God, if you spare her
"Aramis, three musketeers are here looking for you."
His breath caught in his throat. Three? It had to be his brothers. Had something happened back in Paris? Did Rochefort leave something behind, have a plan to be enacted in case of his demise as the Cardinal had done? Were Anne and the Dauphin still in danger?
After inquiring where they were, he left his room and swiftly made his way downstairs. Upon reaching the dining hall, he saw Athos, Porthos, and d'Artagnan waiting for him by the fireplace.
"What's happened? Why aren't you all in Paris?" He tried to discern any clues from their expressions. It didn't seem like it was a dire emergency at least.
"We're being sent to the front," Porthos answered.
"War has been declared on Spain," said Athos.
Aramis exhaled and leaned a hand against the fireplace. They should have known that the King would not take Spain's actions against France without retaliating. Even though Rochefort had ended up acting on his own volition, and he had allegedly never been directed to hurt the King or the Queen, Spain had still placed a spy in the French court and King Louis was a vindictive man.
He nodded. "I'll inform the Abbott so that we can start preparations."
"We?" Porthos' eyes narrowed. "The four of us need to get back before the regiment rides for the border."
Aramis put his hands on his waist. He feared this was going to be harder than the first goodbye. "I'm not going back with you."
"I told you I wouldn't be talked out of this." He tried not to sound too blunt, too harsh, but he couldn't let them wear him down.
"But we're at war now." There was an edge to Porthos' voice but it softened when he spoke again. "We need you, Aramis. France needs you."
He turned away and stared into the flames. War is such a brutal and unforgiving thing, and this will be d'Artagnan's first time…maybe he should be there for his brothers.
Parting the fabric of his robe, he put his left hand in his pocket. Finding his crucifix, he held it so tightly he thought it might leave an imprint on his palm. After arriving at the monastery, he had taken it off in favor for a more simple wooden cross befitting a monk, but he could not part from it and the reminder of what he was doing this for, so he had the chain changed to that of a rosary and moved it to his pocket, allowing him to continue to carry it with him always.
Taking a deep breath, he steeled himself. "I nearly destroyed France and almost got you all killed. I think you would do much better without me."
"How can you say that?" d'Artagnan asked in an incredulous voice.
"Because it's the truth." He let go of the crucifix and turned to face his brothers, resolute in his decision. "I need to be here. I need to keep my vow."
"Need to or want to?" Porthos asked, though he wouldn't meet his eyes.
"I made a vow to God, Porthos, I have-"
"I get it," Porthos said gruffly, cutting him off, "I can see that your mind's made up." He turned to Athos, "I want to be getting back soon if that's all right with you, Captain."
"Porthos..." Aramis softly pleaded. He didn't want them to part like this.
Porthos looked back at him, and it hurt Aramis to see him so forlorn. "Sorry for interrupting your prayers."
"Go on," Athos said to Porthos, and as he started to walk away, Athos nodded to d'Artagnan to go with him.
The dejection in d'Artagnan's eyes when they met his pricked his heart. He knew he was disappointing him. "Goodbye, Aramis," d'Artagnan told him.
"Goodbye, d'Artagnan, and stay safe."
D'Artagnan gave him a small nod and with his head hung low, went and followed Porthos outside.
Athos stayed motionless as he watched them leave.
"Captain?" Aramis asked tentatively, wondering if he had heard right.
"Tréville was made Minister For War, so the captaincy fell to me. You had already left before Tréville could put you up for it I suppose."
Aramis scoffed. "Is that supposed to make me laugh or entice me to come back? You were always the obvious choice as Tréville's successor. You and then Porthos. Even if I did want it, Tréville and the King would never allow it, not after everything that happened."
Athos stepped closer to him and looked into the flickering flames. "They would be grateful to have you fighting for France."
Sighing, he rubbed his temple and wondered if the fighting would ever truly end. "I have too much innocent blood on my hands, Athos. I cannot go out there and mindlessly kill others."
"You are not responsible for the lives Rochefort took," Athos told him, his gaze piercing, willing him to believe.
"I may not have ordered the executions or...put the poison in that vial, but I put them in danger. I put you all in danger. I let the Cardinal's threat strike fear into my heart and push all rational thought aside." If only he had realised sooner that being with Marguerite would do more to put Anne and the Dauphin's lives in jeopardy than protect them. If only he had kept his promise to Anne to stay away.
