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[personal profile] rainjoyswriting
Oh god I still owe so many comment replies and messages and emails, I'm so sorry. My arms are *worse* and as my therapist points out, now I have loads of depressive symptoms as well, because all the stuff that I would normally do and which would make me feel less depressed (e.g. being in contact with people, enjoying my hobbies, carrying on life as normal), I *can't* do right now because my arms are buggered. But, in brief: I'm sorry I haven't been in touch. I really will try to get back to you at some point. And I will also finish the affinityverse piece once more waiting halfway done while I got this out of my system as soon as my arms allow. God, this is the sort of thing I used to get out in less than a week -_-;


The Exorcist's Apprentice, Musketeers fic, stupid exorcist fic.

Disclaimer: Just, really, it isn't mine, no.

Rating: Probably R; some violence though mostly off-screen, and a little gore.

Warnings: Shit can always be as disturbing as I promised on part one; vampires, grief, and at least a side-eye towards bestiality at one point if that really disturbs anyone (look, in this universe, at some point someone was going to look at Aramis and Porthos and *wonder*).

Summary: He knows, immediately, that he's never going home.









D'Artagnan wakes in a strange bedroom and remembers immediately that his father is dead, and lays where he found himself, which is nowhere. Since the night before last the whole world is nowhere to him. There is no base camp now, no place of safety to wake into slow and easy from which he can map the globe from here on outwards. He wakes in a disorientated anywhere, now that his life is cut adrift and 'home' has lost all meaning.

This is the exorcist's room, he remembers, all of yesterday coming onto the vivid plain of direct memory now, that after that square - after all of it, the department, the vampires, the warehouse - they brought him back here, and the exorcist, Aramis, said he would change the sheets for him, smiled and insisted he would simply sleep in the werewolf's room when d'Artagnan mumbled that the sofa was fine. And the vampire, Athos, the reason d'Artagnan is here in this strange apartment with these strange men, just stood there and looked at him. It was a sharp but distant look, as if long, long ago resigned to d'Artagnan, as if he'd known him longer than a day, knew him entirely and wearisomely. Perhaps that's how vampires look at everyone; Porthos, the werewolf, had said as much, murmuring to double-check his age in offering him a glass of wine, while the exorcist and the vampire were whispering amongst themselves, engrossed at the other side of the living room.

He sits up in the bed, pulls his hair back in his fingers, and scrapes his phone over the bedside table's crowded surface (books, a rosary, scrappy bits of paper and a pen, coins, a knife, a torch, a - he pauses to double-check this one - clip for a gun). The waking phone greets him too bright in the dark room, curtained from the morning, and the background image is too bright as well; himself and two friends from school, grinning from a universe away, the smiles on all of them so surreal in this new world that they may have never happened. But the time tells him that this time yesterday he was already outside the Paris DPI headquarters, hood up and hands in pockets, watching everybody coming in and out, few at first in the grim grey of dawn but as the sun began slitting gold between the layers of cloud, the night shift - quite a busy one - finally began to swap over with the day shift.

He'd stopped a young woman walking out, she could barely have been any older than him, pulling a hat on over her long red hair and buttoning her coat against the cold, a silver pentacle hung around her neck before the coat closed over it. He asked her if she knew a vampire called Athos. She blinked at him - green-blue eyes, astonishingly pretty, and said, "Athos? How do you know Athos?" but before he could think how to dodge the question, she'd said, "That's him now. What did you need him for?"

Coming up at d'Artagnan's back, approaching the department, were three men. The tallest was wearing a light jacket and a scarf, not really much for the winter, and only the skinniest was dressed for the weather as it was, snow scraped to the edges of the street and he was at least wearing a proper coat and a thicker scarf, hands in his pockets and laughing to something the tallest had said. At their side walked a man just wearing his suit jacket, breath invisible in the biting-cold air, as if his body had no warmth and no need of warmth at all.

D'Artagnan remembers this scene now with a squeeze of humiliation amongst every other emotion beginning to churn its way upwards again. He sits in the bed, and looks at his phone, and no-one has contacted him except for the missed calls from the police. His father died less than forty-eight hours ago and yet his phone sits silent. They didn't really have anyone but each other. If the police tried to get in touch with the next of kin, besides d'Artagnan himself there's no-one, and no-one will have told d'Artagnan's friends, his neighbours, no-one knows, his father is dead and the world rumbles on as if nothing has even happened.

He gets up - the floor is cold - and opens the curtains. Outside the window Paris is grey with winter, and a pigeon flurries from the windowsill in a panic.

Illuminated the room is lived-in messy, clothes quickly stuffed away for his sake last night but the desk is still a scatter of books and stranger (more knives, chalk and charcoal crayons, and little measured bags of white powder which on poking seem to contain salt). There's not a lot of decoration; photographs of the exorcist with the vampire and werewolf stuck on a cork board propped against the wall at the edge of the carpet, and a framed photograph on the wall d'Artagnan squints at to see clearly: rows of smiling faces, a college crest above, names printed below; a class from the exorcists' training college in the south. There's a collection of rosaries hanging from both of its corners, quite a few of them, and underneath on a chest of drawers, a messy melted-down mass of candles.

He rubs his arms, and pulls his hoodie on over the t-shirt he wore to bed - the one he should have worn in a hotel with his father last night, before the university open day he should have attended yesterday instead of everything yesterday turned into instead - and looks at the door. He thinks he can smell coffee. And he can hear a voice out there, so someone's awake, and very suddenly he doesn't want to be alone in this room any longer, not thinking about yesterday. He wants a cup of coffee and a distraction and then maybe those three will help him to the station so he can go home and - and -

Home -

He knows, immediately, that he's never going home.

He opens the bedroom door. Out in the living room the news is on the television and the vampire, Athos, is sitting on one of the sofas watching it, head propped loosely in a hand, and there's a cup of coffee beside him which means that vampires drink coffee (it turns out d'Artagnan knew pitifully little about vampires; his face is heating again). The other two -

The exorcist, Aramis, is sitting on the floor, his own cup of coffee on the coffee table beside him; he's cupped in the curled-around body of what looks like a four-hundred pound black wolf, its head currently back at the ceiling, rumbling pleasure deep in its chest, so that Aramis can rub at its exposed throat with his whole palm, breaking off from crooning to it to greet d'Artagnan with a smile. "Good morning. Did you sleep?"

D'Artagnan opens his mouth, attention still pretty focused on the massive fucking wolf, but hardly hesitates. His last two days, that he slept, rather than how he slept, probably is a more sensible question. "Yes. Thanks."

The wolf drops its head now Aramis isn't paying proper attention to it and nudges at him pointedly with its snout. "Yes, you." Aramis says, rubbing at the side of its snout. "You're not the only person in the world, you're terrible at this time of the month. It's the full moon," he adds, for the benefit of d'Artagnan's obvious freaked-out confusion, patting at the side of the wolf's neck. "Don't mind him, he's a big old soppy, aren't you. Are-n't yooouuu."

Aramis rubs vigorously at the wolf's ears, and the wolf makes a rrrrrr noise, eyes closed in bliss.

At d'Artagnan's back, the vampire says, "Are you hungry?"

D'Artagnan looks at him, and breathes only slowly.

More or less twenty-four hours ago he'd said, "Athos?" looking at the three men walking towards him. They all looked at him immediately - the tall one defensive, the skinny one curious, and the cold one expressionless as he said, "Yes?"

In a Paris park in the middle of the night - he'd climbed in over the railings - he'd broken the branch with the heel of his trainer and formed the weapon he held in his coat pocket, tight in his fist, and his breath was quick and choking, his head pounded with the whole night's unspent grief and fury as he hacked out through his teeth, "Last night you killed a man."

"Last night?" the vampire said, and his tone of voice -

There was no surprise in it. What it mostly sounded like was that he wasn't so sure; perhaps d'Artagnan had got the wrong night?

Nothing could have hurt more. Not mockery, not a sneer, not a declaration that he'd do it all over again, but only that it was so much nothing to him that he didn't even remember -

D'Artagnan ran at him with a howl.

The tall one raised his eyebrows, and put a surreptitious arm out across the skinny one's body, while the skinny one put his hands on his hips, eyebrows lowering with confusion. The cold one, the vampire, Athos, gave d'Artagnan a frown, ignored his arm stabbing upwards to stab down again, caught his arms and simply swung him on his own momentum to the side.

It was like being swung by a piece of industrial machinery. He staggered a crazy arms-pinwheeling distance down the pavement and eventually banged shoulder-first into the wall, turning to face them again panting hard, hair in his face.

"Oy," the red-headed girl in the doorway to the department said, "what the hell are you playing at? You know he's a vampire?"

"He killed my father!" d'Artagnan screamed, it felt good to scream it, like screaming a migraine right out, but the vampire said, "I believe you're mistaken," and gave him a tired look, as if d'Artagnan was boring him. D'Artagnan shoved himself off from the wall, got a really good run-up this time getting back to him - and got bopped aside by a gentle shove of the side of a fist to his shoulder, slamming him into the plate-glass windows flanking the department's doors; he felt how thick the glass was not to shatter under the force of it.

"Look," the skinny one said, side-stepping the tall one's arm and approaching d'Artagnan a little, hands held out low and placating. "Last night, did you say? Athos didn't kill anybody last night, he was on the day shift anyway, we were done by ten o' clock and I can assure you no-one d-"

"He killed my father! Ten o' clock last night, he killed my father, get back," swinging his weapon at him, and the skinny one didn't step back, merely stopped walking forwards, belly a hand's-width from gouged open and lowering his eyebrows as if not understanding why d'Artagnan was doing this, while at his shoulder, the tall one began to growl. "Stay back, this is nothing to do with you unless you were in on it too, he killed my fath-"

The skinny one said, "Is that a stake?"

And d'Artagnan saw in the vampire's eyes a sudden-and-stifled glint of amusement.

After that, things descended rapidly.

They make breakfast. Aramis does, anyway, one pan for eggs and one for bacon, while Athos sits with a newspaper and a sigh at the kitchen table, and says, "You spoil him."

"No, it's hot," Aramis says, pushing the pan back from the edge of the stove as the wolf - Porthos, d'Artagnan has long realised, but he never knew to imagine him like that, he's never seen an adult werewolf fully turned before - noses at it. "Patience, Porthos. How do you take your eggs?" to d'Artagnan, who shrugs awkwardly, and says, "However's fine. Can I help?"

"You could make toast. Porthos, if I let you eat it raw then you'll blame me for it tomorrow, patience."

The wolf whines, and paws at the back of Aramis' leg, banging him right into the oven. Aramis pushes the pans back hissing his breath out relieved, grinning a little, not to be burnt; at the kitchen table, not even looking up from the newspaper, Athos says, "Porthos."

The wolf immediately sits, and licks its muzzle. Aramis scratches it behind the ear, and pushes at bacon with a spatula.

D'Artagnan finds the loaf and begins slicing it for toast. Aramis says, "I was thinking about poaching them," and d'Artagnan wants to ask - a lot of things, actually, some questions more pressing than others. The memory of that building still sits very oppressive with him, and he needs to know what that was, what it means, but the words for that don't come easily. Admitting to that vulnerability, particularly in front of the vampire, isn't easy. So instead he asks, because he needs to know how much time he has for all the other questions, "What's going to happen today?"

Aramis looks not at him but at Athos, and when Athos makes a point of not looking up, he hooks a rasher of bacon out of the pan on the spatula and holds it up to allow the fat to drain off. Porthos stands up again, and Athos says, "Porthos." and the wolf sits, tail wagging on the kitchen tiles.

"It's hot," Aramis says, almost as if he's apologising, to d'Artagnan. "He forgets things like 'cooking makes food hot' when he's like this. He burns his mouth if we're not careful."

D'Artagnan says, "Are you going to make me go home?"

Aramis blows on the rasher of bacon to cool it, and Athos says, "'Make you' is an ominous sort of wording."

