Pairings: Athos/Porthos, Aramis/d'Artagnan
Rating: PG (this part)
Summary: Present day AU. On the run for a murder he swears he didn't commit, Athos is forced by circumstance to take a stranger, Porthos, hostage - but is he telling the truth and can he convince Porthos of his innocence whilst holding him at gunpoint?
The long drive back into the city was a tense one. They had no reason to suppose the police would take any notice of two men in a car, and Athos was certainly less immediately recognisable now he was clean-shaven, but they both flinched at every distant flash of blue lights, and Athos shaded his face from traffic cameras every time they went under a bridge.
The sense of paranoia grew until Porthos parked in the underground lot beneath his apartment block, and they took the bleak concrete fire escape stairs up rather than the lift because Porthos couldn't remember if there was a camera in it.
Finally making it into Porthos' flat, they closed the door behind them with a palpable sense of relief and leaned against it, breathing hard. They looked at each other, and slowly started to laugh.
"God I need a drink." Porthos closed all the curtains and opened the fridge, hauling out a bottle of wine. "White okay for you?"
"More than okay." Athos smiled, leaning back against the kitchen table. "You're an angel, and I might have to start worshipping you. You're certainly my saviour."
Porthos busied himself with finding glasses, and hoped Athos couldn't tell he was blushing. He told himself sternly that Athos was just being silly and absolutely not flirting with him, but he still couldn't prevent the smile that fixed itself to his face.
"So. Now what?" They settled at the table with the wine, and Porthos leaned forward interrogatively. "We need a plan. We need to get in there and find out if it's her. And then - " he faltered. "I dunno. Tell the police?"
Before Athos could answer, there was a knock on the front door of the flat, and they both jumped.
"Expecting visitors?" Athos asked, halfway to his feet and looking wary.
"No." Porthos shook his head vehemently, guessing Athos was afraid he'd been set up. "Besides, it's practically the middle of the night, who goes calling at this time? It's probably just a neighbour, they'll go away."
"Porthos? You back?" A voice called from outside, and there was the sound of rattling in the lock.
"Shit, it's Aramis, he's got a key." Porthos shot to his feet but it was too late, as the door swung open and a man came in.
"Porthos, there you are! Where the heck were you last night, I thought we were going for a drink - oh." Aramis belatedly realised Porthos had company and drew up short. "Sorry." He grinned apologetically at Porthos. "You weren't answering your phone, I should have realised." He gave Athos an appraising look, assuming Porthos had got lucky, then went very still.
Athos looked back at him silently, tensed to spring. His hand slipped inside his jacket, waiting for Aramis' reaction.
"Hello." Aramis forced himself to nod casually. "I'm Aramis. I, er. Live upstairs. Sorry, didn't mean to interrupt. I'll - just be going." He backed cautiously towards the door, and it was painfully obvious to everyone that he'd recognised Athos from the news, beard or no beard.
"Sorry. I think you'd better stay where you are." Athos was on his feet, gun in hand, and Aramis froze. His eyes flicked to Porthos, both alarmed and apologetic, assuming he'd just muffed his rescue. To his surprise Porthos looked more exasperated than frightened.
"Look, let's not be hasty," Porthos said to Athos, hands out calmingly. "Put the gun down, there's no need."
"He knows who I am." Athos' gaze was still on Aramis, aim unwavering.
"He won't tell. Will you?" Porthos glared meaningfully at Aramis who quickly shook his head.
"Absolutely not. I've not seen a thing. So, I'll just walk out of here and - "
"Sit down." Athos jerked the gun and Aramis shook his head.
"If you shoot me, it'll be heard. You won't risk it."
"You'd still be dead. I suggest you don't try me."
Porthos sighed, and then went to stand deliberately in front of Aramis. He stood there chewing his lip nervously as Athos held the gun on him for a long moment, then Athos groaned in disgust and put it away.
"Sit down." This time it was Porthos saying it, and Aramis tentatively did as he was told. "You too." Porthos looked up at Athos, who sighed.
"I need another drink." He walked over to the fridge and Aramis leaned across the table and grabbed Porthos' hand.
"What the hell's going on? Do you know who this is?"
"What, you think it might have escaped my notice?" Porthos said dryly. "He was set up, okay?"
"How do you know?" Aramis hissed. "How do you even know him?"
