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Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light...Albert Schweitzer.
Roy paced the room. It had been two hours without any word. His repeated requests for an update were met with annoyance by the OR Nurse. “Mr. DeSoto…They’ll let you know when they’re through. Please…Just try not to worry.”
Roy called Captain Stanley to fill him in on what was happening. At least it gave him something to do. “Hi Cap.”
“He’s in surgery Cap,” he said somberly. “He’s bleeding inter- cranially…They uh…Have to reduce the pressure on his brain. They don’t know about his sight yet…They can’t be sure whether it’s permanent or not until they get inside.”
“Dear God…You keep us informed okay?”
“How’s Danella holding up?”
Roy gave an unhappy laugh. “She’s like me Cap…Scared to death but she’s holding on. I hope she’ll be okay cuz John’s really gonna need her.”
“He needs you both. Roy uh…The rope…”
“What about it?” The younger man asked anxiously.
“We checked it out. There were several weak areas. Captain Barber of C shift apparently ordered them to be checked after a bad run but…”
“But…?” Roy asked warily.
“Seems a new recruit didn’t catch the flaw pal…”
“Roy stop it…You couldn’t possibly have known there was anything wrong with that rope and C shift should have been responsible for checking the equipment after a run same as you are.”
“I know but…”
“No buts Roy…LaCera’s on suspension until they decide what to do but I just thought you should know.”
“We’ll be thinking about you…All of you…Try not to worry.”
“Thanks Cap,” Roy replied hearing what Hank didn’t say. ‘What if…?’ What if John didn’t make it? What if he did but he was blind or permanently brain damaged? Well the words weren’t necessary. They’d be there for Johnny no matter the outcome and no matter what lay ahead.
The clock seemed to move in slow motion…Danella was sitting with Joanne. She hadn’t spoken in over an hour, lost in her own thoughts. Her fists suddenly pounded her thighs in frustration. “What’s taking so long?” She cried as the tears began to fall. “This waiting…Worrying… I can’t do this. How do you stand this?” She sobbed at Roy.
Roy shrugged lightly. “It’s not easy Danella but he needs me to be here. He knows I will be and he’d be here for me. He’s worth every minute of it.”
“If he’s alright I want him to quit,” she said angrily. Roy remembered another young wife having these same fears as her husband Deke was taken to surgery. Roy had been very understanding but this was different. This was John and Roy knew him too well.
“Don’t do that Danella…Not if he’s alright.”
“Maybe he won’t be,” she said almost hopefully.
Roy and Joanne both looked at her in shock. “What do you mean?” Roy asked warily.
She looked down at her hands. “Maybe it would be better if he were blind,” she said softly.
Roy’s temper rose at such a selfish statement from this woman. “He’d be devastated,” Roy snapped at the girl.
“But he’d be safe,” she yelled back with a sob in her voice.
“Is that what you think...Really? Danella this job that Johnny does is dangerous I know but its Johnny. It’s not just what he does it’s who he is. If John is blind he’ll be crushed but we’ll deal with it and I’ll be there for him to help pick up the pieces and get him through it and he will get through. It won’t be easy and it might be hardest thing he'll ever have to do but John will get through it…He’s strong and he’s tough. He’s a survivor but he’d never be the same because being a fireman…a paramedic is what he LOVES.”
She was weeping bitterly at his words. “I can’t do this,” she shouted.
Joanne hugged the girl but Roy was having none of it. “This is his life Danella and it will be a part of yours if you love him,” Roy said sharply. “But if it can’t be…If you can’t handle it that’s fine but you better decide now Danella because I love that man. He’s my best friend and I don’t want to see him hurt. Not by you or anyone else.”
Joanne bit her lip…Touched as always by her husband’s love and protectiveness for his friend. A few short years ago Roy would never have been able to say those words about another man…Not even his father but Johnny and their friendship had changed that. Jo understood both sides of this argument, she lived it every day. She smiled to herself as her husband continued.
“He’ll be hurt if you leave now but less than if you wait until you’re down the road,” Roy barked angrily. “John’s not a quitter,” Roy said adamantly. “Don’t quit on him Danella, he needs you.” Roy took a deep breath trying to regain control. He finished a bit more calmly. “It’s your choice. I’ll get you to the airport if that’s what you want but don’t put him in the position of having to choose between you and what he loves to do…That’s not fair. Make no mistake Dani…He’d quit the fire department if you asked him to and he’d be miserable. Is that what you want?”
“No,” she whispered.
Joanne held the girl. “I understand Danella. I live this everyday too. The worry and the fear but then I remember the men they are and why they do this and you get to a place where you know they’re looking out for each other and you will come to terms with it. I almost lost Roy over it myself a few years ago until a very wise young man explained things very simply and he was right. That wouldn't I rather have whatever time we’re given with him than one day without him…Without him because I wasn’t strong enough for him. That I can’t ask him to be less than who he is. I’ve sat in this chair waiting for word on Roy or that young man in there I don’t know how many times because they’re worth it. Do you love who John is? Do you love him that much? Enough to want him to be happy…?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
Roy heaved a sigh of relief as Joanne soothed the frightened girl. He’d been afraid too. Johnny didn’t need this on top of everything else. At least he wouldn’t have to face the loss of Danella as well.
Roy resumed his silent waiting while Joanne held the younger woman, rocking her in her arms and speaking softly until she finally sat up. She wiped her eyes and threw Roy a small smile. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. He nodded in understanding. Dani was young and this was a tough situation for anyone to have to deal with but John’s future wife needed to be strong just as he was…The same as the wife of any Fire Fighter…Like Joanne, Emily Stanley and Melissa Stoker.
Forty five minutes passed before Roy glanced up to see Kelly Brackett and Jack Fisher standing in the doorway. Roy shot to his feet and hurried toward him…Joanne quickly followed but Dani hung back for a long moment before finally joining them.
“How’s Johnny?” Roy asked plaintively.
“Roy…,” Dr. Fisher began. “The fracture was tricky but we’ve repaired the damage to the skull and stopped the bleeding. There were a lot of small bone fragments and I think I got them all but there was a lot of swelling and bruising. The optic nerve was compressed by that swelling and that’s most likely what’s causing the blindness.”
“Will he get his sight back?”
“I’d like to promise you that he will but I can’t do that. I can’t guarantee that he’ll get it back until the swelling has gone down and the compression heals and returns to normal…Then we’ll be able to tell if there are any lasting repercussions from the injury.”
“How long will that be?” Roy asked anxiously.
“I can’t answer that either…Everyone heals at their own pace… It’s a matter of wait and see.”
Danella began to cry softly, remembering her selfish words. John would be crushed.
“Miss…?” Dr. Fisher began. “I didn’t say he wouldn’t get it back just that I can’t guarantee it.”
She nodded as she buried her face against Joanne’s shoulder. She held the girl against her. “We’ll get through this…He’ll be alright,” Jo whispered reassuringly.
“I’ll love him no matter what,” Dani promised.
Roy squeezed the girls shoulder. “So it could still come back?” Roy asked hopefully.
“It very well could unless the nerve damage is too severe…I just can’t tell you when…It could be a day…A week…” Roy heard the doubt even though Fisher didn’t say it.
“Or never,” Dani whispered in despair, voicing what he hadn’t said.
“Danella don’t give up hope,” Kel said sharply. “That’s the last thing Johnny needs is to think there’s no hope or he’ll give up.”
“No he won’t,” Roy stated firmly. “I won’t let him.”
“I know you won’t Roy. Let’s be positive for Johnny’s sake…That it will most likely heal.”
Roy nodded. “That’s all I need to know. So what’s next for John?”
“I’ll release him in about a week. He’s going to need supervision and a lot of help, patience and understanding whether he has his sight back or not. He’ll experience headaches for a while maybe some dizziness…Possibly even mood swings…We just have to be patient.” Fisher warned them.
“If he hasn’t regained his sight by then than the first thing we’ll need to do is to teach him to function without it.” Brackett added. Roy nodded. “I’ll check into some places Roy…I think I know someone who can help with that,” Kel offered.
Roy nodded…“What about his speech?” he asked.
“We believe that the impact with the ground caused what’s called a contrecoup. It literally rattled his brain in his skull,” Fisher explained. “It caused some bruising to the Temporal lobe but it’s minor. His speech should improve pretty quickly.”
Roy breathed a sigh of relief…“Great…Thanks. Can I see Johnny?”
“He’s in recovery. We’ll be moving him to ICU soon…Roy why don’t you go ahead in. Jo, Dani…You can see him once he’s settled. It won’t be much longer, “he reassured the two anxious women.
They nodded. “Okay,” Joanne replied for both of them.
Roy pulled the curtain back. John lay sleeping…His head swathed in bandages. It was like déjà vu. Roy remembered all too well when John had been run down by Frank Benjamin and he’d first seen him after the surgery…Just like this only that time Johnny hadn’t awakened for over six weeks. Roy shuddered at the memory…He’d been terrified of losing his best friend.
A low moan escaped John’s lips, breaking Roy’s reverie and he hurried to his young friend’s side. John’s eyes were still covered by gauze so Roy was unsure if he was awake or not. “Johnny?” He called softly as he took his partner’s hand.
John’s mouth moved as if trying to speak but nothing came out. His tongue flicked out to moisten his dry lips before he tried again. “Roy,” he croaked out in a bare whisper.
“I’m here Junior,” he said gently.
“Hurs…Head…Hurs R…Roy,” he whimpered.
“I know…I’ll let them know you’re awake and try to get you something okay?” He said remembering Dr. Hightower’s words...That every emotion was conveyed by touch. His fingers brushed John’s cheek reassuringly as he pushed the nurse call button.
A nurse poked her head into the room a minute later. “Yes?”
“He’s awake…Would you let Brackett know and tell him he’s in pain.”
She nodded and left.
“Ummm,” John groaned quietly, feeling like something was rattling around inside his head and pounding rhythmically. He moaned as the nausea began to build from the pain as well as the anesthesia that John never handled well. “R…oy,” he panted softly as he began to gag.
He felt hands turning him and something hard was pressed against his cheek. John vomited…His body heaving pitifully and groaning as his head throbbed with every spasm of his body.
The doors opened as Kel walked into the room. Seeing the situation…He turned and barked out orders to the nurse. “Compazine and MS Stat” He hurried to John’s bedside.
Roy was gently rubbing John’s back and speaking softly as the retching finally subsided. John gasped in between groans as he tried to catch his breath. Roy finally eased him back. “Doc…? Can you grab me a cloth?” Roy asked nodding toward the small bathroom as he held John’s chin. “Shhh,” he soothed the distressed younger man. “It’s okay Johnny, I’m here. I’m gonna take care of you…Its okay.”
Kel handed him the wash cloth and Roy gently wiped John’s mouth and chin as he continued to breathe heavily…Fighting against the pain.
The nurse came in followed by Dixie. “I heard Johnny was awake.”
“And sick,” Kel added as he filled the syringes and injected them into John’s IV line.
“R…Roy,” John whispered.
“I’m here Junior,” he reassured his friend as he brushed his forehead with the back of his fingers.
“Eyesss,” he slurred.
“We don’t know yet. Dr. Fisher hopes it’s temporary.”
“Not…sure,” he whispered plaintively.
John moaned softly and Roy’s blue eyes lifted to meet Kel’s. “The medication should be taking effect Roy.” Kel advised him quietly. “He’ll probably be pretty well out of it for the rest of the night if you want to go home after Jo and Danella have seen him.” Roy arched a blonde eyebrow at the dark haired doctor. Kel grinned back. “He really won’t know if you’re here or not,” Kel assured him.
“But I will,” Roy answered.
“I thought you’d say that so I had Dixie clear it with the ICU. They rolled another bed into his room so you can sleep if you want to.”
Dixie leaned over John. “How are you doing tiger?” She asked softly.
“Good guess hotshot,” she teased as she kissed his cheek. She could tell John was fighting the medication…Trying to stay awake as his head rolled to the side before jerking back. She glanced at Roy.
“It’s okay Junior…Go to sleep. I’ll be here,” he promised. He cupped John’s cheek. The younger man’s head sagged weakly into it. The blonde paramedic looked up at Kel. “He’s asleep.”
Kel grinned and shook his head. “I’ve been watching you use that little trick on him for years and it never ceases to amaze me,” Brackett teased. Roy smiled back. “The orderlies will be in soon to take him upstairs.”
