Title: War Scars
Characters: d'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, Aramis, cameos and OCs – GEN
Disclaimer/Warning: Nothing you recognize is mine. Including the odd movie line. I like to work in quotes now and again.
"War is only a cowardly escape from the problems of peace." – Thomas Mann
Chapter 9: Epilogue
There wasn't a sound in the room when Athos finished speaking. It was as if they were all afraid to so much as breathe. The loss in his voice filled the room like another presence, sorrow finding its way into Constance's heart even though she'd never once met these men who'd died for her friends, for her husband. Tears burned her eyes and regret pressed on her heart.
"I'm so sorry," Constance whispered.
She was sitting in a chair on the other side of the desk from Athos, a hand to her belly as though to ward off the ache that spread through her body at what they'd all endured—what she'd forced them to relive. She looked across at Athos, then lifted her eyes to where Porthos was now slouched against the wall next to the window, staring out sightlessly across the garrison, having at some point exchanged places with Aramis during Athos' story.
"I'm so very sorry." It was inadequate, but not hollow. She wished with everything in her that these men had been spared this weight, this pain. She wished war had never come to them, scarred them, changed them.
"The dreams will…," Aramis spoke up, clearing his throat and shifting his feet slightly, his hat clutched tightly by his fingertips, "…they'll abate in time. Especially if," he glanced at Constance, "he is able to talk through them."
"Did you dream of Savoy?" Porthos asked suddenly, his voice bouncing off the glass that separated them from the outside. When Aramis didn't immediately reply, Porthos turned to face him. "At the Monastery," he clarified. "Did you?"
Aramis swallowed and ducked his head slightly. "Yes."
"And 'ow did you…," Porthos frowned, stepping away from the window. "'ow did you find your way out of it?"
Aramis, turned his hat around in his hands a few times, then dropped it at his side as he lifted his shoulders helplessly. "I…didn't. Not always."
Constance watched as Porthos stood next to Athos' chair, both men looking at their friend with unreadable expressions.
"They would, um…," Aramis paused, clearing his throat again, emotion clearly working against him. "They would confuse me," he admitted. "I didn't always wake knowing where I was. The Abbott recommended prayer, of course. Fasting. And then there were the children," his eyes lifted from their study of the floorboards to meet Athos'. "Caring for them helped me anchor onto something real."
"And that helped?" Athos asked, his voice rough from over-use.
Aramis nodded. "It did. I didn't find myself getting quite so…lost. Without you."
"You always 'ad us," Porthos said softly. "Even when we wasn't there."
The quiet invaded once more and Constance held herself achingly still, watching the three men watch each other, as though waiting for something.
"Bastien," Aramis said, startling them all. "He was buried in a soldier's grave, you said?"
Athos nodded. "He and George, together."
"And d'Artagnan thought of him—of them—as Musketeers?" Aramis continued.
"We all did, in a way," Porthos replied. "They would 'ave been, too…'ad they survived."
Aramis looked at Athos. "I think I know where d'Artagnan may have gone."
With a look of dawning realization, Athos sat forward, his hair long enough to fall across his collar as he lifted his face toward Aramis. Just as he was about to speak, a quick rap came at the door and a boy entered without waiting to be summoned. He was young, thin, dirt streaking his face and arms. In his fingers he clutched a folded piece of paper.
"Supposed to give this to an Athos," the boy declared, oblivious of the collective surprise in the eyes of the four adults staring at him.
"I am Athos."
The boy handed Athos the note, then stood with his hand out. Athos looked at him blankly.
"Said you'd give me a livre."
Athos arched a brow, though his expression was bemused. "Is that so?"
Athos fished a coin from his pocket and deposited it in the boy's outstretched hand. Without another word, the boy turned and exited the room. Athos looked at the note, then frowned.
"It's from Treville."
"What?" Constance sat forward, gripping the arms of the chair.
"It's about d'Artagnan, isn't it?" Porthos demanded, watching Athos read the missive.
