By Fire


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Scene Title By Fire
Synopsis Simultaneous reports of a bomb threat and a fire in a Safe Zone apartment building lead to a tense situation for bystanders and first responders as they try to get the building residents to safety.
Date April 19, 2021

Pacing back and forth across her apartment, Sahara Jackson just does not know what to do.

Her head and her heart war with each other like they never have before in her life. And completely alone in the sun-dappled space surrounding her, she doesn't have the ability to guide her moral compass by those closest to each other. She doubts her ability to do so alone, in fact.

No one's picking up her calls, and she's not even supposed to know what the boys were up to, and yet… and yet

"That's just so many people," she frets to herself in worry on the next turn of her heel, hands wringing about her phone. The longer she thinks about it, the worse it gets. She thinks about the collateral damage. The non-Evolved who could get hurt by this. Innocents. Children.

The burner in her hand is lifted to her ear one last time, her hand shaking, her voice trembling.

It takes but two rings for this party to answer her call.

"H-hello? Yes, um… n-no, I—" Sahara nearly hangs up, her hand over her mouth. She feels nauseous over the betrayal she's not even yet committed, thinking ahead to that rather than the terrible potential. But when her eyes open again, she sees the light of day, and makes her decision despite the twist in her stomach.

"I need to report a bomb threat."

Jackson Heights

April 19, 2021

6:45 pm

Even with the sun staying up later these days, shadows play long down the streets now. At this time of evening, activity is in pockets, generally winding down for the encroaching nightfall. Harry Stoltz and Ourania Pride follow a similar pattern as they leave the LaGuardia Landing Lights park behind, heading east on 25th Avenue. Across the street, the lights are on inside one of the side-buildings of the Catholic church.

The freshly reconstructed apartment complex up 80th Street is a visibly modern uptick compared to the aging grounds of Our Lady of Fatima; five stories of stone, plaster, and plenty of tinted glass to let in the last of fading daylight.

As soon as they hit the sidewalk to cross over 80th, Ourania is hit with a wave of panic not her own. There are a trio of people standing on the sidewalk by the gate to the apartment, the source of the panic. Or perhaps only a source of the panic. They're pulling on front doors that have been chained shut unexpectedly.


At odds with that still, one of them yells at the other, "Call the fucking fire department!"

Harry's arm around Ourania's side shifts, nudging her subtly away from the scene that's unfolding on the sidewalk. He's already glancing over his shoulder to check for traffic so they can quickly cross the street again to continue proceeding east back to their parked car from the other side of the road.

One of the men is backpedaling on the sidewalk, looking up at the windows. "Ariana!" he shouts. "Ariana, the door! हम अंदर नहीं जा सकते1!" His worry and fear mounts toward anguish, climbing like flames.

That arm around her is a boon, because Ourania staggers when her senses are assaulted by so much emotion all at once. And while the flavors of it are a hodge podge, they’re all from the same root. She leans heavily against her partner, a hand braced against his chest to help keep her footing. “Something’s wrong,” is obvious even before the shouting begins. He tries to lead her away, and she fights against the current he represents. “We have to help them.”

Slipping his hold after she’s had a moment to orient herself, to narrow her extrasensory focus, Ourania jogs ahead to where the people stand at the gate. “What’s happened here? Did—” The blonde looks down at the chain, confusion and horror etching their way into her features. She isn’t sure if they’re entirely hers, but it doesn’t matter. “Did someone lock them in?” Her head lifts.

The glass of the door is darkened to keep the sun from baking through in the summer and making the building unbearably hot, but it does nothing to disguise what lies beyond. Inside, there’s the first flickers of orange flame. Already, she’s pulling pins out of her updo, grasping the padlock in one hand. She won’t be fast enough for anyone’s comfort, but she hasn’t maintained various temporary housing situations by not knowing how to pick a lock. A look is angled over her shoulder, back the way she came, eyes wide with panic.



Technically, the two NYPD detectives and their Wolfhound attache are on break. Coming back from an interview with a witness who lives just off of Raytech's Jackson Heights campus, they've got time budgeted to grab a bite to eat on the way back to the Watchtower. Except… the radio clipped to the dash of their police-trimmed Lapis crackles.

«All units, report received of a 10-33 in the vicinity of 25th and 80th out in Jackson. Also getting reports of a 10-59R in the same area. Requesting nearby personnel to investigate and report. FD is also enroute.»

It's just their luck that a serious call would come through while they're nearby. While they normally dealt with the more unusual cases purely from an investigation point of view, this was still out there in terms of what they normally respond to if called to support the department's regular operations.

But they were close. Very close to that crossing.

Jesus. When the call comes through the radio, Elisabeth's foot gets heavier on the gas pedal. She touches the screen for the radio and responds, "SCOUT 1 en route. We're two minutes out." A glance goes to Erin and into the mirror at Dev before returning to the road. "Hit the lights, Gordon. I don't want traffic. Not sure you know but 10-33 is a bomb threat. I've got my kevlar in the trunk and one extra. Clendaniel, you take it. Gordon can get out of phase. And hold on."

She whips the wheel left, taking a curve still on four wheels… although the back seat might feel a little like a carnival ride when the tires skip a little. Liz isn't fooling around — not after what happened at that concert. "Can you hold yourself out of phase long enough to maybe find a device?" Erin's power isn't as familiar to her as some of the others.

