Silent Heartbeats: Mind the Gap
By Maureen

Disclaimer: Characters aren't mine, they're Disney's. I don't own a single one of them, although I wouldn't mind getting Chris as a present, not at all...anyways, my dreams aside, I'm not making any money on this either. I'm a poor college student and will take money, food, and free rides in cars if someone is feeling generous.
Warning: This is a mature story and deals with many mature themes with graphic detail. There is adult language. If child abuse, cussing, and graphic allusions to sex & drug usage offend you, don't read any farther. If you do read this and become offended, you have been warned and I will have no sympathy for you.
Authors' Notes: Thanks to BE-A-TL and Mad Cow for beta reading, I owe you both nuked lasagna (best I can do, sorry!). Also, parts of this are very similar to a fic by DQ77 and yes, I know it. Her fic, along with a movie from Lifetime (bows head in shame) helped inspire me, so thank you.

***

Jamie trudged out of the EMS station, both glad to be done with the grueling 24 hour shift and dreading going home. It was as if he was permanently stuck between a rock and a hard place, unable to find solace. A few blocks past the station it began to drizzle, a rain light enough to make everything wet, muddy and miserable without truly soaking him. With a sigh he thought about the mud stains he would be forced to scrub out of his pants later that night.

When the team left their shift everyone headed off to the left of the station towards the high school and into the surrounding neighborhoods. Jamie headed to the right where soon the well-groomed shrubbery surrounding the houses ended and the slums of Kingsport began. Picket fences became chain link and an assortment of machinery and tires tended to take the place of well-kept flower gardens. This was where no one wanted to admit they lived, least of all Jamie Waite, but he was stuck there, at least until graduation.

As he turned his key in the lock the door did not give the telltale click to announce the door being unlocked. That meant someone else was home. It couldn't be Peter who was away at college and would never been seen or heard from again. He received a scholarship to get out of what was termed 'Kings trash' and would never come back. The only person that could be home was his father, who was supposed to be at work.

With an audible groan Jamie realized that he had taken yet another day off of work again to get drunk. This mean that soon his father would be home permanently while he combed the classifieds looking for another job. He hated it when his father was home; it was never pleasant. As long as Jamie had school during the day and did not have to come home while he was on shift, his life was almost perfect. Excepting those days when he was off shift and his father was home.

"Boy, is that you?" the slurred words showed that this was easily his fourth or fifth beer, and the stink of cigar smoke permeated every orifice of the small house.

"Yes, dad," Jamie replied, hoping that he would be so inebriated that he would allow his son to go quietly to his room without a problem. His wet and dirty uniform as well as the rest of his laundry could wait.

"Where the hell have you been, boy?" he yelled indistinctly.

"At work, sir," Jamie replied quietly.

"At work," his father repeated, "And did you bring home a paycheck Mr. Workaholic? Your half of the rent?"

"No sir, it's not payday yet." Jamie didn't bother to mention that since he was only on the EMS team because of his probation sentence he wasn't being paid anyways.

That was the wrong thing to say. Lurching out of the faded easy chair, his father tumbled towards him, slightly unsteady on his feet. "It's never payday! You claim to work and work and work but you never bring home any fucking money! I think you're out fucking every whore you can get your hands on and getting high between whores! How many times do I have to tell you, either pay your half of everything or get the hell out of my house! You eat my food; use my electricity and water, live under my roof!! What do I get from you? Nothing. Not a fucking dime! Well no more James Waite!!" Jamie had simply stood there during his fathers tirade with his head bowed. There was nothing he could say in his defense, not that anything he could say would make a difference. Before Jamie could react his father swung his arm out, fist connecting solidly with his ear. Stumbling with surprise, he missed seeing his father swing at his head again, again connecting with his other ear. Stars came to his eyes and he fell down in pain. This gave his father the perfect time to begin kicking him, his heavy workman's boot making a sickening thunk against Jamie's face and chest.

After only a few minutes he became bored with using his son as a human punching bag to work out his frustrations and turned towards the kitchen to find another beer. As he left Jamie crawled to his room and somehow managed to lock the door behind him before collapsing on the floor, unconscious.

