rainjoyswriting: (kurt!)
[personal profile] rainjoyswriting
Heat of the Moment, Musketeers fic, affinityverse (best catalogued in my memories) <3

Disclaimer: I don't own anything, I'm just here to play.

Rating: omg like R or something gods

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

Summary: The thing about ever after is always that sinks have to be cleaned, meals have to be cooked, and somehow you have to learn to live with the angry one, the aloof one, the mad one . . .


Note: I appreciate that things were easier in canon, but in canon I assume d'Artagnan had more time for the grieving, a *lot* more closure, and less of the crazy powers situation to deal with. Also, Aramis still had the best part of his mind and the other two weren't overeager and angry with d'Artagnan for finding all of this a bit *much*, which I imagine doesn't help someone as naturally inclined to contrariness as *that* one.









Athos barks, "For god's sake, she was never my wife!"

Charles is pacing up and down the living room of the big house by the sea, arms folded, restless and agitated and angry; Athos is standing by the door to the back garden, possibly aware that Charles is thinking of getting the hell out of there and the exits need guarding; Aramis and Porthos are sitting on the sofa side by side, watching them fight, Porthos with a scowl - it seems to be a fixed expression with him, whether it's uncertain or angry or concerned - and Aramis with a faintly dreamy, detached look to him, because he's crazy and doesn't seem to have any angry expressions, just smiles or faint confusion.

Charles has been thinking about running away and getting out of whatever the hell this situation is a lot, and only hasn't for two reasons. One is that he really doesn't know how psychic Aramis is and how much point there might be in running if they decide to bring him back. He doesn't like to ask, Porthos and Athos always say that he's 'too' psychic and once when Charles was squinting sideways at him wondering exactly what that meant, exactly how psychic he is, Aramis murmured to the window he was gazing through, "Oh, very," like it wasn't a big deal, and Charles nearly jumped out of his skin.

Two is that these three are the only link he has to the woman they say killed his father, got his father killed. They're the only chance he has of finding her, if they can even decide between themselves what her relationship with Athos ever was.

"If he's so psychic then he can find her," Charles says, hands clenching in burning-tight fists before he checks himself, hisses his breath in through his teeth and out again slowly, he can't get angry, he can't get angry -

Porthos has a bucket full of water sitting very pointedly by his foot. This morning Charles set fire to his second bedroom in two days, and they can't always rely on Aramis acting as a Charles-focused fire alarm and simply stopping whatever he's doing and walking directly to him carrying the nearest jug of water every time.

Charles is trying to cope with setting things on fire with his feelings. He's trying to cope with a lot.

Athos looks evenly at Charles, marshalling his own temper. "Why do you need to find her?"

"She killed my father."

"We already have plans to bring her in to face justice. He's not the first she's killed."

"He's the one I'll kill her for," he whispers, and Aramis lifts his head, murmurs, "It's terrible manners to kill someone you've made love with."

Charles stares at him, opens his mouth, stares at him.

He says, "What?"

His mind screeches into its search, he's slept with - "Who was it?" he says, bewildered. "They both seemed nice and - not like murderers and - they were far too young to be married to him-"

"We were never married." Athos says through his teeth. "Aramis gets confused sometimes. You may not actually have slept with my ex-fiancée, just as I never actually married her."

Aramis murmurs to Porthos, uneasily, "I don't understand this argument." and Porthos puts a hand on the back of his head, says, "Me neither. You wanna go kill her? Shit, we need to make a queue when we do find this woman."

Athos frowns at him. "What's your claim on her?"

"Australia. She kicked Aramis in the head."

"You would kill her for me?" Aramis says, looking so touched, like this is all so -

Romantic. Which is another thing Charles is coping with, after Porthos led a clingy and nuzzling Aramis into a bedroom last night, and Athos, silent while he helped Charles make a bed in a bare unused bedroom, eventually said, "The three of us are in a committed romantic relationship. It has nothing to do with the circle and it's something we appreciate our privacy on."

Then he went into that bedroom after the two of them and closed the door, and Charles knows no-one left that bedroom, he slept so fucking little he would have heard it.

So he's being held in an isolated house by three gay men and he's not homophobic or anything but it's been a trying couple of days and, yes, he's coping with a lot.

"No-one is killing her." Athos says. "She can face trial the way any criminal would."

Charles eyes him up - he hasn't seen Athos use his powers (it's foggy outside shot through with little flares of lightning when Porthos is angry, and he's watched Aramis casually roll a ball of water about in his hands after putting out one of Charles's fires, but he's never seen Athos do anything much) and doesn't know what kind of fight he'd face against him, if he tried to stop him. "So you don't want her dead."

Athos looks at him, a profound silence in his eyes, Charles can't read them a crack. Then he says, "She killed my brother. But it's complicated. With her, it usually is."

"Someone's controlling her." Porthos says. "She said she wasn't allowed to kill Aramis, so she kills on order. So we need to get hold of her to get hold of who's givin' these fucking orders."

