rainjoyswriting: (kurt!)
[personal profile] rainjoyswriting
Dust, Redux, Musketeers fic, affinityverse (best catalogued in my memories) <3

Disclaimer: Neither the characters nor the poetry is mine; thanks Dumas, the Beeb (though fuck you for not firing Jeremy Clarkson, genuinely, I mean this sincerely as a heartfelt supporter of the institution, fuck you), and Borges for the poetry <3

Rating: Pff, R.

Warnings and spoilers: The main list's on part one, read sensibly.

Summary: All things are their own prophecy of dust.

Note: The poems used are Adrogué, The Hourglass, Poem of the Fourth Element (not available online by the looks of it, alas), and Adam Is Your Ashes (available online but not in my preferred translation, even worse) but I could've used tonnes because Borges was obsessed with time and mortality and water quite a lot of the time too, gods love him. Posting fast because I hate being stuck in an angst patch ^^;

He spends the next few days, while Porthos and Treville look shell-shocked and Aramis feels really pretty fine, doing everything that he can to remind them that he's not dead yet, that really he's no more dying than anyone rightfully is.

He hangs upside-down from his bedroom window to scare Porthos going past outside (his scream is brilliant; being almost punched in the head less so). He changes the captain's voicemail message to Shakira. He informs Porthos that he's going to start using him to practise putting a condom on someone using only his mouth because it seems like a useful skill to have. When he has his back to him unsuspecting in the cafeteria, Aramis hugs the captain up off his feet, holds him to his chest quite happy, his captain, while Treville relaxes after the first stiffening and just hangs there tolerantly, waiting to be put down again.

Aramis loves them and has no intention of leaving them, and he hasn't even had another seizure since Alexandria - he's had episodes but they don't even count, he always has those. Ferrand has checked him over and told him that he's healthier than he has any right to be, which made Aramis grin. And wouldn't he of all people know if he was going to die? He's the one who's psychic but it's those two wandering around wearing a permanently numb expression, and Aramis is patient with them but they do start to wear on him. Honestly. He's perfectly fine, and they're fussing like a cat with only one kitten left.

It rains, a lot.

He prays no more than he ordinarily would, because He knows what He's doing and Aramis tries not to bother Him with too many questions, but Porthos walks around quiet and gloomy and the rain streaks all the walls grey with wet light. Aramis rolls onto his stomach on the bed and reads poetry, while Porthos clicks around distracted on the internet, googling things he shouldn't about things that probably aren't happening to Aramis' brain and that they can't do a thing about even if they are. La arena de los ciclos es la misma. He'd like to share it with Porthos but it would probably only make him even gloomier.

(It never stops, the spilling of the sand.
I am the one who weakens, not the glass.

Treville has arranged for an appointment in Paris, a specialist, a scan. Aramis sees little point in it, because what can be done, whatever they find? His episodes won't stop just because they want them to, and even if they are tearing wounds in his brain tissue, no ordinary medicine can repair those ravages. But it might be nice to see Paris. He asks to visit Notre-Dame and Treville's eyes take on that faintly trapped look they do whenever Aramis requests something sacred, because they both know that he can't very well say no. He lets him go to Mass with Serge even though they're all aware that no-one else in the nearby village church has a clue why he's there, assume that he's something suspicious to do with that suspicious villa in the countryside, and the dear grands-mères he's been polite to in broken French still introduce him to their teenage granddaughters, a very dangerous matter indeed.

Treville still says yes. Of course he says yes.

Dear captain.

Richelieu, who takes too much interest in their circle, has been informed. Aramis is the only water affinity he gets to interfere with, Anne and Flea are not only secret from Treville but secret even from Richelieu, which must weigh on the picado arrogant domineering sapo something horrible, and Aramis is damned if Richelieu is taking any of that frustration out on him. Treville asks Aramis if Richelieu should come to the villa, if he might be able to help; Aramis walks out into the rain and just keeps walking. Porthos catches up with him two fields away, grabs his arm and holds it until he stops fighting, then holds on longer, until the panic is lowered from its manic airless heights, until he actually is calm again, and very wet. Then they walk back to the villa together and don't say anything. There isn't much to say.

