rainjoyswriting: (kurt!)
[personal profile] rainjoyswriting
The Opposite of Lethe part 2, The Little Mystic and His Handler; Musketeers fic, affinityverse (best catalogued in my memories) <3

Disclaimer: It's more like taking out a library book than having written the original text; not mine -_-;

Rating: R \o/

Warnings and spoilers: The main list's on part one, read sensibly, you know what to expect by now; Athos is *Athos*, we get some very self-destructive shit when we're dealing with that character. Also drink driving is beyond evil. Fucking don't. Ever. Thank you.

Summary: It will make a change to drink in company.


Note: This part's title from a song by Dessa, from an album I've been using quite heavily for Aramis' side of the music for this thing and I don't know why because it's a pretty angry album and *if* that character is angry, you would honestly never know; lyrics are good for him, though (Porthos always gets soul music, of course, of the finest kind <3). And sorry this is late, hell of a week, and undergraduate exams mean that postgrads get snowed under with marking, ackgh. I will hopefully soon have a moment to reply to comments, shame-faced that I'm so late, *sorry* <3






He wakes as he does, now, like something stuck to the pillow with grime and grief, like something leaden and aching and gross, unwanted by all of the world and most of all by himself, like a body in the bed. For some time he concentrates on breathing, and hasn't yet enough coherency even to curse having to wake for one more morning. Then he remembers his houseguests, and opens his eyes.

He hasn't opened the curtains in his bedroom since it happened, though in sunlight this bright even they can't hide the worst of the destruction - the broken picture frames wherever her face appeared, the half-bottle of wine he launched at the wall and left there, the empty bottles abandoned where they abandoned him. He squints across at the bedside table - twenty-seven minutes past eight, the clock tells him, hideous time to be awake - but there's a third of a bottle of Armagnac there too, so there is some sense and mercy left in this vicious, barren world.

One mouthful down and he breathes easier, until he remembers that Anne is alive.

The pain is beginning to reassert itself now that he's halfway awake but coldness overtakes it, running through his bones like ice water, his fingers almost let the bottle go. Anne is alive. Anne is still alive. The only thing Olivier had to do and he couldn't even -

He would smash this bottle too but he just fucking needs the drink too much.

He rubs a hand over his face, breathes in hard, lets it out shaking and his shifting muscles wake the pain. He swallows two more mouthfuls of brandy like it's medicine and knows that he ought to check on his 'guests'. Manners as much as suspicion dictate that.

As soon as he can work up the energy to even wish to continue living, as soon as he can manage the unbearable weight of his body and all of life, he is going to stand up.

The skinny smiling one, the tall determined one. Porthos, he remembers first, taking another, slower swallow of brandy, and 'Aramis' comes quickly after that. Strange names, though they insist on referring to him as 'Athos' as well, strange names seem to have some attraction to them. The tall one is certainly English, the skinny one Latin American but he speaks perfect French and English, just a little accented. They spoke to each other in a jumble of English and Spanish, and when Olivier offered them beds for the night (they may have invited themselves in but once Olivier offered them a shower to get the pond water off them and a room for the night, good manners necessarily became involved, and now for the sake of his father's stiff ghost he has to go see to them) Porthos, hand on Aramis' head where he sat dazed on the floor from another spasming seizure, said they'd only need the one.

Olivier can't work out if they're a couple. Perhaps Porthos just knew that Aramis couldn't be left alone in the night, but they gave him an incredulous look when he suggested calling for an ambulance, like he was quite mad; "They're only episodes," Aramis said, hands over his head as if trying to stop something crawling out of it, eyes squinted against the single lamp he'd lit in the dark. "It's this house. I'll be fine once we leave."

Olivier takes another slow breath, still working himself up to standing. He fell asleep on the bed in his clothes, again, so he ought to change at least - he ought to wash, he has guests - but removing his shirt would mean facing her locket, and again it clenches in him like frost in his veins, Anne isn't dead. He didn't kill her. Anne is alive somewhere out there, everything she did but she lives on to pour more poison into everything good in this world, she lives -

She lives, and this past week since the mockery of her 'death', Olivier has barely counted as surviving.

He takes a very cold shower, finds some clothing not yet crumpled, and goes to deal with his guests.

*

They're not in the room he showed them to, the green room, though the bed has been slept on, and the door left open. He can only hope that they haven't gone wandering through the house, empty and dust-sheeted as it is now, because it could take some time to find them. Though, given Aramis' apparent proclivity for wandering off - Porthos tends to him like an exasperated mother cat - the house is one of the less lethal places he could have gone.

The thought of the body in the pond jolts it again, the pain, the twist; he takes another drink.

They're in the TV lounge where they spent a little of last night, talking when Aramis wasn't thrashing, passed out or panting in Porthos' lap. Olivier has some sympathy for strange powers that can do that to a man, he has to live with what his own do to him (every footstep hurts, every raise of his arm for the bottle), and he approves of Aramis' matter of fact attitude towards it - not just uncomplaining but not even embarrassed, which is a stage Olivier himself has yet to reach. For now he squints in the light of the open door onto the gardens, at the two heads close together on the sofa in front of the dead television, turning to him.

"Mornin'," Porthos says, in his ever-guarded voice.

"¿Durmái bien?" Aramis says, and smiles at him.

Olivier needs to lean on something to keep from swaying, and there's nothing nearby to lean on, so he just sways. "How long have you been awake?"

Porthos rubs his face, says bluntly, "Since four. We can't stay here, it's killin' him."

"Nothing quite so dramatic," Aramis says with a smile for Olivier, and touches Porthos' shoulder. "I'm getting some air."

"Do I have t'tie your wrist to the door handle?"

Aramis stands, taking his hat from the back of the sofa. "If I feel another urge to inventively kill myself I'll let you know first." He glances a smile to Olivier again, tips his hat for him, and heads, a little wobbly himself, out onto the patio. Olivier can smell coffee, which is so distracting that he can't think about unnecessary courtesies right now, and staggers towards the coffee machine in the kitchen instead.

Porthos stands up and walks over, folds his arms as Olivier puts the bottle down and almost knocks it over, rights it with a fumble and leans on the cupboard with the cups in it for a moment just to get his balance. Porthos says, "We gotta get out of here. He can't stop, it's this fuckin' house, too much bad shit's happened here, I've never seen him like this -"

"You're quite welcome to leave," Olivier says, managing to both open the cupboard and keep to his feet, quite a triumph.

Porthos shakes his head. "You're comin' with us. There's a village up the road, right? We should go get breakfast - no way in hell I can get him to eat anythin' here - an' talk stuff through more."

