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A Season For Miracles

An Emergency Story
by Tammy B


There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother…Proverbs 18:24

Twenty eight year old Paramedic Roy DeSoto sped along the congested back roads of Carson, California, weaving around the cars that seemed wont to block his path. The engine following blared the air horn, demanding the complacent drivers to move out of their way. The traffic was particularly heavy as Christmas was less than a week away and it seemed as if everyone in LA County was out doing their shopping.

Beside him, his junior partner…twenty four year old John Gage was alternately glancing at his map and watching for oncoming traffic as he directed the older blonde man through the intersections.

He and Johnny had been partners for two and a half years and best friends almost since the beginning of it. They’d been making plans for Christmas at the DeSoto house when the Station Control Unit tones had sounded, calling them out to a man trapped.

Johnny’s stuffy sniffle brought his attention back to his young partner. “Your cold pill wearing off there, Junior…?” Roy asked, calling him by the nickname he’d dubbed him with the first week of their association.

“Yeah…I guess so,” Johnny grumbled unhappily.

“We’ll have you checked out at Rampart when we’re done.”

“I don’t need a hospital Roy, it’s just a cold. We can stop and pick up something on the way back.”

“Yeah, well the last time…,” Roy stopped talking as he maneuvered through a busy intersection, turning right at Johnny’s instruction.

The engine’s horn blared behind them as they followed the squad around the turn.

“Last time…,” Roy continued, “you had pneumonia and you thought it was nothin then too.” Johnny’s retort was put on hold as they pulled up in front of the house.

“What the heck…?” Johnny asked in shock.

A man hung upside down from the chimney. His foot and leg caught in a tangle of ropes and Christmas lights that trailed up his torso to twine about his arms as he fought to free himself. Roy and Johnny exchanged an amused glance as a humorous grin played on their lips.

“That’s what you call getting wrapped up in Christmas…,” Roy quipped with a chuckle. They were both snickering as they climbed from the cab of the squad.

Captain Stanley and Engineer Mike Stoker were trying desperately not to laugh while they assessed the situation. “Marco, Chet…,” Cap directed his two linemen, “get a ladder up there… Roy, John…,” Cap gave a vague hand wave in the direction of their victim… “Go get him down,” he said in disgust as the man’s wife came out to meet them.

Johnny was first up the ladder…he threw a crooked grin at the man who watched him from his upside down view point. “Got yourself a little tied up here huh…?”

“Yeah, yeah…real funny, just get me down from here would ya?”

“What happened…?” Johnny asked, as he hiked himself up over the edge of the roof.

“My wife wanted lights up on the peak and I was a little worried about falling…”

Johnny’s dark eyes looked at the rope trailing from the man’s waist to the chimney. “So you tied yourself to the chimney…,” he finished for him.

“To keep from falling…yeah…,” the man gave Roy a glance as he joined them.

“So what happened…?” John asked as he moved up to try and untangle the man’s legs from the lights.

“The lights were tangled around my feet, so I tried to lift my foot and untangle them, but I lost my balance and fell. I kinda rolled down the roof until I just got so wrapped up…I couldn’t move.”

Roy threw a grin at his partner… “Well at least he didn’t fall off the roof…,” he quipped.

Johnny grinned back, then coughed and gave a sniffle. “Let’s get him untangled…,” he suggested. “Are ya hurt anywhere?” Johnny questioned in a nasally voice before touching the man’s leg.

“Nah…, just my pride,” he said in disgust. John nodded and began to untangle the man’s legs.

“What’s your name…,” Roy asked.

“Jack…Jack Parker.”

“Okay Jack… we’re gonna just get ya unwrapped okay.”

“Yeah…please.”

Roy and Johnny carefully pulled the lights loose, finally tossing them aside. They sat Jack up and carefully helped him scoot to the edge of the roof. “Let’s get ya down…,” John suggested, stifling a sneeze. They helped him down the ladder.

Once safely on the ground Roy turned to the man… “Uh Jack…why don’t ya stick to the eaves around the house…,” Roy suggested.

“Yeah…I guess that’s a good idea.”

 

The two paramedics headed back to the squad. “I’m starving…,” Johnny complained. “Hey…you up for burgers…?” he asked with a sniffle.

Roy nodded…, “I’ll see if the guys are up for it.” At John’s enthusiastic nod Roy walked back to the Engine where the crew was re-hooking the ladder. “Cap…we’re gonna stop and pick up hamburgers for lunch, you guys in?”

A chorus of “Yeahs…”answered him. They forked out a couple of bucks each to cover the cost.

“Mike…looks like you’re only stuck for dinner pal…,” Cap told the young Engineer. The Engine crew loaded up and headed back to the station.

Roy and John climbed into the squad. Roy looked over at his sniffling partner with a frown. “Okay Junior, let’s take a look,” the older paramedic said as he reached over to sweep the sable hair away and lay his hand on his friends forehead.

“Cut it out…,” Johnny snapped half heartedly as he slapped Roy’s hand away.

“Quit John…I mean it,” Roy said sternly as he turned his stubborn friends face toward him. Johnny rolled his eyes but allowed Roy to check for a fever.

“Happy now…?”

“No, you’re a little warm,” Roy shot back.

John sighed… “It’s just a cold dad…I’ll be fine,” he argued. “I’ll pick up something at the drug store,” he promised.

Roy gave him a hard stare, lips pursed in indecision. “Alright but if you’re not better after you take that pill, you’re goin home…”

“Okay…,” he grouched.

“I mean it Junior…”

“Okay…,” he whined in defeat.

 

George Fulton was disgusted. He’d just robbed a small convenience store around the corner and all he’d gotten for his trouble was a lousy hundred bucks. He kicked at the pavement in annoyance as he walked. Man…he hoped that stupid clerk had suffered before he kicked off. “A hundred stinkin bucks…,” he mumbled to himself as he walked. “I bet the jerk put it all in the safe before I got there.”

He wandered casually up the sidewalk watching as two patrol cars went racing past…someone musta found the body, he mused thoughtfully. George saw the little drug store… “Ahh what the hell…I’ll give it shot.” He headed towards it chuckling at his own pun.

Roy pulled into the parking lot of a small burger joint not far from the station. He and Johnny stopped here whenever they missed lunch or one of the guys was cooking something they’d rather avoid. They both climbed out, but Johnny’s eyes fell on the little drug store across the street.

“Hey Roy…?”

“Yeah…?”

“I’m gonna run over to that drug store and pick up something for my cold…”

“Okay…I’ll pick you up in a minute…hey you want fries…?”

“Ahh… yeah,” he called back.

Johnny ran across the street. He didn’t see the tall, dark haired man slinking around the corner of the building behind him.

Roy climbed into the squad, piling the bags of burgers and fries on the seat beside him…leaving a space for Johnny on the other side. He cruised out of the burger stands parking lot…pulling up in front of the glass doors of the drug store. He saw a tall, slender dark haired man standing at the counter talking to the clerk. For a moment he thought it was his partner.

Johnny was around the corner from the register. He was trying to find a cold medicine that wouldn’t knock him out. He’d heard the quiet tinkle of the bell over the door a couple of seconds after he’d entered. He could hear the quiet murmur of voices but couldn’t make out what was being said. He finally located a box of cold tablets guaranteed not to make him drowsy and headed for the counter, still reading the box.

Roy glanced at his watch… “C’mon Junior, lunch is getting cold.” He looked up…the man at the counter was now holding a gun on the clerk and was reaching across to grab the money from the open drawer. Roy reached for the radio but froze in shock as he saw the gun buck and heard the rapid POP…POP…POP. He saw his partner appear behind the man at the same moment. “My God…Johnny…,” Roy whispered.

Johnny rounded the corner coming up behind the man at the counter in time to hear the three gunshots…, his head snapped up. He was standing only a foot from the robber. He barely had time to glance around for a weapon of some kind before the man realized he was there. He spun around to face him. Johnny’s dark eyes stared into the cold face glaring back at him. He took one step back, his eyes widening in alarm as the man’s hand came up. Johnny found himself staring down the small, round muzzle of a pistol.

Roy sat frozen as the scene unfolded before him. He saw the man whirl on his partner. He saw the momentary hesitation before John stepped back. The man raised his gun aiming straight at his friends face.

Johnny instinctively threw his hand up protectively as he tried to lunge to the side, out of the line of fire. He felt a searing pain in his right hand and then a burning sensation across his temple. He felt like his head had exploded.

The gun shot echoed in his ears as the cold tablets dropped to the floor and his hands flew to his face… his body whirling from his sudden leap and the impact of the bullet. He crashed into a rack of snacks and fell to the ground… his vision began to shrink to a pin point.

Roy watched in horror as he saw Johnny throw his hands up to protect his face. He heard the loud popping sound and saw John’s body spin out of his line of vision, thrown by the impact. He saw the man point the gun in John’s direction once again.

The sight of his best friend being shot finally snapped Roy out of his frozen state… “No…,” he yelled. He flipped on the lights and sirens which always drew a lot of attention. The man inside the store whirled toward the door, startled by the loud wailing of the sirens and drawing his attention from the fallen paramedic.

Seeing people’s heads turning toward the sound, while others started coming out of the buildings around the small shop, drawn by curiosity to the flashing lights and sirens of the rescue vehicle, the robber fled for the back door.

Roy grabbed the mic… “LA this is squad 51…,”

“Squad 51, LA… go ahead.”

“LA…I need police and an ambulance dispatched to 2979 Aurora. They’ve been robbed… I have two victim’s one’s a code I, they may be dead. I don’t know yet.” Roy threw the mic down without waiting for an acknowledgement. The entire exchange had lasted twenty six seconds…it had seemed like an eternity to Roy.

Heart pounding in fear, the blonde Paramedic grabbed the Biophone and drug box and ran for the door. One look at the proprietor and Roy knew he was beyond help. He turned to his partner and knelt beside his still form. Relief flooded through him as Roy suddenly realized Johnny was alive and conscious. His hands pressed against the wound on his head. Blood ran through his fingers, pooling on the floor beside him.

“Johnny…?” Roy tried to gently pull his friends hands away from his face but Johnny groaned…resisting. “Let me see partner...I have to look.” Roy spoke quietly but the urgency was there. He was afraid of what was under John’s hands but he knew he had to see. “C’mon Johnny…,” Roy said tugging gently on his wrists.

“Hurs…,” Johnny slurred.

“I know…,” he said soothingly as he finally pulled his hands free. A deep groove ran from the tip of Johnny’s right eyebrow and disappeared into his hair above the ear. His hair was soaked in blood and there were scarlet smears trailing down his face from the hand wound. Roy reached for the drug box pulling out a couple of 4 X 4’s. Johnny was shaking in shock. His eyes were glazed and vague. “Johnny…? Can you hear me?” He called as he cleaned the wound to get a better look.

The younger man’s dark eyes tracked toward Roy and then closed. “Johnny…,” Roy urged. “Open your eyes for me Junior. C’mon partner, wake up.”

“Leave me lone Roy…t’red.”

“I know Junior, but I need your help here okay?”

“Kay…,”

Roy was parting John’s hair, desperately hoping it was just a graze. Roy finally heard siren’s in the distance and for the first time noticed half a dozen people standing around watching. Roy grabbed the BP cuff and began getting Johnny’s vital signs. He was setting up the Biophone to contact Rampart when four Officers came charging into the store, guns drawn.

“He’s gone…,” Roy called to them as the on lookers scattered in fear. “Rampart base, this is squad 51…”

“Go ahead 51, this is Rampart.” Roy recognized Dixie’s voice.

“Rampart, I have a twenty four year old male. He has a gunshot wound to the right side of his head. It looks like a deep graze…no entry. He’s conscious but stuperous. His eyes are equal and reactive. Pulse is 60, Respirations 16, BP is 110/60…he’s shocky. He has a superficial wound to his right hand. Be advised Rampart…victim is John Gage.”

“Repeat that 51…,” Brackett’s voice came back…

“Uh Rampart…our victim is John Gage.”

At Rampart Kel exchanged a glance with Dix…

Roy glanced up at the officer’s as they bustled about the building. Taping the area off and hustling people out of the store. He recognized one of them. “Scotty...can you get me the O2 off the squad…?” At the blonde officer’s nod, he returned his attention to Johnny.

Brackett’s voice came back over the Biophone. “51 start an IV… D5WTKO. Do you have him on O2?”

“It’s on the way Rampart.”

“Start him on six liters of O2. Bandage the wound and immobilize his head as a precaution until I know for sure where that bullet is.”

“10-4 Rampart…”

“Continue to monitor his vitals and transport as soon as possible.”

“10-4,”

Roy glanced up in time to see the ambulance arriving and the familiar Engine pulling in behind it. Captain Stanley came through the door as Roy was adjusting the oxygen flow. “Cap, I need a backboard.” Roy called.

Hank leaned back out the door and hollered to Chet. “Kelly, bring a backboard…” He turned back to his senior paramedic. “What the hell happened, Roy? We heard you call it in and turned around… Is he gonna be alright?” Cap asked, watching the police cordon off the register area.

“I think he’ll be okay Cap. I don’t think the bullet penetrated but Brackett doesn’t want to take any chances until we know for sure. He was in here when the place got robbed. I saw it from outside…Geez Cap…I just sat there and watched that guy kill him…,” he said nodding toward the register. “And then shoot Johnny.” He said in disgust as he pressed a heavy bandage against his partners head and wrapped it with gauze.

“There’s nothing you could have done Roy, except maybe get shot yourself.”

Johnny sneezed at that moment, sending pain shooting through his head. He cried out, trying to lift his hands to his face. Roy caught them in his own before Johnny could break the needle in his arm.

“I know it hurts Junior but you can’t move around okay?”

Pain filled brown eyes met Roy’s… “Hurts…”

“I know…”

“Roy…?” He whispered.

“Yeah Junior…?” Roy asked leaning down close to his partner’s mouth.

“I don’t feel so good.”

“You gonna be sick…?”

“Yeah…”

Roy turned John’s head to the left. Cap moved around to help Roy roll him to his side while Johnny alternately retched and gasped in pain as he lost the contents of his stomach. Every spasm sending shock waves through his head… Roy held him until they stopped and then eased him onto his back.

“Better…?”

John groaned in response. Marco and Chet came in with the backboard, the job only requiring one of them but both wanted to find out how Johnny was doing. The ambulance attendants followed with a gurney, much to the displeasure of the police who grumbled over their compromising their crime scene.

John moaned miserably as they rolled him on his side to slide the backboard in beneath him…holding it as Roy wrapped gauze around Johnny’s head and the board to secure it in place.

“Okay partner, we’re gonna get you outta here okay…?”

“Kay…,” Johnny replied vaguely as his eyes began to close.

“Johnny…? Don’t go away Junior. Stay with me here,” Roy called.

“Wanna sleep…”

“No sleepin Johnny, You can do that later.”

“Later…?” he murmured drowsily.

“Yeah, later… Stay with me…”

“Kay…,” he mumbled even as his eyes drifted closed.

Roy sighed in frustration as they lifted Johnny onto the gurney and took him to the ambulance. An overzealous young officer came towards them. “You can’t leave sir, you’re a witness,” he said nodding toward the drug store.

Roy tapped his own badge. “I’m also a paramedic and he’s my patient. I need to accompany him to the hospital. If you need us we’ll be at Rampart.” He climbed inside with Johnny.

“Chet, bring in the squad Pal…,” Cap ordered.

 

“Johnny, open your eyes for me Junior,” Roy said as he lifted his partner’s lid to check the pupillary response to light.

“Stop it…,” John moaned in misery. “M head hurts,” he complained, swatting at Roy’s hand.

“C’mon partner, help me out here. Try to stay with me this time okay?”

“Try…,” he whispered as darkness edged in.

“C’mon Johnny, open those beautiful eyes for me, you’ve slept long enough,” a soft voice penetrated through the darkness…

The young paramedic’s eyes flew open…that was definitely NOT his partner…, “Roy…?” he mumbled in confusion, trying to figure out where he was now.

“Better not be or people will start to talk.” He heard the soft feminine voice answer at the same time as Roy’s deep chuckle came from the other side of him. His dark eyes slid to the right, spotting Dixie with a damp, blood stained cloth in her hand.

“Welcome back Johnny…,” she grinned. “And uh… by the way…Roy’s on the other side.”

John’s eyes flicked over the other way to see his partner on the left, stifling a grin. “Knew it wasn’t you…,” he mumbled, as his face grew red. “Just askin where you were…,”

Dr. Brackett’s grin replaced Dixie’s. “Hi Johnny…,” he said gently as he checked his eyes.

“Doc…? Am I okay…?”

“Well, the good news is that it’s just a graze. The bullet definitely didn’t penetrate.”

“Bounced off that thick skull of yours…,” Roy teased.