He reads poetry, close enough to the bone to let him know exactly how alive he still is (How could I have forgotten that precise / order of things both humble and beloved, / today as inaccessible as the roses / revealed to the first Adam in Paradise?). He shares it with Porthos in Spanish when he doesn't think that Porthos will be able to follow it yet; Y el tiempro irreversible que nos hiere y que huye, / Agua, no es ostra cosa que una de tus metáforas. He's aware that telling Porthos even now that he doesn't hate his own affinity, sees it only as something that must be meant to be (he knows all about things that are just meant to be, and it brought him to Porthos, so he won't complain), will only anger Porthos because of his lack of anger. Why be angry? You have soothed the anguish of the generations. / You have bathed my father's flesh, and that of Christ. Why blame water? Time can be cruel to him but he's seen some things that have helped some people, it must be meant to be. It feels like duty, it's the only way he can explain it to himself. Not all duties are chosen, and that doesn't make them any less compulsory. Aramis understands that. Even René, child with an unknown ocean sleeping in his heart, understood that.

I do not have to save myself - I too
am a whim of time, that shifty element.

It's only the future, Porthos, he wants to whisper, running devoted fingertips down the scar on his face. My love, one day it will come even for you.

He hates the thought of anything happening to Porthos' perfect flesh, and takes what comfort he can from knowing that the soul inside is safe (God is good, and knows to love Porthos). Life comes for all of us, time is not negotiable and does not answer to pleading. Aramis may be more aware than most of that matter - blinks and he's in the cafeteria and has no idea how he's there and Porthos is giving him a close worried look, blinks and he's in the corridor outside the pool, the rain mesmerising on the windows and things that haven't happened yet crowding his mind, blinks and he's in his bed, muscles cramping agony, and he has to remind himself of the face of his first kiss but he can easily recall strange intimate details of a man he hasn't yet met - but time does not discriminate. It remains as implacable as the tides, and no-one can turn it.

No, he does not like his episodes. The indignity, the discomfort, the pain are not enjoyable. No, he doesn't know what it means that he had a seizure in Alexandria. No, he doesn't know how long he'll live. But he knows he'll live long enough to see Athos, so he doesn't know why they're worrying now.

(Part of him thinks, Who the hell is Athos? but part of him gnaws with excitement, Athos . . .)

And if anything does happen to Aramis, he thinks, watching the nape of Porthos' neck while he sleeps, the way the hair curls close there. If anything does happen to Aramis. If anything should take Aramis from Porthos - at least there's Flea, now. At least Porthos would be able to form a circle with Flea, and wouldn't be alone. Wouldn't he?

Porthos is beautiful, and God is good. He has to trust that these things work out for the best, whatever that means.

Paris tomorrow, and a hospital. He doesn't really see the point, but he plays along for them. His powers are what they are, time is what it is. When it rises to drown, when it will flood, what can anyone do? Aramis can't even fight his episodes, how can he fight time?

In the dark, Porthos sleeping heavy with the life so deep and rich in him at his side, he tries to remember René, tries to remember the orphanage, tries to grasp at their names, recites them like a psalm. Increasingly the only memory he really has is of the attic.

René is dying, if he isn't already dead. He touches the back of his own head, remembers what it felt like in Alexandria, the numbness shrinking inwards, the strangeness, the slow sleeping feeling like his brain was dead. René is fading fast and may soon be gone. Perhaps - he tries to trust Him, He knows what He's doing - perhaps best not to get too attached to Aramis, either.

He's not dying. He's fine. But just in case, just in case, because you can cross yourself and hope but you never know - just in case, concentrate on making them okay, and not thinking about the future too much. You never know how much of one you might have.

I do not understand how time can pass,
I, who am time and blood and agony.


This is the fanciest hospital he's ever been in, by a very long shot, and Porthos still hates it. He hates the smell of its aggressive cleanliness, hates the sense of how sick and stressed so many people in this building are, hates the memory of his mum and Isaac left pretending to play on the floor with shitty hospital toys while adults murmured over him -

Mostly, he hates the reason he's here.

