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Truth or Consequences - Part 1

An Emergency Story
by Tammy B

LINKS TO PART 1, 2,

Chris DeSoto and Johnny both find that not telling the truth can have tragic consequences, while Chris experiences his first taste of racial prejudice. The scene involving the swings at a fair is based on a true story that happened in Duxbury, Massachusetts back in 1960. I was an infant but the events were described to me many times by my Mom and my sister who witnessed the event…Don’t fret…They’re much safer and more closely regulated today than they were back then.

Time's passage through the memory is like molten glass that can be opaque orystalize at any given moment at will. A thousand days are melted into one conversation, one glance, one hurt, and one hurt can be shattered and sprinkled over a thousand. ...Gloria Naylor.

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“Squad 51…Fight in a bar…2979 Angeles Way…2-9-7-9 Angeles Way…cross street Fairmont… Time out… 2:11… The Station Control Unit sounded.

 

The lights came on and Captain Hank Stanley rolled out of bed to write down the address and keyed the Mic in response. “Squad 51 10-4…,” he responded as his two paramedics thirty year old Roy DeSoto and his partner twenty six year old John Gage rolled from their beds, jamming their feet into turnout pants and boots that sat ready beside their bunks.

 

They were already running for the squad as Cap intercepted them to hand Johnny the slip of paper…The rest of the crew rolled over and went back to sleep as Hank flipped the lights off and returned to his own bed.

 

“Man we sure are getting a lot of runs to this place,” Johnny complained, as he yawned and tiredly rubbed his dark eyes with the heels of his hands.

 

Roy grinned…His partner always reminded him of a child this early in the morning…The sable hair in disarray and his eyes still at half mast. The older man knew that would change in a heartbeat once they arrived at the scene. John’s adrenaline would kick in and the younger man would be bouncing off the walls.

 

Roy shook his head unable to figure out how he could be so hyper one minute and then immediately drop back to sleep once they returned to quarters. “I think they like ya…,” he teased.

 

“Johnny shot him an ‘Oh Yeah…’ look but didn’t answer. He returned his gaze to the front window as the squad pulled up in front of a grungy looking bar room. John sighed as he climbed out of the cab.

Loud music blared from the open door along with raucous laughter, hoots, whistles and the sound of breaking glass. “Here we go again…,” Roy muttered as they grabbed the drug box and Biophone and headed inside.

 

The bar was dimly lit and filled with the stench of stale cigarettes and cheap alcohol and even though the lighting was poor, Roy and Johnny could both make out the flurry of activity around the pool table.

 

Five women of various shapes and sizes were fighting. The sounds of flesh meeting flesh drifted through the uproarious laughter of several male patrons…punctuated by grunts as feet connected viciously with shins.  Nails drew blood and hair was flying in clumps of various colors.

 

Johnny’s mouth dropped open in shock. They’d been here several times before but it had always been the men brawling while the women cheered them on. “Oh man…,” Johnny muttered aside to Roy.

 

Roy’s blue eyes widened in surprise… “You can say that again…,” he mumbled. “Okay Junior…let’s go,” he murmured as they began to weave their way through the crowd. They exchanged a quick glance and finally set down their equipment on one of the pool tables and plunged into the melee.

 

The men gathered around booed heartily but didn’t interfere. They were well used to these two particular paramedics. “C’mon guys…don’t spoil it…,” one rough looking man hollered laughing. 

 

Johnny shot him a quick grimace but wrapped his arms around the waist of the slender blonde…Her long curly hair whipping across his face and into his eyes and mouth.

 

Roy grabbed her opponent…A heavier set woman with her hair cut in short spikes.

 

They hauled the two apart. “Ladies…,” Johnny grunted as the blonde thrashed in his arms, kicking wildly and thrashing from side to side.

 

“Ma’am…ya need to calm down…,” Roy insisted to his own as he spun her around and propelled her backwards out of the fray.

 

The blonde flung herself backwards, knocking Johnny over onto his back on top of the pool table. The men whistled wildly as she wiggled on top of him. “You got him down Jade…,” they hooted as Johnny struggled desperately to get her off of him and get up.

 

The door opened and several officers entered the bar drawing another round of boo’s… John finally managed to push the girl off of him and climbed back to his feet, still hanging on to her with one hand. She reached down and sank her teeth into his wrist… “OW…,” he yelled as he let the woman go. She spun around swinging viciously and caught him square in the cheek with a right hook.

 

John ducked away holding his face before turning to defend himself from further assault. The blonde finally a got a good look at her opponent and her demeanor changed immediately. “Ooh…I’m sorry baby,” she said seductively. Somehow it didn’t have the same connotation as it did when Joanne called him that. She reached to lightly caress his cheek with her lips but Johnny back pedaled rapidly as the police moved through the crowded room.

 

“You okay partner…?” Roy called as John gingerly touched the darkening spot just under his eye.

 

“Yeah…,” he muttered in disgust.

 

Jade threw herself into his arms… her mouth just inches from his face. “Ya want me to kiss it for ya and make it better baby…,” she asked as her hands ran over his body.

 

The bar erupted with whoops and hollers of encouragement. John’s face paled and then just as quickly turned scarlet under the assault.  “NO….No…thanks anyway…,” he muttered as he caught her hands and pushed her away.

 

Even the police grinned at his reaction…Roy chuckled in amusement… “C’mon junior…Let’s get em patched up. You ah…want her?” He asked nodding at the blonde…

 

“Uh…she doesn’t appear to be hurt…I think I’ll handle the one with the tattoo…,” he mumbled uncomfortably. The blonde frowned in disappointment.

 

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John followed the ambulance in the squad…Roy had gone with their only serious injury…One of the girls had suffered a fairly deep cut from a broken beer bottle but he’d also insisted that Johnny have someone look at the bite the girl had given him. John wasn’t looking forward to the tetanus shot he saw in his future or the round of razzing he was gonna take from the guys when they saw that black eye.

 

He touched the spot gingerly, wincing at the tenderness below his eye. They pulled into Rampart Emergency hoping none of the regular doctors and nurses he worked with would be there at this time of the morning.

 

He climbed from the squad and walked into the hospital. He breathed a sigh of relief when he spotted Martha Hays at the base station. If she was here then Dixie wasn’t. He headed for her while Roy accompanied his patient into treatment room five.

 

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“Wow…That’s quite a shiner you’ve got there John…,” Martha commented.

 

“Yeah…that last rescue was a bar fight…I got socked.”

 

“Musta been one nasty guy…”

 

A snort of laughter from behind him made them turn. Roy stood there grinning from ear to ear…“Nasty guy…?” He muttered.

 

John’s pleading dark eyes met Roy’s amused blue. He took pity on his younger partner… “Uh the victim bit him on the wrist Martha. You suppose there’s someone available to look at that?” He asked gripping John’s arm and lifting it to show the nurse.

 

“Oh sure…I’ll get Dr. Early.

 

“Ooh Nooo…,” Johnny moaned. She looked at him curiously but at Roy’s nod, picked up the phone and paged the doctor.

 

Dr Early examined the wound carefully.  “It’s not too deep. When was your last tetanus shot…?”

 

“A year ago…,” he said hopefully.

 

“You should be okay then but I’m gonna give you antibiotics just to be on the safe side.”

 

“Kay…,” he agreed in relief.

 

Martha put a bandage on John’s wrist. “How’d this happen any way…?” Joe asked.

 

“Bar fight…,” Johnny said quickly. “Roy and I were trying to break up a bar fight.”

 

Joe examined Johnny’s black eye. “Musta been a bruiser…,” Joe said.

 

Roy suppressed a whoop of laughter with his hand while Johnny shot him a warning glare. “Yeah a real bruiser Doc…,” Johnny agreed.

 

“Well she did kiss it and make it better…,” Roy said, unable to contain himself any longer.

 

Both Martha and Joe’s mouths dropped open in shock before they also began to laugh while Johnny’s face turned crimson as he shot his partner a betrayed look and hopped off the table. “Alright…You’ve all had your laugh…Can I go?” Johnny said in disgust.

 

Yes, you can go…,” Joe said with a grin.

 

“Uh Doc…You’re um…not gonna tell anyone about this?”

 

“My lips are sealed…,” Joe promised, holding up his hand in a scouts honor oath.

 

John’s dark eyes swiveled toward Martha. “Don’t even ask John…This is too good to pass up,” she giggled. “Dixie would never forgive me.”

 

“Oh man…,” Johnny groaned.

 

“Don’t worry about it junior…by the time we get back in two days maybe she’ll have forgotten about it.”

 

“Yeah right…It’ll be all over the hospital…”

 

Roy patted his back consolingly as they headed out the door.

 

“Put some ice on that back at the station Roy…,” Joe called. “It might help take the swelling down.

 

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Roy backed the squad into the bay. “Let’s get some ice on that cheek junior…,” Roy suggested.

 

“It’s not that bad…,” he muttered.

 

“Yeah well you can’t see it from my point of view,” Roy replied with a chuckle as he took John’s elbow and steered him toward the rec room. “Sit…,” he commanded his friend as he grabbed a dish cloth and filled it with ice. He carried it back to the table, laying it gently on John’s cheek.” John winced slightly but let Roy hold it on there. “It’s gonna be a pretty shade of purple tomorrow junior.”

 

“Great…”

 

“Well think of it this way…Maybe you’ll get some sympathy at the fair tomorrow.”

 

“What from a bunch of kids…?”


“Those kids have moms and some of them are single. They also have Aunts and big sisters…plus it’s open to the public.”

 

“Yeah…?”

 

Roy chuckled at the hopeful look. “You’re impossible junior. Let’s go get some sleep.” Roy tossed the ice pack into the sink, giving his partner a slap on the shoulder as they headed for the dorm.

 

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The wake up tones sounded at 7:00 AM and the crew of station 51 rolled out of their bunks. Stepping into boots and turnouts and snapping suspenders into place.

 

Johnny sat up slowly, rubbing his good eye and gingerly feeling the bruise under the other. Roy stood, stretching leisurely as the others left the room.

 

John watched them leave, knowing he would eventually have to face the guys and the harassment that would follow. Especially after Roy told them what happened.

 

Roy reached over and tipped his partner’s chin up, examining the bruise. “Well at least you can still see junior…,” he said encouragingly, noting that the brown eye was only partially closed.

 

“Thanks…,” he muttered.

 

“C’mon junior…,” Roy said with a grin as he left.

 

Johnny finally stood up and followed more slowly.

 

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They walked into the rec room while Chet was making coffee. The others sat at the table, pulling the newspaper apart and haggling over who got which section while they waited for the coffee to brew.

 

Cap glanced up as the two paramedics entered the room.  His eyes widened at the sight of his youngest crew member. “Wow Pal…What happened to you…?” He asked in concern.

 

The others looked up and Chet turned from the stove. “Oh man…That’s a heck of a shiner ya got there Gage…,” Chet teased.

 

“Yeah it’s real funny…I’m sure you’ll all love the story…,” he said glancing over his shoulder as Roy came up behind him. John sat down waiting for the ax to fall.

 

“Bar fight Cap…,” Roy explained as he rested his hands on his partner’s shoulders.  “There were five of em and we were trying to separate two of them and one turned around and socked Johnny,” he said without giving further details. John glanced up into Roy’s smiling face with a look of gratitude. Roy squeezed his shoulders lightly before he moved to his own chair.

 

Cap’s eyes narrowed and the rest of the crew shared a glance. They’d all seen Roy’s protective stance behind their youngest crew member and knew there was more than they were telling. They also knew they’d never get it out of them if Roy was bent on keeping the particulars a secret.

 

“What happened to your wrist?” Marco asked.

 

“One of em bit me…,” he muttered in embarrassment.

 

“Man…He must fight like a girl…,” Chet muttered.

 

Johnny glanced at Roy and saw his partner cover his grin with his hand.

 

“Yeah…you could say that,” Johnny mumbled.

 

They all went back to what they were doing until the coffee finished brewing. “Thanks…,” Johnny whispered to Roy…

 

“That’s what family’s are for junior…to cover your back.”

 

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“What are you two doing today…?” Chet asked as he carried his coffee cup over to the table.

 

John’s coming over to my house…”

 

“So what else is new…?” Chet snorted.

Johnny shot him glare as Roy continued. “Chris’ school is having a fair and we’re gonna take him and some of his friend’s to it.”

 

“Sounds like fun…,” Mike said. “Maybe I’ll take Melissa and Michael Junior to it.”

 

“Great…,” Roy said with a grin.

 

“Sounds like a great place to meet chicks…,” Chet said enthusiastically.

 

“Yeah…,” Johnny agreed with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. “I think Chris did mention they were having a dog show.”

 

“Oh…you’re a real riot Gage…,” Chet growled back as John giggled and the others laughed at his flip remark. “How bout it Marco…?” Chet asked.

 

“Sure…might be fun.”

 

“Well you all have a good time…I’ve got a ton of work to do around the house…”

 

“You need some help Cap?” Mike asked.

 

“Nah…but thanks…You guys have fun though…”

 

The crew of C-Shift began to arrive soon after…exclaiming over Johnny’s black eye and listening to the crews explanation. Johnny’s face flushed in embarrassment as his friends liberally embellished the tale. Roy grinned at his friends scarlet cheeks.

 

Charlie and Kirk walked into the rec room freeing Johnny and Roy to head for home. “We’ll see you in a while guys…” Roy said as they left.

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Chris and four of his friends were gathered on the front lawn when John pulled in. Three of them had known the young paramedic almost as long as Chris had and waved at him along with the young blonde. The other was new to the area and had only been friends with Chris a short time…Now the boys gray eyes raked condescendingly over the tall dark haired man as he stepped from the land rover.

 

“Uncle Johnny…,” Chris yelled as the nine year old ran across the lawn to greet his favorite playmate and beloved Uncle…A man he’d known since he was four.

 

“Hey buddy…,” Johnny greeted as he wrapped his arm around the boys neck in an affectionate hug. “Where’re your Mom and Dad?”

 

“They’ll be out in a minute…They’re getting Jen ready.”

 

“Great…” He turned to the other boys as they came over to greet him. They all loved Johnny and had been carted around along with Chris on many outings. Johnny greeted the three boys he knew… “Hi Ron…Hey Carl…Tony…,” He said giving them a scruff on their heads as he named each one.

 

“Hi Johnny…,” they responded with grins.

 

“Who’s your other friend…?” He asked Chris as he nodded toward the new boy.

 

“This is Dalton…,” he replied.

 

“Hi Dalton…Nice to meet you,” Johnny said offering the boy his hand. After a moment’s hesitation the boy took it but his eyes continued to look at the older man with disdain. Johnny recognized the look instantly…he’d seen it many times.

 

“You Indian…,” the boy asked boldly.

 

“Yeah I am…Half anyway…That a problem…?” Johnny asked with an arched brow.

 

The boy gave a half sneer… “Nah…Guess not…If they don’t care.”

 

Chris and the others had never experienced any form of bigotry and didn’t pick up on the tension or the contempt in the other boys tone. “Dalton’s from South Dakota…He just moved here…,” Chris explained.

 

Johnny’s mouth tightened with understanding… “A lot of Indian tribes in South Dakota…,” Johnny said softly.

 

Dalton smirked back. He knew they understood each other.

Roy and Joanne stepped out the door with Jenny in tow. The little girl’s eyes lit up with excitement as she spotted Johnny.

“Uncle Johnny…,” she squealed as she raced to leap into the dark haired man’s arms. He swung her high in the air dropping her down to his chest to squeeze her heartily before tickling her into fits of giggles…her laughter pushing the other boy’s attitude out of his mind. She gave him a smacking kiss on the lips.Jenny glanced up and noticed the bruise on Johnny’s cheek. “What happened to your face Uncle Johnny…?” She asked, patting Johnny’s cheek softly.

 

John touched the bruise as the children and Joanne turned their curious eyes on him. “Uh…Got punched in a bar fight,” he answered as Roy grinned broadly.

 

Dalton snorted… “Probably drunk himself…,” he muttered to the other boys. They looked at him in annoyance. They all liked John and the comment was uncalled for…

 

Chris threw him a glance of surprise… “Uncle Johnny doesn’t drink…well at least not much…,” he amended, wondering why the other boy would even think such a thing. He returned his attention to his parents and Johnny.

 

John set Jen down as Roy and Joanne joined them. “Hi sweetheart…,” Joanne greeted, placing an affectionate kiss on the young man’s lips, drawing a nose wrinkle of disgust from Dalton and a grin from John.

 

“Hey junior…,” Roy greeted, giving his partner a light slap on the shoulder.

 

“Hey pally…”

 

“I can’t believe your old man let’s your Mom kiss him like that…,” Dalton sneered at Chris.

 

“Why not…?” Chris asked innocently.

 

Dalton’s reply was unfortunately interrupted as Roy hollered to the boys. “Let’s get it movin…”

 

The boys ran for Jo’s station wagon while Johnny scooped Jen into his arms and followed after them. “I’ll take Jen with me…,” Johnny offered, seeing the cramped conditions in Jo’s wagon. His dark eyes flickered to Dalton but he threw a grin at Roy and Jo, determined not to spoil the day. He’d talk to Roy about it after.

 

“Great…We’ll meet ya there,” Roy agreed as they headed to their cars.

 

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They pulled into the parking lot of Chris’s school a short time later parking next to each other. Johnny climbed out and flipped the seat forward to unclip Jennifer from her seatbelt and pull her out, setting her on the ground as the others climbed from Joanne’s station wagon.

 

They all headed toward the rides and the loud music coming from the school grounds a small distance away.

 

“I wonder if Mike and the others are here…?” Johnny questioned out loud as Jen clung to his hand and skipped along beside him.

 

“I’m sure we’ll bump into them if they are…,” Roy assured him as they walked. The boys were talking excitedly about which ride to go on first.

 

“Mommy…,” Jen called excitedly, pointing at the tea cups spinning a short distance away.

 

The boys on the other hand were pointing at something far more exciting… “How about that one…?” They said pointing at a ride called the Octopus.

 

Roy glanced at it and back at Jen… “Too wild for your sister…,” he said discouragingly.

 

Seeing the disappointed look on the kid’s faces the younger man piped in. “Well, why don’t you guys take Jen to the tea cups…?” Johnny said pointing toward the ride. “And I’ll take them over to that one,” he said reasonably.

