rainjoyswriting: (kurt!)
[personal profile] rainjoyswriting
In Extremis, Musketeers fic, affinityverse (best catalogued in my memories) <3

Disclaimer: I seem to own very little when I admit that neither the characters nor the poetry are mine.

Rating: Probably R

Warnings and spoilers: The main list's on part one, read sensibly. Some discussion of coming to terms with one's own mortality in this one, the cheery thing I spent last year doing while they were trying to work out if whatever is wrong with me would kill me or not. It's not the nicest, and I wouldn't read if you really don't fancy that in your life right now.

Summary: First Penance, then Anointing, then Viaticum.



Note: Anticipation of Love has turned out to be a really important poem for this verse, which wasn't entirely intended but also couldn't be avoided, given the pathetic Borges fangirl that I am. Also, I usually write a chapter ahead of what I'm posting, and it is *super weird* coming back to this one after the next . . .









It's been a strange summer for weather. It's not just that it's rained so much - more than expected, even on the exposed coast as they are - but the storms have rolled in in increasing waves, and Père Donaldson has lived here for a long few years but he's never known the sky so angry as this. Still, God's work remains a mystery to him however long he lives and that's something he knows to expect, as he walks down the roadside underneath an umbrella, for that one lonely house on the edge of the village where three young men keep the local gossip alive.

One of those young men is outside the front door, apparently impervious to the rain, moving one of two very heavy terracotta containers of lavender underneath the shelter of the house's eaves, rolling it along on its base. Porthos' eyes are fixed on what he's doing, working with the odd elliptical path the container's base wants to take, so Père Donaldson is almost upon him before he can say and be sure of attracting his attention through all the wind and rain, "So, is the water not good for them then?"

Porthos looks up at him, pinned for a second in sheer shock of his presence, then looks down at what he's doing again and goes back to rolling the heavy pot towards shelter. "They like bein' dry." he says, the container rumbling and grinding towards its new home. "They like it when you treat 'em like shit to be honest but they like the neglect end of shit, not the overwaterin' end of it. S'pose you're here for Aramis." He finally gets both arms snug around the container to tip it off its lip and onto its full base, letting the weight of it settle in its shelter beside the front door. "Must've been a few weeks now."

"Quiet as the grave without him in the church." Père Donaldson says cheerfully; he's liked the boy's exuberance, liked having some energy around the place, and has hardly failed to notice the younger crowd feeling more enthusiastic about church-going if he's going there ahead of him. It's not the most godly reason to enter a house of God but they'll get a bit of scripture along with it, so the priest doesn't mind. "I assume he's unwell, I came to see if he was able to take a visit."

Porthos pushes his hair back with both hands, pushing the water running out from it back really, palms sliding wet up his forehead. Then he sets his grim sights, jaw clenched, on the second pot, and shifts its weight to his chest to tip it to an angle for rolling alongside the first. "Dunno if he is." he says. "He was bad this morning. I c'n tell him you were here."

"Might I see him?" Père Donaldson says, watching Porthos roll his plant in its heavy clay pot, focus apparently on what he's doing but a priest knows very well when someone's avoiding eye contact. "He's missed his confession for weeks, I know it bothers him. And it would do an old man good to see him alive, at least."

Porthos rolls his pot, and doesn't look at him, rain glancing off his skin but he doesn't so much as blink. Thunder makes its sullen voice heard at the horizon, and Père Donaldson just stands there, patient with an old priest's patience, before Porthos says, "He can't have anythin' to confess, barely been out the bed in weeks." Then his eye fastens with a certain quickness to the rim of the pot as he rolls it, lavender wagging its heads under weight of raindrops, and he says more quickly, "Nothin' he needs to urgently confess, nothin' that won't keep, he's been too ill to - he really hasn't -"

"With him, it's never been about what he needs to confess," Père Donaldson says, to rescue the poor young man from excusing Aramis away from whatever sins he and all three of them may need to confess after a few weeks barely leaving a bed, "but more the need to confess as a general act. These are the things we do." He contemplates it from Porthos' side, he's seen him in the church often enough but he knows he's no Catholic, however deeply Aramis is. He doesn't know how personal the act of confession is, but he must know the necessity Aramis finds it to be. "Sometimes things are done because they're what is done and we can all breathe a sigh of relief at the end of it. I know it's always made him feel better."

Porthos is silent, his pot grinding its way beside the first, and he stops it, finally, with a clinking thud of its weight to rest. Père Donaldson wonders when he was young and strong enough to move such a thing, he knows he'd break his wrists on it now. "Come inside," Porthos says, head ducked with a slight unease. "I'll go see if he's awake. He might not be. He's really - he's not - good."

"I'd appreciate that a great deal, son."

His umbrella, pouring water, he shakes out of the open front door a few times as Porthos strides off for the stairs, then thinks to stop and come back and says, "D'you wanna sit in the living room?" and then looks at the umbrella and finally, embarrassedly, gestures to take it off him, and props it on the tiles beside the front door to drip. "D'you wanna sit?" he says. "I'll go see if he's up. Athos is with him."

"Thank you. That's very kind."

