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Rising From the Ashes

Part 2

An Emergency Story
by Tammy B

Links to Parts 1. 2.

 

Joanne paced nervously about the lounge as Jen slept on the old leather sofa. Her blue eyes flew repeatedly to the clock on the wall.


What was taking so damn long? Was Johnny okay? Was Roy? She still didn’t know for sure. She was a bit irritated to be left out in the dark about her husband and Johnny, their ‘adopted brother’ of the heart even if not legally changed or of the same blood.

 

She paced the room again and finally couldn’t stand it any longer. She scooped Jen up in her arms and headed for treatment room three. She needed to know they were both okay…The worried wonderings were driving her insane.

 

 

John was scalding hot. He felt as if his body had burst into flame like Chet’s legendary phoenix. He could feel the agony of his muscles as they contracted painfully from dehydration. His head was pounding horribly and his stomach rolled with nausea but he fought it back.

 

He lay for a long time, trapped in that semi conscious state as his body finally stopped sweating and he couldn’t tell reality from hyperthermic hallucination.

 

He felt his body slowly beginning to shut down but was helpless to stop it or to escape from his cramped cocoon. He let his mind drift and darkness closed around him.

 

There was suddenly sound and then motion as he felt his clothes being removed. They must have found him…Someone would help him. Roy…He needed Roy. Maybe he was here with them but he couldn’t open his eyes to see.

 

Oh God…When would he stop hurting…When would he stop shaking? Something stabbed him in both arms and he moaned softly and then a coolness flooded his dried out veins. Liquid flooded over his too warm back and then pain as something was pressed over the injury on his shoulder.

 

He vaguely felt himself lifted but he was tired and he let himself drift with the gentle rocking motion as they carried him down the stairs.

 

He vaguely felt hands moving him from the warm stretcher to a cold, hard exam table. He shuddered as the air conditioning wafted over his naked body…Must be at Rampart.

 

He felt a hand rest against his head. Roy…It had to be Roy and then the voice he knew as well as his own. “Johnny? Johnny are you with me Junior? Can you hear me?”  He wanted to answer him but he couldn’t. He tried to open his eyes but there seemed to be lead weights attached.

 

“Keep …….to …. Roy,” another familiar voice said but the words were muffled and indistinct.

 

“JOHNNY…OPEN YOUR EYES,” Roy commanded urgently.

 

He was trying to but they wouldn’t cooperate. Was Roy mad at him?

 

He felt the sheet over his hips lift and the soft hands that touched him intimately. He knew what she was doing to him but he couldn’t open his mouth to protest this particular indignity.

 

He heard her voice too and then something cold settled between his legs and his body jerked at the shock of it…Then his neck felt cold and then under his arms.

 

What the hell were they doing to him…Where was Roy? He still shook but now he wasn’t sure if it was from the cold or the shock and trauma to his body.

 

He drifted once more until he suddenly felt himself lifted…What were they doing? His feet suddenly felt wet and then his legs…The sensation continued to travel up his body. His hips and then ‘OH GOD…,’ his mind screamed what his mouth couldn’t.

 

Pain like a thousand pins being stabbed into his body as his overheated torso was submerged into water that felt like they’d shipped it in from the Arctic Circle.

 

John’s body jerked with spasms but a groan was all he could manage to get past his lips. His head lolled as he desperately tried to wake up to tell them to stop…That they were hurting him.

 

“Johnny…? Johnny?” Roy’s voice urged. “Can you hear me?”

 

Yes dammit…He could hear him. John suddenly tensed…He felt the roll of his stomach and he knew the inevitable was about to happen. A ragged, choking cough erupted from his mouth as bile raced up his esophagus. He gagged, praying they’d figure out what was happening before he aspirated.

 

He felt himself lifted as they leaned him over the side of whatever torture device they were using on him. He couldn’t hold it back any longer and the contents of his stomach erupted onto the tile floor.

 

John moaned again and then gasped in shock from the cool water as they settled him back inside. The shaking of his body intensified for a few more moments and then started to ease.  He felt water flow over his head and face and down his shoulders and the soothing sound of his partner’s voice came again.

 

 “Hang on junior…We’re almost done. I’m here…I’m here,” he whispered close to his ear.

 

He wanted out of here…He had to tell him. He tried once more but this time the dark eyes slowly began to flutter open. “R…R…R…OY,” he managed to stutter.

 

“Hey junior,” the soothing voice replied.

 

The blurry things around him started to swim into focus. “St…st…stop…Pl…please…Hurting mmm….me,” he slurred.

 

“I’m sorry Johnny,” another voice answered. He knew that one as well. “It should start to ease up soon alright…Just a little longer.”

 

Easy for him to say…He wasn’t being assaulted by an angry cactus.

 

The shaking finally began to ease as John’s body temperature began to fall. He relaxed back into the hands he’d trust with his life. Roy was here…He’d take care of him.

 

His eyes drifted closed. “Stay with me junior,” the voice came again.

 

John forced his lids open to look up into the face of his best friend. A towel was wrapped snugly about his wet hair and once again John felt himself lifted. He was placed on a table covered in warm soft terry cloth and then hands began to pat him dry.

 

He finally managed to look around. Dixie…Joe…Kel Brackett. Carol and a man he didn’t know. The dark eyes swiveled back to Roy. “You o…okay?” He questioned.

 

Roy chuckled at the inquiry. Only John Gage would almost get himself roasted alive and go through the hell he’d just been put through, only to wake up and ask if his partner was okay?

 

“I’m fine junior…Thanks to you.”

 

A small grin played over his lips. “Gooood,’” he sighed softly.

 

“What the hell were you thinking junior? Why did you do that?”

 

“I’ve al…ready been…there R…oy,” he panted tiredly. “Couldn’t let Chris…and Jen…Grow up with…out you.”

 

“Well I’m glad one of you can figure that out,” a snide voice answered from the doorway to treatment room three.

 

They all looked over to see Joanne standing there with her daughter, who was asleep on her shoulder or the child might have seen more of Uncle Johnny than they’d ever hoped for.

 

Dixie tossed the towels aside and spread a sheet over his body. “Let’s get him in the other room,” Kel suggested as Dix turned to hustle Joanne out.

 

“Jo…You shouldn’t have come in until we were done,” she admonished.

 

She rolled her eyes at the older blonde. “Dixie really… Johnny’s recuperated at my home too many times for me to get embarrassed over seeing him in the altogether. It’s not like I’ve never seen a naked man,” she pointed out looking at her husband.

 

“Yes well…We need to respect John’s privacy too.”

 

“He’s family.”

 

John smiled drowsily at that pronouncement, though if he’d had the energy he’d be flushed in embarrassment…Not that anyone could tell since he was already pretty flushed from heat stroke.

 

He pried his eyelids open once more to look up into Jo’s worried blue eyes. Her ire eased instantly. “Hi sweetheart,” she said softly as she leaned down to gently kiss John’s forehead. It still felt warm but not anywhere near what it had been.

 

John looked as if he’d been caught out on Malibu for several hours but the redness had faded substantially as his temperature had come down. Now he was mostly just exhausted and his head hurt. His shoulder throbbed, calling attention to the fact that something had definitely hit him during the explosion.

 

“Let’s get that shoulder stitched and get this young man into a bed so he can sleep shall we?” Brackett suggested, turning to the suture tray that Carol had set up.

 

In deference to Joanne’s presence, Dix tucked the thermometer under John’s tongue for which the young man was eternally grateful. “Temps a 100.2,” she announced after a moment.

 

“Okay Johnny…We’re gonna roll you on your stomach here okay? Are you nauseas?” Joe asked.

 

The young man shook his head. “Not right now,” he murmured tiredly.

 

“Good…Kel?” He inquired. The two men rolled John gently to his side while Roy leaned over him to grasp him firmly by the rib cage and turn him the rest of the way onto his stomach. He took John’s hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze as Brackett injected the Novocain into the wound.

 

John grimaced painfully despite Kel’s efforts to be gentle. Jo swept her fingers through the shaggy, dark hair.

 

‘Will he be okay?” She asked her husband.

 

Roy nodded. “I think so…They’ve got his temperature down to a safe level and other than that laceration my partner here survived that whole inferno with remarkably little damage,” Roy teased, ruffling the sable hair.

 

The Novocain was taking effect and John couldn’t feel the throb in his shoulder anymore. His body was still aching from the muscle spasms but not with the same agonizing intensity as before…He just wanted to sleep. “Wouldn’t have…If not for the tub,” he murmured drowsily, giving in to the urge to drift away as his chocolate brown eyes closed in slumber.

 

Jo smiled at the young man and turned to Roy. “And neither would you if Johnny hadn’t pushed you from the window.”

 

“Jo…Don’t start this again…Please,” Roy pleaded.

 

“Don’t start this again. We’re not arguing over what to have for dinner here Roy…I’m very serious. I can’t keep going through this…I want you to quit.”

 

“No,” he said flatly as his blue eyes traveled over his young partner. “Who’d watch his back?”

 

Jo’s lips thinned in anger. “So John comes before me?”

 

“Of course not Jo…That’s ridiculous but your reacting to fear and being unreasonable. You’ve been to two funerals of fire fighters in the last two weeks and it’s got you spooked that’s all.”

 

“Unreasonable,” she barked. “I’ve almost lost you twice in those two weeks…John too…I don’t think that wanting my husband to come home every night is unreasonable.”

 

“It’s my job and I love what I do.”

 

“Apparently more than me.”

 

“That’s not fair.”

 

“Life’s not fair Roy…Hadn’t you heard?”

 

Roy’s mouth tightened angrily. “Jo please…Now isn’t the time for this,” he reasoned as John stirred at the raised voices. Johnny hated it when people he cared about fought though Roy didn’t know why exactly, he knew it stemmed from his childhood as well as his having a mild case of Asperger’s Syndrome.

 

“Fine Roy…You’ll be here overnight with Johnny?”

 

“Yes…Dr. Brackett’s keeping me for observation.”

 

Her eyes swept over him worriedly for a brief moment but he was obviously alright or Brackett and Early would never have let him get up.

 

“Good…That’ll give us both some time to think.”

 

“So you might reconsider?” He asked hopefully.

 

“No…But I’m sure Johnny will need some aftercare when he’s released so if you decide to stay with the department you can stay at his apartment with him.”

 

Roy sighed. “And you?”

 

“It’ll give me time to think all of this through Roy…I need time…I’m sorry.”

 

“Okay,” he whispered, looking a bit embarrassed that the entire Emergency Medical team at Rampart had just been a witness to his wife telling him to get out. “I’ll give you however much time you need Jo,” he said softly, with an aching heart.

 

How could he give her up? She’d been his whole life since they were nine years old. How could he give up being a fireman…It’s what he was…Who he was. How could she ask him to leave the department and his kid brother behind? Who’d watch the kid’s back better than he could?

 

Joanne loved Johnny almost as much as he did…How could she ask him to leave it to someone else to protect John? They’d already tried that and it had been a disaster. John had almost been killed by their recklessness.

 

Didn’t she remember that? Roy shook his head as Jo leaned down to kiss John’s forehead once more. “I’ll see you later baby,” she assured the sleeping younger man softly. “You can come see the kids whenever you want to,” she told Roy curtly.

 

“Thanks,” he mumbled as he watched her turn and walk out.

 

The two doctors and Dixie exchanged a worried look. They didn’t want to lose Roy but they didn’t expect him to give up his marriage for his career either, though the young, blonde paramedic seemed to think his wife would come around…It certainly didn’t appear that way to them.

 

 

Johnny slept through the night with a healthy dose of pain killers and Compazine in him and by the next morning the nausea had pretty much subsided.

 

The dark eyes fluttered open and he took a moment to allow his eyes to focus in the semi darkened room. He heard the soft whisper of sheets and glanced over at the other bed where Roy lay sleeping.

John smiled in relief as he remembered the events of the previous afternoon. Roy was okay…He was a bit stiff from his abrupt stop at the end of a rope but he’d be fine and that’s all that mattered. Chris and Jen still had their dad and Jo still had her husband and therefore had no cause to worry or so he thought.

 

John’s eyes lit on the pitcher of water on his bed tray a few inches away…Why did it always seem as if they intentionally put it just out of his reach? He sighed and hit the button on the control box to raise the head of the bed.

 

He winced and groaned as his body began to ache in protest. Roy stirred at the sound and sat up on the bed. “You okay junior?” He questioned worriedly.

 

“Yeah,” he groaned painfully. “I was just trying to reach the water,” he mumbled tiredly.

 

“Hold on junior…I’ll get it for you.” Roy climbed from the bed, rubbing his aching back.

 

“Sorry about that,” Johnny said softly, realizing he’d caused the injury.

 

“Better a sore back than being fried,” Roy assured him with a grin. “And it’s a sure bet we wouldn’t have both fit under that bathtub.” John smiled back.  “That was pretty quick thinking by the way.”

 

“Thanks…Desperation breeds ingenuity,” he threw back.

 

Roy held the glass for John, angling the straw for him to drink. He sipped thirstily. “Um Johnny…?”

 

“Yeah…?” He asked with a questioning rise to one dark eyebrow.

 

“Ummm…Joanne and I had a little disagreement last night.”

 

“Bout what…?” He asked worriedly.

 

“About what happened at that rescue yesterday…She wants me to quit the department.”

 

Johnny’s mouth dropped open in shock. “But you didn’t get hurt…I made sure you got out…I was watching your back.”

