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Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of joy you must have somebody to divide it with…Mark Twain
A merry whistle preceded Paramedic Roy DeSoto as walked into the locker room of Los Angeles County fire station 51. He cast a glance at his partner of two years John Gage as he sat dressing in front of his open locker.
John was four years Roy’s junior and over the two years they’d been together they’d developed a very close bond. Johnny, as the crew of 51’s called him was more like Roy’s kid brother than just the guy who sat next to him in the squad. They’d built a strong rapport that other partners envied and frequently a glance would suffice for a conversation where nothing else needed to be said.
They watched out for each other, confided in each other and most of all had a deep respect for each other’s abilities…They spent a good deal of time together off duty as well as on and Johnny was a frequent guest at the DeSoto household and Roy and Joanne’s children, Chris and Jen referred to him as uncle Johnny.
Roy frequently annoyed his young partner by being over protective and almost fatherly with the reticent younger man. John Gage was an orphan and a victim of an abusive childhood as well as having a mild case of a neurological condition called Aspergers Syndrome. He tended to avoid close contact and shows of affection though Roy and his family were usually the exception even though John blushed in embarrassment when they did.
They were the only family Johnny had except for an Aunt that was usually on the go and was rarely at home but The DeSoto’s made up for the lack of family and then some. Roy wasn’t at all sure who his wife would save first in a fire…Him or Johnny. He grinned at the thought.
The grin faded as it suddenly occurred to him that Johnny hadn’t even looked in his direction since he’d walked in. “Morning Junior,” he said with a slight frown as he tried to see into his young friends face.
“Mornin…,” he mumbled without looking up.
Roy rolled his eyes. Sometimes his partner could drive him nuts…Whether from his over used vocal chords or his habit of downplaying or hiding illnesses and injuries…Johnny was obviously attempting the latter.
“Look at me junior,” he said gently.
John heaved a sigh and looked up at his best friend. The dark brown eyes looked a bit red and watery and his face was flushed a bit more than was usual even for his half Native American complexion. The sable hair was ruffled as if he hadn’t even combed it before coming to work.
“I’m otay Roy,” he said, the stuffy sound in his nose obvious. “Is jus a col.”
Roy shook his head and took the two steps that would bring him close enough to lay his hand on John’s forehead. John’s reaction was instant. He ducked and swatted at the older man’s hand. “Quit John,” the blonde, blue eyed fireman commanded as he reached out to grip his friends chin and turn his face toward him. He felt his forehead. “You’re running a fever,” he informed him.
“I know…But it’s not bad and I saw Brackett yeserday an he said I coud work,” he snuffled out.
Roy sighed and nodded. “Alright…As long as Brackett otay’d it,” he teased imitating John’s nasally snuffle.
John glared but nodded, sending the shaggy sable hair flopping into his eyes. “You all rea…dy for your trip?” John asked, punctuating it with a hard sneeze.
“God bless you and yes…Joanne’s got the kids all packed and ready.”
“Shoul be boow…iful this time of year,” he said encouragingly.
“I’m sure it is but we really can’t afford this and once we get to Tacoma, there’s not a lot of snow so the kids will be disappointed.”
“Well…How oft’n does their aunt ge married. Ya gotta go,” he added.
Roy nodded. Joanne’s sister Eileen was getting married. She and her fiancée would remain in Washington until his transfer to the LA office came through in a couple of months but until then…He couldn’t get away and that meant they’d all have to go to Tacoma. Roy was just thankful that his in-laws had already flown up the previous day and he wouldn’t have to endure being trapped on a plane with Arlene and Ron.
“I know,” he sighed. “I wish you could of come along…At least I’d have some company.”
“Can’t affor it,” he said stuffily. “Sides…With this col…I thin I need ta res.”
Roy chuckled and ruffled the dark hair, disregarding the irritated scowl it drew from his young friend. “See that you do…I don’t want to take any chances with it getting any worse like that other time.”
Johnny nodded. Right after their Captain Hank Stanley had started, Johnny had come down with the flu but he was afraid to tell Hank because he’d been riding the young paramedic mercilessly from the first moment they’d met. Johnny had suffered smoke inhalation during a fire and it had developed into a mild case of pneumonia. He’d almost died when he’d gone into respiratory arrest.
Roy hadn’t known it then but Johnny had had a lot of problems as a child in Montana with being sick. His lungs would always be susceptible to virus’s more so then most people’s and Roy watched him carefully whenever John showed signs of illness.
“I thin I’ll spend the two days off in bed.”
“Good idea,” he assured him as the station’s two lineman made their way into the room.
Chet Kelly, the station’s resident Irish prankster cast a grin at Gage’s watery eyes and reddened nose. “Whatsa matter with you Gage, Cryin over some chick that dumped ya?”
“Ah shu up,” Johnny murmured. He coughed harshly for a moment before snuffling another congested breath.
The other man, Marco Lopez looked at the stations youngest crew member. “He alright to be working Roy?” He questioned in concern.
“According to Dr. Brackett,” he replied with a shrug.
Marco threw him a dubious look but shrugged and began to dress.
“Yeah…Well…Just keep you germs over there,” Kelly muttered, pushing the locker door open between them as if he thought that would keep the germs away.
“Doan worry Che…e'en my germs wouldn’t get that close to you any way.”
“Roll Call…” Cap bellowed from the apparatus bay.
“Oh man,” Chet whined as he hurriedly tried to finish changing.
John grinned at him as he and Roy passed behind the two linemen. “Hope you have fun cleanin the latrine Che…,” Johnny taunted, knowing Cap was infamous for giving that particular chore to the last man in line for roll call. John was frequently the recipient and often it was because the curly haired, mustachioed lineman was setting booby traps to slow the younger man down.
John and Roy stepped up beside Mike Stoker, the young Engineer of station 51. “Morning Mike,” Roy greeted.
“Morning,” Johnny followed suit.
“Morning,” he replied before looking at Johnny. “Wow John…you look terrible.”
“Tanks…,” Johnny said indignantly.
“He’s right,” Cap said as he came out of his office in time to hear the comment. He looked to his senior paramedic. “Is he okay to work?”
“Why does everybo…y ask Ro if I’m otay instead a me?” Johnny asked indignantly, losing the effect with the stuffy tone and the cough that followed.
“Because Roy will tell me the truth that’s why,” Cap shot back as Marco joined them. John shot his partner a guilty look as Roy chuckled at Cap’s remark. “Keep an eye on him Roy,” Hank ordered. John’s eyes did a surreptitious roll of annoyance. “Don’t roll those eyes at me Gage,” Cap snapped.
“Yes sir,” he mumbled.
Chet slid into line a few seconds later. “Let’s get started shall we?” He questioned as he clapped his hands together and rubbed them briskly.
Roy waited for Johnny to head into the dorm to make the beds before snatching the phone up and calling Kelly Brackett at Rampart Hospital. “Good morning Roy…I was uh…Kinda expecting you to call,” he teased.
“So you um…Did see Johnny yesterday?”
“Yes I saw him. I recommended that he stay home in bed but that if he really felt it was necessary that he could go to work. I don’t expect he’ll last the entire shift before he feels lousy enough to go home but…Well…You’re going away and I think he wanted to spend the time with you.”
“Okay Doc…If you think he’ll be okay.”
“I did tell him to keep his air mask on in any fires…So you watch him.”
“I will and thanks.” Roy hung up and began working on the kitchen…He didn’t get far.
The station control unit began to tone. “Squad 51…Man down at the fairgrounds…7211 Beach…7-2-1-1 Beach…Cross street Pacific. Time out 08:21.”
