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*Story takes place within the 'Partners' story line and before Betrayal, but is a separate story.
A hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of over whelming obstacles…Christopher Reeve.
“A hero’s heart can’t be seen in his age or his size or even by the coat he wears. It’s seen by the strength he finds in himself when faced with overwhelming obstacles,” twenty two year old paramedic John Gage told the judge, his voice plaintive, determined and cracking with emotion.
He turned to the man and woman sitting at the table across the way for a brief moment before turning back to the man behind the bench. His next comments obviously aimed at all of the people in the room.
“Someone once said, *‘Do not let your fire go out…Spark by irreplaceable spark. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved but will never be able to have. Check the road and nature of your battle…The world you desired can be won. It exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours’,” he stressed. “Please Mr. Fry…Miss Gwinn, don’t take away the only chance Tommy has to achieve that dream for himself …Please,” he pleaded, giving the austere couple his best pleading look.
There was a subtle softening of their hardened features, but neither seemed moved to change their minds, and speak in his behalf.
“A…hem,” the Judge interrupted, clearing his throat and swallowing back the sudden lump in his esophagus. “Thank you Mr. Gage; I’ll speak to Mr. Masters later today, and give him a chance to tell me what he wants to do. I’ll give all of you my ruling in the morning,” he added, banging his gavel before rising and stepping down off the platform.
“Thank you your honor,” John replied softly to the retreating figure.
He turned and pushed his way through the gate that separated the gallery from the front. He hesitated briefly next to his best friend and paramedic partner, Roy De Soto, who’d stood by him through this whole ordeal the last few months.
The blonde paramedic stood up and stepped out to join him. He reached out to lay his hand on his young partner's shoulder. “You did great Junior,” he said gently. “That was beautiful.”
John’s dark eyes welled with tears. “I want him to have his dream,” he choked out. “And now this is the only way it’ll happen,” he added, trying to regain control of his emotions. He hated being weak.
John cast a glance at the couple from the other table as they went past; their faces once again hard and uncompromising. John's hope that they’d changed their minds sank a bit.
Roy frowned and laid his arm over John’s shoulders comfortingly. “Let’s get outta here,” he said, turning his friend toward the door.
*“See there Tommy; didn’t I tell you everything will be A-okay,” Paramedic John Gage said, grinning at the eleven year old patient lying on the stretcher.
The child had been playing in an old abandoned building with a friend, when an inside wall had collapsed, trapping the boy between it and the outside of the structure.
The firemen had had to cut through the outside wall to allow Johnny and his partner Roy to crawl inside to free the kid. It had been dangerous, as the building had become unstable, and every movement had brought more shifting of the unsettled wall and a fine sifting of dust and debris raining down on them.
Tommy had been fearful that the wall was going to fall, and he’d be crushed beneath it, but John had kept reassuring him that everything would be fine, and they’d get him out okay. Tommy had been impressed with their bravery in staying with him and their calm, cool manner even as the debris had fallen around them.
They’d stayed with him and one had even given him his helmet to protect his head from falling debris. The boy was watching them both with a serious case of hero worship brewing inside.
Now, as John knelt next to the child, he felt a kinship with the youngster; perhaps because like him, he was an orphan that, according to his friend, lived with foster parents.
Tommy looked up at the slender, dark haired fireman, the man’s face was caked in grime and sweat trickled down his temples. It didn’t matter; to the eleven year old boy this guy was superman and had become his hero.
“Ya know what?” He said brightly, having come to a split second decision.
“What?” Johnny questioned curiously.
“I’m gonna be a fireman when I grow up,” he stated with certainty.
John grinned and gave him a playful rub over his nose with the palm of his hand. They both grinned hugely before the ambulance attendants rolled the gurney away.
Roy threw his young partner a small smile as he stepped to the biophone. “Rampart; rescue complete… He’s on his way in,” Roy reported. He was about to cut the link, but John reached over and plucked the phone from his hand.
“And in need of a little TLC from Nurse McCall,” he added happily, wanting to be sure the boy got the best possible nurse, and knowing that Dixie had a certain magic with orphan children…Him included.
At the base station, Dr. Kelly Brackett turned to his head ER Nurse. “TLC?” He questioned the pretty, blonde woman in confusion.
She grinned at him. “Tender, loving, care,” she explained to the dark haired physician.
Kel grinned and broke the link.
Johnny gazed out the front window of the vehicle as they pulled away from the scene. His brow was furrowed as if deep in thought, even though a small half grin curled the corners of his sensitive mouth.
Roy tossed his partner a sideways glance, “What’s that look for Junior?” The senior paramedic asked.
John looked over at him, his brows furrowing with curiosity. “What look?” He questioned, unaware that his expression was so readily readable by his new partner and friend.
“You’re grinning like the cat that swallowed the canary,” he teased.
John frowned at the unfamiliar turn of phrase. Roy sighed, having forgotten that his young partner was raised on a reservation for a good part of his life and didn’t always recognize metaphors or cliché’s.
“I meant; you look a bit smug.”
“Aaah,” Johnny replied in understanding. He tossed his friend a grin. “I was just thinking of that kid…Tommy.”
“What about him?”
“Just what he said to me after we got him out.”
“What was that?”
“That he wanted to be a fireman.” Roy grinned at him and John continued. “Reminded me of me when I was his age. It’s all I ever wanted to do,” he told his partner, but then the smile fell away as he remembered the taunting sneers of the people on the reservation, including his own family, and the other kids in town.
They‘d told him to give up his dream, that he’ never succeed and they’d even tried to beat that hope to death, but John had never let go or given up.
Roy frowned at the sudden sobering of his friend’s cheerful attitude. “What is it Junior?” He questioned softly.
John jumped a bit at the sound of his voice, but he quickly shook himself back to the moment. He’d never told anyone but Roy about the abuse he’d suffered at the hands of his family, afraid they’d blame him for what had happened just as his uncle had warned him would happen, but Roy hadn’t. He had sensed that there was something John was hiding and had pushed him until he’d finally cracked and told him the whole horrible tale.
John had been afraid he’d lose his best friend after he’d told him, but Roy hadn’t pulled away, in fact he’d drawn even closer to his young partner, and now a look of dawning understanding suddenly crossed the senior paramedics face. He reached out to give a gentle pat on his young friends arm.
“Your family?” He asked.
John nodded and glanced away. “They told me I’d never make it…That I’d never amount to anything,” he said quietly.
“Well…You sure as hell proved them all wrong didn’t ya? So don’t go there,” he added, giving John’s arm a reassuring squeeze.
John threw his friend an impish grin. Roy understood him better than anyone ever had.
“Anyway,” he began. “I think I’m gonna go to Rampart tomorrow morning and visit.”
Roy’s blue eyes rolled. “John…Don’t get involved,” he warned quietly. “Remember Bonnie,” he added.
John’s face flushed in embarrassment as he remembered being stuck babysitting a victim’s dog, and having to sleep in his camper for three days because of it. “This is different,” he argued in exasperation.
“How is it different?”
“This is just a kid like I used to be. What can it hurt?”
John had no idea that those four small words would come back to haunt him.
*Roy backed the squad into the bay next to the gleaming Crown Coach. They climbed out and headed around the squad. “A change of clothes, hot shower and an epicurean delights gonna make me ready for a long nights sleep. I can’t wait to eat,” Johnny said enthusiastically as they entered the rec room.
Roy was relieved to know John was still sleeping at night and the nightmares hadn’t returned.
A box of chocolates sat open on the table. Without thinking Johnny reached out and popped one into his mouth. A look of total disgust crossed his features…he looked around frantically for a moment then ran for the sink to spit it out.
“Gotcha again huh…?” Roy observed… “And with your own candy… If I were you Johnny…,” He said watching his young friend race for the sink. “You know what I’d do? I’d just quit before you booby trap yourself right into Rampart Emergency,” The older man advised. He followed his partner to the sink, where Johnny was frantically rinsing his mouth with water…“Let it go Johnny…It’s just not in your nature to get even…your just not good at it,” Roy told him sagely.
“Yeah…well I’m not through yet…,” Johnny assured him between gulps of water.
The crew rolled out of bed at the sound of the wake up tones and Sam Lanier’s voice calling the stations numbers.