 

“Johnny stop it…It wasn’t your fault and no one’s angry with you okay?” Roy said urgently.  “She knows you did your best to protect me and so do I.”

 

“Are you sure?” He questioned, chewing his lip nervously.

 

“Positive…She’s just reacting to Bob Tyler and Alan Blakely’s death. She’s spooked now,” he sighed. “All I can do is hope she’ll calm down and change her mind.”

 

“Man…I’m sorry. So what are you gonna do?”

 

“Well…Since you’re going to need someone to look out for you for a few days, I was hoping you wouldn’t mind if I stayed at your apartment with you.”

 

“Of course not Roy…You can stay as long as you want…Well…If you don’t mind the convertible chair that snaps at you,” he teased with a grin.

 

Roy ruffled the dark hair affectionately. “Thanks a lot,” he said drily.

 

“Seriously…I hope Joanne gets over this,” he said worriedly, not wanting to lose his partner.

 

Yeah…Me too.”

 

 

 

Kelly Brackett pushed the door open and came into the room. A nurse followed along with an aide carrying two breakfast trays.

 

“Morning fellas…,” he greeted with a half smile.

 

“Mornin Doc,” Roy replied as the aide deposited his tray on the table next to his bed.

 

“Mornin,” Johnny echoed.

 

“How are you feeling Roy?”

 

“A little stiff but I’m okay,” he replied as he retreated to his bed to check out his breakfast.

 

Kel nodded and turned toward Johnny. “Okay Johnny…Let me take a look at you.”

 

The younger man nodded as Brackett pulled the sheet away. He reached around and untied the gown, pulling it down to take a look at the skin on John’s torso. It was still flushed but it was definitely lighter than it had been.

 

“Sit up for me,” he requested, reaching around to help the younger man sit up. John groaned softly as his muscles protested the movement. “Are you in pain?”

 

“Discomfort…Not exactly pain,” he panted uncomfortably.”The skins kinda pulling,” he added.

 

Kel nodded and peeled the bandage away as the aide set John’s breakfast on the bedside tray table.

 

Brackett inspected the wound carefully for any sign of infection before reaching for the new pads and the bandaging tape being held by the nurse. “It looks good Johnny…No sign of infection. We’ll get you up on your feet later this morning. If you’re pretty stable on your feet then I’ll let you go home as long as Roy is with you. He can’t be trying to support too much of your weight right now, so you’ve got to be able to walk on your own.

 

“Kay…,” he agreed understandingly. He looked to his partner. “If I can’t go home you can take my keys and go to my place.”

 

“Thanks junior. I’ll just swing by the house and pick up some clothes. I’ll bring you back something to wear home while I’m at it. They didn’t exactly bring you in dressed for public appearances,” Roy teased, remembering Johnny’s unclad body as they’d moved him to the table.

 

“I’ll put you on antibiotics for the next ten days Johnny…You should run out at the same time the stitches do,” he said with a smile at their easy banter.

 

“Thanks Doc,” Johnny said as the dark haired doctor turned to leave.

 

“Roy…I’ll have your release papers sent up before lunch.”

 

“Thanks doc,” he said quietly.

 

Brackett left with the nurse trailing after.

 

“So what are you going to do if Joanne doesn’t change her mind?” Johnny asked quietly.

 

Roy sighed and threw him a rueful glance. “I’m trying not to think about that just yet.”

 

“Ya kinda hafta,” he said softly.

 

“I know junior…I don’t wanna lose my wife but I love my job and what I do…How can she ask me to give that up? She has to see my side too doesn’t she?”

 

John threw him a grimace. “Not necessarily. She’s a woman and there’re only two sides…Hers and yours as you decide to do it her way,” he said, only half jesting.

 

Roy chewed the inside of his cheek as he mulled that over. John may have been kidding but he was rather afraid that he was right…At least about this. All he could do was give her the requested time and pray that she’d come around.

 

His blue eyes swiveled to look at Johnny as he ate his breakfast. How could she ask him not to be at his best friends and kid brothers’ back?

 

 

Dixie dropped Roy off at the station later that afternoon. He drove his car toward home worrying over the confrontation he was afraid he was about to have when he got there but Joanne’s car wasn’t in the driveway.

 

He let himself into the house. Chris was probably at school and Jo had most likely left to pick him up…It was about the right time.

He mounted the stairs and headed down the hall to the room he’d shared with Jo for seven years. He found his suitcase packed for him already and his heart turned a small flip. Boy…She wasn’t wasting any time in tossing him out was she?

 

He opened the suitcase and checked through it. Everything he’d need for a week or so away from home. He picked up the note she’d left for him.

 

Dear Roy, I thought it would be easier if I packed the suitcase than making you do it with your sore back. I am so sorry that I’m not strong enough to spend my days and nights worrying about losing you and what’s happening while I’m oblivious in my bed or shopping at the store. To spend ageless nights sitting and waiting for news from some doctor that you’ll pull through this time or worse…that you won’t. I need time to sort out what I’m feeling and whether or not I can face those things but watching Cheryl and knowing what Susan went through when Deke was almost killed last year…I’m not sure I can do this…The idea of losing you makes me sick and that’s no way to have to live. I’m sorry Roy and no matter what…Please know that I will always love you and I knew from the moment I met you that you were the only man for me. Come see the kids whenever you can and I’ll let you know the moment I make a final decision and then the ball will be in your court. Please give me the space to do that. I love you. Give my best to Johnny. Tell him I love him too. Joanne

 

Roy sat on the edge of his bed and hung his head. What was he gonna do? Johnny had asked him earlier but he just didn’t know. Could he give Joanne up for Johnny and a job he loved? Could he stand to lose her to keep them in his life?

 

Would it end up in a fight for custody? Child support…Alimony…? The word divorce sprang into his mind and felt like a cold slap to his face. He couldn’t lose Jo and his kids…Even if it meant quitting and having to turn John over to a new partner. That thought made his stomach turn almost as much as losing Joanne.

 

Oh he knew they’d still be friends but it wouldn’t be the same. Hearing him talk about whatever rescues and perils he’d come in contact with and knowing he hadn’t been there to watch out for him was devastating to the blonde paramedic. What was he gonna do if he did quit?

 

He didn’t think he could work in a doctor’s office…It was too confining. Maybe a hospital…Maybe Rampart would hire him as an orderly. He blew out a frustrated breath.

 

He finally climbed to his feet and grabbed his suitcase. He tossed it on the front seat of his car and headed for Johnny’s.

 

 

Roy hung around John’s apartment for a couple of hours before boredom drove him back to the hospital…At least he’d have Johnny to talk to and keep him company, not to mention Dixie.

 

He expected the crew would show up sometime today as well to visit their injured coworker.

 

He was correct. He pushed the door to Johnny’s room open to find the A shift crew gathered around the young paramedics bed.

 

“Hey pal,” Cap greeted as he joined them at the young man’s bedside. “How are you feeling?”

 

“A little stiff Cap but I’ll probably be back by our next shift.”

 

They turned back to John.  “How about you?”

 

“I’ll be out at least ten days Cap,” John said with a grimace. “I’ve got about a million stitches in my shoulder,” he muttered.

 

“Thirteen,“  Roy clarified with a grin. “Just feels like a million, not to mention that every muscle in his body is screaming from dehydration,” Roy added.

 

“Yeah…I’m a little sore,” he agreed, shooting a glare at Roy.

 

Hank raised a skeptical brow. If John admitted he was ‘a little sore’ that most likely meant he was in a lot of pain.

 

Roy chuckled at the irritated look but refrained from ruffling John’s feathers even more by tousling the sable hair in front of the other guys. John would be mortified.

 

“That was pretty slick Johnny…Hiding under that tub like that,” Mike said with a smirk.

 

“Only option available…To be honest…I didn’t know if it would work or just act as a crock pot with me as the stew beef,” he replied with an impish grin.

 

“Was Joanne okay?” Hank asked. “I know she was pretty upset the last time you were inj…,” Cap trailed off as both Roy and Johnny suddenly grew very interested in their hands. Roy looked depressed while John looked equally distressed and stared at his fingers in dismay.

 

“Uh actually Cap…Joanne and I had a bit of a disagreement over it. She uh…Wants me to quit the department.”

 

The others cast concerned glances at each other…Their faces mirroring shock…Anguish and worry that they could possibly lose Roy.

 

“Oh wow pal…I’m sorry,” Hank said softly.

 

“Are ya gonna?” Marco asked.

 

The others looked at him anxiously. “I told her no,” he replied quietly.

 

“She’ll come around,” Chet advised.

 

John shot him a withering glare. The last thing Roy needed was Chet Kelly’s sage advice about marriage.

 

“Actually we’re um…Separated at the moment,” he admitted.

 

Four jaws dropped open in surprise.

 

“Roy pal…I don’t know what to say except that Em and I struggled with this early on too…It takes a lot of strength for a woman to be married to a fire fighter.”

 

Mike nodded his agreement. “He’s right…Melissa had nightmares sometimes.”

 

Roy gave a half hearted shrug. “I thought she had that strength…That we did,” he murmured looking hurt. “Now I guess it’s the nightmares.”

 

“What are you gonna do Roy?”  Marco asked in concern.

 

“I’m staying at Johnny’s right now. He’s gonna need some help anyway when he goes home tomorrow. I’m hoping she just needs some time to come to grips with my job…I mean she was okay with it before. Tyler and Blakely just got her spooked I think.”

 

“And if she doesn’t?” Mike asked.

 

“I guess I’ll figure it out then. See what my options are,” he answered miserably.

 

John chewed his lip. He couldn’t ask Roy to give up his marriage but he didn’t want to lose his partner and best friend. He sighed and shot a rueful look at his friends as they glanced at him to see his reaction to all of this. The two were so close.

 

“Johnny?” Hank questioned.

 

“I’ll stand by and support whatever decision they make Cap,” he murmured quietly though it was obvious that he was as distraught as Roy over all of this…Maybe more so. Roy had become like John’s older brother and while John was an exceptional and capable paramedic and fire fighter in his own right, he and Roy were phenomenal as a team and there was no argument about that from anyone. That would be sorely missed both professionally and personally.

 

Roy reached out to pat his hand, grateful that his young partner had his back…As always.

 

 

Roy picked Johnny up the next morning. The young man remained quiet for most of the ride back to his apartment. The blonde paramedic tossed occasional concerned glances at his silent partner who could normally talk his ear off. He could tell that he was troubled by something and he was pretty sure he knew what.

 

“Where are you junior?” He finally questioned the young man.

 

John jumped… startled. “Just thinkin,” he said absently as he let his eyes return to the passing scenery out of the passenger window.

 

“About me and Jo?”

 

John did a double take. “How do you do that?” He asked, wondering how Roy so frequently seemed to know what he was thinking.

 

Roy chuckled. “You’re not that complicated junior,” he teased.

 

“Huh…I thought I was nuts and you’d never understand me?” He tossed back Roy’s often spoken words to him.

 

“Only about women junior.”

 

John smiled but it quickly faded. He shot Roy a hesitant sideways glance. “So…What are ya gonna do?”

 

“Just what I told cap and the guys Johnny. I’m gonna wait til she calms down enough to think rationally again and then we’ll talk about it.”

 

“What if she still wants you to quit?” He asked quietly.

 

“I don’t know junior…I’m not sure myself yet.” Roy didn’t want to lose his best friend…He knew that much. “Don’t you worry about it junior… Things have a strange way of working themselves out,” he said reassuringly.

 

John nodded but he wasn’t convinced.

 

 

 The next couple of weeks passed slowly. Joanne allowed him as much time with the children as he wanted but she still refused to talk about the situation. As far as she was concerned the discussion was over. She just needed him to say the words…I quit.

 

She wanted him to quit being a fire fighter for his safety and her piece of mind. She felt horrible about asking him to give up a part of him that he loved so much with his friends and especially John but she couldn’t shake the recurring nightmare images of sitting in the front of a church dressed in black. A flag draped coffin sat a few feet away and Roy’s body lay in peaceful repose.

 

She shook her head as the dream replayed itself in her wide awake mind. She couldn’t lose Roy to some lousy fire or virus or explosion. Damn it…Why couldn’t he understand that. He was her whole life and she’d never be able to love someone else the way she did him would she? Did she mean that little to him that he couldn’t understand her fears?

 

God, she missed him…Him and Johnny both. She missed their by play…Their squabbles and the tender moments she often had the privilege to witness between the ‘brothers’. How could she take that away from them?

 

She shook off the thought. Johnny would always be family. That wouldn’t change. ‘But without Roy, who’ll look out for him?’ A small voice whispered in her head. Her mouth tightened stubbornly as she shoved the thought away.

 

 

Johnny was released for duty after fourteen days and had returned to station 51 but the joy of it was a little subdued. Roy was often quiet and stayed to himself a lot more…John knew he was deep in thought about his family’s future and tried hard to just leave him alone and let him make his decision on his own.

 

Roy picked up the kids several times over those two weeks and he could see the confusion in their eyes. Why wasn’t their father coming home? Why was he at uncle Johnny’s instead of Uncle Johnny being at their house like he usually was when he was sick or hurt?

 

Why could they only see Uncle Johnny at his apartment…He never came to visit them anymore?

 

Roy was getting very worried by their actions…They were obviously troubled and didn’t understand but Roy did. Joanne meant to have her own way and planned to stick to her guns until he gave in. Part of him wanted to tell her no…That he’d continue to do the job he loved but the other part…How could he go on without Jo?

