Pulling my long-sleeved shirt down from where it was bunched up around my elbows, I cover as much skin as possible before using my arm to swipe along the bottom of the window frame, removing as much of the glass as I can.

I hear a shout from the road about the fire hydrant not working and the blood runs cold in my veins. Being a station in a small town, our trucks are filled with very little water. We rely on the city hydrants for our supply and if that doesn’t work, we have to call in a tanker from a neighboring town. If the men can’t get water on this house immediately, there will be no saving it. I have to get Finnley out - fast.

Gripping the open window ledge, I heft my body up, swinging one leg over until I’m basically straddling the windowsill, hovering half in the house and half out.

“Goddammit, Collin will you just wait?” D.J. begs again, grabbing onto my arm and attempting to pull me towards him on the ground. “The tanker will be here in a matter of minutes.”

Shaking his arm off of me angrily, I twist my body until my lower half is completely inside the house, my feet finding purchase on the carpeted floor.

“She doesn’t have minutes, this house is over a hundred years old. I want you acting as the lead paramedic when she comes out, so make sure you have your shit ready. If anything happens, you make sure Finnley gets out first, do you understand?”

“I don’t—”

“THAT’S A FUCKING ORDER, DRAKE!” I shout, cutting him off.

I watch as all the argument leaves his face. D.J. always used to joke that I’m like one of his parents. The only time we ever use his given name is when we’re pissed at him.

Martinez comes racing up at that moment and thrusts an extra air tank into D.J.’s hands. He quickly lifts it up into the window and I grab it.


“Don’t be a fucking hero, you stupid son of a bitch. If it’s too bad in there, you get the fuck out, you hear me?” D.J. tells me as he slowly starts to back away from the window.

“Yep, you got it.”

We both know I’m lying but at least D.J. has the sense not to call me on it right now. With one last look, we both turn and head in opposite directions.

I immediately drop to the floor where the smoke is less dense, sliding my arms through the straps of the tank and getting it on my back so my hands are free. I army crawl across the room, poking my head out into the hall to assess the situation. From this vantage point, I can see into the living room. Well, what’s left of the living room. It’s one big wall of fire and almost every square inch of the floor is up in flames. When I heard Finnley scream moments ago, it sounded like it came from upstairs, so I’m praying to God she isn’t in that fucking living room. Luckily, the stairs aren’t located right in the living room, but in a hallway a few yards away from it. As it is, I’m barely going to be able to get to the stairs leading up without burning my skin off.

I keep low to the ground and move as fast as I can, pulling the neck of my shirt up over my nose and mouth, cursing myself for not using my head and grabbing my air mask. As soon as I get to the hallway, I feel the heat from the blaze like a punch to the face. It’s so hot I can feel it singeing my exposed skin. It steals the breath from my lungs and my eyes, already blurry from the smoke, begin to water even more. Through the wall of fire, I can just barely make out a gaping hole in the front of the house. In an orange, hazy glow I see the guys through the hole scrambling around the front yard. The flames are quickly licking up to the second story and even if they had managed to get the attack line hooked up to the hydrant out front, I’m not sure it would have helped. I watch as a support beam from the front wall comes crashing down over the opening, blocking the entrance. I cover my face and head as ash, sparks and fire shoot towards me like a blast from a firework when the burning beam smashes into the opposite wall. With a quick glance upwards, I see the fire quickly eating up part of the ceiling and I know if I don’t hurry, the entire second floor above the living room will go up in flames and come crashing down.

I move as fast as my legs will allow, flying up the stairs and taking them two at a time, shouting Finnley’s name as I go.


I’m having trouble breathing by the time I get to the top step. The smoke has filled my nose and lungs and each breath I take feels like knives are being dragged up and down my throat. I know I should stop and take a hit of the air from the tank on my back, but there’s no time. I need to get to her. She’s been in here longer and she’s going to need it more than me. I’ve done this before. I’ve been trained to deal with smoke inhalation, I just need to stay calm and keep going.

