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Johnny was already awake when Edward stepped into the room. “Good morning John,” he greeted.
“Morn…in,” Johnny returned, sounding more like his normal self than any of them had heard in the last three weeks.
The older man grinned in pleased surprise. ‘You’re sounding better already,” he complimented. “You must be working hard in therapy.”
John shrugged. He didn’t think he was doing well at all but he had to admit that reading to the kids last night might have helped some. “Bre…fas read…y ye?”
“I believe Mrs. De Soto was working on it and if I’m not mistaken Mrs. Petersen was just arriving so let me get you up and dressed and we’ll go for breakfast.”
John nodded eagerly as he worked to push himself upright. Edward started to help him but John waved him off. “Ken do,” he insisted. Edward stepped back…John Gage had been nothing if not determined from the day he’d met him…He might have been a skinny, scared little waif but stubborn ran clear through him. Edward watched him with a smile as John forced himself to a sitting position with a look of concentration, before carefully swinging his long legs over the side of the bed. He smiled up at the servant in breathless triumph.
“Well done Master John,” he said softly. “Well done.” Edward carefully lifted him and set him in the chair. “Maybe today they can work on transferring from the chair to the bed.”
John shook his head. “Try yeser…da…Kenna do ye,” he replied, looking depressed.
“John?” Edward said as he squatted next to the younger man. “Be patient…You’ve already come a long way in just two days.”
“Wanna do mysel…Na be a bur…dun for Roy an Jo.”
Edward looked shocked. “From what I’ve seen…I don’t believe they consider you a burden at all John.”
“He’s not,” Roy said from the doorway. “This is his home and we’re his family,” he said coming to Johnny’s side. “Which we’ve told him time and time again…”
John’s dark eyes refused to meet Roy’s. “Al…way causin trou…le,” he muttered, sounding a bit dejected.
Roy ruffled the sable hair gently, bringing a smile to Edward’s lips at the familiar gesture. Roy turned John’s face toward him. “You got sick cuz of my kids…So who caused the trouble?” He teased with a grin.
“Nah same thin…kids nah ge this sick,” he pointed out forlornly.
“Then we’ll blame the idiot that hit you and cost you your spleen okay but not you junior…We love having you here…I just wish it wasn’t under these circumstances. Now come on. Jo and the kids are waiting for you so we can eat.”
“Kay,” he mumbled.
Both men reached for the handles of the wheelchair at the same time. Edward threw Roy a raised eyebrow and a grin. The younger man chuckled at the look and raised his hands before stepping back out of the way, conceding the right of way to the servant.
John frowned at the reaction, not understanding.
“Habit,” Roy said ruefully.
“I understand…He’s a special young man sir,” Edward said quietly as he pushed him past Roy.
“Yes he is,” Roy replied…He’d never argue that point. “And maybe if enough people tell him that, he’ll believe it.”
Roy heaved a sigh as his temporary partner came from the locker room while he stood in line with the others. “Must be old home week,” he muttered sourly. First Edward, then Mrs. Petersen and now HIM…
Chet groaned aloud and Marco gave him a shove in the back. Mike gave a surreptitious eye roll. Hank, being the professional he was managed to avoid his own moan of misery as the man stepped into formation with the rest of the crew.
“Good morning Captain Stanley,” he said briskly. “De Soto, Kelly…Stoker…Lopez,” he added as if trying to impress them that he remembered their names.
“Where’s Gibson,” Roy growled. It was bad enough to have Johnny out and to have a temporary partner but when that partner was Brice…Roy seriously considered telling Cap he was sick and heading for home. Professionalism won out.
“He called in sick De Soto,” he said, oblivious to the others reaction to his appearance in the bay.
“Great,” the senior paramedic mumbled.
“Sounds like a good idea to me,” Chet groused. “I think I feel a headache coming on.”
“Me too,” Marco added.
“Man I can’t wait for Gage to get back,” Chet added sincerely.
“You all seem to waste too much valuable time worrying over Gage when it’s obvious that he’s careless and always doing something to get himself injured…Maybe he’d be better off in a safer job,” the man said as he brushed at his already spotless uniform.
Mike managed to restrain Roy before he clobbered the obtuse paramedic standing a few feet away.
“Johnny didn’t get hurt…He’s been out sick with complications from encephalitis,” the blonde fire fighter snarled angrily. “And he’s rarely hurt because of something he did wrong,” he argued.
“Oh I see…My mistake De Soto,” he replied with a shrug of indifference. “This time,” he added
“Cap…,” Roy began warningly.
“Cool down Roy,” Hank said softly. “It’ll only be for a day.”
Brice shifted a glance around curiously, wondering what he’d missed.
“Let’s not discuss John’s absence until after roll call shall we?” Cap suggested, rubbing his hands together briskly.
“Since we’re obviously all present…Mike you have the dorm, Kelly the day room. Marco why don’t you handle the bay here pal…Roy…You’re cooking. Brice…Latrine…Last one in rule.”
“No need to explain Captain…The job has to be done by someone,” he returned philosophically.
“Yes…Well…,” Hank rolled his eyes. “We’ll be doing some drills after lunch. Roy why don’t you check the air bottles okay?”
“Sure Cap,” he agreed, grateful that Hank hadn’t put the two men together as he often did when Johnny was here. They frequently worked as a team to get their chores done faster.
They broke from the line and the others gathered around Roy, pointedly leaving Brice staring at their backs. “How’s Johnny?” Chet asked, as Brice moved away to check the squad.
“Still a bit depressed but he really did pretty well all things considered. He just wants to get back on his feet and it’s not going fast enough to suit him.”
“Me either,” Chet muttered, throwing a glare at Brice.
“Well…We all understand that Roy. I mean I’d want to get back to work too if it was me.”
“I just hate to see him upset with himself because he can’t do something yet.” The others nodded as he continued. “Last night he tried to transfer from the wheelchair to a regular chair by himself.”
“He didn’t fall did he?” Mike asked anxiously.
“Almost…I caught him before he hit the floor but then he was frustrated that he couldn’t do it by himself. He still thinks his being there is a burden on Jo and I,” Roy explained with a rueful shake of his blonde head.
“He pushes himself to hard,” Mike agreed.
“I wish you could’ve seen him last night with my kids though,” Roy said with a look of pride.
“What happened?” Marco asked curiously.
Roy explained. “By the time he got through reading Sleeping Beauty to them he was sounding pretty darn good,” he said with a grin.
Hank looked thoughtful. “The kids don’t embarrass him when he makes a mistake, so he won’t hesitate to read with them,” Cap said aloud. “Maybe they can keep it up. Johnny won’t get so uptight if he thinks it’s just the kids.”
Roy nodded. “It never occurred to him that they were giving him a therapy session right at home.”
They all laughed until Brice returned with John’s helmet in hand. “I guess I’ll use this again while I’m here,” he said arrogantly, scrubbing at the finish with a rag he held in his hand. “Gage won’t mind.”
Roy bristled. He’d said nothing the first time John had been out and Brice had laid claim to John’s helmet but not this time…This time he’d already have the ground rules laid out and one of them was that John’s seat and his place at station 51 was secure and no one was going to push him out…Not even temporarily.
He reached over and plucked the helmet from his hand. “Maybe he won’t but I will…You can use Gibson’s,” he said as he carried John’s helmet to the locker room to shove it in his own locker till John returned, leaving a stunned looking Brice staring after him.
The others threw the annoying paramedic a smirk as they headed for the day room for coffee.
Amanda smiled at John as Edward wheeled him into the therapy room. “Good morning Johnny,” she welcomed the handsome sable haired paramedic.
John flashed a grin in response and would have been overjoyed if he’d known the pretty blonde woman’s heart skipped a beat as his lips curled with that crooked Gage grin.
“Morn…ing,” he replied carefully.
Her smile grew considerably at how well he’d spoken. “That sounded very good Johnny,” she praised as she sat opposite him and pulled the mirror around and shook the flash cards from their box to begin his session.
“Th…anks,” he replied, sighing at the tools of her trade that he hated so much. He remembered them well from his teenage years in therapy to help him get over his stutter as well as after he’d awakened from a six week coma a couple of years ago.
Edward apparently remembered them too as the older man’s lips turned up in a wry grin. He bet John wouldn’t mind them quite as much as he had at fourteen with Mr. Hadderly.
He had to hold back the chuckle as he remembered the battles that had ensued as the man had tried to force John’s mouth to move properly. He’d bet this young woman wouldn’t have to work that hard to touch his young charge.
John shot him a glare as he heard the choked sound of laughter.
“Let’s get started okay?” She urged brightly.
Edward was right. Johnny smiled into the pretty blonde therapists eyes as she reached out to hold his chin or purse his lips to make him pronounce a letter or word properly.
She grinned back, obviously infatuated with the handsome dark haired man across from her…Her fingers occasionally lingering longer than necessary.
If Edward didn’t already know how desperate John was to get well so he could return to work, he’d have bet money that the young man was mispronouncing the words deliberately. He was right about half of that as well. More than anything, Johnny was anxious to retake his place in the squad but he was philosophical about it as well. He figured he might as well make the most of the situation he found himself in, especially now that her interest was obvious.
John didn’t hesitate to turn those soulful dark eyes toward the woman, drawing a sigh from her and a choked snort of laughter from the older man. John shot the long time servant another glare.
Amanda and Johnny were almost disappointed when the hour was up though the pretty blonde was impressed with how well Johnny was doing. “You did great Johnny so whatever you’re doing at home, keep it up okay?” She instructed.
Johnny frowned as Edward wheeled him out of the room toward the elevators. What did she mean by that…Johnny wasn’t doing anything at home? He didn’t have too long to dwell on it…The ride upstairs was short and he was busy remembering the pretty smile he’d been admiring for the last hour.
Whitson was waiting when Edward wheeled Johnny into the room. He directed them to the table where the blocks and cones he’d used from the day before lay waiting for him to practice with but John held his hand up to halt the older man.
“What is it John?” Edward asked.
Whitson cast the dark haired paramedic a questioning look as well.
“Doan wanna do…,” he said firmly.
“John,” Whitson said reproachfully. “You won’t get better if you don’t practice…I know it’s frustrating but you have to try…,” he began to lecture.
John shook his head, interrupting the therapist. “Ken do tha…Wanna try…Tran…fer.”
The two older men exchanged a glance. “John…I’m not sure you’re quite ready for that,” Whitson hedged.
“Almos do las nigh…Ken nah do if doan try,” John reasoned.
“Well…I guess you can’t argue with that,” Edward said, grinning at his young charges determination.
Whitson frowned. He’d heard about Graham’s fall from grace with Dr. Brackett and the last thing he wanted was the surly doctor or John’s paramedic partner furious with him if John fell and got hurt. They could make his life very difficult.
He looked at the young fireman and saw the stubborn set of his jaw and sighed. “We can try this John but I’ll be holding on to you every minute,” he asserted.
“Nah a chil,” he argued.
“No you’re not but you are in my care and your friend De Soto made it pretty clear about how unhappy he’d be if I send you home in pain from some injury.
Edward chuckled at Roy’s obvious watchdog behavior for his young friend and understood the therapists worry, having been on the receiving end of the man’s ‘concern’ for Johnny.
John frowned and heaved a sigh of frustration. Man…He loved Roy and appreciated his looking out for him but sometimes that over protective streak was annoying. “My chois,” he argued. He glanced over his shoulder at Edward. “You tell Roy…Kay?”
Edward nodded. “I’ll tell Roy you wanted to do this okay?” He assured the young man.
John really wasn’t ready to attempt this just yet but he suspected that he’d get no cooperation out of him at all if he didn’t let him try. Stan blew out a nervous breath. “Alright…We can do this for a few minutes but you promise me we’ll go back and do it my way after.”
“Pro…mis,” John agreed.
“Let’s do this then,” he said, reassured that Kelly Brackett and Roy De Soto would not be breathing down his neck if something went wrong.
The therapist placed a heavy belt around John’s waist before taking him to a section of the room already set up with tables and chairs of varying types. “This is the occupational therapy center…We use this to re-teach you how to live on your own.” John nodded. “Are you ready to try John?”
The dark head nodded again. Whitson placed John’s hands securely on the armrests, making sure his grip was secure before taking hold of the belt.
Edward bit his lip, hoping John would succeed, knowing how desperately he wanted to. Johnny gritted his teeth. His hands tightened and he pressed upward, heaving his body sideways. He wasn’t quite strong enough to make the transfer. His hand slipped from the arm and John’s ribs slammed into the rest. He gasped in pain as the breath left his body with a whoosh.
He felt the belt tighten around his waist as Whitson lifted him to keep him from tumbling to the floor.
“Dammit,” Whitson muttered as he realized he hadn’t been fast enough to prevent John from a hard landing on his ribcage.
John rubbed his aching side for a moment until the dull throb eased. “Are you all right Master John?” Edward asked worriedly. Whitson tried to lift his shirt to check on his ribs but John brushed his hands away.
“I fine…Just nock win outta me,” he panted.
“Okay…That was a good first try John but…,” Stan began worriedly, knowing he was going to hear about this from John’s friend.
“Do gan…,” Johnny said, interrupting him,” he muttered, still sounding a bit breathless.
“You sure you want to try again?” Edward asked.
“Yes…” John set himself again and Whitson made sure his grip was secure. John took a deep breath with a look of determination on his face…Once again lifting and swinging his body toward the chair. It was a better attempt but it still came up a bit short. Whitson pulled him back before he fell.
John’s hands slammed the arms of the wheelchair in frustration. “A…Gan,” he mumbled.
“John…I told you that you weren’t quite ready,” Whitson began.
“NO…Do gan…,” he insisted.
Stan glanced toward Edward who was frowning worriedly but the servant nodded his head. “Let him try,” he said admiringly.
“Just once more John,” Stan warned.
“Kay,” he panted.
John once again set himself…His arms shook and sweat beaded his forehead but his body lifted and he shifted his weight. It wasn’t graceful and he just barely made it but John pulled himself upright, firmly planted in the chair and grinning at the other two men in triumph.
“Good job,” Whitson praised the younger man.
“Very good John,” Edward assured him, breathing a sigh of relief…Worried that if Johnny had failed again that he would have been very discouraged and might well have given up. Mr. De Soto would have had his work cut out for him trying to talk his young partner around to keep trying.
The smiles on the two men’s faces faded however with John’s next words. “Do gan.”
They both sighed knowing they wouldn’t win this argument.
Forty minutes, a lot of bruises and five more successful transfers, John was finally ready to keep his word. He sat at the table and worked at stacking cones and blocks… His fingers moving much more confidently today than they had on the previous days.
“You’ve been practicing…Good for you John,” he praised his patient.
“Nah pracis,” John denied but then a look of dawning spread across his face. He remembered Amanda’s words as well…The kids…Jen and Chris. They hadn’t just been playing with him last night…They’d been teaching him. His eyes burned and his heart turned a small flip at the realization. These two children were so incredibly special even if they had tricked him. Man…He loved those kids.
Chris and Jenny had already finished lunch and had been shooed outside by their mother to play while she cleaned up the kitchen. She watched them from the window as Chris rolled his cars down make shift ramps and obstacles while Jen amused herself in the small playhouse her father and Uncle Johnny had built. She glanced at the clock on the wall, knowing Edward would be bringing Johnny home soon.
Mrs. Petersen had changed the sheets in John’s room and was now busily preparing lunch for the young man. Jo could handle all of these things herself but the older woman had waved her off, reminding her that this was what she’d been hired for.
The older woman would stay until after John was done eating since he still needed some help with that since restorative therapy hadn’t been started just yet. Joanne and Edward would handle dinner and get him settled for the night before the older man would retire to the hotel room Rosemary had rented for him.
