A/N: Hello, everyone! So. This story is a direct continuance of 'Til All These Things Be Done. It's not necessary that you read the first one, but just know that the musketeers went on a mission to help d'Artagnan get some revenge and off the bad guy. The bad guy's boss isn't too happy about it and comes into play in this story. Also know that I would appreciate if you could give it a tiny peek before you begin this one ;).
Rated T for swearing and lots of whumpage. Not intended as slash, just showing the great dynamic between our favorite soldiers.
This story would not have happened if not for my amazing Beta othrilis, who not only looked over every chapter and helped me pick the direction of the plot itself, but is a wonderful editor and an even better person.
Seriously, if you find something you like in this story, you can thank my Beta for it.
This story is dedicated to everyone who read and/or left a review on 'Til All These Things Be Done. I didn't know this sequel would really happen until I started getting all the encouraging words and the requests for a second story. This one's for you, guys. Thank you all.
Standard Disclaimer: Not mine. Just playing with them for a little while.
Hope everyone has a fantastic day!
The door to the tavern burst open from within, spilling noise and light onto the darkened street of Paris. Laughter echoed off the cobblestone street and startled a stray cat. Porthos, Aramis, Athos, and d'Artagnan spilled onto the street, all smiling and in high spirits from their night of celebrating.
D'Artagnan grinned, drawing close to Athos. The normally reserved musketeer had smiled through most of the evening and acted more light-hearted than Aramis and Porthos had seen him in years.
It was the end of a week filled with adversities, although their current mood made up for all the hardships. They had tracked down a few criminals that had been terrorizing the lower towns and successfully brought them to justice. The king had commended Treville for the victory of his musketeers and offered a personal thanks to Athos. The eldest musketeer had taken full responsibility for completing the mission, his habitual tact and grace had all guaranteed success without civilian casualties.
Although the former Comte accepted the thanks with humility and bowed respectfully, Aramis could see the triumph and quiet pride shining in his eyes. To top it off, the Red Guards had been caught harassing the stall owners for "protection fees". The king had been disgusted with the actions of the captain, and more so Rochefort, as their immediate superior. Rochefort had barely managed to stammer out an apology in front of the entire Royal Court.
Athos had seen the burning look of hatred sent towards Treville, but the former Spanish prisoner had been unable to do anything but suffer the humiliation and bow, out of the king's good graces for the moment.
Aramis suspected it was this fact, rather than any amount of praise received from the king, that had gotten Athos into such a good mood.
"I still can't believe Porthos drank all of it," the Gascon said gleefully.
"Said I would, didn't I?" Porthos shot back over his shoulder, waggling an eyebrow.
"Yes, but did you really have to down half the barrel? Anything greater than four bottles would have sufficed," Athos said dryly, although his face was relaxed and he smiled slightly.
"I hadn't planned on all of it! That arrogant cabinet maker told me I couldn't. It was a matter of honor," Porthos said proudly, with an oddly distinguished manner that he had picked up from the former Comte.
"You just didn't want to admit that he could outdrink you," Aramis said, slinging a comfortable arm around his brother's massive shoulder.
"He didn't outdrink me!" Porthos protested. "Nobody can!"
Athos raised an eyebrow, and Porthos seemed to feel the challenge in the air. He added somewhat uneasily, "In a contest, is all. Drinking on behalf of personal affairs is entirely different."
The Musketeers continued walking down the street, moving away from the lighted windows of the tavern. It was deserted and began to feel somewhat oppressive in the stillness.
D'Artagnan was about to reply to Porthos when he heard the scuffle of boots on the cobblestones behind him. He started to turn but was hit hard in the side of the head with the pommel of a sword.
The Gascon went down in an ungainly heap.
Athos was about to yell when other hands materialized from the shadows of an alleyway. Two pairs of hands grabbed his arms and he struggled in their grip. With a sickening sense of dread, he saw Aramis get similarly restrained.
One of their assailants punched the handsome musketeer squarely in the jaw, and his head rocked back. All the fight went out of his body instantly. They dropped Aramis unceremoniously onto the street near where d'Artagnan lay.
Porthos let out a bellow of rage and pulled out of the arms trying to restrain him.
Athos watched his brother's struggle and tried in vain to extricate himself from the strong hands on him.
One of the men approached him with a cloth bag. The last thing Athos saw before it was pulled over his head was his brother, being pulled back by five men who were clearly struggling to stop him from charging over to help his brother. One of the men grabbed a nearby scrap of wood and hit Porthos with it so hard it split in two.
The large musketeer dropped to his knees, clearly disoriented.
"Porthos!" Athos yelled, only half-expecting a response. The eldest musketeer's voice was muffled by the heavy cloth over his head, and the air was becoming thin. Through his harsh breathing, the Comte was starting to feel dizzy. He was dragged across the street, body sagging helplessly due to the lack of oxygen.
Porthos was likewise dragged along, although it took three men to haul him into the waiting wagon. D'Artagnan and Aramis were thrown into the back. Athos dimly felt the thud of their unresponsive bodies next to his on the rough wagon.