Porthos hesitated. Telling Aramis Athos had taken him hostage was hardly going to inspire trust. "I just - ran into him, okay? He needs help."
"He needs locking up. He's armed!"
"How do you know?" Aramis repeated, frustrated and confused.
"I just do. I trust him." Porthos shrugged helplessly, knowing how thin it sounded.
Aramis looked over his shoulder at where Athos was still at the fridge, apparently giving Porthos the time to convince him. "Porthos, is he holding you here against your will?" he asked, lowering his voice further.
"No. I'm helping him."
"Why for God's sake?" Aramis glanced from Porthos to Athos and back again. "Oh, please tell me you don't fancy him?"
Porthos shrugged uncomfortably and Aramis stared at him, incredulous. "Porthos! He's a wanted man! A murderer. And probably a psychopath!"
"Cute though," Porthos muttered, attempting to make a joke of it, but Aramis wasn't laughing.
"He killed his wife, Porthos."
"No, he didn't. That's what I'm trying to tell you."
"Either way, the key point in that sentence was wife," Aramis shot back. "He's straight, right? What, you think he's going to be so grateful he's going to miraculously fall into bed with you?"
"No, of course not," Porthos said awkwardly. "And would you mind keeping your voice down?"
Athos, having run out of plausible excuses to stay by the fridge any longer, came back over and sat down. He eyed Aramis distrustfully, and was met with an equally baleful glare. Porthos sighed.
"Look, what was the name of that journalist you dated?" he asked Aramis suddenly.
"D'Artagnan?" Aramis looked surprised. "I wouldn't say I dated him exactly."
"Banged then. I was being discreet."
Aramis snorted. "What about him?"
Porthos glanced at Athos. "We think we know where Milady's hiding out. But we need someone capable of getting inside the house to check, and we need someone capable of getting Athos' side of the story out there. Do you think he'd be interested? It'd be an exclusive for him."
"I can ask." Aramis looked less than convinced, and Athos didn't seem much more enthusiastic.
"Are you sure we can trust him?" Athos asked. It seemed to him that more people were leaning his whereabouts by the minute, and he wasn't comfortable.
"He's a good kid," Aramis nodded. "And if you can convince him, he'll move heaven and earth for a good story." He folded his arms. "First though, before I bring him into a room with a gun-wielding nutter, you have to convince me. And you'd better make it good."
Eventually, Aramis was satisfied enough with Athos' explanations - or at least suitably persuaded by Porthos' genuine trust in the man - to make the call to d'Artagnan. Despite the fact it was by now well past midnight he was still up, and although surprised to hear from Aramis, was easily convinced to come over at the promise of a scoop.
Aramis had remained vague about the details and so when d'Artagnan arrived half an hour later, he had no inkling of what - or who - was involved.
When the entry buzzer went from the ground floor, Athos removed himself to stand behind the inner door in a space too small to deserve the name hallway, from which doors opened onto Porthos' bedroom, a bathroom and a cupboard. With the door cracked slightly open, Athos watched as they let d'Artagnan in, and his heart sank a little. The boy looked about twelve, he thought uncharitably, although if he'd been sleeping with Aramis presumably he was rather more than that.
"D'Artagnan. Good to see you again." Aramis gave him a one-armed hug which d'Artagnan returned willingly enough. He cast a curious glance at Porthos who gave him a sheepish wave. "This is my friend Porthos," Aramis told him. "He's - ah - got a proposal for you."
"Oh yes?" D'Artagnan looked faintly amused, perhaps wondering exactly what the nature of this proposal was going to be and not looking particularly averse to some of the options.
"How would you like to help clear a man's name?" Porthos asked.
"Are you in trouble then?" d'Artagnan asked, sitting opposite him while Aramis went to put the kettle on again.
"Not me, no," Porthos said cautiously, thinking that actually he probably was by now, but that couldn't be helped. "You'll've seen the news reports I presume? The de Winter murder?"
D'Artagnan nodded, wondering now where this was going. Porthos hesitated, resisting the urge to look towards where Athos was standing, out of sight.
"What if I told you he was innocent?"
D'Artagnan frowned, considering his response. "Then who killed her?" he asked neutrally.
"No one. She's not dead. They've not produced the body, have they?"
"They're saying he hid it."
