rainjoyswriting: (kurt!)
[personal profile] rainjoyswriting
Souvenirs, Musketeers fic, affinityverse (best catalogued in my memories) <3 I was meant to go to the library instead but everything hurts so fuck it.

Disclaimer: You have no idea how different it would have been had I owned it.

Rating: Probably R

Warnings and spoilers: The main list's on part one, read sensibly. We are still in the sad patch, but *cracks knuckles, hovers hands at keyboard* bear with me, bear with me . . .

Summary: There is no necessary connection between surprise and enjoyment.

Note: This would have been posted yesterday but instead we got drunk and I ruled all of creation at Chronology, true fact. Now, fic!

They told him it was a surprise, but then he forgets things so often that most of everything is a surprise to Aramis now. They told him to pack warm clothes. But then, they always tell him to pack warm clothes.

It is not Aramis' fault that all of the world carries the tang of frost, and that when it gets bad enough he smells blood, and begins to develop a queasy sharp headache through the aching of the cold. Such is life. But his lovers told him to pack and so he did, and they reminded him again when he forgot what his hands were doing and sank into drowsing in the chair under the window, and probably reminded him a few times more (he forgets being reminded), and early one morning - the sun very bright though the cold speaks to him of snow - they rouse him, and take him downstairs, for the car (it takes him some time to make his morning-mind recognise the car, so fresh from sleep and unprepared for the century) and a trip to the airport for a long distance flight.

Aramis allows all of this perfectly amicably, because presumably they know what they're doing and they do look so very charming when they're concentrating on tickets and passports and flight numbers, Porthos frowning, Athos focused in an aloof way. Aramis catches Athos back in his arms as the man turns away, to tug him close and lay a kiss to the back of his neck, and then wonders if he ought to have done that, and then just breezes on humming because 'ought' is too complicated to worry about. Too many variables, and he forgets them too quickly. What he ought to do all rather depends on who he is, and that's much too much effort to ascertain from one moment to the next.

He remembers another airport, oh, years ago, somewhere warm, was anywhere ever warm? He remembers Porthos complaining of nothing to eat until the flight and that was ages away and then it would only be fucking plane food, Aramis almost-sleeping on the floor with his shoulders propped on his bag against the seat next to Athos' as Athos eventually snapped Porthos away to find something to eat to stop his muttering. He remembers laying there grinning underneath the hat he'd tipped over his face, miming sleep. He remembers the delightful young woman who crept up and asked Athos in French - it was the language he'd chosen to snarl at Porthos in - if he understood the announcement on the tannoy, because she didn't speak Spanish. What she meant was, You're very intriguing, might I know more of you? and what Athos told her was what the announcement meant.

When she had, disappointed, thanked him and left, Aramis tipped his hat back and said up to Athos, "You lack all subtlety." and Athos looked down at him, more annoyed than bewildered, annoyed because bewildered, and Aramis just adored him in that hopeless moment.

Aramis laughs a little in the airport, and they give him concerned looks. But he remembers that. He remembers some things. What he remembers is never reliable, changes by the moment, and it's less than it ought to be given that a lot of it hasn't happened yet, but it's more than they think it is, he thinks. They think he's already drowned under his own mind, but he's still here, still swimming. He knows he's lost a lot but he's kept some things, hopefully the things that are important to him. He floats, for now.

Their flight is called, and on the board it says it's for Santiago International Airport, and they give him sideways looks as if to read his response to that. Aramis just tucks closer the old cardigan of Athos' he's wearing, and yawns, and hopes to sleep on the plane. He rarely understands why they look at him, perhaps he said something odd out loud and then forgot about it, and he already knows there's no point in trying to understand what he doesn't remember. His mind is a chalkboard, and it's always raining. Santiago, then. He doesn't know where it is, but the name suggests warmth, there is that. Why are they going to Santiago? Did he have an episode and forget about it?

He asks Porthos as they're boarding, low to his ear, "Is there a rift?" and Porthos takes the back of his neck in a gentle palm to keep him walking forwards and not trailing away somewhere else.

"No. Follow Athos, he's got the seat numbers. You think you're gonna have an episode on here?"

"Why not," Aramis says. "They might upgrade us."

"It wasn't a fuckin' request."

He does have an episode on the plane, he doesn't mean to, it's just one of those things. He's aware afterwards of being helped into a seat, he's very unsure of where - often he's just put places, head lolling about, but he's safe against Porthos' side so 'where' is really irrelevant - and he remembers trying to mumble what he saw to whoever might be listening, but he's forgotten it by the time he's awake and they're getting him off the plane and dealing with the very old issue of hire cars and the journey from the airport to the hotel.

In the hotel, he sleeps the night and the day and after some food and talk and rather lovely nuzzly drowsy sex, he sleeps again, until the morning.

They tell him to dress warm. He manages with petting palms to get Athos to unfold his hand to him, to kiss the secret hidden palm of him, the lines of his future underneath Aramis' lips for one smiling second (oh, he knows how this will end). Porthos ruffles his hair and seems too alert, too pleased about something. Aramis just yawns, and gets dressed. There seems such little point in questioning what they ask him to do, he'd only forget their explanations anyway.

It's quite a big city, he can tell by the height of the buildings, but what fascinates him is that from points where they can see past the buildings, the city's plain is edged by mountains, snow-blue like they reflect the clouds on the skies above, like there's no difference between air and earth. They're beautiful; really, shockingly beautiful, and he watches them with a very slight smile, whenever he can see them. This life they lead is a strange one and a struggle, but the amount of God's Earth it allows them to see, how could the trade of all this shared beauty be worth it just for safety, alone?

They go into and come out of the city's centre, take a bus - Porthos and Athos are talking, fussing over a map on Athos' phone, Aramis' inclination is always to ask someone for directions instead but Porthos doesn't trust people and Athos doesn't like people and Aramis doesn't even know where they're going. Aramis hums a little, and everything is happening in an oddly distant way, not as if he's about to have an episode. As if he's underwater.

He looks out at the buildings, stately warm stone facing the road, trees planted tall along the edges of the street. He has half a memory, a very strange one, of children's laughter, and hopping, some game of skipping left and right, trying not to touch the shadows of the tossing trees' heads, to stand only on the sun-warmed pavement where the dark shapes of the leaves weren't cast.


