That Inner Glow
By Lizabeth S. Tucker
Based on the episode "Hangup" by Preston Woods.
Warning: the medical aspects of this story might be too graphic for those weak of stomach. Sorry!
John Gage stared at the hospital ceiling after Roy DeSoto left. He hadn't wanted to let his partner know how frightened he was. Radiation poisoning was nothing to laugh at. Although Roy's dolcimeter only showed a count of 25, Johnny's reading was over 100. Dr. Brackett has assured him that he wasn't in danger of dying. He would, however, probably be quite ill during the next 24 to 48 hours. Hence he was staying overnight for observation.
The door to his room opened. He looked up to see head nurse Dixie McCall walk softly inside. "Hey, Dix."
"Hey yourself, Johnny. How are you feeling?" She bustled about his bed, tucking in covers, plumping his pillow.
"Okay," he replied with a faint smile.
"Really?" she asked, laying her hand gently on his arm.
Johnny shrugged. "A little scared. I don't know what I'm looking at."
"Well, if you're lucky, you won't feel anything."
"Or if I'm not?"
"Well, with your exposure, you might have some dizziness, nausea, and even some diarrhea."
Johnny grimaced. "Oh, wow, terrific."
"Now, Johnny, you're going to be just fine." When Johnny's glum expression didn't lighten, she persevered. "John Gage, have I ever lied to you?"
He gave her a faint smile, peering up through his mussed hair. "Naw, you never have."
"And I never will. You're going to be just fine. Now, I want you to try and get some sleep and, before you know it, it will be all over."
"Yeah, sure it will." His grin was a little stronger when Dixie brushed his hair out of his eyes. "Night, Dix."
"Good night, Johnny."
The lights overhead dimmed, but didn't go completely out. There was never complete darkness in a hospital. Johnny draped his arm over his eyes and prepared to sleep, hoping to avoid the list of symptoms outlined by Dixie.
Roy walked out of the hospital into the predawn air. He stopped, taking a deep breath. He rubbed the heels of his hands over his face. He was bone tired.
Roy looked up, smiling. All the engine crew had come to the hospital after cleanup to be officially okayed by Rampart. The Chief stood down the station so after returning the engine to the barn, the men all took their cars to the hospital. Chet Kelly had brought Roy and Johnny their clothes. Now he was standing by the emergency entrance. Behind him stood Captain John Smith, subbing for their regular leader, Dick Hammer, who was on leave. "Hi, Chet. Cap. Didn't think you guys would still be here."
"He has to stay overnight at least," Roy replied to Smith.
"Overnight? At least?" Chet's voice raised. "Whaddya mean by that? You and Gage were in there for the same amount of time."
"Yeah, only Johnny stood in front of the door leaking radiation to free Dr. Duncan. He took a stronger shot than I did. Brackett said he'll probably get sick."
Chet was shocked. He hadn't expected to hear that. "But…I thought…how sick?"
Roy shrugged. "You don't want to know, Chet. Believe me."
"When will Gage be back to work?" Captain Smith asked.
"I honestly don't know. I think Brackett is hoping that Johnny can be released tomorrow, but…"
"But what?" Chet didn't like the way the conversation was going.
"Well, from what Brackett said, Johnny's immune system could be compromised for a while."
"Which means he would have to stay away from potential sources of infection, correct?" Captain Smith asked. "Such as what he might come across as a paramedic."
"Do they know for how long?"
"Not really. I think it will depend on how Johnny reacts during his stay and the tests he'll have to undergo. Dr. Brackett said the radiation from the Iodine-131 could be in his system for up to 100 days."
"Jeez, you mean he could get really sick?"
"Yeah, Chet, he could get really sick. Even staying in this hospital could be dangerous. That's why he's restricted to no visitors."
Johnny slept for a while, then woke with a cramp in his gut. Still half asleep, he stumbled to the bathroom and did his business. He was shaky, his face sweating. He splashed some water on his face, looking at himself in the mirror as he leaned on the sink. Even to his sleep-fogged eye, he looked pale. So it begins.
He walked unsteadily back to the bed, slipping under the sheet and pushing the blanket to the side. He was too hot to be covered. He drifted, letting his mind go where it would. Johnny smiled as he remembered his partner's offer to find out the end of the Adam-12 episode they had watched at the station. He's the best partner, the best friend a guy could have.
