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Roy was still furious when they exited the elevator on the ground floor. Brackett needed to know just what was going on up there. He knew the Chief surgeon wasn’t in charge of the unit but he certainly had enough pull with the powers that be to do something about the way they treated their patients. John couldn’t be the first person they’d done this to but he hoped he’d damn sure be the last.
Dixie was at the base station as they came down the corridor. Her blue eyes widened worriedly as she spotted the group. She came around the base station to squat next to Johnny. His head lolled as his body drooped limply in the chair.
“What happened?” She questioned as she grasped the young man’s wrist to get a pulse.
“They sedated him,” Roy replied tersely.
“Why?” She barked angrily as her hand shifted to John’s stomach to get a respiration.
“I guess he wouldn’t let the nurse check the Foley, so she strapped him down and sedated him for being uncooperative.”
Dixie’s eyes were narrowing with every word Roy spoke and Joanne almost pitied Nurse Lewis even if she didn’t work for the blonde nurse. Dixie was on very good terms with Mr. O’Brian, the hospital administrator even though she’d turned the offer to be the Director of Nursing down.
“Are you serious? John’s weak as a kitten right now…How much trouble could he give her?”
“Enough for her to slap him,” Joanne added, turning John’s arm so she could see the bruising above the restraint marks. Dixie’s mouth tightened ominously.
“He’s a little confused right now but he’s not a prisoner,” she bit out.
“All they had to do was call us. We would have come back and talked to him,” Jo added as she swept back the dark hair of her young friend.
John’s head jerked up, fighting the effects of the drug he’d been given. Roy’s hand rested on his young friends shoulder, rubbing gently. “Easy junior,” he soothed. “We’re gonna get you home soon.”
Dixie nodded and returned to the base station. “I’ll get Kel. I want him to check Johnny over before you take him home.”
Brackett came quickly. “Let’s get him in three,” he barked, furious that Johnny had come to harm after he’d assured them that he’d be fine.
How many others,” he wondered idly as he and Roy lifted Johnny onto the table. Kel’s eyes narrowed as he took in the bruising. “What happened?”
Roy went through the story again. Kel pulled the gown away from John’s chest to see the marks the restraint band had left behind. It was obvious to him that it had been way too tight and improperly used.
“I’ll be sure to have a long chat about how they handle John in the future,” he said angrily.
“Future…?” Roy questioned. “John’s not going back up there.”
“Roy…I know you’re upset and rightfully so but the facts that we discussed originally are still in play here. John is going to need daily therapy for the first couple of weeks and that could put a strain on you and your family…”
“I don’t care,” Roy barked. “I won’t have Johnny abused by these people.”
Kel sighed. “I understand and I won’t allow it either and I’ll go up and talk to them but…”
“No…I won’t risk this happening again…John can’t handle being restrained.”
Kel and Dixie both frowned. Kelly Brackett knew Johnny had been an abused child and he’d seen him react badly to restraints but he’d never heard all of the details. Roy alone knew the extent of that abuse and what John had been subjected to by his mother’s family.
Dixie on the other hand may suspect that Johnny had been abused but she’d never had it confirmed…Kel couldn’t tell her and Roy would never betray John’s confidence and John was afraid, as he had been with Roy at first, that he’d lose her respect if she ever found out what had happened to him.
Roy knew better…Dixie loved the young man like a son and she’d never lay the blame for it at his feet but it was John’s decision alone to tell her or not.
Roy pulled him away from the others before he continued. “You know John was abused Doc?” He explained quietly. Kel nodded. “Well his Uncle used to grab his wrists to control him…Broke them a couple of times.”
Kel nodded again. “Yes I know,” he agreed, remembering his shock when he’d first seen those X Rays a few years ago.
“And he got frustrated a few times when he couldn’t hang on to Johnny while he tried to…You know?” He said softly as he cast a glance toward his sleeping partner. “He’d tie his hands…”
“Oh dear God,” Kel muttered, finally understanding. “I had no idea,” he mumbled in dismay.
“There’s no way I’m sending him back up there.”
Kel pursed his lips in thought. He understood Roy’s point but still…John needed care. “Roy…,” he began.
“No..,” Roy interrupted, sensing the argument that was about to come. “John’s coming home…Rose is hiring a private nurse to help Joanne out…We’ve still got some things to work out but don’t worry…We’ll figure it out.”
“Alright Roy…I can’t tell you no…It’s your decision but I hope you know what you’re in for.”
“I do doc.”
They returned to Johnny’s side. The young paramedic was still restless and resisting the effects of the mild sedative. Roy gently brushed the sable hair away from his forehead, knowing it wouldn’t take long for John to drift off under the light stroke of his fingers. He always did.
“Dix…Johnny’s going home. Pull the catheter. There’ll be less chance of infection that way as long as you have help to get him to a bedside commode until he’s strong enough to use the wheelchair to get to the bathroom,” he said to Jo. She nodded. “You’ll also need to get him a wheelchair and anything else you think they might need to borrow for a couple of weeks,” Kel told the pretty blonde nurse.
“Right away Kel.” Dixie grinned. She hadn’t wanted to fight with Brackett but she agreed wholeheartedly with Roy. John needed to be with his family, even more so in his confused state of mind than if he’d been able to fully grasp the reasons behind their decision. She had no intention of sending him back up there to give them another crack at him.
She smiled to herself at the thought of the visit to the seventh floor that she intended to make with the Director of Nursing after Johnny left. Miss Lewis…Whoever she was needed a reminder about how Rampart treated its patients. This wouldn’t be repeated with anyone else.
He looked to Roy. “He’s still having some headaches from the infection but they should begin to ease up as his brain heals. I’ll get you his pain meds for that and I want you to keep him on anti seizure medication for a while longer just to be on the safe side. I’ll have Dixie take care of that for you as well.”
“Thanks doc,” he said gratefully.
Brackett checked Johnny over quickly. He seemed to have finally dozed off and the dark haired doctor smothered a grin at how easily Roy could settle the younger man with just a reassuring touch.
“Well…Other than a few bruises, he’s none the worse for wear. I’d say you can take him home. If you have any problems, give me a call and I’ll see what I can do to help. I’ll call Dr. Mitchell in the Physical Therapy department down stairs. I’ll see if he can let you bring John there instead.”
“Thanks Doc,” Roy said sincerely, grateful that Brackett intended to help him and not fight him on this.
He quickly gathered his young friend in his arms and lifted him back into the chair. John’s head jerked up briefly but he quickly nodded back off. Roy pushed him out the door.
Brackett and Dixie followed them out and stood watching as the small family group headed down the corridor. “Up to taking a ride Dix?” He asked softly.
“Upstairs to have a talk with Dr. Graham and his nurse,” Kel said through tight lips.
“I thought you’d never ask,” Dix replied sweetly.
Kel and Dixie stepped off the elevator on the seventh floor. The nursing director Anne Mitchell followed close behind.
They approached the doorway in time to hear Dr. Grahams’ worried voice. “Kel trusted me…He sent that young man up here as a special favor.”
A reassuring feminine voice replied. “Relax Fred…He’s just one of his paramedics not a personal friend…,” she said snidely.
“Ahemmm,” Kel interrupted.
They both turned toward the door…Their faces paling at the sight of Kelly Brackett and Anne Mitchell. “Uh…Kel,” he stuttered but recovered quickly. “Good to see you again…Come in,” he said jovially.
“This isn’t a social visit Fred,” Kel replied warningly.
“I see,” he said, tossing a worried glance at Nurse Lewis. “Ah…This is my head nurse…Barbara Lewis.”
Kel nodded and turned to Dixie. “This is my head nurse…Dixie McCall and of course you both know Mrs. Mitchell.”
They nodded. “Look Kel…Mrs. Mitchell. I know why you’re here. That little misunderstanding with Mr. Gage and Mr. De Soto but I can assure you that I’m handling it and…”
“Yes we heard…,” Dixie interrupted angrily. “Johnny’s just one of his paramedics.”
“Which by the way is incorrect…I consider Johnny to be a very good friend which is why I sent him up here,” Kel clarified.
Graham grimaced while Miss Lewis at least had the good graces to look slightly embarrassed at having been overheard. “He was fighting me,” she said defensively. “He pushed at my hands…I…I reacted badly…I’m very sorry,” she said not sounding sorry at all.
Dixie’s hands hit the desk as she leaned forward toward the woman. Miss Lewis took a nervous step backward at the icy look of rage in the blue orbs. “You HIT a patient and that’s bad enough but this patient was special…” Kel reached out and grasped Dixie’s arm but she shook him off. “Let go of me Kel,” she growled.
Anne Mitchell saw the fire in her long time friend’s eyes and stepped in. “That’s completely inexcusable Barbara,” she said quietly. “And it concerns me that he may not be the first.”
“He was being difficult,” she insisted.
“That’s no excuse…,” Dixie shot back.
“He’s recovering from encephalitis Nurse…He’s weak and uncoordinated as a three day old kitten,” Kel barked. “How difficult could he be?”
“I felt threatened,” she said defiantly.
“Then you’re in the wrong line of work,” Dixie snapped.
Kel looked to Graham who seemed content to let his nurse bear the brunt of their anger. “What about you Fred?” Brackett asked. “I sent Johnny up here and assured his family that he’d be just fine and then the first thing I know he’s in my emergency room…Bruised, restrained, sedated…Care to explain how you let that happen?”
“I…Uh…I…Don’t know Kel…She came to me after the fact and told me he’d been fighting her,” he said with a shrug, throwing the blame back on the nurse. Brackett shook his head in disgust. Graham should be in control of his own department.
“He was,” Miss Lewis asserted.
Anne’s dark eyebrow arched upward at the excuse. “So you restrained him tight enough to leave bruises on his wrists and ankles?” She reminded the older nurse.
“I told you…I felt threatened.”
“And then after he was in restraints, you felt you needed to drug him as well?” Dixie growled.
“Without the benefit of a doctor’s orders apparently,” Anne added.
The once smug nurse was looking decidedly uncomfortable now and she stepped back as Dixie approached her once again. “That young paramedic is a good friend of mine. I was all for sending him up here because I thought you’d help him…I had no idea that he’d be abused right here in the hospital he works out of. He puts himself on the line and gives it all for every patient he treats…He had a right to expect the same from you,” she growled, angry that Johnny had been hurt not just once but twice by two different nurses in this hospital…She wouldn’t put up with any more.
Kel reached out to snag her arm and pull her back before she really cut loose on the hapless nurse. “Okay Dix…I think you made your point. We’ll let Anne and the Board of Directors handle it from here…” Graham swallowed hard. He’d understood Kel’s words loud and clear.
Anne smiled her thanks and patted Dixie’s arm reassuringly. “Don’t worry Dixie…No one else will have to deal with what Johnny did…I’ll be sure of that.”
The pretty blonde nurse sheathed her claws and nodded her head, assured that Anne would handle this end of it as well.
It was getting dark by the time they turned up Washington Street toward the De Soto home.
The drug had finally won the battle completely and Johnny was sleeping soundly when they pulled the car into the driveway. He lay curled in the backseat with his head in Joanne’s lap. She trailed her fingers absently through the dark hair.
Despite the fact that John was twenty six, he still often reminded her of a child when he slept though it really wasn’t that much different when he was awake. Either way…John still retained a wide eyed innocence about him for all his ‘worldly’ airs that always tugged at her heartstrings…His dark eyes could often hold a vulnerable, lost look or sparkle with impish mischief and his sensitive mouth could turn up in a mesmerizing crooked quirk or down with a heartbreaking sorrow that could rip at your soul.
This young man had come into their life and captured their heart as if he’d been born to their family. She felt as if she’d somehow betrayed him by abandoning him to those people and if she felt that way…Surely Johnny felt it as well.