“I’ll take Jo and Danella up to the waiting room so they can see him for a few minutes,” Dixie said. Roy nodded.
“How’s Dani holding up Roy?” Kel asked.
“Not so good,” he said…His blue eyes full of concern. “She’s having some doubts about being a fireman’s wife.”
“She’s scared Roy…That’s normal. Especially the first time someone you love gets hurt.”
“I know but I told her she needs to figure out where she stands Dix. If she can’t do this then she needs to tell him now…Before he marries her.”
“She’ll come through Roy,” Kel said. “She’ll find the strength somewhere. She loves John too much to give him up.”
“God Doc…I hope you’re right. It’ll kill him to lose her…Especially if…”
“Roy…Don’t go there. We’ve got to stay positive.” Roy nodded.
Two orderlies came in with a gurney. Kel nodded toward John. “ICU Room 2…Be careful with him…He’s kinda special to us,” Kel said softly.
The orderlies made the careful transfer and left. A moment later Joanne and Danella opened the door. “Can we come in?” Jo asked.
Roy nodded. “He’s asleep.” He told them quietly as he held John’s hand in his own. Joanne moved to John’s bedside. But Danella hung back. “Oh Roy, he’s so pale,” Jo said brushing John’s cheek. John rolled his head restlessly before settling back into his drugged sleep. “I love you sweetheart,” she said softly as she dropped a kiss on John’s mouth.
“Dani,” Roy said softly. She moved to the bed, biting her lip nervously. Her eyes filled with tears as she took in the pale skin and heavy bandages. Her heart broke at the sight but in that one moment she knew she could never live without Johnny no matter what he put her through.
“Oh Ná’méhόt,” she whispered kissing his lips gently. His mouth moved with one soft word. “Dani…”
“Néméhotâtse Johnny,” she whispered. But he’d already drifted off again.
“Dr. Brackett thinks he’ll sleep through the night so you might as well go home. I’ll stay with him,” Roy told them.
“How was he Roy?” Jo asked.
“He was only awake long enough to be sick,” Roy said wryly. “He was hurting pretty bad. Brackett gave him MS and something to settle his stomach.”
Jo nodded, knowing John almost as well as Roy. She glanced at Danella. “Johnny doesn’t handle sedation well,” she explained to the younger woman. “It makes him nauseas.”
“Combined with the head injury and pain…He was pretty sick,” Roy added.
Dani raised John’s hand gently kissing the slender fingers. Roy watched her warily. She glanced up and met his blue eyes. “Then I will be back in the morning and I will wait for him to wake…He’s worth it,” she said smiling at Roy. He breathed a sigh of relief. She’d made her decision. He smiled in relief.
Johnny woke the next morning but everything was still dark so he couldn’t begin to tell what time it was. The pounding in the back of his head had subsided somewhat and at least that was a relief but he still couldn’t see.
He raised his hand to his eyes with a sharp groan as muscles that had sustained the worst of the impact with the concrete set up a painful protest. He felt a hand close around his own… “Morning Junior,” came a deep, familiar voice.
“R…Roy,” he croaked out softly.
“Yeah partner…I’m here.”
“Kn…ew y…you would b…be,” he whispered shakily, trying to smile.
“How’re ya feelin?”
“Hurs…but nah like y…yes…erday,” he slurred. “Only one h…horse kick…in in there…nah f…four.” Roy smiled. “C…can I have wa…er?”
“Sure Junior,” Roy said taking the water glass and slipping the straw into John’s mouth. John sipped eagerly. “Easy junior, don’t make yourself sick.” Roy warned.
“My stomachs f…feeling m…mush bet…ter,” he said softly.
“Well just don’t push it.”
John’s hand returned to the patches over his eyes. “What a…about m…my sur…gery…?”
Roy took John’s hand once more. “Well they stopped the bleeding and they fixed the fracture. They’re pretty sure your speech will clear up soon…You took a really hard hit…Dr. Fisher called it a traumatic brain injury but you sound better already. Must be that hard head of yours.”
John smiled slightly. “M…my eyes…?” Roy hesitated a moment too long. “B…blind huh?” John whispered into the silence.
“No junior…That’s not what they said.”
“They said that there was a lot of swelling and some nerve compression. They have to wait for that to heal before they can say for sure.”
“But th…they think I’m b…blind.”
“No John,” Roy said sharply. He laid his hand along John’s cheek. “They’re still hoping it’s temporary but they don’t know when it’ll come back.”
“Wha’s th…that mean e…zacly?” John asked sounding frightened.
“That it could come back today or tomorrow or a few days…”
“Or never…? D…did they s…say that t…too?” John demanded.
“Yes,” Roy admitted honestly. “But they also said it was unlikely…”
“I’ll b…bet,” John whispered through trembling lips.
“Just l…leave me lone R…Roy.”
“I need to b…be a…lone Roy…Please,” he pleaded. “N…need to th…think.”
“Okay Junior…For a little while but I’ll be back.”
John tried to force a grin that came out more like a grimace. “I know y…you will.”
“Dani and Jo will be here later.”
“No I…I doan wan to…” he stopped. Roy knew he’d been about to say ‘see them.’
“Johnny…They love you. They’re worried about you.”
“I s…said no,” he snapped adamantly.
Roy looked at the ground in frustration. “Okay…I’ll tell them not to come…Today.”
“Thanks,” he whispered.
“What? What do you mean don’t come?’ Joanne asked in shock.
Danella looked at her curiously as she listened to the one sided phone conversation.
“Johnny doesn’t want company right now. He’s pretty down Jo.”
“Well maybe she’s what he needs to get back up,” she argued.
“Maybe…But not today…He wants to be alone right now. He asked me to go as well.”
“I’m coming home to shower and change but…”
“I know…You’ll be going back.”
“Alright…I don’t like this but we’ll give him some space for now.”
“I’ll see you in a while Honey.”
She hung up and turned to face Dani. “What’s wrong?” The younger woman asked.
“Johnny’s a little depressed right now sweetie. He doesn’t want us to come today.”
“What? NO…No I have to see him.”
“I know but he just needs some time to himself. He’s got to come to grips with the possibility that he could be blind even for a short time. That won’t be easy for a man like Johnny.”
Danella looked unhappy. “Maybe I should go there…Make him talk to me?”
Jo shook her head. “Won’t work sweetie… I know Johnny and he’ll just turn stubborn. Give him time Dani. Let Roy talk to him. He can usually bring him around one way or another.”
Dani hesitated and then finally nodded in agreement. “I guess you know his moods better than I do,” she whispered.
Kel, Dixie and Dr. Fisher walked into John’s room shortly after Roy had left. The young man’s breakfast tray was untouched.
“Good morning Johnny,” Kel greeted as Dix came around to lift his wrist and get a pulse.
“Good morning sweetheart,” Dixie said softly.
John turned his head away from where the voices were coming from.
“Johnny?” There was no response. Kel shot a worried look at Dix and Jack. “Where’s Roy Johnny?” He questioned, concerned and surprised that DeSoto wasn’t at his partner’s side.
“T…Tol him go h…home,” John mumbled.
“Glad s…some one d…does,” he muttered unhappily.
“Johnny? Dr. Fisher is here. He’s the one who did your surgery. Do you remember?”
“He’d like to check you out.”
“What…ever,” he murmured.
“John? What’s wrong?”
“Wha’s wrong…?” He repeated incredulously. “I c…can’t see…Tha’s wha’s wrong,” he stuttered.
“We think there’s a chance that that’s temporary John,” Fisher pointed out.
“How t…temp…or ary?” He demanded. “Today…?”
“We don’t know…”
“Tom…morrow then?” He interrupted angrily.
“We can’t answer that for sure.”
John dropped his head back tiredly. “D…didn’t think…so,” he said, sounding defeated. “In fact…You c…can’t pro…mise it’ll e…ever come b…back.”
“No…But there was a lot of swelling and bruising…”
John held up his hand. “D…doan bother d…doc. I’m a…was a p…para-medic…I know the d…drill. G…give him h…hope. Tell th…em wha they wan…na hear. Well save it f…for some…one else.” John was gasping now, struggling to get the words out as his face twisted in despair. “I know I…could get it b…back but I al…so know I prob…ly won’t. That it c…could take days or m…months but I doan have th…that. I’ll lose m…my job…My p…par…ner,” he panted as he struggled to sit up.
“Okay Johnny calm down,” Brackett said urgently pressing the distressed young man back on the bed. “I know you’re aware of the odds so I won’t lie to you. With as much swelling as there was it’s a sixty forty chance you won’t get it back but it’s still a chance and you’ve beaten worse odds than that my friend in case you don’t remember and no matter what happens with your eyes Roy will always be your friend.”
John sniffed back tears. “Yeah…The f…frien he has to baby…sit. Take c…care of.”
“It won’t be babysitting Johnny…You’ll learn to function…”
“As a Para…medic? That should be in…terestin.”
“No Johnny, not as a paramedic.”
John shrugged in a ‘there you are then’ gesture.
“Now you listen to me Johnny,” Dixie began sternly.
“NO…,” John shouted becoming agitated once more. “No…You listen. I was s…sup…pose to get m…married…Have a l…life.”
“You still can.”
“No…I won’t d…do that t…to her.”
“Do what?” Kel asked.
“T…Trap her w…with someone sh…she has to t…take care of. I’m s…suppose to take c…care of her.”
“You still can sweetheart…Just not as a firefighter.”
“It’s what I d…do Dix…It’s all I know,” he said with a hitched breath.
“Yeah S…sure,” he said despondently as he dropped his head back. “Jus l…leave me alone...My head hurs” he said putting his shaking hand to his now furiously pounding head.
The two doctors and Dixie exchanged worried glances. This was so unlike Johnny who was always the one to see the glass half full. “I think you need to rest now Johnny. We’ll come back in a while to do that check up,” Kel said quietly. “Maybe you’ll be up to company by then?”
“Maybe,” he whispered.
Kel pulled the tray closer. “Johnny you need to eat.”
“I’m n…not hungry.”
“Just the same…You need to try…I can get a nurse to help you.”
John’s hand shot out with surprisingly good aim…Sweeping the tray from the table onto the floor as they jumped clear. “I s…said I’m not hun…gry,” he growled angrily.
Kel and Dixie looked at each other in shock. “Alright Johnny,” Kel said in defeat. “I’ll get an orderly to clean this up.”
Cap and the crew stopped by just before lunch. “Hey pal,” Hank greeted. John remained silent, his face turned away from them. “John? Are you awake?” Cap asked softly.
Johnny sighed. “Yeah...”
“Are you okay?”
His head turned toward them. “No C…Cap, I’m b…blind…I’m not o…okay …,” he snapped.
“Roy told us it was temporary,” Chet cut in.
“Yeah…? Th…ey tried th…that on me too but I b…bet he didn’t t…tell you there’s a b…bet…ter chance it w…won’t be huh? Or that it c…could take m…months.”
“He said it could be months…He also said it might be days,” Cap said reassuringly. “Hell it could come back tomorrow…”
“Even this afternoon,” Marco added hopefully.
“Yeah…Tom…morrow, he mumbled disbelievingly. "Look g…guys I’m not up f…for c…ompany. ‘M sorry.”
“It’s okay pal,” Cap said, lightly touching John’s hand and trying to be understanding. “Has Dani been here this morning?”
John turned his face away. “No…I d…doan want her h…here.”
The crew glanced at each other in shock. “What about Roy?” Mike asked softly.
“I told h…him to l…leave. He’ll b…be back.” John shrugged.
Dixie came in with a young nurse’s aide carrying a tray. “Hi fella’s,” she greeted…Trying to sound cheerful.
“Hey Dix,” they said almost in unison.
She glanced at Johnny and then at Hank...Her eyebrow arching questioningly. He shook his head. “Johnny…Sweetheart? Your lunch is here,” she said taking the tray from the girl.
He wasn’t hungry besides the one time he had tried to eat on his own, he’d ended up wearing more than he got in his mouth “Doan w…wan it,” he murmured listlessly, laying his head back tiredly.
“You need to eat.”
“Do I n…need to th…row it again…I don’t want it,” he ground out.
Cap and the others looked shocked. Dixie sighed. She knew anger and lectures wouldn’t work, he was too upset to listen. “Okay sweetie.”
“Look I’m s…sorry but I’m r…real…ly t…tired can you all just go.”
“Sure pal,” Hank said quietly.
Okay Johnny,” the others agreed but they looked as despondent as John.
Roy hung up the phone…A look of worry etched on his features.