“Ha ha…,” Johnny muttered.

Brackett grinned at the byplay between the two friends as he continued. “The bad news is, you’ve got a concussion and you’re gonna have one hell of a headache for a couple of days. I’m gonna keep you overnight for observation and to be sure the dizziness and nausea are at least manageable.” Johnny nodded in resignation of a hospital stay. Brackett smiled knowingly at the look on his face. “Look at the bright side…we’re even gonna give you something for your cold in the bargain…deal?”

Johnny’s eyes were drooping… “Deal…”

Roy grinned in relief now that he knew Johnny would be alright. “We’ll get him into a room soon so he can rest.” Brackett told him with a smile.

George Fulton sat in his living room drinking a beer. Three hundred and fourteen dollars was all he’d gotten for his efforts today. He’d have to scope out a couple of places next time…see when they were the busiest. He flipped on the evening news hoping to hear something about his little crime spree. He’d killed three people today… that would be big news. Sure enough, he was the lead story.

“Police believe one perpetrator is responsible for two separate robberies in the Aurora, Larchmont area today leaving two dead and one injured.”

“WHAT…?” Fulton gasped jumping from his chair to turn up the volume.

“The clerk at Max’s market…forty two year old Richard Campbell died at the scene…,” the pretty blonde anchorwoman continued. “He was the first of today’s victim’s…A short time later, sixty two year old Daniel Davidson was murdered in cold blood as he tended the register of his small drug store. The lone survivor of today’s crime spree… twenty four year old fire fighter paramedic John Gage…According to police, the young fireman interrupted the robbery and was shot by the perpetrator. According to sources he was grazed in the head and is listed in stable condition at Rampart General Hospital. Police are hoping to get a description from the paramedic as soon as he’s able to be interviewed. In other news…”

“Damn it…,” Fulton bellowed as he slammed his beer down… How had he survived? Never leave a witness, that was George’s motto… but he’d been sure he’d gotten him. He’d seen the blood on his face. “Well he won’t live long enough to testify against me…,” George muttered angrily.

 

Roy returned the next morning after his shift ended. He pushed the door open and looked inside. Johnny lay with his eyes closed but he looked much better than he had yesterday. “Johnny…?” Roy questioned softly.

John’s head turned in his direction as the dark eyes opened slowly. “Hey Roy…,” he replied tiredly.

“How ya feelin…?”

“Okay…”

“Johnny…?” Roy questioned in disbelief.

“Alright…I’ve got a miserable headache and I’m dizzy.

“Did Brackett spring ya Junior?”

“Not yet, Doc’s been fighting off the press and the police. They both want to talk to me.”

“Yeah, they came to talk to me yesterday after you went to sleep. I’m afraid I couldn’t give em much. I couldn’t see his face clearly.”

“I could…,” Johnny said drily. “Brackett says they wanna bring in a sketch artist and he insists on bein there…so they don’t upset me…,” Johnny said with a slight tone of disbelief. “I didn’t know he was so over protective.”

“Me either…Just wait until he accuses me of it again…”

“I’m merely protecting the health of my patient,” Kel said indignantly from the doorway. Both Paramedics looked at the dark haired Doctor with a grin.

“Thanks Doc…,” Johnny said, with a smirk of amusement.

“I just don’t want them to over tax your reserves. That’s why I want to be here,” he tried to explain.

“Okay...,” Johnny agreed, still grinning at Brackett’s discomfort.

Brackett shot them both a look of annoyance but finally grinned wryly. He hated to admit it but they were right. He frequently caught himself being overly concerned about the young fire fighter but he’d never admit it. Dixie would never let him live it down.

“You gonna let me go home…?”

Brackett’s lips pursed in thought. “I dunno Johnny…,”

“Please…,” the dark eyes gave a pleading look and Kel sighed. He hated it when Johnny did that.

“We’ll see how you are after the police are through with you okay?”

“Okay…,” he conceded.

“The police are here. I’m gonna let them in if you’re ready?”

Johnny nodded and Brackett left the room…he returned a minute later with the same two detectives Roy had met the day before, along with another man carrying a sketch pad. “John this is Detective Sam Wilson,” he said introducing Johnny to a tall man with graying light brown hair… and his partner Detective William Gould,” he said indicating the slightly younger blonde man with him.

John gave a careful nod to both men. “Hi…,” he greeted.

“This other gentlemen is officer Katts, he’s a sketch artist.”

“Kay…,” Johnny said.

“Mr. Gage, we know you’ve got a concussion so we’ll take this slow and easy alright?” Wilson said.

“Okay…”

“If you get tired just let us know and we’ll stop,” Gould instructed.

Johnny spent over an hour recounting what happened and answering questions for the two detectives as best he could and then another with the sketch artist. His eyes were beginning to droop tiredly when Brackett finally called a halt to the proceedings. “Okay gentlemen, I think that’s enough for this morning. John’s getting tired and he needs to rest.”

They nodded in understanding… “Can we talk to him later today…we may have a few more questions?”

Brackett’s mouth tightened as he eyed Johnny and the tired brown eyes. John looked at him hopefully… “Well actually I’m sending him home today.” John grinned. “That’s if Roy will agree to keep him at his house.”

John’s mouth dropped open in surprise… “But Doc…”

“Not a problem Doc…,” Roy agreed.

“But…”

“It’s that or you stay at Rampart…,” Brackett insisted.

John’s eyes flitted between his grinning partner and the stern Doctor while the two detectives smiled at the younger man’s discomfiture.

“Okay…,” he grumbled.

Kel nodded as he headed for the exit herding the three other men before him…he turned back to John. “After all you know how over protective I am…,” he teased as he ducked out the door.

Johnny gave Roy a rueful grin as his partner chuckled at Brackett’s quip. “Let’s get you ready to go Junior,” Roy suggested as he helped his friend to a sitting position.

The two detectives were in the hall with Brackett as they pushed John out in a wheelchair a short time later. They got Roy’s address and permission to come to the house to see Johnny later that afternoon. “Don’t let them tire him too much Roy…,” Brackett advised. “And be sure he rests.”

“I will…You know how over protective I am…,” Roy teased, as he pushed John toward the door.

 

Roy snuck his partner out the back doors of Rampart to avoid the press that were hovering in the lobby waiting to talk to the young Fire Fighter. He could only hope they wouldn’t figure out where he’d disappeared to once they realized he was gone.

A short time later, Roy helped Johnny into the house where Joanne was about to begin getting lunch ready. She looked at her husband as he came in, the look turning to one of surprise when she spotted John as Roy assisted him through the door. Roy had called her the night before to tell her what had happened and reassure her that Johnny was alright before she saw it on the news. From Roy’s description of the incident she hadn’t expected Brackett to release him so soon. She should have known John would turn those puppy eyes on and talk him into letting him go home sooner than expected, though if Brackett thought he’d was seriously injured he would never have caved. She noted the bandage around his head and the tired brown eyes.

“You look exhausted sweetheart…,” she said kissing his cheek. As always the endearment brought a flush of embarrassment to the younger mans cheeks. “Are you hungry?” She asked as she turned to her husband to kiss him warmly.

Johnny gave her a tired nod as he began to carefully make his way to the dining room leaving the couple to greet each other privately but both of them quickly moved to either side to offer their support to the younger man. Roy eased him into a chair as Joanne headed for the kitchen.

“Let’s get you something to eat and into bed so you can rest okay…?” She called back.

“Thanks Jo…”

“No problem sweetheart.”

Roy sat in the chair next to his partner. Joanne grinned in amusement…It had been noted by many, including Roy’s wife… that Johnny and Roy tended to sit near one another as a matter of course and without conscious thought. Partners at work and even when relaxing at home, staying at the others side…it’s what made them such a great team.

“I’m really sorry junior…,” Roy said softly as he glanced at his friend.

“For what…?” Johnny asked perplexed.

“I just sat there in the squad watching while that jerk shot you.”

“Roy, c’mon…it happened so fast, there’s no way you coulda stopped him…worse he mighta shot you too.”

“Yeah but…”

“No Roy, no buts about it…there was nothing you could do pally. I’m not mad at you.”

“Maybe not but I am.”

Johnny reached over to lay his hand on his friends arm… “Roy, I know you’re beating yourself up over this but really…”

“Johnny…,” Roy interrupted. “I made a promise to be there for you. We’re friends as well as partners and we’re supposed to take care of each other and I didn’t.”

“Roy, you’ve always been there for me and you still are. I’m here aren’t I, having lunch with my best friend and his wife.” He grinned at Jo, who winked at him from the kitchen, grateful that Johnny was smoothing this over and absolving Roy of any guilt. “I spend practically every holiday with ya and I even have a room here when I need it for crying out loud… besides I wouldn’t have made it if you hadn’t thought so fast and flipped on the sirens. You said yourself that the guy was gonna shoot me again.”

“He still shot ya the first time…”

“C’mon Roy, you’re not …superman or something. You’re not faster than a speeding bullet ya know.” Roy smiled at Johnny’s comic book analogy.

Joanne interrupted the conversation by setting their lunch on the table before them. She kissed her husband’s cheek and tousled Johnny’s dark hair above the bandage. “He’s right…let it go Roy. Johnny’s safe now and there wasn’t any way to stop that crazy nut from shooting him from where you were.”

Roy nodded in resignation… “I know you’re right up here,” he said tapping his head, but here?” He laid his splayed hand over his chest and shook his head.

Johnny patted his friends arm in understanding before moving it to rest on his own stomach… “Well right here is saying it’s lunch time pally…let’s eat.”

 

After lunch Roy helped Johnny to ‘his room’ and got him settled in his bed. “Get some sleep junior…”

“Thanks Roy…for everything,” Johnny grinned as his eyes drifted closed.

Roy watched him for a minute, sending up a quick prayer of thanks for his friend’s safety before closing the door.

Later that afternoon Joanne set off with Jen to pick up Chris from school. This was the last day before the Holiday break and between them and Johnny, Jo knew she’d have a hectic time from now until Christmas. Roy checked on Johnny briefly but the younger man was sound asleep. The blonde paramedic flipped through the newspaper for a few minutes but there was nothing much of interest. He moved to the window and glanced outside.

Roy noticed a car pull up in front of the house. He tugged the curtain aside as another car parked behind that one, followed by a van and another truck and another car and another and... Roy sighed in aggravation as they climbed from the vehicles. The press, having the basic capabilities of a bloodhound had somehow managed to track Johnny here and were now gathering on his front lawn.

A moment later a dark sedan pulled into his driveway and Detective Gould and Detective Wilson stepped out. They glanced at the group gathered on the sidewalk with a disgusted shake of the head before heading for the house to knock at the door.

Roy opened the door for them amid the snapping of camera’s and the group of people shouting questions. “Come on in…,” he directed.

They stepped inside and threw him a sympathetic glance as he closed the door. They glanced around briefly… “Nice home you have here…,” Wilson said.

“Thank You…,” Roy replied. “Have a seat.” They sat down on the sofa… “Can I get you anything?” Roy asked.

“No thanks…Uh…where’s Mr. Gage?” Gould asked.

“He’s asleep…”

“We’d like to talk to him if possible?” Wilson asked.

“I’ll go wake him up.” Roy said heading for the door that led off from the dining room. He knocked softly and stepped inside. He sat on the edge of the bed… John stirred restlessly. “Hey junior…,” he said softly.

John’s dark eyes fluttered open drowsily. “Roy…,” he murmured.

“How ya feelin…?”

“Head still hurts…I’m a little dizzy,” he answered softly.

“Those Detectives are here, they want to talk to you but if you’re not up to it I’ll send them away.”

“That’s okay Roy…I’ll talk to em…”

“You sure…? I don’t want them to push you too hard.”

“I’ll be okay,” he said struggling to sit up. Roy slipped his arm around his shoulders and pulled him upright.

“C’mon partner, let me help you.”

“Okay…,” he panted, feeling tired and light headed.

“By the way junior…” Johnny looked at his friend curiously… “The press is out front.”

Johnny groaned… “Great…”

“I was hoping they wouldn’t figure out where you were…”

“Me too…,” he muttered as Roy moved him into the living room where the two detectives waited.

“Mr. Gage…,” they greeted.

Johnny nodded in return as Roy sat him carefully on the couch.

Roy heard a frantic honking from the driveway and ran for the door. Joanne was trying desperately to get her two frightened children through the mob of reporters yelling out questions she had no hope of understanding in the confused jumble. Jennifer was weeping and Chris was wide eyed and shaking as they burst through the door.

“Roy…what the heck is going on out there?” She asked, feeling a little shaky herself.

“I’m gonna find out…,” he snapped as he stormed out the door.

The yelling started again at the sight of Roy coming outside. The questions were coming too fast to even hear clearly… let alone answer, Roy didn’t even try.

“We’re trying to find John Gage…”

“Is he here…?”

“Is that you or are you his partner…?”

“Did you witness your Partner get shot…?”

Roy held his hands up and yelled angrily… “Get off my lawn right now… You terrified my wife and kids in their own yard…”

“Mr. DeSoto, we’re sorry about your family but is John Gage here or not…?”

“Can we talk to him…?”

“What did he see?”

“OFF MY LAWN…,” Roy bellowed enraged.

They backed up onto the sidewalk…but continued to hurl their questions at him.

“Look, Johnny’s been shot…can’t you just leave him alone and let him rest?”

“Then he is here?”

Roy shook his head in disgust as he retreated back to the house.

“I’m really sorry Roy…Jo…I didn’t know they’d find me,” Johnny said quietly as he chewed his lip.

“Don’t be sorry junior, it’s not your fault,” Roy said soothingly.

“If I could offer a suggestion…?” Detective Wilson questioned.

“What’s that…?” Roy asked.

“If you’re up to it, you really should go out and give them a statement…”

“He’s right…,” Detective Gould agreed. “It’s the quickest way to get rid of them.”

“I’ll set it up for you if you like?” Wilson offered.

“What do I say…?” Johnny asked nervously.

“Just answer their questions. If they ask anything too personal just say ‘no comment.’ If they ask anything about the investigation then Sam or I will take over the answer,” Gould instructed.

“They just want the human interest angle…you know ‘PARAMEDIC SURVIVES’ Headlines…,” Will added dramatically.

Sam Wilson shrugged… “It’s what they do…the pack of vultures,” he muttered.

Johnny looked at Roy… “It’s your house partner…I don’t want them invading your home. Maybe the police could take me home or…”

“Not a chance junior…” Roy looked at the detectives. “Will it make them go away?”

“Pretty much, once they’ve got what they came for,” Gould assured him.

“Okay but as Johnny’s medical advisor, at least in the absence of his doctor…when I say enough, they need to back off. I won’t have him over stressed.”

“I’ll tell them that.”

“Okay…”

Detective Gould stepped outside and approached the group of reporters standing on the sidewalk. He flashed his badge.

“We’re not doing anything wrong Detective,” One older man assured him.

“I know that…okay all of you listen up… Mr. Gage is willing to talk to you with a couple of conditions.”

“What are they…?” One of the newsmen asked suspiciously.

“One…his partner is there to advise you of when Gage has had enough…try and remember that he’s still recovering from being shot in the head and he tires easily.” They nodded in agreement.

“Two…you don’t publish his whereabouts…,” They nodded again.

“Three…If you ask anything about the investigation, we’ll stop him and my partner and I will field the question ourselves… Finally, when you’re done or he is…you get off of Mr. DeSoto’s front lawn and stay off. They nodded their agreement. “I’ll go get him.”

Johnny looked nervously at his friend… “I’m not sure what to say Roy. You know how I am about TV Camera’s.”

“You’ll be fine… just be yourself,” Roy assured him as he escorted him outside. The two detectives went first to keep them from descending on the nervous paramedic like a pack of wolves.

They began immediately to shout questions at him, making his head spin in confusion as to who had asked what. “One at a time or we take him back inside,” Gould directed. They settled down a bit and Johnny did his best to answer.

“John Gage…, twenty four…I’ve been a fireman for five and a half years and a paramedic for two and a half of those. No, I’m single…, Why, are you interested?” Johnny asked the pretty auburn haired reporter, throwing a wink in her direction and drawing a laugh from the men and a ‘maybe…,’from the pretty redhead. Johnny grinned at her.

“He’s a natural…,” whispered Gould. “He has em eatin outta the palm of his hand.” Sam nodded in agreement.

“Gage charm…,” Roy chuckled. “He’s talked his way out of a couple of jams since I’ve known him…he’s pretty good at it.”

The questions turned serious. “How are you feeling Mr. Gage?” One asked.

“Better than yesterday…”

“Mr. DeSoto…did you see your partner shot…?”

“Yes I did…”

“Where were you?”

“In the squad, outside the drug store…”

“Did you see the robber…?”