He looks out of the window of the bus, and doesn't worry about it, and hums.


It is, okay, creeping Porthos out a bit that Aramis is still showing no sign of recognition of anything, not even of the name of the city, not even a look in his eyes like it might mean something. The first moment Porthos saw the mountains his breath stilled, and he thought only after a second to look at Aramis - and Aramis was looking at them too, Aramis' eye is always automatically drawn to beauty, but he wasn't looking at those mountains like he recognised them, especially; just like he too thought they were absurdly lovely, like crystal, like bits of moon.

Then his eye trailed to Porthos, and he smiled at him instead.

Porthos and Athos are pretty certain they're on the right street now, and still Aramis is just walking beside them placidly, unconcerned by their destination. Maybe it's changed, Porthos thinks. Maybe it doesn't look the way it used to anymore. Maybe it's changed and it couldn't jog anything - though the buildings look pretty old, nothing much could have been built since Aramis left, maybe it is the wrong street -

There's an old woman walking up the opposite way to them, a nun in a shapeless cardigan. She's not the first nun they've seen since they got to Chile even if the back of Porthos' neck jolts to each of them, and he looks automatically at Aramis - who's looking at a bird on a rooftop, a little vaguely but not unhappily -

The nun, carrying a heavy bag of shopping in either hand, has become aware of the three of them walking towards her. It's Aramis her gaze catches on. She keeps walking, the mechanical way you do before your brain can catch up enough to stop your legs, and her eyes on Aramis take a really long time to work something out, a really good look -

Aramis has seen her by now, and he smiles, and takes his hat off, because - just because Aramis is always like that with nuns (and every other woman) or because -

She shrieks, flings her arms as she tries to run faster, shopping banging about in those too-heavy bags, and Aramis quickly claps his hat back on and hurries to get the bags off her before she can hurt herself or lose their contents and she just throws her arms around his neck, a little woman barely taller than Aramis' shoulder hanging off his ducked-down head and crying, "René, René, I knew it was you, I knew it was you -"

Aramis, shoulders askew to support the shopping and the woman hanging off him and to not lose his hat in the process, gestures a bit helplessly towards patting her back but can't with those heavy bags of shopping in each hand, and says in Spanish, "Sister . . ."

"And you never write and never call in all these years,"
the woman scolds, and Porthos thinks, Alright, steady on, you did lock him in a fucking attic.

"Ah . . ."

"- and I worried myself sick, I have always remembered you in my prayers -"

"That's very kind of you, sister."

"Come in, you must come in. Many of the sisters you would have known have moved on or retired but you remember sisters Agata and - you must come in, before I witter on out here on the street like - and your friends, of course."
Turning, this small bird-like woman in her dark grey clothes, to look at Athos and Porthos, curiosity in her gaze but no obvious awareness that 'friend' might be a good word for what they are to each other but it's not entirely a complete one. She turns her attention back to Aramis, as if she hardly believes in his presence, as if Aramis is special, something Porthos has always kind of known to be true. People do look at Aramis - but rarely do people look like they understand it the same way the two of them do, that Aramis isn't just a pretty face, that Aramis matters. "René, Lord," she says, and her hand runs down his cheek, and she stares baffled into his eyes, "how did you get so old?"

There's a low sick feeling in Porthos' gut to that. Of course Aramis looks different from fourteen, he looks different enough from sixteen when Porthos first met him, but - it's not just a decade gone too fast she might be talking about. Porthos took the piss when the first white hairs showed through his Aramis' beard; he doesn't joke about it anymore, not that or the lines around his eyes where the strain really shows. It's been about ten years since Aramis was last here. But on him, on his face, it looks like longer, and it makes the back of Porthos' neck chill.

The nun, holding Aramis by the arm while he carries the shopping and makes no complaint about this at all, leads them through a large black-painted metal gate and under a little archway into a courtyard, a tree planted in the middle of it, a scuffed football laying there bereft in the winter sunlight and a skipping rope abandoned like a snake's sloughed skin nearby. Through a door the nun unlatches and the corridor within is very quiet, polished dark wood floors, everything clean and a bit empty-feeling, a bit clinical, Porthos knows what these kinds of institutions are like, he's been in a few of them himself in his time though there's a cross on the wall, and that's new to him. The smell is of furniture polish, and some cold surface Porthos thinks might be the floors. The nun ushers them through to a little office and then harries Aramis on again to help her make coffee for them, and Aramis doesn't seem troubled by any of this, if anything he looks like he's going to laugh, so - maybe - ?

Sitting on two mismatched chairs in front of the desk, lots of piled folders and a very old boxy computer facing away from them, Porthos rubs his jeans a bit, and cuts a sidelong look at Athos, who was more dubious about this idea. Athos isn't looking especially at him and doesn't have any particular expression on his face. But that's pretty normal for Athos, so who knows what it means, really.

It's not right, what's been happening to Aramis. It's not right and it's not fair, his rift has no fucking right, because all of them know that their future might be taken from them by the rifts inside them but where the fuck is the justice in it taking Aramis' past from him as well? Porthos is pretty set on bunking down and waiting for d'Artagnan, who's got to get here sooner or later if Aramis has already seen him, but like fuck he's okay with Aramis not even remembering his own childhood, not even the facts of it if he doesn't remember living it. Even when they were waiting for Athos and Aramis started forgetting things, he still knew it was true that he was born in Chile and raised in this place, Porthos told him it and he believed him. He forgot details, struggled to remember being a child here, but he still knew he had been, once. It doesn't matter now how often Porthos reminds him of the orphanage, of Chile, Aramis looks at him each time confused on this apparently fresh information, trying to fit it into his own story, and it's gone again within moments. And how the fuck - how the fuck - could that ever be right?

Porthos doesn't forget his past, wouldn't even if he could, it's how he knows what he wants his future to be. He knows what he wants to get back and what he wants to get beyond, his past tells him who he is and who not to be, his past is him. All the concrete and glass and fuck ups of London, that's how he is who he is for these two. And obviously Athos lives with his past every day, even if not in the white-hot way he used to, it's still there for him, still a compass he can hold up to the light when he needs it. And Aramis -

It's hard to tell what he remembers, all they can really work out is what he's forgot. He knows them - he always knows them, almost always, good enough always, so long as he doesn't hiccup too far back along his own timeline to where he hasn't met them yet. And he always responds when they use Treville's name, or Richelieu's even, like he knows exactly who they mean. But when Porthos prompts him for a story about the orphanage, a story he can even supply himself to try to prise the memory out of Aramis, increasingly he sees the blankness and the nervousness in him, that he knows Porthos wants something and he doesn't know what it is to try to supply it.

