Paper Faces on Parade
By Deana
This is my entry for the 'Fête des Mousquetaires' contest for October.

Yes, the title is taken from the lyrics of the Phantom of the Opera song, 'Masquerade'.

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"Porthos, you're as excited as a child!"

"Of course I am!" Porthos replied, turning from the mirror to look at his friend. "This is the first time that we've been allowed to wear a disguise for the masquerade!" He pulled his mask down over his face before looking into the mirror again. He resembled a pirate, dressed in red and brown with a massive red feather protruding from his hat.

Aramis chuckled from where he sat. His masquerade outfit was quite dashing, in dark blue and black. "Yes, in order to stop the jewelry thief from striking again this year, if he plans to do so again."

The door suddenly opened to admit Athos, who, though his outfit was just as remarkable as the others, was still wearing his usual apathetic expression.

"Athos!" said Aramis. "You clean up well."

Porthos laughed.

Athos crossed his arms as he looked at his two friends. "This is an assignment, like any other."

"Completely unlike any other," said Porthos, turning from the mirror and lifting up his mask.

"Come now, Athos," said Aramis, standing and facing his friend. "You have to admit that this masquerade will be more enjoyable, since we can actually participate in the festivities for once, instead of patrolling the ballroom in uniform."

"Only with the purpose of acting under a cover," Athos replied.

"Of course," Aramis said. He turned to Porthos' mirror and adjusted his costume. "But you can't deny that we all look very dashing!"

Porthos nodded his agreement and nudged Athos' arm.

Athos merely sighed.

"Come," said Aramis, slightly tilting his hat to a more-rakish angle. "It's time to depart."

The three musketeers headed to Treville's office and knocked on the door.

"Come," they heard.

Aramis opened the door and they walked inside.

Treville turned, and surprise lit up his face. He stood and approached them, looking them up and down with a growing smile. "Well," he said. "You three look perfect!"

"Of course," Aramis joked. "And so do you!"

Treville chuckled. As captain of the musketeers, he had the privilege of going in costume every year. "Let me see the masks."

All three of them put them on.

Treville nodded. "If the thief strikes again, he certainly won't recognize any of you as being musketeers."

Aramis looked at his two friends. "Let's hope that we continue to recognize each other!"

"Has d'Artagnan arrived yet?" Athos asked.

Treville nodded. "Yes; they're downstairs." He led the way out of his office and they went outside, to find their horses saddled and waiting beside a carriage.

"Do my eyes deceive me?" Aramis dramatically exclaimed, when they spotted a woman standing outside it. "Who is this lovely creature that has come to steal the hearts of every man within sight?"

The 'lovely creature', dressed in a gown fit for an opera, removed her mask. "Someone who would quite easily slap you."

Everyone chuckled.

Aramis bowed. "You look magnificent, Constance."

She smiled, before reaching up to touch the stunning diamond necklace that adorned her neck. "If only this were real!"

"As long as the thief thinks so," said Porthos.

D'Artagnan sighed. "I think this is too dangerous."

"I understand how you feel," said Treville. "But the thief has never assaulted anyone; he simply removes the jewelry from his victims and goes on to the next woman."

"Don't worry, d'Artagnan," said Aramis, clutching his shoulder. "We'll all be there to protect her." He looked at Constance again. "Can I expect at least one dance?"

Constance lifted her hand towards his face in a mock-threat.

"Just asking!" Aramis said, before hurrying to mount his horse.

Porthos' laugh filled the courtyard as they left the garrison, with Constance and d'Artagnan inside the carriage.

A short time later, they were walking inside the palace with their masks covering their faces. The ballroom was a breathtaking sight to behold, and Constance was struck by its beauty and stopped walking.

D'Artagnan, whose arm she was clutching, stopped and watched her.

"It's mesmerizing," she said.

He smiled and patiently waited beside her as the others headed inside and split up, immediately looking for anyone who looked suspicious. The masks that everyone wore made it difficult to tell, but their own costumes would likewise make it impossible for anyone to know that they were musketeers, especially since the rest of the regiment was patrolling the ballroom without costume or mask, as usual.

Women quickly surrounded Aramis, as his friends knew that they would. Despite the mask, his deep brown eyes and bottom half of his face were visible, and he was no less attractive.

"That's him set for the evenin'!" Porthos said to Athos.

As the hours passed, the musketeers watched Constance as she deliberately danced with every man possible. Her jewels remained where they were, and they began to wonder if the thief wasn't planning to strike again.

The ball became an enjoyable affair; the musicians were skilled, the dancing was lively, and the food was delectable.

Aramis finally managed to make his way over to her, and gave a bow as he said, "May I have this dance?" Instead of a giggle or reply—or even a slap—Aramis heard nothing, and looked up just in time for her to grab his arm.

"It's him!" she said, pointing to the departing man who she'd just danced with. Her other hand was laying against her upper chest, where no necklace sat.

"Tell the others," Aramis told her, before quickly following him.

The thief glanced behind himself to make sure that no one had witnessed his deed, and when he saw Aramis, he began to run.

"Stop him!" Constance shouted. "He's a thief!"

