rainjoyswriting: (kurt!)
[personal profile] rainjoyswriting
Happily Ever After, Musketeers fic, affinityverse (best catalogued in my memories) <3 And as an fyi, this is *so* not the last fic in this verse, believe me . . .

Disclaimer: Considering how bad some of the writing on the latter seasons was, the actual owners suing fanficcers would really be pushing the bounds of irony.

Rating: Probably R

Warnings and spoilers: The main list's on part one, read sensibly.

Summary: "I saw his face."



Note: I owe comment replies, sorry, I have little arm, I'm just writing in the typing time I do get. Also, given that this fic is *about* chronic illness and disability - it is not actually a fairy tale - I wouldn't expect an immediate happily ever after anyway . . .








An old room, familiar to him some way he doesn't understand, all wood and beams and the furniture built with the sturdiness of some other age, before the flimsiness of plastic became appealing. And there in front of the desk - the captain's desk, Aramis knows, though there's no computer, no box files of their chaotic doings - there in front of the desk, turning to him with surprise, alarm, confusion, finally just a frown - is d'Artagnan.

Aramis' heart folds in on itself, the stagger almost takes him. There's nothing to grab to keep himself from crumpling, he has to turn a stumble into a step towards d'Artagnan to throw his arms around him, to hug him in tight with his eyes squeezed so he can't embarrass himself, "- d'Artagnan," he says, and it chokes, it's around his throat like a fist. "D'Artagnan - God -" He mustn't weep, he mustn't, he wants to do it from sheer joy. "D'Artagnan - I missed you."

D'Artagnan pats his shoulder uncertainly and says - at least, says the archaic French equivalent of - "Aramis, what the fuck?"

He pulls himself back but doesn't let go of the boy's shoulders, looks greedily over his face instead. "I have missed you." he says, to a face he knows on one level is new to him but he knows on a truer level, he knows it. "We've been looking for you for years, for - nearly half my life, but it feels like - centuries." Taking in the boy's odd clothing, the sword at his side, Aramis hesitates. "Perhaps it really has been centuries."

"Not that you've ever been the most rational man,"
d'Artagnan says, "but you're acting even more strangely than usual. And you're wearing - I don't even know what, what are you wearing? And -" He squints at Aramis' face. "How are you so young?"

"Perhaps you're dreaming,"
Aramis deflects. "Take it from one who knows how to deal with this sort of confusion, just accept it and move on. But Lord I've missed you." He cups the boy's face in his hands - a few years younger than him, not many, not enough for how profoundly paternal he feels facing him, how protective and proud. Then memory of the actual situation they're facing hits him hard and he squeezes d'Artagnan's shoulders, says, "You must tell me where you are. We need to find you, now. Tell me how we can find you-"

"The only dream I've ever had that was weirder than this," d'Artagnan says, eyebrows low as he looks into Aramis' beseeching eyes, "involved the King throwing beans at us because we lost his sheep."

"D'Artagnan, tell me how to find you, I swear we'll find you if we just -"

"I don't think I'm the one who's got himself lost in this situation."

"Less of the cheek to your elders, we need to
find you -"

"I'm exactly where you are, and you're not that much older than me right now."
d'Artagnan says, looking confused and angry with it. "I'm not the one . . . I mean, what are you wearing, have you joined a circus?"

"D'Art . . ."
His head is getting heavy, his hands are beginning to fail, he tries to grab to him tighter, no, no, it's not just not knowing where to find him yet, it's that he can't bear to lose him again - "D' . . ."

"What's - you've gone -"
D'Artagnan tries to hold his arms as Aramis' legs droop him to the floor, he pulls at him as if suddenly afraid, cries at him, "Aramis!"

And Aramis thinks, He knows me, like a light inside his heart, before the chaotic dark takes him.

*

When Aramis first comes to from those awful episodes after they returned him to the villa, he speaks Italian. The problem with the situation is that he only speaks Italian, which he and Porthos seem to find hilarious, laughing together like morons while Athos watches on barely containing his own rage for them to laugh at this, tapping a finger off his own folded arms and gritting his teeth not to snarl.

He only doesn't snap and snarl because he suspects that sheer hysteria plays some part in it. After a long three days of intermittent but vicious episodes, and Aramis now more lucid than he has been in some time - since they left the house by the sea he's been so confused they have to do all but spoon the food into his mouth for him, even the plates and cutlery have been upsetting him, and he's spoken little but archaic French - that Aramis is awake and alert and able to understand Porthos' words, even if able to respond only in a language that neither he nor Athos speaks, is a relief as much as it's apparently so very fucking funny.

Athos says, "Will you continue finding this so amusing if he's stuck like this?"

"Athos," Aramis says, putting a hand on his heart, and then he says something in imploring Italian, batting his eyes, clearly enjoying just the music of the rhythm of it on his tongue. Porthos just holds up a cup from the bedside table, having gone through most of the rest of its contents, and says, "What's this?"

"Una tazza."

"U-na taa-zza."

"Una tazza."

"Una tazza."


Athos snaps, "This isn't a fucking introduction to Italian CD. Why is he even speaking Italian?"

Aramis shrugs in the bed and says something musical which Athos suspects is along the lines of his not knowing the answer to that, and there being no need for Athos to get so annoyed about it; Athos isn't entirely at sea, he had a few holidays in Italy as a boy. He snaps back, "There fucking well is Porthos if you ask him for the word for that I swear to God Aramis, I am going to get some paper, you are going to try to write in a language the rest of us understand. Capire?"

Aramis returns to words they actually understand slowly, throughout the day (English takes the longest). And when he's finally able to communicate with them without giggling quite so much, he tells them that they need to be ready to move. They're going travelling.

"Now?" Athos says, because Aramis is a strained and weak-limbed mess after those episodes, and Athos doubts he can stand holding his own weight up right now, let alone travel.

"Well, it will have to be," Aramis says philosophically, hair a wreck from episodes dragging it against the pillow, eyes shadowed by the exertion of them. "I'm not going to get any better, so we had best go before I become any worse. Tomorrow. We'll set off tomorrow."

Porthos, less given to giggles himself now and sitting in a slightly more staid way beside the bed, puts his hand over Aramis' on the covers, above the drip running into the back of his hand. "Where're we goin'?"

Aramis parts his lips and hesitates, and looks around the medical bay, the high ceiling, the wide windows. Then he takes a breath and says, "South." His mouth tilts as if pained. "I keep seeing cars."

Athos knows where they're going. Aramis woke up speaking Italian. And he could curse - he could kick something and scream, to see him through the last few days - through these last years and Aramis was certain d'Artagnan was from Gascony and now they're to go to Italy, when will they find this man - ?