"There's no-one to go back to. And -"

Aramis says, "You're not going home." and drops the rasher; Porthos catches it out of the air with a clop of steel-trap jaws.

Athos says, "Aramis."

"There is no point in the lunar cycle during which I sit when you use that tone of voice, Athos."

"Alas," Athos says acidly. "Whatever you are planning -"

"We can't send him home. You know what's happening out there, we're losing exorcists so fast I might yet live to be the most senior in the department -"

"And you think it's safer for him to stay here."

"What else are we going to do, send him to the college?"

The silence after that is the silence of someone having dropped a rock down a mineshaft, waiting for the boom of its hit. Then Porthos whines and scratches at the back of Aramis' leg again, and Aramis staggers into the oven once more, looks down and hooks up another rasher of bacon.

"We'll talk to the captain." he says quietly.

"We're not keeping him. He's not a puppy."

D'Artagnan looks at Porthos, who licks his muzzle again, eyes fixed firmly on Aramis and the pan of bacon. Aramis says, "You're not in charge of us."

"You'll find that I am. I literally am, I outrank you. You were in the army, don't pretend that you don't know how this works."

"I'm going to talk to the captain. One thing you definitely can't order me not to do is that."

"Treville is going to think you're just as insane as I do."

D'Artagnan says, "Do I get a say in any of this?"

Aramis takes a long breath in, says, "It depends how much of any of it you understand yet." and drops another rasher into the waiting jaws of the wolf.

*

D'Artagnan did not stake the vampire through the heart, which, the exorcist told him gently, taking the stake from him and tossing it into a wastepaper bin as the vampire walked d'Artagnan with both wrists pinned through the department, wouldn't have killed him anyway, merely inconvenienced him, and ruined his shirt.

"The head," he told him. "I tell you this in case you ever need to kill another vampire, you can't have ours. But you have to get the head off. And it's a bastard of a job, I've only ever managed it twice. They do fight back, you know."

Athos said as he walked a jerking, kicking d'Artagnan onwards, "Stop telling him how to kill me."

"He's not going to do it. We're not going to let him do it."

"No, nor am I. It's just existentially troubling when he thinks he has a motive and you decide to give him the means."

D'Artagnan jerked at his grip - like jerking at the ground underfoot, his strength just was - and snarled, "Existentially -"

"Feels uncomfortable," Porthos translated, and patted d'Artagnan's shoulder as he thrashed, teeth clenched on his scream.

They walked d'Artagnan up a staircase - he was not co-operative, and his shins got bruised in the exercise - and to a first floor office door, which Aramis knocked on as he unbuttoned his coat, then leaned in around the door and smiled and said, "Sandrine, good morning, is that a new scarf?"

Porthos gave a little amused rumble, and d'Artagnan repeatedly kicked Athos in the ankle while Athos said as if his boredom was beginning to give way to annoyance, "Stop that."

Later, d'Artagnan will learn that Captain Treville is difficult to get an appointment with in a morning, with all the chaos of the previous night shift to work through, but Aramis somehow manages to slip himself into any situation he fancies being in every time; being popular with the secretaries has many advantages.

The captain was a middle-aged man with eyes no less sharp for looking so tired - eyes that have seen a lot, and ran out of patience for it all a couple of decades ago - sitting behind a desk with an overbrimming in-tray he cast a frustrated glance to as the three of them trooped in to take him away from it, dragging a boy in with them. He looked at d'Artagnan, then looked up at the three DPI agents and said, "This had better be quick, gentlemen."

"It's just a small case of mistaken identity, captain." Aramis said, as Athos pulled d'Artagnan over by the wrists and put him in the chair in front of the desk, banging him into it not unkindly but very firmly.

"We had any reports of vampires committin' murder last night?" Porthos said.

Treville looked at his in-tray again and sighed, slow and fierce, from under his moustache. Then he began picking through it. "Could you narrow it down slightly?"

"A hotel just south of Paris." d'Artagnan said, jerking his wrists out of Athos' grip - Athos allowed him to do it, stepped back placidly and folded his hands behind himself. "He killed my father."

Treville looked up at him, then said, pointing at Athos, "This man?"

"He was with us," Aramis said.

"He said his name! He said his name before he died, why else would he -"

"Alright," Treville said, in a voice that meant quiet, clicking his computer screen awake. "If it was south of the city it's out of our jurisdiction, the report will have gone to another department . . . and you three, I need a better alibi than 'he was with you'."

Aramis said, sounding mostly shocked, "You don't believe us?"

"It doesn't matter whether I believe you, this murder is out of our jurisdiction and anyone investigating it will believe that you three would protect each other. I hope you'd have the sense to do the same in their situation."

"He said his name." D'Artagnan still had a smear of dried blood on his wrist; all night he hadn't been able to bring himself to wipe it off. He hadn't been able to do anything but stare at it. "He said his name and he died, in my arms, how the hell would he even know your name if you weren't the one who killed him?"

Aramis looked at Porthos, mouth closed, eyes openly worried, not that Athos had killed d'Artagnan's father but that this looked bad for him. And Porthos looked at him for a moment, and then at d'Artagnan, jerked his head to him and said, "What time?"

"Ten o' clock." Memory jolted him. "Ten oh three. I was parking the car and getting the luggage while he checked us in, it was raining. The time was on the dashboard. Ten oh three."

"Couldn't've been Athos," Porthos said. "We got a call out at, what, four minutes to the end of the shift? Three minutes? Athos picked the bloody phone up."

"We were still on call," Athos said calmly.

"Traffic was bad, there was some accident somewhere, we didn't arrive until about half past eight."

Treville was still clicking away at his computer. "I'd just started reading the record for this. Teenage witches?"

"They weren't the bad part," Porthos muttered.

"They were only playing, they didn't know." Aramis said gently. "They tried to pin the spirit of a girl's dead hamster into a doll, then panicked when it worked. And then it turned out that Porthos doesn't like dolls."

"Fuckin' creepy fucks," Porthos muttered, arms folded in around himself, shoulders hunched narrow. Aramis patted his arm.

"And the doll had got out of the apartment by then, it took us forever to find it, scurrying around in the dark like that."

"Did you exorcise it in the end?" Treville said to the computer, still clicking around on there.

Aramis shrugged. "I didn't have to. It seemed to stay down pretty dead when Porthos stomped on it like that."

Porthos cleared his throat, said, "So, we got a call out, didn't finish up until, mmf," tilting his mouth as he thought, "half nine?"

"Athos made the confirmation call," Aramis said, and Athos slipped a hand in his jacket pocket, took his phone out, scrolled through it.

"Nine forty-one. It'll be in the department logs."

"So Athos had twenty minutes to get out of Paris to commit a murder. It took us that long to go back to ours to order curry."

"I've found the police and DPI reports," Treville said. "I'm sorry, son, there's no way Athos could have made that journey in twenty-two minutes. It's forty minutes at best."

It had been like a column of ice down the inside of himself, surrounded by the white-hot heat of a star burning up. His voice had shaken. "Then who did it? Who killed him, why was he saying his name?"

Aramis rubbed the back of his hair, glanced at Athos. "It's hardly a common name."

"No." Athos gave d'Artagnan a long, thoughtful look, while d'Artagnan blinked, and blinked, eyes too hot, lungs too hot, trying to keep his shuddering breathing steady. "But it's hardly like there isn't motive out there to frame me."

D'Artagnan's breath gulped and shivered, gulped and shivered, unsteady with sheer rage. "Frame you?"

Aramis folded his arms, leaned his shoulder slightly to bump against Porthos'. "There are plenty of humans and werewolves out there who don't like vampires being in the DPI."

Athos said, "There are plenty of vampires out there who don't like vampires being in the DPI."

"There's plenty out there who don't like you full stop," Porthos said. "Not exactly Mr Friendly, Athos."

"Oh come now, he's the life and soul," Aramis said, and there was a bright laughing light in his eyes before he seemed to understand the way d'Artagnan was looking at him and sobered it, and his smile twitched sorry. Then he came down to a crouch to look up into d'Artagnan's face, quiet dark eyes reading his, and prompted him, softly, "Tell us what happened. We can help."

*

In the park Athos wears sunglasses and Porthos trots off across the grass, sniffing at it in an interested way, making a curving path for the bushes. Dogs out for their walks part from his path, strain their leashes in dragging their owners away from him. "The definition of true love," Aramis says, sitting with a flump on a bench. "I have a bag for his poop."

Athos sits beside him. D'Artagnan takes care to sit with Aramis between them; having tried to stake the vampire yesterday - and he is still embarrassed, there are no vampires in his home village, he's never known a vampire, never knew that didn't work - he's not really sure what Athos thinks of him. He's not really sure, looking at Athos' impassive face behind the sunglasses, that he'll ever know what Athos thinks of him.

Aramis, meanwhile, says to him, "It's a no-going-back commitment. It's a big thing to decide at eighteen. I wouldn't have asked you any of this if it weren't necessary."

D'Artagnan thinks about it, and keeps his cold hands in his jacket pockets. He didn't really dress properly for a Paris winter. "Did you start at eighteen?"

"God, no. I -" He stops, and then grins, broad, amused. "At eighteen I joined the army."

"A big commitment," d'Artagnan says flatly, and Aramis just smiles, and shakes his head.

Athos says, "You said you were going to look at the university."

"My father wanted me to. I've never known what I wanted to do." He shrugs, hands still in his coat pockets, throat hardening again. "I was going to do it to make him happy."

Porthos has slipped between some bushes, almost out of sight now but for his high-wagging tail. D'Artagnan stares at the thin bare branches, dully, just not really . . . but then Aramis touches his arm, and when d'Artagnan looks at him, Aramis says, "Perhaps give him his privacy. I'm sorry to ask this of you, I know it's - this is not the right time, you'll have things to take care of, the funeral to get through, but I need to know what you want to do. Because you can leave. You can just walk away and never think about it again. But -" He looks at Athos, then back at d'Artagnan. "It's dangerous. Just being what you are is dangerous. If the wrong person finds out, they will kill you for it. I'm sorry. We don't know who's doing it or why it's happening but we've lost so many already."

Athos says, "He's safer in the countryside."

"Of course he isn't. I wasn't."

Athos looks away, but Aramis doesn't sound angry or accusing even as Athos' face goes glassy with not showing some raw reaction to what he just said. Aramis just watches d'Artagnan's eyes very close, focused on him. "I know this must be the last thing you want to think about right now-"

"No," d'Artagnan says. "It's good, actually. Gives me something to . . ." He shrugs just his hands, loosely clasped between his knees, turning his wrists up. "It gives me something to . . ."

This is the afterwards. He understands that. His father is gone and his life as it was is done, dead, forever, and it makes sense that now there's something so different. There is no going back. He doesn't want to be coddled or babied by people who think he's still that boy. Now he's different, now the world is different, and he wants to inhabit this new strange deadly different world. Better than being that boy back in his old life, alone.

Aramis watches his eyes carefully, reading him, and d'Artagnan puts his head up and takes a breath in and looks back at him as straight as he can. Aramis twitches the corner of his smile, as if approving, and says, "We can talk to the captain, and defend you while you need it, and train you to defend yourself. We'll work everything out as we come to it."

"That is your plan in every situation," Athos says, "and it's a pathetic excuse for a plan, Aramis."

"I didn't say it was a plan. The situation is fluid, best not over-plan."

"The situation is 'fluid' because you haven't thought it through."

"What's to think through? We have a spare room, we can look after him -"

"I don't need looking after," d'Artagnan says.

"You can't adopt him."

"And you don't have a spare bedroom, I had to take yours last night."

Dismissively, "I'll just sleep in Porthos' room."

D'Artagnan's got a headache, too tired of too much feeling to follow all this. "But then where will Porthos sleep? He's not a wolf all the time. Is he?"

Athos glares at Aramis, and says very flatly, "You have not thought this through."

Aramis waves a hand. "Don't obsess over the small details, big picture, Athos, big picture -"

Porthos is trotting back to them, nudges his face up to Aramis' and sniffs at his ear as if glad to be reunited; Aramis shoves at his neck and laughs, eyes squeezing closed at how it tickles, and Porthos sets up panting, tail wagging. Aramis says, "Are you done? Show me where, then."

