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Weights and Measures

Part 2

An Emergency Story
by Tammy B

 

LINKS TO PARTS 1. 2.

 

 

The crew cast anxious glances toward one another. “Um…What exactly is it Cap?” Marco Questioned worriedly.

 

Hank’s eyes traveled to John once again. “For most of you, this won’t be a issue for you personally,” he replied cryptically as his brown eyes swept over the rest of the group before returning to Gage.

 

Johnny swallowed nervously, wondering what he’d done wrong.

 

“Then what…?” Mike questioned suspiciously as they all followed Captain Stanley’s gaze toward the young paramedic.

 

Roy frowned worriedly. Whatever was upsetting Hank seemed to be directed at Johnny.

 

“It seems that um…One of our guests last week wrote a little letter to the Governor.

 

John and Roy frowned at each other in confusion. Had James Hahn done this? Caused them some kind of trouble... He’d seemed so nice but…?

 

Hank continued on pulling their attention back to him. “It seems that he frowns upon some of the members of this department being uh…Underweight,” he finished, looking noticeably disgusted.

 

“WHAT…?” His crew shouted almost simultaneously.

 

John looked shocked. “Because of me…?” He whispered in dismay.

 

All eyes turned toward him and his face flushed in embarrassment at their looks.

 

Hank nodded dismally.

 

“What’s he gonna do about it?” Mike asked.

 

“Headquarters isn’t gonna let him get away with this are they? Chet almost yelled.

 

Hank held up his hands to stop the questions. “Well let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This isn’t a law or anything, just a proposal to put before the state to pass it as a bill or something,” he soothed. “And headquarters is going to argue against it of course.”

 

“But what if it does pass?” Roy barked angrily as he reached over to rest his hand on John’s shoulder.

 

John’s dark eyes lifted to meet his miserably. “I guess Morton was right," he mumbled.

 

“No he wasn’t,” Roy snapped back.

 

John almost flinched at the anger in his partner’s voice.

 

“That’s not fair,” Chet growled angrily.  “That’s like saying I’m too short or you’re too tall Cap,” he argued.

 

“What’s his weight got to do with how well he does his job or what kind of Paramedic he is?” Marco questioned. “Or Alfonso at 36’s or Forrester at 91’s,” he added.

 

Cap held up his hands up in a stop there gesture. “I know and hopefully someone at the top of the bureaucratic food chain will realize it,” Hank soothed.

 

“What if they don’t?” One of C-Shifts linemen asked, moving over to rest his hand on John’s back reassuringly.  “We could stand to lose a lot of good men and one of the best paramedics in the department.”

 

John threw him a grateful half smile. “Thanks,” he mumbled.

 

“It’s just the truth Gage…Everyone in the department knows it,” he added sincerely.

 

Hank nodded his agreement. “Was it Jim Hahn Cap?” Roy asked, still looking angry.

 

Hank shook his head. “No…It was proposed by a Thomas Reece.”

 

Roy and John looked both angry and relieved. They’d liked Jim and thought he’d been very impressed. It had bothered them both to think Jim would have betrayed them that way. 

 

“He apparently thinks that there should be a minimum weight of a hundred and seventy five pounds.

 

John gasped. “Fifteen pounds…?” He almost squeaked. “I don’t think I can gain that much Cap, much less maintain it,” he argued worriedly.

 

“Why?” Marco asked, looking frustrated.

 

“Why what?” Hank questioned.

 

“Why is he doin this?”

 

Hank shrugged. “It says here that he sees it as a safety issue to the general public as well as the men themselves and those they work with…That they’re a liability to the department. He says he saw that himself when he toured the station."

 

John looked crushed and worried his lower lip between his teeth. Roy recognized the look and almost swore out loud at the devastated demeanor. This man, who’d spent a total of twenty minutes wandering about the station without even seeing Johnny in action, had decimated his young partners self confidence and self esteem in ten minutes with one lousy letter and his snap judgment.

 

How dare he judge Johnny or any other fireman’s measure merely by his weight? The accident that had caused the injury hadn’t even been John’s fault. “Don’t Junior,” Roy barked, squeezing his young partners shoulder.

 

“What am I gonna do Roy?” He asked anxiously.

 

The senior paramedics blue eyes took on a look of steel. “I don’t know for sure John…But we’ll fight this all the way to the top,” he assured him.

 

“That’s right,” Mike agreed.

 

“I’m in too,” Marco said.

 

“We all are Johnny,” the C-Shift crew agreed.

 

John appreciated their support but it didn’t solve the problem. “But what if it passes?” He whispered, looking desperate.

 

Johnny loved what he did. What would he do if he couldn’t be a fire fighter or a paramedic? It was all he’d ever wanted, and what about the others…? Maybe if he hadn’t gotten hurt…Hadn’t been here when Reece showed up, none of this would have happened, he mused guiltily.

 

Hanks mouth set into a determined line. “Well John…This says that this proposal will be sent to the house floor in two weeks.”

 

John’s face paled. “That’s all?” He mumbled miserably.

 

“Boy…They aren’t wasting any time?” Chet muttered.

 

“That’ll be enough,” Cap said.

 

“Enough for what…?” John asked.

 

“To think of something to help you,” Hank murmured thoughtfully.

 

“Like what?” Mike asked, curious about his superior was up to.

 

“To help John gain some weight,” he said with a smirk.

 

The others looked dubious. John had a hyper metabolism, burning calories almost faster than he could take them in.

 

John was afraid what his friends proposed would be a hopeless task, but he knew he had to try something. He glanced at Roy, but his partner was shaking his head doubtfully. John frowned…Roy should have been the first one willing to try anything…Why didn’t he want them to try whatever it took to save his job?

 

 

 

C-Shift gave John a reassuring pat on the shoulder as they left. “Don’t worry Gage…We’ll all try to help.”

 

“Yeah Gage…None of us wanna lose ya or the others this will effect,” another added as the group headed out into the parking lot, still in deep discussion.

 

The A-Shift crew turned back to Hank. “Alright gentlemen, let’s get some work done,” Hank suggested.

 

“What about that letter Cap?” Chet asked worriedly.

 

“Don’t worry…I’ll think of something…Just give me some time,” he soothed. “But in the meantime…,” he began, but the station control unit began to tone. 

 

“Squad 51…Woman in labor…301 NW 4th Avenue...3-0-1 NW 4th Avenue…Cross Street 22nd… Time out 8:51.”

 

John and Roy ran for the squad. Hank trotted to the podium to write the address down. He handed the slip to Roy through the open window and then looked at his youngest crew member.  “Don’t worry John, we’ll all put our heads together while you’re out and come up with something.”

 

John frowned a bit at that but didn’t have time to question his captain as Roy began to pull out. All he could manage was a shouted… “THANKS CAP.”

 

He glanced at Roy as he turned onto the main road. “Should I be worried?” He asked nervously.

 

“About them helping…?” He asked with an arched brow. Johnny nodded. “I would be,” Roy replied drolly.

 

 

Johnny and Roy delivered their patient to Rampart forty minutes later. Roy walked alongside the gurney carrying the mother, while Johnny followed with the baby they’d delivered only a moment before the ambulance had arrived at the house.

 

The young paramedic beamed like a proud father as he passed the infant to the nurse in the treatment room.

 

The pretty blonde nurse Sally giggled at the slightly goofy grin on John’s face. “You should get married and have a couple of these of your own,” she teased the young man.

 

The smile fell away and a look of disbelief crossed his face. “Well…! Well why would I wanna do that?” He asked aghast at the idea.

 

Sally laughed. “Because you obviously love kids.”

 

“Yeah so…”

 

Roy rolled his eyes and hoped Sally would drop it and not give his young partner any ideas. Johnny certainly wasn’t ready for marriage and kids yet. He was only twenty two after all, not to mention his other problem which left him emotionally challenged and mentally scarred from his past life of abuse.

 

“So if you have your own, you can play with them all the time,” she explained, looking a bit exasperated.

 

John grinned. “I don’t need to do that to have kids to play with…I just go to Roy’s and play with his…,” he explained with a grin.

 

She eyed him dubiously but Johnny had seemed serious about playing with the kids. She glanced questioningly at the senior paramedic.

 

Roy nodded. “Yup…He does. My children think he’s great,” he added, taking John’s elbow and steering him away from the blonde nurse before she could give him any more ideas.  The last thing Roy needed was Johnny considering marriage and kids at this stage of his life. He’d never get any rest.

 

Sally watched them go with a hint of disappointment. She’d always liked Johnny but she suspected he wasn’t ready to settle down and get serious about anyone and he’d just confirmed it. Ah well…He wasn’t going anywhere and there was always time for him to change his mind.

 

 

Johnny and Roy walked up the hallway together. The younger man shot his partner a glance. "Thanks for bailing me out in there,” he said jokingly.

 

“I didn’t do it just for you,” he replied. John gave him a questioning look. “The last thing I needed was you thinking about marriage.”

 

“You? Why You?”

 

“Then I’d have to listen to you complain about your wife and kids. It’s bad enough when it’s just a girlfriend, never mind a wife.”

 

“Thanks a lot Pally,” John said in mock indignation, well used to his partners teasing. The good natured bantering stopped as he remembered this morning.  The smile fell away. “Besides, if I can’t gain enough weight I won’t have a job to support a family,” he said dismally.

 

“Quit Junior…,” Roy replied.

 

“I won’t have to quit…They’ll fire me.”

 

Roy rolled his eyes. “That’s not what I meant…I meant don’t give up…We’ll figure something out.”

 

John nodded but he didn’t look convinced.

 

 

Dixie was at the base station with Dr. Morton when the pair came up the hall. The pretty blonde nurse started to smile but saw the unhappy look on their faces. “What’s up fellas?” She questioned worriedly.

 

“I may be out of a job in two weeks,” John mumbled.

 

“WHAT?” Dixie almost shouted at the young paramedic.

 

Morton looked up from his chart with a frown to listen.

 

“Some congressman or something wants to pass a bill that ALL fire fighters have to weigh at least a hundred and seventy five pounds,” he explained, looking depressed.

 

“Why?” She snapped. “That’s…That’s just ridiculous,” she added indignantly. She of all people knew what a good paramedic John was despite his leanness.

 

Morton glanced at Roy. “Is he joking? I mean to get back at me for the crack I made a couple of weeks ago?” He asked hopefully.

 

“I wish he was but no…The guy was touring the station and John was there with his arm in a sling. I guess that’s what set him off.”

 

“That’s not fair,” Dixie growled.

 

“Did he even ask him how the injury occurred?” Mike asked in disbelief.

 

“No,” Johnny replied glumly with a shake of his dark head.

 

“Well that’s just wrong,” Mike said in disgust.

“I thought you agreed with him?” Johnny said drily.

 

“Look Gage…I was just joking with you. I mean yeah…You’re a bit thin and sometimes a little hot headed and off the wall but I never said you weren’t good at your job…Even if you are a bit reckless and get hurt occasionally. “

 

John drew himself up stiffly.

 

“Mike…You trying to reassure him or make him feel worse?” Roy asked the handsome, black doctor, looking as annoyed as Johnny did.

 

Dixie grinned, knowing Mike Morton wasn’t really great at tossing out words of praise. They tended to be rather left handed.

 

“Sorry guys,” Mike mumbled.

 

“Trust me boys…That was a compliment,” Dix assured them.

 

“Anyway…The guys are trying to think of some way to help me out in case it goes through,” he said glumly.

 

“Well don’t you worry tiger…I’m sure Kel would be more than happy to speak in behalf of your abilities,” Dixie reassured them.

 

“That’s not the problem…It’s the weight he’s measuring us by not my ability,” he said in disgust.

 

“Well don’t worry Johnny…I’m sure between all of us, we’ll think of something.”

 

“Man…I hope so,” he replied, looking depressed.

 

Roy gave him a slap on the shoulder and a grin in an effort to cheer his young friend up. “Don’t give hope Junior…We have time.”

 

“For what?”

 

“I don’t know yet…But I’ll think of something,” he assured him.

 

John nodded but really what could they do?

 

 

Captain Stanley watched the squad pull out before he turned to his crew.

 

What are we gonna do Cap?” Chet questioned.

 

“Yeah Cap…We can’t lose Johnny,” Mike added.

 

As much as they all liked to tease the young man, they all cared about him very much and most importantly, they respected his abilities as a fire fighter and his skill as a paramedic.

 

“Don’t panic guys,” Cap said, slapping his hands together and rubbing them briskly. “I have an idea,” he added with a smug grin.

 

“What is it Cap?” Mike asked curiously.

 

“We’re gonna fatten John up.”

 

“How?” Chet questioned, knowing how hyper John’s metabolism was.

 

“We’re gonna bring in every kind of fattening food we can come up with,” he replied, giving them a smug grin. “Mike, check with Melissa…I know you usually do the cooking at home but I bet she can come up with something good…I know she makes great cake.”

 

The young engineer grimaced a bit…Melissa was a great baker but not much of a cook, but as long as she stuck to cakes and cookies it should be okay. Cap continued, drawing his attention back to the conversation.

“Marco…Ask your mom…I’ll get with Emily, we’ll organize it so even when he’s home, we can stop by and make sure he eats.”

 

“Hey…What about me Cap?” Chet whined. “I wanna help too.”

 

“Donuts…every morning... Gage loves them,” he added, rubbing his hands together with a look of glee.

 

Chet frowned. That wasn’t much…There had to be more he could do? He’d have to think about it.

 

“Think it’ll work?” Mike questioned dubiously.

 

“Of course it will…Can’t miss. I’ll bet Joanne will help out too.” The others nodded, catching Hank’s enthusiasm. “Good…Then it’s all set. We’ll start at lunch. Mike…You’re cooking.”

 

Mike nodded. “Spaghetti and salad.”

 

Hank pursed his lips. “Make some garlic bread and don’t let John have the salad…To healthy,” he muttered. “Make extra pasta though so he can have seconds.”

 

“Got it,” Mike agreed.

 

“I’ll call my mama,” Marco suggested. “I’ll have her make something for dinner,” he offered. “She won’t mind…She likes Johnny.”

 

“This is gonna work great,” Cap said with a grin.

 

“I’ll make him my strawberry surprise for dessert,” Chet proposed happily.

 

Everyone froze in their tracks and their enthusiasm drained from their faces as they stared aghast at the curly haired fire fighter.

 

“We’re trying to fatten him up, not make him lose his appetite amigo,” Marco said snidely.

 

Chet drew himself up indignantly but Hank cut him off.  “We’ll pick up something on our way back from our next run,” he suggested, ending any protest from Chet.

 

“Fine,” the Irishman muttered, looking insulted.

 

“Alright gentlemen…Let’s get to work.”

 

They all grinned smugly and slapped each other off the back as they began to disperse to do their chores, sure that Gage would easily top out at the required one hundred seventy five pounds in two weeks.

 

 

Dr. Kelly Brackett strode up to the base station in Rampart's ER. He plucked a chart from the rack on the wall and scanned it briefly before snapping it shut and re-slotting it. He glanced at his head ER nurse and noticed the angry scowl that furrowed her brow and frowned.

 

“What’s wrong Dix?” He questioned in concern.

 

She looked up at him, her huge blue eyes filled with worry. “I just talked to Johnny and Roy,” she explained.

 

“Okay…About what?” He prompted.

 

Her face grew red with anger. “Can you believe some joker wants to raise the weight limits that fire fighters have to carry to stay with the department?” She snapped irately.

 

“Are you serious?” He asked worriedly.

 

“Yes I’m serious…He wants it raised to a hundred and seventy five pounds,” she growled.

 

Kel’s frown deepened as he suddenly realized the repercussions. “That’s not good…We could lose a couple of good men,” he said in concern.

 

“Exactly,” she replied angrily. “Including John Gage,” she added.

 

Kel pursed his lips thoughtfully. “I’ll be back in a few minutes Dix,” he said.

 

“Where are you going?” She asked curiously.

 

“To make a phone call. I want to find out what’s going on and see if there’s anything I can do to stop it,” he assured the pretty blonde.

 

“Thanks Kel,” she replied hopefully. She had no idea who he was calling but she hoped he could help. She didn’t want to lose Johnny.

 

 

Roy backed the squad into the bay. The two paramedics climbed from the cab and John sniffed the air. “I think we’re getting Mike’s spaghetti,” He said gleefully, the dark eyes lighting up in anticipation as he rubbed his flat stomach.

 

The two headed for the day room where the rest of the crew was setting the table and placing the bowls of food in the center.

 

“Oh…Glad you two are back,” Cap said as he spotted the pair. John’s dark eyes took in the food on the table. Spaghetti, garlic toast, salad and brownies crowded the center and he beamed in delight at the amount of the food.

 

“Where’d the brownies come from Cap?” The slender paramedic asked, plucking one from the plate and taking a bite.

 

“Emily brought them in,” Hank replied with a grin.

 

“Yeah well…Well what’s the occasion?” The young paramedic asked in confusion as he licked the brownie crumbs off his fingers.

 

Roy came up behind him and stopped, staring at the table in surprise. His blue eyes lifted to Hanks as well. “Yeah Cap? What’s going on?” The blonde fire fighter questioned.

 

“Well…We talked about it after you left and it seems to us that the only real solution to this potential problem is to help John gain the necessary weight to stay in the department,” he explained.

 

John’s eyes widened in shock and he pointed at the table. “You mean you did all this for…for me?” He asked in disbelief.

 

“Well…We’ll all eat with you of course but the extra’s are for you…Yeah,” Hank agreed.

 

“Wow…Thanks guys,” Johnny replied, looking amazed that they’d gone to this much trouble just for him. He didn’t think it would work, but he was still touched by the effort, at least until Chet chimed in.

 

“I just don’t wanna have to train a new pigeon,” Chet said smugly, unwilling to admit his fondness for the young paramedic.

 

“Sure Chet,” Marco replied with a shake of his head.

 

Roy just frowned…Not sure if this would work but willing to try anything at this point to save his partner, at least until he thought of something better. He knew Johnny burned off calories faster than he took them in sometimes and even maintaining the slight weight of a hundred and sixty pounds could be tough sometimes. He wasn’t sure that John could gain that much in two weeks…Much less keep the weight on.

 

“Lunch is on guys…Let’s dig in,” Mike suggested.

 

They all sat down and began to eat.

 

 

Kel returned to office after his conversation with Dixie. He was steaming mad by the time he sat at his desk and pulled the phone toward him. Brackett hated bureaucrats who sat in their cushy offices and worse, not understanding what the repercussions would really be if this state representative succeeded in passing this bill. A lot of good firemen and paramedics could lose their jobs, including John Gage, who happened to be not just a personal friend, but one of the two best paramedics they had.

 

Kel rifled through his desk, searching for a piece of paper he had tucked away over a year ago, hoping he hadn’t thrown it away. He shoved a couple of items aside and smiled as the paper he was looking for slid into view.

 

He plucked it from the drawer and snatched up the handset. A moment later a woman’s voice answered. “Good afternoon…Assemblyman Wolski’s office.”

 

“Could I speak to Mike Wolski please…This is Dr. Kelly Brackett, Rampart General.”

 

“Please hold.”

 

There was a long pause and then a click before the familiar voice of Mike Wolski answered. “Good afternoon Dr. Brackett…What can I do for you?”

 

“Assemblyman…," Kel began.

“Mike please,” he interrupted.

 

“Alright Mike…I’ve just been informed that someone up in Sacramento has apparently decided that the fire department here in California needs some revamping,” he explained, cutting straight to it.

 

“Yes doctor...,” he began.

 

“It’s Kel,” he corrected, returning the favor.

 

“Yes Kel…I saw that myself this morning. Tom Reece…He’s a congressman.”

 

“Well I don’t care if he’s the President of the United States. If this bill passes and we could lose some really good men, including John Gage.”

 

Wolski sat up a bit straighter. “Oh dear…I’d forgotten just how slender the boy is,” he replied worriedly.

 

“He’s also one of my best Paramedics. Who does this guy think he is judging people’s ability by how much they weigh?”  Kel snapped irately.

 

“He can be pretty arrogant sometimes,” Wolski informed him. “Look…How about if we join forces like we did before. Go up there together and have our say?” He suggested. “You in?”

 

“I’m in Mike…Just let me know the day,” he affirmed.

 

“I’ll have my secretary make the arrangements and give you a call.”

 

“Thanks Mike.”

 

“Don’t thank me…We haven’t won yet,” he warned him.

 

Kel remembered the last battle he and Mike had won together and he’d never regretted his decision…Now it mattered even more and he wasn’t about to lose this one either. “Well we will if I have anything to say about it,” he said firmly.