He doesn't scream. These last few days, as nasty as the episodes have been, Aramis has been so distressed in not understanding where he is or what's happening, the only thing he's seemed to want to focus on has been them, and Treville, and now and then with an odd confused look Ferrand. The relief to be able to converse with him as rationally as they ever can - the relief to not have to use gentle, reassuring voices, edging the intimacy with which they treat him out of constant uncertainty of what he will read as a shocking coldness, what he will read as a shocking liberty - the relief that he is simply their Aramis again -

Each morning Ferrand makes them push apart the beds they push together on a night, careful of Aramis' drip, to sleep. After Athos has walked with Treville in the grounds, where they hope that no-one can overhear (they return indoors with a significant moment of eye contact, hoping silently that Aramis has something more certain than a country to aim them at by tomorrow), Treville talks with Aramis quietly, Aramis holding his hand, until the beds can be pushed together again for the night.

Aramis yawns very deeply, turning his head to the pillow to do it - one hand has the drip in it, and the other flops up in an unhelpful way, punching him in the chest rather than offering any modesty for the yawn - then settles himself between them, as the lights of the medical bay snap down to the low hum of the emergency lighting, as dark as it ever gets in here. Athos settles against his side, Porthos at Aramis' other shoulder, and Aramis says sleepily, "I'm glad Ferrand hasn't started doing the quiet voice too. That's when I'll know it's really bad."

He always must joke, there's no point snapping at him about it. Athos says, "Try to rest, if you insist on travelling tomorrow."

"I'll be alright." the psychic says dismissively, as one who knows. "As alright as I ever am."

Porthos' body shifts, tugging Aramis in a slow-pulling hug closer. "Scare the shit out of us sometimes."

"I'm sorry," Aramis says, quietly, and again, even softer, "My friends, I'm sorry."

"It's alright," Athos says, in the half-dark, looking at the vague grey of Aramis' face. "We love you."

Silence. Athos doesn't think about closing his eyes. He doesn't know how much longer he'll get to look at Aramis' face, even in such poor light, so he takes what he can get.

Aramis says low as a whisper, "I saw his face."

Porthos, one hand stroking at Aramis' belly, says, "Whose-" and stops.

Athos sits up, stunned into it. Aramis lifts an arm, gestures at him. "Down. Get down. I don't know - you always worried the house was bugged, don't trust the villa now. Down. We'll whisper."

Athos shuffles down again too quickly, hisses at him, "What did you see?"

"I don't really know. It was very confusing, I was very confused. But I saw his face. He's real. I saw his face."

"What's he look like?" Porthos whispers urgently.

"Young," Aramis says, as if uncertain of it. "But I don't know if that means something, I think you both looked older."

"We - when did we look older? Older than we are?"

"- I don't know. When - it's - I'm a bit confused."

Athos finds his wrists, and they're cold. He hisses the frustration out, sits to reach for the foot of the bed, to pull up another blanket over Aramis but only Aramis because hell it's always been too hot in this room. "What did you see?" Porthos says. "Is it him we're goin' for tomorrow? Is it him?"

"It's - I don't -"

"Porthos, don't push him." Athos says, quietly. "He's getting cold."

"Sorry," Aramis whispers, and in the pale light, Athos can see his pale breath; his bones are like icicles under the skin. He rubs at his side, feels Porthos rubbing in a different rhythm, cursing under his breath. "Sorry," Aramis whispers again in a shudder of white breath, his whole body jogged by the two of them trying to put some heat back into him and Athos whispers through his teeth, "No, no . . ."

"Don't be sorry," Porthos says, rubbing at Aramis' belly and chest from behind to warm him. "Don't be sorry, you gonna have another episode? It's alright -"

"I just - it's cold and - I'm tired."

"Go to sleep." Athos says, quietly. "You need to recover. Go to sleep."

He can feel Porthos' tension, his impatience. But Aramis was ill even before those episodes started, and he's weakened now by days of it, the wracking and vomiting and confusion and exhaustion. He needs to sleep. Athos kisses his forehead, whispers, "Sleep sleep sleep," and feels the sway of Aramis' consciousness in the hesitation of his breaths, before they lengthen. "Sleep," he whispers, and wonders if this how people feel towards their children, he's never really thought about it, the tenderness, the protectiveness. He whispers, to Aramis' forehead, "Sleep."

Silence, but for the sound of three people breathing, to their own particular rhythms, and that endless soft percussion of the rain outside.

Porthos says, "He saw -"

"Keep your voice down. Don't wake him. I know."

"He saw him. Is it him we're going to? Is that - tomorrow -"

"It certainly can't be sooner than tomorrow, the state he's in. If he can sit up by the morning I'll be surprised, getting to a rift -"

"He's done worse." Porthos whispers back. "He's always done worse."

Athos says under his breath, "Worse than this?" and even in his sleep he can feel the slight tremble in Aramis, the way the cold has him. His body doesn't have much more in it to give in this fight. One mortal human against cataclysmic, immeasurable power, for ten years . . .

"If it's d'Artagnan tomorrow he'll drag himself, he'll crawl, he's not givin' up after all this -"

"Porthos, calm down, even beside waking him up there's no need to work yourself up. We don't know what we're going to tomorrow. We assume a rift, given the episodes. Apart from that we can't-"

"It has to be him."

"Because Aramis' rift has never purposefully misled us before? Why does it have to be him?"

"'cause." Porthos says, his voice smaller. "It has to be."

Because once they measured how much longer Aramis could face his rift in years, and it hurt like hell to watch it wither down to months. And because now, as Athos tries to wrap the blankets more soundly around his unsteady frame, he understands what Porthos means.

It has to be d'Artagnan. Because they're down to a matter of weeks, days, and they can't face what it means if isn't him.

Jesus Christ. How did they get here?

Perhaps it's thought that Athos' upbringing was emotionally constrained, that his personality is ill in how little feeling it allows him to express, that his approach to the world is faulty, wrong, alarming. But what Athos sees in his own cold and closed face is the ability to cope, to ignore and push aside and simply endure, when he has to. And looking at this cliff edge in front of them (and inside the wail hurts his throat) he simply has to; they have to get through this night and then get through tomorrow as well and get through the next day if necessary, and there may be the time for grief at some point (His coldest fear, his deepest, most needful dread: that he has held his rift for shorter than either of them, that he is the one doomed to watch them fade, to help them through their rifts claiming them, and be left with no comfort and no company for his own lonely, agonising decline, nothing left to do but grieve.) but there is no time for it tonight. Endure. There will be the time to be human about it later.

