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Part 1 - Smoke Eaters
I have learned that to have a good friend is the purest of all God’s gifts, for it is a love that has no exchange of payment…Frances Farmer.
“Station 51…Vehicle accident with injuries…,” The station control unit intoned. The crew of Los Angeles County fire station 51 ran for their respective vehicles.
The gleaming red Crown Coach engine followed the smaller red Dodge rescue squad, driven by the stations two paramedics out of the bay with sirens blaring.
Twenty two year old paramedic John Gage checked the map as his partner and best friend twenty six year old Roy DeSoto navigated through the heavy traffic.
“Hang a left at the next light,” Johnny directed as they approached an intersection. Roy made the turn and then almost immediately made a right to approach the freeway entrance. The huge engine, driven by their engineer Mike Stoker swung wide behind them…Trusting Gage’s ability, even as young as he was to find them the fastest route to their destination.
They entered the freeway only a mile from the site of the accident. Captain Hank Stanley smiled at Mike. “Remind me to thank John for getting us around the usual morning traffic jam,” He quipped.
Behind him in the rear facing jump seats…The two linemen Chet Kelly and Marco Lopez exchanged a grin. As much as they enjoyed harassing their youngest crew member, they always respected John’s ability to do his job…Both as a navigator and as a fireman/paramedic.
Roy and Johnny were two of the first paramedics L.A. County had installed into the community just over a year ago. They were already the most well respected team out there. They were already more than partners…They’d also become best friends…Closer than brothers as some who knew them well had long ago noted.
“Would you look at that,” Johnny breathed in awe as they approached the scene.
A tractor trailer truck had gone out of control…Four smaller vehicles had been smashed as it careened into them before crashing through the guardrail of the overpass. The cab and the first eight wheels of the trailer hung over the edge…The vehicle teetered precariously while the cab swayed slowly like a pendulum over the river running beneath it.
John’s dark brown eyes met Roy’s, both with concern and excitement. In the distance they could see another stations red flashing lights as they tried to make their way through the now stalled traffic that had nowhere to go.
Roy shot a glance at his young partner. “Truck or cars…?” He questioned, already knowing the answer. Even though Roy was equally skilled, Johnny was absolutely fearless when it came to high rescues and he knew his partner disliked them.
“Truck,” he said unsurprisingly. “I’ll take Marco and Mike.
“You got it junior,” he replied, using the nickname he’d dubbed him the first time he’d met him. “I’ll take Chet.” Roy was well aware that Chet Kelly disliked high rescues even more than he did, even though he’d do it when necessary.
John grabbed a line and made his way to the Semi…Marco and Mike followed the younger man. John looked the truck over from a safe distance…Assessing the situation quickly and efficiently. The guard rail was crushed and twisted. The rig hung up on its undercarriage alone.
“Cap…,” John called. The older man turned to look at his junior paramedic. “There’s no way this is gonna hold. We need to tie this trailer down and I’ll go down to the driver. I’ll decide from there how best to get him out.”
“You got it pal…,” Hank replied unquestioningly. “Marco…Help John tie this off. I’ll get you some more help as soon as 48’s gets through that traffic. I’m gonna go see if Roy and Chet need any help.”
“Got it Cap,” Johnny agreed with a wave. Mike and Marco began tying ropes securely to the trailer’s bumper as John hooked his safety belt around his waist and connected his line to it. The two older men tied the rig off to the guard rails. They eyed the set up uneasily but they both knew Johnny would want to give it a try even if they protested that they thought the rig was unstable. There really wasn’t a better option at this point.
John laid his turnout over the guardrail to pad the rope and sat upon it. He glanced over the side at the risky set up and knew if it didn’t hold he could easily be caught and carried with the truck as it went into the ravine but he had to try…There was no other way.
Roy made his way toward the four smaller vehicles. The driver of the first was only mildly injured and waved off the blonde paramedic’s assistance. Chet stayed to put a bandage on the cut on the man’s chin while Roy moved to the next vehicle. An elderly couple… but both thankfully had been securely seat belted. They’d sustained some bruising across the middle but neither was seriously hurt.
The occupant of the third car wasn’t so lucky. Roy felt for a pulse but a moment later he shook his head at Rick Fielding and Sam McCracken, the paramedic team from 48’s who had just arrived. “The couple in the green car has some minor bruising. You two mind checkin them out? My partner’s workin on getting the driver outta the truck…I need to go help him out,” Roy suggested.
“Got it Roy…” The blonde fireman headed over to help John. Sam began to trot toward the last car but stopped as he spotted Johnny balanced casually on the guardrail. “Rick?” He called to his partner. His younger sandy haired partner glanced at him and he nodded toward the rig hanging precariously out over the bridge.
Rick tipped his helmet back and watched the young paramedic in admiration as Johnny quickly got set and began to lower himself over the edge while Marco and Mike anchored him. Both paramedics were well aware that if the truck went over, Mike and Marco would be able to jump clear but John would most likely be carried with it and crushed to death.
Both men resumed working but continued to glance over to the rescue operation in progress.
John finally reached the driver. He carefully pulled the door open, trying to jostle the cab as little as possible.
The driver turned his head slowly toward John. Sweat trickled from his forehead and mingled with the blood that ran from the gash above the bridge of his nose. The terror in his eyes was evident as he looked at the unimpeded view of his landing site if the truck continued its downward plunge.
“How ya doin man,” Johnny asked, using the door frame to stop his swinging.
“Get me outta here…Please,” he whispered fearfully.
“I’m workin on it okay but I need to know if ya hurt anywhere?” He asked as he ran his hands carefully over the man’s arms.”
“I think I hit my head.”
“Okay…Anything else hurt?”
“Your neck…? How about your back…?” Johnny asked as his hands ran down the man’s legs.
“No…No, My backs okay…Just get me out.”
John reached into his belt pouch and pulled his penlight. He checked the man’s eyes briefly before leaning back to yell up to his crewmates… “I need a cervical collar…There’s no way to get a stokes anchored here…I’m gonna have to bring him up on a line so I’m gonna need another belt and a rope down here.”
“Okay Johnny,” Marco replied before turning to relay that to his Captain and Roy who’d just arrived. Roy quickly set up the Biophone before moving to peer over the edge to check on his young partner.
He shook his head in both admiration and a hint of worry as he watched the dark haired fire fighter swing effortlessly below him.
Roy lowered the collar and the safety belt down while Mike and Marco kept Johnny steady. The younger man worked quickly to strap the collar in place. A sudden creaking sound brought everyone’s attention back to the truck. The trailer rocked ominously as the load shifted inside. One of the ropes began to fray.
Captain Stanley quickly raised the handy talkie to his lips. “Engine 48 this is Engine 51…I need some more ropes here…This rig is gonna go,” he yelled into the radio before turning to Roy. “Get Johnny outta there until we can stabilize this mess,” he called as the crew from 48’s ran toward them.
“Johnny…We need to pull you outta there until we can secure this trailer,” Roy advised.
John shook his head stubbornly. “It’s almost done,” he yelled back as the rocking of the trailer set the cab in motion once again, swaying like a pendulum…The creaking increased as that motion set the rig swaying even more. The crew from 48’s trying desperately to tie more ropes to the wobbling structure.
“NOW John…,” Roy called, but his stubborn partner disregarded the order and climbed further into the cab. He didn’t have time to secure a second line. He clipped the driver to his own belt as the rocking intensified. The ropes began snapping like wet spaghetti.
The truck lurched forward and Mike and Marco along with the crew of 48’s hung on for all they worth but finally had to back away as the tail end of the trailer lifted upward. The screech of the steel undercarriage across the guardrail was deafening as it slid forward, looking like the Titanic sinking into the sea as it surged downward. The sound sending shivers up the spines of both crews.
Roy’s heart climbed into his throat as Johnny’s line suddenly grew heavier and began to slide through his fingers. Mike and Marco grabbed for it as it Roy dug his heels in but the weight pulled them inexorably forward. The three men were terrified that John was trapped inside the plummeting cab of the truck.
The three men from 48’s suddenly joined them adding their strength to the others as the rig fell into the ravine below. Roy moved forward until he could see over the edge… praying Johnny was alright. He looked down into the grinning face of his partner and the driver who was firmly attached to him.
Roy shot him an angry glare. “Junior…You’re making me old before my time, ya know that?” He snapped as his heart returned to a normal pace.
The crew pulled the two men to safety, tugging them up and over the edge of the bridge. Roy and Marco carefully unhooked the driver from Johnny’s belt and carried him to the squad while Mike pulled Johnny to his feet and helped him to dust himself off.
John glanced up to see Hank Stanley standing a few feet away with his hands on his hips…He gave the young paramedic a hard stare and then a crooked waggle of his index finger in a come here gesture.
Johnny gave a guilty swallow and slowly approached his Captain. “Umm…Yeah Cap?” He asked innocently as he looked evasively around the area, refusing to meet his Captains angry brown eyes and praying the ground would open and swallow him.
“Gage…I want you to look at me…Right now,” Hank ordered.
The young, dark haired man threw him a hesitant glance. “Yes sir.”
“You ever pull a stunt like that again and I will personally kick your ass all the way back to the station…Are we clear John?”
The younger man grimaced and bit his lip uncertainly. “Uh...Yes sir…But Cap…It was gonna go and he’d have been killed if I hadn’t and…”
“And you along with him John if you’d been just a few seconds slower,” Hank barked angrily.
“Yes sir,” Johnny said softly as he stared at his feet guiltily.
“We’ve had this conversation before. You defied a direct order and put your life in danger.
I don’t throw away the lives of my men needlessly and I don’t expect them to throw them away needlessly either… If not for their own sake than for the fact that HQ’s spent a lot of time and money training you Gage…We’d hate to have to train a replacement because you didn’t follow orders and took an unnecessary and reckless risk…Clear?”
“Yes sir,” John whispered, looking embarrassed as the other crew members from both stations listened to the dressing down he was receiving.
Chet, Mike and Marco shot a concerned glance at each other. They all knew Johnny threw his heart and soul into every rescue and that he sometimes took chances to achieve his goal and they respected him for it but that reckless…do anything to save a victim attitude scared them as well. They all cared about the young man a great deal, though they’d never admit it and they understood and respected Cap’s determination to keep them all safe but their youngest crew member sure gave him a tough time doing it.
