Warnings: Bent history, see the foot notes for the bending if you're so inclined. AND MAJOR SPOILERS FOR SEASON 3. I know it's not just me who's seen the changes in the characters this season, because I've talked with some of you about them. I couldn't resist exploring a few of them. So this is the first (time permitting) in a series of short vignettes on those changes as seen from the POV of various characters.

War Heros

1.

Some Things Never Change

"What do you mean he doesn't sleep in your bed, madame?" Aramis was amused and trying not to let it show. Madame d'Artagnan could be a hellcat when her ire was roused, and it was roused now. "For some reason, I've had the distinct impression he's been regularly enjoying his conjugal rights."

"Don't madame me," the lady warned. "And what he's enjoying is none of your business."

Constance had not been a woman who stamped her feet when angry, but Aramis tucked his own feet beneath the chair he occupied in front of Athos' desk, just in case she'd developed the habit while he'd been gone. Then wondered if she was likely to kick him. He was well aware she could slap a man silly and make him enjoy it. His fingers instinctively rose to his jaw at the old memory.

Madame d'Artagnan's eyes narrowed. Her arms crossed over the generous endowment of womanly charms enhancing her bodice and a small, booted foot began to tap. "Nor is that what I meant," she snapped. If she'd had a tail, it would have been swishing.

Aramis' lips twitched at the image of the newly wedded d'Artagnan's as a pair of cats. Well, not newlyweds precisely, as their fourth anniversary had apparently been two months ago - yet another of the things he'd missed due to his precipitate leave-taking. For all intents and purposes, though, they were still newlyweds, having enjoyed less than a month of marital bliss before Tréville had had to deploy the Musketeer garrison.

So many things he'd missed over the last four years, but Aramis had returned to Paris a smarter man. He firmed his lips and kept the cat thought to himself. "Then perhaps you had best explain what you do mean." He kept his expression faintly querying as he slung an arm over the back of the chair, contemplating Monsieur d'Artagnan's reaction when he told him about this interview.

He'd been deputized by Athos to babysit the cadets this morning while the rest of the Inseparables were at the palace acquiring new hardware in the shape of those rather ornate, beribboned crosses the king had become so fond of handing out lately, though no one had told him. It wasn't that they'd been secretive about it, just that no one had said anything, even to Constance, who, he was relatively certain would have been quite pleased to see her husband honored for his service to France.

Aramis knew only because he'd overheard a couple of Athos' baby Musketeers crowing - albeit quietly - about drawing the duty shift at the palace during the ceremony. Their barely contained excitement had been patently obvious, as had the fact they'd been told to keep the news to themselves. Unless Athos had put the fear of God in them, or unleashed his own cold, deadly wrath on them, rumors of the proceedings would be making their way around the garrison before Constance had dinner preparations under way.

Aramis would have liked to have been invited himself, though he knew with that peculiar sixth sense he still had around his friends, they were conspiring to keep him out of the queen's path. That did not make his frustration any easier to dismiss.

"Constance?" he prompted, distracting himself as well as the woman scowling at the ceiling now. "Come now, it is unlike you to turn coy." She'd tracked him down where he'd been sparring with one of the recruits in the orchard, all but dragging him back up here to the office.

She flicked a glance at him and he caught the uncertainty in her eyes before she voiced it aloud. "I don't know what came over me, thinkin' you might have the answers. We're in the same boat, you and I," the infernal woman muttered. "Never mind, I'll ask Porthos."

Aramis inspected his fingernails. "You'll embarrass him, do you ask him questions about you sex life, my dear." He knew exactly what she meant. They were in the same boat all right, cast adrift in familiar waters yet unable to read the currents anymore.

The Inseparables had returned from four years of war changed and closer than inkle weavers. While he'd been readmitted to the charmed circle, it was not the same; he was no longer truly one of them. It appeared Madame d'Artagnan was experiencing the same strange disorientation.

Expectations were such pesky, bothersome things.

"It's not about my sex life," Constance snapped again.

Cross-ishly from Aramis' perspective. The marksman shrugged. He had not thought it was. At the same time, he'd known the observation would either move her forward with her complaint or send her back to her kitchen.

"Sit down, Constance." Aramis gestured to the new chair behind the desk.

Minister Tréville had taken the old one with him, claiming it bore the imprint of his fundament and he was too old to break in a new chair. Athos, who four years ago would have born the indignity in noble silence, complained endless about the new chair.

