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Rising From the Ashes

Part 1

An Emergency Story
by Tammy B

Links to Parts 1. 2.

 

 

 

“C’mon Roy…Ya gotta see this,” twenty two year old Paramedic John Gage urged his friend excitedly.

 

Twenty six year old Roy DeSoto grinned tolerantly as his young partner of almost two years tugged the sleeve of his jacket exuberantly. “Hold your horses Junior…I’m comin,” he teased as he allowed the younger man to pull him along through the woods.

 

He and his friend had barely got the campsite set up before Johnny had told him he wanted to show him something that he’d found on his last solo camping trip up here a couple of weeks ago.

 

They were approaching the top of a rise and John pointed at a slightly misshapen tree that stood alone near the top.   “Check this out pally,” he said as he stepped around the tree and with a quick motion…Vanished.

 

 

Roy froze and for one quick moment he thought John had fallen. His heart skipped a beat. “JOHNNY!” He yelled in fear, but a moment later he breathed a sigh of relief as his friend reappeared.

“Yeah…?” He questioned with a grin.

 

Roy’s eyes narrowed. “Ya know junior…I outta bust you for that. Ya nearly scared me to death,” he growled in annoyance as his breathing began to return to normal.

 

John threw him his trademark crooked, impish grin. “Sorry pally,” he teased, though the twinkle of amusement in his eyes belied the sincerity of the apology. “But come see,” he pleaded sounding more like Roy’s six year old son than his slightly zany partner.

 

Roy finished the climb, coming parallel with his friend. 

 

 

John pointed. Just behind the large, gnarled tree there was a narrow aperture, barely wide enough for one man to slip through, provided of course that he wasn’t carrying too much extra body weight.

 

John slipped through it and disappeared. Roy wasn’t all that sure he wanted to follow. It didn’t look all that safe to him but he didn’t want to listen to John harass him about being afraid either. On that note…Roy reluctantly took a breath and slid inside, vowing to make his young partner pay if he got stuck in here.

 

John stood just inside the opening. There was a small cave, just barely wide enough for them to stand side by side or for one of them to sit.It appeared that the tree had simply grown around the entrance.

 

“Isn’t this far out?” John questioned enthusiastically with a grin. He pointed down and Roy could barely see another opening that disappeared into the side of the hill they'd just scaled. “It goes even further in if you crawl through there.” He informed the older man with a grin.

 

 

Roy’s face paled. “I’ll take your word for it,” he mumbled. Realization suddenly dawned and Roy looked at his friend. “You didn’t go in there?” He asked, his blue eyes narrowing rapidly with suspicion.

 

“Well…yeah…How else do ya think I’d know where it goes?”

 

“Cripe Johnny,” Roy barked in exasperation. “What if you’d got stuck in there or something?” We’d have never found you.”

 

John grinned sheepishly. “Well yee…aah but,” he hedged, looking a bit shamefaced at having taken such a risk.

 

“You didn’t think of that did ya?”

 

“Well…yeah…after I crawled in,” he admitted.

 

Roy threw his hands up in despair. “What the hell am I gonna do with you?”

 

John chewed his lip, looking a little embarrassed. “Well…I was excited. It was too cool to pass up. I…I came right back out after I thought of it,” he stuttered defensively. “So there could be another way out further in,” he hinted, hoping to dispel his best friend’s anger with his usual Johnny logic.

 

“You’re too much,” Roy said with a shake of his strawberry blonde head.

 

John grinned, knowing Roy wasn’t too angry with him. He was glad his best friend forgave him so readily for his sometimes impulsive acts or they’d never speak to each other again.

 

“Let’s go fishing?” Johnny suggested, hoping to take his mind off the cave. They walked for awhile in silence. “How’s your head?” John asked, glancing sideways at his partner.

 

Roy had taken a thump off the head that had knocked him out cold a week ago…A ceiling beam had fallen through the tiles and clipped him, thankfully his helmet had taken the worst of it or it could well have been fatal. Tomorrow would be his first day back since the injury.

 

“Feels fine Junior,” he replied throwing a look at his young partner. “And get that look off your face…It wasn’t your fault,” he commanded seeing the guilty look John wore. “You were too far away to warn me or push me outta the way.”

 

“I shouldn’t have left you,” he said softly.

 

“Johnny…We split up to search for victims all the time. We can’t always stay together…You know that.”

 

The younger man nodded and glanced away, still not convinced that he wasn’t somehow at fault for not being there when Roy needed him. He’d been scared silly when they’d carried his best friend out. He’d feared the worst when he’d seen the blood trickling down the back of his neck.

 

His hands had shaken like never before when he’d treated him and for a moment he thought he’d have to ask for help with the IV from one of station 36’s paramedics, but he finally got it started and got him into Rampart.

 

He’d been unable to meet Joanne’s frightened blue eyes when she’d arrived, fearing she'd be furious with him for letting it happen, but she’d launched into his arms, holding the younger man tightly. “Is he okay?” She asked fearfully. “They said he’s unconscious.”

 

“He’s gonna be okay Jo…He was starting to come around a little in the ambulance…They’re taking X-Ray’s now and they’ll know more then.”

 

She’d nodded and let Johnny lead her back to the waiting room. Dr. Early had come out not long after and reassured them that Roy would be fine…They’d both breathed a sigh of relief but John had still felt guilty that he hadn’t been there when Roy needed him.

 

He smiled at the arched brow Roy threw him…The older man knew him way too well. “Sorry…,” he murmured. Roy scruffed the dark hair affectionately and kept walking. John smoothed his hair down and followed.

 

Roy was also thinking about Jo’s reaction to the episode. She’d been very distraught and he hoped the cool conditions at home would cease pretty soon, but he’d never tell Johnny about that. He was already feeling guilty and Roy didn’t want to add that on top of it…Besides…John didn’t handle family fights that well. They made him extremely nervous and Roy was the one person who understood why.

 

 

John trotted through the rec room doorway the next morning. The crew of A shift and the departing crew of C shift were listening to Chet talk about his date from the night before. A pamphlet announcing the exhibit of Greek and Roman Mythology lay on the table in front of him.

 

The bright Red image of a bird rising from a bed of flames decorated the front page. John stopped in his tracks to look at the pamphlet with a nose curl of confusion. “What is that?” He asked in curious awe.

 

“It’s a Phoenix,” Chet replied.

 

“A whatix…?” Johnny shot back.

 

The others giggled a bit. Chet heaved a sigh. “What’re ya ignorant or somethin?”  John shrugged helplessly. The Irishman breathed an exaggerated sigh as if he were talking to a two year old. “It’s a mythological creature Gage. Alissa says some countries associate them with Firemen so she took me to see the exhibit.”

 

John frowned. “Well um.…, why are they associated with firemen?” He questioned dubiously.

 

Chet rolled his eyes in exasperation as if he hadn’t just learned about all this himself only yesterday. “Because ya dummy…,” he said snidely, ignoring Johnny’s look of indignation. “The phoenix is a mythical bird with these colorful feathers and it’s got a tail of gold and scarlet or sometimes blue or green or purple. Now according to some legends it has like a 500 to a 1000 year life-cycle and near the end of it, it’s supposed to build a nest of twigs and then it ignites them so both the nest and bird burn up and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again and flies over the land...”

 

“Searching for good little boys and girls to give presents too…Sounds more like the great pumpkin,” Johnny quipped impishly with a giggle.

 

The others laughed along with him except for Chet. “That’s real cute Gage,” Chet growled with a sneer. “But that’s why they equate the fireman with it…”

 

“Well I don’t know about you Chet, but I don’t have a red or purple tail,” Roy jested from the other side of the table.” The others chuckled but John’s smirk fell away a bit as he continued. “Though Johnny might after I kick his ass for crawling into holes that most mice can’t squeeze through.”

 

John had the good graces to blush at least while the others exchanged confused glances.

 

“But anyway…She said that’s why they equate them with Firemen…Cuz we rise from the ashes,” Chet added.

 

“Not always,” Cap said sadly thinking of how many men he’d worked with that hadn’t come home for one reason or another.

 

John and Roy nodded remembering John’s first partner as a lineman…Jim Wright who’d died saving John’s life and Tim Duntley who’d died from the same virus that had almost taken Johnny and Dr. Brackett a year ago. It wasn’t a fire certainly but still…It was a wakeup call that too many firemen didn’t rise from the ashes.

 

“Anyway,” Chet said with a grumble at having been so rudely interrupted. “The new phoenix is destined to live as long as its old self and in some of the legends, the new phoenix embalms the ashes of its old self in an egg made of myrrh and deposits it in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis.” He held up the pamphlet. “It’s supposed to have a cry that sounds like a beautiful song and that because of its ability to be reborn from its own ashes…That it’s immortal and in some myths they’re able to change into people.”

 

John chuckled. “Must be you Chet…I always knew you had a birdbrain.”

 

The other hooted with merriment as Kelly flung the pamphlet at Johnny. He knocked it out of the air still giggling.

 

Hank laughed at the quip and slapped his hands together, rubbing them briskly. “On that note gentlemen…Why don’t we all flock to the apparatus bay for roll call,” he suggested.

 

C shift headed for the door while the crew of A shift made their way out for roll call.

 

                                        

 

They split up after roll call to do their chores. They got the clean up done and head outside to the hose rack. They managed to hang a couple of hundred feet before the station control unit began to tone. “Station 51…Battalion 14, Station 39, Deluge 105 Structure fire…15267 Seaview…1-5-2-6-7 Seaview cross street  Charleston. Time out 10:34.”

 

“Let’s go Junior…,” Roy yelled up to his young partner.

 

“Comin,” he hollered back, coming down the tower two rungs at a time. Captain Stanley was already racing for the podium. Mike grabbed his turnout, slipping it on before climbing into the cab.

 

Marco and Chet were both yanking on their coats before scrambling into their seats.

 

By the time Hank turned with the paper in hand, Roy had already slid into the driver’s seat of the squad. Johnny finally caught up after his rapid descent from the top of the tower and slid in beside him. Cap raced for the engine.

 

The squad was already rolling before Hank slammed the door closed.

 

“Gonna be a bad one Cap,” Mike murmured.

 

“Let’s hope not pal,” he replied as he watched the tail end of the squad make a right around the corner ahead of them.

 

 

Joanne DeSoto and two of her friends Susan Rogers and Cheryl Tyler sat in her living room talking softly. The TV played quietly with some cartoon that kept Chris DeSoto and Cheryl’s four year old son squealing with laughter.

 

The three friends sipped their coffee as they swapped ‘husband stories.’ All three women were married to fire fighters but only Joanne’s husband was a paramedic.

 

Susan’s husband Deke worked out of station 24 and Cheryl’s husband Bob worked out of 39.

 

“So how is Roy feeling?” Susan asked.

 

“That was quite a scare he gave you a couple of weeks ago,” Cheryl added.

 

Jo blew out a breath before answering. “Yes it was. When the hospital called and said he was brought in unconscious, I was scared silly but thankfully it turned out to be a mild concussion.”

 

“This time,” Susan murmured darkly remembering the scare her husband Deke had given her just a few weeks ago and what she’d told Roy that day at the hospital. She admired Joanne’s strength to deal with it day to day when she’d crumbled. “Thank God for hard heads,” she teased, trying to throw off the gloomy thought.

 

“Johnny must be rubbing off on him,” Cheryl added with a giggle.

 

Jo grinned at the mention of her young friend’s name. “Johnny got him out... thank God,” she replied.

 

“Isn’t it usually the other way around?” Cheryl asked with an arched brow.

 

Jo heard the almost disgusted tone in her friend’s voice and her smile faded. “Johnny usually gets hurt because he’s trying to make sure Roy doesn’t,” she said a bit tartly in defense of Roy’s young partner.

 

Both women smiled at the tone, knowing Joanne’s feelings were very strong for the youthful paramedic. “I don’t know how you do it Jo,” Susan said with a smile.

 

“Do what?” Jo asked.

 

“Deal with having to worry over two of them instead of just one. I told Roy the day that Deke got hurt that you wouldn’t buy into that ‘someone has to do it,’ garbage they feed us if something ever happened but you have it times two.”

 

“And even more so with someone as accident prone as Johnny,” Cheryl added again.

 

“It’s not easy,” Jo admitted. “I do worry about both of them but I try not to think about it,” she trailed off as the cartoon on the TV abruptly ended and the face of a news reporter came on its place.

 

 

"This is Don Gardener channel 3 news. We have breaking news coming in right now in the Carson area". The camera panned back to show a shopping center fully engulfed in flames as engine after engine began rolling up to the scene.

 

“Chris,” Joanne called. “Take Robby upstairs and play for a bit,” she instructed as she spotted the rescue squad and engine from station 51 pull up to the curb.

 

“Okay mommy,” he agreed as the two boys headed for the stairs.

 

“Battalion 14…Must be a bad one,” Susan added as engine 10 and 39 pulled up and began to lay duals. Other engines were pulling in behind them as well but their numbers weren’t clear. Deluge 105 was setting up as well.

 

“There’s Bob,” Cheryl murmured as they watched the scene unfold.

 

Men were running everywhere and lines crisscrossed the parking lot. They could hear the hiss of the water turning to steam as it poured over the burning structure. Black smoke roiled and the flames would die back for a moment only to shoot back to life a bit further down the row of shops.