“What’s wrong Honey?” Joanne asked.
“That was Brackett…He said Johnny’s refusing to eat and he doesn’t want to talk to anyone. He told Cap and the guys to leave… He’s depressed and angry.”
“Understandable,” Jo replied softly.
“But he’s refusing to believe he’ll get his sight back. He’s quitting and that’s just not like him Jo. I mean he’s been through worse injuries. He’s overcome being a battered child with Aspergers Syndrome no less but…”
“But he could still see,” she pointed out. “There was light at the end of the tunnel and now there’s only darkness.”
Roy nodded dismally. “He’ll bounce back I know he will. I just have to find a way to reach him,” he said.
“Will he see me?” Dani asked quietly.
“No Honey…Not today. Dr. Brackett said he talked to him a short time ago and he didn’t want to talk to anyone…Even me.”
Joanne gasped in shock. “He didn’t mean it.”
“Doesn’t matter if he did, I’m going anyway.”
Joanne nodded. “We’ve got to reach him.”
“I will…I’m not sure how yet but I will.”
“Johnny…?” Roy questioned as he pushed the door to his friends room open. John’s eyes were uncovered but his face was turned away from the door.
“I told B…Brackett to tell you n…ot to come.”
“He told me.”
“Then w…hy are you h…here?”
“Because you are…”
“W…well don’t w…waste your time p…palley. Jus go home.”
“I’ve never considered you a waste of time Junior,” Roy said gently as he sat next to Johnny. He took his hand but it was limp and unresponsive. Roy reached out to pull John’s face around toward him. “They took the pads off,” he observed.
John shrugged. “Weren’t d…doin any…thing a…nyway.” Roy nodded knowingly. John had ripped them off himself he guessed.
“Brackett say’s your depressed.”
“Please Johnny…Talk to me. Don’t shut me out. You’ve always been able to tell me anything…We’ve been friends too long.”
“Well th…that’s about to ch…change isn’t it?”
“Why Johnny…Why is that gonna change?”
“Y…you’ll get a n…new par…ner. S…Someone who can s…see. S…someone who c…can do all th…ose things I c…can’t anymore. F…Fishing…Camping, b…b…allgames with the k..kids,” he gasped choking on a sob.
“Johnny…We’ll always be friends whether you can see or not and even if I get another partner for however long until you come back…Do you really believe they could ever replace you? That I’d just walk away from what we have…You’re my little brother…Family…I’ll be there for you…always.”
“T…To take c…care of m…me…? I w…won’t be a b…burden for s…someone to b…bear,” he snapped.
“You’re not,” Roy shot back, angry now himself. “You never have been. You know that!”
“Th…that was b…be…fore. When I…I wasn’t h…elp…less and…,” he choked on a sob.
Roy dropped the bedrail and pulled John carefully into his arms as he began to weep…His shoulders shaking and he struggled for a moment as Roy rubbed his back, speaking softly. “It’s okay Junior…It’s gonna be okay.” John gave up in defeat and rested his forehead against Roy’s shoulder, choking back the tears.
“I’m s…sorry,” he gasped trying to regain control.
“It’s okay Junior…I understand…Its okay,” Roy soothed the younger man as John sat up slowly.
Roy snapped a tissue from the bedside table and pressed it into John’s hand. “Th…thanks man,” John said embarrassed by the tears.
“Johnny,” Roy said patiently, seeing his friend’s face redden… “We’re past all that or we should be.”
Months of touch therapy had brought both men to a place where emotions and casual displays of affection were commonplace and not a cause for embarrassment. There was no mistaking the closeness of their partnership or that it transcended mere friendship…That they were more like brothers and occasionally father and son. It was a bond that had been established at their first meeting and had only strengthened over the years.
John nodded as Roy laid him back on the pillows. “How’s your head?”
“Still hurs…Hurts a lot,” John corrected himself.
A nurse bustled into the room with a tray. “Your dinner Mr. Gage,” she said sternly, knowing Johnny had refused to eat earlier.
“I’m n…not hungry.”
“Leave it,” Roy said to the nurse before turning to his stubborn partner. “Johnny…?”
The younger man sighed. “Suppose y…you’ll shove it d…down my th…throat if I d…don’t eat?” He questioned.
“In one orifice or another,” Roy teased.
John almost smiled but caught it in time. He shrugged in defeat. “Okay.”
“Good,” Roy said pulling the tray closer.
“I doan know if I…I can do th…this.”
“Then I’ll help you.”
By the time they were through John looked ready to cry…His mouth shook in embarrassment that Roy had had to guide every forkful while holding his chin and issuing instructions. “Open…," or "This way Johnny,” and wiping his mouth when John missed. “You’ll get better at it.” Roy assured him.
Johnny nodded but turned his face away in despair.
Dr. Fisher came in with Kel a short time later. Johnny…Roy,” he greeted.
“Doc…,” Roy returned. John remained silent.
“Johnny? Dr. Fisher wants to take a look at you.”
John managed to restrain the flip remark. “Fine…” was all he said.
Fisher did a routine Neuro check and then touched John’s face to check his eyes. John flinched at his touch. “I’m sorry John…I didn’t mean to startle you. I should have warned you.”
John shrugged looking embarrassed. “It’s o...kay.”
“I see you took the pads off,” he rebuked the younger man gently. He received another vague shrug. "Do you still have a headache?” He asked as he shone the light in John’s eyes.
“Yes.” The room grew quiet as the doctor checked the other eye. Fisher glanced at Roy and Kel with a frown and shook his head. “What?” Johnny questioned when the silence grew too long.
“John…Your pupils are still not reacting to light the way they should.”
John bit his lip in disappointment. His mouth trembled slightly before he compressed his lips to bring it under control.
“Johnny, don’t be discouraged. It’s early in your recovery…We really didn’t expect an instant cure okay?” Kel assured him gently.
“Maybe I d...did,” he whispered with a shrug, trying not to let the fear and disappointment show but Roy saw it anyway.
“Roy…Can I see you in my office before you leave,” Kel said quietly.
“Sure Doc.” Roy turned back to Johnny as they left.
The stillness of his normally expressive eyes broke Roy’s heart as John sat gazing into nothingness. Roy didn’t know what to say to him to ease his fear. John finally turned his head…The eyes looked dull and defeated…Staring past his friend.
“It’s okay R...Roy,” he said softly. “Y..you can g...go. I’ll be f...fine.”
“I’ll be here in the morning.”
John knew better then to argue. “S...so will I,” he said listlessly.
“I’ll bring Danella and Jo.”
“Johnny…You can’t keep them away forever…Especially Dani.”
“Yes I c...can. I…I’m gonna s...send her home Roy.”
“Johnny no…,” he began.
“It’s not f...fair Roy…She d...didn’t sign up for this.”
“You’re giving up! That’s not your style Johnny and it’s not Danella’s to run at the first sign of trouble. She loves you.”
“Please Johnny, give it some time. They told you it could take a while or it could be tomorrow. Don’t quit John please.”
“J...Just go Roy,” he whispered forlornly as he turned his face away.
Roy squeezed John’s shoulder gently. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Roy’s heart was aching as he left for Brackett’s office.
John stared into darkness, wondering if this was his future. His mouth trembled and the tears began to fall. Of everything he’d been through in his life, this was the most devastating. To give up being a paramedic…A Fire Fighter…To never see Danella’s face again. To tie her down to a blind man would be hugely unfair to the beautiful young woman. She needed to live her life not spend it leading him around and being his nursemaid, chauffer and babysitter. John knew he had to let her go but he wasn’t sure he could bear the loss.
Roy knocked on Kel’s door. “Come in.” Roy opened the door, stopping abruptly as he realized that Brackett wasn’t alone. “C’mon in Roy,” Brackett invited…“You know Dr. Fisher but I’d like you to meet Oliver Kendall.”
“Hello,” Roy said.
“Oliver…This is Roy DeSoto.” Oliver rose from his chair and extended his hand in greeting. Roy shook it.
“Nice to meet you Mr. DeSoto,” he said with a smile before resuming his seat.
“Roy please…,” he corrected turning to look at Kel curiously.
“Roy…Oliver is blind.”
“Oh…?” He replied and then frowned in confusion. “But how did he know…,” he trailed off.
Oliver smiled. “First…I assumed that you offered your hand…It is customary. Second I assumed if you hadn’t and I did that you would return the gesture.”
“Oliver is a teacher Roy.”
“For the blind…”
Roy’s eyes widened. “You think he’s not gonna get his sight back don’t you?” He asked fearfully.
“No Roy,” Fisher said quickly. “We’re still hopeful that it will return but I had hoped to see some improvement after surgery. It could be that the blow was even more severe than we thought at first. The bruising and swelling was very bad…”
“But…,” Kel said picking it up from there. “We want Johnny to be prepared to take care of himself for however long this lasts.”
Roy nodded hesitantly. “Okay but Doc…Johnny’s not ready. He’s so depressed…I’ve never seen him like this…Not even after Gayle accused him of…,” he stopped glancing quickly at Oliver.
“I know Roy. Believe me…I know how stubborn Johnny can be but for the moment, Oliver is here to teach you.”
“So that you can teach John… No one can get through to John better than you can.”
“I don’t know Doc…He’s not listening to me right now either.”
“He will. I have complete faith in you Roy. You’ll know what to do to reach him.”
Roy stared at his hands in dismay. “He’s so angry and frightened.”
“Wouldn’t you be?” Oliver asked. “I’m told he’s a vibrant, enthusiastic young fireman. Newly engaged to a stunningly beautiful young woman…Your world is full of color, excitement and beauty and BAM,” he snapped his fingers. “It’s all gone. You’re in darkness. You don’t know for how long…Maybe forever. Wouldn’t you be angry and frightened?”
“Yes of course…I didn’t mean he didn’t have a right to be.”
“Alright then but the thing is we can’t let him stay where he is…We have to push him and soon before he sinks to low.”
“Where do we start?”
“With the basics… Feeding himself…Getting around… That’s a priority.”
“I’m not going to kid you…It won’t be easy.”
“What do you mean?”
“If he follows the normal pattern…? It’ll get worse before it gets better. You need to be patient but tough.”
“Good…Then let’s get started.”
Over the next week John remained despondent. Hope for a quick resolution was fading for everyone as John eyes remained sightless. His speech improved slowly as the rebound bruising of the temporal lobe healed but he refused to let anyone see him including the Crew, Joanne or Danella but Roy defied the directive…Showing up daily anyway.
John tried to eat but ended up shoving the tray to the floor in frustration on several occasions when he couldn’t do it on his own without spilling it. He finally refused to eat anything he couldn’t pick up with his fingers or he didn’t eat at all unless Roy threatened to shove it down his throat.
Depressed, frightened and frustrated at the simplest task…Lashing out in anger when pushed. John rarely spoke…Staring straight ahead…His eyes dull and listless. Even Dixie couldn’t stir her young friend with her stern lectures to not give up.
Roy spent every moment he could with Oliver Kendall knowing Kel was planning to release John into his care in another few days. For the first time he wasn’t sure how to reach his friend.
Danella had spent those days alternately worrying and crying. “Why Joanne…? Why won’t he let me see him? Doesn’t he know how much I love him?”
“Of course he does sweetie. He’s just so confused and scared right now.”
“I want to see him Joanne please. Can you take me to Rampart?”
She started to argue but the determined look on the girls face made her change her mind besides she’d like to see him as well. “Okay Dani…Come on.”
They arrived at the hospital a short time later and made their way upstairs. Joanne specifically avoided going through emergency for fear that Dixie or Kel would stop them. “Dani let me try to talk to him first alright?” Jo asked.
Danella knew Jo needed time with the young man she’d long thought of as a little brother. She nodded. Jo pushed the door to John’s room open and she almost wept at the sight. John sat on his bed…His sable hair was ruffled and matted above the heavy bandages …His face pale and drawn. His hands folded in his lap as he stared at the wall in front of him. Tears tracked down his cheeks but he made no sound. “Hello baby…”
John jumped, startled. He hadn’t heard her come in. “What are you doin here? I told Roy to tell you not to come.”
“I know sweetheart but how could I not come to see my baby brother?” She said softly as she came to his side. John turned his face away. “Sweetheart, please don’t do that,” Jo said quietly as she touched his cheek, turning his face back toward her. “I love you…”
“Please Jo…I just wanna be alone. I don’t want anyone to see me like this,” he whispered in humiliation.
