By: MusketeerAdventure

Summary: Although the bond between Athos and d’Artagnan is strong – no one could have guessed the absolute depth of their connection. Will that connection prove powerful enough to save them both?

Well everyone, here is the final chapter to Conclusions.

I hope you enjoy this. Please review and tell me what you think!

Chapter 6: Correlations

Constance stood atop the rise and watched as d’Artagnan made his way slowly toward them. What was taking him so long? She missed his presence at her side already – even if it had been only moments ago since the escorts had helped her to navigate her way up the muddy hillside. He looked so tired; worn out – as if he could barely take another step. But then he looked up and graced her with such a magnificent smile; she could stand the distance between them no longer.

Constance lifted her dress to her knees and took off running down the hill on a mission. When she reached him, he stood resolute – brashly waiting for her to make the first move. So, she placed her arms about his neck; tipped to her toes and kissed him firmly on the lips. When he kissed her back, she held him close – so close she could feel his heart racing – right in step with her own.

It didn’t matter who was there to see. It didn’t matter that the King looked on with disapproval. All that mattered was that he was here with her. She raked her hand through his hair, and caressed his neck. The nightmare was over.

They had survived one of the most horrific moments in her life –a life that had been close to losing the one person who meant anything; and everything to her.

She held on tight and kissed him again – tasting blood on his lips and feeling him tremble in her arms. His breath on her shoulder was a balm that sent tingling vibrations down her spine. His arms about her waist were warm and comforting. She buried her head in his neck and breathed in the smell of him.

A mad man had tried to take her life away, attempted to steal him, and condemn her to a living death. But God had seen fit to spare him, and she was eternally grateful – so grateful, she was willing now to change the course of her life.

d’Artagnan had almost died today – given his life to save hers. When Marmion had fired that shot; she thought her life was over; but here he was – warm and safe. She felt his arms tighten around her; and she professed, “I love you”, - pressed her body closer still, and heard his soft whispered breath against her ear, “I know.”

He sounded so drained – but happy. She laughed – feeling happy herself. She had made up her mind. She would take that leap with him. They could do anything if they dared, and she would follow his lead.

There would be no more hesitation on her part. She learned today, the hard way that life was too short; and happiness was not promised – it had to be taken.

She leaned back from his embrace to tell him as much; but a sharp retort echoed through the air; and his weight was falling into her.

“d’Artagnan?” she asked, confused as to what was happening. His legs buckled, and the heaviness of him was too much for her to shore up, and they fell together to the ground; his head falling to her breasts, as she shook his shoulders – calling, “d’Artagnan?”

When she looked down – he was staring right at her, his brow furrowed in confusion and pain; she stared back – unable to articulate the words to ask – what was wrong; why were they in the dirt? She touched his face – her hands shaking and her heart pounding in her throat. He touched her hair at her shoulder; looked past her to the top of the hill – and went completely limp in her arms.

She pulled him in close and screamed.

Athos watched from on top of the hill, as his best friend leaned into the woman he loved and kissed her with unbridled passion.

He quirked a smile; and chuckled – only the very young displayed such emotion in front of God and King without a sense of discomfort or mortification.

He lowered his gaze and sighed with relief. Everyone he cared about had survived Marmion’s horrific and calculated attack on the King and his party. He slid a glance in Anne’s direction – who stood apart – and was somewhat surprised that he included her within his circle of consideration. She had come looking for him to help and rescue the others. He wasn’t sure what he thought about that – but felt glad she was obliging in this instance. As always, her duplicitous nature confounded him to no end; leaving him confused and unsure how to deal with her.

Once again – in her own way - she had stepped in; and for whatever reason had decided to do the right thing. And by saving the King – she had also assisted in saving France. The King should feel indebted; but he didn’t get the sense that would be the case.

He looked to the ground to hide his emotions. God, how beautiful she was – how very, very beautiful and lest he forget – deadly. He shut his eyes tight to try and block out the image of the noose around her neck. Deadly she was because of his own actions. Every wrong turn she took – was due to him. He would never escape it.

