Summary: A mission in the mountains, and d'Artagnan's luck seems to have run out. There's a fall, a little girl, some very worried musketeers, and a reality that seems to be growing crooked for the stubborn Gascon.

Disclaimer: I do not own anything that can be recognised from the Musketeers, or any other accidental reference.

Author's Note: I have taken full artistic liberty with these nursery rhymes and their historical and geographical value. Also, I had no idea this oneshot would be so long. It started out with a creepy nursery rhyme, and then it screamed for a back story. I don't even know.

Anyway, enjoy!

When the sky falls

The air is good in the mountains. Even as the sun beats down relentlessly there's a chill that surrounds the musketeers. That's a natural occurrence at a height like this, Aramis informs them.

The sharpshooter is seated in the grass at present, hat over his eyes, soaking up the warmth. Porthos sits beside him, marvelling at the view. He's been to the Alps before, but never during summer. Somehow the peaks are even more breath-taking without a layer of snow to hide them. Green mixes with brown as blue rivers streak by, reflecting the cloudless sky. Athos rests in a more graceful manner, propped up against a rock. Like Porthos, he sits and marvels, but his eyes are trained on something other than the landscape. Instead, he's looking at d'Artagnan.

The Gascon is running through the fields, chasing after a blond head that sometimes pops up through the long grass. Every time d'Artagnan yells out he's about to catch her, the little girl giggles, and runs a bit faster. The Gascon slows his step, searches through the blades of grass. He's laughing, and more alive than Athos has seen him in a long time.

After a while d'Artagnan 'gives up'. He throws himself down in the grass, arms spread. "Marie," He sighs loudly, "I yield. You were right, you're too fast for me."

"I know." She answers in childish confidence. Her voice flows over the fields again, "Do you want to see the biggest tree in the world?"

"Of course," d'Artagnan replies, sitting up. As he lets Marie lead him away, the Gascon turns to Athos for a moment, shooting him a sunny grin. Athos feels the corner of his mouth rise in the attempt of a smile.

Athos almost shakes his head for a moment as he sees the unlikely pair descend the hill. After arriving, some three days ago, d'Artagnan and Marie have grown close. When the musketeers entered the village, most people had looked at them with trepidation. They had every right, too. After all, the reason he was even here with his friends was to stop the bandits who have been terrorising this area for months.

Little Marie had not shared this fear for robbers. Nor will she ever, Athos muses, with d'Artagnan's protection.

Instead of waiting fearfully to see who they were, Marie had run out to greet them. Blond hair in a dishevelled plait, she'd laughed at them and shown them around, taking an immediate liking to d'Artagnan's horse, and by extension to d'Artagnan himself.

So now the two run around and climb in trees.

Porthos guffaws. "d'Artagnan climbing a tree… I'm sure the Captain will be very proud."

The tree Marie leads d'Artagnan to really is enormous. Thick branches bend up and up and up. It's situated right at the edge of a ravine, leaning over the brink as though looking down how far its leaves have to fall.

"Wow." D'Artagnan sighs, "You're right Marie, that is the biggest tree in the world. I've never seen one like it."

Marie graces him with an toothy smile.

"You want to climb in?" d'Artagnan asks

"Yeah, I love doing that." Marie replies, jumping onto a root and reaching for the nearest branch. D'Artagnan's heart stutters slightly at that, at the thought that a six year old climbing a tree over the edge of a ravine. He's right behind her, ready to catch her if needs be.

That's when all hell breaks loose.

Ironically, the way the riders enter the clearing is almost serene. Riding in a slow trot up the hill. They probably wouldn't have spared the tree a second glance if it weren't for Marie's gasp as she almost loses her footing.

Within seconds five heads turn their direction.

The men are quick to grab their weapons, changing course in the direction of the tree. There's no doubt in d'Artagnan's mind that these are the rogues that he came here for. And of courses they're here now, when he's alone with a six-year-old to protect.

Not for the first time, d'Artagnan wonders if he's being punished for loving Constance. If perhaps, like Aramis often suggests, he's being tested.

He yells at Marie to get higher in the tree, trusting her ability to manoeuvre between the thick branches. After all, she's probably done it before. He lets out another shout in his friends' direction.

"WE HAVE VISITORS!" And they really need a larger welcoming committee. He shoots one man down. With no time to reload, he drops his musket and pulls his rapier. He's ready.

There's another shot, not his. Looking u he sees the branch Marie is hanging from splinter. She falls, and for a moment d'Artagnan thinks she's going to fall from the ravine. For a second he thinks he'll have to watch her die. Then she lands right at the edge of the canyon. She scrambles for purchase between sobs.

One of the men leads his horse towards her. D'Artagnan is moving too, bodily throwing himself between her and anyone else.

Right then three figures appear over the hill. Finally. You're late! D'Artagnan wants to tell his friends, but he doesn't have the time.

A horsed man brings down his sword. It's all d'Artagnan can do to stop it with his own, deflecting the blow that undoubtedly would have killed him. He pulls at the sword and tears the man from his horse. With almost impossible luck, the man lands on his knees, scabbard still in hand. He lunges up, and d'Artagnan is forced to bring down his rapier with as much force as he can to deflect the blade to the ground. He uses so much force, in fact, that the sword sticks, stuck deep in the soil.

D'Artagnan's opponent tugs at his weapon, pulling it from the earth.

That's when the crack appears, spreading from where the blade was stuck. Marie grabs d'Artagnan from behind, small hands latching onto his arm.

The ground crumbles. Soil falls from beneath their feet and what's left is air. Instinctively, d'Artagnan clutches Marie closer in an attempt to shield her with his arms.

Marie falls.

So does d'Artagnan.

It takes a few seconds for Porthos to realise what d'Artagnan means with his shout. He looks to see the same confusion on Athos' face when the words finally click. Visitors. Unwanted and deadly. He's standing and pulling together his weapons before he has time to explain anything.

Judging from his brothers' frantic movements, he guesses they've caught on too.

"Lucky bugger," Porthos murmurs, to no one in particular, "Thinks he can take all the glory for himself."

From Aramis' snort he knows the sharpshooter heard him. His next words prove it, "We'll just have to grab some for ourselves, won't we?"

They leave with a laugh, but Aramis' hat is still on the ground. It lies innocently where it fell when the man got up, in a hurry to help his friend.

As they run over the hill they can see five men converging near a large tree. D'Artagnan is stood at the edge of a ravine, shielding a crying Marie. With a few well-aimed shots, two more men go down. They're running down, straight into the fray when they see it happening.

The ground shatters beneath their Gascon's feet. With a surprised yell he scrambles for purchase, and then for Marie. They reach the bandits right as the two fall from sight.

