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It seemed they had always been, and would always be, friends. Time could change much, but not that. They were two halves of a whole, sharing a single spirit. It was the spirit of friendship, and it was alive and well… A. A. Milne (AKA Winnie the Pooh).
A trilling whistle preceded the arrival of young, dark haired paramedic John Gage. The twenty three year old pushed open the door of the locker room and stepped inside.
He cast a quick glance at the man sitting on the bench three lockers over from his own…His partner of two years, Roy DeSoto. The strawberry blonde fire fighter was just finishing tying his shoes as John entered.
He patted his partners shoulder as he passed as he normally did. “Good morning, good morning, good morning,” he said with his usual cheerful greeting, not seeing the glum look on the twenty seven year olds face.
Roy didn’t look up. “Unh,” he grunted in response.
Johnny, as his friends called him, stopped in mid stride and turned around. Johnny wasn’t always good at judging other peoples moods but still...Roy was usually more chipper. “Uh oh…It’s not a good morning?” He questioned with a grin. Roy shot him a glare and the smile fell away. “Are you uh…mad at me?” He questioned warily.
“No…No I’m not mad at you,” Roy replied, sighing in frustration.
“Oh…Well…What are ya mad at?” He questioned in concern, even as relief that his friend wasn’t upset with him flooded over him.
“Nothin,” Roy muttered, glancing at his young partner.
John’s dark eyebrow rose and so did his curiosity. Never one to understand the subtle hints that his partner didn’t want to discuss whatever was bothering him, at least not yet…John opened his mouth to press the issue but Roy saw it.
“I DON’T want to talk about it either, so don’t start,” he growled.
Johnny’s mouth snapped shut and he turned away, looking a bit hurt. He knew that tone well enough. Roy was mad and John didn’t want it aimed at him.
Roy watched his friend turn away and he knew he’d hurt his feelings but he was too frustrated to deal with that right now.
Things had been getting rough at home over the last few days and his relationship with his wife was feeling the strain.
The washing machine had broken down and they’d had to have it repaired. Then the vacuum cleaner had decided it had sucked its last dust particle and they’d had to replace that. Chris and Jen both had outgrown half of their clothes and Joanne had needed to replace those and then last night the dishwasher had sprung a leak and flooded the kitchen. The extra money in their account, which wasn’t much to start, was rapidly depleting and Roy and Jo were becoming frustrated and snappish with each other in direct relation to it.
The final straw had come this morning. Joanne had informed him that her car was making some strange noises and she needed to get it looked at.
“It’ll have to wait,” Roy had growled in aggravation.
“It can’t wait,” Jo snapped back. “I need the car to run errands,” Jo argued.
“Use the truck,” Roy barked in frustration as he ran his hands through his blonde hair.
“You know I hate driving that truck,” she shot back.
Roy did know that. It was old and he only used it himself when he needed to haul something or when they went into the more rugged areas of LA County but still, this was a special set of circumstances.
Roy shot a glare at his wife and blew out a breath, trying to regain his usual calm nature. “We don’t have the money right now Jo…It’ll have to wait until I get paid again,” he said coolly.
“I’ll take it to Ernie’s…He’s right up the street,” she pressed.
“Not a chance…He’s a crook. Just hold off and I’ll take a look at it and see if I can fix it myself when I get off shift.”
“Oh Roy, he is not a crook…Why don’t you just let me take it to Ernie and get it taken care of now?” She questioned stubbornly as her hands landed on her hips in aggravation.
“Because the guy is a lousy mechanic and he uses second rate parts…that’s why,” Roy snapped back, both of them too angry and frustrated to be reasonable.
“That’s not true,” she shot back angrily.
“Besides that, anything over about twenty bucks is too expensive right now,” he barked back.
“Now you’re just being difficult,” she yelled.
“But you’re not right? What do you know about mechanics Jo?” He argued.
“Ooooh,” she groaned in frustration. “Now I’m stupid?”
Roy sighed. “That’s not what I said but just be reasonable…I don’t trust the guy and I can look at it tomorrow and buy whatever I need to fix it myself. It’s just one day Jo and I won’t have to pay the labor,” Roy said sarcastically.
“Oh…You’re so stubborn,” she yelled as she turned and fled up the stairs. The door slammed shut with a resounding ‘BAM’ upstairs.
Roy sighed heavily once again. This had been going on for the last three days and had gotten progressively worse as the bank balance dwindled. He didn’t know what she wanted from him…He wasn’t made of money and she knew that.
Jo slammed the door in frustration. Her husband could be so damn infuriating sometimes, especially when he got stubborn like this. He knew she hated driving the old truck…It was too big and it made her nervous.
She knew the money situation wasn’t good right now but she really needed her car and Roy wouldn’t even listen. Sure, a few people had even had to take a vehicle back to Ernie a second time once or twice, including Roy which is why he was being so unreasonable but if the guy could fix it for a reasonable amount…It would be worth the risk.
She heard the door thump loudly downstairs as Roy left for work. She blew out a frustrated breath before she yanked her bedroom door open and headed downstairs to do the housework.
Roy noticed the furtive glance John threw him as he turned away and the wounded look in his dark eyes at the senior paramedic’s snappish attitude and he almost groaned. John was very insecure and overly sensitive to his older friend’s moods sometimes and it made him uncertain where he stood in the older man’s life.
Roy had tried many times to make him understand just how much his young partner meant to him and his family. He wasn’t just Roy’s partner but his best friend, a younger brother and sometimes like a second son but it often fell on deaf ears…Johnny simply couldn’t grasp it.
John had been raised on an Indian Reservation in Montana where his late mothers family had made it clear that his half white heritage was an embarrassment…They’d not only told him repetitively, but they’d beaten it into him for emphasis and John was unable to understand those softer feelings that Roy and his family expressed for him… at least right now.
Roy hoped that someday he’d find a way to make him understand…Find the right way to help him grasp the closeness of their bond…He was making progress but it was still a slow learning process for John.
Roy tried to be careful, especially after what had happened last Thanksgiving but he was human too and he had feelings and right now he was frustrated and angry with his home life and he didn’t want to discuss it, especially since John got uptight when Roy and Joanne fought but still…He didn’t want Johnny thinking he was upset with him either.
“John,” he called quietly. His young partner stopped and looked back. “It’s nothing YOU did,” he reassured him.
John nodded and retreated out the door.
Roy blew out a final frustrated breath before he tiredly peeled himself off the bench and followed Johnny out.
The two paramedics sat side by side sipping their coffee a few minutes later. Johnny refrained from badgering his partner while the others were around. He didn’t want the others, especially Chet, harassing him about whatever it was, but his curiosity was killing him over what was upsetting his friend.
In the end, it didn’t matter. The others quickly realized Roy was annoyed by the irritated look on his face.
“Something wrong Pal?” Hank asked his senior paramedic, his eyes flicking toward Johnny questioningly, trying to gauge the younger mans mood to see if it there was something going on between them that he might need to resolve, but John shrugged his shoulders innocently.
“It’s nothin Cap…Just stuff going on at home,” he replied.
John’s eyes widened in enlightenment and then quickly narrowed in concern. He was definitely off the hook as being the cause of Roy’s mood but at the same time, he was now worried about his friends. He didn’t want Roy and Joanne to be having issues either.
“Want to talk about it Pal?” Cap invited.
Roy saw the genuine concern in his superior’s eyes and the worry in his young partners. The last thing he wanted was for the entire crew to know that he and Joanne were fighting, for a number of reasons. Chet and Marco would love to torment him with it. Mike and Cap would have a list of helpful suggestions and John…Well he’d be all of that and uptight over it all to boot. He hated it when Roy and Joanne fought.
Roy remembered the last couple of times…One had turned out terrible when he’d offered to give her a spaghetti recipe and the other…Well…He’d actually helped mend the marriage. Problem was…Roy wasn’t sure which Johnny he’d get…The marriage counselor or the pot stirrer. He chose the easiest route.
Roy finally shook his head. “It’s nothing major cap…It’s just that everything in the house seems to have decided to quit all at once,” he said with a sigh.
John blew out a relieved breath and returned his attention to his coffee…As long as he and Joanne were okay, he’d worm the rest of it out of his partner later. Maybe there was a way he could help out. John was pretty handy after all.
“I know that feeling,” Mike commiserated. “When our dryer broke down, Melissa was hanging our clothes all over our apartment for a week until I got paid and could replace it.
“Me too,” Marco added ruefully. “My TV went on the fritz and I had to wait two months to get enough extra to buy a new one.”
Cap nodded. “See there Pal…You’re not alone. We’ve all experienced that problem,” Cap teased, not realizing that there was far more to it than just money.
Roy gave the guys a small smile hoping to make them believe that they’d made him feel better… not wanting them to figure out that there was far more involved here.
John saw the look on his friends face and frowned. Roy was still upset about something…but it was obvious that he didn’t want to discuss it in front of the others so he stayed quiet. John finished his coffee, he’d weasel it out of his partner when he had him alone.
Roy finished his own coffee and slipped from his chair to go and set his cup in the sink. “Guess I’ll head out to check the air…”
The rest was interrupted as the station control unit began to tone. “Squad 51…Child injured at the park. 2262 Sutton… 2-2-6-2 Sutton…Cross Street Warren…Time out…8:47.”
“Bottles,” Roy finished with a sigh as Johnny shot from his chair to race for the squad.
Hank was already slipping through the small door at the podium as they slid inside the cab. “Squad 51, KMG-365,” Captain Stanley acknowledged before hanging up the mic and tearing the slip of paper off and handing it to Roy.
The senior paramedic nodded his thanks as he took it and handed it to his young partner, trusting Johnny completely to find them the fastest route. The huge bay doors were already up and the squad rolled out with the lights flashing…Within seconds the sirens joined them.
Hank returned to the day room where the others were finishing up their coffee and preparing to head out to do their assigned chores.
Chet tossed a grin at his captain. “So Cap…How long do you think it’ll be before those two aren’t speaking?” He asked with a snicker of glee.
“Why do you say that?” Cap questioned with a frown.
“As frustrated as Roy already looked?” Marco asked incredulously.
“Should only take a few minutes for Gage to really set him off,” Chet added with a grin.
