A dark, cloudy speck grows on the horizon, and Thomas hitches himself onto his old bicycle, ignoring the shrill of the fire engines whizzing into their neighborhood. He ignores his mom's anger-driven panic as she yells at him inside the porch-screen.
It's coming from Brenda's house.
Crunchy, slush-grey snow flies behind him. He pumps his legs as hard as he can, despite the front tire being hard to maneuver and sagging flat. The wind is cool, blowing directly in Thomas's face. It flaps the ends of his grey-and-red flannel shirt, ballooning up. The wind smells more and more like burning metal and wood the closer he gets.
Earthquakes don't frighten him as badly as they had when he was a kid, but this one Thomas felt all the way to his bones. It knocked all the picture-frames off their walls, shattered the glass and his mom's ceramic plates, and even threw the refrigerator crashing to the ground.
Hell, there's jagged cracks in the street foundation, in the blacktop of the driveways.
He swerves around them narrowly, a lump rising in his esophagus.
Firefighters in bulky, fluorescent yellow-striped uniforms already swarming the lawn, their hoses on full-blast.
His tee-shirt is darkened, dampened with sweat. Thomas abandons his bicycle with clumsy effort, his eyes on his childhood best friend. "Brenda!" he shouts, racing over and getting on his knees. "Oh my god, Brenda—are you okay—jesus christ, what happened?"
She sobs in body-shaking heaves, wheezing between her inhales as their hands clutch each other. The bared, tawny skin on Brenda's arms and her cheeks reddened from the heat-contact and her tears. Or perhaps doubled, flushing in winter-chill.
Thomas's free hand cradles the top of her head, feeling warm, sticky ash to midnight-dark strands.
Her voice sounds raspier than usual, choking up and difficult to hear over the noise of sirens and high-powered water. "H-He's still in there…" she pleads, gazing up. Several wet-shine tears roll down her face. "Gally. He's trapped—T-thomas—"
Admittedly, he's never been much of a fan of Galileo. A creamy-colored, six-year-old feline who took great, undeniable pleasure in shredding up Thomas's hands and legs, chasing after Thomas's feet with a vengeance-like gleam in his beady, cat-eye. Just the one eye—because Galileo had that functioning, bright green eye as long as anyone could remember. Brenda affectionately called him "Gally" and she was the only thing that fat, contented, useless house-cat loved in his damn life.
But… he was the only family Brenda had left with George's passing, and her foster dad Jorge frequently disappearing.
Thomas's adrenaline-fueled clarity is already skyrocketing, his pulse pounding loudly as he wordlessly surveys Brenda's house. However it happened—the fire is within the depths. Smoke pours out from the windows and entrance at an unstoppable rate.
"Th-they won't find him," she sobs out, piercing into Thomas's hearing. "I—tried t-to—"
His sneaker-soles threaten to skid across the mud and grass, as Thomas dodges an outstretched arm and Kevlar-gloved fingers curling the air. He misses the gaping, shocked expression on Brenda's face. Misses a few cries of horrified bystanders as Thomas plunges in at top-speed, vanishing past the front door and right into the hellish, bright-glow inferno.
It's the last thing he hears, unable to distinguish who it exactly was. Everyone else becomes a roar—Thomas's blood pressurizing in his ears, the flames crackling and eating up the melting wallpaper, the dining room table.
He sucks in a deep breath to yell for Gally, and then, Thomas coughs it out violently. Hot spittle sprays from his lips.
Oh, fuck. He can barely inhale.
Okay, this was really stupid—he knew this was so, so stupid. Thomas presses a sleeve tightly against his mouth and nose, using the fabric for protection, eyes squinting on his dark-smoky, hazy surroundings.
Staircase, yes, okay. Thomas heads for the staircase instead.
It groans under his weight, and he hurries.
Most of the way up, the ground begins to tremble again. Thomas lets go of the banister, staring as it rattles in place. He drops his arm from his face and sprints the rest of the way. He reaches the landing, coughing and gasping for air that isn't contaminated. Thomas yells for Gally, hoarsely, peering down the fire-lit hallway. Its reds and oranges memorizing.
