CHAPTER 50

Later that evening, as the red sun was setting, Athos rode through the Garrison's gate, his left hand cradled against his abdomen. Stopping Roger in the courtyard, he slid off the chargers' back before handing the reins over to the stable boy. Having already scanned the area as he rode in, he knew his three brethren were not in sight. A small sigh escaped his lips, as for once, he actually sought their company. He had much to tell them.

He dejectedly dragged his tired body off to his room, mentally chiding himself for expecting his brothers to be waiting for him. Wearily opening the door, he stumbled across the threshold before raising his eyes and seeing Aramis, Porthos, and d'Artagnan sitting at his table. His eyes and face lit up with a rare, real smile. "You're here!" he burst out.

"And where else would we be?" Aramis inquired politely.

Athos' astonished expression said it all. He had not expected, after the way he treated them, to find them here. As the rush of adrenaline from his surprise, drained from his healing body, he wobbled causing d'Artagnan to immediately leap from his chair and move to his side. Placing a steadying hand on Athos' bicep, he steered the unsteady man to the bed and encouraged him to sit, which the swordsman did without a fuss. Over at the table, Porthos raised a questioning eyebrow at Aramis who answered with a discrete shrug; this was not typical behavior from their leader who usually eschewed all forms of emotion as well as personal assistance.

Athos resignedly perched on the edge of his bed, staring moodily down at his hands, which were dangling between his bent knees. Aramis had the distinct feeling that Athos would have been wringing them together, if not for the fact the left one was swaddled in a bandage. It was painfully obvious that their usually fearless, stalwart leader was lost as to how to proceed. The trio didn't push or prod him. Athos would reveal what was on his mind or he wouldn't, but either way they would support his decision.

Athos sat on his bed struggling with his inner self. He knew he owed his brothers the tale of what had happened at the estate; the things that were done to him, the things he had done, as well as the consequences. Aramis had told him earlier, at the river, that his brothers would forgive his transgressions and he wanted, badly, to believe; but that wasn't what life had taught him.

Life had shown Athos the people who were supposed to love him, such as his parents and his wife, merely used him to further their own goals and ambitions. Why should he expect anything else from a disparate bunch of musketeers; a child of the streets, a womanizing, wanna be priest, and a farmer's son? Why should he trust them? Why should they be different? What did they want from him and what did a drunken fool, such as he, have to offer in return?

No, he finally decided. He would shut them out as he always did; the exact opposite of what Aramis had admonished him to do at the river. None-the-less, it was the safe thing to do; no one else should be hurt because of him. His dark soul, his sins, shouldn't spill upon his brother's shoulders.

As Athos raised his head to ask the other musketeers to leave, Porthos caught his eye and implored him. "Please, brother."

Somehow, those two heartfelt words from Porthos unraveled him. Here was a man's whose courage, kindness, and generosity were above reproach. A man who by all rights should have a major grudge with the world, but instead found it in his oversized heart to forgive. A man's whose courage was ten-fold compared to Athos' own.

Aramis and d'Artagnan remained absolutely quiet, sensing Athos was at a critical junction in the road. It seemed that Porthos was going to be the only one who might be able to get the skittish man to take a first step on the path of redemption.

Athos' eyes remained firmly downcast and Aramis swiftly glanced over at the street fighter and nonverbally encouraged him to try to draw out his forsaken brother.

Rising from his chair, the powerful musketeer moved over to the bed and sat next to the forlorn musketeer. With a firm, but tender hand, he reached over, cupped Athos' chin and gently compelled the man to raise his head and look at him. "Trust us, Athos," he rumbled, his voice tinged with compassion.

Athos studied those dark orbs, which were beseeching him to trust, and a slight frown appeared on his face as he caught his lower lip in his teeth. Though Porthos let his hand drop from Athos' chin, the swordsman continued to stare at him with rapt concentration. "It was hell," Athos finally dragged out from the depths of his soul.

Breaking eye contact, Athos repositioned his body so he could lean against the wall behind his bed for support. He suspected he was going to need every ounce of energy and courage left in his worn body to get through this ordeal. He had a sinking feeling that baring his soul to his brothers, three people he realized he loved more than life itself was going to be exhausting.

With forced levity, he said, "No doubt I will be having nightmares for a long time about the events that occurred on the Vicomte Lemione's estate. I will tell you what transpired, so when I wake you up in the middle of the night, screaming, you'll know why and perhaps find it in your hearts to forgive me."

