Author's Note: Because I am a terrible person I've started writing a my very first long fic right when I've got like six essays due in the coming weeks. Therefore quick updates are not guaranteed at all. Oops.

Warnings: Torture scenes, violence, maybe some swearing. Angst.

Prologue

There's that metallic tang of blood in the air. Rancid breaths puff onto him, as warm and wet as the sweat on his back and the tears on his face. From where he's standing (or being held up by the chains that hang him from the ceiling – he isn't quite sure which) he can see his tormenter circling him endlessly.

Still, he doesn't see the slash of the whip coming. He hears it, though. There's a whoosh as it rips the air apart. And he feels it. Oh, boy does he feel it. There's a white hot fire as it rips his skin to shreds.

His body is screaming now, begging for attention. But however much he wants to, however hard he tries, he can't get the screaming to leave his body. When he opens his mouth to scream, to beg for the pain to stop all that comes out is a grunt, a large exhale of air. Nothing else. Vaguely he wonders at why. Gascon pride, perhaps? Ingrained so deep that even when he rebels against it, it still wins out? They'd call it stubbornness.

They. Aramis, Athos, Porthos. Les Inseperables. Musketeers. Friends.

Brothers.

He hopes that connection will be enough for them to come after him. He hopes that he did not offend them with his willingness to leave. He also hopes that he did. That his friends will never come, will never see him like this, and will never have to endure all this pain and fear.

There's another whoosh, followed by a cackle of laughter. There's a question, but he has long stopped paying attention to those. Something warm and wet and painful slides over his back.

Maybe Athos was right after all. d'Artagnan may not have believed the man at the time, but he can feel it now.

Everything ends bloody, and there is no dignity in death.

Earlier

A roar of drunken anger rings through the tavern when the wine bottle crashes into the wall with enough force to spread the shattered glass through the entire room. Athos gets up on unsteady feet and pulls his rapier. His normally steady mind is hazed and he finds himself extremely frustrated by the fact that a perfectly likable, half full bottle of wine has been wasted. Yes, that half full bottle – let it never again be said that Compte Athos de la Fère is a pessimist – is the reason he's rising to join the brawl that just erupted. No, this has nothing to do at all with the recent discourse between him and his brothers. And no, he has most definitely not been waiting for a chance to fight all evening. What he cannot deny, though, when he punches a particularly vile looking Red Guard in the face, is that he is very grateful towards Porthos for starting this brawl to begin with.

Suddenly, a loud "OI!" is yelled trough the tavern. A silence falls over the room as everyone turns to look at the source of the 'oi'. A formidable looking woman slaps a cloth against a table with a swift swing and spits: "If you're here to brawl go find another tavern. If you're here to drink than sit down and drink, instead of wasting my bloody wine!"

There was a moment of indecision, the troublemakers trying to figure out how serious the woman was. Then a foolish young man asks the woman with a cocky voice, "What are you going to do if we want to stay."

The woman fixes him with a deadly stare. "Do not take that tone with me boy, I know your mother and I will be sure to tell her exactly how badly you are acting here. Now get out."

There's some laughter, and the boys friends are already taunting him mercilessly while he turns bright red. He mumbles something about how his mother has nothing to do with anything and then walks away – presumably to his mother. The rest of the party dissipates rather quickly as well, though a few sit down for another drink. Athos is one of these few, obviously. Before he can get his shaky legs to work with him though, he feels a warm hand on his arm. It's Porthos, who's tucking away his earnings for the night with his other hand, and looking over his head at Aramis. Aramis, with a girl on his arm heaves a sigh as his eyes make contact with his comrade's. Before Athos can even guess the meaning of their stares, Porthos tells Athos that it might be time to leave.

"Time for bed, my friend" he says, "You've downed enough to at least fall asleep rather easily."

"Waking up may not be quite as easy, though…" Aramis, who has left his lady friend and is now at Athos' other side, adds with a smirk. For a moment Athos wants to object, but his vision is hazy, his feet are unsteady, and his mind is dulled to an such an extent that he feels he may already be sleeping.

The three musketeers walk slowly towards Athos' apartment, and his mind is too far gone to realise they are missing their fourth member, or wonder why he is not here.

CBB SREETEKSUM EHT

A place like the garrison is always full of a comforting sort of hustle and bustle. Loud men with large weapons, the scuffle of training, horses neighing while their tended to and the constant coming and leaving of messengers make the place alive. It's like taking a breath of familiar air for Captain Treville as he returns from two long days sitting in tiring meetings at the palace.

As he walks towards his office Treville hears Aramis' jovial cry, "Captain! You're back! We'd almost started wondering if you'd turned into a politician…"

With a turn on his heel the Captain is looking back at the marksman, who's sitting on his usual table cleaning his weapons. Porthos is grinning next to him, breakfast still in his hands. Somewhere behind their backs, he can see Athos' haggard form. Rough night then.

"I don't think they have enough skill to make me a politician." Treville answered Aramis, then added, "Get off of the table you two. The bench is there for a reason."

Aramis' eyes light up like he's about to retort something, but before he gets the chance Treville is walking up the stairs. He vaguely wonders where d'Artagnan is, but he enormous stack of paper work on his desk distracts him before the thought can truly form.

Downstairs, Aramis and Porthos are still seated right on top of the table, insulting each other amiably. Athos, with his head in his hands – quite literally – feels their every word pummel his hungover mind.

"Where's d'Artagnan?" Athos asks, suddenly realising what is missing at their table.

"We thought you'd know." Comes Aramis' surprised reply. "I mean, he must have told you something when he left last night?"

"He left last night?" Athos is perplexed. D'Artagnan usually stays the entire evening, in fact, Athos is often escorted home by the young Musketeer. "How did I get home then?"

"That must a' been some strong wine you had yesterday, my friend." Porthos laughs and then, as an answer to his friend's question adds, "We brought you home."

"And d'Artagnan?"

"Dunno. He walked out after about two hours, looking ready to punch something. Told me he was going home." Porthos shrugs, as if it is normal for the kid to walk out on them that angrily.

Athos frowns at that, his memory from last night spotty at best. After his second bottle of wine things had started to get a bit blurry…

"Maybe it was something you said…?" Aramis starts, but he is cut off when Porthos loudly exclaims, "Speak of the devil!" as d'Artagnan comes sauntering into the garrison. He looks over at his friends at the table and waves, making to come over. When his eyes meet Athos', though, he falteres, changing his course to the stables.

"Perhaps you're right, Aramis." Athos says with a frown. As the gong rings, and training rounds start, he resolves to finding out what exactly he has done to their youngest friend.