rainjoyswriting: (kurt!)
[personal profile] rainjoyswriting
Anchors Made of Air, Musketeers fic, affinityverse (best catalogued in my memories) <3

Disclaimer: I will be moving house shortly, and the rights to these characters will not be amongst the things I pack. Not mine <3

Rating: NC-17, thanks boys.

Warnings and spoilers: The main list's on part one, read sensibly. Random terrorism, in this part; I lived in London for four years, I still do the Londoner's twitch when I see unattended baggage ^^;

Summary: A person is a necessary and fragile thing to put your faith in.


Note: For a piece in which next to nothing happens this took me a while to write -_-;






The summer is so heavy it almost sleeps, dragging the air low with heat in the closed-in quads, running down tacky and slow to pool at the base of the walls of golden stone. The sky overhead is unbroken blue; this isn't entirely down to Porthos' mood, mellow as it is. It's just a glorious August in Cambridge, and he and Aramis are free.

Eighteen years old and legal adults, they're no longer trapped in the absurdity of requiring adult supervision and yet being in danger every moment that they're at the mercy of that adult supervision. The only person they keep in touch with is Treville, and that erratically. They still stay at the villa between duties, it's home more than anywhere else can be, but at the summoning of a rift, at the itching suggestion of Aramis' intuition, they leave, and no-one needs to know where. Treville doesn't know that they're back in England. Though Aramis likes to email him, he's generally vague about where they are and what they're doing - for so many reasons, though partly just because he likes to email him in French. Aramis' spoken French is now passable but his written French is still very erratic, which leaves Treville to decipher his over-enthusiastic tumbling sentences; whether he does it for secrecy's sake or just because imagining the captain trying to understand whatever the hell he's written amuses him Porthos can't say.

And why are they in Cambridge?

Aramis stands with his arms folded, admiring King's Chapel from the wide parade facing it. Porthos waits, patiently - he's as patient with Aramis as anyone could be asked to be, a great deal more patient than most, because when psychic powers were doled out it really was a strange sense of humour that gave them to Aramis. Eventually, since Aramis hasn't said anything or looked away for minutes on end now, Porthos says, "Good church?"

"Mm? Chapel. Oh. Yes, it is rather a nice one. Bit English." Aramis blinks, as if coming back from some sort of daydream. "He's not here."

"No?"

"Mm."

"Athos?"

"¿Qué?"

Porthos sighs.

Aramis touches the stone wall as if to check it's real, narrows his eyes, and then two girls giggle and nudge their way over to ask if he'll take their photograph in front of the Chapel and Aramis smiles, and Porthos sighs harder. Aramis at eighteen is just unfair. People shouldn't look like that. It just makes things harder for everyone else.

Aramis waves the girls away, and puts his arm around Porthos' back. Porthos says pointedly, "Why's your accent just got worse?"

"Better." Aramis corrects, and pats him between the shoulder blades. "The English think Spanish is sexy."

Porthos just looks at him. Aramis just smiles.

Cambridge is ridiculous, like something off the telly, just too fucking pretty to be real. What the hell is Porthos doing in Cambridge? Carved golden stone and perfect grass, just beyond the row of colleges grand and mellow, sleeping through the summer, they come across a wide marketplace of striped awnings, stalls of coffee and clothing and incense and fruit. Porthos knows, by now, to catch Aramis off-guard if he wants something out of him that Aramis himself isn't quite aware of knowing; missing two quarters of his circle, the harmless part of Aramis' psychic powers is still something he catches only out of the corner of his eye, something that comes only on the edge of his attention. Porthos doesn't - desperately doesn't - want to trigger an episode. But a question timed right may still be responded to whether Aramis is aware of himself doing it or not . . .

Aramis is always very distracted by pretty things, distracted by anything really, can barely walk into a room without wanting to go look at something in it. He paces a bench of silver jewellery, head cocked interested for the man with his tiny anvil, working something delicate and bright; Porthos says, "Does he live here?"

"He used to," Aramis murmurs, head tilting further to watch the man work the silver.

"Where's he now?"

Aramis blinks, puts a hand to his head and narrows his eyes at Porthos. "I wish you wouldn't do that. It feels like my brain sneezed."

Porthos shrugs. Aramis is never upset for more than a matter of seconds, seems to lack any ordinary human capacity for offence, and his eyes have already caught on Porthos' ear, holding for a second before he grins at him wicked, and turns looking curious at a stall of hats.

Porthos lifts a hand, brushes the gold in his ear.

Aramis did it for him. Porthos mentioned while drunk and watching some film that he'd always liked the look of it, and woke up the next morning to find Aramis sitting beside him in the bed with the laptop on YouTube, watching videos of home piercings and looking far too interested.

Porthos could have backed out, when Aramis murmured to the screen that they'd need an earring. Sort of tried to, and Aramis looked at him patiently amused, apparently aware that this wasn't Porthos not wanting his ear pierced, this was just Porthos' natural inclination to not let another person put a piece of metal through his flesh. So he squirmed and said yes, because it's too embarrassing to admit to Aramis that yeah he wants a piercing but he really doesn't like needles. Every few months Aramis ends up back on the drip because they can't get enough fluids into him between his episodes, Aramis is the last person to whimper at about the big bad needle. And besides that -

He does have a funny thing about needles, Aramis. Whenever they get back to the villa from a hotel, Aramis empties another little sewing kit into the bedside drawer, and has no idea himself why he's so inclined to hoard them like this. Presumably it wasn't just so that he'd have a needle so he could one day pierce Porthos' ear in his bathroom, because he's still doing it. When Porthos asked him if he even knew how to sew, he tipped his head, eyes narrowed into air, and said, ". . . possibly."

His psychic powers are always in the corner of his eye, the edge of his attention . . .

He watches Aramis sort through stacks of hats, looking really delighted by the variety of them. He remembers the stony cold of the ice cube, the delicate press of his fingertips. He murmured to him in continuous soft Spanish, and Porthos swigged vodka on the toilet seat and, lulled by his voice, he found it hard to believe that Aramis could ever hurt him at all.