So Porthos approached Athos, while Aramis was sleeping his dead-drunk episode sleep one afternoon, and asked him if it would be a good idea to try to stop Aramis' rift from eating away who Aramis was by jolting the memory back into him. Maybe if they took him to Chile, if he started remembering again, it might help. How could it hurt?

Athos got this look on his face like it really might hurt. He said, very dubiously, that there was no reason to believe that Aramis would start remembering Chile just because he went back there, which Porthos countered easily with that there was no reason to believe he wouldn't, and all that mattered was that they tried. Athos said that Aramis might get upset if he realised how much he really had forgotten, and Porthos pushed, again, because it was better to try than to abandon him to his rift and not do anything about it. And if anything made him remember his childhood, wouldn't that orphanage do it?

"Porthos," Athos had said, looking really pained to have to say his in a low voice while Aramis slept as if dead in the bed behind them, "do you really want to take him back there and make him stand in that place while he remembers what they did to him?"

Porthos doesn't like being here himself; his eye keeps getting drawn to the ceiling, he's aware of it over his head like he's balancing it there. The building looked three floors high, from the outside.

If you don't count the attic.

But Aramis has never thought of it like that. Porthos knows that both he and Athos are wary of these women, distrustful of what they've ever intended for Aramis, but all Aramis has ever felt for them is appreciation of the years they cared for him, and no blame for what they eventually did to him. Porthos looks at the ceiling, painted clean white, not a cobweb in any corner, no telltale water stains. It's winter here now, and cool, but it would have been the height of their summer when they shut Aramis up there and put everything in the world ahead of helping him. Porthos remembers Iquique in summer, how hot it burned on the skin, like the permanent sting of a lash. And his eyes stay on the ceiling, and he thinks of the heat, and Aramis trapped in his episodes, sunk in some never-ending hell of episodes and aloneness while it was hot as Hades and everyone who should have cared for him just shut the door behind themselves and left him to it.

They hear the approach of that clucking nun again as she bustles Aramis back into the room carrying a tray of coffee cups - Porthos scrapes his chair hurriedly aside to get it out of his hands, Aramis' hands fail too often and here and now is not the place to pretend that he doesn't know that - and she pours the coffee out, chattering away and it takes Porthos a moment to even realise that she's speaking French, not Spanish.

"He says you've been living by the sea, it's nice, he always did love swimming." she says. "And France - of all places -"

"Sister Francisca was originally from France," Aramis murmurs, handing Porthos a coffee cup.

"I had always wondered," Athos says. "'René'."

"He hadn't even a name when he came to us, and they let us choose their names in turn when they didn't, I was only lucky. And he was such a precious little thing, it was such a pity no family ever took you. But you were sickly for a long time when you were little, and then you were older than some families like, there are always the little babies they'd rather have and - listen to me wittering on, René, it's you I wanted to hear about, how have you been, what have you been doing?"

Athos puts his own cup down, and says, "His work is classified. We happened to be in the country, we thought - he thought it would be nice to visit."

Aramis is politely silent on this lie told right to a nun's face, but that nun locked him in the attic once so Porthos doesn't care about one stupid little lie. He's just busy watching Aramis' face, excited for any stories he has of this place, any recognition -

"Classified," the nun says, confused. Aramis takes a breath, and looks up smiling to her, and says, "It would be lovely to meet some of the children, if there are any about."

"They're at school," she says, and checks her watch. "They'll be back in half an hour or so. Why don't we take a tour of the building, I can show you what's changed and you can tell me what you've been up to with your - friends - ?"

"Porthos," Porthos says, realising it strange that Aramis who is cheerily polite even towards men who are shooting at them hasn't made introductions for the three of them, he must be rattled; but maybe the memory has no context yet, maybe he's dealing with a lot. "This is Athos."

"Is French better? It's so strange to speak it, I keep having to remember - you wouldn't think you could forget but it's been so long."

"Either is fine," Athos murmurs, putting his coffee cup down on the edge of the desk. "A tour would be delightful."

The nun walks holding Aramis' arm, Aramis respectful in that slightly flirty way he is, he doesn't seem to know how not to be charming. There's a big dining hall - another cross on the wall - a staircase to the first floor dormitories and big shared bathrooms, all the beds neatly made (Porthos remembers how Aramis has always quite automatically made the bed, even when they were sixteen and Porthos left his a tumble and just did not get why shaking and straightening the sheets in a morning mattered). There aren't so many signs of childish occupation, there are some, a few football posters and stuffed toys but mostly it's all just neat and clean and squared-away looking, the sort of discipline, Porthos thinks without looking at him in that moment, that could be really good for someone like Aramis. There are parts of Aramis' childhood that Porthos finally does understand that he's never understood.

They pass a closed door the nun doesn't explain to them or open, so Porthos prompts, "What's in that room?"

"Oh, just the linen closet. This is the dormitory for the young boys, in their first proper beds, they're out having a swimming class right now, René do you remember -"

Aramis just holds her arm and smiles, laughs gently when it's appropriate and pats her hand now and then, soothingly. He's really good with people, Porthos thinks. He always approaches people are people, as the person they are, not whatever they might represent to him, he sort of forgets himself in fascination of them, forgets needing to be something himself in interest of what someone else is. He's confident enough in himself to be genuinely interested in others, which is rarer than it should be, in so many ways. It's one of the things Porthos admires most in him, and likes a lot, at least partly because it meant that when Porthos was an angry parentless mixed-race teenager with a criminal record whose friend was holding a gun for another friend in a gang, Aramis didn't judge or label him in the slightest for it. Porthos knows what people thought he looked like at sixteen. Aramis just thought he looked very fuckable, and like someone he wanted to be friends with.

