rainjoyswriting: (kurt!)
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Drink and be Merry, a men in hats fic set in the stupid exorcist AU. You can tell what my typing rate is like when I post my 'Christmas' fic in April . . .

Disclaimer: If we're going to get all Mari Kondo about it, some of the things that spark joy aren't actually yours to begin with.

Warnings/spoilers: No real spoilers beyond vague references to S1 stuff - everything I do is written off S1 canon, btw, because I just can't fucking stand some of the characters beyond that point - and warnings-wise, refer to part one, but everything to do with vampires in this universe is to do with *vampires*, and the metaphors we use them for; violence, sex, sexual violence, consent and the lack of it, addiction, some generally pretty nasty stuff. So don't read unless you're feeling like it's something you're willing to deal with right now, bearing in mind that the world's a lot to deal with right now anyway.

Summary: Aramis thinks it's simple; Athos thinks that 'it's complicated' doesn't even begin to cover it.








Previously, d'Artagnan would have found the 'musketeers' of Paris decorating their department for Christmas a slightly odd image, if he'd spared a thought for it at all. The grim front-line defence against supernatural crime and terror in the nation's capital doesn't really bring to mind tinsel. But now he lives with three of them - now that he lives with an exorcist and the vampire and werewolf he's conducting simultaneous relationships with - there's very little they could do that he would find comparatively odd. By the time he's invited to the Christmas party, he doesn't find the idea of hanging out in the office drinking cheap wine with vampires and werewolves and witches at all strange. And, of course, Constance may be there, so.

The three of them luck out and they're on the day shift that day, so they finish up around when the party starts, and d'Artagnan knows what the night's going to be like when Aramis approaches the drinks table tugging his tie loose with one hand. Athos doesn't loosen his, and Porthos doesn't wear one - it would choke him if he had to turn in a hurry - but Aramis determined to cut loose is always a sight to inspire dread.

D'Artagnan says, "So, should we . . . ?"

"Let him." Porthos says.

Athos says, "He needs occasional releases of pressure, like an aged boiler system."

D'Artagnan says, "What pressure?" and Athos and Porthos look at each other, then Porthos says, "'ve you met Aramis?" and follows him for the bar, while Athos stands there still, face merely weary, before he follows them both.

They think d'Artagnan doesn't notice and d'Artagnan is willing to pretend along with them that he doesn't notice, at least in an overt way, but he's not dumb. The way the two of them act around Aramis is always a little protective - a few weeks tailing them on the job and d'Artagnan does understand how appallingly vulnerable mortal humans are against the worst of the supernatural world, it makes sense they'd be vigilant around the exorcist they're both fucking, yes - but there's something else as well, and he does notice it. Little silences they're willing to leave around Aramis. The aura of everyone not talking about what happened to him, to his entire cohort at the exorcists' training college, before he came to Paris.

D'Artagnan isn't stupid, which is why he knows they're keeping something quiet, and knows not to demand to be told himself. Aramis is open about everything in the 'lessons' they hold, everything that vampires are and what they can do, everything to do with ghouls, necromancers, werewolves, zombies, what exorcism is, what it feels like. But he never talks about all those dead exorcists he keeps the photograph of like a shrine, and he never says a word - has never so much as suggested it happened when so obviously it did - about how he survived it. There's never been anything in the news reports d'Artagnan has read about it that has covered that.

Also he's a reckless fool, any idiot could see that, a few weeks on the job with him and d'Artagnan is very aware of it. He doesn't think that's down to the safety net of knowing he has two supernaturals manic for his safety, for protecting him, if he does end up in over his head too deep. It's something set much deeper into Aramis' personality than that.

Twenty dead exorcists . . .

Aramis already has a drink in hand, is clearly complimenting a werewolf on her choice of dress - Flea, Porthos hangs out with her sometimes - offering her a hand to twirl her like a ballerina, to give her skirt's tasselled kick its full flare. She laughs, and steals his drink, which only makes him grin more as he heads back to the bar for another.

"Here," Athos says, handing a glass of wine to d'Artagnan. "It's disgusting," he adds, and then walks away to Ninon, who's leaning against the wall and gazing distantly at the party in front of them, in what d'Artagnan is already thinking of as 'vampires' corner', slightly hemmed in by potted plants as if it makes them safer from all these humans on the edge of intoxication.

"It must be strange for them," a voice says at his shoulder, and he looks with a start to Constance, holding a wine glass with her head tilted at the vampires. "Hanging out with us, I mean. I think it must be like being surrounded by toddlers all the time, except they're toddlers who're going to be dead before you've aged a year."

"Very cheerful image," d'Artagnan says, looking back to the small huddle of vampires; Athos and Ninon are both leaning against the wall and quietly talking, while one other vampire leans a little more twitchily beside them as if unnerved by the situation, and another is walking up with two glasses of wine, presumably one for herself and one for twitchy.

"You never think about what we must look like to them? I wonder it all the time." Constance swirls the wine in her glass, eyes still on the vampires, mouth pouted in thought. "How young I must . . ."

". . . I do wonder that," d'Artagnan says, because it's the strangest thing with the three of them, he wonders it about all of them, how young he looks to them. Athos doesn't volunteer his age but they're in the range of centuries there, not decades; werewolves live for longer than humans, can easily make it to a hundred and twenty, so Porthos' age isn't necessarily what it appears to be to a human. But then even Aramis gets looks on him sometimes, has ways of stepping between d'Artagnan and danger, fusses at so much as a cut on his hand. There's a quiet in Aramis that runs deeper, older, than the childish idiot he can act as. Twenty dead exorcists, and an old look in his eye; what the hell happened back then?

D'Artagnan says, a question, "Witches don't live longer than humans."

She shakes her head. "There are things you can do but it's a nasty sort of magic. No musketeer would do that."

"Treville would know if they did."

"Treville knows everything."

Treville is a witch himself, and that look he has in his eyes sometimes, d'Artagnan has no doubt in him that he does, indeed, know every last thing about every one of his agents. Definitely he looks at the three of them d'Artagnan is shadowing like he knows far too much about them.

"Exorcists . . ." Constance says, and then they're both silent, contemplating the current average lifespan of department exorcists. Constance swallows a mouthful of wine and nods at Aramis, talking with Porthos and two other werewolves, to break the moment's silence. "He danced with him last year. Aramis. And Treville. At the Christmas party."

"He- Treville danced with Aramis?"

"Aramis danced with Treville," she corrects him, a very important correction to make. "Just sort of - I don't know. It was funny." Her voice drops. "The first person who looked at the captain with a smile the next day got a double shift out of it though so no-one's ever mentioned it since."

D'Artagnan's trying to imagine Aramis dancing with their department captain; in his head, they're doing the tango, Aramis has a rose in his teeth, and for some reason Treville looks like he's concentrating really hard to get it right.

But it's nice talking to Constance, just talking to Constance, ignoring when she adjusts the engagement ring on her finger which she does a lot, as if the fit sits wrong on her hand. It's nice when the music comes on after someone gets a geriatric stereo hooked up to the department speakers, and Aramis and Flea start dancing first, and they really go for it. It's a nice night. Nice not being out in a cold Paris night for once, nice not wondering about what might nearly or not-so-nearly kill them on the next call out. Nice to not be dealing with horror, because even if you're helping with the horror it does have a tendency to pile up in the head. Nice being indoors, and laughing, and drinking cheap shitty wine, and seeing everyone who's worked and fought together against all that horror for so many unending nights of it relax.

Aramis pats his back as he passes d'Artagnan, his other hand on the back of a vampire walking ahead. "Out of wine, Marcel and I are going to see if there's any left from that party after we caught the Grand Hôtel ghoul."

D'Artagnan finishes his own glass. "You need a hand carrying?"

"No, just letting you know there's a storage cupboard about to be emptied for the night in case you and your friend require one!"

Face warm, d'Artagnan says, "You are so immature." and Aramis laughs, and hurries his step a little to keep up with Marcel, that dark-haired vampire d'Artagnan had seen twitchy amongst the potted ferns earlier. And Aramis is so immature. Or, perhaps, exactly as mature as he ought to be; twenty dead exorcists, d'Artagnan thinks, and if anyone knows to drink and be merry because tomorrow we may die . . .

By some mercy Constance missed Aramis' parting shot, she's drifted away to Athos and they're talking, as Porthos comes over and nods at d'Artagnan, carrying a bottle of beer rather than a wine glass. "Alright. You havin' fun?"

"You don't need to check up on me."

"S'always a battle with you," Porthos says, not like he minds, and takes a swig of beer, swinging the bottle down again grinning. "Maybe if y'didn't treat everything like a fight we wouldn't need t'check up on you so much."

D'Artagnan folds his arms, empty wine glass in one hand, and mutters, "I never know if you're babysitting me or if it's the other way around."

Porthos still only looks amused, but as the grin curls over his teeth in reply -

Three gunshots cut through the chatter and music, and every agent there stiffens, and - Athos is off in a sprint. Porthos immediately curses and shoves his beer bottle at d'Artagnan's chest and sets off after him picking up speed like a rocket, and d'Artagnan realises shit that Athos can feel Aramis feeling things and there were gunshots and now -

He follows, in a run. A lot of agents follow but they follow as sensible well-drilled agents, grabbing weapons from desks as they go, turning lights on in all the side offices so there are no shadows, turning the music off, spreading out to guard the doors; d'Artagnan just drops the beer bottle and wine glass and runs, shoving agents aside, and he's not the first on the scene but he's not so far behind, and agents let him push through them to get to Porthos' side, outside the cupboard door.

It's hard to see what's happening but Aramis has his back to the far wall of the walk-in cupboard, gun up in both hands, aimed lethally steady on the vampire who walked in with him, Marcel, who has three shiny holes in his back where the bullets went clean through but haven't stopped him. Porthos puts an arm out to stop d'Artagnan lurching forwards, it's not Porthos he can't see around so much as Athos, who's the reason the agents surrounding the cupboard have left quite a large ring of empty space around the door. D'Artagnan can't see his face as Athos stands outside the doorway at Marcel's back, and isn't supernatural enough to feel anything coming off him. But there's something about the muscles in his back. There's something about his fists.

"It's alright," Aramis says, gun held steady, voice held steady, eyes on the vampire in front of him. "Marcel just needs to cool down a little."

"Teasing little bitch. You invited me out here -"

"To get wine, Marcel, please just -" Aramis sounds so calm, voice so steady, pleading only for peace. Athos' hands, in their impossibly tight fists, tighten further.

"What the hell is happening?" Treville's voice barks, pushing its way through the crowd - he must have had to make sure the building was secure and his agents all in place before he could come to see what the exact chaos they're dealing with was. "What the hell is - Aramis, Marcel, report."

Aramis says quickly, urgent for understanding, "Marcel isn't well."

"That jumped-up whore," Marcel spits, turning to face Treville as he marches out on the other side of Porthos to d'Artagnan, and Porthos respectfully but very solidly puts an arm out between the captain and the vampire as well. There's something wrong with Marcel's eyes; overbright, the pupils - d'Artagnan had never thought of it before, but he's never seen Athos, never seen any vampire, with widened pupils, very little light is more than enough light to them. But Marcel's pupils are huge, and - his teeth are out. His teeth distort his mouth wide open as he snarls, "That walking thing to be punctured thinks it has the right to fight back, why do any of you think you're worth the fucking effort involved, you're a bloodsack waiting to be burst -"

Aramis hasn't lowered the gun, which is now on Marcel's back, and d'Artagnan understands from that, with a prickle to the back of the neck, both that Aramis is perfectly well aware of how fast vampires move and how close Marcel is, and also that the fact that Marcel is a department vampire means nothing right now. Aramis will nap in this department with his boots on the desk and every vampire here walking past his exposed throat, but enough has happened in this cupboard to spook him into vigilance, and this isn't a misunderstanding, this is so much worse than Marcel unwell, as Aramis insists.

Athos finally says, quite quietly, "You tried to hurt him."

They all know he couldn't have got beyond the trying. Had Marcel managed to hurt Aramis first, Aramis wouldn't still be standing there.

Marcel just sneers at Athos, "Don't pretend you don't know how much he wants it."

Athos is on him. There's no real lunge that d'Artagnan sees, they're so fast they're already crashing part of the doorframe of the cupboard in and Aramis is trying to scramble himself into the back corner of a cupboard already too small for two vampires to fight in. Porthos roars in panic and rage, d'Artagnan tries to slip his arm without thinking to get in there but Porthos' fist grabs his sleeve -

"Hold him!" Aramis yells, and over Athos' body d'Artagnan can't really tell what's happening, but Aramis fires almost directly downwards, once, then leans back against the wall and puts a hand over his face, dragging it back through his hair, finally looking shaky. "Sorry," he says, voice rasped out.