 

The two hung up. Kel sat with his lips pursed for a long moment before he picked up the phone once again. He waited patiently as it rang on the other end. He wanted to be sure that the fire department was planning an offensive of their own.

 

“Los Angeles County Fire Department Headquarters, how may I direct your call?” A woman’s voice questioned.

 

“Chief Sorenson please…This is Dr. Kelly Brackett…Rampart General.”

 

“Hold on a moment doctor.”

 

There was a brief pause and then a man’s voice. “Hi Kel…”

 

“Daniel…We need to talk,” Brackett said without preamble.

 

The man laughed. “I was expecting you to call,” he said.

 

 

Johnny sat back in his chair and patted his full belly. “That was a great lunch Mike…Thanks,” he said enthusiastically.

 

“Well there’s plenty more John,” Hank encouraged, pushing the bowl of pasta toward the young man.  

 

“Oh, no thanks Cap. I’ve already had…GRRP…three,” he reminded his superior, stifling a burp midsentence.

 

“Well how about another piece of bread?” Marco suggested, pushing the plate toward him.

 

John stared at the man, looking stunned. He knew he was infamous for his healthy appetite but man…It wasn’t endless.

 

“Guy’s I know you’re trying to help,” Roy interrupted, “But he can’t put on fifteen pounds in one day by feeding him spaghetti and garlic bread,” he protested, seeing the look of disbelief on his young friends face.

 

“Oh? Well…I guess you’re right,” Chet replied in agreement with the obvious statement.

 

John looked relieved but that expression quickly faded as Chet handed him a huge chunk of brownie. “Here ya go Gage.”

 

John’s eyes rolled and Roy sighed. “Save it for later okay Kelly,” Roy said, standing up and pulling Johnny to his feet as Marco and Mike began to clear the table. “C’mon junior, we got chores to do,” he suggested.

 

John looked relieved. “Yeah…I have to mop the floors…,” he began.

 

“NO!” Chet protested, jumping from his chair.

 

“Whadaya mean no?” Johnny asked, looking irritated.

 

“Me and Roy’ll take care of that,” he volunteered.

 

Roy’s eyebrow lifted in curiosity as John’s dark eyes narrowed suspiciously.

 

“Why?” He questioned warily, waiting for whatever prank Chet Kelly was hatching.

 

“You’ll sweat…You don’t wanna work off all those calories do ya? So just have a seat Johnny baby,” the curly haired Irishman urged as he gripped the younger man’s arm and steered him toward the couch where Boot, the station’s mascot was taking his afternoon nap. “Here sit,” he ordered, almost pushing John onto the piece of furniture.

 

Roy’s head tilted back in disbelief and he stared heavenward as if seeking divine guidance.

 

John stared at Chet in shock. “Well...? Well, what am I supposed to do for two weeks?” He stammered.

 

Chet reached over to where Boot was lounged out and grabbed the tennis balls they used to play fetch with the dog. “Here…do something with these.”

 

“Like WHAT?” John almost squeaked in exasperation.

 

“I dun know…but you can’t work off those calories…Just sit and play with your bal…uh,” he stopped as he realized what he was about to say.

 

The senior paramedic nearly choked at the comment and John’s head snapped up to stare at Kelly in surprise.

 

The Irishman turned scarlet and hung his head, knowing he’d stopped his words too late.  “I mean…Just throw em to Boot or uh…Learn to juggle or something,” he clarified, almost cringing in embarrassment before yanking the mop from the bucket he’d filled before lunch. He handed Roy the broom.

 

Johnny flushed crimson at Roy’s snort of laughter and stared at the balls he held in his hand for a long moment, uncertain if Chet was serious or just clowning around. The dark eyes lifted to Roy’s with an even mixture of amusement at the Irishman’s antics, and suspicion that he was just pulling his leg and a poignant grin that his friends cared about him enough to try something this ridiculous to try and save his career.

 

Roy shook his head and started pushing the broom. John shot a glance at his Captain, who was still sitting at the table. He waited for the man to tell Kelly to knock it off but he didn’t, instead, the tall, slender Captain unfolded himself from his chair and stood up. “Good thinking Chet,” he said approvingly.

 

“But Cap…?” John began to protest, but the older man held up his hand to stop him. “You just sit there and let all that spaghetti turn to fat," he ordered pointing his finger at John before he turned and headed to his office.

 

John mouth dropped open in shock. He’d just begun to look toward Roy as Cap spoke and his head whipped back in a double take of surprise before throwing a stunned look at Roy.

 

“I don’t believe this,” he mumbled.

 

“That’s why I told you I’d be worried,” Roy quipped.

 

 

The crew was called out only once over the next few hours and Johnny was getting desperate. Every time he turned around, one of his crew mates was sticking a plate of something under his nose.

 

“Don’t we need supplies or something?” He asked his partner plaintively.

 

Roy chuckled at the tone. “We stocked the squad after our first run this morning Junior,” he reminded his friend. “And refilled what we used after the last one.”

 

“Oh yeah,” he mumbled in disappointment. “What am I gonna do Roy?” He whispered to his friend, hoping the other guys couldn’t hear him.

 

“I don’t know Johnny,” he replied with a shrug.

 

“Well I’m either gonna get kicked outta the department or they’re gonna kill me by trying to save me,” he muttered softly.

 

Roy snickered at his friend’s predicament.

 

“Well I’m glad you’re so amused,” he growled. “Maybe this is a joke to you but it’s my career at stake.”

 

Roy’s smile fell away. “Stop right there Junior,” the older man said sternly. “You know that’s not true. I wasn’t laughing at the idea of your losing your job but I just don’t know what to do about it either,” he soothed the over sensitive and uncertain younger man. He reached over to rest his hand on John’s shoulder. “I figure Chief Houts and Chief Sorenson are already working on it but….,” he shrugged again. “Until they tell us what’s going on or I can come up with a better idea…You’re gonna have to try and gain some weight,” he advised.

 

John nodded unhappily, his face still bearing a scowl of frustration.

 

Their conversation was interrupted as the back door opened and Marco’s mother Anna came inside. Her daughters Louisa and Maria followed. All three women had bags or bowls in their hands.

 

“Ola Chico,” she greeted her son as he quickly stood and moved to help her carry in the items.

 

“Ola mama,” Marco replied, kissing his mothers cheek before turning to his sisters and doing the same.

 

Johnny and Roy cast each other a curious look before they stood up from the sofa and made their way over to the kitchen area.

 

 

Both of Marco’s younger sisters gave John a shy smile, much to Chet’s disgust. He’d been trying to get Louisa’s attention for months now, but the beautiful Hispanic girl wouldn’t give him the time of day.

 

The problem was that Chet had been hanging around with their brother for over a year and both girls now saw him as a brother figure, but Johnny…? Johnny was the forbidden fruit as far as they were concerned. Marco had absolutely told them they were not to even consider dating the young and very handsome paramedic.

 

Louisa and Maria didn’t care…Marco was their brother and they loved him, but he wasn’t their papa and they were both over eighteen.

 

“Hi Johnny,” Louisa greeted, giving John an adoring smile while Marco scowled warningly. Both girls ignored him.

 

“Cómo estás?” Maria questioned.

 

John only spoke a small amount of Spanish, but enough to reply. “Muy bien, gracias,” he replied simply. “Y tú?” 

 

“I am good also,” she replied in English.

 

John saw the interest in both of the girl’s dark eyes and the frown on Chet and Marco’s and threw both of his crew mates a smug grin.

 

Unfortunately, Mama Lopez saw it too. She was well aware of John Gage’s reputation with the ladies as Marco had often regaled the family with some of the young man’s more humorous exploits and while she herself adored the boy…She didn’t want her daughters to be another notch on the man’s bedpost, not to mention the damage it could cause between him and Marco’s friendship and working relationship.

 

She stepped between Johnny and the girls. “Buenos tardes Juancito,” she greeted, taking the young man’s handsome face between her hands and kissing him in motherly fashion.

 

Marco rolled his eyes in exasperation, while Roy chuckled in resignation. John simply couldn’t turn off the boyish charm that seemed to win the hearts of every girl he met…Well…at least until they got to know him.

 

Roy alone knew the biggest reason he couldn’t hold onto a relationship. All of the guys except Captain Stanley, knew Johnny had a mild case of Aspergers, but only Roy knew he had also been an abused child.

 

Both conditions kept his young partner from being able to express his emotions as openly as most other people or even to understand most of them, so women tended to get frustrated with waiting or worse…When they were willing to hold on and press the issue, John would back away, fearful of anyone finding out about his past or simply because he was aware of his own inability to understand or reciprocate those feelings…At least not yet.

 

Roy and Joanne were working on that with the help of a therapist they’d gotten to know, but Johnny didn’t know that.

 

Mama Lopez pinched his cheeks and giggled at John’s rapidly flushing face. She patted his cheek gently.

 

“Uh afternoon ma’am,” he replied, looking a little embarrassed.

 

“What is this ma’am?” She asked in heavily accented English. “You call me mama like all Marco’s friends, si?” She demanded as her hands plonked down on her ample hips. “And what is this?” She asked, reaching out to poke John on his slender belly before attempting to pinch any excess flesh.

 

John almost back pedaled from the overly familiar gesture, but forcibly held his ground so he wouldn’t offend the woman.

 

“It is no wonder mi hijo ask me to bring you food si? You are wasting away to nothing,” she accused.

 

I…I…It’s just the way I’m built,” he stammered uncomfortably as his face flamed crimson.

 

Roy ducked his head, a choking sound of snorted laughter slipping from between his lips.

 

Chet and Mike didn’t even attempt to hide their amusement. They were laughing openly at John’s embarrassed blush, while Louisa and Maria giggled but still rolled their eyes at their mother’s boldness.

 

“Mama…Why don’t you come this way?” Marco suggested as he took his mothers arm and tried to lead her away to give the young man a moment to regroup.

 

“Why?” She asked, jerking her arm away. “Why we go over there. I am not finished with Juan? This boy is so thin, I could blow on him and he would fly away.”

 

John looked mortified at this point and the others cringed as his mouth set indignantly.

 

“Mama…That’s why I asked you to cook today…We’re gonna try and put some weight on him,” Marco reminded her, throwing Johnny an apologetic look.

 

“Good…Is good you ask me and now I see him again…I understand why…I will bring more food next time you are all on duty,” she assured her son as he moved her away.

 

“Thank you mama,” Marco replied.

 

“Thank you Mrs. Lopez,” Roy called after her, sticking his elbow into John’s ribs to prompt him as well.

 

John regained his manners. "I um…Yes…Thank you Mrs. Lopez,” he called as Marco ushered his mother and his sisters out the door before his mother could totally offend their youngest crewmate.

 

“You call me mama, like all of Marco’s friends,” she yelled back the reminder.

 

John blew out a relieved breath as the door closed behind them.

 

The rest of the crew began pulling the lids off the containers on the table to see what was for dinner. Tacos with all the trimmings…Sour cream, guacamole, salsa, chili peppers…Chili and enchiladas and beef and bean burritos and a bowl of some kind of gravy with lumps of something.

 

John’s nose curled in disgust. “What is that?” He questioned, glancing to the door to be sure Marco and his mom were out of ear shot.

 

“They’re refried beans Gage,” Chet explained, having eaten at his friend’s house many times.

 

“Refried beans?” He questioned. John had been raised on an Indian Reservation in Montana and then by his Aunt in San Gabriel. He’d been exposed to many types of cuisine including some Mexican food but he’d never seen this before.

 

“What?” Chet asked at John’s dubious glance.

 

“It just looks like someone already ate em,” he said suspiciously.

 

Mike and Roy chuckled but Chet rolled his eyes. “They’re actually pretty good…I’ve eaten them before,” he assured the younger man.

 

John gave him a disbelieving stare, pretty sure Chet and Marco were playing some kind of joke on him. John snorted. “Like I’d take your word for it,” he replied snidely.

 

“Won’t hurt to try them,” Roy soothed as the door opened and Marco came back inside.

 

“What did she bring?” He asked, rubbing his hands in anticipation.

 

John smiled wanly as Marco eagerly eyed the food. Mike went out to call Cap while Chet began to set the table. Johnny reluctantly sank down in his chair, silently praying the tones would call them out. He wasn’t really hungry since everyone had been feeding him practically every twenty minutes, but how could he refuse after they’d gone to so much effort to help him.

 

The others sat down and began to fill their plates. John figured he’d just take a small amount of everything and make Marco happy, but before he could stop him, Marco picked up John’s plate and began to load it up.

 

Johnny’s eyes practically bugged from his head and he swallowed heavily. Surely Marco didn’t expect him to eat all that? Especially since he’d been helping the rest of the crew stuff him full of junk food all day and worse, Marco was spooning those refried beans over the rice before setting it in front of John.

 

Roy eyed the plate skeptically. He was well aware that John had a voracious appetite and a hyper metabolism but there just so much his slender friend could hold.

 

“Guy’s… What are ya doin?” He asked in disbelief.

 

“What’s it look like?” Chet asked snidely.

 

“Yeah…We’re helping Johnny,” Mike answered.

 

John shot his partner a worried look.

 

“Feeding him his fine but you guys act like your stuffing a thanksgiving turkey,” Roy protested.

 

“Well ya got the turkey part right,” Chet shot back,

 

“Ha ha ha,” John replied snidely.

 

“We only have two weeks Roy,” Hank reminded his senior paramedic.

 

“I thought you’d be the first one to want to help him?” Mike said.

 

Roy sighed. They were only trying to help, he mused and they were right…He only had two weeks to gain enough weight, unless Roy could think of some other way, and fast, before the guys could kill Johnny with kindness. His best hope was that the department was trying to think of a way to stop this from going through but in the meantime…

 

“I guess you’re right, Roy agreed reluctantly, afraid John would be up all night sick at this rate.

 

John looked back at him with mixed feelings. He appreciated the efforts the guys were going through to save him and he appreciated Roy’s wanting to protect him from their overzealous behavior but he was once again assailed by concern for his friends seeming lack of worry over losing him as his partner.

 

Roy’s concerns seemed to be prophetic…John was up all night, but it wasn’t from overeating as much as what he’d eaten and it wasn’t just John who’d pay for it. 

 

 

The crew turned in around ten. Johnny was feeling a little uncomfortable from the food that was still sitting in his stomach. It felt like a couple of puppies rolling in his belly and began to gain a healthy respect for expectant mothers.

 

 

The crew was stripping down to their underwear and setting their turnout gear in place when a sudden belch erupted from the young paramedic. The others snickered as John gave them a sheepish glance but it did seem to relieve a bit of pressure. “Scuse me,” he mumbled.

 

The others, being guys and used to these types of moments, shrugged it off. They slipped into their beds and Hank snapped the light off.

 

It was only a short time later when an odd sound reverberated through the room. A few seconds later, a rather foul smell permeated the air.

 

“Holy cow Junior,” Roy gasped, pulling the covers up over his nose.

 

Chet and Marco both sat up abruptly. “What was that?” Chet barked as the lights snapped on.

 

“Dios Mio,” Marco muttered.

 

“Man…My eyes are watering,” Mike complained.

 

Johnny lifted his arm from over his face. “What’re you all yellin about?” He asked sleepily.

 

“You Gage,” Chet snapped.

 

“Me…? What did I do?” He asked in confusion.

 

“You just about gassed us all,” Chet accused unhappily.

 

John blinked in surprise. “I did?” He questioned in confusion. He hadn’t felt a thing.

 

“Yeah you did pal,” Hank muttered, holding his hand over his nose as he came around the wall.

 

“I uh…I’m sorry,” he mumbled, looking a bit red faced.

 

“It’s okay Junior…It’s not your fault. It’s probably all those beans you ate at dinner.”

 

“You’re probably right Roy,” Hank agreed. “Alright guys,” he said, moving his hand away from his nose and cautiously sniffing the air. “It seems to be dissipating. Let’s all get some sleep,” he suggested. They all returned to their beds and Hank turned the lights out.

 

They’d almost managed to get back to sleep, but once again the sound of releasing gas ripped through the room.

 

“GAGE…,” Chet bellowed.

 

John bolted upright. “What…? What happened? Did I sleep through the alarm?” He asked swinging his feet off the bed.

 

“No Junior…You just broke wind again,” Roy explained tactfully, his voice muffled from beneath his blankets.

 

“Oh man,” Johnny mumbled, thoroughly embarrassed now.

 

“What’s the hazmat level on that,” Chet whined pulling his tee shirt up and over his nose.

 

“Oh real funny Kelly,” John growled.

 

“Besides…You’re the ones that fed it to him,” Roy reminded them grumpily. “Won’t hurt to try it remember?”

 

“Alright everyone…Let’s leave John alone and try and get some sleep,” Cap said placatingly, knowing that Roy was right. They had practically force fed it to the young paramedic and there really was nothing Johnny could do about it.

 

Most of the others reluctantly began to return to their own beds. All but Marco who headed for the door…His bare feet slapping on the linoleum.

 

“Where are you going?” Hank asked with a raised brow. Everyone sat up and looked at the Hispanic fire fighter.

 

“To get my air tank Cap,” he replied.

 

“Get mine too,” Chet called as Hank rolled his eyes in exasperation.

 

“Neither of ya are getting an air tank…Now go to bed,” he barked as John’s face turned scarlet once again and he shot a scowl at the traitorous linesman.

 

Marco heaved a sigh and headed back to bed. They all slid under the covers and pulled the blankets up over their noses. John gave his partner a sheepish glance. “Sorry Roy,” he muttered, barely audible.

 

“Not your fault junior,” he whispered back as his eyes drifted closed.

 

It was short lived. The station control unit began to tone and the lights came on. “Station 51…Gas leak. 817 Clayton St. 8-1-7 Clayton St…Cross Street Monroe…Time out. 22:17.”

 

Cap snapped up the mic as his crew rolled from their beds once more. “Station 51…KMG-365,” he responded.

 

John swung his feet off the bed and jammed them into his boots. Another burst of sound and odor exploded as he pulled his bunker pants up and slipped the suspenders over his shoulders.

 

“Huh…Maybe we should call in a still alarm for the gas leak right here,” Chet barked as he ran for the door, grateful that the smell would be gone before they returned.

 

“Shut up Chet,” John growled as ran from the dorm. They all piled into their respective vehicles and rolled out into the night with the sirens wailing.

 

John looked over at his best friend. “I’m really sorry about all this,” he said again.

 

“Hey junior…Don’t worry. There’s nothing you can do about it…But do me a favor?”

 

“What’s that?” Johnny asked.

 

“Roll down your window…Just in case,” he replied with a laugh.

 

“Real funny pally,” he grumbled as he folded his arms over his chest in annoyance.

 

 

They arrived on the scene a few minutes later. Hank saw one man kneeling on the sidewalk. His eyes watered as he coughed harshly.

 

Chet cast a sideways glance at Marco. “I know exactly how he feels,” he mumbled to his friend.

 

Marco rolled his eyes at the Irish fire fighter and shook his head.

 

“Help me,” he choked out.

 

“Get the O2 off…,” Roy began to say to Johnny but the younger paramedic was already running for the squad. The older man half smiled. He should have known John would have already assessed the situation and anticipated the need. It’s what made them a good team. He grabbed the BP cuff and wrapped it around the man’s arm.

 

Cap turned to his two linesmen. “Pull an inch and a half just to be safe,” he ordered. He began to turn away but the victim jerked his arm away from Roy and grabbed Hank’s sleeve.

 

Johnny returned with the O2 and saw the panic in the man’s eyes. “Hey…You Okay?”

 

“My wife…*cough*… and kids are in there,” he managed.

 

“I’ll get the O2 going…You two get in there and get them out…Use your air masks,” Hank commanded.

 

The two paramedics nodded and ran to get their tanks while Hank got the mask on their first victim. Chet and Marco hauled the lines from the back of the Engine.

 

“What happened?” Hank questioned the man.

 

“We just installed…*cough* a new stove,” he explained, his voice muffled from behind the mask. “I guess I didn’t hook…*cough* up the gas line right,” he managed.

 

Hank nodded. “That’s why you should have a professional do it,” he advised. “You just take it easy okay…My men will bring them out…I’m gonna go help them alright?” He questioned. The man nodded.

 

Hank trotted to the engine and grabbed his air tank. He gave a nod to Mike who waited patiently near his gauges in case an explosion occurred.

 

Chet and Marco were already inside opening windows and searching for the gas leak. “Check the stove connection,” he ordered Marco. Johnny and Roy were coming down the stairs as Hank turned toward them. The John was carrying the wife, who appeared to be unconscious, while Roy struggled with both children. Thankfully, they were both small and not too heavy, just awkward. Hank bounded up the stairs, his long legs taking them two at a time. He took one of them from Roy.