"Hid it where? He was still standing in the house holding the gun when the police arrived, if he'd had time to stash her somewhere far enough away that they still haven't found her, he'd hardly have gone back to the house, would he?"
"How do you know all that?" D'Artagnan asked, looking wary. "About where they found him? That's not been on the news. And I've been following it."
The extremely nasty thought occurred to Porthos that he only had Athos' word for any of this. What if he was playing him after all? What if everything he'd said had been a lie from start to finish? But then, Athos had let him go, hadn't he? He hadn't had to do that. And he'd waited for him. Porthos could easily have returned to the cabin with a load of armed police, but Athos had trusted him. It had to work both ways.
"What if - hypothetically - I knew where he was?" Porthos said slowly. "What if I said I'd spoken to him? That - that I think I know where his wife is hiding out?"
"That's where you come in, by the way," said Aramis, placing mugs of tea in front of them. "We need someone to get in there and find out if it's her."
"And if it isn't?"
"It is," said Porthos firmly. "Look, either way it's not going to hurt, is it? And if you find her, you get all the credit, right? And an exclusive interview with the wronged man."
Suddenly D'Artagnan was looking about him uneasily. "He's here, isn't he?"
Porthos shook his head. "No way. You think we'd be that daft? He's miles away."
"Then why has Aramis just made four mugs of tea?"
As one, the three of them turned to look at where a lone mug was still steaming gently to itself on the counter.
Porthos gave Aramis a disgusted look. "You plum."
Aramis cleared his throat. "Ah - sorry. I didn't think."
Behind them, with a slight sigh, Athos pushed the door open and came slowly in. Porthos was relieved to see the gun wasn't in evidence, but d'Artagnan still leapt to his feet in alarm.
Athos held his hands up peaceably. "I'm not going to hurt you," he said quietly. "I just want a chance to put my side of things across. That's got to be worth something to you as a story hasn't it? Whatever happens." He looked bleak and rather resigned, and Porthos felt an overwhelming urge to go over and hug him. Instead, he went to fetch Athos his tea, and gave him his chair.
"Please?" he said to d'Artagnan, who was still wavering between acute fright and the seductive allure of a story that nobody else had. "Hear him out. You're free to go, any time you like. You can be the guy responsible for getting him arrested, if that's what you want. And his accomplices," Porthos added, figuring it wouldn't hurt to remind d'Artagnan that he'd be getting Aramis into trouble was well. "Or you can be the one to break the bigger story. See justice done."
Slowly, d'Artagnan retook his seat, and took out a recorder from his pocket. He set it up on the table between them, and nodded to Athos. "Go on then. I'm listening."
"It could be her," D'Artagnan agreed, sliding the phone back across the table to Porthos. "On the other hand it could be anyone."
"But you're convinced?" Porthos pressed, ignoring the fact that he'd made exactly the same argument himself. "That it's worth investigating?"
"Will I get paid for this?" D'Artagnan enquired. "If it turns out I can't sell the story?"
They all looked at each other.
"I don't have any money," Athos sighed. "Certainly not that I can get at."
"How about if Aramis sucks you off instead?" Porthos offered, prompting an indignant explosion from Aramis himself.
"Excuse me! I don't remember agreeing to that!"
Porthos grinned at him. "So you won't then?"
Aramis hesitated, flicking a glance at d'Artagnan and clearing his throat. "Well. I suppose I might be persuaded to take one for the team," he muttered.
This exchange did at least have the result of lightening the mood, with d'Artagnan openly laughing and even Athos looking amused.
"So you'll do it?" Porthos was anxious to get some sort of promise out of d'Artagnan before he left. D'Artagnan leaned back in his chair and blew out a breath.
"Yeah, alright. I suppose so."
Athos visibly slumped with relief, and Porthos, standing behind him, squeezed his shoulder in silent support.
"Will you go now?" Athos asked, and d'Artagnan snorted.
"It's nearly three AM, do you imagine they'd let me in, regardless of how good my cover story was? It'll wait till morning. Tell me more about this Rochefort."
"He's an arsehole," said Athos flatly, and d'Artagnan gave a huff of laughter.
"I was kind've hoping for something a little more specific. What does he do? And why do you think he's willing to help frame you for murder? Is he sleeping with your wife?"
Porthos winced, having assumed much the same and not wanted to ask. But Athos shook his head.