“No…at least not clearly…”

“That must have been pretty hard to watch…”

“Yeah…yeah it was,” he said softly, giving a distressed look toward his partner.

“He saved my life…, If he hadn’t turned on the lights and sirens, he’d a shot me again.” Johnny told them.

They nodded… “Did you see his face Mr. Gage?”

“Yes…”

“Could you identify him if you saw him again?”

“Yes…”

“What did you see?”

Johnny glanced at the two detectives, they nodded. “I saw him shoot Mr. Davidson.”

“Where…?”

Sam stepped in… “He’s not at liberty to answer that right now.”

“How many times did he shoot him?”

Johnny glanced at Sam who shook his head. “Sorry, they don’t want me to say?”

“Can you tell us what he looked like?”

Sam spoke up again… “Mr. Gage helped us with a composite of the suspect. We’ll be releasing that later today…”

“Mr. Gage…are you worried that he’ll come after you…?”

Fear swept through the young paramedic, not for himself but for Roy and Jo and the kids. It hadn’t crossed his mind that he could be putting the entire DeSoto family in danger. His face paled and he felt Roy grab a hold of him as his knees shook from the dizziness that washed over him.

“Okay, that’s enough…,” Roy said quickly to the detectives as he wrapped his arm around his friend’s waist and held his arm tightly for support. “C’mon Johnny, you’re done here.”

Johnny hesitated…he looked up at the reporters… “I’m going home tomorrow morning,” he said quietly.

“What…?” The reporters asked.

“What…?” Roy asked, echoing the reporters who’d barely heard him themselves.

“I said I’m going back to my own place tomorrow,” he replied forcefully.

“We’ll talk about that inside,” Roy told him.

The two detectives made sure the reporters departed before rejoining the two paramedics inside. Roy deposited Johnny back into his bed. The two Detectives asked a couple more questions before taking their leave. Roy showed them to the door and then came back and sat on the edge of John’s bed.

“You wanna tell me what that was all about?”

“I can’t be here Roy…,” Johnny said.

“What are you talking about Johnny? You know Brackett isn’t going to let you go home alone…especially after you almost passed out on my front lawn.”

“Roy…I’m putting you and Jo and the kids in danger. Until they catch this guy I’m a risk to have around. I’ve seen his face…”

“Johnny, he doesn’t know where you are.”

“How hard do you think it’ll be for him to figure it out? The press found me.”

“They have resources he doesn’t.”

“Like a phone book…?”

“I’m not listed.”

“Then from the press…”

“Johnny, stop it…”

“But Roy…,”

“Johnny if that is the case, do you really think I’m gonna let you go somewhere alone…?”

“You need to think of your family first…”

“You’re part of my family Johnny.”

“You know what I mean Roy…Jo and the kids are your number one concern and you have to go to work tomorrow and they’ll be alone here with me and some psycho that might want me dead.”

“That’s enough John…,” Roy said cutting off his tirade before he could really wind himself up… “You need to settle down… you can’t stress yourself out like this…”

John opened his mouth but Roy stopped him with a steely blue stare… “Okay…,” he murmured in defeat.

Chris and Jen ended the tense moment as they came running into the room. “Uncle Johnny…,” six year old Chris cried in delight, throwing himself onto the bed to bounce next to his favorite playmate. Two and a half year old Jen pulled herself precariously up to sit in her Uncle’s lap, patting the bandage around his head curiously and drawing a slight wince from the young man.

“Funny hat…,” she laughed.

“Funny face…,” Johnny shot back at her rubbing her tiny nose with his own, sending the tiny blonde into peals of giggles. She wrapped her arms around his neck, planting a sloppy, wet kiss right on Johnny’s mouth. The comical look on his partner’s face as he surreptitiously wiped the toddlers kiss from his lips was priceless. Roy whooped with laughter, well accustomed to those moist kisses himself.

“Get some sleep partner…,” he chuckled, scooping his daughter off Johnny’s lap. “Let’s go Chris, Uncle Johnny needs to rest.”

John lay awake worrying for a long time before sleep finally claimed him.

The phone had been ringing all afternoon…Roy’s neighbors were dying of curiosity at the circus that had been going on in front of his house and had been calling to find out more. Roy had finally taken it off the hook to keep it from waking his partner.

Now… in the early evening, Johnny lay curled on the sofa next to his partner watching himself on the news that night along with Joanne and the crew of station 51. Mike and Marco had brought pizza, while Cap and Chet brought soda for Johnny in deference to his pain medication and beer for the rest of them. The composite sketch was flashed on the screen after the interview ended.

“Hey Gage…you looked pretty good there til the end when you got a little woozy. What happened… a little case of stage fright?”

“Oh shut up Chet…it was just a dizzy spell, that’s all.”

“What happened John…?” Cap asked curiously as the phone began to ring. Roy excused himself.

“When that guy asked if I was worried about the guy comin after me…I…,” Johnny hesitated and looked up at Hank… “What if he does Cap…? I mean Jo and the kids are here. I told them I was goin home so he wouldn’t come here…, I…it scared me thinkin about it…”

The phone rang once more. Roy was halfway back to the living room but turned at the sound with a sigh… “Here we go again… This has been goin on all day.”

Cap turned his attention back to his worried junior paramedic. “John, this guy’s probably long gone by now, especially now that he knows the police know what he looks like.”

Roy’s voice coming from the kitchen caught their attention… “Yes, this is Roy DeSoto…Who is this…? Hello…? Are you still there…? I can hear you breathin, you some kind of weirdo or something…hello…?” Roy was looking red faced and irritated with such ridiculous games. “Look you jerk, don’t call here again got it?” He snarled slamming the phone down in annoyance.

“What was that about?” Marco asked.

Jo and Johnny looked wide eyed at each other…Roy so seldom ever lost his cool. The phone rang again and Roy snatched it up. “Look you moron…I told ya… what? Oh sorry Dr. Brackett…,” Roy said contritely as his face got even redder. “I thought you were someone else.”

Jo and Johnny giggled at Roy’s embarrassed grimace, until they heard what he was saying. “No, I don’t think it’s anything to worry about, it’s probably some neighbor bein a jerk Doc…the phone’s been ringing all afternoon… besides even if it was…ah…him…how could he find me…I’m unlisted, and the press weren’t allowed to say where he was. No Doc…he’s fine. I got him back to bed right after the interview and the police only asked a couple more questions and then he slept the rest of the day.” Roy’s eyes met John’s with gentle concern. “No he’s visiting with the guys but he’s laying on the couch resting….Okay…promise Doc…goodnight.”

The words echoed in Johnny’s mind. ‘I really don’t think it’s anything to worry about…,’ replayed in his head. Roy returned to the living room and sat down next to his partner, pushing John’s feet off the seat to make room. “Doctor Brackett wanted to be sure you were okay…,” Roy explained.

“But the first caller wasn’t concerned with my health was he Roy?” Johnny said quietly.

“Don’t start that again junior…you’re stayin put.”

Johnny sighed in frustration… “What if it was him?”

“It wasn’t…besides he didn’t get anything that could help him if it was.”

“Roy, you don’t know that…”

“That’s enough John…” The tone brooked no argument and if the tone hadn’t been enough Roy’s shortened use of his name was. The younger man fell silent but chewed his lip nervously as Roy continued. “I promised Brackett you’d get back to bed soon…he doesn’t want you overdoing it. You still have a concussion.”

“I know…”

“If it will make you feel better, I’ll call Vince in the morning and see if they can get someone to drive by a little more often to check on you, okay?”

“Okay…”

Joanne leaned over the young, dark haired man to set another can of soda beside him on the table. She propped him up a little more before sweeping the sable bangs off his forehead. She looked him square in the eyes. “I want you to get what you’re thinking out of your head Johnny…you’re staying here.”

She knew… Johnny stared at her in surprise…somehow she knew. He sighed in frustration that these people had come to know him so well. Being with Joanne was almost as bad as being with Roy, who somehow seemed to know what he was thinking…well at least when Johnny was being rational. His dark eyes met Jo’s deep blue…she saw the fear reflected there.

George Fulton slammed the phone down…he had him, he was sure of it. He had called the television station and managed to schmooze the girl at the desk into giving him DeSoto’s phone number and address, convincing her that he was a member of the news crew. He’d called just to be sure the girl hadn’t sent him on a wild goose chase. Gage had told the reporter’s that he’d be going home tomorrow and George had every intention of being there to give him a ride and if he didn’t...well, he’d just have to go in and get him.

Roy stuck his head in John’s room the next morning… “Johnny?” He questioned softly.

“Yeah…?” He answered quietly.

“I just wanted to let you know I was going now…Jo’s got the kids up for breakfast, so if you’re hungry…it’ll be ready in about twenty minutes.”

“Thanks Partner…”

“Anytime junior…” Roy started to leave but then stuck his head back inside… “Be here when I get home tomorrow morning…” Johnny wouldn’t meet his eyes. “I mean it John…”

“Okay…,” Johnny said in exasperation.

George parked a short distance up the road from the address he’d been given, slumping in the seat to watch the house. A lady stepped outside to pick up her paper from the walkway…Fulton smiled and stepped from the car. “Excuse me ma’am…I’m with the press…”

George Fulton watched the blonde man drive away from his home. According to DeSoto’s very accommodating neighbor, that left the little woman, two kids and the injured fireman inside. He wasn’t up for killing women and children… he’d wait a short time to see if Gage was really heading for home, but if the paramedic stayed in the house…he’d have no choice.

Johnny ate his breakfast and patiently waited until Chris was picked up by a neighbor and taken off to play for the day. Jo told him she’d be upstairs with Jen if he needed anything. Johnny quickly got dressed and slipped into the kitchen to call a cab, telling them he’d meet them at the end of the street.

He left a note for Roy and Joanne explaining why he had to leave and then picked up the small envelope he’d been given from Rampart that held his personal effects. John tucked his wallet in his back pocket. He pulled out his name tag and badge, rescued off his blood stained uniform and tucked them in his front pocket along with his keys. Johnny quietly opened the front door and slipped out, locking it behind him.

George watched the white, two story home in his rearview. His patience was finally rewarded as the young, dark haired man from the drug store exited the home and moved quickly down the street. The white bandage wrapped about his head pretty much confirmed his identity. Fulton chuckled to himself…he was making this way to easy.

George slumped low in his seat to be sure the fireman didn’t spot him…he’d just wait until he went past and then grab him from behind. Johnny walked up the street, unaware that he was being watched. George began to climb from his car but then a taxi pulled up and Gage climbed in. The taxi sped away…Fulton pulled out and followed.

“HE WHAT…?” Roy bellowed over the phone. “Well what’s it say…?” He demanded. There was a brief pause as Joanne answered the angrily voiced question. “Damn it Johnny…,” he growled half under his breath. “Thanks Jo…I’m sorry I yelled. No…no it’s not your fault Honey…Johnny’s a big boy…a damn stubborn, willful one at that. Don’t worry babe, he’ll be back tonight or I’ll kick his butt myself. Bye Honey, I love you…”

“What was that all about…?” Cap asked as the crew gathered around Roy.

“Johnny snuck off this morning after I left.”

“He what…? He knows he’s not supposed to be off alone with that head injury…Doctor’s orders.”

“I know Cap…but he got it in his head that that nut was gonna come after him and that Jo and the kids would get hurt.”

“Yeah, he told me that last night.”

“The detective’s said the guy’s probably long gone by now…,” Roy informed them.

“For crying out loud, what was he thinkin?” Marco said in exasperation.

“He wasn’t… but that’s not that unusual for Gage…,” Chet piped in.

“Not now Kelly, this is serious,” Mike snapped. “You saw how woozy he was yesterday… he could pass out or something…”

“Mike’s right… Roy, you and Jefferson go get that twit and take him back to your house…tell him Captain’s orders.”

Roy grinned… “Thanks Cap…”

Johnny climbed from the cab, noting his white land rover was parked in front of his apartment. He remembered that Chet and Marco had mentioned driving it home for him last night. The young paramedic let himself into his apartment, locking the door and tossing his keys on the table.

He was feeling a little lightheaded and nauseas after that taxi ride. He grabbed a ginger ale from his refrigerator and popped it open hoping it might settle his stomach. He took a sip and went to lie down on his sofa. He set the can aside and closed his eyes. It was only minutes before Johnny drifted off to sleep.

Fulton climbed from the car and headed up the stairs to the apartment that Johnny had entered. He glanced around to be sure no one was watching and tried the knob…locked. George grinned to himself as he reached into his pocket for the tools of his trade.

Johnny wasn’t sure how long he’d been out but his eyes suddenly snapped open…he instinctively knew he wasn’t alone.

The man from the drug store sat in his recliner watching him. The gun Johnny remembered very well lay in his lap. John’s eyes widened a little in fear…he was afraid this was it but at least he’d go out knowing Jo and the kids were safe.

“Hey sleeping beauty…,” the man joked snidely, “Glad you’re awake…now we’re gonna take a little ride.” He gestured for Johnny to stand up. The younger man climbed slowly to his feet. “Now unless you want one of your neighbors to get hurt along with you, you’ll walk quietly to your car and do what I say…understand?” He asked. Johnny nodded his agreement. “You shoulda told them ya didn’t see my face Mr. Hero fireman.” He picked up Johnny’s keys from the table. “Let’s go for a ride…we’re taking your car.”

George followed close behind Johnny as he led the way to the land rover. John’s heart pounded in his chest knowing there was nowhere to run. He considered trying to jump the guy, but there had been a half dozen neighbors coming and going from their apartments and Johnny simply couldn’t risk them being caught in the crossfire.

Fulton unlocked the door and prodded Johnny in the back with the gun. “Lay down in the back seat…hands behind your back.” Johnny almost moaned in fear at the idea of having his hands restrained but he gritted his teeth and did as he was told. He felt something sticky being wrapped around his wrists. He recognized the rasp of duct tape being unwound. Fulton slammed the door and climbed into the driver’s seat.

Johnny felt the rover lurch into reverse. This guy obviously didn’t know how to drive a standard. The rover bucked forward and Fulton swore under his breath. The jerky motion was attracting unwanted attention from several young ladies who at first began to wave and then peered curiously at the rover. Obviously the driver was not who they expected to see. Must be friends of lover boy back there…Maybe he’d come back and check out the newly vacant apartment when he was through…The scenery was definitely beautiful.

Roy pulled into Johnny’s apartment complex. He glanced around not seeing Johnny’s land rover anywhere. Chet and Marco had told them they’d driven it home the night before. “Geez Johnny, I can’t believe you’d risk driving with a concussion,” he muttered under his breath.

His temporary partner… Alan Jefferson glanced at him curiously. “You say something…?”

“Just talking to myself… My regular partner drives you to it sometimes.”

“Maybe you need a new partner…?” Alan joked.

“Not likely…,” Roy replied with a grin. “I’ll be right back.”

Roy ran up the stairs and banged on Johnny’s door a couple of times without result. He finally let himself in with his key. “Johnny…you here,” he called as he wandered toward the back of the apartment. He checked the bathroom and the bedroom, peeking into the closet…John’s camping gear was all there…he even opened the sliders to see if Johnny was on the balcony overlooking the pool. He came back through the living room and spotted the can of ginger ale…he picked it up, it was still cold. Johnny had definitely been here and not that long ago. Roy couldn’t believe Johnny would risk other people’s lives by driving with a concussion…even a moderate one…It just wasn’t like him. There would have had to have been a good reason.

He wrote him a note, threatening him with dire consequences if he failed to call him when he got back and headed down to the squad.

“Well…?” Alan asked, as Roy climbed into the squad.

“He’s not home…I left him a note. I’ll call or swing by later if we get a run. I’m gonna let him have it either way when I get a hold of him.”

George drove out into the canyons looking for a deserted spot. Someplace where no one was gonna find the body for a long time. He finally pulled up on a side road with sharp drop offs that were thickly covered by brush…they’d never find him here. He climbed out and tipped the seat forward, grabbing Johnny by his bound hands and hauling him backwards out of the vehicle.

“Ya know Gage, I have to tell ya…you saved the lives of your friend’s wife and kids back there.” Johnny’s eyes shot daggers at the man. If looks could kill, George Fulton would have been six feet under. “If you hadna come out when you did, I woulda had to come in after you…it wouldn’t of been so good for them…But hey…at least you’ll die knowin they’ll live.”

He shoved John to the edge of the ravine. He reached around behind the bound man and yanked Johnny’s wallet free. He searched the rest of his pockets coming up with his badge and name tag… “Even if they find ya, they’ll have a difficult time identifying you without these…,” he said tossing them into the open passenger window.

“Man, you don’t have to do this…,” Johnny said quietly.

“Yeah...yeah I do…but I really hate havin to cuz I really think Firemen are important people,” he said sincerely… “But you’ll testify against me and I can’t have that.”