Jo had some errands to run and Mrs. Petersen had agreed to watch Chris and Jen while she was gone. Jo knew it wouldn’t be much longer before the elderly nurse was no longer needed. Johnny was progressing well and once he could get his hands to cooperate with his brain and actually be able to feed himself and bathe on his own as well as a couple of more personal functions, Jo would be able to handle the rest on her own.
She smiled ruefully as she rinsed the dishes and stacked them in the dishwasher. She had pretty much managed to get past the possessive pangs of jealousy she still occasionally felt at being displaced in John’s care and had actually begun to enjoy the feminine companionship and their afternoon chats.
She glanced back out the kitchen window to check on the kids, frowning as she watched Chris pick up something from the bushes that bordered the edge of their property.
He turned it over in his hands several times before he turned and ran for the house. He pushed the sliders open and came inside. “Mom…Look what I found in the bushes,” he said excitedly as he handed it to her. “It’s the clock that used to be in Uncle Johnny’s room.”
“I see that. How in the world did it end up out there?” She questioned in confusion. “Chris did you and Jen take it outside?” She asked suspiciously.
“No mom…I don’t know how it got out there.”
She set it aside. She’d ask Roy about it when he got home but she was certain that he’d be as baffled as she was. “Well…I’m sure there’s an explanation…Why don’t you go play.”
Chris shrugged and ran back outside to play.
Edward helped Johnny out of the car and into the wheelchair. He patted the younger man’s shoulder, smiling to himself and knowing that not too long ago John would have recoiled from the casual touch of his hand.
John turned to look up at him curiously but the older man only smiled. John had done well today and Edward knew it would only be a short time before he’d be on his feet and he wouldn’t be needed anymore. His speech was improving daily and even the therapist had been impressed with his progress.
Edward would miss the young man but he was glad that John was still showing the stubborn determination he’d had as a teenager. He’d need it to get back into that squad with his best friend. The older man knew that that’s what John needed the most and that he still had a ways to go before he was ready to take his place next to his partner but he also knew that he’d taken that first step today.
John had grown strong enough to lift his weight and to make the successful transfer from wheelchair to seat and back…The next step would be to get him up and walking but that would be for Mr. De Soto to make that decision to let him try. John already had a set of bruised ribs and telltale black and blues over several areas of his anatomy that the blonde paramedic wouldn’t be too happy about. He grinned as he remembered John’s words when he’d caught him rubbing his side in the car.
“You nah tell Roy I fell an ge hur kay? Be mad...”
“My lips are sealed master John,” he’d replied with a chuckle. He didn’t think it would matter…He got the feeling that De Soto didn’t miss much where his young friend was concerned.
He managed to wrestle the wheelchair inside. Joanne came from the kitchen. “Hello Edward,” she greeted with a smile before turning her attention to Johnny. “Hi sweetheart…Are you hungry?”
Johnny nodded as the kids came in from the back yard. They ran to Johnny to wrap their arms around him in a hug of greeting. Johnny winced a bit as his bruised ribs throbbed out in protest. “Hi Uncle Johnny…Mr. Devane,” Chris said as Jen climbed into John’s lap. “Uncle Johnny…? If you’re not too tired after lunch, can you read us a story like you did last night?”
John’s eyes narrowed suspiciously as he embraced both children, being careful not to put too much strain on his side. “Nah nee me read to you,” he said knowingly.
“We don’t NEED you too,” Chris wheedled. “But you do it better than we do,” he pleaded with a small pout.
Joanne saw the narrowed gaze of her young friend’s dark eyes and knew he’d figured it out. She waited to see if Johnny would be angry that they’d tricked him or be hurt, thinking that they were making fun of him…She smiled at the next words and the impish grin that curled his lips.
“Lil mon…keys,” he teased with a grin… “I know… wha you do.”
Edward couldn’t see Johnny’s face but he’d heard the words. He looked confused by the accusation and glanced at the two children worriedly. What had they done? Had they hurt him in some way? He found that hard to believe.
Chris saw the look and understood John’s broken words enough to know they’d been caught. He scuffed his toe guiltily. “We were only trying to help Uncle Johnny,” he mumbled, glancing up just to be sure his Uncle wasn’t very angry with them. He saw the grin that spread over John’s face.
“I know…You bo help. Manda say do mush…,” he rolled his eyes in frustration for a moment before trying again. “Mu…ch bet…er today,” he assured them as Chris launched into his arms.
“You’re not mad?” He mumbled worriedly, glancing toward his mom as she leaned against the kitchen door jamb, watching the exchange.
“No…You nah do to hur me. Tha you bo…Thank you bo…th,” he corrected. Jen reached up to kiss his cheek earning her another hug and a small tickle from John while Chris leaned closer to his ear.
“I love you Uncle Johnny,” he said quietly. Edward heard the words and caught his breath, waiting and hopeful. He smiled poignantly as Johnny answered, hearing a phrase he’d never thought he’d hear from the younger man.
John’s dark eyes burned for a moment but he blinked the betraying moisture away. “Love you bo too.” His chocolate brown eyes lifted to Joanne’s and a smile curled his lips. She winked at him knowingly, drawing a light hearted giggle from Johnny. It was a sound they hadn’t heard for the last few weeks. “Jo…? Lun…ch rea…ay?”
“Not quite baby,” she replied. “I was waiting for you to get home.”
John grinned at Chris. “Go ge a book bud…dy.” Chris grinned and headed up the stairs.
Roy and Brice responded to several calls and the blonde senior paramedic managed to restrain himself from clouting the irritating younger man even though he desperately wanted to on several occasions. He stepped down from the back of the ambulance and rolled his eyes in irritation as the bespectacled paramedic climbed from the cab of the squad and came around to carefully lock the doors even as Roy and the attendants were disappearing through the emergency doors.
They made the quick transfer from gurney to table before they backed out and left. “You need me doc?” He questioned Early as the kindly, gray haired doctor stepped up to the table.
“No Roy…I think I’ve got it.”
“Thanks then...See ya,” he said, sketching a brief wave. He left the room and continued his musings.
Brother…Roy couldn’t wait for Johnny to get better and come back. He desperately missed his young partner. He smiled as he remembered John’s determination to try transferring from wheelchair to regular chair the night before. He always admired his friend’s strength and resolve. He never gave up…Oh sure he had his bad moments when frustration set in but John always bounced back.
He frowned, remembering how close he’d come to falling as well…He might need to rein his friend in a bit until the therapist told him he was ready. He knew Johnny would fight him but they’d have to take this a step and a day at a time.
Brackett was talking quietly with Dixie as Roy approached. Brice was nowhere in sight thankfully. Probably out tuning up the squad while he waited, he mused in irritation. Kel glanced up as he drew near. “Hey Roy…”
“Doc…Dix,” he greeted. “You seen Brice around?” He asked looking like he’d been sucking lemons. Dixie smiled in amusement.
“I bet you miss Johnny,” she teased.
“Just a bit,” he admitted wryly.
“He’s not around here so he probably stayed with the squad,” Kel reasoned. “Just as well…I wanted to ask how Johnny’s doing anyway and the subject seems to annoy him,” the dark haired doctor said observantly.
“Yeah well…He thinks Johnny gets hurt so often cuz he’s careless and that he should find another job.”
Dixie bristled indignantly. “That rat,” she muttered under her breath.
Roy and Brackett both chuckled as Roy answered the doctor’s question.
“He’s getting stronger and his speech is improving all the time,” he said positively but he still looked concerned.
Brackett caught it. “But…?” He prompted.
“He’s pushing himself too hard too fast sometimes and then he gets frustrated when can’t do something,” he explained, sounding upset.
Brackett smiled. “That’s the reason we wanted him in rehab Roy. This is exactly the problem with keeping him at home. You’re too close to him and not objective enough.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He questioned, looking a little indignant.
“That John’s your best friend and he means a lot to you and you don’t want to see him hurt but he’s going to have to work hard at this Roy and he may hit a few bumps along the way.”
“I guess…I just worry about him. I know I shouldn’t…I mean I know how stubborn and determined he is but…”
“But he’s your little brother,” Dix teased.
“Yeah…,” Roy smiled and brightened up as he continued to regale them with John’s progress. “He even tried to transfer to the dining room chair last night.”
Kel looked alarmed. “Did he make it?” He asked anxiously.
“No…but I caught him before he fell.”
Dixie whacked the doctors arm in amusement. “Now who’s worrying over Johnny?”
“A little too close doc?” Roy teased.
Kel’s mouth quirked up in a wry grin. “I guess all of us are,” he admitted. “Why don’t you bring him by after his therapy session? I’d like to take a look at him…See how he’s doing. I’ll have Joe run a new EEG as well…Don’t give him his medication tomorrow or it could distort the results.”
“Okay doc…Roy glanced up and saw Brice coming down the hall. “Guess I better go and spare you having to call in pest control,” Roy said to Dixie with a teasing grin.
The blonde nurse smiled back.
John remained in his wheelchair for dinner, keeping silent about his therapy and the bruises and aches he’d gained as well. “Did therapy go alright? Joanne questioned.
John cast a warning glance at Edward, before giving Jo a half hearted shrug. “Kay…guess.”
“Okay I guess,” she corrected before turning her blue gaze on John’s companion. “Anything happen I should know about?” She questioned suspiciously at Johnny’s lack of detail.
Edward just gave her a small smile and a shrug of his own shoulders. He knew he should tell her and let her check John out but his first loyalty was to John and the young man had asked him not to tell, knowing his friends would fuss and worry over him.
John wanted to wait till Roy got home to show him what he’d practiced that day and head off his best friend’s annoyance with the injuries before he saw them. He knew Jo would be worse if she knew he’d gotten injured and she’d mostly likely call Roy and tell him as well.
Edward stayed for dinner to help John with his meal and then watched along with Joanne as John and the children once again played with several of the kids toys. It was something Johnny did frequently with these two and it never crossed his mind to be embarrassed by it as he was in therapy. Pickup sticks didn’t go so well just yet but he was getting pretty good with the shape box from the night before.
The three had a great time playing hands down. Johnny still wasn’t as coordinated as he should be and wasn’t quite as fast as Chris and Jen but his laughter echoed the children’s and was good to hear.
Joanne stood up and slipped upstairs, returning a minute later with a small box. “I picked this up today while I was out sweetheart,” she said setting a jigsaw puzzle on the table.
Johnny chewed his lip worriedly for a moment and glanced up at her… “Nah sure ken do yet,” he admitted. “Too sma…”
She ruffled the dark hair gently. “Small…,” she corrected.
“Sma…LL,” Johnny repeated obediently.
“You want to try baby? We can all work on this together,” she reasoned. Edward had to smile at how close this family had become to Johnny and marveled at how easily Joanne wrapped him around her little finger.
The younger man looked to the kids. “You hel me?” He questioned with a raised brow. They both nodded eagerly. “Okay…Ken try,” he said softly.
They cleared the table and set to work. Edward joined in amidst the laughter and the gentle teasing until they were done and then saw Johnny into bed for the night. He switched off the light and headed for the hotel letting his mind drift over the evening’s activities.
He’d worked for Miss Rosemary and her late husband for most of his adult life in one role or another until he’d retired when John moved to LA to go to Fire Fighter training…He’d been very fond of both of them but not like this. This is what a family should be and he knew he was going to miss this when he returned home but he was grateful. This is what John had needed when he’d first come to LA and instead he had been met with his arrogant cousin’s and their rude friends.
He’d faced their rejection and their taunts but had never backed down or let it keep him from pursuing his dreams. Edward had admired the strength the boy had displayed even as he’d hidden the hurt, fear and pain of his previous life and their hateful attitudes. This was what John had been missing. He was glad he’d found with this family what he’d been denied before.
He’d still seen the old apprehension in the dark eyes when John had spoken of being a burden to the family but Mr. De Soto had been quick to dispel it. He wondered if or when this family would erase it for good. He grinned to himself…He’d bet his last dime on them succeeding.
Roy arrived home the next morning. Joanne was cooking breakfast but stepped out of the kitchen as she heard the door open. “Morning babe,” he greeted as he rapidly covered the distance to kiss his wife long and hard.
Jo wrapped her arms around his neck and returned the kiss. Grinning up at him as he finally pulled back. “Rough shift?” She questioned teasingly. She always knew when Roy had had a bad day just by the length of his good morning kiss.
“Brice,” he muttered looking irritated. “Needed to get rid of the sour taste,’ he finished with a grin. She laughed as he continued. “Where are the kids?”
“Upstairs, getting ready for school. Roy…? Look at this,” she said, leading him to the kitchen. She picked up the battered clock from the counter. “Chris found it outside in the bushes.”
Roy frowned. “Did the kids take it out for some reason?”
“I asked Chris…He said no.” Roy thought back to when it had gone missing. The night he’d found Johnny asleep on the deck. They hadn’t yet realized just how sick he really was at the time but he knew John had been hallucinating even then. “Hmmm?” He murmured casting a glance toward John’s door.
“What? You think Johnny would have done it?”
Roy grinned. “He wasn’t exactly being rational at the time babe,” he said with a chuckle. “And he was obviously dreaming some pretty weird stuff so…,” he trailed off.
“I guess not,” she agreed, remembering his morning in the shower and the night on the deck chair. “I wonder what he was imagining though?” She giggled.
Roy shook his head. “No idea and I’ll bet he doesn’t remember either. How is Johnny anyway?”
She grinned. “He’s good…Oh Roy…We had so much fun last night playing games with the kids and working on a puzzle…”
“Johnny did too?” He asked in surprise.
She nodded. “He’s doing so much better. He was picking up puzzle pieces and placing them…It took a lot longer than he normally would but he did it. He’s talking more and you can understand most of what he’s saying now.” She frowned as she remembered a couple of times when he’d looked uncomfortable…Almost in pain. She’d questioned him about it but he’d only shrugged off her concern, telling her he was fine. She’d seen the surreptitious glances that had passed between the young fireman and Edward. The older man had grinned knowingly but had volunteered nothing.
“But?” Roy prompted seeing the look and hearing the hesitation.
“I don’t know…Maybe it’s nothing but he seemed to be uncomfortable…Like he was hurting and didn’t want me to know.”
“Headaches coming back?” Roy asked worriedly.
“No…I don’t think it was his head that was bothering him.”
Roy’s eyebrow arched upward suspiciously. “Well…I guess I’ll go see if he’s up yet,” he said cheerfully. Joanne grinned.
Roy knocked on the door before pushing it open and stepping inside. John was half awake, his left arm still draped over his face in his usual sleeping position. This was the first time since he’d been ill that he could get his arm up there on his own and Roy smiled at the achievement. The younger man turned sleepy dark eyes toward him as he approached the bed. “Morning Junior,” he greeted as he sat next to him.
“Morn…ing Pal…ly,” he replied slowly.
Roy grinned at the clarity albeit halting quality of the words but it faded as John lowered his arm, wincing slightly with the movement.
“You’re sounding pretty good there junior.” John grinned proudly but it faded quickly with Roy’s next words. “How’d you hurt yourself,” the blonde paramedic asked casually.
He should have known Roy wouldn’t miss the pain in his face, he never did. John bit his lower lip, throwing his best friend a guilty grimace. “Show…you,” he said slowly, hoping Roy would be pleased by his accomplishment and forestall the fireworks over the bruising.
John tossed the covers back and struggled to push himself upright. Roy stepped closer to help but John waved him off. “Ken do my…self,” he assured him a bit breathlessly.
“Alright,” Roy said folding his arms over his chest but he remained close enough to grab hold of him if he fell. John shifted his legs over the edge of the bed…He reached out and grasped the armrest of his wheelchair, pulling it close to the bed before locking the brakes.