 

He thought about transferring to a desk job with the department or even at dispatch with Sam but the idea of being forever trapped behind a desk from nine to five with four confining walls and giving up a job he loved and had a passion for alongside his best friend and kid brother made him miserable and depressed.

 

He’d do it if he had to, to keep his wife but he’d hate it. One thing was for certain though…He’d make sure John Gage stayed in their lives. He meant too much to all of them to lose. The problem for him was mostly leaving his young partner in someone else’s less than capable hands. Johnny could be determined and a little wild sometimes and…Creative,” he mused thoughtfully…Some would call it willful, daring and reckless. No one would watch his back like Roy would.

 

Roy sighed heavily…He just wished she’d talk about it…Listen to how he felt but she wouldn’t even try. Just brushed him off whenever he attempted to bring it up.

 

They brought the kids home and Jo greeted Johnny with a kiss on the cheek as he carried Jen inside. She nodded at Roy briefly as Chris rushed past her toward the stairs.

 

“Thank you for bringing her in sweetheart,” she said to the younger man. “It’s good to see you. I’ve missed you.”

 

“Missed you too,” Johnny said a little shyly as he glanced away.

 

“How about me Jo…Do you miss me?”

 

“Of course I do…”

 

“Good…Then maybe we can…”

 

“No,” she cut him off. “Not unless you’re going to tell me you’ve given them your resignation.”

 

“Please don’t do this Jo,” he said softly. “I love my job.”

 

“I hope you love me more,” she shot back a little angrily.

 

John’s eyes shifted between the couple nervously. “Don’t fight guys…Can’t you talk about it…”

 

“Stay out of this John,” Jo snapped angrily. “This is a life decision and I want my husband to live a long and happy life.”

 

John backed away. The rebuke was enough to remind him that his opinion truly didn’t matter in this discussion. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I’ll just take Jennifer upstairs.” He turned and headed up the stairs.

 

“He was only trying to help Jo…You didn’t need to hurt his feelings.”

 

“This doesn’t concern him.”

 

“Of course it does. He’s family…He’s my partner and he’s my friend. I think that it concerns him from several different aspects don’t you?” He barked back.

 

“You know what I meant,” she snapped as she turned to stalk angrily away.

 

“Jo…We have to talk about this. You can’t just keep walking away.”

 

“Watch me…,” she growled.

 

“Jo…For crying out loud…”

 

“Are you going to leave the department?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“Then we have nothing to talk about.”

 

“That’s not fair.”

 

“I thought we already had this discussion…But it’s not fair for me to have to bury my husband like Cheryl did either is it?”

 

“Do you know what you’re doing to those kids Jo?”

 

“Don’t you dare drag them into this to make me feel guilty.”

 

“Guilty?” He yelled. “I’m not the one turning their lives upside down here Jo. Did you consider them at all when you laid down your edict that I have to quit…Or ME? What I want? Does that matter?”

 

“Does how I feel matter?”

 

“YES…Just talk to me…I don’t want this to end in a divorce Jo…I love you. I love my kids…I don’t want to see them every Wednesday and every other weekend,” he snapped.

 

“We’re done talking…I’m sorry but I can’t live with the fear…I want you. So just please Roy…Please go.”

 

Roy heaved a frustrated sigh. “Fine…JOHNNY…Let’s go junior,” he yelled up the stairs.

 

 

Upstairs…Chris huddled against Johnny’s leg as the volume of the argument rose. John’s hand rested absently on his head but his eyes were clenched shut as he buried his face against the blonde curls of the little girl who wept in his arms.

 

“Please stop,” he whispered through clenched teeth. “Please don’t fight…”

 

“JOHNNY…Let’s go Junior,” he heard his friend yell angrily.

 

He set Jen on the floor. “Stay with your sister,” he whispered softly to Chris as he brushed the tears from the boy’s cheek. “It’ll be okay…We’ll find a way,” he promised, not wanting the kids to grow up without Roy in their daily life. With a set of hostile grandparents to color everything against him as his own had tried to do.

 

How could he help? Jo had told him to stay out of it…Roy probably wouldn’t appreciate the input either. All he could do was wait and be a friend when they needed him.

 

He ran down the stairs and walked quickly past the couple without raising his head for them to see the haunted look in his dark eyes. Jo watched him go miserably, knowing she’d hurt his feelings earlier. She lashed out at Roy…”Well I guess you’ve had two weeks to win him over to your side,” she snapped.

 

“John hasn’t taken any side,” he growled defensively. “All he’s said is that he’d support any decision I made but I guess you’ve already made it for me.” He turned and stormed out, slamming the door behind him.

 

Jo stood with her arms folded across her chest as she heard the Porsche start up and screech away. A single tear rolled down her cheek. It was quickly followed by another and then another until she stood weeping in sorrow.

 

 

“Were the kids alright?” Roy snapped as he pulled away from the curb.

John shook his head without turning to look at Roy. “They heard it all…They were crying,” he replied with a hitch to his voice.

 

“What did you tell them?” Roy asked, forcing himself to calm down and speak quietly.

 

“That everything would work out somehow…That you’d find a way.”

 

“Thanks Junior.”

 

John shot him a contrite look. “I’m sorry I opened my mouth…It was none of my business.”

 

“It’s okay junior…I know you meant well…She’s just not hearing what either of us have to say.”

 

“You gonna quit?” He asked somberly.

 

John didn’t know it but Roy had a stubborn streak just as wide as John’s own. He didn’t show it very often but right now it was trying to rear its ugly head. He didn’t like ultimatums and being forced to do something he didn’t agree with but the normal Roy was also battling back…Could he give Jo up. He knew he’d have to make a decision soon…Just not now when he was this angry.

 

“I don’t know yet junior…I don’t know yet.”

 

 

The next morning brought a truckload of regret for both Roy and Joanne. He knew he shouldn’t have allowed his temper to get the best of him and tried to calm his emotions to a manageable level.

 

He knew he needed to go over there and now would be a good time while Chris was in school. Maybe they could ask their neighbor Deb to watch Jenny for an hour and give them some time to talk about this.

 

He reached for his car keys. “I’m going out Johnny?” He called to his friend. “I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” At least he hoped she‘d give him that long to discuss all of this and not slam the door in his face.

 

“Sure Roy,” he called back…His heart still filled with fear and sorrow for his two friends.

 

 

Jo knew she couldn’t keep him in suspense any longer. She had to make a decision to either live with the fears and the nightmares that made her heart pound and her stomach knot with nausea or tell him to quit…End of discussion and wait for him to decide which it would be…Divorce was the last option and it didn’t bear thinking about but she had no choice if he wouldn’t leave the department.

 

None of these were what she wanted really but could she live with the fear of losing him? Could she ever love another man or would she spend the rest of her life alone pining for him or worse…Live with a man who was miserable and resentful for taking him from what he loved…Who he loved.

 

She knew he loved her more than his own life but he loved Johnny like a kid brother and she knew he was afraid of leaving him with some other partner who’d never be at his back the way Roy was. He’d already been through that twice. First at 88’s and then 48’s…John had almost been killed both times. What if something did happen to Johnny? Would Roy blame her...Hate her forever for forcing this on him?

 

She sighed…She needed to go talk to him, besides she needed to apologize to John as well for hurting his feelings last night. She’d ask her neighbor to watch Jen for a bit and go over to Johnny’s. She grabbed her keys and headed out the door.

 

 

 

Johnny was just finishing up the breakfast dishes when Joanne knocked on the door.

 

He gave her a look of surprise as he realized who’d come to visit. “Jo! Um…Roy’s not here right now but you can come in and wait for him if you want,” he offered.

 

“Thank you sweetheart,” she replied as she came inside the apartment. “I needed to speak to you too,” she said, looking a bit shamefaced.

 

“Me? About what…?”

 

“Last night…I shouldn’t have bit your head off for trying to help. I know how much you hate to hear people fight.”

 

“I’m sorry Jo…You were right though, it wasn’t any of my business to interfere.

 

“That’s not true,” she argued. John threw her a quizzical glance. “You’re a part of this family too and you’ll be directly affected by our decision, regardless of what it is sweetheart. Roy’s your partner, your best friend…More importantly he’s like a brother,” she reminded him as she reached up to gently cup his cheek.

 

John chewed his bottom lip a bit anxiously. “Are you gonna ask him to quit?” He blurted out in a rush.

 

She stared at the floor for a long moment. “I don’t know sweetheart…This is so hard to ask of him I know but neither of you can understand,” she said a bit shrilly.

 

Neither of them heard the door open as Roy returned. He’d seen Jo’s car pass him going the other way and turned around. Now he stopped as he heard their voices and stood silently listening…Hoping to gain a little insight on what Joanne was thinking and hoping his well meaning partner didn’t say the wrong thing and really set her off.

 

“Understand what?” John asked, drawing Roy’s attention back to the conversation taking place in the living room.

 

“How I feel…You have no idea what it feels like to worry about him every day while he’s at work,” she snapped angrily as she turned to pace the small room. “Or what it’s like to worry that my kids will grow up without their father or that I’ll look out that window and see that car in my driveway and the Chief to come and tell me he won’t be coming home…,” she ranted as she turned back to him. “That they’ll have to grow up without him…You just can’t understand what I’m feeling.”

 

She threw herself into his arms to weep. John wrapped them around her comfortingly but his words stopped her cold.

 

“Yes I do Jo…I do understand how that feels,” he murmured against the auburn hair. “I live it every day we’re on duty. I worry that I’ll screw up and something will happen to Roy like it has to everyone else in my life. That I’ll have to face you and the kids and say I failed you.” He struggled for a moment to hold his tears before he continued. “And I have seen that car in my driveway and those men telling my mom that she was a widow…That I had no father anymore. That he was gone forever and  ‘gee...Sorry about that kid’. That I grew up with a part time dad cuz he had to work so far from… home. Please don’t do that to Chris… and…Jen.” His voice caught and the words trailed off.

 

She stepped back a bit and looked up into those soulful brown eyes that never failed to tug at her heartstrings. She was lost in the look for a moment “I’m so sorry baby…I forgot about that,” she said remorsefully that she’d upset him. She reached up and kissed him gently on the mouth.

 

The sensitive mouth trembled beneath hers and her hand moved from his cheek to his neck to hold his head as the kiss lingered. Joanne knew if there was any other man in the world that could stir her heart…It was this one.The kiss intensified, deepening for a long moment.

 

Roy’s mouth dropped open in shock. Hurt warred with anger as he watched his best friend and his wife. He was about to make his presence known when Johnny gripped Joanne’s shoulders and pushed her away.

 

“Jo? What are you doing?” He asked, looking horrified. She looked just as shocked as he did.

 

“I’m so sorry Johnny,’ she murmured in embarrassment. “I guess I was just lonely and confused right now…Maybe I just wanted to see if someone else could make me feel the way he does.”

 

“Believe me I understand…I’ve lived most of my life lonely and confused but not like this…We can’t do this…It would be a mistake we’d both regret for the rest of our lives. We both care about that man way too much to ever hurt him this way.”

 

“I know that baby…I’m so sorry…I'd never be able to hurt him like that.”

 

“Besides…I could never think of you that way and I know you don’t really see me like that either.”

 

Jo caressed his cheek and giggled. “It did kind of feel like I was kissing my baby brother.”

 

John flushed… “Like makin out with my sister,” he answered her in kind.

 

She hugged him tightly, knowing that she’d been forgiven.

 

Roy relaxed back with a sigh of relief.

 

“It’s just that I miss him so much,” she whispered.

 

“Then go to him…Tell him you want him back. You can work this out.”

 

“You don’t understand…This job terrifies me…I can’t lose him,” she wailed.

 

John stepped back and looked her square in the eye. “Do you love him?”

 

“Of course…How could you even ask me that? You know I do. That’s what this is all about.”

 

“If you leave him and something happens…Will it hurt less cuz you’re not married to him anymore?”

 

“No…That’s why I want him to quit.”

 

“That’s asking him to be less than who he is Jo…You know what kind of man you married…he doesn’t quit but that’s not the point…Would it hurt less if some policeman showed up on your door…Or the company car with the boss to tell you he was killed in a traffic accident on the way to work?”

 

“No…Of course not.”

 

“Jo…None of us is promised another day…Not even another moment. God knows I know that,” he said resignedly. “You gotta…,” he hesitated. “You gotta grab the moment…Live the right now.”

 

“I don’t know how to face losing him,” she wept.

 

John spun in a frustrated circle as he ran his hands through his hair in exasperation. “Jo…Haven’t you already LOST HIM?”

 

“What?”

 

“You’re living without him right now Jo. You’re not together…You’re both missing each other and you’re both miserable.” She looked down at her hands as he continued. “I live with the fear that I’ll lose the best friend of I’ve ever had…The only family I’ve got and it scares the hell outta me Jo…Do you remember when Roy and I first became partners and I was so afraid of something happening…?” She nodded. “Well I still am…Every day but I had to decide if I wanted to live my life lonely and afraid without him in my life…Or take the chance and be able to look back and hold onto the times I did have my friend in my life…I want the memories.”

 

She nodded as tears trickled down her cheeks. “I have to decide.”

 

“Yeah Jo…Live your life fearful and afraid or treasure every moment you have with him and then even if something does happen, whether at work or on the freeway…You’ll have that to hold onto but if you force him to quit..He will for you..But he'll never be the same man you married.”