 

They carried the family outside and over to the squad where the anxious husband and father sat with the tank of oxygen. John had an eerie sense of déjà vu from the week before as he laid the woman down gently.

 

He could feel the uncomfortable gurgle of his stomach but there was nothing he could do about it right now. He ran to get the other tank of oxygen off the engine and carried it back to Roy. The older man had already removed his own SCBA and the mask was now over the woman’s nose and mouth.

 

Both children were now awake but were coughing harshly…Their wide brown eyes pooling with tears in a combination of coughing and fear as they watched their mom being cared for the blonde paramedic.

 

Johnny set the tank down and stifled a threatening belch. He placed the mask over the boys nose and mouth, “There ya go son…Don’t cry okay…she’ll be alright,” he soothed, smoothing the dark brown hair comfortingly. He turned to the little girl, shrugging his own air tank off and setting it next to their father. “Let me swap with you here,” he said. Handing the man his air mask and taking the smaller O2 cup from him. “Here ya go sweetie,” he said with a half smile as he fitted the mask over her face. “You’ll be okay,” he promised before he turned away to help his partner.

 

Roy already had the vitals ready while John set up the Biophone and began to contact the hospital. “Rampart base, this is squad 51,” Johnny called.

 

“Squad 51...This is Rampart,” Mike Morton’s voice responded.

 

“Rampart, we have four victims of a gas leak. All four victims are on Oxygen and breathing on their own. Victim one is a male…Approximately thirty. Victim two is a boy of about eight and Victim three is a girl…About five. All three are conscious. Victim four is a female…Approximately thirty…She’s unconscious and seems to be trying to come around, he added as the woman moaned softly and turned her head from side to side. “Her BP is…?” John hesitated but never glanced up, knowing Roy would be ready for him.

 

“BP is 100/60, respirations are shallow and her pulse is weak and thready,” he said quietly.

 

John repeated the information to Rampart and then turned to the husband. “What’s her name?” He asked.

 

“Cheryl,” he replied.

 

John leaned over the woman. “Cheryl…Cheryl…Can you hear me?” He queried.

 

The woman’s eyelids fluttered weakly before cracking open to stare up at the face leaning over her. Her brow furrowed in confusion and she began to cough harshly…Her eyes tearing from the rasping, hack.

 

“Easy ma’am…Just take it easy and breathe as deeply as you can,” he instructed with a gentle smile. Her eyes closed once again but she nodded and then her eyes flew open wide and she pushed at the mask. “Paula…Peter? My kids,” she cried.

 

“They’re okay…They’re right over there. He assured her with a nod of his head toward them.

 

“Jason?” She questioned.

 

John assumed that was her husband. And he turned her head so she could see the trio sitting off to her right. She relaxed back. “What happened?” She asked pushing the air mask away.

 

“There was a gas leak from the new stove,” Jason responded.

 

“Gas? Oh my goodness…The whole house could have exploded,” she whispered at just how close they’d all come to being killed.

 

“Yes ma’am," Johnny agreed. “But don’t worry we got here in time and the house will be okay. No gas explosions,” he soothed.

 

“Johnny? Rampart wants us to transport as a precaution,” Roy reminded him.

 

Johnny nodded and glanced over to where the ambulance was backing in. “Any IV’s?” He asked.

 

Roy shook his head negatively. “Just to keep them on O2,” he replied as the attendants wheeled the stretcher over.

 

John climbed to his feet and leaned over to help lift her onto it. There was an unmistakable explosion of sound that even the heavy turnout pants couldn’t muffle. John’s face turned scarlet as the two children burst into fits of giggles.

 

The father sidestepped away and Hank’s eyes rolled in disbelief. Chet, Marco and Mike snorted with laughter. Roy shook his head and even the ambulance attendants snickered at the very red faced paramedic.

 

“I’m so sorry,” he murmured.

 

Cheryl looked up at her rescuer and smiled. “Well…I guess there was a gas explosion after all,” she teased.

 

John wanted to crawl under the squad and hide in embarrassment.

 

“I’ll uh…I’ll ride in with them,” Roy offered, not wanting John to have to worry over any more sounds or their accompanying odors being emitted while he was trapped in the ambulance with the family.

 

John nodded in gratitude, needing a few minutes to regain his dignity. Roy climbed up inside the ambulance and Chet and Marco handed the two children up to him. John started to slam the doors but Roy reached out to stop him. John looked up at him curiously. “Keep the windows down in the squad okay?” He teased his young friend.

 

John scowled at his partner and slammed the doors, giving them two hard whacks. Inside the ambulance, Roy heard the two thuds that were much harder than they needed to be and began to laugh as the vehicle pulled away.

 

Hank gave his youngest crewman a pat on his shoulder as the rest of the crew began to clean up the scene. “See if you can get something for that at Rampart?” He suggested with a grin.

 

“Yes sir,” John mumbled in embarrassment.

 

“But just to be on the safe side John…Stay out of any burning buildings till this wears off okay Pal?” He teased.

 

 

Roy backed the squad into the bay forty minutes later. The evening shift supervisor, Martha Hayes had taken pity on Johnny, after she’d stopped giggling of course at the young man’s predicament and had given him something that should help relieve the gas that was still rolling in his stomach.

 

The crew was already in their beds as they quietly slipped into the dorm. They both quickly stripped to their underwear and leaned over to set their boots and turnouts in place. The sound that emanated sat all four crewmen up in their beds. Johns face turned scarlet.

 

“GAGE!” Chet bellowed unhappily.

 

John threw his partner a sheepish glance as Roy tugged his tee shirt up over his nose. “Oh man,” John groaned in total mortification.

 

Hank looked sympathetic…After all, They’d practically shoved the food down the young man’s throat. “Hey pal…I know it’s not your fault but the rest of us need some sleep…Could you maybe go sleep on the couch?” He suggested.

 

“Sorry guys,” he mumbled miserably. He stripped the blanket off the bed and grabbed his pillow. He started to lean over to grab his gear but Roy threw out his hand to stop him.

 

“Let me get those for you junior,” he volunteered, bending over to scoop up the boots and bunker pants. He handed them to Johnny.

 

“Sorry pal,” Hank said quietly as John headed for the door, feeling bad that John was the one paying for their mistake.

 

“It’s okay Cap,” he muttered as he left the room.

 

Hank looked at Marco. “Thank your mom for the food pal but for everyone’s sake…No more beans huh?”

 

“You got it cap?” He readily agreed.

 

John made his way into the kitchen and set his gear down. He threw his pillow onto the sofa and pushed the stations mascot Boot out of his way. “Sorry boy…I gotta steal your bed,” he mumbled as he flopped down on the cool leather and pulled the blanket over him. He drifted off to sleep.

 

The rest of the crew finally settled back in their bunks, all of them feeling really guilty that because of them, John had to go sleep on a hard couch but there just wasn’t any other way if they were all gonna get some sleep until this wore off.

 

They heard the sudden sound of scrabbling claws on the tile floor and sat up as Boot ran in to join them in the dorm. He jumped on John’s now empty bed and curled up, giving them all a slightly watery, reproachful look.

 

The crew chuckled and settled down once again.

 

 

Johnny was still sleeping soundly when the rest of the crew came into the day room the next morning. They all stopped short and shook their heads, their noses crinkling. “I’ll fix it,” Marco said with a sigh. He felt a bit guilty since he was the one who’d asked his mama to bring the food, including the beans.

 

Chet headed for the stove to start the coffee brewing, while Marco went to the door. He unlocked it and propped it open, allowing the morning breeze to sweep through the room.

 

Roy moved over to the sofa where his partner lay with his left arm thrown over his face. Roy noted that it was in a slightly different position…His elbow covered his nose as well. Roy chuckled and reached out to shake his partners shoulder.

 

“Johnny? Hey…Wake up Junior,” he called.

 

John’s arm lifted from over his face and the dark eyes blinked open and glanced up at his partner blearily. “Mornin Roy,” he mumbled sleepily.

 

“You okay? You look kinda tired still.”

 

“How could he be okay?” Chet asked with a smirk. “He probably gassed himself in here.”

 

“Oh shut up Chet,” Johnny growled, sitting up and swinging his long legs off the sofa and sliding them into his boots. He looked up at Roy. “I didn’t sleep real well,” he admitted throwing a sour look at the leather couch.

 

“Hey, we’re sorry about that Pal,” Cap said from the table with a contrite look.

 

“It’s okay Cap, I understand,” John replied. “And at least I seem to have gotten it out of my system,” he added.

 

“We noticed,” Chet shot at him.

 

John’s face flushed a bit in embarrassment. “Why don’t you just make the coffee and keep your mouth shut,” he growled.

 

Roy patted his shoulder reassuringly. “Settle down Johnny…At least it’s over with. Why don’t you get up and have some coffee,” he suggested, taking John’s arm and pulling him to his feet.

 

Johnny cautiously leaned over and tugged his turnouts up to his waist, giving Roy a sigh of relief that nothing had snuck out. Roy grinned and followed him to the table.

 

Mike already had the cups on the table as they sat down. Marco was putting the milk and sugar out while they waited for the coffee to finish brewing.

 

“Hey John…You want us to make you some breakfast?” Marco asked...

 

John shot him a skeptical look. “I think I’ll pass,” he said snidely.

 

“You already did,” Chet quipped.

 

“Shut up Chet,” five voices hurled at the Irish Fireman. Chet sniggered, his mustache twitching with his snort of laughter.

 

Roy fought to keep the grin off his face. “Why don’t you come over to my house and I’ll let Joanne cook you breakfast,” he suggested.

 

“Thanks pally,” John replied, throwing a smirk at his nemesis. “I’ll come over after I drop off my uniforms,” he added.

 

“You really want to inflict this on Joanne?” Chet quipped snidely.

 

John shot him a withering glance. “It’s not THAT bad,” he shot at the linesman.

 

Charlie Dwyer walked into the room interrupting the conversation. “Mornin guys,” he greeted with a grin. He hesitated and glanced around, his nose crinkling. “What’s that smell?”

 

John’s face turned scarlet while the rest of the crew began to laugh.

 

 

 

Johnny drove away from the station deep in thought. He tugged his lower lip with his teeth nervously. What was he going to do? If he couldn’t get his weight up, he could potentially lose his job with the fire department. John couldn’t imagine being anything but a fire fighter and paramedic.

 

He also had a new problem…His friends. He knew they were just trying to help, but man…After last night he wasn’t completely sure they weren’t trying to kill him. His stomach growled a bit as if to punctuate the thought. John grinned ruefully.

 

He didn’t want to seem ungrateful but he’d been miserable last night…Not only his stomach but a very uncomfortable night on the couch as well. He sighed heavily and decided he simply needed to grin and bear it for the next two weeks.

 

He turned down Roy’s street and a frown knotted his eyebrows over the bridge of his nose. Roy was another issue. He didn’t seem all that concerned about this whole mess, like the possibility of losing his partner and supposed best friend was no big deal.

 

Did he care if John lost his job? Roy was the best paramedic in the business and John knew he could work with anyone and make them shine. Maybe it didn’t matter to him who his partner was.

 

John turned into the driveway and sat there for a long moment. Should he ask him? Did he want to know the answer? He blew out a breath of frustration. He guessed he’d ask if the opportunity came up. He climbed out and walked slowly up the driveway.

 

 

Roy arrived home after his shift just in time to give Chris a quick kiss on the forehead as Mrs. Cooper pulled up in front and honked the horn. “Have a good day at school,” he said, tousling the blonde head as his son slipped past him and out the door.

 

“Okay daddy,” he replied as he ran down the walk.

 

He went inside where Joanne was waiting with Jennifer in her arms. “Good morning honey,” she greeted, giving him a soft kiss.

 

“Morning babe, morning peanut,” he said, chucking his daughter under the chin and kissing her cheek. Jennifer giggled happily as he took her from her mom.

 

“Did you have a good shift yesterday?” She asked as they turned and headed for the kitchen where Roy’s breakfast was warming in the oven.


“Not really,” he replied with a frown.

 

She turned to look up at him worriedly. “What happened?”  She questioned curiously, hoping nothing to bad had occurred.

 

“Some government bureaucrat in Sacramento decided that Fire Fighters and Paramedics should have minimum weights and any of them that can’t meet it have to be let go,” he growled angrily.

 

Joanne’s face went from disbelief that someone could be so foolish as to take the measure of a man by his weight to worry in about 3 seconds. “And can Johnny meet that requirement?” She asked suspiciously.

 

Roy shook his head. “No…He’s about fifteen pounds under that.”


“Oh no, what are you going to do?”

 

“I don’t know yet…I mean I’m gonna fight it every way I can of course…I’m not gonna lose Johnny without a taking every measure possible,” he assured her.

 

“But you don’t have any idea how?”

 

Roy shook his head and then grinned at the memory. “The guys do though. They’ve been stuffing him full of food since yesterday morning,” he told her.

 

“Why?”

 

“They’re hoping he’ll put on fifteen pounds in two weeks,” he said with a shake of his blonde head.

 

“Johnny?” She squeaked with a look of disbelief. “With his hyper metabolism…He’d need two months not two weeks.”

 

“I know, but at least it’s something…Any attempt is better than nothing, though I think they were regretting their methods last night…I know I was,” he told her with a chuckle.

 

“What’s so funny?” She asked.

 

“Marco’s mom decided to help with the idea so she brought in every kind of Mexican food you can think of,” he informed her.

 

She frowned. “That was sweet of her, it was a nice idea…I may try it myself. I know all of Johnny’s favorites.”

 

Roy nodded, still grinning at his wife. “Yes it was and I’m sure John will appreciate your cooking,” he added.

 

“So why are you laughing?” She asked in confusion.

 

“Beans,” he said simply.

 

Jo frowned. “Beans…?”

 

Roy nodded. “In almost everything she brought. They were practically shoving them down his throat.”

 

She stared at him for a long moment before it suddenly dawned on her what he meant. “Oh no,” she giggled.

 

“ALL  NIGHT,” he emphasized. “Poor kid…I was afraid he’d explode before he got rid of it all.” Jo was laughing outright by now. “Worse…We were pretty sure he was going kill us all before the night was over,” Jo’s laughter grew and her face grew red with it.

 

“Poor baby,” she managed to get out.

 

“He was so embarrassed, but he couldn’t help it,” Roy snickered.

 

“What happened?”

 

“They finally made him go sleep on the couch in the kitchen,” he told her.

 

“Oh poor baby…That’s not fair…It wasn’t his fault.”

 

“Yeah…But unfortunately, the couch only sleeps one, so he was the only choice if we were gonna get any sleep at all.”

 

“I suppose,” she conceded.

 

“Oh…He’s coming for breakfast by the way,” he warned her.

 

“Good…I’ll make him a good meal.”

 

“Let’s just hope this is all out of his system,” Roy laughed.

 

She nodded and her eyes were drawn to the front window and the sight of John’s white rover parked at the curb. “Speaking of…He’s here,” she said, nodding toward the window.

 

Roy glanced over his shoulder and then back to his wife. “Don’t say anything honey, he’d be mortified if he thought you knew.”

 

Joanne grinned impishly at her husband as the doorbell rang. “I’ll try,” she said with a giggle.

 

Roy’s eyes narrowed at the devilish gleam…He knew that look. He started to say something but the doorbell rang again. “COMING,” he called, shooting his wife a warning glare as he went and answered the door. 

 

He pulled the door open and smiled at his young partner. “Hi Roy,” John greeted.

 

“Hey junior,” he replied. “Come on in…I was just telling Joanne that you were coming,” he informed his friend as John brushed past him.

 

“Mornin Jo,” he greeted Roy’s pretty, auburn haired wife.

 

“Good morning sweetheart,” she replied, standing on tip toe to kiss his cheek.

 

He sniffed the air. “Something smells good,” he said grinning.

 

Jo began to giggle as she thought of her and Roy’s conversation just few minutes ago. John frowned at her reaction but she quickly turned away at Roy’s narrowed blue gaze. “That’s Roy’s breakfast but I’ll go make yours right now,” she said.

 

“Yeah…What are you makin?” He asked, hoping for something better than the cold cereal he usually had at home.

 

Jo knew she shouldn’t say it…She knew Roy would be mad…she knew It would embarrass the young man she thought of as a younger brother but she couldn’t help herself. “Don’t worry Johnny…Whatever I make, it won’t have beans in it,” she said with a mischievous snicker.

 

John’s eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. He shot a look at his traitorous partner, who had the good graces to at least hang his head at his wife’s words. “You told her?” He accused as his face turned scarlet.

 

“I…I um…,” his friend stuttered.

 

Joanne grinned at the pair and reached up to scruff the sable hair. “I’m sorry baby; Roy…I just couldn’t resist.”

 

“Thanks a lot pally,” John mumbled in embarrassment.

 

“Oh for Heaven’s sake sweetheart, everbody does it and besides...we’re family right?”

 

John shot her a glance and shrugged a bit before he nodded. “Yeah…I guess.”

 

“Then it’s my job to tease my little brother,” she added with a raised brow.

 

John threw her a crooked, half smile. “I guess,” he said again. “At least until they kick me out of the department,” he muttered.

 

Roy came to his side. “That’s not gonna happen,” he protested.

 

John threw him a sideways glance. “Maybe you’d get a better partner,” he said quietly.

 

Jo had started to turn away but the comment stopped her in her tracks and she turned back to give Roy a look of disbelief. “Why would you think that?” She asked as her hands landed on her hips.

 

“I’d like to hear that too,” Roy added with a lift of his blonde eyebrow.

 

“Well…You just…you just don’t seem to be too upset over all of this so I thought…”

 

“Not upset?” The older man interrupted in surprise. “Is that what you think?”

 

Johnny nodded uncertainly and Roy threw his arm over his friend’s shoulders. “I am very upset junior…I’m just trying to figure out what to do about it is all,” he assured him.

 

“Oh,” the younger man murmured, looking relieved.

 

“Trust me John…I plan to fight this all the way to the top…Even if I have to go to the Governor’s office,” he promised.

 

“You’d do that for me?” John asked hesitantly.

 

Roy smiled at his insecure young friend. “I don’t want or need another partner…I’m partial to the one I have,” he reassured his insecure young friend.

 

“Thanks Roy,” he said, feeling reassured.

 

“Now that we have that settled…Lets eat. I’m starved,” Roy invited, tugging his partner toward the table.

 

“I’m not that hungry,” John admitted. “All of that food from yesterday still feels like it’s sitting in my stomach,” he complained.

 

“Well…Not all of it,” Roy teased.

 

John shot a glare at his partner as he sat down. Jo giggled as she brought Roy’s breakfast in and set it in front of him. “I’ll be right back with yours,” she assured Johnny. The younger man nodded.

 

A while later Joanne returned. She set the plate in front of John and the young man’s face paled. Pancakes, toast, bacon and eggs vied for space on John’s plate. His stomach seemed to be awakened by the smell of the food wafting up and it rumbled warningly.

 

Roy heard it as well. “Uh oh,” he mumbled. “I think all those beans have decided to vacate,” he added as John’s face turned scarlet.

 

“I’ll be back,” he said as bolted from the chair and ran for the bathroom.

 

Jo and Roy exchanged a glance before they both burst out laughing.

 

 

 

 

Johnny stayed after breakfast to help Roy with a couple of items on Joanne’s ‘honey do’ list and between the two of them had taken care of it by ten thirty. They invited their young friend for lunch. “Why don’t you stay sweetheart…I’ll make you a sandwich or something,” Jo offered.

 

Johnny shook his head. “No thanks…,” he mumbled, looking embarrassed. After that breakfast…I don’t think I could eat again until tomorrow.”

 

Jo grinned at him. “I’m sorry baby…I was only trying to help.”

 

“I know…And thanks,” he added, kissing her cheek. “Think I’ll go home. I have some chores of my own to do.”

 

“Okay sweetheart.”

 

“See you Roy,” John added with a wave at his friend.

 

“See ya junior and I’ll keep trying to come up with another way to help you out.”

 

“Thanks…Maybe if he’d seen us in action he’d feel different,” he mumbled, looking depressed.

 

“Maybe we should have taken him on the ride along,” Roy said.

 

“Yeah.” John turned and left.

 

He’d only been gone a moment when Roy’s face lit up. “That’s it,” he said, looking at Joanne.

 

“What’s it…?” She asked in confusion.

 

“The ride along?”

 

“You’re not thinking of asking this councilman or whatever to go on one?”