As the call comes in, Erin has a large cheese arepa half-stuffed into her face. She is very glad that, of all the things that have changed in the past decade, certain staples and neighborhood fixtures, like the Arepa Lady, have not gone under. Sometimes, you just want greasy cornmeal and mozz. It is the second half of the arepa that she has stuffed too-large into her mouth, naturally. But she should have considered this before ordering, and counted her blessings as the ride back had been smooth so far; they will inevitably hit some bumps on the Grand Central Parkway, and throws the seatbelt over her chest just in case - the roads are never good enough to guarantee one will not hit either a pothole on Roosevelt Ave or some renegade ribbing on the shoulder of the highway. And a good cop should always wear her seatbelt.

Nevertheless, the cop reflexes flare on just as the arepa, which is likely on a “top 50 worst meals to eat in a speeding car” list somewhere, makes it safely into her esophagus, and she punches the sirens, the red and blue and high-pitched shrieking ripping through their surroundings as nothing else ever truly can. “Well, to be specific, it’s not so much holding myself out of phase as it is making the things around me more or less dense. Like…extra-substantial, or less substantial. So I can-” the tires skip again and she burps up a little bit of cheese, “-move myself through it. If that makes sense. The point is, I’ll do what I can. It might be slightly easier if I’m wearing the kevlar so that I’m not balancing so much density on the surface. If it’s in a building, hopefully we’re just looking at walls and floors, but if it’s outdoors somewhere…” She trails off. “Might be a little more tricky.” She winks and stretches her arms in what she hopes is a charismatic gesture and leans back in the seat, hands linked behind the headrest, feeling comfortable in the adrenaline.

“You're not wearing your vest?” Devon, who's picking at the sandwich he'd gotten before the call came in, now spares a second to look at Liz. It's the same tattletale look he'd give her after hearing she hadn't worn her helmet either. He shifts that look to Erin, like she should maybe know better than to let anyone leave without their gear. “Gordon can take the spare.” Which means, given the more casual tone he's using, that he's got his on beneath his jacket. Maybe it's just a Wolfhound thing.

He shoves a bite of sandwich, turkey and ham with cheddar tomatoes, into his mouth. It'll likely be the only bit of lunch he gets until after the call. The rest is wrapped again, and set to the side so he can check through the rest of his gear.

The reply on the radio is acknowledged, the scream of the sirens not managing to cut that message out. It takes, with the sirens and Liz's leadfoot, four short minutes to navigate to the correct road in the revitalized neighborhood. Slowing to try and consider which side of the street the emergency is on, the lights stay on but the siren quiets when at least one of the problems reported clearly identifies itself.

On the sidewalk on the north side of the street, four people stand in front of an apartment building with smoke coming out a third story window on its western face. Bizarrely, smoke is also coming from the sidewalk entrance as well, which is pulled partly open— save for that a padlock and chain keeps it from opening enough for the man trying to enter the building to successfully slip inside.

He lets out an anguished, wordless yell as he stops trying to impatiently force himself through, stepping back from the locked door which still has a bent bobby pin hanging from the padlock. Owing to that the three men on the sidewalk don't have the hair for it, chances are it belongs to a face more familiar to Devon and Elisabeth— that of Ourania Pride.

Something else familiar to Elisabeth, and recognizable to Erin, is painted in black by the barred entrance. The stylized outline of a single, rising flame— the right side of it hooked out at the bottom almost in the shape of a beak. Christ, it's been months since they've seen it, but the picture of the graffiti from the Searchlight Salvage firebombing had hung up in the SCOUT detectives' workspace until maybe a month ago.

They can hear in the distance the different spin of a fire engine's siren, but it's a faint thing— for now.

The more agitated of the men out front, his brown eyes widened, looks back to the patrol SUV and its occupants as they exit. "My daughter—" he exclaims to them, an accent shaping the sounds of his vowels to a lower pitch. "She's on the fifth floor! She's alone! And we can't…"

Inside the doorway, on the other side of the fire, two people have stopped at the bottom of the stairs to marvel at the fire blocking the exit most available to them. Seeing that, one of the other men on the sidewalk takes a step back, a conflicted look on his face. "If we can just—" He fights down his panic, turning to the new persons as well as the woman who'd been trying to help. His hands held up are to demonstrate them with his knuckles out to those he's showing them to. "I have an ability, I could try and clear a…"

He trails off, anxious. He can try, if he gets a cleared path.

“I’m trying,” Ourania whispers mostly to herself and not for the first time. It isn’t as though she has the right tools available to her to make quick work of the lock. The sound of approaching sirens, while not unexpected given the current circumstances, still makes every hair on the back of her neck stand on end. She pushes to her feet quickly and backs away from the chains holding the door in place, turning to look at who’s come along.

Already, she’d started to hold her hands where they can be plainly seen, but two of the faces that emerge from the vehicle are known to her. It’s Elisabeth she knows best, and it’s her she jogs toward, blue eyes wide. “We need a bolt cutter!” Her gaze shifts toward the trunk of the car, then back to her friend. “Don’t suppose you’ve got an axe in there?” It was just her birthday, after all.

As they pull up, Elisabeth climbs out of the vehicle quickly. She doesn't respond to the 'not wearing her vest' observation. She was wearing it earlier! Just not right this second! The sigil on the building makes her face grim, and then the guy says his daughter is caught inside. Blue eyes sweep the frantic crowd and she murmurs, "Shit."

In a normal patrol car in the old days, the trunk contains such seemingly random things as a Slim Jim and bolt cutters along with a fire extinguisher. The blonde can't remember if those things are stocked in the cars anymore, she rarely has reason to look. "I think we have bolt cutters…" And although she trails off, she's reaching in to pop the trunk. "I know there's a small fire extinguisher. Sir, can you tell me what your ability is?" If he can clear a path, maybe Gordon can get to the trapped girl…?

