Title: No Smoke Without Fire (Part 13)
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.
"Shit! It must have hit the gas pipes," d'Artagnan shouted over the sudden noise of the crowd, holding up a hand to shield his face from the heat.
After a second of stunned shock, Porthos made to run straight towards the burning entrance, only to be brought up short by d'Artagnan grabbing his coat. He was stronger than he looked.
"Porthos! What the hell?"
"Athos is in there!"
"Yes, in a flameproof suit and breathing apparatus," d'Artagnan reminded him. "You think he'd forgive me if I let you run in there like that?"
"Can't you go in then?" Porthos pleaded. "He might need help."
D'Artagnan looked conflicted, the same thought clearly having occurred to him. "I gave him my word I wouldn't," he said finally. "If I break that, he'll never trust me again."
"So what do we do?"
"We wait. And we trust him to do his job. Aramis is in there too, let's not panic until we have to, okay?"
They stared through the smoke in mutual anxiety, until a commotion at the building line proved to be a group of residents spilling out of the main entrance, shielded under blankets and towels and escorted by a fireman in full kit.
Porthos and d'Artagnan grabbed each other and Porthos' heart thumped painfully, but he'd already realised it was the wrong build to be Athos.
"It's Aramis." D'Artagnan was right, and when he'd given his group over into the care of the two ambulances that had pulled in behind the fire engines, Aramis hurried over.
"Have you seen Athos?" Porthos asked urgently.
Aramis looked surprised to see him there, but shook his head. "We split up, he was headed for the third floor." Aramis looked back at the blazing building, suddenly divining his meaning. "Are you saying he's still in there?"
D'Artagnan nodded. "I'll come in with you if you say it's okay," he offered quickly, spying a way round Athos' ban. "If you think he needs help."
"Nobody's going anywhere," declared Treville, appearing behind them. "Until that fire's under control nobody goes back in."
They turned to look at him, surprised to find him in smart evening clothes. Being the captain of the firehouse he would be paged details of any call out, and Aramis suspected he'd used the excuse to get out of some tedious family gathering.
"Athos is still in there," Aramis told him.
"Then he'll have to get himself out again, won't he?"
"To be fair, it was fine when we went in," Aramis pointed out, not wanting Athos to be accused of reckless behaviour where it wasn't true. "I don't know what happened, but suddenly all hell broke loose." He shot a look at Porthos standing quietly at the back, wondering again what he was doing here. Porthos though had his eyes fixed unblinkingly on the building, and Aramis could see he was rigid with tension.
"Look!" Porthos pointed towards the end wall, where a fire door had been shoved roughly open, and a handful of figures staggered out. In the smoke it was hard to see details, but Porthos finally realised with a dizzy sense of relief that one was indeed Athos. He'd clearly donated his breathing equipment to the elderly Indian lady beside him and was holding a small girl in one arm and a wriggling mass in the other that as he came closer turned out to be a furious cat.
When he saw them Athos discharged both burdens to the people with him and walked across. Porthos saw he had a livid scratch on his cheek, presumably from the cat, but was otherwise unharmed. He couldn't help himself and threw his arms around him.
"Athos. Thank God you're okay."
Athos hugged him back with a vague embarrassment but didn't look overly surprised to see him, and Aramis frowned thoughtfully.
Treville however, was highly indignant. "What the bloody hell's he doing here? This isn't a spectator sport you know."
"No sir. Sorry sir." Athos disengaged Porthos with a gentle firmness, but didn't push him away.
Treville looked Athos up and down with a keener eye for his well-being than he would ever have admitted and harrumphed. "Never mind the damn cat, you must be using up your nine lives at a rate of knots. What the devil happened here?"
"It looked like the gas supply went up," d'Artagnan said, hoping to be noticed and wanting to make a good impression.
Aramis saw the way Athos looked at Porthos and Porthos looked away, and frowned. It hadn't felt like a gas fuelled fire to him, and there'd been no sign of a leak or build up that might have been responsible for an explosion, certainly not a series of them. But Athos didn't contradict d'Artagnan's assessment and Aramis trusted him enough not to interfere. Whatever was going on, Athos would have good reasons. He hoped.