John didn’t always understand himself what drove him…Maybe it was the hurt and pain of being told most of his life that he’d never amount to anything…The desire to stop those voices and the sneering laughter of his family and the others of the reservation…The humiliating taunts of the other children in school when he spoke of his dreams. He’d buried that pain…Keeping it carefully bottled up inside where no one could see his weakness but sometimes it just seemed to explode out of him in a moment of pure reckless behavior…Of course he couldn’t tell anyone else that…Not even his partner.
He’d opened up a little before the incident with 88’s and told Roy a bit about his past but he was still unsure and distrustful now, beside…He didn’t want Roy’s pity… Just his respect and he knew if Chet found out how bad he could hurt him…It would be ten times worse. No…He needed to prove he was good at what he did and keep his pain tucked deep inside…
The crew from station 48’s frowned at the red faced embarassment of a young man they thought had shown great courage to perform the rescue.
Roy shot a look at his Captain…An even mixture of thanks and worry. Thanks that he’d warned John to be more careful and worry that his young partner’s insecurities would flare. The last thing he wanted was John’s self confidence to take a hit.
John had a mild case of Aspergers Syndrome and he’d also been a battered child and while the crew knew about his having AS…Captain Stanley didn’t and none of them knew about the abuse but both conditions left Johnny feeling insecure and unsure and he sometimes needed to be handled carefully.
Maybe it was the abuse and the AS that caused the reckless streak…A need to succeed…To prove himself. Roy didn’t know for sure but what he did know was that John Gage was a good paramedic and that once he matured and settled down, he’d be the best.
Johnny turned back to help Roy and the two paramedics from 48’s. He looked okay to the older man and he turned his attention back to his victim who was sitting up on a gurney and for the most part seemed only to be suffering from minor injuries, considering his death defying plunge off the bridge.
Rick glanced at Sam before addressing Johnny. “Man…That was a great job of rescuing,” he told the younger man.
“Thanks,” Johnny mumbled, a little red faced that Cap’s lecture had been witnessed. “But my Captain doesn’t share your opinion.”
“Neither does your partner…Partner,” Roy added, giving John his best worried big brother frown.
“Well we think you’re both wrong,” Rick corrected. “Gage did a great job down there. It’s too bad you and your Captain can’t appreciate it. The two of you are gonna ruin a great rescue man,” Rick said snidely as he walked away behind the attendants as they trundled the victim toward the ambulance.
“Or save his life,” Roy shot at their retreating back as Johnny squatted next to him, throwing his new found champions a grateful look before he glanced toward his partner triumphantly.
Roy frowned at the younger man. “Don’t even start Junior…They’re wrong.”
“But…,” Johnny began.
“They’re smoke eaters Junior…Do you know what that is?” John shook his head, looking confused…That was a term he’d never heard before. “Some of the older ones just stick to the old methods of doing things…They like the old ways that disregard safety equipment and rules….But the young ones…They’re in the business for the rush….They’re adrenaline junkies…They risk their lives unnecessarily for the pump of adrenaline and the glory.”
“Why doesn’t headquarters put a stop to it then?” Johnny asked.
“Because their Captains just as bad and the rule isn’t mandatory just strongly urged and so far no one’s been badly hurt but just remember junior…If the rescuer is hurt doing his job…”
“Then someone has to rescue them too,” Johnny finished.
“Exactly…They’re potentially putting the victim who now has to wait even longer for a second rescuer to arrive at risk. Kind of like the twisted knee on that hillside remember? That guy had to wait longer because I had to go down after both of you when you fell.”
John flushed… “Don’t rub it in.”
“I wasn’t…Just giving you an example but if he’d been seriously hurt…,”he let the statement hang.
The younger man nodded. “Okay…But I still don’t think I did the wrong thing today. That man would be dead now if I’d have waited,” he protested.
“Did it occur to you that your added weight might have been what started the whole chain reaction that sent it tumbling…?” Johnny looked horrified at that thought. “And you might have gone along with it if you’d been five seconds slower… Two dead, not one and then where would I be? Down one partner and best friend,” he teased giving John a scruff of the dark head.
John smacked his hand away in annoyance but he grinned anyway. “Cut it out,” he growled, smoothing his hair down and throwing a last glance at Rick Fielding as he climbed into the ambulance with their three surviving victims.
Roy laughed, having known full well how much it would irritate his young friend. It was as close as he could come to sharing his feelings for his partner…A young man who’d edged his way into Roy’s life and his heart from the beginning…A younger brother. Sometimes he wished he could tell John exactly how he felt. Speak those words that John didn't even understand and still embarrassed them both.
Oh he’d told him he loved him that morning in the emergency room but he knew Johnny truly didn’t grasp the concept that anyone could love him. He knew Johnny wasn’t ready to hear or accept them yet and he knew it stemmed from Johnny having been a battered child...Unwanted and unloved by the family left behind to raise him when his parents died.
Roy sighed wishing he knew what other hurts…What other secrets his young partner kept hidden inside but that would come later…After Johnny relearned to trust him again. He picked up the drug box and headed for the squad.
The two paramedics from 48’s left Rampart a long while later. Rick climbed into the squad with his partner Sam McCracken. “So what did you think of Gage?” Rick asked.
“I think he’d be a great replacement for me when I move to engineer…We just need to get him away from that over protective partner of his. DeSoto is a little too cautious.”
“He’s got the makings of a great smoke eater if his partner doesn’t ruin him,” Rick agreed with a grin. “He just needs a little retraining.”
“Ya think 51’s will let him go..? DeSoto and Gage are the best team out there and they’re pretty tight.”
Rick shrugged…“Let’s go talk to Cap…He’s got some friends at HQ, maybe he can call in some favors.
Chief David Peters answered the phone in his office a few minutes later. “Hey Dave, this is Jack Poole over at 48…”
“Hi Jack…How’ve you been…?”
“Great…Great…Listen Dave I have a favor to ask and I’m hoping you can pull a few strings.”
“I’ll see what I can do…What did you have in mind?”
“McCracken’s moving up to Engineer in a couple of weeks and you know my crew…They’re a little hard to replace…Adventurous you know?”
“Yeah I know,” Peters replied drily.
Poole chuckled at the tone… His crew was well known for their exploits...Bob Roberts had been his Captain…An original smoke eater and Poole continued the tradition with his own men even though HQ frowned on the lack of the use of safety measures his crew disdained of. “We've been kinda lookin for his replacement.”
“Yeah…You got someone in mind?”
“John Gage…Station 51.”
“Wow…Why don’t you ask for something a little tougher...? You know like the moon on a platter…”
Poole laughed…“I know but…”
“Hank Stanley will fight that tooth and nail. He’s got a real good team with DeSoto and Gage…The best. Sorenson and Houts both like them together too. That’ll be a tough team to break up.”
“I know but…Maybe you could get him here, I don’t know…Temporarily? McCracken is taking two weeks off before he moves and if you could get them to send him over like... you know…On loan. We’ll give him time to see how we do things…If he likes it…He’ll ask for the transfer himself…” He let the suggestion hang.
“Well…I suppose it couldn’t hurt to let Gage choose…I mean it’s possible he might be interested in moving on,” he said musefully remembering the falling out Gage and DeSoto had had a few months ago. “If he requests a transfer they’d give it some consideration.”
“Let me know how it goes and thanks,” he replied as he hung up. He turned to his two paramedics and gave them a ‘thumbs up.’ “He’s gonna run it by Sorenson or Houts but its only temporary?”
“Temporary?” Sam asked.
“While McCracken's on vacation. Dave doesn’t think any of them are gonna let the kid go without some friction but he figures if you can sell Gage on our style of action…He’ll request the transfer himself and then they’ll have to at least consider it.”
The two exchanged a glance… “He’ll like it,” Rick said with a grin. “It’s written all over the kids face.”
Chief Daniel Sorenson glanced up from the request in his hands. “I don’t know Dave…I’m really against busting up the best team we have and I’m going to be in for a lot of argument from Hank Stanley.”
“It’s only temporary Dan…,” the other man added hastily.
“Why do they want him then…?”
“While McCracken's on vacation...Apparently they saw him in action this morning and they were really impressed. They just thought he’d make a good replacement…”
“You said temporary replacement…I won’t break up DeSoto and Gage.”
“Temporary replacement,” he corrected. “Give us some more time to find someone permanent.”
Sorenson hesitated and tossed the other man a skeptical look. “Don’t con me Dave…They’re hoping Gage will jump ship right? I know 48’s… They’re pretty uh… incautious and Gage is still young…Swayable…I’d hate to have him exposed to their uh…Unorthodox policies at this age. He’s a very talented young man and I see good things down the road for him but he’s ah…a bit hot headed and brash at times and I really prefer him with someone as stable as DeSoto until he settles down.”
“C’mon Dan…The kid survived his time with 88’s,” Dave pointed out.
“Barely,” Sorenson countered.
“He’s tough Dan…Who knows, maybe they’ll make a better man out of him.”
“Or get him killed… “
Dave chuckled… “They’re not that dangerous to work with.”
“John’s already had a couple of close calls in his career…besides, I’m not sure John could get much better. He’s already one of the best.”
“Or,” Dave said, changing tactics. “Maybe he’ll make a better paramedic out of Fielding.”
That was always a possibility…Sorenson pursed his lips in indecision. John was a boundless bundle of energy and Sorenson hated to rein him in too much but that wild reckless streak was a concern sometimes. DeSoto was settled and stable. A guiding hand while still young enough to keep up with Gage and be his best friend without killing the younger man’s natural exuberance.
Still Gage had only worked with Tony Freeman as a partner before DeSoto and that was only as a rescue man. His only other experience as a paramedic had been with Scott Jackson and that hadn’t been a fair test of the kid’s abilities at all. DeSoto had worked with several partners due to Gage being sick or injured on several occasions and had performed well…Not as well as he did with the young Gage as his partner however and Sorenson had to admit that he was curious about how well the younger man would do without DeSoto.
He knew they’d had a falling out a few months ago and though none of them knew exactly what had caused it since neither would talk about it… Sorenson knew from talking to Captain Hammer that the kids trust in his partner had been pretty badly damaged. They’d been working on that since he’d returned to 51’s and it was slowly returning to normal. Maybe it would be good for both of them to realize that they needed each other and the only way to drive that home would be to separate them for a while.