The world slides away in a mix of rock and pain. Dirt and stones and grass come down with them. In truth, d'Artagnan will not be able to remember much about falling when he thinks back later. The only thing that will stick out is landing.

They crash down on a bulge in the mountain, only to fall right through it with the rest of the ground crashing down above them. D'Artagnan holds Marie close, turns so he doesn't fall on top of her, but cradles her in his arms so she won't be harmed. Essentially, they land side by side, d'Artagnan attempting to shield Marie from the falling debris.

A rock hits his head and he knows nothing.

The fight is easy, it's over in three minutes flat. Three men are unconscious, one is begging for mercy and the fifth is currently pinned under Porthos' strong hands and heavy glare.

Athos is leaning over the edge of the ravine, staring down, searching for anything that even remotely resembles a human body. Or two, in this case. He gazes and gazes, but all he sees is rubble, piled up messily at the bottom.

"D'Artagnan." the whisper comes out unbidden. He doesn't know what to think, what to feel. His stomach is down there with the debris, and his heart has up and disappeared. Fleetingly, he sees another man fall in his mind's eye. Sees Thomas hit the ground as his wife lets the boy go.

The world has gone numb. He sees everything with excruciating clarity, but it no longer reaches him.

He sees Aramis grab the rosary around his neck. He sees the Spaniard look down, pale, face full of anguish. He hears a prayer, soft floating through the air. But it's all just a back drop.

At the same time he hears Porthos curse. Sees him punch a tree, pace between the edge and the men he bested. He hears the Porthos murmur that he's going to get help. Sees him walking away to organise a rescue. It means nothing.

Athos' face is blank. So is his mind.

His frantic fear is gone. He's just here. Stoic. Resolute.

Like Porthos said, they have to find d'Artagnan. Or his body, at least.

When d'Artagnan next opens his eyes he wonders momentarily where he is. It's dark down here, cool and slightly damp. Nestled to his chest is Marie. He's half hanging over her, and he hopes he hasn't crushed her with his weight.

She opens her eyes when he calls out her name. Large frightened, they look up at him.

"How are you doing?" he asks casually. He needs to stay calm so that she stays calm, too.

"My leg hurts." She murmurs. He nods.

They need to get up, assess the damage. Get help.

But there's something heavy leaning on his back, and he thinks he can feel something sticking into him just above his shoulder blade.

"Well, we'll just have to get up and check it, won't we?" d'Artagnan answers. He attempts to push whatever is holding him down up and off him, but it will not move. Instead, it shifts something inside him that makes him cry out in pain.

"d'Artagnan?" Marie is well and truly scared. Well done, d'Artagnan, he tells himself, you've gone and frightened her.

"I'm fine," he says, then he decides he needs her help, "I'm just stuck. Do you think you can crawl out from under me and see what's on my back?"

She looks at him, judging him, her eyes slits, lip between her teeth. Then she nods.

She shifts. And shifts, and finally crawls out between his arms. This act in itself is enough to dislodge him from the thing that pushed him down. He was leaning on Marie, apparently, and when she left, he could drop free from what was impaling him.

It hurts, though. The world goes white for a moment. Then Marie's warm hand is on his shoulder. She looks worried.

He can truly see where they've landed now, in some sort of underground cave. It would be just large enough for d'Artagnan to stand in were it not for the rubble that has come through the top. This debris, too, leaves enough space to crawl out. Most of the rubble somehow got stuck behind a large piece of stone that is lodged against the hole that Marie and him created. He very edge was leaning on d'Artagnan's back, and now that he's out, it shifts slowly downwards. It comes to a standstill a few pouces* from the ground.

Slowly crawling back, d'Artagnan makes his way to where he can stand. He stretches there and looks down to assess the damage to his body. He's got mostly scrapes and bruises, his left thigh is scraped almost raw, his ribs hurt enough to make him think something may be broken. But that's just the front.

The Gascon can feel blood sliding down his back. He feels around for the wound. It's at his shoulder, and if he stretches his neck enough he can see it. A gaping hole of blood.

Feeling around a little he realises it's not very deep, just very painful. Ripping his sleeve, he binds it fast enough to stop the bleeding. He'll just have to hope his friends arrive soon, and with them medical help.

Marie's ankle seems to be dislocated, every attempt to touch it is met by sobs, so d'Artagnan settles for carrying her to a less debris-stricken place. There, he leans against the wall and slowly lets himself slip down. He sets Marie down on his lap.

They talk avidly for a while. Marie's stories are about village life. About hills and cowbells and François the mountain goat. Mostly about François the mountain goat, actually. There seems to be a lot of love there. D'Artagnan tells tales about dangerous journeys, about young Kings and brothers. About the drapers wife who managed to steal his heart.

"Is she your princess?" Marie asks, all big eyes and fairy tales.

"No," d'Artagnan answers with a smile. "She's much better than a princess."

Marie's eyes grow impossibly bigger. Someone better than a princess must be really good. She proceeds to tell him about Henri, her neighbour. Apparently the two married in the big tree last summer.

"Now I'm jealous." D'Artagnan murmurs.

Marie launches further into the story, and d'Artagnan pretends to listen as he tries to think of a way out.

He comes up empty

Night falls, and they haven't been able to do anything. The villagers all wanted to help of course, but in the dark there's no knowing how stable the structure is. And there's too much of a chance that they look over the body. But Aramis tries to ignore that fact.

There's a constant litany of prayer running through his head, French, Spanish and Latin. All of them, just in case God prefers one language. And he sees it happening over and over again. The ground giving way, d'Artagnan gripping Marie. Both of them falling.

The entire village is distraught at the prospect of Marie's death. Everyone loves her, and he can understand. He recalls her running up to them, grinning. How she hurled straight into a story about François her favourite goat who, according to her, has been sent by God to teach people how to climb the steepest mountain. Aramis had thought this rather ironic because of what the head of the devil supposedly looked like, but he had held his tongue.

In this non-descript village in these bleak times, she's become nothing short of a ray of sunshine. Similar to the way d'Artagnan ran into theirs like a whirlwind and brought in that little spark of youthfulness that they'd been missing for so long.

And now both those rays might be gone.

Athos and Porthos are doing about as well as he is. Porthos is running around, arranging things, moving, pacing, doing anything so he won't have to think of d'Artagnan's broken body at the bottom of a canyon. He's the kind of man that needs to move and help when he grieves. Being his usual, loyal self he rejects any opinion that states d'Artagnan is dead, choosing instead to deny the possibility entirely.

"You know the boy, Aramis, he's too stubborn to die. And he very well won't let Marie go either."

