By Lizabeth S. Tucker
John Gage could no longer feel his legs from the knee down. He idly wondered why his partner, Roy DeSoto, didn't seem to be affected by the icy cold water. Maybe there was a disadvantage to being skinny and wiry. Taking a deep breath of the filthy air, he pushed his helmet back slightly, wiping the sweat off his brow. It didn't occur to him to wonder why he was sweating so profusely when he was freezing. At least they had found Kirby and Charles, the missing boys, on a raised concrete platform. All four of them would soon be leaving the dank tunnel rapidly filling with water.
Reaching the platform first, Roy handed him the nearly unconscious boy. Johnny shifted the child's dead weight in his arms to better support the boy's head. He then laid the air mask on the child's face, relieved when the boy began to move about.
"Let's get out of here, we're running out of dry land." Roy motioned back to the ladder leading to the manhole; now open thanks to Chet Kelly and Marco Lopez. Their fellow firefighters had followed the storm drain line with the squad.
Roy walked through the water gushing from the run-off pipe, turning his back to the heavy flow. Johnny followed, going in sideways. The water hit him like a linebacker, causing his feet to slide out from under him. He struggled to keep the child's head above the water while trying to regain his footing. Suddenly, his arms were empty. Momentarily panicked, he soon realized that Roy had returned and taken the child from him.
Johnny pushed his way through the water. The speed of the current combined with his inability to actually feel whether his feet were touching concrete made his movements slow and awkward. He reached the ladder and grabbed for the metal, losing it as a rush of water once again threw him off balance. He went under, swallowing the filthy water before he could close his mouth. He fought back to safety. Gasping for breath, Johnny finally locked his fingers around the painfully cold metal of the ladder that led to safety. Looking up, his vision was blurred by the rain falling into the opening. He reached up, searching blindly for the rim of the exit, only to have a hand grab his and help pull him out. He knew without looking that it was Roy.
Once out of the storm drain, Johnny saw Roy standing by the squad's passenger door. Kirby and Charles were in the dry squad. Johnny looked at his partner, but Roy's eyes slid away after a quick connection. Johnny slumped to the pavement by the manhole, staring back down at the rushing river of rainwater below. He felt a twinge in his chest and wanted to cough, but it was too much effort. Water dripped off his dark hair into his face.
He struggled to his feet, surprised to feel a hand under his elbow, even more surprised to see that it wasn't his partner helping him, but Chet. He nodded his thanks, smiling weakly.
"You okay, Gage?" Chet frowned at him, watching Roy walk around the front of the squad without looking back.
"Yeah, just a little wet." Johnny shrugged. "I'll be fine."
Chet's frown deepened. To anyone who knew John Gage, whenever he said he was fine, alarm bells went off as it usually meant the complete opposite. "You better get Roy to check you out. You've gotta be freezing."
"Yeah, sure, no problem." Johnny wasn't certain if his partner would ever talk to him again after he stuck his nose into Roy's personal business. All he wanted was for the two best people he ever knew to not fight. He only wanted to help. Instead, everything he did made things worse. Now Joanne and Roy were both mad at him.
"Johnny, if you're done daydreaming…" Roy sat inside the squad, the two children sitting next to him. He had the boys wrapped in blankets.
"Uh, sorry…I…I'm coming…s-sorry." He hurried to help check the children out medically as the ambulance drove up behind them.
Chet and Marco closed the manhole cover and, huddled into their turnouts against the rain, trudged back to the engine.
Roy rode in the ambulance with the two boys. They appeared well, except for shivering with the cold. Due to the bad air in the drain, Dr. Early wanted to see them at Rampart. Their parents would be meeting them at the hospital.
Roy needed the time away from his partner. Joanne had blasted him after Johnny's telephone call. Just when he thought the whole spaghetti situation had died down, Johnny had started the argument up again by sharing Stoker's recipe with Joanne. Roy wasn't certain what upset his wife more; the fact that he had liked someone else's food better or that he discussed their earlier argument with his partner.
