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Kel pushed the door open to Johnny’s room as the orderly’s made the transfer from gurney to bed. Brackett noted that Johnny was soundly sleeping and shot a glance at Morton. “I sedated him Kel…He was pretty shook up after Dixie all but attacked him in the treatment room.”
Kel shook his head and looked to Roy and Joanne. “I’m sorry…I sure hope she can get past this.”
“Me too…Cuz I’m telling you Doc…Something really strange happened last night and I’d sure like to know what but what I do know is that Johnny gave it everything he had today and as far as last night goes…He isn’t that irresponsible that he’d give an underage girl alcohol or get drunk himself while he was with her and I can’t believe he’d risk losing Dix over a night with her niece ya know?”
Kel nodded. “I’ve had my own suspicions as well Roy but I can’t say anything until they find Meghan’s body. Mike…Did you run a tox screen on Johnny?”
Morton shook his head in confusion. “No…Why would I?” He asked in concern.
Kel looked disappointed. “No reason I guess…,” he murmured figuring the tests were done and it was too late now and forgetting in all the chaos that Joe Early had already done that. He tossed the group a half hearted half smile.
“What are you looking for?” Jo asked suspiciously but Kel shook his head, unwilling to speculate and cast aspersions on the young, dead woman.
Kel shook his head evasively…“Let’s let Johnny get some sleep okay…?”
“Okay Kel,” he said looking a little confused.
“I have to get back to the station,” Roy said as he kissed his wife.
“I’ll stay a little longer,” she said softly as she glanced back at their young friend. “I don’t have to get home right away with Chris and Jen at my mom’s.”
Roy headed back to the station while Brackett returned downstairs…He spoke to Dr. Lewis from the burn ward briefly, shaking his head sadly at his news.
They were helping Dixie into a wheelchair as he entered her room. “So is John alright?” She asked snidely.
“He was pretty upset by what you said so Mike sedated him,” he told her, hoping to stir her usual protectiveness for the young fireman.
“Well I’m glad one of us get’s to sleep through the nightmare,” she said tossing Kel a forced smile.
“Let’s get you upstairs Dix,” he said, realizing she wasn’t going to relent with his attempt to let her know how badly she’d hurt the young man.
“They’re taking Joe up to the ICU,” he informed her, changing the subject.
“I’ll go see him tomorrow before I go home,” she said quietly. “What about Sam?”
Kel shook his head. “He didn’t make it.”
“Oh,” she whispered softly. “Kel…? Do they have any idea what caused the explosion?”
He shook his head. “The Fire Department is towing what’s left of the boat in. I’m sure they’ll figure it out.” Kel followed the group to the elevators and rode with them to Dixie’s room. He made sure she was settled before heading for home but not before making sure they would call him if there were any changes in John, Joe or Dixie.
Roy backed the squad into the station. He was met by Hank Stanley as he stepped out. The older man clapped his senior paramedic on the back as he closed the door. “How’s John?” He asked worriedly. “Headquarters called and told us he almost drowned?”
“He’ll be okay Cap…He’s sedated but his lungs sounded good so Morton will probably release him for duty in time for his next shift.”
“Great…So why did he need to sedate him?”
“It’s a long story Cap.”
“Well then, why don’t we go get a cup coffee while you tell us what happened?”
Roy nodded and followed his Captain to the rec room where the rest of the crew was finishing lunch. “Here Roy,” Mike said setting a plate in front of him.
“How’s Johnny?” Marco asked before Chet could.
“Physically…He’ll be okay. Coughed up most of the water in the helicopter and he was breathing okay when I left.”
“Physically…?” Hank questioned.
“Yeah Cap…Dixie, her niece, Joe Early and Dr. Brackett were on that boat.”
“Oh good Lord,” Hank muttered. “Is everyone okay?”
Roy shook his head. “No Cap…Joe Early has a fractured skull, Dixie dislocated her shoulder and…We uh…We lost Dixie’s niece,” he said sadly.
“WHAT? Oh my God no,” he mumbled.
“She blamed Johnny,” he added looking at his still full plate.
“WHY?” Chet gasped in shock. The other’s looked equally surprised as they were all well aware of her fondness for the young, dark haired paramedic.
“Dixie was struggling…Trying to hang on, ya know? Meghan seemed okay at the time so Johnny went to get the Captain of the vessel who was badly injured too and then went for Dix…”
“Okay…That’s what he’s trained to do.”
“Yeah well…Dixie told him to get Meghan and Johnny told her no…That Meghan was okay and he got Dix back to the basket and then…,” Roy scrubbed his hands through his blonde hair in frustration. “I don’t know what happened. One minute she was there and the next…They were both gone.”
The others exchanged a worried glance. John hated water rescues but he was a strong swimmer but then they also knew he hadn’t been feeling well that morning so it was possible he might have run out of steam quicker and went under. “Keep goin Pal,” Cap urged.
“I dove down but it was pretty tough to see much…Between the helicopter’s rotors and the explosion of the boat…It was pretty churned up but…The second time I went under I spotted Johnny. He couldn’t make it back to the surface and he just went limp…I grabbed him and brought him up but Meghan was gone.”
“Oh man,” Marco muttered.
“Miss McCall must be pretty devastated,” Mike added.
“And she blamed Johnny because he couldn’t find her in all of that?” Cap asked incredulously.
Roy shook his head. “No…Because she told him to get her first and he didn’t and because she was already mad at him from last night.”
“What happened last night…I mean other than the fact that John got sick?” Chet asked.
“I guess Meghan claims that Johnny slept with her?
Their mouths dropped open in surprise. John hadn’t mentioned that part. “Claims…? Did John deny it?” Cap asked.
“That’s the problem Cap…He doesn’t remember any of it.”
“Nothing…He can’t remember if he was in bed with this chick?” Chet asked incredulously. “That doesn’t sound like Gage?”
“No…No it doesn’t,” Hank said worriedly.
“What does he remember?” Marco asked.
“Nothing from about nine thirty last night until he woke up this morning…Then Dixie jumps all over him about letting Meghan get drunk and sleeping with her.”
Hanks eyebrow started climbing with Roy’s first word and by the time he was finished it was practically in his hairline. “Wow…Just what do you suppose happened last night?”
Roy shook his head. “I’ve got my suspicions Cap but I don’t know for sure.”
“Like maybe Johnny was drugged.”
“By who…?” Chet asked.
“And why?” Mike finished.
Roy shrugged. “I don’t know…Maybe it wasn’t intentional…Maybe the waitress gave him something by accident…I just don’t know.”
“What about Meghan…Where did she get the alcohol?”
“I don’t know…I don’t know but I know John wouldn’t have given it to her and I know he wouldn’t have done it to take advantage of her either. He was devastated today Cap but he said that he just couldn’t risk losing Dixie so he went for her first.”
The others looked worried. “I’ll bet…,” he said softly. “John’s way too sensitive not to take anything she said to heart besides from what you said...His training would have forced him to go for the most seriously injured.”
They all nodded as the Station Control Unit began to tone… “Station 51…Structure fire…”
Dawn was still an hour or so away when nightmare’s invaded John’s drug induced sleep. His head tossed restlessly as he fought past the drugs in his bloodstream.
His Aunt’s dark eyes as she shook him…Her hand lashing out to slap the sensitive, frightened face staring up at her in confusion. “Why were you ever born? What a curse you’ve been to this family…You should have died instead of her but no…You had to be the one to live. Now I’m stuck with you,” she shrieked as she rained blows down on his small body.
He raised his hands defensively to protect his face but when he looked again the face had changed…his Uncle Joseph stood swaying before him…His hand held a bottle of whiskey which had been normal for him lately. John’s nose wrinkled in revulsion at the smell.
“I loss ma place to…day boy…No longer Second Chief…I’m nothin and ya know why?” He slurred drunkenly. “Cuz a you…My crazy nephew,” he rasped out. He shook the bottle at the boy, failing to mention that the booze in his hand was the actual cause of his dismissal and now he’d have to go back to working the ranch like the others. “You’re gonna be just like me boy…Nothin…a failure,” he snarled throwing the whiskey bottle at him.
John grunted in pain as it struck his shoulder. He backed away from the drunken man. Usually the alcohol seemed to bury the man’s pain but today it had only increased his rage. “We’d be better off if you were dead,” he yelled as the blows fell.
He raised frightened brown eyes to meet soft blue… ‘You failed…You let her drown…Your fault.’ The well known and usually fond voice had railed angrily.
‘I’d traces places if I could,’ he’d said.
‘Well I wish you could too,’ she’d replied.
John’s heart was breaking as his eyes snapped open. He gasped in a breath…The combination of drugs in his system leaving him confused and unsteady. God…What was he gonna do? Dixie hated him. She’d wished he was dead just like they had. He’d give anything to bring Meghan back but he couldn’t. He remembered the folklore of some of the Indian peoples and shook his head. He’d never believed in the sacrificing of one soul to restore another…though some did but today he wished he could. John’s father had instilled in him that his actions were his own…Right or wrong…No one else but you could pay for them and only you could live with them or not.
He sat up slowly and swung his feet over the edge of the bed. He tugged a robe on and made his way to the door. He peeked into the empty hallway and made his way to the stairs. He felt trapped and he needed some fresh air. He started up the stairs.
The phone in the dorm rang and Hank climbed to his feet and staggered to the desk still half asleep. “Station 51…Captain Stanley speaking,” he answered sleepily…It didn’t last long.