***

Several days later Catie ran up to Val, her loose pigtails flying behind her, trying to catch her before she left her locker. "Val! Have you seen Jamie?" she asked her best friend, breathless. Val worked with Jamie on the EMS squad and she thought that even though Jamie hung out with the other "bleacher junkies", Val might've heard something from her friends within the "super squad".

Jamie had been absent from school the past couple days. It was normal for him to skip school on occasion, but he rarely missed more than one day unless he was sick. Even then though, he usually called Catie or someone and let them know.

"Actually, now that you mention it, no, I haven't. Why, don't you know where he is?" Val knew that Catie had a massive crush on the EMS gofer and she had thought that she would have known where he was before she did.

The "super squad", was the nickname given to the three senior members of the EMS squad by Catie and Jamie aptly demonstrated why they often did not know where Jamie was if he did not show up somewhere. After all, "bleacher junkies" did not hang with members of the "super squad" willingly. Although, each admitted that neither group was totally bad or wrong. Simply different.

"No! If I knew that I wouldn't be asking you! Hey," she said suddenly, "don't you guys go on duty after school today?"

"Yeah, so?"

"So Jamie will either call in sick or show up. I just hope he hasn't been sick…"Catie trailed off as she realized that she was acting like she cared for him. He was only a friend. Nothing more.

"Yeah. He's been gone all this week actually. I haven't seen or heard from him since we got off shift this past Saturday. Tell you what, Catie, I'll call you at home as soon as I find something out, alright?" Val said, trying to be as positive as possible. Jamie was a refreshing addition to the team and was very good as the squad gofer as much as he grumbled about it.

"Yeah, okay. Maybe I'll bring him some chicken soup or something later." Catie replied before walking away, her thoughts obviously still wrapped up with Jamie's apparent disappearance.

The more Val thought about it, the more worried she became. If he was sick he would have at least checked in at the station in case he was needed or to let them know he wasn't coming in, as did everyone else. No one had heard from him since he left last shift. As she walked to the station the more convinced she became that something was foul at the Waite house.

***

"Alright, where's Jamie?" Alex yelled as the other three squad members came into the common room of the station. They had already been on shift an hour preparing the ambulance should an emergency arise. Jamie was sometimes late to work too, but never an hour late.

"I don't know, Sir," Hank, the squad leader said, "I called his house thirty minutes ago and no one answered."

Sighing, Alex rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I just called as well, no answer. I've also paged him and he hasn't called yet. Look, has anyone seen him since last Saturday?"

Everyone shook their heads, no. Then Val piped up, "Catie mentioned earlier that she thought he might be sick. She's really worried, sir."

"So am I, Val, so am I." Alex knew that Jamie came from a troubled home. His mother had left when he was only 8 and his father was continuously being fired from whatever menial labor job he had currently obtained. His brother Peter, often considered the 'perfect one' had graduated and left two years ago and no one had heard from him since. Before Alex could say anything else, the siren declaring a call rang out. "Go!"

Racing into their seats in the ambulance, they started off, Hank reviewing the known information while Tyler drove. "A woman called saying something's wrong at the house next door, she didn't say what, only that a bedroom door is locked in the house next to hers and the house has been quiet the past several days. She also said there was a history of child abuse there and that the father left with a suitcase a while ago and hasn't returned."

They all waited with trepidation until they reached the beginning of the neighborhood. Driving down the street to the house, Val looked out the window shocked at the general air of despair around her. Even though her family had recently moved to a smaller house, it was nowhere near as small or as run down as the houses they were passing. Even the yard that she had worked so hard at restoring was not as overgrown as the ones in front of these houses. Finally Tyler stopped the ambulance in front of a small gray house with peeling paint. It looked exactly the same as all the other houses.

Climbing out, the trio ran into an obese woman in a muumuu and curlers. "You kids looking for the Waites?" she asked.

"Yes ma'am," Hank replied, not realizing they were in front of Jamie's house.