"So find her." Charles says, glaring at Aramis. "Find her."

Aramis looks drowsily at him, as if not understanding what he's saying, which he does too fucking often. Athos says, "His powers don't work like that. Not while his circle is unsealed."

"So that's how it works? I join your circle and then we can get her?"

"Fuck," Porthos mutters, and nudges Aramis with an elbow. "Dunno 'bout you, I'm gettin' déjà vu."

Athos has stilled, eyes unreadable but something is behind them. Then his body relaxes, and he says, "No. That's not how it's working."

Aramis raises his head and looks hazily across at him, lips parting slightly.

"It's no reason to form a circle." Athos says. "It's why I first joined them and it poisoned us for years. I came with them to one day be able to use Aramis like a tool to find and kill that woman, and it - it dehumanised all of us. No. If we're going to be a circle then we're doing it for the right reasons, not just because you want her dead and his powers are useful to you. We're people. We should want to be a circle because we care about each other as people, not just because we want to use each other. It goes for us as well. We don't just want you here to save our lives. We don't know anything about you yet, and this - I can't want you near them if I don't know you're not right for them."

"He is," Aramis says, softly. Charles snaps, "I don't have to do anything just because he says-"

"He's psychic, he's not ordering it, he's stating facts!"

"They're not my facts!"

Porthos puts his arm casually around Aramis' shoulders with a weird grimace at Charles and Athos fighting, and Aramis looks at him. "Were we like this when we were teenagers?"

"We were never like this." Porthos says dismissively. Athos looks at them out of the side of his eye, but Charles is still -

"She killed my father, you three kidnapped me -"

"It's rather more complicated than that."

"- and now we have to make a 'circle' just because - what the hell does that even mean?"

"We've been through this."

"All I feel," Charles spits, because they keep talking about how he'll feel his rift leaning on theirs like he should understand whatever the fuck that means, "is like my hands are full of - of hot coals and there's something under my skin -"

"He's warm," Aramis murmurs, looking at Charles with a tragic hunger; every time he's touched Charles he's been cold as stone and clearly trying with all his strength to control his own greed for flinging his arms around Charles's warmth. Which, given that the three of them did kidnap him, Charles is really leery about, and suspicious of Aramis' movements. Though he's suspicious of Aramis' movements for a lot of reasons; he's clearly not right in his mind and the other two seem willing to let him wander and talk nonsense but - is he high or just mad?

"- and that woman - you say she killed my dad but you won't let me find her and kill her back -" He needs to hit something he needs to kick something he needs to kill something - "- and all I can see is you getting in my way -"

Aramis says, thoughtfully, "Duck."

- it takes a fraction of a second but Athos jerks back and Porthos throws himself over Aramis as Charles's throat is taken by a frustrated snarl, he punches down at the coffee table -

And it explodes.

Debris skims the floor, smoking, something its the wall with a thud, a glass shatters like a star. Charles staggers back, stares mouth open at the blackened crater one side of the table has become, leaned brokenly down now missing two legs, the playing cards that had been stacked there flutter, half-cindered, through the air like snow -

Athos lowers the arm shielding his eyes and surveys the scene, silent. Porthos pushes himself up off Aramis and stares, then says, "Fuck this, I'm puttin' my records in the garage." and climbs over the ruined coffee table, hiking a big box into his arms and hurrying it out of the room.

Aramis doesn't even seem concerned by the explosion that just - that Charles just - just caused - and says, "Is it cold in here or is it just me?"

"It's always just you." Athos says, and stirs some of the debris with his foot. "You're detonating things now."

"I - it wasn't - why are you using that tone of voice?"

"Just an observation," Athos says. "When they were teenagers at least they never blew anything up."

Aramis says, "My memories are a bit confused, but I'm fairly certain we can dispute that point."

"You never blew up anything in the house. These are nice floors."

What really throws Charles the most is how little they're thrown. He just blew up their coffee table. He just blew up their coffee table and the most excitement they can raise about it is bickering about exactly when and where they might have replicated the act themselves. But in its own strange way, it calms him. The world makes no sense now - the world makes no sense now - so it's okay that it makes no sense to him. Apparently the senselessness is normal.

He takes long breaths, and the feels the heat bubble inside, embers glowing orange in his stomach. It's okay. He just blew up a table, but it's okay.

Porthos returns, and looks the scene over. "Alright?"

Aramis says, "D'Artagnan . . ."

It comes out sharply, but then it is about the fiftieth time he's had to say it. "That's not my name."

Aramis looks at him, no comprehension on his face, then takes a quick breath and says, "Come sit down. We all need to calm down a bit and think this through more reasonably. You've had a trying few days and you should be resting, before we take care of anything else. Come sit down."

Charles looks at him, looks at the empty seat beside him as Porthos takes the other, doesn't move. Aramis folds his arms looking hurt and confused, says, "You don't like to be near us."