Athos is the complete opposite, he lies silently in his bed. After his initial frantic dash to the edge of the ravine he has gone quiet. Not in a way that he doesn't speak, but in that way that only Athos can go quiet. Like he's throwing off frosty numbness. He does his duty of course, binds the bandits in a root cellar, tells them why they'll be taken to Paris. Then he kindly thanks the wards of the inn they're staying at when the man tells them the food is free of charge. For all intents and purposes, he seems to be perfectly fine.

So neither Aramis nor Porthos comments when Athos ignores the bottle of wine that was brought up. In fact, they don't even say anything when the comte excuses himself, then lies flat in bed, staring at the ceiling.

None of them will be catching much sleep tonight.

The night comes. D'Artagnan knows this because the little spots of light that allowed him to see at least Marie's silhouette have disappeared. This new darkness is slightly disconcerting in its blindness. As though sharing the same discomfort, Marie burrows deeper against d'Artagnan.

Her tears wet his shirts as she sobs against him. d'Artagnan just holds her, whispers platitudes in her ear.

"You should go to sleep, Marie. I know you're tired." He whispers.

"Am not." The answer hitches on a sob.

D'Artagnan doesn't answer that. He's not exactly in the mood for exhausting conversations. Instead he waits for her to say something.

"It's so dark." Marie whispers eventually.

"Are you afraid of the dark?" the question seems disjointed in the darkness, as if adding to his words. He doesn't tell her how much this blindness frightens him.

"No!" She cries out in indignation, "Only of what's inside the dark."

"But I'm a Musketeer, Marie! You know I can fight off anything…" d'Artagnan lies.

Marie seems to ponder that for a moment, then her voice reaches through the dark again. "So you'll keep the scary things away."

"Of course!" d'Artagnan exclaims. Having a child must be an endless discussion. No wonder his father was always so tired.

"How?" she asks, petulant now, then adds as though it's the most obvious thing in the world, "You can hardly stab them."

"No," d'Artagnan stalls, he has no idea what them is, and why stabbing won't work, "But I'll sing, and that always scares them away."

"It does?" the fear finally laces her tone.

"Always." D'Artagnan states confidently.

Then he starts singing, and the doesn't stop until his voice is hoarse and the little spots of light come back.

By then, he's too tired to do more than whisper. Marie wakes up when he stops, big eyes searching his.

"You're tired, too." She states.

D'Artagnan wants to deny it, but he can barely keep his eyes open. The wound on his back is burning like the most fiery pit of hell, and his eyes seem to be intent on closing.

Marie lays her little hand on his shoulder as she says, "You should sleep. I'll sing this time."

As d'Artagnan leans back his head and closes his eyes, Marie starts singing.

The next morning finds the entire village at the ravine. The musketeers are lowered down by ropes that hang from the sturdy roots of the large tree. Their descent is silent, but when they reach a ledge about halfway down, their voices finally start up.

"Look here!" Porthos shouts, pointing at the large pile of debris that has gathered on the ledge. "Most of the rock seems to have fallen in the same place."

The pile on the ledge is large, the crumbling at the top of the ravine having caused nothing less than a landslide. One look at the mountain of rubble and the three start digging. It's a large pile. And d'Artagnan and Marie are probably under there. There really is no time to lose.

It's when they've moved the first layer of rock that they hear it. They're taking a short break to replenish their strength, and water and food is being lowered down to them. Then, soft and barely there, they hear Marie. She's singing, a nursery rhyme that Athos recognises distantly.

They're up immediately dropping their nourishment and listening closer. The words waft up softly.

"Rock-a-bye, baby, in the treetop,"

Porthos lets out a laugh so loud that Aramis almost fears a second landslide. The large man grins, and tugs at his rope.

"They're alive!" He calls up, "They're alive!"

Aramis beams and hugs his friend, who tells him, "I told you so, didn't I?"

Standing silently beside his friends, Athos strains his ears. Marie may be alive, but he has yet to hear anything from d'Artagnan…

"Rock-a-bye, baby, in the treetop," It's Constance, she's standing beneath the tree, looking up with a fearful expression. D'Artagnan comes to stand next to her, grabs her shoulders like he knows he never can. Following her line of sight he looks up, too.

There, in the bough of the tree, hanging over the ravine is Marie. She's dancing, singing along to Constance's muttered lullaby.

"When the wind blows the cradle with rock," The tree swings to and fro as the wind picks up, shaking Marie up and down.

"When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,

Down will come baby, cradle and all."

The bough of the tree breaks. Marie crashes down. She disappears beyond the edge of the canyon with a scream that reverberates in his ears forever.

Marie's face swims above him like a vision. She's saying something, but he can't hear her. She shakes him, and he recognises the words she says.

"Please, d'Artagnan, say something." She's pleading, and it's his fault. But everything hurts and it's just so warm.

"The tree." He whispers. "I saw you falling."

She sobs. "Yes. You saved me."

Did he? He doesn't remember.

"Should I keep singing?" she asks.

D'Artagnan nods as the world goes grey again.

They're sifting through the rubble now, balanced precariously over the edge. All of them are held by ropes, keeping them from falling. What scares them most, though, is not the heights, it's crushing the sweet little voice that carries through the rocks beneath them.

Marie.

Though the musketeers feel their hearts ache at the lack of d'Artagnan's voice, they force themselves to be happy that at least the Gascon's charge has survived.

Every frail little tone sends their hearts flying. She's alive, and singing. That's good. That's good.

But the little girl doesn't hear them when the yell down to her, and her high voice is never joined by a second, lower one.

And that thought makes their hearts as heavy as the stones they're shifting.

D'Artagnan is standing on the roof of the palace. The wind plays in his hair and far away he sees stormy clouds approaching. Here, over the King's ample gardens, the sun still shines. Looking down he can see the balustrades. See the servants rushing about, as well-dressed men court well-dressed women.

A tiny hand grips his. D'Artagnan looks down. There's Marie, her body distorted, blood painting her blond hair red. Her smile is sunny when she looks back up at him. She looks sweet, if you ignore the chunk of head that's missing.

She starts singing, her high voice lilting in the breeze.

"Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall," Marie points a little finger to the right, where a tanned figure sits over the edge of the roof. D'Artagnan recognises himself in the way the legs dangle, swinging up and down.

"Humpty Dumpty had a great fall," Marie's voice is cheerful as ever as d'Artagnan watches himself lean forward. Further and further….

And then fall.

Further and further.

He comes down with a crack that sounds fake to his own ears.

"And all the King's horses and all the King's men," she's pointing down now, and d'Artagnan leans over to see what's happening. He sees himself in a pool of blood, limbs at angles he knows they can't be in. Athos, Porthos and Aramis ride up to his body. They jump off their horse, call his name.

"Couldn't put Humpty together again." The singsong voice continues. The musketeers scramble around d'Artagnan's corpse, flailing hands failing to fix his broken body.

