rainjoyswriting: (kurt!)
[personal profile] rainjoyswriting
Fray, Musketeers short, affinityverse (best catalogued in my memories) <3 Haven't updated this since *December*, I know, and I'm still working out how to post this verse given I haven't transferred everything properly across yet . . .

Disclaimer: Were I sued, all I have to give is chronic pain and some cocktail recipes.

Rating: Probably R

Warnings and spoilers: The main list's on part one, read sensibly. Bit . . . sad, this one. It's uphill before we get to freewheel down.

Summary: There is nothing so isolating as knowing everybody's thoughts but your own.


Note: Any superpower rather than psychic abilities. *Any* of them.







Richelieu's rift was the last of his circle's to break, he never knew what living without a completed circle was like. Flea is somewhere very far away - Aramis takes care not to let himself think of where she might be - and inaccessible when Aramis' rift doesn't simply dump him into one of her dreams unrequested. There's no-one he can talk to about this who would understand it, he's certainly not got the words to make it understood by anyone who doesn't live with it daily. It can't be understood in words; that is rather the point.

Church is becoming difficult. He feels the flutter of other people's attention, wherever it's focused, at the edges of his own mind. He hears the muffled whisper of a chain of thought. He feels the stain in the air of guilt or satisfaction or simple content. He stares at Père Donaldson very hard and focuses on not flinching at sudden voices in his ear, at saturating emotions coming from elsewhere like coloured ink dripping into the clear water of his mind, at the rising like a tide of someone else's memory underneath his own rotting floorboards. Athos or Porthos sit beside him, Athos stonily unmoving throughout the service, Porthos awkwardly standing and sitting a good second behind everyone else in the congregation for whom these acts are as predictable, as automatic, as the flowing of the lungs. Aramis just has to pretend that everything is fine. He's bad at pretending, but he is now getting enough practice to hope to improve.

They won't let him, his circle, go almost anywhere but church now, and so he can't admit to them how unsettling it's becoming. They'll stop him going even to church and he'll have nothing, then. He'll have nothing but his episodes and the four walls of the house by the sea, and he doesn't want to suffocate under nothing but his rift without even the solace of church until he has literally no other choice. They sometimes let him walk to the beach, mostly at unsociable times when they won't meet dog walkers, but very little else. He does understand. He doesn't blame them. They're only trying to keep him safe, him and the people he can't help his rift reaching out for.

It makes him feel queasy, what his rift is now capable of, the ways he's no longer strong enough to stop it.

Spilt water cannot be scooped up with bare hands, but it feels like it's all Aramis has left. His rift is out, water stains on the whole world, and he can't drag it back in anymore. He's always found water an easy trick, water comes to his bidding like the most loyal of dogs and still it does, and he loves it for it; but the psychic part of his powers, the part of his rift that long ago learned how to use human intelligence and agency to make humans suffer, that is stronger than he is, stronger by the day. Not yet enough to break, though he feels the strain in the panic of his heart's flutter that it wouldn't take much now. But strong, and growing daily. Strong, and every episode weakens him more.

He never meant to be this for them. He would give anything, to not be this for them.

It's constant, and upsetting, and he knows there's more they're upset about but he doesn't understand it and they don't talk about it and he's afraid that he's forgetting things worse, that he's doing or saying things - they're doing or saying things - and he just doesn't remember it, too often. But he touches the oven door handle and his back seizes with the contented humming of a woman who hasn't touched it in a decade; he lays on the grass in their own back garden and comes up with a spasm at the final breath of a man dropping the spade from his hands as his heart dropped its beat as he crumpled out there, years ago. And sometimes his circle look harassed, and guilty, and stony, and he knows it's his fault, and he doesn't have a fucking clue why.

Keep going. Keep smiling. It's d'Artagnan or death now, he knows there are no other options left, and there is no point getting upset and upsetting his circle at simply how the world is.

But, fuck everything, it's cold.

