Fire in the Night
by Shaianne K. PeriHawk
Disclaimer: The universe and Nightwing belong to DC. Rae and her background belong to me, me, ME!
Feedback: This is my first attempt at something besides the X-titles, tell me how I do! email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org Either, both, lots!
Smoke in the movies made her laugh. In the movies, fire fighters could *see* through the smoke.
In reality, smoke was thick, black, heavy. She made her way through the burning warehouse mostly by touch, and found the man completely by accident.
Shelia Rae, of the Bludhaven Fire Department, dropped her one knee and manoeuvred the heavy man onto her shoulders. She felt muscle and bone protesting almost violently, as stars clouded the blackness around her and her body gave in with a final jerk. She yelled through the tingling numbness that shivered up and down her arm and went for the door at a sprint.
Once out of the blaze, she slowed and went directly to the ambulances. Each step brought a fresh wave of agony up through her chest and down her arm. "I need a medic over here!" Her yell was muted through the oxygen mask on her face, and she was met by a set of grim faced EMT's who guided her over to a stretcher.
She started to lower the man to the waiting stretcher when she stopped abruptly with a cry of pain, as fire licked through the damaged shoulder. "I can't!" she yelled. The EMTs just nodded and lifted the man from her shoulders.
Rae ripped the oxygen mask from her face. Her long golden braid fell down across her oxygen tanks with a quiet swish. She pulled her radio and thumbed the "talk" switch.
"Rae is out. I'm with the EMS. May end up hitchin' a ride. Think I tore something with that last guy I pulled out."
"Keep me posted, Rae."
"Wilco, Chief. Rae out." Rae clipped the radio to her belt.
"Ma'am." Rae turned to the EMT, Stan, his name tag said. "Do you realise who you brought out?"
She shook her head. "I just know he's heading straight for the morgue. He was in there too long to survive the smoke inhalation. What's the problem?"
Stan moved aside to show her.
"Nightwing." Rae's head snapped first left, then right, the urgency drowning out the pain the motion caused. "Cover him up. Is he alive? Get him into the ambulance."
The two men flew into action. "Yes, ma'am, he's alive, he has some sort of breather in his mouth."
"Chief, Rae again. I'll be hitching that ride. My shoulder is pretty tore up."
In a matter of minutes, all four people were in the ambulance as it flew through the streets. Rae and Stan looked over the unconscious hero.
Rae broke open a vial of smelling salts beneath Nightwing's nose. After several nose twitches and head jerks, his cobalt eyes popped open.
"What the-" he jerked up.
Rae tried to push him back down, but the flame of pain in her shoulder flared to life. She bit off a cry. She forced her eyes back open. "Just lay back down, Mask Boy."
Her pain seemed to calm him, ironically. He laid back down without protest, his eyes focused fuzzily on her. "What's going on?"
Rae smiled wanly. "I just pulled your carcass from a burning building." She reached down and knocked on Nightwing's body armour. "This and that breather are the only reasons I didn't tear my shoulder up over a cadaver." She thought she saw concern flash across his eyes. "I'm fine. Medical help is much easier for a fire fighter to find. We're on the *legal* side of the law."
He winced. "I'm all right. What are *you* going to do with me?" His eyes squeezed shut against pain, or dizziness, Rae didn't know.
*I know what I'd *like* to do with you.* "Hey, Carlos," she yelled to the driver. "Turn off into the next alley. We gotta unload some excess baggage."
Nightwing sat up slowly, clutching his head between his hands, like he was dizzy. "Trade me spots, Rae. You need to get that damn tank off."
Rae tried to lift her hand to ward him off, but the pain suddenly felt unbearable. She couldn't protest when he snaked an arm around her waist and planted her on the stretcher. The pain rose up in a haze. She felt sharp pains as Stan and Nightwing cut away the outer jacket and the straps of her oxygen tanks..
"Looks dislocated," Stan commented.
Nightwing shook his head. "What was the big idea, Rae? Lifting someone twice your size? You can't weigh more than 120."
"135." Rae snapped defensively.
Nightwing smiled. "And, Rae, thanks." He squeezed her hand before he disappeared from her line of sight.
Stan started an IV drip. "Hope you didn't have a hot date tonight."
Rae almost smiled. "Grayson will understand. He's a cop." It was only then that she wondered how the vigilante knew her name. . . .
Rae scowled at the telephone and hung up before she talked into that damn answering machine again. Grayson was avoiding her. He had since she'd gotten her shoulder hurt.
Rae leaned back against the wall across from the phone in her tiny flat. She wanted to go shake some sense into Grayson, but she had to be back at the fire station in an hour.
After six weeks, the docs had finally given her clearance to return to work. Not a moment too soon, because Rae was on the verge of tearing down her walls. She sighed and punched Grayson's number one last time.
Rae hissed as the hot water hit the aching muscles in her shoulder. The pain was almost gone, but the muscles were still out of shape. She just stood under the steamy spray for several long minutes.
On her first day back, they'd had three calls. She poured a handful of shampoo and attacked her smoke-scented hair. In the three weeks since she'd returned, the calls had only gone up. The cases of arson were beginning to look serial.