"We should sleep as well." Athos says, focusing on wrapping Aramis as close in the blankets as he can in the half-light, not looking at Porthos. "Whatever tomorrow is, we need to be alert for it. If he has an episode he'll wake at least one of us, there's no reason to take turns."

Porthos is silent, then mutters, "He's too fuckin' cold to sleep against." but his body shifts and settles on the bed anyway, and he doesn't say anything else. Athos lays down himself, wrapping Aramis as close in his arms as he can - Porthos has his back, the two of them trying to sandwich him in their bodies' warmth. He looks, in the dim, at Porthos' arm hanging over Aramis side; the hand is not relaxed.

He doesn't know when or how he manages to get to sleep, but Aramis does wake them with an episode, jolting with his eyes wide open at four in the morning, making little trapped coughing noises like he can't breathe properly. It's too late for the cuff, they can only snap the lights on and watch him - on the bed there's no need to mind him for bruising himself - until it lets him go, the juddering turns into a desperate panting, still with a pained whine behind each too-shallow breath. Porthos strokes his back, murmurs to him, Athos combs his hair back until he keens his way back into himself, cold and shivering under their hands, they don't often see him this troubled by them -

He catches Athos' wrist in his hand, gasps, "- car crash. S'why I keep - seeing fucking cars -"

"A car crash? Is that what we're going to, a car crash?"

"Because - fuck -" Aramis makes a pained noise, and grabs at his own head, breath sucking in sharp. "Ah - fuck fuck I hate it when - ow -"

"Aramis -"

"I think I made a circle," Aramis says, "I think I fucked - up - I'm going to throw up."

It's said with a sudden and extreme urgency, and Porthos grabs for the cardboard tub on the bedside table.

By the time Aramis has retched himself out - mostly miserable dry heaves, they already know from the night before that there's nothing to come up - he's sweating and shaking and wide-eyed still, holding tight to Athos' sleeve like he can't let go. He spits into the tub one last time and tugs at Athos' arm as he cleans his mouth with a tissue. "I don't know how," he says. "But there will be a car crash, and it's - it's because I saw it. But I don't know how. And don't tell him because he'll blame me and I don't - is it my fault?"

"You're psychic," Athos promises him, and combs his damp hair back. "You see things happening, you don't cause them."

Aramis blinks a few times, and nods, slowly and not as if he's very sure about it. He says, "Help me brush my teeth before I fall asleep again."

They don't go back to sleep, Porthos and Athos. Porthos sits beside Aramis' sleeping form, propped against the wall at the head of the bed, gazing at nothing really, not speaking; Athos sits on the edge of the bed beside them, looking down at his own clasped hands fallen on his lap, thinking, thinking. Dawn begins to fill the room, light makes the indeterminate space smaller; he thinks . . . he lifts his head, looks at the thin circular shape of the sun behind the clouds, the rain is holding off for now but Athos knows it's never for long when Aramis is ill and Porthos is tired. There's a slit, in the clouds, a ragged line like a dagger's path. The sun pours through it like pure fire.

He thinks, D'Artagnan. But he has never found it easy to locate a silver lining; hope very rarely amounts to much, to him.

But he has them . . .

Another episode, but Aramis says there's nothing for it, because they have to go, and he can finally tell them where to aim for. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he squints over a map for Treville, and points; Porthos holds his other shoulder, says low and trying hard not to shake, "Aramis. Is it him?"

Aramis looks up at him and then looks down like the eye contact is too much, gaze skittery on the floor. "I don't like - I've disappointed you before. Frequently. And it leaves me sick to do it."

"Just say it," Porthos says, and Athos can see him pressing his shoulder. "Please."

Aramis is silent, looking at the floor, working his mouth without saying anything. Then his eyes flit to the ceiling and he crosses himself - something he does in their sight so rarely that Athos is unused to it, thrown - and says, "I think so."

Porthos jerks him up into the hug. Ferrand moves around some papers on his desk at the head of the room, looking angry about their sweeping his patient off to something hare-brained and Athos does understand that the man has a point, even as he fists his own hands to keep them from shaking (Really - truly - finally - all these years and - finally -); he's never seen Aramis as ill as this for as long as this, his clothes hang on him, they have to help him shower, his legs aren't entirely steady. He eats because they make him, and he glares a bargain at them in return because Porthos seems too excited, Athos too nauseous, to want breakfast either. They each eat the size of the portion they wish the others would. As a system, it works quite well.

Treville arranges the plane to take them to Italy. Aramis has a very clear image of the road in his head, so they're to take a hire car once they land and start driving until the scenery is right, Aramis has quite a close sense of the location but his rift-led geography never is perfect until he's almost on top of it. In the plane, Aramis sips water slowly - still fighting days of dehydration - in the end seat of an aisle, so Athos and Porthos can sit one in front and one behind, legs in the aisle, and both lean in close.

"You said he was a Gascon, once," Athos says. "I thought you'd be leading us to the South of France."

Aramis gives one of his what, don't blame me, I'm only psychic shrugs. "I don't know. I saw here."

"Is he Gascon?" It's the sort of thing Aramis can get confused about, and so maybe can't be relied on.

"I think," Aramis says, slowly, "he is really very profoundly Gascon indeed. To a degree I suspect that you will find wearying."

"What's he look like?" Porthos says, working a stress ball rhythmically in one hand to keep the wind under control while they're flying. "You said you saw 'im, right? What's he look like?"

Aramis shrugs again. "Young. Pretty. Straight dark hair. Skin darker than mine, lighter than yours. A straight nose and a very straight gaze, his mouth would do for a girl's. I say this as a compliment." He muses on it, looking ahead. "I wonder what he'll make of how we've changed."

"- has he seen us before?"

"What?"

"Is he going to be in this car crash?" Athos says, because he can tell that Porthos' last question rattled Aramis and he needs distracting from it. "If he's a fire affinity - why a car crash?"

"So many things are mysteries in this life."

"Such as your need to resort to drama over the most mundane of questions."

"And your failure every time to smile, love." Aramis responds with a grin, showing the strain at his eyes but no less true than it's ever been. Athos just looks at him, this frail shadow of the man he loves, and finds a smile to return. It's only small, but it's one of his, and 'only small' is still more than enough to Aramis, he sees the bloom of the wealth of it in his eyes.

Porthos says, suddenly uneasy, "What if he doesn't like us?"

Aramis is immediately affronted. "Why on earth wouldn't he like us? We're delightful."

"If he's going to be our circle he'd have to, wouldn't he?" Porthos muses on it. "We like each other."