She glanced up as Roy pulled the back door open and leaned in to gently tug his young partner to a sitting position before carefully scooping him into his arms. This was the part he worried over with Joanne caring for his young friend. How would she handle this? He could only hope Rosemary had located a burly male nurse but then again…How would his young friend feel about that? John’s head lolled a bit as Roy readjusted his grip but quickly drooped once again to lie on his shoulder.
The blonde fireman gritted his teeth angrily at the drugged condition of his friend. John had one of the most gentle hearts of anyone he’d ever met and he didn’t deserve to be treated this way by anyone. Roy didn’t always have a lot to say about most things, with a more live and let live attitude than his young, somewhat obsessive and opinionated partner but this was different… He hoped Brackett planned to handle this or he would.
He shook himself back to the moment as Joanne ran ahead of him to open the door.
Rosemary’s gasp of shock as they entered, warned them that they’d been waiting for their return. “Is he alright?” She asked worriedly as Roy carried him through the living room to the small area off the dining room that had been designated for years now as ‘Johnny’s room’ though it also doubled as Joanne’s sewing room when John wasn’t in it.
“What’s wrong with Uncle Johnny Dad?” Chris asked, looking a bit concerned himself. Jen didn’t grasp that anything was wrong and merely thought he was asleep. ..Roy hoped to keep it that way.
“He’s been sedated,” Roy replied, not saying anything more with the children present.
Rose caught the glance toward the kids and bit her lip as Roy deposited his young friend onto the bed, laying him back and letting Jo pull the blankets over him. He swept the sable hair from John’s face and shook his head, praying his young friend would forgive him for putting him through all of this.
Rose read the rueful look on Roy’s face correctly and laid a gentle hand on his back. “You did what you thought was best for him at the time Roy.”
“Best for him or easiest for us,” he muttered, angry at himself for not making the effort to talk to Johnny about it, even if he was a little confused right now.
“Will he? Or will he think I just couldn’t be bothered with him like his own fam...,” he halted as he spotted Chris. He didn’t want to bring up John’s past in front of his young son without knowing whether Johnny would be upset by it.
“Well on that note then…If he’s going to be upset with anyone than it should be me.”
“Why?” Roy asked curiously.
“Look Roy, I know you think of John as your little brother and a part of your family…”
“Yeah…I do…,” he agreed softly as he gazed down at the face of the young man sleeping beside him. John stirred a bit restlessly at the sound of their voices …The black lashes fluttering against his high cheekbones and Roy reached out to smooth the dark hair back once again. The younger man resettled and slipped back into sleep at the familiar and reassuring touch.
She smiled at the tender gesture between ‘brothers’ and continued on. “But you’re really not ‘obligated’ to take care of him Roy, however he IS MY flesh and blood…So if anyone should have stepped up and said ‘I’ll do it’ it should have been me but I thought it was the right thing then too.”
Roy smiled at her, knowing she was absolving him of his feelings of guilt but he shook his head. “I never do anything for Johnny out of obligation Rose,” he argued.
“Oh I know that…You do it for the love of your friend and a good heart.”
Roy blushed at having his feelings for his ‘heart’ adopted brother so openly discussed, especially in front of his son but he grinned anyway. “Well you’re half right,” he replied not feeling that his heart had been all that good in this decision.
“Which half?” She shot back.
They all smiled but a reply really wasn’t necessary...They knew either answer would be correct even if Roy wouldn’t admit out loud to either one very often.
The blonde paramedic turned back to John’s Aunt. “So did you find us some help?”
She nodded. “Yes…An agency will be sending a nurse in whenever you’re not at home. She’ll help Jo with feeding him, bathing and shaving him as well as some of the more ‘personal’ things that Jo might be uncomfortable with until John is strong enough to help Joanne transfer him from the bed to a wheelchair.”
“But she won’t be able to lift him in and out of the car either,” Roy warned them worriedly.
“Well…Maybe between the two of us…,” Jo began. She didn’t care what it took…She wasn’t about to let them take John back to that awful place.
Rose grinned and held up a hand to stop the flow of words. “I thought of that. I have an old friend coming to help out.” Roy frowned at that. Who was she talking about but she continued on without giving them anymore explanation than that. “He’ll take him to therapy when you’re not home Roy and he can help out when the nurse isn’t here.”
“John may be… uncomfortable with a man helping him,” he hinted. Rose didn’t know for certain that Johnny had been molested by his Uncle though she strongly suspected as much. John had refused to talk about it as a teenager but his fearful reactions around strangers…Male strangers in particular gave her cause for concern.
“He won’t be with this one,” she assured him dragging another brief knotting of the brows from Roy, wondering who this person was anyway but she didn’t elaborate.
“Okay then,” he said with a relieved smile. “We have everything covered.”
“Good…Then let’s get dinner on the table,” Rose added.
“What about Johnny?”
Roy glanced back at the soundly sleeping younger man. “I think he’s had a pretty rough day. Why don’t we let him sleep off that sedative and hope it doesn’t make him sick.”
Rose and Joanne nodded in agreement. They’d give John a bell in the morning so he’d be able to let Joanne know when he needed some help.
Johnny was lightly sleeping. The sedative making it impossible for him to waken fully even as nightmares plagued his dreams. Images of his mother’s death played in his mind and he tossed restlessly. She’d left him just like his dad.
Roy’s face appeared in his dreams…Jo and the kids were with him. John wanted to reach out to him but they were walking away from him…Not looking back. “Noooo,” he moaned softly. They’d left him…Just like the others before them. Not wanted…Too much trouble. How could they have done this to him?
He heard a softly whispered voice… “I’m here junior…I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
Roy? John struggled to wake but the drug had a firm hold and the familiar touch of a strong hand quickly lulled him back to sleep. The nightmares faded.
Roy checked on Johnny several times over the course of the evening but each time the young fire fighter appeared to be sleeping. He’d only once heard a soft whisper of sound that might have been a warning that John was having a nightmare.
Roy sat next to him on the bed and smoothed the dark hair back. “I’m here Junior…I won’t let anyone hurt you,” he promised quietly. John seemed to relax a bit after a moment and Roy headed up to bed.
The De Soto family was gathered for breakfast the next morning. It was still early but the nurse Rosemary had hired would be here in a half an hour and Roy had to be at work by eight. That left them only an hour to be sure Johnny was going to be okay with all of this.
Rose had promised to be there before then to introduce them to this mystery man she’d hired to help out.
Roy was headed to the kitchen for another cup of coffee when the doorbell rang. He cringed at the sound, hoping that it hadn’t wakened John. His partner had had a pretty rough day yesterday and needed the sleep.
“Must be Rose,” he announced as he changed course for the door. He pulled it open to find John’s aunt standing there with a gentleman who looked to be in his late fifties. Tall and of average build… His dark blonde hair was salted with gray and his eyes were a warm gray covered by wire rimmed glasses. He smiled at the younger man and Roy felt at ease almost instantly.
“Good morning Roy,” she greeted.
“Morning Rose,” he replied, stepping back for them to enter.
“Roy…Jo,” she included as she spotted the auburn haired woman coming to join them. “I’d like you to meet Edward Devane. He was my husband’s gentlemen’s servant,” she explained. “He took care of my son and John as well after I brought him to live with me.”
Roy offered him his hand. “Nice to meet you Edward…I hope you have a lot of patience. I don’t think Johnny’s gotten any less stubborn over the last eight years,” he said with a grin.
Edward’s eyes traveled over the young blonde fire fighter who’d befriended John before moving to his wife. Miss Rosemary had told him that these two people had taken John in as one of their own family and changed the withdrawn and frightened boy he remembered into a different person…Outgoing, vivacious...Alive.
She’d told him that they’d broken down all of the walls he’d erected around his heart and soul and taught the emotionally challenged young man how to love and to accept being loved… something no one else had been able to do.
He was grateful…In the four years that the teenager had lived with Rose, he’d become very fond of the boy and rather proud of the man he’d become but he’d always despaired that they hadn’t been able to reach him where it mattered…His heart had remained closed, his spirit crushed and his soul empty.
“It’s my pleasure sir and I don’t doubt that for a moment,” he replied. “Master John was the most willful and determined young man I’ve ever met.”
“Ahh…I see you do know our John quite well,” Joanne teased.
“You knew Uncle Johnny when he was a kid?” A young blonde boy asked with wide eyed interest.
‘Uncle Johnny’ the boy had called him. Edward smiled and cast a glance toward Rosemary…She caught the look and nodded subtly. It was obvious that what she’d told him was true. John was family to these people. “Yes I did…He was just fourteen.”
Chris grinned…Unable to picture his uncle or his parents for that matter as teenagers. “Did he get into a lot of trouble?” Chris asked with a giggle.
The man nodded. “He got into more than his fair share,” he admitted with a smile, remembering John’s rescue of a young woman his third day there as well as his unplanned dip into the family swimming pool, he didn’t plan to admit that the young woman’s boyfriend had tried to drown him…Being picked up by the police for sneaking out after curfew as well as several other minor infractions with his friend Drew Burke.
Roy ruffled his son’s blonde hair and smiled. “My son Chris…Johnny’s his favorite playmate,” he informed the older man. “And my daughter Jennifer,” he added scooping the small blonde girl up off the floor. She looked at the man curiously. “She’s Johnny’s best girl,” he informed him.
Edward bit his lip, touched by this family’s genuine love and affection for John and the changes they’d obviously brought to his life. Edward suspected that John had been through Hell during the first years of his life but he was happy to know the latter part would be complete turnaround for the young man.
“Would you like some coffee?” He questioned the two. Their answer was interrupted by a loud crash coming from the back bedroom. “Oh God…Johnny…” Roy thrust Jennifer into Joanne’s arms before he turned and ran for John’s room.
“Chris,” Jo said quickly. “Take Jennifer upstairs and get ready for school,” she commanded, giving the boy a light push toward the stairs. He watched her go with a worried expression as she turned and followed her husband and Rosemary.
“C’mon Jen,” he murmured, taking his sisters hand though he’d have much rather followed his parents to be sure uncle Johnny was okay.
John’s dark eyes fluttered open as the sound of a bell penetrated his awareness. The room was dimly lit with heavy curtains blocking the windows. His eyes darted warily about the darkened room, searching for that horrible woman who had hit him the day before.
He frowned in confusion…He remembered being tied down…Seeing the syringe in her hand and he shivered in fear. He tried to lift his arm and breathed a sigh of relief that there was no longer anything holding him to the bed. He knew he was a bit confused but he was sure of one thing…He wanted out of here.
They couldn’t make him stay here…A willful gritting of the teeth accompanied that thought. He struggled with his wayward body…Frustrated that he couldn’t make it obey faster. He just needed to focus…Concentrate.
John panted for air as he forced himself upright against the pillows. He stopped to regain his breath, frustrated at his own body’s betrayal. He knew what he wanted it to do but it simply wouldn’t cooperate with his brain. God…What was wrong with him?
John’s breathing eased and he finally focused his rather uncoordinated movements into one mighty effort to heave himself to the edge of the bed. He grinned triumphantly but it was short lived. He knew he still had a long way to go to get out of this place and wondered idly how he’d get past the hateful nurse.
He guessed he’d cross that bridge when he got to it. John clumsily managed to push his uncooperative legs over the side of the mattress. ‘CONCENTRATE,’ he told himself as he reached out with an unsteady hand to grasp the bedside table.
His flailing hand missed the first time in the dark room but succeeded on the second. His fingers gripped tightly and he could be at least grateful that Roy had given him that ball to help strengthen his grip.
‘Roy’… Feelings of hurt and betrayal flooded his memory. He’d left him. Dumped him like some unwanted stray in this awful place. He’d trusted him…How could he have done this to him?