He rolled his shoulders, opened his eyes and barred such thoughts from his mind. For now – he must not think on her. To think on her, only brought him a sense of confusion; and that confusion would drive him mad. Instead he thought on d’Artagnan.

When he and the others had stormed the room of planets in the fort – and his eyes fell on d’Artagnan and Constance tethered together – he had flashed back to that moment, months ago – in the tavern cellar - of d’Artagnan, lying helpless on the ground – hands bound and at the mercy of Bertrand – then in Pinon, imprisoned in a closed casket and trapped in his own mind.

At the sight of his friend in distress – instinct took over – his mind went blank – and as quickly as the fight had begun; it ended – with him standing over several lifeless bodies; breathless and coming down from adrenaline. And with this accomplished – his mind once again in control; the scene before him of d’Artagnan safe in the arms of his love – brought him to peace.

When he looked about, he had little memory of the battle – only its outcome- the successful recovery of d’Artagnan and of course the King of France and his family.

He remembered how he had wiped his brow, scanned the room and was content that now everything was as it should be. Captain Treville in command; Aramis battered – but alive; the King – indignant, but unharmed; Porthos – breathing hard, in his element; d’Artagnan safe and in love – himself? Of little consequence.

However, now in the aftermath of near cataclysmic disaster – to see d’Artagnan exultant; released something content in him also; for this had been a difficult several months for them all. Since their return from Pinon – things had been strained between them and within their personal lives.

Aramis had returned and gone from euphoric from battle and helping the villagers recover to distracted and anxious. Athos could see that his concern for the Queen and the dauphin were immense. They consumed every waking hour of his thoughts and perhaps his dreams. He noticed that Aramis had taken to a secretive nature; disappearing for hours on end with no explanation – positive it all had to do with the Queen somehow.

His mind was so filled with them that he had little time to consider fully all that transpired around him. It was as if he walked in a bubble – here with them but his body and mind encapsulated elsewhere. He had wanted to break through and tried to speak on it with him – instead of telling him what to do. But speaking of such things was not his strength and so reluctantly let it pass.

He could see today; acknowledged that his single mindedness towards the Queen and the child most likely saved them.

That he survived a fall that Porthos described as great and d’Artagnan expressed as “death for sure” – was a testament to the man’s instinct to survive.

Porthos had returned to Paris and the distance between him and Treville continued to grow. He did not understand this rift. In Pinon, they worked side by side and helped the residents to store food; clear out spoiled crops; replace damaged property; and just lend a hand in general.

These were two good men; now reduced to glares and mistrust – anger; and on Treville’s part – uncertainty. So much so, that Treville had confided in him the thought of retirement. He could tell however, that as much as losing his Captaincy hurt him; Porthos’ resentment toward him injured him more. There was more to their relationship than met the eye, between Porthos and Treville; anyone who knew them could see how close they were. He understood that bond and wanted to offer any insight he could.

However, Porthos would not speak to him of it – determined to “handle his own affairs”. That was fair enough, but he cursed his inability to communicate the depth of his concern. It saddened him to see the rift between the two. He loved them both and wished to help.

But Porthos’ strength and force of will were legendary – with those attributes – perhaps he and Treville would soon reconcile whatever it was between them.

That he survived today on that force of will; having to overcome his hatred of Rochefort and compromise, was not surprising.

Back from Pinon, d’Artagnan’s recovery from his trauma had been slow, but steady. Though injuries to his body had healed – darkness; close spaces and unexpected touch had become an issue.

At times his voice would leave him; silence again a fall back mechanism to what he had been through. Where in Pinon, he had shown improvements among the mothers - now there were set backs he worked desperately to overcome.

Once home, Athos was pleased to see that the relationship between d’Artagnan and Constance had settled on friendship. Her firm, yet gentle nature seemed to have brought him ease and peace. And to Athos – a deeper respect for Constance and her innate ability to see what he saw in d’Artagnan – a brave man; tortured, but strong enough to come back from the hell Renard had put him through.

She knew just what to say when the room closed in on him - knew to keep a light burning in dark spaces and waited patiently without judgement for words to come when they failed him.