 

“You sure you don’t mind…?” Roy asked.

 

“Not a problem…We’ll meet you back here when we’re through and figure out what to do next.”

 

“Okay, go ahead guys…Uncle Johnny’s game…”

 

“Thanks Uncle Johnny…,” Chris said. Tony, Ron and Carl all patted the young paramedic on the back in thanks and headed for the ride. Dalton threw him a snide grin, as if Johnny were nothing more than a servant to Roy and his family and ran to join the others with Johnny following along behind with a frown, the boy’s look suddenly making him feel like the hired help.

 

“You comin on the ride with us…?” Tony asked. Johnny shook his head, feeling decidedly uncomfortable with Dalton and those condescending gray eyes.

 

“I’ll wait for ya here…,” he said quietly. The boy’s took off.

 

They returned a while later and found Roy and Jo had been joined by Marco and Chet along with Mike and his family. “Hey Gage…,” Chet greeted.

 

“Hi Johnny…,” Marco said as Mike gave the younger man a slap on the back in greeting.

 

“Hi guys…,” he replied. “Glad you found us.”

 

“Finally found some people on your own level to hang out with…?” Chet teased.

 

“Real cute Chet…Why don’t you check out the hog pen, maybe you can meet someone on your level…,” John shot back…

 

The others laughed as Chet frowned in mock anger…Dalton waited to see if the dark haired man with the mustache was gonna lay John out as the half breed deserved but was shocked when Chet suddenly grinned and slapped Johnny on the back, drawing another round of laughter from the others. Johnny smirked back in satisfaction.

 

“What are we gonna do next…?” Chris asked.

 

The boys pointed at the set of swings that was spinning its riders round and round a short distance away. Roy’s blue eyes looked at it assessingly. The ride looked off center to Roy and even above the music the sound of creaking reached his ears. The rasp of metal on metal…as if it was improperly seated and grating on itself. “I don’t think so guys…,” he said nixing the suggestion.

 

“C’mon Dad…,” Chris whined, afraid his friends would be disappointed

 

“Chris…,” His Father said warningly.

 

“Okay…,” he said quietly throwing the others a look of disappointment. “How about the tilt a whirl…?”

 

“That looks okay…,” Roy agreed. “Johnny…?” He let the question hang. 

 

“No problem…,” he said with a shrug. “Anyone else coming…?”

 

“Ahh…I think Mike Jr. isn’t quite ready for that yet. Why don’t we go to the little cars over there with you Roy…?”

 

“Great…Marco? Chet…?”

 

“We’re gonna go check out some of the games.”

 

They split up once again. The little ones heading for the kiddie rides while John escorted the boys to the wilder ones…

 

They continued the routine for the most of the morning, before finally stopping to buy the kid’s lunch.

 

John joined the rest of the crew at a different table, leaving the boys alone to talk among themselves.

 

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“I want to go on those swings…,” Dalton insisted.

 

“My Dad said no…,” Chris said with a shrug.

 

“So get his friend to take us…”

 

“Uncle Johnny would never do something like that…,” Chris said in surprise. “If my Dad said no…He’d never go against him.”

 

“Does he always do what your old man tells him…?” He taunted.

 

“When it comes to me and Jen…Yeah…”

 

“Not smart enough to think for himself huh?”

 

“That’s not so…,” Chris said angrily. Tony, Ron and Carl bristled at the insult as well.

 

Dalton changed tactics. “Whatsa matter Chris…you too chicken to go on those swings?” The other three boys looked to Chris to see how he’d react to that challenge.

 

“I’m not chicken but I told you my Dad said no…Uncle Johnny won’t take us if he said no…”

 

“Not if he knew he was going against him…”

 

“What do you mean…?”

 

The boy explained and Chris looked at him in shock… “I can’t do that…My Dad would be really mad…”

 

Dalton shrugged. “If he even finds out…”

 

“My Uncle Johnny would be pretty mad too…”

 

“So who cares…?”

 

“I do…,” Chris said angrily, looking scared at the idea of doing what Dalton had suggested.

 

“You’re such a baby Chris…,” Dalton taunted. “Do you always do what your daddy says…? How about you guys…?” He taunted. “I do as I please at my house…My Dad don’t care…”

 

Four sets of eyes watched the blonde boy intently… They didn’t want to look scared in front of this kid. “You guys think I should do this…?” He whispered to his other friends.

 

“I guess it’s no big deal. Your Dad would probably never find out and if he did…he’d probably just ground you or something,” Tony rationalized.

 

“Besides by the time he does, we’ll be off the ride and proved there was nothing wrong with it…”

 

“What if he gets mad at Uncle Johnny…?”

 

“He won’t…you said they were best friends…Besides you think your…uh…Uncle’s gonna tell him…?” Dalton argued.

 

“He might ask him about it…”

 

“Why would he…?”

 

“Yeah…C’mon Chris…We really wanna go…,” Carl urged.

 

“It’s just once…,” Ron reasoned.

 

Chris bit his lip nervously…It would be an awful trick to play on his Uncle Johnny but he didn’t want to disappoint his friends and they were right…His Dad would probably never know but he was still scared. It would be far more than grounding if his Father found out and Johnny’d be really disappointed in him too. He was torn He’d never done this before…not ever, which is exactly why both of them would believe him.

 

“Why don’t one of you do it…?” He suggested softly.

 

“My dad would kill me…,” Tony said positively.

 

“Besides…he wouldn’t believe one of us,” Ron said.

 

Dalton saw the indecision and added his own persuasion.  “Br…awk… Br…awk, Brawk…,” he squawked at Chris.

 

The young blonde’s face flushed in embarrassment and his eyes flicked to the young paramedic sitting next to his Dad… “Okay…,” he finally whispered.

 

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The adults finally finished up their lunch and stood up… “Okay guys…Where to next…?” Roy asked his son and his friends.

 

Chris bit his lip…He’d give it one more shot to get permission. “My friends wanna go on the swings Dad…,” he said quietly. “We’ve been here all morning and nothing’s happened.”

 

Roy looked at the swings… The grinding sound was still there…and so was the wobble to the center column…maybe it was normal but it made him uncomfortable. “No Chris…I don’t like the looks of it…some other time.”

 

Chris’ face fell in disappointment. “Okay…How about the scrambler…?”

 

“Sure…that one looks okay…Mike and your Mom and I are going to take Jen and Michael Jr. on the Merry Go Round…”

 

The boy nodded looking down at the ground, unable to meet his father’s eyes. “Sure Dad…”

 

He felt Johnny’s hand on his shoulder… “C’mon Chris it’s not the end of the world…,” he said reasonably.

 

Chris looked up into the trusting dark eyes smiling down at him and felt horrible for what he was about to do. “C’mon you guys…,” he whispered. They headed off toward the other ride.

 

Chris glanced back along with the others to make sure his parents were far enough away that Johnny wouldn’t be able to hear the conversation. “Do it…,” Dalton urged in a whisper. The others nodded their agreement.

 

“Uncle Johnny…?” Chris said quietly.

 

“Yeah….”

 

“Um…we’d really rather to go on the swings…”

 

“Chris…You know I can’t do that…Your Dad said no…”

 

Chris bit his lip and watched the gray eyes of the other boy behind Johnny narrow. He flapped his arms in a chicken wings flapping motion, while the others grinned. “What if he changes his mind…?”

 

Johnny remembered the adamant ‘No…,’ from his partner. “I don’t think that’s gonna happen but you can give it try…,” Johnny said in amusement. “Let’s go ask him.”

 

“No that’s alright…He’s right there…,” he said pointing to his parents. “I’ll go ask him and come right back.”

 

Johnny shrugged… “Go ahead…”

 

Chris threw one more troubled look toward his friends but finally turned and ran toward his Father.

 

The blonde nine year old tugged on his dad’s arm a minute later. Roy turned and looked down at his son. There was a nervous look in his eyes but Chris didn’t give him the opportunity to question it. The words came out in a rush… “My friends are kinda mad at me….They really wanna ride the swings dad.  Are you sure we can’t go…?” he pleaded in desperation.

 

Roy rolled his eyes in frustration that his son wouldn’t take ‘No’ for an answer and shook his head. Johnny grinned from across the way, knowing his partner hadn’t relented but then Chris continued…he turned and pointed in the direction of the swings once more and Roy’s blue eyed gaze followed the line his son was pointing toward as the boy continued to talk. Roy pursed his lips and then finally nodded.

 

John’s dark eyes widened in surprise…Roy had been so set against letting them on that ride and Johnny had understood…He didn’t like the sound of it either. He started over to them but then Chris suddenly turned and ran toward him, grabbing his arm and steering him back the other way.

 

“He…Um…said it was okay…,” he said quietly refusing to look up at the young man. Johnny threw a frown in Roy’s direction but his partner tossed him a wave and took Jennifer’s hand.

 

The other boys were grinning broadly and quickly turned to run in the direction of the swings. “What’s wrong Chris…?” Johnny asked as Chris dragged his feet.

 

Chris looked up into the trusting brown eyes of his Uncle and almost cracked but suddenly Dalton was there… “C’mon Chris…let’s go…before he…uh…changes his mind again.” He dragged Chris away from John’s side. Johnny frowned at the troubled look in Chris’ eyes.

 

They waited in line as Johnny leaned on the railing watching the swings spinning above his head…The metal on metal sound was still there and it made him more than a little nervous. He turned toward the Carousel where he knew Roy and Jo were with Jennifer and almost went to ask him again but he spotted them just getting Jennifer seated on a prancing white pony and knew it would be too late. The swings were descending to unload the last riders and in seconds, the boys were running to find a seat on the rapidly filling ride.

 

John heard the music of the Merry Go round start up once again and turned to watch. The brightly colored horses and the garishly colored tent top of the ride along with the loud calliope music holding his attention. He smiled as he spotted Jennifer holding tightly to the pole…Michael Jr. was mounted on a black horse a few feet behind her.

 

The swings began to move and John turned his attention back to the other ride. He watched as the momentum picked up and the chairs began to swing wider and higher. He spotted each of the boys in turn as they flew by over his head and grinned. They were having a ball.

 

Suddenly there was a harsh rasping sound and Johnny watched in horror as the swings central column began to lean left…Squeals of laughter turned to screams of terror and everything suddenly seemed to move in slow motion…John’s brown eyes widened in stunned amazement and even the screaming seemed to fade in his awareness…

 

The music from the carousel continued to play merrily as the first swing struck the roof over the children’s ride. John stood in mute shock hearing the dull thump…thump…thump as each swing slammed into the canvas covering until the entire column toppled down on top of it.

 

Sound suddenly returned and the screams of pain and terror finally penetrated his awareness. “Oh God…Chris…” John ran toward the chaos now taking place as people either fled to a safe distance or ran to help the victims.

 

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Roy was laughing along with Joanne as their daughter excitedly giggled in delight while the horse rose and fell beneath her. Her small hands clung to the pole. Roy threw a glance back toward Mike Jr. as the little boy shook the reins in an effort to spur his horse on faster. Michael Jr. was two years older than Jennifer and at six had waved off his parent’s assistance and boarded the ride alone. Mike and Melissa leaned on the rail watching as they rolled by.

 

Roy heard the harsh grating sound and heard the screams and for a moment he had no clue what was happening until the first swing crashed into the canvas above them.

 

“Oh my God…What was that Roy?” Jo began as the next one slammed into the carousel.

 

“I don’t know…,” He yelled snatching a screaming Jennifer from the horse.  He pushed her into Jo’s arms as he began to make his way back toward Michael Junior…pulling frightened children from the backs of the carved horses as he went. “Run that way…,” he directed Joanne. “Try and get the kids to follow you.”

 

“Come on kids…,” she called…the sound of a calm adult voice drawing most of them into following the lady. Roy yanked Michael Jr. off the horse and began to follow but suddenly Mike Stoker was there.

 

“I’ll take him…Thanks Roy…”

 

“What happened?” Roy demanded as they ran…continuing to pull and direct the children off the ride as it finally began to slow down.

 

“The swings went over…,” he yelled.

 

“Oh God…”

 

They jumped from the platform and Mike found his wife already with Joanne, while frightened parents searched frantically for their children. Mike shoved his son into her arms…Take the kids somewhere safe…We’re gonna go see if we can help.” She nodded.

 

“Can you watch Jen, Lissa…? I want to try and find Chris and the boys…,” Jo asked.

 

“Sure…no problem…we’ll wait by the entrance…” she assured her, taking Jennifer’s hand and leading her to safety.

 

Joanne turned and headed into the mob of terrified parents and rescuers.

 

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Chet and Marco heard the screams from across the midway. They turned as the first swing crashed into the Merry Go Round. “Oh Dios…,” Marco whispered.

 

“Let’s get over there Marc…They’re gonna need some help.” The two men began to run. They arrived at the scene about the same time as Roy and Mike…

 

Joanne had pushed her way through the crowd and run to the Ferris wheel, where Chris and the others were supposed to be heading. She stood looking around in confusion. There was no sign of Johnny or any of the boys. She finally decided that Johnny would probably head for the scene, knowing they’d need help but she would have thought he would have found a safe place for the boys first. She decided to see if they were looking for her somewhere closer to the accident site.

 

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Roy looked up to see Chet and Marco arriving at a run… “What do you need us to do…?” Chet yelled.

 

“Help the ones still in their seats…,” he hollered pointing to the victims still suspended in midair. Most appeared to be conscious though dazed and in shock…

 

Chet and Marco nodded, commandeering a couple of other able bodied men. “We’re firemen…” they explained… “We could really use your help…” They nodded and followed after them.

 

“Mike can you boost me up…?” Roy asked pointing upward. “I need to get up there…”

 

“Sure…”

 

“Where the hell is Johnny…?” Roy muttered, wishing his partner would get there to help. He put his foot in Mike’s hand and felt him thrust him upward.

 

 

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Johnny shoved his way through the screaming mob of people, reaching the carousel just as the ride finally began to slow down. John never hesitated…He grabbed a hold of a support and began to climb…

 

He reached the top and moved to the first victim. The pulse beat strongly on the young girl and he moved on to check for broken bones.

 

Another man’s head appeared over the top of the roof… “Can I help…?”

 “Yeah Man… I’m a paramedic…LA County…See if you can get some others to grab those plywood planks they’re using as tables…We can use them as backboards until the Fire Department gets here.”

 

“Gotcha…” He disappeared.

 

He carefully disengaged the girl from the seat laying her flat…and then moving on. By the time the other man had returned he had three people ready to load.

 

“Johnny…!” He turned to look up into his partners face…

 

“Roy…”

 

“How’d you get up here so fast…Where’re Chris and the other boys…?”

 

Dismayed brown eyes met his. “I think they’re on this roof somewhere…”

 

“WHAT…?” Roy bellowed in surprise.

 

“They were on the swings…”

 

Roy’s blue eyes widened in shock… “What the hell were they doin on the swings…?” He yelled… John opened his mouth to reply but Roy turned away… “I need to find Chris…” He began moving quickly from one swing to the next. “Johnny…here…”

 

John moved quickly to his partner’s side. “Is it Chris…?”

 

“Yes…”

 

“Is he okay…”

 

“He’s unconscious…but he’s alive…No thanks to you…,” he growled angrily.

 

John’s head snapped up in surprise as he looked into angry blue eyes… “I’m sorry…I…I…didn’t…”

 

“Just go check the others while I get him down…,” Roy snarled as he carefully untangled Chris from the wreckage and laid him flat.

 

Johnny stood looking at his partner in hurt shock…How could Roy blame him…He’d given the boys permission to go on the ride. It wasn’t his fault. Roy continued to work on his son. Johnny finally turned and continued on. He quickly located the remaining four boys. All were injured but none were critical. Tony and Dalton were both conscious and in pain.

 

“Helps coming…just hold on…,” he assured them as he checked them for injuries. “Where do you hurt…?”

 

“My head and my leg…,” Tony moaned.

 

“Okay pal…I’m gonna get you out…” Johnny carefully disentangled the swings seat from the boy as he heard the wail of sirens in the distance and knew that help was close by. “Okay Tony…I want you to just lay quiet until the paramedics get up here…alright?”

 

“Okay Johnny.”

 

John moved to Dalton… “How you doin…?”

 

“My arm hurts man…”

 

“Alright…anything else…?”

 

“No…”

 

“Good…okay we’re gonna leave you right where you are until we can get a splint on you…So don’t move, understand…?”

 

“Okay…”

 

John moved on he checked Carl and Ron…both were unconscious but alive. Ron’s wrist was broken and Carl had a nasty gash on his forehead but they’d both survive.

 

Fire Department personnel began to swarm over the scene. Several recognized the paramedic team from station 51… “You guys okay…?” Tom Wheeler out of station 110 called.

 

“Yeah…,” Roy replied. “But my sons injured along with some of his friends,” he said shooting another glare at his partner.

 

“Okay Roy…We’ll get them down as quickly as possible.”

 

The men moved quickly and soon had most of the victims off of the roof and down on level ground. There were a multitude of injuries but thankfully no one had been killed. The canvas roof of the carousel had broken the force of the impact.

 

Roy came off the roof to find his anxious wife waiting with Melissa and the two younger kids. “I can’t find the boys or Johnny…,” She said in concern.

 

Roy looked at her with angry blue eyes… “They were up there…,” He said pointing at the roof. “They’re bringing them down now…”

 

“Is Chris okay…?” she asked as her face went pale and she clutched Roy’s arm fearfully.

 

“He’s okay…His arm hurts and he’s got a good sized bang on the head but he’s regained consciousness and he’s talking…”

 

“Oh thank God…What was he doing on that ride…?”

 

“Good question…,” Roy ground out.

 

The firemen up above began to lower the victim’s one by one…Chris and Dalton were two of the last since they were the least injured of the group.

 

Joanne moved to her son’s side and embraced him as the ambulance attendants moved in with gurneys and began to load the patients. “Are you alright…?”

 

“I’m okay mom…my head and my arm hurt…,” he whimpered as he buried his face against his mom.

 

“What were you doing on that ride…Your father told you not to go…?”

 

Chris opened his mouth to explain but Dalton suddenly spoke up from where he was laying on the stretcher… “It was your friends fault…He let us go on…,” he said looking at Chris warningly.

 

“That’s not…,” Chris began.

 

“I mean we all wanted to go and he thought you were just being over protective. So he let us go…I wish we’d listened to you Mr. DeSoto…,” Dalton said sincerely as his gray eyes welled with tears.

