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[personal profile] rainjoyswriting
You are all going to have to forgive me for the lack of comment replies and contact of every stripe, I'm afraid, my arms get worse, not better. This is the kind of fic I'd once have polished off over a week, it's actually been tapped out over a period of two months or something. Which probably explains why parts of it are a fucking mess, I really need a rhythm up before I can produce anything worth reading =/ I just currently have to devote any time I'm capable of typing to my thesis, everything else comes painfully if at all -_-

Instincts part three, The Key Already Turned, Musketeers fic, stupid exorcist fic.

Disclaimer: Things that are not official include this and any shit UKIP ever comes out with as if it's the view of the British populace in general.

Rating: R because I really don't know how to write for children.

Warnings: Shit can always be as disturbing as I promised on part one; violence, references to suicide here.

Summary: Exorcists and necromancers know that it is always easier to open than it is to close.


Note: Don't even ask me about the world, there is no coherent response to it.








The guard is sorting through keys, Athos is giving the bare-painted corridor they're heading into a look of the same disdain he gives to most things, and Porthos is keeping his hand on the shoulder of the prisoner they're escorting because like fuck he trusts him even with his hands cuffed. Given that he's still a werewolf and that still means something, he especially doesn't trust him near Aramis. Especially not near Aramis like this.

Aramis is looking somewhere to the side, arms folded, one finger rapidly tapping his elbow, eyes very sharply distant.

The guard lets them through one barred door, and locks it again behind them; there's another door at the end of the short corridor they need to pass through. The man Porthos is keeping a hand on is coming out of DPI custody and going into the supernatural wing of a prison, which means he needed a musketeer escort here, but once he's in he's on his own and in a lot of trouble. He's 'supernatural' as much as Aramis is, pure human but for a certain sensitivity, and he's going to be surrounded by vampires and werewolves and weirder. In a better mood, they'd probably be loudly and cheerfully taking bets on his likely lifespan. But Athos is silent, and Aramis is somewhere else, and Porthos no longer knows how to manage the three of them. He hardly knows how to manage himself these days. He thinks his wolf and human disagree in some drastic, shifted way but he isn't really sure what either of them thinks. Maybe what's changed is that he just doesn't really know anymore which instincts are the wolf's and which are the human's.

It used to be simple, even after Athos drank from Aramis: Aramis belonged with Porthos - agreed to it himself, with a desperate sort of relief - and occasionally needed, for his own good, shepherding away from stroking at Athos' arm without even noticing he was doing it. That was weeks ago, back when apart from Aramis' tendency to drift towards Athos and start idly touching him, they really thought they'd got away with it. They'd been surprised, then, by how well Aramis coped, how little it seemed to have changed him. They didn't know then that no-one escapes from the reality of blood, and that Athos not trying to control Aramis didn't save him, it merely delayed the worst.

They all know what's happening now. Aramis' current posture says that he's cold but Porthos knows that if he asks, after Aramis starts back from wherever he is and makes sense of the question, he'll report that he's fine. He no longer feels cold, or heat. He doesn't get hungry or thirsty, Porthos has to remind him about that. He no longer even feels tired, purple as the skin under his eyes shows. He slept less, immediately afterwards, but that 'less' stretched out more and more until he's now barely in the bed beside Porthos. Porthos remembers the night Aramis asked him, bleak and nervous in a way Porthos hardly understood, if it would be alright if he got out of the bed again after Porthos went to sleep. He wanted to be there while he fell asleep, he promised, stroking pleadingly at his wrist, he just didn't sleep himself for hours afterwards, just - didn't seem to, and he was losing his mind laying there every night unmoving under Porthos' arm, and -

Porthos said it was fine, and ran a hand back through his hair, and Aramis' head sagged to his palm with a shudder of relief. Once those little adjustments felt like proper compromise, like the way their lives would fit together now that Aramis' life was changed forever. The problem now is that small compromises aren't enough. Nothing could be.

It hardly matters that Athos isn't trying to make it worse for Aramis, it's enough to drive him mad as it is, he doesn't taste things, no longer seems to notice when he's in pain, they haven't fucked in days, he's just not into it anymore and he's Aramis. He hasn't even noticed they stopped having sex when he used to be a semi-permanent attachment to Porthos' dick in one way or another. Now Porthos thinks that Aramis would need reminding what sex is, and even if he could summon the energy and enthusiasm for it, his cooling skin seems so numb to the world that he probably wouldn't feel enough in the act to make it worth it.

So Porthos should hate Athos, more than any person on this Earth, shouldn't he?

He should hate him for draining all the Aramis out of Aramis and leaving them with a distant, forgetful stranger who knows no joy nor grief nor impatience nor anything truly human. He should hate him for taking away everything that made Aramis Aramis to begin with - his exuberance for life even in the darkest nights, his cheerful mellow even when Athos and Porthos squabbled, his sense of humour even when it came at all the wrong moments. Porthos should hate Athos for killing his lover, maybe not with one swift slit to the throat but so fucking slowly, letting him seep away like the blood from an unsealed wound, for letting himself be the infection that made Aramis sicken and weaken and, very slowly, die. Porthos knows what he's losing, the ever-ache of his throat knows the building permanence of his loss. And he knows the only possible remedy, to bring Aramis back warm and aware to his arms.

But.

The guard unlocks the next door, keys again, but the door behind it needs a key card, and then they're on the wing itself. Porthos keeps hold of their prisoner but glances at Athos, who walks - barely noticeable, though Aramis' shoulders shiver a little looser with his noticing it - closer to Aramis, now. There are two floors of cells under very high barred skylights, they're underneath a balcony of more cells overlooking this wide space below. There are no prisoners about, all locked away for the new prisoner's escort, but Porthos hears the exaggerated inhale of air through the bars of a cell door's window as they pass and a low dark chuckle behind it, the rumble of, "Someone brought a human in."

"C'mere, human. C'mon closer." Fingers flex through the bars of another door. "C'mon, we don't bite, human human -"

"Huuuuuuuuman-" another werewolf howls before he collapses into laughter, and Porthos mutters as he walks past that cell, "Don't do that, arsehole."

Aramis doesn't appear aware of any of it, eyes fixed elsewhere and fingers digging into his elbows. It's one of the few things that might be for the best; Aramis talking about how really delicious he feels today in front of supernaturals already baying for his blood is probably about the fourth most irritating thing he does, and he does it a lot.

He used to do it a lot.

The guard bangs with a taser on that cell door. "Get down, you fucking animal."

Porthos looks at him, and says with his lip twitching over his teeth, "How about you don't do that either."

The guard looks at him, eyes nervy for one second, then gestures forwards. "This next one."

Porthos will be glad to get out of here. The place reeks of cleaning products and a lot of men's fear and anger, and he needs to be somewhere else, fuck knows he needs Aramis to be somewhere else. Ever since Aramis' inability to focus on what's in front of him got as bad as it is Porthos has become even more protective, he won't apologise for it. Aramis needs it now, more innocent than a child in the face of some of the things they face, children understand fear. Porthos watches the way Athos' attention is subtly angled on Aramis, just as protective as Porthos is, and Porthos should hate Athos, but. But -

The guard runs a key card over the reader, and opens the door of a cell.

Athos came to Porthos, a few weeks ago when Aramis was getting dressed (he loses all focus so quickly that Porthos knew he'd go back in Aramis' room in half an hour to bring him back from staring into space with his hands so tight, to fasten his belt and put a shirt on him), one of the few times throughout the day that Aramis wasn't with one of them. He said in his cool rational vampire voice that they both knew what was happening, and that they both knew the only way to stop it.

He said, as if he was saying nothing of great importance, "Our bodies dissolve, we're easily disposed of. And you already know that I wouldn't fight."

Standing in the living room of the apartment they'd shared for months, the werewolf and the vampire, and hardly tried to kill each other at all, Porthos stared at a rug, hands held in loose fists at his sides, and didn't really think of anything at all. No words came to him, the human couldn't cope. And the wolf, the wolf who has never needed words, the wolf had no bloodlust in it. It's his fault, Porthos had attempted, nudging his mind in the direction of his mate struggling through the pitiful fog they were pretending was what remained of his life. It's his fault Aramis is - it's his fault you're losing him. It's his fault.

Wolves don't hate. It's a very human thing, hate. Wolves either fight immediately or they get over it, grudges are for the descendents of apes.

Athos' eyes flit the room over before he puts a hand to Aramis' back to encourage him in first, because enclosed by four very solid walls is the safest place for him here, and Aramis relaxes to Athos' touch. He does walk inside, and Porthos sees the subtle way Athos' shoulders relax too when he does, when Aramis isn't so obviously surrounded by cells full of werewolves and vampires who have both the motive and means to kill a DPI exorcist. Inside the cell, when Athos' hand is removed from his back, Aramis' body gives a stumbling sway but he rights himself, shocked and confused, looks around like he's only now realising where he is, then back at Athos as if stricken. Only after a long hungry helpless stare at his face can he drag his attention to Porthos, to blink fast and struggling, to give him a nervous sorry smile, knowing that Porthos saw that, guilty again in front of him. Porthos remembers the last natural smile Aramis gave him, two nights ago now, true across the pillow as his nose nudged Porthos' and he laughed so softly. Aramis' easy, brilliant smiles used to come as regular as the ticking of the seconds and now Porthos has to count and hoard them, now they're like diamonds, just as piercing and rare.

Athos is watching Aramis, uneasy of him being here, uneasy of the danger, hating the anxiety of that smile, that way Aramis is still trying to protect them. And this is why Porthos can't fucking hate Athos for it, his wolf knows, his wolf knows what pack is, his wolf understands that whether Porthos wants Athos or not, Athos and Aramis come attached, and pack to Aramis is pack to Porthos too. And Athos came to him in their living room and offered his own head for Aramis' life, and Porthos looked at him and knew it was a death sentence to his own lover but he still couldn't say yes.

Athos had watched his eyes with the ageless patience of a vampire, and then had said, gently, "If you would prefer I can do it myself."

"No." Porthos had said, hands squeezing tighter, finally looking up at him and hating him for that. "What the fuck d'you think he did it for? No."

Aramis loves Athos.

It's so much easier to admit it now, Porthos has no pride left when it comes to this, to anything to do with Aramis, watching Aramis pour away like water between his fingers has prioritised a lot of things above his own pride. He doesn't care anymore. Aramis loves Athos. He loved him anyway, Porthos knows, loved him with the same sincerity and fury with which he loves Porthos but ever since the blood between them Aramis' feelings for Athos have been a garrotte twisting so slowly, he can't breathe through them. He loves Athos. He loves Athos and still loves Porthos enough to deny himself even a glance, hating himself that he can't stop himself because the blood is driving him mad, they all know it, Porthos sometimes finds Aramis standing outside doors he knows Athos is behind, Aramis unaware he's staring at a piece of blank wood, his body only knowing the nearness of Athos. Aramis loves Athos, and gave him his blood so he wouldn't die; he loves Porthos, and risked what that blood meant so he wouldn't die and leave Porthos alone. Aramis loves them, both of them, he truly does. It turns out he was telling the truth all along, he does love people like that, and Porthos increasingly can't work out how the fuck he thought this was a problem for him when the only person it's killing is Aramis.

So, yeah, he could kill Athos. Easy enough if the vampire doesn't care to fight, off with his head and that's the end of it, he wouldn't even leave a stain. But he doesn't even know how Aramis would feel it, the death of the vampire who drunk from him, he doesn't know how Aramis would react, but he does know that Aramis loved Athos long before the blood made his love ring in his head like his skull is a bell and he's deafened for anything else. And Porthos knows he doesn't have the stomach to condemn Aramis to the rest of his life knowing that Athos died for him. Presumably Athos already knows that lots of people have died for him, he's a vampire and even if he's off human blood now, now is only now. But. But, but, every fucking but is more than Porthos can deal with -

Athos watches Aramis like he knows, and Porthos knows he knows, the quiet, suffocating misery of what's killing him by degrees. And when Porthos sees him looking at Aramis like that he thinks he knows and his throat fills with broken glass, thinks he knows and everything hurts, he does know, he just doesn't know how to admit it out loud between them or what they can even fucking do about it.

Who the hell ever heard of a vampire falling in love with a human?

"Aramis," Athos says, and Aramis' vague gaze snaps off Porthos, latches as if magnetised back to Athos. "We need you to check the cell over, Aramis."

Aramis stares at him for a long second, and Porthos can see him trying to catch up fast with a brain now made of one big drop of pitch falling ever Athos-ward. "Check . . ."

Athos says, so patiently this could be any ordinary part of their daily routine, "To clear it for the necromancer."

Aramis blinks, and Porthos sees something more awake in his gaze as it focuses on the necromancer Porthos is holding, and holds there hard with hatred. Exorcists do hate necromancers, everyone knows that the same way they know werewolves and vampires hate each other. Necromancers are exorcists who go bad. Exorcists lay souls out to rest; necromancers drag them back, and Aramis looks at that man with a rage in him Porthos rarely sees, Aramis normally doesn't give a shit about things enough to get angry over them. But he knows what souls wrenched between worlds and back to the suffering of their own death have to go through, he hears and feels it when they do, and he knows exactly and intimately the kind of evil this man did. They were the ones who brought him in, and Aramis felt all of the grief of this man's victims, tormented between Earth and Hell.

Aramis' gaze flicks over the room, single bed, toilet and sink, desk against the wall. "No books," he says, eyes all over the room, stepping forwards and running his fingers along the line between two bricks in the wall, all painted over cream. "They can't have books. They can tear the words out and do things with them. No razors, no pens. Never a pen. Not even a fucking pencil."

Porthos is trying to ignore how his heart's got tight. The more they've lost Aramis the more Treville has nudged them towards retiring him from the field; the more they've lost Aramis, the fact that it's only in work that Aramis seems to wake again has become more and more apparent. They can't let Aramis sink down into himself to 'rest'. It's only when he's doing this that he seems halfway alive.

Aramis' fingertips skim the wall again, and he's frowning at it, brow furrowed. The necromancer in Porthos' grip lifts his cuffed hands and scratches his nose, says, "I have rights."

"Terrorists do not have the right to bombs," Aramis says to the wall, looking really concerned at it now, "and you don't have the right to anything you can write something wrong with."

"Don’t always need to write," the necromancer says, and Athos says, "Aramis, what's wrong?"

Aramis turns, eyes flicking over all the walls of the cell now, hand falling to his satchel. "I - don't - there's something in the - walls. It's a prison, there's a lot of bad feeling built up, it's - like an echo."

"You don't always," the necromancer says, raising his hands to scratch his nose again, "need to write."

Porthos doesn't see what he's done until it's too late, when the necromancer slaps his bloody palm - he bit through his own skin - against the cream wall, pressing hard until Porthos jerks him away and tosses him bodily to the side to fall against the bed, losing his breath in a thump but laughing. Aramis gave a great start at the bang of that necromancer's hand to the wall and now he's looking at the smudged streak of his blood on the paint and his mouth is opening and while it's nice to see some real expression on his face, horror isn't the one Porthos wanted to see . . .

The necromancer by the bed grins, tossing his hair out of his eyes, clumsily picking himself up with cuffed hands. "Fuck all of you, who needs a pen."

"What did he do?" Athos says urgently. "Aramis, what did he do?"