“WHAT?” He barked in shock after a long moment. “Hold on I’ll get him. ROY?” He yelled, not caring if he woke the others.
It didn’t matter, the others were all awake anyway. Roy ran to the phone, still clad only in his boxers and tee shirt. “What is it Cap.”
“It’s Johnny…He was missing when they checked on him a little while ago…They found him on the roof.”
What? Is he okay?”
“Dr. Brackett wants to talk to you.”
Roy snatched the phone. “Doc…Wants goin on? Is Johnny okay?”
“Slow down Roy…Johnny’s fine at the moment but…Well…He’s not responding to the security guards and he’s sitting right on the edge of the roof. Frankly we’re a little afraid to get too close and startle him. Can you come?”
“I’ll be right there,” he promised as he slammed the phone down.
“What’s going on?” Chet asked worriedly. Fear for Johnny written in his blue eyes.
“He left his room…He’s on the roof and they’re…,” Roy shook his head. “They’re afraid he’ll…” he hesitated.
“Johnny wouldn’t jump?” Hank said worriedly.
Roy remembered his partner’s words from when they’d first become partner’s. ‘I won’t do it pally and I never will…My parent’s would be so disappointed in me.”
“No…No I don’t think he would…Not on purpose anyway but he was pretty confused and Morton sedated him…If he’s still drugged…?”
They shook their heads worriedly. “I’ll call it in Roy…Let’s go guy’s…Johnny needs us.”
Johnny walked out onto the roof. He was winded from the long upward climb not to mention his abused lungs and the drugs that still ran through his system. He felt funny and a bit detached from his own body. He moved to the edge and sat down…Staring out over the sea of darkness dotted with tiny yellow lights moving through the blackness. Los Angeles…A city that never slept completely…Always on the go.
Johnny was comfortable here. He was well accustomed to sitting on the edge of the cliffs of the San Gabriel Mountains while he contemplated his life and this wasn’t that much different. He thought back to his nightmares. They’d wished he was dead…He looked over the edge as the thought crossed his mind.
He’d told Roy he’d never take his own life…That his parents would be disappointed in him…Heck so would Roy and Joanne but for a brief moment it flitted through his confused brain. ‘Just lean forward’…A little voice whispered. It would solve everything…Take away the pain…Make Dix happy, it whispered again.
But it wouldn’t change the fact that he’d failed…That Meghan was dead because he hadn’t gotten the job done. How would the blonde nurse…A friend that he cared deeply for, ever forgive him? He’d meant it when he’d said he’d trade places…Sacrifice himself to bring her back if he could but he couldn’t and while he knew it in his head his heart was still breaking for the pain his friend was suffering because of him.
What could he do to change it? He looked out into the darkness once again…No…It wouldn’t bring her back but…Would Dixie be glad…Probably, he thought despondently…he was just so confused.
‘Coward,’ His Aunts voice taunted in his head.
‘Failure,’ his Uncle’s followed.
Man he couldn’t even do this right. “I’m so sorry Dix,” he whispered miserably.
The wind blew in his face and he felt the coolness and let it sweep over him. His eyes closed in sorrow and grief as the grayness tried to crash in but John pushed back…He couldn’t run from this, couldn’t hide. He needed Roy…Maybe he should go down and call him?
He was so immersed in his contemplation that he never heard the steps behind him or the voices calling his name quietly until one voice penetrated his fogged brain. “God Junior…Please don’t do this.”
Roy ran out onto the roof…The station crew was close behind. Brackett and two security men as well as Vince Howard stood watching the younger man as he sat slightly rocking…cross legged near the edge. Brackett looked at him worriedly. “They called me as soon as they realized he was gone. Security found him up here before I got here…We’ve called him a couple of times but he won’t respond.”
Roy nodded and stepped hesitantly toward his partner. “God Junior, please don’t do this,’ he said softly.
Johnny started at the sound of his voice, teetering precariously for a moment and Roy sucked in his breath fearfully. John turned to look up at his friend and Roy could see the drugged appearance of John’s eyes. Did he even know where he was? He wondered. “Roy,” he murmured tiredly. “I w…wan…ted to call you.”
The older man edged closer to him. “Um…Johnny…I’m gonna come over there and sit next to you…Is that okay?”
John frowned at the worried tone. “Sure Roy,” he agreed softly. The blonde paramedic breathed a sigh of relief. If John was letting him come over there then he probably wasn’t planning on jumping. He still approached him cautiously just in case and lowered himself to the rooftop next to him.
He reached out to place a rescue hold on John’s wrist. The dark eyes glanced down in confusion for a moment before lifting to lock with his friends blue. “I’m not jumping if that’s what you think,” he said softly.
The other men watching breathed a sigh of relief at the quietly spoken words. “You had us a bit worried there Junior,” Roy explained gently as his hand lifted to brush the windblown, sable hair from John’s eyes.
“I thought about it,” he admitted but then shrugged. “I guess I can’t get that right either,” he said barely audible.
“Takes more guts to live with the pain then to end it that way Junior,” he reassured him.
“Maybe,” he agreed softly as he looked away.
Roy let his hand slide around to cup John’s chin. “Look at me Junior,” he said forcing John’s head up. “You’ve got to let this go. You didn’t do anything wrong and Dixie will realize it in time okay.”
“I made a bad decision and Meghan’s dead because of it.”
“Johnny…You made a choice and sometimes for us, there is no right or wrong. We just have to go with our instincts and our training…You know that…Dixie was closest and she was the one showing signs of being in trouble and your training told you get her first.”
“I couldn’t let her drown,” he whispered with a hitched breath. “I couldn’t lose her.”
“It wasn’t a wrong decision…Sometimes we do have to sacrifice one to save the other. Heck you might have lost both of them if you’d gone to Meghan first. You did everything right and I’m sorry that Meghan is gone and that Dixie’s in pain but it’s not your fault and sacrificing yourself now isn’t gonna bring her back or change what happened today,” he pressed as tears welled and rolled down the younger man’s cheeks. John scrubbed them away as Roy continued. “And it won’t make it any less the right decision.”
“She wished I was dead,” he whispered in obvious distress.
Roy pulled John into his arms as his young partner finally broke. He felt his shoulders shake as he wept in sorrow. “It’s gonna be alright junior…Dixie will realize it in time too…Let it go Johnny” His chin rested on top of the dark head as his hand stroked the sable hair and neither of them noticed the crew, Vince and Brackett wiping tears of their own away as they watched the gentle display.
John finally grew still and the hitched breaths began to even out. “C’mon Johnny…Its cold up here… Let’s get you back into bed my friend okay?” Roy felt the dark head nod against him.
Roy helped him climb to his feet. John wobbled unsteadily but as usual his friend’s strong hand was there holding him securely. John’s eyes finally took in the others and he blushed in embarrassment that the entire scene had been witnessed. "I'm sorry...I didn't mean to cause so much trouble."
"It's okay Junior...As long as you're alright."
His eyes dropped to the rooftop as Roy led him past the others. The security team glanced at Brackett. “I want one of you outside his door until I release him…Just in case.” They nodded as they followed the others down the stairs to the elevator.
“Um Roy…We’re gonna head back to the station…I’ll stand the squad down for the rest of the night…Why don’t you stay with John.”
“Thanks Cap,” Roy agreed with a nod. The others gave Roy and Johnny a gentle pat as they left the elevator and led his tired and very embarrassed partner back to his room.
John let Roy help him into bed and didn’t protest as Brackett ordered another dose of Lorazepam. He was asleep within minutes as the older man’s finger’s gently stroked across his brow.
Roy frowned angrily. He hoped Dixie would realize that Meghan’s death wasn’t John’s fault soon. He didn’t want a repeat of tonight and Johnny had admitted that he’d thought about it. He didn’t know what had changed his mind but he was grateful.
He’d get John home to his house tomorrow and let the young man rest and be thoroughly spoiled by Joanne. Maybe all he needed was time to think and the love of his family around him to help him through this…At least he hoped so.
Kel pushed the door open to Dixie’s room the next morning…She was sitting up in bed, her blue eyes staring emptily out the window. “Good morning Dix,” the dark haired doctor greeted quietly.
She turned her head toward him. “Is it?” She questioned softly.
“The sun is shining and the sky is such a pretty blue,” he replied, looking out the window where she’d just been gazing.
“And Meghan is still out there in the ocean somewhere and she can’t see it any longer. It’s not so great,” she muttered.
Brackett sighed dispiritedly. “I know,” he said softly.
She looked up at him. “What are you doing here so early for anyway?”
“I came to take you home and check on Joe.”
“At this time of the morning and after yesterday? I figured you’d be exhausted.”
“I went home…I uh…Came back a couple of hours ago.”
“Oh?” She questioned.
Kel nodded as he helped her to her feet and handed her a pair of scrubs. “Best I could do on short notice,” he teased as he turned his back to the pretty blonde.
“Thanks but what brought you back?” She asked worriedly, hoping something hadn’t happened to Early. “Is Joe okay?”
“Joe’s doing better. He still hasn’t woken up yet but he seems to be responding to pain but Um…Well actually it was Johnny that brought me back.”
Her mouth set into a tight line. “What about him?” She asked as she pulled the scrub pants on under her gown. She struggled a bit one handed but finally managed to get them around her slender waist.
“He disappeared from his room early this morning…We uh…Found him on the roof.”
Dixie whirled around looking a bit shocked. “What was he doing up there?”