 

“Is that right Chris…?” Roy asked angrily.

 

Chris stood frozen, his eyes downcast. If he told the truth he and his friends would be in so much trouble…Everyone would be mad at him but his dad loved Johnny…he might be a little angry with him but he’d get over it…Chris reasoned. He didn’t see the dark haired man who had come up behind Dalton in time to hear the exchange. “Yeah dad…That’s what happened.” He looked up into the angry blue eyes of his father and then into the stricken brown ones of his uncle.

 

Joanne looked up at Johnny about to unleash an angry tongue lashing but her eyes caught the hurt look of betrayal as he stared in mute shock at Chris…Her eyes traveled back to her son as his face paled and his eyes quickly took on the guilty look she knew very well and he looked away.

 

Before she could say anything Roy turned on his partner. “I can’t believe you did something that stupid…After I specifically told you they couldn’t go on the ride…You let em go anyway…”

 

John’s eyes were on Chris’s… “Roy I…I saw him come over…I mean…I thought you…,” He stuttered as he always did when he was frustrated or tense. Chris’s pleading eyes locked with his and John knew he’d been lied to…He couldn’t believe this boy he loved so much was going to stand here and let him take the blame…He opened his mouth to try and explain but Roy cut him off…

 

“I know what you thought…You thought I was just being over protective…Well I guess you were wrong Huh? How do I explain this to these boys parents…I was supposed to be taking care of them…They trusted me…I trusted you…How could you be so irresponsible?” He snapped out angrily.

 

“Roy I…,” he began as Chet and Mike joined them.

 

“Just forget it John…Just go home okay? I’m too angry to talk about this and I need to be with my family right now.”

 

John blinked as if he’d been slapped. His teeth dug into his lower lip and his eyes reflected a deep, soul wrenching hurt.

 

Chet, Mike and Jo exchanged a look of shock…They couldn’t believe Roy had just said that.

 

Roy’s words continued to cut to John’s heart. “Just look at all the trouble you’ve caused…,” he snapped pointing at the boys being loaded onto gurneys. He didn’t see Dalton’s smirk as he was carried away to an ambulance. The words stung like a whip lash. “Damn it John…Why couldn’t you just listen to me…Instead of causing all these problems?”

 

Chris wouldn’t meet his Uncle’s eyes as his Father cut the younger man’s heart out with his words.

 

Johnny took an involuntary step backward and cast one more betrayed look at Chris. “I’m sorry Roy…,” he whispered. “I’m really sorry…I won’t bother you anymore…” He turned to walk away as Roy moved back to his son’s side.

 

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Chet shot a look of fury at Roy and started after Johnny but Joanne moved first. “Stay and help them…,” she said nodding at the crews still working on the victims. She turned and ran after John…

 

He pushed his way through the crowd, seemingly oblivious to the people in his way. He barely felt Joanne grab his arm but he jerked away as if he’d been burned and he turned to face her.

 

She expected to see hurt but what she saw along with it, broke her heart even more. The look of indifference John had worn when they first met….Cold, empty and alone was back in place. The walls were up and Jo knew with a sinking feeling that it would take a miracle to bring them back down.

 

“Oh no baby…,” she whispered. She reached to touch his cheek but he flinched back…

 

“Don’t…,” was all he said.

 

“I’m sorry Johnny…Please sweetheart...He’s just upset…he didn’t mean that the way it sounded. You know he loves you…You’re family…”

 

John gave her a small sad smile… “Yeah…family,” he whispered. “Well believe me Jo…I know what families are…,” He said, remembering his own and the abuse he’d suffered at their hands. “I thought…,” he shrugged. “I thought this one was different…I was wrong…,” He gasped, his face twisted with the effort to control the hurt.

 

“John…Tell me what really happened…? What did Chris do…?” She demanded, knowing in her heart that Johnny would never have put her son at risk…There had to be more and she’d seen the guilt in her son’s face as he’d looked at Johnny.

 

John’s eyes flicked to meet hers briefly but he shook his head. “I don’t want to cause any more problems for your family Jo…Chris will have to tell you himself...I…I just can’t do this…” He started to turn away.

 

“Johnny no…,” she grabbed his arm but he shook her off.

 

“I don’t want …to be hurt…anymore…,” he whispered. “It was easier before…No one could hurt me then…,” he assured her but his mouth trembled and his breaths were hitched as he struggled to contain the pain. “Tell Roy I’ll see him at work…”

 

“Don’t do anything foolish Johnny please…,” She pleaded.

 

“I already have…” At her confused look he continued. “I trusted them,” he said softly with a shrug of indifference.

 

“Oh sweetheart…”

 

“I’m not leaving 51’s Jo if that’s what you’re worried about. Not unless he asks me too…” He turned and walked away.

 

Jo’s mouth set in an angry line…She had a few things to say to her husband and her son.

 

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She got back to Roy and the others as they were sitting Chris on a gurney and getting ready to transport. “Where have you been…?” Roy asked in concern.

 

“I went to talk to Johnny…He’s upset…”

 

“Yeah…well so am I…I can’t believe he did that…”

 

“I can’t either…,” she said as her eyes locked with her son’s. “It’s not like him to do something like that is it Christopher…?” She asked softly. He lowered his eyes as they filled with tears.

 

“We need to get him to the hospital…,” Roy said mistaking the sudden rush of tears as physical pain rather than guilt. Joanne knew the difference. She’d talk to Chris later…right now they needed to be sure he was okay.

 

They loaded Chris and Dalton into the ambulance and Roy climbed in with them. “I’ll meet you there…” Jo said as she turned and picked up Jennifer. Roy nodded and the doors were closed behind them.

 

“Jo…? Why don’t you let Mike and I take Jennifer so you can be with Chris…?” Melissa offered.

 

“Thanks… that would be easier. I’ll pick her up on the way back from the hospital.”

 

“Man…I can’t believe this…?” Mike said looking back at the wreckage.

 

“I can’t believe Johnny let the kids on that ride after Roy said no…,” Marco said in disbelief.

 

“Yeah…,” Chet said in disgust. “But I can’t believe what he said to Gage either.”

 

Marco looked at him curiously…He hadn’t heard it but Mike nodded in agreement. “He was so hurt but…Well, he did go against Roy…,” Mike reasoned quietly.

 

Jo shook her head. “I think there’s more than we’re hearing…Johnny wouldn’t do that…”

 

They all looked at her in surprise… “What are you saying…?” Melissa asked in concern.

 

She shook her head… “I don’t know yet…But I know Johnny and he’d never defy Roy like that…Not when it came to our children. I’ll let you know…I’ve got to go…”  They all nodded.

 

They watched her drive away and glanced at each other. “What do you suppose really happened?” Mike asked.

 

“I don’t know but…Man Johnny’s face when Roy said that…,” Chet mumbled.

 

“What did he say…?” Marco asked.

 

Chet repeated it. “Dios…Poor John…,” Marco muttered.

 

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Joanne found Roy in the waiting room… “Any word…?”

 

“They’re waiting on X-Ray’s but Brackett thinks the arm is bruised and not broken and that he’s probably got a minor concussion. I’ve called the other boys’ parents and they’re on their way. Man how do I tell them I let their kids get hurt…”

 

“Roy…They can’t blame you. You had no way of knowing that ride wasn’t safe…,” she reasoned.

 

“But I did know…I told them no… Man…I can’t believe John did that…”

 

“Roy…,” Joanne growled.

 

“What…?”

 

“I don’t know for sure what happened yet and neither do you…” He opened his mouth to argue but she held up her hand. “There’s more to this than we’re being told but I don’t believe Johnny would do this…I’m sorry I don’t…”

 

“Are you suggesting our son is lying to me…?”

 

“I don’t know…yet…”

 

“I can’t believe you’d even suggest it…,” he snapped. “Chris isn’t a liar…”

 

“And Johnny is…?”

 

“He didn’t deny it…”

 

“You didn’t give him a chance…You were too busy hurling accusations and insults…,” she shot back.

 

Roy’s mouth dropped in shock at this assault. She was Chris’ mother for heaven’s sake…She should be as angry as he was…But she was right about one thing…He hadn’t let John say anything.

 

Jo was angry…Roy just didn’t understand the pressure kids were under today…Sure Chris was raised to be honest but she’d seen the looks that had passed between him and this new boy Dalton and the more painful ones that had passed between Chris and Johnny and she wasn’t sure he was being completely truthful. 

 

“I’m sorry that I snapped at John okay…I’ll talk to him tomorrow…”

 

“I don’t think that’s going to help Roy…”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean…”

 

“That means you’ve done the one thing Doctor Hightower warned you against.” Roy looked at her in confusion… “You hurt him and you broke his trust…again.”

 

“What do you mean…?”

 

“I mean…Johnny said he can’t do this… And the look in his eyes Roy…God it broke my heart…He said he doesn’t want to be hurt anymore…”

 

Roy’s heart dropped into his stomach but he was sure Johnny hadn’t meant it that way...He knew how Roy felt about him. “Look…I’ll talk to him okay…We’ll talk to Chris…”

 

She nodded as the treatment room door opened and Dr. Brackett stepped out. “Roy…Joanne.”

 

“How is he…?”

 

Kel nodded with a grin… “I think he’s gonna be okay but we’d like to keep him for observation for twenty four hours.” They nodded their agreement. “Look…he seems really upset about this whole thing so…you may want to think about getting him some professional help.”

 

“We’ll talk to him.”

 

“Just don’t pressure him.”

 

“Okay…”

 

Several adults walked into the waiting room…the parents of Chris’s friends. “Roy…Thank God, what have you heard…Is Ron okay?”

 

“What about Tony…?” Another couple asked.

 

Doctor Brackett held up his hand to stop the barrage of questions. “All of the victims of the accident are okay. No one was killed and none are critical.” There was a sigh of relief… “If you’ll come with me…I’ll get the information on your children.” They gave Roy a smile as they followed the Doctor off.

 

Dalton and his Father stepped out of a treatment room up the hall. They spotted Roy and Joanne and headed in their direction. “Mr. Elliot…Dalton,” Roy greeted as they approached. “How are you?” Roy asked looking at the boy.

 

“He’s fine…no thanks to that stupid friend of yours,” The older man snapped angrily.

 

“Look Mister…There’s no way John could have known that ride would go over like that…No one did.”

 

“You suspected something was wrong…Dalton said so.”

 

“I thought it sounded odd but…”

 

“So you knew something was wrong?”

 

“No…I didn’t know…I just…”

 

“So you let that ignorant Indian put my kid on that ride.”

 

“What did you just say?” Roy growled angrily. Jo’s eyes widened in shock…

 

“You heard me.”

 

“Mister, that’s my best friend you’re talkin about. Now it might have been a mistake to let your boy on that ride but there were a couple of dozen other people on it as well and none of them including Johnny could have known what was gonna happen.”

 

“We’re not through here…I’m gonna make that Indian pay.”

 

“Just go,” Roy ground out… “Take your kid and your threats with you.” Elliot turned and led his son away. Roy blew out an angry breath… “Do you believe that guy?”

 

Jo turned her blue eyes on her husband… “Yes…You sounded just like him an hour ago…Well without the bigoted part,” she amended softly. Roy looked dumbfounded.

 

 

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John let himself into his apartment and tossed the keys onto the table. He couldn’t get the horrifying images out of his head…The grating sound and the thumps as the swings collided with the carousel. The accusatory looks of his best friend and the guilt in Chris’ eyes as he let John shoulder the blame.

 

The pain that ripped through his heart and soul as he heard the same words his family had always used…Trouble, problem…outsider…not wanted… John squeezed his eyes shut to blot out the image and wished he could as easily block the hurt.

 

He dropped into his recliner and closed his eyes. The images playing over in his head…The accusing eyes of his friend boring into him.  How could Roy blame him without even asking what had happened? He’d taken the word of a nine year old stranger without even questioning it, just assuming John was truly that irresponsible. John’s mind whirled round and round with everything that had happened before falling into a troubled sleep.

 

He opened his eyes and looked around. He was in his Aunt Lacee’s Living area…He heard his name screeched from the kitchen… the voice growing louder as his aunt came into the room. John sat up in terror…he knew the tone and what would follow and wondered what he’d done wrong this time. Her nails dug into his shoulders as she yanked the twelve year old boy to his feet shaking him viciously.

 

“Kánomό ka’eόne, (Worthless child) Why weren’t you watching?”

 

“I…I don’t…I mean…,” he stuttered in confusion.

 

“Look at what you’ve caused…?”

 

She dragged him to the other room to see a blonde child lying on the floor…A swing and chains wrapped around his body…He frowned in confusion…This didn’t make any sense…He looked up into her angry eyes. “Ne kánomό, (You’re worthless),” she shrieked… shaking him again. “You’re nothing but trouble…All you ever do is cause problems…I wish you’d never been born…You’re an embarrassment…I don’t want you here, none of us do…” The hand flashed toward his face and the boy cringed in terror knowing it would only be the first of many….It swung again…

 

John bolted upright…A cry of fear escaped his lips before he realized where he was. A trickle of sweat coursed down his cheek…He swiped it away. Oh man…the nightmares were back. He hadn’t had one in four and a half years. Ever since Roy…John closed his eyes and shook the thought away. It didn’t matter anymore…The DeSoto family was out of his life for good…he’d made a mistake by letting them into his heart and his life. By trusting them, he’d given them the power to hurt him…something he’d never thought they’d do but they had and he just needed to back away. He couldn’t handle the pain that caring about them caused him. It was easier to be alone.

 

He went to the kitchen and poured a glass of water, drinking it down before splashing water on his face to rinse the sweat away. He went back to the living room and threw himself onto the sofa…His left arm raised to cover his face as he drifted into an uneasy sleep.

 

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Roy and Joanne returned home after picking up Jenny at Mike’s house. Joanne was still angry with him which baffled him. Johnny was the one in the wrong here and he didn’t understand her attitude. Why would she even think Chris was at fault…He knew his son…Chris wouldn’t lie to him. They’d tried to talk to him before they left the hospital but the nine year old had just cried…He’d told them his head and arm hurt and they’d dropped it… at least for now.

 

Roy knew Johnny had his feelings hurt but he’d get over that, he’d realize he was wrong and apologize… He was still Roy’s best friend and that wouldn’t change. Roy knew he owed him an apology as well for the crack about family but he really hadn’t meant it that way…He’d just been upset that John had gone behind his back like that. Surely John could understand his anger as well, but Jo had said John was devastated. That could be guilt talking or Jo was over reacting…She worried over Johnny sometimes more than he did…treating him like one of her children…Heck she even protected him as fiercely as one of her own. Roy shook his head as he glanced at his wife. She threw him an angry look and stalked up the stairs carrying Jennifer to her room.

 

He made his way upstairs and headed into the shower…By the time he came out, Joanne was in bed…Her back firmly turned to him. Roy sighed…It was gonna be a long night.

 

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Jo remained cool the next morning as Roy got ready to go pick up Chris… “I’m gonna stop by on the way and talk to Johnny…,” he said softly. She nodded but kept her back to him. “Jo…I don’t understand…Why are you so angry with me…?”

 

“You go talk to Johnny and ask me that again…”

 

“He brought this on himself Jo,” he snapped as he turned and left the house.

 

“Is Daddy mad at Uncle Johnny Mommy…?” Jennifer asked.

 

“He’s upset with him…”

 

“Why…?”

 

“Because Chris got hurt yesterday and he thinks its John’s fault…”

 

“Is it…?”

 

“I don’t think so baby…”

 

She looked at her Mother in both confusion and relief. She didn’t want her Daddy mad at Uncle Johnny.

 

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Roy knocked on the door to John’s apartment. It was a long moment before he answered. His face was drawn and pale as if he hadn’t slept…the brown eyes tired and distant.

 

“Roy…,” he murmured.

 

“Johnny…Can we talk for a minute?”

 

He shrugged…“How’s Chris?” He asked.

 

“He’s pretty upset but physically he’s gonna be okay…I’m on my way to pick him up.”

 

“That’s good…” Roy looked at him…John’s voice was impersonal, almost as if talking to a stranger. The brown eyes avoided looking at him. “What about the other’s?”

 

“They’re gonna be okay…Look Johnny about what I said yesterday…”

 

“Doesn’t matter,” he said quickly…interrupting the older man. “I guess I deserved it.”

 

“Yeah you did. You let them go on the ride knowing how I felt…”


“I thought I did…”

 

“I don’t understand…You just said you deserved it…”

 

“I did…I trusted you and I let this happen…I deserved it…that won’t happen again,” he said softly.

 

“What’s that supposed to mean Johnny? You’re not the innocent victim here…,” Roy said irately. “Chris and his friends are…“

 

“Yeah…,” he said softly. “The victims…Look Roy…I’m tired…I didn’t sleep well and you need to pick up Chris so I’ll see you tomorrow…” Johnny began to close the door but Roy reached out to stop it…

 

“Johnny I need to talk to you…”

 

“I thought we just did…”

 

“No I mean about what I said…”

 

“I heard what you said and I understood it real well. Look Roy, just go home…You need to spend time with your…family,” he said softly as closed the door in the older man’s face.

 

“John,” Roy yelled as he banged on the door. “Johnny…We’re not through…”

 

John’s forehead rested on the wood and he squeezed his eyes shut to hold back the tears as his best friend pounded on the door… "Yes we are Roy," he whispered

 

Roy sighed…He could use his key to go in…Try and make Johnny talk to him but what then…? John would just clam up like he always did when he was angry and what had he meant when he’d said ‘I thought I did…?’ Roy chewed his lip in indecision. Maybe he just needed to give John some time to calm down…He knew he’d hurt his feelings but Johnny admitted that he’d deserved it…Well sort of.

 

John knew Roy loved him and their friendship was very strong, he reassured himself. He’d apologize for that stupid remark later. He started to walk away but remembered the emptiness in John’s eyes, his anger eased as he heaved a worried sigh…He had to go get Chris and they’d talk tomorrow.

 

He threw a final glance at John’s apartment door as he climbed into his car.

 

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Kel looked up as he approached the base station. “Morning Roy,” he greeted.

 

“Hey Doc…How’s Chris this morning?” 

“Physically…? He’s fine.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“Something’s really bothering him a lot…Dixie said he hardly ate and he’s barely speaking. He won’t talk about the accident at all.”