The cold flush inside is closer to guilt than any other emotion, though more complicated than that, because - no, he doesn't, but more than that - specifically, he doesn't want to be near him. Aramis doesn't always seem to notice before he puts an arm around Charles and he has to jerk himself away, Charles can't predict him, he's clearly not all there and deadly cold and -

And is that what happens to them? Is that what's going to happen to all of them, to him?

He folds his own arms, shrugs them awkwardly, says, "Look, I'm not weird about it or anything, but you did kidnap me -"

"We didn't 'kidnap' you." Athos says. "You had to be removed from ordinary society for everyone else's safety. We are merely minding you until you become safe once more."

Charles looks at him, eyes narrowed, then looks away. "I'm not weird about it or anything," he repeats, "but I did get dragged here against my will because apparently that's really different from being kidnapped by three gay men and I feel a bit - outnumbered. Okay."

Aramis looks at him as if entirely confused. Porthos says, "We're not gay."

Charles stares back. "You - I thought -"

Porthos says, "I'm bi. Athos is private." He looks at Aramis, who looks back like he doesn't understand the conversation. "Think Aramis is like, pan? I dunno if we got to a word for him yet. I mean 'we' like, humanity, not just us."

Athos says, "You are not invited to join our relationship, so it won't kill you to sit on the same damned sofa as us."

Charles says, "Oh." and thinks, face heating, that he didn't need to say it like that.

"Come sit," Aramis says, gently, and pats the sofa cushion. "I promise to behave like a gentleman."

Charles cuts a look at Athos, who sits with a growled sort of grunt in the armchair and grips its arms too tight. Charles takes a deep breath and throws himself into the seat beside Aramis, kicking his legs out sullenly.

"There," Aramis says. "That wasn't so bad."

Charles looks around them distrustfully. "Is this what happened to you? You got dragged here and -" He waves a general hand at the three of them, very uncertain over whether the circle happened before or after whatever the hell else the three of them are together.

"Essentially." Athos says, fingers pressing tight at the fabric of the armchair. Aramis looks at him in a worried way, and Porthos says, "Hey, Athos, you want some coffee?"

Athos looks at him in silence, then says, "I'll make it." and gets up, and walks through to the kitchen.

Charles looks at the ruined coffee table, says, "How did you three meet?"

Aramis takes a breath to say something and then stops, tongue and face frozen, before he rubs his face with both hands. Porthos puts a hand on his back, says, "I was sixteen when my rift broke an' nearly blew my whole school to bits with me in it. Aramis got to me an' saved my life. He'd been in the villa since he was fourteen more or less on his own, when his rift broke he just had to - to deal with it. We found Athos two years later but it was basically the same. Rift breaks, Aramis feels it, we go fetch 'em. Not many survive." He looks at Charles with a complicated frown on his face in that moment. "Most rifts rip the poor bastard carryin' 'em clean open when they go, all this power pours out an' causes complete chaos, we just have to bring 'em down to stop 'em from causing worse. The ones who survive - an' we aren't many - we have to make circles. We have to. Years we've been doin' this without a full one, it's -" His hand, on the back of Aramis' neck, presses, Charles flicks his eyes to it and back to his gaze again. "I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. An' he never did go through it, the fucker."

"Who . . . ?"

"Bloke we left the villa to escape. Richelieu." A thrill goes up Aramis' back, like an ice cube just touched his neck, and Porthos squeezes the back of his neck again as if calming a horse. "He was last of his circle to have his rift split, just like you. So you'll never have t'know the worst of it. The years an' years an' years of . . . you don't have to do all that shit. An' it's a good thing, I don't resent it, you should be grateful for it. You don't have to go through any of it."

Charles rubs his hands together - the palms have a horrible heat inside them, pressure from the inside, like hot coals trying to get out of his skin - and says, "I think I'm going through enough, thanks."

He keeps remembering the jarring of the crash, too stunned for thought at first, mind a ringing emptiness as he lifted a hand and found his forehead bloody, looked across -

He never thought enough about what his father meant to him, even when it only was the two of them; his dad was just there, like the ground, like the sky. Now he has a hole inside, and he squeezes his hot hands into fists and stares at the burnt and splintered edge of the coffee table hard to keep it in, as Athos returns with a tray, and says, "It looks like we had best improvise. If you hadn't taken the record box we could have used that."

"You use my records as a coffee table over my dead body." Porthos says, walks to the bookshelf and slides off a wedge of heavier hardbacks in his arms, then walks over and sets them between the sofa and armchair to act as a table. "Kid, how d'you take yours?"

'Kid' is irritating but at least means they're not calling him 'd'Artagnan', so he just says, "White, no sugar. Thanks."

Aramis looks into his cup and says in that weird accent he uses sometimes, "What is this?"

Porthos pats his back. "Just drink it. It'll warm you up."

Athos takes his black, Porthos uses milk and sugar. These things you know about people when you know them, they don't ask each other; but Charles doesn't know them, and doesn't know what . . .

