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They waited for almost a half hour before Doctor Morton stepped into the corridor and headed in their direction. They stood up as he approached them. Johnny gasped in pain, swaying dizzily for a moment.
The sound of rapid footsteps came from behind them. Joanne DeSoto came through the waiting room at a run. She barely glanced at her husband’s coworkers…her eyes were on Morton.
“Are you Roy’s Doctor?” She asked in a rush. “The nurse called, she said Roy was…,” She stopped trying to draw a breath.
The crew glanced at each other with worried looks. Roy was what? What had the Nurse told her? Their faces said it all. They were afraid they had suffered their first loss as a team. John’s heart leaped to his throat. They moved closer to hear what the Doctor had to say.
Morton laid his hand gently on the frantic woman’s arm… “He’s alive Mrs. DeSoto but he’s injured. We still aren’t sure to what extent. He hasn’t come around yet and we’re still waiting on the X-rays. I’m afraid we’re very back logged and really shorthanded. I can tell you that he’s suffered some head trauma and he hasn't shown signs of consciousness and that’s always a concern. Unfortunately there was some delay in getting him in here…”
Morton’s eyes shifted momentarily to Johnny and the Station Crew. Jo saw the look… She saw blame in his eyes and the Nurse who had called her had told her that one of the other paramedics at the scene had told her his Partner had gotten Roy out after Johnny left him behind and escaped the building.
She whirled to face them… John took an involuntary step back at the look of rage she directed at him... “Where were you John?”
“I…I had another victim. I had to take him out first... I…I tried to get…,” He began to explain.
“You left Roy in there?”
“Mrs. DeSoto…,” Captain Hammer interrupted trying to explain that John had done exactly the right thing.
Joanne held up her hand to stop his words. “No…no…,” She snarled angrily. She advanced a step toward the young Paramedic. “You left your Partner…the best friend you’ll ever have behind while you got out…I heard what happened John…the nurse told me.”
John stared at the floor. Tears began to course down Joanne’s cheeks... “How could you? Do you know how much he cares about you?” She screamed at the young man in front of her while the others stood in speechless shock at this attack.
John couldn’t meet her eyes. Her fist lashed out to strike the Paramedics chest... Pain flared through his ribs. He never moved or even tried to defend himself.
“I hope you’re proud of yourself…,” She railed.
He shook his head… “I…I’m s…sorry J…Joanne,” He stuttered barely audible. He had an eerie sense of déjà vu as she lashed out again, landing a stinging slap to his cheek. His head spun dizzily.
“Sorry…sorry won’t hold me at night John. It won’t raise my children. Why don’t you come over and explain to them why Daddy may not come home…maybe they’d like to hear how sorry you are.”
“Mrs. DeSoto...?” Morton cut in, “We don’t know how bad Roy is yet. We’ll know soon I promise you,” He said trying to pull her away from the grief stricken younger man…she pulled her arm free and turned back to Johnny.
“Roy trusted you…,” She threw at him, “He was wrong.”
John’s body was screaming in agony and his chest had a hollow feeling … he couldn’t tell which hurt the most…his body or his heart.
Mike led the distraught woman away.
Cap laid his hand on Johnny’s shoulder, “John she’s just…,” He began.
Johnny jerked away as if he’d been burned swaying on his injured leg. He regained his balance but refused to meet his Captain’s eyes.
“I…um… I need to be by myself for awhile okay Cap?” He whispered. He turned awkwardly...his mouth trembled and that burning sensation behind the eyes returned. John had to get away before he completely disgraced himself… “I...I…I’ll see you back a…at the station,” He stammered as he limped away.
“Johnny, what’s wrong with your leg?” He called after him.
“Nothin...,” He threw back.
Cap decided to let him go...it was probably just a sprain, after all John would know if he needed medical treatment. It was a mistake Captain Hammer would never repeat.
John went to the Doctor’s lounge. He sat on the couch burying his face in his hands…rubbing his burning eyes with the heels of his palms. He massaged his aching leg. He’d taken the time on the ambulance ride in to wrap the wound in kerlex but he knew the blood was still seeping through. His trouser leg was wet with it. Thankfully the Navy blue color and the dust and dirt from the ceiling collapsing on him hid the stain.
Mike Morton had escorted Joanne into Kelly Brackett’s office. He waved a young student nurse into the room… “Sharon, get Mrs. DeSoto a cup of coffee please. Mrs. DeSoto I’m going to go check on your husband… I’ll be back soon to let you know how he is.”
Mike returned forty five minutes later. A smile lit his face. Joanne stood up... “Mrs. DeSoto can you come with me…your…uh…husband would like to see you.”
“He’s awake?” She asked softly.
He nodded, “And he’s gonna be fine.”
A beaming smile broke out on her face as she followed the young Doctor from the room. He led her down the hall to the treatment room pushing the door open to allow her to enter first. Roy turned his head to look at her as she walked in... “Hi Honey,” He said tiredly.
“Oh Roy…” She ran to his side, taking his hand and clutching it to her chest… “I was so afraid.”
“It’s just a bump Honey I’ll be fine. Have you heard anything about Johnny? Morton said he was okay but I don’t believe him. Johnny had to be in trouble…,” He trailed off at the angry look on Joanne’s face… "What?” He asked.
“You know Honey… I’m really tired of hearing about Johnny, having you worry over him. He left you there while he got out without a scratch…saved himself...He left you behind…his supposed best friend for…”
After about an hour Johnny couldn’t stand it anymore...He knew he couldn’t hide here forever. He had to go and find out how Roy was. He found Morton in the hallway outside the treatment room.
“He’s awake…his wife’s with him right now…He got a nasty bang…”
“Doctor Morton…?” a young nurse called out interrupting them… “We have an ambulance coming in.”
“Morton turned without another word and headed across the hall to follow the gurney in.”
Johnny turned to the treatment room. He hesitated briefly before quietly pushing the door open. He heard Joanne’s voice raise in anger…
“You know Honey… I’m really tired of hearing about Johnny, having you worry over him. He left you there while he got out without a scratch…saved himself...He left you behind…his supposed best friend for…”
Jo heard a soft sound and turned in time to see the door close gently…she hoped it was Johnny and that if she’d left any doubt about how she felt in the waiting room he knew it for sure now and so did Roy. She turned back to her husband.
“Honey… he didn’t have a choice…he has to take the victim first... He did his job. I just don’t know how he got away without being injured,” He said shaking his head.
“Easy,” She said snidely… “He jumped clear and ran.”
Roy looked at his angry wife in surprise, “No Jo…he threw himself over me. He took the brunt of that ceiling collapse.”
“What…? But they said…,” She whispered in shock, her anger dwindling with this piece of information.
Roy nodded…“It’s not the first time he’s saved my life either.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well Honey, I didn’t want to worry you, so I didn’t mention it since I didn’t get hurt but that’s the third time he’s saved my life in the last couple of months.”
Joanne stared at him in horror...“Oh my God!”
“What?” Roy asked in concern.
“I blamed him for your being hurt…for leaving you there and getting himself out.”
“Jo…Johnny would never do that.”
Joanne was looking worriedly at the door, “I should have known that, but the Nurse told me...,” She trailed off.
“What’s wrong Jo?” He asked looking at her in concern.
“I think Johnny was at the door a minute ago. I think he heard me and in the waiting room…I… “
“Oh no Honey, please go find him. Tell him I want to see him…Please.”
“I’ll try…I’m so sorry Roy… I was just so upset and scared…and the Nurse said…”
“Jo…just go find him… It’ll be okay…I hope,” He whispered as Jo left.
Johnny was standing at the base station. An older, harried nurse was loading a box with supplies. She barely gave Joanne a glance as she approached John. The young man didn’t look up. He held his left arm folded tight against his side and had an odd hunched posture as he stood waiting… His weight balanced on his left leg.
Jo noticed the torn pants and the coating of soot and plaster. How had she missed that earlier? Probably her worry over Roy… “John?” She said gently.
He jumped… wincing in pain…he'd been so wrapped up in his own misery he hadn’t heard her approach. His eyes rose to meet hers briefly and her heart sank at the defeated look in his dark eyes.
“How’s Roy?” He asked softly, chewing his lower lip nervously.
“He’s gonna be fine, but he…”
“That’s good...,” Johnny said softly, cutting off her reply. He turned and signed the nurse’s clipboard and then picked up the supplies as he turned back to Joanne.
She looked closely at his dirt smudged face and for the first time realized that there was a large bruise on his forehead as well. She reached to brush a stray lock of matted hair from Johnny’s brow to get a closer look but he jerked back from her touch, grimacing in pain as his arm wrapped tightly against his ribs.
“Don’t,” he whispered through clenched teeth averting his gaze.
Joanne didn’t know him well enough yet to see the pain he masked behind the brown eyes. She pulled her hand away…“I’m sorry,” She said gently, thinking he was just angry with her … “John…Roy wants to see you.”
He couldn’t see Roy right now…he hurt too badly and he couldn’t bear the anger he knew would be in his friend’s blue eyes.
“Um…I gotta go… Caps callin in B shift early and they’re gonna need the squad…,” He said quietly, still not meeting her eyes.
“Johnny…what I said earlier…I want to…,” She began.
He held up his hand to stop her…“It…it’s okay…really,” He stammered.
“No it’s not okay…. What I said was…”
“Look Joanne…,” He interrupted… He had to get away before he completely broke and humiliated himself… “I heard what you said… You don’t need to repeat it…I…I got the message.” He looked away… “I have to leave... Don’t worry about it…I…understand.”
“No Johnny you don’t… Please listen, I need to tell you…”
John’s heart was still aching. He’d heard Joanne’s words both in the waiting room and in the treatment room and he couldn’t face Roy… He didn’t need to hear anymore. He’d been rejected most of his life, he couldn’t handle this one. He turned and limped away.
Joanne noticed the halting gait, “Johnny please…Your leg…,” She called after him but he kept walking without looking back.
Johnny limped out the Emergency room doors. He knew what he was about to do was the cowards way out but Roy had somehow gotten too close. It would be easier if he left on his own… it would hurt even worse if he had to face Roy when he told him to go. Besides he needed to be where he could regain control and get those walls back in place. He had to end this now. At least he knew his friend was alright…this time.
He loaded the supplies into their compartments and climbed into the cab, swiping his hand across his eyes…wiping away the betraying moisture gathered there. A grimace crossed his features as his fingers grazed his forehead. His vision wavered slightly… He waited for the dizziness to pass before he drove away.
Joanne returned to her husband’s room feeling depressed. Roy would be very disappointed that Johnny wouldn’t come in. She was afraid she’d ruined their friendship and Roy would be so hurt... She was relieved to find that he’d drifted off.
She considered waking him and telling him about Johnny’s injuries but surely the nurse at the base station had noticed them…or even Dr Morton…at the very least Captain Hammer or the crew must have realized John was hurt while they were in the waiting room… so maybe his injuries weren’t as serious as they appeared.
After all John would know whether he needed a Doctor or not… She reasoned with herself. She placed a gentle kiss on her husband’s forehead… “Goodnight Honey,” She whispered.
Johnny backed the squad into the station. His head was pounding in jack hammer rhythm. The throbbing in his leg had intensified as well as the painful aching in his ribs. He hoped Cap had gotten someone in to replace him, he hurt too bad to function at his best. He’d tell Cap he was injured before putting someone’s life at risk.
He climbed out of the squad and choked back a gasp of pain as his leg took his weight. His head swam dizzily and sweat beaded his upper lip and forehead.
Captain Hammer stepped out of his office… “Johnny!” He called after the young man.
“Yeah Cap?” He responded quietly trying not to let his discomfort show.
“We need to talk.”
“Not tonight please Cap…I…I’m really tired,” He said softly.
Cap sighed, giving John an uneasy look, but he could see the younger man wasn’t ready to talk… “B shift is in, so you can change and head for home when you’re ready, but I want to talk to you about what happened first thing next shift, got it?” He asked giving the younger man a slap on the back as he passed him.
Johnny almost cried out as pain swept through him. He clenched his teeth and leaned heavily against the squad until the wave passed. The injured paramedic limped to the locker room. He changed quickly, taking a moment to check the wound in his leg. He un-wrapped the blood soaked bandage. It looked inflamed and slightly swollen and it continued to ooze. He cleaned it and re-wrapped the calf.
Johnny pulled a notebook from his locker. He sat for a few moments trying to think of what he wanted to say. Johnny’s heart ached. Once again he’d let someone in and once again he’d almost seen them taken away. He’d already buried or lost so many people in his life, he wouldn’t let himself suffer through anymore... He knew it would hurt to walk away but less than than it would if Roy died because of him...He meant too much to him.
A short time later he hobbled to Captain Hammer’s office and laid the letter on his desk along with an envelope addressed to Roy, then headed for home.
Johnny was feeling horrible by the time he pulled into his parking lot. The throbbing in his leg was intense … He knew any puncture wound could be a problem, even though he’d cleaned the wound carefully and He might even have mentioned the injury to the Doctors if they hadn’t been so shorthanded. He wouldn’t pull them away from Roy to worry about his leg, besides it was a small price to pay for leaving Roy behind.
The guys didn’t blame him… They'd even said he’d done the right thing. Cap would have given him hell for taking Roy first if he had but they didn’t know the whole story. Johnny still felt guilty…he blamed himself. He should have gone back for help instead of trying to do it on his own…He let Roy down and couldn’t bear to see the same hurt betrayal in his friends eyes that he’d seen in Joanne’s.
He began to hobble up the stairs to his apartment but halfway up, his leg collapsed under him. Johnny felt himself falling and grabbed for the railing, his already battered ribs slamming hard into the banister… He felt them give.
He cried out as agony shot through his body and he sat down hard on the steps, his arms folded around himself. He rocked slowly until the pain began to subside. He pulled himself carefully to his feet and made his way up the last few stairs and into his apartment.
He fumbled through the cupboards until he found a bottle of aspirin. Johnny downed three of them and lay down on the couch hoping the aspirin would take the worst of the pain away. He couldn’t let this go any longer, he’d call for help as soon as it eased up he told himself as he drifted off.
Joanne called Rampart early the next morning. “Can I speak to Dixie McCall please?”
“Miss McCall,” the soft feminine voice answered from the other end of the phone.
“Dixie, this is Joanne DeSoto.”
“Good Morning Joanne…how are you?” Dixie’s tone was polite but cool. She hadn’t been there last night when Joanne had confronted Johnny, but it was obvious from her frosty tone that she’d heard about it. Her fondness for the young paramedic was well known.
“Dixie…I’m sorry about what I said…and did to Johnny last night. I was wrong and I know I hurt him and I’ll try again to apologize as soon as I see him. I didn’t know he’d been caught in that ceiling collapse as well and...”
“WHAT?” Dixie snapped out.
“You didn’t know? Roy told me last night that Johnny threw himself over him when it came down.”
“Damn it Johnny,” Dixie muttered angrily.
“What is it Dixie?”
“He can’t have come out of that without being hurt… Not seeing the bruises on Roy this morning.”
“Well…he did appear to be favoring his side last night and he had a bruise on his forehead just under his hair line and he was limping… I just assumed they were minor injuries and that someone would have noticed.”
“I’m gonna kill him...,” Dixie growled in annoyance. “You wait’ll I see that young man… This is the third time he’s hidden a serious injury. It was only Roy who told us about them the other two times.”
“I didn’t know about another one…only the one when he got cut.”
“He got hurt both times saving Roy. The first was a dislocated shoulder trying to keep Roy from falling from a second story roof and he got cut pushing Roy out of the way of the knife aimed at his back.”
Joanne stood in stunned silence. She’d been so horribly unfair. How could she ever make this up to this young man who was so special to her husband and in all fairness before last night had climbed into her heart as well? She had to try and talk to him just as soon as possible.
“Look Dixie, would you let Roy know I’ll be in late this Morning? I’m taking the kids to my sister’s. I want to be sure Roy will be able to rest when he comes home.”
“Roy’s gonna be fine Joanne but I’ll tell him.”
“Thanks,” She said hanging up.
Dixie was still looking like a thunder cloud when Kel came out of his office...“What’s wrong?”
“I just got off the phone with Joanne DeSoto.”
“And she told me that Roy said Johnny threw himself over Roy during that ceiling collapse.”
“What? Mike didn’t say he was hurt, I just assumed he was clear.”
“Yes well apparently that’s not the case. Joanne thinks he may be hiding an injury.”
“So help me Dix…I don’t know what I’m gonna do with that kid. If he’s hurt and didn’t mention it again I’ll…,” He trailed off.
Dixie finished it, “I’ll hold him for you.”
Joanne arrived a little after noon. Roy was awake and finishing his lunch when she walked in. “Hi Honey…,” She greeted him, placing a gentle kiss on his lips, noticing the cuts on his face and the bandage on his elevated ankle.
“Has Dr. Early been in to see you yet?”
“No, one of the nurses told me they were really busy down in the ER his morning. She said he’d be up as soon as he was free...” She nodded. “Sorry I fell asleep before you came back with Johnny last night...Was he alright?”
Jo looked at the floor guiltily... “Um…I didn’t come back with John Honey, he wouldn’t come… He said he had to get the squad back.”
“Oh...,” Roy looked so hurt that he meant that little to his friend that Joanne felt she had to tell him everything, even if he got angry with her.
“Honey…last night in the waiting room…I was pretty mad at Johnny…I yelled at him for leaving you in there so long. I accused him of abandoning you… of getting out and leaving you behind to save himself. He was really upset and hurt and then he heard what I said to you in here last night and he wouldn’t listen when I tried to apologize and I really can’t blame him... I’m so sorry honey.”
Roy’s heart sank. “Jo…he did exactly what we’re trained to do. What he or I have to do, even though we’d rather take care of our friends first…besides it’s like I told you last night, I doubt I’d be alive if Johnny hadn’t covered me that way… and he got me out. At least I think I remember him getting me out. It just amazes me that he walked away without being hurt. “
“I don’t think he did,” she murmured worriedly.
“Don’t think he did what?”
“Got away without being hurt,” She said softly.
Roy hitched himself up on the bed… “Why do you think so…?” He asked in concern.
“Like I said Roy, when I saw him last night he was so hurt but he wouldn't let me touch him to get a closer look and he wouldn’t look at me either but he was limping and I think he had an injury to his side and he was bruised here...,” She said pointing at her own forehead.
Roy threw the covers back and swung his feet over the edge of the bed.
“Where do you think you’re going?” She asked.
“To find Johnny…”
“Roy, get back in that bed… Dr. Early hasn’t released you.”
“Then go get him because I’m leaving.” Roy limped toward the closet to retrieve his clothes.
Jo stood for a moment in indecision… then went to find a nurse. “Can you please find Dr Early? My husband’s trying to leave without his permission.”
The nurse looked alarmed and reached for the phone. A few minutes later Joe Early came in.