When Athos nodded, Constance felt a weight in her chest, making it nearly impossible to take a full breath.
"You were right," Athos stated in a dull voice, lifting his blue eyes up to meet Aramis' solemn gaze.
Porthos snatched the note from Athos hand, then cursed. "Can't believe we didn't think of it before."
"What?" Constance stood, drawing three sets of eyes. "Where is he?"
Aramis didn't answer her; instead he put his hat on his head and marched toward the door.
"Athos?" Constance implored.
"Come with us," Athos ordered her, moving around his desk and plucking his hat from the nail that held it against the wall. "He will be in need of friends."
Before Constance could ask again, Porthos collected her by an arm and escorted her from the room and down the stairs. The daylight had grown long in the time they'd been in Athos' office, listening to his story. Shadows stretched across the garrison courtyard as the four headed from the barracks and through the stone archway toward the edge of Paris.
The men were silent; Constance wondered at the fact that they'd elected to walk rather than ride. It seemed as though they were all preparing for something, but she wasn't sure what. Porthos didn't release her arm and the loose grip of his hand felt less like support and more like a need for connection and reassurance. She stretched her legs to keep up with their longer strides, not breaking the heavy quiet that surrounded them with questions, though so many were filling her she was fairly choking on them.
It's not until they turn down one particular street that she realized where they were headed: the Musketeer cemetery.
"Oh," she breathed, purposefully slowing.
Aramis and Athos continue forward, but Porthos was tugged back by her slower gait. He turned to look at her, concerned.
"Go," she encouraged, her hand once more at her belly, her heart pounding. "He needs you. Go."
"'e needs you, too," Porthos turned to face her fully, his other hand at her opposite elbow, his dark eyes heavy on hers. "'e'll need you most of all."
Constance shook her head. "Later," she said, giving him a tremulous smile. "This…this isn't about me. This is about…about you. About being a soldier and a brother. Not a husband. He'll need me later. Right now," she pushed gently against his chest, "he needs you."
Porthos studied her for a moment, his eyes softening. "You are an amazing woman, Constance d'Artagnan. If I could pick anyone to take care of my friend, it would be you."
Constance's lips tipped up in a smile, and she closed her eyes as Porthos pressed a soft kiss on the crown of her head. She held still as he turned to catch up with the others, then walked slowly behind to watch. And wait.
Athos and Aramis were standing at the edge of the cemetery, waiting for Porthos before entering. Constance positioned herself at the low wall that surrounded the space and sat down, her trembling hands braced on the stone. Just down from her, she could see Minister Treville leaning against a tree, his sharp eyes keeping watch over the kneeling figure at the center of the field. He lifted his chin when he saw the three men standing just beyond the cemetery edge and Constance felt a shimmer slip through her as the older man nodded to Athos.
The men slowly approached d'Artagnan; Constance could see now that he was moving away loose dirt to plant a white cross. The cross itself was rough-hewn, as if it had been constructed hastily or without skill. As she scanned the area around d'Artagnan's bent back, she saw four others like it stretching from her husband to the last grave.
Mathieu, DuFour, Magliore, George, and Bastien, she realized, thinking of the stories told to her over the last few days. All fallen Musketeers in heart if not in name. There wouldn't be one for Bauer, now that d'Artagnan knew the truth. But she knew he still mourned the loss of his friend in his heart, as the man was no longer part of his life.
As they approached, Athos and Aramis removed their hats, holding them at their sides in respect for this sacred place. d'Artagnan continued to position the cross, making no indication that he was aware of an audience. Constance clutched the stones at her sides, needing the grounding, needing to be reminded that she was part of this, even as she held herself separate.
Finally, satisfied with the job he'd done, d'Artagnan pushed to his feet, moving stiffly as though he'd been in that same position for hours. He took his time brushing the dirt from his breeches before turning to face his friends. Constance winced at the paleness of his face, the sorrow in the lines she saw drawing his mouth low, tilting his eyes as if they were weighted by unshed tears.