He cast a worried glance at his best friend, knowing if he failed, Roy would be upset with him for getting hurt after he’d told him to wait and if he didn’t…Well it might mean the same thing since Roy had already figured out that he’d gotten hurt.
John gripped the armrests and gave one mighty push, lifting himself from the bed to the wheelchair where he sat hugging his side and panting for breath for a long moment before looking up into the blue eyes gazing at him.
Roy smiled and ruffled the sable hair for a moment before squatting next to him. “That was great junior,” he praised admiringly. John grinned but it didn’t last long as Roy lifted his arm away from his side and tugged the pajama shirt up before he could even begin to protest. The older man’s mouth tightened and he sighed at the bruising across the lean ribs and around his stomach. “How many times did you fall before you made it?” He questioned, sounding more than just a little irritated.
“Did nah fall…Jus hi my side on the ar…res,” he hedged.
“You did more than just hit it junior,” he replied as his hand moved over John’s ribs drawing another wince of pain. “Well it doesn’t feel broken but it could be cracked. Did Edward know about this?” He asked angrily.
John almost cringed at the frosty tone of Roy’s voice. “Doan be mad at E…ward…Tole him nah to tell…Is fine Roy,” he mumbled.
“It’s not fine John.” Oops…There was that given name thing he always did when he was really serious. “If it’s cracked or broken you’ve just set yourself back a couple of weeks in your therapy. That’s why I asked you to be patient John…To wait for me.”
“Nah a child Roy,” he said angrily, looking away from the older man sulkily.
Roy sighed, realizing he’d taken the wind right out of John’s sails and hurt his feelings after he’d worked so hard yesterday. “No you’re not,” he said softening his voice as he reached over to turn his friends face back toward him. “But I care about you and I want you back in that squad more than you can possibly know,” he said gently. “And I know that’s what you want too but I don’t want you hurt and frustrated by trying too much too soon.”
“Buh I did it,” he argued stubbornly.
Roy shook his head in exasperation at John’s one track mind. He reached up to smooth the sleep tangled dark hair from his young friend’s eyes. “Yeah you did and I’m really proud of you junior but please…Please just slow down a little and take it easy okay?”
“Wanna ge bet…ter,” he insisted stubbornly.
“I want you to get better too believe me…I had to work with Craig Brice yesterday,” he complained. John rolled his eyes sympathetically as Roy continued. “And I don’t want to have to again so please…Take it slow and don’t get hurt again so I don’t have to have a temporary partner for too much longer,” he added as he stood to gather some clean clothes.
“Kay,” John yielded with a pout.
“You ready for your bath? Joanne’s working on breakfast.”
Joanne gave Roy a worried glance as he wheeled Johnny from his room. “Is he okay?” She asked.
“He’s fine honey…Just a few bruises and maybe a cracked rib.”
“Oh sweetheart,” Jo murmured as she leaned down to kiss his cheek. “Why didn’t you tell me you got hurt?” She asked lifting his chin.
John gave her a sheepish crooked grin. “Nah wan you wor…ry.”
“He means he didn’t want you calling me,” Roy shot back. John glared over his shoulder at him and Roy chuckled at the look, earning him a swat on the behind by his wife for teasing their young friend before she turned her attention back to Johnny.
She shook her head and caressed his cheek lightly. “I worry about you as a matter of principle young man…It’s part of being your big sister,” she teased gently. John grinned crookedly at her once more before Roy continued on. Johnny was irrepressibly impossible, willful and stubborn but she wouldn’t have him any other way…Truth be told…Neither would Roy, he just wouldn’t admit it.
Roy helped him into the car after breakfast. The younger man cast surreptitious glances at his friend as they drove along.
“Okay junior spill it,” Roy said after catching the look for the third time.
“You still ma a me?”
“I wasn’t mad at you, just worried,” he assured him.
“Positive…Johnny…Brackett asked me to bring you down after therapy. He wants to take a look at you and I think it’s a good idea especially after yesterday and all those bruises.”
Johnny sighed in resignation, knowing Brackett and Dixie would be all over him. “Chois?”
Roy grinned. “Not really junior…He does need to examine you periodically to be sure your getting better and Joe Early is going to run another EEG.”
Johnny blew out a breath. “Why?”
“To see where your brain wave patterns are…To be sure your brain is functioning. That is questionable after all,” Roy teased.
“Thas rel cute Roy,” he growled, tossing him a glare. Roy chuckled at the look. John finally grinned too. “Nah make me go back upsta?” He questioned apprehensively.
“No…No absolutely not. I wouldn’t let you go back up there.”
John grinned…Alright so Roy’s over protective streak wasn’t ALWAYS a bad thing.
“Kay,” he agreed, knowing he really didn’t have an option.
“At least your memory is back for the most part.”
John nodded again…He knew he’d lost a couple of days at least but that wasn’t bad considering how sick he’d been. “Nah re…re…mem…ber some thins,” he admitted slowly.
Roy threw him a curious glance. “Johnny…? Do you remember what you were dreaming about when you were in the shower and out on the deck that morning?”
John frowned, trying to remember. John didn’t recall anything of his hospital stay at Rampart or the trip getting there, except for Roy being there. He was sure he remembered him holding his hand or stroking his hot forehead and then later after the fever had broken...He remembered Jo and Dix and that nurse in his room but it had only been in flashes but before that… not much. “I re…mem…ber being hot…”
“I think you decimated my alarm clock junior,” he teased. “The kids found it outside in the bushes…I was just wondering…,” he shrugged.
John’s face flushed crimson. “Sor...y,” he murmured.
Roy laughed. “It’s okay junior…It’s not a big deal. I was just curious.”
“Buy you newun,” he mumbled.
Roy shook his head with a grin. “Well while you’re at it, you wanna replace the lamp you broke?”
John shot him a glare and Roy reached over to scruff the sable hair affectionately. “Quit,” Johnny muttered, swatting at his hand in annoyance.
“I was just teasing Junior…Don’t worry about either one.” Roy was quiet for a long moment before shooting a look at his young partner. “Johnny…When you were sick…Did you remember me?”
John nodded. “Thin so. Dint al…ays re…mem…ber name but knew you were there. Wasn scared whe you were there,” Johnny confessed, looking a little embarrassed at the admission.
Roy reached over to touch his arm lightly. “Good…I was afraid you’d forgotten me.”
John smiled. “Ne…ver for…ge you pal…ly,” he teased as Roy pulled into Rampart.
“Well that’s good to know,” the older man replied as he climbed out and came around to help his young partner.
John waved him off as he opened the door and pulled the wheelchair close. “Try?” He asked his friend.
“I don’t know junior,” he hedged, concern for John’s previous injuries creasing his brow.
“Please,” Johnny pleaded, the dark eyes tugging at Roy’s heart. John grinned in triumph as his partner heaved a martyred sigh.
Man he hated it when John looked at him like that. “Alright but I’ll be right here if you can’t do it,” he said, his pride in his partner obvious in his face despite his fear of John being hurt again…His desire to see Johnny succeed outweighing his frustration with his young partner’s stubbornness.
John shifted his body to the edge of the seat before reaching out to grasp the arms of the wheelchair. He made one false start and Roy started forward and had to force himself to stop and stand still and not scoop him onto the seat.
John shot him an appreciative grin, having seen the motion and realizing what an effort it was for Roy not to coddle him, he pulled himself into the chair.
“Good boy,” Roy said proudly, patting his friends shoulder before gripping the handles of the wheelchair and pushing him inside.
Amanda was in her usual spot when they arrived and her smile brightened considerably at the sight of the handsome, dark haired paramedic.
“Good morning Johnny,” she greeted enthusiastically. “Mr. De Soto,” she said, almost as an afterthought.
“Mornin,” Roy said with a smirk as he watched John turn on his infamous grin.
“Mor…ning A…Manda,” John returned, looking a little self satisfied at having said it correctly. The slow quirk lifted the corner of his mouth.
She sighed at the expression. “That was very good. See I told you…You’re sounding better every day. You’ve been practicing,” she accused.
“He reads to my kids at night,” Roy informed her.
“That’s great,” she replied but her eyes were on Johnny.
“Uh oh,” Roy muttered, sounding amused as John turned on those soulful dark eyes.
John shot him a curious frown but it quickly turned to a smug smile as he caught his partner’s subtle nod in the woman’s direction.
Roy chuckled, knowing another young woman had fallen victim to his young friend’s charm.
“Something wrong?” She questioned curiously, tearing her gaze away from Johnny’s.
“Noth…in wron,” John replied, shooting his partner a glare.
She sat opposite the dark haired paramedic. “Good…Then let’s get started.”
John smiled as her fingers touched his mouth.
Roy pushed Johnny into the elevator and hour later. “So junior, you gonna ask her out?”
John tilted his head back to look up at his partner from his upside down vantage point. “You thin she go?
Roy laughed and patted John’s shoulder reassuringly. “Yeah junior…I thin she go,” he teased.
John gave him a silly giggle as he turned his gaze forward. The doors opened and Roy began to push him toward the physical therapy room. Johnny cast a worried glance over his shoulder hoping Roy wouldn’t make an issue out of his injuries with Whitson. The man would never let him try anything again.
Stan looked up as they came in and his face paled a bit at the cool look being shot at him by De Soto. “Good morning Gentlemen,” he greeted.
“Good morning?” Roy questioned. “My best friend comes home covered in bruises…,” he began, sounding more than a little annoyed.
“ROOY,” Johnny groaned in embarrassment, stopping the older man’s angry tirade before he really wound himself up.
“Mr. De Soto…I did try to talk him out of it,” Whitson exclaimed quickly.
Roy blew out a breath, knowing how stubborn John could be when he got something in his head. “Sorry,” he muttered, a little embarrassed himself at how paternal he’d just sounded. “I worry about him. I don’t want him hurt…He’s been through enough with this illness.”
“I understand but Mr. De Soto…He’s gonna have to work at getting back on his feet.”
“Getting on his feet is fine…Falling on his ass or cracking his ribs isn’t,” he warned quietly.
“Yes sir…He uh…Landed a bit hard that first time,” he admitted a bit sheepishly that he hadn’t prevented the first fall.
Roy patted John’s shoulder as the younger man practically cringed in humiliation. “Sorry junior,” he apologized. “But you know how I am about my family.”
John had to smile. How could he be angry at that? “O…kay Roy.”
“We’re going to work on something a little less physical today alright?” John’s eyes shifted to the bars across the room as they wheeled him to the table. He’d argue that a bit later…For now he’d humor them. “We’re going to work on your ability to feed yourself.”
Well…John couldn’t argue that either…It was one of his favorite pastimes.
Half an hour later John set the fork aside. “You did very well John,” Stan said with a smile. “You have been practicing.”
Johnny nodded… “Play games wi Roy’s kids.”
“Hmmm…I never thought of that as a therapy exercise but maybe I’ll look into it. It certainly sounds more fun than what we do.” The three laughed. “How about showing me how well you can do with the cones today?”
John shook his head. “Wanna try stand,” he said nodding toward the parallel bars.
Roy frowned and looked to Whitson. The older man shook his head. “Johnny…I don’t think you’re ready for that…” he began.
John’s jaw set stubbornly. “Nev can do if doan try,” he reasoned.
Roy blew out a breath in exasperation at his young friends reasoning. John’s face was set with a defiant tilt of the chin that he knew from experience would be a losing battle until he had his own way. Roy cast a glance at Whitson, concerned more with Johnny’s mental and emotional state if he failed than his physical state. Roy would never let him fall so that wasn’t an issue.
John worried his lower lip as he shot him a pleading look. “Damn it junior,” he muttered in defeat. “Alright…Let’s give it a shot,” he said giving in to his friend. “But don’t get uptight if you can’t do it yet,” he admonished as he pushed John over to the bars and locked the brakes. “You ready?”
“Yeah,” John murmured, anxious to try but apprehensive of the potential for failure.
Whitson moved in front of the younger man and used the belt to help Johnny stand. “Stay right behind him with that chair Mr. De Soto,” he warned.
Roy nodded. John’s teeth were clamped down on his lower lip as he gripped the bars tightly and his legs trembled beneath him. Three weeks of being ill in bed and then confined to a wheelchair had taken their toll, leaving him weak and shaky.
John concentrated hard and forced his right leg to slide forward. His left leg buckled. Whitson started forward but Johnny recovered, pushing himself upright and supporting his weight with his arms. “No,” he ground out determinedly between clenched teeth, not intending to give up.
Whitson stepped back but stayed close enough to grab him. John’s left foot moved slowly forward to join the other. The right leg gave way beneath him. This time he couldn’t catch himself.
Whitson grabbed hold of him long enough for Roy to get the chair under him before setting him down. John’s face was a mask of frustration. His fists hit the armrests in anger.
“Johnny stop,” Roy said gently as he squatted next to the chair. “You did great.”
“No…Two ste nah grea Roy,” he argued.
“Johnny…It was your first try. You’ve got to give yourself a chance. Next time it’ll be three or four. Remember what Amanda told you,” Roy shot back.
“Wan outta this chai…Wanna wal,” he whispered, looking almost ready to weep.
Roy reached over to smooth the shaggy dark hair from John’s eyes. “I know you do junior…I want you out of it too believe me but…”
“Gotta be patien,” he mumbled in disgust.
“John,” Whitson said. “You did better than I thought you would. I didn’t think you’d even get the first step. So why don’t we head over and work on your coordination and strengthening your legs,” he suggested, pointing to another piece of equipment.
John nodded in resignation. “Kay.”
Dixie was coming out of treatment room one as Johnny and Roy came down the hall. She glanced up as she heard several of the staff members greet the two men. Her mouth curled in a smile and her blue eyes sparkled a bit brighter at the sight of the pair.
She knew she shouldn’t have favorites among the paramedics that worked out of this hospital but she couldn’t help it. These two were special. She loved them both dearly but John Gage in particular tugged at her heartstrings and the ‘bond’ between them always touched her soul.
She stopped and waited for them to approach. “Hi Roy,” she greeted, patting Roy’s arm warmly before leaning down to speak to Johnny. “Hi Tiger,” she teased softly.
“Hey Dix,” Johnny replied.
“Wow…You sound pretty good…You look a lot better than the last time I saw you too.”
John frowned and looked a bit puzzled, trying to remember when she’d last seen him. There were vague memories of the day they’d taken him upstairs but they were foggy at best except that he’d thought Roy had abandoned him and for that nurse…She’d upset him and her face was indelibly imprinted in his mind.
“Doan remm…ber,” he murmured, looking a bit embarrassed by the admission that he’d forgotten.
“I’m not surprised handsome…You were sound asleep,” she replied.
Roy rolled his eyes, remembering the day as well. John looked a bit confused. “That was the day we took you upstairs junior…She’d sedated you before we got back to pick you up. I brought you down here to let them check you out.”
“Oh,” he replied, finally understanding.
Kel came out of his office up the hall and spotted the trio. He glanced at his watch and then headed toward them. “Hey fella’s…,” he greeted before turning his attention to John. “How are you feeling Johnny?”
“Kay…Head…aches nah so bad now.”
Kel grinned at how clear Johnny sounded. “”Good…And you certainly sound better,” he acknowledged. “Dix… Take him to treatment four. Get him in a gown and I’ll be in as soon as I call Joe. We need him to do a new EEG,” he explained to John.
“Come on guys,” she replied, nodding toward the room up the hall from the base station.
Roy pushed John along behind her and into the room. She watched, touched as John slid his arms around Roy’s neck and let the older man lift him from the chair to the table. She bet that hadn’t been an easy thing for John to have to accept at first, knowing his dislike for feeling helpless or dependent on anyone.