Aramis lets his breath out hard, and Porthos who knows him knows that this means it's really bad, because of course Aramis doesn't respond to things being merely bad with any obvious distress, they have to be fucking bad for him to even acknowledge them. Porthos says, nervy himself, feeling something bad ripple over the back of his neck, "Aramis?"

"It's not human," Aramis says, flips up the flap of his bag, pulling out and unscrewing a small bottle of - well, it looks like water, but looks deceive frequently. "It's - it'll take too long to explain, I have to -"

He pours the water over the blood, rinsing it from the wall, but the guard has been distracted by some chirp outside the room, looks out alarmed at the key card lock on the door, and then -

Lots of little electronic chirps out there. Little electronic chirps all over, like a bunch of robot crickets just jumped in, and - shocked laughter, and - movement . . .

"Shit - oh shit -" the guard says.

"Fuck," Aramis mutters, and puts a hand over the patch of wall he just washed, and Porthos sees a horrible shudder pass down his arm. "It's in the walls, it's in the building, it just -"

The necromancer is laughing, pulling himself onto the bed, preening, so fucking proud of himself. "There's a reason we'll outlive every last one of you exorcists, this is how you'll all die."

"Shut the fuck up," Porthos snarls, but the bloke's high enough on his own smugness to hardly notice how furious the werewolf is.

"Bad echo," Aramis says through gritted teeth. "Not human. Need it-"

"The cells!" the guard shrieks at them like they've all missed the point, as an alarm begins ringing loud overhead, Porthos' eardrums throb with it, he can't stop himself from screwing his face up in the flinch - but then the alarm seems to suffocate itself, trails off and moans and dies. "All the cells!"

There's a rush of moving figures out there and Porthos sees Athos checking the thickness of the door, and he too is feeling a prickle of nerves over how long three musketeers can last out against a prison population of angry supernaturals once they notice where they are.

Athos says, "We may have to-"

The spike in the scent of the guard's panic almost makes Porthos need to sneeze. "They'll get into the normal wing! They'll - it'll be a slaugherhouse -!"

Aramis screws his eyes closed, all focus on whatever he's doing with his hand on the wall but through his teeth he says, "You understand that 'normal' is relative."

Athos is looking at Porthos, and Porthos knows what it means; fucking prison overcrowding means they long ago stuck supernaturals and humans together in the same building, and now if the two wings do mix, it will be a bloodbath. A bunch of half-starved vampires, a bunch of werewolves maddened by too much proximity to too many vampires and wolves not of their pack for just too long, and then a bunch of mortal humans, it'll be - fuck. Fuck.

Athos moves so quickly the movement isn't really visible, so he may as well as always have been holding the guard's arm while he jerks back from trying to rush out. "You will lead us to the point at which the wings meet," Athos says, "so that we can stop the two populations mixing. But we need somewhere safe for our-"

Another hand has that guard's other arm through the doorway, and the vampire gets out in that gargled hiss they speak in when their teeth are long, "Nowhere safe for you, traitor."

The guard starts to scream; before he's actually rent in two between two vampires there's a crack and the vampire outside's head snaps back, its body thumps backwards to the floor. Aramis, breathing hard, lowers his gun and says, "No time. Lock the door behind you."

"I'm stayin'." Porthos says, heart shocked cold.

"There is no time to argue, get out there or that guard - all the guards are dead, and half the prisoners, and who knows who else if it's got the main exits too. Lock the door behind you, I'll get the salt out, I need to exorcise this thing or-"

"He's the walking dead, he hasn't got it in him," the necromancer sneers, and Porthos has had pretty much everything he can handle already today, and punches him in the face.

Necromancer unconscious on the floor - at least it's one way of keeping him quiet and safe in this cell - Porthos says, "I'm not goin'."

"Porthos," Athos says.

Porthos hates the twinge of automatic obedience he feels when Athos speaks. God help him, if Athos is pack to Aramis then he's pack to Porthos, and what the fuck does that mean for Porthos' own alpha status . . . ?

"Lock the door," Aramis says, and he always looks ill now, pale and sallow but for the bruises of exhaustion his eyes sit in, but he's already looking like worse hell from whatever he's doing, one hand on the wet wall, that necromancer - what if Aramis doesn't have the strength for it - ?

Athos says, "You put a line of salt behind it. You don't open it until we come back for you, no-one else."

"This is mad." Porthos says. "They'll get in. They'll rip him -"

"They're already doing that to people in the human wing! Porthos, please, I have to - I'm no good out there but you two are and I have to do this, someone has to -"

Athos says, "There's no time, Porthos." and looks down at the vampire on the ground, not yet twitching; they'll keep them on animal blood in here, it'll take him a while to heal from a headshot. "He's hardly undefended even if they do get through the door. And we have to stop them, we're the only musketeers here."

"Porthos, please, I need to concentrate, I need to work," Aramis says, and his arm's shaking really badly on that wall, and Porthos' stomach knits but - but he can hear screams, and snarls, and horrible laughter, clear out there through werewolf hearing. Even humans could hear this.

He teeters on the brink of the fear that love in their line of work is.

Then he walks over, presses Aramis' hair back from his forehead with a palm and kisses him there hard, and growls, "Lock. Salt. Blow the head off anyone who looks in."

"Be careful," Aramis warns in return, but his eyes do meet Porthos', and the smile he wears in that second, if tight, is meant.

(Porthos catalogues it, resetting the timer in his head, and knows that if they survive this, it may be two days again, may be longer, before he gets another true smile on his lover's face.)

Being told to be careful by the exorcist willing to be locked alone into a cell during a supernatural prison break is really fucking pushing it, and as Aramis sees whatever sour, furious expression is on Porthos' face as he says it, he laughs, only once but (two days since he heard him laugh, it used to come every half hour or more) Porthos could hug him for it if Athos didn't say, "Porthos."

No time. People are already dying. Porthos has half a glance to spare for the necromancer unconscious on the floor and thinks that they need to cuff him to something but what, in this little room, and Athos is already carefully escorting the guard out of the cell with a hand on his arm, and Aramis does have a gun, and there's no time. "Salt," Porthos says, squeezing Aramis' shoulder, and Aramis takes a hard breath and says, "The lock, first."

Emerging from the cell - they were all of them fairly invisible inside it compared to the bedlam out here - is dangerous to begin with; Athos takes the head off one vampire charging at them with a single blow from the flat blade he wears strapped across his lower back, and Porthos catches a werewolf in its pounce and slams it so hard into the wall he hears its ribs crunch. Aramis ducks under his arm and whispers fast as he chalks a circle with a cross through it around the key card reader, gives a glance to Athos - looks away with some difficulty - looks to Porthos, smiles thinly, and says, "It should lock."

And that's the last they see of him; the flit of his smile though his attention's already on the half-circle of salt he's pouring around the inside of the doorway, murmuring as he goes, as they close the door on him. The card reader flashes, and the guard drags at them to get a move on, and locked in like that is as safe as anyone can manage in this place.

Porthos elbows quickly backwards, catching the vampire rising at his shoulder in the throat, then he grabs and throws it into another vampire rushing at them teeth bared as if delighted to be free. Fuck. Hell of a lot safer in there than they are right now . . .

*

It's not human. It's not an echo. It's not a mortally wounded soul in desperate need of help; it is something awful beyond understanding and it needs fighting before it unleashes worse.

Aramis keeps his head down and his hand on the holy water-wet patch of wall the thing was summoned through. It rode in on echoes, even if it isn't one itself. It rode in on all the bad feeling a prison will absorb, because it's not just the rage, the desire for revenge, the hatred built up over decades. It's the fear, and the loneliness, and the desperation. Even now out there in that madness there will be those who, when the locks went, stayed huddled in their cells, horrified at the turmoil outside. Far from everyone in prison is a monster. Not even those officially classified as such.

('Normal' wing. There is nothing abnormal about someone who isn't human. Even 'supernatural' is a term that chafes, Porthos is one of the most natural people Aramis has ever met, why do humans get to decide the baseline of normal for everyone else . . . ?)

The thing that rode in on all those bad echoes is not an echo and never was human or anything else mortal. Aramis didn't like to describe it to his partners before they had to run out to deal with the chaos it's caused, knew he'd only disturb them in naming it. There is no name in general circulation that would cover it but 'demon' comes close enough. Too much bad feeling built up and made the wall between worlds thin so that, with the help of a necromancer's blood, something could slip sideways out of Hell to here, it is not of their world and it damages their world merely by being in it. And that bastard necromancer - fuck it. No. Focus. Fight. It's so much easier to open than to close, you need your focus, fight.

It is not necessary to be Catholic to be an exorcist - Aramis knew plenty in his cohort who had no belief at all, a couple of Muslims, and a sweetly nervous Buddhist, all dead, and he can't think of them now - but some symbolic system is required, something that can be believed in to carry the weight of the work they do. Aramis has plenty of symbols he's certain of the power of, and now under his breath he whispers prayer prayer prayer because repetition is powerful in itself, all good Catholics know that, and Aramis is fighting something not-human and liable to psychically flay him if he gets this wrong. He needs to build his own strength. He needs to connect to God, and prayer is all he has.

No. It's off its own territory and on his. He's wearing a cross and a rosary and has a satchel full of every protective artefact his Church can offer him. Porthos and Athos are out there and he would do anything, anything to save them, and he's the one behind a locked door and a line of blessed salt. He's as safe as anyone could ask to be against power like this, much safer than Athos or Porthos would be in the face of it, should it choose to turn on them; for now, having caused what spiteful chaos it can, it focuses on Aramis, the gadfly in its ear. If he gets successfully slapped by it, it's the last thing that will ever happen to him. It's for the best that he didn't tell Porthos and Athos that either.

Head down, he whispers his prayers. Belief is so much of what he does. He's never struggled with belief, not through war zones or - the things that have happened. Blood. He's never struggled with belief, not even through blood, he believes, and it gives him strength. This little gadfly stings.

This little gadfly is failing.

It's Athos. It's awareness - he feels it in his bones, like they're stretching for space - of how far Athos has travelled from him, he's light-headed, drunk with it. He feels strange enough when Athos is out of his sight, just behind a wall in their apartment, this bewilders him, he hasn't been this far from Athos since - since - he doesn't know. He knows Athos takes care to stay unobtrusively near, Athos has been more considerate through all of this than Aramis really warrants, since none of it is anything but his own fault. But now Athos is not near, and Aramis is doing all he can to keep his mind on what he's doing.

He has very little mind to share around right now. So much of it belongs to Athos; perhaps that was always true and perhaps that would be fine - so much of his mind belongs to Porthos out there facing chaos as well - but so fucking much of his mind is taken up by not thinking about Athos -

Prayer, prayer, prayer. He screws his eyes closed, keeps the rhythm of prayer bright on his tongue. The thing he fights might see no strength in prayer but Aramis knows it's a weapon, and Aramis knowing it is what makes it so. He prays. Head down, eyes closed, hand pressed to the wall - the bones in his arm are vibrating, if his hand wasn't resting on holy water it would be blistered already - he prays, and he focuses with every drop of strength he has because he has to pay attention to this to this to this and not to Athos, not now, not even as his bones howl and muscles ache, not even as his breath comes empty into his lungs, panicked with the lack of him - God he's survived this far, hasn't he? If he can just focus - if he can just focus -

Not Athos not Athos this not Athos -

Outside he hears running feet, and roars, and worse. He hears thumping and scratching at the door at one point but ignores it; if anything gets in it hits the line of salt he drew before it can get to him, giving him the time to draw his gun. So he ignores it all and he focuses, prays and focuses and tries to fucking forget Athos but oh God Athos throbs in his blood like intoxication, he always does, Aramis knows Porthos hates it but he wants to weep for Athos' touch, just the skim of his fingers, just a look from him, if he would just look at him, he feels like he breathes when Athos looks at him.

He knows it's the blood. He's managed to hold his love in his hands so it can't escape enough times in his life, he knows himself capable of that. Marsac didn't like him looking at other people, Aramis ignored a lot of potential love for him, it was why in the end they had to break up, Marsac hating that Aramis was even able to love someone who wasn't him. So he knows himself capable of denying himself love alone, if he has to, anyone can do that. To be human is to be able to do that, to be more than an animal is to be able to do that, to deny yourself when you lack the right for that desire's fulfillment. He knows it's the blood that has him sleeping a bare two hours a night (that is what will kill him; Porthos won't let him go without food or water which means it's the lack of sleep which must kill him, because Porthos can lead Aramis to a mattress but he cannot make him sleep). He knows it's the blood that makes him start to himself standing far too close to Athos, looking him far too deeply in the eyes, hand on his wrist and Athos telling him so quietly, never a breath of resentment in his voice, that he should relax. Which means to step back and stop touching him.

He doesn't stop Aramis because he wants Aramis to stop, Aramis knows that. He's good at reading what people want from him, and he knows the miserable honesty of Athos' solicitude towards him now, knows Athos isn't annoyed by Aramis' attention, knows what he would give to Aramis if he could. But Athos stops him all the same, even though it's all Aramis wants and he knows Athos wants it too. He stops him because Aramis doesn't even know he's doing it, and he keeps him stopped, when Aramis does realise the position they're in, because of the wider situation they're in. Because Aramis can't control how the blood is slowly driving him insane but he can control his behaviour, for now, just for now, for as long as he can. Because of Porthos, and Aramis' love for Porthos like his heart dropped off the roof of a skyscraper. Because it does mean something that Aramis didn't choose to walk up and touch Athos, that was decided for him. Because it's not okay. Because it's not allowed.

He hears closer movement but ignores it, nothing matters like the thing in the walls, and he's got enough to concentrate on trying to keep his whining mind away from Athos. He's aware of Athos' activity in a very vague sense, nothing like the way Athos has led him to believe he feels Aramis' own actions, since almost nothing stirs Athos' steady slow heart to beat any faster than it does. What he feels primarily is the distance between them, and that awareness like sinking that Athos at this moment isn't thinking of him.

His eyes squeeze more tightly closed and through the prayer he tries to focus on forcing the beast back, making this thing in the walls bow down -

He is always aware of Athos, he drowns in Athos. He wants him until he could weep from it, he can't hear through wanting him sometimes, is aware of nothing but him. It wasn't like this at first, this crept up, as did the way he knows Athos looks at him now. Not just pity, not just regret, not just guilt. When Athos takes Aramis to church at two in the morning because he can't sleep and can't keep his mind with nothing to do in the dark but want Athos, Aramis can see in him, feel in him, the particular pitch of the guilt and grief in him. It's not just because Athos views it as his fault that this is happening to Aramis. It's because he views it as his fault that this is happening to Aramis.

Aramis is long since past the point of denial, he knows he's in love with Athos, he's known it for a long time. Sensing something returned - he won't say if it's love but he knows it's honest, the link between them is not just blood, and it fills his throat with the misery of it, what could be but can't be. He knows how unhappy and isolated Athos is, he's a vampire, it's a very long life to get through when people keep disappearing from it. Can't Aramis offer him some comfort, for as long as he has . . . ?

Stop thinking about Athos stop thinking about Athos pray, pray, work, pray -

There is definitely a noise in this room other than himself, now, not just the chaos out there, and he lifts his head muzzily, lips still parted on prayer, lifts his head blinking -

Barks with shock more than pain at the scoring heat across his ribs, turns - without a clue what's happening but he was a soldier once and he's survived this far as an exorcist and he turns with his free arm already punching: the wild-eyed necromancer, teeth clenched in his grin, thumps sideways to his knees with the force of it, blade clattering away, and with the second blow he drops the rest of the way, heavy on the floor again and still.