 

Roy shook his head. “No…He’s probably the type that wouldn’t be impressed with a fireman but Hahn was,” he said excitedly.

 

Joanne smiled. “You’re going to call him?”

 

Roy nodded and grabbed the phone.

 

 

 

 John returned home by eleven. He got started on a couple of his own projects but a knock on the door stopped him. John glanced at the clock, it was noontime. He went to the door and pulled it open. He was surprised to find Emily Stanley on his doorstep…He was even more surprised to see her hands full of bags containing covered dishes. John’s face paled a bit…He could smell the food wafting from the containers and he knew what was coming.

“Uh…Um…Hi Mrs. Stanley,” he greeted, pasting a smile on his face…, after all, it wouldn’t be a good idea to upset his Captains wife. “What brings you here?” He questioned, hoping he was mistaken.

 

“Hello John…Hank told me what happened yesterday,” she said, trying not to giggle.

 

John closed his eyes in mortification as his face turned red. At that moment, he was hoping the ground would open up and he and his apartment could just slid into it and disappear. “Oh,” he mumbled, not quite meeting the woman’s eyes and the laughter he knew would be there.

 

“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about dear…It wasn’t your fault,” she added as she brushed past him and entered the apartment.

 

“Uh…C’mon in,” Johnny mumbled resignedly.

 

“Thank you John….I told him that was all wrong.”

 

“You did?” He asked warily.

 

“Of course John…Mexican food may taste good but it’s not exactly easy on your stomach as you found out last night,” she added, setting the bags on the counter. She began pulling the containers out."I’m from the south John and I promise you…I know how to pack the weight on,” she explained.

 

John’s dark eyes widened in shock and he swallowed heavily as she began opening the bowls.

 

 

 

“Potatoes…Covered in cheese sauce, Pork Chops smothered in gravy, Hush Puppies, biscuits and Collard Greens...Black Eyed Peas and a jug of Sweet Tea,” she said proudly.

 

“Oh…Um…You didn’t have to do that ma’am,” he said quickly. “I’m sure Cap would love all of this and…”

 

“Oh don’t you worry about that dear…I left Hank and the girls plenty,” she assured him. “Now where do you keep your plates? It’s lunch time,” she announced happily. 

 

John smiled wanly and pointed to a cabinet above the counter. Emily nodded and pulled down two and began dishing up the food. “Um…Are you staying?” He questioned worriedly, hoping she’d say no and he could just put the food in the refrigerator for later.


“Of course John…I thought it would be nice to have lunch with you and see if you like this better than all that gassy food they gave you yesterday.”

 

“Oh…Um…Kay,” he murmured, looking a bit queasy.

 

She smiled and set the food on the table. John gave her a small half smile that came out more like a grimace as he sank into his seat. She picked up her fork and began to eat. John picked up his own and followed suit.

 

By the time she finished, John was a pale shade of green and was trying to swallow the last couple of bites without throwing up. He belched and his face turned from green to scarlet. “Scuse me ma’am,” he mumbled.

 

Emily laughed. “All that means is you have a good appetite,” she teased the young man.

 

“Yes ma’am,” he mumbled. “At least I thought I did,” he added under his breath as he began to clear the table.

 

“What was that dear?” She asked.

 

“Uh…Nothin ma’am…I was just complimentin the food,” he said quickly, as he set the plates in the sink.

 

 “Well thank you John…My family loves to cook and thankfully Hank loves to eat and he’s built like you…Slender.”

“Yes ma’am,” he agreed as he washed their plates and set them in the drainer.

“Hmmm….I didn’t think to bring dessert,” she said regretfully.

“Oh…That’s okay ma’am,” John said hastily, terrified that she might think to go get some.

“Well…There’s always next time,” she replied brightly.

“Next time?” John gulped worriedly.

“Well certainly…I’m not about to let some snobby bureaucrat ruin the best paramedic team in LA now am I?”

“No ma’am,” he agreed reluctantly.

“Besides Hank thinks of you boys as family and he’s very upset over all of this,” she confided.

Well that was nice to know anyway, John mused as he forced himself to smile. “So I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone…I make him happy and help fatten you up,” she teased, patting his belly.

John back peddled and a blush stained his cheeks. He didn’t like being touched so familiarly by anyone with the exception of Roy and his family and whatever girl he was currently dating, but even more was that he was afraid he’d lose his lunch if she pushed his stomach too hard, not to mention she was his captain’s wife.

Emily giggled at his reaction. “Relax John…I’m not going to eat you,” she teased, thinking Johnny was merely shy. She turned away to begin gathering her things. She, like Hank, had no idea that John had a mild case of Asperger’s or that he had been a battered child.

The young paramedic nodded but stayed out of reach just to be on the safe side. Captain Stanley had only been their Captain for a couple of months and he barely knew him or his wife. “Yes ma’am,” he agreed politely.

She turned to face him. “I guess I’d better be going…I hope you enjoyed your lunch dear,” she said standing on tip toe to kiss his cheek.

John’s face flamed in embarrassment once again, endearing  him instantly to the older woman. “Yes ma’am…And thank you again for lunch,” he murmured, ducking his head away.

Emily sighed…The young man was adorable and she wondered if the story’s Hank told her of John’s antic’s with young women were true…He seemed so shy, but then again…He did hardly know her after all.

He went and opened the door for her, smiling politely as she left. He closed the door and breathed out a sigh of relief. His over full stomach was aching and all that greasy food was making itself known. He was barely over all that gas from last night and now indigestion was climbing its way up his esophagus.

He flipped open his cabinet over the stove and grabbed the pink bottle of Pepto Bismal. He carried it over to the couch and flopped down on it. John unscrewed the cap and took a swig. His face crinkled in dismay and he struggled to keep it down, hoping it would help ease his stomach.

He closed his eyes and laid back, letting his eyes drift shut. He still had things to do but he felt too miserable at the moment to do them. He’d just rest for a minute or two and let his stomach settle. He dozed off a short time later.

 

About the same time that John was falling asleep, Roy slammed the kitchen phone down in frustration. Joanne turned and looked at him in dismay. “Still no luck?” She asked worriedly.

“No…I keep getting the run around. Apparently it takes more than a simple paramedic to actually get to speak to the Mayor,” he growled angrily. He snatched up his keys from the counter.

“Where are you going?” Jo asked curiously.

“If I can’t talk to him on the phone, then I’ll wait outside his office door.”

“What if he doesn’t want to talk to you…?”

“That’s tough,” he snapped.

Joanne raised a brow at his obvious irritation. “Sorry babe,” he said contritely. “But I’m not gonna lose Johnny without a fight,” he added.

She smiled at her husband. Joanne knew how much the young paramedic meant to her husband and it always touched her heart. Roy had been so cool and stand offish with most people until he’d met John. The young man had worked his way into the older man’s life and heart very quickly and she knew Roy wouldn’t be the same without his friend at his side, often comparing the younger man to being his kid brother.

“Okay honey…Good luck,” she said simply.

Roy headed out the door and a few minutes later, Joanne heard his Porsche speed off down the road.

Mayor James Hahn had had a busy few days and this morning had been no different. He’d been in meetings all morning and had barely had time to squeeze in a twenty minute lunch.

He returned to his office just after one and plopped himself into his seat. His secretary had apparently used his absence to leave him his messages, a couple of briefs from Governor Reagan in Sacramento and his phone messages.

He set the mail and messages aside and slit the two large Manila envelopes open. He pulled out the first and began to read it. He set it aside a moment later. It wasn’t all that important, since it really wouldn’t affect LA as much as a few other counties. He’d go back and look it over more thoroughly later.

He pulled the packet of papers from the other and his eyes immediately caught the words Fire Department… He began to read and his heart sank. He finally set the papers and on his desk and pursed his lips thoughtfully.

Congressman Reece was really making waves and Hahn was angry. The man had no idea what it took to be a fire fighter…It was so much more than size. Well…Jim wasn’t about to let him get away with this without a fight. There were some exceptional men in the department that could lose their job over this.

He picked up his messages and absently began to flip through them while he pondered what to do. He ran across one name that leaped out at him. Roy De Soto. He could already guess what he was calling about …It had to be about this bill and John Gage. He looked at the next sheet and the next and began to chuckle.

He had to be correct about why the man was calling since he’d left seven messages. He knew how close the pair was and he knew Roy was prepared to fight.

Jim was about to pick up the phone and call De Soto back when a knock on his door stopped him. “Come in,” he called.

His secretary Nicole opened the door and stepped inside. She seemed annoyed. “Sir…There’s a man in the waiting room and he’s very adamant  about speaking to you. I told him you’re a busy man and he’ll have to make an appointment,” she said huffily. “He’s called several times now and he’s insisting I tell you he’s here,” she added, expecting the Mayor to tell her to call security and run the man off.

Hahn smiled at her. “His name wouldn’t happen to be Roy De Soto would it?”

She blinked in surprise for a moment and then saw the messages in his hand. She assumed he’d read them and guessed correctly. “Yes sir…Would you like me to get the security team up here?” She asked expectantly.

“No Nicole…Please send Roy in,” he said, grinning at her shocked expression. “He’s a friend,” he added.

 “Oh…I’m so sorry sir,” she said apologetically.

“No problem.”

She opened the door with a whole new attitude. “Mr. De Soto…Mayor Hahn will see you now,” she said politely.

“Thank you,” he said trying to remain calm. She’d given him quite a fight about seeing the Mayor without an appointment but Roy had stood his ground. He didn’t have time to wait…John was down to twelve days to keep his   job and Roy knew that stuffing him full of food wasn’t going to work…He’d been feeding that monster metabolism for more than a year and the kid hadn’t gained a pound.

Jim stood up and extended his hand as Roy brushed past the woman. “Hi Roy…Come on in and have a seat.”

“Thank you Mayor Hahn,” he said politely. “But this isn’t a social visit.”

“It’s Jim and I kinda guessed that,” he added, holding up the packet he’d just received.

“You already know?” Roy asked, sinking into the chair in front of the desk.

Hahn nodded and gave his secretary a head jerk toward the door. She understood the unspoken request and stepped back into her office, closing the door behind her.

“Yes…I just opened it,” he added as he sat back down. “He looked at Roy intently. “Will this affect John?” He asked.

Roy nodded unhappily. “Yes sir…Jim…I don’t wanna lose my partner,” he said plaintively.

“I know and I don’t blame you.”

“He’s my best friend…A kid brother ya know?” He added.

Jim nodded. “I wasn’t too happy about this myself,” Hahn admitted.

“What do I have to do to stop it? I mean the guys are trying to help but I don’t think it’ll work.”

“What are they doing?” Jim asked curiously.

“They’re feeding him,” Roy replied.

The older man stared at him in confusion for a moment. “I’m sorry…? Don’t you guys usually eat?” He questioned finally.

“Feeding him…Everything they can get their hands on Jim…Poor Johnny is gonna explode, but I doubt he’ll gain fifteen pounds in twelve days,” he explained drily.

The gray haired man began to laugh as he finally understood what his friends were doing.

“I’m sorry Roy. I know this situation isn’t funny,” he said after a moment.

Roy grinned ruefully. “Well…It has had its moments,” he admitted, remembering the last twenty four hours.

Hahn leaned back in his chair and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Well…I’d already decided I was going to go to Sacramento and fight this Roy,” he said, smiling at the relieved look on the young man’s face.

“Thank you,” he replied.

“I…More than any of those bureaucrats know what you guys go through out there.” Roy nodded. “But if you have some time…I’d like to talk to you about John…”

“Alright,” he replied, looking a bit confused at what Hahn wanted from him.

“Look…I know there are others involved…But I know him best and I’ve seen what he can do,” he said, reaching for a pad of paper. “So…Let’s talk about some of your rescues.”

Roy nodded.

It was well over two hours later when the young blonde fire fighter left the mayor’s office. He looked much happier than when he’d entered it.

Johnny tossed and turned on his sofa for most of the afternoon…His uncomfortably full stomach making it nearly impossible to really sleep. He wasn’t sure what time it was when his dark eyes finally blinked open, but he knew it must have been much later since the sun was already beginning to set.

 

“Ah man,” he muttered to himself. He’d fallen asleep and slept through his whole afternoon off. He’d had a lot of things he’d really needed to do today and now it was too late for some of them. He shook his head in disgust and pushed himself off his sofa.

 

He returned to his kitchen and looked at the mess from earlier that morning. The dishes were still in the sink, soaking in the now cold soapy water. John sighed and pulled the plug to let the water out even as he turned the spigot on to allow the fresh water to heat up.

 

Once the sink was once again filled with hot soapy water, John made short work of the two plates and glasses, along with the silverware from lunch. He wiped the counters and the table. He could still get his laundry finished and vacuum his rug, He might still have time to get his grocery shopping done, but it would be too late to pick up his dry cleaning now…He’d have to finish that tomorrow.

 

He picked up his laundry basket and headed for the small closet in the hall that housed his washer and dryer.

 

He was about to get started when someone knocked on his door. Johnny sighed. It was probably Laverne or one of the other girls that popped in to visit occasionally. He went to the door and pulled it open…His heart sank at the sight of Chet Kelly and a short, older, gray haired woman standing on his doorstep with their arms loaded with bags. “Hey Gage…We brought you some dinner,” Chet said happily as he brushed past the younger man and disappeared into his kitchen. The woman trailed behind, giving Johnny and jovial smile as she passed.

 

“Uh Chet…Um…What’re you doin and who is she?” He asked, giving the woman a forced, half smile.

 

“Oh sorry…This is my mom, Muriel. Ma…This is John.”

 

“Tis a pleasure ta meet ya Sean,” she said with a decided Irish lilt.

 

“Uh…It’s John and the pleasures mine ma’am,” he replied politely, giving Kelly a ‘what the heck look’ from beneath his eyebrows that were now knotted over his head in confusion.

 

“Well…I told ma here about what happened yesterday…,”

 

“Just exactly how much did you tell her?” John asked as his eyes narrowed dangerously.

 

“Well…I…I had to explain,” he stammered.

 

John’s face flushed crimson. “Why don’t you guys just take out front page add,” he grumbled in embarrassment.

 

“Ah doncha fret about a wee bottom burp deary,” she said, patting the young man’s cheek. “I’ve raised five bucks and two colleens of me own,” she added without batting an eye at the embarrassing subject.

 

 If it was possible, his face turned an even deeper shade of red. Chet was grinning from ear to ear. John shot him a look that practically singed the Irishman’s mustache.


“I uh…I’m real sorry ma’am…,” Johnny began but she cut him off.

 

“I told me Garsún that what you needed wasn’t that poufy Mexican food.”

 

John frowned in confusion. “She said she told me you shouldn’t eat that gassy Mexican food,” Chet explained with a smirk.

 

John’s face colored in total humiliation but Muriel just laughed. “Doan be morto Sean…Me own old man’s been known to float an air biscuit or two,” she teased, as she turned away and began to unload the bags.

 

Chet was struggling desperately not to laugh outright, well used to his mother’s old country turns of phrase.

 

John rolled his eyes at his crew mate in irritation, but he couldn’t very well sock the man in front of his mother. John noticed the grocery’s and frowned. “Uh…What are you doing?” He asked uneasily.

 

“Oh…Well, I told her why we were feeding you and…”

“That’s right,” Muriel interrupted. “None of those poufer beans will pack the pounds on ya like a good Irish feast. Mores the like to give you the scutters, so I brought you a little dinner Sean,” she told him with a nod of her graying head.

 

John smiled wanly. He still wasn’t over the last meal he’d had. “Well um… Mrs. Kelly…I…I appreciate it and all but…,” he began.

 

Her blue eyes narrowed dangerously. “Sure… an ya wasn’t about to be refusing me offer now was ya?” She asked sharply as her arms folded over her bosom.

 

Chet was behind her, shaking his head frantically, his eyes wide with horror, he knew his mothers temper.

 

“Uh…Um…No ma’am…I…I was just gonna say… I…I wasn’t really hungry right now…I had a big lunch and…,” Johnny stuttered.

 

Her eyes wandered over the slender form. “An how bigga lunch could such a scrawny thing as yerself have eaten,” she scoffed, turning back to her preparations. “Now the two of ya be up the yard and sit on your arse while I warm all of this up,” she insisted.

 

John’s eyes widened in confused shock…He was reasonably sure what ‘arse’ meant but the rest was lost on him. Had this demure little woman really said that?

 

Chet grabbed his wary crew mate and turned him toward the living area. “C’mon Gage…Let’s go see what’s on TV,” he suggested, hurrying him from the kitchen.

 

John let himself be pushed into the living room and Kelly turned the Television on. John stared at Chet with a whole new attitude. If this woman raised the Irish Fire Fighter, it was no small wonder he was a bit off. “Don’t ask Gage…My dad was a Boston long shore man and he met her right off the boat from Ireland and fell in love. The rest is Kelly history,” he said with a shake of his curly dark hair.

 

“Man…I just had Mrs. Stanley here a few hours ago…”

 

“What for?”

 

“She brought me lunch. I’m still stuffed.”

 

“Ah c’mon Gage. I’ve seen you pack the food away…Don’t hurt my mom’s feelings huh? She really went all out,” he warned.

 

John sighed and closed his eyes in defeat. “Okay, okay…I’ll try and eat some of it,” he mumbled.

 

The pair watched the TV for a half hour, listening to the crash  and bang of John’s pots and pans as Muriel heated up the dinner she’d made earlier.

 

 

She finally called to them from the other room. “Tis ready...Shift  yer behinds to the table..”

Chet rolled his eyes at his mom’s words and John almost giggled…He’d never heard anyone talk this way before. The grin fell away as they entered the kitchen. It looked as if a bomb had gone off and the smell of cooked cabbage and ham permeated the air. John smiled wanly at the mess as well as the odor.

 

The two of them made their way to the table. Chet’s face split wide at the sight of the food his mom was placing in the center but John frowned uncertainly. He didn’t recognize these particular dishes. He knew at least one had cabbage in it.

 

Muriel saw the hesitation. “Now Sean…I know this may be a bit new to ya but trust me…It’ll put hair on yer chest and a belly like me own Chester Brannigan here,” she teased, patting her sons slighty paunchy belly.

John’s eyes widened in delight. “Chester Brannigan Kelly,” he breathed out in glee, finally finding out what the B stood for.

 

Chet’s face turned red both at his name and his mothers teasing pat.

“That’s tha righ of it Sean…Named after me dear departed pa Chester Padraic Brannigan…Now sit yer arses in the seat and let’s eat,” she suggested.

 

They slid into the chairs but John’s eyes were dancing with mischief and Chet could feel them watching him but he refused to look up to see the smug smirk on John’s face.

Muriel began dishing out the food. “Now Sean…This is Colcannon,” she began to explain.

John sniffed the mixture suspiciously. Yup…This was where the cabbage was located. “It’s a mixture of potatoes, cabbage and ham with a wee bit a cheese,” she explained.

 

Johnny nodded and pointed to the rest. “Well…What’s all that?” He questioned.

“Glad ya asked,” she replied, breaking off a chunk of some kind of bread.

“Irish soda bread,” she informed him… “And this is corned beef and these are potato pancakes,” she added setting the items on his plate. John sighed, not sure he’d be able to eat all of this. He took a small amount of the…Colcannon…At least that’s what he thought she’d called it.  It wasn’t too bad…He thought he could get used to it.

 

“Is it ta yer likin Sean?” She questioned with a raised brow.

Chet shot him a pleading glance, hoping he wouldn’t upset his mother. John grinned. “It’s really pretty good,” he admitted. Chet blew out a relieved breath. “You definitely cook better than your son ,” he added, earning him a glare from the curly haired fireman.

 

“Sure…He cooks all that frippery, fried American food,” she replied.

John smiled and took a bite of the potato pancake. It was pretty good too. Muriel smiled proudly before she took a chunk of what appeared to be some kind of sausage.

 

John eyed it warily but finally cut through the rather tough meat and put it in his mouth. Definitely some kind of pork . It was very salty and tough to chew and the flavor wasn’t very appealing. “Wha ish this?” He questioned around a mouthful of food, trying not to let his dismay show.

 

“Pigs feet,” she said simply, without looking up from her own plate.

John stopped chewing and his face paled a bit. “Wha…at?” He choked out around the mouthful.

“The feet Sean…Good meat about the foot,” she explained with a smile.

Johnny sat with his cheeks puffed out, trying to figure out how to politely spit it out. His dark eyes locked with Chet’s and the Irishman wasn’t sure which was more dominant, the look that promised retribution or total misery. John took a deep breath through his nose and forced himself to swallow. It went down hard and he grabbed his glass and took a gulp. He smiled wanly at Chet’s mom.