"Did she mean to kill me?" he says, voice not entirely steady, because he doesn't want to know but he needs to understand. "Because of - this, all this?" with a gesture at the coffee table. "Or did she actually want to kill him, was -"

Athos says, "We don't know. She's targeted rifts in the past, but we believe not merely to kill them, she's had enough opportunity to kill us and not taken it. Drink your coffee."

"You're not my mum." Charles mutters, and takes a sullen sip. "She kills rifts?"

"Eventually," Aramis murmurs, huddled around his coffee cup for dear warmth.

"Why were you engaged to her if she kills rifts?"

"I didn't know she was doing that at the time. She is a very, very good liar. And I didn't know I had a rift in me, then." Athos drinks slowly, and closes his eyes, then opens them again. "I didn't want to join them when they turned up for me. They just walked into my garden, where I was trying to . . . that is a lie. I was not trying to pick myself up after my brother was murdered and I thought I'd killed my fiancée for killing him. I was wallowing in it all. And they walked up, gave me some context for the madness of what had just happened, and then Aramis had an episode and they were inside the house and . . . they were just there, then, they became very hard to get rid of."

"Our greatest talent," Aramis says.

"It took a couple of days talkin' to get Athos around." Porthos says. "But, kid, he is actually the stubbornest fuck ever got born, if he came 'round? It's worth comin' 'round to, alright?"

Aramis' eyes are drooping over his coffee. "I remember . . . I do remember . . ."

"How do you even make a circle? You've never explained it properly."

"It's not really somethin' you choose, I think it's - once you feel comfortable you just feel like it's already happened."

". . . a little white bowl . . ."

Aramis' cup smashes sideways on the floor, coffee joining the scorch stains, and Porthos shoves his own cup onto the floor with a clatter, catching Aramis as his weight swings bodily sideways, head lolling back. Charles scrambles up as Athos curses and bangs his own cup on the floor, helping Porthos catch up Aramis' weight - "The floor?" "The sofa, all the splinters -" - and heave him full-length onto the sofa's cushions, legs jarring over the arm as the fit begins.

"Shit." Porthos hisses, one hand nervous on Aramis' head as it jolts against the cushions, palm tucking between his skull and the sofa's arm where it thumps. "Shit."

Charles just stands there, uselessly holding a coffee cup, watching them mind him, their focus entirely on Aramis. He doesn't know what to say for a long time, stretched silence except for Aramis' jarrings, then he swallows and says, small voice, "Do you need me to help?"

Athos gives him a look, and Porthos says, "He's alright. 'long as he can't hurt himself, he's alright."

Charles understood that look from Athos. He can help them, they've already told him that, he can make Aramis' seizures stop, if . . .

"Shit." Athos says, and takes a packet of tissues from his pocket, dabs with practised gentleness, with the jolting of Aramis' head, at his face; the tissue blooms scarlet.

"Nose bleed." Porthos says. "It happens sometimes."

I'm not afraid, you don't have to baby me, Charles wants to say. But he is afraid. He's afraid of losing his mind and not knowing what's going on around him, losing his memories so he doesn't even know that she killed his father, and then laying there like that, having to be minded like that, hardly even human like that . . .

Aramis' body sags into a breathless limpness, trying to pant hard enough for his starved lungs, and Porthos is immediately stroking his hair, hushing him. Meanwhile now he's stopped jerking about and making it difficult Athos has got a window to, with a fresh tissue, try to clean his face of blood better. "What did you see?" he says, gently, and Aramis makes a small noise, and nothing else.

Porthos' hand strokes over Aramis' head. "He's out," he says, quietly. "Do we - are we fetchin' blankets or should I get him to bed?"

Athos rubs his forehead, mouth grimaced like he has a headache. "Bed." he says. "There's likely to be another. Do you need help?"

"No," Porthos says, shifting his crouch to steady himself before catching up Aramis around the chest and heaving him over his shoulder, holding him on as he stands, Aramis' head dangling, limbs limp. "Hardly weighs a fuckin' thing," he mutters, carrying him out of the room.

Athos just stands there a moment longer, watching them on the stairs, then looks around, locates his coffee cup, picks it up and - downs it in one. He swallows, and looks at Charles. "It's been ten years," he says. "He can't always recover from them the way he used to anymore. He wasn't always like this." His eyes are very still, his face is very still. His throat moves. "I wish you could have known him then." He closes his eyes, then opens them again relaxed. "You may yet. Excuse me, I need to check on them. And I need a fucking drink."

Charles stands there alone in the living room as Athos walks out for the stairs, folding his burning palms into fists. He looks at the mess of the coffee table and the broken coffee cup, and remembers when they first arrived at this house, when Aramis seemed quite upbeat, very cheerful with having escaped this Richelieu they all hate so much, striding up the stairs to some musical beat and singing, "What's worse, looking jealous or crazy -"

Porthos muttered, "Wish I'd never let you listen to that album."