He jerks around to the sound of the bookcase creaking apart. It lurches towards him.
The aftershock dies down, just as Thomas shields himself from old textbooks and hardcovers. He falls on his side, his left calf bleeding underneath the heavy structure.
Oh god, oh god, it's a fucking terrible pain surging up Thomas's leg—like it's broken. Thomas whimpers out a groan, attempting to tug it free. The smoke is thicker, blacker up here. The hallway carpet blistering hot against Thomas's palms.
He's gonna burn alive—gonna—
A muffled, rage-filled voice.
"You're a goddamn, dumbass shank, you know that!?"
Thomas looks over his shoulder wide-eyed, still caught pinned to the floor. Two masked firefighters lift the bookcase off him, with some difficulty. The third firefighter, with dark brown eyes and a scowl under his helmet, grabs Thomas by the armpits. He's cursing like Thomas's mom sometimes does when she is on the phone with the insurance company.
Gloved-hands pitch Thomas upright, and before he can take another breath, Thomas feels his eyes roll slowly backwards. He passes out, bleary-eyed, mouth hanging open.
The radio broadcast about the earthquake's massive aftershock comes in… five minutes after.
By then, everyone knew.
Newt braces himself with hands planted to the interior of the ambulance. "Fucking hell," he mutters, sweat dripping on the back of his neck, glancing at Jeff raising in eyebrows. "Traffic is going to be rubbish."
"Yeah, man… don't jinx it."
They waste no time once on location—and it can't be afforded.
Newt helps two of the firefighters drag a boy into his ambulance, as Jeff helps from the opposite end by guiding his head, laying him supine on the padded stretcher.
"What do we got?"
"Victim's been identified as Thomas Murphy, 21 years old, white, male," Winston announces, shouting over the chaos. He wretches off his helmet, forehead glistening with perspiration. "No known allergies or medical conditions according to his family."
Minho does the same, his visor smudged with a charcoal-colored film. "Besides being a shuckin' idiot," he barks out, staring critically at an unconscious Thomas.
Newt presses his lips together in a thin, unyielding line.
"We got it, Minho," he answers with curt sarcasm. "Thanks."
The ambulance doors slam shut. Newt sighs, rubbing a latex-covered finger over his temple as he finishes pulling on his coverings. "Initial assessment starting—seeing an obstruction?" he asks, witnessing Jeff leaning over Thomas with a medical flashlight.
"No," Jeff concludes, widening Thomas's nostril, angling his light to point in. "Though, uh… he's got a lot of soot in his throat and nose, so possible burned mucosa. He's also giving signs of dyspnea. Tidal volume is low."
Swollen airways, identifying carbonaceous sputum, Newt categorizes the outcomes in his mind, looking over Thomas's entire body.
He nods to Thomas's blood-soaked jeans, as Jeff switches off the medical flashlight, pocketing it.
"Inferior wound, laceration, external hemorrhaging—you got it?"
"I see it, Newt," Jeff calls out with a patient, easy smile. He crawls back to where Newt's had been, as they switch positions. Newt crouches towards Thomas's head as he carefully slips an oxygen mask over him. Still unresponsive. Plenty of mild facial burns.
Not really a reassuring sign.
"Removing exterior layer of clothing due to potential burns," Newt recites, using a specialized pair of scissors. He slits apart the grey-and-red flannel shirt, piece by piece. He nudges it free of Thomas's chest and back. "Victim is still fully clothed. Pulse is still weak—alright, wait, he's regaining consciousness—"
Newt straights up, putting away the scissors as Thomas's eyelids flutter.
The russet-brown of his irises are a paled out color, engulfed by blood vessels. His pupils shrunken.
"Sir, you're in an ambulance. Can you tell me your name?" Newt's voice remains low, calm. Not exactly benevolent, but then again, he's never considered himself an especially gentle person. "If it hurts to talk, blink once if you know your name."
It takes a couple seconds, but it's clearly a blink of both eyes.
"Thomas," comes out, whispery.
"That's very good, Thomas," Newt says, giving him a faint, perfunctory smile. Something normalizing. "You're on the way to the hospital. Try to not talk anymore, alright? Blinks only, so blink once for a yes, and two blinks for a no. Can you wiggle your fingers?"
