Finally Home

By 302pilot

He couldn't see much from his window, especially at this late hour. The snow had been gently falling, making the world seem to glow in the darkness. Despite the beauty beyond his window, Aramis shuttered, closing his eyes and resting his head back on the wall as he lounged in his bed. He was warm and safe, he told himself for the hundredth time.

"But I'm alone."

It was the eve of the New Year. He had been alone all day, cooped up in his room, unable to do his duty to King and country because of an injury. He cursed d'Artagnan's horse for being so skittish—if only he had announced himself before he entered Buttercup's stall a few days ago. He knew better but he was in a rush and forgot to pat the mare's hind quarters before he walked past, eliciting a loud whiney and a swift kick from the startled horse that badly damaged his knee. It wasn't her fault—but right now, Aramis wanted it to be. He was alone and miserable. And it was New Year's Eve. That made everything worse.

He wondered again about his friends—he worried that something had hindered their travel back from Reims. It was only a 2 day journey home but they were due back yesterday and still no word had come. He knew they wouldn't tarry, that they all wanted to be together to ring in the New Year. Just the thought of his brothers meeting up with trouble on the road without him there to help caused his stomach to churn. He breathed deeply, trying in vain to push away the nervousness he was feeling inside. Reaching into his shirt, he pulled out his cross. Kissing it, he sent a quick prayer to the God he knew was watching over his friends. They'd be back soon. He had to believe they'd be back soon.

The road was getting slipperier by the hour as the three friends slowly made their way home on the dark winter's night. Athos was in the lead, his hands wrapped in his blue cloak, hat pulled low over his eyes, his horse pushing wearily thru the foot or so of snow that had steadily fallen all day. Porthos was next in line, following carefully in the tracks made by Athos' horse, his hat held on by his head scarf and wrapped hap hazzardly around his face. Following in the rear was d'Artagnan, shivering now, his cloak pulled over his head and wrapped tightly around his body. His horse just knew what to do, following in the steps of the animal in front of him, eyes blinking against the gently falling snow.

Athos was the first to see it—the lights from the place they called home. Stopping his horse, he turned to Porthos, a small smile gracing his snow covered face, his eyes brighter then they'd been all evening.

"We're almost home. See there-the candlelight in the cathedral." Porthos huffed an acknowledgement, nodding his head as he passed his lieutenant, taking the lead. Athos waited for d'Artagnan to come up alongside him. Slowly the boy approached, his horse continuing to follow in the tracks ahead of him. Athos' smile faded as he saw the snow covered shivering form approach.

"d'Artagnan—we're almost home. Can you make it to the garrison?" he asked hesitantly. The boy looked up at him, pulling his cloak closer around himself and nodding.

"My hands are frozen, I think. They were painful for a while but now I feel nothing."

Athos quickly shouted to Porthos to stop, then turned back to his young protégé, unwrapping d'Artagnan's freezing hands from his cloak, pulling off the boy's thin leather gloves. Concern etched his face as he pressed the boy's hands against his cheeks.

"They are too cold now. You must warm them and quickly." He dismounted, telling d'Artagnan to do the same. Standing next to his mount, d'Artagnan let Athos take his hands and tuck them tightly under his horse's saddle blanket. Pressed between the horse's thick coat and the warm blanket, d'Artagnan began to feel his hands come back to life. Closing his eyes against the pain, he leaned into Buttercup's side, gaining warmth from his longtime friend. Athos wrapped his own cloak around the frozen boy, taking d'Artagnan's thin leather cloak and wrapping it around himself.

"We're almost home. I'm sure Aramis is concerned that we might not make it home before the New Year. I think he will be pleasantly surprised." The sparkle had returned to Athos' eyes as he pulled d'Artagnan's hands out from their warming spot. Taking off his own gloves, he slid them on d'Artagnan's hands.

"No, Athos. They're better now. Thank you but I couldn't." d'Artagnan went to pull off the gloves but was stopped by his leader.

"Be still. We are so close to home. Please do me the honor of helping you stay warm."

d'Artagnan was about to protest when Porthos rode up next to them. "Take them. Athos is warmer than most. Aramis says it's all the wine coursin' thru his veins." He then untied his scarf and tossed it to the young man. "Tie that around your head. It's no wonder you're freezin'. Maybe this year will be the year you finally get a hat."

The young Gascon smiled ruefully and wrapped the scarf around his head. Athos gave him the once over, deeming him fit to travel the remaining distance home. With Porthos in the lead, the three men continued on towards the garrison, following the lights of the grand cathedral before them.

Leaning against the rail above the common area, Captain Treville watched his men usher in the New Year with wine and song. He couldn't help but feel that something was missing—there was an energy that wasn't present this night. He watched as his breath made frosty clouds appear and mysteriously disappear into the night air, air that was much too cold for anyone, let alone three riders struggling to get home after a long journey. He fought to keep his mind positive, but he knew all too well what could happen on a night such as this. Pushing those thoughts aside, he went back into his office and settled on his bed, bottle of brandy in hand, and toasted the New Year, sending a quick prayer heavenward for his missing men.