 

Roy stood in the small foyer and listened in amazement as his emotionally challenged young partner played marriage counselor with Joanne as well as himself, unbeknownst to them of course. His heart ached at the fear John carried in his heart for him…He’d had no idea he felt that way…He was very good at hiding what he really felt behind a wall of indifference and  a devil may care grin so that most people never saw the real John tucked way down inside himself.

 

Roy was seeing more and more of it all the time and his curiosity was peaked about what other hidden depths John had to him.

 

“Don’t let those memories be lost Jo…You’re already missing almost three weeks of them.”

 

“You’ve given me a lot to think about sweetheart,” she said with a watery smile.

 

“Jo?” She looked at him curiously. “If you decide I’m wrong and you still want him to quit…I’ll help you talk him into it…He’d be lost without you but if you decide that he’s staying with the department...Then I promise you that I’ll do everything in my power to bring him home to you every night.”

 

She hugged him close to her. “You always do…Thank you Johnny,” she said gratefully. She picked up her purse and her keys.

 

Roy heard the rattle of car keys and ducked into the small kitchen as Joanne made her way to the door. She turned to face the young man. “Thank you Johnny…I love you sweetheart okay?”

 

John smiled. “I know you do and thanks,” he answered, unable to say those words himself yet…But someday, Roy mused hopefully. Someday he’d understand how much he was loved and that it was okay to love someone back.

 

“Hey…When’d you get so darn smart anyway?” She teased.

 

“Oh…I’ve been hanging around with some pretty smart people myself lately…They’re teaching me about family’s and how important they are.”

 

She threw him a grin and left the apartment. The door closed behind Jo and John turned around as Roy stepped from the kitchen. The younger man sucked in his breath in shocked surprise. “ROY!” His dark eyes turned to the door… “Uh…Um…How much of that did you uh…See...Uh hear?” He corrected.

 

“Pretty much all of it.”  John’s face paled a bit. Had he seen Jo kiss him? Was he in for another rejection like the one a year ago when Roy had misunderstood a conversation he’d overheard with Jo and Johnny and thought they were having an affair. Roy had pretty well beat the hell out of him for it.

 

John stepped back, looking a little apprehensive.

 

“I…I…I’m sorry Roy…We um…I…I didn’t…I mean she didn’t…We didn’t…Man I...I am so sorry,” he stammered.

 

Roy smiled at his stuttering partner in amusement. “I know you didn’t Junior,” he said softly as he reached out to pull John closer to him…Johnny flinched a bit but then relaxed as Roy patted his shoulder reassuringly.  “I admit I was pretty angry but then I heard what you said…So um…Thanks Johnny…Maybe it made a difference”

 

“I hope so.”

 

“It sure did to me,” he said softly as he ruffled the dark hair affectionately.

 

John grinned at him. “So what’s for lunch?” Johnny asked as he turned away in relief that Roy wasn’t mad.

 

 

 

“Station 36…Battalion 14…Station 51…Station 73…Station 45…Respond to a brushfire in Topanga Canyon…At the command center at Lindero Middle School.”

 

The crew scrambled from the lunch table and ran for their respective vehicles. Hank was already at the podium while the others shrugged into their turnouts.

 

“Station 51…KMG365,” Cap replied as the engines began to crank over beside him. Cap slid into his own seat a moment later and the rigs began to roll.

 

The command post was organized chaos as they pulled in. Fire Engines, Squads, Bull Dozers and ambulances from all over the county were parked in every available space.

 

Chief Conrad was standing in front of a large map handing out assignments and pointing out areas of greatest concern.

 

He glanced up as the crew of station 51 joined them. “Hank…You and your crew head up to the Rocky Pines area,” he said, pointing at the map. “You’ll be with the crew of station 73…This is their home turf so they’ll know their way around. Squad 36 is staying at the command post so your paramedics can go with you for the extra manpower…We’ll call them if we need them.”

 

“Yes sir,” he said with a brisk nod as he turned and trotted back toward the engine. “Rocky Pines guys,” he announced. “ John…Roy, you can come with us. Squad 36 is covering base camp and they’ll call you if you’re needed in paramedic capacity but right now they need the man power even more.”

 

“Sure thing Cap,” Roy acknowledged for both of them.

 

John watched from the cab at the roils of smoke that billowed up from behind the tops of the trees…Orange barely lit the sky…Hard to see beneath the thick black covering.

 

“Would you look at that monster,” he breathed out in awe of the massive cloud. “I hoped that first brushfire last year would be the only one,” he muttered.

 

“Wishful thinkin junior…Did you forget where ya live?” Roy teased.

 

John grinned as the older man pulled out behind the departing engine. They followed close behind…Roy squinting to see the road through the smoke and dust the Engine was kicking up in front of them.

 

“Wow…Can you see?” Johnny asked worriedly as he strained his eyes to see the engine ahead of them.

 

“Not much,” Roy admitted.

 

They finally turned down a paved road and the view seemed to clear a bit…Now there was only smoke. They round another bend and two sets of eyes widened at the massive inferno spread out before them.

 

“Holy cow,” John muttered.

 

“I’ll second that,” Roy said in awe.

 

The engine pulled over and the squad quickly followed.

 

They climbed out and quickly grabbed lines and shovels and anything else they thought they’d need to attack this fire. They dropped their protective goggles in place and headed out. The crew from their accompanying engine followed along. 

 

 

It was a long afternoon…The ten men were hot and tired…Their faces streaked with sweat, dirt and soot as they battled back the flames along the ridge.

 

The sun was sinking slowly toward the west and they all knew they’d be at this all night. John blew out a tired breath as he followed his partner along the edge of a deep ravine. Water hissed and evaporated almost as quickly as it hit the flames but they didn’t give up…

 

The two linemen from station 73 moved alongside of them. “I think they’re gonna be sending another couple of crews in to relieve us,” one of them named Danny Halston yelled at the two paramedics. “Shouldn’t be long now.”

 

“Bout time,” John yelled back from a parched and scratchy throat. They’d been out here for almost six and a half hours now without any relief and very little water.

 

Danny’s partner, Tom Davis gave his shift mate a nod and they started to move away…Everything happened so quickly that none of them had time to react.

 

A massive tree limb, burned and weakened by the fire suddenly broke loose from the trunk and crashed down toward the four men. The two nearest to it, Danny and Tom…Leaped back out of the way. Roy grabbed hold of Danny to stop his backward progress but Johnny was too close to the edge.

 

He turned at the sound of the crack just in time to have the hundred and ninety pound Tom plow into them. Both men tumbled down the hillside. “JOHNNY!” Roy yelled frantically as he helplessly watched his partner fall.

 

John felt his breath leave him with a ‘whoof’ as the falling fireman crashed into him…His helmet slamming into Johnny’s face.  He tried to stop his backward momentum but inertia and gravity won out. His foot slipped off the edge of the ravine and his balance was lost.

 

He tried his best not to take Davis with him but there was no way to stop it…The man tumbled down the slope behind him.

 

Johnny almost didn’t have time to feel much as the breath left his body. He finally noted several painful thumps to his torso and head as he rolled but it was the final stop that really did it…His body slammed hard into a tree trunk…The breath was driven from his body as he felt his ribs give.

 

He gasped in a shallow breath and tears of pain leaked from between the clenched lids. Something smashed into him from behind… “Oooh,” he moaned miserably. Darkness edged its way in but John fought desperately to stay awake.

 

He wasn’t sure if they saw were he fell and in the waning light he might need to call out for help. He slowly managed to turn onto his back and fought back a surge of nausea. “He knew he was hurt but didn’t know how bad.

 

He was struggling to draw air but he was pretty sure that he’d just had the wind knocked out of him.  He finally managed to get a look at what had hit him from behind…Tom Davis…

 

“Hey man,” he managed to whisper painfully, with hitched breaths. “You okay?”

 

“Yeah…Yeah I think so. Sorry Gage…I didn’t mean to knock ya down. Are you hurt?”

 

“Bruised a… rib I think…Knocked the… wind out myself…Maybe a mild concussion…,” he finished softly between gasps.

 

“Can you sit up?”

 

“Yeah…Yeah I think so,” John replied letting the other man help him to sit upright. That was a mistake…John’s head spun sickeningly and he immediately gagged. His body heaved but thankfully there wasn’t much still in his stomach. “That wasn’t such…A good…Idea,” he moaned.

 

“Sorry Gage. I’m gonna lean you back against this tree and try and let them know where we are okay?”

 

“Yeah,” he whispered as the older man hobbled away from him. “Are you okay?”

 

“Yeah…Cut my leg up pretty good coming down that hill but I doubt I’ll bleed to death.”

 

John nodded and closed his eyes…Letting the darkness crowd in…Roy would come…He knew he’d be looking for him. “Yup…There he is,” Johnny murmured as he heard his partner’s voice…It was still quite a distance away…But he’d know it anywhere.

 

 

Johnny forced himself to slow his breathing as Roy and the crew made their way down the steep slope. He threw his worried looking friends a reassuring half smile that came out more like a grimace.

 

“You okay?” Roy asked as he knelt next to the younger man.

 

“Yeah,” he groaned softly. “I think… I…I just knocked the wind… out of myself," he gasped between hitched breaths.

 

“Yeah? Well let me take a look anyway.”

 

John chewed his lip anxiously. Hoping he was right and his rib was just bruised and not broken.

 

Roy undid the clips on John’s turnout and tugged it aside before unbuttoning the pale blue, sweat stained shirt beneath.

 

Cap and Marco along with Davis’s partner squatted next to Tom. “How are you doin?” Cap questioned the man as he pulled his pocket knife and slit the man’s turnout pants clear up his calf to where a blood stain was slowly blooming.

 

“Really cut it bad I think,” he panted painfully.

 

Hanks attention was caught by a cry of pain from his youngest crew member. His brown eyes darted to where Roy was working on his fallen junior paramedic.

 

“What’s the story Roy?” He asked as he watched the younger man’s practiced fingers move over John’s ribcage.

 

 

Roy saw the bruise already forming even in the waning light. “Damn it,” he muttered knowingly even before he checked him.

 

His hand pressed lightly against the tender spot. “Aaaargh,” Johnny cried out, unable to suppress the painful gasp even as he tried to push Roy’s hands away.

 

Roy threw a concerned glance at John and saw the pain etched into the young face.

 

“What’s the story Roy?” Cap’s voice called in the gathering gloom.

 

“A couple of busted ribs Cap,” he replied.

 

“Are…You sure?” Johnny gasped. “Maybe they’re just…badly bruised?”

 

Roy’s blonde eyebrow cocked dubiously at that statement. “They’re broken,” he insisted firmly before he whipped out his penlight to check John’s eyes.

 

The younger partner knew better than to argue when Roy used THAT tone.

 

John winced a bit and jerked his head away as the tiny beam flashed into his eyes. Roy’s keen eye spotted the bruise just between cheekbone and hairline and let his fingers trail through the sweat dampened hair, finding a lump where something heavy had slammed into John’s head. He guessed at a concussion.

 

“Looks like he took a pretty good crack to his head too,” he informed his captain. “He needs to get to Rampart.”

 

“Roy…?” Johnny began.

 

“Don’t,” was all the older man said as he moved toward Davis. There was THAT tone again. John subsided. Roy turned back to the other man. “Let me take a look at that,” he offered as he knelt next to Marco, who was holding a 4X4 against the bleeding wound.

 

Cap already had the handy talkie. “Command Post this HT 51. I have two men injured in a fall…Both code I’s…Respond squad 36 and an ambulance to our location.”

 

“10-4 51…What is your location?”

 

“We’re about two miles north of the Temescal Park Fire Road in the Hub Junction area.”

 

“10-4 51.” A moment later he heard the tones.

 

Hank’s dark eyes turned to the slope below them and saw the ever encroaching flames. He breathed a sigh of relief…Had the two men kept rolling for much longer and they’d have ended up in that inferno. They might anyway if they didn’t get out of there…Soon.

 

“Can you two walk?” Cap questioned calmly.

 

Davis didn’t know the man and didn’t pick up on his tone but John and Roy did…Their eye’s followed Hanks and they gasped at how close it had moved in relationship to their location. Davis finally noticed as well.

 

“I’ll crawl if I have too Cap,” Davis promised emphatically.

 

“Good…Then I think it’s time we got you two up top and get back on those lines,” he said in reply. “Let’s move.”

 

Chet and Marco grabbed Tom while Roy and Davis’ partner eased Johnny to his feet.

 

“I’m okay,” he panted.

 

“Yeah…I can see that junior,” he replied wryly.

 

John threw his partner a crooked grin but it didn’t last for long. Pain was edging in again at his consciousness.

 

They group struggled up the hill and Roy was relieved to hear the sound of sirens coming. They needed to get Johnny out of here before they got cut off.  The ambulance and squad was just pulling in as they reached the top…Where Captain Johnson from 73’s and the two engineers stood waiting.

 

Johnny was winded and panting in pain by the time they made it up. Roy waved the attendants with the first stretcher over and he and Halston laid John down. “You need to wrap and run…That fires getting close and we don’t want the ambulance trapped. Get Johnny on O2…He’s having some trouble breathing…Probably just the smoke… but get on the horn with Rampart. John’s got a probable concussion and at least two broken ribs. I didn’t detect any reduced lung sounds on the left so I don’t think he punctured a lung or anything. Davis has a pretty deep gash about four inches long just below the right patella.”