Captain Hammer picked up the mic next to his bed. “Station 51, 10-4,” he acknowledged sleepily before replacing the mic amidst the sounds of his crew jamming their feet into their boots and pulling up turnouts; snapping suspenders into place.
The group trudged toward the dayroom. Once there, Mike Stoker, the stations engineer, began to make coffee, while the rest pulled down mugs or went to grab the morning paper from the stoop outside the door.
“So what have you got planned for this morning John?” Marco asked, trying to start up a conversation with the usually quiet young crew mate while they waited for the coffee to brew.
Surprisingly, their reticent youngest crewman seemed to light up as he answered. “I’m gonna go down to Rampart and check on that kid we rescued yesterday,” he replied with a grin, drumming his hands on the table for emphasis.
“Bad idea Junior,” Roy warned again.
“C’mon Pally, lighten up; I’m not getting involved.”
“What do you call it then?” Roy questioned with an arched blonde eyebrow.
“It’s uh…it’s just…being a concerned bystander,” he corrected primly.
Roy chuckled, giving his friend a headshake of disbelief. “It’s getting involved,” he replied.
John grinned. “At least it’s not a girl or a dog,” he added brightly.
Roy shook his strawberry blonde head one again. “You’re too much you know that; you never learn.”
John grinned. “At least he won’t break my heart,” he teased as Mike brought the coffee pot to the table.
“There is that,” Roy agreed, knowing John’s propensity for falling for a pretty face or a fluffy critter.
They all settled down to have their coffee until the crew of C-Shift arrived.
Paramedics Devon Harris and his partner Vic Tyler arrived together and John and Roy were free to leave. John was soon on his way to Rampart.
John walked to the base station where head emergency nurse Dixie McCall was reviewing charts. She glanced up as he approached, and her face lit up when she saw her favorite paramedic.
“Hi Johnny,” she greeted, snapping the cover of the chart she was holding closed, and giving her full attention to the handsome young man in front of her.
“Hey Dix,” he replied, tossing her a crooked Gage grin.
“What brings you in here on your day off? You’re not sick are you?” She questioned, giving him a concerned once over.
John laughed and shook his head. “Nah, I’m fine. I’m just here to see one of your patients…if he’s still here that is,” he qualified, not sure if they’d even kept the boy overnight.
“Which one tiger?” She asked, figuring it was some pretty girl.
“Um…A little boy… about eleven. His name is Tommy…I don’t know his last name,” he answered.
“The one you rescued from that building collapse last night?” John nodded. “It’s Masters and he’s in 401. You know you really made quite an impression on that young man,” she teased.
John grinned. “I liked him too. He seemed like a good kid,” he said simply.
“He thinks you’re a hero,” she added teasingly. “It’s all he talked about.”
John’s face flushed a bit in embarrassment. John never thought of himself as a hero…Just a guy doing his job, but it still felt nice that the kid saw him that way, especially when some members of his own family had told him he’d never amount to anything.
“So was he hurt bad? I mean if Brackett kept him…?” His voice trailed off worriedly.
He was complaining about a headache and a bit of dizziness along with his sore leg. Kel kept him overnight for observation, just as a precaution.”
“I didn’t think he’d hit his head, John said, worried that he might have missed something.
“He didn’t; at least not that we could tell and the foster parents wouldn’t let us X-ray him.”
“Why not?” John asked, looking confused, and not understanding why they weren’t concerned about the child’s welfare.
“They said they couldn’t afford it,” she said with a shrug.
“Oh,” John said with a disgusted shake of his head. “Wouldn’t Brackett do it for free?” He hedged.
She grinned and nodded. “He would have, but they insisted there was nothing wrong the boy, so he had to back off.” John’s mouth tightened in annoyance. He’d had a family that treated him with the same lack of caring. “And Kel pointed out that it could have been nothing more than stress and dust he’d breathed, but he kept him just to be sure,” she added.
“Good,” John said succinctly. Glad that Brackett hadn’t just dismissed the child’s complaint as the some doctors would. “I’ll just run up for a minute.” John started to turn away but Dixie stopped him.
“Hey Johnny?” She called, worried that the young and very sensitive paramedic would get attached to this kid.
He turned back. “Yeah?”
“Rule number one,” she said with a raised eyebrow,
John grinned. “ I won’t; well…at least not too much,” he waffled. He turned and hurried away.
Dixie threw him a knowing smirk, and returned to her work.
Johnny stepped off the elevator and made his way down the hall to 401. He waved at a couple of the nurses that he knew that popped down to the ER on occasion. One stopped him before he could enter the room.
“Hey Johnny! What are you doing in pediatrics?” She asked curiously, knowing the handsome young paramedic was single and had no children.
“Hi Tina,” he greeted in return. I’m here to see Tommy Masters. Dixie said he was in 401,” he added, pointing toward the door in front of him, throwing her his trademark crooked grin.
Tina frowned. “Good luck,” she muttered, looking disgusted.
John’s brows knotted over his nose in confusion. “What’s that mean?” He asked cautiously.
She leaned close to whisper conspiratorially. “His foster parents,” she hissed. “They’re real ‘charmer’s’,” she added, with a sarcastic lift to one blonde eyebrow.
“What’s wrong with em?” He asked worriedly.
She shrugged. “They’re just not nice to the kid,” she said drily. “They practically accused him of getting hurt just to get attention,” she added with a rueful shake of her head.
“Oh,” he replied with an eye roll of understanding. “Well…I guess I’ll have to brave the bears in their den if I wanna see him,” he joked with a grimace.
“Better hurry then; They’re trying to get Dr. Wiley to release him so they can take him home. They don’t want to have to pay for another day here.”
John shook his dark head. “Thanks Tina. I’ll ya later,” he added with a wave. He turned and began to knock on the door, but stopped as he heard a woman’s voice raised in what John easily recognized as annoyance. He’d heard it often in his youth from his own family, particularly his maternal grandparents, Aunts and Uncles.
He almost turned and walked away, but then decided Tommy could use an ally. He gave the door a thump before cracking it open and peeking in. “Hey Tommy…Can I come in?” He asked cheerfully.
The couple with the boy tossed an irritated glance toward the stranger in the doorway, but the child’s face lit up. “Hi! Yeah c’mon in,” he replied brightly.
John came into the room, throwing the couple a defiant look that assured them that he didn’t much care whether they were happy with this interruption or not.
“Who are you?” The man growled, still obviously annoyed about something, while the woman’s eyes roamed appreciatively over the handsome, sable haired man that had just entered the room.
“He’s the fireman that saved my life,” Tommy informed them excitedly before the tall man could.
“John Gage,” he said filling in the blanks and holding out his hand to greet the couple with a raised brow, as if daring them to be rude.
The woman once again gave him an appraising once over while the man stared down his nose for a long moment before reaching out to grudgingly shake the young man’s hand. His wife followed suit.
“We’re the Wallace’s. I’m Hal and this is my wife Janis. Thank you for saving Thomas’ life,” he said as if forced by protocol to say those words.
“Just doing my job,” he answered with same perfunctory coolness. He turned to the child in the bed and his expression softened. “How ya feeling Tommy?” He questioned, reaching out to ruffle the boy’s dark hair.
“I’m doing okay. Just got a sore leg and I’ve got a headache.”
John nodded, giving the couple a sideways glance, before his mouth turned up in a quirky grin. “I’m not surprised,” he said drily.
The couple bristled as Tommy giggled.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” The woman snapped indignantly.
John gave the boy a wink before turning toward the couple. “Just breathing in all that dust yesterday, not to mention the stress of everything he’s been through,” he said calmly, giving them his best innocent look.
“Oh,” she mumbled, giving him a suspicious look that he thought they were the cause of his headache. “
John smiled disarmingly before once again turning his attention to the boy. “Has the doctor released you yet?” He asked the boy.
“NO,” the man growled. “Kids complaining about his head,” he said in disgust.
“Maybe he’s got a reason,” Johnny shot back; his dark eyes locked with the man’s gray.
He flushed at his own callous tone, drawing himself up indignantly. His wife took over before he could respond. “He’s always whining and complaining about something,” she snarled. “There’s nothing wrong with him; he’s just looking for attention.”
Tommy looked at the couple dismally. He’d get no compassion from these two and he knew it, but John didn’t just let it pass.
He’s shot the couple a withering glare. “Maybe if you gave him some, he wouldn’t feel the need to try so hard to get it,” he growled angrily.
