned cobwebs that clung to the beams into lace, and glinted off the table and staircase that led up to Treville’s office.

A man stood in the center of the yard, squared off from the painted targets at the far end – situated right next to Porthos’ quarters, inconveniently enough – his breath clouding before his face and obscuring his features. Porthos had selected this location as it was the furthest distance from the rest of the Musketeer quarters. After spending the first twenty-odd years of his life living practically on top of fifty other people, the concept of space had been enticing. He could find peace here; he was able to actually rest.

Until some lout decided to muck it up with early morning target practice.

Opening his mouth to give the fool what for, his breath caught as a blade flew through the air and hit the painted target dead-center. Following the line, Porthos saw three other knives clustered in that same space and raised his brows, impressed. The knife-thrower was either quite skilled or extremely lucky.

Turning to once more call out to the man, he was surprised into silence when the slim figure of the young d’Artagnan approached the wall, his expression cut by grim lines, his eyes a shade just before black. He hadn’t yet noticed Porthos, so focused was he on his efforts. His weapon's belt and doublet were missing; he was dressed only in his breeches and a loose-fitting white shirt. Porthos could see the chill in the air had taken hold by the red of his nose and cheeks and the way his body involuntarily shivered as he reached to pull the blades free of the wood.

“Oi,” Porthos called. d’Artagnan jumped, taking a step back from the target. He had quite clearly been in his own world. Porthos jerked his chin at the wall. “What’s all this, then?”

“Um,” d’Artagnan replied, looking over at the still-imbedded blades. “Target practice.”

“Before dawn?” Porthos growled.

d’Artagnan looked at him again, blinking at the tone. Porthos knew he could sound rather menacing when he wanted; he used that special skill to his advantage quite often, actually, but he hadn’t meant to scare the lad, and by the expression on d’Artagnan’s face – as though he had just inadvertently startled a bear – he’d done just that.

“Couldn’t sleep,” d’Artagnan offered by way of explanation.

“Neither can I thanks t’you,” Porthos muttered, finally feeling the cold ripple gooseflesh across his bare chest. “Why aren’t you at the Boniceaux?”

d’Artagnan looked down, but didn’t reply. Porthos caught a glimpse of shadows cross the young man’s features and sighed, giving in to the softer side of his nature that only a few people in his life had been able to conjure at will. He hadn’t expected a boy from Gascony with walls up higher than Athos’ internal fortress to be among them, but life had surprised him before.

“C’mon,” he grumbled. “Get’cher things.”

d’Artagnan frowned. “And go where?”

“First,” Porthos started to turn away, then glanced back, glowering, “my room. Then breakfast.”

He heard d’Artagnan swallow as he lifted his schiavona and rested the blade on his bare shoulder, heading back into his quarters.

Something was eating at the lad that was clear. Had been since they collectively contrived to send Bonnaire on his way via a Spanish slave ship. Porthos knew he’d missed something between their visit to Athos’ estate – where the hell had that come from, anyway – and sharing a drink at the tavern after all was supposedly said and done.

Aramis felt it, too; Porthos could tell.

He hadn’t come right out and said so but Porthos read his friend’s eyes well enough by now to know when Aramis was troubled; whatever it was that was chewing on d’Artagnan had not gone unnoticed by the marksman. However, talking with Aramis about the whelp would have to wait as the other man currently had his hands full with Athos’ misguided attempt to drink all the wine in Paris over the course of the last week. Minding Athos when he was in a dark mood was a full time job, and a thankless one at that; Porthos had escaped that particular duty this time around simply because his wound was still healing.

Dropping his sword on the leather weapon’s belt and scabbard he’d set on the small table next to his bed, Porthos went about cleaning up for the day, taking for granted that d’Artagnan would follow him. He heard the door shut as he plunged his face into the bowl of cold water poured from a pitcher he kept filled at all times. Years of going without had taught him that, whenever possible, arming himself with basics like bread and water could be the line drawn between himself and desperation.

Porthos cleared his throat as he dried his face on his shirt before pulling it over his head, his arm still stiff from the wound.

“Tell me.” It came out more brusque than he’d intended.

He heard d’Artagnan shift his weight from one foot to the other, and could tell by the proximity of the lad’s voice when he answered that the Gascon had moved to stand near the window, most likely peering out through the narrow slats.