Porthos just looks at him, awkward on the edge of manners he's never sure of, then nods, and walks off rapidly for the stairs again, taking them in great leaping strides of such strength and grace Père Donaldson feels brittle and frail just to see them, and smiles at the long lost pleasure of a body that acts without constraint. Then he wipes his feet on the mat and goes to sit in the living room, which is silent and grey with rainlight, and has a certain stale, unlived-in feeling to it right now, the used coffee cup on the table looks like it's been there for a very long time. He wonders how much time any of them have managed to spend away from that bed in these last few weeks.

He's glad Aramis has the two of them, because he knows how unwell the boy's been, even the last time he did manage to get himself to the church he looked pained with it all, the skin on his face pinched with suffering, and the peace he took in proceedings Père Donaldson saw manifest mostly as an extreme tiredness, as an ability to allow himself to be nothing more than tired now that he was in the presence of the Lord and could submit to it. Aramis has been unwell for as long as Père Donaldson has known him but it was easier to ignore, once, when Aramis was more able to ignore it himself, boisterous and unpredictable as a spring hare regardless. Now no-one can ignore it; the boy is ill, he's Père Donaldson's responsibility as much as he's anyone else's - he's his priest - and he knows Aramis likes to mind himself, knows the other two young men like to keep his situation under their own control, but he can't be patient any longer. It's not for his own sake, it's for Aramis'. He knows the want of his confession will be weighing on him, he's hardly known anyone so attached to the act as him, and he knows that the ill can take some comfort and gain some resilience through the visit of a priest. To be reminded of God, to reclaim their trust in God, he's known it do wonders for the recovery, and he's known Aramis take his leave of his church for a time before but never for so long as this.

He looks around the room. The record player isn't here - moved somewhere else, perhaps, though the box of records is still there, open, a few sleeves left out alongside it. The television is blank and black and dead. There are a few books scattered about as if forgotten, a spider rolled almost underneath the coffee table from the box of records, and something pokes up at the side of his sofa cushion, which Père Donaldson eases out: the four of clubs, which he places beside the deck of cards left on the table, and tries to imagine their evenings here. Music, cards, each other. It's not a conventional relationship (they've been over it more than once, he and Aramis, just to help him understand it: the three of them, and he won't apologise or be ashamed of it, because he says God never showed him how utter love is before he had them), and Père Donaldson's had brief moments troubled by it but, well, honestly. He's seen how they are together. They take turns to take Aramis to church, their companionship is constant, and it's commented upon in the village that they now rarely see the three of them, once so inseparable, out together; one at a time, either Porthos in the village or Athos out at the supermarket, quickly, so they can hurry home to be a three again as if being separated is wrong. Père Donaldson knows that no-one else understands their relationship, though he's heard vague, faintly troubled hints towards it here and there from his flock. He doesn't truly know how people would respond if it did become widely known, if fantastical suspicion were known to be true. He hopes it would be met with love. He doesn't believe that the Lord ever intended anyone to act out of anything else.

He hears some movement, a creaking of the stairs. He waits, because he doesn't mean to stand before he has to - his own bones aren't what they were, and he knows it won't be so long, in the grand scheme of things, before he's needful of the sort of solicitude he's come to bring Aramis himself - and he can tell by the stride, having heard it echo a few times in the church by now. Porthos' stride is longer and quieter, and Aramis' walk is an easy, almost swaggering thing, he enjoys walking very much though perhaps that's no longer true. This walk is measured and straight and heavy, and Père Donaldson says, "Good afternoon to you, now."

"Father." Athos says, looking at him expressionlessly from the doorway. "Porthos says you're here for Aramis."

"If he's well enough for the visit."

"He is not." Athos says flatly. "But having overheard of its possibility he's now got overexcited about it, so you better had see him regardless."

Père Donaldson uses the arm of the chair to heave himself to stand, bones clicking into their new positions, grimacing his face with it. "How has he been?"

"Ill." Athos says, without any obvious expression to it. "You know that nothing else would keep him from church."

"He's a good and pious boy." Père Donaldson says, which he's said before in front of Aramis before and seen the wicked surprise there in his grinning eyes. "And the two of you? It can't be an easy thing to see him through this."

"You're not my priest." Athos says, not in an unfriendly way but Père Donaldson understands and won't push the matter. Porthos is awkward of him, Athos simply walled in by his sense of privacy, and Père Donaldson can't tend to the two of them. All he can hope is that they know how to tend to each other, while Aramis can't.

Climbing the stairs he notices a way the muscles flex in the sides of Athos' neck as he walks, doesn't know how to read it - queasiness? A want to talk? - before he recognises it from his own aching joints as he takes each step. He says, "Is it your back, so?"

"What?"

"The pain. It's taken all my joints but then, that's the cross age gives you to bear, you're too young for the rheumatism."

Athos looks at him out of the side of his eye, then says, "We all have our crosses to bear." and opens one of the doorways off the landing, and gestures for Père Donaldson to enter.