 

“Trauma…?”

 

“Possibly but…He seems more troubled than scared or in pain.”

 

Roy frowned… “Troubled by what?”

 

Kel shrugged. “I thought he might talk to you…”

 

“Let’s give it a try…”

 

“Alright but just remember that if it is trauma you need to handle him just as if he were Johnny.”

 

Roy looked up… “What do you mean?”

 

“Don’t push him to hard…Let him come to grips with it at his own speed…Remember trauma is also emotional and not just physical.”

 

Roy knew that, he’d seen it often enough in Johnny’s face and mannerisms.  Roy suddenly stopped…God how could he have been so stupid…He’d seen the look in John’s face this morning and hadn’t recognized it…The impersonal gaze…the cold tone and the wall of indifference.

 

They went upstairs just as Dixie came out of Chris’s room. “Morning Roy,” She greeted.

 

“Morning Dix…”

 

“How’s he doing?” Kel asked.

 

“He seems to be fine physically. I even got him to tell me about the accident…”

 

“He did? So it’s not trauma over the accident,” Kel said.

 

“Something’s definitely bothering him though and he won’t talk about Johnny at all…,” Dixie said in concern

 

Roy looked up… “What…?”

 

“He won’t talk about John…I mean he said John let them go on the ride but then he clammed up…I asked him what was wrong but he wouldn’t say anymore.”

 

“Maybe he’s upset with Johnny for letting him on that thing after I told them no…”

 

“Johnny did that…?” Dixie asked in disbelief.

 

Roy nodded… “Yeah…I was pretty upset with him myself.  One of the other boys said Johnny thought I was just being over protective.”

 

“That doesn’t sound like him at all…Unless he was referring to himself,” Kel teased the younger man, knowing how over protective Roy was with his young partner.

 

Roy nodded looking down… “I said some pretty stupid things to him yesterday. I’m afraid I hurt his feelings…He won’t talk to me…”

 

“Well if what you said is true, why would he be angry at you?” Kel asked. Roy shrugged…

 

“What did you say to him Roy?” Dixie asked, her blue eyes turning cool.

 

Roy almost cringed, knowing he was in for it. Dixie could be as protective as Jo over the young paramedic. “I uh…told him he was irresponsible and that he’d caused a lot of trouble or something like that and I told him to go home,” he hedged.

 

Her eyes narrowed. “Was that all…?”

 

“I just told him I needed to be with my family…”

 

“Roy DeSoto,” She gasped. “How could you?”

 

“I didn’t mean it that way Dix…It just popped out.”

 

She stared at him coldly… “Well it’s no wonder he won’t talk to you.”

 

“How much damage did you do?” Kel asked in concern.

 

“Damage…? C’mon Doc…Dix…John knows how I feel about him.” Roy remembered the distance in the eyes. “I think…”

 

“You think…?” Dix snapped.

 

“He almost killed my kid Dix,” he growled. “I was upset…”

 

She turned on her heel and started down the hall without answering… “Wow,” Kel muttered, looking sympathetically at Roy. He knew what it felt like to be on the receiving end of Dixie’s anger.

 

“Let’s go get Chris,” Roy said softly as he watched Dix walk away.

 

Kel looked at him, “You’re sure Johnny’s okay…?”


“Look Doc…It’s not like we’ve never argued before, besides the kids getting hurt was his fault…”

 

“Did he say anything at all…?”

 

“He told me to go home and be with my family. He uh…told Jo he couldn’t do this anymore.”

 

“Do what…?”

 

Roy shrugged. “I don’t know…he said he didn’t want to be hurt or something, maybe he was thinkin I was gonna yell at him some more, I don’t know.”

 

Kel looked concerned. “Did he say that today?”

 

“No…He said it to Jo. He told me he’d trusted me and he’d let this happen and it wouldn’t happen again,” Roy said looking a little confused. “I don’t know what he meant exactly…It was sort of like he admitted he’d done it…”

 

“I don’t think so.”

 

“Look…He’s just upset.”

 

“Roy…He sounds more than just upset…It sounds like he’s shutting down.”

 

“No way Doc…He knows how I feel about him.”

“Does he…? Are you sure? Because it sounds to me like he’s pretty confused right now.”

 

“I’ll talk to him some more tomorrow at the station…Captive audience,” Roy said wryly.

 

Kel nodded but the worried look was still there as they entered Chris’ room. “Hey buddy,” Roy greeted. Chris’ eyes filled with tears at the nickname his Uncle always used and he turned his face away. “What’s wrong Chris?”

 

“I wanna go home…that’s all,” he murmured.

 

“Okay…,” Roy said softly. “Let’s get you ready then.”

 

Kel gave Roy a pat on the back, “Good luck tomorrow…”

 

“Thanks.”

 

Chris slowly got dressed and finally glanced up at his Father, “I guess I’m ready…Can we stop at Uncle Johnny’s? I um…I need to talk to him.”

 

“About what…?”

 

Chris stared at his shoes and shrugged. “I just…About yesterday and…”

 

“What about it?” Roy asked curiously.

 

He looked up into his father’s trusting eyes and couldn’t finish. He shook his head. “Forget it…I’ll talk to him later…”

 

Roy started to ask again but then Kel’s words popped into his head… ‘Don’t rush him.’

 

“Okay but if you’re angry at him, I don’t want you to be okay? I’m sure he didn’t mean…”

 

“I’m not angry at him,” Chris interrupted. “Just forget it…I wanna go home.”

 

“Okay,” Roy agreed, looking at his flustered son in concern. “But if you want to talk…”

 

“I don’t…”

 

Roy wheeled the suddenly silent boy out of the hospital. He watched him worriedly…What had happened between Chris and Johnny that upset them both this much.

 

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Joanne was waiting when they came inside. Jenny ran to meet her brother and threw her arms around him hugging him tightly. He returned her embrace half heartedly and looked toward his Mother.

 

Her eyes were watching him intently but her mouth curled up in a welcome home smile. “Come here baby,” She said spreading her arms in a welcome home gesture. Chris ran to his Mom and threw himself into her arms. She hugged him to her.

 

“I’m so sorry Mom,” he whispered.

 

“For what sweetheart…?” She suspected she already knew.

 

Chris shook his head. “For going on those swings after Dad said no…”

 

“Is that all…?” Again the head shook but he didn’t say any more. “Chris, if you’ve done something wrong you can tell us…”

 

“He didn’t do anything wrong Jo. It was John that let…”

 

“Leave it alone Roy,” Jo snapped.

 

Jenny looked between them, knowing her parents were angry with each other but not understanding why.

 

“Just stop it,” Chris yelled as pulled away from his Mother.

 

“Chris what happened yesterday?” Joanne asked urgently.

 

“I don’t want to talk about it,” He said shooting a frightened glance at his Father.

 

“Chris…?”

 

“Jo… Brackett said don’t push him,” Roy growled warningly.

 

Joanne shot an angry look at Roy and turned back to her son… “Chris… Uncle Johnny’s pretty upset about what happened yesterday.”

 

Her son’s blue eyes lifted to meet hers briefly before they fell once more. “I know…”

 

“And he should be,” Roy said. “He shouldn’t have gone behind my back. Just stop pushing him Jo…I’ll talk to him tomorrow and we’ll straighten this out.”

 

Chris shot one more glance at his father before he turned and walked away, his shoulders drooped in dejection. How could tell his father that he’d lied to him and to John? Maybe after tomorrow everything would just blow over and he could apologize to John privately…Uncle Johnny would understand.

 

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John was exhausted. He’d been awake for the last two days…his childhood nightmares had returned full force…waking him several times a night in a cold sweat and crying out in terror until he was afraid to sleep. Man he had hardly even thought of his past life for the last few years…Not since Roy and his family had come along.

 

The insults his family had used to taunt him with his whole life played over in his mind. Half breed…Burden, problem, trouble, worthless, stupid…The hateful dark eyes of his family changing into the gray, condescending gaze of Chris’s friend Dalton…the hazel of Brad Kimmerlin or the many others who’d hurt him over the years…Scott Jackson, Jimmy Wheeler…, the cold green of his cousins Joshua and Tiffany…the soft blue of Chris and finally Roy’s…

 

Not wanted…not by any of them. Except his Uncle…John shuddered at that thought but he’d only wanted to hurt and humiliate him too…just in a different way. John climbed from the bed…the memory of the man’s hands and mouth on his body almost making him vomit.

 

He shook off the terror and the nausea and headed for the shower. God…, how was he gonna get through this day with Roy? He missed his friend but he hurt so badly. He couldn’t let Roy back in. He’d rebuilt that wall and he had to keep it in place. He wasn’t sure quite how. He knew it would be a lot tougher this time but he’d lived behind them his whole life and he could do it again.

 

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He arrived at the station early and breathed a sigh of relief that Roy’s Porsche wasn’t there yet. He quickly changed and headed for the rec room where the others would be gathering. He didn’t want to be alone with Roy right now.

 

Mike and Chet were already there when he walked in… “Morning John,” Mike greeted.

 

“Hey Gage, how you doin…?”

 

“I’m fine…,” he mumbled softly as he passed them to grab a mug.

 

They exchanged a glance at the half hearted greeting. “Johnny, are you okay…?” Chet asked again.

 

“I said I’m fine,” he said curtly as he headed back to the table. Chet reached out to touch his arm but John pulled away and continued on.

 

“Oh God…,” Mike whispered, remembering very well when they’d first met Johnny…He’d been the same way…pulling away from the most casual touch. John glanced up curiously at his soft murmur and Mike’s heart sank at the hollow look in John’s eyes. His gaze flicked to Chet’s and he could tell he’d seen it too.

 

“Johnny…Can you tell us what happened the other day?” Mike asked softly.

 

John’s dark eyes filled with pain for a moment before he shook it off. “I guess there’s nothing to tell…”

 

Cap stepped into the room and his eyes took in the three members of his crew gathered there. “Heard you guys had a little excitement at the fair the other day…,” he said giving John a light pat as he passed him. Johnny tensed and while the reaction had been lost on Hank, Chet and Mike picked up on it instantly.

 

Their answer was interrupted as the Crew of C-shift began to amble in… “Morning guys,” they called out as they headed for the coffee. Charlie Dwyer gave John a teasing pat on the head as he went by, but the young paramedic ducked his head away. Charlie gave him an odd look and continued on…

 

Hank came and sat down at the table and looked between the three members of his crew.  “So what happened?”

 

“The swing ride went over Cap,” Mike said quietly.

 

“They hit the Carousel,” Chet continued.

 

“Oh wow…How bad was it?”

 

The C- shift crew gathered around to listen. John tensed but kept his eyes on his coffee cup. “There were a lot of injuries but thankfully no one got killed,” Mike said.

 

“Roy’s son was on it when it went,” Chet said, hoping to get this part out of the way before Roy arrived.

 

“Was he hurt badly?”

 

“Looked like a probable concussion and some bruises,” Mike said.

 

Cap looked at his silent junior paramedic curiously. Johnny was such a part of the DeSoto family and his silence was worrisome. “John, are you alright Pal?”

 

“I’m fine Cap.” The blankness of his expression raised the hackles on Hanks neck. He reached out to touch John’s arm but the younger man pulled back almost defensively. Cap’s brown eyes narrowed.

 

“John…Talk to me, what’s wrong?”


“Morning,” Marco said cheerfully as he entered the rec room, drawing the attention away from Johnny long enough for the younger man to stand up and move away from his Captain, heading for the door.

 

“John…We’re not done yet.”

 

John kept walking but stopped abruptly as he came face to face with Roy. His mouth tightened and his eyes dropped as he stepped back to let the older man pass without a word. “Morning Johnny…”

 

“Morning…How’s Chris?”

 

“He’s alright…physically. He’s very upset emotionally…Johnny I want to talk to you.”

 

“There’s nothing more to say is there? I’m so sorry about what happened…Let’s leave it at that okay?”

 

“Johnny…Look at me,” John raised dark eyes and Roy’s stomach did a small flip at the lost look in his eyes…he’d known that look well in the past. “John…,” he began reaching out to touch his friends shoulder.

 

The younger man jerked backwards…“Don’t Roy,” John gasped, trying to control his emotions. “Just worry about your family…”

 

“John you’re a part…”

 

“No…no,” he whispered, shaking his head. “You can’t just turn me off and on okay? You said families don’t do that and I…I can’t…I… Just let it go…okay?”

 

“What do you mean…?”

 

John shook his head… “Never mind, just…forget it.”

 

“John what happened yesterday that you put them on that ride after I said no…I wanna know why?”

 

“Ask your son then…”

 

“I did…he won’t talk to me either…Jo’s mad at me because of you…but Dalton said…”

 

John’s head snapped up and he snorted angrily…Now he was responsible for Jo being angry too and Dalton…?  He couldn’t believe it…“Dalton…? Well, I guess that should just end it right there huh…? Cause Dalton said it. ”

 

John brushed past Roy and continued on before he could stop him.

 

“Would someone please tell me what’s goin on…?” Cap asked in frustration. “Roy…What’s wrong with John?”

 

Roy ran his hands through his hair in frustration as he came the rest of the way into the room…Mike explained to Hank and the Crew of C shift…

 

“I don’t understand him. Doesn’t he understand the trouble he’s caused?” He asked at the end.

 

Hank looked at Roy… “I can’t believe Johnny would do that Roy,” he said.

 

“You accused him once before of something he didn’t do,” Chet pointed out angrily.

 

Roy looked stunned for a moment…“That was different. Chris wouldn’t lie and John’s apologized but…”

 

“But it doesn’t sound like he’s apologizing for what you’re accusing him of…”

 

“What…?”

 

“It sounds more like he’s apologizing to you that it happened, but not that he did anything wrong…It sounds more like his feelings are hurt.”

 

Roy frowned at that observation. Cap was right…John had never denied that he’d let the kids on the ride but he’d never said he was sorry for going behind Roy’s back either. Was Joanne right…? Was it Chris who was hiding something and John who was taking the blame for it…It would be so typically Johnny but he couldn’t believe his own son would lie to him.

 

“I don’t know Cap…Chris is my son…he doesn’t lie. How can I not believe my son?” He asked with a sigh.

 

Chet stood up and glared at Roy… “Yeah Cap…You should have heard him yesterday. Man I was proud of you Roy…,” Chet said sarcastically, giving Roy a hearty slap off the shoulder.

 

“What…?”

 

“You should have seen him put Gage right in his place…You know all that crap he feeds Gage about being family but hey when the chips were down DeSoto…You really let him know where he stands.” He slammed his coffee cup down on the table. “Right in the trash can,” Chet snarled as he stomped over to drop on the sofa…

 

“Chet…,” Roy yelled. “That’s not true.”

 

“Isn’t it…?” Mike said softly.

 

“You guys know how I feel about Johnny…”

 

“You made that pretty clear to him yesterday,” Mike pointed out.

 

“I was upset…scared for my son…John’s not the victim here…”

 

“Bloods thicker than water right…?” Mike asked. “Which puts Johnny where?”

 

Roy looked stricken… “You all know I care about him…He’s my little brother.” He felt the weight of three sets of eyes. Even the departing crew of C shift was shaking their heads at him.

 

“Maybe you should have told him that instead of what you did say,” Mike said quietly.

 

“Okay guys that’s enough,” Cap suggested.

 

“You didn’t see his face Cap,” Chet said shooting another glare at Roy. “Why didn’t you just rip his heart out instead of just breaking it?” Roy’s face paled at the accusation.

 

“Let’s get to roll call…,” Cap suggested, trying to defuse the tension.

 

John was waiting in the apparatus bay when the others came out of the rec room. He took great care to be at the opposite end of the line from his partner, disappearing to the dorm to handle his assigned chores without a word to any of them when they were done.

 

Cap followed a few moments later. “John…Can I talk to you a minute?”

 

“Sure Cap…,” he said quietly without turning around.

 

“John, we’re a family here…”

 

John laughed abruptly…It wasn’t a happy sound. “No Cap, you don’t understand…I don’t need a family anymore. Believe me… I know what family’s do to you…They hurt you…”

 

“John…”

 

“Just…please Cap, I don’t want to talk about this right now. I just need to be alone.”

 

“My doors open if you want to talk…”

 

“Thanks…”

 

Cap left and John sat on the bed. His eyes clenched shut until he regained control…Both Roy and Chris had betrayed him…He couldn’t do this anymore…He was done. Roy had promised him he’d never hurt him again and he’d broken that promise…John couldn’t give him another opportunity to crush his heart…He took a deep breath and got back to work.

 

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Joanne set a bowl of fruit loops in front of her son and ran her hand through his tousled blonde hair. He half smiled at her but wouldn’t meet her eyes. “Chris…?” She asked softly.

 

“Yeah…?”

 

“Is there something you want to talk to me about?”

 

His blue eyes lifted to meet hers. He bit his lip before his gaze dropped to the bowl of cereal. “No…”

 

“Chris…Uncle Johnny is really hurt right now. Your Dad’s blaming him for letting you on that ride, now if you know something or you did something then that’s really not fair for you to let him take the blame…”

 

Chris’ heart was torn. He knew he’d be in so much trouble if he told them what he’d done. His father would be so disappointed in him and his friends would be mad at him. Johnny always forgave him and Jen no matter what they did and his dad never stayed angry with Johnny…He was hoping this would just blow over but he’d seen the hurt in Johnny’s eyes yesterday when he’d realized what Chris had done and it tore at the boys heart.

 

“Mom…,” he whispered. “Do you think you could take me to the station? I really need to talk to Uncle Johnny.”

 

She looked at him, sensing his indecision but hoping that if he talked to John he might see how hurt he was and tell the truth. “Okay Chris. You finish your breakfast and we’ll go visit your Dad.”

 

Chris nodded and finally began to eat. When he was done he ran upstairs to get dressed hoping he could explain to Johnny why he’d done it. Johnny would understand…

 

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Roy and Marco were putting the last of the air bottles back in the squad when Cap came out of the Rec room. Joanne, Jennifer and Chris were with him.

 

“Jo…? What are you doing here?” Roy asked, his eyes taking in the kids with her.

 

“Chris wanted to talk to Johnny,” she replied, her head tilting meaningfully toward their nine year old.

 

Roy frowned in concern. “About what…?”

 

“He didn’t say but I think that’s between them for now.”