"What else do you discuss with Johnny?" Joanne had asked. "Our arguments about money? Our sex life?"
Roy sighed as the ambulance backed up to Rampart's emergency entrance. Joanne didn't seem to understand how Johnny could weasel things out of a person, simply by asking over and over again.
The paramedic helped the children inside, nodding at Joe Early as he met them at the treatment room door. "This is Dr. Early. He'll check you over; make certain you won't get sick, okay? And your parents will be here soon."
"Man, we are in so much trouble," Kirby moaned.
Roy laughed. "Probably, but they'll also be thrilled that you were both found safe and sound. Behave yourselves."
"Okay, Mr. DeSoto," Charles and Kirby chorused.
Roy walked to the doctor's lounge, pouring himself a cup of coffee, and settling on the couch with the cup cradled between his hands. He was hunched over deep in thought when nurse Dixie McCall walked in.
"Oh, hi, Roy. Where's your partner?"
"Following in the squad, should be here soon."
When Roy didn't say anything further, Dixie shrugged and sat down next to him on the couch, easing her right shoe off and massaging her foot. She looked up, puzzled by the pensive look on the paramedic's face.
"John isn't hurt, is he?"
"Johnny. He's okay?"
"Oh. Sure. I guess."
"Well, that was clear. You're beginning to sound like Johnny. What did he do this time?"
Roy didn't answer for a moment, and then erupted. "He put his nose where it wasn't wanted or needed, that's what! Now Joanne is mad at me…again. If he'd just mind his own business…arghh!"
"Roy, I'm sure he didn't mean to cause you two any problems. You know Johnny loves your family," Dixie soothed.
"He never means to cause trouble, but he just can't keep from messing things up. He's a menace! I swear, Dix, I wonder sometimes if our partnership was such a good idea."
"Roy DeSoto, don't say that. You know you don't mean it."
Roy shrugged, looking up when he thought he heard a bang outside the lounge. When no one came in and there was no further noise, he turned back to the lovely blonde nurse sitting next to him. "Yeah, maybe not, but sometimes I get so aggravated with his antics."
"He means well, Roy. Whatever happened, I'm certain Johnny would rather die than hurt you or Joanne."
"Yeah, I guess," the weary paramedic replied, drinking his now lukewarm coffee.
Outside the lounge, Johnny heard himself called a menace, heard Roy, the man he considered his best friend, express doubts about their partnership. He punched the wall with his fist, then leaned his forehead against the wall next to the door, squeezing his burning eyes tightly shut. Fighting to breathe over the pressure in his chest, Johnny turned around and walked back to where the squad was parked. He didn't acknowledge Mike Morton as the handsome black doctor walked by.
"Huh," Morton muttered. He pushed into the lounge, heading straight for the coffee pot. "Hello, Dixie. Roy, saw your partner out in the hall. Something wrong with Gage? He didn't even seem to see me."
"He's here? Wonder why he didn't come in." Roy got up, dumping his coffee in the sink. "Guess I'd better round him up. Thanks for listening, Dixie."
"Anytime, Roy. And, please, think before you do anything foolish."
At the squad, Roy found Johnny slumped in the passenger seat, his head leaning back and his eyes closed. He looks…wiped out, was Roy's first thought. He opened his mouth to speak to Johnny, but never uttered a word. Roy's anger had slowly dissipated, yet he wasn't certain how to break the uncomfortable silence.
"Squad 51 available." Roy replaced the mike, glanced once again at his partner, and started the squad on the trip back to the station.
The trip seemed endless. Johnny never spoke nor opened his eyes. The moment the squad was stopped after backing into the bay, he climbed out, heading for the dorm. Roy got out slowly, started to follow his partner, then stopped. He changed direction and walked to the kitchen.
Chet was sprawled on the couch, reading an old issue of Sports Illustrated. He looked up at Roy's entrance, frowning when no one else came in after the light-haired paramedic. "Hey, Roy, where's your partner? They didn't keep him at the hospital, did they?"
"What? Oh, he's in the dorm," Roy replied.
"So he's okay?"