Aramis rose from his chair and walked over to the bed and sat upon it. "You are already forgiven and you don't have to do this, Athos, if you don't want to. It won't change our opinion of you. Like I told you, unconditional love," Aramis said kindly, capturing the anguished green eyes with his brown sympathetic ones.

"No judgement," d'Artagnan tagged on as he moved his chair closer to the crowded bed. Athos was now surrounded by his brother's and he drew comfort from their presence.

"Well, I wanna know what those bastards did so I can enjoy the fact their souls are rotting in hell," Porthos ferociously declared, slamming his fist against his muscular leg.

A ghost of a smile floated on Athos' lips. "It is not so much what they did to me. That is of no consequence. Yes, their cruelty left some scars but those will fade with time into the patchwork quilt that is my battle worn skin."

"It's not your physical being we're concerned about," Aramis pointed out. "But rather the scars they left on your soul and how we can help you heal them."

Athos snorted and looked down at his chest where he once wore the locket of forget-me-knots. "What are a few more scars on my soul?" He gave a bitter laugh. "It makes no matter."

"It matters. Ain't nothing wrong with your soul. Nothing more than ours," Porthos said with a little hand gesture that encompassed everyone in the room. "Though," he continued with a slight grin, "maybe that isn't sayin' much."

"Speak for yourself," Aramis said, in a haughty tone. "I like to think I have a very enlightened soul."

Porthos grimaced, as he looked at Aramis. "Not according to the laws of the church as I know them."

"Interpretation, dear Porthos. Interpretation."

"I do believe we are supposed to be listening to Athos," d'Artagnan reminded his other two brothers.

"Right. Sorry," Aramis contritely murmured.

Athos had been relieved when the focus in the room had shifted away from him. But now, all three eyes were expectantly fixed once more upon him. Reaching down deep inside for courage, he started his tale. "It was the anniversary of Thomas' birth and though it has been five years since he died, it hit me especially hard this year."

Athos' gaze fell upon the youngest musketeer and he forced himself to be completely open and honest. "I think because of you, d'Artagnan. You remind me of what Thomas could have been had he not been murdered by my wife. With that single knife thrust, Anne stopped Thomas' heart and my own."

Closing his eyes, Athos took a few deep, steadying breaths before continuing. "Like many times since my brother's death, I sought to drown my sorrows with alcohol, not caring about the consequences; whether or not I would wake to see another sunrise..." he gave a negligent wave of his hand to finish the statement, indicating it really made to difference to him.

"But I did wake to find myself in the back of a wagon on an unknown journey. Opportunities to escape really didn't present themselves and to be honest, I wasn't looking for them. In chains, in the back of a wagon to hell, perhaps I was where God wanted me."

"You are too hard on yourself, Athos," Aramis admonished. "God is kind and compassionate."

Athos rounded on his friend, his voice harsh. "That hasn't been my experience."

Aramis reached over and placed a hand on Athos' knee. "He never gives us more than we can bear."

A sour laugh escaped Athos' lips. "Then your God most have me mixed up with someone else, for I can't bear what life has left me."

"You are strong, brother. Stronger then you know. You just need to let your friends help, now and then."

Athos turned his head to study Aramis' face, as if searching for the truth in his the words. Aramis wasn't sure if the troubled musketeer found what he was looking for as Athos averted his eyes and continued with his story.

"The Vicomte ran his estate, like all noblemen, using servants. The only difference was he paid more, than most, for their services. But little did the servants know they were making a deal with the devil. Upon their arrival at his estate, each retainer man, woman, or child was assigned a number; mine was twenty-four. It was a number you lived…and died by."

Swallowing hard, Athos broke from his recitation to stare across the room, lost in thought for a moment. "It came as a surprise," he slowly began again, "that even though these people knew what this number meant they chose to stay anyway. But, as it was explained to me, the servants that stayed were willing to take the risk because the wages were very generous."

Athos glanced over at their religious leader again. "Kind and compassionate God? What kind of God forces a person to make a decision such as that? How does a compassionate God let a man like the Vicomte exist?"

"He doesn't exist anymore," Porthos reminded Athos.

"But his damage is already done! The innocent lives lost!" Athos disdainfully spat. "A kind and compassionate God would never have allowed Lemione to take his first breath."