Roy heard Johnny cough as his running footsteps echoed across the apparatus bay and shook his head at his friend. He sounded terrible and Roy wished Johnny wouldn’t drive himself so hard, though he understood why he did but darn it…He should be in bed and Roy had every intention of soliciting a promise from his young partner to spend the next three days tucked in his bed.
He’d invite him home where he could take care of him if it hadn’t been for this trip. He’d just have to watch him today and hopefully by the time he and Joanne and the kids returned from Washington, Johnny would be over the worst of this after all it was just a cold.
They arrived at the fairgrounds a few minutes later. Roy climbed from the cab and glanced at the tents being erected on the property. He’d been unaware that a circus was in town. Maybe he’d talk to Joanne about bringing the kids if it was still here when they got back from the trip.
His blue eyes caught sight of his partner and he grinned at the curious look lighting the dark eyes. He often forgot that Johnny was raised on a reservation and there were so many commonplace things that intrigued the younger man that most others just shrugged off.
“You ever been to a circus Junior?” Roy asked casually as he grabbed the oxygen and the Biophone from the squad.
John’s face flushed at having looked so dumbstruck over all the sights around him, remembering the kids his first day of school teasing him about the posters and pictures in the classroom. He shrugged lightly and shook his head as if it was no big deal. “No,” he mumbled in embarrassment as he followed him with the drug box and trauma kit.
Roy grinned in amusement…Maybe he’d take Johnny along too…Roy often took great pleasure in introducing his young partner to new things and watching his face light up like a child’s with excitement.
He pushed it from his mind as an older gentleman approached them. “He’s in here…Please hurry…He was putting up the safety net for the trapeze and he fell…He’s really hurting.”
“Okay…Show us where he is,” Roy told him. The man turned and led the way to the huge tent housing the three rings.
John’s eyes were drawn upward and he grinned at the high wire and the trapeze swinging overhead but his attention immediately came back to the patient. “Where’s it hurt?” He asked with a sniffle as he knelt next to the man and flipped the drug box open to retrieve the BP cuff.
Roy was already setting up the Biophone. “My leg man…I think I broke it. My back hurts some too.”
“Otay…Jus stay calm otay? I’m gonna ge your vitals,” Johnny snuffled out as he wrapped the cuff around the man’s arm.
“Rampart base this is rescue 51,” Roy began as Johnny pumped up the cuff.
“51 this is Rampart, go ahead,” Joe Early responded.
“Rampart…We have a male…Approximately thirty five. He’s fallen from a scaffolding about fifteen feet high. Stand by for vitals,” Roy warned as he looked to Johnny, whose hand was resting on the victim’s belly.
“Res…pirations are sixteen,” John said quietly. “His BP is 110/80 and his pulse is eighty.” Roy repeated them to Rampart as John continued with the exam. The older man grinned at the nasally sound of his partner’s voice. He’d have to see if they could give him something at Rampart when they got there.
“10-4 51…Did the victim hit his head?”
Roy looked to Johnny and received a negative shake of his head before he could even ask. “Pupils are responsive and there’s no evidence of head trauma.”
“That’s negative Rampart,” the older man reported as he reached for a bag of IV solution and the tubing kit.
John’s hands quickly began to feel down the man’s limbs, drawing a gasp as they probed his ribs. “That hurt?”
“Poss…ble rib frac…ture,” Johnny snuffled out as he continued on. His hands slid over the man’s leg drawing another cry of pain. “Here too?”
“Yeah man.” John glanced around…A crowd was beginning to gather.
“Fracture of the right Tibia.” He moved over the other leg, feeling along it as well before carefully pulling the shoes from his feet, the socks quickly followed. “Can you move your toes on the lef foot?”The man wiggled his toes obediently. John smiled. It probably meant his back and neck weren’t broken. He drew the bottom of his penlight up the man’s left foot. The toes curled inward. “Negative Babi…nski,” he sniffled again.
“Rampart…We have a possible fracture of the right tibia and the sixth and seventh ribs. We have a negative Babinski on the left and he is able to move his toes.”
“10-4 51…Start and IV with D5WTKO…Administer 5 mgs of MS. Take spinal precautions and splint the leg. Transport as soon as possible.”
Roy grinned at Johnny as he handed him the bag of IV solution that he was already holding. John grinned back and took it while Roy grabbed the splint. They carefully placed a cervical collar on the man. The two paramedics rolled him on his side and slid the backboard into place.
The ambulance attendants carefully made their way through the crowd and they quickly had the man loaded on the stretcher.
“That was fantastic,” a voice said. John glanced around before his eyes dropped to the dwarf standing in front of him.
He grinned. “Thanks…Just doin our job,” he sniffled.
The man who had led them in waved his hand around the group. “We’re like a family here so when one gets hurt…?” He let the statement hang. John’s dark eyes took in the scanty outfits on several of the ladies as well and the strange face paint on several that were obviously the troop’s clowns though they weren’t in the rest of their costumes.
Roy glanced up from where he snapping the Biophone closed. “We understand,” he said glancing at his young partner meaningfully. “We’re the same way.” His blue eyes watched Johnny’s take in everything around him.
“This is so cool Roy,” he mumbled with a grin.
“You’re a little old to think about running away to join the circus junior,” he teased, drawing a laugh from the others.
“Yeah but…but look,” he whispered pointing up at the trapeze. “Wouldn’t you like to try that?” He asked in awe.
Roy frowned worriedly. “NO…And neither would you,” he said grasping his partners arm and steering him toward the door. The group laughed again.
“Wait…I’m the ringmaster…When we’re up and running we’d love to have you two join us for a show…Best ticket’s in the house…Free of charge.” John lit up with excitement.
“Uh…,” Roy began apologetically. “We can’t accept that.”
“Roy…,” John began. “I’ve never…”
“Johnny…Go with the ambulance,” Roy instructed with a raised brow.
John’s face fell and he bit his lip in disappointment. “Okay…I’ll uh…See you at the hospital.”
Roy waited until he left before he turned back to the man. “Look…We can’t take them for free but maybe I can buy them…My partner grew up kinda sheltered and he’s never seen a circus and I’d love for my two kids to see this. How long will you be here?”
The ringmaster grinned. “A week…You name the date and there will be tickets waiting for you at shall we say…Ahh two dollars apiece.”
Roy grinned at the man’s slightly devious way of getting around the ‘no gifts’ policy of the LA County Fire Department. “Can I bring my wife?”
Roy held out his hand and the man shook it. “I’m gonna be out of town this weekend but I’ll let you know when we’ll be available.” He smiled at the thought of his young friends face…Sometimes it was like having a third child.
John was leaning on the base station counter when Roy sauntered in. “Wha took you so long?” The younger man sniffled.
Roy grinned and ruffled John’s shaggy hair drawing an irritated scowl and a hand swat, distracting the younger man as he’d hoped. “Nothing major…Just a few loose ends to tie up.”
Kelly Brackett and Dixie stepped from a treatment room up the hall. They spotted Roy and Johnny and headed in their direction.
“Hey you two?”
“Hey Doc…Dix,” Roy greeted for the both of them.
“So you’re flying to Washington?” Dix asked.
“Yeah…My sister in law’s wedding…No way out of it.”
“Why woud ya wanna…Is beau…iful,” John sniffled.
Roy rolled his eyes. “Doc…You got anything for that? I feel like I’m partnered with Al Pacino.”
“Oh das real funny Ro…”
Dixie and Kel were both covering their grins with their hands. “C’mon Johnny,” Kel said with a snicker. “I’ll see what I can do for you.”
John threw a glare at his partner but he followed Kel toward a treatment room.
“Oh Roy…You’re so mean to him,” Dixie teased.
Roy grinned. “What do you mean? I love that kid,” he whispered back looking affronted. “I even bought him tickets to the circus.”