Inside is a bedroom, window open to let a little air in but warm, it's been muggy out underneath the rain, it is still July even under all this water. There's the record player, spilling wires in the corner beside the desk, surrounded by a few scattered LPs. The room isn't best tidy - the laundry basket beside the wardrobe is full, and Porthos is just scooping some discarded clothes from the desk chair underneath the window to drop them on top of the pile in the basket and wheel the chair to the bedside, where Aramis is sitting up eagerly, looking at Père Donaldson and smiling. The smile is alert and real. But he's pale as if chilled to the bone, and over the duvet is a hump of blankets for him like he might possibly be cold, buried in some big jumper as he is with a cardigan on over it - Père Donaldson doesn't think it's his, and would guess at it belonging to Athos, neither Aramis nor Porthos are really the cardigan sort. How could he be cold? The room is heavy with damp summer heat, Porthos is only in a t-shirt, Père Donaldson wishes he was young enough to feel comfortable in bare arms . . .

"Father," Aramis says, looking so happy and like he might not have slept in a week.

"Don't let him out the bed an' don't let him get worked up," Porthos says, jerking at the covers on the bed, tugging them up around Aramis who shoots the ceiling a close-lipped, amused look.

"Porthos, I sincerely doubt I'm the first sickbed the man's been to."

Porthos pats at the messy bedside table, which seems to contain every piece of household ephemera Père Donaldson can imagine, including a corkscrew, except for the medicines he really thought would be there. Porthos lifts up and holds out to the priest what looks like the fob of a set of car keys. "Take this," he says. "We'll be downstairs. You pull that if he says he's feelin' bad, or if he goes unconscious or starts havin' a seizure -"

"Porthos . . ."

"- or if he starts slurrin', or he throws up, or he gets a nosebleed, anything right, anything, you pull that. An' if he says anything really weird just ignore him."

"I'm right here, Porthos."

"Right." Porthos looks Père Donaldson in the eye for a long second as if ascertaining whether he's dependable enough to entrust Aramis with for a few minutes' private talk, then he looks at Athos as if for a second opinion. Athos' face gives away nothing, the man's more blank than that television downstairs, and he just says, "We'll be downstairs if you need anything."

"Thank you," Aramis says, quietly, as the two of them make their way out, Porthos shuffling with obvious reluctance. "Both of you. And you, Father," as the door closes behind them, and they're left with only the rain drumming off the window. "It's - it's really very good of you to come, I'm sorry I haven't been to church, I really do appreciate it."

"Sure no-one expects you to crawl your way in, son. Visiting the sick is part of our calling."

"But I'm alright." Aramis says, picking at a bit at the cuff of his cardigan. "And it is so good of you."

He doesn't seem to understand that this might be argued with - that sitting there lumped in layers in the middle of summer, with a raw look to his skin like somehow he's fighting off frostbite and shadows under his eyes like all sleep left him long ago, that this might entitle him to the kindnesses offered to the ill. Père Donaldson just tugs his trousers to sit comfortably, and holds that strange fob in his palm, where it fits almost perfectly the crease of his hand. Père Donaldson says, "How have you been, son?"

"I'm alright," Aramis says. "Honestly, they look after me, and they fuss like it's worse than it is. And I always get better again. I always have, so I must again. It's just . . . it's just taking its time, this time."

"You've missed your confession a few weeks now."

"I know." Aramis says, head low, picking at his cuff. "It's weighed on me."

"But I'm sure you've little to get off your heart after all this. There can't be much energy for sinning left."

"I usually manage to find some," Aramis says gloomily.

Père Donaldson looks over the bedside table again - there's his Bible like a good Christian and his rosary beside it, another book in Spanish, a hip flask, a gun - Père Donaldson doesn't ask questions where he feels the answer would offer little progress - a jug of water and a glass but no pills, no medicine. "Are you seeing a doctor now?"

The corner of Aramis' mouth pulls not-a-smile. "I'm being cared for. They have me."

"But a doctor, now . . ."

"It wouldn't help, Father, really, it wouldn't. Whatever can help me now, a doctor isn't on the list."

Père Donaldson is silent for some time, watching his face as Aramis watches the thread he's tugging at - trying to tuck back in, Père Donaldson realises, a pull to the wool he's trying to put right with his fingertips, not something he's trying to pluck loose. "It weighs on people." the priest says, because all his life, his own and the others he's responsible for, he's seen this over and over and over. "All that life gives us to bear, and then illness on top of it. And we don't like to burden others, knowing the weight they already carry. But I'm not them, son. I'm your priest. And I came here, I wasn't asked, I know you'd never bother an old man by asking for it but I chose to come here. So if it needs to be said, I'm here to hear it. And what's said here is as sacred as in any sanctified space. You have my word on that, always, son."