Jeff bustles around him, methodically setting up a bag for fluids and another for pain medication. Thomas's chest seesaws as he gulps for air in his oxygen mask, as if his breathing is in distress.
"Brenda, where is—?"
Newt places a steady hand on Thomas's shoulder as the other man coughs severely, fogging the mask. Newt's brow furrows. "Oi—listen to me," he says, sternly. "No more talking. Your friend is safe. You'll see her soon, but you need to keep still, got it? Blink for a yes."
He blinks once, those sickly, brown eyes gazing frantically on Newt, before closing.
"Girlfriend, you think?" Jeff asks, far too amused as Newt checks and rechecks his vitals. Thomas's skin is moist but red-hot in patches. They'll be first degree burns, if he's lucky.
"Who knows," Newt says, disinterested.
Traffic is completely rubbish, even with their emergency lights on.
"Get this, I just heard over dispatch," Jeff announces, gesturing wildly. "This kid ran into the fire."
"This Brenda girl he's been talking about—it was her cat. Thing got out of the house right when he went in like a big damn hero. Officer saw the cat crawl out the open window and into the neighbor's yard. It was fine!"
"Wow, alright," he says, not in surprise, but certainly not impressed.
"Kind of gives what Minho said some credit, huh?"
He shakes his head, memories prickling at him. "It's not the first time someone's ever made a bad decision, and it won't be last," Newt tells him, and it sounds defensive in his ears, but Jeff only shrugs at him.
Their patient snuffles himself awake, wincing with all of his teeth exposed.
"Welcome back, Thomas. I need you to do the blinking again." Newt peers down at him unsmiling, meeting their eyes. "Can you hear me?"
A blink, but it's obviously disorientated. Shit.
"We're almost to the hospital. You're going to be fine."
But, for whatever reason, Thomas is smiling right at him. The wincing morphs itself into a big, dopey grin. "Ss'heaven missing n'angel?" he slurs, words thick like molasses in his mouth. "Ca'sse y'ur here…"
On his right side, Jeff snickers, doing a poor job of hiding it. Newt glares at him.
"Hey, man, I just gave him the standard," he says, holding up bloody, latex-covered hands but now laughing outright. "It's not my fault he's got a big ole crush on you."
Newt glares accusingly, and then releases a loud, frustrated sigh.
Getting loopy on pain killers isn't uncommon, and Newt's lost track of how many times he's been flirted with on-duty. But, really? Something about Thomas just isn't common, and even while his teeth are discolored with soot, his grin is obscenely sweet.
Uh uh. Nope.
He's not getting himself tangled into misplaced attraction.
Jeff keeps laughing at him.
(The driver listening in through the window—he tightens his knuckles to the steering wheel, swallowing down his amused chuckles.)
Thomas hasn't been inside a hospital since his dad got sick.
"Carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation," the attending physician informs him. He's quite cheerful for discussing the ongoing subject. Too cheerful, Thomas thinks suspiciously. "You've ruptured some tissue in your left leg, but you'll be healed up in no time. Two more days and we'll have you released."
There's goop on Thomas's face for the burns, his hands are bandaged clean. His leg feels impossibly heavy. Like lead.
He likes Alby, though.
Alby was the nurse practitioner, and he didn't treat Thomas like he was a little kid. He sat with him when Thomas vomited up the blackish-yellow gunk from his lungs, and sympathized about the bland, sterile taste of hospital food when Thomas complained. Even snuck him a cheddar potato chip bag from the lobby's vending machine.
He's not drowsy anymore, or feeling tired.
The lubricated, curved tube settled inside Thomas's throat, giving him oxygen, has been removed by now—thank god.
Two days feel like nothing before he's on his feet, limping on the crutches. Chuck, his little stepbrother, texts him every hour. Thomas's phone has been silent a half an hour before midnight, likely due to their parents sending him to bed. It's a little after four AM when Thomas weaves himself outside the emergency room.
He peers around in the chilly, starlit darkness, focusing down on his phone and shivering before glancing up.
