I decided to give this story a try after having written two one-shots about Aramis' childhood and adolescence. They're called "Time goes by" and "And life goes on", if you want to read them, but it's by no means necessary to understand this one. I was not sure something related to only one of the Inséparables would have any success, but people seemed interested so… here it starts! I'll need your favs/follows and reviews more than ever, though. I've never written ANY long story in English in my life, so it's quite a challenge. And please don't be afraid to offer constructive criticism! You won't hurt me! I don't know yet how long the whole thing will be. There will be some degree of improvisation, so feel free to tell me if you'd like me to write about some particular aspect of Aramis' personality or life. I can't guarantee that I'll do it, of course, but I'll see what's possible. I'm quite slow when I write in English, but I can swear that I'll make regular, if not fast, updates, and that you'll have the end of the story. I've never left anything unfinished since I began to write seriously like 15 years ago. I don't plan to start now.

I classified the fic as "Gen" but, considering its length, you'll have a lot of adventure, some humor, drama and family, a good deal of H/C and friendship, and plenty of angst because angst is my thing :)
If everything goes as planned, Aramis will meet the other boys eventually, but only after some adventures on his own.

A BIG thank to everyone who has commented and faved my one-shots so far. I would never have felt confident enough to write this story without your support. Also, all my gratitude goes to my betas, and especially to Pika_la_Cynique, who will be the one proofreading most of this monster. I hope every new chapter will give her less work.

The title is from Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." I thought a Bible quote was appropriate for a story about Aramis :)

1

"You won't shoot."

The man's voice was steady, but you could see his eyes growing a little wide and his breathing quickening. Sweatdrops beaded on his forehead and that had nothing to do with the heat inside the bakery. For a brief moment, René wondered what he looked like. He had come here to confront his future father-in-law, not knowing what he would do if the man didn't confess where he had taken Isabelle, yet determined not to leave without an answer. It had not been supposed to go come to this, but the stubborn baker had obstinately kept his secret. Worse: he'd claimed that all was René's fault.

His father always told him that his emotions would be his undoing. He hated to prove the old man right, but had honestly no idea of how he was supposed to react when, five days after having lost his baby – five days he'd already spent blaming himself without needing any help – his beloved's father had accused him, without batting an eyelid, of being the one who brought misfortune on his house.

"My daughter was a good girl," he'd said, without raising his voice, but the anger tangible enough. "She was smart, cautious and pious to the bone! She could have married an honest man and been a respected mother. You took all her dreams from her when you seduced her, and I will not let you harm her ever again."

René had wanted to protest, but couldn't help but wonder if there wasn't some truth in the accusations. He had not actively seduced Isabelle. She was her own woman, perfectly able to think for herself, and that was one of the reasons why he loved her so much. Besides, she had been the one to kiss him first. He knew that was the last thing to say to her father, but, despite his insolent degree of experience with women for a seventeen-year-old, René had indeed been the cautious one, too shy and afraid to destroy their friendship to make the first move. But then… Well, they were a couple, weren't they? They loved and trusted each other, and knew they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, so why wait? Had he pushed too much? Should he not have pushed, period? She'd seemed to yearn for it as much as he had. Of course, she'd had so much more to lose in giving in to him, but she'd known he would always be there, right?

That, he had said out loud. Calmly, first, insofar as his exhaustion had allowed, and then, maybe a bit too intensely. And perhaps he should not have ended his speech by yelling "You have no right to keep us apart!" but he was so, so tired of diplomacy.

"No right?" the man had repeated, his still more-or-less mild-natured face getting red. "I'm her father! I welcomed you into my house and turned a blind eye to your disastrous reputation because I trusted my daughter and I trusted you, with your charming smiles, treacherous words and fake humility, as if you weren't nothing but another damn obnoxious noble-born cad. Such a fool I was! Watching you dishonoring Isabelle and making a laughing-stock of my family's reputation! Oh, I know you people can't even imagine that simple folks know anything about honor. But we do!"

"I'm not…" René had started, puzzled. He was no nobleman! He was a bastard. Raised in the brothel his mother had been forced to work in after the chevalier d'Herblay abandoned them. He might have been wearing nice clothes, now that he lived in his father's manor, tended his young beard every day, rode a fine horse and carried good weapons, but he came from the gutter and, even if he'd not told anybody about his mother's profession, he would never, ever forget that. The baker had not let him plead his case, though:

"You seduced her, you sullied her and destroyed all her hopes. Her losing the bastard babe was the best thing that could have happened. She has a chance, now, for a fresh start, somewhere nobody knows about her past, and I will do all that is in my power to stop you from ever seeing her again."

