A/N:This is my first foray into the world of Musketeers fanfiction (the show having recently eaten my brain). I really hope you enjoy it!
'What time is it?' Aramis asked, yawning as he watched the sun peek above the horizon over Musketeer headquarters.
'Too damn early, that's what it is,' retorted Porthos, slumping down on one of the long benches that bracketed the table by the stairs. 'What's Treville playing at, having us up before dawn for training?'
'Being able to find your way in darkness is a valuable skill,' said Athos, taking a seat next to him.
D'Artagnan massaged his stomach as he joined Aramis on the opposite bench. 'Right now I'm more interested in finding my way to a good breakfast,' he said. He looked around, sniffing at the air, which was absent its usual smells of baking bread. 'Speaking of breakfast, where is it?'
'I have bad news on that front, gentlemen,' said Treville, appearing at the head of the table, turning his hat in his hands.
'Let me guess,' said Aramis, leaning back and rolling his eyes. 'The rats got into the kitchens again.'
'Rats?' said d'Artagnan, raising an eyebrow.
'It happens at least once a month,' said Aramis. 'You would think the commander of the king's musketeers would be able to find the money for a decent store cupboard, but sadly, it is not so.'
Treville scowled at him. 'Would the four of you prefer a full breakfast or swords to fight with?'
'At the moment, I'm finding it hard to choose,' said Porthos sourly, dropping his head into his hands.
Treville shook his head. 'We resume training shortly, gentlemen,' he said, turning on his heel and striding away. 'Do not be late.'
Left by themselves, d'Artagnan and the others looked at each other.
'Well, gentlemen,' said Athos finally. 'What do you propose we do to satiate our hunger this morning?'
There was silence for a moment, then Aramis raised his hand from the table. 'I'll tell you what I've got my heart set on. One of those baguettes from the bakery by the docks.'
Porthos sat back up, his grin flashing for the first time that morning. 'Now you're talking.'
'It sounds good,' said d'Artagnan, nodding. 'Count me in.'
'And I,' said Athos. 'But I would hasten to add that I have no intention of travelling all the way to the docks for a loaf of bread.'
'Don't be a fool, Athos,' said Aramis. 'We're not going. D'Artagnan is.'
D'Artagnan glanced up at him, a frown on his face. 'What? Why me?'
'Because you, dearest d'Artagnan, are the youngest.'
And playing fetch for your elders is a rite of passage for anyone who wishes to one day count himself amongst the Musketeers.'
D'Artagnan snorted. 'I am not walking all the way down to the docks,' he said flatly.
'But of course!' said Aramis, nodding.
'We would not expect you to,' added Athos.
'You can run,' finished Porthos.
'Do you wish to be a musketeer or not, man!'
Faced with the three of them, d'Artagnan scowled but nevertheless swung himself off the bench and strode stormily towards the main gate.
Athos watched him go thoughtfully, then turned back to Aramis. 'I admit, I have never heard of this 'rite of passage' you describe.'
'Indeed.' Athos paused, then glanced back at Aramis. 'I would imagine that our little friend will become very familiar with it over the next few months.'
Aramis stretched out his legs with a lazy grin as, beside him, Porthos chuckled deeply. 'I imagine he will,' he said contentedly.
It was over an hour later when d'Artagnan returned, his shirt plastered to his chest, his hair slick with sweat and bringing with him a very strong smell of fish.
'Finally,' grumbled Porthos, sheathing his sword along with Athos and Aramis as d'Artagnan approached them, a sour expression on his face and four baguettes hitched under his arm.
'Here,' he grunted, almost throwing three of them at Aramis, who caught them easily and passed one to Porthos and the other to Athos before biting hungrily into his own.
'Something seems to have shortened your usually sweet temper,' he commented through a large mouthful.
D'Artagnan glowered at him as he began to break a piece off his own baguette. He was prevented from completing the action, however, when the imposing figure of Treville appeared from nowhere before him, his face like a thundercloud.
'Where have you been?'
D'Artagnan cleared his throat, his anger fading swiftly into nervousness. 'I was...ah...getting breakfast.'
'Breakfast. You are late for training, and for receiving instruction for a new mission, because you were getting breakfast.'
D'Artagnan shifted on his feet. 'When I say breakfast-' he started.
But Treville ignored him, instead casting an eagle-eyed glance at the three musketeers gathered around them both, each of whom seemed to be doing their best to look innocuous even as they continued to wolf down their breakfast. He frowned and turned back to d'Artagnan, fixing him with a stormy glare.
'Tell me, boy,' he said dangerously, 'where is my baguette?'
D'Artagnan stared at him blankly. 'Your baguette?'
'My baguette.' Treville narrowed his eyes. 'You three were not alone in going hungry this morning.'
D'Artagnan grimaced and held the last remaining baguette out to Treville, its end handing half off. 'I was just on my way to deliver it to you.'
