The sun shone brightly overhead as the three men made their way towards the southern coast of France. Porthos and Athos chatted merrily and lazily – the heat and the hazy coastline on the horizon brightening even Athos' typically sombre tones, giving them an uncharacteristic cheerfulness. It had been a long but easy journey, and there would be an expected delay in their return trip to Paris while they waited for the General's response to the King's missive, giving the musketeers a promise of a few days of sunshine and shoreline.

The only thing marring the journey south so far was the missing banter of their normally boisterous third.

Aramis trailed behind his brothers, an a-typical melancholy surrounding the marksman. He casually offered a nonchalant reply when directly called upon by his brothers, but otherwise he remained in a distracted, restless silence.

Their brother's unrest was not unnoticed by Porthos and Athos; indeed, anyone who had ever met the charming and effervescent marksman could tell that something was off. On more than one occasion Porthos had made to confront the man, but a look from Athos had him sighing in frustration but holding his peace. Now though, about a half-day's ride out from their destination, Aramis' inner turmoil seemed to be nearing its climax as Athos called a halt and instructed that they make camp for the night.

"Now then," said Athos as he lazily swirled his wine around his glass, "Will you be telling us what is troubling you or will we need to beat it out of you?" Aramis who had just returned with an armload of firewood from the surrounding forest dropped it in surprise.

"Personally, I would prefer we tackle whatever it is prior to our arrival in D'Herblay, as the wine in this region is exquisite and I should hate to have whatever's bothering you souring my appreciation of it," he drawled, the hint of his noble upbringing apparent. Porthos, who sat picking at the remaining bones from the meal the trio had just eaten, grinned.

Aramis looked from one smug face to the other, shook his head and sighed, a slow smile creeping to his face. "I suppose there's no point in telling you that I'm fine?"

Porthos barked a laugh, "First of all 'Mis, you seem to be unclear as to what the word "fine" means. Second, you're a terrible liar. Even a blind man could see somethin's wrong with ya – "

"Though a deaf man might thank you for the respite from your typical incessant chatter," quipped Athos.

Porthos grinned and continued. "You can't hide when something's bothering you from us, 'Mis. We've seen it growing on you the closer we get to the coast. Now you ain't gotta tell us what's what, but you know we're here for ya if ya need to unburden yourself with whatever's got you acting like this."

Aramis looked again at each brother – Porthos, warm, earnest, and protective, ready to fight whatever monster was plaguing his brother; and Athos, loyalty, strength and concern hidden in the frozen depths of his blue gaze. Aramis sighed again, a small but true smile on his face now as he looked at his brothers and inwardly thanked God for whatever he had done to deserve their love.

Aramis drew a deep breath and stared deeply into their small campfire. "I am sorry mes amis, if my brooding has bothered you," he said softly. "A weight has been growing on me as we set out on this mission." He hesitated, searching for words, "My father," he said slowly, "Is the General D'Herblay – a minor noble in these parts. It is to him that we are delivering the King's missive."