Erin, suspecting she knows what Elisabeth is thinking, starts strapping on the spare gear in the back of the vehicle (gear which, she thinks with annoyance at Devon, is by rights hers, considering that she practically lives in this hunk of junk). “I can’t phase the girl through the walls with me, if that’s what you’re thinking,” she preempts. “I’ve never tried to phase another person. Sounds gross, honestly. And complicated. There’s too much density in a person to even bother trying.”

She checks her holster, does the wallet-keys-phone dance equivalent of her police gear, and then turns to the bystander, sweeping a stray hair from her forehead, now greasy with sweat from heat beginning to radiate outward from the building. “But depending on your ability, sir, it might be more helpful for me to go ahead and look for what could be a path. Or, if you’re up for a super fun bonding experience, I can go with you and help you clear one. You know, weaken walls, make floors stronger so they don’t collapse under us, yadda yadda yadda.” She grins out of the side of her mouth to Elisabeth and says, conspiratorially and quietly, “I like to think of it as harm reduction. As in, preventing the harm of falling through a hole, Looney Toons-style.”

In a moment of slow comprehension, she says, “Oh! Right. A bolt cutter? That sounds like a lock. I can also just…weaken the lock or the chain so someone else can hit it off with the butt of the fire extinguisher. Just don’t hit my hands, please. Whatever you prefer.”

“I can carry her out,” Devon says with a look up the building. The scene brings back memories of the flu that ravaged the city in the months leading up to the war. Then it was terrified, irrational people willing to burn their neighbors at just the hint of someone being ill. He’d made similar rescues then, too. “My ability’s kind of like telekinetics. Works on people.”

Returning his attention to the street side of things, he starts toward the building. Ourania is given a literal second look. He recognizes her, from the diner for sure. Something tugs at his memory like he should know her from somewhere else, too, but he can’t place where. A frown and shake of his head dismisses the notion for now and he starts looking at the door, studying the chain and padlock.

“Prybar might work.” Devon glances up at the interior. “Could always shoot it off too, if nothing else.” By his tone, he’d rather that be a last resort. Too many people around to possibly catch a ricochet.

"I could— try to hold it in one place. Make a path," the man with the ability explains as Erin steps forward to lay her hands on the lock around the handles of the glass double-doors. "Try to make it safer, but I don't know for how long."

The man worried about his daughter looks to him in surprise. "Onveer, आप ऐसा कब तक कर पाए हैं2" he asks as the lock is altered, solid steel weakened to something far more brittle.

"जुलाई," he admits as the pair of bolt cutters are brought to the lock, splitting it like it were melted butter. July, it sure sounds like. Between the group, the door is swiped again and this time when it buzzes open, they can swing out freely. Onveer lifts his hands, focusing down the hall now that he can clearly see. At first invisibly, the flame curling around the floor and up the wall is buffeted from side to side.

Then, an uneven bubble of a purplish-blue sheen draws itself over the flame, trying to contain it, choke it out. He struggles clearly with it, and it's unclear how long he'll hold out. The girls on the steps down run past the temporary containment of the larger flames, rushing out onto the sidewalk. Their relief washes over Ourania powerfully as they gravitate her direction rather than the cops…

A sensation followed immediately by confusion. One of the girls wonders, "Why haven't the…?" Their eyes lift up to the fire detector on the wall in the entry hall, showing signs of tamper.

The father of the group looks to Devon and then rushes inside, risk be damned. "We live on the fifth floor!" he exclaims as he runs for the stairs. His feet take him past the scattered glass remnants of a thrown firebomb that's undoubtedly the source of the fire here, and for now, no additional smoke floats its way down from above.

On the way to the stairs, the fire alarm stationed in the front entry sits unpulled, but also untampered with.

Rounding the stairs to head down comes the freckle-faced figure of Harry Stoltz, coming to a jarred halt to see that there's others coming up. "There's another fire on the third floor," he barks for the sake of those inside as well as those at the door who might be bending their ear this way. "End of the hall, covering two doorways so far."

He then steps out of the way to let those this personally and professionally impacts resume their desired course from here.

Ourania, no longer working on the lock, holds out her hands toward the fleeing girls, a gesture of support, should they wish for something to hold on to. “It’s okay. You’re okay. It’s safe here.” She only hopes she isn’t accidentally lying about that. “Stay clear of the building,” she warns all the same, pointing across the street. “Stand over there. Get some distance. You’ll want to make sure the way is clear when the fire department arrives.”

Her head lifts, worry creasing her brow as she looks the way the girls came from. With the fire in the entry contained, she doesn’t wait for an invitation and instead sprints forward. The alarm pull may not be tampered with, but the fire extinguisher is gone entirely. “See if you can smother that thing,” Ourania says of the fire being choked of oxygen by the forcefield.

Either he’ll manage it, or he won’t. She grabs the lever, and she pulls. Anyone in the building not yet aware of the fires above and below is about to be. If he can get the foyer under control before it becomes a blaze, the exodus will be that much safer. “I’m going to find others further up.” That’s said as much to the people she’s leaving on the ground level as it is to the man she’s about to meet on the stairs.

The warning look he receives as she approaches tells Harry that his partner will not be dissuaded from her pursuit. Ourania intends to fight upstream as long as it takes to pinpoint the last unmoving signatures of panic.