On the edge of the scanner Aramis swings his legs and gives a particular head-tilted smile up at him, eyebrows over-eloquent. "This gown has no back."

Porthos sighs, and puts a hand on his head.

In Alexandria Porthos held him while he didn't thrash, while he lay like his body had forgotten how to live in his arms, still, and lost. Why is the stillness worse than his episodes? Even now Aramis' hands are sliding slightly left and right on the edge of his seat, fingers playing along the plastic's edge. He's so rarely still, twitchy as a bird, but in Alexandria everything Aramis about him shut down, his smile and his endless voice and then finally even his ever-busy hands, leaving Porthos crouched over a body he wasn't convinced wasn't already dead while shipping crates tried to crush them and the wind was beating them full of the harsh spindrift of saltwater. In Alexandria, he got some practice at losing him.

He fucking never wants to go through that again.

Aramis murmurs, "How long will they be?"

He has to clear his throat to speak. "Dunno."

Aramis nudges him with an elbow. "Stop looking like that."

"I'm not lookin' like anything."

"¿No po? I will add 'invisibility' to your growing list of talents."

Porthos drops the hand from his head and could get really pissed off with him sometimes, the way he doesn't care. He starting slurring and slumping and then he just collapsed, Porthos had to hold his lifeless body, he should care. Instead, feckless little shit that he is, he's leaving all the caring to Porthos and Treville, while he skips off as the same reckless manic bastard as always. Why doesn't he care? Does he think that fucking cross he wears keeps him safe?

Aramis nudges the side of his hand with his. He says, quietly, "Why are you mad with me?"

Porthos works his jaw. "I'm not mad."

Aramis says nothing for a moment, then takes his hand back, and leans back on his hands on the edge of the scanner. He sighs, quietly, through his nose. Porthos looks at the ceiling, makes himself feel it, looks around to meet his eyes without it showing and says, "I'm not mad. Just . . ."

Aramis watches his eyes, says, "Nothing that either of us do can change this." He shakes his head. "There's no point getting angry. There's no point -"

Fuck it, he is mad. "- caring?"

Aramis shrugs, but his eyes roll uneasy to the ceiling. "I didn't say that."

"You think," Porthos hisses, and he can't stop himself sounding angry about it, "that you can drop dead an' I'll just go off an' make a circle with Flea an' everything'll be fine -"

"I don't think everything will be fine." Aramis says mildly. "I am aware of how tedious and unsightly the world would be without me in it. But," more slowly, eyes a little wary on Porthos', "I'm not going to pretend that I haven't thought that at least you'll have Flea if anything does happen to me. Porthos, I'm not wishing myself away, I'm just-"

"We're a circle."

Aramis reaches forward, catches Porthos' hand in both of his - he hadn't even noticed it was a fist until Aramis' fingers are around it. "Yes." he says, firm, holding his hand and his eyes. "We are. And I have seen a lot of things that we have yet to do, so I don't know why you're so worried. Everyone dies, Porthos, and I know that I have more time. It's everyone else who doesn't know."

Porthos is trying not to get too angry because he doesn't want to blast this hospital with a lightning storm, at least not until after this fucking scan. But his teeth still get too tight on, "Don't you fucking dare tell me this is a good thing."

Aramis is silent for a second, then swings his hand a little. "Not a good thing." he says quietly, and shrugs. "Just a thing. ¿Cachai?"

Porthos breathes, hard through his nose, and Aramis' fingers press his fist. And he doesn't want to be mad. He knows it's not Aramis' fault but Aramis refusing to really react to it pisses him the fuck off, because he knows why he doesn't react to it, he knows why Aramis wears that cross and doesn't worry, and Porthos wants to scream at him -

Fuck your god for doing this. Fuck the bastard. He's an evil sack of shit for doing this to you after everything you ever did for him -

He can't.