“What’s to tell?”

d’Artagnan had a low, rough voice. Pleasant enough to listen to, not one that tended to blend or grate on the nerves. Porthos could train him to use it to his advantage when he wanted to sound more menacing than he looked. Aramis would probably advise him to use it to different advantages.

Porthos grabbed his breeches and pulled them on without replying, before turning to face d’Artagnan as he tucked his shirt into the waistband and began lacing up the front.

“You’ve been moodier than Athos for the last week.”

d’Artagnan frowned, his dark eyes trained on something Porthos couldn’t see outside the window.

“Y’think we did Bonnaire wrong.” Porthos made sure it came out as a statement, satisfied when the accusation pulled d’Artagnan’s focus at last.

“What? No!”

“No? You don’t think we shoulda protected ‘im like we was told? Sent ‘im on ‘is way all nice and safe like?”

The line burrowing itself between d’Artagnan’s brows was enough answer for Porthos, but he stayed quiet, letting the young man speak.

“He was a slaver, Porthos. We weren’t going to simply let him go free.”

Porthos lifted his chin. “Then what is it?”

d’Artagnan’s eyes slid to the side once more. “Nothing. Everything’s fine.”

Porthos caught his bottom lip between his teeth, watching as d’Artagnan’s eyes rested on nothing, his jaw coiling as though he were trying to break his own teeth. There were things Porthos had learned, growing up in the Court of Miracles, that had taught him how to read people. Such as when a person lies, they have a tendency to look away. d’Artagnan was certainly lying now, but he was also physically holding himself back from speaking a truth. And Porthos had experience with the ramifications of forcing someone to speak when they weren’t ready.

“Fine,” Porthos echoed, grabbing his heavily-studded doublet and easing his arm into the sleeve. “You go get us somethin’ to eat, then.”

At that, d’Artagnan brought his head up, brow furrowed. “Why me?”

Porthos shrugged his doublet in place, tilting his head at the young man. “’Cause you’re fine, yeah?”

“Yeah,” d’Artagnan arched a brow. “But…so are you.”

Porthos grinned as he finished buttoning his doublet and grabbed his weapon’s belt. “There’s that Gascon fire,” he said, clapping a heavy hand on d’Artagnan’s shoulder.

Now that he was awake, he was too restless to stay in his quarters and too hungry to wait for Serge. He made his decision.

“We’ll go together.” He moved past d’Artagnan toward the door. “You gonna stand there with your sword in your hand all day or what?”

d’Artagnan looked down at his hands where he still gripped his weapon’s belt and leather doublet, having left the knives embedded in the wooden target out in the courtyard. Porthos headed outside, watching from the corner of his eyes as the young man shoved his arms inside the sleeves of his jacket, leaving it unfastened, his weapon’s belt gripped in one hand as he followed Porthos outside.

Porthos made his way through the now-quiet courtyard, d’Artagnan at his heels, and sent up a silent you’re welcome to those sleeping souls who were now able to hold onto their peace just a bit longer in the wake of d’Artagnan’s absence from knife roulette. He could hear the young Gascon fastening his weapon’s belt as he trotted to catch up with Porthos’ lumbering strides.

In truth, Porthos was putting it on a bit; his arm and back were still quite sore from the blade he’d taken a week ago in protection of Bonnaire. He’d not slept comfortably for more than a few hours at a stretch since then, but there was no way he was going to let d’Artagnan know that.

“You comin’?” Porthos called back as he heard d’Artagnan curse under his breath.

“Why are you in such a hurry?” d’Artagnan grumbled, drawing a glance from Porthos over his shoulder.

“’m hungry,” Porthos replied.

He wasn’t like Aramis. He didn’t have gentle words or perfectly-timed phrases to draw someone out from behind their walls. That is why Aramis always took Athos when their friend fell hip-deep into melancholy. Porthos cared, of course he did, but he was just as likely to quite literally knock some sense into the man as draw out the poison and eliminate the problem.

Their young friend was enough like Athos that Porthos recognized it would take a crafty approach to determine what was going on behind those dark eyes. Or…he might just find a good excuse to hit the lad and refocus his anger into something tangible. Something he could work out through physical exertion, exhaustion, maybe even a little pain.

Once armed, d’Artagnan matched his stride with Porthos, eyes front.

He was on the thin side, Porthos had noticed, but it was more age than anything. Give him some years and he’d bulk up on muscle enough to match any one of them. As it was, he’d shown he was able to keep up with them thus far. In any case, he’d not disappeared, heading back to his farm in Lupiac as Porthos thought he might after Vadim, safe once more in the peace Gascony offered that was denied him in Paris.