D'Artagnan opens his mouth to ask him where the hell he's going when Aramis stands up and puts a hand on Porthos' shoulder, fingers resting in his thick fur, and Porthos lopes off back towards the bushes. Then d'Artagnan realises that Aramis really wasn't joking about having brought a bag, and clamps his mouth shut, and doesn't look at the vampire he's now sitting beside on a bench, no safe buffer of an exorcist between them.

Athos sits, arms folded, glaring through the air in front of him as Porthos and Aramis head into the bushes. Then he says, "You're not obliged to humour him. We can take you to the university ourselves if you still want to visit."

"Why don't you want me here?"

It probably shouldn't have come out as angry as it did but d'Artagnan is angry, not even really at anything but it's just what this strange new world is, a place in which he's angry, he's angry and Athos evidently wanting d'Artagnan gone is just something actually close enough to let that out at. He knows he's no right to stamp himself into their lives like this - especially after yesterday, god, if the vampire wants him gone he does get it - but he's angry. He's worn out with all his anger and loss and anger. He's pissed off. And that vampire doesn't seem to have any feelings at all, and how fucking dare he get away with that . . .

Athos looks at him, and looks about as weary of him as someone hundreds of years old probably would feel. "I don't want you here," he says, tired and reasonable, "because we are finding dead exorcists like autumn leaves in this city, and you need to leave."

"He's alright," d'Artagnan says, waving an arm after Aramis' back.

"He has us."

"So your plan is to send me somewhere else where I don't have anyone and I'll be fine? You know what, fine. I will do that. I'll be just fine on my own, I don't need you anyway."

He thumps himself back on the bench, arms folded, glaring at the grass. After a pause the vampire sighs, too slow to be frustrated, and says, "We'll talk to the captain about the DPI in your local area, they'll need to know for your prot-"

"This is my local area. I'm not going home."

"Your father died less than forty-eight hours ago, you're confused, you don't know what you want yet."

"Don't tell me what I'm feeling, what the hell would you know about feelings?"

The vampire looks at him and d'Artagnan can't read a thing from his face, his eyes might as well be mirrors, porcelain, some surface nothing sticks to. Then Athos looks across at the exorcist walking out from the bushes and heading for a bin with a picture of a dog above it, while the werewolf trots at his side like a guard, ears up, back stiffer, differently alert now Aramis isn't beside Athos as well.

"What would I know about feelings," Athos murmurs, and watches Aramis look across at them, and smile, and walk up putting his hands into his coat pockets.

Aramis walks straight for Athos, his mouth tilted half a smile, and he says, "I bet that was a really thawing conversation, I bet that's the ice thoroughly broken." and leans down, and kisses him on the mouth.

D'Artagnan doesn't react because he doesn't know how to react.

Aramis flumps to sit between them again, and Porthos sits between his legs, and puts his head on his thigh, looking beseechingly up into Aramis' eyes. Aramis slides his fingers into his neck fur, and strokes at the top of his head with his thumb.

"So," he says, and smiles for Porthos. "He can have my room, that's taken care of. We'll talk to the captain, I'm sure he'll understand."

No, really, Porthos' wolf-formed head is laying about an inch from a part of Aramis surely no wolf should ever be near and he just - he just kissed Athos. On the mouth. Like it was nothing. And the way he's been with Porthos all morning in front of Athos - so, no, really, and d'Artagnan says, "Which two of you are a couple?"

Aramis looks at him, then says mildly, "All three of us are a couple."

Athos says, "This is why you haven't thought this through."

"It's really nothing," Aramis says. "He's a modern young man, he'll understand."

"All three of you?"

"He'll understand," Aramis croons to Porthos, lifting his head by cupping his chin, and Porthos nudges his nose to Aramis' and wags his tail on the grass. "He'll understand, woooon't he?"

Athos says wearily across Aramis to d'Artagnan, "You are permitted to be disturbed."

D'Artagnan says, "Don't tell me what I'm feeling."

"You'll notice that I didn't," Athos says. "Fine. Are you honestly going to sit there and say that you're content living with and under the protection of a vampire and a werewolf and the exorcist who's sleeping with both of them? Aramis, for god's sake, social services would never grant you custody of -"

"He's eighteen, he can do what he likes."

"I'm eighteen, and I'm staying here." d'Artagnan feels more furiously certain with every moment: now this brand new world contains werewolves and vampires and exorcists and apparently all three of them are a gay couple, great, nothing makes sense anymore, great, that's exactly what d'Artagnan wants, the old world is so utterly broken that orderless nonsense in its stead sounds perfect. "You can't stop me."

Athos just looks at the distant trees edging the park as Aramis begins rubbing both of Porthos' ears - Porthos whines appreciatively - and then says as if exhausted of the fact, "Rarely can I stop an exorcist from doing anything."

Yesterday he was in charge. Yesterday d'Artagnan had been white in the heart with rage at the vampire who killed his father - fuck what they said, he killed d'Artagnan's father and his own powerlessness to so much as hurt him was in d'Artagnan like shrapnel - that vampire arranging for them to go to the hotel, to see the crime scene, to ascertain why someone was claiming to be him and murdering people. As if it wasn't him. As if he wasn't the murdering bastard -

D'Artagnan was coming with them, that was assumed, they were taking him back to the hotel with them; he at least needed to talk to the police, Aramis told him gently, since he hadn't so far and they would need a statement. In the DPI garage Athos got into the driver's seat, Porthos beside him, leaving d'Artagnan and Aramis the back seat. Once they were in there Aramis unslung the satchel he was wearing to drop it on the seat between them and d'Artagnan saw, on its side, in its own special strapped pouch, the hilt of a knife set specifically to be drawn with speed and ease.

So he grabbed it, lurched up to grab the vampire's head, and whacked it into the side of his neck.

Porthos held him pinned to the back seat with one hand, leaning between the seats as Aramis took his knife back and said, gently chiding, "It's a ceremonial dagger, I only keep one side sharpened. And I told you it was hard to get their heads off."

In the driver's seat Athos said, "Stop correcting his form, just stop him from doing it. I can't drive if he's going to do that at unpredictable moments."

Porthos looked at d'Artagnan not angry, though the force of his palm to d'Artagnan's chest was like being clamped to the back seat. "C'n I let go or are you gonna be a daft sod all the drive?"

Aramis said, "He needs to put his seatbelt on. We all do if he might start up again at any moment." His eyes on d'Artagnan were mostly thoughtful, as he slotted and strapped his knife safely away again. "We don't even know your name."

He opened his mouth and -

- and emptiness filled it, the emptiness of his own name suddenly meaningless in the whole huge meaningless world. Porthos, looking at his face, relented the pressure of his hand, no longer holding him back, just keeping his palm on his chest.

"D'Artagnan," d'Artagnan said, voice coming as if up a throat made of sand. "I was always just called - at home I'm - I'm my father's son to everyone."

"D'Artagnan," Aramis said, after a pause. "I know you need proof, and we're going to find it for you, because Athos didn't kill your father and we need to find the vampire who did. I know you don't know Athos, but I do. We do. He's a good man." Aramis looked up at the back of Athos' head as Athos started the car, and began reversing from the parking space. "He could kill any of us, every drop of fight we have wouldn't even register to him if he wanted us dead."

Athos murmured to the road, "How exactly is this supposed to help my case?"

Aramis said, "I trust him with more than just my life. I hope you understand what that means." He looked at d'Artagnan, sad sorry eyes but he was so very sure about this. "He could do much worse to me than snap my neck like a matchstick and I don't even think about trusting him. In the dark, I'm safe with him. He's a good man. And if anyone is going to find who killed your father and bring him to justice, Athos will, d'Artagnan. I promise."

"Athos an' the rest of us," Porthos said, still with his head turned to keep a close eye on d'Artagnan's movements now the car was moving. "Look, even I trust him, that's gotta mean something, werewolves an' vampires aren't exactly famous for likin' each other."

D'Artagnan folded his arms and glared out of the window. His stomach hurt after all the betrayal the world seemed capable of. He muttered, knowing that if it was true he was already dead and genuinely not caring about that in the moment of it, "Are you two in on it too, then?"

Porthos gave a low angry grunt, and Aramis said, "We'll be at least another half hour, if you want to close your eyes."

"Go to hell." d'Artagnan muttered, shuffling his folded arms closer.

The problem was that he'd been awake all night in despair and rage and the cold, and now being in a warm moving car he somehow was just lulled clean out, and woke to Aramis touching his arm, in the hotel car park again, his own abandoned car two spaces away from theirs. D'Artagnan sat with a shuffled snort, and Aramis' eyes were concerned but smiling, a little tightly.

D'Artagnan looked at the entrance to the hotel in which his father had been killed last night - there was still a police presence outside, they were probably worried about the vampire coming back. Which, d'Artagnan thought, unsnapping his seatbelt, the bastard had, hadn't he?

Athos went to speak to the two police officers outside the doors, and inside, in the warmth, d'Artagnan stared at the wooden floor in front of the reception desk, and remembered. Aramis pushed a bell on the desk, unaware that he was standing just to the right of where d'Artagnan's father had died, and then leaned on the desk to wait, playing with a leaf in the vase of flowers.

A member of staff emerged eventually, looking shaken - the staircase to the other floors was blocked off, the door guarded by the police, the hotel must have been using another entrance and he hadn't expected anyone to come to this one. Aramis murmured to him quietly, while Porthos sniffed, rubbed his nose, nodded at the patch of wood next to Aramis. "There?"

D'Artagnan said nothing, and nodded tightly.

Athos came into the room and looked at Porthos, who just jogged his head like that meant something and Athos stood there relaxed. Aramis turned back from the receptionist, who left them, and said, "He wasn't here last night, but he was told by other staff that the vampire who came in here had a DPI badge he waved at them first."

"He had a badge, he was called 'Athos' . . ." d'Artagnan muttered, and Porthos shook his head.

"First time Athos's been in here, couldn't get a whiff of him before he stepped in now. Was another vampire, though."

"Of course you'd say that." d'Artagnan snapped.

"Yeah," Porthos said. "I'd say it, an' any other werewolf to step in here would say it too." He raised his face, not visibly sniffing but clearly scenting the air on each breath. "Can't even tell if the vampire's male or female, you know your lot don't really do hormones."

"It's a vulgar habit." Athos said. "Aramis?"

Aramis shook his head. "No echoes."

"Echoes? Why would you hear an echo, it happened last night."

Porthos said, "He's an exorcist. If anyone dead was hangin' around to say somethin' about it he'd know."

Aramis' quick eyes flitted to Porthos, then came concerned again to d'Artagnan. "We leave echoes, in our worst distress. But your father has moved on. I know it's little help, but he doesn't suffer. He is at least at peace."

D'Artagnan stared at the floor in front of the reception desk, then stamped out of the room again, through the sliding doors, past the silent police who let him walk to his car and kick the tyre until a werewolf pulled him gently back by the arms, and his foot hurt.

"Talk to us," Aramis said. "We need to find this bastard. The receptionist said he never faced the camera so they don't have footage of his face, what did you see?"

"Nothing. Nothing. He ran past, in the dark, I didn't know to stop him -"

"Porthos?" Athos said, because the werewolf was still giving the doorway of the hotel a strangely focused look.

"Dunno. Got this . . . there's this smell I know but . . . dunno, s'so faint I can't really . . ."

"Can you follow the vampire?"

This time Porthos did sniff, visibly breathing in deep. Then he said, sounding troubled, "I think I've got the badge."

"Bring him," Athos said, nodding at d'Artagnan and turning for their car. "He needs to see what justice looks like."

D'Artagnan wrenched his arms in Porthos' grip and the werewolf just let him loose. "Why wouldn't he echo?" d'Artagnan screamed at Aramis. "Why wouldn't he stay, he could have told me -"

"Perhaps," Aramis said, "he trusted that you could take care of it on your own."