"Jealous or crazy," Aramis insisted to him, then laughed and skipped ahead from Porthos' grabbing hand, Porthos chasing him for their bedroom to dump their bags.

Then they tried to eat something and dinner was interrupted by episodes, and while Aramis picked himself up and seemed undisturbed enough, he was so sleepy that he only moved more or less by clinging to Porthos and allowing his ankles to be dragged after him towards bed. And there's something wrong with him, anyone could see that, something seriously wrong, not just the seizures, he forgets what's happening mid-conversation, he sometimes seems to think he's known Charles for years but he literally can't remember his name however many times he's told . . .

Charles sits on the very edge of the sofa, and two days ago he was going to Italy to spend three weeks with his mother's parents like every summer and now he's back in France but nothing's the same and he's stuck in this house with these three men and nothing feels right, little pulses of heat run up and down inside his skin like lightning looking for a way out, it's like fever -

He looks at the door onto the garden, the sea in the near distance. He breathes, slowly.

He thinks, How far do you think you'd get?

He thinks, What are you even running to?

What does he have left? His hands are full of hot embers, his dad is dead, nothing is the same. What is there left to run to?

He looks at the ceiling, and everything was taken from him and these men have claimed him instead: the angry one, the aloof one, the mad one. And apparently everything now hinges on Charles wanting to be with them, but he doesn't know who the hell they are and in this broken new world where his skin is full of fireflies made of real fire, does he trust them? Does he trust anyone?

His throat hurts, his eyes hurt, his sinuses hurt with wanting to cry. Does he trust anyone, since someone killed his dad . . . ?

*

He's still in the living room, ignoring their voices moving through the house into the kitchen, when Aramis puts his head through the doorway, and smiles, and comes to sit next to Charles. "We're making dinner, they let me come to fetch you." he says. "Their faces when I suggested I would do it, you'd think I'd regularly died when I went in a room without them. And yet I have a proud record of walking through thousands of doorways and never yet dropping dead."

Charles looks at him, feeling very tired after an hour doing nothing but managing his own emotions, trying to keep the heat inside his hands from getting out. "Are you okay?" he says. "After the . . ."

"Little episode," Aramis supplies for him. "I'm fine. I've had thousands of those and not died either. Are you hungry?"

Charles looks at his hands, his hot-throbbing hands, resting on his own knees, and shakes his head. "I kind of just want to go to bed," he says.

Aramis' smile quirks in the corner of his mouth, and he murmurs, "A secret: so do I. But they get upset when I don't eat and I imagine they will for you as well." He looks at him, a patient, attentive look, then says gently, "Company may help. It may be better to not be alone."

Charles looks away, at the bookshelves. Aramis looks down at the floor, and murmurs, "We do make a mess."

It seems a more general sort of statement than regarding the spilled coffee and scorch marks specifically. Charles just sits there, and will never see his father again, and mostly that state is all-consuming to him right now.

"I wish I could offer some wisdom, to help you through the grief." Aramis says, quietly. "But still all I've ever learned to do is endure it." He plays a little with the leather cuff he wears around one wrist, which Charles has seen them use to stop him biting his tongue in the fits. "When you wouldn't wish away the love you can't wish away the grief."

Charles keeps staring at the bookshelves, says, "Who have you lost?"

Aramis takes a long breath, then rubs his forehead with the pad of a thumb. "I don't know," he says. "I've . . . lost losing them. But I remember the pain of it like a permanent fresh wound, and I'm only sorry that you've got to face it now too. I know you may not be hungry and may not want to talk. But you have enough time to be alone with it. Come sit with us, for now."

Charles keeps on staring at the bookshelves. "Is that what happens?" he says, and keeps his voice inflectionless. "We forget?"

"No. Not you. I have a water rift, it's in my mind. I've learned how to use it but it's learned how to use me, and it knows how to hurt humans. Your rift won't be like mine. We're opposites, anyway, fire and water. Though I have often found that opposites are in their own ways intriguingly similar."

Charles glances at him, and Aramis smiles. Charles says, "So I won't forget him."

"No." Aramis says, watching his eyes. "You'll remember with a fierceness. And it's not so bad, you know, the forgetting. I still remember them, and you, and I don't need much more. I am content with the state of my soul."

Charles doesn't really understand that comment, but then he doesn't understand much Aramis comes out with - this has been the most coherent he's been in some time - and he looks at him, as Aramis rubs his forehead again, eyes closed. Charles says, unnerved, "Are you going to - should I get them - ?"

"It's just a headache." Aramis says, lowering his hand. "It's only - shit."