She blinked away the mist that gathered in her eyes at the relationship between the pair and quickly moved to help Johnny disrobe and get into a gown. “Lie down here sweetie,” she directed tucking a small pillow beneath his head to make him more comfortable.
Roy eased him back as the door opened and the two doctors came inside. “Roy…Johnny,” Joe greeted. He patted John’s arm. “It’s good to see you,” he said quietly.
“Thans doc,” the younger man replied with a grin.
“How are you feeling?
“Bet…her…Still ken nah walk.”
Kel looked surprised. “Johnny…You’re less than a week out of the hospital. You were weak and very, very sick. You shouldn’t even be out of that wheelchair yet,” Kel told him adamantly. “Roy told me you fell the first day.”
John nodded guiltily. “Yes…”
“Well don’t try that again alright?”
“Try today…Cou only take un ste…,” he admitted, looking discouraged.
“Then it was one more than you should have taken just yet…Give it time alright.”
“Thas wha Roy say too.”
“Well then listen to him because he’s right.”
“I know…Be patien…,” he muttered with a sigh.
Roy grinned and ruffled the sable hair teasingly. “He hates it when I’m right…Which is most of the time huh Junior?”
John groaned in disgust at that observation bringing a small laugh from all of them.
Kel’s mouth quirked as he turned back to John “Let’s get started… Dix why don’t you draw some blood? I want a CBC on him.” Dixie nodded and moved away.
John grimaced at the thought of a needle…He’d experienced way to many of them over the last couple of weeks for his liking but he really didn’t have much choice.
Roy smiled and patted his shoulder soothingly. “Last one junior,” he assured him.
“Roy, can you get me his vitals?” Brackett asked.
“Sure doc,” he replied as reached for the BP cuff.
Kel tucked his stethoscope into his ears and pulled the gown to John’s waist. John winced when he heard the sharp intake of breath as Brackett saw the bruises along his rib cage.
“What happened here?” He snapped.
John’s dark eyes shot nervously to Roy, knowing he was in for it. “Try tran…fer to chair yes…erday…Fell on the ar…res. Is okay doc,” he mumbled, trying to sound casual about it.
“It’s not okay John.”
Man…Roy must be giving these people lessons in how to let him know they were angry, Johnny mused at the use of his given name.
“You could have been badly hurt…This could have set you back in your therapy for weeks if you broke anything. Do I need to go up and talk to another therapist?” He questioned as he felt along John’s ribs. John frowned. When had he talked to the first? Johnny would have loved to hear that story.
“No,” he mumbled contritely, wincing as Brackett’s fingers found a tender spot. “Roy alrea…y talk.”
“Kel’s gaze shot to Roy. The younger man nodded. “We’ve already had this discussion.”
“But I di it,” he argued stubbornly.
Kel’s eyes rolled in exasperation over the young man’s willfulness and Roy grinned. “Join the club,” he chuckled.
“And he tried to walk again today,” the dark haired doctor added.
“Yeah…But Whitson and I were both there to be sure he didn’t get hurt this time.” Roy threw the doctor a half hearted shrug. “He wanted to try and I couldn’t say no.”
Joe Early covered his mouth with his hand and became very interested in the EEG machine, while Dixie struggled not to laugh…They’d both seen the younger man turn those pleading dark eyes on his partner too many times not to understand the inference. Dixie knew by experience, he’d done it to her a few times as well.
Kel blew out a breath. “Do I need to readmit you to be sure you don’t over do?” He barked at John in annoyance.
“NO,” John gasped, shooting a worried look at his partner.
“Slow down Johnny,” he said sternly as he continued with his exam.
“Kay,” John whispered in resignation. He knew he wouldn’t win this battle.
Roy had to look away from the woebegone expression on his friends face as Brackett listened to John’s heart while Joe began to set up for the EEG.
John swallowed a bit nervously as Joe began attaching the leads to his head. He’d been unconscious when they’d done all this the first time. Roy saw the apprehension in his friend’s eyes as he pumped up the cuff. “It’s okay Junior…You won’t feel a thing,” he reassured him.
Joe’s blue eyes flickered to John. “He’s right Johnny…Just relax okay? This won’t hurt.” The older man promised.
“Kay,” he whispered, feeling a bit like Frankenstein at the moment as Dr. Early attached the leads with a sticky feeling paste.
“Doc…B/P is 140/90. Pulse is 80 and his respirations are 20.”
“They’re all a little bit high for you Johnny but I think I’ll chalk that up to nerves,” he teased, seeing the look on John’s face. Roy chuckled a bit at that but still patted his young friends hand reassuringly as Dix tied a tourniquet around his upper arm.
“Relax sweetie,” she urged softly as she felt John’s arm tense at her touch. John clenched his teeth in anticipation but relaxed as Dixie smoothly inserted the needle, blowing out an anxious breath. Dixie grinned and smoothed the sable hair back gently. “All done,” she said placing a piece of cotton at the crook of his elbow before bending his arm up.
John smiled in relief."No more needles Junior," Roy teased.
"Promise," he muttered.
"Promise," he said holding his hand up as if taking a vow.
“Okay Kel…I’m ready,” Joe said. Kel nodded and stepped away. “Alright Johnny…I want you to just lay there and relax okay?” John nodded. “It’s gonna take a while for it to run and I want you to stay as still as possible. Don’t talk alright?”
“Alrigh…,” he agreed.
“Roy, why don’t you get some lunch with Dixie and I while Joe runs his test.”
“Will you be alright partner?”
John worried his lower lip nervously. “Yeah…Be fine,” he murmured.
“I won’t be gone long,” he promised, leaning close to his friend’s ear.
Joe smiled. “Don’t worry…Either of you. I’ll be right here with him the whole time.”
John gave Roy a small half smile as he backed toward the door with Dixie and Brackett. “I’ll bring you a sandwich for after okay?”
Dixie grinned and tugged Roy out the door. “Come on big brother,” she teased the blonde paramedic. Kel laughed and Roy smiled in rueful agreement.
“So how is he really?” Kel asked as they walked to the cafeteria.
“He’s talking better every day but he’s still frustrated that it’s not an instant cure. I mean when he had Malaria he didn’t have all this. It went away and he was back on his feet.”
“It’s not the same thing.”
“I know that doc but that doesn’t help him to be any less upset by all of this.”
“I know…But he’s gonna have to learn to be patient and take his time here.”
Roy snorted in disbelief. “Johnny hasn’t learned the definition of patient yet doc. It’s not in his vocabulary,” he added as they entered the cafeteria.
Kel and Dixie both nodded.
They returned to John’s room a half hour later. The dark eyes swiveled toward Roy as he pushed the door open but Johnny seemed relaxed.
Joe threw the blonde fire fighter a grin. “He’s doing fine Roy,” he assured the worried looking younger man.
“Can I sit with him?”
“Sure…Just don’t let him move or talk okay?”
Roy nodded and went to sit with John, setting the plate with John’s sandwich on it on the counter. John eyed it wistfully. His stomach growled drawing a smile from the others and a blush from John.
“Let me know when you’re done Joe,” Kel said as he and Dixie left the room.
Joe glanced at his watch. “Another hour okay?”
Roy nodded and John sighed.
“All done,” Joe said a while later, patting John’s shoulder. “Let’s get all this off of you alright?” He asked as he began to pluck the leads free.
Roy helped John sit up when he was done and handed him his sandwich while Early studied the results of his tests. Roy didn’t like the frown on the older man’s face but he said nothing, not wanting to cause John any anxiety.
John gratefully chewed the tuna sandwich his partner had brought him…Having very little trouble getting his arm to cooperate in getting it to his mouth. Roy shook his head in amusement as his young partner wolfed it down but the smile faded as he caught Early’s look.
Joe’s blue eyes met Roy’s briefly. Roy could see the concern in them. “I’ll be right back okay? I’m going to get Kel.”
“Okay doc,” Roy said, smiling encouragingly at John as he finally looked up from his late lunch.
“Wha is it?” John asked suspiciously.
“Nothing junior…Just eat your sandwich.”
John shrugged and returned to eating. He handed the plate to Roy as the door opened and Kel and Joe returned with Dixie in tow.
“Ken go now?” John questioned hopefully.
“No…Not yet. Uh Roy…Johnny. The EEG was pretty good but…”
“But?” Roy questioned as John’s eyes darted toward him nervously.
“There is some evidence that the infection is still present. The Delta Waves are still showing some spikes,” Joe explained.
“I want to do a lumbar puncture just to be sure.”
John’s eyes widened apprehensively before turning to Roy. “Doan wan to,” he mumbled.
"Is this absolutely neccessary doc?" Roy asked plaintively.
"Yes Roy it is...We all want to be sure."
"No Roy," John pleaded, looking miserable.
“It’s okay junior…I’ll stay right here with you this time I promise.”
“No more nee…les,” he whispered despairingly. “You pro…ise.”
Roy closed his eyes at the tone. John hated needles…He was phobic about them from several bad experiences from early in his childhood and God knew he’d had more than his fair share over the years and plenty with this latest illness. “One more junior okay?” He promised him quietly, as he helped John lay back down.
Dixie cast a glance at Kel and saw the same regret that she knew was in her own eyes for putting John through this again. She turned away from the distraught face of her young friend to set up the tray. She regained her composure before turning her attention back to Johnny.
Kel’s mouth set in a tight line…He hated doing this…John had been through enough already but they wanted to be sure he wouldn’t relapse or suffer any further complications from this disease. The spinal fluid would tell the tale.
“Roll him on his side Roy,” Kel directed as he pulled up a stool.
“Turn this way junior,” he directed as he rolled John on his side, drawing his knees up and pressing the dark head down until John was curled almost fetal like.
Dixie slid a stool toward Roy and smiled as she watched him smooth the sable hair from John’s face as he sat down beside him…His hand remained resting on the dark head, holding it gently in place, while the other took the long slender fingers in a reassuring grip.
“Alright Johnny…I’m gonna start. You’re gonna feel a little wet and cold for a second,” he explained as he cleaned the area with Betadine. “Okay…There’s going to be a small pinch and then I’ll put in a local to help dull any discomfort. Then all you’ll feel is a little pressure okay?”
John wanted to tell him that ‘no it wasn’t okay’ but he didn’t have a choice so he clenched his teeth and nodded his head briefly. The dark eyes locked with blue and Roy could see the anxiety clearly written in them. John suddenly twitched and sucked in his breath. “Shh…Shh junior,” Roy soothed, his fingers trailed through the shaggy hair.
“Okay John…I’m putting in the local alright…It should start to ease soon and it’ll be over in no time.”
“Kay,” he whispered as his hand tightened around Roy’s.
John seemed to relax after a few seconds and Roy breathed a sigh of relief. The worst was over…The young man flinched a bit with every new action or clink of a vile but he didn’t seem to be in pain. The senior paramedic continued to gently calm him with quiet words and the brush of his hand.
Kel finally held up a vial of clear liquid with a smile before he handed it to Dixie. He looked toward Roy and gave him a nod. “Looks good,” he assured him as he turned back to the task at hand. ‘’
“You hear that junior…? Looks good,” Roy reassured his young friend.
Kel finally straightened and handed three more vial’s to Dixie. “Get those to the lab Dix.” She nodded and left. “Okay Johnny. We’re done. I’m going to have X Ray take a quick shot of your ribs to be on the safe side and then Roy can help you get dressed alright?”
“Kay,” he murmured as Roy eased him onto his back. John threw him a small smile. “Than…s,” he whispered. Roy smiled…The one word had said it all.
“You’re welcome junior,” he replied softly. The X Ray machine was trundled in a minute later. Roy patted his friends shoulder. “I’ll be right back and then we can get outta here.”
John nodded his whole hearted agreement with that idea.
Kel returned shortly after the X Ray tech had left. He smiled at the two younger men… “Take him home Roy,” he said simply.
“The fluid looks good. There is still some inflammation present but it’s definitely improving. Let’s keep him on the Ribovarin for another couple of weeks but I’m taking him off of the seizure medication. “Let’s see how he does. Keep it handy in case you need it.” He turned to John. “You should probably go home and sleep for a couple of hours. You may experience some nausea and headaches over the next couple of days. I’ll have Dixie give you something for them if you do alright?”
Kel nodded tightly and started to turn away. He stopped before looking back to John. “I’m sorry to put you through all of that Johnny…I know this has all been pretty rough on you.”
John nodded as Roy sat him up and began to help him dress. “I’ll be back before you leave with your films John.”
Roy was getting pretty efficient at helping Johnny get dressed and had long since given up blushing in embarrassment over it. He lifted his partner from the table a short time later and placed him in his chair. “Go hom now?” He questioned plaintively. His eyes held a tired droop.
“Yeah junior…Go home now.”
True to his word, Brackett returned with the films. He cast a glance at Johnny as he slapped it into the light panel. He noted the exhausted look in the young man’s face. He’d had a tough day. He scanned the X Ray and turned to John. “Consider yourself lucky Johnny…You cracked a rib but you didn’t break anything. You stay in that chair for at least another week before you try standing again, understand?”
John sighed in frustration. “Kay,” he finally agreed. Kel patted his shoulder reassuringly.
“You’re getting well Johnny. I promise you…It’ll only get better from here.”
John’s head rested against the car window and it had been all he could do to keep his eyes open on the way home. Roy quickly got him into his chair and took him inside.
The house smelled sweetly of Ozella Petersen’s homemade cookies and Roy almost laughed as John’s head snapped up…His nose twitched appreciatively. The older man shook his head. “That’s almost better than an ammonia capsule where you’re concerned,” he teased his partner.
John grinned tiredly in agreement. Roy took him to the kitchen long enough for Jo to place a kiss on his forehead and let him snag a couple of Chocolate chip cookies before taking him to his room for a much needed nap.
“What happened?” She questioned when he returned.
“Man…They ran him through the ringer today babe. First Therapy…He tried to walk today but…”
“He wasn’t ready right?” Roy nodded. “And now he’s frustrated and depressed?” She said, reading John’s mood correctly.
“Exactly. Then they gave him an exam and then blood work, then they ran another EEG on him and that took a couple of hours and then Brackett decided to do another Lumbar puncture just to be sure everything was okay and then they X Rayed his ribs just to round things out.”
Joanne and Mrs. Petersen exchanged a grimace. “Poor baby,” Jo commiserated, knowing how much John hated being seen by doctors and most especially needles.
“He’s just already been through so much and he was real upset over the puncture.”
“I don’t blame him,” Jo said with a shudder. “What did the tests show?”
“Some infection is still present but the spinal fluid was clear so he thinks he’ll be okay. They pulled him off the Dilantin but they want to keep him on Ribovarin a while longer.” He held the syringe out to Ozella Petersen. “Keep that handy just in case we jumped the gun on that okay?” The older woman nodded and took it to the kitchen to tuck it safely away while Roy continued. “They gave him Vicodin in case of headaches from the puncture and Compazine to counteract the nausea from the Vicodin,” Roy finished with a sigh.
Jo shook her head and put her arm around her husband, leading him toward the kitchen. “I know this is all very frustrating especially for Johnny but let’s try to stay upbeat for his sake honey. He needs us to be positive.”
“I know,” he mumbled. “It’s just not that easy when I see the disappointment and… fear in his eyes.
She smiled in gentle understanding. She felt the same way.
The next week dragged slowly for Johnny. His daily therapy sessions went well and he practiced with the kids along with Roy and Jo in the evenings. By the end of the week his speech was becoming much clearer.
His arm strength improved daily and he continued to practice transferring from wheelchair to bed as well as other locations but he did still have trouble with the bathtub and toilet so Edward was still a fixture as well.