Hank shook his head. “Alright you two…Roy will handle it with his usual professionalism,” he reassured his men. “Hopefully,” he added with a grin, knowing how bad his youngest crew member could annoy someone when he started obsessing over something. He could only hope John would have sense enough to leave Roy alone.
Hank smiled…He wasn’t really too worried about it, he’d long ago noticed how close the two were, and he knew Roy could never manage to stay mad at Johnny for very long. He turned to head back to his office but stopped and spun about pointing at his two linemen. “And no egging him on either,” he warned the pair. The last thing he needed was to have to referee a fight between his two paramedics.
Chet and Marco exchanged a grin as Hank left the room.
The two paramedics pulled up in front of a small park area where swings and slides and monkey bars were in use by an assorted group of children ranging in age from about four to ten. Another small knot of people were gathered around a row of teeter totters. One little girl sat on the ground crying and clutching her arm. A dark haired woman sat near her, soothing the injured child.
Johnny and Roy trotted toward them. The younger paramedic squatted next to the dark haired, blue eyed child and threw her his best disarming Gage grin. “Hi sweetheart,” he said softly. “My name’s Johnny and I’m here to help you. What’s your name” He questioned, with a calm and soothing tone. His dark eyes scanned the visible damage of the little girls arm as he spoke.
“W…Wendy,” she replied with a watery hiccup.
“Did you hurt your arm?” He asked gently, already knowing the answer, but needing the child to trust him enough to let him touch it. He tossed a single glance toward his partner.
Roy read the look correctly and nodded, needing no other prodding or words. He and Johnny had become adept at communicating with nothing but eye contact and silent glances…They’d become very close over the last two years despite some ups and downs in their friendship and that ‘connection’ in their relationship gave them an edge that other paramedic teams envied and tried to emulate, but it fell flat in comparison.
Many people, including Roy’s wife said they were ‘bonded’ somehow. Roy didn’t always understand it himself and he was certain that his very insecure, young partner didn’t but it was there nonetheless.
Johnny had closed his heart off to most emotional attachments at a very young age and he seldom thought of himself as someone worth loving so his relationship with the older man often left him uncertain and a bit confused at times as to why this one was different and special.
Roy intended to keep trying though…He’d vowed some time ago not to give up on the young man and to stay by his side through whatever came their way until Johnny figured it out.
Roy caught the surreptitious glance and immediately opened the trauma box. He pulled out a small splint made for a child and set it aside. He turned to the worried crowd of parents as John continued with the girl.
“Can I look at your arm sweetie?” He asked, dropping to his knees beside her to bring him closer to eye level. He heard his partner questioning the adults and was half listening to that conversation as well as Wendy’s answers.
“Are you her mom?” Roy asked the dark haired woman sitting beside the little girl.
“No…I’m a neighbor…Someone went to get her though,” she informed them.
“What happened here?”
“She was on the see-saw with another child and he jumped off and Wendy fell.”
Roy nodded his understanding. “I’ll call Rampart,” he advised his younger partner.
John nodded without breaking eye contact with the girl. She hesitated briefly as he reached for her but the dark eyes and the man’s nice smile reassured her and she finally let him cradle her arm in his hands.
The long slender fingers were extremely gentle as he felt the small limb. He tossed another glance at his partner as he set up the Biophone. Roy knew without John saying anything that the girls arm was broken.
John carefully set her arm in her lap and took her pulse and respirations. Roy was calling Rampart even as he handed Johnny the BP cuff. “Rampart base, this is rescue 51,” he said.
There was a brief commotion at the back of the crowd and it quickly parted as the little girl’s mother pushed her way through. “Ooooh,” she moaned softly at the sight of her daughter on the ground holding her rapidly swelling arm. “What happened…Is she okay?” She questioned anxiously.
“Calm down,” John soothed. “It’s just a little playground accident. Looks like she might have broken her arm here when she fell,” he explained as he caught and held the woman’s gaze. His eyes and his smile and the calmness of his face reassured her that her daughter would be okay.
“She’ll be alright?” She questioned softly.
“She’ll be fine,” he replied. Now that he’d managed to calm the situation, he turned back to Wendy and secured the BP cuff around her thin arm.
Roy grinned and gave a small shake of his blonde head at the ease his young partner showed in relieving the woman’s fears as well as the child’s. Roy thought it was gift… Johnny called it the Gage charm.
“Rampart…We have a young female…Age six…She fell from a see saw Rampart and appears to have a fracture of the right radius. Stand by for vitals.”
“Standing by 51,” Dr. Joe Early’s voice replied.
“BP is 105/70, respirations 22, pulse is 70,” Johnny reeled off without looking up.
Roy relayed the vitals to Dr. Early on the other end of the Biophone.
“Do we have parental consent to treat the child?” The gray haired doctor questioned as Johnny’s long fingers once again gently cradled the arm, waiting for the go ahead from Rampart to splint it...He didn’t wait long.
“The mother is here with us Rampart,” Roy replied.
“Splint the arm 51…Is she in a lot of pain?”
“Moderate” Johnny replied as he began to splint the arm.
“Moderate,” Roy relayed.
“Transport as soon as possible and monitor her pain level and let me know if it increases,” Early instructed.
“10-4 Rampart,” Roy replied. He wasn’t surprised. Early seldom ordered IV’s or pain killers for children unless he absolutely had to. He set the Biophone down and moved around to grab the tape to help his partner finish with the splint.
The wail of the ambulance siren was heard in the distance and it pulled in a short time later. Johnny stood up and bent down to pick the little girl up in his arms. He carried her to the ambulance and without waiting for them to unload the stretcher, stepped inside and set her gently on it.
“I’ll ride in with her,” he said as the mother climbed into the front seat.
Roy nodded with a grin. Johnny had a soft spot for children. He closed the doors and gave them two slaps to let the driver know they were ready.
He picked up the trauma box and headed for the squad as the ambulance drove away.
Joanne DeSoto drove up Carver Street. She’d just run out to drop Chris off at school and do a few errands and had stopped to do a bit of grocery shopping and was now on her way home. Her daughter Jennifer was asleep in the back seat. She glanced in the mirror with a frown. The toddler couldn’t manage to stay awake for very long in a car and that wasn’t normally a problem but right now Jo was a bit worried that her gray station wagon would quit completely before they made it home.
She winced at the knocking sound in the engine. The front end shook and Joanne was sure it was about to die. She was still over a mile away from home and she didn’t relish the idea of walking that far carrying a toddler and three sacks of groceries.
She knew she should have taken the truck but she still mad at Roy and was very afraid she was about to regret her stubbornness.
Her street was still a ways off when the car lurched and seemed about to stall. Jo sucked in her breath worriedly. The engine sputtered and caught again. The sign for Ernie’s garage was just ahead. Jo worried her lower lip with her teeth as the car jerked once more.
Roy wouldn’t be happy about this but he’d have to get over it. She wasn’t about to walk home. She turned into the parking lot and just in time too. The car coughed once more and stalled. Joanne coasted into a space. She threw it in park and climbed out, throwing the vehicle a final disdainful glare as Ernie came out of the garage wiping his greasy hands on a rag.
“Good morning Mrs. DeSoto, how are you?”
“Morning Ernie,” she replied. “Not very good though…This darn car just quit on me,” she added in disgust.
Ernie chuckled. He was a small man, only about five foot seven and almost as slender as Johnny. He wore his black hair slicked back like Elvis Presley and Jo almost giggled as she wondered if he used the grease on his hands to do it…There sure was enough of it.
“Let me take a look at it” he offered as he walked around to the front of the car. “What was it doing?” He questioned as he popped the hood.
“It was sputtering and trying to stall…It makes screeching noises when I start it up and then it started making thumping noises too,” she replied worriedly, following him around to the front.
He lifted the hood and began to poke around. Joanne watched him, her blue eyes full of concern, not only for the car but for the argument she and Roy would be having when he found out about this tomorrow.
She remembered his snide comments about Ernie’s lack of prowess when it came to auto repairs but she didn’t believe that. Sure there had been the issue with the Porsche and Roy had needed to bring it back twice more to get it resolved but that was different. His Porsche was a classic and foreign made and any mechanic might have had trouble with it, she reassured herself.
Ernie continued to poke around in her engine for a few more minutes before he backed up and wiped his hands once again. “Well Mrs. DeSoto, I think it’s your fuel pump,” he told her.
Joanne frowned. “How much would it cost to fix it?” She asked worriedly.
Ernie looked thoughtful for a moment…”Well let’s see,” he mused, his brown eyes narrowing as he tried to figure out how far he could push. “The fuel pump is probably gonna run ya about seventy five bucks and the labor would be about sixty to put it in.”
Jo sighed. “I don’t have enough for that right now,” she said, sounding frustrated. “I guess I’ll just have to wait for Roy to get home tomorrow and tow it back to our house…He can work on…”
Ernie saw his pigeon slipping away and hastily interrupted. “I can work with you if I need too,” he offered. “I know you’re good for the money and maybe I can get a rebuilt one for you or something…That would be a bit cheaper.”
Joanne wasn’t sure if that was the best idea or not but if he was willing to wait for the money, maybe Roy wouldn’t be so upset about it but she doubted it. She knew she shouldn’t have been driving the car in the first place with all the noise it had been making but she could be just as stubborn as Roy…A stubbornness she was now regretting.
“Okay…I guess we’ll go with the new one,” she said uncertainly. “I mean if you’ll wait for the money till Roy gets paid,” she qualified.
“Sure thing Mrs. DeSoto, he replied with a grin, having no intention of ordering a new part. He could make some decent profit by getting a used one from a junkyard and charging her for a new one. He did it all the time and no one knew the difference. He saw a worried look cross her features. “Is there a problem?” He asked, afraid she was having second thoughts.
“Well yes,” she admitted. “I have no way to get home with my daughter and the grocery’s and I have to pick up my son at school this afternoon,” she sighed.
“Oh that’s no problem ma’am,” he said quickly. “I have a car here that I’ve been working on to sell,” he assured her as he pointed toward an older looking car across the parking area.
Jo frowned at the looks of it. “How much extra would you charge for it?” She asked.
“For you Mrs. DeSoto…It’s free…I’ll loan her to you while I work on yours,” he offered. It was the least he could do since he’d be making a good profit off the repair of her car.