Then he stuck a needle through his ear and Porthos' arm tried to brain him with the vodka bottle on automatic pilot. Aramis hit the bathroom floor on his arse before Porthos' arm could catch him, swore and snapped up at him, "This is why we have Athos punch you!"

"Who the hell is Athos an' why the fuck is he punchin' me?"

Aramis threw his arms out in a grand, frustrated, How the fuck should I know?

Aramis has located in the stack of hats some peaked blue-grey thing with a brim, some old fashioned style Porthos couldn't name, and he turns it in his hands looking . . . maybe surprised, as if he hadn't expected it to be there. Then he tries it on, ducked with his head tilted for the mirror tied to one of the stall's struts - it's angled for people shorter than the two of them - and of course it suits him, fucking everything suits Aramis, but his expression says that he's gone queasy, and there's something terrible in his eyes.

Porthos grips his upper arm. Aramis looks back, catches his expression, tips his smile for Porthos not to worry, looking amused at himself. "Just a memory," he says, which means someone else's memory; they always make him feel weird.

"You wanna go sit down?"

"I need the hat first." He glances up at the sky, then squints down again and smiles at the stall keeper. "Too much sun."

Porthos murmurs, "You want the hat that gives you bad memories."

"It's hardly the hat's fault. I like the hat. I'm keeping the hat."

Why does he try to talk Aramis out of anything? Most stubborn fuck he's ever . . .

There's a fountain in the middle of the square where they can sit, Aramis turning his new hat in his hands before he puts it back on his head, and pulls the brim to shade his eyes.

Porthos says, "Why're we here, Aramis?"

Aramis rubs his arm, tucks the hat down closer still. "He should be here. This is where he . . . but he's not."

"So there's no reason we're here."

"It's nice here." Porthos glances at him, then looks around - the place is noisy with tourists but, yeah, it is pretty nice. He shrugs. "He should be here," Aramis mutters, squinting out from under the hat. "Something's not . . ."

"You're not gonna -"

"No. Stop fussing."

"One of us has to fuss an' it's never gonna be you."

"And I'm the one who ought to know whether to fuss or not, ¿cachai?" Aramis sits back a little, knocking the hat's brim up with his knuckles. "Something's wrong."

Porthos looks up at the blue of the sky, then back at Aramis' face; seeing Aramis look worried is just unnatural, he's too much of an idiot to ever worry about anything. "Athos is meant t'be here."

Aramis keeps staring into space, wets his lips, and nods, slowly. "I can't think what else it would be."

"But he's not."

"No. I - no."

"So where is he?"

Aramis sighs, like Porthos is asking the wrong questions, or just like he's bored. He looks up at the sky, murmurs, "How far are we from London?"

"I dunno. An hour or something on the train."

Aramis looks across at him. Porthos twists the corner of his mouth, doesn't know how he feels about . . . they haven't been to London since Flea's rift. He doesn't know why he feels strange about going back. It feels like - he doesn't know what it feels like -

Maybe it would just be too hard to have to leave it again.

Aramis says, "No?"

Porthos shakes his head a little, works his jaw back and forth, looks over the market stalls. "No. Not yet."

Aramis clasps his hands between his knees, shuffles his boots on the cobbles a little. "I just thought . . . we could find your Charon. If you wanted . . ." He looks at his boots. "I always feel guilty when I think of him. I don't know why."

"I dunno what I'd say t'him," Porthos says, because he really fucking doesn't. "Can't tell him anythin', can I? Not really. Not about me an' not about Flea. I know it sucks, I know it's not fair. But there's nothin' I can . . ." He looks across at Aramis, takes a fistful of his hair underneath the hat and wags his head from side to side. "Stop feelin' guilty. We're all missin' people."

Aramis pulls his hand off and resets the hat right, and gives him a look, but doesn't reply to that. "Are you hungry?"

"I could eat."

"There's a pub he likes that does food."

"Wh- Athos?"

"¿Qué?"

It's going to be a long day.

*

What they're doing, Porthos realises as Aramis veers suddenly off the pavement and into a bookshop he gives a glaringly intense look through, is an Athos tour of Cambridge. The thing is, Athos isn't here, and they don't know who Athos is. They're wandering around a city neither of them know following some vague trail Aramis can just sense left behind by a man they've never met.

Story, Porthos thinks as Aramis goes to look bewildered at the law books section with his fingertips touching the shelves like they're a holy relic, of their lives.

Aramis has been weird for a while, now, even by his standards. Since Alexandria, since a doctor confirmed that Aramis isn't very likely to suddenly drop dead of a brain haemorrhage, Porthos has been trying to mellow out some himself - just to improve the damn weather if nothing else, the South of France has had a very damp summer ("Makes you feel at home?" Aramis suggested, and only grinned at being smacked in the arm.). Aramis won't live any longer just because Porthos worries about it. But the thing is -

The thing is that, okay, Aramis is wearing remarkably little damage from four solid years of seizures. Okay. But.

It doesn't have to be a lot of damage. It only has to be the tiniest bit of the right damage. Porthos has been reading about this stuff online, it's fucking terrifying. So Aramis might not actually die: awesome. The safety net they have is still made of mist. He could still end up a vegetable after one wrong episode, and Porthos doesn't care what the odds are, probability's clearly had it in for the two of them all along, how many people turn out to be rifts in the world, how unlucky were they that it's them . . . ?

Porthos tries not to worry, not entirely successfully. But Aramis -

Aramis has been weird, and he tries to remember that he's always been weird but he can't help feeling that, however slowly, he's drifting away. Porthos reminds him of a story Aramis told him about the orphanage and Aramis gives him an unconvincing smile, edged nervous, in return, as if he no longer remembers the incident that he shared with Porthos. He's taken to practising holding his breath underwater in the pool until both Porthos and Treville panic (he always comes up again looking like he has no idea what their problem is, breaking the surface as unhurried as a seal after he's been down there unmoving for dread-inducing minutes on end). And Athos -

Seriously, fuck Athos. Porthos has never met the guy and he's already pissed off with how preoccupied Aramis is with him. And now -

Porthos says, "Is he a student here or something?"