“Roy, just where do you think you’re going?”
“I gotta go find Johnny. Jo thinks he might be hurt.”
“She said she saw him last night. He had a bruise on his forehead and he was limping. She said he was holding his ribs…like this…,” He said demonstrating.
“Then we’ll send a squad to his apartment.”
Roy shook his head… “He’ll just tell them he’s fine and send them away. My head hardly hurts anymore and my ankle’s only sprained but Johnny took the full weight of that ceiling collapse. What do you think the chances are he didn’t get hurt?”
Joe rubbed his nose with his finger… then rubbed the heel of his hand with his other finger in thought… “Pretty slim I’d say,” He agreed reluctantly. He stood there a moment longer and then rang for a nurse... “Sharon can you get Mr. DeSoto’s release papers ready?”
“Roy, at least let me take one last look at you…just to be sure.”
Roy gave in and sat on the edge of the bed while Joe did a quick once over... The older Doctor nodded.
“Looks good but stay off that ankle as much as possible and don’t over stress… you still have a moderate concussion,” He said as Sharon came back in with his papers, followed by an orderly with a wheelchair. “Curbside service Roy...,” Joe teased him, waving at the chair.
“Yeah…well keep it handy for Johnny when I drag him in here.”
Joe grinned, “I will.”
Johnny woke a couple of hours after he’d lain down. He could feel the heat radiating from his body and knew he was running a fever. He knew he needed help…right now…the young Paramedic tried to sit up but a gasp of pain escaped his lips.
Clutching his side, he almost rolled off the couch. His stomach lurched as his head swam dizzily. He quickly lay back down, curling into a ball. His leg had begun to cramp and throb at his first movement. He sucked in his breath sharply, “Oh man...,” He gasped as tears of pain welled in his eyes.
He fumbled for the phone on the table next to the sofa but a stabbing pain in his ribs caused him to drop the handset. “No…,” He groaned as it tumbled out of reach. He clenched his eyes shut as he waited for the wave of agony to pass. He knew he was in real trouble. He tried again to reach the phone, panting against the pain that took his breath away.
The beeping of the off the hook signal seemed to mock his efforts. He managed to grasp the base and pull it toward him. He almost screamed in frustration as the abused muscles around his rib cage once again seized in cramps and the phone slipped from his fingers.
“Oh God…,” he moaned, “Roy…” He closed his eyes as consciousness faded. He drifted in and out over the next few hours. Every movement brought waves of pain, dizziness and nausea followed by the seizing of the muscles around his rib cage.
John assumed Roy was still in the hospital and even if he wasn’t, he figured he wouldn’t come looking for him. No one else would be expecting him for at least two days. He wondered idly if dehydration or infection would kill him first. He didn’t hear his front door open… He didn’t hear his name being called or the gasp of horror that followed.
Roy gave Joanne directions as she drove the station wagon to Johnny’s apartment. She pulled into the visitors spot next to Johnny’s camper.
“You should be in bed honey… Couldn’t you just call from home?”
“No…he’d tell me he was fine even if he wasn’t.”
“He could do the same thing while you’re standing in his doorway,” She said as they climbed the stairs.
“No... I’ll see it in his eyes Jo... I can read him like a book...” Roy grinned, “It really bugs him that he can’t hide things from me.”
Jo finally began to understand just how close Roy had become to Johnny. She recognized that the younger man had a hold on Roy like that of a younger brother…he was family. That he fueled some need in her husband to take care of him. She wondered if Roy understood it himself. She was sure Johnny didn’t, at least not yet.
Roy reached Johnny’s door giving it a hard knock. He waited patiently, glancing around to see if his partner was at the pool… He knocked again.
“Honey, maybe he’s ah…got a girl with him or he’s not home…,” She suggested.
“I doubt it if he was injured,” Roy said as he glanced at her as he reached for the door knob. It turned under his hand.
“Roy you can’t just walk in… What if I was wrong...what if he’s got company?”
“Then I’ll excuse myself and leave...,” He replied as he stuck his head inside the door... “Johnny …you home…? Hey Junior…?” There was no response.
“He’s not home… Satisfied?” Jo asked, hoping that meant John wasn’t hurt as badly as she thought.
Roy didn’t reply but something told him to check. He continued into the apartment. A low moan brought him to a stop… He gasped in horror at the sight of his Partner curled into a tight ball…panting in painful gasps. “Johnny…,” He yelled. “Jo…call for a squad, quick…tell them it’s a code I.” He threw back at his wife as he hobbled to his Partners side.
John was drifting. His fevered brain plummeting him into his childhood nightmares… The shadow of someone reaching for him… Someone who was supposed to take care of him, protect him. The hand swung, landing with a wringing slap, followed by another and then another as his Uncle Joseph hit him over and over.
Tears of pain trickled down his face as he threw his hands up to defend himself and blood flowed from his lip as he bit down to keep from crying out in pain. Hands gripped his wrists, shaking him until his head rocked. A whimper escaped as the hands battered his face and body… he could taste the coppery flavor of blood as he cringed away in terror. Pain shot through his ribs and his head ached.
Johnny’s mind began to retreat…he was sliding into his own mind. He snapped awake, crying out in terror as a cool hand suddenly rested on his hot forehead.
He lashed out at the hands touching him. “No…,” He whimpered. Cool fingers brushed his scalding brow as his Fathers used too. Someone gently caught his wrists and a familiar voice spoke soothingly. He began to relax as he recognized the voice… “Roy,” He whispered.
Roy knelt next to his young friend… “Johnny…Johnny can you hear me? Open your eyes Junior.” His hand brushed against the hot forehead drawing a cry of fear from his delirious Partner.
“No…,” John moaned softly…The hands swung frantically trying to knock his away… Roy caught the flailing hands in his.
“Shhh…Johnny I’m here and you’re gonna be okay? I’m gonna take care of you… We’re gonna get you to a hospital okay?” He said softly, stroking the fevered forehead of his young partner.
“Roy...?” He heard his name murmured.
“Yeah Junior, I’m here.”
“Honey the phone won’t work…,” Joanne called from the kitchen.
Roy glanced around…he saw the extension on the floor... He leaned over and grabbed the phone, slamming the handset on the base, “try it now.”
She picked up the phone and listened, nodding in relief. Roy could hear her talking to dispatch a moment later... “I need a squad and an ambulance, 303 Hammond… Apartment 2H… It’s the Palm Court Apartments… It’s a code I…Thank you.” She slammed the phone down and ran to Roy’s side... “They’re coming...How is he?”
“He’s pretty sick Jo. Can you call Rampart? 555-4667 that’s the base station… “She nodded as she picked up the phone. Roy was checking Johnny out as best he could without his equipment.
John’s eyes cracked open… Roy noticed, “Hey Junior,” He said gently as his hand once again moved to rest on Johnny’s forehead. The dark eyes struggled to focus. “Hold on okay…helps comin.” He took the phone from Joanne, waiting for someone to answer.
“Jo, see if you can find a thermometer and get me a pan of cool water and a dish towel…” She nodded and headed for Johnny’s bathroom.
“Emergency… Nurse McCall.”
“Dixie…? This is Roy DeSoto.”
“Hey Roy… What’s up?”
“Dix…its Johnny… He’s sick. I’ve got a squad on the way but he’s running a high fever... His pulse is bounding…his respiration is 16; BP is 130 systolic by palpation.”
Dixie glanced up and saw Kel coming out of treatment room 3 and she waved him over. “Hold on Roy, Kel’s here… I’m gonna let you talk to him.” She handed the phone to Brackett along with the notepad… “It’s Roy DeSoto…Johnny’s sick.”
Kel nodded and took the phone… “Roy?”
“Yeah…hang on Doc… I’m trying to find other injuries.” Kel could hear him talking to someone in the background.
Roy laid the phone down taking the thermometer from Joanne. He slid it under his partners tongue, tipping Johnny’s chin up to hold it in place. Lay that cloth on his forehead Jo. Which leg was he limping on Honey?” Roy asked as his hands ran over John’s torso.
“His right I think,” She replied.
John writhed in pain as Roy’s hands trailed over his ribs. Roy took the knife from his pocket and slit John’s shirt up the side. He winced in sympathy as he saw the ugly black bruising over John’s rib cage. He pulled the thermometer from Johnny’s mouth as Joanne wrung out the cloth yet again and placed it on the young man’s forehead.
Roy handed the knife to Joanne… “Cut those pants honey let’s get a look at that leg… Doc…?”
“I’m here Roy.”
“His temps 103.3°, he’s diaphoretic. He’s got some really bad bruising around the left rib cage. Feels like at least a couple of broken ribs. He’s got a good sized bruise on his forehead just over his right eye. “Roy heard Jo’s sharp gasp as she cut away the bandage on John’s leg…she looked sick. “Doc…he’s got an infected puncture wound on his right calf… It’s a purplish red, swollen and oozing.”
“Okay Roy…that would account for the fever. As soon as the squad gets there start an IV with Ringers Lactate. Get him on 4 liters of O2. Until I get a look at that hard head I can’t give him anything for pain. Get him on a backboard Roy…It’ll be easier…less painful for him to be moved that way.”
“10-4…” Roy replied breathing a sigh of relief as he heard the sirens in the distance. He gently wiped the blood from Johnny’s lip with the damp cloth.
“Roy is he conscious?”
“He’s drifting in and out. He was combative but he’s calmed down now. “
“Start cooling measures… Let’s try to get that fever down. “
“Already workin on it Doc.”
“Okay good… Is the leg still bleeding?”
“Then leave it alone and let it drain. Get me a new set of vitals as soon as you have the equipment and Transport as soon as possible.”
Jo ran to open the door for squad 36’s Paramedics. They ran past her, stopping as they recognized the team from 51… “Roy what happened?”
“He got caught in a ceiling collapse yesterday afternoon… He didn’t bother to tell anyone.”
“Good job Gage,” Bob Bellingham said to the half conscious younger man.
“Can it Bellingham, He’s too sick to appreciate it. You can harass him later after I finish kicking his butt.”
They nodded as they handed Roy the IV and Ringers solution. Johnny grimaced slightly as the needle punctured his skin. Bob’s Partner… Doug Stone placed the oxygen mask over John’s face and adjusted the flow. Bob taped the cannula in place for Roy as Stony rung out the towel again and placed it on Johnny’s forehead. Bellingham ran to get the backboard Brackett had directed them to use.
He waved to the ambulance attendants that had just arrived and they followed him up the stairs as he ran back inside.
As the older paramedic was adjusting the IV’s rate... Johnny’s hand rose weakly, “Roy…,” He gasped.
Roy took his hand, “I’m right here Johnny... Just relax ok?”
Johnny was only vaguely aware of the activity around him. His feverish brain trying to comprehend what was being done to him. He felt the painful probing of Roy’s hands, heard the voice, felt the gentle touch of his friend’s hand on his forehead. Felt the needle prick his skin and the cool wetness that fell across his brow and mouth.
The only thing that kept him calm was the reassuring sound of his Partners voice. Roy was here and he wasn’t angry with him. Johnny wanted desperately to apologize, he struggled to get the words to come. He lifted his hand to try to get Roy’s attention… “Roy,” He whispered. He felt his Partner grip his hand.
“I’m right here Johnny, Just relax ok?”
“S…sor…ry,” He gasped out.
John felt a gentle hand rest on his head... “For what junior…?” He asked softly.
“Messed up…left you…”
“Stop right there Johnny… You didn’t do anything wrong. You did your job…what you had to do.”
“No John…You did your job,” Roy stressed again. “I would have done the same… I wouldn’t have liked it either, but I’d have done it… okay. No apologies… We’ll talk about this later but right now you need to relax.”
John’s eyes began to close as Roy’s fingers continued to gently stroke his partner’s sweat dampened hair.
“Let’s get him on the board…,” Bob said as they carefully rolled him onto his right side, trying to ignore their young colleague’s gasp of pain. They loaded him onto the gurney and carried him down to the ambulance.
Kel was waiting at the receiving doors when they arrived at Rampart. Johnny was fighting to stay conscious. His hand was firmly tucked into Roy’s as he walked beside his partner. Roy helped them make the transfer then stepped back out of the way. Bob and Stony nodded at Roy as they headed out.
“Let us know how he’s doin okay?”
“I will…,” He promised as they left.
The open door gave Roy a brief glance of Joanne waiting in the corridor… He gave her a quick reassuring smile before turning back to Johnny.
Dixie came in a moment later. Kel was running his hands over John’s rib cage causing a moan of pain to escape his lips.
“Dix, I want and ABG, CBC and electrolytes. Get the portable down here… I want a full skull series.” He ordered as he turned John’s head to more closely examine the bruise on the younger man’s forehead.
Johnny groaned in irritation and tried to twist his head to the side as Kel probed the injury. He raised his free hand to try and slap Kel’s away.
Roy moved closer, catching the fingers in his own and sliding his hand under his partners chin to hold his head steady… “Easy Junior,” He murmured softly.
Kel flashed him a grateful look but never broke from his exam... “I want a shot of that leg and chest …as well as a lateral C spine…” He hesitated for a moment… “Hell…might as well get both arms as well. Let’s make sure we find any other nasty little surprises he may be hiding.”
“Got it Kel…,” Dixie said heading for the phone.
“Well you really did yourself in this time young man…,” Kel said in a soft but admonishing tone. He turned to a pretty blonde nurse… “Sally let’s get him on Vancomycin to treat that infection. Dix, set up a tray… I need to drain and suture that wound.”
“You got it Kel… Sally, get that blood drawn. X ray’s on their way down. Roy you should probably wait with Joanne.”
“Now Roy, he’s gonna be fine… He’s in good hands.”
“Okay...,” He agreed reluctantly as he laid Johnny’s hand down on the table and stepped away.
The younger man’s head tossed restlessly… “Roy,” He groaned becoming agitated.
The blonde Paramedic rested his hand on his Partners shoulder… “Easy Junior, I’m still here.”John’s eye’s tracked to Roy. “Will you be okay?” Roy questioned softly.
John’s hand rose weakly from the table. Roy took it, raising his eyes to Dixie’s. She sighed heavily… “Okay stay and keep him company…at least till X ray gets here...” Roy grinned. “Make yourself useful and get me a new set of vitals.” She instructed as she readied John for an arterial blood draw…she was grateful he was too far out of it to feel it.
She shook her head as Roy got to work. He was giving Brackett a new set of vitals as the portable X ray was wheeled in, forcing them all to leave.
John struggled against the waves of pain that rolled through him. Roy saw his partners face pale and his jaw clench…he leaned down close to his friend’s ear.
“We gotta step out for a minute Johnny, I’ll be right back.” John barely acknowledged him. His eyes were squeezed tight against the pain he was feeling… His head swam and everything went dark.
“I think he passed out Doc,” Roy said fearfully.
Kel nodded… “Let’s get out and let Malcolm do his job. Then we’ll have a better idea of what we’re dealing with.”
Roy and Dixie went to find Joanne and have some coffee while they waited. Dixie pulled down three mugs and poured one for each of them.
“Why didn’t he tell someone Roy?” Dixie asked.
“I don’t know. Why didn’t he tell someone the other two times…? I just don’t know. He’s so…damn secretive sometimes.”
“I know why,” Jo said quietly…“After the way I yelled at him. I’m sure I made him feel so damn guilty… he’d have never admitted he got hurt. This is my fault.”
“No Honey…,” Roy began.
“Yes…yes it is Roy… I slapped him.” Roy looked shocked as she continued, tears rolled down her cheeks. “I blamed him and I accused him of leaving you behind to save himself and I need to apologize... I tried to last night but…he was too upset and he wouldn’t listen and I can’t blame him.”
Her husband and Dixie suspected she was right, Johnny was so insecure. “Roy…, he’s not gonna be able to take care of himself for awhile…,” Jo continued… “Not with those ribs and that leg. Bring him home to our house...don’t take no for an answer this time.”
“He’s gonna be okay Honey,” He said taking her in his arms… “And I’ll get him home one way or another.”
“It’s a good thing you went looking for him...,” Dixie said softly.
“I know him too well and from what everyone was telling me, I knew he was hiding something.”
“It’s a good thing he can’t fool you,” she said drily.
“Not often anyway.”
“How did my staff miss that bruise?”
“His face was so dirty when I saw him last night… it was hard to see,” Joanne said reluctantly in their defense.
Two orderlies came down the hall from the receiving doors pulling a gurney. Dixie set her cup down and went to direct them to a treatment room. Roy set his cup down as well… “Jo, why don’t you head for home? I don’t know how long I’ll be… I’ll get a cab.”
“You’ll call me when you know something?”
“Stay with Johnny as long as you need to Roy but remember you’re injured and you need to rest too.”
He nodded with a smile as she reached up to kiss him goodbye… Roy headed back to treatment 5.
Kel studied the X-rays twenty minutes later. Though badly infected, the muscle damage around the puncture wound was moderate in the leg. There were definitely three broken ribs, the sixth, seventh and eighth. The skull film showed no serious damage... ‘Not surprising considering that hard head,’ Kel smiled to himself….moderate concussion.
Kel’s eyes traveled to the arms… No recent trauma there. He began to look away but something caught his eye…he looked again… Yes…there was definitely an old break. As a matter of fact there were several. Kel looked closer, and then sat back in shock.
He double checked the name on the file jacket just to be sure it was correct. He leaned forward to study the film again to be positive…no it wasn’t a mistake. He sat back, rubbing his chin thoughtfully… It explained a lot.
The spiral patterns in the X rays were clear and repetitive. At some point in John Gage’s life, both of his wrists and his forearms had been broken, the right wrist more than once. The pattern suggested they’d been twisted…forcefully. That mixed with the recurrence suggested a severe case of child abuse.
Kel switched films. He looked closely at the ribs…they showed previous fractures as well…old ones. The cheekbone had also been broken at some point as well as several fingers. Rage swelled in Kel... Dear God… Who’d done this to him and exactly what had he been through?
He picked up the phone, “Joe…could you step in here please.” A moment later the door opened to admit the older, gray haired doctor.
“What is it Kel?”
“I’d like a corroborating opinion...,” He said pointing at the X rays.
“Sure Kel…,” Joe said stepping to the reader. “I’d say this person has three broken ribs…” He glanced at the next film… A moderate concussion…" He switched films. “Uh…some pretty nasty tissue damage to the leg…” He glanced at Kel in confusion and shrugged... “All pretty standard Kel…,” He said in confusion, not understanding his friends request for corroboration.
“Look closer Joe.”
He replaced the original films...Peering at them closely. He suddenly pulled his glasses from his pocket and leaned toward the film reader. He pulled the chest shot free and inserted the frontal skull shot again, then finally the ones of his arms. He looked at Kel… “Whoever this is has been badly abused at some point in his life…,” He told Kel. Since this person had now just become his Patient as well, he felt free to ask… “Who is it?”