Taking in the scene, Elisabeth nods to Devon. "If you can get a clear path through, go." Sending him into a burning building — sending anyone into a burning building — is always a dicey prospect and it twists her stomach slightly. "See if you can yank one of the fire pulls on the way in." She pauses and looks toward the Wolfhound operative who is also still her son in all the ways that matter to her. "If it gets bad, back the fuck out, Clendaniel. I mean it." She won't have him losing his own life futilely — there's a line when you do this kind of job.

"Gordon, go through the building and see if you can find a clear path for them to get up there." Elisabeth motions Ourania back toward her as the team best suited for the fire goes in, hoping the forcefield holds long enough for Devon and Erin to find a way up to the child. Into her radio, she also says, "Dispatch, get me those fire teams here fast. Warn them it's multiple ignition points and likely accelerant fueled."

Erin nods and, with a deep breath, rushes into what, on any other day, would be a very ordinary, very normal white-and-black tile foyer, dirt in the grout and notices on garish paper pinned to walls or taped to mailboxes.But no, the dirt in the grout has long incinerated by the acceleration of the fire, the notices curled to charred black wisps. The containment does not look as though it will last long, but she is grateful for it for now, and glad she did not bother to bring the fire extinguisher, its cumbersome uselessness naught but a burden in such conditions.

Leading Devon, she skirts the fire as widely as she can to the right, towards a narrow stairwell. The stairwell, she keenly notices somewhere in the back of her mind, also may have been tampered with; the fire marshals had a lot on their plates these days, but there was no way, even in a prewar building, that the stairwell would not have had a basic fire door on the landings. Was this the long con, or simply the lax city maintenance of a historically poor neighborhood?

“All right, Clendaniel,” she puffs, legs turning to lead in this heat and oxygen-poor air, “let’s go to three first where we know there’s a fire, scout for people, and then bang up to five as quickly as we can. Hopefully the kid knows to open a window and start waving a towel around, but I don’t think it’s smart for us to split up.”

And without waiting for a reply, Erin barrels out into the third floor hallway, lettered apartments on both sides, the cold stone under their feet turning hotter as they stand, the fire supernaturally hot and blocking two doors close to the end on their right - apartments which, blessedly, do have fire doors, doors which probably would have said 3F and 3G were the numberplates not completely disintegrated - and she runs right through the wall and into the entry hall of 3J, on the corner. “I’m sure I don’t need to say this, but don’t follow me unless I tell you to!” She shouts as she, on impact, makes the wall so immaterial that it is nearly transparent, and then disappears into the opacity on the other side. And, muffled, “backdraft is no joke!”

Devon reaches for the alarm as he starts through the newly opened door, but finds another hand has beaten him to it. His eyes track after Ourania and Harry, brows furrowing slightly. Something about the woman still prickles, like he should know who she is. The thought is fleeting, interrupted as Erin starts up the stairs. He follows, taking the steps two at a time.

He barely pauses on the second floor landing. A passing look is sent down the hallway, but whatever Harry and Ourania are up to is on them. He nearly continues up to the fourth floor, only stalling when Erin speaks.

But he isn't given the time to offer up an alternative plan, when the cop goes running off again. "So much for sticking together," he deadpans. A look is given to the stairwell — if they split, they could cover twice as much ground, though the caveat to that is neither of them getting injured.

Devon pounds his fist against the wall, then starts down the hallway. Heat and smoke are ignored, though he keeps an arm over his mouth and nose as much as possible. He plots out his own course, starting with the nearest apartment, and pounds heavily against the door. "NYPD!" he calls out before crossing to the next nearest door and banging loudly against it. "Building's on fire! Evacuate now!”

The moment Ourania flips the alarm, the building interior begins to scream in shrill bursts. For whatever reason the sensors hadn't kicked on, the pull still works just fine. The cluster of persons on the stairwell wend their separate ways, Erin and Devon fanning out on the third floor to initiate evacuations; the resident let in with them continuing on higher along with Ourania and the grudgingly reluctant Harry.

No additional fire greets them on the fourth or fifth floors, a silver lining for knowing what lays for them below. The fight upstairs becomes a fight indeed against residents who emerge from their apartments, the emotions ranging from irritated and inconvenienced to worried panic in those who are heading either for this set of stairs or the external fire exit stairs at the back of the building.

Harry pulls Ourania back and out of the way on the half-landing between the fourth and fifth floor when he sees a crowded stairful of persons descending. Letting her be trampled isn't his intention here. He carries with him an unnerved edge of irritation with all of this, uninterested in letting her be caught in the crush. "O," he asks impatiently. "What are we doing?"

But from where she's standing, she can feel it now— one signal in this sea of emotion that's different than the rest. One calm, seemingly at peace.

It's on the fourth floor. She can pinpoint it in her senses if she focuses in.

Pulled out of the way, Ourania fits herself against her partner. Her world feels like it keeps flipping topsy-turvy. Her stomach keeps lurching and there’s an ice pick trying to be shoved through her eye socket when she broadens her focus too much on the landings, checking at the crest of each floor to see if it’s the right one.

When Harry questions her motives for pushing them in this direction, the blonde angles her head upward and looks at him with wide blue eyes and slightly parted lips. She looks vulnerable in the wake of the ask, like maybe she wants to ask herself the very same question.

But then her head turns sharply, her focus sharp as a laser in an instant. In a sea of panic, a ping sends back a ripple of calm. “I’ve found something,” Ourania tells Harry. There’s no I think to soften that statement. This isn’t a supposition, but a declaration. Yes, something here is not right, and she’s found it.