Aramis pants, puts his hand to his side, pulls it away hissing; blood, but not much. His athame. His own fucking athame, the bastard took it from his satchel while he was wearing the damned thing, Aramis too sunk in exorcism and Athos to notice. Aramis keeps one side of the blade sharpened, leaves the other blunt, it's primarily a ceremonial dagger and he only keeps one side sharp because he was a soldier and you never know when you might need another knife. The only thing that saved him from worse was a necromancer stabbing with the wrong bloody side.

He huffs his breath out hard, can't even spare the time to kick the necromancer's unconscious body away, he doesn't dare to remove his hand from the wall. He's got a link here, on his own terms, to the thing that took the building, a chance here to banish it, and he doubts he has the strength left to make another. Ignore him, ignore the necromancer, ignore that cold-souled bastard and concentrate on -

He catches it out of the corner of his eye and actually stops to stare the horror is so fierce in him: the barrier of salt has been scuffed aside.

Fuck, fuck, fuck that necromancer . . .

He looks back to his hand on the wall and there's nothing for it but ignoring it: he lowers his head and closes his eyes and sets to work once more. He prays, side stinging, jaw clenching, and tries to keep his heart steady, tries to keep the worry low, because he doesn't want Athos to worry about him. He focuses on the thing in the walls, feels the horrible way it ripples at him, the way it's aware of his pain and its delight in that is making his arm shake against the wall. He focuses on work.

He's still thinking about Athos. Eyes body muscle skin. The raise of his eyebrow, the flit of his smile like unexpected sunlight through moving cloud.

Porthos, he thinks, just to try to shift his mind back to focus, give me strength -

Something strikes the door.

He can't look up, he has to work. Prayer, prayer, prayer like a thousand flimsy stitches he's making to hold back a rhinoceros. Prayer prayer prayer every one a whisper layered on a whisper to try to drown out a bellow. Prayer, prayer, prayer, belief is all humanity has in the face of this, belief that it can be banished -

Something is still striking at the door, very hard, the lock won't last. Aramis pats his holster and as the lock snaps inwards - actually wrenching off the frame on the inside of the cell, the door slamming off the inner wall - Aramis looks up for just long enough to shoot the vampire in the head.

The vampire hits the floor. Aramis goes back to praying.

In the second he looked at his face, he did see the fresh blood on that vampire's mouth. Either he'd has already drunk from a guard or prisoner - which means he'll heal very shortly, and Aramis conserved bullets for that very reason, he doesn't know how many times he'll have to put him down - or, worse option, he's drunk from a werewolf. Werewolf blood makes vampires impossibly strong, and high as fuck. They go berserk. Most vampires wouldn't be caught dead (literally) drinking werewolf blood for how undignified its effects are, but if - if - well, at least Aramis would probably be dead before he knew it. And if that vampire had drunk from a werewolf, Aramis would probably never have had the time to shoot him anyway. He's never faced a vampire in that state before. He's not certain that anyone has and lived to tell how bad it can get.

He prays and prays to keep the thing in the walls pinned and to steady his heart, he doesn't want Athos to feel him afraid . . .

He prays, and prays, and - something grabs through the bricks, his breath snatches in, his palm is pinned to the wall. Which means - either the holy water's not enough anymore and it's about to take him, or - or it's working, it's fighting back harder because this is working and Aramis has become an opponent worth destroying, and he screws his eyes closed and drops the gun (no time for everything at once) and puts his other hand over the back of the first, holding it shaking to the cold surface of the wall, putting everything he has into -

. . . there is a low rumbling growl, in the doorway to the room.

He looks up, blinking fast to clear his eyes, to - the werewolf in the doorway. He hasn't turned. He's about Athos' height, and has nearly waist-length dreadlocks tied loosely back at the nape of his neck, and he's looking down at the fallen vampire, already twitching to rise. Then he puts a foot on the vampire's chest to hold him down and takes his head in both hands, and Aramis is too stupid with his mind strung out in too many directions to look away.

After the murky blood there is dust, and the werewolf is still softly growling down at the dirt underfoot before he looks up, and looks at Aramis. Aramis just kneels where he is, hands on the wall, breathing hard and shaky, all but spent already and his circle of salt is long broken and his gun is on the floor, and the stinging of his side hardly seems to matter, now.

The werewolf's growl rumbles soft, and he nods at Aramis' hands on the wall. "Exorcist?"

Admitting it might make him even more of a target, but then, trapped in a cell with a strange werewolf, there seems little worse trouble to get into. He nods.

The werewolf takes in what Aramis is doing, then nods, slowly, and says, "I'll keep 'em out." He turns his back to the doorway, flexes his hands like claws, sets his weight sturdy for anything approaching. Aramis stares at his back, heart getting tight in his throat, swallows around it to say, "Monsieur -"

The werewolf gives a shifting of his weight to let Aramis know he's listening, though he doesn't take his eyes from the space ahead, where danger will come from. "Thank you," Aramis says, meaning it more truly than such everyday words should allow. And then all he can do is close his eyes and take a breath and put all his concentration back into the thing in the walls.

The thing in the walls is ready for him.

The holy water on the wall and his own faith in the cross he's wearing are the only reasons he's still alive. The thing he's fighting is annoyed, now, and it means to kill him before it does anything else with the building it's possessed, before it starts trying to possess other things too. But Aramis has so much faith to spare, he knows God is on his side and knows God hears the way he's praying, Aramis is trying to save every life in this building and outside it should this thing get loose, Aramis knows he's on the side of the angels and he knows they're on his side too. And he knows, even if in many ways Porthos' and Athos' lives would be simpler if he did die in this place and they were spared from watching Aramis die slowly, slowly, breath by breath, he knows that they don't want that. He knows that they both very specifically want him to live.

He knows that they both love him.

He has not deserved the patience Porthos has given him while his awareness of Athos has drained him almost empty. Porthos' patience has been bottomless, his understanding endless, and Aramis doesn't warrant it - nothing has happened to him that isn't very specifically his own fault - and he understands it as the grace that love is. He knows Porthos loves him. Porthos is a werewolf but doesn't mind that Aramis' attention is primarily on a vampire, it could be nothing but love, Porthos loves him and even if Aramis is dying, he still knows that he's blessed. Porthos loves him. That faith is unshaken.

Athos loves him. Might as well admit it, in this situation. He will not lie when faced with this, this is certainly no time for sin, it is not friendship or concern or simple guilt that makes Athos' voice go low like that when he speaks to Aramis. It demeans the sanctity of it to call it anything less. They know what hangs between them, they know what came too late to save them. They know. And when Aramis thinks of Porthos his throat could break because he knows that he knows too, he knows what hangs heavy between Aramis and Athos, he knows it however Athos and Aramis have denied it to themselves. Aramis has fought his own love every inch of the way. Athos, it turns out, was fighting much the same battle, just always more discreet, and always more alone.

It's been a slow realisation, probably on both of their parts. They get a lot of time alone now, Aramis and Athos, in the long nights while Porthos sleeps and neither of them can. Athos too has been patient, and gentle, and quietly sad, watching Aramis pace the living room trying to walk all of his own restless energy out of himself, watching him sit with his rosary trying to concentrate on anything but Athos, speaking to him when Aramis has been losing his mind but at least the concrete sound of Athos' voice gives him something to sway to, some magnetic North to allow himself to align to. Athos has taken him to church, in the depths of night when he's felt like breaking, Athos has been there to quietly try to calm him when Aramis can't face Porthos in the state he's in and see him know it -

Too much love, Aramis thinks, and laughs a shocked keen out loud. That's what's going to kill you. Far too much fucking love.

It is going to kill him. He sets his weight on his knees, head bowed, and prays as fierce as all the love in his heart. This exorcism is going to be one of the last things he does, and, fuck it, he is going to get it right.

Later, he will never worry about 'too much' when it comes to love, because love between the three of them comes of its nature in exactly the right quantity. Later, he won't worry about Athos watching him die from the blood shared between them, because little makes him safer in this world than Aramis' blood beating through Athos' heart, telling him always where Aramis is, how steady he is - little makes him safer but the werewolf who loves him as well, who has fangs as long as Aramis' fingers and uses them, always, to keep him safe. Later he won't deny himself when it comes to either of them; they will know that their respect is enough to save Aramis, and love never could kill him. Only the lack of respect could do that to him, with this wager of blood between them.

All of that is later. Today he is alone, but for the kindness and courage of a werewolf as outnumbered as Aramis is. Today he's alone and facing something from Hell, and the distance from Athos is a weight on his brain and his bones, trying to force him down. He puts his head down, squeezes his eyes closed, and tries through the floundering waters of his own impossible mind to focus.

*

Hurrying through shrieking roaring chaos, fights in the cells and outside the cells, manic supernaturals running bloody riot and Porthos and Athos dragging a very endangered prison guard between them, Athos curses the government 'efficiencies' that put supernatural prisoners in with mortal human criminals. He curses the distance to the garrison, to the back-up they called for as soon as they were out of that cell they left Aramis in, and how long it will take them to arrive. He curses fucking necromancers and their idiot impulse to meddle, that's what pisses him off the most, clueless idiot mortals getting involved in things they don't understand, Athos can feel the evil unleashed in the walls of this place in ways he knows that weak little man couldn't grasp -

And he curses Aramis, the exorcist they left behind to fight it, the exorcist who they already know thinks that offering his blood to a vampire is a legitimate decision to make when under pressure. That's already killing him and that was only to save Athos and Porthos. What the hell else would he bargain, in this place, with so many lives at risk?

There are so many lives at risk. There's blood run over the floor as they dash through a corridor, barred gates open at either end, two guards' bodies crumpled against the walls with their heads slumped down. The guard they're dragging moans, Athos can see the hesitation in Porthos and just growls at him, a wordless no; he can't hear their hearts. Porthos only half looks at him, and keeps pace. He knows. If the vampire says it's dead, it's dead.

Porthos does keep pace. It's to keep the guard safe between them, of course, but Athos knows it's always more than that, though he doesn't understand why, struggles every day and night with it, why Porthos responds to Athos as if Athos is worth any response other than murder.

Athos knows that Aramis loves Porthos, even if it weren't perfectly obvious to anyone who ever glanced at the two of them, Athos feels what happens to Aramis' heart when Porthos puts an arm around him, touches his side, the relaxing, the quickening of him. He has been unable not to feel what their lovemaking does to Aramis even through two closed doors, and it is the sickest mercy that they seem to have given up on it altogether, just so that Athos doesn't have to feel it because he already knows how it makes Aramis' heart well and drown in Porthos. Athos knows that Aramis loves Porthos. But he knows that Porthos loves Aramis as well, any idiot could see that, he sees . . . it is so much more than just the wolf in him. The wolf would fight Athos for dominance and possession of Aramis, that would be a very simple matter and would really improve all of their lives quite neatly, given that Athos would have no intention of fighting back and increasingly can't bear to live. But it isn't only Porthos' wolf; Porthos loves Aramis, probably never knew it as truly as he did until he realised, they all realised even if they try not to speak of it, that Aramis is fading, and it is Athos' fault.

He dies by degrees, their exorcist. So far they've both managed to make him go through the motions of eating and drinking even if all appetite has clearly died in him, but nothing can make him sleep. It's surprising how quickly lack of sleep can kill a human. Soon their last remaining option will be to take him to a hospital, to have him put into a medically induced coma for his own good. The question is whether Aramis wants that, it's no life, it's just death drawn out, and nothing can actually cure him but Athos' own death. Aramis might choose to die with them rather than in the clinical surroundings of a hospital. Athos knows that he in particular is bound by Aramis' decision in the matter. Athos could make Aramis want whatever he feels like just by thinking it, and it will always put a particular burden of deference on Athos towards him.

Porthos wants Aramis to live. And yet, perversely, he doesn't want Athos to die.

Athos does not have a strong opinion on that matter.

He hasn't felt guilt this near the nerves since he first realised his own decision to come off human blood, since he first made a decision to slough off his old life - all the death, as if his life was ever worth the blood of so many people, the destruction of his family and all the destruction he meted out in its aftermath as if he had any right to do it - and swear his oath, never a human again, and eventually with the aid of the DPI to do something good with the cursed length of life he's been given. The guilt now is like a punch to the stomach, always, that Aramis did this for him, for him, to save his life, and that Aramis - Athos knows Aramis could not bear for Athos to sacrifice himself to save him now. Aramis has suffered enough anguish already, Athos knows how he acts but he also knows that all those dead exorcists at his back linger with him however well he ignores his own scars. Aramis does not act like anything has ever wounded him in his life, Athos is staggered by the joy he takes in the world, and yet there's a shadow over him all the same, and Athos can't force him to face more grief and guilt over the simple act of surviving. Athos cannot condemn him to a life paid for with Athos' death. It would be no life, to Aramis. Athos knows that. Athos feels his heart beat as if in his own chest; he has no luxury of pretending that he doesn't know that Aramis loves him.

"Close the - close the gates -" the guard gasps, run far too fast on human legs between the werewolf and the vampire. "Keep them -"

"Unless our exorcist has got control of the building back from-"

There's a scream, staggered and shrieking with utter terror, in a cell on this side of those gates, and Athos can smell the blood, there are the bodies of two guards dumped on the floor in the middle of all these rows of cells as well. They're too late to keep the wings apart, and someone, something, has broken through. Athos says, "I'll -"

"Keep him here, keep 'em out." Porthos growls, on a diaphragm-vibrating pitch, striding off for that cell the screams came from with his hands held out tight as if they can't go into fists, as if they are already curved to claws.

Athos looks up to the far end of that gated corridor back to the supernatural wing, where a fully turned wolf is sniffing, and giving him a look, and flicking its ears. Then it begins to growl.

Athos can already hear the roars and crashing of Porthos fighting whatever is in the room with that human prisoner who stopped screaming - judging by the heartbeats it's a vampire in there - and he half-wonders why Porthos doesn't turn but then he knows. Porthos might have more weapons to hand if he turns, but he struggles to understand complicated chains of events as a wolf, and Aramis is here and desperately in need of their minding him, so surrounded by supernatural chaos as this. Porthos has to keep his human mind to be able to help Aramis, who has half lost his own mind by now, and Athos can tell -

Like a fishing hook in his heart: he can feel the tug of Aramis thinking of him.

He is familiar, now, with the flutters of Aramis' attention, with the particular jolting way Aramis tries to drag his mind back under his own control, with the contented as if laying in a hot bath way Aramis' mind will sink to its lowest point, which is always Athos, when he's not aware of it. And Athos does his best to keep his own feelings a closed book to Aramis, does his best to not think of him at all because he never knows how much Aramis can feel it, does his best to nudge Aramis up and awake again, does his best to ease Aramis back to sanity away from himself, he knows how shockingly dangerous the power he has over Aramis is. There is a level on which nothing would make Aramis happier than Athos simply taking him as if he were his, claiming him, putting him in his place as owned - except for the level on which it is abominable, on which it is sick, and the level on which Aramis loves Porthos and this betrayal of Porthos' feelings has Aramis so hopelessly confused and tangled in himself, he would be drowning by now quite without Athos making it worse.