Kel’s grim expression had the older Doctor concerned. He guessed this was someone Kel knew... “John Gage.”
“Sweet Mother of God,” Joe gasped in shock.
Pain screamed through him as someone probed his ribcage. His eyes cracked open…dizziness washed through him. His unfocused gaze settled on the figure standing over him…the brilliant over head lights leaving his features a hazy silhouette but it was the cause of his pain.
Johnny lashed out…His fist connected with Kel’s jaw. His nightmare visions rushing back at him. Hands gripped his wrists, holding him firmly. The sudden, raised voices around him agitated him even more. Fear rose up in his awareness…‘Oh God no…He has me down…’ flitted through his confused brain.
“Get away…let me go… got to get away…,” John’s body arced from the table trying to throw off the weight pinning him down. Pain shot through his side… His leg ached and his arm suddenly began to burn as the IV ripped loose. He twisted frantically trying to twist his arms free of the restraining grip. His breath was coming in short, sharp gasps.
Something wrapping around his wrists and ankles only increased his fear and his struggles as other hands joined the first to hold him down. His fearful cry echoed in the small room… “Nooo...”
Suddenly a deep familiar voice intruded into his panicked illusion. The straps on his wrists were pulled away.
“JOHNNY …stop, it’s okay,” Roy said gently. John’s hands were caught once again, but this time he felt no fear…only calm recognition.
Brackett leaned over Johnny his hands began to probe the ribs as his eyes flicked to the X rays displayed on the lighted reader. He was still in shocked disbelief at what he’d seen.
His eyes returned to John’s face as he leaned over the younger man. He only had a moment to realize Johnny’s eyes were open before a look of fear crossed the young Paramedics face. His hands rose defensively as if he were being attacked. His fist clipped Kel’s chin with surprising force. Brackett reeled but recovered quickly.
The Doctor managed to catch hold of Johnny’s hands but not before the IV was pulled loose. The younger man struggled to break the hold… “Sally, get me 4 mgs of Lorazepam and an orderly stat…” The blonde bolted from the room.
"Johnny, stop it…settle down,” Kel ground out as he wrestled with the younger man. The Doctor was amazed at how much strength the young man exhibited despite his slender build and his injuries. The door burst open behind him as a burly intern charged in.
“Don, help me hold him…watch his ribs,” Kel snapped as the muscular young man ran to his side. Kel’s main concern was John’s ribs and the all too real possibility of puncturing a lung as John’s body continued to buck beneath them… Kel had to loosen his hold on the wrists briefly, afraid of breaking them himself as the younger man twisted them frantically in his grip. He grabbed for the restraint straps, desperately pulling them into place but it only seemed to increase Johnny’s frenzied struggle.
“Nooo,” Johnny cried out in terror.
Roy was suddenly beside him... “Doc…what happened?”
“I don’t know… He just woke up fighting.”
Roy remembered John’s reaction to having his wrists held…he’d been absolutely terrified. Roy’s hands moved to the restraints.
“What are you doing?” Kel asked worriedly as Roy pulled the restraints free.
“These won’t help,” Roy said quietly, somehow instinctively knowing they would only frighten John more. John’s hands once again began to swing wildly but Roy was ready and caught them with his own.He leaned close to his ear as he began to speak softly… “JOHNNY…stop…it’s okay.”
“Roy…,” He gasped. His slender fingers curled around the older man’s as his voice penetrated the feverish haze… Roy was here and he knew he wouldn’t let anything happen to him. John began to relax.
“That’s it Partner, I’m here…,” He said quietly, his hand moved to gently rest on his friend’s head. Johnny’s glazed, dark eyes focused on his friend for a moment before drifting closed.
Dixie burst into the room, Sally right behind her with a syringe. “Kel…Sally said you were having a problem with John…,”She trailed off as her eyes fell on the now sleeping Paramedic.
“Apparently not anymore...,” Kel said wryly as he reestablished the IV. Dixie glanced at the hand held in Roy’s. The blonde Paramedic blushed in embarrassment as she grinned at him, but he didn’t let go.
Kel gave John the Lorazepam as a precaution, flexed his jaw briefly to be sure it wasn’t broken and set to work on his leg. “We’ll get him into a room as soon as we’re done here. We’ll have to keep him for a while… those ribs are gonna be a problem. He won’t be able to walk on that leg without crutches and he won’t be able to use crutches with those broken ribs…not to mention a concussion.”
“Don’t worry Doc, Joanne and I have already agreed to have him come home with us… I just need to convince him.”
“It’s that or he stays here for a couple of weeks… I think he’ll choose you,” Kel said with a chuckle, setting the drain aside and picking up the first suture needle.
“Don’t be too sure Doc… he hates being dependent on anyone.”
Kel’s eyes fell on the hand held in Roy’s… “He seems to accept you alright.”
Roy shrugged… “Occasionally... He’s just so…disconnected from everyone.”
Kel at least understood now why the young firefighter was that way…he smiled at the senior paramedic. “Roy I told you once that I thought your partnership was a mistake… I was wrong. I think you two are good for each other… I think John needs you, though he’ll never admit it and I think you need him as well.” He said smiling at the confused look the younger man threw at him… “If anyone can get through to him…I’d put my money on you and personally… I don’t think THAT’S disconnected,” he said nodding at the clasped hands.
He straightened up from his stitching. Dixie threw him a wink and a smile at his understanding of the friendship between the two younger men and how close they’d become.
“Dix…, get a bandage on that leg… Sally, get him a room,” Kel ordered as he moved to John’s ribs. Kel made sure they were set properly. He taped them carefully and then temporarily immobilized his left arm to prevent any strain on them. Kel looked up as he finished… “Let’s get him in a room.”
Captain Hammer was waiting when Roy limped out of the treatment room… “Hey Cap,” Roy greeted him in surprise.
“Roy,” he replied somberly… “How is he?”
“He was pretty sick when we brought him in, but I think he’s gonna be okay.”
“Yeah… well wait’ll I get through with him.”
“You’ll have to stand in line...,” Dixie said dryly, catching the tail end of the conversation as she came out of the treatment room. She held the door open as they wheeled the gurney out. Johnny was still asleep.
Cap took one look at his youngest crew member and shook his head in disgust, “How did I miss that bruise?”
“Cap…, don’t beat yourself up… He didn’t mean for you to see it and he’s pretty adept at hiding things and Joanne says he was pretty filthy from the fire… She said it was hard to see.”
Cap nodded remembering Johnny’s soot coated face from the day before…“Roy, there’s something I have to tell you.”
“What’s that Cap?”
“John’s requested a transfer.”
“WHAT?” Roy shouted.
“Shhh…,” Cap shushed him looking around to see if anyone was watching them.
“What?” Roy asked again a bit more hushed.
“He was pretty shook up after Jo…,” He trailed off. “He was really upset that you’d been hurt… It scared him… I could see it in his eyes... Anyway he left this for you,” he said handing Roy an envelope with his name scrawled across it in Johnny’s handwriting.
Roy took it. “Look Cap, Johnny’s gonna be out five weeks at least… Can you stall the transfer until I can talk to him? Try to change his mind.”
“You got it.”
“I gotta go…give John my best.”
“Yeah...,” Roy said softly. He went to the Doctors lounge to read John’s letter.
Roy; I guess by now Cap’s told you that I’ve requested a transfer. What happened tonight made me realize that I made a mistake. I’ve always tried not to become involved with the people I work with. It’s just easier that way. Our job is dangerous and it’s too easy to lose a friend. I’m sorry I left you behind. I’m sorry that I couldn’t get you out quickly enough. I made a bad decision and I hope there won’t be any lasting repercussions because of it. If I made an error in judgment…I’m sorry. I’m very sorry. I hope you and Joanne can forgive me someday. If not I’ll understand. Thanks for trying to be my friend but you’re better off this way. Johnny
Roy folded the letter… “Oh no you don’t Partner,” He murmured. “You’re not running away from this friendship.”
When John woke again it was dark and he was lying in a bed. His head pounded and his ribs throbbed. There was a dull ache in his leg but his fever was definitely down. A small sound caught his attention. He turned his head toward it…his head swam dizzily but he could make out the features of his partner as Roy sat sleeping in the chair next to his bed.
John’s stomach rolled at the motion. His low groan of distress had Roy’s eyes snapping open... sitting up quickly as Johnny began to gag. Pitiful, dark eyes met concerned blue as the younger man fought desperately to keep his stomach in place…he clenched his eyes shut to try and keep the room from spinning.
He tried to roll over but pain washed over him with the motion. He felt Roy’s hands turn him carefully on his side as he lost the fight. Roy held the emesis basin as John retched helplessly. When the spasms finally stopped he rolled him onto his back.
He stepped into the bathroom, reappearing a moment later with a damp wash cloth. He cleaned the younger man’s face… “Better now?”
John was still gasping for breath but he gave his friend a weak nod. “Okay, try and relax and I’ll try and get someone to give you something alright?”
“Thanks…,” He whispered.
Roy left, returning a moment later with a nurse. She injected Phenergan into his I.V. port, following it with MS. Roy rested his hand on his friend’s arm as the younger mans eyes closed in sleep.
Roy took out the letter Cap had given him awhile ago when he’d come to see John. He gave his Partner’s arm a gentle squeeze… “We’ll talk about this when you wake up Junior.”
When John woke the next time he was alone and he had to admit he didn’t like the feeling as much as he used to. His mouth was dry but the water glass was out of reach. He pushed the button to raise the head of the bed, feeling all the throbs and aches start up again at the movement.
He tried once more to reach the water but his ribs set up a painful protest. He pressed his arm tightly against his side and closed his eyes…his breath coming in short, painful gasps.
He felt a soft hand brush his hair back… “Are you in pain Johnny?” He recognized the voice…Dixie.
He nodded… “Wanted some water…,” He panted.
“I’ll get it for you…hold on.”
Dixie pulled the table closer and picked up the glass, directing the straw into John’s mouth so he could drink. He finished and then laid his head back as Dixie pressed the call button. A moment later a dark haired middle aged nurse stuck her head in… “John needs his meds…,” Dixie directed.
“Yes Ma’am,” she confirmed as she disappeared back out the door…returning a few minutes later…she handed the syringe to Dixie. Dix added it to his IV port...within minutes the paramedic began to drift off... feeling her soft hand once again brush his forehead.
“Next time you need something sweetheart, ring for help okay?” She said softly.
“Kay…,” He murmured as his eyes closed and sleep came.
The next time he woke up… Roy was back. He was sitting in the chair reading… The paper in his hand looked vaguely familiar to Johnny’s still fuzzy brain. Roy glanced up to see sleepy brown eyes watching him.
“Good mornin…Pally,” He said softly mustering a small smile for his friend.
“What?” Johnny asked in confusion.
“A good morning…?”
John frowned... “I don’t understand.”
“Well I’m about to lose my partner and my best friend… I don’t think that’s such a good morning.”
Johnny looked uncertain but then his eyes fell on the letter in Roy’s hands. He swallowed hard, raising his eyes back to meet a stormy blue gaze.
“Care to explain this?”
John’s face fell… “Roy…I…I’m so sorry I left you there… Morton said you were hurt bad…and…and…the delay could have…and he…I mean…I thought…,” He stuttered through his explanation…his voice sounding tired and weak.
Roy almost took pity at his friends awkward stammering. It was letting Roy know just how frustrated John was feeling.
“H…he told Jo if you’d b…been treated sooner…,”He trailed off barely audible.
“Well he was wrong Junior… I wasn’t hurt as bad as he thought and that was because of you. If you hadn’t taken the brunt of that weight, I might have had my head crushed.”
“But…I left you there,” He said softly…“Took the victim…”
“You did your job John and I would have done the same thing. You’re probably closer to me than any other person I’ve ever worked with.” John frowned slightly… Roy saw it but continued on … “But I still would have taken the victim first because it’s my job…It’s what we’re trained to do. You didn’t do anything wrong and I’m fine.”
“This time,” John whispered.
Roy remembered the words in his letter… Johnny was terrified at getting too close to anyone. Afraid he’d lose them. Roy had seen the frown when he said he was close to him. “Having a friend and being close to someone isn’t a crime John but you’re running away from it like it is…,” Roy accused.
“You are…because I got too close…I got through your little walls… So you have to get out before you get hurt.”
“N…no…,” John choked out, refusing to meet Roy’s eyes… Man, he always knew. Roy sometimes seemed to understand Johnny better than he did himself. “It’s better for you…,” John began.
“No Johnny…Your not running for me…your running from me… for you…because you’re afraid…,” Roy shot back.
“I’m not afraid…,”John argued defensively.
Roy looked up at the ceiling in frustration as he wondered once again who’d screwed this kids head up so badly. He remembered the child at the rescue a few weeks ago... a battered child that recoiled from everyone’s touch. A child that was silent and refused to meet their eyes… He remembered his Partner’s nightmare and his panicked reaction in the apartment and the terror in his eyes and his own suspicions that he’d pushed from his mind. His gaze snapped back to Johnny’s face.
“Johnny, were you an abused child?” He blurted out.
John stared at Roy in shock… How had he…? Johnny couldn’t even finish the thought. “N…n…no,” He stuttered softly, averting his gaze.
Roy narrowed his eyes as the younger man once again refused to look at him… watching the play of emotions cross his features…fear, guilt…shame. “Who was it John…your Dad?”
“NO…,” He denied hotly.
“Man…you’re just outta line,” John snapped angrily.
“Leave it alone Roy…,” He pleaded fearfully.
“Which one John…?” Roy pressed.
“M…my p…parents loved me,” He gasped.
“I didn’t ask you that… I asked who?”
“NO ONE…,” John yelled struggling to sit up. “Aaargh…,” He cried out as his ribs screamed in protest.
“Okay…okay Johnny, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have upset you… I’m sorry…just lie back,” He soothed, gently pushing the younger man back on the pillow.
John was struggling against the pain but Roy wasn’t sure which pain…emotional or physical. “My Parents loved me,” He whispered again softly.
“I’m sure they did,” Roy agreed. Without thinking he gently brushed the dark hair back, resting his hand on John’s head.
“Why did you do that?” John asked suddenly.
“Do what junior?”
John gestured toward Roy’s hand… “That.”
Roy moved his hand. “I’m sorry Johnny… It’s something I do for Chris when he’s upset or sick. It seems to comfort him. It’s just a habit but it’s a very personal gesture and I won’t do it again if it bothers you.”
“It…it’s just…something my Dad used to do... when I was little,” He murmured softly.
“I’m sorry… It won’t happen again.”
“No…I didn’t mean…,” John hesitated, embarrassed to admit that it was something he found comforting as well but he knew if Chet or the guys ever saw it he’d never live it down… He bit his lip and looked away.
Roy grinned in understanding as he watched his friends face turn red. Johnny was still fighting desperately to keep the crumbling walls in place and stay impersonal while Roy continued chipping away at his defenses. The emotional numbness he’d lived with for years was lifting and he was still trying to resist it but at the same time found himself drawn to it and that close relationship with Roy.
The only problem was that Johnny didn't trust anyone. He’d been rejected so often and had been so badly hurt by the very ones who should have been there for him that he was baffled by any show of friendship or affection. After his Mother was gone, comforting gestures had become non -existent.
He’d been told to be strong when his Mother died and not to show his grief… He'd been told by his Grandfather not to show fear or pain…To bear what came his way stoically…without crying or complaint…He'd been taught by his Aunts to be fearful of anyone’s touch…By his Uncle to be afraid and by all of them to trust no one…to feel nothing…It was a lesson he’d learned well. There was no one to turn to, he'd become numb.
By the time his Aunt Rosemary had taken him in, the damage had been done. She’d spent months trying to break through before John would tolerate her affection and even that was limited to verbal displays.
Allowing Roy’s soothing gesture would be admitting that he needed someone and letting someone behind his defenses...even Roy, was a sign of weakness...besides what if Chet or the guys ever saw this ...he'd never hear the end of it...but John desperately wanted that closeness with someone...he was tired of being alone...but what if he slipped...said too much...it was always a problem. Johnny was terribly confused as the arguments swirled in his mind.
Roy’s hand returned to John’s head… he used the back of his fingers to gently sweep the hair from his forehead…“I promise I’ll never do it in front of anyone else…especially the guys…deal?” Roy said with a chuckle as he once again correctly read the play of emotions that crossed his young partners face.
John’s mouth dropped open…Man, he’d done it again. Roy always seemed to know his thoughts but then he seemed to know Roy’s as well… It’s what made them a good team. He hesitated then took another small step toward that need to trust someone…“deal…”
“Now about this transfer…”
“Roy, I just feel guilty...and I’m afraid of makin a mistake…one that might get you killed…I…I don’t know if I could live with that… Besides…,” He said with a small shrug…, “it would make your wife happy."
“Johnny I can’t excuse what she said but…”
“I’m not askin you too. She was angry and…”
“And she blamed you unfairly,” John raised dark eyes to Roy’s. “Johnny… either one of us could be killed on this job but I’d rather have you watching my back than anyone else. I trust you and no one’s gonna change that. I don’t want another Partner, I want my friend… The one that thinks I’m worth saving. Please Johnny, don’t leave…give it awhile longer. “
The younger man chewed his lip in indecision for a moment… “I don’t know,” He said with a sigh.
Roy heaved a matching sigh but decided not to push him too hard, “Will you think about it… please?” He pleaded. He really didn’t want to lose John. “Running away just isn’t you…,” Johnny looked up at him sharply… “Now you need to rest until Brackett comes up. Who knows, maybe he’ll let you go home soon.”
“Maybe…,” Johnny said doubtfully, knowing Brackett would never let him go home alone.
As if on cue the door swung open and Brackett strolled in followed by Dixie. “Roy… Johnny…how are you feeling this morning?”
“Better than yesterday,” He admitted.
Dixie moved around to the other side of the bed and began to check John’s pulse and respirations while Kel checked his eyes.
“Good thing you’ve got a hard head Johnny.”
“Must be us dark haired types,” Johnny agreed flippantly.
Roy and Dixie exchanged looks… These two were so much alike and they had more in common than just hair color. They were both dedicated, hard working, and incredibly stubborn individuals. They both kept a gentle heart buried under a tough façade. They both cared deeply for what they did in their careers. If they could just get beyond their past differences they’d probably be good friends.
“Ahem...,” Kel cleared his throat breaking the tension… “I think you’re doing well Johnny…are you still experiencing dizziness?”
“Some,” He admitted.
“How’s the pain in your ribs?”
John shrugged, wincing as he did. “Manageable,” He said evasively.
Kel didn’t miss the grimace of pain. He raised the sheet and cut the bandage from John’s leg. It was still inflamed and discolored but the swelling had gone down drastically. “You know you could have lost this leg,” He said sternly.
“I know that…I… I was gonna call for help,” He said defensively. “I was just gonna lay down for a minute but…I fell asleep…and when I woke up I couldn’t move.”