"Why wouldn't he be?"
Chet's eyebrows arched up. "Well, he looked kinda cold. And I bet he took in a lotta water when he fell."
"I don't think so. He kept himself and the boy above the water." Roy poured himself a cup of coffee and dumped some sugar in the cup.
"Nah, not then. The second time," Chet persisted, "when the current almost swept him away."
Roy's head jerked up. "Second time? What second time?"
"After you took both the kids and came up the ladder. Johnny was struggling to follow. I thought he was a goner when he lost his grip on the ladder. I don't know how he fought his way back. He was breathing pretty heavy when he made it to the street."
"He didn't say anything," Roy responded, ignoring the voice reminding him that neither he nor Johnny were talking at that point. "I'm sure he's okay. He's probably taking a hot shower. Something I think I'll do when he's done."
Chet just stared at him, the look in his eyes making Roy uncomfortable.
"Hey, I'm not his mother! Johnny's a big boy. He can take care of himself." Roy stomped over to the table and sat down, his back pointedly to Chet.
Captain Stanley stuck his head into the kitchen. "Lights out in fifteen, Chet, Roy."
Chet headed into the dorm, looked at the cot where Johnny lay, his arm slung over his eyes. Chet didn't know what was niggling at him, but he was worried. The fight between Joanne and Roy had spilled over into a fight between Roy and Johnny. Chet didn't know all the particulars, but he knew it was serious enough that Roy wasn't doing his usual "mother hen" around his partner.
Roy returned from taking his shower. The dorm settled down for the night. Chet listened to the rustle of bedcovers as his friend Marco Lopez tried to find a comfortable sleeping position on the cot next to him, the slight wheezing of engineer Mike Stoker who was fighting a sinus infection, the deep breathing of Captain Stanley as he fell into sleep, and the periodic snore from Roy DeSoto. There was no sound from Johnny.
Just as Chet was about to drift off himself, he heard a muffled cough. A few seconds later he heard the sound of turnouts being pulled up and suspenders snapped into place. He peeked over his feet and saw Johnny leave the dorm.
Waiting to see if Roy heard and followed, Chet lay still on his cot. When there was no indication Roy was awake, Chet quietly pulled his gear on and followed.
The only light in the kitchen was over the stove. Johnny was leaning on the counter, sipping a glass of tap water.
"Hey, Gage, you okay?" Chet kept his voice low.
Johnny shrugged. "I guess. Just tired. Over-tired."
And sad, Chet thought to himself. "Anything I can do to help?"
"I'm thinking about…moving on," Johnny put the glass against his forehead.
"Quitting the department?" Chet yelped.
"Nah, just transferring from here."
Johnny grimaced. "It's…time."
"You've only been here a couple of years, Johnny," Chet protested. "What's really wrong? Tell me, babe."
Johnny moved to the table, setting his glass down. Hooking his foot on a chair to pull it out, he collapsed on the seat. He rubbed his hands over his face, coughing harshly. "I screwed up, Chet. I messed things up with Roy. Now he can't stand to be partnered with me."
"Did he tell you that?" Chet was surprised.
"Well, see, you've misunderstood…" Chet interrupted, only to be cut off.
"That's what he told Dixie."
Silence reigned while Chet considered the implications of that statement. John continued sipping at his water, coughing again. "I don't want to make things hard for Roy. Man, he's my best friend. That won't ever change, even if he doesn't want anything to do with me. I think I should put in for a transfer, another station, maybe another shift so we don't run into each other at Rampart."
"Roy'll get over it. He's just upset 'cause Joanne is mad at him. It'll blow over."
"It's never been like this. I mean, sometimes Roy would get mad at me, but we'd get past it pretty quick. This is, I don't know, different. He doesn't need me making it worse for him at home. I just…I just wanted to help, ya know?"
"Johnny, think before you do anything," Chet said, unknowingly echoing Dixie.
Before they could continue, the station was toned out to a fire at a tire dump. They had two hours of smelly, backbreaking overtime before coming back to the station and separating to head home for two days off.