If there was a reply to that, d'Artagnan was too stunned and exhausted and angry to find it.

*

Back in the apartment Porthos shakes himself out and Aramis only raises his eyebrows at the cast-off fur visibly floating through the air, smiling just a little with his hands on his hips, while Athos rolls his eyes and walks past them. D'Artagnan takes his jacket off, then just stands there in the hallway. Aramis says, "Does anyone want coffee?" and walks into the kitchen, Porthos trotting at his side worrying at his right hand with his snout until Aramis pets him with it, while Athos grunts and d'Artagnan says quietly, "Thanks," and hangs his jacket on one of the hooks by the door.

Aramis is opening cupboards, one-handed, fetching mugs down one by one while Porthos leans into his hip, sitting heavily to his side, head raised and eyes closed as Aramis' hand runs over his head, pressing his ears back with each stroke. D'Artagnan has to help Aramis with the cafetière - one-handed Aramis can't get the plunger out - and says, "He doesn't seem to cling to Athos like this."

Aramis gives him an amused little look, and takes the coffee out of the fridge. "He likes Athos. It's just that he's a werewolf, so he and I - when we -"

"Be careful with the language you use in front of impressionable minds." Athos says, looking out of the windows onto the street below.

"He's a werewolf," Aramis says, shooting Athos a very amused glance. "So we're not really dating, we're mating. Which means at this time of the lunar cycle he does get very, well, clingy."

As d'Artagnan leans past Aramis to fill the kettle for him, Porthos opens his eyes, and looks at him. It's not about being impressionable. No-one wants to be looked at by a wolf that size like that.

"Mating," he says, trying not to think in detail about that.

"No pups yet," Aramis says. "Can't think what we're doing wrong."

Athos says again, flatly, "Impressionable minds." and Aramis smiles across at him, then crouches to pick up the water bowl they put down for Porthos, dumping the water in the sink to freshen it.

"There are things you need to know, if you do intend to stay in Paris. You really don't have to stay with us if you don't want to, I don't imagine the three of us make for uncomplicated housemates, but if you're staying in this city there really is much stranger than we three out there."

D'Artagnan looks through the light open space of the apartment, as Athos turns back from the window to see him do it, and quickly folds his arms and looks back at the kettle. "I don't have to stay if none of you want me."

"That's not what I meant," Aramis says, and puts a hand on his arm. "If you want the truth, I don't want you out of our sight. I'm sick of saying goodbye to people at the end of a shift and never knowing if I'll see them alive again."

"What the hell is even happening?" d'Artagnan says. "We killed that vampire last night, doesn't that -"

Athos says, "Don't congratulate yourself too much over one vampire."

Porthos isn't growling, but there's a certain bristle to him right now, and d'Artagnan gives him a wary look. "Could you - maybe take your hand off my arm?"

Aramis looks at him, looks down at Porthos, and laughs, rippling in his chest, wickedly amused. "You," he chides, crouching down to ruffle at Porthos' chest fur. "Look at you getting all territorial. He's only a pup, be nice."

The kettle is boiling, but d'Artagnan's nervous to reach past Aramis and Porthos to pour it. "Does he -" He stops. "I'm not even going to ask what he thinks you touching me means. Wait, hang on, he watched you kiss Athos earlier but he doesn't like it when you touch my arm?"

"Athos is Athos," Aramis says, scratching underneath Porthos' chin while Porthos sniffs delicately at his nose. "He doesn't know what you are yet. Porthos, listen to me, listen, Porthos - chicken. There, now I've got your attention. Listen and there's chicken in it for you." The wolf is very attentively watching Aramis' eyes now, as Aramis holds his cheek in a palm and strokes over it with his thumb. "D'Artagnan will probably end up being our pack as well, because we have to look after him, and he has to stay with us. But he's like a pup, Porthos, he's only a beta. I have quite enough alpha in my bed already, believe me."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" d'Artagnan says, cheeks hot with - with being only a beta as much as what goes on in Aramis' -

In Aramis' bed.

The bed he slept in last night.

He closes his eyes and kneads his forehead with a hand, and Athos' voice says behind them, "It's generational, it's not about power. The parents of a wolf pack are known as the alphas. The children, in various litters, are the betas, until they've helped to raise some of their younger siblings and they move off to start packs of their own."

D'Artagnan chews that over for a moment, his temper sniffing around it, seeing if it's acceptable. Eventually he says, a little sullen still, "Alright then."

Aramis stands up, and picks up the kettle to pour over the coffee grounds, one hand still on Porthos' head. "Look at that," he says, smiling. "We did manage to get a pup after all."

Athos sighs, and walks past them to open the fridge, to hand a tinfoiled package to Aramis - Porthos' ears swivel alert, his eyes fix on it, as Aramis unwraps two cooked chicken breasts, and tells him fondly, "You are a bottomless pit during your change," lowering one in two fingers into the teeth of the wolf, so gentle with Aramis' fingers to bite off right there.

Athos, apparently wearied of how long it's taken them to make any progress towards coffee, fixes the plunger into the cafetière himself. "The vampire we killed last night," he says, "necessary as that was, was not the only reason DPI agents have been dying. They've been coming for our exorcists for years. It's very obvious by now that they intend to kill every last one in France, there are a number of departments in the country left without an exorcist to their name, we have to travel when required."

"To deal with things like that? Like that vampire?"

Like that vampire killing my father just because you're worth destroying the reputation of?

"Amongst other things."

"The work is varied," Aramis says. "Not all exorcists take on a combat role, some of us only work on exorcism itself. But we're always handy to have in the field, some of us need to keep heading out there whatever happens."

Athos sighs, leaning back on the worktop, arms folded and head low. D'Artagnan knows what Aramis means. Yesterday, it had mattered that he'd been there, and not just the other two.

They drove slowly with the car window wound down and Porthos' head sticking out of it, following the scent of the badge. Because if it was a DPI vampire, even if it wasn't Athos - it meant d'Artagnan was right to blame them to begin with, they should have known, why did they ever even let vampires into the musketeers, everyone knows what vampires do -

When Porthos lost the scent he had them turn around and go back to where he was last sure of it. By then they were on the outskirts of town, and on that Sunday morning they slowed to a halt in an empty landscape of industrial buildings and warehouses in a sea of carparks, vast spaces for lorries marked out and largely unoccupied. Porthos got out of the car and paced the carpark a little, breathing slow and deep, Aramis leaning against the car with his arms folded, and Athos - Athos standing with his head a little high, eyes a little narrowed, taking a deep breath in as if he too could smell . . .

Porthos looked across at Athos, and then the two of them set off, and Aramis glanced at d'Artagnan, and followed them. As Aramis walked, from underneath his jacket, he drew and then cocked a gun.

The door to the warehouse marked as Danger, No Entry looked closed but Porthos put his hands to it and the lock was already broken. He tested the weight of the door in his hands, looked at Athos, who took a half step to the side to put himself oddly more in front of the door, so Porthos could brace himself and shove it quick to the side -

Nothing. Silence. The werewolf and the vampire stayed tense for one moment and then Porthos set his head high, nose wrinkling, and walked in. Athos followed him. And d'Artagnan realised that in that half second before Porthos opened the door, Athos had taken his chance to step between the two humans and the immediate line of entry, to put himself between them and whatever might come out of that door.

Nothing ever was going to come out of that door, they realised very quickly. Porthos said, "Oh, fuck." and Athos made an irritated sound as his breath hissed out, and Aramis stopped d'Artagnan with a hand on his chest.

"You don't have to see this."

"See what?"

A large empty space, the walls corrugated iron and light streaming in through the rusted-through patches on the ceiling. This place must be due for demolition next to all the newer buildings around, but - d'Artagnan's foot slipped on something round, he caught his balance, looked down at - at -

At the bullet casing, rolling away across the gritty concrete floor, stopping when it rattled into a crack. It wasn't the only one. There were - dozens, hundreds of them. He looked across, at the thing Porthos was walking towards, a thing he quickly realised was a body on the ground.

"Werewolf," Porthos said. "Dunno her by scent. An' there's a human - I dunno him, but - fuck. Fuck."

He punched the wall, rattling corrugated iron all the way to the roof where a couple of pigeons startled, and dust poured down as Aramis took d'Artagnan's arm to keep him from walking forwards, and slotted his gun away. D'Artagnan said, "What -"

"Cornet," Porthos said, and stood in front of a slumped body sitting against the wall, head lolled forward to its chest like its neck was elastic, shirt stuck to its chest with browned blood.

Athos looked at Aramis, said, "Are you alright?"

Aramis had his head high, but his eyes weren't quite focused on the air in front of him, and his jaw was set so tight. "This one," he said, "this one echoes, thank you Cornet . . ."

D'Artagnan was beginning to get a sick giddy headache - no sleep, he hadn't eaten since lunchtime the previous day, he was getting lightheaded and queasy with it and now he was standing with three corpses in a sea of bullets. He said, trying to lift a surreptitious hand to his mouth - the taste of his saliva was upsetting him - "What does it say?"

"Exactly what I'd say in his place," Aramis said, paled and a little quivering but steady through sheer rage. "He is angry. And we owe him one dead vampire."

"Must've set up a machine gun," Porthos said, kicking at loose bullet casings on the ground. "Lured 'em in here somehow, took the werewolf out. Cornet was an exorcist, was with us 'til last month, got moved to this department 'cause they were out of exorcists, other dead guy must've been a witch or something."

Athos walked to the sitting body, gave it a long silent look, then said, "It wasn't the bullets that killed him."

"No." Aramis said, breathing tightly through his nose as if he felt as swollen inside his skull as d'Artagnan did. "It was not. But he could have borne that, we know what will kill us when we sign up to do this -"

"Aramis," Athos said, a warning.

"- but that bastard took his badge, and Cornet wants it back." Aramis' breath shivered out through his teeth, and he looked at d'Artagnan, started to say something but then stopped, taking him in, eyes turning surprised and then so troubled. "Come on," he said. "Let's get some air. I don't need to be in here any more than you do."

D'Artagnan started a half-hearted protest but Aramis just dragged him out, back into the air outside, no colder but away from those bodies at least it felt fresher. D'Artagnan put his head back to the sky and breathed, and breathed, white in the cold, and Aramis said, "Whoever killed our agents killed your father. And we will find them, and we will bring them down. But we can take you back to the department first, and -"

"No." d'Artagnan said, swallowing his sickly saliva back down, shaking himself steady again. "No, no way in hell. I want to see this bastard dead."

"D'Artagnan, this vampire has killed three musketeers in one go already, and if we take you with us -"

Darkly, "It'll take more than three musketeers to keep me away as long as that thing's out there."

Aramis sighed, and looked over his shoulder. "He's as safe with us as anywhere else, really."

At their backs Athos - d'Artagnan hadn't even realised he'd followed them out - said, "Explain the danger to him. Be thorough. And if he still insists, at least we'll be more than three musketeers by then."

"Have you already called for backup?"

"Treville is sending Flea, Ninon and their witch, and a local department unit as well."

Aramis nodded, then said to d'Artagnan, "Possibly after that scene isn't the best time for the question, but are you hungry? We passed a bakery two blocks back . . ."

The local DPI agents were on the scene by the time d'Artagnan, Aramis and Athos had brought their lunch back to eat in the car. They were talking to Porthos and every musketeer there looked ready for murder. There were two women and a man, who didn't introduce themselves as what they were, whatever they were - werewolves or vampires or anything, as far as d'Artagnan could tell. They shared what information they had, including, the shorter woman said with a nod to Athos, "Apparently you killed someone in a newsagent this morning."

"Did I," Athos said. "I seem to be making a bad habit of that."

"Your captain's already looked at the shop's security camera, bloke's build's all wrong for you." the man said. "Guess you two'd vouch for him."

"Presumably this one will too," Aramis said, smiling at d'Artagnan, who looked away glaring, and folded his arms.

