The French Basque Country
Lower Navarre: Northern Border between France and Spain
1 hour before Dawn
A light mist rolled down through the lower mountain ridges of the Pyrénées, blanketing the forests of the western ridges in its gentle caress. On the eastern edge, a completely alien terrain: barren and rocky, no doubt a key geological piece of stratagem to be considered. Here, however, birds sang their morning song in the serene silence of untouched nature, save for the distant rolling thunder of a nearby waterfall, an abundant feature in these parts. Mugginess encroached on the back end of this misty haze. As soon as the sun rose, so would the temperature: another scorching day.
D'artagnan awoke and sleepily staggered from his tent barefoot and in blurry-eyed need for relief. He found an acceptable tree, and untied the stays on his breeches. He wasn't the only one awake at this early hour. The majority of the Regiment was in a similar state of waking up, stoking small cooking fires, or polishing blades and readying weapons. As newly promoted Captain of the Guard, Athos was long from his slumber, if he'd gotten any, and taking stock. He spotted his mentor speaking with their blacksmith.
From where they camped, the Spanish border was a two day ride. Already, to be sure, Spanish forces were themselves readying to defend this rich and conflicted province of both Spanish and French Claim. It was beautiful country. He sniffed the air: wood smoke and fresh earthy scents, invigorating to the senses.
He'd hate to see all this laid to waste by war.
Aramis made his appearance, yawning and rubbing his backside. A stained billowy-sleeved laced neck night shirt was just settling over his torso while his breeches were quickly coming to match D'artagnan's: obviously he was in need as well.
"Use that tree, sis nice…" D'artagnan motioned behind him as they passed, yawning, intent on stoking their own cooking fire. Aramis grunted. At the tree trunk, shoulders sagged in bliss. A quick yet wordless backward glance came D'artagnan's way when her heard the boy sniggering.
"Still not talking, eh Aramis?"
Silence, except for the sound of urine stream hitting tree bark. Hm. That seemed fitting.
Piss on you.
Porthos clambered from his tent, a bear roaring his yawn-mouthed good morning. Aramis made a face at the noisy greeting as he tied himself back into some resemblance of civility.
"He's still not talking, you know." He heard D'artagnan say, sounding mildly if mockingly reproachful; practically felt Porthos' shrugged response, not turning around to be sure. "Eh? Ah, his delicate nature wuzz hurt, iz all."
"Maybe chaffed is the better word for it?" D'artagnan continued to pile it on. Porthos chuckled darkly, coming up behind his best friend, "Ey! Princess. Is your delicate nature chaffin'?"
Aramis balled his fists in refusal to dignify that remark, counting to ten with eyes scrunched shut. His lips moved in rapid prayer. He didn't really want to break Porthos' face, did he?
Porthos in turn ratcheted up the teasing abuse, unable to resist, "HA! 'Memba the look on tha' brother's face when he saw m'tryin' to put Aramis over my shoulder?" He cracked up as D'artagnan, too, lost composure at the firepit, "Damn near pissed 'imself!"
That did it.
Aramis spun on his bare heels, charging. The very idea of confronting their resident berserker would be downright outrageous, let alone deadly, for any ignorant fellow Musketeers and foe alike, but with Aramis, it was usually just slightly comical and maybe just above normal behavior.
"YOU HAD NO RIGHT!"
Aramis swung on him, the sinewy musculature in his arms and shoulder bunched for the shot. Porthos had no choice but to dodge. "Aramis, quitit!"
"YOU HAD NO RIGHT!"
Seeing the situation suddenly spiraling out of control, D'artagnan swallowed his laughter and rushed to his feet, platitudes and cajoling for Aramis to stop going unheard no matter how much he raised his voice. Porthos refused to swing back, still thinking it a kind of a game but was slowly realizing Aramis was hardly playing around.
From across the way, still speaking with their blacksmith on the state of horseshoes for the Regiment's mounts, Athos heard the angry yells coming from his camp. He sighed, excusing himself from the conversation, to make his way over to investigate. He felt the eyes and mumblings of interest from the rest of the Regiment landing at his back—him, the Captain. He knew the rumors, the wonderings: how would Athos handle the Captaincy when it came to his notoriously close bond to his 'brothers'? Would he treat Aramis, Porthos, and D'artagnan the same as any other musketeer, and not show favoritism? Or would there always be that undercurrent of brotherhood getting in the way? He frowned, coming up on the scene and taking it in all at once. The men wanted him as their commander yet didn't trust him to do it…
The whole encampment froze, not just the tussling Aramis and the unwilling-to-oblige Porthos. D'artagnan's head swiveled about, slightly bug-eyed. Athos dropped his chin to just above chest level, his choicest tilt of perspective, giving all an under the hatbrim inspection. He expertly covered his pleasured surprise at the overall response, physically inserting himself between the two. The look he sundered Aramis with more than let him know his behavior was completely undignified and not at all Musketeer par. He turned it on Porthos, who actually backed up, hands up in surrender.