 

“Would you be likin some more o that?” She offered.

"Uh...Actually I thought I'd try some more of this," he said picking up the potato pancake.

She grinned. “So you be likin me pratai’s?” She asked.

John looked confused. “Your what?” He asked uncertainly, almost afraid of the answer.

“Potato’s dummy,” Chet translated.

Muriel barely looked up as she reached out to grab Chet by the ear. “You be mindin your manner’s you silly Garsún,” she snapped.

 

“Aaaah ma,” he whined unhappily, his face scrunched up in pain.

 

Her action almost made this all worth it as John shot him a smug look.

 

She let go and returned to eating. Chet rubbed his rapidly pinkening ear and shot a glare at John. “Yeah Chester Brannigan…Mind yer manners,” he repeated, using the Irish lilt along with a Gage giggle.

 

Muriel shot John a pleased look and Chet shook his head in disgust. That darn Gage charm just couldn’t be shut  off.

 

John finished the pancakes and chewed on a piece of soda bread while Muriel and Chet finished eating.

 

She finally brushed off her hands and stood up. John gave her a questioning glance. “I’ll just be getting the dessert,” she said with a smile.

 

“Oh…,” Johnny murmured. “That’s just what we need,” he said drily, hiding his displeasure behind a forced smile.

 

She returned from his kitchen a moment later with what looked to be a loaf of some kind of very thick chocolate pudding. Well that might not be too bad, he mused silently. He watched as she sliced it into sections and placed it on three plates. She set it before him with a pleased smile. “This is an old Irish dessert Sean,” she told him as she picked up her own spoon and began to eat. Chet followed suit.

John leaned over and sniffed it cautiously. It had an odd smell and it definitely wasn’t chocolate. He picked up his spoon and scooped some into his mouth. John’s nose curled in distaste but he did at least manage to swallow it. Chet snickered at the expression but didn’t say anything for fear of getting his ear twisted once again.

“Do ya be likin that Sean?” Muriel questioned, glancing up at the handsome young man.

John forced himself to take another spoonful and tried to smile. Muriel  might have been fooled but Chet knew John too well. Chet knew that John had a  mild case of Asperger’s and that he sometimes said or did things without realizing that it was offensive so he was grateful that John was being so careful not to upset his mom.

 

“Iz gray,” he mumbled around the mouthful, trying hard to swallow it. He finally succeeded. “What is it?” He questioned.

 

“Drisheen,” she replied.

 

“Drisheen…?” He asked, his dark brow rising with curiosity at the unfamiliar word as he scooped another spoonful, toying with it unhappily.

 

Chet frowned and fearing John’s reaction, he quickly tried to get his mothers attention before she answered…It was too late. “Yes Sean…Drisheen…Irish blood pudding.”

 

 “Bbb…blood pudding,” he choked out, dropping the spoon as if it had turned into a snake. “Not with rrrreal bblood,” he stuttered hopefully.

 

“Why certainly Sean…Beef blood…Tis a treat in the Old Country,” she replied happily.

 

That was the last straw for Johnny… Chet would later swear that John’s face turned about three different shades of green. He clapped a hand over his mouth and bolted from the chair, racing for his bathroom and at least had the foresight to slam the door shut before he began to wretch miserably.

Muriel threw a glance at her worried looking son. “Musta been all that poufy Mexican food,” she said sagely.

 

Chet grimaced but managed a nod of agreement.

 

When John finally finished emptying his stomach and sat down on the cold tile of his bathroom floor. He snatched a wash cloth from the bar behind him and wiped his mouth. He winced at the idea of having to go out and face Chet and his mom, uncertain about what he would tell them.

 

Johnny pulled himself to his feet and rinsed his mouth and then splashed some of the cool liquid on his face. He looked up his reflection and sighed as the water dripped from his chin. He couldn’t stay in here forever, he mused silently. He’d just have to be honest and tell her that he just wasn’t accustomed to eating anything made of blood. He dried his face and tossed the towel aside. There was one good thing though…At least his stomach was no longer uncomfortably full.

 

John returned to the dining room. His face was pale but there was an embarrassed blush staining his high cheekbones. He gave Muriel and Chet a sheepish glance. “I’m so sorry…,” he began but the older woman waved him off.

 

“Doncha be frettin Sean…I told me Buck here that all that spicy Mexican food musta dun ya in,” she said with a sad shake of her head.

 

John shot a glance at Chet and he nodded vigorously, wanting Johnny to agree with her. John always preferred honesty but he was afraid of her reaction if he told her the truth. He decided he valued his skin and chose to take the coward’s way out. He smiled wanly and gave her a simple bob of his head. “I think I should lie down for a bit,” he added, hoping Chet would take his mother and leave.

 

“I’ll be thinkin tha’s a grand idea Sean…Ye need yer rest,” she said as she stood and began to clear the table. “I’ll just be puttin the leavings in yer ice box so you can have them when yer feelin better,” she offered.

 

“Uh…Thanks…I hope there’s room. Mrs. Stanley left some there earlier,” he explained.

 

“I’ll make room…doncha fret none aboot tha,” she replied. “I’ll just be leavin these pan’s to soak,” she called back.

 

“Thank you,” he replied.

 

Chet gave him a grateful look. “Thanks man…Hey I owe ya one,” he said with a grimace.

 

“ONE?” John questioned in disbelief. “You owe me a dozen,” he whispered heatedly.

 

“Alright…Let’s don’t get carried away…It wasn’t that bad,” he whined. “I ate it didn’t I?”

 

“Bad…I just threw my guts up Kelly,” he shot back. “And you grew up eatin that stuff and I didn’t,” Johnny countered.

 

Chet scuffed the carpet with his toe. “Alright so I owe ya a few…” he allowed.

 

“Next time she offers to cook…Could you make sure it’s cheese burgers or something?” He growled.

Chet grinned. “Promise,” he replied, raising his hand as if swearing an oath.

 

John shot him a reluctant half smile as Muriel returned from the kitchen. “Alright Sean…Everything is put away and when your feelin up to it ya ken just reheat it,” she told him. “I should stay and suds it all up,” she added worriedly.

 

“Oh no…I’ll take care of it later,” he assured her.

 

“Well…if yer sure?” Johnny nodded vigorously. She reached out and patted his cheek. “Then off to the sack wit ya,” she ordered.

 

“Yes ma’am,” he agreed.

 

“Come along me Bucko,” she said to Chet as she picked up her purse.

 

“Okay Ma,” he agreed, throwing Johnny a final wink, before he turned his mom and the pair headed for the door.

 

Johnny breathed a sigh of relief as he heard the door close. He headed for the kitchen and gasped in shock…It was a disaster…Plates, serving dishes and pans were stacked in the sink. He’d just barely finished cleaning up from Emily’s visit and now it was a mess again. He blew out a frustrated breath and began filling the sink with water. He’d have to finish the rest of his to do list tomorrow.

 

John‘s stomach was still feeling a bit queasy and he had no desire to try any of the leftovers in his refrigerator. He finally decided to call it a night and crawled into his bed. He hoped he’d be able to get all the chores he hadn’t done today finished before he had to go back on shift. He laid in his bed for a long time trying to think of a solution to this problem but nothing was coming to mind.

 

The guys were trying to help but he truly didn’t believe this was going to work out and he didn’t have any other options at the moment. Johnny had dreamed of being a fire fighter from the time he was five and he’d worked very hard and had had to overcome many obstacles to achieve that dream. Asperger’s and the loss of both parents, being abused by the relatives who’d been left to raise him, shuffled from one to the other and unwanted by any of them. His aunt Rosemary had rescued him at fourteen but by then, John was afraid and distrustful of everyone, but he’d fought his way back.

 

He’d finished school and gone straight into the academy at eighteen.   He’d made rescue by the age of nineteen and he was the youngest Paramedic in the department and one of the first two classes to graduate with that distinction. It’s all he’d ever wanted and now he could lose it all just because some know it all bureaucrat had decided that men under a hundred and seventy five pounds were somehow less capable or in worse physical shape than those who topped that weight. It just wasn’t fair, he mused silently.

 

He thought of the woman he’d lost a couple of days ago and sighed. That hadn’t been fair either but as Captain Stanley had reminded him…Life seldom was fair and he knew that better than anyone. There was really nothing he could do but try and gain the weight and pray that something or someone would intervene and save his job and his dream.

 

He closed his eyes and whispered softly into the darkened room… “God please…”


John woke the next morning prepared to get a fresh start on everything he’d left undone. He showered and dressed quickly before he started on cleaning the apartment. He tended to surprise most people who assumed a young man living alone would have a sloppy apartment but John had been trained well.

He’d grown up owning very little and had learned to take care of what he did have for fear of losing it or having it taken away. He’d been responsible for the horses in his care and for keeping his Aunt Lacee’s home clean when he’d lived with her and there had been painful consequences when he’d failed to please.

 

Even when his Aunt Rosemary had taken him in when he was fourteen, he’d kept his room neat and tidy, even making his own bed despite the fact that she had a housekeeper to do that. A fact he’d been reminded of repetitively. It had simply become a routine for the young man and one he’d never seen the need to break and so his apartment tended to be spotless and well cared for, without the usual clutter of bric a brac. John just felt it was easier to keep it neat without more ‘things’ to have to dust.

 

The exception to that was the Indian Blanket his mom had made for him when he was a child, that now covered the back of his sofa and a lone glass container holding a colorful sand creation that Roy’s children had given him last Christmas. There were several photographs on his wall that he’d taken with the Camera his Aunt Rose had given him for Christmas when he was sixteen.

 

Roy had told him he was very talented and John wondered if he could make a career out of photography if they couldn’t find a way to save his job with the fire department. He continued vacuuming as he tried to think of alternate careers.

 

His musings were cut short by the ringing of his doorbell. John sighed at the interruption and turned off the machine. He pushed it into the closet and then went to his door and opened it. Mike and Melissa Stoker stood outside, Stoker was holding Michael Jr. in his arms, along with a brown paper bag full of something. Melissa held another just like it. “Good morning John,” Mike greeted. John’s dark eyes cast a wary glance at the bags the couple carried.

 

“Uh…Mornin Mike…Melissa…Um…What are doing here?” He questioned a bit tactlessly, afraid he already knew.

 

“Well…Let us in and we’ll show you,” Mike replied as he brushed the young paramedic aside and let his wife precede him into the apartment.

 

“C’mon in,” he muttered drily as he closed the door and followed them to the kitchen. Yup…It was just as he feared. They were unloading groceries. “Uh…What’re ya doin?” He asked, sounding almost desperate.

 

John had been a solitary person for most of his life and he seldom invited others into his home, the exception was Roy and Joanne and the women with whom he spent the night, but other than that he’d had more people in his apartment in the last two days than he’d had in the last five years.

Mike told me what happened,” Melissa began with a giggle.

 

John sighed… It was obvious that Mike had told her EVERYTHING that had happened from the girlish laugh. His face flushed a bit in embarrassment but he shot Mike and annoyed look.

“Did you HAVE to tell her that part?” He asked in annoyance.

 

“Sorry…It kinda slipped out John,” he replied, looking a little ashamed that he’d embarrassed his friend.

 

“Yeah…It did with everyone else too…Might as well just make it a breaking news story,” he quipped snidely.

 

“Well…It doesn’t matter Johnny…Everyone does it once in a while,” Melissa teased.

 

“That makes me feel better,” John replied, shooting her a half smile. Melissa didn’t know him well enough to realize it was forced but Mike did. He cast his young crewmate an apologetic glance as Melissa continued.

 

“Anyway…We decided we wanted to help you out with the weight thing and all…So I came to cook you breakfast,” she said with a happy smile as Mike set Michael on the floor. He toddled off into the other room.

 

“You didn’t need to do that,” he began.

 

 “Oh I know, but I wanted too Johnny,” she replied as she began pulling open cabinet doors to find his pots and pans. John grimaced. It was well known at the Station that Melissa could hardly boil water which is why Mike did most of the cooking at home.

 

Mike threw him a rueful look and John sighed. He didn’t have the heart to hurt the young woman’s feelings and it couldn’t be worse than his dinner last night. “Well…Thanks,” he finally replied with a tight smile.

 

“No problem… Why don’t you and Mike sit down and relax while I get it ready.

 

John sighed in resignation of another meal he was afraid he was going to regret. The pair slid into the chairs at John’s small table while Melissa began to cook. “So John…How are you feeling?” Mike asked with a grin.

 

Johnny shot the man a scowl as he answered. “I’m fine…At the moment,” he said with an arch to his eyebrow.

 

Mike winced. “Sorry man…She just really wanted to help,” he whispered for John’s ears alone.

 

Cap’s wife was here yesterday at lunch time and Chet came at dinner with his mom…They brought so much food, my refrigerator is packed with the leftovers,” he growled.

 

“See…None of us want to lose you,” Mike said with a grin, but it faded as John continued.

 

“Lose me…? He questioned in disbelief. “I think Kelly was trying to kill me,” he shot back.

 

Their whispered conversation was interrupted as Melissa came over with three plates.

 

John gave her a half smile as she set the table. She grinned and hurried away, returning a moment later with a pan of something that vaguely resembled quiche except that it was still a bit watery.

 

She set a plate of what appeared to be toast but John wasn’t positive of that since it was almost completely black. The smell of charcoal wafted up to him. The younger man looked dubiously at Mike who grimaced at the food his wife had set before them.

 

Melissa smiled happily and returned to the kitchen for coffee. “I’m sorry man,” Mike said with a wince.

 

John smiled wanly and picked up a piece of toast. He tossed a glance over his shoulder to be sure Melissa wasn’t around before he picked up his knife and scraped the burned top off of the bread before he buttered it.

 

“You gonna have some?” He challenged his crew mate.

 

Mike swallowed a bit heavily himself but he scooped some of the half cooked egg mixture out of the casserole pan and on to his plate. John grinned and took a small amount himself.

 

Melissa returned with the coffee and poured three cups. John frowned at the pale color but shrugged it off. He’d probably drunk worse coffee in his lifetime. “I hope you like it,” she said with a self satisfied smile as she looked at their plates.

 

“I’m sure we will Lissa,” Mike replied, giving John a pleading look.

 

John stared at him for a moment, he hated to lie. Mike’s foot connected with his shin under the table. “OUCH,” John yelped before catching himself. “Uh…Um…Yeah…It looks great,” he mumbled, throwing Mike a glare before he reached down to rub his leg.

 

“Good… We haven’t eaten yet either…Just let me check on Mike Jr.,” she said as she turned to go see what the toddler was up too.

 

“How am I supposed to eat this?” John growled as she disappeared out the door.

 

“Same way I do…Find the parts that ARE cooked,” he whispered back, picking through the egg mixture on his plate.

 

“No wonder you’re so thin,” John said half under his breath.

 

“What’s your excuse?” Mike shot back.

 

John scowled and began to poke the egg mixture around spearing what appeared to be egg and some VERY WELL cooked bacon with his fork. He popped it in his mouth and his eyes almost bugged from his head before they began to water. He choked and spit the mouthful out into his napkin.

 

Mike slapped his back heartily until John could breathe again. “What is it?” He asked warily.

 

“Hot sauce,” John gasped, mopping at his eyes and runny nose.

 

Mike winced in sympathy. “Lissa grew up in Texas…She likes things spicy and hot,” he explained, cutting his explanation short as Melissa returned.

 

“How is it Johnny?” She asked happily, sliding into the other seat.

 

John shot Mike a look and gritted his teeth. “It’s great,” he said through clenched teeth, his voice sounding a bit nasally as he used his napkin to surreptitiously wipe his nose.  John had eaten some pretty bad food not to mention the ‘spicy and hot‘ foods around the fire station but this was beyond anything he’d ever experienced…There was no way he could eat this.

 

Mike took a bite and smiled at his wife as his eyes also began to water. “This is gra honey,” he managed around the bite of food. He swallowed it half chewed just to get it out of his mouth. He barely held back a choking cough as it blazed a trail down his esophagus.

 

John gave him an eye roll that screamed… ‘SEE WHAT I MEAN…’but refrained from saying anything that would hurt Melissa’s feelings. He was still mulling over how he was going to get out of eating it when fate intervened. There was a crash and a scream from the other room. All three adults jumped from their chairs and raced for the living room where Mike Jr. stood wailing in fear. The glass container holding the colored sand was smashed at his feet and the sand was strewn over the carpet.

 

“Oh Michael,” Melissa cried running to the child. “Are you alright?” She questioned, cuddling her son to her. John was at her side along with Mike and began to quickly check the boy for any sign of glass cuts but thankfully there were none.

 

“He seems to be okay,” he soothed the child’s parents. “Better than my sand sculpture,” he said ruefully. “And my floor,” he added with a sigh. He’d just finished vacuuming it just before they’d arrived.

 

Mike and Melissa both looked down at the mess. “I’m so sorry about this Johnny,” she said, worrying her lower lip between her teeth.

 

He shrugged in resignation….There really wasn’t anything to be done about it at this point. “It’s alright…I’m sure Chris will understand…He’s just a little guy,” he said chucking the sniffling toddler under the chin and winning a smile from the boy. “He didn’t mean any harm.”

 

“Thanks John…Let me get the vacuum and clean this up,” she offered.

 

“That’s okay Lissa…I’ll take care of it,” he demurred.

“Don’t be silly John…Your breakfast is getting cold and it was my son that made the mess.”

 

“Let her take care of it John,” Mike added with a raised brow.

 

John frowned but he pointed at the closet. “The vacuum is in there,” he said.

 

Mike grabbed his arm. “Thanks Honey…We’ll go eat,” he said as he pulled John from the room.

 

John shook his arm free as they entered the dining room. “What’re you doin?” He asked, looking at Mike as if he’d lost his mind.

 

Mike pointed at the plates… “Getting rid of this,” he muttered as he picked up the plates and carried them to the trash can to dump them.

 

John’s eyes lit up. “Thanks man,” he said as he picked up the casserole dish with the leftovers and covered it with foil before he opened his refrigerator. He halted in surprise as he realized there was no room left from all the previous leftovers. He sighed and opened his freezer and shoved it in, closing the door just as Melissa came into the kitchen carrying Michael Jr.

 

“Oh…You finished already?” She said, looking pleased.

 

“Ah…Um…Yeah…Just finished putting the leftovers away for tomorrow morning,” Johnny stammered, wincing. It was the truth but still…He hated tricking her this way but what else could he do?

 

“Well…I guess mine’s gotten cold by now,” she sighed.

 

“I can put a piece of foil over it for ya…You can warm it up when you get home,” he suggested helpfully.

 

“Well I guess that would be okay,” she agreed reluctantly.

 

“I’d a…I’d just reheat it here but I…I gotta go out and uh…uh…,” he hesitated, trying to think of a good excuse.

 

“He’s gotta pick up his dry cleaning,” Mike said, taking the toddler from her arms.

 

“Yeah…Uh Yeah…My dry cleaning,” John agreed, nodding his head vigorously in relief. He didn’t really have to pick it up right this moment but it was as good excuse as any. He still needed to do his grocery shopping, though he had no idea where he was going to put anything in his already packed refrigerator. Problem was, it was packed with stuff he didn’t plan to ever eat.

 

“Oh…Okay…Well then, I guess we can go home sweetheart,” she said to Mike.

 

He nodded, throwing John a wink. The young paramedic grinned back. They left soon after and John flopped on the couch to relax for a moment but he suddenly sat up abruptly and then shot from the seat. He pulled his keys from his pocket and ran for the door.

 

He peeked out cautiously but there was no one around. John ran down the stairs and out to the parking lot to his Rover.  Johnny started the engine and backed out. He drove the easily recognizable vehicle around to the back lot and parked it next to the manager’s old blue Chevy.

 

John knew the man and he knew Mr. Collins would recognize his truck and not have it towed. Johnny had hidden it here before while hiding out from a rather persistent young woman named Cynthia who’d wanted to go out with him. Mr. Collins had been highly amused and would most likely assume that he was hiding it from another girl.

 

Johnny trotted around the building and peered around the corner…A few girls were lounging around the pool but none of them were friends of his.

 

He ran up the stairs and into his apartment, slamming the door behind him and locking it. He leaned back against it and blew out a relieved breath. He was safe from any future good intentioned crew mates…At least for the rest of the day.

 

 

Joanne De Soto finished washing the lunch dishes and returned to the small kitchen nook where Roy sat sipping his coffee. He stared off into space, looking decidedly unhappy.

 

“What’s wrong honey?” She questioned, laying her small hand on his shoulder.