He's on his feet and he's rounded the sofa as if to keep it between him and the window, which Charles whips his head to and jumps up, expecting attack, expecting - her -

"What?" he says, staring at the dusk outside, the threateningly empty garden. "What can you -"

Aramis stares with his face drained of all colour at the window, and then his voice comes stunted. "Ath- Athos, Porthos - God in heaven not -"

That strange accent again, like he's playing at being Louis XIV except his eyes are serious as death on that window. There's a clatter in the kitchen, a scramble, but before they appear Aramis barks a sudden cry of - his head snaps back like he's been shot, his knees fold, Charles sucks his breath in like a punch and leaps over the sofa via its cushions to get to him more quickly -

He's kneeling there with a hand to his head, and blood all over his fingers. Charles hardly dares to touch him, says, "What - where -"

Porthos thumps to his knees beside him, Athos cocks a gun and says, "What's happening?"

"Wh- he just fell, he's got - he's hit his head or something -"

"It's snowing," Aramis whispers, and - shit - Charles can see his breath, white in the warm air of the room. How the hell can he be - ?

"Oh hell no." Porthos mutters, wrapping his arms around Aramis and tucking him into a hug, forcibly holding his face to his own throat. "No. You can't see that. You're just lookin' at me, Aramis, you're just with me -"

Athos looks to the empty window, then snaps the safety back on his gun and puts it into his pocket. Charles says, "Do you always carry that?"

"Since we picked you up, yes. They always come for fire rifts." He crouches at Aramis' back, puts a hand on his shoulder; he's trembling in Porthos' arms, fear or cold Charles has no idea. "It's alright," he whispers. "Aramis, it's alright, we're right here."

". . . my head . . ."

Porthos raises Aramis' head in a hand slightly and hisses; there's blood everywhere, sticky down one side of his face, eyes screwed up just so he doesn't blind himself with his own blood. "Fuck," Porthos says, "same place as before, it's not been this bad since -"

"We need to deal with that head wound."

"He was normal," Charles says, feeling very external to the three of them right now, feeling isolated and out of place, feeling like he needs to defend the few moments he spent with Aramis when those two weren't there and then this happened. "He was almost normal and then -"

"It happens." Porthos says grimly, as Athos stands, puts a hand on Porthos' shoulder and murmurs, "I'll get the first aid kit.", walking away. "It just happens sometimes. He gets lost - somewhere, somewhere else. Some battlefield."

"Battlefield?"

"There's snow," Porthos says, taking a tissue from a packet in his pocket - the two of them seem to be able to act as tissue dispensers at a moment's notice - and trying to clean up some of the blood, bright as holly berries, run down Aramis' paled face. "An' bodies."

Aramis' breathing hollows to a stillness at that, and Porthos puts a gentle hand on his head; Aramis, eyes closed, flinches. "S'alright," Porthos says, quietly. "There's no bodies."

"I've - since we left the villa -"

"What?" Porthos says quietly, unsticking the tissue tacky with blood from Aramis' face.

"- I've felt a - the weirdest feeling -"

Athos is back, carrying some kind of - it's a holster, Charles realises. It's got a gun sheath hanging from it, as well as a bunch of other weird compartments. "Talk me through this, Aramis," he says. "Cleaning a head wound."

"I -"

"Keep your eyes closed," Porthos murmurs. "Good boy."

"You can help," Athos says to Charles, a faintly ironic look to the eye as he kneels, lays the holster out and starts opening compartments. "His rift isn't communicable, you won't catch anything."

Charles flushes, and says, "What do I do?"

"Aramis, talk to me." Athos says, touches his shoulder as a warning, then peels Aramis' blood-sticky hair back from his forehead to see the wound. "Someone's been - it looks like a heavy impact from a blunt object. Bruising and blood, it looks too shallow and messy for stitches but it's obviously a heavy blow. What do we do?"

"We - we-"

His teeth are chattering. Porthos looks up at Charles. "C'n you make a couple of hot water bottles? You'll find 'em in our bedroom, somewhere in the bed."

"I - in your bed."

"Yeah," Porthos says, rubbing at Aramis' arm - there's a blue tinge to the skin, where the hoodie he's wearing has ridden up at the wrist. "Quick if you can."

"Aramis, cleaning a head wound."

"S- saline solution -"

"So," Charles says. "I'm just going up to go root through your bed. Cool."

They ignore him, fussing at the blood still running onto Aramis' clothing. Charles looks at them but they seem intent on what they're doing, which means they were serious, and he has to go dig around in their bed for them. Fine.

He walks upstairs, glaring at their door once it's in view, and almost automatically knocks before he goes in; he catches himself, snorts softly, opens the door.

He doesn't know what he expected. It's just a bedroom; a couple of wardrobes against the wall, a desk under the window, a door presumably through to a bathroom. The bed is big, admittedly, to fit three people, with a jumble of squashed-together pillows at the head and a pile of blankets on top of the duvet in a narrow strip in the middle. The only really curious item is the wooden crucifix attached to the wall above the bed, so Jesus gets a ringside view to whatever the three of them do in there, which is. Not what Charles expected.

He takes a breath, and pulls the blankets back. There are two hot water bottles, warm-ish to his hands, which he carries downstairs and into the kitchen for the kettle. He can hear their voices in the next room, Aramis pained, the other two soothing.