 

Jo sucked in her breath as the camera panned back long enough to see Roy and Johnny run toward the building, still tugging their SCBA’s into place.

 

“Must be victims,” Jo muttered as the camera pulled back and turned toward the arriving fire companies once more.

 

 

Hank heard the sound of running feet and turned to see a man in a suit and tie coming toward him...John and Roy spotted him as well and quickly followed him as he ran toward Hank.

 

 “I’m the manager of the supermarket…,” he panted.

 

“Is anyone still in there?” Hank asked urgently.

 

“I don’t know…Everyone started running as soon as they smelled the smoke. It started in the offices upstairs…I don’t know what happened…Anyway…I tried to do a headcount on my employees but there’s so many milling about and I don’t if there were customers still in there…,” he trailed off helplessly

 

“Damn it,” Hank muttered in frustration. John and Roy were both in full gear and waited anxiously for their captain to make a decision. Johnny shifted eagerly from foot to foot.

 

“We goin in Cap?” Johnny asked urgently as Hank worried his lower lip with his teeth.

 

He sighed heavily. Brother…He hated sending his men into an inferno needlessly but they had to be sure. “In and out and don’t take too long in there…If it gets real bad you back out…Got it?” Cap barked, looking hard at John.

 

The younger man nodded but the senior partner replied. “Got it,” Roy acknowledged, giving John a slap on the shoulder.

 

The two of them turned and ran for the building as Hank lifted the handy talkie to his lips. “Engine 39…Engine 51…We may have people still inside. My paramedics are going through the front door…Can your linemen cover them?” He questioned.

 

“10-4 51,” Captain Northrup of Engine 39 responded. “Tyler…Rodriguez…Cover Gage and DeSoto on the front,” he yelled waving the two men toward the front door that John and Roy were already approaching.

 

Hank could hear Engine 10 and Engine 39 sending their rescue teams in the back way.

 

John tugged his gloves in place and glanced toward his partner. “Ready?” Roy nodded and John shoved the now defunct automatic doors open.

 

They both ducked instinctively as smoke billowed from the opening but no flames showed.  They began to make their way inside

 

 

 

Water suddenly sprayed over them and they threw a glance behind them and tossing a ‘thumbs up’ to the two linemen who’d just followed them in. Flames licked upward to catch the ceiling tiles…Creeping along like a live thing, drooling tongues of fire down on top of the fire fighters as they made their way inside.

 

Overheated aerosol cans exploded in the next aisle over sounding like an out of control Fourth of July celebration.

 

They saw the flashlight beams of other rescue personnel coming from the back. The four men continued on, keeping low and trying to see through the heavy, black smoke. They checked behind the deli counter before coming to the stairway leading up to the offices.  John pointed up and waved one of the linemen to stay and cover their retreat.

 

Rodriguez nodded, staying behind to battle with a beast bent on winning the fight while Tyler followed the two paramedics up the steps.

 

They pushed open the first door but a quick look was all they needed to determine that it was empty. They continued on. John pushed open the door to another office and both paramedics spotted the feet of an unconscious man peeping out from behind a desk.

 

They rushed forward. Roy quickly checked for a pulse giving his younger partner an affirmative nod. John helped him lift the man to his shoulder as pieces of flaming ceiling tiles dropped on them from overhead.

 

“We gotta get outta here,” Johnny shouted swatting at the embers that fell on them from above.

 

“Better hustle,” Tyler yelled as the flames consumed the hallway carpets a short distance up the corridor…There was no way to get to the last two offices…John could only pray that there was no one in them.

 

The headed back for the stairs. Tyler brought up the rear, holding the fire at bay as best as possible but it was a losing battle…The flames licked closer despite his efforts.

 

Downstairs his partner was in much the same predicament. He could only pray that would get back here soon…He didn’t want to abandon his partner or the two paramedics out of station 51 but he’d have no choice soon as the heat continued to intensify.

 

Rodriguez knew the building was becoming unstable. He swept the hose from hot spot to hot spot only to watch it rebirth a moment later where he’d just been.

 

He glanced upward and heaved a sigh of relief but it was short lived.

 

 

Joanne and her friends watched anxiously as the news reporters continued the coverage. None of them had seen Roy and John come out yet but that didn’t mean they hadn’t exited from another door. Cheryl hadn’t seen Bob go in.

 

This is just terrible ladies and gentlemen…We’re getting reports that there were possibly people still inside this building and several of Los Angeles County’s fire department paramedic teams have gone inside to search.

 

The television reporter’s voice was a steady drone in their ears and while he tried to sound concerned, it sounded more like basking in the excitement of the moment to the three nervous women…Jo wanted to slap him. The man had no idea what she was feeling right now but it wasn’t excitement.

 

“These are incredibly brave men ladies and gentlemen…Risking their lives to save these strangers,” he added dramatically. Jo could agree with that but at the moment she’d rather see Johnny and her husband running from that inferno like two little schoolgirls but she knew it wouldn’t happen.

 

The reporter continued with his voice over’s on the live feed…The building suddenly seemed to heave like a live animal in its death throes as it began to collapse in on itself.

 

Jo's blue eyes widened and she let out a whimper of fear while the other two held their breath in horror. An explosion rocked the building. Flames shot from suddenly shattered windows, raining embers and shards of glass over the scene. The firemen outside ducked away, shielding their faces from the deadly rain of shrapnel.

 

“Oh dear God,” Jo breathed out. Were Roy and Johnny still inside? And what about the other crews…?

 

Susan and Cheryl remained mute, praying silently that Johnny and Roy had made it out as well as the rest of the crews that had been inside.

 

 

The reporter continued on excitedly. “There seems to have been some kind of explosion inside the building. This is terrible ladies and gentlemen,” he intoned. “We still don’t know if everyone is out or how many may be trapped inside.”

 

The camera panned around to where several fire fighters were yelling into handy talkies…A few of them wore the white striped helmets designating them as captains but it was impossible to tell exactly which stations from all the smoke and water vapor.

 

 The Chiefs car pulled up in front of the buildings. Joanne and the others exchanged a frightened glance.  Jo tried to draw a calming breath. The Chief showed up for every major fire and it wasn’t uncommon to see this much commotion at any scene, so it might or might not mean any of the crews were still inside.

 

Joanne’s stomach turned a small flip but she fought back the urge to vomit. She knew she was probably just being paranoid after the close call such a short time ago…Roy and Johnny were okay…They had to be.

 

 

Hank and Ronny Northrup stood together watching the conflagration. Hank finally shook his head. “It’s getting too hot in there…I’m calling them out,” he told Northrup.

 

“I agree…That building won’t hold much longer.”

 

Hank lifted the handy talkie to his lips. He’d just barely keyed the HT when the building began to crumble. An explosion rocked the building only seconds later as cartons of aerosol cans of air freshener and pesticides overheated and exploded in the back warehouse of the store.

 

“Oh dear God,” Hank muttered. “HT 51 this is engine 51 do you copy?” Static was the only reply. “JOHN…ROY? Do you copy?” Nothing…

 

Next to him Northrup was doing the same thing. “Rodriguez…Tyler…This is engine 39…Do you hear me?” He questioned urgently.

 

A voice came back, faint and staticky… “Copy engine 39…Need help. Three men…down.” A bought of coughing interrupted before the weak voice continued. “Two firemen…One civilian… Stairs collapsed.”

 

The voice trailed off as Hank glanced at Northrup. “That was Gage,” he murmured.

 

“Yeah.” Ronny replied solemnly. “That means it’s my men and DeSoto.”

 

 

“We better hurry,” Tyler shouted as they approached the stairs. The way behind them was rapidly disappearing as the flames won the battle between them and Tyler’s efforts.

 

Roy nodded as Bob turned the hose toward them and their only avenue of escape, clearing the way for Johnny and Roy and their victim. They were only a few steps down when the stairs shifted.  The men grabbed for anything that might offer some support but the stairs began to crumble.

 

“UP!” Roy shouted… “We can’t go down,” he added as he saw the second lineman from 39’s looking up at him from below.

 

They turned back but just as Bob’s foot reached the top step the stairs began to crumble…Collapsing in on themselves.  Tyler dove for the landing as the hose was ripped from his hands.

 

Johnny felt the stairs buckle and grabbed hold of the rail that ran along the wall with one hand and the sleeve of Roy’s turnout to help steady him. Below he could see Rodriguez make a valiant effort to clear the way for them.

 

He tried to glance behind him to see where Tyler was but the staircase suddenly tore loose from the wall. It began a slow, sideway’s list. John clung to his partner and the rail as the stairs toppled but it was a futile effort…There was simply no way for the young paramedic to hold on to both Roy and a victim while holding the rail.

 

The weight was too great and the turnout slipped free of his grip. Roy and their victim tumbled with the stairs. Only John’s grip on the railing saved him from falling with them but it was short lived. The overstressed rail began to pull away from the wall. His gloved hand slipped free and he fell, landing atop the rubble as well as his friends.

 

Bob stood helplessly at the top of the stairs. There was no way down to help. All he could do now was head back to the office and try to break out a window and try to get some help. He had little time as the flames were moving inexorably closer with each second.

 

He’d almost made it to the first office when the explosion rocked the building. Flaming ceiling tiles and supports crashed down from above in a wave. Bob threw up his hands in a futile attempt to hold them off.

 

The concrete roof finally gave way and followed the rest of the debris downward and Bob knew no more.

 

 

John’s breath left his body with a whoosh as he hit the wreckage below. He lay there panting for several minutes, trying to get air into his starved lungs. He heard the squawk of the HT’s as Captain Stanley and someone else…Captain Northrup, Johnny assumed tried to raise their men.

 

John finally managed to raise himself to his hands and knees, trying to follow the direction of the voice. He was gasping and dizziness was washing over him in waves. He suddenly realized his tank was out of air. He shoved the mask aside and breathed, choking on the smoke and dust filled air.

 

His shoulder was aching furiously from hanging on to Roy but he kept moving. He finally located his companions…All three were unconscious. He dug into the pocket of the first man…He thought it was Rodriguez and pulled out the HT.

 

He wheezed a couple of more breaths before he keyed the radio in response to Northrup’s last call. "Copy engine 39…Need help. Three men…down.” A bought of coughing interrupted before he could continue. “Two firemen…One civilian… Stairs collapsed.”

John glanced upward but he couldn’t see Tyler…He could only hope that he’d made it to a window. He crawled forward, leaning over the debris to feel for a pulse on one of the men…Rodriguez he thought but he wasn’t sure through the haze of smoke and ash. It was weak but it was there. He moved on…He had to find Roy.

 

He barely made out the sleeve of his turnout peeking through the pile of wood and plaster. He shoved at the mess until he found his partner and their original victim…He felt for a pulse.

 

 

Jo and the other two ladies sucked in their breath as dirt and debris flew upward as the building collapsed before their eyes. “Oh God,” Jo whimpered in terror.

 

Susan and Cheryl both put their arms around her. “They’ll be okay…They’ll all be okay,” they reassured her. “It might not even be them.”

 

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the reporter said somberly. “We are learning from the Fire Department’s Chief Conrad that there were several firemen caught in that collapse as well as a couple of civilians. We also know that there has been some communication with at least one of them so we don’t know the extent of the injury’s as yet,” he intoned.

 

“Then don’t tell us there are any until you know,” Joanne mumbled uselessly at the TV. The others nodded. Better not to know anything than a piece of the puzzle that left your own worst imaginings to fill in the blanks.

 

Men charged toward the building with axes and a K12. Jo recognized Marco and Chet along with several other fire fighters she knew from other stations.

 

Cheryl’s eyes scanned the scene, looking for her own husband but she knew he could be around the back of the building so she nipped that worry before it could take root.

 

The men made their way into the building, while the rest held the fire at bay.

 

 

John breathed out a sigh of relief as he felt a strong pulse beat beneath his fingers. Roy was alive and John planned to keep him that way. He moved to the victim Roy had been carrying he was alive as well.

 

He began to feel over the man’s limbs to check for broken bones. The right leg was a definite and possibly his left wrist where it was pinned between Roy and the floor.

 

He managed to wangle his penlight from his shirt pocket and shine it into his eyes. The pupils responded normally. John quickly shifted to Roy next. His eyes were also equal and responsive and he groaned painfully as Johnny felt his arms and legs for damage but the blue orbs remained closed.

 

John heaved a sigh of relief as he realized Roy was probably going to be fine, provided of course that they got out of this building before the rest of it fell on them.

 

He moved back to Rodriguez. He glanced up from his examination as he heard the whine of the K12 coming from the mountain of timbers and ceiling tiles that blocked the rescuers but he took comfort in knowing they were close.

 

He noted that Hispanic lineman had a nasty laceration over his eye where he’d been hit by something. The man’s arm was a definite compound fracture and John frowned.  That could be very bad, especially if it had cut through any nerves or tendons. The likelihood of infection was great given their location. He could easily loose his arm if they didn’t get him out and soon.

 

The roar of the K12 ceased and the sound of timber and concrete slabs being pulled out of the way was heard. Finally he saw a curly haired fireman stick his head through the newly created gap. “Chet,” he breathed in relief. “Help me…I’ve got Roy and Juan and this guy…,” he nodded at the victim.

 

“We’ll be right there Johnny. Are you okay?”

 

“Yeah…Yeah,” he assured him though he didn’t feel okay at the moment…Everything was finally starting to sink in including shock. “What about Tyler…Did he get out?”

