A/N: This story has a lot of realistic scenes of trauma and peril. I'll warn at the beginning of each chapter as appropriate. There's sex, and yes, it's slash, but it's not the focus of the story. But if that's not your cup of tea, don't read.

Also, I picked the title for this before I had ever heard of the Hunger Games trilogy. Also, there are apparently two characters with the same names as characters on Jersey Shore, which I've never seen. That's what I get for not keeping up with popular culture! But I'm attached, now, so they will remain as-is. Previously posted on LJ and AOOO under the pen-name kel_1970.

Catching Fire

Chapter 1: Fuel

"Stupid fuckin' idiot," Leonard McCoy muttered to himself, as he pulled into the small parking lot. "Goddamned moron."

He shut of the engine of his Chevy van and sat there behind the wheel for another thirty seconds. "This was the stupidest idea on the planet. Iowa, for fuck's sake. Stupid, dumb, idiotic—"

"Foolish, moronic, ridiculous, boneheaded, bird-brained … want me to go on, or not so much?"

Leonard scowled out his open window at the ridiculously cheerful face that had popped up right outside the window of his van.

"Who asked you?"

"Just helping out, pal. So, you must be our new paramedic."

"'Fraid so," Leonard said. He opened his door and hopped out.

"Who are you afraid for? Yourself, or the rest of us?"

"Take your pick."

"I'll go for … yourself. Georgia plates, cussin' yourself out in the parking lot; sounds like there's maybe a sad story there. But I'll let you tell me all about it later. I'm Jim Kirk, firefighter and rescue man extraordinaire on the ladder truck."

Kirk stuck his hand out, and he and McCoy shook.

"Leonard McCoy, and yes, I'm your new 'medic. Out of Savannah, Georgia. And yeah, there's a story, and no, you ain't gonna hear it."

"Now there's a challenge if I ever heard one."

"Lemme guess: you enjoy a challenge."

"Now, after all that calling yourself stupid, you're shaping up to be a fairly observant fellow, even for a sawbones! Come on in; I'll show you around."

McCoy allowed himself to be led in the back door of the fire station.

It was nothing like where he'd come from in Savannah. There, he'd run with a privately-owned ambulance company, which was entirely separate from the fire department. Here in Cedar Rapids, the fire department had its own ambulances, staffed by non-firefighter paramedics. He'd been looking for something different, to wash the taste of the last few months in Savannah out of his mouth, and different is what he got, when he was offered the job after a phone interview with the county's EMS director.

McCoy stopped at the door of the apparatus bay, and stood and looked at the trucks. There were two of them: a regular-looking fire engine, and one of those jobs with the big ladder on the top. Looked scary as hell. And nothing, but nothing, he thought, looks sexy painted the color of a tennis ball. Especially when it's the size of a tractor-trailer.

"Yo! Dudes! Look what I found!"

It looked to McCoy like there were about twice as many people in the bay as he'd expect there to be on one shift for two apparatus, but what did he know? They moved around a lot, making it hard to count them.

Fourteen or so men—no, make that twelve men and two women—looked over at Kirk. A few were in civvies, the rest in uniform.

One man—the one in the white shirt—walked over.

"You must be Leonard McCoy. I'm Chris Pike, Captain of the B-shift. Welcome aboard."

They shook hands. "Thank you, Captain. Or, uh, am I supposed to salute? I don't rightly know, coming from an ambulance company."

"Aw, now, Sawbones, don't start putting ideas in his head!" complained Kirk.

"Can it, Jim," Pike said. "Go get in uniform, and then, I don't know, pick your nose until roll call."

"Aye aye, Captain!" Kirk said, snapping Pike a smart salute.

"Infant," Pike muttered, as Kirk trotted off to the door that McCoy assumed led to the men's locker room.

"Sorry you got such a poor first impression of our shift," Pike said. "Not even our probie, who just turned eighteen, is as juvenile as Jim Kirk."

"This seems like … a lot of people," McCoy said.

"Oh, that's only because it's shift-change. Half the guys in the bay are A-shift. I'll introduce you to the B-shift at roll call. Until then, how about if we step into my office for a few minutes? I'll be sure to leave you plenty of time to get changed. Oh, and your uniforms are in your locker, which has your name on it already."

"Thanks, uh … okay, what do I call you?"

"You're in the fire department, and I'm your commanding officer, so technically it's 'Captain Pike.'"

"Uh, yessir, Captain Pike." McCoy mentally kicked himself for not knowing this, as he followed Pike into the tiny office.

"But unofficially, the medics are always a little sideways in the chain of command, since you take some of your orders from medical control. Plus, you're closer to my age than anyone else here, and have … how many years experience?"

"Twelve."

"Right. Your predecessor and I had a deal: in my office, or off shift, I'm Chris. In front of the guys, I should probably be 'Cap,' which is what all the others—well, everyone except Spock, that is—call me. Have a seat."

McCoy sat in the chair across from the desk. "Who is this Spock fellow, and what does he call you?"

Pike chuckled. "'This Spock fellow,' and don't let him hear you saying that, by the way, is Lieutenant Spock, who's the officer for the ladder company. He insists on 'proper address,' so I'm always 'Captain Pike.' Gets to be a bit of a mouthful, if you ask me. But what do you go by?"

"Len, usually. Though I'm already a little afraid about what that Kirk kid is gonna come up with."