Roy sauntered into the station, his temperament sunny again. Joanne had tried Stoker's spaghetti recipe and loved it. Roy had explained that he needed a good friend to talk to about things that happened, both on the job and at home, just like Joanne discussed things with her girlfriends. She understood, apologized and everything was great again. She had even tried to call Johnny to invite him over for dinner, but there was no answer at his apartment. Considering how things were when they last worked a shift, Roy assumed Johnny had gone camping, his way of relieving stress.
He said hello to Stoker and Marco, drew back at Chet's angry snarl and, just as he was about to ask what was wrong, heard Stanley call his name.
"Roy, could I see you in my office, please?"
"Uh, sure, Cap." As he passed Chet, he heard a muttered, "hope you're happy."
"Close the door." Stanley wasn't smiling.
"Is something wrong?" Realizing that he hadn't seen his partner's car in the lot, Roy asked, "Is it Johnny? He isn't hurt, is he?"
"It is Johnny, but he isn't physically hurt."
"Roy, Johnny has…well, maybe it would be better if you read this." Captain Stanley handed Roy a typewritten piece of paper.
Roy recognized Johnny's scrawled signature on the bottom and, before he began reading, had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He looked back up at Stanley. "Cap?" he pleaded.
"Read it, Roy, then we'll talk."
To Captain H. Stanley, the paper read, Effective immediately I have requested a leave of absence, which has been approved by Headquarters. At the end of this leave, I will be reassigned to Station 56 on C Shift. Sincerely, John R. Gage.
"A leave of absence? A transfer? What the hell is going on?" Roy tossed the paper back on the desk.
"I don't know much more than you do, Roy. I came in to find this sitting on my desk and the official paperwork for the leave and the transfer signed and approved by headquarters attached. I found one other thing, a sealed envelope with your name on it. Maybe this will explain what's going on. I'll leave you alone to read it."
Roy took the envelope, again recognizing Johnny's writing. He nodded his thanks for the privacy and, after Stanley had closed the door behind him, ripped the envelope open. He pulled a folded paper out, handwritten this time, and began reading.
Roy, guess you know by now what I've done. I thought it would be better this way, so you won't have to pretend you're upset or anything. I just wanted to let you know that the two years that I've known you have been the best in my life. I'll miss you, buddy, but I can tell when it's best to move on and I think that time is now. I hope Joanne will forgive me, but if she won't, at least let her know that you weren't at fault. It was all me! Take care, okay? John
Roy crumpled the paper in his hand, and then carefully smoothed it out. He didn't understand. Why was Johnny leaving? Just because they had a fight? They had fought before and he had never even threatened to transfer out of 51. Roy went in search of the one person who might be able to explain: Chet.
Chet was sitting by his locker, fiddling with his badge.
"Chet, do you know what Johnny did?" Roy asked.
"Yeah, I know. I tried to talk him out of it, but he wanted to make it easy for you," Chet snarled, slamming his locker door shut.
"Easy for me? What the hell does that mean?"
"You made it pretty clear that you didn't want anything to do with him, so Johnny left. He doesn't stay where he's not wanted!"
"What made him think he…wasn't…wanted," a conversation he had with Dixie on their last shift together and the comment that Dr. Morton made about seeing his partner outside the lounge made it all clear to Roy. "Oh, God, he overheard me talking to Dixie."
"Oh, yeah, he heard it all right. Man, Roy, how could you? It tore him up, and with him feeling so lousy and all, it hit him bad."
"Feeling so lousy. What are you talking about now?"
"He got sick from that rescue. He says it's just a bad cold, but he sounds awful, Roy. I'm worried about him, but he won't let me take him to a doctor." Chet's demeanor softened, worried about his sparring partner. "He coughs almost all night, every night. He's hardly sleeping for more than fifteen minutes at a time, if that."
"How do you know all this? I've tried calling him at home repeatedly and there's never an answer."
"He's staying with me. I threatened him with calling you or staying with me. I was the lesser of two evils, according to Gage."
"He's there now? Alone?"