“That’s so nice of you…Thank you,” she said looking relieved as she opened the back door and scooped up Jennifer while Ernie plucked the three paper bags of groceries from the floor and carried them to the loaner.
He fished in his pocket for the keys and handed them to Joanne. She unlocked it and pushed the lever to flip the seat forward before she set Jennifer on the back seat and then stepped back for Ernie to put the groceries in.
“Thank you again Ernie,” she said before she settled herself behind the wheel and turned the car on. The engine rumbled noisily to life and Jo frowned.
“See there Mrs. DeSoto, purrs like a kitten,” he said proudly.
Growls more like a mountain lion, she mused to herself, but she didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth and besides, it was free.
Ernie grinned at her. The vehicle had been in bad shape when he’d picked it up for almost nothing…It had been in a terrible accident but he’d been working on it for weeks now and there was still a few things he needed to repair but it should be okay for one day.
Joanne backed the car from its parking space, sketching a small wave at the man as she pulled out. Another frown crossed her face at the loose play of the steering wheel and the mushy feel of the brakes. Well…It made her a bit nervous but it was probably only because she was used to her own car. It was only for a day…What could go wrong?
Roy and Johnny slid into the cab of the squad outside of Ramparts Emergency entrance. The younger man shot his partner a furtive glance, trying to decide if Roy was still in a bad humor.
The blonde, blue eyed paramedic was staring intently out the front window. John could tell that he was deep in thought but wasn’t sure about his mood and he wasn’t sure whether to intrude on his reverie or not.
He chewed his lower lip for a long moment before he drew a deep breath. “So are you gonna tell me what’s bugging you or not?” He finally asked.
Roy jumped at the sound of his voice and threw a glance at his friend. “I already told ya,” Roy answered with a shrug.
“You sure that’s all?” John questioned suspiciously.
“Yeah why?” Roy replied, throwing his young partner an innocent look.
John shrugged, his dark brown eyes wandered over his friend’s face searchingly. “You just still seemed bugged, and back at the station…,” he hesitated uncertainly before rushing on. “You just seemed like you weren’t telling us everything. I thought maybe it was just something you didn’t want THEM to know,” he hinted.
Roy glanced at him, surprised that John had picked up on that since Johnny often had trouble sensing other people’s moods but then he decided that it was just another example of how close they’d become over the last two years. He was also correct in his assumption that he didn’t want the guys to know that he and Joanne were fighting and most especially, he didn’t want Johnny to know.
He knew it upset the younger man a lot when he and Joanne argued. It reminded him too much of his past. Johnny had learned from bitter experience that when people fought around him, he had often ended up on the short end of their anger. His family often took out their rage on the young boy they’d been left to raise after his mom had died when he was eleven.
Johnny often tried to ‘help’ with the problem which usually only made Joanne angrier that Roy had told him his side of the argument to begin with. It was best to just leave him in the dark.
“No…,” he finally replied, looking away evasively. He plastered a smile on his face and tried again a bit more convincingly. “No junior…It’s just the washer and the vacuum and the dishwasher like I said.”
John threw his partner a small grin. “Anything I can do to help Pally?” He asked, looking relieved by Roy’s reassurance. Sometimes John’s gullible nature and naïveté was a blessing.
“Well…,” Roy began, thinking of asking Johnny if he’d come over and help him. His young partner was pretty good at fixing engines but then again…If he and Jo were still at odds...? He hesitated over asking.
“What is it?” John questioned eagerly, wanting to help.
“Nothing really…It’s just that Joanne’s car is making some kind of noise and we really can’t afford to take it to a mechanic right now,” he answered simply.
John grinned. He always loved an excuse to go to the DeSoto home, not to mention that he enjoyed being able to help out his friends. “I can help Roy…I wouldn’t mind takin a look at it,” he offered happily.
“No Johnny, that’s okay.”
“Really Roy…I don’t mind,” he pressed, wanting to help.
Roy sighed uncertainly but finally gave in. He really could use the help. “Sure junior…That’d be great.”
“Whenever you’re free… Jo can fix breakfast afterward to reward you for your efforts,” Roy teased his young friend.
“Far out,” Johnny replied. He always loved Joanne’s cooking.
Roy blew out a relieved breath. Joanne would be happy to have her car fixed and if Johnny was there, maybe they could avoid another fight.
The younger paramedic returned his attention to the passing scenery, reassured for the moment that all was well with his partner.
Roy was relieved that Johnny had accepted his excuse and wouldn’t nag him for further details. He just needed to keep up the front that everything was okay between him and Joanne.
Roy backed the squad into the bay. Chet and Marco were finishing up with polishing the engine, while Mike mopped the bay floor. Thankfully the area where the Dodge truck parked was already done.
Hank stepped from his office as the two men climbed from the cab. The other three crew members stopped to watch as the two men exited the vehicle. Both Johnny and Roy froze at the unexpected attention they were receiving and looked at their crewmates curiously.
“What?” Johnny finally questioned warily at their attentive looks.
“Nothin Pal…We just wanted to be sure everything was okay between you two,” Hank replied.
Roy frowned and John looked a bit confused at the statement. “Why wouldn’t it be?” The blonde paramedic questioned suspiciously.
“Just figured Gage would have bent your ear enough about whatever was buggin you,” Chet said with a smirk. “We just thought you know,” he added with a shrug… “That you wouldn’t be speaking to him is all.”
Johnny’s mouth dropped open before he shot a glare at his annoying crew mate. “Aw shut up Chet,” he snapped, looking more than a little hurt that they always thought that he bothered the person he considered his best friend. He had to wonder if maybe he did. “I don’t bug Roy that bad,” he argued, throwing his partner a concerned glance.
“Sure ya do…Ya follow him around like his shadow,” Chet taunted with a giggle.
“I DO NOT,” Johnny growled, “I’m just gonna go over and help him fix Jo’s car,” he informed them, hoping they’d drop the insinuation that he was irritating his friend.
“I rest my case,” Chet chuckled. Marco and Mike laughed at the teasing comment.
“Oh just…Just shut up,” he snapped, shooting a wounded glare at Mike and Marco as he brushed past them and headed for the kitchen.
Roy turned on Chet angrily. “Did you have to get him going?” He barked. “Don’t you ever learn? It’ll take me days to settle him down.”
Chet grinned but it faded as Marco elbowed him. “Hey…Pay up Chet,” he demanded.
The curly haired Irish fireman grimaced as he pulled his wallet from his pocket and peeled off a five dollar bill, handing it to Marco.
Roy’s golden eyebrows knotted over his nose. “What’s that for?” He questioned suspiciously.
“Just a little bet we made,” Marco informed him. “Chet said you wouldn’t be speaking before lunch…I said it would take until tonight at least,” he added.
“Wow,” Johnny’s voice came from behind them. They turned to find the young paramedic standing behind them holding two cups of coffee. Chet and Marco both had the good graces to blush at the insulted look on John’s face.
“Sorry Johnny,” Marco mumbled, a bit ashamed now that he’d hurt his young crew mates feelings.
John walked toward them and handed Roy his cup. His jaw was set in a tilt that Roy recognized as a mix of anger and hurt.
“Geez guys…I’m sorry I’m such a pain in the ass to have around,” he snapped at the others as he spun on his heels and headed for the locker room.
Roy threw his hand in the air in frustration… “Well, are you happy now?” He snarled before turning to call after his partner. “JOHNNY,” he yelled after the retreating figure but the younger man didn’t slow down. “Good going guys,” he snapped angrily.
Cap sighed. “Well that didn’t go too well,” he said, shooting a glare at his two linemen.
“Hang onto that money Marco,” Chet said as he watched Gage storm away. “I may win this bet yet.”
“Can it Kelly,” Cap growled, feeling like he was running a playground full of recalcitrant children.
Roy shook his head in disgust. “You couldn’t just leave him alone could ya? He’ll be impossible for the rest of the day.”
Marco gave him a guilty grimace while Chet grinned in delight. Always one to enjoy stirring the pot and getting John all riled up. He always knew just what buttons to push and was almost as bad as Johnny was at not knowing when he’d gone far enough, but then Johnny had a mild case of Aspergers and Chet didn’t.
“Sorry Roy,” Marco muttered, feeling bad now that he’d upset John. Chet just giggled at his accomplishment.
“I don’t believe you Kelly,” Roy said in disgust as he turned to follow his partner and try to smooth his young friend’s ruffled feathers.
He pushed open the door to the locker room to find Johnny taking his annoyance out on a pair of boots. John didn’t glance up as the older man stepped inside and leaned against the door jamb watching him scour the boots surface with the brush.
“You’re either gonna be able to use that for a mirror or scrape the leather off Junior,” Roy said softly.
John slammed into the locker room and whipped open the door of his locker. He stared at the contents for a long moment while he contemplated what he’d just overheard. There were seriously some days when he could cheerfully sock Chester B Kelly right in the mouth despite the fact that that John didn’t like to fight and didn’t have a violent bone in his body unless he’d had to defend himself and even then, he’d most often tried to just walk away.
He’d learned very young that fighting back usually only increased the punishment for his ‘defiance’ but even still…His dad had made sure his son could throw a punch if he had to and someday Chet Kelly may just push him too far.
He finally pulled his thoughts away from the fantasized image of Chet Kelly’s bruised face and snatched up his second pair of boots from his last shift. He grabbed the boot black and brush and slumped onto the bench.
He knew he shouldn’t let Chet get to him and that he was just trying to get under his skin but still…It bugged him that they all believed that he annoyed his partner so badly.
Johnny was well aware that he could be obsessive about things and that he spent a lot of time with Roy and his family but it was the only place that he felt comfortable and even then he worried that he’d annoy them one day and no longer be wanted. He couldn’t help it. He’d been shuffled from family member to family member after his parents died and they’d all made sure he knew that he was an unwanted burden he remembered sadly…He attacked his boot with the brush, taking out his frustration on the stiff leather and brooding silently.
Roy assured him repetitively when those doubts arose that John was his best friend and that he and his family actually enjoyed having him around but John’s early conditioning always left him doubtful of his welcome. His own family had made it clear that they didn’t want him, so why should these people, who were no relation to him at all, want him around either.