To Marcel, d'Artagnan realises. Aramis is apologising for just shooting him in the head. But Marcel is a vampire, and will recover shortly enough, and Treville is now barking at Athos, "Get him up, we need him in a cell before he wakes up -"

Athos doesn't move. There's something terrible about the way Athos is holding Marcel's body down. Ninon, behind d'Artagnan's back, says softly, "There are rules, amongst our kind."

"There are rules amongst ours." Treville says, hard. "We are musketeers. Athos, Ninon, you can help, get him down into the cells. Aramis, you're unhurt?"

"Untouched, captain."

"What the hell happened? Everyone else, back out there, this is not your Christmas entertainment. I don't care if you go back to the party or go home, this is not a show."

Athos and Ninon, an arm each, are dragging Marcel out of the cupboard and grimly away for the basement cells where they can actually contain a hostile vampire. Porthos hurries into the cupboard to look over Aramis, d'Artagnan can see how quick he's breathing with scenting him. Aramis only smiles, a little tightly, snaps the safety back on his gun and pats Porthos' arm. The crowd of agents at d'Artagnan's back, murmuring in quiet groups, are beginning to shuffle away, but even d'Artagnan knows how deadly serious this is. Everyone knows what vampires are like, but not their vampires. They don't really believe any of their own are dangerous, the werewolves and the vampires in the department might mutter at each other but they don't truly believe them capable of this. They trust their own, every agent here trusts every other agent here with their lives, the department couldn't function otherwise. And if one of their own . . .

Treville steps to the doorway of the cupboard, and says, too low for the leaving crowd to eavesdrop in on, "What happened. Quickly."

"There's something wrong with him."

"Facts, Aramis."

Aramis tugs his hair back again, looks stricken, looks down at his own gun. "We came to get more wine," he says. "I don't know, I could tell he wasn't happy out there, I thought I'd - try to cheer him up a bit? Talk to him away from all the . . . anyway, we did need more wine. But when we got here - he was looking at me strangely, I could tell something was wrong, he looked - captain, he was - sweating."

D'Artagnan puts a hand on the doorframe, says, "Vampires don't sweat."

Aramis flicks his glance to him, a quick glance over him to check d'Artagnan's unharmed after he's the one they just extracted from a cupboard with a murderous vampire in it, and he says, "I could tell something was wrong, I was trying to act normal. It was only when he really wanted me to go into the cupboard first that I knew enough to draw my gun. There's something wrong with him, captain, I swear that's not him, you know him, he wasn't acting-"

Porthos growls, "He's not the fuckin' victim here, we all heard 'im, you gonna pretend that he didn't know exactly what he was doin'?"

"He looked ill." Aramis scratches the back of his neck, too agitated for stillness, and d'Artagnan, looking for something that could appease the both of them, shrugs his folded arms and says, "The wine disagreed with him?"

Porthos snorts, and Aramis' eyes flick troubled to d'Artagnan. It's Treville who says, "We need the log. When he last fed."

". . . in case he was dining on the side," Aramis says, troubled by the accusation. If it's been a long time since Marcel last felt the need for department blood, they all know he's been drinking something more than animal blood. "But he was acting like -" He stops again, still for a second. "They number the bags, don't they? All the vampires here, they log the number of every bag they drink. When do the bags get taken away, the empty ones? When do they empty the bins?"

"You wanna see his last bag?" Porthos says. "You actually think there was somethin' in it."

"I got shot at, once." Aramis says. "Werewolf gangsters. He pushed me down behind a car, I remember because I skinned my elbow really badly and he looked away while I was trying to clean it up in a hurry, I kept apologising, I knew how embarrassed he was. Not because he wanted my blood there and then but because - because of everything it means, when we bleed in front of them. And that wasn't the same vampire who just did that to me. So yes, I want to know what was in that bag. Marcel is - you know he isn't like that. None of ours are like that."

Porthos just keeps glaring at him, and d'Artagnan knows that Porthos doesn't - maybe he did, but no longer - trust the department vampires as whole-heartedly as Aramis does. And Aramis looks at Treville for back up, looks - at d'Artagnan, and his brows lower a little more uneasy, as he remembers why d'Artagnan is standing in this department in the first place.

D'Artagnan shrugs. Since he moved to Paris he's seen a lot, not just the horror of the nights; a vampire takes the night shift at the closest cafe to their apartment, a girl who looks his age - looks his age - with red hair in a high pony tail and a penchant for pretty floaty floral clothes underneath her apron, they buy coffee from her before the early shift and wine after the late. The only thing he's willing to say about vampires, really, is that he doesn't know them.

"We can check the bag." Treville says. "It won't hurt anyone. For now I need to go question Marcel."

"No - please - let him calm down a bit. He's . . . not when he's like this. It's not fair for any of us to be interrogating him when he's like this."

Porthos snaps, "He just tried to fuckin' kill you."

"He's not himself. I wouldn't want all of you thinking of me like that forever after if I couldn't help - being that right now."

Porthos just glares at him, then says, "Athos isn't gonna like this." as if that's even worse than how much he clearly doesn't like it.

D'Artagnan says, "Are they taking a long time putting him in the cells? Didn't Ninon say they had their own way of dealing with things like this?"

Treville - curses, snaps as Aramis lurches forwards, "Stay there." and strides off after the vampires who already left. Aramis does obey, mouth pressed tight in a wince at how much he doesn't like any of this, as Porthos growls and strides up and down a little, burning off some of his rage in movement. D'Artagnan just keeps leaning against the doorframe, and says, "What 'rules' was Ninon talking about?"

Porthos kicks at the floor as he walks. Aramis rolls his eyes away, says, "I belong to Athos, he's fed from me, other vampires can tell that. It - it's very bad etiquette for other vampires to . . . to try to take what's his."

"Fuck 'em." Porthos snarls.

Aramis shrugs. "The old ways are dying, anyway. Vampirism's not just for the aristocracy anymore, nowadays the fact that Athos has already fed from me is just an invitation to a lot of them."

D'Artagnan can piece it together. "So Marcel thought that was why you asked him to 'help get more wine'. Because you . . . like being bitten?"

"Athos didn't bite me. And something like that." Aramis sighs, rubbing his forehead with a knuckle. "I really did want him to carry the wine, those boxes are heavy."

D'Artagnan doesn't ask him if he does like being bitten. Aramis was able to give an unnervingly in-depth lesson on what being drunk from by a vampire is like, and gave no impression that it was something he ever wanted to happen again. When d'Artagnan pushed Aramis to tell him what it felt like - Aramis was reticent for exactly the same reason d'Artagnan wanted to know, this was how his father died - he said, almost contemplatively with his eyes on the ceiling of his old bedroom, d'Artagnan's room, where they hold their lessons at the desk underneath the window, "It feels like dying. It feels like exactly what is happening to you is happening to you. The life is being drawn out from you, and you're dying, by every slow draining second of what they're doing to you. You can't fight back. You never can, against them, but when they're drinking it's . . . you can't even move. There's a chemical in their saliva that paralyses the muscles. And it does hurt, disproportionately much. But it's peaceful, in its way. It is peaceful. Once you give up being afraid." His eyes had fallen again to d'Artagnan, all the dreamy dark smile in them gone, sharp as a black blade as they only sometimes are. "Don't let it happen to you."

D'Artagnan has been quietly grateful, ever since, that Aramis was honest with him; that it hurts 'disproportionately much' does distress him, churns his stomach on a deep-down level to know his father faced that, but he knows his father could face that, and Aramis didn't say it like it was the worst way to die. Exorcists know a thing or two about the worst ways to die.

And it's hardly like d'Artagnan has ever even thought curiously of allowing it to happen to himself. It's not just the danger and fury and horror and pain of the immediate feeding, he does know the permanent connection Athos and Aramis now have, they only told him that Athos had drunk from him because it's not a bond they could keep hidden, and he doesn't know any vampire could ever exist who d'Artagnan would want to share that with. They're in each other's - not their heads, exactly, they don't really hear each other's thoughts or anything Aramis says, but they feel each other. They're in each other's presences all the time. Aramis can hide nothing from Athos, d'Artagnan knows that much, and he doesn't want some vampire having that hold over him. Not even the ones he likes. It's just a privacy thing, a space thing, who can stand having someone else always breathing at their ear?

Aramis, apparently, standing up and looking down the large space of the garrison's main entrance hall towards the stairs to the cells, a moment before Athos, Ninon and Treville emerge. They aren't walking like Marcel is dead, and presumably Aramis would know if Athos had been angry enough to kill him, so d'Artagnan assumes they still have one of their own locked in a cell down there, and the vampires didn't enact their own cold code of conduct on him. Athos' eyes are right on Aramis though, it's across a pretty wide distance but there's an intensity of his gaze on Aramis and Aramis meeting it right back, d'Artagnan wriggles his shoulders closer, and looks subtly away.

They don't hug on their reunion or anything, even though Aramis did just nearly get his neck torn open by another vampire. Aramis just touches Athos' arm, almost a nothing touch, almost very little at all, except his eyes are a little too fierce on Athos' face. Aramis says, "We need to find the last bag of blood he fed from." and Porthos sighs, like the two of them are always this much trouble for him, and stuffs his hands in his pockets.

*

Porthos and d'Artagnan have already set out for the slaughterhouse that supplies the department with animal blood, as Aramis and Athos make their way down the stairs into the cells. They got home just before three - having gone through the books and the bins to find the last bag of blood Marcel drank from, and then got it to a hospital for testing, and kicked their angry heels waiting on the results. The results are the reason Porthos and d'Artagnan have already left, and Aramis is carrying an extra takeaway coffee cup in a cardboard tray, walking very calmly down the stairs, towards the vampire he shot four times last night.

It wasn't Marcel's fault. The bag was spiked. Someone spiked a bag of blood any department vampire could have drunk from, and as far as Aramis can see, Marcel's the victim here, he's the one who was unlucky enough to have picked the wrong bag. He was drugged against his will. That's one of the charges they'll be liasing with the police on when they find who spiked the bag; accessory to attempted murder should stick if the first does. And trafficking in werewolf blood, that's the big one, that's the worst one. If it is werewolf blood. In the hospital they said the chemical signature was the same but Porthos couldn't smell a whiff of it off the bag, which doesn't make any sense.

Athos, Aramis understands, sees the whole thing rather differently. Aramis does understand how Athos sees it, their emotions as porous to each other as they are. He can feel the fucking fury in Athos, it's like a hurricane, Aramis gets uneasy of how angry Athos is capable of getting, afraid of how he'll hurt himself with it. As much as the anger he can feel the fear in him though, and he knows it wasn't anger that curled Athos' cold limbs possessive around his body in the bed last night; if it hadn't been for Porthos' heavy warm weight blanketing his other side he'd have woken cramping with cold at a vampire so determinedly all over him like that. He doesn't think Athos slept. It's the sort of thing Aramis can feel, and he fell asleep himself with Athos still furiously crazed with wakefulness at the side of Aramis' mind with what had happened, what could have happened, and he woke to much the same. It's not like Athos really needs to sleep every night so it's no problem, except that it worries him, the spiral of Athos' thoughts so steeply downwards. He doesn't always know how to tug him up out of them again.

Aramis swipes the key card, keys in the code, unlatches the heavy metal door. He glances back to Athos - really it would be easier if Athos would push the damn heavy thing, but Athos' face looks no lighter than the door so Aramis just sets his weight and swings it slowly out, and heads on for the individual cell.

What kept Athos brooding through the night was a combination of what had happened and what might have happened. What happened was that Aramis had to repeatedly shoot a vampire who could have killed him, but that's not all that happened to Athos. To Athos, a vampire he has known and trusted around Aramis, around his Aramis because even if Athos doesn't think of it like that, Aramis knows it's true - to Athos, a vampire Athos respected enough to allow access to his vulnerable exorcist tried to drink from him, aggressively enough to need subduing with extreme violence on both their parts. It's very, very personal, that's part of what needles inside him, the sting he can't drown out. It's not like any vampire out there on the streets, because they both know very well how many would tear Aramis' throat out right in front of Athos and suck the spraying artery until he died, that's not something they're naïve about, but they're not vampires Athos has ever trusted Aramis near. They're not vampires who would be very specifically drinking from his Aramis. Aramis is just an exorcist to them, just a human, they don't care about Athos and his relationship with Aramis - but Marcel does. Marcel knows that Athos and Aramis are connected, that it's more than blood between them, that he can't feed from Aramis without trespassing on that connection. And he was still willing to, against all vampire etiquette, knowingly and eagerly he would have taken what was Athos' and stole it and killed it. He would have performed the vampire equivalent of taking the food from his plate, and the rudeness as much as anything is hard for Athos to forgive, and Aramis who knows Athos knows that it's probably not something he ever could forget.