Porthos is watching Aramis' face for recognition of anything, everything, but when Aramis is on his best behaviour with his eyes on a nun's, manners and charm override most of everything else so Porthos isn't sure, really. But if it jogs something, just something, if they can just walk away from here with Aramis determined to want to hold on to what he's losing . . .

The kids get back, this mob of rushing children in school uniforms chattering fast and loud in Spanish, ready to dump their bags and change, grab a snack and get out to play. Sister Francisca introduces Aramis - 'René' - and his friends, says that René lived here ten years ago when he was young, and then with that magic he has Aramis is playing football with a bunch of kids around that tree in the courtyard, while another group of boys are passing his hat around and posing in ways they probably think are cool. A group of teenage girls whisper behind their hands about the mino rico and Porthos thinks Aramis would be too smug to hear it so he's half glad he hasn't, though - watching him keepy-uppying while one kid is climbing up to his shoulders to sit there from behind and all Aramis appears to find it is funny - it feels tight in his chest to see him so happy, he's been so messed up for so long, Porthos doesn't remember the last time Aramis seemed to have this much fun.

Kids, Porthos thinks, wistfully. We'll get there. There's d'Artagnan to come. One of these days, we'll get there.

They leave before the kids go to do their homework before dinner, extended goodbyes with all the kids from Aramis, and then there's the nuns to say goodbye to - there are four or five who were there when Aramis was a kid, and Porthos looks at all of them warily but Aramis gives no indication of knowing that any of them was a ringleader in locking him in an attic, he's just gracious and smiling with all of them.

Sister Francisca hugs him, tearful. He closes his arms around her, and murmurs something down to her ear, and strokes her back as tenderly as if she's his grandmother, something so gentle in it, Porthos' heart goes quiet. He says of course he will call, if he can. He asks her to take care of herself, and promises to remember her in his prayers. She cries. Porthos could almost wonder if she knows she'll never see him again and never even expected this as part of the 'never'.

They wave off the kids hanging out of windows on the street, walk back towards the main road and the bus stop. It's cooler now, late in the afternoon, not that cold though even if Aramis zips his coat and sticks his hands in his pockets. Athos is silent, walking beside Porthos, watching Aramis walk slightly ahead, face very steady now he's stopped smiling so much, eyes somewhere else and thinking too much.

Like he remembers too much? Porthos says, "So?" because his impatience can't bear it any longer. "Was it nice to be back? She missed you, that French nun."

Aramis says, "I have never seen that woman before in my life." His neck is very straight, and he takes a sharp breath in before he says, voice low on his not letting it shake, "Don't do that to me again."

Porthos is so stunned he slows in his walking, and Athos touches his back, as Aramis strides on fast, not looking back at them, not saying anything. Even his walking looks angry, and Porthos thinks that he's never seen Aramis mad at them, not even when either of them might have deserved it. And - and -

And it's gone, Aramis' childhood. René's childhood. It's gone. Even standing right in the middle of it Aramis couldn't see it. They can't jog the memories back into him, they can't help him, the only thing that can save anything of who he was for him is d'Artagnan and they can't do a thing to make him come quicker and they -

They just made Aramis be polite and smile in panic to a woman who clearly thought the world of him and knew him from a baby and Aramis literally had no idea who she was or where he was and all he could do was disguise it and hope that he didn't let it show and frighten other people with it. It's only now, on this side of it, that Porthos understands like cold shot in the stomach how cruel that was.

"Come on," Athos says softly. "We have to catch up with him. You know how bad he gets about cars sometimes."

Aramis walked onto the road in front of the house by the sea a couple of months back, stared blankly at the car screeching to a halt for him blaring its horn, looked so astonished like he didn't know what a car was. So before he can vanish around the corner at the foot of the street Porthos takes a quick breath and nods, and they walk on faster, after his heels because there's nothing else they can do. They can follow Aramis and hope d'Artagnan is on his path but they can't do a thing, and now Porthos has gone and properly proved that Aramis knows that too fucking well too.


They caught up with him quite quickly - he'd slowed to a stop on the street, though he'd gone past the bus stop - and he looked at them, quiet, sad, ashamed eyes, hands in anxious balls at his sides, and said that he was sorry, and it was wrong to get angry with them. He knew they were only trying to help, they were always helping him, and he didn't mean to be ungrateful.

It was the last apology Athos wanted to hear. Aramis had every right to be angry, to be forced to confront so brutally all the memory he's perfectly aware that he's lost and he's the one who has to live with that. But Aramis apologises, it's what he does, Aramis lives with guilt the way other people live with a chip on their shoulder or an entitlement complex, guilt is just part of Aramis' personality and Athos really fucking hates Catholicism sometimes.

"It's alright," Athos said, because there's simply no point in arguing with Aramis when he's certain he's in the wrong, he just can't understand the argument. Athos took his arm - he knows from their previous trip that men are often openly physically affectionate with each other in Chile, there'll be no glances in their direction at any casual touch between them - and led him back to the bus stop, with Porthos, to make their gloomy way back to the hotel. Athos already knew, from the crease between his brows and just how tired Aramis looked, that there'd be an episode to pay for all this, and hell, hell, hell that they can never pay for him, that the price for this is always this.

Thunder rumbled as if nervous, low over the mountains.

And Athos' bones ache and ache and even as the pain grinds his joints to agony he knows he's the one who gets off light, as in the hotel room they just try to keep Aramis comfortable on the bed as he jolts alone through another fucking episode and the rain has the window opaque. The drumming of water is loud enough to almost drown out the noises Aramis is making (almost) and Porthos looks sick with too much feeling, when Aramis eventually slumps exhausted, panting through his nose, teeth dug in the cuff and eyes not opening.

He spits the cuff out, and Athos takes it to clean it, and brushes his hair back from his face. "Car," Aramis mumbles. "Saw car. Dunno why . . . all th' cars . . ."

"Have you seen it before?" Athos says, trying to keep his voice gentle, low, soothing. "That particular car?"

". . . yh."

And that's it, Athos can tell by his lack of tension that he's asleep, that there are no more answers whatever the questions might be. Hard to know now if he needs to sleep for ten minutes or ten hours, but Porthos still looks like he doesn't know how to feel and this rain will drown Chile. Athos looks at Aramis so drained and lost on the bed, looks at the door to the cramped hotel bathroom, touches Porthos' wrist and nods at the door. However intense this conversation intends to become, they can't have it while Aramis is trying to sleep between them, he's so damn psychic now he sometimes responds to sentences they haven't said out loud.