Kel shrugged. “Thinking I guess. Dix…He’s really upset about all this…Maybe if you could…”
She held up her hand to stop his words. “Don’t ask me to forgive him Kel,” she snarled as she sat in the wheelchair. Kel pushed it out into the hallway and down to the elevators. Neither of them spoke as there were several other people with them but Kel continued as the doors opened and he pushed her out the doors.
“Dixie please…You’ve got to let this go. It’s tearing Johnny apart.”
“Good…It should be.”
Kel frowned angrily, wishing he could prove his suspicions. “That’s not fair Dix…He did his job and you’re still alive…”
Her mouth tightened angrily. “Maybe we’d both be alive if he’d done his job,’ she growled. “I’ll never forgive him,” she swore vehemently.
There was a slight gasp and Kel turned to see Roy and Johnny as they came around the corner. The older man’s blue eyes blazed with anger but the younger ones dark eyes were filled with grief.
Roy woke only an hour or so after he’d gotten Johnny back to bed. He glanced over to be sure his partner was still sleeping. John was stirring restlessly and Roy was concerned that the emotional upheaval yesterday had brought back John’s nightmares from his past.
His suspicions were confirmed at the frightened moan that slipped from the young man’s lips. His head tossed and Roy climbed tiredly to his feet…His hand coming to rest against his friend’s cheek. “Johnny?” He called urgently, giving him a light slap.
The dark eyes snapped open and John bolted upright in the bed but Roy was ready for him. He caught his shoulders and held him until his partner finally realized exactly where he was. “ROY,” he gasped in fear, before his face flushed at having been caught in a nightmare by his best friend yet again.
Roy decided to appear as if nothing unusual had occurred. “Good morning junior,” he said quietly as he eased him back against his pillow.
“Morning,” he mumbled.
“Are you feeling better?”
Johnny nodded…The fuzziness he’d experienced from the day before was gone and there was only a lingering feeling of nausea and a headache. He was tired and he just wanted to sleep but the dreams plagued him every time he tried. “I’ll be okay,” he said softly, though he clearly wasn’t.
Roy sat on the edge of the bed and even knowing it would embarrass his young friend he reached out to brush the dark hair back. “You don’t look okay. You look tired.”
There was another nod. “I am…A little,” he answered honestly as he turned his face away.
“Please don’t shut me out junior?” the blonde paramedic pleaded.
John turned his face toward Roy. “I just wanna go home.”
“You wanna talk about why you were on the roof this morning?”
Johnny shook his head. “I just needed some fresh air…I wanted to think.”
Everything that happened yesterday…I’m just really confused. I don’t know what happened. I can’t remember the night before and I screwed up.”
“You didn’t screw up,” Roy argued.
“You don’t know that…I was tired…I didn’t feel well. Maybe if I’d just gone home she’d be alive…”
“Johnny…I was there too…I saw you. You went under three times trying to find her. You’d already worn yourself out with the boat Captain and Dixie. You were swimming hard…C’mon John…You gave it everything you had.”
“It wasn’t enough,” he whispered. “Dixie hates me.”
“Johnny…She doesn’t. She’ll get over it in time…”
John held up his hand and rolled his head away. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore okay…I just wanna go home.”
“Okay,” Roy agreed with a sigh. “Brackett was here a little while ago. He said you could go when you woke up…But he also said no more rooftops alright?”
John’s face flushed crimson. “Alright.”
Roy helped him get dressed and patted the wheelchair that was parked in the corner of the room. “Let’s go Junior.”
John sighed at having to be wheeled out like an invalid but he sat, figuring he’d only lose the battle anyway. It was easier to humor the man.
Roy brought him downstairs. “I’m gonna just park you at the curb and go find my car. Chet and Marco brought it by this morning when they got off shift. They said to tell you they’d see you tomorrow at the station.”
John nodded. He wished they didn’t have such an odd schedule this week…He could have used the extra day off. Roy spotted Brackett at the entrance doors but he couldn’t see who he was with. Roy wanted to ask him about Joe Early and he picked up the pace a bit to try and catch him. He came up behind him and almost sucked in his breath as he realized it was Dixie with him.
He started to turn the chair, trying to come up with a reason to take Johnny back to the doctor’s lounge but it was too late. The angry words carried back to John’s sensitive ears.
“Dixie please…You’ve got to let this go. It’s tearing Johnny apart.”
“Good…It should be.”
Kel frowned irately. “That’s not fair Dix…He did his job and you’re still alive…”
Her mouth tightened angrily. “Maybe we’d both be alive if he’d done his job,’ she growled. “I’ll never forgive him,” she swore vehemently.
They both heard the slight gasp and turned to see the crushed look in the dark eyes. “I…I’m s…so s…sorry,” he whispered.
John bolted from the chair and slipped past Dixie and out the door before Roy could stop him. He cast the nurse one cold glance… “I hope you’re satisfied?” He growled as he brushed past the couple and took off after his partner.
Dixie turned her blue eyes on Kel. “I didn’t know he was there,” she said coolly.
“Would it have mattered if you had?” Brackett asked sarcastically.
“Don’t defend him Kel…He slept with my niece,” she said with tears in her eyes. “And now I have to go home and call my brother and tell him his little girl is dead…Dead because of John Gage…Because he didn’t care…”
“Dead because the damn boat exploded Dixie,” Kel interrupted in a growl. “Are you gonna blame that on Johnny too?”
“Of course not,” she snapped back. “But…”
“But nothing…This was not his fault Dix and you know it.” She turned away in a huff and crossed her arms over her chest. “What has you the angriest Dix? That he couldn’t save her or that he went to bed with her?” Kel asked sarcastically. She spun around to glare up at him.
“Are you going to take me home or not?” She snapped.
Kel sighed. “I’ll be right back.”
Roy ran into the parking lot…His eyes scanned the area. How far could he have gone in just those few seconds? He walked down a row of parked cars and spotted him sitting on the curb. His knees were drawn to his chin with his arms wrapped about them.
He glanced up with sorrowful dark eyes as he heard Roy’s feet scrape against the pavement. “I didn’t have anywhere to go,” he said quietly as Roy came to sit beside him.
The older man’s shoulder bumped his. “Can I give you a lift?”
John nodded as he rested his head against his knees. “What am I gonna do Roy? She hates me…She’ll never forgive me.”
Roy reached over to lay his arm over John’s shoulders. “That’s grief junior…Never is a long time and it’s real easy to say it in anger.”
John’s head moved a fraction but it was obvious he didn’t believe it. He’d lost a good friend and his heart was broken along with his confidence. He’d always been so sure of being a fireman and he knew he had his insecure moments in his past but he pretty sure he was good at what he did but now those doubts were wriggling in his mind.
The words Dixie and his family uttered burned in his heart and soul. Failure…It wouldn’t be so bad if other people’s lives weren’t in his hands but they were. They wished he was dead…He knew his family had meant it…Did Dix? He’d give his life if it would bring her niece back if he could.
He felt Roy’s hand rub his back and finally lifted his head. “Guess we better go huh?” he said quietly.
“Yeah…” Roy stood and offered his hand to his partner. John squinted up at him for a second before he reached out and took it, letting Roy pull him to his feet. “You wanna go back to my house?” He asked.
John shook his head. “I wanna go home Roy…I’m tired.”
“I hate leaving you alone,” Roy said gently.
“I’ll be okay…I’ll probably just go back to bed anyway.” Roy nodded and they went to find his car. He dropped Johnny off at his apartment a short time later.
“Stay off the roof junior,” Roy said as John climbed from the vehicle.
He shrugged. “Didn’t help solve anything anyway…It still hurt,’ he said quietly. Roy frowned, still worried about his friend. He didn’t like the idea of leaving John alone at all but what could he do. John turned with a half hearted wave and headed for the stairs to his apartment.
Kel opened the door and let Dixie precede him into the apartment. “Are you going to be okay?” He asked quietly.
She turned to look up at him. “I will be. I just have to make this call. I…I just don’t know what to say. I don’t even know for sure that she’s…,” she halted, unable to say the word and make it a certainty.
Kel nodded. “You want me to stay?”
“No…I guess this is something I have to do alone,” she said softly.
“Alright Dix…Take the next few days okay? We’ll find someone to fill in for you.”
She shook her head. “And do what? Sit here and think about it? I’m better off at work,” she argued.
“Alright Dix…If that’s what you want but you call me if you change your mind.”
“I was supposed to be off the day after tomorrow anyway. Meghan and I were going…,” she stopped as tears welled. “I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.”
Kel kissed her forehead, knowing Dixie would brush off his attempts to console her right now…Later…Later he knew she’d need him and he’d be there. “I’ll see you later. Try and get some sleep.”
She nodded and closed the door behind him as he left. She wandered through the apartment. She picked up Meghan’s coat that she’d dropped over the chair last night and carried it to the spare bedroom. She stood looking at the disheveled bed and the clothes strewn about the room from her date last night.
Tears welled. She knew she was being unfair to some degree with Johnny…But he’d let her down. Kel was right…He hadn’t caused the boat to explode but how could he have betrayed her trust like that and then just let Meghan drown. ‘He didn’t LET her drown,’ a small voice argued…It just happened.
She heard Kel’s voice. ‘What bothers you most Dix? That he couldn’t save her or that he went to bed with her?’ Was that really what made her so angry?
She saw Meghan standing in the doorway with a flippant smirk… ‘Jealous Aunt Dix…?’ She’d taunted.