 

“Jo…I don’t think that’s a good idea right now…John’s barely speaking to me…Like this whole mess is my fault or something.”

 

“I don’t think it’s his either.”

 

“Don’t start that again Jo,” he bit out, angry that Jo was still taking John’s side.

 

“Roy, they need to talk…Why are you being so difficult?” she said insistently, angry herself at her husband’s stubborn refusal to listen.

 

His eyes narrowed suspiciously… “Why…? Because you’re practically accusing your own son of lying to both of us...How do you think that makes Chris feel?” He snapped.

 

“Stop it…,” Chris cried… “I just need to talk to Uncle Johnny…I have too.”

 

“Why…?” Roy asked again.

 

“Because I love him and I…,” he looked up at his father. “I thought you did too…” Chris was desperate He wanted to make this right but he still didn’t have the courage to tell his father the truth. How could he with him standing there defending him to his mom and Captain Stanley? Chris knew his mother already suspected the truth…she was just waiting for him to confess.

 

Roy’s face turned red at the insinuation from his nine year old. “I do Chris... You know that.”

 

He shrugged. “Then let me talk to him…Please.”

 

Roy sighed… “Alright…he’s in there,” he said nodding to the locker room.

 

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Roy turned to his wife as Chris headed for the dorm. “You wanna tell me what’s goin on?”

 

“He didn’t tell me either. He just said he needed to speak to Johnny.”

 

“Why are you so sure Johnny’s not to blame?”

 

“Why are you so sure he is?”

 

Roy’s face fell… “Maybe I can’t believe my son would lie to us all.”

 

“Johnny would…?” She questioned angrily.

 

“No of course he wouldn’t lie about it but…Well, the other kids corroborated Chris’ story and Johnny would have told me the truth…”

 

“Would he…?” Jo asked. “Or would he not want to cause you anymore trouble by telling you the truth, maybe make you even angrier by telling you what really happened.”

 

Cap held up a hand… “Not to mention that peer pressure’s a tough thing and well…kids do protect each other…especially if they’re all in on it…ya know?”

 

Roy bit his lip in indecision…he couldn’t believe his son would not only lie but allow Johnny to take the blame…Chris wouldn’t do that. He was trying to decide whether or not to go talk to his son and Johnny as the Station Control Unit tones began to sound…

 

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Johnny was finishing up the last touches in the dorm when Chris pushed open the door. The dark haired paramedic didn’t look up even though he heard the steps behind him.  “Uncle Johnny?” The small voice questioned.

 

John stiffened but he slowly turned to face the blonde child standing behind him. “What are you doin here?”

 

“I wanted to talk to you.”

 

“About what…?”

 

“What happened at the fair…?”

 

“There’s not a lot to say is there? You lied to me. You lied to your parents.”

“I know and I’m really sorry. Dalton and the others wanted on that ride and dad wouldn’t let us and Dalton said no one would ever know…”

 

“That’s not an excuse Chris,” John said softly.

 

“I know and I’m so sorry.”

 

“You gonna tell your dad…”

 

“I can’t… He’ll be so mad. I just don’t want you two to fight. I want you and dad to be friends again.”

 

John stood there looking at this child he loved like his own…disappointed that he still intended to let him shoulder the blame for this whole mess. “It’s too late Chris…we’re done… Just go home.”

 

The SCU began to tone… “County 51…Heart attack. 1785 Normandy… 1-7-8-5 Normandy… Cross Street Broadhurst, Time out 09:18.”

 

John ran past Chris to the door of the dorm… “Goodbye Chris,” he said quietly as he pushed the door open.

 

“Uncle Johnny,” Chris called.

 

John stopped for a brief moment, his eyes closed in pain and his mouth tightened before he turned back… “I’m not your Uncle,” he said with a hitched breath as he turned and ran.

 

Tears coursed from the boys blue eyes as his Father’s best friend ran from the room. What had he done? Why had he listened to the others? One tiny little lie had ruined his father’s friendship and hurt Uncle Johnny so badly…He’d seen the pain in the dark eyes that had looked back at him. Chris’s stomach hurt thinking about it. He’d broken Uncle Johnny’s heart. His parents were fighting. He’d disappointed his mom… and his dad…man he would be just as hurt about losing John as Johnny was at losing him. Both he and Jen had lost their Uncle…all over one stupid little lie. He’d been sure John would forgive him but he hadn’t… Not this time. Chris went to find his mom.

 

She was with Hank in the apparatus bay watching as the squad pulled out. They’d all heard John’s parting comment and had their own reactions to it. Joanne’s eyes had welled with tears for the pain Johnny was feeling. For the loss of a little brother for both she and Roy, for the hurt and confusion Chris was going through and the sorrow Roy would when he realized the truth. She just hoped they could somehow get past this and restore what had been lost.

 

Chris stopped next to her his eyes downcast… “I ruined everything,” he cried as he threw himself into her arms. She hugged him tightly.

 

“Did you apologize?” She asked.

 

“Yes…”

 

“And he didn’t accept it?” Jo asked in surprise.

 

 “That’s not like Johnny,” Hank said worriedly.

 

“He wanted me to tell dad…”

 

“Tell him what?” Hank asked with an arced brow.

 

“The truth…,” Chris whispered through his tears.

 

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Hank had been stunned, his dark eyes turned in disbelief toward Joanne. “My God…,” he whispered as John ran past him. Realizing for the first time just how badly the young man had been hurt and knowing deep down that Joanne was right. If John had been responsible for this mess he’d admit it, but the look on John’s face wasn’t guilt…It was a heart wrenching sorrow…

 

Hank shook himself back to business and moved to the podium to respond to the call. He handed the slip to Roy but his eyes were on Johnny. The young man’s eyes stared straight ahead and he fought to control the tremble of his mouth as the squad began to roll. He returned to Joanne with a heavy feeling in his stomach.

 

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Joanne turned to Hank… “I don’t know what to do? We can’t lose Johnny. He’s part of our family.”

 

“I know Joanne. I’ll talk to him when they get back.”

 

“Thank you Hank but I don’t know if it’ll help. Roy’s the one who needs to talk to him and he’s so angry and Johnny’s so hurt.”

 

Hanks eyes turned to Chris. “It would help a lot if you told your dad what really happened son…”

 

The boy shook his head. “I can’t…”

 

“Chris…,” His mom began. “Your father may be disappointed in you and he’ll be angry but he’ll always love you just like I do but baby…you have to make this right.”

 

Chris bit his lip and wiped the tears from his face before he looked up at them. “Do you hate me Mom? I know how much you love Uncle Johnny too.”

 

“Of course not sweetheart…I love you and Johnny does too. He just very hurt right now and you’re the only one who can fix it.”

 

Chris looked at her sadly. “I don’t know,” he whispered. Joanne sighed. She’d give him until tomorrow. If Chris didn’t tell his father than she would.

 

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Roy was furious… How could John hurt a nine year old that way? Chris had come all the way down here to try and straighten things out and he’d crushed him like that. Roy’s blue eyes flicked a sideways glance at his partner. He saw the hurt in the dark eyes and his anger dwindled a bit. John was so special to him and his family…He didn’t want to lose him. Just what the hell had happened between him and Chris? He wanted to know the truth even if it turned out Joanne was right. He’d talk to Johnny when they got back.

 

They pulled up in front of the house and climbed out. All personal emotions set aside for the moment as they gathered their equipment and headed for the house. Roy glanced at his partner before knocking on the door. John’s mouth was set in a tight line, his eyes fixed on the door…ignoring Roy’s look.

 

The door opened and a concerned woman waved them inside… “It’s my dad… I think he’s having a heart attack.”

 

They went inside and moved to the man lying on the sofa. John immediately slipped into paramedic mode. “Hi, what’s your name?”

 

“Henry...”

 

“Okay Henry, I’m John Gage and this is my Partner Roy DeSoto. Where gonna take a quick look at you okay?”

 

“Alright…”

 

“Good. Can you tell me what hurts?” John asked as he set up the cardiac monitor.  Roy began to take vitals. Both of them falling into the same well practiced routine. Each one knowing what the other would need before it was asked for.

 

“My chest…feels like someone’s stomping on it.”

 

“Okay, just relax.” As soon as he had the leads in place he flipped the Biophone open and attached the antenna. “Rampart base this is County 51, how do you read me?”

 

“Go ahead 51,” Joe Early’s voice came back.

 

“Rampart, we have a male approximately sixty complaining of crushing chest pain. His vitals are…?” He looked to Roy.

 

BP is 90/60, pulse is 45, respirations 20…”

 

“51 can you send me a strip…?”

 

“10-4 Rampart, we’re sending you a strip.”

 

He let the machine run for a few seconds before Early’s voice came back. “51…, I’m reading sinus bradycardia…Start an IV D5W…Administer 5 mgs MS, followed by .5 mgs atropine and transport.”

 

They heard the sirens of the arriving ambulance. John keyed the mic as Roy began to set up the IV. “10-4 Rampart…” They waited silently, watching the scope and nodding in satisfaction as the rhythm settled into a normal pace.

 

John waved the ambulance attendants inside as Roy finished up with the IV. “I’ll go in with him,” Roy said.

 

John nodded and began to pack the equipment while Roy helped them load the man on the gurney. John looked at the daughter. “You can come along if you like…?” He said quietly.

 

“Thank you. He’s all the family I’ve got…I don’t want to lose him.”

 

John smiled sadly. “I know how you feel.”

 

Roy shot him a look but the attendants began to wheel Henry out and he turned to follow.

 

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Dixie looked up as John walked up to the base station. “Hey handsome…,” she said smiling at the young man. The smile faded as she looked into John’s dark eyes and the empty look in them. “Oh sweetheart…,” she murmured softly as she reached out to touch Johnny’s bruised cheek.

 

 He pulled back and looked away. “My partner around anywhere…?”

 

“He’s in three with Joe. Johnny…I heard about what happened at the fair.”

 

John glanced at her. “Did Roy tell you I let the kids on the ride?”

 

She nodded. “I don’t believe that, at least not the way he said it happened.”

 

“Thanks Dix,” he whispered. “It’s nice to know someone has a little faith in me.”

 

Kel stepped out of treatment four and spotted the pair. He moved to join them as Roy came out of three. Kel laid his hand on Johnny’s shoulder as he came up beside him but he side stepped away. “I’ll be in the squad,” he murmured as Roy joined them. He turned and walked away.

 

Roy’s eyes widened as he saw John’s reaction to Brackett’s casual gesture. His anger melting away as he realized just how distraught his partner truly was. “Johnny?” He called after him but the younger man never slowed down as he walked down the hall and out through the doors.

 

Kel’s dark eyes watched the sable haired paramedic as he disappeared around the corner before he turned to look at Roy. “Did you see that?” He asked worriedly. “Roy, don’t let this go any further. If you care about John at all, you need to do something about this...He’s shutting down, I’m certain of it.”

 

Dixie’s eyes bore into Roy’s as he nodded his head. “I’m gonna talk to him,” he said as he turned to follow his partner.

 

“Too little too late,” Dixie muttered softly.

 

Kel gave her a sharp glance. “Let’s hope not.”

 

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Roy climbed in beside his partner and Johnny turned his gaze out the passenger side window. “Johnny…?”

 

“Hmm…”

 

“We need to talk.”

 

“There’s nothing more to say Roy.”

 

 “I think there is. What I said to you that day…Well, I’m really sorry for that crack about being with my family. You know I didn’t mean it that the way…”

 

The squad’s radio crackled to life. “County 51 what is your status?”

 

“County 51 available,” Johnny responded, almost sighing in relief. He didn’t want to start this again.

 

“County 51, stand by for response.” The tones began to sound.

 

Roy almost swore in frustration as he started the engine. He’d really needed to talk to Johnny.

 

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Hank had been contemplating whether or not to tell Roy what he had discussed with Chris and Joanne but finally decided that it was up to the boy to tell his father the truth but Hank thought he should try and talk to Johnny. Roy was John’s best friend and the young man would have no one to turn to right now and Hank wanted to be there for him. His heart had ached at the lost look and his crew had told him how Johnny had been when they’d first met him. Captain Stanley had no intention of losing this kid…not for any reason.

 

He stood up and moved to the door of his office as he heard the squad backing into the bay a while later.

 

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Roy glanced at Johnny for the fifth time in the last five minutes. His partners face was averted and he’d ignored him each time he’d called his name. Roy heaved a sigh. “Johnny... Ignoring me isn’t gonna solve anything. We need to talk it out. I’m not mad anymore…the kids are alright and you know I’d forgive you…”

 

John snorted… “Forgive ME…? Well thanks so much, that’s really big of you,” he said snidely.

 

Roy closed his eyes briefly, almost afraid of the answer… “Johnny, if Chris did something and you’re taking the blame then you need to tell me…We can’t work together like this.”

 

John finally turned his head and looked over at Roy. “Are you telling me you want me to leave?”

 

“God no Johnny, that’s not what I’m saying at all…I’m just saying you mean too much to me to have this between us.”

 

John gave an unhappy snort of laughter and returned his gaze out the side window as the squad backed into the bay. Roy shut the engine off and turned back to his friend. John opened the door and looked back toward the older man… “You made it real clear how much I mean to you Roy…,” he said quietly. “And there’s nothing between us. You’re my partner and that’s all…You made that real clear too. It’s better that way. I won’t be a problem anymore and I won’t cause you or YOUR family any more trouble.” John’s mouth trembled and he turned away to keep from humiliating himself and proving his words were as big a lie as Chris’  as pain welled up in his heart.

 

The words stung Roy’s heart…“Johnny…,” Roy said shoving his own door open and climbing out. Damn it he had to know the truth and he’d get it if he had to shake it out of his partner.  He had no intention of losing his best friend and his brother or letting him retreat back behind those walls he’d lived with his whole life. His heart broke at the thought as he remembered the way he used to be and wished he could turn back time and take the cruel words he spewed back. He’d never meant to hurt John and it had just been a thoughtless slip of the tongue in the heat of anger and fear. God he loved this young man sitting next to him…how could Johnny doubt that after all this time?

 

He started around the vehicle to follow his friend but Hank’s voice stopped them both. “John…can I see you in my office?”

 

Johnny stopped in his tracks, staring at the floor and wishing they’d all just leave him alone. He’d been okay when he’d just refused to feel...He just needed to get back to that place but it kept eluding him this time. Too much had changed. He’d learned to love and be loved and that was hard to let go of but he didn’t want to be hurt anymore and he didn’t know which was worse. He turned back to his Captain and bit his lip. “Yes sir…,” he mumbled softly as he brushed past Roy and walked into Stanley’s office.

 

Roy watched him go, his heart aching knowing Johnny had been so hurt by him and his callous words so blithely spoken. Without a thought to John’s troubled past or the brutal upbringing and verbal abuse that he’d been subjected too. Even if Chris had been telling the truth, how could he have been so thoughtless? He’d shattered his best friend’s heart and he had to find a way to set it right. Tomorrow he and his son would straighten this out and then he’d sit down with Johnny and talk about it. He’d beg him if he had too. He couldn’t lose John…What would he do without him?

 

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Johnny stopped in front of Cap’s desk as Hank sat down trying to remain casual. The younger man jammed his hands into his pockets and stared at the floor. He expected Hank to tell him he’d have to transfer him. He couldn’t have him and Roy fighting like this and there was no repairing the relationship this time. Roy had been here first and it was only fair that he get to stay if it came to that. “Yes sir…?”

 

“Have a seat John.” John sank into the chair in front of the desk. His dark eyes fixed on a spot on the floor as Hank began to speak. “I had a long talk with Joanne and Chris after you two left this morning.”

 

John glanced up… “What about…?”

 

“What happened at the carnival...?”

 

“Oh,” he said softly as his eyes dropped to the floor in front of him.

 

“Johnny,” Hank said, using the more youthful nickname…something he rarely did. “Chris all but admitted he lied.”

 

“Did he?”

 

“Can you tell me what happened?”

 

“I don’t want to talk about it Cap, besides it won’t change anything.”

 

“John, I don’t want to lose you…”

 

John’s head snapped up, afraid the axe was about to fall. “You gonna transfer me Cap?” He asked softly.

 

Hank looked at his junior paramedic in shock. “Of course not John…Why would you even think that?”

 

John looked away… “I… I don’t know. I guess I just thought…”

 

“Well you thought wrong. You’re a part of THIS team and THIS family and you’re not going anywhere.”

 

“Thanks Cap.”

 

“What I meant was that the guys told me how you were when you first came here and I don’t want to see that happen again.”Hank stood up and came around the desk to stand in front of the younger man. He put his hand on John’s shoulder. John stiffened but remained seated as his dark eyes lifted to meet Stanley’s. “Talk to me John…,” he said gently as he squatted in front of the young man.

 

John sighed…Hank just wasn’t going to leave this alone until he talked to him…that was obvious…“I don’t know what happened Cap… Chris and the other boys wanted to go on the swings and Roy said no. I understood that because they were making a real bad grinding sound and neither of us was too sure of it. Then after lunch the kids asked again and I told them no…but then Chris said he wanted to ask his dad one more time so I told him to go ahead. He went over there and I saw Roy shake his head but then a minute later Chris pointed at the swings again and Roy nodded.” John looked up at Cap and the pain in his eyes was evident. “I thought he gave him his permission. I was a little surprised but then Chris came back and he told me he’d changed his mind. I never thought he’d lie to me Cap…” Johnny looked away.

 

“Understandable. Then what happened?” Cap asked squeezing the younger man’s shoulder.

 

“The swings went over while they were on them and…and I got right up there…and then Roy was there and he was so angry at me. I…I didn’t know why cuz I thought he’d told them it was all right.” The words were coming in a rush. “And then this new friend of Chris’ told them it was my fault…that I’d let them go because I thought Roy was just being over protective…”

 

“Roy believed this kid?”

 

John shrugged. “Chris told him it was true…,” the younger man’s voice cracked. “He never even asked me Cap. Just started telling me I’d caused all the t…trouble and what a p…problem I was,” John stuttered.

 

Cap recognized the signs that John was getting overly stressed. His hand moved to curl around the younger man’s neck. “Take it easy John… Take a couple of deep breaths.”

 

John’s eyes dropped once more and his breaths hitched as he tried to get himself under control. “He told me to go home…That he needed to be with his… f…family.” He looked up at Cap. His face twisted in grief. “It was pretty obvious that I wasn’t included in that anymore,” John finished in a whisper. He pulled in a deep breath, clenching his eyes shut until the burning behind them subsided.