 

Roy jumped. He’d been lost in thought, worrying over this whole mess. What if Hahn couldn’t get the Governor to listen? What if the department couldn’t stop them from passing the bill? He could lose his partner and best friend and kid brother.

 

John would be devastated if that happened. Being a fire fighter had been his dream…His reason to keep living and fighting despite the trials and abuse he’d been subjected to. What if they took that from him?

 

Roy knew he wouldn’t stay with the paramedics if that happened. He’d go for engineer again. He’d really only stayed last time because of Johnny, but if his young partner wasn’t in that squad, then Roy wouldn’t be either.

 

He felt a hand suddenly rest on his shoulder, interrupting his unhappy musings. He jumped and looked up at his wife. “What?” He questioned, knowing she’d spoken but not hearing what she’d said.

 

“I said what’s wrong?” She asked again.

 

“Just thinking.”

 

“About Johnny?” She asked.

 

He nodded. “What if this goes through?” He murmured plaintively.

 

“Mayor Hahn said he’d do everything in his power to stop it,” she reminded him.

 

“I know…But this guy is a congressman…He holds a lot more power than the mayor,” he muttered.

 

“Then we do whatever it takes to get John’s weight up,” she said determinedly.

 

Roy nodded. “That’s easier said than done babe,” he warned her.

 

“I know it’ll be tough but…We can’t lose Johnny without a fight.”

 

“I know…Speaking of…What did you make him for lunch?”

 

“Nothing with beans,” she assured him with a smile, hoping to lighten his bleak mood.

 

Roy half smiled. “I guess I should head over there with it,” he said quietly.

 

“I made him lasagna,” she told him. “It’s one of his favorite meals.”

 

Roy grinned. “He’ll love it,” he said as he pushed himself from his seat. “I’ll take it over…He can warm it up when he’s ready.”

 

She nodded and headed for the refrigerator.

 

Roy pulled into John’s parking lot a short time later. He glanced over to where the Rover was usually parked and noted that the space was empty. He frowned and glanced around but there was no sign of it. He shrugged to himself…He’d just let himself in and leave it in Johnny’s refrigerator and then leave a note to come for dinner later that night if he felt like it.

 

The blonde paramedic climbed the stairs to John’s apartment and knocked just to be on the safe side but there was no answer. For a moment he thought he saw a brief motion of the curtain in the window beside the door but when he looked again, it was still.

 

He pushed his key into the lock and gave it a twist.  It suddenly flew open and a hand shot out to grab his shirt sleeve and haul him inside.

 

 

Johnny had heard the knock and crept quietly to his door. He shifted the curtain aside just enough to peek out and see who it was. He sighed when he recognized his best friend. There was no way he could hide from him…, Roy had the key which John noted was currently being inserted into the lock. He reached over and unlocked the door, whipping it open and grabbing his thoroughly startled partner by the sleeve and yanking him through the door.

 

“Get in here before someone sees you,” he hissed, slamming the portal behind him and locking it once more.

 

Roy stared at his young friend in bafflement. “What the heck’s wrong with you?” He questioned, seeing the almost desperate look in his friends dark eyes.

 

“Wrong with me? What’s wrong with ME?” He questioned, poking himself in the chest. “Let me show you,” he snapped, grabbing Roy’s arm and hauling him into the kitchen.

 

Roy had to work fast to keep from dropping the pan of lasagna. “Whoa Junior, slow down huh? Let me just stick this is your refrigerator until you’re ready to eat it,” he suggested.

 

“My refrigerator?” Johnny questioned sarcastically. “You wanna put that in MY refrigerator?”

 

Roy stared at him as if he’d lost his mind. “Yeah…YOUR refrigerator. What the heck is going on with you?” He asked.

 

John gave him a tight smile and swung the appliance door open. “THIS is what’s going on with me,” he said with a wave of his hand as if he were Vanna White on Wheel of Fortune. “Good luck,” he said drily.

 

Roy’s blue eyes widened in surprise. “Where did all that come from?” He asked.

 

John let out an unhappy snort of laughter. “Where did that come from?” He questioned. “Where do ya think…? The guys…Their wives…their mothers…All of them,” he said throwing his hands in the air in frustration before he reached out and swung the door closed with a resounding thud.

 

“Holy cow Junior,” he murmured.

 

“Yeah…This has been going on since yesterday morning,” he growled.

 

“Well…At least you won’t be hungry for a while,” he said helpfully.

 

“Won’t be hungry?” He squeaked. “I’ve nearly been poisoned is all,” he sneered.

 

Roy laughed. “C’mon Junior…It can’t be that bad,” he replied reasonably.

 

“Oh really? You don’t think so huh,” he grumbled. “Do you have any idea what Chet’s mom cooked?” Roy shook his head. “Well let me enlighten you my friend. This is Colcannon…Wanna know what’s in it?”

 

The older man nodded warily. “Cabbage, potatoes…,” Roy was listening but it didn’t sound that bad. “And pig’s feet,” The younger man finished. Roy’s nose curled at that. “Oh...It gets better,” he added drily… “How about some dessert…Looks pretty good huh?” Roy again nodded but waited for whatever had upset John so badly. “It’s Drisheen or something like that.”

 

“Drisheen?” Roy questioned.

 

“BLOOD pudding…And she used real blood,” he said, turning a bit green at the memory.

 

“You didn’t eat that did ya?” Roy asked in disbelief.

 

“Yeah…I didn’t know what was in it…,” he replied, looking miserable.

 

“Yeeew,” the blonde muttered.

 

“Yeah,” John bit out sarcastically… “I threw up.”

 

Roy grinned. “Don’t blame ya,” he agreed. “You okay now?” He asked setting the small pan down on the table.

 

“I was…Then Mike and Melissa showed up with breakfast.”

 

“Oh no,” Roy mumbled.

 

“Oh yes…Had so much hot sauce I almost burned my tongue out,” he quipped.

 

“You’re used to hot sauce,” Roy protested. “Marco uses it all the time when he cooks.”

 

“No Roy…Marco uses a little…There was enough in this to spit flames from my mouth.” Roy chuckled bringing a scowl to the young man’s face. “We’ll I’m glad you’re amused,” he growled.

 

“C’mon Junior,” Roy said picking up the lasagna pan and taking hold of John’s arm.

 

“Where?” He asked warily.

 

“Back to my house…We’ll heat this up for lunch and you can hide out there til after dinner.”

 

John perked up a bit. “What’s in that?” He asked with a dubious head nod at the pan.

 

“Lasagna,” he replied, waving it under John’s nose.

 

A grin split the young man’s face. “Okay…,” he began but then he hesitated. “There’s nothin funny in it is there?” He questioned cautiously.

 

Roy shook his head. “Just the usual stuff,” he promised.

 

“Okay,” he agreed, snapping his jacket off the back of the chair. “I gotta go get my Rover,” he said as he pulled the door closed behind him.

 

“Yeah…Where is it anyway?”

 

“I parked it around back so no one would see it.”

 

Roy chuckled at his friends attempt to stay hidden. “I’ll meet you at the house and by the way Junior…I talked to Jim Hahn yesterday.”

 

John stopped and turned to stare at his partner. “What did he say?” He asked worriedly.

 

“He said he’d go up there and do everything he could to stop this from going through.”

 

“For real?” He questioned in surprise.

 

Roy nodded and patted his partner on the shoulder. “For real…He doesn’t think losing you or some of the others over how much they weigh is in the best interest of the department.”

 

“Far out,” John said happily.

 

“Yeah…But it’s not a guarantee so just in case…Let’s keep working on you gaining a few extra pounds.”

 

 

 

John woke early the next morning and rolled out of bed. He’d spent the afternoon and evening with the De Soto family and thankfully only had to contend with Joanne’s cooking which Johnny loved.

 

He showered and dressed quickly before heading out to the kitchen. He started a pot of coffee and then without thinking, he opened his refrigerator and stopped cold. He stood staring at the bowls and pans of leftovers for a long moment. He couldn’t even find any of his own food.

 

He closed the door and opted for toast. He stood at his counter waiting for the bread to pop and contemplated this latest predicament.  He’d been raised in poverty a good deal of his life and hated to throw food away…Even bad food and he thought they’d all been trying to help, well maybe not Chet, he’d made him horribly sick and then Melissa had almost burned out his tonsils. Emily had probably clogged his arteries with her lunch…And Marco…Well…EVERYONE knew what he’d done to him.

 

He was deep in his musings but none of those thoughts helped him with the current problem…what was he going to do with all this food?

 

The toaster popped and John jumped. He plucked the warm bread from the toaster and then a wicked gleam entered the young man’s eyes. Fair was fair after all. He quickly buttered his toast and took a bite.

 

When he was done he grabbed a couple of paper bags from under his counter and quickly began to empty the contents of his refrigerator into them. He felt a twinge of guilt but then quickly quashed it. He was doing them a favor after all…They wouldn’t have to cook today.

 

Johnny made it to the station a bit earlier than usual…A grin played over his face as he carried the bags of leftover food into the station.  He greeted Charlie Dwyer and Kirk Carlson as he entered the kitchen and pulled the refrigerator door open. He set the bags down and began to put the contents on the shelves.

 

“Where’s the rest of the guys?” He questioned the pair.

 

“Changing in the locker room,” Kirk replied.

 

“What ya got there Gage?”  Dwyer asked, craning his neck to see what Johnny was doing.

 

“Leftovers…I figure the guys uh…Deserve some of this for all the um…help they’ve been givin me,” he said with a smirk.

 

“Help…What kind of help?”

 

“Didn’t Hookrader tell you about the memo from Sacramento?”

 

“Oh…,” Dwyer’s blue eyes raked over the slender man in front of him. “Man I’m sorry Johnny…He did tell us but…I just never thought about…Well…I mean it wasn’t going to affect anyone on B Shift…I never thought…Wow…This is bad huh?”

 

John nodded as he closed the refrigerator door. “It’s not just me either…Alfonso, Forrester…Even Mike Stoker will barely make that weight.”

 

“Man…So what did the guys do?” He asked nodding toward the refrigerator.

 

“They’re uh…Trying to help me get my weight up.”

 

Charlie frowned. “How?”

 

“They’ve been feeding me for three days,” he explained drily.

 

Charlie stared at him for a long moment. He figured it was pretty nice of them to try and help Gage out but then a new thought occurred to him and he started to laugh. “What did they cook for ya?” He teased.

 

“You don’t wanna know but since I had so much extra…I thought I’d share,” he replied.

 

Charlie and Kirk both chuckled. He had a pretty good imagination and he could just picture poor Gage trying to eat enough to gain fifteen or twenty pounds but then reality set in. This might be humorous but the situation wasn’t. If this bill passed, they could easily lose half of the best team in the business and one of the two best paramedics in the department.

 

A moment later Chet and Marco came into the kitchen. “Hey fellas,” Chet greeted the pair of Paramedics from B Shift.

 

“Morning Kelly, Lopez,” Dwyer replied. Kirk tossed them a wave.

 

“Hey Gage,” Marco said. “I tried to deliver some food to you last night but you weren’t at home,” he complained.

 

John smiled wanly, silently thanking Roy and Joanne for inviting him back to the house. “I was hid…Uh hanging out at Roy’s,” he said, catching himself and changing direction to keep from offending his crew mate.

 

“Oh…Well I brought it in with me,” he said.

 

Johnny winced but Chet spoke up first. “No beans right?” He questioned worriedly.

 

“Not many,” he said with a snicker.

 

John flushed a bit but shot a glare at Chet and Marco. “I brought food with me today too,” Johnny informed them. “Leftovers...”

 

Roy and Mike came into the room interrupting the conversation. Charlie and Kirk climbed to their feet. “Well…Since you guys are here…We’re gonna take off,” he said patting John’s shoulder as he passed. “Good luck man,” he said sincerely.

 

“Thanks,” John replied as the pair left.

 

Hank strode into the room and glanced around, giving the crew a nod, acknowledging that they were all present. “Good morning,” he said as he headed for the coffee pot.

 

“Mornin Cap,” the reply came from five voices around the room.

 

Mike took his coffee and headed out to the bay. He needed to check out the Engine before roll call.

 

“So John…Did you enjoy what Em cooked?” He questioned, pouring himself a cup of coffee.

 

“Uh yeah Cap…,” he replied, not quite meeting his Captain’s eyes. “There was just so much of it.”

 

“Well…You can eat the leftovers later,” he said, sitting down at the table.

 

“Well uh…Actually Cap…I um…Well…Chet’s mom brought some food and so did Mike and Melissa so I uh…I just had too much of a good thing,” he said with a small laugh. “So I thought I should share it…I uh…I brought the leftovers in so…We can all have some,” he said.

 

Roy’s head snapped up and he stared at Johnny in disbelief. He remembered quite well what was in John’s refrigerator and he had no intention of eating it. John threw his partner a wink but managed to keep from giggling.

 

“I even brought some leftover lasagna from last night,” he added. Roy blew out a relieved breath. “As a matter of fact…Melissa and Mike made breakfast for me yesterday…There was plenty left over so I thought I’d just pop it in the oven while we’re at roll call and it should be nice and uh…hot by then,” he assured them as he turned the oven on and plucked the glass casserole dish from the refrigerator and popped it in the oven.

 

Roy put his hand over his mouth to smother a laugh and to cover his knowing grin.

 

John threw them all a smile… “Well…It’s almost time for roll call, right Cap? He said, clapping his hands together.

 

Hank glanced at his watch and nodded. “Let’s get to it.”

 

They all headed out to the bay.

 

 

Captain Stanley ran through roll call and handed out the chores. Roy and John were sent to check the air bottles and then to clean the day room. “And remember John…Don’t work up a sweat,” Hank instructed.

 

“Yeah…Right Cap,” he said, giving his partner a sideways glance. Roy rolled his eyes as the pair went to check the air bottles.

 

“What’s with all the food Junior?” Roy asked quietly once they were alone.

 

“I was standing there this morning, trying to think of what to do with all this food.”

 

“And…?”

 

“I had an epiphany Roy…,” he said with a smirk.

 

“Really? And what was that?” The older man chuckled.

 

John waggled his eyebrows.  “That I was being selfish keeping all that good food to myself, so I decided to share the bounty of my current…ah…situation.” Roy grinned in understanding and ruffled the dark hair.

 

“Good boy,” he laughed.

 

 John slapped his hand away. “Quit,” he growled.

 

The pair headed for the kitchen to mop the floor. John pulled the oven door open. The egg mixture from the day before was at least cooked all the way through now. John pulled it from the oven and set it on the counter.

 

Marco trotted into the kitchen and stopped to check out the casserole. “Hey…Looks good Johnny,” he said pulling down a plate and scooping a bit of the mixture onto his plate.

 

“Careful Marco…It’s hot,” Johnny cautioned with a sidelong glance.

 

Roy shook his head as Chet and Hank came in as well. “That looks pretty good pal,” Hank said as he grabbed a plate.

 

Marco took a forkful and popped it in his mouth. John waited for the reaction but he was disappointed. “Wow…I need to tell Mike what a good cook Melissa is becoming,” he said after he’d swallowed.

 

John’s eyes widened in shock…Marco should have been spitting flames at this point but instead he took another huge bite.

 

Chet and Hank looked impressed with the offering and picked up their forks. “You gonna let Cap eat that?” Roy muttered aside.

 

John sighed. It wouldn’t do not to warn his captain. He opened his mouth to tell him not to eat the overly spiced eggs but the Station Control Unit began to tone. “Station 51…Multi vehicle accident with injuries.”

 

Chet popped a large bite of the spicy, hot mixture into his mouth as Hank dropped his plate on the counter and ran for the podium to respond. The Irishman started for the apparatus bay but suddenly stopped…His eyes began watering profusely.

 

“Wha the Hell,” he choked around the mouthful as he began to turn in circles, trying to decide what to do.

 

John grinned and slapped him off the back, causing the dark curly haired fire fighter to swallow what he held in his mouth. Chet’s blue eyes widened as it scalded it’s way down his throat and into his belly. He shot a glare at John.

 

“You’re gonna pay for that Gage,” he muttered as he started toward the bay once again, his hand pressed over his still burning chest.

 

John threw him a look of pure innocence. “Whaddid I do?” He asked, looking genuinely perplexed. “I was only trying to help…I thought you were choking,” he added sincerely.

 

“I’ll bet,” he yelled

 

Johnny and Roy exchanged a glance and then ran for the squad…John’s rather silly giggle floated behind them.

 

 

 

 

The accident scene had been a mess and had taken them almost two hours to pry the victims from the car and get them into Rampart.

 

John and Roy dropped off their patients and made their way to the base station where Dixie was working on her nurse’s schedule. She glanced up as they approached and smiled at her two favorite paramedics.

 

“Mornin guys…How’s it going?” She asked, her blue eyes darting between the pair.

 

John shot her small half smile as Dr. Morton stepped inside the base station and picked up the coffee pot. “Well…Other than the fact that I’m still facing an early retirement if this bill passes,” he said with a wry shrug of his shoulders. “And that the guys are trying to kill me with kindness…Everything’s great.”

 

Roy grinned at the comment but before he could reply, Morton stepped up beside Dixie to listen while she spoke to the boys. “Oh yeah…Speaking of…I brought you something,” she said, reaching under the counter and pulling out a bag full of groceries.

 

John’s mouth dropped open and then the dark eyes lifted to Dixie’s. “Eh tú Dix,” he sighed.

 

“What?” She asked in confusion as the door opened across the hall and Kelly Brackett stepped out. He spotted the group and came to join them.

 

“It’s the guys at the station,” Roy explained. “They’ve been feeding him for three days to help him gain weight.”

 

“So what’s the problem?”

 

“The food,” John said with a dark look.

 

“Oh oh,” she said, starting to get the picture.

 

“Yeah…Mexican food, Irish Colcannon and Drisheen, Pork chops in gravy and…,”he trailed off not wanting to sound ungrateful.

 

Morton and Brackett frowned at the unfamiliar foods but Dixie grinned, being mostly Irish herself, she recognized a couple of the more exotic dishes and gave John a sympathetic look.

 

“Oh no…,” she mumbled, trying to keep the grin off her face.

 

“Oh yes,” Roy replied.

 

“May I assume that these have been unhealthy foods?”  Morton questioned.

 

“Unhealthy?” John questioned in disbelief. “More like deadly,” he added.

 

“For all of us,” Roy added giving John a smirk.

 

John’s face flushed and he shot a glare at his partner. “Anyway…,” he said ruefully. “I know they’re trying to help but, I don’t know how much more I can take,” he said as he gestured at the bag.

 

“Well don’t worry tiger, this is just some very healthy foods, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, spinach, things like that,” she explained.

 

John’s nose crinkled. None of those were exactly his favorite foods either but before he could say anything Morton interjected his own advice.

 

“Well…Those are definitely healthier than what Gage described but…You’re going about it all wrong.”

 

“How so?” Roy asked. “John’s got to gain some weight,” he added.

 

“That’s fat…John’s body just isn’t capable of storing that. What he really needs is muscle.”

 

“Oh here we go again,” John mumbled, remembering his crack about being soft a couple of weeks ago.

 

“Hear me out,” Morton said, holding his hand up in a ‘stop there’ gesture. “Now I was only teasing you when I made that comment but…Muscle is heavier than fat…So if you work out more…Eat those healthier foods that help build muscle…You might be able to gain enough to hit that weight.”

 

“Yeah but broccoli?” He almost whined.

 

The others chuckled at the boyish reaction to vegetables. “Well…It may not taste as good as a cheeseburger Johnny,” Brackett chimed in. “But Mike is right…You put on some more muscle and your weight will go up.” John winced at the idea. “There are ways to make it more palatable and I have some vitamins in my office…Those will help too and I’ll give you a little booklet on ways to prepare them,” he added. “Just wait here.”

 

Brackett left the base station and headed off to his office. Morton gave them a nod before he set his mug down and walked away as well.

 

Dixie looked at the pair. “So other than that…Is there any other news?” She asked.

 

“I called Jim Hahn the other day…He’s pretty upset by all this too,” he said.

 

“Who’s upset?” Kel asked, returning to the base station.

 

“The Mayor…He’s heading up there for this vote…,” Roy explained.

 

“Aah…Well I called Mike Wolski and Chief Sorenson…We’ll be there as well.”

 

John and Roy both looked a bit stunned at that and then a broad grin spread across both faces. “Far out,” Johnny said, grateful that these rather important men were going to take up the cause for him and the others who’d be affected by this change.

 

“That’s great,” Roy said enthusiastically as he slapped his young partner on the back.”

 

“Yeah…But just in case we don’t win this battle…,” he began, handing Johnny the bottle of vitamins and a small pamphlet. “Start taking these and see if there’s anything in there that might make all that ‘healthy food’ easier to swallow” he teased.