Olivier holds a cup up for him and Porthos shrugs an affirmation, and Olivier pours two cups of coffee with minimal spillage. "What more do we need to talk through?"

Porthos dumps sugar in his coffee and says, "Just in case you didn't know, your milk turned to yoghurt an' piss about a week ago already. We need to talk about you comin' with us back to the villa." He takes a sip of coffee, then grins at him, piratical rather than merely happy, making something of a lie of his next words. "I'd rather not have t'actually drag your arse out of here."

Olivier leans back against the counter, legs shaky with pain, with not enough and too much alcohol, with the morning. "Why exactly would I come with you?"

"Because," Porthos says, smile gone, in an angrily level voice like Olivier's irrationality is irritating to him, "your powers are gonna fuck around with you an' eventually kill you if you don't come with us, same as ours would on our own. 'cause you're too dangerous without a circle t'be left on your own anyway so it's our duty to bring you in with us. 'cause he's not gonna last if we don't get this fucking circle closed someday soon, those things are gonna finish him off whether he believes it or not." He takes another sip of coffee to make himself pause, to make himself be calm, and then nods out of the open doorway. "An 'cause he's already seen that we take you back with us, an' things not happenin' the way he sees it could rip his brain right open, so you're comin' back with us if I have to break both your arms an' drag you by the legs, no offence."

"I would doubt your ability to bring me in against my will," Olivier says, "but none taken." He looks to the open doorway, where on patio tiles mottled by drying water - it must have rained in the night, though it's another clear hot day out there now - Aramis is sitting with his knees hunched, and hat pulled down hard over his eyes against the sun.

"Just come get breakfast with us. When was the last time you had a proper meal? Fridge is full of six different kinds of mould."

Olivier very much resents being mothered in any capacity, and looks away from him, but keeps his voice steady. "Alcohol has calories in it."

"Look, we're not leavin' without you, an' he's fucking coming apart at the seams here. Come with us to the village, we c'n talk about the rest when we're out of here -"

Olivier remembers Aramis last night, waking in Porthos' lap panting and distressed again, speaking to him in quick pained Spanish before he calmed once more, found himself again, looked to Olivier with another apologetic smile. Now he sits out there on the patio, arms folded over his knees and face hidden in their dark cave, and Olivier knows what suffering is because every bone in his body screams its need at him like malice.

But the village, he hasn't shown his face there since the funeral, and the Comte just turning up with two random foreigners after the last two weeks, Thomas, the police, the funeral, all the staff being let go, and now going back . . . he didn't go into the village often before his life ended, his father always said they made the villagers uncomfortable, and now he's to go as this?

He looks down at himself, and he does feel the empty clench of his stomach, and he knows there's nothing but perhaps a packet of nuts and jar of olives left to eat here. And he thinks, Your life has ended. You're not the Comte as they knew. Why shouldn't you be different, now that the whole world is different?

"Athos, c'mon, fucksake." Porthos says.

"Fine." Athos says, and drains his cup in one. "Let me find my keys."

*

When he opens the garage door, Aramis raises impressed eyebrows, and Porthos says, "What is that?"

Athos says, "It's my car."

It's a 1962 Austin Healey 3000 Mark II four seater convertible painted a custom shade of metallic royal blue. But they don't need to know that.

Porthos says, "You're not driving."

Athos narrows his eyes at him. "And why would I not be driving?"

"With all the love in the world, Athos," Aramis says gently, and slips it from his hand even as he speaks, "you're carrying a bottle of brandy right now."

Athos looks at his empty hand, for too long, before he takes a breath. "Oh." And then, aiming the keys mostly straight at each of them in turn as Porthos cocks an eyebrow and Aramis puts the bottle on the shelf by the gardener's hose giving him an amused look back, "Don't get any ideas. Neither of you are ever driving that car."

Aramis shrugs. "No estoy ni ahi. I can't drive."

Porthos just gives him a look that says, Like you could stop me, posh boy.

"So how do we get there," Athos says, since they're being so tedious, "if none of us can drive?"

Aramis glances at Porthos, grins. Porthos says, "We walk."

"We walk?"

"S'how we got here in the first place."

Aramis pats Athos on the back, and begins pushing him back out of the garage again. "It's hardly even two miles. A gentle stroll on a beautiful day. Walk some of the alcohol off."

He doesn't want to walk the fucking alcohol off, but Porthos is already closing the garage door behind them, and Aramis snags the keys from Athos' hand before he's really aware that he's done it, tossing them easily over his shoulder for Porthos to catch and lock the garage. And then they seem to be walking to the village, and Athos didn't actually intend for any of this to happen.

The sun is a lethal bastard from hell, unholy bright, livid orange through the eyelids. "You should have brought your hat," Aramis chides, and Athos thinks, What hat? but Porthos is at his other side now, saying something in Spanish across Athos to Aramis, who rolls his eyes a grin and replies as fluid-quick and easy as water. Athos does have some Spanish, his family have a villa just outside Barcelona (the English have ruined the entire south coast of Spain), and he knows that they're probably speaking Spanish specifically so he doesn't understand them but he really doesn't understand them. It's not just the speed Aramis speaks at because Porthos, after all, is slower, but still has that strange accent with its swallowed consonants making words hard to make out - he must have learned from Aramis. So Athos can catch words, sometimes, but not the meaning, which is really just irritating when two people are quite literally speaking over the top of your own bowed head.

("You okay?" Porthos says, and Aramis looks too amused, says, "I'm fine, Porthos, now we're away from that hellish house. You may have noticed, by the way, it may not entirely have escaped your attention, that I'm not dead?"

Porthos shrugs, more moody than anything. "Yeah. So?"

"So maybe,"
flit of his eyes to hold steady on his, "maybe we can stop obsessing about that now? Because now we have an earth affinity, everything's so exciting I don't want to miss a minute of it. Where would I go, leaving you alone with Athos? It's the three of us, it's always been meant to be the three of us -"

"You don't have to crow about it."

"Not being dead?"

"The rest of us manage not to make a fucking song and dance about it."

"The rest of you haven't had an air affinity leaning over their shoulder insisting that they must hurry up and die soon for
months."

"The rest of us put up with a lot already."

"We're being rude to Athos."

"You're rude to everyone."

"That's slander, you're lucky I don't demand satisfaction for that. I am courtesy personified."
)

"We've been looking for you for months," Aramis says to him, suddenly in English again, still smiling. "We followed you to Cambridge but we must have missed you, sorry."

He keeps his head down, the sun is evil. "How long exactly have you been stalking me for?"

"You were the one invading my head at every possible opportunity, actually."