 

“Right Roy…Don’t worry…We’ll take care of him,” they teased knowing how close these two men were. They saw the worry and the troubled frown that he couldn’t go with his young partner at this point. They threw him some news and a piece of hope. “Captain Stanley…Captain Johnson…The Chief said relief is on the way…He’ll be calling you all off in a half hour or so…More man power is coming from other areas in the state to spell us.”

 

“How’s the fire…?” Johnson questioned.

 

“About sixty percent contained but the winds blowing this way.”

 

“I noticed,” Hank said wryly as he watched the flames crawl toward them.”

 

“They’re afraid the winds gonna get worse…That’ll only fan them so…We’re all in for a long night…Except you two,” they added, nodding toward the two injured men.”

 

“Hell of way to get out of fighting a fire Gage,” Chet threw at his young shift mate as he grabbed a hose and followed Marco.

 

Cap patted his youngest crewman’s shoulder. “Don’t you worry about a thing…Get some rest pal and think of us while you’re eating a hot dinner tonight,” he teased.

 

John tried giving him a wan smile beneath the mask but it didn’t quite make it. He grimaced instead. Roy followed them to the ambulance. “I’ll be there soon partner,” he promised.

 

“Promised Jo…I’d watch your back,” he breathed out painfully.

 

“You always do…It’s my turn to watch yours and right now you need a hospital…I’ll be fine Johnny…You just worry about you.”

 

They slid the stretcher inside. “He grabbed Belliveau’s arm before he could climb inside with John. “Take care of him for me.”

 

“I will,” he said with a grin.

 

Roy smiled back. “Have Dixie call my wife…She’ll want to be with him since I can’t be.”

 

“Sure Roy.” Belliveau climbed inside the ambulance.

 

With his two patients and began to open the Biophone. Roy slammed the doors and gave them two slaps. The vehicle pulled away. Roy watched it leave with a sense of foreboding…He shook it off. Those funny feelings were usually Johnny’s forte. He headed back to join the others.

 

 

 

Kel and Joe were waiting for them as the ambulance backed in. They stepped aside long enough to allow the attendants to transfer the young man to the table and then quickly moved in. Belliveau lightly touched Dixie on the shoulder.

 

She looked at him questioningly. “Roy told me to ask you to call his wife… Said she’d probably want to be with Johnny?” He questioned with an arched brow. Gage must be way beyond just Roy’s partner if his wife thought of the kid as part of the family too.

 

“He’s right…She would. Thanks Belliveau.” He nodded and left.

 

“Carol…Get Johnny’s shirt off and a set of vitals…I need to make a phone call.” She left the room.

 

Kel leaned over Johnny. “How are you feeling?”

 

“Hurts a little,” he murmured.

 

Just a little huh?” Kel said wryly.

 

Kel’s fingers moved as gently as possible over the bruised area of John’s torso. He squirmed slightly as they found the break. “Aaah.”

 

“Okay Johnny…I’m sorry I hurt you.”

 

He nodded, knowing the doctor hadn’t had much choice. “Vitals doctor?” Carol questioned. He nodded. “BP is 110/70, pulse is 100, respirations are rapid.”

 

“Increase the oxygen and get X ray down here. I want his right chest and a full skull series.” She nodded as Kel turned back to John.

 

“Okay Johnny…I want you to try and slow your breathing just a bit okay? I know you’re hurting but you’ll feel better if you’re not hyperventilating as well.”

 

“Kay,” he panted, trying to draw air a little more slowly but it hurt to breathe deep.

 

The X Ray machine trundled in… “Okay John…We’ll be back as soon as Malcolm’s done alright?”

 

“Kay,” he wheezed.

 

 

Joanne DeSoto had been thinking a lot about what Johnny had said. Did she want Roy at the cost of the joy he felt at being a fireman? She’d known from the time they were children that that was what he’d wanted to ultimately be. Was it fair to now ask him to change who he was because she couldn’t handle the stress?

 

Could she love another and live without him if she asked for a divorce? That answer came quickly…NO… She’d loved Roy her whole life and always would which left only the last. Live each day as it came…Cherish every memory and always know that no matter what happened or even how it may happen…You’d have those times to hold on to…Memories to last a lifetime.

 

She knew she really had no choice. She couldn’t bear to lose Roy either way but she’d rather it was to saving lives and doing what he loved than to divorce or the misery of being trapped at some desk job and having him come home resentful and frustrated and know that it was her fault.

 

No…Johnny was right. She’d have to learn to trust them to watch out for each other. To trust their partnership, their friendship and the bond of brothers that kept them together… “Two halves of a whole,” she mumbled softly.  That’s what they were…She’d seen that early on…Separate and different as night and day and yet the same.

 

She couldn’t wait for the next morning to go over to John’s and tell Roy to come home. She’d gone about her household tasks as usual but with a new sense of peace. She’d made her decision and having Roy for whatever time they’d been given was all that mattered.

 

She turned the TV on later that afternoon and gasped at the sight of a huge brush fire…Helicopters flew over, dropping water and chemical extinguishers over the area…The command post held dozens of engines and other assorted vehicles…

 

Smoke roiled and billowed over the tree tops. Jo sat and watched and wondered if Roy and Johnny were there.

 

Chris arrived home from school and Joanne left it on as she went to get him and Jennifer a snack to hold them over until dinner.

 

She saw the unhappiness in her son’s face and the almost perplexed look that Jen often had lately and knew she was the cause. She felt horrible and selfish even though she knew it had been fear for Roy that had brought it on…Fear for herself as well.

 

“Hey guess what?”

 

“What?” Chris asked dully.

 

“I’m going to Johnny’s tomorrow and tell daddy that I want him to come home.”

 

Chris’s blue eyes lit up. “For real?”

 

Jo’s heart broke as she remembered John’s words… ‘I grew up with a part time dad cuz he had to work so far from home. Please don’t do that to Chris and Jen,’ he’d pleaded.

 

“For real,” she assured him.

 

Chris flung himself from the chair and into her arms. Jen didn’t understand much about that was going on but she understood that daddy was coming. She grinned in her high chair as she watched her brother dance with excitement.

 

Jo felt tears burn behind her eyes at the selfishness that had cost her children three weeks of memories with daddy or worse…three weeks of bad memories without him.

 

“If you’re done, why don’t you go upstairs and play until dinner,” she told him.

 

Chris ran upstairs and Jo cleaned up the kitchen before bringing Jen into the living room…She continued to watch the coverage of the wildfire and prayed Roy and Johnny weren’t called to it but that if they were that they would be alright.

 

The sun was setting and Jo knew she needed to tear herself away from the TV and make dinner for herself and the kids. She stood up to head for the kitchen just as the phone rang.

 

She picked it up quickly. “Hello…?”

 

“Joanne…It’s Dixie McCall.”

 

Jo’s heart beat a little faster. “Yes?”

 

“Roy asked me to call you…Johnny was hurt this afternoon in a fall at a brushfire…He’s here at Rampart and Roy thought you might want to be here since he had to stay behind.”

 

“I’ll be right there…Just let me get my sister here to watch the kids.”

 

“He’ll be fine Jo,” she said reassuringly.

 

She called Eileen who promised she’d be there in ten minutes. “Can you stay the night?” She questioned, not knowing how bad Johnny was yet or if she’d need to stay.

 

“Sure Jo…I know how much Johnny means to you two.”

 

“Even more now,” she admitted ruefully. “He may well have saved my marriage and my sanity,” she said cryptically… “The kids haven’t eaten yet so help yourself to dinner…”

 

“Go on Jo…We’ll be fine.” Eileen smiled as she heard the door slam.

 

 

Roy wiped the sweat from his brow with his sleeve…He glanced at Halston as he worked beside him, digging a fire break. Further down Chet, Marco Captain Stanley and Captain Johnson were digging as well. Both engines were dry and they were waiting to be re-tanked.

 

The fire was still on the move toward them and Captain Stanley had called for a water drop. They’d been told it would be another ten minutes.

 

The only good news was that relief was on the way…Roy had every intention of using the need to restock the squad as an excuse to ‘hotfoot it’ over to Rampart to check on Johnny.

 

Captain Stanley was glancing between his men and the encroaching flames…He lifted the HT to tell them they were going to have to pull back but it was cut off as fire erupted in a wall just a few feet away…

 

Cap yelled to his men… “Let’s go…We need to retreat.”

 

The others started moving toward the rigs rapidly. Roy and Halston were the furthest away…They were almost to where Cap and the others had been when the flames spread and cut off the exit.

 

They skidded to a stop and looked around. Both men looked at each other worriedly. They were cut off…There was no way out but back the way they’d come and further away from their crews and help.

 

There was no other option as the flames licked toward them. They could hear their crew mates yelling that they needed water…A water drop…Two men trapped…Hurry! But it would come too late.

 

Roy grabbed Halston’s turnout. “Let’s go pal,” he yelled pointing back the way they’d just come. The way was still clear but lead to a steep climb and after that a lot of dry forest. Would that be any better.

 

“Where does it go?” He yelled.

 

Roy shrugged and wished John was here…The kid was a walking map of these mountains. “I think it comes out to a road that leads to Eagle Springs…Johnny likes to camp there."

 

The other nodded and followed. At least it wasn’t on fire.

 

 

Joanne ran down the corridor toward the base station. She spotted Dixie almost immediately as she talked with the two doctors, Early and Brackett.

 

Dixie glanced up as she approached. “Joanne…You made good time,” she said with a smile.

 

Jo picked up on the lightness of the blonde nurse’s tone and knew Johnny would be okay. “How bad is he?” She questioned the group worriedly.

 

“He’s concussed Jo and he’s got two broken ribs but he’s gonna be fine I promise you,” Kel replied before Dixie could.

 

“Can I see him?”

 

“Sure…Come on,” they agreed as they led the way to treatment room four.

 

John slowly turned his head as they came inside. His cheekbone sported a lovely bruise as did his rib cage. She sucked in her breath and the ‘mom’ in her came rushing to the fore.

 

“Oh baby, are you okay?” She questioned gently as she moved to his side and leaned down to gently kiss his forehead.

 

Kel covered his guffaw with his hand as John’s face flamed crimson in embarrassment. Joe suddenly became very interested in the X rays still hung on the light panel while Dixie folded her arms over her bosom with a grin.

 

“Jo…o,” he almost whined.

 

She glanced around at the smirks of the others and shrugged. “John Gage…Do you really think they don’t already know that I think of you like my baby brother?”

 

He smiled sheepishly at her but it turned into a grimace as his bruised cheek pulled painfully. “I’m sor…ry,” he murmured softly.

 

“For what sweetheart?”

 

“Left Roy out…there. Promised…To watch his…back,” he whispered.

 

“Oh sweetie…There’s a few mitigating circumstances here don’t you think?” She said as she brushed the sable hair back.

 

“Prom…ised,” he said with a hitched breath. There was pain in the dark eyes.

 

“Can’t you give him something for the pain?” She questioned, worriedly.

“We have Joanne…It should kick in soon and then we’ll be moving him upstairs to a room.”

 

“Alright,” she said turning her attention back to Johnny.

 

The door cracked open and they all glanced over to see Captain Stanley step hesitantly into the room. “Can I come in?”

 

“Of course Captain," Joe replied as they waved him to the bed. Two pairs of eyes one blue and one brown watched the door anxiously…Both of them waiting expectantly for a blonde, blue eyed Paramedic to come in but the door remained closed.

 

They looked toward the fire captain who stood looking at them somberly. “Joanne, John…I need to talk to you.”

 

 

 

Roy and Danny stumbled through the darkened terrain. The fire behind them almost seemed like a wild thing stalking them through the forest. It remained close behind them. They finally managed to top the ridge and could see down into the canyon…The fire burned there as well. There was no going in that direction…They were trapped.

 

Okay…Think Roy, the blonde paramedic mused worriedly.  He looked around but nothing was quickly coming to mind. Instinct told him to go north and Danny nodded. The young fire fighter was quite content to let Roy make the decisions. They kept high on the ridge, able to see both directions as they traveled and to know where the fire was heading.

 

The smoke obscured what little light the moon shed on the patch of forest the fire hadn’t yet reached. Roy led the way…He glanced over his shoulder to make sure Danny was following. His foot suddenly sunk into a deep hole.

 

Roy’s scream of pain as the bone snapped under the strain echoed through the canyons below, carrying on the night air.

 

“Roy?” Danny asked worriedly. “Are you okay?”

 

“No,” he ground out through clenched teeth. “I think I broke my ankle.”

 

“Oh man,” Halston breathed out worriedly. “What the hell are we gonna do now?” He asked fearfully.

 

“Helping me get my foot free would be good for starters,” Roy muttered.

 

“Oh yeah…Sorry,” he mumbled sheepishly as he knelt beside him.

 

Roy slid his hands down inside his boot and winced at the feel of the swollen skin. “Yeah…It’s broken,” he groaned in annoyance. “Help me up…,” let’s see if I can walk on it.”

 

The younger man tried to help him up but Roy’s yelp of pain quickly put the kybosh on that plan of action.

 

“What do we do?” Danny moaned as the fire crept toward them.

 

“You’re gonna leave me here and go for help,” Roy said with more bravado than he really felt. Burning to death was every fire fighters worst nightmare and he was terrified but he wouldn’t take someone else with him if he could avoid it. “You can’t carry me far enough to do us any good…,” he advised him calmly.

