Set somewhere after the movie and just a dabble to get myself back into the swing of things. Real life pulled me away from the IR universe for some time. Thanks to those who have been kind enough to say I've been missed. xx
Usual disclaimer applies.
The heat from beyond the door was starting to become an issue. Turning his head slowly, his vision swimming with even this slight movement, he stared at the metal panelling and could swear it was starting to buckle. Smoke was gently easing under the bottom of the fire exit and sneaking up the door. He watched it curling thin fingers around the locking mechanism and was mesmerized for a moment by the seemingly lifelike movement. A low creaking and groaning then shuddered through the wall that he was propped up against and he knew there was no longer an choice in the matter; he needed to move. Or rather he needed someone to move him.
How he had managed to crawl from the gantry and into the small stairwell was a complete mystery. He could remember the scorching burn of the flames and the sudden drop as the upper gallery had surrendered to the melting heat. There was a vague recollection of a fall and an impact but after that nothing except his slumped position just inside the emergency exit. And how long he had been here was another uncertainty. In fact, all he knew for sure was the ringing in his ears and the pain that seemed to seep through him from every corner of his tired body.
Letting his head roll back to neutral, he closed his eyes and tried to summon the energy to move. And then suddenly he noticed the silence and how wrong it felt. His heart thudding heavily against his chest, he instinctively lifted his right arm and pressed his gloved hand against his helmet. Tapping the plastic casing, he heard the slight flicker of response and the interrupted crackle from the broken circuits of the earpiece.
His husked voice was loud inside the helmet and scratched against his dry throat, causing a sudden cough that quickly became a cry of pain. His right hand dropped from the side of his helmet and he cradled his chest as apparently damaged ribs screamed out in protest.
Panic was quick to follow and he was suddenly feeling suffocated, struggling to breathe. Gasping noisily and ignoring the training that had been drummed into him since who knew when, he fumbled with his helmet and cried out in pain and fear as he pulled it free.
Despite the oppressive stench of burning and the heat that quickly closed in on his face, the feel of air on his skin gave some relief and he began to calm. Forcing slower shallower breaths into his aching chest and sitting up a little straighter helped some and the lights dancing behind his tightly closed eyes began to fade away.
Opening his eyes and peering before him at the concrete landing he began to take in his violet-hued surroundings, the emergency lighting providing enough of a glow to make out the narrow stairs. A bright red '4' was splashed on the wall to his left and he frowned in concern as he worked out just how far he had fallen.
The workers had figured that climbing higher was the best option and would have perhaps made it to the roof escape had the heat from the flames not weakened the metal latticework of gangways. Their route had been broken by plumes of chemical-fed fire and their combined weight had proven too much for the webbed platform. As it was, the fire department had only just been able to make a clearing through the flames in time. The added weight and movement of rescuers trying to help only made the whole situation that much worse.
Having been lowered to the roof and quickly finding the entrance, he had hurried down to where the infrared imagery had shown the workers were trapped. Finding them was easy and quickly fashioning a rope-bridge with safety cables had been simple. Beneath them, barely visible amid the heat, the Firefly was suppressing as much of the blaze as possible. Focused on the area directly under the trapped workers, the luminous green foam spread like a thick blanket over the factory floor and managed to create a window of time and reduced heat for the workers to scramble through. There had been little warning before the narrow gantry he herded them onto began to give way and he had quickly shoved the last of them through to safety before the floor fell out from under him.
With no way of knowing how much time had passed, or whether his current predicament had even been realized, his mind was suddenly filled with renewed panic. Pushing away from the wall and suddenly determined that he had to get himself out trouble, he rolled onto his knees and leaned towards the stairs.
He could ignore the pain that tore through him for only so long. Reaching the top of the stairs on his knees and the hobbling aid of his apparently uninjured right arm, he was panting hard and his vision misted with tears. Sobbing in frustrated anger, he sank down onto his side and pounded his good fist into the concrete floor.
At once annoyed with his own weakness and frightened by how badly he had obviously fallen, he closed his eyes and allowed himself a brief moment of despair. Tears tickled his hot face and he sniffed back more, gritting his teeth as he envisioned rolling onto his knees and making another attempt to reach at least the top step. And that was when he heard it. Suddenly still and focusing on the sound, he could feel hope gathering and turned his head towards the noise.
Footsteps. Fast, galloping footsteps. And they were getting closer.