Screams could be heard through the ballroom as dancers panicked. Some of the people weren't sure who the thief was, and more than a few of them tried to grab Aramis, mistakenly thinking that it was him.

One collision with a well-meaning man was especially painful, and Aramis struggled against him before managing to pull down his mask. "Not me!" he exclaimed.

The man recognized him and immediately let go, enabling Aramis to resume his chase.

Ahead of him, Aramis watched as the thief expertly skirted around everyone; it was obvious that he'd been thieving for years. Aramis wished that he could just shoot the man in the leg, but with so many innocent people in the way, he couldn't risk it.

D'Artagnan and Athos suddenly appeared ahead of the thief, having circled around the room. Before they could do anything, the thief grabbed knives off the banquet table and threw them towards the two musketeers.

The pandemonium in the room made it hard to see if either of his friends had been hit, and his heart dropped at the implications that one—or both of them—had been stabbed.

Porthos' voice yelled, "Go!" as if he knew that Aramis considered stopping the chase, so he continued on, glad that Porthos would help the others.

The thief was having a hard time finding his way out of the room. People were still screaming and running to and fro, and he ran right into someone's back, bowling both of them over.

Aramis felt as if his lungs were about to explode, and the stitch in his side from running for so long was nearly making his eyes water, but the sight gave him a burst of energy that had him run over and dive on top of them, where he and the thief wrestled each other.

The man who'd been run into was yelling, "Help! Help!" beneath them, and it would've been comical under different circumstances.

Aramis was punched in the face, as shouts of "Don't shoot!" echoed through the ballroom. Before Aramis had a chance to figure out who was saying it and why, a loud *thunk* filled the air, and the thief fell across Aramis.

Someone had hit the man over the head, and Aramis closed his eyes with relief, his body going limp as he fought to breathe after the wild chase. He winced at the stitch in his side, automatically covering it with one hand.

Running footsteps could be heard, and the thief was suddenly pulled off him. Aramis opened his eyes, to find Treville looking down at him with concern.

"Stay awake!" Treville said.

Aramis frowned at the odd command. "I'm…fine…" he said, still trying to catch his breath. He closed his eyes for a few seconds before a stabbing pain suddenly shot through his side, and he reopened his eyes to find Treville pressing against it.

"Keep still," said Treville, looking behind himself. "We need a doctor!" he shouted.

"What…?" Aramis raised his hand to push at Treville's arm, before he saw the blood covering his palm. The pain his side was apparently not a stitch from running after all.

Porthos suddenly appeared, dropping to his knees beside them.

"Athos and d'Artagnan?" Aramis asked.

"They're fine," Porthos told him.

If they were fine, then where were they? Aramis didn't get a chance to ask before a wave of dizziness overcame him and his vision turned black.

Half-conscious, Aramis felt more hands touching him and heard a voice telling people to get out of the way. He listened for either Athos' voice or d'Artagnan's, but he wasn't sure of what he was hearing. His consciousness drifted in a void until strong arms suddenly lifted him. He knew that it was Porthos and he tried to say something, but his body wouldn't cooperate.

The next thing he became aware of was a hand brushing over his hair. It felt wonderful and he enjoyed it as his wits slowly returned. The sound of a door softly closing met his ears, and he suddenly realized what had happened.

"Athos!" he exclaimed, his eyes popping open. "D'Artagnan!"

"Hush!" came a female voice. "Keep still."

"Constance?" said Aramis, trying to blink his eyes into focus.

"And me," said Porthos, his voice jokingly sarcastic.

Aramis frowned with confusion, before realizing what he meant. "Athos and d'Artagnan," he said, realizing that they were not in the room. "Were they hurt?"

Porthos shook his head, sitting in a chair beside the bed. "No, they're fine. The doctor just left; Athos and d'Artagnan should be back any minute with the captain. They had to control the pandemonium while I rushed you two outta the palace," he said, gesturing to Constance.

Aramis suddenly realized that both of them were still in their masquerade costumes. As his mind continued to clear, he felt pain in his right side and placed his hand over it through the blankets, where he could feel a bandage. "What happened to me?"

"You were stabbed," Porthos told him.

Aramis was shocked. "When?"

"The only thing we can figure out is when that man tried to stop you during the chase," said Constance. "When I shouted to stop the thief, he must've thought that I meant you. I'm so sorry!"

Aramis smiled and reached out to take her hand. "It isn't your fault." He shook his head. "I don't remember the impact of the knife...and who was shouting 'don't shoot'?"

"Treville," said Porthos. "Half the ballroom had pistols aimed at you and the thief! As for the knife, you probably didn't feel it much because it wasn't one. It was a rapier; gave you the smallest stab wound that I've ever seen. You bled like a stuck pig though; left a trail all across the ballroom floor."

Aramis finally understood. "I thought the pain was from running."

Constance sighed. "I feel responsible. Is there anything that I can do?"

Aramis thought for a moment. "There is one thing, but it'll have to wait until I recover."

Constance's eyebrows rose. "Yes?"

Aramis smiled cheekily. "We never had our dance."

THE END