"We do rather more than like each other."

"We haven't always uncomplicatedly liked each other," Athos points out, though this is making him think, now. What if d'Artagnan doesn't like them, doesn't care to join their circle? That he's haunted Aramis like a scar doesn't mean they actually know what the outcome of this will be, they've only ever extrapolated, and -

. . . and Aramis' rift lies . . .

He looks at the two of them murmuring, excited and eager, and he puts that thought aside, and holds his head steady. What d'Artagnan wants is beside the point, really. To save their lives, Athos will drag the man kicking and screaming into their circle, and they will sort out the tedious business of actually liking one another as they come to it.

"We need to be efficient," Athos says, "and on our guards. We're coming straight from the villa and -" Something occurs to him, for the first time. "- and they've been there to disrupt us for every fire rift since - as many of them as I can remember." He hesitates on thinking about it, but the practicalities need taking care of first. "So we must anticipate bad company."

"We're all armed," Aramis says. "This isn't anyone's first campaign."

"He's gonna survive this car crash, right? 'cause if we go through all this shit for nothing -"

Aramis takes a breath, and stops. "I," he says, eyes frowning on the plane's ceiling. "I remember so much about him. Not just facts about him, things he does. And it's - it's all very confused. But I can't believe that we don't know him, that he's not with us. So - he must, mustn't he . . . ?"

"We don't get complacent." Athos says, touching the gun at his own side, thinking of this, trying not to think about what he may have just realised, he hasn't the space for that in his head alongside everything else right now. "If it's something Aramis has seen but we allow it to fail to come true -"

Silence, until Aramis puts a hand up beside his head and bursts his fingers out, and makes a low, whooshing exploding noise.

"Thank you, Aramis."

They can't let d'Artagnan die in some ridiculous car crash if Aramis has already seen that he doesn't. They've always feared what happens if the things Aramis sees don't come to pass, and they don't need Aramis' episodes to grind him down to death then, he'll never walk away from that crash . . .

Porthos says, "I feel kind of sick."

They look at him, and Aramis puts a hand over his. Athos breathes, slowly. Years they've waited for this. Years. And whoever they meet when they land, he's going to be deeply involved in the rest of their lives, and this - how many times in a life do you know that you stand on the lip of utter change, forever?

The familiar rushed business of landing and switching to a car - Athos drives, Porthos sits beside Aramis in the back because he has that unfocused look to him, and this close to a rift (d'Artagnan's rift) they don't know how close to an episode he is - and Aramis gives directions, but minimally, toying with a water bottle and crumpling at the plastic in his hands. They're out in the countryside, scrubby bush and bare earth, it's July and hot even with this wind but Aramis is still in all his layers topped with one of Porthos' baggy hoodies, huddled under his hat. There are hills and the road is a fucker, too many hairpin bends in it, too little traffic - they do pass cars, but not often, not many people are foolish enough to be out driving through the middle of nowhere in this heat. Athos feels it on the metal of the car, the gleam of the sunlight is lethal.

Near-lethal. They're heading, he is aware, for something much hotter than this.

Aramis makes a low noise on the back seat and Porthos says, "Hey - okay, okay," and Athos glances at the rear view mirror and quickly to the road again, the driving is too involved to look away from; Porthos is holding Aramis who's holding that bottle of water and his own face, taking a quick gasp.

"I have a very bad feeling." Aramis says in a thick, queasy voice.

"No you don't," Porthos sings, "not about this one, no you don't,"

"That boy -"

"He's gonna be fine, we're gonna get to him, he's gonna be-"

Aramis says in some low strange voice, "One's own death is not the only horror that can be visited upon a person." and then shudders, and says in a tone more natural to him but strained with stress, "Can you hurry - I don't - we need to hurry."

"On these fucking roads," Athos mutters, pressing at the accelerator with his jaw clenched; there's no damn use in finding d'Artagnan if they crash their own car.

"Please - because I'm - worried about him, very - faster Athos please hurry -"

He has the bends to deal with, he's worried about coming clean off this road but he can hear the edge of terror in Aramis' voice and whatever Aramis can see ahead of them may be even more brutal than the image of themselves careening off the road which is what Athos is dealing with, so he sets his resolution - his arms on the steering wheel clench metal in the joints, his ankle bones grind like cheesegraters catching each other - and pushes the accelerator down.

On the back seat Porthos says, "Are you gonna be sick?"

Aramis is mumbling something rapid and urgent which Athos recognises after a confused second as Latin; he's praying.

(Does he normally pray in Latin?)

"Stop!"

Athos slams the brake, hauls the wheel against the turn in the road, skidding sideways and spinning as they go, tyres scouring the road's surface with a howl, all his weight feels left behind him, he hears Porthos' curse and the wrenching way he grabs Aramis as the car -

- rounds the bend and slides to its halt, after the lurch the weight of it impossibly still on its tyres, Athos' eyelids feel like they've never been stretched so wide in his life. Aramis curses, and scrabbles at the door, and Porthos lets him go to do it, unsnapping his belt for his own door. Athos, with unsteady fingers, does actually remember to let his belt loose to step out, on shaken legs, and stare at the scene in front of them.

There's a car in front of them in the road, bonnet crumpled into a hefty metal spike protruding upwards through it. The engine is smoking, the windows are shattered like nightmarish kaleidoscopes; the passenger side door is opening and a man is stumbling out - a boy - perhaps eighteen or nineteen, hands to his face, staggering sideways before he catches the side of his own seat for balance and leans back in, calls in -

French. "Dad - Dad are you - Dad -"

Athos is staring at that spike come up through the car. His hand falls to the gun at his side.

Aramis says, "- d'Artagnan . . ."

The boy looks up, face wild with panic and bloody at the forehead, Athos can't tell where the injury is, screams, "Call an ambulance!" and then leans back through the door, shakes at a shape in the driver's seat. "Dad, Dad, can you - we're getting help, we're calling -"

"D'Artagnan," Aramis says, very softly, stepping forwards. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. He's gone."

D'Artagnan looks back up at him - this is the boy? He's a child, and shocked almost beyond response, somewhere between terror and disbelief and lost to rationality. His mouth moves silently as he stares at Aramis and then he says again, "Call an ambulance."