"Why aren't you in England?" Porthos says. "We always thought we'd find you back there."

He walks, trudges, through the glare and the heat and their incessant insistence on conversation. "The summer in England is miserable. Of course I come home when I can."

"This is 'home'? Aren't you British?"

"Of course I'm not British." What a revolting suggestion.

Porthos is giving him a look, says in a voice even with anger, "So why the whiny posh boy accent, then?"

Athos sighs, hard and weary, and wishes very badly that he'd been co-ordinated enough to have recaptured the Armagnac for this walk. "My grandmother was English, my father wanted me to have the same great English public school education that he'd had. Which meant boarding school from age seven. The food was certainly an education."

"What were you doing in Cambridge?" Aramis says, clearly before Porthos can jump in with what very well might just be a punch judging by his face and fists.

"My Masters." Athos says. "I should be writing my dissertation now."

He should be working, he should be engaged to be married to the woman he wanted to be beside forever, with a still-breathing little brother and his entire life so obvious ahead of him. Instead he's walking along a too-hot road with two idiots he doesn't know and only half-trusts, no older than the freshers and twice as unpredictable. Is this really better than just drinking himself to a quiet death back home?

. . . 'back home' now feels so violated to him that he understands why Aramis is walking easy now it's at his back and fast disappearing, after an entire night of lurching seizures. Athos isn't psychic but he certainly feels the evil visited upon that place. Walking in a straight line is difficult, the sun is difficult, their cretinous conversation is difficult but, yes. This is better than being there. Anything is better than being there.

He just needs a drink, as it crawls into his bones, thumps up his legs with every leaden step, he just needs a drink . . .

He walks, with the psychic and his glowering bodyguard, or, he thinks as he remembers that gun aimed clean at his face, the advocate and his bodyguard; he remembers how reasonable Porthos had seemed yesterday, speaking through the slosh of whisky surrounding Athos' brain, making him believe in all of this. Because after Thomas died, after he knew that Anne had murdered him, after that fight, everything had been so insane, everything had gone so utterly beyond all sense, why should he believe in any of it, his powers, their powers, his memories, anything at all? But Porthos made it seem to make sense, made it something he could translate out of brutality and madness and meaninglessness. And now . . .

Athos risks the light for a tip of his head, to glance at Porthos out of the corner of his eye. He's walking heavily, working his jaw, eyes on the road.

"What a beautiful day," Aramis says airily, "it used to be."

There are clouds on the horizon; when Athos squints at them, he sees them grey-yellow and ugly, a storm rolling in. Aramis gives Porthos an ironic look; Porthos looks away, and looks even angrier.

"I can't work out," Aramis says to Athos in French, "if he's annoyed because I'm not dead or because you aren't."

"I can to fuck understand you,"
Porthos snaps at him, and Aramis beams.

"Oh good, I thought you couldn't in the slightest for a moment. Why all this? You know I like it when it's warm!" He waves an arm at the clouds gathering. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong."

"We have a new member of our circle and you're being very rude to him."

"I didn't agree to join your circle," Athos points out, and they were annoying enough before they started giving him a headache too.

"He hasn't agreed to anythin' yet." Porthos snaps, in a tone of voice that makes Athos feel an irrational desire to sign up there and then just to spite him.

"The two of you, qué lataaa. Porthos, why are you -"

"For fuckin' once in your life could you leave somethin' alone, Aramis -"

"Porthos-"

"Fuck sake."

Porthos marches off ahead; Aramis stops walking, and stares after him, and couldn't have looked more hurt and bewildered if Porthos had slapped him first. Athos stops walking somewhere between the two of them, it takes him a while to remind his legs to stop plodding on.

Porthos slows, and Aramis keeps on staring at his back like an abandoned puppy, and Athos is just too slow and tired to work out if they are a couple.

Porthos stops, and his broad shoulders rise and then fall with one slow sigh.

He turns back, walks to Aramis who just thumps his body gracelessly into his, face hidden in his shoulder, more of a full-body-lean than a hug, while Porthos puts a hand in his hair and his face goes tight. Aramis mumbles into his chest in Spanish, and Porthos sighs, again.

("You and I will never change. Not us. Not this. Steady as the sun in my sky."

Aramis will always feel the nervy edge of being left behind, again. For Porthos, perhaps, it's just this, change, just change, upheaval again in a life of constant broken shifting never-dependable unpredictability. Porthos has been shunted from foster home to foster home, institution to institution, the only things he's ever been given to rely on are Aramis and the captain and now everything's changing again but Aramis catches his free hand and lifts it to place it over his own heart, watches his eyes so urgently: not this and never this. This will never change. If Porthos was just afraid of change -

- no.

The person Porthos needed the most died a long time ago. Of course Aramis was never going to let himself die. Who would look after Porthos, then?)

Aramis pulls Porthos back to Athos by the hand, smiling again, and Athos doesn't know if a clear head actually would make working them out any easier. Aramis seems to be very insistent about physical contact with anybody he's near, and perhaps that's simply rubbed off on Porthos, after however long they've known each other, impossible to tell by their level of physical affection if they're more than friends. But Aramis pats him on the back to start him walking again without letting go of Porthos' hand, and Porthos says wearily, "Whatever he tells you, sleepin' with Aramis isn't actually compulsory for joinin' this circle."

"But it is encouraged," Aramis says happily, shaking Porthos' hand as he walks.

Perhaps that answers the question. Perhaps not. Either way, this is going to be a very long walk.

*

Athos has no idea how long the walk takes; by the end of it his bones grind so hard against each other that he can almost hear them, is struggling to walk in a straight line, this is so much worse than being drunk, sobriety is hell. They pass the church at the edge of the village and Athos is trying to avoid thinking about Thomas's grave but Aramis turns his head to watch it pass, almost like he's admiring the architecture, brows low with thought.

Porthos, walking much more mellow now with his hands in his pockets, says, "What?"

"Now I can speak French I can go to confession." Aramis' mouth twists. "I'll be there all day."

Athos, trying to distract himself from the way his bones twist in their sockets, grits out, "'Now' you can speak French?"

"I woke up able to do this a few days ago," Aramis says in French, barely accented at all, with a little grin at him, "imperfect subjunctive and all. I'm aware of how unfair it is."

Porthos mutters in slower, more uneasy French, "Very to fuck unfair."

Aramis and pats his back. "You're a quicker learner than me anyway, you'll catch up. In a way it is very fair, you learn so much faster than me -"

"You're not makin' any friends here, huevón."

"I woke up speaking English some years ago because my affinity knew I would need it for Porthos," Aramis says to Athos, and shrugs. "A few days ago I woke up speaking French, for you. My powers already know how important you are to us."

