A/N: So...hi everyone. I'm back.
Sorry about the hiatus, I went through a nasty patch of writer's block. But I seem to have mostly recovered, so yeah.
Anyway, this is basically a one-shot collection dedicated to prompt fills, because I'm going to be doing quite a few of those and I might as well put them all in the same place. If you want, you can give me prompts of your own. Although FYI, sometimes I won't be able to fill a prompt because my muse is picky, so please don't yell at me if that happens.
A big thank you to rycbarm123 for their help in betareading this chapter, they really did a fantastic job :)
Disclaimer: I don't own BBC's "The Musketeers" in any shape or form. Also, this chapter's prompt came from a website called The Fake Redhead Writes, a website dedicated to writing which gives permission for people to use their prompts.
"It's a long story."
"You conned me into thinking you were dead for eleven months. I have time."
Eleven months since d'Artagnan was last in Paris. Eleven months since he last entered the Garrison or helped in carrying out a mission. Eleven months since he last saw Constance. Eleven months since he last spoke to one of his brothers, and eleven months since he faked his own death to protect them.
Somehow, it seems like longer. Much, much longer.
Paris no longer feels quite the same as before. As he walks slowly through the streets, dispassionately ignoring the people who turn to stare at his scarred face, he can see that almost nothing has changed, and yet he has a queer sense of not belonging. Somewhere down the line, Paris stopped being his home, and he is now a stranger to the city.
Hopefully, he isn't a stranger to those he used to call his brothers.
He knows that he's changed. He knows that months of running and hiding and fighting have altered and warped him, turning him from a naive young man into a confident yet disillusioned warrior. He knows that the d'Artagnan of a year ago isn't the d'Artagnan of today. He knows that he's grown and matured and that now he's a different person, and he knows that such a change has always been inevitable.
He doesn't know if his brothers will understand that. He doesn't even know if they'll forgive him for abandoning them. Perhaps they will hate him for what he did, perhaps they will never forgive him. Worse, perhaps they will forgive him, but won't understand, and that lack of understanding will mark a sad end to a painfully short friendship.
There are so many ways this meeting can go wrong, and d'Artagnan is, frankly, terrified. But he recognizes that running away isn't an option, and, in any case, he's tired of running. He's been running for months on end and he's sick to death of it.
So he makes his way through the streets of the familiar-yet-unfamiliar city, and it isn't terribly long before he finds himself standing in front of Athos' door. He can hear voices from inside, a soothing murmur that he's heard thousands of times before, beckoning him.
He raises a fist to knock...and hesitates.
Despite his best attempts not to give into the anxiety and fear, a shiver of apprehension runs up his spine, the cause of his hesitation. A million fears run through his mind, vague and indistinct, scurrying in circles like a pack of frightened rats. They cause his hand to still, his fist to hover over the wooden door without making contact, and they keep him immobile for several moments.
What if they hate me what if they're ashamed of me what if they don't like what I've become what if they can't forgive me what if they've forgotten me what if I've been replaced what if they're dead whatifwhatifwhatif...
He pulls himself together with a visible effort and a reminder to himself to not be a damned fool, and, throwing all caution to the winds, he raps his knuckles against the door. Twice in a row, just like he always does.
The voices stop suddenly, and there's a nerve-wracking minute or two as he waits for the door to open. Thin threads of unease wrap around his lungs, trying to strangle him, and for a brief instant he considers bolting, running for his life.
And then the door opens, the hinges creaking ever so slightly, and d'Artagnan is face-to-face with Aramis.
Not physically, no. But there are lines of sorrow and barely-healed grief on his face, and the mirthful sparkle in his eyes is muted. He looks sick at heart, and there's something in his expression that reminds d'Artagnan of how he himself used to look in the months just after Alexandre's death. There's a stab of pain in d'Artagnan's chest as he realizes that this is all his fault. Aramis suffered, still suffers, because of him. Him, and his misguided-yet-effective attempt to protect his friend.
Said friend is staring at him, eyes glassy and mouth hanging open, pure shock and bewilderment written on his face. Feeling rather uneasy, d'Artagnan resists the urge to fidget nervously as he waits for Aramis to recover from his understandable surprise, waits for the marksman to make the next move.
The man does so, eventually, but it's little more than a breathless whisper of his name. "D'Artagnan..."
"Aramis," he replies, unnatural and stilted, testing the waters. He's not sure yet whether Aramis wants to hug or punch him, and he's not willing to make any assumptions.
"It's a long story," he says, because it is. A very long and complicated story filled with pain, tears, and bloodshed.
Aramis clearly detects some of the shadows hidden behind that statement, for his expression softens with compassion. Moments later, d'Artagnan finds himself enveloped in a hug, something that makes him stiffen in surprise.
"You idiot," Aramis mutters thickly, his face buried in d'Artagnan's shoulder. D'Artagnan thinks he can feel the older man's shoulders shaking—is he sobbing? "You complete and utter fool. You imbecile."
Well, d'Artagnan can't really argue with that.
Eventually, Aramis pulls away, his brown eyes suspiciously shiny. There are a few leftover tear tracks on his face, which the marksman hastily wipes away with the back of his hand. "Come on inside, Athos and Porthos are there," he says as he grabs d'Artagnan by the wrist and tries to drag him inside.