"Tell me what's wrong. I can't promise to fix it, but I can at least listen and perhaps together, we can come up with a plan."

Constance gave the chair a disdainful kick and came around to sit on the front edge of the desk next to Aramis. "I'm not asking you to fix it, I want to know how I can fix it. This morning, for the third time this week, my husband was gone from our bed when I woke."

This was indeed out of the ordinary; d'Artagnan had never been a morning person. "Perhaps he has merely become accustomed to rising earlier."

"Not likely," his lady wife muttered again, dainty jaw clenching as she debated how much to share. She blew out a breath and said in a rush, "Ivefoundhiminhereinbedwiththeothers."

Aramis blinked. It took a moment to translate, but he was up to the task. "Whatever it is you're thinking - it's not that."

"I'm not thinking that!" Constance denied hotly. A beat of silence sliced through the office like a blade through flesh. "Well, maybe I did, just at first, but I know it's not about ... that."

"So, just to clarify, then ..." Unhappy didn't really seem appropriate, nor did angry, though she was both. "You're feeling a bit excluded," Aramis settled on.

"Aren't you?" she fired back without missing a beat.

Well … yes, he was, though he had not fully admitted it even to himself until this moment. "You know it's not intentional," he said hesitantly, wondering if he was wrong.

"Of course I know that, you idiot!" Constance smacked his arm, definitely cross-ishly. "But that makes it worse, don't you see? They're doing it without even realizing it." She rose to pace the length of the room. "It's bad enough we only had a few weeks before they - he..." she hesitated, cleared her throat, and restated again, "before d'Artagnan was deployed to the front. I was just getting to know that man as my husband when he left. And now he's a different man. They all are!" she wailed. "I don't even recognize Athos anymore and Porthos is like a big, gruff bear with a sore paw these days."

Madame d'Artagnan had put her finger on it. The war heroes had returned very different men from the ones Aramis had parted with that fateful day. Four years ago Porthos would have instantly forgiven and forgotten. The new Porthos, as Madame d'Artagnan had so quaintly put it, was like a bear with a sore paw; he carried a whiff of pain with him like a badge of honor sewn over his heart. And there was a bruised look about his eyes that could no longer meet Aramis' without the faint accusation of betrayal hinted at in their dark depths.

Yes, they'd made up, lying there in the dirt laughing over blowing up the stolen powder that should have been sent on to the front. But only skin-deep. Aramis felt the difference keenly.

Indeed, they had all changed in the intervening four years. Aramis sat in front of the desk because he'd noticed both Porthos and d'Artagnan steered clear of sitting in Athos' 'new' chair. Athos had slipped into the role of the Inseparables leader long before d'Artagnan had appeared on the scene, but there was in their demeanor now, a different kind of respect. Not the hero worship d'Artagnan had been wont to display on occasion, nor Porthos' jolly - often feigned - obsequiousness. It was something instinctual now, a deference that came from the heart, not the head. But more curiously, Athos did not chafe against it as he had in the past. He wore this new mantle of leadership as though it was a second skin.

Constance was looking at him with the air of weary resignation she'd learned from the comte. "Apologies." Aramis bowed from the waist. "I was woolgathering."

"So I concluded."

"You're a hard woman, Constance." Aramis rose, smiling his approbation of her tough-as-nails shell. She was every bit a match for their once youthful companion, though inside he knew she was soft as a newborn lamb. "Do you want me to talk to d'Artagnan?" Whom no one referred to as 'the puppy' anymore.

"What?! No! I don't want him suspecting I've gone behind his back!"

So much for sharing this little interval with d'Artagnan, though Aramis was not keen on having the recently reunited husband suspecting the marksman had gone behind his back either.

"I just needed someone to talk to, and you're the only other person I thought might understand."

Insightful woman. She was right on all counts; he did understand, but he did not know how to fix it either. He said slowly, "To be on the outside ... looking in ... is indeed frustrating. For the nonce, I am trying to be thankful that we are all together again." Aramis made an encompassing gesture, including Constance in the circle, though he had little doubt she was a bit jealous of what little access he did still enjoy. She could not know the tortuous ache the absence of the old, fathomless depth of friendship had woken. Nor would he enlighten her.

He opened his arms, drawing the small, forlorn figure into a gentle embrace when she stepped into them. Ah, she was a lovely armful; d'Artagnan was a lucky man. Though perhaps not so lucky at the moment, as his bride was a very unhappy female.