“They already have a sketch of you…they don’t need me to identify you.”

“That was really too bad of you John but without your testimony, it’s still my word against a sketch that could be any number of people.” He shrugged… “So I really HAVE to make you go away…,” he said as he raised the pistol.

Johnny glanced behind him. The steep drop beckoned him, there at least he stood a chance but not if Fulton pulled that trigger. The young man made his decision…He stepped backwards and began to fall…he wasn’t quite fast enough. His body jerked as he felt a searing pain in his belly…he heard the loud report of the pistol and then he was tumbling down the hill over and over until blackness mercifully closed in.

Roy tried calling Johnny every hour. He was getting very worried. They’d stopped by again in the afternoon but Johnny still wasn’t home. They’d called the two detectives to let them know John was missing and they’d promised to keep their ears open for any news, reassuring the blonde paramedic that it was unlikely that Johnny was in any immediate danger from their suspect. Most of the time these guys just hit and moved on…but they did promise to go check out his apartment.

Roy hung up the phone after his eighth attempt to reach his wayward partner and joined the others at the table, drumming his fingers in nervous annoyance.

“Still no answer…?” Cap asked in concern.

“No Cap and I’m getting really worried. I even called his Aunt Rosemary and she hasn’t heard from him either.”

“Did you check to see if his camping gear was still there…?” Chet asked. “Maybe he just took off up to the hills somewhere.”

“No…his camping gear was still there…something’s really wrong…”

“He’ll turn up Pal…and then we’ll both chew him out,” Cap soothed, patting Roy’s shoulder.

George Fulton watched John’s body tumble down the hillside and disappear into the thick brush. He knew he’d hit him, he’d seen his body jerk with the impact. If the bullet didn’t kill him…the fall surly did and barring that, the elements and wildlife would finish the job.

He climbed into Johnny’s rover and pulled away. The vehicle bucked and jumped as George ground the gears mercilessly. He fought the recalcitrant rover for a couple of miles, bumping over the rough terrain while searching for a good place to dump the truck and still be close enough to walk to one of the remote homes and call a cab. He finally reached a good cruising speed and the vehicle evened out.

George saw an oncoming vehicle speeding toward him, throwing up clouds of dirt into the air. “Damn kids…,” George muttered, as the car went speeding past. Fulton watched it in the rearview as they passed him. His eyes returned to the front in time to see a second car coming around the corner, coming straight at him.

George swerved to the right shoulder…the tire dropped into a pothole yanking the wheel out of Fulton’s hands. He fought to compensate for the sudden jerk but the tail end fishtailed. He fought the unfamiliar vehicle, but the high speed and the bumpy dirt road combined to send the rover out of control toward the edge of the precipice.

George screamed as the vehicle became airborne, sailing out over the canyon. The weight of the engine pulling the front of the vehicle down…the nose began to dip and then the rover began to tumble.


Fulton’s head slammed into the driver’s window and he lost consciousness. The passenger door popped open and debris flew in every direction leaving the hillside strewn with the pieces of John Gage’s life. George never felt the rover impact the ground…he never felt the explosion or the fire that consumed what was left.

The kids racing their cars heard the explosion and saw the flames shooting into the sky. They turned around and headed for the nearest pay phone.

Roy was getting frantic…it was getting late and no one had heard from Johnny. It wasn’t like his partner to be thoughtless. He had to know they’d be worried about him. Even Cap had given up his calm reassurances.

The entire crew was sitting at the table staring in grim silence at their coffee cups. All except Alan Jefferson who was feeling out of place and sat watching the television, casting subtle glances at the despondent crew… Man, this guy must be really special to these people, I wonder if he knows it?

Detective Wilson and Detective Gould walked into the Rec Room and took in the scene, he sighed, knowing these men were going to be devastated by what he had to say. He cleared his throat drawing their attention.

“Mr. DeSoto…?” Roy looked up quickly and opened his mouth but the greeting died on his lips at the somber looks on their faces. Roy’s face paled…

“Johnny…?” He whispered.

Cap stood up… “I’m Captain Stanley,” he said extending his hand.

“Detective Gould…and this is my partner Detective Wilson…”

“Have you found my missing paramedic?” Hank asked hopefully.

The others turned their full attention to the Detectives as they answered. “I’m afraid we have…,” Wilson said sadly. “Some kids up in Toner Canyon saw a land rover go over a cliff. I’m afraid by the time your Department arrived, there wasn’t much left. The kids say they saw the driver…it was a young, dark haired man… we suspect he passed out at the wheel, most likely from his head injury.”

“Well maybe it’s not him…I mean there’s bound to be a lot of white land rovers around…how do you know it was Johnny’s?” Marco asked hopefully.

The others nodded…this was a mistake… it had to be...Johnny couldn’t be dead. Detective Gould shook his head grimly as he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out an envelope. Reaching inside he removed a wallet and tossed it on the table. “There was a lot of debris strewn about…we found this.”

Roy blanched as Cap picked it up and opened it. Roy already knew it was Johnny’s…Chris had given it to him their first Christmas as partners. John had carried it for the last two years, even though the leather was now old and worn. Chris had planned to give him a new one this year. Something metal and silver clattered on the table. Roy glanced at the twisted piece of metal…a LA County Fireman’s badge… number 330 twinkled up at him. Roy reached out a shaking hand and closed it over all that remained of his best friend. “It’s Johnny’s…,” he croaked out. “But this is a mistake…John’s not dead, I’d know if he was dead…it’s a mistake,” he said flatly.

Cap wiped tears from his eyes as he handed the wallet to Roy. John’s ID card stared back at him. Chet, Marco and Mike’s eyes were rapidly filling with tears as the shock wore off and sorrow rolled in.

“Oh God Cap,” Chet groaned… “Not Johnny…”

“This is wrong…,” Marco whispered. “Not this way.”

“Was he…alone…?” Mike asked.

“If you’re asking if it’s possible he was abducted or murdered, the answer is…we don’t think so. The kids saw only one person in the vehicle and we only found the…remains of one body…nothings been disturbed in his apartment, there was no sign of a struggle,” he finished somberly.

Roy sat stone faced and silent refusing to shed a tear as the others grieved for their friend. He finally stood up, still holding Johnny’s wallet and badge. “He’s not dead…,” he said with finality. “Can I have these…?” He asked.

“Since there’s no evidence of foul play…and this appears to be nothing more than a tragic accident…they don’t have to be held but they really should go to his next of kin…”

Roy stared at the man silently…and it was Hank who answered… “Roy is listed as Johnny’s next of kin…”

“Alright Mr. DeSoto… you can have them,” they agreed quietly.

Roy nodded and left the room.


“What’s with him…?” Chet asked in disbelief. “He’s just been told his best friend’s dead and he just…just…,” Chet couldn’t find the word.

“He’s in denial Pal…,” Cap said wiping his face. “Trust me…it’ll sink in eventually. Just be there for him when it does.” The others nodded.

“Our deepest condolences for your loss gentlemen…,” the two detectives told them.

“Thank you…,” Cap replied softly. “I uh…I need to go call the Chief…We have arrangements to make. I’ll ah… have to call his Aunt.” Cap left. The two detectives followed him out.

Alan Jefferson finally joined them at the table… “I’m really sorry guys,” he told them sincerely.

“Thanks…,” they mumbled in return.

“He uh…musta been really special huh…?”

“Yeah… I know you never got to meet him, but Johnny was a great guy…?” Chet said softly. They spent the next half hour talking about some of Johnny’s crazier stunts and best rescues… tears and laughter were present in even amounts. Chet talked about John’s sense of humor and the many times he’d fallen victim to the phantom.”

Roy sat on the edge of Johnny’s bunk, thinking about what he’d been told. Where was the emptiness he should be feeling? There should be a hole where Johnny had just been ripped from his heart…it wasn’t there…he could still feel his presence. Johnny was still there…he was alive…Roy knew it in his soul.

After a long time he finally stood up and headed for the rec room…he had to make them understand.

Cap walked back in to join his crew… “They’re sending B shift in early…They’re sending us home. The Chief is going to call John’s Aunt and tell her what’s happened…then they’ll ahh…they’ll be getting with her and Roy about a funeral.”

“Stop it…,” Roy said angrily from the doorway.

“Stop what pal?” Cap asked, turning to face his senior paramedic.

“Stop talking about him like he’s dead.”

“Roy…,” Cap began.

“He’s not dead…I’m telling you I’d know Cap…,” he whispered.

Cap sighed and laid a hand on his senior paramedics shoulder… “Roy…the squads out of service…go home.”

 

Roy walked into the house a short time later…Joanne stepped out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dish towel and giving him a curious glance, surprised that he was home. She looked over his shoulder expecting to see a contrite John Gage following behind but her husband closed the door and turned to face her.

“Honey…? Where’s Johnny?” she asked.

Roy stood staring at her for a long moment…his eyes were blank and his voice a monotone as he spoke. “They…uh…found him…uh…I mean they found the rover Jo…it was wrecked. It um…went over a cliff and exploded…”

Joanne’s hand flew to her mouth to keep from screaming out in pain… “Not Johnny, Roy…Oh please not Johnny…,” She whispered pleadingly, shaking her head in denial. She stared at her husband waiting for him to tell her John was alright but the words didn’t come. Tears flowed down her face as she wrapped her arms around her husband, sobbing in anguish. How could she ever tell Chris and Jen that Johnny wasn’t coming back…? How would Roy ever get over this…? She’d lost a young man she loved and thought of as a little brother…sometimes even a third child…Roy had lost even more… he’d lost those same things, as well as his partner and his best friend.

Roy patted her back comfortingly and Joanne glanced up in surprise. Roy’s face was completely stoic…not a flicker of emotion crossed his features…She looked at him, shocked by Roy’s total lack of emotion.

“I’m really tired Jo…I need to get some sleep…” Roy was totally drained. It felt as if every ounce of energy in his body had drained away along with his best friend’s life. No…no, he wouldn’t let himself think that…John’s alive. “Stay with me junior…,” he muttered. As he turned from his shattered wife and headed upstairs.

Jo shook her head in disbelief, as she watched him go. “Oh Honey…,” she whispered knowing the hollowness he must be feeling in his heart, she felt it too.

Roy tossed for hours, staying awake long after his grief stricken wife had drifted into sleep. It was almost sunrise before the exhausted man finally slipped into slumber.

“Roy…Roy…?” Joanne called softly as she shook her husband’s shoulder, trying to wake him.

“Mmmm…,” he mumbled.

“Rosemary Hughes is on the phone. She wants to talk to you…”

“Me…why…?” He murmured.

“Why…?” She asked dumbfounded… “She wants to discuss f…funeral arrangements…,” Joanne choked out.

“For who…?” he muttered sleepily.

Joanne stared at him in shock… “For who…? For Johnny…! Roy… Are you okay…?”

“For Johnny…,” Roy laughed. “Johnny’s not dead…he’s asleep in the other room.” Roy tried to roll over but Joanne shook him again.

“Roy, please stop it…you’re scaring me.”

Roy finally seemed to register that he at least needed to talk to Rosemary as memories of the previous night began to return. He sighed, hoping it had all been a bad dream and that Johnny was asleep in the guest room where he should be. He sat up and picked up the phone…he was exhausted and numb but he still refused to believe John was gone but he was too tired to argue the point…he replied by rote. “Whatever you want Rosemary…it’ll be fine… Johnny’d like anything you do…no that’s okay… Jo…yeah, she’s right here…,” he mumbled, as he handed her the phone and headed for the shower.

“Rosemary… No he’s not okay…He’s denying that Johnny’s gone and I’m really worried. I think I’ll call Rampart and talk to Dr. Brackett. Maybe he’ll know what to do.”

Kel Brackett stood staring at Charlie Dwyer in shock… “Johnny’s dead? How…? What happened?”

“Car accident Doc… The cops said they think maybe he passed out at the wheel and drove the rover over a cliff. It ah…exploded on impact.”

“Dear God…,” Kel whispered, as his heart ached in sorrow. “He was supposed to be at Roy’s…what was he doing alone, behind the wheel of a car…? Johnny knew better than to drive with…,” Kel stopped…his voice cracking as his throat tightened painfully. “Excuse me Dwyer…,” he murmured as he turned and headed for his office. He closed the door and sank into his chair behind the desk and let the tears fall, weeping for the promising young life snuffed out way too soon.

The door opened a minute later and Dixie came in… “Morning Kel…,” she greeted cheerfully as she headed to his credenza to make coffee.

“Morning Dix…,” he said softly as he dropped his head into his hands.

“What’s the matter with you…?” She asked tossing a glance over her shoulder. The pretty blonde nurse turned back to what she was doing as she continued… “Hard night…?”

“No…ah…Dix…I just heard some disturbing news…Dix…Dwyer just told me…Johnny’s dead,” he said quietly.

Dixie froze for a second before she growled… “Kel, that’s not even funny…especially this early in the morning…” Brackett watched her but remained quiet. Dixie finally stopped what she was doing and turned to face him. She took in the tear streaked face and the sorrow in his brown eyes… She shook her head… “Not Johnny Kel…,” she whispered softly.

Kel nodded sadly… “Dwyer told me…It was a car accident Dix…He was driving.” Kel smacked his hand on the desk in anger… “Why would he drive…? He knew better to than to drive with a concussion… Why would he leave Roy’s…?” He stopped as he heard the slight hitched breath of his long time friend and the woman he would always love. He looked up…Tears streamed down Dixie’s cheeks and anguish crumpled her face. Kel stood up and came around the desk to take her in his arms…

“Oh God Kel…,” she cried, “I can’t believe he’s gone…”

The door opened and Joe Early charged in…followed by Mike Morton. From the look on their faces it was obvious they’d already heard. “Kel…,” Joe began, but stopped as he saw their tear stained faces. “You’ve heard…?”

“About Johnny…?” At their nod, he confirmed their question. “Yes…we’ve heard.”

“It’s unbelievable…,” Mike said quietly. “I never thought Gage…I mean… I know I harassed him about taking chances but I never thought…”

“None of us did Mike…,” Joe said softly. The four sat there in silent shock…none of them could imagine the vivacious energy and zest for life that was John Gage being stilled forever.

The phone rang at Kel’s elbow…he ran his hand over his face, wiping his eyes and picked up the phone. “Dr. Kelly Brackett…,” he said quietly.

“Kel…this is Joanne DeSoto …”

“Joanne…we’ve already heard. I’m so…so sorry,” Kel told her. “Please give Roy our condolences.”

“That’s just it Kel…he’s adamantly refusing to accept the fact that Johnny’s gone. He won’t even discuss it.”

“He will Joanne … everyone deals with their grief in their own way. Just keep an eye on him…he’s in denial right now but when it hits, it’ll be like a ton of bricks.”

“Okay…but isn’t there anything I can do…?”

“Just be there for him and please…let us know when the funeral will be…”

“I will.”

Johnny lay in the deep scrub brush… the sun beating down on his face. Sweat beaded his brow, trickling into his hair…the stinging of his reopened head wound combined with the heat to finally rouse the wounded Paramedic.

His eyes blinked slowly open. He tried to move… “Oh God…,” he groaned, as pain assailed him from every direction. Every nerve screamed in agony...as he forced himself into a sitting position. His shoulders ached fiercely from having his hands bound behind him. He knew he was badly hurt but the first thing he knew he had to do was free his hands.

Ignoring the burning pain in his stomach for a moment, he glanced around. Johnny spotted an outcropping of rocks. He tried to gather his feet under him but screamed in pain and dropped to his back once again as his knee set up an agonizing protest.

Every nerve in his body came alive again. His head pounded incessantly and he could feel the blood trickling from the head wound but now the back of his head hurt as well. His left shoulder throbbed in pain and his right knee and ankle were swollen. His face felt as if it were on fire from the tiny cuts that dotted his cheeks and forehead from his uncontrolled tumble down the hill.

He glanced down to see that his shirt was covered in blood and dirt. The raw edges of material evidence enough that he had in fact been shot. Dizziness washed through him and his stomach rebelled against the onslaught of painful sensations flooding his brain. He began to vomit helplessly…every spasm sending shock waves of pain through his body...finally, the retching stopped and blackness began to close in once more… “C’mon Gage…you pass out now and you could bleed to death…gotta stay awake.”

As it had been a year before when Roy and Joanne's plane had crashed in Oregon, he could almost hear Roy’s voice… “Stay with me Junior…Keep those eyes open…”

“Roy…,” he whispered painfully… “Help me pally.” He edged his body toward the rocks, gasping in pain with every movement. It took him forty five minutes of alternately pushing himself with his one good leg and resting to catch his breath but he made it the twenty feet to the outcropping of boulders. Using a sharp stone, it took another fifteen minutes to saw through the tape. John cried out in pain as the tape snapped.