She smiled, caressed, and nudged softly when the situation called for it; but also pushed d’Artagnan with determination to come back to himself. He was grateful and could see that her love was the key to not only surviving today – but d’Artagnan’s survival in the long term. She was his other half – there was no mistaking their tie to one another. That d’Artagnan loved her – meant he would love her also – another member to join the ranks of his small clan.

So when he watched them embrace – fold into each other as if one – he thought all was well with his family; everyone accounted for – and then a sharp crack resounded; and she screamed.

The terror of it flew through the air and pierced his heart as if an arrow had struck him. He took off running down the hill toward them – hearing the footsteps of his brothers close behind.

When he reached them, Athos slid to the ground at their side. Constance turned frightened eyes to him; wide open with confusion. “I don’t understand”, she sobbed to him; bringing d’Artagnan closer still to her body – holding his head to her chest.

Athos looked down and his throat constricted with fear. He leaned in and could feel d’Artagnan’s breath on his cheek. When he reached out to touch him, his hands trembled; but he had to know, so he raked his hands through d’Artagnan’s hair – down his neck; shoulders; chest and then his sides. There, he felt the wet sticky sensation of blood.

He pulled his hands back and looked down to not only see his hands stained with d’Artagnan’s blood; but Constance’s dress beginning to soak with it down the front.

He was transfixed – there on his knees - he and Constance looking to each other for answers. When he saw none forthcoming, he looked to the tree line. Had not the shot come from the east – back toward the fort?

Constance looked down at d’Artagnan and noticed the blood spreading across the front of her dress and could not comprehend it. Where was it all coming from? How was this happening? He had just held her tight – kissed her; and confirmed his love. She could still feel his warm breath on her shoulder. She bent down and kissed his lips hard and with expectation – but he did not kiss her back.

When she looked to Athos – he was already on his feet – his eyes gazing toward the east; hand on the hilt of his sword – his body tense; coiled and ready to race to the tree line.

Aramis moved in quickly and gently removed d’Artagnan from her grip; Porthos bent down and pulled Constance to her feet – moving her hastily away – shielding her body from some unknown threat.

She could hear noise atop the hill – Rochefort and Treville urging the King’s carriage away and back toward the Palace – wheels retreating fast on the road. Treville yelling for them to take cover and retreat; knowing his musketeers would stand fast, and not leave d’Artagnan behind - the King commanding loudly for protection and the dauphin screaming at a high frenetic pitch as they rounded the bend.

Constance peered around Porthos’ solid frame and watched in a stupor as Aramis barked sharply at Athos – standing above him – to help. As if returning from a distance, Athos turned from scanning the trees – fell back to his knees and together they lifted d’Artagnan’s shirt and found the wound at his side.

They turned him toward them – “I see no exit”, Aramis exclaimed and felt along the entry point. “I feel the ball here at the rib”, he announced. “We need to get him back to the garrison.”

“Who is shooting at us?” Porthos asked scanning the area, continuing to shield Constance as best he could.

Athos countered, “Whoever it is – they are gone now – or else we would all be dead by now.”

Aramis looked to his friend – who appeared ready to track down the assailant at this very moment, “We must get d’Artagnan to the garrison and remove this bullet”, he insisted again; hoping Athos would hear him above the rage building up in his body.

Athos nodded and through sheer fortitude - kept his attention on the here and now. Porthos reached down and lifted d’Artagnan into his arms and began the walk up the hill to their horses and a carriage left behind by the royal party.

Constance watched with dread at how compliant and uncoordinated d’Artagnan’s limbs swayed as Porthos trudged up the hill – his weight nothing to him. Athos touched her shoulder; she came to herself; and ran to catch up with Porthos; to be near her life line. She grabbed hold of d’Artagnan’s hand falling loosely to the side – and held on tight.

Sabine Rochette watched from the tree line as the last of them departed from the fort and headed up the rise.

She lay flat on her stomach – pointed the musket at their retreating forms and contemplated on what to do.

Everyone she ever knew had either scattered to the winds or had been killed; and now lay dead within the fort, beneath a simulated heavenly sky. The last she saw of her Robert – he had yelled for her to leave – to run away as fast as she could; promising to meet her back at Gerberoy.