"Ahmmmm," a voice behind them drawled. Athos stood blocking the porch office door for the moment it took them to separate, wearing that look he had perfected years ago.

Though the missing hat made Aramis want to turn back every time he saw the man, to make sure it was really Athos. He looked ... well, his friend looked a little naked without that habitual hat shadowing his expressionless features.

"Are we interrupting?" Behind Athos, Aramis could hear d'Artaganan and Porthos arguing good-naturedly.

"Oui, mon capitaine, a torrid affair. The lady, she does not belong to such a traînard as d'Artagnan."

The ghost of a ferocious scowl momentarily darkened the captain's tanned face. "Unless you wish to end up another Marcheaux, do not even joke about it, mon ami." Athos tossed the words into the room like he might have done his hat, with only a whisper of sound, as he crossed the threshold, adjusting his various accouterments in order to slouch sideways in the 'new' chair. "What's going on?"

The argument, whatever it had been over, ceased abruptly as d'Artagnan and Porthos shouldered through the doorway at the same time.

d'Artagnan's dark head came up like a fox scenting prey, his smiling countenance shifting to a wary frown. "What's wrong?"

For an instant, the tenor of the room reverberated as though the drums of war beat a silent tattoo against the walls.

"Nothing." Constance somehow dredged up a brilliant smile, though Aramis saw the cracks around the edges. She crossed the room in several long strides to throw her arms around her husband and kiss him soundly. "I missed you this morning."

d'Artagnan's withdrawal was subtle, though evident. "We had to be at the Louve early this morning." He did not move out of her embrace, but every line of his body leaned away from her.

It disconcerted his wife more than she was already. "What for?" Constance let her arms sag from around his neck, though she ran her hands over the leather-clad chest before sliding an arm under d'Artagnan's elbow and moving to his side.

"A meeting with Tréville."

Aramis gaze flitted past d'Artagnan to Porthos and on to Athos, neither of whom betrayed the pat answer by so much as a blink. They'd cooked that one up between them. Constance might buy it, but it did not explain why he had been excluded.

"How is the captain - I mean, minister?" Aramis asked casually, ambling over to take the place Constance had occupied only a few minutes before, leaning against the table. He did not want Athos studying his face.

"Tired," Porthos said, unexpectedly. "Tired and cranky." He left off guarding the door, moving to flip the chair in front of the desk around and took a seat, crossing his arms on the back. "In need of more recruits. We can't turn 'em out fast enough."

"This lot certainly isn't battle ready." Athos slid around on the wooden chair, carrying on the conversation while wondering where to manufacture an outlet for that close-held temper before d'Artagnan took it out on Marcheaux. Or Aramis. "How are our baby Musketeers[CM1] ?" He folded his elbows on the desk and tried to look like he was listening as his mind raced ahead.

"They've done themselves no harm in the couple of hours you were gone," Aramis retorted.

Here was further evidence of the strengthened bonds between these three, they could lie seamlessly without so much as a betraying glance. He expected it from Athos; the other two had never been able to lie convincingly ... before.

... before. Such an innocuous word. Here in this room, in this moment, it delineated the past and the present with surgical precision. Before - there had been no reason to lie, they had trusted enough to be honest. But it was not a matter of trust now. Before - what one experienced, the others had experienced as well. Four years of separate experiences had tipped the scales.

Now there was a careful, diplomatic distance separating Aramis and Constance from the new Inseparables.

Constance stepped away from d'Artagnan. "What did Treville really want?" she asked quietly, head down as she crossed to Athos' desk and picked up a small, sword-shaped letter opener. An exact replica of Athos' rapier, a gift, Constance had told Aramis, from Porthos and d'Artagnan, on Athos' promotion to captain.

Aramis watched d'Artagnan reach out as if to stop her, then pull his hand back.

"It's only been two weeks you've been back and I know I should give you time to readjust an all, but I'm tired of walking on eggshells. If you don't want to be married to me after all, you should say so now so I can move on with my life." Constance whirled, the letter opener pressed to a shocked d'Artagnan's chest. "I wasted enough time with Bonacieux, I'll not be wasting more of it on the likes of you. The queen will have me back in a heartbeat, so make up your mind right now. Me? Or them?"

Uh oh, Aramis thought belatedly, he had sorely misjudged the depth of her hurt. But then, he was a few years out of touch with the female mind. He dared not move, lest the other three men in the room misinterpret his intentions.