He gasped, trying to will the black spots in his vision to disappear, and slowly lost the fight to stay conscious.
Athos heard the crack of a whip, felt the wagon jolt forward and succumbed to the darkness threatening to overtake him.
Aramis awoke slowly, becoming aware of his surroundings gradually. He worked his jaw, letting out an involuntary gasp at how sore it was. He raised his head to look around and instantly forgot about his pain.
He was in a small cell, the only door heavy and metal, across the room. The walls were made of dark stone, making it gloomy as any dungeon of the Bastille. Water crept through the cracks in the mortar, dripping to the floor. In the dim light, it gave the unsettling impression that the walls were weeping.
Breathing out, Aramis forced himself to his feet. To his relief, he wasn't bound in any way, but the cell offered no means of escape. His weapons were missing, as was his cloak. The room was very cold; the musketeer could see his breath spiraling out into the air. He swayed on his feet a few times, and gingerly probed at the spectacular bruise forming on his face.
Moving to the door, he stood on his toes to look through the tiny slot. He could see a dark corridor, illuminated only by a single torch. It was empty. Across the hall, he could see the dim outline of another cell. He stepped close to the walls, pulling at the stones to test their strength. Although it was clearly old, it remained solidly in place.
He threw himself at the door, knowing it would do nothing to the thick iron. Rubbing his shoulder, he retreated to the middle of the room, staring bleakly at the walls around him.
"Aramis?" a soft call from the left wall of his cell sounded. Aramis immediately rushed to the side of the room, pressing an ear against the cold stone.
"Athos? Is that you?" he asked back, trying to stay quiet lest their jailers come back.
"Yes. Are you alright?" the eldest musketeer inquired. Even in their current predicament, Aramis felt his spirits lift at hearing the calm voice of his friend.
"I'm fine. What happened?" Aramis answered, slumping against the wall.
"I'm not sure yet. Is d'Artagnan with you? Or Porthos?"
A note of worry crept into the former Comte's voice, though he tried to hide it.
"No. I'm alone," the handsome musketeer said numbly, trying to think of a way out.
A pained groan drifted through the air.
"Porthos?" Athos called, obviously having heard the noise from directly across the hall.
"Athos? 'Mis?" the large soldier called back. "Where are we?"
"I wish I knew," Aramis answered dryly.
A sudden shifting noise came from the cell across from the one Aramis occupied, and they all froze again.
"D'Artagnan?" Porthos called lowly.
"Wha's going on?" a slurred reply came back, and Aramis winced at the obvious disorientation in his voice.
"Are you alright?" Athos asked, looking out the door slot, although his range of vision was too narrow to permit him even a glance at his friend.
"I'll live," the Gascon said miserably.
"Did anyone see who grabbed us?" Porthos asked, listening carefully so he wouldn't lose any of the slightly muffled words.
"It was too dark," Aramis replied, running a hand through his hair. "They were wearing hats that hid their faces. It was impossible to tell."
"How did we get here?" d'Artagnan asked, still sounding dazed.
"We were dropped into the back of a wagon. I don't know where, or for how long we traveled," Athos answered tonelessly.
Even in a separate room, Aramis could practically feel the soft, regretful sigh he knew was coming from his brother.
"Does anyone have any weapons?" Athos asked.
"No. They even took the knife in my boot," Porthos said, sounding both angry and dejected.
"It'll be alright," Aramis soothed.
They all went silent, and Athos suddenly felt uneasy.
"D'Artagnan?" he asked.
Only silence answered him.
"D'Artgnan?" he repeated louder, going to the wall and pounding it hard with his fist.
"I'm here," the young musketeer said, although something in his voice still seemed wrong.
"Go to the door of your cell, d'Artagnan. Look through the slot; maybe I'll be able to see you," Aramis said, already peering through the tiny hole in his door.
"A door?" the Gascon replied uncertainly. "Which….which one?"
The room spun uncomfortably around him and he could see two doors, tilting and turning. He tried to get up, to do as the medic had asked, and promptly collapsed back to the floor, clutching his head in pain.
"I need you to stay awake," Athos said seriously, hating the fact that they were separated.
"I can do that," d'Artagnan answered immediately, although he doubted himself as the room took another sickening lurch.
"We'll have to wait until our jailer comes, I suppose," Aramis said resignedly, although Porthos could hear the worry behind the statement.
Silence reigned over the adjoined cells. They all sat quietly, trying not to think of what would happen to them. The cold seemed to eat into their bones, and all of them wished fervently for their cloaks. Gradually, their ears became accustomed to the lack of noise. Every drop of water falling seemed a massive wave crashing down, every flicker of the torch an enormous gust of wind.
Aramis' eyes became accustomed to the dim light of the cell until he could see every etch in the wall and every imperfection in the iron door.
As the hours dragged by, they lost interest in talking more and more. Even Porthos was being unnaturally quiet. Athos had kept d'Artagnan talking in the beginning, and gradually the Gascon began to sound better.
