rainjoyswriting: (kurt!)
[personal profile] rainjoyswriting
The Opposite of Lethe part 1, Walking Up a One Way Street; Musketeers fic, affinityverse (best catalogued in my memories) <3

Disclaimer: Eat, drink and be merry, so long as you bought it at Aldi; not mine, and I make no money from it.

Rating: R? R.

Warnings and spoilers: The main list's on part one, read sensibly. You all wanted Athos so you get all the attendant warnings you do with that character; also, in this part, implied violence of a particularly nasty kind.

Summary: "What did I drink last night to dream this?"


Note: Two things; one, the title of this chapter is, for Porthos, taken from a fucking adorable Northern soul track (I listen to less Northern soul than modern or crossover, but some tracks are just so fucking *cute* I cannot even <3). And also, Texts From the Musketeers appears to be back and I am so happy =D






The pale-skinned man with lazy blue eyes raises his eyebrows at him, surveying him for a long second before he says, in some strange version of French, "My God, how old are you? What on earth are you wearing?"

It takes a moment, all his memories are foggy, he can't remember his own name at first and then it's so sudden, sunlight through the clouds, and he couldn't stop the smile if he tried, and he never tries. In his own clumsy French he says, "You're Athos." and looks him up and down - his height, or perhaps a little taller but still shorter than Porthos, his build again somewhere between the two of them, some sort of scar on his top lip, and dressed primarily in what appears to be blue leather. Why all the leather? Aramis likes leather very well, really is fond of the scent of it, but still between this Athos and the Porthos he remembers meeting once before, they appear to have stripped a dairy herd. "I like your hat. And all of your -" he waves a general up-and-down hand at him - "cow-clothes."

Athos gives him a very particular, very penetrating look, a look bizarrely he finds that he's missed. Aramis resists the urge to run up and throw his arms around him (Porthos is always warning him about personal space, the aura not to be broken he claims that people carry around themselves, that miserable buffer against all affection and delight), it's been so long. And then he remembers that he's never met this man before, but -

But -

Athos says, slowly but Aramis still struggles to follow, "It concerns me that you are only marginally more inappropriate at this age than you are now. Evidently personal growth never has been a strength of yours. What's wrong with your voice?"

"'Now'? Athos - I have remembered you for
months, I waited for you -"

Athos rubs his face. "What did I drink last night to dream this?"

"- always I waited for you, you and I and Porthos -"

"My God I'm glad that he's not here too. I couldn't cope with
both of you at this age."

He's so confused that French gets tangled, he can feel something else happening almost like he has two bodies, one here and one elsewhere, and something is happening to that other body - and it's too alarming, too distracting, he can't concentrate on here and there. "What are you to say? You know us-" He stops, and feels from somewhere outside some horrible, unrelenting pull, and suddenly he knows that he doesn't have much time. "You know us old?"

Athos drops his hand and looks at him, hard sharp eyes, tired but very, very clear. Aramis can feel the pull, feels like he's fighting to stay in front of him, as Athos says, low and a little dangerous now as his hand falls to the sword at his hip, "Who are you?"

The scene snaps; white light, a confusion of his own breath and shaking muscles, pain, voices he knows overhead and trapped in his ears like a moth got in there fluttering its panic -

Who are you?

Exacto, po.
Isn't that the whole problem?

*

They walk side by side down the road, hemmed in by hedges and heat. It'll be autumn soon, everything will begin to fade and tarnish, but for now high summer beats hard on the back of his neck, and Porthos knows that he can't take the bandana off without risking sunstroke. Aramis, of course, has his fucking hat.

Backpacks on the shoulders, a weight they're long used to now. Treville once had them hiking through woodland but more often they find themselves moving through cities, or covering long stretches of road (Aramis with his hand out and thumb up, smiling hopefully, cars are always more likely to stop when he's the one in front). But this road is so quiet, so empty of cars. They passed a village some time ago but for some time now they've seemed to be the only people in all of the South of France.

Porthos glances at Aramis, who's humming, eyes ahead and quite happy. He glances to the side as if he can feel Porthos' eyes, smiles back, and Porthos twitches his mouth, sighs, softly. He does know that it's a miracle that they're here at all. He knows it may take more than a miracle, just getting through this.

They weren't there for the rift, and they're travelling now to see what pieces remain to be picked up. They can't even really place when the rift was - two weeks ago they got back to the villa and as soon as they were in front of Treville again Aramis deteriorated rapidly, like he'd been waiting for him, straining to hold it down until he was safe with the captain again. At first it was episodes as they understood them, leaving him so drained and disorientated that he slept, mostly, though he didn't report seeing Athos' rift break. All he knew was that something terrible was going to happen, flashes of images of a house that filled him with dread like he was dying.

On the second day, everything went to hell.

He broke his record with a violent fourteen minute long seizure Porthos could hardly bear to watch, before he woke just enough to pant, "- dead, he's dead, he's dead, he's dead -" before slipping under again. He didn't wake from the next one, unconscious for hours, leaving Porthos to pace up and down the medical bay while the wind rumbled against the walls and windows, Porthos thinking - Athos is dead? All of this and Athos is dead now?

They should have been there, fuck these episodes, they should have been there -

Episodes and episodes. His eyes opened after one, while Porthos was wiping his cheek where the drool had run, and he blinked at him drowsy, got out so low, "He's so unhappy."

Porthos ran a hand back through his hair to get it off his sweat-damp forehead, murmured, "Who?"

He closed his eyes again. "Athos."

"- you said he was dead."

He shook his head, swallowed weakly. "Not him. Not . . ."

Gone, again.

Episodes and episodes and they had no idea what was happening, where it was happening, there was nothing that any of them could do but try to bring Aramis out the other side of it. Porthos slept on the bed next to his, in the snatches of space between panicked activity, and something in Treville's eyes was painfully sad, which only made Porthos feel worse; all along he's always been relying on Treville having dealt with worse, but now even Ferrand's quiet had a different quality to it. Aramis lost English for some time, in the few spaces when he woke he whispered in Spanish and Porthos followed what he could, but all it ever was was premonitions of worse; he would find out, Aramis said like he was terrified of it, he would find out, it was going to be bad, he would know -

The culmination of it all was possibly the worst two days of Porthos' life. At least he was young enough to forget most of his mother's death; that will stay with him until he dies, and he knows it.