“Why didn’t you tell someone the night it happened?”
“You mean you didn’t think,” Kel growled.
John stiffened but said nothing…as much as it bugged him the Doctor was right.
“Doc…I think he was just feeling guilty for leaving a friend behind.”
John’s jaw tightened in anger.
“Maybe to you…,” Roy said in frosty tones,” but he’d already been accused of making a mistake, taking too long to get me out.”
Kel was well aware of the priority system of the Fire Department and it was always the victim first. “He didn’t do anything wrong…,” Kel replied. Johnny looked at Brackett in surprise.
“I know that Doc, so does John… up here…,” He said tapping his head, “but sometimes, something else tells you your wrong.”
“I don’t know how you stayed on your feet,” Kel said almost admiringly.
“Well I think I only cracked the ribs in the collapse…,” John admitted, “I think they broke when I fell on the stairs to my apartment.”
“You what…?” Roy snapped.
John nodded, “I think that’s when they actually broke. I decided I needed to call then but I hurt so bad I just wanted to lie down for a minute and… I…I told you the rest."
“This isn’t the first time you’ve hidden an injury John.” The tone of Kel’s voice spoke volumes.
John’s eyes narrowed... “No it’s not the first time, but maybe I just hate being poked and prodded by Doctors who don’t like hose Jockey’s, especially one who thinks I’m irresponsible and undisciplined...," He snapped out breathlessly throwing Kel’s words back at him. His arm once again tightened over his ribs as they protested his angry tirade. John eyes squeezed shut and his jaw clenched in agony.
“Which you so ably proved…”
Johnny’s eyes snapped open and practically shot daggers at Kel…
“Alright you two,” Dixie said stepping between them… She was shocked…she’d never seen Johnny truly irate.
Even Roy seemed surprised. He’d only seen his Partner this annoyed once before and that was his first encounter with Chet Kelly…Oh sure he’d have minor outbursts of anger once in a while but not like this.
“Kel, maybe the lecture should be over… John did intend to call for help and he did have other reasons for not saying anything…he wasn’t intentionally being irresponsible.”
Kel looked at her in annoyance and then softened. Up until yesterday he hadn’t understood John Gage at all. He hadn’t been able to understand the reckless streak or why he hid injuries. He didn’t know why this Kid seemed to draw people to protect him. Dixie, Roy…even Joe Early… They had seen the vulnerable side that he’d initially missed. Having seen what he did on those films caused him to look a little deeper. It was there in the eyes that looked lost and alone.
“Fine Dix…,” He said softly giving in.
“Can I go home?” Johnny asked.
“I’d release you if I could but you can’t walk without crutches and you can’t use crutches with three broken ribs…besides I don’t want you alone if you’re still having dizzy spells.”
John nodded forlornly…sometimes being alone wasn’t such a great thing. “How long do I have to stay here?”
“At least a week, maybe more before those ribs can stand the stress of your weight.”
John looked stunned… “A week…?” He groaned.
“He doesn’t have to stay here,” Roy said. “Jo and I would like to bring him home with us until he’s ready to be on his own.”
“Roy I can’t do that,” John argued. “I don’t want to be a…burden on anyone...,” he said using one of the expressions his Aunt Lacee had always used to describe him. Burden, problem, trouble, embarrassment… she’d had a list of them. They’d been hurled at him regularly along with the well aimed slaps and accusations that he and his Father had ruined his Mother’s life.
“Can it Junior… You wouldn’t be… You’re not a burden. You need a place to stay where there’s someone to help you out. I’m off for my ankle injury as well as a minor concussion. You want out of here…I’m available… It works out great.”
“But Joanne…,” He protested.
“Joanne will be fine with it…I promise you,” Roy said reassuringly, knowing Joanne would love an opportunity to apologize to a captive audience and make it up to him.
John chewed his lip nervously… He hated being dependent but he didn’t want to stay here either. He raised dark eyes to meet Roy’s… “Are you sure…?”
“Okay…I guess…,” John looked at Kel… “So can I go?”
Kel hesitated… John was still running a low grade fever. He was obviously still in a great deal of pain. “Tomorrow morning…,” He agreed reluctantly. “I’ll have your release papers sent up then,” Brackett turned and left without another word.
Dixie shook her head at John… “I wish you two would talk this out and let it go.”
“I will if he will Dix,” John said softly.
Dixie squeezed his hand drawing a smile from the young Paramedic, “I’ll see you later, but Johnny…”
“Kel was right about one thing…,” John looked at her warily… “No more keeping injuries a secret okay?”
John blushed but nodded. Dixie followed Brackett out.
John looked worriedly at Roy, “Will Joanne really be okay with this…?”
Roy nodded, “It was her idea.”
John was afraid she wanted to finish what she’d started, but then he still felt that sense of guilt that made him think he deserved it.
“I’ll pick you up in the morning Junior.”
“Kay,” he murmured softly.
Joanne greeted her husband at the door... “Well, what did he say?”
“He said yes.”
Jo smiled in relief... “Jo he’d of agreed to stay in Hell if it would have got him outta Rampart. He’s still pretty hurt and he’s still beating himself up over what happened.”
“Oh Roy…I’m so sorry but if you can get him here maybe I can finally apologize...maybe I can get him to listen."
“Jo…He’s requested a transfer.”
“What…? Oh Honey No…”
“I tried to talk him out of it, but I don’t know…I think he’s afraid.”
“Of being hurt. Of losing a friend because he did something wrong or might in the future.”
“This is all my fault!”
“No Joanne, I think the damage was done a long time ago.”
“What do you mean?”
“I told you I thought he’d been abused…” At her nod he continued, “I asked him about it today.”
“He denied it.”
She looked at him blankly… “So… what…? You don’t believe him?”
“It’s perfectly normal for an abused child to deny they’ve been abused.”
She nodded…“Or maybe he really wasn’t.”
“No way Jo… he was scared…I could see it in his eyes. I don’t know who but someone’s hurt him…badly. I just wish he’d talk to me…trust me… I want to help him.”
“I hope you’re wrong Roy but if not maybe what he needs most is just for someone to be there for him…to be his friend …to care about him and you do. His fear of losing you tells me that he cares about you too. He’d rather transfer than let something happen to you. What he doesn’t understand is that he’s the best one to see that doesn’t happen…that no one will protect you better than he can.”
Roy nodded forlornly. He had to reach his Partner if he wanted to keep him at Station 51. Make him understand. He didn’t know Joanne had similar thoughts.
Roy was there bright and early the next morning to pick his partner up. Brackett once again hesitated, almost keeping Johnny one more night. Both of them had seen the pain reflected in the young man’s eyes at every movement despite John’s attempt to hide it.
Brackett threw Roy a glance and a nod at the door…the blonde Paramedic followed the Doctor into the hall. “I don’t know Roy…he still looks like he should be in a hospital and he’s still running a fever.”
“Doc I agree he looks like he’s in pain…but I also think he’d do better outta here. He absolutely hates hospitals and I promise you…I’ll keep a close eye on him and I’ll bring him back if there’s any trouble.”
Brackett wavered…despite their differences he found himself still worrying over the younger man. He was still his patient after all and after what he’d seen on those X-rays… He shook his head.
“Okay…If he was going home with anyone else I’d say no…but since you are a Paramedic, you’ll be able to take care of him better than anyone else… Besides you appear to be the only person our young friend in there seems to trust,” He said nodding toward the door.
Roy was still surprised that the surly Doctor had picked up on something so personal. He was generally oblivious to the subtleties of interpersonal relationships.
“How much do you know about John?”
“Just something I noticed on his X rays.”
“Oh…? What was that?” Roy asked warily.
“Well I really can’t discuss the details with you without Gage’s permission but there was reason for…concern. I thought, maybe he’d told you something about his past,” he hinted unknowingly confirming Roy’s own suspicions.
“No Doc, he hasn’t told me about his past. Well at least not anything that would help you, but I think I know what you saw and I know what I’ve suspected myself…” Roy hesitated, “I think we’re both right.”
“He’s pretty closed mouthed,” Kel observed.
“That’s an understatement,” Roy agreed with a small smile.
Kel smiled back as he pushed the door open… Roy followed him in.
“You finished talkin about me?” John asked flippantly.
“We were just debating on whether or not to let you go home,” Brackett explained.
John cast an anxious look at his Partner before answering. “You said I could yesterday,” He pointed out with a slight pout.
“Yes…but you’re still in a lot of pain and you still have a fever.”
“I’ll be fine Doc…really.”
“Don’t worry Johnny…,” Kel said using the more familiar form of address for the first time, “Roy’s already argued your case. I’m gonna let you go home with him. I’ll send Dix with a wheelchair. She’ll want to say goodbye anyway.”
Johnny smiled in relief... “Thanks,” He murmured.
Kel nodded, casting a final concerned glance at Roy as he left.
“What did he want?” John asked softly.
“He was worried about you.”
“I’ll bet..,.” Johnny snorted, wincing again as his ribs protested.
“Seriously…he was concerned that you’re still in pain.”
“I’ll be in less pain once I’m outta here.”
“He was also concerned about something he saw on your X-rays.”
John froze... “What was that?” He whispered warily.
“He wouldn’t tell me.”
John breathed a sigh of relief. Roy gave his friend a raised eyebrow and John grew uncomfortable under the knowing stare.
“Just leave it alone Roy…please. It was a long time ago…it’s over,” He said softly averting his eyes.
“That sort of thing is never over,” Roy said gently.
Johnny glanced at Roy almost fearfully… “Please…,” He began as Dixie pushed the door open interrupting further conversation.
“You ready to go Johnny?” She asked
“Yeah…! More than ready...”
Working together they assisted the young paramedic into a sitting position and got him dressed in the clothes Roy had brought with him from Johnny’s locker. It was a painful ordeal but Johnny was willing to put up with anything if it would get him out of the hospital. They eased him into the chair and the older man winced in sympathy at John’s grimace of pain.
Dixie reached out to lift his chin, forcing his eyes to meet hers… “You take it easy and let Roy help you…got it?” She directed sternly.
“Yes ma’am,” He answered with a small smile. She winked at him drawing a small laugh from the younger man.
Roy heaved a sigh at John’s ability to win the affections of the opposite sex…even the usually cool Dixie succumbed to his charm. He pushed his Partner out the door as Dixie followed behind.
Once on the sidewalk Dix handed Roy several bottles of pills… “Antibiotics for his leg, Ibuprofen for his fever and pain killers for all of him,” She quipped. “Make sure he uses them and get him up on that leg but take it slow…DO NOT let him walk alone...” She stressed, looking at John sternly. “He’s still got a lot of recovering to do. Be sure to change that bandage twice a day,” She said nodding at his leg. “Any further sign of infection bring him back in.”
Roy nodded with a grin and went to retrieve his car. Johnny seemed anxious while he waited for his friend to return, almost afraid Brackett would appear and tell him he’d changed his mind. He breathed a sigh of relief as Roy pulled up in Joanne’s station wagon.
On the way to Roy’s, Johnny kept his face turned toward the passing landscape. Roy knew it was an effort to keep him from reopening the previous conversation and he decided to leave it alone for now. He’d have plenty of time to talk to his friend during his stay at the house.
After a few minutes John’s gaze shifted to the front and taking in where they were… he shifted nervously, wincing in pain.
“Relax Junior it’ll be okay,” Roy said softly.
John glanced at his Partner and finally voiced his bewilderment…. “Man…how do you always know what I’m thinkin?”
“I don’t…always,” Roy corrected with a grin... “Sometimes you’re too far out even for me.”
John felt the childish urge to stick his tongue out at him.
Roy chuckled at the wounded look on his partners face as he pulled into his driveway. He climbed from the Station Wagon and limped around to help his friend from the car but John was already trying to get out on his own. Roy sighed…The older man knew it was going to be a long two weeks as his fiercely independent partner would be resistant to his efforts to help him.
“Just sit there and wait for me Johnny…,” He told him as he rounded the car. Roy carefully pulled Johnny to his feet and finding no way to avoid close contact…He slid his arm around his Partners slender waist, taking a firm hold of his right elbow and bearing most of his young friends slight weight against him… The protest was immediate.
“I can walk.”
“Your leg won’t support your weight yet and the last thing you need is to fall.”
John’s mouth set stubbornly but the pain shooting up his leg at his first step quickly reminded him that his friend was right. He sucked in his breath causing the muscles around his ribs to tighten painfully. Only Roy’s firm hold on his waist and elbow kept him from falling and he glanced sheepishly at his partner who smirked back at him.
“I really hate I told you so’s,” John gasped out in annoyance at the look.
“I’d hate pickin your butt up off the floor even more, so just remember what Dixie said and let me help you.”
“What about your ankle?” Johnny panted in protest as he hobbled along next to his friend.
“It can hold up a while longer.”
“Kay,” Johnny said finally giving in to the pain and leaning against his friend.
They limped towards the front door… John glanced over at Roy giving him a giggle of laughter. It was a sound Roy had never heard before.
“I wonder what your neighbors think of the two of us… We must look ridiculous.” Roy laughed with him.
The door opened and Joanne stepped out catching the two men in the shared moment of merriment but John sobered instantly at the sight of her, abruptly drawing to a halt. He swallowed hard and averted his eyes from Joanne’s. His grimace of pain and the downcast eyes didn’t go unnoticed by either of the DeSoto’s.
“Roy, bring him inside…,” Joanne directed, “His room’s ready.” She stepped back to clear the way for them. Roy assisted his young partner into the house and back to Jo’s sewing room that doubled as the DeSoto’s guest room.
Joanne pulled the covers back and Roy sat him down carefully. John’s breathing was labored telling Roy he’d reached the end of his reserves. “Okay let’s get you settled Junior.”
Roy reached down to swing his Partners legs up on the bed, flipping the shoes off his feet… Roy unbuttoned John’s shirt and slipped it off and then eased him carefully back on the bed.
“I’m okay Roy,” He protested at the overly careful handling… “You don’t need to go to this much trouble.”
“Yeah…well the way you’re breathin’s tellin me you’re not okay Junior, so just lay back… Jo can you get me some water so he can take his meds?” He asked pulling the bottles of pills from his pocket. She nodded leaving the room as Roy pulled the blankets over his Partner. John shot him an amused look.
“You through tuckin me in now…?” He gasped out with a mischievous sparkle in his eyes.
Roy blushed but chuckled in amusement. He sat on the bed next to his Partner.
“Yeah I’m through, but look Johnny…you can’t do too much…that means you’re going to have to let me and Jo help you okay? I know how much you hate being dependent on anyone but It’s gonna be much easier on all of us if you stop thinkin of yourself as a burden and fighting us every step of the way. We want you here…You’re no trouble.”
Johnny couldn’t think of himself any other way. His early childhood had burned it into his soul. He opened his mouth to argue but Jo’s reappearance with the requested glass of water silenced the young, dark haired man. His eyes traveled about the room nervously, finally settling on the view outside the window next to the bed.
Roy and Jo both noticed… This had to be resolved if his staying here was going to work. “Roy can I have a minute with John…?” She asked.
Roy nodded and stood up. Johnny shot a panicked glance at his friend as Jo sat next to him…his eyes once again returned to the window as Joanne took her husband’s place next to John. She folded her hands in her lap.
“Johnny, what I said to you the other night was completely unfair. This wasn’t your fault…any of it. When they called me from the Hospital and told me he was hurt…the nurse told me one of the other Paramedics had seen you come out alone… she said that you left him there and someone else had to go in to get Roy out.”
Johnny didn’t need to ask who, he already knew but Roy stood up straighter. This was the first he’d heard of anyone else getting him out. He’d been sure it was John who was with him in the stairwell when he’d regained consciousness. He looked at Johnny in confusion but his Partner refused to look at them.
What could he say, it was the truth… he’d failed his Partner. If Barron hadn’t come in they could have both died in that stairwell… John’s own misplaced feelings of guilt kept him silent as Jo continued.
“I didn’t know you’d saved Roy’s life and been injured as well. Johnny …I’m so grateful for what you did…and I shouldn’t have been angry with you. You did your job and you went back for him even though you were so badly hurt. The point is that I should have known you wouldn’t leave Roy or put him in danger intentionally. Johnny…there isn’t anyone who could look out for Roy better than you. He knew it from the beginning and I’m so sorry I didn’t trust you or Roy enough to understand that. That all I could see was your age and not the man behind it.”
Joanne had tears in her eyes and his burned with them. He blinked them away furiously, refusing to let them fall.
That little voice in his head…the one that for years had reminded him to stay clear so he wouldn’t be hurt, battled with the ache in his heart at the thought of leaving. It was something he’d never experienced before.
Joanne continued, “Do you care about Roy Johnny?” She asked.
The younger man shifted uncomfortably, wincing in pain but he nodded his head without looking at them… “Yes,” He whispered honestly.
“If you care about him, be there to protect him…because there is no one…NO ONE,” She stressed again, “that I want watching over my husband more than you. I know I hurt you and I’m so...very sorry. Johnny, can you please… please forgive me,” She finished with a break in her voice as the tears began to fall down her cheeks.
John continued to gaze out the window. He’d been fighting with himself since he and Roy had spoken yesterday on whether to stay or leave and that little voice was nudging him yet again. John shoved it out of his head once and for all as he made his decision. He turned dark eyes toward Joanne… “It’s okay Joanne,” He whispered.
“Thank You Johnny,” She said softly as she leaned down to drop a kiss on the younger man’s forehead.
John blushed but turned his uncertain gaze toward his Partner, “I’ll cancel the transfer if you’re sure you want me too.”
“I do…now what about someone else? I remember you carrying me out…at least I think I do.”
“My leg gave out and I fell on the landing,” John whispered painfully. “I…I couldn’t go any further. Keith Barron told me to go and he took you the rest of the way,” Johnny said guiltily.
“Johnny don’t beat yourself up…you were hurt. You did the best you could and you got me out of the worst of the fire and smoke…you didn’t have time to get help."
“Yes I did…I… I tried to.”
“When I came out the first time…23’s was just getting there. I gave the victim to them and I told them you were inside and I needed help. I thought Kimmerlin would follow but… he didn’t. I…I… should have gone back…made him come with me but I thought I could handle it. I…I couldn’t make it back up the stairs fast enough and then…I fell. Kimmerlin came up finally and I asked for his help again but he just…laughed at me and left. I had to try and I finally made it back up…but I took too long and…I made a mistake…I shoulda gone back…,”He stopped in regret, “I’m sorry Roy...,” He gasped obviously upset.
Joanne looked at Roy angrily but it wasn’t directed at Johnny… “You mean he left you there? He left you both there to die?” She growled.
Roy’s eyes narrowed in fury. “We’ll deal with that later but you have nothing to be sorry for Junior...You didn’t make a mistake…you did your best to save my life…I can’t be angry at that now can I?” He asked reaching out and flicking the bangs off John’s forehead. Johnny glanced at him in embarrassment but didn’t pull away…John’s eyes drooped tiredly and Roy decided his friend had been through enough for the moment… “Ok Partner, time for you to rest now okay?”