For the first time ever, Rae found herself thinking about what she'd do if she couldn't break down fires. She had almost enough credits for her Criminology degree. Maybe she could join the Police Department.
*Bang BANG BANG!*
"Don't hog all the water, Rae!" Murphy Sinclair yelled. "We're losing water pressure on our side!"
Rae twisted the taps until they were off. "I'm done, Sinclair!" She snagged the towel off the rack. Tomorrow, she would confront Grayson.
It was dark, her lungs burned with the fresh, dry oxygen that seared its way down through her chest, through her bronchial tubes, into the tiny air-sacs. Unseen hands held her arms to her sides.
She heard someone yelling her name. She stilled, straining to hear.
"Calm down, Shelia, you're fine. Relax."
Rae steadied her breathing. She felt the mask taken from her face. "What's happened?" she croaked.
It was still so dark, but cool. No fire.
"What do you remember, Miss Rae?"
"We were taking down a house fire. I was opening a hole in the roof so we could drown it before it got out of control. I heard- I heard" Her breathing sped up as she heard the terrible sound of the roof giving way beneath her. The oxygen mask was back in place instantly.
Her breathing steadied again, and the mask was gone. "The roof collapsed, and I don't remember. Is everyone all right?"
"What's wrong?" She was careful not to hyperventilate again.
"Jacob Tyler died on his way to the hospital. He was the second one dragged out of the blaze, by Nightwing. Everyone else had only minor injuries and were released the next day."
Rae felt her hands begin to shake. "You said 'next day'. How long has it been?"
"Four days. You'll be moved out of ICU tonight."
"Why is it still so dark?"
"There was extensive damage to your head, Miss Rae. Apparently you met with a falling ceiling beam. We're not sure that your vision survived." The words came in a rush, like the speaker wanted to get it over with.
Silence stretched through the darkness.
"Are you all right?"
She heard the shuffling of starchy white clothes as the man left.
A cool breeze woke her as it traveled over her neck, and down the hospital gown. Someone was in her small hospital room with her. A cool gloved hand stroked her cheek.
"Nightwing?" Her voice cracked on a croak.
The gloved hand jerked away. His presence was gone.
Rae shot up in the hospital bed. "Don't you dare leave!" she hissed. She heard rustling in the curtains. "Why?" His voice was harsh, probably from the smoke, like hers.
Rae swung her feet over the side of the bed. She shivered as her bare toes touched the tiles. "I hear you're the one who pulled me out of he fire."
"I owed you."
Rae tilted her head and walked toward the voice. "Is that why you didn't go for Tyler first?"
She heard a sharp hesitation charge the air. "No." Rae reached out her hand and touched an arm. She followed the arm up to his shoulder. His hand stopped her before she touched his face.
"Why didn't you take Tyler out first?" she whispered. "They said I won't ever see again." Her tear ducts were damaged, she couldn't even cry any more. "I'd rather be dead."
She felt his other arm wrap around her shoulders and pulled her into a hard, almost familiar embrace. "Don't say that. Please, don't say that."
Rae pressed her face into the kevlar-weave armour protecting his chest. "I'm a smoke eater. That's what I do. I don't know any thing else I *can* do. There are *no* blind fire fighters." Her body shuddered with un-sheddable tears.
Nightwing just held the woman silently. What could he say? With the miles of gauze wrapped around her head, even thicker over her damaged eyes, and the odd bits of chopped off hair sticking out at odd angles, she looked worse than he expected. Nasty purple, black, and yellow bruises dappled her face, neck, shoulders, arms, and legs. The rest of her body was covered by the hospital gown.
Eventually, Rae fell asleep. He carried her back to her bed and tucked her in carefully, sliding the sheet and thin blanket up to her chin. His hands lingered, fingers traced where tear tracks should have stained her cheeks. Her body shook with left over sobs, even into her sleep. One thought glared through his mind.
"Good morning, Rae."
Rae grinned, warmed by the familiar sound of a friend's voice. "Grayson. Great to have you here."
"I brought you some flowers." He put the flowers directly into her hands. The sweet smell of lilac filled her nose. "I remembered that they were your favourite."
"Have a seat." Rae gestured to the chairs her family had been occupying for the last three days.
"You look like Hell"
Rae grinned and ran a hand delicately over her scalp, feeling the lines of stitches and the ragged patches of hair. "Could be worse." She hoped her friend couldn't hear the false note in her voice.
"Could be better. Can I- do anything for you, Rae?" He sounded hesitant, worried.
Rae was silent for several long seconds. "Could- could you tell me about the view from my window?" she asked softly. She heard Grayson stand and move around to the other side of her bed. Then she felt his arms, pulling her out of the bed. "No, no, no Gray."
The police officer ignored her protests and pulled her to the window.
Then she felt the heat of the sunlight on her face and fell silent. Grayson's warm voice broke through the stunned feeling. "The sun is out, bright and clear. The river is shining silver from here. River traffic is down today. The park . . . "
Rae smiled, picturing it all in her mind. She let herself sink into Grayson's words. He talked until the duty nurse came by with her permanent scowl to tell them visiting hours were over.