 

“Don’t know man…Where was he?”

 

“Second floor when the stairs went,” he mumbled tiredly.

 

“Okay…I’ll get the Cap to get a ladder up there to search,” he assured him as he climbed over the rubble toward John. He raised the HT to his lips. “HT 51 to engine 51…I have four of the missing men in sight. Gage is conscious and talking but DeSoto and Rodriguez are not…Also we have a victim and there's a missing fireman on the second floor.”

 

“10-4…How bad are the injuries?” Hank questioned worriedly as he signaled the Captain from station 10 to get a ladder up to the window.

 

Chet looked to John as Marco and the rescue team from 39’s joined them. “The victim has a broken wrist and leg I think,” he muttered tiredly. Rodriguez took a good whack on the head…He’s gonna need stitches and he’s got a compound fracture of the right radius but I think he’ll be okay. He responded to a sternal rub…So did Roy. No broken bones on Roy but I bet they’ll both be bruised and sore for a couple of days.”

 

Chet repeated John’s assessment to Hank. Stanley smiled at Northrup in relief…It was short lived as other teams began to report.

 

“We have a code F at the rear of the building,” Hal Whitney reported dismally. “Two civilians as well.”

 

“Oh God,” Hank murmured as he watched Chief Conrad shake his head at the news. It got worse. The men who’d gone in looking for Tyler came back to the window. One by one they climbed out on the ladder until they saw the last lay the body of the fallen lineman over the shoulders of the man on the ladder…He glanced toward the Chief with a negative head gesture.

 

He waited for them to descend before he stepped out to follow. Hank threw a sad glance at Northrup. “I’m sorry Ronny,” Hank said gently.

 

“Yeah…,” he breathed out in shock. “Guess…Ahem,” he cleared his throat of the threatening tears. “Guess I better go over there.” He patted Hanks shoulder and left.

 

Hank turned his attention back to his own missing crew. “How long before you can get Gage and DeSoto out of there?” He questioned, desperately wanting to see his own ‘boy’s’ safe and sound at the moment.

 

“They’ll be bringing them out in a minute Cap. Station 39’s got Rodriguez and Marcos got the victim…Johnny’s bringing Roy out…He won’t let anyone else take him.”

 

Hank smiled.

 

 

 

The three women watched in horror as the camera caught the action. They had no idea whose body was slung over the man on the ladders shoulder or if he was alive or dead. They watched fearfully as other men began to carry out several more who were either unconscious or dead.

 

The reporter’s were frantically shouting at the Chief and other firemen who were studiously ignoring them at this point. They’d lost two of their own…Three more were injured along with two civilians…It was bad day for the department and they needed a few minutes to come to grips with it.

 

Now wasn’t the time to talk to the reporters. Conrad punched at the hose bed of engine 39 in frustration…He hated this part of his job…He got on the radio to request the addresses of the next of kin for his two fallen men.

 

He waited until he saw Gage emerge with Roy over his shoulder and then Gibson and Daily from 39’s with Rodriguez. He’d leave it to Northrup to break the news to his lineman that his partner was dead…He had a far worse chore to attend to.

 

 

Marco and Chet gently pulled the victim to a sitting position while John took care to be sure the man’s wrist and leg was as stable as possible. They helped Gibson get Rodriguez over his shoulder before turning back to Roy.

 

Chet bent down to lift him but Johnny waved him off… “Help me get him up,” Johnny mumbled tiredly.

 

“I’ll take him Gage,” Chet said gently.

 

“No…No I want to,” he insisted.

 

Kelly recognized the stubborn set to John’s chin and knew it would take longer to argue than to let the younger man simply have his way. “Okay John.” He helped him lift Roy to his shoulder and then gripped the younger man’s arm as he carried his best friend out.

 

 

John carried his best friend from the building and over to where the triage area had been set up. Marco was setting their victim on the yellow blanket and Rodriguez was already being tended to by Gibson. Hal Whitney immediately turned his attention to Roy as Daily worked on the man they’d carried out.

 

John sat back, sucking in air…His job complete.  He held his throbbing arm against him as pain radiated down from his pulled shoulder muscles. Smoke inhalation and shock finally caught up with him…Dizziness washed in a wave over him and Chet gasped in surprise as John suddenly tumbled sideways unconscious.

 

“I need some help here,” he yelled as he knelt next to John.

 

Hal tossed him an oxygen mask “Get that on him I’ll be there as quick as I can.”

 

Chet nodded and placed the mask over John’s nose and mouth, letting his young friend breathe the clean air.”Come on Johnny,” Chet urged his crew mate.

 

 

 

Conrad finished writing down the information from his headquarters dispatcher and heaved a troubled sigh. He set his helmet on the seat next to him and brushed the moisture from his eyes. This was never easy…His assistant would meet him at Tyler’s home and then they’d move on to Blakely’s family.

 

He raised his head after a long moment and finally noted the TV camera’s trained on the scene. They’d been pushed back by law enforcement officials but not far enough to not be able to still film the chaotic scene. He climbed from the car and walked quickly toward them. The reporters began to shout questions at him but he waved them down.

 

“Please gentlemen…,” he began quietly as their camera’s turned toward him and away from the scene where the bodies of the two dead firemen were being loaded in a coroner’s wagon. “Please…Don’t film that?” He requested. “Their families need to hear this from me…Not this way.”

 

One by one the cameras were lowered but not before the words had been heard by three frightened women.

 

Roy’s eyes blinked open and sound and color returned. There was shouting and crashing sounds as the men began to overhaul the burned out building. He felt the mask on his face and the cool rush of air in his nose and mouth and relaxed back, letting his blue eyes drift closed.

 

He was outside and safe. Suddenly the blue eyes flew open once more. ‘Johnny’…Where was his partner? Roy struggled frantically to sit up but hands pressed him back down.

 

“Hey easy DeSoto…You’re okay,” a familiar but not well known voice assured him. He looked up into the eyes of station 39’s paramedic Eric Gibson.

 

“Johnny?” He questioned worriedly.

 

“He’s right next to you…He got you out but then the heat and the shock kinda got to him but he’ll be alright,” he assured him quietly. Wishing he could say the same for one of his own crewmates. Tears burned behind his eyes as he thought of Bobby’s wife and son. It just wasn’t fair…He wiped them away. He had patients to attend to. He’d grieve later…Privately.

 

Roy’s eyes shifted quickly toward where the other man had pointed. Johnny lay unconscious. His right arm was immobilized snugly against his side and chest, while an oxygen mask covered his lower face. The dark lashes rested against the high cheekbones.

 

Roy eased himself a bit closer to his friend and reached out to lightly touch his hand. “Hey junior,” he said softly. The lashes fluttered briefly before resettling. Without hesitation the blonde paramedic reached up and swept the dark sable hair away from John’s forehead. “Can you hear me? Johnny…? I need you to wake up?”

 

Gibson grinned and pretended not to notice the touching gesture as DeSoto glanced toward him.

 

John moaned softly in response to the urgent tone and the lashes fluttered once more. The chocolate brown eyes made an appearance. “R…R…oy,” he sighed tiredly. “O…kay?”

 

“You’re okay junior,” he assured him.

 

“No…You?” He corrected.

 

“Got another thump on the head junior…Joanne’s gonna be pissed about that but I’ll be alright.”

 

John smiled tiredly and let his eyes drift shut. “John?” Roy questioned worriedly.

 

Gibson patted the blonde man’s sleeve. “Relax Roy…He’s a bit dehydrated…Rampart wants an IV on him and you as well as Rodriguez. They already took your patient away…Smoke inhalation and some bumps and bruises…You were all…Lucky,” he finished quietly. They’d find out about Tyler and Blakely eventually but now wasn’t the time.

 

He waved the ambulance attendants over, noting the coroner’s wagon as it pulled away carrying the two fallen firemen. Another would be coming for the two civilians who’d been killed as well.

 

Roy, John and Rodriguez were loaded into two ambulances. Hank trotted over. “You two okay?” He questioned worriedly.

 

“Got a miserable headache Cap and Johnny’s dehydrated and pulled his shoulder trying to hold on to the railing and me at the same time,” he added with a rueful grin.

 

“Kid hasn’t figured out he’s a fireman and not the incredible hulk,” Cap teased with a grin…Relief flooded through him that his men were safe. He remembered Chet’s conversation earlier this morning. Johnny and Roy had definitely risen from the ashes this time but two others hadn’t and they’d come very close to being among the ones who hadn’t. Cap could feel his hands shake at the thought of losing his ‘boys’ and he didn’t like that thought at all. He clamped down on his emotions and clenched his hands into fists, pushing the ‘what if’s’ and the ‘there but by the grace of God go I,’ thoughts from his brain until he regained control.

 

“Take care of yourselves. I’ll call Joanne when we get back to the station and tell her you’re okay and she can pick you up there.”

 

“Thanks Cap,” Roy replied, letting his head drop back. The blue eyes turned toward John who was still out like a light.

 

 

The TV resumed playing the show that had been interrupted but the three women didn’t notice. Susan glanced at the two ladies seated with her. She knew exactly how they felt. She’d felt it herself a while back when her husband had almost been killed on the job when a ceiling fell on him during a bad fire in the hills.

 

She looked to Joanne who was staring at her hands worriedly. She felt her eyes on her and glanced up. “I’m okay,” she murmured quietly. “I’ll be okay. They’re fine,” she added, trying to sound confidant.

 

Cheryl nodded her agreement. All of them knew someone had died but they had no idea who or how many. Was it civilians or fire fighters or paramedic’s? Jo caught her breath at the plural thought. God…She could lose both of them…Maybe already had. She forced that thought from her head… “Who wants some coffee?” She asked bouncing suddenly to her feet.

 

“I think that’s a great idea,” Susan agreed.

 

They headed into the kitchen trying to renew their interrupted conversation. Jo’s eyes traveled to the phone repetitively. Willing it to ring…To be Roy on the other end telling her he and Johnny were fine.

 

They sipped their coffee and chatted…Jo was beginning to relax under the premise that no news was good news when they heard the sound of tires on gravel.

 

Jo looked toward the living room window and her heart skipped a beat. Her blood suddenly seemed to stop flowing in her veins and the room wavered for just a moment at the flash of red through the lace curtains.

 

A whimper slipped from her lips as Chief Conrad and another man began a slow walk up her front lawn.

 

Susan and Cheryl exchanged a sympathetic glance. “Oh God,” Susan whispered as she put her arms around Joanne. Was it Roy? Johnny? Both…? She and Roy were listed as the next of kin for John Gage…They’d make this trip to Joanne’s to notify her about John if Roy was incapacitated as well for any reason.

 

Joanne straightened her back and shook off the hands that were trying to hold her. She had to know. She moved to the door…Her face growing paler with each step. The doorbell rang and she drew a deep breath as she opened the door.

 

Conrad stood facing her with his hat in his hand. “Good afternoon Mrs. DeSoto,” he said quietly and seeing the pale features and frightened eyes quickly continued. “Roy and John are fine,” he assured her. “A little banged up and on their way to Rampart but they’re both okay.”

 

Joanne almost wilted at his words…She sucked in a single sobbed breath as she pressed her hands over her mouth to keep from screaming. Why was he here then? He’d nearly scared her to death.

 

“I was told by a neighbor that I could find Mrs. Tyler here,” he questioned softly as his kind eyes slid past her to the young blonde woman a few feet away. Jo and Susan suddenly understood what had happened.

 

“No,” Cheryl whispered with a shake of her head.

 

“I’m so very sorry Mrs. Tyler…Bob was killed this morning in the line of duty at a store fire,” he explained gently.

 

“BO…B….NOOOO,” she shrieked in anguish as the realization sank in. The woman’s knees began to buckle and Conrad moved quickly to wrap his arm about her waist and lead her to the couch. He sat her gently upon it while she sobbed out her grief.

 

He sat beside her. “He covered the retreat of his fellow firefighters and an injured civilian. The stairs collapsed and he was trapped on the second floor. The ceiling came down on him…If it helps…We um…We think he died instantly. He didn’t suffer.”

 

Cheryl was beyond hearing anything at that point. Conrad looked at the other two women. “The other’s took a bad fall and suffered some bruises but they’ll be okay.”

 

Jo stood trembling but she managed a tight nod. Susan patted Joanne on the back comfortingly and moved to Cheryl’s side. “I’ll take her home and stay with her,” she assured the man.

 

“Thank you Mrs. Rodgers and again…I’m deeply sorry for your loss as well as our own Mrs. Tyler. He was a good man.”

Joanne ran upstairs and scooped Robby from the floor. The boys looked at her in confusion...What was going on? "Stay here Chris," she instructed before she turned and carried Robby downstairs.

 

Susan helped Cheryl to her feet and Conrad helped to support her as they moved to the door. Joanne stepped in front of her, handing the small boy to Susan. “Cheryl…I’m so sorry,” she whispered as she hugged the other woman.

 

“Make him stop,” she whispered to Jo… “If you love him…Make him stop before he dies too.”

 

Conrad threw her a sympathetic look but sincerely hoped that Joanne DeSoto wasn’t taking the woman’s words to heart. DeSoto was too good to lose.

 

The door closed behind them. Jo stood there for a long moment before she suddenly gagged. She whirled and ran for the bathroom where she vomited over and over.

 

The spasms finally ended and Jo slid down to sit curled against the tub as the tears streamed down her cheeks and sobs wracked her body.