"I'm alright," Aramis says, picking at his sleeve. "Really, Father. It's only that it's been worse than usual, and we're all out of sorts. Because it upsets them enough so I can't go around fussing about it all, it's only a bad patch, I always get better again. And they look after me so well, they're so good to me, I can't pity myself as if that's not enough, they forget everything about themselves to care for me, they give me everything. It's only that I'm tired, and it's - it's been quite a lot to get through. Because it's gone on for a long time now." His lips fold strangely, jaw held too firm, hands falling from that thread in his cuff to lay loose on the covers as he stares straight ahead. "It's only that it's gone on for a long time and I never have had any patience and I must stop being so childish about it all. It's only that it's gone on for a long time and it's upsetting them and I mustn't upset them worse. It's only that -" His hands aren't steady on the blankets - "it's gone on for a long time, and -" He lifts his hands to his face, they're not exactly trembling, they're just hardly strong enough for the journey. "- I'm so tired -"

Père Donaldson will never say a word, to him or anyone else on this side of the grave, about how his voice breaks on the word 'tired'. He allows a small space for him to recover himself, he knows how attached the boy is to his composure, puts that strange fob on the bed and touches his wrist, allows Aramis to suck a tight breath in and lower his hands, blinking too fast. "It's alright," Père Donaldson says, as softly as he can. "To be tired. And son, they already know it. They're already as upset as they're going to get, nothing you do can make it worse for them. It never has been your fault."

Aramis shakes his head, eyes closing tight now, and draws his breath in through his teeth. "I've prayed on this," he says, low and rough. "Father I swear, over and over, because I don't know what to do and - and I can't, I can't face this," Something awful about the way he says 'this', "while I know I'm lying to a priest, I can't, and I don't ask you to forgive me -"

"The Lord's grace runs deeper than I think you could test it, son."

"- but will you please believe me. Please. If I tell you the truth, all I ask is that you believe it. I'm not mad." He lifts his head, looks pleading at Père Donaldson, eyes dark with exhaustion and the stress of this. "They think I'm going mad or close enough to it, I'm not, I'm really not. I'm just - it's all a lot to deal with but I am still here -"

Père Donaldson didn't come here unprepared for what he might find. Aramis has been ill for as long as he's known him, and visibly, obviously deteriorating for months; his absence for the last few weeks could have only meant one thing, and the question has only been how much worse he is. So he tells himself that he is prepared for this, and takes Aramis' hand before he can cover his eyes with it or fuss at a thread with it, and when Aramis squeezes tight, he presses back. "I will believe you." he says. Judgement is the Lord's business alone and His priorities, Père Donaldson hopes Aramis still understands, are exactly as they ought to be. He owes Aramis belief, but not judgement on it. "It's alright to say what you need to."

Aramis presses his hand, and says, "The captain is going to kill me when he knows I've told you. And they'll - they'll only think I wasn't in my right mind to say it. I am still here. I know what I'm doing. It's only that they don't understand that I can't - I can't come up to this while I know I'm lying to a priest. It doesn't mean the same to them, you know they, it doesn't. But I have to -" He closes his eyes. "I have to, I have to face this. I know I'm supposed to survive. And I know this lack of faith is a sin. But I'm so tired." He's still for a second, then opens his eyes. "I can't keep pretending, and I'm - afraid. For my soul. So I can't lie to you, Father. But you will please, please believe me . . ."

"Son, some of the things you've told me already, you'll have to push quite far to get me past believing it of you."

"I think I really might," Aramis says dryly, and smiles for him, weak but true. Then he looks at the foot of the bed for some time, gathering his thoughts, and eventually murmurs, "There are more things in heaven and Earth . . ."

Père Donaldson watches him, and waits. Belief requires the patience to listen; questions can come afterwards, but an interruption is always a doubt.

Aramis says, "There are some people in this world who have a power in them that I do not call holy. It comes -" He touches his own chest - "like a break, like something in them split and sheer power comes out of it. We call them rifts. Because there is a chasm within them that can't be closed, and can only be balanced, not by poor weak humans as we are but only by other rifts."

Père Donaldson, unsure of where this is going or if it's a metaphor or not - Aramis' tone is odd for that - can only wait. "We have affinities," Aramis says thoughtfully, as if considering it even as he's saying it. "Athos' is for earth, and metal, and the way plants grow. Porthos' is for air, and wind, and storms, and lightning. And mine is for water." He looks at Père Donaldson like he's come somewhere almost beyond wanting to see if he believes him, as if the facts he's speaking don't admit of doubt. "The sea itself comes when I call it. But water affinities are given gifts I know ought to be unholy but they brought me the two of them and I can't hate them, Father." He takes a breath, and holds Père Donaldson's eyes. "The seizures are psychic episodes happening. I see things in them, things - in the future, or elsewhere, or in the past. I see other rifts breaking so we can go try to help them, I see disasters, I see - just people, going about their lives. I see a lot, recently. I can't control it. I spend more time elsewhere than here."

He looks away, and his grip on Père Donaldson's hand isn't strong but he isn't letting go. "We need a fire affinity," he says. "You form circles, it's the only way, because the rift inside you is stronger than you are and it will eventually split wide open and kill you if it can. The three of us, we balance each other, we hold each other, for now. But I've been ten years holding mine and it will kill me, very soon, if we don't find our fire affinity. And I even know his name but we don't know where he is, and I'm running out of strength for the waiting, and it is the hardest, the worst thing, where is even the point of finding our fire affinity for them if I die and leave them needing a water affinity all over again . . . ?"

Père Donaldson watches his face, and he's running the words over in his head, over and over again, and all Aramis looks is tired, too sure of the words to need to look anything but tired. He doesn't look eager to be believed, any more than he would if he was describing the world as round. Père Donaldson says, slowly, "This isn't a metaphor you're using, is it."