He became convinced, twelve hours into that two days of hell, that Aramis wasn't going to live through it. He didn't know how a body could survive that. And that realisation was sudden winter in his heart, froze the blood black in every chamber, he didn't know what the hell to do. Helplessness scoured the grounds with hard-edged wind, in the height of summer icy rain lashed the windows, the sun was invisible behind the dumb white cloud, and Porthos stopped speaking because he was too afraid of any word coming out and breaking and he knew he couldn't stop if he started, he had to keep scowling and silent and scaring the staff because otherwise he'd weep. Porthos remembered Aramis' insistence that he would live as far as Athos, because he'd seen it. Now Porthos was faced with thinking -

What if this was all he'd seen? What if this was -

Porthos hates god, could beat the fucker bloody for what he does to Aramis who is good to that ungrateful sack of shit. But when times are desperate your pride matters less, Porthos didn't care, this was for Aramis, not him; he went to his room and brought him his Bible, sat it on the table beside the medical bay bed, sat there with his hands folded together and pressed to his mouth, watching him. Aramis didn't move, which was no more preferable to the episodes, really.

He fell asleep. He, Treville and Ferrand had barely slept four hours at a time in a week, falling asleep was understandable. And when he woke up, Aramis was watching him, smiling, a little.

Porthos came upright in the chair with a snort, stared at him. Aramis' smile twitched, and he said, "You're charming when you sleep. Even when you snore."

Porthos wiped his mouth on a hand, cleared his throat, said, "You're - awake?"

"Si po. Can you - my wrists?" With a tug of his hands in their restraints.

Porthos called, "Captain!" and started on the straps. An agent looked in, then ran off presumably to get Treville, and Ferrand came in looking no happier that Aramis was awake than he'd ever looked at Aramis mid-episode (well, perhaps . . .). Porthos helped him sit - he couldn't, on his own, he hadn't eaten in days besides being weak from over a week of unrelenting muscle spasms - and helped him drink some water, while Aramis blinked around the room, squinting as sunlight slit in through the windows, and said in his rough tired voice, "What day is it?"

Treville came in, saw him sitting in the bed and pulled his breath in slow and steady, and began speaking to Ferrand in French. Aramis watched the two of them converse for some time while Porthos said, desperate for it to be true, "It's done now, right?"

Aramis nodded, slowly, and then called, "Capitaine,"

Both of them looked at him. Aramis spoke to them in French, and they kept on staring at him. When Treville responded Aramis shrugged, replied with a sigh and then turned to Porthos, and his smile was apologetic. "Sorry, Porthos. I cheated again."

It took a second for him to understand what had just happened. "You speak French now."

Aramis' eyes tracked the ceiling. "All those years of studying and now - bof." He shrugged again, and his eyes fell back to Porthos, smiling and sorry. "It's enough to make a person wonder why they try at all."

"Athos . . ."

Aramis looked at his hands, pressed them together and flexed them a little. "We'll just have to hope that he forgives us for not being there for him." He pressed his lips together. "I think he will. I think he appreciates that he had some privacy, at the worst." He looked at his hands again, and smiled, slightly. "I'd say that you know what he's like but you don't, yet, do you?"

Ten days of hell he put Porthos through, and then he sat there in the bed making fucking stupid jokes and Porthos wanted to cry.

To say that Porthos is conflicted, walking towards Athos following Aramis' inner compass (needle set true to an earth affinity Porthos doesn't know and Aramis only half knows), hardly scrapes the surface. Aramis is in a brilliant mood, has been for the last couple of days, enthusiastic as a kid for getting to meet Athos ('again', as he still fails to notice himself phrasing it), and Porthos did point out to him that 'Athos' has just been through they-don't-even-know-what, that they have no idea who he is or what he'll be like, that after all that shit what the hell reason will he have for wanting to see the two of them? - but Aramis' smile is only ever pensive for a moment.

"We'll deal with that when we come to it."

Of course; the Aramis method of getting through life.

Having seen Aramis go through that, Porthos has never wanted their circle closed more. It doesn't matter who Athos is, he doesn't care who Athos is, Porthos is dragging him into their circle by his hair if he has to. But then every step down this road is still leaden to him, and the sky is blue but that's because it's empty; something in Porthos is as uneasy, as queasy, as a ship on a sick-tilting sea.

When Ferrand had checked Aramis over in his medical bay bed, when Porthos had practically force-fed him by hand because Aramis is a fucking awful patient, Treville had finally drawn another chair up beside the bed, notepad in his lap, and had said, the old practised words, "What did you see, Aramis?"

Aramis had pressed his lips together - oh, Porthos knows his expressions by now - and flicked his eyes between the two of them. "You mustn't worry," he'd said, looking at one and then the other, trying to reassure them with his hopeless liar's eyes. "You mustn't worry because it didn't feel like . . ." He dropped into Spanish, said, "How do I . . . ?" and tugged at his hair. "It didn't feel permanent. I don't understand it myself, I just know, I know that you shouldn't worry."

"What," Porthos said, because god Aramis makes these things worse by dragging them out, "are we not worryin' about?"

Aramis looked at Treville, reached up and touched Porthos' arm. "You mustn't worry," he said, pressing Porthos' arm, wetting his lips. "It's just - I think I'm going to die."

Aramis shields his eyes from the sun and points out a couple of horses in a field for Porthos to look at; Porthos turns one corner of his mouth up for him, and thinks, Fuck you, you smug little psychic shit.

Aramis tried to explain it too quickly to both of them, hand over his heart and looking so confused - he'd seen, he'd felt, that his heart would stop and his lungs would close; but, he insisted, but, that didn't mean it would be the end, he was sure - he was just sure that he wasn't going to stop, he was sure of it, he didn't -

"If this is your fucking Jesus bullshit -"

"You leave Him out of this, this is me saying I'll still be here, I just know - I'm just going to know what my heart not working feels like, it doesn't mean I'll be dead."

"You're going to die but you won't be dead?"

"Have I ever said even once that my episodes make sense?"

