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They pulled into 110’s parking lot…The helicopter already had the rotor’s going and were waiting for their arrival. John and Roy unloaded their gear and ran down to the single chopper pad at the end. They quickly stowed their equipment and climbed on board.
They looked down at the incoming tide as the helicopter quickly climbed and banked out toward the open water. They flew along the coast until they spotted a breakwater jutting out into the ocean. The boat had run aground on the rocks. The waves were pounding against it causing it to roll perilously.
John’s eyes widened at the young, blonde woman standing waist deep in the water and struggling to hold on as the boat broke up around her.
Roy was cinching a safety belt around his waist as the young coast guard officer pulled the doors back. “Johnny…Get set up,” the blonde paramedic directed as he reached for a second line…The plan was to just lower him down and let him put the belt around the woman and lift her up to the waiting chopper. The sea was just too rough to chance putting the paramedics into it without the lifeline.
A wave suddenly pounded the boat and it rocked viciously, spilling the woman over the splintered side. “Get me down there,” Roy yelled as her head disappeared beneath the waves.
Johnny was watching…He heard his partner’s directive to set up but he couldn’t take his eyes from the scene below. He saw the boat go over and the woman disappear. He heard Roy’s voice yell above the load thumping of the rotors but he couldn’t make out the words.
There was a brief swish of the woman’s long blonde hair through the water and she disappeared. Roy wouldn’t make it in time. “Meghan,” he murmured softly as he stepped out on the strut. He heard Roy’s shout from behind him but he didn’t turn back. John stepped off and dropped into the churning ocean.
“Oh God…Johnny NO,” Roy shouted as his young partner stepped out on the strut. He knew what he was thinking and he made a dive to try and stop him but his reaching hand fell short as John stepped off and dropped into the sea.
“Is he crazy?” The officer, Don Smith yelled.
“YES,” Roy shouted back. “Just get the ropes down there. I’ll get her first and then my partner.” He nodded as Roy ripped the belt clear and within seconds hit the water himself.
John gasped as the waves tumbled him over and over until he managed to right himself and get his bearings. He saw a flash of color as he kicked toward the surface…It was the girl. She was struggling to swim and quickly losing the battle against the strength of the tide.
John changed direction and swam rapidly toward her. He reached out just as another wave roared in picking them both up. John held on for all he worth as the sea shoved them relentlessly toward the rocks. He kicked toward the surface.
His head cleared the water briefly before another wave swamped him. John choked on the water almost costing him his grip on the girl. He felt a hand close on his collar and his head broke the surface. His stinging eyes met worried blue. John coughed as a wave washed over his face. “Take her,” he choked.
Roy flipped the woman onto her back and swam back toward where the line and the belt were dangling. He fought the waves casting anxious looks over his shoulder at his partner as John treaded water breathlessly before starting after them. Roy looked up in time to see a huge wave crashing toward them. His arm slid through the belt as he secured his grip on the woman.
He lost sight of everything as the wave crashed over them blocking the sun and trying to wrest the woman from his grip. She clung to him frantically until the torrent finally passed and his head broke the surface once more. He sucked in a deep breath as the woman coughed in his arms and turned to where Johnny last was.
His blue eyes widened in horror as he watched the wave lift his partners exhausted body and slam it backwards into the rocks. “JOHNNY…,” He bellowed in terror. John hit the huge boulders behind him and his body went limp, sinking back into the water.
Roy quickly pulled the belt around the woman’s waist. “Hang onto that rope,” he yelled as he signaled the helicopter to take her up. She nodded as Roy turned and lit out toward his partner who was now floating face down in the water.
Finally the waves were on his side as they pushed his tiring body toward Johnny. Roy reached out and grabbed his partner, flipping him onto his back. He gave two quick breaths as he glanced toward the helicopter above him.
They reeled the woman inside and quickly moved to hover above his location. The second belt was dangling close enough for Roy to grab hold. He pulled John’s limp body toward him and wrapped the belt around his waist, almost losing his grip as another wave crashed over them. This time the rope saved them both from being slammed into the rocks. He hated the idea of putting any strain on John’s back or neck but he couldn’t wait for them to lower the stokes…John was in trouble now. He'd have to risk it.
Another wave washed over them and Roy sputtered a bit as his head cleared the surface…He gave John two more quick breaths and was rewarded by his choking cough as water spilled from his mouth. John’s body convulsed for a quick moment before his breathing settled into a rasping wheeze.
Roy grabbed the second belt and signaled to the chopper to take John up while he tightened the second belt around his own waist. Water poured off as he cleared the water and Roy felt a bit dizzy as he spun crazily beneath the rotor wash.
He felt hands grab him and pull him on board. The door slammed shut behind him as the blonde paramedic yanked the restrictive belt free. He turned to the woman. “Are you okay?” He questioned quickly.
She nodded. “You’re friend saved my life,” she choked out as Smith settled an oxygen mask over her face. He draped a blanket around her as Roy turned toward Johnny.
“I need a blanket and another O2 canister,” he said as he grabbed the Biophone. “Rampart base this is Squad 51…Do you read?”
“10-4 51…This is Rampart,” Brackett’s voice came back.
“Rampart…I have a near drowning…He’s a twenty three year old male and he’s unconscious. He hit his back and his head on the rocks…Stand by while I check for other injuries and get his vitals…Be advised Rampart…Victim is John Gage.”
Kel’s eyes widened in shocked surprise at that revelation and his eyes flew to Dixie who was standing next to him taking notes. He was rewarded with a flash of fear in her blue eyes before the professional nurse made a reappearance. “Standing by 51,” he said almost smugly. He was worried about Johnny but the look in Dixie’s eyes had reassured him that there was still hope for the two of them to work this out somehow.
Roy ran his hands through John’s sopping hair. There was a good sized lump on the back of his head and the probable reason for his young partner’s unconscious state. Roy carefully felt down John’s limbs. He pulled his shoes from his feet and dragged his penlight up the bottom of his left foot. The toes turned inward and Roy sighed in relief. He tried the right but there was no response. He tried again…Nothing.
Fear climbed into Roy’s throat but he clamped down on it while he took John’s pulse and respirations. Obviously his back wasn’t broken since he had feeling and movement in the other leg. He wrapped the BP cuff around John’s arm and pumped it up.
Roy pulled it free a minute later. “Rampart…This is rescue 51…,” Roy said.
“Go ahead 51,” came the concerned reply.
“Rampart…Pulse is 70, respirations are 16…BP is 120/80. He’s got rales in both lungs. Rampart…He’s still unconscious and has a contusion on the back of his head. He’s also got a positive Babinski on the right foot.
Kel’s mouth pursed worriedly as he listened to Roy’s report and Dixie bit her lip, A twinge of guilt tugged at her heart. “10-4 51…Start an IV…D5WTKO. Take spinal precautions…Immobilize his head. Is he responsive to pain stimuli 51?”
Roy reached over and gave John a quick sternal rub. A low moan slipped from his lips. “That’s affirmative Rampart.”
“Get him in here Roy.”
Roy set the phone down a placed a C Collar around John’s neck. “Smith…I need some help to get him on the backboard.”
The man nodded and knelt next to Johnny. “What do you need me to do?”
“On three I’m gonna roll him on his side. I want you to slide this under him.”
They rolled John onto his side and Don slid the board under him. Roy got the IV started and listened to John’s lungs once again. The crackling sound had lessoned some but was still there. Roy checked his pulse and his eyes before leaning over him. “Johnny…Can you hear me…I want you to wake up for me junior.”
“Mmmmf,” A soft groan of pain drifted from his lips…His eyelids fluttered briefly before resettling on the high cheekbones.
Roy swept the wet hair from John’s forehead and sighed worriedly, praying his partner would be okay. The helicopter set down on the landing pad at Rampart. Don pulled the door open and for the second time in three days, Roy pulled the water logged and unconscious body of his partner from the Helicopter.
They ran the gurney to the ambulance for the short trip to the ER where Brackett was waiting. They transferred Johnny to the exam table. Brackett began to examine the unconscious paramedic.
The door opened and Dixie came in and moved to Kel’s side. Roy glanced up and saw her. His blue eyes blazed in fury. “Get out Dix,” he snarled angrily.
Two pairs of shocked eyes lifted to meet his. “What?” She questioned in disbelief at being ordered from the examination room.
“You heard me…This is your fault…He’s been trying to kill himself all day Dix, just for you and this time he almost succeeded so I hope you’re happy,” he growled out angrily.
“Of course I’m not happy,” she protested. “But I’m still a nurse Roy, this is my job.”
“Roy…,” Kel began but Roy held up his hand to stop him.
“No way Doc. Johnny is unconscious and while he is any medical decisions to be made are mine including who his doctors and nurses may be. You aren’t on the list Miss McCall.” She looked dumbstruck as Roy continued. “Right now Johnny needs love, care and support which you apparently aren’t capable of giving him…So get me another nurse who can.” She backed away from the anger in Roy’s usually gentle blue eyes. “I’m just sorry,” he muttered at the woman who had once been so close to both of the them.
“For what…?” She questioned warily.
“That he cared about you so much that he couldn’t bear the idea of losing you and that he has to pay for that. I’m sorry that it wasn’t enough for you…Oh and by the way…You may have gotten your wish.” She looked at him in confusion. “He can’t feel his right leg…Can’t be a Paramedic without it, now can he?” He snapped as he turned his back on the woman and turned back to his partner and took his hand.
Kel’s brown eyes were shocked but he also had to respect Roy’s wishes. “Don’t jump the gun here Roy, we don’t know how bad the damage is,” he soothed before turning to the blonde nurse. “Dix…Get Carol in here,” he ordered. “Tell X-Ray to get the portable in here on your way out.”
She looked at Kel is surprise but she finally nodded at the doctor’s obvious dismissal and left the room. Tears filled her eyes but she swiped them away and schooled her face into a mask of professionalism. “Carol…Dr. Brackett needs you in three,” she said, trying not to let her voice crack.