John pulled his sluggish body upright. The bedside table rocked dangerously as John hauled himself to his feet. His legs shook beneath him and his still fuzzy brain refused to connect properly with his body fast enough. He took one tottering step and began to fall.
He grabbed hold of the table but the small piece of furniture was never designed to handle that kind of weight…It listed sideways and John’s precarious balance was lost. They both tumbled to the floor with a resounding crash.
The bedside lamp shattered at the same moment John’s body hit the floor hard, knocking the air from his lungs. He lay there wheezing in pain and feeling hopelessly defeated. He was trapped and helpless in this place. He’d never get out.
The door flew open and several people rushed in. “Johnny!” Roy gasped as he knelt next to his young friend amidst the shards of smashed glass. “Jo…Can you get me another light?” He requested as he turned back to his partner. Rosemary ran to the window and parted the curtains to allow what little early morning light there was to shine in. “What were you trying to do?” Roy barked, fear for his friend making his voice sound harsher than he’d intended.
John recognized the voice and the tone in it. He felt hands grasp him and heard the familiar voice but it was laced with anger. “R…Ro…y?” He gasped, stumbling over the word. Memory flooded his mind. Roy had left him here and now he was angry at him for falling. He glanced up at the older man… Even in the dimly lit room, the frustration and hurt reflected in the dark eyes tore at Roy’s heart.
”Aw junior,” he muttered as he reached out to lift him from the floor.
John fended off the older man’s hands. “Do…an taa me,” he slurred defiantly.
Roy looked at him in surprise. The words hadn’t been clear but the gesture had been. Johnny was mad at him. “Johnny…I need to check you over. Let me get you back on the bed,” Roy pressed but the younger man was having none of it.
“No,” he muttered, pushing fitfully at Roy’s hands once more.
Roy felt someone move around beside him and a new voice spoke. “If I might sir,” Edward offered squatting next to John. The dark haired paramedics head snapped around and he squinted at the man kneeling next to him. He knew that voice…At least he thought he did.
“E…war?” He questioned uncertainly.
“Yes sir. Let me help you master John,” the man said as he slid one arm under John’s knees and the other behind his back and lifted him from the floor to set him gently upon the bed.
John didn’t fight and Roy was slightly surprised at the feelings of jealousy that rippled through him at his best friend’s rejection and casual acceptance of help from this other man.
The older man patted John’s shoulder. “Master John…You’re still as stubborn as ever I see,” he teased gently.
Johnny’s dark eyes darted to Roy. “Lefmee,” he whispered accusingly, sounding hurt.
Feelings of guilt stabbed the blonde paramedic’s heart. “I’m sorry Johnny,” he apologized as Joanne returned with a small lamp. He righted the bedside table and plugged it in. Light flooded the room as Roy turned back to John.
“I’ll get the broom for this mess,” Joanne offered as she turned and left.
The younger man was slumped on the bed with a mutinous pout settled on his lips. “Nah stahere,” he muttered defiantly, refusing to look at his traitorous best friend.
“I’m sorry junior…I shouldn’t have left you there,” he said contritely, not yet realizing that John still didn’t know where he was.
“Na…stay,” he slurred again.
“You have to stay…you can’t go home by yourself…You’re just stuck with us,” Roy explained, looking a bit hurt himself at this point that John was refusing to stay with them. He always stayed here when he was recuperating…Maybe he didn’t remember.
“Hommm,” he said pleadingly.
Roy sighed. “Johnny…You can’t go to your apartment. You’ve already fallen once right here…Brackett would never allow you to go home.” Roy was afraid John wouldn’t forgive him for having abandoned him in that Rehab. What could they do? He wouldn’t be safe alone at his own place…Maybe Edward could take him there but that would be tough on one man to handle all alone.
John finally raised his head, the dark eyes taking in his surroundings for the first time. He frowned as he realized that he wasn’t in the same room as before. This one was comfortingly familiar. “Hommm?” He questioned, looking confused. How did he get here? He looked up as Jo returned.
Roy suddenly understood. “You’re at home,” Roy assured him as he sat beside him on the bed.
The dark eyes shifted toward him. “Lefme,” he whispered again forlornly.
Roy closed his eyes at the hurt tone. “I know and I’m so sorry junior…We thought it was best for you at the time.”
“Dint ax… meewa I… wan,” he accused, barely understandable.
Roy sighed and reached out to grasp John’s chin, turning the young face toward him as the others looked on.
Joanne and Rosemary exchanged a worried glance and Edward smiled at the tender handling of the young man he’d grown exceedingly fond of over the years.
“I know and you’re right. I should have asked you what you wanted to do.”
“Dint wannme,” he slurred, still looking hurt.
Roy reached up to sweep the shaggy sable hair from his friend’s eyes with the back of his fingers. Jo and Rose were used to seeing this but Edward was shocked. John had rarely allowed anyone to touch his face unless it was forced on him but even then he’d remain tense and rigid. His calm acceptance of the gesture touched his heart.
John had come a long way in the last few years. This family’s love had obviously changed him.
“That’s not true junior. I…We…love you, you know that.”
Joanne and Rose squatted in front of him. “Sweetie,” Rose began. “Please don’t be angry with Roy. We ALL talked about it together. The doctor’s thought it was best and we listened. Roy and Joanne didn’t like the idea at all…None of us did but we thought it was best for you.”
“We didn’t know anyone would hurt you like that,” Joanne added.
“And we should have talked it over with you first,” Roy said contritely. “We just weren’t sure how much you were able to understand right then.”
Johnny rolled his eyes in irritation. “Canna tah goo…Na stoo…p…d.”
Roy chuckled at the indignant tone and pulled his friend into his arms briefly. “I know you’re not stupid Junior…I never thought that and I’m sorry. Will you forgive me…Us?” He amended, glancing at the two women.
“Nah senba?” He questioned warily.
“No junior…We’re gonna keep you here and just take you to the outpatient therapy. It’s where you went after you broke you’re leg and after you woke up from the coma…Do you remember?”
John frowned. He remembered the first time after he’d awakened from the coma but the memory of the broken leg was a bit hazy still. Then again it had happened closer to this illness. His short term memory was obviously still fuzzy but he didn’t want Roy to know that for fear that he’d send him back.
“Yesss,” he finally slurred.
Roy had seen the frown of confusion and ruffled the dark hair with a grin. “Don’t worry junior…It’ll come back,” he teased.
John’s face flushed a bit at having been caught in the half truth but Roy didn’t seem all that upset. He smiled back. “Frrgiv ya,” he murmured.
“Good…Now I’ve got to get to work so I’ll give Edward here a chance to visit before the nurse gets here. She’ll help Jo and Rose with your breakfast okay?”
“Yeah junior…I’m leaving. I’ll see you in the morning okay?”
John nodded. “Kaaay,” he agreed.
Roy kissed Joanne and headed out, stopping long enough to hug both kids as they came down the stairs. “Uncle Johnny okay dad?” Chris questioned worriedly.
“He’s fine…He was a little confused about where he was and tried to get out of bed. He fell but he’s okay.”
“Good,” Chris breathed out in relief.
“C’mon Chris…I’ll drop you at school on my way to work.” Jen headed to the kitchen to find her mother while Chris followed his father out.
Johnny turned back to Edward. “Whhhy eeer?” He managed to get out.
Edward looked confused and Joanne giggled. “Our interpreter just left,” she teased, “but I’ll do my best. I think he wants to know why you’re here?” Johnny nodded vigorously, drawing a laugh from the others just as the door bell rang.
“Must be the woman from the agency,” Rose said. At Johnny’s questioning look she explained. “I hired a private duty nurse for you.”
John frowned again with a wary look in the dark eyes. After the last two nurses he’d encountered he was none too sure of this idea.
“Don’t worry baby,” Joanne said dropping a kiss on John’s forehead. “This one works for us,” she assured him. “I’ll be right back,” she promised him as she headed out the door.
Rosemary caressed his cheek gently before she followed Joanne out, leaving John alone with Edward.
They opened the door to find an older, heavyset lady standing on the on the steps. Her round and wrinkled face a mirror of kindness. Her blue eyes twinkled and her white hair was pulled back and tucked neatly under her cap. Jo sighed in relief.
“Are you from the nursing agency?” Jo questioned.
“Yes ma’am,” the woman replied as Joanne stepped aside and let her come in. “I’m Mrs. Petersen dear.”
“I’m Joanne De Soto and this is John’s Aunt…Rosemary Hughes,” she said indicating the other woman who stood close by.
“Yes ma’am…You spoke to my employer yesterday. I saw your nephew’s name on the list and volunteered for this assignment,” she admitted quietly.
Rose shot Joanne a confused look. “Do you know my nephew?” She questioned curiously.
“Yes ma’am…I believe so. You see a couple of years ago your husband,” she said looking at Joanne… “And Mr. Gage were on their way home from a camping trip and came across an accident.”
“That’s right,” Jo agreed, remembering them telling her about the incident. She frowned as she remembered what had happened the next day. Johnny had been bitten by a rattle snake during a rescue and been very sick.
“Well…They brought the victims to Dr. Frick’s clinic and that’s where I met them the first time.”
“You were the nurse they talked about?”
“What are you doing here? I thought you were from out of state?”
“My sister lives here. She had a mild stroke a while back and I moved down to take care of her. I work for the agency part time and when I saw the name I asked if I could take this case. I liked both of those young men very much.”
Joanne smiled. “They thought pretty highly of you as well,” she assured her. “But I have to warn you…Johnny had Encephalitis…It was a complication from having the measles. I’m not sure he’ll remember you right away though his memory is getting better all the time.”
“I understand Mrs. De Soto.”
“Good…Then let’s go see Johnny.”
John watched his family leave before turning his attention back to Edward…His dark eyes questioning the man’s presence in his room.
Edward smiled back. “Your Aunt asked me to come and help you out until you become a bit more mobile sir,” he said formally.
John frowned. His being here was really putting the De Soto’s out and they were going to a lot of trouble to let him stay at home with them. John felt a bit guilty about his earlier attitude but he hadn’t understood why they’d abandoned him then.
Johnny frowned …Had they really thought that they were doing what was best for him? He guessed they probably had. Roy wouldn’t hurt him on purpose…At least he didn’t think so. Hr returned his attention to the older man annoyed with himself for having let his mind wander.
Edward had retired when Johnny had turned eighteen and moved to LA to go to the Fire Fighters academy. He must be doing his aunt a favor. John frowned, surprised that he remembered that. Maybe that was a good sign.
“S…ry be pro…em fer ev…r..on,” he managed a bit indistinctly.
“You’re no problem…I’ve missed seeing you master John,” he assured him, hoping he’d understood him correctly.
John smiled. “Jo…nee,” he corrected.
It was Edwards turn to frown but John nodded eagerly at the uncertain look and Edward grinned at the little boy quality that the young man had never lost. “Alright…Johnny.”
The door opened and the three ladies entered the room. The dark eyes lifted but grew wary as they noted the woman dressed in white.
Mrs. Petersen threw a concerned look at Joanne. “He doesn’t remember me,” she stated sadly.
“Yes well give him a moment. He’s had a couple of run ins with nurses who weren’t exactly angels of mercy,” she explained.
“I see,” she said sounding a bit miffed at those who would tarnish her profession. She stepped closer to John. “It’s Ozella Petersen Mr. Gage…Do you remember me?” She questioned.
John’s brows furrowed in confusion as he stared at the kind face smiling down at him. Memories suddenly assailed his brain. Fuzzy, half flashes of cars smashed on the highway…A woman lying in the street as he leaned over her…The sting of a snake bite.
John’s breaths grew rapid as he stared back at her. “Remmber…Snak,” he panted fearfully.
