Dedication: This story is dedicated to the amazing FlyingMachine1, my personal best friend and number one fan. You've done so much for me that I thought that this was the very least that I could do for you. You're like a sister to me, and I can only hope that this story lives up to all of your expectations!
A/N: I have been working on this story for five months, so I hope that you all enjoy it! There a bit of cussing at the beginning at the story, but that's the only part that has a lot of cussing. And for those of you who haven't read the books, Treville is the captain of the musketeers, and in the book, Buttercup is yellow. I think that that covers everything!
Disclaimer: I don't own the three musketeers. If I did… this following story still wouldn't really happen.
Athos was not, by any means, an ignorant man. He didn't not know the dangers of being a musketeer. If anything, he knew the risks all too well. People might have viewed him as an arrogant, glory-greedy man with a sword and the skills to use it. However, he was anything but. He had to have been one of the most experienced and wisest of the musketeers. He knew that every time he strode into a battle or withdrew his sword there was a chance that he was sealing the lid on his own coffin. Anyone who didn't believe that was either a fool or trying to recruit you. He was well trained and more than knowledgeable in the laws of swordplay. But no amount of training or practice could have prepared him for this.
Nothing could have prepared him for this.
The plan was simple. Sneak into the palace, rough up the hair of a cardinal's guard or two, retrieve the stolen blueprints of yet another flying war machine, and book it out of there before they were detected.
However, the security turned out to be tighter than they had anticipated. It wasn't long before Athos and D'Artagnan found themselves traveling backwards through the corridors, trying to fend off their adversaries to the best of their abilities. They ended up back to back in a room, each facing twenty plus of the guards.
"We got this," D'Artagnan said, pointing his sword at a guard.
"You bet your ass," said Athos, and as if at the sound of a pistol, they both shot off, whirling their swords and downing a few men. The fight was looking good.
Until the reinforcements came.
Athos knew that they didn't stand a chance against all of them. If Porthos and Aramis were with them, their chances might have been better. But they weren't, and Athos had absolutely no idea where they were, so the probability of them ending up on top was slim to none.
"Draw back!" he called, but D'Artagnan didn't hear him. "D'Artagnan! I said pull back!" Athos called again, driving his blade through a guard's shoulder.
"I can't, Athos! There's too many!"
Athos cursed under his breath. He knew that in order for D'Artagnan to complain about being overwhelmed, things on his end had to have been very bad.
"Hold on!" Athos called back, and with a mighty shove, he sent two of the guards flying backwards, setting off a domino effect that allowed him the little window of time he needed to rush over to D'Artagnan's aid.
As Athos' blade crossed the first of his new opponents, his heart sunk as he noticed the gold pin on one of the guards' chest. The sign of the Elite Guards. Athos had been too occupied with his own adversaries to realize that D'Artagnan was fending off a score of the palace's most qualified swordsmen.
"Thanks," D'Artagnan gasped, and Athos mentally slapped himself for neglecting the young man for so long.
"Focus on your opponent," Athos reminded him, and D'Artagnan nodded.
They fought valiantly, blades crossing as the two of them picked off the Elites one by one. They fought as one person, getting back into the familiar rhythm of fighting side by side.
Athos felt his spirits rise as the finally got down to the last Elite, and as Athos drove his blade through the man, he allowed himself one breath before getting his head back into the game.
"Alright, D'Artagnan, Aramis and Porthos are still further into the palace. We should try to catch up with them at the rendezvous point. If we can meet up with them we might still have a shot. Ready?" there was no response from the young man. "D'Artagnan?"
Athos spun around at the sound of D'Artagnan's strangled voice. His breath caught in his throat. D'Artagnan was holding a bloody knife in his hand, drops of blood making "plk…plk…plk…" sounds against the stone floor. D'Artagnan was blinking rapidly, a glazed look in his eye. He dropped the knife, and that's when Athos saw the swiftly growing blood stain on D'Artagnan's shirt. His mouth quivered wordlessly, and Athos was able to catch the boy just in time before his head hit the ground.
D'Artagnan's eyes were wide. "A-Athos?" D'Artagnan stuttered. He coughed up blood, and Athos wiped it away with his bare hand. "I-my sight is funny…"
"D'Artagnan," Athos repeated forcefully. "D'Artagnan, stay with me. Hey! You hear me? Stay with me!"
A pained expression marred D'Artagnan's young features as he remembered his father's parting words: Your adversary will not always be as noble as you…
"I know," said Athos, gathering the young man into his arms. "I know. We'll get you fixed up…"
But even as he said the words, Athos saw D'Artagnan's face grow paler as even more blood spread through his shirt. His weakening hands clutched Athos' garbs.
"Don't leave me," D'Artagnan pleaded. "Don't leave…"
"I'm not going anywhere," Athos said. D'Artagnan's breathing stopped dangerously, and the older man shook him. "But don't leave me! Don't leave me, dammit!"