Now, facing a wolf begin walking with mad-eyed intention down the corridor towards him - arched all angles like a cat's claws - he feels Aramis. He feels a shock to his heart, stab and panic, some moment of violence -

He has little breath to stop, but his body does freeze.

- and he feels Aramis' frustration, some pain but mostly irritation, and knows that he's alright, if startled. Not dead. Had something broken through that door and got its hands on him, he would certainly not have the time to feel this.

He blinks back to the task in hand, as the wolf hunkers itself to pounce, and Athos draws the gun he rarely bothers to use, and has enough time in its spring to aim for both shoulders.

The wolf still hits him heavy as a brick to the head, but he catches the weight of it and flings it sideways, crashing them both over on their sides, the wolf howling its pain, Athos clubbing it hard between the eyes with the butt of his gun. It takes another two blows to quiet it but it's better than just tearing its throat out as he can hardly deny instinct hisses at him to do, as he kicks the bulky body away and picks himself up - the guard is shaking, taser in hand - and Porthos emerges from that cell, shaking blood off his hands, some horribly ugly bruise on the side of his head clotting blood in his hair.

"Alright?" he grunts.

Athos tugs his shirt straight, brushes at the wolf's blood on it, and nods.

He doesn't tell him that something, he doesn't know what, has happened to Aramis. He can still feel the desperation in Aramis, the low-level thrum of his fear of failure, he's the only one who knows how difficult what he's doing is and what chance an exorcist hardly in his right mind to begin with has to defeat it. Possibly he never thought he did have a chance to defeat it; possibly Aramis is just holding it off until other exorcists can get here, and do what he knows he has no strength left for.

How Athos ought to feel about that: grateful that Aramis' death will be in the line of duty, honourable, meaningful, and relatively fast.

How he actually feels about that:

He cannot face this.

He is a vampire. It was a very long time ago that the blood in him turned to mud in his veins, still a long time ago that he stopped tasting the stark richness of human death. And yet now, and in a length of life like his this change was no time ago at all, there is something alive in his veins again, something hot and scarlet in his heart, and what it is is the blood of that failing exorcist Athos can feel wary, fretful - something is happening, he knows something is happening, he can feel the buzz of Aramis' voice, why is he speaking? - there is something alive in Athos' heart, and Athos is fucking terrified of it.

He has no right to complain of how difficult his side of this is. Aramis is dying from it, and Aramis can be staggered sideways by a casual irritated thought of Athos', Athos is not the one suffering the most from this. But he feels it all the same and is terrified of it - mortally so, and he is a vampire. There is something in his heart that is not him. There is something out in the world, mortal and fragile, that he cares about more than his own choking life and to face that again - to face that again, oh hell -

How can any vampire be unlucky enough to fall for a mortal twice?

Both of their hearing is quite sharp enough for the footsteps behind them, as they turn - Athos puts a hand on the guard's arm, hearing his heart kick up in terror - to the vampire walking delicately out of a cell, nudging at the corners of his lips with a crooked knuckle to smudge in the smeared blood, taking them in and - smiling, with the giddy light of fresh blood in its eyes.

"Musketeers, I presume?" he says, the old aristocratic drawl Athos wishes his own dead tongue had long lost; that vampire stands there poised in tailored clothing, as if his circumstances have not changed since he was imprisoned for presumably exactly the same things he just did in that cell, things that left him with blood to wipe from his mouth. "Well, you must be. I think we killed all the supernatural guards."

Porthos' growling has kicked up to a higher snarl, and Athos says, quiet and meant, "Careful."

The vampire laughs a little. Athos had been so long off human blood that it turns out he'd forgotten the true phenomenology of coping with the world after feeding, in the immediacy of drinking from Aramis the world was garish with colour and scent, clangourous with noise, it loomed in too close and too slow, it felt like he could push a finger through the world itself. You know in the abstract that human blood makes you a little high, but it's really something to bear in mind when you face a vampire fresh after feeding: they are devastatingly fast and strong, yes, but they are also quickened to their core - quickened in a way vampires otherwise never are, alight on the inside, humans never feel so fierce, humans never feel in comparison, Athos had forgotten what the rush of it is like. And right now the vampire in front of them is more than fast and powerful enough to kill both of them, and more than high enough to decide to do it.

"Careful," he says again to Porthos, quietly, because it is one thing for he or Aramis to die, trapped in the confused web of blood between them, but it's something else entirely for Athos to have to walk to Aramis and tell him that Porthos is dead; that grief is more than he could inflict on a man already fading his way to the end of his own life. And he knows Porthos deserves better. Every way Porthos could have responded to what's happened between Athos and Aramis, and he chose to behave with a dignity and decency Athos - it is his shame, not Porthos' - never knew that a werewolf could display.

He's been partnered with werewolves in the department before, and put up with them. Porthos is the first he's really come to know in any respect, certainly the first he actually has respected, and he never did in his life think he'd come across a werewolf that he liked. But once beyond the barriers of their status - both of them not-quite-human, both of them, technically, humans who turned - repeatedly nudged together through the casual and smirking affability of Aramis determining to make them be friends, they have been oddly comfortable with each other, the werewolf and the vampire. Athos came at least to trust Porthos early on, as their assignment was strictly to keep Aramis from getting killed and Porthos evidently cared about that more than his own life; later Athos began finding himself amused at the two of them at the other side of the kitchen table, their ever-easy warmth with each other, he still remembers the first time, one eyebrow raised in his grin, that Porthos dared to tease Athos.

After the surprise, that felt - nicer than he really wanted to face up to. To be treated as someone trusted on the level of an equal. To be treated as someone who could be teased, who ever dares to poke a vampire like that? They were still pacing their uneasy way towards friendship when Athos drank from Aramis, but they truly were making that slow, uncertain journey. And Porthos has behaved admirably since then, after he came through the shock of it all. Has been patient, has not judged Aramis the things he's hurting himself trying to stop himself from doing, and has not looked at Athos like his death is as warranted as Athos knows it truly is. He doesn't know any other werewolf who could have looked at him like that after Athos drank from their mate and left him to wash away on the aftereffects like chalk in the rain. For a werewolf Athos likes Porthos, and he will not see him killed by a lethally blood-high vampire in this place.

Anyway, if anyone has to risk his neck, they both really know who the world would be better without.

The vampire in front of them licks the blood he'd dabbed from his lips from his knuckle, and giggles a little. Athos remembers how utterly intoxicating Aramis' blood was to him - how, after so long without human blood, he'd found himself so grotesquely unable to stop. Imprisoned for some time away from human blood this vampire is back on a drug perhaps long out of his system, and is liable to be as crazed as Athos was in those first moments when the wolves who interrupted him didn't stand a chance . . .

Athos says, voice not quite easy - the sight of a vampire licking its fingers coming out of a cell like the one they locked Aramis into is making him catch nervy at the feel of Aramis' heart beating, to reassure himself that that cell's occupant is still safe - "You will stand down, and be returned to your cell."

The vampire is stifling another giggle, grinning wildly - he's quite handsome, and obviously tediously aware of it; Aramis manages to pull off the same trait with much more charm. "Will I, musketeer." His grin is more of a leer, now. "Do you know what is free in these walls? Do you honestly think that your little rules and punishments matter now?"

Porthos gives Athos a look, and yes, vampires do have more of a direct sense of evil than werewolves do. Athos and this vampire don't have an exorcist's sensitivity to these things, but they both know the feel of evil when they meet it. And that thing in the walls - Aramis said it wasn't human and Athos believed him instantly. He has known a great many humans and vampires capable of appalling acts of evil, and he is still willing to believe that the thing looming in the building all around them is capable of worse and enjoying worse.

And they left Aramis alone to fight it, fuck . . .

Athos says, "I think in these circumstances the choices we make with regards to morality matter more than ever. Stand down or you will be put down."

Curl of his lip and the vampire strides forwards, "Oh do try, you neutered little musketeer bitc-"

Athos hasn't Aramis' aim but he is still holding a gun; he can quite easily shoot it twice in the chest as Porthos sprints forwards, and Athos can leave the rest to him. You can take no chances with a vampire fresh from feeding, not if it refuses to back to down, not in these circumstances.

The guard is trying to lock the gate, but the key won't turn in the lock, the man's going to snap it at this rate; Athos touches his arm, tugs it gently away to make him stop. Until Aramis can get this building exorcised there's nothing they can do but hold the two wings apart. Few supernaturals have already made it this far, too few to run riot and slaughter human prisoners indiscriminately, given that to get here they would have had to get past each other; most werewolves might have no particular desire to kill humans but coming across vampires or other werewolves in a state of some excitement and anger could lead to chaos, and most vampires' behaviour speaks for itself. They had to deal with each other before they could turn on the humans.

Athos can smell blood, and hear panicked human heartbeats; can also hear other heartbeats . . .

When Porthos returns from the puddle of ash wiping at the murky blood on his hands, Athos nods to the guard. "Stay with him, keep anyone else out. I'll check the other cells."

Porthos says, "I'll yell if we need you."

They're both strained, Athos has half his attention on Aramis' heart - strained itself, fast with work Athos doesn't understand and cannot let himself fear for too much - and Porthos can only hope his mate is still alive and alright. And yet it's more than professionalism, as Athos turns for the cell he can scent a werewolf in, and hear its heart slightly faster than the humans in there (they're always easy to hear; werewolves' hearts run a little quicker, as their natural body temperature runs higher, than humans'). There is trust in the way they let each other take particular roles, there is understanding. Athos likes Porthos. And no-one else on this Earth has hurt Porthos as much as Athos has, and will do, much worse, very soon.

He looks into the cell with one hand on the hilt of his blade, but inside are two humans and an unturned werewolf in some obvious distress, they've used the beds to block the doorway and all three of them standing pressed to the back wall look terrified. He came here for safety, Athos thinks, looking into the werewolf's terrified eyes, and all he does is nod to him, say, "Stay in here until the guards have told you it's safe to move." and move on to the next suspect cell. Not every prisoner in here intends murder if he gets the chance for it - far from it - and that werewolf fled from the other supernaturals just as a human would, and he ought to know exactly what he's fleeing from.

He listens for heartbeats; human, human, human. A human comes running out of one cell wielding a chair and screaming and Athos is mostly puzzled by it, catches the chair's seat and shoves the human back through the door - he flings back with a shriek and crash into the wall, and Athos then just looks at him until the man stops staring and hides his own eyes behind his crooked arms, and begins to cry. Then Athos moves on to the next cell, another one with the beds used to block the door. They're not stupid, they've already heard the screams, they know they're not safe in here.

Human. Human. Human.

Something slower . . .

He's been able to smell blood for so long in this place that he hasn't paid attention to its heightened scent in this wing - that vampire they've already put down has already spilt some, they know that much. But now he actually allows himself to scent for it and it spikes through him enough to make him feel light-headed, he used to mind human blood less when he'd been off it for so long, now it's a matter of weeks since he tasted Aramis and his tongue feels dry and dead and in need of life -

Aramis. Athos feels the beat of his heart - worryingly intense now, Athos' best hope is it's something to do with the exorcism, it feels too fast in a regular way for panic in the face of immediate danger - and even as the scent makes him very aware of the edges of his tongue, it's unthinkable that he would act on it. He's always known how weak he is, but now he thinks that he could do nothing that would horrify Aramis if he knew of it. Aramis feels Athos, Aramis is trapped, bound to Athos, and Athos can do nothing that would make Aramis feel something in him as monstrous, and even more sickening because Aramis still can't drag himself away from him.

He holsters his gun, and draws his blade, and looks at the doorway to the cell, side-on. He knows the vampire inside knows he's outside. He can hear little wet noises, the suction of someone licking at, wiping his mouth.

The vampire comes out with a roared hiss, teeth long, ducking so Athos' blade slams the doorframe rather than its neck. It catches him in the midriff, slamming them both back onto the concrete and Athos' head jars off the floor, the vampire pulls a hand back with fingers flung to claws to smash through his eye sockets but Athos grabs its wrist and hacks at it in the side of the neck.

Pain is not especially a problem to vampires, their nerve endings are usually ignorable however they still, like forgetful old men sharing their bodies, try to shout; they have to be very hurt to be troubled by feeling it. Which means that the vampire can ignore Athos' blade and stab the fingers of its free hand into Athos' side, below his ribcage, and Athos is still struggling to hold its other wrist, arm trembling against the strength of a vampire fresh from feeding, and hacking at its neck as if at a recalcitrant tree branch. The vampire wrenches its fingers free - it hasn't done much damage, ruined his shirt mostly - to fend off the next blow of the blade, beginning to have some concern for Athos getting through its neck, so Athos headbutts it in the face (no vampire, no gentleman, ever expects that) and as the vampire squawks in shock at how strange a broken nose feels, Athos finally lops its head clean off.

It hardly matters that the ashy residue will probably wash out, between his and that vampire's blood this shirt is unsalvageable. He gets through so many shirts in this fucking job. Thank god he doesn't have to spend his wages on pointless things like food.

He picks himself up and beats some of the dust off himself, and looks back to Porthos, who has one hand on that guard's arm and his eyes cut back a little nervous on Athos. Athos nods back, so Porthos can return his attention to the gate to the other wing, and then listens hard, but - only humans left, as far as he can tell, except for whatever lies beyond the gates.

He glances down at the sluggishly bleeding wound in his side, sighs, walks to join Porthos.

"There's a wolf down there," Porthos murmurs. "Paddin' about. Don't think it knows if it wants t'come down or not."

The guard says, "We need to get those gates -"

"There's no point." Athos says. "Not until our exorcist is done. The thing in the walls can just unlock them again even if we can get them closed."

The phone in his pocket begins to buzz. He takes it out - Treville - and accepts the call. "Captain. We're guarding the human wing, we've lost a few prisoners but most of them seem to have barricaded themselves into their cells."

Treville's voice is slightly uneven, he's walking - hurrying - as he talks. "Any word on Aramis?"

"Still working, we assume." He knows Treville is nervous of his limited resource of exorcists becoming even more limited, but worry gnaws at Athos harder; Aramis' heart is going hard, and not entirely even, almost like it's being buffeted. Athos doesn't have an absolutely clear reading on Aramis' emotions but can tell the better and worse ones, and right now he feels -

Fuck. He feels frantic. "You need to get the other exorcists -"

"They're already working at the outer walls. Athos, if we send in back-up, are we just feeding worse chaos?"

The wildness of the fight in Aramis, Athos doesn't know what's happening in the supernatural wing. "I don't know, sir. If we try to fight our way back to him that leaves this wing undef-"

Three things:

One, Athos feels that evil in the walls snap clean out of existence.

Two, the silenced alarm picks itself up now that it's not being held down as if in greedy pinching fingers, whining its way back up to a howl overhead.

Three, Aramis' heart stops.

Athos doesn't notice that he loses the phone, doesn't hear Porthos yelling at his back and then yelling at the guard to get the gates closed after them. The werewolf lurking in the corridor between wings freezes at the sight of a vampire running at it, hesitating on its instincts, lips curled to growl but body a little cringing, Athos makes a warning noise as he passes it and all it does is flinch.

Aramis' heart starts up again, a startled, groggy beat, it must have skipped, hardly stopped for a second. Athos sucks breath in so it hits his dead lungs like a slap of water, that second's shock of the silence of Aramis' heart felt like minutes to him, he realises -

He realises that he now measures time by Aramis' heartbeat, the liveliest sound he has. No beat, and it could be any length of time at all. Without Aramis' heart he's in outer space: nothing but silence, and the dark.