"May I have my letter opener, Madame d'Artagnan." The quiet command in Athos' voice could not be mistaken for a request.

Porthos had risen. He stepped over Aramis' feet to remove the miniature sword from the clenched fist before turning the distraught damsel into his chest. The glance he shared with Athos, over her head, had all the earmarks of an entire conversation. "You don' wanna be makin' threats like that, ma'am. That boy loves you with every particle of his heart. Ask him to show you your letters. He re-read every single one of 'em every night 'fore he slept, they're hardly more than tatters now."

d'Artagnan shuffled his feet, jaw clenched, dusky cheeks the color of wine red roses. "This is between me and Constance," he muttered savagely, though he made no attempt to remove his wife from Porthos' arms.

Alike as peas in a pod, the newlyweds, right down to their muttering, Aramis thought, propping an elbow on his hip and his chin in his hand to hide his grin. Athos poked him from behind, as if he still read Aramis like an open book.

"Much as I would like it to be," Athos caught the letter opener Porthos tossed him and sat back holding it end to end between his fingers "this is not just between you and Constance, d'Artagnan. This has been festering for far longer than a fortnight. The wounds need opening and cleansing."

Aramis approved the simile, though he was not sure he shared the sentiments. Perhaps it would be better to leave the dragon sleeping yet awhile. Who knew what chaos might ensure if they woke it.

Constance hiccupped once, the only indication Porthos' broad chest camouflaged tears and a heavy silence descended upon the men in the room.

It was Athos who spoke again, halting d'Artagnan's attempt to formulate a response with another of those speaking looks. "Constance, I cannot tell you how sorry I am that our actions have ... disturbed you."

Aramis noted the captain was choosing his words with the care of a diplomat finessing thorny negotiations.

"It was a jolt to come back to Paris and find you practically running the garrison rather than safely with the queen. I find it rather difficult to believe the excision of the extent of your responsibilities here was accidental in all those tattered letters d'Artagnan carried into battle. But that is an issue for another day."

Well, perhaps not quite as diplomatic as the circumstances might have warranted.

The letter opener made a dull thud as it lodged, quivering, in the wood of the desk. "We had no expectation of finding the capital under siege as well. It has been an eye-opening experience to return to Paris, but that too will have to be a subject for another day." Athos rose and paced around the desk to lean back beside Aramis, their shoulder's touching. "It's going to take all of us some time to adapt to these new circumstances. War has marked us in ways not even Aramis, for all his insight, can imagine."

"I've been to war with you." The rebuttal was out before Aramis could stop it ... or moderate the resentment he heard coloring the words.

Athos, hands clamped over the desk behind him, turned just his head toward the marksman. Aramis gave him the courtesy of his direct gaze, though embarrassment colored his cheeks now. Porthos' indictment still rang in his ears. 'When you were with me, I never had to worry about who was watchin' m'back.' He'd turned his back and walked away from all they'd meant to him. Without a backward glance. He was not the only one scarred by his choice.

"You have," Athos agreed, "but that war was against a collection of religious fanatics, most of whom barely knew the tip of a sword from the grip. It was child's play compared to what we have seen and done in this one."

"You're right," Aramis conceded quickly and with genuine contrition. "I'm sorry. I witnessed the aftermath of many of those battles; the devastation of our villages and towns along our part of the border." He had his own habits, instilled after four years of thinking of himself as a part of the Roubaix community. They had never been his towns or villages during his time at the abbey, only an assortment of places where misery had festered, drawing the maggots of humanity that profited from war.

"Some of those villages were razed by us," Athos continued quietly, though he released Aramis from the intense stare he'd leveled at the marksman. "Some of those French villagers died by our hand. We've been in the business of death and destruction for four years. Four years that to us, has been an eternity. We are dripping with the blood of our countrymen. We need time to draw back from that edge." He paused, running a hand over his eyes before continuing, his voice shading to that old, habitual flatness. "I will tell you we have discussed this endlessly, trying to come at a way to overcome this wall between us. We do not purposely exclude either of you; it is just instinctual now, to turn to one another to meet the needs we cannot express with words or actions."

The old Athos had rarely put together two sentences in a row, this new one had not only found his words, for the most part, that flat monotone he had so often employed was missing. The majority of that little speech had been delivered with eloquent elocution.

Constance craned her neck around to spear Athos with a sour grimace. "So sleeping together is one of those habits?"