Aramis runs his fingers down the spine of a textbook and says something in French, which is so unexpected that Porthos doesn't even really catch it, let alone have a chance of translating it. "What?"

Aramis blinks, looks around. "¿Qué?"

"You just - said something. In French."

Aramis looks at him, eyebrows lowering. "Sometimes I say things."

"Not in French, you never speak French when you're not -"

They glance at the woman in a long coat browsing books beside them, and silently sidestep to the corner of the shop.

Porthos lowers his voice to hiss, "When you're off - when you're off, it's always English or Spanish, you never do it in French."

"Well, I'm better at French now. Maybe I just needed the practice."

"Your - subconscious-psychic-whatever part of your brain cares that your French is good before it starts using it?"

He holds his hands up. "I'm a perfectionist?"

"You don't think it's weird?"

"I'm saying things I'm not aware I'm saying about the future. I think mere weirdness was surpassed some time ago, Porthos."

Porthos glares at him. Aramis smiles back.

Outside they walk under a wide-branched tree leaning over a wall, green leaves warm against the gold of the stone. Porthos watches the way Aramis watches the world and tries to imagine having Aramis' powers, what it must be like. It's hard to explain inhabiting his own powers to other people - sure he feels the sun on his skin and the breeze on his bare arms the way anyone does, but he feels a stage back as well, he feels the causes of the sun and the breeze, and he feels how he could change things. When he concentrates he feels the currents of the air all around him. And he feels, deep down, always low but always at his back, he feels the sheer scope of the power in him. He feels how he could pick up the wind and use it to smash this centuries-old stone all around him to debris. He feels it, always, the power. He knows what he's capable of. He knows what he has to not do.

What does it feel like for Aramis?

He gets the sense, watching Aramis from out of the corner of his eye, that for Aramis the pull is largely internal. It's not that Aramis' powers couldn't be epically destructive - they've dealt with a water affinity before, they know how bad that can get - but he doesn't think that Aramis worries about that so much, Aramis has really good control over water. The danger of Aramis is mostly what he'll do to himself, and the fact that he hurts other people with his powers in a much more personal way. If Aramis' powers go wrong, it's Aramis who'll drown; but he'll take Porthos, he'll take Treville with him, because he made himself essential to them because he couldn't help doing it, and now he's always on the verge of somewhen else, and what do they do if . . . ?

What worries Porthos is how often both Aramis and Treville try to convince him that he's been so much better since Porthos came into his circle. Because if this is better, how the hell bad was he before?

Down another narrow pretty street, Aramis leaning in through the doorway to squint into some kind of deli, offering a smile and a tip of his hat to the man at the counter before he ducks his head out again. Porthos isn't really sure why they're here, he doesn't think they have to be, this is just Aramis following some psychic 'scent' like a terrier who can't let go. They don't need to be here. But Athos was here; and Charon is close . . .

Funny that Aramis was the one who thought of that, going to see him, rather than Porthos. But then, not funny at the same time, because Porthos is practical and Aramis is profoundly not. How would Porthos find him again, if he did go to London? Charon will be out of foster care now same as Porthos would have been, won't be at the same address, and Porthos never has had his own phone returned to him, he has one for calling Treville in emergencies and tracking Aramis' alarm if he goes wandering off, not his phone with his contacts in it. He doesn't know Charon's number, doesn't know what he's up to, can't just go wander south London calling his name like he's a lost dog. And even if he did -

What the fuck would Porthos say to him? He can't tell him the truth - he just can't, he knows for so many reasons, and partly because he's not sure that Charon could keep his mouth shut on it, he's not sure that Charon wouldn't want to use his powers for something stupid (Porthos and Aramis do kind of stupid things with their powers all the time, but he can kind of see Charon's mind turning in the direction of bank robbery). But Aramis thought -

Porthos does feel guilty for leaving Charon without any word, for teaching Charon so hard that people are fragile things to lean on, people are unpredictable harbours to rely on. It's not like he doesn't miss him. Yeah, he misses him. Charon and Flea were his oldest friends and his only friends for a long time, and he'd die for either of them, wouldn't think about -

No. Before, he would have got himself killed without thinking. Now he'd stop and he'd think of Aramis, and how long Aramis who's been so much 'better' with Porthos would last without Porthos. Now he's got responsibilities. Now he's got some smug little psychic shit in a stupid hat wandering too far off ahead, so Porthos takes a few longer strides and catches the back of his jacket as if catching up a dog's lead; Aramis jerks back, blinks, then just grins up over his shoulder at him. Porthos raises his eyebrows at him, and Aramis shrugs a shoulder, falls back into step alongside him. They're coming up to another college again, its walls chased with the trailing leaves of a vine heavy green with so much sun. How many of these fucking things are there?

A girl goes past on her bike, long loose yellow-blonde hair. They both watch her go, and catch each other's eyes afterwards. Aramis' smile twitches again, and Porthos sighs a little soft. They're both thinking of Flea.

Two months ago Aramis came to from an episode on the cafeteria floor - he'd been a little groggy for a couple of days, they'd all been waiting for what seemed to be a very reluctant episode - focused on Treville, and shook his head in Porthos' hands. Treville, who's a lot sharper than either of them, just helped him up with Porthos, and didn't even ask what he'd seen. But Aramis was too obviously excited by it - not agitated, excited - and dragged Porthos off by the hand, through the villa and into the grounds, through the gardens to the copse at the rear, shielding them from all outside eyes, any listening ears, where he caught Porthos' t-shirt and tugged him in and whispered underneath his ear, "Your Flea."

Porthos' body went stiff. Aramis squeezed his arm.

"Fire affinity. She found a fire affinity. Porthos, her circle, she's got a fire affinity."

