A/N: Okay, my friends! Back with another chapter. Thanks to all those who have commented so far!
Athos had tackled many challenges, but he believed D'Artagnan to be one of the greatest and most difficult. He cared greatfully for the boy, although at times it was not as obvious, and he only wished for D'Artagnan to stay safe and use his head. It was common knowledge that D'Artagnan was housing with the musketeers; what most were not aware of, however, was how Athos' heart skipped a beat whenever D'Artagnan could be potentially injured in some way.
D'Artagnan was youthful. It was in his face, his posture, his personality. D'Artagnan was quick in his actions and decisions, mercurial in his emotions. He had yet to experience the hardships of war, the sights of death. The burden of grief and loss. Athos had remained awake many nights, brooding by the fire, and attempting to unscramble the confusing peices to his young companion.
So when D'Artagnan came practically skipping down the steps that morning, saying brightly, "morning!" Athos had stifled a smile and a scowl and assumed it was D'Artagnan being D'Artagnan. But then he recalled that the young Constance girl had arrived this morning, greeted them warmly, then ascended the stairs. She had left with a smile on her face and rosy cheeks.
Ahh, to be young and in love, Athos thought, slightly bitter, untroubled by such burdens and responsibilities. Athos was not resentful towards D'Artagnan, but rather felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. From his own experience, Athos had endured extensive amounts of heartache. He didn't wish for D'Artagnan to go through what he had.
D'Artagnan had so many different, contrasting personality traits, and this was the sole reason he was so hard to evaluate. D'Artagnan was cocky and overconfident at one point, stumbling around trying to appear impressive. Then, at others, he was this witty, intelligent, bright eyed young man who had a knack for strategy. He was overall noble, chivalrous, and the definition of a good person. He could be terribly aggravating, and often disregarded any and all instruction, however was eager to learn and lived by example.
They sat in silence, Athos wondering what D'Artagnan was thinking about as he studied the boy's face. D'Artagnan's lips were drawn into a thin line, his eyebrows furrowed slighty. His fingers drummed against the wood of the table. But Athos rose from his chair, unintentionally startling D'Artagnan out of his thoughts. D'Aragnan also stood abruptly, but for whatever reason, Athos couldn't disern. Aramis looked at the two of them carefully, as if wondering if they were to argue again, but Porthos was staring into his cup.
Athos had forgotten about their skirmish last night, but now that he remembered, he felt his heart sink. He clenched his jaw, attempting to block out the flood of guilt trying to drown him, before shutting his eyes and blinking rapidly. He had yelled at the young man, effectively embarrassing him. He had lectured him. Athos blamed himself for D'Artagnan's injuries, though. He should've known better than to allow a slightly groggy D'Artagnan try to duel a master swordsman in the first place.
Athos stared at D'Artagnan, who averted his gaze to his shoes. After another awkward moment of absolute silence, Athos shook his head slightly with a huff, re-seating himself. He was well aware that he was trying to stifle all feelings he might have, whether D'Artagnan caused them to arise or not. D'Artagnan audibly sighed, and Athos again could feel something gnaw at his stomach. Did the country boy perhaps think he was still angry?
D'Artagnan, who had remained standing, finally rolled his eyes and strode with a quick pace towards the front door. Grabbing his hat and cloak, he glanced their way, muttering,"see you later," before exiting. Athos sighed, pouring himself another goblet of wine.
D'Artagnan was wandering the streets with little purpose, seeking a small skirmish with the Cardinal's guards to occupy his time. Before he could find a suitable opponent, however, something caught his attention at the top of the street. A small crowd had gathered around something, light murmuring reaching D'Artagnan's attuned ears.
Curiosity getting the better of him, D'Artagnan pushed his way through the crowd, confused and in want of answers. He reached the very front edge of the crowd, and stopped dead in his tracks. There was someone that D'Artagnan assumed was a man lying on the ground. Half his face was burned and turning to ash, blackening with every passing moment. The poor man gasped for air he could not inhale. D'Artagnan dropped to his knees, arms waving frantically as he scrambled uselessly to help, but he didn't know how.
The man grabbed his shirt, his brown eyes staring at the boy panicked, before rasping, "Find the...one, they...call D'Artagnan...warn him..."
D'Artagnan's brows furrowed further as he began to say, "I'm D'Artagnan, warm me of what?" But before he could fully ask the question, the man slumped to the ground. The hand that clutched at D'Artagnan's collar went limp, his hand falling away. Brown eyes stared unseeingly at the sky, and D'Artagnan huffed heavily, leaning back to rest on his haunches.
He gazed at the man a moment longer before standing slowly, pondering the pauper's words. Find the one they call D'Artagnan, warn him... But against what? He glanced back up the street as if he would find all the answers to his unspoken questions there, but instead found himself looking upon a rather familiar sight.
