CHAPTER EIGHT: Too Many Decisions

When they finally returned to the barracks that evening, they were all a little exhausted. Ramon left in search of food, claiming anything he'd eaten that day had surely dissolved by now. Jacqueline felt guilty about feeling relieved as he left, but she had some things she needed to discuss with Siroc and d'Artagnan. They retired into his lab and she described her conversation with Madeleine to the two men who now shared her deepest secret.

Siroc was glad she still hadn't given in and revealed herself to this "cousin". He didn't trust her. He couldn't quite place his finger on it, but he sensed that something was wrong. Jacqueline's own brother wouldn't have known where she was if she hadn't told him herself. So how had Madeleine discovered her whereabouts – and her alias? No, he thought to himself, none of this makes any sense. He still had the handkerchief that Madeleine had wrapped fresh cookies in for their ride home. His newest device would help him lift a fingerprint from it. He wasn't entirely sure what he'd do with it from there, but at least it was a start.

Siroc assured her everything was fine, that she should just get some rest and they'd figure out what to do in the morning. Jacqueline, comfortable with that decision, let her weariness get the better of her and headed off to her room. D'Artagnan lingered for a second.

"Siroc, something isn't right about all this."

"You took the words right out of my mouth, friend. But what are we going to do about it?"

"I don't know yet. I'll think of something. But until then, don't mention our concerns to Jacqueline."

D'Artagnan entered his and Jacqueline's room to find her sitting on the edge of her bed. He could make out the feint colour under her eyes that gave away how tired she truly was. But he also understood what kept her awake. This was a lot to take in. Especially with her secret. Someone else knew; someone Jacqueline hadn't told and someone he still wasn't sure they could trust. He went over and sat beside her on the bed.

Jacqueline saw d'Artagnan come in and sit down beside her but she didn't look up. Where anyone else would have just seen a stained brown floorboard, Jacqueline was seeing a flashback of the day's events. It still didn't make any sense to her. No matter how much she had denied her identity to this woman, she somehow knew Jacqueline's biggest secret. Someone else now held her very life in their hands. And she didn't like it one bit.

D'Artagnan saw the worry in her face and took her hand in both of his. "Jacqueline, listen to me. You admitted nothing. I know that doesn't mean much, but it's something. This woman – we will find out the truth, I promise you. I will do everything I can to find out where she comes from." She looked up at him then. A feint smile reached her lips. This was the d'Artagnan she knew. She could see he was worried about her – worried FOR her, too. It was more than just having someone else know her secret and he understood that.

"Jacqueline," he paused for a moment before continuing. The worry in his eyes made her a little uneasy and she braced herself for what he was about to say. "What you need to think about now, besides whether or not Madeleine can be trusted, is what you're going to do if this all turns out to be the truth." He could tell she didn't understand what he was getting at and he took a deep breath before continuing. "If Madeleine really is who she claims to be, there is a whole new chance for you. You joined the musketeers because you wanted revenge, yes, but you also knew it was a place you would be safe. If she really is your cousin, Jacqueline..." Now she was beginning to understand his meaning and tried to interrupt, but he stopped her. "Jacqueline, I'm serious. I know you feel like this is home now, but you still aren't safe here. You know Mazarin has it out for us musketeers and whether we like it or not, we are always being watched. I know how hard it is for you every day, hiding everything just to survive. Yes, you have Siroc and me to help you, to look out for you, and I know you're more than capable of taking care of yourself, but none of us will be able to stop Mazarin if your secret is ever found out. Jacqueline, if Madeleine is telling the truth, you could go with her. You could leave here and be safe and still not be alone." He looked at her and it was silent again for a long moment.

"You want me to leave?"

"Cherie, of course I don't want you to leave." Jacqueline's eyes suddenly filled with tears again. He had never used any form of endearment like that before and it just made his words all the more serious. Jacuqleine understood what he was saying. This could be her chance for a normal life. If Madeleine really was her cousin – and could be trusted – Jacqueline could easily be safe with her. Nobody knew of her family's connections to the Malos and Mazarin wasn't about to waste his time digging that deep into the history of some French woman, even if she did murder his captain. He had bigger schemes to deal with than that. She would be safe with Madeleine. But it also meant leaving the musketeers. She couldn't imagine her life without her friends, even after such a short time. Siroc and Ramon...she loved them like family. And d'Artagnan...she looked over at him now and the first of her tears rolled down her cheek. He stopped it's trail with his finger.

"Jacqueline, I want more that anything for you to be safe. Every day I fear for you. Look how close you came to sharing a room with Reme. It isn't safe, even here." He kissed her forehead and stood. "I'm going to take a walk. Try to get some sleep".

When he left the room, Jacqueline sat still for a minute. She didn't know what to make of everything that had happened in just one day. Suddenly she remembered the package that Madeleine handed to her as she left. She stood and walked to her jacket, which was draped over one of the chairs that still sat where d'Artagnan had placed them by the window a couple days before. She smiled briefly at the memory of that night. She had found someone to trust – someone to love – in d'Artagnan and now she may leave him – and everything else – behind. In just a few months, she had made this place her home. And now, if Madeleine spoke the truth, she may be leaving it all behind and losing "home" once more. Since the death of her parents and Gerard's escape, Jacqueline hadn't let anyone else in. But somehow the three men she had come to love had snuck their way into her heart and she couldn't imaging leaving them behind for good.

She returned to the bed and placed the package in her lap. Slowly, she unwrapped it and lifted out its contents. There was a golden chain with a small locket attached. A cursive "R" was carved into it. Jacqueline inhaled sharply. She recognized this locket. Her grandmother – her father's mother – had given it to her own mother as a wedding present. Jacqueline's mother had worn it for as long as she could remember. No, that wasn't true. It had gone missing shortly before her death. Jacqueline stood up, remembering. The handkerchief slid off her lap as she stood and a soft noise made her look down. A key lay beside it on the wooden floor. She picked it up and examined it. She had never known her family to own such a key. Even the door to their home had a bolt rather than a lock. Why would Madeleine give me a key and no explanation? She wondered. Madeleine had said it was from her mother. Did she just mean the locket and had simply wrapped the key in there by mistake? No, even if she still couldn't trust her cousin, she could tell she was not a foolish woman. The key was put their intentionally, but why?

I don't entirely remember where I wanted this story to go when I started it six years ago. I probably wasn't even sure back then. So I hope these twists and turns haven't made you lose interest yet. Please give me your feedback! It'll help me decide what happens next