Title: No Smoke Without Fire (Part 12)
Rating: 15 (this part)
Summary: Written for the prompt of "Athos rescues Porthos from a burning building. Porthos is so grateful that he's driving Athos mad." Modern AU.
"Hello Porthos. Aren't you going to invite me in?"
"Yes. Yes, of course, sorry." Porthos stepped back and let her in, gesturing towards the open door to his flat.
As he followed Flea inside, Porthos experienced a fleeting stab of guilt. Since he'd been seeing Athos he'd barely given his other friends a second thought, although now he came to think about it, other than Charon's brief visit it wasn't as if they'd made any attempt to see him either.
"Drink?" Porthos offered. Flea shook her head, then changed her mind.
"Could I have a cup of tea? I'm so cold." She rubbed her arms, and he noticed she'd kept her coat on, as if to make a swift exit.
Porthos went to fill the kettle, mixed feelings colliding inside him. When he'd split up with Charon, somehow he'd stayed hanging around with them all. They'd been his friends - were still his friends, he reminded himself - and he'd had no reason to distance himself. Now though, with another group to hold up as a comparison, he was seeing their behaviour in a less favourable light.
Flea though - Flea he'd always been close to. There'd even been one night, a couple of years back, drunk and high on God knew what, that he and Charon and Flea had all ended up in bed together. Flea was still the only woman he'd ever had sex with.
With these thoughts swirling in his mind, he handed her a mug of tea and smiled awkwardly.
"So what brings you here?"
She spooned sugar into her tea and fiddled with the mug for a long time before answering. He'd already guessed this wasn't a social call. Flea was too on edge, perched nervously on the edge of the sofa as if ready to leap up again.
"There's something you need to know," she blurted finally. "About the fire at the Court."
Porthos' heart sank.
"You left me in there, didn't you?" he guessed gloomily, sitting down in the chair opposite. "What happened, the alarms went off and everyone panicked? Or did you all forget I was even there?" Thinking back to Charon's nervy behaviour when he'd seen him, the unexpected affection. He'd definitely been acting guilty.
"No!" Flea looked indignant. "Do you really think I would have done that? That I'd have left you in there?"
Porthos frowned. "Alright then, what?"
Flea picked at the tatty fur of her hood. "Charon made us go out to this all-night club. Half of us didn't want to go, it was nearly dawn, we were tired. But he insisted." She flicked a look up at Porthos, and looked quickly away again. "One thing lead to another and - well, we didn't find out what had happened for a couple of days. When we did - it just seemed lucky, you know? That we'd not been there. That he'd made us leave."
"Are you saying he knew?" Porthos asked incredulously. "Charon knew there was going to be a fire?"
Flea looked more on edge than ever. "No," she said finally, seeming to come to a decision. "I'm saying he started it."
For a second Porthos could only stare speechlessly. "But - " he stuttered, "but why would he burn down his own home?"
"Money." Flea shrugged. "The people who own the building wanted it gone. Too many tenants not paying up, it was a liability for them. They wanted it gone, and to claim on the insurance."
"But," Porthos objected, still trying to equate his best friend, however flawed, with a man who would commit large-scale arson and endanger his life into the bargain. "But you're saying he wasn't even there. How - ?"
"They gave him something. Timers or some shit, I don't know. Stuff that would burn away, not leave any trace. So he'd have an alibi." She said it impatiently, as if Porthos was slow in grasping the essentials.
Porthos looked at her stonily. "How do you know all this? Were you in on it?"
"No!" Flea stared at him, her expression a mixture of anger and pleading. "I swear Porthos, I'd have had no part in it." She sighed. "Charon got high. He was rambling, saying all this crazy stuff. I think it's been preying on his mind - the fact he nearly got you killed." She shot Porthos an unreadable look. "He still cares about you, you know."
"Funny way of showing it," Porthos muttered. "What I don't get is why you're telling me all this," he sighed. "What purpose does it serve, me knowing now?"
Flea shifted uneasily. "Because he's going to do it again."
"What do you mean, again?" Porthos demanded.
"There's another apartment building. The Old Mill, on Pedlar's Wharf. Same deal, the same owners want it gone."
Porthos looked dubious. "Aren't the insurers going to be a bit suspicious when they get two claims in the space of a few weeks?"