"Yeah, I'm not too happy about that, but he insisted I go to work. I thought I might be able to get you and Dwyer to drop by my place later and check on him."
"Dwyer's replacing Johnny?" Things were going too fast for Roy, still reeling from the events that were unfolding.
"Yeah, he arranged that. Didn't want you stuck with Brice for the next few weeks."
Roy hurried to the bay, spotting Dwyer lining up with Marco and Stoker. "Cap, we need to go to Chet's place, check on Johnny. Chet says he's sick, bad sick."
Stanley's eyes widened at the admission that Chet and Johnny were staying together, then nodded. "After roll call you can go to Rampart to replenish supplies. Kelly's place is nearby, but you'll have to stay in service. That isn't your area of response."
Roy banged on the door of Chet's apartment and listened. There was no sound.
"Roy, are you sure he's here? Maybe Johnny went back home to his place." Dwyer tried to peer into the dirty sliver of window beside the door.
"Nope, his Rover is at his place. Chet drove him here, so Johnny has no way to get around unless he calls a cab or tries to walk home. Based on what Chet said, he wouldn't be able to walk very far at all." Roy pounded on the door again. Still hearing no noise in the apartment, he pulled Chet's keys from his pocket. "Glad Chet insisted on our taking these."
Roy unlocked the door and walked in. The lights were out and the room almost too dark after being in the bright sunlight outside. "Johnny? Johnny, where are you?"
Dwyer began searching the apartment, looking in the back bedrooms. "Roy! He's here! Better get the equipment, including the oxygen."
Roy started to the back of the apartment.
"Roy, now!" Dwyer barked.
Roy ran out the door at breakneck speed.
Dwyer knelt next to a pale, shivering John Gage who was curled on the floor of the bathroom. "John? Johnny, can you hear me?"
"Y-y-yeah," he stuttered.
"Did you fall?"
"N-no…was sick…t-too woozy…couldn't…g-get up…so cold…"
"Are you having trouble breathing?" Dwyer asked, hearing the gasping and seeing the shallow breaths the other man was taking.
"Hurts how?" Before Johnny could reply Roy was back, the biophone in one hand, the drug box in the other and the oxygen clutched under his arm.
"R-roy?" Johnny's hand reached out blindly.
"Yeah, partner, right here." Roy dropped everything he was carrying and took Johnny's hand in his. "Take it easy.
"I'm s-sorry, I'm s-sorry," Johnny murmured over and over.
"You don't have anything to be sorry for, Johnny. Hey, partner, you just let us take care of you, okay?" Roy looked up at Dwyer who was taking Johnny's vitals and writing them in his notebook. Sometimes Roy wished he didn't know as much as he did. He could tell from Johnny's vitals just how dire the situation was. His temporary partner put the oxygen on Johnny.
"Rampart, this is County 51. How do you read?"
"Loud and clear, 51."
While Dwyer spoke with Rampart, Roy got on the HT and reported a still alarm at Chet's place, Code I. "Johnny, let me get you a blanket from the bedroom, okay? Johnny?" His partner was gripping his hand tightly and it took some effort to get loose. He quickly found a quilt and wrapped it around his friend.
Johnny's eyes were unfocused, searching for something or someone only he could see.
"Johnny, Rampart wants you on IV, so we're gonna have to stick you, understand?" Dwyer's voice was soothing, but his face clearly showed Roy his own worry.
"O-kay. Roy?" Johnny's brown eyes were darting from side to side.
"Right here, buddy."
"Is J-Joanne…still mad at…me?"
"No, Johnny, she's not. In fact, Jo wanted to ask you over for dinner yesterday. She tried Stoker's recipe and liked it." Roy knew he was rambling, but couldn't stop.
Johnny smiled weakly. "Not mad…at you?"
"No, she's not mad at me either." Roy could hear the ambulance sirens and breathed a sigh of relief. Thank God! Johnny's breathing was increasingly labored.