Aramis looks over and smiles, tired, crooked, and then looks at the bedside table and says, "Would you mind passing me the water jug - please - thank you." His hands don't seem strong enough to take it, but -

They don't need to be. The weight of the water pours impossibly upwards from the spout, gathers in a loose-lolling shape above the jug, and as Aramis balances that jug in both arms on his stomach, the water rains back inside it, a fine mist-like rain like a storm cloud seen from a distance, pouring its heart back into an ocean. "Water has always been easy for me," Aramis murmurs, watching it. "It just is, we just - we have an affinity. But the psychic part of my powers is killing me. I wish, I wish daily that it isn't true, because they have to stand here and watch it and be helpless. But I don't know how much time I have left. And Father . . ."

Père Donaldson is still staring, staring, at the last drops of water peeling apart and raining in a hush back into the jug, thin whisper echoing the rain outside until the cloud is gone, and the water within settles steady again. "I have too much of the future in my head," Aramis says. "And too much of the past, far too damn much of that - sorry, Father."

"It's fine," Père Donaldson whispers, and takes the jug from him as it tips alarmingly to the side in Aramis' weak arms.

"I have too much that's not mine in my head," Aramis says, sounding mostly apologetic about it. "Years of the stuff, ten years of it building, and I - there isn't the room left for me. They tell me things about myself, things that must be true but I don't know that, I have no memory of it. I don't remember my childhood, I don't remember . . . there's nothing until Porthos is there, I don't remember - no, that's not true, I remember Marsac but what I remember about Marsac is so confusing - I forget more and more to make room for everything else coming in and - and if you'd come yesterday, Father, maybe if you'd come an hour later, I wouldn't know who you are. And I'm sorry, if you ever see me like that, I don't mean the cruelty of it, I just don't remember -"

"Son . . ."Père Donaldson says, and has no idea what ought to follow it.

"You think I'm mad," Aramis says, and drops his head into a hand, kneading at his forehead, exhausted eyes closed. "It's the sensible thing to think and I haven't even told you about the other man in my head, I don't even notice when he's getting out anymore, if he sat down with you in confession I don't even know what he'd tell you he thinks he's done the way he grieves about it up there all the time -"

What Père Donaldson wants to say, trying not to sound too alarmed about it, is that really it sounds like there ought to be a doctor, now. But what stops the words are two things. One is knowing how Aramis would respond to them, which is very badly. Two is that he's already promised to believe him, and what worries him the most is how entirely certain Aramis is of his own words, he doesn't believe them to be true, Aramis knows them to be true, and - that water, how did he - how -

No. Three things. Aramis can admit that what he's facing is his own death, and no-one of his age should know what mortality means but there in the slump of his thin shoulder is the perfect bleak knowledge of it, no shying away, no prettifying of the fact, he knows the end he's pressing up against. And a response more than incredulity is owed to courage like that. Aramis has asked them to do away with the niceties of human pretence and face the situation in front of them, and so Père Donaldson does face the situation in front of him. Not what he would like it to be or what it's easy to believe it is: what Aramis tells him it is, what Aramis himself is facing, that is what he came here to face with him.

And it should be so fantastical, it should be the ramblings of a madman. But that water - the way it just -

All his life he's believed, and yet never seen anything he could call without hesitation a miracle.

There are more things in heaven and earth . . .

He puts his hand over Aramis' again, and holds it there for a long time, thinking. It's a hard thing to say to the ninety year old in a hospital bed. Here . . .

He says, voice too dry, "I have come prepared if you're in need of the sacrament, son. I always carry the oil with me, for the sick. We live in a world where a soul must be ready."

Aramis looks at him, a dark and raw look, and says, "I wouldn't ask for it, Father. I know . . . I don't like to . . . I've been reading on it," like it's a hard thing to admit to, "and I know it's not to be offered to soldiers before battle, only the sick, and one moment to the next I don't -" He rubs his forehead. "- I don't know which of those I'm . . ."

"If it would bring you peace, you are entitled." Père Donaldson says, voice steady but in this moment he does not feel his age, he feels too young, and being human really is the strangest of His mysteries there is. "I'm offering it. If it would ease your soul."

Aramis looks at him clear in the eye and trying very, very hard, Père Donaldson can see that, but when he blinks it's a little too fluttering-much, and he has to take a shaky breath in to say, low and hoarse, "It would, Father, it would mean - a lot, thank you." He looks down, at their hands, and blinks very hard, trying very, very hard to contain himself. He whispers again, soft as the rain and shaking, "Thank you."

*

By the time Porthos has seen Father Donaldson to the door, Aramis is asleep. Porthos approaches the bed uneasily, but Athos, sitting on the mattress by Aramis' side, just looks down at his face and doesn't touch him and murmurs, "He's exhausted himself. I knew he would."

Porthos stands at the other side of them, flexes his fists uneasily, leans to look down at Aramis' face. He does look tired - he always looks tired - but there's a gentleness to the way he's sleeping curled on his side, a peacefulness. It's not like the drunken unconsciousness of him after an episode. He's just tired, so he's sleeping, almost like there's nothing really wrong with him at all.