Treville lifted a hand, and rubbed his forehead, slowly.

Porthos walks, and Aramis hums, and all along Aramis has known he'll live as far as Athos; now that they're walking right up to Athos, Porthos' spine feels like it's locked into place, every bone has gone tight.

You're going to join our circle, arsehole, whether you like it or not. And you're not killing him, you are not killing him, if I have to beat you down and lock you in the villa's cellar nothing you do is ever going to hurt him -

The smug little psychic shit, humming as he walks without a care in the world, apparently feeling nothing but eagerness for their destination. They're in no hurry. He already knows that whoever's killing affinities, they're not coming for Athos, which meant they had time in the last week to wait for Aramis to be strong enough for the walk again. There's no need to do more than walk, no need to run, but Aramis is walking quick with excitement anyway.

There's a house, up ahead, tucked between the gentle rolls of the hills, just a rooftop as yet. Aramis perks up and starts walking faster, and Porthos sighs, catches his jacket's hood as if catching a dog's lead. His habit of wandering off is a fucking pain, he's just too easily distracted and nothing good ever comes of Porthos losing track of him. All Aramis does is grin back at him over his shoulder, holding his backpack by the straps, excited as a fucking puppy for getting to meet Athos.

Why does Porthos worry like this? He doesn't worry during rifts - well, not like this, he knows the risk they walk into when they go to meet a rift but that's different, somehow, seeing Aramis in that danger. They're choosing it, they're heading in, they're doing something, they know what they're doing. The creeping dangers Aramis' episodes reveal are different, feel different. Aramis insists that he's both going to die and not die and which way is Porthos supposed to trust him? Aramis isn't scared but Aramis is an idiot. And Porthos -

Life would be really different, and not in a good way, without that manic Chilean shit running around making things more fun for him, that's all.

He tries to ignore it the way Aramis does, tries to enjoy the heat on his skin and the liquid flutter of birdsong up and down in the hedgerows. He smiles when Aramis speaks and tries to think of other things, runs through the lyrics of Tyrone Davis songs to distract himself.

Aramis claps an arm around his back and says, "Stop looking like that. He's going to love you. A lot more than he loves me, you're a lot more dependable than me."

Porthos glances at him, and it ought to be more of a relief that Aramis doesn't know everything, that he's just too fucking stupid to grasp why Porthos is so worried . . .

*

'House' is really not the term.

Closer, Aramis whistles softly, and Porthos does give an ironic little huff through his smile. "It looks like the villa had a baby," Aramis says, and Porthos mutters, "Pretty big baby."

It's not as big as the villa, though it is big - most of it the same traditional style as the villa they know, tiled roof and pale stone, though with some modern extension on one side, shining glass in the sun. There's a gate over the road at one point so they climb over it, and keep walking. It slowly becomes apparent that they're no longer walking through countryside but through gardens, clipped hedges and flowers slowly parching in the heat.

Porthos says, it's the first time he's really considered this, "What d'we say when we turn up?"

Aramis says, without hesitation,"'Hello Athos, we're the rest of your life'."

"'cause that's not creepy at all."

"It's the truth."

"It sounds like we're trying to recruit him to a cult."

"We could do that," Aramis says brightly, like he's only just realised the possibilities of amusement that that option truly holds, and Porthos ignores him.

"He must know what happened. He must know something weird happened."

Aramis shrugs. "What you don't understand can be very easy to explain away. We need to be careful."

"His rift break here?" Porthos looks around the gardens - pristine, if in need of a good watering, just as Porthos feels in need of in this fucking heat - and narrows his eyes. "Thought there'd be more . . . you remember that earth rift in Iceland."

"I remember that earth rift in Iceland. I don't know, Porthos, maybe . . . I don't know."

"Nice to know you don't know everything."

"I acknowledge my humility in matters of omniscience."

"If not in anythin' else."

"I cannot help my perfection in all other areas."

"You ever gonna grow out of always needin' the last word?"

Aramis narrows his eyes in thought. "Perhaps the question is, will you ever grow into getting the last word?"

"One of these days I'm gonna fucking gag you."

Aramis rolls his head to him, smile lighting, and Porthos looks away with a breath of a growl. Even when he doesn't say anything, fucker always gets the last word.

(Fucker who's going to die and not die . . .)

The road gives way to a gravel path, they walk past a garage and into the house's immediate radius, garage and glass-fronted room (one floor-length window has a huge spider web break in it) overlooking the gardens forming an elbow-shaped bend. Porthos is just wondering how many people live here - he's going to be watching every face warily until Aramis can point out which one's Athos - when their feet on the gravel must be close enough, loud enough, to carry; glass doors are open onto a tiled barbecue area, and a shape is stirring, inside, in the dark.

Aramis stops at the edge of the grass, every line of his body strung tight, eyes fixed on that doorway. Porthos waits beside him, because that's what he does. Someone's got to be alert for the rest of the world at Aramis' side when Aramis fixates like that.

A man emerges, from the gloom inside. He lifts a hand and squints in the light, face drawn tight like he hasn't dealt with daylight in a long time. A little older than them, with dirt-coloured hair, poached blue eyes, the stubble of a growing-in beard, not clipped neat like theirs; the hand not shielding him from the radiation of the vicious sun has a bottle hanging from it, whisky or brandy by the looks of it. Finally emerged from his cocoon of darkness, he looks between the two of them like it's an effort even to get to the conclusion that he has no fucking clue who they are or why they're here.

Porthos says to Aramis, "This the guy?"

Aramis is looking him over, nodding, slowly, saying, "This is the guy." For the first time, since Aramis told them that he was going to die and gave no indication of caring about that, he actually looks worried.

The drunk man, and he is drunk, his body's line isn't entirely straight, clears his throat and says in English - perfect English, perfect public school English and Porthos' automatic urge to punch is rising hard - "This is private property."

Aramis turns to Porthos, says solemnly, "This is private property."

"This is the guy?"

"This is him. Athos - bueno po, I know you don't recognise us -"

Athos is visibly unsteady on his feet, and his lovely public school English is slurred. "I will call the police."

"No you fucking won't," Porthos says, perfectly calm, a statement of fact. "Is your name Athos?"