Jo sat beside him. “Johnny? Sweetheart… Are you alright?” She questioned worriedly as she rubbed his back.
He looked at Jo…The memories seemed to clear. He was safe at home with Roy and Jo. He calmed his breathing and glanced around…There were no snakes…No accidents. He looked up into blue eyes that crinkled around the edges as other memories rushed back. “Cooo…ies,” he murmured.
Mrs. Petersen smiled and patted his hand. “That’s right Mr. Gage…I made you cookies.” John smiled while Rose and Joanne exchanged a glance. He was definitely improving. Mrs. Petersen’s heart melted at the crooked little boy grin John threw her way.
Edward had to chuckle at the woman’s sigh. Master John hadn’t lost his touch. Mrs. Petersen glanced toward him and he smiled and offered her his hand. “Edward Devane,” he introduced himself. “I’ll be here to help you with Johnny when Mr. De Soto isn’t at home,” he explained.
The familiar form of address drew a raised eyebrow from Rosemary who’d never heard Edward be so informal with John or anyone else before then and she guessed it was at her nephew’s request. John always hated the presumptuous British title of Master John.
“Have you all had breakfast yet?” Mrs. Petersen asked.
John shook his head while the others nodded theirs. “Then if you’ll show me the way Mrs. De Soto…,” she let the suggestion hang.
Jo bristled a bit at the idea of someone else cooking for Johnny but that’s what they had hired her for after all. She waved the woman toward the door.
“Naah…Mu…shy,” Johnny grumbled after them. “Ken eat.”
The woman’s white brow climbed questioningly and Joanne giggled. “Johnny’s been on a pretty bland diet since he was having some problems chewing and swallowing early on,” the younger woman explained.
“I promise you Mr. Gage…It won’t be mush,” she assured him with a grin as she followed Jo out.
Roy slid in just ahead of Chet, John’s fall having made him late getting to work. He fielded a couple of questions about Johnny from C shift and managed to get at least a couple of sips of coffee before Cap’s bellow of “ROLL CALL…,” brought them all to their feet to file into the apparatus bay.
Hank’s brown eyes swept over his crew, assuring himself that all were present and ready to start the day. Roy’s just under the wire arrival brought a concerned furrowing of the older man’s brows since De Soto was never late. “Everything okay Roy?” He asked.
His question brought the entire crews attention to the blonde paramedic. “Did they move Johnny like they planned?” Mike asked.
“Yeah…We moved him,” Roy said in disgust.
“What happened?” Cap asked worriedly, hearing his senior paramedics tone.
“What happened? Johnny got REALLY upset is what happened.”
“Oh no…I was hoping that being at Rampart would be calming for him.”
“Maybe it would have if he hadn’t been terrorized and abused.”
“What?” Hank barked.
The others broke from the line to close around him anxiously. “What did they do?” Chet snapped angrily.
“Johnny was scared and upset about us leaving him up there…We thought he wasn’t understanding but apparently he’s doing better than we thought. He informed me this morning that he couldn’t talk good but that he wasn’t stupid.”
The others grinned but then remembered what Roy had said. “What did they do him?” Mike asked worriedly.
“I guess he wanted to go home and we weren’t getting it ya know? He got upset…Didn’t want them touching him so the nurse slapped him…”
The crew bristled indignantly. Cap’s eyes nearly bugged from his head. “Is she still employed?” He bit out angrily.
“She was yesterday but that wasn’t the worst.”
“There’s more?” Marco squeaked irately.
“She tied him to the bed and drugged him.”
“Poor John,” Cap murmured. “So how was he this morning…You said you spoke to him?”
“Yeah… I guess he didn’t know where he was and he tried to get up this morning… “
“Alone?” Mike asked.
“Yeah…He fell. That’s when we had our little talk. After we got him up off the floor, he pretty much told me off. He was upset that we hadn’t even asked him what he wanted to do ya know? What could I say…He was right?”
“Well pal…It was for his own good. At least until that nurse hurt him. She’s not going to be taking care of him anymore?”
“No…We got him outta there.”
“Where is he now?” Chet asked.
“Is Joanne going to be able to handle him Roy? He’s so limited… mobility wise I mean.”
“His aunt hired a nurse, and one of her old servants that took care of Johnny when he was a teenager at her house came this morning…He’ll help them out when I’m not home.”
“What about the rest of the time?” Marco questioned.
“That’s my job…Chris understands that he may have to give up some dad time and Jo knows I’ll be tied up with him as well but they both were willing to make that sacrifice for Johnny. Hopefully it shouldn’t take too long to see Johnny improve. You know how determined he is.”
Cap looked thoughtful for a long moment. “That’s not exactly fair Roy,” Captain Stanley commented, drawing a raised brow from the younger man.
“What do you mean Cap?” He asked.
“Well that’s gonna be kind of hard on you…Working full time and taking care of John too, not to mention Joanne and the kids.”
Roy couldn’t believe Cap’s attitude. He thought he’d understand. The younger man finally shrugged. “He’s my kid brother Cap…My best friend. What else can I do?”
Cap rubbed his chin. “Let me help?” He said quietly.
The others grinned and nodded. “I’d like to help too,” Mike offered.
“Count me in,” Marco added. “We can all help out.”
“Well speech therapy is out pal…I don’t want John talking with a Spanish accent,” Cap teased.
They all chuckled at that. “I’ll take him to physical therapy Cap,” he amended.
“Hey…I wanna help too,” Chet said, looking a bit red faced at the admission.
“How about if Mike and I take him to speech therapy?” Cap suggested. “Chet and Marco can take him to physical therapy.” The Hispanic man nodded eagerly.
“That sounds cool,” Chet said agreeably.
Roy smiled at his captain and his friends, feeling tears burn behind his eyes. He blinked them away. “Thanks…All of you. That would be a big help but you know you don’t have too. I mean…Johnny’s part of my family… sorta my responsibility ya know?”
“He’s part of mine as well Roy…All of you are…That doesn’t end at the end of a shift,” Cap said seriously.
The others all looked at their Captain in surprise and then smiled, touched that he felt that way.
Eric Gibson, Johnny’s temporary replacement glanced around hoping he’d find a place and a crew this close someday.
“Thanks Cap…Thanks all of you. Maybe we can sit down after we’re done with our chores and come up with a schedule.”
The others nodded. Excited and grateful that Roy was going to let them help their young friend. It was a role that Roy guarded and took very seriously and they knew it took a lot for him to share that special bond. They had to take it just as seriously if they wanted John back where he belonged.
The day ran pretty smoothly for Johnny. Edward was on hand to move the younger man from his bed to his wheelchair when necessary and Mrs. Petersen handled the rest from bed bath to using the bathroom which left John red faced in embarrassment that he needed help with both and Joanne feeling a little displaced in her young friends care.
Edward and the nurse pretended not to notice either of their dismayed attitudes with the situation, though Edward hadn’t missed the compressing of Mr. De Soto’s mouth earlier when Johnny had rejected his help while accepting Edwards. He’d need to be sure the blonde paramedic knew Edward was here to help, not to spoil a friendship.
Rose patted Joanne’s hand understandingly. Edward had always been around since her marriage to Geoffrey Hughes and she’d been raised with servants her whole life but Joanne had all but legally adopted the young paramedic into her life and had grown accustomed to taking care of him like a member of her family. She jealously held on to that privilege. “It’s okay Jo…They’ll give him back soon,” she teased. Jo had to giggle at her own possessive attitude.
For his part, Johnny seemed to be having little problem chewing and swallowing which brought another bout of laughter from Joanne.
“What?” Rosemary asked curiously.
“I should have known the first thing he’d regain was his ability to eat.” Rose burst out laughing and nodded her head in agreement.
Despite his renewed ability, Mrs. Petersen cut his food into miniscule proportions just to be on the safe side. Jo was sure she could handle this on her own when the nurse left for the day.
Edward tried to engage John in conversation but it was a frustrating experience for both of them. He simply didn’t have Roy’s uncanny ability to understand his young partner even when he couldn’t talk and John had to frequently repeat himself several times before they understood.
Still all in all Rosemary and Joanne felt confident that between all of them…Johnny would be fine.
Rose finally hugged Joanne and kissed John goodbye. “I have several days worth of meetings in Santa Barbara Háhketa but I’ll be back and I’ll call to check on you but I know Roy and Jo will take good care of you and so will Edward.”
John nodded and gave her a small smile of understanding. His Aunt had been on the run since he’d first met her. Her husband had died only a few days after Johnny had arrived and she’d taken over running his business as well as the many committees she’d been involved in. He was used to her disappearing from his life for weeks on end sometimes, returning with gifts and stories of far off places.
He’d been alone most of his life even on the reservation…An unwanted outsider…He’d told himself that he didn’t need anyone. Rose had tried to break through the walls but had never understood that what he needed the most was her presence in his life and she had remained on the outside looking in.
Roy was the first person to come into the young man’s life and chip away those walls until he’d finally punched holes in most of them. He still had a way to go but the gaps in the younger man’s defenses were definitely getting larger all the time.
The rest of the day passed quickly after she left. Johnny slept a good part of it while the kids sat with Edward and listened in rapt attention while the man regaled them with stories of their Uncle as a teenager and even Mrs. Petersen and Joanne couldn’t help but laugh along with them.
Roy stopped at the base station after his first run. Gibson had followed the stretcher into treatment room two, leaving the blonde paramedic with Dixie.
“So how’s Johnny doing?” The pretty blonde nurse asked curiously.
“He took a fall this morning,” Roy admitted. “But he’s okay,” he added quickly at her worried look.
‘What happened?” She asked with a frown.
“He woke up early this morning before the sun was up. I guess he didn’t realize where he was and he tried to get up by himself and he fell.”
“As long as he’s alright,” she said looking a little less tense.
“He was pretty mad at me for leaving him there,” he said ruefully. “But physically he’s okay.”
“I’ll bet he found a way to tell you so too,” she teased.
Roy grinned. “Oooh Yea…ah…Johnny gets his point across real well whether he can talk okay or not,” he agreed. “So what happened upstairs?” He asked, letting his smile fade.
“Well…Dr. Graham is no longer running the show up there… Dr. Schwartz is now in charge. Miss Lewis is now among the unemployed and she can consider herself lucky that we didn’t file assault charges against her for slapping Johnny.
Roy smirked back. “I was afraid there might be some against me and Jo,” he teased drily.
Dixie looked a bit sheepish herself. “She might have had a case with me too if Kel hadn’t been there,” she admitted with an arched brow.
Roy laughed. “Well at least I can reassure Johnny that she won’t be around to bother him.”
They both glanced up as Kelly Brackett stepped from one of the treatment rooms. He spotted the pair and moved quickly to join them.
“Hi Roy…How’s Johnny this morning?” Roy repeated his tale, drawing a concerned frown from the dark haired doctor. “That’s what I was afraid of.”
“Well we have help now,” he assured him quickly, afraid Brackett would try and convince him to put John back in the rehab. “Rose hired a private nurse and one of her former servants came to help out as well. He can lift John when he has to and the guys at the station volunteered to help out, so we should be okay.”
Brackett frowned but nodded, knowing Johnny wasn’t a usual case and Roy was probably correct. He’d be better at home than alone, away from his family. “Alright Roy…Where Johnny’s concerned I’ve learned over the years that you know best.”
Roy sighed in relief that Brackett wasn’t going to fight him on this. Gibson came out of the treatment room up the hall and came toward them, joining them at the desk. “You ready partner?” He questioned the blonde paramedic.
“See ya doc…Dix,” Roy said, tossing them a wave.