“See you like what baby? Hurting? Scared? I’ve seen you like that a dozen times…Do you think that changes how I feel about you?”
John didn’t answer but his face crumpled in despair. He reached up to wipe at his tear filled brown eyes. Jo reached out to hold him but he jerked away. “Please…Please Jo, just leave me alone.”
“Oh sweetie…,” she whispered through her own tears.
“ Ná’méhόt?” Dani called from the door.
John’s head snapped around toward the sound of her voice. “What are you doing here? I don’t want you here…”
“Johnny, please…,” she pleaded.
“No…I told you not come here…Go home…Jo please…Just take her home,” he said angrily.
Danella reached out and tried to take his hand but he pulled away. “Please Ná’méhόt,” she begged. “Talk to me.”
John turned away as Dani began to weep. His heart was breaking but he remained cold and unresponsive. Jo took the girl by the hand. “C’mon Sweetie…He’s not ready yet.” They turned toward the door and were surprised to see Roy standing there watching. He saw the tears in the eyes of his wife and the young girl whose heart John had just broken. He kissed his wife’s cheek and squeezed Dani’s hand as he moved into the room.
“That was pretty cold junior,” Roy said angrily.
“I told her not to come,” John said in a monotone.
“She loves you.”
“I don’t want her too.”
“Of course you do. You’re crazy about her.”
John’s mouth trembled before he slammed the walls in place…Locking out the world as he used to years before.
Roy sighed. “So we’re back to square one huh?” John turned away without answering. “Okay Junior but you won’t be able to avoid her when they let you out and I take you back to my house.”
“I’m not going to your house.”
“Of course you are…You can’t go to yours. You can’t take care of yourself.”
John’s head turned toward him…The eyes brown eyes looking beyond him. “Thanks for reminding me.”
“C’mon Johnny…This isn’t like you.”
“Yeah…Well maybe you don’t know me as well as you thought you did after all.”
“Yeah Junior…Yeah I do. Maybe better than you know yourself sometimes.”
“Just leave me alone Roy okay?” He said turning away.
Roy took hold of John’s chin and despite the fact that he couldn’t see him, twisted his head back around to face him. He leaned forward until his forehead bumped John’s. “That…is…never…going…to…happen,” he said very slowly and distinctly.
They were all frustrated…Johnny fought them every step of the way. Angry at being helpless and dependent…Afraid that he always would be…
“He doesn’t want to go home with you Roy,” Kel said ruefully.
I’m not giving him a choice,” Roy said with a shrug. “What’s he gonna do? Leave?”
Dixie grinned. “He’s right Kel…John’s at Roy’s mercy for the time being at least.” She sobered quickly. “But seriously Roy…How are you going to reach him?”
“I don’t know yet,” he said, sounding depressed. “I’ll think of something…”
“I hope you can Roy…I don’t know how much of this Johnny I can take,” she said softly.
The heavy bandages were finally removed the next day, leaving only a smaller bandage in back and even Roy’s teasing over their matching bald spots couldn’t spur Johnny to his usual sense of indignation or even to show annoyance that they’d shaved a portion of the back of his head.
Fisher ran a last check and pronounced him ready to go home… “Remember John…There will still be some headaches and you should keep your eyes covered to protect them since you can’t see to close them yourself as you normally would.” John shrugged indifferently and Roy heaved a disappointed sigh that he had sunk so low.
They stepped out of the room for a moment…“Try not to stress him too much and be careful…His sense of balance is compromised and unstable,” he added knowing it was going to be very stressful for all of them over the next few days as John came to grips with his disability. “I want to see him in a week. If the headaches get too bad give him these,” he added, handing Roy a bottle of pills. “Kel gave you Compazine for his stomach if he has any problem there.” Roy nodded.
“Let’s get our friend,” Kel said wryly.
Roy looked at Brackett ruefully. “So the battle begins.”
Kel grimaced but nodded.
“I’m not going to your house…”
“Johnny, we’ve been over this.”
“I wanna go home.”
“Then I’ll stay here.”
“C’mon Junior, help me out here huh?”
“Just leave me alone Roy.”
“You’re being childish.” John folded his arms across his chest, refusing to speak. Roy glanced at Kel and heaved a sigh. “Okay Junior…I’ll take you home.”
Kel looked at Roy in surprise but Roy waved him down. “My home…?” John questioned suspiciously.
Roy helped him get dressed and got him on his feet. John wobbled precariously, reaching out to grab anything to keep himself from falling…His usually impressive sense of balance completely off kilter. He felt a reassuring strong hand grip his arm as his flailing hands latched on to Roy’s shoulder, hanging on until he regained his balance.
He’d never felt so helpless in his entire life and he was terrified. He bit his lip to keep the fear from showing in the tremble of his mouth. His eyes, though sightless, were still the windows to John’s soul and Roy clearly saw the fear and the hopelessness reflected there. Somehow he had to get through to his friend…But how?
“C’mon Junior,” Roy said gently. “The wheelchairs behind you so just sit.”
John clutched Roy’s shoulder in a death grip but reached behind him with the other…feeling for the chair. He sat, breathing a sigh of relief.
A young candy striper followed behind as Roy wheeled him out the door. Johnny kept his head down as they rolled along the corridor. There was nothing to see anyway. Dixie was waiting as they exited the elevator with Johnny.
The pretty blonde nurse squatted next to the wheelchair. “Hi tiger…?” John’s mouth tightened but he said nothing and refused to raise his head. “Don’t give up sweetheart, okay? Please Johnny…” She reached out to brush the hair from his face but John flinched at her touch and ducked his head away. “Oh John,” she whispered softly in despair as tears sprang to her eyes. “I’ll see you in few days alright?”
“Let’s go Roy,” John said with a hitched breath without answering Dixie.
Joe Early stepped out of treatment room one as they passed. His eyes met Roy’s with a look of sadness. “Johnny…? Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
John nodded but didn’t speak. Roy shook his head at Joe and kept moving. Roy parked him at the curb with the young aide. “I’ll get the car Junior.”
John nodded. Roy crossed the parking lot knowing they were in for some fireworks over the next few days. Oliver Kendall’s prediction that John would get worse depressed Roy. How low would John sink before Roy would be able to reach him and pull him back up? One thing Roy was sure of…He would pull him back up…Kicking and screaming if necessary.
Roy helped Johnny into the car…His friend remained silent and Roy soaked it in while it was available. When John finally figured out what Roy had done, the fight would be on. Roy knew his stubborn friend would be furious but it was for his own good and he’d realize it in the end.
John sat quietly beside his partner. He jumped at the sound of passing traffic, flinching at every car horn. Turning his head at every slow down or traffic stop, trying to figure out where they were and wondering what was taking so long.
Roy drove down his street after taking a rather roundabout route home. John hadn’t caught on yet but he would soon. Roy pulled into his driveway. “Okay Junior, let’s get you inside.”
Johnny opened the door...Something was wrong…He listened carefully. There was no sound of the traffic that his parking area was usually busy with. No sound from his neighbors or the girls at the pool. He wasn’t at his apartment and that meant he could only be at one other place.
“Roy? Where are we?” He asked suspiciously.
John folded his arms across his chest and a mutinous look crossed his features. “Your home…”
“Very good,” Roy said, sounding impressed.
“I wanna go home.”
“You are home…This has been your home for years now so let’s go inside.”
“You can’t stay in the car forever.”
“You wanna bet?”
“Johnny, you’re being foolish.”
“Take me home.”
“Then I’ll…,” he stopped realizing what he’d been about to say was impossible at least for now.
“Walk?” Roy asked softly.
“I’ll call a cab…”
“Okay…But I have your keys and he’s only gonna drop you at your complex. Think you can find your way from there?” Roy would love to see him try…at least it would be a hopeful sign that his cocky and independent partner was still in there somewhere but John slumped in defeat, looking like he was ready to cry.
“You said you’d take me home,” he mumbled.
“I did take you home…We drove right through your complex and out the back way.”
“You tricked me.”
“Yes I did and I’m sorry but you’re not ready to be alone yet.”
“Am I a prisoner?”
“No, of course not… When you can take care of yourself and get yourself home, you’re free to leave but for now…Let’s go inside.” John sat defiantly as Roy came around the car to help him…An angry scowl darkened his face. “You gonna walk like a big boy or do I carry you?” Roy challenged.
John’s face swiveled toward him furiously. “I thought you were my friend?” He growled, climbing from the car.
“I am,” he said softly as he reached to brush the hair from John’s face.
Johnny slapped his hand away…The rapid motion throwing him off balance. He staggered, bumping into the door of the car and grabbing hold of it to steady himself…He flushed in humiliation at being so helpless that he couldn’t even storm away in a rage without Roy’s assistance.
Roy sighed. He understood his friend’s frustration and pain but it still hurt to have John so angry with him for wanting to help. “Okay now?” He asked gently.
“I’m just fine,” John snapped. “I’m being held prisoner…I can’t do the simplest thing for myself…I’m just dandy.”
“Johnny I understand…”
“NO… NO you don’t understand,” John yelled. “You can’t until you’re standing in total darkness and had everything taken away.” John was panting in a rage, trying desperately not to cry.
“You’re partially right…I haven’t stood where you are but Johnny…You and I are connected and always have been…I do feel your pain Junior but you haven’t lost everything. You still have me and Jo and the kids…You still have Danella and your friends. Don’t shut us out Johnny…We love you and we want to help you.”
“You don’t understand…It’s gone…Everything.” Johnny slammed the door and reached out, feeling along the side of the vehicle and brushing past his friend…Trying to find his way to the house on his own.
Roy looked away in disappointment that he hadn’t gotten through and saw Joanne and Danella standing in the doorway of the house. Both were crying quietly as they watched John. Danella suddenly pressed her hand to her mouth to keep from crying out. Roy looked back in time to see John stumble on the walkway and drop to his knees…Hands outstretched to break his fall.
Both of the women started toward John to help him but Roy waved them back as he quickly jogged to his partner’s side.
John remained on his knees, his face was scarlet and his head hung in despair as tears slipped from his dark eyes. He sensed Roy’s presence and he’d heard Danella’s gasp of fear. “Can you help me up?” He whispered painfully. Roy took his arm and pulled him to his feet. “Did Dani and Jo see that?” He asked softly.
“Yes,” Roy answered honestly.
“Well…This just keeps getting better and better huh…?” He whispered.
“You just need to learn how to get around…Go slowly…Count your…”
“Why?” John interrupted angrily. “What’s there to see?”
“Just leave me alone Roy…”
“You have to learn…”
“I…I wanna go to my room,” he pleaded.
Roy knew he wanted to go hide but he didn’t want John to retreat in defeat. “Get there on your own,” he challenged.
John stood there looking defiant for a moment and Roy bit his lip, hopeful that he’d see a spark of the real John Gage and he’d take that challenge but he sighed in disappointment as the defiance slipped away and John’s face fell, looking beaten. “Joanne?” He called softly.
“Yes sweetheart,” She answered.
“Can you help me,” he whispered brokenly.
“Of course baby,” she replied, shooting Roy an angry look. Both women moved to his side.
“I’m here as well Ná’méhόt,” Danella whispered. John nodded as they took his arms and led him carefully inside and away from Roy.
The older man sighed as he watched him shuffle away. This was gonna be a problem. They wanted to baby him which put Roy in the roll of bad guy and Johnny was obviously going to resist his efforts to help him learn. He’d give him a day or two but then…? Well he’d get tough if he had too. He wouldn’t lose Johnny…Not even to himself.
Joanne and Dani led Johnny to his usual room. Danella had moved her things in with Jennifer earlier that morning.
“Thanks,” he whispered. Danella gave Joanne a gentle nod of the head.
“I’m going to go make lunch,” Joanne said quietly.
“I’m not hungry,” John mumbled.
“Sweetheart, you have to eat.”
“Jo…I have a headache…I’m not...”
Joanne cut him off…“John Gage…Roy is not going to let you go without eating.”
John sighed in frustration. “Can I eat in here?” He whispered.
“Sure you can baby.”
John sighed in relief. At least he wouldn’t have to face the humiliation of being fed or having to eat with his fingers in front of everyone. He’d tried using the utensils but it had been a hopeless task and he’d worn more than he ate. He’d never felt so stupid or so helpless in his life. The simplest things were suddenly beyond him. Things he’d always just done without even thinking about them. His sense of balance was gone…He couldn’t walk without shuffling, tripping and stumbling. His self respect was slipping away. He couldn’t shave and the thought of climbing in and out of a bathtub was terrifying. He couldn’t even play with the children anymore.