 

Roy took his bearings. If you go that way…Another four or five miles should bring you back out to the fire road. It's only a short distance back to the command post,” he told him frustratedly.

 

They’d been so close to escaping the flames but Roy knew he’d never outrun them and neither would Danny carrying him.

 

“I can’t just leave you here,” he whispered in horror.

 

Roy grabbed the kid by the turnout. “You can and you will…” The other shook his head. “You wanna die?” Roy barked.

 

“No…But Gage’ll kill me anyway if I just leave you here.”

 

“You tell him I said so…That I made you go.”

 

“But…”


“You’re wasting time that you could be going for help…That way…GO,” Roy shouted giving the young man a sharp shove.

 

Danny stumbled and threw him one more hesitant look but Roy nodded. The kid turned and took off. The darkness quickly swallowed him from sight.

 

Roy glanced around…The fire was closing in around him…He’d soon have nowhere to go. He dragged himself to his feet. Hopping on one foot and dragging the other, trying to contain the cries of pain as he made his way toward some brush…He poked through it until he found a sturdy enough stick to support his weight.

 

He began to hobble on one foot. He wouldn’t get too far but he had to try. They would at least know that he hadn’t given up.

 

He’d gone about a mile when a shape loomed outta the darkness. Roy stopped and stared at it in dumbfounded shock. “God bless you junior,” he whispered to himself. Even though his young partner wasn’t with him he’d found a way to save him. At least he hoped so.

 

 

Cap and the rest of the crew had tried in vain to find another way to get to his men but they were cut off…Their only option was to retreat or find themselves trapped as well. “Let’s go guys,” he said somberly.

 

“But Cap,” Marco gasped in horror.

 

“We can’t leave them,” Chet said wide eyed.

 

“We have no option…We’ll try and get to them from the fire road…”

 

“Captain Stanley is right…We’ll all be trapped here if we stay…We can’t help either of them if we die here.”

 

None of them looked happy but they knew their captains were right. They retreated to the engines. Chet drove the squad as they made their way with heavy hearts down the fire road.

 

They’d arrived back at the base camp and the Chief led them over to a large map. “Where’d you lose sight of them Hank?” He questioned soberly.

 

Cap pointed it out on the map. “Right along this ridge,” he said drawing a line through the general vicinity with his finger.

 

“Okay then…Let’s get a water drop in that area and hope they made it up the rise. If they can get down the other side than Temescal Park loop circles there and feeds into Entrada Road not too far from here.”

 

Cap nodded gratefully. “Let’s go then.”

 

His crew ran for the engine, forgetting how tired they were…One their own was missing. They pulled out along with Squad 45 and Engine 36 following behind.

 

They passed several engine companies working to contain the blaze but it was a losing battle. The winds had shifted and the flames were being whipped into a frenzy.  Several burning embers settled on the other side of the road and burst into life.

 

The flames raced upward faster than they could stop them.

 

“DAMN IT,” Cap almost bellowed in frustration. This would leave them trapped on both sides.

Something stumbled out of the darkness in front of them. Mike gasped and stood on the brakes. The engine fishtailed wildly on the dirt road but he managed to avoid what appeared to be a fire fighter lying in the road.

 

Cap jumped down from the cab and ran to the front. He was quickly joined by the rest of the two crews. He rolled the panting fire fighter over and sucked in his breath sharply. “Halston?” He gasped. His eyes scanned the hillside anxiously for any sign of DeSoto. “Where’s Roy?” He barked when no one else cleared the brush.

 

“He fell…Broke his…ankle,” he puffed. “Sent me ahead to get help.”

 

“Where? How far?” Hank snapped.

 

He pointed back up the now blazing hillside. “About four miles back,” he said sadly as he realized that Roy was now trapped. He looked up at Hank with dawning understanding. “He knew,” he muttered. “He knew when he sent me that he’d never make it out.” Tears welled at the sacrifice DeSoto had made for him and he knew why Gage thought so highly of him.

 

“Let’s get on those lines,” he snapped at his men.

 

Chet and Marco began to obey but Chief Conrad stepped up beside him. “Hank…It’s too late,” he said gently.

 

“No…We have to try.”

 

“Hank, look at it…It’s completely engulfed…If DeSoto was up there…He’s gone.”

 

“Then we have to find him and bring him home,” he whispered somberly.

 

“We will…But I think you and your men are exhausted and you need to rest. Go see how Gage is. Besides he has to hear this from you. I have to notify his wife of course…”

 

“Chances are she’ll be at the hospital with Johnny. They’re all the family he has really,” he murmured sorrowfully.

 

The Chief nodded…He couldn’t leave the command post so if Hank saw her first…Well…Maybe it would be easier on her coming from a friend than a virtual stranger at her door to deliver that kind of news.

 

Cap and the crew cast a final glance upward at the hillside. There would be no survivors from that.

 

That’s what we thought about Johnny in that apartment fire too, flitted through his brain. The logical side argued back. I doubt there’s a claw foot tub on that ridge. Hank turned sadly away as the crew of station 45 tackled the flames.

 

 

“Joanne, John…I need to talk to you.”

 

“What is it Cap…Where’s Roy?” Johnny asked worriedly.

 

“That’s what I need to talk to you about. Roy and another man were digging a fire break a few hundred yards away from the rest of us…The wind shifted and they were cut off by a wall of fire. We couldn’t get to them.”

 

The words were like a lightning bolt to Johnny’s brain. Not again…This couldn’t be happening. He couldn’t have lost another person in his life.”

 

“Oh God no…,” Jo whispered in agony. “I lost all that time,” she almost wailed as her legs began to buckle. John started to move but Kel held him down as Hank caught her.

 

“You don’t move Johnny,” Kel barked as Joe knelt next to Joanne and Hank.

 

“Is she okay?” He whispered.

 

“NOOOO,” she moaned. “I’m not okay…You were right Johnny…I wasted all that time and now he’s gone and I can’t take back those three weeks. He died out there thinking I didn’t love him enough to be strong for him,” she wept.

 

“Jo,” Johnny called to her. “He knew you loved him…He knew believe me. He told me all the time that you were his life…Please Jo.”

 

She wept against Hank’s turnout but she nodded her understanding of John’s words.

 

“Cap?” A hesitant voice caught Hank’s attention. “Do you have him? I mean…Did you find…?”

 

“No John…It’s still too hot up there…There still trying to contain the whole mess…We’ve only got a couple of hours ourselves before we have to go back.”

 

“So you don’t know for sure…”

 

Jo lifted her head and looked at Johnny hopefully. “There’s no way he survived son,” he said gently.

 

“That’s what you said about me too,” he said as he struggled to sit up.

 

Kel grabbed him. “Just where the heck do you think you’re going?”


“To find my brother…My partner.”

 

“You’re not going anywhere,” he admonished. “Or did you forget those broken ribs and that concussion?”

 

“I didn’t forget them but I’m going to find Roy.”

 

“Johnny…” Kel grunted, hanging on as he threw a glance at Dixie. She quickly took the hint and left the room.

 

“You can’t make me stay here…I refuse treatment,” he gasped as he struggled against the grip.

 

Two more hands joined Brackett’s. “You lay down and behave Gage,” Hank barked. “There’s no way I’d let you up there. Now quit…That’s an order.”

 

“I resign,” John gasped as his fist clipped Brackett's shoulder. Joe Early quickly joined the group in holding the injured young man.

 

“Resignation refused,” Cap snapped back. “Besides…They won’t let a civilian into the fire zone,” he reminded the young man.

 

John’s fist lashed out to connect with the rail alongside the bed in frustration. “That’s not… fair,” he gasped.

 

“Johnny please stop,” Jo pleaded as she climbed to her feet, fearful that he’d hurt himself even more.

 

“NO…I’m gonna… find Roy,” He yelled as Dixie re-entered the room. “You can’t…Make me…Stay here,” he panted. He saw the syringe as Dixie handed it over to Kel and renewed his struggle. “NO…I refuse…No..,” he gasped. The needle pierced his flesh and the struggles began to ease. “Re…fuse…Can’t make…make me…Roooy…” the voice trailed off as a drug induced slumber claimed him.

 

Joanne moved closer to the sleeping young man and hugged him gently. “We’ll be okay baby,” she whispered. “You’re still a part of this family and we’ll get through this together,” she hiccupped woefully. “We’re strong Johnny…You and I…We’ll be okay sweetheart.” She let her head rest on the young man’s shoulder.

 

Dixie looked at the syringe in Kel’s hand. “That was unethical Kel…He has the right to refuse medical treatment.”

 

Joe nodded his agreement.

 

“Yes he does…So let him sue me…At least he’ll still be alive to see me in court.”

 

 

Joanne stayed at John’s side throughout the night. He stirred several times early on…Fighting against the sedative he’d been given. Roy’s name slipped from his lips but Jo’s fingers trailed gently through the dark hair until sleep would claim him once more.

 

She wept off and on as she thought about how foolish she’d been to send Roy away…All the lost time. Three weeks she could never reclaim. How could she tell the children their father was gone? How could she go on? She’d have to go back to school and finish her degree in psychology. She already had two years before she married Roy. Then she could get a job…Maybe help children who suffered with Johnny’s problem.

 

The young man stirred again and she slipped from the chair to sit next to him on the bed. She hitched herself up so she could rest her back against the small headboard. Slipping the extra pillow Dixie had brought her behind her head.

 

She leaned back and closed her eyes, letting her fingers trail through the sable hair gently until the restless tossing eased and the mumbling of Roy’s name faded away.

 

If Johnny had been embarrassed by her kiss…Wait’ll he found out he’d slept with her. The thought brought a giggle but tears of sorrow quickly followed.

 

How could she laugh with Roy gone…?

 

 

John’s dark eyes drifted slowly open. Dawn was breaking and the gloomy looking smog of the Los Angeles sky greeted his fuzzy gaze. He shifted slightly but quickly realized his mistake.

 

His body hurt and he clenched his eyes shut to ride out the wave of pain. His head rested against something soft and he turned it enough to see what it was. He gasped, wincing when he realized that his head was tucked against the hip of none other than Joanne DeSoto. 

 

If the kiss hadn’t been bad enough…Roy would kill him…, the thought trailed off as he remembered last night’s events. Roy was gone forever…It was odd …He’d always thought he’d know if Roy was gone.

 

He pushed the thought away…He knew he had some pretty good fire instincts but he wasn’t psychic or anything but still…Deep down in his soul…He thought he’d feel the loss more deeply if Roy left him.

 

Joanne stirred beside him. Her blue eyes blinked open and she suddenly remembered where she was. She glanced down into sorrowful brown eyes that gazed steadily back at her.

 

“I’m so sorry Jo,” he whispered, his face flushing in embarrassment.

 

“I know sweetheart,” she whispered as she slipped from the bed and sat in the chair.

 

“I should be comforting…You,” he murmured.

 

“We’ll be there for each other baby…That’s what families do.”

 

“Family…I wasn’t very good at being a brother,” he mumbled.

 

“WHAT?” She gasped. “You were the best…He loved you so much.”

 

“I let him down,” John said as a tear slipped from his eye to trickle down his cheek. “Both of you.”

 

“Just how do you figure?”

 

“I prom…ised I’d be at his back and now he’s…dead.”

 

“Oh sweetheart…Don’t do that to yourself. None of this was your fault.” She leaned over and kissed his forehead.

 

The door opened to admit Kel and Dixie. “Good morning you two.”

 

“Good morning Kel,” Jo said very quietly while Johnny shot him a glare.

 

“Good morning Johnny.”

 

“You had no right… to do that doc,” John panted angrily despite the pain in his side.

 

“Maybe not…But I didn’t want Joanne to have to mourn both of you,” he snapped back.

 

John shot Jo a contrite look but he was still angry. “I had a right to leave…The right to find my best friend and bring him home…”

 

“The fire department will handle that John and without you.”

 

“How much effort do you think they can expend right now? They’re all tied up on that fire. I can find him…I know I can.”

 

“NO,” Kel said adamantly.

 

John’s eyes narrowed dangerously. Kel looked a bit shocked…He’d never seen John look at anyone like that.

 

“You can’t stop me...,” he began angrily.

 

“Johnny stop,” Joanne intervened. “I need you here with me…Not chasing around in the middle of a fire and getting yourself killed…I’ve lost Roy…I can’t bury both of you,” she wept.

 

John looked horrified. “Jo…I…I’m sorry Jo,” he mumbled penitently.

 

“It’s okay sweetheart.” She looked at Kel as Dixie handed her a tissue to blow her nose and wipe her eyes. The box was nearly empty and the older blonde nurse knew that these weren’t the only tears that had been shed this past night. “I need to go home to my kids,” she said softly.

 

“We understand.”

 

“I’d like to take Johnny home with me if you were planning to release him.” John looked a bit surprised.

 

“Well…He’s still in  a lot of pain…”

 

“You would have let him go home this morning if Roy…,” her voice caught. “If Roy were here.”

 

“Yes…Probably.”

 

She shrugged. “He needs to be with his family right now and we need him.”

 

Their eyes traveled to the young man who now sat with silent tears running down his cheeks. How could have failed them all so miserably. This was the one thing he’d never wanted to happen. To face Jo and the kids and tell them this and now…Here he was,’ he mused bitterly. Such was his life, he guessed. He lost everyone he loved eventually.