Then Marie speaks again, the same upbeat voice reaching his ears. She's let go of his hand, and she's smiling up from a few feet away.

"I think I'll join you." She squeals.

Then she spreads her arms and lets herself fall back. d'Artagnan reaches out but he's too late, her small body slipping through his fingers.

And she's falling. Falling.

Forever falling.

"Marie…." D'Artagnan moans. His head tosses to the side.

Marie puts her hand on his face, pushing back his dark hair. He's sweating, but it's cold down here in the cave. He's different down here than he was when they were on the mountain. He used to run with her, dance, climb trees. Now he sits.

Stones seem to fall from the roof. They keep doing that, at the same place where she landed with d'Artagnan. There's a lot of shifting happening, and it sounds bad. She should go take a look, but she can't. She needs to sing for d'Artagnan.

He's hurt. She knows that. There was a lot of blood on his back and it scared her, but he said it was fine. She doesn't really believe him though. Because he keeps saying that. Telling her not to worry, to just sing like she always does.

So she does. She sings and it's the only thing keeping her from crying, from closing her eyes too.

If she does, he might not open his again.

"Marie," He says again.

"Yes?" Marie answers. D'Artagnan opens his eyes. They look like glass. Like he's about to cry. He pushes her hair back.

"Don't fall." He says, then his eyes close again, and his hand drops.

Marie wonders what there is to fall from, then she starts singing again.

There's a hole all the way down now. Athos can see the ground of the cave under them, and he thanks a God he scarcely believes in that this is where d'Artagnan landed with his charge. The hole is not yet wide enough to go through, but maybe now Marie will hear them.

Athos leans forward and shouts down as loud as he can.

"MARIE!" The girl looks up in surprise, that's the voice of one of d'Artagnan's friends. The older one. d'Artagnan called him the most honourable man he's ever met, whatever that means.

"Can you hear me?" The voice comes again.

"Yes!" She shouts. "I can!"

She's crying again, and she really shouldn't but she is. Because d'Artagnan is acting strange, and she needs to sing. A few seconds pass, and she's about to burst into song again when she hears the voice again.

"Are you well?"

"My knee hurts," she sobs. "And there's something wrong with d'Artagnan."

There's nothing again for a while, then the man says in a voice that sounds wrong somehow, "We'll be there as soon as possible."

Marie doesn't know what to say to that so she sings again. Because she promised d'Artagnan and he needs to become normal again.

The air smells like fire. Around him buildings rise up, high and threatening, casting shadows in the dim light. Flames eat away in the distance as smoke billows into the air like dark clouds. Paris, d'Artagnan realises. He's in Paris. But it's not the place he's come to know.

A child calls out his name, beckoning him to come. Marie, his mind supplies. He needs to get her out of here. When he nears the girl, he can see her dancing in circles with five other children. Their hands are joined as they prance around joyfully.

They sing, "Ring around the rosie," Suddenly the children's hands and faces are covered with black sores, around them a red-ish rash. They don't seem to be bothered by it, prancing around like they don't feel the stinging of the boils.

"Pocket full of posie," Marie's clear voice rings through the others. d'Artagnan vaguely remembers someone mentioning that this particular nursery rhyme was based on the plague outbreak hundreds of years ago. A posie, wasn't that a scenting flower? Used at funerals?

"Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!" And they do, crashing to the ground, pale as death, dark bulbs of plague clinging to their flesh. Marie's eyes open again. Or, one eye does, the other remains shut from the large black pustule that has gathered there.

"I like this game!" She exclaims as the fire finally reaches their street and everything is consumed.

"Fire…." D'Artagnan's eyes are open now, dashing across the cave. They don't see her. "S burning…"

Marie is openly crying now. The rocks above her keep shifting. D'Artagnan wakes up sometimes. Really wakes up, and he tells her not to worry. Then he falls asleep again. He's not awake anymore now. Even if his eyes are open.

There is no fire, that's how she knows. The only heat is coming from himself. It's there every time Marie snuggles close to him.

The voice from above comes again. Like God. She wonders if François showed the musketeer the way down.

"We're almost down, you need to move back!" A few seconds of silence follow that. Marie looks at d'Artagnan, whose eyes are closed again. He's sleeping. He can't move back when he's sleeping.

"Can you do that?" The voice asks now, kinder somehow, "Can you move back?"

Yes, Marie thinks, I can. But d'Artagnan can't. And she won't leave him.

Then his eyes are open suddenly, they look glassy again. Like that doll that Marie's cousin once had. Glass eyes in a glass face. Still, Marie can tell that d'Artagnan is really awake this time. He looks at her. Not through her, at her. It makes her giggle with joy.

"Athos?" He croaks, looking in the direction of the voice.

"d'Artagnan!?" Marie's maman always says that voices hide feeling, she doesn't entirely understand the feelings behind this voice, but she does understand that there are too many to count. The voice continues, "How are you?"

d'Artagnan wets his lips, then he ignores the question, "You getting us out?"

"Yes. And d'Artagnan?" The voice replies, "You must move back. Some of the debris may come down when we descend."

Confused. D'Artagnan looks confused. He looks at her, as though sizing her up. She looks at him too. He's looks pale, but his cheeks are really red. And tired. Him. He looks tired, not his cheeks.

"Can you move back, Marie?" He asks her then.

She shakes her head. Because she knows what that look means. It is the same look he had when he told her to get in the tree. He wants her to leave him behind. And she won't. Because he scared away the things in the dark, and he's hurt, and she doesn't want him to die.

She doesn't know how to tell him that, exactly. So she just looks at him.

He seems to understand, because he shakes his head in that same way that papa always does when he gives her something he knows he shouldn't.

The voice interrupts again, more agitated this time, "d'Artagnan! You two need to move. Do you understand?"

D'Artagnan turns his head with a grimace, then he says, "I… Yes. I understand."

He tries to sit up from the wall, but then his face goes white as snow and he sits back with an aborted grunt. Right hand reaching back, he feels around his wound. When his hand comes back there's blood and something else on it. d'Artagnan looks like he's about to puke.

It takes a few seconds for the man to calm his breathing, then he looks at Marie.

"I think I'm going to need your help." He says calmly.

Marie nods solemnly. She'll help him.

In the end the girl has to pull d'Artagnan forwards so he lands on his hands and knees. Or in this case, hand and knees, because he hardly trusts his right arm at the moment. It's in a sort of lopsided crawl that d'Artagnan gets away from the dangerous debris. Marie is at his side the entire time.

By the time they're out of the reach of any shifting rocks, d'Artagnan is panting and he looks like he's about to keel over. Still, he tells Marie to get under him as he shouts back that the people outside can try and come in.