 

 

Roy looked up as Doctors Brackett and Early pushed into the room. Dixie was close behind.

“Roy,” he greeted before looking over at Johnny whose eyes were still closed on the other table.

 

“Dixie, get me a set of vitals on Johnny,” he said quietly as he began to examine Roy. “What happened?”

 

“Fire in a supermarket Doc,” Roy said quietly as he raised his head to look over at his young partner.

 

Brackett smiled and gently pushed him back. Dixie and Joe will look after Johnny Roy…You just worry about you.” He knew the words were fruitless. Until Johnny woke, Roy would be a nervous mother hen.

 

“Anyway…We were on our way out with a victim when the stairs collapsed out from under us. We fell but thankfully Johnny managed to hang onto me long enough so that I landed on top of the debris instead of under it.”

 

Brackett threw a glance at John and shook his head in amazement at the younger man’s abilities. He always left Brackett in wonder at his physical strength in a young man that damn skinny as well as his emotional and mental strength considering the abuse he’d been subjected to.

 

Kelly Brackett was one of few people that knew about John’s having been a battered child and that he had a neurological condition called Aspergers so the young man frequently impressed him.

 

“Thank God for that Gage stubbornness then.”

 

Roy nodded his agreement. Then smiled as he heard John’s soft moan from the table and knew he was waking up. “Can you help me up doc…I’d like to be with him when he comes around.”

 

Kel shook his head but he unlocked the wheels and turned the table so they were side by side. “Happy now?” He teased.

 

Roy blushed but nodded his head. “I just don’t want him to wake up and be worried if he doesn’t see me ya know?”

 

“Yeah…I know,” Kel said wryly.

 

John’s eyes fluttered open and his head turned toward Joe Early...Meeting the kind blue eyes of the older doctor. “Hey doc,” he murmured.

 

“How are you feeling Johnny?” John moved on the table but stopped suddenly as his body set up a protest. He groaned in pain. “Don’t try to move Johnny okay?” Joe suggested.

 

“Kay…,” he mumbled in agreement. Man everything hurt. His eyes started to close but then flew open once more. “Roy,” he gasped as he struggled to sit up.

 

“He’s right here…,” Joe assured him.

 

“Hey Junior…Settle down,” the familiar voice soothed.

 

John’s head turned toward him and he smiled in relief. “Roy,” he breathed out.

 

“I’m okay and you will be too junior.” The sable head nodded tiredly as he let his eyes drift closed once more.

 

“How about Rodriguez?” He whispered tiredly.

 

“If that’s the fireman in the other room…He’s doing fine according to Mike,” Kel reassured them.

 

“Good.”

 

“I need to call my wife and let her know I’m okay,” Roy said.

 

“Dixie tried to call her,” Kel said quietly. “There was no answer.”

 

Roy lay back in relief. “Good…Then maybe she doesn’t know about any of this and by the time she does I’ll be telling her myself.”

 

 

 

Jo heard the phone ring and lifted her head. She sniffed back her tears but she couldn’t bring herself to answer the phone yet…Knowing it was either Hank or Roy or Dixie…Afraid she’d go to pieces if she talked to any of them right now. She let it ring.

 

 

Brackett flashed the pen light into John’s eyes… “How are you feeling now Johnny?” He questioned the young man quietly.

 

“Better…My head isn’t pounding quite so bad now.”

 

“Good…Between the heat and the stress as well as smoke inhalation and injury…I’m pretty sure you just had a syncopal episode.

 

Roy chuckled from the other gurney. “He means you fainted junior,” he teased.

 

John bristled indignantly. “I know what it means and I DON’T FAINT,” he shot back.

 

Brackett hid his grin behind his hand. “You do when you’re dehydrated and suffering from the heat Johnny…It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

 

John rolled his eyes as the two men shared a laugh at his expense.

 

“We’ll get you two into a room in just a few minutes and I’ll get some pain meds into you for your shoulder John. Roy…How’s your knee feeling?”

 

“Pretty sore…I think the guy landed on me and that’s when it really got hurt.”

 

“I think you’re both pretty lucky considering…” He said seriously. He knew they’d have to find out that two of their friends had died out there today but now wasn’t the time. He hoped they’d get a good night’s sleep before they found out. “You two just relax for a while…I’ll be back.”

 

The two nodded as the dark haired doctor left.

 

“I can’t believe you fainted,” Roy teased his young friend, well aware of the reasons but unable to give up the opportunity to ride John’s case a bit, knowing if it was reversed…John would be all over it.

 

“You heard Brackett,” he growled unhappily. “I passed out…I didn’t faint.”

 

“Syncope Johnny…”

 

“Oh shut up,” Johnny grouched unhappily as he rubbed his shoulder.

 

Roy’s laughter echoed in the room until he caught sight of John’s absent gesture. “He opened his mouth to ask if John was alright but his wife’s irate voice stopped him.

 

“I’m certainly glad you’re both amused by all of this….”

 

 

Jo remained huddled on the bathroom floor for a long while.  She’d heard the phone ring several times but she couldn’t summon the will to get to her feet to answer it.

 

She finally lifted her head from her knees and wiped at the tears that tracked down her cheeks. She pulled herself to her feet. Her knees shook but she managed to get herself upstairs to the kids rooms. "Chris...Jen...Let's go." She scooped up the small blonde and Chris followed behind.

She grabbed her purse before she carefully made her way to the garage.

 

By the time they reached her car, she’d managed to compose herself enough to drive but her thoughts were racing…She loved Roy so much but today…? Today, she’d never been so scared in her entire life as she was at that moment.

 

Tears formed and ran down her cheeks once again. Could she continue to live with the fear of it happening again…For the day when the Chief’s car really was there for her? She didn’t know.

 

She drove to Rampart slowly and found a parking space. She brushed the tears away and fanned her eyes to clear the redness from them, smiling reassuringly at Chris as he frowned in confusion at his mother's tears. That would be a dead give away to Roy and Johnny that she’d totally lost it.

 

They finally went inside and made her way to the desk where Dixie sat. The blonde woman glanced up and spotted her. “Joanne! I’ve been trying to call you.”

 

Jo nodded. “I heard.” Her was still a bit quivery so she cleared her throat and tried again. “Ahem…I heard the phone but I’d already heard from Chief Conrad that Roy and Johnny were both here,” she replied without an explanation as to why the Chief would have contacted her…Normally it would have been Hank or the hospital unless it was life threatening or that they had already passed but Dixie was also perceptive enough to see the reddened eyes and hear the quaver in Jo’s voice.

“Jo…Are you okay?”

 

“I’m fine,” she replied dully.

 

Dixie came around the desk but Joanne back pedaled away from the sympathetic embrace she knew was coming…Afraid she’d go to pieces again if she let her.

 

“Where are they?” She questioned, trying to give Dixie a reassuring smile.

 

The older blonde nurse seemed to understand. “They’re in three and they’ll both be fine. You can go in. We’re just waiting on a room to get them settled.”

 

“Thanks...Can you watch the kids for a minute?” She asked.

"Sure Jo, I'll take them to the lounge."

"Thank you." She turned away and walked woodenly up the hall. She started to push the door open but suddenly heard the sound of her husband’s laughter. Something inside of her snapped.

 

Did he have any idea just how frightened she’d been? How could he be in there laughing. She’d been so scared that she’d been sick to her stomach…Bob Tyler was dead from the same fire they’d been hurt at. Didn’t he care about the terror she’d suffered? What was the matter with him?

 

She pushed the door open and stepped inside, her body rigid with anger that temporarily replaced the fear.

 

“I’m certainly glad you’re both amused by all of this….”

 

 

 

John and Roy both looked to the doorway where she stood glaring at them. Her blue eyes were frosty and her mouth was set in a tight, angry line.

 

“Jo…Honey?” Roy questioned worriedly, wondering what had upset her so badly. “What’s wrong?”

 

“What’s wrong?” You’re lying in a hospital bed for the second time in a month and you’re asking me what’s wrong?”

 

“Jo I’m fine,” Roy assured her as she came toward him.

 

Her eyes shot to Johnny. “What about you?” She snapped as her eyes scanned the wrappings.

 

“I…I…Just pulled my shoulder a bit,” he mumbled nervously, uncomfortable now that he realized Jo was truly angry.

“Trying to keep Roy safe I bet.” John shrugged. “Cheryl said you were rubbing off on him. Maybe she was right…Maybe he should spend less time following you into trouble and you wouldn’t have to get hurt trying to save him.”

 

John looked as if he’d been slapped. “I…Uh….I,” he stuttered, shifting uncomfortably on the bed.

 

“JO…That was uncalled for,” Roy barked seeing the wounded and insecure look that crossed John’s features.

 

“Uncalled for? Bob Tyler is dead.”


“WHAT?” Roy asked in shock. John’s face paled as well.

 

“You didn’t know?”

 

“No,” he muttered, looking devastated, Johnny looked just as dismayed.

 

“Cheryl was at our house…We’d been watching it on the news,” she told them as she sat next to her husband on the bed. “Do you know how I found out that you two were here?”

 

“I thought Dixie…”

 

“No…No…It was when Chief Conrad’s car pulled up in front of our house…,” her voice broke but she struggled on. “To tell Cheryl that Bob wasn’t coming…Home.” She began to weep.

 

Roy suddenly realized what had happened and how frightened Joanne must have been. He sat up despite the pounding in his head. “God Jo…I’m so sorry,” he mumbled, pulling his sobbing wife into his arms. “I had no idea babe,” he soothed.

 

 

Joanne continued to weep and Johnny wished he was anywhere but here in the room. He couldn’t stand to see a woman cry…It reminded him too much of his childhood and his mothers own tears and often what came after for him from her family, not to mention the hurt he was feeling at the accusation that this situation had somehow been his fault.

 

Had she blamed him for the last time too? Would Roy have told him if she did? He’d felt guilty about that himself and he had to admit that she’d been a little cool with him as well as Roy the last two weeks.

 

Had he led Roy into danger today? Hank had been hesitant about sending them in until John had asked. He bit his lower lip nervously and turned his face away, hitching his body onto his side as much as he could to try and give them some privacy.

 

A good part of the time Johnny was oblivious of people’s feelings and emotions but not when it came to this couple. They were different. They meant too much to him…They were his family. The only ones he had except for his Aunt Rosemary and he hardly ever saw her.

 

The idea that Joanne blamed him for this hurt…It hurt a lot. He felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach…Would she want Roy to change partners? That thought worried him. He tugged the sheet up a bit and hoped she’d think he’d gone to sleep. He just hoped she wouldn’t notice the hurt look that he couldn’t mask. He should have known better.

 

 

Roy had seen the subtle shift of his young partner’s body but right now his first priority was Joanne and making sure she was okay. He held her tightly and patted her back reassuringly until the tears let up into watery sniffles.

 

She finally sat up and drew a deep breath. “I’m sorry honey,” she sniffed.

 

“Ah Jo…I’m the one who’s sorry. I shoulda had Cap call you or asked him to have headquarters do it. I didn’t think about the news cameras being there and I didn’t know Tyler had been killed either.”

 

She nodded and wiped at her cheeks. “I was so afraid when I saw that car…I was sick,” she confessed.

 

John tensed at her words…It had all been his fault.

 

“Oh honey,” Roy commiserated as he wrapped her in his arms again.

 

She pulled back after a moment and smiled at him through her tears and finally cast a glance at Johnny, wondering why he’d been so quiet.

 

He lay on his side with his back turned toward them. She knew as well as Roy and Brackett about John’s troubled past and she was well aware that he didn’t handle fights between her and Roy very well.


Jo threw an ‘oh no’ look toward her husband as she remembered her angry words. She moved to John’s side.

 

“Johnny,” she called softly. He didn’t respond but she knew he was awake. She sighed, angry at herself for the hurtful accusation she’d hurled at him. She reached over the young, sable haired paramedic and gently cupped his cheek, forcing him to roll onto his back and turn his head around to face her.

 

The regretful look in the expressive dark eyes broke her heart. “Baby I’m so sorry,” she said softly. “I took out my fear and frustrations on you and that wasn’t fair and I’m so sorry.”

 

 John shrugged. “I’m sorry I put Roy at risk,” he mumbled.

 

“John you didn’t,” Roy stated. “I woulda gone in without you…It’s my job, same as it is yours.”

 

Jo wished it wasn’t but she didn’t say so.

 

“I guess,” he murmured.

 

Joanne let her fingers sweep through the dark hair, feeling horrible that she’d made John feel this insecure. That was the last thing John or Roy needed was the young man second guessing himself.

 

“It wasn’t your fault sweetheart and you know I trust you with my life and Roy’s…I’m sorry I hurt you…It’s just a bit tougher on me than most women…They usually only have to worry about one special man in their life…I have two. Please forgive me?”

 

How could he stay upset after that? John threw her a hesitant crooked smile. “Sure Jo,” he agreed.

 

She leaned down to kiss his cheek tenderly. “Thank you baby.”

 

John flushed at the endearment as he always did while Joanne returned to Roy’s side, praying that would be the last scare he’d ever give her…She wasn’t sure she could handle another.

 

 

 

Brackett pushed the door open and smiled as he caught sight of Joanne. “Hi Jo…I’m glad they finally reached you. Dixie’s been trying…”

 

“I know…How long will Roy have to stay?”