Was she? Dixie shook her head. Of course she wasn’t…John was young enough to be her son and besides she was in love with Kel and that would never change but still…Was she a bit territorial when it came to Johnny as well? That he’d somehow betrayed her that way and with her own niece?
She pushed the thought away… “Ridiculous,” she growled out loud to herself. She yanked the sheets off the bed and carried them to the small closet that housed her own washer and dryer and stuffed them in…Taking her anger out on the soft linen. She slammed the lid and let the tears flow.
After a long while she started the machine and wiped the tears away. She needed to pack up Meghan’s things to return to her brother but that would have to wait…She couldn’t bring herself to do it now…Besides…She needed to call David and tell him that his little girl was dead.
Kel returned to Rampart after dropping Dixie off. He headed upstairs to the ICU to check on Joe. He saw Dr. Wenkert as he came out of the room. “Phil?” He called, drawing the man’s attention.
“Oh Kel…Glad I caught you. Joe’s EEG looks pretty good…So do the X-Rays. No bleed and his patterns are all good.”
“Why hasn’t he woken up yet?”
“Still took a pretty good crack on the head and he still has a hairline fracture besides…He’s not as young as he used to be. He could use the beauty sleep,” he said with a laugh. Kel chuckled as well. He needed a bit of good news. “But if you tell him I said so…I’ll deny it,” Wenkert added as he patted Kel on the shoulder and left.
Kel made his way to his friend’s side. “Hey Joe…I sure wish you’d wake up. I need someone to bounce a few things off of, you know?” He said quietly as he patted the older man’s hand. The blue eyes remained closed and Kel gave him a half grin. “That’s okay Joe…I guess you deserve a rest.”
Mike Morton glanced up as Kel returned to the base station a short time later. “Morning Kel…How’s Dixie and Joe this morning?”
“Joe’s making some progress,” he said with a wry smile. “But he still hasn’t woken up?”
“Oh,” the young black doctor said dismally. “And Dix?”
“Still grieving…Still blaming Johnny for what happened.”
Morton shook his head. “I don’t understand Kel…She loves Gage…I mean I’ve never understood the attraction,” he teased, “But I know how she feels about him.”
Kel nodded. “I know Mike…She’ll remember it too when she’s through grieving.”
“On that note Kel…Um…The Coast Guard called to talk to you?”
“About what…?” The older man asked anxiously.
“They uh…They found Meghan’s body.”
Kel looked down at the floor with pursed lips. “She’s dead then?”
Mike nodded sympathetically. “They’re taking her to the morgue for an autopsy.”
Kel heaved a sigh. “I guess I better call Dix then…She’ll want to know.”
“What about Gage?”
Kel shook his head, “Might be more than he can handle right now but I’ll let Roy know…See how he wants to deal with him.”
Johnny lay in bed for a long time before sleep claimed him but it was anything but a peaceful slumber. He tossed and turned restlessly for hours before giving up. He climbed from the bed and padded barefoot to the kitchen.
Surprisingly, he really wasn’t that hungry considering that he hadn’t eaten since he’d lost his lunch the day before. He poked in the refrigerator for a minute before giving up. There wasn’t that much in there and nothing that appealed to him anyway right now.
He pinched the bridge of his nose and rubbed his forehead in aggravation. His head was still hurting but it was no match for the pain in his heart.
He sat heavily on his sofa, running his hands over his face and through his hair in hurt confusion. What the hell was he gonna do? Dixie hated him…She’d made it very clear that she wasn’t about to forgive him though Roy assured him that she would in time. John shook his head…It didn’t seem likely.
He still couldn’t remember the events from the night before and that worried him. Like Roy…Johnny was very aware that he suffered from occasional blackouts from having ASD but he hadn’t been under any kind of emotional stress and that was the only thing that usually brought it on.
He shook his head at his failure…Why did everything in his life turn out so wrong for him? Why did he always seem to lose the people he cared about…One way or another? Tears of frustration burned behind his eyes.
“Damn it,” he swore softly, pushing himself to his feet. He needed to get out of here…Take a walk and clear his head but he knew that nothing would clear the pain from his heart.
He returned to his room and threw a tee shirt and shoes on before grabbing his keys and leaving his apartment. He walked up the street…Hands jammed into his pockets and head down for quite a while.
The sound of laughter and music brought his head up and he glanced inside the open door. He looked up at the sign above him. ‘THE MINT LOUNGE...’ He hesitated…Maybe a beer would help relax him enough to finally get some sleep.
He went inside and found an empty stool at the end of the bar and sat down. The Bartender gave him a quick glance and headed over. “What can I get for you?” He asked eyeing the young man.
“Just a beer,” John replied quietly. The man’s gray eyes swept over him assessingly before he drew a mug from the tap and set it before John. “Thanks,” the younger man mumbled, grateful for not being carded for once but he remembered his irritation with another bartender for serving Meghan the other night.
Meghan…John slumped in his seat. He couldn’t believe the pretty, young girl was gone. Was it his fault? Roy said it wasn’t but Dixie still blamed him. What if he’d just stayed home yesterday instead of trying to work? Would she still be alive? Would a different paramedic have been able to save both of them?
He sighed uncertainly, staring morosely into his glass. A hand suddenly appeared before him, setting a shot of whiskey on the counter.
John looked over at the man sitting next to him. A smile creased the older, gray haired man’s face. “You look like you could use this son,” he said with a grin.
John shook his head with a crinkle of his nose and the man laughed at his reaction, slapping Johnny off the back. The younger man shifted subtly away from the too familiar gesture from this stranger. “No thanks,” he mumbled quietly.
“Cures the blues,” he assured him.
John gave the man a doubtful half smile in return. They’d certainly never cured his blues, they’d only made them worse…His uncles had been twice as violent when they’d been drinking, though he had to admit that once they’d had enough to get past being mean and using him for a punching bag, they’d certainly seemed to feel no pain…They’d left it all with him and the crew from 48’s had definitely seemed to enjoy it.
The man picked up his glass and half raised it in mock salute to Johnny. The younger man bit his lip uncertainly…Not sure if he could get past the smell of the stuff that usually made his stomach turn and finally shrugged. “Oh what the hell,” he muttered as he picked up his own.
The gray haired man grinned and tapped his glass against John’s. “That’s the spirit kid,” he teased as he quickly tossed the drink back and then smiled at John in anticipation.
Johnny frowned and licked his lips hesitantly… afraid he’d throw up and thoroughly embarrass himself. He drew in a deep breath and copied the man’s nonchalant gesture.
His eyes flew open and began to water furiously as the whiskey burned a trail all the way to his stomach. He began to choke and his face turned red with the effort to breath. The man slapped him hard off the back until his cough turned into a sputtering wheeze.
Tears spilled from his eyes and he gasped in air as his new friend laughed. “Shoulda warned you about that I guess,” he said apologetically. “Stuff bites back.”
Johnny nodded his agreement as he gasped for breath, too shocked to even notice the man’s hand resting on his back. He finally began to breathe normally and wiped at his tear streaked face, noticing for the first time that a warm glow was spreading through his belly.
The man held his hand out to John. “Tony,” he introduced himself.
John grinned, looking a bit sheepish and shook it. “John,’ he said quietly.
“I’ve never seen you around here, so what brings you in here kid?” He asked curiously.
John shrugged. “Nowhere else to go right now,” he mumbled.
Tony looked at him searchingly and waved at the bartender. A moment later two more drinks were set in front of them. John looked at him in shock and shook his head. “It’s easier with the second one,” he assured him. John sipped his beer but eyed the small shot glass warily. “So what do you do kid?” He asked curious about what had this young man in such a funk.
“I’m a paramedic,” he replied but his face reflected a deep sorrow, remembering what had brought him here. “But not a very good one,” he mumbled, starting to feel the first effects of the shot.
Tony frowned. “Why do you say that John…?” He asked, figuring that whatever had brought this young man down had also brought him in here to drown his sorrows.
“I killed a girl yesterday,” he murmured.
Tony’s mouth dropped open in shock. “Um…Like literally?” He asked, looking a little worried.
John’s brown eyes flicked toward him and he grinned ruefully at the nervous look in the man’s eyes. “She drowned…I couldn’t save her.”
“Then it was an accident?” He questioned in relief.
John shrugged. “I shoulda had her man…I went for someone else and by the time I went to get her she went under and I couldn’t find her.”
The man patted John’s shoulder understandingly. “That sucks kid but it was still an accident,” he said.
“I shouldn’t have been working. I was sick and I shoulda gone home…Maybe someone else coulda got to her in time,” he whispered. “Her aunt blamed me…She said I killed her.”
“That’s rough,” he commiserated as he pushed the shot glass toward him. “Go ahead kid…Kills the pain.”
John arched an eyebrow at him disbelievingly, remembering the burn of the whiskey as it went down. He looked at the amber liquid and pursed his lips. It was almost a punishment to drink this stuff and he finally picked up the glass and shot a glance at Tony. The older man threw him a grin. He heard the words of his uncle flit through his brain. “You’ll never be anything…Just a poor drunk Indian.” Maybe he was right.
John once again held his breath and tossed the drink back. A look of distaste crossed his face and his eyes squeezed shut for a minute as he coughed and sputtered, grimacing in revulsion. He opened his eyes and Tony laughed at the look on the younger man’s face. “You look like my grandson when his mom makes him eat broccoli,” he teased.
John grinned wanly but the fire finally petered out to a spreading warmth. The alcohol combined with an empty stomach working more quickly than it normally would. He felt a bit lightheaded.