"I don't want to die like this," choked D'Artagnan. "Not like this."
"You're not dying!" yelled Athos. "You can't die. Do you hear me? This is nothing! We'll fix you up!"
D'Artagnan closed his eyes in agony. "Not like this…"
Athos shook the boy's shoulders again. "No!"
"Tell them that I died nobly," said D'Artagnan.
"Don't talk like that!" yelled Athos. "You're not dead yet!"
"Tell them I died nobly," D'Artagnan said again. He chuckled a little, but it sounded raspy. "Like a true musketeer."
Athos gave a little laugh too. "A true musketeer," Athos repeated. D'Artagnan gave a grimace of a smile, then looking straight into Athos' eyes, D'Artagnan grew still.
"No… NO!" Athos clutched the boy's shoulders. He shook him harshly, but D'Artagnan eyes refused to focus. "Wake up! Get up, you bastard! What am I supposed to do without having to keep you out of trouble? Without having to keep you out of fights? Who are we supposed to give all those lectures to? Who's supposed to keep us sober? Who's supposed to be the wild card, huh? Wake up! Wake up, you little bastard!"
D'Artagnan still didn't blink. Athos let out a yell of agony and wept shamelessly over the boy's body. A small voice in the back of his mind that belonged to whatever logical part of him that was left was telling him that he had to keep moving, that he had to get out of there, but he refused to move until the familiar arms of his fellow musketeers lifted him and the body away, Athos weeping like a child the whole time.
The musketeers sat in dead silence around the table. Athos wasn't coming up with their next plan, Porthos wasn't drinking to his content, Aramis wasn't reading from his countless texts. And perhaps most important, D'Artagnan wasn't watching them do so. The world had stopped. There wasn't any reason to continue. Their abode seemed dark and haunted, like all of the light that had once resided there had been sucked out. The food that Planchet had put out for them went untouched. Aramis had his head in his hands, and Porthos kept attacking the table with a knife, the steady "tunk…tunk…tunk" reverberated off the walls. Athos stared out into nothingness, not blinking with the fall of Porthos' knife. He didn't blink to refresh his eyes. He didn't blink as the light, quick knock that could only belong to one person sounded at the door. Nobody moved. It went in unsaid agreement; nobody wanted to bear the news. It wasn't until the knock tapped again that Athos hoisted himself out of his chair and shuffled, mummy-like, to the door.
Constance's cheery face beamed up at Athos. He clenched his jaw. How was he supposed to tell her? How was he supposed to break it to her? He felt numb. It took every ounce of energy that Athos had left to even stay up on his feet.
"Is D'Artagnan here?" she asked, still smiling.
Athos blinked down at her.
Constance's smile slowly faded from her lips as she looked at the identical expressions of the musketeers' faces. Innumerable expressions passed over her face: confusion, disbelief, denial, self-assurance, back to confusion, to denial again, then realization. Her lips quivered.
Athos gave her the smallest shake of his head.
Tears instantly spilled over and down her cheeks. Her hands flew to her face and she shook her head.
"Constance…" Athos tried to reach out a hand and touch her arm, but she cried out in pain and ran, not listening to Athos call after her. "Constance!"
She was gone, her face buried in her hands like Aramis.
Athos slowly closed the door, and he felt something wet on his face. He raised a shaking hand and touched it, bringing it to his lips. It was salty. He let out a roar of rage and slammed his fists against the door, what little décor they had up on their walls shook violently.
"Don't be like this, Athos," Aramis said. "D'Artagnan wouldn't want you to be like this."
"Well D'Artagnan's dead!" shouted Athos, wheeling around. "He's gone. Gone!"
Athos was breathing heavily. He was scaring even himself with how upset he was. Wasn't he supposed to be the leader here; the strong, calm one? Right now he felt anything but.
"Athos, calm down," said Porthos, standing up.
Athos waved a hand at him and went up the stairs. How could they not be as upset as he? They didn't even bat an eye when they saw the boy's lifeless form. Didn't they care for the lad as much as he had? D'Artagnan had shown him the things that really mattered in life, what was worth fighting for. D'Artagnan had always fought for love, happiness, life. Why didn't he try to hang on? Surely he would have survived if they were able to get him to a surgeon fast enough. Why had he been so set on dying? Athos found himself begin to blame D'Artagnan. How could he have been so selfish? Hadn't he realized that Athos cared for him? Hadn't he realized his potential as a musketeer? Didn't he know that the three musketeers' lifestyles had improved so much since D'Artagnan barreled into their lives? Didn't he know that he had a girl that loved him, who would never leave him like Milady had done Athos?
Athos clutched a bottle of wine, but he wasn't so sure how it had gotten into his grasp. Had Planchet handed it to him on his way up the stairs? Planchet. Did he also grieve D'Artagnan, or had he just been another employer, another person for him to care for? Athos felt as if the world had ruthlessly turned itself against him. He uncorked the bottle of wine with his teeth and began to drink, drowning his deeply carved sorrow with the toxin.