 

Roy raised a questioning blonde eyebrow…He’d like to hear the answer to that as well.

 

Kel smiled. “I’ll let him go home in the morning if he checks out okay through the night.”

 

“And my other boy…?” She asked with a nod in Johnny’s direction, earning a smile from Brackett and a chuckle from Roy, while John blushed in embarrassment once more.

 

“We’ll see how that shoulder is tomorrow. He was a bit dehydrated when they brought him in…Had a touch of heat prostration as well but if all goes well you can take them both home in the morning.”

“I can just go home,” John offered quickly.

 

Jo sighed… “Yes you can…With me and Roy,” she added after a second. “What room will they be in?”

 

“418…”

 

“Thank you Kel.” She turned back as two orderlies came into the room and began to unlock the brakes on the gurneys. “I’ll see both of you guys in the morning,” she promised them. “I need to go home now…Chris and Jen are waiting with Dixie and I can't hold her up for too long.”

 

“Okay honey,” Roy agreed, grateful that she’d calmed down…At least for now. He hoped she’d be able to come to grips with this. It could get real umcomfortable if she didn’t.

 

 

They were both settled in their beds a short time later. John had been very quiet since Joanne had been here and Roy was worried. The last thing he wanted was Johnny’s insecurities to flare but he was very afraid that that was exactly what was happening.

 

“Roy…?” Johnny began, throwing him a glance.

 

“Don’t,” Roy said quietly, glancing up from a magazine he’d found in his bedside table.

 

“What?” Johnny questioned in response to the odd answer to his query.

 

“I said don’t…Don’t go there over what happened with Jo…You didn’t do anything wrong.”

 

“I asked to go in…”

 

“And I was right there with you and if I’d thought it wasn’t the right thing to do…I’d have said so.”

 

“But…”

 

“Drop it John,” He insisted commandingly.

 

“Kay,” he replied in defeat. The older man simply wouldn’t hear it. “But if you change your mind and decide you’d rather have another partner….”

 

“I won’t… I promise.” John sighed in relief. “Jo will be fine as long as I don’t get hurt again for a while,” he reassured John with a rueful smile.

 

Johnny nodded, vowing silently to be sure that Roy stayed safe. No matter what it took…He didn’t want to face Joanne with that failure.

 

 

John didn’t say anymore but by the look of concern that furrowed his brow, Roy knew that he was worrying something around in his head and he was afraid he knew exactly what it was…He’d have to keep a close eye on his young partner to be sure he didn’t put himself in danger to protect him.

 

 

Joanne picked them up the next morning. “You can just drop me off at the station Jo…I need to pick up my rover,” he suggested hesitantly, not wanting to put her out more than necessary.

 

“You’re not allowed to drive until tomorrow Johnny…You heard Kel,” she admonished the younger man.

 

“It’s not that far to my apartment from the station,” he argued plaintively.

 

Joanne sighed in frustration, knowing her outburst had caused this and that while he had forgiven her…It was obviously still on his mind or worse…His heart.

 

She threw Roy a glance and saw that he too was aware that his partner was still stinging from the snide barb she’d pierced him with yesterday. Roy grimaced at the guilty look she gave him but let her handle it.

 

“That would be a great point sweetheart…IF you were going home but since you’re coming to our house for the night well…That’s a bit further to drive isn’t it?” She reasoned agreeably.

 

“I could just go home,” John murmured helpfully.

 

“Kel said one day…Either with us or at Rampart. Do you want me to turn around?”

 

“No,” he mumbled with a resigned pout.

 

“Good. Settle back and I’ll make you both a good breakfast when we get home and then you can both get some sleep.”

John heaved a frustrated sigh and sat back. Roy threw a wink at his wife…She always knew how to handle Johnny, sometimes even better than Roy did.

 

John stayed in his room for most of the morning, trying to be sure not to be under Joanne’s feet but she finally couldn’t stand it anymore. She glanced at the clock. It was almost lunch time and so then it was also time to have a little chat with her young friend.

 

John was sitting in the bed but he wasn’t asleep. He glanced up as she came inside and realizing it was lunch time began to laboriously climb from the bed with only his one good arm but she placed her hand on his uninjured shoulder and pressed him back.

 

John glanced at her uncertainly as she sank down on the bed beside him. “I need to talk to you sweetheart,” she began gently. “I know I hurt your feelings yesterday…”

 

“It’s okay,” he hastily interrupted, not wanting Jo to be upset by him.

 

“Shhh,” she silenced him. John subsided obediently and waited for her to continue. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I was scared and frustrated and I lashed out at you and I’m sorry. I love you…You know that.”

 

John chewed his lip doubtfully…John never thought of himself as all that lovable or even worthy of being loved. It came from his childhood upbringing by his mother’s family who saw his half white heritage as an embarrassment to them and his father’s family who felt the same in reverse. They wanted no part of their half Indian grandson.

 

“I want you here…In our home where you belong and you’re not causing me any problems by being here okay?”

 

He nodded, giving her a small half smile. She grinned back and flipped the unruly mop of sable bangs from his forehead before leaning over to kiss his cheek. She stood up and offered him her hand. He took it after a long moment and let her pull him to his feet.


The two men both missed a shift but returned to work together by the next one.

 

“Welcome home guys,” Hank greeted as he came into the day room where the crew was gathered for coffee before roll call.

 

“Thanks Cap,” Johnny replied with his trademark grin making an appearance.

 

“Glad to be back,” Roy said ruefully. “Let’s hope there won’t be any more injuries for a while,” he added blowing out a breath.

 

“Something wrong pal?” Hank asked, drawing the attention of the others with his concerned question.

 

“Kinda…Apparently that fire the other day was on television.”

 

“Yeah,” Chet replied with a shrug. “I saw it on the six o’clock news,” he affirmed.

 

“Yeah…Well so did my wife,” Roy added. “Live as it happened.”

 

“Oops,” Marco muttered.

 

“Yeah…Oops is right Marc.” Problem was…She was with Deke’s wife Susan and Bobby Tyler’s wife Cheryl.” The other’s looked a bit bleak at the reminder that they’d lost two of their own.

 

“Go on…,” Cap encouraged.

 

“I didn’t know anyone had been killed Cap or I would have had you call Jo.”

 

“I’m sorry Roy…John. Neither of you were in any condition to have to deal with that. We lost Blakely too.”

 

“Oh man,” Johnny breathed out in shocked dismay.

 

Roy also looked stricken. “I didn’t know.” Hank nodded solemnly but stayed quiet while they digested that piece of information.

 

“So what happened with Joanne?” Mike asked curiously after a moment.

 

The Chief went to make THAT notification and of course she wasn’t home but a helpful neighbor told him where to find her.”

 

“Oh nooo,” Cap groaned.

 

“Yeah…Jo saw the car pull up in front of our house…”

 

“And thought it was you who’d been…,” Hank finished thoughtfully.

 

“Yeah,” he agreed.

 

“Oh wow,” Marco mumbled as he exchanged a look with Chet. Neither man could imagine how their families would react to a similar situation. Not well, they surmised.

 

Mike paled at the thought of Melissa seeing that car in her driveway…It was part of the reason he’d become an engineer…Less chance of it happening. He could imagine what her reaction would be so he understood the paralyzing fear that Joanne had most likely experienced.

 

“I’m sorry Roy…I promise you though…From now on if something should happen to you, I’ll call Joanne or have HQ do that if I can’t…Even if it’s just an injury okay?”

 

“Thanks cap.”

 

Hank patted Roy’s shoulder as he passed behind them. “That goes for all of you…If you need me to call anyone, be sure to write it down in the event that one of you is injured in some way.”

 

The others nodded…All but Johnny. He had no one to call but Roy and Jo and Roy would already know. It was a sure bet they’d never reach his Aunt. She was almost never home anymore.

 

They all headed out to roll call.

 

 

The next few shifts stayed blissfully injury free and things began to settle down a bit at home as well. Joanne was still anxious for a short time, especially for a few days surrounding Alan Blakely and Bob Tyler’s funerals.

 

Cheryl was a wreck…She was inconsolable and Joanne knew she’d be the same way if something happened to Roy.

 

Joanne’s blue eyes had been glued on the casket… her face was pale as she sat alone a few rows back.

 

Roy and John stood in dress uniform along with dozens of other fireman…Most all of them aware that someday it could be one of them in that coffin. Most all of them tried not to think about it but they knew their wives all were.

 

 

One thing that Roy did notice was that John seemed to be glued to him during any dangerous rescue. So much so that at one point the older man turned and confronted him. “Hey junior…You suffering from separation anxiety or what?” He questioned in annoyance.

 

“Uh…What do you mean?” He questioned uncertainly.

 

“I mean we’re practically wearing the same shoes here…,” he growled

 

“Sorry,” he mumbled in embarrassment.

 

Roy sighed in understanding. He knew what his young friend was up to but he couldn’t allow it to continue either. Neither of them could function at their best this way.

 

“I know you are so how about you go that way,” he said pointing across the hall to another room. “And I’ll take this one.”

 

John hesitated. “But Roy…”

 

“I’ll be fine…Go.”

 

John nodded…This wasn’t the place or time for an argument. Reluctantly he left his partners side and headed for the other room.

 

Both of them returned with victims and John knew if Roy hadn’t sent him on his own it could well have been too late for the one he’d found by the time they would have been free to go look as a team.

 

He frowned as he fitted the O2 mask over the woman’s face and began to set up to contact Rampart. What if something had gone wrong during the rescue? What if something happened to Roy…? He couldn’t bear to think of Joanne’s face if he had to tell her he’d failed to keep her husband safe or that Roy had been hurt because he’d followed John into danger again.

 

Roy cast a worried glance at his friend as they worked side by side with the two victims they’d rescued. He saw the uncertain look and knew John was once again obsessing over this current problem. They’d have to have this out on the way back to the station.

 

 

They climbed into the squad for the return trip from Rampart. He threw a glance at John as he stared absently out the passenger window of the squad.

 

He was in a dilemma here. He wanted to be sure to be there if his partner needed him but at the same time, Roy needed to be able to do his job without John’s interference. But what would happen if something happened to Roy because John wasn’t there to watch his back? How could he face Joanne?

 

John noted that the squad was no longer moving and glanced around. Roy had pulled over and was sitting in the driver’s seat just watching him brood.

 

“What?” He questioned the older man innocently.

 

“I don’t know junior…You tell me.”

 

“I don’t know what you mean.”

 

“Sure you do…You’re dogging my heels during every difficult rescue. You jump in and volunteer before I can say anything whenever someone needs to do something dangerous. You gotta stop this Johnny.”

 

“I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

 

“I appreciate that junior but that’s not the only reason is it…? The main issue is that you’re afraid Joanne will blame you if something does happen and I don’t want you dwelling on that junior. You’ve got to let me do my job and you’ve got to stop worrying about what Joanne would think if something happens to me. Neither of us can do our best this way alright?” He asked, leaning around to look into his partners face.

 

John breathed out a frustrated sigh but he nodded his head in agreement. “I know…It’s just…”

 

“It’s just that you’ve already been through this in your own life Johnny and you want to spare Jo and the kids from ever having that happen…I understand.”

 

John looked at him in surprise. He was right and he hadn’t even thought about that part himself at least not consciously but he was correct. Johnny had lived that nightmare at the tender age of eight. He came home to find two men in his living room, telling his mother that her husband and John’s father would never be coming back. That he’d been killed in a fire.

 

John never wanted Jo and Chris and Jen to know what that felt like…EVER. He still didn’t, so how could he make that promise not to look out for his partner. He couldn’t but he guessed he’d have to be more careful not to be so obvious…Roy wouldn’t tolerate his young partner hovering over him every minute regardless of whether or not it was for his own good.

 

“I guess…I’m sorry Roy…It’s just that Jo was so upset and I don’t want you two to fight or for her to be scared and…”

 

Roy scruffed John’s dark hair with a teasing smile. “She’s married to a fire fighter Junior…It goes with the territory. She’ll be fine,” he reassured him but Roy knew Joanne still wasn’t completely over that horrible afternoon but he wouldn’t tell John that. “Besides…Remember what happened the last time you decided to be helpful during one of our squabbles,” the older man reminded him.

 

“I know…You were both mad at me for a week,” he said ruefully, remembering the fight over the spaghetti. Johnny had tried to help by calling Joanne but all he’d done was make both of them mad at him. Roy had called him a menace.

 

“She wasn’t mad at you junior, she was mad at me. She accused me of stealing her baby brother over to my side of the argument which just added fuel to her already raging fire.”

 

John grinned dubiously at his partner. “She did not,” he said disbelievingly.  

 

Roy chuckled at his look. “Oh yes she did… She said I just had to tell you so you’d take my side.” John smiled at him, still not sure if his partner was putting him on or not but he let it go. “So…Can we get back to normal junior?” The older man asked.

 

John nodded his head but he wasn’t sure how he’d keep that promise. He wouldn’t let anything happen to his best friend if he could stop it.

 

Roy restarted the engine and pulled out into traffic knowing he’d brought Johnny around once again. He’d just needed a bit of reassuring…A lot like Jo.

 

 

Later that afternoon the station control unit began to tone. Station 51…Squad 36…Battalion 14…Deluge 105…Truck 127…Structure fire… 1601 North Claremont… 1-6-0-1 North Claremont, cross street Vernon…Time out 14:08.”

