Summary: Because evilmaniclaugh put in a sneaky request for Christmas cake fic in the Firemen 'verse. Set some time after the end of No Smoke Without Fire.
The bakery was warm, and smelt of spices. It had closed to customers hours ago and the two sales assistants had gone home to their families, leaving Porthos alone to get on with the next day's baking.
He looked forward to these hours spent alone, it let him focus on the important things like dough and batter and fruit and frosting, without the distracting clatter of the till or the ring of the bell above the door.
Not that he didn't like chatting to the customers; he was immensely proud, not to say relieved that the bakery was making a go of it. It was so successful in fact, that he'd been able to take on a second assistant, which freed him up to concentrate on the production side rather than worrying about how to sell it all afterwards.
Plus, to Porthos' infinite relief Athos still dealt with all the book-keeping, meaning he theoretically had little more to worry about than over-proving the dough or underfilling the doughnuts.
In practice he worried a lot, although it had little to do with the bakery.
In recent months he'd begun training as an apprentice reserve fireman, hoping it would give him a better insight into Athos' world and take some of the mystery out of it. What he found it meant instead, was that now when Athos was out on duty, he worried about a far wider range of things than he had before, having a mental store of horrific possibilities and outcomes that he'd previously never even begun to envisage.
Over-protective and subject to a misjudged fit of anxiety, Porthos had tried to get Athos to retire from the service, on the grounds he had no financial reason for needing to continue.
Athos had told him in no uncertain terms what he thought of that proposal, and they'd argued, massively and furiously.
In the end Athos had got his way, mostly through simply ignoring Porthos' objections and carrying on as usual.
So this, now, was also baking as therapy. Baking to calm the mind, and take his thoughts away from the myriad awful things that might be happening out there.
Rain was pouring down the windows of the shop, turned red and green and gold by the fairy lights entwined along the shelves. At least nothing was likely to catch fire in this weather, Porthos thought.
He stirred a huge bowl of cake mix, inhaling the heady scent with pleasure. Stirring in raisins and sultanas, apricots and cherries, candied peel and a good slosh of brandy. Stirring the thick mixture with a stout wooden spoon, the muscles in his arms standing out with the effort. He could have used the electric mixer, but he preferred doing it this way, had always done it this way, before he had a shop to play with, and a kitchen full of gadgets.
Sirens wailed past the end of the road and Porthos tried not to tense, tried not to look at the clock. Knew without looking, anyway, that Athos had another hour of his shift to go. Wouldn't be home for ages, maybe longer if he was called out towards the end of it. Hours before Porthos could let his background level of anxiety become official worry.
He ladled out the mixture into tins, slid them into the ovens. Cleared up, tidied away, caught himself pacing.
Tomorrow was Christmas and the shop would be closed. All he'd need to do would be to check on the cakes, feed them more brandy, ready for the post-Christmas shoppers. He was going to sell them by the slice, knew there would be hungry people busy at the sales.
Tomorrow though would be a chance for a rest, a rare lie-in. No need to get up at the crack of dawn to start baking bread and rolls and croissants. He could lie in bed all morning if he wanted. Athos, too, would welcome a slow start to the day he guessed. It was coming up for midnight and there was still no sign of him. Must have been called out after all.
Porthos paced the shop again, checked the ovens for the twentieth time.
Athos would come in any minute now, tired and dirty and grumpy. Complaining about whatever idiot had made his life complicated today by failing to follow basic principles of fire safety. Griping about the general public. Bitching out Red Watch, for having left the rec room in a state for the third time that week.
Porthos took the cakes out and turned them onto wire racks to cool. Two and a half hours they'd been baking. That meant Athos was an hour and a half late.
It didn't mean anything. It didn't. He was late all the time. It was the nature of the job.
Athos on lates, Porthos on earlies. It wasn't the best planned schedule in the world. Porthos tried to remember the last time they'd spent a whole day together, and couldn't.
Still. Tomorrow they would. Tomorrow was Christmas.
Porthos turned off the overhead lights, and the fairy lights (he'd never hear the end of it from Athos if he left them on overnight) and cut two slices of warm cake. The scent was like magic, and he closed his eyes and breathed it in like incense.
Where are you Athos? he thought. Come home. Come home safe.
Porthos made his way up to the flat upstairs. He left the room lights off, but turned on the Christmas tree lights and a lamp, and settled on the couch with a cup of tea and his cake.