He remembered another time not too long ago when he’d had to use the same tactic to escape his confinement…Roy had saved him then…he prayed he was looking for him now.

Johnny raised his shirt and swallowed hard at the sight of the still oozing, ragged hole in his stomach close to the left side of his abdomen…John tore his undershirt to make a pad, pressing it against the wound to staunch the flow.

“Okay Johnny…,” he heard Roy’s voice…”Let’s get you outta here.”

Johnny glanced up the hill he’d tumbled down. Even though the road was up there, climbing that steep incline was definitely out of the question. Parallel and down was the key. He had to find water and soon. It could be risky moving around with so many injuries, possibly even fatal but death was a certainty if he didn’t find water and help.

Johnny forced himself to his feet, balancing on his one good leg and cradling his left elbow. His hands and arms were bruised, cut and bleeding. He tucked his injured left hand into his shirt to help immobilize it and free his right. Johnny’s rib cage added a scream of protest. “Oh man, does anything not hurt…?” He moaned

“C’mon Johnny, let’s get moving…” He heard Roy’s voice urging him on in his head… “We’ve gotta get you to Rampart…keep going Johnny…”

“Kay… ‘M goin…” Johnny took a hobbling step, then two.

 

Roy got in his car and drove for a long time, finding himself in the end out in Toner Canyon. He found the churned up, burned spot on the side of the road and pulled over. Roy sat for a long time before pulling himself together. He took a deep breath and climbed out of the car. He walked to the edge and stood staring down at the wreckage of Johnny’s rover.

He wondered if this was how Johnny felt that day their plane had crashed. Everyone else had believed they were dead...Even Johnny but he'd somehow found them...Felt their presence...He'd said he could hear Roy talk to him and had held onto the hope of a miracle and had received it. Roy had to hold on as well.

His mind carried him back to the many fishing and camping trips that he and Johnny had gone on, including the one where they’d been trapped on a ledge for two days and Johnny had opened up completely and told him about his parents and his childhood.

He went back to the fishing trip with Chet and the accident they’d come across…that memory bringing him to the following morning when Johnny had been bitten by a rattle snake and almost died. He could see his friends pale, still form lying on the exam table…How many times had he come that close and managed to pull through…until now…today? “Stop it DeSoto…,” he muttered to himself… “He’s not dead…he can’t be dead…I’d know…I don’t know where you are Johnny but…don’t quit on me Junior…,” he whispered. Roy got back in his car and drove away.

Roy returned home a while later. Chris sat glumly on the couch watching the TV but didn’t seem to really be seeing it. Jen played on the floor, oblivious to her brother’s mood. Roy ran his hand through Chris’s hair… “What’s wrong buddy…?”

Chris looked up at him in pain and confusion … “Don’t call me that…Uncle Johnny called me that…” Chris’s mouth trembled and he began to cry as he buried his face against his drawn up knees.

Roy suddenly understood and he was angry… “Jo…?” He snapped out as he headed for the kitchen… “Did you tell Chris that Johnny was dead?”

“Roy…Honey…he’s very perceptive. People have been calling all day about the funeral and to check on you. I wasn’t going to lie to him…he asked what was going on and I told him…someone had too.”

“I can’t believe you did that without talking to me… Why doesn’t anyone understand…Johnny’s not dead…”

“Roy stop it…,” Joanne suddenly shouted. “Don’t you think I want him to be alive as much as you do?” She began to weep, but struggled on. “That I wish…I wish he was sleeping peacefully in that bedroom where he should be…,” she yelled pointing to John’s room. “But he’s not…he’s dead and he’s not coming back… You have to let him go Honey…”

“No…,” Roy snarled back… “Jo, you’re wrong…they’re wrong…I still feel him here,” he said slapping his chest… “I’d know.” Roy turned and stalked upstairs.

Joanne slammed her hands on the counter in frustration…she stood weeping for a long time. She finally pulled herself together when she heard Chris and Jen crying in the living room. She went to comfort her children.

Johnny staggered through the close brush…stumbling, tripping, falling and then pulling himself upright once more, with cries and gasps of pain. Finally, panting for air…he sank down on a tree stump in exhaustion. The wounded paramedic raised his shirt, squinting to clear his vision. He checked the gunshot wound...it was bleeding but only a little…what concerned him more were the reddish streaks that were beginning to show around the edges. “That’s just great…,” he mumbled… “This just keeps getting better and better.”

He could feel wetness trickling down his face…he reached up to wipe it away. Blood from his reopened head wound mixed with the sweat on his fingers. He wrapped his arms around his aching rib cage, while dizziness swept over him…

“You can’t stay here Johnny…gotta keep movin…don’t quit on me junior,” Roy’s voice said…

“Okay Pally,” he whispered. He forced himself to his feet and staggered on.

The sun began to set in front of him but Johnny was too weak and tired to appreciate the beauty of it. The temperature began to drop as darkness closed in and Johnny began to shiver, the sweat chilling on his skin before it could dry. As the sun dropped out of sight, he finally located a thick stand of brush and crawled inside, huddling against the trunks. He spent a very uncomfortable night…the only good thing was that the cold would slow the bleeding.

Roy returned to work on his regular shift though Cap had told him he could take it off if he needed it. Hank and the others watched him with worried eyes. Oddly, he seemed fine and that scared them the most. There was no sign of grief or sorrow.

“You okay Pal…?” Cap asked.

“I’m fine Cap…”

“Roy…?” Hank began…

But Roy stopped him with a raised hand. “Don’t say it Cap…Just…please…,” he glanced around at the others. “Don’t keep saying it.” Roy left the room.

Cap looked worriedly at the others before turning to Alan Jefferson… “Keep an eye on him huh…? Anything outta the ordinary I want to know.”

“Yes sir…”

 

They were kept pretty busy throughout the day which helped Roy to keep Johnny off his mind…at least while he was working. Kelly Brackett, Dixie and Joe Early had stopped him after their first run… “Roy…how are you holding up…?”

“I’m fine Doc…I keep telling everyone I’m fine…”

They glanced at each other in concern… “Well if you need to talk…?”

“Nothing to talk about…,” he said softly as he turned and left.

Dixie’s troubled blue eyes looked into Kel’s. “I’m really worried about him Kel…”

The dark haired doctor nodded… “It’s really gonna be hard on him when this finally sinks in.”

“I guess we all just need to be patient with him…,” Joe Early suggested. “Just keep a close eye on him…you know…?”

After their sixth run, Alan glanced at Roy… “You okay?”

“Fine, why…?”

“You’ve hardly spoken to me except on a rescue… I thought maybe you were mad at me or something?”

He sounded so much like Johnny for a moment that Roy glanced over to reassure himself that it was Alan and not his partner who sat next to him in the squad. “Look Jefferson…everyone thinks my best friend is dead…they’re holding a funeral for him tomorrow…I’m not mad. I’m…frustrated, that’s all.” He glanced over at him again… “And don’t get to comfortable in that seat kid…it’s taken.”

Cap listened somberly as Alan repeated the conversation. “He just won’t believe Gage is gone,” Alan said. He glanced at Hank… “They were really that close huh?”

“John was like Roy’s kid brother. They took care of each other. I think Roy’s feeling guilty that John’s gone and he didn’t protect him…”

“From a car accident…? Come on Cap…Gage was a grown man. He couldn’t be with him every minute…How’d he think he could protect him from that?” Alan scoffed, feeling almost jealous of the relationship these two men had shared.

“That’s the point…John was a grown man but he’d had some issues to overcome and Roy was very protective of him…If John was in trouble, Roy would be the first one there for him and vice versa…, he’s feeling badly because there was no way to protect him this time…He wasn’t there for him.”

“The guys told me Gage was one of the best paramedics in LA County… sounds more like DeSoto’s kid…,” Alan said, only half joking.

“Roy and Johnny are…were exceptionally talented Paramedics…but …well…Johnny sometimes seemed like an over eager kid…”

“I hope I can be as close with whatever partner I end up with.”

“I don’t think you could be closer than they were without being blood family…Bonded in a way I can't explain,” Cap said sadly, knowing how bad Roy had to be hurting, no matter how hard he tried to deny the inevitable.

Johnny had lost all track of time…It was daylight again, that’s all he was certain of. The infection in his stomach was definitely getting worse. He had to find help. He hurt all over and he could barely walk. He rested periodically, dozing in the sun. He was feverish and confusion was becoming a problem…he knew he could make a serious mistake in this condition. He had to stop frequently to regain his bearings.

He was having difficulty breathing and from the congestion in his lungs he suspected his cold had turned into something far worse. Thirst was becoming an all consuming issue…it was all he could think of.

“Get up Junior…,” he heard in his head.

“Let me lone Roy…‘M t’red,” he moaned.

“I know you are, but you can’t stop now…let’s go partner…”

“Thirsy…,” he slurred.

“Water’s ahead of you, but you gotta get up…keep movin.”

“Kay…,” he mumbled…resigned to the fact that Roy wouldn’t let him sleep…Johnny staggered to his feet.

 

Johnny came to the edge of a drop off. He stood looking down in confusion… he could see the river in the distance…it seemed so close and yet he couldn’t find the way down. “Which way Roy…?” He murmured, swaying on his feet.

“Down Johnny…”

John began to look for a way down. He teetered along the edge, His leg barely able to support his weight. He tripped and then he was falling…he lay gasping at the bottom. “Oh man, not again…” He felt a warm wetness on his belly. “Damn it Roy… now ‘M bleeding again… “

He lay gasping in agony, barely able to move against the sharp pain in his ribs. His breathing was becoming more and more labored as he went on. He coughed harshly doubling up in pain and rolling into a ball. Tears trickled down his cheeks. “Oh God Roy…help me…,” he whispered pitifully. His eyes closed as darkness settled around him.

Roy stood in the locker room with the rest of A shift as they donned their dress uniforms. His mouth was set in a look of resignation. He couldn’t let Johnny go…he didn’t believe he was gone and the men around him couldn’t understand.

He planned to drive the squad in the traditional funeral procession, following Johnny’s…no…following the Engine carrying a casket to the chapel and then to the cemetery because it was expected of him. John’s Aunt Rosemary, Joanne, Chris and Jennifer would follow, they were John’s only family…at least here.

He finished dressing and slammed his locker closed. His face a stony mask…The look on his face brought an angry Chet Kelly to his feet. “What the hell’s wrong with you?” Chet growled. “It’s your supposed best friend’s funeral and you don’t seem to want to be there.”

Roy whirled on Chet… “Don’t ever question my friendship with Johnny again Chet…,” Roy snapped. “I loved…love…,” he corrected himself… “him more than you could begin to understand. He’s…he’s my friend, my brother…”

“He knows that Roy…,” Mike said softly. “It’s just that Johnny’s gone and you’re not…”

“Not what Mike…? Screaming, crying…would that make you happy? I’m not giving up on him…I can’t…It’s like I can hear him…he’s begging for help and I can’t give it…,” he said in frustration. "Like the other time when our plane went down...Understand?"

They didn't understand the bond even though they'd seen it over and over again but this was different. This time there was a body. Irrefutable proof. “Roy…,”

“No Mike…look I’m goin to this because I feel I have to be there for you guys, for Rosemary, for Jo…but not for me…”

Marco and Chet exchanged a look. Roy might need professional help to deal with this. They’d discussed it with Cap the night before and Hank was prepared to call headquarters after Christmas. They’d lost Johnny… they didn’t want to lose Roy as well.

 

Detective Wilson and Detective Gould sat at their desks working on their latest investigation. They were interrupted by the pretty young clerk, Annie… “Sam…?”

“Yeah…?”

“You asked me to give you anything that came up on that apartment complex where that Fire fighter lived…”

“Yeah…?” he questioned again.

“Well…I don’t know if you’re still interested but they’re towing an abandoned vehicle. Apparently it’s been there since the day that paramedic got killed. Probably nothin but I thought I’d let you know…”

“Thanks...”

Wilson shrugged at Gould… “Too late now…”

The silence hung between them for a long moment. Will looked at his partner warily… “You don’t suppose…?” He queried his partner.

Neither one of these men had reached detective by being stupid or sloppy… “Annie…?” Sam called.

“Yeah…?”

“Call LAPD…Tell them not to touch that car. We’re on our way…”

 

Will sat in the passenger seat of the brown vehicle… “George Fulton…,” he said, reading the registration… “Why don’t we run him and see what we get?”

“You got it…,” Sam replied. He came back a few minutes later… “George Fulton… twenty seven…6’1, brown hair and brown eyes… spent five years in prison for armed robbery. Get this…he told his cell mate the only mistake he’d made was leaving a witness.

Will noticed a couple of young ladies watching them from their patio…he wandered over. “Excuse me ladies…,” he said, holding out his badge. “I’m detective William Gould and that’s my partner Sam Wilson. We didn’t get to talk to you the other day when we were here…”

The two girls looked at each other in confusion as Will continued… “I don’t suppose you saw who was driving this car…?”

They shook their heads… “Nope, it just showed up a couple of days ago. We’ve been using Johnny’s parking space since he hasn’t been around but the guy who borrowed it is gonna need it when he gets back so we thought we should have this one towed so we can have our space back…”

Gould and Wilson glanced at each other. “Borrowed his rover…?” They questioned.

“Yeah…I mean at first I thought it was Johnny, but then we realized that the guy couldn’t drive a stick.”

“Why’s that…?” Wilson asked.

“Well it was…like you know…bucking and jumping…Johnny doesn’t drive that way…he’s ah really smooth…ya know?” She said winking at her friend, who giggled at the double meaning.

“You’re sure it wasn’t Gage driving…?”

“Absolutely…I saw the guy…he looked a bit like him but it wasn’t him.”

On a hunch, Will pulled a copy of the composite and unfolded it… “Is this the man you saw…?”

The girls looked at it and nodded… “Yup…that sure looks like him.”

Gould looked at Wilson… “You thinkin what I am…?”

“That the body in the rover wasn’t Gage…?”

“We need to be a hundred percent certain…”

“I thought we were,” Wilson replied.

“Only fifty percent now…look at the very least, it could be a murder instead of an accident. DeSoto would at least know his friend hadn’t screwed up.”

“I don’t think we should give them hope that he’s still alive somewhere until we're a hundred percent certain who’s body they’re burying today.”

Roy sat staring at the closed and flag draped casket. A picture of Johnny on top, His turnout and helmet hung beside it on a stand and his boots rested beneath. Rosemary Hughes sat on one side of him while Joanne sat on the other holding Jennifer. Chris sat stoically at her side…a small replica of his Father. The Chapel was full of off duty Fire Fighters and Medical Personnel.

The LA County Fire Departments Chaplain was officiating. He appropriately quoted from the book of John. “I am the resurrection and the life…In my Father’s house are many mansions…I go to prepare a place for you and if I go I will come again…he that believeth in me shall never die…” He spoke of Johnny’s bravery and courage…of Heaven and John being welcomed there…and that he was at peace.

Roy wasn’t hearing him…his head was spinning…his mind on Johnny and the time spent with his best friend…the voice was a drone in the background.

He felt Captain Stanley’s hand rest lightly on his shoulder. He glanced up…the Chaplain was looking at him. “Roy…Johnny requested this particular song be played when and if this moment ever came…He said …,” The man looked down to read from the letter… “It was for the man who’d become his brother…who’d loved him…who taught him to trust again…and who’d carried him so many times…”

Joanne began to weep…Roy heard several others behind him choke back sobs…The opening strains of Harmonica music began to play and then the words that tore at his heart.

The road is long…with many a winding turn…that leads us to who knows where…who knows where…But I’m strong…strong enough to carry him…He ain’t heavy…he’s my brother…’

Tears were falling all around him as the song continued.

‘So on we go…his welfare is my concern…no burden is he to bear…we’ll get there…for I know…he would not encumber me…he ain’t heavy…he’s my brother. If I’m laden at all…I’m laden with sadness, that everyone’s heart isn’t filled with the gladness of love…for one another…’

Roy swallowed hard, feeling a tightening in his throat…this was so Johnny… Roy’s heart ached but lightened at the same time from knowing that Johnny had felt this way… He sat stoically, holding the tears at bay as the song went on to its conclusion.

‘It’s a long, long road…from which there is no return…while we’re on the way to there…why not share…and the load…doesn’t weigh me down at all…he ain’t heavy…he’s my brother.’*

The song mercifully ended. Roy could hear muffled sobs from all around the chapel…the chaplain smiled at Roy and his family…

“Roy…Joanne… I’ve spoken to your crew mates and others that knew your partner…and one thing was very clear, not only from them but from his writings…Johnny loved you like a brother and sister…you were his family. Take comfort in his love…and that it lasts forever.” Roy nodded, clenching his jaw and squeezed his weeping wife’s hand comfortingly. Chris buried his face against his mother’s side as his tears began to fall.