Johnny was carefully loaded onto the gurney, Roy holding the IV. Dwyer carried the equipment that didn't need to be on the gurney between Johnny's legs. Roy didn't ask Dwyer who should ride in with Gage. He simply climbed in the back of the ambulance with his partner.
There was a flurry of activity when they arrived at Rampart. Dixie pushed Roy out into the hallway when he wanted to stay in the treatment room with Johnny. "I think you need to call some people, don't you?"
Roy nodded, staring at the now closed door. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess I do."
"Do it from the lounge, there'll be more privacy."
Roy notified the station, and then called his wife. "Jo? Oh, God, Jo, Johnny's sick. I think it's really bad. And it's all my fault."
Unable to be released from duty, Roy had to check up on Johnny whenever they had a run to Rampart. Unfortunately that wasn't as often as he could have hoped. Dixie finally had to order that neither Roy nor Chet could call to find out what Johnny's status was after the fifth call from each in less than 2 hours.
Roy worked with Chet on figuring how to rescind Johnny's transfer request. As sick as he was, the leave of absence would probably become sick leave. Captain Stanley tried to explain to them that only Gage himself could request the transfer be cancelled, but Chet's position was that it was done while Johnny was delirious and couldn't be accepted as authentic.
Chief McConnikee, visiting the station to hear an update on the paramedic's condition from Stanley and DeSoto, was inclined to agree when appealed to by a persistent firefighter who refused to allow his pigeon to escape his clutches, or so Chet claimed. No one discussed his taking Johnny in as a temporary roommate, contrary to their adversarial relationship. Even Stanley's paranoia regarding the Chief took a back seat to losing one of his men.
"Kelly, I'll see what I can do about it, but the final say will have to be Gage's. I think headquarters would prefer to not break up the best paramedic team they have."
Between calls, the crew of Station 51 sat somberly around the kitchen table, pretending to read newspapers and magazines. Every time the telephone rang, they looked intently at the person who answered it. This time it was answered by Mike Stoker. "Roy, it's for you. It's Joanne."
Roy rubbed his hands over his face before taking the handset from the engineer. "Hey, Jo. No, I haven't heard anything new. I don't know. Well, from what I could find out from Dix, Johnny picked up an infection from the storm drain. Yeah, he's still unconscious. Yeah. But I should've…I know, but…" Roy sighed. "I know that I overreact sometimes, but this time I am at fault. I was just so mad at him and I…Jo, I ignored him. That water was freezing. Sure I was in it, too, but…okay, I'll try. Jo, I'll try! Sure. I love you, honey. Goodbye."
Chet and Marco exchanged looks before Chet stood up. "Roy?"
"I know you're feeling guilty and all. But you do know that Gage was already feeling lousy before the call, don't you? I mean, swallowing that water probably didn't help, but I think he was already comin' down with something before the call."
Roy stared at Chet in wonder. How is it that you know more about Johnny's well-being than I do? "No, I didn't know that." Roy wandered about the kitchen and community area aimlessly before stopping at the coffee pot. He took a cup out of the cabinet and stared at it.
All the men jumped when Roy flung the empty cup at the wall near the door, shattering the mug. "Dammit! He could die!"
Chet jumped to his feet, but Captain Stanley beat him. "Roy, John's not going to die, you hear me? You heard Brackett."
"That's right. The doctors are pumping Johnny full of drugs to fight this,"
Marco chimed in.
"You know Gage, he can't do things halfway. He'll pull through, he's got more lives than a cat," Chet agreed.
"I'm sick and tired of the 'nine lives' comments. He's not a damn cat; he's a human being. A very sick human being."
Stoker knelt to clean up the shattered cup. He looked up at Roy and grimaced. "You've given up on him?"
"You're acting as if Johnny's gonna die. That won't help, Roy. If you visit him and he picks up on that…"
Startled, Roy considered the quiet man's observation. "I want to be positive, Mike."
"You're feeling guilty about John. He's feeling guilty about you and Joanne. That doesn't do anyone any good."
"Wow, Mikey, so many words," Chet commented.
