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After the Fire

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Attending Mass with Aramis over the years, Porthos had learned more about God from Aramis, an expert marksman with a poet’s weakness for love, than the priests in the pulpit who had followed his friend’s latent vocation to fruition. In the Church’s Latin, God was one thing only: to be feared. In Aramis’s French, however, God was so much more: one to be feared, yes, but also one who could protect, heal, and love. Through Aramis’s eyes, God was as complex as people were.

As complex as Aramis was.

And while Porthos would never be as religious a man as Aramis, he knew that he had something special in Aramis calling him friend. For just as God unleashed the ten plagues to punish Egypt for not freeing His chosen people, so Aramis defended those that were his.

The ambush started as any other, Porthos protecting Bonnaire as ordered. Aramis fought with his customary grace, left hand behind him and against his lower back, striking and parrying smoothly, each step a practiced dance. Porthos struck with his signature force, both with blade and body.

A metallic rattle of chain, followed by a hiss. Aramis abandoned his form for Porthos’s force, a strong punch dispatching the attacker and leaving a new weapon in Aramis’s hand.

Amidst the cacophony of grunts, shouts, and weaponry against weaponry, Porthos cried out.

A breath later, so did Aramis.

“Porthos!”

Porthos was down. There was a man behind him with an axe, being brought to his knees by Bonnaire’s fractured blade against his heels.

It wasn’t enough.

The pain of his new weapon fresh on his lower back, Aramis brought the chain around the man’s neck and, maintaining pressure, flung him aside; clearing a path to Porthos, eliminating further threat. Grace and rules abandoned on the echo of his friend’s name, fear’s cold sweat at the back of his neck, the knowledge of just what damage an axe could do.

Porthos was on his left side, face drained of all color, panting in shallow, unsustainable breaths. The man who attacked him lay unmoving, a warning to any of their attackers who had the audacity to still be on their feet when Porthos wasn’t.

But Aramis wasn’t finished.

“Anyone else?” he roared, flinging the chain to the ground.

And there it was: all the fury of God’s wrath in two growled words. It was the fiery destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the unstoppable force of the Great Flood, the Red Sea’s obliteration of the Egyptian army. It was the primal snarl of Earth’s most feral creatures protecting their own.

The battle was over.

Porthos was struggling for breath, his vision clouding. A familiar smudge of blue through a puff of dirt: Aramis’s sash as he dropped to his knees. The damaged mess of tissue at his back burned like the ancient firestorms that had brought Aramis to his side. But the gloved hands that reached for him were nothing but gentle in their touch; not the rust-stained palms that had viciously wielded a chain-turned-garotte, but biblical hands that had healed the sick and fed the five thousand. And the words, when they came, held nothing of the vengeful fire of his last challenge. For after the fire, a still, small voice: “Are you all right?”

It was the last thing Porthos heard before the rushing sound in his ears overwhelmed him. Aramis’s now ungloved hands reaching into his medical bag, the last sight before his vision darkened. The familiar, reassuring voice of his dear friend, the hands that could emulate their God’s compassion as easily as they could take up His fury.

And as unconsciousness claimed him, Porthos knew that he was more than lucky to be deemed worthy of protection by such biblical intensity in human form.

He was blessed.