'Of course you were,' echoed Treville, taking it. He glanced at the others, who were watching the exchange with varying degrees of interest. 'Back to work, the lot of you!' he called sharply. 'And d'Artagnan?'
'You will run laps of the courtyard until the others are ready to depart on the mission, which they will brief you on later. No one is late to training, understand?'
Athos, Porthos and Aramis watched as d'Artagnan started dispiritedly on his first lap of the muddy yard.
'Should we not give him some of our bread?' said Athos, frowning as d'Artagnan slipped and almost lost his footing. 'He must be hungry.'
'Nah,' said Porthos, winking. 'He's young. He'll be fine.'
'I'm filthy,' grumbled d'Artagnan, doing his best to brush off some of the cloying flecks of mud that had attached themselves to his shirt.
'You shouldn't have taken such a long time at the docks,' said Aramis lightly.
'My apologies,' said d'Artagnon sourly. 'But the morning catch had just come in and the fishwives were sorting it for sale.' He eyed the three of them. 'Have you ever seen them do that?'
'I have,' said Porthos. 'It's a bit of a circus if I remember it right. Fish flying everywhere, faster than the eye can follow. Bit of a menace, to tell the truth.'
'Three times,' declared d'Artagnan darkly, raising an equal amount of fingers and showing them around.
Aramis, Porthos and Athos exchanged confused glances. 'Are we supposed to understand what you are talking about?' said Athos finally.
'That's the number of times I got hit in the head by a fish this morning. Three.'
'Should have ducked,' muttered Porthos under his breath. Unfortunately, d'Artagnon heard him and had his sword drawn and levelled at Porthos' throat before he could blink.
'Calm down,' said Athos, stepping between them and pushing down d'Artagnan's sword with a gloved hand. 'We're getting close and I do not want to be heard.'
Giving Porthos a last dirty look, d'Artagnan sheathed his sword and joined Athos, who had come to a halt outside a tall wall of crumbling brick blocks, behind which could just be heard the sounds of raucous laughter and the clinking of glasses, despite the early hour. In the middle of the wall was a single studded door, firmly closed.
'There,' murmured Athos under his breath. 'Just as Treville described.'
'How do we get in?' Porthos demanded.
Aramis was glancing around. 'Did no one remember to bring their invitation?' he asked as he scoured the area. 'How foolish of us.' He paused. 'Fortunately, there is another way in.'
The others looked where he was pointing to see a narrow semi-circular drain cut into the bottom of the crumbling wall, arching over a sunken dip in the earth from which oozed some sludgy, discoloured water that was trickling slowly into the street, where it formed a menacing-looking puddle at the foot of the wall.
As one, Athos, Porthos and Aramis looked over at d'Artagnan, who immediately began to back away, shaking his head.
'No. I'm not doing it.'
'You are the smallest of us,' said Athos.
'I'm taller than Aramis!'
'It's nothing to do with height,' said Aramis quickly. 'You're young. Skinny. Agile.'
'And you are also the youngest,' added Porthos, 'which means you have to do what we say.'
D'Artagnan stared around at them. 'I hate you all,' he stated finally.
'That's the spirit,' said Aramis heartily, clapping him on the back. 'Now make sure you're not seen and open the door as quickly as you can.'
D'Artagnan grimaced as he crouched down by the drain and slowly edged forwards, crawling at first but quickly finding that he had to lower himself onto his front to get through. Despite his slim build, it was still a tight fight and the other musketeers watched tensely as he disappeared beneath the wall.
'Good job he didn't have any breakfast,' Porthos muttered.
D'Artagnan's muffled voice echoed out of the drain. 'I can still hear you.'
'Shhh. Keep your voice down.'
Soon D'artagnan's legs had disappeared beneath the wall as well and there was silence for a few minutes. Finally, there was a low groan of rusted hinges and the door in the middle of the wall creaked open. D'Artagnan appeared just beyond it, his filthy, sodden clothing thrown into sharp relief by the morning light that glowed around him.
Grinning, the musketeers moved forwards to join him. Aramis made to clap him on the back, then thought better of it and edged cautiously by, careful not to breathe in too deeply. Porthos, however, paused next to d'Artagnan and sniffed heavily. 'You stink to high heaven, you know that?' he demanded.
'I have some inkling, yes.'
'Quiet,' said Athos, scouring the squat, rickety wooden building that sat in front of them, revealed now that they were through the door. He turned to d'Artagnan. 'Well?'
'There are five of them inside, drinking heavily.'
'Sound like my type of people!' Porthos exclaimed.
'We have evidence that at least three of them are involved in a plot to bring down the crown,' murmured Athos.
'Well, everyone has their differences, right?'
'Treville said there would be at least a dozen of them in the group,' whispered d'Artagnan. 'Where are the rest?'
'It's still early,' said Aramis. 'Any person in their right mind would still be abed.'