 

He knew he’d lose Jo and the kids someday too. He’d be around for awhile until some new man came into her life. It was a sure bet he wouldn’t want Jo’s late husband’s old partner hanging around reminding her of him all the time and that would be the end.

 

“Will you come home with me sweetheart?” She questioned.

 

He nodded.

 

Dixie and Kel watched with aching hearts as she wrapped the young man in her arms gently. They’d both be there for him down the road but right now was just for family…Of which the young fire fighter was a huge part.

 

 

They arrived back at the house an hour later. Jo ran around to help him from the car. Eileen heard the engine and came to open the door. She trotted down the stairs to come help the slightly unsteady young man into the house.

 

Her eyes looked a little red and puffy as well and they knew she’d been grieving her brother in law’s loss too. “Let me help you Johnny,” she said as she wrapped her arm about his waist. The two women managed to maneuver him inside and to the back bedroom where they eased him gently onto the bed.

 

Jo pulled the shoes off his feet and let him lay back before she pulled the blanket over him. “Get some sleep sweetheart alright? We’ll be here if you need anything.”

 

John nodded. He needed Roy but he didn’t say so, knowing she needed the man even more…He wouldn’t add his own grief to hers.

 

He drifted off but it didn’t last for long. The sound of Chris’ wail of grief snapped him awake.

 

“YOU LIED TO ME,” the child shrieked. “YOU PROMISED HE WAS COMING HOME.”

 

“I didn’t lie to you Chris,” Jo sobbed.

 

John struggled to his feet and carefully made his way to the door. He opened it to go and try to sooth the upset boy.

 

“Your daddy would have come home today but…”

 

“No you promised…”

 

“CHRIS,” John said sternly. “Don’t yell at…Your mom.”

 

“Don’t tell me what to do…You’re not my father,” the grieving six year old yelled. “You lied to me too,” he accused.

 

“CHRIS,” Jo said in shock.

 

“You said you’d watch his back…You always say that but you lied…I HATE YOU.”

 

John looked stricken.

 

“CHRISTOPHER ROY…That’ll be enough of that. Johnny did everything he could to bring your father home every single day. He got hurt and had to go to the hospital himself. That’s why he couldn’t be with your daddy yesterday.”

 

Oh,” Chris said looking suddenly deflated. Watery blue eyes looked up into hurt brown. “I’m sorry Uncle Johnny,” he wept as he flung himself against John’s legs to hold him tightly.

 

Tears of sorrow flowed down John’s cheeks as he carefully sat and pulled the child against his uninjured side. He let him grieve. He’d failed them all…Chris had apologized but Johnny still felt the guilt. He had to find Roy and bring him home.

 

Chris’s tears finally trickled to a stop and the sobs eased as sleep claimed him. Joanne came and lifted him carefully away from the grief stricken young man. “I’m sorry he said that sweetheart.”

 

“It’s okay…I understood. I told my mom the same thing when my father died,” he whispered. “He promised me he’d come home too.”

 

“Oh baby,” she sighed.

 

“Besides…I did promise him I’d bring him home and I didn’t.”

 

“Johnny please…It’s not your fault.”

 

It was always his fault…Just being near him was apparently a death sentence…A *Star Trek red shirt moment. He would have laughed at the thought if it hadn’t been so true…At least for him.

 

Eileen took Chris from her arms. “I’ll take him upstairs…”


“Okay…I’ll be right there,” She turned back to Johnny. “I want you to go back to bed…I’m going to get Chris settled and then I’m going to make lunch. After we clear our heads a bit, I’ll call Harriet and Michael…They have to be told. Then maybe you can help me make the arrangements…I don’t imagine there’ll be…An open casket,” she finished on a sob as she turned and fled up the stairs.

 

John sat for a long time before he painfully made his way to the kitchen and picked up the phone.

 

 

Joanne came back down a short while later, her sister followed. The living room was empty. She smiled…For once the young man had followed instructions and gone back to bed.

 

She made coffee and sat down at the table with her sister. “I hope he can sleep,” she said quietly. “He’s so upset,” she shrugged. “So am I.”

 

Eileen squeezed her hand sympathetically. “I’m so sorry…For both of you…I know John’s been through a  lot.” Jo nodded. She’d told her sister that John was an orphan but that’s all she knew. Her sister would be amazed at just how strong their young Mr. Gage was if she knew the whole story but she couldn’t tell her without betraying Johnny’s confidence and she’d never do that. Just like Roy…She shook her head…What was she gonna do” Every thought led back to Roy. How could she go on without him?

 

 

“Where are you guys headed?” A tight voice questioned two fire fighters as they climbed back aboard their engine.

 

They turned to face the man. It was a fire fighter but they didn’t know him. They were from Pasadena and this guy was apparently a local from the color of his turnout. His hair and eyes were dark and his face was very pale. The eyes looked almost as if he were in pain.

 

“Back to Temescal Park…I think that’s what they called it right Jake?”

 

“Right…Hub Junction…Search and recovery though.”

 

“Can you give me a lift? I had to bring a patient in and my team had to go back out,” he explained pointing to the yellow patch on his helmet.

 

“Sure thing pal,” they said as John climbed stiffly aboard. “What’s your name?”

 

“Bob…Bob Belliveau,” he replied turning carefully so they could see his name stenciled on the back of his turnout. The older paramedic wouldn’t need it. He’d run a patient into Rampart and would probably be gone for some time.

 

 “Hey Bob…You okay?” One asked as he noted the painful movements.

 

“Yeah…Just been a long twenty four hours.”

 

“You can say that again,” they commiserated as the engine began to roll.

 

 

John threw the men a jaunty wave before he clutched at his side and moved away from the rig. He’d appropriated one of the handy talkies from Engine 51 while it was parked at the command post. At least he hoped that Cap wouldn’t get him fired for stealing it.

He looked up at the blackened forest that was now the final resting place of his best friend, partner and big brother. He had to bring him home. He’d promised Jo and Chris and he couldn’t go back on his word.

 

John made his way through the still smoldering section of forest…He’d camped in these woods many times…As a child with his dad the year they’d lived in Duarte…As a teen by himself after he’d come to live with his aunt in San Gabriel and as an adult with Roy…The last time only a few short weeks ago.

 

He spotted several other groups of men as he made his way slowly up the ridge. His ribs shifted warningly bringing a gasp of pain to his lips.

 

He knew this was foolhardy but he didn’t care…He had to try. He knew the others were searching for DeSoto’s body as well and he wanted to be the one…He had to bring him home. It became a litany as he trudged along.

 

Sweat beaded his face as the morning wore on but there was no sign of Roy…Where the heck was he? Even if the fire had been super hot…There should have been something left.  He’d been walking for a couple of hours and he was getting frustrated.

 

His ribs throbbed in agony and he knew he’d shifted something inside there. He wrapped his arm around his torso and kept going.

 

He’d just topped a rise when he saw it…A beacon still standing sentinel despite its charred condition on its lonely hillside.

 

Could Roy have found it in the dark…Is that why he didn’t feel the loss? Hope flared and John began to laugh. He held his aching side and moved as quickly as possible toward it.

 

 

Joanne finished making lunch, waving off Eileen’s offer of help. “I need to keep busy. It’s easier than sitting here thinking about it,” she whispered softly.

 

“Okay…What do you need me to do?”

 

“Can you get the kids and wake Johnny?”

 

“Sure,” she replied as she headed up the stairs. She returned with a depressed Chris in tow while she carried Jen. She strapped the toddler in her high chair and went to John’s door. She knocked gently and then a bit harder when she got no response.

 

She finally pushed the door open and peeked inside. She gasped in shock and spun around to face Joanne. “Jo…He’s not here.”

 

“What?”

 

“Johnny’s gone,” she said urgently.

 

“Oh no,” she murmured. “Knowing exactly where the young fire fighter had gone.”

 

“What do we do?”

 

“I’ll call Kel…He’ll know what to do.”

 

 

HE DID WHAT?” Kel barked over the telephone line. Dixie’s head snapped around at the anger while several waiting patients looked up in alarm at the surly doctor. Dixie smiled reassuringly and they looked away.

 

“He left. He snuck out while I was upstairs with the kids. I didn’t realize it until a few minutes ago…I thought he was asleep.”

 

“I’ll kill him,” he snarled in a rage. “You just wait until I get my hands on him.”

 

“Kel please…He only wants to bring Roy home,” she told him… “Please…I know it was the wrong thing to do and I know he could be in real trouble out there but please…This was something he felt he had to do.”

 

Brackett tried to bring his temper under control. “Alright…I understand and I won’t kill him…I’ll just make him wish he were dead.” Jo almost giggled. “I’ll call the fire department and warn them to watch for him. He can’t have gotten too far with a concussion and two broken ribs.”

 

He hung up and turned to face Dixie who was standing there with a raised eyebrow.”What?” He barked.

 

“Can’t have got too far…? This is Johnny we’re talking about,” she added with a smirk.

 

Kel grinned ruefully. “True…If I didn’t know he was in those damn hills looking for Roy I’d have to wonder if he was halfway to Boston by now,” he said drily as he picked up the phone.

 

 

HE WHAT?” Hank Stanley barked in shock. “Uh sorry Chief,” he added contritely as he realized he’d just shrieked in his Chief’s face.

 

The older man grinned. “I understand Hank…I had the same reaction when they called me from headquarters. That is one determined young man and it would most likely explain a few missing items around the command post….A turnout…Rope, canteen, flashlight, helmet and handy talkie among them.”

 

“Willful…That’s what he is,” Cap muttered in annoyance. He glanced up at his commanding officer. “Is he in trouble?”

 

“A pack of it if he survives this,” he said but softened at Hanks woebegone expression. “But I imagine a couple of weeks of latrine duty should cover the worst of it unless Belliveau wants to press charges,” he finished with a grin.

 

“I doubt that…He and John are friends.”

 

“I doubt it too…Knowing Bob…He’ll most likely give Gage a pat on the head for his ingenuity,” he said wryly.

 

 

Roy had managed to half hop and half drag himself to Johnny’s tree. It wouldn’t be easy to maneuver in the tight space with a broken ankle and it would probably be painful but it was infinitely better than the alternative. He glanced behind him at the sea of flames that was slowly closing in around him.

 

He turned sideways, sucked in his breath and slid inside.  The temperature was much cooler but he knew that was about to change. He glanced down at the tiny little entrance to the small cave John had told him about.

 

His skin crawled at the thought of becoming trapped under a ton of rock. No one would ever find him. The temperature increased as the fire burned closer. He had to make a choice…He settled himself on his belly and crawled inside.

 

It was pitch black and he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face. “So help me junior…If this is the den of some critter I’m gonna get you for this,” he mumbled to himself. “Then rethought his position…Being sprayed by a skunk or stuck with porcupine quills was a small price for living and right now he could cheerfully kiss his young partner for having shown him this…Though Johnny would die of humiliation if he did. He grinned at the thought but the smile suddenly faded.  Did Johnny know he was missing? Did Joanne? Would they think he was dead? God he hoped not. He couldn’t imagine his families pain if they thought that.

 

He had to survive…He’d tell Joanne that he’d quit if that’s what she wanted but he had see her again. His kids…John.

 

Smoke began to waft into his small chamber and Roy sat up carefully, not sure where the ceiling was. The last thing he needed was a concussion to go with the broken ankle. He struggled out of his turnout and jammed it against the small entrance to what could very easily become his tomb.

 

All he could now was wait…Wait until the fire passed and then hope that someone would come looking for him. He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes…Sleep quickly claimed him.

 

 

Johnny approached the tree. “ROY…” He called hopefully. There was no answer. “Please be here he whispered to himself as he turned and slipped through the narrow aperture. He was disappointed. It was empty. Smoke still hung in the air and the heat was intense.

 

He wiped the sweat from his face and let a wave of dizziness pass over him. “He was exhausted and in pain and he suspected he was dehydrated as well. He slumped down on the floor in defeat. His eyes burned with tears of failure and grief. He’d been so sure he’d find him here when he’d seen the tree.

 

The watery dark orbs spotted the small tunnel that led through to the tiny cavern beneath the mountain. Would Roy have gone in there? He’d been furious with John for doing so and Roy was a bit more claustrophobic than his young partner.

 

John chewed his lip. He had to know…He rubbed his rib cage…This wasn’t going to feel too good.  He put his face near the small opening. “RO…OY,” he yelled. He thought he heard something but it could have just been small rocks falling or even his imagination at this point.

 

Oh well…The only way to be sure was to look. He lay down on his uninjured side and began to push his way through the narrow tunnel. His hand suddenly encountered something cloth. It was heavy and rough.

 

Hope flooded through him once more…It was a turnout…He’d know the feel of it anywhere. He pushed it out of the way. “ROY,” he called again as his head cleared the tunnel.

 

A small moan answered him. Relief flooded through him. It was Roy and he was alive. John felt his ribs twinge warningly but he kept going…Pulling himself up beside his unconscious partner. He felt for his pulse. It was strong and steady and John almost wept in joy.

 

“Roy,” he called again.  The older man’s head turned toward him subtly but John knew he wasn’t awake. He felt his respirations. They were a bit shallow. He laid his head on Roy’s chest…Yes…There were rales there. They weren’t bad but he’d definitely breathed in some smoke. “Okay pally..,” he whispered. “Let’s get you… outta here,” he panted.