“Did you really? The one going up on Pacific…?”
Roy nodded. “Yeah…We were just called out there on a rescue…Dix?” Roy shook his head. “Sometimes he’s more fun to have around than my kids,” he confided. She looked at him questioningly and he shrugged. “There’s just still so many things he’s never had the chance to experience ya know? I really enjoy introducing him to them…He looked so excited…Like a little kid out there.”
She grinned, knowing the special relationship between the two young fire fighters and she admired Roy a great deal for the big brother affection he had for his young partner.
“I know,” she said softly with a grin.
“Hey uh…Would you kinda keep an eye on him while I’m away. I hate leaving him when he’s sick.”
“I’ll bring him some chicken soup,” she teased.
“Good…He’ll love that. I can’t tell my wife he’s sick…At least not until we’re in the air…She’ll call off the wedding,” he teased.
Dixie grinned back… glad that Johnny had this family in his life…He’d already lost so much in his twenty four years. Both parents, both sets of grandparents, friends and co workers…The poor kid couldn’t seem to hang onto anyone that cared about him. He’d been surrounded instead by death, bitterness, drunkenness, loneliness and heaven only knew what else though Dixie strongly suspected there had been some kind of physical abuse…She’d never had it confirmed. John wouldn’t discuss it and Kel couldn’t and if Roy knew, he’d guard that secret to his dying breath for his friend.
As a result Johnny had cut himself off from feeling anything for anyone for a very long time until Roy had come into his life. He’d made Johnny a member of his family and set him back on a road to living with loving, caring people to guide him along.
There was such a difference in the young paramedic in just the two years they’d been partners, despite a few ups and downs and one very large misunderstanding but that was in their past. These two had a tight…almost magical bond…they simply belonged together and nothing could separate them.
They saw the door open and Johnny and Kel stepped out. “Don’t tell him about the ticket’s Dix…It’s a surprise.” She nodded as the other two rejoined them.
“He good to go?”
Kel nodded… “But keep an eye on him. If he gets any worse, send him home or bring him back in.”
John rolled his eyes. “I’ll be fine,” he reassured them.
“Let’s go junior,” Roy prodded, throwing a wink at the other two.
Roy truly expected Johnny to give up and go home before the shift was over but he’d forgotten his young friend’s stubborn tenacity. He stuck it out through the entire shift, enduring the teasing of his crew mates for the nasally whine of his voice and their complaining that his cough was keeping them all awake though it had actually been concern for their youngest crew member.
Captain Stanley had even climbed from his bunk to sneak over and check on him though he’d thought everyone else was asleep at the time. “Is he running a fever cap?” Roy asked quietly as he watched his superior rest his hand on Johnny’s forehead.
Hank jumped guiltily but glanced over at Roy. “Yeah…But it’s not that high.”
Roy nodded and rolled over as Hank started back to his bed. “He okay Cap?” Marco asked softly as he and Chet both sat up.
“Yeah…Go back to sleep.”
Mike was sitting in his bunk too as Hank rounded the short wall. “Was Johnny alright?”
Hank rubbed his face in exasperation. “He’s fine…A little feverish but he’s fine.”
They all settled back down though it was short lived. The SCU roused them three times over the course of the night. They fell back into bed each time and went to sleep but Johnny seemed to take a little longer with every call out. They were grateful that none of them had been serious but still they were all glad to hear the wake up tones that signaled the near end of their shift.
Johnny dragged himself from his bunk but he definitely didn’t look good. Roy stopped him as the others made their way to the kitchen for coffee. “You’re going home when we get off right?”
John nodded tiredly. “I will.”
“Look…If you feel really sick, I want you to promise me that you’ll call Dixie okay?”
“John…,” The tone brooked no argument and the younger man looked down at his feet sheepishly.
“I promise.” Roy scruffed the dark head affectionately drawing a blush from his partner as he ducked away. “Quit it Roy,” he mumbled in embarrassment but it didn’t work. The older man tugged him into a light embrace for a quick second before giving him a push toward the door.
Roy had spoken to a therapist several times about Johnny and she’d told him to touch him…Often…Even though he resisted…To do it until he quit resisting.
Roy had taken it to heart but Johnny’s past always left him uncertain of how to handle those softer gestures from his friend but he always enjoyed them, though he’d never admit it…It was the only love he’d received for a long time even though his paternal Aunt had tried. Johnny had been afraid and had pushed her away until she’d almost given up but now he had a family again and never wanted to lose that.
They headed for the kitchen and coffee.
A short time later they were all in the parking lot before heading for home.
“Roy Pal…You have a good trip,” Cap said giving the blonde paramedic a smack off the shoulder.
“See ya man,” Chet called as he headed to his VW bus.”
“Have a good time,” Marco called as he and Mike threw them a wave.
“I’ll keep an eye on John pal,” Cap promised. John rolled his eyes and Hank gave him a light slap off the back of his head. “Don’t roll those eyes at me Gage.”
“Sowwy Cap,” he snuffled with a rasp.
“Throat sore junior?” Roy asked worriedly.
“Yeah…But I’ll be fine.”
It was Roy’s turn to roll his eyes. “Where have I heard that before?” He reached out to grip John’s chin, despite the fact that the others had stopped and turned to watch them…They were always touched by the relationship between them though they didn’t know all of John’s past…They knew enough to understand Roy’s protective streak for the young man.
Roy tilted his head up until the dark eyes were looking into his. He laid his hand on his forehead. “You’re still a bit feverish too.” John nodded. “You promise me you’ll go home…Gargle with salt water and stay in bed.”
“Okay,” he murmured.
“Call Dixie if you feel real bad.”
“Ro…oy,” he began.
Roy’s hand brushed the shaggy sable hair from John’s forehead, drawing a blush from Johnny and a grin from the others. “Don’t argue…I’ll see you in a few days. Feel better junior.”
John nodded as he climbed into his rover. “Have a good trip…Say hi ta Jo and the kids. Give my congratulations ta Eileen.”
“I will,” Roy replied. John backed out and drove away.
Roy threw a wave at the others and soon followed.
Roy arrived home to find his living room littered with suitcases. His blue eyes widened in shock. “For heaven’s sake Jo…We’re only gonna be gone for three days,” he said in exasperation.
“Three days including winter coats…Wedding attire for four plus the kid’s regular clothes and pajama’s…Toys for them to play with so they won’t be under our feet bored all day.
Roy blew out a breath. “We’re gonna need the whole baggage compartment just for us,” he complained.
She shot him a glare but didn’t say anything more on the subject. “Are you hungry?” She asked.
“Go shower and change…I’ll make your breakfast.”
“Okay,” he replied, heading for the stairs.
She reached out to catch his arm as he walked past her. She stood on her toes to give him a gentle kiss. “Welcome home honey.”
He grinned as he slid his arms around her. “Thanks babe.”
Roy finished his breakfast while Jo finished up the last minute details around the house. “You almost ready babe? We’re gonna be late.”
“I think we can start putting the luggage in the car,” she agreed, snapping the last suitcase closed.
“Thank God,” Roy mumbled.
“What was that honey.”
“Nothing,” he said quickly as he grabbed a couple of suitcases.
“I was kind of surprised that Johnny didn’t come home with you for breakfast to say goodbye to me and the kids.”
“He went home to bed,” Roy replied absently.
“No worse than usual.”
Joanne stopped and Roy closed his eyes and bit his tongue. “Why did he go home to bed then? Johnny’s not usually ready to take a nap during the day unless he’s tired or sick.”
“He’s just got a cold babe. I have Brackett’s word on it.”
She frowned in concern. “You’re both sure.”