“Temporarily…?” He questioned, deciding he was right and it might be good for the kid to be exposed to other paramedics and their skills and techniques…Maybe help teach him to train others to be as good as he and DeSoto were…At least he hoped so. He hoped John would rub off on Fielding and not the other way around but all of it combined tipped his hand toward giving it a try.
“Temporarily,” the other agreed. “Unless Gage chooses to transfer of course,” he said half jokingly.
Sorenson didn’t foresee that happening anytime soon. He picked up the phone. “Alright Dave…I’ll give you two weeks to settle on McCracken’s replacement.”
Hank Stanley picked up the phone in his office. “Station 51…Captain Stanley speaking…”
“Hank…? This is Chief Sorenson.”
Hank automatically sat up a bit straighter in his seat. “Uh yes sir…How can I help you?”
“Hank…I’ve had a request from station 48.”
“They’re asking for John Gage to replace Sam McCracken…”
“WHAT?” Hank barked before he caught himself. “Um…Sorry sir…,” he mumbled.
“It’s alright Hank…I had a similar reaction.”
Hank breathed a sigh of relief. “So you weren’t planning on actually sending John…”
Sorenson cleared his throat, interrupting the younger man and Hank’s heart sank a bit at his words. “Well actually Hank…I am planning on sending him there...”
“But sir…,” Stanley began to protest.
“Relax Hank. It’s only temporary.”
“Temporary?” He questioned hesitantly.
“Yes. For two weeks while McCracken's on vacation...They're uh... having a hard time finding a permanent replacement for him...”
“And you and I both know why but sir…John and Roy are a good team…The best and John is still…,” Hank hesitated, not wanting to put John down in any way as a paramedic but wanting him to understand his concerns. “Young,” he added half heartedly. “And 48’s has a reputation for not exactly following the rules and I’d hate for John to pick up…Uh…Any bad habits,” he finished less than tactfully.
Since Sorenson had already thought of those things himself, he understood Hanks hesitation. “You’re right but he’s well trained and frankly the only experience he’s had working as a paramedic with someone other than DeSoto wasn’t exactly an edifying experience. I think it would be good for him to work with someone else…Let’s see how he does and if he’s as good as we all think he is…It might be good for him to know he’s that good in his own right as well…Build his confidence…Make him appreciate DeSoto.”
Hank sighed in defeat. As diplomatic as Sorenson was being, Cap knew he wasn’t going to win this argument. “Yes sir…Uh when?”
“Next shift is soon enough.”
“Yes sir…I’ll let him know.”
“Relax Hank…It’s only two weeks.”
“Yes sir.” Hank hung up the phone...The unhappy look on his face was evidence of his obvious displeasure with this situation. He stood up and headed for the rec room.
Johnny and Roy were seated side by side at the table wolfing down their lunch before the station control unit could tone them out again. “Gage…DeSoto?” Both men looked up curiously. “I need to see you in my office for a minute?”
“Sure Cap?” Roy answered for both of them.
The rest of the crew along with the two paramedics exchanged concerned glances at the tone of Captain Stanley’s voice and the sour look on his face. Roy wondered what they’d done wrong. Johnny was afraid he already knew.
Hank had been plainly unhappy at what he called Johnny’s reckless behavior this morning…Maybe HQ had found out about it as well. Lunch forgotten for the moment, they both stood and headed for the Captain’s office.
“What did we do?” Johnny questioned his partner worriedly.
“I don’t know…I guess we’re about to find out,” Roy replied.
“Have a seat,” Cap said as they came in. They both complied. “I just got a call from headquarters,” Hank said. John’s face paled a bit and he shot his friend a nervous look.
“What about Cap?” Roy asked.
Hank’s brown eyes turned toward John. “Did I do something wrong?” He asked tentatively at the look Hank gave him.
“No Gage…They want you to transfer to 48’s...”
“WHAT?” Roy shouted in alarm as he shot from his chair.
John chewed his lower lip nervously. “Am I in trouble?” He questioned hesitantly… “I mean…Um…Is this some kind of punishment?” He asked, looking upset.
Roy shot Johnny a glance knowing the younger man’s abusive past… John frequently felt guilty or took the blame for things he didn’t do and he didn’t want his insecurities flaring but he couldn’t reassure him in front of Hank without revealing John’s secret.
“Simmer down…Both of you. No John it’s not some kind of punishment. It’s only for two weeks.”
“I don’t understand,” Gage questioned. “If I didn’t do anything wrong…Why?”
“I don’t know either John but apparently they saw you in action this morning,” Cap said drily. “McCracken is moving to Engineer so they’re looking for a permanent replacement for him in the squad.”
“You said temporary,” Roy reminded him quickly.
“I did and it is but because of their um...Reputation...finding a permanent replacement is gonna be tough. McCracken is taking two weeks vacation and they hope they can find someone in that time.We all know with that crew it’s gonna be tough to find someone crazy enough to permanently replace him in their squad for too long.”
“You mean suicidal enough,” Roy cut in. “Cap…They’re smoke eaters… “Johnny’s never had to deal with that…And their Captain…? Man…He teaches it to em,” he said worriedly as his blue eyes remained trained on his young partner.
“Believe me Roy, I know that.”
John shot his friend an irritated look at the concerned tone. “I’ll be okay Roy…I’m not a child. I can take care of myself. I mean it’s only two weeks right? What could go wrong?”
“A lot,” Roy shot back in annoyance at John’s innocent response. This was exactly what he was worried about. For all of the abuse and the trauma Johnny had endured as a child that should have left him jaded as well as his having ASD, his young partner could be so naïve and gullible about some things.
He knew Johnny hated being treated like a kid but dammit…He was a kid. A smart, talented and very capable one but still a kid and if he himself didn’t understand what drove this type of fireman…The thrill…The glory…The rush of adrenaline…He didn’t know for sure and he was sure Johnny wouldn’t either but the difference was that his partner was still extremely young and he already had a reckless streak. Roy was worried about him being confused by them and sucked in to their way of thinking.
“So when do I start?” Johnny asked shooting his partner a wounded look.
“Your next shift,” Cap replied as he pointed his finger at Johnny. “But you be careful Gage.”
“I’ll be careful Cap,” he assured his Captain as he climbed to his feet. He glanced at Roy who remained conspicuously seated and sighed, knowing the older man was gonna argue.
“I’ll be right there Johnny,” Roy said with a tight smile.
“Okay,” he agreed as he left the room. He knew the older man had taken it on himself to be not only his friend but his protector a few months ago when they’d had a falling out.
Roy had misunderstood a conversation he’d overheard and had thought John was having an affair with his wife Joanne. He’d hurt John both physically and emotionally. John had felt betrayed and confused by the sudden anger of his friend. He’d transferred to another station …It hadn’t gone so well.
He’d discovered the criminal activities of his crew mates and they’d beaten him badly and then attempted to kill him to keep him quiet. Johnny had survived the attempt but the reminder of the abuse he’d been subjected to as a child had driven him into withdrawal.
Roy had found out that he’d made a mistake and had come to the hospital when he’d been informed of the accident. He’d been told by Brackett that John had Aspergers and talked Johnny back from his retreat and had promised him that he would always be there for him and Johnny appreciated that…He really did but Roy just didn’t understand. Johnny had been taking care of himself for a long time now and he didn’t need anyone watching out for him.
The blonde paramedic could be so over protective sometimes. John would be fine and he could do this alone and he’d prove it to him.
The door closed behind the younger man and Roy turned back to his Captain. I don’t like this Cap… Why would they only want him temporarily?”
“I don’t know and for the record, I don’t like this either but Sorenson’s pushing for it. He thinks it’ll be good for John to get in some field experience with someone other than you.”
“He already has and that didn’t work out so well. Besides he worked with Tony Freeman outta 10’s.”
“As rescue not as a paramedic…”
Roy heaved a sigh. “You know Cap. I don’t think 48’s thinks this is temporary.”
Cap nodded. “I was thinking the same thing.”
“I think their planning to get him over there and try and talk him into staying.”
“You think he would?”
“I don’t think he’d leave 51’s but you know how impulsive Johnny is. He’s still young enough to corrupt him into their way of thinkin.”
“John’s a smart kid. I think he’ll make the right decision.”
Roy sighed. “Okay Cap,” he said as he stood up. “I just hope your right.”
Johnny was at the table when Roy came in. He glanced up at his partner as he entered. “So did you talk him out of it?” He questioned challengingly, still stinging from the realization that Roy thought he needed someone to babysit him.
“I didn’t have to…Cap doesn’t like this either but Sorenson’s the one pushing for it.”
“Pushing for what?” Mike asked from the other side of the table.
“Johnny’s going over to 48’s for a couple of weeks…On loan.”
“The adrenaline junkies…?” Marco muttered in disgust.
“Thrill seeking glory hounds,” Mike added.
“Ah peace and quiet,” Chet said with a broad grin. “Maybe they’ll keep him.”
“Shut up Chet…That’s exactly what I’m worried about,” Roy barked uncharacteristically. Even John shot his partner a shocked glance before he finally grinned.
“Is that what’s botherin ya Pally?” Johnny asked in pleasure that Roy was concerned about losing him.
“Well…What’s the other part?” Johnny asked in confusion.
“That they’re gonna suck you in…Screw up your head.”
“I’m not stupid ya know,” John said angrily, his temper rising once again, he could almost hear the taunts of his family…
Chet snorted from across the room. “In whose opinion…?”
“Go play on the freeway Chet!” John snapped.
“Johnny I didn’t say you were stupid,” Roy soothed, shooting a glare at Chet. “But you are still young.”
“I’ll say,” Chet muttered in agreement.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just that your still…Impressionable,” Roy finished after a moment’s hesitation.
John’s face turned red with an even mixture of embarrassment and anger. “Isn’t that the same thing?”
“No John it isn’t…I just don’t want you to get hurt by their stupidity.”
“Well thanks for the vote of confidence pal,” he snapped.
“Johnny…I didn’t mean that in a bad way…”
“You…You think I’m so d…dumb I’ll just blindly follow them into…Into…W...whatever,” he stuttered waving his hand in an airy gesture.
Roy knew when Johnny started stuttering, he was really upset. He rested his hands on John’s shoulders, hanging on as John tried to pull away…He still resisted being touched when he was upset.“I don’t think you’re dumb Johnny…You know better than that but you’re my best friend and I don’t want you hurt.”
John calmed a little with that. “I won’t get hurt… I’m not a rookie Roy, I’ll be careful.”