Constance ran back to the palace as fast as she could. She ignored everyone she ran past, she didn't know if they even asked her if she was okay. The answer would have been no. She ran to her quarters and slammed the door behind her. She flung herself onto her bed and cried her eyes out. It couldn't be true. D'Artagnan couldn't just be… gone, could he? A boy that was so full of life, so full of love. Love for her. She ran her fingers through her hair. She had died a little inside whenever she had thought of the possibility that D'Artagnan might one day break up with her, but for him to die? The thought had never even crossed her mind. And if it had, she had immediately dismissed it. Phantoms of her times with him came back to her. Every look, every date, every kiss. How he would run over to the palace after a mission just to see her for a few minutes before she had to retire to her quarters. How they always referred back to how they met…
"Enjoying the show?
"Are you always this cocky?"
"Only on Tuesdays. Or when beautiful women are involved."
"So you think I'm beautiful?"
"Actually it's Tuesday."
Constance realized something with such force that it made her body convulse.
It was Tuesday.
Two of the three musketeers were seated around the table. Athos was drunk so much lately that they didn't even wait for him to come down from his room. They had heard many crashes and rips from upstairs, and they were sure that Athos' room was reduced to tatters.
Aramis was gnawing on a roll, not tasting it at all. Without D'Artagnan, it was as if all the color and pleasures of the world had vanished. There seemed to be no reason to want to live in a world where something so full of life, so pure, so full of joy could be suddenly ripped away from the dominion of the living? The former priest found himself casting aside his texts and Bibles. He prided himself in not blaming God for D'Artagnan's death, but he couldn't help but question him. Why? Why take him so young? D'Artagnan didn't deserve to die. He rarely sinned and tackled every day with a positive and, yes, cocky outlook. So why did God choose to claim D'Artagnan so early whilst dirty sinners still roamed the same streets that D'Artagnan had? It didn't seem right. It didn't seem right at all.
Porthos sat across from Aramis, and one could tell that D'Artagnan's passing was not only taking a mental affect on the big man, but a physical affect as well. Porthos hadn't laughed since he saw Athos over D'Artagnan's body. He no longer drank or went out to meet women or buy clothes. He was unrecognizable with the dark circles under his eyes and his face drawn so tight. Porthos knew that D'Artagnan would never want him and his fellow musketeers to go about life this way, but going about it in any other fashion wouldn't feel right. But that didn't mean that D'Artagnan would ever forgive them if they continued on like this.
The two musketeers looked at each other and saw their own grim expression reflected in the other's eyes. Wordlessly, they nodded and stood up, going up the stairs.
It was time for Athos to come out.
Constance woke up in the morning still in her dress. She had begun to do this regularly; as soon as she had fulfilled her duties to the queen she immediately retired to her quarters, not having enough energy to change out of her dress. She cried until her eyes were dry. The members of the palace knew nothing of D'Artagnan's tragedy. Why should they? To them, D'Artagnan had been just another guard, easily disposable and replaced. No matter to Their Majesties. What had Constance expected? For the world to stop? For there to be a long moment of silence for him? No. The world kept chugging along. Constance was forced to put on the same uncaring, nothing's wrong mask every day.
Wouldn't want to depress Her Majesty, would she?
Constance rose from her bed and observed herself in the mirror. The dark circles under her eyes that began to form the night of D'Artagnan's death had only gotten worse. She had to clutch the sides of her small dresser to even support her own body weight, let alone walk behind the queen and laugh and smile as if everything was still fine and dandy.
Constance rested her hot face against her cool mirror as the sun began to rise and shine through her window. Why had this happened to her? What had she done to deserve this? Would she ever love again, or would she be doomed to a life where she stayed away from romance like it was the plague?
Constance had foolishly fallen in love with a musketeer. A simple pawn in the kingdom's chessboard. Nothing heavily mourned in death, just knocked down, pushed to the side and forgotten. What was the loss of a musketeer compared to the monumental task of keeping the key piece, the king, safe?
Nobody mourned the pawns.
Even if somebody was desperately in love with them.
Constance pushed herself back up and steeled herself for another battle of a day. Maybe, she thought, If I win enough of these battles, I'll be able to win the war.
With a collective grunt, Porthos and Aramis lifted the mess of a man that was once Athos off of the floor. Their predictions about Athos' room had come to pass. They didn't even recognize the musketeer's room, and Athos didn't fair much better. His clothes were stained and wrinkled and his hair was matted. The smell of stale spirits wafted off of him and his eyes refused to focus.
"Whadder you guys doin' herr?" Athos slurred, trying to make eye contact with the two men but failing miserably.
"You can't sulk like this forever Athos," said Aramis, his voice a little strained supporting his friend.
"And Treville's wondering what's happened to you," said Porthos.
Athos found the energy to shoot Porthos a nasty look, though it was shot a little over the bigger man's left shoulder. "Treville's wondering… What happened to me?" Athos repeated.