Joanne left the room but Danella stood watching as Johnny gingerly moved into his room. He was completely turned around. His hands reached out, finally finding the bedside table. He felt along it until he came to the bed and sat down. He bit his lip in embarrassment, knowing Danella was watching. “Danella…I know you’re still here.”
“Yes Johnny…I’m still here.”
“Dani…I want you to go home.”
“NO,” she gasped as she dropped to her knees in front of him to take his hands in her own. He pulled away.
“I don’t know how long I’ll be this way but…I don’t want you to see me like this.”
“I love you…I don’t care if you’re blind. I want to see you anyway I can.”
“I love you too,” he whispered brokenly. “But don’t you understand? I could stay this way…”
“What? A day…A week,” she interrupted angrily.
It doesn’t matter John…,” she protested reaching out to cup his cheek.
He ducked away. “It does to me.”
“Please Ná’méhόt,” she said gently. “Let me hold you. I want to touch you…Look at you…”
“I want to look at you too,” he gasped. “That’s the problem…You’re looking onto eyes that can’t look back…I can’t see you.” He whispered as he turned his face away. “Please…Just go home.”
“I will not leave you John Gage,” she said as she stood up. “You can be cruel…Ignore me as you did at the hospital or run from me as you did at home but I WILL stay. I won the fight and your heart in Montana and I will win this battle as well,” she said stubbornly as she turned and left the room.
John heard the door close. “My hearts already yours,” he whispered softly as he began to cry.
Joanne brought John’s tray to him a while later…Roy followed. Both saw the sorrow in the dark eyes and the tracks of moisture on his cheeks.
Joanne desperately wanted to hold him…Coddle him and tell him everything would be okay but she knew he’d push her away. She turned her own tear filled eyes toward Roy but set the tray down and left. Roy turned back to his friend. “Johnny?” He said softly.
“I’ve spoken to a man who teaches the blind.”
John shrugged. “So…”
“He’s been showing me ways to teach you to get along…”
“I don’t want to …GET ALONG,” he growled. “I want to see.”
“So do I…I want my brother and my partner back the way he was…Whole and unbroken but until then Johnny…I can teach you how to live with this and when you’re ready…He can.”
“Roy…I know you’re trying to help but please just leave me alone.”
Roy sighed. “You gonna eat your lunch?” He asked, changing the subject.
“I guess so,” he mumbled. John’s fingers found the plate…Feeling what was on it. Man…Joanne was a great cook but sometimes Johnny wished she’d cook a little less healthy. Vegetables, meat…potatoes… Everything John had a problem with. A peanut butter sandwich would have been better right now. He picked up the pork chop and pushed the plate away.
“Johnny…If you want me to help you cut that up…,” Roy began.
“You’re eating with your fingers.”
John heaved a frustrated sigh. “I’m sorry if my table manners are a little bit lacking right now,” he said snidely, throwing the piece of meat down and missing the tray. “That’s why I’m eating in here.”
“You can’t eat in your room every day. I can show you…”
“Really…?” John said flippantly…Cutting him off. “You can SHOW me?”
“Teach you…I can teach you,” he corrected gently.
“Roy…Would you please just…Just go away. If you’d taken me back to my place like I asked I wouldn’t be offending you…”
“You’re not offending me… And if I’d taken you back to your place you wouldn’t be eating at all.”
“I’d have found something…” he shouted, reaching up to touch his suddenly aching head.
“Just leave me ALONE,” he yelled angrily, shoving the tray away.
“I want to help you.”
“I don’t want your help,” he said with a hitched breath. “I just want you to go away.”
Roy sighed. “Okay Johnny,” he said softly as he laid his hand on his friends arm. John jerked away. “I’ll leave you alone…For today.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“That means that I’ll leave you alone to sulk…For today.”
John’s mouth tightened but he said nothing. Roy picked up the tray and the scattered dishes… sweeping most of the spilled food back onto the plate and left the room, closing the door behind him. He’d go back later and clean up the rest.
Four sets of anxious eyes met his. “Is Uncle Johnny sick daddy?” Jen asked wide eyed.
“Why’s he so mad?” Chris asked. “Uncle Johnny never yells.”
“Guys…Uncle Johnny’s just really depressed right now and he’s pretty frustrated because he can’t see.”
“Why is he mad at you?” Chris questioned.
“He’s not mad at me…He’s just angry in general. I want to help him and he doesn’t want to be helped right now.”
“Why?” Jennifer asked.
Roy sighed. “Close your eyes.” Both children clenched their eyes shut. “What do you see?”
“Nothing,” they answered together.
“Right…Now imagine that that’s how you were gonna be the rest of your life maybe. Unable to see anything...Flowers, trees, the ocean...How would you feel?”
“Angry,” Chris said softly.
“I wouldn’t like it,” Jennifer said, still being a little afraid of the dark even though she could see.
“Right…So I want you to try and be patient even when he’s angry or he yells okay? Just remember that he’s not really mad at you.”
“Don’t worry daddy…We’ll help him even if he is mad,” Jen promised.
Danella smiled at Joanne. These children were so special…She prayed that she and John would be able to raise children with the same love and understanding that these children had. She could easily understand why John looked to Roy and Joanne in a surrogate parent role. They treated him the same way they did their own children…A guiding hand, a kick in the butt occasionally and unconditional love.
They kids went upstairs after dinner leaving the adults to talk. Joanne looked to Roy. “Do you have to push him so soon?” She questioned.
“Yeah Jo…I do. If I don’t, he’ll just sink even lower.”
“Maybe all he needs is time?”
Roy shook his head. He couldn’t let him keep this up. He was on duty tomorrow and John could relax…But the next day…Whether John liked it or not…His training to be self sufficient would begin.
John remained alone in his room…Coming out only long enough for Roy to lead him to the bathroom. “How about a shower Junior…?” Roy suggested, seeing the matted hair and the unshaven face.
Terror climbed in John’s throat. The fear of falling overwhelmed him but he would never admit it. “I’m fine,” he whispered.
Roy heaved a sigh. “Okay.” He led him back to his room a short time later. “Goodnight Johnny.”
There was no reply. John laid awake most of the night.
The next morning Roy poked his head into John’s room. “You awake?” He called softly.
“Yeah…Not that there’s that much difference in the view,” John muttered as Roy flipped the lights on. John sat curled on the corner of his bed. His back pressed against the wall with his arms wrapped around his drawn up knees. Roy’s heart broke as his friend gazed into nothingness...
“Just go Roy…I’m fine.”
“I’ll see ya in the morning,” he said softly.
Joanne knocked on John’s door later that morning. “Come in,” came a quiet response.
She and Danella went in. “Morning baby… Are you hungry?” Joanne asked.
John chewed his lip hesitantly. “I guess.”
“Will you come out and eat with us?” Jo asked. John shook his head. “Please sweetheart…We know you’re using your fingers to eat and its okay.” John flushed in embarrassment.
“ Ná’méhόt,” Dani said gently. “You can stay in this room a hundred years and it will not change the way I feel about you and neither will how you eat or whether or not you can see.”
“Please Johnny…You know we love you and that’s all that matters,” Jo added.
“Okay,” he finally whispered, letting Joanne take his arm and guide him from the room. She led him to the dining room and helped him to the seat. A few minutes later she set a plate in front of him. She took his hand and set it on the china so he could feel it. John’s face burned in mortification…Staring sightlessly at the table.
“Go ahead sweetheart. Dani and I are going to get the kids ready for day camp okay?”
He nodded in relief and waited until he heard their footsteps retreat up the stairs before he began to eat.
They returned a short time later. Dani took the plate away while Joanne took his arm and led him to the living room. John rubbed his head as the usual painful headache began to build.
“Does your head hurt Johnny?” Joanne asked in concern. He nodded. “I’ll get your pain pills.” Jo left and came back a minute later. John downed the pills with a swig of water and closed his eyes. The older woman and Danella exchanged a grin that they’d at least gotten Johnny out of his room.
Chris and Jen raced down the stairs…Their loud laughter brought a painful flinch from John. “Shhh,” Joanne hushed them.
“Uncle Johnny,” Jen squealed in excitement as she raced to her second favorite man in the world. Chris was right on her heels.
“Morning Uncle Johnny,” he said exuberantly.
“Hi…,” he said softly…His dark eyes trying desperately to focus on the unseen children in front him.
Jen’s small hand reached out to touch his cheek. John flinched but recovered as she turned his head toward her. “I’m right here Uncle Johnny,” she said. “You need to shave,” she said with a giggle.
John’s face turned crimson but he tried a half smile. “Morning Princess…,” he whispered. “Chris?” He questioned as his head turned back and forth, trying to figure out where the boy was.
“I’m here Uncle Johnny,” he said quietly as he laid his hand on John’s shoulder. “We’ve got to go to camp but we’ll see ya when we get home okay?”
“Okay,” he agreed softly.
John lay on the couch for most of the morning but nature called and he blushed in painful embarrassment…His worst fears coming true as he had to allow Joanne to lead him to the bathroom and back to the living room. He felt helplessly adrift in a sea of darkness. How could he live like this? Being a burden on his friends and the woman he loved. Afraid to move…The fear of falling paralyzed him and kept him glued to his seat…Even worse was having to have his friends lead him by the hand. Feed him, clean up after him and Danella? How could he be a burden on this woman he loved? Never to see her face again…How could he support her when he couldn’t even get to the bathroom on his own? He wouldn’t let her support him. Take care of him like a child. The thought brought a rush of humiliation.
John pulled into himself…The same barrage of fears and doubts swirling round and round, dragging him into a hopelessness that he couldn’t shake off. His head pounded relentlessly and he finally closed his eyes and let sleep claim him.
Roy waited in line with the others as Cap took roll call and delegated the chores…His temporary partner Chuck Watson by his side. Chuck seemed to sense the anxiety surrounding him as the crew shifted restlessly. Hank finally wound down and the reason behind their edginess became clear. “Roy…How’s John?” Cap asked.
The others broke formation and gathered close to hear the answer. The blonde paramedic shook his head. “Not good Cap. He won’t do anything…Just sits staring at nothing. He won’t talk to me anymore…He won’t come out of his room.”
“Just try and be patient pal,” Cap suggested.
“I can’t be patient Cap. I hate seeing him like this.”
“Is there anything we can do?” Chet asked in concern for his friend. Marco and Mike nodded eagerly.
“Not really,” he replied with a sigh. “Not yet anyway…I’ve got to somehow make him understand that his life isn’t over…That he can still have a future.”
“What about Dani?” Mike asked. “Can she help?”
“John told her to go home.”
“What?” They gasped in shock.
“Oh she’s not going…If there’s one thing about that girl it’s tenacity. She’ll hang in there. She loves him too much to give him up.”
“That’s a relief,” Marco said.
“It will be…If I can break through.”
“Don’t give up on him Roy?” Hank advised. “And please let us know if there’s anything we can do when and if he’s ready to accept our help.”
“I’m not giving up Cap. I’ll get his head on straight…As a matter of fact tomorrow when I get home…We’re gonna start.”
“Start what Pal?”
“Dragging him back to the living…”
The others nodded their heads, having no doubt that Roy could do just that. They’d seen him do it time and time again but they doubted Johnny was gonna like it much.
Roy’s first run to Rampart found him at the base station with Dixie while he waited for Chuck to come out of the treatment room. Kelly Brackett joined them a moment later.
“How’s Johnny feeling Roy?” Kel asked.
“He’s not doin to well Doc. He’s still got that headache and he’s really having a hard time accepting this right now.”
“Can’t blame him,” Dixie said gently. “Three weeks ago Danella was arriving and he had his whole life ahead of him and now it’s all dark and scary.”
“I know but…He can still have that life if I can just make him understand.”
“That’s easy for you to say Roy…You can still see.”
Both men looked at her in surprise. “Roy’s right Dix,” Kel said.
“I know that but John doesn’t. Right now all he see’s is a bleak future…No hope.”
“There is hope… It’s early yet…Dr. Fisher said so and his sight could still come back…Today…Tomorrow…,” Roy argued.
“Or never,” Dixie pointed out. “When you’re young and you’ve been through as much as he has and your very bright future has just had the lights turned off…It’s not so easy to see that hope. I know you have to get through to him Roy and I know it’s going to be a fight… just remember to be patient and just love him even when you want to shake some sense into him.