The woman drew herself up resentfully. “I have three other foster children and two of my own at home,” she snapped peevishly.
“I see,” he said quietly, wondering if those children got treated with the same casual disregard as Tommy. He refrained from suggesting they try and find a better home for the boy. Foster parents were hard to come by…even bad ones, he mused. “Well…I’ll tell you what? It just so happens that I have some free time to spend with Tommy, so I’d be happy to give him my attention and then you can concentrate on the others,” he suggested challengingly.
Janis opened her mouth to spit out a scathing refusal, but then she hesitated. If the young, attractive fireman wanted to hang out with the kid…fine, It would let him see just what a monster the boy really was and then he wouldn’t be so high and mighty with his judgment of them.
It would also keep the kid out of her hair and out of trouble, not to mention having the handsome young man around the house, even if he was rude and abrasive.
Her husband opened his mouth to refuse his request, disliking the arrogance of the young fire fighter. How dare he practically accuse them of not taking care of the kid properly? Even though the boy had been playing where he shouldn’t be, and had been missing from their home for several hours before the accident. They didn’t have the time to keep track of all these darn kids every minute.
He’d send a couple back to the state orphanage if they didn’t need the money they got from the state to keep these kids to make ends meet, he mused sourly.
His wife saw the refusal on his face and drove her elbow into his ribs. “Oomph,” he grunted, shooting her an irritated scowl.
“Well Mr. Gage; if you want to spend time with Tommy. I don’t see any problem with it,” she said sweetly.
John turned to the boy. “How about it Tommy?” He asked with a grin.
The boys face lit up. “Heck YEAH!” He shouted.
John grinned, remembering how much he’d loved hanging around the fire station when he was a child. The grin faded as he recalled the time after his mom had died. He’d been abused, degraded and made to feel worthless by his mother’s family, and they’d forbidden him to go there anymore.
What had become his refuge had been denied him. He didn’t want that to happen to Tommy. “Good,” he said, plucking his green pen from his pocket and snatching up a pad of paper from the bedside table. He wrote his number down. “You call me when you feel up to it and I’ll come get ya,” he promised, tearing off the sheet of paper and handing it to the boy.
Tommy grinned from ear to ear, clutching the paper as if it were made of gold. “I will; thanks Mr. Gage,” he breathed out in excitement.
John ruffled the chocolate brown hair. “You can call me Johnny,” he replied, giving the couple a curt nod of his head. he turned toward the door. He figured he’d hear from the boy tomorrow. He left the room and made his way to the elevators, his mind replaying the conversation. It was obvious that the kid needed an adult role model and Johnny resolved to be it. He didn’t have long to wait.
The phone rang early the next morning. John snapped it up, assuming it was Roy. “Hello?”
“Hi Johnny,” A child’s voice replied.
John grinned. “Hey pal; How’re ya doin?” He questioned.
“I’m okay I guess. I’m out of the hospital and I really wanna see the fire station,” he said pleadingly, as if he were afraid that Johnny had changed his mind.
“Your foster parents alright with this?” He questioned.
“Yeah; Janis and Hal will be happy to get rid of me for a while,” he replied, sounding unconcerned about their callous attitude. He wasn’t…the boy was used to it.
John’s mouth twitched in anger at the child’s words…He’d been there himself once and he was determined not to let that happen to this child. “I see; well…what’s the address?”
Tommy gave it to him. John realized that is was almost four miles from the accident site, and wondered how they hadn’t noticed him missing long before he’d gotten hurt.
“Cool…I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” he promised the anxious boy.
“Far out,” Tommy gushed excitedly, relieved that at least this adult was actually going to keep his promise.
John hung up the phone with Tommy and immediately picked up the phone and dialed Roy’s number. Joanne answered it.
“Hi Jo, its Johnny,” he replied.
“Hi John; How are you?”
“Oh uh…I’m fine,” he replied.
“Good…Do you want to speak to Roy?” She questioned.
“Uh yeah,” he replied in his usual bashful manner with Roy’s wife.
“Hold on. ROY! IT’S JOHN!” She called to her husband.
A moment later a deep voice came on the line. “Hey Junior, what’s up?”
“Well…I saw Tommy at the hospital yesterday, and I told him I’d take him to see the station.”
He heard his partners sigh of resignation. His young friend never listened. John rushed on before Roy could remind him of rule number one again. “I know I’m not supposed to get involved with a patient,” he said quietly. “But this isn’t some girl or a dog…It’s just a kid, and you should have been there Roy. His Foster parents are real jerks. The kid needs a friend…someone he can count on and look up to ya know?” He said without a breath.
There was a long pause on the other end while Roy marveled at his friend’s ability to rant that long without breathing. “You’re amazing?” The blonde man finally said in awe.
John’s dark brows knotted over his nose in confusion. “Huh?” He questioned brilliantly.
“How do you do that?”
“What?” John questioned suspiciously.
“Talk without breathing…Do you just absorb oxygen through your skin?”
John’s eyes made an impressive roll of irritation. “HA HA HA,” he replied dryly.
Roy chuckled. “So you aren’t coming over?” Roy asked.
“No; I’ll be over, we promised Chris we’d take him to the park to play…I just thought…Um,” he hesitated.
Roy sighed. “Yes Junior, you can bring Tommy,” he said resignedly.
John grinned on the other end of the line, having won what he wanted. “Thanks Pally,” he said happily. “You won’t be sorry and I won’t be real late. I just wanna show him the station.”
“Okay…We’ll see you later.”
Ten minutes later John was on his way to pick up Tommy.
The eleven year old was waiting on the porch steps when John pulled his old camper into the driveway. He sprang off and ran to meet him with only a slight limp to his gait.
“Hey kiddo; how’s that leg doin?” John asked in concern.
“It’s okay Johnny; just hurts a little,” he replied.
“You sure?” He pressed, not wanting the boy to overdo and injure himself further.
“Yeah,” he said reassuringly, afraid John would change his mind and not take him if he thought he was injured.
“Let me just tell Mrs. Wallace that that we’re leaving now,” he told the boy.
“She won’t care. Long as I’m not in her way,” he replied dismally.
John gently scruffed the boys head. “Still…Need to let her know pal,” he said, stepping up on the porch and knocking on the door.
It opened a moment later and the blonde woman John had met at the hospital stepped out on the porch. She was wearing shorts and a low cut blouse, and she gave Johnny a coy smile.
“Hello Mr. Gage,” she greeted huskily. “Would you like to come in?” She asked with a seductive grin.
‘Said the spider to the fly,’ the expression flitted through his head at the obvious invitation from the older woman.
He stepped back. “Uh…No; think I’ll just stay out here,” he replied, his rejection of her plans made evident by his response.
The smile fell away at the blatant refusal of her less than subtle enticement, and the same sour sneer she’d worn at the hospital replaced it as he continued.
“I just wanted you to know that I’m taking Tommy. We’re going to the fire station and then my partner and his family are going to the park with us for a while,” he told her matter of fact.
The scowl on the woman’s face deepened at his clear preference to spend time with the child instead of her. The gloating smirk on Tommy’s face didn’t help take the sting of the handsome paramedic’s rejection away any either.
“Fine,” she snapped. “Have him back by five or he won’t get to eat dinner,” she warned angrily as she stepped back and slammed the door in Johnny’s face.
He young paramedic shot a glance toward the boy standing next to him and grinned at the woman’s reaction.
The boy shrugged in return. “No great loss,” he muttered with a giggle.
John laughed and ruffled the boy’s hair. “C’mon Tommy, let’s go,” he said resting his hand on the boys shoulder and giving him a gentle push toward the stairs.
The pair climbed into the camper and headed for the station.
Tommy glanced at the tall man sitting next to him, wondering why this super cool guy had taken a liking to him. He decided to just ask him.
“How come you’re doin this?” He asked hesitantly.
John looked over at him. “Doing what?”
“Bein nice to me?” He explained.
John shrugged and gave him a lopsided grin. “I dunno; guess you remind me of me when I was your age.”
Tommy laughed. “Did you always wanna be a fireman?”
John nodded. “Since I was five or six,” he replied.
John pursed his lips thoughtfully for a long moment. “I’m not sure how to explain it,” he answered honestly.
“Did you want to be a hero?”