Johnny was so engrossed in his thoughts that he never heard the door open.
“You’re either gonna be able to use that for a mirror or scrape the leather off Junior,” Roy’s voice came from behind him.
John jumped at the first word, juggling the boot and brush in startled surprise until both of them fell to the floor with a thump. He stood up abruptly and turned to face his partner with his hand splayed over his chest.
“Damn it Roy,” he snapped breathlessly. “Man…Don’t sneak up on me like that. You about scared me to death,” he growled as he bent over to retrieve the fallen articles. Roy chuckled at his young partner’s disgruntled attitude and John shot him a scowl. “It’s not funny,” he murmured as Roy pushed off the wall and came over to stand near him.
John turned and sat in his locker as he often did when he and Roy were about to have a heart to heart chat. He glanced up a bit sheepishly for his earlier display of temper.
“You okay Junior?” Roy finally asked his embarrassed friend.
John nodded. “Sorry I snapped at ya Pally,” he mumbled.
Roy grinned and patted his shoulder. “It’s okay, I was pretty mad at them myself,” he admitted.
John gave a small shrug. “I know I shouldn’t let him get to me but man…He just get’s under my skin,” he complained.
“I know, but just remember who you’re dealing with and ignore him.”
“Yeah but Marco was in on it too,” he said plaintively.
“Yeah but he gave you much more time to get me rattled,” he teased.
John grinned ruefully. “I guess,” he replied. “But still…”
“I know Junior, but you just can’t be so sensitive. You know Chet just likes to rock the boat.”
“Yeah, but I know I do bug you sometimes…”
Roy sighed. Johnny was way to insecure and even though Roy understood why, it could still be frustrating that he couldn’t get this through his head.
“Sometimes you do.” John frowned at that but didn’t reply as his partner continued. “And sometimes I bug you…Like this morning,” he added. “But we’ve talked about this before…You know you’re more than just my partner.”
Johnny shrugged. He’d grown up being told that he was a bother to everyone but the last thing he wanted was to have his best friend and partner feel that way even though he’d been told often by Roy that he wasn’t. John just had trouble understanding that Roy wasn’t the same as the others in his life had been. That he saw more in his young partner than anyone else had been able to…Well except maybe for his Aunt Rosemary, but he hadn’t been and still wasn’t able to totally trust anyone.
Johnny chewed his lip worriedly. Roy saw it and sighed in defeat…At least for the moment. He’d just have to keep trying until Johnny understood. “So are you okay now,” Roy questioned, resting his hand on the younger man’s shoulder.
John threw him a rueful grimace and stood up. He tossed his boots and the brush back into his locker. “Yeah man…I’m okay.”
Roy grinned. “I promise…If you ever hang around me too much…I’ll tell you,” he teased.
“Oh…Thanks a lot Pally,” John complained.
Roy chuckled as they left the locker room.
The next morning Johnny and Roy changed into their civilian clothes. “So what time are you gonna come over junior” Roy questioned as he zipped up his jeans.
John flipped his locker closed and turned to his partner, his arms loaded with uniforms. “I have to stop at the dry cleaners and drop these off and then I’ll be over.”
“You want breakfast?”
“Yeah sure…Unless you wanna just get the car fixed first?”
“It’ll wait until we feed you,” Roy teased the younger man.
Johnny grinned, knowing his reputation for a rather large appetite. Both men finished dressing and headed for the parking lot.
Roy was relieved that John was coming over for two reasons. First, they’d get Jo’s car fixed and second, it would be one thing less for him and Joanne to fight over.
Roy turned down his street a few minutes later. A frown creased his forehead as he spotted an old red car parked in his driveway. His curiosity was peaked at the strange vehicle. He didn’t know anyone who drove a vehicle like this. He pulled up to the curb and put his Porsche in park before climbing out.
Joanne was finishing up breakfast for the kids. She’d made something special for Roy, hoping he wouldn’t be too angry when she explained why she’d had to take the car in, hoping he’d understand, even though he’d told her not to. She heard the sports car pull up in front of the house and blew out a nervous breath while she waited.
Roy gave the strange car a quick perusal as he passed and then stopped with a nagging suspicion. Joanne’s station wagon was nowhere in sight and she rarely parked it in the garage since Roy usually kept the Porsche there.
His eyes narrowed speculatively and he turned and headed into the house. Joanne was in the living room when he came inside and he knew the moment that he looked at her that his suspicions were correct.
Joanne twisted her hands guiltily and she saw her husband’s jaw set and his face grow red. “Whose car is that?” He questioned tightly, trying to maintain his temper and give her the benefit of the doubt and a chance to explain who it belonged to before he exploded and said something he’d regret.
“It’s a loaner honey,” she began. “But I can explain.
“A loaner from who?” He growled.
“Ernie’s,” she admitted with a wince.
“I told you I’d fix it this morning,” he barked, cutting her off and wondering just where she thought he was going to get the money to pay for this.
“I didn’t have a choice,” she snapped back. “If you’d just let me explain.” His blonde eyebrow rose questioningly. “The car quit while I was coming back from the market…I barely got it to Ernie’s.”
“You shouldn’t have been driving it…I told you to use the truck,” he yelled angrily.
Joanne grimaced .She knew he was right and she’d just been being stubborn, but now her temper was flaring as well at the dictatorial tone of his voice.
“Don’t yell at me Roy,” she replied testily. “I told you I hate that truck.”
“It was only for one day,” Roy shot back, his temper now soaring.
Joanne bristled at the anger in his voice. “I thought it would be okay just one more time. I didn’t know it would die on me like that…The fuel pump went on it,” she argued.
“And just how much is ‘Ernie’ going to charge for this,” he questioned snidely.
Joanne licked her suddenly dry lips and knew he’d explode when she told him. “Ernie said about a hundred and forty five,” she mumbled.
“WHAT?” Roy bellowed angrily. His shout waking Jennifer and bringing his six year old son to the top of the stairs. Jen began to wail.
“Now look what you did?” Joanne ground out between clenched teeth.
“WHAT I DID?” He yelled. “How about what you did. Cripe Jo…I could have fixed it for the cost of the part. Forty bucks tops Joanne,” he snapped back.
Tears welled in Joanne’s eyes but Roy was angry and when he got mad, he had a stubborn streak as wide as Johnny’s.
Joanne spun on her heel to retreat up the stairs to where her six year old was standing, wide eyed at the raised voices. He didn’t understand that this was more frustration with the whole series of issues over the last few days, then real anger at each other. Jennifer’s frightened cry only added to the already tense situation.
“We’ll pick it up today and maybe you can talk to him about the price.”
“ME?” He questioned snidely as he splayed his hand on his chest. "I’m hungry and I’m tired and Johnny’s coming over and I have no intention of going anywhere. You made this deal, not me.” He shot back.
“Oooh…You’re so stubborn Roy DeSoto,” Joanne cried as she ran up the stairs.
Roy ran his hands through his strawberry blonde hair in aggravation. What had Jo been thinking? She knew he hadn’t wanted her to go there and he knew she’d done it out of sheer stubbornness. He finally blew out a frustrated breath and headed for the small kitchen nook where his breakfast sat cooling on the table. He slumped in his chair and picked tiredly at his food before he finally gave up and carried his dishes to the sink. He rinsed them and loaded them into the newly repaired dishwasher.
He’d just finished up when the doorbell rang. He stepped out of the kitchen and glanced at the front window. Johnny’s white rover was parked at the curb behind his Porsche.
He tried to get his anger under control and schooled his features into their usual professional calm expression so Johnny wouldn’t know and be upset over his and Joanne’s spat and then went to open the door.
Joanne snapped Chris up and carried him to Jennifer’s room, soothing both of the kid’s fears at the raised voices. She felt a bit guilty about upsetting the kids and then blaming Roy for it. She headed for her room once they had both calmed down and returned to playing happily on the floor with their toys.
She returned to her room and plopped down on the bed with her arms folded over her chest. Roy was just being difficult now. He could be so condescending sometimes and that just infuriated her. She knew they didn’t have the money to get the car repaired but Ernie was willing to wait, which she would have told him if he hadn’t gotten so angry and started yelling right off the bat.
She slumped on the bed and brushed the tears off her cheeks. She knew she was partly to blame and they really didn’t have the money for this right now. She also knew he was right about fixing it himself and how much they could have saved.
She sighed, knowing she was as much to blame as Roy was and had simply been rebelling at that ‘master of the house’ tone he used with her. She smiled ruefully to herself as she remembered the agreement they’d made before Chris was born. As long as Roy was the one bringing home the pay check while she stayed at home with the kids, then he made the financial decisions. She guessed she deserved his anger.
She heard the doorbell and assumed it was Johnny coming to help ‘fix’ the car that no longer needed ‘fixing’. She sighed in resignation that she’d waited too long. She’d hoped to have a chance to apologize before he’d arrived and that Roy and Johnny would come with her to get the car.
She’d hoped with them there, Ernie might be more inclined to drop the price of the repairs since he’d obviously jacked up the price quite a bit according to Roy.
She chewed her lip unhappily…She had no intention of getting in this discussion or another fight with Johnny around. She knew as well as Roy did how upset he got if they fought and she didn’t know if Roy was still angry.
She heard the younger man’s voice speaking to Roy downstairs. She stood up and headed for the door. She wanted to get the kids dressed and go get the car, wanting the reminder of her husband’s reason for anger gone instead of sitting in the driveway reminding him of his wife’s deliberate and stubborn defiance.
She’d ask Roy if he’d go with her one more time and hoped he’d at least be agreeable and pleasant if Johnny were here since he knew as well as she did how much it bothered John when they fought.
She smiled to herself at how much the younger man had come to be an influence in their lives.
Roy opened the door to let his young partner inside. “Hi junior,” he greeted coolly, not letting his friend see the anger still simmering beneath the surface.
“Hey Roy…Am I interrupting?” He questioned, nodding toward strange car parked in the driveway.
“No junior, you’re not interrupting anything. C’mon in,” he invited, stepping back from the door.
John slipped inside and glanced around curiously to see who was visiting but there was no one else around. “You have company?” He asked.
“No junior…It’s a loaner car.”
John frowned. “For what?”