The next moment, René was holding his pistol under the man's nose, perfectly aware of how stupid, callous and selfish it was, but not giving a freaking damn.

When had everything gone so wrong?

It was true that the baker had welcomed him into his house. Several times, and for all that he was spitting on René's ancestry now, the man had praised his good nature and unexpected modesty. Once, he had even affectionately scrubbed his curly hair by surprise and huffed: "Ah! You're not that bad!"

That was more of a compliment than anything René's own father had ever said to him.

All things considered, they had even been rather fine after Isabelle had gotten pregnant. Of course, at first, both the baker and his wife had been furious. But René had been at his beloved's side when she'd told them. He had defended her, accepted the full blame and promised he would marry her and support her and the child, whatever it took. Aware of his proclivities, he'd considered enlisting, even if it meant risking his life and never seeing his son or daughter grow up. That had slightly mollified the couple's animosity.

But then, Isabelle had lost the baby, and her parents hadn't needed to pretend anymore.

He had not been there in the fatal moments, but with his own father, selling brandy at the fair. When he'd come back, Isabelle had not blamed him, yet he had seen the silent reproach in her eyes, like some kind of awful confirmation, and it had been another form of grief. He'd hurt so, so much, but she had been so tired and so sad that he could not confront her for the life of him. He had tried to be strong for her, and succeeded, to a certain extent. He had stayed at her bedside, cared for her whether she was plagued by nightmares or fever, cooked for her after she'd felt better but was still tired and weak from blood loss, and never cried in front of her, even if he knew his bloodshot eyes could not be mistaken for a simple manifestation of exhaustion. Exhausted he was, however, when, after four days, the call of fresh air had proven impossible to resist. He'd mounted Ébène, his young mare, and galloped to the little shed where he and Isabelle used to meet.

He'd stood in the single room for a while, contemplated the mattress, the kitchen tools, the flowers that had started to wither in their little vase, and the small uncomfortable chair she liked to rest in while he usually resigned himself to sitting on the floor rather than using the wobbly stool that threatened to lose a leg any time someone dared letting their bottom touch it. All these things had spoken of their happy moments together and, suddenly, it had seemed that the objects were grinning at him, mocking his naivety and arrogance - because what a fool he'd been to believe for even a second that a penniless chevalier's bastard son of a whore had any right to a family of his own? He had thrown the vase against the wall first, and then thoroughly trashed the place, until the wreckage finally showed a more accurate picture of his pathetic life.

It had given him quite a scare, to contemplate the violence that lay dormant inside him.

When he'd returned to the bakery, where the whole family resided, he'd found the man working alone. The flour and the wood fire smelled good, several loafs of breads were waiting to go in the oven, everything was silent except from the man's heavy breathing, and Isabelle was gone.

Now, René realized that customers could come in at any moment, and see him threatening the man. He briefly wondered what would happen. Would the baker press charges? Was his father powerful enough to spare him a sentence? Did he want him to?

"You won't shoot," his not-father-in-law had said, in an effort to sound like he believed his own words.

"Try me."

Brillant. Could he not come up with a better line? It was like having "Of course, I won't!" written on his face.

Still… Of course, he wouldn't. He had never killed anyone in his life, and would certainly not start with the father of the girl he loved.

For a moment, René wondered if Isabelle would forgive him for having roughed up her old man. He was doing it to save her, but she had never been the damsel in distress type. She was intelligent, strong and capable, and, above everything, she abhorred violence.

What a mess!

He was useless.

What am I doing?

People had repeatedly told him that he was smart, but what good was that if he kept acting before he thought?

I just keep making things worse! Every time!

He was no noble, not really, but he was a capricious brat who only cared about his own wants.

I did ruin her life.

"Listen, boy," the baker implored, and René was about to snap, "Don't call me a boy!" but held back just in time not to humiliate himself any further. The man went on.