Athos murmurs, "I have agreed to nothing yet."

"Yet," Aramis repeats, and looks around. "Pretty village."

Athos blinks, squints in the morning light to take in the stone houses leading them down to the square, and the village's single café with its flowers in the windows. He grunts. It probably is; he just can't think around the pain right now. A car passes and Athos purposefully doesn't look at it, doesn't want to know if anyone is looking out of it at him; he walks instead directly to the café, because as soon as he gets there he can sit, he can drink. Everything hurts, every joint feels set all wrong, like ball bearings chafing the insides of metal bowls, like he should be able to hear them. A girl walking a dog freezes on the pavement in front of them and Athos ignores her eyes and just keeps on walking; Aramis tips his hat for her with a little smile, and her face turns from startled pale to startled red almost instantly.

Athos ignores the seating outside the café where a couple of old men look up from their conversation and one nods, uncertainly, and he doesn't meet his eyes; he heads into the shade of the café itself, and the man behind the counter looks up from his newspaper only slowly, and then very suddenly.

Athos is rescued from having to work out what the fuck to say by Aramis - of all people; utterly unreliable and apparently conceptually unable to take anything seriously but he takes his hat off and is so naturally so polite, smiling as he checks in French if it's okay if they sit - ? Thank you, m'sieur, so very much, thank you, beautiful day, n'est-ce pas?

They order breakfast - brunch, by now - and three cups of coffee, and Athos just can't bear it, his bones are scraping rust off themselves at every joint, he can't bear it. He requests a glass of Cognac - and glances at the other two, and they look at each other, and Porthos shrugs - three glasses of Cognac, alongside their food. It arrives with the coffee.

It will make a change to drink in company.

"Bit early for it," Porthos says, but not like he disapproves, curiosity more than anything. Athos is aware of how strange a specimen he must be to them. God knows they're strange enough to him.

"We're celebrating." Aramis says cheerfully. "Three quarters of a circle, it's worth celebrating, ¿cachai?"

"I have not agreed to join your little circle," Athos points out, but Porthos just smirks and lifts his glass, like the both of them know better.

"Cheers."

"Santé," Aramis says with a grin, and they clink glasses and then assault Athos' glass with theirs until he just uncurls his fingers and lets them have their way.

He tries to drink it slowly. He tries not to be greedy. But his bones ache and ache, not a moment's peace since - since -

He has a name for it, now. Since his rift broke. It's been this ever since his rift broke, this, the physical manifestation of what steeps his mind every moment of consciousness anyway. He drinks because he has to, not to forget, not when all it does is remind him of what his life is now.

And meanwhile, from another universe at the other side of the café table, Aramis sips his coffee, elbows propped off the table and eyes out of the doorway, lazily thoughtful on the day, and Porthos is looking at the brandy in his glass, eyebrows a little raised, thinking something through.

"Funny," he says, and Aramis lifts his head slightly, turns to look at him, "where life takes you."

Aramis glances at the ceiling, grins. "Indeed, huevón. We've come far."

"You're English," Athos murmurs to Porthos, anything to think of anything but the agony of his bones.

"South London." Porthos says, like the South part is very important.

Athos gives Aramis a long look, and Aramis smiles inscrutable and smug right back. He's not going to help him, he really is that much of a bastard that he'd rather see Athos squirm, so he gives up, says, "Argentina?"

He tilts his mouth, nodding slowly. "Bastante bien, pretty close. Chile. Santiago, until I was fourteen."

Athos just sits, waiting for more explanation if it's going to come, too tired and frankly not caring enough over the grinding of his bones to request it for himself. And Aramis grins, like he understands him exactly and doesn't mind in the slightest.

"I've been in France since then, dealing with other people's rifts. Porthos joined me two years ago." He rolls his head to lay on his own shoulder to look devotedly across at Porthos, who narrows his eyes back. "Light of my life."

Porthos rolls his eyes to Athos, says, "Longer you're without a circle, worse you get. Seen him get pretty fuckin' bad, you want to join us, believe me."

"You're exaggerating, I'm fine."

"Don't even fucking start, Aramis, you'd be dead if you'd still been alone now. An' if it wasn't for him I'd be tearin' this place down with the wind, everything -" He stops, and works his jaw, and Aramis watches him close and sad. "Everything I feel, the sky does. But it's not as bad with him, an' I can feel that. Can feel his powers proppin' mine up. Wouldn't last long without him." He looks down at his glass, turning it so the brandy circles inside it. "An' I'd take too many people with me when I went."

That jogs a memory in him, a suddenly very urgent memory, and Athos says, "Why does he have a gun?"

Almost simultaneously Porthos says, "'cause he's the better shot." and Aramis says, "Because someone is trying to kill us." and they look at each other, grin, before Porthos glances uneasily to the empty counter - but the owner is in the kitchens, they're alone to discuss murder and guns, even if anyone speaks English to understand it.

"He won't eavesdrop, even if he did speak English." Athos says, and drains his glass, he can't help it.

"Because he's a gentleman?"

"Because my family owns most of this village. It earns a certain respect."

Aramis says, and his eyes on Athos look - it makes Athos nervous - like they care, "How much family do you have?"

Athos hesitates, then puts the empty glass back on the table, admits quietly, "I suppose I own most of the village, then."

Porthos glances at Aramis, then down at his glass again. "Neither of us have anyone either," he murmurs. "My mum died years ago, he never even knew his."

"I like to think that she had her reasons for her choices." Aramis says calmly, and reaches across to touch the side of Athos' hand on his glass. "Ath-"

He jerks back with a start like Athos' skin scalds, and Athos jerks back himself in shock, thank god his glass was empty as he jolts it, stares at Aramis who stares right back, eyes wide with surprise, before he touches his own hand and murmurs something in low Spanish. He flicks his eyes back up to Athos', breathes, slowly, and finally says very quietly, "It's always like that?"

Porthos, who went stiff at Aramis' start, looks between them and says guardedly, "Like what?"

Athos lets his breath out through his nose, and understands - fuck, he's psychic, and it's the first time he's ever touched his bare flesh - what secret is now broken, and out in the air, and can never be stuffed down under its rock again. His teeth hurt with their want to clench.

There is no point in guarding a secret already lost.

He says, "Unless I've drunk enough, yes."

Aramis stares at him, then looks down and empties his almost untouched glass into Athos', which surprises him but is really too welcome to refuse. "What?" Porthos says, confused, and Aramis closes his eyes, sighs, then looks back to Athos. "Would you like to explain it?"

Athos swallows another mouthful of brandy, says to it like he doesn't care, "I don't know if I can."