Tony grinned at the much more mellow look on the kids face and waved the bartender over. He set down another round and John smiled. Was there one glass or two?
Tony lifted his own glass in a toast and John joined him, hardly coughing at all this time. Johnny was starting to feel a bit woozy but he had to admit that Tony was right…He was starting to feel a little better about…About…? Why had he come here? Oh yeah…Meghan and Dixie.
John didn’t notice the group of men sitting at a table a short distance away. They were watching him in concern and after the fourth shot slid easily down his throat, one stood up and headed for the back of the bar where the pay phone hung on the wall. He fed in a dime and started dialing.
John set the fifth glass down on the counter and lazily blinked his eyes. Well he’d accomplished his goal…He was definitely not feeling as bad as he had when he came in here.
He felt a presence standing at his shoulder and glanced up into frowning blue eyes. John gave his friend a lopsided grin. “Hey pal…ly,’ he slurred happily.
“Evening Junior,” he replied.
John waved his hand airily toward the man sitting next to him. “I…I wan ya ta me…meet…Uh…Tony,” he said after a brief hesitation as he tried to remember the man’s name. “Tony…This is…This is my um…Partner Roy.” The blonde paramedic nodded his head curtly to the man sitting next to Johnny and helping to get the kid pickled. “So um…What’re ya doin here pal..ly? Wan…na drink?” He managed to hiccup out, without waiting for an answer to his first question.
“No thanks Junior…You’ve had enough for both of us. C’mon…I’m gonna take you home.”
“Hey look pal,” Tony interrupted. “We’re having a good time.”
“Yeah…I can see that.”
“Well he was pretty down when he came in here,” he said defensively.
John nodded eagerly in agreement. “Sure…Sure was.”
“Yeah,” Roy said in annoyance. “Well this isn’t the solution to his problem mister…Thanks…C’mon Junior,” Roy said taking his arm. “You gotta work tomorrow…You need to be alert,” he reminded him.
“Jus lemme finish my dr…drink,” he protested reaching for the remainder of his beer.
Roy pushed it out of reach. “You are finished John. C’mon,” he urged giving him a tug.
Even feeling as buzzed as he did, Johnny recognized the stern tone and annoyed sound of his partner’s voice. He gave a sheepish glance to Tony. “Oops…My dad’s here…I gotta go,” he giggled.
“That’s real cute junior,” Roy said as he helped him to his feet. Roy shot a glance at the older man next to Johnny who was looking a little disappointed at losing his new drinking buddy. “Do me a favor mister…? He asked, holding his swaying partner by the elbow. “If he comes in again…Don’t help him.”
The man scowled as he turned Johnny toward the door. Roy sketched a quick wave toward the table in the corner where several members of station 36’s C Shift were sitting. They grinned and waved back, knowing Roy might well have his hands full with his inebriated partner.
“Did you drive here?” Roy asked quietly as they stepped out onto the sidewalk. John shook his head, swaying dangerously. “GOOD,” the older man said as he grabbed him and led him toward his own car.
He helped his partner inside. John practically fell into the low passenger seat, giggling ridiculously. Roy shook his head and smiled despite his annoyance with his young friend. He’d never experienced John Gage with more than a couple of beers in him and Roy was shocked at the fact that Johnny had actually drank the whiskey at all since he was well aware of his aversion to the stuff and why.
Roy closed the door, going around to his own side and climbing in. John’s head was leaning against the window but he managed to blink owlishly at his friend. “You mad at me?’ He questioned.
Roy grinned tolerantly at his young friend. “Yeah…But I’ll get over it,” he said knowing there was no point in talking to him right now…Even if he could keep him awake which was unlikely since Johnny was already struggling to keep his eyes open…As if on cue the dark orbs slid closed.
Roy considered taking him back to his apartment but then he was concerned that John wouldn’t wake up on his own for work tomorrow. Joanne had left this morning, albeit grudgingly for San Diego. Her mother had planned to keep the kids for a few days but she’d come down with the flu and asked Jo to come help her out.
Jo hated leaving with Johnny hurting so badly and maybe needing her to be there for him and she wouldn’t be but Roy had promised he’d be able to take care of anything his friend needed…He had to admit, he’d never even considered this. He cast an amused glance toward his lightly snoring partner and smiled.
He pulled into his driveway, grateful now that Jo and the kids were away. John would be horrified if they’d seen him this way.
Roy opened the door and grabbed his partner before he could tumble out. “C’mon Junior,” he grunted as he pulled the younger man from the car. John’s head tipped forward as he leaned against Roy heavily. The older man managed to get him inside and let him drop onto the couch. The dark eyes opened and looked up at Roy. “When did you eat last?” Roy asked him.
John blinked slowly. “Yeserday,” he slurred. “But then I th…threw up.”
Roy nodded understandingly. No wonder the stuff was hitting him so hard. “I’m gonna make you a sandwich and some coffee…Try and stay awake.”
“Kay,” he murmured.
Johnny nodded but his head drooped loosely. Roy returned a few minutes later with the promised food. “C’mon Junior…I want you to try and eat this okay…Let’s see if we can soak up some of that alcohol.” John gave him a half smile as he took the sandwich.
John felt a bit better after Roy managed to get the third cup of coffee into him. “Than…Thanks Roy,” he managed to get out…
Roy scruffed the dark hair. “Let’s get you to bed Junior,” he said as he pulled Johnny to his feet. He seemed a bit steadier and he let Roy lead him to his room off the DeSoto’s dining room.
The older man sat him on the bed and helped his partner pull his shirt off over his head. He pulled John’s shoes off and let him fall backward. He was asleep before he hit the pillow. Roy turned the light out and headed upstairs to his own bed, hoping Johnny wouldn’t regret this in the morning.
Dixie answered the phone on the third ring. “Hello,” she greeted the caller cautiously.
“Hi Dix,” Kel’s voice replied softly. The tone was so gentle that Dixie knew before he said anything more.
“They found her didn’t they?” She asked fearfully.
“Yeah Dix…They’re um…Taking her to the morgue for an autopsy.”
“Autopsy…?” She questioned in angry disbelief. “What for…She drowned?” She snarled bitterly.
“Its standard procedure Dix, you know that. He’s got to be sure,” he explained, not telling her that he’d requested it to be VERY thorough.
She snorted angrily. “Well let me save him some trouble. Just tell him to put the cause of death as John Gage,” she growled as she slammed the phone down. Tears rolled down her cheeks but she wasn’t sure that some of them weren’t for the loss of friendship with a young friend she’d come to love.
She shook the thought away. How could she ever feel the same way about Johnny again? How could she forgive him?
‘Easily,’ that wretched little voice whispered in her head but she let her anger push the thought away before it could take root. She had another call to make…One she wouldn’t be making at all if not for Johnny.
Dixie set the phone down after talking to her brother and began to cry once more. David was devastated “I don’t understand how it could have happened…Meghan was a strong swimmer,” he wept.
“She may have been injured and we didn’t realize it or she was exhausted from trying to hold the other man til the rescue chopper arrived,” she’d explained, her anger rising again that even though they’d arrived in time, she was still dead because of Johnny.
David heard the anger in her voice. “But then how did she drown if they were there?”
“I told the paramedic to get to Meghan but I was closer and he took me first because he thought I was in trouble,” she said in disgust. “I told him to get her…If he’d just listened…,” she trailed off, not wanting to hurt her brother by telling him about Meghan’s slightly wild side and her date the previous night with Johnny that had brought her home drunk, never mind that she’d brazenly admitted John wasn’t her first. “I’m so sorry,” she finally finished.
She’d expected David to get angry but his reply surprised her. “Were you in trouble Dix?” He asked worriedly.
“I was hanging on…I would have been okay. I told him to get Meghan.”
“I see,” he’d murmured, sounding distraught but strangely more understanding than she’d been, realizing that he could have lost both his daughter and his sister. “I have to break this to Colleen and Patrick and then I’ll have to make arrangements to bring her home,” he said softly. “I’ll be there in a couple of days.”
“Alright,” Dixie agreed. “I’m so sorry David.”
“You and me both sis.”
Dixie looked again at the phone. “God John…Why couldn’t you have saved Meghan…?”
John’s eye’s blinked open as he felt himself gently shaken. He looked up blearily into the face of his partner. “Wh…What time is it?” He asked squinting against the dull ache behind his eyes.
“Its six thirty…Time to get up. C’mon Junior, we’re gonna be late,” Roy said waving a cup of coffee under John’s nose.
“Where am I?” He asked sitting up, immediately noting an increase to the painful throb in his head. He rubbed his face and clenched his eyes shut, opening them a moment later to a hand holding two white pills.
“You’re at my house Johnny…You spent the night here, remember?”
John had a brief recollection of the night before. “Oh yeah,” he murmured sheepishly.
Roy grinned. “Well at least you don’t look like the bottle got the best of ya? At least not completely,” Roy teased him but then grew serious. “Johnny…I know It’s none of my business but,” Roy hesitated. “Well…I’ve never let that stop me where you’re concerned ya know?” He said ruefully.
“What is it?” John asked taking the aspirin from Roy and popping them in his mouth to chase them down with a swig of coffee.
“I’m just worried about you…I mean I know how you feel about alcohol and Geez John…You were almost killed by a drunk driver a few months ago,” he began.
“I wasn’t driving,” Johnny argued. “And I woulda been alright. I’m not a child,” he said defensively, knowing Roy was right but not ready to hear a lecture from his partner right now either.
