Disclaimer – 3 Musketeers and the characters belong to Alexander Dumas.

Thanks to suthernbell85, LadyWallace and others for their very inspirational fics.

This started as a 'what-if' idea that took an odd turn somewhere. Do not expect the same suave and swashbuckling Athos, Porthos and Aramis as we normally see them. This is partly based on the 2011 movie, please ignore the ending part about Milady's rescue and Buckingham's armada. Milady can stay dead.

Chapter 1

Gascony, D'Artagnan's farmhouse.

D'Artagnan looked up at the sound of another crack of thunder. His nerves were on the edge. He fancied he heard the tell-tale sound of approaching hoof beats. The storm was approaching. Maybe it was the charged atmosphere that was causing his already-troubled mind to hear things. He stood up, feeling the familiar ache from an old wound in his knee. It was that wound, the result of a bad fall during a solo mission. Ironically, it was a similar wound that ended his own father's career in the King's Musketeers.

The few servants had been sent off for the weekend, along with her. He had intended to face this alone. He glanced up at the portrait of his wife. Constance smiled benignly at him from the gilded picture frame. Grimly, he returned the smile. Lifting a lighted candlestick from the table top, he hastened to the window with his free hand on the hilt of the sword in his belt. A flash of lightning revealed what he feared. He snuffed the candle but it was too late. They would know he was in anyway. His opponents were no fools. They would have checked before riding up to his lonely farm in a looming thunderstorm.

There were a dozen of them, all cloaked and masked. However, he could tell the three leading the troop were the leaders. The others were mere foot-soldiers. It was the trio he should beware most. Despite the fact he was outnumbered, he was not going quietly without a fight. Sword in hand, he stepped out of the house to meet them.

"Throw down your weapon, D'Artagnan!" the leader, a man with wolfish eyes, called out. His companions, one built as an ox, the other as slight as a youth, fanned out on either side as they rode up.

"Come with us in peace, we do not wish to harm you…" the slight-built one said softly. A lie.

"Our master is a reasonable man. You should accept his offer…" the broad-shouldered one added.

"Make me," D'Artagnan shouted his defiance. The leader gave the signal for the foot-soldiers to charge him. Dismounting from their steeds, the lackeys ran into the fray against what they believed was a discharged soldier, an invalid. They did not account for the fact that as a former musketeer and a man who until recently was still in active service to the French regent, D'Artagnan was in better fighting shape than most men his age. The trio remained in their saddles, watching the uneven clash.

The ground was marshy from the seasonal rain which had lashed this part of the country for the past week. The fighters were hard-pressed to keep from slipping in mud. The infernal storm clouds chose this moment to unleash their burden, drenching the men in freezing rain. Flashes of lightning and roars of thunder disoriented them. D'Artagnan knew he was tiring. He could not keep this up. Three of his attackers had fallen to his blade, another sorely wounded and moaning in the mud. Their blood made the hilt slippery to grip. The drop in temperature always made his knee ache. Wet hair was plastered to his face, nearly blinding him.

He had guessed at the trio's game. Let the lackeys wear him down before closing in. If he were to be taken…

"Is one cripple too much for you, cur?" he tossed the insult at the leader. He could almost see the man's jaw clench. "You claim to do the cardinal's work but you dare not show your faces. You send half-trained boys and peasants to fight me…" he tossed a disdainful glance at the lackeys. "Perhaps you do not have the skill to capture me yourself…"

A crossbow bolt whizzed through the air and burrowed into D'Artagnan's shoulder. "You talk too much," the slight-built one lowered his crossbow. At the same time, he moved his steed so that he was between D'Artagnan and his wolf-eyed companion. "Think carefully before replying… Will you come with us?" The crossbow was reloaded and aimed at his other shoulder.

D'Artagnan hissed from the pain. The bolt had hit the bone. Glancing at the hill in the distance, he recognized the smoky-grey pony and his rider through the misty rain. Another flash of lightning confirmed it. She should not be here! She should be safe at his aunt's, where he had sent her! Then he spotted an opening.

"Stop him!"