"What d'you think they did in here?" Porthos says, looking around the room uneasily, noting now how messy it is - he'd tried to have a scrabbly sort of tidy-up before the priest got up here, for Aramis' sake largely, but now he notes every piece of clutter he just doesn't see anymore and sighs, they really do need Aramis on his feet and fussing for the house to be halfway civilised. Porthos doesn't really understand Catholicism and doesn't know what happened overhead while he played patience and Athos drank and scowled downstairs. Chanting? Ritual? There aren't any chalk circles on the floor or candles lying around or anything . . .

"I don't know." Athos says. "I don't know whether to wish he'd stop hoping priests can fix things for him or if I should just be grateful for the placebo effect. At least he's sleeping."

Porthos looks down at Aramis breathing, barely noticeable under such a hump of coverings and very slow, and listens to the rain, settling down to something steady on the windows. He says, keeping his voice low, "Before you got here - I know you don't wanna hear about this. But before you got here, he was bad then. I know he's worse now, I know he's a lot worse now, but he was bad then an' once you turned up he was fine. I mean, he still had episodes but all the shit he'd lost, all those memories, they came right back, stuff he'd been losin' for years came right back. It's still in there. It's all still in there. It can come back again."

Athos looks down at Aramis, or at least at his closed eyes and the mess of his hair visible above the blankets, and eventually lifts his head and looks to the window, where the rain is running quieter, getting ready to let go. Which will be a relief for Porthos' fucking vegetables, he's almost washed his bloody garden away this summer. Athos just says, "I can't imagine not being able to tell your mood just by checking on the weather." He stands from the bed, says, "Some things can't be fixed. I'm getting a shower. Will you be alright with him?"

". . . yeah," Porthos says, feeling defensive and not like he understands. Athos just walks to the bathroom, and closes the door.

Porthos broods on it, while he puts a record on to play, low so it won't wake Aramis. He sits in the desk chair under the window and tries to imagine not staining the sky with everything he feels, and it is kind of a weird thought, after all these years he's used to it. He'd like it to happen less, he'd like not to fuck up his garden every time something makes him sad and he'd really like to stop putting in windows and pulling off roof tiles when he's pissed off, but the thought that his feelings will once again snap inside him, shut up as if in a nutshell - it's just a weird thought, that's all.

Because it's not like it's a bad thing, is it? He scratches his nose and thinks of that and it's so weird, once he thought it was the worst thing in the fucking world, everyone seeing, everything so obvious to them. But then he was a kid and angry and untrusting and ready to snap the hand off the first person to patronise or sneer. Instead he got Aramis, who just kissed him when he was sad, read him poetry and sucked his cock and just lay with his head on Porthos' thigh listening to his records with him whenever he made the sky rain. He didn't make a big deal of it or anything, but it made them even, in a way. Porthos knew when Aramis was struggling, after all. In a way it made it fair.

He looks out at the evening, cloud-grey but not dark yet, not this high in the summer, and he thinks about having a sealed circle. It'll be better. It's the only thing he can hope for. How the hell could it be worse?

There's a shifting in the bed and a muffled, sleepy, "I like this one."

Porthos looks up, walks over smiling but cautious, because when Aramis is awake it never really means they know who is awake, yet. But Aramis' eyes grinning over the top of the covers look just like him, so Porthos leans down and strokes his cheek with the backs of his fingers, says, "Yeah. I know."

He knows Aramis is still in there, knows that nothing has been lost, only temporarily misplaced. It's why he was dumb enough to think he could shake it all lose again in Chile. It makes him angry, how upset Aramis gets about it even if he tries not to show it, how frightened it makes him, how worthless it makes him feel, like he's no longer enough to love. But Aramis remembers music. Even at his worst, if Porthos plays Bowie his head cocks, if he puts Jean Genie on, his hip nods with the beat. And Porthos imagines a fourteen year old kid brought from an enclosed, uptight Catholic orphanage in Chile and seeing this guy for the first time on the internet, this skinny guy in shocking make-up who knows he's gorgeous and doesn't care who sees that - he can just imagine how Aramis was just awed, just starstruck, and probably never knew from the first moment if he wanted to fuck him or be him. He remembers music. If Porthos plays Aretha he grins and sways, if he plays Otis Aramis looks immediately to Porthos' eyes because he knows what Otis means to him. He remembers. Okay he doesn't remember what a fucking car is on any reliable basis and he freaks out at the laptop more than they'd like, but he remembers the things that matter, they're still there. They just have to trust that the rest is as well. A bit buried under too much future, too much past, but if he can just get a hold of his rift again he can make space. Of course he can. Because he'd never leave Porthos alone, he'd never go off and forget him, they love each other like children do, it's not a thing they think can end.

Porthos sits on the mattress beside his head and Aramis squirms up a bit from the covers but only to wrap an arm around the pillow and gaze drowsily through Porthos' thigh, as if his mind is somewhere else. He's quiet but he seems peaceful, somehow. As if some of that thin thready fear he's been fighting with a long while as his memories shattered and he didn't know where the fuck he was one moment to the next has faded back a bit. It's not like he's better, he still looks fucking knackered with it all. But he looks calmer. Like he can face it, now. Like some uneasy faith he'd lost his certainty of has been restored to him, and it's alright just to be again, now.