It's always cold. It's in him like the frost bit the marrow of his bones, the needles of ice won't come out. Worst when his breath whispers out white but never, never warm anymore, he hardly remembers what warm feels like. He wraps blankets around his shoulders in the house, tucked above his elbows like shawls, he steals another of Athos' scarves - blue, lovely as the summer sky, it makes his head drop to the floor like a bowling ball but once he's been picked up again, dizzy and ill, he knows in some urgent, anxious way not to let go of the scarf. It's his now. Athos won't mind. He has so damn many of them anyway.

Distracted, rubbing his own arms for warmth as Porthos cooks and Athos at the kitchen table watches Aramis with razor-blue eyes over his newspaper, he thinks that it's not like he can go looking for d'Artagnan, not now it's desperate enough that they need to. Once he could risk it but not anymore. The brain in his head is ready to explode like an egg hit by a musket ball, he won't survive it. He barely survives the episodes he's having, he can't make them worse. Maybe they should have let him search for their fire affinity more while he still could. Maybe he'd never even have made it this far if they did.

Maybe God has it all in hand, and all they have to do is be patient.

He's sorry, that's all. Perpetually, queasily he's sorry, for doing this to them, for not knowing what he's doing to them, all he knows is how much of a mess he is - weak and confused and cold and always needing minding and warming and protecting from himself - all he knows is that his agency has reduced too far, he's no longer truly a person, he's become a thing to be worked around, a burden. They're reluctant to get up in a morning until they have to follow him downstairs to stop him making breakfast because it's three AM and it turns out they're right and he - knew it was morning, and now it isn't, and he freezes on how uncertain the entire world is. They interrupt him mid-conversation to ask him who he's talking to and suddenly he sees the world through their eyes and there's nobody there, who the hell is he talking to? And they help him to the bed after his episodes, they clean up the nosebleeds and vomit, they wipe the drool away, they never mind, they're never impatient, and he feels as small as a needle's point that they don't. He is sorry. They won't let him say it. He knows how fucked up it is, how unremittingly shitty a situation it is, that he can't feel better unless they let him say it but they would only feel worse if he did.

How can they love him? What is there left to love?

But they sit around him while he's frail in the bed and they shoot the shit like nothing is happening, and it's easier to forget how his head hurts and grinds, easier to slip back into teasing and grinning and making Porthos laugh and Athos give that wry amused sigh. When he's bored and miserable beyond endurance Porthos breaks and brings him rubber bands to keep him amused, and Athos says, "For fuck's sake Porthos." as Aramis pings his hipflask over on the desk from his sniper's nest of the bed. When he's strong enough to stand, Athos allows him to wash his hair, not a common treat for Aramis, who massages at his scalp in the shower until he can see by the gritting of Athos' closed eyes how hard he's trying not to groan out loud.

He loves them, like an open wound he loves them, like a howl in the night he loves them, like a levee breaking. Maybe that's enough. He tries to think of the reverse, after all, tending them through his own deterioration and he can't, not for very long, he can't bear the thought of it, it punches the air from him. But he'd love them still, even if they forgot his face he knows he would. It's something to trust in; he wouldn't stop loving them so they don't stop loving him. It's a good thing that he's practised in faith. It's a hard thing to cling to, so aware of what he is now.

He's not right, and the little things creep up until they're big things; his hands are no longer sure enough to sew, and his aim doesn't fail but his strength to flick a rubber band does. He hides it as best he can, he doesn't want to scare them, stops even trying to put the lids back on bottles because he can't anymore, leaves them open to annoy his lovers when they tip over instead. He can't follow television programmes anymore, can't keep everything in the right order in his head, can't remember enough of it, the ending's there before the programme's halfway through. He gives up on reading anything but poetry. He can hardly keep more than the previous sentence in his head at the same time as the current one.