D'Artagnan turned and sprinted madly for the rickety wooden bridge which spanned the rain-swollen creek at the bottom of his pasture. The timbers had rotted due to age and they planned to replace them as soon as the weather cleared. Until then, the bridge could take no more than the weight of a small man, like D'Artagnan. If he could make it over the other side where the hill was…

There was no time to hesitate. They were after him now. The broad-shouldered one was taking the lead on his horse, a hulking beast, casually running down their own men in the process. D'Artagnan could almost feel the horse's breath on the back of his neck. A crossbow bolt whizzed and hit the old elm as he ran past. His skin prickled at the thought of a blade finding its mark and her witnessing that. Spurred on, he reached the bridge and was safely on the timbers and half-way across before his pursuers reached the end of the muddy pasture. He did not see the fallen tree bobbing in the rushing creek. It was that which undid him.

"Papa!" Toni gasped in horror when she saw the inevitable happen. The tree smashed into the timbers of the bridge. The bridge, and her father, hung there in mid-air for a heartbeat before plunging into the churning waters below. She cursed herself for coming unarmed. If she had her sword or pistols… There was nothing she could do now. She nudged Cher Ami into the shade of the poplars on the hillside and quietly trotted closer. She had witnessed the chase. Papa would never run, not unless… She wiped away her tears. Perhaps Papa survived. She would not shed tears yet.

The leader took off his mask and glared at the churning waters. Toni watched from her hiding place. His face was branded into the girl's mind. The other men had turned their attention to the farmhouse and outbuildings. Were they bandits? She decided not. The rain had stopped. Toni watched grimly as the first curls of smoke reached skywards. The farm buildings had been fired and were weakly burning. She waited until the last hoof beats died away before rushing to the bank. There was no sign of her father.


Paris, 3 months later, in a townhouse

"What is this?" The fabric was stretched to bursting over his ample belly.

"A paunch, sir…" Planchet replied stoically.

"For the last time, I am not getting fat!" Porthos huffed as he struggled with his doublet. "You let my clothes shrink in the wash…" A button popped and went flying, hitting the poor servant on his nose. Porthos gave up and sat down.

"Get me my other suit – Oh!" the former musketeer fell onto the floor with a crash as the fragile chair below him gave way. "And a new chair…"

"Right away, sir," the loyal servant hastened off.

Porthos grumbled and scratched his chin. Was he going soft? Since the king disbanded his Musketeers, he had chosen to settle down on the inheritance he received from a wealthy aunt and start a family. To date, he had no wife despite a steady stream of lady friends. Grand houses, banquets and the finest clothes he could afford with his new wealth. That wealth was quickly spent and he was reduced to taking up residence in the same townhouse he once shared with his friends. Full circle… Porthos grinned and sauntered over to their wooden balcony.

"I would not do that, sir…" Planchet ventured as he returned with a chair from the kitchen.

A crash shattered the calm of the morning, followed by a string of blistering curses from a hapless Porthos as he struggled to pull his foot free of the hole in the balcony floor.


Convent of St Agnes the Chaste, five miles from Paris

Aramis knew he had sorely misplayed his hand this time and he was making himself scarce lest the archbishop decided to have him defrocked or worse. Who would have expected the minx to be the old man's bastard daughter? Aramis could accept marriage to save the lady's honour, although everyone for five miles round knew she had the morals of a street whore. No, the archbishop was one of those who preferred that obscure canon law about cracking the skulls of priests flouting their vows with the aid of two stout monks with cudgels.

"Rene! The archbishop is looking for you!" Lord, the minx had spotted him creeping through the kitchen garden. She waved at him from the convent's window and with her was the archbishop. Aramis hurriedly vaulted over the perimeter wall and was greeted by the sight of two stout nuns with cudgels. If there was a God above, He has a twisted sense of humour when it came to his servants.


A country manor in the vicinity of Versailles

"Comte de la Fere… You really should curtail your drinking…" the old duchess purred and stroked his hand with a bejewelled finger. She was one of the few who still dared approach him when he took to drink. Athos ignored the gesture and quaffed his fourth drink despite the earliness of the day.