Jo took the hint. She took John’s hand in hers… “You got him out… with or without help doesn’t matter,” She told him, handing him the glass of water, she popped the bottles open and handed him a pain killer, antibiotic and two Ibuprofen… “Here you go.”
“Aw Joanne…,” He began to protest.
“Doctor’s orders,” She reminded him.
“I hate the way they make me feel,” He grumbled.
“You’ll hate feeling those ribs and that leg when they wear off too. You’re already hurting I can see it in your face,” She pointed out.
Roy chuckled at the stubborn pout that crossed his friends face but he wasn’t worried… Jo could handle his willful Partner.
“Johnny please, you need to take these. If you’re in too much pain or your fever goes back up we’ll have to take you back to Rampart,” She reasoned as if talking to one of her children.
“Okay,” John sighed giving in. He downed the pills.
“Thank you sweetheart,” Joanne said with a smug smile.
John flushed in embarrassment at the endearment. Roy suffered a brief twinge of jealousy before brushing the unwarranted emotion aside. Jo would never betray him and Johnny could certainly use a little mothering.
“I’ll wake you up in time for lunch Junior,” Roy promised him… John nodded.
Jo pulled the covers up closer under John’s chin and gently brushed the hair from his forehead as pain and exhaustion combined with the pills and the young Paramedics eyes began to close. She went to stand with her husband… “Your turn now that the kids are tucked in,” She quipped.
Roy grinned and followed her upstairs…he had injuries of his own and needed to rest himself.
John slept for most of the morning... Roy woke him briefly to give him his lunch and more meds and John began to drift once more. The couple knew sleep was the best thing for him… they left him to it...though Roy or Joanne checked on him several times throughout the afternoon.
Roy woke him again for dinner but John was obviously still drowsy and in pain. Roy got him up for a bathroom break while Joanne set up a tray for dinner. He coaxed his Partner into taking his medication without too much argument and he had barely finished eating before sleep claimed him again.
John had been peacefully floating throughout the day. He had vague moments when he knew he’d been awake and that Roy had helped him eat and had taken him to the bathroom. As embarrassing as that had been, he was still glad he’d been persuaded to come home with his friend…grateful that he was no longer alone.
His mind however seemed unwilling to give up years of hard learned lessons and as he sank deeper into a drugged sleep he slid uneasily into his childhood nightmares.
The opening strains of Secret Love began to play in his mind. The ten year old gazed adoringly up at his Mother as she took him through the dance steps her beloved husband had taught her so long ago. John giggled as she playfully tickled him after he stepped on her toes for the third time.
He glanced down at his feet moving in time with hers. She gazed down at the sable hair, the same color as her Roderick’s. She reached down to tilt his chin up, gazing into his brown eyes that were sparkling with laughter… She brushed the shaggy hair from his face. “My little love...” She said softly, “What would I do without you?”
He knew she was thinking of his Father and he smiled at her sadly, the laughter gone. “Oh Mé’oo’o (Sweetheart), don’t look so sad…,” She said gently, “Your Daddy will always live right here in you…,” She said caressing his cheek. She hugged him to her and he wrapped his slender arms around her returning her hug.
Roy lay in his bed waiting for Joanne to join him. It would be their only peaceful night as she planned to pick up the kids in the morning. Once the baby was home and Chris realized Uncle Johnny was there it would be chaos. Healthy…John turned into as much of a child as they were whenever they got together. Injured…well… Roy knew the three would keep them hopping.
He sat up … “Damn it…”he muttered to himself as he swung his feet over the edge of the bed. “Joanne…,” he called through the bathroom door.
“I forgot to change the bandage on Johnny’s leg… Dix said to be sure I did that. I’m gonna run down and get him undressed, he’ll be more comfortable and I can change the bandage,” he explained. He’d tried earlier but his Partner was still wearing the blue jeans he’d come home in. Roy couldn’t roll them up and he hadn’t wanted to wake him to get them off. He retrieved a pair of his sweatpants from the drawer and headed downstairs. John was due for his medications soon anyway and he’d be much more comfortable and easier to care for in the looser clothing… He headed downstairs.
John’s temperature had begun to climb and the aches and pains to flare as the ibuprofen and pain killers wore off. He thrashed restlessly groaning in pain as his ribs protested the motion.
John’s face was buried against his Mothers stomach. He felt her hand stroke his cheek, sliding to caress his neck and slipping into his hair. John looked up in surprise at the almost sensual caress, gasping in shock and fear as the features of his Uncle swam into focus… “No…,” He choked out. John struggled to break loose knowing he had to run... His Uncle couldn’t catch him when he ran.
His Uncles face lowered toward him, His lips brushing his Nephews cheek then sliding toward his mouth. John struggled frantically, twisting and kicking…finally pulling himself free… he backed away. His uncle stepped toward him...his hands reached for him again.
John turned to run but a pain in his side caused him to stumble. He felt a heavy hand clamp down on his shoulder spinning him around. His Uncles face loomed closer to his as he tried once again to kiss the boy… Johnny whimpered in fear and turned his face away in terror. He struggled frantically as hands tore the shirt from his shoulders…a hand came to rest on his belt, pulling it loose.
“No…let me go…don’t hurt me anymore…please…no… no…don’t touch me," He cried out as strong hands gripped his wrists again…holding him firmly in place.
“He’kotoo’êstse (Be silent)…,” his Uncle roared…Tears welled in the boys eyes. "Névé’e-a’xaame" (Do not cry…),” he growled. “Né-ho’tovahe" (You are weak…) The child bit his lip, fighting back the tears and cry’s of terror. Hands shook him until his head rocked on his shoulders and bones cracked beneath the grip. The face loomed closer to his. Nausea rose up and his world began to slip away…he gagged as the mouth touched his… He felt hands…hands touching him, groping him painfully between the legs. No...No...Stop! He whimpered in his sleep.
He knew he couldn’t get away this time and he was afraid his Uncle would beat him to death if he slipped away again but he couldn’t control it…he couldn’t stop it from happening… His feet lashed out and a final scream of terror was ripped from his throat. His mind began to blur.
His cry reverberated through the quiet night. He bolted upright gasping in pain from his ribs and shaking in shock. “I'll be good...Please don’t hurt me anymore...I'll be good, ” he whispered in desperation to the shadowy figure leaning over him.
Roy came down the stairs. Knowing the kids would be home in the morning, they’d moved Johnny’s medications to the kitchen and safely out of reach of Chris’s curious hands. The older man stopped to pick up his friends pills and a glass of water, then he headed to John’s room. The younger man was tossing restlessly.
Roy laid his hand on his Partners forehead…his temperature was definitely elevated. His head rolled away from Roy’s touch but the older man was still unaware that his partner was in the grip of another nightmare.
He was a bit uncomfortable at the idea of undressing another man but it needed to be done. He needed to check the bandages and the tight denim kept him from doing that. Roy began to unbutton the jeans but John’s whimper of fear stopped him.
His head tossed from side to side. A low groan escaped his lips followed by words that chilled Roy’s blood... “No...Let me go…don’t hurt me anymore…I'll be good... please… no…no…don’t touch me.” Johnny gagged suddenly and began to twist wildly as though wrestling with some imaginary enemy. His body arced up from the bed, his feet kicked out and his hands swung blindly… Roy reached out and gripped the flailing hands.
His Partner’s scream of terror shook him to the core as he bolted upright… It was followed by a sharp gasp of pain and his body shook uncontrollably.
“Johnny stop…it’s me… It’s Roy…,” The older man said through gritted teeth as his partner continued to try and twist his hands away… “John you’re okay…it’s just a dream…you’re okay.”
Roy could feel the tremor of his friend’s body under his hands. His frightened eyes tracked around the shadowy room finally coming to rest on his Partner. The nightmare still gripped him… His face reflected his terror... His breaths coming in short painful gasps.
“I'll be good... Please don’t hurt me...I'll be good,” He whispered desperately…he began to rock slowly. His eyes growing frighteningly blank. It only took Roy a few seconds to realize Johnny wasn’t seeing him…that the whispered plea was directed at someone else. Without thinking Roy pulled him into his arms. John’s body went rigid. “No…please no,” He panted, struggling frantically...straining away.
“Johnny…no one’s gonna hurt you…you’re safe here…,” Roy assured him as he struggled to hold on. A noise at the door brought his head around and for the first time realized his wife stood wide eyed in the doorway. Any doubts she had harbored about her husband’s concern in regard to Johnny’s past vanished. He was obviously terror stricken. Someone at some time in his life had hurt him horribly.
John’s hands clutched Roy’s shirt in a death grip…tears burned his eyes but he clenched them tightly to keep them from falling. “Can’t cry…no…,” he whispered against his friend’s chest. He tentatively relaxed against the older man feeling safe for the first time since his mom had died… he allowed Roy to hold him. It suddenly occurred to Roy that at that moment he wasn’t holding his tough, independent partner; he was holding a frightened child.
“That’s it Junior…just take it easy,.” he said softly, holding the dark head against him.
The rocking stopped… the hitched breaths began to calm. The screaming pain in his ribs subsided to a dull throb and hands that had been tightly gripping his Partners shirt began to ease.
“What were you dreaming about Johnny?” Roy asked gently, fully expecting either the lie that he couldn’t remember or the explosion he’d received at the Hospital… His Partners answer surprised him.
“My Mom…,” he whispered.
“Your Mom frightened you?” He asked softly.
“No…dead; she’s dead.”
“You told me she died.”
“Is that what frightened you?”
“Something…someone did… who hurt you tonight Johnny?”
The younger man whimpered in fear... “No one,” He whispered frantically, trying to pull back.
"Shhh...Shhh," The older man soothed, tightening his hold once more until Johnny relaxed again. “You can tell me…,” Roy urged softly… “Was it your Dad?”
“Who then…? Please…just trust me. Talk to me Johnny, please.”
John remained silent for a long time…“Uncle George,” He finally whispered. Then his eyes widened in disbelief at what he’d blurted out. “Can’t tell…can’t tell…I'm bad... it was my fault…my fault,” He rasped fearfully. He began to struggle to pull away… his body began to shake once again… “Don't tell him I told...He'll hurt me… Oh God…he’ll hurt me.”
“I won’t let him hurt you…,” Roy held him until he finally gave up and once again rested his forehead on his Partners shoulder. His eyes closed in exhaustion and pain. Roy gently stroked the dark head. John had taken one more step to trusting his friend but Roy knew there was more, a lot more and he was determined to find out all of it but he also knew he still needed to take it slow and not push too hard or too fast or Johnny would shut down.
He eased his friend away from him, coaxing him into taking the pills and sipping the water and then laid him gently back on the bed…The slender fingers closed over Roy’s. The older man stroked the hair from his friends face until he was sure John was asleep. Roy glanced up at Jo as she came into the room.
“I think he’ll be alright now,” He reassured her.
“Dear God Roy what happened to him?”
“I don’t know for sure but it’ got to have been really bad. Brackett told me today that he saw something on his X -rays that concerned him but he wouldn’t tell me what.”
“Why Roy…? How could anyone hurt him like that?”
His eyes returned to his partner. “I don’t know Jo…I really can’t conceive of someone abusing him or any other child for that matter,” He said with a disgusted shake of the head. “Go on to bed Jo, I wanna stay with him a while longer.”
“Okay Honey... Roy?”
“I’m glad he’s staying… He really needs you.” Her husband smiled at her as she continued… “He’s such a contradiction sometimes… half man and half child.”
Roy chuckled, “Don’t tell him that… He’d be mortified that you saw through him… Let him keep his illusions.”
Her laughter followed her down the hall.
Roy pulled John’s jeans off, watching his Partner carefully for signs of fear or resistance. It hadn’t been lost on Roy that John’s panic had escalated as soon as he’d touched his belt. Roy was desperately hoping it didn’t mean what he was afraid it did. Bile rose in his throat at the thought.
He stripped the bandages from the inflamed wound, cleaning it gently and re-bandaging it. He carefully pulled the sweatpants on his partner… John shifted restlessly. Roy laid his hand on his friend’s forehead, sweeping the dark hair from his brow until John relaxed once more. “We’re getting there junior…we’re getting there. We’ll get through this together. ”
Roy took the younger man’s hand and settled into the chair next to him. He dozed off a short time later.
John woke before sunrise the next morning. The shadowy unfamiliar room gave him a brief anxious moment before he remembered exactly where he was. He heard the sound of soft breathing and realized that someone sat next to him. His heart rate increased momentarily… he slowly turned his head barely able to make out the features of his partner in the predawn light…The moment of fear passed.
John lay there watching his friend. His face burned in humiliation as the previous nights events replayed in his mind. God, what Roy must think of him after what he'd told him? Would he think him a coward, that he'd broken down in his arms that way. Would he know how bad Johnny really was and that it was why he'd been beaten?
Johnny had never told anyone what had been done to him, not even his Grandfather or his Aunt Rosemary and here he’d blurted it out to Roy...And what was even more worrisome, was that he hadn't even told him the worst of it. How could he have been so stupid?
He prayed he’d be able to keep it together when his partner told him to leave. He’d never want John around his wife or his children, not now…not after what he’d revealed last night and who could blame him.
Uncle George had warned him that no one would want him. That if he told anyone about how evil he really was, they wouldn't want him around . Worse; if they knew the way George had touched him that they would blame him for enticing him and that they would be disgusted by him…They’d send him away because he was bad…he was a wicked child who’d brought this on himself. That it was his own fault and that he and his Parents had done this by bringing an Ó’xevé’ho’e (Half Breed) whelp back here to be foisted off on them to raise… That he’d been the cause of their deaths…their punishment for going against her family. He was bad and it was his fault…his fault for everything…
He wondered if he could bear the revolted look in his Partners face if he ever found out the whole truth … tears burned his eyes. He angrily wiped them away. He couldn’t cry…His people didn’t cry…it was weak and pointless. Maybe he should try and leave now before Roy woke and asked hm to leave or worse, asked more questions he couldn't bring himself to answer. Johnny struggled to a sitting position swinging his feet off the bed. The motion caused a flare of pain across his ribcage and Johnny bit down hard on his lip to keep from crying out. He scooted towards the edge of the bed and pushed himself to his feet. Dizziness washed through him…he groaned softly.
The quiet moan sounded like a fire alarm to Roy. His eyes snapped open and his head swiveled to look at his Partner. “What’re you doin?” Roy asked, climbing to his feet. “You know you can’t be up alone yet.” He quickly moved to his young friend’s side, “What do you need Junior?”
“N…nothin…I…,” He stammered refusing to meet Roy’s eyes. “I… I…I have to leave, I…I have to go home. I…I’m s...so s…sorry Roy…,” He gasped.
“Lay back down Johnny,” Roy said sitting his friend back down on the bed and pressing him back onto the pillows…“You’re not goin anywhere.” He reached out and brushed the tangled dark hair back. John’s troubled, brown eyes rose to meet Roy’s concerned blue… “Now…what are you sorry for?”
John looked away... “Roy…about what I told you last n…night, I’m so sorry…I know you must be r...really...d...disappointed with me and how embarrassed you must be and I… I can go back to R…Rampart.” The stutter was back and worse than usual as John rushed to get the words out.
“I don’t understand…why Junior…?”
John seemed surprised… “Y…you know why… You musta al...already guessed.Y…you know what hap…happened,” He gasped… His distress causing the muscles around his rib cage to tighten painfully and he gritted his teeth as his eyes flicked to Roy’s.
Roy closed his eyes briefly afraid of the answers to his questions but knowing that the best thing for Johnny was to finally let it go. To trust sommeone enough to tell him what had really happened and stop holding it all inside. Roy was unwilling to let the subject drop now that John was talking. Johnny saw it… he misunderstood… his face flushed in humiliation … “I know … How d…d…disappointed you must be with me and …”
Roy watched his face and saw the same play of expressions that had crossed Johnny’s face in his hospital room when he’d confronted him. Shock…that Roy had figured out what had happened. Fear…that someone else knew his awful secret. Guilt…that he was somehow to blame for what had been done and shame…shame that wasn’t his to bear...for something he'd had no control over.
“Stop it Johnny…let’s get a few things straight…I’m not upset with you, I’m not angry with you, I don’t blame you…,” Roy said sitting on the edge of the bed, “Whatever it was that happened to you was… not… your fault…,”
John turned his face away. "You don't understand...You don't know...I was bad...I musta been bad...Dirty half breed...It was your fault," he whispered an obvious quote from his uncle.
Roy looked horrified but quickly recovered. He hesitated afraid his friend would recoil from his touch but he reached out to gently grip his Partners chin and he turned his face toward him. Johnny flinched but didn’t pull away…“You weren't bad, you were a child Johnny… You’re not responsible for what some monster did to you…do you understand?” He asked trying to get John to look at him.
The younger man didn’t answer… “Johnny?”
“Can you tell me?”
John’s brown eyes remained fixed on a spot on Roy’s chest. He was silent a long time, trying to decide if he wanted to risk the permanent rift the truth would probably cause between him and his partner. He finally decided he had to trust Roy and if he lost him, well he already thought he had. He finally spoke.
“He hurt me…,” He whispered. “He hurt me a lot. He used to…” Johnny gagged suddenly at the memory of his Uncle’s hands…his mouth. Roy carefully leaned him over the side of the bed, kicking the trash can under him as John’s stomach lurched…his body heaved for several minutes before the spasms eased and he finally regained control but he still shook under Roy’s hands as the older man sat him back up and wiped his face with a tissue. John finally drew a ragged breath… “Please... I can’t tell you…I can’t…he’ll…”
“He’s not gonna hurt you…I promise,” Roy assured him. “Tell me…,” he urged.
"WHY?" John cried. "Why do you wanna know?"
"I want to help you."
John remembered another man. A fire Captain from Montana telling him that he wanted to help him too...John shook his head bitterly as he remembered his reply. 'You can't help Vé’ho’é...I am already dead,' he'd whispered.
John was beyond believing that anyone could ever love him or that he was worth being loved after what his Uncle had done to him. He'd never forgiven himself for letting it happen but he'd been too young and not strong enough to stop him.
He'd never gotten over the shame or the pain he'd felt that night...He'd never been able to let anyone close to him, especially another man...To touch him, He shuddered at the thought...The feel of their hands on him no matter how innocently, sent his mind spinning back to that night and the ones that had preceeded it.Sometimes it was all he could do not to pull away from their victims...But he reminded himself that they were different...They weren't close to him...He was safe from them.
"You can't help me," he whispered, sounding as forlorn as he had then.
"I want to try."
John's mouth trembled with humiliation. "I can't...Please Roy," he pleaded trying to pull away.
Roy wouldn't let go. "It's alright. I'll never let him hurt you and I'll never think it was your fault."