Worried blue eyes met wounded brown. Roy kept himself from sweeping the sable hair from John’s eyes and completely humiliating the younger man in front of the others. Roy knew John hated having to admit that he needed anyone and that he still struggled with the idea of trusting people…Even Roy, especially after what had happened…It was a slow process but Roy intended to see it succeed. “Okay Johnny…I trust your abilities…I’ll leave it alone but please…Please be careful.”
“Promise us all John,” Mike said as he folded his hands over his chest.
John heaved a frustrated sigh. “Alright…I promise…I’ll be careful.”
The older man gave him a subtle squeeze on his shoulders and then a slap on his back. The station control unit began to tone. “Squad 51…Man down…”
“Let’s get back to work okay?” Roy said as he ran for the squad.
The crew exchanged a glance as the squad rolled out the bay doors. “You think Johnny will be okay?” Marco asked worriedly.
“I hope so,” Mike said quietly. “Those guys are nuts.”
“Why do you say that?” Marco asked.
“They’re always competing for who can perform the most dangerous stupid stunt,” Mike said in disgust.
“Yeah but…Johnny’s well trained. He knows Cap would kill him…So would Roy if he did somethin stupid,” Chet argued, looking a bit worried but trying to sound hopeful.
“Yeah…Well their Captain isn’t any better than his men…So what happens when John’s under someone else’s command and he’s ordered in?” Marco asked.
They all exchanged concerned looks. “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea,” Chet muttered.
John pulled into station 48 two days later. He was still stinging with the idea that his partner and the crew had so little confidence in his ability to take care of himself. Oh he knew he’d run into a few problems in the last year. The crew of 88’s was a low point and he’d sustained a few injuries here and there and discovered that he had ASD which had its own set of issues.
Johnny sighed. Well alright, he reconsidered…Maybe Roy and the others had a little reason to be concerned but he’d promised all of them that he’d be careful but he still saw the anxious looks on their faces when he’d left the next morning.
Well… all he could do now was prove to them that their concerns were unfounded. He climbed from the camper and headed inside.
The station was older than 51’s and a bit smaller. He made his way from the station’s day room to a door that stood open at the other end and sketched a wave at two of the previous shifts crewman as he passed. They nodded at the younger man and grinned. “Good luck with this crew Gage…You’re gonna need it,” they joked as they rose to their feet and headed for the locker room.
John frowned at their retreating backs before continuing on. He chewed his lip nervously. What exactly was he in for here? We’re these guys like the crew of 88’s? Man he hoped not…He didn’t think he could handle another experience like that one.
John knocked on the door frame of the office. The older man seated at the desk glanced up and waved him inside. “John Gage…Station 51 right?” He asked with a welcoming smile as he stood and extended his hand.
“Yes sir,” Johnny agreed, shaking it.
“Good…Have a seat son.” John bristled a bit at appellation. His father was dead and he was the only one who had the right to call him that but he said nothing. He sat in the chair opposite the man. “I’m Captain Poole and I wanted to welcome you to station 48. I’d like to tell you a bit about my philosophy and how I work with my men.”
“Yes sir,” John agreed hesitantly.
“First thing you need to know is that we do things a bit differently here.”
“Yes sir,” John nodded.
“ I’ve been doing this job for twenty five years son and I’ve seen some good things and bad things come into the department.” John nodded as the man continued on. “One of those bad things was the introduction of air tanks…” John’s eyebrow rose skeptically and Poole chuckled. “I’m a smoke eater son…,” He said, ignoring the annoyed tightening of John’s mouth whenever he used the term. “And so is my crew…I train em that way…You know what that is?”
“Yes sir…Well sort of.”
“I think the use of the SCBA is pushed too hard. In and out…Get it done and don’t waste valuable time.”
“It’s the prescribed method,” Johnny said quietly.
“Not here son…I don’t waste time on rescues or in fire’s and neither do my men…You get used to it. Oh I’m not saying in certain situations I won’t order them to wear them but I’ve found a lot of lives lost because we were wasting time with too many safety precautions.”
John bit his lip hesitantly for a minute. “I’ve seen the opposite and my Captain insists on them whenever possible.”
“I know…Good man Hank Stanley…Little too cautious for my taste but I’m your Captain now boy…Don’t you forget that…You just follow orders and we’ll get along just fine…”
Poole held up his hand to stop the argument. “No buts Gage…You’ll learn to feel that same sense of excitement…That same sense of satisfaction at doing the job without all the rigmarole…Feel that adrenaline pumping.”
John half smiled. “No offense sir but most of us feel that rush every time we’re called out.”
“Not like this… Now…Let me show you around and introduce you to the rest of the crew. I think you already know Fielding?”
“Yes sir…I’ve seen him in the field a lot but I haven’t really worked with him.”
Captain Poole stood up and gave the young man a light slap on the back. John tensed slightly, still not completely at ease with strangers touching him familiarly. It was a symptom of ASD as well as the abuse Johnny had suffered as a child.
He was okay with people he knew very well thanks to Roy and his friends at 51 and he was fine with the casual touch of victims and he was slowly getting better with strangers, but it was still a challenge.
John followed him through the apparatus bay and into the dorm where he pointed out the bunk where John would sleep. They moved on to the locker room where several men were in various stages of getting dressed for their shift.
“Gage…I’d like you to meet my Engineer Paul Howell.” The two men shook hands before Johnny turned to the others. “Chris Bauer and Fred Gray…My lineman and of course Rick Fielding, your new partner…”
“Nice to meet you,” Johnny said with a small crooked smile as he shook each hand.
“Good to have you Gage,” Fielding said as he tucked his shirt into his navy blue pants. Let’s get out to roll call,” he suggested and then we’ll get some coffee and look the squad over.”
“Okay,” Johnny agreed as he followed his new partner back to the day room.
Captain Poole held a quick roll call before handing out assignments. Fielding led John to the squad where they spent a few minutes inventorying the drug box and running the EKG calibration and radio check.
John opened the compartment to check the squad’s SCBA gear, drawing a chuckle from his partner. “I wouldn’t worry over that too much…You’re not gonna need it too often.”
“So I’ve heard,” Johnny said drily. “But it’s standard procedure.”
“For some stations but…,” Fielding shrugged. “We see it as a waste of time…Just trust me on this.”
John frowned…Fielding had no idea that John didn’t trust anybody with the possible exception of Roy DeSoto and Roy’s wife Joanne and even that was strained now. He continued to check the gear to be sure the tank was full and the straps straight and ready for action. He glanced back at Fielding with a forced smile. “Yeah…? Well I promised my partner and my Captain that I’d be careful while I was here.”
Fielding laughed. “Your partner or your watchdog…?”
“C’mon Gage…We all saw him out there hovering over you like you were a kid and your Captain…Man…You had a great rescue and all the guy could see was that you risked your life. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?”
“Well…,” Johnny hedged. “Yeah but…Cap doesn’t like to risk us needlessly and…”
“Needlessly…? That guy woulda died if you hadn’t done what ya did. Captain Poole would never rag on ya for doin a good job.”
John’s dark eyes caught the other man’s and Fielding knew he had his attention. “Well maybe but …They just…Sometimes I…Well…I’ve been known to get hurt occasionally,” Johnny stammered honestly. “And Cap and Roy want me to be more careful…If I get hurt then someone has to rescue me too and…”
Fielding laughed. “That’s the Fire Department rule book talking Gage…No one had to rescue you out on the freeway did they?”
“Well…Not this time no but…”
“See…You’ve got good instincts…They just don’t trust them so you need to.”
Johnny chewed his lip in indecision. Fielding’s admiration of his courage and skills was flattering but John knew the rules and he knew in his mind that Hank and Roy were both right in theory. “Maybe,” he said hoping to end the conversation. He needed time to think about that.
The station control unit began to tone. “Station 48… Squad 36…Station 51…Battalion 14…Structure fire…1152 Elm. 1-1-5-2 Elm…Cross Street Park…Time out 08:48.”
John shoved the SCBA back in the compartment. “Wanna drive?” Fielding asked as John started to run for the passenger seat. John skidded to a halt in surprise. Roy almost never let him drive when they were both in the squad. “Uh…Roy usually…I mean um…Sure,” he said taking the keys from Rick and running for the driver’s seat.
He pulled out a moment later ahead of the engine while his partner fed him directions. “Maybe when you get back your father will let you drive,” Fielding teased the younger man.
“He’s not my father,” Johnny mumbled as his face turned red. “He’s just…He’s my friend…”
“Sure Gage…A friend…,” he agreed disbelievingly. “Too bad he doesn’t trust ya.“ Johnny frowned but stayed silent.
They approached the burning building within minutes. Dozens of people milled about in confusion as Johnny climbed from the squad, grabbing the turnout he’d tossed on the front seat earlier. Johnny gauged the color of the smoke with a quick assessing look and flipped the compartment open to grab his SCBA as Fielding rounded the back of the vehicle.
A frown settled over his features as Fielding slammed it closed with a grin. “No time Gage, let’s go.”
“But…But it’s standard…”
“NOW GAGE,” Poole bellowed from the engine, cutting him off as he waved his men toward the building. John’s dark eyes swept over the two linemen from 48’s…Neither were wearing their tanks either but John still hesitated. Captain Stanley and Roy would both kill him for this if they saw him but he had his Captain’s orders.
He threw a glance toward the arriving squad and engine from station 51 and scowled worriedly. He threw out a quick prayer that they’d all be too busy to notice. He finally turned and ran after his partner.
Roy pulled the squad to a halt and climbed from the cab. He flipped the compartment open and grabbed his turnout. His temporary partner Eric Gibson rounded the squad and both men began to strap on their SCBA’s.
Roy glanced over to where the squad from 48’s was parked, in time to see his partner turn from the squad and follow after Fielding. The blonde paramedic’s mouth tightened in annoyance as he realized Johnny wasn’t wearing his air tank despite his promise to be careful. “Dammit Johnny,” he muttered as he turned away to follow Gibson. There wasn’t anything he could do about this right now but he’d speak to Cap and deal with Johnny later.
John and Rick entered the building and the older paramedic waved Gage down the first floor hallway as he mounted the stairs.
John moved slowly, hunched over and keeping beneath the heavy, black smoke as much as possible. Still…It was only a matter of minutes before his chest began to feel tight and his eyes began to water. He stifled the cough threatening to erupt. John wondered how Fielding and the others did this and if it was something that one could get used to but he doubted it.