John shook his head. “No…that wasn’t it. I guess…I just saw those trucks out on the road one day and I thought they were so cool and I thought….I want to do that, and then later,” he paused, thinking of his dad and that no one had been able to get to him in time…Later I just wanted to help people,” he added softly. “A fire captain once told me it’s in the blood. It’s something you’re called to,” he said musefully.
“Far out,” Tommy replied with a grin. “But I think you’re a hero anyway…I wanna be like you,” he told him excitedly.
John laughed. “I’m not a hero Tommy. I was just doing my job,” he explained.
“Well…you’re my hero,” the child insisted. “I wanna save people like you did for me,” he added.
“Good…If it’s something you really wanna do…Then go for it,” John told him. "Don’t let anyone or anything stop you.”
John pulled into the narrow alley that ran behind the station. He glanced at Tommy. The boy’s eyes were wide and filled with the same excitement that used to light John’s when he was a child. He well remembered his family’s attempts to kill his dream and he was determined not to let that happen to Tommy.
John parked the camper and had barely got the door open before the eleven year old was out of the vehicle and around the back, bouncing anxiously on his toes as he waited for his new friend to join him.
John grinned and put his arm over the child’s shoulders as they walked toward the back door, knowing the boy had the dream as bad as he’d had when he was this age. John pushed the door open to the day room and let the boy precede him inside.
The crew of B Shift was nowhere in sight, and Johnny assumed they were busy doing chores. He looked down at the boy by his side and saw the light brown eyes taking in everything.
“This is the day room,” he explained. “Sorta where we hang out when we aren‘t doing chores or something,” he added.
Tommy nodded but Johnny could tell he was eager to get to the cool stuff…The rigs.
“C’mon this way,” he instructed, leading him to the door to the apparatus bay. They heard the voices of the station crew as they stepped into the large, open area.
“Hey Johnny; what are you doing here?” Kirk asked the younger paramedic.
“Who’s your friend?” The senior lineman Blake asked.
“Little young for a boot isn’t he,” Charlie Dwyer teased
Tommy grinned at their teasing banter.
“This is Tommy Masters…We uh…rescued him yesterday from a building collapse,” he informed them.
Dwyer cocked a blonde eyebrow at his young colleague.
John saw it and gave him a sheepish glance at the unspoken censure. “I know,” he said simply. “But he’s decided he wants to be a fireman, so I offered to show him the station,” he added, trying to avoid the lecture to not get involved.
Charlie and the others grinned and shook their heads. They all knew John Gage had a stubborn streak a mile wide and no matter what they said, he’d do what he pleased anyway. They also knew he had a heart as big as the whole outdoors and a soft spot for kids and animals even though he tried to hide it; no amount of warning would change that.
“C’mon kid, I’ll give you the tour,” B-Shifts Engineer Evan Blake offered.
Tommy looked up at Johnny inquiringly. The paramedic nodded. “I’ll go with you,” he reassured the boy.
O’Rourke led Tommy to the gleaming Red Crown Coach sitting next to the smaller squad. It was the rig that usually drew the most attention, especially from kids. He helped Tommy climb up into the jump seat of the open vehicle.
The boy stared back into the hose bay in awe from this new vantage point, and what looked like miles of rugged hoses laid out down the length of it.
“This is the inch and a half,” Evan pointed out to his five person audience as the rest of the crew gathered around. “Now if we were called out to a fire, it would be your job to run around and grab that hose and hook it up. Then when we drive away…voila,” he said theatrically waving his hand. “The hose unrolls from the back as nice as you please,” he explained. “Now if the squad is with us...,” he began.
“Squad?” Tommy interrupted.
Evan pointed at the smaller vehicle. “That’s the rescue squad. That’s what Gage does. He’s a paramedic.”
Tommy looked at his new friend. “You’re not a fireman?” He asked sounding a little disappointed.
John frowned at the question, afraid Tommy had just lost his respect for his new friend.
“Sure he is,” Evan continued.
John grinned and took over. “I’m both Tommy,” he explained. “I work on the hoses sometimes but mostly I handle rescue; like my partner and I did with you yesterday,” he explained.
“And sometimes if someone is sick or injured, he can treat them at the scene,” “Evan added.
The child’s eyes widened in awe and Evan chuckled at the obvious look of hero worship being directed at Gage.
“I uh…I think he’s impressed,” Evan teased his young colleague.
John flushed at the good humored taunting but he grinned at the older man. “Anyway Tommy, if the squad rolls with the engine, it’s my job to hook up the hose unless we know someone is injured or trapped…then that comes first,” Johnny concluded.
“WOW!” The boy said simply.
The two older men laughed and then Evan continued with the tour. He pointed at a slightly wider layout of hoses. That’s the two inch,” he said, before explaining the difference and when it was used. The reel line was next before he finally helped the boy down from the seat.
Even showed him the gauges and how they worked before John hoisted him into the driver’s seat. “This is where Evan sits,” he said, nodding to their guide.
“This is so cool,” he breathed out, holding the wheel and looking out the front window at the view from so high up.
“So kid; ya think ya might wanna be an engineer?” Evan questioned.
“Might wanna try letting him be a lineman first,” Denny Blake suggested, coming up beside Johnny.
The boy shook his head, negating that line of thought. “Nope…I’m gonna be a paramedic,” he announced with certainty as he looked down at his new friend.
John smiled as he leaned against the squad, watching the boy. “Well then…Why don’t you hop down from there and I’ll show you the squad,” John suggested, helping the boy down.
Tommy eagerly turned his attention to the smaller vehicle as Johnny pulled open the compartment doors and began to show him the equipment. He showed him the biophone and the cardiac monitor before flipping open the drug box and showing him the contents.
The boy’s eyes were alight with interest until John pulled out the syringes. Tommy shuddered at the sight and John laughed. “I know exactly how you feel,” he teased. “But it’s easier on this side of the needle,” he assured him with a grin.
John finished up the tour, showing the boy the dormitory and locker room before leading him out to the parking lot to point out the hose rack and the hydrant they used for drills.
“Can you show me?” He asked excitedly.
John's mind flashed back to a time in Montana when he’d been just a bit younger than Tommy. A fire Captain named Rigsby and his crew had taken the fatherless boy under their wing and taught him how to be a fireman.
John had been quick to learn. Then years later, another fireman in San Gabriel; Captain Calhoun had refined those lessons. John could practically hear his own voice, laced with the same excitement. “Show me…teach me,” he’d begged, and they had.
“Sure,” he agreed after a moment. “Wait here,” he instructed, heading back inside the station. He returned with a spanner, eye goggles and the smallest pair of gloves he could find. He smiled to himself as he remembered Calhoun doing the same thing only that time it had been in the dead of night.
John had snuck out of his aunt’s house to slip over to the station to practice. The Captain had caught him and then had spent the next two hours instructing the teenager on the proper way to hook up a hose.
“Here ya go Tommy,” he said, now becoming the teacher, and passing on what he had learned.
“What are these for?” Tommy asked curiously.
“The goggles will protect your eyes if the line lets go or breaks, and the gloves will keep your hands from being pinched while you hook up the line,” he explained. “You should always use your safety gear,” he lectured the boy.
“You should try using that stuff yourself once in a while,” Charlie Dwyer said drily from the doorway.
The young paramedic shot the older blonde man a withering glare. “Don’t you have something to do?” He shot back between clenched teeth.
Tommy giggled and Charlie gave his young colleague a smirk of satisfaction as he turned and sauntered back into the station.
John returned to his lesson with the boy. Showing him how to undo the nut and hook up the connector before starting the water and then reversing the process and handing the wrench to Tommy so he could give it try.
The eleven year old copied his movements precisely, even though it was a bit slow and clumsy with it.
John patted his head when he was done.”A little practice and you’ll pick up speed,” he said encouragingly.
“Can I try again?” Tommy asked.
“Sure,” John agreed.
He allowed the boy to practice several times before he glanced at his watch. “Okay kiddo…we better get going…My partners expecting us.”
“Okay,” Tommy agreed, looking disappointed that they had to go.
“Hey sport…The days not over yet,” John teased.
Tommy grinned and waited while John put the gear away. The two climbed into the camper and drove away.
They arrived at Roy’s a short time later. Tommy followed John to the door and waited for him to knock. A moment later it opened and the blonde man that had been in the building with Johnny opened the door.
“Hey Junior,” the man greeted, before shifting his attention toward the child at his friends side.