There are three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs and I head towards the door closest to me, coughing and spitting out smoke and ash-filled saliva as I go. Knowing that I can’t touch the doorknob in case there’s fire on the other side of it, I step back with one leg and prepare to kick it in. A noise directly behind me gives me pause and I pray with everything inside of me that the small thump was Finnley and she’s okay.

I quickly turn and a fist connects with my eye. I hear a crunch and feel my eye immediately start to swell. I don’t even bother pressing a hand to the area to try and ease the pain that’s radiating right up to my skull.

Jordan laughs as I glare at him, my hands clenched into fists at my sides. As much as I want to beat the shit out of him for what he’s done, I don’t have time. My only concern, my only thought right now is that I need to save Finnley. I would have been perfectly fine leaving him standing here with that smug look on his face, but of course he wouldn’t make it easy on me. As I turn to walk away, he grabs onto the back of my shirt, clutching the fabric in his hands to hold me in place.

What the fuck is it with people trying to stop me? Don’t they understand that NOTHING can stop me from getting to Finnley?

Without a word, I twist out of his grasp and quickly turn, the momentum of my body bringing my arm and fist flying towards his face so fast he doesn’t even see it coming. With one solid punch to the side of his head, he goes down like a ton of bricks.

As much as I hate him, as much as I want to shove him down the stairs to be swallowed up by the wall of fire, I know I can’t leave him out here in the hall. I’m a civil servant and I took an oath, swearing to do everything I can to save every single person whether they are an innocent child or the piece of shit that started the fire in the first place. I will drag his worthless ass out of this burning building because it’s my job, but I will absolutely make sure I get to Finnley first.

Figuring there’s no way Jordan would have left Finnley alone, I go into the room he came out of when he confronted me, stepping over Jordan’s unconscious body as I go. The smoke has gotten so thick I can barely see an inch in front of my face and with only one good, working eye, that’s not a good thing. Pulling my leg back, I kick in the door to Finnley’s bedroom. The smoke from the hall immediately billows into the room and I drop down on all fours to crawl inside.

“Finnley! Are you in here? Please, baby, answer me!” I shout as I crawl blindly through the room, moving my hands all around me in the hopes that I’ll feel some part of her under my fingers.

Coughs wrack my body as I continue moving around the room, feeling my way and coming up completely empty. My heart drops as I quickly turn and make my way back out into the hall and over to the next bedroom.

With a quick glance downstairs, I see the fire has made its way down the hall and to the bottom step. Pieces of the house crash down from the ceiling and walls, completely engulfed in flames, and I know the only way we’re going to be able to get out of this house is through one of these upstairs windows. Unfortunately, the fire is so strong on the first floor that my men are never going to be able to get close enough to put a ladder against the house. They won’t be able to reach the second floor and we won’t be able to get out. There’s no way the floor up here is going to hold much longer considering how fast the fire has spread along the ceiling on the first floor. If I don’t find her quick and figure a way out, we’re going to come crashing down to the first floor, right in the middle of the fire.

Grabbing onto Jordan’s still passed-out body, I drag him away from the stairs, deeper into the hall in case the fire makes its way up here before I can get back to him.

Bringing the neck of my shirt back up over my nose and mouth, I try to breathe in as little of the smoke-filled air as possible as I kick down the second door. Just like before, I immediately drop to my knees and start feeling around the room, shouting for Finnley.

Right when I start to lose hope and my body starts to shut down, reacting to the amount of smoke I’ve inhaled and the adrenaline slowly leaving me, my hand brushes against the warm, smooth skin of a leg.

“Finnley! Baby, can you hear me?” I shout as I quickly move my way up her body, my hands sliding up her legs. I wince when I feel rough, blistered skin every so often along the outside of one leg and I can’t stop the sob that escapes my lips knowing she suffered burns.