"I'd be surprised if he is. She's not that much fonder of him than I am. No, I'd say this was a matter of expediency only."
"So why does he hate you so much?"
Athos pursed his lips. "I - work for a security firm. Rochefort is in the import business, luxury goods, mostly from Spain. An investigation revealed that one of his couriers was - shall we say circumnavigating the due process of the revenue office."
"Smuggling," Porthos said, and Athos looked up at him, half smiling.
"Exactly. It was never proven that Rochefort knew about it beforehand, and I'd had nothing to do with the investigation itself, but I'd unfortunately made his acquaintance some months before and he asked me to - make the findings disappear. As a favour to him. Claiming the embarrassment factor and damage to his good name would be harmful to his innocent employees."
"You refused?" Aramis said, and Athos nodded.
"Since then, he's hated my guts. He'd jump at this, he'd see it as fitting revenge."
"Sounds like a lovely chap," said d'Artagnan. "Is there likely to be anyone else at the house?"
"I don't think so. There might be a housekeeper or cleaner around, but I don't think they're live-in. He's not married. And if Milady's there, I'm guessing he'll have got shot of everyone else. The plan won't work if anyone knows she's there."
"Then I guess we'll see what the morning brings." D'Artagnan yawned, and Aramis stood up.
"Come up to my flat, you can sleep there. Save you going all the way home?"
D'Artagnan smirked at him, but got to his feet without protest. Aramis cleared his throat, and as they walked to the door murmured, "and there is of course the small question of your payment..."
D'Artagnan laughed. "You don't really have to you know."
Aramis held the door open for him and smiled. "Are you turning me down?"
The door closed on d'Artagnan's reply, and Porthos dropped into Aramis' vacated chair with a laugh. "It'll be a miracle if they get any sleep at all." He caught Athos' rather tense expression and frowned. "You okay?"
"Can we trust them?" Athos asked, clearly wondering if they were even now calling the police from the upstairs flat.
"Aramis has been my best mate for years," Porthos said. "He won't drop us in it. I promise. And unless I miss my guess he'll keep d'Artagnan too busy to consider it."
Athos gave a breathy laugh, and then looked across at Porthos. "And what about you?" he asked quietly. "What are you getting out of all this?"
"What do you mean?" Porthos asked.
"I mean - if there's anything I can do? To say thank you..." Athos slid his hand across the table until his fingertips were just touching Porthos' hand.
Porthos jumped to his feet like he'd been scalded. "No! I mean - what kind of person do you think I am?" Feeling a flush of heat and telling himself it was purely embarrassment. Firmly pushing down the guilty knowledge that all along there had been that secret fantasy in the back of his mind, that Athos would be grateful enough to fall into his arms. And now he was - was he? - practically offering exactly that.
"I'm just - just trying to help you," Porthos stammered, unable to look Athos in the eye in case he read everything that was going through his mind. "I'd never - I mean - never mind. We should get some sleep." He hurried out of the room, taking deep breaths to compose himself.
He returned a couple of minutes later with a blanket and pillow.
"Will you be okay on the sofa?" Porthos asked, feeling awkward. "You can have my bed if you'd rather. And I'll sleep out here," he added hastily.
"The sofa's fine. Thank you. You've been very kind." Athos took the things from him, and set them down on the table. They looked at each other.
"I'm sorry," Athos said. "I didn't mean to insult you."
Porthos swallowed. "And I didn't mean to snap at you."
They smiled tentatively at each other.
"Well. One way or the other, after tomorrow you'll never have to see me again," Athos sighed, and Porthos felt abruptly more miserable than ever.
"What will you do?" he asked. "You said you wanted your life back, but - will it be that easy?"
Athos shook his head. "I doubt it. Mud sticks. Even if I'm proven innocent - "
"When," Porthos interrupted. "When, not if."
Athos gave him a grateful smile. "I'm not sure my firm will want me back, regardless of the circumstances. I'll probably go abroad. There are always openings."
"Foreign Legion?" Porthos suggested with a smile, and Athos smiled back.
"Always an option."
"Well. Night then." Porthos turned away, and was almost at the door when Athos called after him.
He turned, questioningly, and Athos nodded to him.
"Thank you. For believing me."
Athos and Porthos were sitting at the table the next morning when there was a sudden loud hammering on the door. Athos spilt his coffee and Porthos leapt to his feet in alarm and went to look through the spyhole.