“Hi Roy; this is Tommy Masters,” he replied, pulling the boy forward. “Tommy this is my partner, Roy DeSoto,”
“Hi Tommy,” Roy greeted, holding out his hand to the child.
“Hello Mr. De Soto,” the boy said, shaking the offered hand.
“You can call me Roy okay?” The blonde man instructed. Tommy grinned and nodded. “C’mon in. Joanne is making some lunch before we go out.”
“Far out,” Johnny replied enthusiastically. “C’mon Tommy…Joanne’s a great cook,” he added.
Tommy grinned happily. Janis’ idea of ‘cooking lunch’ was a peanut butter sandwich most days. He followed John into the house where a young, blonde, blue eyed boy was camped in front of the TV, while another child; an infant sat in a carrier.
“Tommy…This is my son Chris and my daughter Jennifer,” Roy said, nodding to the two kids.
Jen gave the boy a wary glance before turning her eyes toward John. A wide grin spread over her chubby face and she lifted her arms for John to pick her up. He happily obliged the cherub.
Chris grinned at the newcomer over his shoulder from his prone position on the carpeted floor. “Hi,” he said, throwing the other boy a wave, before turning his attention back to the television.
“Hello,” Tommy replied, his eyes sweeping over the spotless house and inexpensive, yet homey surroundings. His house was never this clean, but then in all fairness, there were six kids living there, still…Janis wasn’t exactly Suzie homemaker. He envied these two children and the life they had…A nice home, two loving parents and his new hero for an uncle.
He followed the two men into the dining room and a moment later a pretty, auburn haired woman came in carrying a tray of cheeseburgers and a bowl of crispy French fries.
Tommy’s eyes lit up…so did Johnny’s. The boy giggled at the sight of his new friend licking his lips. John leaned over. “Jo makes the best cheeseburgers,” he whispered to the eleven year old, before returning his attention to the lady. “Jo…This is my friend Tommy Masters. Tommy…this is Mrs. De Soto; Roy’s wife.
“Hello Tommy,” she said with a sweet smile. “You can just call me Joanne okay,” she instructed.
He nodded enthusiastically. Maybe getting himself caught in that building collapse hadn’t been such a bad thing after all, even if he had gotten hurt.
Joanne smiled and gently ruffled the shaggy brown hair. “C’mon in and have a seat,” she invited, nodding her head toward the table.
John handed Jennifer over to her as she rose on tip toe to kiss John’s cheek. “Morning sweetheart,” she greeted, bringing the usual flush of color to John’s face and a snicker of amusement from his partner at his now scarlet faced partner.
John shot him a glare before sliding into his own seat. Chris plopped himself into the seat next to John and they began to eat.
Tommy wasted no time digging into the food…The smells to mouth watering to pass up. Roy tossed a wink at Jo as the child wolfed the food down, noticing that his table manners or lack thereof, and his appetite rivaled John’s.
“Kindred spirit,” he said cryptically.
Jo giggled while Tommy and Johnny exchanged a slightly baffled glance. Roy gave his young partner an innocent look. Johnny frowned suspiciously but returned to eating.
Tommy glanced up from his plate; ketchup smeared the corners of his mouth. “This is great Joanne,” he said happily.
“Well I’m glad you like it,” she teased, handing the boy and then John a napkin.
John gave her a sheepish look and wiped his own mouth, trying to be a good example for the boy sitting next to him.
Jo gave him a wink as Tommy followed suit, emulating his new best friend.
They finished up lunch and sat back to chat for a few minutes.
“So what did you think of the fire station Tommy?” Roy asked the boy.
“It was far out,” he gushed excitedly.
“What did you like best?” He pressed, expecting him to tell him how awesome the engine was. He was surprised at his response.
“The squad,” he breathed out in amazement. “What you and Johnny do is so cool; that’s what I want to do when I grow up,” he added.
“That’s a good choice son,” Roy agreed seriously, proud of John as well as his own abilities as a paramedic. The boy could do far worse in his decision on who to emulate in his life.
Roy threw John a grin and a wink as Joanne leaned toward him the younger man. “I think someone has a baaad case of hero worship,” she teased.
John flushed but smiled back while Tommy grinned happily at Roy’s praise. “I brought along my football Tommy. I thought maybe we could toss it around,” Johnny suggested.
“That’s cool,” the boy agreed.
Joanne stood up. “Why don’t I get this cleaned up and we can head for the park.” She suggested.
“Good deal,” John replied. “Hey Tommy; why don’t you and Chris go watch TV until we’re ready to go?” John suggested.
“Okay,” he agreed. The two boys slipped from their seats and headed for the living room.
“Seems like a good kid,” Roy said after they’d left.
“He is…His foster parents insinuated that he’s a trouble maker and that he gets into a lot of trouble to get attention,” he said quietly.
“Some kids do that,” Roy agreed. “Usually it’s because the parents are too busy to spend time with them.”
“Huh; not with these two.” Roy’s eyebrow arched questioningly. “If you spent time with them you’d understand. They don’t care about that kid at all,” he whispered in disgust.
“I know Junior and I know it’s hard to watch but just try not to get too attached okay?”
John grinned. “I won’t. I just think the kid needs a friend to talk to…Like you are to me.”
Roy sighed; how could he argue with that. Still he hated to see Johnny get involved and then have the kid shipped off to some other family and never see him again…Still, it might be good for both of them. What could it hurt?
Joanne finally finished up in the kitchen and the small group headed for the park.
Joanne found a spot under a tree and Roy spread a blanket. Jo and Jennifer settled onto it to watch as the four ‘boys’ headed out to throw the football around or play on the playground equipment.
The two men were careful with their play in deference to Chris’ age, but the laughter made it clear that they were having a great time.
Joanne laughed as Tommy caught a football thrown by Roy and started running, but a moment later he felt himself lifted off his feet and spun around as John ran down field carrying the boy and the football.
“NOT FAIR JOHNNY,” Tommy shouted, gurgling with laughter as John set him down over the goal line.
John gave him a victorious laugh and a small touchdown dance in the end zone.
“That’s cheating Uncle Johnny,” Chris admonished with his hands on his hips.
“Hey…there is no rule that says I can’t carry the ball over the goal in someone else’s hands,” he argued, scruffing the blonde head.
Roy laughed as both boys charged after Johnny, who did a little bob and weave around them. Chris and Tommy both finally caught up and jumped on him.
John allowed himself to fall to the ground with them on top, all four laughing and giggling happily.
Tommy finally sat up and rubbed at his eyes, squinting up at him.
“Everything okay pal?” John questioned, seeing the subtle scrunching of the child’s face.
“Just laughing too hard I guess,” he giggled. “Gave me a headache.”
John laughed and looked at his watch. “Well it’s almost four thirty, so I should probably be getting you home so you don’t miss dinner.”
Tommy’s smile fell away. “I guess so,” he sighed despondently.
John frowned. “Hey; it’s not that bad,” he said, trying to get him to perk up.
“They don’t care about me,” he mumbled, it was a statement of hurt feelings more than the whining complaint of the trouble making child his foster parents called him.
John and Roy exchanged a glance. “Well…I care and this won’t be the last time we do this,” he promised, ignoring the resigned look on his partners face.
“Sure,” the boy replied dismally, well used to be being disappointed by the adults in his life.
John rested his hand on the child’s shoulder. “I promise you Tommy; I won’t just walk away,” he vowed, suspecting that his partner was going to be upset with him for breaking rule number one yet again but not caring.
When he was a child and was being abused, he’d dreamed of having someone care enough to step in and just be his friend, even though he knew that the abuse wouldn’t end…That it was accepted by him as a fact of life.
There had been a few who had tried, only to be rebuffed by his grandfather. It wasn’t until he’d become a grown man that Roy had come into his life. He didn’t want that for Tommy. He wanted to be there to watch him grow up and to encourage his dream and his goal to be a fireman.
His eyes finally lifted to meet Roy’s, and he was surprised to see a look of understanding rather than annoyance. They shared a long silent look that spoke volumes before Roy gave him a nod and turned away to help Joanne clean up the area and pack it away in their bag.
John grinned, knowing Roy was on his side. The blonde paramedic reached out to rest his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Well Tommy, it was nice to meet you. I hope you had a good time.”
“Yes sir,” Tommy replied, nodding his head vigorously, the dark hair flopping into his eyes… reminding Roy of Johnny when he was excited. “We’ll see you again right?” He questioned.