“I just know how ya feel about alcohol and why and…I’m a little concerned.”
“Don’t be…It’s not like I’m gonna become an alcoholic or something.”
“Okay…Look I’m sorry…I don’t mean to lecture you but you know…This isn’t the answer.”
“Worked pretty well last night,” Johnny mumbled. “How did you find me anyway?”
“The guys from 36’s were there. They saw you and your new friend and gave me a call.”
John rolled his eyes as he climbed to his feet. “What…Have you got spies watching me now?” He snapped.
“No John…They’re called friends. They knew what happened yesterday and they were concened,” the older man replied, sounding hurt.”
John glanced over and saw the wounded look in his friends blue eyes and sighed. “I’m sorry Roy,” he said contritely as he stepped closer to his best friend. “I know you’re worried about me and I appreciate it…Really,” he added and shrugged. “I just couldn’t sleep and I guess I just needed to forget for a while.”
Roy nodded, giving his friend a teasing scruff of his dark head. “Okay junior,” he replied. “I’ll wait for you out there.”
The two men headed for the station a short time later. The aspirin handled the worst of the lingering headache. Roy pulled up to a stop light and glanced at his young partner, knowing what he was about to tell him would tear him up but he had to know. “Um Johnny…?” He began
The dark eyes swiveled toward him. “What is it?”
“Brackett called me last night Johnny…Just before Cam from 36’s did.”
John’s heart sank into his stomach. “And…?” He questioned softly, already knowing by the look in Roy’s eyes.
“They found Meghan.”
“She’s dead right?” He asked,
Roy nodded. “Yeah Junior.”
“Oh God,” he whispered miserably as he turned to look out the window. His chin rested on his clenched fist and he chewed his knuckle in an effort to keep his mouth from trembling. “She’ll never forgive me,” he whispered.
“She will Junior…I think she’ll remember eventually how fond she is of ya. Just be patient okay?”
Johnny nodded but he didn’t look convinced.
Roy and Johnny stood in line for roll call a short time later. Captain Stanley glanced repeatedly at John as he handed out assignments for the day.
The distressed look in his youngest crewman’s eyes was obvious and Hank wondered what else might have gone wrong. He dismissed the others.
“Roy…John…Can I see you both in my office?” He ordered quietly. John bit his lip, clearly not wanting to talk about this but Roy nodded and guided his friend into the small room. Cap cut to the chase. “John, are you alright?” He asked as he closed the door behind him.
Johnny nodded. “I’m okay Cap,”he replied softly without looking up.
“They found Meghan Cap,” Roy supplied the missing piece to John’s mood.
Hank stared down at his hands sadly. “I see…I uh…Take it she’s dead?”
“Yeah,” Roy said with a nod.
“I’m sorry John,” he sympathized. “But you do know that it wasn’t your fault right?”
“That’s what Roy keeps tellin me,” he murmured.
“Well listen to him because he’s right.”
“Yes sir,” he replied with a shrug. “But it doesn’t make her any less dead or Dixie any less angry at me for it,” he whispered in distress.
Roy’s hand came to rest on his shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze but the SCU tones began to sound. “Squad 51…Vehicle accident with injuries 2115 Delmar… 2-1-1-5 Delmar…Cross street Wentworth. Time 08: 17.”
“We’ll finish this later,” Cap promised as they all rose to their feet and ran for the door. Cap handed Roy the slip of paper to pass over to his partner as he responded. “Squad 51…KMG365.”
He watched with a troubled frown as they raced off down the street before turning and heading for the day room.
The others glanced up as he came in. “So Cap…Is Gage in trouble for something?” Chet asked with a grin.
“No Chet and I want you all to lay off him today.”
“What happened Cap?” Mike asked seriously.
“They found Miss McCall’s niece.”
“Dios,” Marco whispered making a brief sign of the cross.
“She’s dead,” he finished unnecessarily. The look on his face had said it all.
“I’m sorry Cap. You know I’d never bust on Johnny if he’s hurtin.”
“I know Chet. Miss McCall’s still blaming him and he’s taking it pretty hard."
They nodded sympathetically, each one vowing silently to support Johnny through this any way they could.
John and Roy followed the gurney into treatment room four…Their victim suffering from pretty severe facial lacerations. Brackett was waiting for them.
Dixie had arrived earlier and headed upstairs to see Joe Early. The older, gray haired doctor was still unconscious and Wenkert had ordered more tests just to be sure. “I think he’ll be fine Dix,” he assured the pretty blonde as he rode down in the elevator with her. “How’s your shoulder?” He questioned.
“Dr. Bouchard said he doesn’t think I’ll require therapy or anything. There was nothing badly damaged,” she replied as she waggled the arm still held in a sling. They exited the elevator and headed to the base station.
“So um Dix?” He began hesitantly. “Have they found your niece yet?” He questioned softly.
She sat down heavily on her stool as tears welled in her eyes. “Yes…Yesterday. She’s dead,” she murmured.
“I’m sorry…,” he said gently.
She nodded. “I just hope John Gage can find a way to live with himself for this,” she growled, letting her anger build once more.”
“Dix c’mon…You can’t really blame him. He’s a good paramedic…You know that.”
“Maybe he shouldn’t be a paramedic if he can’t get the job done,” she snapped back.
“DAMN IT,” they both heard the angry words and turned to see the crushed look in a pair of brown eyes and a look of absolute rage in a pair of blue. Kel stood behind them looking at Dixie as if she were a stranger. The swear had obviously come from Roy as the woman’s barbs had reached his friend’s soul.
Dixie and Johnny’s eyes met for a long moment before the young man glanced away. “I’ll be in the squad,” he mumbled to his partner as he turned and walked quickly down the hallway.
“I don’t believe you,” Roy said to the woman in disgust as he spun on his heel and followed his young partner out.
Kel watched them both leave before he turned on Dixie. “Alright Dix…You’re going to have to find a way to get past this…I won’t have this in my ER and you have to work too closely with the paramedics, including John Gage to let this continue.”
“Are you taking his side?”
“I’m not taking anyone’s side at this point Dix…”
“What’s that mean?”
“Just what I said…Until I know the results of the autopsy,” he shrugged and Dixie’s eyes narrowed angrily.
“Don’t you even try to pin this on a defenseless dead girl Kel,” she snarled as she stood up and pushed past him.
“Where are you going?” Kel asked.
“To do my job…I have an ambulance coming in and Sally and I are getting three ready,” she snapped.
Wenkert glanced at Kel as she disappeared into the room across the hall.”
“You think something odd happened Kel?” He asked.
The dark haired doctor nodded…Just not sure what.
Roy slid into the driver’s seat beside his silent partner. He threw a glance at the younger man. “Johnny,” he began.
“Not now,” John whispered. “Please…I c…can’t do th…this now,” he stuttered, trying to maintain some control of the hurt he was feeling. What was he gonna do? Maybe she was right. Maybe he shouldn’t be a paramedic. Maybe he shouldn’t have gone on that rescue. Could he live with her anger? Her hate…Maybe he should consider going back to the engine?
Could he leave Roy? God he needed his friend but maybe Roy would be better off with a better partner.
The blonde paramedic shot a glance at his very quiet friend. He saw the play of emotions cross John’s face. Saw the gentle tremble of the sensitive mouth and the dark eyes that filled with moisture only to be blinked away.
“Don’t even think about it,” Roy said quietly.
John looked over at him. “Think about what?”
“Leaving me…We’re a team and you’re the best partner I could have.”
John’s mouth dropped open for a moment before snapping shut. How had he known? He turned his gaze out the window once more. He appreciated Roy’s comments but he wasn’t the one responsible for Meghan’s death. He wasn’t the one Dixie hated or had wished dead in place of her niece.
The SCU tones began to sound once more. “Station 36, Station 51, Battalion 14…Structure Fire. 2710 Park Lane. 2-7-1-0 Park Lane…Cross Street Elm. Time out 9:07.”
Roy glanced at his partner. John was reaching for his helmet and seemed to be all business but his dark eyes were still haunted. The blonde paramedic flipped the lights and sirens on and reached for his own. He’d keep a close eye on Johnny for the next few days…There was no way he was gonna lose this kid.
The apartment building was fully engulfed when they arrived. Engine 51 was already there and Station 36 was just arriving. People were milling about on the sidewalks, holding what precious little they’d been able the grab on their way out the doors.
A purse, a coat, a little dog, a blanket for the baby they held in their arms. It sometimes amazed the firemen what people thought to save first in an emergency. The buildings doors were covered in debris and flames shot from the windows on the first three floors making it impossible for anyone to get out that way either.
John heard the voice of Chief Hayes from Battalion 14 on the handy talkie. He’d been John’s Captain at station 10 two years ago. “51…Go around to the east side entrance…We’ve got the back….Station 36…Hit it from the front…There no accessible doors on the first floor,” he reported miserably.
They all knew anyone still inside would be killed if they couldn’t beat this back to create an exit. Roy and Marco pulled a two inch from the back of the engine and began to hook up while John and Chet grabbed the second and prepared to follow. Johnny slapped the hose clamp in place and turned back to Chet.
A woman ran up to him pointing toward a second story window. “My husband’s still in there,” she wailed pitifully… “Please…Please…You’ve got to get him out.”
Chet turned for a moment to try and reassure her that they’d try to do that just as soon as they could get the flames under control. He turned back and gasped in horror as he spotted Johnny racing for the doorway, ax in hand.