"I know you're sad. I know you're angry, and I'm sorry that I lashed out at you before, but I want you to think about what's best for Isabelle. I'm not saying that you deliberately used her. I can see that you believe you're in love but, trust me, you two would have destroyed each other. You're not a family man, son, you know that. And I thank you, for the sacrifices you were willing to make. I thank you for not abandoning my daughter, but it's all over, now. I swear that Isabelle will be well and happy. I'll make sure of it. And you… you can do whatever you want with your life."

René almost flinched, but he couldn't bring himself to lower the pistol. Finally, he merely snorted and said:

"That's exactly what I'm doing."

God! He sounded so broken!

He could see the pain in the baker's eyes, but at first didn't realize that it was now directed at him.

What?

His vision blurred a bit.

He was so horrified when he felt the moisture on his cheeks that he had check himself from smacking the pistol in the man's face.

Don't look at me like that!

I don't want your pity!

And don't think for a second that this means you're right. You would cry too, in my shoes!

He didn't bother to wipe away his tears. There was no point anymore in pretending that he was anything but a broken child who'd been fool enough to think getting a girl pregnant would make him a man.

But he could be a proud and honorable child.

I know what I did wrong but I will make it up to her.

I will atone for my sins but I will NOT. Be. Alone.

He finally lowered the weapon and raised his chin before saying: "I'll find her."

The man in front of him couldn't suppress a sad smile.

"I will," he insisted. "I can't force you to tell me where you're holding her imprisoned, but you can't stop me."

And he left the bakery.

He came across Madame Mathieu on his way to Ébène. "Good morning, René," she greeted him. "Well, aren't you an early bird!"

He didn't answer. Didn't trust his voice enough to offer basic civility.

Only when the horse had taken him about five miles away from the village, at the edge of his father's woods, did he stop and fall on his knees to cry all the tears he had in him.

And when there was nothing left but dry, empty sobs, and he didn't feel any better, he straightened and howled out to the sky, not giving a damn if anyone heard him.

xxxx

When he finally made it to his father's house – not his, he realized; in five years living there, he had never thought of the place as his – he dismounted and left the mare in full harness near the old run-down barn that had been left unused since the family had lost the better part of its fortune, some century and a half ago. It was still early morning, but Madame Girard was already working in the kitchen, Phébus and Marie would soon wake up, and René didn't want to attract any attention.

The sooner he left, the higher his chances to find Isabelle. He knew where most of her relatives lived, but was afraid she would be moved from house to house, or even sent abroad, if he waited too long.

It was wrong, he thought, not to say goodbye to the servants. Especially to Jules, the stable boy, who had taught him a lot about horses, and to whom he'd given some swordfighting lessons when nobody was around. He felt less guilty regarding his family: he would be delighted if he never saw Phébus ever again; Marie would be a little sad at first, but would soon realize that she didn't miss her older half-brother any more than he missed her; and as for their father, he'd left two evenings ago, on one of his errands, and would not come back for a couple of days, which settled the matter.

That left Charles. The youngest son of the Chevalier d'Herblay, and René's favorite half-sibling, was away at school at Pontoise. But one of Isabelle's cousins lived there, so maybe he'd be able to see the boy. If not, well… He could always send him a letter. Charles was wise, if not as smart as the rest of the family. He would understand.

René swung by the armory to retrieve his spare pistol, some powder and knives, and managed to steal some bread and salted meat in the kitchen while the cook was out fetching eggs in the henhouse. After that, he hastened up the stairs, and then walked the old dim corridor, along the many closed doors of the rooms his father was not wealthy enough to keep warm. He briefly realized that he had never felt the slightest hint of curiosity regarding his ancestors' home. Never once, even during the long idle weeks that had followed his arrival, had he wanted to unlock the mysteries of the D'Herblay manor. He had wandered the place to pass the time, tried to open the closed doors, and sometimes succeeded, which had allowed him a dispassionate peek at what laid behind. Most of the rooms were half-empty. In one there had been a little bed covered by a sheet, and some dusty furniture. He had supposed that was the former bedroom of a lost child, but had never asked. He'd seen too many miscarriages and sudden infant deaths when he lived with his mother to feel more than a sad acceptance at the thought. The only thing he liked about the D'Herblay's manor was the smell. In addition to the scent of the fireplaces, a fruity bouquet from the distillery filled the air everywhere indoors, and even, during summer, the gardens. Not knowing when – and if – he would return, he decided to take a bottle of their liqueur on his journey.