Tommy turned hopeful eyes on his new friend. “Sure ya will,” John agreed, bringing a joyful look to the boys face.
“Far out,” he said happily, reassured that this really wasn’t a one time offer.
“Let’s get going then,” he advised. “I think you’ve had too much sun,” he added, noting that the boy’s eyes were once again scrunched up as if in pain.
“Yeah; I’ve still got a headache,” he admitted.
“From yesterday?” John questioned.
Tommy shook his head. “Nah…been bugging me for a few weeks, but don’t tell Janis. She’ll just say I’m faking it to get attention,” he said with a shrug.
“Well if ya got a headache…,” John began.
“Nah…It’s nothin. The school nurse said I may need glasses,” he explained. “But Janis and Hal don’t wanna take me to an eye doctor.”
John’s eyes rolled in annoyance. “I’ll talk to her when I get you home,” he growled.
Tommy shrugged. “She won’t care…Not if it costs money,” he added ruefully.
Roy and John exchanged another glance. “We’ll I’m going to try anyway,” he replied, planning to pay for it himself if he needed too. “C’mon Tommy,” he said, giving the boy a gentle push toward his van.
It didn’t take long to reach Tommy’s house. The pair climbed out and made their way up the steps to the front door. Tommy’s feet were dragging all the way. John sighed…The boy was truly unhappy about being home but there was no help for it.
“Hey kiddo…It’s not THAT bad is it?” He questioned, worried that Tommy had more reason than he knew to be unhappy, after all…John had lived for years hiding the abuse he’d been subjected to. Tommy shrugged and John made a snap decision. “I promise…I’ll only be a phone call away,” he vowed.
The boy nodded but it was obvious he didn’t really believe it. Other people had told him that before and hadn’t meant it. He pushed the door open. “Janis; I’m home,” he yelled.
The woman came from the back where he assumed the kitchen was. “You’re back,” she said drily. “I thought you might keep him,” she said snidely.
“I would if I could,” John shot back, surprising them both. “Tommy says his head is hurting him,” he continued.
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, well I told you he’s always complaining about something,” she reminded him.
“Told ya.” Tommy mumbled knowingly.
John patted his back…He wasn’t done yet and John was nothing if not persistent. “Well I think he’s telling the truth. I think he needs to have his eyes checked. So maybe you as the responsible adult should take him to a doctor and have him looked at,” he snapped in a Gage rant.
“You gonna pay for it?” She snapped angrily.
“If necessary, but I’m sure the LA county Department of Social Services would pay for it since he’s in foster care,” he reminded her.
“It’ll take weeks for that to go through,” she replied snidely. "I'd have to wait for them to reimburse me."
John sighed. Make the damn appointment. “I’ll pay for it,” he bit out.
Tommy looked at him gratefully while Janis’ face turned red in a mixture of anger and embarrassment at the disgusted look on the handsome paramedics face.
“I don’t need you to come in here and tell me how to handle the kid,” she snapped.
John had always hated throwing his aunts name around, preferring to succeed or fail on his own, but this was different; it wasn’t for own sake that he win this battle, the kid needed him. He leaned forward until he was mere inches from the woman’s face…His own a frozen mask of anger.
“My aunt is very good friends with the Governor of California. Don’t make me call her and ask her to talk to him for me,” he warned.
Her eyes widened in indecision, trying to decide if he was serious or just making idle threats. John’s dark gaze met hers unflinchingly.
“I’ll call the doctor,” she finally grumbled, looking away from the chocolate brown eyes.
“Good,” he replied, turning to the boy. “Give me a call and let me know how it went,” he instructed.
Tommy grinned and nodded as he brushed past the angry woman and ran up the stairs to his room.
John gave Janis a curt nod and headed for the door.
John returned to work the next day. Roy was changing in the locker room when he arrived.
“Morning Junior,” the blonde man greeted.
“Mornin, mornin, mornin,” he replied cheerfully as he swung his locker door open and began to unbutton his shirt.
“How did it go with Tommy after you left?”He asked.
John frowned. “Man, that foster mom of his is a real piece of work…Do you know she refused to take the kid to the eye doctor cuz she’d have to pay for it,” he growled.
“What did you say?” Roy asked worriedly, knowing his young partner’s temper. John was usually pretty easy going but he was known to flare up when his sense of injustice or his patience was tested.
“Well; I reminded her that the state would cover it. Tommy is a ward of the court after all.”
“How’d she take that?” He asked, looking amused.
“She said,” he began in a nasally, whining impression of the woman’s voice. “I have to pay for it up front and then wait till they reimburse me,” he said snidely.
“So how’d it end up?”
“I told her I’d pay for it,” he admitted sheepishly, giving his partner a sideways glance in anticipation of the lecture he was expecting.
Roy surprised him. “Good for you; glad you resolved it so easily.”
A slightly uncomfortable look crossed his face. “I did sorta threaten her with calling my aunt who happens to be friends with the governor,” he added, tugging nervously at his lower lip.
Roy chuckled and slammed his locker door. He slapped John off the back. “Did she fall for that?” He questioned teasingly, assuming John had simply been trying to bluff the woman.
“Yeah,” he replied, not telling Roy just how serious he’d been, and looking relieved that Roy wasn’t pressing him for more information.
Though the older man had spoken to his aunt once, he had no idea exactly who John’s aunt was, nor the clout she actually had out there in the world, and he had no intention of telling him at this point, preferring to succeed or fail by his own actions and not her name.
“Yeah; she finally agreed to take him.”
“Good; I’ll see ya in the day room for coffee,” he said, heading for the door.
John followed a few minutes later.
Chet and Mike were already at the table when he came in. Mike was sipping his coffee and Chet looked up as John entered.
“Hey Gage,” he greeted, returning his attention to the paper in front of him.
“Morning,” John replied, moving over to join his partner by the stove. Roy held out a full mug to his young friend before continuing with their discussion.
“So Junior, did Tommy have a good time yesterday?”
John grinned. “He had a ball. He was real disappointed when I had to bring him back.”
“Who’s Tommy?” Chet asked, glancing up at the pair as they settled into their chairs at the table.
“The kid we rescued from that building collapse the other day,” Johnny replied.
Chet frowned, despite their frequent arguments, the Irish fire fighter really did care about their youngest crew member and he didn’t want to see him get hurt. He tossed a concerned glance toward Roy before returning his gaze to Johnny.
“You gettin involved with a victim?” He questioned with a raised bushy eyebrow.
“Yeah Chet…Look, he’s a good kid and he needs a friend,” he added with a shrug.
“Not a good idea Gage,” he replied with a shake of his curly, dark head.
“I didn’t ask for your opinion Kelly,” he shot back.
The Irishman’s blue eyes turned to Roy. The older man threw him a resigned look. “Johnny’s a big boy…He makes his own decisions and besides…He really is a good kid. John will be good for him,” he added.
“Well the kid’ll probably get bored with it all eventually and want to go play with someone his own age,” Mike said with certainty.
“Gage IS his own age,” Chet replied sarcastically.
“Ha ha,” John sneered, obviously NOT amused.
“ROLL CALL,” Captain Hammers bellow from the apparatus bay staid any further comments as the group set their coffee cups aside and headed out to join their captain and Marco.
“Station 51…Construction accident. Three miles on Topanga Canyon Fire Road C-44. Three Miles north of Topanga Canyon Fire road C-44…Nearest cross street Pine Ridge…Time out…9:12,” Sam Lanier’s voice crackled from the station control unit, interrupting the morning chores.
The crew dropped what they were doing and ran for the rigs while Captain Hammer stepped to the podium. “Station 51-KMG 365,” he responded, writing the directions down on a slip of paper. He handed it off to Roy before running to join his crew.
The two vehicles pulled out into traffic, the squad leading the way as John pointed out the shortest route to get them there. They left the paved street fifteen minutes later, turning onto the hard, dirt packed fire road.
The two vehicles kicked up clouds of dust reducing their visibility, and Mike had to slow the engine down to avoid rear ending the squad. They continued their snail’s pace for several minutes before Johnny finally pointed at a cluster of vehicles up ahead.
“There,” he said. Roy nodded, having seen them at the same moment as his young partner. He pulled the squad to stop.