The thought of the Adam-12 episode got him wondering what had happened in the show. He fell smoothly into sleep.
"DeSoto! We have your partner. If you want him back alive, give us your patient."
Johnny swallowed, feeling the muzzle of the gun pressed into his side. "Hey, man, he can't do that."
"Then, Gage, you're useless to us. The only thing keeping you alive is your worth as a hostage." The man's moustache bristled in annoyance. "Everyone knows that your partner would do anything to keep people from being hurt. Even you."
Johnny frowned. "What does that mean?"
"I heard you annoying him. As usual." The stocky crook leaned around the tree, peering down the hill while his cohort kept his eye on Johnny.
"I don't annoy Roy," Johnny protested.
"That's not what I saw. He was rolling his eyes while you were ramblin' on. If that's not annoyance, I don't know what is."
"Amigo, he's moving." The other man slipped next to where Johnny and his captor crouched. "He's pulling the stokes behind him."
"Well, Gage, seems like he's willing to sacrifice you to save Mikey. Tough luck."
Johnny knew that Roy had no choice but to save his patient, but in his heart, he ached at being abandoned. If he was going to survive, he would have to save himself. Johnny took a deep breath, jammed his elbow in his captor's stomach and ran as fast as he could down the hillside. He heard the shouts, the sounds of gunfire and screamed as a bullet struck him in the side, spinning him about.
Johnny woke with a start, clutched his stomach and half-fell out of bed in his rush to the bathroom. Although he knew it was impossible, the term "spewing out his guts" came to mind as Johnny retched past the point of emptying his stomach. A rumbling deep in his bowels gave notice that he was about to use the other end in a similar process. It was definitely not going to be a good hospital stay.
It seemed a lifetime before Johnny could stand on shaky legs and slowly clean himself up at the sink. He splashed water on his face, then cupped a handful to rinse out his mouth. He leaned on the sink, panting with the exertion. Man, I could do without this!
He had to wait until his legs were steady enough to carry him back to bed. He prayed that the worst was over, but a glance at his watch let him know that he had only slept for three hours. He flung his arm over his eyes again and prayed for a long sleep and no nightmares.
The next day, Johnny had some visitors to break the monotony of his day. Unfortunately, they were all medical staff, conducting various tests involving blood and urine.
"Hello, Johnny, how are you doing today?" Dr. Kelly Brackett flipped through the chart that held the results of Johnny's tests.
"Isn't that my question, doc?"
Brackett's lips twitched, a sure sign of problems.
"Doc, I don't like silence. It makes me nervous."
"I've noticed. Okay, here's the deal. Your white cell count is down from your exposure to the Iodine-131. I was afraid of this."
"Yeah, you mentioned it to Roy and me last night. It makes me susceptible to infection, right?"
Brackett nodded. "Right. That means, until your count is back to normal, you're off duty. And you'll need to either be in isolation here or alone in your apartment. You'll have to take certain precautions as well."
"Great," Johnny growled.
"John, this is serious. Even something as small as a cut or exposure to someone with a cold could put you back into this hospital as a patient for real."
The paramedic nodded his head reluctantly. "I understand."
"Here's a list of things to do. If you feel sick at all, I want you in here. No macho posturing, got it?"
"I assume you're going home?"
"Oh, definitely. No offense, but I'd rather be home than here in Rampart."
Brackett smiled. "I can understand that. Johnny, I mean it. No visitors. No girlfriends, no men from the station. Any of them could be carriers of an infection or virus."
"I understand. Really." Johnny ran a hand through his unruly hair. "I need to get some supplies in. Maybe Roy can get some stuff for me."
"No visits from Roy either, John. Call him with what you want. Does he have keys to your apartment?"
Johnny shook his head. "No."
"Give them to me. I'll make certain he gets them. You have a few more tests to undergo, then I'll release you this afternoon."
"What about my car?"
"Chet Kelly brought it last night. It's in the parking lot."
Johnny called his partner who agreed to stock the kitchen and would pick up money and keys from Brackett.
After two weeks, Johnny was bored out of his mind and considering his stay as solitary confinement. He had cleaned his apartment from top to bottom, in between bouts of nausea and fatigue. He had been visited by Dixie and Brackett twice for blood tests and once by an girlfriend who hadn't been pleased to be turned away. That was another relationship over.