He knew enough Japanese to work out most of what the panicked workers desperately shouted at him but the obvious absence of their escort made his heart suddenly grow cold. His hands trembling with fear, he quickly grabbed the shoulders of the nearest man and gave him a firm shake. Forced to focus on him and quickly silenced, he had the man's full attention for a brief moment and forced a quick smile.
"Where?" John demanded sternly.
Amid desperate hand signals and stammered local dialect, the words 'collapse' and 'fall' were clear and John groaned in dismay. Thanking the man and ushering him quickly after his colleagues, John turned back towards the roof entrance and frowned in thought.
Instinctively glancing upwards, John peered at the immense green hulk that hung above the factory and sighed loudly. "They're all out, Virg. Take her up." He lowered his head and turned towards the huddled group of workers waiting expectantly on the rescue platform. Striding quickly over to them, he closed the gate and leaned over to hit one of the commands on the central panel. "Get them out of here."
"What?" Virgil gasped over the comm. "What about you? Where are you going? John!"
"What is? What do you mean? John? What's wrong?"
John turned from the platform and headed back towards the roof entrance, his mouth dry as he tried to form the words. "Virg. Scott's still in there."
"Scott's still in there." John repeated breathlessly, already running into the network of fire escape stairs. He was aware of his brother frantically trying to make contact with Scott and tried to ignore the silence that replied as he leapt down the first stairwell and met the upper clouds of thick smoke.
"Yeah, Virg?" John managed, panting loudly as he galloped down the concrete stairs.
"Alan's gonna start the search from ground level. We've got the infra-red scanning the building."
"Understood." John acknowledged dryly.
"John, you can't go back - "
"Save it." John barked angrily, "We both know he's running out of time."
Perched on the top step of the stairwell and listening in awe to the low growls and rumbles of the building being eaten up alive by the flames, Scott could feel darkness lingering at the edge of his vision. Smoke stung his eyes and the resultant tears only seemed to make things worse. Amid the watery blur, he could vaguely make out the silvery-white form that jumped down from the staircase above him and he groaned in dismay.
"Scott!" John fell to his knees beside his brother and quickly looked over his slumped form. His brother's suit was soot-blackened but not burned and he sighed in relief. He then saw the blood that had dripped onto Scott's shoulder and followed the trail to the broken remains of the comm-piece in his brother's ear.
Unsure if the broken earpiece or head trauma had caused the bleeding, John leaned closer and watched his brother's eyes follow him wearily, the pupils reacting slowly. Once closer he could also hear the noisy breaths his brother was struggling to take and John groaned in dismay.
Scott looked up at his brother in vague interest, gasping suddenly as he saw John begin to remove his helmet. "No!" He protested, giving his head a brief shake and regretting the movement with a groan of pain.
"Don't argue." John frowned, pulling the helmet free and blinking back the stinging smoke that instantly covered his face. He slid the helmet carefully over his brother's head and adjusted the seals, seeing the benefit free-flowing oxygen seemed to bring Scott. "There. Slow breaths."
Scott closed his eyes and nodded compliantly, letting the cool air that filled the helmet bring him some comfort. He then looked back up and through the tinted visor could see his brother casting a worried glance over him. "Fell." He managed in a whisper.
John murmured in concern and leaned closer. "Can you - " He coughed dryly and quickly wiped tears from his eyes. "Can you stand?"
One shoulder moving slightly in an attempt to shrug, Scott held up his good hand towards his brother and tensed in anticipation.
Frowning worriedly, John slipped Scott's arm around his neck and helped him get to his feet. His brother was barely up from the floor when he moaned in protest and sagged wearily, almost toppling them both.
"No - " Scott sank back to his knees, his head falling forward until the helmet rested against his heaving chest. " - can't - "
"Okay, okay." John crouched down and placed an arm carefully around Scott's trembling shoulders. "Take your time. But …" He looked around at the growing smoke and his frown grew. "We need to get out of here."
" - go - "
Spinning back at his brother, John caught the last of the motion Scott had made and his heart sank. "Just how hard did you hit your head?"
Scott groaned quietly.
"I'm not leaving you here. Forget it."
" - can't - breathe - "
Taking another look over his brother's slumped form, John saw the scuffed leather of Scott's left arm and the awkward way he held it across his body. Beneath the arm, Scott's good hand stroked gloved fingers over his chest. He had no idea how he had fallen but could well imagine the nature of his landing and he sighed in sympathy. "Shit, that's gotta hurt …"
Suddenly managing a smile, Scott nodded and looked up at his brother. "You think?"