 

“John…I know that had to hurt but you do understand that Roy was scared and upset.”

 

“He never gave me a chance to explain Cap…,” John whispered. “Not until it was too late…He still thinks I went behind his back.”

 

“We told Chris he needs to tell him really happened.” Johnny’s head snapped up.

 

“That’s good but it won’t change anything…He didn’t trust me Cap…He lied to me…He told me I was part of his family and it wasn’t true…I…I can’t go back.”

 

“Johnny…”

 

John stood up abruptly. “You don’t understand Cap…My family called me those things… my whole life…God…I never thought Roy would,” he whispered painfully, as he shook his head. “I don’t want to be hurt anymore…I’m not as strong as I thought I guess. I just can’t handle it.” John turned and quickly left the room.

 

Hanks heart ached at the pain and sorrow etched into Johnny’s face and for what the younger man had lived through as a child. He was uncertain how to handle this but there were two things he did know for sure…He didn’t want to lose either of his paramedics and that these two men needed each other. He just hoped they could work this out.

 

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John slipped outside, his heart heavy. He slid down the wall drawing his knees up to his chin and wrapping his arms around them. How could Roy really believe he’d do this? After everything they’d been through did he really distrust him that much? He’d thought they’d resolved this a few months ago but here it was rearing its head once again. He sighed in hurt resignation. As a child, he’d never had what he’d found with Roy’s family and he didn’t want to lose it but the pain he’d felt at being shut out so completely without a chance to defend himself was crushing…That he’d taken the word of a nine year old stranger over his and that Chris…this special child he’d loved so much would hurt him like this. This family he’d learned to love and trust were suddenly like strangers and Johnny didn’t have enough experience with his conflicting emotions to know what to do.

 

He returned to the rec room at lunch time and the crew almost cringed at the lost and confused look in the dark eyes. Roy felt the weight of four sets of eyes boring into him and knew the guys were angry with him but what could he do? Johnny wouldn’t talk to him. The younger man sat at the table taking great pains to be on the opposite side from Roy.

 

Calls kept them busy for the remainder of the afternoon and early evening. Roy tried several times to talk to his young partner but Johnny remained silent and he turned in early hoping to avoid further attempts at conversation. Johnny wasn’t sure he could maintain the attitude of indifference that he’d had before…He hadn’t learned how to love anyone then but now it was different…This family had become the family he’d lost…how could he just give that up? How could he not? He couldn’t handle the pain they caused him.

 

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Roy glanced at Johnny as he stripped down to his boxers. His young partner was in his usual position, on his back with his left arm thrown over his face. Roy often wondered how he slept that way, it looked decidedly uncomfortable.

 

He glanced over his shoulder to be sure none of the other crew was around before squatting next to his friend. “Johnny, are you awake?” The dark haired paramedic shifted beneath the covers, his arm dropping away from his face as even in sleep, his head turned instinctively toward his partner’s voice but he didn’t wake up. Roy grinned at the almost childlike look of Johnny’s face. He reached out to sweep the dark hair from his friend’s forehead. “I’m sorry I hurt you Johnny but we’re still family and we’re gonna get through this,” he said softly.

 

The voices of Chet and Marco coming in intruded on the quiet moment and Roy retreated to his bed. He dozed off a short time later.

 

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Johnny tossed restlessly as the nightmares began. The black eyes of his uncle bore into him. “Né-ho’tovahe naa Ne kánomό…,” (You are weak and worthless) he accused as he shook the boy. John’s head rocked from the force. No one will ever want you,” he taunted hatefully. “You’ve never brought anything but trouble to your family.” Tears welled but his uncle shook him again. “Névé’e-a’xaame,” (Do not cry).

 

We wish you’d never been born,” his aunt sneered from the other side. Johnny moaned softly as the fingers bit painfully into his shoulders.

 

Roy’s eye’s snapped open at the soft sound of distress. He sat up and swung his feet over the edge of the bed, his eyes squinting into the darkness.

 

Johnny was thrashing beneath the covers and a quiet whimper slipped from his lips. Roy knew exactly what was happening and cursed under his breath. Johnny’s childhood nightmares had returned and Roy knew he was the cause of it.

 

“No…stop it,” Johnny whispered in fear, his hands trying to fend off the demons from his past.

 

“We should cast you into the street…, Ne-hávêsévone’όné ka’e όne.” (You’re a wicked child).

 

“No…no, I’ll be good… please…I have nowhere to go,” John moaned.

 

The rest of the crew was beginning to stir as the young paramedic’s words began to penetrate their dreams. Marco and Chet sat up as Roy moved to sit next to his partner. He reached out to grasp his partner’s wildly swinging hands. Sweat beaded Johnny’s face.

 

The hate filled eyes of his uncle leered down into his…the strong, calloused hand moving to grab a handful of John’s long, sable hair, jerking his head back. “Please don’t hurt me,” John whispered.

 

John’s body arced up off the bed, knowing what was coming, but suddenly another voice intruded and the eyes looking at him so hatefully changed to blue. The face changed as well and it was no longer his uncle who looked at him in rage but Roy.

 

The voice finally began to penetrate his nightmare. “Johnny, wake up. It’s just a nightmare. I’m here and I won’t let him hurt you. Shhh,” the voice soothed.

 

Chet and Marco exchanged a glance as Captain Stanley and Mike padded on bare feet to stand quietly at the corner of the dividing wall.

 

Johnny bolted upright, a cry of fear escaping his lips. The wide, dark eyes looked into the face of the man he had trusted more than anyone else. “R…Roy,” he panted.

 

“Shhh…it’s okay,” Roy said gently. He pulled John toward him but the younger man stiffened.

 

“No…No, let me go. Don’t hurt me Roy,” he mumbled as he twisted desperately, trying to free his wrists from the hands that held him.

 

The older man froze in shock. ‘Don’t hurt me Roy,’ he’d said. He held John’s shoulders staring at him with a stricken look.

 

“God Johnny…I’d never hurt you. I love you…you know that,” he said dismayed.

 

The crew glanced at each other in surprise. They’d never heard their cool, in control senior paramedic say that aloud though they’d known it for years, having seen the gentle care and handling of his young partner over and over but the words had never been spoken in front of them.

 

“No…no, let me go…”

 

Roy looked heartsick as John pushed against him. Roy finally let him go. “Johnny…,” he began as the control unit began to tone. The lights came on and for the first time both men realized they weren’t alone. Roy didn’t care but John’s face flushed in humiliation that his nightmares and his fear had been witnessed. He took a deep gasping breath before he collected himself and rolled from his bunk to shove his feet into boots and turnouts while the others scrambled to do the same.

 

“Station 51…Structure fire… 1345 Ellwood…1-3-4-5- Ellwood…Cross street Larchmont…Time out 1:53…”

 

John stood up but stopped as Roy stepped in front of him. “We’re not done Johnny…We have to fix this,” he warned, as he snapped his suspenders into place.

 

Johnny threw him a quick glance but said nothing as he ran past his partner.

 

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 “Damn it…,” Roy muttered as he turned and ran for the squad. The doors rolled up and the rigs began to roll. Roy cast a glance at his partner but Johnny was studiously avoiding looking at him. His dark eyes focused on the road ahead of him… “Turn left up here…,” he said quietly.

 

Roy followed his instructions…pulling up in front of the house a moment later. Smoke billowed from the windows and crowds gathered on the sidewalk watching as the engine crew began unrolling hoses. John and Roy shrugged into their SCBA’s.

 

Cap was pointing toward the building… “Upstairs bedroom…at the back…Neighbors said the owners still in there.”

 

John and Roy both nodded and headed inside to make their way through the house. They checked the first floor and then made their way up the stairs toward the bedroom. They reached the door but found it locked. Roy stepped back and gave a powerful kick…the door burst open and they moved inside. The man lay on the floor, trying to struggle to his feet…the bed was a blazing inferno…The curtains were fluttering and sparks flew…blown about from the open window.

 

Roy reached down and helped the man to regain his feet. Johnny slipped the other arm about his neck and the three of them made their way to the door. The man was coughing and John slipped his mask from his face and placed it over the victim’s. “Take a couple of breaths…,” he directed.

 

The man clutched the mask to his face breathing deeply…he pulled it away long enough to speak to the younger paramedic… “Girlfriend…,” he gasped… “She was in the bathroom…” John’s eyes met Roy’s briefly and he pulled free and turned back.

 

“Johnny…you need help?”

 

John waved him off and continued on…Roy watched him for a moment and then turned the man back to the stairs and led him downward.

 

John made his way down the hall pushing doors open and looking inside. Johnny finally found the bathroom but it was empty. “Damn it…,” he muttered. He’d checked every room but there was no one…He headed back toward the stairs but flames suddenly flared…blocking his exit.

 

John backtracked as the flames crawled toward him…consuming carpeting and wall board like a starving animal…He glanced into a room and ran toward the window…He pushed the curtain aside but he was stopped cold. There was wood covering the broken window… “Oh God…” He kicked at it but the wood was too heavy…he started for the door…but the flames barred the way…John attacked the wood once more but it refused to budge.

 

The heat was building to intolerable temperatures and sweat coursed through the soot covering his face. John felt nauseas as his body temperature began to climb…Dizziness washed over him and the room spun sickeningly. John felt darkness crowding in…there was nowhere to go…Maybe it was better this way…Nothing would hurt anymore…Darkness settled over him as he lost consciousness and settled to the floor. His tank alarm began to sound as he ran out of oxygen.

 

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Roy watched the door anxiously…Where the hell was Johnny…Why hadn’t he come out. Cap trotted toward him… “Where’s Gage…?”

 

“Inside…The guy said his girlfriend was still in there…,” Roy told him as he settled the mask over his victims face.

 

“Lopez…Kelly…Go find Gage, he’s somewhere on the second floor. See if you can find the girl.”

 

They nodded and made their way inside. Roy was torn…He desperately wanted to go after his partner but he knew he couldn’t leave the victim…He was mostly terrified that something would happen to Johnny before they could fix their friendship. God what if Johnny died in there…feeling the way he did…hurt and alone…Tears welled in Roy’s eyes at the thought…He had to make this right with Johnny somehow.

 

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Chet and Marco moved quickly through the building, both men hunched against the heat beating against them. They made their way up the stairs dragging the heavy hose behind them. The water spray hissing like a live thing as it hit the flames in front of them. They stopped at the first door, casting a worried glance at each other and praying he wasn’t inside as the room was totally engulfed. They turned the hose inside to beat back the fire but there was no sign of John and they moved on.

 

They got to the second door…The room was filled with heavy smoke flames crawled up the walls, spreading across the carpet toward the prone figure of their missing friend. Chet signaled Marco and moved inside as the Mexican Fire fighter saturated the rug and doused the flames.

 

The Irishman moved to his young friend’s side. “Johnny…” he yelled as he knelt beside him. He reached for the spot alongside John’s throat trying to find a pulse. “He’s alive…I got a pulse but he ain’t breathin,” he shouted to Marco as he yanked the dark haired paramedic up and over his shoulder.

 

Marco nodded and began to lead the way out, hose first…beating down the flames that tried to resurrect themselves. They quickly made their way to the stairs and out of the building. Once outside Marco dropped the hose and grabbed Chet’s arm to help steady him as they carried the unconscious man to where Roy was waiting.

 

“He’s not breathin Roy,” Chet hollered to the older paramedic as he knelt and let Roy pull John from his shoulder. He leaned him against his chest while Chet wrestled the air tank off him and then laid him back.

 

“Get the O2 off the engine,” he ordered as he tipped John’s head back, pinched his nose and began to breathe for him.

 

Marco gave a final worried glance to his fallen friend and returned to fighting the fire as Chet ran back with the oxygen. “Here Roy,” Chet said as he knelt next to Johnny.

 

Roy snatched the mask up to place it over John’s nose and mouth… “Breathe Johnny,” he commanded softly. “C’mon junior…this is a lousy way to get even with me,” he whispered.

 

Cap arrived a moment later “Chet, get back on the lines, I got it.” Chet took off. John began to cough harshly. His hands lifted to try and frantically slap the object over his face away as he tried to sit up but Cap reached out to grab him. “Whoa Johnny, just lay back…its okay,” he said comfortingly as he pressed his youngest crew member back down.

 

The dark eyes looked slightly panicked for a moment before he realized where he was and what had happened. His gaze locked with Roy’s. “You’re okay junior,” Roy soothed as Johnny continued to cough. The hands that had been swinging blindly came to rest on the resuscitator mask, holding on to it as he gasped the precious oxygen into his lungs. Roy grinned as his young partner relaxed, his hand moved to sweep the sweat dampened sable hair from Johnny’s forehead. The younger man was too tired to fight him. “You just lay there a minute while I get Rampart on the line.” Roy glanced up at Hank. “They find the girl?”

 

Stanley nodded his head. “She was out here the whole time,” he said aggravated. “She fell asleep on the downstairs couch. When she woke up, she smelled the smoke and called the fire department and went outside.”

 

“She didn’t even try to wake him?” Cap shook his head as Roy pulled the Biophone toward him. “Rampart base this is county 51, we have a second inhalation victim. It’s a code I Rampart.  Victim was not breathing when we got him out but is now breathin on his own. We have him on 6 liters of O2.He’s diaphoretic, probably due to heat prostration… His Respirations are still shallow, pulse is slow, stand by for BP,” Roy said as he grabbed the cuff and wrapped it around John’s arm.

 

Johnny moved the mask from his face, coughing harshly. “I’m okay Roy,” he croaked out.

 

Roy reached up and plonked the mask back over John’s face. “You’ll be even better if you keep that on,” he said crisply. He picked up the Biophone. “Rampart the BP is 90/60.”

 

Joe Early’s voice came back. “Start an IV 51 as a precaution. Normal saline…keep him on O2 and transport. How is victim number one?”

 

“Normal Saline, 10-4 Rampart…first victim is conscious and breathing normally,” Roy replied. John frowned as his eyes warily watched his partner set up the IV. He flinched as the needle pierced his skin but stayed quiet and unresisting. “Let’s get ya loaded up partner,” Roy said with a small smile as the ambulance attendants arrived with a stretcher.

 

Cap bent down to help them lift the younger man onto the gurney, laying his hand briefly on John’s head before turning to his senior paramedic. “Take care of him Roy… Stay with him until you know what’s goin on.” Cap commanded, slapping the blonde paramedic on the shoulder.

 

“I will…,” he said in relief. He hadn’t wanted to leave Johnny until he was sure he’d be okay.

 

“I’ll get a replacement for him. John…Do what Roy tells ya…,” Cap ordered.

 

The young paramedic rolled his eyes but said nothing as they loaded him inside the ambulance with the first victim.

 

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They wheeled Johnny into treatment room two a short time later. Joe Early was already waiting as they transferred the young paramedic to the exam table. John’s dark eyes were open and he rolled his head to look at the kind, gray haired Doctor. He moved the oxygen mask away. “Hey Doc…?” He said with a deep rasp.

 

“Johnny…How are you feeling?” He asked as he reset the oxygen mask over the younger man’s face and then checked his eyes.

 

“Chest feels a little tight,” he admitted. “I’m a little lightheaded.”

 

Joe tucked the tips of his stethoscope into his ears and listened to John’s lungs. He frowned, his lips pursing thoughtfully before he turned to the nurse. “Carol, I want X-Ray down here. I want a chest film on John.”

 

“Yes Doctor.” She moved to the phone.

 

“You’ve got some rales Johnny,” he said as he checked John’s eyes. “Roy, get me a new set of vitals.”

 

Roy moved to check John’s pulse and respirations. Carol returned a moment later and wrapped the BP cuff around John’s arm. “Doc… his pulse is 120, respirations 14,” Roy said worriedly.

 

“BP is 100/60,” Carol added.

 

The X-Ray technician trundled his machine into the room forcing Roy, Joe and Carol to leave. Roy laid his hand on John’s shoulder. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. We still have some talking to do.”

 

John’s dark eyes looked back at him warily. “We don’t have anything to talk about…,” Johnny said, his voice muffled by the oxygen mask as well as his raspy throat.

 

“Yeah partner we do…We’re gonna get this straightened out.”

 

“Roy…?” Joe called from the doorway.

 

“Coming…,” he called over his shoulder, giving John’s dark head a gentle touch. The younger man turned his face away and Roy sighed in frustration as he turned and left.

 

“Trouble…?” Joe asked.

 

“We had a…disagreement,” Roy said subtly.

 

“Oh yeah…Kel mentioned your son was injured at some kind of fair.”

 

“Yes…”

 

“He said you blamed Johnny.”

 

“I didn’t blame…,” Roy hesitated. Hadn’t he? “Well… I mean… I didn’t blame him exactly. It wasn’t his fault that the ride went over like that. He couldn’t have known it would happen but the kids shouldn’t have been on it…If he’d just done what I said. I…,” he stopped.

 

“Roy…I don’t know what happened but that just doesn’t sound like Johnny.”

 

“I know…That’s what everyone says but my son and his friends all told me…” Joe arched a brow at him questioningly. “And well, that’s what we need to talk about. I have to know the truth.”

 

Joe nodded. “Just try not to upset him too much. He’s probably feeling pretty bad and I want him to get some rest.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I don’t like the way he’s breathing…”

 

“But he’s gonna be okay right?”

 

“Probably, but I don’t want him stressed.”

 

“Okay Doc.”

 

They headed back inside as the X-Ray technician left the room. John’s eyes were closed. A light coating of sweat covered his face and his breathing was a raspy wheeze.

 

“Johnny…?” Roy questioned softly.

 

The dark eyes fluttered open tiredly as his head turned in their direction. “Can I go home?” he rasped.

 

Joe shook his head. “You’re still exhibiting some symptoms of heat exhaustion Johnny and I don’t like what I’m hearing in your lungs… I’d like to keep you overnight,” he said. “I’m also going to keep you on the IV for the rest of the night… Kel will probably release you in the morning, depending on what the X-Ray’s show.”

 

John heaved a sigh which was followed immediately by a rough cough. “Kay,” he groaned, miserably.

 

Roy moved to his partner’s side. “Doc…Is it okay if I talk to him for a bit?”

 

“I’m really tired Roy,” he rasped.

 

“Johnny…,” Roy began knowing his young friend was using it as an excuse to avoid the confrontation.