He runs. The alarm is as loud as hell to his ears - he can hear Porthos' pounding steps as he tries to keep up behind him, to his hearing it must be a physical assault - but Aramis' heart is all he really hears, Aramis' stumbling heart, the shaking of his breath, he's not okay, something has happened, what happened -

Around the corner into the larger space of the supernatural wing again and a vampire turns drawing the attention of another, they both see them, both look wild - they've realised that the alarm means playtime is over and they're to be locked up again - and one throws itself at him, one at Porthos but Athos catches its wrist and slams it with an elbow to the ribcage into the wall, he hears things break, doesn't care, the bastard will heal. Behind him there's the roar of Porthos clashing with the other but Athos staggers and runs on -

There's a werewolf with bloody hands outside the open door to the cell they left Aramis in.

Athos' step slows, goes horribly slow but Aramis' heart is picking up properly now, some strength returning but baffled with it, like he hardly understands his own life and all of the world. Athos stares at the werewolf and then looks down, at the dust around its feet, and the body of a werewolf in human form but clothes torn as if it turned and turned back, still but breathing on the floor.

Athos looks up at the werewolf again, who shifts his stiff stance - one arm is probably broken, the uncomfortable way he holds it, and he smells of a few meaty wounds as he flares his nostrils to check Athos' scent and says distrustfully, "Musketeers?"

Athos strides up and brushes past the werewolf. Porthos will talk to it. The important thing -

Aramis is trying to pick himself up from the floor but it's like he's drunk or concussed, his arms just don't work. Athos feels the flare of his immediate presence, the shock of his hereness, and doesn't think; he's on his knees and pulling Aramis up into his arms and tucking him into the shape of his body, head safe to his shoulder, sheer relief that his heartbeat isn't a building away through a hundred ways he could die but here, safe -

Aramis is incredibly confused for one second and then -

Melts. His body slumps itself to the shape Athos' body offers him, his cheek falls to his shoulder, his eyes are closed. Athos feels a wash of release close to ecstasy and that's - Aramis he's feeling, god, fuck, that's Aramis letting go after weeks, finally in his arms and it's relief like he never knew there could be, like all of life is strife and then there's this. Athos can smell the blood on him - that necromancer's moved on the floor, he knows what happened - but somehow it's easy to push aside as Aramis lays in his grip and makes some helplessly sweet little noise, Athos' dead heart bangs with it, he never before knew what bliss sounded like.

And then as Athos is running a hand through his hair to check his head for injuries and saying, "Are you alright, you're hurt, how badly are you -"

He realises that Porthos is in the doorway, and he stiffens instantly, and Aramis sensing it - cringes before he catches himself, lifting his head with a snort of breath. "I," he says, blinking and blinking, staring at Athos - struggling with it, trying not to - and finally making his eyes meet Porthos, and then he seems to forget what comes next. "I," he tries again.

Athos looks at the athame sunk into the wall as if stabbed into a cheese. No mortal should have been able to put a knife into brick to its handle. Not if it were brick being stabbed, and not the soul of something evil. Trust Aramis to navigate transubstantiation in the act of exorcism.

"Here," Athos says, clearing his throat, turning in his kneel and offering Aramis' still-unsteady body to Porthos. "Take him."

Porthos just stands there in the doorway for a moment longer, and Athos can't read his face. Then he walks in, crouches beside them, allows Athos to put Aramis into his arms. Aramis allows himself to be shifted, but at being given up from Athos' hold he can't stop what happens to his eyes, the way he looks as if cast right out of Heaven, like a child unwanted, that moment's forgetfulness on both of their parts is the closest to relief he's had since the blood.

Athos stands and looks at the werewolf outside, who offers a low growl across to another werewolf pacing anxiously about and getting too close, then looks sullenly back to Athos. His arm hangs wrong, and one side of his face is going to bruise purple, there's blood caught under his nose. Athos says, "Thank you. You did not . . ." He struggles with it; it's not easy, to a werewolf, to a werewolf who's presumably here for a reason. "It is appreciated."

The werewolf shrugs, not looking at Athos like he likes him very much, or like he did it for his appreciation. The murmuring of Porthos' voice to Aramis has stopped, and now he calls over Athos' shoulder, "We c'n talk to the captain 'bout your sentence."

"Didn' do it for that." the werewolf snarls back.

"Nah," Porthos says. "DPI always needs fresh bodies who like a fight though."

Athos glances back at Porthos' smile, slightly strained, then at the werewolf outside, giving them an uncertain look. That werewolf is in here for a reason, Athos thinks. And, he thinks, maybe it's not a reason I especially understand.

He understands that much, at least.

He nods to the werewolf, and Porthos pulls his jangling phone from his pocket, says, "No, captain, s'alright, s'safe to come in, Aramis went - we got him, he's alright, bit of a scratch, he'll live. Must've killed the thing when the other exorcists chipped in t'help."

Aramis looks like he can probably kneel up unaided now, but Porthos keeps an arm around him, and all Aramis looks is - confused, struggling and unhappy, and Athos realises that while he was dealing with that thing in the walls, when Athos was suddenly holding him, then he was focused, then he was fine. But now he's back exactly where he was again, head fogged with wanting Athos and never being allowed Athos, the rest of his life to endure again, Athos feels the strain of it in him, it's more than he can bear -

Aramis takes a breath, and closes his eyes, and leans his forehead to Porthos' shoulder. Porthos, attention torn between Aramis and Treville on the other end of the line, rubs his back, and something in his eyes is not quite right. If Athos knew him better he could read it better; he never has known Porthos enough.

Their back-up gets in, DPI agents help the surviving guards to get the prisoners safely back in their cells, and wait with them for more guards to be sent for from wherever they can be obtained. Athos looks at the men and thinks that they need the traumatised guards in this place out of here to recover, as quickly as possible for as long as possible. Bodies have to be identified, forensic teams are sent for, they try not to disturb the piles of ash while they ascertain which vampires seem to have vanished. And the two of them, left out of all this clean-up, look at Aramis' side - scraped, almost bruised more than cut open, he says the blade he put through the wall was blunt - and the captain tells them to take him to the hospital, to have it cleaned and bound.

Aramis wants his athame back. It's one of the few things he seems able to focus on, and it hurts in ways Athos didn't anticipate to see him return to his fog, unable to concentrate or care about anything, obviously and almost-distressingly aware himself of the numbness he's seeping back into and cannot, cannot fight. But he wants his athame back. "It's a good one," he mumbles, and can't tug it out of the wall he just used whatever power is in him to put it into.

Porthos has to brace a boot on the wall to yank it free. There's not a chip on the blade. Not so much as a bend to the metal. Aramis puts it back into his satchel with shaking hands.

They take him to the hospital and Athos feels queasy, he can no longer ignore the scent of Aramis' blood. He wants to leave the room while a nurse tends to the cut but when he backs to the door he sees the muscles in Aramis' naked back - they had to take his shirt off for it - tighten as if in shock, and he knows it's anticipation of Athos leaving that's doing it. He steps closer to him again, sees the way the muscles begin to - give, to release.

He doesn't look at Porthos. He can't look at Porthos.

They take him home.

It never was intended to be a home, this place. It's a safe house they were meant to keep an exorcist alive in while they worked out what to do with that exorcist, uncertain of his state of mind or his abilities. His abilities are no longer in any question, in no way impaired by what happened to the rest of his cohort in the college, and his mind - well, prior to Athos' influence, he was Aramis, which means what it means. But this was a safe house, not a home. This was a place to sleep in, not a place to truly live in.

Then Porthos and Aramis became exactly what they are, still as true as the solidity of stone even if the influence of Athos in Aramis' blood is numbing him of any ability to show it or feel it. And then Aramis began looking at Athos, and Athos ignored him and his own curious appetite for Aramis, and then one night when Athos was holding his own guts in and waiting for a werewolf to come finish the job, Aramis chose life whatever the price was. Any risk was worth it to him. Athos was worth any risk, to him.

Porthos helps Aramis to the bathroom to wash, he's always - he always used to be keen to get the death cleaned off himself after working. Porthos keeps a hand on Aramis' shoulder blade, uses a gentle low voice to guide him inside. Athos changes his own disgusting clothes, cleans and binds the wound on his side at the kitchen sink - no longer bleeding, already healing, but he'd like it not to get bumped open so it can ruin another shirt - and then sits at the table, and puts his head into his hands.

He has killed that man. It's his corpse not yet knowing to fall that they protect and care for as best they can, when he's no caring left for himself. Athos has killed Aramis and he's destroyed Porthos and the two of them are too good to blame him but - his hands go tight in his hair, if his body were alive to work he'd taste bile, he can't face this. It is his weakness, not theirs, he cannot watch this happen, this slow stupid death of Aramis', Athos' hand is around Aramis' throat and he will not leave it there. Something imperious, something hateful with fear, rises in him then: he is the fucking Comte de la Fère and if he refuses something then it will not happen. He refuses Aramis' death, and he no longer gives a fuck what Aramis thinks about it.

He remembers the feel of him, the warm press of him in Athos' arms, the feel of his breath shocked with grace, the feel of his heart suddenly safe, the beatification of being his. That is what he's done to Aramis. He's turned him into someone who can only feel anything that isn't pain and struggle when he belongs to Athos, and it is sick, and it is ending, tonight. Even after today Aramis won't sleep more than a few brief hours, too stunned with Athos for more, but when he does, when he's finally in that bed beside Porthos where he belongs, Athos is going out to buy a can of petrol and a box of matches.

He won't think about the afterwards. There won't be an afterwards.

For the first time, he feels some baffled relief, feels his weight sink in his seat, he didn't expect this. No more life, no more of any of it, the days and days and days and days and days of it. No more memory, he will have no more memory, and all those people dead so long ago that no-one else remembers they ever existed, they will be gone with him. All that grief, all the contemptible misery of his own life, it will be as if it never happened. He feels confused, distrustful of his own relief. Freedom is something he's never considered he might have. His burdens have weighed him down for so long, he forgot there always was an end to it, if he only had the sense.

He will not think about Aramis waking and knowing what he has done. He will not think about what it might do to him, what he might feel in the act of it, about his guilt, about his grief, his loss of what Athos hates to admit is an honest and ugly love. He will not think about how Porthos and Aramis have to manage afterwards, what it will do to both of them, to their relationship, to the rest of their lives. He won't think about any of it. He won't have to. He'll be dead. Truly dead, finally, and nothing will ever be his problem again.

He has a brief thought of Ninon, and how she might understand it, what she would say about it, and then he chooses not to think of her and all the unwelcome advice she would have again.

The bathroom door opens and Porthos emerges, and Athos lifts his head from his hands, straightens his shirt, looks at him. Porthos glances back and then closes the bathroom door behind himself, and his eyes stay low, and there's something - there's something in his face Athos reads as closed before he realises that it's not, it's open, for the first time in a long time. Porthos has been hiding his expressions as determinedly as Aramis has been trying to. Now Porthos isn't trying, and his face is troubled, so troubled, and so broken, so sad, Athos doesn't know how to look away.

Porthos steps away from the bathroom door, towards Athos, and Athos thinks - he's going to talk to him about Aramis. He knows it. And he doesn't need Porthos to say it, he needs to tell him, he knows, he knows it has to end and tonight, what Porthos was forced to watch today -

"Look," Porthos says, and clears his throat, and his mouth presses too closed with keeping something in for one second. "Look," he says, voice coarse with pain, "we both - we know what's goin' on with him."

". . . yes." There's little more to say to that. They do both know. "Porthos -"

"An' - we both know what he's, what he feels like about, 'bout you." Porthos isn't looking at him, is looking at the rug under the coffee table, but after staring at it for a long moment while Athos doesn't know how to respond, he does lift his head. Porthos lifts his head and looks Athos in the eye, like he's going to be brave, like he's going to do this right. "I don't know," Porthos says, "how long he might -"

He stops; his voice just scraped too high. He swallows, and his fists squeeze at his sides, and he tries, "We dunno how much-"

No. He can't get it out. Athos pushes the chair back to stand, says so softly, he wants to save him from it, "Porthos."

"I want 'im to be happy." Porthos says, so rough and wrecked, but he looks Athos in the eye even with something raw behind his own gaze. "I - that's all that matters now." Something seems to catch in his throat, and he clears it down again, says roughly, "Right?"

". . . Porthos, I think we're - I think it's time I-"

"We both know you're all he wants." Porthos says, and god Athos knows what that costs him but - he looks strangely little like he feels the price, saying it. Maybe he's been too long coming to terms with it. Maybe he feels he already paid the price for it, long before this conversation. "Why the fuck don't we just give 'im it?"

Athos stares at him. He says, "I am not all he wants."

"Don't be daft, you're the only thing he thinks about."

"Don't be ridiculous, I hear his heart, I know he loves you."

"Not as much as you."

"Of course he does, all you're seeing is the blood, Porthos."

"Not all of it."

"- no. But enough of it. It is not . . . don't accuse him of inconstancy. He loves you. If it weren't for the blood he and I would never have mattered in the slightest."

"You an' him do matter though," Porthos says, giving him a darker glare now, fists tighter. "Right? S'not just the blood for you, is it?"

Athos keeps his mouth closed, and can't deny that. Once he might have been able to. Once he attributed so much of it to the blood, or to the echoes of Aramis in his own chest. What is down to the blood is Athos' lack of anything to hide behind, because it's the blood that makes the things he can't help seeing in Aramis into things he can't help feeling in Aramis, it's like coming into three dimensions from only two, Aramis startles him now. His cheerfulness, back when he was capable of feeling it and not so drowned in Athos' influence, meant that his heart sat like a little sun in Athos' chest; the fury of his sense of injustice in the face of every wailing spirit dragged back to suffer between worlds Athos is amused by, and sometimes a little shamed by, that his own sense of justice atrophied years ago, there's just too much grief in the world for more to matter but Aramis reminds him that that is never true. His love for Porthos, and he does love Porthos, has meant that Aramis has spent every sinew in himself remaining faithful as far as he's able even in thought while under the influence of a vampire, and his love for Athos - Athos knows that he loves him, and knows that it's drowned him, the tangle of it, the confusion of feeling the three of them have made, that nothing of it has been natural, all of it pruned and stunted and snarled and wrong.

He is a fool, a good-hearted fool, the very opposite of Athos, the very opposite in the end of her, and perhaps that is why Athos has looked at him for so long with it twisting like barbed wire inside, wanting what he knows he should not. He swore to Aramis that he wouldn't make this harder for him. What the hell does he think this is? Aramis feels Athos' attentions to him, Athos can try to disguise the feeling from him but all he knows he can do is mute a little what must already be unbearable, and Athos hasn't even the fucking decency not to want him and in doing so force more desire through Aramis' veins when he can't fight what he's already dealing with -

Porthos just looks at him, for a long time, then back at the bathroom door but they both know Aramis will take his time, Aramis has probably already forgotten what he went in there to do, being in rooms where Athos isn't tends to switch his brain clean off.

Aramis would never do to Athos what she did. It's no longer possible for anyone to do to him what she did, Athos has nothing left to lose, but besides that, Aramis just never would. He can trust Aramis. He can be an idiot but he could never mean spite from anything he did, and he loved Athos, sincerely, from long before the moment Athos' mouth closed on his wound like the worst kind of kiss. And now he's dying, by slow degrees, from what Athos did to him, and Porthos is right. It is not just the blood on either of their parts, though the blood has forced their hands. And he's also right that Athos wants Aramis to be happy. That's exactly why he's already made his decision, tonight.