Glad for the life that seemed to have briefly returned to his brother's face, John returned the smile and again took firm hold of Scott's arm. "Come on. Let's go."
This time managing to stand up somewhat straight and leaning into his brother to stop his swaying, Scott gritted his teeth and looked towards the stairs.
They edged forward slowly, the first step down seeming to take forever and jarring Scott's already battered form. He grunted with the effort of staying upright and gripped tighter to his brother.
Reaching the bottom of the first flight of concrete steps had drained the color from Scott's face and his rapid breaths were noisy and labored. Catching the frightened glance his brother shot him, he managed a small smile and nodded towards the next level. John made no comment and guided them round the landing, sweating with the growing heat within the building and the strain of supporting his brother's weight.
" - knew - I - was - never - " Scott swallowed back a sudden sob as he missed his footing and almost stumbled. " - never - alone - "
"Alone?" John echoed in confusion, "Of course not."
"- did - you - " A pause to catch his breath and Scott glanced at his brother. " - on - Five … did you … I mean - "
"Not for a second." John answered quickly. "And that scared me. How I knew you'd be on your way the moment you got the alert. And how much danger that might put you in." As if to bring their thoughts firmly back to their current situation, the building groaned ominously and shuddered beneath their feet.
"That's … that's how - how he - beat us."
"What d'you mean?"
John shivered involuntarily and pulled his brother closer to him.
"He - sensed … weakness."
Mulling this over for a while and growing increasingly concerned with the way his brother sank a little more with each step, John chewed his lip in thought. They reached the next landing and he glanced up to see the floor level painted on the concrete at shoulder height. The bright red word 'ground' brought a smile to his tight mouth and he sighed in relief.
With renewed energy, John pulled his brother closer against him and took a deep breath. "It's not our weakness." He suggested softly, "In fact, the very opposite."
Scott laughed briefly, biting back on a groan of pain. "So - reckless - deter- mination - is - now - a good - thing?"
"Pig - headed - ness?"
"Stubborn - ness?"
"Definitely." John nodded, chuckling softly. "An essential part of this team."
"Oh god." Scott sighed, "No - one … tell Alan."
John laughed and hugged his brother a little tighter. They turned the corner at the bottom of the staircase and his smile grew. Quickly letting go of his grip on his brother's arm for a second, he tapped the comm. piece in his ear and cleared his tight throat. "Alan?" The reply was instant and expectant. "Meet us at the back door, bud." John confirmed.
They pushed open the fire exit door and stepped out into the floodlit passage at the rear of the building. Fresh air seemed to finally confirm their safety and all strength seemed to drain from John's arms. He steered his brother along to the entrance to the alley and helped him sink somewhat ungracefully to the floor.
Scott's face was tight with pain as he slid down the wall and came to rest on the flooded ground, the deep puddles the only evidence of the long since departed fire crews. The building had been declared a burnout shortly after he and his brothers had arrived on the scene and even the most experienced of firefighters had not dared re-enter amid the overpowering flames.
It had taken Scott only a second to decide to go in after the trapped workers, even less to subconsciously be assured that if he did venture inside he would have someone at his back. It was a certainty that he had never really dwelled on before and yet he had always known it to be true. And somewhere deep inside him, beneath the pain that pulsed through his weary body, a soothing warmth lingered.
Realizing he had closed his eyes and feeling the gentle nudge of his brother's hand against his shoulder, Scott looked up and managed a small smile of acknowledgment.
"Just a few minutes, okay?" John urged, gently sliding his hand up under the sooty collar of Scott's suit and feeling the racing pulse beneath the leather. "We'll have you stretched out inside Two in no time. Shot of morphine and you can sleep into next week. Okay?"
"Mmm. Sounds good …"
John smiled despite his concern and stood back up straight, peering up into the dark sky in anticipation of the approaching craft.
It was fond and only a little slurred and so John didn't worry when he looked back down and saw the eyes closed amid a pale face. But nothing had followed so John crouched down beside his brother and leaned in a little closer. "Yeah, Scott?"
Scott smiled thinly and that seemed to be all that was going to be offered by way of a thank you and John was relieved. Relieved because there was no need for thanks or an awkward 'you're welcome' and relieved that his brother was gently dozing and not passed out at his feet.
"I'm here." John offered quietly and rested his hand on his brother's shoulder, noting the way Scott gently leaned into his touch and deciding to stay right there beside him while they waited together.