“Captain Hank Stanley, Marco Lopez, Mike Stoker…Chet Kelly…” Johnny writes that you were his dearest friends…he cared deeply for each of you…you stood behind him, beside him and he cared for and respected each of you with all his heart… He asks that you remember him fondly.” They nodded, wiping tears from their eyes. Chet sniffed back a sob.

“Dr. Kelly Brackett…Dixie McCall and Joe Early…,” He looked up to find these people who were seated in the third row…. “You were his teachers and his friends…His admiration and respect for you was great, his affection…,” he glanced up at them again as he continued… “Undying…” Dixie began to cry softly…Kel hugged her against him.

“Geez Junior…,” Roy whispered, “Why’d you wait till now to tell us…?”

“Mrs. Hughes…,” Rosemary looked up at the Chaplain…tears coursed down her cheeks… “He came to you unwanted, unloved and alone. He says you were his strength and his comfort in some very dark times…he loves you very much…” She nodded and wiped her eyes with a tissue as the Chaplain folded the letter.

The mournful sound of bagpipes began to play the opening strains of amazing grace…several members of the crew smiled through their tears, remembering Johnny’s attempt to learn to play the instrument… As the song ended, the Chaplain spoke a quiet prayer.

The crew stood and moved to the casket, taking a moment to say a private goodbye to their friend and then they headed for the engine, to wait for Johnny’s body to be loaded on board for his final ride to the cemetery. The rest of the mourners followed them out to find their cars and follow while dozens of Fire Fighters would either escort them on foot or on their own engines for the two mile trip to the gravesite.

Rosemary took Joanne’s arm and led the younger woman outside leaving Roy alone with John and his escort. He reached out to touch the flag draped wood. He bowed his head for a moment and then he took the photograph of John from off the casket, clutching it to his chest… he knew they were waiting for him outside… he turned and left.

Eight fire fighter’s moved around the casket, lifting it carefully and followed him outside…It was a short ride to the cemetery…the service lasted only a few minutes…Charlie Dwyer and Kurt Carlson, Station 51’s B shift Paramedics folded the flag…handing it to Rosemary…She clutched it to her chest for a moment before placing a gentle kiss on the fabric and pressed it into Roy’s hands.

“I can’t take this Rosemary…”

“Yes you can…because it’s what Johnny would want. He loved you so much…You were the brother he never had…the family he lost…It was you who taught him what no one else could…to love… and to let someone love him.”

Roy’s hand smoothed the thin fabric…he smiled at Rosemary… “I wish I’d told him how I felt more often…”

She smiled at him through her tears… “He knew…,” she whispered as she patted his hand. She turned and left to join her two children at their car. They would be heading to the DeSoto house for a light lunch with Johnny’s closest friends. Dwyer would be returning the squad to the station so Roy could go home with his family. He gave the polished wood one final look before turning and walking away.

No one noticed the two Detectives who climbed out of their car and approached the men who were getting ready to bury the body. They flashed their badges and spoke to them for a moment. The men shrugged and allowed the two officers to wave over another vehicle. The coroner’s wagon pulled up beside them.

Johnny woke late in the afternoon, he tried to sit up but cried out and sank back to the ground…His body was shaking in shock and he was having difficulty breathing…everything hurt. Tears of pain welled in his eyes, his head pounded and his stomach rebelled against the pain and hunger and dehydration… “Oh no…,” he moaned. He forced himself to roll over as dry heaves racked his body. Waves of pain tumbled over him. “Roy…where are you…?” he sobbed out, now delirious with fever.

“Johnny, get up…”

“C…c…can’t Roy…”

“Now John…on your feet…”

The young paramedic struggled to his feet…he hobbled a few steps and fell again, crying out. “C…can’t”

“You can…right now Johnny…I need you.” Johnny was gasping… tears trickled down his cheeks, mixing with his sweat. He struggled up again and stumbled on unseeing for what seemed like hours, he tripped over a pile of brush and tumbled over, his hand flopped forward as darkness settled over him.

 

Roy and Joanne went upstairs to change. Roy’s mother Harriet stayed downstairs with Rosemary and the children…ready to greet the friends who would be arriving to pay their respects to Johnny’s Aunt and his adopted family…the DeSoto’s.

Roy stood staring at the picture of Johnny, his fingers tracing the features beneath the glass. His jaw was clenched tightly. Joanne watched him surreptitiously in the mirror as she brushed her hair and touched up her makeup.

“Roy…Honey…are you okay…?”

“Why does everybody keep asking me that…?”

“What…?”

“If I’m okay…I’m fine…” Roy suddenly felt empty as if Johnny had somehow been ripped from his mind and heart. He couldn’t hear him anymore. He looked up at Joanne… “But Johnny’s not…”

Roy’s mind wasn’t on the photo in front of him… His mind flew back through the years…he saw John’s crooked grin from the passenger seat of the squad…he heard his laughter as he played with Chris and Jen…tumbling on the floor with them like a puppy. He saw the irrepressible twinkle in the brown eyes alight with some scheme or narrowed in concentration.

He saw him flirting in the halls of Rampart with some pretty nurse and then going off in a rant, dripping wet from the phantom’s water bombs… Straddling a patient with the IV bag in his teeth…something he’d observed other paramedics copying, but they had yet to master the art of talking around it as Johnny had.

He heard his friend stammering incoherently in frustration, which always made Roy smile with gentle tolerance for his friend’s occasional lapses. Talking around a mouthful of food, causing Roy to shake his head in irritation…A girdle slapping him in the face…the coma from some lousy virus that he’d beaten in the end…and finally John’s face…pale and lifeless.

Roy never thought he could hurt this bad…He didn’t even realize he’d begun to cry…great racking sobs that knocked him off his feet. His knees buckled and he sat down hard on the edge of his bed only to slide off to crumple to the floor. “Oh God Jo… Johnny’s gone…,” he cried, finally understanding the pain John had felt a year ago when he'd thought they were all dead in that crash.

He vaguely felt Joanne’s arms wrap around him…she hugged him to her, whispering soothing words as his tears mixed with her own. “What’ll I do without him Jo?” He whispered.

“We’ll get through this…and we’ll go on Honey, because Johnny would absolutely hate this…,” She whispered as she rocked him in her arms.

Roy’s mother and Rosemary stood in the doorway, both women realizing for the first time exactly what John Gage had meant to Roy. They wiped their own tears away and left Roy and Joanne to find their own comfort in each other.

Johnny’s hand felt cold and wet…his eyes cracked open and for a moment he thought he was hallucinating as water lapped over his fingers. He slowly raised his head. The river’s edge was six inches from his head. Johnny crawled those few inches, practically falling into the water. Johnny wanted to gulp it down but somewhere in the back of his mind, Roy’s voice was once again whispering…

“Take it slowly Junior…just a little now.”

“Kay…Roy…,” he mumbled.

Johnny drank slowly, taking his time. He finally pulled himself upright. He glanced down the river, his fever fogged brain trying to formulate his next move. Shock had already taken hold…his wounds were oozing and the swelling around the gunshot wound pronounced.

Johnny took the opportunity to clean the wound as best he could. His body screamed with every move and his racking cough sent shock waves through his chest, belly and head. He moaned in pain as he tried to get his body under control. “Roy…,” He groaned softly… “God…I don’t wanna die here…” Johnny slid sideways to the ground as the blackness closed in around him.

 

Roy moved robotically through the crowded living room… A mechanical nod to the well wishers and a frozen smile for the sympathetic pats on the back and the trite phrases that… ‘Time heals’ and ‘that it would get better…’ He wanted to scream…to tell them they had no idea what he’d lost and that it wasn’t gonna get better. His best friend…his brother was dead…he felt empty. Tears welled in his eyes once more but he blinked them away…He just hoped he could get through this without exploding.

Kel cornered Joanne in the kitchen awhile later. “Hey Jo…how’s he doing…?” He asked, nodding at Roy.

“He’s finally accepted the fact that Johnny’s gone.” She looked at Kel, her red rimmed eyes a mirror image of Roy’s. “You were right Kel…when it hit him… it was like a ton of bricks. He’s devastated,” she choked out.

“It’ll get easier…,” Kel tried to assure her, but she shook her head.

“No…! No it won’t…Oh, don’t get me wrong…he’ll live with it, but it’ll never be easy. He’s never had a friend as close to him as Johnny was…It was like losing his little brother ya know…?”

“I know…,” Kel said gently, remembering the relationship he’d witnessed time and time again…usually masked by a tough and teasing facade but always recognized for what it really was by those who were close to them.

 

Wilson and Gould escorted the body back to the morgue…they urged the coroner to make this a priority. They were no longer sure who they had in the vault but they were determined to find out. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve…they were hoping for a miracle.

Roy slept fitfully…his mind going over the day’s events as he lapsed in and out of sleep. In his nightmares, Johnny was calling to him for help as a building collapsed around him… “Roy, help me… Please…I don’t wanna die here…”

Roy tried desperately to reach his partner but his feet wouldn’t move. “JOHNNY…,” he bellowed as his friend disappeared from view. Roy sat bolt upright in his bed, sweat ran in rivulets down his face.

Joanne lay in the dark watching him…sorrow etched into her face. “Honey…?” she questioned softly.

Roy threw a shaky glance in her direction as he ran his hand over his face to clear the vision from his mind… “It’s nothin Jo…go back to sleep…I’m sorry I woke you.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m okay…just go back to sleep.”

Roy threw the covers back and slid from the bed. He padded down the stairs and flipped on the lights in the kitchen and got himself a drink. He wandered to the doorway of Johnny’s room and leaned against the jamb. “Why Johnny…? I know why you left here that day, but what were you thinkin goin out in the rover like that…?” Roy was angry with his friend for doing something so foolish…and for leaving him. He let the rage flow.

“Damn it Junior…Where were you going…why didn’t you just stay home…?” He suddenly flung the glass against the wall, taking comfort in the release of emotion as it shattered into a hundred pieces…, water splashed and ran down the paneling keeping pace with Roy’s body as he slowly sank down the doorframe to sit on the floor. Tears poured from his eyes… “Why partner…?” He whispered softly.

Upstairs…Jo heard the smash of glass…she considered going downstairs to comfort her husband but then changed her mind, deciding he needed the time alone to come to terms with his loss. She rolled over and closed her eyes but she didn’t sleep until almost dawn.

The crew of station 51 had been scheduled to work Christmas Eve but several other firemen from other stations had volunteered to work in their stead…giving them extra time with their families. Now however, there would be very little celebrating.

Johnny could no longer muster the strength to stand, he’d tried to crawl but his injured knee and shoulder wouldn’t support his weight. He collapsed next to the river, his body shaking in shock and fatigue. He knew he was now just waiting to die as his body shut down a little at a time.

Steven and Maggie Carlisle paddled their rubber raft down the river, making their traditional Christmas Eve trip that they’d begun years ago with their children. This year it was just the two of them as their grown children had all made other plans. They loved camping…lying out under the stars to welcome Christmas in as the shepherds had so long ago…

“Steven look…!” Maggie said, pointing to a splash of color on the bank… “What is it…?”

“I can’t tell, let’s take a closer look…,” he replied as he angled the boat towards shore.

As they drew closer, Maggie gasped in fear… “Oh my God Steven, it’s a body…don’t go any closer,” she said nervously but then she saw a slight movement. She sucked in her breath… “He’s alive…,” she advised as she turned to her husband.

He looked at her uncertainly. “I think we need to take a look…,” her husband said.

“Okay…but be careful.”

Johnny felt hands gently turning him over. He heard their indrawn breaths at the sight of his bloodied and filthy appearance. His eyes barely cracked open… “Help me… p…please…,” he whispered softly. “Roy…,” he gasped, as his eyes closed.

“He’s just a kid…,” Steven said. “We have to help him.”

“I wonder who Roy is…?” Maggie asked, glancing around. “Do you suppose there’s someone else?”

“I’ll take a quick look around Mags…Why don’t you get him a blanket.”

Johnny felt something warm settle around his shaking body…his pain filled, brown eyes fluttered open gazing into Maggie’s as she tucked the blanket around him securely. “Th…thank Y…you,” he stuttered, his mouth quirking up in a weak crooked grin. ‘’

Maggie was lost. She stroked his cheek gently, feeling the heat from his fever racked body burning her fingers. “Poor baby…,” she murmured. “Steven…you have to hurry…he’s really sick…he needs help now.”

Her husband returned shaking his head… “No sign of anyone else, let’s get him in the raft.” Together they lifted the semi conscious young man into the raft…wincing in sympathy but ignoring his cries of pain as they moved him. “I’m sorry son…,” Steven told him after they had him settled… “But we had to move you to help you.” Johnny gave him a weak nod. “What’s your name son…?” Steven asked as he pushed the raft away from the bank.

“J…John G…Gage,” he stuttered out, barely audible.

“Okay John, let’s get you outta here.” The familiar phrase relaxed the young fireman and his eyes drifted closed. He felt the second blanket being laid over him and he let himself drift toward sleep…

“Roy…,” he murmured softly as he drifted off.

“I don’t know who Roy is, but he sure seems anxious to see him…,” Maggie said.

Dixie was tired…it had been a long morning. Christmas Eve was always one if the busiest days. Joe Early and Mike Morton had both accompanied a patient to a treatment room. Two women who had come to blows over a purse, both would require a few stitches. Dixie smiled sadly… this was just the kind of rescue Johnny would have loved. Two beautiful women to ride in the ambulance with and a good laugh afterward. Her reverie was broken by the sound of someone calling for help.

Dixie grabbed an orderly and a gurney … “C’mon Tom,” she urged…walking quickly toward the man standing at the emergency doors and waving frantically.

“We need help here…,” he yelled. “I think he’s been shot.”

“Who…?” Dixie asked, as they raced past the man and into the parking lot.

“This young fella we found out along the river in Toner Canyon.

Dixie and the orderly reached the car. Tom reached in and grabbed the unconscious man under the shoulders, sliding him backwards…Dixie grabbed his feet and they lifted him onto the gurney… “Treatment Two…,” Dixie directed, turning back to the couple standing by the car. “Can you wait…the Doctor may need to speak to you and if he has been shot the police will want to ask some questions.”

“Can’t tell them much, he hasn’t spoken except to thank us…oh and to tell us his name.”

“We’ll need that later ourselves.”

“Oh…he was calling for someone…”

“I’ll get all of that soon,” she said escorting them inside and pointing to the waiting room. “You can wait right over there.”

Dr. Brackett walked out of his office… “Kel…treatment two, possible gunshot wound.” They both raced inside. Dixie immediately grabbed the scissors and began to cut the clothing from their victim. Kel immediately turned his attention to the bullet wound.

“This poor guy’s been through hell…,” Kel muttered… “Look at these injuries…he’s bruised all over…”

Another Nurse entered the room… “Susan, get X- ray down here stat and then get me his vitals. Dixie, let’s get him started on warmed ringers solution. This man’s in shock and he’s badly dehydrated. Dixie immediately grabbed the ringers and left the room to warm it up. She returned as Susan was reeling off the vital signs.

“Blood pressure 90/60, pulse 60, respirations 12…”

Dixie swore softly…she was having some difficulty starting the IV since the poor man was shaking so badly. Kel was busy writing down the vital signs. Dix, check his eyes and then start him on six liters of O2, I’m getting rales in both lungs…Good God, what happened to this guy…?”

Dixie reached for the oxygen mask, finally getting a good look at the man on the table. Her sudden gasp of shock stopped Kel’s speculative monologue. “What’s wrong Dix…?” Kel asked alarmed as the blonde nurse staggered back a step…her face going pale.

“K… Kel…?” she stuttered. “It’s Johnny…”

Brackett looked at her as if she’d lost her mind. Then looked at the dirt stained, bruised and bloodied face of his patient…. “Oh my God…How…?”

Dixie suddenly smiled. “I don’t know how…but you have to save him Kel…don’t let him die.”

Kel nodded…“Get me an OR stat…and get Joe Early in here…,” He barked as Dixie broke her own rule and ran to do as Kel asked. Tears of joy rolled down her face.

Joe ran in a moment later, his eyes scanning Johnny’s face… “Kel this is a miracle…How?”

“We’ll have to figure that out later, let’s just keep him alive now.”

Dixie ran back in … “O R four Kel…they’re waiting.”

She glanced at Johnny, realizing that his eyes were fluttering open. She lifted the mask from Johnny’s face and kissed him square on the mouth… “You hang on Johnny, you hear me?” She resettled the mask.

“Dix…,” Kel said somberly.

“Yeah Kel…?”

“He’s in pretty bad shape, let’s not tell anyone until we get him stabilized okay….?”