Roy nodded and continued on. “He told me to say hi to you and the kids and to have a good trip.”
She nodded…She couldn’t very well skip her sister’s wedding for a cold. Eileen would never forgive her and Johnny would be ridden with guilt. “Let’s get going then. CHRIS…JEN,” she called out through the open back door.
Their seven year old son appeared in the doorway with his two and a half year old sister in tow. “Coming mom,” He helped his sister inside and turned to lock the sliding door.
Forty minutes later they were at LAX…
Johnny dragged himself into his apartment…He felt pretty lousy. He contemplated eating but he really didn’t feel like it. He decided to wait for lunch time…Maybe he’d feel better by then.
He poured himself a cup of orange juice and took one of the antihistamines Brackett had given him before he crawled into his bed.
He glanced at his watch…Roy and Jo should be heading for the airport soon. He was sometimes a bit lonely when Roy took off with his family…That is when Johnny wasn’t invited, which was rare. He’d probably just sleep for the next couple of days anyway. Maybe if he felt better he’d go see if Chet wanted to go bowling.
He had a sudden uneasy feeling…He sat up in bed and reached for the phone. He dialed Roy’s number but it rang and rang. They must have already left for the airport. He was just being silly…They were probably just fine.
He slid down beneath the covers and let sleep claim him.
Roy and Joanne stowed their bag in the compartment overhead. There were a few candy bars and some crayons and coloring books to keep the kids amused with on the one and a half hour flight. They got the kids seat belted in the row next to them and settled back in their own seats.
The plane had barely left the runway before Joanne turned to Roy. “So is someone going to check on Johnny while we’re gone?” She questioned her husband.
Roy leaned his head back and grinned. “I was wondering how long it would take you to get back to that.”
She smacked his arm. “You know how much Johnny means to me…Us,” she corrected.
“I know…I hated leaving him while he felt so lousy too but Cap promised to check on him.”
“Good…Sometimes he’s like having a little brother,” she said with a shrug.
“I know…Oh I forgot to tell you,” he said, dropping his voice. “We got a call to the fairgrounds yesterday.”
“Oh?” She questioned curiously.
“There’s a circus in town.”
“Oh…,” She glanced at the two kids as they argued over which colorforms they were going to play with. ‘Gumby or Miss Weather…“Can we afford to take them,” she whispered quietly.
“We took care of an injured member of their troop and they offered to sell them to me for only a couple of dollars apiece,” he explained.
“Eight dollars isn’t too bad…,” she teased. “I guess we can swing that even with this trip.”
“Ten…,” he mumbled, blushing a bit as he continued. “I uh…I wanna take Johnny along.”
She grinned and leaned her head back in imitation of Roy’s earlier reaction. “I was wondering how long it would take you to get to that.”
Roy smiled patiently. “Very funny…Seriously Jo…He’s so naïve sometimes about things. It makes him a lot of fun to be around. So much of what we grew up with…Heck even our own two kids…We all just take it for granted but Johnny’s always so excited over those things…He’s…” He stopped, trying to find the right word.
“Refreshing,” Jo added.
“HAH…?” Jo guffawed in disbelief, drawing the attention of the two kids.
Roy waved them back to what they were doing. “I didn’t mean that way,” he mumbled as his face turned red.
“I’m just teasing you honey. I know what you mean.”
“Anyway…His eyes were as big as saucers,” he said descriptively. “He said he’d never seen one.”
“Then we need to enlighten him,” she agreed.
Roy glanced over at her and grinned. Jo always understood.
John tossed restlessly…His head was pounding and his nose was still too stuffy for him to sleep comfortably. A nagging tickle irritated his throat. He rolled from his bed and padded to his kitchen to get a drink of cold water.
He glanced at the clock on his wall…He’d only been asleep for a short time. Roy and his family were probably in the air…Heck they were probably somewhere over Oregon by now. He hoped they had a great time.
It was a good thing he’d decided he couldn’t afford to go even though Eileen had included him in the invitation. He’d have been miserable and not up to attending any wedding and both Roy and Joanne would have felt the need to take care of him.
Johnny smiled. Roy could be a little embarrassing sometimes when he treated him like his kid brother but Johnny appreciated the obvious love, care and concern…Something he hadn’t received much of in his childhood. The DeSoto family meant the world to him even though he still had trouble telling them in words...He’d give his life for the only family he had.
He winced a bit as he swallowed the water, finally setting the glass in the sink and heading back to his bedroom. He crawled into bed, longing for the feel of a hand to sweep the damp hair from his forehead.
Joanne and Roy were discussing his runs from the previous shift. They’d already worn out the topic of the kid’s day and the wedding plans. They’d admired the blue sky and white puffy clouds as they’d left LA but neither of them had been paying much attention to the windows for quite a while.
Between keeping the children in hand and talking about their day spent apart they hadn’t noticed the gray storm clouds rolling in. It wasn’t until the plane suddenly dropped that their eyes turned toward the windows.
It was short lived. Jen let out a wail of fright…She wasn’t alone. There were several short cries of fear and the fasten seatbelt sign came on almost immediately. “Chris…Switch places with your mother,” Roy directed.
Joanne and their son quickly switched seats so Jo could comfort her frightened daughter.
Lightning flashed and Roy felt the plane try to climb. The Captains voice came over the speaker. “Ladies and gentlemen…We have entered a bit of unforeseen stormy weather and apologize for the turbulence. At this time we are requesting that you place your tray tables in the locked position and your seats upright. Please fasten your seatbelts until we are clear of this front. Thank you.”
The intercom clicked off but the brief assurance really hadn’t helped. The passengers had grown quiet and their hands clutched at the arm rests worriedly. Joanne at least was too occupied trying to keep Jennifer calm to be scared while Roy had his hands full keeping Chris from thinking this was part of the in flight entertainment.
He hoped they climbed out of this very soon…
Johnny felt very warm…His dreams led him to a warm, sandy beach. The sun beat down on him from a clear blue sky and he smiled, feeling a bit lethargic but suddenly he was no longer on the sand…He was flying through that same blue sky…
Well this was certainly different from his usual dreams but it didn’t frighten him…John let himself soar.
Gray and ugly storm clouds were suddenly in the distance, rolling toward him. He wanted to turn around but he couldn’t…He felt himself drawn toward them.
Lightning flashed within the gray and John felt fear rise in his throat… “No…Stop,” he moaned softly, trying not to go any closer but the pull was relentless. A hand reached through the gray, turbulent mass…The blue eyes of his best friend seemed to look back at him through the storm. “Roy,” he whispered.
Lightning flashed once more and Johnny saw three large spires rising beside Roy…Parting the roiling mass of clouds. John tossed restlessly…His hand reached for his partners…He had to save him. Light flared and Roy was falling. John groaned fearfully in his sleep, unable to reach him. The spires rose once more and his friend was falling into them but suddenly he rose once more…Pushed upward by the air currents.
John breathed a sigh of relief but it was short lived. The spires disappeared behind them but then Roy once again began to fall away. Johnny reached desperately to catch him but there was nothing he could do. “I love you junior,” a voice whispered. “Please be okay.”
The gray dissipated and blackness slammed in all around him. Roy was gone…
Johnny sat bolt upright in his bed…A cry of fear ripped from his lips. Sweat ran in trails down his overly warm face. Johnny was gasping for breath as he replayed the dream. What the hell had brought that on?
He knew his people believed in dreams and visions but Johnny had never experienced one of those, only the horrible, terrifying nightmares that plagued his sleep…Not of portents of the future but of memories of his troubled past but this had been different.
Frightening certainly but it hadn’t been his past or his future…It had been Roy’s face...His terror that had left Johnny shaking and afraid. He brushed the sleep from his eyes and wiped the sweat from his brow…He was feverish and not feeling well. That was more than likely what had caused the nightmare.