"Bastien woulda made a fine Musketeer," Porthos spoke up, nodding at the last cross.
d'Artagnan inspected the palm of one hand. "He was headstrong," he said, his voice sounding like crushed glass, sending a spike through Constance's heart. "Didn't listen to anyone."
"Sounds like someone else we know," Athos replied, a smile coloring his tone.
They were quiet for a beat, then d'Artagnan looked up, his dark eyes fathomless, taking in his three friends in one glance. "Out of all of them," he gestured behind him at the crosses, "all we lost…that one was on me."
"No, Athos." He shook his head, cutting off Athos' protest. He looked down at his hand once more. "I should have…done something more. Something…different."
"All leaders feel the same, d'Artagnan," Athos replied, his voice low and solemn, the weight of it keeping d'Artagnan from protesting further.
Constance darted her eyes to where Treville stood listening, hands folded in front of him, head down as if in agreement.
"There isn't one man lost that we don't feel, we don't question what we could have done, how we could have prevented it," Athos continued.
"How do you…," d'Artagnan swallowed painfully, looking up and away as he fought back the emotion threatening to consume him. "How do you carry on? How do you…make the dreams stop?"
Athos bowed his head, but Aramis stepped forward. "You look to your brothers," he replied, his honeyed voice like a balm against the painful edges of the afternoon. "You draw them close and you remember…you remember every day that they have your back. They protect you."
Constance felt a tear slip down her cheek as d'Artagnan's chin trembled, his chest heaving slightly as he kept his pain at bay.
"You did that," Porthos said then, drawing d'Artagnan's dark eyes. "You did the most important thing: at the end, you were 'is brother. You never left 'im."
"But, I did—"
"No," Athos shook his head, moving to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Porthos. "You never let him go. You stayed with him, d'Artagnan."
Constance saw d'Artagnan's breath hitch as his eyes darted from Porthos to Aramis. From her position, she could now see all their faces and found herself lifting a fist against her heart at the naked emotion present. It was as if no one else were around, the fact that they were surrounded by their fallen brothers a perfect backdrop to erasing all walls, all protective masks, and allowing themselves to be true with each other for just this one moment.
Porthos looked across to Aramis as he spoke to d'Artagnan, picking up where Athos left off. "In 'is 'eart, Bastien was always your brother." He put a hand on d'Artagnan's shoulder. "'e might've been separated by time or circumstance, but you were never far from 'is mind."
Aramis brought his chin up, pressing his lips together at Porthos' words, his eyes showing he heard every one.
"When it mattered," Porthos continued, "when it really mattered, 'e was there. Fighting by your side. Willing to die for something 'e believed in."
Aramis nodded his thanks at Porthos, his eyes shining. He put a hand on d'Artagnan's other shoulder in support of Porthos' words. d'Artagnan flinched at the touch, and for one wild moment, Constance thought he might run.
But then Athos stepped forward—close enough d'Artagnan had to look at him and not the grave markers around them.
"I am proud to be your Captain," Athos began, glancing quickly at Aramis, "and friend. This war did nothing to change that."
Constance looked across quickly at Treville and saw him staring at the four men. He knew what he'd asked of them. He knew he was simply exchanging one war for another. She could see it on his face: guilt battling acceptance. He needed these men to fight for Paris as only they could: with integrity and determination, watching out for each other and bringing each other home.
One way or another.
"I realize now that there are things worse than war," d'Artagnan said quietly, his voice a low hum against the darkening day. "Betrayal. Cowardice. Greed. Disloyalty. All the things we came home to."
Athos reached for d'Artagnan and gripped the back of the younger man's neck. Now, through d'Artagnan, all four men were all connected. Constance felt her heart tremble at that realization, knowing it was true on multiple levels. She felt the weight of that responsibility settle on her shoulders like a mantel.