The older brunette nurse nodded and headed for the room as Dixie picked up the phone to call X-Ray. Dixie hung it up a moment later and went to Kel’s office. She closed the door and let the tears flow.
Kel continued his exam after Dix left the room. He really couldn’t blame Roy for not wanting the head nurse around Johnny right now but something was definitely going to have to be done. He didn’t want to lose these two young men he’d grown so close to and certainly not the woman he’d loved for years, even if he’s never told her so. He could only hope the autopsy on Meghan would shed some light on what had really happened.
Carol entered the room and quickly began to get a new set of vitals while Brackett checked John’s pupillary response. He moved to the foot of the table and drew the penlight up the bottom of John’s foot and once again the left curled inward while the right remained unresponsive.
Kel pulled the end free to expose a small, sharp prod. He poked John’s right toe but there was no response. He tried the ball of the foot but again there was nothing. Kel frowned in concern. The door pushed open and Malcolm trundled in with the portable. Brackett looked at the young, black technician. “I want a skull series, chest, back and a lateral c-spine stat.”
The young man nodded as the three vacated the room. “Doc…I’m gonna go call my Captain and my wife. They’ll both want to know about this.”
Kel nodded. He wanted to talk to Roy but now wasn’t the time.
The senior paramedic called Hank and filled him in. “Cap…This is Roy.”
“Where are you Roy?”
“Rampart Cap...Johnny’s been hurt.”
Hank sighed but he really wasn’t surprised with the way Johnny had been acting all day. “How bad?’ He asked worriedly.
“Bad enough…He got tossed by a pretty strong wave…Slammed him into the rocks. He’s most likely got at least a concussion. He’s unconscious but what’s got us worried is he doesn’t seem to be able to move his right leg.”
“Oh good Lord,” Cap groaned. “Alright Roy…It’s going to take awhile to get a replacement in here and to get 110 to bring the Squad back so stay with Johnny and I’ll send whoever I get over to pick you up when he gets here.”
“Roy…? Was this another incident like the two this morning?”
“Well,” Roy hedged. “She might have drowned if he hadn’t jumped in,” he finished.
“That’s not what I asked you?”
Hank ran his hand through his hair in frustration. If he reported John’s behavior this morning, the young fire fighter might well face suspension and/or counseling of some kind. It would mar John’s record forever…If he didn’t and something happened to Johnny or potentially even a victim…Hank would have to live with it and so would John.
He didn’t want to lose Gage. Perhaps this injury was the best thing that could have happened…Provided it wasn’t permanent of course but it would give John some time to get his head together and give Hank and Roy a chance to talk to the kid. “Okay Roy, but when he’s up to it…We’re going to have this out once and for all.”
Roy had been worrying over much the same issues and breathed a sigh of relief that Hank wasn’t going to report him…At least not yet and the point would be moot if Johnny didn’t regain the use of his leg.
“Thanks Cap,” he said softly as he hung up. The second call was more difficult. “Hi Jo…”
She heard the tone of his voice and knew instantly that something had her husband very upset and since the kids were with her there was only one other possibility.
“Roy…What’s wrong…Is Johnny okay.”
Roy might have chuckled at her astuteness in reading his fears for his best friend if it hadn’t been serious. “No babe, he’s not okay. He had an accident during a rescue.”
“And…?” She questioned worriedly.
“He’s unconscious. He’s got a bump on the head and he slammed his back into the rocks.”
Jo sucked in her breath fearfully. “He didn’t break his back?” She asked softly.
“No…At least we don’t think so but Brackett hasn’t seen the X-Rays but he’s obviously got something wrong…He can’t seem to feel his right foot.”
“Oh no…Do you want me to come home?”
“No babe…At least not yet. I’ll let you know if it’s serious. He’s gonna really need us if it is.”
“We’ll get him through this,” she promised.
“I uh…Threw Dixie out of his room,” he confessed.
“Did you? Why?”
“I thought Johnny needed someone a little more sympathetic.”
“Possibly…But maybe she needed to see just how much she’s hurt him too.”
“Could be but not now…Not now,” he whispered, the anger at the nurses attitude still simmering below the surface. “I’ll call you later when I know more.”
“Okay honey…I love you. Give my love to my boy.”
Roy did chuckle at that one. “I will honey and I love you too.”
Roy returned to the examination room. Carol was checking John’s IV and Kel glanced up as he came in. “How is he?” Roy asked glancing at the quiet form of his partner.
“Still out of it I’m afraid…Though he did appear to try and wake for a moment. Why don’t you try?”
Roy moved to his friend’s side, reaching out to take his hand. “Hey junior…Can you hear me?” He was rewarded with a small tightening of John’s fingers. “He heard me doc,” Roy said, glancing up at Brackett.
“Keep talking to him.”
A young student nurse pushed the door open and handed the doctor a packet. “X-Ray’s doctor,” she said a bit timidly.
“Thank you Joan.” The girl nodded and retreated. Sharon was right…The doctor certainly could intimidate a girl, she threw a glance at Johnny and Roy and left.
Kel slapped the skull shot into the light panel and flipped it on. He scanned the film while Roy continued to talk softly to Johnny.
Roy finger’s gently brushed the damp hair away from John’s face, drawing a gentle smile from the older nurse who stood watching quietly. “Johnny…Can you open your eyes? I need you to wake up for me.”
The dark eyes fluttered and a light groan of pain slipped from his lips. “Rrr…oy,” he murmured softly.
“That’sa boy…C’mon junior, you can do it,” he encouraged.
The chocolate colored eyes finally made an appearance. “Mmmm,” he moaned.
“Doc…He’s awake.” Kel nodded but continued to scan the next X-Ray. He frowned slightly at the shot of Johnny’s back before moving to the table.
“Hi Johnny,” he said as he moved to the end of the bed. Roy’s finger’s continued the absent, stroke over John’s forehead while he watched the doctor.
“Doc,” Johnny mumbled, trying to lift his head to see what Brackett was doing but Roy pressed him back. “Oooh,” he moaned miserably as pain throbbed in his brain. “Head hurs Roy…Back too…Dizzy.”
“I know but you just lay still,” the blonde paramedic instructed.
The dark eyes shifted toward him. “What’s wr…wrong?”
“You took a bang on the head junior and a hard hit on the back.”
Kel lifted Johnny’s right leg. “John…Can you push against my hand?” He questioned.
John tried…His eyes widened fearfully as he realized he couldn’t feel the foot Brackett was holding and he couldn’t seem to make it move. “What’s wrong w…with my l…leg?” He asked.
“Just relax a minute,” Kel said as he drew the penlight up John’s foot. Nothing happened. Kel grimaced and moved to stand next to the injured man. He threw a reassuring glance at the two younger men. “Okay the good news is that you don’t have a skull fracture.”
John and Roy both nodded and John chewed his lip nervously. “And the bad?” Roy asked cautiously, squeezing Johnny’s hand.
“You do have a concussion…That’s going to require some bed rest.” John nodded and squeezed his eyes shut as a wave of dizziness passed over him.
“Are you going to be sick?” Kel asked, seeing the sweat that suddenly broke out on John’s face and the tightly clenched eyes.
“No,” Johnny whispered as he fought down the nausea that head injuries usually brought. “What…What about my back…My leg?”
Kel undid the straps that held the C Collar in place. “You don’t have a broken back or neck.”
Roy breathed a sigh of relief. “Then what’s wrong with his leg?”
“I think you have what we call Peripheral Neuropathy Johnny. There’s some serious trauma to your spine and at least one or more nerves…It’s causing some swelling. My guess is that the feeling will come back as the swelling goes down.”
“And if it doesn’t?” Johnny asked, sounding almost hopeful that it wouldn’t. Kel and Roy exchanged a worried look.
“We’ll cross that bridge if it comes to it but I wouldn’t worry too much. I’m going to get you up to a room for the night with a dose of pain killers and a sedative to help you sleep.”
John looked disappointed. “Okay,” he said softly.
“Don’t worry Johnny,” Roy said gently. John nodded but his eyes wouldn’t meet his partners.
“I’m going to start you on Phenergan to control the nausea and antibiotics…Your lungs have been filled with sea water twice in three days…I want to nip any little problems in the bud. We’ll probably get you up on crutches in a day or two if you don’t develop any complications.”
“And if you’re a good boy…I’ll let you go home with Roy so Joanne can spoil you rotten for a few days,” Kel teased, knowing Jo’s fondness for the young man.
John threw him a half hearted smile at the attempted humor. “Thanks doc.”
“She told me to give her boy her love,” Roy added.
John blushed but nodded carefully, trying to make sure his stomach stayed in place. Brackett spoke to Carol and the nurse moved off. A few minutes later the young fireman felt a coldness flood into his vein and John’s eyes began closing once more. Roy squeezed his hand gently before laying it back on the table.
“You think he’ll really be okay?”
“He’s pretty bruised and probably in a lot of pain but it’s not crippling…He didn’t sever any of the nerves…He’ll probably start to feel some sensation by morning.”
“He looked almost disappointed when you told him he’d be okay,” Roy said dispiritedly.
“I know,” Kel agreed.
“I think he wanted an excuse to quit.”
“I think you’re right but I don’t intend to lose him that easily.”
“Me either doc.”
“I know you’ve got to get back to work Roy…Don’t worry about him okay. All he’s going to do is sleep but we’ll keep an eye on him.”
Roy nodded as the door opened and two orderlies pushed a gurney inside. Roy gave the dark head a final gentle pat before letting the two men move in beside his young friend. “Take care of him,” he warned them as he turned and left the room.
Roy ran upstairs several times over the afternoon and evening but Johnny remained in a drugged slumber. He’d squeezed his hand and spoken to him reassuringly, receiving a fluttering of dark lashes but true to Brackett’s word, the eyes remained shut.
Kel went to find Dixie as soon as he had Johnny settled in his room. The blonde nurse shot a glare at him as he approached the base station. Another nurse was pulling several vials of medication from the cabinets behind them.
“Don’t look at me like that Dix,” he said gently.