He gives them a long look through his tired blue eyes, then says, a little guardedly, "It's one of my titles."

It's too fucking much. Porthos says to Aramis, very seriously, "It's one of his titles."

"Athos, we're here because - you know why we're here, something happened to you that -"

Athos' face has closed, darkened, his eyes are sharper now but in a bad way. He lowers the hand shielding them from the sun, says in a low black voice, "What do you mean?"

Porthos says, "You did something you shouldn't've been able to do. Look, it's fine, we're both the sa-"

Athos is standing without a sway now, suddenly looking a great deal more dangerously steady on his feet. "What do you know?"

Porthos steps forwards, hands up and empty, onto the edge of the patio's tiles. "Look, how about we sit down an' you tell us what happened an' we ca-"

He feels before he hears the rumble from underneath, but it's still too fast for him to move. The tiles snap underfoot; a line of metal lances up too fast and needle-bright in the sun and he hears a lethal click from behind himself and stands very, very still.

There is a spear of twisted-tipped metal aimed upwards at his throat, frozen at the point where Aramis aimed the gun at Athos' head, a light in his eyes Porthos has only rarely seen before. He just keeps his head pulled back a little, and says, quietly, "You don't wanna do that."

Aramis says, in a voice terrible and even, "Put it back."

Athos stares at them, breathing drawn visibly tight, and Porthos says, "Don't tell yourself he won't shoot. You make any move now an' you're losing an eye an', you know, your brain. Put it back, Athos, we're only here t'talk. This doesn't have to go the bad way."

Athos is silent, for a long moment, before the metal aimed at Porthos' throat twists back into itself, begins retracting back under the earth. It's copper, Porthos realises when he can actually risk looking down at it. Vicious-bright copper, made of thousands of thin fibres of copper wiring, there a thicker band forming into an open-mouthed pipe as it slides back under the broken tile and soil. Athos . . .

Aramis lowers his gun arm, slowly, and smiles again.

Aramis belongs to water and to time. Porthos feels the air but all of the weather as well. And Athos is earth, but . . .

"You can do metal too," Aramis says, quite cheerful, no hard feelings at all about the amount of blood that just barely didn't get spilled. "Re-bacán."

Athos says, sounding exhausted now as well as bewildered, "Who the hell are you?"

Aramis lifts his hat a greeting. "My name is Aramis, this is my good friend Porthos. I'm a water affinity and he's air. And you, my dear Athos, are earth, and we've come to help you."

"You got a rift in you." Porthos says, as Athos blinks to him from Aramis - it takes him some time to drag his drink-dumb attention between the two of them, why the hell is this guy most of the way gone before midday on a weekday? "You must've felt it break. All hell'll've got loose an' suddenly you could do - that, what you just did." He gestures at the broken tiles in front of his trainers. "We both went through that too. An' you got it under control for now but you can tell you haven't got it right, right? You can feel it. It's got you more'n you've got it right now. Bein' in a circle - four of us, one of each affinity - when we're in a circle it'll be right, you can hold it right, it'll be -"

"Porthos," Aramis says at his back.

"- safer for you an' everyone else -"

"Porthos," Aramis says more urgently, and when Porthos looks back, he's tucked his gun back into his back pocket, let his backpack drop to the grass, and he's untying the leather cuff with a look both apologetic and nervous. "Lo siento."

It takes a second to even think, - here, now? "- it's fine. Fuck. Okay." Porthos looks at the grass - this is hardly ideal - but Aramis' knees go so quickly he has to grab to catch his wrist to help him fall easier, and he unslots the cuff and holds it up himself. "It's okay." He looks back at Athos, giving them a blearily confused look, and says, "Put that down an' come help."

Athos says, "What?"

"Put the fucking bottle down an' come get his legs, he could break his ankle off those fuckin' tiles -"

Aramis gives a little laugh around the leather, but then his eyes roll back.

It's not an especially violent episode, Aramis has just been dealing with the aftershocks of Athos' rift for a few days now, nothing horrific, just the echoes. Porthos still holds his head safe because he knows it hurts him enough before he starts banging it off the ground, and Athos doesn't make any move to come closer, just stares at them through it (Porthos cares about other things than checking the time on his phone during these things but he's got pretty good at guessing their length; less than two minutes, this one). And, yeah, this isn't exactly helping their welcome, as if the two of them turning up unannounced didn't look weird enough before . . .

Aramis goes limp afterwards, rather than waking. Porthos catches up the cuff, shifts him around, looks at the open door into the house. "You got somewhere I can put him down a moment?"

Athos blinks, and manners cut in before his brain can. "There's a sofa through here. What's wrong with him?"

Porthos grunts a little hiking him up - Porthos isn't so much of a kid anymore but then neither is Aramis, and he only ever looks delicate next to Porthos, he's taller than most and all that swimming makes him broader than many - and he says, walking under his weight to the open doorway Athos indicated, "Well, he talks way too fucking much, an' he always has to get the last word in. He makes fucking stupid decisions, consequences are always other people's problems." He turns and ducks them into the room, looks it over - dim, the curtains clumsily mostly-closed so the sunlight piles in like discarded laundry at the edges of the floor - spots the nearest sofa of three angled around a huge television and aims for it. "He's a fuckin' fussy nursemaid an' an ironically shit patient. Not even castration could keep his mind out of the gutter for three minutes in a row. He insists on singin' first thing in a morning, he wanders off, he can't cook for shit, he's smug an' irritating an' heavy." He drops Aramis' weight onto the sofa, lets his head down onto its arm as it rolls in his grip. "Oh, an' he bites."

Aramis' eyes press further closed before they crack open, and he murmurs through a smile, "Are you talking about me?"

Porthos drops his own pack, takes Aramis' hat off and puts it on the back of the sofa. He puts a hand on his head and hears Athos behind him walk to stand at a little distance, watching them. "You like bein' talked about."

Aramis hums a confirmation. Porthos tugs gently at his hair, says, "You got that from just the last one, didn't you?"

Aramis laughs, takes a breath and makes his eyes open properly, squints in the dark and cranes his neck to look around; some sort of living and dining room, the open plan kitchen actually quite distant, on a little raised area at the far side of the room. All of it should look out on to those glorious gardens; actually, all it looks at are those half-drawn curtains, making the summer stifling and oppressive, dark as the inside of a skull.