Aramis tilts his mouth, and looks at the ceiling for a second, gathering thoughts from the sky. "My episodes are unpleasant," he says, eventually (Porthos' breath comes out hard at 'unpleasant'). "Your feelings create a deeply unpredictable microclimate in your immediate area. His powers -" He looks at Athos, and looks so sad in the eyes, and Athos makes a point of not looking back. "- hurt."

Porthos is looking at him now, and Athos is studying the wall, taking another drink.

"Your bones," Aramis says, and rubs his own wrist uneasily. "Is it -" He lets his breath out through his teeth. "I don't know. Is there metal in a skeleton, is it that you can feel it - ?"

"I don't know." Athos says, and wishes they weren't having this conversation. But Aramis is thinking, and it's Porthos he looks at while he does that, before he speaks, slow with his own coming to understand this.

"Imagine if you could feel what every cell in your body was made of," he says. "Imagine if you could feel that."

Porthos twists his mouth like that's gross. "Okay."

"Now imagine that they all hurt."

Athos says, "It's not that-"

Porthos says, "You don't think your liver'd thank you if you went with painkillers over booze?"

"They don't have the same effect." Athos says, and makes himself put his glass down, makes himself. And then teeters and gives up, on the edge of what he can actually admit to the two of them he just falls over, he hasn't the strength or any reason left to fight. "And I don't trust myself with having that quantity of painkillers to hand."

Drink never has made him forget. All it's ever made it is endurable.

Silence, until Aramis reaches across, touches and then takes his hand like he doesn't care if it's going to hurt; it doesn't seem to, anyway, as he squeezes Athos' fingers. "I'm not saying we'll stop it hurting." he says, quietly, eyes close on his. "That won't happen until we have a full circle, a closed circle. But we'll make it more bearable, Athos. We'll make your powers more bearable to you and we'll just help you bear it. That's what a circle is."

Athos needs them to talk about something else, tugs his hand free and rubs his forehead with thumb and fingers and his eyes squinted closed, and remembers something very important before all this came out. "Who exactly is 'trying to kill' you?"

Porthos says, "If we knew, you think they'd still be tryin'?"

"Someone's killing affinities," Aramis says, and shrugs, folding his arms. "They drop them with a dart gun then slit their chest open like they're looking for something in there. We've had two close calls." He touches Porthos' arm, and Porthos lets his breath out heavy. "Another reason you're safer with us."

"Safer with you."

"He's the one with the gun," Porthos says. "Look, we leave you on your own, you're not gonna last. Either someone'll murder you an' fuck knows why or your own powers are gonna carry you off, and fuck knows who else with you. Plus the world's smuggest psychic's already told you it's happenin', don't even know why you're fightin' that. So you know you're comin' with us, whether you come or whether you're taken, you get that, right? Go to fuckin' Cambridge, ought to have a fuckin' brain." he adds in a mutter, and Aramis glances at him amused, and Athos surprises himself with the way his mouth twitches almost a smile.

And, really, he's known this since he came downstairs this morning and the dream was real and two strange teenagers were still in the television room, really he's known this since Porthos instructed him in how to keep Aramis from bruising himself off the grass too much in the ruins of the orchard, over the ravine that is no grave however much its ghosts still have the capacity to haunt. Really he's known that nothing would be the same again when someone finally did interrupt his haze of solitary drinking and agony. Ever since they appeared, unasked for and somehow inevitable, everything always was going to change.

Last week everything broke forever, he has no life anymore, that life ended. There is no going back. There's nothing to go back to. Now he has only a house so drowned in the bad things it's contained that it drives a psychic to seizures, and whatever's left in the cellar until he passes out some thin dawn and doesn't wake up again; or, his other option, he has two teenage boys trailing problems after themselves like brightly coloured kites, apparently feeling only enthusiasm for the world they're barely a part of the way they talk about it, the death and danger they face more casually real to them than this brunch in a pleasant café, which is a true surprise in life. When the world ends, you meet not death but these two, giving each other another of those looks, a more private form of communication than the Spanish they speak over Athos' head.

Those two or the cellar. Those two or the cellar. What sort of choice is it, those two until he gets killed in their madness or the cellar's bottles crying out to him with their bad memories and merciful oblivion again . . . ?

"He's psychic," Athos says, looking at Aramis who smiles pleasantly back. "Can't he tell what I'll decide anyway?"

Aramis gives a small rippling laugh. Porthos says, "He can't control what he knows an' what he doesn't."

"When I have a sealed circle, maybe." Aramis says. "Until then, I can't control the things I see any more than you can control the pain, Athos."

He takes a sip, at that, holds it medicinal-sharp in his mouth for a second before he swallows it. Then he leans back in his chair, tilts his glass on the table, looks at the way the two of them sit beside each other and says, "Are you a couple?"

They look at him, look back to each other and Aramis smiles, Porthos frowns. Porthos says, "We're us." Then he plays with his coffee cup, admits, "Sometimes we fuck."

"We fuck often," Aramis corrects him, and smiles at Athos now. "No secrets in a circle. Well," and his eyes slide to the ceiling again. "Some," he says, like he's remembering something, or . . .

Porthos says, "Aramis?"

Aramis blinks, looks across to him. "¿Qué?"

Porthos sighs and looks to Athos, a don't even try look, and then the man with the towel tucked into his apron is back at their table, putting down plates of eggs Florentine as Aramis asks if he might be troubled for three more glasses of Cognac, and thanks him with the sincerest smile.

"Ignore him." Porthos says, cutting into his food. "He flirts with his own shadow."

"Good practice, on a professional." Aramis says, and smiles over his coffee cup.

Athos drains his glass, now he has the promise of another one on its way, and could almost, almost, smile back.

*

Outside the café Athos grimaces against the light and Aramis puts his hat back on, raises his face to the sun so blissful, then catches the eye of the two old men still drinking coffee and he smiles, and walks over immediately to greet and talk to them.

At Athos' side Porthos shifts the bandana on his head, murmurs, "He grew up in an orphanage with I think about two million other kids, way he talks about it, think he just . . ." He shrugs. "Needs a lot of people in his life."

Athos puts a hand up to shield his eyes from the sun, pleasantly warm on the inside again now, the ache of every bone pushed down to manageable, almost ignorable. "And you?"

Porthos doesn't even pause; the only indication he gives of minding the subject of conversation is a slight shift of his jaw. "Bumped around a bunch of foster homes. Guess all I want is people who'll actually stick around. Which, y'know, he won't, if we don't close this circle soon." He takes a breath in, hard through his nose, and says too low for Aramis to catch from his own not-too-distant conversation, "He had a seizure a while back. Full-on seizure, not like he always does. It's fucking his brain up. Every extra episode - we need to close this fuckin' circle." He swallows, and his breath huffs loose again. "Now."