In the distance, behind the ambulances and fire trucks, two police cars now pulled into the increasingly crowded area, and Athos moved closer to Porthos.
"Go home," he said quietly. "I'll be hours here sorting things out. I'll come over later."
"Athos - I just - is everything - "
"Go home," Athos repeated more firmly. "You'll be in the way here." His expression was a blank mask of professionalism that left Porthos with no idea of how he felt, and he wondered if Athos was furious with him.
Porthos nodded, giving in. He murmured something meaningless about seeing him later, wanting to tell him he loved him and knowing it was neither the time nor the place. In any case Athos had already moved away, talking to Treville and Aramis. Even d'Artagnan had wandered off, was dealing with the worried queries of the suddenly homeless, and Porthos walked away, feeling utterly useless and alone.
It was late when Porthos finally heard Athos' key in the lock, but he was still up and dressed. He hadn't been able to settle for worrying about everything, turning it over and over in his head until he was dizzy.
Athos looked tired and tense, and Porthos wrapped him in a hug that he barely returned.
"You should put something on that," Porthos chided, tracing the raised scratch on his cheek with a gentle finger.
"It's fine," Athos frowned, shrugging him off, but Porthos was determined.
"You don't want it to go septic." He dug out a tube of cream, carefully cleaned Athos' face and dabbed it on. "There. That's better."
"Thank you." Athos was sitting on the dining table by this point, and Porthos stood before him, feeling the tension between them and not knowing what to do.
"We need to talk," Athos sighed.
Porthos made a face. "Can't it wait till the morning?"
"I don't think it can." Athos stared at him, caught between needing to know and fear of the answers. "How did you know what was going to happen tonight Porthos?" he asked quietly. "How did you know that building was going to catch fire before it happened?"
Porthos looked back at him, miserable and conflicted. With a sick sense of horror he suddenly wondered if Athos thought it was him.
"Do you think I did it?" he blurted.
Athos stared at him, a second too long for Porthos' comfort, then sighed. "No. I don't."
Porthos sagged with relief, and Athos frowned at him. "But I think you know who did."
"I can't tell you." Porthos looked away. "Don't ask me to Athos, please."
Athos slid off the table and stared at him in angry exasperation. "Do you realise what an awkward position you've put me in tonight Porthos? It was me that raised the alarm on this, what exactly am I supposed to put in my report?" He took in Porthos' wretched expression and softened his tone.
"Look, okay, screw the report, I'll put it down as an anonymous tip off, we get more than you'd think. As long as it's never audited, it'll be fine. They record all incoming calls, but obviously there's no tape for this one." He frowned. "Aramis saw me take the call, but he doesn't know it was you. Although turning up at the scene like that was a fucking stupid thing to do."
"I was worried about you," Porthos said lamely, feeling awful that he was causing Athos to have to lie.
Athos narrowed his eyes as a thought occurred to him. "Did you know the place was going to blow up like that?"
"No!" Porthos sank onto the sofa, wondering how everything could be going so wrong, so quickly. "I don't know," he amended helplessly. "There was maybe more I could have told you. Should have told you. I'm sorry."
"Tell me now," Athos said, sitting down too, although Porthos noticed he chose the chair rather than sit next to him.
Porthos sighed. "Someone came to see me. An old friend. She said that - the fire at Miracle Court was started deliberately. And that the same person was going to torch another place tonight. She wanted me to do something. I guess after last time - she was worried this time people would get hurt. That he was setting the fires on some kind of delayed action ignition. I should have told you that, I'm sorry, it was all so - I didn't think."
Athos put his head in his hands, then looked up through his fingers. "Jesus Christ Porthos."
Athos shook his head. "You have to go to the police."
Athos blinked at him. "Why not? For God's sake, you're talking about a crime here. What happens when he does it again?"
"How do you know?"
Porthos looked uncomfortable. "The same people own both buildings. They paid him to do it, so they could collect on the insurance."
"So, fraud as well as arson then?" Athos pointed out, and Porthos groaned.
"Look, it's over. Why do we have to get involved?"
"We are involved Porthos, you've seen to that." Athos leaned forward, willing him to see sense. "Do you know what we see in the fire service, a pattern that repeats itself all too often? Arson is addictive. You say this person did it for the money this time. What happens when next time he does it for the rush?"