"That's quite enough. At this rate, you'll have the Spanish coming to watch your spectacle. Whatever your issues are, you settle them privately, quietly."
"Yes, Captain." Porthos muttered, now looking slightly confused, letting Athos see that even his best mate was wondering the same thing as the rest of the Regiment. Even more still, he looked plenty impressed by Athos' clearly commanding authority, indulging in a broad wink. Athos didn't and couldn't acknowledge. Waiting for Aramis' affirmation, with none forthcoming. "Aramis?"
The sharpshooter medic of their merry group glared, stung by the rebuke for more than one reason. For that, rank and formality were suddenly out of the reasonable demand for him, prompting, "Whatever my issues are? Really, Athos?"
Athos stepped closer, cutting off the line of sight from the rest of the Regiment. He lowered his voice carefully, maintaining its edge, "I am trying to be diplomatic."
Aramis scoffed loudly, "Diplomatic? Diplomatic—how about, where were you and your diplomacy at the monastery?!" He huffed a scornful sigh out his nose, waving his hands over his head in exasperation as he made his escape to his tent. Leaving Athos hanging, feeling undermined…and guilty…
D'artagnan interrupted his self-incriminations. He ducked a sidelong look to the Gascon's feet, his way of bidding him closer. Which D'artagnan did, "It…it was our fault, Athos. We rode him too hard. At the monastery…Porthos and I could have, should have handled it more delicately. He shouldn't take that out on you."
Athos brought his head up, squaring his shoulders. The look in his eye told D'artagnan he appreciated the sentiment but, "Shouldn't he? I am his Captain now." He offered a short tight smile, not his usual enigmatic fare but still a far too customary sign of something deeper gnawing at him.
But Athos was going to Aramis' tent for further appeals.
D'artagnan felt just about as guilty as his Captain looked and showed it. Porthos joined him, looking like a shaggy black dog come to be whupped. "Don't look so glum, Athos is taking all the blame." D'artagnan said unhappily.
"No 'e ain't." The bigger man growled, his features suddenly setting in a darker pall. He pushed into Aramis' tent, D'artagnan protesting but following. Outside, the rest of the Regiment moved on about their business.
"They had no right." Aramis was saying in an angry whisper, sitting on his cot with his legs over the edge, hangdog. Athos was at the wash basin, hat beside it, giving his face a cooling splash. "That was holy ground they tromped on."
When he saw D'artagnan and Porthos enter uninvited, he pitched forward in a renewed fit of pique. He shoved a finger at the two, wild-eyed, "You embarrassed me and you embarrassed those brothers of the cloth. You had no right to do that, to ignore my wishes!"
"Aramis, we were just—."
"No." He cut D'artagnan off, "No, don't say a damn word to me. I made a vow! In the sight of God, on my life, to serve Him if He let me live long enough to save the Queen! I did that! You think such a promise can be diminished down to a joke?" He spreads his arms out to his sides, "A joke's a joke… but not at His expense."
Athos spoke up as he toweled off his face, the droplets accentuating the red highlights of his beard. "Before you ravage them further, Aramis, you do realize you never went through official channels. Especially in a time of war, that's quite deadly for one's health, not to mention one's…immortal soul? Treville did you a favor in allowing us to reclaim your services."
The temperature in the tent dropped like a stone in a river. Aramis eyeballed Athos was something akin to loathing, "'Reclaim' my 'services'? Is that what you call it? You barge into a house of God, you—you disregard my personal wishes, your own admissions of agreement! You trivialize everything I've ever believe in, our very relationship!... because you… want me… to fight in the war the man that nearly destroyed all our lives and everything we stood for… brought to our doorstep." His disgust was tangible. He dropped his head, wrenching fistfuls of hair, "Don't you understand?" He moaned, "I went to the Monastery to get away. I owe God that much for showing His mercy upon us, upon Queen Anne, upon my s-." He lost his voice on the word 'son', swallowing heavily, "…the Dauphin."