 

 “Roy, why don’t you hold off until tomorrow? Let’s let him get some sleep.” Joe suggested.

 

Roy sighed in disappointment. “Okay…but tomorrow for sure John.”

 

John nodded in relief but then worry clouded his eyes. This was only a temporary reprieve. He knew Roy would be back and he wouldn’t rest until they talked this out and he still hadn’t managed to get those walls completely back in place. He was afraid… afraid he’d crumble and let this family back into his life and he couldn’t do that…It was too painful. They’d told him families weren’t supposed to hurt you the way his had hurt him but that wasn’t true, they’d just found a different way to do it and he didn’t want to be hurt anymore.

 

Carol returned with the X-Rays and handed them to Dr. Early. He slid it into the light panel and hit the switch. He studied it for a moment before turning to the others. “Carol, let’s get him started on Cefazolin. Johnny, I’m going to start you on an antibiotic to prevent any infection in your lungs alright?”

 

“Kay…,” he whispered as his eyes drooped.

 

Joe nodded toward the door. Roy reached out to sweep the shaggy, sable hair from John’s forehead drawing a grin from Carol but he frowned in frustration as his partner tensed beneath his fingers and rolled his head away. “Tomorrow junior… We’re gonna fix this tomorrow,” He whispered.

 

“Carol, get him a room,” Joe said as he and Roy headed out the door.

 

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John dozed for a while after Roy left but the nightmares once again surfaced, snapping him awake and leaving him shaking in fear. He was coughing heavily and his breath caught in a painful hitch before he forced himself to breathe normally.

 

Roy had made it very clear that he’d be back in the morning for a confrontation the younger man felt unprepared for. What was there to say? That he was sorry? Johnny knew that but then what? That John was family? The young man was well aware of what that meant. That it wouldn’t happen again? He’s already broken that promise and what about Chris? He’d apologized too but he’d been prepared to let John continue to take the blame.  John shook his head knowing that if Roy caught him now, while he was still vulnerable, he’d forgive him. He just couldn’t.

 

John reached over and pulled the IV from his arm. He knew he’d be in a lot of trouble for this later but he didn’t care. Right now he just needed to be far away. Somewhere where he could think clearly and Roy wasn’t around to pressure him.

 

John pushed the mask away and sat up. He coughed again and pushed himself off the bed, making his way to the cabinet. His turnout pants still hung there along with his T shirt which was neatly folded beneath it. He got dressed, sliding his feet into his boots. Nobody would even give him a second glance dressed this way. A paramedic wandering the halls at Rampart in turnout gear was a common sight even this early in the morning.

 

Johnny scooped his wallet from the bedside table. His keys were at the station but his friend Laverne who lived up the hall from him had another set and he could get them from her. She was usually up half the night anyway so he wouldn’t be disturbing her.

 

Johnny peeked out the door before stepping into the hall and making his way to the elevators. He let out another harsh, rasping cough as the doors closed behind him.

 

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Kel was in early the next morning. He sat at his desk and began to sort through his Intern’s cases from the night before. Everything looked good and he set the files aside and picked up the records Joe Early had left for him to follow up on. One name caught his attention.

 

There was a soft knock and Brackett looked up from his files as Dixie stepped through the door to his office. “Morning Kel,” she greeted cheerfully.

 

“Morning Dix,” he replied as she moved to the coffee pot on his credenza and began to make coffee.

 

“Anything good in there…?” She asked nodding her head at the files in front of him.

 

“They brought Johnny in last night,” he replied.

 

She whirled around. “Is he alright?”

 

“Smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion. He got trapped and his oxygen ran out. Joe was a bit con…” The phone on his desk rang cutting off further explanation as he reached to pick it up. “Dr. Brackett…,”he answered.  Dixie could tell from the scowl that appeared on Kel’s face that whatever he was being told was making him very angry. “I’ll be right there,” he slammed the phone on the cradle.

 

“What is it Kel?”

 

“It seems our young friend has pulled another little disappearing act.”

 

“What…?” She asked in confusion.

 

“John’s gone...his bed’s empty and security can’t find him anywhere. Let’s go…” They headed upstairs and into Johnny’s room, hoping he’d left some indication of where he’d gone and why but there was nothing. “I’ll call Roy and see if he can shed some light on this.”

 

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Johnny opened the door to his apartment and tossed the extra set of keys onto the table. His chest felt tight and he was still feeling a bit lightheaded. He sank gratefully onto his couch, rubbing his chest and closing his eyes until the dizziness passed.

 

He couldn’t stay here, it would be the first place they’d look for him and he knew that leaving the hospital without permission was a violation of departmental procedure. He’d be ordered back or face suspension if they found him. As it stood right now, he’d probably only get a reprimand… that is if Brackett or Early reported him. He needed to go somewhere but he hesitated to head into the mountains with this cough and his chest still feeling so tight. This should pass soon, it usually did and Johnny had had smoke inhalation enough to know its usual patterns…he wasn’t worried.

 

He pulled himself off the couch and went to change. He emerged from his room a short time later and snatched up the keys. He grabbed a key off the hook by the door. The Land Rover was at the station and he couldn’t get to it right now, but there was always his motorcycle. He walked slowly down the stairs hoping he’d feel better soon. He set his helmet in place before kick starting his bike and roaring off into the predawn morning.

 

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Roy sat at the breakfast table eating his bacon and eggs and trying to avoid the frosty looks from his wife. He’d only been home a few minutes but he knew she was still angry with him about Johnny, especially after he told her he’d been injured this morning and was in the hospital.

 

Chris sat next to him, his plate untouched. He picked at his food, pushing it around absently. “Something wrong there buddy?” Roy asked.

 

The boy jumped and looked up. He looked at his father briefly before his troubled blue eyes turned to his mother. She nodded encouragingly. “Dad I…I have something I need to tell you but…”

 

“But what…?”

 

“You’re gonna be really mad at me.”

 

“What is it Chris?” Roy asked.

 

The boy opened his mouth to answer but the doorbell rang and interrupted. Joanne almost groaned in frustration as Roy stood up and went to answer it. Who the heck would be at their door this early in the morning?

 

Roy pulled it open to find Dalton’s father Walter Elliot on his front steps. He looked out to see that he wasn’t alone. All three of Chris’ friends and their fathers stood behind him along with Dalton. “What can I do for you Mr. Elliot?” Roy asked politely, though his tone was a bit cool. Chris came to the door and seeing his friends, stepped out to join them. They moved off leaving the men to talk among themselves.

 

“DeSoto,” he began without preamble. “I want know where that stupid Indian friend of yours lives.”

 

Roy’s eyes took on a flinty look. “What is this…?” He asked the others. “A lynch mob…?”

 

They at least had the good graces to look embarrassed. Every one of them knew and liked the young paramedic who’d just been maligned.

 

“We’ve been talkin is all… We feel he should be held responsible for what happened to our kids. He caused it after all.”

 

“No he didn’t. The owner of the carnival caused it. All Johnny did was let them on a ride he couldn’t possibly have known would go over like that.”

 

“We’ve already had this conversation DeSoto. That damn Indian almost got our kids killed…”

 

“That Indian is my best friend and he has a name. It’s John and you all know him…,” Roy growled at the others. “Paul, Jack…Carl, you all feel that way?”

 

“Well Roy…,” Ron’s father Paul began hesitantly.

 

Elliot interrupted. “We all talked about it and we all feel that way. Now you either tell us where we can find him or we’ll call the sheriff and press charges for endangering our kids.”

 

“John would never deliberately put your kids at risk…you know that.”

 

They exchanged guilty glances as Elliot bristled. “I know nothing of the sort…,” he began but was interrupted as Chris suddenly lunged toward Dalton. His fist smashed into the other boys face and they both hit the ground. The blonde nine year old was swinging in rage while Ron, Carl and Tony stood there egging him on.

 

“What the hell?” Roy said as they all ran toward them across the lawn.

 

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Chris moved to where the other kids were gathered watching the adults talk. The young blonde could tell his dad was really angry over whatever was being said. “What’s going on?” He asked the others.

 

“My dad’s really mad,” Dalton said with a grin.

 

“So’s mine…His dad got mine all stirred up,” Carl said nervously.

 

“About what…?” Chris asked.

 

“Johnny,” Tony whispered.

 

“He and my dad are fighting,” Chris said somberly.

 

The others looked shocked. “But your dad and Johnny are best friends.”

 

“I know but…We blamed him for what happened and Dad got real mad at him and now Uncle Johnny’s really hurt. I’m gonna tell my dad the truth.”

 

“You can’t do that… we’ll all be in trouble.” Dalton said angrily as he gripped the other boy by the shirt.

 

“Uncle Johnny won’t come over anymore,” he said looking at the others. They glanced at each other nervously but Ron, Carl and Tony all knew it was the right thing to do. It wasn’t fair to let Johnny and Mr. DeSoto be angry at each other. They’d all heard Daltons’ father telling their parents that they needed to make John pay for what had happened but it hadn’t been Johnny’s fault…Not any of it and he shouldn’t have to bear the responsibility for it.

 

Dalton shrugged. “So who cares if he comes back? He’s just a dumb Indian anyway…”

 

The other boys gasped in outrage while Chris’ blue eyes widened in shock before narrowing in anger. “What did you say?”

 

“Even my dad agrees with me,” Dalton said smugly. “He’s just a stupid Indian…He just stood there and let us blame him for what happened. What a jerk.”

 

“You take that back,” Chris yelled as he launched himself at the other boy. His fist connected solidly with Dalton’s mouth and he fell backwards with Chris on top. He began to pummel the other boy as the others urged him on.

 

The adults turned to look in shocked surprise at the fight now taking place before their eyes. They ran to break it up. Roy pulled his son off from the other boy, dragging his thoroughly enraged child away while Elliot helped Dalton to his feet. The boy was bleeding from the nose and mouth and his father whipped out a handkerchief to staunch the flow. Joanne stepped out on the steps to see what all the noise was about. She saw her son struggling to free himself while Dalton stood with his father with a bloody cloth over his nose.

 

The other boys were all talking at once trying to explain to their shocked fathers what the fight was about.

 

Roy finally let out a piercing whistle and everyone stopped talking to look at him. “Chris…You wanna tell me what that was all about?”

 

“He said Uncle Johnny was a stupid Indian…”

 

Elliot frowned… “Your kid hit mine over some low class Indian?” He sneered.

 

The other fathers gasped in surprise while Roy’s eyes were narrowing in anger as Chris continued. “He said he was a jerk for taking the blame for what happened the other day.”

 

“What are you talkin about?” Roy asked in dread. The light was dawning and Roy knew before Chris spoke…Joanne had been right.

 

Chris hung his head in shame. “I tricked Uncle Johnny into believing I asked for your permission.”

“WHAT…?”

 

“That last time when I asked…I asked if we could go on the Ferris wheel instead of the Scrambler?”


“Yes and I told you it was okay.”

 

“But the Ferris wheel was right behind the swings.”

 

“Oh my God…” Roy whispered as understanding came. That’s why John had thought it was okay. He thought Roy had given them permission. No wonder he was so confused.

 

“I told Uncle Johnny that you said it was okay if we went on them. He saw me point at them and you nodded. I lied to him Dad…,” Chris wailed miserably. “And he believed me.”

 

The other parents were looking at their sons in disbelief. “Did you know about this?” Carl Sr. asked furiously.

 

They nodded guiltily. “Dalton put him up to it…,” Tony said. “But we all went along with it.”

 

“We all kinda pushed him into it,” Carl added.

 

“Dalton called him a chicken and we all wanted to go so we teased him too…,” Ron finished.

 

“So what…,” Dalton sneered. “We all still got hurt cause he wasn’t smart enough to figure out we were playing a trick on him.”

 

Chris tried to go after the other boy but Roy held him back, his own eyes narrowing angrily.

 

He trusted me…,” Chris shouted as tears welled in his eyes. “My Uncle Johnny may be half Indian and to you that means stupid and low class but he’s smarter than either of you and got more class than you have in your whole stupid bodies,” The boy yelled as he buried his face against his father’s stomach. Roy hugged him to him.

 

“You gonna let your kid talk to me that way DeSoto?” Elliot demanded.

 

“Well I’ll tell ya. I tried to raise my son to be honest. He had a setback the other day… a bad one but I guess today it kinda got through so I suppose I can’t bring myself to punish him for telling the truth…Now why don’t you take that rotten kid of yours and get off my property. Don’t come back or I may resort to my son’s method of dealing with an ignorant bigot like you.”

 

Elliot bristled angrily and stalked off dragging Dalton along with him.

 

The others were looking at Roy in embarrassment. Every one of them had left their children in the young fireman’s care on many occasions and they’d always come home safe. How could they have turned on him so quickly? Like Roy, they’d all believed their children and all of them were shocked by the lies and the accusations they’d hurled at the only innocent victim in all of this.

 

“Uh…Roy, I’m really sorry about all this,” Jack said softly. “Johnny didn’t deserve that and um…I’ll make sure Ron understands the seriousness of what he’s done and that he apologizes to Johnny.”

 

“Me too…,” Tony’s father said quietly. “I guess I can’t say I raised you better after today,” he said in embarrassment. The boy hung his head.

 

Carl Sr. looked at his son. “How could you do that to Johnny? Go along with such a rotten trick. You lied to me, you lied about him. He’s been good to you and this is how you repay him?”

 

Carl scuffed his toe. “I…we…just wanted to go on the ride. So when Dalton suggested it we thought it would be a harmless trick so we went along.”

 

“It was my fault. I’m the one that lied,” Chris murmured.

 

“Why…?” Roy asked.

 

“Because Dalton dared him…Called him chicken because he wouldn’t do it,” they tried to explain.

 

Roy looked so disappointed that Chris wanted to weep. “That’s no reason…,” he barked angrily. Tears welled in Chris’ eyes once again as he looked up into his father’s distraught face. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done…?” He asked plaintively. Joanne touched his arm warningly. Roy looked at her in distress but he continued a little more calmly. “He trusted you and you betrayed that trust. My God Chris I blamed him. I betrayed him as well. I wouldn’t even let him explain,” he whispered. “I hurt him in a way you don’t understand and I may never get that friendship back.”

 

Tears coursed down the boys face at the thought that he may have lost his Uncle forever and cost his Dad his best friend…his brother and for what? A stupid moment of fun…a dare…Chris wished he could take it all back but all he could do now was go to Johnny and beg him to forgive him.

 

 Roy was thinking much the same thing as he felt the burn behind his own eyes. What had he done? He’d hurt his young friend for a lie. What if John never forgave him? Joanne was right, he’d done the one thing Dr. Hightower had warned him against, he’d broken his trust and his heart. He’d go to Johnny today, explain to him…beg him if he had too. He wouldn’t lose him no matter what it took.

 

The others offered they’re apologies once more before leading their sons away to finish whatever punishments awaited them at home.

 

Roy turned away from Chris and looked at Jo. “God I feel so stupid,” he whispered. She hugged him to her. “I’ve lost Johnny…,” he muttered softly.

 

“I think you and Chris need to talk and then go see Johnny…both of you.” He nodded.

 

 

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Chris sat next to his Father on the sofa. His head hung in shame while Roy tried to get himself together.

 

Roy’s first instinct was to react angrily but he knew he couldn’t do that. He needed to explain to his son what the consequences were for what he’d done.

 

“Dad…?” Chris questioned tentatively.

 

“Yeah…?”

 

“You said I hurt Uncle Johnny in a way I couldn’t understand. What did you mean?”

Roy looked at Jo. She pursed her lips thoughtfully for a moment before nodding her head. “I think he’s old enough to understand,” she said quietly.

 

“Chris, do you remember when we were camping and you asked about Johnny’s parents?”

 

“Yes…you said they were dead.”

 

“They are…”

 

“Is that when he went to live with Aunt Rosemary?”

 

“No Chris... That wasn’t until later.”

 

“Oh…”

 

Roy ran his hand through his hair. Man this was tough. Chris had had his first experience with bigotry today but Johnny had been raised with it aimed straight at him by everyone. How did you explain that to a child? How do you explain child abuse to a kid that’s never known anything but love?

 

“Chris…? Uncle Johnny’s Mother lived on a reservation…”

 

“That’s cool…”

 

“Well yes…but not in Johnny’s case.”


“Why?”

 

“Because his father wasn’t an Indian…He was white.”

 

Chris shrugged. “So…?”

 

Roy sighed. “Chris, sometimes people don’t like other people who aren’t the same as they are.”

 

“You mean like Dalton and his Father?”

 

“Yes…and in Johnny’s case the people who raised him after his Parents died.”

 

Chris looked up sharply. “You mean like an orphanage?”

 

“No Chris…It was his own family.”

 

The boys face looked shocked. “Who…?”

 

“His Mother’s family… His Aunts and Uncles hurt him very badly.”

 

“How…?” He whispered.

 

“They said awful… mean things to him. Just like I did…,” he added under his breath.

 

“Oh.”

 

“They called him names. Told him he wasn’t wanted. That he was worthless and that they wished he was dead.”

 

Chris’ eyes widened in horror… “How could they say that to him?”

 

“That was only part of it. They hit him…a lot. One Uncle even hit him so hard he broke some of his bones.”

 

Chris looked sick. “Why…?”

 

“Because he was different…because he was only half Indian and that embarrassed them.”

 

“That’s so mean…That wasn’t his fault.  Poor Uncle Johnny…”

 

“Chris, Johnny doesn’t want your sympathy. He doesn’t need it. He came through it tough and strong but what he does need is our love and the sense of family that we give him and we took that away from him this week. That’s why he’s hurt so bad.”

 

Chris nodded. “I’m so sorry dad. I never meant to hurt him.”

 

“I know, but that doesn’t excuse what happened. You saw how angry I was with him and I said some of those same things to him that his family used to hurt him with and I can’t take that back. I wanted him to learn what family’s are and I failed him, instead I took away something only we’d been able to give him…” Chris looked at him questioningly. “Unconditional love and being a part of a real family, do you understand?”

 

Chris nodded. “And because of what I did, he doesn’t think we love him anymore…?” Chris asked.

 

“Kind of…See it took a lot of time and work to get Johnny to trust me not to hurt him the way other people had.” Chris nodded. “I finally made him realize that we were different. That we loved him and wanted him around us and then…” Roy looked at Jo in distress unable to finish.