Athos says, "What the hell was that, did he just have a seizure?"

"Oh, only a little one." Aramis murmurs, and rolls his head back to Porthos' hand, says in Spanish, "How long?"

Porthos strokes his hair again. "Less than two minutes."

"Bueno." Snapping casually back to English, "Sometimes I do that."

"He's psychic." Porthos says, and looks at Athos. "That's what happens when the future comes knockin'. Don't act like it's weird 'cause you just nearly impaled me on a metal spike you made with your brain, weird's just your world now."

Athos looks at Aramis. Aramis lifts a hand and touches Porthos' cheek, says in Spanish, "I saw you talking to him. It's fine. He'll trust you. Just ask him the right questions."

Porthos rolls his eyes. "Bacán." Just ask the right questions, like it's so easy. Aramis just smiles, taps his cheek and drags himself wincing to sit, to begin strapping that cuff back onto his wrist.

Porthos clears his throat a little, searches his mind. He tries to remember his own rift, tries to imagine Aramis', tries not to think about the bottle Athos is still holding or the worse visions Aramis has had recently . . .

"When my rift broke," he says, and he opts for honesty because, fuck, Aramis has already seen what Athos is to them, Aramis trusts him, Porthos is just going to have to catch up. "I was havin' a row with a friend an' I just thought I was so angry I couldn't think straight until I almost blew my school down an' half the city with it. An' I really would've, if he hadn't turned up." Aramis glances up from his work, twitches a smile to meet his, goes back to his cuff, fingers always clumsy after an episode. "I felt like there was more power in me than there was me. An' you gotta have something to hold on to, you need a reason to survive it, because otherwise it rips you right inside out an' takes as much of the world with it as it can when it kills you. Trust us, we've seen that often enough."

Aramis hauls himself up from the sofa, a little dizzy but he settles himself on his feet, one hand to his head, and squints around the room curiously. Porthos knows there's no point in telling him to take it easy if he doesn't want to and instead sits in his vacated seat, sighing, looking across at Athos standing warily by the open door, like he needs an escape route at his back and a bottle in his hand to deal with them.

"We're half a circle, Aramis an' me. We have a lot more control than we'd ever have if we were on our own. Don't think he'd still be alive on his own," he adds, craning his head to look back as Aramis says, "Oh, hush." wandering towards the kitchen to get a closer look. "We're half a circle but we need the other two, fire an' earth." Porthos says, looking back to Athos' tired, distrustful gaze. "We've been searching out rifts for two years now, Aramis can tell when they're happenin', but mostly they just break. Mostly we just get there in time t'stop 'em from killin' more people when it goes wrong. An' sometimes someone gets there before us an' kills them first, don't really know what's goin' on there." He rubs his nose, and in the pause, Athos walks a little towards him, hesitant but strangely, intensely, needy of this, eyes fixed on him.

"He can tell what happens - when -"

Porthos can hear Aramis, who has no more sense of privacy than he ever has of personal space, opening kitchen cupboards at his back. "Not always that well. He didn't know what went on with yours 'cept it was bad. Sorry, about that. Not bein' there. We would've been, just, we didn't know-"

Athos snaps, hissed and vicious, "Why would you want to be there," and Porthos just gives him an even look, and says, "To help."

Athos stares at him, a little wild in the eyes. Porthos shrugs. "We don't know what happened. Okay? We had no idea what was happening. He was havin' episodes - those seizures, he couldn't stop. Nearly two fuckin' weeks I watched him almost die over your rift, so sorry if we're a bit late, we had other shit goin' on. But - fuck, we're here now." He rubs a hand back over his hair, pushing the bandana back, then resettles it. "We're here now. We can help now."

Athos' body is very straight, over-tense, for some time, then relaxes suddenly, and not as if mere alcohol is usurping control. "I'm sorry," he says, quietly. "I'm being rude."

"Fair's fair," Porthos says, listening to Aramis play with the taps behind him, "so's he."

Athos walks over, and sits on the sofa next to the one Porthos is occupying, his back to the closed-off windows now. "I understand what you mean," he says, quietly. "I know why I couldn't forget myself during that." He looks up at him. "You're here to talk me into your 'circle'."

Guardedly, "Sort of." Porthos already knows that they're taking Athos with them whether he wants to come or not, an affinity without a circle is a 'natural' disaster waiting to happen, neither they nor Treville are willing to leave him alone here. How they're going to extract him if he doesn't want to come is something Porthos is still working out, but now they've actually met him he does know that they have the option of just getting him drunk enough to drag him.

Athos pops the cork from his bottle, pauses with it lifted to his mouth, says, "What does a 'circle' entail, exactly?"

"We balance each other out. You can feel it happening, I can feel how his powers steady mine. When there's all four of us we'll have a lot more control, you won't feel it - pullin', the way it does. You feel that, right?"

Athos lowers the bottle, swallows with a wince, mutters, "Something similar."

Porthos shrugs. "It's easier, once you got a circle. It feels easier. I know this sounds weird to you, it did to me at first, but it's - it feels right. You feel like a jigsaw piece gone in the right place. Like it's - he says like it's meant t'be, but then, he sees the future, he knows all about that crap."

Athos is slow but not unclear; there's dust in the streaks of light managing to invade the room, used glasses and empty bottles on the coffee table, and it's clear that whatever reason he has for being halfway gone before lunch, he's had the reason for longer than just today, and he's already used to operating while wasted. Now he asks, calm if a little unsteady, "What would my being part of your circle entail?"

"We'd need you to come back to the villa to talk to the captain - Treville, the guy who's in charge of us. He's alright, he's a good bloke, he does right by people. You'd help us deal with rifts. It's only fire we'll need after you, so - so if we're lucky, it shouldn't take too long to close the circle off, an' then we're good." He does know what happens afterwards, when they have a sealed circle, it's just that it's always seemed so distant that he can't think about it happening to him. "After that you can retire if you like, you'll have full control of your powers then. Me an' Aramis are gonna keep on tryin' to help rifts. Even if they're not gonna be part of our circle, no reason for people to go through that alone an' die from it. Plus - dunno. Feels right. But you don't have to, you can always, you know, come back here." He looks around. "Maybe get a cleaner in or somethin' first."