In the bathroom Athos pushes the door to - it can't be closed, they can't risk not hearing Aramis slipping into another episode - and Porthos fists his hands tight, Athos can hear the uneasy picking of thunder at the roots of the sky. He just turns and rinses the cuff at the sink.

"He remembers us." Porthos says. "Even when he doesn't remember anythin' else he remembers us. So he remembers, stuff sticks in there -"

"But we don't get to control what 'sticks'," Athos says, voice low as he shakes the cuff over the sink, trying not to escalate this. "And neither does he. He's not one of your plants, you can't train him to grow a certain way, rifts are -"

"I only want us to try, fuck, every day he's fucking worse, he would never just let us - 'cause it's not just that he's forgettin' shit, it's that it -" Porthos' voice twists, and the tiny, frosted bathroom window flashes white with lightning like the stab of grief. "- it hurts him, he pretends he's alright but it's - he's fucking scared sometimes an' he's tryin' not to be for us but -"

"Then we comfort him." Athos says, and his bones hurt but he grits his teeth and ignores that, ignores his wish wish wish that he'd brought the rum in here for this, drops the cuff beside the taps to dry and says instead, "We are there for him, we ascertain what he needs in the moment and we care for him. But we can't make these kinds of plans, they don't work with a rift like his, we can't manipulate that, it's in him like -"

"It'll come back when we have d'Artagnan. It'll all come back when we have d'Artagnan, I just don't want him so - so fucked up while we're waitin', he's a fucking mess right now -"

"Yes, Porthos, I know, I have a fucking front row seat to that, the same as you do. But I should never have agreed to this, it doesn't help him that we sit and brood on that and he doesn't need to know we do, all he needs from us -"

"What if we took him where some earlier rifts broke? 'cause it's not as long ago as back when he was a little kid an' they're always so fucking intense, maybe that's still-"

"Christ Porthos we can't fix this, we cope, we can't fix it-"

"We can try."

Athos snarls back, "He doesn't know what fucking day it is, half the time he doesn't know what fucking century it is, how the fuck do you think it helps him when we start rubbing his nose in-"

He stops, because - because, because. Because there is a certain quality of silence on the other side of the door, outside the ringing, electrified tiles of this bathroom full of anger.

He pushes the door open. Aramis is laying on his back, a little propped on the pillows to look at them, hands folded on his stomach. All he really looks is tired.

"Yes, gentlemen." he says, opening his hands a little towards them, somewhere between a shrug and an invitation. "Let's have this conversation. It's better than how bitterly unsaid a lot of it has been."

Athos pushes the door fully open, Porthos lowering his head in something Athos reads as shame, facing the calm of Aramis on the bed. Athos says, "How much did you hear?"

He just looks tired. All he ever looks is tired; never quite as joyous as he might in certain moments, but never truly as distressed as a young man hardly yet alive should look facing this. He says, voice dismissive with graciousness, "I am indeed quite unfortunately psychic now. Let's have the conversation, we never have faced it before. Ask me what I remember." His eyes are the darkest Athos has ever known, and all it's ever made them is sometimes too painfully expressive to bear. "Ask me what I've forgotten."

They stand there, the two of them, not really knowing how to confront Aramis in this. They never speak of these things and Aramis never asks them to, Aramis never confronts them with anything; any act of disrespect towards him he's very capable of excusing before he's ever made them come up with the excuses themselves. They don't have the practice in facing things, when it comes to Aramis.

Athos steps out of the ridiculous little bathroom, he at least can't have this conversation standing in there. He says, "You were born here, in this country, and that building is where you spent the first fourteen years of your life."

"That's not a question." Aramis says.

Porthos says, "D'you remember it?"

"No." Aramis looks at him very steady but there's tension in the lines of his forehead, and his mouth is very flat. "I remember -" He rubs his face with a hand, waves it away. "I don't know what I remember. There's a childhood in my head, bits of one, but I don't know whose it is. It could be anyone's." His mouth tightens in one corner. "Maybe I just don't want to believe that it's mine."

Athos says, "Why didn't you let that nun know that you didn't remember her?"

"- Athos," his eyes so wounded on Athos', so shocked. "It would have devastated her. I can't hurt an old woman with all of my nonsense."

"It's not nonsense," Athos says, and it comes out too dry. "It's your life."

Aramis looks at him, for a long blank second, and then draws his breath in through his nose and says, under his breath, "'My' life, is it?"

The only thing Athos is certain of in terms of how to handle this situation is that he cannot do it sober, so he walks over and takes the bottle from beside the bed, and sits next to Aramis just because the bed is closer than the chair to unscrew the lid and take a belt of rum. Porthos stays by the bathroom door as if uneasy of coming closer, but Athos is thinking, very hard. He says, "Do you remember the villa?"

Aramis is silent for a long moment again, then says, "I don't know."

He doesn't always seem to know what they're talking about when they name it. Sometimes, but not always, like many things he can't always grasp anymore; water through his fingers, and it depends how much settles in his cupped hands. "Big French house," Porthos says. "I dunno, not house. Big building, Treville's there."

"You know I always know Treville." Aramis says, and Athos notes privately that that is not a confirmation that Aramis currently understands what Porthos is talking about.

"You like the pool best." Porthos says, stepping closer to watch his eyes. "All these big wide marble slab tile things, the pool's a rectangle in the middle, the water makes patterns off the ceilin' in light, you always liked just floatin' and watching 'em move. An' you liked sneakin' people into the changin' rooms to fuck 'em."

Aramis laughs, as if shocked to do it, presses his lips together and nods, but he is smiling. "Yes," he says. "I do remember . . . details. It's hard to describe how it . . . I don't think I lose what matters. I keep the two of you, and the captain. I keep the important things. I still know my prayers."

Athos says, "Do you remember that we went to Paris last month?"

Aramis looks at him, long and hard, and says, "I don't know." and Athos thinks that means no. Fragments, perhaps, suggestions, but nothing he could have concretely called 'a visit to Paris' remains in his mind and so in real terms, no, he doesn't.