John clenched his eyes shut, trying to decide whether to trust this man with his most shameful secret or not but he knew Roy wouldn't let it go. “You'll blame me...He said so. You'll hate me...you'll...you'll be so disgusted," he whispered.
"I won't John...I promise you I won't."
John didn't believe him, but he felt Roy deserved to know the truth. "He uh…he t…touched m...me…,” He stuttered… then hesitated again… drawing a shuddering breath unable to finish.
“Where Johnny…?” Roy asked softly.
John's mouth trembled again and tears spilled over dark lashes. John tried to swipe them away but Roy reached out to catch his hands. “Let them fall Junior…You’ve kept them bottled up way to long.”
John’s fingers curled around his partners almost crushing them in his grip as the dam he'd erected around himself to hold back the tide of pain, shame, guilt and fear finally broke. He rocked slowly as the tears welled, flooded over and fell freely for the first time in years. The younger man seemed to find the motion comforting, so Roy just held him… moving with him. Johnny gasped pitifully trying to draw air into his lungs past abused muscles and broken ribs. Roy suspected he was probably the only person Johnny had ever talked to about this.
“Where did he touch you Johnny?” The younger man shook his head… “Don’t shut me out…talk to me Johnny…please.”
His head shook again as he frantically tried to pull away… “Can’t tell…please…don't make me,” He gasped.
Roy was so close, he couldn’t give up now. John was almost there and he NEEDED to get this out. He pushed for that final step. He released John’s hands reaching to catch his Partners face between his hands… “Look at me John…” He said softly, raising the younger man’s face, forcing the dark eyes to meet his… “You can trust me…I promise you…I won’t let him hurt you...TELL ME...Let it go.”
John averted his eyes unable to meet the probing look of his partners gaze as he finally began to whisper…
“He…um…he kissed my f…face and my mouth…” John scrubbed furiously at his lips with the back of his hand, as if to wipe away the memory but Roy caught his hand pulling it gently away. “He liked to …he…t…touched my hair.” John was stuttering badly now through the tears as he struggled with the memories, trying to explain. “He tore my c...clothes, p …put his hand b...be...tween my … he t…tried to…,”John trailed off unable to finish but Roy understood … His teeth clenched in rage. “He hurt me…,” he whimpered pitifully. "I knew what he was doing wasn't right...But I didn't know how to stop him," he wailed. "I had nowhere to go," he whispered painfully.
“Where did he hurt you Johnny…?”
“He…b…broke my r…ribs, my cheek…,” John gasped remembering as he touched the left side of his face…the words tumbled out in a rush… “H…hit me…he hit me a lot…over and over. He broke M…my arm…and…and my wrists. Sh...Shook me…Th…thought he’d break my neck. My own fault…,” he drew a hitched breath … “I was bad…my fault…had to be punished,” He shuddered as he remembered.
Roy clenched his eyes shut in pain and rage for a defenseless child forced to endure what his young friend had and to have to bear the blame for it as well. He pulled John against him as if he were Chris as John continued to slowly rock.
“How old were you Johnny?” He asked as he gently rubbed his partner’s back in a comforting gesture but John stiffened immediately.
"No," he whispered in anguish and Roy understood the fear behind the softly spoken word.
"It's all right," he said close to his ear. "It's just me..I won't hurt you...I will never hurt you," he promised, resting his cheek against the sable hair.
John swallowed down his fear...Roy wouldn't hurt him...He was sure of it. He nodded briefly before he answered. “The first time? Twelve…,” he whispered. "The last time...I was fourteen.He almost killed me...I www...wished he hhh...had for a long ttt...time," he stuttered.
Roy closed his eyes in despair at his young friends confession. “Johnny… It was not your fault…none of it” Roy reassured him then he asked the question he dreaded the answer to…."Johnny…did he… sexually assault you?” He asked through tight lips as he began to stroke the dark head resting against him.
The rocking motion increased briefly as John gagged again but he fought the nausea down, his dark head shook in the negative. Roy breathed a sigh of relief until John spoke again… “No…I don’t know…no…,” he whispered in confusion… “I don’t remember…I don’t know…he touched me…, held me down...I kicked him...Ran away…chased me…’M faster..hide...have to hide.” The words were spilling out in a jumbled tangle. He hesitated again… “I went to Grandfather… Uncle George is afraid of Sun Walker…,” Johnny whispered smugly,
“Johnny…did you tell your Grandfather what he did to you?”
John shook his head frantically… “NO...Can't tell...my fault..shame him...he'd send me away...wicked child...Kill me…he’ll kill me…no where to go... "The words tumbled out... " I went away…he hurt me when I went away,” He whispered cryptically.
“Away where…?” Roy asked in confusion…
John shrugged… “Just away…don’t know where… Crazy…thought I was crazy… Can’t touch the crazy one,” He sing songed softly. His eyes were closing in exhaustion…the hitched breaths and rocking began to ease as he slowly relaxed against his friend’s chest as Roy’s hand stroked the sable hair. He wasn’t sure who thought John was crazy, his Uncle or Johnny himself.
A soft sound brought Roy’s head around… Joanne stood weeping in the doorway… “Whoever did this to him better be far, far away from here,” She whispered… “I think I could gladly kill him myself,” Roy’s gentle wife said, shocking him.
Roy eased his friend back against the pillows as Joanne came in to join him. She wrapped her arms around her husband’s neck and leaned against him as they gazed at the tear streaked face of the exhausted young man now sleeping quietly before them.
“Why?” She whispered again as she had last night. “What kind of animal molests children? What could he possibly have done that was bad enough to hurt him like that? He was just a child…a baby.”
“He fought back…ran away…beat him…,” Roy surmised, “His Uncle couldn’t defeat a child and that must have infuriated him. A little boy denied him what he wanted so he made him pay for it.” Roy shuddered at the thought of what his young friend may have endured, would have endured had he not been so resourceful. It concerned him that John couldn’t remember for sure what had happened. He also wondered what John meant by ‘going away’ and that ‘he thought I was crazy.’
The sun was well up the next time John woke. He heard the laughter of a little boy and the unmistakable wail of an infant. Johnny wanted to close his eyes and go back to sleep. He wanted to sleep forever and never have to face his Partner, his past…or his future.
He remembered the conversation in the early morning hours. He couldn’t believe he’d actually told him. He’d never told anyone…he’d always been afraid…afraid that his Uncle would be right and no one would want him around. He’d been sure Roy would tell him to leave after what he’d learned and his heart had ached. That had shocked him…he’d always walked away from relationships without a backward glance, he’d made sure he could but the thought of losing this one had hurt…it hurt a lot, but Roy had surprised him and let him stay…in fact he'd insisted on it.
Why would Roy keep him around knowing what he did? He’d held him…comforted him…like a child. John’s face flushed crimson in embarrassment… How could he face Roy now? Last night had been bad enough but what had happened this morning…it was humiliating. How did Roy manage to make him tell him things he never told anyone else?
He didn’t want to lose Roy’s friendship but how could he ever look him in the eyes after what he’d told him and he couldn’t handle Roy’s pity any better than his disgust…he couldn’t bear that but he didn’t want to lose his friend either. He’d seen the fear, the sorrow and the anger in the blue eyes. Was it aimed at him or his Uncle…? Johnny didn’t know for sure.
He shook his head in confusion…He didn’t know what to do. He knew Roy had become more than just his Partner. He was a friend…a teacher …a brother…John grinned ruefully… even occasionally a father figure…God he’d never be able to admit that. He’d never hear the end of it. He desperately didn’t want to lose what he’d found here but he was so humiliated…was he willing to endure this embarrassment to keep it…? John sighed heavily...Yes…he decided…yes he was.
As much as Johnny wished he could hide in this room forever...he desperately needed to use the bathroom and besides…he was hungry. John groaned as he threw back the covers and swung his feet over the edge of the bed. He pushed himself painfully to his feet determined to make it to the bathroom on his own… determined not to be a burden on his partner or his family. He wondered briefly when his clothes had been changed.
His leg almost buckled with his first step. He gasped in pain but managed to retain his balance, hobbling painfully across the room… his left arm pressed against his side. He hesitated at the doorway, and then stepped into the dining room. The reaction was instant.
“Johnny…what are you doin up?” Roy said worriedly as he hurried quickly to his partner’s side.
“Uncle Johnny,” Chris squealed racing toward his favorite playmate.
“Chris No…,” Joanne yelled as Chris prepared to launch himself into John’s arms as he usually did.
Roy snatched the boy out of mid air as Johnny stumbled backwards in surprise. The older man’s hand shot out in time to grab His friend’s arm and keep John from falling as he set Chris down. “No jumping on Uncle Johnny right now okay, He’s not feeling well.”
“Are you sick Uncle Johnny?” The little blonde asked the panting dark haired man.
“Yeah…Yeah I guess I am,” He gasped in defeat letting Roy help him to a chair.
“What were you thinkin?” Roy barked at him.
“Don’t yell at me, I’m not a child,” John snapped back grimacing in pain and pressing his arm against his ribs. His eyes were downcast.
Chris looked between the two men in fright at the raised voices. Afraid he was the cause of their anger. Jenny was wailing at the commotion as Joanne bounced her in her arms to comfort her.
Roy ran his hand through his hair in frustration at his willful young Partner’s foolish action. “I’m…sorry Johnny, you’re right… You’re not a child, but damn it Junior you gotta help me to help you okay? You can’t be up on your own yet. You almost fell…then what…? A punctured lung…? More broken bones…?”
“Okay…I…I get the point,” he said softly. “I was hungry and…and I needed to use the bathroom,” He murmured quietly to his angry friend.
“Then call me… I’ll help you. It’s not the end of the world to need help once in a while.”
“It’s weak,” He whispered… eyes glued to the table in front of him. “Just like crying and…and…,” He stopped, remembering last night and this morning and his embarrassment at being held in Roy’s arms as he’d wept in terror...his face flushed scarlet.
Roy looked at him in shock… “Johnny it’s human. You’re not some super hero you know, neither am I. We all need to ask for help occasionally…to be held…comforted… I don’t know who told you it was weakness… but they’re wrong. It’s not a crime to be afraid or to cry or to need help. I consider myself to be pretty tough and I’ve done them all.”
Johnny stared at the table silently but Roy could tell he was listening. He hoped Johnny respected his opinion enough to at least begin to undo some of the damage. To change the early conditioning that had been drummed into his soul.
John remembered his Father’s words to him so long ago when he’d told him he didn’t cry after he’d been hit by his teacher. “It’s okay if you had my little one…,”he’d said. The two men he respected most had told him the same thing…did they really believe that? Could he…? Was it okay to need someone…to ask for help?”
John raised his eyes to Roy’s, “Can you help me to the bathroom?” He asked sheepishly. Roy grinned giving his Partner a teasing scruff of the head.
“Let’s go Junior,” Roy said helping him to his feet.
Chris looked between the two men he admired most in his life, sensing that the anger was gone. He breathed a sigh of relief... Daddy and Uncle Johnny were still friends.
“But I’m already up Roy, what’s the difference where I eat,” John protested as His friend tried to take him back to his room.
“Brackett said for you to rest.”
“Dixie said to get me up on my leg… I can’t do both,” He argued willfully.
Joanne chuckled at the mutinous pout that had settled on John’s face. She shook her head… it was gonna be a long two weeks.
“Johnny…do you have to be so damn stubborn.”
“Hey Pally, watch your language around the kids huh?”
“Why? You’ve heard the word before,” Roy shot back.
John’s mouth dropped open in shock and then he finally began to giggle with suppressed laughter. A sound the older man had only heard once before in the last eight months. Roy stared at him…surprised at himself and what he’d just said but even more surprised by John’s reaction to it. Two days ago Johnny would have bristled like an enraged porcupine at that statement. John’s silly giggle was infectious… Roy began to laugh as well.
“I’m sorry Junior,” He said breathlessly after a moment. “Okay you can stay out here...,” he said giving in.
“Thanks Dad,” John quipped with a grin.
Chris burst out laughing at John’s words which set them all off again. Joanne shook her head at the three special men in her life... “They’re all nuts Jen,” She whispered to her Daughter but she was grinning as well.
Jo finally got up and deposited Jennifer in Roy’s arms. Johnny was holding his ribs in pain but still had a crooked grin plastered on his face as she went to make breakfast for her ‘third child.’
Johnny had just finished eating when the doorbell rang.
“I wonder who that is?” Roy questioned, slightly disappointed that the ‘Family’ moment had been disrupted. Johnny was just coming out of his shell and feeling comfortable… Roy hated to lose the mood.
He went to the door. The entire crew of Station 51 stood outside. “Hey Roy,” Captain Hammer greeted hesitantly… “Sorry to just show up on your doorstep but…uh…can we come in… We’d like to find out how Johnny’s doin?”
“Sure thing Cap…guys…,” Roy said stepping back out of the way. “C’mon in, Johnny’s just finishing breakfast.”
They stepped inside. Roy waved his hand toward the living room. This was a first…the entire crew assembled socially in one place. Roy was glad that it was concern for Johnny that had brought it about. They were becoming a team and that’s what John needed most…, a group of people around him that he could rely on and trust in.
“Can I get you all something? Coffee or soda…?”
“Coffee sounds great,” Cap said as the others nodded their agreement.
“I’ll get it Roy… Why don’t you bring Johnny in the living room?” Jo suggested.
Johnny was already struggling from his seat by the time Roy reached him. “John I swear you’re gonna wear me out,” Roy said in exasperation as he slipped his arm around his young Partner’s waist and took his elbow in a firm grip.
John raised worried eyes to Roy’s but once again Roy seemed to know his thoughts... “Don’t worry Partner…What happened…what was said this morning is between you and me.” John visibly relaxed at the reassurance. He assisted John to the couch as the other’s shifted around to make room for him as he sat him down. The younger man winced.
John’s grimace of pain was noticed immediately by Roy and by Joanne who was bringing in a tray with cookies, sugar and milk. She set them down and retreated to the kitchen.
John looked around at the group seated in the DeSoto living room. He was obviously taken aback that they’d come to see him. He began to realize that this was a very special group of men. As hard as he’d tried to keep them at arm’s length they had, like Roy, slipped into his life and made him a part of a team… their team.
For the first time a crew had become more than a group of strangers he merely worked with. He knew his best friend was mostly responsible… that he hadn’t let him remain aloof as the others had. He thought back over the last eight months and the changes Roy had brought to his life. John was glad his friend had the determination of a bulldog… He’d have given up on himself a long time ago.
He even knew John’s awful secret and still hadn’t turned away in disgust. He’d forced John to open up and dragged him back to the living and Johnny was beginning to think he might like it there and he knew he didn’t want to go back to being alone.
“So Johnny, how are you feeling?” Cap asked.
“I’m okay Cap,” He said with a grimace as his ribs throbbed in protest.
“He’s hurting,” Roy corrected honestly.
Johnny shot him an annoyed look.
“Cripe Gage,” Chet said peering at the bruise on John’s forehead… “Why the Hell didn’t you tell someone you were hurt?”
“I’d like to hear that myself,” Cap said sternly.
John looked away nervously. Joanne rescued him from answering as she came into the living room carrying a glass of water and John’s medication. She handed him the pills. “Here you go Johnny.”
“Can’t I take them later Jo?” He asked hesitantly, “They make me so drowsy.”
Joanne leaned over him, pulling him forward slightly to prop another pillow behind him. She lifted his leg to the coffee table to keep it elevated and then rested the back of her hand against his forehead. She frowned at him slightly… John already knew he’d lost before she spoke.
“You need to take them now sweetheart.”
The crew grinned at each other as John blushed at the endearment and the almost motherly tone, a complete turnaround from the night in the waiting room.
“Temperature up…?” Roy asked.
She nodded. Johnny sighed in defeat knowing Roy would back her up if he resisted. He decided to forestall the argument.
“Yes Ma’am,” He gave in with a sigh.
Chet blatantly snorted with laughter as the others hid their grins behind their hands or suddenly became interested in the floor. John reddened in embarrassment but he took the pills as Joanne headed back to the kitchen.
“Man Gage… what is it with you and women?” Chet asked in exasperation. “They either want to date you or adopt you.”
Roy opened his mouth to defend his partner but John beat him to it… “Jealous?” John snapped.
Marco and Mike snickered at Chet’s affronted look… “Not hardly…,” he denied hotly.
“You should be…I saw your last date… I thought you rescued a greyhound,” John shot back.
Joanne’s giggle could be heard from the kitchen. Cap, Marco and Mike began to laugh openly. Chet shot them an irritated look. Johnny was getting the best of him and the curly haired Irishman couldn’t believe it. Usually when John got angry he just clammed up. When had his pigeon learned to fight back?
Roy decided to separate them at this point while Johnny was ahead… after all… he didn’t have nearly the practice at being obnoxious as Chet did. “Coffee ready Honey…?” Roy called with a laugh in his voice.
“Yes,” She answered… the giggle still in her voice as she carried in a pot and seven cups on a tray. “Here we are.” She set the tray on the coffee table, pushing John’s bare foot to the side to make room. She poured coffee as the men continued to talk and then sat next to her husband. Cap glanced at Roy questioningly.
“Uh Junior…,” Roy began, “Did you have anything you wanted to tell Cap about a note you left him?” Roy asked.
John’s dark eyes were beginning to droop as pain, fever and medication took its toll. He looked at his Partner drowsily then shifted his sleepy gaze to his Captain. “Yeah…um…Changed m’ mind Cap,” He slurred…, “Could ya tear it up?” He asked as his eyes drifted closed.
“Sure thing Johnny,” Cap said quietly to the sleeping young man. Cap and Roy exchanged a smile as the others looked at each other curiously.
Roy stood up and moved to his partners side. He leaned over to readjust the pillows to a more comfortable sleeping position. He eased Johnny back gently… keeping his promise not to embarrass him in front of the others… he resisted the urge to sweep the tangle of dark hair from his friend’s forehead.
The others glanced at each other with grins as they watched the almost fatherly handling Roy gave the younger man. They recognized the special bond between the two friends despite their efforts to hide it.
“So Roy…?” Cap began… "Did you get a chance to talk to him about what happened?”
Roy glanced at his friend to be sure he was still sleeping, then told Cap and the others what had happened in the Office building that day.
“We responded to the call. It was a three story office building...we arrived at the scene and headed up to the second floor. We smelled gas…probably a gas heater, anyway I told Johnny to call for an Engine and start evacuating the building while I got the victim out. I only took a couple of steps when POW …the whole room went,” Roy said shaking his head in wonder that he’d walked away from that.
“The next thing I remember is Johnny helping me up. We went to get the original victim out when we heard a cracking sound and the roof began to fall. The last thing I remember clearly is Johnny knocking me down and throwing himself over the top of me. I vaguely remember opening my eyes a couple of times and I was certain Johnny was close by. The next thing I remember was waking up at Rampart.”