Porthos sucked on his teeth, the tsk sound drawing a glance from d’Artagnan, though the lad remained silent. Porthos wasn’t going to press the issue; a man doesn’t want to talk, there’s a reason. He’d gone through many a month in the Court blending with the shadows to avoid Charon and Flea simply because he hadn’t wanted to talk.

It was exhausting, explaining himself, exposing his heart through his voice. It bared him and made him vulnerable. There were some he didn’t mind seeing that part of him. Aramis, of course. Athos, naturally. Possibly even d’Artagnan to an extent. The lad now knew how he’d heard of the slave ships as a child; had seen how raw that reality had left him. And what’s more, d’Artagnan not used that information against him as some might.

If anything, the knowledge of Porthos’ past nightmares and the experience with Bonnaire seemed to have drawn d’Artagnan closer to them, dark eyes that seemed to watch everything at once settling every so often on Porthos and not looking away.

The duo exited the garrison and made their way through the early-morning streets of Paris.

There was a stench soaking the streets that Porthos had long ago come to recognize as the scent of home. It was the odor of people and animals, fire and rain, dirt and soap, everything, all of it, blending and twisting until it was impossible to distinguish one from the other. It was the scent of life and death trapped in an endless, revolving loop that permeated every breath they took as they journeyed through the waking streets.

The city had grown exponentially in population over the last decade; the majority of people crowded in small apartments and tenements clustered on or near the Seine. The King had commissioned additional bridges be built to connect Left Bank and Right Bank, however all that seemed to do, to Porthos’ way of thinking, was spread the dirt along a wider girth of the city.

People emptied garbage buckets into the narrow streets, sewage flowed – or not – down the narrow ditches dividing the walkways, the offal from animals slaughtered for food lay in putrid piles just outside of doorways. It should amaze him, he supposed, what people could become accustomed to, a certain level of filth being relatively high on that list.

However, after a childhood where the warmest thing he might have on a December night was the arm of the nearest adult draped across him and a youth spent in the shadows watching for the toss of scraps from some of the larger houses, the smell of the Paris streets did little to bother Porthos. He noticed, however, when d’Artagnan would stop breathing for several strides, pulling in a shallow gasp of air only when the alternative would potentially result in him passing out.

He didn’t blame the lad; he’d even caught Athos and Aramis avoiding certain routes through the city so as not to encounter some of the rougher city folk or fouler stench. d’Artagnan had grown up on a farm; Athos and Aramis came from nobility. Paris may be their home now, but they were, in effect, adopted sons.

Porthos was of the city.                             

Born on her streets, he knew her heartbeat, the way she breathed. He’d seen her protect and kill and knew she was as coy and cold as any woman with an embrace that enticed and entranced. He looked up to see her beauty in the stained glass, sweeping arches, and looming gargoyles. He looked out to see her vengeance and grit in the faces of the people who etched out their living each day. He looked down to see the darkness and deceit that he knew lurked in the heart of every living being.

Even within himself.             

Porthos led d’Artagnan silently through the streets, moving further and further away from the garrison, slipping down alleyways and darting through doorways and beneath arches. He’d not started out with a destination in mind; he’d simply wanted to find food and see if he could shake the quiet from the lad. As the city woke around them, though, Porthos felt the familiar energy bleed into him and he lost track of any other intention except movement.

It took Porthos several minutes to register that d’Artagnan matched his stride, only trailing him when the breadth of the passages necessitated it. He began to test both his tired, healing muscles and the young friend by his side, leaping from the walkway to a stone wall framing the river’s edge, then up to a low-hanging shop roof, and up once more to the slanted roof of a connecting house, then to the stone roof of a chapel. A glance to his side showed him d’Artagnan stayed in step with him.

Porthos began to realize he was following a familiar path, one he’d traversed many times in his youth to evade capture or detection, or simply to get away from the streets. Get up, above the people, where the air was cleaner. Where he could think; where he could breathe. He hadn’t needed this type of escape in years. Not since he’d found his brothers in the Musketeers.

Yet the path came back to him, building by building, roof by roof, step by step, as if he’d followed it just yesterday.