Porthos breathes out hard at that, and walks over to sit beside them at Aramis' other shoulder, and squeezes Aramis' ankle through his jeans.

They did visit Paris, to meet Treville. The true purpose for the visit was the annual scan to watch, and pretend not to want to scream at, the shifting shadows on the insides of Aramis' brain, the damage his episodes are doing to him, to hear the doctor describing the way Athos' lover's mind is a watercolour left out in the rain. But every time they managed to make Aramis understand what the purpose of the trip was - sometimes he was so confused that they couldn't, and it would have been cruel to try, and sometimes the most they could get him to understand was that they were to see a doctor about him - whenever his eyes settled from a polite desire to follow their meaning into honest understanding, Aramis said no. No, of course he wouldn't go, calm and reasonable and immovable as a mountain. Where was the point?

Normally Athos is the one to badger him into being sensible, but all he did, every single time they went through the conversation again (they have to make Aramis make every decision more than once, given that depending on what he remembers and understands in any given moment, his choices tend to change), was sigh and pour another glass of wine. For once, oh, for once, Aramis was right; what was the point? Athos knows that even if they scanned his brain now, there'd never be another scan next year to compare it to. Porthos murmured when Aramis was asleep that they could just take him anyway, he rarely questioned their taking him places, happy enough to just be out of the house, and even if he was too confused to know what was happening he was at least more likely to acquiesce to it in one of those moods. Biddable to them as a lamb when he knows that he doesn't know what's happening. But Porthos seemed to understand what he was suggesting even as he said it; if Aramis' rift is taking his autonomy from him in a long blurred failing of his capacity to make informed choices, they're not going to help the damn thing along by making a puppet of him. If Aramis refuses it, it's been refused. They're a circle. They're always on the same side.

"It would be nice to see the captain, though," Aramis said wistfully after one confrontation over it where he did remember the whole business of the scans he's been having for years, and clearly getting to see Treville in Paris is one of the only parts of it he's ever enjoyed. Which at least gave Athos something to think about, and something to call Treville about, and which eventually led to a reunion in Paris, no scan involved, which Aramis didn't understand - it was a particularly foggy sort of day for him in his head - but he did know Treville, smiled so relieved to see him and patted his back while they hugged. It was worth it for that. A long car journey of Aramis fretful in a car he clearly didn't quite understand and being really very difficult in a petrol station they had to stop at, the road a windswept rainslick from the storm they carried with them over it all, it was all entirely worth it, for that.

Porthos says, "D'you remember Abidjan?"

"Abid . . ."

"It was really hot, you really liked it there."

He looks thoughtfully at the ceiling, but already he seems more relaxed. "I think I do. Pieces of it. Athos was looking after me, wasn't he? He looked both terribly concerned about getting it right and terribly annoyed about having to do it."

"We'd only just got him," Porthos says. "His first rift."

Athos lowers the bottle and swallows. "I wasn't your new puppy."

"You were magnificent," Aramis tells Athos, the smile true right to his eyes. "Nothing has ever intimidated you, it's always just annoyed you."

Athos says, reaching up to brush some of Aramis' hair back without really thinking about it, "Do you remember Svalbard? The snow? I'd been shot by one of those darts, we were stuck on an ice cliff together."

Aramis laughs, startled, says, "I've dreamed that. Did it really happen?"

"You talked Athos awake again." Porthos says.

Athos says, "I can't think why you find me so irritable, considering how often that happens." and takes a drink of rum, thinking hard. He says, because Aramis has a right to all of his memories, even the ones he perhaps doesn't miss, "Do you remember that I once intended to leave the two of you, when our circle was sealed, to find and kill my ex-fiancée?"

Aramis looks at him hard, looking confused and a little affronted, and Porthos looks uneasy. Aramis just says, "I can't think why you'd want to leave. We're delightful company."

"I have no intention of it now. I've reached my peace with being stuck with you two idiots for the rest of my life. And I would miss you," added gently, and Aramis glances to him, smiles, and lifts a hand to stroke his knuckles down Athos' cheek, god the way he looks at them sometimes, how precious Athos feels under his gaze -

Porthos says, "Do you remember Puerto Rico?"

Aramis sighs, and settles himself back on the pillow, arms folded behind his head. "You and I have always remembered Puerto Rico very differently."

Porthos says nothing to that point, all three of them know it to be true, just as Aramis and Athos remember South Africa and its fallout in starkly distinct terms. "D'you remember Marsac?"

Aramis says quietly, "Of course I remember Marsac." and nothing else. Athos thinks he understands the 'of course'; Aramis has kept most of his memories of them, and Treville, and Athos knows the link Aramis believes holds there. He remembers the people he's loved, for better or worse, and so, of course, for all the grief of it, he will always, always remember Marsac.

Athos says, trying to think of more sideways specifics, "Do you remember learning to fence?"

Aramis opens his mouth, but over the course of a few seconds it becomes clear that there's nothing certain coming. "That is rather confused." Aramis admits, eyes uncomfortable on the ceiling. "I believe I remember too much about learning to fence. It can't all be mine."

"You were extraordinary," Athos says. "I put a sword in your hand for the first time and you acted like it was the thousandth time. There was the training room we used to use, in the cellars of the villa."

"An' the dining room, in the house by the sea." Porthos says. "You 'cheated', rememberin' how to do that off someone else. Not the first bloody time you'd done that."


"No. You knew how to shoot."

". . . I believe I've always known how to shoot."

"Since you had this name and not 'René', yeah, you have. An' you knew how to deal with my shoulder, when I got shot."

Aramis' stare on the ceiling is unsettlingly dreamy. "I don't believe there's ever been a time in my life when I wasn't dealing with blood."

Athos presses down on his shoulder, firmly to be felt. "There was." he says, and hates the entire world for collectively having enough experience of blood to give Aramis that memory. "Do you remember stealing that horse?"

"What?" Aramis blinks at him. "What horse?"

"Two weeks back," Porthos says. "We just found you on it a couple of fields away, freaked us an' some poor farmer right out."

"But I don't . . ." Aramis looks honestly bewildered, and then says, "But you mustn't say I stole it. I don't remember any intention for it, and it's a sin, you know."

"Do you remember being able to ride? Do you remember how to ride?"