There's that for Athos to deal with. There's also how repulsive Athos finds his knowledge of his ownership of Aramis, and how he had to lay there holding him and disgusted by his own outraged possessiveness. That conflict alone would have been enough to keep him awake. But he also had to think of the could-have-beens, not just what did happen. Because Aramis might not have got to his gun in time, there's always that, Athos would have felt his fear and then his pain - agony, Aramis knows, a vampire's mouth on you hurts out of proportion with what's actually happening, he knows that - but he might not have been able to make it to Aramis before it was too late. It already would have been too late. He would have had to kill Marcel not just to get him off Aramis but to keep him from claiming him, tearing Aramis' mind in half between two vampires owning him like that. And Aramis would probably have bled to death then anyway, or if he was lucky had to live with the trauma of it all, and all four of them - Aramis and Athos but Porthos and the boy as well - never knowing how to trust another department vampire again, not any of them.

That's actually one of the better what-if scenarios, and Aramis doubts Athos spent too much thought on it. He knows what the worst scenario might have been, for both of them, for all of them, he knows what kept Athos awake last night.

What if it hadn't been Marcel who drank from that bag . . . ?

Athos' anger is still like a storm cloud at Aramis' back, hanging heavy over his head from behind. He turns and touches Athos' wrist outside the right cell, and smiles at him, because he's not afraid and he's glad he's alive and he's thankful that Athos helped to keep him alive. But mostly he's just not afraid, he never is, he is not being owned by fear of what could happen. Athos just looks at him with eyes like a grim blue ocean, and Aramis' smile twitches amused just at how unamused Athos looks. Then he slides the grille open to check it's definitely the right cell, puts the metal key in the heavy lock and turns it with a clunk before swiping his key card again, and opening the door to the cell.

There's nothing in there but a shelf acting as a bed against the far wall, on which Marcel is sitting, hands fisting tight against the edge of the shelf, faced raised steady but eyes all alight with too much on Aramis' face, then on Athos' at his back. Aramis smiles, and lifts one of the cups. "We brought you coffee," he says. "I don't know if you drink it, you don't have to take it."

Marcel is silent for a long moment, eyes flicking fast between Aramis, Athos, Aramis. Eventually he says, voice rasped, "That's very kind of you." and then he just stops, making no move to rise or reach up for the cup, eyes on Athos again. He doesn't know what movement around Aramis might precipitate attack from Athos right now. Aramis doesn't blame him; even occupying the little corner of Athos' heart that Aramis does, he doesn't always know how to predict his moods.

Aramis walks over, and puts the cup on the shelf beside Marcel. "It wasn't your fault," Aramis says, ready with a prepared speech in his head because it matters so much that Marcel knows this, and Aramis has been able to think about little else but getting through this. He can only imagine how it must feel, to know you turned on a comrade like that, on someone relatively helpless against you, on someone who trusted you despite that. And, God knows, he really doesn't want to be the burden hanging from Marcel's neck like that.

Marcel just shakes his head, body flinched awkwardly sideways away from Aramis - he takes a step back to respect that Marcel doesn't want him too close right now - and Marcel says, "I can't be trusted. I didn't even know I was capable of - we should never have changed the laws, I'm only safe with my head clean off."

"No. Someone spiked your last department bag of blood," Aramis says, raising his own coffee cup to take a sip. "So it wasn't your fault, Marcel. That's not who you are, and it's never going to happen again."

Marcel looks up at him, then at Athos, who's as still and icy as a metal sculpture of an angry vampire. Then Athos nods, once, curtly, and Marcel looks back at Aramis, says, "Spiked -? With what?"

". . . we're not sure." Aramis licks coffee from his lip and looks at Athos for help but Athos is just standing there, so stiff with stillness that even Aramis doesn't feel like prodding him into any activity he doesn't volunteer himself for. "The lab says it looks like werewolf blood, but the werewolves say it doesn't smell like it, so we don't know."

"Were . . ." Marcel looks so dumb, and puts a hand over his mouth, eyes so desperate with thought. "I felt so strange," he says through his hand, low. "Ill, and - angry, worse than angry. And I wanted . . . I couldn't even think clearly enough to want not to want . . ."

"It's alright." Aramis smiles, and pats him on the shoulder, because it matters that Marcel knows he isn't afraid of him. "Treville will want to interview you once we're sure it's out of your system, psych will probably want to talk to you, you know how it goes." Aramis has had to talk to psych about thirty times since he started this job, and is very practised in saying the right things so they let him go as quickly as possible. "They might take a sample of your blood for the labs. But it's okay, Marcel. We're going to find who did this and it's going to be fine."

Marcel lowers his hand, lifts his head vampire-proud for the first time since they walked in here. "They're not going to take my badge."

"It wasn't your fault. Someone spiked the bag, that's how it's being written up."

Marcel looks at him for a long time, then turns his head and looks at Athos. Marcel's back is more straight now, his gaze more even - something a little prissy about his posture, more actually like him now, Aramis has always known him a little fussy in his dress and manners - but after a pause, when he actually does open his mouth to speak to Athos, Athos says, very low and dark, "Don't you dare apologise to me."

Aramis cuts a look across at him, frowning, but Marcel only nods, once, and folds his hands in his lap. "No need for any apologies," Aramis says, and pats his shoulder again, he can tell that Athos wants to leave, he can see it in his posture and face and he can just feel it. "We'll see you when you get out, hopefully Treville will be able to update you on the investigation."

"Thank you." Marcel says, as Aramis walks to Athos at the door, and raises his eyebrows to him as he passes him to leave. "Goodbye," Marcel says, and Aramis calls back, "See you soon!"

Athos closes the door behind them hard, and Aramis stands slouching by the stairs waiting for him to catch up, so they can head back upstairs and get on with things. "I know . . ." Aramis says, and then rolls his eyes because what he knows is complicated. "Don't be weird with him. When he comes back from this. Please."

Athos ignores him, and uses his own key card to open the door to the staircase. Aramis sighs, and follows him.

He knows why Athos told Marcel not to apologise to him specifically, because Marcel apologising to Athos would be confirming the vampire's code between them, confirming that Marcel had wronged not the man he attacked but Athos, who owns the man he attacked. And Athos finds that monstrous, nauseating, hates himself for the moments when he feels it, hates anyone else who asserts it -

Aramis doesn't mind it. He does think of himself as Athos', in quite a particular way and not in a defeated or enslaved sort of way in the slightest, just, the way he's his mother's son, the way he's a department exorcist, he's Athos', and he's fine with that, he likes that. But Athos doesn't like to talk about it and he's probably right that they shouldn't encourage other vampires to think of humans in that way, so he can let it go. He takes a sip of coffee at the top of the stairs, and follows Athos back to their desks.

Their office is one of the ground floor ones, three desks pushed to the walls, a glass wall with a glass door in it separating them from the main walkway through the department. One very large, very hardy plant - a dragon tree, purple-edged long leaves drooping from its branches - stands dusty in the corner, the only plant they've ever had that's survived their erratic caregiving. Everything else is paperwork and filing cabinets and the scattered junk of Aramis and now d'Artagnan's collective exorcists' kit, which tends to creep from Aramis' desk when they're not paying attention, so currently there's a heavy and tarnished brass bell acting as a paperweight on Athos' desk, and a scatter of candles and chalk on Porthos', as well as all his own crap.

He sits with a crash and a sigh in his own battered chair, hooks the heel of a shoe in a file drawer where he likes to stretch his leg, and balances his coffee cup on his chest, drumming his fingers on it as he watches Athos sit and switch his computer on. It's strange, how he'll never know anyone the way he knows Athos, he has entry right into the insides of Athos' heart, and yet he finds no-one more difficult to know what to say to than Athos. Not because of the vampire thing or the blood between them or the centuries between them. Just because he's Athos, because of who Athos is, and he always hears what Aramis didn't know he was really saying. When Aramis says he's fine and believes it Porthos tends to believe it as well, and they both move on. It's Athos who knows to ask one extra question, and Aramis can't hide from him the shocked stubbing of his metaphorical nose into a metaphorical wall at being forced to recognise something in himself that he truly hadn't, until Athos' gentle fingers touched the bruise.

"So what do you think about motive?" he says, because work is always the safest point of discussion with Athos. "Whoever spiked that bag did it for some reason."

Athos waits, with the patience of a vampire, for his clunking desktop computer to wake up. He says, "Someone is killing exorcists."

"Yes, but they couldn't know they'd kill any exorcists by spiking that bag. We have more witches than exorcists, and there's all the human admin staff. You aim a mad vampire at the department, you're not very likely to actually hit an exorcist, and so far whoever has been killing us has been a lot more efficient than just point and hope."

Athos gives him a look, clearly not in the mood to praise the efficiency of whatever insane conspiracy is slaughtering the exorcists of France. "We'll know more when Porthos and d'Artagnan call back from the slaughterhouse. There's no point in speculation."

Aramis holds his cup on his chest with one hand and tugs thoughtfully at his beard with the other, and muses to the ceiling, "I don't know, I always quite enjoy it." He savours the word, each syllable on his tongue, "Speculation."

Athos turns back to his computer. "Do you not have emails?"

Aramis smiles and sips his coffee. How can Athos worry about owning Aramis the wrong way? Athos can't even make him keep his inbox in order.

Aramis turns his spinny chair - he loves his spinny chair - left and right a little by the ankle hooked in a drawer handle. "But what was it even spiked with? Porthos would have known if it was werewolf blood even before we had it tested, what the hell did they put in there?"

"Speculation," Athos mutters, clicking through his emails.

"Just thinking aloud. You don't have breakthroughs if you don't think things through."

"Because so frequently your thoughts are the reason we succeed in anything," Athos murmurs, still clicking away at his computer, and Aramis only raises his eyebrows behind his cup, and grins, and takes another sip of coffee while it's still hot.

Athos' phone rings, and he glances at it. "Porthos," he says, and then clicks it onto speakerphone. "Are you at the slaughterhouse?"

"Yeah, just done with the manager here, nice woman. We're gonna be interviewin' staff all fuckin' day but here's the kicker, they don't know which blood goes where here. They pack up the blood an' then a couple of haulage companies come take it away, an' presumably one of them supplies whoever supplies the garrison."

"So it may not even have been aimed at a musketeer vampire," Aramis says. "It could have been meant for anyone."

"Or it's the secondary companies we need to look into." Athos says, because Athos is not an optimist, and the thought that someone is trying to specifically corrupt department vampires is still his first worry. If the department breaks, France has nothing to fight the worst supernatural evil out there with; and, Aramis thinks with a little bump of his own heart at understanding Athos' priorities, Athos' exorcist is in this department, and if another department vampire drinks from the wrong bag of blood . . .

"So me'n the kid're interviewing everyone on site who has any access to the blood they ship out," Porthos says. "What're you two planning?"

"Go chase the other companies, I suppose." Aramis says, sitting up and knocking more coffee back. "Can you message us the details?"

"We need to liase with catering about which company gets the blood to us."

"I can talk to Serge, I like him."

"Good luck," Porthos says. "And hey, next time we need to go poke around a slaughterhouse? Can we not send the fucking werewolf, please?"

"Well, we could hardly send the vampire, that's even more unfair."

"Reeks like - this is like, physically very fucking uncomfortable, okay."

"My poor Porthos," Aramis croons, and Porthos growls back, but they had few options; unpleasant as the experience of wading through the scent of blood and meat must be to Porthos, it's in no way fair to put Athos through it, his sense of smell when it comes to blood particularly would make the experience unbearable. And given that the two exorcists can't go anywhere unaccompanied by someone much more supernaturally strong than they are, they didn't have another choice.

"Don't die," Porthos signs off with, which is pretty standard between them - Aramis doesn't consider it even slightly out of the ordinary - and hangs up.

"Right," Aramis says, putting his cup aside and his hands on his knees as he stands. "I'm off to go see a catering manager about a dog."

Athos says, "I've been CC'd into some of your emails. You really need to start dealing with these."

"I love you too," Aramis says, and lets the door swing behind him.

Halfway down the corridor, he feels Athos closer, moving at his back, following. Of course he's following him. It clutches him with warmth before it twists the colder blade in his guts; when will Athos trust Aramis alone in their own fucking department again . . . ?

*

The garrison's blood is delivered by a particular company, though Serge doesn't keep track of which driver makes each individual delivery - the company collects the signature of a member of the catering team when they deliver, the reverse doesn't happen. Which means Athos and Aramis have to take a car out to the edge of Paris, to the warehouse that supplies them with animal blood. The mercy is that it'll all be bagged and refrigerated, but Athos knows he'll still be able to tell, and his fingers feel - his fingers feel, too much, on the steering wheel. He's too aware of himself. He hates facing the reality of blood. He hates fucking vampires.