Porthos grit his teeth. "Athos, you can't just drop your duties as a musketeer!"
Athos wasn't listening anymore, and he leaned back against his friends' arms as if they were a hammock, his head lolled backwards. "Treville… You can tell Treville that I'm fine. It's not like some tragedy happened. It's not like the best thing that's happened to me since-since Milady died in my arms. It's not like it was all my fault. Nope. Really, I just felt like skipping work. I felt like I should, as you said, drop my duties as a musketeer."
Porthos and Aramis had been holding him up this whole time, and their arms were starting to grow weary with the dead weight. They sat him roughly back down in his chair, inconveniently located next to a large bottle of wine. Athos began to reach for it with an unsteady hand when Aramis snatched it away. Athos stuck out his lower lip and pouted up at Aramis like a small child.
Aramis sighed. "Athos…" Aramis paused, trying to find the right words. "I-I know that you loved him-" Athos gave him a half-hearted indignant huff, but Aramis could see the sadness in his eyes. "We know that you loved D'Artagnan," Aramis stated again, a little more firmly. "But you have to believe that he's in a better place."
Athos became very, very still, and said in a quiet, level voice, "Is he? Is he really, Aramis?"
Aramis didn't respond. He was broken and silenced by the tears that filmed over Athos' eyes.
"Is he with those big musketeers in the sky? Is that what you believe?"
The silence that filled the room could be cut with a butter knife.
"All that D'Artagnan wanted was to be a musketeer," said Athos in a shaky voice. "And because of me he'll never get that chance."
"It wasn't your fault, Athos! Get that through your thick head!" said Aramis sternly.
"Like hell it wasn't my fault!" yelled Athos, springing out of his chair and getting an inch away from Aramis' face. "If it wasn't for my pride and overconfidence D'Artagnan would still be alive right now!"
"Don't put this on yourself!" Aramis shouted back. "That's the type of thinking that will ruin you!"
Athos spread his arms. "I already ruined one life already. Why not my own? Might as well. I'm on something of a roll."
Aramis shook his head. "D'Artagnan wouldn't want you to live like this."
Athos suddenly broke down. The tears spilled over and ran down his cheeks. He dropped to the ground, his face in his hands.
"Leave," he whispered. When Aramis and Porthos didn't move, Athos yelled, "Leave!"
Their heads bowed in defeat, they shifted out of the room. Porthos paused at the doorway, feeling rage bubble up inside him. "Wasn't it you who said that you believed in us? That until you stopped believing in that there were things still in this world worth fighting and dying for? You haven't stopped believing in us, have you?"
Athos didn't look at Porthos as he responded. "Maybe I have."
Porthos was deeply hurt. Seeing that Athos was older and more wise, he had always looked up to him. And to hear him say that he didn't believe in him anymore… It cut deep.
"You know," he muttered back to Athos' broken form. "You weren't the only one who loved D'Artagnan."
A wine bottle hurtled past his head, and Porthos took that as a cue to leave, and he could hear the sound of Athos' loud sobs all the way down the hallway.
A month after D'Artagnan's death, Athos had recovered enough to face Treville. He strode into the training fields, still a little wobbly from being intoxicated for so long. Treville spotted the musketeer and met him, his hands on his hips.
"You've missed a month of service," said Treville bluntly, probing the musketeer for an explanation.
Athos nodded. "Yes." he cleared his throat. He would not break down in front of his captain. Sobbing in front of his fellow musketeers had been shameful enough. "The passing of D'Artagnan has found me in a-" he cleared his throat again. "-in a compromised state."
Treville's hands dropped from his hips and his eyes filled with understanding. "The brave young man." Treville nodded. He had recommended D'Artagnan constantly to the king since he first met him. He had known him as well. "You cared for the lad."
"Yes," admitted Athos. "As if he were my own son."
Treville stood a little taller. "In that case, I shall prepare a funeral fit for a king."
Athos blinked. "Monsieur?"
Treville chuckled. "If His Majesty inquires of your absence, I shall simply reply that you fell ill."
Athos bowed. "Thank you, Monsieur."
"When shall I expect you to return to service?"
"As soon as you'll have me."
Getting back into his work had been good for Athos. It took his mind off of-things. But now he was faced with a monumental task, and he was sure that if he didn't do it now, he never would.
Clean out D'Artagnan's room.
Athos had refused the help of his fellow musketeers. He had a feeling that he should be the one to do this, and to do it alone. Plus, he had just as strong a feeling that this would usher him back into one of his 'states,' and he didn't want his friends to see him like that yet again.
Athos was currently standing in the hallway, his hand frozen on the door handle. He was completely sober, and for a moment he wished that he wasn't, but he knew that in order to do this right, he had to be fully aware. Even if that meant taking this thing head on.
Taking a deep breath, he turned the handle and opened the door.
His senses were immediately assaulted. Familiar aromas reached his nostrils. His brain sharply recalled D'Artagnan in full detail. Allowing himself to get past the smell, he slowly opened his eyes that he hadn't realized were closed.