"I suppose you never forget," Aramis says vaguely. "A horse. Hm."

Athos says, "You seemed perfectly content on it. Quite pleased with yourself."

"Where did I find it?"

"We ask ourselves these questions daily."

Porthos swings his legs up onto the bed, lounges beside Aramis watching his face in profile - he has a very fine profile, Athos knows, and also knows that Aramis is perfectly aware of that - and says, "You remember the rifts more, an' all the fights. But you don't remember here, growin' up here."

"I can't explain it. I don't know if there's any logic to it."

"Y'don't have to make excuses or apologise. Do you remember when we were kids together? We used to dig a fire pit in the villa's gardens, barbecue shit, Treville flipped his shit about three times a week when we were kids -"

". . . I don't . . ."

"You shaved your legs once."

Aramis says, "Did I?" at the exact same moment that Athos says, "He did what?"

"Shaved your legs," Porthos says. "You just came out the bathroom an' you'd done it. Said you wanted to know what it felt like."

"Oh," Aramis says, looking confused at him but mostly like he wants to know more about it. "Did it feel nice?"

"You said it did. But the stubble was a fucker an' I thought it was weird so you stopped doin' it. D'you remember that rabbit we tried to keep for a pet?"

Aramis laughs at that, shakes his head but his eyes are a weary, happy twinkle. "No."

"D'you remember those horrible souvenirs we used to send Treville from wherever we went?"

Aramis grins, tired and true, and shakes his head. It's as if he likes the thought of the memory, even if he no longer retains it.

". . . do you remember my seventeenth birthday . . . ?"

Aramis turns on the bed to face him, looks at Porthos and smiles so softly, and his thumb strokes over his cheek. He shakes his head, and Athos looks down at him, all Aramis looks is like he's in love and he's happy in it and he's sorry, but mostly he's happy. Athos lowers his own head, and kisses Aramis' shoulder, and says, "It's alright. To not remember everything. We'll still be here, whatever else disappears. None of it will ever make us leave as well."

"I swear I don't deserve you two to be so good to me."

Porthos says, "Hey, fuck, we've had this fuckin' argument -"

Vaguely, "Have we?"

"Oh - hell." as Aramis is laughing, and Athos knows he's entirely honest about having forgotten it but in this moment all Aramis does find it is funny. "S'true, anyway." Porthos huffs, brushing Aramis' hair back from his face with both hands. "Nothin' else matters. We'll love you anyway. An' we'll just have to keep on sayin' it, if you're just gonna keep on forgetting the fucking thing."

"You see," Aramis says, taking Porthos' wrist and stroking its vulnerable inside with the pad of his thumb, gentle. "It isn't all bad."

Athos remembers walking Paris with Porthos at his side, following Aramis and Treville, Aramis obviously foggy but very attentive on the captain, very sure that he would make it all seem alright, putting a smile on and braving it out until that happened. He remembers distinctly hearing a woman murmur, glancing across to watch her say it to her companion half-hidden by a hand, "That is the most beautiful man in Paris." Both of them were watching Aramis watch Treville with nervous eyes, trying very, very hard to follow him as he spoke.

Aramis couldn't even hear it, would have struggled to follow it if he had - it was really not a good day, that day - and Athos half felt sad, for how happy he knew it would have made Aramis, once, to hear those words to preen to. And yet also it would have made him unbearable. 'It isn't all bad' . . . ?

It's harder for Athos to dig out silver linings. Athos is less inclined to Aramis' serenity, his trust in god and thus his cheerful resolve to enjoy the things his god has given him. Athos is a cynical bastard who glowers at the world and finds that sunshine largely just gives him a fucking headache anyway. And when there is no sunshine - when it feels like it's been good long weeks without any sign of it -

No. He's no right to despair. Aramis needs more from him than that, Porthos has enough to deal with between Aramis' condition and his own emotions staining the sky to storm every damn day, they need Athos more than he needs to sulk. And Aramis really does look alright. Tired, and ill, and not always like he understands where he is and what's happening; but always like he trusts them, always like he loves them, always like he wants to smile for them.

Athos screws the lid on the bottle and sets it aside for now, and, bones stretching apart like rusted barbed wire with the movement, he leans down, and kisses Aramis on top of his head. "Sleep. We'll see about finding something to eat soon."

Laying side by side on the bed, facing each other across the pillows, Porthos is stroking the shape of one of Aramis' eyebrows with his thumb, and he murmurs, "D'you remember d'Artagnan?"

Aramis murmurs, "How the hell does anyone forget that reckless Gascon délinquant? Do you remember that time he picked a fight with all three of us at once?"

". . . don't think that's happened yet, Aramis."

"Don't be foolish. It was the first thing that happened." Aramis yawns, and does seem to be settling back to sleep, blinking slow on the pillow. It doesn't matter if it's this episode that's exhausted him, there have always been enough episodes to exhaust him. "He came striding into the garri- garrison -"

Porthos whispers, "Just go to sleep."

"Crazy little brilliant bastard." Aramis mumbles, eyes closed. "I would have loved him straight off if he hadn't just thrown a knife at my head . . ."

For some time, they listen to the sound of him breathing, slow and even as his oceans. Finally certain of his sleep, Porthos says, "First thing we do when we find this fucker, right, we get Aramis ready to duck."

"He seems to think he'll live past it." Athos says, confused more than unnerved by Aramis' little story. "Where the hell is this 'garrison' he keeps talking about?"

"This is what it was like before you got here," Porthos says, still laying there relaxed beside Aramis, watching his face. "Drove me fuckin' nuts."

Athos has never easily happened upon silver linings. He just sighs, and reaches for the bottle again. He can at least not make clear to Porthos again that this was a bad idea and they're not repeating it, because he doesn't think that Porthos needs to hear it again and god knows the local climate doesn't need the confrontation. Aramis' mind may not be able to withstand much more of what his rift does to it, but the two of them brutally forcing him to face that - no, this experiment will not repeat. Either they will find d'Artagnan - and for fuck's fucking sake where is this man, hell - or Aramis' memories will be buried with him, for good, when his rift is finally more than he can fight. Athos knows that every day he's weaker, and it only ever gets stronger. It's had ten fucking years to grind him down, ten years, ten years ago Athos was a different person, ten years ago the world was such a different place, ten years is a long fucking time and if ten years is all Aramis can fight for it's no sign of weakness, it's almost inhuman in its strength. Ten years, Christ.