She nodded in understanding…none of them wanted to put Roy or any of the others through another trauma. Dixie paced for four hours, performing her tasks by rote but her eyes were glued to the clock.

Roy pushed the food around on his plate. He’d eaten nothing for the last thirty six hours but nothing looked remotely appetizing and he simply wasn’t hungry. He thought he’d turn in early…Tomorrow, he’d put up a good front for the sake of his family but tonight…he didn’t have the will to try.

The phone rang in the kitchen… Joanne answered it, speaking quietly… “Hi Dixie…What’s up…? Yes he’s here… hold on. Honey… it’s Dixie, she says she needs a favor.”

Roy got up slowly and picked up the phone. “Hi Dix…,” he spoke quietly.

“Roy…I know its Christmas Eve but I have a personal problem and I could really use your help.”

“Uh Dixie…I’m really not…”

“Roy please…please…I’ll explain when you get here but I promise you it’s very important.”

“Uh…,” he hesitated. “Oh what the heck, sure Dix, it’s better than moping around here and spoiling Jo and the kids Christmas…I’ll be right there.”

“Thanks Roy…you won’t regret it.” Dixie looked at Kel and Joe… “He’s on his way…” They both smiled.

Detectives Wilson and Gould pored over the coroner’s report…they went back and forth between John Gage’s medical records and the coroner’s results.

Wilson suddenly raised his hands in triumph… “Bloody Bingo….,” he shouted.

“What…?” Gould asked.

“This is not John Gage…look at this.” Wilson pointed out half a dozen separate injuries in John Gage’s records that would have left permanent bone scarring that even a fire wouldn’t have destroyed. They grinned at each other…this wasn’t Gage…but where was the young man…?

Roy walked slowly into the emergency room at Rampart. Dixie, Kel and Jo were at the base station, they were all smiling. “Roy…thanks for coming.”

“What’s up Dix…? Doc…,” he said acknowledging the two men standing with her.

“Come with us Roy and we’ll show you,” Dixie said as they headed for the elevator.

They reached the third floor and led the way down the hall, waving a confused Roy into room 312. “The young man in this room could use your help…,” Dixie explained gently.

Roy stood in the softly lit room. The bed was in a semi upright position, tubes and wires were everywhere. The man in the bed appeared to be asleep but it was hard to tell as his face was turned away. Roy looked back at his friends with a frown. They nodded toward the bed.

Roy looked at the patient. He noted the sable hair and the bandage wrapped about his head. His anger rose… “Is this some kind of cruel joke…,” he growled.

“No Roy…you know we’d never do that.”

Hope flared in Roy’s blue eyes followed by disbelief and the fear of disappointment. He moved closer and reached out to touch the man in the bed. His hand was shaking. Roy gently cupped the man’s chin, turning his face toward him.

Roy gasped in shock, staggering back a step or two before he sat down hard in the chair next to the bed. Despite the scratches and the oxygen mask that covered the lower half of his face…the features were unmistakably Johnny’s. Tears welled in Roy’s eyes, spilling over to trickle down his cheeks.

Roy found himself somehow back on his feet, unsure of how he got there. His shaking hand gently smoothed the hair from Johnny’s forehead. He stroked John’s cheek with his fingers as if making sure he was real and then uncaring of who watched…Roy leaned down to kiss his friends forehead. His body shook with sobs but this time they were joyful.

He glanced back at his three friends…”How…?” He whispered.

They shook their heads…“We’re just guessing mind you but we assume that whoever shot Johnny…”

“What…?” Roy interrupted in alarm…his eyes moved over John’s still form.

“He’s been shot Roy…but he’s gonna be fine. We figure whoever was driving the rover must have left him for dead before they lost control. We’ve called the police…and told them he’s alive.”

“Johnny was right…he musta come after him so John couldn’t testify.” Roy said quietly. The others nodded…

John’s dark eyes cracked open, settling on the tear streaked face of his normally stoic partner and tears welled in his own eyes… “R…Roy…,” he whispered brokenly as he struggled to sit up.

Roy eyes swung quickly back to his partner. The blonde paramedic dropped the bed rail and sat on the edge of the bed. He carefully gathered his friend into his arms… “Oh God Johnny… you scared ten years off me Junior…” Johnny’s head rested peacefully on Roy’s shoulder as the older man continued. “We thought you were dead…,” He whispered.

“Not quite…,” the soft reply came from beneath the mask.

Kel and the others came into the room, trying to maintain their composure. Brackett cleared his throat… “Ahem…okay Roy…I…uh think it’s time to get our young friend settled here huh? He’s got enough drugs in him right now to not feel too much, but now he needs to rest. He’s got some pretty serious injuries.”

Roy eased Johnny back on the bed but their hands remained locked. Neither one prepared to break the contact…both almost afraid the other would disappear and this would be nothing but a dream.

Kel turned his attention to the younger man… “You need to sleep Johnny… I let you stay awake until Roy got here, but now it’s time for you to rest okay?” Kel said as he injected the sedative into Johnny’s IV port.

Roy reached out to smooth the dark hair away from John’s forehead. “Sleep Junior… I’ll be here when you wake up.”

“I know…,” he sighed, as sleep claimed him.

“Will he be alright…?” Roy asked, still refusing to release John’s hand.

“We’ve got him on some pretty strong antibiotics right now to combat infection from both the gunshot wound as well as the possibility of pneumonia from exposure. The bullet thankfully missed his vital organs. He’s got a badly sprained ankle and a twisted knee…both should heal without complications. His shoulder was dislocated. And he has two broken ribs…they were clean breaks and should heal fine. He has a pretty serious concussion so that’ll be a couple of weeks for recovery for sure,” Kel said”

“The two dozen abrasions on his arm’s, face and hands will heal pretty quickly. He still has a fever but it’s come down some already. We’re going to monitor him pretty close for any complications but at least shock and dehydration, are out of the picture.” Joe finished.

Roy listened to Doctor Brackett and Doctor Early list Johnny’s injuries and shook his head in wonder. “How did he survive that?” He asked quietly as his eyes watched his sleeping friend.

“Pure determination…,” Kel answered.

“Or stubbornness…,” Joe Early added.

“He is willful…,” Roy agreed with a smile.

“A miracle…,” Dixie added softly. They all looked at her… “It’s the season for them,” she said with a shrug. They nodded in agreement. Roy glanced skyward in silent gratitude. He'd held on for a miracle and he'd received his own just as Johnny had a year ago.

Kel smiled… “My guess is he’ll make a full recovery, though you may have a houseguest for a while,” he said to Roy.

“That’s fine with me…I don’t plan on letting him too far outta my sight for a while.”

“How did he get here…?”

“Two very nice people found him by the river…they brought him in.”

“I want to thank them in person…”

“I wish you could Roy but by the time we finished with Johnny, they’d disappeared.”

“Did you get a name…?”

Dixie shook her head. “Angels’ don’t always give their names,” She teased. Roy grinned as Kel and Joe nodded their agreement.

“Man…I gotta make some phone calls Doc…”

“I figured you would…but remember that Johnny really needs to rest. Try and get them to wait for morning to come, though I’ll leave word at the desk to let them in if they absolutely can’t wait. Believe me…I’ll understand.” Roy nodded and picked up the phone.

“Cap…?”

“Yeah…,” a gruff voice replied… “Roy…is that you?”

“Yeah Cap…Look…I’m sorry it’s so late and I know it’s Christmas Eve but I have this great gift that I wanted to give you a little early.”

“What would that be Roy…?” Cap asked warily. Roy sounded strange.

“Well Cap…I’m at Rampart…”

“What…? Are you okay…?”

“Oh I’m more than okay Cap. Cap…Johnny’s alive…”

Hank sighed… “Roy please… don’t start that again.”

“Cap…I’m sitting in room 312 at Rampart and I’m holding Johnny’s hand right now. He’s hurt pretty bad Cap…but he’s alive.”

“I’m on my way…”

“Doc says wait until tomorrow…”

“Not a chance…” The phone went dead.

Roy considered calling the others but decided to wait until Cap got here in case they didn’t believe him. Captain Stanley barreled into the room fifteen minutes later, half expecting to find his senior paramedic in restraints. He stopped short at the sight of John Gage sleeping peacefully in the bed…his fingers clasped in Roy’s. Roy was dozing with his chin resting on the locked hands.

“Geez John….,” Cap murmured as he reached out to smooth back an errant strand of John’s dark hair and reassuring himself that he was really there.

Roy jerked awake, looking quickly at Johnny then back to Hank… “Merry Christmas huh Cap?” Roy teased with a grin.

“How…?”

Roy shook his head… “We don’t know for sure, Johnny’s too weak to tell us anything yet but they’re guessing that whoever was driving the rover might have kidnapped Johnny and left him for dead somewhere and then lost control of it and went over the cliff….”

“So John’s worries weren’t just his imagination…” Cap stated…Roy nodded.

“So Cap…you wanna call the others? I’m afraid I’ll get the same reaction I got from you…Geez…I still need to call Joanne.”

“No Roy…I’ll go get your kids and take them to my house for awhile…Joanne needs to be here. I’ll be back. You call the guys… this news should really come from you.”

 

“Chet are you still there?” Silence from the other end… “Chet…do I need to send a squad?”

“Roy, please tell me you haven’t flipped?” Chet mumbled.

“I haven’t flipped…” The shriek of joy that came down the line made Roy hold the phone away from his ear…

“I’m on my way…”

“Chet wait…,” but the line disconnected. Roy chuckled and picked up the receiver and started dialing.

Mike and Marco handled it about the same way. Roy smiled to himself and made one final call.

“Rosemary, this is Roy…”

“How are you Sweetheart?” Roy grinned at the endearment.

“I’m fine Rosemary but I have some news…Um…you might want to sit down.”

“Roy… what is it?” She asked apprehensively.

“You need to come back to LA…there’s been a huge mistake.”

“What? I don’t understand…”

“Rose…Johnny’s alive…”

“Oh Roy…,” she said sadly.

“Rosemary…,” he cut her off… “I’m not delusional I promise you. I’m sitting with him here at Rampart…He’s pretty badly injured but he’s alive.” He heard the choked sob on the other end. “Rosemary…you okay?”

“Yes…I’ll be there in a couple of hours,” she wept.

“Roy…?” Joanne called softly from behind him. Roy looked over at his wife as she stood in the doorway beside Hank. Her hand pressed over her mouth to keep from crying. “Is it true?” She whispered. Roy stepped to the side giving her a clear view of Johnny. “Oh sweetheart…,” she said softly as she moved to John’s bedside. She leaned down to kiss his cheek.

“He’s pretty heavily sedated right now but he was awake for a minute when I first got here…”

“Oh Roy…I hate I told you so’s but I’d love to hear one right now.”

Roy squeezed her hand… “I told you I’d know…,” he said with a grin as he reached to lightly rest his hand on John’s head, still needing the reassurance himself that Johnny was really there. “I’m sorry I gave up on you Junior…” Johnny’s mouth curled upward in his sleep. Cap leaned on the doorframe watching with a smile.

The sound of running feet brought their attention to the door as Chet came skidding into the room…his face alight. “Roy…let me see…” The curly haired fireman…Johnny’s worst nemesis moved slowly to John’s side. Tears welled in his eyes as reached out to take the younger man’s hand in his. “Hey Gage…,” He said quietly… “This is a hell of a way to get Christmas Eve off.”

Chet brushed the tears away as Mike came in followed only seconds later by Marco. They hesitated at the door as if afraid this was going to turn out to be a mistake. Roy grinned and waved them over. “He’s sleeping but I don’t think you need to talk right now huh?” They nodded.

“Dios…,” Marco murmured, reaching out to touch John’s hand. Johnny’s fingers twitched at the touch and Marco wrapped his hand around the warm fingers. “Thank you God…,” He said quietly.

“Let me in there Marco…,” Mike said as he shifted his friend over. “Geez Johnny…you sure know how to keep us all on our toes,” he said as he rested his hand on John’s shoulder.

Kel poked his head inside the room and grinned. “I win…,” he said with a smirk.

“Win what?” Roy asked.

“My bet with Joe… I said you guys wouldn’t wait till morning.” An orderly came in behind him carrying some folding chairs… “Make yourselves comfortable, but let’s keep this party quiet and not wake him…or anyone else…” Kel said with a smile.

“You got it Doc…,” Hank promised.

Dixie pushed the door open carrying a bottle of Ginger Ale and some paper cups. “Best I could do on short notice…,” she said. She poured the soda into cups and passed them around. Kel glanced at the clock 12:02 AM… “Merry Christmas all of you…,” he said raising his cup in toast towards Johnny.

A barely audible whimper from the bed snapped Roy’s head around… “Johnny…You okay?” He questioned softly.

“H…hurts Roy…,” he whispered.

“Dix, 50 mgs of Meperidine…,” Kel directed.

“Okay partner…they’re gonna get you something okay?” A slow nod answered him…the dark eyes cracked open tracking over the faces of the people gathered around the room.

“P…party…?” He questioned with a small smile… “Am I in…invited.” His voice was muffled behind the mask.

Roy leaned close over his partner…his hand gently swept the sable hair from John’s forehead… “Guest of honor Junior…”

“Hey Pal…?” Cap greeted as they gathered around him.

“Good to have you back Johnny?” Mike said, patting his arm.

“Yeah Gage…we thought you were dead…we held a funeral,” Chet said, his voice cracking.

“Yeah…was it nice?” Johnny asked.

“It was beautiful…,” Mike said.

Chet stared at them in shock… “That’s not the point…,” Chet growled, growing annoyed… “We thought you were dead,” he stressed. "Well...Except for Roy anyway but the rest of us did..."

A voice from behind them broke the quiet moment. “No… that would be one George Fulton.” They all looked toward the door where Detectives Gould and Wilson stood watching the reunion.

“George who…?” Chet asked.

“Fulton…! Most likely our armed robbery suspect, but we really need your friend to corroborate that.”

They all turned back to Johnny. His eyes flicked to Roy’s, worried that his partner would be mad at him for having left that morning. “Johnny…?” Roy questioned.

“Yes… h…he took m…me from my apartment.” His eyes met Roy’s as he gasped out an explanation. “I h…had to leave R…Roy… H…he said it w…was a g…good thing too… He said he knew w…where I was. H…he’d of come f…for me there… Jo…Kid’s… I’m s…sorry Roy…”

“Shhh…it’s okay Johnny,” Roy soothed, well aware that he could have lost a whole lot more if Johnny hadn’t left that day. He’d be forever grateful to his partner for keeping his wife and children safe even if it had almost cost Johnny his life. Johnny’s agitated state brought Roy back to the moment. “Calm down okay…Jo’s here…the kids are safe and Fulton’s dead…it’s over.”

John clutched Roy’s hand… “Safe…?”

“Yeah partner…thanks to you.”

Kel saw the tired droop to John’s eyes. “Okay gentlemen…,” Kel cut in, looking at the two men. “I don’t want him upset…He needs rest and he’s given you your answer. Now this is a private party so if you don’t mind…?” Kel indicated the door… Dixie came back in, casting a quick glance toward the two detectives and then headed for John’s bed while Kel finished with the two men. “You can talk to him in a couple of days when he’s up to it.” The two Detectives knew they’d never budge the surly Doctor. They nodded and left.

Dixie injected the Meperidine and set the syringe aside. She smoothed the dark hair from his forehead with the back of her fingers until she saw the pain ease in his face. “Better…?” She asked softly.

Johnny nodded, giving her a tired smile that turned to a look of confusion. “Dix…,” he asked softly… “In… the ER…d…did you k…kiss me?”

She grinned slyly at him. “Yes I did and I’m gonna do it again,” she teased as she lifted the mask from his face to gently kiss his mouth… “Merry Christmas Sweetheart…” Johnny grinned as his eyes drifted shut.

Kel turned to the crew… “Look, I know you all just want to keep an eye on him but he’s not gonna disappear…I promise you. Go on home and spend Christmas with your family and come back in the afternoon. I assure you, he’ll be here when you get back,” he said with a smile. “Roy, you too,” he added.

The older paramedic looked at Brackett in shock as he and Joanne answered almost together… “Not a chance Doc…”

Jo smiled at Roy… “I’m going home with Hank and take the kid’s home…you stay with Johnny.”

Joanne always understood his friendship with Johnny, sometimes better than he did…it was one of the many reasons he loved her so much.

“I’ll be home early, before the kids are up so we can have Christmas together…I think their best gift will be to know Uncle Johnny’s alive.”