He thought they'd left him, so quiet and still. Except a heavy weight came down on the cot, holding him close in a side-arm embrace. On the other side, a feathweight touch of solidarity. In front, dusty boots appeared then disappeared under crouching knees.
"Aramis." Athos' lilting accent rang a warm thrum through the softly spoken name. He still wrung his hands through his hair, unwilling to look up, but he was surely listening. "You're correct, we had no right. We did let you go, in fond memories of our brotherhood. It might have been the most difficult decision in light of the events we'd just survived, together…but if that's what you needed…? War changes perspectives. We realized you had duties that went far beyond the bounds of ours, but if we're going to survive this next great battle of our lives, we all would rather do it as we always have: together."
"We need ya, 'Mis. I need ya, mate."
"We shouldn't have taken you from the Monastery as we did: it was wrong. And teasing you about it was hardly fair."
"I am not trivializing anything. I will say I did handle the situation badly, my lack of diplomacy withstanding." Athos' self-deprecation played out with a wry grin. "I'll do what we should have done in the first place: give you the choice."
The other two shot a startled look to him but neither Athos nor Aramis registered the reaction, "The choice?" He breathed out, as if he hadn't heard correctly.
"As the Captain of the Musketeers, I'm offering you this on my word of honor: do you wish to remain a Musketeer in the service of your King, or do you wish to return to your monastic life, free of your…earthly duties?"
"Athos, you can't! The war-!"
"Quiet, Porthos." Athos said in even monotone, boring over the haggard face peering up at him bleary-eyed, "Aramis is thinking."
Aramis was indeed thinking, a new, open look of confused wonderment spreading across his face, "…He's right, the war…claims of desertion would… I can't…"
"It is your choice, my friend." Athos reached out to grasp his shoulder, "I will do whatever I must to make it so. …Though may I remind you of what you told me at the convent…?"
"…My parents always hoped I end up in a place like this…"
"…They wanted you to become a nun?..."
"…Why didn't you?..."
"'Cause I found out I was better at dispatching people to Hell!"
Aramis licked his lips at the memory, confused, worn out…hanging out over an abyss of one life pulling him back to stand on solid ground and his soul yanking him towards the intangible…
He sought to control the whirlwind by looking at what he had in front of him: from Porthos, to Athos, to D'artagnan, back to Porthos, those big black eyes tearing into him. Back around to all three, encircling him in one big precious heartbeat: where he always wanted to be. "I'll stay." He said in a low tremble.
Porthos' roar of overly enthusiastic approval rattled the flimsy structure. He embraced Aramis in back breaking form, yelling almost unintelligibly in Aramis' ear. D'artagnan crowded in, pulling Aramis to his feet for his embrace.
"I'm still upset with you two, don't forget that."
"Wouldn't dream of it." Porthos grinned.
"Of course, Aramis." Their young apprentice bowed his head with charismatic demureness.
Aramis laughed, feeling the release loosening the vice grip of indecision. He looked to Athos, who was not so visibly enjoying the happy scene, except the brightness of his normally dark hawk eyes gave him away. "I take it back, Athos—you're a diplomat in the making."
"Heh. I don't know if I particularly like the idea…" They shook hands, Aramis yanking Athos' proffered hand into a full back-slapping hug. "You old soft-hearted fool!" Athos shook his head, backing out, "Don't: my reputation." He commented drolly.
"…ey' speaking of reputation…" Porthos' next grin was a dangerous one, and aimed solely at Aramis, "How's the chaffin'?"
"Hey, it's not m'fault you gave your horse to the brothers!"
"It's called giving up one's worldly possession in the service of our Lord God. You heathen…"
"Or, sis called ridin' with me—and my saddle ain't made for two.' Porthos winked, much to the delight of D'artagnan, who still took immense pleasure in such humor.
Aramis made a show of rubbing his tailbone, scowling, "Are you sure it's even big enough for one?"
"…Are you callin' me fat?"
The deadpan question stirred an awkward silence, which built and built until every one of them broke out howling with raucous laughter. When D'artganan cleared his eyes of tears, he saw Athos was no longer beside him, simply disappeared.
That's the second time Athos just simply disappeared.