"You should be," Pike said. "Wait till you hear the nickname he saddled his partner with. But don't worry—he's really a nice guy. Bat-shit crazy—which you kind of have to be, if you're a rescue man—but friendly."

"You know, 'friendly' can also be scary. Like dog, for instance. People who have big dogs always say, 'Oh, don't worry, he's very friendly,' and that's my sign to back away slowly, because there's nothing worse than a friendly dog when you're not a dog person," McCoy said.

Pike laughed out loud. "Oh, great. Now I have this image of Jim Kirk as a Yellow Lab, tongue lolling out of his mouth, wagging his tail wildly and humping people's legs."

"But a dog, you could keep on a leash."

Pike grinned at McCoy, and leaned back in his chair. "Len, welcome to Station 7. Glad to have you here."

McCoy smiled back, ever so slightly. "Thanks. I'm just hoping this isn't all a terrible mistake. I don't know anything about fire departments. Some of the medics down in Savannah volunteered at their local fire departments. Especially the trauma junkies—they're kind of the type for that. Uh, no offense," McCoy said quickly, realizing he'd already put his foot in his mouth.

"None taken. This job does take a certain … type. But go on."

"Me, I'm more of a medical man myself. Don't get me wrong, I handle trauma patients just fine. I just don't find them as fascinating as the medical patients. Plus, I'm afraid of heights—deathly afraid—so you'd never catch me up a ladder. So, what do I do? Run away from home and join the fire department, naturally. Terrific idea, huh?"

"Don't worry, you won't be going up any ladders. Some departments, their paramedics are also rescue men, which personally I think narrows the field way too much. It was a fine idea back in the early days of EMS, but these days, there's so much demand for EMTs of any level that we'd never have enough of them if they all had to qualify as firefighters, too. Take your new partner, Chris Chapel, for instance. Firefighting simply wouldn't be an option there."

"Why, what's his deal?"

"Her deal."

"Ah. Right. I guess there aren't many female firefighters. Probably not a lot of women are strong enough, right?"

"Well, that's true. Some are, though. But firefighting still isn't a very female-friendly field, despite the fact that it's the 21st century. But we do have one. Gaila Morescu. She's a black belt in something or other, and strong as a whip. And her husband—yes, husband; make a note of that, because if you make any suggestion to her that since she's a woman in the fire service she must be a lesbian, she'll kick your ass from here to tomorrow, by the way—is self employed, so he watches the kids. Yes, kids."

"Okay—mental notes made. Anything else I should know before I jump into the fray?"

"Well, Christine will fill you in on the way your rig is organized, and all that paramedic stuff. She's an EMT-Basic, by the way—that's how we operate. One Basic and one Paramedic on each shift. If the call turns out to be Basic Life Support, she's with the patient in the rig, and you drive. If Advanced Life Support is needed, vice versa. You decide how it'll be played, of course. And whoever has the patient gets the pleasure of the paperwork. Which is all paperless, by the way."

"Yeah, I heard that in my phone interview. That's a relief; my handwriting is beyond awful."

Pike laughed again. "Any thoughts of medical school?"

"Yes. It's not happening right now, though."

Pike waited for more, and realized he wasn't going to get any, so he moved on, leaving yet another question mark about his new paramedic hanging in the air.

"We'll all try to fill you in, during down time, about the organization of this station. But the main thing is, there's the engine, and there's the ladder. Four guys on each, and everyone's got their special jobs. The engine company puts out the fire, and the ladder company does the stuff that makes putting the fire out easier. Or, if there are people trapped, gets them the hell out, ASAP."

"Ah. That would be done by the rescue men, am I right?"

"You got it. Jim Kirk, and his partner Cup—uh, Carl Jablonski. And Lieutenant Spock is the officer for the ladder company, and Scotty is his apparatus operator."

"And you said there's a teenager working with us?"

"Oh, yes indeedy. Paul Chekov. He's our probie—probationary firefighter, that is, fresh out of the academy. He's a good kid. Too eager for his own good, but Gaila will shape him up in no time. Probably too smart for his own good too. Oh, and Hikaru Sulu is the apparatus operator for the engine. I think that's everyone." Pike's eyes darted over to the clock on the wall. "I better let you get changed. Roll call is in the bay at 0730. I'll let you put faces to all those names then. I'll assign daily chores then, but you're off the hook until you're satisfied you're up to speed on the rig and the local customs."

"I was at the hospital for a couple hours yesterday," McCoy said. "I'm all set on their expectations. Met a couple of the ER docs and nurses, too."

"Good. Well, go find your locker—it's probably in the middle row. Sorry about that."

McCoy shrugged. "I'm not picky."

"I hope that goes for food, too, because the cuisine around here is shit."

"Terrific." McCoy stood up. "See you at roll call. Thanks for the introductions."

Pike nodded.

McCoy walked back through the apparatus bay, where the diesel engine of the ladder truck was thrumming away. He trotted through quickly, not wanting to breathe the exhaust, but noticed that a big yellow tube was attached the—well, he supposed he'd still call it a tailpipe, even though it was midway down the apparatus—carrying the exhaust up and presumably out of the station.

"Okay, so maybe they don't actually enjoy inhaling toxic fumes," McCoy said to himself. He found his locker, and changed into his uniform, wondering, for the hundredth time that week, what the hell he'd done.

TBC