The following morning Joanne was surprised to hear the doorbell at a very early hour. Edward was off since Roy would be home and Mrs. Petersen wasn’t due until after Johnny’s first therapy session ended. Jo had assured her that she could handle John’s breakfast herself so she was curious who was at her door. It obviously wasn’t Roy since he would have just walked in.
Jo opened the door and grinned as she spotted Hank Stanley and Mike Stoker waiting patiently on her steps. Her blue eyes looked beyond them searchingly and Hank quickly reassured her. “Roy and Gibson had an early morning run. He was just leaving Rampart when we left the station so he should be home soon.”
“Thanks Hank,” she said appreciatively as she stepped back to let them in. “But what are you two doing here? Did you come to visit Johnny?”
“Uh…Roy didn’t tell you?” Hank asked.
“Tell me what?”
“We’re all gonna be helping out with John for the next few days till the doc thinks he’s able to get around a bit better. That way you and Roy won’t have to handle this all alone.”
“Oh Hank…Mike, thank you. That’s wonderful of both of you,” she said as she waved them toward the sofa. “Can I get you some coffee?”
“That would be great,” Mike agreed.
“Johnny’s already had breakfast but we were waiting for Roy to come home to get him into the bathroom for a shave and to get him dressed. He wasn’t happy about my having to feed him and he’s um…REALLY embarrassed at the idea of my helping him with the bathroom part,” she explained.
Hank grinned. “I can at least take care of that. Let me go get him into the bathroom or we’ll be late,” he said as he stood up and headed for John’s room…Mike followed, while Joanne went to pour coffee for her two guests.
Hank knocked on the door quietly. John’s faltering voice responded. “Co…In.”
Hank pushed the door open. John’s dark eyes lit up and a broad grin crossed his features as he spotted his Captain and MIke. “Caa…p…Mi,” he said haltingly.
“Hey pal…How are you feeling?” The older man asked.
“Beh…er ram..meber buh stiw tak nah gud,” the younger man managed awkwardly.
Hank and Mike exchanged an uncertain glance and a small shrug, not at all sure of what Johnny had just said.
“Well…,” Cap said, rubbing his hands briskly together. “Joanne said you’ve already eaten pal so let’s get you bathed, shaved and dressed so we can get you to speech therapy on time.”
John’s eyes widened in surprise. “Wair…Ro?” He questioned warily, wondering if it was earlier than he thought. He glanced toward the bedside table to check the time. He frowned at it’s absence...That was odd…He was sure there used to be a clock there.
“He had an early call out. He’s running behind but Mike and I are gonna get you ready and take you to therapy today. Chet and Marco are gonna pick you up from there and take you on to physical therapy.”
John frowned uncertainly. He wasn’t sure he liked this plan at all. He was still embarrassed by his limitations. Roy was one thing… His friend would never harass him or laugh at him if he failed but what about the others? Mike and Cap might be okay but Chet and Marco? He wasn’t sure he wanted to humiliate himself in front of the two linemen. None of his friends had seen him for several days since his fever had broken and he hated the thought of Chet’s taunting comments when he heard him talk for the first time.
John bit his lip nervously at this piece of information, feeling very frustrated with his inability to communicate his worry’s clearly. The simplest things still seemed to take so long to accomplish. What if this was all he got back? What would he do then? He hoped Roy would come home soon…He always seemed to understand John when no one else did.
Hank saw the worried look and suspected John wasn’t too keen on this idea…He decided to stop the objection before it could be voiced. “Not today pal, you’re stuck with us but Roy will take you tomorrow alright?” He assured him, hoping he’d understood the question correctly. He whipped back the covers without giving Johnny a chance to argue further. Hank easily scooped him into his arms and sat him in the wheelchair.
“Wa…aay,” John began to protest but Hank never slowed down.
“Mike…You wanna grab some clean clothes from the drawers there while I get John cleaned up?” He ordered briskly as he pushed the chair out the door.
Mike grinned at the stunned look on John’s face at the whirlwind that had just swept him from his room.
Hank tossed Joanne a wink as he pushed Johnny through her dining room to the bathroom. She giggled as he ignored the stammering protest, answering the younger man offhandedly. “Sorry pal…I don’t understand what you’re saying. You can tell me later okay? After we get you cleaned up,” he promised his junior paramedic as he disappeared into the bathroom.
Jo couldn’t help the laughter that bubbled out at the indignant look on John’s face as the door closed behind them.
Mike slipped from John’s room and tossed Jo a knowing grin as he cracked the door open to the bathroom and slipped inside, carrying a bundle of clothes.
John would be embarrassed enough if it had been Roy or Edward in there with him but having Hank and Mike? John would be beside himself. She hoped he would get over it and accept the idea that they were his friends and cared deeply about him and just let them help him…If not, Roy might be in for an earful, albeit slow and halting when John got home.
She giggled and shrugged to herself as she headed to the kitchen to wash the dishes.
Between the two men, they managed to get John bathed, shaved and dressed fairly quickly, leaving both men as red faced as their young charge was by the time they were through. Though Jo couldn’t tell if it was from having to perform such intimate assistance for their friend or from the rather colorful invectives Johnny had launched at them, however haltingly they had been delivered.
Regardless of the faltering quality of his speech, both men had understood quite well that he wasn’t happy about this whole arrangement. Jo hadn’t even known John knew those words.
Joanne barely had time to give Johnny a quick kiss before Hank and Mike whisked the thoroughly embarrassed paramedic out the door but at least he’d stopped protesting. He might be a bit limited physically but he understood that his Captain and his Engineer weren’t going to listen to him anyway.
Roy arrived home a few minutes after they’d left. He cringed as Jo informed him of the earlier events. “I guess I should have asked him if he’d mind the extra help,” he said worriedly, remembering John’s anger the morning before at not being kept informed of what was going on. “Guess I’ll be in for it this afternoon when he gets home.”
Jo giggled at the uncomfortable look on her husband’s face. “Just remind him that he would have been late for his first therapy appointment if he’d waited for you.”
Roy sighed heavily. “I don’t think that’s gonna matter much babe. I still should have warned him.” He blew out a resigned breath. Oh well…The damage was done. He’d just have to apologize and weather the storm.
Jo grinned as she told him about the previous day’s events, including Mrs. Petersen. Roy was overjoyed that Johnny at least had someone he liked looking after him when he wasn’t home, though he had to admit to a certain amount of jealousy at John and Edward’s relationship.
Hank and Mike greeted the Speech Therapist as they wheeled Johnny into the office. John wanted to crawl under the table at the sight of the pretty, young blonde girl who introduced herself.
“Hi…I’m Amanda. I’m your speech therapist,” she greeted brightly, holding out her hand.
Johnny almost groaned. Why couldn’t she be a nice, gray haired grandmotherly type like Mrs. Petersen?
Cap threw her a good natured shrug and shook her hand as John slunk lower in his seat and refused to stutter his way through a reply. “I’m Hank Stanley and this is Mike Stoker…We’re friends of John’s,” he introduced himself and his engineer.”
“Nice to meet you,” she bubbled as she waved them toward a table all set up with books, flashcards, a mirror and some other items. They all sat down. “Are you ready to get started?” She asked brightly at the silent paramedic who now sat staring in dismay at what appeared to him to be children’s books and toys. John wasn’t a child and he was embarrassed at the idea that she thought he was so stupid he could only handle children’s level material.
Cap gave him a light whack on the shoulder to get his attention. “John…She’s talkin to you pal? You gonna answer her?”
Johnny’s face flamed crimson and he shrugged but didn’t look up. She tried again. “Now…I know you had encephalitis and that your memory and speech has been affected and some of your motor skills as well so I need to assess how extensive it is and what we need to work on first okay?” She questioned cheerfully.
John’s dark eyes darted around the table from beneath lowered lashes. Man…How bad must he sound to them if they thought that this was all he was capable of…He suddenly felt very dumb and he just wanted to go home.
She glanced at Hank and he shrugged helplessly…Unsure of what Johnny was upset about.
“I’m told that your memory has pretty much returned is that right?”
John gave a slight nod and Hank jumped in to fill in the blanks. “I’m told that he still has a little confusion about some things occasionally but for the most part….,” he trailed off, remembering Roy’s tale about the previous morning’s events.
“Good,” she said with a smile. “Then your ability to comprehend written words also should be intact and we can just focus on getting your mouth to get in sync with your brain…You just need to relearn to articulate.”
John looked away and Hank saw the mutinous tilt of the chin on his youngest crew member’s face. “What’s wrong pal?” He questioned.
John lifted his hand clumsily and pushed awkwardly at the stack of books. “Frrr babeeees,” he slurred in disgust. His mouth twisted in an effort to bring his thoughts and his words together. “Doan wan you all lafameee,” he managed, as his chocolate brown eyes shifted away in embarassment.
Hank thought he’d managed to catch John’s intent and he glanced at Mike. The pained look on his Engineers face confirmed it. “Could you give us a minute?” He asked Amanda.
She nodded in concern and left the room to stand in the hallway outside. Captain Stanley slid from his chair to kneel next to his junior paramedic. His fingers reached out to gently tilt John’s face back around toward him. “No one is here to laugh at you John…,” he assured him quietly. “But I promised you the day we thought that Roy and his family had been killed in that plane crash that you still had a family didn’t I?”
Dark eyes lifted to meet Hank’s and Johnny nodded slightly. “Esss,” he whispered.
“That hasn’t changed …We are a part of your family too just like Roy and we’ll be at your side until you get better and come home to station 51 even if we have to drag you through understand? But Roy also has a family and he needs to spend time with them too so we offered to help. We need you back…You can do this son.”
Mike squatted on his other side. “I’d never laugh at you Johnny, you know that,” he promised his young friend. “We just all want you back so much that we want to help too ya know? Can you let us do that?”
John felt tears burn behind his eyes at the words and blinked hard to keep them from falling. “Fue…wl stoo…ped.”
“You’re not stupid John…You’ve been deathly ill and that infection is still healing but you’ve already come so far so quickly and I know if you work at this a little…You’re gonna bounce back so fast…,” Hank said persuasively. “Will you try John?” He pleaded.
The chocolate brown eyes glanced between the two men who flanked him and he finally nodded. “Kaaay,” he breathed out. Hank patted his cheek gently and returned to his seat. Mike waved the young therapist back into the room.
“Okay Amanda…We’re ready now.”
“Good John…Let’s get started.”
After about an hour of work Johnny looked frustrated while Hank and Mike beamed with pride that he’d managed to not only get through one whole reading exercise but that they’d actually begun understanding most what he was saying by the time he was finished.
Cap saw the look and suddenly grew serious. “What’s wrong pal?” He questioned.
“Nah beher…Still nah tak righ.”
“John…No one said it was going to be quick or easy okay but Roy told us that you’re getting better all the time and Brackett told him that this was perfectly normal and that you’ll improve more rapidly as your brain heals from this but for right now you need to be patient. “
“He’s right Mr. Gage,” Amanda assured him. “But we don’t want to just sit and wait for it to heal to figure out if you’ll be alright and possibly lose what you’ve already regained okay? You did very well today…Better than I thought you would honestly, considering how badly this infection hit you.”
“See there John,” Mike reassured him with a gentle pat on the shoulder.
“Stew fewl stoo…pid.”
“Well you may feel it son but you already sound much better…I even understood you first try.”
John threw him a weak half smile and a short nod but still didn’t look completely convinced.
“Well Chet and Marco should be here to take you to physical therapy soon and then you can go home to have some lunch. I bet Joanne’s come up with something really good and then maybe a nice long afternoon nap on the deck, huh pal?” He asked rubbing his hands together as if anticipating the return home.