"Please," Aramis says, reaching for his shoulder - he's still carrying a water bottle in his other hand, Athos doesn't know if he's just not together enough to think to put it down. "D'Artagnan, listen, please -"

The boy jerks back, lashes a hand up to stop Aramis touching him. "What the fuck - call an ambulance, I'm not - who the hell is 'd'Artagnan' -"

It falls slow and very heavy through Athos' stomach, the memory of how fucking confused he was when Aramis and Porthos turned up and addressed him automatically as 'Athos'. Hell. Hell -

D'Artagnan is fumbling for his own phone but Porthos steps forwards and with a single efficient slash of his arm, knocks it flying. "You can't." he says, blunt as a brick but he swallows, not looking at the body in the car beside them, as the phone skitters into the scrub on the roadside. "Not 'til we know your rift's safe. You can't call people here."

"What - what is wrong with you people -"

The shock is giving way to fury, Athos feels a sudden piercing alarm, he doesn't want his circle near a fire rift about to blow. "You two - get back -"

"No." Aramis says. "It's not safe to leave him isolated."

Athos looks at that metal spear lurched violently through the car again. "She's here," he says, flatly.

Porthos frowns at it, says, "Looks just like what you do."

D'Artagnan looks between them, fists clenched, eyes close to crazy with rage and horror and confusion. "This - like you -?"

"Someone has attacked you," Aramis says. "They come for rifts. We have to make you safe, you have to understand, you have a-"

D'Artagnan is looking at that metal shaft now, some fast and terrible calculation in his eyes. "Someone . . ."

"Aramis, get back," Athos says, because the tarmac has a loose look to it around d'Artagnan's feet, like it's melting. The wind whips his hair into and immediately out of his face, Athos feels it like the rise of stress inside himself; and the wind is hot . . .

"She c'n do it the same, you said," Porthos says, quickly as if trying to explain himself, taking Aramis' arm so at least he can't get closer to d'Artagnan like this, looking at Athos. "Your -"

"Wife," Aramis supplies.

"She's not my wife." Athos says, aggravated and trying not to be, it's one of Aramis' most common confusions. "My fiancée. My ex-fiancée."

D'Artagnan is looking at Athos, looking very hard and black at Athos, and Athos understands how he's reading this situation or trying to: he knows that this was no accident, and all he knows about the cause of it is some link to Athos.

Well.

"What the fuck -" d'Artagnan says, taking a step towards Athos and the air around him shimmers with heat, "- happened here -"

"D'Art-" That's not his name. Shit. "- listen to me, there will be the time for explanations but right now you just have to listen because there is a rift in you -"

"Who the hell are you people - what do you know about - my dad is dead -"

His voice breaks not into weakness but into some awful cracked roar, and Athos stands his ground as a young man hazy with the heat of a forest fire walks towards him, the road surface beginning to make a soft noise underneath his feet as it warps and puddles, and the wind keeps blowing suffocatingly hot air towards him. "You can feel this happening, you need to control it, something inside you is going to break -"

"I'll kill you," d'Artagnan whispers, and his hands are shaking and so is the air around them the heat is so intense, Athos doesn't know whether to move, retreat feels wrong but just being too close to the boy is courting injury at those temperatures. "I'll kill-"

"You have to be calm, it might feel like you want that power right now but it will kill you, it will destroy so much more than you want it to, you need to stop-"

"It'll kill you!" d'Artagnan screams, and then the water hits him square in the face.

He gasps, Athos sees the flare and flutter of the heat in the air around him, as he stands there blinking, hair dripping, steaming. Behind him Aramis is screwing the lid back on his bottle of water, saying very reasonably, "He said 'enough'."

D'Artagnan blinks back at him, too shocked to speak, and Aramis says, "We know who killed your father. And the only way we're going to get any justice for you is if you calm down and listen to us. Please don't try to fight all three of us at once again." He glances sideways at the dark shape slumped in the car, and he removes his hat, awkwardly respectful of the body "Here is not the place for it."

D'Artagnan stares at him, blinking through the drips, through the steam. Then his face folds, piece by trembling piece, and the noise that quavers from his throat is young and old, one of the oldest vocalisations humanity has ever had.

Aramis steps forward - Porthos hisses through his teeth but hesitates on physically stopping him - and touches d'Artagnan's arm, as the howl wavers, breaking on the pain of it. He doesn't fight, this time. He lets Aramis tuck his arms around him, and hug him with a furious sort of protectiveness Athos has felt himself before, as Aramis whispers, "We will find you justice. We only ask that you live."

D'Artagnan grips the baggy fabric of Aramis' clothing and hides his face in his shoulder, breathing in sharp, arrhythmic bursts of noise. Aramis just holds him, head down, eyes furious.

This is the boy they've been looking for for years. And Athos looks at the shape of his dead father in the car beside them, and tries to imagine how the hell he could have coped if they turned up in the immediate moment of his finding Thomas' body, burying Anne in the earth . . .

Porthos' eyes are wary on the landscape all around them. "She's here," he says, low.

Athos nods. He knows she is, he knows her work. "Stay around the boy, we need to shield him. Though I don't know if she'll risk confronting the three of us." There's not much cover, just some trees; Anne may have acted from a distance to stop the car, and has now found herself unable to get closer because of their arrival. "We may have got here quickly enough to make her lose her moment."

Porthos nods, but he's still scanning their immediate environment, distrustful of all of it. "What now?" he says, wetting his lips. They're all nervous, Athos thinks. They don't know what happens next. But of course they ask him anyway.

They hear the hollow pop of the water bottle dropping and bouncing off the road. "- Athos," Aramis says. "Porthos -"

They look up, where Aramis is standing with one hand on d'Artagnan's shoulder clearly for balance, the other at his head. His eyes are -

"Shit," Porthos says, grabbing him and pulling him away from the car so he can't kick at it. "Shit, shit -"

D'Artagnan stares down at them as Porthos folds Aramis to as safe a position as he can on the side of the road, a giddy exhaustion of too much feeling in his eyes. "What's - ?"

"Aramis is ill." Athos says, drawing his gun to be safe while he's the only one able to immediately defend their position. "We need to ascertain that you're stable so that we can call in help for this situation." 'Situation'; a delicate way of phrasing 'your dead father trapped in that car'. "The rest we'll explain as we can. My name is Athos, you are - ?"

D'Artagnan is staring, horrified, as Aramis lurches and grunts in Porthos' arms, muffled with his head held safe to Porthos' lap like that, scuffing up dust with his heels. D'Artagnan doesn't look away, says, "- what?"

"Your name," Athos says, eyes scanning the area for danger, and he knows the boy's name which makes this so strange; after so long how the hell can they call him anything but 'd'Artagnan'?

". . . Charles," the boy says, staring at Aramis kicking and jarring, Porthos jaw clenched and eyes frightened with enduring it, holding him so he can't knock his head bloody off the ground. "I'm . . ."