Much to everyone’s sorrow Mrs. Petersen would be leaving them at the end of the week. John was rapidly regaining his coordination in his arms and hands and was able to eat, bath and shave by himself for the most part. Roy, Joanne and Edward could handle whatever he would still need help with.
As frustrated as he was with the edict, Johnny did adhere to Roy and Dr. Brackett’s admonishment to stay in his chair for at least another week.
Roy and the crew of Station 51 remained faithfully at his side throughout. Hank and Mike encouraged him through speech therapy and praised every accomplishment.
Marco and Chet urged him on during every workout Whitson put him through. His legs and arms ached and the sweat rolled from his face but he pressed himself a little more each day. Chet even refrained from his usual snide comments. John returned home most afternoons exhausted but he refused to give up, determined to get on his feet the moment Roy and Brackett would let him out of his chair.
Roy waited patiently that morning while John heaved himself over from his bed to the wheelchair. “You ready to try getting out of that thing today?” The older man asked.
John looked up and grinned. “For real?”
“Yeah junior…Brackett said yesterday that he thought it would be okay to try,” he said, smiling at the look on his young friends face. He reached out to playfully whisk the shaggy, sable hair from John’s forehead and out of his eyes. “He called Dr. Mitchell upstairs and said to tell Whitson that we could start getting you up on your feet.”
“Les go then,” he said anxiously as he gripped the wheels and pushed himself toward the door.
“Hey wait for me partner…Unless you plan on wheeling yourself all the way to Rampart,” Roy teased.
John smiled and waited for Roy to catch up. Jo saw the excitement in his dark eyes as they came to the table. “I guess you told him?” she questioned as she leaned down to kiss the younger man good morning. John nodded enthusiastically and Joanne had to smile at the look of anticipation. “I better get you two fed then so you can get out of here.”
Amanda was waiting for them when John wheeled himself into the room. She saw the look of anticipation that practically radiated from her patient and shot a questioning glance toward the blonde paramedic that accompanied him. “Something going on?” She asked the two of them.
“Get out of this chair,” John said excitedly.
Roy frowned a bit. “Slow down junior…You get to try and stand up today…Maybe take a few steps, that’s all,” he warned his young friend, trying to rein him in just a little.
Johnny shot him a glare. “Doan spoil it Roy,” he shot back.
Roy blew out a breath an arched an eyebrow toward the pretty therapist. She took the cue. “Johnny…Don’t expect to just get up and walk today okay? It’s going to take time.”
“I know but I’ve been work…ing hard. Legs are stron…strong now.”
Amanda sighed and looked to Roy. “Johnny?” The older man began, sitting down next to him. “We both know how hard you’ve worked for the last week okay but…”
“No but…,” John interrupted stubbornly, slapping his hand on the table in irritation.
Roy reached out to turn John’s face toward him. “I just don’t want you disappointed junior,” he said softly, his blue eyes locking with annoyed brown.
After a long moment, the anger began to fade from John’s eyes as he realized Roy wasn’t trying to hold him back, just to keep him grounded in reality. “I know pal…ly,” he replied.
Amanda smiled at the two men in relief. She liked Edward and was impressed by Hank and Mike’s dedication to their young co worker whenever they accompanied him but she was always touched by the relationship between Mr. De Soto and John Gage. He never failed to bring the younger man around no matter how frustrated Johnny got during therapy and she hoped it went well for him downstairs later or the older man might have his work cut out for him.
The hour dragged by slowly for Johnny despite the fact that the pretty therapist spent the better part of it practically in his face as she took him through his paces and looked almost regretful that he did so well. “What’s wr…ong?” John asked at the expression on her face.
She smiled at him. “Well…It’s just that I think I’m going to lose my favorite patient soon,” she teased as she gazed into his chocolate brown eyes.
John grinned and Roy rolled his eyes. “I’ll be outside Romeo,” he said in exasperation.
Amanda giggled at the comment but it was short lived as John leaned forward and gently kissed her. He pulled back after a moment. “So if I’m not a pa…tient. You can go out… with me?”
“Was that an invitation?” John nodded and let that infamous grin quirk the corner of his mouth. She reached out to cup his chin as she did during their sessions but this time she leaned forward to catch his mouth with her own. “I’d love to…As soon as I release you from my care but that will be next week at least alright?”
“Kay,” he agreed.
Roy peered inside the room from the doorway and grinned. John was almost back to his normal self…His memory was back and his ability to talk had almost returned along with his girl chasing ways. His arm coordination and strength were improving rapidly…All of which meant that this infection was finally receding and his brain was healing. Now if they could just get him walking. Roy knew it would still be a long process and hoped he could keep Johnny from getting too discouraged at the delay.
Whitson was waiting when they arrived and waved them immediately to the parallel bars Johnny had tried before. He knew the young paramedic wouldn’t be in any mood to dawdle over leg lifts and weight dumbbells.
Roy let John wheel himself over to the bars before he reached down and patted John’s shoulder gently. “You ready to try this?”
John nodded. “Been ready for… a week,” he replied slowly.
Whitson nodded to Roy. “Let’s get him up. Stay behind him Mr. De Soto,” he directed, knowing that John wasn’t going to be that steady despite the fact that he’d been working hard for the last ten days.
Roy leaned over to lock the brakes. “Okay Junior…Up you go,” Roy said as John reached up to grip the bars. Whitson pulled upward with the belt and John was standing. He looked a bit surprised that his legs were shaking like branches in a windstorm and that they didn’t seem to want to support him.
John was holding most of his weight with his arms. He drew in a deep breath and tried to force himself to relax. “Why am I still…So wobbly?” He asked breathlessly, looking worried.
“John…You’ve been off your feet for over a month,” Stan explained.
“Do you remember when you first woke up after you were in the coma Junior?”
“Yeah…They were weak… but nah like this.”
“John…It’s not your strength that’s a problem here.” The young fire fighter frowned in confusion. “Sure you’re shaky yet but it’s more likely that you’re brain is still doing a bit of repair work…It’s rerouting certain areas that were affected by this infection alright. You will walk okay…It may just take a while. Your strong enough…We just have to wait for your brain to reconnect to your feet.”
Roy’s heart turned a flip at the disappointed look that crossed his young friends face. “That’s why I warned you not to expect too much right away Johnny,” Roy said gently.
“Yeah,” he whispered, looking even more depressed. “I just thought…,” he trailed off. “I worked so har…Fel…felt so much better…I want out of this…Damn chair,” he finished a bit breathlessly. Roy could tell he was fighting against the wave of frustration washing through him.
“I know junior…Let’s try a step or two huh?”
“Kay,” he mumbled. A look of concentration crossed his features. His right leg shifted forward as it had the first time.
“That’s it junior,” Roy murmured.
John was breathing heavily and his brows knotted over his nose as he focused on the next step. The left slid forward. Sweat began to bead John’s forehead and trickle into his eyes. The right lifted once more…John’s arms began to shake with the effort of holding his weight up. John’s mouth thinned as he clenched his teeth in determination. His foot slid forward again.
“C’mon Johnny,” Roy urged.
He shook his head and let his body sag into the chair, holding his aching arms against his midsection. “Can’t,” he whispered in defeat.
Roy quickly squatted next to his partner. He needed to nip that type of negative thinking in the bud. “Can’t today junior… Tomorrow you’ll do better and then better the day after that,” he encouraged as he pulled John’s arm away from his belly and began to massage the muscles, working the kinks out.
“Yeah,” he murmured disconsolately.
Roy tilted the younger man’s chin up. “Don’t give up junior…I need you back in that squad okay?”
“Yeah,” he said again. The dark eyes lifted to meet blue and he saw the look confidence in them that promised John that he would be able to do this. “Yeah,” he repeated with a small smile and a look of determination in the chocolate colored orbs.
“Okay,” Roy said ruffling the dark hair.
“Do you want to try again?” Whitson asked.
“Yeah…Jus give me…A minute,” he panted as Roy began to work the kinks out of John’s other arm.
A minute turned into five but Johnny finally nodded. “Ready to try agen,” he murmured.
John grasped the bars and pulled himself to his feet. His arms still ached from the last attempt but he threw his partner a small grin of triumph that he’d at least got this far on his own.
“Good boy,” Roy praised him softly, desperately hoping Johnny would succeed this time. He hated to see John disappointed but his hopes were dashed.
John had only taken two steps before his legs and arms began to shake under the strain once more. He shook his head looking beaten. “Can’t,” he whispered. “Can’t hold…Weight…Leg’s won work Roy,” he said sounding dejected.
“Johnny…They will. Don’t get upset okay? It’s just the first day. Just like relearning to eat and shave and transfer. It’s gonna take time junior…Please…Please don’t get discouraged.”
“John your partner is right. You’re arms were already tired and stressed so why don’t we work on something else for a while and come back and try this again later…Give yourself a rest.”
Been rest…ing for a month,” he grumbled.
“Eighteen days junior,” Roy returned. “The rest of the time you were fighting for your life, remember?”
“Yeah…Guess so,” he agreed grudgingly.
Roy squeezed his shoulder, knowing his friend was horribly disappointed that the morning hadn’t gone better. “Be patient junior,” he said soothingly.
John tried one more time before the hour was up. He’d only managed two steps that time before his legs had buckled beneath him. Whitson and Roy had both encouraged him not to get discouraged but it didn’t help. Roy blew out a breath at the depressed look on his partners face when they finally left for the day.
Joanne had lunch ready when they got home but Johnny waved her off as they came inside. “Nah hungry Jo,” he murmured as he rolled the wheelchair through the dining room toward his bedroom. “Tired…Wanna sleep.”
“Johnny…?” She called after him.
“Let him go babe,” Roy said quietly as the door closed behind the younger man.
“What happened?” She questioned immediately.
“He was so sure he was gonna be able to walk today…”
“Oh no,” she said softly.
“He could only manage a couple of steps. I tried to warn him that this might happen but he’d worked so hard at strengthening his legs and arms so he could get out of that chair…He was so sure and he’s just really, really disappointed,” he finished with a sigh.
“Are you going to talk to him?”
“I’ve already tried that…He’s not listening. He just needs some time alone I think. John’s a fighter…He won’t give up…This is just a bad spot in the road,” he said with certainty.
John stayed to himself for the remainder of the afternoon but Joanne went to get him for dinner. She knocked lightly on the door before pushing it open. John lay on the bed in his usual position…On his back with his left arm thrown over his face.
Jo smiled to herself. She’d been taking care of John Gage for too long to be taken in by the pose…She knew he was awake.
“Sweetheart…Dinner is ready, Are you coming out for dinner?”
John sighed…He should have known Joanne wouldn’t be fooled. He lowered his arm. “Thanks Jo but I’m not hungry.”
Joanne came and sat on the edge of the bed. She reached out to gently flip the shaggy, sable bangs off John’s forehead. “Baby you can’t hide in here forever…I know you’re disappointed that you couldn’t do more today but it’s not like you to give up so easily.”
“Easily?” He questioned in disbelief. “I try…TRIED,” he corrected… “Four times Jo.”
“Four times...one day baby... One day, you’ve got to give yourself some more time…”
“Time,” he grumbled unhappily. “You sound like Roy.”
She ignored the last comment and pounced on the first, gripping his chin with her fingers. “Yes time…It’s something you have plenty of John Gage,” she said sternly. John grimaced at the tone of her voice…Wow…Both names. She must be really serious. “There is no time limit here sweetheart…We’re not going to evict you and they’re not going to kick you out of the department if you don’t get better in a week…You have time. I know that patience isn’t one of your virtues baby but can you give it more than one day before you throw in the towel?”
John blew out a frustrated breath before he finally realized she was right. He grinned up at the woman who’d become a big sister and sometime mom in his life over the last few years. “I’m sorry Jo…I guess it was jus… wishful thinking…I guess I’m acting like a baby”
“No you’re not…You’re acting like someone who’s independent and strong and just had your feet kicked out from under you and you don’t like it but I also know our Johnny is still in there and he’ll bounce back just like he always does,” she said smoothing the hair back with her fingers.
“Thanks Jo…,” he said softly as he pushed himself up on the bed. She pulled him into her arms for a brief moment. John returned the embrace a bit shyly. “Can you get my chair?”
“Sure sweetheart,” she said pulling away.
John swung his legs off the bed and easily made the transfer from bed to wheelchair. She leaned down and kissed his cheek. “Now how about dinner?”
She gripped the handles of the wheelchair and pushed him to the door. Roy smiled, throwing a wink at his wife as she brought their young friend to the table. Sometimes Jo could handle Johnny better then he could.
John respected Roy but he also knew his partner was prone to ‘mother hen’…ing his young friend when he should be kicking his butt. Joanne treated him like one of her own children and because of that, she wasn’t as prone to sugar coating a rebuke that the younger man needed to hear.
John would bristle at Roy playing father figure with him right now where Joanne was warmly welcomed.
Captain Stanley and Mike were there early the next morning. Roy met them at the door. He was a bit hesitant about letting them take John today. While Joanne had improved his mood last night, Roy was well aware that another failure to walk today would send him spiraling right back down to negative thoughts and he wasn’t sure that Chet and Marco or even Hank or Mike would know how to deal with him if that happened.
“Morning Cap…Mike. Come on in. Johnny’s getting dressed so you have time for coffee.”
“Thanks Roy. So how did he do yesterday?” Cap asked eagerly. Roy had told them that they planned to get John up on his feet but their expectant smiles faded at Roy’s expression.
“It didn’t…He could only make a couple of steps before he had to give up. He kept trying though…I was impressed but…”
“He wasn’t,” Cap finished.
“No,” Roy said looking a little depressed himself. “I really wanted him to walk.”
“So did I,” Johnny said from behind them.
They all turned to face the youngest member of their crew. Apart from being in a wheelchair he looked good. “”Good morning John,” Cap said moving to stand near his junior paramedic. Mike followed.
“You sound great Johnny,” Mike said with a grin. He had no doubt that it would only be a matter of time before John was back to his old self. John was strong and determined even if he did need to be reminded of it sometimes.
“Thanks Mike,” he said.
“John…I’m sorry it didn’t go better for you yesterday. We were all hoping you’d just bounce back too…,” Hank said, looking disappointed for the young paramedic.
The younger man shrugged in resignation. “Just have to keep try…in,” he said philosophically. “Doan wan Roy to be stuck with Brice.”
Roy ruffled the dark hair. “I appreciate that junior,” he said with a grin. “That man’s gonna give me gray hair.”
“Wha’s left of it,” Johnny teased.
Roy looked affronted. “Watch it junior…You’re the main cause of my hair loss,” He shot back.
“And my frown lines,” Joanne teased as she joined them. John grinned but it suddenly faded. “What is it baby?” She asked curiously at the look of realization on her young friends face.
John was remembering back to what had started all of this. “Your birthday!”
“What sweetheart?” She asked in confusion.
“I miss your birth…day,” he said looking unhappy.
“Oh baby…That’s alright…You were a little sick at the time,” she reminded him.
“But I missed it…Wanted to have…Party for you.”
“I’ll just bet you did…After the way you were teasing me…I don’t know if I’d of liked your party. Besides, I’d rather have had it slip by unnoticed thank you,” she said primly.
“Had something special made,” he said forlornly.
Jo glanced at her husband questioningly but he shrugged. He had no idea what John had planned either. Roy patted his shoulder. “It’s okay Junior…We can always have it when you’re feeling better alright? “
“Yeah?” He asked hopefully.
“That’s a great idea Roy,” Hank said. “Maybe a barbeque?”
John perked up a bit that he hadn’t managed to completely mess up her special day, after all Joanne hadn’t missed celebrating his in five years.