"Chet. Shut up. And don't call me Mikey." Stoker got to his feet, dumping the cup into the trash. "Are you still mad at Johnny?"
"Do you think Johnny is unable to take care of himself?"
"Not…no. Not normally."
"Chet, did Johnny think he was seriously ill?" Stoker turned to the bane of Gage's existence when working at the station.
"No. I mean, he was sure it was a cold, maybe the flu," Chet replied. "Like I said, he wasn't feeling that great before we got the call."
"Like how?" Roy asked.
"Achy, a little stuffy. Kinda like Mikey…uh, Mike. Ya know, with his sinuses. Gage wasn't sure if he was getting a cold or whether he had allergies, too."
"Well, there you go. The dunking in the drain might have made it worse, but there was nothing you could've done about that, Roy," Cap stated.
"I could've had him checked out at Rampart." Roy wanted to believe his crewmates were right, but guilt was something built into him from childhood.
"Yes, you could have. And John could've had himself checked out. And I, as his captain, should have made certain that my men weren't harmed by their experience in the storm drains." Stanley moved to Roy's side, gently gripping his paramedic's shoulder and squeezing gently. "There's more than enough guilt to spread around. But that won't turn back time and it won't make John well. Only the doctors and nurses at Rampart can do that. Rampart and the prayers and good wishes of John's friends and family."
Roy was confused by Stanley's reference to his partner's family. "Johnny doesn't have a family."
"Yeah, he does, Roy," Marco said, smiling. "We're his family."
"Yeah, that's why it hit him so hard when you told Dixie that you didn't want to be his partner anymore." Chet was getting incensed again. "You cut his heart out, Roy!"
"I was just…" Roy's voice faded away.
"You were just doing what John usually does, ranting to someone who would understand," Stanley smiled. "Isn't that right?"
Roy nodded. "But will I get a chance to tell Johnny that?"
Before anyone could answer, the phone rang. They hesitated, and then Captain Stanley went to answer it. "Hello, Station 51, Captain Stanley speaking. Ah, Dr. Brackett."
There was dead silence in the room. Roy stepped closer to his captain, his throat closed with fear when Stanley looked directly at him. "I'll send them right over. Thank you.
"Dwyer, you're to drive the squad to Rampart. You and Roy will be temporarily stood down."
"Johnny?" Roy whispered.
"Brackett wants you there as soon as possible." Before the captain could finish, Roy had run to the squad, tossing the keys to Dwyer who had to scramble to keep up.
As the squad pulled out, Stanley found himself surrounded by his remaining men. He held his hands up to hold them off and told them what Brackett had explained to him.
Roy barely allowed the squad to stop before he was out of the vehicle and squeezing through the automatic emergency room doors. He raced to the elevator and punched the up button repeatedly. "C'mon, c'mon."
"Roy? Roy!" Dixie grabbed his arm just as the elevator doors opened. She held him back. "Wait!"
He turned to look at her, his eyes awash with unshed tears. "Dix? Please, he's not…"
She shook her head, smiling. "No, he's not dead. I wanted to stop you before you saw Johnny in ICU. The fever's broke. Roy, he's going to make it."
Roy expelled all his breath, falling back. "Thank God. When? And why didn't Brackett just tell Cap instead of having us put out of service?"
"Come with me. We'll go see your partner and I'll explain on the way." Dixie guided Roy into the elevator, which had returned while they were speaking.
"'kay. Dwyer, you coming?" Roy asked his temporary partner.
"Nah, I'll go scout out some nurses before the boy wonder gets well enough to do the same himself. Tell Gage hello for me." Dwyer slapped Roy on the arm.
"Roy, when Kel called you, we honestly thought you might need to be here. John's fever was becoming dangerously high and his breathing became so labored that we weren't certain he would make it long enough for you to arrive."
"What changed? I mean, I don't want to knock it, but if it was that serious just 20 minutes ago, why is he okay now?"
"Yeah, of course."
Dixie shook her head. "We don't know, Roy. Maybe the drugs finally took effect. Maybe it's Johnny's way of keeping Kel on his toes."