His breath sucked in again, and he grabbed Aramis by the arms, held him out at arms' length to see his face and Aramis was grinning like an idiot as he said, "A really pretty one." and Porthos burst the laugh out, yanked him in and hugged him so hard, banging his back in his joy - joy hardly covered it - elation - thankfulness -

"Fuck, that girl -"

"She'll have a sealed circle before we do."

"You know who? You know who's in her circle?"

"French girl. Auburn hair, very attractive, we should both be profoundly jealous. They don't speak the same language yet but - you know circles."

Porthos stuffed Aramis' face into his own chest and staggered him left and right in the hug. "Knew she could do it, knew she'd do it -" and he was laughing so hard he was on and off crushing Aramis, who merely hung on by his waist and beamed like he couldn't have been happier if it was their own circle.

They clapped each other on the back a lot, like they'd done something to be proud of.

Aramis murmurs, as they watch the girl's back disappearing up the street, "I wonder when we'll have a fire affinity."

Porthos tilts his mouth a little, looks back from the girl to Aramis' distant gaze. "Maybe Athos?"

"No," Aramis says, then looks around, as if only just noticing the street he's standing in, blinks and puts an arm around Porthos' back to lead him onwards. "Maybe we should get the captain a souvenir. Something thoughtful and sophisticated. I was thinking a slogan t-shirt."

Porthos doesn't try to stop the grin at the thought of Treville in a t-shirt chosen by Aramis, but he does say, "You even hear what you just said?"

"Hm?"

"You just said Athos wouldn't be fire. You said he wouldn't be fire affinity." Aramis flits his eyes to him, from under the shadow of the hat's brim. "That means he's earth, right? If he's gonna be part of our circle. We know he's earth affinity now."

He knows instantly that he's done the wrong thing, that he's pushed Aramis too far into the powers that must always be in the corner of his eye, the edge of his attention. Aramis' face, too quickly, drains grey, and Porthos can see the nausea in his eyes.

"Alright alright alright -" He swings him around by the arm Aramis still has around his back, and aims him for some shade at the side of a college's wall. "Easy easy easy it's okay -"

Here is not the place to have an episode. Crowded shopping street; here is not the place to have an episode . . .

Aramis says, "I'm fine."

Porthos says, "Bullshit." and unhooks his arm from his neck, forcibly sits him on the pavement in the wall's shade. He crouches, tips Aramis' head back a little with his hand on his neck to check his eyes, glazed and strange and a little panicky. "Fuck."

"I'm not going to - I'm not. Stop it. Just let me breathe, I'm not."

"Lemme get this hat off-"

"Don't. Touch the hat."

"You wanna bang it off the pavement instead?"

"I'm not having - I'm not! Not just to make you happy I'm not!"

"- this isn't about-"

He stops, mouth clamping closed, and gives Aramis a really close glare: he looks shaky, strung a little overtight, sick, but doesn't actually look like he's about to keel over and start kicking. Porthos sits back a little on his heels, says, "You got it?"

Aramis nods, and puts a hand over his mouth, making himself breathe steady through his nose.

"Are you alright?"

They look up, at the young man pushing his bike, stopping to look down at them. Porthos opens his mouth and searches for an excuse; Aramis drops his hand and puts a brave smile on, says, "Low blood sugar."

Porthos gives him a glance, rolls his eyes away again. The guy with the bike looks sympathetic, leans his bike against the wall to crouch with Porthos. "Do you need something to eat or something?"

Which is how Porthos ends up having to go buy cans of Coke for Aramis' 'blood sugar', muttering under his breath about smug little psychic shits who can do their own fucking shopping, and by the time he gets back and hands a can to Aramis, the guy with the bike smiles up from his conversation with Aramis at the foot of the wall and says, "How're you enjoying the summer school?"

Porthos - looks at Aramis. Aramis raises his eyebrows over his can of Coke, grinning.

"S'alright," he offers, uneasy of whatever tissue of lies Aramis has concocted, while he was gone, to explain the two of them here in Cambridge, so obviously far from home. Aramis is a bad liar and tends to overice his creations, so what he might have told him . . .

"I guess he's in good hands with you, huh?"

Porthos just keeps smiling. He has no fucking idea what Aramis has said about him and no idea how to play this, fuck, it's always a bad idea when he lets Aramis out of his sight . . .

"I think I'll be fine now," Aramis says to the guy with the bike, touching his hat brim to him. "Mil gracia', kind sir."

The guy with the bike grins - poor innocent creature, naïve in his first encounter with Aramis - and picks his bike up again. "Good luck studying," he says. "Take care of yourselves too, okay? Don't work too hard, have fun!"

They wave him away, smiling. Porthos says out of his gritted grin, "Summer school?"

"He asked if that was why we were here, it seemed a good lie. I told him you're studying medicine."

"Medicine?"

"I test you on anatomy frequently and you surpass expectations every time."

Porthos sighs, and sits with a grunt against the wall beside him, snapping his own can open. "What the fuck was that?"

"I don't know. Maybe I'm getting better at - it should have been an episode." He plays his fingers off his can like he doesn't like the cold of it. "But it wasn't. I think -"

"- what?"

Aramis breathes in deep, lets it go long. "I think my powers already know that Athos is part of our circle. I think he's already helping with them." He twists his mouth, looks up at Porthos from under the hat. "It would make sense that the order things actually happen in matters a little less to them, ¿cachai?"

Porthos thinks about that, arms propped off his own bent knees for a while, before he takes another drink.

"You don't look especially happy," Aramis says, one arm propped lazy off his own knees, the other holding his can on the pavement now.

"It's not about that. It's just . . . I dunno." He looks at Cambridge all around them, how beautiful it is, how untouchable it is, how distant it is, like something off the fucking telly. "Gettin' used to someone else."

Gently, "No-one would ever change us."

"He a student here or something, that why we're here? He's some kind of posh boy?"

"The last posh boy we met was a perfect gentleman."

"Yeah, well, most of 'em aren't, most of 'em are dicks."