One of the only true fights they've ever had was during a week of bad episodes, Aramis groggy and staggering for days, Porthos forced to endure being unable to do anything while Aramis stopped eating because he knew it was only fuel to be thrown up again and devoted himself instead to a rosary, picking over the beads with his eyes so distant. And it got too fucking much, the unspent rage played down his back like dry lightning and Porthos' eventual snide comment drew Aramis' dark eyes, and the sniping turned into genuine anger on both their parts, because Porthos was just too fucked off with Aramis trusting some bearded bastard in the sky who never gave him one fucking reason to trust him his whole life long.

It was Porthos who made lightning lance the sky but it was Aramis who stormed away, marched out of his own bedroom to get away from him. Porthos should have taken it as a bad sign that he wasn't even spitting his angry scattershot Spanish at him, Aramis' silence he should have taken for a very bad sign, when he closed the door with one hard click and walked off.

The thing is, Porthos is angry with god, and angry at Aramis for not being angry with god. Aramis doesn't ask Porthos to believe anything he does but he definitely does expect him to accept what he believes in, however infuriating Porthos finds it. And there's a reason, now, that Aramis has a long fine scar across his forehead, because he did pull his alarm but Porthos wasn't there, and by the time Treville and the others got to him he'd already dashed his head open on the marble around the pool. Fourteen stitches, and Porthos didn't even know until Treville came to find him, wearing a bloody shirt and telling him that Aramis was in the medical bay, in Ferrand's hands.

Aramis would have known he had an episode coming, and it's the worst feeling, the worst feeling, that he took himself off like a dying cat to have it somewhere on his own away from Porthos' eyes. Porthos wished himself angrier at him just to make himself feel less guilty, while Aramis nudged his fingers with his, murmured on his back in the bed with bruised Frankenstein stitches in his forehead that Porthos shouldn't have to babysit him even when he hated him.

"- I don't - hate you, I never hate you, you fucking stupid psychic shit -"

Is it pride, is it arrogance? Or is it lack of self-respect, that Aramis won't let Porthos deal with his suffering for him when they're having some stupid fight? It's stubbornness either way, his idiot insistence on doing things his own way, and nothing in the world will beat that out of Aramis, that's the whole problem. All Porthos really knows is what it means: if he pushes the right way - the wrong way - Aramis will skit away like a kicked cat. God is too near to Aramis and Porthos hating god means that Porthos hates him, makes Aramis hateful in his sight, and the stubborn little fuck will then go off to smash his head in on his own rather than stay safe with Porthos when Porthos is angry with him.

So he can't say it. He just has to accept it. The price of his rage is too high; Aramis needs Porthos too much, and Porthos has got to be the mature one in this relationship because Aramis is Aramis.

Aramis raises Porthos' fist, and kisses his knuckles. He says to his hand, "We haven't even met Athos yet."

Porthos is silent for a moment, thinking about it, fist loosening in Aramis' grip. Then he disentangles his hand, gently, and cups the back of his head, holds his eyes and strokes the back of his skull with his thumb and says softly, "Aramis."

Aramis watches his face, focused and trusting.

Porthos says, "Who the fuck is Athos?"

Aramis blinks up at his eyes, and thinks about it for a second, then lifts his arms in a wide shrug and grins. "You tell me, huevón."

Porthos rolls his eyes, and Aramis says, "Porthos - you know me. I lack humility. When it comes the time, and the time comes for all of us, I'm liable to kick Saint Peter in the face for even a chance of a moment more with you. Though," he adds, shrugging one shoulder, "that probably says a lot about the unlikelihood of my actually going in that direction, ¿cachai . . . ?"

"Don't be stupid." Porthos mutters. "Jesus loves you, you're never off your fucking knees. I meant - oh, fuck you." Because Aramis is laughing, bright and delighted, and Porthos shoves him in the shoulder and it hurts too much because he needs it too much. Aramis needs Porthos, fuck, it works both ways, but Aramis looks up at him and touches the edge of his jaw, fingertips pressing the stubble, and says to him solemnly in Spanish, "You and I always were and always will be a 'we', Porthos."

Roughly, "You know that 'cause you're psychic?"

"I know us." Aramis says, holding his eyes, and Porthos doesn't know what to say, he can never find words that are enough, to make him understand that he can't leave him, he can't just fucking die and leave him, doesn't he know how alone Porthos would be, doesn't he know Porthos - ?