From his small room, he took only some money, a change of clothes, his sewing kit and his old Bible, the one his mother had given to him and taught him to read with. He didn't dawdle but swore when he heard footsteps in the corridor. He sat on his bed, waiting for the nuisance to go away, but the noise stopped at his door and the handle moved. There was only one asshole in this house obnoxious enough to indulge in such an inappropriate behavior.

"Phébus." he stated, when the face of his fourteen-year-old fortunately-only-half-brother appeared at the door.

"What are you doing?" the light-brown boy asked, not bothering to apologize for the intrusion. When René failed to talk back, he pointed at the weapons at his side: "You can't have those. They're father's."

"He gave them to me." René answered matter-of-factly.

Phébus then fully entered the room. He was still in his nightclothes. Just out of bed, and already intent on making trouble.

"So what? You're a bastard. Nothing here is really yours."

In five years at The D'Herblay's, there'd been one question René had never found an answer to. It was not "Why did my father abandon us, forcing my mother to prostitute herself to feed me?" or "Why did he finally feel the urge to take me back?" but "What the bloody hell is this pathetic excuse for a brother's freaking problem?"

Phébus was handsome, capable, and even smart, in a wicked way. Most importantly, he was the legitimate heir. Still, for some reason, he had been jealous of René from the day he'd arrived . At first, the older boy had been a bit disappointed, but this feeling had quickly been replaced by a bored annoyance at the constant teasing. Not that Phébus was brave enough to confront him physically, or to even try to strike where it really hurt, but the absurdity of this disproportionate antagonism inevitably got on his nerves.

This morning, however, René had no time for it.

"Go away, Phébus. I have things to do."

"Well, too bad," the boy blurted. "Because I'm in charge of this house when father is away and I demand you tell me where you plan to go."

René couldn't resist giving the brat a flat look before resuming his packing and heading for the door. But Phébus, maybe sensing there was something different in the air this morning, didn't move. René sighed. "Don't make me hit you, kid."

Phébus flinched. René had almost never called him "brother", but "kid" was a new thing. It was not in his habits to be patronizing, but if he could one up over the little brat one last time without having to punch his face (he was quite proud that had never happened), he would not deny himself the chance.

The put-down worked. Phébus involuntarily moved back, allowing René to leave without a further word. But he had only gone three steps before his nasty brother recovered from the shock and in an unsteady voice brayed: "Is it your slut losing your bastard that makes you such a sourpuss?"

The next second, René's pack was on the floor, and his left forearm under Phébus's throat. The boy's eyes went wide as he was shoved up against the wall.

"You just had to wait ten. More. Minutes," René voiced between his teeth, "and you'd have been rid of me for good. But you couldn't keep your damned mouth shut, could you?"

Phébus tried to say something but only managed to summon a pathetic wheeze. When he started to go red, René reluctantly eased his pressure, still considering whether to punch the boy for good measure.

"You're… leaving?" Phébus croaked, and then probably noticed how weak he'd sounded, because his face hardened and he added with a smirk: "Then you'll never know."

"Know what?" René asked, more by reflex than any actual curiosity.

"Where father goes when he leaves the house."

What the Hell was that about all of a sudden? René didn't care what his father did in his spare time. Maybe he was visiting a mistress, or selling some extra brandy on the black market – it was unlikely from such a self-righteous chevalier, but hardly an unimaginable hypocrisy these days. Or maybe he simply wanted some time away from his children. Either way, it was none of their business.

Phébus had a devilish grin on his face, now, and René shrugged before releasing him.

"Go get dressed. You're not even worth punching."

His brother opened his mouth to speak but was stopped by a lilting voice.

"Leave him alone, Phébus."

Both young men turned to the thirteen-year-old girl who had just come out of her own room. She pushed back the dark curly hair she had not taken the time to comb from her sweet brown eyes and scowled at Phébus, who growled: "You have no right to give me orders."

"No." Marie agreed. "But, if you don't go away, I'll tell father that you mounted Sirius before his leg was healed, and that's why he's still limping."

"I didn't..." Phébus started to argue, but stopped when the proud girl didn't falter. He settled for a disdainful snort, along with another nasty look at René. "Remember what I said," he hissed, before turning around and then, as he walked past his sister: "You'll pay for that."

She rolled her eyes and René muffled a laugh. Marie had nothing to fear. Even if the horse story was not true, she was their father's favorite.