Aramis' eyes pick over the sky from underneath the hat, head leaned back onto the sun-warmed stone behind him. "Something in me," he says, quiet with thought, "already knows to love him. He can't be a bad man. I don't - I can't believe that. Not our circle. That couldn't happen." He narrows his eyes at the sky, and shakes his head, just a little. "Not Athos."

Very, very low, hardly more than a murmur, "You're gonna love him."

"I love lots of people." Porthos glances sideways to catch his gaze, as direct as always, as even and straight as a sword. "It means nothing about how I love you."

. . . Porthos does know that, truly, on the same deep-down level on which he knows the destructive depths of his own powers. Aramis does love lots of people - is probably capable of finding a way to love every human being on this earth if he had the time - but Porthos is different, to him, Porthos will always be special to him. Aramis doesn't love Porthos in the hearts and flowers way. Aramis loves him in the bullets and blood and fury way, Aramis loves him like the sea's cobalt depths, fathomless and suffocating. Aramis loves him like an ocean. The ripples on the surface hardly hint at the power below.

Porthos looks away first, and swallows a mouthful of Coke. Aramis lifts his own can again, and tilts his hat down over his eyes against the sun.

*

As dusk droops deeper blue down the sky they sit on the grass alongside the river, looking across the long green lawns of the colleges, while punts slide by - as graceful as swans, or slowly but just as wildly wheeling as waltzers, depending on who's got the pole. It's getting cooler now the sun's slipping and Aramis, always vague on the idea of personal space, is pressed insistently against Porthos' side, shoulder-arm-side-hip-leg-ankle, on him like water. He's a little bony but Porthos doesn't mind. Porthos likes his bones.

They're still talking about Athos. Porthos almost wants Athos to turn up already just so they can stop having this fucking conversation.

"Why would it change anything?"

"'course it'll change things. Won't just be us anymore."

"But some change is good. If nothing ever changed, we would never have met."

Porthos thinks about that, and flicks a hand at the insects beginning to circle. "Thing is," he says, slowly, "all the stuff that's happened s'been completely out of our control all along, always has been. But the thing is - the thing is, if I could choose it, I'd still choose you."

"So romantic," Aramis murmurs, smirking at the river.

Porthos rolls his eyes away. "An' I don't know this guy. I don't know I'll feel like that about him, like he's someone I'd choose if I could." He scratches his ankle, between trainer and jeans, and glances at Aramis again. "Do you know I'll feel like that about him?"

"You're going to be a circle. You know how it is. You'll know it's meant to be when you know him."

"Things aren't meant t'be, there's no plan. Some of us just get lucky is all."

Aramis says, "Hm," as if the discussion isn't important because he always knows fucking better, according to himself. "Well, you and I have been pretty lucky so far."

"Lucky."

"How many rifts have you seen survive?"

"How many people've you seen not be rifts at all?"

Aramis' fingers press through his on the grass, and his cheek fits to his shoulder. "If I wasn't a rift I would never have met you. I'm not ungrateful."

Porthos looks over the river, jaw still too tight, but he lets his fingers loose so Aramis' can slip through them. He gets that there's a balance involved. He gets that that's the whole point of circles. He gets that. But at the same time -

At the same time, Aramis isn't ungrateful that in Alexandria, his brain stopped?

Aramis trusts that someone's keeping an eye on things, and every extra act of trust after that comes so easily to him. Porthos is the one trying to balance out the complications of the real world, all this shit they deal with, Aramis is the one who jolts his episodes out on the floor but Porthos is the one who has to hold him through them, and hold the wind down. Aramis knows things. It's Porthos who has to weigh things up and work things out.

Aramis says, softly, "Have I ever told you untruths before?"

Aramis trusts that someone's keeping an eye on things. Porthos . . . fuck. Porthos trusts Aramis.

He lets his own head lay over Aramis', keeps his eyes on the river, everything so quiet but for voices muffled across the water, and the gentle playing of the punts.

Aramis' hand is cool on his, and the rhythm of his breathing against his side is so even, so familiar. Porthos says, "What's he like, then?"

"I don't know."

"Earth affinity."

Aramis yawns. "Your opposite," he says. "My complement."

"That mean anything?"

Aramis shrugs. "Opposites understand each other in particular ways."

"You know something about him, right? You got feelings about him. What do you know?"

Aramis is quiet, head on his shoulder for some time, thinking. He says, eventually, "You can trust him. With anything. He'll understand us, he'll never judge us anything of who we are, he'll know us. He'll know when to haul us up and when to let us go. He'll know us. The same way we'll know him, one day."

"You talk about him like he's in charge of us."

"Anyone being in charge of us," Aramis says, thoughtfully, "is a decision that we make."

Porthos thinks about that, and thinks about Treville, and the Métro.

Four months before their freedom - seventeen and still stuck in the villa - Porthos had been sitting on his bedroom floor listening to music when he realised that Aramis, curled on the bed, was no longer napping but seemed to be having an increasingly violent nightmare.

The thing is, with Aramis, they're never nightmares.

It wasn't Aramis' room with the alarm over the bed and he didn't have time to get to one of their portable alarms as Aramis rolled over and started really thrashing, and by the time he'd worn down and woken up - wheezing with his panting, startled and shaken with it - he was too panicked, too needy of Porthos, for Porthos to dare let go of him for a second to summon Treville. Aramis' episodes don't scare him. However unpleasant they are (Porthos' least favourite thing Aramis ever said on waking from an episode was a mumbled, confused, almost curious, "Why is there so much blood?"), they tend not to actively distress him.

This one did.

When he had enough breath back to do more than keen his name, he held Porthos' face and begged him not to summon Treville, not to tell anyone what he'd seen, because they were going to break his brain.

He saw an angry teenage boy taking a backpack onto the Paris Métro. He knew what was in the bag (hate, and danger, and a bag of nails). And as he saw the boy put the bag down, it was already too late: the boy now had to put the bag down. What Aramis saw had to come to pass, or something terrible would happen in his brain, he could already feel it stirring, the expectation of agony and ending. That boy had to make an attempt at leaving a bomb on the Métro, planning to get off at the next stop and leave death there for everyone else in the carriage. Which meant that they had to stop him after the bomb was in place.