The threatening cough finally slipped free, followed almost immediately by another and another. Johnny finally got his breathing under control and continued on, banging on doors and checking each unlocked apartment, drawing a large X in yellow on each portal as he went.
Johnny felt dizziness wash over him and coughed harshly once again. Tears and sweat made clear trails down his soot covered face and his hand shot out to steady himself against the wall. He leaned heavily against it until the lightheadedness passed.
The dark haired paramedic turned and headed unsteadily for the exit to the building.
Roy and his partner moved through the smoke filled hallways. They mounted the stairs from the other end of the corridor…Belliveau and Stone, Station 36’s two A Shift paramedics were on their heels. Roy spotted Fielding as they hit the second floor and he glanced around to try and see if Johnny was close by and okay but there was sign of his young friend.
Roy frowned but continued after Gibson to the third floor, leaving Stone and Belliveau to help Fielding out…Roy was worried. Where was Johnny?
John staggered toward the brighter area at the end of the corridor, hoping he didn’t pass out before he made it to the door. His chest felt like he had a concrete block on top of it and wondered if Fielding was okay. How could he be? He hadn’t seen him come down and Rick hadn’t called him on the handy talkie to tell him to come out or come help him either.
Another wave of dizziness swept over him and he fell against the wall. He heard footsteps on the stairs and glanced blearily over to see several people make their way down. Two were assisting victims and the other turned toward him as he stepped off the stairs. “Johnny?” A muffled voice gasped in horror.
Even muffled behind a mask, John would know that voice anywhere. “Roy,” he choked out as his friend moved quickly to his side. “Can’t find Fielding,” he wheezed.
“Let’s get you outta here first,” Roy said gripping John’s arm tightly and led him out the door. Johnny staggered unsteadily alongside of him. Roy lowered him onto a yellow blanket that had been spread to treat the victims. Squad 36, 14 and Roy’s partner Eric were all treating other patients.
The blonde paramedic’s eyes narrowed angrily as he spotted John’s partner, Rick Fielding working with a woman with minor burns on her leg. Had he even noticed John hadn’t come out? How could he have left his partner in there like that?
Johnny was coughing raggedly and Roy grabbed an air bottle before kneeling beside him. He placed the mask over John’s face. “Breathe Junior,” he instructed as he rubbed the younger man’s back comfortingly.
John clutched the mask desperately as the clean oxygen began to enter his lungs. The tightness eased some and he raised dark eyes to meet Roy’s in gratitude. “Thanks Roy,” he wheezed.
Fielding glanced over from where he was finishing up with the woman he’d been treating. He’d found her in the third apartment he’d entered and brought her out. He’d never thought to check on Gage or call him out as the injuries were minor and he didn’t need his help. Rick frowned as he watched Roy coddle his young partner and shook his head. The kid would have been fine and he'd have gotten out on his own and understood the feeling of beating death one on one. He really needed to get John out from under that man’s watchful eye if he was gonna teach him the ropes their way.
Rick made his way toward the group around the squads. His shook his head in annoyance as he heard Roy’s voice. “What were you thinkin goin in there without your air tank Johnny?” He asked his friend.
“I want…ed to get it,” Johnny gasped out. “Captain Poole…,” Johnny coughed before continuing. “Ordered me in with…without it,” he rasped.
“Why didn’t you…?” Roy broke off and glanced up as Fielding joined them.
“It’s okay DeSoto…I’ll take care of my partner,” he said looking smug. “He uh…Doesn’t need his mommy.” Johnny flushed in embarrassment at the taunting comment.
Roy’s ire rose…“Yeah…Well I haven’t seen much of that...Taking care of him I mean. ”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Roy stood up and glared at Fielding. “You didn’t tell him you’d left the building. You didn’t even notice he was missing. You left him in there knowing full well he had no tank and could be in serious trouble.”
“He’s alright…Just took in a little smoke. Ya get used to it and it doesn’t bother you much,” he explained with a shrug.
Roy poked his finger toward the man’s face. “Johnny had pneumonia two months ago…His lungs will always be weak because of that and you better remember this Fielding…Johnny may be your partner for two weeks but he’s MY partner and MY best friend everyday and you better be watchin out for him…Understand.”
Captain Stanley approached the group as John finally managed to push himself to his feet and get between Roy and Fielding. “What’s going on Roy?” Hank asked.
“It’s nothin Cap,” Johnny wheezed painfully. “I just took in a little smoke…I…I’ll be okay,” he assured his Captain, shooting a look at the gloating face of his temporary partner and the angry one of his best friend. He knew Fielding would spend the next two weeks taunting him over Roy’s over protective attitude.
Stanley looked at the other paramedics at the scene who were surreptitiously watching the drama unfold as they took care of their own victims. They were all aware of Roy and Johnny’s friendship and the mother hen attitude Roy usually had toward his very young partner…“How’d that happen John?” Hank asked.
“I uh…I…Well I…” John hedged uneasily.
“He went in without his tank Cap,” Roy explained. “Poole ordered him in without it and then his so called…Partner left the building without even checking on him or letting him know he was out. Johnny almost passed out inside,” he said glancing at his still wheezing friend.
“Is that what happened John?”
“Well Cap…I…It sorta was b…but…,” Johnny stuttered as he always did when he was nervous or frustrated. Hank gave a brief nod to his youngest crew member and headed toward Poole. “Cap…,” John groaned in humiliation but Hank kept going.
Roy turned back to his friend and Fielding. “You watch out for him…”
Fielding threw John a smirk and the young paramedics face flushed. He lifted pleading dark eyes to Roy. “I can take care of myself Roy…Please…Just…just let it go okay,” he implored his friend.
Roy took in the gloating smirk on Fielding’s face and the deep embarrassed flush on John’s and understood. He reached out give John a gentle slap on his shoulder. “You be careful,” he admonished. He pointed at Rick. “You get him checked out at Rampart.” Roy spun on his heel and left.
“C’mon Gage…Let’s get back to the barn.”
John coughed. “We goin by Rampart?” He asked hesitantly.
“You afraid your mom will be upset if you don’t?” He taunted.
“He’s not my mom,” John rasped out. “I um…I guess I’ll be okay.”
Fielding grinned. “Good…Let’s go then. I’m starved.”
Johnny wasn’t hungry and his head was pounding and his chest felt tight but he’d never admit it to Fielding. “Yeah…I uh…I need a shower.”
Captain Stanley made his way to engine 48 where Captain Poole stood with his engineer. The fire was out and the linemen were refolding hoses and Stanley’s own men were exiting the building.
Hank came up beside Poole. “Jack…Can I talk to you a minute?”
Poole smiled at the tall man standing next to him. “What can I do for you Hank?”
Stanley looked back toward Gage, who was following Fielding toward their squad. “It’s about Gage.”
“Good man…Fielding thinks he’ll make a great partner.”
“He’s right…He would but John’s already got a permanent partner…But that’s not what I want to talk about. Did you send Gage into that fire without his air tank?”
Poole’s eyes narrowed. “Look Hank…I know it’s a bit controversial but it is optional.”
“It’s how I train my men. It’s SOP,” Hank shot back.
“But not mandatory. I’ll train my boys the way I see best,” he said casually.
Stanley’s face clouded with anger…“That’s fine for your ‘boy’s’ Hank replied. “But John’s only on loan to you. He’s a member of my crew and I want my ‘boy’ back.”
“If he wants to come back after two weeks with my men, I’ll send him back.”
“IN ONE PIECE…,” Hank snapped as he spun on his heel to walk away.
“Sure Hank but ya know?” Stanley turned back to face him. “I think Gage is made of stronger stuff…I don’t believe he’ll want to go back. I think he likes that adrenaline rush of a good rescue…That feeling of beating the beast one on one…Or he will once we get him away from his mother over there,” he taunted snidely, nodding at Roy who was watching John and Fielding drive away.
Hank returned to stare down at Poole and pointed at his senior paramedic. “That won’t happen…”
“Care to make a little bet on that Hank?” He taunted.
“Yeah…John and Roy are way too close for me to even concern myself about that but remember this Jack…You don’t have to worry about John’s ‘MOTHER’ over there,” he barked before pointing back toward himself. “You better worry about his ‘CAPTAIN’ right here. You make sure I get Gage back in the same condition you ‘borrowed’ him in.” Captain Stanley turned and stalked away.
Poole’s Engineer stepped up beside him. “I don’t think Captain Stanley’s gonna give Gage up without a fight.”
Poole smiled…He loved a good competition. “Then it’s up to us to be sure the boy wants to transfer,” he directed, having no intention of losing this wager.
“Adrenaline my boy…It’s addictive,” Poole said, patting Howell on the back. The other man grinned, knowing his Captain was right. It’s how they’d all been hooked…Gage would be no different…They’d seen it in his face during that rescue on the bridge.
John returned to the station with Fielding and slowly made his way into the locker room. He turned on the shower and undressed. He felt terrible. His chest ached and his head continued to pound. He knew if he were at home…He smiled tiredly. Station 51…He corrected himself. Roy would be all over him.
Aspirin would be ready when he stepped from the shower and he’d be directed to his bunk to sleep by a forceful order from his older partner…That’s if he’d been released from the hospital but then…He wouldn’t even be in this predicament if he’d been with Roy. In the first place he would have been wearing his air tank and in the second… If he hadn’t been, the blonde paramedic would never have left him inside.
Sometimes Roy treated him like a child and that embarrassed him but he was also learning that it stemmed from the older man’s concern and…John flushed a bit at the next thought… His love for his young friend and right now he’d give anything to have Roy leaning on the wall when he stepped out of the shower with two aspirin and a glass of water.
John cut the water off and stepped out. He toweled himself dry and put on a clean uniform. He felt a bit better and headed for the dorm, hoping to get a little sleep but the Station Control Unit began to tone. “Station 48…Station 127…Foam 120… Man trapped at the brewery…186 Barnhart…1-8-6 Barnhart. Cross Street, Philmore…Time out…11:23.”
John groaned miserably but he ran for the Squad.
They arrived at the scene ten minutes later. Several huge silver towers rose into the sky…One of them was blazing. High up the tower two men were trapped by the flames…One was pacing the catwalk frantically, trying to figure out a way to get down while the other lay holding his chest.
Poole stepped from the engine and cast a glance toward his two paramedics. Johnny was looking up and already trying to find a way to get to the two trapped men as Bauer and Gray pulled the hoses. Poole knew the snorkel was on its way but decided to throw John back into the action.