In what he prayed was a soothing voice, Aramis explained, "God's ways are mysterious to the likes of mere mortal men such as you and I. That is what faith is about, my friend. Trusting and believing God has an ultimate plan for all of us, even when we can't fathom it."

"Aye. Trustin' that God knows what he is doing, even if it seems like he don't," Porthos agreed. "God puzzles me, too, Athos. But like a punch, you just gotta roll with it."

Athos couldn't help smiling at Porthos' down-to-earth religious views.

"The number," d'Artagnan reminded Athos trying to get him back on track. "What exactly was its purpose?"

Athos heard the boy's query but didn't quite answer it in a straight forward fashion. "Of the eight of us that rode in the wagon, four went up to the main house and the others, including me, were taken to the prison you witnessed. Housed in that fortress were all the men that fought the duels for the Vicomte and his neighbor's sick pleasure, along with guards and a few trainers. You met Jehan, the head trainer."

"The weasel I killed in the grove," Porthos confirmed and Athos nodded his head in concurrence.

"Yes. I owe you a debt of gratitude for removing that man from this earth," Athos sincerely thanked his brother.

Porthos gave him a small head nod of his own. "Anytime."

"I was housed with the rest of the fighters in cells, though the doors were never locked. We had the freedom to go as far as a common room. But after that, we were locked away from the world. Each day after the morning meal, we were taken through a locked tunnel to a practice area to spar. I kept aloft from my fellow prisoners, as well as hid my skills with a blade, which…" the edge of Athos' lips curled with irony, "turned out to be a lot harder than you'd imagine. Unskilled fighters are… unpredictable. One of them threw his sword at me."

"You mean dagger," d'Artagnan sought to clarify. "That doesn't seem that unusual."

Cocking his head sideways, Athos corrected the boy. "No. I mean sword. Apparently, he lost his grip on it and it flew through the air and smacked me in the face." Athos reached up a finger and traced the faint scar on his cheek. "The second time he did it, I was better prepared," he drily assured him.

Mention of the cut Athos received on his face, made Porthos think of another injury he had seen on his friend, during their first night in the woods. "Those scars. On your back. Whip marks they were. Why?"

Wincing, Athos bowed his head and studied his hands, making his hair falling forward to obscure a portion of his face. "I was not the…model prisoner and I was taught the error of my ways."

Next to him, Porthos vibrated with anger and he fought to keep his emotions under control. How dare someone whip his brother like a common criminal. "Was it Jehan?"

Giving a little one shoulder shrug, "Him, his henchman. It doesn't matter. It is in the past. Though was it the first step, which led to the death of the servant boy?" Athos rhetorically asked.

"A servant died because you were whipped?" d'Artagnan questioned, trying to understand what happened to his mentor in that horrifying prison.

Raising his head, his brothers could see the tears glistening in Athos' despondent green eyes. The melancholy musketeer stared off into the distance, as if he forgot the existence of anyone else in the room. "He showed me kindness. Brought me water, rags, food, and even a salve his mother made to help heal my wounds. His mother, how she must have cried when she found out I killed him."

Unable to keep the consternation out of his words, d'Artagnan whispered, "You killed him?" It earned him dark glares from Aramis and Porthos and immediately the boy felt contrite. "I didn't mean it that way, Athos," he hastily apologized.

"No. You are right. I did kill that servant," Athos said matter-of-factly. "Those numbers I mentioned? His was the one drawn when I refused to fight. So yes, I killed him."

With a long suffering sigh, Aramis ran a hand over his forehead, pushing back his errant curls. "I'm not following."

Athos turned his head to stare at Aramis, capturing his eyes as he told how everything was connected. By the time Athos was done, Aramis wished he had remained quiet.

"The Vicomte liked to kill and came up with an interesting way to do it. You know about the duels and I told you every servant had a number assigned to him or her. On the morning of the fight, the Vicomte would draw a number and that servant would be invited to watch the duel. If the Vicomte's fighter won, the servant returned to tell his friends what a marvelous event he had witnessed. If the Vicomte's fighter lost…"

Athos halted for a moment to regain his composure, which had started to fray. With determination, he forced down the tide of emotion that was threatening to overwhelm him. After a few steadying breaths, he picked up his tale.

"You saw the grove," he said, his voice flat, his eyes dark and muddy. "When the Vicomte lost a duel he took the servant, whose number was drawn, to that grove, tied them to the post and shot them point blank in the head. He…enjoyed doing it."