Which meant they couldn't tell Treville.

There was no way, they both knew, that Treville could risk an act of terrorism on French soil by letting the boy get as far as putting the bag in the train. He couldn't let the boy go ahead and hope for either the police or Porthos and Aramis to stop the bomb from actually going off. If Treville knew, he would have to alert the authorities, he would have to arrange for extra security, he would change things. No nervous teenage boy would attempt to smuggle a homemade bomb onto the Métro through police searches and sniffer dogs. Porthos held Aramis' arms while he panicked and he swore to him, and meant it, that he wouldn't tell Treville, he couldn't, he wouldn't.

Which just left them with the problem of how to stop that bomb going off and killing an unknown number of innocent commuters.

Aramis knew the station and knew the time; Porthos knew how to break into the garage and jack and hotwire a car. They left a note explaining only that they'd gone to Paris. They did want the captain to catch up with them eventually, they just didn't want him to stop them.

Aramis dropped their alarms out of the car window a few miles from the villa, and Porthos concentrated on driving; he'd never officially had any lessons, rarely practised behind the wheel of the same car twice, and in France bloody everything on the road was the wrong way around. Aramis rooted through the car's CDs and cursed to himself in Spanish and said, "Whose car did we steal?"

"I dunno. What is it?"

"Country music." Aramis held the CDs up and looked so amused and so bemused. "The Americans have no choice, who surveys their options and still listens to this?"

"Don't put it on."

"I can't stop myself. I have a horrible compulsion."

"Aramis don't you dare put it-"

They arrived at dawn in Paris while Tammy Wynette implored them to stand by their man, and Porthos had driven most of the way through the night one-handed because of how much he needed to keep on punching Aramis in the arm.

They thought they'd arrived in plenty of time because neither of them had known that Paris is that much of a fucking nightmare to drive through.

Aramis was increasingly a mess. Porthos could tell that some part of him wasn't sure that the thing he'd seen would come to pass, and his powers were punishing him in anticipation of his failed vision. Eyes narrowed, hand on his head, skin pale and drawn, Porthos had no idea what was going on in Aramis' besieged brain at that point. But he also knew that it was more than that, as Aramis grabbed his arm and yelled in Spanish that that was the station - some fancy twisting metal sign over the entrance, nothing like the Tube's serviceable brick and tiles - pointing through the car's windshield with his gun.

They abandoned the car in the street and people stopped yelling at them pretty fast when Aramis didn't even consider putting the gun away on scrambling out.

It wasn't just that he was losing his mind to whatever grief his ambiguous episode wanted to wreak on it. This risk they were taking - this risk they were taking with an unknown number of other people's lives - this was for him. If they failed, if other people died but Aramis survived, Aramis would have to live with that. Porthos knew how much it mattered. But what the fuck were they supposed to do, tell Treville and stop it happening and then watch Aramis' brain implode? They didn't have a choice, the future was holding Aramis and everyone in that train carriage hostage, and all the two of them could do was fight.

Aramis jumped the ticket barriers, gun in one hand, and Porthos just followed him. Sprinting down more steps, staggering onto a platform with a train there waiting, all the rush hour commuters climbing on, and Aramis looked up and down it swaying and then stabbed the gun at one set of doors - there there there in desperate Spanish, all his English gone -

Porthos got there just in time to grab the closing doors of the train, to suck his breath in at their strength, to force his body into the slot and twist his back to one door, both hands on the other, pushing with every straining muscle to force them open again. Aramis leaned in under his arms, gun in both hands, aimed it at a terrified looking boy standing next to a dirty backpack and spat at him in Spanish to pick it up.

Porthos snarled out, sweat beginning to soak through the t-shirt between his shoulder blades, "Prends le fucking sac, m'sieur."

An angry voice speaking French, presumably the driver, cut in over the train's speaker system; a passenger further down the train stood up, white with her own courage, and pressed the train's emergency alarm. Her eyes were on Aramis and the gun. Aramis' eyes, and the gun, were still on the boy with the bag, and the train was going nowhere with Porthos holding the door open and the alarm ringing. Meanwhile Porthos himself was busting his muscles, and still trying to work out if that was the right verb.

Another passenger said to him in shaking English, "Please, what is happening?"

"Motherfucker," Porthos said, teeth clenched, back bruising, "has a bomb."

The other passengers were great. When Aramis climbed into the carriage proper and pinned the boy to the opposite doors with a gun under his nose, eyes so dark, silent and terrible with it, the doors relented on Porthos' aching back and he waved his arms, exhausted, for everyone else to leave. He said to the man who spoke English, "What's the word for 'evacuate'?"

The passengers helped each other out of the carriage. They were calm and quick and quiet. Amazing the way people can respond, when the world demands it of them.

The police arrived, and a bomb disposal squad. Treville arrived not too much later, his face utterly unreadable, which was the scariest part. He didn't even relent very much when Aramis collapsed and threw up on the platform, though Porthos holding his shaking arms knew that Aramis was relieved, now, and that mumbling Spanish of his was prayer, strangled with gratitude. No-one was dead, no-one was dead, no-one was dead. The boy was in handcuffs, his deadly bag was being dealt with. No-one was dead. No-one was dead.

Porthos had to speak their piece for them. Treville had enough authority to get them out of trouble with the police for Aramis' gun if nothing else, and Porthos had to make him understand that they get it, they do, that Treville's hands are tied, that he couldn't possibly let that happen, that it had to be on them -

In the room in the Paris police station Treville had looked at Aramis, sitting hunched-backed against the wall, head down and sipping very slowly and shakily from a plastic cup of water. He said, "Barcelona."

Aramis closed his eyes, and nodded. He wet his lips, croaked out, "No right answers. I don't defend what we did, I won't. But we had to do it, all the same." He shrugged, but kept his eyes winced closed. "No right answers, sometimes."