Aramis, he knows as he drives and Aramis looks drowsily through the windscreen, relaxed as he always is in scarf and hat against the December Athos doesn't feel, Aramis both understands and doesn't understand why this situation is getting to Athos. Aramis can feel Athos' stronger emotions, and knows the anger and revulsion and shame he feels about everything that's happened so far. Aramis also knows that Athos is both guilt-ridden and yet unrepentant about his own behaviour since Marcel first attacked Aramis and then Athos attacked him. Aramis understands what Athos feels and understands why he feels it. What Aramis doesn't understand is why Athos feels the need to feel like that; as far as Aramis can see, so many mitigating and overwhelming factors should submerge the bad feeling that this assignment should be really nothing out of the ordinary for them, just another day's work.

But another department vampire tried to put his hands on Aramis, and all of the old ways acted through Athos' body before his mind could comprehend what was happening. The old ways spoke and Athos found that they'd come off his own tongue; another vampire tried to take what belonged to Athos, and turned Athos into someone who owns a person.

Admittedly an odd sort of ownership, given that Aramis is now tuning the car radio away from the news and onto music instead, which he knows Athos hates. But that's all surface, the okayness of it. Underneath what the two of them manage to be on a daily basis, the way they fit together like partners more than vampire and enslaved human - Aramis takes orders from Athos because of his seniority but in their apartment his casual hands chase such comfort out of Athos' half-dead body - underneath all of that there's the blood. Blood is not deniable. Blood cannot be ignored. If Athos pulled, Aramis would fall, and every day he swears to himself he will not and yet Marcel tried to touch him and Athos reverted immediately to ownership.

No. Not only ownership. The fear was not only that Athos' thing was going to be taken, the fear honestly was for Aramis' throat against a vampire's hands and teeth. But partially it was ownership, and partially is enough to make a monster of him. If Aramis is only a little bit Athos' thing, that still makes a thing of him, and it still makes Athos one of those vampires. And he's not one of those vampires. He's not.

He only truly believes that when Aramis so obviously trusts him. What's changed isn't that Aramis no longer trusts him; it's that Athos no longer trusts Aramis' trust. Aramis doesn't believe in the worst parts of Athos, but for Athos it's not about belief but fact, and he knows . . .

Aramis murmurs, "So say they were targeting a department vampire." Athos glances across and then back at the road; Aramis looks so relaxed, eyes half-lidded on the road ahead, that clean dark cut of his eyelashes, that oddly focused, oddly melancholy look he carries sometimes, so out of place on the man other people think he is. "For what purpose? Not for killing a department exorcist, because they couldn't possibly guarantee that. For targeting someone, though? Just anyone?"

". . . it would be enough," Athos allows grudgingly. "A department vampire breaking."

"So they meant to cause chaos. If a department vampire 'snapped' and killed someone we wouldn't trust each other any more, no-one else would trust us. Not unless we ejected the vampires from the department, and even if we wanted to we couldn't. Unions and all." Aramis looks across at him and grins, and Athos keeps his eyes stonily on the road. "But it would be bad. If that had gone another way, if they'd used Marcel to really hurt or kill someone, anyone. The consequences could have been a nightmare."

Athos says, "You wake up from nightmares." and hits the indicator to turn.

"It is hoped," Aramis adds quietly, eyes dark on the road ahead. Athos doesn't say anything to that. For his own part he recognises the truth of it, even at a few centuries' distance, and for Aramis' . . . he laughs and he jokes and he trusts Athos, but Aramis knows what vampires are really capable of, Athos first met him with the wound still fresh on his forehead and soul. "What if it wasn't even for that reason? What if they didn't even care about hurting the department specifically?"

"What?" Athos says, not really listening, trying to remember the route, he doesn't want to have to turn the satnav on, the voice really irritates him.

"We're assuming there's a reason to it, a real reason. What if there isn't?"

"Why would someone spike a department bag of blood for no reason?"

"Well, for the reason of causing chaos. But for no further purpose to that chaos."

"Why on earth would anyone cause chaos . . ." Athos stops, and thinks about how much time you seem to have as a vampire, all those decades and centuries spread out, he has wondered if that's where the sadism of vampires comes from because he does recognise the impulse, in all that tedium and drag, just to force something different to happen.

And of course Aramis recognises the motivation of doing something just to see what will happen next, of course Aramis . . .

"That's the place," Aramis says. "There's hardly anyone there, where are all the cars?"

"Christmas." Athos says, pulling into a very sparsely populated car park. "The department's next delivery isn't due until January and we must be one of their biggest customers, hardly anyone must want blood over Christmas."

"Bagged animal blood doesn't exactly scream of the festive season, no." Aramis unhooks his seatbelt and reaches for the door handle and Athos reaches across to touch his arm before he does.

"Have your gun ready."

"Athos, you know I always do."

"Be careful in there."

Aramis looks at him, then lifts a hand and cups Athos' jaw, thumb running a warm line across his cheek. He says, "I have no intention of leaving you."

His hand is so warm, blood-warm, warm as a heart in a human chest, in the cold of the air it should steam. And Athos has always liked Aramis' hands, long and strong and sure and so keen to touch him, never flinching from his own cool skin. Athos looks him in the eye, long and steady, trying to impress in him how much this means; Aramis looks back, black-brown eyes so certain, and in the silence, Athos listens to the ticking of his heart, and the slow even passing of his breath.

They don't know what they're walking into, except that it's almost got Aramis killed once in the last twenty-four hours already. They never know what they're walking into, every damn night, and Athos almost asks him, again, Have you thought about . . . ?

But of course he hasn't, and of course here isn't the time to bring it up again it always leads to such a fight, and if Aramis has made his mind up and is willing for one of his lovers to put his teeth in him and make him more difficult to kill than just the slight slip of his skin over his flimsy mortal bones, to give him more length of life than even a lucky human can hope for, let alone an exorcist, right here and now is not the place for it anyway.

So Athos kisses him instead, feels Aramis' breath suck in - feels it, an echo in his own hollow chest - and feels the bubbling release of all those happy hormones bouncing and bumping through Aramis' brain like helium atoms got loose, feels the slackening of his muscles, the way his body tries to spill to Athos' as if to fall into his arms. Ordinarily there is a certain pride and protectiveness in this, the way Aramis melts for Athos' touch, can't even help it, he's programmed for it; right now he feels a staining of guilt and worry low down, at how much he feels his control over Aramis in these moments, before Aramis' hand curling strong over his on the seat and his soft sweet moan drown it out because Athos never feels Aramis more purely happy than in this.

This should be when he feels the most disturbed by his ownership of Aramis. Instead what he feels is how honestly and buzzily joyous Aramis is, on every level, wiping all complication out: every part of Aramis' soul agrees, every needle in him points to the true North of his feelings for Athos, it isn't just the blood, it's never been just the blood, this is everything to him.

And Athos feels all of this, is dizzy first- and second-hand, dealing not only with the loveliest man all the centuries have ever shown to him loving him so utterly as to kiss him like this but with all of Aramis' emotion crashing through him helplessly huge, and then Aramis' responses to feeling his own response in Athos' body -

Athos pulls the kiss back but doesn't remove his hand from Aramis' arm, or the one on the seat Aramis has a hand pressed over, as Aramis takes a moment to work out breathing again, and get his eyes to open and focus. He says, tongue a quick flash to wet his top lip, "Well." He blinks, a couple more times. "Let's get out there then."

And Athos' cheek is even colder, once Aramis' hand is gone.

The sky is the unbroken colour of an old dishcloth, and the carpark is almost empty, two other cars and a van besides theirs. The warehouse itself has a few nice bright signs on the side of it (one reads NutriStore, and Athos thinks how clean a way of wording it) and shiny new doors, the white plastic window frames just a little grubby with time. Aramis is already far to cheerfully far ahead, testing the door as Athos walks with a quick stride to catch up, Aramis knocking only after he's already tried the handle and jarred it with his shoulder. "DPI," Aramis calls. "Might we have a chat?"

"Christmas." Athos says, waving him out of the way and turning the handle, shoving the door hard, once, so the lock snaps.

Aramis instantly says, "You're writing the report on this."

"We heard something suspicious inside, we had no choice." Athos says, walking in and feeling for a lightswitch, but they don't need one; motion sensors find them immediately, and strip lights hum and blink on all around them. This little area by the door is set out like an office, two desks pushed to the walls with spinning chairs of the kind Aramis likes to rock himself side to side in, bulky computers, lots of files. And spread out through the rest of the warehouse - just rows and rows of industrial freezers. They're huge, and Athos knows how sturdy they are, they manufacture them strong enough to keep out a werewolf at the turn of the moon in case they're used to store meat.

Aramis casually has a gun in one hand and stands poised as if to sway, eyes slightly slitted, and Athos feels that strange space inside Aramis that seems to open when he feels out for spirits like this, the space Aramis makes inside himself to allow other voices to speak through. But he comes back easy to his steady heels and the space inside relaxes again, and he glances at Athos, shrugs a shoulder: no echoes. No murdered werewolf is still howling here, determined for revenge. But then it didn't smell of werewolf blood anyway, whatever the hell it was . . .

"There's no-one here." Athos says. "We can at least try to find a contact number for the manager at home."

"This is the twenty-first century, love." Aramis says. "If no-one's here, why wasn't the alarm on?"

Athos forgets, sometimes, these little things. They just broke into a building, a building advanced enough for motion-sensitive lighting; why isn't there some unholy blaring noise and the police already contacted . . . ?

He steps closer to Aramis, wary of what they can't see, and Aramis looks at him but then focuses on the building all around them again. "Should've brought a werewolf," he says. "Someone who could smell them out."

"I don't hear any human heartbeats, or wolves."

Aramis looks at the nearest freezer and says, "How thick do you think those walls are?"

They freezers are locked, they open with a key card, but there's one left in the top drawer of one of the desks by the door. The first freezer allows out a pale mist of cold air and all it contains are plastic crates of bagged blood, which Athos keeps a certain distance from as Aramis manoeuvres one with the muzzle of his gun to keep his prints off it as he reads the serial number printed near the top. "We need to take some of these for testing," he says. "I don't know how many is sensible, we can't take all of them, can we? How do we get a random sample? How many are there?"

Athos looks at the rows of freezers, frowning. "These can't all be full of blood. If they've closed for Christmas they'll have offloaded all the necessary stock beforehand."

"How many bags . . . you only go once a week, don't you? Do you only drink one bag?"

Athos feels desperately uncomfortable discussing this. "Yes. Come out of there, it's cold."

Aramis stops poking at bags of animal blood with his gun and walks out to join Athos again, and gives all the freezers a very long look. "Every vampire in Paris," he says, "couldn't get through this much blood in six months. Could they?"

Athos sends Aramis back to the desks to look for more clues, something about all those silent, sombre freezers of blood makes him not want his exorcist too near them, something about them feels like tombstones. He goes himself, with the key card, keeping in full sight of Aramis at all times, opening and checking; blood, blood, empty, empty, boxes - ?

This freezer is kept much colder than those the blood was stored in, Aramis would probably sharpen his breath at the feel of it but Athos is only aware of it, it doesn't trouble him. He walks in and lifts the lid from one of the plastic boxes and it's full of bags of frozen spinach, while another has frozen edamame beans.

"There are a few companies," Aramis calls from the desk, as Athos closes the door on the frozen vegetables again. "I'm trying to work out who owns which fridges or if they're allocated more randomly than that. How many have blood in?"

"Three so far," Athos says, and opens another freezer, pulls the heavy door out and then just looks in, evenly, at the three vampires sitting around a folding table in there, playing cards.

One of them says, "You buying?" and another knocks him with his elbow, says, "We're closed, monsieur. Bye." and goes back to his cards.

There were cars out in the car park, Athos thinks. Empty warehouse but there were three cars out there, and the alarm had been turned off, and suddenly he feels a flare of panic and -

- a sudden sharp pain in Aramis' wrist -

"Athos," Aramis says, not alarmed but a gritted sort of warning, as Athos jerks his head and stares helplessly back at him. There's a vampire there at Aramis' shoulder; he's got a carrier bag in one hand, hanging heavy with a bottle of something, and with the other he's got Aramis' gun-bearing wrist bent at an angle so Aramis can't shoot him, and if the bone snaps that isn't the vampire's problem. He must have come in through the front door, the door they left open, and then Athos left Aramis standing alone by it because he thought the threat was in these freezers -

He tries not to let the iciness of his horror of guilt and terror clutch too deep. He doesn't want Aramis to feel it, and be afraid. But Aramis is never afraid; kicks the vampire in the ankle and snarls, "Your manners, monsieur, are greatly wanting -"

The vampire says, "Stop wriggling or I'll put the desk through your head." and looks at Athos. "Musketeer?"

The three vampires in the freezer - they're all young men in appearance and Athos, who can read the behaviour of the centuries, knows they are truly all young men, recent turnees, not very many decades between them - hiss and curse and throw themselves to their feet, cards dropped forgotten on the table. "Muske- fuck, fuck, how many?"