Roy was dozing in the chair a short time later, John’s hand clasped firmly in his own. A low murmur interrupted his slumber. Roy’s eye’s snapped open. Johnny’s Aunt Rosemary stood beside the bed with tears rolling down her face… stroking her Nephews face tenderly... her hands touching him as though he were breakable. “Oh Na-háahketa (My little one), just look at you,” she whispered…using the term she’d adopted from Johnny’s father. John had once told her that his mom and dad had always called him that when he was a child and much to John’s chagrin she had taken up the endearment. She looked up to see Roy’s blue eyes watching her…he grinned broadly. “He’s a beautiful sight…,” she whispered softly.

“He’d be horrified to hear you say so…,” Roy said with a laugh.

“Oh Roy, I can’t believe it. This is a miracle and I’m not complaining…but…who did we bury yesterday?”

“The man Johnny saw rob the drug store. His name was George Fulton. He kidnapped John, shot him and left him for dead…he’s the one that drove the rover off the cliff.”

“Shot him…? Is he going to be okay?”

Roy nodded… “Brackett thinks he’ll be fine, but he’s pretty weak right now and they’ve got him pretty heavily sedated.” She nodded as she wiped the tears away.

Are you going back to Santa Barbara tonight…I mean you’re welcome to spend the night at our house, I know Johnny would love to see you.”

“Oh Roy…it’s so late…I wouldn’t want to disturb Joanne at this time of the morning.”

Roy grinned… “I really doubt she’s sleeping anyway…not after this little surprise,” He said quietly as he rested his hand against Johnny’s dark hair. Rose smiled back at him as John’s head turned toward his partner’s hand…even in his drugged sleep… the younger man could sense his friend’s presence and seemed to be reassured by it.

“Okay Roy…I really do want to see him awake…I want to hear his voice,” she admitted.

“I’ll never complain about how much he talks again…God I’ve missed it…the thought of never hearing it again…,” he shook his head. “I don’t want to do that again.”

She grinned and kissed his cheek, “I’ll see you later then,” she promised. Roy nodded and picked up the phone to call Joanne.

Early that morning, Roy leaned over his young partner…bending close to his ear. “I have to go now junior but I’ll be back in a little while,” He whispered. Roy ruffled his friends’ dark hair. “Merry Christmas partner…”

“Don’t worry Roy, I’ll stay with him. You go spend Christmas with your kids and he’ll see you in a while, I’ll call you if necessary.”

Roy turned toward the voice…he grinned at Dixie as she moved into the room. “Hi Dix…I figured you’d still be sleeping, it’s still early.”

“I couldn’t sleep…I wanted to be sure Johnny was really here and okay…I guess I thought I was dreaming,” she said as she came to the side of the bed. Her fingers curled around John’s briefly before she kicked into nurse mode and took his pulse. Her fingers trailed through the shaggy hair… “I thought we’d really lost him…,” she said quietly, dropping a kiss on the sleeping man’s forehead.

“I know…,” Roy said quietly.

She grinned… “Go on home,” she slapped Roy on the shoulder gently and reached up to kiss his cheek. “Merry Christmas Roy…”

“It will be now,” he said as he headed for the door.

“Bring the kids back with you Roy…it’ll be good for them all. I’ll clear it for you.”

“Thanks, I will.”

 

Roy arrived home fifteen minutes later. The sun was just rising and it was going to be a great day. He pushed the door open to find his wife already up and cooking breakfast. She looked up as the door opened. “Good morning Honey….,” Joanne greeted. “Merry Christmas…” she said moving into the living room to meet him halfway.

“Merry Christmas babe…,” he replied with a broad grin as he gathered her into his arms and kissed her warmly. “Rosemary get settled okay?”

“She’s in Johnny’s room…How is Johnny?”

“He was still sleeping when I left…Dixie was with him but he seemed to be pretty quiet and his fever was down.”

“That’s a relief…He’s really gonna be okay isn’t he?”

“He better be…I can’t go through that again…,” he said only half teasing. “The kids awake yet?”

She shook her head… “Chris didn’t fall asleep until late. Roy he was up for hours crying before he finally drifted off and then I had to wake him and send him to Hank's house. I didn't have the heart to wake him up again when we brought him home. Hank just carried him in and put him in bed. I think it would be a wonderful Christmas gift if you went up and told him his Uncle Johnny was okay.”

Roy nodded…Chris was a sensitive eight year old and Johnny had been a favorite and well loved person in his life…an Uncle in everything but blood and the loss for the little boy was devastating. Jennifer was too young to understand the concept of death but she’d wept when she was told Uncle Johnny wouldn’t ever come back. “Dixie told me to bring the kids to the hospital…it’ll be good for all of them.”

“That would be great…we can all have Christmas together…go wake them Roy, we’ll have breakfast and then take the gifts to the hospital to open with Johnny,” she said, sounding excited at the idea.

Roy nodded and headed up the stairs. He peeked into his son’s room and Chris turned his head at the quiet squeak of the door. “Morning Chris…,” Roy said as he came to kneel next to his son’s bed.

“Hi Daddy…,” the boy whispered back.

“Merry Christmas…,” Roy said quietly, watching his sons face.

The blue eyes welled with tears as the boy threw himself into his father’s arms. “I miss Uncle Johnny Daddy.” Chris pressed his face against his father’s chest.

Roy ruffled his son’s hair as a small smile tugged at his lips. He held the little blonde away from him and smoothed the bangs from his forehead. “Chris, there’s something I have to tell you …It’s about Uncle Johnny.” Chris looked up at him through teary eyes. “Chris…there was a terrible mistake. You see Uncle Johnny…,” he hesitated… “Well…Uncle Johnny isn’t dead…he’s alive and we’re going to go see him at the hospital right after breakfast.”

Chris stared at his father for a moment in disbelief before he let out a whoop of joy that woke his sister in the next room. He threw back the covers to jump from his bed…he pulled his pajamas off and began to dress.

“What are you doing?”

“Getting dressed so we can go see Uncle Johnny…”

“After breakfast… but don’t you want to open your presents first…?”

“Nope…I wanna see Uncle Johnny…”

“Me too…, let’s go…” Roy left Chris to get dressed while he went to get Jennifer ready. They all came downstairs a few minutes later. Rosemary was already up and dressed herself as she and Joanne awaited the others. Jo grinned at Roy as Chris settled himself happily at the table…

“Daddy says Uncle Johnny’s alive mom…”

“I know honey…I saw him early this morning…”

“Then we have to hurry mom…Uncle Johnny will be waiting.”

They ate quickly, not having the heart to tell him that Uncle Johnny was most likely sleeping. They loaded up the car with their gifts and then headed for the hospital, pulling into the parking area a short time later.

“Okay kids, just remember that Uncle Johnny’s sick and he needs to rest and there are a lot of sick people in the hospital so you have to stay quiet okay…?”

Chris nodded eagerly as they pulled the bags of presents out of the car to take up to John’s room.

 

Johnny woke to the sounds of cheery “Merry Christmas’s” being thrown out by the nurses and Doctors greeting each other as they started their morning routine. He stirred in the bed trying to turn his head to see if his partner was still there but pain flared at his first movement and the room spun dizzyingly, sending his stomach into somersaults. John began to gag…he felt soft hands turn his head and ease him over on his side. The emesis basin appeared just in time as he retched helplessly and dry heaves racked his body for several minutes before his stomach stopped spasming.

He finally opened his eyes as he gasped for air…Dixie’s face swam into focus. “Good morning handsome…,” she murmured softly as she kissed his cheek gently.

“Dix…,”

“Merry Christmas Sweetheart…”

“Merry Chris…mas,” he slurred tiredly. “Roy…?” He asked as the dark eyes flitted about the room.

He went home but he’ll be back soon…he’s bringing Jo and the kids to spend Christmas with you.”

A weak smile flitted across the young man’s face as his eyes closed briefly before reopening a moment later.

“I’ll get you your pain meds…and something to settle your stomach… you must be starving so we’ll get you something to eat too okay?”

“Kay…” Dixie smiled as she lightly brushed her fingers through his hair and then left the room…John’s eyes drifted closed once more as sleep claimed him.

Roy pushed the door open and peeked inside…John appeared to be asleep. He turned back to Chris and laid his finger over his own lip in a shushing motion and then waved him inside. This was one of the few times Chris had been allowed in a hospital room, but as he moved toward the bed his eyes were oblivious to the tubes and wires and were fixed steadily on his Uncle Johnny’s face. Roy noticed the oxygen mask was gone and only a nose cannula was now in place.

“Uncle Johnny…,” Chris said quietly as he reached John’s side.

“Shhh…Chris, honey…he’s asleep.” Chris’ warm fingers touched Johnny’s hand. The long, slender fingers twitched and closed slowly around the smaller ones. Dark eyes fluttered open and his head turned toward them. A tired smile curled his lips….

“Hey buddy…,” he murmured.

A grin split Chris’s face from ear to ear…“Merry Christmas Uncle Johnny…we brought presents to open with you…,” Chris told him excitedly as he stood on tip toe to reach over the rail and plant a kiss on John’s cheek.

“Hey…I thought you were too old for that…,” John teased weakly.

“Well…this is special…”

“Oh…okay then…,” he replied, squeezing the small hand. His eyes lifted to Roy and Joanne’s, he smiled at Jennifer who was wriggling in her mother’s arms.

“Down mommy…,” she insisted, reaching for Johnny.

“Here…,” he murmured, scooting to the side to give her room to set the little girl down, wincing slightly as he did. Joanne set Jen beside Johnny so she could place a soft kiss on her Uncle’s cheek. Joanne’s kiss of greeting quickly followed.

“Well you certainly look better than you did at midnight…how are you feeling? Are you still in pain?”

Johnny opened his mouth to answer but saw the no nonsense look on his partners face. “Well… not at the moment…,” he hedged, his voice still a bit weak and shaky.

“That’s the drugs…how about when they wear off?” Roy asked, moving close to his partner’s side and laying his hand on the dark head.

“Well yeah…I guess…a little.”

“You’re impossible Junior,” Roy teased. “Have you eaten yet?”

“Not hungry.”

“What…? You’ve got to be starving.”

“I agree…,” Kel Brackett said from the doorway.

Roy and Joanne turned to face the dark haired Doctor. “Merry Christmas…,” Kel said smiling at Roy and Jo before turning back to Johnny. “My nurses told me you didn’t eat this morning…why?”

“Still nauseas I guess…”

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“Just thought it would go away…”

Roy and Kel sighed in unison. “I’m sending in a nurse with Compazine. I’m changing you’re medication to something easier on your stomach. I saw your Aunt with Dixie so I’m sure they’ll be on their way up here shortly…I’ll ask them to bring up another tray…Roy be sure that he eats…”

“I will Doc…”

“Aw Roy…,” John began in almost a whine.”

“Don’t Junior…”

“Hey Dad…you sound just like you do with me when I do that…,” Chris giggled.

Roy looked at his friend with an amused grin as John’s face flamed in embarrassment. “Okay…you win,” Johnny mumbled.

Roy’s hand moved to John’s shoulder… “Johnny…I need to talk to you…”

Joanne sensed that her husband needed a moment alone with his friend…“Roy, I’m gonna go find Rosemary and Dixie, We’ll be right back…come on Jen, Chris.”

Roy sat next to his partner… “Johnny…I wanted to thank you…”

“For what…?” The younger man answered, looking bemused.

“Well you were right…Fulton was after you…if you hadn’t done what you did…” Roy hesitated to even vocalize the possibilities of what might have happened.

“It’s okay Roy…you know I’d never put you guys in danger…”

“Of course you wouldn’t, but we could have kept you safe if I'd of just listened.”

“Stop it Roy…You couldn’t know.”

“I just wish I coulda been there for you when you needed me…,” Roy said quietly.

Johnny reached out to touch his friend’s hand… Roy took it in his and John grinned at him. “You were…,” he said softly.

“What…?”

“Roy… I don’t know how many times I wanted to quit out there…to just lay down and die…but you wouldn’t let me.”

“I don’t understand…what’re you saying Junior…?”

“I heard you Roy…Just like before. It was like you were standing right there, urging me on. You told me not to quit…to get up and keep going…to open my eyes…over and over… I heard you.” Johnny looked up at his friend with a smile. “I wouldn’t be here if not for you…”

Roy reached up to sweep the shaggy bangs from his friend’s forehead… “I just couldn’t believe you were gone. I could feel you…I kept hearing you begging me for help…I was certain you were out there somewhere but then everyone kept telling me that you were gone and that I had to let you go. I’m sorry I gave up on you junior…”

They stared at each other in mutual understanding…somehow they had each heard the other… ‘A season for miracles’ Dixie had said. Roy had to wonder if she was right.

“You didn’t pally, not when it really counted.” Brown eyes met blue and though the words they both found difficult weren’t spoken, the look was understood.

The door pushed open breaking the quiet moment and both men grinned before turning to face the others.

The grin faded from Johnny’s face at the sight of the tray held in Dixie’s hand. Pitiful dark eyes turned toward Roy as his stomach lurched at the thought of food.

“Don’t turn those eyes on your partner John Gage…,” Dixie said sternly. “Kel said you need to eat…now we can do it this way or we can do it the hard way…” John’s face blanched at the thought of what ‘the hard ’ way might entail.

“I’m really tired Dix…maybe later…,” Johnny whispered fearfully.

“John…”

But Roy reached out and took the tray from her and set it on John’s table as Dixie produced a syringe and injected the Compazine into John’s IV port. “Johnny…I know you’re hungry and I know you’re afraid it’ll make you sick but you’ve gotta try…just like you did out there…keep trying…can you do that for me?” Roy asked.

Rosemary almost laughed as she watched Roy expertly manipulate her willful Nephew into doing exactly what he wanted. She wished she’d learned how to do that when Johnny had been a teenager.

“Okay Roy…I’ll try.”

Roy managed to get scrambled eggs and jello into his partner. Johnny had to struggle a couple of times but managed to keep it down.

A short time later Captain Stanley came in with his wife Emily… “Hey pal…,” he greeted his youngest crew member.

“Hey Cap…Ma’am.”

“I think we're way beyond Ma'am Johnny...It’s Emily and I’m so glad you’re okay…Hank was very upset...We all were,” she said kissing Johnny on his rapidly flushing cheek.

“The others are on their way…,” Cap said, dropping a gift on John’s bed.

Within a few minutes the entire crew was present. Brackett cleared the way and the nurses stayed away except to deliver John’s medications. As the others arrived, the pile of gifts around Johnny began to grow.

Johnny was beginning to grow increasingly uncomfortable… “Are you in pain Junior…?” Roy asked. His softly voiced question brought the party to a halt as they all turned toward Johnny.

The young fireman bit his lip as he gestured to the gifts… “I don’t have a gift for anybody…,” he said in embarrassment.

“Are you kidding me Gage…?” Chet asked in surprise.

John looked around at the faces staring at him with affection. Roy teasingly ruffled his partner’s hair, drawing a half hearted swat from Johnny along with a… “Cut it out.”

“Junior, you are our Christmas gift…,” he told the younger man.

“Though we may have to return you…,” Marco quipped, lightening the mood.

“Yeah…he’s a little beat up,” Mike added.

“With a few broken parts…,” Cap put his two cents worth in.

“And a few loose screws…,” Chet joined in.

The woman shook their heads in exasperation as the crew began to laugh.

Over the next few days word began to spread that John Gage was still alive. Fireman began arriving to visit in increasing numbers. Kel looked at Dixie as three more brushed by them in the hall.

“I’m gonna put a revolving door on that young man’s room. How’s he supposed to get any rest?” He grumbled. “We may have to send him home soon just to get him some peace and quiet.”

“And us as well?” Dixie added.

“Roy would take him home with him wouldn’t he?” Kel said with a wicked grin.

“I’m sure he would.”

“Let’s find out… Let Joanne deal with the fire brigade,” he said smugly.

“I thought you liked Joanne…?” Dixie said laughing.

“Oh I do, but she’s almost as protective as Roy and she’ll see to it that Johnny rests and they don’t disturb him too much. They’re more afraid of her than Chief Sorenson.”

Roy stood in the doorway of Johnny’s room watching his friend sleep. He’d found himself there frequently over the last twenty four hours, reassuring himself that his partner was okay. They’d awakened him long enough to ring in the New Year with a ginger ale toast.

Roy reflected on the last year with his young partner. He couldn’t imagine how boring his life would be without his best friend in it, but thankfully he wouldn’t have too.”

“Happy new year Junior…,” Roy whispered, raising his glass in toast to their friendship.

THE END


 

The characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. Any medical mistakes are mine. *In the 70’s the song ‘He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother,’ was one of the most used songs played at Fire Fighter funerals…It was written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell and originally performed by the Hollies in 1969. Regardless of its popularity in that regard…I used it because it was the most appropriate song I could think of for Johnny and Roy. Posted to Site 09/20/09

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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Productions. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order.

Copyright 2009 - 2010 - 2011 -2012
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