John rolled his eyes at Caps obvious attempt to humor his recalcitrant paramedic but he wasn’t buying it. Hank and Mike might not make fun of him and maybe even Marco would refrain but Chet? Chet would mock every misstep, every fall…Every moment of weakness. John had spent most of his young life being laughed at and he didn’t want to relive the experience at this stage of his life. He shook his head.
The two older men exchanged a glance. “What is it Johnny?” Mike asked.
“Nah go,” the young paramedic slurred mutinously.
“Why not John?” Hank asked. “You did so well today. You feel sick or something?”
“Nah sick,” he murmured.
“Then what pal?”
“Chat…makfunamee fer way I talk or fall…nah wanna go.”
Hank smiled, feeling rather proud of himself that he’d understood what John had said.
“John…Chet’s not gonna make fun of you, I promise alright…But if he does you just let me know and he’ll be pulling latrine duty for a month okay?”
John chewed his lower lip in a gesture that both men recognized as hesitation but he finally nodded in resignation. He wouldn’t win this battle and he knew it. “Alrigh,” he finally agreed with a sigh.
Chet and Marco were waiting when they wheeled Johnny out. Cap and Mike turned him over to the two linemen for the short ride upstairs in the elevator to the physical therapy department.
Mike and Marco waited with Johnny while Hank pulled Chet aside. “Look Kelly, John’s a little unhappy about us helping out with his therapy.”
“He’s afraid you’re gonna razz him for the way he’s talking right now or if he falls or something.”
Chet looked shocked at first and then it turned to a sheepish look of embarrassment that Johnny thought he’d actually do that but then again…He’d never shown a lot of common sense when it came to keeping his mouth shut in certain situations.
“Uh Cap…You know I love to tease Gage but you know he’s really my friend…He means a lot to me and I’d never attack the guy when he’s down…Promise Cap,” he swore earnestly.
Cap’s brown eyes narrowed searchingly but he saw only sincerity in Chet’s blue gaze staring back at him. “GOOD,” he replied. The one word had clear meaning. He and the latrine would become long term roommates if anything happened to upset John.
They returned to where Johnny was waiting with Mike and Marco. Cap scruffed the shaggy sable hair of his youngest crew member. “You did great today pal…Roy will handle this tomorrow but Mike and I will see you in a couple of days okay?”
John nodded a little less reluctantly than he’d been earlier that morning. Cap and Mike had been a good choice to start him with. Both of them had urged him on, refusing to let him give up when he stumbled through the first part of the speech therapy appointment…Flushing in embarrassment when he couldn’t get some of the words to come out clearly but they’d never once laughed at him or made him feel stupid as he’d been afraid they would, offering encouragement to keep trying till he succeeded.
He flushed at the memory of Hank having to help him turn the pages of the book and Amanda having to hold his chin and change the shape of his mouth as he pronounced the words. It was embarrassing that he couldn’t handle something even that simple yet.
It was bad enough when Joanne had to hold his glass or spoon feed him his breakfast or when Roy had to accompany him into the bathroom but they’d at least been in this position before…They were his family…The only family Johnny had other than Rosemary… at least that he’d admit to.
John sighed heavily. He didn’t want to be selfish though…Cap was right and Roy had a family of his own and he couldn’t ask him to give up his time with them for him…That wouldn’t be fair. At least they’d brought him home and away from that awful place upstairs. He’d just have to deal with the embarrassment. Cap brought him back to the moment with a light touch on the side of John’s head. “I was proud of you pal…Good luck with PT okay?” John nodded.
They left as the elevator doors closed behind them. John threw a worried glance at his two crewmates, Marco saw it. He patted John’s shoulder reassuringly but said nothing. They wheeled their young friend into the therapy room.
John’s eyes took in the daunting sight of the equipment. He remembered having been here before and it hadn’t been fun. He was afraid it would be worse this time. Not only was he still weak but now he had to totally concentrate to force his body to stay in sync with his mind. He prayed that his brain would finally heal so that he would return to normal but he also knew there was a chance that that wouldn’t happen.
Encephalitis could leave brain damage. John’s eyes widened at the thought. No one had told him that recently…He’d learned it in training. He’d remembered that and that in itself was a good sign. His memory was definitely coming back.
A middle aged man walked across the room to join them. He smiled politely and extended his hand to Johnny. “Mr. Gage I presume?” He questioned.
John nodded and attempted to lift his arm to return the handshake. It rose clumsily but at least it didn’t flop uselessly as it had a couple of days ago. “Yee…es,” he replied.
“I’m Stan…Stan Whitson. I’m your therapist. Dr. Mitchell assigned you to me.” He glanced at John’s two friends.
“Marco Lopez and this is Chet Kelly. We’re part of Johnny’s crew with the fire department,” the Latino man explained.
“Great…So why don’t we get started,” he said taking the handles of the wheel chair and steering John toward a set of light weights. “First thing we need to do is improve your grip and your arm coordination and strength John so you can support your weight when we get you on your feet okay?”
“Kay,” he murmured as the man picked up a set of wrist weights and a tool that looked similar to a nut cracker with a heavy spring along with a stack of weights in varying sizes.
John grimaced and sighed already knowing that when he left here in an hour…He was gonna be in a lot of pain.
Marco and Chet dropped Johnny off at Roy’s an hour and a half later. It only took one look for Roy to see the pain etched into his young partners face. He quickly ushered them inside. John’s hands looked cramped and the muscles in his forearms jumped with spasms even as he held them pressed tightly against his stomach.
“I’m sorry Junior…I should have come down there... Did they hurt you?” He questioned.
Marco and Chet both looked almost as much in pain as Johnny did. “That therapist worked him real hard Roy,” Chet explained looking guilty that he hadn’t somehow stopped the man from inflicting this kind of agony on his friend. “John kept trying to tell him that he was hurting but he just said that it was normal and he’d have to work through it.”
Roy nodded. He’d been told that himself a couple of times during therapy but there were limits. He’d go with him tomorrow and check it out himself. He wasn’t about to let anyone hurt Johnny again after the last stint upstairs in a rehab.
Roy sat on the sofa opposite his partner and reached out to gently pull one arm toward him. His strong hands massaged the kinks from the long slender fingers and John’s muscles slowly began to relax under his ministrations.
“Hurs ba Roy,” he murmured through clenched teeth as his partner moved up his arms.
Roy smiled at the almost clear words his partner had just spoken. “Sounding pretty good Junior,” he assured the younger man, reaching over to ruffle the sable hair. “And I know it hurts but the therapist is right to some degree…It’s gonna be tough at first and it’s gonna hurt while you rebuild those muscles but it shouldn’t take too long…Your strong and your toughest challenge isn’t gonna be physical it’s balance and coordination and that’s all up here,” he teased as he gently tapped John’s forehead.
His partner gave him a half hearted shrug. “I kno…”
“Good…Then hopefully they’ll have you back on your feet quickly and you’ll be back to normal in no time.” John nodded hopefully. Marco and Chet grinned at each other, always amazed at Roy’s ability to talk his young partner around. “I hear you have a good nurse though huh?” Roy questioned with a smile as he switched to the other arm.
John didn’t protest the very personal touch of his best friend even though Marco and Chet were watching. Right now it felt too good to even try to resist.
He nodded again. “Mzz…Pe…er…sen,” he managed.
Chet tossed Roy a look… “Ozella Petersen…From Dr. Frick’s?” He questioned in surprise.
John smiled and nodded remembering how put out the Irishman had been that the elderly nurse hadn’t even remembered him being there that day.
Roy grinned too. “That’s right. She’s living here in LA now and she saw Johnny’s name on the patient sheet and volunteered so he’s in good hands at home now until he can get around a bit.”
Marco and Chet looked to Roy. “She made cookies,” he explained.
They nodded, glad that Roy could apparently decipher his young friends words. “Uh by the way…Amanda…That’s his speech therapist… she said to try and encourage him to say things properly…Even if you understand him when he doesn’t,” Marco explained with a grin.
John rolled his eyes at that traitorous pronouncement and Roy chuckled at the irritated expression. “I’ll be sure to do that,” he promised as he let John’s arm settle back in his lap. The muscle spasms had eased but Johnny still looked exhausted. “You hungry junior or would you rather go lie down for a while?”
John shot a glance at the other two before settling a look of concentration on his face. “Ti…red,” he murmured.
The other three men almost applauded the first clearly spoken word John had uttered in the last three weeks. “Good boy,” Roy said proudly, ruffling the dark hair. It was a small victory and John grinned and resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at Marco.
“We gotta get going Roy,” Chet told him. “But we’ll see you in three days Gage,” he promised the younger man. John nodded in resignation.
John was worn out and Roy took him to his room, easily lifting him from the chair to the bed. It didn’t take very long for him to slip into an exhausted slumber.
Roy was grateful that he wasn’t angry with him for letting the others help out. He didn’t realize that while Johnny had been very unhappy and embarrassed that his friends were having to do everything, including the most personal acts for him right now but that he also had had the time to realize that he would be asking his friend to give up his whole family life for him and had simply accepted that there was no way around that particular indignity for the moment unless he wanted to stay in the hospital.
He still had no concept that Roy and his family would have willingly done it for him if he’d needed them too or that his crewmates were happy and anxious to help out. Johnny was simply still to insecure to understand the depth of feeling his friends and this family held for him even yet and didn’t want to impose on them any more than he already had but it was tough. He felt so helpless and stupid right now and all he wanted was to get better and go back to work. How could such a simple little virus get so complicated?
He remained quiet through dinner, allowing his friend to help him with his meal but still looking uncomfortable and frustrated that he still needed help at all. Joanne, Chris and even Jen noticed and cast worried glances among themselves.
Chris was old enough to almost understand his Uncle’s discomfiture but Jen was a bit confused. She loved her Uncle whether he talked right or not and while she was a little disappointed that he was unable to hold or tickle her she was happy just to have him close and could forgive him for anything so she didn’t understand why he was so embarrassed by his limitations right now.
Roy knew how desperately Johnny hated having to depend on anyone, though over the last couple of years he’d learned to tolerate his older partner’s mother hen attitude and even to occasionally enjoy it. Roy finally reached over and rested his hand over Johnny’s, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Don’t rush it Junior…No one expected an instant recovery. We told you it would take time okay?”
The dark eyes lifted to meet Roy’s understanding blue. “Kay,” he finally breathed out in frustrated resignation. He’d just have to be patient.
Roy helped him into the car the next morning, sliding into the driver’s seat beside him. He threw a glance at his young partner who was slouched in the seat next to him.
“What is it junior?” He questioned, concerned that maybe Johnny wasn’t feeling well. “You still hurtin from yesterday?”
John gave him a half hearted shrug. “Arrrms…stiw hur some,” he replied with an intense look of concentration.
“Well junior, if you’re not up to this we’ll go ahead and cancel for today okay?”
John sighed. Physical therapy wasn’t the problem it was speech therapy and one very cute twenty two year old therapist but he knew Roy wouldn’t let him off the hook for that. “Nah th pro…lem,” he admitted sheepishly.
“Then what is it?”
“Manda?” Roy questioned, looking confused.
“Spee thrpis,” John managed.
Roy frowned before the light bulb went on. “Oh…Amanda…Your speech therapist.” John nodded. “Well what’s the problem? Was she mean?” John shook his head. “What then?”
“Purr…ty,” John managed with a grimace and turned away.
Roy threw another worried glance at his partner before he began to chuckle. “She’s pretty?” John nodded. “And you want to ask her out?” John shrugged, looking dejected. “So why don’t you?”
John shot his partner a withering glare. “Can nah as now… Soun dum,” he muttered unhappily.
Roy smiled at him tolerantly. “Hey watch it there junior…That’s my best friend you’re talkin about.”
John threw him a half hearted smile. “Can no go out,” he said, shaking his head negatively.