“Apparently the wagon died on Joanne on the way home yesterday, so she dropped it off at the mechanics. He loaned her that one,” Roy replied tightly.
Johnny heard the annoyance in his partner’s voice but misunderstood the cause of it. He could well understand his friends concern with the vehicle. It was old and didn’t look all that reliable.
“So I guess you don’t need me huh?” Johnny questioned, sounding a little disappointed.
“Not for that junior but you can stick around.”
John was about to reply but he turned as he heard footsteps on the stairs. Roy threw a glance toward them as well as Joanne and the kids came down.
“Hey Jo,” Johnny greeted with a grin as she drew closer.
“Hi John,” she replied, sounding less than thrilled to see him even though she rose on tip toe to kiss his cheek.
Jennifer gave him a rather wet kiss on the other cheek, bringing a smile to the young man’s face and he gave her tummy a gentle tickle, bringing a gurgle of laughter from the toddler.
Chris gave John a hug but his blue eyes seemed a bit wary as he looked between his parents. “Hi Uncle Johnny,” he said, sounding a little nervous.
“Hey buddy,” he greeted with a frown, sensing the tension in the air. What was going on? He wondered.
Joanne broke his quiet reverie as she turned to Roy. She’d hoped to have a chance to apologize before John had arrived but now it was too late. She had no intention of rehashing this in front of the children and Johnny.
“I’m going to go get the car…I wish you’d come with me,” she offered hesitantly.
Her husband’s brows knotted over his nose. “Johnny’s here…I can’t just take off,” Roy replied coolly.
Joanne sighed, knowing her husband was still mad.
Johnny didn’t want to keep the couple from their plans. “That’s okay Roy…I can go ho…,” he began but his friend cut him off.
“No junior…Joanne can handle it…She already made ALL the arrangements,” he replied with a raised eyebrow, unwilling to yield his position, after all she’d flat out ignored his request to just leave it until he could fix it this morning.
Jo caught the sarcastic undertone but Johnny didn’t. He did sense that he was interrupting something as he glanced between his two friends.
Joanne shot an angry glare at her husband while John wasn’t looking but quickly pasted a smile on her face as he turned back toward her. “That’s right John…I can take care of this all on my own…Come on Chris,” she added as she turned toward the door with her daughter. The small blonde boy followed. The door closed rather loudly behind them.
Johnny turned back to his partner. “Is everything okay?” He asked worriedly.
Roy smiled tightly back. “Everything’s just fine junior,” he replied. “You want breakfast? I did promise to feed you,” he teased.
“But I didn’t fix the car,” he pointed out.
Roy chuckled. “When has that ever stopped from coming over to have breakfast?” He shot back.
John gave him a slight frown, unsure whether the older man was teasing or serious. Was Joanne upset that he was here all the time? He knew she hadn’t been happy about their friendship at first but Roy had assured him that she no longer felt that way but was that why she’d left so quickly instead of waiting for him to leave so she and Roy could go together? He worried his lower lip with his teeth.
He tried to push the thought away, after all he’d misunderstood a conversation once before and decided that Roy would tell him if he was around too much…At least he’d said he would yesterday but even still…Maybe he should just head for home and let Jo have her morning stress free when she got back.
“Well since you don’t need me…I think I’m going to go ahead and take off,” he told his partner.
“Why?” Roy asked.
John shrugged. “I’ve got some other errands to run anyway.”
“What about breakfast?”
“I’ll just grab something on the way.”
“You sure?” Roy questioned, sensing his young friends discomfort.
“Yeah…I think Jo would prefer it if she could just relax when she gets home. She seemed a little stressed,” he said, not adding that his partner seemed to be as well.
Roy was surprised by the rather astute observation. “Thanks for coming though…I appreciate the offer to help.”
John nodded and headed out the door.
Joanne seat belted the kids into the car and slid into the driver’s seat. She backed out of the driveway, frowning again at the brakes and the loose play of the wheel. She was grateful to be taking this car back and getting her own. She just wished Roy would get over being angry.
She knew she’d have to apologize when she got home and hoped Johnny would have left by then. She drove toward the stop light at the corner of Washington and Carver. Her light was just turning green as she approached and Joanne pulled into the intersection to make her turn.
The sound of screeching tires filled the air and she barely caught sight of a blue car sliding toward her. Black smoke billowed out from behind it.
The teenage boy behind the wheel had seen the light turn yellow and floored his own vehicle to try and beat it. His light turned red sooner than he’d expected but it was too late to stop. He saw the old red car pull into the intersection in front of him. He stood on the brakes…Tires squealed and smoke poured from beneath the wheels and the smell of burning rubber filled the air and he braced himself for the impact.
Joanne jerked the wheel hard to the right, rocking both of her children in their seats. The car failed to turn and her scream of fear was lost in the screeching of her tires.
Chris cried out in terror as he was thrown sideways and then it cut off as his small head slammed into the door and he lost consciousness.
Jennifer was flung sideways in her car seat but the padding cushioned her tiny head. Her wail of fear was drowned out by the crunching sound of metal on metal as the blue car slammed into the rear quarter panel, sending the red one careening toward the edge of the road.
Joanne tried desperately to turn the wheel and stand on her brakes but the loose play of the steering wheel became no control at all as the tie rod beneath snapped…The wheel spun uselessly and the brake pedal sank to the floor.
The car rolled over the curb and down the small incline, coming to an abrupt stop as it splashed into the small containment pond near the park where the children played. Joanne’s head hit the steering wheel and everything seemed to spin before her eyes.
She felt a cold wetness about her feet and tried to lift her head. What was happening? Why were her feet wet? The sensation climbed up her legs and she finally managed to pull her thoughts together despite the fogginess of her brain. Sight and sound returned. She was in the water…Where were the kids? The water climbed higher.
She fumbled for the latch on her seat belt but her confused brain didn’t seem to let her fingers co-operate. Water continued to pour inside, weighing the car down and pulling it further into the water.
Joanne could hear Jennifer’s wail of terror from the back seat but Chris was silent. She felt blood trickle down her face and her ankle hurt. She tried to turn her head to see if her son was alright but the motion made everything spin sickeningly.
The water was rising more and more rapidly now. Oh God…She had to get the kids out. “HELP US!” She screamed as loudly as she could.
She struggled against the restraints again but the motion only made her head spin more. Her ankle throbbed and her vision turned gray around the edges finally shrinking to a pinpoint before going dark. Joanne’s head fell forward as she lost consciousness.
Johnny drove up Washington Street, his mind on Roy and Joanne and hoping it wasn’t something serious or worse, something he’d done to set them on edge. He pushed the thought away, after all, Roy had promised to tell him if he was bothering him too much.
His attention was suddenly caught by the traffic up ahead…It wasn’t moving and cars were stopped haphazardly along the road and a crowd of people were gathering. Johnny pulled the rover over to the side, fearing that there was an accident up ahead.
There were no flashing lights which probably meant that it had just happened and he was the first available help to arrive. He threw the vehicle in park and climbed out. Trotting over to where the people were gathered around a blue vehicle.
John pushed his way through the crowd. “LA County Paramedic…Coming through…Can everyone please step aside,” he commanded as he less than tactfully shoved through the gawkers.
He finally made it to the wrecked car and peered inside the shattered driver’s window. Blood and something that made John swallow hard ran down the boys face. His head was crushed and the glaze of sightless blue eyes gazed back. John shook his head…There was nothing he could do for this boy.
His dark eyes swept over the blue car and it was obvious that it had slammed into something hard, but what. “Was there another car involved?” He questioned. Several people pointed toward the edge of the road. He scanned the area and saw another group of people standing at the edge of the pond.
He looked over their heads and his blood seemed to freeze in his veins as he recognized the tail end of the loaner car that Joanne had been driving. It was almost completely underwater and only the crushed tail end was still visible.
Two men were wading into the water but didn’t seem to know what to do to help. “Oh God,” Johnny gasped as he broke into a sprint. “CALL THE FIRE DEPARTMENT,” He yelled over his shoulder as he ran.
John never hesitated as he ran a few steps into the water to come abreast of the other two men. He cleaved the water cleanly, diving down toward the car.
John kicked toward the bottom and grabbed hold of the cars door handle. He peered through the churned up water and the escaping air bubbles. Joanne and the children were all underwater and unconscious and there was a moment of panic…Who did he take first?
He really had no option…He had to take Jo first to clear the way to reach the kids. He yanked at the driver’s side door…After a brief struggle it popped open. Water rushed in and John had no time to waste. He quickly unhooked the latch on her seatbelt and tugged Joanne toward him. She refused to budge and he realized her foot was stuck.
John’s lungs were burning but he couldn’t leave her. He moved down her body to where her foot was trapped beneath the gas pedal. He tugged at the foot but couldn’t free it. John felt the rushing in his ears and knew he had no time to be gentle. He grabbed hold of the gas pedal and braced his feet on the door frame. He gave it one powerful yank and it finally lifted enough to free Joanne’s foot. He could tell from the odd angle that it was broken. John gave a glance toward the children and knew he had to hurry.
He grabbed Joanne about the waist and kicked hard toward the surface. His head broke through and John gasped for air…Choking on the dirty water. The two men splashed toward him as he lifted Jo in his arms and staggered toward them. He breathed two breaths into the woman in his arms and was rewarded with a ragged cough and a geyser of water erupting from her lips.
He handed her off to the two men. “Get her out…Lay her on her side,” he gasped before he turned and drew another breath and dove into the water once more.
The two men carried Jo from the water and laid her on the grass. Her body bucked as water continued to spew from her mouth and then she finally managed to draw a raged breath.
Johnny reached the car and slid inside. Both children were limp and his heart thumped wildly in his chest as he reached over the seat and unclipped them from their seat belts. He didn’t have time to go easy here. He grasped the arm of each of the children and hauled them over the seat toward him, holding them close to him as he backed from the car.
He kicked toward the surface…Once again feeling as if his lungs would burst but he couldn’t give up even if it cost him his own life. It was an awkward procedure without the use of his hands but he couldn’t let go.