Nothing happens for a few unbearable moments. Then the world crashes down behind them. Though none of the falling debris comes even close to where they're sat, the stones fall with enough force to send a shock through the ground. This, in turn manages to unbalance d'Artagnan. He twists away from Marie, he doesn't want to land on her with his full weight. This is wrong too, though, because he falls on his right side, wound connecting with the ground.

The strangled cry he lets out as he loses consciousness is something that both Marie and the Inseparables will be hearing for a long time in their dreams.

Marie crawls towards him, trying and failing to wake him up. Two men are suddenly behind her, one soothing her while the other moves straight for d'Artagnan. Marie might not know much about feelings behind voices, but she can see the feelings on his man's face. It's the man with the hat and the pretty cross.

He looks like Henri looked when his dog died.

Out of sheer despair, Marie starts singing.

"Quand trois poules vont au champ," (When three hens go to the field) Marie sings as she dances through a field of corpses. Large men still stand, swinging their swords and killing anything in their path. D'Artagnan reaches out to her, terror gripping his heart. What is she doing here? It's not safe!

Suddenly she's dancing around a group of men, skilled men wearing uniforms he can't quite place. They surround three others with a different uniform. With a jolt of his heart he recognises both the uniform and the men. Musketeers. Porthos. Aramis. Athos.

"La première va devant." (The first one goes before)

Athos, startled by d'Artagnan's cry, looks up. He never even sees the blow that fells him. With the swift stabbing of a sword, Athos falls. There is a bleeding hole in his chest. D'Artagnan thinks he might have that same hole in his. He can't move. Not to help his friends. Not to protect Marie. Not even to cry.

"La deuxième suit la première, » (The second follows the first)

Porthos lets out a roar of agony as he sees his friend go down. He tears into soldier after soldier trying to get to his friend, his brother. D'Artagnan can only watch. He can't even move when Porthos reaches the man, when he jumps forward to protect Athos' dead body. He can only watch as Porthos shields their friend. As he keeps shielding him, long after he's capable. Long after he's been stabbed again and again by his enemies.

"La troisième est la derrière, » (The third is the last)

Aramis is trying to get to his friends, tears streaming down his face. D'Artagnan can see his mouth move, can hear the man's whispers over the sounds of battle, over the singing of little Marie. 'Not again. Please God, not again.' Aramis says as he makes his way to his friends. D'Artagnan can hear the musket discharge. He can see the bullet that fells his last living friend.

And he still can't move.

Marie's in front of him again, smile still gruesomely plastered on her bloodstained face.

"Quand trois poules vont au champ, la première va devant ! » She smiles proudly at knowing the song so well.

She keeps smiling when a blade rips through her back and severs her spine.

"MARIE!"

D'Artagnan mutters their names. There's so much anguish in the young man's voice that Porthos wishes he could just pluck d'Artagnan out of his dreams and hold him close. Strike that, he wishes his brother was never put in this situation in the first place.

The Gascon's usually tanned skin is a deathly grey, while his face looks red from heat. From the same heat, no doubt, that Porthos can almost feel from where he's standing. Once in a while the Gascon twists his head, opens his eyes, or mutters something that only Marie seems to understand.

Marie, who is still singing, her eyes locked on d'Artagnan. For a moment Porthos wonders what the Gascon has done to receive that level of love and devotion from a six-year-old. Then again, d'Artagnan has managed to get much more than just love and devotion from Mr. 'I-don't-trust-anyone' Athos, so really he shouldn't be surprised.

Still, when no manner of promises or platitudes can rip her from d'Artagnan's side, Porthos feels almost hurt. Almost. If anything, it's a distraction from the monster of fear that tears him apart every time he looks over at d'Artagnan's pale form.

"I've got a stretcher to lift them up!" Comes a shout from Athos, then he drops down into the cave with something heavy. The stretcher, Porthos presumes. The comte walks up to them, his eyes flitting to d'Artagnan with an expression that is just a shade too blank to be genuine.

"How is he?" Athos asks Aramis. The medic doesn't reply, he's busy doing anything he finds necessary, and responding to Athos is not on that list.

Instead, Porthos replies, "He hasn't said a word since we got in." He's not entirely sure whether he means d'Artagnan or Aramis, but it is true for both. Athos sends him a look that tears at the very strings of Porthos' heart.

"D'you think that'll fit Marie as well as d'Artagnan?" he's changing the subject, but he really doesn't know what else to do. He gestures towards the stretcher, and his question is genuine enough. There is no circumstance in which Marie will leave d'Artagnan's side.

Athos looks at Marie, but he doesn't respond. Right at that moment d'Artagnan goes still, he loses all his flailing and desperation, he just stops. And it's the most terrifying thing Porthos has ever seen.

"D'Artagnan open your eyes!" Aramis yells now, patting d'Artagnan's face.

D'Artagnan doesn't.

D'Artagnan is tied to something. Whatever it is, it is hard and wooden, and it eats into his back. Fields stretch before the Gascon, as far as he can see. Grain and sunflowers and every other crop he can possibly imagine, lined up and sorted.

The thing he's tied to starts to move, to turn, slowly in the breeze. He notices with a shock that he's moving sideways, then up, then upside down. He hangs there for a while, looking back.

Ah. A windmill.

And he's tied to one of its vanes. Then he's moving, moving, so fast. So dizzy.

Marie sings from below. She's pleading with the miller.

"Meunier, tu dors, ton moulin va trop vite, (Miller, you're sleeping, your mill is going too fast)

Meunier, tu dors, ton moulin va trop fort, " (Miller, you're sleeping, your mill is going to strong)

The next two lines that Marie sings are lost in the wind as d'Artagnan spins, the ground turning sky and the sky turning ground. He feels almost like he's on a ship. Or flying. It's both absolutely exhilarating and absolutely terrifying.

"Meunier tu dors, et le vent souffle souffle (Miller, you're sleeping, and the wind's blowing, blowing)

Meunier tu dors, et le vent souffle fort" (Miller, you're sleeping, and the wind's blowing too strong)

The wind really is blowing. Rather hard, in fact. It's turning the vanes in faster and faster circles. Dizzying and terrifying and Marie just keeps going, keeps pleading with the miller.

"Les nuages, les nuages viennent vite, (The clouds, the clouds are coming fast)

Et l'orage et l'orage gronde fort" (And the storm, and the storm rages strong)

The wind carries clouds and rain and thunder his way. Spinning in dizzying circles he can no longer make out the difference between sky and ground. One is colourful, the other a smear of grey, but it all mixes and mixes.

"Le vent du Nord a déchiré la toile" (The wind from the North has torn the canvas)

d'Artagnan can feel it, can feel the canvas between the wood ripping. He can hear the wind whistle through the holes as the vanes move faster and faster, carrying him along. Then he's slipping, the rope he's tied with no longer finding purchase in the canvas.