 

Hank was at the podium before Sam Lanier’s voice finished speaking. He wrote the information on the notepad and keyed the mic. “Station 51 10-4…KMG 365…”

 

He ran for the engine as the doors completed their roll up. He’d barely taken his seat when the rigs began to roll.

 

They arrived at the scene to find an apartment building burning intensely. John and Roy immediately began to suit up as Hank began calling instructions. “Marco…Chet…Lay duals…Gage…DeSoto…In and out…Check the third floor…” He keyed the HT…Squad 36, Engine 10…I’m sending my paramedics to the third floor for a sweep…Send yours to the first and second.”

 

“10-4 Engine 51,” came two separate acknowledgements.

 

Battalion 14 was setting up as deluge 105 was setting up their water cannon. Hank’s dark eyes swept the scene before watching his two paramedics disappear into the smoke filled building. Chet and Marco weren’t far behind.

 

 

 

 

Johnny and Roy made their way through the ever thickening black smoke that quickly filled the overhead spaces, pushing more and more of it downward to obscure their vision.

 

Marco and Chet brought up the rear. The flames crackled on the second floor and they were pretty sure it was the point of origin. Chet unhooked a length of rope and handed it to Roy. “Tie off…and I’ll feed it out to you,” he yelled above the Roar.

 

Roy nodded as he wrapped it about his waist. The two linemen would wait below to cover their exit.

 

The two paramedics kept moving, hoping to make it to the third floor where the worst of the heat and smoke would have risen by now. John’s hand held the rope to keep from losing sight of his partner in the roiling smoke. They could only pray that everyone had gotten out.

 

They came to the top of the landing and John’s dark eyes fell on the tarps and paint cans stacked in a corner. He pointed at them to be sure Roy was aware of their presence and the danger they presented.

 

The blonde paramedic nodded. “Let’s move…,” he encouraged.

 

John nodded and they continued on. John pounded on the first door before he turned the handle and pushed it wide…Empty. He closed and drew a yellow X across it and moved on. On the other side Roy was doing the same.

 

 

One flight down, Marco and Chet were struggling to hold the fire at bay. Chet’s blue eyes watched the rope feed out and knew his two friends were still on the move.

 

“Hurry guys,” he murmured, not wanting to have to abandon his friends and retreat.

 

Marco cast a worried glance over his shoulder to his friend. The fire was steadily encroaching and they were going to start losing ground here soon.

 

 

Roy kicked the last door in to find a man laying on the floor…His breaths coming in short wheezing gasps. He was dressed in soot stained overalls and it was obvious he was the owner of the paint cans and tarps.

 

He’d apparently been enjoying his lunch and a little nap after when the fire had broken out. By the time he’d wakened he’d already become overwhelmed by the smoke.

 

Roy jerked him to a sitting position and gave one mighty upward heave before he leaned forward and let the man fall over his shoulder.

 

He moved quickly into the hall. Johnny was coming out of another apartment and spotted him. Roy waved toward the stairs but Johnny shook his head and pointed to the last door. “HURRY,” Roy yelled.

 

John nodded as Roy made his way back toward the stairs. He struggled down them to see Jay Cameron and Bob Belliveau from Station 36 heading for the stairs. They spotted the blonde paramedic and moved toward him. “Second floor’s empty,” Belliveau announced.

 

“Let’s get out of here,” Cameron encouraged as the flames roared about them.

 

“Where’s Gage?” Chet yelled.

 

“Still upstairs. Here take this guy…,” he instructed as he shifted the victim to the waiting paramedics. “I’m going back for Johnny.”

 

“No time Roy,” Marco shouted…”It’s closing in.”

 

“Stay as long as you can and then back out…I won’t leave John.”

 

“Roy…,” Marco shouted to no avail. Roy turned and headed back up the stairs.

 

He’d just placed his foot on the top of the landing when he heard the crash. He turned to see the ceiling collapsing onto the stairs where he’d just been. There was no way out.

 

He turned to go find his partner. Johnny had finished with the last apartment and was heading back toward him but Roy shook his head. “Can’t go that way.”

 

“What?”

 

“Stairs are blocked now.”

 

“Where’s our patient?”

 

“I gave him to Belliveau and Cameron,” he said as he gripped John’s arm and steered him toward one of the apartments.

 

“Why didn’t you just go out with him?” John asked aghast now that they were both trapped.

 

“And leave you?”

 

John stared at him dumbfounded. “Yeah…,” he finally barked.

 

“Not happening junior,” he snapped as he pushed John toward the bedroom at the back.

 

John could feel the charge in the atmosphere of the room…The furniture was aflame and the rolled up carpet smoldered…It was a flashover waiting to happen. It was obvious that renovations were underway in this apartment. He ran to the window and looked out. He could see Marco and Chet pointing upward toward the third floor.

 

Ladder 127 was set up and he could see Hank yelling something to them…Within moments the bucket began to lift. They’d never make it…John could sense the impending explosion. He had an idea…He tugged at the rope still tied about Roy’s waist but almost wept as it came freely and he saw the burned end. There were several scorch marks along its length and the young man knew it would never support both of them nor was it long enough to reach to the ground but it would reach the snorkel.

 

He threw a glance at his partner as he coiled the rope to hide the damage. He ran back to the window and pulled his helmet free…Smashing out the glass. The men below looked up and spotted them…Hank quickly began to speak into the Handy Talkie and bucket shifted subtly in a new direction.

 

 

 

Joanne DeSoto was watching The Price is Right as she vacuumed the living room…Her eyes flicked periodically to the screen but she wasn’t really paying it a lot of attention. But then the scene changed…She was watching a fire as a news reporter spoke to the camera in front of it.

 

Jo had an eerie sense of déjà vu as she flicked off the vacuum cleaner and stood watching. Her eyes scanned the trucks parked in front…Yes…Engine 51 and the squad was right in front of it.

 

The huge snorkel truck from 127’s began a laborious trek up the side of the building…She saw what looked to be a fire fighter in the open window on the third floor…Yes…She was positive that’s what it was but she sucked in her breath as he suddenly plummeted from the window.

The rope tied firmly about his waist bringing him ups short before he dropped the last few feet into the waiting arms of the men aboard the snorkel’s bucket. The helmet fell away as they grabbed at his legs…Jo only had time to see the glint of strawberry blonde hair before the window above him exploded outward, raining glass and shards of wood down on the men.

 

They shielded their faces as best they could for a moment before bringing him the rest of the way inside. She couldn’t hear what was being said but the man threw back his head and screamed something toward the Heavens.

 

She clapped her hand over her mouth in horror…It was Roy…She was sure of it. Dear God…How close had he just come to being killed once again. They were laying him down in the bucket…Was he injured?

 

Tears suddenly welled…Where was Johnny?

 

Her eyes flew to the window and her heart sank into her stomach…Had he been with Roy? Was he now trapped in the inferno above the snorkel truck? If he had been…Jo couldn’t finish the thought.

 

“Apparently at least one fireman has been injured,” the reporter was saying redundantly. The damn fool…Didn’t he think she could already see that for herself?

 

“Roy?” She whispered worriedly as the bucket came to rest and they quickly moved the injured man to a stretcher but it wasn’t easy. It was very obvious that he was fighting them. Captain Stanley finally made his way toward the stretcher where he was being strapped down.

 

He spoke to him briefly and the struggle stilled…For a moment Joanne thought he’d passed out but that wasn’t it. His head turned listlessly as they moved him toward the ambulance.

 

Joanne’s heart was in her teeth at this point. No more…She couldn’t take any more…This had to stop. She could hear the pounding of her blood in her ears and her face was flushed from the terror of watching the man she loved almost plummet to his death not to mention Johnny…Where was he?

 

She ran up the stairs to get Jennifer before she grabbed her purse and headed for the car.

 

 

Roy watched as John smashed out the window. He quickly shed his air tank as he knew he wouldn’t be needing it after he was done. He just hoped Roy would forgive him someday but he had no alternative. He wouldn’t let Roy die because he’d come back for him.

 

“What are you doing Junior?” Roy questioned as John coiled the rope.

 

The dark eyes took in the snorkel’s slow ascent toward them. He glanced around at the smoke, coughing as he breathed it in. He knew that a flashover was imminent but he also knew Roy wouldn’t leave him. In fact…Roy would insist Johnny go first so he had to talk and talk fast.

 

“It’s gonna flash Roy…We both know it. We only have one way out. I’m gonna tie this off to that radiator pipe and we’re going out the window and meet the snorkel partway.”

 

Roy couldn’t see the damaged rope that John held coiled at his side or he’d have figured out what his young partner was up too. “Sounds like a good idea,” he said wryly as he watched the smoke gather.

 

The older man shrugged out of his tank…It would be easier to rappel without it. John quickly tied off the rope and ran back toward his friend as Roy sat on the sill and swung his long legs over the edge. His blue eyes followed John as he returned to pick up the rope and wrap it tightly around his back. His gloved hands taking a firm hold.

 

“What are you doing? C’mon Johnny,” Roy urged. His eyes suddenly noted the burned spots on the lifeline. “John…That rope may not hold both of us,” he yelled in concern but the next words caught in his throat as he saw the resigned look on John’s face.

 

“I know it won’t,” he replied softly.

 

“John no,” the older man protested as he tried to grab hold of the wall on either side of the window.

 

“Only one of us can make it out Roy…It’s gonna be you,” he finished as he gave his partner one hard shove.

 

JOHNNY,” Roy shouted too late as he felt himself fall… He grabbed the rope but even so he felt his back wrench painfully as he came to a jarring halt as the rope ran out. He felt the rope grow slack and he slipped a few more inches. He realized the rope had broken and the only thing holding him was a damaged line and John Gage’s determination not to let his partner fall.

 

Hands grabbed his legs and then the window above him exploded outward. Roy dropped the last two feet into the waiting arms of the crew from 127’s.

 

They pulled him safely inside the bucket, shielding their heads from the shards of glass and debris that rained down from above them. Pain…Pain like he’d never felt before ripped through him.

 

“NOOOO,” Roy wailed in dismay. “JOHN…NNNY,” the cry like that of a wounded animal tore at the hearts of the men with him. Roy’s legs buckled as his aching back suddenly made itself felt but it was nothing compared to the agony that flooded his soul.

 

The bucket reached the ground after what seemed like an eternity to Roy. He struggled to regain his feet as it stopped moving but the men wouldn’t let him. They lifted him out to waiting hands that tried to lay him on a stretcher but Roy was having none of it.

 

“No…No…I have to go back in. Johnny’s still in there.” Unbidden and unnoticed tears tracked the older man’s face.

 

“You’re injured DeSoto,” Sam Baker from 127’s reminded him gently. “You’re not going anywhere.”

 

“MY PARTNER IS STILL IN THERE,” he yelled, still trying to fend off the hands that were determined to strap him to that damn stretcher.

 

The look of sorrow in the eyes of the men around him sent his heart plummeting into his boots. “We know he is Roy,” Baker reminded him

 

Captain Stanley suddenly stepped into his line of vision. “Cap,” Roy breathed in relief. Cap would help him. “Cap…I gotta go back in after Johnny…Tell them to let me go.”

 

The older man’s hand descended gently on Roy’s shoulder. “Stop it pal…Go with the ambulance.” Hank’s brown eyes were filled with sorrow as they glanced upward. “John’s gone pal…There’s no way he survived that blast.”

 

“You don’t know that,” Roy shouted but he did. Roy knew it too…Somewhere deep inside. “He saved my life…Again,” he whispered, hearing the softly spoken words. ‘Only one of us can make it out Roy…It’s gonna be you.’ “God Junior…No,” he murmured, finally lying back on the stretcher.

 

“We’ll go find him Roy…We’ll bring him out.”

 

Tears tracked down the younger man’s temples and he nodded his head. “Thanks Cap,” he croaked in resignation. They lifted him into the ambulance but he didn’t care…Even as he heard them make contact with Rampart. He didn’t move when he felt the needle pierce his flesh. He didn’t respond to their sympathetic questions. His partner…His best friend…His kid brother was dead. He wondered if he’d ever feel anything again.

 

 

John watched as Roy fell. He braced himself for the sudden stop but even so…He was almost pulled from the window as the line grew taught, jerking him forward. The rope behind him snapped and Johnny dug his heels in. His hands were beginning to cramp painfully from holding on so tightly but he refused to let go.

 

He carefully moved down the line, coughing from the smoke. His eyes were tracking tears through the soot staining his face. He glanced down and heaved a sigh of relief to see his partner swinging just above the bucket. He saw the men grab hold of Roy’s legs and knew his friend was safe.

 

John was at peace with that. His dark eyes swept the room and for the first time noticed the small door to his right…John dove for it just as hell exploded behind him.

 

He felt something hit him and then pain assailed his senses. God …He was on fire.

 

John hit the floor, rolling from side to side and pounding his own back into the tiled floor of the small bathroom as he ripped at the buckles of his turnout coat. He finally managed to get it off and throw it aside but he knew he had some burns across his back and shoulders. He could also feel the warmth of his own blood as it trickled over his scapula.

 

He kicked the door closed and looked around blearily, taking note of his surroundings. He was in a small bathroom. The room was also part of the renovations as the sink and the bathtub were sitting in the middle of the floor and weren’t connected to the pipes that stuck up from the floor.

 

Smoke was beginning to seep under the door and John could feel the intense heat that was building on the other side. Sweat beaded his brow and a painful throb punctuated his breathing as the burns reminded him of their presence.