A smile twitched the corner of the captain's mouth, though, like Aramis, he was wise enough not to let it out. "Yes." Athos replied. "You might like to know d'Artagnan offered to share your bed, madame. However, we thought that might start undesired rumors."

"And the three of you sleeping in here, won't?" Constance demanded spiritedly.

"Not unless you spread it," Athos replied with that old lift of the eyebrow. "Clairmont has been instructed to pass along the message that anyone entering these chambers without permission again, will find themselves spitted on the end of my rapier. But you are welcome to join us here, Constance. And Aramis," those blue eyes turned unexpectedly to the marksman again, "you as well." There was a twinkle in them now. "It so ingrained that we end the day together, it may well be a habit we cannot break. Though I must warn you, strategy is our usual pillow talk."

"Well," Constance huffed, setting aside Porthos' arms to return to her still blushing husband. "We could use some strategists here in Paris as well. Feron has had his way for far too long." She rose on tiptoe to kiss her spouse again, this time lingeringly rather than attempting to brand herself on his lips. "I'm satisfied with this compromise, so long as it will not make you uncomfortable."

d'Artagnan, his arms wrapped snuggly around his new wife, glanced ruefully at his companions. "Did I not tell you I am married to a saint, gentlemen? Captain, permission to -"

"Permission granted," Athos said hurriedly, making a shooing motion as he pushed off the desk to return to the chair, sighing as his gaze fell on the pile of self-reproducing paperwork neatly stacked opposite the 'leaning' corner.

"About that meeting with Tréville..." Constance's wandering hands had come upon a length of red ribbon. "You wouldn't have been there to collect ... this ... would you?"

"Get her out of her," Athos ordered grumpily.

"My my." Aramis' tone was dry as dust. "That's the Royal Military Order of St. Louis, the highest military honor awarded in France." He could not help himself. "I thought praise and glory was one of your favorite things, Porthos? When did that change?"

d'Artagnan had stopped in his tracks, staring in horror at the medal dangling from his wife's lifted hand.

"Since praise and glory involved orders to kill innocent people," the big Musketeer ground out, snatching the medal from Constance's hand. "These ain't worth the metal they're stamped on, we'd as soon throw 'em away, cept we'll be expected to display them the next time we're on parade before the stupid madman sittin' on the throne." He yanked his own from his pocket, held out an imperative hand for Athos' as well, then stomped across the room to throw all three medals in the cupboard and slam the door shut on them.

A slow burning anger infused the new silence thrown over the room.

And again, it was the diplomat that dispelled the tension. "While I know we all share Porthos' vehemence, I must remind you that such treasonous talk does not go beyond this room. And keep your voice down, for God's sake, even in here. After that little contretemps with Marcheaux and his plant in the refugee camp, we can't rule out the possibility that he's put someone in the garrison as well."

"He'll be a dead plant do I find him first," Porthos grunted, spreading his clenched fingers.

"Please do not. Should my suspicions be born out, I have other plans for Marcheaux's patsy. Come, Porthos." Athos rose from the chair he'd barely settled in, crossed the room and opened the door to the inner hallway. "It could prove to be quite fun, spiking Marcheaux's guns. Shall we start a betting pool amongst ourselves? Not knowing him yet, I'm not keen on wagering whether he's smart enough to ever figure it out, but I'd bet on how long it takes him to realize his spy has been compromised."

"I'm in for six months!" Porthos chortled immediately, sliding past Athos as he heeded the unspoken command to vacate the office.

"Oh, he's smart enough," Constance said over d'Artagnan's shoulder as her husband ushered her out as well. "But we're smarter! I'd rather bet on how long we can keep him dancing to our tune."

"Red Guard n'all, can't be that smart," Porthos rumbled.

Athos' sliced a finger across his throat, then slapped it to his lips. "Shhhhh! Until we know for sure, this is enemy territory. Act accordingly," he whispered exasperatedly.

Aramis filed out last. "Some things never change," he murmured, clapping his hat on his head as he returned the war hero's smirking, one-armed hug.


Bent History:The Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis was a military Order of Chivalry, but was not founded until 5 April 1693 by Louis XIV . I found a Wiki page showing various French medals, but the only thing I could read was the dates and that proved to be unhelpful. So I borrowed Louis XIII son's medal to give to the Musketeers for their extraordinary service on behalf of their country.

This has been a work of transformative fan fiction. The characters and settings in this story belong to the British Broadcasting Company, its successors and assigns. The story itself is the intellectual property of the author. No copyright infringement has been perpetrated for financial gain.