Quickening his pace, Porthos slipped to the west, toward the busier part of the city where the larger buildings clustered together. They ran in a low, balanced crouch along the center of a roof where the connecting seams were protected from weathering, their center of gravity shifted low, keeping them from toppling to either side. d’Artagnan was at his heels; he could hear the young Gascon’s breath quickening as they shifted from a brisk walk to a full-on run.

The first jump wasn’t far; Porthos barely felt the landing jar his still-healing wound.

When they gained their feet on the adjoining roof, he grinned, his muscles remembering even after all these years away, all these years of training his body to do something else, be something else. Even with the added bulk and weaponry, his muscles remembered what it was like to traverse the rooftops of Paris, keeping out of sight and yet seeing everything.

He nearly forgot about d’Artagnan; he was simply part of the city once more, feeling her life flow around him with the energy of the people. The stain of memory that had lingered from their encounter with Bonnaire, with the plans for a slave ship, with his shame for having envied the man’s life, began to clear. The lingering pain in his back from the blade that could have ended him had it not been for his friend’s quick thinking and acquired skill began to ease.

He moved from a stone roof to another thatched one, then leapt once more to an edge that required he reach up and grab onto a gutter for balance. So focused had he been on the thrill of movement around him, he’d forgotten his wound. As he reached up to grip the ledge, his shoulder seized and his hand refused to close.

And as willingly as the capricious city had held him, she just as quickly denied him her embrace.

Porthos suddenly found himself hanging from his left arm, too many feet off the ground to land even close to safely. He wouldn’t be walking away from this one—

The hand that gripped his wrist, bracing him, was solid and strong. Porthos looked up, realizing that his breath was hammering roughly from between parted lips, his body almost keening in response to his plight even if he’d not consciously called out for help.

d’Artagnan had made the leap.

Somehow he’d cleared the space and swung his lithe body up to the rooftop and was now leaning over, his dark hair falling across his face and obscuring his expression. He held Porthos tight, giving the big man the moment he needed to find a toe-hold on the top of a window shutter, then leverage himself slowly up, throwing a leg over the ledge and rolling gingerly over on his wound as he caught his breath.

He felt rather than saw d’Artagnan drop down next to him; both slumped against the raised ledge of the stone roof, legs sprawled before them, chests heaving as they worked to recapture the breath that had been wrung from their lungs in the effort.

“So,” d’Artagnan gasped, rolling his head along the stone to blink beads of sweat from his lashes. “Breakfast?”

The laugh barked up from Porthos before he could grab it back and then he was helpless with it. He saw through eyes narrowed against the rising sun that d’Artagnan was grinning at him, his face softening and becoming younger than it had any right to look. Porthos reached out and clapped the younger man on the shoulder, using that motion to push himself to his feet.

He reached down and offered d’Artagnan a hand up. “Thanks,” he said sincerely, all laughter gone. “I mean it.”

“I know you do.” d’Artagnan’s grin surged, then seemed to break apart, dissolving so quickly it left his dark eyes appearing almost hollow.

Confused by the younger man’s expression, Porthos glanced away, working his wounded shoulder a bit, testing to see if it felt like the cut had re-opened; if it had, Aramis was going to have his head. He looked out across the city, the sun having now breeched the horizon enough it was reaching even to the corners of the narrow alleys and glinting off the frothy ripples on the Seine.

“Lookit this place,” Porthos said softly, wondering at the naked, rough beauty of the city that had both saved his life and tried to kill him at different times over the last thirty-odd years. “Never ceases to amaze me.”

d’Artagnan was quiet next to him, eyes roaming the rooftops, skimming from window to window, never landing on any one thing for long.

Porthos used the moment to take a chance. “Used to come up here all the time when I was a kid,” he revealed. “No one saw me. Kept to the shadows, ran on the rooftops.”

“Why?” d’Artagnan asked, his voice low and soft, as if caught in his own memories.

“To watch,” Porthos replied, tilting his chin toward the streets below.

They were near Notre Dame; the beggars came out thicker on a Sunday, he knew. Merchants put out fresher bread on Mondays than Fridays. The wash decorated more windows mid-week than before worship. Some days it was the only way he could tell what day it actually was, by the ebb and flow of the city.

“You grew up in the city?” d’Artagnan asked.

Porthos nodded, offering nothing else. He’d already exposed a fair lot to the lad when they discovered what Bonnaire truly was. If d’Artagnan wanted more of Porthos’ story, he’d have to be willing to give some of his own. And Porthos could tell that despite losing his father, d’Artagnan had not yet been driven to his knees, pushed to a point of willingly letting them close.