He finally broke the surface and once again the two men ran to help, grabbing the children and carrying them to shore. Johnny was gasping and coughing, trying to get enough oxygen past the water he’d swallowed to make his head stop swimming. He staggered towards shore…He felt a wall of gray that seemed to try to engulf him, he knew what it was but he forced his mind to push it back. He had no time to let his Aspergers win this right now…Jo and the kids still needed him.
John dropped to his knees between the two prone children. His dark eyes scanned over Joanne and he was relieved that she was breathing on her own even though it was still wheezy sounding though she was still unconscious.
Johnny turned his attention to the children. He leaned over Chris, shoving the sopping sable hair out of his face. He gave the boy three quick breaths before he heard Chris’s rasping cough and water began to pour from his mouth. “Good boy,” John rasped as he turned him on his side to keep him from aspirating the water that continued to spill out of his mouth.
John heard sirens in the distance and blew out a relieved breath. Johnny coughed harshly himself before turning his attention to Jennifer. The toddler’s lips were a pale shade of blue and her normally pink face was blue gray and flaccid. John’s heart thumped wildly. “No baby,” he whispered as he leaned over and began to breathe for her.
His free hand rested on the child’s chest as he began CPR. “Come on baby…Don’t leave me,” he pleaded between breaths but Jennifer remained unresponsive. Johnny continued to blow gently into her mouth. “Please Jen,” he begged, feeling the burn of tears…He couldn’t lose Roy’s daughter…He couldn’t lose his princess.
John was becoming desperate when the tiny blonde finally began to cough and a rush of water flowed out before she drew in a shuddering breath. Her tiny face lost the gray and began to flush scarlet as oxygen flooded her small body.
Her huge blue eyes fluttered open and John almost wept as her gaze fixed on his face. He scooped the toddler into his arms and held her to him tightly. He turned to Chris and Joanne as the squad from Station 45 pulled up to the scene.
Bob Bellingham and Gil Robinson climbed out and ran around to gather their equipment. John laid Jennifer down and did a quick check over her tiny limbs. She was wheezing but breathing on her own. Her small face showed confusion with the situation.
John moved to Chris as Bob and Gil joined him. “What have you got Johnny?” Bob asked, taking in the scene. He knelt next to Joanne as Gil leaned over Jen. The blonde paramedic pulled the Biophone toward him as he realized the toddler was breathing on her own, albeit raspingly.
“Car accident,” he rasped out, stifling another wet cough. “It’s Roy’s wife and kids,” he informed them.
“Oh man,” Gil muttered as he set the antenna in place and began to contact Rampart. Bob was already working on Joanne.
“Hand me a 4X4 and kerlex,” Johnny told the older paramedic. “I’ll also need your pen light,” he asked without looking up from the deep gash on the side of the six year olds head.
Bob handed him the requested items before turning back to Joanne and wrapping the BP cuff about her arm.
“Rampart this is squad 45 how do you read?” Gil was asking as John checked Chris’s eyes. They were sluggish but responsive. He quickly checked his ears before tearing open the gauze pad and laying it over the boys head wound. Chris moaned softly but his blue eyes remained closed. John’s eyes scanned over to Jen and Joanne once again.
Jo appeared to still be unconscious and Jen was abnormally quiet…’Shock,’ John diagnosed silently as he returned to his own task. “Get the O2 on her,” Johnny instructed one of Station 45’s crewmen.
“Go ahead 45,” he heard Joe Early’s voice reply.
Bob already had Joanne’s vitals and was checking her arms and legs for broken bones. “Her ankle,” Johnny instructed with a nod at her right foot. Bob nodded and handed Johnny the BP cuff before he ripped Jo’s slacks up to the knee. Johnny had been correct…The ankle was swollen and obviously broken.
“Rampart…We have four victims of a traffic accident…Victim one is a code F…The second victim is a male child approximately six years of age and suffering from a head injury to the right side as well as a near freshwater drowning.”
John’s fingers continued their gentle probing of the boy’s abdomen, drawing another soft moan of pain from the child. He heard Bob reeling off Joanne’s vital signs and vaguely heard Gil repeating them. He lifted Chris’ shirt and noted the bruises caused from the seat belt.
“There’s tenderness around his left lower quadrant,” he informed Gil. “Doesn’t appear to be any guarding,” he added. He popped the stethoscope in his ears as he checked the boy’s lungs. His dark eyes rested on Jen as he listened. She was watching him intently while he worked on her brother. “His BP is 85/60, pulse is shallow and his respirations are 20…His pupils are sluggish but responsive. No blood in his ears and I’m detecting rales,” he finished as he left the boy and moved to Jennifer.
John’s brow furrowed as the tiny girls breaths continued to be short and rasping. Johnny increased the oxygen. He took her pulse and respirations. Gil was repeating Chris’ vitals to Rampart. Johnny was half listening as he waited for his turn and frowned at what he was hearing. From the sound of it, Joanne had a serious concussion, maybe worse and a fractured ankle to go along with it and possibly a couple of cracked ribs...Not to mention almost drowning.
John’s own breaths were labored, short and rasping and he felt the press of the gray walls but he refused to allow them to close around him…Not while Jo and the kids still needed him.
“JOHNNY!” He heard his name called loudly. He turned to his attention back to Gil. “What are her vitals?” He asked gently now that he had Gage focused once more.
“Pulse is 105 and a-rhythmic, respirations are shallow and wheezing, BP is 95 systolic by palpation,” he reeled off, smoothing the wet blonde curls from the toddlers face. Her blue eyes were still locked on him and it was obvious she was in shock. She hadn’t made a sound other than her wheezing breaths.
“Hey Princess,” he said softly, glancing up as the ambulance backed in. The two attendants ran around to the back and began to unload the gurneys. He heard the voice of Joe Early over the radio, reeling off instructions.
“Victim one…Keep him on oxygen, bandage the head wound.” Gil tossed John a wink since that particular step had already been done. “Monitor his vitals for signs of internal bleeding. Immobilize and start an IV on both victims one and two…Splint victim two’s ankle. Keep the oxygen at a hundred percent on victim three and transport all three victims as soon as possible.”
“10-4 Rampart,” Gil responded as he dropped the phone and began to grab the bags of D5W.
John reached over and plucked a bag of IV solution and the Biophone from the blonde paramedic’s hands.
“Rampart …This is John Gage,” he said, breaking radio protocol. “Responding off duty with squad 45.”
“Go ahead 45,” Joe replied.
“Uh…Our um…our vv…victims are Roy DeSoto’s wife and children,” he stammered.
Joe heard the shaky sound of distress in John’s voice. “We’ll contact him immediately…Johnny, are you alright?” He questioned worriedly, knowing the young man’s condition and that extreme emotional stress could trigger it and send the young man into withdrawal.
John understood what he was asking and as upset and distraught as he was, Jo and the kids needed him, at least until Roy could get there. “10-4 Rampart…I…I’m okay,” he assured the older man.
Joe rubbed his nose in concern. He could hear the slight tremble in the younger man’s voice. “John…I want you to accompany the ambulance…they may need your help,” he instructed.
Bob and Gil exchanged a confused glance at one another. Why not just let John follow them in?
Johnny understood. His hands were shaking and his blood pressure was elevated…His breaths wheezing from the water he’d inhaled. Joe didn’t want him behind the wheel right now. “10-4 Rampart,” he replied in relief, unsure himself if he’d be okay now that Jo and the kids were on their way to the hospital.
“10-4 45,” Joe replied in relief. “I’ll see you in the ER,” he replied.
He’d have Kel double check the young man when he got here but right now he needed to get Dixie to call Roy and get him down here.
Roy stepped from the shower and toweled himself dry before wrapping it around his waist and padding barefoot into his bedroom. He grabbed a clean pair of boxers and a his jeans and began to dress. He tossed the damp towel over the side of the laundry hamper before pulling out a fresh tee shirt.
He had a few chores to do around the house before he could relax. His blue eyes fell on the framed photo of him and Joanne on their wedding day that sat on the bedside table, and he blew out a guilty breath.
He’d yelled at his wife and made her cry and now that his anger had had a chance to subside, remorse was setting in. Joanne Hutchins was the love of his life and she owned him both in heart and spirit.
He pulled the shirt on over his head and plopped down on the bed. He picked up the photo and gazed into the face of his beautiful, young wife and knew he owed her an apology for his earlier attitude, regardless of who had been right or wrong or frustrated by circumstances. They’d figure this all out but they needed to do it together.
The phone on the bedside table rang, interrupting his reverie. He put the picture down and picked up the phone.
“DeSoto residence,” he said.
“Roy…This is Dixie at Rampart,” his friend’s gentle voice replied.
Roy frowned a bit. Why would Dixie be calling him at home? “Hi Dix…What’s up?” He questioned curiously.
“Roy,” she hesitated…There was just no easy way to say this. “There’s been an accident,” she replied softly.
Roy shot to his feet. “WHAT? WHO?” He snapped out fearfully.
“Roy…try to stay calm okay…Its Joanne and the kids.”
The blonde man’s heart seemed to leap into his throat and his mouth went dry. “Oh God…How bad are they? Are they okay…Are they alive?” He fired off, his voice rasping with fear.
“They’re on their way in right now with squad 45…They’re all alive. Johnny apparently was also at the scene and he’s on his way in with them as well. We just need to get you in here as quick as possible to sign the consent forms to treat the kids.”
The room seemed to spin for a moment as the woman’s words sank in. If they needed him to sign then that meant Joanne was unable. How bad was she hurt? Then the rest…They’re all still alive and Johnny was with them. Roy knew his young friend would move heaven and earth to keep them that way.
“They’re alive?” He whispered, latching on to that in relief.
“I’m on my way…Do whatever you have to do to treat them…I’ll sign the forms when I get there,” he assured her. He slammed the phone down and grabbed his sneakers…His thoughts were whirling. How bad were they? What the hell had happened and then…What if he’d gone with them…Could he have prevented the accident from happening? Guilt bore down on his heart and soul as he tied his shoes. Another thought occurred to him…If he had been with them, he might not have been able to stop what had happened and he’d be in the hospital next to them or even dead.
He shook his head to dispel the thoughts. It didn’t matter right now…All that mattered was Jo and the kids. He snatched up his keys and ran for the door. A minute later he was on his way to Rampart.