They still have sex, thank the Lord, because surely even he isn't enough of a sinner to suffer that deprivation. They're gentler with him than they once were, as if they might damage him, and he's aware that he's lost weight - he's embarrassed of his arms, where once he felt quite the opposite - and they won't tie him up or pull his hair anymore but he doesn't really mind. This is nice too. He still tries to make it very good for them, even tired as he is, and while sometimes he does feel himself getting a little foggy he focuses very hard on them and doesn't lose himself. He knows that the one thing that really could stop them having sex with him ever again is if halfway through he panicked, suddenly didn't understand what was happening and panicked and they had to pull themselves off him when he didn't understand why the fuck they were on him. They would never recover from that. He doesn't allow it to happen to them.

After sex they'll clean themselves up, Aramis in the bath and they might take turns to share or shower, but he no longer lounges as he likes because they won't let him run the water to the temperature he wants - there is no such thing as 'too hot', honestly - and he gets cold. Then, because Aramis is inevitably tired - always like a fog in his eyes he's tired - they tuck a hot water bottle to his chest and at his permanently cramping feet, roll him in blankets, bookend him under the duvet, and he sleeps. His dreams bother him, but he's too tired to try to avoid them.

He wakes one night, a fluttering somewhere outside the window distracting his consciousness alert, in pain.

He has to lay there staring stunned into the dark for some time, concentrating on his breathing while it feels like something hot and molten has replaced the marrow of his bones, God above it hurts. His shoulders worst, running down his arms, but he feels it down his spine and pouring through his hips and down his legs like poison in the veins, he's trying not to pant with it, it hurts like, hurts like -

His eyes have adjusted to the dark by then, and he stares, breathing sharp, at Athos' face on the pillow. Athos is sleeping as untroubled as Athos ever sleeps, sheer weight of alcohol weighing him to the mattress, frown on his forehead like granite. Aramis stares at him, breathing tight through the pain, and now he knows where it comes from.

Athos can sleep through it. Athos is drunk, and very used to sleeping through it. But to Aramis it's new and shockingly bright, too twisted in the joints like barbed wire, too unbearable to not mind.

. . . and he feels a prickle, in the back of his mind, some shifting pressure. Outside, the wind presses the window.

He tries to lift his head, can't, tries to get a hand to it but it's too tangled in all his blankets, he feels the air out there, feels the shifting of weather fronts, that's what woke him, the pressure the sky exerts, fuck, fuck, he's getting both of them, suddenly it's a panic in him, it's too much, there isn't enough of him to absorb both of them right now, it's too much, it's like they dropped a bowling ball into a bucket and all the water spilled loose -

And worse than that, worse than that, he isn't allowed. They haven't told him he's allowed to feel their feelings like this. And this is the worst part of his powers, worse than the episodes or other people's memories or him losing his own mind, this is what makes his gorge rise, and he needs it to stop.

Head fuzzed with three people's thoughts he manages to think through getting his hands free of the blankets, and picking himself carefully out from the bed between them. They're used to him shifting and moving in the night, he's always an unsettled sleeper unless he's fresh from an episode and down and besides, many nights he slithers over and under them to nuzzle himself to the place he wants to be; Athos is usually drunk and Porthos is always a heavy sleeper and they rarely notice. So he manages to climb over Porthos' side and steady himself on the floor without anyone waking, one hand on the bedside table and one on his head, his neck hurts his skull hurts his shoulders hurt and he feels the clouds passing in front of the moon out there, feels the air buffet his skin where the walls should be, and he stumbles into the bathroom, pushes the door closed with his body, locks it, leans there head hanging and panting and throbbing, mind and body.

Closed door between them, no longer touching them, the cold shivers his skin that there's silence in his mind, and they're out of his head. No. He's out of their heads, a place he has no right to be.

Silence, though, so pristine and white and relieving and cold.

The floor is hard with cold and he aches, aches with the after-effects, how the hell does Athos bear it? He staggers to the bath, holds its side to hold himself up, his limbs too weak to stay standing. When he looks into the bath, panting still, it's mostly dry, just a little moonlight catching a few drops of clinging water. It's good enough. Probably he isn't thinking clearly; he uses the towels for blankets, curls up in the bath and lets his bowling-ball head slump again, the silence of no other minds ringing off the tiles, to sleep.