He has shadows under his eyes, a strained look to the skin. That nun had flicked her gaze uneasy across his face a few times, but each time Aramis had quickly asked a question, made a comment, moved the situation along; he's very good at distracting people, even if he is one of the worst outright liars Athos has ever met. Athos knows Aramis looks ill, but then that nun last knew him ill, and must only have thought that he lives with it still. Which is true, which is the problem, which is why Athos has to watch the first lover who ever truly loved him back waste to death in front of him, if their fucking fire affinity stays away too long.

Athos is not inclined to optimism, and already knows that love is a blade. Even when hers faded to rust and crumbled, there were already fresh knives there in his heart, and this one is twisting by the day.

Aramis believes in grace. The closest to it that Athos has ever known is that he knows how desperate the situation they are in is, he truly believes that Aramis can die which he knows that Porthos can't bring himself to face, and so he truly can grasp the man - the young man - in front of him with the fierceness he knows their situation requires. He can love Aramis like an earthquake, like he's always reeling from the aftershocks, and if they have to he can face Porthos in the aftermath to see what remains in the devastation, what the two of them may have to do, what he may have to do with a throat full of love like earth stopping his lungs. He believes in all of this. He knows it's possible, he knows he genuinely may have to face it. He disputes none of it. Grace: at least he does know. At least he's not ignorant, he despises his past ignorance, at least he's not pissing away what could be his last days with them on petty nothing when they are all of the world, and after them there won't even be the bare wrecked earth. Silence like the void, the vacuum of space. He doesn't believe in an afterlife. He does believe that ending will be something of a relief, if he knows he's not leaving them behind to suffer in doing it.

Porthos says, "D'you remember the time he took a running jump off a cliff in that underground cave?"

Athos looks down at him, swallows some rum and says, "Impatience is his worst vice. He can always be counted upon to look for the shortest possible route to anything."

"Wasn't even the first time. He climbed up an' jumped off the cliffs near ours once, fetching a kite for some kids."

"I assume he didn't break anything."

"Lucky as a cat." Porthos' eyes crease a grin, and he says, "D'you remember that time in China, he started speakin' Chinese -"

"You didn't think it was so amusing at the time."

"Hell, no, at the time I nearly pissed myself. F'r a really different reason." He scratches his nose. "Funny in retrospect."

Athos says flatly, "Is it." and takes another quick drink, holding it in his mouth as he thinks. He says, "Do you remember the Super Soaker?"

"Little fucker."

"And that time he announced that a priest was coming to dinner without permission or anything in the house to eat or even a chair for him."

"He's kind of brilliant when he's being a dick. Like - I dunno. He makes it all more interestin'. Life and stuff."

Athos remembers this softly, and lowers the bottle. "Do you remember when we both came down with the flu and so he took care of both of us?"

"He's always been like that," Porthos says quietly. "I got a tonne of colds when I first got to the villa, fuckin' French germs or something, he looked after me every time. Fussed like my fuckin' mum." He stares at Aramis' closed eyes, mouth pressing very hard for a few long seconds. He says, "Never had anyone like."

He stops, and Athos leans over Aramis' body - the joints in his unfolding arm scrape like nails inside a metal bowl - and puts a hand on his shoulder. He waits, saying nothing, just breathing, until he feels the tension in Porthos' body begin to unwind.

Athos says, "Are you hungry?"

"He's not up to leavin' the room tonight."

"Takeaway. I don't think they do room service."

"I wouldn't speak Spanish if it wasn't for him." Porthos says. "An' I wouldn't be able to shoot for shit."

Athos says simply, "I would be a bitter, vicious drunk certain that all love in the world is a lie, and I would be so poor for it." He puts the bottle aside. "More of a drunk, anyway. What do you think we can get him to eat?"

Porthos clears his throat a little, says, "He'll always eat ice cream but it's not exactly the healthiest."

"If he's ever in danger of obesity I'll bear that in mind," Athos mutters, climbing from the bed and finding his shoes on the floor by the door; Aramis may weigh less now than he did when Athos first met him, and he was a skinny teenage stick when he met him, so Athos really doesn't think that an ice cream diet is the worst thing that could happen to Aramis right now. "I'll bring something back. Will you watch him?"

"I got him," Porthos says quietly, tugging the blanket from the foot of the bed - Aramis is laying on the duvet - to cover him, even if Aramis is already wearing more than enough layers for this room. Athos pulls his own jacket on to go outside while he's walking around the bed, where he can kiss Porthos on the side of his head, and hold the side of his neck to murmur by his ear, "Alright."

"Alright." Porthos says, like it's a promise between them. "See you soon."

Athos zips his jacket and closes the door gently behind himself, as if anything could wake Aramis from the depths of settled post-episode sleep. He walks away from their room for the stairs thinking that he wants to remember this. Not that they fucked up in bringing Aramis here like this, though he knows he shouldn't forget himself capable of fucking up, and should hold the memory for that at least. But that they took care of him, that they did it properly. That they got it right, the loving him. Even when he's no longer capable of asking for what he might need the two of them still know to supply it. They got at least some of it right. Athos got something right.

He thinks of these things being taken from Aramis, no choice in it. His fuck-ups, his moments of bliss when he knew he'd done right. But Athos doesn't believe in silver linings or in fairness. The world isn't fair. The world just is, and you deal with it.

Facing this, he loves that man like a stone dropped down a well with no end. The falling, forever, alone.

He's never believed that love is kind. He goes to buy ice cream in a language he only speaks because Aramis gave it to him, and he has no-one to pray to, and after ten years no reason to hope. But, for once, he doesn't find his eye falling suspiciously on men he meets, appraising in silence, that tentative question he never allows himself to recognise forming, the hope he has no reason for but the despair that love is -

( . . . d'Artagnan . . . ?)

- because, for once, he knows he doesn't have to, not here.

How the hell does anyone forget that reckless Gascon délinquant?

They'll be flying back to France as soon as Aramis is well enough.

Athos squeezes his fists as he walks into the cool of the Santiago evening, and tries to remember everything he's ever known about Gascony.

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