"One," the vampire holding Aramis says. "And a human."

Athos says, and has no idea how he holds his voice steady at this moment, "Let him go." Aramis is still muttering, face snarled on anger and the pain of his wrist held like that, "- just because you're not listening doesn't mean we don't judge you right back -"

The vampire holding Aramis sniffs, delicately, frowns at Aramis, looks again at Athos.

Aramis smells of Athos and Porthos. Shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.

The vampires in the freezer have hurried out of it, have surrounded Athos meaning to be menacing but he can feel the anxiety off them, as they try to act like gangsters. "Where are the rest of them, yeah?" one of them says. "Was it you who drank it? Good stuff, right, you want more? We've got more, is he payment?"

"Shut the fuck up, Leo." another mutters.

Aramis says, voice sharp-spined on how much his wrist is aching to snap, Athos can feel it, "You spiked a bag of our blood."

The vampire holding him says to Athos, "You share your food with a werewolf?"

They ignore Aramis, of course. He's a human, sub-vampire, not worth conversing with; as brief as a butterfly, either to be pinned down for their use or allowed to die of his own accord in a matter of moments anyway, but certainly not worth talking to. So Athos has to lift his face and say, "You drugged a bag of department blood. You understand that it's conspiracy to murder, trafficking in illegal substances -"

"It's not on the list of banned substances." the vampire holding Aramis says, and then because Aramis is still trying to squirm his wrist free and kick with his heel at the vampire's ankle, he dashes him sideways into the desk. Athos feels what it does, no bones break but the breath's knocked out of Aramis, Athos feels the broken capillaries inside letting the blood out to bruise, feels the muscles banged, the blow to Aramis' entire right-hand side. He rarely notices signs of pain in his own body, they come so muted and weary. He feels pain, primarily, through Aramis, and every time it feels like what it is, it feels like Aramis' fragile body is being damaged, and he can't bear it.

"Aramis, stop it," he says, urgently, because if Aramis keeps fighting then that vampire will just pull his head off, nothing will stop him. "Let him go." he says, hard, to the vampire holding him. And suddenly it's in him like teeth, what he's just asked for is something no vampire should ever have to ask. "Let him go. He is mine. Let him go."

The vampire looks back at him, holding his sagging, wheezing exorcist, gun dropped and holding himself upright with an elbow off the desk that nearly crushed one of his kidneys, and the vampire says, "No."

One of the vampires poised around Athos gives a hiss of a laugh and says, "You keep your old ways, old man. Welcome to the twenty-first century, maybe we'll pass him around-"

Athos turns bellowing for the fury of killing him but even as he sees the fear alight in that young vampire's eyes he feels the jolt of surprise and hesitation in Aramis and lashes his head back, sees that other vampire still holding Aramis' wrist so twisted-bruised but his other hand now holding his throat back by a fistful of his hair, Aramis' wide eyes aimed at the ceiling, neck and that vampire's teeth bared -

"No," Athos says, all aggression dropped out of him, stepping forward and stopping and hating - "No, let him - go. Let him leave. Please."

He's not an easy man to drag a 'please' out of, and Aramis knows that, and Athos can feel the wriggling-panicked humiliated fury inside Aramis to be turned into the thing that reduces Athos to this.

The vampire holding Aramis says, "You got a weapon?"

Athos, silent, puts a hand to his back, draws loose the long blade he keeps specifically for the purpose of removing the heads of vampires determined to resist arrest, and drops it to clang off the floor. Aramis makes a frustrated noise through his teeth, knowing they need that, but no-one except Athos cares in the slightest what Aramis is doing; surrounded by this many vampires, what Aramis can do is in such absurdly negligible proportion to what can be done to him.

"Get your shit out of the fucking freezer," the vampire holding Aramis says, thick through his long teeth, and the younger vampires scramble themselves together, picking up their cards and backpacks and a couple of bottles of booze, clearing the space. The vampire holding Aramis nods at Athos and says, "Start walking."

Athos stares into his eyes, body poised on the high wire between - between duty, his duty to his badge and to Aramis as part of that duty; the panic of Aramis held like this, liable to die at any given second and more than aware of that and primarily angry but Athos can feel the strain of helplessness in him as well and it makes Athos feel frantic; and the clean white-hot howl of the vampire, that is mine -

He fists his hands, and follows the vampire's nod, and walks towards the freezer.

"Ath-" Aramis starts to say, and then his breath sucks in at the sharpening of the pull to his hair and the twisting of his wrist, Athos feels the pain of it, and grinds his own teeth that they're both so helpless. There's no point in trying to bargain with them. Athos can give them nothing they want, and holding Aramis, they have everything Athos wants and neither of them can do a thing, they can do nothing but obey. Athos steps into the freezer and turns to face the vampires again, stomach beginning to churn on true fear now because if they close that door on him, he'll never make it out in time to save Aramis from them all, and there are so many of them against his one exorcist, and of all the ways for Aramis to die after barely escaping a pack of vampires once before, they'll tear him open -

The vampire holding Aramis has dragged him, Aramis unco-operative with heels to the floor and never so much as slowing the drag against such a greater strength, to the freezer as well. He keeps his eyes on Athos, ignoring the jerking and furious exorcist in his hands, and says to one of the others, "You got a dose ready?"

Someone snickers, understanding immediately. So does Athos, but there's no damn thing he can do.

The vampire holding Aramis pins his body to the outside wall of the freezer and gets both his wrists in one hand, as Aramis swears and kicks and gets a blow hard in the back for it, Athos chokes without thinking, "-don't -"

His internal organs, vampires are idiots for not understanding the fragility of human bodies, one hit too hard and -

"Shut up," the vampire says patiently, and Aramis very suddenly stops struggling, Athos feels how entirely still his body and mind have gone, as the vampire's hand - tugs his shirt up, loose of his belt, and he finds the knife there, and tosses it to the floor; Aramis doesn't move, suddenly something small and silent in between the predator's paws, as the vampire's free hand pats down his trousers and discards another knife from his pocket, pats him down thoroughly enough to peel up his trouser leg and remove the one he keeps strapped to his shin just in case -

Athos can feel his cold hands on Aramis' skin, and doesn't even look at the smirking vampire walking in with a syringe, can't even care to, as the younger vampire tugs his arm up and slams the syringe in, pressing its contents home. What enters his bloodstream is no colder than his blood already is, and Athos knows how slowly his heart beats, knows it will take a few moments before he even notices it, knows . . .

Aramis growls out through his teeth, "What the fuck did you just-" but the vampire holding him, convinced he's fully disarmed him, jerks him suddenly closer, freezing him once more, so he can huff underneath Aramis' ear, against the side of his throat, "Since you like being bit by him so fucking much." and he shoves him like a bus through the freezer door. Aramis comes stumbling, hits Athos in the chest who grabs him automatically, to steady him, to clasp him in and feel the gasp of relief that his exorcist is his again, in his own hold -

"Have a nice day," the vampire outside says, and slams the door on them.

*

For one second so short, after the cold-shivering horror of a vampire's hands all over him and nothing, nothing, nothing Aramis could do to stop anything they did next, for one second, he's in Athos' arms, and the blanket of the safety that that is falls over him: Athos. All fear and pain is gone, all anger, there is no bad feeling in all of the world, every synapse in Aramis' brain lights up singing. His body was rewritten when he and Athos shared his blood and now that means that being held by Athos is the happiest place on Earth, Aramis is built to be held by Athos, and his entire body sighs safe.

Then the door closes on them, and it's dark as the bottom of the ocean, and all the throbbing of his bruises, all the cold skin where that vampire's hands trailed, it all awakes again and he shivers. Athos presses him closer and Aramis feels an immediate drowsy urge to relax to him, but here and now is not the time, especially not as Athos turns him, and pushes something to scrape out of the way - the card table, Aramis has to guess, he can't see a damn thing - before Aramis is walked in Athos' hands and then sat, carefully but without ceremony, against the back wall of the freezer.

"Athos - ?"

Athos is backing away, Aramis can hear it but he can't see. He doesn't understand, tries to stand and Athos growls, "No. Stay there."

Aramis hesitates, breathing a little rough on how much everything aches, then says, slowly, "What did they give you?" as if they don't both already know.

Athos says, "Did he leave you any weapons?"

"No. And they wouldn't help, we're stuck in here."

They can't even hear those vampires through the walls, God only knows how thick they are. Athos is still for a moment, Aramis can't see him but he can sense him, he can always feel Athos, his body is always attuned to Athos' body, and then -

The noise starts him to jerk, eyes wide in the dark, he doesn't - he does know what it was, what it is, the raging roar accompanied by that pounding scratching cacophony of punching and kicking, it's the door. It's Athos attacking the door. He's attacking the door, all dignity gone, throwing all the force a vampire has at it because -

Because human drugs will affect vampires, they just have to take so much more of them, they have to drink beyond levels that would kill a human even to call themselves drunk. And it's no human drug they gave to Athos, forced on Athos, they both know what it is and why they trapped the two of them in here. If it's werewolf blood - or whatever the hell substitute for werewolf blood they seem to be trafficking in - Athos is not going to be able to fight what it does to him, and what it's going to do to him is make him stronger and faster and more lethal in every way including his sheer lust to drink, to kill as many humans as he can find to gorge on them, and the only human he's got in here is Aramis.

Athos is, Aramis guesses by the sounds, shoulder-ramming the door, repeatedly but it's less loud than the wilder attacks of earlier and Aramis says, loudly over the rhythmic jarring of it, he feels it in his own arm, "Athos - if they've given you werewolf blood -"

"We have some time." Athos snarls, stubbornly, repetitively slamming the door. "It takes a long time to get through my system, my blood moves so slowly. And it makes us stronger. I may be able to tear the door out before it affects me too much."

If it affects him enough, he's going to tear Aramis' throat out and not care about doing it. Except he wouldn't; Athos never would. Aramis sits up, swallowing, and says quietly, "It's alright, Athos. It's going to be alright."

Athos is silent, and keeps slamming his shoulder to the door. Aramis wets his lips and concentrates. What he feels through the link between them is less than what Athos can sense of him, but he does feel some things; his dirge-slow heartbeat, his wilder emotions, and very particularly he feels when Athos is thinking about him. Right now he feels, overwhelmingly, his fear. Athos feels afraid. He's trying not to be but he is, of course he is. If he winds up high off werewolf blood trapped in a freezer with Aramis, he might lose his mind before he's able to get them free, and then - God. Then Aramis might not even be a recognisable corpse by the time that door does get opened. Aramis will be in smeared pieces, and Athos will never be able to live with what he's done.

Athos makes a snarling noise, frustrated with the door's lack of movement, the sound changes, Aramis feels it in his own foot he does it so hard as Athos kicks it and kicks it with all the strength of a vampire and still it won't move. The sound continues for some time until Athos gives a great frustrated bellow, and kicks at something else instead, Aramis hears the shatter of it, the crunch of what were such sturdy materials; a chair, he thinks.

He says, and keeps his voice steady, "It's alright."

"Shut up." Athos says, and kicks something else so it dashes apart. Aramis sits still, listening to the silence afterwards, feeling the raise of Athos' heartbeat, moving at a noticeable pace, now. "I'm sorry," Athos says. "I didn't mean that. I -"

"I understand," Aramis says. "It doesn't matter. How do you feel?"

"Hot," Athos says, as if it's the most unpleasant thing in the world. "Under the skin. Like it's burning. Shit. Shit."

"It's going to be alright."

"It fucking isn't, I want to start putting holes in you, it would be so easy and it would feel so good. Don't let me near you."

"I don't know that I could stop you, love."

"We need - I'll work on the door. But you need a way, to be sure we need a way to kill me before I can get bad enough to kill you."

"We can't," Aramis says. "Athos, we can't. I won't. And even on a practical level, what the hell do we have in here that could kill a vampire? I would struggle even if I had a gun and I can't even see you right now. We can't."

Athos gives a snarl of frustration and throws himself at the door again, bellowing a rage of kicking and punching and Aramis can't even hear the hinges trouble themselves. A turned werewolf couldn't get in here, there's no way they're getting out, Athos' strength isn't going to overtake the overheating of his mind. That drug in Athos' system might be enough to get him though, but not yet, he'll have to be much more sunk in it for that, and by then . . .

In this situation, Aramis understands, the problem is him. Athos can't help what was done to him, that they were even able to do it to him is Aramis' fault to begin with, and his only duty now is to not make things worse for Athos. He will keep his breathing calm, keep his mind steady, and he will not feel a thing to make this harder for Athos than it already is. "It's alright, Athos." he says. "I want you to know that. Whatever happens, it is alright, to me it is. Nothing is going to happen in here that I'm not okay with."