“I can’t believe you let DeSoto order me out of the examination room like that,” she growled softly, trying not to let the other staff members in the area hear her angry remarks.
“I had no choice Dix…Since Johnny gave Roy his Power of Attorney, he had every right to tell you to leave.”
“You didn’t even try…,” she began.
Brackett held up his hand to stop the angry flow of words. “Besides…He was right.”
“WHAT?” She yelled bringing a dozen heads around to stare at them in surprise. Kel’s sharp glare quickly set them back to whatever tasks they’d been doing. “Dix…Johnny needed someone who was concerned first and foremost with his welfare. That hasn’t been and wasn’t you for the last two days was it?”
She folded her arms over her chest angrily. “Regardless of how I feel for a patient…I can and will do my job Doctor,” she snapped.
Kel sighed. “I’m not going to argue with you Dix but I’m not going against Roy either. If Johnny is involved…Please just send another nurse until we can sort this out.”
“There’s nothing to sort out.”
Kel hung his head in frustration at the woman’s stubbornness, a bit afraid that if he and Joe Early were right, that Dixie was going to feel really foolish and guilty for the way she was treating John Gage…He just hoped there would be some way to salvage their friendship, especially the way John felt right now. “Okay Dix…,” he said wearily.
He turned and headed for his office. He picked up the phone and dialed a number. “LA County Coroner’s office,” a woman’s voice answered.
“This is Dr. Brackett, Rampart General…Could I speak to Dr. Naguchi?”* Kel asked.
There was a click and a pause before a male voice answered. “Hi Kel…This is Tom.”
“Tom…I’m calling about one of your cases.”
“I’m not quite finished with her yet…I’ve been a bit backlogged but I’ve got all the preliminary’s done. I’ll send you the report by tomorrow afternoon.”
“Do you have a cause of death?” He asked tentatively.
“I can’t give you that until I’m a hundred percent sure but what I can tell you is what she didn’t die from.”
“What’s that Tom?”
“She didn’t drown.”
Kel rested his forehead in his hand. “I was kind of afraid of that.”
“I’ll let you know the rest tomorrow.”
He hung up the phone but it rang almost immediately. “Dr. Brackett…”
“Dr. Brackett…This is Lt. Perry from the fire department investigation team. We’re looking into the boat explosion that occurred on Sunday morning.”
“My Captain asked me to give you a call and let you know that from what we’ve found, the explosion originated in the galley…The stove exploded.”
Kel sighed, this was going to get pretty ugly for Dixie but it might save Johnny’s career and his life if he could prove to the young man that Meghan’s death hadn’t been his fault at all. He just wished for the last piece of the puzzle but that was impossible now. “Thank you…Could you telex that over to me?”
John woke the next morning. His head pounded horribly and he wished whatever jackhammer was slamming around in there would quit…It was making him sick and his back ached miserably. His right leg still felt numb and he wasn’t sure whether to be upset by that or not.
He pushed the button to raise the head of the bed but immediately wished he hadn’t. His stomach turned and his face paled. He clenched his eyes shut, gasping for breath and swallowing hard. He felt an arm slide around his shoulders to hold him steady as something hard pressed against his chin.
Johnny lost the struggle and his stomach purged itself of what little was in it. He was breathing hard as the basin was removed and the arm slid away only to return a moment later with a wet towel. “You okay?” the deep familiar voice queried.
“Yeah thanks,” he murmured tiredly as his eyes cracked open to meet the blue of his partners.
The older man eased his young friend back on the bed. “Other than the obvious junior, how are you feeling?”
“My head and my back still hurt,” he murmured, still feeling nauseas.
“How about your leg? Can you feel it yet?”
“Not really…Still numb,” he mumbled.
Roy frowned. Brackett had been pretty confident that Johnny would be regaining some sensation by now. “Well…You took a pretty hard hit and Doc said it was pretty badly bruised so…,” he let the suggestion hang.
“What if it doesn’t?” John queried.
“What? Don’t even think that way junior.”
John bit his lip and looked away. “Can’t be a paramedic if I can’t use both legs,” he mumbled.
“Well that’s not gonna be a problem cuz you’re gonna be fine.”
“I guess,” he murmured.
Roy sighed and turned the younger man’s face back toward him. The dark eyes lifted to meet his. “Cap and the guys are gonna come by later okay and when Brackett releases you I’ll have three days off and Jo will be home so you can come stay with us until you’re back on your feet.”
“You don’t need to take care of me…I can go home. I don’t want to be a problem for you guys.”
Roy sighed at the words. Johnny was so darn insecure sometimes and now this mess with Dixie…It sure wasn’t helping his friend overcome them…that was for sure. “I know we don’t need to but you’re part of our family and we want to okay? You’re never a problem.” He reassured his friend.
John shrugged. “Maybe not for you,” he murmured.
“Johnny please…You gotta let this go and try to move on...Please.”
“I can’t Roy…I made a mistake and Meghan’s dead.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong and killing yourself or wishing yourself crippled isn’t going to change that or the way Dixie feels,” he argued.
John looked away and nodded his head but Roy wasn’t convinced. He saw the sadness still reflected in the dark eyes. He was still blaming himself. Damn it…If only Dixie would let this go so John could forgive himself and put this behind him.
A nurse bustled in with John’s medication halting the conversation. “Here are your antibiotics and this will settle your stomach Mr. Gage. They’ll bring your breakfast up in a few minutes. Dr. Brackett said if the pain gets too bad to let me know and we’ll give you something but he’d rather not have you take it if you didn’t really need it,” she said with a curious frown. “He also said they’ll be bringing you a set of crutches and if your back is up to it, we’ll try to get you up on them for a few minutes,” she said cheerfully.
John nodded but he didn’t look happy about the prospect. She bustled out and the blonde paramedic turned back to his partner. Roy tilted John’s chin up, correctly reading the look. “You’re a paramedic Johnny…A good one. It’s where you belong…Don’t let her take that from you.” Tears burned behind the younger man’s eyes. He blinked them away and finally nodded again. Roy patted his arm “I’ll be back in a bit Junior. I’m gonna go home and have my own breakfast.”
Roy left and Johnny lay back against the pillows. Did he still want to be a paramedic? What if something like this happened again? Could he choose who to sacrifice and who to save? What if he made the wrong choice again? Could he live with it? Could he live with this…With Dixie’s hate? God he didn’t know what to do. He closed his eyes and let sleep claim him.
Roy returned later that day. Brackett spotted him as he waited for the elevator and came to meet him. “Afternoon Roy,” he greeted.
“Doc…I was just on my way to see Johnny.”
“So am I…We can ride up together. The nurses told me that he says he still can’t feel that leg,” Brackett explained as they stepped onto the lift.
“I thought you said it wasn’t that serious?” Roy queried worriedly.
“I don’t believe it is Roy but if it doesn’t clear up soon, I’ll run a few more tests,” he replied with a doubtful glance.
“I saw him this morning. I was really worried about him and his attitude,” Roy admitted. Doc…Do you think he’s faking this injury?”
“No…No I don’t or at least not consciously…”
“What do you mean?” He asked warily.
“I mean I think it’s psychosomatic.” Roy raised an eyebrow but waited for Brackett to continue. “I think we were right yesterday. I think he’s so upset about this situation with Dixie that his mind found a nice, easy way to solve the whole situation.”
“Can you really do that?” Roy asked skeptically.
“Anyone can Roy…But with Johnny’s background of abuse and AS…He’s always used his mind to protect himself…Either withdrawing into it or blocking a painful memory,” Kel shrugged. “It’s a defense mechanism for him. The mind is an exceptionally powerful tool and it’s quite capable of blocking those things that bring pain or even telling his leg that it doesn’t work so he has an excuse to quit.”
“What are we gonna do?” Roy asked sounding depressed. If he couldn’t find a way to reach his young partner, he could lose him. They stepped off the elevator.
“Well hopefully by tomorrow I’ll have the answers that can fix this…So let’s just wait on anything drastic until after then,” he said cryptically.
They stopped outside John’s door. “Like what?” Roy questioned warily.
“I’m afraid I can’t be more specific until I see the coroner’s report later today but I can tell you what he told me.”
“And that is?” Roy prompted.
“That Meghan didn’t drown.”
“What?” The younger man gasped in shock.
Kel nodded but held up his hand to forestall the barrage of questions he couldn’t answer. “I don’t know myself what she did die from yet.” Brackett didn’t elaborate and Roy knew he’d never get it out of him, Kel’s expression made that clear. The doctor wished he could explain it to both young men but not without the proof of it. He’d taken the pain meds from Johnny just to be safe…Certain drugs could be highly addictive and he didn’t want John on anything until he was sure.
“Oh,” Roy murmured in disappointment.
“Exactly…So let’s just keep this to ourselves until I get all the pieces and then we’ll tell Johnny.”
Roy nodded his agreement, knowing Johnny wasn’t likely to believe him if they couldn’t show him the proof. Kel was still disappointed that he’d never be able to get the last missing piece.
They pushed the door to John’s room open and stepped inside. John appeared to be asleep but the dark eyes cracked open at the sound of their footsteps.
“Hey Junior,” Roy greeted as he came up beside him. His hand came to softly rest on the younger man’s head…his thumb gently brushed the sable hair away to get a better look at the tired eyes of his partner.
John’s cheeks flushed in embarrassment at the overly familiar gesture. It was bad enough that Roy treated him like his kid brother when they were alone but it was mortifying when he did it in front of anyone else…Even Brackett. Unable to move his head without feeling sick, John could only grumble…“Quit Roy,” he murmured, glancing toward the dark haired doctor sheepishly.
Roy chuckled at the embarrassed look and Kel shot him a grin. “Relax Johnny. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve seen him do that,” he teased as he pulled his penlight from his pocket. He checked John’s eyes for a few seconds. “How’s the leg?” He asked casually.
“I dunno, I can’t feel anything yet,” he replied.