Her face was dirt streaked and her long brown hair mussed, her clothes not much better. She was dressed poorly, but carried a knife at her waist. Her cheeks were flushed and had light freckles dancing across them, over her nose which was the perfect size to fit her face. Her lips were chapped and a bit bloody, but otherwise fine. She smiled when she saw him looking at her, and he would know that girl anywhere. The sharp blue eyes, just a shade off from his own, seemed to penetrate his soul.
Athos, after finishing his drink, donned his hat and cloak and began his search for D'Artagnan on the street. He had not walked for long when he suddenly found himself upon a large cluster of people, gathered around something. Athos' mind immediately flew to a street performer, but this did not make sense; their would have been more of a ruckus and less silence.
Pushing his way through the crowd, Athos managed to make it to the front before suddenly hearing the young, all-too familiar voice say, "Marci?" Athos followed the gaze up the street. A young girl stood there, in tattered clothing and worn out boots, but an expression of disbelief on her little face.
"Tagnan!" She cried, dropping her pack and running towards him, long brown hair flowing behind her and crystal blue eyes only a shade off from D'Artagnan's. D'Artagnan opened his arms wide, going into a crouch so he could reach her better, and when she ran into his arms he encased her in them tightly. Observing her, Athos realized that she could only be four or five, maybe six. He dismissed the purpose of her arrival with ease; easily determined through simple methods. He was more concerned with how she got to Paris. A young girl like that couldn't possibly have traveled on her own? It was improbable.
But another question rose to Athos's mind. What in the world was D'Artagnan's relationship with this little girl? They certainly looked alike enough to be father and daughter. They had the same features, same set body. It wasn't altogether an unlikely conclusion. But D'Artagnan was too young to have children, too inexperienced with women yet. The only other answer, Athos decided, was a younger sister. Which on the whole, seemed incredibly more likely.
"Marci, what are you doing here?" D'Artagnan asked with a bright smile on his face that was entirely new to Athos. He had never seen that expression before. D'Artagnan appeared overjoyed, ecstatic; but at the same time, wary and concerned. D'Artagnan peered into his sister's face as if trying to disern her reason for being in Paris- much more, without supervision- and the girl stared at her boots.
"Are Mother and Father here too?" He asked, but when no answer was offered forth his smile faded into a frown.
"That's why I came," she spoke in that high pitched, sweet voice one only finds on children, "Mama and Papa won't wake up!"
D'Artagnan's face visibly paled. "Marci," he said, obviously choosing his words carefully, "let's talk about this later, when we're somewhere else, yeah?" She nodded, taking his hand. D'Artagnan let out the air he had been holding in a long huff. He blinked rapidly, swallowing hard, and Athos knew that the Gascon was attempting to maintain his composure.
"How did you get here?" He asked her softly, his voice wavering despite his efforts.
"Walked," she said simply. "Why won't they wake up? Won't you help them? There's red stuff everywhere, D'Artagnan!"
D'Artagnan sighed, running a hand over his face. Athos hadn't noticed when Porthos and Aramis had arrived, but Aramis was on his right murmuring something under his breath. Porthos was on Athos's right, eyes to the ground and silent.
"Um..." D'Artagnan searched for a good explanation, eyes darting around as he thought. "I don't know," he settled for, "I'm not sure. I'll do my best, Marce."
She nodded, throwing her arms around his neck and saying, "I missed you."
He put his arms around her tiny, skinny frame and replied, "I missed you too, Marci. Tell me, are Henri, Ceron, and Aubin the same way as Mother and Father?"
Marci nodded. "What does it mean, D'Artagnan?" She demanded, "I know you know."
D'Artagnan sighed, looking up, and shook his head. "I don't know." It was a strangled reply, one that was blocking a flow of emotions.
Athos assumed Henri, Ceron and Aubin were D'Artagnan's other siblings. Athos hadn't been aware D'Artagnan was one of five. He had just assumed D'Artagnan was a single child when he arrived in Paris- cocky, arrogant. Athos had thought this was more because D'Artagnan didn't have siblings to knock him down a few notches. It made sense now, though. D'Artagnan didn't have older siblings to correct him. And parents can't watch all the time. Everything was starting to make sense.
And if D'Artagnan was the oldest, that meant...
He was going to blame himself.
Gascony was a small, uneventful place. Nothing ever occurred out of the ordinary, except for the travelers- some came, others went. It was just how things were. So no one had regarded the black cloaked stranger on the dark horse. They had dismissed his presence. That was a mistake on all their parts.
A bloody sword was swiftly wiped with a rag, clearing all evidence of fighting, and a black hood lay over a head donned with a dark hat. The cowl hid the person's face, but the glint of yellow teeth and malicious, bright eyes could not have been ignored, no matter one's attempts to disregard seeing so.