Roy was fine…He and his family were half way to Tacoma by now. John slid down beneath the covers and closed his eyes but sleep wouldn’t come. He tossed and turned restlessly before getting up and moving to the living room.
He turned the TV on and settled on his couch to watch the game show $10,000.00 pyramid. His eyes grew heavy as the show went on. They closed in sleep as the banner began to scroll over the top of the screen.
‘BREAKING NEWS.’ A young reporter came on looking extremely serious. “This is Don McKay from Channel five…We’ve just learned that a United Passenger jet has dropped off the radar somewhere over Oregon…The airline fears it may have crashed…We’re waiting on our affiliate station out of Oregon to confirm this report…”
Roy threw a worried glance at Joanne as the clouds roiled around them. Joanne was clutching a terrified Jennifer against her and even Chris had stopped thinking this was a game. His son’s face was white with fear as the aircraft pitched and rolled.
The pilot was having no luck gaining the altitude to climb above the storm…It only seemed to intensify the wind gusts.
There was a sudden flash and the plane lurched crazily for a moment before dropping once more. People around them screamed in terror…Roy wanted to join them but he gritted his teeth and stayed calm.
In the cockpit there were sparks as the lightning flashed. The pilot and co pilot both threw up their hands as the direct hit shorted out there instrumentation.
“Damn it,” Captain Jake Perry, shouted as he brushed at the sparks exploding in his face.
“The whole electrical panel looks fried Jake,” his Co pilot Martin Henderson informed him.
“WHAT?” He barked as he returned his attention to the instruments in front of him. “Oh good God,” he murmured, looking out into the roiling black clouds before him. They were somewhere over the Cascade Mountain Range but without his instruments and not even a visual to aid him… they could easily drop too low and crash into the mountains. “Call Portland tower…Ask them to guide us.”
“Radio’s out too boss,” their navigator Marcus Hood added somberly.
“Well what the hell do we have?” Jake barked at the other two men.
“Hard to tell…The airspeed indicator is shot and so is the altimeter,” Martin said.
“No oil pressure indicator either,” Jake noted. “Damn.”
The plane bucked beneath them and all three men froze. “What the hell was that?” Marcus asked, looking worried.
“We’re losing altitude,” Martin whispered fearfully, remembering the mountains were all around them as well.
Jake grabbed the yoke…It was sluggish…He lifted worried hazel eyes to his co-pilot. “We’re going down,” he muttered.
Flying in the mountains and blind as a bat…This wasn’t going to end well.
“Should we warn the passengers?” Martin questioned.
The Co-Pilot made his way to the front of the passenger compartment and waved the head stewardess toward him. He filled her in quickly and the worried passengers could tell from the paling of her face that whatever he was saying wasn’t good, that is if the pitching and dropping of the aircraft hadn’t already warned them.
The stewardess turned toward the passengers and raised her hands to stop the barrage of frightened voices that suddenly erupted around them.
“Ladies and Gentlemen…Please…Please try to stay calm.” The voices stilled around them and Roy and Joanne exchanged a worried glance. “I’ve been informed by the co pilot that the plane has been struck by lightning.”
There were some frightened outbursts and several people began to cry. “What about all that rolling around we’re doin?” A man yelled from the back.
“We’re trapped in a storm front and we can’t climb above it.”
“Are we going to crash?”
“Can’t he get us out?”
“What are they gonna do about it?” Several panicked voices interrupted.
Roy finally stood up. “Will you all shut up and let her explain,” he barked authoritatively at the frightened passengers. They grew a bit calmer and Roy thanked heaven he’d had so much practice using that tone of voice on Johnny.
She threw a grateful look at the blonde man as he sat back down. “Thank you,” she said with a wan smile. “The Captain and crew are doing everything possible to get us on the ground safely.” Roy looked at her expectantly and she swallowed hard before she continued. “However…We have lost our instruments and,” she was interrupted by groans and cries of fear yet again.”
“Can he fly this plane through the mountains without them?” Roy asked quietly.
“With that storm…?” The man who’d yelled earlier screamed hysterically.
“Sit Down,” Roy snapped.
The man once again sank obediently into his seat. The blonde man turned his attention back to the stewardess.
She smiled at him. “He’s going to do his best to find us a safe place to land but he is asking all of you to assume crash positions…” She was interrupted again. “It’s just a precaution…Please calm down.”
Roy stood up and the rest seemed to recognize the authoritative look about him. “This isn’t helping,” he said quietly. “Screaming and panicking are not going to stop whatever happens from happening. Please…Just do what the lady tells you and maybe we’ll all get out of this.”
There were several nods around the aircraft and they sat back in their seats. The blonde man was right…Panic wouldn’t help and staying calm would certainly be more beneficial to everyone’s nerves.
“Thank you,” the woman said to Roy as he sat slowly back down. Joanne flashed him a brave smile. “Please…I want you to lean forward with your face to your knees…Keep your heads down at all times. Thank you.”
She moved down the aisle toward her own seat but was suddenly pitched sideways as another brilliant flash caused the plane to roll and drop sharply. Roy’s eyes saw shapes rising off the aircrafts port side just ahead of them…Three large mountain spires… “Oh dear God,” he murmured.
The plane was dropping fast and Roy knew they were going to hit those jutting mountain peaks but suddenly an updraft caught the plane and it lifted the aircraft…The peaks and craggy rocks sailed by below the wheels and Roy heaved a ragged sigh of relief but it was short lived…The plane began to drop once more.
Roy leaned forward in his seat. Tears welled in his eyes at the thought of his wife and children being hurt or killed. He turned his head to see Jo’s teary blue eyes looking back at him.
“I love you Jo…Jen,” he said quietly as he wrapped his arm around his crying son. “I love you Chris.”
“Love you too,” Jo replied softly, hugging Jen closer.
Roy almost smiled at the muffled. “Wuv you daddy…” from his two year old daughter and the frightened echoing of the sentiment from his seven year old son.
His thoughts suddenly flew to Johnny. What would he do if he lost another family? Roy hated the thought…John would be devastated…Withdraw…Give up…God help the poor kid. “I love you junior,” he murmured softly. “Please be okay.”
There was a horrible thud as the plane’s belly slammed into the ground…Skidding across the snow covered lava rocks and crags of the mountains basin. Outcroppings of rock ripped alongside the fuselage buffeting the thin metal before finally sending the plane into a spin.
Screams of terror ripped through the plane. Jenny wailed from the seat next to Roy. The planes uninterrupted slide came to an abrupt halt as it slammed into the mountain side. The nose cone ripped away and then the tail section and then there was nothing as blackness crashed in around them.
Captain Stanley was working in the yard. His wife Emily stepped out on the deck with a glass of lemonade. “Hank…I thought you might be thirsty.”
“Thanks honey,” he replied as he set the hedge clippers down and came up to join his wife of sixteen years on the porch. They plopped down on the lawn chairs and sipped their drinks. “It’s a gorgeous day,” he said softly looking around at their yard and the sun shining in a cloudless sky.
“Yes it is…I was thinking of a barbecue sweetheart,” she hinted.
Hank grinned. “Oh I imagine you could twist my arm,” he teased…She grinned back at him…Hank heard the sound of the television coming from the open door. “So what’re you watching…The Edge of Night,” he teased, knowing his wife loved her soaps.
“No…They interrupted that.”
“There was a news report on a few minutes ago…A plane crashed somewhere north of here.”
“Oh,” Hank murmured. There was a brief flash of concern, knowing that Roy and his family were flying to Washington today but he shrugged it off. What were the chances?