 

“I ruined everything,” Chris whispered. The phone rang in the kitchen and Joanne got up to answer it.

 

Roy put his hand on his son’s shoulder. “No Chris…I ruined it. Now we need to go apologize to Johnny and tell him how sorry we are and try to repair the damage we did.”

 

Roy heard Jo’s voice from the kitchen. “Yes Roy told me he was there… He WHAT? Oh God… Alright…I’ll tell Roy.” She hung up and ran back to the living room.

 

Roy stood up quickly at the look on her face. “What’s wrong?”

 

“Johnny…,” she said softly.

 

Roy’s face paled. “What about him?”

 

“That was Dr. Brackett. Johnny’s gone. He left the hospital sometime this morning and they don’t know where he is. Roy…Kel said Johnny’s X-rays showed a little fluid in his lungs and he’s a little worried. He wants him back in the hospital…NOW.”

 

“Oh no…,” Roy groaned. He ran to grab his car keys. “I’ll go over to his place. He can’t have gone too far, the rover was at the station when I left this morning.”

 

“Bring him home Roy.”

 

He nodded.

 

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John knocked on the door of his Aunts home. He didn’t know where else to go that Roy couldn’t find him. The housekeeper opened the door. She smiled at the young man standing there, remembering him from the last time he’d visited. “Come in Mr. Gage…”

 

“Um…John’s fine,” he said to the woman as he stepped past her. He coughed a deep racking cough. “Is my Aunt home?”

 

“Yes sir. Why don’t you wait in here?” She offered, leading him to the sitting room his Aunt favored. John smiled politely and sat on the flowered sofa. He leaned his head back tiredly and closed his eyes.

 

It was only a moment before he heard his Aunt’s voice…“John,” she said in happy surprise. “Oh it’s so good to see you.” He started to stand but she waved him back. “Sit, sit…,” She admonished plopping down next to him. She leaned to kiss him but Johnny pulled back before he caught himself but it was too late, she’d already seen it. “Are you alright?” He raised tired, sad, dark eyes to hers and she knew. “Oh Na háahketa,” she whispered, using the name she’d called him by for years. She reached up to cup his face in her hand as she gazed into his brown eyes. “What did he do to you?” She said softly.

 

“It doesn’t matter,” he said softly. “I just needed to get away for a couple of days.” he coughed again, drawing her attention to the drawn, paleness of his face.

 

“Are you sick?” She asked in concern.

 

“No Aunt Rose. Just took in a little smoke and got a little over heated last night.”

 

“You look tired sweetie. Why don’t you eat and then go rest for a while and then we’ll talk.”

 

“There’s nothing to talk about,” he insisted.

 

“John Roderick Gage,” she said raising his chin. “Do you really think I don’t know when you’re hurting?” John gave her a weak, crooked half smile. “We’ll get you something to eat and then you sleep for a while and then you tell me what Roy did.” He looked at her in surprise. “Don’t give me that look sweetheart… He’s the only one that could hurt you that bad. Come on,” she said standing up and pulling him to his feet. “Helen, get the green room ready for John please?”

 

“Yes ma’am…”

 

Johnny felt a wave of dizziness wash through him. “Aunt Rose, I’m really not hungry. If it’s okay, maybe I’ll just lie down for a while?”

 

Her eyes traveled over him in concern. If Johnny wasn’t hungry he was sicker or even more hurt than she thought. She nodded her head. “Let’s get you to bed then,” she said softly.

 

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Roy let himself into John’s apartment. “Johnny…?” He called out. There was no answer. He moved into the hallway and glanced into the kitchen before going on. The living room was empty, the door to his bathroom stood open. No sign of him. Roy moved to the bedroom and knocked on the door before pushing it open. It was empty but John’s turnout pants and his boots lay on the floor. Roy knew he’d been here but where had he gone? He opened the closet door, noting with relief that the camping gear was all there. At least he wasn’t alone in the mountains with some respiratory infection threatening him.

 

Where could he have gone? Maybe down in his friend Laverne’s place. He’d stop by and check on his way out. Roy thought for a minute…the Rover wasn’t missing and neither was his camping gear so where else would John be likely to go if he were upset and hurt and how would he get there? Roy’s head snapped up. His Motorcycle…he hadn’t seen the bike when he’d pulled in. Dear God, would he really go off on that thing feeling as bad as he had to be feeling right now? What if he passed out? A hundred different scenarios ran through his head but the one question still remained. Where…? Where would he go? Where did he begin to look for his friend?

 

He left the apartment, locking the door behind him and went down the hall to Johnny’s friend. He knocked on the door. It was answered a few minutes later by the girl who’d invaded Johnny’s place the night Roy had spent there while his house was being fumigated. She looked him up and down for a moment before recognition came. “Oh…You’re that friend of Johnny’s. I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on,” she teased.

 

Roy’s face flushed with color. “Uh…yeah…well I’m ah…looking for Johnny. He’s not here is he?”

 

“He was here this morning. Said he lost his keys and needed to borrow mine.”

 

“I see,” he said in disappointment.

 

“He didn’t look too good either?”

 

“What…?”

 

“He looked sick and he was coughing. I offered him my couch but he wouldn’t stay. He said he needed to go somewhere where he could think.”

 

Roy looked down. “Is that all?”

 

 “Fraid so…Hey look, he’s all right isn’t he?”

 

“I don’t know…Uh thanks Laverne.”

 

“Sure Roy,” She said as she closed the door.

 

“Somewhere where he could think?” He murmured. Roy was very worried that he’d headed into the mountains after all but if he had…he’d taken nothing with him and Roy knew if he wanted to disappear up there, he’d never find him. He headed for home in frustration.

 

“Did you find him…?” Jo asked worriedly.

 

Roy shook his head. “He took off on that motorcycle of his.”

 

 Joanne gave him a concerned look. “Kel said he may be getting sick.”

 

“I know…,” Roy muttered. “I know, but I don’t know where he’s gone...He didn’t take his camping stuff so he’s probably at least somewhere warm and dry…”

 

“I hope so…”

 

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Johnny woke a while later with a raspy cough. His chest still felt a bit tight and he could hear the fluid wheeze in his lungs. He sat up and rubbed the gritty feeling from his eyes. Man, he didn’t feel so good. He sat for a long while before getting up and getting dressed.

 

He wasn’t looking forward to the conversation he knew Rosemary wanted to have, the wound was still raw and it hurt too much. He rubbed his chest absently as he made his way downstairs.

 

John entered the sitting room and stopped in his tracks. Both of his cousins sat there along with Joshua’s wife Allison. He almost groaned in disappointment and if it wasn’t for the fact that he felt so lousy he’d make his excuses and leave. The only good thing was that it might keep his Aunt from talking about Roy.

 

Rosemary looked up as he entered the room. “There you are sweetheart,” she greeted patting the cushion beside her. John cast a quick glance at his cousins as he moved to join her on the sofa. “Are you feeling better?” She asked.

 

“I’m fine Aunt Rose,” he reassured her, coughing lightly.

 

“You certainly look fine,” Allison cooed as her sky blue eyes raked appreciatively over John. Joshua looked at his wife sharply, bristling at the obvious admiring gaze she was throwing at his more attractive, younger cousin. He leaned forward to block her view of the young fire fighter.

 

“We didn’t know you were here John. It’s good to see you,” he said coldly.

 

“Yes,” Tiffany added. “The last time we saw you was at your graduation from the academy.” Johnny nodded but didn’t answer the woman. “Well,” she amended. “There was that time at Christmas when we thought you were dead but then we didn’t really see you that time either since you were still alive and we'd already left,” She added sweetly.

 

“Sorry I disappointed you,” Johnny muttered in a raspy voice.

 

 “John,” Rosemary admonished.

 

“Sorry Aunt Rose,” he mumbled.

 

“Well really John, that’s not what I meant at all,” she said with a phony pout. “It was just that I had to rearrange my whole schedule to attend.”

 

John sighed in hurt resignation at her complete selfish attitude wondering where it had come from…certainly not his Aunt.

 

“I’m sure John didn’t get shot and left for dead just to inconvenience you Tiffany,” Rose said stiffly.

 

The woman recognized the protective, cold tone that her mother always got when she was defending John  but continued on cattily…“It’s just that we had to go to that awful funeral…and it was all for nothing,” the woman continued, her tone sugary sweet but Johnny could see the annoyance in her eyes.

 

“I’m sorry you wasted your valuable time Tiffany. Look Aunt Rose, maybe I should go?” He said as he stood up. He swayed suddenly, feeling a little lightheaded.


“Sit Na Háahketa, you’re not going anywhere.” John’s face turned scarlet in embarrassment at the endearment but he slowly sat back down. “You still haven’t told me what happened.” His dark eyes flicked to the others nervously and she patted his hand. “About last night and too much smoke…?” She hinted.

 

“Oh…Were you hurt?” Allison trilled worriedly as she leaned around her husband. Joshua’s mouth set angrily.

 

“I uh… I got trapped in a burning house. The window was boarded shut and my tank ran out of air…,” John finished coughing hard.

 

“How bad was it?” Rose asked reaching out to take his hand but Johnny pulled back and she hesitated. “It must have been very bad,” she said softly. John understood the double meaning behind her words.

 

“I passed out from the heat. A few more minutes Tiff and you’d of been attending another funeral. A real one this time,” he added sarcastically. “I guess I stopped breathing for a couple of minutes. Roy got me on oxygen and I’m fine now,” he added, stifling another cough.

 

“Oh my Lord…,” Rosemary said, her eyes wide with concern. “And they let you out of the hospital. I think I need to talk to Kelly Brackett about that.”

 

“I left on my own Aunt Rose.”

 

“John…,” she gasped.

 

“I needed to get away somewhere that’s all. Somewhere I could relax and think.” His dark eyes flitted toward his cousins, knowing he wouldn’t get the solitude and peace he came here for.

 

“They’re probably worried sick about you?” She insisted.

 

John shrugged, “I doubt that,” he whispered unwilling to share anymore than that with the others there.

 

Rose saw the hurt look behind the words. “Oh Na Háahketa,” she murmured as she brushed his cheek, he pulled away.

 

“Mother, what does that mean…?” Tiffany asked in irritation. “You’ve called him that for years but you never told us what it stood for…I mean it’s an Indian word right?”

 

“Yes it is and that’s between John and I isn’t it sweetheart?” She asked the young dark, haired man beside her. He gave her small smile in return as he nodded. “Why don’t we all have some dinner and then you can get back to bed and you and I will talk later.

 

John shifted uncomfortably. He wasn’t looking forward to dinner with his pretentious cousins. They made him so uncomfortable for just being himself. His family never…he hesitated. Roy and Joanne and the kids, he corrected himself. They had never made him feel that way no matter how bad his manners were. He really missed them.

 

He stood up to head for the dining room. Rosemary watched him go with a sad look. What had happened between John and Roy that had so completely devastated her nephew?

Roy paced the floor of his living room anxiously. Where would Johnny go besides the mountains? None of the guys had seen him and all of them were now mad at him again since he’d told them what had really happened.

 

He finally picked up the phone and called Captain Stanley. He explained what had happened and Cap sighed irritably. “I knew about it yesterday Roy but I thought it needed to come from your son. I was hoping you could work this out with John.”

 

“You knew? I wish you’d told me Cap. I wish John had. God, I just want to know where he is,” he said worriedly.

 

“I know…so do I.”

 

“You gonna report him Cap?”

 

“No…Not if I can avoid it…We just need to find him and get him back in the hospital.”

 

“I wish I could Cap,” Roy said with a sigh. Both men had grown quiet for a long moment before Roy suddenly sat upright. “Rosemary…,” he blurted out.

 

“What?”


“He’s gone to Rosemary’s Cap. I gotta go. I need to call Rose.”

 

“Okay Roy…You make sure he gets his ass back here and I mean pronto.”

 

“Yes sir, I will.”

 

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John sat at the table with his cousins and his Aunt picking at the food on his plate. His breathing sounded a bit wheezy and he coughed several times.  He didn’t feel very well but mostly his mind was on Roy and this whole mess they were embroiled in. His Aunt noticed. “Are you still not feeling well sweetie?” His cousins all turned to look at him questioningly.

 

John threw her a small smile and forced himself to take a bite. “I’m fine,” he mumbled around the mouthful, drawing a grimace from his cousins and a grin from his Aunt. They looked away in disgust.

 

Rosemary knew John’s table manners were poor under normal circumstances even though she’d worked hard to instill them into him as a teenager and even though she demanded and received impeccable manners at her table from him when they were alone, she knew he’d usually go out of his way to annoy his cousins by talking with his mouth full. She covered her grin and almost giggled at the slight, smug smile that played around the corners of his mouth at their annoyed looks. She turned her attention back to her own plate to avoid laughing outright.

 

Having successfully diverted their attention off of him for the moment, he swallowed the mouthful and returned to pushing the food around.

 

Rosemary watched him out of the corner of her eye and her green eyes grew concerned. John dark eyes held a deep sadness, as if he were lost and alone. It was heartbreaking and one she’d hoped to never see again. He was obviously very troubled by whatever had happened between him and Roy. Rose wanted to ask him about it but couldn’t with the others around.

 

She noted a light sheen of moisture on his face as he stifled a cough. She reached out to touch his forehead but her nephew ducked his head away…“John, I think you still need to rest. You’re obviously not really hungry,” she pointed out. “Why don’t you go back to bed and I’ll be up later and we can talk then.”

 

John sighed, she’d just drag him up there and fuss over him if he resisted so he finally nodded, knowing she’d have her own way. She was almost as bad as Roy and Joanne… He frowned as the thought flitted through his brain. Man, couldn’t he get through a meal without thinking about this? He pushed away from the table, nodding toward his cousins to excuse himself and headed up the stairs. Rose watched him go worriedly but she wasn’t sure what worried her more…his physical health or his emotional pain.

 

“I don’t know how you put up with that Mother…,” Joshua sneered in annoyance.

 

She sighed at her children’s snobby attitudes…She had loved her husband dearly but she wished he hadn’t instilled this particularly annoying trait into his offspring…“Because I care more about him than his manners, besides…,” she said with a grin. “He mostly only does it to annoy you.” She smirked at their shocked expressions.

 

The phone rang and she heard the housekeeper answer it. A moment later she came into the dining room. “Mrs. Hughes…? There’s a gentleman named Roy DeSoto on the phone. He wants to talk to you.”

 

Rosemary nodded. This was good…she had a few things she’d like to talk to him about as well.

 

phone call  Cropped.jpg

 

The blonde paramedic almost winced at the frigid tone of Rosemary’s voice when she came on the line but at least it confirmed his suspicions that Johnny was there.

 

“Hello Roy,” she said coldly.

 

“Rosemary ...,” he replied softly. “Can I speak to Johnny?”

 

“He’s asleep. He’s not feeling well.”

 

“I imagine he’s not. The Doctor’s very concerned about a potential for lung infection from the smoke inhalation. They want him back in the hospital.”

 

“Is that the only reason you called?” She asked. “If so, I’ll take him to a hospital here if he needs it.”

 

“No…No it’s not Rose… I need to apologize to him for what I said and the accusations I made. None of it was his fault and I need to tell him and ask him to forgive me.”

 

“Again...?” She said snidely. “You did this to him once before.”

 

“I know…”

 

“What exactly did you say to him…?” She questioned angrily.

 

Roy sighed heavily and explained what happened, finishing with... “I blamed him for it Rosemary and it wasn’t his fault. Chris and his friends lied to him and to me.”

 

“How many times do you think you can hurt him and have him just let it go?”

 

“I know…I didn’t mean to hurt him Rose. I was afraid for my son and it just slipped out.”

 

“I understand your fear Roy but Johnny’s too sensitive to handle that and you of all people should know it. You should see him…He’s just like he used to be. Now I’ll tell him you called when he wakes up…If he wants to call you back he can. If he feels really bad I’ll take him to Santa Barbara General. Goodnight…,” she snapped slapping the phone on the hook.

 

“Rose…,” Roy began, but the phone disconnected. Well he couldn’t really blame her, John was her nephew and she loved him and Roy had betrayed his trust and ripped his heart out for the second time. He hoped Johnny was more forgiving than his Aunt or he was going to lose his little brother and his best friend. He just couldn’t let that happen, no matter what it took.

 

“Who was that Mother…?” Tiffany asked as she returned to the table.

 

“John’s friend,” she replied. “He was concerned that he may become ill from the smoke he breathed yesterday. I’m going to go up and check on him. Go ahead and have your dessert,” she said as she left the room.

 

Rosemary sat on the edge of the bed. She reached to brush the sable hair from his forehead. Johnny felt a bit warm and his breathing was a little raspy but he didn’t seem that bad. She’d let him rest and check on him later. If he was worse she’d take him to the hospital then.

 

rip off 33.JPG

 

Roy sat slumped next to the phone with his head in his hands. Joanne came up behind him. “Did you find him?” She asked worriedly.

 

He nodded forlornly. “He’s at Rosemary’s. She says he sick and that he’s slipped back into his old moods.” He looked up at her with sad blue eyes. “What am I gonna do Jo? He won’t talk to me. This is all my fault and I don’t know how to fix it if I can’t get him to listen.”

 

“I know honey. He’s just so hurt.”

 

Roy nodded. “I never meant to hurt him and I don’t wanna lose him Jo but he’s just so damn sensitive…”

 

 “I know. Being a part of this family is so important to him and we need to remember that, no matter how angry or frustrated we are with him sometimes,” she said softly as she rubbed his shoulders soothingly. “He doesn’t want to lose you either and I think he’ll remember that eventually.”

 

Roy nodded. “How do I make sure this doesn’t happen again?” He asked dejectedly. “He’s so easy to hurt, even when I don’t mean too sometimes.”

 

She shook her head. “Dr. Hightower warned you it would be tough.”

 

Roy half grinned. “She said it would be worth it when he learned to trust me.”

 

“Is it?”

 

He nodded. “Every minute of it, until I blew it...again… Now how do I make him trust me again?” 

 

Jo shook her head. “I don’t know…I just know I don’t want a member of my family missing.”

 

“Maybe I’ll give the good doctor a call and see if she has any suggestions.” 

 

“Be prepared for the hand slap that’ll go with it,” she teased, dropping a kiss on his bald spot as he picked up the phone.

 

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Posted to Site 03/28/10

 

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