There had not even been time enough for a hug – a hurried kiss – or a warm smile of good-bye; only rushing about, running and panic. She could still hear musket fire blasting away in her head.

Things had not gone as planned. Jacque had twisted things; believed he was now Marmion – and had turned Gerberoy’s journey of validity into his own personal vendetta. Instead of receiving justice for their King’s act of genocide, they instead received death; and were now to be fugitives – running for their lives – for the rest of their lives.

What had been left of Gerberoy was now totally gone – its people extinct by death – or through forced invisibility – forever to hide in shadows, lest they be executed for treason and murder.

And what was she to do without Robert? Surely, he was dead – or would be; to leave her here on this earth alone. Not only had she to suffer with the after effects of the plague; but to now also suffer the grief of his loss. How was she to survive it?

To have lived and be witness to her parents starved to death out of neglect; indifference – and the will to see her survive it, was hell beyond reason; a hell that all of Gerberoy shared and kept close to their hearts. It had taken a whole year to plan their charade. A year to build the camera obscura; six months the rotating mirror and viewing surface – many more months to make costumes – masks; and to perfect the fraud of science.

A full year of their lives – committed fully to communal hatred with only Robert as her spark of life.

The whole village had rallied behind Jacque’s idea of getting justice – of having the King pay for what he had done. It had given them a reason to live. The thought of the King on his knees, begging for mercy was all they wanted; and hoped that his humiliation would dampen their sorrows – give them all something to cling to when the horror of what they suffered became too much to bear.

Now it was all lost. What did she have to live for now? Her family was gone; the King had escaped their judgment; and Robert was as good as dead.

Sabine touched the remnants of the plague about her face and sobbed in a breath. If not for Gerberoy and her parents; then she would get justice for herself – for Robert.

As she watched the young lovers embrace before her – she thought of her dear, dear Robert. He had been so good to her – kind – and so tender. He looked at her with such love; and without seeing the plague that scarred her body and her mind. What was she to do?

Sabine squeezed her eyes shut and let the tears run free down her cheeks.

When she opened them – she was determined to set things right; took aim; fired and watched the musketeer fall to the ground. She scrambled to her feet and raced as fast as she could through the trees; over brush and fallen limbs. “For Robert”, she whispered as she ran toward home.

When they reached the garrison – Treville met them in the yard with Dr. Lemay at his side. Musketeers huddled in groups watching in concern – having heard from Treville what had transpired at the fort. A detail had already been assigned to collect the bodies of the murdered gentry; and to search for escaped assailants.

Treville, Porthos, Athos and Lemay – reached for d’Artagnan and lifted him from the carraige – rushing him to the infirmary. Constance followed behind, dazed and frantic at the same time – with Aramis holding her up by the shoulders leading her in.

He sat her in a chair by the door and squeezed her hands, “He’ll be alright”, he assured, noticing how slowly she blinked up at him. He kissed her forehead and left her side; rushing into the room used to examine injured musketeers – ready to lend a hand to Lemay.

Constance looked down at her dress splattered with blood; and gripped her hands tightly together and prayed.

On the way here, she had sat on the floor of the carriage and would not let go of d’Artagnan’s hand. She had kissed it; pressed his palm at her cheek; and whispered for him to “wake up, wake up, wake up…”

He had opened his eyes once – smiled at her; then brushed his fingers through her hair and behind her ear. His face was etched with pain and he groaned deep from his throat – arching his back from the seat of the carriage, as it raced toward the garrison on bumpy terrain. He had wanted to speak; the question in his eyes apparent – but she pressed her lips to his and spoke for him, “You have been shot.” And when his eyes began to blink slowly and finally close, she pressed on urgently, “I love you d’Artagnan” – and he was unconscious again.

So now, she would pray – pray to God for him to live. If he lived – she would do anything; even give him up – give up her dream of happiness and go on with things as they were. How had she even believed that happiness was hers to have – that her sin would not catch up to her – and stain their love? How had she thought it possible?

She would live unhappy and in misery – if only God would spare him. It should have been her that ball struck; it should be her life in the balance – for if he died – how would she live without him?