Whatever they had planned for in finding him, the present is, was always going to be, so much messier than the future they liked to believe Aramis' episodes promised them. Why did they think it would be easy? A dead man in a car broken by her, the boy strung out with shock and rage and loss, staring at Aramis jolting through what his rift does to him -

This is how their circle heals itself . . . ?

*

It's later in the day, when Athos walks away from Treville and returns to the rear of the ambulance where d'Artagnan and Aramis are sitting side by side with their legs hanging over the road, in matching silver blankets. D'Artagnan is sitting at a certain uncomfortable distance from Aramis, which Aramis looks hurt about, but Porthos is standing close to him, one hand on the back of his neck.

D'Artagnan says, "Why do they keep putting this on me?" and flaps the blanket at him like angry wings. "It's about a thousand degrees already."

Aramis says quietly, "I'll have it," breath wisping off white. D'Artagnan gives him a poised, wary look, then hands the blanket across; Porthos takes it to get it settled around Aramis' shoulders, and Athos' jaw hurts with wanting to clench. The wind circles them, casting up odd eddies of dust into the air which has a heavy, sticky feeling to it, the skin crawls with static. A storm would be a relief, against this.

He says, French has become the default language as it seems to be the only one all four of them share in common, "Treville agrees we should go back to the villa. We don't know how much danger d- Charles might be in, and it's well guarded."

D'Artagnan says, "My grandparents - I need to call them -"

"You can't." Athos says. "I'm sorry. They will be contacted-"

"This is bullsh-"

"- but everything about your life has just become very, very classified. Once we're more certain of our position you'll be allowed to contact your family again. Is there anyone else we should know about?"

D'Artagnan glares fresh hatred at him, and snarls, "Well, my mum died when I was a kid and now my dad's dead too so no, I'm pretty much alone now, thanks."

He was travelling with his father, they've learned, to visit his mother's parents for the summer; this is why Aramis woke speaking Italian, for exactly the same reason that before they found Athos, he woke up speaking French. And yet d'Artagnan's home itself, with that irony of life that could make Athos weep, is really not so far south of the house by the sea, not in the grand scheme of the distances crossing the entire globe that they've covered. They've searched almost every continent on this fucking planet and there d'Artagnan sat, less than a day's drive away, never even knowing of their existence.

Porthos says, quietly, "We're all the same, if it helps. Got no-one 'cept each other."

Aramis says, "Will the farm be alright?"

D'Artagnan hesitates again, looking uneasily at Aramis. "What farm?"

"Ignore him." Athos says. "He gets confused, after -"

He doesn't really have to finish the sentence. D'Artagnan looks away again, and toes at the dust on the road with his trainer. He's already seen his first episode, and he knows what Aramis goes through.

Athos watches the local police waving a car to drive slowly past the scene, watches those in the car gawping as they pass, and doesn't know how this works. He knows it took him some time to trust the two of them, to understand them, it was only by the end of the second day of their disturbing his bubble of drink and grief that he felt their bonding into something of the circle that they are; the rest took longer. And d'Artagnan - Charles - has just lost his father to the madness of their lives, because Charles himself is a rift, and that can't be an easy thing to come to terms with, if he even truly understands it yet. And how are they to make this work . . . ?

This kind of thing has never been Athos' strong point. He really would rather Aramis could take care of this - Aramis is good at empathy, good at offering the hand of friendship, good at bonding, it could almost be his purpose in life, loving and coming to be loved. But Aramis is clutching his two blankets around himself and shivering in the hellish glare of the afternoon sun, blinking dopily, brain only half operating and too exhausted to think clearly even when fresh episodes aren't battering at him at that exact moment.

At least Athos is good at dealing with facts. "You have a rift in you," he says, not looking at d'Artagnan, who he can tell is glaring that car of gawpers away. "You seem to have held it, but do you still feel it?"

"I don't know," the boy snarks, "what does one feel like?"

"It feels like something that sarcasm will not save you from." Athos says without looking at him; Christ, he thought he'd done his share of minding teenagers. "Something alien inside you, some vicious alien strength - but it is of you, all the same. It feels very rooted in you. Yours is a fire rift, if that helps. Mine is earth. Porthos' is air, Aramis' is water."

D'Artagnan - Charles - scuffs at the road as his leg kicks aimlessly. "What does that even mean?"

"In practical terms?" Athos says, looking down at him. "I can control the earth and related elements - metal is particularly malleable to me - and apparently plants grow healthier around me. But because I don't have a sealed circle, there are serious side effects to holding the rift inside me." He looks straight forwards, and he has learned long and very hard about being honest with his circle, despite everything it costs him. "It hurts. Something to do with the metal in my skeleton. It hurts."

"I get the wind an' the weather," Porthos offers. "Problem is I can't stop 'em. That - that," with a roll of his eyes as the wind gives a low howl, circling them. "That's me. I just can't shut it up."

"Aramis -" Athos says, and looks at Aramis, who looks back out of raw eyes, and shivers. "Aramis can control water, as you're already intimate with, and he has psychic episodes, that's how we found you in the first place. But, as you may have noticed, it makes him unwell. So it's very likely that you've noticed some ill side effect of your own rift already."

Aramis suddenly leans, heavily, against d'Artagnan's side; d'Artagnan goes stiff, and Aramis sighs blissfully, "He's all warm."

D'Artagnan, Charles, scoots aside to get away from him. Porthos tugs Aramis back by the arm, looking troubled, and Aramis looks confused and hurt and shivers his blankets closer to himself again. "What the hell is wrong with him," d'Artagnan, Charles, says. "He's cold as - how the hell can he be cold - ?"

"Because his rift is killing him." Athos says, there's no point in prettifying it at this point. "His first broke ten years ago, and when we're on our own they break us down and kill us. He found Porthos eight years ago and they've acted as half a circle, and held each other's rifts in check. I came six years ago, and we held each other balanced for some time. But we've needed our fourth quarter for a long time, and he can't hold on much longer. You will come to understand this, you will feel it yourself, if you don't come with us. We need you. And you will realise that you truly do need us."

"I don't even know who the hell you are, and I don't have to do anything just because you said it."

"I don't want to make this a matter of force," Athos says, "but I can produce the paperwork if it's necessary because, yes, you damn well do have to do certain things, regardless of whether I say it or not. Do you think governments around the world allow people to have the sort of power we do without check or restraint? You're not coming with us on my orders. You're coming on his," with a nod at Treville, standing on his phone at some distance and talking to someone important, no doubt. "And he has the authority, believe me."

"What power?" d'Artagnan snaps. "All I feel is ill and why wouldn't I, my father just died." His leg kicks angrily, cuffing off the ground on each swing like he's trying to stab his trainer into it. "What power- shit-!"