“C’mon junior…Let’s get you fed and on your way.”
“Yeah,” he said sobering a bit.
“Johnny…Just give it all you have. That’s all we’ll ever ask of you,” Roy said quietly.
The younger man nodded and wheeled himself over to the table.
The blonde fire fighter cast a worried glance toward his captain and Engineer. Maybe he should forego Chris’s soccer game. His son would understand…What if John failed again? His friend would need him to be there.
Hank saw the hesitation in his blue eyes. “We’ll be fine Roy,’ he assured his senior paramedic softly, “And so will John.”
Roy nodded in agreement but he still wasn’t sure. Cap and Mike wouldn’t have any problem but what about Marco and CHET? He sighed…Hoping Kelly would keep his word not to upset Johnny. Maybe he’d run to Rampart after the game just to be sure.
Chet and Marco were waiting when Amanda released John with a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said with a wink. John smiled back.
Chet rolled his eyes in frustration. “I don’t believe it…,” he groaned in annoyance.
“Believe what?” Marco asked looking confused.
“He can’t walk and couldn’t talk and he still ends up with the girl.”
Marco chuckled at the disgruntled tone of the mustachioed fire fighters voice. “Bet you wish you could buy whatever it is he’s got.”
Chet nodded ruefully. “Hey Gage,” he greeted cheerfully.
“Hey Chet…Marco,” he replied before turning his attention to his captain and engineer. “Thanks Mike…Cap,” he said as the other two men turned to go.
“You did great John…You’ll do great in physical therapy too.”
“Sure Cap,” he said, not looking convinced.
Hank cast a glance toward Johnny’s two new escorts and jerked his head toward the corner. Marco took the hint. He nodded and pushed John’s wheelchair toward the elevator while Kelly moved off with his captain.
“John didn’t do well yesterday so be prepared.”
Oh man,” Chet mumbled unhappily. “We’ll take care of him Cap,” he assured his superior officer.
“Just don’t upset him Kelly.”
Chet nodded and headed off to catch up with Gage and Lopez.
Roy glanced at his watch for the fifth time in the last ten minutes as Chris’ game continued on. They’d been held up when the team playing on the field ahead of them had gone into overtime. And now this game was dragging on as well, with one stoppage after another.
His mind really wasn’t on this. He’d really wanted to be with Johnny today…He’d been so dejected last night…Well at least until Joanne had gotten a hold of him. She could usually turn the younger man’s mood around.
Regardless of that, Roy wasn’t sure that Marco and Chet could keep the temperamental paramedic from sliding into depression if he failed to walk again today.
“Got a hot date Roy,” Carl, the father of one of Chris’s teammates asked.
“What?” The blonde fire fighter questioned looking perplexed.
“You keep looking at your watch…I thought maybe Joanne was waiting…?” He teased with a grin.
Roy smiled back. “Sorry to disappoint you Carl but actually it’s Johnny.”
“Yeah…He’s at physical therapy right now…He had a hard time yesterday and he was pretty discouraged. I’d kind of hoped the game would get over quickly so I could take Chris home and go over there just in case…,” he trailed off.
“In case the same thing happened.”
“Well…Why don’t you take off? There’s only ten minutes left in the game and I can take Chris home.”
“You sure you wouldn’t mind.”
“Not at all Roy…I know Johnny could really use your support right now.”
Roy waited until the next whistle to catch Chris’ attention. “I’m going to Rampart,” he mouthed to his son as he pointed toward Carl. “Go home with Mr. Parker.”
Chris nodded and returned his attention to the game. He knew his Uncle needed his dad to be there more than he needed him here right now. He’d agreed to this potential possibility before they’d brought John home from Rehab and he didn’t regret it.
Roy headed for his car. He’d make it up to Chris later but Johnny might need him now.
Johnny sat in the wheelchair, his arms aching from the strain. Four times now he’d tried and failed to take more than a couple of steps.
“One more time John,’ Whitson encouraged.
“Can’t do it,” Johnny murmured, sounding defeated.
“Sure you can Johnny, try again,” Marco urged his young friend.
“My arms hurt Marco,” Johnny snapped, sounding harsher than he’d intended. The Hispanic man looked a bit hurt.
Chet threw a glance at his Latino friend and sighed. He’d been on his best behavior for three weeks now with Johnny and he might be risking his Captain’s wrath and a lifetime of latrine detail but he didn’t care.
Kelly knew John Gage could do anything he set his mind too, he just sometimes needed a little prodding. Enough was enough…No more coddling. Gage needed a wakeup call.
“Yeah you’re probably right Gage…You can’t do it, besides you don’t need to.”
“What?” Johnny asked, looking a bit affronted at that statement.
“It’s a helluva of lot easier to just let Roy and Joanne take care of you,” he said offhandedly.
Marco’s mouth dropped open in shock while Johnny’s set tightly in anger. “That’s nah true,” he growled in an even mixture of hurt and irritation.
“Dios Kelly,” Marco muttered in disbelief at the callous statement.
Stan Whitson looked equally shocked. Both of these men had been very supportive up till now. “Look Mr. Kelly…,” he began but Chet stepped away from him and pressed on, interrupting the therapists rebuke.
“Of course it is…Roy has to pick your butt up off that chair and Joanne waits on you hand and foot…Pretty cushy life you got going there Gage,” he taunted, throwing John a knowing wink.
“Shut up Chet,” John snarled angrily. “I CAN’T get up on my own.”
“I’ll bet,” Chet said with a laugh.
“Kelly,” Marco began but once again the Irishman stepped away and continued to goad the younger man.
“You know what I think? I think you’re a lazy jerk and you’re enjoying this little vacation.”
“I outta belt you one,” John threatened angrily.
“Go ahead Gage…Take your best shot,” Chet challenged with a sneer as he tapped his chin mockingly.
“Come over here and I will,” John shot back, thoroughly enraged now and beyond being hurt by the man’s words. What was wrong with him…He knew John couldn’t walk?
“Come on Gage…You know you wanna take a poke at me.”
“Yeah…I do,” he snarled as his fists curled in his lap.
“Then get your ass up and come over here Gage.”
Whitson and Lopez were both about to intervene but they stopped as John’s hands suddenly shot up to grasp the bars and he hauled himself to his feet. The two men exchanged a glance and fell silent as John’s leg moved forward, the look of fury still etched on his face.
“C’mon Johnny,” Chet whispered, barely audible… “You can do it.”
Marco looked on in stunned realization as the young paramedic took another step. John’s arms began to shake and his legs wobbled a bit unsteadily and for a moment, Marco thought he’d give up.
“I’m still waiting Gage,” Chet taunted, yawning as if in boredom. A renewed look of enraged determination crossed John’s face…He took another step. “That’s it Johnny…We love you man…We need you back,” he whispered.
Marco looked shocked but the Irishman was oblivious to the stunned look his friend threw him. Chet’s blue eyes were locked on John as he continued to move slowly toward him. Sweat began to bead on the younger man’s forehead and his breaths were coming in sharp pants, his dark eyes were still filled with anger as they remained fastened on Chet’s taunting grin.
“Would you look at that,” Marco murmured to the equally stunned therapist.
They all gasped as John stumbled. Whitson started forward and Chet tensed ready to race to his friend’s aide but John recovered. He stopped long enough to give his shaking arms a rest and get his feet back under him but it was a short respite.
Sweat ran in streams down John’s face as he pushed himself upright and took the last few steps that would bring him face to face with his tormentor. “I’m gonna bust you… in the…mouth,” John panted.
Chet smiled smugly. “Okay Gage…You take your best shot. I guess you earned it,” he said, not looking all that regretful for pushing his young crewmate.
John leaned against the rail, bracing his hip as he let go of the bar with his right hand, the fingers curled into a fist as he prepared to keep his promise to clobber Chet Kelly.
Marco stepped closer. “Before you do that Johnny, take at look at where you are,” he said quietly.
John frowned and the dark eyes flicked about the room before they widened in shock and returned to the smiling face of the Irishman and Marco. A look of dawning spread over his face as his legs finally gave in and began to fold beneath him.
Whitson gasped in horror. He’d become so engrossed in watching John walk that he’d failed to stay close enough to catch him if he fell. He started forward but someone else moved quickly into his path.
John felt himself falling but his last reserves had all been expended. He had nothing left to give. He managed to grab the bar to slow his fall…He saw Whitson, Marco and Chet all move to try and catch him before he hit the ground but knew they’d be too late.
He gritted his teeth in preparation for a hard landing but strong arms suddenly closed around him and he felt himself being guided carefully to the floor and his body held against a hard chest. He rolled his head around to look up into the smiling blue eyes of his best friend.
Roy waited patiently for the elevator to carry him up to the second floor. He hoped to get there before John’s session was over but if not, then at least he’d be there to help him through if he was depressed over his progress.
He half ran down the hall and quietly pushed the door open. He stopped in shock as he spotted Johnny walking unsteadily down the length of the apparatus. He couldn’t hear anything but the ragged sound of his young partner’s breaths and the small creak of the bars as John moved down them.
John’s face was a stony mask of rage and Roy wondered what had angered his friend so much but that was for later…Right now he just stood with his mouth agape as John walked.
“Go for it junior,” he whispered to himself, sucking in his breath as Johnny stumbled. He started forward but slowed just a bit as John recovered his balance and stood panting for air for a short moment. John moved on. He was about to greet the other’s as he heard John speak.
“I’m gonna bust you… in the…mouth,” he gasped.
Roy’s eyes widened in shock. What the hell had Chet done to him this time?
The Irishman smiled smugly. “Okay Gage…You take your best shot. I guess you earned it,” he said, looking very pleased with himself despite the threat.
John leaned against the rail, bracing his hip as he let go of the bar with his right hand, the fingers curled into a fist as he prepared to keep his promise to clobber Chet Kelly.
Roy was trying to decide whether or not to interfere when Marco stepped closer. “Before you do that Johnny, take at look at where you are,” he said quietly.
Roy couldn’t see his face but he saw John’s head turn as if looking around him for the first time and realizing where he was. He looked back at Kelly and Lopez.
Roy drew in a sharp breath as John’s legs finally gave way and began to fold beneath him.
He heard Whitson gasp and start forward but Roy was closer. He quickly closed the distance, ducking under the first rail to grab his partner before he could hit the ground. John was dead weight and Roy had no choice but to lower him to the floor, sinking down with him and letting the younger man rest back against his chest.
John’s head turned to look up in surprise at the person who’d saved him from a nasty fall. Roy smiled back at him. “Thanks,” he gasped tiredly.
“It’s okay junior,” he said quietly.
“I walked…Roy…All the…way,” he panted.
John felt the arms tighten around him. “I saw you junior. I was so proud of you,” he said against the dark head resting back against his shoulder.
“Mr. De Soto…I’m sorry,” Whitson said, looking aghast that he’d almost let John fall.
“It’s okay,” Roy said looking up at the man. “He’s okay…And he walked.”
“I’d like to take credit for that but um…That would be Mr. Kelly’s doing,” he admitted drily. Chet grinned unrepentantly.
“What did you do?” Roy asked suspiciously.
“I uh…Told him was lazy and that he was enjoying his vacation at your and Joanne’s expense,” he said with a shrug.
“Among other…Things,” John grouched breathlessly.
“You said what?” Roy barked angrily.
“I didn’t mean it Roy…,” he waffled at the fury in Roy’s eyes. “You were just gonna baby him along and I just thought Gage needed a little incentive to help him walk down here. I thought making him mad enough to wanna sock me might do it.”
John grinned up at Chet. “Well it did,” he said wryly.
Kelly smirked back down at him and offered him his hand. “Let me help you up Johnny,” he said with a grin.
John held up his hand and grasped Chet’s. The Irish fireman pulled John to his feet as Roy stood up behind him and lifted him by the gait belt. Whitson quickly retrieved John’s wheelchair and brought it down to him. Roy eased John into it.
Marco, Chet and Roy exchanged a glance and a smile. This was truly John’s first step toward a total recovery. They all knew the young paramedic wouldn’t rest now until he could walk, run and climb the way he used to.
John reached over and gripped Chet’s hand. “Thanks Chet,” he said sincerely.
“Awww don’t go getting all maudlin on me Gage,” he said with a grin.
Roy shook his head at Kelly’s inability to just accept John’s thanks graciously but Marco wasn’t about to let it slide. He waited for Roy to turn John’s wheelchair toward the door before he leaned toward his best friend. “I heard what you said to Johnny,” he whispered.
Chet’s blue eyes twinkled. “Oh…What do you think you heard Marc?” He questioned.
“C’mon Johnny…We love you man.”
Chet looked aghast. “Wow…You must be hearing things Marco. I’d never say that to Gage.”
The young Mexican Firefighter smirked at his friend. “You can’t weasel outta this one Chet…I know what I heard.”
Chet grinned. “Maybe you did…Maybe you didn’t but if you ever tell anyone else, I’ll deny it to my dying breath,” h said as he picked up the pace and followed the two paramedics out.
Marco chuckled and followed behind. He’d never tell John what Chet had said…It would ruin a beautiful relationship.
Roy was right. John continued to work hard in therapy over the next few days and steadily improved. While he hadn’t been able to duplicate his feat of that morning immediately after, it wasn’t long before Johnny was making the walk not only down the bars but back to his wheelchair.
Roy, along with the rest of the crew went whenever they were off to cheer him on. Even Joanne accompanied him when she could. John handled the pounding thumps on his back with a proud grin whenever he achieved some new goal but flushed in painful embarrassment when Jo planted a kiss on his lips for the same, drawing a laugh from the guys at her excited …”I’m so proud of you baby,” encouragements.
Still…He wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world. Johnny had felt his whole life as if he’d been an outsider. Always on the fringe of other people’s lives looking in until he’d met the De Soto family and this crew. They’d turned his whole life around and Johnny was grateful…He hoped Jo would understand the gift he’d had made and wouldn’t think it presumptuous of him.
John was very excited about it…Tomorrow they were having a barbecue…A combination going away party for Mrs. Petersen, a graduation from speech therapy for him and Joanne’s birthday party, a month over due.
Amanda had agreed to come along as his date…Roy was going to swing by his apartment on the way home to pick up the gift John had purchased not long before he’d become ill. He hoped Jo would like it.
Edward arrived to take him to his therapy appointment. Joanne gave him a quick kiss…”I’d like to come with you sweetheart but I’ve got a lot of shopping to do.”
“That’s okay Jo…Edward and I will be fine.”
Joanne smiled sadly at the man. John was doing better and better each day and it wouldn’t be long before he would be ready to fly without him. The older man caught the look and he nodded his head, knowing as well that his days with John would end soon.
He was glad of course that the young master was doing so much better and would be returning soon to the job he loved but he knew he’d miss him terribly.
He’d grown very fond of the boy when John had been a teenager and now…? He loved the person John had become. Strong, dedicated and determined…Loved and finally capable of loving someone in return. Yes he’d miss him but he knew he was leaving him in the best of hands.
Whitson was waiting when they arrived. He smiled at John and nodded to Edward. “Good morning John,” he greeted. “Are you ready to get started?”
John nodded and pushed his chair toward the bars but Stan stopped him. “I think it’s time to work on something else John,” he said cryptically.
John frowned. “I need to walk,” he argued but Whitson shook his head.
“Not on this…I think it’s time that you give Rampart its wheelchair back,” he teased. John grinned hopefully as the man moved to retrieve a pair of forearm crutches. “I think you’re ready to try these,” he said, smiling proudly at his young patient.