My hands continue moving upward, realizing she’s naked and there are more burns peppering most of the skin of her upper thighs, hips and waist. I want to scream and cry for her and what she went through before I got here, but I don’t have time. I have to get her out of here. I have no idea how long she’s been unconscious and no idea the amount of smoke she’s inhaled.

I make it up to her face when I hear a loud creak and the sound of the floor on the other side of the house caving in. I can hear muffled screams and shouts from outside and I know I need to hurry.

Ripping the air tank off of my back, I quickly unhook the mask from the side of the tank and press it down over Finnley’s face. The light from the moon coming in the window right above her is enough for me to just make out the features of her face and to see that the clear plastic mask isn’t fogging up with the heat from her breaths and her chest isn’t moving. These air tanks are demand valve, which means the person needs to be breathing in order for the air to hit their lungs.

“No! Oh Jesus, no! Finnley!” I scream through my tears as I lean down, pressing my ear against her chest to listen for her heartbeat, my own stuttering when I hear nothing but deadly silence.

Just then, the window above my head shatters. I quickly cover Finnley’s face as pieces of glass rain down on top of us. I look up just as D.J. sticks his head inside the now open window.

“Can you lift her to me?” he shouts into the room, the sound of the house burning down around us so loud that I can barely hear him.

Getting up as fast as I can, I slide my arms under Finnley’s back and legs and bring her up to my chest. I can just make out the red splotches of burned skin all over the lower half of her body as I bring her close to me and I feel something inside me break into a million pieces. I cradle the warmth of her body tightly to me, kissing the top of her head as I lift her through the broken window and into D.J.’s waiting arms. He moves her up and over his shoulder to make it easier to climb down the ladder, her head and arms draped down his back with his hand clutching firmly behind her knees.

Before he disappears from the window, I turn and yank the comforter off of the top of the bed, racing to the window and draping it over Finnley’s naked body.

“She’s not breathing, D.J.! Fuck! Just hurry!” I yell after him as he moves down the ladder with the ease of someone who has done this a million times. I see men from two additional fire departments battle the blaze together all around the ladder now that the tanker has arrived. They’re able to keep the fire away from this area for now, but I know it won’t hold much longer.

DJ looks back up at me one last time before he gets to the bottom. “I’ll take care of her Collin, just get your ass down here before the entire place blows.”

Once the two of them are safely on the ground and I see D.J. racing towards the ambulance parked in the street, I turn and quickly make my way back through the room, trying not to slam into furniture since visibility in here is nil. The only thing keeping me sane right now is the knowledge that D.J. is a trained paramedic and so fucking amazing at it that I always ask him why the hell he never became a doctor. If anyone can help Finnley, it will be him.

The smoke has gotten impossibly thicker and I know I don’t have much time. My lungs burn with every breath I take and I’m starting to get lightheaded from not having any good, clean air in my system for so long.

Jordan is still unconscious out in the hallway and doesn’t even budge as I grab both of his wrists, pull them up over his head and drag him back into the room I just came from. As soon as I get to the window and crouch down next to him to heft him up over my shoulder, his eyes suddenly pop open and he shoves me roughly away. My body is so weak that I immediately fall backwards, my ass slamming into the ground.

Jordan begins coughing violently as he crab-crawls away from me, screaming at me as he goes. “STAY AWAY FROM ME! STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!”

I dive forward, grabbing onto his ankle and yank him towards me.

“Stop being an asshole! I’m not going to hit you again. We need to get the fuck out of this house right now before it collapses.”

He kicks his leg out, his foot connecting with my chest and I drop my hold on his leg while he scrambles up to his feet.

“No, no, no! Leave me, just fucking leave me!” he shouts.

I jump up to my feet and charge him. This motherfucker is the reason all of this happened. He started this fire, he hurt Finnley and now he won’t fucking cooperate so I can get us both out of here without being killed.

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