Roy grinned. “The patient parts not so easy Dix…But I never forget to love him,” he said softly.
Kel and Dixie grinned back at him.
“Cap…?” Roy questioned poking his head into the Captain’s office.
“I may need to take my next shift off,” Roy said hesitantly.
“What’s up Pal?”
“Well I need to work with Johnny and the problem is I’m afraid there’s gonna be resistance.”
“You knew that.”
“Yeah but…It’s not gonna be just from him. The girls think I’m an ogre and I’m gonna be waging a war on three fronts if I can’t bring them over to my side.”
“Yeah…Being tough with John...”
Cap knew Joanne’s penchant for protecting and babying the young paramedic and Danella? Well she was hopelessly in love and would do anything for John. Cap grinned at his senior paramedic. “I sure don’t envy you pal.”
Johnny swam in a sea of darkness. His hands flailed wildly as he sought something to grab hold of. The black waves threatened to drive him under and he gasped as they closed over his head but suddenly a strong hand grasped his pulling him to the surface. The reassuring voice of his best friend calmed him.
“I won’t let you drown,” it whispered.
“ROY…,” he gasped.
Loud voices suddenly pierced his nightmare, snapping John’s eyes open but the darkness remained. John’s eyes welled with tears but he quickly blinked them away as he recognized the voices of Chris and Jennifer coming home from summer camp. He sat up…trying to remember where he was. He felt the soft velvety fabric of the DeSoto’s cream colored couch and realized that he’d dozed off in the living room.
He flinched as something suddenly bumped against him. He jerked away with a gasp. “I’m sorry Uncle Johnny,” a small voice said.
“Just warn me next time,” he snapped out. John couldn’t see the shocked faces of Joanne and Danella but he heard the tiny sniffles of Jen’s broken hearted tears. He clenched his eyes shut, furious and depressed with himself. “I’m sorry princess,” he whispered softly as he fumbled to put his arms around the little girl. “I’m so s…sorry,” his voice hitched as he rocked her gently.
“It’s okay Uncle Johnny,” she hiccupped brokenly. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Yeah…Well… I shouldn’t have been scared. I know where I am right?”
“I guess… but it’s okay if you are,” she said giving him a soggy kiss on the cheek. She’d forgive her Uncle Johnny for anything. Joanne and Danella exchanged a smile and went with Chris toward the kitchen. “We’re gonna have a snack…You want some?” The four year old asked hopefully.
Johnny bit his lip. His first inclination was to say no but he didn’t want to disappoint Jen. “Yeah sure…Sure I do,” he replied coming cautiously to his feet. Jen ran excitedly to the kitchen to tell her mom as John took a hesitant step…and then another…Feeling along the coffee table. He finally found himself clear of the furniture and in the middle of the room. Without a point of reference he suddenly found himself completely disoriented. He turned in a panic…Hands searching frantically.
Jen ran toward him stopping to watch in helpless horror as Johnny’s feet connected with the backpack she’d dropped on the floor as she usually did when she came home. His gasp of fear made her cry out as he fell…Landing hard on his knees.
Her cry brought Joanne and Dani running from the kitchen…Chris was close behind. “Johnny,” Danella gasped as she reached out to grab his shoulder to steady him. John’s face was flushed in humiliation as he fought back tears. He pushed her hands away.
“Just leave me alone,” he whispered miserably.
Joanne gently moved Danella aside, knowing how embarrassed he was that Dani and the children were seeing him this way. She knelt next to John. “Sweetheart,” she said worriedly.
“Help me up Jo,” he murmured. “I want to go to my room.”
“Okay baby,” she said shaking her head at Danella as she tried to move forward to help. “Come on sweetheart…” She led the dismayed young man to his room.
He heard the teary small voice behind him. “It’s all my f…fault…He fell over m…my backpack,” Jen wept desolately. Johnny wanted to join her. He couldn’t walk across the floor alone and his being here was tearing everyone apart.
“We just need to be more careful where we leave things,” Danella consoled the little girl.
Joanne got him to his room. “Johnny…,” she began.
“Leave me alone…Just please go,” he whispered hopelessly.
“Alright sweetheart,” she agreed softly.
He stayed alone in his room the rest of the day…Sinking deeper in depression and becoming more fearful. Before this…Even in the worst times of his life he’d had a clear direction…A goal. To be a fire fighter…To help others but now the way was dark. He had no direction…No path. He was lost…Hopeless, helpless and terrified.
Johnny once again ventured out only once to let Joanne lead him to the bathroom. At dinnertime Joanne knocked on his door. She peeked in but the room was dark. “Can we come in?” She asked quietly as she flipped on the light.
“I’d rather you didn’t,” he replied barely audible.
“Okay,” she said from the doorway. “Dinners ready…Are you hungry?”
“No,” he replied in a small voice.
“Johnny…We want to help…,” Danella began but stopped abruptly as John’s hand slammed angrily against the mattress. “PLEASE…Please just leave me alone…I don’t want you to help me…I don’t want to eat…I just want to…,” he hesitated and Joanne caught her breath afraid that he’d been about to say ‘Die’ but he finally dropped his voice. “Be by myself,” he finished through clenched teeth.
“Please Ná’méhόt…This isn’t like you,” Dani pleaded.
John gave her a bitter laugh. “It is now Danella. This is what I am…Just go home…Find someone else…You deserve that.”
“I deserve you…I want you…I love you.”
“I DON’T WANT YOU TO LOVE ME,” he yelled angrily. “Just go away…I have nothing to give you…Nothing. I can’t take care of you…God, I can’t even take care of myself,” he yelled…His head was beginning to pound miserably once again.
“All I want is your love.”
“That’s not enough.”
Joanne took the weeping girls arm and pushed her gently toward the door with a shake of her head. She turned back to sit next to John... pulling him into her arms. He resisted her embrace for a long moment before letting her hold him. She could feel his shoulders shake as he wept against her shoulder.
He regained control after a moment and sat up. “I’m okay Jo,” he said listlessly.
She knew enough to let him be for the moment. “I’ll see you in the morning baby. I’ll leave my door open. Call me if you need me.”
“Thanks,” he whispered.
When Roy arrived home the next morning he was greeted by a distraught Joanne and a tearful Danella. “What happened? He asked in concern.
They explained everything to him. “Roy…I’m really worried about him. I don’t know how to help him.”
“I won’t leave him…,” Danella said determinedly.
“I know you won’t honey,” Roy told the girl with a sigh. “Okay Junior…Times up.” The two women exchanged a confused glance as Roy went to knock on John’s door. He opened it without waiting for a response and stepped inside. “Morning Junior…,” he said softly.
“Mornin,” he mumbled.
John looked terrible. Other than the sponge bath he’d received in the hospital the day before he left, he hadn’t done anything to take care of himself. His hair was dirty, tangled and matted. He had three days growth of scruffy stubble on his face. He was in the same clothes he’d come home in two days before. The tee shirt bore food stains down the front.
“Joanne has breakfast ready and then I thought you might want to clean up a bit.”
“I’ll eat in here,” he said softly.
“You’ll eat at the table with the rest of us.”
John turned his head toward him…The dark eyes looking past him. “I can’t eat at the table.”
“Sure you can. Joanne and Danella are not your maids and there’s no more room service.”
John’s face darkened in anger. “Fine…Then I won’t eat.”
“Yes you will…Let’s go.”
Roy reached out and grasped John’s arm and pulled him to his feet. “Let me go,” he protested, trying to tug his arm free.
“No…We’re going to the dining room…NOW.” He pulled John forward…The younger man stumbled slightly gasping fearfully but Roy’s strong hand held him securely. “This is the door to your room…Now count the steps to the table.”
John struggled to break free as Roy dragged him to the table, ignoring the shocked looks from his wife and Danella. “Let go of me,” he shouted.
“How many steps…?”
“How many steps…?” Roy barked angrily.
“I don’t know,” Johnny yelled back.
“Six…It was six,” he snapped as he abruptly pushed John into his chair before sitting in his own. “Jo is breakfast ready?” He asked calmly.
“Yes,” she almost squeaked as she carried the plates to the table, looking at her husband as if he had suddenly sprouted horns. Roy had always been so patient and gentle with Johnny…She’d never seen him like this.
John sat gasping in his chair. “Eat…,” Roy said simply. John continued to sit silently with his hands folded defiantly in his lap. “Eat or I will shove it down your throat,” he said with quiet certainty. John’s head lifted angrily…His eyes desperately searching for where Roy’s voice was coming from. “I’m right here,” Roy said as he chewed a piece of bacon.
His young friends head turned toward him…The sightless dark eyes blazing in a fury. Well alright…If Roy wanted a freak show then John would give it to him. His fingers found the plate. He picked up a piece of home fried potato to pop it in his mouth but he suddenly felt his hand grasped and a fork was placed in it. “Use it,” Roy said quietly.
“I can’t,” John mumbled.
“You CAN…Just like you can learn to walk across that floor on your own…Learn to count your steps…Learn to func…”
“Just leave me alone Roy,” he cried out dropping the fork.
“To eat like a human being,” the older man continued without missing a beat.
“Shut up,” John yelled angrily.
“To take care of yourself…”
John flushed crimson, knowing what an awful mess he must be. “Go to hell,” he snapped back angrily.
Joanne and Danella stood in the kitchen watching this exchange in shock. John turned away from Roy. “Dani…?”
“Yes…,” she said moving toward him.
“No…,” Roy countered. Danella stopped. “Now eat,” Roy barked.
John’s fist slammed the table in a rage. “Fine…,” his fingers once again found the plate only to have his hand grabbed and the fork slapped back into it. John threw it down in a fit of anger. He stood abruptly and swept the plate from the table. The glass shattered. “I’m going to my room,” he snarled.
“No you’re not.”
“What?” John questioned in surprise.
“I said…no you are not…,” Roy repeated distinctly. “Since you’re obviously done with your breakfast you’re taking a shower and then I’m gonna help you shave.”
“Dammit Roy, I’m not a child,” John yelled.
“Then stop acting like one,” Roy snapped back.
John’s mouth clenched in rage as he turned to head back to his room…His hands searching to find something to guide him. He heard Roy’s chair scrape on the floor. His hand suddenly encountered an obstruction as Roy stepped in front of him. “Since you’re not hungry then let’s get you cleaned up…Jo can you get him something clean to wear? C’mon Junior,” he said grasping the younger man’s arm, turning him toward the bathroom.
John pulled back, digging his feet in. “Let go of me,” he yelled trying to twist free.
“Nope…You need to take a shower…You’re a mess.”
John shrugged listlessly. “So who’s gonna notice?”
“We will… C’mon,” he said as he continued to pull the struggling young man toward the bathroom.
“Leave me alone.”
“You’re not my father ya know?”
“No I’m not…He’s dead…If he wasn’t he’d be kickin your ass but I am your friend and I love you and right now I’m the boss so let’s go,” Roy said taking his arm once again and dragging him into the bathroom. “Take em off,” Roy growled.
John folded his arms over his chest. “No,” he said stubbornly.
“Then I will,” he said starting forward.
John didn’t doubt him for a moment and even though he couldn’t see him he held out his hands to try and hold his friend off.
Roy shoved his hands aside…His own anger surfacing as he ripped the dirty tee shirt down the front. John gasped in shock as he tried to fend Roy’s hands off but the older man managed to wrestle the tattered shirt off. “Leave me alone Roy.”
“NO,” John screamed in a rage.
“Stubborn Indian,” Roy muttered as he grabbed hold of his friend and kicked his feet out from under him…Carefully guiding him to the floor. John gasped as he felt himself falling. He clutched at Roy’s arm frantically until he was on the ground. He lashed out angrily but Roy managed to keep his fists from connecting.
They were both panting for breath and John’s head was pounding furiously but he refused to yield. Roy finally managed to strip the sweatpants from his partner. John flushed in humiliation as Roy stood up and yanked his now naked friend to his feet. “SHOWER,” he snapped. John crossed his arms over his chest. He was visibly shaking…Roy thought it was rage. “Do I need to put you in there…? Get in.”
“I can’t…,” John yelled back.
“Why?” Roy barked.
“I’ll fall…,” John gasped, losing his last ounce of dignity as tears slipped from his dark eyes.