He felt better for eating, he even slumped into a catnap on the back seat of the car until he was woken by another car door slamming, sat up and found that all the musketeers were talking around a car just arrived, which three women were getting out of - two blondes, one dressed incredibly elegantly in a skirt and tailored jacket and one dressed with a sort of scruffily punkish grandeur in knee boots, and then - d'Artagnan grabbed for the car's door handle - that redheaded girl from earlier, the collar of her teal jacket turned up against the wind, wearing a satchel like Aramis' and -

And a sword at her hip.

Aramis was just saying, "So, how overstretched are we that the night shift's been called in at lunchtime?"

"Don't even start," the redhead muttered, then saw d'Artagnan's approach and blinked. "Why's he here? Wasn't he trying to kill you the last time I saw him?"

"We gave 'im an A for effort alone," Porthos said. "Thought we'd give him a shot at killin' something else."

"He's a very helpful witness," Aramis said casually, slinging an arm around d'Artagnan's neck. "He saw the vampire in question run past him last night, he could be really useful to us."

The redhead said suspiciously, "If he saw him last night then why was he trying to kill Athos?"

"Well, it was dark," Aramis said, and grinned.

"He shouldn't be here." the elegant blonde said, eyes distractingly like Athos' - relaxed with a very old imperiousness - on d'Artagnan.

"We don't have the numbers to take him to safety and deal with this vampire. He's a witness, he needs minding. Anyway, since we're all here, we need to find that vampire."

"We can work on the scent," the scuffy blonde said. "Four werewolves, we'll be good. But you lot do all smell kind of alike, no offence. It'd be different if we already knew the fucker, tryin' to follow a strange vampire - all the bastard has to do is go a place there's other vampires an' it could takes us ages to get it all untangled, scent could've gone cold by then."

"Again, no offence," Aramis said to Athos, who ignored him. "It's alright, I can help. If you can track that vampire's scent, I can point out the right vampire at the end of it, even in a football crowd of them." He looked back into the warehouse. "I'm sorry. Cornet hasn't passed on yet."

The scruffy blonde said, "Oh, fuck. Fuck. He was a nice bloke, he was -"

"I know. And he knows we'll make it right." Aramis turned and walked into the warehouse again. "He just wants to be there to see it when we do."

Back inside d'Artagnan wanted to avoid looking at the bodies, just being back in that place brought that thumping headache back, oppressive and ill. He ducked his head and surreptitiously looked at the redhead instead. She looked like she was his age. If anything, she looked younger than him.

Aramis had taken something from his satchel, and knelt to draw a circle in chalk on the floor around himself, humming under his breath as he went. D'Artagnan swallowed - his head felt so thick and heavy, like a struck bell - and said, to the redhead's suspicious look, "Sorry about earlier. It was a misunderstanding."

"Piece of advice," she said, "don't get into 'misunderstandings' with vampires, they're not all in the DPI, most of them'll have your throat out."

He avoided thinking of his father's torn throat, the name he could hardly hack wet and ugly out of it. "I'm d'Artagnan."

"I'm Constance. I'm sorry about your father. They told us when we were called in."

"Yeah." He looked to the side, and swallowed again. "Thanks. Look - how old are you? Are you just out of high school?"

"You cheeky sod," she said, looking honestly shocked, and Aramis looked up from what he was doing - it looked like he was pouring salt around the edges of his circle - and said, "I haven't said anything."

"Not you, for once." she snapped. "Him. I'm twenty-one, I graduated last year, why do you think I'm here? They don't take teenagers, not humans anyway."

D'Artagnan looked away again, and shrugged his folded arms. Of course they don't take teenagers. But, if they didn't, what the hell was he going to do with the rest of his life with his father dead and decades ahead to fill, boring fucking office-filled decades when out here there are vampires and werewolves and exorcists and a lot of evil in the world he could put a lot of effort into kicking . . .

Aramis brushed his hands off, and knelt in his circle. Athos said, "Should we leave?" while giving the corpses a suspicious look, as if they could do anything once their backs were turned.

"No. This is only going to affect me, you're all safe. So am I, really, Cornet's not going to hurt me, the circle's just in case anything else tries to ride in with him. Though I am beginning to regret having that baguette if this doesn't go smoothly. Porthos?"

"Right here," Porthos said, crouching at the edge of the circle, mouth all twisted. "You're not gonna do that thing again, right?"

"I really wish I could give you guaranteed prior warning before I start speaking in tongues, but the circle should keep anything out. Promise you'll catch me. This becomes pointless if I concuss myself doing it."

"When've I ever dropped you?"

"Well -"

"That was like once."

"Three times."

"Four times," Athos said.

Aramis gave him a frown. "I don't remember four times."

"No," Athos said. "You don't."

"I'll fuckin' catch you, alright? Just try an' fall this way."

D'Artagnan murmured, "What's he doing?"

Constance glanced at him, arms loosely folded, then back at Aramis in his circle. "He's an exorcist."

"He's exorcising that man? Cornet?"

"No." She kept her voice low, as Aramis closed his eyes and relaxed, calmly still in his circle. "They hardly ever just exorcise a spirit. He'll go of his own accord when he gets what he wants - which is that bastard vampire brought to justice - but he can only haunt one place, and he's stuck here where he died. So Aramis is going to change the place he's haunting so Cornet can point the right vampire out to us when we need him to."

"He'll make him haunt the place the vampire is now?"

Constance shook her head. "No. He'll make him haunt him."

Aramis was whispering under his breath by then, something long and solemnly not-quite-rhythmic, fingers tracing quick shapes on the gritty concrete around his knees. It seemed to happen incredibly quickly; he was kneeling quite steady and then -

- d'Artagnan was distracted by his own ill headache suddenly spiking, rubbed his eye where it stabbed -

- and Aramis' head fell back with a gasp and he slipped sideways, hand half-catching himself on the concrete, Porthos grabbing him quickly as his wrist slid out and he fell to Porthos' side dead weight.

"Alright?" Porthos said quietly, drawing his fingers through Aramis' hair.

Aramis, eyes closed, nodded and took a tight breath in. "Mn. Yes. Just - getting used to it."

"You alright for standin' yet?"

He nodded, dopily, against Porthos' chest, but his eyes weren't open and it wasn't a reliable sort of 'yes'. D'Artagnan found himself looking at Athos, who said, "Between four werewolves, how far can you follow that badge, even if not the vampire?"

"S'tricky. Be really contaminated by now."

"Got a fresher trail, though," the man with the local DPI said. "Someone got killed in a newsagent less than four hours ago. And it is nearly the moon."

"Perfect," Aramis said, opening his eyes and putting a hand to his evidently unsteady head. "Well, not perfect, certainly not for the person killed, but you know what I mean."

"Lucky for you we do, you little psychopath. Come on." Porthos said, hauling him to his feet. "Let's go sniff this fucker down."

*

The vampire's trail apparently was fresher from that newsagent still with its police guard outside and blood not yet cleaned from the floor. They moved on on foot, werewolves in the lead parting anyone on the pavement ahead of them, humans in the middle - that meant Aramis the exorcist, Constance, who turned out to be a witch, and Mirabelle, the local DPI witch, and d'Artagnan - and the vampires themselves at the back, so they couldn't disturb the scent; Athos, and that elegant blonde woman, Ninon.

D'Artagnan was, for maybe the first time since the previous night, feeling fairly stable, fairly steady, he knew what he was doing, the anger burning in him felt like a sensible sort of anger, not the crazy risen heat of his need to kill something now. It felt like something he was managing the proper way, like his father had been right not to echo, if echoing costs what it does. Aramis told him as they walked that Cornet had fixed his soul to this world in full awareness of what he was doing, as a furious exorcist who'd just seen his partners die and knew too much already about what his own death would be, because to be trapped between life and death like that is suffering, in a form so acute Aramis can't stand to hear it.

D'Artagnan murmured, "Are you alright with him in your head?"

"I'm not unfamiliar with it." Aramis said.

"Couldn't all murders get solved that way? Couldn't you, I don't know, ask a spirit back just to - not for long, just to-"

"We don't do that." Aramis said, and Constance glanced across he said it so hard. "We never, never do that. That is what necromancers do. No exorcist ever, ever does that."

"Alright," d'Artagnan muttered. No need to get so touchy about it. He felt a little ashamed, though, given that it was the first time he'd seen Aramis be touchy about anything - Athos had eventually been annoyed by d'Artagnan's attempts to kill him, and Porthos took against teasing beyond a certain point, but Aramis had so far shown no real evidence of any temper at all until this, so he knew he must have said something wrong.

Though he did think, if he were an exorcist, if he were an exorcist, if the distance between himself and his father wasn't quite so . . .

Aramis looked at him, and gave a slightly tight smile. "Sorry. Perhaps being haunted does make me a little snappish after all. I just . . . that's not what we do. We mean to help people. We're certainly not here to cause more suffering than there already is."

Mirabelle was also wearing a sword by then, having pulled the belt on when they abandoned the cars, one hand on it as she walked to keep it from swinging into anyone. "I'm surprised they let any of you guys out into the field anymore."

"Someone has to do the things we do."

"We just lost Cornet, he only joined the department a month ago or something, you guys bein' out here is a luxury we can't afford."

"I apologise for the flimsiness of my kind," Aramis said. "In the future we will try much harder not to get vampired."

D'Artagnan said, "How long have you been an exorcist?"

Aramis narrowed his eyes at the air. "There are two ways to answer that question. I joined the DPI a few years ago after all the proper training. But technically, all my life. You don't really become an exorcist, you're born one." He gave d'Artagnan a thoughtful look. "How are you feeling?"

"What? I - better, actually." D'Artagnan rubbed his forehead, realised the headache had died somewhere along the route, he didn't even notice when. "I suppose I really needed that sandwich."

Aramis gave him a strangely tight smile, and looked ahead to the werewolves again, eyes settling on the breadth of Porthos' shoulders, some expression d'Artagnan didn't understand there, more than just a glance. Then Aramis looked back at Athos - a second's eye contact - and said to d'Artagnan, "What do you know about vampires?"

As they walked, Aramis corrected him on common misconceptions those who don't need to interact with them tend to hold on vampires. He told him how to kill a vampire (utter destruction or disconnection of the head; decapitation is most efficient, but burning will do if you lack the tools), that evidently sunlight doesn't dissolve or even burn them (a little glaring for their night-tuned eyesight, but hardly the end of the world), that they can but usually don't eat (they consider it beneath them to have to pass solid waste, though they will drink things other than blood for the taste, even if they can't live off it), that they can survive off animal blood as easily as human blood, though they like the taste less (they view not drinking human blood the way humans view vegetarianism, with about a similar proportion probably abiding by it, despite what many of them claim), that they can't turn into bats (though it would be amusing if Athos ever did and he would be quite cute, all small and squeaky). The werewolves, meanwhile, were beginning to get frustrated. They hadn't lost the trail of a vampire, they'd just picked up more vampire trails, and they kept slowing and stopping them all and wandering around and then trying to follow a scent down again, until eventually they stopped outside a new building, a short apartment block with a shiny blue plastic plaque over the intercom.

"Saint Geneviève's," Porthos read from it.

"Patron saint of Paris," Aramis said. "Known for her fasting and self-denial, amongst other things."

"It's a rehab block," one of the local werewolves said.

"Reeks of vampire." Porthos said. "Dunno how many."

"We will find out." Ninon said, pushing the buzzer. After a long pause static crackled, and a woman's voice said with a pop through the speaker, "Hello?"

"DPI," Ninon said calmly. "We need to speak to someone at this address."

Silence, just the hush of the open line, and then some swallowed sound - not quite a word - and the intercom hummed, the door clicked, and Ninon pushed it open. The werewolves followed her; Athos caught Aramis by the wrist and d'Artagnan by the hood, letting the witches go in ahead of them. Aramis put a hand over his breast and gave Athos a lash-fluttering smile, my hero, and Athos rolled his eyes, checked the street behind them, and held the door for the two of them to move in past him.