Athos stood before Constance and watched as she pressed her eyes closed; tightened her hands together and moved her lips in obvious, fevered, prayer.

He looked down at his own hands – stained with d’Artagnan’s blood and his heart turned cold – his senses and emotions beginning to dull with rage. Aramis had pushed him from the room – silently pleading for him to go to Constance and give her company. But indecision was at war within him and he needed to leave here now, and go find the person or persons who did this before he exploded.

Porthos came behind him; clapped him gently on the back – Constance opened her eyes and stared up at them. “How is he?” she asked anxiously.

“The ball is here”, Porthos explained, pointing to his right rib. “Lemay thinks he can get to it; clean out the area from bits of material; then we wait and see.”

Athos heard Porthos’ words and considered the emotions on Constance’s face carefully – it was a mirror of his own pain. She reached for him and he sat next to her and held her hand – but he could not help her. He could not offer her words of encouragement. He bowed his head and pressed her hands to his lips. God forgive him, but he had nothing to give that would bring her comfort. Right now – he only felt a need to leave here and make whoever did this pay with their life. To lose him now – after everything they had been through was unfathomable.

When he looked again to her face – what he saw staring back at him was determination and permission for him to leave her side; and go set things right.

He let go of her hand; stood to his feet and nodded to her in agreement. Athos strode to the door with Porthos close behind.

When he reached the yard – he walked with purpose to the stables to retrieve a horse – but stopped to address his friend, “You don’t need to come with me.”

Porthos studied Athos face – decision made, declared, “But I will.”

Once atop their mounts, they rode out side by side back toward the fort.

Sabine made her way delicately through the woods - picking her way over underbrush – and stepping carefully over downed trees and limbs. She had long since stopped running – her limbs felt too heavy and her feet stung with each step.

Her sheer pink, nymph costume snagged on tree branches and the wafer-thin matching slippers provided little protection from the undergrowth.

She looked to the sky and shivered – feeling the change in temperature as the sun began its descent toward evening. She stood still in her tracks and stared directly at the setting sun. Just hours ago, she had been witness to the solar eclipse in its entire heavenly splendor - an event that was to coincide with the humiliation of their King – and bring Gerberoy some modicum of justice.

Instead, here she was, running away, trying to get home – alone.

Sabine pushed her frazzled hair from her face – sat down in the dirt and wept. She looked down at the musket still held in her hand, and dropped it to the ground as if stung. What had she done? Robert would never forgive her.

She rocked back and forth – and peered up at the sun again through her blurred vision of tears. God would not forgive her. And the eclipse had been proof of Him and his power. Would He blot her out as He had blot out the sun? Would he send the angel of death to come take her away to purgatory?

She prayed now here alone in the dirt with every ounce of humility she could muster – for the musketeer she had shot to live. If he lived – she would gladly give her life – and follow the angel wherever he would lead.

When this had all begun – she had never thought to take a life. Now she was at His mercy.

Sabine stood to her feet and swiped the tears from her face. If she could just get home to Gerberoy; then she could rest and wait.

When Porthos and Athos came into view of the fort, what greeted them would have been unthinkable mere hours ago.

A detail of musketeers and Red Guard worked side by side- bringing out the bodies of murdered Red Guard; nobles in tights; ladies in frills; followers of Marmion; and Marmion himself. Athos looked grimly at the sight. It was a massacre – some of it his doing. He hitched in a breath and felt helpless to this devastation.

“d’Artagnan will not join them”, he heard Porthos say beside him.

Athos nodded – certain of Dr. Lemay’s and Aramis’ skill of healing. He was confident they would do everything in their power. d’Artagnan was in good hands. Clearing his mind – he gathered himself and dismounted.

As he walked past the bodies arranged to be identified and retrieved by family – he could not help but be stunned by the depths of Marmion’s vengeance and depravity. Would he go to such lengths if it had been his family wiped out? He stood over Marmion’s body and thought – yes – perhaps. Was he not at this moment ready to hunt down the person who had gunned down one of his?