Aramis' eyes never left his window. Frost had started to collect in the corners of the glass, painting a frosty picture and giving him an idea of just how cold it was outside. The fire in his room was burning brightly with plenty of wood for the night and he had a fresh bottle of wine in hand, thanks to the thoughtfulness of Serge and the strong arms of Jacques the stable boy. Now all he needed was his friends. He thought for the hundredth time of what could be keeping them, but pushed those thoughts aside one last time as he waited for the bells of Notre Dame to start ringing.

As they entered the city limits, the three weary travelers took in the sights and sounds of a city celebrating the coming of another year. Tavern after tavern glowed brightly as the inhabitants within toasted friends and family, singing and laughing as the King's Musketeers passed quietly by. D'Artagnan sighed as he listened to the merry making, being reminded yet again of the events of the past year. As his horse slowly trudged thru the snow covered roads, his mind was brought back to that fateful day back in the spring, when, in the front of a tavern, he held his dying father. His life had changed in that moment, never to be the same again.

As if reading his mind, Athos sidled up alongside the young man.

"I, for one, am glad the fates have brought you to us this year, d'Artagnan of Lupiac in Gascony." His eyes smiled as he gently cuffed the boy on the shoulder. D'artagnan returned the gesture with a shy smile, realizing again how incredibly blessed he was to be in the company of these noble men.

"You always know what I'm thinking" he said quietly, shaking his head with a grin.

"I am proud of you, as I know your father would be. You have risen to each challenge set before you and come away a better man." Athos glanced fondly at his protégé, a broad smile gracing his face. D'Artagnan ducked his head, momentarily taken aback by the unexpected compliment but feeling ever so honored to be the recipient of it none the less. Porthos rode up on his other side, casually throwing his arm around d'Artagnan's shoulder.

"You're one of us now—that's a might better position than you found yourself in a year or so ago. And I for one am glad to be called your friend. Now lets get a move on or Aramis will 'ave fallen asleep without ringin' in the new year proper-like."

D'Artagnan smiled fondly at his friends as they gently spurred their horses on towards home. It wasn't long before the bon fires in the garrison courtyard shone brightly in the cold night sky. As the three rode under the arch, they were overcome by a sense of comfort—they were finally back where they belonged. Upon their arrival the men that were gathered around the fire cheered their welcome as Jacques the stable boy took their horses to be bedded down in the warm stable. Athos shook the many proffered hands as he made his way up to Treville's office to make his report. Pushing through the crowd, Porthos and d'Artagnan accepted a bottle of wine that was offered to celebrate the New Year and made their way to Aramis' room.

Porthos slowly pushed open the door to the room where his friend was staying. The fire that had been so warm and inviting just an hour ago was burning down to its embers, giving off a soft glow. D'Artagnan went directly over and stood in front of it, shaking the snow off his cloak and throwing on another log to stoke the dying embers. He carefully removed Athos' fine rabbit lined gloves and placed them on the chair besides the fire. Looking back he saw Porthos gently sitting on the side of the bed where Aramis lay sleeping.

"Is he alright? I thought for sure he'd be awake on the eve of the New Year" d'Artagnan said quietly, splaying his hands out in front of the fire to try to warm them.

Porthos gently grasped Aramis' arm, shaking it ever so slightly to try and wake him. The door opened with a loud squeal and Athos joined them, placing his bottle of wine-a gift from the captain, on the table and taking off d'Artagnan's leather cloak with a flourish.

"And how is our sleepy friend?" he asked, shaking the melted snow from his hat and hanging it on the back of the door.

Porthos looked up, unable to wake the sleeping musketeer. "Don't know. 'e seems to want to be sleepin' more than celebratin'."

Athos walked over to the side of the bed and without a second thought, stomped loudly on the floor.

"Arise! The new year is almost upon us and we have much to celebrate!"

D'Artagnan laughed as Aramis sat strait up in bed, eyes roaming wildly from side to side, eventually settling on Porthos' smiling face.

"There you are. We was thinkin' you'd gone and celebrated without us."

"I had all but given up hope" he said groggily, falling back onto his pillows. "I could have done without the rude awaking, however." He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked over at Athos, then d'Artagnan. "You are all well it seems?"

Athos popped open the wine and passed it to Aramis. "We are well enough, though our young friend is a bit frozen in places."

Aramis took a long drag from the bottle and passed it to Porthos.

"This year will be the year of the hat" the big man said, taking a very long swig of the dark liquid before passing it to the youngest among them. Aramis smiled, nodding his understanding.

"We'll see about that" d'Artagnan muttered, cold hands shaking as he took a pull. Just then the sound of bells could be heard in the distance. Athos smiled and looked fondly at the men around him. Reaching for the bottle, he raised it in the air, looking pointedly at each of his dear friends.

"A luckier man there has never been, who has been blessed with brothers such as I. Here's to a new year and the adventures it holds! All for one—"

Aramis, Porthos and d'Artagnan smiled warmly at their leader, feeling his sentiment deep in their souls.

"And one for all."

Finis

Happy New Year everyone! Here's to season 2 and a New Year of great stories!