"I will tear out fistfuls of you, you will die in pieces -"

"It doesn't change anything." Aramis says, and he's afraid, God yes, because he's not ready for judgement yet, not ready for his weak sinful soul to be weighed up, and because he does not want to face the blood-soaked indignity of the agony his death like this could be, and he knows, he knows what it's going to do to Athos, to Porthos - to the boy, his first truly sick taste of what they face - but it's true, all the same. "It doesn't change anything about what we are and who you are. It wouldn't be you doing it. It would be the drug, not you, it would be the blood, never you. You never would hurt me, Athos. I know that. You know that I know that."

"You're a fucking idiot." Athos spits back. "Like some babbling puerile infant, tripping head-first into everything, you don't know anything. Christ. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, that was not-"

"That was the blood." Aramis says, and he wishes he could make his fucking heart run steadier, he wishes - "It doesn't matter. Please remember that, it doesn't matter, what the blood does, that doesn't matter to me, you matter to me and I trust you, Athos."

"You're an idiot, a stupid whining bitch. Do you think you're the first I've had, do you think you're safe with me? Fucking humans don't deserve their brains to stay in their skulls they're so feeble, they should get dashed out and stamped into blood-"

"Athos, that's the blood speaking."

"I know it's the blood you puling whor-" Aramis hears the great crash of Athos throwing himself into something in the dark, his low choked, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus -"

Aramis sends a very quick and desperate plea in that direction as well. "I know you can't help it," he says. "Please remember that, please know that, I know it isn't you, I know you can't help it -"

Athos is breathing hard, and Aramis can feel it in his heart as well, and it is the strangest, most unnerving thing, to be so aware of Athos breathing, of Athos' heart running. Is this how Athos feels him all the time? He shuffles himself a little uneasily higher against the back wall, and Athos whispers in the dark, "I want to hurt you. It feels like you deserve it. Pathetic whining speck. You're not here long enough to care whether you live or not."

"Try to think about something else," Aramis says. "Not what you want. What is it doing to you physically, you said it made you hot -"

"Under the skin. It prickles, like it's trying to - put hair out." He sounds revolted, and Aramis hears the shifting of Athos' clothes as he rubs at himself. "Make me a monster like them."

It's the first time that it twists inside Aramis' throat, the want to talk back; Porthos is not a monster. It's the blood, he tells himself. It's not Athos, it's never Athos. It's the blood, bringing out the worst of what a vampire is, but that isn't who he is. He says, "I can feel your heart."

"It's so fast it feels like it's going to rupture."

It's running just a little slower than Aramis' normal heart rate, but it's catching up, and Aramis' heart is currently running quick with emotion, if Athos' overtakes his - "And I can hear your breath. Can you concentrate on that? It calms humans down, to concentrate on their breathing -"

"I'm not a fucking human you skin-cloth for blood, how can I be calm to listen to my breathing when I am not supposed to breathe, Christ even among humans you are the most witless - no - no -"

He whispers, and it's harder and harder not to let his voice shake, "Athos, it's alright."

Athos roars, and crashes against the door again. The door doesn't move. Aramis hunches his knees closer, and presses with the pad of his thumb through his shirt to where the cross lays against the skin of his chest, and he can't think which saint could get him out of this situation alive.

Athos screams at him, "Stop smelling!"

Aramis presses the back of his head back into the wall, says in a small dry voice, "Athos, I can't."

"All I can smell, all I can breathe, and oh," in a low rumbling growl that makes all of the hairs on Aramis' arms lift, the back of his neck quivering, "I know what you taste like . . ."

This is what Aramis understands about the situation they're in: Athos has been drugged, against his will, and it is in no way fair to blame Athos for what that drug is doing to him. And if Athos kills him - Athos will quite likely kill him - it won't be Athos, it'll be the fucking drug, and Aramis needs Athos to know that and to know that Aramis knows that, so that he doesn't collapse in on the torment of knowing that he killed Aramis.

Athos pounds and scratches at the door and he's screaming, but the door isn't moving. Aramis hears the shattering of more furniture, Athos' need to do something to let it all out -

He moves so fast. This is why exorcists die: humans just move so slowly against them, the hand pinning Aramis against the wall by the throat is just there, like a blink, and Athos hisses to his face in that warped hush of a vampire with its teeth long, "I can smell you . . ."

Aramis holds himself very, very still, forcing his breathing as steady as he can as he tries to manage the shock of it, and makes no move to even try to get Athos off himself. Where would be the point? He can't. And he doesn't want Athos' last memory of him to be Aramis fighting for his life and Athos not caring about that. Instead he says, voice coming hoarse through his constricted throat, "I love you, Athos." He swallows with some difficulty through Athos' fist. "It has been an honour, loving you."

He feels the flex and strain of Athos' hand, the effort involved in not squeezing until Aramis' skin is pierced by his own spine. "I want to hurt you like every inch of me itches," Athos hisses, "and not being able to only makes me want to hurt you more for it -"

"It will be alright," Aramis whispers, blinking and blinking but in the pitch dark he can see nothing, nothing of his face. "Look after the boy, and tell Porthos - I understood. And I love him too. A-"

The hand cuts off all air and all chance of speech, his lungs shut into closed circuits, his eyes open wide as if that will help air in. "Will you for once in your fucking life shut the fuck up, I should have done this to you years ago just to get some peace-"

Aramis can hear the thickening of the beating of his blood in his ears, like water pulsing, and no breath, no breath, but Athos is very close, he feels the press of a pointed tooth to the flesh of his cheek -

Athos pulls back with a stunted cry, and Aramis' head smacks back into the wall with the great heave of his incoming breath. He chokes on it, coughs and hunches himself, trying to tend to his lungs gagging on air, and from the far end of the freezer he hears Athos, frantic, saying, "I don't think that. I never think that. I don't want to hurt you. I never think about hurting you."

Aramis tries to muffle down his coughing, croaks, "I know," and coughs some more, eyes watering, frustrated with needing to speak. "I kn-ow. S'the drug. S'only the . . ."

He can hears Athos' hands moving, moving something out there in the dark, the wreckage of the broken furniture. He wheezes some more, rasps, "What are you doing?"

"I can't trust myself. And I can't move the door. Can't - can't do anything sustained, my mind just - there's too much - frenzy - towards you. Bastards. They knew - bastards."

Aramis whispers, "I'm sorry, Athos," because those vampires knew what they were doing when they drugged Athos and threw the exorcist who smelled of him into a cage with him. They intended for Athos to lose his mind and kill him and then have to live with that, and Aramis makes all the worst of this possible, Aramis' relative fragility is always, always a problem for his lovers . . .

Athos says, voice low, "Don't tell me it will be alright." and - there's a weird sharp sound, a jerk in Aramis' left leg, metal and - meat -

His voice comes strangled with panic "Athos - ?"

"Just my leg," Athos rasps. "I used a chair leg. To pin me. I'm going to fight this. I can't, I can't hurt you-"

Aramis' head reels, pain and fear and nausea as well now; "Did you just impale yourself to the floor?"

"If I say things - ignore them, it's not me, it's not-"

"I know it's not you," Aramis says, and it chokes in the tender flesh inside his throat. "I know you, I know it's not you -"

"Don't let me hurt you. Don't - tell me it's alright. Fight me. Aim for the eyes."

"I can't even see your eyes, love. And they're far too pretty to hurt."

"Aramis -"

"It will be alright." Aramis says, as firmly as his bruised throat can manage. "It will always be alright between us, whatever happens. We understand each other." He presses his hand to his heart, feels the beat, beat, beat, knows Athos feels it as well. "Please remember that. If it goes wrong - if I'm - afraid -"

"Aramis -"

"- it's only me being a wimp about the pain. I still know it's not you. I still don't blame you. It'll be alright. Whatever happens, it will be alright."

He hears an odd scraping noise, feels a strange lancing feeling in his leg; Athos twisting on the metal he's stabbed through himself. "It's too hot, I feel sick," Athos says, voice thick and low, and he swallows, something Athos never has need to do. His body as he knows it has been stolen from him, replaced by this traitorous thing that needs too much, Aramis feels sick for not being able to help him in this. "Aramis . . ."

"It's alright." Aramis wishes he could see him, could reach him, to stroke his hair; his own voice comes too dry. "It's alright, Athos."

Heavy and ill, "I do love you."

He never says that. He never needs to. When he feels it particularly fiercely, Aramis' knees get weak; he never needs to be told it.

He whispers, more than a whisper is not required, Athos can hear even his heartbeat, "I love you too."

*

Athos is breathing too hot and too fast, skin crawling with heat, he thinks he's even sweating. It's disgusting. It's disgusting, how a vampire could willingly do this to themselves -

Hell, fool, cretin, he's no better than them. He's done it to himself before.

Before. The true before, his only previous brush with werewolf blood, over a century ago, before the musketeers, long before Aramis. A time he no longer thinks of, a time when he wasn't who he is today. Before Athos had two heartbeats to mind, and one so cheerfully quick, he was a different person, someone else entirely, someone he can in this second life forget.

The sense of disgust he feels in his own body, while overwhelming, he knows can be turned into utter ecstasy by only acting on it. In the act of violence, of taking, it will feel sublime. His fingers hurt to claw something bloodily open, his tongue throbs sand-dry with wanting to lick up its insides. Human blood, while he's as high as this, would taste beyond description, almost beyond bearing, and at the other side of this freezer there's a helpless human he already knows the taste of, his tongue already feels the weight of his warm silken blood on it, his scent is like a summoning . . .

He puts his hand to the metal spine of a chair leg stabbed through his thigh, and forcibly twists his leg on it. The pain spikes and bubbles through his over-lively system, a distraction but not much of one (he feels Aramis jolt to it, silent but tense), so he closes his fingers against the surface of the floor and presses down as if putting claws through butter; the concrete holds for a moment before it begins to pop, to crack, to allow him to force his fingers in.

He doesn't want it to be concrete. He wants it to be Aramis' ribcage, and then the bile rises again - he didn't know his body still even had any bile in it after all these centuries - and he roars before he can tell himself not to, and feels the shocking, the forced relaxing of Aramis' body against the wall again.

He's lost all track of time. He has no idea how long they've been in here. Hours. It feels like days, so it must be hours. Rationality, frail little flame in the seething darkness of his mind, tells him that Porthos and d'Artagnan would have come looking for them, so it never could be days. But every moment is one moment closer to Athos losing all control and wrenching free of the spike through his leg and falling on Aramis teeth-first -

He doesn't look at him. It's too much to look at him, hunched to the wall like that, eyes closed against the dark, legs pulled in to make himself smaller, less of a target. Athos doesn't even need to look at him, he's already drunk from him; he can feel in the strain of his neck how his head is slumped and has been for too long to his shoulder, he's felt the odd moments when he's slipped into a doze - never for long, but it is an indication of how long they've been in here, that Aramis feels the need to sleep. Well, they were up most of the night before this, and humans are weak. Hours. They wouldn't be missed until Porthos and d'Artagnan called for them, and they know how long it took them to find this place, this individual freezer. And the part of him that is still him feels how cold Aramis' skin has got, normally he would take off his jacket to put over him, to protect his fragile exorcist from a world that can kill him only by shifting its temperature. Normally Athos feels a permanent fear for what could hurt Aramis on any street of Paris. Now . . .

Now he wants to tear strips off his skin and lick up the welling blood underneath, it would taste like life and his pain would feel so beautiful to him.

He thinks the drug is fading. He tells himself that, manically, that the worst of it is done. There are stab-marks in the concrete all around him where he's clawed the floor up screaming at Aramis to come here and have his eyes bitten out, screamed at him the blood he owes Athos because Athos is Athos and what the fuck sort of insect does Aramis think he is to deny him, screamed at him that he deserves it, bitch that he is, slut to his blood as he is -

Feeling how that affected Aramis - feeling how the blood in Aramis turned its tide against him, because Athos has drunk from him and Aramis' blood turned servant on the inside, tried to make Aramis drop forward on his knees and crawl to him to be killed, the way Aramis twisted his body to the wall and fought it shaking and shocked and he felt, in that moment, more afraid than Athos has ever felt him and never knew he could feel - oh.

Oh.

It felt like orgasm.

And then the horror and the shame nearly choked him, he felt his eyes wet, he didn't even know his tear ducts still worked. And he released Aramis, who slumped his shoulder to the wall shaking uncontrollably even when he found the strength to tell Athos, voice small as dust and trembling, that it was alright.

It would be so easy to kill him, Athos' eyes could almost sting again for thinking it, it would be so easy, it would hardly take a thing. A single squeeze of the throat to snap it. The slit of the thumb at the right pulse point. His ribs would break so easily apart to allow Athos' hand in to take his heart, and his feeble little skull wouldn't protect his brain for a moment. Athos has always feared how easy Aramis' death could be - vampires and werewolves but then there is sickness, and stairs to trip on, and speeding cars - he could be gone in a fraction of a second and Athos would feel it, and now he's the thing that in a fraction of a second could give Aramis not even the chance to scream before he was gone. And Athos loves him. That warm heartbeat he cradles to his own dead chest like a blessing; he feels who Aramis truly is, and he loves him, and love . . .