“Okay Johnny…Let’s take a look then,” Kel said as he pulled the sheet up to expose John’s feet. John bit his lip as the doctor ran the handle of his penlight up the bottom of John’s left foot. The toes twitched and turned inward. Kel threw a glance at Roy and tried the right. There was no response.
Johnny looked up at him with a mixture of emotions. Fear and relief vied for dominance in the dark eyes. John loved being a paramedic. He loved being with Roy and being a part of the older man’s family but now…That joy had been stripped away and there was fear. Fear that he’d make another mistake and someone else would die. “Well doc…?”
Kel grimaced. “I’ll give it a little more time before we worry about it John.”
“You think maybe you missed something on the x rays...Maybe something serious?” He suggested helpfully.
Kel shook his head. “No…I don’t think that at all…I’m pretty sure it’s just bruised and it’ll be fine in a day or two.”
“Oh,” he said, sounding a little depressed.
“Johnny please,” Roy said quietly as his thumb once again began a soothing stroking motion. “Please, let this go.”
“Roy? Do you remember how you felt when that guy died and the doctor blamed you.”
“Well that’s the way I feel right now…Like I screwed up ya know? Like I was playing God with people’s lives and deciding who lived and died. I sacrificed one for the other,” he said quietly.
“You told me that I’d made the right decision that day too and you were right...Please…Can’t you trust me the same way?”
John looked away, the dark eyes filled with despair.
Please Johnny…Don’t shut me out, look at me.” The brown eyes slowly returned to look at Roy.”That’s not what happened out there. Chief Houts read the reports from both of us as well as Dr. Brackett here and the Coast Guard Officer that was on the scene with us. You’re in the clear junior. Whether it was because of your training or because your heart couldn’t bear to lose Dixie doesn’t matter. It was the right decision.
“Dixie doesn’t think so.”
“She will John,” Brackett assured him, knowing that when the truth finally came out, Dixie would have to finally let this go, though he suspected that the blonde nurse might well be halfway to forgiving the young man anyway. She loved him too much not to. He glanced at his watch. He needed to go and check on Joe Early. “Look I’ve got to go but if you don’t start getting the feeling back by tomorrow, I’ll run a few more tests okay but you’re going to be fine.” He headed for the door.
“Hey doc…?” Roy called after him. Kel turned back questioningly. “I’m um…Sorry about what happened in the exam room but…”
Brackett raised a hand to stop him. “You made the right decision too Roy and for all the right reasons.”
The younger man nodded as Brackett left and he turned back to his friend. “What happened Roy?” He questioned softly.
Roy smiled at him. “Nothing important Junior…Hey, have you had your dinner yet?” He asked, changing the subject.
“Not hungry,” he muttered.
“Johnny, you gotta eat,” he said as his thumb brushed over John’s temple.
“Maybe later…I’m still a little nausea’s and my head hurts,” he said, closing his eyes under the soothing feel of his friend’s fingers on his forehead.
Roy sighed but he let John have his way for the moment. “Okay junior. Tomorrow’s the last day for this crazy schedule we’ve been working and then I’ve got three days off…I bet Brackett will let you go by then and Jo will be home so,” he shrugged.
“Thanks Roy,” Johnny murmured, knowing the older man intended to bring him home with him until he was better.
“Okay junior…You get some rest and I’ll stop by when we get a run tomorrow okay?”
“Kay,” he sighed as he drifted off. Roy grinned at the sleeping form but it faded a bit after a moment. Johnny needed to hear Dixie tell him that she forgave him. That he hadn’t made a mistake but Roy didn’t know how to make that happen. The older man pulled the covers closer under Johnny’s chin. The kid would have been horrified if he’d been awake while Roy tucked him in but what he didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt him.
Roy stepped out of John’s room. The young student nurse Sharon and a nurses aid named Elaine stood in the hallway. Sharon smiled at Roy as he passed and he gave her a slight nod of recognition and continued on. She looked at Elaine as they pushed the door open to John’s room and stepped inside.
She glanced at the handsome man in the bed and sighed. Elaine set the tray on the bedside table and grinned at the younger woman. “He’s awfully cute isn’t he?” She teased. Sharon blushed and nodded. “Did you hear what happened in emergency when they brought him in?” Elaine asked.
“No…What?” Sharon asked curiously.
“Well you know how much Miss McCall hates him after he let her niece drown.”
Sharon shot her a sharp glance. “He didn’t LET her niece drown…He just couldn’t get to her in time,” she defended the young paramedic.
“Well that’s not the way Miss McCall see’s it but anyway…She went into the room with him and DeSoto threw her out.”
Sharon’s mouth dropped open in shock. “He did not,” she gasped.
The other one nodded. “I heard it myself and then a while later Brackett told her DeSoto was absolutely right to do it cuz she didn’t care about him.”
“That’s so sad,” Sharon whispered. “They used to be such goods friends.” There was a small whisper of sound from the bed and the two women glanced over but Gage still appeared to be asleep. “C’mon before we wake him up,” she said softly. The two left the room.
John’s eyes opened as the door closed behind them. Tears burned his eyes but he blinked them away, staring at the ceiling morosely. Dixie hated him and she’d never forgive him. Man…He’d give anything to change places…Give her niece back to her alive.
The pain in his heart was an even match for the one pounding in his head right now. John’s back was hurting but he refused to ask for anything to dull it…Punishing himself for his failure as he’d done his whole life, even those things he hadn’t done but had carried the blame for anyway, including his mother’s death. ‘It was her punishment for marrying a white and having a half breed son…,’ they’d told him and he’d believed them. It was why everyone left him.
The voice of his Aunt and Uncle reverberated through his mind. ‘You’ll never amount to anything…Failure…Burden…Trouble. Why couldn’t you have died instead of her?’
John wiped at the betraying moisture gathering in his eyes once more. He wished Roy was here. He needed his reassuring presence but the older man had gone home and John couldn’t bring himself to call him and beg him to come back.
He desperately wanted something to stop the pain but what would take this away? He glanced at the tray but the thought of food made him sick…He remembered the little bar from a couple of nights ago…Well sort of anyway.
He sat up lifted his right leg over the side of the bed. The crutches they’d brought in earlier were leaning against the wall and Johnny hopped his way over to them. He grabbed them and made his way to the closet where his clothes hung.
A few minutes later he made his way to the door. The evening shift change was in progress…The nurses were buried in their charts. John slipped from his room and awkwardly made his way to the elevator.
Within moments he was in the lobby calling a cab.
Brackett pushed the door open to Joe Early’s room. The older man was awake and carefully turned his head to look at Kel. “Hey Joe…You getting sick of lounging around yet?” Kel teased.
The older man gave him a wan smile. “It’d be better if I was on a beach and without a headache,” he replied tiredly.
Kel nodded and pulled a chair over by the bed. “I can’t stay long but I wanted to check on you.”
“Kel…Can you tell me what happened?”
Kel blew out a breath. “The boat exploded Joe. We all ended up in the water.”
“My God…What caused it?”
“Near as they can tell it originated in the galley…The propane tanks ignited.”
Joe frowned. “The galley? But what would touched that off?”
“I don’t know but Meghan was the last one down there.”
“Well…Does she know what happened?”
Kel frowned. No one had told him when he’d first awakened what had happened so this would come as a shock for him. “Meghan’s dead Joe…She didn’t make it.”
“Oh God,” he whispered. “Poor Dix… How’s she handling it Kel?”
“Not well…She’s blaming Johnny.”
“It was Johnny and Roy that responded to the call…Roy and I got you out while Johnny went for Sam and Dixie who hurt her shoulder when she fell.”
“Yeah…Just a dislocation but anyway…She told Johnny to get Meghan but she was more seriously injured and Johnny took her first.”
Joe gave him a confused look. “But that’s what he’s trained to do…But if Meghan was that badly injured…”
“She didn’t look injured Joe…I saw her too. She was swimming strongly and keeping Sam’s head above water. Johnny couldn’t know she’d run into trouble…He almost drowned himself trying to save her.”
“Then why is Dixie blaming him?”
Kel shrugged. “I think she’s angry that he spent the night with her…That he betrayed her trust.”
“But John doesn’t even remember what happened.”
“I know…And now no one ever will. I spoke to the coroner yesterday and he said Meghan didn’t drown.”
“What? Then what did she die from?”
Kel shrugged. “He said he’d let me know later today but I already have my suspicions.”
“I had my own Kel…Especially the way Johnny was that morning.”
“But Mike didn’t run a tox screen when they brought John in that afternoon so we’ll never know.”
“What happened to the one I ran…Was it inconclusive?”
“The one you ran?”
“I told you I did blood work that morning…Didn’t you see it.”
Kel stood up abruptly. “Joe…You’re a life saver.”
“I am?” He questioned as Kel bolted toward the door.
“You are…You may have just saved Johnny’s career and their friendship.”
Joe grinned as Kel disappeared. Brackett snatched up the phone at the nurse’s desk. “This is Dr. Brackett. Dr. Early ordered some blood work on John Gage Sunday morning…I need to see those reports.”
He hung up a moment later and went in search of a young student nurse. He found her on the third floor. “Sharon…The lab told me they gave you John Gage’s test results on Sunday…Where did you put them?”
“On Dr. Early’s desk,” she answered timidly at the anxious frown on the doctor’s face.
Kel could have kissed her. “Thank you.” He turned and ran for the elevator.
A few minutes later he sat in his office with the report. He ran his hand over his face in shock at what he was seeing. If this is what was in John Gage’s blood eleven hours after the fact…? Dear God…She could have killed him. No wonder he’d tired so quickly out there and how much was still in his bloodstream. Kel knew this stuff could stay in the blood for days sometimes. He hung his head…Man how was he ever going to tell Dix?
Kel sat there wondering what to tell the woman who had been and still was the love of his life even though he knew that that part of their relationship was over. The phone rang. He picked it up.
“Kel…This is Tom Naguchi at the coroner’s office.”
“Hi Tom…What have you got?”
“I’ve sent you the whole report Kel…But I wanted you to know as soon as possible. Meghan McCall died from cardiac arrest brought on by an overdose of methamphetamines. She had enough in her system to kill someone twice her size. Whatever she took was pretty powerful stuff.”
