Actually I wanted to end the story with the last chapter, but thanks to "Pallysd'Artagnan" – who gave me some new ideas – here is another one!
As the sky is turning into a darker shade of blue, the birds stop singing and silence hovers over the convoy, they come to a stop. The clearing in between the woods shall be the place to rest a few hours before starting to ride again. While some soldiers are building up the tents, others start searching for sticks to make some fires. Some are helping to get the wounded men into one of the tents. Aramis doesn't look away from his patients for a moments, as he follows them into the tent. The long journey had exhausted them all, some wounds were ripped open again thanks to the bouncing of the wagons. The medics had tended to the injuries as good as possible while riding, but they have to stitch them properly now that they have the time.
Aramis is deeply concentrated on stitching up an older companion, as Treville enters. The medic doesn't even notice that the First Minister of France has entered, as he keeps focused on the needle in his hand and the bloody flesh beneath it. So unlikely Aramis, he flinches as a hand is placed on his shoulder. Just now, he looks up and in the face of the former Captain of the musketeers. "Minister, I haven't heard you." Aramis goes back to work to make the last stitches and bandages the wound tightly.
"I know, Aramis. You were deeply concentrated." A look of concern lays on Trevilles face as he inspects one of his best men. "You still haven't changed or washed. And the dark circles under your eyes show that you haven't slept properly for a lot of time. Aramis you're fading away."
The medic looks confused, as he doesn't quite know what the Minister means. He knows his clothes are quite dirty by now, and he feels his eyes being heavy and tired every now and then, but he doesn't feel like fading away. He has some important work to do and for that washing can wait. The Minister sighs. "There's a small creek near the camp. Go and get all this blood off of you, you're scaring the men. Then let someone see to your wounds, you probably haven't tended to them since the battle."
Aramis frowns, looking at the now unconscious man in front of him. "I can't take a break now."
"Aramis you're no use for us when you're tired and exhausted. Wash, eat, sleep. That's a command." The marksman is about to argue, as Treville shots him a strict look. Defeated Aramis leaves the tent. As he makes his way over to the creek, he suddenly feels weak and exhausted. He thinks about all the things he still has to do the salves he has to make, the dressings he has to change, the leg he will have to amputate if the man doesn't get better soon. Aramis strips from his clothes, slowly walking into the water. It's cold but as it just goes to his knees, it's bearable. He takes his dirtied shirt and dips it in the wetness, before using it as a sponge rubbing all the blood from his body. Just then he notices all the smaller cuts and bruises on his torso. The medic carefully cleans them, before putting his head under the water. The coldness seems to waken his senses. He suddenly feels a slight burn on his skin where the cuts are, feels his hands tremble and legs shake. He feels the pounding in his head and his heavy lids. He puts on some clean clothes, before going back to the camp. As he walks over to the sleeping men lying by the fire, the tents built up peacefully between the trees, the image of a horrifying night comes to his mind. No, it's much warmer. Aramis shakes his head to get rid of the image, that comes to his mind every now and then. It should be long forgotten.
The medic lays down beside d'Artagnan, near by the fire. Sleep overwhelms him fast.
Athos eyes the sleeping soldiers, making sure everyone is fine. He had volunteered for first watch, as he wouldn't sleep anyways. Even if the war was over now, his mind is still on high alert. He expects an ambush or attack every second, thinking that this silence is unnatural and feeling as all of this is just a too beautiful dream, that will be broken by death and screams soon. How can something so cruel end so suddenly, how can be just over after four years? He feels an unease feeling spreading in his chest as he tries to see something in the darkness. Sometimes he thinks to have seen a man between the forest, or a musket aiming at him, but then a bird flies away or a deer runs over to his mother. There is nothing dangerous out here.
The Captain had watched how Aramis went to the creek a few minutes ago, and is relieved to see his friend coming back washed and clean. He once again notices the exhaustion on his brothers face and watches him as he lays down beside d'Artagnan. At the sight of the two men finally finding rest, a little bit of the weight on his shoulders is lifted. They would be fine.
It's in the early morning hours, where they're carrying the injured back onto the wagons. Porthos is able to walk with the help of the man by now, which shows how much better he got since the medicine had arrived. Aramis doesn't take his place beside his brother this time, he has some surgery to do, he explained to Athos earlier. Aramis kneels down on the wagon behind Porthos' with another medic. Athos notices how his friend starts praying and fears that another man has died. But then, Aramis takes his medical kit and rolls up his sleeves.
Athos turns his attention back on the road. The uneasy feeling from the night hasn't left him, but that's probably just an aftermath from the war. After four years of his mind being on alert all the time, he just can't let go of it immediately. "Athos, we're safe." The Gascon had noticed the stressed look on his Captains face already a hour again and now lays his hand on his shoulders in comfort. "Relax for just a moment." Athos nods, but his tight grip on the reigns remains just as much as the tensed look. D'Artagnan sighs and then chuckles. "You make me nervous, mon Ami. Just calm down, nothing is going happe-" A thrilling scream suddenly interrupts the Gascon. Athos has his hand already around the grip of his weapon, as another pained scream follows. Just then he notices that it comes from behind. Turning on his horse he notices how Aramis is shouting orders to another soldier on the wagon, and the other medic is desperately trying to hold a man down. Athos loosens the grip on his weapon slowly, still eyeing the woods for attackers. D'Artagnan instead can't tear his look from the scene on the wagon. He watches how Aramis wipes some sweat from his brows with a blood-strained hand, leaving a trail of the red wetness on his face. There is so much blood on his hands, d'Artagnan starts to wonder what the hell they're doing. He slows his horse in order to get a better look onto the wagon. He starts nausea rise as he watches how Aramis changes from the knife in his hands to a saw. The Gascon is by now besides Porthos' wagon and shots a shocked look over to his injured brother, who watches the surgery as well. The looks on Porthos' face remains calm, showing that he isn't new to seeing such cruel things. Growing up in the Court of Miracles made hardened him years ago. With dark eyes, which have seen almost everything in their life, he shots a sympathetic look over to the boy, who seems to be sick in any moment. Even though he wishes for nothing more than to look away, he turns his look to Aramis once again.