“Can’t go out,” Roy corrected automatically, before continuing on. “So maybe it’ll have to wait a couple of weeks till you’re a little stronger but you’re gonna get better junior…Brackett says you’ll get better every day. Your brain is still healing. Just give it some time,” he assured him. “Besides…I’m sure Amanda knows you’ve been sick right?”
“Yes,” he agreed reluctantly.
“Okay then…Don’t give up junior, you’re gonna be fine. I’d bet my life on it.”
Woo…nt go thafar,” Johnny said looking out the window.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Roy corrected gently. John rolled his eyes as he turned his head toward Roy drawing another smile from his older partner as he continued. “I would go that far John…I know you too well,” he assured him as he reached over and tousled the sable hair.
John’s hand half lifted to try and swat Roy’s away. “Quit it,” he said, sounding annoyed.
“See there,” Roy chuckled, taking advantage of the fact that John couldn’t push his hands away. He tilted his young friends face toward him. “You sound better already,” he quipped.
Amanda was waiting when they arrived and Roy took a moment to introduce himself to the bubbly blonde and tossed a wink at his partner. “Now I understand,” he said teasingly.
Johnny threw him a scowl as Roy settled into the seat beside his wheelchair.
Amanda picked up the reader he’d been using the day before but John refused to take it, humiliated by the pretty girl and her obvious idea that he was a complete idiot. She frowned in confusion at the stubborn set of her patient’s mouth. She looked to Roy for some idea of what was wrong.
“Johnny?” Roy questioned. “What is it?”
“Nah a chil…,” he grumbled pushing at the book she held out to him.
Roy bit his lip to keep from grinning and totally annoying his young partner. “Uh…Amanda. I don’t suppose you have something a bit more mature to read from do ya?” He hinted at the mutinous scowl on Johnny’s face.
She suddenly seemed to understand her patient’s reluctance and smiled as she laid her hand over the handsome paramedics. “Is that what’s bothering you John?” She asked softly. He nodded without looking into the soft blue eyes gazing into his face.
“Can read…Was sik…Nah stu…pid,” he managed as his cheeks flushed scarlet in embarrassment. John hated feeling so helpless and unable to express himself clearly.
She squeezed his hand gently. “I’m so sorry…I should have explained all of this to you better. I know you can read…You did it yesterday very well. I’m not giving these to you because you can’t read anything above this alright? These books aren’t to teach you to read…You already remember how to do that. These are all geared at helping you regain the muscle control that helps you speak clearly…They’ll help you form your words properly again.”
She reached up to lightly touch his forehead. “When you’re born all the neurons you will ever have are already there but there are very few connections. In early development, the neurons form trillions of connections. These connections are fine-tuned by the neurons' electrical activity. This disease attacked your ability to pass those messages from place to place…It threw up roadblocks in the neuron transmitters in your brain John. …It’s blocked your ability to tell your mouth to move in certain ways…Just like your hands and legs.” John nodded his understanding of what had happened to him. “Now you’re getting better. Your speech will improve daily and so will your coordination to walk and manipulate objects as the infection recedes but you need to help it along by re-teaching your brain to pass those signals properly just as if you were a child again and starting over the rebuilding of those connections. Those roadblocks are rerouted or removed so you relearn to connect your brain to your body,” she added. “And these books are designed to do that.”
John sighed in defeat, not looking totally convinced. Roy reached over and took John’s free hand. “C’mon Johnny…I need you to try…For ME. I NEED you back in that squad with me and I’ll be with you every step of the way Junior.”
John’s dark eyes met Roy’s in silent understanding. Roy wanted his brother, his partner, his best friend back at his side. They both needed the other. “Kay,” he finally agreed as he reached a bit clumsily for the book.
Roy took Johnny up to physical therapy an hour later. His hands rested lightly on his partners shoulders as the elevator carried them upward. John sat slouched in his seat, looking depressed. Roy heaved a frustrated sigh “You did great today junior. I was proud of ya,” he assured his friend.
“Stil cannah talk righ,” he complained quietly.
“You will…It’ll go faster in time.”
“Nah fas enof…Wanna ge beher.”
“You ARE getting better. You’re way too hard on yourself Johnny,” Roy said gently as he squatted next to his friend. He turned the dejected young face toward him. “You’re being very impatient even for you Junior. Give it time okay?”
The dark eyes rose to meet his. “Try.”
“Okay.” Roy stood as the elevator doors slid open.
“Welcome back Mr. Gage,” Stan Whitson said as Roy wheeled him inside.
The blonde paramedic held out his hand. “Roy De Soto,” he introduced himself. The other shook it, looking at Roy curiously. “I’m John’s partner with the paramedics…I’m also his next of kin and his medical surrogate so I’d like to know exactly what the plan is for Johnny’s therapy since I can’t be here with him every time.”
Whitson looked at Johnny in annoyance. “I explained it to Mr. Gage yesterday,” he said shortly.
Roy smiled politely. “Yes, well in case you haven’t noticed, Johnny’s having a bit of trouble explaining things right now. I understand that he has a lot of hard work ahead of him but I also want to be sure he doesn’t come home every night with his arms and hands in cramps either,” Roy replied tightly. The frosty tone was clear and Whitson nodded, looking a bit chagrined at his lack of care or understanding for his patient.
“I’m sorry…I didn’t realize that he was in that much pain,” he murmured guiltily.
“Well he was…,” Roy said patting his friends arm. John smiled gratefully at him, though he was slightly flushed in embarrassment at his friends over protective streak. “So what’s next?”
“We’ll continue to work on strengthening and increasing the coordination in John’s arms for a day or two to be sure he can support his weight and then we’ll be able to get him up on his feet.”
Roy nodded his agreement with that plan. “Alright…How soon will we be able to let Johnny work on being able to transfer from his bed to the chair and back? He hates being dependent on other people to have to lift him in and out of his chair,” Roy explained, giving John’s arm a squeeze.
John nodded his agreement with that statement, grateful that his friend knew him so well and was there to speak the words he had so much trouble getting out right now but the man’s words disappointed him.
“I don’t believe he’s quite strong enough for that just yet. His coordination is still a bit shaky and I’d hate to have him fall.”
"Me too," Roy said, patting his young friends shoulder at the sigh of frustration that slipped from Johnny’s lips at that pronouncement. “Be patient junior,” he said softly.
The other man saw it as well… “We can work on strengthening your grip and those arm muscles today alright?” he questioned nodding toward the small weight set on the table.
John shrugged half heartedly and Roy smiled behind him, knowing his partner was disappointed…”You ready to get started Junior?”
“Re…dy…Guess,” he mumbled.
Roy brought Johnny home and got him settled in for his usual after lunch nap. He still tired easily and Brackett and Roy both hoped that the young man’s normal energy and exuberance would return soon…A tired John Gage just wasn’t natural for any of them though it did give Roy and Joanne a chance to talk a bit a little more privately.
Chris and Jen lounged out on the carpet in front of the television. Their chins propped up on their small hands, seemingly engrossed in the epic battle between the Road Runner and Wile E Coyote.
“So how was he today?” Jo asked quietly.
“I thought he did great,” he assured her.
“But…?” She prompted at the subtle phrasing.
“He doesn’t think so…,” he admitted.
“He’s just too impatient with himself Jo. He wants an instant recovery and that’s not gonna happen and he’s just…Well he’s got this really cute speech therapist and he’s really embarrassed about reading these children’s books in front of her.”
“I see…,” she said with a grin. Roy smiled back.
“It’s a good sign babe…” Her brow arched questioningly. “He must be getting better if he’s noticing girls again.”
She giggled. “The first two things to come back to him…Eating and women in that order,” she teased. “So what does this pretty therapist have to say about our boy?”
“She says he’s doing great and that he just needs to practice more but like I said…He’s a bit embarrassed by it so…,” he finished with a shrug.
Chris tossed a glance over his shoulder at his parents and their quiet conversation before turning back to the TV as they continued to chat.
“What about Physical Therapy…How did that go?” Jo questioned.
“A little better than yesterday I think. His therapist and I had a little…Chat.” Jo grinned knowingly…She knew Roy would never allow anyone to abuse John again. He’d already been hurt too much and by his own family. “Johnny won’t be coming home with muscle cramps again, I promise you.”
“Good…,” she said emphatically, irritated that her young friend had been left in pain once again by the people who were supposed to be there to help him.
“He did well there too…Whitson said his hands and arms are strong enough…He really didn’t lose much of his muscle tone in those three weeks but he just needs to work on getting his dexterity back and getting his brain and body in sync then he’ll be ready to try transferring from the chair to the bed and standing up.”
“What’s dex…terity dad?” Chris asked rolling onto his back. Jen cast a glance over her shoulder but quickly returned to the cartoon.
Roy shot a surprised glance at his son. He hadn’t realized the eight year old was listening. “Being able to easily move objects with his hands…Johnny’s lost that coordination and he needs to be able to get his brain to communicate with his body and mouth again,” he explained simply with a smile.
“How would he do that?” Chris asked.
“Well…Today his therapist had him placing cones one on top of the other and then stacking plastic blocks without knocking them down.”
“How’d he do?” Joanne questioned.
“He’s frustrated…I mean he did great but it’s just not happening fast enough ya know? We keep telling him it’s time and practice.”
Chris looked thoughtful as his mom replied. “He’ll understand better when he sees some real improvement,” she reassured her husband with a smile. She had a lot of faith in that young man. She’d put her money for a full recovery on him any day.
Johnny was feeling better by dinner time and Roy helped him into his wheelchair and brought him to the table. “Wan…na sit chair…,” he said nodding at the regular dining room chair.
“Okay partner,” Roy agreed as he bent to lift him.
“Ken…do,” he insisted waving Roy off.
“Johnny…You haven’t tried this yet…,” Roy began worriedly.
“Try naow,” he persisted.
“Okay junior,” he acquiesced, moving closer just in case.
John’s hands gripped the arms of the wheelchair and his face took on a look of determination as his family watched expectantly, desperately wanting to see him succeed. He pushed upward and shifted his weight to the left.
He almost made it. He lost his grip on one arm of the wheelchair, sinking down an inch too much to make the smooth transfer to the other seat. The dining room chair skidded sideways as he threw out his hand to catch himself. Johnny tumbled from his seat but Roy caught him before he could hit the floor, lifting him easily into his arms and setting him on the chair.
“Dam…mit,” Johnny mumbled as his face flamed in embarrassment.
“It’s alright junior…It was a good first try,” Roy assured him.
“Nah gud…still kennah do,” he shot back angrily, looking discouraged.
Roy sighed in frustration as he squatted next to his young friend. He reached up to turn John’s face toward him but the dejected dark eyes refused to meet his. “Look at me John,” the older man insisted.
John heard the shortened version of his name and knew Roy wouldn’t budge until he gave in. The chocolate brown eyes finally rose. Roy lifted his hand to sweep the sable hair from his forehead. “You’ve just got to be a little more patient. You’re expecting too much of yourself too soon okay? You did good to even try this today. Please…Just wait a little longer before you get upset that you can’t do some things yet alright?”
“Som thins…?” He questioned in disbelief. “Kennah do an…thin,” he muttered dispiritedly.
Roy’s hand curled around the younger man’s neck as he pulled him into a comforting embrace. “You’re already sounding better. You were able to lift your weight out of that chair even for a few seconds…That’s more than you could do yesterday and tomorrow you’ll do even better understand?” He said against the dark head pressed against his shoulder.
“Yes,” he whispered.
“Just don’t try it without me okay…Don’t rush yourself…If you get hurt, it’ll only set you back again.” John nodded and Roy ruffled the sable hair briefly before letting him sit back. “You wanna try to eat by yourself or do you want me to help you?”