“Did he say anymore? Fill in the blanks?”
“Well why the heck didn’t he ask for help?” Marco asked.
“What…? From who…?” Mike piped in.
“Two other Paramedics were there by the time Johnny got the first guy out. He’d already moved me to the hallway outta harm’s way.”
“Injured the way he was?” Cap asked.
Roy nodded. He told one of them…Brad Kimmerlin…that I was still inside and he needed help. He said he was already back to the stairway before he realized he was alone and Kimmerlin hadn’t followed him.
“Are you saying he asked Kimmerlin for help and he walked away and left you?” Cap questioned.
“That’s what Johnny said. He says he asked him twice…that he asked him again in the stairwell after he collapsed. He said Kimmerlin laughed at him.”
“That son of a….” Chet muttered.
“Dios, what kind of man is he?”
“He shouldn’t be a Fireman that’s for sure,” Mike piped in.
“I’ll talk to headquarters,” Cap assured him. “They may require Johnny to testify to it before they’ll do anything.”
Roy bit his lip, unsure whether John would be willing to tell them what had happened. “I’ll ask him but this guy harassed him all through training too and John just let it go.”
“Are you sure?”
“Cap I was there. He had it in for Johnny right from the start. It’s just not in Johnny’s nature to complain about being harassed. Being raised only half Indian…,”Roy shrugged, “I get the feeling he got picked on about it a lot.”
Cap and the others shook their heads in disgust...Their eyes flicking to their friend with a new respect for the quiet young Fire Fighter. Even Chet had to admire his spirit and resolve. A lot of people would give up when confronted by hate and bigotry… Gage just worked harder, dug deeper and met the challenge to prove himself even more.
Not to mention single handedly bringing out the victim and getting Roy at least to safety even after he’d been seriously injured himself.
They stayed for a few more minutes before they said their goodbyes, wishing their friends a speedy return and promising to come back in a few days when Johnny would hopefully be feeling better.
Cap still needed to deal with John and what had happened in that office building and later at the Hospital. Johnny had needlessly put his life at risk by not telling Cap he was injured. He couldn’t allow the young man a repeat performance. He didn’t know whether to commend him for heroism or kick his butt for recklessness.
Johnny woke a couple of hours later. Roy sat on the couch next to him watching TV. John’s mind returned to his thoughts from earlier in the day and the difference his friend had made in his life.
Roy cast a quick glance at Johnny. He noticed his Partners eyes were open and watching him.
“How ya feelin Junior…?”
It was a simple question but John thought about it for a long moment…
“I don’t know.”
Roy looked at him questioningly.
“It’s been so long since I felt anything…I… I’m not sure I know how anymore.”
“Yeah you do… You’ve just forgotten.”
“I’ve been numb…runnin on empty for years now...,” He said softly, closing his eyes.
Roy reached over and rested his hand on his friends shoulder, “It’ll come back to you.”
“This morning…for listening…for…,” he shrugged self consciously… “For not blaming me…”
“There wasn’t anything to blame you for,” Roy assured him.
John grinned sleepily, “Thanks… Roy?”
“Thanks for reminding me what it’s like to be alive. I was kinda thinkin I died with my Mom. I…I know I wished I had for a long time,” He said sliding back into sleep.
“I’m real glad you didn’t Junior,” Roy said softly still amazed at how quickly this young man had become ingrained in his life, his career and his Family… “I can’t imagine my life without you now.”
Johnny made good progress over the next two weeks and thankfully his nightmares seemed to have ended as well and he slept peacefully through the nights. His recovery was alternately full of laughter and frustration.
Between Johnny and Chris, it was a dead heat over who the bigger kid was. Roy and Joanne frequently had to play referee or settle a dispute during whatever game was currently being played. John’s outraged protests over decisions in the four year olds favor brought laughter to the entire DeSoto family…Particularly Chris, especially as they were always accompanied by a sparkle in John’s eyes and a wink at Roy and Jo.
But their frustrations mounted as they frequently caught his grimaces of pain and gasping breathes as he tried do too much on his own… afraid that he’d become a burden to the Family despite their repeated assurances that he wasn’t.
What was alternately the most amusing or hair tearingly frustrating for Roy was that Johnny had found his tongue. The younger man’s mind was racing constantly making him difficult to keep up with, changing direction and subject with baffling speed. Roy idly wondered how the younger man had kept it bottled up so long without exploding.
Roy did his best to hang on for the ride, afraid if he tried to rein him in too much he’d return to the quiet, withdrawn John Gage he’d apparently left behind. Roy and Joanne shared many a laugh behind closed doors at the change in their young friend. Roy scratched his head in wonder at the difference.
“Honey, he never stops talking…my head is spinning,” Joanne said with a laugh.
“I know I could regret saying this someday Jo… but isn’t it great?” He replied with a grin.
She nodded, “But I think you’re hairs getting a little thinner on top from running your hands through it so many times a day,” she giggled patting his head.
Roy chuckled and nodded in agreement. “What do you suppose changed?” He asked thoughtfully.
“Well this is just a guess…but maybe he didn’t talk for fear of slipping and giving away too much…saying the wrong thing…like he did with you that morning. He’s been so afraid that if anyone found out about what happened to him he’d be rejected…pushed away so…he pushed them away first so he wouldn’t be hurt. When you got too close he wanted a transfer... he was afraid you’d find out …You said yourself he offered to leave…go back to Rampart when he finally told you what happened.”
“Yeah…like he was expecting me to tell him to go… Like I would blame him or not want him around. How could he think that?”
“Abused children are frequently told they’re to blame for what’s happening to them. That they’re bad or wicked and they need to be punished. They’re frightened into keeping silent…like Johnny was. That’s how the abuser controls them. He told you that night that he was bad and had to be punished,” She said angrily. “Maybe he was afraid you’d think that too…that you’d blame him or think he was…wicked and he was afraid of losing your friendship but now that you know and you still care about him and you’re still standing by him he feels safe to open up.”
“God I’m glad I married such a smart woman,” Roy said, kissing her neck.
“I’m glad I married a man with the compassion and determination to take a young man like Johnny and help him the way you have because the truth is that a lot of people might have reacted the way he was afraid you would and not want him around. That they’d be disgusted or blame him for what happened.”
“I am disgusted,” Roy said with a shake of the head.” At Jo’s curious look he continued… “With the animal that hurt a child like that and made him feel as if he were responsible for it."
Jo nodded her agreement. “Now that he knows you won’t reject him he feels free to be himself and that if he slips…you’ll be there to help him up. A friend you can trust makes a lot of difference.”
Doctor Brackett and Dixie came to visit during Johnny’s second week at Roy’s.
“How’s the leg Johnny?” Kel asked.
John limped across the room and back for an answer.
“Good,” Kel said pleased at his progress… “How about the ribs…?”
“They’re still sore but I can manage without the pain meds,” He said hopefully.
Kel unwrapped John’s leg, checking the wound carefully and then he removed the stitches. “Take off your shirt for me John,” he instructed putting his instruments away. Johnny unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it off, blushing slightly from Joanne’s presence in the room. Kel felt them over noting that they were mending well and were no longer shifting under his hands.
“You can put your shirt on now, any dizziness? He asked checking John’s eyes and the fading bruise on John’s forehead.
Johnny shook his head as he re-buttoned his shirt, “So…how bout it Doc?”
“Well, you look pretty good. I don’t see any reason why you can’t go home… Is tomorrow soon enough?” Kel asked. Johnny nodded. “Finish the antibiotics but you can stop the pain medication unless you need it. Come and see me in two weeks. If everything’s okay, I’ll release you to limited duty…then we’ll go from there on when you can return to work… deal?”
John nodded, “Deal.”
“Can I get you some coffee?” Joanne asked.
“I’d love some coffee,” Dixie agreed eagerly. “Johnny, Kel, Roy…you want to join us?”
They nodded in agreement. Roy hauled his partner to his feet giving him a light push toward the kitchen. “Go ahead Junior… I want to talk to Doctor Brackett about my release for a minute.”
“Kay,” John agreed following the ladies out.
Kel waited for them to get out of earshot... “Okay, what gives? I released you for duty yesterday.”
Roy grinned, “Yeah…but Dixie was there the whole time so I couldn’t really talk to you…,” Roy hesitated. ”Look I can’t go into detail about this any more than you could but do you remember our conversation outside Johnny’s room? You said you saw something on the X-rays that concerned you?”
“You saw a lot of old bone fractures didn’t you?”
Kel hesitated, “Yes… but it was the pattern that worried me most.”
“It should have and you’re absolutely right in your suspicions but that’s all I can say. If Johnny wants to tell you more he can.”
“Roy…? I assume nothing’s changed between you because of this. I’m concerned of course about what he’s been through but it doesn’t appear to have affected his work and I’ve already told you that I’d changed my opinion about him…He’s an excellent Paramedic. I mean you’re going to keep him as your Partner aren’t you? Because he probably could really use…,” He trailed off at Roy’s grin.
“You couldn’t tear me away Doc. I’ve already figured that out…he’s a special person… I plan to keep him around a while.”
“There’s something else I think you should know.”
“The night we both got hurt…Johnny asked for help to get me out. Another Paramedic was at the scene…”
“Brad Kimmerlin…,” Kel filled in.
“How’d you know?”
“His Partner Keith Barron told me he suspected that Brad had left you both there. He said he confronted Brad about it and he’d denied it, but he didn’t believe him. He said Johnny accused Brad of leaving you both and Kimmerlin just laughed at him and said he hadn’t heard him ask for help. Barron believed Gage. He’s requested a transfer from 23’s."
“Wow…I hadn’t heard…anyway I don’t know if I can get Johnny to file a complaint but I wanted you to know.”
Kel nodded, “Dixie told me what happened during training, I wish I’d known about it then.”
“Why? What could you have done about it?” Came Johnny’s voice from behind them…they turned to face him... “Thrown him out…Tell him to leave me alone?” He asked mockingly. “I’ve dealt with men like Brad Kimmerlin all my life, I wasn’t shocked by him,” Johnny said.
“Johnny, that’s not the point. I could have told him to back off or washed him out of the program.”
“Look… no offense Doc but I can take care of myself…I don’t need your protection or your…Pity,” Johnny snapped, looking at both men.
“Well good Junior because that’s the one thing I don’t think I’ve felt towards you,” Roy said angrily.
“Me either...,” Kel said in irritation.
John looked at the floor in regret at his angry outburst and his accusation, “I’m sorry.”
Roy moved to his friend’s side and rested his hand on his shoulder, “Look Partner…I know what you’ve been through...,” John looked up sharply, flicking a glance at Kel as Roy continued. “I know you’ve been treated to some rough times by Kimmerlin and others like him and you can handle it but it’s not just about you. He left me to die too remember? The man’s a bigot and you can’t be the only one he’s had a problem with. What if he left a victim the way he left you? What if he already has?”
John chewed his lip nervously as Roy continued, “As for the other…things you’ve been through. Well let’s just say that you’ve earned my admiration…not my pity. You’ve come through it as a stronger person, an excellent Paramedic, a tough Fire Fighter and a good friend. That doesn’t earn pity that earns respect.”
Kel nodded in agreement, “I don’t know for sure what you’ve been through, maybe someday you’ll feel comfortable enough to tell me about it…but in the mean time, what I have learned about you has only given me a new appreciation for what you do and the risks you take doing it. I was wrong about you Johnny and I’m willing to admit it. Even knowing what little I do…well I’m sorry you went through it, but pity…doesn’t come into it.”
John looked up at his Partner then flicked a glance at Kel. “Thanks Roy…Doc... That’s one thing I don’t think I could handle,” He said quietly, looking hard at Roy.
“Well that’s good because you’ll never have to.”
John held his hand out to Kel as he turned his attention to the Doctor. “Guess I was pretty difficult too…Sorry,” He said shaking the Doctor’s hand in truce… “Jo sent me to tell you that your coffee’s gettin cold,” He added with a grin.
Roy drove Johnny back to his apartment the next morning. He stocked the freezer with a few extra meals Jo had made. “Okay Partner…you’re on your own,” Roy told with a light slap on his shoulder. Call me if you need anything and remember you’re not cleared…”
“To drive…,”Johnny said finishing the sentence with his Partner... “I know…I know and I promise I’ll call,” He said with a laugh.
It didn’t take long after Roy left for Johnny to realize how much he missed the family who’d taken him in as he tried to get back into his lonely routine.
The DeSoto’s also missed their young friend’s presence. Johnny’s energy levels had kept the family hopping and it seemed abnormally quiet. Roy returned to work the next day but made a point to check on his Partner regularly. Even Joanne went by on occasion while running errands.
True to his word, Brackett released Johnny to limited duty ten days later. Johnny spent two long weeks working around headquarters and dispatch before his much anticipated release to full duty was given.
He arrived early the first day. Roy’s car was already in the parking lot. He hurried inside to get dressed. Roy was a bit surprised to see him as Johnny generally slid in just under the wire… “Hey Partner,” Roy greeted as the younger man entered.
“Hey Roy…man is it good to get back… I was goin stir crazy sittin at that desk,” He complained. He opened his locker half expecting to be soaked with a water bomb but nothing happened… “Well maybe the phantom has given up,” He said to Roy as he reached for the clothes hanger to hang his uniform shirts only to find his hand blocked by a thin sheet of saran wrap... “Well so much for that theory,” He murmured with a sigh. Roy chuckled.
“Go ahead and laugh,” Johnny said indignantly remembering all the other little jokes that had been played on him. He tore the plastic down.
Roy patted his shoulder as he left the Locker room... “It’s good to have you back Junior,” He laughed. “I’ll see you in the day room in a few minutes.”
“Thanks Pally, Johnny replied as Roy left. John finished dressing as the others began to arrive.
Well look whose back,” Chet said with a grin…slapping Gage’s back as he passed behind him.
“Welcome back Johnny,” Marco said.
“Glad you made it back, we missed you...” Mike said, surprising the younger man.
“Thanks guys,” Johnny replied in surprise… “That means a lot.”
“Oh let’s not get all mushy or anything,” Chet muttered.
“Oh shut up Chet,” John snapped back.
“Oh that’s original...,” Chet sniped in return. Mike and Marco shook their heads. Chet’s eyes fell on the wadded up plastic. He picked it up... “Couldn’t wait till noon to eat your lunch there Gage?”
John shot him an annoyed look but refused to answer. He headed for the Day room and coffee. Later, Cap spent some time with the young Paramedic going over what happened that day in the office building. Reluctantly Johnny told him about Brad Kimmerlin and allowed Cap to put it in his report. He agreed to talk to the review board if they looked into it for the sake of any future Victim’s rather than himself.
They spent the rest of the day responding to two separate Heart Attacks and delivering a baby plus a multi vehicle traffic accident and an apartment fire. Johnny avoided Chet as much as possible and was rather pleased that he’d managed to avoid any further practical jokes.
Roy noted that Johnny seemed to have opened up some with the guys. He joined in the conversations a bit more, even laughed. Roy had been concerned that John would retreat to his silent, withdrawn moods but was pleased to see that the change in him had carried over to work as well, at least to some degree. Not quite as talkative as he had been with Roy’s family but still becoming more a part of the team. Roy could see from the expressions on his crewmate faces that they had noticed it too.
John was just glad to be back but by the time they turned in he was exhausted. The SCU toned them out at 2:18 AM. Johnny ran for the squad, sliding into the front passenger seat. Roy glanced at his Partner and did a double take…he began to laugh. John looked at him suspiciously, “What?” He asked.
Roy continued to chuckle as he reached out to wipe John’s cheek, noting that Johnny didn’t recoil from his hand. He brushed Johns face, pulling his hand back and showing it to his Partner. It was coated in a white powdery substance.
Roy pulled out into the darkness while Johnny pulled the squads rearview around to look at himself in the mirror, “Oh man….” He groaned in frustration. The right side of his face and his hair were coated in it. He shook his head in annoyance. The white powder drifted from his hair to coat his turnout pants, his back and the seat of the squad. “Flour...” He growled in irritation, shooting a look of betrayal at his still grinning Partner.
An hour later, dirt and soot mingled with the remains of the flour. Sweat had turned it into a gooey mess. Johnny had never been so glad to see a shower as he was when they returned that night. Roy had listened to him rant about getting even all the way back to the station. He was thrilled to see the spark of life in his partner. The problem was, Johnny simply had no experience in revenge. John took a long time going back to sleep.
When they left the next morning Johnny had a look on his face that boded ill for someone. Roy shook his head.
They returned for their next shift a day later. Johnny was once again early and he had a serious look on his face. Roy watched as he pulled a thin book from his bag and tossed it into his locker. The older Paramedic glanced at him curiously knowing his friend would tell him about whatever was bothering him when he was ready.
“I’ll see you in the Day room.”
“Uh huh…,” Johnny muttered. He finished dressing and retrieved the book before Chet could show up and start in on him. He flipped it into the squad and joined his Partner for coffee.
After roll call Johnny disappeared. Roy finished up his chores and went to look for his missing Partner. He saw him sitting in his usual place in the passenger seat.
He came up beside the open window... “Man you sure are dedicated,” He quipped.
John glanced up from the book he was reading. “It’s the only place in the station I can find any privacy,” He complained.
Roy reached inside and took the book from him reading the title… “One thousand practical jokes…?” Johnny reached out and took the book back. “When you get on a kick there’s no stopping you is there?” He said with a smirk… having been on the receiving end of Johnny’s obsessions while he was living with the DeSoto’s.
“Kick,” He said in disgust with an irritated look at his friend. “You call it a kick? Review the case history. Who had the syrup poured in his boots…Me...! Two days later who’s helmet had the cupcake taped inside?” He asked his grinning friend, “Mine…Last shift who had his bed floured and had to roll out looking like the white knight…not you Partner,” He said narrowing his eyes in annoyance. “No sir…I’m not resting till I get even,” Johnny said returning to his book.
Roy was both shocked and amused. Johnny was simply not the ‘getting even type’ and he wondered where this was leading.
Johnny and Roy were both pretty sure who the culprit was but neither could prove anything and didn’t want to point a finger at anyone without the evidence. “I don’t know who this wise guy is…” He began then stopped as the SCU tones sounded.
“Engine 51, squad 51… truck 8…construction accident 225 East Boyle…225 east Boyle. Cross Street Indiana… Time out 08:30...” The crew scrambled for the Engine as Roy ran around to the driver’s side.
They arrived at the scene to find a man hanging from a tower with a broken back. Both Roy and John took the rescue hard. They’d been unable to give the man anything for pain and that had bothered them a lot even though Carol, one of the senior nurses at Rampart had reassured them that they all did and should feel that way.
They responded to a woman faking a heart attack. Roy watched Johnny handle the woman with patience and even a touch of humor. The older man was pleased by the change.