Porthos thinks about Athos. He thinks about there being someone else, someone not just with them but someone they listen to, some kind of mini-Treville always with them.

The thing is - as much as he's wary of it, as much as he's ready to fight about it, as much as he resents it -

The thing is, would it be so bad?

He remembers Treville ordering him to sit in the front seat, wordlessly taking his own jacket off and as Aramis curled up still trembling on the back seat to sleep, laying it over his head to keep the light out, before he climbed in on the driver's side. He thinks about the way Aramis trusts Treville - the way Aramis trusts Porthos, something he's done since before he had any clue who Porthos really was. And now Aramis trusts Athos, whoever Athos is, and tells Porthos that they'll both trust him, that they can both trust him.

He thinks about someone else being there, even when they're out of the villa, when Aramis' episodes go bad. He thinks about not having to choose between helping Aramis and letting a rift go wrong because there's someone else there. He thinks about not having to struggle to work out which of the things Aramis suggests are fun and which are completely deranged because someone else will be able to supply the difference, which Porthos can't always pick out (Treville will never, never forgive them for Porthos' seventeenth birthday). He looks at the river so peaceful as night darkens the water, the muted cries and laughter of the people on punts leaving their pole behind in the purple river, and he thinks, We'll be opposites. We won't be the same, except in the way we understand each other. And Aramis' generous, omnivorous heart has more than enough space for him and me . . .

Aramis shivers, turns his head on his shoulder, kisses the side of his neck. "We should go back to the hotel," he murmurs there, and Porthos thinks about it, shifting his arm around his shoulders to warm him.

"Yeah." he says quietly. They've learned everything here that they can.

*

In the hotel room, sitting on the bed in pyjama bottoms while Aramis brushes his teeth in the bathroom with the door open - at least he's finally taken that fucking hat off - Porthos flicks through TV channels and pays attention to none of them. Too much to fucking think about. Aramis can put things right out of his mind and sail on by, serene and smug and irritating to all the rest of the world, but it's Porthos who has to actually think about things.

If he's honest, what he's thinking about right now is how out of place he felt in that city, so imposing and perfect and untouchable, somewhere Porthos who ran the streets of south London should never have been. He's in a weird mood. There's just been too much to deal with, recently, Aramis slipping sideways so he seems to conduct half his conversations with Porthos and half with a man who isn't there, worry about Flea, worry about Charon, worry about their own circle, worry about the unpredictability of Aramis' powers and what they're doing to him, worry about what's going to happen when 'Athos' shows up, worry about who the hell Athos is going to be if he fits in in this city -

He drops the television control, hikes Aramis' backpack up from the foot of the bed, begins rooting through it. "Where'd you pack the booze?"

Aramis spits into the sink and calls through, "Ask Athos." like it's so obvious that he has no idea why Porthos didn't do that first.

Porthos holds his bag, and breathes out, slowly.

What he really doesn't understand, what he's really struggling to understand, is the way he has to deal with Aramis. All things, he's learned by now, are a matter of balance, weighing the good and the bad and accepting just what is. And somehow he has to balance the devotion Aramis gives him and he knows it with the fact that Aramis is drifting apart from him, increasingly separate in time, and that Aramis has already accepted Athos, and someday soon Porthos won't be the only part of his circle anymore. Aramis pretty much worships Porthos and he's very aware of that, Aramis would do anything for him, wouldn't even think about it, if Porthos told him to jump off a cliff he'd look hurt but he'd probably do it, because he couldn't face the alternative of living through not doing this for Porthos. Aramis doesn't think things through, Aramis feels things through, and what he feels for Porthos is utter, as complete as a circle, as certain as his soul. But still Aramis doesn't belong to Porthos. Aramis belongs to the water, and time.

When he practises holding his breath underwater Porthos feels the distance between them, the way Aramis is in the element of his affinity, the place quite small inside himself that Aramis has gone to. And when Aramis is in some flow of the river separate to the current everyone else is moving down, when Aramis has swum somewhere different in time without even noticing, Porthos feels how fragile the connection between them is, how easy it would be to break it and for Aramis to wash away forever, to never be part of his present, to always be too far ahead of him. Aramis feels things through and his feelings don't come with brakes. One of these days, Porthos will reach for him but Aramis will have washed away. That's what he's afraid of. That's what 'Athos' intimates. The tides are coming for Aramis, and there's nothing that either of them can do: Aramis can't hold his breath that long, and Porthos, Porthos has no chance of rescuing him.

The tides are rising, and Porthos may still have to watch Aramis drown.

Aramis walks back into the bedroom pulling a t-shirt over his head, gives Porthos a look and says, "What?" which means he's wearing all this on his face, which he shouldn't.

"Nothing." he says, and shoves Aramis' bag to the foot of the bed again. "Just can't find the booze an' you know what happens if we touch the mini-bar."

"The captain has seen worse things on our expenses." Aramis says, walking over, climbing onto the bed, turning off the TV and quite casually straddling Porthos' hips, so he can lean in for a really close inspection of his face. "You've been gloomy all day. If you need cheering up I can suggest something better than booze, you know."

Porthos sighs, and puts his hands around his waist, presses a little at his familiar body. "Just thinkin'. You should try it sometime."

Aramis smiles. "Thinking about what?"

Porthos rubs his back a little, and doesn't know what to say, never wants to make Aramis worry too, Aramis worrying is just unnatural. He clears his throat, says, "You even know you told me t'ask Athos where we'd packed the vodka?"

Aramis tilts his head a little, then lifts a hand and cups the back of Porthos' head, fingers sinking through his hair, thumb and finger catching a curl to play with. "No." he says, calmly. "And you know I don't. Why are you . . . ?"

Porthos holds it in, holds it in the tautness of his jaw, he can contain it, body as big as his has to have space enough to contain it. "You know what it's like watchin' you drift off like that? S'like you don't even know the rest of us are here sometimes -"

Aramis tilts his mouth, tugs gently at his hair, and his eyes look sorry but he doesn't say it. "Do you know what it's like," he says, quietly, "watching you watch the storm, seeing how it is in every part of you, and knowing - knowing the wind wants to take you, knowing you're playing the edge of that power, and knowing that I can never compete with a tempest?"