"I let all the staff go." He lifts his bottle again, swallows with another grimace. "They make me uncomfortable."

"Guess you better get better at dustin', then."

Athos squints over to the kitchen, behind Porthos' shoulder, then looks a little confused around the full room, face clouding darker as he transfers his narrowing gaze to Porthos again. "Where did your friend go?"

Porthos stares at him, turns and looks around the room -

No Aramis.

Fuck.

He stands up, calls, "Aramis!" but he's already not expecting a reply. "Fuck. Fuck -"

"Where did he go? What is he looking for?"

"It's not like that, he doesn't always know he's doin' it, he just - fuck - wanders off. Aramis!"

Athos is on his feet and angry. "Where would he go?"

"I don't - is there any water around, a river, anythin'? I find him near the water a lot -"

Silence, horrible silence, like Athos is balanced on the edge of something awful. Then, very quietly, "There's a pond."

"Where?"

Athos breathes, slow and sickly, and he's paler now than he's looked before as he turns for the open doorway to the gardens.

*

It's Porthos' job to talk to Athos. It's Aramis' job to endure his brain.

He tries to distract himself in the room, looking at paintings on the wall - he rather likes a small one of a white bowl - running his fingers over the marble of the kitchen worktops, playing with the taps so he can wet the back of his neck where he feels how the sun laid on the skin. He feels something in this house, ever since he woke inside it something oppressive has laid on his mind like a fire blanket, like oil on water forcing his limbs limp.

He lifts his head, sees a shadow flit out of the open doorway, and his heart gives a cold jump of knowing.

His muscles are dragged to follow it.

He doesn't want to go.

No, he pleads, and thinks of praying but he doesn't dare, something terrible has happened here, it's like God can't get in here, the roof and covered windows block out everything but what happened here, this house he suddenly knows is a place of evil and it's already too late. No no no no no no no -

But he knows he has to follow. He knows there is no choice. There is no choice because he's already doing it, while fear twists his heart narrow.

Porthos' voice speaking to Athos is a distant hum, like the edge of the echoes of a bell, but mostly he can hear some low tinnitus, some possessive murmur in the air, the sound of time coming to get him. It's the past that he's following, it's like someone else's footprints take the soles of his boots and outside the sunlight blinds, the sunlight hurts, but he follows their path because he has to. There isn't enough of Aramis, when someone else steps into his mind, to buoy them up and out from his watery depths. His memories are too porous, his future too fluid, and somebody else has his body now.

They walk, Aramis and his ghost, through hellish summer heat, and the aftermath of the episode - or the foreshadowing of what will come next - make him want to curl up into a ball and hide his head in his arms. But then he feels . . .

Some of this fear, some of the inner quaking, is not his. And he understands that it's not footsteps that he's following; he's not the only one being dragged.

Uncertain, blind with light and heat and hurting, he reaches for the ghost, feels for

fear strange breath help fear no no

He breaks surface, staggers, gasps at the ground but the ghost catches him again and begs, begs not to be alone, begs for him to walk his path, begs for him to understand.

same same same

He must have started walking again because he is walking, but he doesn't remember deciding to move.

understand understand

Yes.

No . . .

Under an arch of clematis, beyond roses whose scent assaults him in his hypersensitive state, every flower a wound of overbright colour, every part of the spectrum of light stabbing in like blunt daggers at his eyes. He realises as he walks that he's been speaking to himself in French for some time - struggles to find words in other languages, he's stuck in French - and then he sees the rushes around the pond, and his body flows to it so naturally, it feels so soothing now to let go for the water.

The water lilies are so beautiful, pale and pointed as crowns.

He sees, in the glass of the water, what his ghost wants him to understand; same, same, same, and the water pleads like it reaches up for him, aching to embrace him, keening for him to understand -

His muscles are so exhausted, so heavy, his knees fold as if into prayer.

There is no time to even take a breath.

*

Athos walks fast for a drunk, bottle abandoned in the house, and Porthos strides at his side with agitation alive in every muscle.

Aramis wandering off can mean two things. One is that he has just wandered off because he's so fucking easily distracted and so fucking irresponsible, in which case Porthos will give him a bollocking and drag him back, having shamed Aramis of his own idiocy again. Not, Porthos knows, that it will have the slightest effect on his behaviour in the future.

Two is that Aramis hasn't got a fucking clue where he's going because Aramis isn't present; an episode is walking him around, and that means everything that Porthos and Treville worry about the most, everything that could happen to Aramis without him having a clue of it, everything Aramis could do (he has a gun in his pocket) without knowing a thing about it. If he's got far enough, Porthos is going to have to track him by his alarm. But if he's done as he often does and just headed for the closest body of water, they may be lucky, they might just be lucky enough to get to him before -

(He thinks he's going to die, and not die -)

Athos marches underneath an arch of big pink flowers, strides through more of the gardens -

The first thing they see are his boots, and the cry comes out of Porthos with no intention, no knowledge of where it came from, it might as well have been a bird.

Dry lightning, from nowhere, cracks overhead.

He forgets that Athos exists. He runs and as soon as he's past the rushes and can see him the want to throw up punches him in the stomach: Aramis is face-first in the pond, head down in the water. He plunges clumsily in with one leg, foot slipping in cold mud, lurches Aramis out with water pouring off him, head hanging, mouth open as Porthos clumsily turns him in his arms and drags him out on his knees onto the grass.

"Aramis, Aramis -"

Clouds are knotting overhead and he doesn't know what to do, his eyes are closed and he's unresponsive and how long was he in there, he remembers -

I'm just going to know what my heart not working feels like -

He puts a hand on his chest, and maybe the cold is because of the water, but he can't feel a thing in there, Aramis' chest might as well be a box. He doesn't feel his lungs work, doesn't feel his heart beat, and the noise Porthos makes this time sounds like a wound.