Hank Stanley saw Roy give him a hand wave and turned to tell Mike to charge the line. He turned back and his jaw dropped open in disbelief as he saw Johnny sprinting toward one of the doors. “GAGE…,” he bellowed, trying to be heard above the roar of the flames. “DON’T YOU DARE…”
John heard his Captains voice order him to stop but he ignored it, already using the ax to clear a path. He yanked at several burning planks, throwing them quickly aside before he slipped inside and disappeared.
Roy was standing behind Marco bracing the young Hispanic lineman as the line suddenly grew rigid and almost pulled from their hands as Mike charged the line. Water sprayed and they began to move forward. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a firefighter racing toward one of the doors. His heart climbed into his throat as he recognized his partner and heard his Captain’s voice bellow. “GAGE…DON’T YOU DARE.”
Johnny ignored him, pulling the burning beams from the doorway or wrenching them clear with the ax. Roy started to drop the hose to run after his young partner but John suddenly disappeared inside. He turned terrified blue eyes toward his Captain as he looked toward them.
“Chet…Get on that line with Marco…Hit that doorway, he directed, pointing toward their original entry.
Roy…Get over here on this line with me and we’ll cover Gage. Chet ran to take over for Roy, freeing the paramedic to join his Captain on the other line. The two men felt the sudden weight of the charged hose and they braced their feet and began to move forward.
Hank pulled the Handy Talkie free from his coat pocket with one hand and yelled into it. “This Captain Stanley…Engine 51…One of my men is in the building looking for a victim…”
Chief Hayes didn’t need to ask which crazy fireman had run into that blaze…He’d already guessed having worked with Johnny before. “10-4 Hank…We’ll watch for Gage,’ he said startling Hank, who almost laughed despite the fact that Roy could hear his muttering voice.
“I’m gonna kill him…This time I’m gonna kill…No I’ll kick his ass first and then I’ll kill him.”
John didn’t know what had possessed him to run into this inferno…Maybe he just couldn’t stand the idea of losing another victim or having Dixie once again accuse him of being a bad paramedic or maybe proving to himself that he was. Maybe it was a subconscious death wish. None of those thoughts had entered his mind consciously at the time.
John made his way through the building. Keeping low and dodging falling beams. He made his way up the stairs and into the apartment that faced the street below. He moved from room to room…The heat was intense and sweat was streaming down his face and beneath his turnout, his shirt was soon soaked.
He moved into the smoke filled bedroom and spotted a pair of feet sticking out from behind the bed. John moved quickly. He grabbed the man and hoisted him up and over his shoulder before heading back down.
Johnny was quickly becoming dehydrated and he staggered beneath the weight of the man on his shoulder.
There was a loud crash behind him and John spun around to see the ceiling crashing down where he’d just been…There was no turning back. He kept moving, afraid he was going to pass out but he had no option now. Halfway down, he saw his partner approaching him.
Roy and Hank attacked the door John had disappeared through. They battled the flames down enough for Hank to slap Roy on the back. “Go after that twit and bring him back but Roy...” The blonde man looked at him. “If you can’t find him quickly…?” He let the sentence hang but the younger man understood. He’d have to abandon his partner if he couldn’t reach him safely. “Don’t get dead,” Cap added.
Roy nodded and slipped inside. The smoke was thick, black and choking. Roy kept low and moved quickly toward the stairs. He was halfway up when he heard a loud crash. He looked up fearfully, afraid that Johnny had been trapped or maybe even crushed under the falling ceiling. He breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of his partner coming down the stairs, carrying his victim.
“Let me take him Johnny,” Roy shouted but John shook his head and kept moving.
Roy threw his arm around his young partner’s waist to support him as they moved together down the steps.
They made their way to the door and Johnny ducked through, ignoring the angry glare being shot at him by his Captain. Hank knew now wasn’t the time but later…Gage was in a lot of trouble.
John set the victim down and ran to get the equipment. He was halfway back when he was met by his partner. “Forget it Johnny…We don’t need it,” Roy said softly.
“What do you mean we don’t need it?” Johnny scoffed. “We have a victim,” he said trying to brush past his partner.
Roy grabbed his arm. “He’s gone Johnny…There’s nothing we can do,” Roy said gently glancing back at the staring eyes of the dead man. “We just need a blanket to cover him.”
John’s mouth dropped open and the dark eyes flew to the victim he’d risked his life for. Not another one…He can’t have lost another one. “Man,” he mumbled. He slumped in defeat and Roy patted his arm.
“I’ll get the blanket…You get some water and relax for a minute.” Roy was very angry with his partner but the last thing Johnny needed right now was Roy yelling at him. He’d talk to him later.
John glanced at the yellow blanket covered victim. He took a long pull from the canteen of water as he listened to the sounds around him. The static of the radios and the hiss of steam as the water hit the flames…Men yelling and the crashing of falling walls and other debris.
He heard his Captain’s voice… “This fire is under control…Time out one hour eight minutes,” he said reporting to Chief Hayes.
“10-4 51,” the crackle of a voice came back.
John stared at the ground in misery as he heard the wail of the victim’s wife as they finally loaded him in the coroner’s wagon and then it was gone. Two pairs of booted feet appeared before him and he looked up into the angry eyes of his Captain and his partner.
“I should suspend you for that stunt Gage, you know that?”
John nodded. “Yes sir,” he whispered. “But she was so upset and I thought…”
“You didn’t think John…That was the problem and I know you know better than to pull a stupid action like that. You get your head screwed on straight and clean out your ears so the next time you hear a direct order from me you’ll obey it or you’ll be pulling duty behind a desk for the next six months…GOT ME?” Cap yelled.
“Yes sir,” he mumbled.
“WHAT?” He barked out sounding like a drill sergeant.
“YES SIR,” Johnny said clearly.
Hank turned and stalked away muttering to himself about babysitting a crazy paramedic.
Roy folded his arms over his chest. “Wanna tell me what you were thinking?”
“I didn’t wanna lose another one.”
“Johnny…You gotta let this go junior. What happened out there the other day was unavoidable.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Neither do you…But today…Don’t you think Cap and Hayes would have sent you in there if they’d thought there was anyway anyone could still be alive?”
“They didn’t know he was there and I did.”
“They were well aware there might have still been people inside and they were also aware that there was no safe way in or out at that point.”
“I made it.”
“You got lucky,” Roy barked. “You could have been killed and me along with you.”
“I didn’t ask you to come after me.”
Roy frowned. What exactly did he mean by that? “That’s not the point. Did you really think I wouldn’t follow you?”
Johnny looked up worriedly. “You shouldn’t have. I didn’t mean for you to….I mean…”
Roy’s eyes narrowed suspiciously but a yell from Cap caught his attention. One of the crew from 14’s was being led from the building. He was limping on an obviously injured leg. “Grab the splint and the Biophone,” Roy directed as he trotted toward them.
Roy was climbing from the back of the ambulance as John backed the squad in. Dixie was standing at the door waiting as they pulled the gurney carrying the injured fire fighter from the back. John rounded the back of the squad and pulled up short as he spotted the blonde nurse. He stood rooted in place as her blue eyes swept over him frostily.
Roy cast a glance at his partner as John turned and headed for the passenger side door. He followed the gurney in with a sigh. This had to stop…Johnny couldn’t keep on this way. He and Dixie were going to have to find a way to at least work together.
The blonde fire fighter helped the attendants make the transfer to the table and glanced at Brackett as he began to examine the swollen ankle. “Doc…Any word on Joe Early?”
“He woke up briefly this morning. He’s still pretty out of it but at least they’re finally optimistic that he’ll make a full recovery. “Dix…Get X-Ray down here.” She nodded and left without a word to Roy.
“Good,” Roy said looking relieved. “Um Doc…Any idea on what we’re gonna do about Johnny and Dixie? I mean Johnny won’t even come inside anymore,” he said in a rush, not wanting to start trouble between the doctor and the nurse but damn it…Johnny was way too sensitive and he couldn’t take much more of this.
“I know Roy…I spoke to Dixie about it earlier. I told her she’s going to have to find a way to get past this as least on a professional level.”
“What did she say?”
“That I better not try to pin this on Meghan.”
Roy heaved a sigh… “I just wish I knew what really happened that night?”
“You and me both…”
Roy left the treatment room before the blonde nurse returned, not wanting to end up in another altercation with the woman. She’d loved Johnny so much…How could everything have gone so horribly wrong?
Roy gathered some supplies from the base station and headed outside to meet his partner. John sat in the passenger seat with his head propped up on his fist as he waited. He saw Roy and climbed out to help him load the items in the drug box.
“Jefferson okay?” He asked quietly.
“Yeah…Joe Early woke up this morning. I thought maybe we’d go up and see him later.”
“Um…Maybe,” he mumbled.
“Johnny…You’re gonna have to face her eventually. Stand your ground. You have to be able to work with her.”
John nodded but he didn’t look up, biting his lower lip nervously at the thought of facing Dixie’s hatred for him. “I know,” he whispered.
They were halfway back to the station as the tones sounded once again. Man…It was gonna be a busy day, Roy lamented silently. Maybe it was a good thing…Keep Johnny’s mind off what had happened but still…The younger man was distraught and Roy really wanted some quiet time to just get John to talk to him.
He pulled his mind back to the moment as he heard his partner’s acknowledging “10-4.”
Roy flipped on the lights and sirens and turned at the next light at his young partner’s direction.