Two in the morning. Christmas morning. It would be alright. It couldn't not be. The world wouldn't be that cruel.
By half past two Porthos was asleep on the sofa, curled around a plate still holding a lonely slice of cake.
"Porthos? Porthos, wake up."
Porthos' eyes sprang open at the light touch on his shoulder and he sat up with a start, the plate on the cushion next to him sliding towards the floor.
Athos fielded it neatly and set it on the carpet. "Was that for Santa?" he smirked. "Because I hear he likes brandy much better."
"Athos!" Porthos grabbed him in a fierce hug that took him by surprise. "Where the fuck have you been?"
"Don't ask," Athos muttered, voice muffled by the fact his face was jammed into Porthos' shoulder. "Here, are you alright?"
"Am I alright?" Porthos sat back and glared at him. "It's - " he looked at the clock. "Four o'clock on Christmas morning, and you were due back hours ago. I was thinking all kind of awful things." He narrowed his eyes. "If you've been in the fucking pub - "
The accusation tailed off as he took in Athos' appearance. He was filthy, face blackened with soot and pale with tiredness underneath it, hair soaked from the rain.
"Is that what you think of me?" Athos said quietly.
"No. No, of course not," Porthos said miserably. "I just - I was worried. I'm always worried."
"Should have more faith in me," Athos teased, but his heart wasn't in it. He sighed. "I'm sorry. I should have called you, but you know what it's like when you're in the middle of a shout. And afterwards - well, I thought you'd be asleep. In bed, I mean."
Porthos sat up properly and swung his feet to the floor, narrowly missing the cake. Athos shuffled up next to him, and picked up the plate.
"Was this for me?"
"Yeah," said Porthos gruffly, fighting back the ridiculous urge to cry.
Athos leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. "You're a life saver. I'm starving." He polished off the big slice in under a minute, and Porthos found he was smiling faintly at him, pleased despite himself that Athos seemed to like it so much.
"Would you like some more?" Porthos asked, as Athos pecked at the crumbs with a dirty finger and stuck it in his mouth. "I could go and get some."
Athos shook his head. "No, thank you. I'm dead on my feet, I just want to go to bed. But that was perfect. You're perfect." He kissed Porthos on the cheek again, then stayed leaning against him tiredly.
"What happened tonight?" Porthos asked, settling an arm round Athos' shoulders. To his relief Athos snorted, suggesting it wasn't going to be a tale of death or destruction.
"A bloke wanted to give his kids a Christmas miracle. So he dressed up as Santa and tried to climb down the chimney." Athos bent over and started untying his bootlaces. "I mean, it was a big old house, it wasn't like he was trying to wedge himself down a modern flue or anything. But it was still a fucking stupid idea."
"He got stuck?" Porthos guessed.
"Yeah. Except he kept quiet at first 'cause his kids were in the room below and he was hoping they'd go to bed and he could call to his wife for help."
Athos sat back and smirked. "And he'd neglected to tell his wife what he was planning. So she may have possibly lit the fire underneath him."
Porthos burst out laughing. It felt good, and it felt even better to have Athos sitting next to him, smiling at him fondly.
"Did you just make that story up?" Porthos asked, a touch suspiciously.
"No!" Athos grinned. "I mean, he spoke up pretty sharpish once he smelt the smoke, so it wasn't like his arse was on fire or anything. But I was still the sap that had to be lowered in after him to get him unstuck." Athos sighed. "Not quite the end I had planned to the evening."
"You're home safe, that's all that matters," Porthos said.
Athos took his hands and drew him closer, kissing him softly on the lips.
"I'm sorry," Athos said quietly. "I'm sorry I made you worry. I'm sorry for being a pain in the arse." He kissed him again, then added, "I've got the next week off. Not even on call. I'm all yours. At your disposal. If you want me. Cake mixer, floor sweeper, washer-up-erer, sex toy, whatever you want."
Porthos smiled at him in surprise. "Do you mean that?"
Athos nodded. "I know I'm not around much for you. I'm trying to change that." He looked down at his hands, rubbing his thumb over Porthos' knuckles. "I love you," he whispered.
Porthos tilted Athos' face up, and kissed him deeply, until they were wrapped in each others' arms.
"I love you too," Porthos murmured. "I always will. No matter what."
Athos smiled back at him, sleepy and loving. "Merry Christmas," he whispered.