This is it - the Epilogue I guess. Thank you all so much for reading and reviewing. This is my first story and the response has been overwhelming! I've started work on a few others so I'll have more for our Musketeers to come soon!
Two days later, Aramis lay in bed, the sun spilling into the room filling it with light and warmth. Someone had opened his window to allow the salty breeze to filter in from the sea. Slowly, his door squeaked open and a little curly head peered into the room.
"Come in Rene," said Aramis, opening one eye to regard the boy.
The boy slowly approached the bed. Aramis struggled into an upright position, wincing and coughing slightly as he lowered his ravaged back against a pillow. Though much improved, the lash marks made being comfortable nearly impossible. His heavily bandaged torso was hidden under a white shirt – the only visible indication of what had passed between himself and the General was the heavy bruising around his jaw and cheekbone though the marks it would leave on his back and his soul would stay with him forever. The boy ran to fetch the glass of water that stood on the side table and presented it to his uncle who took it with a smile.
"Are you ok?" whispered the boy. "Mamma said you were hurt. She and Porthos have been very worried about you. They said I shouldn't come in here, but I wanted to make sure you were ok…."
Aramis smiled. "I'm much better for your company. Better, but bored! Between you and me," he whispered mischievously, "Porthos is a bit of a worrier."
"Mamma too," Rene replied in a conspiratorial whisper.
"So, Mamma and Porthos were worried, but not Athos?" Aramis asked.
Rene shook his head. "Athos didn't say anything, but I knew he was worried. He was even quieter than usual and he was here all the time at night. Porthos said it was so you wouldn't be alone…"
"Athos? Even quieter?" asked Aramis. "I didn't think that was possible," he said which had Rene giggling.
"I wasn't worried," said Athos, entering the room, "because I knew you were too stubborn to die. Besides, if you are ever to be killed, it will be by me when it becomes impossible to silence you any other way," he said, his bright blue eyes full of mirth.
Aramis grinned up at the swordsman, who affectionately and gently placed a hand on his shoulder. "How are you feeling?" he asked.
"Fine," said the marksman, then grinned sheepishly. "Well, maybe not my best, but still better than most."
"Remind me ta review the definition of fine with you again," grumbled Porthos as he entered the room with Annabella. Rene laughed from the foot of the bed. Aramis chuckled.
"Will you be able to ride?" asked Athos. "With the General…passing," he said delicately, "his reply to the King is no longer of importance, but we must inform his Majesty of what has passed."
Aramis nodded, "it will be…uncomfortable, but I will be ready to ride on the morrow." Athos nodded.
"No," whispered the boy. "You can stay here! Stay with Mamma and me! Mamma won't mind! We're family! Please Mamma, please!" he said crawling over Aramis' legs to beg before his mother. Annabella reached out her hand and cupped her son's face.
"I'm sorry, my little warrior, but your uncle must return to Paris. He has his duty to the King," she said, her eyes shining with pride. Aramis looked at his sister and nephew and his heart burned in his chest.
"But then we will be all alone," said Rene, quietly. The sound of defeat in the boy's voice broke every adult heart in the room.
"Rene," said Aramis, "Come here."
The boy scuttled up the bed and nestled against his uncle. Aramis suppressed the wince of pain as the action aggravated his injuries – something Athos and Porthos both made mental notes of.
"Rene, what did I say to you? What did I promise?" asked Aramis softly.
"You promised…you promised that you would come back…that you would teach me to be a musketeer," said the boy.
"And a musketeer never breaks his promise," said Aramis sagely. "I promise you that though I may not always be with you here at D'Herblay, I will always be with you here," he said tapping the boy's chest where his heart was, "As you shall be in mine. I will be back to check on you as often as I can – though it may be a very long time between visits – as long as I am welcome," he said, turning his head to look at his sister.
"Don't be an idiot," she said, her eyes filled with fire and tears. "You are always welcome. As are your brothers," she said, beaming at Athos and Porthos. Porthos drew in a breath and blushed slightly – whether it was caused by emotion or once more by the beauty of the incredible woman beside him, he could still not be sure.
Aramis smiled at her, his dark eyes reflecting her green ones, communicating a lifetime of love and pride and a promise of family that could not be put into words. Rene wriggled and Aramis pulled him closer. Rene placed his head on the crook of Aramis' neck and Aramis lowered his head to rest on the boy's, their dark curls blending perfectly. They all were silent for a few minutes until two sets of soft snores drifted through the room.