Right across from him, standing against the outdoor-banister, is a face he vaguely remembers. It's handsome for sure. Strong-boned and pale, unblemished. Framed by trimmed locks of sandy blond hair. And then, light brown eyes that stare at the wintry, snow-flecked concrete.
The other man takes a long inhale of his rosy, crumbly cigarette. He pushes it gradually between his lips, letting the smoke hover around his features.
Okay, so… Thomas assumed, at first, it had been the near-death experience that made this guy hot, but…
… ding dong, was he wrong.
"Hey… hey?" he says, giving him a curious smile. "You were the paramedic, right?"
The other man looks up, startled, pitching his cigarette into the dirt. "Yes, one of them with you," he replies, standing upright from leaning on the steel banister. "I'm Newt."
Gotta be a nickname.
Thomas doesn't question it, taking Newt's hand into his with proper maneuvering on his crutches, shaking it. Newt's skin is good and warm despite the surrounding temperature. "I'm Thomas—uh, shit," he says, embarrassed, smiling wider. "You already knew that—I think—"
"You're looking better than last I saw you, mate," Newt interrupts, saving him from going into a stammering rant. "Waiting for your ride?"
Thomas gazes at his phone as it vibrates with his stepfather's message. "Yeah, he … uh, he was supposed to be here," he announces, frowning.
GONNA BE LATE. ABOUT AN HOUR OR TWO.
The glowing text blares at Thomas.
He tucks away his iPhone, seeing Newt's outright confusion. Thomas asks him, shrugging, cheeks dimpling, "Know any decent places to eat around this joint?"
The implied offer doesn't pass Newt up. He seizes it wholeheartedly.
"If you're in the mood for greasy eggs."
Damn, he looks waaaay more handsome when Newt's grinning.
"Anything is seriously better than the green Jello." Thomas says, leading the way down the ramp, offering, "I'll treat, dude…"
It's a shady-looking diner, but it remains open twenty-four hours.
Newt's been here after his worst shifts, drowning his looming, evil thoughts in the greasy hash-browns and coffee he laces with whiskey from the flask in his jacket. Today, he's definitely not interested in the whiskey.
One customer besides them is lurking around. A pasty-skinned man scrunched up in a booth corner, in an overcoat, mumbling and drawing on a notepad.
Thomas has the appetite of a footballer, shoveling down his eggs and greasy, greasy bacon. (Newt suspected often that buckets of grease were used in preparation of every meal, and then reused for the next set. He has no complaints, however.)
"… So then, I get told I almost get killed, trying to save a cat that wasn't even there?" Thomas finishes chewing on his mouthful, groaning aloud. He scrubs his hands over his face. "I feel like an idiot, you know that?"
Newt tilts his head, making a contemplative face.
"You've got a big heart, Tommy," he says matter-of-factly, sipping on his black coffee laced with sugar. Newt's expression fades to pleasant irritation. "But, you're bloody right—that was completely bonkers."
Thomas's face, and his ears, heat with a deep, reddening flush. Whether it's Tommy or his shame, he's just not sure. Newt doesn't say anything about it.
Hopefully, he's not noticing.
"Are Brenda and…?"
"Gally," Thomas says, helpfully. He pokes the egg crumblies with his tin fork.
"Right. Is Gally reunited with her?"
"Oh, yeah. She's not letting him out of her sight."
Newt's lips curl up. "You're close with her then?" he asks, resting his elbows on their tabletop, mimicking Thomas's position.
"She's been my best friend since grade school." Thomas gazes at the overly teasing smile, and then waves his hand. "Oh no, dude, she and I aren't … she likes girls. Girlfriend and everything. I'm…" Fuck, fuck. Abort mission. "Girls are alright."
Thomas simpers, hanging his head. "Can we change the subject? I will… pretty much beg you at this point, dude." Newt laughs at him, but not unkindly, leaning back into his seat, removing his arms from the table.
"Y'know, I tried to do something stupid once, too." Newt replies, grimly, "Brave, but incredibly stupid."
Thomas combats his nervousness with flicking his tin fork.