“Gage…Fielding…Get up there. Find a way to get over to them.”
Johnny looked at him in disbelief. There was no way…Only a crisscrossing of pipe work six stories up and nothing to tie off to. “Uh…Captain Poole…Shouldn’t we wait for the snorkel?”
“No time Gage…Look at that man.”
John looked up again and saw the man clutching his chest. “Okay Cap,” John agreed with a sigh as he grabbed for a rope and two safety belts. “I’ll send the rope down for the stokes when I get over there,” He said worriedly. Man…Roy and Captain Stanley would kill him for this if they ever found out.
Johnny and Rick made their way up the brewing tower nearest the blaze. They pulled themselves onto the catwalk opposite the two men where the pipes ran from tower to tower. John’s already wan face paled even more at the sure fatal drop if he fell and suddenly six stories seemed like a mile.
“Help us man,” one of the victim’s yelled. “I hurt my shoulder and I think my friends having a heart attack. “
“Hang on okay…I’m coming,” Johnny assured him uneasily. “”What am I gonna tie off to?” He questioned, looking at the solid deck of the catwalk.
The tower sides were smooth and the rail so flimsy, Johnny knew it would never support his weight if he fell but then he wasn’t sure the pipes would either. He glanced at Fielding’s heavier build and knew it would never hold him.
Fielding shot him a grin. “You’re tying off to me.”
John looked at him incredulously before looking back to the pipes. “Man…If I fall… I’ll take you with me,” he said worriedly.
“Then don’t fall,” Fielding admonished, enjoying the rush of putting his fate in another man’s hands.
John looked upward. “What about up there?” He asked pointing upward to another sturdier looking platform a couple of stories above them.
“Take too long,” Fielding said, knowing full well it wouldn’t take that much longer but wanting to give John that taste of excitement the others felt.
John chewed his lower lip nervously...He may trust Roy with his life but he wasn’t all that sure about Rick. “Maybe we should wait for 127 and the foam truck?” He suggested.
“Help us…I think he’s dying.”
“No time,” Fielding said with a nod toward the two trapped men… “Especially if that man is in cardiac arrest,” he prodded.
John saw the terror and the pain in the faces of the men on the other tower and made his decision. “Yeah…Okay.” John blew out a worried breath and rubbed at his aching head. Well…If he fell, at least he wouldn’t have to listen to Cap and Roy tell him ‘I told ya so…’He’d be dead. “You just hang on to that line man,” he warned Fielding as he hitched the coil of rope over his head and shoulder. “You can send me the drug box when I get over there.”
“Right,” Fielding agreed.
“Here goes,” Johnny breathed out as he stepped out onto the pipes and spread his arms like a tightrope walker in a circus, praying the dizziness he’d experienced earlier had passed.
‘Don’t look down…,’ he warned himself silently. His heart was racing and the flooding warmth of adrenaline shot through him as he walked the pipes. A small cough slipped from his lips and he quickly sucked in his breath as he teetered precariously for a moment.
The brewery worker’s eyes almost bugged from his head in terror as he watched Gage sway unsteadily.
“Steady Gage,” Fielding warned softly, once again feeling his own rush of excitement…If Gage fell he’d pull Fielding over with him unless he let him go. On the pipes...The younger man was worried about the same thing Johnny regained his balance and continued on. He finally stepped onto the solid catwalk that the other two men were trapped on. He quickly tied off and swung the rope over to Fielding.
“Send me the drug box and ask them to open a line to Rampart…Get set to relay,” John called out as he knelt to check the pulse of the downed worker and breathed a sigh of relief as he felt a weak but steady pulse.
He glanced down and saw that the foam truck and the snorkel had already arrived and was set up. He probably could have waited the extra couple of minutes.Well, at least getting these guys down wouldn’t be as difficult as getting help to them had been.
John pulled the drug box across to him and began to work on the fallen man…John’s own heartbeat finally returning to normal. He was glad that at least his friends and Captain from Station 51 hadn’t been here to see this. Roy and Cap woulda skinned him alive for that little stunt.
Johnny and Rick were at the base station at Rampart a half hour later. The younger man’s head was still pounding from his bout with smoke inhalation earlier in the day and the smoke he’d taken in on the tower had made it worse.
His cough had let up a bit but the tightness in his chest was still there. The heart pounding walk across the pipes hadn’t helped his headache any either but there was no way he was gonna say so to Fielding.
The older paramedic was already riding him mercilessly about the way Roy coddled him. He needed to prove he could take care of himself so the other man would leave it alone. He let out a small cough and sipped his coffee as Dixie stepped from the treatment room they’d delivered their heart victim to.
“You did a great job Johnny…He looks good and so does his friend.”
Fielding gave John a thump of the back, “See there Gage…Ya did good and what a feeling huh?” He prodded excitedly.
John couldn’t agree more but it was a feeling he wasn’t sure he liked…He remembered the stark terror when he’d almost fallen from a crane a hundred feet up in the air a year ago…It had been there again today when his foot slipped. “Thanks,” Johnny replied, still sounding a bit croaky.
“What did the doctor say about that?” A deep voice questioned from behind them.
Johnny spun around to see Roy standing behind him…His partner Eric was just disappearing into treatment room four behind Dr. Morton and the gurney.
“Uh…Hi Roy,” John stammered, looking a bit shamefaced.
Roy smiled knowingly at the obvious guilty look. “Hi junior… So what did he say?”
“I uh…um...I didn’t…I mean…we really didn’t get a chance…” John stammered with a rasp.
“What happened Roy?” Dixie asked in concern at the grating sound of John’s voice.
“He took in a lot of smoke this morning …Almost passed out.” Dixie’s blonde eyebrow cocked questioningly at Johnny as Roy continued. “I told him to get checked out.”
“John?” She questioned.
“We um…We got…Ya know…busy Dix…I …I just…”
Dixie threw him a smirk as she came around the base station and took his arm. “Well…You’re not busy now are you handsome?” John shook his head in defeat. “So there’s no time like the present is there?” She said pulling him along with her. “And it just so happens, Joe is available in treatment room two.”
John threw a helpless look back at Fielding as he disappeared through the doorway. Rick smirked back and shook his head in disgust. Did they all smother this kid? John would never reach his potential with these people coddling him every step of the way.
Roy turned to face him as John disappeared inside. “I asked you to have him checked out,” he said softly, despite the subtle warning tone.
“Gage is a big boy DeSoto. He thought he was okay.”
“Yeah…And I’m sure YOU encouraged that opinion but I also explained to you why I was concerned,” Roy said with an angry twitch to his lips. “I asked you to watch out for him Fielding.”
“Maybe he’s had too much watching and not enough action…We’ll make a man out of him…And a better paramedic.”
Roy hand shook with anger as it lifted to point at Fielding’s nose warningly. “John’s already one of the best paramedics out there…That’s why I chose him and its certain that you’re not capable of making him better and he doesn’t need your help to be a man…He’s got that down pretty well too…All you’ll teach him is what not to be…Reckless and dangerous, just like you and the rest of your crew are…But you remember this Fielding…John is more than just my partner…He’s also my best friend so you better be watching his back,” he snapped as Gibson rejoined him.
“Are you threatening me DeSoto?”
“You call it what you want but you make sure I get him back in two weeks in the same condition you ah…Borrowed him in. Let’s go,” he barked at Eric as he turned and stalked away.
Rick threw a snide grin at Roy’s back. “Well DeSoto…The way you smother him, he may just decide he likes the fresh air and the rush…”
Roy halted and turned slowly back. “I don’t smother him Fielding. We watch out for each other…It’s what PARTNERS are supposed to do. You might wanna try that with your next one…” Roy turned and left, leaving Fielding staring angrily at his back.
Joe listened to Johnny’s lungs for several seconds. “Breathe in deep for me Johnny.” The younger man pulled in a deep breath and coughed lightly. Joe stepped back and tucked his stethoscope in his pocket. “I’m gonna release you for duty John but you really should have come in earlier.”
“I know,” John said, sounding a bit aggravated.
“Then why didn’t you?”
“Well…I’ve been reassigned to station 48 for a couple of weeks…” Joe frowned at that piece of information and glanced at Dixie.
She nodded back. “Roy’s not too happy about it either,” she said at the worried glance.
“And that’s part of the problem,” John explained. “The guys there are already ragging on me about the way Roy…Baby’s me and…”
Dixie flicked the sable hair from John’s forehead…“He doesn’t baby you Johnny…Roy’s well aware of what a fine paramedic you are and he’s also well aware that you have nothing to prove to anyone but he is your partner. It’s his job to…Well…Watch out for you and he takes it seriously.”
“I guess but…I can take care of myself.”
Joe patted the young man on the back with a grin…John wasn’t always well known for being extremely careful on the job and he’d been injured on several occasions…Joe, like every other doctor at Rampart knew why Roy worried about his partner and especially now if he was teamed with Fielding but Joe knew what the others didn’t. John had Aspergers and Roy was very protective of his young friend because of it.
Joe also knew John’s other secret…He’d been an abused child and that sometimes played a part in John’s attitudes and behaviors…He could sometimes be impulsive and a little reckless. Roy was right to be concerned but John wouldn’t understand that and Dixie didn’t know about the abuse either so Joe didn’t point it out. “You just be careful with those guys okay? I’ve heard a lot of bad stuff…Mostly from guys who left the station.”
John nodded with a sigh. “I’ll be careful Doc,” he mumbled, looking slightly guilty at the blatant lie. They were always in some danger on any rescue and they sometimes had to take risks but Captain Stanley and Roy always made sure that safety precautions were adhered to as much as possible and if they’d seen him on that last rescue…Well… He didn’t like to think about Cap or Roy or even Dixie’s reaction if they found out.
He hopped off the table and followed the two out, buttoning his shirt as he went. “You good to go…?” Fielding growled, looking a bit red faced.
“Yeah,” John replied, looking at him curiously. “Something wrong…?” Johnny asked.
“Your former partner threatened me if I didn’t hold your hand well enough.”
Dixie and Joe exchanged a glance as John’s mouth dropped open in shock. “He WHAT…?” He snapped incredulously as his face flushed crimson in embarrassment.
“I’m sure he didn’t put it quite that way,” Dixie quickly interjected, trying to smooth John’s ruffled feathers.
“He was pretty clear,” Fielding shot back angrily.