"Aramis," he growled disgustedly, and pulled the door open.
Aramis sauntered in, smirking. "Morning gents. Hope we didn't make anyone jump."
"You're a knob, you know that?" Porthos sighed. He frowned at d'Artagnan, who'd followed Aramis in yawning his head off and snorted. "Keep you up did he?"
"Actually, I spent most of the night researching Rochefort," d'Artagnan said, patting his laptop bag. "I figure the best way to get myself in is to say I want to do a feature on him. Towering presence in the world of imports, that kind of bollocks. He won't be able to resist a bit of preening." He smiled. "Aramis is coming with me, as my photographer. If there's two of us, it'll be easier for one to slip away and have a nose round."
"Be careful," Athos advised. "It won't pay to underestimate her. And she's not likely to be just standing around waiting to be seen."
"Trust me. Sneaking round posh houses is my speciality." D'Artagnan grinned. "You just sit tight and let us take care of things."
Athos immediately shook his head. "I'm coming too."
"Is that wise?" Aramis asked.
"No, it isn't." Porthos folded his arms. "Are you nuts? You can't be seen anywhere near the place."
"I'll need to identify her," Athos protested.
"We're not talking a birthmark on her arse here, her picture's all over the net," Aramis pointed out. "And I doubt she's had time to have a facelift in the last couple of days." He grinned. "She doesn't even have a beard to shave off."
"For all the good that did," Athos sighed, rubbing his stubbled chin absently.
Porthos patted him on the shoulder. "You let them see what they can turn up. There'll be plenty of time for confrontations once she's safely in custody."
Grudgingly, Athos had let d'Artagnan and Aramis set off without further complaint, but Porthos could see he was preoccupied. Only reasonable, he supposed. It was Athos' future at stake here.
"What will you do if - if it's not her after all?" Porthos asked quietly, after some time had passed. Athos looked startled, then gave him a bleak smile.
"Twenty five to thirty years, probably," he said dryly.
Porthos stifled an appalled laugh. "You could still run."
Athos shook his head. "I could. But what's the point, really? What kind of life is that?"
"Better hope it's her then, eh?" Porthos leaned his elbows on the table and regarded Athos sympathetically. He was slumped in his seat, fidgeting with his coffee mug and looking despondent.
"We should have heard from them by now," Athos sighed, pushing his mug away and looking up at the clock.
"It's only been an hour," Porthos told him soothingly. "They've got to make it look convincing for Rochefort. They're not going to leap on her, they're just going to establish if she's there, yeah?"
"I should have gone too. You don't know her like I do. You don't know what she's capable of."
"Are you saying they might be in danger?"
"Maybe." Athos shrugged. "If she thinks she's been compromised - I'm not sure how far she'd go."
"And you're only choosing to bring this up now?"
"I thought I'd be going with them!" Athos got to his feet, looking frustrated and anxious. "We should have heard from them. I should go after them."
"No. Athos, you can't risk it. Moving about in broad daylight - you'll be seen. And going anywhere near her would be a bad idea. Stick to the plan. Give them time to do their job. Please."
Athos thrust his hands in his pockets looking the picture of dejection, and Porthos couldn't stop himself from going over to him.
"Look, it'll be alright," Porthos said soothingly, resting a hand on his shoulder. To his surprise, Athos leaned in towards him and Porthos put his arms round him in a careful hug.
"I'm sorry, it's just all too much," Athos mumbled. He sounded choked up, and Porthos squeezed him tighter. Athos hugged him in return, arms round his waist, and then drew back a little, sliding his hand down Porthos' arm. "I'm sorry," he breathed.
Porthos smiled at him. "Don't worry about it."
Athos shook his head, and suddenly there was a metallic click down by Porthos' wrist.
"I'm sorry," Athos repeated, backing away. "I really am."
"Athos? Athos, what have you done?" Porthos realised in some confusion that he was handcuffed to the handle of a drawer.
"Forgive me." Athos was backing towards the door, something jingling in his hand, and Porthos stared at him.
"Are those my car keys?" he asked in disbelief. He hadn't even felt Athos' hand in his pocket. That hug - he'd been so preoccupied with wanting to comfort Athos, he'd never realised he was faking the distress. "Athos!"
"I'm sorry. Don't hate me. Goodbye Porthos." Athos turned and fled.