A group of men stood near several bulldozers and other large pieces of construction equipment. It was obvious they’d been clearing the hillside of brush to eliminate the fire hazard for the Topanga Canyon area.
One of the bulldozers appeared to have gotten too close to the edge and had overturned. It was now lying at the bottom of the steep ravine.
John and Roy were a bit surprised that the rest of the crew was topside and not down below trying to help their fallen friend.
The reason became clear as they climbed from the cab and approached the group. Several of the men were rubbing at the angry red welts that dotted their bare arms, necks and faces.
A low humming sound came from the ravine and every so often, one of the group would swat at the air around them.
Chet suddenly yelped as something stung his arm. He slapped at it in annoyance. “Oh man; I got stung by a hornet,” he grouched, peering at the affected area.
“Looks like a lot of people did,” Johnny observed, pointing at the construction crew.
“Grab your coats,” Captain Hammer barked.
The crew retreated to their vehicles to grab their turnout coats, and quickly shrugged them on, hoping the heavy, fire proof material would offer some added protection.
They headed back to join the other men. “What happened here?” Hammer asked the men.
“Mitch was clearing that section of brush and all of a sudden we heard him start screaming and he swinging his arms like he’d gone crazy,” one of them told the Captain and the others.
“Musta hit a bee hive,” another added.
“Must be a thousand of them,” another informed them.
“We tried to get to him, but they started attacking us too, so we got outta there,” the first one told them looking a bit ashamed that they’d fled and left their friend to his own devices.
John and Roy moved cautiously to the edge of the ravine and peered down. Hammer and the rest of the crew sidled closer as well. Their eyes widened at the sight of hundreds, maybe thousands of bees swarming over the bulldozer and the helpless victim trapped under it.
“Got any ideas?” Roy asked, sounding a bit nervous.
Johnny chewed his lip for a moment. “One of us has to go down there,” he murmured.
“I’ll flip ya for it…Loser goes,” Roy muttered, only half teasing.
John gave him a nervous giggle, but then he suddenly brightened. “I got an idea,” he said. “You handle these guys,” he added gesturing to the rest of the bee stung group a few feet away.
“What are ya gonna do?” Roy questioned.
“You’ll see,” he replied before turning and running for the squad.
Roy watched him for a long moment before he went to take care of the crew. “Chet grab the drug box and biophone,” he instructed, keeping half his attention on his young partner and the other half checking bee stings.
Johnny pulled open the compartment doors. He handed Chet the drug box and the orange box containing the biophone. He shrugged off his coat and pulled his bunker pants on, tugging the suspenders into place before putting his coat back on. He snagged a yellow, plastic wrapped blanket from the back and tore it open. He handed it to Captain Hammer. “Can you cut about a quarter of that off Cap,” he asked his superior before he ran to the driver’s side and pulled his air tank from the compartment behind the cab. He shrugged into it and returned to his Captain.
“What are you gonna do Gage?” He asked, his eyes narrowing at his youngest crew member.
John grinned as he took the yellow blanket from his captain and draped it over his head, pulling it snuggly around his face and neck. Dick smiled in sudden understanding and began to help him shove the blanket down under the coat and pull the collar up.
John placed his air mask over his head, holding the makeshift cowl in place. Dick tucked the loose pieces of blanket under the mask and nodded his head that John seemed to be completely covered.
John snapped up the fire extinguisher, the remaining piece of blanket along with a second wrapped blanket and turned to his captain and Marco who’d just joined them.
The Hispanic man’s mouth dropped open for a moment before he grinned at Hammer. The two men shared a moment of amusement and pride at John’s quick thinking and rather innovative design of his makeshift bee keeping suit.
“Can you two get the stokes and lower it down to me,” he shouted over the hiss of his air tank.
“Got it,” Dick yelled, as the pair ran to the back of the squad to retrieve the items. John headed for the ravine.
Roy and Chet glanced up from their task and stared incredulously at John before shaking their heads.
“Gotta admit it…He’s creative,” Chet muttered ruefully.
Roy chuckled and returned to work.
John slowly made his way down the hill and then cautiously approached the overturned vehicle, trying not to disturb the bees, but a few dozen swarmed around him. He could feel them striking his body in random places but his ‘beekeeper suit' seemed to be holding them off; at least for the moment.
He knelt gingerly next to Mitch. “Hey pal,” he said quietly.
The man moaned softly but refrained from moving and annoying the insects any more than they already were. John could see dozens of angry red welts dotting the man’s face, neck and exposed arms. John knew there were probably more beneath his clothing.
One of his feet was hooked between the controls, keeping him from even trying to escape the angry swarm. “I can’t move,” he whispered.
John could see the bees settling on his body and he knew every move Mitch made brought more angry stings. John knew he was covered in them as well. His face mask had several trying to figure out how to get in a sting or two past the unyielding plastic.
“Just hang on,” Johnny instructed. He moved forward with the smaller section of blanket, gently waving the bees away from Mitch’s face and head. They buzzed about angrily but did leave their living perch for the moment. John took the opportunity to wrap the blanket loosely around Mitch’s face to protect him both from the bee’s and the Co2 from the fire extinguisher.
He hefted the canister and pulled the pin. A spray of CO2 shot from the nozzle. John laid a covering over Mitch’s body and even into the air above him where the bees were flying. They began dropping by the dozens though quite a few fled the area. A few persistent ones still buzzed above their heads.
John put the half empty extinguisher down and spread the second blanket over the victim, offering a modicum of protection until he could free his foot. Mitch moaned a bit but didn’t complain. The cold vapor from the extinguisher had actually eased the pain of the stings and he no longer felt as if his skin was on fire.
John moved to the heavy piece of equipment and began to free his victim’s foot, wincing as one industrious hornet managed to find its way beneath the yellow cowl and deliver a vicious sting.
John slapped at it, gritting his teeth at the burning sensation but he continued on with his task. It took a couple of minutes, but Mitch’s foot finally came free of its entanglement.
Johnny plucked the handy talkie from his pocket and keyed the mic, noticing a growing number of hornets were resettling on his sleeve. He had to assume there were more he couldn’t see.
He glanced back at Mitch and noted that there were a few braving the CO2 to try and reach bare skin. “Send the stokes down,” he yelled into the radio. He dropped it back into his pocket and snapped up the extinguisher. He fired off the remainder of the foam, dropping most of them.
A moment later the stokes slid into view. “Be right back,” he assured his still moaning victim.
John made his way over an grabbed the aluminum stretcher and dragged it over to Mitch. A few bees still darted about but it appeared that they’d finally run out of steam. “Okay Mitch,” I’m gonna load you up and then we’ll get you up top where we can treat you,” he shouted through his mask.
There was a faint nod of acquiescence. John wrestled the man into it. Sweat was running down John’s back and through his hair, trickling down his face and into his eyes. They were stinging from it, but he didn’t dare move his mask to wipe it away. He blinked several times to clear his vision.
He finally got Mitch strapped in, wincing once again as another hornet managed to find its way beneath the protective blanket. He gave it a whack, causing it to sting again before he managed to disable it with another slap. He swirled his hand above his head to signal the crew to pull them up.
The stokes began a slow ascent and Johnny trudged along beside it. They finally arrived at the top.
Marco and Roy each grabbed an end and carried the stokes a safe distance away from the edge. Dick began to help John shrug out of his gear.
Roy’s blue eyes swept assessingly over his young friend, noticing the raised welts on his neck as the yellow blanket was removed from over his head. He winced guiltily for letting him go down alone.
The construction crew gathered around their fallen friend. Their faces reflected their own dismay at his condition and that they’d left him to deal with the swarm alone, but what else could they have done?
John wiped the sweat from his eyes before he ran to join his partner. The two began to unwrap Mitch from his cocoon. Roy gasped at the sight of the dozens of welts that appeared. “Oh wow,” he muttered.
John nodded. He only had three and they were uncomfortable enough, he imagined that Mitch must feel like he’d walked through the fires of hell right now. “I’ll get Rampart,” he said as Roy gingerly lifted the man’s arm to get a pulse.
“They’re on standby,” he informed the younger man.
John nodded. “Rampart base, this is squad 51.”
“Squad 51; this is Rampart…go ahead,” Joe Early’s voice came back.
“Rampart; we have a male, approximately forty five years old. He’s been stung by hornets multiple times Rampart. Stand by for vitals,” he said watching as Roy ripped the man’s shirt open.