"You drink because of the loss of your wife?" the duchess asked. The Comtess had died the year before after a long illness. Athos did not reply. The person he had been waiting for had arrived.

A young man, dressed in colourful clothes, strutted across the lawn. The ruff, his feathered cap, even the boots, every stitch on him was the pinnacle of fashion, second only to the fashions of the French court at Versailles. "Good morning, Madame de Longeville," he doffed his hat to the duchess but pointedly ignored Athos.

"Raoul, your father is here to fetch you," the duchess fanned herself lazily. It was not the first time father and son had a falling-out.

"I will not leave with him-"

"Sirrah, I'm tolerated your tantrums long enough. Today we leave for Paris so as to enlist you in the King's army," Athos said quietly.

"I refuse!" Raoul retorted. "I want to write plays, father… Disown me if you will, but I am not joining the army!" He was as tall as Athos now, twenty years of age. He was a good-looking youth. Athos wished he could be proud of his son, but it would be a lie if he said he was. Spinning round on his heel, the younger man stormed off.

"You ask me why I drink, Madame. That is why…" Athos snorted with disgust at Raoul's retreating back. He emptied the rest of his wine with a gulp.

One of the duchess' grandsons tumbled out of a small orange tree, scrapping his elbows. Nursing his bleeding elbows, the lad trotted up to Raoul. "Are you going so soon?" the youngster asked. Raoul saw the blood on the boy's elbows. "Help, I feel faint…" With a stricken moan, he almost theatrically swooned.

The duchess hurried over, shouting for her servants and a physician, more for Raoul's sake than her grandson. Athos poured himself another drink. It was a curse that his son was lily-livered fop who fainted at the mere sight of blood. He would get himself a new wife, a young woman to bear him a deserving heir before he got too old to go about that business of procreating. The word had been sent out and he expected the matchmaker to return with good news soon.


Gascony

"Antoinette! You cannot continue this way! Think of your future!"

"The man is a known drunkard who spends his days in a wine barrel!"

"He seeks a strong young wife who will bear him sons. You are not getting younger, child. I was married at a younger age than you…"

"He has a son, has he not? Older than me… I refuse to be wed to a wine-sponge and an old lecher!"

The door opened and a blond girl of eighteen scowled at Madame Pomeforte. She was a lovely girl with pale blond hair and a slender figure which was almost boyish. Her skin was tanned from too many hours outdoors. A disadvantage, Madame Pomeforte thought. Her mother was so much fairer. Ah, Constance was a beauty even by Parisian standards. Perhaps a few months indoors should fix it but there was no time for that. More worrisome was the near rebellious fire which blazed in her blue eyes. Surely such a spirited girl could only bear men-children, the older woman thought. The Comte would not be disappointed.

"Verily, since your mother's death, your father has spoiled you, allowing you to run wild like that. He was a good man but was hopeless in running a farm, Antoinette. It is worse that the buildings were burned. You're as poor as a church-mouse. There are only two paths open to you- convent or marriage. Will a convent suit you, child? Prayer and hair shirts, dearie? Of course not! Yet all you have for a dowry is that debt-ridden farm. Comte de la Fere would not mind. All he asks is for a wife to bear his sons. So pack your best dress and let us go meet the Comte." Having made her point, the older woman glided off.

Toni cursed and slammed the door shut. Her aunt was right. Two paths open or perhaps… She glanced out of her window and to the winding road leading to Paris. Cher Ami whinnied and glanced up from the yard below. The old devil was devouring Madame Pomeforte's flowerbed. Toni sat down before her mirror and fished out a pair of scissors from the dresser. Soon locks of blond hair littered the oaken floor.

Author's Notes:

This started as a fem D'Artagnan but it sort of took a life of its own. What if the Three Musketeers and D'Artagnan parted ways and the trio let themselves go? What if Raoul was not the son Athos wished for? What if D'Artagnan married Constance and had children, or at least one daughter he trained in sword-fighting?

I don't know how this story will work out.