Porthos watches his face for a long time, and Athos looks at the bathroom door, and Porthos doesn't know - though he's probably guessed from the state of Aramis' knees - that that bathroom has had some symbolic importance in the battle of Aramis' will and his desire. The bathroom is the only room in this apartment with a lock and so on the nights when Aramis' control has frayed very badly that is the room he's put himself in - the lock on the door, on his side of the door, could be nothing but symbolic - to pray, the only thing he knows to do to shut his own brain up. Athos, waiting outside through the long watch of the night, could have accepted that itself as sensible. The problem always has been that over a course of days and weeks, kneeling on a hard tile floor for hours at a time has led him all the way to blood some nights, and Athos really isn't very capable of dealing with the scent of Aramis' blood at three in the morning, trying to convince him to clean and bandage his wrecked knees before he can send him to bed beside Porthos.

"I want him to be happy," Porthos says again, as if it's a hard thing to say, as if there's something lodged in the roof of his throat, as if it hurts. "So I want him to have you. He should - he should get that. Before - before."

Athos is silent. Porthos flexes and squeezes his hands. Athos says, "I don't know if that's a good idea."

"You saw 'im today, hell, you felt it, the second he had you - I haven't seen him look like that in weeks -" Athos almost winces at his voice, because he says that exactly like a lover who knows his own inability to offer the same relief - "he's coming to fucking bits on the inside, he can't take it, I can't - no-one wins like this, you think I like seein' him like this? He should get to be happy, Christ, someone should."

"He loves you, Porthos."

Porthos puts a hand over his eyes and rubs his face hard. "Hell," he croaks, and his face cracks its awful smile, "hell, yeah, I know, I saw - I saw what happened. That's all he's wanted, that's all he wants, but he never let himself have it for me. Yeah. I know he loves me. An' I love him. So I want him to have what he really wants." His mouth slackens sick, and his hand drops from his eyes, dry but so tired, it's not only Aramis this has weighed on. "While he can."

"You do understand," Athos says, quietly, unsure of this himself, "that what he wants is both of us?"

Porthos looks at him, long and unsure but trying, and he says, "Yeah." His eye stays on Athos, uneasy, for some time. "Guess it's our turn to make that work."

Athos looks back, and doesn't know whether to tell him, doesn't know how to tell him, that by dawn this will no longer be a problem anyway, because he intends to drink every bottle of wine in this house to make sure he's good and flammable and then be out of everyone's lives forever. But - it twists again, cold and low, he does want Aramis to be happy. He does want him to have what he wants. For one night, why shouldn't he? Everything he's denied himself, shouldn't he have this?

He doesn't know if it would hurt Aramis more to lose Athos after this or to lose him never having had him at all. But he can hardly ask him, can't warn him of his own intentions, so it doesn't matter, really.

He's cold in the guts, more so than even vampires are used to, facing this, but he's determined, and he's survived worse. "Alright," he says. "What were you suggesting?"

Porthos takes a quick breath in through his nose. "Whatever he wants. S'up to him."

"I don't think he's - capable of very much." Athos has never seen a human so exhausted and not dead.

"No. S'up to him. Don't -" Porthos stops, then closes his eyes, then opens them again and says as if he does understand the fact it is, "You wouldn't push him into anythin'."

The twinned shock of the nauseating power Athos knows he has over Aramis and Porthos' knowledge that he simply wouldn't use it does something to his insides that is not ordinarily felt by a vampire's insides. He just says, swears, quietly, "No, I would not."

"I wanna be there." Porthos says. "I don't mean I don't trust you, I just - I wanna be there. For him."

"Of course." Athos doesn't actually know how comfortable he is with that, depending on what Aramis turns out to want, but it's the last night of Athos' afterlife, and he won't have to live with it for long.

"An' you know you need t'be gentle. He's - you need to be careful."

"I know. Of course I . . . I know." Aramis is only human. They will have to be as careful as if his skin is made from rose petals, as if it bruises like berries. He knows that. He has no intention of hurting him. This tonight is about Aramis and Aramis' needs, none of it is about him getting so carried away that he forgets that.

"Right," Porthos says, and breathes for a moment. "Right." He rubs his nose. "I'll - I'll go get 'im."

Athos just stands there as Porthos knocks on and opens the bathroom door, and closes it behind himself again. He stands there feeling awkward and alone, too aware of himself, too aware of Aramis, his heartbeat kept safe in Athos' ribcage. He moves out of the kitchen to stand near the bathroom doorway in the living room, then wonders if that's strange, then doesn't know where to stand. He can hear the low reverberation of Porthos' voice off the tiles as he gets Aramis dressed like a child, Aramis now incapable of understanding such concepts as socks, until the door opens again and Porthos gently tugs him through. Porthos has dressed Aramis ready for bed, loose tracksuit bottoms, a loose sweatshirt. He's lost weight, Athos thinks, eye flicking critically up and down him. God, what did they expect?

Aramis' eyes fall their immediate way onto Athos, and then just stay there in a glazed way, he's not aware he's doing it. Until Porthos clears his throat and then he is, and his eyes startle and flit around the room suddenly trapped, suddenly knowing his own weakness again, and Athos - god he can't pretend this is mercy to Aramis, doing this, it will be a relief for himself to be able to just touch him when he needs the reassurance -

"Me an' Athos've been talkin'," Porthos says, and Aramis looks at Porthos' hand on his arm for some time, working himself up to paying enough attention to Porthos' face, before he looks up at him and gives a bland sort of smile.

Athos says, because he doesn't think Aramis has even really noticed what Porthos said but he's always going to hear Athos' voice, "We noticed, after the prison today, that you take some - comfort, from - from being more intimate with me."

Aramis' head swung to him at the first words, and he looks at him for a long time, lips a little parted, and eventually he comes out with, "'Intimate'."

Of course that is the word he fixates on. Athos hesitates, and Porthos presses Aramis' arm to try to get his attention. "Touch," he says. "You feel better when Athos touches you."

Aramis blinks, twice, jogging his brain, and then says, "No, no, it's fine, I'm really -"

"Don't lie." Porthos says hard. "We all know it, no point pretendin', don't do it for my sake."

"I'm fine." Aramis says. "It doesn't matter. I'm sorry, it's - fine."

"We've talked about it, Aramis," Athos says, and he should probably step forwards but he doesn't really know how to do this, vulnerability - intimacy - it is not something he's good at. "It's alright. We both agree that this is best. If you agree to it as well."

"I'm fine."

"Listen, you stubborn bastard." Porthos says, putting an arm around his chest, jigging him by it a little as he might a fussing child. "I get it now, I get it, I'm okay with it. I want - you an' him, I want you to have that. I'll still be here, I'm not goin' anywhere, but I want you to - I'm sorry I - I'm sorry it took so long. For me t'get it. I'm sorry, Aramis, it's alright, I know it doesn't mean that. I get it now."

"I'm fine," Aramis says, like he's not following and is now beginning to panic.

Porthos huffs in frustration - well, in fairness, Aramis was like this even before the blood switched his brain to its clunky and failing back-up generators - and looks at Athos, then walks Aramis to him and holds him out by the shoulders as if presenting him to Athos. "You c'n have both of us," he says. "Aramis, c'mon, listen to me, try an' get this, you can have both of us. It's alright to have both of us. It's alright."

This close to Athos Aramis can't speak. A hand's touch apart from him Athos sees in Aramis' eyes the it's fine it doesn't matter but the words have got stopped behind his awareness of Athos, and Athos feels how his heart picks its strength up so close to him, so aware of their closeness. "Aramis," Athos says to him quietly, slowly, so Aramis has the time to follow. "Porthos and I agree that tonight you should have both of us. We think it would be better for you. For all of us. We want you to be happy, Aramis," His name said softly firm to try to keep his attention nudged to what is being said, not just Athos Athos Athos so close he can nearly breathe him, and Aramis' eyes do struggle back to some semblance of awareness on his, "we -"

There are things it is very hard for Athos to say. Porthos supplies, rough and low, "We both love you. An' you love both of us. So just - just tell us what you want, Aramis. Just tell us. You did what we both wanted, we wanna hear your side of it now, what you want. We'll work it out."

Athos breathes, and he has killed this man, this man, and he owes him more than this. He says, softly, "We do both love you."

Aramis stares at him. Athos sees that he is beginning to understand some of what they're saying, and feels in his heart that he's also beginning to panic, because he doesn't believe it. Perfectly aware himself of how far gone he is, does he think he's just dreaming this?

"Here," Porthos says, tired and worn down in his patience, and Athos only has the time to put his arms up to catch as Porthos dumps Aramis to his chest, Aramis staggering a little and then with a small squeak he can't stifle he sags in Athos' hold. Athos hikes him up to his chest and Aramis makes - a soft noise, on the edge of his breath, eyes falling closed before they snap open again and he says, "It's fine Porthos I don't-"

"You daft sod." Porthos says, putting a hand on top of his head. "It's not fucking fine, I've got fucking eyes. It's alright, Aramis. I want you to have him. Both of us. I want that."

"We both want this," Athos offers him. "We want to know what you want."

Aramis is - struggling, somewhere between pliable as a cat by a fireside and tense as a dog who knows he's done wrong against Athos with Porthos at his back. It's a struggle for him to keep to his feet, a a struggle for him not to sag into Athos boneless, a struggle for him not to tear himself away as he thinks he ought to. "I -"

"Tell us what you want," Athos says, as gently as he's able, which it turns out is really very gentle, right now. "It's alright."

"Jus' tell us," Porthos says, running his fingers through Aramis' hair. "S'all gonna be alright, no-one's gonna be mad, just tell us."

Hands flexing on Athos' upper arms, eyes dragging from him to Porthos' face, Aramis says, like it's a trap, "It's alright."

"Yeah." Porthos says so soothingly, and strokes his hair. "It's fine."

Aramis really tries to look at him, really seems to be getting some focus, trying to read Porthos' face. Then he looks back to Athos, fingers resettling around his upper arms again, eyes refocusing that way they do on Athos before he blinks, and says - still not at all certain - "This is alright."

"It's fine," Athos says. "It's fine, Aramis. You can have anything you want."

Aramis stares at him for a moment longer, and then his breath sighs out of him, his head slumps down, forehead to Athos' throat, and he lets his weight fall to Athos to hold up. Which he does, easily, Aramis is nothing to him, he could carry him one-handed. Aramis manages to vertically lay against him, and his heart -

It's that same utter surrender Athos remembers from the prison, the sheer bliss of relief, just not fighting anymore is the most ecstasy Aramis can know. Athos closes his own eyes to feel it, takes a slow breath in; Porthos just strokes Aramis' hair, and doesn't say anything for a moment, watching the hang of his head, running his thumb down the nape of his neck.

Then he says, low and not quite even, "What d'you want, Aramis?"

Aramis breathes against Athos, limp against him and - Athos had forgotten what it really felt like in him but it's a warmth like Athos never otherwise feels - happy. Then he whispers to Athos' collar, "I want to sleep."

Porthos and Athos look at each other over Aramis' head.

Athos hadn't thought that Aramis offered whatever he might like would choose that, but given that they don't know what the exorcism he performed today cost him, and given that he is literally dying of exhaustion, this is better than almost anything Athos could have imagined, and he does not allow himself the time to notice if he feels relief or disappointment. "Sleep," Athos says. "Of course."

"My room," Porthos says, and Athos accepts that of course this ought to happen on Porthos' territory. Athos braces Aramis' weight slightly off the floor - it involves lifting him off his feet and noticeably taller than Athos in doing it, and Aramis' head jogs up in a confused way but Athos just follows Porthos very quickly to the right door, and through into a room he never enters.

Porthos pulls some clothes off the bed and throws them at the chair, yanks the covers right, beats the pillow, and makes a broad gesture offering the bed to both of them. Athos sets Aramis to his feet beside it and Aramis lifts his dopey head, doesn't really take in where he is or how he got here but he does recognise the bed, and closes his hands quickly around Athos' arms.

"I'm not going anywhere," Athos promises him. "Lay down."

Aramis looks at him, says again, still doubtfully, "It's alright,"

"Of course it's alright. Lay down. I'm not leaving. Porthos is here, we're both here."

He realises after another pause that Aramis doesn't know how to lay down, because it would involve either letting go of Athos - unthinkable - or dragging Athos onto the bed with him, which he's clearly not comfortable doing, he's in some confused way uncertain that they truly do want this. So Athos has to press him the last couple of inches to the side of the mattress, press him to a sit on it, sit beside him, nudge his body along - thankfully Porthos gets on at the other side at this point to tug Aramis along the mattress with an arm around his waist, and between them, carefully, they get him down. He takes the side of Athos' chest for his cheek, his arm around Athos' waist, and Porthos runs a hand up and down Aramis' side, sitting beside them; Athos fits both arms around Aramis, it's hardly like he has to worry about the blood getting cut off by his weight.

"It's alright," Aramis says again, still fixatedly uneasy, as if there isn't enough reassurance in the world.

"S'alright," Porthos says, running a curl of hair above the back of Aramis' neck through his fingers. "Everything's alright. You gonna sleep, then?"

Athos doubts it; ever-aware of Aramis' breath as he is, he knows Aramis hasn't slept for more than two hours a night in a long time, and he worried enough weeks ago when Aramis was down to four hours, it's like his body is forgetting how to sleep. But he does close his eyes, and Athos feels the slow of his heart, safe between them, as Athos looks at his face very close and notes that even as punished by his own body as he is - thinned and drained and spent - he is just such a beautiful man, just so lovely, and it's been so long since Athos even noticed such things in another person's face . . .

Aramis whispers, "It is alright."

Porthos kisses the back of his neck, whispers there, "'course it's alright. Everythin's alright."

Aramis doesn't reply. He breathes, very slowly, hand loose in Athos' shirt. And then Athos knows that he's gone, dropped that easily under, and after all those weeks of his madness of ever-waking hell he's asleep.

Porthos looks at Athos' face for confirmation. Athos says, uncertain but certainly relieved, "I suppose the exorcism drained him."

"It wasn't you?"

"Me?"

"I thought - you know. You could make him."

There is no liveliness to Athos' dead guts, they do not squirm; they do feel very particularly coldly dead in that moment though. "I would not. I wouldn't make him do anything. Not unless he asked me to."

Something alight in Porthos' eyes. "Could you, though?"

". . . he would take no true sustenance from it." Athos knows that to be true. "A vampire's orders couldn't save him, not from this." He looks down at Aramis - slow deep breaths, he can feel how immediately deep in the sleep cycle he's fallen, his body must be grasping at it as the drowning grab for driftwood - and says quietly, "I might be able to ease out from under him."

"Bit late to warn you," Porthos says, "but he'll know, an' he'll fuss, he's like a baby. He'll never sleep through it."

Athos accepts that, eventually, in silence. It means he'll be trapped underneath Aramis all night, but he owes Aramis more than that, so -

Shit. It means he'll be trapped underneath Aramis all night, there'll be no sneaking away for a quiet self-immolation tonight. He takes care not to show any frustration, and makes himself not feel it either, in case that startles Aramis awake. Though now, underneath his warm body, it's disgustingly easy to put the idea off. He'd thought he was decided, the sooner the better, and now listening to Aramis' easy sleeping breath against him he hates himself for thinking with guilty ease that not tonight, then, not now, maybe he can slip off during the day, maybe tomorrow night . . .