"The back door doesn't lock at the house, you can go in through there. It's the second bedroom door! The sons room!"

"Thank you ma'am," Tyler said with a smile as they made their way around back.

Once inside the house they were greeted with a mountain of unwashed dishes littered about the kitchen and living room. Old cigars and beer cans were strewn about the sofa and several flies buzzed around them. "Ew." Val whispered, shuddering. Never had she seen such squalor.

Since there were only three other rooms than the kitchen/living room, it was fairly obvious which one was the bedroom they needed to look at. All the other doors were open, showing a bathroom that had probably never seen any sort of cleaning.

What they could see of the open bedroom left much to be desired. The curtains were drawn and the bed unmade. Several beer cans were littered around the bed.

Tyler turned the knob, nothing happened. Locked. He quickly began pounding on the door, calling out to whomever was in there. There was no response from inside. Spreading out, Tyler charged the door, hitting it with his shoulder. With the sickening sound of wood splitting the door swung open. "Thank god for rotted wood," Val mumbled as Tyler looked into the room.

What they saw shocked them. Lying on the small, disheveled bed was Jamie, obviously in vast amounts of agony. He was covered in sweat and still wearing the uniform he had walked home in. Within seconds Hank was by his side, this was not his friend, this was a patient. "Tyler, Val, go get the backboard and supplies." He ordered.

Clasping Jamie's clammy hand in his own, he said to him "Shhh, Jamie, it's okay. You're going to be fine." Hank then began his cursory diagnosis.

When their hands touched, Jamie's eyes opened in surprise. "Wha?" he mumbled. Before Hank could reply Val and Tyler were back.

"Alright guys, he's feverish and clammy and sweating. He has multiple contusions and abrasions, plus he's dehydrated and something's probably infected. Let's get him to the hospital!"

Jamie felt nauseous inside the ambulance as it sped towards the Kingsport hospital. He could see Val trying to comfort him, but everything was silent, even though his mind was hazy, he knew he should be able to hear her. Struggling to not throw up, he mumbled, "Can't hear you," before falling back into unconsciousness.

***

Several hours later the doctor in charge of Jamie's case came out of the OR to speak with the EMS squad as well as Alex and Catie who had showed up concerned. As soon as he walked through the double doors everyone was up, out of their seats wanting to know if their friend was going to be all right.

"Alright, is anyone here his family?" the doctor asked, knowing fully well that no one was. He had seen the punk-EMS member several times before helping to bring in patients to the hospital. It was quite different seeing one of the EMS members being brought in on the gurney though; his normally spiked black locks plastered to his forehead with sweat.

"I'm in charge of the EMS squads. He works for me." Alex said in a tone that brooked no argument.

"Well, he's going to be fine, but it will take time. He has pneumonia and several cracked ribs although nothing broken and his organs are undamaged. We've also put stitches in the cuts on his forehead and chin. They should heal with little scaring. He's going to be pretty sore for a long time. What we're most concerned about though, are the contusions around his head. There is no swelling but we're always careful about blows to the head. They often cause unforeseen problems, so until he regains consciousness we won't know how much permanent damage, if any, was done."

"Well, what could happen, doctor?" Tyler asked. He didn't want the truth sugar coated. Despite the differences between the "super squad" and the "bleacher junkies" they really did care about Jamie and he, along with Catie, had opened their eyes to a new way to view life.

"Possible blindness, deafness, brain damage, any or all could be temporary or permanent. If any has occurred. We don't know yet, but I think he'll be fine. He's in ICU right now and we're planning to move him to recovery tomorrow morning, you can come back then and see him, alright?" he hoped this would ease their fears.

The squad reluctantly left the hospital to finish their shift, except for Catie who had insisted on staying a bit longer. As Alex had put it, "we all want to be here with him, but he would also want us out there saving lives. We can't be with him now, so lets help someone else until we can help him." No one could argue with his logic.