But he looks in his eyes and knows that he doesn't need the words, because Aramis does know, and Aramis will fight the angels to stay with him. It works both ways. They're a circle, it runs both ways. There won't be another circle. Porthos could never form another circle. If the perfect endless line they cast between themselves should break, Porthos' grief will be a tornado, will bring down forests and cities and flood the earth and devastate the land. There will be no afterwards, he can't come back from that. They will be a circle or they will be nothing.

And he can hope, after all, that Aramis is right about all of his angels. Because if they can have an afterwards outside of these bodies with these rifts in them - even hell wouldn't be so bad by his side . . .

The door handle turns, and Treville and the doctor are back, speaking quietly in French as they close the door behind themselves. The doctor smiles for them and Porthos looks evenly back - Aramis returns an absolutely radiant smile, and Porthos thinks, Fucksake Aramis, don't flirt with your doctor.

(It's like asking water to run uphill . . .)

In slow and careful French, the doctor explains the scan, what it will do, that Aramis will have to lay very still (Aramis rolls his eyes tragic to Porthos, who grins and palms the back of his head again). "Many patients like to listen to music," the doctor says, and Aramis considers that, looking again at Porthos.

"You have your iPod?"

Porthos pulls it from his pocket, wakes it up. "What'd you want to hear?"

Aramis shrugs. "DJ Porthos. No me importa."

"Lay down, then. Stay still."

"These things are sent to try us," Aramis says wearily, shuffling himself to his back on the machine.

Treville's stance is so very professional, and Porthos avoids his eyes in case he can see the other side of the story in there and he can't, right now. The doctor asks Aramis if he's comfortable and he raises a hand from their neat clasp over his stomach to salute, flat on his back and still smiling.

The machine makes such a massive fucking chaos of thumping noises, Porthos doesn't even know if Aramis can hear the music in there. He keeps it playing because he knows it's for the both of them, really. All of it always is.


Treville waits in the sun outside the cathedral, watching the tourists wander, trying to ignore the buskers playing too loud on too hot a day. Aramis and Porthos are still inside, and Treville doesn't want to feel like he's in charge of a school trip - he knows how necessary constantly telling them not to wander off would be - so he leaves them to it. Very shortly they'll be eighteen anyway, and he never will be telling them not to wander off again.

He's not a father, and yet still he worries on the cusp of their adulthood how well he's managed to raise two young men. This world does work in mysterious ways.

He clasps his hands behind his back, narrows his eyes at the pale façade so enormous above him. Notre-Dame has always to him been a tourist attraction, not something he's really thought of in connection with his own life; typical of Aramis, who worships beauty as much as God, to want to see it when he could. Porthos ambled off inside with him as patient as he always is. Porthos has admitted to Treville - they have a small ritual, now, when the weather is good, of meeting on the patio outside the villa on a Sunday morning when Aramis is away, to drink coffee in quiet and talk a little while Treville smokes his single Sunday morning cigarillo - that he finds churches creepy, particularly Aramis' breed of church, with all its crucifixions and martyrdoms. He has some vague troubling memory of his grandmother, a woman much concerned with hellfire before she died. But someone has to keep an eye on Aramis in there and if the two of them don't want to be Treville's responsibility, that makes Aramis Porthos' responsibility. They all know how that circle has to work.

Scaffolding ruins the line of one of the cathedral's sides. He looks at it and remembers the scans the doctor showed them, such neat cross-sections of what Treville knows to be Aramis' extraordinarily messy brain. Porthos murmured, "Can they do something about the part that makes him a wanker?" and Aramis just smiled, said, "I am a glorious whole, Porthos; you wouldn't unbalance an artwork by removing the brightest colour."

Treville sighs, slowly, and stares through the cathedral and into a doctor's office, at that monochrome scan on the screen.