Sorrow gripped at his bones as he eyes roved over the small room. The bed was unmade, the suit that the king had given him mounted on the wall. A pile in the corner represented his wardrobe, and his boots were laying on their sides, carelessly kicked off after a long day at work. D'Artagnan's small desk. A quill in an inkwell was sat next to a leather-bound journal.
All of this showed in sharp relief that D'Artagnan had had every intention of coming back.
Athos slapped his face a couple of times to keep himself from breaking down again. He had shed enough tears to last anyone a lifetime, a fact that he was not by any means proud of.
It was slow progress. Athos' hands were shaky, and he found it impossible to try to cast anything aside. It was as if every thing that his fingers touched had a memory attached to it. A night at dinner, a mission, a cross of blades, a clash of wits. Athos had known that this wasn't going to be easy, but he hadn't known that it was going to be this hard.
Several emotionally exhausting hours later, Athos got to D'Artagnan desk. He held D'Artagnan's journal for the longest time. D'Artagnan life was written in those pages, by the boy's own hand. Was anything about Athos inscribed in those pages? What had D'Artagnan said about him? Athos tucked the journal under his shirt, right over his heart.
He went through the several papers littered across D'Artagnan's desk, mostly just facts and figures, but Athos' heart still gave a twang when he laid eyes on the boys handwriting.
Athos sat back on D'Artagnan's bed, taking a break. He saw the two piles that he had painstakingly made, one to keep, one to get rid of. Athos wished that he could do the same to his memories. Keep the good ones, get rid of the ones that haunted him at night. Ones of Milady, ones of shoving D'Artagnan away for fear of growing soft, and of him dying in his arms…
His wandering eyes settled on something on D'Artagnan's desk that he had overlooked before. It looked like a small bundle with a thin layer of dust over it.
Athos walked slowly over, lifting the bundle into his hands. He blew on it softly, getting rid of the dust. He saw that it was a collection of letters, tied together with a piece of straw. His eyes stung as he saw his name written on the top envelope in D'Artagnan's scrawl.
His hands were shaking even worse than ever as he clutched his letter in his grasp as if it were a lifeline. He set the other letters aside and messily opened the envelope. Tears threatened to return to him as he began to read:
I honestly don't know why I'm writing this. Maybe it's because I'm paranoid. Maybe I'm just going crazy. Maybe it's because I care for you all so much that I would never forgive myself if I left without being able to still leave something behind for you. In any case, I'm writing this, so I hope that I don't make an absolute idiot of myself.
I've been having dreams lately. Dreams where I'm missing, dead, I don't know. I was just gone. And everybody committed suicide because of me. I don't think that I'm that important, but I couldn't shake how real the dream felt. So I wrote these letters, so that if I really do die young, I'll be able to pass easily knowing that I left these last words of comfort behind. And maybe I'm vain in thinking that everybody cares for me as I do them. I just don't know. But it will ease my mind at night if I write them.
I guess what I'm trying to say here, Athos, is that if you care as much for me as I do for you, I know that you'd be devastated at my passing. I know that I would be if you died. But don't mourn for me. Don't be any more moody than you already are. No offense. I know that you'd backhand me if I actually said that to your face.
Know that-and I can't believe that I'm putting this in writing-I love you. Like my own father. I've loved my whole experience here living with you all. Training to be a true musketeer. But I guess if I ever want to become a musketeer I can't go around saying mushy things like that. I think that I should actually go back and ink that out, but I've already thrown away ten other pieces of parchment trying to get this letter right. Oh, well. I guess if I'll just leave it. You'll probably never read this anyway. But if you do, please don't beat yourself up. You've still got the rest of your life ahead of you. Take your own advice: Fight for love.
Please give everyone else their letters.
Athos read and reread and reread the letter until he had it memorized. D'Artagnan had been so unsure of himself, not sure whether or not to tell Athos how he really felt. Athos was infinitely glad that he did. He had started to carefully refold the paper when he noticed something else. The date that D'Artagnan had written the letter.
Monday, March 15th
That's what brought on the tears that D'Artagnan had asked him not to shed.
D'Artagnan had written the letter the day before he died.
"We have gathered here today to honor a young man who nobly died before his time. D'Artagnan of Gascony served among us, just as brave and true as the rest, if not even more so. D'Artagnan's one goal in his life was to become a musketeer, just like his father, and the three men with whom he resided with during his all-too-short stay here. So, to honor his memory, we have promoted him to Sir D'Artagnan, a musketeer in the king's personal guard."
No applause followed. Just a heavy silence. All the musketeers were dressed in uniform, standing respectively at attention for the young man who now resided in the wooden casket, held up by a table above a six foot deep hole.
"Please present your arms in honor of the family." Treville continued, his voice low and solemn.