With an anchor to catch hold of, the vertigo begins to subside. The headache will take longer to rid herself of, but that will come. And with any luck, she’ll have something to show for it. “Come on,” Ourania urges, releasing her white-knuckled grip of the front of her fiancé’s coat before bursting from the stairwell door and into the fourth floor hallway.

Outside of the screaming building, Onveer struggles to suffocate the fire in the building's entrance with his flickering forcefield. It's weak, but it holds in the smoke, which seems to do its own job of dampening its potency. While lights flash in the hall and the fire alarm screeches, a dozen people make their way down to that first floor landing and out to the sidewalk in spurts.

Some of them had wondered what was even wrong until they'd seen that. Bewildered, a young man still in a logo-embroidered polo from his workplace at a nearby restaurant turns to Elisabeth. "What's going on?" he asks her, surprised as much to see the fire strugglingly contained in the lobby as he is to see a police officer already here.

Goddamn it… Elisabeth is tightening down the straps on her vest as she watches her team head in — and Ourania and her companion heading inside instead of away too!

Her primary concern right now is the evacuation, though. Dessa is a big girl. "People, I need you to move quickly and calmly down to the end of the block, please," Elisabeth directs by pointing along with augmenting her voice only enough to make sure people can hear where she wants them. "Take a head count of your household and make sure you have everyone. The fire department is on the way."

She looks at the man who spoke to her, a brow quirking upward. "There's a fire in the building, sir. We're evacuating it now. Just stay back a bit."

What she's worried about, though, is getting her people out of the building. She moves away a few feet and keeps her voice from traveling to anyone next to her. Into her commlink, she murmurs quietly to Devon and Erin, "Guys, remember that this is also a bomb threat — move fast and get out." She does not like that her people went in without a bomb squad. "Dispatch, ETA on the Bomb squad?"

«Looking at 15. Fire will be there sooner than that.»

Erin can hear as much from her radio inside as well when she walks through the wall into the kitchen of the fire-trapped apartment. The bulk of the front door is beginning to color with the weight of the fire on the opposite side of it.

"Shit. Shit." Sounds of panic resound from the bedroom. A clatter of a pulled drawer bouncing on the floor as it's tossed aside. The frantic activity pauses, followed by a brisk, "Hello?"

In the hall to the bedroom, a man with close-cropped brown hair appears, one hand on the door as he looks across the space to where Erin's entered. "How did you get in here?" he asks, bewildered. But that's not the important part. "Can you get me out?" Behind him is a trail of bedclothes and other clothing tied end over end.

"I-I'm the super," he explains quickly. "I called 911 about the fire. These kids in masks came banging on my door, and when I didn't open, they threw a fucking bottle against the frame."

“NYPD,” Erin says in answer to the first question, vague enough to know that most people don’t ask follow up questions these days. “I — hold on,” she says, tilting an ear to her right shoulder to hear the radio chirp, first in Elisabeth’s voice, then in Dispatch. It’s not that she had forgotten about the bomb threat so much as made a snap-judgment call about the safety of these civilians. Elisabeth would understand, she hoped. Devon hadn’t seemed reticent to help out, either. But she’d worry about that small breach in protocol later.

“Clendaniel,” she says into the radio, “We’ve got someone in 3H. Kitchen. Building super. I’m going to try to get him into the hall via 3J. He’s an eyewitness to how this hot mess started. No time to wait for you to get in here, so meet us there.” She peers over the super’s shoulder and at the window of his bedroom, noticing a depressing lack of fire escape. Even a rusted one would have been better than this right now and she can’t blame the attempted rope trick.

“Sir,” putting on her best soothe-the-masses voice despite the heat-and-adrenaline sweat matting the hair on her forehead and gumming up the crooks of her elbows, “I’m with SCOUT. Here is what we’re going to do. I will weaken the walls and you will walk through them. We don’t have a lot of time, but we’ll go slow enough for you to be comfortable. The sensation may be a bit odd, but that is normal. No doors will be opened, do you understand? I will follow you. You’re the super, so you probably know the fire stairwell there. We’re going through the walls so that we don’t encourage the fire any more.” She winks, a show of humanity. “Not that it needs it. After you.”

Her hands make contact with the wall to her left, the shared wall between 3H’s kitchen and whatever was on the other side in 3J. A closet, maybe? It didn’t matter. The building was getting hot and smoky and they needed to make this quick. “Once we’re downstairs and safely out,” she says over her shoulder, “You’ll need to talk to my colleagues about what you saw and these kids in masks. Now, trust me. You’re probably familiar with Harry Potter? Just walk right through the wall. I can’t hold it forever.”

There is no difference in its appearance to the naked eye. No shimmers, no sparks, no disappearing act. But to Erin, who can feel the molecules shifting underneath her fingertips, feel the density lightening, she can almost believe it becomes more translucent. Less substantial. Mr. Gorbachev, weaken this wall. And she hopes that the density diffusing out to the wall’s perimeter will offset any potential heat damage, that the ceiling won’t just crumble. She has never tried this particular insubstantiation before. For possibly the first time, she wishes Devon was here. Notes for next time, then, assuming she doesn’t die of crush wounds.

Devon keeps his engagement on methodically clearing the floor, listening for voices behind doors as he orders evacuations of each apartment. At the same time, his years of soldiering keep him indirectly aware of the chatter from the radio. The exchanges, while heard, go unanswered for his part. Until he's addressed directly.