***

The next morning Val showed back up at the hospital bright and early, Tyler and Hank were both on their way. Catie was still there waiting to see Jamie. She was nodding off in the uncomfortable, molded plastic chair when Val touched her shoulder. She instantly jerked awake, and looked around. When she saw it was only Val who had awakened her, she gave a wan smile. "They just moved him to recovery. We can go see him soon. I thought you were the nurse telling me I could go in."

"Have you been here all night?" Val asked her friend, handing her the cup of coffee she was holding.

Without even looking at what was in the Styrofoam cup she took a huge gulp. Grimacing at the sweetened coffee, she handed it back to Val. "Yeah. I don't know how you can drink that stuff."

"Catie, you need to go home, shower. We'll call you when it's alright to come see him, okay?"

Catie shook her head mutely. "I'm staying, Val." She said, "I…care about him and I don't want to lose him, y'know?" Catie's parents had divorced several years ago and despite seeing her father regularly and his child support payments, she felt like she had lost him. They were never close and the distance became an insurmountable chasm as the years went by. She wasn't close to her mother either, not being the perfect blonde cheerleader like Val was, but it wasn't because they never spoke or saw each other.
Val squeezed Catie's shoulder as the boys walked in, both carrying a small bag. "What's with the bags guys?" Val asked turning towards them.

"Well, we figured Catie would still be here, thanks for proving us right by the way, so we brought a few things by for her." Tyler opened his bag handing her a clean t-shirt and a scrunchie. Hank handed her a travel toothbrush and a bottle of milk and a couple kolaches.
"Hey guys, thanks." Catie replied, grateful. "I really did mean to go home last night, but well…I kept telling myself 5 more minutes and then it was morning."

"Go get cleaned up, girl, and then we'll go see about Jamie, alright?" Val suggested, flashing her patent-pending 'super Val' smile. Silently seething at her own stupidity for not thinking of doing this herself, she decided to take out her anger at herself by trying to find out Jamie's status. "Hello," she said to the nurse at the nearby desk, "I'm here to see James Waite, what room is he in?"

"Waite, Waite…he's in room 718, but it says here only members of the Kingsport EMS can see him." She stared over her glasses at Val, "I suppose you'll have to come back another time them."

"I am a member of the Kingsport EMS," Val replied smoothly, pulling her wallet out with her ID card in it. Normally only the doctors in the ER knew the medics on sight, as that was the only section of the hospital they were ever in usually. There was a strict 'no interference' policy. Once the patient was at the hospital they were the concern of the doctors and nurses there, not the EMS. Period.

"I see," she mumbled staring at the card. She obviously thought that it was a fake or that Val must be on some sort of super anti-aging cream as she was sure that Val was much to young to be working as an EMS technician. "Well, go right down this hallway until it turns right. Then turn right and it'll be the third door on the right. And you're friend has been here all night, she his sister?"

"No. He has no family…she's a friend."

"I see," she replied, winking, drawing what connotations she chooses.
Val walked back to where Tyler and Hank were waiting at the same time Catie stepped out of the restroom. While still looking like she had spent the night in a hospital chair, she nonetheless looked much better with her hair brushed. She had also reapplied her dark purple gothic lipstick and washed her face. "Eat," Hank commanded as she came back, handing her the food, "It's better than hospital food and I don't want you to have low blood-sugar or anything. I promise, kolaches aren't too healthy but they're better than donuts."

"Yes sir," Catie replied smirking at him, but she obediently began to eat the cheese filled pastry. She quickly finished and the foursome followed Val to Jamie's room.

"So, Tyler," Catie said as they followed the hallway, "Where'd you get the clothes and stuff?" it was a simple purple t-shirt and was by no means anything Catie would normally wear. The scrunchie she had used to pull her hair back with was white and had small flowers all over it.

Blushing slightly, he replied, "They're my mom's. I took them out of the clean laundry basket. She won't miss them. I know they aren't your style or anything, but my mom doesn't exactly dress like a Goth."

"Nah, it's cool. Thanks. I appreciate it."

"You're welcome."