He wakes, slow and confused, only when Porthos actually breaks the door in, the light is jerked on and Aramis lifts his head, dopey and exhausted, both of them are talking at him at once and he can't understand them, flinches for a second in the thought that they're mad at him -

A fraction of a second's hesitation and Athos' voice comes gentler, forcibly slowly, holding Porthos' wrist to keep him from grabbing for Aramis. "Do you know us?" Athos says, too deliberately, too afraid underneath it. "Aramis, do you know us?"

Curled up in the foetal position wrapped in towels and battered by how cold he is, all he can do is nod in a slightly stupid way. Of course he knows them. He always knows them.

"You're cold," Athos says. "We're going to warm you up. Is that alright?"

At first it's just too hard to think, so he nods, and Porthos, strangely, robotically hesitant, helps pick him out of the bathtub, between him and Athos they walk him limping with cold and cramped muscles and stiffness back to the bed. He's a little damp from the towels, and Athos talks him through putting a new sweatshirt on him - "I'm just taking this off because it's wet, Aramis, is that alright?" - when Aramis realises why they're being so standoffish, so over-careful with checking everything with him: they think he woke between them and didn't know why he was in a bed between two men, and tried to get away from them because of that. And that -

He tries to find the words to explain it, words are so hard, he's so tired. Eventually he slurs, "S'alright. I love you. I just - my head got - watery."

"Alright," Athos says, so gently. "That's alright."

But his hands linger on him longer then, in a way that feels so warming and good.

It's the morning before Aramis finds any coherence to tell them what really happened, Porthos playing with one of Aramis' hands, fingers stretching his apart to fit, and Athos says, "But you have to tell us, Aramis. You can't lock yourself alone in the bathroom, if you'd had an episode you could have seriously hurt yourself. If you need to be apart from us then you have to tell us, we need to be awake to know."

"You shouldn't have to get woken up," Aramis says, and looks at the duvet. "I know this sounds stupid, this was only how I was thinking, it's very hard to think with my head like that. But it was my fault. You two shouldn't have to get woken up for all my nonsense every time."

"Everythin' to do with you's always nonsense," Porthos says. "An' we don't mind bein' awake for that."

Aramis looks across at him, tired over the pillow, Porthos' fingers impossibly warm through his cold ones. "I'm sorry," he says. "I didn't mean to. My head just . . ."

"You couldn't stop your rift doin' that any more'n I could stop mine feeling the wind," Porthos says, and brushes a hand over Aramis' hair to flatten it to press a kiss through it. "Doesn't matter. Doesn't matter, not to us."

He closes his eyes and tries to cherish the forgiveness but mostly he just lays there so tired, so tired, it's d'Artagnan or death, he's no strength for much more of this . . .

Porthos' thumb strokes his eyebrow. "You hungry?" he says, low and gentle. "You could eat?"

Aramis shakes his head, sorry for it but he's not hungry, nausea's taken most of the appetite from him and sheer exhaustion the rest, he so rarely wants food now.

"What did they make you when you were a kid?" Porthos says, still in a gently wheedling voice. "When you were sick, back in the orphanage, what do they make for kids when they're sick back in Chile? My mum used to make me eggs."

Aramis is tired, and Porthos' hands on him are warm, and soothing. "What orphanage?" he mumbles.

"You-" Porthos says, and stops, and Aramis feels Athos' hand on his back, warm and firm and grounding. "The one you grew up in," Porthos says, more slow and deliberate now, like he's being careful of his words. "In Chile."

"Chilly," Aramis mumbles, and hunches his cold feet closer up under the duvet almost without thinking about it.

"Chile," Porthos says, sounding like he might get angry about this, Aramis can hear the wind creak at the window. "In South America, you were born there, you-"

"Porthos," Athos says, his voice soft with warning.

"South Amer . . ."