Athos watches Aramis smile and chat with two old men, and thinks that he seems remarkably unconcerned by his own probable imminent death, and contemplates through the glow of brandy that he's not the only person in the world reduced to himself alone. And they are so young, the two of them, glorified children, he knows what the freshers are like, he's seen them pass-out drunk in the quads where the porters deal with them stonily, as having trespassed on the sacred grass more than anything. Porthos, responsible for Aramis when Aramis is 'incapacitated', is no more than a boy himself, and dealing with his own powers as well - the sky is sweet summer blue again, the storm clouds from earlier dissipated like less than mist once Aramis took hold of his hand on the road. And Aramis, well, Athos' powers may crush every joint with pain but at least he's conscious of it and he doesn't think he can die from pain alone . . .

Aramis walks back, tipping his hat forward again. "Very nice gentlemen."

Athos finds a way to meet the eyes of the two old men, and nods to them, and they nod silently back. Aramis puts an arm around Athos' shoulders, turns him back for the road. "I told them we were friends of yours from university. I've upgraded us to Cambridge," he adds to Porthos, who gives a snort and a sudden glorious smile, so amused he doesn't even try to hide it.

"I'm still studyin' medicine?"

"You'll make a fine brain surgeon. I'm reading theology, naturally. So, gentlemen - where now?"

Athos finds himself at a loss. Out in the sunlight, just the right side of listing with brandy and not alone -

The thought of going back to that house makes the pain in his bones grind tight.

Porthos says, "Back to the villa."

Aramis says, "Athos needs to pack first."

Athos murmurs, almost without thinking it's already become so habitual a response, "I haven't agreed to anything yet."

Aramis pats his back as they walk down the road, back the way they came, and looks at him with eyes caught so close between sober and amused, Athos has never seen anyone manage to wear that expression before. Like he knows Athos well enough to know . . .

He doesn't know him. No, he's psychic; he doesn't know how much he knows him. Does he want to be known? He thought Anne knew him, all he knows now is that he never knew her. And Thomas, his little brother, torn from life when he was . . .

He breathes slower.

When he was the same age as these two, already aware that they're pacing the edge of their own deaths.

"You'll like the captain," Aramis says, patting his back as apparently Athos is indeed walking in this direction now. "He'll like you, you two will love each other. Alas that he's still stuck with us as well."

"Don't dump me in the same category as you." Porthos says, walking calm at their side, hands in his pockets.

"You're as responsible for his grey hair as I am, Porthos."

"Bullshit. I don't get up to half the shit you do, I'm innocent, leave me out of it."

"I am under oath not to sleep with the staff," Aramis informs Athos as they walk, his tone perfectly nonchalant. "Porthos has been forced to promise not to gamble with them, having stolen a month's wages from the cook."

"Won. I won a month's wages from him."

"It only counts as winning when you don't cheat, huevón."

"That's slander."

"Don't cheat against a psychic, Porthos." Aramis says, and grins at Athos. "How are you at cards?"

Athos mutters, "Wise enough to play neither psychics nor cheats." and Porthos laughs, hard, and Aramis snorts happily.

"The captain," he says, and finally unslings his arm from his back, "will love you."

Apparently they're confident enough that Athos will keep walking with them that they don't need to actively lead him like a retriever on a lead anymore. He walks, thinking, wondering - it would have seemed so absurd, bare weeks ago, to follow two teenagers with supernatural powers who say that someone's trying to kill them into their strange and dangerous life. Now, for the first time since his life broke the first time, even before his rift, he looks at the alternative and understands that there is a choice beyond following them or just drinking until there's nothing left to drink and thus nothing left to live for.

He can go back to Cambridge. He can write his dissertation and move on to the chambers he applied to in the autumn. He can become a lawyer as was always intended. He can live a life, different to that he'd expected but still a very comfortable life, in London or Paris, he can do what normal people do even after disaster rents their lives but -

He feels the earth under his feet, all around him, feels down and feels the metal running through it; pipes, wires, dropped and abandoned things, minerals in the soil. He feels how he could tear the road open under his feet - he knows that the pain stops when he lets go, for the second in which he's let go, and just not being in pain makes that second feel almost as good and clean as an orgasm. He knows that the two of them won't let him go to live his own life - what little of a life he has - he knows that they can't risk it, and the concerning thing is that he doesn't know the full reach of their powers yet, and whether they might be able to force him into compliance. Water, air, could they be so dangerous to him?

. . . he remembers that they have a gun.

And then he remembers -

He thinks about it in silence, while they debate - Porthos frowning, Aramis amused - whose fault it was that the kitchen once caught fire. And then he says, and they both stop mid-sentence and look at him when he does, "If I come with you, and help you to close your circle." His shoulders settle even, and his hands slide into fists at his sides. "Will I one day have the chance to seek out my fiancée, and this time have the control to truly kill her?"

They look at him. They look at each other.

Silent conversation, twitch of Porthos' mouth, uneasy shrugging shift of Aramis' shoulder.

Porthos says, not like he likes it, "We wouldn' stand in your way."

Aramis says quietly, "It's not a good reason to form a circle."

Athos walks in silence for a few more steps, thinking that through. Then he says, "One can have more than one reason."

Aramis looks at Porthos, and this time Porthos gives a minute shrug, and Aramis' mouth presses tight closed. Porthos says, "How're we gettin' back to the villa?"

"I can drive." Athos says. "How far is it?"

Aramis takes a breath and lets go of whatever disapproval or alarm had quietened him, Athos has yet to see him disturbed by anything for more than a couple of seconds. "You have to be sober enough for it first, and it takes an hour to metabolise a unit, and you've had - a number of units." He glances at the position of the sun as if checking the time. "This is going to take a lot of water."

Porthos says, "I can drive."

Athos says, "You are not driving my car."

Porthos says to Aramis, "I bet he named it."

"If either of you so much as looks at the steering wheel I will fly your guts from the mirrors as a warning to the other."

Aramis just grins; Porthos rolls his eyes, mutters, "Yeah, captain's gonna love him."

He realises that they've already passed the church, passed Thomas's grave without Athos feeling the six foot pit of it in his stomach, and he understands immediately that he can't visit it now, not now. Not yet, not with Anne still alive, not before Athos does what Olivier should already have done. And not yet in the company of these two.

They're barely more than children, and Athos doesn't know them, and god knows he doesn't trust them, especially with his car. He's still working out how much he'll allow them to know him, how much he'll ever trust them. Perhaps when he's sober enough - or, perhaps, when he's drunk enough - perhaps, some day, he'll know.