John sat in the back of the ambulance, his eyes shifting between the gurney’s bearing Joanne and Chris, neither of whom had regained consciousness. He held little Jennifer in his arms and was grateful that Dr. Early had insisted that he accompany the ambulance. He rocked the child slowly in his arms and knew the only thing that kept him from falling apart was the fact that his ‘family’ needed him.
He cradled the small, blonde child close to him, his anxious brown eyes watching the rise and fall of her tiny chest as her blue eyes wandered aimlessly around the ambulance. She still hadn’t spoken and John was terrified by her disassociated behavior…Afraid he’d taken too long to get her out and breathing again…Hoping desperately that it was shock and not brain damage from the lack of oxygen.
The powder blue eyes finally wandered to his face and locked with his. John smiled down at her reassuringly. “Hey Princess…How’s my girl?” He asked, hoping for a reaction.
Jen’s breaths fogged the mask over her nose and mouth and her chest suddenly heaved as she let out a wet and rasping cough. Her little face screwed up in pain.
John bounced her a bit in his arms trying to soothe the toddler. “Shhh sweetheart…It’s gonna be okay. I’m here with you,” he promised.
Tears welled in the blue eyes and spilled over to trickle down her cheeks. “Unca Johnny,” she whispered from beneath the mask.
Tears of relief burned behind his own eyes at the softly spoken words. “Yeah baby,” he breathed out. “It’s Uncle Johnny,” he assured her as he cuddled her closer to him.
Gil had to look away to avoid turning into a blubbering idiot at the exchange. He remembered Johnny as a teenager when they’d been friends in San Gabriel and he’d never thought that he’d see this young man show this kind of emotion to anyone. John had seemed incapable of trusting or loving or accepting love from anyone back then, and he had to wonder what magic Roy DeSoto and this family had worked in his old friend’s life that had changed him so much.
A soft moan brought both men’s attention back to Joanne as she attempted to turn her head from side to side as she began to awaken.
Joanne’s eyes cracked open as consciousness returned. Pain exploded in her brain from the brilliant light that seemed to try and blind her and she tried to turn her head from one direction to another but couldn’t…Something held her head in place. She clenched her eyes shut once again. She felt her ankle throbbing in unison with the pain in her brain.
“Just relax ma’am,” she heard a man’s voice instruct her. “Don’t try to move alright?” He warned. She felt a gentle pat on her shoulder.
Who was that? She didn’t recognize the voice. She suddenly gasped as memory began to flood back in. “Mmm…My Ch…chil…dren?” she stammered out, struggling against the straps.
“Jo? Jo…It’s Johnny….Settle down okay?” She heard the familiar voice.
“Jjjj…Johnny,” she moaned softly. “Kkk…ids,” she whispered.
“The kids are here okay?” He soothed gently as he reached out to squeeze her hand. He coughed lightly, still fighting the ache in his chest from the water he’d inhaled.
She felt the long fingers close over her own and her blue eyes blinked open once again. She squinted but determinedly kept them open despite the pain and the dizziness that swept over her. John’s handsome face swam into view as he leaned over her.
“Hey beautiful,” he said with a relieved grin at seeing her awake.
“Jjj…John…ny! Chris…Jenny?” She gasped fearfully.
“They’re both right here,” he assured her again, holding Jennifer so she could see the toddler he held in his arms.
Joanne frowned at the sight of the oxygen mask over her daughters face. John saw it. “She took in some water Jo but she’s breathing on her own,” he promised.
“Chr…is,” she whispered, clenching her eyes shut against the throbbing in her head and ankle.
“He has a bump on the head and some bruising around his middle from the seat belt but his vitals are strong,” he promised her.
“CHRIS!” She called out worriedly, wanting to hear her son’s voice.
John bit his lip worriedly, not wanting to upset her but he wouldn’t lie to her either. “Jo…Sweetheart, He’s still unconscious okay…But he’ll be alright.”
“Rrr…Roy?” She mumbled as the gray started to close in once again. Tears welled in her blue eyes and rolled down her cheeks.
“Sweetheart…Please don’t cry,” John pleaded. “Ramparts already called Roy okay?” He promised.
Reassured, she gave John’s hand a squeeze and let the darkness claim her. Had she been thinking clearly, she might have wondered why Johnny was there in the first place.
The ambulance backed into the emergency bay at Rampart. Three doctors waited for their arrival…Joe Early, Mike Morton and Dr. Terry Wallace from pediatrics along with two orderlies. They began pulling open the doors before the attendants could even get out of their seats.
They pulled Chris’ gurney out first and Mike held them up long enough to check the boy’s eyes before he nodded his head toward the doors. “Treatment 2,” he barked as he grasped the child’s wrist and ran along beside him as they whisked the boy away.
Joanne’s stretcher quickly followed. Joe Early did a quick once over. “Treatment 3,” he ordered as he stepped aside and allowed the orderlies to follow his instructions.
Johnny stepped from the back with Jennifer in his arms. Joe Early’s concerned blue eyes swept over the younger man worriedly. John was still wet and a small cough tripped from his lips and he was shaking slightly but Joe couldn’t tell if it was from cold or the shock of almost losing this family he’d become so close to.
If the victims were anyone else’s family, Joe wouldn’t have questioned John’s ability to perform but this was different. Even doctors weren’t allowed to work on their own family members and they didn’t have the extra burden of Aspergers that John had to deal with or a past filled with loneliness and abuse. These people were all the young man had and that would be added pressure and Joe worried about his ability to handle it.
John seemed to have it under control for the moment however and he had a patient that needed him. He’d already warned Kel and he was sure he’d be on Johnny the minute he was free. He pointed at Johnny… “Don’t go anywhere until Kel takes a look at you,” he said before he finally turned and followed the stretcher inside.
John nodded and attempted to set Jennifer down on the stretcher that the orderly had just brought out but his action was met with a wail of terror as her tiny hands clutched desperately at his shirt sleeve. “NOOOOO,” she cried hysterically, before it was interrupted by a ragged cough.
“Okay Princess,” he soothed. “I’m still here,” he assured the tot as tears spilled from the soft blue eyes.
Wallace waved the orderly away as he realized that the toddler would be better off in John’s arms than to fight her to get her to lay down. He picked up the O2 tank and nodded tward the doors. John turned and trotted along next to him.
“Ma…ma,” she hiccupped brokenly.
“She’s okay Princess…Dr. Joe is gonna take good care of her,” he promised as they entered the room.
“Dad…deee,” she whimpered, still wheezing heavily.
Johnny cuddled the small girl to him for a moment. “Daddy’s coming baby,” he assured the toddler, before laying her on the table.
Jennifer continued to clutch at his sleeve as the doctors and the nurses quickly moved in around her.
“You need to step outside John,” Betty Miller instructed.
John’s dark eyes swept over the little girl, hesitant to leave her but Betty pried the small fingers loose from John’s sleeve. Jennifer’s wail of terror broke John’s heart but Betty shook her head and pushed him toward the door, while the second nurse, Sally unhooked the child from the portable O2 tank and hooked her in to the wall unit instead.
A choking cough interrupted the child’s cries. “Is her father here?” Wallace barked at the nurse.
“I’ll check,” Betty said, “But we have his verbal permission to treat,” she added as she propelled John out the door ahead of her.
“I want a CBC and creatnine level and an ABG,” the doctor was instructing Sally. The rest was cut off as Betty pulled the door closed behind her.
Roy arrived only minutes after the ambulance. He parked rather haphazardly but he didn’t care. He jumped from the Porsche and ran inside. Dixie was coming out of Joanne’s room and spotted him.
“Roy…Come this way,” she instructed waving him toward treatment room 2. “We need you to sign the ‘consent to treat’ forms for the kids,” she said as she pushed the door open.
He stepped inside and his heart climbed into his throat at the sight of his unconscious son on the table. The bandage around his head was splotched with blood and an ugly black bruising decorated the boy’s lower left quadrant, where the seat belt had obviously dug in deeply with the jolting stop.
Dixie handed him a clip board with multiple pages of slips attached. One for each member of his family… The family he’d failed. He should have been with them and maybe none of this would have happened. If he hadn’t been so stubborn and arrogant…His hands shook as he took the clip board and pen. He scribbled his name three times but if anyone had asked he wouldn’t be able to tell them what he’d just put his signature too. All he could see was a blur through his tears.
Dixie patted his shoulder. “Where’s Jo…Where’s Jennifer?” He asked.
“They’re in three and one Roy…Johnny was with Jennifer,” she informed him.
“This is all my fault,” he whispered guiltily.
Bob Bellingham glanced up from where he was assisting Dr. Morton. “How is that?” He asked in confusion.
“I’d like to hear that myself,” Dixie asked.
“We were fighting this morning,” he mumbled. “She wanted me to go with her and I refused. I told her Johnny was there and I couldn’t go but it was just an excuse ya know…I was just being a jerk. I shoulda been with them,” he muttered, sniffing back tears.
“Well it’s a good thing you weren’t or you would have been in that car too…You may have been knocked out as well…Johnny barely managed to get the three of them out in time…If he’d had to go back for you…One of ya might not have made it,” Bob reasoned.
“Not to mention that if Johnny hadn’t been with you at the house, he wouldn’t have been at the scene in the first place,” Dixie added with an arched brow.
“We wouldn’t have got there in time Roy,” Bob told him.
“It might not have happened at all if I’d been there,” he muttered.
“Roy…I saw the scene…The guy blew the light and hit the back quarter panel…He shoved it into the pond. You wouldn’t have changed anything…Just added to the casualties,” he added.
Roy knew they were right in theory but he still felt the guilt weighing on his heart. What if they didn’t make it? He shook the thought away…They had to be okay and they had the best chance possible…Because of John. His eyes turned to Bob. “Was Johnny okay?” He questioned…He owed his young partner for this. How could he ever thank him enough for saving his entire family?
He took in some water and he was exhausted but he’s okay I think,” Bob assured him.
Roy and Dixie’s eyes met briefly. She understood…It wasn’t John’s physical condition Roy was most worried about. “I’ll check on him,” she promised.
Bob frowned but didn’t question it any further as Roy moved to Morton’s side. “Talk to me doc,” he demanded softly.
“I have the portable on the way…I want a shot of his head and his belly,” he replied, pointing at the bruised flesh.