It's Athos who grabs Aramis off him, gets him flat on his back on the grass and puts his ear over his mouth, holding his wrist to feel for his pulse, and after a few seconds hisses what sounds like fury out and begins pressing at his chest, hard, rhythmic, fiercely rapt. There's some strange light of absorption in his eyes, something about the way he's holding his mouth, like trying to make Aramis breathe makes him so angry he can't breathe.

Porthos can't move, can't speak, can't even breathe right himself, every part of him has gone numb, and it's no decision of his muscles that they've started shaking like the air is shaking overhead, summer heat making it querulous and difficult and sticky like anxiety. Athos works away at Aramis' chest with an animal determination and all along Aramis knew he'd live as far as seeing Athos, all along Aramis was giddy for getting to see Athos, and all along they've been walking down this path to his death and neither of them could just make themselves face it -

Aramis turns his head so suddenly, chokes water out and then turns his whole body under Athos' hands so he can heave more out, wretched with it until it turns back into coughing, weak and confused as Porthos' hand finds his cheek, dumb with it all, hand shaking on his face as he says like he doesn't believe it, "Aramis - Aramis -"

Aramis blinks up at him, wet hair plastered to his forehead and dripping over his eyes, and mumbles, "Porthos."

Suddenly it's in him like it'll break him, the want to cry, and what rises out of him instead because it has to is the fury as he hauls him up by his shoulder and roars at him, "What was the first thing you told me, what was the first fucking thing you ever said to me -"

Head jerking as he's dragged, clapping a bewildered hand to it, Aramis says, "'Hello my name is Aramis'?"

"You told me you couldn't drown you bastard, you said to me you couldn't drown -"

"Porthos, cálmate, you know not to listen to me, what do I know . . . ?"

He pulls back a little, staring at him, he still feels wild but he teeters now on the pillow's sweet edge of sheer relief -

Athos grabs Aramis' t-shirt and drags him to face him instead.

"What the hell were you doing, what the hell did you think you were doing -"

Aramis blinks at Athos as if he's not remotely afraid of this stranger who practically has him by the throat and says like they're both being very unfair, "Everyone's shouting at me today."

Athos shakes him hard by the front of his t-shirt and barks, "What the fuck did you think you were doing-?"

"Someone died in there," Aramis says, breathing slow and a little harsh like it hurts, but quite calm, the calmest of the three of them now. "Non? Someone drowned in that pond. He brought me out here, he wanted me to understand. He walked me to it and put me into it, because he wanted me to know."

Athos' grip has gone loose, and his eyes have too, they've gone somewhere else while he stares at Aramis' face and seems to have forgotten how to breathe.

"Athos," Aramis says quietly, and touches his arm. "Athos, tell us what happened, please. We want to help. Because he - whoever died in there - he was like me. He was water affinity. He was water affinity and he wanted me to know -"

Athos whispers, "What did he tell you?"

Aramis shakes his head, and holds his arm. "It wasn't like that. I didn't understand it like that. I need you to tell me the rest of it because it won't make sense until you do, but I know - I know how he died, and I know that -" Something in his eyes, and he turns his head to look at Porthos. "I know that water affinities don't drown unless someone makes them."

Athos can't seem to take his eyes off him. Porthos reaches out - it's not exactly protectiveness or possessiveness, seeing another man holding him like that; he just wants to touch him, puts a hand on his shoulder and Aramis twitches a smile for him, and Athos whispers, "I need a drink."

*

They fetch the whisky, and three glasses; the first thing Aramis does is rinse his mouth of the taste of pond water and spit into a flower bed. They don't sit by the pond, Athos can't stand to be near it, edgy and itchy the whole time it's within sight. Instead, since the sky has cleared mellow again, they sit on the iron chairs around the patio table on the sun-warmed tiles where they first met him, Porthos and Aramis together and a little damp, Athos sitting with his bottle opposite them, rubbing his forehead and staring at his glass.

He drains it in one, and then refills it.

He says to the glass, "My brother, Thomas. I found him there."

Aramis touches Porthos' side, because he's not allowed to casually touch Athos yet and he understands that, and says quietly, "I'm so sorry."

Athos swallows, and stares at his glass. "The autopsy said he'd drowned. But it didn't make sense - why he was even there - and I thought the marks on the grass didn't look like he'd walked to the pond." He turns the glass, the raises it and murmurs over it, "It looked like he'd been dragged."

He drinks half the glass's contents, and puts it down again.

Aramis looks to the side, and remembers his ghost; he remembers -

God in heaven. He remembers being dragged.

"Yes," he says quietly, his mind in the water again.

Athos looks at him, hard. "Who dragged him?"

Knowledge flickers in him, the frailest candle flame he has to shield in his hands, it doesn't work how people think it works. Little clues jolt it out of him, he knows things in sudden disconnected ways, he can't control it, Athos knows how broken this circle is . . .

But he says, because he does know this, "You know who."

Athos looks at his glass again, and something moves in his eyes, but apart from that he's still. Porthos resettles himself in his seat, uncomfortable with the silence and with his own squelching trainer. Aramis nudges his shoulder soft off his.

"My girlfriend," Athos says, quietly, and then closes his eyes. "My fiancée. I asked her the night before . . ." His voice fades, and he looks across at the flowers, the hedgerows sweet with summer. "She disappeared sometime after dinner, when she came back she said she'd needed to take a walk to 'make herself believe that this was really happening'." His face; Aramis doesn't look away but God knows he wants to. "She looked," Athos says, voice hushed with hate, "so happy."

He empties his glass, and fills it again. "I found Thomas the next morning."

Porthos shifts again, says, "Why would she kill him?"

Athos' eyes are dark on his drink, and bleak behind the dark. "I don't know." he says, rough and low. "After the funeral - when I had tried not to but I finally couldn't deny that the doubt was the truth, when I finally confronted her - we argued, she lied, I knew she lied, and it became -" He doesn't look at them - "- violent. And then it turned out that - that I am like the two of you, as you say."

"Your rift broke."

He nods, slowly, to his drink. "What's worse," he says, quietly, "is that she is just like us too. Like me, specifically." His voice turns black with bitterness and he adds before he takes a drink, "Exactly like me."