“Good boy,” Roy teased as Johnny struggled to pick up the fork with his rebellious fingers. It took a good deal of concentration and the others tried not to watch and embarrass him if he didn’t succeed but Johnny managed to spear a piece of meat after the third try. Roy grinned as he carefully brought it to his mouth.
The others were long finished with their meal as John continued to struggle with his own. He finally set the fork down and stared glumly at his plate. “Nee hel,” he finally admitted in defeat, knowing he’d be here for hours if he kept this up on his own, not that Roy or Joanne would ever complain but that didn’t make the younger man feel any better.
Maybe it might have helped if he’d understood that this family would have sat with him all night if he’d wanted to keep trying but John’s troubled past still wouldn’t allow that idea to take root.
Roy reached over to help him finish his meal as Joanne began the clean up.
Chris watched his father and his uncle with sorrow filled eyes at the dejected look on Johnny’s face. He wanted to help but he wasn’t sure how to get Johnny to cooperate. His eyes fell on his little sister. Jennifer was John’s princess...He’d do almost anything for the adorable little blonde.
He leaned over to whisper in Jennifer’s ear. “You want to help Uncle Johnny get better?” He questioned. She nodded eagerly with a grin. “Good…Come with me.”
They both climbed from their seats and headed up the stairs. “Hey,” their father’s voice stopped them.
“Yeah dad…?” Chris asked innocently.
“I thought you were gonna watch TV with me and Johnny and your mom?” He questioned, knowing the kids never missed the Wonderful World of Disney.
“We are dad…We’ll be right back,” he promised as he grabbed his sisters hand and ran up the stairs. He pulled Jen into her room and over to the toy box. His little sister watched silently as Chris poked through her things, smiling to himself as he found several items that just might be what the therapist ordered.
“What are you doing?” Jen questioned as he handed her several items.
“The doctors keep telling Uncle Johnny that he just needs to practice more.” She nodded…She wasn’t exactly sure what that meant but she’d heard her mom and dad talking about it several times. “So…We’re gonna help Uncle Johnny practice...This is what I want you to do…
By the time they returned, a protesting Johnny was already ensconced on the couch with Roy and Joanne.
“I doan wan watch TV Ro,” John mumbled unhappily. “Go rum.”
“Well you’re already here Junior…Just sit with the family for a while huh?” He replied knowing Johnny was frustrated and when John got frustrated he’d simply retreat into silence and go somewhere alone to brood. Roy didn’t want him dwelling on the failures alone and making them even worse than they really were.
John sighed in defeat. It wasn’t like he could just get up and go back to his room and he knew Roy wouldn’t take him there to sulk in private.
Roy turned the television on as Jen and Chris returned. Both of them holding several items that raised their mother’s eyebrow questioningly. Jen crawled up into Johnny’s lap. The dark haired paramedic smiled despite himself as she curled against him.
Jennifer held a small wooden box with different shapes cut into the sides. The brightly colored stars, squares, circles and other assorted pieces were inside the box which she opened and dumped in her lap.
Joanne frowned curiously at her daughter. Jennifer had outgrown this particular toy quite a while before, Jo just hadn’t had a chance to clean some of the older toys from her toy box and give them to charity yet. Chris cuddled up next to his uncle as well with a book and one of Jen’s puzzle boards. What were they up to?
Jen absently played with the box in her hands, casting occasional looks between her brother and her Uncle and neither child so much as glanced at the TV…That was very unusual when their favorite show was on.
Jennifer picked up several different pieces, invariably trying to put the wrong shape into a whole cut in the side of the box. Joanne frowned again. Jennifer had mastered this particular toy over a year ago and grown bored with it.
She turned her soft blue eyes on the man holding her in his lap. “Uncle Johnny?” She asked pleadingly. He glanced down at her, smiling at the small face gazing up at him. “Can you help me?”
Johnny’s face flushed in embarrassment. “Ken nah do now,” he mumbled, looking at the small wooden pieces, knowing how clumsy his hands still were.
She glanced at her brother and Chris nodded his head, urging her on. “Please Uncle Johnny,” she pleaded with a pout…Her blue eyes tearing at his heart as they always did. John hesitated, biting his lower lip uncertainly.
Joanne opened her mouth to tell the kids to leave Uncle Johnny alone but Roy’s hand on her arm stopped her. She looked over to see a small smile playing around her husband’s lips as he watched his children. “I know what they’re doing,” he whispered as he watched his young partner pick up the first small shape while Jennifer held the box for him. It took him a long moment and a couple of attempts but he finally managed to set the tiny piece in place, smiling in triumph at Jennifer as it dropped into the hole…She giggled gleefully before she handed him the next one.
It took a while but Johnny managed to drop each piece into the appropriate spot. Jen watched and clapped her hands every time he succeeded. John finally finished but before he could stop her she opened the box and dumped them in his lap.
“Do it again Uncle Johnny,” she said happily.
John sighed. “Jen I…,” he began.
“Plee…ease,” she begged.
John shook his head in frustration but once again began the laborious task of setting the pieces in place. Roy hid his grin behind his hand as he watched his five year old daughter put John through his paces. He couldn’t have set this up better himself.
His blue eyes caught Chris’ and the eight year old smiled innocently at him. “I’m so proud of you,” he mouthed silently to his son. The smile grew broader but the boy said nothing as he watched his sister ‘help’ Uncle Johnny.
John finished with the last piece but just when he thought he was done, Chris suddenly dumped the puzzle he was holding in John’s lap. “It’s my turn Uncle Johnny,” he said as he cuddled up next to the older man.
John looked at him in surprise. Chris was at that stand offish age when cuddling or being kissed was to be avoided at all costs especially by his parents or his Uncle. “Krr…is…My han’s nah wor well now,” he tried to beg off.
The young blonde folded his arms over his chest, looking hurt. “You like Jen better than me,” he mumbled with a pout as he turned away.
“Thas nah so,” John argued.
Chris looked up at him. “So then…You’ll help me?” He hinted.
“Doan ya wan wash TV?” John tried redirecting the boy. Chris shook his head. John blew out a breath. “Kay,” he muttered in defeat.
It was all Roy could do not to laugh outright. Jo glanced at him as she finally began to understand what they were doing. That puzzle was Jennifer’s and Chris could have easily done it himself but the pieces were small and John would have to work at picking them up as well as placing them. She smiled poignantly at Roy, feeling very proud of both of her children right then.
Chris handed him the pieces as the two studied the board, deciding together where they should go but Chris always let his uncle put it in place. The dark haired paramedic frowned a couple of times as Chris busied himself looking for the next piece whenever he tried to hand it to the boy while Jen looked on.
John placed the last piece just as the show on the television was ending. “You miss yur sho,” he informed the kids with a nod toward the TV.
Chris shrugged. “That’s okay…I had more fun with you Uncle Johnny,” he answered sincerely.
John was touched by the sentiment. “Th…anks,” he managed with a small smile.
“Besides…I have the book right here. Can you read it to us?” He asked handing John the book.
John frowned suspiciously that he just happened to have the book handy but Chris grinned at him innocently. “K…ris…I…,” he began, not wanting to embarrass himself any more than he already had.
Jen clambered to her knees in John’s lap and reached up to wrap her arms around the young man’s neck. “Will you read to me like you used to Uncle Johnny?” She asked setting a soft kiss on his cheek.
John was hopelessly lost…He simply couldn’t say no to his princess…He sighed in defeat. “Nah soun ver gud,” he warned.
“That’s okay,” Chris assured him as both children edged closer. Roy shut the television off and put his arm around Joanne as they settled down to listen.
John blew out a breath and opened the book. “Unce upo a time,” he began slowly.
Roy was just coming down the stairs the next morning when the doorbell rang. He changed direction as he finished buttoning his shirt. “I’ll get it honey,” he called to Joanne as he headed for the door.
Edward smiled in greeting as he opened it. “Good morning Mr. De Soto,” he said as Roy stepped aside to let him enter.
“Good morning Mr. Devane,” Roy returned.
“It’s Edward sir,” he corrected. “How are you this morning sir?” He asked politely, nodding a greeting to Joanne as she came from the kitchen to join them.
“I’m fine,” Roy replied.
“Good morning Edward,” she said with a smile before turning back toward the kitchen. “Have you eaten this morning?” She called back.
“Yes Mrs. De Soto,” he replied before looking back to Roy. “”Is Master John awake yet?” He questioned, ready to begin his duties now that the pleasantries had been dispensed with.
“I don’t know…I just got down here myself,” Roy answered shortly.
“Well he needs to get up because his breakfast is ready,” Joanne informed them as she carried two steaming cups of coffee to the table.
Both men stepped toward John’s room simultaneously but Edward stopped abruptly at the rather cool look Roy shot him. “I can handle getting Johnny up for breakfast,’ he said sounding a bit frostier than he’d intended.
Edward smiled slightly at the proprietary attitude the younger man exhibited when it came to John Gage. “Mr. De Soto,” he began gently. “I’m not here to get in the way of your relationship with Master John. I doubt I could. From what I’ve seen I doubt anyone could and honestly…I wouldn’t even try.”
Roy blushed a bit, realizing how he must have sounded. “I’m sorry Edward. It’s just…Johnny’s special to me…He’s sorta like my kid brother ya know?” Edward nodded. “I guess I get a little over protective sometimes,” he mumbled.
“I understand and I promise you sir…Nothing pleases me more. I’ve known Master John for a long time now and no one has been able to really reach him before but from what I saw the other morning…You have. You and your family and I’m very grateful. He is a special young man sir and he deserves to be loved.”
Roy flushed a bit at the observation but he couldn’t argue the point either. “Yes he does,” he agreed.
“So now that territory has been established sir,” Edward said with a small smile. “Would you like to get John ready for breakfast and his appointment later or would you like me to do what Miss Rosemary hired me to do and you can go eat?”
Roy smiled ruefully back. “Go ahead,” he yielded. “That is what you were hired for.”
“Thank you sir,” he replied as he headed for Johnny’s room. It warmed Edward’s heart to see John so changed from the hopeless, withdrawn and frightened boy he’d been to a well loved member of such a nice family. The difference in him was obvious and the reason behind it even more so.
The doorbell rang again and he assumed it was Mrs. Petersen. He paused outside John’s door, knocking lightly as he heard the front door open. He grinned as Roy extended a much warmer greeting toward the elderly nurse. Well at least he wasn’t quite as touchy about her relationship with young Master Gage. He pushed John’s door open and stepped into the room.
“Mrs. Petersen!” Roy exclaimed with a smile. “Come in.”
“Mr. De Soto,” she replied give the young man’s hand a warm shake and patting his arm gently as she came inside. “It’s good to see you again,” she finished as she followed him through the living room to the kitchen where Joanne was cooking the family’s breakfast.
“Hey Jo…Miss Petersen is here.”
Joanne tossed her a smile but it froze on her face as the older woman began to take charge of her kitchen.
“Which of these are John’s?” She questioned as she waved toward the plates of food Jo had already set up.”
“I can get Johnny his breakfast,” she said coolly.
Mrs. Petersen nodded. “Of course you can dear…But it’s my job.” She picked up one of the plates and a glass of orange juice before she sailed from the kitchen, oblivious of the hard stare Jo threw at her back. Her blue eyes shifted to Roy in annoyance and he put his hands up in surrender.
“I’ve already had this conversation this morning,” he said with a chuckle and a nod toward Johnny’s room.
Jo stared uncomprehendingly at him for a moment before it sank in and she began to giggle. “I guess it can’t hurt to share him and let someone else help,” she said ruefully. “You have too.”
Roy nodded in understanding, knowing exactly how she felt.
Posted to Site 07/04/2012
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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order. The characters of Emergency belong to Universal and Mark VII but this story itself however, is the property of the author.
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