Aramis sleeps against him, warm and utterly trusting, and Porthos has pressed himself up on an arm to watch the two of them, and Athos turns away from his pathetic desire to see the night through with his arms around Aramis to the second pathetic part of this: has no right to like the feeling of Aramis' body against his. He avoids Porthos' eye, and keeps his mind on the practicalities. "We should have got under the covers. I'll make him cold."

"I'll keep him warm," Porthos says quietly, still watching them.

Athos makes himself look at Porthos' face and sees mostly confusion in the fold of his eyebrows, and risks saying, voice calmly even, "I wasn't aware that a werewolf could endure this."

"Dunno," Porthos says, frowning. "Neither was I I guess. It's - I know I'm meant t'mind it. I mean, I did, at first. Just . . . just dunno who ever wrote the book of werewolf rules, or why the fuck I have to follow 'em anyway."

Athos looks at his face, and he'd thought Porthos had allowed this because Aramis is dying and they want to give him what they can while they can, whatever it costs them. But Porthos looks like he doesn't really understand his own ease, and Athos, if he's honest, can't pretend that he's doing this just for Aramis' sake either.

Warm body against him, and finally that maddening heartbeat always in the corner of his ear is in his arms, he has - he has never known this. He once thought he knew love because he could hold a mortal and not bite her, but he knows what Aramis tastes like and still he holds him, and holds that awareness down. It's not an impulse, as such, the will to bite, though he understands how he could let it become one. It's an awareness of the ever-possibility of biting him, it would be so natural he would hardly even notice himself doing it, opening Aramis' artery and his own mouth. But more than that he's aware of Aramis, and the serenity of his sleep, and how warm his living body is, how sleepily the blood moves in him, how good it feels now he's no longer separate but touching him, right there, alive against him.

He resists the urge to run his hands over him, to slide them under his clothing, to feel his living skin. His own body is cool, not cold, and without Porthos' extra warmth at Aramis' back that really might be a problem, but with him between them like this . . .

Between them like this is all Aramis has ever wanted from them.

Porthos breathes beside them, the big easy breaths of a werewolf, and Athos wonders if the sound of his own faint, slow breath troubles him. Werewolves hate vampires in a very instinctive way - they are more or less dead, it's only that their bodies keep going regardless, they have none of the proper chemical signatures of living creatures, they are simply unnerving to those with the senses to truly notice that. And, more than that, werewolves know what vampires do, they smell it on them, and they hate them not only instinctively but with very good reason for it. Porthos has extremely good reason for it. That Aramis is asleep now is no indication that he'll stay that way for any length of time, and it's killing him, Athos is killing him, and Athos cannot understand . . . he tries again, awkward, he knows how awkward this all is, "You don't have to do any of this. Letting me . . . any of this."

Porthos is silent, chewing it over. Then he says, "Think we all need t'stop thinkin' about this like I'm losin' something."

Athos closes his eyes, and nods. In honesty he's understood for some time that Porthos is exhausted beyond blaming Athos, that his heart didn't break with any great crack, it just failed under the sheer grinding despair of every day's deterioration. Until today Athos still didn't know if Aramis' final death might reawaken his rage, but he thinks he does know now, and it makes no sense to him. All alone he's known, known, that Porthos would blame him all over again if Athos ever tried to tell him that what he is losing is no less than what Porthos is losing. At least, after all, Porthos knows his own blamelessness in it. At least Porthos doesn't have to wake up again the day after Aramis dies knowing that he's the one who killed him.

But this - this, quiet in the air over them, this understanding between them, that 'this', the three of them, is no loss to any of them, that there is very real loss out there in the world, very real loss coming for them, and that this is no part of it . . .

Porthos swallows, says as if he's not looking forward to it, "Think we should talk about it?"

No. It's the last thing Athos wants to do. He thinks it over for a moment, then says, "We should wait until he wakes, and include him in any discussion."

Athos owes Aramis very particular deference. Porthos seems to accept that without blame, looks carefully down into Aramis' face, then shifts his big warm body closer, snug to the shape of him from behind.

Porthos will fall asleep sooner or later. For Athos it will be later, he usually only sleeps around the dawn, after the comfort of the darkness the sun is hellishly bright enough for him to want to sleep through its ghastly re-emergence. He has a very long night alone ahead, trapped with his own thoughts and Aramis' heartbeat. He has a lot of bad memories that could rear up right now.

He closes his eyes, and listens to the life of Aramis' body. He feels a subtle flicker in him, like a fish slipping downriver. He's beginning to dream. And there, the particular pull of it; he's dreaming about Athos.

He holds him, and keeps his eyes closed. Tomorrow he will fix this. Tomorrow he will take care of it. And so, for tonight, he will allow himself to be honest, the pathetic self-indulgence of honesty, he will sickeningly enjoy this moment of honesty: this ridiculous good-hearted fool in his arms is dreaming of him, and would do it whether there was the blood between them or not, and he loves him, he loves him, as if Athos has ever warranted it.

His smile hurts him a little. It's almost enough to make him feel warm.

*

Porthos wakes to the quiet of whispering.

Just the shifting of his own muscles from loose to awake alerts Aramis, under his arm, who lifts his head from his low murmuring with Athos - Athos, Porthos lifts a hand to rub his eyes, he remembers last night now - and Aramis smiles at him, sleepy but awake, and says, "Good morning, sleeping beauty. We didn't wake you, did we?"

Porthos stares at that smile (mellow and very real), and catalogues it close in his heart, one more to treasure. "Nah," he says, dropping his hand from his eyes. "S'fine. You two been up long?"

Aramis shakes his head and yawns, and drops his head to the bed again, stretching his body comfortable on the duvet once more. "No. I slept like a log. I suppose I needed that."

Athos looks at Porthos, then says quite casually to Aramis, "Do you feel better for it?"

"Mm," Aramis says, and Porthos pushes himself up to sit to look at the way Aramis looks dark-eyed drowsy up at Athos, and breaks into a smile. "I do. Did you do that? I'm only asking because, God, I needed it."

Athos' face is almost impassive, just something behind his eyes, quick and gone. "No," he says. "I did not. That was just you."

"Mm," Aramis hums again, and nudges his knuckles at the underside of Athos' jaw, eyes turning sleepily fascinated on his face. Then he seems to remember what he's doing and looks fast up to Porthos, and Porthos rubs his hip, tells him gently, "It's okay."

It's weird that it's okay, and he gets that. It's just that Porthos is so bloody used to seeing it - Aramis has been increasingly unable to not trail up to Athos and start touching him the longer this has dragged out - and Porthos doesn't know, maybe he used all his jealousy up, maybe he just doesn't want to see the cringing way Aramis comes back to him so guilty about it anymore, maybe he just actually sees it for what it is now. Aramis touching Athos doesn't change how he touches Porthos - or it wouldn't if it weren't for the blood suffocating him, but that's . . . that's not the same thing. What Aramis and Athos really are is only Aramis and Athos, and that doesn't hurt what Aramis and Porthos are. He gets that, now. It's not just that he would know if Aramis were lying about it all because he'd smell it on him. It's that he just knows Aramis, and Aramis loves like he can't help it, he's exactly the same with both of them. And Porthos does still feel so loved. That way Aramis touches Porthos' jaw and his smile twitches sorry, Porthos just feels so loved, and -

It's not just about how bad he's got, how bleak the edge they're skirting is, how little time they might have left. It's not just letting him get what he wants because he might not have much time left even to want it in. It's just that Porthos honestly has nothing to lose, it would be sheer meanness to keep Aramis to himself, he'd gain nothing by it and only make all of them miserable. It would be petty selfishness. Why bother? If he loves Aramis, why the hell would he do that to him anyway?

He says, "You could kiss him."

Aramis' face goes slack, staring at him. It might be the first time Porthos has ever said the shocking thing between them on this bed. "If he wants that," Porthos adds, looking over Aramis' shoulder at Athos, they really should have talked about this last night. "If you want -"

Aramis puts his palm to Porthos' cheek and looks so confused into his eyes. "Porthos - I mean, I -" He stops, and just stares at him. Then he says, slowly, "You really don't have to say that."

"I know I don't," Porthos says. "That's kind of why I'm sayin' it. None of us - none of us have t'do anything. S'all about what we wanna do, right?"

Aramis says, ". . . you don't have to want me to kiss him."

"Oi, check your ego, s'not all about you," Porthos says, and starts to grin. "Dunno. Maybe it'd be hot, watchin'."

Surprise before something warm and amused wakes in Aramis' eyes, and he checks Porthos' own amusement for a second longer to be really sure of it before his thumb brushes his cheek above Porthos' beard, and he kisses him, once and hardly closing his eyes he seems to like to keep so close an eye on him in this. "Really," he says. "Really?"

He sounds so excited, so happy. Porthos grins, and then looks at Athos, who's still just laying there, not saying anything.

Aramis turns his shoulder back to look at Athos, kisses Porthos once more - it practically fizzes with everything he can't put into words, and Porthos would find it sweeter if he didn't know how much of the gratitude in it he just doesn't warrant - then lays down on his side again, almost nose to nose with Athos. Porthos knows how Aramis likes to do that, laying so close they can't really see each other, just the twinkle in the eye and the shifting of the smile. "You don't have to," Aramis says.

"Neither do you." Athos says, diplomatic and unreadable. Porthos never can get a fix on Athos' scents, always finds him trouble to read. It's Aramis who lays there staring at Athos' face an inch away, ascertaining him for a moment before he says, "I do want to, though. You know that. And - forgive me, Athos, but -" He puts his palm on Athos' chest, where his heart ought to beat. "But you do too."

Silence, and then, "You know that."

"You and I have duties towards one another," Aramis says. "Honesty makes those easier." His smile comes crooked and evil again, as he tilts his head back a little so he looks so charmingly down under his lashes at him, Porthos knows that look so well. "Kisses might make them easier as well."

Athos' hand, after a moment, closes around Aramis' waist. Porthos' hand is still resting on Aramis' hip as he watches the two of them stare, testing themselves, testing the space between them. In the end Aramis closes his eyes and Porthos knows it's because he's more certain of his own want, and he lets Athos, if he makes the decision, do the leaning in and kissing. Which Athos does, a little hesitantly but then - then more curiously after the first almost chaste press of mouths - then more certainly - then much more certainly, one hand raising to cup his cheek -

Porthos presses Aramis' hip, and waits to feel jealous, to feel possessive, to feel like a werewolf.

Of course he feels like a werewolf. He is a fucking werewolf. That means however he fucking feels is feeling like a werewolf and no-one gets to tell him he has to stamp his temper out, has to throw a big possessive tantrum, he watches Aramis' fingers slide into Athos' hair and his eyes so loosely closed and - and the heat he feels in his belly - that has nothing to do with jealousy. It's all so much more complicated than that, so much - just different to that, Porthos knows how he ought to feel, he's gone through all the motions of how he ought to feel, it didn't make any of them happy and in the end, he believes Aramis. He believes that love is not about ownership, not in that way. He believes, he knows, that what they have is not so frail that it needs guarding so jealously. There is strength in trust. There is calm in respect. And there is nothing Aramis and Athos are sharing now that is any loss to Porthos at all.

Aramis' breath isn't very steady when Athos pulls back, and puts an uneasy hand on Aramis' chest, over his heart, checking his face. Aramis laughs, a little high with surprise, and opens his eyes to look at Athos. "Just you," he whispers, voice gone low with lust. "Not a heart attack. God. Did you feel that?"

"The link," Athos says, and doesn't elaborate.

Aramis closes his eyes, gives another little giggle of sheer disbelief that something could feel like that, and then - stiffens, rolls his head back, looks up at Porthos. His eyes search his, suddenly not easy, and Porthos breathes not entirely easy himself, and feels how easily he could stir against Aramis' back from exactly what Aramis turned on to the point of shivering looks like, but he's not a teenager and he controls himself. Mostly. "S'alright," he says, and Aramis watches his face, then lifts a hand, takes his, slips their fingers together, smiles. It's not quite right at first, but it becomes it, the way Porthos smiles back, so he's done something right at least.

"How do you feel?" Athos says, wary, as if he doesn't know what that kiss might have unleashed.

Aramis thinks about it, eyes tracking the ceiling, and Porthos really starts to notice then that he's actually listening to them, in real time, not just bodily present while they speak but not actually hearing even Athos, just reacting to the hum of his voice in Aramis' own chest. He seems more alert than Porthos has known him in a long time now, when not focused like a bloodhound on exorcism, and was it just that extra sleep? Did he just need that to return to some fucking life?

Aramis says to the ceiling, thoughtfully, "I feel a bit hungry."

Porthos and Athos immediately look at each other.

"Right," Porthos says, sitting up and lifting Aramis out of the bed by the sides of his chest, hands under his armpits, and Aramis starts laughing again as Athos brushes a crumpled shirt down and opens the bedroom door in a hurry. "Breakfast. Let's do breakfast."

If he's got some appetite for it, food. All the food in the fucking world if they can.

Breakfast, at the dining table, is very different to breakfast as Porthos has known it these last weeks, when he's eaten with a feeling of guilt, continually prompting a distracted Aramis showing no interest in his own plate into one more bite. Now Aramis licks jam off his thumb and looks at Porthos that way, he's hardly been together enough for that wicked little look for a long time, that sleep's done him more good than Porthos could have prayed for. Eventually Aramis sits back in his seat, cradling his coffee cup, looking between the two of them. Athos has a cup of coffee but he doesn't eat anyway, and he just looks at Aramis, mostly expressionless, mostly confused, actually. They both are. Aramis is smiling, looking from one to the other, a little secretive smile, before he takes a breath and says, "We need to talk about this." He lifts his coffee mug and indicates Porthos and then Athos. "This."

Porthos clears his throat, says, "You sure you're not still hungry?"

Aramis' smile twitches. "No, thank you. Honestly, we need to talk about this. I've seen these things go wrong, I know how easy it is. If we're not clear and honest with each other everything can go to hell, and I don't want that - I don't want that for either of you." He looks at them both again, not exactly suspicious but certainly aware, and he says, "Have you agreed to this because you think I'm dying and you want to be nice to me? Because it's no reason for it. That's not fair to any of us."

Porthos takes a long drink of coffee, not because he's avoiding the question, because he needs to think what the fuck to say. He sort of knows his part of it. Sort of. He doesn't know what's going on with Athos so much, Athos is so hard to read, so cool, expressions and scent flat as porcelain, Porthos never knows quite what's going on with him. Athos cares about Aramis, a lot, and probably has noticed how definitively fuckable Aramis is. But he's never made a move on that before, so . . . ?

Athos says, always so careful with his words, "In honesty, we did agree to it because of that. That does not make it the sole or even the continuing motivation, however."

It takes Porthos a moment to work out what the wordy fuck means, and that, yeah, he agrees with him. "We wanted you t'be happy," he says, and looks not at Aramis but at Athos, working him out, working his own feelings out, looking at him across from Aramis like this. "Only really got after . . . after we'd kicked it off, only really got then that - that it's more than that."

"More than that," Aramis says, coffee cup in one hand, offering the other across the table for him. Porthos looks at it, then takes it, feeling the comfortable press of Aramis' thumb to the back of his hand.