His fist pounds on a door, but before he can yell to potential occupants, Erin’s voice cuts in with her discovery. He steps back, looking down the hall in the direction the officer disappeared in.

«Copy,» he clips back. Devon starts down the hall, eyes squinting against the haze of smoke as he looks at each marked door. At 3H he turns sharply to face 3J. He doesn't bother to wait for the all clear from inside, nor does he pound on the door to alert any potential residents. He just brings a booted foot up and stomps heavily against the door just above the doorknob.

In the apartment with Erin, the super turns back to look at her in a brief outburst of dismay. "Just like—?"

He's familiar. He's of an age, after all. He still doesn't look any more at ease for it. Walking through walls isn't his ability, after all. But he doesn't pass a comment on that, just swivels his head back to the wall, albeit nervously.

"Ha ha," he remarks to himself without particular humor. "You're a wizard, Jerry." He reaches out for the wall, tentatively placing a hand against it. And— more than just that. His eyes flicker in uncertainty, and he looks to Erin hesitantly before gradually pushing his way through.

Only to let out a yelp of surprise when he emerges from the other side, knocking aside a bookcase that was several inches from the wall. "Shit—" he curses himself, a foot through the thin back of it as he escapes the wall. Then he lets out a shout when someone else's foot goes through a much larger wooden contraption.

The door to the apartment he's standing in the living room of. Devon's stomp against the door splintered the frame around the lock, and a second now sends it slamming open. "Jesus H—" The super pulls his foot out of the bookcase, looking back to the wall he just walked through and then to Devon in the doorway.

"Time to go?" he stammers.

As the door gives way, Devon steps through it in time to see the super gaping. He ticks a look past the man to the wall, then back again. The question gets a tip of his head and a hand meant to grab the super, to guide him into the hallway.

“It's clear all the way down,” Devon says, “small fire on the first floor.” It's hopefully still contained, but there are people down there to help.

Once the super is seen toward the stairs, Dev calls back on his radio. «One resident located and heading to Harrison. Waiting on Gordon.» With a couple of backward steps, he turns to the pair of apartments to keep the way clear for Erin.

Erin encourages the super out of the apartment and towards the stairs with a gentle nudge between the shoulder blades, and then turns to Devon, who had expressly ignored the not opening the door suggestion, but whose behavior had also saved them a lot of trouble and did not make anything worse, and which she privately appreciated.

“Did you find anyone - or anything - else? Super’s an eyewitness.” A beat, and then, “And we, ah, ignored that this is a bomb threat. Or maybe I just never knew. What do you say, should we keep in this hole we’ve dug for ourselves and go up to the fifth floor while we’re here, or do the smart thing?”

Erin pretends not to be the Rushes In kind of guy. She really does. Devon appears to be of the same temperament in that regard. It takes all types to run a moderately successful lawkeeping force.

The foot traffic in the hall and stairwell is down from a swell to a trickle. Through the door to the hall, the super notes that gratefully. He accepts the guidance he's given, looking back toward the blaze creeping down the hall, one blistering their way slowly. He pauses to look back to the officers, gesturing they follow too.

He pales, though, hearing what else Erin says about his building. "A bomb?" The super starts.

Doesn't seem he'd know anything about that.

Two floors above, the sound of the fire alarms ring throughout the halls, rivaled by a stern shout of "O!"

That'd be Harry, on the heels of his fiancée as she heads deeper into a building burning on floors below them. "God damn it, O." But she can feel that signal out of place in an apartment two doors from the stairwell, a sensation of peace broken only by slight stirrings. Harry's frustration burns at her back, sharp and demanding, coated at its edges in a flavor of possessive worry that's never been this strong before.

At the fiasco at the museum on Halloween, she'd at least had the good sense to evacuate with everyone else. But now, she finds the apartment door nearest the out of place emotional signature, listening. The floor is empty save for them and that third person.

And the apartment door is locked.

“Don’t you take that tone with me,” Ourania calls back between coughs into the fabric of her blouse that are not near as surreptitious as she thinks they are. “I’m not the dog.” His frustration, his annoyance, all of it is understandable and she’ll be made to apologize for it later. She’ll even mean it. For now, however, she forces the strength of his emotion to lower in volume in her perception. She needs to be able to pick up on the other little signals around her. Eyes sting as she pushes on through the hall, passing door after door until she—


That one.

One hand pushes back against Harry’s chest, all but shoving him out of her way so she can double back to the door she’s just overshot. Her hand presses to the wood, then her cheek, her eyes closed and heedless of the tears that run down her face. “This is it.” The knob doesn’t budge. It rattles uselessly in her hand as she tries over and over to make it move. Finally, the blonde looks over her shoulder to her partner, there’s no fear or concern written into her face, but a certain sort of certainty.


“I need this door opened, Ace.”

When he's pushed back, the diluted frustration takes on a more desperate edge that flares into anger, as hot as the air surely is getting below. "Odessa—" he protests just as she declares she's found what she's looking for. Like he'd foregone addressing her by her other identity, off comes Harry like a mask, Ace plainly in his place.

His jaw sets, eyes narrowed at the door. Time isn't wasted on asking why she needs this of him. Does it matter? The sooner she's done worrying about this, the sooner he drags her from the building— against her will if it comes to that. He spares a glance to make sure they're well and truly alone, then walks toward his fiancée and the door both.

Clipping through Odessa's shoulder first, he walks next through the door entirely, his body a matte block which shadow and light doesn't affect as he passes intangibly through solid wood.