“So are Becky and Emma home yet?” He asked, knowing his two teenage daughters were off with their friends earlier.
“Yes and they’re starving,” she teased.
“Okay, okay…I get the hint. I’ll fire up the grill.”
Joanne’s Sister Eileen walked into the terminal and glanced at her watch. She was early enough. The plane shouldn’t be arriving for another half an hour. She had time to grab a drink and relax before she met the plane.
Roy, Jo and the kids would probably be hungry when they landed and she thought she’d take them to a cute little café she’d found in Tacoma. She couldn’t wait to see her sister and her niece and nephew. She’d been in Washington with Craig for a couple of months and she’d really missed them.
Her mother and father had arrived yesterday and were busily gushing over her soon to be husband who just happened to be a successful Lawyer. She didn’t envy poor Roy the ration he was going to get about being a poor firemen rather than a rich lawyer.
She sighed and carried her paper cup of soda to the gate the man at the counter had directed her to. There were several official looking men standing there as if waiting for someone.
They saw Eileen as she entered the waiting area. “Excuse me ma’am? Are you waiting for flight 291 out of Los Angeles?” He asked in concern.
“Yes,” she replied politely as she started to move around them.
“Uh ma’am…Could you please go to that room over there?” He asked pointing to a door a few feet away. A group of what looked to be reporters were standing behind a small barrier and were being kept back by a security guard.
Eileen’s heart began to pound a bit harder. “Why…Why do I need to go over there? What’s wrong?” She questioned fearfully.
Ma’am please…?” he insisted.
She cast him another worried glance but headed toward the door. As she approached it several of the reporters began to ask her questions.
“Are you waiting for someone on flight 291?” She nodded.
“Who is it?”
“My sister and her family,” she answered hesitantly.
“Are you holding out a lot of hope?” Another questioned.
“Hope…? What are you talking about?”
One of the officials saw her talking to the reporters and hustled quickly toward her but he wasn’t fast enough. “You are aware that the plane crashed?” One asked her brutally.
A look of horror crossed her features and the paper cup of soda slipped from her fingers to crash to the floor, splattering coca cola everywhere. Tears spilled down her cheeks and her hands flew upward to cover her mouth in shock.
“No…No,” she whimpered softly as the official shot the man an ugly glare and rushed Eileen into the room.
Two more men stood inside. The room was full of people. Some were grieving, some stunned , some were frightened and some looked downright angry but whatever emotion they were exhibiting, it was obvious to Eileen that the reporter had been telling the truth.
“What happened?” She whispered, wide eyed and white faced to the men.
“We don’t know for sure yet. The plane dropped off our radar somewhere southeast of Portland, Oregon…In the Cascade Mountains…The three sisters.”
“Three sisters?” She questioned in confusion.
“The three sisters are a range of the cascades…Unfortunately the storm that most likely caused the crash is still over the mountains but as soon as it moves, we’ll have search planes in the air.”
“You’re not even looking?” She whispered.
“We can’t ma’am…Not until that storm dissipates.” She nodded, still looking shocked. “Can we ask the names of your family please?”
“My sister Joanne, her husband Roy and their two children Chris and Jennifer DeSoto…” She finally broke down and began to weep.
One man led her away as another couple entered behind her. Their faces as pale as hers had been.
The man sat her in a chair. “There’s a phone over there if you need to call anyone? There’s coffee, soda and some sandwiches but if you need anything else, please just ask.”
She nodded as he moved away to talk to the new arrivals that had just entered Eileen and the others hell.
How could they be gone…Why weren’t they searching for them…The storm be damned…They could still go out on foot or something couldn’t they? She moved to the telephone to call her parents. They had a right to know that their daughter and grandchildren were missing and were more than likely dead if they’d flown into a mountain. Tears welled again at the thought.
“JOHNNY…Oh God Johnny,” she whispered. She knew her sister and brother in law had taken the young man into their family as one of their own. She thought of the heartbreaking brown eyes that always tore at her heart and the smile that gave her a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.
She remembered the vulnerable look that she’d seen the first time she’d met him and how different that had been the last time. He looked happy…The lost and lonely look had been replaced with a look of belonging. God, how would he handle this loss? His family, best friend, partner.
She couldn’t tell him this over the phone…Who could she call? Roy’s Captain…What was his name? Stanley…Hank Stanley. She’d call the fire department…They’d know what to do but first she needed to call her parents.
Captain Stanley’s phone rang as Emily and the girls were carrying the remains of their barbecue into the house. Hank picked it up in the kitchen as the TV suddenly broke from the game show it was playing with another newsbreak.
“This is another update on the story we’ve been covering this morning.”
“Hello,” Hank answered as his eyes focused on the TV screen.
“Captain Stanley…This is Eileen Hutchins. I’m Joanne DeSoto’s sister.” There was a hitch to the young woman’s voice.
Hank remembered her. He’d met her several times over the last two years at the DeSoto home. Why would she be calling? His attention was once again caught by the TV. “Officials have confirmed that United flight 291 out of Los Angeles has crashed somewhere in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon.”
Those poor people, flitted through Hanks mind as his attention was diverted to the woman as her words came out in a rush. “Captain Stanley…I’m so sorry to have to tell you this but…”
“Tell me what?” He asked worriedly as his eyes returned to the screen. He suddenly had a horrible sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“OH GOD NO,” Hank yelled as he put two and two together. His wife and daughters ran inside.
Tears were building in his eyes as she continued. “I’m afraid it never got here,” she cried. “”It crashed somewhere in Oregon. They can’t even search for them,” she sobbed.
“Why…Why not Eileen?”
“They said the weather conditions wouldn’t permit it. They said as soon as the storm lifts they’ll send out search planes.”
“Oh,” Hank mumbled as he sank into a chair despondently. “So there’s still a chance they could be alive?”
The girls and their mother exchanged a worried glance…It grew even more concerned as whoever was on the other end of the phone replied. Hank’s face fell once more.
“They don’t think so. They said it went down into a mountain range called the three sisters…Not much flat land there to land on…They would have crashed straight into the mountain,” she whispered.
“Oh God,” he muttered. “Eileen…I…I’m so sorry…I don’t know what…?” He stopped unable to continue as his voice broke, “Oh Roy,” he said softly.
Emily’s hand flew to her mouth. Something had happened to Roy DeSoto. Oh good heavens. She moved quickly to her husband’s side but her mind was moving a bit quicker than his right now. Johnny…? If something had happened to Roy, how would Hanks youngest crew member deal with that loss? They were so close.
“Captain Stanley?” Eileen said, bringing his mind back to her.
“Yes…? I’m so sorry.”
“I know and thank you but…Johnny?”
She didn’t have to say anymore. God…John would be destroyed. “I’ll tell him Eileen.”
“Thank you…I just can’t do it…He’ll be so crushed.”
“I know,” Hank whispered, knowing what Eileen didn’t. John had Aspergers…God what would Hank do if Johnny pulled into himself as he had that day at the station with Scott Jackson. Roy had been there then to bring him out but God…Hank wouldn’t know what to do if John withdrew.”Please keep me informed and again…I’m so sorry. Give my best wishes and prayers to your family.”
“I will.” They hung up.
What is it Hank? Emily asked as his daughters gathered around him. Her eyes moved to the TV and the picture of black clouds over a distant mountain top began to scroll over the screen.
“Roy and his family were going to Tacoma for Joanne’s sister’s wedding. The plane crashed,” he mumbled, looking toward the TV.
“Oh…I was afraid of that,” she whispered. Her daughters both looked horrified. They liked Roy and his family and had babysat for Chris and Jen a couple of times. Tears welled in their eyes. “Is there any hope they survived?”