 

He was trapped. He was now in his own little crematorium. He shoved the morbid thought away. The door began to smolder. John dragged himself backward away from the portal and his eyes fell on the tub. A frown creased his aching forehead.

 

He pulled himself painfully to his feet…He had an idea.

 

 

Hank watched as Deluge 105 turned the water cannon on the window where John Gage had last been. He sighed and wiped at the stinging in his eyes…Too little too late,’ he sighed. His youngest crewman and the kid that seemed to make a room light up just with his presence was gone. That light was stilled forever and Hank’s heart broke.

 

He would truly miss that presence. The guy’s had become like family to him over this last year. He was so proud of his crew and John Gage had been an integral part of it and though Cap would never admit it…Johnny was like a son. A youngest child that they all watched over even though he was the consummate professional in the field and one of the two best paramedics LA County had.

 

Chet ran up to him. “We goin in Cap?” He asked anxiously.

 

Marco was only a few steps behind him. Mike was watching him anxiously from the engine.

 

“Do you want to?” He asked quietly.

 

“We need to bring him home Cap,” Mike answered for them.

 

“Then let’s go find him.” Hank turned to the Captain of station 36. “Can you help us clear the debris from the stairs? My men and I are going after Gage.”

 

“God I’m sorry Hank,” Captain Bailey said gently.

 

“Yeah…Yeah…Me too,” he said softly.

 

Bailey waved his men toward the building as the crew of station 10 began to work their way in from the back. The fire was under control finally but ten minutes too late for John Gage.

 

It took a while but the men cleared a path up the stairs to the third floor. They made their way down the smoke filled and still smoldering hallway to the room where John had last been. The door was a tattered pile of sticks…At least what was left of it.

 

They made their way inside, expecting to see the charred remains of their young friend. Chet bent down and picked up John’s burned air tank…It was a shattered mess as well. It had obviously exploded under the intense heat but there was no sign of Johnny.

 

Hope began to grow…Had he somehow gotten out?

 

They noticed the charred door just to the right of the window and their hopes were dashed. If John had taken refuge in that room, then he’d only managed to buy himself a small amount of time. The door was burned and the tiles inside were melted and bubbled.

 

Cap pushed the door open. John’s charred turnout lay in the corner…The floor was flooded with water and there was an overturned claw foot tub in the center of the room but no sign of their missing paramedic. The tub was scorched black and the porcelain was cracked but it had survived the fire.

 

They all glanced at each other in confusion. Where was John?

 

They started to turn away, wondering if he’d somehow made it out of the room when Marco suddenly pointed. “CAP LOOK!” He shouted excitedly.

 

A small piece of charred blue material peeked from beneath the edge of the tub.

 

“Oh dear God,” Hank murmured. “Help me…,” he barked as ran to the bath tub.

 

The four men lifted it carefully and John’s limp form tumbled out to lie motionless on the floor.

 

“Johnny?” Chet whispered in dismay.

 

Hank knelt next to his young paramedic and set two shaking fingers on his carotid. His eyes closed in a prayer of thanks. The others exchanged a glance…Sure that it was a gesture of grief.

 

Hank looked up at them with tears in his eyes. “Get the paramedics up here…He’s alive,” he mumbled.

 


John grabbed the side of the claw foot tub that sat in the middle of the floor. He gave a mighty heave, despite the pain in his back and flipped it over on its side.

 

He reached over and turned the shut off valve on the pipes, praying that the water wasn’t off at the main. It took a moment but it finally began to bubble up…John could only hope it continued as he slid to the floor and curled into a tight ball. He pulled the heavy tub over him. It crashed down with a deafening finality.

 

The fixture would now either be his salvation or his coffin…He prayed for the former.

 

John felt the water as it trickled under the edges of the porcelain tub. He sighed as it lapped at his shirt, soaking in and moving upward to soothe his back but it was short lived.

 

He heard the hiss of steam as the flames finally made it through the door. His small sanctuary began to grow warm…Too warm and too fast. He choked on the smoke that was trapped with him beneath the confines of his porcelain dungeon.

 

John’s breaths were coming in short gasps as the air seemed to be sucked out of the room. The heat was becoming intense and soon water wasn’t the only thing soaking his body. Sweat ran in sheets from his pores.

 

 John began to grow dizzy…His skin felt warm and his heart felt as if it thudding out of his chest. His stomach rolled uncomfortably and he prayed desperately that he wouldn’t vomit. He began to shake as his body overheated and he became hyperthermic.

 

John barely heard the odd sound…Once again the hiss of steam but much more intense now…For several moments it seemed to grow hotter and John’s consciousness began to fade.

 

He didn’t feel the sudden cooling of the room as the water cannon from 105’s doused the flames.

 

 

Roy was wheeled into treatment room one. His back ached a bit but his turnout had cushioned the worst of it. On the other hand, nothing could stop the pain in his soul from burgeoning out of control.

 

John was dead…There was no way he could have survived that blast. Why? Why had he done that instead of trying to come with him?

 

‘Because you both would have fallen to your deaths and he knew it…,’ a small voice whispered. ‘Only one of us can make it out Roy…It’s gonna be you,’ the voice of his young partner echoed in his mind.

 

Roy drew in a shuddering breath. “God Johnny…I need you. You can’t be gone,” he mumbled. Belliveau brushed at the tears that pooled in his own eyes at the softly mumbled words and patted Roy’s shoulder comfortingly, though he knew no words would soothe the blonde paramedic right now.

 

He helped the orderlies make the transition from gurney to table and threw a sorrowful glance toward Brackett and Dixie as they came into the room. “What is it?” Kel asked in concern for the well being of his patient.

 

Belliveau looked at his hands and drew a breath, knowing the rather special relationship between Kelly Brackett, Dixie McCall and a certain dark haired paramedic.

 

“Gage was trapped in a fire this afternoon.” Dixie’s face paled and she had a moment of lightheadedness but she recovered quickly as the man continued. Kel had a look of shock on his own face.

 

“Is he alright?” Kel asked.

 

Belliveau shook his head. “Flashover took out the whole room Doc…There’s no way Gage survived it. Roy’s pretty distraught.”

 

Kel and Dixie were as well but they had to pull themselves together for Roy’s sake. They’d grieve later, privately.

 

“Roy,” Kel said quietly as he moved to the younger man’s side.

 

The blonde head turned toward him. “Johnny’s gone,” he whispered.

 

“I just heard…I’m so sorry Roy.”

 

“Yeah…”

 

A hitched breath from the door caught their attention…They looked over to see the distraught face of Joanne DeSoto.  “What did you just say?” She questioned tearfully.

 

Kel normally wouldn’t have allowed this in his treatment room but right now this couple needed each other and Roy wasn’t in any immediate danger for lack of treatment. He stepped back and waved her over to the table. She came over hesitantly at first unsure of Roy’s injuries. “I’m okay Jo…Just some bruising across my lower back where Johnny…” His voice caught again. “Shoved me out the window. He saved my life…Again.”

 

She hugged him tight. “I know…I saw it on the news…Again. Roy…What did you mean Johnny’s gone?” She questioned, barely audible and praying she’d misheard him.

 

“He didn’t make it out Jo…He was still inside when it flashed. The whole room was engulfed.”

 

She began to weep… “Oh please…Roy…Please not Johnny.” He held her and let his own grief crash around him. She finally stepped back. “I want you to quit,” she said seriously with a sharp gasp of breath.

 

Roy looked shocked. Kel and Dixie exchanged a look of surprise as well… “What?” He questioned disbelievingly.

 

“You heard me Roy…When this is done…I want you to quit. I can’t take this anymore,” she wept despairingly.

 

“Jo…You don’t mean that!”

 

“Oh yes I do…You have no idea of how scared I was…How sick I felt when I saw you fall out of that window…My heart is breaking right now and it’s Johnny we’ve lost. Do you have any idea how I’d feel if it had been you instead?”

 

“I know how I feel…Guilty. My partner is dead and I’m still here because he made sure you wouldn’t have to feel this way.”

 

“Don’t lay this on me Roy…,” she wept.

 

“This is who I am Jo…”

 

“It’s a job…It’s not who you are,” she snapped back. “Any more than it was who John is…Was," she corrected with a sob. She couldn’t imagine their life without Johnny…How much more Roy?

 

For a moment Roy’s face took on a look of agreement. John was gone…Would he ever want to climb into that squad again without him but then if he didn’t…Was he letting John’s sacrifice be in vain? He didn’t know but he wouldn’t just quit…He loved what he did and if the squad was too painful to return to…Then he’d try for Engineer again.

 

Roy’s face took on a stubborn look. “I won’t quit Jo…We talked about this…A long time ago.”

 

“I’ve changed my mind.”

 

“Okay…Okay you two,” Brackett finally stepped in and gently pushed Jo into Dixie’s capable hands.

 

“C’mon Jo…Let’s get a cup of coffee,” she suggested.

 

“Coffee isn’t going to help Dixie and I need to get Jen from the aide in the lounge.”

 

“Well good, cuz that’s where the coffee pot is as well,” she replied, herding her down the corridor.

 

She vaguely heard the base station crackle to life. She cast a glance and saw Carol move toward it. She’d let her handle it for now.

 


Hank knelt next to the fallen paramedic. John’s face was scarlet from the heat. His body shook with tremors caused from muscles spasms and his breaths came in short gasps. “It’s okay pal…We’ve got you now,” Cap soothed softly as he eased the younger man onto his back. “Chet…Hand me your tank.”

 

Chet quickly shrugged his air tank off and passed it to his Captain. Hank laid the mask over John’s face.

 

The young man moaned softly as the cool, fresh oxygen flowed into his nostrils…The dark lashes fluttered against his high cheekbones but remained disappointingly closed.

 

Cap noticed the staining of blood on John’s shoulder but his untrained examination ended as the paramedic team from 10’s entered the room. Tony Freeman knelt next to his young former partner. His new partner, Aaron Burris began to set up to contact Rampart.

 

“Rampart base this is Squad 10…Do you read me?”

 

The voice of Carol Williams responded. “This is Rampart…Go ahead squad 10.”

 

“Rampart…We have a twenty two year old male. He’s a code I Rampart. He’s suffered from possible heat stroke. He is unconscious but responsive to outside stimuli,” he said watching as Tony gave John a sternal rub that elicited a slight groan from the young paramedic. “His respirations are labored but steady. His skin is hot and dry and very flushed. Pulse is…?” He hesitated, looking at his partner. “What’ve you got Tony?”

 

“Pulse is rapid…BP is 150/100…Axillary temperature is 104.3°”

 

Aaron repeated the information to Rampart. “We have him on 8 liters of oxygen Rampart,” he told them as Tony cut the charred blue shirt away from John’s back.

 

“Looks like a fairly deep laceration on his right scapula Aaron and some mild surface burns mid back and shoulder. Looks like his turnout took the worst of it.”

 

Burris dutifully repeated the vitals to Carol and Joe Early who had just arrived at the base station. “Squad 10,” the kindly voice came back. “Start two IV’s normal saline wide open to rehydrate…Bandage the wound and cover the burns with sterile sheets and saline. Has his respiration improved with the O2?”

 

“10-4 Rampart…Breathing is easing but he’s still experiencing muscle tremors…His temperature is still elevated.”

 

“Begin cooling procedures…Strip all excess clothing and transport on his side to let the air flow over his skin and to keep from aspirating if he vomits… Continue to monitor vitals and transport as soon as possible. Do we have an ID on the code I?”

 

“10-4 Rampart… Code I is John Gage.”

 

Joe sighed at that information. Why did these things always happen to that poor kid, He wondered to himself, totally unaware that the four people in the other room were mourning the young man’s loss.

 

 

The crew of station 51 helped Burris and Freeman cut John’s uniform away, leaving him clad only in his boxers in an effort to maintain some dignity for the young paramedic. They lifted John into the stokes for the trip downstairs to the waiting ambulance. John moaned several times as their actions jostled him but the eyes remained closed. “Don’t worry Cap…Guys…I think he’ll be fine. He’s pretty resilient if I remember correctly,” Tony teased, knowing how much this young man meant to his new crew mates as well as his paramedic partner.

 

John had never allowed Tony or anyone else on the crew inside the walls he’d built around himself back then and it still amazed him at what a change Roy DeSoto had brought to his withdrawn former partner. John was a different man now and Tony knew he was very well respected as a paramedic and that friendship between them was envied by most other teams.

 

They lifted him carefully and made their way downstairs. They soon had him loaded and Cap slapped the back of the ambulance to let them know they were clear.

 

The vehicle pulled away with sirens wailing. “I wish I could be there when they get Johnny to Rampart,” Chet said with a grin.

 

Cap smiled back. “Roy will be very happy to see him and you’re right…I wish I could be there to see his face too.”

 

“Leave it to Gage to come up with something like hiding under a bathtub to escape a fire,” Chet said with a laugh.

 

“Leave it to John to be the only one small enough to squeeze into one,” Marco added.

 

“Rising from the ashes like your phoenix Chet?” Hank asked with a lift to one eyebrow.

 

“Looked more like Touché turtle falling out of his shell,” Kelly teased.

 

“Are you watching Saturday morning cartoons again Chet?”

 

“It’s the only thing on TV on Saturdays Cap,” Chet whined in his own defense.