 

He grabbed his partner by the shoulders of the light navy coat and laid him down. His ribs throbbed in agony but there was no help for it. He had to get Roy out of here and into the fresh air and soon. They needed help…Both of them and it was sure bet that not to many of his friends could squeeze their way inside this small tunnel. He guessed Roy had barely made it giving the trouble he was having in hauling him back out. Of course that could be two broken ribs that impeded his progress as well, he mused.

 

John’s feet cleared the opening and he finally gave one final, mighty heave…Two things happened…Roy popped free and fell practically across his lap and John screamed in agony as his broken ribs shifted...He felt a tearing sensation through his chest.

 

The young man knew he was in deep trouble as he struggled to draw air. He’d punctured a lung… Oh God,” he whispered painfully as he tried to draw air. He needed to call for help…Before he couldn’t

 

He fished the misappropriated HT from his pocket and keyed the mic.  “Command Post…This is… John Gage,’ he breathed out in a bare whisper.

 

“We read you Gage…Are you alright?”

 

“Found…DeSoto…Alive… Need help. Top of Woodland Creek…Ridge. Hurry…Can’t breathe.”

 

John’s eyes closed. He didn’t hear Hanks voice as he responded. “We’re coming for you son…For both of you,” he said as tears welled in his eyes. He looked at the Chief. “He said he could find him…He was right.”

 

Conrad nodded.

 

 

Roy’s blue eyes finally cracked open. He felt a waft of fresh air blow across his face and turned his head. He wasn’t in the cave anymore…He was in the main entrance to the tree itself. How? He felt sick and he was afraid he was dehydrated but he turned his head and a gasp slipped from dry lips as he spotted his young partner. John was unconscious and breathing shallowly. “Johnny,” he gasped out as he pulled himself into an upright position. His fingers found John’s carotid and he hissed at the slow pulse. “What the hell are you doing here junior?” He whispered as he pulled the turnout aside to check him out. He laid his head on John’s chest. Definitely diminished breath sounds on the left side. “Oh man Johnny…What did you do?” He questioned, already knowing. His friend had willingly risked his life to find him and bring him home and he could now pay for it with his life if he didn’t get him some help…Soon.

 

He spotted the HT and grabbed it. He lifted it to his mouth but suddenly grew still as he heard voices. “JOHN….ROY…Can you hear us?”

 

Cap…It was cap. He knew it. “CAP…We’re here…CAP…We’re in the tree.”

 

He heard voices…Sounds of disbelief and then suddenly Cap’s head appeared. “Oh my God,” he whispered as he spotted the pair. “I don’t believe it…I’m very happy but I don’t believe it.”

 

“What is it cap? Mike’s voice questioned.

 

He pointed without answering. “Marco…Bring the axe,” he yelled.

 

Mikes head appeared next and a broad smile met the tired one of station 51’s senior paramedic. “Man…Am I glad to see you,” Stoker said with a grin as he slid inside.

 

“The feelings mutual Mike but we need to get Johnny out of here. I think he has a collapsed lung. Probably punctured it trying to pull me out of there,” he said pointing at the tiny hole.

 

“You’re joking?”

 

 Roy shook his head. “Any port in a storm Mike,” he replied.

 

They heard the thumping of the axe as they cleared away a bigger opening in the trunk of the tree. Soon a stokes was slid inside next to John. It was a tight squeeze and Mike was grateful that Johnny was unconscious…This was gonna hurt no matter how gentle they tried to be.

 

Roy grabbed the younger man’s feet as Mike lifted his shoulders. They lifted him into the basket. Mike strapped him in and dragged it to the opening before moving to the foot of it. Hands reached inside and pulled as Mike lifted. They gently dragged Johnny outside. Another basket appeared for Roy and the procedure was repeated.

 

Station 36’s paramedics were already on the Biophone as Roy was pulled clear of the tree. Jay Cameron had his scissors in hand. “Hey…,” Bob protested. “Don’t cut that…It’s mine,” Cameron looked at him in shock for a second but a grin spread over Bob’s face as he keyed the Mic. “But I guess it’s worth it…Pretty ingenious kid,” he said patting the young man’s shoulder.

 

“I’ll tell him you said so when he wakes up,” Roy assured him.

 

“Rampart base this is rescue 36.”

 

“Go ahead 36…”

 

“We have two code I’s Rampart…I repeat  TWO code I’s…One is Gage…The other is DeSoto.”

 

They didn’t hear it but there was a cheer at the base station at Rampart general hospital. “Well alright…Maybe I won’t kill him,” Kel murmured as Dixie and Joe grinned at him.

Cap and his crew watched as the ambulance pulled away. "First a bathtub...Then a tree. What's next Cap...A birdhouse?" Chet teased with a joyful twinkle in his eyes.

"As long as is isn't a coffin...I'll take any refuge they can get," he replied softly.

 

 

Roy and Johnny were both rushed into the emergency room… Both of them sporting IV’s for dehydration and John’s for administering more medication if the situation warranted it.

 

Kel began the exam on Johnny. “He’s got a collapsed lung…Get an OR standing by,” Kel barked. Dixie ran to the phone. He moved to Roy briefly…”Boy, am I glad to see you,” he said softly as he quickly checked the IV and then moved down to the ankle that was elevated on a small pillow.

 

“The feeling is mutual, believe me,” he replied. “What about Johnny?” He asked anxiously.

 

“One of those ribs shifted…Punctured his lung…We’ll get him fixed up Roy…Let’s just hope our young friend here doesn’t suffer any complications from it.”

 

“Kel…No OR available for almost an hour.”

 

“John can’t wait that long. Get Newman down here…Tell him we need to get a chest tube in John now.”

 

“Right away.”

 

“Joe…Get Orthopedics…We need to cast this ankle.”

 

“Got it…”

 

Things began to happen very quickly. A doctor Roy had never seen before burst into the room followed by another nurse. They quickly injected something into his IV line while Dixie helped the two doctors don their rubber gloves.

 

Roy looked up as two orderlies rushed in…They quickly unlocked the brakes on the gurney and he was wheeled out. His blue eyes strained for one final look at his injured partner before the door closed and blocked the view.

 

 

 

Joanne DeSoto paced anxiously by the phone. Just how long had Johnny been gone? It must have been when they’d gone upstairs with Chris because wither Eileen or she herself had been downstairs since then so he couldn’t have snuck past them. She glanced at her watch…By her calculations that would be at least…God six hours.

 

“Jo…Pacing around the house isn’t going to help them find Johnny any faster,” her sister said sensibly.

 

“I know…Good Lord Eileen…He could be dead too…”

 

“Johnny’s resilient,” she said ruefully.

 

“So was Roy,” she snapped back, then... “Sorry,” she apologized immediately at the hurt look on her sister’s face.

 

“It’s okay…I understand.”

 

“He did this for me…For us. The kids and me… He promised he’d bring Roy home to me every night and he’d felt like he failed us,” she whispered forlornly. “He was just trying to make it right…For us,” she wept, as tears began to roll down her cheeks.

 

The phone rang and Jo jumped. It was next to Eileen and Joanne was in no condition to talk to anyone right now. Her sister answered.

 

“DeSoto residence…Yes Miss McCall, this is her sister. WHAT? Are you sure…? Both of them?” A grin spread over Eileen’s face.  “We’ll be right there.”

 

She slammed the phone down. “Grab your purse Jo and I’ll get the kids…”

 

“What’s happened…Did they find Johnny?”

 

“Did they…? Heavens Jo that kid made it up to you in spades.”

 

“What are you talking about? Did he um…Did he find Roy’s…Body?” She said, hesitating on the last word.

 

“Better that that…He found Roy… alive.”

 

Jo swayed as if she might faint. “Are you sure?”

 

Eileen nodded and Jo flung herself into her sister’s arms and wept while Eileen held her tightly.

 

“I’ve gotta get to the hospital…I have to tell Roy how sorry I am…How much I love him.”

 

“Then let’s go,” she agreed as she raced up the stairs to get the kids.

 

 

Roy glanced at the clock repetitively for the last hour…Still no word on Johnny. He was tempted to pull his IV and go find the doctor if someone didn’t tell him what was happening soon.

 

The door finally swung open and Kel stepped inside. He smiled at Roy as he held the door for the two orderlies to wheel John Gage inside…Dixie was right behind them. They carefully transferred the sleeping man to the bed and departed. Dixie quickly and efficiently hooked Johnny to the EKG Monitor and then tucked the younger man in.

 

John was bare to the waist…A clear, narrow tube entered the chest cavity just below his armpit. Cardiac leads were stuck all over his chest and his breaths sounded a bit raspy but at least they weren’t gasping as they had been earlier.

 

Dixie smoothed the dark bangs from his forehead before kissing it lightly. “You’re gonna be okay tiger,” she whispered softly. She turned to Roy. “I called Joanne…She’s on her way.”

 

Roy nodded but he was a little afraid of her reaction to all of this. What if it was the last straw to tip her over the edge…What if she still wanted him to quit. He’d do it of course. He had no other option…He couldn’t go on without his wife and kids. Living apart but then…His eyes turned to the young man on the bed. How could he abandon this other very important member of his family who’d just almost killed himself to try and find his body…His body…They hadn’t even known he was alive.

 

Dear God…What would he do if she demanded that of him? He didn’t know.

 

“How is he?” He questioned worriedly.

 

“He’s stable Roy…We’ve re-inflated his lungs and we’ll leave that chest tube in for a day or two until we’re sure but…Johnny’s going to be fine unless he develops some kind of infection but we’ve started him on a broad spectrum antibiotic so I don’t think they’ll be any issues.”

 

“Oh thank God,” Jo’s voice came from the doorway.

 

Kel nodded at her. “I’ll come back a bit later…We’ll leave you two to talk.”

 

“Thanks Kel,” Jo said softly as she moved to John’s side.

 

Roy’s heart sank a bit…She hadn’t even looked at him but went straight to his young partner. “Thank you baby,” she whispered as she leaned down to kiss his cheek.

 

She finally turned to Roy. Tears streamed down her face… “Oh hell,” he mumbled softly as he swung his legs off the bed.

 

“What are you doing?” She asked as she ran the few steps that would bring her to his side.  He wrapped his arms around her.

 

“Jo…I’m so sorry I’ve been so stubborn and I just…I just want you to know…I’ll do whatever it takes to keep our marriage…If you want me to quit I will.”

 

“Oh honey…Thank you,” she whispered. Roy’s heart sank a bit and his eyes burned with tears as they moved to Johnny’s still form.

 

“I’ll turn in my resignation as soon as they let me out,” he mumbled softly as he moved to John’s bedside, pushing his IV stand ahead of him. Joanne moved to the other side. She watched the play of emotions that crossed his face as he looked down at his young friend.

 

Sorrow, worry, fear but the most obvious one was love. Jo smiled poignantly as her cool as a cucumber husband reached out to gently ruffle the sable hair.

“I’d rather you didn’t," she said. “How would I ever pay the bills if you don’t have a job?” She questioned with a smile.

 

Roy’s head jerked up. “What?”

 

“Thank you for the offer my love but I’ve reconsidered and I don’t think I’d love the man you’d become nearly as much as the one you already are. Besides who’d look after him,” she said with a nod toward Johnny.

 

“Are you sure? I know it scares you.”

 

“Yes…Yes it does but a rather bright young man pointed out that there no promises of tomorrow for any of us and that we need to live our life for today…To make the memories that will hold us even after that loved one has left us,” she said as she gazed into Roy’s blue eyes.”He told me that he’d have those to cherish and I want those Roy. I’d rather have those few days and have those memories than to have a lifetime without you in it at all…I learned the truth of that today…All that lost time to make up for.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“I’m sure…Who wants a miserable husband…Besides…How would we ever have figured out the custody of this one,” she said with a grin.

 

 “Every Wednesday and every other weekend,” he said softly.

 

Jo’s face paled. “You heard that?” Roy smiled and nodded. “How much did you hear?”

 

“All of it.”

 

“Oh…,” she blushed in embarrassment.

 

He grinned… “I also heard you say that you loved me and that’s the part that mattered.” She smiled at him. “Well…That and the fact that you think of Johnny as your baby brother.”

 

“Always will,” she said, letting her fingers trail through the dark hair. “You will bring him home to our house to recuperate won’t you.”

 

“Of course…Where else would he go?”

 

She smiled at him…"Nowhere else. He’s your partner and he’s family.”

 

“Mrs. Desoto…I don’t suppose you’d like to practice that lip locker you laid on Johnny with me would you?”

 

Neither of them noticed the dark eyes open as they leaned across the bed…Their mouths met in a long gentle kiss.

 

A small smile curled the corners of his mouth. Whatever repercussions he'd suffer for what he did would be worth it. He still had his partner…His family. The kids would have their dad. His friend’s marriage was once again on track. All was right in Johnny’s world despite the pain he was currently experiencing. He figured he'd have a long recovery but he also knew these two would be at his side throughout it. He’d have to wait a bit to find out just what he’d done to himself this time though…He had no intention of breaking this up.

 

He thought of Chet’s legendary phoenix…It wasn’t a bird or a fireman…It was this relationship…This marriage… It was the true phoenix…It had survived the fires and risen from the ashes…New and stronger to live again for eternity.

 

 

The End

 

Posted to site 03/03/12

*I'm sorry I couldn't resist the Star Trek Red shirt crack. For those of you are fans of that series you undertood the reference for those who aren't...Let's just say that any non main character who wore red on that show, you could usually about write them off for dead before the episode ended. Mr. Scott and Lt. Uhura were the exceptions.

 

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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