The entranceway was institutional-blank, like a block of student accommodation without the empty bottles and glitter on the carpet, and the random space hoppers; just a staircase leading up, and a locked door looking like a maintenance cupboard to the side. D'Artagnan glanced at a sign taped to that door, one corner peeling down, but only had the time to read one line (all human visitors to leave before sunset?) when a door clicked open around the corner, and Athos, eyes very alert, head high, manoeuvred Aramis and d'Artagnan between the wall and himself, nudging them on around the corner after the others, keeping between the staircase and them.

There was a girl in the doorway to what looked like a communal kitchen, a girl in her twenties with ragged-cut blonde hair, one hand on the door handle and staring at the number of them and shaking, d'Artagnan had never seen anyone shake in fear before. "Oh shit," she whispered. "Oh shit, oh shit, it was only the once, I swear it was only the once he said it was only from the hospital I'll do the programme again I swear I'll do the programme I'll -"

The werewolves were shifting, uneasy, d'Artagnan could see all their muscles in all their stances. Ninon just said, voice so controlled and bland, "Did you kill a man last night?"

The girl stared at her, mouth open, then said, "Wh - I - no. No, I-"

"Then we're not here for you." Ninon said. "Though we would like to speak to you about the other residents. And I would recommend that you do go through the programme again."

Aramis leaned to d'Artagnan's ear, murmured so soft but d'Artagnan saw the girl look right across at them, "A residence for vampires coming off blood. So they have a support network."

It took d'Artagnan a second to get it. "We're in a building full of vampires?"

"Reformed vampires," Aramis offered.

"Apart from the one who killed my father."

"- well. Yes."

The first time, not that d'Artagnan noticed it, that the person he attributed the death of his father to was not the vampire watching the staircase warily on their behalf, covering their backs as they followed the others into the vampires' kitchen, very full of DPI agents now. D'Artagnan had never been in a kitchen so clean. You'd think it was never cooked in . . .

"It was only once," the girl said, all trembly by the oven, arms folded tight around herself. "I'll tell you who I bought it off, I swear I'll tell you everything."

Mirabelle said, "We'd prefer it if you told us who in this building most likely killed three DPI agents an' two humans in the last forty-eight hours."

"Though we would take it well," Athos added, his body in the doorway to block any sudden entrance, "if you would tell us who sold you a bag of human blood as well."

"- killed -" the woman said, and leaned against the worktop. She looked pale, which d'Artagnan thought was a bad sign before he remembered, oh, yeah.

"We'd rather not disturb every resident," Aramis said. "If you could offer any help, madame."

Porthos looked at Aramis. "You gettin' anything?"

"Just a headache." Aramis said, apparently calm, and d'Artagnan wondered what being haunted, what having a dead man's soul riding around in your head with you, is like.

"What's your name?" Flea said, trying to gentle her voice. "I'm Flea."

". . . Anouk. I - someone - one of us killed - a bunch of people?"

"We need to be sure, but the scent leads back here. You c'n tell us anything about the people who live here? You mostly recent turnees?"

Anouk stood with a hand to her mouth, not quite touching it, eyes wide open as she nodded. "I - yes. I was - two years ago. Hardly anyone . . . I don't know most of us very much, we keep to ourselves, it - it messes you up, we're not much on, on talking."

Ninon said, "Who is the longest-turned vampire here?"

"Um." Anouk folded her arms, squeezed her elbows. "Gaudet, I think. I think he was early last century or something. He doesn't talk, but he -" She shrugged. "Way he acts and dresses and stuff, you know? Just, little things. I don't know if he - I don't know if anyone - I don't know -"

"Alright," Flea said. "S'alright, we appreciate your help."

"Unless he can get a reading," Constance said with a glance at Aramis, "we just have to knock on doors."

D'Artagnan said, "We can hardly all fit in the corridors."

"We'd have more chance if civilians stayed safely down here out of the way," she pointed out, and his throat hardened.

"I want to see this bastard."

Aramis put a hand on his shoulder. "Please tell me you're not going to try to kill the vampire who did it too. They're not going to be Athos, they're going to kill you, and you don't even have your stake anymore."

He spoke quite gently but there was a warm little twinkle in his eye, and d'Artagnan gave him a look, and knew. He had no weapon. His attempts to hurt Athos had been hopeless and Athos had never actually intended to hurt him in return. Against an aggressive vampire who'd already killed almost half a dozen others in two days, he understood, quite suddenly, the nothing of a chance he had for retaliation against the bastard who killed his father, how like a fly hitting a windscreen his attempt would be.

Or - no. He watched Aramis touch Porthos' arm as they turned for the door and Mirabelle said to Anouk, "You wanna stay down here? Which is your room, so we're not knockin'?", and d'Artagnan understood that he had lost his useless stake but he did still have a weapon, the same way Aramis did . . .

There were no bedrooms on the ground floor; a laundry room, a common room, and that kitchen and dining room. Upstairs they began to knock, and while d'Artagnan tensed with every opening door the anger began to flutter off and fade into confused pity very quickly. The vampires they interviewed were not the arrogant and terrible monsters d'Artagnan was expecting. Many of them kept their curtains closed, and stared with a sort of numb fear at the DPI agents in the hallway. They gave their location for last night and this morning, in a breathless whisper, as here. And d'Artagnan looked at the sad lonely little room behind them, looked at their unsteady hands on the door, looked at their bloodless faces like addicts recovering from the worst, and he remembered Flea asking when Anouk had turned, and realised that the question was when she had been turned. These people were made into vampires. D'Artagnan remembered his helplessness against Athos' strength, and looked at the hunched man with his duvet wrapped around himself in his bedroom doorway, and understood something of why this building existed, what these people had been through, what they were still going through trying to come to terms with it, and still he didn't understand why his father had to die.

(He looked at the back of Athos' head as he worked. When was this done to him . . . ?)

The vampires and werewolves were in the lead - the local DPI witch and one werewolf had stayed downstairs with Anouk - and Constance was behind them, silent. D'Artagnan could see some strange concentration in her eyes and her hand on the hilt of her sword, and didn't like to distract her by asking what she was doing. Aramis and d'Artagnan were furthest back from the vampires they were questioning, clearly by design, and knowing that any door they knocked on could open onto a hostile murderous vampire, d'Artagnan didn't fight it. Nor did he question Aramis' hand on his gun, his other hand on d'Artagnan's arm. After the previous night, he understood the potential brutality of vampires just as well as they all did.

Porthos knocked on another door, and there was a long pause. Porthos looked at Athos, and Athos sighed, and banged on the door harder. "DPI. Please open the door."

Silence.

Porthos began banging at the door again. "We can hear you, open up or we bust this down -"

Movement, finally. A little jolt of furniture, then a pause, then Athos and Porthos shared another glance and Porthos shouldered the door aside with a single movement and an enormous crack of the hinges.

Porthos and Athos slipped inside, and Ninon gave a sigh as if this was all very tedious. Porthos eventually dragged a small, pale, straggle-haired man out into the corridor by the back of his collar, and said, "Goin' out the window. Don't look suspicious at all."

He held the man out by his collar in the direction of Aramis - still with a collection of DPI agents between the vampire and Aramis - and d'Artagnan watched the exorcist's breath deepen, and the way he swallowed. "You didn't kill them," Aramis said, eyes slipping sleepy. "But you were there, you bastard. Where's Cornet's badge?"

"I don't know what you're talking about don't know what you're talking about," as Porthos' hand around the vampire's throat forced him up onto tiptoes.

"You see him?" Porthos said, nodding at Aramis. "Twitchy lookin' guy with a gun in one hand? Well, he's a DPI exorcist. An' he's got the spirit of a murdered DPI exorcist in his head lookin' for some pretty sweet revenge. An' we don't know who killed that exorcist, but we do know we've got you. We've got you an' an undead spirit lookin' for revenge in the head of a man with a gun. Handy, that, you bein' a vampire. You c'n keep vampires alive a really long time before you kill 'em."

"Nuh," the vampire with his windpipe crushed in Porthos' hand said.

"You gonna tell us who did it?" Porthos said. "Or is this gonna end with a dustpan an' brush?"

"Uh," the vampire said.

Aramis raised the gun in a very straight arm at the vampire and Constance ducked her head out of the way, snapped, "Careful -"

"He told you what was happening," Aramis said, gun aimed on the vampire, and - something about his voice ran the wrong way up d'Artagnan's back, cold as dropping mercury. "He told you the exorcists had to die - the department had to be broken -"

Porthos' hand was looser around the vampire's throat now. "- Aramis?"

"You were excited," Aramis said, the focus of his eyes all loose, his voice's intonation deeper and richer than his own, some odd resonance in it like a heavy old bell. "You were greedy for it until all the blood, until he left the exorcist alive to take his throat in his hand -"

"Aramis," Athos said, a warning, pushing back through the crowded corridor of agents to get to him.

"- because this was no longer a story but a war right in front of your eyes fought by those more brutal than you know you could ever be, and the tear of his teeth sprayed the blood up the side of his fac-"

"Aramis!" Athos barked, and Aramis jolted - d'Artagnan quickly grabbed his gun arm and aimed it down, but Aramis just started, stared at him, stared at Athos. "- I -"

Athos took his arms, said carefully to his face, "Alright?"

Aramis blinked and blinked. "I - yes. I - sorry. I don't -" He swallowed. "I'm fine."

Constance muttered out of the corner of her mouth to d'Artagnan, "Get that gun off him." but Aramis' hand was very protective indeed around that gun, and d'Artagnan doubted there was much to gain in the fight for it.

Athos looked back at the vampire Porthos was still holding, Porthos' face waxy with worry aimed at the two of them before Athos nodded, and Aramis gave him a strained sort of smile. "We have enough evidence for your conviction," Athos said. "So you can aid us in our enquiries and expect some leniency, or be taken to a maximum security prison to spend the rest of your days with the kinds of vampires who do murder musketeers. But don't let it be said that you had no choice, because in this, just as in your helping another vampire to kill a number of people, you always did."

"I didn't know he was going to go crazy like that," the man in Porthos' hand chokes. "He said we would kill 'em, he didn't say - he went mad, took that exorcist's badge and bit his throat open, I -"

"Who," Ninon says patiently.

"Why," d'Artagnan spits. "Why did he take that badge and kill people, why frame him -"

The vampire in Porthos' hand stares at him, swallows with some difficulty, and Porthos rumbles, "Don't pretend like you need puttin' down already, been a while since you needed t'breathe."

"Gaudet," the vampire got out, harsh through a narrowed windpipe, "said - said if we were breakin' that department he was told - told a musketeer called Athos was the best target, said if that unit broke -"

"Oh you could not break us," Aramis said, amusement rippling his voice. "It would take more than exists to do that."

The vampire's eyes focused on him, then Athos, then Porthos, then Athos again and he croaked, "Now I know why he said you." and d'Artagnan didn't understand.

"There would be symbolic importance in it," Ninon said mildly to Athos, "you of all department vampires breaking. The three of you are an ideal image of what modern France ought to be."

"Perhaps not to be imitated exactly on any large scale," Athos said, and Aramis laughed, soft and bright.

"So he was gonna frame Athos for killin' humans." Porthos said. "Where's he now?"

"Out." the vampire said, and then, downstairs, the front door clicked open. "Back." the vampire said, eyes flickering scared.