Pain had a way of peeling back layers, taking down walls. He glanced at d’Artagnan, watching as the young man’s enigmatic eyes took in the sights of the city below them. It also had a way of shoring walls and attaching locks so thick even the craftiest burglar couldn’t break in.

It was thus with Athos; he was beginning to suspect it might be the same with d’Artagnan.

“You ready?”

d’Artagnan glanced at him, humor reflecting in his eyes. “Shall I lower you, or do you want me to get you a rope?”

“Oh, it’s a brat is it?” Porthos cuffed the lad on the back of his head, noting d’Artagnan’s grin. “Try to keep up.”

With that he took off toward the opposite edge of the roof, leaping over with full knowledge that another roof was only three feet below. He crouched behind the dividing wall, waiting as he heard d’Artagnan run forward, panic clear in his breathing, and then grinned wolfishly when he saw the dark head look over the edge.

The relief that washed over d’Artagnan’s features was quickly replaced with good-natured irritation.

“You do realize Gascons are known for their ability to hold a grudge,” d’Artagnan stated as he swung over the edge of the roof and dropped down beside Porthos.

“Careful, little man,” Porthos teased. “You’ll frighten me.”

He stood and led d’Artagnan from the rooftops to the street once more.

“I—“ d’Artagnan stopped, lifting his face and looking around, a puzzled line dividing his brows. “I have literally no idea where I am.”

Porthos clapped his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Paris, my friend,” he said with a sigh, not even noticing the stench that had d’Artagnan pressing the back of his hand to his nose as they walked toward a tavern Porthos hadn’t been inside since moving into the garrison half a decade ago. “And if you treat ‘er like a queen, she’ll not dump you on your ass,” he shrugged, “too often.”

“Good to know,” d’Artagnan nodded sitting across from Porthos and waiting as the big man ordered food for both of them. “You ever bring Aramis or Athos here?”

Porthos shook his head, tearing bread from the loaf placed in front of them. “’aven’t been here since…,” he shrugged. “A lotta years.”

They ate in comfortable silence, but Porthos watched his young friend carefully. d’Artagnan kept his eyes up, taking in the conversations and expressions around them. He wasn’t sure what the lad was watching for, or if he were just cautious, but Porthos had seen behavior like this before. This type of hyper-alertness had never failed to set him on edge. It reminded him of his youth, his days in the Court. The younger ones had been alert, wary, waiting for what little they had to be taken from them, waiting for the stories they’d heard of abuse and violation to manifest into nightmares and bruises.

Porthos had heard the stories as well, but he’d never lived it. He’d been tough, observant, but something – genetics, will, the grace of God – had imbued him with an air of confidence so potent no one had tried to cross him. Once he connected with Charon and Flea, he had companionship and someone to watch his back. He’d been one of the lucky ones, he supposed.

Everything he knew of d’Artagnan, though, contradicted what he was seeing in the young man now, and, if he thought back, what he’d seen in him since they met. Sure the lad was brash, impetuous, hot-headed, stubborn, but when not running full-tilt into a brace of bandits to challenge his father’s killer or barely escaping death by explosion in the tunnels beneath the palace, he was rather quiet, Porthos now recalled.

Alert, wary, waiting….

“You grew up on a farm, yeah?” Porthos asked, drawing d’Artagnan’s eyes.


“Still there, your farm? Back in Lupiac, I mean?”

d’Artagnan looked down at the bread in his hand, then nodded, stuffing a bite into his mouth. “Yeah, it’s still there.”

Porthos tilted his chin, narrowing his eyes. “Not thinkin’ of goin’ back, are you?”

“Why?” This time the lines on d’Artagnan’s face were a challenge. “You think I should?”

Porthos shrugged casually, realizing he might finally be getting to the crux of the problem. “Don’t matter what I think, does it?”

“Maybe it does,” d’Artagnan muttered, looking down once more.

And there it was: the lad needed someone to tell him to stay. Porthos knew, though, that it wasn’t on him to extend such an invitation. This one had to come from Athos. It was the only voice d’Artagnan would believe.

“You been practicing a fair bit with them knives.”

d’Artagnan lifted a shoulder. “I was always pretty decent,” he said without a trace of boastfulness. “It’s the sword where I need help.”

“And combat,” Porthos replied around a mouthful of bread and cheese.