Fear filled Roy’s eyes. “Is he bleeding internally?” He questioned.
“I don’t think so but it’s always a possibility…I just want to be sure. I’m more concerned about the head injury and the fact that he hasn’t woken up.”
The door opened to admit the technician Malcolm as he trundled the portable X-Ray unit into the room.
“I want the lower left quadrant and a full skull series,” Mike instructed the younger man.
“Dr. Early will need you in three when you’re done here and Dr. Wallace in 1 after that.”
Malcolm sighed. It was gonna be a busy morning.
“Roy, why don’t you go check on your wife and daughter,” Mike suggested as Malcolm began to set up.
Roy nodded but he leaned down to kiss his son’s forehead and gently stroke the soft blonde hair. “I love you son…Daddy’s here,” he whispered in the boy’s ear.
Roy pushed the door open to Joanne’s room. Gil Robinson glanced up as the blonde paramedic slipped into the room. He saw the senior paramedics eyes mist over at the sight of his wife’s unconscious state. Blood stained the bandage over her delicate nose and the deepening bruise was spreading across her forehead. He knew she must have taken a pretty hard whack to her head.
A splint was still on her ankle and he knew they hadn’t had much of a chance to check her out yet. He stepped over to the table and took her hand. “Jo baby,” he called to her gently.
“She’s unconscious Roy,” Gil informed him. Frightened blue eyes lifted to meet Gil’s. “She’s been drifting in and out though and she seemed pretty coherent earlier,” he reassured the older man.
“She was?” He questioned.
Gil nodded. “She was talking to Johnny…She asked about the kids.”
Roy nodded…That was a good thing. Her memory was intact and she was talking. He sighed in relief. “What about Jennifer?” He questioned. He needed to go see her next.
“She was cyanotic when Johnny got her out of the car but…He did CPR and he got her breathing again. I guess he had his hands full with the three of them till we got there.”
Roy’s face paled at the younger man’s words. How long had Jen been without oxygen? Would she be okay? There was always the possibility of brain damage or respiratory problems after a near drowning. Would his baby girl be okay? Dear God how could he ever thank Johnny enough?
He bent to gently kiss Joanne on the lips. “I’m so sorry babe…I love you so much. Can you wake up for me?” He whispered close to her ear.
Jo moaned softly at the sound of her husband’s voice. Her eyelids fluttered. “R…oy,” she whimpered as pain blossomed into her awareness once more.
“I’m here babe and I’m so sorry…I was such a jerk. I love you Jo,” he said softly, taking her hand in his own. Gil cleared his throat and turned away to give them some privacy. Whatever had happened between them was none of his business. Joe Early continued on with his exam as if this were an everyday occurrence.
“I’m sss…ssorry too,” she whispered.
“Shhh babe…Don’t be okay…I love you…That’s all that matters,” he assured her as he lifted her hand to gently kiss her fingers.
“The kids,” she moaned, as tears welled in her eyes.
“I’ve already seen Chris…They’re doing X-rays on his head and his stomach. Morton thinks it’s just a bruise from the seatbelt but they want to be sure.”
“Johnny said hhh…he hit his hhh…head,” she murmured.
Roy nodded… “They’ll let us know the minute the find out,” he promised.
“What about Jen?”
“I’m gonna go see her as soon as the X-Ray technician gets here okay?”
“I’ll go check on that,” Gil said.
Early nodded. “Tell them to speed it up,” he ordered. Gil nodded and slipped out the door.
It was only a few moments later when Malcolm pushed the door open and trundled his machine inside.
Roy had just slipped into Joanne’s room as Betty pushed John from Jennifer’s and closed the door in his face. He turned and ran into Gil as he left the treatment room.
“How is she?” Gil asked the worried young man as he nodded toward the closed door.
“I don’t know man,” he whispered distraughtly as he ran his hands through his sable hair in frustration. He stifled a cough.
“Roy just got here,” he informed John as he jerked his head toward the treatment room. “He’s in with Joanne,” he added.
“Oh thank God,” he breathed out…His chocolate brown eyes glancing over to treatment room two where they’d taken Chris and then back to the closed door that hid Joanne and Roy from view.
He wished he could be inside to offer moral support to his friends but he knew they wouldn’t allow him inside…He wasn’t family no matter how much Roy and Jo thought of him…The hospital wouldn’t, besides…It really should be Roy who offered his children and Joanne the security they needed right now.
He saw Dr. Brackett leave treatment room four with Dixie in tow. He spotted Johnny and headed toward him. “How are you John?” He questioned with a lift to his dark brow.
John understood what he was asking about but stifled the threatening cough anyway. “I’m um…I’m okay doc…,” he answered, still sounding a bit shaky even to his own ears.
Kel frowned. “You don’t sound okay…Why don’t you head over to five and I’ll take a look at you in a minute.”
“I don’t need…,” he began to protest but Kel held his hand up to stop him.
“Johnny…Any other time I’d agree with you but not this time…I want you to just go lie down on that table and relax okay?”
How could he ask him to relax? John wouldn’t be able to do that until he knew all of the DeSoto’s would be alright…Including Roy. He saw the determined look on the faces of Brackett and Dixie and knew he’d lose the battle if he argued. “Okay doc,” he groaned in defeat.
Brackett and Dixie nodded and stepped into the room where Jennifer was being treated. Kel trusted Wallace but this child and this family were special to him.
The door opened to Chris’ room and Malcolm stepped out and pulled his machine into the hallway. He headed toward Joanne’s room and pushed the door open. He made his way inside.
John was about to head over to treatment room five when the door opened and his partner and best friend stepped into the hallway with Joe Early. Joe gave John a brief nod before he turned and walked up the hallway to Chris’ room to check on the six year old.
Roy turned around and came face to face with his young partner. Their eyes locked and John tried to give him a small reassuring smile but it slid away as Roy broke the contact and looked down at his feet. Guilt washed over him at what his anger had brought on.
Roy looked into the frightened eyes of his best friend and partner. The young man he’d come to think of as a young brother…The man who’d just saved his entire family. What could he say? He wasn’t sure he could get the words to come out right.
His eyes broke the contact with John’s as he looked down at his feet uncertainly. He cleared his throat…John chewed his lower lip uncertainly. Why wouldn’t Roy look at him? The older man cleared his throat and his words sounded harsh through the rasp of emotion.
“I don’t even know what to say to you,” he mumbled, his voice rasping with tears. “God…If you hadn’t been there…,”
The rest of his words were cut off as Kel Brackett whipped open the door to Jen’s room. “Roy…We need you in here right now. Jennifer is in respiratory distress.
Roy’s eyes widened in terror and he turned without another word and ran for Jennifer’s room.
John’s heart thudded wildly in his chest at the news that his Princess was in trouble and he couldn’t even go to her. His face paled at the words Roy had spoken and his stomach turned a small flip.
He blamed him…If he hadn’t come over this morning...Hadn't pushed him when he'd said no, Roy would have gone with Joanne and the kids and maybe none of this would have happened. It was his fault for pushing his way into Roy's life. His partner had promised him he’d tell him if he was around too much. He just did.
John felt the sting of tears behind his eyes. Why couldn’t he have just minded his own business and not offered to ‘help’ today? He jammed his hands deep into his pockets and turned to head for the emergency room doors. Kel’s edict to go and lie down and wait for him forgotten in his misery.
John felt the gray walls pushing at his awareness but he shoved them back…He didn’t want Roy’s pity and he didn’t have time to worry about him right now, if he’d ever care anything about him again after this.
He made his way to the front of the building where there was usually a taxi or two waiting for a passenger. He was in luck. He slid into the backseat of one of them and mumbled his address. He wrapped his arms about himself and felt a slow rock begin…A cough rumbled free.
The driver glanced in his rear view and frowned. The kid in the back seat was wet and rocking slowly. “You cold or somethin kid?” He questioned.
Johnny shook his head and the guy shrugged before he put the car in gear and drove away. He pulled up in front of the apartment building a short while later. John was lost in his thoughts. “HEY…I SAID WE’RE HERE,” the driver yelled.
John jumped and looked around as if becoming aware of his surroundings for the first time. He fumbled for his wallet. He pulled a ten dollar bill from it and tossed it to the man before he climbed from the cab and walked with a rather shaky gait to the steps.
The driver watched the kid, wondering if he was okay. The young man was still hunched and had his arms wrapped about him as if to hold everything inside…The brown eyes seemed to be a bit lost. He reached the second floor but stood at the door as if he didn’t know how to use the doorknob.
The driver sighed and climbed from the driver’s seat. He trotted up the stairs and came to John’s side. “You okay kid?” He asked as he reached over to touch John’s shoulder. The younger man flinched away as if he’d startled him. “Is this where you live?” He asked. The young man didn’t reply but continued to rock slowly.
The driver reached into the young man’s coat pocket and found his keys even though the kid tried to push his hands away…What the hell was wrong with the boy? Was he high or sick? He tried the key in the lock and it turned easily and the door swung open.
He tucked the key inside the young man’s pocket and gave him a slight push. John stumbled forward a few steps. The driver sighed and glanced around. The apartment was dark and there was no one around on the landing to ask. He finally gave the young man another shove and the boy continued to move forward. He maneuvered him around and helped him get settled on the couch.
There was really nothing more he could do here. He watched as the young man pulled his knees up to his chin and let his head droop to rest upon them. The driver shrugged, hoping the kid would be alright.
He left and pulled the door closed behind him.
Johnny vaguely felt the touch of someone’s hand on his back and moved forward to get away from the contact. He felt it again…The gray walls of his safe place were crowding in…His heart hurt and he knew he could make that pain go away if he would just let it win. His best friend blamed him…would he be able to forgive him? He felt something behind his knees and allowed himself to sink down upon it. He pulled his knees to his chin…He was tired and cold and he hurt…He heard the words again.
“I don’t even know what to say to you…If you hadn’t been there.” The accusatory words tore at his heart…Worse were the ones that had followed. Jennifer was in respiratory distress…She could die and it would be his fault.
John let the gray walls crash in.
To be continued in Part 2
Posted to Site 6/1/14
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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order. The characters of Emergency belong to Universal and Mark VII but this story itself however, is the property of the author.
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