*

When they approached the house again Porthos gave Aramis an uneasy look, said, "You gonna be alright?" and Aramis rolled his eyes.

"We won't be here long. I'll live."

Athos packs, in his room, though the suitcase on the bed is still mostly empty. He has no idea what he wants to keep. Apart from his laptop and some clothes - and some bottles of good wine and whisky he hardly wants to leave in an empty house - what does he want, from his old life? Really he doesn't want any of it, any of these things trailing memories behind themselves like bad ghosts, like reeking old water leaving black scent on everything they touch. They look like Olivier's stupidity and complacency, they look like the childish naïvity of his past, these things. He'd rather torch it all and go somewhere new and be someone else.

'Athos'. Strange gift that they brought him, the final end of Olivier.

Two taps on the open doorframe, and he looks over at Aramis, folding his arms and leaning there, smiling. "Porthos is cleaning out your fridge. He says smallpox is reformulating itself in there."

Athos shrugs, turns back to his 'packing', opens a drawer to make it look like he's doing something. Aramis invites himself in, strolls into the room and turns a full circle to look around it, says something brightly in Spanish and points; "You have swords?"

Athos looks up at them, laid on the mantelpiece - the only things left on the mantelpiece, he swept off the photographs and the vase of forget-me-nots over a week ago now. "I fence for the university."

He realises afterwards that he should have said that in the past tense - he's going to have to contact the university to tell them that he's dropping out, hm - but Aramis has already walked over, picking his way without comment over the broken glass and ruined photographs, lifting a foil from the mantelpiece. He holds it by the grip and rests the blade on his palm, thumb running over the metal, and looks wondering before -

- before something changes, something horrible in his eyes, and it takes Athos a second to remember - fuck and he's standing on a carpet of broken glass -

Athos fumbles up to get around the bed and grab his arm but Aramis clumsily bangs the foil back onto the mantelpiece, turns to lean his shoulder there with a hand over his mouth. "It's not - I'm not. Thank you, though." He smiles tightly from behind his hand. "Just a memory. Someone else's memory. They always make me - nauseous."

Athos says, "Someone else's memory."

Aramis hunches his shoulders as he swallows, and folds his arms around himself. "I'm fine. It's nothing. Honestly, don't worry about it." He smiles, and Athos could let himself fall for that smile, but after a few seconds' icy stare the smile falters, and Aramis pulls a hand through his hair.

"Don't tell Porthos," he says, quietly. "I haven't told him this. Promise me you won't."

Why would Aramis tell him something that he hasn't told Porthos, the boy he communicates with merely by being in his presence? "Fine."

"On your honour."

It's a strangely solemn thing for an eighteen year old to come out with. "On my honour as a gentleman." Athos says, and is surprised by how much he does mean it. Aramis checks his eyes for a long second to be sure of it, then gives a quick smile, and takes a slow breath.

"There's someone else in my head." he says, watching Athos' eyes. "Some other man. I get a lot of his memories. I -" He stops, and looks honestly afraid for a second before he calms it. "I think if I don't seal my circle, one day I'll be him more than I'll be me, and then I won't be me at all." He looks at the foils again, then looks away, letting his breath out through his nose. "I get his feelings. That's the worst. Something makes me very agitated and I don't even know why, but I can't do anything about the feeling. And he does know some very strange things for me to remember." The smile comes crooked, and then real but apologetic as he looks at Athos again.

"Porthos worries too much already," he says. "You can't tell him."

Athos looks over his bookshelves, slips loose a novel he always meant to read to toss into the suitcase. "I made a promise."

Aramis smiles, and watches him pack for a moment. "Porthos worries," he says eventually. "I worry too. I see him when it's stormy, the way he is in that weather, I can't . . . I can't get his attention because I'm too scared to try in case I really can't. I love Porthos," he adds in a mumble, and picks at the edge of the mantelpiece. "And I've always . . . it's never been fair to him, having to worry about me all the time. Because I'm this." He shrugs one shoulder, then looks up at Athos again, and the smile twitches frail but honest. "It's unfair to make it your problem as well, but I'm still glad you'll be there. I'll be better, and there'll be someone else to help, it won't all be on him anymore. He never deserved that."

Athos thinks about that, wondering what on earth else he can pack to make the suitcase look less sad. "Do you deserve your seizures?"

"They're only episodes." He shrugs, like he genuinely doesn't care. "The Lord knows what He's doing. And I would never have met Porthos without them, or you. And they've done some good." He looks into space, thinking that through. "They have done some good."

"They didn't look to do much good last night."

Aramis rubs the back of his neck and grins. "Well, those were -" His face goes quiet again, understanding what he's saying and who he's saying it to. "Those weren't about the future. They were about the past."

Athos looks away at that, and packs his alarm clock just for something to do with his hands.

Aramis' boots shift in the glass a little. "We would never have come here without my episodes," Aramis says. "And you don't deserve to be alone either, Athos."

It should not stab in the chest the way it does, to be told that by an eighteen year old he met yesterday. He says, and it comes out in too much of a growl, "That has yet to be ascertained."

Aramis hesitates on his reply, and then from the doorway Porthos' rough voice says, "If I'm not interruptin'." He looks over at Aramis, pinned by the mantelpiece. "You're doin' the freezer."

"¿- lo dice' en serio? Turn it off and leave it."

"Leave it for someone else t'deal with, you mean. Go defrost the fucking freezer. Chuck anything that - fuck. Just chuck everything."

Aramis pushes himself off from the mantelpiece and trudges like a true teenager for the doorway. "You're worse than the captain."

"This isn't a punishment, this is what grown-ups do."

"I prefer being sent straight to bed." He runs his hand along Porthos' arm as he passes him in the doorway. "I like beds."

And then he's gone, and Porthos looks more flustered than he clearly intended from that encounter. He gives Athos a glare he doesn't even trouble himself to return, he doesn't care what the two of them do, he went to a British public school for god's sake.

Athos tests his bones with a surreptitious stretch of his shoulders; they ache, but they're not agony yet, he doesn't feel the urge for drink upon him too hard yet. He still needs to be a lot more sober than this for them to get out of this place. "You're not going to follow him?"

"In a sec," Porthos says, and stands there in the doorway watching Athos wish that he didn't have an audience for not packing to. "Look -"

"How many times," Athos says, irritated, "are the two of you going to give me the talk?"

Porthos says, "What?"

Athos seethes but has to hiss it out, has to slam a belt he's found that he might need into the suitcase to avoid his eyes. "Fine. What is it, Porthos?"

