A/N: It ends as it began with the two.
Can you believe that 85 days ago we started on a journey together and today it comes to an end? I have to admit I am a little sad this will be the last posting on this story. I hope you have enjoyed reading this story as much as I have enjoyed sharing this tale with you. One last shout out to my beta Mountain Cat who had to corrected 86 chapters; that is dedication!
I have one last favor to ask of all that read along. Please leave one last review on the story. Let me know what you liked, what didn't work, and what could be improved. If you have any final questions on the story, I'll do my best to answer them. Even if you have never left a review before, please consider writing one. Until next time…
Two days later, the three musketeers stood in a courtroom as the sentence was pronounced on the three prisoners they had brought back from Dieppe. Each of the musketeers was called upon to present evidence and they all did, in a clear, concise, non-emotional manner, even though Aramis knew it was taking a huge toll on his two brethren.
The hanging was set for the next morning, and once again the three musketeers were front and center for the event. Unlike his wife's hanging, Athos didn't turn away this time, but watched as the noose drew tight and the light was extinguished from each man's eyes. Only then did he turn away and head back to the garrison where he threw up the little bit of breakfast Aramis had forced him to eat.
This wasn't the first time he'd seen death, and he wasn't sure why this one had affected him so, maybe because it felt personnel. He wasn't alone as Porthos too looked green about the gills, making Athos suspect his breakfast hadn't stayed down either. The captain, knowing busy hands helped keep minds occupied, assigned the three men to clean all the weapons in the garrison's armory. It would take them the rest of the day, but not be so strenuous as to tax the recovering Athos. Also, it would allow them to talk privately amongst themselves, which the captain thought would be the best therapy of all.
Later that night, when the trio was at dinner, the captain made a point of walking down to see them and compliment them on the thoroughness of the job they had performed in the armory that day. What he saw at that table, eating together, were three men, tired no doubt, but in a good frame of mind. Aramis and Porthos, as always, were grousing with each other and Athos was looking on with a slightly amused and bemused expression. Every now and then the swordsman would offer up a witticism of his own, but mostly he observed from the sidelines. Treville left the canteen that night pleased with what he had brought about.
The next morning, after muster, Treville asked Athos to come to his office and fill out some paperwork required for a new musketeer. There was always paperwork, Treville complained, for everything in the garrison. He admitted he wondered sometimes if he was a soldier or a clerk.
One of the items Athos had to declare was if he died, who should receive his pension. When the musketeer came to that question he paused, having no clue what to put down.
"What happens if I don't list a recipient for my pension?" Athos asked the captain who was behind his desk dealing with some other paperwork.
Treville raised his head and glanced over at the side table, where Athos sat, quill motionless. "I have never been asked that before. I suppose," he mused, "it goes back to the King's treasury."
"And who sees this paperwork?" He wondered about naming someone from Pinon, but then that would tie his identify to the town.
"It is filed with the King's clerk. And I keep a copy."
"So it is a fairly public record," Athos stated flatly.
"Well, I don't know if I'd go that far, but yes, a number of people will read it and know what it says."
Silence settled over the room as Athos stared out the window for a few minute before asking, "Can I list more than one person?"
"Yes," the captain nodded his head. "That is allowed, but you must also list how you want it spilt."
Treville watched as Athos' eyes dropped to the form once more, as if an answer might have magically appeared on the paper. Finally, the quill scratched an answer on the line and Athos moved on.
Later that evening, when he read over the form to make sure it was complete before submitting it, he discovered that Athos had spilt his pension equally between Porthos and Aramis. The captain thought it spoke volumes that Athos was going to great lengths to divorce himself from his past. That triggered another thought in the captain's mind and he rose from his chair, stretched his tired back muscles and went over to the locked cabinet in his room. Finding what he was looking for, he relocked the cabinet and headed outside, down the stairs and past the empty table, to which Porthos, Aramis and Athos had staked their claim, at least in the warmer weather. It was hard to believe nearly a year had passed since he had first run Athos over with his horse.
Climbing the stairs to the section of the garrison where Athos was quartered, on the second floor overlooking the courtyard, he placed the hand holding the object behind his back while rapping on the door with his other one. Athos had since returned to his own room, though it was not unusual to find the trio in each other's quarters. Tonight, when Athos called to come in, and the captain complied, he could see the man was alone, reading.
"Do you always let strangers who come knocking on your door at night in without a question?" Treville asked as he entered the room, shutting the door behind him.