Annabella's light laugh tinkled like a chime as she drew a blanket over her sleeping son and brother before exiting the room with the two musketeer, all three wearing matching grins.
The next morning, after a careful inspection of his wounds from the cook and Annabella, Aramis made his way outside to where Athos, Porthos and their three horses stood waiting.
Aramis turned to face his sister and embraced her tightly. She pulled back slightly and kissed him on the forehead.
"This is the first time we'll be parting where my heart won't be breaking," said Aramis, a roguish grin on his face.
"Perhaps I'm losing my touch," she laughed. Aramis laughed as well before cupping her face in his hand.
"I love you sister," he said, eyes beaming. "I cannot tell you how much it means to me to have family."
Annabella laughed and wiped a tear from her eye. "You've always had family," she said looking over his shoulder at Porthos and Athos.
Aramis looked at them grinning and dropped his head and blushed. "I'm not sure how I deserve all this…"
"I told you Aramis," she said, "It's your heart. Your heart is your strength. It draws people to you and drives you to be the man you are. The man we are all proud to call brother." Aramis beamed at her, and kissing her cheek they turned and made their way down the steps to the waiting horses. When they reached his mare, Aramis stroked her nose affectionately. She nuzzled his chest, and nickered, admonishing him slightly.
"I know," he whispered to her. "I'm sorry I haven't visited. I've been a little tied up."
She nickered once again and affectionately nudged his shoulder. Turning once more to face his sister and nephew, Aramis crouched and opened his arms to the boy who flung himself into them. Aramis grimaced as his stitches protested and the lacerations on his back made themselves known again. Still, Aramis clung tighter to the boy.
"You promise you'll come back?" Rene whispered.
"On my honour as a musketeer," Aramis whispered back into the curly head. "And you remember your promise to me," he said with a mischievous grin.
The boy pulled away giggling and stood by his mother. "Oh, I will!" he said, looking up at her.
"Oh really," said Annabella. "And what did you promise?"
"I promised to cause some trouble for you!" he said, mischievous grin matching his uncle's.
"Not too much!" called Aramis.
"Right," replied Rene. "Not too much." The adults all laughed.
Aramis turned, and with Porthos' help mounted his mare and settled in the saddle. It would be a long and difficult trip, but it was hard to think about the pain when his heart was so full.
Athos stepped forward and bowed to Annabella, who curtsied delicately. She laughed then and drew him into an embrace. Startled at first, Athos was smiling when they separated.
"Family doesn't bow," she said teasingly.
Athos smiled. Could it be possible for him too to regain a little of what he lost in this big hearted family?
"And family doesn't ask," he told her earnestly, "If you ever need anything, you need only send word and we will be here with as much speed as possible."
"I know," she said, beaming, as green gaze met blue. "Thank you, Athos, for everything." With a small grin and a kiss to her hand, Athos turned and mounted his horse and waited with his brother.
Finally, Porthos stepped forward and took his place before Annabella. He ruffled Rene's hair, "See ya around," he said roughly, failing to hide the emotion in his voice. Rene beamed up at Porthos and bowed. Porthos cleared his throat, overcome with the boy's gesture.
Annabella stepped towards him and she took his face in her hands. The light shone on her dark hair making it glisten.
"Oh god," thought Porthos as his heart melted again. He blushed and looked away.
She smiled and raised his head to meet her gaze, and kissed his lips. Behind them, Athos raised his eyebrow; Aramis' jaw had dropped open before erupting into a huge grin.
"Promise me you'll take care of him," she said. "That you'll take care of all of you."
Porthos smiled and brought his hand to her face. "I promise," he said.
"I know," she replied, beaming at him.
Grinning and blushing, he turned away and mounted his horse, ignoring the matching smirks on his brother's faces, he urged his horse down the long drive, Athos following.
Aramis hesitated for a moment and looked at his sister and her son, both faces beaming back at him through happy tears and waving at him as he set out, their eyes shining with love. He paused for a moment, sending a thankful prayer to his god for the gift that was his family and tipping his hat to his sister and nephew, he rode away, following his brothers, his dark eyes blazing with love for the family he was leaving and the one he was catching up to.