“Not much I guess. They think it went straight into the mountains but because of that storm,” he said pointing at the TV. “They can’t even start to search.
She nodded as her husband wiped at his eyes. “I’m so sorry honey…I know those boys are your family too.”
He nodded and sniffed back the tears. “It gets worse,” he whispered.
He looked up into her knowing eyes. “I have to tell him.”
“We’ll help him through it.”
Em…Becky, Emma…There’s something about Johnny you need to know before I call him over here.”
The girls would have smiled at the thought of Johnny coming over if it hadn’t been so serious even though their father had declared the adorable young paramedic as off limits to his teenage daughters.
“What is it Hank…? I’m well aware of how close John and Roy are.”
He shook his head. “I found out a few months ago when all that mess happened with those ex cons and the kidnapping that Johnny has a neurological condition called Aspergers Syndrome.”
“What is that?” Emily asked in concern.
“Roy explained it to me and I don’t have time to explain it all now but John has trouble handling severe emotional stress. It can cause him to pull into himself…He withdraws into his own mind.”
“Oh dear,” Emily whispered in distress. How much more severe could it get to be told your whole family was gone?
“What are you gonna do?”
“Call for reinforcements,” he murmured as he picked up the phone. A moment later, Emily understood. “Can I speak to Dr. Brackett please…This is Captain Hank Stanley, Station 51.”
“Dr. Kelly Brackett,” the well known voice finally answered.
“Dr. Brackett, this is Hank Stanley…Station 51.”
“Oh yes…Johnny and Roy’s captain?”
“Right. Uh Doc…I just got off the phone with Joanne DeSoto’s sister. Um…I don’t know if you were aware of this but Roy and his family were flying to Tacoma for Jo’s sisters wedding.”
“Yes, I’m aware. We were talking about it yesterday. Has something happened?” He questioned as Dixie opened the door and poked her head in.
“Kel…That call you wanted is on line three.”
“Tell them I’ll call them back and get back here,” he whispered with his hand over the receiver.
She threw him a worried glance and disappeared as Kel’s face seemed to pale with whatever was being told to him. “The plane never made it Dr. Brackett. It crashed into the mountains somewhere in Oregon.”
“Oh dear God,” Kel whispered as the door opened and Dixie came back in. She saw the look on his face and knew something terrible had happened.
“Is there any word on survivors?”
“They don’t think there are any but the storm that they think contributed to the crash is also hindering search efforts.”
“I see…Well thank you for letting us know. We’ll be praying and hoping for good results.”
“What is it Kel?” Dixie questioned.
“Hold on Captain…Roy and Jo were going to Tacoma this morning.” Dixie nodded… her face tightening as she remembered the pieces of the conversation she’d just heard. “The plane went down in Oregon.”
“Oh no Kel,” she whispered as tears welled in her eyes.
“I’m sorry…I’m back. Please go on Captain.”
“Dr. Brackett. I have to tell John Gage…”
“Oh sweet heavens,” he murmured. How could he have forgotten John?
“He’ll be devastated.”
“Johnny?” Dixie whispered in understanding. Kel nodded.
“Doc…What if he…You know…”
“Not what if…It’ll be a certainty.”
“What do I do?”
“Roy’s the only person I ever saw talk him back…The only thing I can tell you is grab hold and hold on till he quits and comes around. Would you like me to come over there?”
“I was kinda hoping you would,”
“I’m on my way…Give me your address.”
Kel hung up a moment later and took his quietly crying friend into his arms. “God I’m gonna miss him,” he said quietly.
She nodded her head. “What about Johnny…Oh God Kel this will kill him…”
“I know. I promised Captain Stanley that I’d be there when he told Johnny.”
She nodded. “Can I come?”
“Sure…Johnny might need you when he wakes up.”
Hank threw his wife a ‘here goes nothing’ look as he picked up the phone once more and dialed John’s number.
Johnny was sleeping on his couch…His dreams were troubled once again by dark, storm clouds and rocky fingers that jutted upward into the gray, roiling clouds.
The ringing of the phone jerked him awake. He sat up and twisted around to answer it. “Hel…wo,” his stuffy sounding voice answered, almost expecting to hear Roy’s voice replying that he was calling to check on him from Washington.
“John…This is Captain Stanley.”
“Oh…Hey Cap,” he replied sounding a bit disappointed that it wasn’t his partner.
“John…I need you to come over here. I have to talk to you about something.”
“Ah Cap,” John groaned. “I weally doan feel well.”
“John…I’m sorry. I know you’re feeling bad but this is very important.”
“Can’t ya jus tell me on da phone?”
“No John I can’t…Please…”
“Okay Cap…I’ll be right there.”
Hank hung up and looked at his wife and daughters. “He’s on his way.” They nodded and their hearts were heavy for the pain their father and his junior paramedic were feeling or were about to. “Look…There’s no way that John’s not going to pull into himself when I tell him this so I want you two to please go to your room and no matter what you hear…Stay upstairs.”
“Daddy…We’re not babies. We understand what you told us.”
“Yes but Johnny would be horribly embarrassed if he knew you saw him…Break.”
They nodded but they knew in their hearts in wouldn’t make them think any less of the young man. The respect their father held for his abilities told them everything they needed to know about him.
The doorbell rang a minute later. Emily opened it and Kel and Dixie came inside. “Is he coming?” Dixie asked softly.
Hank nodded. “Yes Miss McCall.” He ran his hand over his face in frustration. “God…How am I gonna tell him this?” He whispered.
“We’ll all be here for him Hank…But there’s no easy way to break this kind of news.”
The doorbell rang a short while later and they all drew a deep breath.
Emily finally waved the girls upstairs and went to open the door.
Johnny drove up the street to Caps house. He spotted a large brown car parked behind Cap’s wife’s Edsel.
Brackett…? What was he doing here?
John pulled in and climbed from the land rover. He moved up the sidewalk, hoping that whatever Cap wanted to talk to him about wouldn’t take too long. He wanted to go back home and crawl into bed…Besides he promised Roy he’d rest and Johnny hated breaking his word.
He frowned as he remembered the troubling dreams that involved his partner. It was probably just because Roy was away and John knew he’d miss him. He rang the doorbell.
Emily Stanley opened the door. “Hi Johnny…Come on in,” she invited stepping back to let the young man enter.
“Emily,” he greeted politely. John stepped inside and stopped short. Not only Kelly Brackett but Dixie as well stood there along with Hank. John noted that Hanks two teenage daughters were leaving the room without so much as a greeting and the young man frowned, looking perplexed.
“Uh…Hi Doc…Dix,” he greeted the two somber looking people.
“Johnny,” Kel replied as Dix threw him a look of sympathy. What the heck was going on?
“Cap…?” John questioned.
“John…Come here a minute please?”
Johnny cast the others a concerned glance and went to his superior. “Yes sir?” He questioned with a sinking feeling.
“Johnny…I received a phone call a little while ago.”
“Okay?” Johnny replied with a worried frown.
“It was Eileen Hutchins.”
“Eileen? What did she want? Is everything okay?”
“John…,” Hank interrupted the anxiously voiced questions.
John tensed at the tone. “Cap…? Y…You…You’re sc…scarin me c…cap,” he stuttered.
Hank looked away. “John…There’s just no easy way to say this…” Frightened dark eyes locked with Hanks. “The plane went down John. It crashed into the mountains in Oregon.”
John staggered backwards as if he’d been struck. The dark eyes blinked in shock. “O…Kay but…They…th…they’re okay?” He stammered.