The crowd of musketeers about-faced and drew their swords, making a sort of alley for D'Artagnan's parents to pass through. They were about to step forward when Mrs. D'Artagnan abruptly spun around, scanning the crowd. She walked purposefully forward into the crowd of musketeers until she came upon three men and stopped.
"Walk with us," she said, her eyes red from weeping.
Aramis shook his head. "We are not a part of D'Artagnan's family."
"But aren't you?" she asked, giving him a small smile. "All that my boy would ever speak of in his letters were the brave, strong, and noble Athos, Porthos, and Aramis," she said, beaming at them.
The three musketeers turned a light shade of pink.
"Come," she said, nodding toward the walkway. "It's what D'Artagnan would have wanted."
The three musketeers smiled gratefully at her and followed her to the pathway, where Mrs. D'Artagnan clutched her husband's arm to support her down the long walk under the musketeer's swords to the casket that held her only son's body.
Athos felt as if he had been running for days, and it was physically straining to walk under his fellow musketeers' swords. He had to appear strong for them. He was the most highly esteemed of the musketeers. Then again, who could blame him if he appeared weak?
Porthos and Aramis each laid a hand on Athos' shoulders, giving him a light squeeze. This walk was difficult for them as well, but not nearly as hard as it had to have been for the older musketeer.
As they walked down the pathway, D'Artagnan's casket grew ever nearer, it had a sense of finality about it. Right now, in this moment, they really were saying goodbye to the young boy. Young musketeer, rather. They were reminded of the impossibility of someone so full of life to die. Then, it was possible. D'Artagnan was proof of that.
They finally reached the coffin, and the three musketeers and D'Artagnan's parents made a semi circle around it. Athos saw the sign of the musketeers was carved into the lid, and he couldn't help but let his ever increasing rarity of a smile break over his face. The foolish young man who had barreled right into him and challenged him to a duel was now a musketeer. Truly one of his own. He fingered the wooden case, and could somehow feel D'Artagnan's presence. Like he had come to his own funeral, to tell Athos that he was okay.
Athos suddenly got the overwhelming feeling that he would never weep for D'Artagnan again.
The priest said a prayer and D'Artagnan's coffin was lowered into the freshly dug up earth. Monsieur D'Artagnan took a handful of dirt and tossed it into the hole. "Goodbye, son."
Mrs. D'Artagnan did the same, and then Aramis took a handful. He whispered a prayer and tossed the dirt lightly in, kissing his cross and walking away swiftly, leading Athos to believe that he was wiping away tears. Porthos' eyes were also filled to the brim as he threw in his own fistful of dirt, muttering, "See you later, kid."
When Athos walked up, though, his eyes were bone dry. Perhaps it was because he had shed more tears than all the people here combined, which was a total number that Athos would rather not admit. Or perhaps it was from the presence that Athos had felt around him. He picked up his fistful of dirt and stood over D'Artagnan's grave.
"Hey, kid," he said, but not loud enough for anyone to hear. "I got your letter." he patted his breast, where it was located in his pocket. "Thank you for that. I'll give everyone else theirs today." Athos sighed. "You would have made a great musketeer. One of the best. Maybe even better than me," he chuckled. He felt as if he could feel D'Artagnan joking, Now let's not get carried away…
Athos felt nothing else to say, and he tossed the dirt in. He walked away as the other musketeers lined up to toss in their own fistfuls onto the young man whom some didn't know, some had met, maybe even spoken to. Whatever the case, they all knew that D'Artagnan had died nobly.
As a true musketeer.
Athos had waited to watch every handful of dirt land on D'Artagnan, until all that was left was a small mound. The last person to throw dirt, however, was no musketeer.
Athos walked over to Constance, who was gripping her kerchief tight as she tossed her small handful of dirt onto the pile with her other hand. She gave Athos a weak smile, wiping away at her eyes. She walked further down the gravesite, looking off into the distance.
"It's like a sunset, isn't it?" she said in a small voice, looking at the setting sun. Various hues of orange, red, and yellow painted themselves against the sky.
"What is?" asked Athos, standing at her side.
"Life." she replied. "So beautiful and joyous, and then before you know it… it's gone."
Athos just gazed at Constance as she looked out into the sky.
"I have something for you," said Athos. Constance turned to him and he took out her letter. He handed it to her, and she held it lightly, as if she thought that if she gripped it too tightly it would disintegrate in her hands.
"D'Artagnan wrote this?" she choked.
Athos nodded, and feeling as though there was nothing else to say, he began to walk off.
He turned around to see that Constance was actually smiling.
"Thank you." her voice was barely over a whisper.
Athos nodded, walking away from the gravesite and into a brighter future.
Constance returned to her quarters and ripped open the envelope, the past feeling of the letter not being real long since gone.
She sat down in her chair and spread the single piece of paper on the table and began to read.
My dearest Constance,
That first line started her tears again. It was like she could hear him reading the letter to her, like they were lying in the grass with his arms wrapped around her, whispering sweet nothings into her ear.