Athos immediately tried to get past Aramis and d'Artagnan for the staircase, at least to get between them and whoever had just come in, but Aramis - jarred, somehow, his body wrenching, and Athos had to grab his arms to keep him from dropping. "His badge," Aramis gasped, hands grabbing at his head, even with the gun banging his forehead. "Cornet's badge -"

D'Artagnan looked downstairs, saw the vampire - big, heavy, strong - staring blunt with malice up at them all. Then he turned for the door again and none of them were close enough to stop him, d'Artagnan roared, "No-"

At his back he heard the swish of a sword drawing, and the sharp thunk of it going point-first into the floor. Down below, the door gave a sudden shiver, and when the vampire wrenched at the handle, it didn't move. D'Artagnan looked back in shock to Constance, hand still on the hilt of the sword dug in the floor, hissing through her teeth, "It won't hold him long -"

As if to prove her point, the vampire shoulder-charged the door and the bang reverberated in every wall around them. And if he got away - that vampire killed d'Artagnan's father, he knew him now from his shape in the dark, that vampire killed his father -

He had no weapon, and he was only human. But he did have a weapon, because he was only human, as he charged down the staircase howling at the vampire, "Stay there-"

And at his back the musketeer vampire roared, "D'Artagnan-" and had to get past him faster than d'Artagnan could run, had to drop Aramis and lunge at Gaudet, before d'Artagnan tripping on the stairs could fall into his arms and be torn in two. D'Artagnan aimed Athos at Gaudet like a blade, and Athos stabbed.

The door broke open under the force of two vampire bodies hitting it, Athos ploughing Gaudet clean through it, out with a bellow into the daylight on top of the slammed-down door. D'Artagnan clumsily hit the wall at the bottom of the stairs shoulder-first, barely keeping his feet, scrambled and tripped to grab the doorway to see - they'd rolled somehow, browned blood on Athos' white shirt but d'Artagnan couldn't see from where, one of his arms trapped twisted behind his back and Gaudet on top of him trying to grab at his throat and shoulder, and d'Artagnan ran out and kicked him in the side of the head.

Gaudet smashed him with one fist to the hip, face a snarl only of annoyance, lifting d'Artagnan briefly off his feet before he skidded on the one foot he came back down on, and crashed into a bush planted outside Saint Geneviève's entrance, scratched and stunned but not broken. He could hear a chaos of running, looked up as Aramis and Porthos came stumbling out of the doorway and Aramis apparently forgot about being a human faced with a vampire as well, choked a cry and would have fallen on Gaudet's back himself if Porthos hadn't grabbed his arms tight.

It only ended when Ninon strode past them, grabbed Gaudet's hair and wrenched his head up, and commanded in a deep, furious voice, "Surrender!"

He lashed a hand at her and she caught it. "Stupid musketeer bitch," he spat. "You're on the wrong side, you'll die with the rest of them in this war-"

"It's your own death you should be worried about, stand down -"

"You're all dead." he spat, and lunged his body up off Athos to grab at her throat. But Athos had his moment to get his hand free from behind his back, and it had a long knife in it, and with Ninon jerking Gaudet's neck stretched to the side, Athos held the cold of the blade to the back of his neck and said, voice shaking, "Stand down."

"Badge," Aramis said, almost panicked, fighting to get out of Porthos' grip. "Cornet's badge -"

Gaudet was still, poised between the two of them and clearly working his options out fast, rage and hatred and calculation in his eyes. D'Artagnan picked himself up from the bush, scratched and stung, a little winded, ignored Constance saying, "Are you alright?" and -

"D'Artagnan, no-" Porthos barked.

Walked up to the three vampires trapped together, none of them with a hand free, took Gaudet's jacket lapel in his hand and said low to his face, "You killed my father. I want to watch them cut your head off." while he patted down his pockets, finding in the inner pocket a wallet, and a DPI badge behind it.

Gaudet said through his teeth and a sneer, "Which one was your father, was it the one who cried or the one who screamed and wet himself?"

- d'Artagnan grabbed for his throat and the vampire lurched up, wresting a hand free from Athos to grab at him, d'Artagnan had no coherent second to realise his error, just suddenly knew with an animal's knowledge of teeth -

It only took a single clean lop, like cutting a melon in half. Gaudet's head hit the ground between them and d'Artagnan stumbled backwards, barely kept his feet, as the heavy weight of the head rolled a little, and then began to dissolve, and Ninon stood up properly wiping her hands off, saying irritably, "I wanted him for questioning."

Athos sheathed the knife at the back of his waist. "He was going to kill the boy."

"The boy seemed determined to be killed." Ninon gave d'Artagnan a long angry look, then said, "Choose to live. Death is very long and dull for your kind." and turned and walked to her partners in the doorway, where Aramis finally broke away from Porthos - Porthos must have allowed it for it to happen - and walked quickly to d'Artagnan's side.

D'Artagnan was staring at the ash underfoot, as Athos picked himself up with a grunt.

Aramis touched d'Artagnan's shoulder, said, "Are you alright?"

". . . yes, I . . . here." added in a mutter, handing him the badge. Aramis took it surprisingly slowly, with a certain reverence, turned it in his hands and looked at it deeply, then closed his eyes.

"Thank you," he said.

D'Artagnan looked at the ash and waited to feel any triumph, to feel anything, besides the numbness. He stirred at a bit of the dust with the toe of his shoe, very soft, like new snow. "Is he gone?"

"Going. He's trying to . . . he's trying to say something." Aramis opened his eyes, troubled. "Something about war."

Athos was looking at him calmly, but very closely. "You and Gaudet both used that word."

"Yes," Aramis said, and looked back at Porthos walking to his shoulder, and smiled for him. "It's a little worrying, isn't it?"

The local department agents were still holding the vampire they first questioned in the building's hallway. But Constance was walking towards d'Artagnan, and he quickly scratched some thorns and leaves from the bushes out of his hair, and straightened his jacket with a jerk, just in time to meet her eye as she said, "What the hell is wrong with you."

"- I - what?"

"You charge on vampires all the time, are you five, do you not know what they are? You need locking up for your own safety." She looked at Athos, Aramis and Porthos, said, "Get him off the streets before he gets himself killed." and marched off back to her own partners, Ninon on the telephone to someone, and d'Artagnan could only stare after her, mouth wide open.

"Young love," Aramis said, and put a hand on his breast.

"She's right." Athos said, voice even again, unreadable, as if d'Artagnan didn't see the look in his eyes when he surged upwards with his knife to save d'Artagnan's life. "You do need to stop attacking vampires."

"Well I can now," d'Artagnan muttered back. "I don't have another father for one of them to kill."

"She's right about gettin' you off the streets as well, been a long day for you." Porthos said, and patted his back in presumably a friendly way, which actually felt like it cleared his lungs with a bang. "Need to get your statement down, get you somewhere to eat an' sleep an' then get you home."

"One last thing, first." Aramis said, one hand thoughtfully on his satchel. "Somewhere we need to take you, once the statements are done."

Athos said, "It can't wait, presumably."

Aramis opened his hand, and looked down at the badge in it. "No," he said, eyes dark, eyebrows uneven with worry. "It really can't."

*

D'Artagnan gave his statement back in the department headquarters, the 'garrison' they called it, while Porthos took everything down for their report and Aramis seemed distracted, feet up on a chair and tugging at his beard with his lips pressed a flat line. Athos had disappeared to talk to Treville, and when Porthos said without looking up from his typing, "You alright?" Aramis took a moment to lift his head, blinked, put a smile on.

"I'm fine."

D'Artagnan didn't really know Aramis, and still knew that wasn't really the truth. He said, uneasily, "Is that other exorcist in your head gone?"

"- Cornet? Yes." Aramis' eyes turned away, low to the corner of the room. "I'm a little sorry for it. He was a good man."

Porthos stopped typing to look at him with wary, sorry eyes, but Aramis just hunched his shoulders a little higher, and then seemed to relax just as Athos came back into the room with three sandwiches (one was for d'Artagnan; vampires dislike the indignity of food, and he knew already that Athos has a very particular mind for his dignity), looking up and touching Athos' wrist as he leaned over him for the desk.

D'Artagnan had thought about the wording of this question quite carefully, to make it seem as casual as possible. "What happened to the other team?" he said. "Flea and Ninon and that witch?"

"Constance?" Aramis said, looking at him with a suddenly much more alert sort of brightness in the dark of his smiling eyes. "Home to sleep, they're back on shift in a couple of hours. Have a sandwich."

"It's the second one today. Do you eat proper food?"

"We're terrible guardians," Aramis said to Porthos, through a mouthful of his own sandwich.

"Not a job for the family kind anyway, all our crazy late nights." Porthos said, hunched over the keyboard. "Now shut up, I'm tryin' to think how to word this."

Out of the department into the gloom of oncoming dusk, the whole world a dull, sapped blue. Walking towards the car Athos said, "Are we taking him to a hotel or -"

"There's somewhere else we need to go first." Aramis said. "Just to check something."

"He's had a long day, where do you intend to drag him now?"

"I'm not a toddler," d'Artagnan muttered, flumping into the back seat beside Aramis. "I can stay up after six pm."

"The Place Denfert-Rochereau," Aramis said, and Athos looked back at him in the rearview mirror, and Aramis said, "Please."

Porthos opened his mouth, then closed it. Athos just looked at Aramis for a long time, and d'Artagnan said, "Where are we going?"

"Just a little excursion." Aramis said. "Won't take long."

Athos let his breath out in a slow aggravated sigh, and clicked the indicator on to pull out.

The Place Denfert-Rochereau, when they eventually arrived, looked to d'Artagnan like just another grand square; there was an enormous black statue of a lion but he could see nothing else of interest, just large civic buildings in white stone. Athos pulled in and parked outside one, which looked almost like an oversized child's drawing of a house, neat symmetrical windows and chimneys. D'Artagnan rubbed his eyes, tried to ignore the pounding in his head. He didn't like to admit to them that he'd barely slept, that he felt it, that the thought of going to an anonymous hotel room to start being alone forever emptied him, he felt his sudden lack worse even than the night his father died. At least then he had something to aim for, he needed vengeance, he had a purpose. Now he looked at the rest of his life spread out in front of him and thought . . .

Thought nothing coherent. He was too tired, too sickly in his headache for it. "Close your eyes," Aramis murmured, soft and soothing, like a lullaby. "Listen."

D'Artagnan rubbed his eyes again. "I have a headache."

"Yes," Aramis said. "So do I. Close your eyes. Listen."

He didn't understand, the insides of his head felt swollen, too thick and dense in there for understanding to move. He kept his hands over his eyes and breathed - breathed - and Aramis said, "They used to call this the Place d'Enfer. Exorcists still do. There's nowhere in Paris as close to the gates of Hell as this."

The headache shifted and snarled, odd individual pulses of pain and heat and stoppage in his brain. "What . . ."

"Listen," Aramis said quietly. "Just listen. What can you hear?"

. . . nothing. The swish of the headache around the insides of his brain, the thick tinnitus of the pain. And then -

A woman's voice, hissed directly into his ear, he felt the breath.

He jerked his eyes open and couldn't muffle the cry, bolt upright in his sit and yelping, "What-"

Aramis put his hand around his arm, comfort and, d'Artagnan suspected, holding him in place so he didn't flee the car. "What did you hear?"

"A woman - she - where -"

Another hiss at the back of his other ear, he recognised the word this time, a man's voice hacking, "-cold-"

"Jesus- Jesus -"

Realisation was setting in, now, that that tinnitus was not just hum, not just noise; it was layer on layer on layer of soft and indistinguishable words spoken by distant indistinguishable voices but he heard in the croaking and the choking the pain and fear and pain and pain -

"Drive," Aramis said, keeping hold of d'Artagnan's arm. "Get the hell out of here."

The car rumbled back into life but the voices were louder than the engine now and d'Artagnan grabbed Aramis' arm. "What the hell is all that? You need to do something, you need to -"

"I can't." Aramis looked at him - looked pale, d'Artagnan realised, not steady, jaw and eyes giving him away. "You can't exorcise en masse, you deal with the individual soul. You can help one person, but if you can't even hear that person through a thousand others -"

"What the hell is that - ?" d'Artagnan rubbed hard at his eyes again, found that the voices were becoming fainter, more distant, as they pulled away and put distance between themselves and the building they had stopped in front of. "What the hell is that place, why did we stop there?"