Porthos dropped his eyes, unable to stand Athos' piercing gaze any longer. "I can't sell him out Athos. Whatever else he's done, he's still my friend."
"He set fire to a building you were asleep in," Athos reminded him incredulously. "I'm sorry Porthos, but you're asking me to conceal a crime here. If you won't go to the police with this information then I have to. Who is he, and where can they find him?"
Porthos shook his head stubbornly. "You're a fireman Athos, not a policeman. Leave it alone."
"I have a duty of care." Athos got to his feet and stood for a moment, looking down at him. "Nobody died this time. Maybe next time they won't be so lucky. How will you feel when an innocent person gets hurt, and you know you could have prevented it? Maybe it won't even be a stranger, have you considered that? How will you feel if it's d'Artagnan, or Aramis? Or me?"
"I'll talk to him," Porthos said desperately. "I'll make sure it doesn't happen again."
"Why would they even listen to you?" Athos gestured helplessly. "I don't understand why you're protecting someone who - " he broke off, as he made a sudden connection that he felt he really should have made some time ago.
"Oh. Oh God I've been stupid," Athos murmured under his breath. "This is Charon we're talking about isn't it? Your - ex?" He said the last word hesitantly, questioningly, as if wondering whether the ex part was still true.
"It's not what you think." It had occurred to Porthos that as far as Charon knew, the only person aware of what he'd done was Flea. If the police suddenly turned up wanting to speak to him, he would immediately know she'd ratted on him. He couldn't let that happen.
"I don't know what to think," Athos said. "Look, I'll try and keep your name out of it," he offered.
"It's not me I'm worried about!"
Athos, assuming he was still defending Charon, looked sad. "Then I guess you've made your decision," he said softly. "And I have to make mine. I'm sorry, but people might die here Porthos. I won't - can't - let that happen. Not if I can do something to stop it."
He walked to the door and Porthos, furious with himself for getting into this mess in the first place and desperate to make Athos just wait a minute and let him explain, let him get his thoughts in order, lashed out.
"Athos, you walk out that door, then we're - "
He bit off the threat before he could finish it, horrified at himself. As if he would ever carry it through, as if there was anything in the world that Athos could do that Porthos wouldn’t forgive him for.
But Athos was looking back at him with a pale, frozen expression, and Porthos realised too late that Athos had filled in the gaps and assumed he'd meant it.
"Athos no, no!" He meant it as a retraction of his words, but Athos took it as Porthos still trying to stop him going to the police and retreated behind a closed, shuttered expression.
"I'm sorry Porthos. I really am." Before Porthos could react he'd opened the door and slipped through it.
Stunned, still trying to comprehend what had just happened, it took the sound of the outer door closing to spur Porthos into movement. He wrenched the door to the flat open and hurled himself across the lobby, pulling the front door wide and stumbling out onto the front step.
He was too late, the tail-lights of Athos' car were already disappearing down the street, and a distant part of Porthos' mind realised that Athos must have run down the path to be that far away already.
He watched the red lights fading into the distance, barely aware of the hot tears tracking down his cheeks.
Porthos spent the next day in a numb daze. He got up and went to work on autopilot, going through the motions without caring. By the time he returned home he'd heard nothing from Athos, nothing from anyone. He'd more than half expected a visit from the police, but it hadn't materialised.
He stared at his phone, wondering if he should try calling Athos. It would be okay, Porthos told himself. They could work things out. They loved each other, didn't they? Maybe they just both needed today to calm down, to think things though. He would apologise, do whatever it took to get Athos to forgive him. It would be okay. It had to be.
Having barely slept the night before, Porthos fell into a troubled doze on the couch. His dreams were full of smoke and flame, and he was running through endless rooms desperately searching for Athos.
The front door buzzer woke him with a start, and it took a second for him to work out what it was. It sounded again and he leaped to his feet, convinced it must be Athos. No-one else would be calling on him at this hour, after all. Athos wanted to talk things through, Athos still cared, still loved him.
Porthos pulled open the front door smiling in relief.
Even as the name passed his lips, Porthos realised his mistake, felt his face falling in startled shock.
Charon stared back at him sourly. "Guess again."