What the fuck priests give him, Porthos never will know. He just brushes his cheek again, murmurs, "Alright?"

"Mm," Aramis says, and blinks, and looks tired. "You're going to have to take me back to the villa."

"- now?"

His eyes crinkle their grin, and he shakes his head against the pillow. "No. Soon. It's going to be bad, we're going to need Ferrand."

"But you're gonna be alright," Porthos says, more urgently now, stroking his hair back. "You're gonna wake up from it again."

"I'm going to be alright." Aramis promises him quietly. "Whatever kills me, it's not going to be this next batch." He squirms himself more comfortable to the mattress, says sleepily, "It'll be nice to see the captain, anyway."

"Maybe you'll see d'Artagnan," Porthos says, stroking his hair back, back. "Maybe it won't be f'r nothing."

"It never is for nothing. I always wake from them to you." Aramis smiles, eyes closed. "I dreamed about him. D'Artagnan."

"You did?"

"That time we got him into a duel. What larks." said cheerfully, wickedly, while Porthos squints uneasily down at him.

". . . I don't remember that," he attempts, slowly, not knowing how else to manage Aramis talking about d'Artagnan in the past tense.

"It's alright." Aramis says into the pillow, mumbling as he slips under again. "I can remember enough for the both of us."

Back to the villa, Porthos thinks, as Aramis' breath slides even and slow. It knots in his guts, it means it's going to be bad, really bad, too much for the two of them to cope with, and he could vomit from watching Aramis go through it all again. But if he can just hold on - if he can just cling on with everything he's got for them, maybe he'll see something, maybe this time - because it's got to have a point, all this shit they go through, it's got to have an end, otherwise what the fuck are they even doing? Why survive any of it, why keep going, why love each other at all if they're just corpses waiting to happen?

He doesn't know what he believes in. He knows that Aramis does. And one of the things Aramis believes in without even thinking about it is d'Artagnan . . .

The record plays out. Porthos listens to the crackles, and the water dripping off the eaves, and the way Aramis breathes as if blessed to be here, as if nowhere is safer and more sacred than under Porthos' eyes.

Where is the point in anything, if it's not the three of them?

The bathroom door opens, Athos in loose pyjamas for bed with damp hair, eyes immediately on Aramis to check on him. "He's alright," Porthos says. "Seems steadier than he has in a while, actually. He says we need to take 'im back to the villa."

"Now?"

"Not now. Tomorrow. He's gonna be bad. He didn't say it like he minded it."

Athos sighs, and throws his old shirt at the laundry basket, where it hangs off the pile with an arm spilled beseechingly across the floor. "Fine."

Porthos says, "Can you not -" and stops, because saying the next part is going to make Athos either angry or upset and it's admitting to something sickeningly vulnerable in himself, but then he hears the wind suck around the chimney pot and knows there's nothing in himself to hide, is there? "C'n you not do that - shutting off thing? I kind of - I need you not to. Right now. Please."

Athos is silent, not looking at him, not even visibly moving before he breathes quite hard, and says, "I wasn't aware that I was. I'm sorry."

"No - it's just -" He gestures, hopelessly, at their sleeping water affinity. "It's a lot. It's a fucking lot. An' he can - he can cope, I dunno how he does, he never gets mad even an' I'd - I couldn', I couldn't do his side of it. But it's hard enough doin' this side, I just, it'd help if we were nice to each other. That's all I was thinkin'."

Athos takes his time again, he sometimes needs the time to think, something both Porthos and Aramis really should think to get into sometimes. "I wasn't aware that you felt like that. Like I'm not being - 'nice'."

"I dunno if I mean it like that. Just . . . bein' patient with each other. Thinkin' about each other. You have been for him." Porthos swallows, and it hurts. "You've been really good for him."

Watching Athos handle Aramis as if Aramis is precious has been an eerie and awe-inspiring thing for Porthos, he never knew Athos could. He knows Aramis has never expected it. The mystified, almost desperate way Aramis realises it every time Athos touches him so gently, murmurs so soft, like no-one has ever been kind to him in his life . . . it's not like Porthos resents it, because he gets it, because Athos able to be gentle is the strangest and newest and most beautiful thing, Aramis grabs to it in sheer surprise. When they met him he was so angry, so bitter. A miracle, now, when he holds Aramis and closes his eyes like there is no anger or bitterness in the world, like their embrace is holy, like he's not afraid.

"Come here," Athos says, gently, and holds a hand out for him.

They don't hug enough, Porthos thinks, squeezing back and tucking his face to Athos' hair. Hugs are nice. Reinvigorating. He doesn't know why he feels stronger after a hug, but it's grounding, in its way. Porthos can wail and rampage like the storm, untethered, but Athos stands here like a mountain and he's going nowhere.

That's nice. He closes his eyes. Athos is going nowhere; that's a really nice thought.