"Maybe it's a miracle," Roy said softly.
"Maybe. I've been a nurse for more years than I care to admit to and I've seen all sorts of things during that time. Things that couldn't possibly be. People surviving against all odds and all logic. Miracles."
They arrived on Johnny's floor and Dixie led the way to the paramedic's room. She smiled, ushering in Roy and leaving him with his partner and best friend.
Roy stood just inside the doorway, taking in the pale, sweating man lying in the bed. John Roderick Gage was a man of many parts, most hidden from all but his closest friends. Roy had called himself that, only to betray Johnny when he needed him the most.
Roy pulled a chair to Johnny's bedside and sat down, content to listen to the slightly wheezy breathing, a vast improvement. He reached for Johnny's hand, holding it between his own. He owed his partner, his friend an apology. This would be a good time to practice. "John, I let you down and I'm sorry. I didn't mean for you to leave. I guess I was…frustrated because Jo and I have never had such a big fight over something so ridiculous. Don't get me wrong, we fight. Every couple fights, but over spaghetti? I took it out on you and I'm sorry." Roy looked down at the floor. "Oh, God, I'm so sorry."
"'s okay," came a rasping whisper.
Roy's head shot up and he looked into the most welcome sight, a pair of bloodshot brown eyes he never thought to see again. "Hey, partner."
Johnny gave a weak version of his lopsided smile. "Hey…yourself…I'm…one who's…sorry."
"For trying to help? Ah, Johnny, don't apologize. It was me…"
Johnny shook his head. "No…guilt."
Roy felt a grin spread across his face. "You know me."
"How bad? Oh, how bad are you?"
John gave a barely perceptible nod.
"You were pretty sick for a while, but Dix says you're on the mend. Of course, it'll take some time for you to be back to work." Roy hesitated. "You'll come back to 51, won't you?" To me, he thought.
"Transfer…already…approved…how can…I…" Johnny frowned, struggling to make himself heard, as his voice was almost non-existent.
"No problem. Chet and the Chief are just waiting for your okay to rescind the paperwork."
"Yep, he's been bugging everyone at headquarters about it. Said you were never in your right mind when you were well, how could they accept a transfer request when you were sick? Or something like that."
"Yeah, the same guy you stayed with when you were getting sick. Ah, Johnny."
"Don't 'pologize…again…'s past."
Roy and Johnny smiled at each other, content once again with their partnership and their friendship.
"Chet!" Johnny looked down at his shirt, which was covered with spaghetti sauce, then up at the mischievous mustached firefighter.
"What? Gage, you're supposed to eat it not wear it."
Joanne and Roy DeSoto sighed in unison. It was Johnny's first day back at work at Station 51. Joanne, Emily Stanley, the captain's wife, and Rosaria Lopez, Marco's mother, had decided to prepare a feast to welcome him back. Johnny, eager to help, had opened the cabinet to get glasses for the iced tea only to have the contents of a large can of tomato sauce shoot at him, splattering onto his face and chest and dripping onto the clean kitchen floor.
"Kelly!" Cap shouted. "Clean this mess up, NOW! John, don't move. You'll leave a trail of sauce from here to the dorm. Marco, buddy, get some towels for John, will ya?"
Roy moved closer to his partner and muttered, "sure you still want to stay?"
Keeping his face from Chet's sight, Johnny grinned. "Wouldn't leave if you paid me."
Note: The ending of the episode Helpful has always disturbed me somewhat due to Roy's lack of concern over his partner's apparent weakness and difficulties getting out of the storm drain during the rescue of the missing boys. I think there was more to the story and this is my take on what happened and what should've happened.
Some fanfic have Chet being an annoying git 24/7. But the series clearly shows that John and Chet can get along even if one of them isn't in the hospital. They go on vacations together and double date. Could you double date with a guy who has to put you down every second? Especially in front of your date? I don't think so.
Some passages are from the aired script written by Preston Wood. As always, this was written for the enjoyment of myself and others. Emergency! still belongs to Mark VII Productions, Inc.