"The entrance to les cata," Aramis said. "The catacombs." He took a moment to close his eyes, took one long breath and let it long loose, then sat there steadier, opening his eyes to d'Artagnan again. "The most haunted place in Paris. No exorcist can go near it, you heard - you can't keep your mind. You can't help anyone. Can't hear anyone there are so many spirits all shouting for attention. Lots of them died in ways that make them echo, even more disliked being moved there after death enough to shiver them back between worlds. It's a terrible place for anyone sensitive enough to hear them all." His eyes were fixed, utterly alert, on d'Artagnan. "And it's a horribly useful place to realise who is sensitive enough to hear them."

In the front seat Porthos muttered, "Oh fuck." and rubbed at his face. Athos said nothing.

"What do you mean?" d'Artagnan said, giving Aramis a lethal look now, he didn't understand or like any of this. "What do you mean -"

"You're sleeping at our place tonight." Aramis said, folding his arms, turning to slump back in his seat as if exhausted. "Someone is killing exorcists. You can't be left alone in this city. Anywhere, really."

"Someone -"

Athos said, "The captain isn't going to like this."

"No-one likes this," Aramis said, closing his eyes as if exhausted enough to need a nap himself.

"What the hell is this? What happened back there?"

"Nothing," Athos said. "To Porthos and I, not a thing, we simply parked and waited while the two of you became visibly distressed. Because Porthos and I have no real sensitivity to lost souls trapped between worlds." He glanced into the rearview mirror, directly into d'Artagnan's eyes. "Only exorcists do."

"It's where they moved all the bodies from the old graveyards," Porthos said. "Underground. There's hundreds of 'em."

"Millions," Athos said quietly. "It's an ossuary. Full of bones for tourists to gape at."

"Many of them do not like being gaped at," Aramis murmured without opening his eyes.

"No. I doubt I should either."

"I could hear them."

"Yes." Athos said, sounding only so tired as he drove. "Exorcists can."

In their kitchen d'Artagnan helps Aramis clear plates away and Aramis smiles for him, says, "Slightly better than a sandwich. It's about as close to 'proper food' as we can manage, I hope it wasn't too bad for you."

D'Artagnan thinks about being polite, then just passes him another plate for the sink and says, "You're grown men, I can't believe none of you can cook."

"Well, Athos has never needed to know how." Aramis says mildly, running water for the washing up. "And Porthos has always had more important things to do." He bends down to kiss Porthos between his ears, which flatten in a pleased way for it, before Porthos shakes himself out in a half-happy, half-smug way, tail wagging as he leans against Aramis' legs. "And I was in the army, I just ate what I was given and was grateful for it."

"You don't even have any vegetables in your fridge. You have wine and beer and cheese, that's it."

"We have eggs."

"You're all going to die of scurvy."

"We're being shamed by the pup," Aramis says to Porthos. "We really must try harder."

"Let me," d'Artagnan says, wearily aware of his duties as a guest, nudging himself between Aramis and the washing up. Porthos gives him a look, then gives a low rumble - a wolf's purr - as Aramis takes the opportunity to crouch and massage at all his chest fur.

"He's a good boy really, isn't he Porthos?"

Athos, who didn't eat with them but did sit at the table idly rubbing Porthos' ears while Aramis couldn't - partly to keep Porthos from repeatedly asking for food from Aramis' plate, he'd already licked clean his own bowl of meat - says, "Aramis, do you really think you're capable of teaching him all he needs to know?"

Aramis looks at him, then tips his cheek to Porthos' shoulder, and rests his head there as Porthos starts to pant in a relaxed way. "I think the job will teach him all he needs to know," he says. "I'll just guide his more academic studies."

"Did you learn like this?" d'Artagnan says, rinsing a glass out. "Who were you apprenticed to?"

"I did not learn like this. I was sent to the college, but you can't go there."

"Why not?"

A pause, and then Athos says, "It was compromised in the past, and twenty exorcists died. We can't trust that it's safe."

D'Artagnan remembers the photograph on the wall, and the rosaries and candles surrounding it. "Did you know some of the exorcists who died?"

Aramis sits on the floor to settle properly to Porthos' side - Porthos sniffs at his ear in a friendly way - and says, "Yes. You're safer with us. We understand the threat."

"What is the threat?"

Athos says drily, "We don't know. But at least we accept that there is one. Aramis . . ."

Aramis rubs Porthos' snout, following the run of his fur, and says in a low voice, "What else are we to do?"

Athos is silent, then says, "I don't know."

D'Artagnan rubs a soapy plate with a sponge, and thinks of last night, head swimming in the dark on a strange bed, remembering the vampires, the bodies in the warehouse, the witch with red hair, the building where his head filled with voices whispering their horror of the grave - remembering his sense, only hours before, that he had no idea what his life meant anymore, that his life without his father in it was rudderless and mapless, nothing but drift, time and the tides and no sense of purpose at all, and now . . .

He turned in the sheets, thought of the vampire, the exorcist and the werewolf, thought of how ill Aramis looked as well outside that horrible building but how capable he stood in his work, how sure of the ability inside himself, he had learned to use it, learned to live with it. He thought of Porthos unafraid of any of it, minding the humans, facing down the vampires, all his strength turned in such a certain direction.

He thought of Athos. He thinks of him again now, now he's remembering the howl of broken souls in those catacombs, now he knows what bad death sounds like. He thinks of those vampires yesterday, thin and shivery, still reeling with the lack of blood and with what was done to them to make them need that blood.

What was done to you? he thinks, and doesn't look at the vampire, just washes the pan Aramis heated their soup in. How long ago was it? Who turned you into what you are? Were you born like that, or did someone - because he knows what vampire strength is like, now, knows the impossibility of fighting it; did someone take you, and you couldn't stop them, and they made you into that? Do you still think of it? How do you live with that?

He can't forget those voices of agonised chaos underground. Does what was done to Athos linger with him the way those voices linger, forever . . . ?

Both of them have been changed, forever, by a vampire's action. His father is dead, murdered as part of some supernatural war none of them understand. Exorcists are being killed, people who can do what d'Artagnan now knows he can do, just because they can do that. Because they have an ability, because they can use that ability to help people, they're being slaughtered for it. There is a lot of death out there and d'Artagnan thinks of how these three men fight, of how that redheaded witch drew her sword and stopped a vampire with it, of how Aramis was willing to undergo indefinite haunting, and now d'Artagnan knows what that sounds like, to bring another exorcist his badge back. That is something he can imagine waking up and doing. Not waking up to an empty world where he has no father. Waking up to a world where the loss of his father can still mean something.

He says, "I know what to do." and puts the pan in the rack to dry, and Athos says nothing, and Aramis says to Porthos, "There, then." and strokes his ears back. "We're decided."

D'Artagnan is used to the thought that Porthos understands less of what's happening in this form, and visibly reacts only to certain words, not to the meaning of their conversations. But now he looks at d'Artagnan, a thousand-mile look, such a penetrating, intelligent stare, before he licks his muzzle and yawns, and nudges his head at Aramis' cheek for more stroking. Aramis obliges, nose to nose with him and eyes very warmly intent on his, hands running through his fur and Porthos' tail thumps the floor.

(This begins the question that will plague d'Artagnan for as long as he knows the two of them: When Porthos is wolf-formed, do he and Aramis - they don't still - while his body is a wolf's body - they don't still . . .)

Athos says, "We still need to talk to the captain. We can maybe get our rotation to the night shift delayed so we can take you home to pick up some of your things if you require them."

"An extra pair of underwear might help," d'Artagnan says. He only packed for two days.

"You can borrow some," Aramis says.

"No." d'Artagnan and Athos say at exactly the same time, and then manage not to look at each other.

D'Artagnan puts the clean wooden spoon aside to dry, and shakes his wet hands out over the sink. "And my mother's cookery books," he says. "And the good kitchen knives."

"Porthos," Aramis says, "he intends to cook. I think we found a keeper."

D'Artagnan says, just to make this really clear, "I'm not sleeping with you."

Aramis gives a little rippling laugh. "You should be so lucky. You didn't honestly think that was why we invited you back here? I love the both of them, it doesn't mean that just anyone's entitled. Thank you very much."

"Alright. Just . . . I just wanted to be clear."

"That's a good thing to want." Aramis says mildly, still stroking his hands down Porthos' chest, while Porthos is looking at d'Artagnan now, and d'Artagnan really doesn't think it's a good look. "So that we are very clear, I'm not sleeping with you. It would be very irresponsible to fuck an apprentice and I don't especially fancy you. Though if you, Athos and Porthos decide you want something together I won't mind it."

Athos says, "That is not going to happen." while d'Artagnan's still too stunned to say anything.

What comes out, eventually, is only, "Oh."

Aramis says musingly, "We're going to need to sort out the shower rota."

Athos says, "We wouldn't even require one if you didn't take so long."

D'Artagnan says, "I don't fancy you either."

"That didn't sound at all defensive," Aramis says. "And it's probably for the best if you don't."

D'Artagnan just doesn't know what he feels about this. "I like girls."

Aramis smiles for him. "So do we."

Athos says while d'Artagnan still can't think of a reply, "You still have every opportunity to change your mind and leave Paris altogether."

"Don't tell me what to do."

Aramis coos to Porthos, "Perhaps they should get a room, shouldn't they? Yes they should -"

"Shut up," d'Artagnan snaps. "I don't care, alright? The three of you, I don't care. I just want - wanted to be really clear about that. Alright? Right. That's all."

Aramis says, "I can tell you her coffee order, if it helps."

"- what? Whose?"

"Constance's."

He turns to empty the sink with a jolt of blood hot to the face. "Why would I want to know that?"

"Why indeed," Aramis says, and glances across at Athos, who ignores him completely.

"Think about it," Athos says. "Never stop thinking about it. The danger might be the same wherever you are and whatever you're doing, but this job involves bodies every night and screaming ghosts in the walls and in your head. You have the rest of your life ahead of you and there's still everything else you might yet want to do. You're not obliged to deal with all of this just because you can."

D'Artagnan breathes in slowly, letting his face cool off, then turns back to face them. "I want to spend the rest of my life making sure that other people don't need to spend it like I do. I want to stop people losing the people they love just because someone else was stronger than they were and evil. I want to help."

Athos says nothing, just looks quietly tired, like all youthful righteousness is a very distant memory to him. It's Aramis, sitting on the floor rubbing the ears of the wolf, who says softly, and it's not at all clear who it's aimed at, "Good boy."

Date: 2016-01-11 08:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gypsy-foot-luvr.livejournal.com
Somehow you always update on the days I need it most :) I haven't read it yet but just wanted to say that I hope hope hope your arms get better soon! Please don't feel you need to respond to comments if that's something that aggravates them-I'm sure I speak for all of your readers when I say we just want you to feel better in all ways.
Sending all the love and healing thoughts!
<3333

Date: 2016-01-16 10:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rainjoyswriting.livejournal.com
Good morning, I hope there have been some days making fic less *needful* since then? <3 I'm trying to reply to comments because it's polite, and it's *nice* to get to talk to people, and I'm trying to do normal things a bit more instead of being a machine aimed only at getting work done because I've no capacity left for anything else, so I will be slow, but I will be getting back to you ;) I hope you've been well though honey, and thank you for your thoughtfulness <3

Date: 2016-01-11 08:31 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I haven't read this new chapter yet, but I'm so happy to have news from you! I'm sorry your arms are getting worse, please take care of you...
I want you to know that every day (sometimes twice a day) I come here waiting for a new post, and I'm soo happy when there is something new! Thank you for being so incredible! Hope you get better <3 <3
Lots of love, your french reader.
(And now, go reading!)

Date: 2016-01-16 10:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rainjoyswriting.livejournal.com
Thank you for your kind thoughts honey, and thank you for reading as well =) Hope you're well! <3

Date: 2016-01-26 03:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cat-i-th-adage.livejournal.com
"Stop correcting his form" is a very Athos thing to say.

This is a great run of stories!

Date: 2016-02-10 04:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rainjoyswriting.livejournal.com
I'm glad you've been enjoying them! Sorry the reply is so late honey, but thank you for reading - thank you <3

Date: 2016-02-11 10:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cat-i-th-adage.livejournal.com
Thank you for writing them. (Does worry about replying, it's fine.)

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