They pulled up at a traffic accident a few minutes later. A truck and two smaller cars involved. One was smashed into a telephone pole…The lines overhead sparking dangerously. Roy had a brief flash of déjà vu as he remembered Johnny almost being killed by falling power lines a few months ago. The driver of the truck sat on the sidewalk, looking scared but apparently uninjured as he talked to an officer.
They heard the sirens of the arriving engine company and glanced up as Hank stepped down from the open Crown Coach…His brown eyes sweeping over the scene. He lifted the Handy Talkie to his lips and had that same flash as Roy did but for an entirely different reason.
Roy had remembered it but Cap was reliving it as he watched his junior paramedic run toward the vehicle pinned against the power pole.
“John…Get away from there,” Cap bellowed, but to was too late. John had already pulled the passenger door open and climbed inside with the victim. Hank raised the HT… “LA this is Engine 51…Have the power company cut the power at Sepulveda and Gerard.”
“10-4 51,” Sam Lanier’s voice came back.
Roy glanced up as he heard his Captain’s yell. His heart climbed into his throat as he watched John run toward the car. Dear God…What was the kid thinking or was he thinking at all today?”
He could envision the dressing down John was going to get for sure this time if not an outright suspension. He breathed a sigh of relief as John climbed into the vehicle. He should be okay as long as he stayed in the car.
It was only a matter of moments before the lines above them came down on the vehicle…Spitting and arcing like a live thing and Roy’s face paled a bit at how close Johnny had come yet again to being electrocuted. A second later they went dead, not that that would have helped if John hadn’t been safely in the car when they fell.
Roy turned back to the driver of his own vehicle as Marco ran to join him. Chet moved to John’s side now that the way was safe. He looked at John’s face and would have sworn there was almost a look of disappointment and he frowned...What was going on with Gage today? Johnny was usually a bit reckless but never stupidly so. This was almost…
“I need the backboard and a collar,” John said breaking the Irishman’s contemplation of the younger man.
“Sure Johnny,” he replied backing from the car. He’d mention his concerns to Cap later.
The two of them managed to get the woman out and carried her to where Roy had his own victim laid out. “Rampart base…This is rescue 51,” Roy said over the biophone.
John was flashing a penlight in the woman’s eyes. “Roy…Her pupils are normal and reactive. Her Pulse is 60…Respirations 18. Can I get the BP cuff?”
Roy handed it to him while he passed on the information to Rampart on both victims. “Rampart…First victim is a male…Age twenty. He’s conscious and suffering from a broken arm and a lacerated area about two inches long above his left eye. His respirations are 20, pulse is 90 BP is 120/80. Pupils are equal and reactive…Rampart. Our second victim is about thirty and female. She’s unconscious and she’s sustained a head injury…We have taken spinal precautions for possible neck and back injuries. Her pulse is 60, Respirations 18…BP Is…?” He looked toward Johnny.
“130/90…,” he answered without even glancing up. The hesitation had been all Johnny needed to know what Roy was waiting for.
“130/90…Pupil’s are equal and reactive…”
“10-4 51,” Morton’s voice came back over the Biophone. “Start an IV on victim one…Ringers. Give him 50 mgs of Meperidine IV. On victim 2…Start an IV D5WTKO…Monitor vitals and transport.”
The two paramedics worked side by side, quickly establishing the requested IV’s. Hank watched them both with his usual sense of wonder at how well they worked together. Item’s seemingly appearing out of nowhere without a word being spoken and he was as always impressed but still…Johnny still had to be dealt with. This recklessness he was exhibiting this shift was scaring the hell out of Hank.
Both victims were ready for transport and they could hear the wail of the ambulances’ siren in the distance as it wended its way through traffic. John felt a hand land on his collar and glanced up at his Captain’s face. He swallowed heavily at the angry look in the dark eyes.
Hank jerked him upright, uncaring of who was watching or of the fact that he could be in a lot of trouble for putting his hands on one of his men in anger. John meant too much to all of them to lose. He hauled him a few steps away from Roy.
“Just what the hell were you thinking running in there like that and not a half hour after I bawled you out the first time for it?”John stared at the ground in embarrassment but he said nothing. Roy watched from where he was still kneeling beside the two victims. “Have you forgotten the fact that you almost got killed doing the same thing once before?” Hank railed.
Roy watched John’s face and the haunted look in the brown eyes and his own face suddenly paled at the realization. John hadn’t forgotten anything…Nor had this morning been an impulsive act. Maybe it wasn’t even a conscious action but Roy suddenly knew…Johnny was deliberately putting his life at risk but why? It wouldn’t solve anything, didn’t he understand that? Meghan would still be dead and…Was that it?
Did John think that Dixie would finally be happy if he was dead too…Had he taken the woman’s angry words to heart? He had to talk to Cap and then the two of them had to get through to Johnny before he accomplished his goal?
The ambulance arrived, forcing Roy’s attention back to the victim’s but his blue eyes continued to flick toward his young partner and best friend. He saw Hank wave him away. “Get back to work John but I promise you…We’re not through.”
John nodded as he headed back toward Roy. The brown eyes were downcast and he refused to even glance at his partner as the two of them loaded the victims with the help of the attendants.
Roy started to climb on board with them but stopped briefly and uncaring of the fact that they had an audience, he reached out to grip the chin of his friend and lifted until the brown eyes met his. “We need to talk,” he told him gently.
John nodded in agreement…He needed to talk to Roy too. He was so confused and he wasn’t sure himself what had propelled him into two such foolish stunts this morning. He was afraid of losing another victim…He knew that much and he knew that Dixie’s words had crushed his heart.
John climbed into the cab of the squad and pulled out, following the ambulance. Chet, Marco and Mike came up beside Hank as the young paramedic pulled away. “What’s going on with him Cap?” Mike asked.
“I don’t know Mike,” he replied worriedly.
“Cap…He’s got me really worried,” Chet said unnecessarily…They were all worried.
Marco nodded. “He can’t have forgotten that he almost died the last time this happened.”
“It was like he did it on purpose,” Chet said softly.
Cap’s eyes widened. “Oh dear God,” he mumbled, remembering what Roy had told him about Dixie’s words to the young paramedic. “Maybe he did,’ he whispered. The others looked at him worriedly. Hank cast them a reassuring look. “Don’t worry guys…Roy and I will have a long talk with him when they get back.”
They all nodded.
John parked the squad and followed the second gurney inside the emergency room entrance. He breathed a sigh of relief as he saw Dixie follow the first into the treatment room with Brackett and Roy. He saw Sally give the orderlies with him a quick ‘come’ gesture and followed them into a different room where Morton was waiting.
He glanced up at the young paramedic. “What have we got John?”
“Head injury…Possible neck and back. She took a pretty good hit on the head…She uh…wasn’t wearing her safety belt,” he told him.
“You need me?” The young doctor shook his head.
John exited the treatment room and came face to face with Dixie. He drew up short and froze. His dark eyes took on that same haunted look at the frigid glance the nurse gave him. “Could you move,” she said sharply.
John looked ready to cry at the normally fond voice so laced with bitterness. Dixie’s heart turned a small flip despite her best effort. God she felt awful but she couldn’t seem to let the anger go and she almost wondered if Kel was right…Was there a certain amount of jealousy behind the anger? Was she more hurt that he’d failed to save Meghan or that he’d slept with her?
She brushed past him, knowing that Kel was also right about what he’d said earlier. They were going to have to find a way to work together…Johnny was a paramedic working out of this hospital and that wasn’t going to change even if their previous close relationship couldn’t be salvaged.
John walked dejectedly down the hall. Roy stepped out of the treatment room with Brackett as the portable X-Ray unit was wheeled inside. He spotted Johnny and threw a glance at Brackett. “He’s got me really worried Doc?”
“I know Roy.”
“No…I don’t think you do.”
“What do you mean?’
“I mean…He’s been taking some real chances this morning. Putting his life at risk and doc…I think he’s doing it deliberately.”
Kel’s eyes widened in surprise. “You think he’s consciously trying to get himself killed?”
Roy shook his head… “I’m not a shrink Doc and I don’t really think he even knows he’s doin it but yeah…I think at least subconsciously he’s trying to. I’m gonna ask Cap to pull him off duty until we can really talk to him…I gotta get through to him or get him some help...Maybe Martha could talk to him?”
Kel hung his head. “What a mess but Martha’s probably your best bet. She already knows about Johnny having ASD and that he was a battered child…She could probably help you a lot…I’ll try and talk to Dix again.”
Roy nodded and headed for the squad. John spotted him as he stepped through the doors and keyed the mic “Squad 51 available,” he said quietly before Roy could stop him. He’d intended to take the squad out of service once they got back to the station until he could talk to Hank.
“10-4 51…Stand by for response.”
Roy’s fist connected with the squad’s gleaming red paint. “Damn it,” he muttered drawing a frown from his partner as he slid inside.
“Nothin,” Roy barked as the tones stopped and the voice began. “Squad 51 in place of squad 110…Boating accident…Meet the Coast Guard Helicopter at station 110…”
Roy and John both froze… ‘Oh no,’ Roy almost moaned out loud. It was too soon…Johnny didn’t need another water rescue, not now.
John’s face had paled rapidly at the call out and his hand hovered uncertainly over the mic. “Squad 51…Do you copy?” Sam’s voice queried.
Roy started to call them 10-7 to Rampart and unavailable but John’s hand closed over it first. “10-4 LA…Squad 51 copies.”
They were committed. Roy started the engine and prayed for an easy rescue.
To be Continued....
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