Grayson gently helped Rae back into bed, his body lifting hers when her strength gave out. Her legs slipped between the cooled cotton sheets. He planted a kiss on her forehead before she heard his footsteps retreat out the door.
Rae lowered her bed and turned on her side, facing the window. She heard nurses moving quietly through the halls, checking up on their patients for the shift change. The buzz of fluorescent lighting over head just made the blackness feel as if it would never end. Intense longing filled her stomach like a weightlifter's medicine ball, one of the twelve pound ones.
She felt so alone.
"I want to go home."
"Grayson, your opinion doesn't count, you're not my doctor. Doctor Kelley?" Rae turned her head toward the woman checking her pulse.
"It would be a really Bad Idea, Miss Rae," the doctor said quietly.
"See?" Grayson's voice was smug. Rae wanted to smack the grin she knew was there.
"Thank you for your opinion, doctor. I'll be leaving tomorrow morning." Rae would go absolutely stir crazy if she sat in the hospital another day.
"Miss Rae, I must object, you're not ready," Dr. Kelley protested.
"Doctor Kelley, I've been awake for two weeks. My reactions are fine, my head is healing nicely, and my eyes-" she paused, and swallowed convulsively. "My eyes are beyond help. I'm going home tomorrow."
"Rae, you are out of your mind! How are you going to manage until you get used to moving around in your place?" Grayson shouted.
"It's my *home*, Gray, why wouldn't I manage?" she snarled.
"It's not the same, Rae. You need help."
"I'm going home tomorrow, *Dick*, and you can't stop me."
"Then I'm going *with* you." She felt him lean close until he breathed in her face. "I'm going to sleep at the foot of your bed, watch you eat, drink, clean and pee until I am *sure* you can get around alone." He straightened. "And *you* can't stop *me*." ~*~
Rae tilted her head up and moistened her eyes. *"Twice an hour, every waking hour."* the docs had said. Damaged tear ducts were damned inconvenient.
"Right here, Gray, just need my bi-hourly moistening." Rae tucked the bottle of saline into her pocket and walked forward. She hadn't gone three steps when Grayson was right at her elbow, leading her along.
Rae froze in her tracks, stiffly bringing Grayson in closer. "Why so close now, Gray? Three weeks ago you were trying to dump me like old news, now you're right on top of me every second. Could you just explain to me *why*?"
They paused for a moment before Grayson started walking again. "I - We - Rae, I just don't think we could work. And I guess, I was afraid. I didn't want to see you hurt."
"So you figured you wouldn't see me at all, is that it, Gray?" Rae jerked her arm out of Grayson's grasp. "Well, thanks but no thanks. Get out of my apartment before I call security." She turned to where she assumed the door would be and reached out at knob-level. Nothing. She tried again. Still nothing. She pressed her hand to the wall, wall not door. She moved right, more of the same. "Where is the fucking door!"
She heard a quiet click, and Grayson's callused hand took hers. He didn't say a word, didn't press his luck or hers. He just gently led her into the apartment, sat her down at a stool next to the bar. "Would you like some cocoa?" he asked quietly.
Rae bit back a fresh set of sobs. "Yes, I'd like that."
"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. *Right* turn. One, two, three, four- Aie!" Rae yelped as she his something hard at about knee level.
"Coffee table," Grayson supplied helpfully. "You're not regulating your step size. Those were too short."
"*Thank* you, Officer Grayson." Rae carefully backed up, retracing her steps, and started over. "One, two, three . . . "
"Two pins inside the collar is green, one is blue, none is white, three is red, four is black. In order of shade. How can you have shades of *black*?" Rae demanded. She remembered that rose coloured dress her mother gave her to wear to Jim Danson's wedding. She wondered where it would fit. And that little blue dress that was just a little too short, would it be more towards the blacks, or the greens?
"Well," Grayson retorted, "*those* don't apply. Now what about the slacks?" Rae could hear a faint note in his voice, and she immediately felt a bit shamed. It had to have taken him hours in her closet with safety pins...no one to help. She heard Grayson picking through his dinner, her first attempt at cooking since -
Rae winced. "It's bad."
"No, Rae, this is awful."
Rae tossed her seat cushion at the sound of Grayson's voice. A muffled "Hey!" told her that her aim was definitely improving. "At least I didn't set anything on *fire*, Grayson!"
"That was an accident and it only happened once!"
Now she silently counted the steps in her head. *Eighty-six and turn.* Rae reached out her hand, her sensitive fingertips finding box number 7854. She inserted the key and took out the mail. Time to go back.
Six steps. Her cane hit a car in the handicapped spot. It hadn't been there when she went into the Post Office. Grayson was parked on the other side of the parking lot. Directly across from the doors. She moved carefully around the car, until she stood directly behind it, and walked straight ahead.
She touched the low car and made her way to the passenger side and opened the door. "I made it!"
She heard the smile in Grayson's voice. "You sure did," he said as he turned the ignition.
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