The door doesn't shift, though. Ace lifts his voice on the other side. "There's a fire, let's move," comes through its frame muffedly between screeches of the fire alarm. Nothing changes, though. The deadbolt is turned finally and the door opens.

With visible frustration, he states flatly, "No one is here, O. If we're doing all of this for a pet, I swear to God…"

But he steps aside, readily allowing her past. The single source is further inside the apartment, in one of the bedrooms, peace uninterrupted.

Odessa leans heavily against the door, straining to listen for sounds of anything other than her irate lover. Her emotions are being pulled in separate directions. It isn’t a tug of war, but like a piece of saltwater taffy. Soon, she’ll be stretched too thin and she’ll snap. Cycling between calm and furious is starting to give her a headache.

Though that might also be the smoke.

When the door opens and he instantly accuses her of being wrong somehow, or of putting a pet above their safety — above Ace’s safety! — Odessa nearly snarls at him. It’s only his granting her space that keeps her from physically lashing out in a desire to both move him out of her way and get him to shut the hell up. “Stop it!” she demands, voice stern, but eyes begging. “Stop being angry with me. It’s really fucking with me right now!”

With her nearly tearful warning delivered, Odessa closes her eyes again and focuses on reclaiming that calm she’d lost her grasp of. It doesn’t take her long to find it again, the origin of the signature if not her own sense of serenity, and her stomach sinks as she wonders if she doesn’t know exactly what she’ll find.

Taking Ace’s hand in her own just long enough to give it one tight squeeze, she shakes her head. “I’m sorry I yelled. I love you. We can leave soon. I promise.” She coughs once into the crook of her arm. “Wait here. Listen for anyone else in the hallway. Any signs of help. I’ll be right back.” Odessa turns away from her fiancé and hurries back toward the bedrooms.

Wait there, Odessa tells Ace. "Like hell," he mutters in a near-snarl, incapable of quieting himself the way she might hope him to. He stays behind only long enough for his form to blur and smudge left out of visibility entirely. He remains an intangible presence by her side, off her shoulder.

The hall proves there's only a single bedroom, the other room left door adjacent, contents unimportant. Her focus is on the closed door, her hand hovering over the handle, then closing around it, then turning it in.

Outside light is shut out by darkened curtains drawn mostly closed over the windows. The clothes-strewn bedroom is unremarkable, save for the lump on the bed, illuminated by the flashing light of a fire alarm in the room. But the person curled up under the covers hasn't been roused by the light, pulled up around their head as they are.

And plainly, they can't hear the alarm.

Ace rematerializes enough that he throws aside the curtains, allowing ambient light to come in. It brings the sleeping woman to stir, her head turning, her eyes opening. She sees Odessa through blurred eyes, and with a blink, comes up to an elbow.

Now there's a measure of alarm in the room the same as was held by the other building tenants, if at first for an entirely different reason. She turns her head to see the bright flash of the fire alarm, eyes widening as she looks back to Odessa.

Grateful, if bewildered.

Ace reacts exactly as Odessa expected him to. Her nails dig into her palm to help her suppress a smile. It’s relief that washes over her once she sees the bedroom, and that isn’t what she was expecting. Her shoulders sag while Ace opens the curtains.

While it’s clear the woman has seen the flash of the alarms, Odessa points to it anyway to indicate that’s why she’s here. “We need to go,” she says plainly. A troubled look is flashed to her partner. “I need you to see if we can go back the way we came,” she tells him. The floors below could have cut off their route by now. “For now, we’re safe here. Please.”

Ace rolls his eyes between Odessa to the woman they've discovered up here. The thought of leaving her alone, no matter with who, appeals to him very little. But confirming they had a way out was, after all, just as important.

The deaf woman lets out an audible gasp as the man leering at them smudges at his edges before he's wiped entirely out of sight from them both. She takes a panicked moment to collect her phone and the magnetized external earpiece for a cochlear implant into a hand apiece, casting one last helpless look around her room. Nothing seems worth waiting around long enough to jeopardize them both for.

She looks to Odessa with a nod, following after her lead.


The sidewalk's become a crowded place over the last few minutes. Liz has been directing the emerging foot traffic to a safe distance away from the building, been keeping an eye on the forcefield-wielder— Onveer— as he finishes smothering the fire out in the front entry. He looks exhausted, like he might need dragged from the hall when done. From the outside of the building, the flame on the second floor— directly above the entryway— can be seen as a red hue even through the darkened window.

Reprieve finally comes in the scream of the fire engine nearing, parting traffic and making it to the building faster than estimated. Firefighters stream off the stopped vehicle to begin setting up hoses to hydrants and entering the building. One peels off to head in Elisabeth's direction. Around the firefighter's arm is a reflective silver band marking them as one of the fire company's lieutenants.

"Is everyone out of there?" they ask, looking to what they can see of the doorway situation, verifying immediately that there's at least one person who's not. "Call said accelerant-fueled, more than one site. Where do we need to point at?"

"I have a team inside the building, clearing it as we speak." Worried blue eyes are on the building and she's listening to Devon and Erin in her earpiece. "But you need to make a judgement call — this was first reported as a Bomb threat, Lieutenant. I don't want your guys running in there like that without warning!" Her own people already knew the threat. "We need to keep as many people as far back as possible."

Inside the building

After the briefest moment’s delay, Erin makes the executive decision: we are already here, it is our moral imperative to move forward, our job was to search for stragglers. But the smoke, once grey, is starting to thicken. To blacken. She fishes a respirator out of the vest, its seemingly infinite pockets, and keeps it in hand. “Clendaniel, we leave now, too. We can’t do our jobs dead.”