My dearest Constance,
I write this letter with a heavy heart and in the deepest hopes that you'll never need to read it. It's funny, I can hear you saying, "Then why did you write it in the first place?" That is a very good question. I'm writing this because I can't shake the feeling that my time here is coming to an end. And if that feeling's true, then I want to know that I'll be able to still give you last words of comfort, because if you love me even a fraction as much as I love you, you'd be wanting to throw yourself off of a cliff right now.
Let me start out by saying that I love you. So much. So, so much. I love so much that I'm willing to let you go. Go and find another man that will love you as much as I do. I want you to be happy, Constance. I don't care if you find another man on the day of my funeral. Find love, Constance, and don't mourn for me. I'm in a better place.
My heart will always belong to you,
Constance hadn't even noticed that she was crying. But these were tears of joy. She just felt so at peace, like everything was right with the world again. She raised the letter to her face and inhaled the light, lingering scent of D'Artagnan. She kissed the parchment and whispered, "I love you too."
Constance put the letter back in its envelope and tucked it away in a drawer. She knew that D'Artagnan would always hold a place in her heart, but after seeing the words in his letter, it was as if she had surfaced from drowning, and she felt refreshed.
The road to recovery was still far from done, but Constance was sure that she was going to make it.
Athos had delivered all of the letters (the boy had even written one for Planchet, bless him), and had left his fellow musketeers and lackey to read theirs downstairs. He was sure that those letters were similar to his own, saying not to mourn for him and continue their lives as before.
Athos sat on the edge of his bed and pulled D'Artagnan's journal out of his pocket. This was his first chance to really examine it. The leather was soft and faded from wear, and as he riffed through the pages, he saw D'Artagnan's life unfold in front of his eyes. He quickly snapped it shut, as if the words would float away if he flipped the pages too fast. Was this how Constance felt when she was holding D'Artagnan's letter? How was she doing? Had she felt the same sense of relief that he had when he read his letter? Making a mental note to ask Aramis to pray for her, he gingerly opened the journal. D'Artagnan had actually created a title page, with flowing script across it: My Journey to Become a Musketeer. Athos began to read the first entry.
It sounded like D'Artagnan was much younger, writing about his first swordplay lesson with his father. He said that it was tough, but he had pledged to his father to never stop training until he became a musketeer himself.
Athos sat there for hours, watching D'Artagnan improve in swordplay, his determination to become one of the greatest musketeers of all time continue to grow, and he watched D'Artagnan transform from a young and foolish boy into a young (and still foolish) man. It was like Athos held a ticket to the past, and Athos cherished every minute of it. Athos (as one of his deepest, darkest desires) had always wished that he had been able to watch D'Artagnan grow up. Sure he had watched D'Artagnan develop into an honorable man, but what he had always wanted (but knew would never be possible) was to see D'Artagnan grow up, like he really was the boy's father. And now he had gotten that chance, and he was eternally grateful for it.
His heart stopped when he turned the pages again. The date at the top stated it was April 10th, 1625. Athos knew that date well. It was the day that a young man ran right into him, calling him a drunk and challenging him to a duel. If someone had told him that one day he would come to care for (and love) that young man, Athos would have never believed them.
If only he knew then what he knew now.
With a shaky breath, Athos began to read.
I am to make the biggest leap in my quest to become a musketeer today. I'm going to leave Gascony. I feel anxious and cannot wait to leave for Paris.
I had braced myself for adventure in Paris, but nothing like this.
In Mueng, a man insulted my horse, and when I challenged him, he broke the laws of fair swordplay and shot me in the arm.
Athos laughed heartily at this, remembering that dear yellow horse.
When I saw him but hours later I attempted to pursue him, but I foolishly ran into three men, quite literally one for spilling his drink, one for exposing the fact that he can't pay for his own clothes, and another for giving me a ticket., I challenged each of them to a duel, each separated by one hour. Only to find out that they were all the closest of companions, and musketeers, no less! Still, I bravely crossed my blade with the first of them, only to be foiled by the cardinal's guards. There must have been forty of them at least, with Rochefort, the man from Mueng, in the lead of them! I fought at the musketeers' sides, and we downed each man until no one was left standing but us. While I was fighting, I met the most beautiful woman. Her name is Constance. But, alas, she does not care for me as I do her. But I shall not give up. I know that this is true love. I have never felt this way before about a woman.
Athos looked out the window. From what he was able to see, what Constance and D'Artagnan had shared had been true love. Athos wondered if D'Artagnan on that day had had any idea what he and the young Constance had in store for them. Most likely not. No one could have possibly seen any of this coming.
After the fight we were sent to be punished by the king himself. The king! But instead of a punishment, we were awarded with new clothes. Now I shall not look like a poor Gascon to the beautiful Constance.
After all of the events of the day, the three noble musketeers whom I have mentioned invited me to stay with them in their apartment, from where I am writing now. Oh, I can almost feel the uniform of a musketeer on my shoulders now!
