Author's Notes: Hello! Welcome to Us and Them! This is actually part of the Doubt, Encore, DNR trilogy, but you don't have to go and read those to understand this - it just gives a lot of this a backstory, and explains a few references. There are seven chapters, all of which have already been written, so updates are going to be steady. Enjoy!
Us and Them
(Jump In The Fire)
It was a Saturday morning. Chase had been on call all night long, because of the extra time he'd been doing in NICU, and he was ready to drop dead. He hadn't showered since Friday morning, and his blonde hair was flopping in front of his eyes and limiting his vision, but he didn't care. Every muscle in him seemed ready to just slip off of his bones and fall into a pile on the floor, and his eyes burned every time that he blinked as if they were punishing him for making them stay open. They burned more fiercely still in the piercing sunrise that he was driving into.
His apartment was more than an hour away from the hospital, and Chase scarcely thought that he could make it past the next traffic light, let alone all the way through the city and to his apartment complex. He braked at a stop sign and rubbed his hand over his eyes, holding back a sigh. Making up his mind, he flipped on his turn signal and turned right.
House's apartment wasn't more than two minutes away from here. Chase was sure that he wouldn't mind him crashing on the couch for a few hours—besides, House would probably be at the hospital anyway. If he ended up being home, Chase would just remind him of last weekend when House had gotten completely sloshed and spent the night over at Chase's place. Tit for tat and that whatnot.
But as Chase came onto House's street, something was wrong. House's apartment building, the window above him, was billowing out great clouds of black smoke. People were gathered in the streets like ants about a crumb, swarming and pacing. One man was on a cell phone. Another girl had a cell phone out and was taking pictures. Chase nearly crashed into the crowd of people because he momentarily forgot that he was still driving a car. All he was focused on was the building, House's apartment.
"What the hell are you doing?" a man outside of the car demanded, being one of the ones that he'd nearly run over, but Chase put his car into park and didn't even bother sparing him a glance.
He pushed his car door open and looked around at the gathering. "Hey!" he shouted, because with the crackle and thumping of the fire mixed in with the chattering swarm of people, it had become almost deafening. "Hey! What's going on?"
"Fire," a woman said. She was balancing a toddler on her hip, and kept glancing from the building back to her child.
"Has anyone called the police? How long has it been like this?" Chase asked, trying to survey the people before him for House, wanting to make sure that he'd gotten out in time.
"Sure, they called the police. The fire department is on the way... by my watch, they won't be here for another twenty minutes if I know this city." The toddler began to bat at the woman's hair clip, and she paused to retrain his tiny hands.
"Did anyone come out of there?" Chase asked, standing on tip toe—House was nowhere to be seen.
"Hm?" she asked him, looking up. "Oh, I don't know. I just got here about ten minutes ago. They say it's been blazing for about a half an hour." The toddler finally got tired of his mother's negligence and yanked the hairclip out. As the mother turned to scold her son, Chase pulled out his cell phone.
With trembling fingers, he punched in the number and brought the phone up to his ear. It rang once... twice... three times... four... five... Chase snapped the phone shut and tried to calm his racing mind. House always answered his cell phone. Always. His pager he might ignore, but never his cell phone. There were select few people who knew that number, and even fewer who would dare to call it.
"Excuse me," he said to the girl who was snapping pictures madly. She paused long enough to spare him a glance. "Was there anyone in the building?"
"No," she said, brushing a loose strand of hair out of her eyes and putting her cell phone down for a moment.
"No one came out?" Chase asked her, panic rising in him.
"No," she said, giving him a funny look. "Why?"
"Are you absolutely sure?" he asked her seriously.
"Yeah," she said, with a certain 'duh' expression on her face, but Chase was beyond caring. "I lived upstairs, I think I'd know."
"You lived upstairs?" Chase said, momentarily taken aback.
"Yeah. I'm taking pictures for proof for the insurance company," she said importantly.
Chase was too worried to point out that the burned remains of the building would have been proof enough. "And the man who lived downstairs? What about him?"
"The one with the cane? Um..." The girl bit her lip. "I thought he was at work. He usually is on Saturdays."
"You're sure?" Chase asked, feeling the lead weight come off of his chest and the panic slow. House was fine, there was no reason to be worried.
"Pretty—oh! You know what? I don't think that he went to work this morning," the girl said, and Chase felt the bottom of his stomach drop out. "He was playing that stupid piano until five in the morning, and then we didn't hear anything from him again. And we always hear his door open—it squeaks."
Playing that stupid piano...
Her words rung in Chase's mind as he stared at the burning building with a renewed fear. He knew, with a cold and despairing certainty, that House was inside of that burning building. There was an iron ball rolling about in his stomach, sending a chill down his spine as he thought of House... What had it been now, a month? Certainly not long enough, nowhere near enough. It felt like he could spend a hundred years with House, and it still wouldn't be long enough.
His mouth felt slick and tasted of old chili dogs, and his stomach gave a squeeze. The world around him spun and all the noise around him blurred together like a big carousel, and the only thing he could think of was the fire.
"Hey mister!" It was a moment before he realized that the girl's face was in front of him, tapping hesitantly.
Coming to his senses, Chase shook the hair out of his eyes and swatted the girl's hand away from his face. Before he could properly think about things, he was heading towards the building with a mad passion burning in him. House, House needed him as he had needed House so many times before. He would not just stand by and watch while he was burned to death. He had to save him...
"What are you doing?" someone demanded, but Chase paid no attention to them as he walked up to the door and used his shoulder to slam it open. His shoulder throbbed painfully, but the more immediate concern was the intense heat that swept over his face. All the shouts from the outside faded away to the thrumming of the fire, the crackles of wood popping and the creaking of the support beams weakening. For one moment, Chase thought of turning back—but then the moment was gone. House needed him.