Rushing in has to wait for now.

By the way Devon turns for the stairs up it's both clear that he's finished following NYPD’s procedures and that he's faced similar if not worse. He does hesitate at least, two feet on the stairs, a hand grasping the railing to aid in pulling himself up. The upper floors may yet be clearer of smoke and still hiding residents afraid to leave because of the unknown dangers.

The look he shoots at Erin implies as much.

But a beat passes and his grip on the railing loosens. Devon turns, motioning with a hand for Erin to head down and he'll follow.

The two of them descend down with the building's super, the only semi-eyewitness to the fire's start, and usher themselves out the dispersing smoke from the front hall of the building. They run into no one else, hear no one else coming from above, but see many more people than before out on the street outside when they catch sight of Elisabeth conferring with the firefighters who are preparing to rush in.

"I'm making the call to mitigate the certain damage that will be done if that fire's allowed to spread," the lieutenant confirms. With a wave of their arm, they motion their people to continue moving, several on their way in while others prepare the truck and hydrants.

Three more persons emerge from the haze of the main hall and pass them on their way out. A middle-aged woman goes first before Ourania and Harry, the latter guiding the middle out with a hand held at her shoulder to keep her before him and from going back. The steering hand is tense, at any moment liable to turn into something more insistent and forceful to keep her going forward rather than back into the smoke.

"That's enough altruism for the day," Harry murmurs tightly only once they're clear, green-grey eyes scanning for additional danger once they're out. "Let's go."

And oh, how she wants to go back and make another sweep for herself, but Ourania is not equipped and Harry’s arm and his will are both stronger than she is right now. She’ll have to hope that pulling the alarm alerted everyone else to get to safety, and that the one they found is the only one who would have needed them.

Because, whether he thinks so or not, it was both of them needed for this endeavor. Without Harry to scout the way and open doors, she wouldn’t have made it as far as she did. Not without having to expend much more effort, which would have cost her time.

The irony of that thought isn’t lost on her and it leaves her feeling even more sapped of energy. Ourania acquiesces to her partner with a shaky nod. “Take me home,” she agrees. She’s absolutely going to hug her puppy fiercely once she gets changed out of these smoky clothes.

The Deaf woman turns to find where they've gone, wanting to express thanks, but Harry's steered them away already. It's anyone's guess which way they went, with how people suddenly move. The crowd of residents shifts back when the glass of the second floor hall window shatters, nursing the flame with a renewed air source.

The firefighters who charged inside the smoky, but extinguished front hall ascend to deal with it, even as from the outside the remaining members of that team prepare to douse the fire through the new angle they have on it from here.

«What were you thinking?»

The scream of nearby sirens finally close in after feeling like they'd never come. The bomb squad arrives on the scene with their heavy gear, take one look up at the fire, and immediately signal to establish a wider perimeter back and follow up on clearing nearby buildings with more urgency.

«This isn't the 90s. When you do things like that, it's not anonymous.»

The area is cleared, the first responders joining with other officers who arrive. There's a certain tension that hangs in the air. The firefighters grimly pursue containing the fire, aware of the additional threat that could explode around them at any moment.

«Why did you make that call?»

But the fire is contained, thanks to the aggressive tactics used by a force long-suited to firefighting indoors. The bomb squad tags in, beginning their search the whole building over, to find…

«You're lucky I got assigned to do the follow-up.»


«Jesus, Sahara, say something. Why did you do something so stupid?»

The quick addressal of the fire undoubtedly saved lives, the acts of those who were first to the scene directly responsible for that. But there's no answer to why they didn't find the reported explosives.

Later that evening


The word explodes from Sahara without her usual sunny disposition. She hasn't turned on the lights in the living room, having been curled up on the couch and sitting in silence just listening as twilight encroached. Listening for the thud of a distant explosion or continuous sirens. The ring of her phone had broken the silence thunderously, unexpectedly.

"When they showed up on my doorstep, they were working on bombs. When Xpress happened, they carried them onsite in backpacks. Because, hon, what else was I supposed to think? When Evran came home bragging about how many people…" Blinking rapidly, she takes in a breath that doesn't feel deep enough, her chest tight.

The reply in her ear is short, but there's enough of a protest on the other end that it inspires her. Suddenly Sahara can breathe, and the backlogged words spill all at once as she strives to make her point. "All I could think about was the percentage of them in our population. That number that keeps us safe and gives us an edge. Only one percent of the people hurt by what they did were going to be Evo mutants. And they're just lashing out, not even—" Sahara's voice catches and she presses a hand to her mouth, steadying her breathing to prevent the shakiness in it from carrying. "They're just kids, rebelling like kids, not really thinking about furthering a cause as much as they lie to themselves they are. They're just…"

"I couldn't risk it." Sahara finds herself tearful without truly meaning to be. "That Ev and Rome weren't going to bomb a bunch of innocents."

"In the end, can you even really say that what they did do is much better?"

The other end of the line either can't or won't say, and eventually the screen of her cell lights up when the call ends. Sahara lets her phone slip from her ear and dejectedly reaches for the controller to turn on her TV. With the way the day's gone, she knows better than to stay up waiting for the boys to come back. They almost never do on days they run off and pull stunts in the name of Pure Earth.

Despite everything and what she's done, she just hopes they come back at all. That they slip notice, maybe, just a little bit longer. Enough to stay ahead of trouble when it comes swinging back.

It's a foolish hope.

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