There was a collective gasp from the on lookers at the swollen flesh and the huge number of red welts left behind by the bees.
Roy’s blue eyes lifted to meet John’s. “Gotta be over a hundred,” he said in horror.
John nodded as Roy began to get the man’s pulse and BP. “Rampart…Our victim has over a hundred stings to his face, neck and torso,” he relayed, turning his attention back to his partner.
“BP is 140/90…pulse is bounding, respirations shallow, he is stuperous.”
John duly reported Roy’s findings to Dr. Early.
“51; start an IV…D5WTKO and administer 50 mgs of Meperidine IV. Also cover the affected area with sterile sheets and saline,” he instructed.
“10-4 Rampart…IV D5WTKO…50 Mgs of Meperidine IV and sterile sheets with saline,” he repeated.
John dropped the phone and grabbed the Meperidine as Roy set up the IV. “Chet grab some sterile sheets from the trauma box,” John instructed without looking up.
“Got it,” he replied.
Roy finished the IV and reached for the syringe. John handed it to him without even glancing at him and reached or the bags of saline. The two men worked around each other as a well orchestrated dance.
Chet returned with the sheets and handed them to Roy. The senior paramedic took them and spread them over Mitch’s back which was fiery red and puffed from the venom.
John tore open the bags and poured them over the sheets, drawing a relieved sigh from their victim as the cool liquid and pain meds began to kick in.
“Let’s get him outta here?” John said, glancing toward the two linemen.
Chet and Marco each grabbed an end of the stokes and carried the man toward the waiting ambulance, while John and Roy gathered their gear.
Roy knew John hated being touched but he reached out and tilted Johns chin to the right to get a better look at the raised welts on his young friend’s neck.
“They’re fine,” John said brushing his partner’s hand away, giving him an embarrassed grin at the older man’s mother hen attitude.
Roy knew John was raised to ignore this sort of thing and he hated being babied, but he’d have to get used to it. Roy was too fond of the kid not to fret over him, since he wouldn’t do it for himself.
“They look pretty inflamed and they’re already swelling,” the older man corrected with an arch to his blonde brow. John shrugged off his concern, but Roy wasn’t that easily deterred. “We’ll get them looked at when we get to Rampart,” he said over his shoulder as he headed off toward the ambulance.
John stopped in mid stride and threw a glare at his partners back, knowing Roy used that tactic when he was done arguing and would enforce the directive even if he needed to play the senior card. John resigned himself to having a doctor take a look at his neck and followed after his partner.
John backed the squad into the ambulance bay outside the doors of Rampart General. His neck was really starting to give him some pain now and the itch was horrible. He wasn’t sure if he was more irritated by the stings or the fact that he might actually have to admit to Roy that he was right and let Brackett take a look at it.
He climbed from the cab and headed inside. Dixie was standing at the base station with Kelly Brackett when he walked up.
“Hey Johnny,” the pretty blonde nurse greeted her favorite paramedic.
“Hi Dix, hey doc,” he returned. “You seen Roy?” He asked.
“Treatment four with your bee sting victim,” she replied.
John nodded, keeping his body turned away so Brackett and Dixie couldn’t see the swollen, irritated flesh on his neck.
“So Johnny; did that little boy call you?” Dixie asked.
Kel threw the two of them a curious glance. “What little boy?” He asked curiously.
“The one from the construction accident,” the blonde nurse explained.
“Oh?” He questioned with a raised brow.
John nodded and grinned. “Yeah Tommy called. I picked him up yesterday and took him over to the station, and then we went to the park with Roy and his family for the afternoon.”
Brackett’s dark eyebrow lifted at the recitation. “You’re breaking rule number one John,’ he said disapprovingly.
The sable haired paramedic sighed. “Yeah; I’ve been told that by everyone,” he said resignedly. “But he’s a really great kid and he wants to be a fireman,” Johnny explained.
“He’s got a huge case of hero worship for our friend here,” Dixie told Brackett with a grin.
Kel shrugged. “It’s just not a good idea,” he said again.
“I know doc, but his foster parents aren’t real good to him and he just needs a friend,” John insisted.
“Not good how?” Kel asked suspiciously, as the door up the hall opened and Roy stepped out. He spotted the group and headed toward them.
“Well, like yesterday,” John began, giving his partner a nod of greeting before he continued. “He’s got a headache that he’s had for a while now and I suggested they take him to an eye doctor…Man! You woulda thought I’d told them to buy him a Ferrari with the fuss his foster mom made about the cost,” he muttered.
Kel and Dixie both frowned at that. They remembered the fuss they’d made over the cost of an X Ray when they’d brought the boy in. In the end, Dr. Wiley from pediatrics had given in and not ordered further tests.
“So are they going to take him or not? Dixie asked.
John bit his lip and grimaced. Roy chuckled. “Yeah…after John agreed to pay for it,” Roy told them.
John gave him a scowl but Dixie patted his hand. “That was sweet of you,” she said with a grin.
Kel wanted to tell him not to get involved, but didn’t quite have the heart too. “Well…let me know if you need me to step in. I know a few people.”
John and Roy knew he meant it. Brackett didn’t take well to people who abused children. He’d intervened before with another child and they knew he’d do it again. Kelly Brackett was also one of only four people who knew about John’s abusive past, so he understood the younger man’s feelings.
”Thanks doc,“ John said.
“So how’s your patient?” Dixie asked the blonde paramedic.
John winced at the reminder but hid it behind his equally curious look, hoping Roy would forget that John had a few stings of his own…No such luck.
“Which one?” The older man asked, throwing his young partner a raised eyebrow and reaching toward his face.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kel asked suspiciously, shooting a look between the two paramedics.
“Now Roy…,” John began, trying to fend off his best friends hand.
“Quit,” Roy said simply in ‘that’ tone.
John sighed and let him tilt his head so that his neck was visible to Brackett and Dixie.
“Ouch; that looks painful,” Kel observed, leaning over to peer at the inflamed and swollen flesh.
“It’s not too bad,” John assured them.
“Treatment one is open,” Dixie said, ignoring his comment.
The young man sighed as Kel swept his hand toward the room in obvious invitation for Johnny to precede him inside. He turned and headed up the hall followed by the others.
“Hop on up on the table there,” Kel commanded. “Dix, you wanna wash those stings?” he asked.
“Sure,” she agreed, heading over to the cabinet for cotton balls and phisoderm. She filled a small basin with water and carried it over, setting it next to the now resigned paramedic. “So just how did you get the guy out of there with so few stings anyway?” She asked as she began to clean the three raised welts that decorated John’s slender neck.
“I pulled a blanket over my head and put my turnouts and air mask on,” he explained.
“Pretty inventive,” she replied.
“It worked pretty well for a while. Must have shifted it trying to get his foot free and a couple of em got under it,” he added with a rueful quirk of his mouth.
She nodded as she dried off his neck and stepped aside as Kel came over to peer at them more carefully. “Well…there aren’t any stingers left in there. I’m going to get you an ice pack to help the swelling and some salve to help ease the itching and burning. Try not to scratch them alright?” He instructed.
“Okay Doc,” he agreed. “So how is Mitch?” He asked his partner as Dixie headed for the door.
She poked her head out and waived down one of the student nurses. “Denise; can you get me some ice from the cafeteria?” she asked. The girl nodded and headed off to do what she was told. Dixie returned as Roy answered his partner’s question.
“He was having a little trouble breathing and his ankle was broken. Early was giving him epinephrine and checking for stingers when I left,” he said with a shrug.
John nodded and turned his attention to Brackett who was holding out a jar of salve. “Keep that on there until the venom disburses,” he told the young paramedic. He turned to Roy. “If the swelling doesn’t go down or he has any trouble breathing, bring him back in,” he instructed the older man.
“I won’t,” they both answered simultaneously. “Uh…have any trouble I mean,” he clarified at the raised brows of both men, knowing Roy would haul him bodily through the doors if he had to.
“Let’s hope not,” Brackett replied.
The student nurse opened the door and handed Dixie the bowl of ice. She wrapped a cloth around a handful and handed it to Johnny. “There you go hot shot,” she teased, giving him a grin.
“Thanks Dix,” he replied.
“Let’s go,” he said to Roy. They both headed for the door.
Continued in Part 2
Posted to Site 8/12/16
*Words in italics are from the story Botulism.
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