"You're the real master of this house," he said to her, knowing that Phébus was still within earshot, and she gave him a smile that carried no joy.

"Where are you going?" she asked while he picked up his pack from the floor.

"Searching for Isabelle."

"Will you come back?"

At first, René said nothing. Would he come back? To a father he didn't love, a brother he believed would end up plotting his death and an estate he didn't care about? Would Isabelle even want to settle in a place so full of bad memories, where half the town folk called her a whore and the other looked at her with too much pity to bear?

"Probably not," he admitted. "But I'll write."

He was about to add that he was sorry that he'd considered leaving without saying goodbye to her, but she spoke gravely: "You should come back."

He raised an eyebrow. "Why's that?"

"Because…" she hesitated, visibly unsure she was allowed to reveal the information, but sighed and announced: "Because I believe father wants to make you his heir."

For a second, René was too stunned to answer. That could not be. Phébus was the heir. That was the plan all along, and the normal course of things. Never once their father had mentioned another possibility, and never once had he treated René as if the thought had crossed his mind. Finally, he simply asked: "What makes you think that?"

The girl shrugged: "Would you let Phébus administer the estate?"

"I don't know. He's been taught to."

"But he doesn't learn! He's driven by spite and jealousy. Everything he does is for himself. He would complete the ruin of our family. It's our responsibility to prevent that."

That last sentence sparked a fury René didn't know was still there.

Our responsibility? He wanted to snap at the girl's face. Since when has it become my problem? For the first time in my life, I have a purpose. Why would I throw that away to fix the D'Herblay's mess? But Marie would not understand. As poor as they all were for a noble family, she had, compared to most people, lived in luxury all her existence, and she was all about principles. So, he only said:

"Thank you for telling me. But I don't wish to inherit the title."

"Why?"

The question was almost comical. Well, let's see. Because I'm a bastard? Because the man who so generously wants me to be his successor now that he's short of other options is the one who forced my mother to become a prostitute? Because it took him eight years to change his mind and let me live here, probably in a pathetic attempt to cleanse his soul before meeting God? Because not a single person in this household, and that does include you, ever did anything to make me feel at home? Or simply because I would not have the slightest idea of how to run an estate, even if I wanted to? Which I don't!

The irony, though, was a delight. Musing over it was revenge enough for everything Phébus had done to him in the past. All the hatred, the erratic behavior, and the stupid delusions the oaf had ever shown out of fear of losing the estate were precisely the reasons why it was offered to René, now. And he wouldn't even take it!

He chuckled and Marie gave him an inquiring look. Remembering her question, he kissed her goodbye on the forehead and smiled.

"I'm not a D'Herblay. Never will be."

As he walked down the corridor to his new life, he felt strangely at peace. The grief was still there, of course, and the anger, and the tiredness, but this new certainty of knowing where to go and what to do was invigorating. Marie had not tried to argue, let alone run after him, but, just before he reached the top of the stairs, he heard her sweet, strong voice rise with another question:

"What are you, then?"

He stopped short but didn't answer immediately, considering the question, and the girl felt the need to clarify: "If you're not a D'Herblay?"

When he and his mother had been cast away from Herblay, all those years ago, and before she'd started to work in the brothel that would become their house, they had settled for a while in a small village, not far from the Spanish border. The people there had been kind to them, a widowed innkeeper even offering to let them stay for a week, to recover from their journey, only asking for some help in the kitchen in return. Years after, when he'd been old enough to ride on his own, he had gone back to the place. The innkeeper had died, but the majority of the villagers were still welcoming, gladly sharing their memories of the elderly woman with this strange boy who asked so many questions. He had felt good. Almost at home. After all, it'd been the first and only place to treat him as if he belonged. He'd been there twice in his life, but never forgot the name.

He turned to face Marie one more time and smiled before answering:

"I'm Aramis."

x

À suivre :)

x

Notes(some were in my other stories, but I assume that not everyone is going to read them):
- The names I chose for Aramis' brothers and sister are actually those of the father (Charles) uncle (Phébus) and aunt (Marie) of Henri d'Aramitz, the real musketeer who inspired Dumas to create the character of Aramis.
- Herblay is a small town, northwest of Paris. Aramitz (now spelled Aramits, and Aramis for the purpose of this story) is a village, about 50 km (30 miles) from the Spanish border.
- Ébène, Aramis' mare's name, is French for "ebony".