D'Artagnan shook his head, sending several flecks of sewage flying. 'What if they have lookouts posted? Reinforcements? They might know we're here already.'
Athos frowned, considering it. 'No, they would have shown themselves before now,' he said finally. 'We shall go in, catch them off guard.'
D'Artagnan glanced edgily at him. 'I don't like it,' he muttered .'My gut's telling me something's not right.'
'You're just hungry,' murmured Aramis.
'What if there are more of them? What if you're wrong?'
'We won't be.'
Porthos grinned. 'Because we're older than you are which means we're always right.'
'No, it doesn't.'
'Want to make a wager on that?'
'Gentlemen, we are wasting time,' growled Athos.
D'Artagnan threw up his hands, defeated. 'Fine. But when this goes wrong-'
Aramis rolled his eyes. 'We give you full permission to say you told us so. Happy?'
D'Artagnan glanced down at himself, taking in the mud and a few other things that did not bear thinking about that coated his skin and clothes, right the way up to his neck. 'Ecstatic.'
'Drop your swords!'
Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d'Artagnan turned as one to see the door behind them burst open and a group of several men enter, all armed with clubs and knives, and led by a man with a full beard and a barrel-sized chest and shoulders.
'What did I tell you!' hissed d'Artagnan, spinning round to deliver a last blow to his current opponent before turning back to face the newcomers. 'Reinforcements!'
He was caught off guard, however, as a flying chair thrown by one of the newcomers caught him on his back, sending him sprawling to the filthy floor of the tavern. He lay there, the breath knocked out of him, and only narrowly missed being trampled by Athos as he moved past, duelling two of the new arrivals at once.
Just as he started to climb to his feet, a rough hand had caught him by his hair and another gripped him painfully by the back of his neck. He was spun round, dragged up onto his knees and his neck was craned back painfully, so that he could just make out the dark shadow of a man standing behind him, a man whose beard was thick and dark, obscuring most of his face.
'Drop your weapons!' his captor bellowed again, shaking him hard as though he was a dog and causing his teeth to rattle inside his skull. A moment later, the hand at the back of his neck had disappeared, to be replaced just as quickly by a cold line of steel under his chin that forced his head back, making it impossible to draw breath. He found himself being drawn back against the man's trunk-like legs.
'You stink, you know that, boy?' the man growled, driving a knee fiercely into his back that drove out what little air remained to him.
D'Artagnan choked, but even through the darkness that was swiftly overtaking his vision, he heard Athos' voice ring out throughout the room.
'You are the only one of your company who still stands. Release the boy and we will be merciful!'
The man roared with laughter. 'You think I'm a fool? Drop your weapons and let me walk or your boy dies!'
The words permeated the thick fog that was forming in front of d'Artagnan's eyes. Gathering himself, he managed to pull away enough to heave in a desperate breath, and he somehow managed to choke out a few words as well.
The bearded man looked down at him, distracted. 'What?'
'I said,' he rasped again, 'I am no boy!'
The man let out a hash bark of laughter. 'You hear that, Musketeers? He says he's not a-'
D'Artagnan threw his head back with all the force he could muster, head-butting the man cruelly in the gut and sending the blade at his throat spinning to the ground.
The next moment, Porthos and Aramis were upon them both, prying away the fingers tangled in his hair so they could wrestle his attacker to the floor. D'Artagnan found himself being seized under his shoulders and he realised that Athos was trying to pull him away. Still trying to catch his breath, he complied, forcing his suddenly wobbly legs to work until they had reached the safety of the other side of the room, where he collapsed to the ground, half-retching as he coughed and choked.
When he had finally regained his breath, he looked up to see a veritable sea of unconscious and wounded men strewn across the floor, with the three musketeers standing over them.
'Now that's what I call teamwork!' said Aramis, as Porthos delivered a last, and probably unnecessary blow to d'Artagnan's attacker.
'Are you well?'
D'Artagnan realised that Athos was offering him his hand and he took it, using it to pull himself to his feet. 'I'm fine,' he snapped when he was upright, rubbing angrily at his throat and glaring round at his friends. 'Well?' he demanded of them.
They had the grace to look sheepish.
'I think this is the part where he gets to say he told us so,' Aramis commented off-handedly, giving one of the men a nudge with his booted foot.
'He's never going to let us forget this, is he?' said Porthos, sheathing his sword and shaking his head dispiritedly.
Athos cleared his throat uncomfortably. 'It seems your instinct was right, d'Artagnan. We owe you an apology.'
D'Artagnan raised an eyebrow at him. 'Is that all you owe me?'
'And breakfast?' added Aramis.
D'Artagnan nodded, allowing a grin to creep across his face as he looked around, searching for his sword. 'Hand-delivered for the next month, if you please,' he said, spying it over in the corner and striding over to pick it up. 'And you know, I've heard about this wonderful little bakery just down by the docks...'