He’d seen the charts on John Gage and knew just how sick he’d been and he’d had to admit that he’d doubted this young man would ever be back to the way he’d been before but John had shocked him. He’d had his moments when he thought the paramedic had given up but he’d bounced back…The stubborn and willful attitude his partner had accused him of had finally been reborn and Johnny had literally pulled himself up from hopelessness to triumph.
John nodded eagerly. He wanted out of this chair in the worst way and if he could walk with these…He’d be on his way to being independent and mobile once again. Whitson grinned and locked the brakes of the wheelchair. He fitted the braces around John’s forearms and made sure his grip was secure.
“Yeah,” John replied quickly. He clenched his teeth and with a look of determination pushed himself to his feet. Edward moved in behind him, prepared to catch him if he fell but he should have known Johnny better by now.
He wobbled a bit unsteadily for a few seconds before he got the hang of the thin rods. “Okay,” he mumbled.
“Let’s take a walk,” Whitson urged with a smile.
John grinned and they headed off…Edward followed with the chair just in case. The young paramedic moved slowly at first but finally seemed comfortable and began to walk with more confidence.
“I want you to keep the chair for awhile longer Johnny…There will be times when you’re tired or sore and you’ll need it but I want you to try and use these as much as possible. When you’re a bit steadier we’ll try you with a cane and from there…Walking on your own alright?”
John nodded and sighed in resignation. He was glad he was getting better but it still wasn’t fast enough to suit him. He was hoping to be back on his feet in a week or two but knew realistically that he was looking at a month or even six weeks to really be ready to return to work.
They practiced for the entire hour…John had to stop and rest periodically but for the most part, seemed pretty stable on his feet. Whitson smiled at the man’s progress and had to admit, he was impressed with this young man’s determination to walk and get back to the job and the people he loved.
John walked to the elevators when they were ready to leave while Edward followed him with the chair. He waited for the doors to close before he looked at his companion. “Edward…Don’t tell anyone about this okay?” He asked with a grin.
“Certainly John…Can I ask why?”
“I want to surprise everyone tomorrow at the party. My Aunt will be here and the crew. Dr. Brackett and Dixie…I just want it to be a surprise.”
Edward grinned. “Of course John…I think they’ll all be very pleased at what you’ve accomplished.”
“I had a lot of help,” he said softly. He looked to the older man. “You included… Thank you Edward. I don’t think I ever told you how much I appreciated you being there now and…And when I was a kid,” he said with a small embarrassed shrug.
Edward looked pleased by the statement. “You’re quite welcome John. In comparison to your cousin’s…You were a pleasure sir.”
John snorted. “Thank you…I think.”
Edward laughed as well. “That was a compliment master John,” he assured the younger man.
As luck would have it Joanne was still shopping when they had arrived home the previous afternoon and John had smuggled the crutches into his room and hidden them in the closet.
Roy arrived home early the next morning. The crew would arrive later after they had a chance to go home and clean up and pick up their families.
Edward and Mrs. Petersen would be arriving soon after as they had both offered to help out with the party. Mrs. Petersen had promised to bake Jo a birthday cake and Edward would help Roy to set up the deck and the barbecue.
John was still in his room when Roy got home. The blonde paramedic gave a quick knock before sticking his head in the door. “Johnny …? You awake?”
“Yeah,” John said with a sleepy yawn as he lowered his arm. He pushed himself upright and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Roy grinned at how effortless John made it seem now, remembering the struggle it had been not too long ago.
“Well…I guess you’re ready for breakfast?” Roy teased as his young partner reached for the arm of the wheelchair and pulled it close. He quickly pushed upward with his legs and moved easily into the chair.
Roy grabbed some clean clothes and followed his partner to the bathroom…
Joanne frowned as Roy came back. “What is it babe?” He questioned worriedly as she glanced toward the bathroom door.
“I’m worried about Johnny,” she said quietly so the children wouldn’t overhear.
“Why?” Roy asked in concern… His good humor at John’s apparent happy mood evaporating in an instant.
“I don’t know…He was just so secretive when I got home last night. He wouldn’t talk about his therapy session. I just hope it went alright. He doesn’t need another setback,” she said worriedly.
“He seemed alright a few minutes ago…I’ll talk to him and see if he seems upset but maybe he’s just tired babe.”
“I hope so.”
Johnny came to the table a short while later. He greeted Joanne with a smile while both Chris and Jen talked excitedly about the upcoming barbecue and birthday party for their mom.
Roy propped his elbows on the table and leaned his chin on his folded hands. “So junior…How did your therapy appointment go yesterday?” He asked casually.
Johnny smiled. “It went okay…I walked some more and then Edward brought me home,” he said turning his attention to the children.
Roy sighed at his friend’s obvious attempt to steer the conversation in a different direction. “Was there any problems?”
John looked at him innocently. “No…No problem…Why ya askin?” He replied honestly.
Johnny’s eyes were locked with his which meant he wasn’t being evasive which in turn meant that whatever secret he WAS keeping wasn’t something that was upsetting him. Roy had to guess that it had something to do with the festivities planned for today and didn’t want to discuss it in front of Joanne.
“Nothing Junior…As long as you’re okay.”
“I’m fine,” he replied, turning away.
Roy pursed his lips and let it go. He waited for Joanne to return to the kitchen before he reached into his pocket and pulled out the small box Johnny had asked him to retrieve from his apartment for him. “Here,” he said handing it over.
“Thanks,” he replied with a grin as he tucked it down beside him in the wheelchair.
Roy noted that now that Johnny wasn’t confined to his wheelchair and could escape it whenever he wanted to, he didn’t seem to mind staying in it as much. John turned his attention to his breakfast and Roy let it go. John wasn’t ready to talk about whatever he was hiding from them but Roy knew he’d spill it eventually…He always did.
The older man caught the furtive glances being cast his way a couple of times but John remained quiet.
Mrs. Petersen and Edward both arrived and John heaved a sigh of relief as the attention was turned from him to preparing for the party. He knew those blue eyes were watching him and he knew if Roy pressed him he’d crack and spoil his own surprise.
He was never quite sure how Roy managed to make him tell him things he’d never tell anyone else but he’d always had that ability since the beginning of their friendship, an ability John had become extremely grateful for or he might still be locked in his lonely little world without these people in his life.
The rest of the guests began arriving at about eleven and soon the backyard was a beehive of activity. The crew played horseshoes while the children swam on the small above ground pool under the watchful eye of Melissa Stoker and Emily Stanley.
Captain Stanley taught Edward the fine art of Barbequing which brought a few laughs at the raised eyebrows of the very proper English gentlemen’s servant. He’d never so much as touched a grill before but he was quick to learn and Hank had him flipping burgers and barbecuing aluminum wrapped corn on the cob in no time.
Dr. Brackett, Dr. Early and Dixie showed up a short time later and greeted their two favorite paramedics. Dixie kissed his cheek before turning to Roy and Joanne and letting Jo take her over to meet the infamous Ozella Petersen. Kel trailed along behind while Joe ambled over to see if Hank and Edward needed some help.
Rosemary arrived and was happy to see Johnny doing so much better. “Hi Aunt Rose,” he greeted with a smile.
“Oh you sound wonderful,” she commented as she kissed his cheek.
John grinned. “Feel much better too. Aunt Rose…This is Amanda…My speech therapist,” he introduced the pretty blonde sitting next to him. She noted the close proximity of their chairs and smiled… ‘Girl friend’, she surmised.
“Nice to meet you Amanda,” she greeted politely, wondering if John would be able to hang on to this one. His friendship with the De Soto family had helped him tremendously but Rose knew John still had a lot of relationship issues to deal with before he’d be ready to seriously settle down with one woman.
“How are you doing in physical therapy sweetie?” She asked.
“I’m doing good Aunt Rose,” he said with a grin.
“Have you been able to try walking some?” She questioned hopefully. She knew how much John would hate being confined in that chair.
Roy came to join them and overheard the last comment. “Are you kidding Rose? Johnny’s been using the parallel bars for a week now. He’s doing pretty good so maybe someday soon...,” he trailed off, patting Johnny’s shoulder encouragingly.
John glanced around…All of his friends and family were now present. He caught Edward’s eye and nodded.
The older man excused himself from Hank and stepped into the house. He returned a moment later with the crutches. Roy’s eyes caught sight of them immediately and turned to John questioningly. “What are those for?” He asked softly.
John grinned as he slipped his arms through the forearm braces and carefully pushed himself to his feet. The games stopped and even the kids hung over the side of the pool to watch with huge grins as John took a step away from his chair. Every eye was locked on Johnny.
He moved toward Joanne as she stood with Mrs. Petersen and Dixie. All three had tears in their eyes as John drew closer. “Happy Birthday Jo,” he said softly.
“Oh it is now,” she said as she carefully reached up to hug him.
Dixie got a hold of him next. She swatted his arm. “Why didn’t you tell me?” She said in mock annoyance.
“I wanted to surprise everyone,” he said with a grin.
“Well you certainly did that junior,” Roy said as he began to applaud his friend’s accomplishment. The others joined in. Roy reached around and hugged John to him. The younger man’s face flushed scarlet but he didn’t pull away. “I am so proud of you…I knew you could do it.”
Mrs. Petersen stepped close to the young paramedic. “I never doubted you for a minute John…I knew what kind of determination you had from the minute you barged into Dr. Frick’s clinic and started taking charge,” she teased.
John blushed again but he still let the woman hug him tightly. “I’ll miss you,” he said quietly into the older woman’s ear.
“I’ll miss you too John but I’m so glad that you don’t need me anymore.”
John nodded and stepped back as the others closed in to congratulate him.
His arms started to shake a bit and Johnny wasn’t surprised that his partner noted it immediately and led him slowly back to his seat. John started to sit in his wheelchair but Roy grinned and shoved it away, pulling a lawn chair over close to Amanda. “Here Junior…I think you’ll be more comfortable in this,” he said with a happy smile.
The festivities resumed but everyone seemed just a bit happier. John was on his way to a full recovery…Their family would soon be back to normal. It just hadn’t been the same for the crew of station 51 or the doctor’s at Rampart without John Gage at Roy’s side.
By late afternoon everyone was pleasantly stuffed with food and tired from a long day in the sun. The kids were ready for cake and Ice cream.
Emily and Melissa went to retrieve the gifts for Joanne to open and Mrs. Petersen brought out the cake while everyone gathered around to watch.
Roy saw John shift nervously in his seat. “What’s wrong junior?” He questioned quietly.
“I’m just not sure if Jo will like this or not…It’s kinda personal. Maybe I should wait till everyone else is gone,” he whispered.
Roy frowned a bit wondering what exactly Johnny had bought but one thing was sure…Joanne would love anything he gave her. Curiosity was now killing the older man. “I’m sure she’ll like it junior,” he reassured his young partner.
Joanne set her final gift aside with a smile. “Thank you everyone…That was so nice of all of you. You shouldn’t have done all this but I appreciate it.”
The others began to clean up but Johnny finally heaved a nervous sigh and climbed to his feet. He maneuvered the crutches around the chairs along the deck and made his way to Joanne’s side. He reached into his pocket for the small pink box.
“There’s uh…There’s one more,” he mumbled, blushing a bit as he handed it to her. “If you don’t like it…I’ll uh…I’ll take it back and get you something else,” he stammered quickly, letting her know he wouldn’t be offended if she thought the gift was too presuming.
“Oh sweetheart…I’m sure I’ll like whatever it is,” she reassured the dark haired paramedic standing there shifting uneasily from foot to foot.
Jo opened the box. A small sterling pendant winked up at her from a bed of pink velvet. She looked at John curiously. “What is this?” She questioned.
John cleared his throat uncomfortably as all eyes were now on them. “I had it made…It’s a…It’s an Indian symbol.”
“Oh…Well what does it mean?”
“It just means you know…that you’re…Um…Like my sister… I mean it’s something I would give to one…If I had one…I mean…If you don’t like it…I…I can get you something else,” he stuttered as Joanne’s eyes filled with tears.
“Oh baby…,” she breathed out softly. “Thank you. I love it,” she assured him as she reached out to cup his chin. She kissed him gently on the mouth and pulled back. John’s face flushed scarlet as the others laughed at his discomposure.
“That’s really nice junior,” Roy said, patting his shoulder, touched that John was finally learning to accept that he was a part of their family.
“Can you help me put it on?” She asked as she pulled it from the box and undid the clasp. John fumbled a bit but he finally managed to get the tiny clasp attached.
The others watched in amazement…Many of them had been sure John would never bounce back from this disease but he was well on his way.
Rosemary and Edward shared a glance and a smile as well. They both knew Johnny would be in the best of hands when they left.
Over the next few weeks Stan Whitson kept his promise to John. Within two weeks he had the young man walking with a cane. Another saw him running slowly on a treadmill. By the end of a month John was climbing stairs.
Edward had said his goodbyes and returned to Santa Barbara with a promise from Johnny that the young man would keep in touch. The servant regretted leaving the young man behind but knew Johnny was happy and well on the way to returning to what he loved best.
At home, the young fire fighter was studying, waiting for the moment when Brackett would release him to limited duty and he could take the recertification test.
By six weeks John was walking on his own without the aid of cane or crutches and finally returned to his own apartment for the first time since Brackett had diagnosed him with the Measles.
The station crew was waiting anxiously as well. All of them wanted John back where he belonged.
Brackett finally gave him clearance to work desk duty at headquarters but first he spent one afternoon taking his test. He had to pass this in order to return to station 51 as a paramedic.
Roy paced the hallway outside nervously while his partner took the exam. What if John failed? What if his memory wasn’t as good as they all thought it was? Would the department send him back to the engine?
Roy didn’t want to lose his partner. They’d all worked so hard to bring Johnny to this day but the ‘what if’s’ were playing havoc in his head. John just had to come back…The door finally opened interrupting Roy’s anxious musings.
“How’d you do?” He questioned worriedly.
John shrugged. “They’ll let me know by tomorrow,” he said with a shrug. He thought he’d done well but what if his memory wasn’t up to par yet? He didn’t know for sure but worrying himself sick over it wasn’t going to help. “I’m starving pally…How about a hamburger.”
Roy shook his head…Only John Gage could eat at a time like this. “Sure junior.”They headed for home.
John reported for duty at headquarters the next day for the first time in six and a half weeks. He hated working behind a desk but at least he was back in uniform and that’s what he’d worked so hard for after all.
He’d been there for about three hours when the front door opened and Roy walked in. His temporary partner Eric Gibson was at his side but the tow head blonde paramedic stopped at the entrance and threw a wink at Roy. “I’ll wait here,” he said, knowing the relationship between the two friends. He didn’t want to intrude.
John smiled as his friend approached the desk. “Hey Roy…What’s up?” He questioned at the solemn look on the older man’s face.
“Brackett called Junior,” he said solemnly.
John’s face paled at the tone. “I didn’t pass?” He asked, looking worried.
Roy had intended to string him along for a few minutes but he couldn’t do it. The unhappy look on John’s face tore at his heart. The older man grinned suddenly. “Yeah junior…You passed…An even score with my own from the first time I took it.”
John’s face lit up. “Now all I need is Brackett to okay me for duty,” he said excitedly.
Roy’s face lost its grin. “Uh Johnny…Let’s not get ahead of ourselves…You may still be another week or so away from being back in the squad.”
John’s face fell. “But I’m fine…I’m working out…I can haul the hoses and…”
“I know junior but they still want to be sure your ready…Our job is a little more demanding sometimes.”
The dark eyes took on that frustrated look Roy knew so well. “Another week Roy…I’m going stir crazy here,” he said disappointedly.
Roy glanced around to be sure no one was watching before he tousled the sable hair. “Be patient junior.”
John groaned. “You have no idea how tired I am of hearing that,” he whined plaintively.