“Oh man,” Johnny murmured in an even mixture of hurt, embarrassment and anger.
“John…,” Dixie began.
“He doesn’t trust me…”
“Of course he does,” Joe reassured him.
“I do know what I’m doing ya know. I don’t need him to tell me what to do all the time.”
“I don’t think it’s a lack of trust John and I know Roy knows you’re good at what you do,” Joe soothed. “But he does know other things about you as well and he worries about you.”
“That’s part of his job as your partner and part of being a friend among other things,” Dixie reminded him softly. “The same way you worry about him?” She asked gently.
John blushed a bit, still uncomfortable with being really close to someone else… Doubtful that anyone could care about him and fearful of losing another person in his life as he had so many others but even worse was having his feelings trotted out in the open, especially in front of Fielding.
Roy was the nearest thing to a brother that Johnny had ever had but his feelings still confused him and he struggled with them sometimes but he was finally re-learning to trust the older man…“I guess,” he mumbled, glancing toward Fielding.
Rick rolled his eyes and dragged a hand through his light brown hair in frustration. “Let’s get outta here,” he growled, wanting to get John away from these people before they convinced the kid that DeSoto was right.
John threw Joe and Dixie a wave and followed Fielding out.
Two sets of blue eyes followed them. “I don’t like this Dix…I don’t like this at all,” Joe said worriedly.
“I know Joe…None of us do.”
John started for the driver’s seat but Fielding grabbed his arm. John pulled it free and side stepped away as he turned to face the older man. “What’s wrong?” Johnny asked uncomfortably.
“Maybe you should let me drive.”
“Why?” Johnny asked in confusion. Rick hadn’t seemed to mind John driving before.
“I guess I was wrong. Maybe you aren’t old enough to drive. I mean…DeSoto treats you like a kid and you let him.”
John’s face flushed in embarrassment. “Man…I’m sorry. Roy just gets a little over protective sometimes. He uh...I mean we’re good friends too and he sometimes…Ya know…Forgets that I’m his partner and not his kid brother. He’s not really…I mean he wouldn’t …really threaten you ya know.”
“Well it sure sounded like one to me…”
John tried to smooth things over. “Roy’s too level headed to risk his career over something like that,” John assured him. The young man frowned…Roy wouldn’t seriously threaten anyone over him would he? John couldn’t believe the older man would lose his self control over what had happened that way.
“Maybe you should consider a new partner. One that trusts you enough to use your skills and training,” Rick sneered.
“He does,” John replied indignantly.
“You know what Gage? You’re a good paramedic…One of the best and I think DeSoto’s afraid you’ll shine too much and show him up so he holds you back.”
John’s temper flared. “Roy wouldn’t do that,” he snapped in his friend’s defense. “He just worries about me is all.”
John always felt that it was the other way around… That he was holding Roy back. Would it be better for his partner if he left? It wasn’t the first time Johnny had thought about it. Roy was so good at what he did but after what had happened a few months earlier at Station 88, he felt responsible for his young partner or at least Johnny was afraid that’s what he was thinking.
Moving on would free Roy from feeling like he had to look out for his friend, not that he’d ever said as much but what if he did feel that way?
“Oh I think DeSoto’s worried alright but not about you…I think he knows you’re better than him, so he keeps you on a leash and he takes all the glory.”
John’s dark eyes narrowed angrily at the accusation against his best friend as Rick turned away with a smug smile and headed for the driver’s seat. He’d given the young man something to think about.
John chewed his lower lip uncertainly as the older man walked away. Roy cared about him…Rick was wrong, he had to be. John went around and climbed into his seat. Rick drove away and John gazed out the side window refusing to look at his now grinning partner.
“HE DID WHAT?”Roy barked at Jamey Cook, Station 127’s engineer.
Cook nodded… “Walked right across those pipes without a secure tie off Roy… Nearly scared the crud outta all of us.”
“So you were there…They coulda waited and let you take him up.”
Jamey nodded. “You shoulda heard his crew Roy. They were cheering him on the whole way,” he said in disgust.
“I’m gonna kill him.”
“You don’t have to Roy…48’s is gonna do it for ya.” The blonde paramedic looked at him sharply at the comment. Cook shrugged, looking a bit uncomfortable. “Anyway…I know how you feel about Johnny and I uh…Thought you’d wanna know.”
“Wanna know what?” Hank asked as he came up behind them.
Roy shot Cook a warning glance. “Oh nothing Cap…Just something I need to take care of.”
Hank eyed Roy suspiciously. The younger man usually only got this evasive when he was hiding something that pertained to John Gage and if that was the case then he’d let Roy handle it…For now at least. “When you’re ready to tell me what Gage did, let me know,” Stanley said with a smile.
Roy’s mouth dropped open in surprise for a moment before snapping shut and curling in a rueful grin. He had to admit that Hank sure did know his men pretty well. “Thanks Cap.”
Jamey smiled and threw a wave at Roy as he turned and left.
“Let me know if you need me,” Hank said as he headed for the engine.
Roy blew out a frustrated breath. He wasn’t sure what to do. Johnny was a grown man and an excellent firefighter and one of the best paramedics out there…It’s why Roy had originally chosen him as his partner and he had no concern for his skills or his intelligence but he’d also been drawn by the lonely and vulnerable look the kid perpetually wore, though he hadn’t understood it himself at that time. John could be so naïve and unworldly sometimes and Roy worried about him.
He was sure that the sometimes reckless behavior was an outward showing of the pain and suffering of John’s past. While Roy didn’t know all of the story…He did know that Johnny had lost both parents while he was still a child…His Father to a fire and his mother to cancer and he suspected it was a good part of why Johnny sometimes took the loss of a victim personally. He hoped someday John would trust him enough to tell him all of it but that could be awhile after what had happened between them.
Right now he somehow needed to make the younger man understand that getting killed along with the victim didn’t help anyone either. Both of them knew they could lose their life on any call but that didn’t mean they shouldn’t use every safety measure possible to avoid it.
It was something Captain Stanley stressed to all his men and had been drumming into John’s head from day one when he’d tried to run into a fire to help his trapped partner without his tank. He suspected that Hank and the others cared for Johnny almost as much as he did but like him…They were uncomfortable talking about their feelings. Roy loved the younger man like a kid brother but it embarrassed both of them to admit it out loud and John didn’t understand it and wasn’t ready to accept it yet either.
Roy scrubbed his hands through his strawberry blonde hair in frustration. He didn’t want to treat Johnny like a child but the thought of losing him…Especially to something that could have been avoided caused a painful churning in his gut.
Dammit…John was his kid brother even without the blood ties, whether he liked it or not and Roy couldn’t help but worry over him even though it annoyed John and gave the other guys loads of ammunition to torment him about.
Johnny and Rick responded to several more runs throughout the day…Thankfully, most of them were routine and nothing dangerous and Johnny quickly proved himself to Poole and the others as efficient and knowledgeable. They smiled appreciatively at his skills but continued to tease him relentlessly about Roy and the man’s protectiveness over him.
By dinner, John was ready for a quick meal and an early bedtime to escape the taunting comments being aimed at him by his crewmates.
“Hey Gage…Tomorrow’s Tuesday…We all get together and meet for dinner at a place called Rosie’s. We shoot some pool, have some pizza and a few drinks. Wanna come along?”
John hesitated. He knew the place…It was a dive and he wasn’t much for socializing and besides Roy and Joanne had mentioned the possibility of having him for dinner with them tomorrow night though they hadn’t had a chance to confirm those plans.
They saw the hesitation and grinned. “That’s if Hank will let you drink,” Captain Poole prodded with a chuckle.
John’s face turned scarlet. Johnny didn’t drink much but it had nothing to do with Hank or even Roy. Both of his uncle’s had been heavy drinkers and while his Uncle Joseph had only abused him when he’d been drinking, his Uncle George had beat him frequently and twice as bad when he was drunk.
The night he’d attacked John in his room and nearly raped and killed him. The reek of whiskey on his panting breath and in his sweat as he’d pawed the fourteen year olds body, ripping the clothes from him with his callused hands. The smell of it turned the young man’s stomach making him vomit but he couldn’t tell that to anyone…Heck he hadn’t even told Roy that part of his past…It was too humiliating.
“Um Cap doesn’t tell us what to do on our time,” he finally mumbled.
“Maybe his mommy won’t let him stay up that late,” Fred Gray, one of their linemen teased.
John grew increasingly uncomfortable with the taunting comments. They reminded him of growing up in Montana and being the only half white, half Indian on the reservation. He’d been the perfect whipping post for both his own people and the whites in town as well. The sneering insult of being a ‘half breed’ and an outcast…Crazy and worthless following him throughout his young life.
“Roy’s not my mom, okay?” He muttered.
“So prove it and come along,” Fielding pushed.
“Sure…Yeah…Why not…?” Johnny questioned angrily, hoping that if he gave in this time, they’d drop it.
“Great…! 5:00 PM at Rosie’s,” Bauer confirmed.
“Fine,” Johnny mumbled, hoping Roy wouldn’t ask about dinner again. He quickly picked up his plate and headed for the sink. The Station Control Unit began to tone.
“Station 48, Truck 16…Station 51…Squad 36…Structure fire. 2170 Palmdale…2-1-7-0 Palmdale…Cross Street Spencer…Time out 18:41.”
Poole was already at the podium as John dropped the dishes in the sink and ran for the squad. Having won this round, Rick grinned and tossed the keys to John as a reward, drawing a grin from the younger man. They slid into the cab and within seconds the two rigs raced out into traffic.
They arrived at the scene a few minutes later and John’s face paled. Smoke billowed from the windows at a rest home. Nurses and aides were quickly evacuating the residents they could safely move. Johnny quickly spotted Roy and his partner Eric as they geared up…Shrugging on their SCBA’s. Fielding ran around the squad and his hand reached out to spin Gage around to where a nurse was standing at a rear door and waving frantically for help.
“C’mon Gage,” Rick commanded, pulling John away from the squad as he ran toward the back of the building. Johnny hesitated…His hand still holding the straps of his air tank as Fielding gave him a tug. He was torn between following his partner and following procedure. He sighed in frustration. He needed to watch his partner’s back...He let go of the tank and ran.
Roy was shrugging on his SCBA as he spotted the squad from station 48 arrive. He saw Johnny climb from the driver’s seat and was glad to see him reach for the compartment holding his air tank but a bit surprised that his temporary partner had given up the senior partner’s role of driving the squad.