He wonders if this is what every day will be like. He wonders how he never appreciated how entirely, blanketingly dull his life was before this. He hated it, he knows. He sulked through lycée, counting down the days to escape to university somewhere bigger and more exciting than where he was stuck. He was a child, then, and didn't know what to appreciate.

He knows he's not a child anymore, knows that that happened with the impact of that car. Now all he has to do is decide what the fuck he's going to do with this jarring new adulthood he's been given. Stay with those three? What is the alternative?

He really doesn't like not having a choice.

The kettle boils, and his attention snaps back to the room. He empties a hot water bottle in the sink, begins to refill it. He wonders if Aramis would seem any saner without the seizures.

He wonders, it aches with not knowing the answer, what his father would tell him to do.

*

On the third morning of the new broken world, he brushes his teeth - he doesn't know what they would have done if he hadn't been travelling with a suitcase when they found him, at least he has a toothbrush - ignores the burning in his palm around the plastic, and wonders what it would have been like to meet them under other circumstances. If his father wasn't just killed in front of him. If his hands didn't rush under their surface with an ill, dangerous heat. If the wind didn't careen at the house like an angry bull, if Aramis' illness didn't disrupt their every attempt at conversation. Would he have liked them, in normal circumstances?

He wonders about it. There's something about Athos, some poise in his stance, Charles feels some inexplicable urge to meet it. There is simply something about the man, his imperviousness, the way his presence in a room makes him the arbiter of conversation and thought; he wants to impress him, Charles thinks, and spits into the sink, embarrassed of his own childishness. Why does he care about impressing him? It matters to him that Athos, so settled in his adultness, doesn't think of Charles as a child. But doesn't he know? He saw that car crash, he knows the break, Charles can never be a child again. He does know that, doesn't he?

Porthos he isn't sure of, realises as he washes his face that he knows really very little about him because Porthos is keeping his cards very close to his chest, eyeing Charles as an incomer to their closed unit and waiting to see whether he turns out trustworthy or not. Which strikes Charles hot with insult - how dare he sit there and judge Charles as a potential threat before he's learned a thing about him - before he does realise that he's doing really literally exactly the same thing, and he twists his mouth ruefully, dries his face. Okay. So there's Porthos to work out. He'll get around to that sooner or later. The main problem with Porthos is that he obviously doesn't like Charles' uncertainty of Aramis, and Aramis . . .

Who the hell even is he? Charles gets glimpses of who he thinks the man might be, little moments between the 'episodes' and his frequent bouts of confusion. He sees a smiling man who wears life lightly, playful and immediate, vibrant in his presence in his own situation. But how the hell does Charles know that is the real him? Just as often he's confused and fretful, just as often he speaks with a weird accent and seems to not know where he is, just as often he's as groggy from seizures as if seriously drunk, and you can't wear life lightly when it's sitting on you like the bulk of an iceberg. Charles doesn't know who he is. And whatever they mean by 'forming a circle', Charles realises that this is the problem, because if he doesn't know them he can't trust them and can't get close to them, they can't even be friends, let alone whatever the fuck more they're meant to be. So . . .

His stomach gurgles audibly, and Charles scowls and hates it. It's the first time since his father died that he really feels hungry - ravenous, actually - and it feels like such a tedious betrayal of the intensity of the feeling, it feels so pedestrian a thing to feel against the scream of the grief. But he's starving, and he thinks about breakfast, pulling a t-shirt on, he'll go downstairs and see what fresh crazy they've got to offer him today. He knows, anyway, that even if he does eat something, that hollowness is going nowhere, neither food nor them can help him with that.

When he opens his bedroom door, he smells -

The whole house smells like warmth and comfort and his stomach gnaws himself, and Porthos stops on the staircase, walking up it with a tray; cafetière, pot of honey and block of butter - loaf of still-steaming bread, fresh made. Porthos says as an explanation, "We've been up since five, he's not . . ." He jerks his head at their bedroom door, and starts walking again. "You might as well come in. We've got breakfast, an' it's circle business, you should be there."

"What business?" Charles says, and would follow that man pretty damn far right now, with the warm savoury scent of new bread behind him.

"Aramis' intuitions." Porthos says, and looks at the tray, looks at the door. "C'n you get that?"

In the bed Aramis is sitting up with his pile of blankets over his legs, more blankets pulled around his shoulders, hunched in a slightly miserable way as if deflated by sheer cold. The room, meanwhile, is already heating up with the fierceness of July, the sky has a diamond clarity to it today, a clean scalpel's line between sea and sky. Charles, already used to living with Porthos, tries to determine the meaning of it, some sharpness, he isn't sure . . .

Aramis smiles, forehead bruised and a bandage visible under his hair but really not looking that much worse than normal, which in its way isn't saying much. He says, "Good morning, d'Artagnan."