They headed to Rampart for supplies. They were headed to the Doctors lounge for coffee when Johnny renewed his current obsession... “Maybe using some itching powder would do the trick?”
“Bad idea, besides you don’t even know who to use it on.”
“Oh I’ll find out, don’t worry about that. The important thing is figuring a gimmick to get back at him whoever he is.”
“How about short sheeting his bed…? If you find out...”
“Too conventional, I need something imaginative…something with a little zing to it,” Johnny suddenly looked excited…”How about some glue in his helmet?”
Roy couldn’t believe he was having this conversation. Johnny could be such a kid sometimes. Roy couldn’t remember working with anyone who exasperated him as much as his young friend but at the same time he had to admit he was enjoying it. Jo was right, John had changed him as well.
“You’ve been watching too many Saturday morning cartoons Johnny,” He quipped with a smirk. John looked affronted but recovered quickly and followed his partner through the door.
They entered the Doctor’s lounge to find Kel Brackett and Dixie having a cup of coffee.
“Mornin…,” Roy said sociably, “Nice day isn’t it?” He asked heading for the coffee pot and glancing at the couple.
“Wonderful...,” Kel said in disgust. Roy glanced back at the tone. John shot a worried glance at his Partner and shoved his hands in his pockets…a habit he had when he was nervous or uncertain.
Johnny took a stab at conversation... “Hey Dix…we need some supplies…how about it?” He asked with a hesitant smile.
“Ask Nurse Walters.”
“I did but she needs your okay first…,” he continued.
“Alright you have it,” She snapped. John looked slightly hurt…he frowned at her as Roy looked on. They both turned to leave looking uncomfortable.
John cleared his throat, “Ahem...kinda chilly in here,” He said as they headed for the door leaving the couple to finish whatever they were going through in peace.
“Yeah…,” Roy agreed, “I guess we’re in the way.” They picked up their supplies and headed back to the station.
Captain Hammer called Johnny and Roy into the office when they returned.
“What’s up Cap?” Roy asked.
“Headquarters needs you and John down there first thing tomorrow.”
John looked nervously at Roy… “Uh…Why Cap?”
“They want to hear about what happened on that run straight from you. Keith Barron’s also been called in. They’ve already spoken to Kimmerlin and he’s swearing that John never asked for help or if he did …he didn’t hear him.”
“So it’s my word against his?” Johnny said with a sigh.
“Not necessarily… Couple that with what you, Roy and Barron can tell them about the training class…well it might be enough.”
“Man I hate this.”
“Johnny…I know you’re uncomfortable talkin about how Kimmerlin treated you…,” Roy began.
“I’m uncomfortable talkin about a fellow Fire Fighter,” Johnny said
“This one endangers people’s lives John…Yours and Roy’s for example.”
“I know and that’s the only reason I’m doin this… He could’ve got Roy killed.”
Roy looked at him in dismay. “Do it for yourself too Johnny, he could’ve gotten you killed as well and your life is just as important.”
John shrugged, “That doesn’t worry me.”
“Well it worries the hell outta me,” the older man snapped…“and so does bigotry…in any form and your calm acceptance of it.”
I’m used to it.”
Roy stepped closer to John, resisting the urge to shake some sense into his young friend. “Well you damn well shouldn’t be,” Roy growled… “And you better get unused to it Partner…cause as long as we’re friends, I’m not gonna put up with it. Not towards you from others and not from you towards yourself…Understand?”
Johnny looked slightly stunned at Roy’s angry outburst, but nodded his head hesitantly… “Yes,” He mumbled.
Roy took a deep breath to calm himself. He rested his hand on his Partners shoulder… “You’re not alone anymore and your life matters…to me,” He said softly.
“Thanks Roy,” He replied quietly.
Cap cleared his throat, breaking the tension… “Ahem…One more thing since we’re on the subject Gage.”
“What’s that Cap?” Johnny asked hesitantly.
“You ever get hurt like that again and don’t tell me….I’m gonna kick your ass… We clear on that Johnny?”
John bit his lip nervously, “We’re clear Cap.”
“Good... For the record Gage…You’re doin the right thing here. This man’s dangerous to those we’re supposed to protect as well as his fellow Firemen.”
“Dismissed…and good luck tomorrow,” They nodded.
The rest of the shift remained quiet and uneventful, with only a few routine calls. They headed for home the next morning for two days off, but first they went down to headquarters and gave them their side of the story. Barron also told them what he had seen and heard both during their training and that day during the response.
“Thank you all for coming in and telling us what happened. I know this wasn’t easy for any of you, but it was the right thing to do,” The Chief told them. They nodded and filed out.
John looked at Roy as they left Headquarters. “Now to find just the right thing for my prank playing co worker,” Johnny said with narrowed eyes.
Roy shook his head hoping Johnny would get past this kick. He just didn’t have the experience in being devious as their Phantom joker did. His friend was out of his element.
John arrived early for his next shift. He was just finishing tying his shoes when Roy came into the locker room a few minutes later, “Wow junior, three shifts in a row… you goin for some kind of record or something?” the older partner teased.
“Nope got somethin planned, I’ll meet you at roll call,” He said heading out to the apparatus bay.
“Johnny we need to check out the squad,” Roy yelled after him.
“I’ll be right back.”
Roy headed for the squad but barely managed to get the drug box checked before Hammer stepped out of his office.
“Roll call,” Cap bellowed.
“You better hurry Johnny,” Roy muttered to himself as he shoved the black box back into the squad and went to join the others. There was no sign of John.
“Where’s Gage? You’re supposed to have the squad checked by now.”
“He’ll be right back, he just stepped out for a minute Cap,” Roy said evasively.
“Well he better step back in fast,” Cap grumbled with an impatient sigh. Having a young man on his crew sure could be frustrating sometimes…still John was a good Fire Fighter and an excellent Paramedic and well worth the hassle. Hammer was well aware he had the best paramedic team in the business and he had no intention of trading the kid for a more seasoned fireman.
Johnny came around the corner and tossed something through the window of the squad. His step faltered slightly as he realized he was late and had been holding up roll call and they still hadn’t done the usual morning checks for the drug box, biophone and cardiac monitor. If they got a call and something was wrong it could be a problem.
Cap shot him an annoyed glance, “You might wanna check the squad out first thing in the morning...,” Dick snapped at Johnny.
“Sorry Sir…I won’t let it happen again Sir,” Johnny answered contritely, stepping into line with the others.
“Alright…,”Cap said turning his attention to the others, “Who’s cooking today?”
“Oh…I am Sir,” Kelly said raising his hand… “Okay men…shell it out... The menu for this evening is going to be an epicurean delight,” He assured them as he moved down the line collecting money from the crew as they reached for their wallets.
“Where have you been?” Roy asked quietly
“At my car, I had to get something…wait’ll you see…oooh is revenge gonna be sweet,” He said with a grin.
“Two days off and you’re still on that kick?” Roy asked in disbelief.
“I’m pretty sure who my target is,” He replied in low tones, watching Chet as he collected the money from the crew.
Cap continued. “Okay, we have a girl scout tour at 11:30…Stoker you handle that. Chief’s inspection 16:00…I want everything tip top. Let’s hit the hose room. C shift changed a lot of hose yesterday...” They began to disburse.
Roy was slightly surprised when his excited Partner reached out and grabbed his arm, steering him quickly toward the squad. Johnny rarely initiated contact unless he had too. Roy was glad for the change. “Wait’ll you see it..,” Johnny was saying, “its sheer genius.”
“I can’t wait... What is it?” Roy replied drily…
John reached into the squad pulling out a box of chocolates and a small bottle... “A box of soft crèmes…” He said with a grin as he set a small green and yellow bottle on top... “And pure garlic extract. Now…you know how candy always disappears around here...,” He explained, “If I put this garlic in a syringe and inject it into the chocolate…”
Roy began to smile as he caught Johnny’s intent. His young partner continued “And just let them lay around.”
“The chocolate thief gets a mouth full of garlic,” Roy finished.
“Exactly...,” Johnny said with a wicked grin as he turned to put the candy and garlic back in the squad.
“You’re too much you know it?” Roy said. Johnny as usual didn’t pick up on the sarcasm.
“I knew you’d recognize genius when you saw it...,” He said, smugly folding his arms over his chest.
Roy couldn’t believe the change in Johnny in just a month. Roy thought back to Joanne’s words. Johnny finally felt free to be himself now that Roy knew his secret and hadn’t rejected him. He suspected he and Jo might be the only ones who did know. They went to join the others in the hose bay.
A short time later they were toned out to an accident at Mammoth studios where a stunt man had a dizzy spell… he’d fallen and broken his leg. They transported him to Rampart. A short time later they were called to an apartment where they found a twenty four year old girl who was complaining of stomach pains and trouble breathing. It was several hours later before they learned that Brackett had diagnosed them both with botulism.
Late in the afternoon they responded to a child trapped in a building collapse. The extrication had been tricky due to the instability of the wall he was trapped behind but they managed to get the boy out safely.
Johnny had done well with him…keeping him calm and reassured while still being firm and in control. He was so good with kids. Roy had enjoyed watching the younger man’s face light up when the boy had told him he wanted to be a fireman. Later John had even felt confident enough to tease with Brackett.
Roy was calling in the advisement that they were ready to transport. Johnny reached out and took the phone from Roy. “He’s on his way in Rampart. He just needs a little TLC from Nurse McCall.”
Kel looked at Dix in confusion…, “TLC?”
“Tender loving care,” She said with a grin, pleased that Johnny thought that about her but then the younger man had experienced it firsthand… Johnny and Roy headed back to the station.
Roy backed the squad into the bay. They climbed out and headed around the squad. “A change of clothes, hot shower and an epicurean delights gonna make me ready for a long nights sleep. I can’t wait to eat,” Johnny said enthusiastically as they entered the rec room.
Roy was relieved to know John was still sleeping at night and the nightmares hadn’t returned.
A box of chocolates sat open on the table. Without thinking Johnny reached out and popped one into his mouth. A look of total disgust crossed his features…he looked around frantically for a moment then ran for the sink to spit it out.
“Gotcha again huh…?” Roy observed… “And with your own candy… If I were you Johnny…,” He said watching his young friend race for the sink. “You know what I’d do? I’d just quit before you booby trap yourself right into Rampart Emergency,” The older man advised. He followed his partner to the sink, where Johnny was frantically rinsing his mouth with water…“Let it go Johnny…It’s just not in your nature to get even…your just not good at it,” Roy told him sagely.
“Yeah…well I’m not through yet…,” Johnny assured him between gulps of water.
They left the next morning for their days off…Roy stopped him in the parking lot. “Hey Junior…um…I’m not sure if you Ahhh…celebrate this or not but how about comin by tomorrow and going out trick or treating with me and Chris?”
John grinned. Halloween was the one Holiday his Dad had made it home for the year they lived in Duarte. Growing up on the Reservation, he’d never had the opportunity to observe the custom and by the time his Aunt had taken him in and got his head together, he was too old to really participate in it…but that one year the neighborhood boys had all gone out together and Johnny’s Father had helped him with his costume…dressing him up as a Fire Fighter…He'd even worn a real helmet that he'd been given by a young fireman in Lame Deer for his sixth birthday. He’d had a ball. He looked at Roy, nodding eagerly and surprising his partner with how quickly he’d accepted.
“That’d be fun…what time?”
“Come by around six…we’ll have dinner and then head out.”
“Far out…What’s Chris goin as?”
“Take a guess…,”Roy said with a grin.
“Fireman…?” John asked.
“Close…,” He answered tapping his own uniform.
“Ohhh…Paramedic...,” John corrected.
“You got it…”
“So what are you goin as Gage? I mean you do know you’re supposed to dress up right?” Chet taunted coming up behind him.
“I’m not dressing up Chet… That’s for kids,” John replied in irritation.
“Exactly, that’s why I asked…,” He teased the younger man.
John’s face grew red in exasperation…, "Oh…shut up Chet, “John shot back. Chet smirked, throwing a wink at Roy.
Roy chuckled at his partners’ obvious annoyance with the other man. He patted his young friends back as they continued toward their cars, “I’ll see you tomorrow Johnny.”
Chris was eagerly waiting the next evening when John pulled in. He’d been looking forward to the arrival of his favorite playmate all day. “Uncle Johnny…,” He shrieked as he launched himself at the tall dark haired man. John snatched him up tossing him high into the air amid squeals of laughter.
“Hey look at you Buddy…you look great...,” John commented setting him back on his feet… taking in the light blue shirt with the badge and name plate in place, a stethoscope hung around his neck. Chris looked like a miniature Roy…which brought another grin to the young fireman’s lips.
“Let’s go in and eat…,” Chris urged, trying to drag John towards the door.
“Where’s the fire?” He teased as he followed the child inside.
“We can’t go trick or treating until we have dinner so we need to go eat…,” He dropped his voice to whisper conspiratorially… “I want to show you what I made for Daddy’s Birthday.”
“Birthday…?” John questioned with a grin… “When’s that Chris?”
“Next Thursday…” Chris informed him. “Mommy’s having a party Saturday when he’s off.”
John nodded…his mind already plotting how to repay his new friend for everything he’d done for him. John stepped into the DeSoto living room to greet his friend and Joanne…a secretive smile played on his lips. Roy glanced at his wife…noting that she’d caught the smile as well. They came forward to greet their guest wondering worriedly what Johnny was up to.
“Glad you could make it Junior.”
“Me too…” He said with a grin.
They sat down to dinner and then later Roy, John and Chris set out on their trek around the neighborhood. Roy’s attention alternated between his son and his Partner. Roy smiled to himself as his friends dark eyes sparkled with amusement at the wide variety of crazy costumes they saw and the laughter over the tales of some of Roy’s antics during his own Halloween outings when he was a kid. He was saddened by the realization that Johnny had only the one memory of Halloween. He shook it off and made sure this one at least, would be memorable for his friend.
They returned later in the evening with an exhausted Chris and a bagful of candy. John carried the little boy upstairs. Joanne followed under the pretense of checking on Jennifer. She stopped the young Paramedic outside Chris’ room.
“Johnny… Thursday is Roy’s birthday,” She whispered.
John nodded… “Yeah, Chris told me.”
“Since he has to work on his Birthday, We’re having our traditional family party on Saturday…”
“Oh…family huh?”Johnny said in disappointment. He’d wanted to be able to give his friend his gift at his party but he guessed he could give it to him at the station…besides he owed him a party with the guys as he’d done for him.
“…at 4:30?” He looked at Joanne suddenly realizing she was waiting for an answer.
“I’m sorry, what…?”
“Can you be here at 4:30?” She asked again.
“When…?” He asked perplexed.
“Johnny I swear… sometimes….did you hear a word I said?” Jo asked in frustration.
He blushed… “Sorry…I guess my mind was somewhere else…I…”
“It’s okay John…I asked if you could be here for Roy’s party Saturday at 4:30.”
John’s face lit up with a broad grin, “Yeah…yeah I can…thanks.”
Jo smiled. “Good…Roy will enjoy it more if you’re there… Come on.”
John grinned. He still had his own party to plan at the Station. He’d never planned one before so he figured he’d better ask the guys for help. He followed her downstairs.
The next morning Johnny approached the only one of his crewmates he felt wouldn’t tease him for his lack of knowledge or dig to deeply into why he didn’t know how to plan a simple birthday party for someone.
“Um …Mike you got a minute?”
“Sure Johnny…what’s up?”
“Um…Roy’s birthdays on Thursday and I wanna do something but…”
“I…ah…I’ve never ahhh…you know…planned a party before and…um…I thought maybe you could tell me…what I need…” He trailed off nervously.
Mike looked at him curiously but as Johnny suspected, he didn’t laugh or prod him for reasons why a man his age hadn’t ever planned something as commonplace as a birthday party. Mike was flattered that the quiet, young Paramedic was willing to ask for his help.
“Sure Johnny, I’d love to help,” Mike said with a smile. “Maybe I can get my wife to help out too… Melissa makes a great chocolate cake.”
John gave him a small, shy grin, “I’d really appreciate it Mike, thanks.”
“Okay, the first thing then is the decorations….,” John nodded eagerly. Half an hour later Johnny left the locker room whistling merrily with a list tucked securely in his pocket. He came into the rec room for coffee. He spotted Roy and Chet at the table.
“Mornin…mornin…mornin…,” He said, giving Roy a couple of quick pats on the shoulder. Roy glanced up at him. Pleased to note how at ease Johnny was with touching his friend now.
“What are you so happy about this morning Junior?”
“Why shouldn’t I be pally…It’s a beautiful day…,”He grinned as he headed for the coffee pot…
“What’s up with him?” Chet asked.
Roy glanced at Chet with a shrug but he was glad Johnny seemed to be so happy even if he didn’t know the reason behind the mood.
The Station Control Unit sounded…”Station 51, possible heart attack…2311 Rosecrantz…2-3-1-1 Rosecrantz…cross Street Maple…Time out 08:43…”
John and Roy ran for the squad as Captain Hammer acknowledged the call… “KMG-365”
He handed them the slip of paper and the squad began to roll…
They arrived at the scene five minutes later. A middle aged man was lying on his sofa while his anxious wife hovered nervously over him.
“Hi…” Johnny greeted, “What seems to be the trouble?”
“My chest…,” He gasped. “It feels like someone’s sitting on my chest.”
“Well, why don’t we hook you up here and take a look…,” Roy suggested pulling out the cardiac leads and getting them ready. “Have you been sick lately?”
“Any history of heart problems…?”
“Okay…” Roy applied the EKG Pads and snapped the leads in place… he turned to flip on the data scope while John took the man’s pulse. Roy pulled out the BP Cuff as John set up the Bio-phone and contacted Rampart.
“Rampart base this is Squad 51, do you read me?”
“Go ahead 51…,” Dixie’s voice came back.
“Rampart we have a male, approximate age 55. He’s complaining of chest pains. His pulse is 110…respiration 12…BP…,” He glanced up at Roy questioningly.
“110/70,” John repeated to Dixie…
“Stand by 51…I have a Doctor on the way.”
Joe joined Dixie at the base station scanning her notes. “51 is your monitor hooked up?”
“Send me a strip…”
“This’ll be lead 2 Rampart.”
Joe read the strip… “51 he’s throwing PVC’s…start an IV D5W TKO, administer 100 Mgs Lidocaine bolus and 5 mgs MS IV…transport as soon as possible.”
“10-4 Rampart…” John acknowledged as he and Roy began to work around each other like a well choreographed dance. Each seeming to know what the other needed before it was asked for. They heard a siren in the distance and John stood up a moment later. “I’ll go get the ambulance,” He said heading for the door. Roy nodded, smiling to himself at how well he and his Partner had come to know one another. He knew they'd be a great team for a long time to come, despite Johnny's insecurities...Roy had already broken down the walls...now he needed to build up John's self confidence and teach him how to trust.
END CHAPTER 4 Published to Site 09/14/09
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