Johnny heard the phone ring and broke out in a grin. At least he had Roy to talk to. His partner, aware of Johnny's low level of boredom, had called every day to speak with him, telling him of the day's activities.
"Hey, Roy." Johnny threw himself down onto the couch, cradling the phone against his shoulder.
"Johnny, how are you?"
"Wantin' to get back to work. How're things there?"
"Chet is driving everyone nuts. He's been reading up on what you have. I think he's really worried about you."
Johnny chuckled, well aware of his nemesis' concern. "He's just worried that…"
"…he'll have to break in a new Pigeon. Yeah, that's his story." Roy's sigh came clearly over the line. "Any word about when you'll be coming back?"
"Brackett thinks I'm looking good. Maybe another week before it is safe for me to be with other people, so tell Cap that I'll let him know when I have a definite date. I really can't wait!"
"Neither can I, partner. I had to work with Bellingham today."
"Yeah. I spent an hour cleaning out the squad of candy wrappers, soft drink cups, and things I don't want to think about."
"So you miss me, huh, Pally?"
"Yeah, Junior, I do. At least you're housebroken."
Roy filled Johnny in on the various calls of the day and a peculiar incident involving Bellingham, a ShihTzu, and a hysterical woman. Before Roy could finish, the tones went off. "Gotta run, Johnny."
"Yeah, I hear. Take care." Johnny replaced the receiver in the cradle, resting his hand on the phone. He sighed, walking over to the television and switching it on. It was almost time for Mod Squad.
Johnny had fallen asleep on the couch watching television. When the phone rang, he had to take a moment to remember where he was and where the telephone was in relation to the couch.
"'lo?" He mumbled into the phone, glancing at the clock.
"Kelly? Do you know what time it is? Man, it's four in the morning!"
"Yeah, I know."
Johnny felt a chill run up his spine. "Chet? What is it? Roy?"
"We…we were on a call…a structure fire…a frame house. Johnny, it blew out. Roy got caught underneath."
"He was out cold when we dug him out."
"Where are you?" Johnny was already pulling on a clean shirt and searching for his car keys.
"I'm on my way."
"Gage, you're supposed to stay away from people,"Chet protested. "I just wanted to let you know. Cap is calling Joanne."
"I'm on my way," Johnny repeated tersely, hanging up before Chet could continue his argument.
The drive to the hospital took forever, or so it seemed to an anxious Johnny. He ran his sweaty palms up and down the steering column nervously. At one overly long red light, he checked up and down the street and ran the light, praying that he wouldn't be seen by the police.
Finally he pulled into the emergency room parking area. Johnny jumped out of the Rover and trotted to the entrance. Chet was standing there in wait.
"Brackett's gonna have your head," was Chet's only comment as he led Johnny to where the rest of the station waited. Joanne looked up, saw Johnny and went into his waiting arms.
"Jo, how is he?"
"They're taking x-rays. Dr. Early said that Roy will probably have to be operated on."
Captain Hammer laid a hand on Johnny's back. "A piece of metal from the window frame of the house went into his shoulder. He looks good, John."
Johnny closed his eyes, resting his chin on Joanne's head. "Thank God." He felt Joanne rubbing his back in support and comfort and smiled. "Why don't you sit down, Jo, I'll go check on Roy and be right back."
"John Gage! What are you doing here?"
Johnny winced, earning a laugh from the watching crew. He took a deep breath and turned to face Dixie McCall. "Hey, Dix."
"Don't you 'hey' me, mister. You were told to stay home. Does this look like your home to you?"
"Well," he tried a smile on her. "It's sorta my home away from home."
"Not good enough." Dixie finally broke down. "You heard about Roy, didn't you?"
"Yes, ma'am." The weary paramedic moved closer to the nurse. "I had to be here, Dix."
"I know." Dixie shook her head in exasperation. "But what Kel will say…"
"Kel will say that you're a damn fool." Brackett opened the door of the lounge, frowning. "Do you want to get sick?"
"No, but Roy was hurt. I had to come."
Brackett stared at Johnny while everyone waited for the lecture. "Okay. Your last test shows that, while you are still low on white cell count, you're almost back to normal. You might make it through without catching anything if you go back home right now."