Porthos is silent for a moment, while Athos makes a show of pushing at things in the case to tidy them, and then says, "Your fridge is fucking disgusting. You better be a better roommate in the villa." and then he turns and leaves, and Athos stands there holding a shoe, shamed by a teenager.

When he can let his breath out again, when he can turn and look around his devastated room full of things he never wants to look at again anyway -

His eyes settle on the foils on the mantelpiece, below the broken mirror.

He packs both of them. Someone is trying to kill them. He'd better start practising again.

*

As dusk descends, bleed of deeper blue in the sky, Athos feels horrible - really fucking horrible, his guts stab and roil, his brain feels parched, his muscles ache - but his bones don't hurt the way they should, this long without alcohol. Aramis makes him do a series of tests to ascertain his sobriety, starting with walking and turning on a straight line, and Athos thought his glare would have made him change his mind about the indignity of standing on one leg but apparently not.

Following with his eyes the pen Aramis is slowly moving from side to side, Athos murmurs, "You are not a doctor."

"No," Aramis says, watching his pupils intently, "but I seem to be most of the way to being a nurse. Behave or I'll make you recite the alphabet backwards."

Porthos grins a little behind his shoulder as Aramis puts the pen down. "You pass. But drive slowly, we'll stop for coffee as much as we can."

Athos rubs his eyes, and doesn't know whether to admit to his bones not hurting as they should. They hurt; just not enough, it should be unbearable by now, it should be enough to make him feel mad, deranged with pain, enough to make him want to scratch through the flesh of his joints and claw at raw bone. This far from a drink, why isn't he in agony?

Aramis is visibly paler by now, as Porthos squeezes his arm and Aramis keeps his breathing noticeably even, something he's clearly consciously working at. He hasn't yet had another seizure - episode, as he keeps calling them; but he's been in the house for longer than he was yesterday when they started, and why would he . . . ?

Athos puts his suitcase in the boot and Aramis stands to the side, arms folded, eyes amused on his. Athos catches his gaze and remembers Porthos talking about Aramis propping his powers up, looks at him and sees the way his smile takes his whole face as he understands Athos understanding.

It's that simple? Becoming part of their circle is so simple?

Aramis pats his arm, and Porthos walks into the garage with one of their backpacks in each hand. "I could have carried that," Aramis points out.

"Yeah, but I carried 'em. Which means I get the front seat."

Aramis shrugs. "I get to lie down on the back seat."

Nothing ever seems to upset him beyond pretending to be upset. He climbs in at the back and winds the window right down, leaning out to bang on the car door. "Hurry it up, ya poh, the captain's waiting for us already."

Athos leans down to meet him eye to eye and says, "If you ever touch my car like that again I will drive it right over your skull."

Aramis grins at him; Porthos sighs and walks around them both to open the passenger side door, says, "Ignore him, he does it for attention."

"Escoba, po," Aramis says mildly. "Come on, Athos. We won't be there until tomorrow at this rate."

So he climbs into the car, with his bones aching though not screaming and Porthos saying, "What the fuck is this cassette player?" so Athos has to sweep his hand away from the dashboard.

"It's an eight track. Don't touch anything."

"Don't touch anything?"

"Learn to levitate," Aramis says, leaning in between the front seats. "Our presence is bad for the seats and the air."

Athos starts the car, says to Porthos, "You were right about him talking too much."

Aramis laughs, Porthos grins back at him. And for one second as his hand reaches for the hand brake -

For one second Athos doesn't know these two children, strangers in his car taking nothing seriously, not the threat that their lives are nor that his life is. For one second, he's scared of how little they care what Athos might be capable of, what Athos might be. The future ahead of them looms darker than the night will gather and they don't give a fuck, and for that brief flicker, he really doesn't know what he's got himself into, for that single second, he does give a fuck.

Then he releases the brake, and eases out of the garage, and doesn't look back in the mirror at the house behind himself.

From the back seat, leaning irritatingly in between the front seats still, Aramis says, "We're not closing the garage door behind us?"

Athos says, "Fuck the garage door." and accelerates.

Porthos leans to Aramis' ear and says, "A tenner says we don't make it back."

"Pff. Seems to me you have reason to sabotage his driving on that bet, after you wanted the front seat so badly."

"My legs're longer than yours."

"This is height discrimination."

"This is you being an arsehole."

Athos squints, bones too old inside him, and tries to concentrate on driving in the glowering dusk. "Shut up and let me drive."

"If we don't have music we could play a car game."

"Let's play 'how long can Aramis go without talking'. Athos, you might wanna put the lights on."

"Oh." He knew something was making this harder than usual.

"I don't like that game. I always lose."

Athos grits out, "Find a way to make him shut up."

"You think we'd still be in this situation if I knew a way to make him shut up?"

"I saw this," Aramis says, a little dreamily. "A long time ago. I saw myself waking from sleep on the back seat of a car, and two people in the front I knew I was safe with, so I didn't even sit up, I just lay and let them talk. It felt so good, I felt so good, I wanted to stay there forever. One of the best things I ever saw during an episode."

Quiet for a moment, Athos thinking, Aramis could have seen anything, that could have meant anything, he didn't even know it was them. but already knowing - knowing, more than mere belief - that Aramis has always known that Athos would be here, would join them, Aramis has always trusted Athos. Since before he met him Aramis knew to trust Athos, more than mere belief, and doesn't that make him trustworthy . . . ?

The peace is broken when Aramis says brightly, "We could sing to pass the time."

"Gag him." Athos says to Porthos, deadly serious now. "Gag him, now."

"'pparently I'm takin' orders," Porthos says with narrowed eyes to Aramis, who touches his arm and says, "If it's been ordered then you must, Porthos. Get on the back seat and gag me." Something about his voice, Athos' hands go weirdly tight on the steering wheel. "Gag me good, Porthos."

"Not," he grinds out through his teeth, "in my car."

"The options are gagging me or singing."

"The third option is you shutting up."

"That is not an option. Does everyone know the words to Modern Love? We can sing a round!"

Athos thinks, Good god, we really won't make it to their villa. I will murder them both within fifteen miles.

Air blows in through Aramis' open window, and the house is already far behind, fields in the glooming dusk all around. The world feels so open, and so poised on the moment between day and night, the entire world is an in-breath of anticipation.

Then Aramis starts singing in garbled Spanish and Porthos twists in his seat to clap his hands around his mouth and in their scrambling Aramis falls weirdly sideways off the back seat, jolting the front seats, and Athos snaps, "I will throw you two out to walk."

That this is better than being alone in that house is a serious indication of what being alone in that house was like.

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