"It doesn't feel weird how I thought it'd feel weird. Just needed . . . just needed the ice breaking, I guess." Porthos shrugs. "Don't get smug or anything, but it really doesn't hurt us, in the end, does it?"

Aramis grins a little, and looks at Athos. "I think you both know exactly how I feel," he says. "But these things sometimes need stating, especially between three, it can get very bad very quickly if misunderstandings get this much space to reverberate in. So, gentlemen - Porthos, you know I love you."

"You idiot," Porthos says, at how plaintively Aramis said that, and squeezes his hand. "Yeah. I know."

"And nothing else I do or feel could mean that I love you any less. I swear it on the Bible, Porthos, I don't think anything will ever make me feel any less about you. You are my forever. And you -" Looking to Athos, sort of wondering, "you're forever for me as well. It's not just the blood. You know I loved you before that, and I'd love you if it had never happened. I do know, though, that I am not forever for you. And I don't know . . . I honestly don't know what it all looks like from your perspective. We don't even know how old you are, I must be such a - a blip, for you. I've never thought of myself as so forgettable before."

Athos is silent for a long time, and then he says, "You would be surprised how much a mortal can be forever." He's silent again, clearly ruminating on something hard and dark, and Porthos doesn't think at first that Aramis will have the sense not to interrupt him but somehow - always unpredictable, Porthos never can quite pin the bastard down - somehow he knows to keep his peace, and to watch Athos' face only thoughtful, a little concerned. Athos looks like he's about to say something and then stops, is silent for another long second, not looking at them, then says quite low, "You are not a 'blip' to me. I don't want you to feel that this is pity, or the blood alone. This is - honest. But it is not something that comes to me easily, and you will have to forgive me for that."

"I won't let this hurt you." Aramis says. "Either of you. But that requires communication, I've done this, I've seen what happens when people clam up, every little - felt slight and pang of jealousy, they all get amplified, we have to talk to each other. If you have a problem with something then you have to tell us. If you have a boundary you don't want crossed we need to know that. And we all need to check with each other where the boundaries are before we try to cross them. We have to be honest, we have to be respectful. I wouldn't have this hurt either of you for anything. And on that - Porthos - I don't know what you want." He looks at Porthos, open and searching. "You don't mind that I love him. You don't mind if we kiss . . . ?"

Porthos wets his lips, thinking about it again, he knows how Aramis kisses, he watched the slow quiet movement of the two of them together, just mouths and he knew that testing touch of Aramis' tongue and he needs to not think of it for how it stirs something in him. "I don't mind how you love him," he says, teeth scraping his top lip inwards for a second. "Kind of wanna watch you fuck 'im."

Aramis blinks and - smiles, bright and broad like he didn't even imagine this would be this magical, and looks immediately to Athos. Aramis is already trying to school his face but Athos, apart from stilling a little, is as impassive as ever. Aramis says, "We all know how amenable I am. There is no pressure, Athos, this depends on what you want, not what you feel obliged to do or feel you wouldn't mind doing. But - I think you want to fuck me."

Porthos says, "You think everyone wants to fuck you."

"It's turned out to be a reliable hypothesis so far," Aramis says mildly. "Athos? Not now. It can be whenever, or never."

Athos looks at him, looks, oddly for a vampire, young. Aramis puts his cup down and holds his other hand across the table for Athos, and Athos just keeps looking at him for a moment longer, and then down at his hand, and he takes it. Aramis' hand, more sure, presses his, tight as if offering strength.

Athos says, "I would not be unamenable. You understand - it is probably best if Porthos is there." His gaze shifts to Porthos, guilty and uneasy. "I have never - you must know that I have never slept with a human I've drunk from. I don't know what . . . it's best you are safe."

"Of course I'm safe." Aramis lifts Athos' hand and puts it on his own chest, over his heart. "You would know if I were anything but."

"Aramis, for god's sake, I'm a vampire. I have no intention of hurting you - I have no intention of hurting you - but -"

His attention is half on Porthos, and Porthos is tense, but as Aramis just looks confused at Athos, Porthos manages to rumble out, "You got urges." Athos looks at him. Porthos holds his eye, and breathes, and this is the hardest, truest trust of them all. "I know all 'bout those. You c'n fight 'em, though. How long've you been off human blood? You c'n fight 'em."

Athos gives him a brows-lowered look, then looks to Aramis again, uneasily considering. Aramis presses his hand. "Porthos will be here," he says, gently. "I'm sorry, I didn't think about that. About what it might be like for you. But I do want you to have this, Athos." His eyes are so dark and so searching and so sincere, Porthos watches them and knows that look, has missed that look. "I feel when you touch me what you . . . I want you to have this. We'll work it out. It'll be fine."

"It's your neck if it's not fine."

"But it will be fine." Aramis presses Athos' hand closer to his chest. "You'd never hurt me."

Athos looks at him, and Aramis looks back. Porthos remembers the first time he ever fucked Aramis, trying through the heat of it to hold himself back, uncertain of what Aramis' body could take. Either he or Athos could kill Aramis almost without noticing themselves doing it; but it's instinctive, if you care for the body under your hands, to care how you touch it, to care for responding to its responses. Porthos knows that Athos and Aramis have some strange link between them, and even if Athos can smell the blood hot in Aramis' neck, that link would tell him exactly how hurt or afraid Aramis was if Athos went too far, that link would snap him back if he ever needed it. That link and Porthos punching him in the face, anyway.

Aramis holds Athos' hand to his chest and has his head a little low to look up at Athos, looking very, very closely at Athos, saying slowly, "Tell me now if you don't want any of this. Tell me now if you're trying to do this for my sake because, Athos, that is the worst thing you could ever do to me, turning me into someone who uses you. Please stop this now if-"

"For god's sake." Athos says, and Aramis -

Pulls his head back a little, eyes widening, then says, "Oh," and gets a giggly goopy grin on him, sliding slightly sideways in his seat as if drunk. "Oh," he says again. "Wow."

Porthos looks between them, trusts Athos but just feels a bit freaked out. "What'd you just do?"

Aramis' smile is just fucking ridiculous. He hums, pressing Athos' hand to his chest and then giggling again. "That's you, isn't it? That's you being honest."

Athos, perhaps a little sheepish, flits his gaze to Porthos. "I had been trying - learning - to ensure that Aramis didn't feel some of my-" He looks at Aramis, who's holding Athos' hand to himself tight and sniggering helplessly, head down - "my feelings towards him. Those that I could hold back. It felt unfair to force him to feel any of that."

"It feels glorious," Aramis purrs, head lolling back, smiling at the ceiling.

Porthos watches him, then says as he gets it, voice a little low, "He c'n feel that you love him."

Aramis blinks his eyes open to the ceiling, looks at Porthos, then leans in and nudges his forehead to his, eyes very close and dark and needy. "I don't need to feel it," he says to him, swears it in a hush like furious reverence. "I don't need to feel it from you. I know it. I know it, Porthos."

Porthos breathes, then closes his eyes, and allows himself to be lulled by Aramis so close and so certain. "Yeah," he says, and fits his fingers between Aramis', pressing their palms together. "You should."

Athos gets up to make more coffee, then, a little embarrassed as Aramis obviously tests and familiarises himself with the way feeling Athos caring about him does feel. "It's like being in a bath," he says. "It's just lovely. Is that what you can feel from me?"

Athos watches the kettle boil, as if it is the sort of thing that requires very close attention. "Perhaps."

Aramis keeps hold of Porthos' hand, and grins at him. He still looks tired - one night's sleep could never make up for the weeks of deterioration they've seen - but happiness makes him radiant, just the most fucking gorgeous man Porthos has ever known, and he kisses him because he wants to, and then because he's testing what kissing Aramis with Athos there in the room and this agreement between them feels like, and then again because it's quite hard to stop kissing Aramis. When they break back Aramis is still smiling, still so fucking happy, and Porthos' throat thickens, good. He should be happy. He seems more present when he's happy like this, good, if they can keep him with them, it's been like he's already dead when he's just not aware of a bloody thing happening around him -

"So," Aramis says, smiling a quick thank you to Athos as he puts a fresh cup of coffee in front of him, then Porthos, and turns back for his own. "We've ascertained that you're both comfortable with my relationships with both of you. Which I am -" His eyes close for that second, as Athos sits again at the table - "thankful for. I don't know what you want from each other, though."

The vampire and the werewolf give each other a tense look, and then look back to Aramis. "Us?" Porthos says uneasily.

Aramis holds his hand up, palm in a shrug to the ceiling. "If you like. People do, sometimes, you can be with each other as well as me. Or you can both just be with me and be fine with that. There's no rule for it. Just your feelings. I don't know what you feel about each other."

They look at each other again, and Porthos' brows lower. Neither do they, really, he's never thought about what he feels about Athos. Athos is a vampire. Not a bad one, but still. All Porthos has been able to think about so far is Aramis, and losing Aramis, and trying to cope with that.

He says, not certain he wants to know the outcome of it, "C'n we maybe work that out as we go along?"

Aramis shrugs, and picks up his coffee cup, and he's still holding Porthos' hand. "Take all the time you need. Until then . . ."

"What?" Athos says, gently for Athos.

Aramis sips his coffee, licks his lip, says, "I think I could use a nap." and smiles.

*

They never really do talk very much about the fact that Aramis doesn't die, their general silence on the matter a state of affairs Aramis is perfectly happy with; he prefers to live than to think very hard about living. He does notice, over the days after the prison, the way Porthos looks at him, the way Athos looks at him, and it's nice to notice them, everything's been so hard to get any grasp on for a long time, like trying to squint through fog with a hangover and a concussion and dark glasses on. The clarity of experience returned to him is delicious, he's greedy for it, the way things taste, what breathing feels like, what touch feels like, he can't get enough. Little pleasures. Hunger, and the manifold ways to sate it, he just wants to devour all of life.

Porthos feels guilty, later, and Aramis feels devastated that he should. Porthos believes that what was killing Aramis was his trying to fight what the blood was doing to him instead of just riding it, just giving in to it, and that Aramis did all of that for him. But it's more complicated than that and Aramis knows it is, swears it is, even if Porthos hadn't minded in the slightest then they would still never have known what Aramis felt was just Aramis and what was the blood, and Athos would probably have felt like hell for potentially taking advantage of what that blood was doing to Aramis, and Aramis himself would have been so nervous of hurting either of them, it would have been no simpler, the burden is not Porthos' alone. They made a mess because they were unsure, because they didn't trust their own feelings or each other's. Desperation gave them some eventual sense of certainty; talking over breakfast, hands held, allowed them to pin much more of that down.

And Aramis, too tired of fighting, too weak for it anymore, too certain of his own feelings after inhabiting them for so long, sinks into what he'd always wanted and never allowed himself to have with a relief like fainting.

He never does return to exactly what he was, because blood does change you, because love does change you. His sleep, once he's recovered from weeks of deprivation, settles to about six hours a night, it seems to be the balance that being drunk from by a vampire offers. He doesn't mind. He goes to bed with Porthos, leaves him there in his safe sleep and returns to Athos, and a couple of hours later retreats to bed again to nuzzle in under Porthos' warm arm and close his eyes. They both wake when Athos joins them - he doesn't every night but he's aware that Aramis feels the distance between them as odd, though not painful, the nights he doesn't, and as Porthos gets used to Athos being there on a night he starts liking Athos being there - and Porthos goes immediately back to sleep so easily he never even remembers waking. Aramis gets the bliss of Athos' body settling to his, so sweetly cool to his skin after he's been slept on by a werewolf all night, and it only takes a moment's squirming to get their arms and ankles and bodies aligned the right way, while the birds begin to test the possibility of dawn outside the window.

Treville can't really ask about Aramis' recovery since he'd been avoiding asking them about his deterioration, though Ninon gives the three of them a long look and then says, "I know someone at the university who would like to write an article on this." and Athos says, "No." and that's the end of that. It's a unique situation, Aramis knows that. The three of them are pretty unique as it is, a human, a vampire and a werewolf, yes, but a vampire and his drunk-from human's relationship not being that of wracking psychic servitude and eventual death, that is new. Unfortunately he doesn't think a university paper would help anyone else in Aramis' position. Very few vampires are Athos, and they would not offer the respect Aramis needs to survive what lays between them.

He loves what lays between them.

The first time they have to bring in a werewolf - after a fight over loud music with a neighbour who is now messily dead - who sniffs at Aramis and then sneers, "Fucking whore of a groupie, is that all you exorcists are?" Porthos' growl hits a pitch like high murder, and Aramis feels what happens in Athos' chest. Aramis himself says with a calm smile, "You mustn't presume, monsieur, what my inclinations are. It's not that they're not human that drew me to them. I mean, look at them."

He says it quite sincerely, gesturing to Porthos, to Athos, and the werewolf flits his snarling gaze sideways to them for the fraction of a second Aramis needs to shoot him in the leg.

He is in no way diminished by anything that's happened. Rather the opposite, in fact, his heart just feels so fucking expansive now.

He still remembers the training exercise, and he knows he has to mind that, has to be careful of it for his lovers, and one of the things he must mind is his own knowledge that he alone can never find the justice required to lay all those souls to rest. One exorcist alone, against powerful vampires he couldn't even count in the dark, that would be suicide, not justice. But if the investigation does turn anything up, the resources of the musketeers may be enough to fight it, Aramis will have comrades to fight it, and there will be justice, there will be justice, and that cold in the marrow of his bones like a wire strung through his skeleton might finally be warmed to something organic by his own life again.

He has to be patient. He understands that. He was a soldier: he understands the long campaign. He understands that lone wolves are idiots, you get everything done more easily, more safely, in a unit, in a pack. It does wear on him, though, and occasionally makes him over-impatient with the assignment in front of him - he does reckless things his lovers are infuriated by when it gets to him - but he can hold on, not obsess, not mind, he must, he will.

He will for them, he would do nothing to leave them. For the way Porthos fucks him to show Athos how it's done, when you are quite strong enough to crack your lover's bones just by squeezing too hard. For the way it feels when he and Athos first move together, how Athos can feel what it does to Aramis, how Aramis can feel Athos feeling that, he's never known himself so undone, he usually takes care to mind that his lovers come first but it's hard to tell with Athos which of them is coming. For the ease that settles over their conversation at breakfast, for the casual piss-taking that passes the time for them during stake-outs, for the way Porthos punches hostile supernaturals for him while Aramis is busy with exorcism - such a gentleman - for the way Athos is alert at his side, immediate as Aramis' own heart, when Aramis knows that the danger is not their normal danger, and that this is how exorcists die.

For the way he is allowed to love both of them, cleaning Porthos' wounds even if he insists that he'd just heal from any infection anyway, soaking the blood out of Athos' shirts before it can set in. The smallest things that make up their equilibrium. The balance the three of them have is perfect. Perfect perfect perfect, Aramis whispers it to them in bed, kisses it into their faces, he can't bear how perfect it all is.

He asks them, often, if they're happy. He needs to check if they're happy. He couldn't stand for them to be any less happy than he is.

Once the indulgence of Aramis' almost-dying wears off, Athos merely sighs to the question, though Aramis can feel the weary fondness in him, and Porthos says, "For fuck sake Aramis." and lurches his body closer to his side in an arm.

And he knows, as if by instinct, that they're going to be okay.

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