He'd already explained to the doctor that much of Aramis' life is 'confidential', and some questions could not be answered in full, when the man had signed the disclaimer keeping every part of his work for them silent. From what they could tell him of the incident he said it sounded like a transient ischemic attack - which means a miniature stroke - caused by a sudden lack of blood supply to the brain, rather than some sort of haemorrhage. He could point out on the scan the damage done, but surprisingly little of it; having been informed that Aramis has regular seizures and this one was simply 'different', he'd asked how regular. On being told anything from one a week to six or more a day his eyebrows had almost vanished under his hairline. Surprisingly little damage: Aramis' episodes are causing remarkably little permanent scarring, and if it wasn't for that 'transient ischemic attack' in Alexandria, there would be really very little to worry about.

Asked what caused it, the doctor called it a 'cryptogenic' attack. On questioning, that meant that he didn't know.

Teenagers are taking photographs of themselves outside the cathedral, phones held out at arm's length, grinning and pouting. They look so ridiculously young in the sunlight, shining with youth, as wild and powerful and unpredictable as if they're immortal. Treville knows that the reverse is true. Youth fades so quickly, it strikes you so suddenly that your feral youth never did belong to you in the first place and is now already gone, and youth is no protection from anything. Death does not discriminate. Death is a very democratic matter.

The doctor wanted to know about the regular seizures, and Aramis looked at Treville, but spoke to Porthos in Spanish. Dressed again in his own clothes and artfully slouched in his seat he looked a much more substantial creature than the boy in the hospital gown, once again reminding Treville of his puppy's ability to roll into chaos and careen back out of it on his feet again, delighted to be alive and unconcerned by injury. He and Porthos discussed Aramis' answers in half Spanish, half English before he gave them, consulting each other on what was appropriate to share. Treville watched their easy teamwork and didn't let himself think too much, hope too much. He has to manage his own expectations, because he's a soldier, and already he's involved far too deep.

He learned a lot himself about Aramis' episodes during that interview. That Aramis called them 'hallucinations' for the doctor doesn't mean that Treville isn't aware that they're visions; he didn't know that Aramis sometimes sees things he knows aren't there and so continues as normal, silently waiting for them to leave. He did know that Aramis sometimes says things without being aware that he's saying them, and he did know about the occasional blink-and-frozen episodes, but he didn't know that they were as common as Aramis was forced to admit to. Aramis was visibly uncomfortable explaining what the episodes feel like, turning to Porthos to check through their combined French vocabulary for the right words, concentrating on getting it accurate to be able to get through admitting to it at all. Sometimes, he confessed, he can feel every bone in his skull, every one pressing agony into his brain as if to crush it like an egg; sometimes he can feel every tooth in his mouth as if it would split his jaw wide open. Treville has always known how little he likes acknowledging how much it hurts, given that it's something he can't control, and - significantly - neither can anyone else.

The doctor asked why they'd seen this seizure as so different, and Porthos and Aramis looked at one another, then at Treville. Treville just said calmly, "That is classified." and Aramis rubbed his forehead, looking amused, while Porthos sighed in his seat. He recommended tablets to reduce the seizures, and Aramis waved his hands a no and Treville said that they had already been tried and had no effect.

(Memory: Aramis, fourteen, dipping the pills in water and flicking them to stick to the medical bay ceiling. They'd made no dent in the episodes, made him feel even worse, and his disposal method had made Ferrand white with rage. It would hardly matter if they might be worth trying again, Treville knows he has no chance of getting Aramis to take them, and short of pinning him down and forcing them into him, even Porthos couldn't do that - and Porthos wouldn't do that.)

Standing there in the sunlight outside Notre-Dame, what have they gained from a morning and part of an afternoon in hospital? They don't know why Aramis had a stroke; they don't know if or when it could happen again; they know there's nothing to be done to prevent it. The doctor had been confused but optimistic - just as Ferrand said, Aramis is a great deal healthier than he ought to be, and completely unfazed himself by what's happened. Treville wonders how much of the chaos he causes is Aramis proving to people that he's not so delicate, that they mustn't worry, that he's fine.

He really could have chosen a less disruptive way to go about it.

Porthos emerges from the cathedral, rubbing his hair at first but then his hand lowers to shade his eyes against the sudden glare of the light. He squints across the square, spots Treville's small nod, walks over with his hands in his pockets.