"Minho was one of the firefighters who pulled you out. He thought he had a reason to be so angry with you., but it's not your fault." Newt says, his eyes solemn, "I worked alongside him, 'round your age, I expect."
The fork clatters noisily to Thomas's plate. The pasty-skinned man jerks to sudden attention, kicking his own table-stand.
He gawks. "You were a firefighter, Newt?"
"Not at the top of my list for occupations, but yes. After my accident, I trained to be a paramedic… because I still wanted to help."
Thomas's brain processes this.
"He was there… when it happened, wasn't he?" he acknowledges, slowly.
"Scared the hell out of him, but it's been four years. He's forgiven me." Newt's hand automatically closes on his own thigh, but feels nothing. He says quietly, observing every facial tic on Thomas, "I lost my right leg, and the other one—up to the knee." At the silence to follow, Newt's smile turns bitter-sour. "You ready to leave yet?"
Thomas repeats, hesitantly, "Leave?"
"As soon as I talk about my prosthetics, I never really hear from people again," he says without any emotional giveaway. Newt's fingers clench on both of his thighs. One pliable flesh, and the other smoothed, hardened beneath his trousers.
It's a hellish two minutes of more silence, and god, why did he do this—before Thomas says earnestly, "If that's what you want me to do… then, sorry." He grins, and it's sweet, infuriatingly so. "Gonna have to disappoint you, Newt."
Newt's about to open his mouth, not sure what he means to say, before Thomas's phone buzzes.
"… It's my step-dad."
Disappointment curdles in Newt's gut.
"Need to run?" he asks.
Thomas shakes his head with determination, pressing down on a large, red button and glancing back up. "Actually, can I stay—I mean," he adds quickly, "Do you want to still hang? I mean it's super early, but—"
"It's my day off," Newt says, exposing his hands, relaxing. "Are you a fan of Assassin's Creed, by chance?" Thomas's brown, no longer red-rimmed, eyes go big with excitement.
"Oh hell yeah!"
The apartment belongs to Newt's sister, but she's moving out with her fiancee Harriet by late February.
For most of his six AMs, Newt's alone. It's a bit of a relief to have someone with him. Thomas is very enthusiastic about the storyline for the video-game, and confesses he's going to university for cell biology. His suitemate Aris Jones sometimes plays with Thomas.
Aris is apparently a little eccentric. He's also part of a committed foursome with two close friends of theirs and a young, male professor on the verge of dropping out of his programme—due to his insatiable lust. Aris composes music on his multiple, tri-colored synthesizers in the dead of night, and will let Thomas watch him if he feels up to it.
Being honest, Newt would gladly meet the bloke.
Girls are alright, sure—but Newt loves the bristle of Thomas's cock hair against his lips, loves the veiny sensation and twitch of his length inside Newt's mouth. It's when Thomas's hips drives in little, urging pushes against Newt's splayed fingers. When he's begging for it—that's when everything's perfect.
It's perfect when the morning bursts out of the chilly starlight, and Newt stops wondering about consequences.
"Newton Isaac Greenwood," Thomas utters, repeating it back softly. His fingers wandering, intertwining with Newt's. "Ss'a good name…"
White, thin beams peek in through the window-blinds. Newt's not ready to find his underwear, to peel Thomas away from him. They've been speaking in murmurs when they aren't fucking, as if all of this could shatter. As if the world around them could ripple apart.
"Kinda sounds like… the name of an old-school knight…"
"Mmmhm," Newt hums, kissing under his jaw.
Thomas's stepfather calls in another hour, and this time, Thomas answers, gleefully masking any exasperation.
Newt agrees to breakfast with his family. (It's a pancake morning, so he's told.)
Might as well get used to it.
TMR isn't mine. AHHHHH. So, I entered the Newtmas Mini Mini Bang this year on Tumblr, and it's been a new adventure - and pretty damn great! I made it over the 1k word count naturally and had fun along the way! A big, loving shout-out to my beta reader bellammys (Tumblr) for volunteering and catching all my horrendous mistakes. And a big and equally as loving shout-out to fuckitimprussia (Tumblr) for the art on AO3! Please, please any comments/thoughts are so, so appreciated!