Athos had to put the book down for a while after that sentence. That young boy had wanted to wear that uniform so badly, perhaps even more than Athos had ever guessed. And Athos had taken his uniform for granted every morning. He couldn't help but wonder now, had D'Artagnan watched Athos leave every day with a look of envy? Had he sighed every morning as his three friends immerged from their rooms, all garbed in blue? It must have been torture for the young man. But he had managed to keep a smile on his face, promising himself that one day he, too, would walk out of the apartment every day with the uniform of a musketeer around his person. Athos hated this fact. D'Artagnan had spent the last of his years working toward that ever-distant goal, all to not see the day when he was finally promoted. Athos cursed everything that came to mind as he thought of this. When his fit was over, Athos picked the journal back up.
I realized that I have not properly introduced the three musketeers with whom I am staying. First, there is Porthos. He is a rather large man who I guess never takes life too seriously, he's always making jokes. Then there's Aramis, who is the exact opposite. He's always pondering something. He has stacks of books lying around the apartment and always has a large cross around his neck. Porthos tells me that he is a former priest.
Then there's Athos.
Athos hesitated. He wasn't too sure if he wanted to know what D'Artagnan thought of him on the first day of meeting him. A drunk? A depressed man? But his eyes continued to rove over the words…
Then there's Athos. I don't quite know what to think of him yet. He's a silent man, but it's a different silence than Aramis'. It's a haunted silence that seems to envelope him in a gloomy darkness. At first I took him for a drunk, for I met him outside of a bar with wine spilled down his front and a tankard in his hand. But now I see that that is not so. He drinks, sure enough, but not enough to be drunk, just enough to take the edge off. He is just pressured by the weight of the world.
The entry ended. Athos sighed. Was this how all people saw him upon first meeting him?
Athos shed tears that night. But not tears of sadness, tears of joy. He was able to relive his relationship with D'Artagnan through the boy's written word. Athos also blushed at certain parts; he could watch himself grow soft towards the boy through the entries, and the boy also grow soft towards him. His eyes moved frantically over D'Artagnan's words, but the closer the dates grew to D'Artagnan's death, the slower he read.
I had that dream again. Where I've died and everyone committed suicide. And I had to watch. Now the feeling that my time here is almost through has grown stronger. So I finally wrote those letters. It seems foolish, I know, but what if my feelings are true? What if my life is drawing to a close? I have to make sure that I leave something behind that will heal the ones I love.
The next entry was for the day he died.
I'm doing it today. Right after our mission I'm going straight over to the palace to ask for Constance's hand in marriage. I have her ring in my pocket. I wanted to bring Athos along with me to pick out the ring, but Treville had sent him on a mission, and I couldn't wait any longer. So with high spirits I leave. Let's hope the mission goes well!
And that was it. Athos held D'Artagnan's journal with trembling hands. He suddenly grew furious with the world. At Treville, for sending him on that mission when he could've been playing a huge role in D'Artagnan's life. At Fate, for taking D'Artagnan too early. At D'Artagnan himself, for leaving him with all this guilt.
Athos set aside the journal as calmly as he could and took out his letter again. He reread it, and that calmed him down a bit. Athos closed his eyes and focused on breathing evenly.
Athos placed the journal and letter back into his pocket and left D'Artagnan's room.
He wondered about Constance. Should he tell her about how D'Artagnan had planned to propose? No. If Constance knew that, the likelihood of her ever finding someone else would become slim to none. And Athos knew what it was like to lose someone you love, and he didn't wish any more pain on the poor girl.
Athos hadn't realized that he had come and sat down at the table in the company of Porthos, Aramis, and Planchet.
Athos sighed and poured himself a glass of wine. "I'm okay."
"Are you?" asked Aramis.
Athos set the cup down without drinking. "No."
"You know," said Aramis. "The scripture says that weeping may last through the night, but hope comes with the morning."
Athos drank deeply from his cup. "Let's hope so."
There was a moment of silence before Porthos raised his glass.
"To D'Artagnan." he said. "The bravest man I've ever met."
"A hero," said Aramis, also raising his glass.
"Good man." Planchet put in, and no one told him to shut up.
They waited, tankards half extended, for Athos to respond.
He looked up at his friends and clutched his cup. Tapping the others', he toasted, "D'Artagnan. A true musketeer."
12 years later
It was peaceful. And Athos accepted his fate. And he was okay with it. He had lived his life. He had lived it to the fullest.
Suddenly all of his pain dissolved. The sword removed itself from his heart, his fatigue from the mission washed away. He felt… good. He breathed it in and savored it.
"So," he said to himself. "This is heaven."
He heard ethereal singing. He breathed in deeply. He wanted to enjoy this moment. Knowing now that he was standing in the Lord's kingdom, Athos slowly opened his eyes. To his surprise, he saw a small figure standing before him, his arms outstretched, the widest smile Athos had ever seen spread across his visage.
Athos squinted at the figure and gasped.