"Charles," he says but not in an angry way. Athos had pointed it out to him yesterday; does he think that Athos' parents gave him that name, or that Porthos was actually christened that? But it's always made more sense to go along with whatever Aramis called them, he said. Still, Charles isn't willing to give up his own name just because Aramis can't keep something straight in his head for five minutes. Maybe if they were stricter with him he wouldn't keep forgetting so much anyway.

Athos is perching on the bed beside Aramis, and Porthos puts the tray down there, sits beside him, nods at the desk chair for Charles. "You wanna bring that? Athos, you got a cup so the kid can have yours?"

Athos looks over the bedside table, downs some amber liquid in a glass and adds that to the tray, as Porthos pours out coffee. Aramis pulls his blankets closer, but accepts the cup he's given, huddling it close for warmth.

"Ever since we left, almost." he says, as Charles accepts some bread from Porthos and tries not to devour it in one ravenous mouthful. "It's not like an ordinary intuition, I'm familiar with those, that 'oh, you shouldn't have done that . . .' feeling, I know that. Intimately. But it's like a pull. Like a magnet, like a current I've swum into. Like . . ." His brow furrows. "Like I should be back at the villa."

"But," Athos says, touching his glass of coffee with his fingers and clearly finding it too hot to lift; he gives it a narrow-eyed look as if it's defying him on purpose.

"But," Aramis says, head low, nose almost in his cup. "But I have an intuition as well, and that intuition says that something bad will happen in the villa. Well. Richelieu may still be there."

He takes a sip of coffee, and Charles swallows his mouthful. "You have conflicting intuitions."

"I don't . . . I don't know if I call the first one an intuition. It doesn't feel like they usually do."

"We got the kid now," Porthos says. "Maybe this is how they'll feel once the circle's sealed."

"It isn't sealed yet." Athos says, pointedly. "And regardless, Aramis' rift lies. So one of those feelings may be true, but how the hell we're to know which I don't know."

"Nothing too bad could happen at the villa," Aramis says, as if he's trying to convince himself. "The captain wouldn't allow it. And we could never have put it off forever."

". . . I had hoped," Athos says, quietly, "that you would never have to face that man again without a sealed circle behind you."

"You're kind to hope for it," Aramis says, his smile playful but honestly touched, and Athos looks back maybe more openly than Charles has ever seen him look at anything before.

"So," Charles says, lifting his coffee cup to get them past that last thought while he still has no idea where he stands on the whole circle thing, "we're working out whether we're going back there or not."

Athos resettles his shoulders into their poise, says, "Do you have an opinion?"

Charles shrugs; there seems little difference between here or there or, hell, anywhere really. It's not like he can go somewhere to find his dad again so where he is really doesn't matter. "He seems pretty convinced."

They look again at Aramis, who looks very troubled at them over his cup of coffee. "Yes," he says. "I'm . . . I very much do not want to go back, not while he's there. But at the same time . . ." His mouth twists. "It is a very strong pull."

Charles says, genuinely curious, "Are you scared of him?"

Porthos says, "Aramis isn't scared of anything."

Aramis says, "I'm terrified of him. I know, I know like I know how to breathe, that he's going to do something terrible to me. But I never have known what or when."

"It's better that we keep them apart." Athos says mildly. "Richelieu's presence makes Aramis' rift worse, and Aramis has almost shot him - is it twice now?"

"Only twice?" Porthos mutters, and takes a drink of coffee.

Charles says, "How did he get hold of a gun?"

"He's always got a gun," Porthos says. "How'd he shoot people otherwise?"

Charles rubs his forehead, opens his mouth for the question, decides he doesn't even want to hear the answer and takes a drink of coffee instead. Aramis says, "I don't . . . we could take the boy back, I could teach him to shoot, it might be easier to get to know each other with Treville there to referee. But at the same time . . ." Aramis looks down at his coffee again. "I don't want to go." he says, quiet and meant, and then he takes a little breath and lifts his head, and looks them all in the eye. "So what now, gentlemen?"

Charles lowers his cup, says, "Toss a coin."

Porthos quirks an eyebrow at him; Athos says, "You want to decide between Aramis' conflicting intuitions, which might shape the very future of our circle, on a coin toss."

Charles shrugs. "Two options and it's fifty-fifty."

Athos looks at Aramis, who gives his own shrug. "It saves us arguing about it all day."

Athos looks at Porthos, who merely shrugs again. Athos rolls his eyes away, says, "I don't know why I expect you to be more responsible than him, you have precious little history for it."

"All that glisters is not gold," Aramis says, amused. "Even if it does glister very damned bright next to me."

Porthos ignores him, pats his pockets, and comes out with a Euro. "Alright," he says. "Heads we go. Tails we stay."

He flicks it up, clean and practised with his thumb. They all four watch the coin's spinning rise and the arc of its fall back into his palm, heads lifting and then eyes dropping as if choreographed; for one frozen second, it's as if they act as smoothly and entirely as one.
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