A/N: This short chapter marks the start of a multi-chapter story, which is a birthday present for the wonderful AZGirl. She was kind enough to give me a list of prompts, which served as inspiration for this fic, and I'll include them at the end of this tale for anyone who's interested. AZGirl, I wish you all the best on your special day, and hope you're having a wonderful birthday! Many happy returns, my friend.

"Sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero."

- unknown

Squinting against the bright sun's glare, d'Artagnan wished for once that he had a hat to protect his eyes. Glancing enviously at the others, he noted the wide grin on Porthos' face, while Aramis spoke animatedly, no doubt regaling his friend with stories of his latest conquest. Athos rode several feet ahead of their group alongside one of the new recruits. Based on the stiffness of the young man's back, the trainee was less than thrilled to be sharing the lead position with their lieutenant. For some time, d'Artagnan had ridden alongside the older man, only dropping back when Athos had given a long sigh before grudgingly replacing his protégé's company with one of their young charges so that he might impart some of his wisdom to the new recruit.

Their training mission would take them several days out of Paris, and the Inseparables had been assigned six men to coach and mentor. d'Artagnan had been secretly pleased at having been included, given that his own commission had been awarded only a few months prior. While he thought of himself as still new to being a Musketeer, his assignment suggested that Treville didn't view him the same way, a fact that made the Gascon's heart swell with unspoken pride.

A guffaw from Porthos drew his attention back to the two men once more, and he momentarily considered riding with them instead of maintaining his solitary position behind Athos. He discarded the idea almost at once, slowing his horse to fall back to their rear. He drifted to one side of the group of trainees, not quite behind them and not close enough to insert himself into their conversations. The men's spirits seemed high, and he noted several grins on the recruits' fresh faces. God, had he ever looked and acted that young, d'Artagnan wondered to himself.

It was true that he'd been young compared to most of those who pursued a commission with the Musketeers, but what he lacked in years, he felt he made up for in experience. His first few months with the Inseparables had made certain of that, exposing him to some of the seedier sides of Paris, and giving him a glimpse into the monarchy which few others his age had. That experience, combined with his friends' lessons, had done much to prepare him for his commission, and he realized that it was these lessons that Treville was now taking advantage of.

While d'Artagnan had initially been excited about the mission, he'd seen the others' less-than-enthusiastic expressions, suggesting that this would be more of a chore than an honor for his friends. He hadn't understood at first, believing that it would be a pleasure to be tasked with the development of their future brothers-in-arms, until he came to realize how thankless the work was. From the moment they'd addressed the new recruits, the men had challenged their decisions, believed every order was an opportunity for discussion, and found reason to dispute the many corrections that came their way. All in all, the experience had been an exercise in rapidly diminishing patience and increasing frustration.

d'Artagnan's eyes flicked over to one of the recruits, a wiry man named Vieillard. Since before their departure, this particular recruit had been at the centre of everyone's attention, with his young peers flocking to him as ducklings to their mother. Initially, the Gascon hadn't been overly surprised, and found it quite normal for the others to gather around the more gregarious among them. As he'd continued to watch the dynamic among the new men, however, d'Artagnan had slowly begun to change his evaluation of the situation, wondering if Viellard was really a good role model for the others. There was nothing specific that the Gascon could point to, but he always had the sense when observing the other man that Viellard's intentions were less than honorable.

Another round of raucous laugher came from the group of four recruits, and d'Artagnan frowned for a moment at the memory of the two men they'd had to send back to Paris the day prior. Poor Gigot had just become accustomed with the more advanced nuances of horseback riding, not having had much experience in his past life. When Athos had called on the group to move their mounts into a trot, the poor horseman had done his best to sway with the movements of the powerful beast between his legs, but to no avail, and he'd struck the ground a mere one hundred meters into their canter.

To add injury to insult, Gigot had landed badly and sprained his left ankle, and d'Artagnan shuddered as he recalled how quickly the damaged joint had swollen. In pain, and fearful of the idea of retaking his seat on his mount, Athos had had little choice but to order the man back to Paris, assigning one of the others to accompany him. That incident had left them evenly matched: four recruits and their four Musketeer mentors. For some unknown reason, that fact didn't make him feel any better about their mission, and he'd been able to tell by the expressions on his friends' faces that they shared his misgivings.

A piercing whistle sounded, and d'Artagnan's gaze moved to Porthos, the large man waving one arm to encourage the recruits to speed their pace. In time with the others, the Gascon kicked his heels into his horse's flanks, easily settling into the fluid motion of a gallop. Their mounts wouldn't be able to keep this pace up for long, but he knew that the ability to stay seated at these speeds was a critical skill for any soldier. As they raced along, he shifted his gaze to the recruits, casting his experienced eye over each man's form and making note of any corrections he'd need to later offer.

As his eyes swept over Viellard, he caught a cocky grin on the man's face, the new recruit clearly in his element on the back of the galloping steed. Shifting his gaze forward, d'Artagnan allowed himself the same enjoyment, revelling in the feeling of the wind rushing past him. His lips turned upwards at the joy of being one with the powerful horse beneath him. Ahead, he could see Athos and the others starting to slow, and he automatically adjusted the tension on his reins, already beginning to miss the euphoria of their earlier pace.

Before he could think on it for long, he found himself swinging uncontrollably to one side, his horse's increased speed sufficient to upset his balance. Without conscious thought, his fingers slipped over his mount's neck, trying but failing to get a grip there in his effort to stop his sideways motion. A second later, his horse was gone, and he felt himself strike the hard ground before tumbling head over heels for what seemed like forever. By the time he'd come to a stop, d'Artagnan was dizzy and disorientated, his mind consumed with overwhelming pain. Letting out a low groan, he felt his body growing heavier as he gave in to the welcoming call of unconsciousness.

to be continued...

A/N: Given real life's demands, chapters will be posted twice weekly, on Sundays and Wednesdays. Thanks for reading and I'd love to hear your thoughts if you're so inclined.