Kel shook his head. “Thanks Tom…I was kind of afraid that’s what it was but I couldn’t tell Dix that without any evidence.”
“I’m really sorry Kel. The report should be there soon. I sent it by messenger.”
“Thanks and I’m sorry too but you might have just saved Dixie a whole different heartbreak as well as a young paramedics self confidence.”
“Well then…I’m glad something good could come of it…It wasn’t very good news.”
Kel hung up but the phone rang almost immediately. “Dr. Brackett,” he answered. “WHAT?” He barked a minute later. “Call security…Have them check the roof and then the rest of the grounds.” He slammed the phone down. “Damn it Johnny,” he growled angrily.
Roy picked up the phone on the third ring. “Roy…This is Dr. Brackett…”
“Hey doc…Is Johnny okay?” He asked, a little worried that something had happened to his young friend.
“I couldn’t tell you that Roy…He’s missing…AGAIN.”
“Oh no,” Roy groaned. “Did they check the roof?”
“Yes…He’s not there. In fact he’s nowhere to be found in the hospital. Can you check his apartment?”
“You get him back here if you find him Roy. He still has a concussion and there are some things I need to check out.”
“I’ll tell you when we get him back here…Just find him Roy okay.”
“I’ll do my best.” Roy hung up and grabbed his keys. “Where are you junior?” He muttered as he headed for his car.
The sky was growing dark with threatening storm clouds when the cab pulled up in front of the hospital and Johnny climbed in. “Where to buddy?” The driver asked.
He hadn’t thought about it…He didn’t know any place to get what he was looking for. “Just drive around and I’ll let ya know,” he mumbled looking embarrassed.
The driver threw him a questioning glance in the rearview but finally shrugged. “It’s your dime pal,” he said as he pulled away.
They drove for a few miles before John pointed. “Stop there and wait…I’ll be right back.” John climbed out awkwardly while the cab driver smirked at his choice of stopping places. He hobbled inside on his crutches. A few minutes later John carefully made his way back to the taxi.
He couldn’t go home. That would be the first place they’d look for him. John glanced at the blue eyes looking at him in the mirror…Waiting for a destination. John bit his lip in indecision. Blue eyes…Like Meghan’s and like Dixie’s. Well why not to where it had begun… “Just take me to the pier.”
The man glanced up at the gathering clouds. “It’s gonna storm buddy. The pier gets pretty rough in this kinda weather,” he warned, concerned at the depressed look in the young man’s dark eyes and the bag he held in his lap. “And there ain’t no cover either,” he added for good measure. “Maybe I could take you to a friend’s house huh?”
Roy…John thought about it but he knew his friend would be angry at him. Worse…He’d take him back to Rampart…Back where Dixie was…Where there was a constant reminder of the hurt and pain, whether from Dix herself or the other’s who worked there. He didn’t care if he got a little wet…Or even if he fell in at this point. He couldn’t go back...He just wanted to be alone and make the hurting stop.
“No…The pier’s fine,” he finally murmured.
“Okay kid,” he murmured. He put the car in gear and drove away.
Dixie stopped by the base station on her way home. “Hi Martha,” she greeted her replacement.
“Oh hi Dix…Finally going home?”
“Yeah…I’m off tomorrow and then my brother’s coming in the next day to take Meghan home,” she said sounding defeated.
“I can’t tell you how sorry I am Dix,” the dark haired nurse said sadly.
“Thanks. Have you seen Kel?”
Martha nodded. “He’s up on three with security.”
“What’s going on?”
Martha suddenly grew uncomfortable. “Um…Well Dix…Johnny Gage disappeared from his room a little while ago.”
Dixie’s eyes widened. “Have they found him?” She asked in concern.
“No,” Martha replied with a shake of her dark head.
Dixie chewed her lower lip in indecision. Should she go up and check? Why did she care anyway? ‘Because dammit, you love the kid,’ that persistent voice whispered in her head. She shoved it away angrily.
“Well…I hope they find him. He’s probably fine,” she said, trying to sound unconcerned. “Good night.”
Martha sighed sadly…It was such a shame that they couldn’t find a way to get past this. Dixie had loved this young man like a son or at the very least a little brother and now…? Martha shook her head and returned to work.
It was getting late and the rain had been falling for hours when Roy returned home. He’d called the guys and he’d been to Johnny’s apartment three times and visited several of John’s favored camp grounds. Roy was cold and wet and very worried about his young friend. If John was out in this…On crutches and with a concussion to boot…He could have passed out or fallen.
He’d called Brackett from a pay phone twice to see if they’d found him but the older man had told him no and he was very worried about his wayward patient…So was Roy.
He looked at his watch…It was one in the morning and he had to work tomorrow. What was he gonna do? How far could Johnny get on crutches anyway, he wondered? Hmmm…How far could he get? Not far…Not without help.
He couldn’t walk far with that bad leg…He had to have had a ride and that left only a couple of alternatives. He’d either hitched a ride with someone or he’d called someone. He hadn’t called any of his friends. None of the nurses had admitted to helping him…That left only one. John had to have called a cab.
Roy thought about the taxi’s he saw regularly around Rampart and went to the phone in the kitchen. He grabbed the phone book and started dialing.
He was on the fifth cab company before he finally caught a break. “Yes sir…One of our taxi’s picked up a fare at Rampart earlier this evening,” the older woman’s voice replied.
“Can you reach the driver and ask him what he looked like…Where he took him?”
“Is this important?” She questioned warily.
“He wasn’t supposed to leave the hospital…He has a concussion and he may not know what he’s doing,” he hedged.
“Oh…I see. Can you hold while I call my driver?”
“Yes,” Roy practically shouted in relief. It had to be Johnny…Where had he taken him? “Please God, let him be safe,” he whispered softly as he waited.
She came back on the line a minute later. “He said it was a young, dark haired man on crutches. Does that sound like your friend?”
“That’s him,” Roy told her. The relief in his voice was plain even down the phone line. “Where did he take him?”
“He said he dropped him at the pier. He said he tried to talk him out of it because of the weather but the kid wouldn’t listen.”
“Oh God,” Roy whispered. “Thank you,” he said quickly as he hung up and headed back out into the storm.
Johnny sat on the edge of the pier watching the wave’s crash as the tide rolled in. He glanced up at the threatening sky. The first rain drops splattered against his face and John closed his eyes and let them roll down his cheeks.
He opened the bag he’d brought from the store and pulled out a bottle. He looked at the amber liquid inside. ‘Damn drunk Indian,’ he heard the words the townspeople had laughingly called his uncle on several occasions. John had flushed in embarrassment and terror whenever it happened, knowing what would follow.
“You’re the reason I get drunk boy…You and that white man your mother married…Half breed brat,” he snarled as his hand lashed out viciously. Sometimes when he was drunk enough, John was fast enough to duck the blow but sometimes he couldn’t and it would be enough to send him reeling. The man would follow relentlessly if John couldn’t get away from the first one. “You’re gonna be just like me,” he sneered. “A nothing…A loser.”
John had shaken his head…He had dreams…He was going to be a fireman and nothing would stop that goal. They’d laughed at him but he hadn’t cared…He’d prove them all wrong.
He looked at the bottle in his hand. Maybe his uncle was right…He was nothing…A failure. He’d let a beautiful nineteen year old girl drown because he couldn’t get the job done. John opened the bottle, bracing himself against the smell that usually made him sick and remembering that the first swallow bit back.
He brought the bottle to his lips and tipped his head back…He choked and sputtered until it burned its way into his stomach. A wave crashed against the pier, soaking his feet but John didn’t care. The rain began to fall a bit harder.
A warm feeling spread in the pit of his stomach. John set the second bottle aside and put the first one to his lips again. It was an action he’d repeat many times over the next few hours.
Roy parked his car and climbed out. The rain was falling once again and he pulled the collar of his jacket up and headed down the pier. He could hear the crashing of the waves against the pilings but he could see very little through the gloom.
He made his way down the darkened walkway but he was almost to the end before he saw him. Roy froze at the sight of his partner swaying dangerously as he stood at the edge of the pier gazing out into the darkness.
Roy sucked in his breath as a storm tossed wave washed over the planking, almost sweeping the young man’s feet out from beneath him. “Johnny?” He called softly.
John heard him…He spun around, staggering slightly on the unbalanced crutches. Roy saw the bottle in his hand…Another lay empty on the dock. Good Lord…How much had he had to drink? “H…Hey R…Roy,” he stuttered.
“Hey junior…Um, why don’t you come over here so we can talk for a minute?” He suggested gently, afraid if he moved to quickly that John would back pedal and fall.
John shook his head. “Do…Doan wanna t…talk,” he said.
“Cuz…Cuz…You’re go…gonna tell me…It was…wasn’t my fault but it is…It’s always my fault,” he murmured. “Damn half breed,” he whispered. “Dis…Dixie hase me Roy,” he slurred.
Roy’s mouth tightened angrily. God…What had they done to him as a child…What had Dixie done to him?
“It’s not your fault Junior…None of this was your fault.”
Another wave washed over John…He gasped and blinked at the shock of the cold water…Almost falling as the crutches were swept from under him.
The bottle dropped from his hand and smashed on the wooden decking. “Oops…I made…a mess,” he said sadly. He looked up at Roy pathetically. His hair was plastered to his face and water ran in rivulets down his cheeks.
“It’s okay Junior…Someone else made the mess…You’re just paying for it," he murmured as he took a step closer. He held out his hand. “I’m gonna come over so I can talk to you junior okay?”
“I’m col Roy,” Johnny mumbled as a shiver swept through him.
“I’ll bet you are Junior…Why don’t I take you home and you can crawl into a nice warm bed and sleep okay?” Roy suggested.
“No,” he replied with an exaggerated head shake that almost tipped him off balance.
“Why not Johnny?”
“I’m naw coming back…Not a good…para…para…medic. Damn drunk Indian,” he mumbled.