Flea shook her head. "It's owned through another company, maybe even several. They'd never trace it back." She looked miserable. "I don’t know if they've got a hold on Charon because he did the other one, or if it's just about the money. I mean, they gave him a lot."
"Enough to be worth going to prison for?" Porthos asked scathingly. "You have to go to the police with this, Flea."
She looked alarmed. "I can't do that!"
Porthos groaned. "Well when's he going to do it? Maybe we can talk him out of it?"
"Tonight. That's where he's gone now. It was the only reason I dared risk coming to see you. You have to do something!"
Porthos glowered. That was typical. Good old reliable Porthos, dump all your problems on him to sort out. He's there to be taken advantage of. He won't complain. People had been using him his entire life, and he was sick of it.
"Fine." He got to his feet, and Flea followed suit. "But this is the last time I'm sorting out his messes. If I do this, I don't want to see him - see any of you, ever again."
Flea nodded sadly, accepting. "I'm sorry Porthos. I really am." She gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and then she was gone.
For a moment Porthos stared blankly at the door, recalling happier times. Then he remembered that time was short, and pulled out his phone. There was only one thing he could think to do.
Athos answered on the third ring.
"Hey you. Everything okay?"
Porthos took a deep breath. "Athos. I have to tell you something. And I need you to believe me, and - I need you to not ask how I know."
There was a startled silence.
Porthos gave a choked laugh. "Listen. There's a building down by the river on Pedlar's Wharf, the Old Mill. It's a converted warehouse?"
"I know it."
"Well it's going to catch fire. Tonight. Now."
"What? What are you talking about? How do you - ?"
"Athos, please, don't ask me. I can't tell you. All I can say - I heard it from someone I trust. Can you do something?"
Another silence, as Athos processed his extraordinary words. "Very well. But we are going to talk about this later."
Porthos sighed. "Can't wait."
Athos hung up, and without further prevarication pushed the muster alarm point.
As the crew assembled, Aramis was the first to his side.
"Who was that on the phone?" he asked curiously. He'd watched Athos' expression go from pleased to perplexed to worried, and the conversation had clearly been the cause of this unexpected call out. And of the three people he could imagine Athos answering the phone to with a smile, two of them were already in the room.
"Doesn't matter." Athos shook his head, dismissing the question, and briefed the crew quickly. It didn't take long; he didn't know much to tell them.
"Can I come?" begged d'Artagnan.
"Please?" d'Artagnan protested. "I could be useful. I could organise the people you evacuate, free up more of you to go inside."
Athos considered, then sighed. "Alright then."
"Yes!" d'Artagnan pumped his fist and Athos caught his arm.
"You will give me your word you won't set foot inside the building. Regardless of what happens. Regardless of how safe it may appear."
D'Artagnan rolled his eyes. "I promise."
Athos gave him a hard stare, then finally nodded. "Okay then. Let's go."
After Porthos had hung up from talking to Athos, he couldn't settle. After pacing the room for five restless minutes, he gave up and grabbed his coat, heading out.
When he reached the river, the building in question was obvious, bathed in the flashing blue lights of two fire engines. The atmosphere was calm and surprisingly quiet, with the people milling around in the car park looking annoyed rather than frightened.
He pushed his way through the crowd, hoping to spot Athos and jumped as a hand grabbed his sleeve.
"Porthos! What are you doing here?"
It was d'Artagnan, smiling at him in cheerful surprise. Porthos realised that Athos must have kept his name out of it, and was grateful.
"Oh, I was just passing," he lied. "Saw the lights, wondered if it was your lot. Athos here?"
"Inside. Electrical fire apparently, started in a service cupboard. Soon dealt with, but they're evacuating everyone anyway, just to be on the safe side, while they check the rest of the building."
Porthos stared up at the facade. One small fire hardly seemed enough to threaten a building of this size and construction. Maybe Charon hadn't tried very hard this time. Or maybe -
Something Flea had said suddenly came back to him and Porthos' stomach lurched sickly as he realised he hadn't thought to tell Athos. Timers.
He turned to d'Artagnan urgently. "I think there might be - "
The rest of his words were lost as a series of explosions blew out half the front windows and a roaring conflagration took hold of the building.