“Thought you said I was getting pretty good,” d’Artagnan protested.

“You’re picking up a few moves,” Porthos conceded, “but you got a long way to go if you’re gonna be able to fight yer way outta four, five deep.”

d’Artagnan arched a brow. “When am I going to be in a situation where I’m fighting five men on my own?”

Porthos grinned wickedly. “Guess ‘at depends on where you spend your free time. You get on the wrong side of the right kind o’ woman, and you could have a whole pack on you.”

d’Artagnan shook his head, huffing out a quick breath. “I bet I can guess who’s been in that situation before.”

“Careful,” Porthos warned, hearing an inference he didn’t quite like in the lad’s tone.

“What?” d’Artagnan shrugged. “Aramis as much as said he doesn’t care whose bed he ends up in at the end of the day. He’s not a soldier like Athos. Or even you. All he really cares about is—“

Porthos stabbed his fork into the table so close to d’Artagnan’s hand he could feel the lad’s skin quiver against the metal.

“Choose your next words very carefully,” he warned.

d’Artagnan looked up, swallowing, silent.

“Let me offer you a word o’ caution, my friend,” Porthos said, his voice dropping as he leaned close to d’Artagnan. “Until you’ve walked in another man’s skin, never assume you know all ‘e cares about.”

d’Artagnan nodded, his eyes on Porthos.

“Aramis stood inside Hell and ‘eard the Devil laugh from the shadows,” Porthos continued, hearing the growl at the edge of his voice. “And ‘e fought ‘is way out of it. Far as I’m concerned, ‘e can bed all of Paris if ‘e wants to, yeah?”

“Yeah. Yes, okay,” d’Artagnan nodded once more. “I understand.”

“Do you?” Porthos felt his brows pulled close, doubting.

“I, uh…I understand that there’s more that I don’t know about you three than I do,” d’Artagnan elaborated, eyes wide and serious. “And until I can reverse that, assumptions will not be made.”

Porthos let his eyebrows relax, then sat back with a nod. “That works.”

He heard d’Artagnan take a shaky breath and suppressed a smile. The lad picked up his bread once more, returning his survey of their surroundings. He’d lost his opening, Porthos suddenly realized, with his vehement defense of Aramis. There was nothing more he was going to get out of d’Artagnan now. He’d have to figure out a different tactic, at a different time.

“You ready?” he asked when he’d finished his breakfast.

d’Artagnan nodded, pushing to his feet. He waited as Porthos dropped coins on the table then tilted his head. “We’re not going back the same way we came, are we?”

Porthos grinned. “You’re not afraid of heights are ya?”

“It’s not the heights,” d’Artagnan replied, his face wrinkling up with confession, “it’s the falling from them that bothers me.”

Porthos chuckled, leading the way out. “Fool your enemies, d’Artagnan. Never take the same way twice.”

Trusting the young Gascon to keep to his heels as he had before, Porthos began to maneuver through the growing crowds on the streets of Paris, exchanging cleaner thoroughfares for the shadows and muck of the back streets as he worked their way back to the garrison. They passed a throng of Red Guards on their way, and Porthos cheekily tipped his hat in response to their dark looks, watching as d’Artagnan skirted the group carefully.

Several broke off as the two passed by, heading in the direction of the palace. Porthos paid them no mind. He could handle the Red Guards with one wounded arm tied behind his back.

By the time they reached the garrison, the chill had completely burned off of the morning. Both were sweating; d’Artagnan’s hair clinging to his face in places.

“You did well,” Porthos commended him.

“You’re kidding,” d’Artagnan gasped for breath, brows bouncing up with incredulity. “This was a test?”

Porthos lifted his good shoulder, gripping his right as the ache from his earlier fall made itself known. “I think everything is a test,” he replied. “It’s why ‘m still alive.”

d’Artagnan drew his arm across his mouth, eyes scanning the courtyard.

“Go clean up,” Porthos instructed. “You can use my room. I gotta find Aramis.” He indicated with a nod toward his shoulder, which was throbbing from the rigorous activity.

He watched the lad move away for a moment, then headed toward the livery to check if Aramis’ horse was stabled. If the big black animal were there, then Aramis had managed to wrestle Athos back to his quarters at the garrison. If it wasn’t, that meant Porthos was going to have to track his friends down. And that meant encountering a potentially confrontational Athos.

He sighed. One brooding brother per day was plenty.