He's never really trusted love, since her. But he trusts Aramis, since Aramis wouldn't be capable of lying to Athos anyway, and wouldn't, regardless; and he knows now that nothing could have stopped him from killing a human under these circumstances but that. The drug, his own nature blown only to a larger proportion, brought to its own sensible conclusion, that wants Aramis messily, shriekingly dead. But love balks in his throat at the thought, love stumbles, love finds no logic in a world without Aramis in it. Love trips him just enough to make him hesitate, and in hesitation he can hold himself, he can stop himself. For now. Always, always, only for now, and that there's another moment and then another and then another to fight it through, that is what could kill Aramis, the slow drip of every moment wearing Athos' strength down to Aramis' death.

Hours, he thinks. It feels like days. But he's past the worst. They're past the worst. He can hold on now. He can hold on, he can, he has to, his Aramis . . .

They ought to be horrified at either Athos or Porthos claiming ownership over Aramis, knowing Aramis helpless against either of them if they really did decide to take him. But Aramis loves it, in a way they probably shouldn't love so much in return, and it's hardly like it only works one way. There's never been another human being alive who could snap his fingers to summon both a werewolf and a vampire to do his bidding. And he is Athos' Aramis. He will never let another vampire have this hold over him, would never allow another vampire to be able to be put into this position of power over him. There isn't a single other vampire he would trust trapped down here with Aramis and high on werewolf blood, not even those in the department, not even Ninon, because they don't love him. They won't hesitate on the thought of the loss of him. Their shame at their own behaviour might give them pause but not in a way Athos could trust, Marcel has already taught him that. He doesn't for one moment believe that he could have been strong enough to hold on this long if he didn't simply need Aramis so much himself.

Aramis shifts awkwardly against the wall - Athos can feel how his muscles sit sore from the concrete, and the throb of his bruises is bothering him; and he's thirsty, silly human thing to require water at a time like this but he does. Stupid human weakness; he stamps down on that thought again, no, it is not their fault, their need, any more than his own is, and he concentrates on Aramis' thirst to distract himself from his own, to tamp down for one moment longer the burning want of his throat for Aramis' clean hot blood.

Aramis murmurs, a little stupid with dark and lack of sleep and his voice sore from lack of water, "You're thinking about me."

Athos breathes, breathes, it feels so strange to do it so often, his mouth feels worn by air. "You're thirsty."

"I'll live." Aramis says, and then starts laughing, and then his stomach drops on the inappropriateness of that - Athos can feel his sudden guilt - and he stops; and Athos thinks about dragging him across the floor by the skull and holding him down and opening his throat with his teeth, and says instead, "I'm glad this is so amusing to you."

His head is pounding, he doesn't remember ever having a headache in his life. It's horrible. Being human must be horrible, how can Aramis even enjoy living? He'd be doing him a favour by no, fuck, no, no. But the headache must mean the blood is wearing off. It must mean he'll get his own right mind back soon, mustn't it? Unless - this is his right mind, this is just who he is, who he's always been, he's a man who wants to pin Aramis underneath his weight and hurt him as he kills him, as much as he can -

Aramis clears his throat, rasps, "You sound more sane."

"I still want to kill you."

"Is that so unusual?"

"That is not funny."

"- no. It's not, that was - I'm sorry."

Silence, but for the sound of Aramis breathing, and that horrible too-loud sound of his own breathing. He wouldn't hear it if he was only sucking the blood clean out of Aramis' throat. He grips the spike of metal instead, and forces his leg to twist on it, and feels Aramis' muscles clamp in the sympathy of feeling it but it's still better than acting on what he really wants to do right now.

"It feels so good. It's not just the taste, there's a texture, so warm and smooth, it feels like bliss on the tongue, and somehow it's sweeter when they scream. - did I say that out loud?"

"I've gone selectively deaf, love, I have no idea."

"It's been years," Athos says, and has to swallow again, saliva is disgusting, vampires really shouldn't have to deal with this. "It was so long. Until you, I hadn't - any human. I really hadn't. Not for - I don't know how many decades."

"I know. You've been so . . . I know most vampires can't. I know how strong you've been."

"I want you again. I know what you taste like." His own heartbeat pulses heavy and alien as the ocean in his ears, and the words, the honesty, it just comes, he has no strength against what blood is already in his system, some werewolf and him. "I'm always going to want you again."

"It's alright." All Aramis sounds is so tired. "I know you don't want to want to, on another level. And it really wouldn't be the worst way to go anyway."

"I could make it- no. No. I don't-"

"I know. It's alright. I love you."

"I'm a monster."

"Humans are no better. And you're my monster, Athos, just as I am yours."

"You don't believe you're on a level with me. The worst I can say of you is that you're irritating as all fucking hell sometimes and I will regret saying that when I'm sane again, but Aramis, for Christ's sake, you don't even know how many people I've killed."

Aramis mumbles, voice dry with thirst and exhaustion, "I know that. And I know how people think of me for wanting you anyway. And I know they think I should care about it but I don't. All I ever see is how hard you try, and how hard it is sometimes, and I love you for it. I couldn't be a vampire. I have no self-control, I would be - I would be monstrous, it would be the right word. But you're a good man. You manage to do more than just not being a monster, you're good, you help people. I admire you every day." He settles his cheek closer to the cold of the wall, Athos feels the dull echo of it, Aramis nuzzling his weary body to what comfort he can get. "So it wouldn't seem so evil, to me, if I had to die because you had to drink. I wouldn't blame you. I know it's the blood, not you."

Athos lays there, body still thrumming, hand still on the metal spike he's put through his own thigh, and he stares at the ceiling overhead. He doesn't know, when Aramis blames the blood and not him, which blood he means; the werewolf blood that has turned him mad with his own nature, or Aramis' blood, still there in Athos' body, a red glow in his heart ever-tempting him with the warm of Aramis' throat for his teeth, like a candle flame glowing through glass, like the light caught inside polished amber.

He says, rationality might have stopped him but Athos and rationality are not on good terms when it seems so very reasonable to start slitting Aramis' arteries one by one, "I will always want to drink from you again. Always." In a whisper, it gnaws at his intestines with the wanting of it, "Always always always."

"It's alright."

"It is fucking not alright."

"It is to me." Aramis sounds tired, and thirsty. What if they don't find them? Aramis will die of lack of water - or lack of air, there can't be an endless supply in here - sooner or later, sooner in the grand scheme of things, and Athos will go mad from boredom and loss, trapped in this freezer with his lover's cold body.

There'd be no reason not to drink from him then, wouldn't there?

Athos says, "I don't trust my thought processes right now."

"A lesson in empathy," Aramis offers, drowsy in the dark. "Rarely do I ever trust mine."

"You know that I love you. Even - even when I want to murder you by screaming centimetres - I only want that now, that's not -"

"I know."

"- I always love you, even though -"

"Athos, I know. I'm in your heart, you know I know."

Athos is silent, contemplating that, the way he knows what Aramis feels of him because he feels Aramis feeling it. "Then you've felt all of this," he says. "How badly I have wanted to - hurt you."

"And I know how alien it is to you. It's the drug, Athos, not you."

Quietly, hissed with the fierceness of how bright it burns in him, "It is me."

"No." Aramis says, calm and weary. "I've never felt it in you before. What I feel from you is - calm, often. The calm of your attention on me, curiosity, you're never sure what I'm going to do next, I like that. Concern. More often than for merely the physical."

Athos lowers his head at that, and keeps one hand on the metal impaled through his thigh, and concentrates on his too-much breathing.

"Fear," Aramis says. "More often than you'd ever say out loud but I feel it, whenever we face - the things we face. Tenderness." Aramis swallows, in the dark, Athos hears and feels it as if in his own throat. "This overwhelming tenderness, I - do you wonder, you touch me in bed and I know I just - puddle, I just melt into this . . . all I can do is moan, because I can't get through how entirely you . . . Athos, this isn't you. I know you. I know you think you don't know yourself, I do. And I'm safe with you. I know when I'm not safe. I'm safe with you."

Athos lays there, on his back with a thin metal pole stabbed through his leg, and thinks of Aramis in bed, how active he is with Porthos, how confidently he pursues the pleasure out of him, but then when Athos puts his hands on Aramis he feels the reflexive spasm of ecstasy, Aramis' body spills back to his hands, his breath flutters, all his nerve endings inflame and quiver, he's aroused beyond response by a single palm to his naked back. And now thinking of it Athos is turned on, and his own sickly blood feels warmer in him, at the thought of the defenceless body hunched against the wall he can have, in every way he wants, if he only takes it.

He turns his cheek to the gritted surface of the ruined concrete, digs it in and tries to concentrate on the hard cold of it against his face. Aramis, seeming to understand he's said the wrong thing, whispers, "It's alright. We're through the worst of it. You can do this. But it's alright, everything, Athos, everything is alright."

Athos cannot now allow himself to face it, he knows he won't be able to fight what it precipitates. But if they get out of this alive - if Aramis gets out of this alive - Athos is going to be so angry with him it will be hard to speak, for him to have ever, ever articulated the lie that whatever Athos does to him, whatever he does to him, that is okay.

"They'll come for us." Aramis mumbles. "Porthos will smell us."

Athos stares through the ceiling of the freezer and thinks - god, Porthos. Porthos will find them. Vampires can't hear a heartbeat through these things but Porthos will find their trail - certainly Aramis' trail, his own much less distinguishable - stopping outside this door. Porthos will find them. Thank Christ for Porthos . . .

And then the door clicks, and Athos hears all the air hush in the break of its seal, and if it's those vampires returned to see what they've done -

Aramis has to squint his eyes almost closed against the harshness of the light after he can't have seen a single thing, not so much as a glint, for hours, and shields himself from the light with a raised arm; Athos has to narrow his own eyes against the harshness of it when the dark has been so pleasant. Over-stimulated by even his own skin and breath right now, dealing with the light as well as everything else would have been unbearable -

"What the fuck," Porthos says, and d'Artagnan says, "His - your leg, what-"

"Get him away from me," Athos roars, as d'Artagnan tries to step forwards for Athos' side and Porthos immediately has him pinned back behind his own arm, Athos can hear how alert his heartbeat has gone as he growls, low and confused and threatened, "What - ?"

Porthos' growling is much less on Athos' attention than the scent of d'Artagnan's blood in his body, hot and young and healthy.

Aramis rolls his aching neck back to his shoulders, grimacing, says, "They drugged Athos. He's not - he needs to be somewhere quiet and calm to get through this. And I need a drink." He swallows again, says weary and wry, "Water or vodka is all good to me right now."

"Call for back up," Athos spits, werewolves are so fucking slow. "Call for back up, now, get him out of here and seal me in and call for back up to deal with me -"

Aramis tries to stand, using the wall, and Athos feels the ache of his legs, their refusal to easily bear him, he's barely moved in his effort to be as unobtrusive to Athos' mania as he could, to not trigger Athos' desire for his blood, and his body's mutinying at being forced into movement now. "Porthos -" he says, and Porthos is still for one second, then growls to d'Artagnan, "Go call for back up." and steps in, carefully around Athos who really has no strength not to feel contempt for him right now, the light and Porthos and d'Artagnan turning up is more than he can cope with on top of not murdering Aramis, everything is too much stimulation. Aramis touches Porthos' arm when he gets close enough and Porthos just yanks him close in one arm, ignores the stumbling of Aramis' ankles and more or less carries him past Athos, his own body between the two of them, and Athos feels the straining ache of Aramis' want to touch Athos, to reassure him -

"I'd open your throat if you tried," Athos spits at him, despising him even for wanting it in these circumstances, no ability left to fight this. Porthos says nothing, but Athos can tell how stiff with fury he's moving, before Aramis says, "Ath-" and it's cut off by the door slamming on him.

Alone, in the dark, with his hand on the metal spike holding him to the floor, Athos draws his breath in through his teeth, too long and sharp, and hisses all the hatred in him loose.

*

In the department cell, sitting on the barely-padded shelf that acts as a bed, Athos keeps his head down, and listens to his breathing, slow as a dead ocean, and thinks that it feels like he's been in here for years, so it must be hours. His own heartbeat has been too unreliable to track time by as it's slowed from the drug that had three department vampires very carefully shepherding him from that freezer into a reinforced van, away from any humans, the department cleared of anyone he might hurt to bring him through to the cells. Given that - usually his heart is regular enough to track time by but not in the state it's been these last hours - he's listened instead to Aramis', because no distance, no number of walls between them, mutes that sound to him.