 

Hank rolled his eyes and changed the subject. “I’ll tell you what…I was pretty scared when he tumbled out like that…I thought he was dead,” Cap admitted softly.

 

“Can’t roast Gage that easy Cap…He’s pretty clever but if you tell him I said so…I’ll deny it,” he added with his mustache bristling in amusement.

 

Cap laughed and rubbed his hands together. His crew was once again complete…He was a happy man. “Let’s get back to work,” he said with a new bounce to his step.

 

The others smiled and followed their Captain back inside.

 

 

Roy lay on the table while Kelly Brackett finished up the exam. His heart was aching at the loss of his best friend and young partner, not to mention Joanne’s little pronouncement out of the blue that she wanted him to quit.

 

Dixie had returned briefly and told him Joanne was waiting in the lounge with Jennifer. “I’ll go get her when Kel’s done and we know something definite,” she said reassuringly. She’d made a hasty exit and Roy suspected that she’d gone to grieve the loss of a young friend somewhere in private.

 

He responded to Brackett’s questions dully and without emotion. What was he gonna do without Johnny at his side. He could go back to riding the engine…Try for Engineer…Maybe even Captain but it just wouldn’t be the same without Johnny.

 

Maybe Joanne was right. Maybe he should quit but what else could he do? He’d die of boredom locked away in some doctor’s office taking rich celebrities and little old ladies blood pressures all day every day.

 

The thoughts were playing havoc with him but it came back time and time again to Johnny and the void Roy was feeling in his heart and soul and yet…It was odd …He’d always thought he’d know if John was gone.

 

He mentally chastised himself for such a ridiculous thought…He wasn’t psychic or something but still…Deep down in his soul…He thought he’d feel the loss more intensely.

 

The door opened to admit Joe Early, interrupting Roy’s sorrowful musings.

 

“Kel…I’m going to need you in three…,” he began but his voice trailed off as he spotted the blonde paramedic. “Roy!” Joe said in surprise. “I didn’t know you been injured too.”

 

“It’s not bad,” Roy murmured quietly.

 

Joe’s blue eyes met Kel’s brown at the despondent tone. “What’s wrong?”

 

Kel patted Roy’s shoulder sympathetically and nodded toward the corner of the treatment room where he could explain to the dark haired doctor privately. He didn’t want to upset Roy and he knew Joe would be as despairing as he and Dixie were about Johnny’s loss.

 

The young man had become a huge part of their lives and had touched their hearts as well. “What is it Kel?” He asked again urgently.

 

“Johnny saved Roy’s life at a fire earlier. He pushed him out the window with a rope tied around his waist to avoid a flashover and be sure Roy got out okay.”

 

“Oh…They didn’t tell me how it happened.”

 

“You already know?” Kel asked, looking a bit surprised that Joe was taking this so well.

 

“Sure…That’s why I said I needed you in three.”

 

Now it was Kel’s turn to look confused. “I don’t understand.”

 

Joe gave him a bemused stare. “They’re bringing Johnny in with possible heat stroke and a fairly deep shoulder laceration.”

 

“WHAT?” Kel barked

 

Roy jumped and turned his head to see what had upset the dark haired doctor. He’d rather expected it to be Joe who would’ve yelled.

 

Joe stepped back in shock at the shout… “What is it Kel?”

 

“We thought Johnny had been killed in the blast…Are you sure it’s him?”

 

“Positive ID by the responding squad. Freeman used to be Johnny’s partner so I’m willing to bet he knows him well enough to know Johnny when he sees him.”

 

Kel breathe a huge sigh f relief. I know one of my patients is gonna be real happy.” Kel breathed. “Not to mention me and Dix.”

 

The two men turned back to the table where Roy lay.

 

 

“Roy…,” Kel said happily as he returned to his patient’s side. “The good news is you’re not badly hurt. No broken ribs and some moderate bruising around the erector muscles in your lumbar region. A couple of days rest and you’ll be good as new but I’d like to keep you overnight just to be positive.

 

Kel had a second reason as well…He knew Roy would never leave John’s side once he found out he was alive.

 

 “Sure Doc,” Roy said a quietly. Roy didn’t much care one way or the other at this point. John was gone…Joanne was demanding that he quit the fire department. He still didn’t know whether he could do that or not, though without Johnny it would be easier to make a positive decision to leave if he leaned that way. Right now he was too tired to think about it.

 

He was tempted to ask for a sedative just so he wouldn’t have to deal with the loss and the decisions that needed to be made but it wasn’t Roy’s way to hide from anything…Not even the pain of losing his best friend and partner. A kid brother…He sighed in despair.

 

“There’s more Roy…,” Kel said leading up to the best slowly so he wouldn’t shock him. “Much better news… You’re gonna have a special roommate.”

 

“Doc…I doubt I’ll be real good company.”

 

“Oh…I think you will be for this one.”

 

Dixie stuck her head into the room. Her reddened eyes gave away that fact that she’d been crying despite her attempt to hide it behind a mask of professionalism.

 

“Joe…You’re ambulance is here,” she said sadly.

 

“You’ll like this patient too Dix…You should go along,” Kel said brightly.

 

“Oh?” She questioned with an arch to her delicate, blonde eyebrow.

 

Kel’s smile widened as he glanced between the blonde nurse and Roy. “It’s Johnny,” he said gently.

 

“WHAT?” Two voices chorused simultaneously.

 

“It’s Johnny,” he repeated.

“They found him and he’s still alive. A bit toasted on his back and he’s got a nasty laceration on his scapula. He’s got a bit of heatstroke but otherwise he’ll be okay,” Joe added, as he headed for the door. “I’ll need to get that temp down immediately,” he added.

 

“I’ll be right there,” Kel threw at his departing back, “Dix…Get me a wheelchair for our friend here,” Kel requested as he helped the blonde paramedic to his feet and assisted him in pulling his uniform shirt on.

 

Dixie nodded and disappeared but a smile was glued to her face.

 

Roy walked slowly. His back was aching fiercely and his steps were stiff and painful but nothing would keep him from Johnny’s side.

 

Dixie reappeared at the door as they stepped into hallway with the requested chair. “Dix...Could you tell my wife?”

 

“Sure Roy,” She replied with a grin. She went to find Joanne to share the good news.

 

 

Joanne sat with Jenny in the doctor’s lounge. She sipped the cup of coffee Dixie had brought her while her hand absently smoothed Jennifer’s blonde curls.

 

Tears trickled down her cheeks but the auburn haired woman wasn’t sure what she was crying for the most. John’s loss was devastating to her and her family. He’d become like a young brother to her as well as Roy and an uncle to both of their children.

 

She wasn’t sure how she’d manage to tell Chris about the loss either. Jenny was too young to understand the concept of death but John was a favorite person in her life and he’d be sorely missed.

 

She sniffed back a sob. The one thing it did drive home was the horrible thought that it could have been Roy. If Johnny hadn’t been willing to sacrifice himself to save her husband, they might both have been killed because she knew Roy would never have left John’s side willingly.

 

Well she couldn’t do this anymore. She couldn’t lose her husband to what they’d just experienced with Johnny. He had to understand that…She knew it was unfair of her and that they’d talked about it several years before but that was then.

 

There were now two children and too many near misses. She’d had no idea how terrifying all this would be when she’d blithely agreed to his career choice. Maybe she just wasn’t as strong as she thought she was.

 

She swiped at the tears feeling horrible for taking from him a job that he loved and she knew it was selfish but he had to understand her side of it too…Didn’t he?

 

She blew her nose and took another sip of coffee as the door opened to admit Dixie. “Jo…,” she said with an excited grin.

 

“What is it Dix?” She questioned.

 

“It’s Johnny.” Jo’s eyes flew worriedly to Jen… afraid Dixie would say something about John’s death and upset her. Now wasn’t the place but her next words took her breath away. “He’s alive Jo…They’re bringing him into treatment three.”

 

Jo shot to her feet. “Can I see him?”

 

“Give us a few minutes…He’s injured and he’s got a case of heatstroke that we need to get under control but Roy’s already with him…He’s not alone.”

 

The younger woman nodded as Dixie turned and headed back to be with John. There was a mild twinge of jealousy that she was left waiting while everyone else was with him. A frown crossed her features as a new worry intruded that cast a brief pall over the excitement.

 

She was overjoyed that Johnny was okay but she knew it would now be next to impossible to budge Roy from John’s side, especially after he’d just come so close to losing him.

 

She heaved a sigh…She needed time alone to think. She just didn’t know if she could do this day after day with that possibility hanging over her like a death shroud. Jumping at every phone call when Roy was on duty…Every flash of red in the street…Running conversations with her children through her head to try and explain to them why daddy wasn’t coming home. Tears welled in her eyes…She couldn’t lose him.

 

 

 

Roy watched anxiously as the ambulance attendants made the transfer from stretcher to table. He moved quickly to his partner’s side as they left, taking care to stay out of the way.

 

His hand rested against the dark head soothingly as Carol Williams began to get the young paramedics vitals.

 

Joe and Kel were already examining him as Carol cut away the boxers before tugging a sheet over his hips to preserve his modesty to some small degree.

 

The poor boy spent more time naked or nearly so on this exam table, that the pretty nurse had to wonder if he sometimes felt more like a Chippendale’s dancer than a paramedic, sans the tips of course. She almost grinned at the thought.

 

Roy let his eyes do their own examination. John’s skin was flushed and dry and his body shook uncontrollably from muscle spasms caused from dehydration. His hair was dripping from a combination of water and sweat that had been literally steamed from his body.

 

Kel peeled the blood soaked bandage away while the sterile sheet was removed by Joe. He sighed in relief as he noted that the burns were minor…More like a severe sunburn…His turnout coat having done its job…Most likely sore but not crippling or scarring.

 

Dixie pushed the door open and threw Roy a quick nod, letting the blonde paramedic know that she’d informed Joanne of the good news before she joined Carol and began hooking Johnny to a cardiac monitor as the black nurse finished taking his vitals.

 

“BP is 140/90, pulse is 130 and his respirations are shallow doctor,” Carol announced.

 

“Get some ice packs on his neck and groin,” Kel told the nurse. “Also under the armpits.” She nodded and took off out the door.

 

Roy’s hand smoothed the sweat soaked hair from John’s forehead and he winced slightly as he watched Dixie lift the sheet to get an accurate body temperature. The young man moaned and shifted uneasily as she worked and Roy’s blue eyes shot back to his face, hoping the dark eyes would open and flash with indignation but there was such luck.

 

He smoothed a damp cloth over the flushed face.

 

“Temperature is 105.3° Kel,” Dixie reported worriedly as Carol returned. The nurse laid a towel over John’s loins before laying the pack in place. She did the same for his neck and then tucked two smaller bags beneath his arms to help bring his temperature down. John groaned as the cold penetrated his awareness.

 

“Johnny? Johnny are you with me Junior? Can you hear me?” John’s head jerked but his eyes remained closed.

 

“Keep talking to him Roy,” Kel directed as he returned to examining the deep gash on John’s shoulder.

 

“JOHNNY…OPEN YOUR EYES,” Roy commanded urgently. There was a soft moan and the lids fluttered once more.

 

“He’s definitely responding,” Kel said as his eyes watched the blip on the monitor. “His heart rate is accelerated but not dangerously so. I think we need to risk a bath…I want to get that temperature down.”

 

“I agree…Carol can you set that up please,” Joe added with a nod at a smaller room off of the treatment room.

 

“Right away doctor,” she agreed as she moved away to do as he’d asked.

 

Kel began to disconnect the leads to the EKG. “Dixie…I’ll need you to keep his arms out of the water. Roy…Can you keep his head up or does your back hurt too bad?” Kel asked as a courtesy but he knew Roy would want to help if he was in a halo traction device.

 

“I’ll manage,” he assured him.

 

Kel nodded with a rueful smile as he applied a new pressure bandage to the open wound. They’d stitch that closed later…Right now Johnny needed his temperature brought down and fast before his heart truly became affected.

 

Joe unlocked the brakes and they rolled Johnny into the other room. “Carol can you get me some towels please in case we need to dry him off quickly? And send in an orderly.”

 

“Yes doctor.” She once again trotted from the room.

 

A young muscular orderly was quick to arrive. It didn’t pay to dawdle when Brackett and Dixie McCall were working on a patient.

 

 “Let’s do this,” Kel said as he, Joe and the orderly lifted the shaking paramedic from the table and slowly set his body in the tub of cool water. His feet went in first and then they allowed him to slowly slip beneath the liquid.

 

John’s body jerked with spasms and a groan slipped from his lips.

 

“Johnny…? Johnny?” Roy pressed as the younger man’s head lolled in his hands. “Can you hear me?”

 

John suddenly tensed and a ragged cough was quickly followed by a gag. Roy half lifted him despite the pain in his lower back and the orderly quickly moved to help him. They let him lean over the side as he spilled the contents of his stomach on the tile floor. They eased him back into the water when he was done.

 

John moaned again, alternating it with a sharp gasp of shock from the cool water as the shaking intensified for a few more moments and then started to ease. Carol sponged the cool water over his shoulders, face and hair. “Hang on junior…We’re almost done. I’m here…I’m here,” he whispered close to his ear.

 

The dark eyes slowly began to flutter open. “R…R…R…OY,” he managed to stutter.

 

 

Continued in Part 2

Published to site 03/03/12

Links to Parts 1. 2.

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

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