"That's all it was though, a threat," Athos tried to assure him. "The Cardinal is gone. Rochefort is gone. You don't need to worry about them hurting anyone anymore."
"It's not just them though." Aramis ran a hand through his hair. "When the Dauphin was ill my thoughts were constantly going back to him. That day, in the market, I had the shot. I had it, but then I heard a baby crying in the crowd...and Porthos could have been killed because I let myself get distracted. I could have prevented those innocent people from being caught in the firefight."
Athos bowed his head. "And the Dauphin could have died that day. I shouldn't have allowed you to take on so much." He looked back up at him. "It was a mistake, Aramis, but you can't protect everyone either."
"But I can lessen the danger I bring," he countered. "Joining you in battle would only hinder you, not help. I don't want you or the others to be worrying about me or relying on me when my heart is so heavy and my mind is so clouded. I have strayed too far from God, Athos, and I will not go back on my vow after He answered my prayers, and saved the Queen and myself despite my sins."
Athos shrugged. "I cannot force you to leave. If you wish to stay then so be it."
"I'm sorry if it feels like I'm abandoning you all, but I do need to do this."
"Very well." Athos put a hand on his shoulder. "I hope you find peace here, brother."
Anne was in bed and playing with her son during their morning time together when she heard the doors to her antechamber open and then footsteps approaching her bedroom. In the mere seconds that it took to see who it was, she could not stop Rochefort from appearing at the door to her bedroom, garrotte in hand. She knew it was impossible, she had made sure to watch as his last breath left his body, but in the days that followed he still haunted her. Every man that bore the slightest resemblance to him was Rochefort, every person who came to her rooms unannounced, every shadow would cause her to see visions of him. At night she would reimagine him coming into her room, and sometimes Constance and Aramis were not there to stop him.
She had considered moving into another part of the palace, but ultimately decided against it. She would not allow his ghost to chase her from her rooms, to continue to manipulate her. And seeing Constance appear in the doorway only reaffirmed what she already knew; that she had nothing to fear, not when she had friends like Constance.
Anne picked up her son, as he was currently lying on her legs, and sat him on her lap. "Darling, say hello to the new Madame d'Artagnan," she said, taking her son's hand and waving it. The smile Constance greeted them with quickly fell though and there was no point trying to avoid the reason why.
"You saw d'Artagnan and the others off?"
Nodding, Constance accepted Anne's invitation to sit on the side of her bed, grabbing one of the Dauphin's toys that was laying on it and handing it to him as she did. "We finally have the chance to be together and he gets sent off to war."
Her heart broke for her friend. "I could still see about keeping his duties here in Paris, ask for him to be made the Dauphin's personal guard perhaps," she proposed, glancing down at her son as she began rubbing her thumb back and forth on his back. She hadn't dared to try and talk Louis out of declaring war while their relationship was just starting to heal, nor did she think it would be wise to ask for all four of her musketeers to stay, but maybe she could save one of them. The others were seasoned soldiers with valuable experience, but d'Artagnan had never fought in a war, and he was the King's champion; Louis might be swayed to keep him in Paris.
Constance shook her head. "Thank you, Your Majesty, but he wouldn't want to be treated differently from the others, nor would he want to leave them."
"No, he wouldn't, would he." Their loyalty to each other was legendary.
"Especially since…" Constance's eyes darted over to the doors. "Aramis didn't go with them."
Her hand stilled on her son. "What do you mean? Why not?" Did something happen to Aramis? Had he been hiding serious injuries from his ordeal during Rochefort's attempted coup? Given a different assignment? Was Louis behind this?
"He resigned his commision and joined a monastery," Constance paused, letting the words sink in. "They went out to tell him about the war and bring him back but he's staying there. Said he made a vow."
Anne let out the breath she was holding as her body relaxed in relief. A monastery. Away from danger.
Constance was still looking at her with concern when she glanced over at her. "I told him while they were hiding me from Rochefort, I told him to run while he still could," Anne explained. "I wanted him to save himself and he is."
"I think he's doing it to save more than just himself," Constance told her softly as she reached over to take the Dauphin's offered toy and then promptly put it back into his outstretched hands.