Roy finally understood and his anger dissipated as quickly as it had gathered. He took his friends face between his hands. The brown eyes reflected fear and embarrassment. “I won’t let you fall,” he reassured him softly. “I’m right here and I will never let you fall.” The frightened eyes looked unseeingly back but his hands clutched Roy’s arm in terror. “Step into the tub…Just lift your foot…Good…A little more,” Roy urged. John hesitantly obeyed, picking his foot up and stepping fearfully over the edge and into the tub. “Put your hand on the wall,” Roy directed. John’s right hand reached out feeling the smooth tile. “Okay?” Roy asked.
Okay…I’m gonna turn the water on now.”
“Okay,” he whispered.
Roy turned the water on and adjusted the temperature. “Here it comes Junior.” John nodded but flinched anyway as the water hit him in the face. He stood frozen in place…Afraid to move on the slick surface.
He felt Roy’s hand move past him. He took his hand and dropped a bar of soap into it. His hands returned to rest on John’s arm and back for support. “Go ahead Junior,” he urged.
John was still shaking but he began to lather his body. Roy tightened his grip as John stepped forward into the spray, letting the hot water pour over him and wash the soap away and soothe his tense muscles. Roy helped him with the shampoo some but as much as he wanted to take care of John, he knew he had to become self sufficient. He let John work the soap through his hair and once again supported him as he rinsed the soap out.
“Yes,” he whispered.
Roy cut the water off as Johnny stood huddled, shaking and thoroughly humiliated. Roy tossed a towel on the floor. “Come toward me,” he directed. John shuffled forward. Roy took a firm hold of John’s arms. “Step over,” he instructed.
Johnny gingerly stepped out onto the makeshift bath mat, holding Roy’s shoulder as the older man wrapped a towel around his waist and sat him down on the closed toilet seat. “Okay Junior, let’s get you shaved.
John nodded in defeat but didn’t answer. Joanne tapped lightly on the door now that the yelling had died down. Roy was just finishing up and he opened the door enough to take the clean clothes. Her worried blue eyes locked with his but he smiled encouragingly and closed the door. “Let’s get you dressed,” he suggested as he pulled a clean shirt over John’s head. He finger combed his friends sable hair. When they were done, he led John out of the bathroom.
“You look much better,” Joanne complimented the red faced younger man.
“Can I go to my room,” he whispered.
“For now,” Roy said quietly as he led him to the door.
“How many steps Johnny…?” The older man asked.
“I don’t know,” John growled.
“Learn to count them…It was seventeen,” Roy told him.
“Thanks,” John muttered and closed the door.
“Do you have to be so hard on him?” Danella asked angrily.
“He has to learn.”
“I will take care of him.”
“No Dani…They’ve already told you…Us…That even if his blindness is temporary it could be days or weeks…Maybe longer. You can’t be with him every minute and John would never be able to live with you babying him. He has to learn to live in a world he can’t see. Do you understand? I don’t mean to sound hard but it’s for his own good. I love him and it hurts to see him like this.” She looked at him sympathetically. “I love him more than you can possibly know…I want to baby him too …Take care of him and it’s killing me to hurt him but I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure he can get by without us…That he can live with this and that’s my first priority right now.” His eyes met Joanne’s…Looking for understanding from both women. Joanne nodded slightly…Danella with hesitation but Roy knew it was still gonna be a fight.
Further north at the Fresno Women’s Institute for the Criminally Insane, a once beautiful young woman sat huddled in a corner. Her blonde hair hung tangled, lank and listless…Black circles marred the flawless skin beneath her violet eyes as they stared blankly at the wall.
The clicking sound of a key turning in a lock broke the silence of the padded room as two nurses entered. One had been with the institute for several years while the other had just transferred here from LA. They quickly changed the sheets and pulled the blanket back in place.
The senior member of the two...Nurse Judy Bradley, ignored the blonde completely…Well used to her catatonic behavior but the newer of the two…Carol Dawes watched the woman from the corner of her eye. “What’s her problem?” She asked.
“Kidnapped two people a year ago…Then shot the guy in court during the trial.”
Dawes looked at the young woman in surprise. “SHE did…? You’re joking?”
“Don’t let her fool ya…She’s a killer alright. Murdered her own Father and they think a couple of other fire fighters as well.”
“Yeah…The guy she kidnapped and killed was a fireman and the other was his partner’s wife.”
Carol looked at Judy in surprise. “Oh my God…I remember that. John Gage right…?”
At the mention of his name the blonde began to rock slowly. “Johnny…My Johnny,” she murmured. “I’m so sorry baby,” she sing songed.
“Yeah…I think that was his name…Anyway…She shot him dead right in the courtroom.”
“Oh...He’s not dead,” Carol corrected.
“What? Are you sure?”
“Absolutely…He works outta Rampart General. That’s where I just moved from to come up here.”
“So he’s still alive?”
“He was a couple of weeks ago…He’s getting married in a year or so,” she said heading for the door.
The other followed. “That’s pretty odd. I mean they must have known he’s alive. It might have helped her if she knew he was alive. I wonder why they let her believe she killed him?"
Their voices trailed off and neither of them noticed that the rocking had stopped or the look of awareness that had entered those crazed violet orbs.
“Johnny,” she whispered as a slow smile curled the corners of her mouth.
John was hungry…The tantalizing smell of lunch had been wafting under his door for the last fifteen minutes. He bit his lip. He didn’t want to fight with Roy and hoped now that the older man had won the battle over the shower, he’d at least leave John alone to eat in peace in his room.
There was a soft knock at the door. “Come in,” John called hesitantly.
“Lunch is ready. Are you hungry?” A well known deep voice asked from the doorway.
“Good…Let’s eat,” Roy responded.
“Can I eat here?” He asked hopefully.
“No Johnny,” Roy replied as he pulled John to his feet.
“Roy I…,” John began but Roy cut him off.
“We can talk at the table Junior,” he said as he pulled him from the room. “Are you counting?”
“Steps…Are you counting steps?”
“Don’t start Roy…I just wanna eat…OW,” John squawked as his knee hit the chair.
“Oops sorry…If you’d have listened to me earlier you’d have known where the table was by now.” Though John couldn’t see with them, he still managed an impressive eye roll of frustration. Roy almost chuckled. “Sit,” Roy murmured in John’s ear.
John slipped carefully into his seat. Jo dropped a kiss on his forehead as she set the plate in front of him. “What is it?” He asked eagerly.
“Beef tip, carrots and scalloped potatoes,” she answered.
“Smells good,” John said as his fingers found the plate.
“Use your fork,” Roy said around a bite of beef.
John sighed. “I can’t use my fork…Everything falls off,” he explained in embarrassment.
“You’ll get better with practice.”
“Roy we don’t mind,” Jo began to argue…
“I do,” he snapped as John’s fingers picked up a piece of meat. John felt Roy’s fingers grasp his hand and a fork was placed in it. John dropped it defiantly.
“I’m not using it so you can get some twisted enjoyment out of watchin me wear my lunch,” he snapped.
“Believe me Johnny…I am NOT enjoying this but damn it…You are gonna use that fork,” he growled, pressing the fork back into John’s hand.
John’s mouth tightened angrily… Why was Roy doing this to him…? “NO…,” he shouted as the fork hit the floor.
“Then I can assume that you’re not hungry...again,” he said lifting the plate away.
Dani and Joanne stared at Roy in disbelief. “ROY,” Jo gasped. He shot an angry look at her and shook his head.
John’s face flushed crimson as he felt Roy move the plate away. The older man couldn’t tell if it was embarrassment or absolute rage. John shot to his feet, struggling to hold back tears. “FINE…I’m going to my room,” he yelled trying to leave the table.
He turned and started across the floor…His feet shuffling to avoid tripping over anything. “Walk…Don’t shuffle,” Roy barked. John halted briefly…His body shook with hurt and anger.
He took several more shuffling steps and tripped over the small table next to his door. “Damn it,” he cried out as caught himself against the wall to keep from falling.
“That wouldn’t have happened if you’d been counting steps…,” Roy called to him.
“Shut up Roy…Just…Just shut up…” He finally used the wall to find his way back to his door. He stepped inside, half turning. “I wanna go home.”
“I need you to take me.”
“Aagh…,” John growled in rage as he slammed the door.
Roy calmly returned to his lunch as two sets of angry eyes pierced him. “He has to learn,” he said quietly…His mouth tightened until he got control. “If this is what it takes…It’s what I’ll do.”
“He needs to eat,” Joanne argued.
“When he’s hungry enough he will.”
“Roy …Please let me bring him something,” Danella pleaded.
“Hasn't he been through enough? Why are you doing this to him?” Jo asked angrily.
“Because he’s locked himself into a world of self pity and a mindset of ‘I CAN’T…’ Well I don’t believe that. Johnny can do anything he sets his mind to and I’m not going to let him sit on a couch like a vegetable and wither away…To waste his life whether he can see or not. I love him too much to let that happen. I have to break that right now and turn it to I CAN do this. Do you understand?” Tears slipped from Roy’s blue eyes. “You know how I feel about him. You know I love him and God I miss my little brother…My partner and I want him back. The way he was but until he gets rid of that hopeless attitude, that won’t happen. I pray every night that his sight will come back but if it doesn’t…If I can’t get that part of him…My partner back in my life. I’ll settle for him just being my friend…Blind and all but I least want that much.”
Joanne stood and came around behind Roy. She wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging him gently as tears rolled down his cheeks.
The children returned from camp and Roy watched with pride as they carefully picked up anything around the house that John could potentially trip over. Toy’s, backpacks, books, shoes…Setting them high up or removing them to their rooms.
“They’re so special,” Danella murmured as she watched them. “They love him so much.”
“Yes they do,” Roy said quietly. “He’s special to all of us…I can’t lose him Dani.”
“I know and I understand what you’re doing but I just wish there was another way.”
“So do I…Believe me?”
“Dinners ready,” Joanne announced tentatively from the kitchen.
Roy sighed. “Round three,” he said softly as he stood up. “I’ll go get Johnny.”
Johnny’s stomach growled loudly. His empty stomach ached and his hyper metabolism was going crazy having gone close to thirty six hours without food. His head pounded miserably. He desperately wanted to eat but part of him wanted to stay locked in his room to thwart his partner’s determination to force him to make a fool of himself.
He prayed Roy would have mercy on him and just leave him alone to eat in peace. He heard the door creak open. “Dinners ready Junior,” Roy’s voice came from the doorway.
“Okay,” he whispered as he climbed to his feet. His hand found the wall…Sliding along its surface as the other reached into the emptiness in front of him. He shuffled forward tentatively until his hand found the door. His hand bumped into something hard blocking his path.
Roy watched with sorrow as his best friend…This special young man he thought of as a kid brother felt along the wall. Those expressive brown eyes that had always been able to break his heart with their puppy eyed sorrowful look or bring a sigh of frustration as they twinkled with some scheme or made him chuckle in amusement at the impish gleam of mischief were now blank and listless…Showing nothing.
Johnny moved carefully along the wall until his hand hit Roy’s chest. He stopped. “Roy?” he questioned.
“Yeah Junior,” he said sadly.
“You okay?” The younger man asked.
“Yeah,” he said softly as he reached out brush the sable hair from John’s face. “C’mon…Let’s get something to eat.”
Roy took his arm. “Count Johnny…” The younger man sighed as he shuffled beside his friend, deciding to humor him in the hopes that he’d let him eat. Roy brought him to the table. “How many…?”
“Six,” he answered in frustration.
“Good boy,” Roy said gently as John sat down. Roy watched him carefully as he toyed with the fork. The fingers of his left hand touched the food in the hopes that it was something acceptable for him to eat with his fingers. It wasn’t. He looked ready to weep…afraid of what was coming but he couldn’t use the fork…Why didn’t Roy understand how embarrassing it was to spill his food all over himself? He hoped with Chris and Jen present that Roy wouldn’t force the issue and would just let him eat in peace.
Roy hung his head as Johnny’s fingers left the fork and moved to the plate. Joanne and Danella exchanged a glance, knowing what was coming.
The children began to eat oblivious of the tension at the table.
“Johnny…Use your fork,” the older man said quietly.
John looked ready to cry. “I CAN’T…”
“YOU CAN…” The older man stood up, moving around behind his young friend. He took John’s hand and closed it around the fork…Holding it firmly as John struggled to pull his hand free. Roy held on until John gave up. The look of frustration on his face was heartbreaking but Roy pushed on. He grabbed John’s left hand and set it on the plate as the dark haired paramedic fought to break the hold.
“Let go of me,” John growled angrily.