His trainer is burning, bright artificial orange, and Athos stares dumbstruck because - d'Artagnan kicks at it hard with his other foot, forces it off his ankle and sends it flying into the road where it clops onto its side and burns, letting off a nasty black smoke, and everyone turns to look at it.

"Yes," Aramis says sleepily. "That looks about right."

One of the emergency services personnel who came to help cut d'Artagnan's father from the car, and load him into the ambulance which has already left, walks over and begins beating the shoe out. D'Artagnan just stares at it, pale.

Athos says, "I suspect that your rift is going to be rather noticeable when it decides to wake in you."

"He needs to rest," Aramis says. "It's been a hell of a day, and he's the head wound to mind."

He says it, unfortunately, in archaic French, and d'Artagnan - Charles, shit, Charles, why is that name so hard to hold on to? - gives him an unnerved look again. D'Artagnan does look exhausted, and raw in the eyes from too much emotion, but Athos' main concern, gnawing in his guts, is the circle he already has, and that d'Artagnan needs to be talked into joining them as quickly as possible to save them.

The wind cackles around the roadside, scattering dust and the cinders of d'Artagnan's burned shoe. The smoke tastes acrid, bitter, plastic rather than leather.

"Yes," he says, because he knows it's right, but . . . "That would be best."

His stomach gnaws. All these years they've longed for it, and now it's here - now it's here it feels all wrong, and that shocked and shaken young man doesn't look at Athos, as if he hates him enough to want to glare right past him, looks at Aramis like he's disturbed by him, and looks at Porthos embarrassed and angry because it's obvious in Porthos' own dark glare back that he's seen the way he looks at Aramis and doesn't like it one bit. Athos stands there, too hot, too tired, too aching, too sober and facing all this - are they just too broken already to be mended again?

The hell with that. The three of them, they could face down armies, they're not surrendering to this. Back to the villa, a good night's sleep, and tomorrow they can talk, tomorrow they can fix this, it'll all work out to something right, it has to.

It has to; Aramis puts his hands over his eyes and says in archaic French, "I feel much ill-used. Is this a hangover? What did I drink?"

What a childish fantasy, Athos thinks wistfully, of assuming that this would fix everything. "You just need to rest," he promises him, putting a hand on Aramis' head. "Come on now. We'll go home."

"Home?"

D'Artagnan says, "Is he putting this on?"

Porthos snaps, "He's cold as bone an' you just watched 'im have a seizure but yeah, kid, this is somethin' he's choosin' to do."

"Porthos."

D'Artagnan glares at Porthos. "You can keep your temper if I have to. I'm sure I'll work out how to interact with you three when I work out what the hell is actually wrong with all of you."

"Everyone is terribly out of sorts today," Aramis says gloomily. "I've known more cheerful funerals. I've known some really quite jolly ones, actually."

Porthos rubs the back of Aramis' neck and avoids d'Artagnan's eyes in an embarrassed way. "Less of the funerals." he mutters, in Spanish. "The kid's been through a lot."

Aramis lifts his head and observes d'Artagnan from the other side of a great wall of exhaustion, Athos can see it in how he blinks, before he says, "He'll be alright. He knows how to use his anger, this one. - really I am not feeling well, I don't -" He looks down at the blankets around his own arm, brows furrowing. "I don't - exactly - remember how we got here -"

Hell, hell, hell, not now. "S'alright, Aramis," Porthos says, getting an arm around Aramis and physically lifting him back to his feet, pinning him to his side to shuffle his steps along to the car. "Jus' got yourself a bit confused, it'll all come back . . ."

When they're at enough of a distance d'Artagnan hisses, "What the hell is wrong with him?"

"I told you," Athos says. "His rift is killing him. Water rifts get in their carrier's minds, it's been hollowing his memories out for years and replacing them, like a cuckoo, with other people's nonsense. Unless we seal this circle -" He clenches his teeth, swallows down that pain. "The clock is ticking for you as well, it started the moment your rift broke, unless we can form a completed circle. Though I doubt that you'd go slow and painful." He looks over his shoulder, at the smouldering trainer blackened and burnt on the road, says and feels only weary, now, "I suspect in your case much more of a bang than a whimper."

The boy doesn't say anything, and exhausted as he is, Athos finds he has nothing else to say to him.

However he saw this day unfolding, he really never imagined it like this . . .

*

In Aramis' bedroom in the villa - he refused the medical bay again on the grounds of being bored of it, which is about as much sense as any of his decisions make so whatever - they lay three to the bed, silent in the dark, as if, if they listen hard enough, they'll be able to hear four sets of breathing; theirs, and the breath of the kid sleeping in the room across the corridor from theirs. Not, Porthos thinks, mouth twisting in the dark, that he's probably sleeping in there, after today.

Aramis says, voice heavy, "To lose your father and break your rift all on the same day . . ."

Athos says, "You should be resting."

"I slept the entire plane journey. Did I miss . . . did he speak much? How does he seem?"

"He's in shock." Athos says. "It may be some time before we can be sure of his true . . . it may be some time."

Porthos says, low in the dark, "How much time've we got?"

"It took me - two days, perhaps? How long did it take the two of you?"

". . . dunno," Porthos says, pressing his lips together, thinking about it. "I liked him early on. But the circle . . . yeah, maybe - maybe a few days. 'til it felt sure between us."

Aramis turns to his side, wraps his arms around one of Porthos'. "Did you like me, Porthos?" he says, light with the smile in it, and Porthos scratches at his scalp through his hair to make him purr, says, "Yeah, I dunno what I was thinkin' either."

"I needed to sleep on it." Athos says, slowly. "The shock of it. And I needed some talking into it."

Porthos rubs at Aramis' forehead in the dark with the pad of his thumb; between the blankets and hot water bottles and their own bodies, they've got him to a half-healthy temperature for once. "You remember that? We had breakfast in the village, eggs, an' talked him into joinin' us . . ."

Aramis yawns, and says, "D'Artagnan may be more amenable in the morning then." which, Porthos notes with a tightening of his stomach he forces himself to dismiss, means Aramis doesn't remember it. But it's alright. There won't be much more of this, the losing. From here on out, it's all gain.

"How'd he hold his rift?" he says. "I thought he was gonna blow at Athos an' burn his face off."

"Shock," Aramis mumbles, tired, into Porthos' shoulder. "It gave him enough space to feel his grief, and there's little that makes you feel more human than grief. Also, that one is as stubborn as a rock to the face and neither rift nor mortal will shift him."

"Should fit right in around here then."