Anne's heart clenched as she understood Constance's meaning. Aramis had also told her at the convent that he would not allow anything to happen to her because of him. So was this a way for him to keep her safe as well? To leave Paris and the musketeers?
And was this forever? When he told her that she and their son were safe, was that the last time she would ever see him? Ever hear his voice? She ran a hand over her son's head. He'd never get to know his father, would he. And would Aramis get to see his son again? See his friends?
The guilt started to creep up on her as she thought of all that he was giving up. But if this was the price for his safety, she would pay it.
She tilted her head down and nodded minutely before laying a hand on Constance's knee. "I will be praying for the others, as I'm sure he will."
Constance covered her hand with hers and gave her a small smile.
"D'Artagnan will come back to you, and in the meantime, this one will keep us occupied, won't you, my darling boy." Anne brought her hand back and tickled her son's side to his delight, but when she glanced over to Constance, she found her looking down at her hands and biting her lip.
"Constance, is there something else? Please, tell me."
"Majesty," Constance started, sounding apprehensive, "since Tréville will be spending most of his time here, and with Athos and the others going to the front, the garrison could use some help with the day-to-day running of the place…"
"And you would be of more help there," Anne finished for her.
"It's not that I don't wish to be here with you anymore-and I will always be grateful for being given this position-I just don't think I'm cut out for a life at court."
"I understand," Anne told her, taking her hand and squeezing it. "You may go. The garrison needs you. Help them as you have helped me."
"Thank you, Your Majesty." She leaned closer, worry returning to her expression. "Will you be all right though?"
"Don't worry about me," Anne assured her, shaking her head. "I'll be fine. And you will visit when you can, yes?"
"Of course," Constance told her emphatically.
"It's settled then." Anne said brightly and released her hand. "Take your time in gathering your things, have the servants help you if you want, and don't hesitate to come to me if you ever need anything."
"Thank you, again, for letting me do this."
"I want you to be happy, Constance, don't let me stop you from following your heart."
Nodding, Constance stroked the Dauphin's cheek. "Goodbye, little prince. Be good for your mother." She stood up. "Goodbye, Your Majesty."
Anne smiled at her as she curtsied and then watched her leave, all the while trying to keep her gathering tears at bay. Athos, Porthos, and d'Artagnan were off to fight in a war her marriage was supposed to have prevented, Aramis had possibly left for good, and she wouldn't even have Constance by her side to help her get through it all.
It was selfish of her to want to keep them here though. France needed its best soldiers after Spain had incited such chaos, and Constance needed to be free to help others. As for Aramis, it was better this way. While she would still be worrying about his brothers on the battlefield, she wouldn't have to worry about him all the while dreaming about seeing him when he returned, and nursing false hope for a relationship that could never be.
She blinked and a few stubborn tears escaped her eyes. With one hand holding up her son, she used the other to wipe at her eyes, but wasn't fast enough to stop one fat tear from landing on her son's shoulder.
"Oh, silly Mama has water coming out of her eyes." She brushed the fabric with her finger. "I'm sorry, darling."
Anne gasped. "Did you say something? Say it again, darling-oh, are you trying to say 'darling'?"
"Dah," he repeated.
Anne gave a watery laugh. "Ambitious are we?"
Bringing her knees up, she placed her son against her legs so that they were facing each other, and grasped his wrists. "Why don't we try something simpler like...M-no, 'Papa'. Yes, Papa would love that."
It was time to face reality and truly accept that Louis will be her son's father. Aramis can't and won't be here with them, and she would not let his sacrifice be in vain.
"I will protect you," she said softly, "always."
Historical background/inspiration: "In spite of her sufferings, the Queen Mother attempted even now [on her deathbed] to retain some of the lightness of touch in desperate situations which had endeared her for so long and over so many crises to her household. 'I am not crying, this is just water coming out of my eyes' she said to the Duchess of Molina. 'In truth, Your Majesty is very red' replied the Duchess, also in Spanish. 'Well, Molina, I've got a good big fever' said the Queen, trying to speak lightly." -Antonia Fraser, Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King
A/N: A happy 417th birthday to Anne (sorry this wasn't a very happy chapter for you)