The first instant had been at his wedding ceremony. One moment Athos was gallantly leading his beautiful Constance towards him, depositing her at his side to stand witness of the vows. The next, without so much of a rustle of cloak, he was gone. He returned in one of his disquiet sullen moods without a word to anyone until Treville allowed them to take out after Aramis. And then he was only moderately accommodating with his good graces. He surely wasn't the man who'd happily and proudly led the blushing bride to her awaiting groom, looking upon the two as if they were his greatest treasure.
Distant broken moods, mistrusting glares, sullen looks, all these were Athos at some point; they were why D'artagnan had been drawn to him in the first place.
Even when he'd worn vengeance against him in fervent belief Athos was his father's killer, he saw this dispassionate man as capable and ready to kill, but not a killer. More like a shattered soul used to world spitting its worse at him.
He was a man desperately in need of an opposite yet equal force to perk him up. Porthos and Aramis were a soothing balm to his tortured psyche, but even they weren't enough at times. He would stalk in from a mission, find a bottle and climb in. For days on end. And then he'd return, fit for duty, eyes as steely as his blade.
D'artagnan thought himself the light to Athos' dark. He wanted to help this man, this gloriously brave, stoic man who'd given so much and received so little in return. He wanted to be the friend that could pull him out of a spiral before he even found the bottle. He wanted to be the one Athos would look to first for a bout, because their love and passion for the art of sword play had been the unifying force that brought them closer when nothing else could. Their roots lay in his desire to make up for his own slight against this world-weary soldier, because it would be the first time any offender had done so.
The camp was steadily gaining momentum for the morning. He took measure of the routine in motion. Athos wasn't in the middle of it.
The distant clash of waterfall caught his ear, sounding closer…more tempting than before. If he was a brooding soulful, secretly distressed leader of men, where would he go?
Where the tattered shreds of pride and dignity could find peace.
D'artagnan was grim. He returned to his tent for his sword belt, boots, and polishing kit.
The path to the waterfall was sloping and treelined, rocks here and there forming steps. It leveled out to a shear drop off overlooking the cascade's 215 feet plunge directly adjacent from the cliff, into a bowl shaped reservoir.
Athos was at the edge.
D'artganan froze, seized by a clutch of panic. "Athos!" He called out in reflex. He wouldn't jump, why would he jump…get away from there!
His mentor glanced back but gave no other notice. He remained in place.
He found a flat rock to perch on, drew his rapier in a shring! of blade on scabbard. He studiously examined the mirror finish of the steel, fingering its tip, and the nicks and crevices of wear. He set his polishing kit at his feet to administer to his beloved weapon.
Athos might not have heard all this but he certainly sensed it: it was a rare occurrence to catch Athos unawares.
Maybe he does want to be left alone. D'artagnan quietly considered him again. But leaving him alone even when he demands it usually leads down that dark path of his. Sometimes I'm glad I can't see how his mind works…
Athos shifted his stance, cocking his sword hip a little higher, grasping the hilt of his rapier. His eyes never wavered from the white foamy torrents.
The waterfall…that has to be what it's like to live with his kind of demons…A constant pounding of raw brute force…
The rapier shone in the rising light of the morning. He paused in his work to watch with baited breath, the sunrise strike the waterfall, unleashing all sorts of beautiful light play, rainbows and painted streaks of pink across the width of the water. Athos was highlighted as well, shielding his eyes, perhaps taken in by the sight as well…he appreciated true beauty, though not as ardently as he once did.
"Did you come for the show and stay for me?"
D'artagnan paused in his polishing, finding Athos walking toward him with a shadow of a smile, employing the sarcastic sardonicism he'd made into an artform, "No fair telling." D'artagnan grinned back.
Athos shrugged, crouching beside him, his weapons belts shifting with the movement. His gloves wove through the grass and dirt, choosing not to speak but supervise with an educated eye, D'artagnan's care of his weapon.
"Not so hard." He cautioned. "You work the metal like that, you'll put stress fractures in it. One hard thrust into an unyielding body…," He made a snapping motion.
D'artgnan eased up, "I know, I know."
"Then don't do it."
The rapier was extended to the sun for a proper shine test.
"Are you planning on eating off of it?"
"I like a clean weapon. Makes an impression on the man I'm running through, you know?"
Athos snorted derisively, "I would rather think your form and skill could do that much better for you."
"You would, wouldn't you?"
The look he received in turn should have been devastating but D'artagnan grinned even wider. Athos regarded the edge where he'd stood for the sunrise with critically,"Why did you follow me out here, D'artagnan."