Reaching Jamie's door they all became silent, instinctively knowing that now was a time for silence. Opening the door, Val peered in at Jamie before going in. He lay there in the hospital bed and despite being nearly six feet tall, seeming so small and helpless. There was the standard IV drip of antibiotics and whatever fluids the doctors felt were necessary as well as breathing tubes going into his nose to help him breathe. His face was partially bandaged where he had stitches and the skin they could see was a mottled black and blue.

Catie immediately took one of his lifeless hands, and squeezed it hoping for a reaction. Nothing. "Come on Jamie, wake up, man," she whispered, "you're a fighter. Don't quit now!"

"He's not quitting, Catie," Hank replied, glancing up from his medical chart. He couldn't understand it all, but it looked like the doctors had Jamie sedated while his body healed a little more. "He's sedated."

"I wish he were awake," Val said, "I wish he were cutting up and being a slacker goof-off. But most of all, I wish I knew who did this."

Knocking on the door, a doctor walked in. "Hello, I'm Dr. Sanders. I'm in charge of James' case. Are you all EMS?"

They nodded, not letting on that Catie wasn't.

"He goes by Jamie," Catie told him, "He hates being called 'James'."

"Thanks." The doctor replied, making a quick note of that. "He's sedated right now, but he'll wake up later this afternoon and we'll see how he's doing then. Do you have any idea what happened to him? The ER reports were vague."

"No sir," Hank replied.

"I might…but I hope I'm wrong. He mentioned once that his father had a really bad temper, he may have… I've been here all night and his father hasn't shown up once to see him." Catie told the doctor quietly. It was hard to comprehend anyone beating their kid within inches of his life.

"When we were at his house yesterday his next door neighbor said his father had left with a suitcase in hand. It looked like he might be gone for good." Val added, helpfully.
"Thanks. Don't stay for too long, okay? He's going to be fine." With a slight wave he left the room, heading straight to his office.

Twenty minutes later the group began to head out to their cars, deciding to get a decent lunch and then heading back later in the afternoon to see Jamie again. As they headed out, Alex was heading in.

"Alex!" Tyler exclaimed, surprised, "what're you doing here?" he asked before kicking himself. As much as the man punished Jamie for his insolence and tardiness, he also pushed him to better himself and to learn as much as possible. Alex did truly care about all of his EMS squad, even Jamie. Perhaps, especially Jamie.

"Doctor Sanders called letting me know you guys were there and he said he had some things to discuss with me." With the last sentence four sets of eyes gazed at him hopefully, thinking perhaps he knew something they did not. "I don't know anything yet. Where are you guys headed?"

"Lunch. Don't know where yet though," Hank said.

"Meet me at the station after you eat then. I promise not to hold anything back."

"Alright. See you later then." Hank said as they left, towards the parking garage. Each was silent wondering what it was that Dr. Sanders could want to speak with Alex about.

***

An hour later they pulled into the stations' parking lot, after eating lunch at the local Luby's. It was a decent restaurant/cafeteria with affordable prices. Catie claimed it was the best place to eat ever since it offered several different choices of pie and she was a pie fiend.

Alex was already back, working on some paperwork in his office. When he heard the door open he called out, "Come on in here, kids, I've got some important news."
Once everyone was seated or standing where they will, he began. "Mr. Waite is missing. I've already called the police department and filed a missing persons for him. Also, Dr. Sanders has filed for a search for him in order to press charges against him for what we think he did to Jamie. Child Protective Services have already been contacted and they are going to send a caseworker to visit with Jamie once he regains consciousness. Dr. Sanders suggested that I petition to become Jamie's legal guardian. I've already agreed to do so. Any comments?"

"That's great Alex!" Catie exclaimed, "Well, not the bit about his father, but about you being his guardian!"

"Yeah," Hank concurred, "that is good news. Except…well, what does Jamie think of all of this?"

"He still hasn't regained consciousness yet, but we'll ask him once he does. I have no clue how I'm going to handle this," Alex said ruefully, "and I never thought this would be a part of this job. But, what the Hell, he needs someone and he is a good kid. Rather him here than in some foster home where God-know-what could happen." Seeing their shocked expressions at his candidacy, he waved his hand towards the door, motioning for them to leave.