"If they were strangers, they would be greeted with the muzzle of my gun. However, I recognized your footsteps in the corridor and assumed I had nothing to fear from my captain." Athos gave him a small quirk of his lips that passed as a smile for this man. "Am I wrong in my assumption?"
"No. Or at least I hope not. I am here simply to return your property to you. You indicated, when you became a musketeer, you might like it back." Slowly, Treville held out the sword he had been concealing.
Athos rose and accepted the sheathed blade from the captain. "Did I ever tell you the history of this blade?" he asked as he gestured for the captain to have a seat on the only chair in the room, while he perched on the edge of the bed, the sword resting across his knees.
"It has been in my family for generations, passed down from father to son. I was perhaps ten at the time and I eyed this sword, as it hung on the wall of our drawing room. I always had dreams, not of being a Comte, but a great solider, fighting for justice. So one day, I hauled a chair over to the fireplace, used it to climb onto the mantle and removed the sword from the wall. It was heavier, much heavier, than the practice blades I was allowed to use. I finally managed to climb down with it. Then, I struggled to remove it from the scabbard, which I did. Finally, gripping it with all my might, I lifted that blade in the air. I felt like the greatest warrior on the face of the earth in that brief moment."
Athos rose, placed the sword on a nearby chest, then hunted down a relatively clean glass. Finding one, he filled it from the wine bottle that was sitting on the floor near his bed and offered it to Treville, who accepted it with a murmured thanks. Athos sat back on the bed, tipped the green bottle to his lips and took a long pull.
After he lowered the bottle, he picked up the thread of his tale. "My father walked in and saw me standing there with the family sword. He was already tired of my obsession with the military, to which he felt I paid more attention than the things needed to run an estate. Me, standing there with the sword, well it didn't sit well with him. He ripped it from my hands so quickly that the blade, even though it had dulled over the years, still cut deeply into my palm."
Slowly, the swordsman rotated his hand towards the ceiling, allowing Treville to see the faint scar scoring his palm.
"My mother was upset that I bled on her carpet. She had the maids scrubbing it for days trying to remove the stain. My father simply took the sword and hung it back up. Then he told me I was such a disappointment and he was glad he had another heir, for he had serious doubts I would ever amount to anything."
Athos took another swig from the wine bottle, his eyes never leaving the blade on the chest. Treville began to understand a little of the real man that was beneath the carefully crafted façade. If this story was any indication of what Athos' childhood was like, no wonder the man harbored deep-seated self-doubts. The captain rose from his chair and picked up the sword; then he walked over to where Athos sat on the bed clutching the wine bottle. Without ceremony, he stepped up on the bed and placed the sword on the two hooks in the wall alongside the bed. Stepping back down, he took the bottle away from Athos and placed it on the chest.
"Son, I want you to look at that sword on your wall every day and know your father was wrong. You have amounted to a great deal. By agreeing to become a musketeer, you are protecting the most important person in all of France. You have agreed to lay your life on the line for King and Country and there is no duty or honor greater than that."
Athos raised his disbelieving eyes to stare at his captain.
"Yes, I know you have lost a beloved brother, but I tell you, you have gained two more equally important ones in Aramis and Porthos. Let them in, Athos. Trust them with your emotions as you trust them with your life. I guarantee they will not let you down. You can't go it alone, son."
Lowering his eyes, Athos stared at the scar on his palm, unconsciously stroking it with his thumb.
"And though your father may not have believed in you, I do. You, Athos, are destined for more, so much more than you can see."
When Treville grew quiet, Athos sat, head bowed. Treville walked over, placed a companionable hand on the swordsman's good shoulder and gave a squeeze. More was said with that simple gesture, than all the words in the world. Athos bowed his head even deeper as he felt tears welling in his eyes.
Treville released his grip and moved away. "I'll see you at muster in the morning. Don't be late." With that, the captain took his leave.
Athos sat very still on his bed for a long time, thinking over the past months and the words Treville had left him with. He desperately wanted to believe, but his experience in life, to this point, seemed the exact opposite of what Treville was telling him. He lay back on the bed, and let his eyes wander to the sword placed on his wall. Perhaps, the best he could do was take things one day at a time and try to keep in mind Treville's words, for more than anything he wanted them to be true. A home, brothers, duty and honor. A musketeer. Perhaps his childhood dream had come true after all.