He didn't falter, "You think me your shadow, is that it?"
Athos dropped one of his more heartstopping glares, "No. You're a pain in the arse, to be perfectly apt about it."
That halted him mid-wipe.
"But then I invited that on to myself when I saw you needed someone to make sure you learned the foible from the forte of your blade without hurting yourself…"
The iciness broke to warmth, a relief. D'artagnan relaxed. And decided to be truthful.
"I, uhm, I followed you because…that was the second time you pulled your disappearing act. I…just wanted to know what was bothering you?" He swallowed, knowing the point blank admission of worry could go either way with Athos…
"You're not my personal guardian. I know that Gascony pride and loyalty driven fire makes you think you have to be. You don't. I assure you."
"…But I want to." He blurted, putting his blade aside. Athos regarded him in bemusement. "Temper it, D'artagnan. Please. You needn't put that on yourself— personal responsibility for driving you to the bottle: not a prospect I relish."
"You left the wedding ceremony, Athos. One minute you were there and then you were gone."
"I came back, didn't I?"
"You weren't the same."
"I do not believe you are a fair judge of that."
"No, don't do that: don't push me away! You think you can hide it, as you always do. But I see it, as plainly as if it were a gaping wound. You're bleeding yourself dry. Let me help you!"
Athos straightened from his crouch, turning on his heel, leaving.
"You can walk away, Athos. It won't stop me from caring." D'artagnan called to him. The confidence in that promise dipped just enough for Athos to see the depth of personal chance the boy was about to take when he came out with, "…You're the one man who could possibly fill the hole left by my father's death." The voice lowered in reverence, "There's a debt in there to you that will never be paid. No matter what you say or do: I will never stop caring." He returned to the airiness of his first statement, chuckling, "As you said, my Gascony pride and loyalty driven fire demands it."
These heartfelt admissions staggered his retreat. He spun around in off-kilter bewilderment. D'artagnan had resumed his polishing as if he hadn't said anything at all. Athos returned to the rock, staring down at this crazy kid. He hummed in exasperation, sinking down into his crouch. His fiddling with the grass grew more insistent. A touch of mania flinted across his gaze.
Like a son. Was this what it felt like to have a son? Is this what Aramis secretly felt? If it was anything like what Athos was feeling at that moment, it constituted an all-consuming, heart pounding headrush of affection and awe. Athos covered his mouth, "Damn" slipping out between his fingers. He ogled his young charge, alternating between unworthiness and pure joy. They sat together comfortably, Athos increasingly lost in the mist rising up from the waterfall's crashing end.
After a time, he relented, his voice effortlessly carrying in its lowness, as he spoke of the choice Milday presented him after Rochefort's demise: stay and never see her again, or run off to England with her, live the life they were meant to; of feeling compelled in a moment of weakness brought on by the serenity of promises yet unfulfilled in D'artagnan's and Constance's vows to go to her; of Athos finding her perfumed handkerchief at the Crossroads and nothing else; of feeling crushed even though he knew better.
He spoke of never being free of her tormented touch upon his mind, because, as someone else had once observed, they consumed each other, their destinies infinitely intertwined in some horrid twist of fate…
D'artagnan let him speak his mind, this unadulterated stream of conscious the biggest chink in his impeachable armor of anguish yet. He stopped speaking abruptly, armor hardening up as if too much had been stripped bare. A mutually agreeable silence settled as both contemplated the idyllic scenery around them.
"…How long will we be here?"
"Missive from the King's courier this morning said we are to hold here for reinforcements. Another two days."
"…Reminds me of home."
"Wasn't aware of waterfalls and rainbows in cow pastures…"
"…If you're going to get personal about it…"
Athos stood fluidly, drawing his own blade as he did so with thrilling effect. D'artagnan remained seated, purposely unimpressed, "Are you challenging me?"
D'artagnan studied him, his blade, and the way the scar on Athos' upper lip grew more pronounced when the briefest moments of humor upticked the corners. "I see." He moved carefully, standing as slowly as humanly possible, before launching forward with an explosive lunge. Athos' encortada dodge effectively side stepped the rush, his blade tip inches away from his opponent's chest. "Ahahah."
D'artagnan pulled up short, just avoiding getting nicked, to extend his blade for distance and establishing point in line. He was continuously mystified by the ease with which Athos met any swordfight. His engarde was hardly low or overwrought, but just enough to be deceptively hard to catch.