D'Artagnan yields with only a little hesitation. He's still apprehensive, but he can't forget the empty look in Aramis' eyes when the man first opened the door, and he knows that there's no turning back now. Ignoring the subtle eye-roll from Aramis at his reluctance, he allows the older man to tug on his wrist, pulling him inside the room.
Aramis was correct; Athos and Porthos are there, sitting at a table which is littered with wine bottles and cups. They look up as he enters, and d'Artagnan can see Porthos freezing in shock, can see the color draining from Athos' face.
D'Artagnan meets their stares evenly, and waits.
Athos, ever the most self-possessed of the three, is first to recover, even if it's only to say one word in a hopelessly tremulous voice. "D'Artagnan?"
There's so much desperate hope and pain in his voice, and for the first time d'Artagnan truly realizes just how much he hurt his mentor. He knows that all three of them grieved, but Athos was the one who likely was struck the hardest. The man's heart and soul were already scarred by Thomas' death, and the news of d'Artagnan's demise would have ripped every last one of those scars wide open, and would have gouged out new wounds besides.
The guilt is almost crushing, and once again d'Artagnan has the urge to run. He feels Aramis' grip on his wrist tightening, as if the marksman somehow caught wind of his desire to flee. It's a small gesture, but it's enough to make him quash the unwelcome impulse and face the situation head on. "Athos. Porthos."
"Whelp," Porthos says, clearly disbelieving. Athos, for his part, rises unsteadily from his chair without breaking eye contact with his former protégé.
"You were dead," Athos states flatly, still alarmingly pale, as if he's seen a ghost. He falters a little when he says the word 'dead,' and d'Artagnan charitably pretends not to notice.
"Faked," d'Artagnan replies, his calm voice belying his inner turmoil. He can feel his heart beating frantically in his chest, in time with his mind's frantic muttering of whatifwhatifwhatif. "It was faked."
Athos' gaze sharpens. "Explain," he orders, the tone of his voice brooking no argument.
"It's a long story."
"You fooled us into believing you were dead for eleven months. We have time."
D'Artagnan winces a little at the reminder, before hesitantly nodding. "Very well."
He steps towards the table, Aramis at his side. Out of habit, he steers clear of the window, ignoring the curious glances from his brothers as he does so, and seats himself in the unoccupied fourth chair. A part of him feels warmed by the fact that his brothers had always left a chair ready for him, even when they thought he was dead, but the warmth is soon overshadowed by more guilt.
Athos lowers himself back into his chair, and Aramis does the same. All three of them are listening, waiting for d'Artagnan to explain, and the Gascon chokes up for a moment because how? How can he explain why he did this, how can he justify hurting them all so badly? How can he defend doing this to them?
He can't. Not really. But they suffered so much because of his decision, the least they deserve is a proper explanation.
So he swallows, and begins to speak. The words are slow and halting at first, but he soon settles into a kind of rhythm as he tells them the story. He tries to be as frank and objective as possible, to avoid twisting the story in his favor, because he's already told one horrible, monstrous lie and he doesn't want to tell any others.
When he's finished, there's a kind of icy chill to the room. Aramis has understanding in his gaze, but Porthos' own is tainted with hurt, and Athos' contains a strange mixture of anger and sadness.
"Let me see if I understand this," Athos says carefully, and there's something in his tone which makes d'Artagnan cringe in apprehension. "You decided to fake your death, thereby putting us through needless grief and pain, so you could hunt down a vicious criminal. Alone."
"It was the only option I had-"
"How so?" Athos says, repressed fury in his voice. His posture is stiff and rigid with anger, like a tightly-coiled spring. "You could, should have asked us for help. Instead of which you tricked us into thinking you were deceased, and then endangered your own life by confronting a dangerous man without support or aid. I fail to see the logic in your actions."
"Athos is right, pup," Porthos chimes in. "You should've asked one of us to help."
D'Artagnan's right hand curls into a fist. "Unfortunately, that wasn't exactly an option at the time."
"Why not? Did you not trust us?"
"It had nothing to do with trust, Athos."
D'Artagnan considers his answer for a little while before speaking, words slow and measured. "It would have been...more dangerous for you, if I had reached out to any of you. At least this way, if anyone was injured or killed, it would have been I and I alone."
He looks down and away. "It's...also why I faked my own death. If you knew that I was dead, you wouldn't have any reason to try and look for me, and then you wouldn't get involved. I couldn't risk you endangering yourselves in an attempt to help me."
Porthos snorts, the hurt fading from his expression as he does so. "We can defend ourselves, d'Art."
"Not against this, you couldn't. At least not for very long," he says, and the grim certainty in his voice is enough to silence them on that front.
Athos closes his eyes for a moment, clearly a little overwhelmed. When he opens them again, his eyes are steely, but the anger has dissipated somewhat. "Promise me that you will never do that to us again."
It's an order, not a request, and d'Artagnan isn't foolish enough to disobey it. "Wouldn't dream of it," he smiles, his grin growing wider when they return the smile in kind.
It seems that, just maybe, they're going to be alright.
A/N: ...So. There we have it. Hopefully you guys like it.