"You were born there, you remember this, the nuns looked after you -"

He feels a prickle of alarm at the back of his neck. "Nuns?"

Athos says, as if testing something, "In the New World, Aramis." and Aramis opens his eyes, the only part of him that feels too hot, and squints them awkwardly.

He can only say, too confused for anything else, "I've never been to the New World. I've hardly even left France, I can't even tell you how boring boats are. Nothing but the damn horizon for days . . ."

Athos puts a hand on Aramis' shoulder, says, "Rest a little longer." His voice is a warning, not aimed at Aramis. "You can eat something soon."

They're often angry and upset, not at him but he knows it's his fault. He squeezes his eyes closed to the pillow and wishes he only understood, he could stop doing it if he understood . . .

One morning, when the sun is very bright and the flowers are all gloriously arrayed to greet it, it snows.

Aramis watches from the kitchen window, trepidation biting his bones, as the snow settles on the neat vegetable patches, the rose bushes, the dahlias in shocking fuchsia and blushed pink that Porthos planted for him because he knows Aramis so loves flowers around the house. Moving around him in the kitchen Athos and Porthos ignore him entirely and clean up after breakfast, washing cups, the news is being read on the radio, and neither of them act like it's anything out of the ordinary that snow is settling on the grass in the middle of what Aramis knows ought to be summer.

Oughtn't it? They tell him it's summer a lot, and they know better than he does. But then he loses time, all the time. Maybe they told him that months ago, maybe it's not summer now, maybe - but the flowers. But the snow . . .

He feels the hairs wake and stiffen on his arms, feels the cold sharpen his skin. He blinks, at the snow turning the world blue and white; he blinks, and Porthos touches his arm, says, "You alright?"

He blinks. He blinks. He wishes, wishes the snow would go away.

"I'm fine," he says, and smiles for Porthos, but he can't keep his treacherous eyes from flicking back to the window, where the snow is harsh on the ground. Porthos follows his glance, says, "Come on through to the livin' room. We c'n play cards or -"

Aramis can't stop the noise from escaping him, the noise coming as if he's been punched in the stomach, when he sees the body face-down on the vegetable patch, and the scarlet stark on the snow, and he thinks no no no no not the bodies not the bodies -

Porthos pulls him forcibly around by both wrists so he has his back to the window and says, "What, what're you seein'?"

Aramis squeezes his eyes closed and presses his mouth tight and shakes his head, because nothing upsets them more than when he gets like this and he can't stop himself getting like this -

Athos' voice says quietly, "Aramis, your breath."

Aramis blinks, eyes open, looks at him, sees his own breath hush out white. Athos is looking him in the eye so evenly and so surely and so sadly, as he says, no judgement in his voice at all, "Snow?"

Aramis' spineless eyes flit to the window and he almost gags on the sight of more of them, more corpses out there stiffened in the cold where they were butchered. He squeezes his eyes closed instead because he can't bear it, and admits through his teeth and through breath he knows is misted white, "Bodies."

Porthos' hands are shockingly warm, and gripping his wrists too tight. Then they gentle, slowly as if it's a difficult thing to do, and he says, "Alright," so softly, and one hand leaves Aramis' wrist, and appears warm over his eyes. "Alright. Keep 'em closed, s'alright." His other hand has left his wrist and Aramis stands there feeling undefended now, jaw very tight and breath too quick in his nose, because nothing in the world exists except for Porthos' hand over his eyes and the dead men out there in the snow. "Keep 'em closed, good boy, you know there's no bodies," Porthos says, voice very low, and his hand is gone and then - fabric over his eyes, Aramis knows the scent of Porthos' bandana, hangs his head slightly as Porthos knots it at the back of his hair. "Just your rift bein' a dick, Aramis, there's no-one dead out there, alright, there's just us, summer out there, courgettes comin' up a treat, there's nothin' out there to hurt us . . ."

Everything that could hurt them right now is in Aramis' head, and that doesn't make them any safer.