Athos strokes a hand down his back. "We should pack," he murmurs. "Set off as soon as he wakes."

"He'll be alright."

"We can pack his bag. I don't suppose it matters if he doesn't choose the clothes, he wouldn't remember choosing them anyway."

Porthos murmurs, ". . . I hope he doesn't forget Father Donaldson came for 'im. It really made him happy, it . . . I just hope he remembers that."

Athos is quiet for a moment, still just holding him warm to his side, then says only a little strained, "You can remind him."

"Yeah." Porthos says, because there's nothing else he can do for him, he'll have to hand him over to Ferrand tomorrow because he can't do anything for him, but he can do this. "Yeah. I will."

He doesn't know what they talked about up here. But Aramis seems calmer, and it must have helped, whatever the hell it was.

He says, "He'll like seeing the captain. I'm a - bit worried about the mole, though. If we're back in the villa. What if he sees d'Artagnan an' then that bastard gets to him first?"

"If d'Artagnan is supposed to be in this circle," Athos says slowly, "I suspect that he will make the mole very, very sorry to have attempted anything, if the rest of us are anything to judge by." His hand catches in the back of Porthos' hair, and he kisses him, once. "Pack. I want to have him safely back as soon as we can."

Porthos tugs his old backpack out of the wardrobe and feels a certain thrill of excitement in his stomach. It will do Aramis good to see the captain - hell, Porthos is looking forward to it too - and even if he doesn't see d'Artagnan, they'll have a few days there still, to hang out in the pool, to be somewhere familiar and safe, knowing there's Athos and Treville there watching over them. It'll be nice. And -

He has to hope. He has to. The alternative is casting Aramis' life into a stack of odds so long it just wouldn't matter anymore. He has to hope. Every episode hurts him worse, Porthos can see how hard he's finding them to recover from. But. But . . .

Every episode could mean d'Artagnan.

That sick want and not-want in his stomach, whenever Aramis' head sags on his neck and his eyes start unfocusing. Everything about this fucking situation is the literal opposite of fair. Why the fuck has he never just got the fuck over the concept of 'fair' . . . ?

He remembers, stuffing underwear into the bag, Aramis reciting poetry while Porthos jerked him off, the first time he ever did. It runs a cool-prickling finger up his spine to remember it, the low certain hush of the words, the slick, steady rhythm of his hand. For one second, cold in the stomach, he doesn't know if Aramis remembers it.

Then he knows he does. He doesn't forget music, he wouldn't forget poetry. He doesn't forget the things that matter. And if he doesn't forget the things that matter, he'll remember when they first fucked, and he'll remember whatever a priest said to him to calm him so much, and sooner or later fucking hell he has to remember d'Artagnan.

Porthos didn't speak Spanish so well back then, and can't remember much about the poem. Something about time, and being in his arms. He can ask him tomorrow, on the car journey. Athos won't let them do a repeat of the situation on his car seats but he shouldn't mind a poetry recital. Been a while since anyone recited poetry for Porthos.

When did he ever think, before Aramis, that anyone would ever recite poetry for him?

Maybe that's what god is for Aramis, a promise, somewhere out there in the universe, that the world is fair, that it will all be alright in the end, the exact same thing that Porthos worries about, that somehow everything will work out right. That justice matters, it's not just a word. That this shit they go through, it matters.

Maybe that's all the priest had to tell him. This shit you go through, it's not ignored. It's not pointless. It matters. Someone's watching it all, they get it. They get that you going through all of this matters.

You matter.

Aramis sleeps, like he really needs it, while they pack and talk quietly until Athos puts a hand on Aramis' shoulder, and murmurs his eyes drowsily open, and asks him if he'll please eat something (they gave up on asking if he's actually hungry some time back). Aramis tugs Athos' hand from his shoulder to kiss it, and mumbles that he will. And he does, he tries to, a bit of porridge until he can't anymore, too tired for it. But he's smiling and peaceful as they help him to the bathroom to brush his teeth and get ready for bed, and when they get in there with him he holds both of their arms and sighs out his pleasure to be between them again.

"Goin' back to the villa tomorrow," Porthos says, stroking his shoulder. "Be nice."

"Mm," Aramis purrs, sounding happy about it. He yawns. "It was Borges. Amorosa anticipación."

"What?"

"The poem," Aramis says, sleepy into the pillow. "From our first intimacies. It was Borges. I was a precocious child."

Porthos strokes his back with a hand, dwelling on it, then admits, "I never asked that one out loud, Aramis."

"- merde. Sorry. Sorry."

"S'okay." Porthos pauses to yawn until his jaw cracks, hears Athos turn towards them, feels the pulling of the sheets - the shifting of the weight of that hump of coverings on Aramis' third of the bed. "Doesn't matter. You still remember it?"

"Exquisitely," Aramis says, and kisses the edge of Porthos' jaw, just above the openness of his throat. Porthos shifts at the covers on him - he can feel how chilled Aramis' skin is, rubs at the layers of blankets over him in sympathy as Aramis murmurs, voice like a candle in the dark, "Neither the intimacy of your look, your brow fair as a feast day, nor the favor of your body, still mysterious, reserved, and childlike . . ."

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