"It is our duty, then," Athos said to d'Artagnan, his voice low enough Constance had to strain to hear it, "to fight back. To remember, and to remind."
Porthos nodded as Athos continued.
"We survived this war, when so many others didn't, for a reason."
d'Artagnan nodded, and to Constance's surprise, lifted his arms to clasp the shoulders of the two men standing next to him. Constance felt another tear follow the track of the first down her cheek as she observed the four men standing in a circle, connected and, finally, united.
"All for one," Aramis began.
"One for all," Porthos finished.
They stood close for several moment longer, until Constance felt her legs beginning to grow numb from the rock wall and Treville stepped back into the shadow of the trees, his presence no longer needed to ensure the safety of his men. She waited until they began to talk to each other in normal tones, the crisis of emotion having passed, then stood and began to slowly walk alone back to the garrison.
They had a fight on their hands, there was no mistaking that. Feron had his sights on something bigger than Governor and with Marcheaux poised to do his will, the Musketeers would have their work cut out for them. But after what they'd survived, and what they'd sacrificed for each other, Constance found herself daring to believe they could win.
The scars they brought home with them only served to make them stronger, more determined. A strange and wonderful feeling made its way into her heart as she crossed under the stone arch of the garrison's entry way: hope.
She went about the remainder of the day, watching as Athos and d'Artagnan rounded up the cadets, breaking them into groups and reorganizing their training. She stood in the doorway of her quarters—their quarters, she reminded herself once more—watching as Aramis slouched lazily against a post, eating his dinner from a bowl while Porthos sat on the table, his booted feet on the bench seat, both adding commentary to d'Artagnan's training of a cadet.
She smiled, realizing what Athos was doing as he made his way up the stairs to his office, casually waving toward d'Artagnan to keep up the training efforts. Putting d'Artagnan in charge of the cadets gave him something to anchor to, just as Aramis had mentioned. It gave him a specific purpose to focus on when the night drew close and the memories were too thick to avoid.
As the last rays of the day's light retreated from the courtyard and Aramis and Porthos noisily made their way to a tavern close by, Constance retreated into the bedroom, waiting for her husband to return. When d'Artagnan stepped into the doorway, he stumbled to a halt seeing her on the bed, hair spilling around her shoulders, white nightgown slipping sideways to bare one arm.
He shut and latched the door behind him and silently began to remove his clothes, the clatter of his harquebus, sword, and dagger making her smirk. There was something incredibly attractive about the sound of weapons hitting her floor as the soldier bearing them made way for something more important.
Later, she lay against him, head on his shoulder, nothing between them but air. He was quiet, eyes on the dancing shadows on their ceiling tossed there from the candlelight. She began to trace the scars that told the new story of this man she'd married.
The knotted one at his shoulder where he'd nearly been killed by a fellow French soldier, the seam across his muscled thigh where he had fought through fire to save a brother, the crescent around his eye where he was carried through Hell, and finally the long line across his ribs where he'd lost the most.
Individually, they told stories of bravery and sacrifice. Together, they told the story of a brotherhood.
"I'm sorry," d'Artagnan said quietly. "They're not very pretty to look at."
"Hush," Constance moved her wandering finger to his lips. "That's not true at all."
"I should have told you…."
"Perhaps," Constance said, resting her hand against the side of his face, relishing the feeling of him pressing his cheek into her palm for comfort. "But I understand now why you didn't."
"I wish you didn't have to see them."
Lifting up to her elbow, Constance turned his head so that he faced her. She looked directly at his eyes, making sure he heard her.
"I think your scars are the most beautiful things I've ever seen," she told him honestly. "Because of them, I get to keep you. And I plan on hanging on tight. No matter what."
d'Artagnan pulled her head down and kissed her forehead, then trailed his lips along her cheekbone until he finally found her mouth. She sank into the kiss, breathing him in, grateful that in the next battle he fought, she would be by his side.
a/n: Thank you for reading. I truly hope you enjoyed, and I would love to hear from you.