He stepped in, ignoring the ceiling above him that was groaning. Most of the fire was still upstairs, and had only broken through the ceiling about twenty feet down the hallway, where a burning table had fallen through in the collapse. Chase had never been more grateful that House had the first apartment in the hallway. He had also never been more infuriated that House had no spare key under the mat or on top of the door frame.
Luckily, the door was not dead-bolted. He had the presence of mind to pull out his hospital ID badge and jiggle the lock, but it wouldn't open. Chase worked in a panicked frenzy, wiggling the card as his heart raced and sweat poured down his face. He had to get the door open, he had to get this to work, he had to, had to, had to—
Chase jumped as another portion of the ceiling gave way, about six feet from where he was crouched, and the card fell to the floor. He picked it up, but as his head came up, his nostrils were assaulted with the tangy smell of smoke. Coughing, he lowered his head as tears began to fall down his face from his stinging eyeballs. For the second time, he thought of turning back and waiting for the firemen to return.
"No," he whispered, his voice throaty from the smoke he'd just inhaled. "House needs me."
The words filled him with a steely resolve, and brought the ID badge into the door crack again, doing his best not to breath in too much of the smoke. He began coughing after a few seconds, but he shut his eyes and continued to work away. And then finally, finally, the lock clicked open and the door swung open.
Chase didn't dare raise his head up higher than it was for fear of inhaling more smoke, but he cracked his eyes open. Though the tears that blurred his vision, Chase was able to see the inside of House's apartment. There was nobody in the living room, but then, if House had gone to sleep he was most likely in his bedroom.
Moving in, Chase was unable to find any of the fire. None of ceiling had broken through, and there was no smoke pouring through the ventilation grates. The only smoke in here was from the hallway, and it was quickly filling the room. He stepped through the living room and past the piano, not stopping until he reached the bedroom door, which was shut.
He put his hand on the knob, but jerked it away when he discovered that it was hot.
Right away, all of the Fire Safety lessons came rushing back to him, the ones that he'd been taught beginning at age three up until he'd gone off to college. First, check the door—if it's warm, then there's a fire on the other side. You have to go out the window instead. Chase glanced at the window, but he wasn't looking to escape. Right now all he was looking to do was rescue House.
He used the sleeve of his shirt to open the door, which took away most of the heat. Chase pushed the door open, almost afraid of what he would find behind it. The door went open, displaying the bedroom, and he realized what had happened before he'd opened the door more than a foot.
Smoke hung thickly about the room, and a section of the ceiling about a meter square had fallen through, and the fire had only just begun to eat away at the carpet. By the time the door was fully open, the sight of House laying on his bed was almost unsurprising. The smoke had gotten through and kept him from waking up, slowly suffocating him into the sleep that he was in now.
"House!" Chase shouted, his vocal cords tearing from all the smoke that he'd inhaled. He heard sirens blaring in the distance, and sparks jumped and danced around him, but the only thing that he saw was House, lying helpless and unguarded on the bed. How many times had he seen him sprawled out like that, the lines on his face gone and the creases around the corners of his mouth nonexistent? How long had he lain there, just watching the older man's deep, even breathing until it lulled him back to sleep? Had he ever imagined that the sight of House laying on his bed might be one of the worst in his life?
But this time, House might not wake up. He was sleeping, but he wouldn't be for very long if Chase didn't get him out of here.
"House!" Chase shouted again, crossing the room and avoiding the flames that were licking away at the burned piece of ceiling. He shook House, gently at first, but with vigor once House did not respond. "House! Come on, dammit, wake up!"
House's body flopped about under his shakes like a fish.
"Shit," he swore, letting up for a moment to look around the room. There were no windows, no other way out other than the door that led back out into the fire. Chase set his jaw and picked up House's limp body, muscles straining under the dead weight.
Carrying a half-dead body, he stepped over the pile of fallen ceiling, feeling a more intense panic now that he had House—his life was literally in his hands, now. The responsibility of this, on top of the weight of the body, threatened to send him to the floor, but Chase only took a step forward. As they passed over the hole in the ceiling, spark flew down on them, and Chase shook his head furiously.
Once he was out of the bedroom, it became apparent that the living room was no longer as strong as it had been two minutes ago. A large portion of the floor above had fallen through, flames going with it. The path to the door was completely blocked; even without House in his arms, Chase wouldn't have been able to make it out. This left only the picture window.
You have to go out the window instead...
He had to open the window... but there was no way that he would be able to open the huge window with assistance—hell, he didn't even know how to open it. Chase had to break the window open, and to do that, he had to lay House down to go get something heavy. Reluctantly, he searched the room for something to break it with, not wanting to let House go just yet. No... no... there! The little table next to the sofa...
An earth-shattering crash made him cringe, and Chase dropped down to the ground and leaned over House's prone body, waiting for the heavy ceiling beams to come and crush him.
But instead, cold air rushed towards him, biting his cheeks and stinging his hands. The thick smoke around his seemed to disappear, and Chase looked up to see that a firefighter had broken through the picture window for him. He spotted Chase immediately, and hurried over to them.
"He's alive!" Chase shouted, struggling to pick House up once more. "You've got to take him, he fell asleep! Please! He needs an oxygen mask and—"
"What the hell, buddy?" the firefighter said through the mask. "You some kinda doctor or something?"
"Yeah," Chase said heavily, finally managing to stand up with House. A rush of dizziness assaulted him, though, and he waved in his stance. "Please, you've got to..." The smoke was clogging his throat, and the world darkened for a moment. "Take him..."
The firefighter had no sooner taken House out of Chase's arms when Chase felt the floor collapse, and he was falling... falling down, into a dark abyss...