Aramis only sighs, in a contented way, and then gives a sort of arching hum as Athos does something at his back; stroking it, rubbing it, Aramis just thinks that touch is the best part of life. "How are you feeling?" Athos says.

"Mm. Tired."

"Amen," Porthos murmurs, because last night was nothing but stress and little sleep, they flew to another country and back today, and thinking of that kid across the hallway -

He combs his fingers, slow, through Aramis' hair. "You used to sleep in here all alone. An' now you've got both of us an' d'Artagnan right across." It feels all warm in his stomach. "You got everythin' you ever wanted."

"Yes." Aramis says simply, and his hand curls around Porthos' wrist. Porthos smiles, hesitates - does Aramis remember sleeping here alone, when he was younger even than the kid they just brought home? - and decides just not to ask. They don't have to keep picking at that scab anymore, it's all going to be different, now.

But it should already feel different, and it - it does but not in the right way. It feels . . . everything feels too up in the air still, Porthos thought there'd be a certainty to d'Artagnan but instead he just feels sort of wary and oddly judged, not knowing what the kid makes of them. And he's been through a lot. He's dealing with a lot. It doesn't have to all happen right now. He remembers finding Athos, this posh wanker drunk and angry and unimpressed with both of them, he remembers standing in his garden feeling young and stupid and resenting the fuck out of this guy who was supposed to come with them forever, who Aramis had been shiny-eyed for the joy of meeting for months. And that all worked out. He wouldn't have anything different, wouldn't lose Athos for anything. So it'll all be alright. Right?

"It never was going to be so neat as a storybook," Aramis says, and pats his wrist. Athos says nothing, and Porthos goes stiff for a second, and chooses not to tell him that he didn't say any of that out loud. Aramis can't help it, and he won't be doing that for much longer, not after they talk d'Artagnan around.

He says, "Hey," and cups his hand around the back of Aramis' head, tugs it closer to kiss his brow. "I just wanted to say - we always trusted you would get us to 'im. I know it's been shit, for you, for a long while. But you did it. Everything you saw, it's gonna happen, an' we've got him now. An' I just wanted to say - I dunno. Thank you. I'm proud of you. That was . . . you got us to 'im We couldn't've done any of it without you."

"Without the two of you," Aramis points out softly, "my brain would have painted the insides of my skull scarlet years ago."

Athos says, "We function well as a team." and Porthos hears a kiss, to Aramis' neck or shoulder he would guess. "But you had to endure every episode that brought us here. Porthos is right. You should feel proud. For once."

"Mostly," Aramis says, "I feel tired."

"Then go to sleep," Athos says, gently. "Go to sleep. In the morning we'll talk to him, and see what he needs from us."

"It's not going to be that simple," Aramis says. "When you wake, pack a bag." He yawns again, nuzzles his bearded cheek to Porthos' bared shoulder. "Lord I am tired like . . ."

Nerves prickling the back of his neck, Porthos says, "Why're we packing?"

"- are we packing?"

"You just- fuck, never mind. Go t'sleep." He kisses the top of his head again, through his hair, then lays there staring at nothing through the dark, trying not to worry about shit Aramis said that could mean anything.

"Goodnight, Porthos," Aramis says sleepily.

"Yeah. Night."

"Goodnight Athos."

"Go to sleep."

"Goodnight d'Artagnan," Aramis says, slow as sleep itself. "Sleep - sleep -"

Another yawn takes the rest of the sentence, and then he's gone; there's been far too many episodes for much more from him tonight.

In the dark he listens to Aramis breathing, and after a pause, Athos shifts and sits, then waits alert to test for Aramis waking; when he doesn't, Porthos hears some clinking at the bedside table, and the cap of a hipflask unscrewing.

He whispers, "Pass that over."

He can only half sit up without disturbing Aramis and it's uncomfortable as all fuck and he won't stay there long, passing a hipflask back and forth with Athos in the dark by the sound of whisky sloshing, the touch of their hands. Porthos licks the feeling of burning on his lips, says low, "I wanna feel . . ." He can't find the word for it. Triumphant? Happy? "I didn' think it would feel like this."

"Some things take time."

"But it's - everythin', everything we've worked for - everything we've waited for - I just thought it'd feel -"

"It doesn't have to feel like it right now. There's tomorrow. And the rest of our lives. Take it in stages." Whisky sloshes, and Athos swallows. "We found him. Then we talk to him. Then we - bond with him. I just assume we'll let Aramis loose at him and then he'll find he's somehow stuck with us, that usually seems to be how it works."

The flask bumps his fingers, and Porthos takes it back. "What d'you think he meant about packin'?"

"I have no idea. I pray to god it's not another rift, not with d'Art- Charles - the boy so new to everything. And Aramis can't take many more episodes, the only thing I hoped for from finding him was that he'd get some rest."

The wind picks nervously at the walls of the villa. "He's - the kid - he's dealin' with a lot. An' we're asking him to believe our crazy story an' wanna form a circle with us like now. It just . . . it's a lot."

"It's always a lot. Break it into stages."

"Every single stage sounds fucked up all the way to hell."

Another clumsy passing, Athos takes the flask back, and says, "Explain to me how this is different from any other week we get through."

Porthos keeps his free hand on Aramis' head, feeling the slow pass of his breathing where his cheek's pressing on his stomach. The thing about all those other weeks; all the fucked up shit didn't end. That's what Porthos needs, the end of it, knowing Aramis' mind safe, feeling his own powers steady out, feeling in control. Knowing them safe - he needs an end, and all he's got now they've found this kid are a tonne more questions and he's even more impatient for the answers . . .

He says, "Fuck it, I'm gonna sleep."

"Goodnight," Athos murmurs, and whisky sloshes.

Work out what the fuck tomorrow's gonna be like when they get to it.

*

Porthos comes up with a snorted half-snore at five o' clock when Aramis climbs over him in the bed and thumps to the floor, and gives a gentle grunt as he cradles the water jug on the bedside table to himself. Athos makes an incoherent noise as he lurches upright and Porthos yelps, "Aramis-?"

They catch up with him only when he's already barged the door to d'Artagnan's room open, and dumped the contents of the jug on the fiery halo that's taken the pillow around d'Artagnan's head. D'Artagnan comes up shrieking, the pillow a scorched wet mess - burning feathers stink - and then the fire alarm goes off, a high sharp noise almost like Aramis' alarm. D'Artagnan stares at the three of them, blinking and dripping, and then looks dumbly at his blackened, sodden pillow.

Aramis says gloomily over the wail of the alarm, "I can see that I'm not the only member of this circle whose dreams may be an issue."

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