Roy chuckled. “You have no idea how tired I am of saying it junior,” he teased.
Johnny was on his way home later that afternoon. He was still brooding over the delay in getting back to field duty. He knew Roy was right and he needed to be patient. Their job was difficult and if he jumped back in without being a hundred percent, it could be a patient that paid the price for his over eagerness.
Traffic ahead of him began to slow down and John stepped on the Rover’s brakes. His dark eyes scanned the road ahead but he could see very little. The traffic finally came to a standstill.
He pulled the rover to the side of the road and climbed out…Standing on the running board to look over the top of the vehicles ahead of him. About a half mile up the road there was a tangle of cars slammed together.
“Oh man,” Johnny whispered as he realized he was the first and only responder on scene. He grabbed the first aid kit from the back and ran.
Other motorists were climbing from their cars. Most stood milling about uncertainly while a few others tried to assist the injured.
One man was trying to pull someone from one of the cars as John arrived. “Don’t move him,” John shouted as he stopped at the first car involved. The man looked at him hesitantly, unsure if he should be taking orders from this young man though he was wearing a uniform. “LA County Paramedic,” Johnny identified himself.
The other man recognized the authoritative tone and backed off. John reached in the broken window of the first car and felt for a pulse. Blood ran from a head wound on the man forehead but his pulse beat strongly.
“Has someone called the fire department?” He asked.
“Yeah…I sent someone on ahead,” another man replied.
“Great,” John said as he felt quickly along the man’s arms and around his neck. He opened the first aid kit and pulled out a gauze pad and some kerlex. He gently bandaged the head wound. He waved the man over. “Stay with him…Let me know if he wakes up or has any problems at all…Tell the paramedics that he has a head injury but it doesn’t appear that anything else is broken okay?”
“Okay,” the man replied as John grabbed the box and ran for the next car. He reached inside but saw the eyes staring lifelessly back. He shook his head at the small group of people standing around and moved on.
They heard sirens in the distance but John knew they were still too far away and these people needed help right now. They’d still have to fight their way through this traffic jam to get here.
John reached the car with the older man who’d been trying to remove the victim. “It’s my brother,” he said worriedly. “You gotta get him out,” he pleaded.
John looked him over quickly. “Look…I think your brother may have a broken back…We can’t move him until the rescue squad arrives okay. You could do permanent damage if you move him,” Johnny explained, hoping it wasn’t already too late. “You tell the paramedics when they arrive okay?”
The man nodded but he clearly wasn’t happy. John finally saw the flashing lights of a squad wending its way through traffic and he heard the air horn of its accompanying engine.
John moved to the next vehicle. This one was off the road and on its side. The door was caved in and the glass smashed from the side window. Without a moment’s hesitation John began to climb. He glanced back toward the arriving rescue vehicles and smiled in relief. Station 51…Behind them another squad and engine were making their way through the pile up. He’d have help very soon.
Roy pulled the squad to a stop and quickly climbed from the cab. Several people ran toward them, excitedly trying to tell him what had happened. He pointed to Hank… “Tell that man over there,” he directed as he raced around to help Gibson pull their equipment from the compartments.
Hank listened as the people pointed out the cars and what they’d been instructed to tell him. His dark eyes swept the scene and spotted the tall, lanky dark haired man climbing the undercarriage of the over turned vehicle. He’d know that skinny frame anywhere.
“ROY,” he shouted getting the strawberry blonde paramedics attention.
Hank pointed. “It’s Gage…”
Roy’s eyes widened in shock as they followed his Captain’s pointing finger. “Johnny,” he gasped. What the heck was he doing here?
“Go help your partner…,” Hank shouted. “Gibson…Take that car…Head trauma.” Captain Stanley turned to the arriving paramedic team from station 36. “Belliveau…Cameron. That man may have a broken back…You’ll need a backboard,” Hank told them, never questioning the injuries. If John had already called it then he wouldn’t for a moment doubt his word.
They frowned a bit, unsure of how the Captain from station 51 would know all this since he’d just arrived ahead of them but it wasn’t their place to argue. Hank saw the look and grinned. He pointed toward the overturned car where the slender frame of his junior paramedic was just sliding inside and his senior paramedic was just beginning to follow. “Gage,” he said quietly.
The two men grinned and nodded and threw a glance at the last remaining vehicle. “Don’t bother,” Hank said somberly. They understood. Belliveau grabbed the backboard and the two men headed for the car.
John stole a quick glance toward the vehicles. He saw Hank point and Roy turn to look toward him but he didn’t have time to waste. John let his slender body slide through the smashed window, wincing a bit as shards of glass bit into the flesh of his arm and hands. What he wouldn’t give for a turnout coat right now, he mused painfully.
The woman was just barely conscious, her face turned away from the young paramedic. She whimpered as his fingers found her carotid. “Help me,” she moaned barely audible.
“I’m gonna help you…You just be still okay?” He reassured her as his hands moved gently over her arms.
“I think my arms bleeding bad,” she whispered. John looked over at the pool of blood gathering beneath her.
“We’ll take care of that,” he promised as he felt the car rock. He knew Roy had arrived.
“What have you got Johnny?” He asked without hesitation.
“She’s got a nasty hematoma on her head and her left arm is bleeding real bad. Her pulse is weak and thready and her respirations are 16. She’s losing a lot of blood. I need a pressure bandage and a tourniquet,” he said as he leaned over the woman. She turned her head and John gasped in recognition.
“I’m scared,” she murmured softly.
John took her hand. “I know you are…But we’re gonna get you out… I promise.” The woman squeezed his hand…Holding on for dear life.
“Johnny?” Roy called getting his attention. John sat back on his heels without releasing the woman’s hand. He glanced up at his best friend. “Here junior,” he said handing his partner the requested items. His blue eyes glanced down at the face now turned toward them and his mouth dropped open in shock.
Did John recognize her? He’d been pretty out of it but still…This woman had left a lasting impression on his young partner and it wasn’t a good one. He hoped John wouldn’t be thrown off by it. He pushed the thought away…Regardless of who she was, he knew that even if he did recognize her, John Gage would be the consummate professional…He saw the woman’s bloody fingers clasped in John’s own and he shook his head. This was just typical Johnny…It’s what made him special.
Roy waved over the crew with another back board. They ran to help. “Here John,” he called as he lifted the board through the window. “You get this behind her while we pry this door open okay.”
“Okay,” he agreed with a wave of his own blood stained fingers.
“Okay Barbara, I’m gonna just slide this behind you alright?” He said quietly as he eased the board behind her at an angle to offer some support to her neck and back.
Some sense of awareness still remained in the injured woman and she frowned up at the young man leaning over her. How had he known her name?”
She squinted against the bright glare of the sun shining into her eyes through the window, blinking the blood from her eyes as she stared up into the face of the young man she’d been so brutal with at the rehab center. Blood trickled from a cut on his arm but he never let her go to see to his own injury.
She couldn’t believe it…How could fate have played such a trick? She was sure he’d use this to get even with her but then she felt the reassuring grip of his hand on her own.
“You’re doing great Barbara,” he assured her gently, squeezing her fingers. “We’re almost ready and we’ll get you out okay?”
She nodded, feeling the welling of tears in her eyes at the gentle tone. Didn’t he know who she was? Of course he did, her muddled mind argued. He’d called her by name hadn’t he?
She remembered Dixie’s words to her that day. ‘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’d raged.
Guilt rose up and tears spilled. She’d been horrible and Dixie was right…He should have received this kind of care from her…She had a lot of thinking to do if she ever got out of here alive and she owed a certain young fire fighter an apology.
John saw the tears. “Hey now,” he said gently. “Don’t get upset…You’re gonna be okay,” he promised her.
She nodded…He was right…In more ways than one.
John heard his partner’s voice. “Here Johnny…Put this over your head,” he said handing him a turnout. John took it one handed, never letting go of the frightened woman’s fingers. He draped it over his head and leaned over his patient.
He heard the screech of metal on metal and then a grating sound and a pop. Glass shards trickled down on his back. He felt his partner slide into the narrow space beside him and then Roy climbed into the backseat. Between the two of them, they managed to get her strapped onto the board.
Chet lowered a rope down and they attached it to the board before hoisting the woman up through the door. They grabbed the board and handed her down to the waiting crew.
Roy turned to Johnny. “What are you doing here?” He barked as he saw the blood from several cuts on John’s arms and hands.
“I was just driving home and it must have just happened. I was just in the right place at the right time,” he said with a shrug as Roy pulled him to his feet.
“Let’s get you out of here junior…You’re bleeding.”
“I’m fine Roy…I just cut myself on the broken glass while I was climbing in.”
“Yeah…Well let me be sure okay?” He questioned as he clambered out of the vehicle. He turned and reached down to help pull Johnny out. John gripped his hand and let his partner tug him up and out of the vehicle.
They jumped down and went to check on their victim. Cameron was already starting the IV that had been directed by Rampart. Roy led John to the squad where Captain Stanley was waiting.
“What are you doing here John?”
The young man shrugged. “Just on my way home Cap…And here I am.”
Good thing you were John,” he said, patting his youngest crew member on the shoulder. “Saved us a lot of time.”
John grinned but it faded with an “OUCH,” As Roy began to clean the cuts on his arm. He wrapped a bandage around it before moving to check his hands.
“Some of these are fairly deep Junior…I’m gonna take you in to Rampart and let Brackett take a look at them.”
“ROOOY,” John began.
“Don’t argue John,” I’ll have Chet drive your rover over for you.”
John sighed but followed Roy to the squad. Sliding into the middle seat as Gibson climbed in behind him.
“Been keeping my seat warm for me?” John asked flippantly.
The other man grinned as Roy started the engine and drove away.
“I don’t think you’ll need any stitches Johnny…Just keep the wounds clean and change the bandage every day alright?” Brackett directed.
“Okay Doc,” he replied with a grin as he shrugged his uniform shirt back into place.
“When was your last tetanus shot?” Kel asked.
John’s face paled a bit. “Uh…About a year ago.” Kel pursed his lips. “You promised doc…No more needles,” John reminded him hopefully.
“That was a whole different issue Johnny,” Kel replied with a grin but then he patted his shoulder. “I think you should be okay.”
“Thanks,” he breathed. Roy grinned at his partner’s obvious relief.
“In fact Johnny…You did so well out there today that I’m considering releasing you for active duty.”
“For real?” He asked excitedly.
Roy grinned too. “That’d be great doc but do you think he’s ready?”
John shot his best friend a disbelieving look. “I’d say this was his trial by fire wouldn’t you?” Kel asked.
John’s brow arched questioningly. “Unless you don’t want me back?” He asked looking a little hurt.
“You know I do…But I want you back permanently. If you’re not ready…”
“I’m ready,” John almost shouted.
Kel grinned. “I agree…I’ll call headquarters and tell them I’m releasing you back to paramedic service.”
John grinned and didn’t even object as Roy ruffled the sable hair affectionately. “Welcome back junior.” He said gently.
Joe Early finished up with his patient. He’d be sending her up to surgically repair the brachial artery in a moment. He rechecked the tourniquet before patting the nurse’s hand.
“They’ll be taking you to surgery soon. Dixie will stay with you until the orderlies arrive alright?”
The woman nodded, grateful that she’d have this brief moment with the head nurse. “Miss McCall,” she said quietly as the door closed behind the doctor.
“Yes Barbara?” Dix questioned as she planted a professional look on her face.
“I just wanted to tell you that…You were right. I was terrible to John Gage.” Dixie nodded…She was full of compassion for any injured person but she wasn’t quite ready to forgive her hateful treatment of her favorite paramedic. “John treated me in the field,” she murmured. “Did you know?”
Dixie looked shocked. John wasn’t on active duty yet so how had this happened? “No…I didn’t know.”
“He had his chance to be just as cold to me as I was to him,” She said honestly.
“Johnny would never do that,” Dixie said with certainty.
“I know…I learned that today. He taught me a little something. I wanted you to know.”
Dixie smiled. Barbara might make a good nurse yet.
The orderlies arrived to take her to the OR. They quickly transferred her to a gurney and wheeled her out the door just as John and Roy followed Kel from the treatment room across the hall.
“Wait,” Barbara said holding up her uninjured arm. The orderlies stopped.
“Mr. Gage,” she called softly.
Johnny glanced at Roy and stepped over the older woman on the stretcher. “Yes ma’am,” he questioned quietly.
She took his hand. “You were wonderful out there.”
John’s face flushed in embarrassment. “Just doin my job,” he mumbled scruffing his toe.
“Way beyond and after the way I treated you…I just wanted to thank you and to tell you taught me a valuable lesson…I just might be a decent nurse after all.” John smiled as he watched them wheel the gurney away.
“I’ve gotta get back to the barn junior but I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll let cap know you’ll be back to work on our next shift,” Roy told him with a grin before he turned and headed for the squad.
“Thanks…Thanks Doc.” John said with a smile. He hadn’t been a hundred percent positive this day would ever come. He breathed a sigh of contentment and followed his partner out to find the rover and head for home.
Johnny’s first day back had been long anticipated by his friends at station 51. Mike had stopped to buy John’s favorite jelly donuts on his way in. Marco had bought the groceries to make chili for lunch. Even Cap had brought Emily’s famous chocolate mousse pie for dessert.
Chet had also promised to bring something special. The others had frowned worriedly at that hoping it wasn’t his infamous strawberry surprise.
John and Roy came into the rec room talking animatedly as if Johnny had never been absent for more than two months.
“Welcome home John, “ Hank said as he patted the young man’s shoulder.
“Thanks Cap,” he said as he followed his partner toward the coffee pot.
“We’re glad your back Johnny,” Mike agreed as John returned with a cup of coffee.
“We missed you amigo,” Marco added.
“Thanks guys…I can’t tell you all how much I appreciate everything you did for me these last few weeks,” he said, looking a little embarrassed that they’d seen him at his absolute worst and most helpless state.
Hank grinned. “That’s what family’s do son,” he assured him as they all took their seats. Cap wondered idly where Chet was. He’d have thought that the Irishman would have been early to take the opportunity to talk to John some or at the very least take advantage of his pigeon before the day got into full swing.
He heard the shuffling of someone’s feet entering the day room behind him. “I was wondering where you were pal,” he said without turning around.
A collective gasp from his crew brought his head around in a hurry a second later. Hanks brown eyes widened in shock at the sight of his linesman’s face.
Red dots decorated his cheeks, chin and forehead. “Ah man cap…I don’t feel so well,” he said tiredly.
“What have you got?”
“Chicken Pox…I got em from my nephew,” he muttered as he headed for the table.
There was a scraping sound as Johnny’s chair shot backward, flipping over as the young paramedic back peddled away from his crewmate.
“You just stay over there Kelly,” he barked nervously.
Roy rose from his own seat to interpose himself between the Irishman and his partner. “He’s right…We don’t know if John’s ever had Chicken Pox and you could…,” his voice trailed off as he looked closer at the linesman’s face.
Those spots looked a bit odd…In fact one them looked smeared. Roy reached out and touched it…The spot disappeared, reappearing on Roy’s finger tip.
Roy looked up into blue eyes that twinkled mischievously. “Of all the lame things to do,” he muttered before he turned to his partner. “Relax Johnny…It’s just grease paint,” he assured the younger man.
John’s face turned red as the others began to giggle. “Kelly…You JACK ASS,” John bellowed as he headed toward the mustachioed fire fighter.
Chet whirled and ran. John was hot on his heels. The others quickly followed to be sure John didn’t kill the man.
Hank leaned back in his seat and put his feet up on the other chair. “Ah yes,” he breathed softly. It was good to have the boy home.
Posted to Site July 15, 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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