 

“Thanks doc,” Johnny said with a grin.

 

Kel patted his shoulder. “It’s no problem Johnny…I don’t want to lose you either,” he admitted with a grin.

 

John dropped the vitamin bottle into the bag and picked it up. “Thanks Dix,” he added, lifting the bag a bit in gratitude.

 

“You’re welcome hotshot,” she teased.

 

The pair started away but Brackett suddenly had an idea. “Hey you two?”

 

They turned back to look curiously at the doctor. “If you’re not working that day…Maybe you could come along with us,” he invited.

 

The two younger men looked at each other and the brown eyes met blue in silent communication. “Sure doc,” Roy answered for the both of them, seeing John’s unspoken agreement.

 

Dixie and Kel glanced at each other in amazement and shook their heads. They loved to know how those two did that but the fact that they could was the reason they didn’t want to see Johnny lose his job. The pair would be lost without each other.

 

 

The casserole was cold by the time the station crew returned and had somehow lost its appeal for the crew. Marco was about to pop it back in the oven when Mike came in and spotted them standing around the counter eyeing the dish. Chet opened his mouth to issue a warning but Mike’s approach stopped him. He didn’t want to offend his wife’s cooking in front of the man, especially when that guy was in control of your water at a fire.

 

“What do ya got guys?” He asked, as he came to join them. He saw the casserole and his face paled a bit as he recognized it as the breakfast Melissa had made for Johnny. Marco confirmed it.

 

“Hey Mike…John brought in the leftovers Melissa made. We were just about to reheat it.”

 

The young Engineer grimaced as he reached through and grabbed the casserole dish. “Uh guys…It’s probably not good after it’s been sitting out all this time,” he suggested as he carried it quickly to the trash can.

 

“What are you doing?” Marco protested. “That was great?”

Mike did a double take on that comment but he realized that Marco was used to eating hot and spicy foods, but Cap wouldn’t appreciate it much. What had John been thinking to bring that in?

 

“Yeah but…Ya know…Eggs left sitting out,” he shook his head. “Bad news,” he said knowledgably.

 

“Some more bad than others,” Chet agreed dryly.

 

Cap sighed. “You’re probably right but hey…John brought plenty of other food in…Including what Em made,” he added.

 

“Well…Let’s check it all out,” Mike suggested, anxious to get their minds off that casserole.

 

The crew set to work emptying the refrigerator and began to heat up the food. Chet immediately recognized the food his mother had prepared and winced, but he figured if he just kept his mouth shut, they’d never be the wiser and could just pass off any comments about its taste as the food having been reheated. Besides, why should he suffer alone? He mused, still feeling that bite of casserole rolling about and most likely burning a hole in his stomach lining.

 

 “Hey…Shouldn’t we wait for John and Roy?” Hank suggested as Mike began to set the table.

 

“There should be plenty Cap,” Marco said, eyeing the food John had brought as well as what he’d brought in this morning.

 

It didn’t take long for them to get it warmed up and begin carrying it to the table. They all sat down and dug in.

 

There were a few comments about some of the odd tastes in some of the dishes. Chet grimaced but kept his mouth shut for fear that their reaction would be the same as Gage’s.

 

They were almost through when they heard the squad backing in. A moment later Johnny and Roy came into the kitchen carrying a bag of groceries. The pair spotted the crew and the food and a broad grin spread over John’s face. “Well…It looks like you’re all enjoying that,” he said, shooting a glance at Roy.

 

The blonde paramedic turned away to avoid giving away John’s little game but the guys heard a decided snort of laughter.

 

“This is great stuff,” Marco said, scooping a helping of Colcannon into his mouth.

 

“This has an odd flavor,” Hank added as he popped another bite of Drisheen into his mouth.

 

Chet shot a glance at John and the pleading look was obvious. John grinned. “Yeah…,” he agreed with a smile. “Well Chester Brannigan?” he questioned with a raised eyebrow.  “You gonna tell them?”

 

“NO,” Chet growled.

 

“Chester BRANNIGAN?” Hank questioned with a grin.

 

“Yeah Cap…That’s what the B stands for, right Chet?” He said with a grin.

 

The curly haired fire fighter glared at Gage for a moment. “Yeah…,” he grumbled as the others chuckled over that enlightening piece of information.

 

“Very Irish,” Roy said seriously.

 

John grinned. “You know what’s really Irish?” John said, folding his arms over his chest and leaning back against the counter.

 

Roy rested his butt against the cabinets next to his partner. “What’s that John?” Hank asked, spooning another bite of Drisheen into his mouth.

 

“GAGE,” Chet warned ominously.

 

John threw him an innocent look. “That dessert you’re eating Cap…It’s Drisheen.”

 

Cap nodded. “Has a strange flavor,” he said with a frown.

 

“Hey Cap…,” Chet began, trying to stop what he knew was coming.

 

“Oh don’t be modest Chester Brannigan,” John said with a smirk. “It’s called blood pudding Cap,” Johnny finished.

 

Hank’s hand stopped halfway to his mouth with the next spoonful. “Uh…Because of the color?” He asked hopefully.

 

John shook his head. “Nope…It’s made with real beef blood,” he assured him with a nod.

 

Mike suddenly spit what he was eating into his napkin. Cap’s face turned an impressive shade of pale green, not as bad as John’s had been but it was close.

 

Hank dropped the spoon and gave John a look of disbelief. “That’s about the same reaction I had,” John told them.

 

Roy covered his smirk with his hand.

 

Marco was sitting there looking relieved that he’d refrained from eating any of that and had settled for the ham dish. It was short lived. “How’d you like the Colcannon Marco?” He asked.

 

“It’s good…No beef blood in this,” he said with certainty.

 

“GAAAGE,” Chet said ominously, but John shot him a wide eyed innocent look and continued. “Nope…None at all.”

 

Marco grinned at the sick look on his friend’s faces…All but Chet who was used to this stuff. “It’s made with pig’s feet,” he said casually as he reached into the refrigerator and plucked the dish of lasagna from the refrigerator and popped it in the oven.

 

Marco’s olive complexion got a bit more olive. The fork’s clattered into the plates and there were several groans of distress.  Chairs scudded backwoods and John and Roy wondered which of them would make it to the bathroom first. They launched to their feet just as the SCU began to tone.

 

“Engine 51…Trash fire…”

 

The moans grew louder but they had no choice. Hank, Mike and Marco shot an ugly look at Gage but they ran for the Engine, hoping they wouldn’t throw up in the rig.

 

Chet just shrugged…He’d eaten that all his life so he’d chosen the food that Emily had prepared and they’d all shared in Marco’s undelivered dinner from the night before. 

 

Johnny and Roy grinned as the Engine rolled out and began to clean up the remains. “Ya know Caps gonna have a few things to say when he gets back,” Roy warned him.

 

John nodded. “What did I do?”

 

“You know what ya did,” Roy replied, throwing the remains of the Drisheen in Boots bowl. The dog sniffed it cautiously before turning away in obvious disgust.

 

John giggled. “I just thought they’d all enjoy a taste of what they’ve been putting me through the last three days,” he replied ingenuously.

 

Roy shook his head but he understood… His stomach had gotten a bit queasy just thinking about it and he hadn’t even touched most of it.

 

The two sat down a few minutes later with leftover lasagna.

 

 

They were just finishing up when the engine returned. The crew came into the kitchen looking tired and dirty.

 

“Bad one?” Roy asked.

 

“It wouldn’t have been if we all hadn’t been feeling so sick to our stomachs,” Hank replied, his hand coming down to rest on John’s shoulder.

 

John grimaced and then looked up at his Captain. “Oh hey Cap,” he said brightly.

 

“Hey John…We all wanted to thank you for sharing your ah…Leftovers with us,” he said with a rather sick sounding growl.

 

“Oh sure Cap…It was no problem…I just felt like I should share the um…wealth of uh…All that ethnic cuisine,” he finished cheerfully.

 

“Ethnic cuisine?” He said grumpily.

 

John smiled happily. “Sure…Mexico, Ireland, The southwest…The deep south,” he pointed out.

 

“How come you didn’t share the Italian cuisine?” Chet questioned, pointing at the empty plates.

 

“There wasn’t enough left for everyone and I’d already tried all of the other stuff,” he explained innocently.

 

“Alright Gage…We get the point,” Hank said.

 

John finally started to look a bit guilty. “Look guys…I know you were trying to help and really…I appreciate it, but man…Couldn’t you have just found some regular food?” He asked plaintively.

 

The others glanced at each other…Johnny was being honest…They had overloaded the poor kids system with some rather strange foods from the looks of it. “You’re right Pal,” Cap replied. “we’ll try and keep it normal from now on.”

 

“Thanks Cap and um…I’m sorry guys,” he apologized sincerely.

 

“It’s alright John,” Mike said turning away.

 

“Yeah…Guess we all deserved a taste of our own medicine,” Marco added.

 

Chet’s eyes were narrowed. “Well…I forgive ya babe,” he said with a grin.

 

“Thanks Chet,” the younger man replied.

 

“But the phantom is still got a screaming ulcer going so you best beware.”

 

Roy cracked a grin as John sighed and began to clear the plates.

 

“So what did you bring back with you?” Hank asked pointing at the bag and bottle of vitamins.

 

“Oh…Dixie gave me some vegetables to try and Brackett gave me vitamins.”

 

“Morton told him to try exercising and build up some more muscle.”

 

“Told ya you were soft again huh?” Chet taunted.

 

“NO,” John growled back. “He even said he’d been kidding me about that but he did say that muscle weighs more than fat and that I should try that route instead of just getting fatter.”

 

“Well…,” Cap began, rubbing his hands together with glee. “Why don’t we just take a look at that weight lifting gear in the bay John,” he suggested.

 

John’s face paled a bit at the overly anxious look on Hank’s face. “Uh…I don’t know Cap…I just ate and…,” he began but Hank interrupted.

 

The older man gripped John’s elbow and began to haul him toward the door. “Nonsense John…No time like the present. Chet…You would have been cooking tonight so we can heat up the rest of that food Marco brought in and see if you can come up with a recipe for those vegetables for our junior paramedic here,” he suggested.

 

“Sure Cap…No problem.”

 

Roy grinned as Hank pulled the reluctant paramedic from the room. He barely heard John’s muttered. “Oh Man…”

 

 

 

 

 

An hour later Roy stood leaning against the wall watching, as John continued with the exercises his Captain had prescribed. He’d done a hundred sit ups, fifty chin ups and about the same in pushups. He’d lifted weights and bench pressed upwards of one hundred and fifty pounds, much to Roy’s pride and Chet’s disgust.

 

Sweat poured off the dark haired paramedic but Johnny wouldn’t give in and quit. He could see the stubborn set of John’s chin and he understood that John knew Cap was getting even for not warning him of the food.

 

Roy also saw the exhaustion and pain in his young friend’s eyes and decided he’d had enough. He walked over to his Superior. “Uh Cap?”

 

“What is it Roy?” He questioned innocently.

 

“Look…I know John set you all up for that lunch but you agreed that he’d been right?”

 

Hank shot him a glance. “He still nearly poisoned his Captain,” he said teasingly.

 

“Yeah but…You know how stubborn John is,” he said in a soft whisper.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Cap…We’re trying to help him, not put him in the hospital,” he hinted.

 

Hank looked into worried blue eyes. He was well aware of the mother hen attitude Roy displayed toward his young partner but right now, Roy was being completely sincere.

 

“He’ll tell me when he’s had  enough?”

 

“No Cap…He won’t,” Roy assured him.

 

Hank glanced at the sweating youth and realized Roy was right. Johnny was stubborn and right now his face was scarlet and dripping sweat but he wouldn’t give up and Hank knew it was the reason he was one of the best paramedics out there…That ‘never give up’ attitude he displayed on every rescue. He nodded.

 

“Okay Gage…I think you’ve done enough for one day,” Hank said, reaching down to take the weight from John’s hands and set it on the hooks.

 

John laid there for a long moment panting for breath before he tried to sit up. “OOOH,” he groaned painfully as every muscle in his body put up a protest.

 

“You okay partner?” Roy asked worriedly, leaning down to help him to his feet.

 

Hank winced at the pain in John’s face.

 

“Ye…ah,” he mumbled, as he held his back and carefully straightened up.

 

“John…I’m sorry pal,” Hank said sincerely. “We’ll take it a bit slower from now on.”

 

“Okay Cap,” John agreed, walking stiffly to where his shirt was hanging over the back of the engine.

 

“Go take a shower John,” Hank suggested softly, feeling horribly guilty that his teasing act of revenge had gotten a bit out of hand.

 

“Right Cap,” he mumbled, heading for the shower. There was a barely audible groan with every step.

 

Hank shot a glance toward Roy. “Sorry…I’ll take it easy on him from now on.”

 

Roy grinned. “Well not TOO easy…I still need him to make the weight,” he reminded him.

 

 

Roy was waiting when John stepped from the shower. He handed his partner a towel. “Here ya go Junior,” he said as Johnny made his way painfully over to the bench.

 

“Thanks man,” he groaned miserably. “Aaah,” he moaned as he sat down.

 

“You gonna be okay or should I tell Cap you need a replacement.”

 

“I don’t need a replacement,” he said tiredly. “I just need a few minutes to relax,” he finished. He tried to lift his hands and put the towel over his head but another grunt of pain slipped free.

 

Roy sighed at his young partner’s stubbornness and snapped the towel away from him. He quickly tossed it over John’s head and used it to dry his friend’s hair and then tossed it aside.

 

John was too tired to even protest what would normally have been an indignant response to his friends over protective, fatherly handling.

 

“Thanks man,” he breathed.

 

“Yeah…You coulda spared yourself some of that if you woulda told Cap you were hurting,” he informed him, sitting down next to him on the bench.

 

“No way man…I’m not as soft as they think I am.”

 

Roy sighed. “No one thinks that Johnny…They just like to tease you and Cap was just getting even for the lunch.”

 

“I know but still…” John shrugged but stopped as his shoulders twinged warningly. “I think he’s trying to get rid of me,” he groaned.

 

Roy grinned. “I don’t think so…He told me to tell you to relax until dinner,” he said as he stood up. He pulled John to his feet and handed him a clean shirt. “Why don’t ya take a nap,” he suggested giving his partner a slap off the back as he walked away. He winced as he heard the sharp intake of breath.

 

“Good idea,” John growled, through clenched teeth.

 

“Sorry Junior,” Roy said as he left the locker room. John glared after him before shaking his head and hobbling toward his bunk.

 

 

Roy shook him awake a couple of hours later. “Hey Junior…How are ya feelin?” He asked as the dark eyes blinked open.

 

John stretched and winced a bit as his muscles tightened, but he felt better than he had before. He sat up slowly and grinned. “Hey…That’s not too bad,” he informed his partner as he swung his feet over the edge of the bed.

 

Roy pulled him to his feet. “The nap helped huh?”

 

John nodded and pulled his shirt on with only the barest hint of pain. “I guess I’m not as out of shape as they thought,” he said smugly.

 

His older partner grinned. “I told ya that…The only place you’re soft is up here,” he teased, tapping John’s head.

 

Johnny slapped his hand away. “Cut it out,” he growled indignantly.

 

Roy chuckled as he turned and headed for the door. “Dinners ready by the way,” he called back.

 

“Good…I’m starved,” he replied as he quickly buttoned his shirt and followed his partner.

 

John could smell the food as he entered the apparatus bay and he grinned. He was hungry and couldn’t wait to eat, having worked up an appetite with all that exercise. 

 

The pair entered the kitchen and John sniffed the air appreciatively. “What’s for dinner?” He questioned.

 

The guys were standing in front of the table blocking his view and they all smirked at him. John’s grin fell away and his eyes narrowed warily at the look…

 

“Well,” Hank began as he came toward him. John almost back pedaled at the expression on his superiors face but he forced himself to stand firm as Hank once again took his arm and began leading him to the table. “We’re having leftover Chili from Marco’s mom…,” he informed him. John winced at that. “Oh don’t worry Pal…You’re not eating that.”

 

“I’m not?” He questioned cautiously.

 

“Nope…Chet took the good doctor’s advice and made you something special,” he said proudly as he swept his hand toward the table.

 

The crew stepped aside and John’s face paled. The station’s blender sat on the table and it contained something that vaguely resembled green slime. “What is that?” He asked worriedly. His eyes shifted to the remains of broccoli, asparagus, Cauliflower and half a banana lying to one side.

 

“It’s a protein shake,” Chet said proudly as Hank led the reluctant young man around the table and pressed him into the seat.

 

John glanced around at his friends and finally began to giggle. “Okay…Okay ya got me…Some joke,” he said happily but none of the guys cracked a grin except for Roy. “You are kidding right?” He hedged as the smile slowly fell away.

 

“Not at all Pal,” Hank said with a straight face.

 

“Aah c’mon guys,” he almost whined.

 

Cap grinned and picked up an empty glass. “Here Chet…You can do the honors,” he said, setting it down next to John’s plate.

 

“Thanks Cap,” he replied with a vengeful smirk. “Let me just fluff this up a bit more.” Chet hit the button with a flourish and the blender kicked into high speed, but the Irishman had forgotten to hold the top on. It flew off and green, slimy liquid flew from the machine.

 

Chet jumped back knocking the remains of the vegetables and fruit off the table as he got clear. John stood up to try and get away from the frothing machine but his foot hit the banana peel…He slipped, his arms windmilling frantically to try and catch himself but to no avail. He hit the ground hard…The air left his body with an oomph.  He lay there wheezing and trying to catch his breath as green slime continued to erupt like lava from the blender, rolling down the sides and off the table to plonk down on John’s face, leaving trails of green liquid running down his cheeks and into his hair.

 

Hank was trying to reach the controls without being doused himself but Roy ran to the wall outlet and yanked the extension cord free. The machine went silent and they all stood there dripping for a long, stunned moment before they remembered their youngest crew member.

 

Roy ran to kneel next to his partner. “Are you okay?” He questioned worriedly.

 

John groaned. “I…I think I…I just knocked the wind outta…myself,” he wheezed.

 

Hank and the others gathered around their friend. “Johnny…I’m so sorry man,” Chet said worriedly.

 

They’d just been teasing him and none of them had wanted the young man to get hurt.

 

“I’m alright,” he moaned softly as he struggled to get up.

 

They all moved quickly to help him. Roy waved them off. “I got him…You all helped enough already,” he growled and even Hank wasn’t exempt from his big brother wrath as he shot them all a glare. He helped John up and led him around to the one chair that wasn’t coated in green. “Here sit junior…I wanna take a look at you,” he told him, easing him into the seat.

 

“We’re really sorry Pal,” Hank said with a wince of guilt. “It was just a joke…We weren’t really expecting you to drink that.”

 

Mike brought Roy a wet towel so he could clean the gook from John’s face. The fluid was running in slimy trails down John’s cheeks before dripping onto his shirt.

 

“Look at me Junior,” Roy instructed, tilting John’s head up to get a better look. He carefully gleaned the goo off, being sure there was no evidence that John had struck anything with his face on the way down. He set the cloth aside and began to run his hands over John’s torso, looking for any sign of broken ribs or back injury.

 

“Let’s get this mess cleaned up,” Cap instructed his crew as his anxious eyes watched his senior paramedic care for his young partner.

 

John groaned as his hands touched a sore spot and Roy untucked the wet shirt to get a better look. He sighed in relief when he saw that it was just a bruise.

 

“Is he okay?” He finally asked.

 

Roy nodded…”Yeah Cap…He’s fine…He’ll be a bit sore for a few days but he’ll be okay.”

 

“Can he finish the shift?” He questioned with a frown.

 

The guys exchanged a worried look. If he couldn’t, Hank would have to explain how John got injured at the station…Headquarters wouldn’t appreciate their horseplay, especially if it incapacitated one of their best paramedics…Not to mention that it would just give Reece further ammunition to use against the slender fire fighter.

 

“I can finish the shift,” John said, finally catching his breath.

 

“Why don’t you go clean up Pal,” Hank suggested.

 

The young fireman nodded and Roy reached down to assist him to his feet. “Let me help you,” he urged.

 

John shook his head. “I got it…Just get rid of that,” he said waving at the mess on the table. His face looking almost the same shade as the goop that covered his face.

 

The others grinned as he hobbled his way to the door. “Chet…While John’s in the shower why don’t you take a little ride,” he said, pulling out his wallet. 

 

 

 

By the time John returned, the mess had been cleared and the others were happily eating the remains of Marco’s chili and cornbread.