In the living room, where they sit sandwiching him in all his blankets to try to keep out the cold blushing his skin blue, he hears rain's rapid, worried drumming off the windows and it disturbs him because snow doesn't sound like that. Porthos, he thinks. It was such a beautiful morning and Aramis upset Porthos and now -

Porthos will only be more upset if Aramis apologises. His cold hand squirms from the blankets, finds Porthos' warm palm, squeezes. Porthos' fingers squeeze back. Athos presses closer to his side, and Aramis tries not to shiver, tries to breathe softly so it might not show so harshly white.

The thing is, he knows what it feels like for them not to be here, and it's that feeling that makes his gorge rise when he gets like this. The cold is unpleasant; the bodies are upsetting. But what has him like a snare around the throat though is the feeling that he's already looked back for them and they've already abandoned him, like even as they hold his arms and warm him with their bodies, they've already left. It's the worst feeling, the only one he really can't pretend himself fine through and the best he can manage is being enraged instead of abject: They would never do that. They would never do that to him. Fuck the past and fuck the future too, they would never, never look him in the eye and leave him.

"We never have to be them," he says, and he knows the words will come out on frosted breath, cold on his lips. "We can make different choices. We're not them. We don't have to be them."

Athos says, "We're not who?" and Porthos says, "Alright Aramis, s'alright."

"We can be different," Aramis says, and his head is getting very heavy. "We can . . . anythin' we wan . . ."

There is a bird, somewhere, barking a repetitive note over and over; a gull, settling in for the night. He blinks his eyes open and the bedroom is almost dark, just a lamp on at the side of the bed where Athos is reading, and Porthos is at the desk with the laptop. The sky through the window is the deep-glowing blue of dusk, and though there is some cloud, Aramis doesn't think they're snow clouds.

He swallows - his throat is very dry - and rasps out, "How long have I been asleep?"

Porthos looks up from the desk, and Athos puts a hand on Aramis' shoulder, through the thick padding of blankets. "Almost the entire day," he says. The back of his hand rests on Aramis' cheek. "You're a little warmer."

"Were I any colder than I was I'd be dead," he points out, and tries to sit but his head seems magnetised to the pillow, it's too hard to lift. Porthos walks over, and sits on the edge of the bed to rub his hip through the duvet, saying roughly, "Alright."

Aramis closes his eyes, peaceful now with them both there, and Athos says, "Are you hungry?"

Eyes closed, "Not really."

"Will you eat something anyway, please?"

He nuzzles his nose to a more comfortable patch of pillow. "Must I?"

"Please, Aramis."

"For us," Porthos says, and it's not fair of him to do that, Aramis knows his track record for doing stupid things when what is implied is if you loved me you would.

"Something easy," he mumbles into the pillow. "Want to sleep."

"Alright." Athos squeezes his shoulder, and Porthos pats his hip, shifts to stand for the kitchen.

"It's alright," Aramis says. "I did more than my share of stupid shit then too. But it just doesn't have to be like that for us, that's all. We can decide differently. In many ways we already have."

Silence. Aramis cracks his eyes, drowsily aware that something isn't right, and then Porthos clears his throat and says, "Yeah, yeah." and heads off for the kitchen, to find something to force into Aramis' stomach. He knows it ought to be empty. It feels like a fist, like it can't unknot to allow anything in.

"D'Artagnan can decide differently too," he offers Athos, who looks so evenly down at him. "I don't think he has the option to be less emotional and impulsive, though."

Athos looks at him steadily, and says, "You're judging someone else for being 'emotional and impulsive'."

Aramis laughs, and huddles his own body closer on its side towards Athos. "There are days you will think of me," he croons to him, "as the very least of your troubles."

Athos contemplates this in silence for some time, and then says, "The future is a terrifying place."

"Oh," Aramis says, sensing snow out there behind the sky, that gull's cry overhead oddly crow-like in the falling dark, knowing that there is blood on the ground and knowing that if he tugged the thread of its provenance it would lead him eventually to the same man he's no hope of escaping, "yes."

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