“No you’re not Johnny…You’re the best. The best paramedic…Best friend…Best kid brother.”
John gave him a sloppy grin. “Ya thin so?” he asked uncertainly. “I doan.”
“Well I do,” Roy argued as another wave suddenly swamped the younger man. John gasped as his bad leg buckled beneath him and he began to fall. “Oh God,” Roy gasped as he ran the last few steps, catching John just before he could tumble into the water.
He pulled him against him, holding him to his chest in relief. “Can’t breathe R…Roy,” John gasped. Roy wanted to shake him for scaring him so bad but he remembered the young man had a concussion and refrained. He settled for holding the face of his young friend between his hands.
“You’re lucky I don’t kick your ass,” he said angrily.
The dark eyes suddenly filled with tears. “You m…mad at me t…too?”
Roy sighed. “No junior…I’m sad for you,” he said gently as he brushed the sopping, sable hair from John’s eyes. “C’mon, let’s get you somewhere dry and warm.” The crutches were gone but it really didn’t matter. John couldn’t have walked on them anyway at this point. Roy put his arm around him and began to help him up the pier.
Halfway there, John staggered and almost fell. “Th...think I’m gon…na be sick,” he whispered forlornly.
Roy didn’t doubt that for a minute. He let Johnny sit and held his head as he lost the contents of his stomach. Probably a good thing but the problem was that there really wasn’t much coming up which meant it was already metabolized in John’s system…That was bad.
Roy pulled him to his feet when he was done. He needed to get Johnny some help but he certainly didn’t want to parade him through the halls of Rampart in this condition. That would reach the ears of the Chief and heaven only knows who else within hours.
If Joanne was home, he’d have just taken him there but he had to get some sleep and he couldn’t stay at home to watch him. John’s eyes were closing and he was on the verge of passing out. Roy had been here himself once or twice in his life…He knew he’d be sick as a dog in the morning and he didn’t want to leave him alone.
He had an idea…She had caused this drunken state…Let her deal with the consequences of it. He drew his partner over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. John’s body was limp and his head hung in a stupor as Roy carried him to his car. He managed to get John into the passenger seat and went around to climb into his own.
John was already asleep or passed out…Roy wasn’t sure which. It didn’t much matter at this point. He didn’t envy his young partner when he woke in the morning at all.
Dixie was awakened by a pounding on her front door. She climbed from her bed and threw a robe on over her nightgown before hurrying to the door. “Who is it?” She called cautiously through the portal.
“Roy DeSoto,” the reply came.
She frowned. What would Roy be doing here at this time of the morning? She opened the door and gasped in shock as Roy came inside carrying an unconscious and soaking wet John Gage.
“What in the world?” She asked.
“He’s unconscious and stinking drunk.”
“Well what did you bring him here for?” She asked angrily.
“Well I couldn’t very well take him to Rampart now could I…,” he said with a sneer of his own. “And I have to work. I need someone who knows what they’re doing to keep an eye on him until this wears off.”
She folded her arms across her chest. “Why not the hospital?”
“Anyone see’s him like this it could ruin his career…He did this because you were angry with him. I think you owe him this. You said today that you could do your job…I’m asking you to prove it.”
She wanted desperately to tell DeSoto to leave but Johnny moaned softly and she couldn’t bring herself to turn him away. Meghan’s bed was unmade and Roy couldn’t hold the unconscious young man while she made it up.
“All right, bring him in here,” she said leading them to her bedroom. Roy’s eyes widened a bit when he realized where they were. She pulled a desk chair around. “Sit him down on that.”
Roy raised a questioning eyebrow. “Why?”
“He’s soaking wet DeSoto. If you think I’m letting you put him in my bed like that you better think again. Get those wet clothes off of him before he gets pneumonia on top of everything else. I’ll get a towel.”
Roy’s eyes widened in surprise. “Uh Dix…I don’t exactly have anything else to dress him in.”
Her hands landed on her hips in exasperation. “Oh for Heaven’s sake Roy…It’s not the first time I’ve seen John Gage in his birthday suit. Just get him out of those wet clothes.”
Roy nodded and began to strip the sodden clothing from his partner. The uniform shirt was first. He unbuckled John’s belt and pulled him to his feet as Dixie returned. She shook her head and took over, efficiently skimming the wet trousers and boxers from the younger man before letting Roy sit him on the edge of the bed.
She draped a towel over John’s head and used a second one to dry him off as Johnny shivered uncontrollably. Roy was looking a bit red faced as she continued on. She glanced up and almost laughed at the embarrassed blush that stained his cheeks. “Don’t worry Roy…I’ll never tell a soul that you were holding your drunk and naked partner in your arms in my bedroom,” she teased.
Roy looked horrified for a brief moment before the absurdity of the situation hit him and he grinned. “Um thanks Dix…I’d really appreciate that,” he mumbled.
Finally dry, the two of them laid John down and Dixie pulled the covers over him. Roy’s blue eyes watched the older woman as she stood staring down at the young man in her bed. He saw the slight softening of her expression and felt a bit more relaxed at leaving Johnny in her care. “I’ll call Kel and ask him to stop here on his way to Rampart and check him out. How much did he drink?”
“A bottle of whiskey and he was starting on the second.”
“Oh dear God,” she murmured, shaking her head. She’d never known Johnny to drink more than a couple of beers. Was this what had happened that night with Meghan…Her niece had said it was only one beer and he certainly wouldn’t have been able to function at work the next day if he’d been this drunk…Especially if Johnny’s tolerance for alcohol was as low as his tolerance for drugs. “I’ll call Kel now…Johnny could be quite sick…Why don’t you go home and get some sleep Roy…I’ll take care of him,” she promised as she reached out take his pulse…It was slow and his breathing was a bit shallow and raspy as well.
Roy nodded and headed for the door. “Thanks Dixie and I um…I’m sorry for yesterday…I mean in the treatment room.”
She nodded. “I guess I deserved it,” she admitted. She heard her front door close a minute later and turned back to Johnny. He was tossing a bit and his hand moved searchingly and she knew he was reaching for Roy. She took his hand and reached out to brush the damp hair from John’s forehead. He moaned uneasily. “Shhh Johnny, go to sleep…I’ll take care of you.”
She reached for the phone to call Kel as John resettled. “Hello,” he said on the first ring.
“Were you awake?” She questioned in surprise.
“Hi Dix…Um Yeah…Johnny disappeared from Rampart tonight…I’ve been waiting for the police or Roy to call and tell me they found him. I’m really worried.”
“Well don’t,” she began.
“Dix,” he started to say angrily, thinking she was going to jump all over John once more but she continued.
“Don’t…Because he’s here with me.”
“What?” Kel demanded.
“Roy found him and brought him here. Kel he’s totally smashed and I do mean totally. Can you come over and check him out?”
“Why would Roy bring him there instead of Rampart?” He asked in surprise.
“He said he didn’t want anyone to see him and report him to Houts or Sorenson.”
“Oh…Well, he might be right. I’ll run by Rampart and pick up a few things Johnny might need.”
She hung up and looked back at the young man. She wondered briefly how many of her nurses would be green with envy if they found out she had the handsome, young paramedic naked in her bed and she remembered Meghan’s teasing question.
Did she love Johnny? Dix let a sad smile play on her lips…He’d been a little brother figure to her for a year now but she knew if it hadn’t been for the age difference…She sat on the edge of the bed and smoothed the hair back from his face. Meghan had guessed correctly and she had to admit that she loved this young man very much…“If I were twenty years younger little boy…I’d have given you a run for your money,” she said softly. She leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on his lips.
“Ummm,” John murmured softly but he didn’t wake.
Dixie smiled ruefully, knowing Kel might have been right. There was a bit of jealousy that Meghan had had what she never would…Not from Johnny anyway. Maybe the right man would come along someday. She kissed John’s forehead and went to make some coffee while she waited for Kel.
Kel arrived about thirty minutes later. Dixie answered the door. “Where is he?” He questioned as he came in with a portable oxygen tank and his bag.
“In here…He’s still out like a light…His breathing is a little slow and so is his pulse.”
Kel followed her but he looked a bit shocked to be led to Dixie’s bedroom rather than the guest room. He sat down next to Johnny. He tucked his stethoscope in his ears and pulled back the covers. His eyes lifted to Dixie in surprise. “Um Dix…Why is John Gage in your bed naked?” He asked point blank.
Dixie folded her arms over her chest and her blonde eyebrow arched as she broke into a grin. “Not that it’s any of your business who’s naked in my bed,” she pointed out. “But Roy found him on the pier in the rain. He was soaked to the skin and I don’t exactly keep men’s pajamas around my apartment. You took yours with you when you left,” she reminded him. “I didn’t think he’d appreciate one of my nightgowns either,” she finished flippantly.
“Okay Dix…I got the point.”
“I put them in the washer…,” she said finally.
Kel nodded and finished with the exam. “How much did he drink?”
“Roy said a whole bottle of whiskey and he was working on another.”
“Geez Johnny…What were you trying to do…Kill yourself?” Kel questioned softly, afraid he’d been trying to do just that…So was Dixie. “I’m going to put him on oxygen…I brought a bag of ringers with me. I’ll leave it for you. If he starts vomiting, you’ll need to rehydrate him. Try to get as much water into him as he can keep down too.” She nodded. Kel gave him an injection of B1… “That might help some. I’ll also leave some Compazine but if he drank as much as you said it probably won’t help much.” Kel took a quick blood sample. “I’ll get a reading on his blood alcohol,” he said but that wasn’t all he wanted to check.
She nodded. “Thanks…I’ll keep an eye on him.”
He nodded as he reached into his bag and pulled a sheaf of papers. “Um Dix…Can we step into the other room? I need to talk to you.” She followed him into her living room. “Dixie…There’s no easy way to tell you this so I’m going to just say it.”
“What’s that Kel?” She questioned warily.
“Um…I uh…Heard from the coroner’s office last night. They sent the final results on Meghan.”
She nodded. “She drowned…I already knew that.”
Kel frowned and looked at the floor. “She didn’t drown Dix.”