"He found a couple of tourists from Chile, they're talkin' way too fast for me to follow, I had to leave them before they broke the sound barrier." he says, looking wearied by the encounter. "You alright out here?"

"It's a pleasant day."

Porthos squints up at the sky, quirks his mouth. There's quite a lot in his expression, and Treville really has become very fond of Porthos who is much less verbal than Aramis but no less communicative all the same, Porthos who is patient and always so quietly kind. It occurs to him that he should have trusted Aramis all along, when Aramis swore that Porthos was the best thing that ever happened to him and Treville was afraid of another Marsac. Aramis is always right, which contributes a great deal to his smugness. But then -

If Aramis is always right, why don't they trust him now?

Porthos shifts his weight, looks back over the cathedral. Treville can tell by his jaw that he's worried and by his stance that he's trying not to be. Treville watches him for a moment, then says, "How is his mood?"

Porthos narrows his eyes at the façade. "He's an idiot."

"But a happy one."

Porthos cuts him a glance, and the grin twitches one corner of his mouth. "Yeah, I guess. If only the rest of us could just turn our brains off like-"

He stops, catching what he's just said, and Treville looks thoughtfully up to the sky, still blue. He says, slowly because he's still working through it himself, "I have never known Aramis to be wrong. Even when he's told me improbable things and things I didn't want to believe. He has never told me anything that didn't come to pass."

Porthos takes his hands from his pockets to fold his arms. "How about him not tellin' you things so he doesn't upset you?"

Treville thinks about that, because it is a possibility, but . . . "How good is he at keeping things from you?"

Porthos makes a deep snorting sound, then says, "Okay, yeah. But still . . . he keeps sayin' he knows nothing's gonna happen to him at least 'til after Athos."

"Has he said who 'Athos' is yet?"

Porthos shakes his head. "He's gotta be part of our circle, hasn't he? Been hauntin' Aramis for months now, can't think what else could be that important to him. So he's convinced he's fine until we meet Athos." Porthos gives him an openly afraid look, and in Porthos' quietly adult ways Treville forgets sometimes that they're both still boys. "What happens after we meet Athos?"

He can't let it shrink his own heart, that thought. "You have one more part of your circle and Aramis is that much more stable."

"Or he drops dead." Porthos says, Porthos who hits the truth head-on every time, Porthos who even when he hates it faces immediately up to the real world. But his face tightens and he looks away, and after a few seconds' strain he says, "I just can't ever imagine him shuttin' up . . ."

He kicks at the stone underfoot for a while as if trying to dislodge a pebble, and mutters under his breath, "Fuck Athos."

"We don't know what caused that incident and we don't know if it will ever repeat. But we do know that without a sealed circle, neither of you will live for long. So put it out of your mind. Just keep working. He does."

Porthos cuts him a dark little look. "You c'n do that?"

Treville remembers a fourteen year old in the medical bay bed with stitches in his cheek. He remembers the orphanage, he remembers the smell.

. . . he remembers the first time Aramis ever smiled at him and meant it.

He says, calmly, "I will have to." and Porthos breathes in deep, and finally Aramis is walking out of the cathedral, looking over the crowd - Treville forgets how tall he is now, he meets even Porthos almost in the eye - spotting them and beaming, and walking straight to them.

"Finally ran out of words?" Porthos says, and Aramis tilts his shoulder a happy shrug.

"I feel like I will forget Spanish if I spend much longer here. Sorry, captain, was I a long time?"

"How long were you speaking to them?"

Aramis looks at the sky like that might help him work it out; Porthos says, "'bout twenty minutes."

Treville wordlessly holds out his hand. At first Aramis looks at him like he genuinely doesn't understand - before he does, mouth pressing closed on the grin, feigning innocence for another few seconds. Then the grin just spills out and he shrugs - fair cop - reaches into his pocket and hands over the phone number.

Porthos says, "How the hell do you do that?"

"It's a gift."

"In a church."