He's felt it quick with worry and hurry and argument, felt his stress and anger, felt for a long quiet period the slow of its sleep; Athos is willing to guess that a night has passed, since he was put into this cell, it's not just his own crazed mind adding the hours into days, it really has been a full night to force Aramis to sleep even through the stress of being parted from him. Because it is stressful, to Aramis, to be parted from Athos. He feels the distance from Athos far worse than Athos feels the distance between them, Aramis feels subtly uncomfortable when Athos is even through a wall, forced apart like this he's been forced to manage his own distress at it and hell every part of this - every part of this -

Athos can feel Aramis across any distance, through any walls. So he knows which human heartbeat is approaching him, easy and calm but eager for him, down the staircase, through the locked doors, down the corridor outside the cells. He knows whose key card has just let him in, who is pushing, with just enough effort, the great reinforced door aside.

"I brought you coffee," Aramis says. "From that place that has the beans you like. Treville says I should take you home, Porthos and d'Artagnan are finishing the paperwork."

Athos doesn't move from the bed, looks at Aramis standing there easy with a cardboard cup of coffee in each hand and says, "You shouldn't be here."

Of all fucking people, he shouldn't be here.

"It's out of your system," Aramis says with a shrug. "They'll probably make you talk to psych but they always make us talk to psych, I'm already booked in for next week. It doesn-"

"If it's not out of my system it's your fucking neck, Aramis-"

Aramis rolls his eyes - Aramis rolls his fucking eyes and Athos could put them out but - but even in his fury he does recognise that he finally means that metaphorically - and Aramis walks over like it's nothing, puts one of the cups beside Athos on the bed, and then lays his free hand over his own heart. Athos feels against Aramis' skin how warm it is, from the coffee, even through his shirt.

"Boom," Aramis says, eyes thoughtful on the ceiling. ". . . boom." He waits, patiently. "Boom."

Athos' heartbeat, measuring the slow pace of the centuries. Athos looks away from him, and says nothing, too angry to at first. Aramis sighs, moves the coffee cup along so he can sit beside him and crosses his legs, one ankle flicking in worry, for Athos not even looking at him.

"You know it was all my idiot fault anyway," he says. "If I hadn't let that vampire grab me -"

"It was not your fault. I was supposed to be watching you."

Aramis just shakes his head. "I need to stop bringing guns to supernatural fights. And no-one died, no-one's even hurt, so does it matter? We got them, by the way. Porthos and d'Artagnan did, Ninon's squad helped. Only one came in alive but we did get them, so there's that."

Athos' policeman's mind is interested now - he wants all the details, wants to know what all of that has been about from Marcel's drugging to that freezer - but he doesn't want to care about that right now, and he feels Aramis' amusement in knowing that he does.

"He won't talk," Aramis says, and takes a sip of his own coffee. "I don't know if motive matters all that much, anyway. I half think it was an advertisement, I mean, imagine if it'd gone the wrong way, if Marcel really had killed someone at that party. We couldn't keep it out of the newspapers, and then those idiots would be able to tell all their customers it was their stuff that did it, that it works like it should."

"What works?" Athos says, in as indifferent a voice as he can muster. Aramis smiles, watching him, utterly unafraid at his side.

"Synthetic werewolf blood. They'd - I don't know, they'd stolen it from a university lab, how to do it. They'd been interested in . . . look, I don't understand it. Chemistry. And those vampires decided they could make money from it."

"I really don't see the point." Athos says, not keeping all of the disgust out of his voice. "It's not just the madness of it vampires want, it's the very fact that it's werewolf blood. The murder is part of it. Just the effects . . ."

"They're a different generation," Aramis says. "You know they do things differently now."

Yes, Athos knows that. They were all so young to him, very recent turnees, and none of the old ways mattered the right way to them. They put their hands on Aramis in front of him and meant nothing in particular from it, after all, when vampires of Athos' 'generation' could only mean the most utter insult, handling what belongs to him. But to them it was just a way of subduing Athos, it didn't mean anything else. Aramis as Athos' property meant little to them, not the way it does to Athos' kind.

But Athos isn't one of those vampires. Athos has never been one of those vampires -

"Come home with me," Aramis says, gently wheedling. "You know I don't sleep properly when you're not there, and I could really use a nap."

"I could have killed you." Athos says. "I could have killed you and enjoyed doing it. I want you to care about that."

"I care that they did that to you against your will. It never would have been you if you hurt me."

"You kept insisting to me that it was alright, it was fucking not alright, if I had done to you what I wanted - do you understand what I would have done to you, what of that is alright -"

"You didn't do anything to me." Aramis says. "You didn't so much as bruise me, you did nothing to me. And do you think any other vampire on the planet could have managed that? You had every excuse, every excuse, no-one would ever have blamed you, you wouldn't have lost your badge, no-one would ever have held you responsible -"

"Porthos." Athos says, very low, and Aramis gives an irritated wave of his hand, Porthos is different.

"- you had every excuse to kill me and get away with it and you didn't, and I know you know that not even another department vampire could have stopped themselves from doing that. So yes, Athos, it would have been alright if you hadn't been able to help it because it could never have been your fault, if you'd broken it would have been because no-one wouldn't have broken, no-one. That is why I didn't care about that. Any other vampire would have killed me and enjoyed the hell out of it, I know that, you know that. But you didn't. Everything you could have done and got away with and you didn't, and that is why I would never care if you did, because it would have to be under circumstances . . . Athos, you weren't in your right mind and you still . . . don't you understand that I'm proud of you?"

"- proud." Athos is as first too shocked to be angry, and then too angry to think. "Proud -"

"Do you think about how I see this? Do you think about what our relationship looks like from my side?"

"When I've not been forcibly drugged I clearly have too much of my right mind to view it how you do -"

"Well, let's try and clear it up," Aramis says, in one of his most infuriatingly reasonable voices, and he takes a sip of coffee. "So this is how it looks to me. I'm dating an addict. And when you're dating an addict, you are always dating an addict. It doesn't matter how long they're clean for, they're an addict every day of their lives, and it's nice to forget that for long periods but it never stops it being true." Aramis looks at him with his dark, focused eyes, reading every twitch of Athos' face as closely as he reads his heartbeat. "They gave you means and motive and a get-out-of-jail-free card, and you still didn't fall off the wagon. So yes, Athos, I'm proud. I couldn't have done that, I know I'm too weak. And I love you for it, dearly, I know you can tell that, I can't believe how strong you are, I'm proud of you. Does that make more sense?"

Athos is silent. He's silent for a long time, because vampires are patient, and don't hurry along to the quick-tripping beat of short-lived human hearts. Then he glances down, and picks up the cup of coffee Aramis brought him, and takes a slow drink.

He says, and admitting this is not easy, "Not all of what I said was just the drug. That I said it was because of the drug, I acknowledge that, but it wasn't all untrue." He sits, steady, drawing his strength in, then turns to look Aramis in the eye. "I will always want to drink from you again. Always. You have no idea how it . . . I can feel your pulse, and when I let myself, I want to."

"It's alright," Aramis says, gently. "Because you won't. Because if you didn't under those circumstances, you never would."

Athos says nothing. He understands what humans mean by being tired, at this moment. It's not just that he hasn't slept - it would take a few weeks of sleeplessness before that troubled him - but he just feels a weariness at all the fighting he's done in the last few hours, how much it's all cost him, when all he's really wanted - more than acting on his very worst instincts, more than not acting on his very worst instincts - is to go home to the apartment he shares with a werewolf, his exorcist, and his apprentice, and rest.

Aramis rubs his arm, says quietly, "Come home with me. You need to shower all that cement dust off."

"I ruined these trousers." Athos says, and can't even summon any emotion at how typical of their job this is. "This was a good suit."

"We'll get you another," Aramis says. "I could have a go at mending them, but it's a pretty uneven tear. And the blood'll be a bitch to get out."

Athos looks at him again, then lays a hand over his, on Aramis' coffee cup, because he needs to say this. "I'll always want to," he says, because he can't say anything else in honesty, watching his eyes. "I never will."

It has to be said. It has to be promised. Aramis is dating an addict; the promise between them matters, even if they both know it's more for Athos' sake than his.

"I know." Aramis says, and kisses him, once and quite chaste, just love and trust, on the mouth. "Now come home. We'll fill you in on the rest of it after you've showered and I've slept. And don't worry about splashing, because Porthos is on bathroom cleaning duty for two months."

Athos understands a lot from the way he says that. He understands that Porthos probably did not react well to the scene he walked in on, Aramis huddled against the wall and Athos half-mad with the desire to kill him, and Aramis - Athos remembers how angry his heart flared while they were apart - was probably defending Athos furiously until he managed to shame Porthos into this punishment for what he might have said. And it's not like Athos has a lot of experience showering, requiring it as rarely as he does, so probably it is a good thing if no-one minds if he makes a mess.

Aramis stands, and offers Athos a hand; Athos looks at it, and always Aramis needs to move so quickly, when Athos could take some more time to sit here, and adjust to his own mind again. Instead he takes Aramis' hand and allows himself to be tugged to his feet, coffee cup in one hand, and Aramis checks his face that way he does for one moment, head tipped like an inquisitive bird, before he puts his arm around him and hugs him in, nose nuzzling into Athos' hair, his body unafraid pressed to Athos', his heart beating sturdy and certain to his side. Athos' free hand finds his back, and after a moment, presses, and his eyes close.

Aramis pats his back, and says into his hair, "I'm sorry. You hate psych."

Athos says, "You hate psych."

"This isn't a job to sign up to," Aramis says, contemplatively, "unless you're pretty confident you can already deal with pretty fucked up stuff." He leans his head back, watching Athos' eyes. "Alright?"

"Yes. Let's go home." Athos turns him with a hand on his waist, and they walk together out of the cell, Athos taking another sip of coffee. There'll be debriefing tomorrow, putting his statement together for Treville, then back out to work. Aramis has probably already done it all. He draws his neck high, and says, "Presumably the entire department will stare as I go past."

"Athos," Aramis says. "You're the vampire they filled with werewolf blood and left in a box with a human he didn't eat. You're a legend. Plus, the way I tell the story, you come out looking really very terribly noble."

"I laid on my back with a metal pole through my leg clawing the concrete up and sweating. It's the single most undignified thing I've ever endured."

"I thought it was very heroic," Aramis says. "So does everyone else, since I got first say in what happened. It's Christmas, let me give you this." He goes quiet, as they walk towards the door to the staircase out of the cells, then says, "I was scared. Not because you might have killed me, but - seeing you like that, knowing what it meant to you, knowing I couldn't do anything. It unnerved me." His smile to Athos is a little uneven. "You never could be in control every single day of my life, Athos. We both just have to deal with that."

Every single day of his life, Athos thinks. The assumption being, of course, that Athos will be there for every day of Aramis' life, and yet they never should put their faith in the reverse. Because Aramis has no idea, none, of how little strength Athos would have for the afterwards, if the bouncing rhythm of Aramis' heart in his own chest ever stopped.

He wonders if Aramis thinks they're going to go home and have sex, to cement something between them again. He needs to put Aramis off until d'Artagnan and Porthos get back, because Athos doesn't, yet, trust himself on Aramis like that without Porthos there, just in case. He knows he and Porthos probably have some refinding of their equilibrium to do after this, but he's very grateful for him, when he's feeling weak. He loves Aramis, loves him, and knows that Aramis views what's happened as evidence that he's safer with no-one than Athos. But Athos doesn't feel safe, yet, and wants Porthos there, for when Aramis' body sags to his, helpless in his hands, just in case. He needs the both of them in moments like that.

He needs a lot of other things too. The vampire they brought in wouldn't talk, and Athos is convinced he could get him to talk but there are laws Athos is obliged to follow, which leaves them empty on motive, empty on any sense of what they were really trying to do when they spiked a bag of department blood. Athos doesn't understand recently turned vampires, anyone turned since the beginning of the twentieth century really doesn't act the way vampires have always acted, but then - they did this to themselves. It used to be a matter of, well, blood. Vampirism was passed down the family, with the pedigree. But vampires started loosening their standards, turning those from outside the aristocracy, turning any-bloody-one it feels like nowadays, and the new breed of vampires don't come from the same history, the same knowledge of how to behave and what not to do. The way they act is not something Athos understands. Why would they spike a bag of department blood? Why would any of the old aristocratic vampires put in the effort to admit that something like the department even exists?

That's what disturbs him. Vampires have always moved in their own known circles, ignoring everything on the outside. The modern vampire does things differently, and if vampires start paying attention to the world beyond themselves and their food source -

Well. That might explain twenty dead exorcists in a forest, and Aramis walking dazed from the carnage.

Hand on the door handle to take them upstairs, Aramis glances at him, eyebrow quirked, a silent, Alright?

Athos listens to Aramis' heartbeat, fearless and even. He listens to his own plodding behind it from another century, trying to keep up, trying to make sense of the modern world.

He takes a sip of coffee. Aramis smiles, and opens the door.

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