"But, doc!" Johnny protested.
Brackett held his hands up to stop the argument. "If I arrange for you to see Roy, will you go home? No more arguments?"
Johnny relaxed. "Of course. No problem. Whatever you want."
"Huh," the doctor snorted. "That'll be the day. Okay, give me a few minutes and I'll get you in to see Roy before we take him up to surgery."
Johnny sat alongside his partner's wife, explaining to Joanne that he would be available to come back if she needed him, doctors be damned. She patted his hand.
"John Gage, you will do exactly what Dr. Brackett tells you. Roy has been lost without you."
Johnny blushed, then chuckled. "I don't think Roy would want you to tell me that, Jo."
"Why not? It's true." She smiled. "Not to mention how the kids are missing you. Roy has had his hands full trying to explain to Jennifer why she can't come take care of you while you're sick."
"That's my girl."
"That's about the only one you can keep, Gage," Chet sniped.
"Shut up, Chet."
"John, are you ready?" Dixie had returned to take the paramedic to his partner.
Johnny jumped up, touched Joanne gently on the shoulder and slapped Chet on the back. "Thanks for calling, man."
Chet shrugged. "Thought you'd want to know."
The treatment room was quiet, no machines beeping or pulsing, reassuring Johnny as to his partner's physical condition. Roy was blinking lazily at him, a half smile on his face.
"Hey, partner." Johnny said, pulling up a stool to the gurney.
"Hey, yourself. What're you doin' here?"
"Checking up on you. Can't leave you alone for a minute without you getting into trouble, can I?"
Roy tried to look at his shoulder, then let his head drop back down. "I'm never in trouble. You're the one who is always gettin' in trouble."
"Oh, right, that's why you're going up for surgery and I'm going back home." Johnny looked down with a fond smile at his friend.
Roy frowned. "Yeah, thas right. Somethin's wrong here."
"You're going to be just fine. They have to repair the damage on your shoulder. You hurt anywhere else?"
Roy touched his forehead, wincing. "Got whacked in the head."
"Yeah, I can see the bruise. It'll be pretty colorful by tomorrow. Anything else?"
"Nah, just some aches and pains from being buried. I'm okay." Roy's face was scrunched up. "Aren't you supposed to be at your place?"
"Yeah, and I'm heading there right after I see you. Jo is here, but Cap and the guys are taking care of her, so don't worry about that."
"You've gotta leave," Roy slurred. "You'll get sick."
"Brackett and Dix know I'm here. It's okay, don't worry about it."
Behind Johnny, the door opened to reveal Dixie and two orderlies with another gurney. "It's time for him to go up to surgery."
"Okay." Johnny reached down and gripped Roy's other shoulder. "Hey, partner, you take it easy, got me? I'll be back at work in no time and I expect my partner to be there with me. Understand?"
Roy smiled up at Johnny and nodded. "'kay."
Johnny helped move Roy and watched as the gurney was wheeled off to the elevator. He blew out his breath in a rush. His heart was still bounding about, but now that he knew Roy would be fine, he was ready to go home and get some sleep.
At last! Johnny parked his Rover in the lot and sat, unable to wipe the lopsided grin off his face. After three and a half weeks, he was now back at work. He climbed slowly out of the vehicle and started walking to the station. He spotted his partner lurking in the bay and waved. Roy matched his steps as he continued into the dorm to change into his uniform.
"How are you feeling?" Both men spoke at the same time, then grinned.
Roy rubbed at his healed shoulder. "Aches sometimes when it rains and I have a lovely L-shaped scar, but other than that, I'm fine. And you?"
"Way over rested. It's really good to be back to work."
Johnny opened the door to his locker and flung his hand up in front of his eyes. There were lights clipped inside, black lights, strobe lights, desk lights, flashlights, all aimed at Johnny. "Chet!"
"Muwha-ha-ha! Wanted to see if the light went through you, Gage." Chet peered around the doorway, grinning. "You should be better than a nightlight, glowing in the dark. We won't need flashlights any longer, we'll just send you in."
"Chet, when I get my hands on you…"
As Johnny tore off after the cackling firefighter, Roy shook his head, a smile on his own face. "Welcome back, Johnny."