Athos bowed his head and considered his actions. Instead of here, should he not be back at the garrison – at d’Artagnan’s side – to at least be a comfort to Constance? He lifted his gaze and his eyes were like steel. No – it was not in his nature to wait, while d’Artagnan’s assailant ran free. There was nothing to give Constance but the satisfaction of finding the person who did this.

He left the line of dead and found Etienne making his final sweep of the fort.

“Have you found anyone alive?” he asked.

“None – though we believe some escaped to the woods toward the east.”

Athos looked toward the tree line, and thought on this, “Back to Gerberoy?”

“So it seems.” Etienne watched as Athos’ jaw set in determination. “Are you thinking of going after them?”

“After one”, Athos corrected.

“We will finish this grim task – and follow.” Etienne looked to the sky. “Evening fast approaches. We will set out as soon as it is possible to join you there tomorrow.”

Athos nodded his thanks, rejoined Porthos; and mounted his horse. As they rode away he announced to his friend, “We ride to Gerberoy.”

Constance let out a breath, and took a moment to massage the knots from her neck and the burgeoning ache in her temples. Nearby – Aramis lay sprawled on a cot; his soft rhythmic snoring calming her nerves. He had fallen off to sleep, exhausted a few hours ago - Dr. Lemay already having left to see to the Royal Family.

Reluctant to leave her to care for d’Artagnan alone – he had camped out here with them – ensuring her he was a light sleeper. If she needed him – he would be there. She was not sure how he had stayed on his feet for as long as he had. He and Dr. Lemay had stood for hours over d’Artagnan – working to save his life while they still had sunlight to see.

Looking at d’Artagnan now, it was as if he only slept. Other than the fine sheen of sweat that covered him – he looked as if he would sit up any moment and take her in his arms.

She pulled the bucket of water closer, dipped in the cloth and began the routine she started hours before. She swiped the damp cloth over his brow – his neck – his chest and lastly his arms and legs; attempting to beat back the fever that wanted to consume him.

She felt him shiver slightly from the coolness; stroked his hair and kissed his forehead – feeling the heat on her lips.

Earlier, Aramis, Dr. Lemay and Treville, had sat with her after the procedure and explained that now the only thing left to do was to wait. Removal of the ball and bits of material from d’Artagnan’s clothing in the wound had been a success. Now their task was to fight his infection – and bring down his fever. If they could do this – he would survive.

So, she would gather water – wipe down his body – force down liquid; for however long it took. She would not lose him – not now; not after all they had been through. She had prayed and promised God – that if He did not send the angel of death to their door, she would give up her notion of taking her happiness.

It had been hours since the procedure, and he had not yet regained consciousness. Dr. Lemay was not surprised. d’Artagnan had fought them hard while he had extracted the ball – with Treville and Aramis holding him down until he finally passed out. So she would wait him out. She would be here when he woke up.

Aramis had tried to get her to leave and change her dress; get a bite to eat; rest – but she was afraid to go. What if d’Artagnan woke up and she wasn’t here? What if she went and he left her?

She sighed and stood to find the candles. Evening approached and it would not do for d’Artagnan to awaken in the dark. She lit them one by one and placed them about – giving the room a soft glow.

She sat down again at his side; wet the cloth and began again.

Sabine dragged herself along the road toward home. She had traveled through the night; knowing her way home like the back of her hand. Her legs and feet felt as if they were weighted down with stone. She could barely lift them; but she refused to give up.

If she could only get to Gerberoy – momma and poppa would have a bath ready, and a bowl of stew to fill her belly. She was so hot; sticky; and the dirt on her pink shrift had turned the costume brown. She peered down at her feet and could see the blood seeping through the thin slippers.

Yes – momma and poppa would greet her at the door and welcome her home. Sabine studied the sky – soon the sun would be up, and she would help momma set the table; and kiss poppa as he headed off to work the fields.

She would go and visit with Robert – take a long walk to the stream; and plan for the future.

Sabine smiled; and found in her a burst of energy and ran for home – their little house on the edge of the wood. When she reached the front door – she flung it open – her smile still open and happy. But when she stepped across the threshold, it was so quiet; still and hushed – dust swirled around her; tickling her nose. She tilted her head to listen. Where had her parents gone?