Bowing his head again, Athos went on with his tale as silent tears slid down his face. "My first duel, I refused to fight. I thought I was so damn clever, dancing about that ring. Finally, I annoyed the audience, the other nobles, and Vicomte so much with my antics that the 'win' was awarded to the other fighter." With a contemptuous laugh, Athos said, "What a conceited ass I was thinking I had gotten the better of the foolish Vicomte. As it turned out, the only fool that day was me."

Athos dashed the back of his hand across his face before raising his head and sweeping his red-rimmed eyes over each of his brothers. "After the fight, I was taken to the grove by Jehan. There, tied to the post, was the servant boy, the one that had been kind to me, the ones whose number had been drawn that morning. I stood and watched as the Vicomte shot him in the head as if he were nothing more than an animal. I couldn't do anything to stop it. That time had passed."

Athos face hardened as he continued to speak. "When I first was placed in that prison and learned that the Vicomte expected us to fight other humans for his pleasure. I vowed I wouldn't be a part of that travesty. How stupid I was."

"Athos. You didn't know what Lemione would do," d'Artagnan cried out trying to get the man to understand it wasn't his fault.

Athos ignored the boy. "After the grove, I was made to understand that every time I lost, a servant would die."

His brother's cringed, knowing that was the perfect threat to make Athos fight. They had neatly found his Achilles' heel.

"So I made a new vow, no more servants would die. I began training the other fighters so they could be successful in the ring. I didn't let anyone or anything interfere with my concentration when I was dueling. Not winning was not an option. Some of the other men began to resent my rise through the ranks from the worst fighter to the best."

"The knife wound on your side. The one that nearly killed you," Aramis asked. "Was that from one of the other prisoners?"

A curt nodded followed Athos response. "Henri and Charles."

Porthos' dark eyes narrowed as he unconsciously cracked his knuckles. "And they are still alive?"

"Regrettably, I suppose," Athos concluded. "But perhaps they too were victims of circumstance."

"I'll make them victims of circumstance," Porthos menacingly growled. "No one attacks my brother and gets away with it."

Athos tried to force a small smile on his face to show Porthos he appreciated his sentiment, but he failed miserably as he thought about the final portion of the tale he had to relay. "As you know, the Vicomte also liked to bet on the fights and soon, I became too good and no one would bet against me. Lemione kept raising the number of people I had to fight in the hopes it would entice someone to bet against me."

His brother's now understood why Athos was in such bad shape, mentally and physically, when they found him. It must have been grueling to have to battle constantly against such great odds, while being mentally tortured by the thought of what would occur if he lost.

"Then you came to rescue me. And four more servants died because of me." Athos pinned each one of his brothers with an accusatory glare as he admonished them. "You should not have interfered in that fight."

D'Artagnan gave him a look of incredulousness. "You would have died!"

"It was my choice to make," Athos shot back at him, his eyes flashing in anger. "Because of my escape those four servants were killed. You were there! In the grove. You saw it! How can you condone my freedom at the cost of their lives?"

"They would have died, no matter what. There was nothing you could have done to stop their deaths," Aramis tried to reason with him.

Athos glared at Aramis, refusing to believe his statement. "I could have tried. I could have…"

"Died," Porthos interrupted him. "The only thing you could have done is died. I was there. I know. You were down on the ground, unconscious thanks to the blow to your head from that coward, Jehan. And that other fighter was going to kill you. Make no mistake about it. Look at me, Athos!" Porthos commanded and Athos obeyed. "Don't ever ask me to stand by and watch you slaughtered." The larger man's voice broke and he suddenly looked away. "I can't do it."

Aramis reached over and placed a hand on Athos' leg. "By saving you, Athos, justice was served. You killed Lemione. Justice was served," he repeated.

Athos dropped his weary, aching head to his chest. He felt one, than another hand placed on his shoulders to offer comfort.

"What happened is really no different than what happens in a war. Innocents are often caught up in the greater struggle. You did your best, my brother, to protect as many as you could. The rest," Aramis sighed and crossed himself with his free hand, "we acknowledge their deaths, we pray for their souls, and we do our best to stop it from ever happening again. The deaths of those we believe as innocents will haunt our nightmares on our darkest nights and so they should. If we forget why we fight, who we fight for, then we too will be lost."

Aramis saw Athos had raised his head and was looking at him. "But we can't let their memories pulled our souls into the depths of hell. We must mourn, for we are but human, then we must rise and fight once more against the evil that haunts this world."