He shook his head…Fielding was doing everything possible to woo the young paramedic and win John’s willing transfer. He started to pull his mask into place but glanced back in time to see his friend turn and follow Fielding into the building, leaving his tank in its place.
The blonde eyebrows furrowed in an angry frown. He was definitely gonna have a few things to say to John tomorrow night and if he couldn’t get through…He’d let Joanne have at him. She always had a way of reaching the kid when he couldn’t.
“I’m gonna kill you junior…If Fielding doesn’t do it first,” Roy mumbled as he turned and followed Eric through the front doors.
Johnny and Fielding made their way through the smoke clogged hallways…Directing several nurses pushing wheelchairs toward the exits. They followed the nurse back to the room and John pushed her back. “Get out…Now,” he yelled, pointing to the door. “We’ll get her.” The nurse nodded and ran.
They ran to the bed where one elderly resident lay. She was terrified and seemed confused. “Can you walk?” John shouted above the roar of the flames. She shook her head.
Johnny quickly flipped the bedspread off of her and yanked the corners of the sheets free. His eyes were burning and his already abused lungs were tight and aching. He coughed harshly but managed to choke out a reassurance to the old woman. “Don’t worry ma’am…We’ll get you out.”
He crossed the sheets over her feet and legs as Rick returned from checking the bathrooms. “All clear Gage…It’s just her.”
Johnny nodded. “Grab her legs,” he rasped as he tugged her sheets and all toward the edge of the bed. He rolled the edges of the sheet and together they lifted her in her makeshift sling and carried her toward the door.
John felt dizzy and lightheaded but he knew he had to keep moving. He forced one foot in front of the other determinedly. The three finally pushed through the exit door and into the fresh air.
John staggered, coughing raggedly. He felt other hands grasp the sheet and knew help had arrived. He fell to his knees. Other hands gripped him under the arms and half lifted him to his feet…Pulling him further away from the burning building before letting him sink back down to the ground.
An air mask was placed over his face and he gratefully sucked in the clean air before looking up into the angry brown eyes of his Captain.
“What were you thinking Gage or were you thinking?” Hank barked.
“Cap…I…I…We um,” John blushed and coughed, taking another breath before continuing on. “Fielding went in and I um…I had to stay with my partner.”
“So you just followed?” Cap questioned snidely.
“Yes sir,” he mumbled contritely.
He could feel the penetrating, frosty blue eyes of his partner on him from where they were treating the other victims and knew his friend was very angry. Fielding was shooting Hank an irritated look as he continued. “That was a pretty stupid thing to do, don’t you think?”
“Yes sir,” he whispered again, looking a bit shamefaced at his foolishness in hindsight. If he’d passed out in there the woman could have died or he could have since Fielding would have had no choice but to leave him. He knew Roy would have come after him but by then it might have been too late. “I…I’m sorry Cap…”
“But he was following orders,” Captain Poole said defensively from behind them. Stanley spun around to look at the hardened gray eyes of the other man. “Hank…Can I see you a moment,” he said with barely contained annoyance.
“We’re not done John,” Hank said pointing a finger at Johnny as he followed Poole away.
Fielding helped them load the elderly lady onto a gurney…Other than a little bit of smoke, she seemed fine and Rick was impressed at how well Johnny had handled the situation. He followed his patient to the ambulance and helped them slide her in. Bob Belliveau from station 36 would accompany her and his own victim to Rampart.
He returned to his partner who sat with the oxygen mask over his face…Still coughing and his watering brown eyes a little downcast.
Johnny was confused. He knew Cap was right. The department always expected them to use their equipment …That’s why it had been provided to them even though it wasn’t mandatory for them to use it. Poole and his crew of hot shot smoke eaters were proof of that but wasn’t he also trained to watch out for his partner? Did Cap expect him to leave Fielding while he took his time to gear up? What about the woman? Would she have lasted...Probably, he admitted it would have only taken him thirty seconds.
John sighed knowing they were only concerned for his welfare but darn it…He wasn’t a kid and he could look after himself. He remembered his dizzy and slightly woozy exit from the building. Well most of the time anyway, he amended but he’d looking out for himself since his mom had died. Her family had taken him in but they hadn’t ever cared about him or for him for that matter, doing the least possible to meet his immediate needs.
He knew Roy felt bad about what had happened a few months ago but he didn’t want him to feel that he had to look out for him because of it. He bit his lip…The distrust and the pain of that betrayal was still just beneath the surface. He’d just been learning to trust someone and that trust had been shattered. He’d been badly hurt both physically and emotionally but things had been slowly getting better again.
He was still confused by it all sometimes. A pair of booted feet entered into his line of vision and John shook himself back to the moment. He looked up into the worried blue eyes of his best friend.
Hank and Captain Poole moved a safe distance away from the rest of the men. “Hank…I thought we’d had this little talk already,” Jack said placatingly.
“We did…But apparently you weren’t listening.”
“I did listen Hank and I also told you that I’ll lead my men the way I see fit.”
“John Gage isn’t your man…He’s an integral part of my crew and I intend to get him back safe and sound regardless of how you feel about that.”
“I haven’t lost a member of my crew yet Captain Stanley.”
“That’s just good luck but I don’t intend for your first loss to be my junior paramedic.”
“I’ll take care of him.”
“What…?” Hank snorted angrily. “You mean like I just saw…That’s twice in one day that John’s suffered from smoke inhalation and almost passed out. If it happens again I’m going to personally march down to headquarters and talk to Sorenson myself are we clear Jack?”
The other man scowled in annoyance at the threat. “I don’t think you give the boy enough credit. He’s got guts and he’s an exceptionally talented young fire fighter.”
“I won’t ever argue that,” Hank said as he turned his gaze back toward John…“Which is exactly why I won’t let you put his life at risk or allow you to steal him away from my crew without a fight.” Hank turned and stalked away.
“Hi Roy,” Johnny mumbled from behind the mask.
“Hi Roy…Is that all you have to say?”
“I’m sorry?” He apologized, hoping that would be enough to stop the angry words he knew were coming.
“Sorry…? Dammit John…That’s twice in one day...What woulda happened if you’d passed out in there?”
“I…I know but…”
Fielding shook his head. “Man DeSoto…Stop treating him like a kid.”
Roy whirled on the other man. “You stay out of this…You’ve already caused enough trouble but just in case you didn’t notice, take a good hard look Fielding…He is a kid…”
John bristled indignantly. “I’m not Roy…,” he snapped interrupting his partner in irritation. “Look I’m sorry I worried you but it can do my job …I was following orders… I’m not a child and you need to trust me.”
Roy spun around to glare at his partner. “I heard about that little stunt on the tower today John,” he snapped, as he pointed at the building. “And I was watching just now …No one ordered you in this time. That was your decision to follow that fool into that building, so you tell me whether I should trust you to make a smart decision or treat you like a child?”
John looked away angrily. Fielding rolled his eyes and came to John’s defense. “He was doin his job…He was acting like hero today DeSoto, why can’t you see that?”
John’s dark eyes turned to his partner gratefully before looking to his friend to hear the answer. Roy’s hands gripped John’s shoulders… “We don’t need another fallen hero junior…We need a live paramedic and I need my friend.”
“I know what I’m doing Roy…Maybe you should trust me…I mean they do…”
Roy closed his eyes and let his hands fall away. “Do you…? You know this is exactly what I was afraid of…That they’d screw up your head and lead you into doing something stupid…I guess I was right.”
John’s face flamed in fury…His best friend had just called him stupid…Called him a kid in front of Fielding. He saw the smirking look on Rick’s face and almost cringed in embarrassment. John’s eyes narrowed and his mouth set in an angry line that Roy knew well...He changed tactics in the hopes of talking to him calmly and without Fielding’s interruptions the next night. “Will we see you tomorrow junior?”
John looked at him in shock. As angry as they both were and Roy still wanted him to come for dinner. He opened his mouth to answer but Rick answered for him. “He’s going out with us DeSoto…We’re going out to shoot pool and have a few drinks tomorrow night.”
The blue eyes turned to John… “Did you forget dinner?”
“I…We didn’t make…I mean they,” he sputtered in confusion, still angry and indignant that Roy had called him a child and basically just called him stupid in front of fielding.
Roy shook his head in hurt disappointment. “Never mind…Do what you want junior… I’ll let Joanne know you’d rather go drinking with your friends.”
“Roy I…,” he hesitated helplessly. John was torn by his emotions…Hurt, embarrassment, anger but then there was something stronger that tried to override all of that…The couple had been the closest thing to family John had had since he was eleven…The love this family gave him was important to him…Family? That’s what they’d become and John didn’t want to lose that. His ire faded away but it was too late as Roy looked away from him in disappointment.
“Forget it John…Maybe it’s better this way.”
“W…What way?” Johnny stammered worriedly.
“You want to be free from me worrying over you and I don’t want to know how bad it feels to stand over the grave of my best friend.”
"Good...Then maybe he won't hesitate to take our offer of a place with our crew."
John shot a shocked look toward Fielding.
Roy looked back at him. "Are you considering it?" He asked his stunned partner.
John hesitated...Would Roy be better off? Could he leave his friend?. He looked up at Roy but the other man shot him an angry look at his silence and he turned and stalked away.
John bit his lip…He hadn’t meant to hurt Roy but why couldn’t his friend see that he didn’t need him to watch out for him like he was some dumb kid or something…Besides he just didn’t understand that these guys were relentless in tormenting him about it and it was embarrassing.
Roy was always well liked and Johnny would just bet he had no idea what it felt like to taunted constantly…To be the outcast. Heck…Even Chet Kelly threw his heritage in his face whenever possible…Taunting him about his age…His friendship with the older man and the way Roy watched over him…Making fun of him at every turn, putting him down.
John hesitated as he watched his partner climb into the squad. Roy never did that to him…Even though he had told Chet he liked the jokes and that Johnny was being over sensitive and he’d hurt him one time when he’d told Chet he was nuts. Johnny had hidden his hurt feelings behind a wall of anger but even then Roy hadn’t done it to be cruel and he was never deliberately taunting and he was almost always on Johnny’s side.
John looked down suddenly feeling like maybe he was a dumb kid. He’d just thrown Roy’s concern for him back in his face. Maybe Roy was right after all…Maybe he had some thinking to do.
To be Continued in part 2… Fireman
Published to Site 02/16/11
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