“What? What do you mean she didn’t drown?”
“She died from a heart attack.”
“Don’t be ridiculous…She was only nineteen and in perfect health. Look Kel…I’ve finally let this go with Johnny. You don’t need to make excuses for him okay…I forgive him. He made an honest mistake.”
Kel shook his head. “Dix…You know I’d never lie to you. Meghan had a heart attack brought on by an overdose of methamphetamines.”
Her hand lashed out to connect firmly with his face. “You’re lying…Meghan wouldn’t do that,” she snapped angrily. “How could you try to destroy her memory like that?” She wept.
“Dix…I’m not lying,” he said, rubbing his reddening cheek and handing her the autopsy report. “Read for yourself.”
She snatched the paper from his hand…Her blue eyes scanning the report. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she turned and ran for the guest room…Kel followed. “This is a mistake,” she snarled angrily. “I’ll prove it to you.”
She began to yank Meghan’s things from the drawers. The first was emptied and then the second. “Dix don’t…Please don’t do this to yourself.”
“You’re wrong,” she barked as she jerked the third drawer open. Meghan’s clothes were tossed haphazardly on the bed. “See,” she began triumphantly as she reached in for the last item of clothing. “There’s noth…” She stopped as her hand encountered a wooden box.
“What is it Dix?”
She pulled it from the drawer. Her blue eyes lifted to Kel’s uncertainly…She licked suddenly dry lips. She opened the box and her face crumpled in grief. “Oh no, she whispered as tears rolled down her cheeks. Kel took the box from her trembling fingers.
He glanced inside at the array of methamphetamine rocks…Caplets and small vials with syringes. “God Dix…I’m so sorry.” She sat down hard on the bed, the look of shock on her face tore at Kel’s heart but he had to tell her the whole truth…She needed to know. “Dix…It gets worse.”
“What? How could it be any worse?” She sobbed.
He handed her John’s blood work. “This is from the sample Joe Early took from Johnny that same morning. “John’s blood alcohol was zero but…”
Her eyes scanned the paper before she looked up at him in horror. “Oh my God,” she whispered as she did the math. She suddenly remembered Meghan’s words. ‘He was reluctant…I had to persuade him,’ she’d giggled and patted her purse. Dixie hadn’t caught on.
“Dix?” Kel questioned.
“You think she drugged him without him knowing it?” She whispered.
“Had to be Dix…It would explain why he doesn’t remember what she said happened and why he was feeling so tired and sick and we both know John Gage would never willingly take any drug.”
She nodded. “God Kel…She could have killed him?” She said, knowing as well as Kel did how low John’s tolerance for drugs was.
Her heart broke at what she’d put Johnny through…What she’d accused him of and he’d been totally innocent of the whole thing…A victim of her own niece’s selfish and irresponsible actions. John hadn’t killed Meghan…She’d killed herself. Dixie was crushed. She had to tell him how sorry she was for everything. She’d lost Meghan…She didn’t want to lose Johnny too.
Kel left as soon as he was sure Dixie was alright. He’d hated to do it but she’d needed to know the truth. Chances were that the explosion was directly related to Meghan as well though they’d never be able to prove it. He assured her that he’d be back to check on John a little later.
She returned to John’s side and sat on the edge of the bed to watch him sleep. A soft whimper slipped from his lips and she wondered what he was dreaming of that had wrenched that sound from him and prayed that it wasn’t nightmares of a drowning girl.
“Johnny…Shhh sweetie…Its okay,” she soothed as she smoothed the hair from his face.
John was floating in a sea of blue…but suddenly the calm water began to turn choppy…He felt himself being sucked under and he couldn’t get back to the surface. A blonde pony tail and lifeless blue eyes drifted before him and he reached out to try and grab her but she was gone. He tried again and again but he couldn’t find her.
He gasped for air and began to sink…A whimper slipped from his lips as his lungs seemed to explode. He felt Roy breathing for him and he gagged but it wasn’t water that spewed from his mouth.
Dixie heard the warning pant and quickly grabbed the pail she’d placed there earlier. “Don’t you dare throw up on my bed John Gage,” she warned as she rolled him on his side. John gagged and began to retch miserably…His body spasming over and over.
His head was pounding like someone had let loose a herd of cattle to stampede through his brain. He opened his eyes but quickly shut them again as the rising sun shone through the window, blinding him with its brilliance. He moaned in agony…God what was happening to him?
“That’s what happens when you climb into a bottle of whiskey to drown your troubles sweetheart,” he heard a soft voice reprimand.
John forced his eyes to open and looked up into Dixie McCall’s stern face. His eyes flicked around the room trying to figure out where he was. His stomach rolled again and he started to climb from the bed, forgetting his bad leg but it didn’t matter…He flipped the covers back and gasped in shock as he realized he was bare butt naked.
The eyes rose forlornly to Dixie’s as he jerked the covers back over himself. His hand covered his mouth as he tried desperately to keep his stomach in place.
“It’s okay sweetheart…Let it go.” The soft voice instructed as she rolled him to his side once more. John heaved miserably several times before flopping onto his back and gasping for breath.
“Di…xie?” he finally choked out. “Where am I?” he murmured. This was the second time in three days that Johnny had awakened in bed naked and couldn’t remember how he got there…He didn’t like it.
“You’re in my apartment Johnny.” The dark eyes glanced at her questioningly before looking away in embarrassment. “You had a bit too much to drink last night and Roy brought you here.”
“Oh God,” he moaned. “I’m so sor…ry. Just…If you just give…me my clothes…I’ll get out,” he managed to stutter.
“Oh I don’t think so.”
“What?” He questioned, refusing to meet her eyes.
“I said I don’t think so. If I give them to you you’ll try to leave and I like you right where you are besides, I promised Roy I’d take care of you while he’s at work.”
“You doan need to do that,” he mumbled. “I can go h…home.” He once again felt the saliva begin to build in his mouth. “Ohhh,” he whimpered as he turned on his side and heaved into the bucket once more.
John felt limp and drained as he flopped onto his back too exhausted and feeling too bad to argue as Dixie gently wiped his face with a damp cloth. She tipped his chin up, forcing the humiliated dark eyes to meet hers. “You’re not going anywhere…Except to go to sleep…I’m going to put the oxygen on you and start an IV…Your going to become dehydrated from the vomiting if I don’t okay. We’ll talk when you’re feeling better.”
John’s eyes were closing despite his best efforts…Man he’d never felt this bad in his life. What the hell did they put in that damn bottle anyway? He wondered as he felt the needle prick his skin. He winced…”Need to go h…home,” he mumbled as his eyes closed.
“Not until I tell you how sorry I am sweetie,” she whispered to the now slumbering young man. She fit the canula under his nose and turned on the oxygen, hoping Johnny would feel better when he woke up the next time.
She picked up the phone. She had a call to make. It wouldn’t be a pleasant one but David had a right to know the truth. They’d face it together.
Dixie was puttering about the room as Johnny began to stir. She’d brought Meghan’s things in and dropped them in a chair. She was singing softly to herself as she folded the clothes and packed them in a suitcase.
John’s eyes blinked open and he squinted into the brightly lit room. He still felt terrible and between the alcohol and the concussion, his head was pounding unmercifully but at least this time he was grateful that he knew where he was.
He turned his head at the melodic voice singing and old favorite of his aunts called Cry Me a River, he turned his head toward the voice. “Ummm,” he moaned as his stomach rebelled at the wave of dizziness the motion caused. ‘Oh not again…’was all he time to think.
Dixie turned as she heard the groan. “Hold on sweetie,” she said as she moved to the bed. She barely made it in time to roll him on his side and grab the pail before the retching began. His body ached painfully before he finally stopped and she eased him onto his back while he gasped for breath.
Dixie rung out one of the cloths she’d placed there earlier and gently wiped his mouth. She wet the second and placed it over his forehead.
John was mortified. Naked and helpless and having to be cared for by the woman he’d failed so miserably. His face flushed in humiliation. “I…I’m r…rea…ly sor…ry Dix,” he murmured. “Roy sh…should…n’t have brought me h…here,” he stammered, unable to meet her blue eyes. “If you g…et me m..my clothes, I…I’ll go home,” he finally gasped out.
Dixie chuckled. “You can’t even get your head off that pillow by yourself,” she said swiping the damp cloth over his face. “C’mon tiger,” she said picking up the glass by the bed.”Let’s try getting some water into you okay?” She asked as she lifted his head and held the glass to his lips.
Johnny was a bit surprised by the teasing endearment but his head hurt too much to say anything. He clenched his eyes shut and sipped the water. She laid his head back on the pillows and set the glass down.
“I didn’t know y…you could sing,” he murmured.
“There’re a lot of things you don’t know about me John but we have time for you to find out.”
He looked at her warily at that comment. Johnny really wasn’t up to this conversation but she knew she had to tell him the truth…Apologize for what she’d said and done.
A knock at the door interrupted the upcoming apology. Dixie sighed and went to open it. Roy stood there with a bag and the HT in his hands. “Um…Hi Dix. How’s Johnny?”
“He’s awake and miserable. Kel has him on an IV to rehydrate him but it’s almost done.” Roy nodded as he followed the woman back to her bedroom.
John’s dark eyes swiveled toward his best friend in relief. “R…Roy,” he murmured.
“Hey Junior…How ya feelin?”
John put a hand to his head. “Shhh…Not so l…loud,” he moaned.
“Sorry,” Roy replied softly. “How are you?” He asked again more quietly as he reached out to flick the damp bangs from Johnny’s forehead.
“My head hurs and she w…won’t give me my cl…othes back Roy,” he murmured pitifully as his face flamed in embarrassment.
Roy glanced at Dixie curiously. “It’s one way to be sure he stays put,” she explained with a shrug. “After all Mr. Houdini here seems to make a habit out of disappearing from a room even with only one good leg.” John flushed again as Roy grinned at her reasoning. “I put them in the dryer.”
John tugged at Roy’s hand until he leaned down. “I really h…have to use th…the bathroom,” he whispered with an embarrassed glance at Dixie.