 

John frowned. He remembered all too well what had happened the last time and had no desire to repeat that experience but he was hungry.

 

Roy was the only one waiting patiently for his partner to join them. He smiled when he spotted John and stood up to head over to the oven.

 

John frowned in confusion. “Aren’t we having Chili?” He asked curiously.

 

Roy shook his blonde head. “Nope…Cap decided you needed a break,” he said pulling a small pan containing several Cheeseburgers and two orders of French fries. He pulled the refrigerator door open and pulled out a strawberry shake. “He thought you might prefer this shake to the other.

 

John’s face lit up and he glanced around the table at his friends. “Thanks guys,” he said quietly.

 

 

The rest of the evening remained uneventful and Johnny was glad. He wouldn’t ever admit that his body was aching from everything it had been thru today. He called it a night fairly early and hoped he’d be feeling better by morning.

 

He was sleeping soundly by the time the others turned in, his left arm thrown over his face. He was rudely awakened a short time later when a loud sound cut thru the silence. He sat up as the vicious odor suddenly wafted its way over to where he was lying.

 

John pulled the covers up over his nose and looked around as another sound came from a different direction. He sighed and climbed from his bed. The motion woke his partner. “Where are ya goin Junior?” he questioned softly.

 

John yanked his pillow and blankets off the bed. “I’m gonna go sleep in the dayroom,” he said quietly.

 

“Why? You didn’t eat that chili,” he said from beneath his blankets.

 

“No…But they did,” he said in disgust as he grabbed his turnout gear and headed from the room.

 

Roy finally sat up to watch his young partner leave the room and the blankets fell away from his nose. He heard another Grrrp sound from somewhere in the room and his face twisted in revulsion. “Yeew,” he muttered as he laid back down and pulled the covers over his head.

 

 

Johnny made his way to the day room and spread his blankets on the sofa. “Move over Boot,” he grumbled, pushing the dog aside.

 

The shaggy mutt remembered the last time he’d been displaced from his comfortable bed and jumped down. John heard the tapping of his toenails as he left the dayroom for the comfort of the dorm. He shrugged and spread out a bit more now that he had the room.

 

John was just dozing off when he heard a thump and dropped his arm away from his face. He looked up into the annoyed eyes of his best friend. “What’s goin on?” He asked blearily as Roy arranged his own gear at the opposite end of the sofa.

 

“Nothin…,” he growled as he pulled a chair over and parked it in front of the couch. “Just move over partner,” he said grumpily as he pushed John’s feet aside and sat down. He dropped John’s bare feet over his legs and propped his own on the chair, spreading the blanket over him before he laid back and let his eyes drift closed.

 

He heard John’s giggle and then the scrabbling sound of toenails as Boot returned to the dayroom. They both sat up as the dog jumped up and settled himself between them, his head resting on John’s outstretched legs. The two paramedics began to laugh.

 

 

Things returned to normal after that except that John continued a more strenuous exercise routine and the guys brought more food than usual to the table, but at least it was edible.

 

The day before John and Roy were scheduled to head to Sacramento with Brackett and Hahn arrived all too quickly. Hank and the others brought John to the apparatus bay and they crossed their fingers as the young man stepped up on the scales.

 

Their faces fell as Hank pushed the small weights across the bar and they could already see that their young crew mate hadn’t made the one seventy five mark.

 

John chewed his lip nervously as his dark eyes met theirs.

 

“What are we gonna do Cap?” Chet asked worriedly.

 

Hank shook his head and patted Johnny on the shoulder reassuringly. “Nothin more we can do except…,” He hesitated.

 

“Except what Cap?” Mike asked.

 

“Except pray that Hahn and the others can get through to our Governor,” he finished.

 

John’s eyes reflected his own fear that he was going to lose his job.

 

Roy reached out and laid his arm over John’s shoulders. “Don’t give up Junior…I’ll be at your side and I’ll fight this every step of the way.”

 

“Thanks Roy,” he said quietly but the fear was still there.

 

 

 

Roy and Johnny met with Brackett, Sorenson and Hahn the next morning. Jim had arranged the private flight to give them more time to discuss the bill and what would happen when they got inside with the councilmen.

 By the time they arrived in Sacramento, the three older men felt they were ready for the fight. Roy still looked worried and John looked positively sick. Sorenson patted the young paramedic on the shoulder as he passed. “Don’t worry Gage…We’ll do everything we can today for you and all the others.” “Yes sir,” he replied softly. 

 They were ushered into the council chamber where Mike Wolski waited, impatiently glancing at his watch. He looked up and saw them coming and a look of relief lit his heavy features.  “Thank God…I thought you weren’t going to make it,” he said, waving them toward the seats he’d reserved for them. “They’re just about to start,” he told them as they all sat down. 

John glanced around and noticed several people who looked rather familiar but he couldn’t place from where.  The chairman tapped his gavel a few seconds later and the session was called to order.

The large doors at the back were swung closed and Johnny turned his attention back to the front. “Alright ladies and gentlemen…Our first order of business is this fire department bill, number FD11568. Congressman Reece feels that some of our fire fighters are too underweight to be in the department and for the safety of the public and for their own protection would like to enforce a weight restriction.” He glanced up to where the audience was sitting. “Is there anyone who would like to add something here?” He challenged. 

Mike Wolski stood up. “Yes sir, I would,” he said, stepping around the others as he approached the podium.

 “The chair recognizes Councilman Mike Wolksi.” The heavy man nodded.

“Gentlemen…Just about a year ago, I stood here and proposed the paramedic bill to you. As most of you remember, you were not completely sold on the idea but you listened carefully to me and Dr. Kelly Brackett from Rampart General,” he said, nodding toward Kel. “And you made the wise decision to pass that bill. I hope you will make the same wise decision here today. This bill shouldn’t have even made it to the house floor gentlemen. This bill would severely endanger some of the lives that the public has entrusted to our fire department. There are many good and dedicated fire fighters and paramedics that could potentially lose their jobs if this bill passes.”

 Reece sat back in his seat with an eye roll of irritation as Wolski went on. His brown eyes flitted about the room and finally came to rest on John. It took a moment but he finally recognized him as the same young fireman that had started his thinking with his too slender build and the injury he’d sustained because of it.  He smiled contentedly, knowing they’d made a mistake in bringing the skinny young man into the room where he could point out the obvious issues.  His attention was drawn back to the front as Wolski concluded his argument.

“Thank you for your attention gentlemen,” he said as he returned to his seat.  Anyone else?”

 Daniel Sorenson stood up and walked to the front. “Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daniel Sorenson,” he introduced himself.

 “Yes sir…Please go ahead.” 

Sorenson nodded. “I’d like to just take a moment to tell you that some of our finest fire fighters in this department are under this weight restriction. If this bill should pass you would be greatly endangering the lives of the men, women and children that these men treat out there every day. This decision was based on Councilman Reece’s brief tour of a couple of our stations. He happened to inspect one where one of our men had been injured in the line of duty and was visiting with his crew.” He glanced at John and then continued.  “He did not at any time ask how the injury occurred, he simply presupposed that it was caused by the young man’s less than strapping build which was not the case at all. I assure you gentlemen…The men in my department are in top shape and are expected to maintain it and it is grossly unfair to judge these men merely by their weight…Thank you for your time.”

 “Thank you Chief.” They glanced around.

“Anyone else?” 

“Wish me luck Gentlemen,” Kel said as he climbed to his feet and made his way to the front.  John and Roy heard the door in the back open and there were quiet footsteps as someone made their way down the center aisle and sat down several rows behind them. John started to turn to see who it was but Kel began to speak and he resettled to listen. “Good afternoon gentlemen,” he began. 

“Dr. Brackett,” the chairman said. “Welcome back.” 

“Thank you. As you know, the last time I was here I spoke to you about the paramedics…I told you then that I was against the practice of roadside medicine.” They nodded, remembering the speech well. The dark haired doctor had caught their attention and held it from his opening remark.

 “I remember Dr.” 

Kel nodded. “Then let me start by telling you that I changed my mind. That not only did the paramedic program save a few lives but it has already saved hundreds in a single year.”  The council looked suitably impressed and Kel continued. “Men like these,” he said pointing toward John. “Slender, tall, short, heavy…These men put their lives on the line every single day to save lives…Maybe yours or your wife or your child. They are dedicated and they serve the department with honor and courage and I can assure you it isn’t for the money they make. This young paramedic and the others like him treat people in places that would leave the average man shaking in their shoes.”

 Reece shot to his feet. “Really Dr. Brackett…Do you expect us to believe that that scrawny young man over there is capable of rescuing anyone when he couldn’t even take care of himself?” He challenged. 

Brackett bristled. “Johnny was injured in a fire…Because another fire fighter…A heavier one,” Kel stressed, “Couldn’t hold up the weight on his end. It fell and John had to try and hang on,” he argued back. 

Reece only heard what he wanted to hear. “Well maybe we should raise that limit even more,” he suggested with a snide grin.

 Roy and Johnny exchanged a look. “This isn’t going so well,” John whispered.

 Roy looked worried but he gave his partner a small, reassuring smile. “Just hold on Junior…Hahn still has something to say.”

 “And if that doesn’t work?” “Then I’ll take it all the way to the Governor partner…I won’t lose you without a fight,” he mumbled back. “And I’ll tell him the best team in LA wouldn’t be the best without you…You make me better because of your heart and your strength junior.”

 “Thanks Roy,” he said, giving his partner a worried half smile.

 The chairman banged his gavel to stop the argument between Reece and Brackett. “That’s enough Mr. Reece,” he said, trying to regain control.

 “It’s not enough…All you have to do is look at that kid. You can tell he’s not fire fighter material just by looking at him. He’s a waste of the tax payers money…He costs the state in time and benefits.”

 John flushed in embarrassment as all eyes turned toward him but his chin set with stubborn determination. “I work as hard as anyone else in my department,” he said defensively.

 “I’m sure…Maybe harder to make up for what your obviously lacking in other areas…,” he sneered.

 “Now see here,” Brackett began but he felt a hand come to rest on his shoulder and looked back to see Hahn standing there.

 Roy shot to his feet in a rage but John grabbed his arm. “Roy don’t…It’ll cost you your career.”

 “I don’t care,” he barked.

 “I do,” John said.  

“Have a seat Kel…Roy, he added, turning to look at the blonde paramedic.

His eyes drifted over their shoulder and he smiled. “I’ll finish this.” Brackett nodded and Roy sank back into his seat as Jim stepped to the podium.

“Good afternoon gentlemen, Congressman,” he said politely to Reece. “Mr. Reece…I’d like to ask you something?”

 Reece threw Hahn a smug look. “Go ahead.”

 “Have you ever gone on a run with any of these men?” He asked.

 “Of course not,” he sneered, looking aghast that the man thought he’d get his hands dirty.

 “I have…”

 “Yes well…I saw you fawning over these two as if you were a child playing out your fantasy to be a fireman,” he taunted, hoping to embarrass the Mayor into silence.

 Jim smiled. “I wish that I could…But I don’t have what it takes Tom and neither do you.”

 “I beg your pardon…I have the strength to do their job.” Jim laughed and shook his head.

“See that’s the problem Tom…You think it’ all about size. It has nothing to do with their weight or their height or anything else you try to judge with what your eyes can see. You claim it’s not cost effective to have them in the department but John and these other men who would be affected by this bill…They save lives. How do you put a cost on that?” 

Reece rolled his eyes. “Please,” he scoffed derisively. 

“I had a chance to ride with John Gage and Roy De Soto and I can tell you I haven’t seen strength like theirs in all my years.”

 John and Roy shared a silent glance. A look of confusion crossed John’s face but Roy smiled and patted his arm.  “You don’t know the measure of a man until you’ve seen his heart and his soul. Until you’ve stood and witnessed the courage it takes to walk out on a four inch wide beam fourteen stories above the ground to rescue a man that was trapped on it as it crumbled beneath him,” he said sweeping his hand toward one of the people John had noticed earlier.  John suddenly recognized him. It was Rob…The man he’d rescued on the high rise.  “You don’t judge his strength until you’ve watched him hold that man by only one arm to keep him from falling to his death. You can’t measure his heart or any of these other things until you’ve watched him crawl into a crushed and burning car and save a woman and her children that were trapped inside.” He pointed to the woman beside Rob and realized she was the woman he’d saved that day. Hahn pointed at John. “I watched him do it…He went because no one else could have fit inside that car, crushed the way it was…He walked that beam because he was light enough not to cause it to break under his weight.”  

He picked up a handful of folders and walked back to Reece. “These are more reports…About Alfonso, Forrester, Alvarez, Johansen and John Gage. I don’t know these others, but I do know what I saw and what I’ve read.” He flipped open John’s file. “Why don’t we stay with our present example,” he suggested, nodding toward Johnny. “Frankie…A six year old boy trapped down inside a hole so small that you could barely slide a fence post into it. John allowed himself to be lowered headfirst into that hole to rescue that boy…He was almost killed when it collapsed while he was in it but he didn’t quit and that child is alive."

He slapped the stack down on the table in front of Reece.  “You judge these men by their physical stature Tom…I judge them by their heart and their courage…These people…All of them are alive today because John Gage and others like him had the heart and the courage and the STRENGTH to hold on when others would quit…To keep fighting…To never let go but to still have the heart and the compassion to weep for a child that will grow up without his mother.” 

“Tom…Governor Reagan,” he said turning to look at the audience.

  John and Roy both whipped around to stare in dumbfounded silence at the man they’d heard enter the room a short while ago.

 “Please continue Mayor Hahn,” he said quietly.

 “Yes sir,” he replied looking into the Governors eyes and holding the contact. “ I was there when John Gage crawled inside a crushed and burning  car to rescue Mrs. Delaney," he reiterated, pointing at the woman in the audience. I told another paramedic on the scene that I thought he was crazy. He told me no...that he just had heart. Sir...Gentlemen...Mr. Reece... The measure of a man can’t be calculated with a scale. John Gage and every fireman and paramedic like him has to be measured by their heart and sir…If you measure John Gage by that,” he hesitated. “Then he carries the weight of a Sumo wrestler,” he finished. “Thank you gentlemen…Tom…Governor,” he added as he returned to his seat.

 “Well…Does anyone else have anything to say?” The chairman asked.

 Reece stood up. “I think enough has been said…I think it’s time to vote on it,” he said stubbornly.

 John shot Roy a worried look. They heard the seat behind them creak as Mr. Reagan stood up and walked forward. His hand lightly brushed John’s shoulder but he continued on.  “Let me save you all the trouble,” he said softly. “Tom…I almost vetoed the paramedic bill a year ago, but James Hahn explained to me that this program would save lives…That it would cross jurisdictional boundaries and he was right. My father died because an ambulance refused to cross boundaries…Because there was no one trained to help him on the spot. Now I read the reports Jim  telexed up here a few days ago and I have to say, I was very impressed by the fire department and the job they do…The lives that have been saved by these skinny, out of shape fire fighters,” he teased with a twinkle in his eye as he winked at John.

 John sat up, feeling hopeful for the first time in two weeks. Roy gripped his arm tightly and John almost winced. “Ease up Pally,” he whispered.

 Roy nodded and his hold loosened. “I think he’s on our side Junior,” he replied just barely audible.

 “As for the ‘cost’ well…, let’s just say that the price is too high NOT to keep them,” he drawled.

 “Do you still want us to vote on this Mr. Reece?” The chairman asked.

 Reece shot a glare at the Governor. “Will you veto it if it passes?” 

The governor smiled and glanced at his watch. “What do you think Tom?” He asked.

 Reece turned and snatched up his hat and his file. “I guess there’s no point then is there?” He growled as he turned and stalked out. 

The governor shook Jim’s hand and then Mike Wolski’s.

He turned to Sorenson. “Congratulations Chief,” he said gripping the older man’s hand.”That was good victory for the fire department.”  

“Yes it was…Thank you Governor.”

 Reagan turned to Kel.  “Thank you Dr. for coming up here to help them out and I’m glad we were both proved wrong about our initial concerns.” 

Kel nodded and shook the man’s hand before he turned to John and Roy. “Gentlemen, I’m very impressed with the job you do out there. Keep up the good work and be careful…We don’t want to lose the best team in LA,” he teased.

 John and Roy both flushed in embarrassment that he’d overheard that remark. “Thank you sir,” Roy said humbly. 

“I’ll be more careful sir,” Johnny said, looking unhappy that he’d been the cause of the man’s low opinion.

 “Don’t worry about that son…You just keep doing the fine things I read about in those reports,” he said as he turned and headed out the door.

 Hahn, Sorenson and Brackett joined the two paramedics. Wolski glanced at his watch.

“Gentlemen…It’s been a good day and I think this deserves a good dinner. I know a great Polish place.” 

John took a step back. “Oh no,” he said quickly.

 “What’s wrong John?” Wolski asked.  

“Trust me Mike,” Roy said. “John’s stomach has a bit of a problem with um…Some Ethnic foods…And we’ll be trapped on the plane with him,” he said wryly.

 John shot him a glare as the others suddenly realized what he meant and began to laugh.  “In that case , I know this terrific burger joint,” he said with a chuckle.

 “Let’s go.” 

 John and Roy returned to work two days later. The younger paramedic pushed open the door to the gym area and found Chet pedaling madly on his stationary bike. Sweat soaked the man’s forehead and his shirt was wet with it.

 “Hey Chet…What’s with the workout?” He asked with a grin. 

“Cap said we all need to exercise more,” he gasped, shooting his young crewmate a glare.

 John rose up defensively at the look. “Well what are ya mad at me for?” He asked, poking his finger into his own chest for emphasis.

 “I’m not,” Chet growled. “Now will ya please just go away?”

 “Fine,” John said looking a bit hurt. He pushed out of the locker room, tossing one final confused glance over his shoulder at his crewmate.

He strolled past the engine and stopped as he spotted Marco and Mike working with the weights. “Wow…I guess Cap is really on some kind of fitness kick huh?” He said to the pair.

 Both of them gave John a look that should have frozen him solid. John correctly read the look on ther faces and backed up a step, holding his hands up in surrender. “Alright I’m goin…I’m goin,” he said, turning away and heading for the kitchen. "Man why's everyone so grouchy today?" he mumbled, wondering why the guys weren't happy about the victory in Sacramento.

  He stepped inside and found Roy and Hank sitting at the table sipping their coffee. A large bowl of salad sat in the center and Hank was staring at it dismally.

“Hey Roy…Hi Cap…Hey what’s going on with everyone? What’s that?” He asked, noticing the bowl of greens and changing the direction of the conversation with his usual lack of attention span. He leaned over to look into the bowl. “What’s this?” He questioned again.

 “What’s it look like?” Hank said grumpily.

 John drew back at the angry tone and looked at his partner. “It looks like a salad,” he answered with a small laugh, trying to figure out why everyone was mad at him today.

"Good guess," Hank snarled.

 Roy just grinned but said nothing.

 “Um…Did I do something wrong?” He finally questioned warily.  

Hank sighed and relented. John really wasn’t responsible for this new predicament. “We have a serious problem,” he said, looking unhappy.

 John tugged at his lip with his teeth nervously. He’d heard this before and it hadn’t boded well for him.

“Uh what is it Cap?” He asked worriedly.

 “Seems that while we were trying to fatten you up…We uh…Ate a little too much ourselves,” he muttered, looking embarrassed. 

“Huh?” John questioned brilliantly.

 “Chief Houts came by the day you went to Sacramento…Right after you left. He pulled a little surprise inspection and decided to check us out,” Cap growled. 

“And…?” John questioned, still looking confused. 

“Seems we all gained a few pounds,” he mumbled. “He told us we needed to get in shape.” 

John’s mouth dropped open to stare at his captain in shock. “You’re kidding?” He questioned.

 “No…So we’re all eating rabbit food…Except you and Roy of course,” he said scathingly.

 John stood staring at him for a long moment, trying to decide if Hank was putting him on.

 Roy saw the look and lowered his cup enough to talk over the top of it. “He’s not kidding.”

 A gurgle of laughter suddenly bubbled up and burst from John’s lips. He patted his Captain on the shoulder as he passed him, earning a glare from his superior. He sat down next to his partner and looked toward him. 

Roy felt his partner’s eyes on him and turned his head to face him.  “Soft,” they both said together before they burst out laughing.  

THE END

 

 

 

 

Posted to site12/24/14

Again my thanks to Valerie Whincup who suggested the plot to this story. I hope you enjoyed it.

MERRY CHRISTMAS

 

LINKS TO PARTS 1. 2.

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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order. The characters of Emergency belong to Universal and Mark VII but this story itself however, is the property of the author.

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