"Meunier, tu dors, ton moulin est bien mort" (Miller, you're sleeping, and your windmill is dead)

And lightning strikes behind him in the mill, a crack of fire and death.

When d'Artagnan opens his eyes the world spins. The sky is coming closer and somehow staying far away. He's tied to something but all he feels is warm warm warm. A warm hand on his shoulder, tears on his chest.

Marie.

D'Artagnan tries to move his hand, to ask her if she's hurt, but he can't. Instead he moves his head and the world spins again. Like the vanes of a mill when the wind picks up.

Everything will turn out right. He wants to say.

You did so well, Marie. He wants to tell her.

You're better than a princess. He wants to confide.

"I like your voice," Is what comes out. He slurs the words as the world tumbles and he falls into an abyss of fiery hell.

By the time they're all back on solid ground, Athos can no longer hide the concern he's feeling for d'Artagnan. He has feared for the boy's life before, the case with Vadim an unwelcome reminder of just how close he'd let the Gascon come to death, so very soon after meeting him. Never has he felt this debilitating uselessness while looking at d'Artagnan, though. That is something entirely new.

To make it worse, d'Artagnan is clearly unaware of what is conspiring around him. Unaware of the turmoil he has caused, not only with his friends, but with the entire village. Because of course everyone in this little stack of huts has fallen in love with the boy.

Everyone is milling around in stress trying to help, but it all passes by Athos. He only has eyes for the pale form on the stretcher.

"He said he liked my voice." Comes a soft whisper from Marie.

Aramis head pops up so fast that he must have dislocated something in his neck.

"He was awake?" The words are sharp when they come out, and Marie burrows closer to d'Artagnan. She nods.

Aramis closes his eyes, something tense leaving his body as his fingers convulsively grip the Gascon's shoulder. It's good then, that d'Artagnan woke up.

Porthos comes barging back from…. somewhere, two dishevelled parents in tow. Marie's parents. It's so Porthos to think of something like that while the man wants nothing more than to be close to d'Artagnan that Athos almost feels his knees give way.

Because Porthos is being so Porthos. And Aramis is being so Aramis. And Athos feels like he has left himself behind because he should be doing things, too. He should be walking around, arranging a place to stay. Thanking the men who helped them, because he is forever in their debt. Or he should at least be thinking more clearly than this. More rationally.

But he can't.

Because d'Artagnan is being so not d'Artagnan.

Because d'Artagnan might die.

Because Athos does not think he can lose another person that he would trade the world for. Another brother.

God, he needs a drink.

A voice that sounds suspiciously like his father, and if he had the time he would wonder at that, suddenly speaks in his head. If you want the boy to survive, you had better start arranging that. You cannot expect these kinds of things to simply take their course. Take action. People look at you at a time like this.

With that voice echoing in his ears, Athos strides forward. He asks Aramis what the man needs to help d'Artagnan, then arranges the necessary supplies. A few swift words, and they have a place to stay and aid of the local physician. Or, the local heretic herb woman, by the looks of her.

Porthos has finally managed to coerce Marie into her parents waiting arms. Aramis is gingerly poking at wound in d'Artagnan's shoulder, and the Gascon himself is trying to move away with a pained moan and a grimace.

While he and Porthos each grab an end of the stretcher, and pull it up, Athos lets his hand slide discreetly through d'Artagnan's hair. It's sweaty, and somehow warm, but it's d'Artagnan, and he's really here. The Gascon moves away from his hand with an incoherent, but clearly indignant moan.

The move is so d'Artagnan, that Athos feels a piece of himself sliding back in place. As the musketeers set off towards the village, d'Artagnan insensible, Porthos unreadable, and Aramis muttering under his breath, Athos allows his heart to soar.

They're all alive.

Marie stares at him as rain pours from the heavens. There is no singing this time, just the terrifying stare of a dying child. D'Artagnan moves forward, pushes against the rain but he's stuck. Mud is pulling at his boots, tearing away what little hold he has on his surroundings.

Marie just stands there. Blood pours down her face, the red diluted and watery.

To some extent, d'Artagnan is aware that he's in a memory of some sort. The thunder and the downpour too familiar to be anything new. In that same way, Marie's presence seems off somehow. Like mixing the lyrics of two songs.

Gunshots sound through the rain, and d'Artagnan flinches. Stares through the watery mass that surrounds him. Wonders if Marie is hit. Like that matters. Like d'Artagnan can't already see Death's tantalising hold on the girl's little heart. Like anyone ever survives this rain.

A figure comes stumbling towards him. Grey, and just a little bit too heavy. Bleeding. Father. D'Artagnan reaches out, attempts to catch and capture and keep his father safe. But he still can't move, and Alexandre d'Artagnan crashes to the mud with a wet splat.

It's anticlimactic almost.

The rain's growing warm. Either that, or he's getting used to its icy feel. He no longer shivers, he just stares.

Looks at the man he can never save.

Looks at the girl that just keeps dying.

If father was speaking before, he has stopped now. His mouth is still open, like a fish out of water, gasping for air. Only they're surrounded by water here, and for a moment d'Artagnan wonders if it's the rain or the blood that his father is choking on.

It's eerily silent, even the water seems to fall without its usual pitter and patter. Without its usual roar.

Marie has stopped singing, and she's blowing away in the breeze. Melting in the warm rain.

Then something cool seems to touch his head and the water grows icy. Hail and frozen drops of rain falling in a cacophony of silence. Harsh. Unrelenting.

Cold.

D'Artagnan almost sits bolt upright when Aramis renews the wet cloth on his forehead. He can't though, he's lying on his stomach and the twitch he makes when he tries to move does nothing but aggravate his wound. Slowly, d'Artagnan calms down. His head, which is turned from the bed to avoid asphyxiation, tosses as far as it can without twisting the boys neck.

Another cloth is draped over d'Artagnan's back. Light and moist, it's supposed to keep the fever down. However it only seems to exacerbate whatever delusion the Gascon is living. The usually lively man is listless now. The movement of his head, the twitching of his fingers, it all seems half-hearted. Behind the man's lids, though, there seems to be a different world.

A difficult world.

The herb woman has concocted something, and Aramis feels almost out of place. She's a heretic, he's sure, she was murmuring words that tasted older that French. It's not just that, though. It's the way she looked at his rosary, then at his face. Judging, testing, can I trust this man?

She has decided that she can, apparently, because here he is using her herbs to heal his brother's infection long after she's gone. Aramis stares down at d'Artagnan, the look of his body sending chills down his spine.