D'Artagnan has the urge to press his hand onto his ears, as the poor man once again screams, but he fights this urge and endures the pained screams. He watches how Aramis saws through the thighbone, until a loud crack shows that it's finally through. The medic mumbles prayers once again, as he shoves the amputated limb to the side and starts to close the gaping wound one the man's waist. The Gascon notices how pale Aramis is by now, and just as he is ready with bandages, d'Artagnan sees his eyes turn upwards. "Aramis!" He rides to the wagon, where his friend fall unconscious the moment he arrives. D'Artagnan tries to ignore the crying man, who just had lost a limb, and tries not to look at the lifeless leg lying by Aramis side. He gives his reigns to a nearby soldier and jumps into the wagon.
"Hey, Aramis, wake up." He slaps his cheeks gently, relieved as the marksmans eyes finally flutter open again. Aramis gaze wanders from the Gascon over to his patient. A weak smile spreads on his lips as he sits up again. "He's still alive." D'Artagnan nods, "Yeah you did some great work before you feel unconscious." Aramis pushes some hair back and lets out a deep breath. "Sorry. I don't what happened to me."
"You just sawed of a leg from a living body, I would fall unconscious too. But you saved him. Suddenly Aramis eyes widen in shock as he clenches to d'Artagnans arm. "Don't make me to do this ever again. I can't do this another time." The Gascon wraps his arms around the medic. "It's over, you won't have to do this ever again." D'Artagnan hopes deeply that his words are true. He can't even think what a medic has to feel when he takes another mans leg away in order to save him. Yes, he knows he saves the mans life, but he also takes away such a valuable part of his body. Thinking how sick he felt just as he watched, he knows he would have fallen unconscious before he could saw through the bone.
Athos takes in the scene with concern and gratefulness. It hurts him to see his brother so exhausted and troubled, Aramis should never have had to this. But he is strong and will overcome this soon. Moreover the Captain is grateful that d'Artagnan is now by the medics side. Athos was never good with words or in comforting, he probably would have made things just worse. Moreover he couldn't just leave his place in the front row to comfort one of his brothers, so he was just even more thankful for d'Artagnan being there for Aramis. He will be a great Captain, Athos thinks.
He had thought about leaving the musketeers already for a while. He longs for a life without trouble and in peace, without the responsibilities a Captain has to carry. He just wants to be with Sylvie, traveling and living life to the fullest. D'Artagnan will be a better Captain anyways.
A feeling of nostalgia rises in Porthos as they finally ride through the gates of the garrison, which still looks exactly the same as four years ago. It feels as if he hasn't been here in decades and as if it was just yesterday that they left to fight in war, in the same moment. He grins, as he sees old Serge coming limped out of the kitchen as fast as he can. "You're back!" He shouts happily, taking in the look in front of him. Athos and d'Artagnan dismount and help Porthos getting off the wagon. Aramis jumps down from it in a swift motion, much more rested than a few days ago.
They're greeted with the familiar smell of Serge's soup, all smiling as they're finally able to relax as they sit on their usual table in the courtyard. The cook places plates and a big pot in front of them, smiling at the four men. "You were deeply missed," he winks at d'Artagnan as Constance comes out of their rooms. As she recognizes the familiar faces, she starts running, falling into her husbands arms. "You're alive," tears roll down her beautiful face, as she loosen her grip and takes a look at the man she loves so much. Glad to see no bandages or injuries, she kisses him deeply.
"I've missed you," d'Artagnan exclaims before kissing her again. He doesn't want to let go of her ever again.
"Seems as I need to get some more plates," Serge smiles and points at the gates before leaving again. The four musketeers turn around to see what he pointed at. Porthos jumps from his chair right in the moment he sees Elodie and a little girl by her side, regretting it immediately as dizziness overwhelms him. Aramis supports him as Porthos makes his way over to Elodie and Marie-Cessette. The big man hugs the woman tightly, before kneeling in front of the girl. "You've grown up so much," he says smiling. The girl looks at him with big blue eyes, eying the strange man. "You aren't that big as mama has always told." She earns a hearty laugh for that comment from the musketeer, who presses her to his chest then.
Sylvie comes into the garrison just a few minutes later, welcoming Athos with a long hug and a deep kiss. She frowns at the scar at the Captains cheek, which comes from an injurie in one of the first battles. "You couldn't just stay unharmed once, do you?" Athos laughs, pulling her in for another kiss.
Aramis watches his brothers with a tired smile on his lips, sitting down on the bench once again and taking a sip from the wine that Serge has brought. He feels a slight step in his chest, as he watches how Porthos hugs the little Marie-Cesette and how d'Artagnan and Athos are kissing their wives. No, he shouldn't grief now, Aramis tells himself. He's finally home and everything will be fine.
Soon, the musketeers and their women sit around the table sharing stories. They drink wine, laugh and love until it's late in the night and they separate to get to their rooms.
They're finally home.
I first thought about putting them into danger once again, an ambush or something at the journey to Paris, but it just didn't feel right as I wrote. I felt like they just deserved some peace, so I hope you like this chapter even though there wasn't another battle and more injuries involved.