Understanding is like the cool of water, so sudden and definite; "Oh," Aramis breathes. Athos glances at him, and Aramis closes his eyes. "Thomas' rift broke. My episodes -" He looks at Porthos, and sees Porthos' understanding in his eyes; Aramis' episodes were so unendingly horrible because it wasn't only Athos' rift breaking that triggered them, two rifts broke at this house. "It often happens, with siblings, Louis and Christine in the last completed circle were brother and sister. His rift broke and he must have known about her affinity, he must have known too much, and somehow she found out, perhaps it was happening in front of her, water rifts come slowly, and when she realised what he knew . . ."

Athos looks at him, and something shudders in him. He takes another hard gulp of alcohol and says bluntly, "She killed him."

Athos closes his eyes, takes a breath. "When my 'rift' broke, we fought." he says, and holds his glass hard. "She was better with her powers and she was dangerous, but I felt like I was drowning in power, nothing could stop me. So I cracked the ground underneath her and closed it again over her. She's dead." He looks at them now, sunken blue eyes like bruises in his face. "I've been waiting ever since for someone to come, for someone to miss her, the police, anything. But no-one has. Not until you two."

Aramis knows things, never can explain how he knows what he knows when he doesn't know other things, but he knows this. "Can you show us," he whispers, and has to wet his lips. "Where you . . ."

Athos breathes through his nose, looking at him so intensely, and Porthos' arm shifts under his hand. "Why do you want to see it?"

He feels strange and giddy, like angels flit dangerous around his brain. "Because - Athos I'm sorry - I'm sorry, Athos - because only one person has died here." He puts a hand to his head, his brain feels like it's trying to expand, trying to pulse out somehow through the closed hands of his skull. He wets his lips again. "She's not dead."

Athos stares at him. Porthos says, quietly, "You sure?"

"Por supesto. Would I do this to Athos if I wasn't sure?"

"She's dead." Athos says, holding his glass so hard the tendons stand out white in his hand. "I killed her. I crushed her. She's dead."

"Please, Athos, just show us - please -"

Athos stares at him, breathing tight, like he's the one who today learned how to drown.

He walks them around the house, to a different area of its enormous gardens. "I sent away all the gardeners." Athos says, walking hard, fists squeezing and squeezing at his sides. "I didn't want them to - I didn't want anybody here. But I didn't want them to see this."

Already the grass is mangled underfoot, like the earth choked beneath it.

It must have been an orchard before, the trees ruined now, listed on their unwieldy roots grasping at sky and tufts of grass. The wreckage - something crunches under his boot and Aramis, still with a hand to his bowling ball head, looks down; he's walking on cracked spikes of metal, much thinner and frailer and flakier than that copper lance Athos threatened Porthos with. He must have dragged together minerals out of the earth, formed these things as best he could, his powers - what will his powers be when he has a circle - ?

He walks them to the worst of it, where earth and risen rock and sundered grass show the split, show the violence done to the ground and the clumsiness of how it was forced half-healed again. "Here." Athos says, and his hands are fists and his eyes hurt to look at. "Here. You're standing on her grave."

Aramis remembers the pond crying out to him with its memories of the death visited upon it, the way it hummed with the hurt done in it. He hears nothing from the ground beneath his feet. The earth here is bloodless, innocent, silent. No-one is buried underneath them, and Athos is not a murderer.

Porthos puts a hand on his back, which means that he looks like he needs it. He swallows, and meets Athos' eye, and says as calmly as he can, "There is no body, Athos. The tomb is empty, and it is not the miracle of Our Lord. This is no grave because she never died. I'm sorry."

"You're gonna have to believe him," Porthos says at his back. "Things he sees are never wrong. I'd bet on him every single time."

Athos stares at him, eyes wild with fury, livid pale with it, and he stares at the broken ground beneath their feet, and his breath hisses out of him like a snarl -

Aramis feels the first unsteadiness and grabs for Porthos' arm, and Porthos pulls him back alarmed. The ground wrenches as they retreat, splits with a hiss of falling grit, groans open again in front of them as Athos just stands on the moving earth like it's nothing to him, like he rides it as nothing more unusual than an escalator -

The movement stops. Bits of gravel drop with little dusty bounces down the sides of the small ravine. In the orchard a tree, finally shaken too much, creaks and with a crash and shiver of its leaves drops to its side.

Athos steps forward, takes a deep breath, and looks into the pit.

"Athos," Aramis says weakly.

Athos says, "That is not my name."

Porthos, ever practical, says, "Is there a body?"

Aramis is beginning to tremble in Porthos' grip - oh, he will pay for the clarity of these understandings with some vicious episodes later, and he knows it - and says, "Athos, is there even any blood?"

He's breathing hard. "I saw her fall. I closed the earth over her. I crushed her like a can."

"Athos, you said that she was earth affinity too."

"I killed her."

"Athos -"

"That is not my name."

Aramis concentrates on breathing; his head feels heavy, dull, perforated in some strange way, the late afternoon air is blowing dust in through his brain . . .

Athos says to the bared, broken earth, "I killed her. I saw her die. I killed her."

"Forgive me," he says, and his mouth is as dry as the dirt. "No, Athos. You did not."

His knees are giving out. Porthos, who has him by his elbows, begins lowering him to the ground.

"I remembered another thing wrong with him," Porthos says, helping Aramis to sag in his kneel, panting dazed at the ground and feeling the edge of the episode press hard enough to bruise into his brain. Porthos rubs his back and begins working open the cuff at his wrist, and says quietly, "He's always fucking right."

Athos says nothing, staring at the rift in the earth. Aramis looks at the sky - there's a touch of gold to the blue, the sunset if he wakes to see it will be beautiful - and pats over his shoulder for Porthos' hand, because he knows it's going to be a bad one.

Porthos' fingers close around his, and Aramis lets his head hang, says, "Athos -"

"Gonna need you to help hold him this time." Porthos says, taking Aramis' body and putting him, gently but firmly, onto his side. He offers the cuff for Aramis' teeth. "Gonna be a bad one."

Cheek to the grass, scent of leather and open earth making him feel high, he can hear his own breathing so loud it could deafen him -

The last thing he sees, as Porthos cradles his head into his lap, is Athos crouching uneasily in front of him, and then Aramis knows that he's safe.

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