"That's not the-"

"Don't even tell me that it's not the same. You feel it all the time and you think I don't know it, no-one watches you like I do. And do you know what I would have to do, if the wind took you?"

Porthos stares at him, and -

And even now, sitting on this hotel bed with Aramis on his lap, he can feel the wind outside, he can feel the weight of the clouds, he can feel the whole sky out there, and everything it's capable of. He feels how fine the line he teeters on is. It would take a fraction of a second to let everything go, a single breath's worth of loss of self-control -

And that would leave Aramis, and his devotion, and his gun, and Porthos already gone while his rift destroyed the world.

Porthos is a little afraid that he knows exactly where Aramis would plant that bullet in that situation. He looks into his eyes, dark and intense and almost angry with how much he knows it too, and wraps his arms around his waist, tugs him in to hold him.

"I'm not lettin' go." he murmurs over his shoulder, and rubs his back. "You know I'm not. Who'd look after you then?"

Aramis strokes his hair and lets Porthos bear his weight to his chest, cheek tucked to the side of his neck, Porthos can feel the brush of his beard there. "I'm not going anywhere so long as I still have an anchor, Porthos. I know my powers take me, I can't help that. But I always come back. Don't I always come back?"

Porthos runs a hand down his back, feeling the shapes of the bones in his spine. "Yeah," he says, quietly. He does.

"I have an anchor." Aramis says softly. "I can't drift too far. So long as I have an anchor I'll always come back." He lifts his head, puts a hand on Porthos' cheek, kisses his forehead and leans there to whisper, warm hard body and the softness of his breath makes Porthos' blood shiver under the skin, "So be my anchor."

Aramis taught Porthos how to fuck him. What he taught him, fluid creature, is that he likes being in control and he likes when it's collaborative and he likes when Porthos takes control; he likes being experimental and he likes practising old tricks and he likes just a simple steady fuck, nothing fancy; he likes it gentle and tender and he likes the ease of their friendly familiarity and he likes, too much, when it's rough enough to leave its marks on his skin. He likes everything. Which means that Porthos is usually free to follow through whatever he feels like, because Aramis is always going to like it, Aramis likes him.

Porthos fucks him steady, even, just this side of hard with each thrust in. He wants to cover him and contain him so he can't flow off somewhere else, so he's under him and safe, pinned down under his own sturdy weight, anchored between Porthos and a bed, his favourite place to be. Aramis rolls his head back and hitches his hips higher so Porthos' eyes widen and his breath hisses out of him, and suddenly his leg muscles start to quiver. His fingers are slipping on sweat on Aramis' thighs, he has to grip tighter, but even if he lets go he knows Aramis can keep this angle on his own, eyes cut low and dark on Porthos, chest moving just a little hard with his breath.

"Things that won't change, if God is good." Aramis breathes, shifting himself lower on the bed to offer his hips more comfortably higher. "The way you do that."

Porthos steadies his grip on his legs, gives another long steady dive in. "That?"

A single outbreath to the ceiling, gasped like a wave on the beach, and he grins. "Yes."

He gets a hand under his hips to help hold him up, presses his other hand into the mattress beside his head to take his weight, leans in and covers him, cups and contains him with his own skin, and at the weight of him pressing him down and folding him in half Aramis' breath shivers loose and needy.

Porthos doesn't know if god is good. He does think that Aramis could drag himself back from the very gates of hell for another session of this, though.

He wakes in the morning slowly, aware of movement before he's really aware of being awake; there's light under the curtains but he thinks it's still early, feels out and feels the cool of the waking morning, and he can hear birds singing, and Aramis doing something. He blinks, pushes himself up on the mattress to lift his head; Aramis has apparently showered, is already dressed, and is sitting cross-legged on the bed beside him, putting things into his backpack.

Porthos would say what the fuck but actually all he does is yawn.

Aramis says as he puts his book into his bag, "We need to get back to France."

He scratches back through his hair, voice coming rumbling-deep on the edge of sleep. "France? You're done with Athos already?"

"No. I -" Aramis lifts his head, eyes uneasy on the window, then goes back to what he's doing. "His rift is going to break. We need to be back in France."

Porthos sits up. "His - I thought he was in England."

Aramis shakes his head, and looks into his bag like he's not very comfortable with what's inside it. "No. He's in France. We need to get back to the villa. It's going to be bad."

"Why're we goin' to the villa if his rift-"

"Porthos," very quiet, and Aramis' eyes flit nervous to his. "It's going to be bad."

Porthos stares back at him, and Aramis breaks first, looks back at his bag but doesn't put anything in it, just plays with the clasp on it. Porthos says, very low, "How bad?"

Aramis doesn't look at him. "We won't be there for it. I won't be able to. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry. How much time do we have?"

"No sé. We need to get back to the captain."

"You're gonna be okay to get back?"

His jaw goes tight, eyes still on the bag, and he says, "I have to be."

He climbs out of bed, feels the stickiness of their sex still on him. "Have I got time for a shower?"

Aramis laughs, looks up at him and grins, says, "Yes, Porthos, you have time for a shower. Actually I encourage one, huevón."

Porthos ruffles his hair as he walks past him, and tries not to feel . . .

When he gets out, towel around his hips and steam rolling through the bathroom door after him, Aramis is packing Porthos' bag, and there's the vodka after all, going in underneath his pyjamas. His clothes are already on the bed ready for him, and Aramis is all quick-on-edge, can't seem to find enough things to do to keep himself busy, to keep himself distracted.

Porthos glances in Aramis' bag as he passes it. There's a little plastic-wrapped sewing kit on top of his clothes, needles and thread bound around a slip of cardboard.

Whatever the hell Aramis thinks he needs to mend, twitchy on the bed, staring at the wall and one long leg rhythmically jigging, those little needles don't look anything like enough.

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