She shivered from the chill of the room, and hugged herself to gather some warmth, and called out, “Momma?” She ran to her parent’s room, and swung open the door, “Poppa?”

She went back to the main part of their little house and turned around in a circle. Why did everything look so grey; and lifeless? She hunched her shoulders and covered her eyes. Where was her family?

“Sabine, why are you standing about?”

Sabine lifted her head; uncovered her eyes and stared incredulous at the petite woman in front of her. Suddenly a fire was in the hearth; the smell of stew permeated the room; and the sun peeked through the windows. “Momma”, she sighed in relief.

Her mother reached out her hands; pulled her in close and led her to the room she grew up sleeping in, “My dear child, come – come lay down and rest.” Sabine followed her mother to the pallet and laid her head on a straw pillow – her eyes wet with tears of joy.

“I’m so glad to see you momma”, she cried, “Where is poppa?”

“He’s gone ahead Sabine”, she cooed; pushing her hair away from her forehead.

Sabine kissed her mother’s hand, “I’ve done something so terrible. Will you forgive me?”

Sabine’s mother kissed her eye lids; and smiled down, “Hush and rest daughter. When you wake, we will all be here.”

“And Robert?” she asked hesitantly.

“He will be here soon I think. Just rest”

Sabine let her body relax; curled up in a ball; pressed her cheek against the rough straw and closed her eyes to wait.

d’Artagnan found himself walking toward a small little house at the edge of the wood. The chilled morning breeze brushed back his hair and skimmed across his cheeks. It was so quiet here – the sun just rising above the trees, casting a pink and orange glow – giving the world around him a feeling of tranquility. He felt light and well. He touched his side and there was no pain.

Where was Constance? All during the night, he had felt her presence – heard her whispers of love and sensed a cool dampness prickling at his skin causing him to tremble.

He had wanted to wake up and tell her not to give up on their happiness and to trust him – they had a right to dream. But now that he was awake she wasn’t here.

He walked toward the little house and saw that the door was open – inviting him in.

When he stepped inside the warmth embraced him right away, giving him a sense of peace. The smell of freshly baked bread and stew had his stomach growling.

There by the hearth, filling bowls of food from a steaming pot; was a petite brown haired woman, gesturing for him to come in further. “You are welcome”, she called out to him – smiling and placing the bowl on the table.

An older man sat with a pipe between his teeth, pulling a chair out for him to sit; and there at the head, sat someone he thought he knew – someone he should know, but could not place.

He frowned, concentrating hard. The man smiled at him, stood from his seat, and walked toward a room to the side. He opened the door, and lying on a pallet was a slight girl with long brown hair. She was dressed like a fairy, all in pink. He watched as she pushed herself to her elbows – reached out her hand and called out to the man at the door, “Robert.”

Suddenly, Athos came crashing in – pointing his musket; finger on the trigger – ready to shoot; and he yelled out, “Athos no!“, and sat straight up, breathing hard, his heart pounding – his side aching and pulsing in time with his fast moving heart.

When he looked around, there was no house – no hearth – no stew. He was in the infirmary and Constance was there holding the sides of his face – begging him to slow his breathing down and calling for Aramis to help her.

His mind felt foggy; and his chest constricted – he grabbed for Constance’s wrists and tried to follow what she was saying.

“Take deep breaths with me – yes?” she urged- nodding furiously – stroking his cheeks.

“In…” she coached, and he took in a breath.

“Out…” she exhaled, and he breathed out shakily.

This continued until they were breathing together as one.

To the side he could see Aramis watching them close with a wide grin on his face, “Hello”, he called out, relief evident in his voice. “We are so glad to have you with us.” He leaned his head on d’Artagnan’s shoulder and squeezed his arm firmly. When he pulled away he laughed with trepidation; and covered his mouth – a tear escaping down his cheek.

Constance kissed his temple and held him tight – feeling the coolness of his skin. “Your fever has broken” and she broke down in his arms.

d’Artagnan held his arms around her, and when he could hold her up no longer – she and Aramis laid him gently back to the cot to lay down – Constance now at his side with her arms about his waist; asleep instantly, her warm breath tickling his arm. He kissed her hair – and before drifting away with her, asked Aramis, “Where is Athos?”