After an interminable amount of time, a faint scuffling sound was heard from down the hall. To Athos, it was thunderous. The steps slowly came closer, echoing down the long corridor.
Aramis instinctively backed away from the door, then tried to peer through the slot in his door. A shadow jumped and danced on the opposite wall, monstrously elongated by the uncertain light of the torch.
Finally, the footsteps ceased, somewhere to the right of Athos' cell.
"Musketeers," a voice rang out. It sounded deafening after the hours of silence. "So glad you could join me here in my humble abode."
"Who are you?" Athos asked, peering through the eyehole in his door. "Show yourself!"
They all watched as a figure stepped forward, into the flickering firelight.
Their jailer was a tall man with iron-gray hair and piercing green eyes. His jaw was square, and he exuded a kind of inner strength impossible to deny.
"My name is Bastian. I'm sorry to have kept you here so long; there were other matters which required my attention."
His voice was cultured and pleasant. If they weren't being held captive, Aramis would even say friendly.
"What do you want with us?" Porthos asked, putting his hands around the edges of the window in his door.
"I brought you here to discuss a proposition, which I think you'll find most agreeable given time," Bastian continued calmly, seeming unperturbed at the anger in the large man's voice.
"Oh, dear God, you're a Protestant," Aramis said with mock dread. "Keep us here, if you must, but spare us your sermon and permit us to die in peace."
"I am not a missionary, monsieur," Bastian answered amiably. "A friend of mine was very interested in you and your companions a few months ago. Perhaps you'll recognize the name Nicolas de Dulaurier?"
A coldness which had nothing to do with the chill in the dungeon crept over the musketeers.
"I think you've already met another of my associates?" he continued, stepping aside slightly. Jacques, the last of the original bandits, appeared out of the darkness. Aramis heard the involuntarily gasp from d'Artagnan's cell and felt his fists curl with rage.
After Dulaurier's death, they had gone back to Paris. They had searched for the sole remaining member of his group of men for months, never being able to find him. They had all, somewhat gratefully, assumed that he had either died or fled the country. Little by little, d'Artagnan and the other musketeers had been able to relax, not constantly fearing for their lives or safety of the ones they loved.
It seemed that their complacency had been a trick all along, and Athos felt his heart sink.
"I'm glad I got to see you again," Jacques said roughly, grinning as he stepped closer to the cells. "Especially you, d'Artagnan."
The Gascon threw himself at the door in rage.
"What do you want with us now?" Porthos demanded. "Gone to serve a new master now, have you?"
"Dulaurier was more than any of you," Jacques sneered with contempt. "He knew when to take the risks. For years, he ruled the underworld of crime."
"He got cocky and overstepped his boundaries," Athos intoned in a quiet voice that was impossible to ignore. "The only difference between Dulaurier and any other common thief was the size of his ego. For all his schemes and plotting, he was still bested by a few musketeers."
Bastian smiled to himself slightly, watching the exchange intently.
Jacques clenched his fists and was about to reply when Bastian stopped him with a gesture.
"That's enough. Leave us," he said, dismissing the criminal with a wave of his hand. "We still have much to discuss. There will be time for retribution later," he added, in a tone that put d'Artagnan's teeth on edge.
The bandit left after casting a murderous glance towards the cells.
"Now. To be perfectly frank, I couldn't care less about Dulaurier's death. I'm somewhat indebted to you for his death. The man was utterly insane, and altogether too reckless." Bastian addressed all the musketeers, making sure he had their undivided attention.
"However, he was the best leader I had, in any of my rings. A loss such as this cannot go unanswered." His voice darkened and took on a menacing quality.
"We'll talk at a later time; I'm sure you're all tired from the events of today. I'm afraid tomorrow will be a long, grueling day; you should rest while you can." He turned to leave.
"Wait!" Aramis shouted.
Bastian didn't break stride, only paused to take the torch with him. The cells were plunged into complete darkness.
No amount of shouting or cursing from any of them induced their captor to return. Porthos paced his cell like a caged tiger, kicking and punching at the walls until his hands were bruised and his energy finally spent. He slid down the wall, breathing out in frustration. Aramis prayed quietly in his cell, trying to steel himself against the cold and despair around him.
Athos waited indifferently for the dawn to come, worry clouding his clear blue eyes.
D'Artagnan sat huddled in a corner, shivering against the cold. He didn't sleep but dozed, lost in thoughts of self-blame and loathing. He had once again endangered the lives of his brothers, and left Constance alone and unguarded. This time, he would be the one who failed to return.
Constance sat awake by candlelight, looking out the window. She mended a torn shirt to keep her hands busy, but her mind was focused on the night outside. She waited until the pale gray light of dawn informed her that night had passed without d'Artagnan's return. Faintly, she heard her husband rise and start pulling on his clothes. He began his day without so much as a greeting to her and then left the house unceremoniously.
Constance heard the door shut firmly behind him, then sat down hollowly in a chair, never feeling more alone as in that second.