There are bruises everywhere. The entire right side of the Gascon's body is scraped raw, congealed blood lining the shattered skin. Three ribs are bruised. But that's all fine, painful as hell, but manageable. Not even infected. Sadly, the same can't be said for the wound on d'Artagnan's shoulder.

The wound itself isn't so bad. Relatively shallow, but wide. D'Artagnan's tight bandage was a good move, it stopped him from bleeding out. The problem with the wound is the infection. It oozes blood and pus, and the smell of it makes even Aramis nauseous.

So they all make sure not to stick their nose in the wound.

Porthos has fallen asleep, slouched back in a chair with is feet leaning on the bed. His snores fill the room, while Aramis whispers soothing words. He's speaking Spanish, he notices after a while. The language isn't something he reverts to often, but it seems fitting now for some reason.

D'Artagnan looks both unbearably young, and impossibly old. His slack features offer a sweet sight, free of the worries that continuously plague the young man. When the opens his eyes, though, he opens pits of unfathomable terror, full of ghosts that no one else can see.

Except maybe Athos. Aramis has noticed the soothing effect the comte's voice has on d'Artagnan. The way Athos is looking at d'Artagnan now, eyes sober but for the sorrow they carry, make Aramis wonder if he is missing something, some quiet conversation that far surpasses mere mortals such as himself.

They seem to be at an impasse right now. There are two ways it can go now. d'Artagnan is calming down, which can mean that the fever is dropping. On the other hand, it can be the silence before the storm.

Knowing d'Artagnan, it's probably the second.

There's fire. Again. It creeps up his legs and winds around his arms. Tendrils of smoke curl around his face and crawl into his lungs and he's choking.

There is no air, just smoke and the heat of a thousand flames as they lick at his skin. Melt his skin. Roast it until it's crispy and dry and smells of freshly cooked meat.

It's disgusting. And if his throat wasn't clogged with smoke he'd vomit right now.

He sees now that he's on a pile of wood. Latin prayers ring through the air and d'Artagnan wonders what he did. What did he do to be burnt at a stake? It must have been terrible, because even witches aren't usually burnt anymore. That's a thing of the past.

Then he sees her. Constance. Walking through the crowd, tears streaming down her face, reaching out…

He's worse. Much worse. It's the second night and the fever has spiked. d'Artagnan has lost all lucidity, all calm. He twists and turns. He tries to break free from Aramis grip. Once or twice his eyes open, like blind holes that look through anything on this plane of existence.

Even the sweating has stopped. Now there's just dry skin, hot to the touch.

Athos looks on with worry, a frown marring his handsome features. Porthos has somehow slept through it all, though Aramis is doesn't fail to notice how Porthos sleeps with his face on the bed this time, as though wanting to be close to d'Artagnan. During the day Porthos kept the Gascon cool, he must have realised then where this was going.

Aramis cleans the wound now, rubs in the paste of herbs that the woman left behind. More than that, though, he wets cloths and wipes d'Artagnan down.

When d'Artagnan starts speaking, he slurs together words that have no meaning. For half a minute, Aramis panics. He wonders if, perhaps, d'Artagnan is doing so badly that he can no longer form real words.

"Do you suppose that is the Gascon dialect?" Athos whispers, surreptitiously putting a soothing hand on d'Artagnan's back, "It sounds similar to what he says when he has nightmares."

Aramis feels his heart unclench at those words. It is true, he recognises the gritty undertone now, singsong like Spanish, but in a string of sounds he has never heard together before. Just a Gascon speaking in his dialect. No need to worry.

Then d'Artagnan's eyes open on a gasp.

"Constance!" He yells, "She can't…. she can't go there!"

He's somewhere else now. No longer on fire, but surrounded. Nameless men with nameless violence. They're tearing everything apart.

They have Constance.

She had moved to protect him. To warn him. She went to the men and spit out words in that rapid-fire way she does. And now they have her. They'll kill her. He can see it in their eyes.

So he fights. He runs through enough men to scour a path to Constance, but she's already been let go. She looks through him now, eyes empty as they look at the horror he's just raided on this small court.

Maybe he's dead, he thinks. He felt swords in him, musket balls through his flesh.

There's pain everywhere. Fire under his skin. Enemies on all sides.

D'Artagnan cricks his neck to look at the abyss that used to be his shoulder. There's nothing now. Just blood, blood, blood. Black and oozing.

A man stands behind Constance, hat over his eyes, face masked. Like the man who killed his father.

Like Death.

And the figure looks at him. Smiles a faceless smile.

With the billow of a cloak it follows Constance, hovering over her like an omen.

D'Artagnan can only bleed as he sees his love walking to her doom.

Porthos almost falls form his chair when he hears the yell. He's up and armed in less than a second, looking around for a threat. Then he sees Aramis leaning over d'Artagnan, trying to keep the boy still. To the right, Athos has d'Artagnan's head in his grasp while he whispers soothing words to the Gascon.

No threat.

"You have to save her…" d'Artagnan intones, "She… The baker, he can't possibly… And then the rain and the guns and the King's head on a stake."

"Constance is perfectly safe, d'Artagnan." Athos' voice is stern, but his eyes are bewildered.

d'Artagnan is almost frightening to watch like this. He can clearly see what is going on around him, but he is unable to distinguish between this and his dreams. It breaks all their hearts to see him cut off from reality like this.

"No. No, no, no. Listen to me, Athos!" d'Artagnan moves his right arm, grimacing, but not stopping at the pain from his shoulder. Hand flailing, he reaches out for Athos, who grabs his wrist, "You must save her. She is dying!"

"We would never let that happen." Athos whispers. D'Artagnan doesn't seem to notice. He's going slack again, his arm falling while his eyes glaze over.

With a last twitch of his lips he breaths, "As am I."

Athos jerks back, eyes wide. But his grip on d'Artagnan's wrist tightens.

We would never let that happen. It echoes through the room, but no one says it.

It's true.

They will never let d'Artagnan die, however much he seems to be trying at present.

Snow. Cold. Unfamiliar.

Not Gascony.

It's all numb, numb, numb. Quiet. Soothing.

White.

But mostly cold. Freezing. Painful.

Shivers that wrack his shoulder. Shivers that reignite the fires they're trying to still.

Open eyes. Three figures. Faces he knows. Words. Unfamiliar.

No! Familiar! French. Not Gascon. French.

That's why it's cold.

French is cold.

Like snow. Like terror. Like a Cardinal with frosty eyes.

There's no noise. Just faces of brothers.

And numb. Quiet. Soothing.

Snow. Cold.

Familiar.

They bring him to an icy stream. It's one of those backwaters that flows only in the summer when the snow on the mountains melts. It's too cold almost, but it may save d'Artagnan's life.

May still the fire under the man's skin.

