You are young, and your bitter recollections have time to change themselves to tender remembrances.
Athos was right, though perhaps not for the reasons he had thought on the night he wrote D'Artagnan's name on the commission. Bitterness departed slowly, but it departed – though D'Artagnan tried to hold onto it, thinking that it lent his memories a clarity he had no desire to lose.
There was brightness to his days once more, sometimes in waking, when dreams had made him forget; sometimes, more unexpectedly, in the midst of a day filled with new responsibilities, coming to him as a sense of joy that took him unawares and made him guilty all at once, though sometimes he was not entirely sure why he felt the guilt.
Porthos married, and somehow they all wished him joy with sincerity.
Aramis stayed, and D'Artagnan never dared ask him why, or what had changed his mind; he knew that it was still for the time being, which was at least a constant, and tried in the days they were on duty together never to impress his new position upon the former priest. He still dreaded the quiet, scathing assessments that were Aramis's to command, and was not sure enough of himself to be certain he could ignore them.
Athos, who had never discussed leaving, was a fixed point, and like the unswerving fact of Rochefort's glittering enmity had become, it was a strange reassurance to look up and find his steady regard – less melancholy these days and more accepting, and softer in its cool understanding than it had ever been before; the change so slight that sometimes D'Artagnan wondered if it was real or imagined, but either way a change, and one for which he could only feel gratitude.
Not to life, or fate, for that was something D'Artagnan was not yet ready to concede could have brought any amelioration worth the price they had paid on the riverbank, but perhaps a little to Aramis's God, and certainly to the fact of a death he was not prepared to forgive himself for.
He had forgiven the others their part in it long since, but he knew that to forgive himself would be to accept that he was not to blame for Constance's death, either, and was not ready to relinquish that responsibility.
Not yet, Aramis always said, and for the time being, and D'Artagnan supposed that those things applied to all; all time, all love, all recollection, all sorrow and grief; applied to all joy, even, though the joy was not something he wanted to hold on to for any reason, feeling as it did so much of a betrayal.
Perhaps to joy most of all, then, those sentiments applied – not to let himself feel it in full as yet, not to dismiss it entirely, to ward it off for the time being.
Once, he could have discussed it with Aramis, presented it as a logistical theorem to be toyed with – but no more. Aramis, his quiet depths exposed unwittingly to their little world, no longer gave away anything at all of his own volition – or rather seemed not to, chose not to make it obvious when he did, faded himself into the background once more as though by doing so he could make them all forget what they had learned and D'Artagnan so unwisely put into words --
our intelligence, our invisible protector...
-- and in saying it, rendered that invisibility as nothing.
He did not think that time would ever soften his remembrance of that particular instant of folly, for either of them.
No-one worse to speak to of the problems of recovering joy than Athos, either, who even in his warmer moments, was hardly likely to tolerate what would appear as ingratitude for something he might never himself possess. Perhaps, one day, D'Artagnan might be able to say to him "You were right," and gain himself a rare smile, untainted by melancholy; but that day had not yet come, for it was not entirely true, and to lie even by implication to the man D'Artagnan most respected in the world was not a consideration.
And Porthos was gone, as surely as to death, and he the only man who knew what it was to feel unalloyed pleasure in being alive.
Conceal your griefs, Aramis had counselled him once, but it was as true that he must conceal his joys, for they had nothing in them but pain for those who had in their different ways chosen to detach themselves from the world he was coming to enjoy and love once more.
And yet, and yet, he could not help but see what he was not meant to, what no-one was meant to observe, carefully hidden as it was and must be; could not help but understand what that new lessening of the cold gaze with which Athos viewed the world implied; could not but connect it to Aramis's decision to stay and put off once again his reinhabitance of a cloistered world.
D'Artagnan, who still mourned a dead love, was more than ordinarily sensitive to one which was awakening; saw what most men would dismiss as the regard of friendship and comprehended its new depths – and knew that those depths would remain unfathomable by him, never to be questioned by look or word or gesture, lest he render its secrets impossible to maintain, and so bring all to a shadowy end.
He could keep secrets that were not his own as well as he always had, though to keep them from those who already knew of their existence was a strange burden.
It was not, however, a burden he would have chosen to exchange for any open wealth of confidence. He was content to live with the small shining moments that he was not supposed to witness, and to learn, as he always had, by their example; following their course to where bitterness had become tenderness, and sorrow had crossed that dark river into passion, and grief was transmuted into love.
He would watch, and he would trace the paths set out for him, and he would profit by learning from a distance.
And one day, he knew, he would remember it all in the softened light of years and the sweetness of knowing that what he remembered was something good, and true, and free from regret.
For now, he was content to bathe in the reflected glow of its existence, and recover his own peace while he did so.