“The meat is at twelve o’clock.” He forced John’s fingers to touch it. He moved it to the right. “Your potatoes are at three o’clock.” He moved his hand once more…Vegetable’s at six and your roll is at nine. The fork is in your right hand…USE IT.”
“Tears of rage and humiliation rolled from John’s dark eyes. “NO,” he yelled stubbornly.
“Then go hungry,” Roy said taking the plate.
“Honey…?” Jo began.
“NO,” Roy barked.
Joanne backed off but now his children were looking at him in shock as well. “Roy…,” Johnny pleaded. “I’m hungry.” His breath hitched.
Roy closed his eyes in anguish at the pitiful plea but he intended to win this battle. “Then eat…But you do it like a grown man…Not an animal,” he said as he returned the plate.
“Okay,” John whispered in defeat, his voice catching.
Roy’s hand brushed the shaggy mop of dark hair from John’s eyes. “I know you think I’m being cruel but I love you John. You know that.”
“Yes,” he murmured.
Roy took his hand. “Let me help you.”
Johnny made it through the meal, red faced with embarrassment. Roy had helped him hold the fork properly…Finding the food with his fingers at first and then spearing or scooping with the fork. Roy had guided his hand, allowing John to use his left to feel the fork and guide to his mouth at first but by the end of the meal, Johnny was managing to get most of it to his mouth without his left hand.
Danella and Joanne exchanged a grin at this accomplishment. Roy watched him with a proud grin. “I knew you could do it,” he complimented his friend.
John nodded but didn’t raise his head. Roy knew he was still frustrated and embarrassed. “I have a headache…,” he whispered. “Can I go now?”
“Yeah Junior…I'll bring you your pills. ”
John stood. “Dani…Can you help me?”
“Junior…You can do it by yourself.”
“I want Dani,” he snapped.
“I’m here Ná’méhόt,” she said, putting her arm around his waist. She led him away from the table.
“Good night Johnny,” Roy called. There was no reply.
“Can I come in with you?” She asked hopefully.
“No…I…I’m tired. My head hurts…I need to sleep,” he said firmly. “I’ll see…Talk to you in the morning,” he corrected tiredly. A sad look entered the dark eyes. “Goodnight,” he mumbled as he closed the door behind him.
John leaned his head against the door…Tears of rage and mortification ran down his cheeks. Roy had had to teach him to eat like a child and right in front of Chris and Jen to boot. How was he gonna get through this? Why wouldn’t Roy just leave him alone? Johnny lay on the bed…But sleep wouldn’t come. He lay awake…Eyes open. No that it mattered…The view remained the same.
“Danella…?” John called from the doorway to his room the next morning.
“Yes Ná’méhόt?” She answered hurrying to his side.
“Help me to the table.”
She threw a glance at Roy who looked back at her with a raised eyebrow. He had to admire John’s resourcefulness in getting around his partners edicts to do things on his own. “I…,” Danella hesitated knowing she should help Roy but unable to say no to Johnny. “Of course my love,” she whispered, taking his arm and throwing a helpless look at Roy as she led him to the table.
“Morning Junior,” Roy said suddenly making Johnny jump. He hadn’t realized Roy was there.
“Morning,” he mumbled.
“You want breakfast?”
Johnny knew it would be another humiliating experience but he also knew Roy wouldn’t let him get away with not eating either, besides…He was hungry. “Okay,” he finally replied. Roy had watched the wheels turn in the play of emotions on his partners face and grinned, knowing his partner was halfway to yielding completely and then he’d be ready to learn.
“Good…” Roy said as he stood up and headed for the kitchen.
Jo was scrambling eggs. She glanced up at him. “Is he gonna eat?”
“Yeah,” Roy said in relief.
She dished up two plates, handing them to Roy. “Should I keep the kids in here?”
“No…I think we’ve got this part beat.” He took the plates into the dining room and set them on the table. The children watched them anxiously…Afraid that the fighting would start again. Roy sat down at his own place.
John chewed his lip nervously. His fingers closed over the fork as his left hand felt for the plate. He felt the eggs and taking a deep breath, he began to eat…Finding the eggs and spearing them before guiding them to his mouth.
Roy grinned as he watched Johnny eat on his own. He said nothing…Just picked up his own fork and winked at Joanne and Danella who had joined them. They watched Johnny grinning at each other.
John made it through his breakfast, spilling very little. “Good job Junior,” Roy said softly as he walked behind Johnny and patted his shoulder gently.
John’s head lifted… “Thanks,” he said, feeling foolish that he needed to be complimented just for eating by himself. “Dani…? Can you help me into the living room?”
Danella moved to help him but Roy waved her off. “Get there yourself Junior.”
Roy sighed. “Yes John…You can. C’mon…”
“I’ll just go back to my room.”
“No Johnny…Lets go to the living room.”
“I don’t want to.”
“You did a minute ago.”
“Leave it alone Roy…I changed my mind okay…? I have a headache.”
John’s mouth tightened in frustration, remembering the humiliating fall he’d taken a couple of days ago.
Joanne saw the impending explosion and hustled the children up the stairs. “Get your things…Mrs. Cooper will be here any minute to take you to camp. We’ll wait outside. Danella…Why don’t you join us?”
“Okay…” She loved John and the hurt and frustrated look on his face tore at her heart but she followed Joanne out.
“Johnny? I’m waiting,” Roy said.
“You can’t make me do this… I can go to my room if I want to,” he said defiantly.
“Yes Johnny I can make you do this because until you can take care of yourself and walk out the door ready to do that you’re stuck with me. So haul your butt in the living room and don’t forget to count.” John frowned…His head turned toward his room. “You can’t get there before I can,” Roy warned.
John’s teeth clenched in anger… “Fine,” he growled, shuffling toward the living room…Hands outstretched.
“Don’t shuffle John…Walk,” Roy commanded.
He stopped…His face turned crimson in embarrassment but decided against the fight that defying Roy would start…He’d only lose anyway. He took a step. He caught his foot on one of the chair legs and stumbled. Roy caught his breath and stepped forward but Johnny didn’t fall. His hands brushed the chair and he grabbed hold…Catching his balance. Roy breathed a sigh of relief as John stood clutching the chair and gasping fearfully. “I’m going back to my room.”
“NO…” John stomped his foot in frustration. Roy chuckled at the childish display of temper but sobered as John looked about ready to cry. “C’mon Junior…Try again.”
Roy stood up…Moving to his friends side. He took John’s arm. “C’mon,” he said tugging the younger man’s hands free from the chair. He gave him a light push. John moved forward several steps, his reaching hand found the back of the couch…Moving cautiously around it until he could drop onto the seat.
“Happy?” He growled.
“How many steps…?”
“How many steps…?”
“I don’t know.”
“I told you to count.”
“I was busy not falling,” Johnny snapped back.
Joanne and Danella came back inside quietly. Johnny was too angry to notice.
“You’re never going to learn to get around if you don’t remember to count. “
“Maybe I don’t care about that…Did that occur to you?” John shot back snidely. “I don’t have a reason to get around…There’s nothing to see anyway.”
“Damn it Johnny,” Roy said giving his friend a light shake. John slapped his hands away. “I’m tired of hearing that. I’m sorry this happened to you. God knows I’d trade places with you if I could but I can’t.”
“I don’t want you to trade places with me…I just want to see,” he yelled back.
“I wish I could do that for you but I can’t…What I can do is help you with the next best thing. I can help you get by without your sight.”He said gently as his fingers brushed over John's forehead.
“I don’t want to get by,” he said in dismay. He pushed Roy’s hands away. He stood up and moved away from him angrily. “You don’t understand…You can’t…You still have what I want,” he yelled. “I want my job…I want to see Danella’s face.” Dani began to cry. “I want to see our children grow up,” Johnny was ranting in frustration.
Roy watched him with tears in his eyes but he wouldn’t give in. The self pity he was sinking in was normal, expected and even completely understandable but he couldn’t let it drown his best friend no matter what it took. He prayed John’s sight would return and he could still have all these things but until then John had to learn to survive.
“I want you to have all of those things to Junior but until your sight comes back...All I can give you is living without your vision and still have Danella and Children. “
“Why can’t you?”
“Just leave me alone Roy,” John shouted…Breathing hard. He tried to head for his room but in his anger he forgot the coffee table. He tripped and fell. Roy sucked in his breath as his head came perilously close to hitting the heavy table. He took a worried step toward his friend as Jo and Danella started to run to him but Roy held out his hand stopping them.
“Are you hurt Johnny?”
“No..,” he growled, disgusted with himself.
“Then get up.”
“Leave me alone Roy,” he whispered. The voice was soft with despair…His face flushed in humiliation as his head hung in defeat.
“No…Get up. Try again.”
“Go to hell…” John snapped back…The tiny spark of life spurred Roy on.
“You know you don’t mean that now get on your feet.” John stayed stubbornly where he was. “You make me pick your ass up off that floor. I’m gonna kick ya in it…Now get on your feet John.”
The younger man sat seething on the floor…Rage flowing through him. “I CAN’T,” he yelled angrily. Man...His head was pounding…Why couldn’t Roy just leave him alone?
“Yes you can…You’re blind, not crippled.”
Jo and Dani were crying and looking at Roy like he was a monster. “I HATE YOU,” John screamed as his hands slammed the floor.
Roy’s heart ached at the hurt and frustration on John’s face and the painful words he’d just hurled. He knew John didn’t mean them and he’d be sorry for them later but for now he had to bite his lip to keep the sympathetic words in his mouth.
“Well I love you and now that you’re through having your temper tantrum…Get up.” John choked back tears…Swiping at them angrily but he began climbing to his feet…Rage was now the driving force. “Now count your steps.”
“Which way…?” John snapped angrily.
“Figure it out.”
“I can’t,” he yelled as his hand pressed against his head.
“Yes you can…Where’s the front window?”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes you do. Feel the sun coming through it.” John stood quietly for a moment…He turned his head toward the warmth. “Good boy,” Roy whispered. “Now…Which way to the dining room?”
John bit his lip and finally pointed in the right direction. “That way…?” He questioned hesitantly.
“Good boy…Where are you standing now?”
“By the coffee table,” he said drily, still feeling the bruises.
“I want you to come to me…Count the steps so you’ll remember the next time and you won’t fall.” He took a couple of tentative steps. “C’mon partner…You can do this,” Roy whispered. John’s head swiveled toward him. “Nothin wrong with those ears is there Junior?” Roy said lightly. John moved forward, banging his shins on the sofa as he tried to move around it. He hesitated. “Don’t stop now…” Roy urged. John took a couple of steps to the left and continued on as Roy backed away. He bumped the table with his outstretched hand. “How many steps Johnny?” Roy said next to him.
John jumped at the voice in his ear but he answered… “Eleven.” He turned to face his friend. Tears still streaked his cheeks…A look of shame in his still expressive eyes. “I’m sorry Roy,” he said softly.
“I know you are…So am I…I'm sorry for pushing you so hard,” he said as he cupped his young friend’s cheek and wiped the tears off with the heel of his hand. He pulled John against him, holding him tightly…His chin resting on top of the sable hair. “I just couldn’t lose you,” he finished softly as the dark head rested against his shoulder.
“I’m so scared Roy,” he whispered with a hitch to his voice.
“I know you are…So am I…But we’ll get through this just like everything else…Together…We’re a family.”
He felt the faint nod….Hesitant but wanting to believe anything Roy told him. “Okay.”
“I love you John.”
“I know…I…I uh love you too.” John turned to where the women had last been. “Joanne…Dani?”
“We're here sweetheart,” Joanne replied as they joined the two.
“Jo…I…I’m so sorry…I’ve been acting like a spoiled child…I…”
“Stop it,” she said cutting him off. “You had every reason to be a little temperamental baby. Apologize to Dani if you think you need to but not to me…I know you’ve been through a lot and you didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I love you and you love us…It’s forgiven.”
“Thanks…Dani I…,” her fingers suddenly covered his mouth. “I love you John Gage…I’d forgive you for anything.” Her fingers brushed his cheek.
His hands came up to cradle her face between his fingertips. They lingered on her cheeks, feeling downward until they found her mouth. He lowered his head and kissed her gently.
She pulled away… “Welcome back my love,” she said softly.
“Roy?” John called quietly.
“I’m here Junior.”
“What else can you teach me…?
Roy grinned broadly and planted a kiss on his best friend’s forehead. “Let me show you.”
TO BE CONTINUED…Part 3 Shadows
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