“On his way” he assured – as he placed a blanket over their sleeping forms.

The ride to Gerberoy went into the evening and through the night. The sun rose, and a pinkish orange hue covered the sky. Athos had refused to stop along the way – pushing them forward, determined to find the person responsible for shooting d’Artagnan.

Porthos understood the depth of their connection and knew that although Athos loved him and Aramis, with d’Artagnan it was different. Where their bond with him had taken time and nurturing; with d’Artagnan it had been almost instantaneous. It was as if they had always known each other.

When they reached the outskirts of the town, Athos seemed to know where they were going; and he did not question it. He led them down the main street, where they saw several people – men and women – dressed in pink and black robes, scurrying to hide in abandoned homes – like frightened mice.

“Should we stop and detain these people?” he asked Athos – who did not answer – only continued to lead his mount down the dusty road; toward a small house at the edge of town near the woods.

They stopped before the house and dismounted. Athos removed his musket from his sash, Porthos following suit – and they moved toward the open front door. Before Porthos could ask what the plan was, Athos burst through; and pushed the door wide. He strode through the room – stalked to a door off to the side; and had his finger on the trigger ready to fire – knowing the person responsible for hurting d’Artagnan was there behind that door.

When he pushed the door open, he heard d’Artagnan scream, “Athos, no!”

He instinctively lowered his weapon and scanned the room. How was this possible? “d’Artagnan?” he called.

And then he heard a small voice exclaim, “Robert.”

Porthos strode past him into the room and there on a pallet lay a slight girl of twenty, with long brown hair; dressed in pink – her feet bloody inside pink slippers. He touched her face to feel for breath and there was none.

He turned to Athos, who stared back at him – eyes wide; and his brow creased with consternation. “She is gone” Porthos said to him.

Athos slowly turned from the room, and moved to the main area of the house; sat heavily in a chair and dropped his musket forcefully on the table.

He scanned the room apprehensively; covered his face and groaned aloud – taking in the gravity of what he had almost done. Porthos joined him, laid his hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently. Athos looked up at his friend and grabbed his hand with a fierce grip.

“When you love Athos – you love completely and sometimes beyond reason”, Porthos surmised with a slight weary smile.

Athos sighed shakily, his only response a nod and a final pat to the hand at his shoulder – certain that his friend spoke true; but unsure how to rectify it or if he should.

When they left the house, there was Etienne and his regiment riding toward them – with the fugitives rounded up between them.

“There is another here” Porthos informed Etienne, “but we leave this to you. We are heading home to see how our brother fares.”

Etienne nodded his understanding and watched as two of the inseparables rode away back to Paris.

When next d’Artagnan opened his eyes – the sun was shining bright through the infirmary windows – casting a sort of halo about the room. He squeezed his eyes shut from the glare and groaned – his side was on fire.

When he blinked them open again, more slowly, Athos was seated on the cot beside him – his hip at his hip, holding out a cup for him to drink from. He looked around the room to gain support for not needing the pain draught, but Aramis and Porthos were asleep on cots of their own. Constance – from across the room – smiled cheekily at him; deftly turned her back and announced that she would go and bring something to eat; her step full of energy as she pulled the door behind her.

d’Artagnan frowned and pulled himself to his elbows and knowing he would not dissuade his friend, forced the foul tasting concoction down as Athos held the cup to his lips. When it was all gone – he gagged for good measure and swiped the remnants of it from his mouth.

“Don’t complain – it is for your own good”, Athos admonished.

He placed the cup on the side table and held d’Artagnan by his shoulders as he gently helped to lower him back down to the cot - d’Artagnan never taking his eyes from his friend’s face – reading what little emotion there he would share.

Athos took a breath, “I’m sorry I left. I should have stayed and not gone to find her.”

d’Artagnan grabbed the front of his shirt and held on – pulling Athos toward him – his eyes warm with understanding. He knew now, it was Athos’ way to protect those he loved – no matter what.

“Once again you have saved me from myself” he said with sincere affection.

d’Artagnan cleared his throat and answered, “As you I.”

The End

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