Roy grinned and held up the bag he’d brought in. “I brought his clothes from his locker.” He handed them to the blonde nurse.
“Good, then he’ll have something to wear home tomorrow,” she said smugly as she set them aside. John looked dismayed that they weren’t letting him get dressed. “I’ll be back,” she assured them as she disappeared out the door.
Johnny turned pitiful dark eyes on Roy. “Can you t…take me h…home?’
Roy shook his head as he glanced at the IV bag hanging from the bed post. “Not yet junior but I’ll come for you in the morning. I can at least get you into the guest room so Dixie can have her bed back,” he promised his friend.
The older woman returned with Johnny’s pale blue boxers. “There you go handsome…That should at least preserve your modesty,” she quipped as she handed them to Roy. “I think we can take this out now,” she said as she removed the IV. John winced a bit but remained silent. “I’m gonna go make the bed up in the guest room while you take care of him. You can bring him in there when he’s done.”
Roy nodded and helped John to sit up. He moaned and clenched his eyes shut but there was no way he wasn’t getting to that bathroom. Roy helped him pull the boxers on before getting him on his feet and helping him hobble his way across the room, half supporting and half carrying his partner.
John blew out a relieved breath…He’d been about to explode but he was too embarrassed to ask Dix for help or to try and get there with nothing on.
Roy helped him to the guest room and got him settled on the fresh sheets. “I don’t w…wanna st…ay here R…Roy…She hates m…me.”
Roy smoothed the dark hair back gently. “No she doesn’t junior and you can’t come home yet. Jo’s not there to look after you and you can’t be alone.”
John nodded in defeat. Dixie came back in a minute later. “Kel’s going to bring him a new pair of crutches when he comes back later,” she told them.
Roy nodded and turned back to his friend. “So junior…Did you learn anything from this?”
“Yeah…I never wanna see another bottle of alcohol…EVER,” Johnny mumbled.
“Good…You probably don’t remember but I almost lost you off the pier last night. Don’t scare me like that again Johnny okay?”
John nodded. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled.
Roy swept the dark hair off John’s forehead. “Look…I gotta go. I just wanted to be sure you were okay.” John looked panicked. “You’ll be fine Junior.”
“But Roy…?” He began to protest but Dixie interrupted them both.
“I uh…I need to talk to both of you.”
Roy gave her a sad smile. “Brackett already told me,” he said gently. “So I’ll leave you two to talk.”
Dixie reached up and kissed Roy’s cheek. “I’m so sorry Roy…Please can you forgive me?”
“I don’t have anything to forgive you for…That’s gotta come from him,” he said nodding toward Johnny.
“Yeah,” she murmured as Roy threw her a wink and left.
Dixie sat on the edge of the bed. John’s eyes avoided hers, looking anywhere but at the blonde nurse who’d once been such a special friend.
Dixie reached out to turn his face toward her. “Look at me sweetheart.”
John’s dark eyes finally rose to meet hers. “I have to tell you something but first I need to apologize.”
John started to shake his head. “No,” he winced as his head protested the motion.
“Shhh…Just listen,” she said putting her fingers over his mouth. “I was wrong. I was wrong about what happened between you and Meghan…I was wrong for blaming you for her death…For accusing you of making the wrong decision and most of all for hurting you.”
John looked at her in confusion. “I don’t un…derstand,” he whispered.
“Johnny…Meghan didn’t drown.”
“Yes…,” he began to protest.
“Listen…” John bit his lip and nodded. “Meghan died from a heart attack.” John’s mouth dropped open in shock as she continued. “It was brought on by the exertion of swimming and trying to hold Sam up…See sweetie,” Dixie blew out a breath. “She’d overdosed on Methamphetamines.”
A look of horror crossed John’s face. “No…She…She said she smoked a lit…le grass some…times but…”
“She told you that?”
“Yeah…I’m sor…ry. I shoulda told ya…But you were so angry at me…”
“Oh sweetie I’m so sorry.”
“I still shoulda been able to…to save her.”
Dixie shook her head. “No sweetheart…The reason you couldn’t remember anything from the night before is because she’d slipped some of those pills into your drink too.”
John’s eyes widened in surprise. “She did?”
“Yes…That’s why you tired so quickly that morning…Why you were sick and feeling so bad. Oh Johnny…I’m so sorry…She could have killed you. That was so selfish of her to put your life at risk for her own amusement. It was wrong of me to blame you for something you had no control of…To put your skills as a paramedic down and most of all to be so totally ungrateful that you saved my life…That you cared about me enough to want to come for me first. I hurt you so badly and I’m so sorry.”
John looked away and for a minute Dixie thought he’d never forgive her for what she’d said and done. All those self doubts seemed to sweep away…He could turn off those voices that had called him a failure. He hadn’t failed had he? Meghan was still dead and his leg was injured. She’d maybe cost him his career anyway…No…He had to take responsibility for that…He’d made the decision to go into the water that day…If this was permanent, then he had to take the blame for it just as Dixie was accepting her own and Meghan’s. He finally turned back.
“It’s okay Dix…I’m just sorry I couldn’t reach her in time maybe…”
She shook her head. “I doubt it would have made the difference Johnny. She was most likely in arrest before she went under. You didn’t kill her sweetheart…She killed herself…She almost killed you.”
“I wished I could change places for you…Give her back to ya you know? Trade one soul for the other,” he said sadly.
She smoothed the hair back gently. “I’m not sorry you couldn’t do that.” John looked at her curiously. “I’d have missed this sweet soul way too much.” John smiled up at her. She leaned down to hug him tightly…John’s arms returned the embrace and she finally kissed his cheek and sat back. “Now…You need to get some sleep young man,” she said pulling the covers up around his chin.
“Kay,” he whispered.
Kel showed up a bit later. “How’s he doing?” He asked as she led him to the guest room. He hated to admit it but he was very glad the young paramedic was no longer in Dixie’s bed. It had bothered him a great deal, though he’d never tell her that. He leaned the crutches against the wall.
“Poor thing was sick as a dog for a while there but he’s been awake off and on,” she replied as she stepped back to let him in close to John. “He finished off the ringers and I just took the oxygen off him a little while ago. He’s still got a hell of a hangover.”
“I’m not surprised but at least that’s all that’s still in his blood stream,” he said meaningfully.
Dixie blew out a breath as well. “That’s a relief and he’s sworn off drinking the hard stuff.”
Kel chuckled. “That’s good to hear,” he teased as he took John’s pulse. He pulled the pen light and checked John’s eyes. The younger man turned his face away with a muffled groan and his body twisted in annoyance.
“Kel,” Dixie said with a nod toward the foot of the bed. John’s legs were moving…Both of them.
Brackett smiled. “Everything alright between you two..?” He asked as he pulled the bedding away from John’s feet.
She nodded. “We had a long talk and I did a lot of apologizing but Johnny being Johnny,” she shrugged and smiled. “He doesn’t seem to know how to hold a grudge,” she said sounding thankful.”
Kel nodded and drew the back of the penlight up the bottom of John’s right foot…This time the toes twitched and curled inward. “Forgiving seems to be the miracle cure,” he teased as he squeezed Johnny’s foot, drawing an irritated moan from the younger man.
“Being told you’re not to blame for someone else’s mistakes certainly helps.”
“I’ll call Roy…He’ll be happy to know he can have his partner back in a couple of days,” he said as he packed up his things. “I’ll leave those in case the leg is still a bit weak.”
She nodded as she walked him to the door. “Take care of yourself Dixie…And our young friend in there.”
She nodded. Tomorrow wouldn’t be a good day. She’d meet her brother and help him get Meghan’s body to the plane for the return flight home. He’d been distraught that he’d somehow missed the fact that his daughter had had such a serious drug problem. He promised not to make the same mistake with Patrick. They’d always miss her but their family would recover and they would go on. He was strong just like Dixie and he’d keep his family strong too.
Dixie made her way back to John’s room. The dark eyes blinked open as he gazed up into soft blue. She smiled at him…at least she’d been able to save this part of her family. She’d been honest with Johnny when she’d told him she would have missed him… “Hey hotshot,” she greeted softly as she sat down and gripped his foot. “I have some good news for you…”
A week later Johnny and Roy stood at the base station with Joe, Dixie and Kel. Joe had been released from the hospital that morning and he was visiting before Kel took him home to rest a while longer.
The corridor was a beehive of activity with patients and staff coming and going. Joe looked at the young dark haired paramedic before turning an engaging grin toward Dixie. “So Dix…Would you care to tell me how John Gage ended up naked in your bed?”
John’s eyes widened and his face flushed crimson as Dixie hung her head in an ‘Oh my God, you did not just say that’ gesture.
Kel and Roy chuckled as three young nurses stopped in mid stride to stare in open mouth shock at what they’d just overheard. Dixie shot them a glare that got their feet moving but it didn’t last. They stopped to turn and stare back at the group in dumbfounded surprise.
“DOC,” John gasped at the implication. “I wouldn’t…I mean not with Dix…I…I mean…,” he stammered in embarrassment.
Her hands came to rest on her hips in indignation. “And just why not…I’m not pretty enough for you?”
“Not skinny enough? Too OLD…?”
“Yeah but…no…I…I,” he stammered helplessly.
A smile spread over her pretty face. “I’m just teasing you sweetheart,” she said softly. “It’s because we’re friends and we wouldn’t ever want to sacrifice that relationship would we?” She said as she cupped his chin and gazed into those dark eyes. No she wasn’t in love with John Gage but she would always love him.
“No we wouldn’t,” he agreed.
Joe and Kel glanced at the gawking nurses still standing up the hall watching with mouths agape. “So…You gonna tell them the truth? Joe asked with a nod in their direction. Dixie grinned and leaned across the desk to kiss John gently on the lips.
He grinned at her as she pulled back. “HELL NO…Let them wonder,” she teased with a grin.
* Tom Naguchi was the actual LA County Medical Examiner in 1973..
Published to Site 05/02/11
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