"The perfect place for love." Aramis leans up, eyes closed and happy, and kisses Porthos - there outside Notre-Dame, catching his hands to hold him into it before he lets go, falling back a little and only smiling. Porthos blinks at him, then quickly glances over the crowd around them, wary of trouble; Aramis just puts an arm around his back, and pats his shoulder. "That was a nice day out."

Treville has always assumed that they do that, but it's the first time they've done it in front of him. He's surprised enough by that; more so by the honesty in Aramis' pronouncement, that is Aramis' idea of a 'nice day out'? And he thinks it through, the hospital was hardly fun for them but -

Treville looks back at the cathedral behind them, bright white under a bright blue sky. And he thinks that, whatever else, Aramis has got to spend the day out of the villa with his two favourite people, at least partially somewhere he wanted to be, and he really is so very easy a creature to please.

They don't know what's going to happen next. They can't guess the future. They can't prepare for it and can't escape it. But they'll go back to the hotel for a quiet evening, before the drive back tomorrow. Treville will give them a look over dinner until they change their minds about sneaking out to see Paris after dark, and they'll discuss how scary his looks can be in Spanish (Treville is not so left out of their loop, even when they're speaking in their increasingly fluid esprançlish). Aramis will attempt to charm or at least confuse their waiting staff and Porthos will give awkward looks to the cutlery, never certain where to start when the tablecloths are white and there are two wine glasses set out. They already know, all three of them, small pieces of the future. They know enough. They know each other.

As for the rest, they don't know anything. They know there will be 'Athos', one day, though they don't know what happens between now and then. Aramis knows that he'll live that far, and when Treville really thinks about it, he can't say the same: Aramis is certain of living for longer than Treville could be sure of.

He follows them, watches their backs, while Porthos is patient and Aramis doesn't stop smiling as he talks. He has spent some time, a lot of time, thinking that they're too young for the life they lead. But he sees them together and sees the blessing it is to them, to be young and together, to have their wild times while they are still wild. They wear their feral youth like armour, and it helps them recover fast and stay strong, it's so much a part of them that Treville thinks with some wistfulness of getting to see them grow, seeing how they inevitably will settle out and shake down, seeing how they adapt to life as life itself keeps implacably adapting on their behalf.

He desperately, almost panic-strickenly needs to see how they adapt to a third quarter of their circle, and a fourth . . .

Whatever happened in Alexandria could happen again tomorrow, tonight. But the doctor shrugged over his scans and said, "Considering the number of seizures you report, the damage is remarkably slight. You're barely more likely to repeat the attack than most people, really. I would recommend more regular scans but if medication isn't an option, you should probably put it out of your mind. These things are so unpredictable," Looking for a second at Treville, then, who kept himself so, so calm. "The healthiest of us can drop like that -" Snapping his fingers - "and yet your attack may never repeat. You are still young and your body can heal itself. You can't waste your life worrying over your life."

Aramis said something in quiet Spanish that sounded an awful lot like I told you so.

Caught on the edge of knowing/not knowing; now they all know how Aramis feels. Treville walks behind them, orders, "Right." when they start veering left, and with unapologetic grins they turn in the proper direction of the hotel again.

He wonders how Anne is coping with that angry English girl.

Aramis has peeled from Porthos' shoulder to look back at him and say, "Do you know what would be educational while we're in Paris?"

Treville says, "Going back to the hotel and having a very quiet, very early night."

Porthos starts laughing, and Aramis always shakes off offence like less than water. He grins, and puts his arm back around Porthos' shoulders. Porthos says, "I told you so."

"Athos would let us."

"Athos is in charge of us now?"


"You were talkin' about Athos again."

Aramis clicks his tongue. "My old nemesis. I believe he takes up more room in my head than I do."

"I think a quiet night would be educational for you, Aramis."

"But you would miss my charming dulcet voice so."

Porthos is laughing again. Treville twitches his smile.

They don't know how long any of them will live. They don't know anything except each other, and their fondness for each other. Is their life really so different to anyone else's? What would love matter were it not for fragility?

He keeps his eyes on their backs, and rations his blinking until they're safely back in the hotel. It is his penance and his privilege to know exactly what they're like.

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