"Your lunges are improving."
"Still not good enough…"
Athos shrugged, not moving, just watching. It always ends up that way: Athos rooted in place and D'artagnan darting every which way. One day he'd learn. One day soon, too. "That's why we practice."
"Is that what you call this?"
"You could stand your ground for once. Retreating is admirable strategy, when warranted. You have point in line now…and you could still retreat, but then that's giving ground and you don't have much of that as it is. Why give up the advantage? You control the field."
D'artagnan planted himself, the back of his neck prickling with the proximity of the cliff edge. "Right. I knew that."
"Of course you did." Athos tilted a look at him, moving his blade out of sixth position in a tempting gesture of wide open torso, "Are you going to attack me or…?"
D'artagnan rewarded the taunt with a leap forward on the push off from his back foot. Athos was forced to snatch his main gauche to entangle the incoming blade point, still refusing to give way.
"Oh. In fighting. Nasty tactic, but one you should become well acquainted for those moments when you're on your backside with a rapier at your throat. Do you wish to practice that?" He briskly yet calmly intoned. D'artagnan struggled to out muscle him, their swords sandwiched between them.
"You're enjoying this…aren't you?"
At last, a baring of teeth that could be called a smile, "No fair telling."
The Regiment filled in the pathway, jostling for position, craning their necks for a better view. Aramis and Porthos, now full dressed for the day, made their way down out of curiosity, and in keen awareness that both Athos and D'artagnan were nowhere to be found.
Above the waterfall's din, steel on steel contact rang out in furious fashion. Porthos pushed a way through for him and Aramis, the rest of the men gladly giving ground.
"See, told ya so."
Aramis smiled, hands on his hips, surveying the action, "I'm glad I didn't bet."
"Glad ya didn't, either. You don't 'ave any money, 'member?"
The corner of his mustache twitched, "Now you bring that up, when it's convenient to you." His oversized companion clamped a hand around the back of his neck in a familiar hold, beaming in his particularly roughshod manner, "Now aren't ya glad ya stayed on?"
Athos took D'artagnan down with a subtle trip, both blade points at delicate places for submission. Athos broke immediately to help him to his feet. When they both turned, saw their audience, their exuberance faltered. Athos ducked his head, hastily replacing his hat to obscure his face. D'artagnan's own embarrassment vanished when smatterings of applause greeted their hike up, especially when he spotted Aramis and Porthos.
Athos lagged behind, sliding his blades into their proper frog and scabbard with wordless precision. He didn't see, or perhaps he did, the new way the men looked upon him. He always had their respect, but their brotherhood, outside his chosen group of three? Not until now. Not until they saw the way Athos appeared in the middle of his bout with their Gascon comrade: at ease…more quick with a smile and a witty quip than with a frown and sharp-tongued rebuke.
The dourness eclipsed.
Porthos snagged D'artagnan as he paused to wipe the sweat from his brow, pulling him up the incline with a bawdy oneliner. Aramis caught Athos' eye, "How long were they there?" Athos asked quietly, making sure the others went ahead.
"Long enough." With pointed meaning, the exactness of which Athos wasn't sure he wanted to grasp and made that plain enough in his expression. "Don't, Athos." Aramis chided. "Trust me, if you thought you were the wrong man for this job before now, and I know you did, that's all passed."
"Not a much evidence backed claim."
"Then you didn't see it, did you?"
"Didn't see what?"
"The way the men looked at you."
"Your romanticist ideals are showing…"
"Now really." Aramis stepped in his way. "You always had their respect, Athos, but in all honesty, you are not the most welcoming of persons to talk to. Porthos and I know how because you had no choice with us, and D'artagnan…you are an old softie—."
"—I am their Captain, Aramis, not their mother. They don't have to like me. And please stop calling me that."
Aramis ignored the latter, jumping on the former, "But that is the point, Athos! They do like you. And we all know you want them to, desperately. Now you have it. Because down there, with the boy, you weren't the Captain, you were just one of them, enjoying an exercise in the sword with one of your mates."
Athos looked between him and the camp, the men milling about readying themselves for the call to arms, whenever it came; he looked to D'artagnan and Porthos, drinking coffee at their fire, talking animatedly. Aramis slipped his arm across Athos' shoulder, waiting for just a hint of lightness. He received his wish a moment later, when Athos' face relaxed.
"Yes…I am glad I stayed on." Aramis sighed, a hop in his step, "It's good to be together again."