Together the three musketeers descend, clutching their brother, holding him under as he splashes, splatters, tries to get out. There's no recognition in d'Artagnan's eyes when he looks up. Just an empty stare.

But it calms him. Aside from the heavy shivers, he lies still. That's good.

The musketeers allow themselves to breathe again.

Lupiac. Sunny skies and crooked houses. The buildings sprawl up between the hills, breaking line after line of sun kissed fields. D'Artagnan knows the place in front of him. It's gone now, burnt to the ground, ashes cold, held together only by memories.

Here – wherever 'here' might be – the house still stands in all it's glory. Father sits on the porch, leaned over a letter, calloused hands running over parchment like a prayer. Seeing him alive and breathing, it loosens something in d'Artagnan's chest.

It feels like home, not just because he is literally home, or because his father is alive. No, this is home because Constance stands by the gate, hands working through wet linen as she hangs it from a line. He moves towards her, grabs her from behind and lets himself kiss her neck.

Constance pushes him away, accuses him of distracting her. But there's a laugh in her voice and a smile on her lips.

From in the tree, the one d'Artagnan knows better that the inside of his pocket, comes a voice.

"The farmer and the Maiden,

They were wooing I declare,"

d'Artagnan laughs. The voice is Marie's and it sounds almost reverend as she describes the two at the foot of the tree. It's funny, he'll never quite be able to see himself as anything other than a farmer. Apparently, Marie has seen the same thing in his mannerisms. She's a smart girl.

"Out behind the garden gate

They didn't know I was there."

Constance tries to hold in her laughter, but the snort gives her away. She looks at d'Artagnan with an exasperated expression, and mouths 'Clearly, we're alone and not being watched from a tree'. Good to know the Parisian sarcasm hasn't yet left her blood.

"Now the farmer he was bashful

And the maiden she was shy"

At this Constance does look up, face full of indignation, and d'Artagnan shakes his head. Bashful he may be, but if there is one thing that Constance is not, then it is shy. And don't let anyone say any different, or she'll be taking it very personally.

"He asked her if he could

And this was her reply.

You can do it if you want to

But you gotta do it right

And don't you dare to do it

Like you did the other night."

The lyrics surprise d'Artagnan. They're a little 'naughty' for a children's song he thinks. Though when he thinks further, he realises he knows the song. And the rest of the lyrics. And that he was the one to teach Marie this song.

"Cause if you do, I'm telling you,

I'll never let you do it again.

I mean the washing."

Ah. Of course. The washing.

"I'll never let you do it again."

Marie sits beside d'Artagnan's head. She's crying and singing at the same time. Ideally, she wouldn't be here right now. She really shouldn't see the Gascon like this, but there was nothing anyone could say that would stop her.

As stubborn as the Gascon she's taken to, she is.

So Aramis let her in, told her to take care, to be kind. He had to practically beg her to leave François outside. It should be alright. D'Artagnan has greatly improved since his bath in the stream, and overnight his fever has been going down. Not that that says anything with d'Artagnan.

So it's surprising, but not entirely unexpected when Marie finishes he song, and d'Artagnan wakes up. Sweat still clings to his skin, but his eyes are clear and there's something like a smile on his lips.

He looks straight in Marie's green eyes, big with surprise at him being awake. There's a look of trepidation in them too, like she expects him to fall back into delirium.

He doesn't. Instead, he asks on the croak of a voice, "Did I teach you that song?"

She doesn't even answer, she just flings herself at him, small arms encircling his neck and hitting his wound. He doesn't care. She's alive, and from what he can remember from his dreams, that was not a certainty at all.

"I asked François to ask God to make you better again." She says.

D'Artagnan spends about half a second wondering who François is, before he remembers the mountain goat that Marie is so fond of. He shakes his head on a laugh.

"I think it was your singing more than your goat."

Marie blushes, then she rushes out to tell her parents the great news.

The inseperables crowd his bed, hug him fervently.

"Good to have you lucid, you're much less charming when you're unconscious." Aramis starts

"You pull a stunt like this again, and I will personally kill you." Porthos says.

Athos agrees. "I concur. But I'm assuming there will not be a next time."

His voice is stern, but his eyes are happy. D'Artagnan smiles. He has no doubt his friends' threats are not empty.

Athos does not remember ever feeling so glad as he felt when d'Artagnan opened his eyes. Now, as the still frail Gascon brushes off the gratitude of Marie's parents, he feels that same sense of happiness flood back into his chest.

D'Artagnan is alive.

Not just that, he is alive, lucid, and very much back to his usual self. He's been testing their patience for the past two days. They need to get back, he told them. But the musketeers were not taking any chances. Aramis wouldn't budge, and even if he had, d'Artagnan would still have had to face Porthos and Athos.

No, d'Artagnan got some necessary rest. Some food. And only when he was deemed fit to ride did they decide to leave, prisoners in tow.

It takes a long time for them to actually get out of the village, there are so many people who want to thank d'Artagnan. And then there's the difficult farewell with Marie. She cries, clutches d'Artagnan's hand, won't let him leave.

He simply smiles, he tells her, "I'll be back. And then we'll actually climb the tree, and François will teach me how to get to the top of the mountain."

She smiles a watery smile and watches as they leave.

At the top of the very last hill from which the village is visible the musketeers stop. They pull their prisoners to a halt, and watch as d'Artagnan waves at a small bouncing speck in the distance. The speck waves back.

"Do you really want to climb that tree again? Even after you almost died falling from that ravine?" Aramis asks incredulously.

"It was hardly the tree's fault that we fell." D'Artagnan argues with a grin. "And nothing is going to stop Marie from climbing anything, believe me."

That is probably true, Athos thinks, and nothing will stop d'Artagnan either, he fears.

"Why did she keep singing?" Porthos asks then, curious.

At this, d'Artagnan laughs as he sets his heels in his horse's flank. "I told Marie that would keep the monsters away."

"Did it?"

"I don't know. Though honestly, between you and me," d'Artagnan confides, "I think nursery rhymes are terrifying."

Porthos snorts at that, and Athos cannot hide his smile. He rides beside d'Artagnan, close enough to let their knees touch. Because as long as this stubborn Gascon is alive and spouting out quirky (but often strangely accurate) nonsense, the world still carries some good.

The fever dreams are all a haze, but they're filled with music and death. Shaking of their terror, d'Artagnan looks back once more, at where the village is no longer visible.

Whatever may have happened here, the air is good in the mountains, and d'Artagnan intends to taste it again.

The end.

*French unit of measurement that is about as wide as a thumb.

Athour's note 2.0: For those reading my other fic, I promise the next chapter will be up soon! I'm still tweaking it, and it's just not working out, but it'll be up sometime soon. I promise!