Heat. That’s all he can coherently register as he blindly gropes his way down the hall. It’s near, it’s all around. He needs to get out. Fernando cracks his eyes open, and is immediately assaulted with a thick smoke that stings his eyes back into a tight squeeze. His knee throbs dully from where he jumped out of bed and smacked himself hard on the corner of his dresser, knocking over whatever he had placed on top. It’s funny how he can’t even remember what he could have possibly knocked over in his haste, funny how it all becomes so irrelevant. Funny how he simply doesn’t care.
He stumbles to the edge of the stairs and painfully grips at the rail to steady himself. His stomach drops in panic as he lifts his right foot up, leaving it hovering in the air, praying that he doesn't misjudge his footing and fall head first into dark.
Without warning, a hand, big and warm and safe, closes around his shoulder and pushes him back onto the landing.
“It’s okay, mate,” a muffled voice reassures him, gloved fingers just barely brushing his neck in a deliberate calming attempt. He slowly blinks into focus the figure of a fireman; clearly tall, despite being one step down from him.
“Is there anyone else in here?” The question is like a swift punch to the stomach, and his sluggish brain finally manages to catch up with the severity of the situation he's found himself in. Thank any and all divine entities that Felipe and Rob had to cancel their visit until next weekend!
“Just me,” Fernando manages to respond after a few seconds of willing his chapped lips to move, wetting them to no avail, and forcing something out from between them.
“Okay, that’s good. What’s your name?” Even through the facemask, his voice is deep and soothing.
“Alright, Fernando, I’m Mark. Stay close to me, and we’ll be out of here in no time.” He leads Fernando down the stairs, gripping his wrist tightly as if to make sure he doesn’t slip right through his grasp and back into the smoke. Back into the heat and the dark. Fernando subconsciously circles his fingers round Mark’s own wrist at the thought.
It’s a short journey to the front door, and Fernando’s almost embarrassed to find out that he was only a few feet away from being able to get himself to safety. But he doesn’t have too much time to dwell on it before the cold night air hits him with such force, that it’s both suffocating and a relief at the same time. He takes a large gulp of air, filling his lungs up until they feel like bursting, before promptly crumpling into a violent coughing fit. His body jerks hard as he clutches at his knees for support.
That same warm hand from before, now ungloved, rubs circles on his back, bunching up his night shirt across his shoulder blades, and eases him back into an upright position.
“Careful. Here.” Mark gently fixes an oxygen mask round Fernando’s head, and secures it over his nose and mouth. “Breathe slowly, otherwise you’ll hurt yourself,” the fireman says firmly, but not unkindly, as he leads him to the open back of an ambulance and tells him to sit.
Fernando nods, and soon the painful constriction in the middle of his chest starts to ebb, leaving his throat raw in its path.
“Thank you,” he croaks, his shoulders slumping at the sudden deep bone ache that pours out from every inch of him; fuelled by what can only be the all too unmistakable come down after an intense adrenaline rush.
“No thanks necessary.” A dirty, but handsome face swims into his line of vision; sharp cheek bones, a stubble covered jawline that begs to be licked, soft hair flicking up at the sides. Genuine worry etched into every line and every crease. Ah, the man behind the mask, Fernando thinks with slight humour. And an Australian, too, judging by the accent.
Mark drapes a blanket over him, pushes a water bottle into his hands, and settles down close.
Fernando's thin red shirt and boxers do nothing to protect him from the chill that now prickles at his skin. And to think, only a half hour ago, he began to imagine never being able feel anything but biting heat ever again. The thought alone is almost enough to make him throw off the blanket and greedily savour every minute in which he's not burning from the outside in. Instead, he pulls it closer.
They both watch as three of Mark’s colleagues tame the fire into nothingness. The bright orange flames flickering down and down, until they can get close enough to inspect the damage.
He sees his neighbours, thankfully unhurt, clutching each other with unabashed desperation. The flashing lights of the two ambulances, fire engine, and amassed police cars illuminating them in various coloured flashes one after the other.
By the looks of things, the fire started in their kitchen. If the blown out window and the clearly scorched black interior are anything to go by. Luckily, his own home seems pretty much intact. He slips off the oxygen mask with a long, shuddering exhale.
Mark eventually breaks the silence. “Have you got anyone you can call? Somewhere to stay?”
Well, whether he likes it or not, Kimi will be getting an extra house guest tonight. Fernando huffs in amusement as he imagines Kimi’s face when he pulls up in his car to Fernando's smoking home.
“Yes, a friend that lives close by. One call and he’ll be here in no time.”
“Good. I’d really prefer it if you’d get yourself checked out at the hospital beforehand, though. But I’m guessing I shouldn’t even try and start that argument. Let alone attempt to win it.” Fernando chuckles, feeling at ease for the first time that night. “I’m not above begging,” Mark adds, one side of his mouth quirking upwards.
“And I’m not above enjoying every moment of it if you do,” Fernando responds smoothly, looking up through his lashes. Mark raises his eyebrows.
“I’ll have to remember that,” Mark says slowly, his voice pleasantly scratchy from what Fernando hopes isn’t just the smoke.
Fernando feels that familiar warm rush of excitement that comes with flirting seep into his skin and he sighs in contentment. He runs a hand through his hair, absentmindedly working out all the knots until hitting a snag. He pulls in annoyance and winces at the tug on his scalp, pursing his lips and wrinkling his nose.
“Let me.” Mark reaches up and methodically untangles Fernando’s fingers one by one from the dark strands curled around them. His head tingles from where Mark grazes his skin accidentally-on-purpose and, in retaliation, pushes his almost bare thigh firmly against Mark's clothed one, relishing the grin it causes to stretch across his face.
The other man's aftershave cuts sharply through the gritty stench of smoke that clings to both of them and Fernando’s suddenly aware that he’s a little short of breath again. There’s a tightness in his throat that claws its way down to his heart, making it beat fast in want.
Mark slides his hands through Fernando’s hair once more before dropping them away completely.
“Better?” Fernando asks, tilting his head to the side.
Mark hums low in his throat, neither in agreement or disagreement.
Mark pulls himself to his feet with a groan, tucking his helmet under one arm, and turns back to face Fernando. From this angle, Mark looks a million miles tall, Fernando muses to himself as he sits back on his hands and admires the view.
“Pop into the station when you’re feeling up to it, okay? Just ask for Webber.”
“And you’ll come running?” Fernando grins widely.
“You’re awfully cheeky for a guy sitting in his underwear, bucko,” Mark points out. He leans down and swipes his thumb across Fernando’s brow, sweeping up all the black soot that had gathered. “And so messy, too,” he jokes, smudging his nose with the dark grime.
Fernando half-heartedly swings a leg out, but Mark hops backwards out of reach with a laugh.
“Call your friend, and get some rest. You look knackered,” Mark says softly as Fernando scrubs at his nose.
“I’ll see you soon.” It’s a statement, not a question, and Fernando can’t supress the shiver of anticipation that travels up his spine.
“And if not, you know where I live,” Fernando twirls his hand around in the air dismissively and smiles, "Sort of."
“Until then,” Mark gives a jaunty salute and jogs over to a fellow fireman who’s struggling to wind up the hose on his own.
Fernando sits forward and puts his chin in his hands. A small fire, just flickering into existence, warming a corner of his heart.