“They don’t think so…”
John’s face twisted in grief. Waves of agony washed through him… He began to shake...Not again…This couldn’t happen again…Another family lost. Tears welled in his eyes but didn’t fall…His chest hurt as if a giant unseen hand tightened around his heart. He desperately tried to breath but pain beyond anything he’d ever felt before ripped through him. Bands constricted around his lungs, keeping him from taking in air.
He felt faint and he knew his legs had begun to shake spreading rapidly upward through his body. He’d never thought anything would hurt this badly again. “G…God,” he whispered. “N…N…No…You promised,” he moaned.
He didn’t see the others as they moved quickly to catch the suddenly falling paramedic. He couldn’t handle the agony and he let the walls crash down around him. “ROOOY,” he wailed as he buckled.
He felt hands grip him and lower him to the floor and then there was nothing but a vague awareness that he wasn’t alone. No that wasn’t true…He was alone. The only family he had was gone…How could he ever go on without them?
Hands were touching him…Trying to hold him…voices calling him…Trying to call him back. NO…NO…He wouldn’t come back. The pain was too much. They couldn’t make him face this…All of them gone …All of them…He couldn’t.
Hank sat there uncertainly next to his young paramedic. He watched the boy pull into himself…The slow rock he’d seen the other time began. He wanted to help but he didn’t know how.
Emily looked horrified. “Oh Hank…Do something,” she whispered, wanting to grab the young man into her arms and comfort him.
“Don’t touch him,” Kel warned, knowing her hands would be batted away.
She pulled back as Hank shot a look to Kel. “What do I do?”
“Take a hold of his wrists…Just be careful not to hold them so hard that you break them if he twists too much. Hang on to him and let him fight. He needs to let the anger and the pain he’s hiding from go…Let him battle it out…Encourage him too.”
Hank nodded remembering Roy doing this himself a few months ago. He reached out and grasped John’s wrists, pulling the young man toward him and into his arms.
The reaction was immediate. John’s body arced over backward and he twisted frantically to force Hank to let him go but the older man hung on. “That’s it Johnny,” he whispered, calling him by the more youthful nickname that he seldom ever used.
John’s moan of angry outrage was the only reply.
“Don’t hurt him,” Emily whispered.
“He won’t hurt him Mrs. Stanley,” Kel assured her but he’s got to let John work out the rage he’s feeling.”
“He’s not angry Doctor…He’s hurt and scared and grieving,” she protested.
“Yes he is and he’ll work those out the same way because behind all of that he’s angry that they’ve left him…That he’s alone again.”
“He’s not…We’ll be there for him.”
“So will we but he’s not able to see that right now…He’s too upset.”
She nodded but Kel knew she didn’t truly understand. Hank’s voice continued to urge the younger man on. “C’mon Johnny fight me…You can do better than that. C’mon kid…Fight.”
John complied and it was all Hank could do to hang on to him. “Man he’s strong for such a skinny kid.”
After forty minutes both men were sweating heavily. “Okay Hank…Start trying to bring him back.”
“I thought I was,” he grunted.
“No…You’ve been letting him expend the anger and the pain and the frustration…Now you want to comfort…Let him know he’s not alone and that he’ll be okay if he comes back.”
“Okay,” he ground out in exhaustion.
John felt the hands that gripped his wrists. He felt himself pulled into strong arms. NO…NO. His mind screamed in agony. He wouldn’t go back…There was pain…agonizing…Unrelenting pain. They were gone…Roy, Jo…Chris and Little Jen…His princess…He couldn’t handle that…His whole world was gone.
Time had no meaning in his world and as long as he didn’t go back it wouldn’t hurt…He could float in that peaceful place but the hands and the voice wouldn’t let him alone.
“C’mon kid fight,” the voice whispered close to him as he was held against a hard chest.
ROY? His mind questioned. No…Roy was gone…Roy was gone…What was he gonna do? He felt sick. Jo…His sister…His mom…his friend. NO…NO… NO.
Sweat rolled into his eyes but John didn’t notice. He gasped to pull air into his starved lungs. His exhausted body couldn’t take much more. He heard the voice change…The whispering voice went from taunting challenge to soothing comfort.
“C’mon son…I need you to come back now. C’mon Johnny…I know you’re in there…We’re gonna get through this son…I promise you. I’ll be there for you and we’ll all get you through this. Em and the doc here and your friend Dixie. C’mon Johnny…Please,” he whispered against the dark head pressed close to his chest.
John couldn’t fight anymore. Why wouldn’t they just leave him alone? Why did they want to force him back to a reality he couldn’t live in. He was tired…He couldn’t fight anymore…He wanted his best friend but he was gone. He gave one final lurch back against Hank as exhaustion finally won. He collapsed back into the older man’s arms. “R…ROY,” he sobbed out in misery."J...JO."
“That’s it son,” Hank whispered as Johnny fell into his arms spent. His hand released his wrist to brush the sweat dampened sable hair from John’s face, holding his head pressed against his chest as the younger man broke down and wept.
“Is he alright?” Emily asked in concern.
John heard the quietly voiced question and his mind screamed the answer though he was too tired and hurt too much to reply out loud. ‘I will never be alright again’ but all that came out was a pitiful moan.
“Shhh,” Hank soothed gently as he let the younger man rock softly against him.
They wouldn’t let him go away and he was so tired…He felt his Captain’s hands brush the hair from his face the way Roy did or used to do. Tears welled once more and he wanted to retreat again but he knew they wouldn’t let him. He chose the only other escape he still had.
John let the comforting arms hold him…Let the voice soothe him and he let his eyes drift closed as exhaustion finally took him. “It’ll be okay son,” Hank murmured softly as John’s body finally relaxed in his arms.
Hank’s two girls stood weeping at the top of the stairs before slipping away to their rooms. Emily didn’t even try to hide her own. “That poor baby,” she whispered, sniffing back tears.
Dixie mopped at her eyes and shook her head. How would John ever get through this? After years of loneliness before finding Roy and his family and now he’d just lost everything he’d finally found. “Emily…Is the guest room made up?”
Hank carefully lifted the sleeping younger man into his arms. John was too tired to stir as his head dropped to Hanks shoulder. He laid him on the bed a moment later…He flipped the sneakers off of John’s feet and pulled the cover over him. His long fingers gently stroked the hair back. “We’ll get you through this John,” he promised gently. They’d lost Roy and he was very afraid they would lose John because of it.
Kel and Dixie gave Hank a pat on the shoulder as they left. “Let us know if you need us,” he said quietly. “Johnny’s pretty special to us too and we want to help him through this as much as you do.”
“Thanks,” Hank murmured as they left.
Hank looked at his wife and heaved a sigh. “I have to call the guys.”
“At least they won’t give you the fight John did. That poor child Hank…How is he ever going to get through this?”
“Because we’ll be there to help him…”
He started calling the rest of his crew. Before long the other four men were gathered in his living room. Their grief was open and unrestrained. Roy was an integral part of their lives…Their team and they were devastated but they also knew that they could easily lose the youngest member of their crew as well and that they needed to be there for him.
“How is John?” Mike asked somberly.
“He didn’t handle it very well… He’s pretty torn up.”
“Did he um…?” Chet questioned hesitantly.
“Yeah…I brought him back but he didn’t want to. He just broke d…down in my arms,” Hank said with a hitched breath.
“Poor kid,” Marco whispered.
“Did he say anything?”
“Not a word,” he replied somberly.
“We’ll all help him through this Cap,” Chet assured his superior.
“The phantom is officially retired.”
The others smiled at the attempted humor but it didn’t last long. “I guess we should go. We’ll see you in a couple of days. Um Cap…? Is there gonna be a funeral?”
“I’m sure there will be. Roy deserves that…A fire fighters service is his due.”
They nodded…What a horrible thing…The whole family in one tragic moment.
Continued in part 2
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