Taking a chance, Porthos put pressure on Athos' shoulder, drawing the man to his chest. Athos acquiesced without a struggle, burying his head in his brother's leather clad chest, as heart-wrenching sobs escaped him. Aramis rose from the bed and then reached down and swung Athos' legs onto the mattress. Porthos remained cradling Athos upper body until he felt his brother drop off into an exhausted sleep. Then, gently as a mother would lay her infant down for a nap, Porthos maneuvered from the bed, laying Athos on his side to sleep.

The three musketeers made their way over to the table in the room, uncorked the wine bottle sitting up on it, and poured a generous amount in three glasses.

"He's going to be all right?" d'Artagnan half asked, half stated. He wanted to believe his mentor could rise above his terrible ordeal.

"He's always going to carry the scars from this encounter, the physical and mental ones," Aramis replied pragmatically, as he sipped his wine. "But, I believe with our love and support he will move on."

Porthos drained his glass of wine, sat back in his chair and worriedly ran a hand through his tight curls. "He still scares me, Aramis. He's good at looking out for everyone else and sucks at looking out for himself."

"A truer statement you have never uttered, my friend," Aramis whole-heartedly agreed. "But that is why he has us to watch his back and save him from his own folly."

"Aye, well that is a mighty big job," Porthos replied as he reached over and refilled his glass. "But I suppose someone has to do it."

A little while later, they rummaged through Athos' chest and found the spare blankets and pillows he had stashed away for night such as this when they all ended up in his room. They arranged themselves on his floor and soon had dropped off to sleep.

In the morning, d'Artagnan and Porthos woke first and went to scour up some food, returning with a basket from the kitchen, which they placed on the table and unpacked.

Aramis' nose twitched at the smell of freshly baked bread and he soon rose from his spot on the floor and wandered to the table to claim a chair. A short while later, they heard a stirring from the bed and looked over to see a rather disheveled Athos staring at them.

"We figured you would be hungry since you missed dinner last night. Or did you and Roger stop for a bite to eat on the way home?" Aramis quipped acknowledging that Athos was awake, if just barely. Even when he wasn't hungover, Athos was not a morning person. The only response he received from Athos was a noncommittal grunt.

Porthos snickered before adding his own witticism. "I know you don't date much..."

"Like at all," Aramis snuck in.

"...but I didn't realize that your only option was Roger," Porthos finished, his face a mask of grave concern. "That's kind of sad." Then with a grin, he took a large bite from the piece of bread he was holding.

"Really sad," d'Artagnan chimed in around a mouthful of cheese. "Of course, there was that almost date with Cometsse de Larroque. Though if I recall correctly, she asked you out and then was arrested so I'm not sure that counts as a date."

"I wouldn't talk, Mr. Puppy-dog-eyes chasing the draper's wife," Porthos reminded him as he swallowed the last of his food.

D'Artagnan grew a trifle indignant and his cheeks flushed. "Well at least I didn't sleep with a widow to raise money."

Athos watched as his two brothers' rose, stood toe to toe, and heatedly argued, nearly coming to blows. Athos sighed, rose from his bed, and wandered over to sit by Aramis at the table. "Remind me why I want to hang around you guys?"

Aramis laughed and clapped a hand on Athos' shoulder. "Because we love you and we are good for you. And we forgive and forget. See," he gestured towards Porthos and d'Artagnan, which now seemed to be embracing each other. "They are hugging. Forgiven and forgotten already. Best friends again."

"Are you sure they are not trying to strangle each other?" Athos countered, as the two men remained intertwined and some unusual grunting noises were being emitted from d'Artagnan's throat, which appeared to be wrapped in Porthos' meaty hand.

Aramis reached over and poured Athos a glass of wine before raising his own glass to his lips. He contemplated the two grappling musketeers again, as he drank. Perhaps Athos had a point. This was a rather prolonged hug. However, he decided to stay optimistic. "Do you see any blood?" he asked cheerfully.

Athos answer was cautious and dubious at best. "No. Not yet."

"So there you have it. Hug. Manly embrace. Brotherly love," Aramis declared sipping his wine again.

Athos took a drink from his own glass, letting the ruby, red liquid slide down his parched throat as he continued to study his 'hugging' brothers. He winced when a successful punch to the groin landed, which was followed by a very loud moan. "Is that still hugging?" Athos inquired politely of Aramis, as the moaning grew in intensity.

"Is there any blood?" Aramis asked again.

"No," Athos returned. Or at least there wasn't any blood that he could see from his position.

The congenial smile remained on Aramis' face. "Still hugging then."

Aramis and Athos sat and watched Porthos and d'Artagnan exchange manly hugs for another five minutes. Finally exhausted, the two 'huggers' dropped into chairs, panting.

"All done hugging?" Aramis asked courteously as he poured two more glasses of wine and positioned them in front of the tired men.

Porthos gave him a quizzical look. "Huggin'? We wasn't hugging. We were fightin'."

With absolute certainty, Aramis said, "No, you were not."

Porthos tilted his head to the side, his face, and voice mirroring his disbelief. "Yea. I'm sure we was fightin'."

"Was there any blood?" Athos asked, figuring he might-as-well join in the fray.

"Blood?" Porthos echoed, giving Athos a queer stare.

Athos sighed, as if he were explaining something to a very small child. "Did...you...draw...blood?"

Porthos and d'Artagnan looked at each other, glanced down at themselves, then over at Aramis and Athos, who were sitting there smugly drinking their wine. "No. There's no blood."

"We'll have to wait to see the next time I pee," d'Artagnan muttered under his breath.

"Since there is no visible blood, therefore it was not fighting. It was hugging," Aramis empathetically declared in a tone that also said end of discussion.

"I'll have to keep that definition in mind, next time I play with the Red Guards. Wouldn't want to be caught hugging them when I was supposed to be fighting them. I'll be damn sure I draw blood." Porthos turned away from Aramis to query the rest of his companions. "Remind me why we hang out with him?"

D'Artagnan shrugged, as Athos muttered, "Exactly, my question."

"Because gentlemen," Aramis began as he rose to his feet, glass in hand to make a toast. "You love me. And I love you."

The other three shared a glance between them then collectively rose with their own wine glasses.

"I can drink to that," Porthos declared reaching out to clink glasses all around.

They drank and then d'Artagnan offered up the next toast. "To Athos' safe return. He was sorely missed!"

They all drank and then Porthos offered up a new toast. "To stupid bandits and even stupider Red Guards who keep us employed."

After a laugh, they drank again before all eyes in the room turned to Athos, for the final toast.

"To my brothers," he began, his sincere green eyes sweeping each one of them. "For never being afraid to point out to me the errors of my ways. For safely seeing me home, when I can't find my way. For always showing me great friendship and love, more than I have right to ask. You are my family, more so than anyone else has ever been and I love you."

Athos took a sip of his wine, and then bowed his head, overcome by the moment.

"Pretty powerful speech for a man of few words," Porthos remarked, his own voice gruff with emotion.

"There is only one thing that can be said, after such a speech," Aramis declared.

"Let's eat? I'm starving," Porthos suggested before Aramis shook his head no.

"Fetch the Doctor?" d'Artagnan tried. "Surely Athos must not be right in the head."

"How about get the hell out of my room," Athos mocked growled at them.

"All wrong gentlemen. The only thing that could possibly follow such an elegant speech as that is...right back at you!" Aramis triumphantly declared.

"You want to follow Athos' heart-felt speech with such a vernacular colloquialism?" Porthos questioned, once again surprising his fellow musketeers with his adroit usage of language.

Aramis shrugged. "Do you have a better suggestion?"

Before Porthos could reply, d'Artagnan piped up. "I do. How about 'all for one and one for all'."

"That works too," Aramis agreed.

They all moved around the table to join d'Artagnan in a group hug. When they released each other, Porthos glanced down at this torso, before looking over at Aramis.

Somehow, Porthos managed to keep a straight expression on his face. "No blood. So that was a hug, right Aramis?"

"Why do I want brothers?" Athos muttered to himself as he slumped into his chair and poured another glass of wine.

"Because we LOVE you!" was the three way reply.

Athos raised his glass, gave his little head tilt of acknowledgement, and downed his glass in a single breath. "Yes. Keep reminding me of that."

The End

A/N: Sadly or happily, we come to the end of this tale. For fifty days you have hung in there with me. I posted and you read. Amazing. Your reviews, follows, and favs have been inspirational and I thank each and every one of you who took time. If you have it in you for one last review, I'd love to know what you thought of the ending.

And last, but not least, a shout out to my betas that did an awesome job correcting and teaching me a few things along the way.